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Goals: I am on track with 4 of my 9 goals. As you will see below, I’ve read 13 books over the first quarter. I entered the Style Invitational twice. I’ve done reasonably well at bringing lunch to work and at eating fruit daily, with a few weeks of slip=ups. Everything else, alas ….


Quarterly Movies: My quarterly movie list is easy this time, as I appear to have not seen a single movie over the past three months. I might have watched a couple on my flights to and from El Salvador, but the earbuds I had with me broke.


Quarterly Books: I did, however, read a bit. I wrote about the 8 books I read in January already, so here is my list for February and March.


  1. Tom Hodgkinson, How To Be Idle. This was a surprisingly humorless volume about the virtues of things like sleeping, slacking off at work, smoking, alcohol, etc. I suppose one could add reading this dull a book to the list of time wasters.

  2. Kathryn Lilley, Dying To Be Thin. This mystery, set at a weight-loss clinic, wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t great either. I could have lived without the diet tips thrown in, though they did make sense in context (as the heroine is focused on losing weight). Even more so, I could have lived without the romantic subplot, which has her being pursued by two different men. And I could have really lived without her being enough of an idiot to end up in a confrontation with the murderer that results in her being poisoned.

  3. Danielle Steele, Silent Honor. At last, a book I really enjoyed. This traces the story of a young woman from Japan, whose progressive father sends her to live with relatives and go to school in California. She gets stuck in the U.S. when World War II breaks out – and ends up in an internment camp with the family. There’s a romance with a (white) American man and a lot of complications before they end up living happily ever after post-war. I felt like I knew a lot more about the indignities suffered by Japanese Americans – and the differing reactions to them – after reading this. Recommended.

  4. Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney, The Nest. This was a book club selection, though I ended up missing our meeting because I was sick. The story involves 4 siblings who are waiting to receive their nest egg from their father’s estate on the 40th birthday of the youngest. Then, one of them has a drunk driving incident and their mother uses the money to pay off the woman he’s injured. Unfortunately, all of them need money and try to find ways to manipulate him into paying them back. This was interesting enough, but the siblings were all unlikeable enough that I wanted them to just grow up already.

  5. Helen Van Slyke, No Love Lost. This is the story of a woman who grows up rich, marries the man of her dreams, and loses everything when her daughter dies in childbirth. There’s plenty of infidelity plus betrayal by a one-time best friend. Then there’s a most unsuitable second marriage… Despite all the trauma, most of the bad behavior of the various characters is understandable. So, while I wanted to tell them to grow up and/or go to therapy, I didn’t cringe at all of their behavior. Reasonably entertaining, but could have used some trimming.

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2018 was fairly stressful, largely due to a work situation that appears to be resolving itself. And, of course, the state of the world didn't help.

Books: I read 40 books, which is probably the fewest since I learned how to read. Also, surprisingly, only 6 were non-fiction. This is a little misleading in that I don’t count guidebooks, which end up being most of what I read when I’m traveling. My logic for not counting them is that I rarely read them cover to cover.

Favorites were Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, Moonwalking With Einstein by Joshua Foer, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz, The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See, Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon, and Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde.

The book I hated the most was Murder By Sacrilege by D. R. Meredith.

I really need to do a used bookstore run. I’m not even sure how many books I have ready to go out.

Volksmarch: I did three events – in New Orleans, Atlantic City, and Charleston, West Virginia. The latter was a State Capital walk. I should get back into focusing on special programs, but first I need to resolve some issues with my right foot.

Travel: I started the year out in Singapore. My last trip of the year was to the U.S. Virgin Islands (St. Thomas and St. John) which is only semi-international, involving a dependency of the U.S., not a separate country. My major trip of the year was my family roots trip to Latvia, Lithuania, and Belarus (plus a part of a day in Zurich), which was incredible.

Domestic trips included business trips to Colorado Springs and to Layton, Utah. Personal travel was to New Orleans, Stamford (Connecticut, for the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament), Atlantic City,New York (4 times, including a Brooklyn Cyclones game), Portland (Oregon), Rhode Island (mostly for a PawSox game), Memphis (Redbirds game), Milwaukee (Wisconsin for the National Puzzlers’ League con), Frederick (Maryland, for Loserfest. It counts because I did stay overnight), Richmond (Virginia – and, again, staying overnight makes it count), and Charleston (West Virginia). It seems unlikely, but it appears that I had an entire year without going to California.

Puzzles: This was pretty much a middle of the pack year. I ended up in the 62nd percentile at the ACPT, the 39th percentile at the Indie 500, and 55.7th percentile at Lollapuzzoola. Annoyingly, I didn’t solve cleanly at any of them.

I also had a good time (as always) at the NPL con. That included bringing along a hand-out puzzle, which I think went over reasonably well. I am planning for a walk-around puzzle for the 2019 con, since it’s in Boulder, Colorado, a city I have spent a lot of time in.

Ghoul Poul: I didn’t do particularly well in my second year. I finished 14th out of 20 participants, with 70 points. The people I scored with were Prince Henrik, Barbara Bush, John McCain, and George HW Bush.

Genealogy: I did the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks project, which got me writing about a few family stories, but didn’t really drive much research. I did, however, get in touch with a few unknown cousins (two from the FAINSTEIN family, one from the KHAIKEL / MEDINTS family) and made some progress on the GOLDWASSER family (my maternal grandfather’s mother’s side).

Baseball: I only made it to one Major League game this year – Red Sox at Nats on the Fourth of July. But it was a good year since: 1)I got to three minor league games (Memphis, Pawtucket, and Coney Island) and 2)my BoSox won the World Series.

Culture: If I counted correctly, I went to 16 musicals, 2 operas and 14 plays. My favorite musicals were Dave at Arena Stage and Me and My Girl at Encores in New York. My favorite plays were Heisenberg and 4380 Nights at Signature Theatre and Becoming Di. Ruth and Treyf at Theatre J. I also went to one ballet, one Cirque du Soleil shows, and 6 concerts. The most significant of the latter was seeing Jonathan Richman at the 9:30 Club. I had wanted to see him live for ages, so I was really glad to have the opportunity.

I went to One Day University 5 times. And I saw 16 movies, of which my favorites included What We Do in the Shadows, The Shape of Water. and Bathtubs Over Broadway

There was also a bunch of storytelling in there, some with me on stage and more with me in the audience.

Goals: I had six goals for 2018. So how did I score? I got about halfway through 2 afghans, so that gives me 33% on the goal to finish three. I did nothing about organizing photos, though I did find out about scanning resources at the library. I read 40 books, including 1 poetry book, so I I get 77% and 33% for that goal. I think I entered the Style Invitational twice, so will give myself 33% there. I did 3 Volksmarch events, so get 50% there. And I think I got through roughly 65% of catching up on household paperwork. I figure that gives me somewhere around a 40% on the year, which is not terrible, but not wonderful, either.

So what about goals for 2019?


  • Finish shredding and filing household paperwork.

  • Organize my genealogy files, both physical and electronic.

  • Organize my yarn stash. Ideally this would include using up at least 25% of the yarn. While I am at it, I also need to organize knitting needles and crochet hooks and the like.

  • Organize photos. Yes, really.

  • Read at least 52 books.

  • Enter the Style Invitational at least 4 times.

  • Do a 20 minute or longer workout at least 3 times a week.

  • Bring lunch to work at least twice a week.

  • Eat fruit every day.

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The only one of my goals for the year I made any real progress on this quarter is reading. And, even there, I am up to 27 books out of the 52 I want to get through. I need to read shorter books.


  1. Jacqueline Briskin, California Generation. This book follows several students at California High School as they move on to college and jobs during the 1960’s. Issues include drugs, interracial relationships, abortion, homosexuality, and the Vietnam War. This was less trashy than I expected it to be, but it’s definitely not great literature. If it were written now, it would have been a TV soap opera, not a novel.

  2. Lisa See, The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane. This was a book club selection. I was skeptical, but this story of a woman from the Akha hill tribe in China drew me in immediately. There are some shocking aspects of the Akha culture and this story of a young woman who has to find her way between her traditional upbringing and the modern world was fascinating. Mixed in with it, there’s the story of her abandoned daughter, who is facing a similar, but different, challenge as an adopted Chinese girl in Southern California. I absolutely loved this book and recommend it highly.

  3. Maisie Mosco, Glittering Harvest. This is the third book in the series about the Sandberg family. It includes the deaths of some of the older members of the family, as well as various triumphs and tragedies for the younger members. It was pretty entertaining, but you don’t really need to read it to enjoy the earlier books in the series.

  4. Joe Bden, Promise Me, Dad. I got this for having attended one of Biden’s talks. It’s more or less about his son, Beau, whose death of brain cancer was behind Biden’s decision not to run for President in 2016. There is, however, also a lot of material about how much effort Biden put in on foreign policy issues and how wonderful his relationship with Obama was, and other things that suggest he could be considering a future run. I do (mostly) like Biden, but I’d much rather see someone younger be the Democratic nominee. This book didn’t do much to change my mind on that.

  5. Alexander McCall Smith, The Bertie Project. Oh, how nice to be back on Scotland Street! There are such great characters and such bizarre circumstances (e.g. the extreme sports indulged in by Bruce’s new girlfriend). Another fun entry in a series I love.

  6. Eleanor Catton, The Luminaries. This was another book club selection. What monstrous people voted for an 800 page novel? My wrists hurt while reading it. I don’t mind long novels per se, but there were a lot of characters to keep track of. The story involves some mysterious doings in a gold rush town in New Zealand. While it was a quicker read than I expected, the payoff was disappointing. On the plus side, it led my book club to decide on a 400 page limit for the future.

  7. Stuart Rojstaczer, The Mathematician’s Shiva. Interestingly, the person who recommended this book to me is not Jewish. The story involves Rachaela Karnokovitch, a mathematics professor who may have solved the Navier-Stokes problem. The story of her son (and other relatives), who are set upon by other mathematicians looking for the solution of the problem, is interspersed with her memories of her harsh Polish childhood. The characters are interesting (and, sometimes, bizarre) and the relationships feel real. Recommended.

  8. Helen Van Slyke,Always is Not Forever. My mother had a lot of trashy novels. This one involves a young woman who marries a famous musician whose controlling mother can’t accept her. The great tragedy comes when their daughter is born deaf. I realized how much times have changed when I found myself thinking, "what’s the big deal?" There’s rather too much of the stand by your man, regardless of how badly he treats you, crap here.

  9. Andy Raskin, The Ramen King and I. What do you do if you can’t stop cheating on the women you claim to love and your mentor from your support group says you need to find a higher power, but you’re an atheist? If you’re Andy Raskin, you write letters to Momofuku Ando, the inventor of instant ramen noodles. Those letters – along with Raskin’s attempts to meet the great man – make for a surprisingly amusing book, with a serious point.

  10. Benjamin Alire Saenz, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. When a teenager recommends a young adult novel to you, you listen. And when [personal profile] piefessor also recommends it, you really listen. This story of two teenage boys and their complicated relationships with each other and with their parents was charming and moving. I can now add my recommendation.

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I have been doing pretty much no crafting over the past few months. Sigh.

In terms of organizing photos, I did find out about some resources for scanning, e.g. the high-resolution scanner at the Memory Lab at the DC Public Library. But I have done pretty much nothing more.

I have read 8 books, including one poetry book. I am way behind the pace there.

I’ve enterd the Style Invitational 3 times, so I am actually slightly ahead of track on one goal.

I did one more volksmarch (in Atlantic City). So I am at 2 for the year so far, which is lightly behind my intended goal. But getting to 6 is achievable.

I am making progress on household paperwork, but it is slow. Sigh.


I expect this new quarter to be one of low achievement because of being swamped at work and having a bunch of personal travel coming up. I could be wrong, however.
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  • I’m almost halfway through one afghan. I am maybe 10 percent through another one. I haven’t thought about the third one I am planning to finish this year.

  • I have done nothing about organizing photos.

  • I’ve read 9 books (and almost through a tenth). None of them were poetry. So I am behind the curve on my reading goal.

  • I have entered the Style Invitational twice, so I am actually ahead of things on one goal. None of those entries got ink, alas.

  • I’ve done one Volksmarch event. I’ll count that as being on pace, because I have solid plans to do another one this month.

  • Every night I hear the rustle of papers reproducing in my living room. I have sorted some out, but progress is slower than I’d like.

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2017 was a year of frustration and mild depression and not feeling very accomplished, even though I was actually reasonably successful in any normal sense. I think that much of the problem was spending time feeling stressed out about the state of the world. I am a news junkie at the best of times and that makes it hard to focus on anything when there is so much turmoil around.

Books: I read only 43 books in 2017, which is absurdly few for me. Admittedly, there were several long books (500+ pages) in there. I was also trying to clear out magazines, which didn’t help. The best books I read were Facing the Lions by Tom Wickes, Sex on the Moon by Ben Mezrich (whose true crime books I have enjoyed in the past), A Man Called Ove by Frederick Backman, and The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin. I particularly recommend the latter two, both of which were selections for my book club, for charm and sheer likeability. They’re similar in that both deal with curmudgeonly, suicidal men having their lives turned around by unexpected encounters with other people. I also enjoyed several books in the Richard Bolitho series by Alexander Kent. That surprised me, as I didn’t think that the British Navy of the late 18th century would interest me at all. But they’re well-written and Bolitho is an absorbing character. As for the books I disliked, Last Woman Standing by Thelma Adams sounded promising, but the novelization of the story of the Jewish woman who married Wyatt Earp bordered on pornographic. And The Guilty Ones by Dariel Telfer was badly written and intended to be deliberately shocking. I don’t object to sex and violence, but I don’t want them to be their own end.

I didn’t manage any used bookstore runs over the year, but I have about 100 books ready to go out. That should happen in the next couple of months.

Volksmarch: I did exactly one event in 2017. That was the state capital walk in Wyoming. I really need to get myself walking regularly again.

Travel: I had three foreign trips – Nicaragua in January, a long weekend in Budapest in May, and my recent trip to Singapore and Laos. The latter included completing a life list item by seeing the Plain of Jars. My other significant vacation was a trip to Carhenge in Nebraska for my 4th total solar eclipse. And, before anyone asks, yes, I have plans for a 5th. That trip also included going to Wind Cave National Park and doing the Cheyenne, Wyoming Volksmarch.

I had business trips to Los Angeles / San Diego, Colorado Springs, and Palo Alto.

Personal travel included trips to Albuquerque and Portland (Oregon) to go to memorial services for friends. Happier travels were to New York (three times – once for theatre-going, once for a flyertalk event plus theatre-going, and once for Lollapuzzoola), Stamford (Connecticut – the ACPT), Atlanta (to check off the new ballpark), Denver (twice – once for an annual party, once for a flyertalk event), Boston (NPL con), and Reno.

Puzzles: This was a big year for me in that I solved cleanly at both the ACPT and Lollapuzzoola. That moment of turning in a complete puzzle 5 at the ACPT was definitely one of the peak experiences of the year.

Ghoul Pool This was my first year playing and I think I did respectably. I ended up finishing 6th (out of 22 participants) with 99 points. The people I scored with were Irwin Corey, Liu Xiaobo, June Foray, Gord Downie, and Rose Marie.

Genealogy: The most significant things from my year in genealogy were making contact with a couple of branches of my family in Israel. That includes some Bruskin descendants and one of the children of cousin Shlomo. I also had both my uncle and brother submit DNA tests, though I have not done nearly enough with sorting through all of our matches.

Culture: If I counted right, I went to 22 musicals and 6 plays. Highlights included Milk and Honey at York Theatre, Fun Home and Mean Girls at the National Theatre, Kaleidoscope at Creative Cauldron, Laura Bush Killed a Guy produced by The Klunch at Caos on F, The Originalist at Arena Stage. My favorite show of the year was Ernest Shackleton Loves Me.

I also went to the circus. And to 5 concerts, of which the most notable was the farewell concert by The Bobs. And, of course, I went to lots of storytelling events.


Goals: The short version of 2017 is that I am a lot better at planning things and starting things than I am at actually finishing them. Three of my goals involved completing various activities and, no, I didn’t finish anything, though I did make progress. I did manage a few indulgences and did contact some lost relatives with reasonably good success. So the year wasn’t a loss, but I’m not going to take undue credit. I’d say it was another 25-30% type of year.

So what about 2018 goals?


  • Finish three afghans. Yes, I know that sounds unlikely, but it is actually feasible if I work at it.

  • Organize photos. This includes uploading stuff that has been on camera cards for way too long, as well as scanning older photos. I should probably buy a scanner.

  • Read at least 52 books, including at least 3 poetry books.

  • Enter the Style Invitational at least 4 times.

  • Do at least 6 Volksmarch events.

  • Get caught up on household paperwork, i.e. shredding, filing, etc.

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I have much catching up to do, but let's start with the quarterly things.


Quarterly Goals: I have been working on both household organizing and crafting projects, but am nowhere near completing anything. I have not really paid any attention to writing projects, nor have I been reading anything from my life list. (However, I have been making progress on my goal of learning a story from every country in the world.) I’ve contacted a few "lost" family members, with quite interesting results. And I am good at self-indulgence. So maybe a score of just under 50% for the first half of the year?

Movies – Second Quarter 2017:
Film festivals and airplanes affect my movie-watching pace.


  1. Moos: This is a Dutch movie I saw at the Washington Jewish Film Festival. Moos is a young woman who has been spending her time caring for her father. A childhood friend, Sam, returns from Israel and encourages her to follow her dreams, so she auditions for a performing arts school. Her failure to actually get accepted doesn’t stop her. Some of it was pretty predictable romantic comedy fare, but the characters were interesting and Jip Smit was likeable in the title role. There’s also a guest performance by Asaf Hertz. Overall, I thought this was sweet and enjoyable, if not as funny as I’d been led to expect.

  2. OMG, I’m a Robot: This is the other movie I saw at the Washington Jewish Film Festival and I have to admit I chose it largely because of the title. The story involves Danny, whose girlfriend leaves him because he is too sensitive. In attempting to commit suicide, he discovers he is actually a robot. It turns out his girlfriend didn’t actually leave, but was kidnapped and sets out to rescue her, with the help of his boss and an Orthodox Jewish robot named Robo-Joseph. There is plenty of absurdity, so watching this requires a lot of suspension of disbelief. But it is also very funny. If you can deal with a fairly high level of violence and like silly science fiction, I recommend it.

  3. Lion: Based on a true story, this involves a young boy, Saroo, who gets on a train and ends up in Calcutta. He wants to go home, but nobody can figure out where that is. He gets adopted by a family in Australia. As an adult, Saroo tells some friends his story, gets the suggestion of using Google Earth to help find where he came from. This is really an extraordinary film. I was particularly pleased with the way that Saroo interacts with his adoptive family, making it clear that he’s not rejecting them. The story is the sort of thing that could be played up as mawkish inspiration. That it isn’t is a true tribute to the art that can happen on film. I highly recommend watching this – but do have a box of tissues at your side when doing so.

  4. La La Land I like musicals, I like jazz, and I own a book of Ryan Gosling paper dolls. So I was set to enjoy this movie. Unfortunately, I found it dull, predictable, and slow-paced. Very disappointing.

  5. Arrival: I liked the concept of this movie, in which a linguist has to figure out how to communicate with aliens. But the execution annoyed me for a number of reasons. It may just be that I was tired (and, in fact, had to go back and rewatch some sections a few times), but the non-linear storytelling was sometimes hard to follow. Mostly, though, it seemed that nothing changed at the end for anybody but the main character. In which case, why bother?

  6. The Lobster: This is one of the weirdest movies I’ve seen in ages. The premise is that people have to be coupled up, so single people (including the main character, who is recently divorced) are sent to a hotel where they have to find a suitable mate or be turned into an animal. The matchmaking is based on superficial things, e.g. both partners limping or both getting nosebleeds. They also go on hunts for loners. The whole thing takes a very dark and twisted turn. While this held my attention, I can’t say it was pleasant to watch. It was provocative enough to be worth seeing, but one would have to be in the right mood.

  7. Loving: Richard and Mildred Loving were quiet people, but their arrest for interracial marriage led to a multi-year battle, culminating in a Supreme Court decision in their favor. The thing that was most powerful in this movie was how understated it was. They were just a couple who loved each other and wanted to live a quiet country life. I was particularly impressed by Ruth Negga’s performance as Mildred. The one thing missing is a bit more of the backstory of how they met and got involved in the first place. This is a well-done and important movie and was well worth seeing.
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Celebrity Death Watch: Chuck Barris was a TV producer, responsible for The Dating Game, The Newlywed Game, and The Gong Show. Dallas Green played for several baseball teams (mostly the Phillies) and managed a few, including some success with the Phillies and remarkable lack thereof with the Mets. Lola Albright was an actress, best known for her role in the TV show, Peter Gunn. Pete Shotton played the washboard, but is better known for his friendship with John Lennon and for founding the Fatty Arbuckle’s chain of diners in England. Sir Cuthbert Sebastian was the Governor-General of St. Kitts and Nevis, but I wouldn’t have heard of him were it not for a couple of my ghoul pool rivals having him on their lists. (My picks are thriving, alas.) David Storey was, appropriately, a writer, and won the Booker Prize for his 1976 novel, Saville. Bernie Wrightson drew horror comics and is best known as the creator of Swamp Thing. Ahmed Kathrada was an anti-apartheid activist. Darlene Cates played the mother in the movie What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. William Powell wrote The Anarchist Cookbook, though he later tried to have it removed from circulation. Roland Schmitt was an executive at GE and president of RPI. Gilbert Baker created the rainbow flag as a symbol of gay activism. Richard Bolles wrote What Color is Your Parachute?, a frequently recommended book on job-hunting, though I never found it particularly useful. Lonnie Brooks was a blues singer. Gary Austin created the improv theatre troupe, The Groundlings. Yevgeny Yevtushenko was a Russian poet, best known for his work Babi Yar, which was set to music by Dmitri Shostakovich.

Quarterly Goals: I have been working on various projects, but haven’t finished any. I have not been reading things from the goals on my life list, alas. I treated myself to a pedicure, perfume, and a couple of extravagant meals out. And I have gotten in touch with the daughter-in-law of a cousin twice removed (in Israel) and a couple of the descendants of my great-grandfather’s brother.

MIT Reception: Monday night was the reception for MIT student in their policy internship program. It is always good to corrupt young minds, er, try to persuade students to: a) get involved with space policy and b) take advantage of all the non-work things to do in the D.C. area. Overall, it was a pleasant evening of decent food (heavy hors d’oeuvres) and intelligent conversation.

Loren Niemi House Concert: Storyteller Loren Niemi did a house concert in an apartment in Adams Morgan on Tuesday night. It was a nice intimate setting and he is always interesting to listen to. I particularly liked his story about re-encountering a woman he once knew under unexpected circumstances, which evoked a lot of memories for me about how life circumstances change. He also told an excellent ghost story.

Book Club: Wednesday night was book club. It was interesting because the person leading the discussion really disliked the book (Someone Will Be With You Shortly by Lisa Kogan, which is not really a typical book club type of book). I didn’t think it was a brilliant book, but it was typical women’s magazine humor and an entertaining enough read. The other news is that the person in the group who has annoyed me (because of not so hidden racism) is gone. I knew she was moving but it has happened a bit faster than I expected. I’m sure somebody else will grate on me – and that I irritate some people, too, but I’m still pleased.

Rasika: This modern Indian restaurant is generally considered one of the best restaurants in D.C. and, therefore, it is next to impossible to get a reservation there. A friend had managed to get a reservation for Friday night, with the catch being that it was on the decidedly early side. Alas, she got ill and couldn’t make it, but I decided it was worth taking advantage of the opportunity, even alone. The famous dish there is palak chaat, which is crispy spinach with yogurt and date and tamarind chutney. It is amazingly good and lived up to its reputation. That was followed by lamb achari, which was decently spicy and very tender, but felt a bit heavy. It came with rice and a mint paratha, which was good, but the flavor of the mint was kind of drowned out by the spices of the lamb. I also had a champagne cocktail, which was okay, but did not have as much ginger flavor as the menu had led me to believe. For dessert, there was excellent gulab jamun with amazing cardamom ice cream. Overall, it was a good meal, though I would order a different main course if I went again.

Out of This World: I had never actually been to the Ringling Brothers / Barnum & Bailey Circus and, this being their final tour, suggested this to the group of friends for whom I am Chief Entertainment Officer. So Friday night (after Rasika) found me with a couple of friends at the Verizon Center for the circus. The show is space-themed, which was a nice plus. There were impressive aerialists and superb horseback riding, but my favorite act was the guys riding motorbikes in a metal orb, with seven of them at one time. The lowlights were the clowns, who were mostly at the far end of the arena, so I couldn’t see what they were doing, and the big cats, who just looked too unhappy. I found myself wondering what has to go wrong in somebody’s life for them to think that a career yelling at lions and tigers is a good life choice. (Yes, I do know most circus performers are born to the life. Still…) I’m glad I went, but, overall, I’m not really sad that it’s ending.

Midwestern Gothic: This is a new musical at Signature Theatre. The book is by Royce Vavrek, who I was unfamiliar with, and Josh Schmidt, who wrote Adding Machine, a show I didn’t know quite what to make of. And that was more or less my reaction to this show. The plot centers around a sociopathic teenage girl named Stina, ably played by Morgan Keene. She sets up her friend to be St. Sebastian, tying him to a tree and shooting him with an arrow. She flirts with her creepy stepfather, Red, who takes semi-pornographic photos of her. Her mother is mostly absent, running a bar. Red picks up a woman, who Stina kills. So she and Red run off to an old, condemned house, where there is more blood shed. The music is a mixed bag, some of it operatic and some of it livelier. Overall, the show just didn’t work for me – and I like dark humor. I think the problem is that the likeable characters are nothing more than victims. Oh, well, it’s always worth seeing something new.

Knitting Group: And Sunday was knitting group. I am finally past the part of an afghan square that I'd had to tink because I'd forgotten the border on the sides.

Whew! What a hectic week. (And things had been busy at work, too, with a couple of big meetings to deal with.)
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2016 was not a great year for me, though I did have a few great things happen. I had certainly underestimated the impact of changing jobs, mostly in terms of how much mental energy that absorbed. I can't count how many nights I went to bed more or less right after supper.

I did finish one life list item, namely seeing the stone monoliths of Babeldaop. I got somewhat more involved with the Style Invitational Loser community, going to a few related social events. I started doing graze, which has, in addition to providing interesting snacks, given me something to write about here. And I had a particularly interesting year with respect to storytelling and to genealogy. Here are the details, in my usual categories.

Books: I only read 88 books last year, 48 of which were fiction. Only 6 were rereads. The ones I disliked include Lenore Glenn Offord’s Clues to Burn and Parnell Hall’s The Puzzle Lady and the Sudoku Lady. The absolute worst was a Laos Travel Guide which had about 40 pages about Laos and 100+ pages about studying mixed martial arts in Thailand, plus a chapter on ketogenic diets. I described this as the literary equivalent of the movie Disco Beaver From Outer Space.

On the positive side, some of the nonfiction books I enjoyed wereCocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness and Leaving Before the Rains Come (two of Alexandra Fuller’s memoirs), Last Train to Zona Verde by Paul Theroux (about his travels in Angola), Crossworld by Marc Romano (about the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament), and Motoring With Mohammed by Eric Hansen (about Yemen). As for fiction, I enjoyed Christopher Buckley’s No Way to Treat a First Lady, To the Power of Three by Laura Lippman (who often writes teenage girls well), and three books by Tess Gerritsen - The Apprentice, Ice Cold, and, especially, The Bone Garden.

Volksmarch: Nothing, zero, nada, nil. Sigh. I’m not sure why, but I just don’t seem to have been very interested in walking other than as a means of transportation.

Travel: The biggest trip of the year was, obviously, the eclipse cruise in the South Pacific, which included the visit to Babeldaop, as well as seeing the giant stone money of Yap, and, of course, my third total solar eclipse. It also pushed me over the edge of qualifying for the Travelers’ Century Club, so I joined it, even though I still think their country list is pretty silly. My only other international trip of the year was to Martinique, mostly to take advantage of a cheap airfare.

I had business trips to Los Angeles, Florida (the Space Coast), and Colorado Springs.

Personal domestic travel included a trip to L.A. and Denver for Captain Denny Flanagan’s pre-retirement get-together, Stamford (Connecticut, that is, for the ACPT), Salt Lake City (for the NPL con), New York (for Lolapuzzoola and for my high school reunion), Pittsburgh (for Loserfest), Chicago (to see the Art Institute and go to an Elvis Costello concert), and Key West. On the way home from Salt Lake City, I achieved Million Mile status on United.

I should also note that I flew a few times on Jet Blue, which I hadn’t done before. I’m fairly impressed with their service, though I don’t think much of their frequent flyer program.

Culture: I went to several story swaps, of course, as well as several of the shows at The Grapevine and a couple of storytelling-related fringe shows. In terms of performing, I did the Washington Folk Festival. But, more importantly, I performed in three Better Said Than Done shows, including the Best in Show competition. I’m particularly happy to have the summer camp story on video. And I’m glad to be working with some family material in a way that I think works for humor without being disrespectful.

I saw 11 movies over the past year, with only one in a theatre. I think the best of them was The Imitation Game. I went to three music events. Both of those categories are things I would like to do more of this coming year. I also went to a Cirque du Soleil show and to a comedy show.

My biggest cultural activity of the year was going to the theatre. If I’ve counted right, I went to six non-musicals and 21 musicals. The worst of those was The Flick at Signature Theatre. As a friend said, "How many people walked out when you saw it?" Highlights included Matilda at the Kennedy Center, 110 in the Shade at Ford’s Theatre, The Lonesome West at Keegan Theatre, The Wild Party at Iron Crow in Baltimore, Freaky Friday at Signature Theatre, and, especially, Caroline, or Change and Monsters of the Villa Diodati at Creative Cauldron. The latter has become one of my favorite theatres in the region, with high quality performances in an intimate setting.

Genealogy: Note that I added this category this year. I made a fair amount of progress, particularly on my mother’s side of the family, with highlights including meeting a cousin and tracking down info on a couple of my grandfather’s siblings. I’m also proud of having funded the translation of the chapters my paternal grandfather contributed to the Lite Yizkor Book. And I got my DNA tested, though that hasn’t led me to any major revelations yet.

Goals: I pretty much failed miserably on my goals for last year, other than reaching million mile status on United. It isn’t even worth enumerating progress on others, all of which were, at best, one step forward and two steps back. I’m giving myself a 25% for the year.

As for the coming year, I still have hope that I can get things done. I’m tempted to write something like "oh, just grow up already," but let’s be somewhat specific and measurable.


  • Complete at least one household organizing project.

  • Complete at least one knitting or crochet project.

  • Complete at least one writing project.

  • Contact one "lost" family member every month to request genealogical information.

  • Spend at least a half hour each week reading things from the reading goals on my life list.

  • Treat myself to one indulgence (e.g. spa treatment or special meal or the like) every month.

fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Celebrity Death Watch: The only death that crossed my radar this time out was that of Shimon Peres. He served a couple of terms as Prime Minister of Israel, as well as holding several other prominent political jobs there, notably Foreign Minister. I’d say his most significant accomplishment was the peace treaty with Jordan. But he also deserves a lot of credit for Israel being as much of a technologically advanced nation as it is. He also wrote poetry, but I am loathe to list that as an accomplishment for any politician after having heard praise for Stalin’s poetry at his house museum in Georgia.

Baseball: The Red Sox clinched the American League East. Yay! I am also reasonably pleased that the Nationals won the National League East. As for the wild card slots, I’d kind of like to see Detroit pull things out and beat out Toronto, just because the Tigers have some appealing history.

Quarterly Movies: Well, make that "movie," singular. The only movie I saw over the past few months was Seven Psychopaths. I chose it because it was written and directed by Martin McDonagh. Like pretty much all of McDonagh’s work, it is weird and violent, but funny. At any rate, it held my attention.

The Quarterly Goal Update: I didn’t make much of an attempt over the past few months, largely because I’ve been so swamped at work. My email inbox at work is ridiculous – back up over 6000 items. The only other thing I’ve made any actual progress on is dealing with papers, having handled about 2/3 of what had migrated to the bedroom floor.

Speaking of Paperwork: I went to pay my county property tax bill for my car on-line. And I discovered that they had changed my address to some address in a town I’d never heard of that isn’t even in the same county. I called and got it changed back, but the point is that they should notify people when there is an address change so they can verify that they did it. (Apparently, someone did it by phone and the clerk typed in the wrong property number.) The whole thing was bizarre and the security implications are scary.

New Years Rosh Hashanah is Monday and Tuesday, so let me pass along my wishes for a happy, healthy 5777. I will also pass along wishes for a happy fiscal year 2017 for all of my friends who have some sort of U.S. government affiliations.

Two, two, two new years in one.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
It's time for the quarterly goal progress round-up. I've stared at afghans and travelogues and tapes / LPs, but done damn little beyond that. I've read just a few more pages of the Bible.

As for email, 5800 is just about 1000, isn't it? At least as close as I've gotten on the paper decluttering, though I have really good intentions for that this weekend. I have been working on this, but I still hear the rustling coming from the stacks of paper late at night and the piles seem to grow.

As for volksmarch events, there have been issues with weather. And weekend exhaustion. And sheer laziness.

However, the quarter was not a complete failure. I am officially a United million-miler. Gold status forever!
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
I keep thinking I've gotten things done, but then I look at what I planned and I'm not so sure.


  • Re: travelogues, the major progress I've made is getting a new computer. The reason this is significant is that writing on the old one was becoming more and more challenging for a number of reasons. However, I've also taken another major trip.

  • I've worked some on one afghan, but I am way behind.

  • I've read just a few more pages of the Bible.

  • I've deleted a lot of email from 2 of my accounts. The third account is, alas, free of progress. On the other hand, the ones I have worked on are still around inbox=5000, so there is a lot more to go.'

  • I've done nothing about digitizing LPs and tapes.

  • I also haven't done any volksmarch events, largely due to winter weather and travel. But I did buy new walking shoes.

  • I have made significant progress towards my million mile status on United and now have under 7300 miles to go.

  • As for papers at home, I'm making very slow progress. I believe that I've cleared out all of the ones that were lurking near the entryway. I expect to get a fair amount done in the next couple of weeks, though, between cleaning for Pesach and being deep in the heart of taxes.



Bottom line is that travel-related goals are the easiest ones to motivate myself to work on.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
2015 was a complex year. I had underestimated the impact of grieving for my mother and of trying to deal with her stuff. Changing jobs also had an impact. It will be positive in the long run but is inherently stressful. All of this definitely affected my energy level. Despite that, I did accomplish a few things. I managed two travel related life list items (the Hurtigruten cruise up the coast of Norway and the trip to Iguacu Falls), one non-travel related life list item (tracing my genealogy back into the 18th century on at least a couple of branches of my family), and made some progress on other items, e.g. seeing two more Best Picture Oscar winners.

Click here to read the details )
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Goals: I have not yet given up on my goals for 2015, but I haven’t done a hell of a lot regarding them, either. I did a little bit more afghan square knitting and a little more Bible reading (like maybe about 4 pages).

I did sort out some genealogical info and, more importantly, partially figure out how I want to file various papers related to that. I have a tree up on geni.com, though I am not really impressed with it as a tool. But a start is a start, right?

I also did 3 Volksmarch events. There would have been more, but the weather has not really cooperated.

It wasn’t quite so explicit a goal, but I’ve also made a dent in the chaos that is my house. Given the crappy weather forecast for the weekend, I am expecting further progress then.

Admirable Restraint: Nobody is allowed to bring electronics (cell phones, tablets, even fitness bands) into our suite at work. So we have this big red box at the front desk for people to put their stuff in. I guess that there was too much stuff for just one box, so this week a second big red box appeared.

I have managed to resist the temptation to go out and buy several small red boxes to scatter around the two big ones.

Strange Theory re: Ear Worms: Songs with titles referencing the names of celebrities are particularly likely to infect me. It is possible that mere lyrics involving celebrities are sufficient. The infectiousness has no correlation with how much I do or don’t like the celebrity. This may also explain why I went around singing "David Duchovny, why don’t you love me?" for much of 1999.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Goals: I normally do a quarterly wrap-up of progress on my goals for the year. But I have done next to nothing in that direction over the past 3 months. I even fell behind on keeping track of spending in April and May, though I got back on track in June. And I knitted almost all of another big afghan square (the ones that count as 4).

Most of that lack of progress has been due to a certain general malaise, largely out of feeling overwhelmed with dealing with the estate stuff. Oddly, the past week has suddenly been better, largely out of having figured out where I can out stacks of books so they are out of my way but I can still get to them to go through them. And that realization has me filled with energy, which I’ve put to use the past couple of days trying to catch up on household paperwork.

So things are getting better and will get done.

Celebrity Death Watch: Patrick Macnee played Mr. Steed on The Avengers. Sir Nicholas Winton organized the rescue of a large number of Jewish children from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia.

Sleep and Weather: There were severe storms here last night. My neighborhood was spared the worst of them, but I know there was still plenty of wind and rain, based on the wet, leaf and petal covered pavement this morning. Normally, that sort of thing wakes me up and I complain about feeling like I am trying to sleep inside a shower.

What is weird is that I did wake up a couple of times last night, but was completely unaware of this storm until this morning.

Product Mockery: There is always the Hammacher Schlemmer catalogue to provide amusement should all else fail. The most recent one includes the following gems:

  • Fish Catching RC Boat: So suppose you want to go fishing. But you don’t want to actually sit in a boat or stand on the shore or hold a fishing pole or anything like that. This lets you hold the controllers for a radio-controlled boat that does the fishing automatically for you. That sounds like all the boredom of waiting for fish to bite with none of the challenges or pleasures of actually fighting for a fish.

  • Automatic Tile Shuffling Mahjong Table: Because shuffling the tiles with your hands takes too long. At least your $1700 (plus $350 for shipping since it weighs 200 pounds) does get you a set of mah jong tiles included.

  • Identity Theft Thwarting Aluminum Wallet: The idea here is to block RFID chips. Except that credit cards don’t have RFID chips. And there is nothing that actually stops a thief from stealing the whole bloody wallet.

  • Front and Rear Roadtrip Recorder: I know people who are obsessed enough with photographic evidence of their lives that I can imagine them wanting this. But it only keeps about 90 minutes of video. I don’t know about you, but my roadtrips tend to be longer than that. (I do realize this could be useful for documenting accidents. So my mockery is a bit mixed. But, still …)

  • 12 MPH Cooler: This is, basically, a riding cooler. I’m not imagining that – the picture shows a guy straddling it and steering. Apparently, pulling a wheeled cooler is not sufficiently low effort. It has a 320 pound riding capacity, but it isn’t clear if you have to subtract off the weight of the beer or soda from that.

  • Transparent Canoe Kayak: Because … no, I cannot for the life of me imagine why one might want a transparent canoe kayak.

fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
I've really made bloody little progress on anything this past quarter. Though I did get a fair amount of organizing done at home, which should enable me to get more things done. (Right now doesn't count, because of jet lag.)

I am doing a halfway reasonable job of tracking my spending. I should also have specified what size afghan squares count, because I knitted one and a half, but they were 12 inch squares, so they should really count as more. If a normal afghan square is 6 inches on a side, a 12 inch square should count as 4 squares. So I should really count it as if I did 6.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
I think this is the latest I have done a year in review for the previous year. But I was trying to get various things done at home over the past few days and sitting down at the computer (beyond checking email and facebook) was a low priority. Behind a cut due to length )
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
I have a bunch of catching up to do, so let’s start with the easy thing. Namely, the quarterly update on my goals for the year.

I got nothing done on either travelogues or on digitizing LPs and cassettes.

I didn’t make it to any more minor league ballparks, so, given that the season is over, I have failed miserably at that goal. In addition to the plans that had gotten canceled in June, I had a few vaguer plans that got rained out. Oh, well, there’s always next year.

I didn’t add any baseball volksmarch events, largely because one event I did was rerouted and no longer passed a ballpark. I have pretty solid plans for a couple of events soon, though. So I think that finishing that program remains achievable.

Reading the New Testament remains a slog. I think I made it about another 20 pages this quarter. Again, this is still achievable.

On the plus side, I’ve continued doing at least 2 crossword puzzles a day. I’ve gone to 2 National Parks (Acadia and Haleakala). And I’ve memorized 3 more poems - Richard Cory by Edwin Arlington Robinson, In a Prominent Bar in Secaucus by X. J. Kennedy and Resume by Dorothy Parker. The latter should probably not count, since it is so short, but I get to make the rules here. Next up is The Emperor of Ice Cream by Wallace Stevens.


Overall, I could do better, but I could do worse.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Here is the usual quarterly run-down on my goals for the year.

I got nothing done on travelogues. In fact, since I did another major trip, I got further behind. I also got nothing done on digitizing LPs and cassettes.

I didn’t add any baseball volksmarch events and, in fact, did only one volksmarch at all during the past few months. I haven’t been to any National Parks, either, but I have solidifying plans for two.

I am still crawling along through the New Testament. I read maybe another 15-20 pages.

I went to a game at one minor league ballpark (Lexington Legends). I had had plans for another, but they got cancelled for complicated reasons.

On the plus side, I have continued doing at least 2 crossword puzzles a day. I finished memorizing The Owl and the Pussycat and learned Philip Larkin’s This Be the Verse. I stalled for a bit out of indecision over which poem to do next, but I’m making good progress now on Richard Cory.

Overall, it was a pretty meh quarter, but I still think I can achieve what I intend to. And I did check off a life list item (the spa at the Hotel Hershey), as well as getting ink in the Washington Post Style Invitational. So I don’t feel entirely unaccomplished.

Ink!

May. 20th, 2014 04:46 pm
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
You may (but probably don't) recall that a couple of years ago one of my goals involved sending entries in for the Washington Post Style Invitational. I accomplished that, but didn't get any ink out of them. Since then, I have sent in an entry now and again, though infrequently. Because it takes time and thought, which are commodities in short supply today.

Last night, as part of pre-vacation preparations, I opened a bunch of mail from the past week and a half or so. And I found a loser magnet (the "Puns of Steel" one). That's what you get for an honorable mention, though I believe I should technically have gotten the pine air freshener ("fir stink") for first ink.

At any rate, I got ink!

(And, yes, I know nobody else on the planet is as excited about this as I am.)

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