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18 January 2018 @ 04:29 pm
The theme for Week 3 (January 15-21) is longevity. It used to be that my longest-lived relative was my great-uncle Willie LUBOWSKY (originally Wulf CHLEBIOCKI), who was my grandfather’s youngest brother. He was born in Tykocin, Poland in 1908 and died in New York shortly after his 95th birthday.

He led a pretty interesting life. I haven’t yet found out why and how, but he emigrated from Poland to Havana, Cuba and was, therefore, indirectly responsible for my grandparents meeting there. He stowed away on a ship to New York (the Morro Castle) in 1929 but was caught on arrival (on New Year's Day of 1930)and deported. He was later able to enter the U.S. via Canada in 1937. He initially worked in the fur business with his older half-brother, Max, but they had some sort of split and he successfully formed his own fur business.

There’s also some ambiguity about his marriage. On their border crossing cards, Sara indicated that they were married, but there is also a New York City marriage license for them a few weeks later. I suspect that they had married either in Havana or in Canada but that wasn’t good enough for her parents.

One of his sons is still alive and I really should give him a call and see what he knows.

It is possible that another half-brother, Nathan, had even greater longevity. But nobody really knew exactly when Nathan was born, so the estimates for his lifetime range from 90 to 97. Nathan’s daughter, Sally, on the other hand, is still hanging on at 98.

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17 January 2018 @ 04:16 pm
Celebrity Death Watch: Anna Mae Hays was the 13th chief of the U.S. Army Nurse Corps and the first woman in the U.S. armed forces to become a general officer. France Gall wa a French singer. Doreen Tracey was one of the original Mouseketeers. Keith Jackson was a sportscaster, particularly known for college football. Dan Gurney was a race car driver and is credited with creating the tradition of spraying champagne on the podium after the race. Dolores O’Riordan was the lead singer of The Cranberries. Edwin Hawkins was a gospel musician, best known for "Oh Happy Day." Jo Jo White played basketball, largely for the Celtics. Jessica Falkholt was an Australian soap opera actress. Her greatest significance is that she’s the first person anybody scored on in this year’s ghoul pool.

Joe Frank was a radio personality. I used to listen to his show, Work in Progress, on KCRW when I lived in Los Angeles. He was always interesting and, often, quite funny. There is apparently a documentary about him scheduled to be released this year.

Ghoul Pool – 2018: Speaking of ghoul pool (a contest to predict what famous people will die in the next year), the entry lists are now out of the beginning of the game embargo, so I can reveal mine. Note that the number indicates how many points a person is worth and you get an extra 12 points for uniqueness, i.e. being the only participant to have someone on your list.

20. I.M. Pei
19. Robert Mugabe
18. Ed Kranepool
17. Honor Blackman
16. Beverly Cleary
15. Dervla Murphy
14. John McCain
13. Johnny Clegg
12. Al Jaffe
11. Herman Wouk
10. Jimmy Carter
9. Javier Perez de Cuellar
8. John Paul Stevens
7. Tom Jones (the lyricist, not the Welsh singer)
6. Lawrence Ferlinghetti
5. Norman Lloyd
4. Jerry Herman
3. Olivia de Haviland
2. Sheldon Harnick
1. Sara Paretsky

The Pajama Game: Looking back, I realized I never wrote about the production of The Pajama Game at Arena Stage, which I saw just before leaving for my vacation. It’s a problematic show to modern sensibilities. I’m tempted to retitle it to something like "Sexual Harassment at the Sleep-Tite Factory." I also find a lot of the lyrics to be full of cheap, amateurish rhymes ("A new town is a blue town…")

But – and this is a huge redeeming factor – there is fabulous choreography. I was particularly pleased to see that Donna McKechnie, who played Mabel, still has it at age 74. (I saw her as Cassie in A Chorus Line back in the 1970’s!) The most striking dance moves, though, came from Blakely Slaybaugh as Prez (the union president).

I do prefer the modern sensibilities and deplore the sexism. But I also miss the days when people broke out into spectacular dance moves with little provocation. In fact, I often wish that people in real life would spontaneously broke into song and dance. It would certainly liven up many a design review.

Losers’ Post-Holiday Party: Getting back to the present time, Saturday night was the annual post-holiday party for the Style Invitational Losers. As usual with potlucks, I have a long debate with myself over what to bring. Someday I will use up the spring roll wrappers that I bought way too many of because I misunderstood the package labeling. But this time, I went for quick and easy in the form of stuffed mushrooms. You just take baby bella mushroom caps, arrange them on a baking pan. Fill each cap with some alouette (or similar) cheese. Dip the cheese-stuffed end in panko (Japanese bread crumbs). Bake at 375 degrees for about 15 minutes or so.

As for the party itself, it was conveniently metro-accessible. Or, conveniently if the Red Line weren’t running only half-hourly over the weekend, so I got there later than I intended. Still, I was in time to get food and, more importantly, in time for the sing-along, which is always a highlight of these things. Throw in lots of intelligent conversation, both with people I already knew and those I hadn’t met before, and it was a good time.

One Day University: On Sunday, I went to One Day University. This time out, it was at the Lansburgh Theatre and consisted of two lectures. The first was The Presidential Library given by Joseph Luzzi of Bard College. I had actually heard Luzzi lecture (on a different literature topic) previously and he’s quite a dynamic speaker. He posed a few general questions about the relationship between reading and ability to be an effective leader. He discussed several presidents in depth, focusing on what they read. George Washington, for example, used Cato as a model of manhood. He also collected etiquette books. Thomas Jefferson read pretty much everything. Lincoln was, of course, an autodidact. As a counterexample, Warren Harding’s reading was limited to things like Rules of Poker. Buchanan and Fillmore supposedly both read a lot, but neither was much of a leader. Grant didn’t get mentioned, but I find it hard to imagine him reading much of anything beyond the labels on liquor bottles. (Apparently, he got in trouble at West Point for spending his time reading James Fenimore Cooper, instead of his textbooks.)

Luzzi compiled an American Library List that included some obvious authors (Locke, Rousseau) and works (Plutarch’s Lives, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, The Bible). He also recommended things like Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address and Ben Franklin’s autobiography. Fictional works which got mentioned included Great Expectations and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. Didn’t any presidents appreciate the real Great American Novel – namely Moby Dick?

Anyway, Luzzi’s conclusion was, essentially, that good readers make good leaders. He made four points to support this: 1) reading fundamentally suggests a person knows he doesn’t know everything, 2) readers are curious, 3) reading supports collaboration, and 4) reading puts one in another’s shoes. As a self-confessed biblioholic, I tend to agree.

The second speaker was Mark Lapadusa of Yale University, speaking on How to Watch Movies Like a Film Professor. He started out by pointing out that this applies to seeing a movie repeatedly and, for first viewing, one should just enjoy it for what it is. Then he showed various film clips and talked about aspects of them. The films he discussed were Casablance, Citizen Kane, Psycho, Dr. Strangelove, and The Godfather (Both I and II). That’s a pretty wide assortment of styles and subject matter. He touched on one subject that I have a long-standing interest in, namely film music, specifically in the case of the shower scene from Psycho. If he’d had time for questions, I might have asked him more about that.

I was also a little disappointed that he didn’t talk about source material. For example, The Godfather is one of a handful of movies that is generally considered far more successful than the novel it is based on. Casablanca was based on an unsuccessful play. What makes a film adaptation successful and why do so many movies based on bestsellers fail either by being too true to the novel or not true enough?

I had a chance to discuss the lectures a bit more after. I had gotten into a conversation with a woman named Ann before the program. We ended up sitting together in the auditorium and decided to go out to lunch (at China Chilcano – tasty Peruvian / Asian fusion food) afterwards. It was nice to have the opportunity to digest some of what I’ve heard. All in all, an excellent way to spend part of a day.

Murder Was Her Hobby: I took advantage of being in the city to go to the Renwick Gallery and see their exhibit of the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death by Frances Glessner Lee. This is a series of miniature rooms depicting what may or may not be murder scenes. They were built to be a teaching tool for forensic science and are incredibly detailed. Apparently, Lee even made underwear for the dead bodies. Because they are still used for teaching, the exhibit does not include solutions to the cases. There were a few where I thought I had a good idea of what had happened, but I was completely puzzled by the majority of them. So much for all the hours I’ve spent reading murder mysteries!

The craftsmanship is amazing and the exhibit included flashlights to allow for closer examination of the crime scenes. However, there wasn’t very much thought given to the flow through the room, so one was stuck standing and waiting for people to move for long stretches of time. It would have been better to set things up so people moved only in one direction through the exhibit. And it would have been much better to limit the number of people allowed in at a time. Even with these annoyances, it was worth seeing the exhibit and I’m glad I took the time to.

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12 January 2018 @ 11:42 am
The theme for Week 2 (January 8-14) is Favorite Photo.


This is a photo from Lithuania from the late 1930's. I believe it was taken in Slobodka (Villiampole), which was the primarily Jewish district across the river from Kovno (Kaunas). The older people in it are my great-grandparents - Chaya Tsipe nee KHONKEL and Shachne (Shoker) FAINSTEIN. The older boy on the right is my father, Ephraim (Eric) NADEL, who was probably 8 or 9 years old at the time. The two girls are his sisters - Michla on the left and Leah on the right. The other boy was also named Ephraim and was the son of my grandmother's sister, Beila GRINBLAT. My father was the only person in the photo who survived the Shoah.

Why is this photo a favorite, despite being rather scratchy and not great quality? Well, it's the only one I've seen of most of these people. I have lots of photos of my dad and I think I've seen one other of my great-grandmother, but nothing of the others.

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09 January 2018 @ 04:11 pm
I’m not sure where I stumbled on it, but 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks seemed like a way to get me to do some better documentation of my genealogy research. I’m starting slightly late, but so it goes.

The theme for Week 1 (January 1-7) is Start. While my brother had done some research back in the late 1970s (when Roots was on television) and I was interested, what really got me started was a visit from one of my Israeli cousins when I lived in Los Angeles around 1990. She had a photo of some relatives in Atlanta, who I had heard of but knew nothing about. The photo had first names only. I was on the Jewish genealogy email list and decided to ask whether there might be some synagogue records available from Atlanta in the 1940’s. Someone responded that she worked in a retirement community and she would check to see if anyone there recognized the names (which included a couple of fairly uncommon ones). Less than a week later, she emailed me with information and addresses for two sisters, who I wrote to. This eventually led me to making contact with my HANKIN family (originally KHONKEL / KHAYKEL / HAYKEL). It also convinced me of the power of the internet.

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09 January 2018 @ 03:31 pm
Celebrity Death Watch: Ray Thomas sang and played flute with The Moody Blues. Jerry Van Dyke was Dick’s younger brother and acted on such television shows as My Mother the Car and Coach. John Young was the ninth man to walk on the moon and commanded the first Space Shuttle launch. Thomas Bopp co-discovered Comet Hale-Bopp. Interestingly, he was a hobbyist who worked at a factory, not a professional astronomer.

TCC Luncheon: Despite jet lag, I dragged myself out of the house to go to the Travelers’ Century Club lunch meeting in McLean on Saturday. There was a very good turnout and we had to move to a different area of the restaurant. I ran into somebody I met not long ago at Sixth and I there, too. It’s always interesting when different parts of my life intersect. Anyway, there was lots of good travel conversation. But the real reason to go to these things is to be convinced I’m not alone in my obsessions.

JGSGW: On Sunday I drove to Maryland for a Jewish Genealogy Society of Greater Washington meeting. The topic had to do with blogging and how it can enhance your research. That was reasonably interesting, but I wish there had been more examples of content from various blogs and less on the mechanics of the speaker’s own blog. Anyway, I should do more writing about genealogy here and, actually, I will this year because I decided to do the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks project, which is worth separate entries.

Shopping: I did order both turtlenecks (but not a dozen, and not all black) and tights. I also ordered yarn for a specific project – a crochet-along blanket depicting the solar system. Of course, I am starting out behind, because I just ordered the yarn and it will take several days to get to me. But that gives me time to find where the correct size crochet hook is lurking in my place.

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08 January 2018 @ 03:23 pm
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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05 January 2018 @ 03:29 pm
Celebrity Death Watch: Ed Lee was the mayor of San Francisco. Aharon Yehuda Leib Shteinman was regarded as a leader of the non-Chasidic Haredi (usually described as ultra-Orthodox Jewish, but there are reasons I dislike that description) world in Israel. Michael Prophet was a reggae singer. Keely Smith was a jazz singer. Clifford Irving was a writer, most famous for a hoax involving an alleged autobiography of Howard Hughes. Bernard Law was a Catholic cardinal and, most significantly, the Archbishop of Boston who was forced to resign in response to the sex abuse scandal in the church. Dick Enberg was a sportscaster. March Fong Eu was the Secretary of State of California for nearly 20 years. Bruce McCandless II was an astronaut who made the first untethered spacewalk. Fred Bass was the owner of The Strand, one of the great bookstores of the world. Thomas Monson was the president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Brendan Byrne was the former governor of New Jersey.

Aline Griffith, Countess of Romanones, wrote a few books about her espionage work. I remember The Spy Wore Red as being a pretty good read.

Maura Jacobson was a crossword constructor. She wrote a weekly crossword for Nerw York magazine for 30 years, as well as writing puzzles for The New York Times and for the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. Her puzzles were consistently witty and intelligent and provided me plenty of pleasure.

Rose Marie was an actress. While biographies claim she is most famous for her role on The Dick Van Dyke Show, I think my generation associates her primarily with Hollywood Squares. She also scored 28 ghoul pool points for me.

Sue Grafton wrote the Kinsey Milhone alphabetical mystery series. She was one of the most successful women writing hard-boiled mysteries. She did not, alas, write Z is for Zero, which would have completed the series.

Brrr: It was 9 degrees Fahrenheit when I left the house this morning. That’s before the wind chill factor. It wasn’t too bad walking to the station, but the wait for the metro was annoying. At least I’d had the forethought to dig out my balaclava and wear it (along with my warmest hat). Given that I was in the tropics two days ago, this is particularly painful.

Jet Lag: I have read the claim that it takes a day to adjust to each hour of time zone change. So it is no surprise that I am having trouble sleeping and, hence, barely functional. Despite which, I found myself filling in time at work with looking at future travel. Though the only things I have booked are two international trips I had booked before I left on this last one and my hotel room for the ACPT.

Clothing: It might be the weather, but I have an unusual desire to do some clothes shopping. Mostly, I want about a dozen black turtleneck sweaters and several pairs of woolen tights. And one pair of very comfortable and very warm fur-lined boots. I do not believe that the last of those actually exists.

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04 January 2018 @ 03:50 pm
I got home late last night and am slowly trying to catch up at work. I also need to find time for my year-end review, but, in the meantime, I saw 5 movies over the past three months. (And 3 more already this year, but that's another story.)

The Big Sick: This is Kumail Nanjiani’s autobiographical film about his courtship of Emily Gordon, which included her serious illness. The culture clash aspect is interesting, with amusing scenes in which his family has a series of Pakistani women just happen to be in the neighborhood while he is over for dinner. There’s a different sort of clash with her parents. I didn’t really buy the scene in which a doctor pushes Kumail to say he is Emily’s husband so he can grant permission for her to be put into a medically-induced coma. But that’s a minor nit. There was a lot of genuine, character-based humor. Recommended if you like romantic comedy.

Inside Out: This is pretty strange as animated movies go, dealing with the conflict between emotions running a young girl’s life. Riley is in despair over her family’s relocation to San Francisco and the cartoon characters representing her emotions need to keep her memories (and, hence, identity) intact. It was an interesting concept and well-executed. I particularly liked her long-forgotten imaginary friend. But I have to admit I am hard pressed to figure out who the intended audience for this was. It seems to me it would go over the heads of most children, while feeling somewhat obvious and preachy to adults.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri: I saw this in an actual movie theatre. My main reason for doing so was that I am a huge fan of Martin McDonagh, who wrote and directed it. The story involves a woman, Mildred Hayes, who is trying to use the titular billboards to stimulate police activity on solving her daughter’s murder. This brings her into conflict with much of the town, with lots of twists along the way. Mildred isn’t very likeable, who makes Frances McDormand’s performance in the role particularly notable. Sam Rockwell also gives an excellent performance as a cop who is more complex than the dumb, angry racist he seems to be. This isn’t a movie I’d recommend to everyone, however. You have to tolerate a lot of violence along the way. But if you’ve liked McDonagh’s other work (e.g. In Bruges), this is worth seeing.

Calendar Girls: Yes, this is from 2003, but I don’t think I had seen it before and I think I would have remembered it. The story involves a Women’s’ Institute fundraising calendar – with the twist of a bit of semi-nudity. It’s mostly a quirky character-based story, with Helen Mirren playing the quirkiest of all the women. The best part is that it is based on a true story. It’s very sweet and well-worth watching.

Gifted: This is the story of the conflict between two relatives over what is best for a gifted child. The girl’s grandmother wants to exploit her mathematical genius, while her uncle wants her to be a normal girl. There’s a backstory involving the girl’s mother, which adds an interesting dimension to the story – and something of a solution to the real issues. It’s a bit predictable, but that’s a minor flaw in what is, essentially, a heart-warming family drama. Highly recommended.

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02 January 2018 @ 05:47 am
Yesterday, I went to Sentosa Island and went to the aquarium. Today's expedition was to the Singapore Zoo. I fly home tomorrow.

I think the most impressive thing in Singapore, however, is the MRT (rapid transit). They have various cartoon characters to suggest proper behaviir. Stand-up Stacey offers her seat to those in need. Bags-down Benny puts his bag on the floor, instead of a seat. Hush-hush Hannah refrains from making noise.

Which is why it was all the more shocking for there to be a ranting, cussing guy on the train the other day. I wouldn't even blink at that in NY or DC.

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31 December 2017 @ 06:30 am
The bus trip wasn't too uncomfortable, though it was one switchback after another. My guesthouse in Luang Prabang was very nice, but not as central as would have been desirable. The town had lots of charm, but not a lit of actual sites and tourists outnumbered locals by about 5 to 1.

I flew back to Singapore last night. Today was mostly spent at the botanical gardens. I enjoyed the orchids, but could have lived without the heavy rain.

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