storyteller doll

2020 - Year in Review

This is definitely the latest I am doing a year in review. 2020 was, obviously, a challenging year. The biggest thing that happened was retiring (in October) and I am, frankly, still adjusting to that. I am trying to stick to my usual format, though much of that may cover things I had hoped to do and wasn’t able to because of the pandemic.’’

Books I read only 26 books in 2020. I found that working from home definitely cut into my reading time, as did my general stress level. On the other hand, I did keep up with newspapers and mostly caught up on magazines. Anyway, my favorite book of the year was A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. Other books I liked include three of the novels in the Undead series by Mary Janice Davidson, My Mother’s Son by David Hirschberg, The Bastard by John Jakes, and West With the Night by Beryl Markham. Books I disliked included A Home At the End of the World by Michael Cunningham Puzzle For Fools by Patrick Quentin, and North Haven by Sarah Moriarty.

I got rid of 23 books. I have over 100 ready to go out, but I need to catch up on documenting that.

One other thing I should mention was going to a few virtual presentations as part of the National Book Festival. That is not, of course, as satisfying as a live festival, but was still interesting.

Volksmarch: Nothing, since I don’t generally do much walking in the winter. And then came the pandemic….

Travel: This is where my biggest disappointments of the year were, of course. I started out the year by flying home from Oman (via Dubai, with a long layover at DBX). The only other trip I took was a weekend in Las Vegas in February.

The biggest thing I missed out on was the Passion Play in Oberammergau, Germany, which is rescheduled to 2022. I also had intended various weekend getaways, including puzzle events in New York, Connecticut, and Toronto, my college reunion in Boston, and going to the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee. Some of that ended up virtual, about which I will say more below.

Puzzles: 2020 was my first time participating in the MIT Mystery Hunt, which I did virtually because my workplace did not have MLKand Day as a holiday. Most of the usual events were cancelled, though some went virtual. The only one of the virtual ones I did was Lollapuzzoola and I did terribly, at least partly due to issues with the interface.

Ghoul Pool: I did fairly well, finishing in 5th place with 272 points (just 1 point out of 4th!) out of 17 players. The people I scored on were Kirk Douglas, Sultan Taboos, Olivia de Havilland, John “Sonny” Franzese, Alex Trebek, Jean Edman, Freeman Dyson, Stirling Moss, Betty Dodson, John Lewis, Eric Bentley, Doug Supernaw, Nick Cordero, and John Prine.

For the record, my 2021 list is:
20. Prince Philip
19. Beverly Cleary
18. Al Jaffee
17. Naomi Replansky
16. W. Nicholas Hitchon
15. Anne Hutchinson Guest
14. Carmen Herrera
13. Renee Simonot
12. Bob Barker
11. Marsha Hunt
10. James Lovelock
9. Rachel Robinson
8. Lee Adams
7, Lawrence Ferlinghetti
6. Gilbert Seltzer
5. Roger Angell
4. Jiro Ono
3. Ned Rorem
2. James L. Buckley
1. Jimmy Carter

(The number is how many points you get if that pick dies, You then get to reload that slot. You also get 12 bonus points for unique picks.)

Genealogy: The biggest item here is that I was able to go to the International Association of Jewish Genealogy Societies conference virtually. I still need to finish writing up notes from the presentations I listened to after the conference was over. I also went to lots of (virtual) events with the Jewish Genealogy Society of Greater Washington and a couple from other organizations.

I also made contact with a few cousins, including a Bruskin descendent in Argentina.

What I haven’t done is getting organized.

Baseball: None, alas, due to the pandemic.

Culture: Pre-pandemic, I saw 4 musicals, 3 plays, and one revue I don’t know how to characterize. Oh, and also one Cirque du Soleil show. Favorites were The Toxic Avenger: The Musical at Rorschach Theatre, The King’s Speech at The National Theatre, andSilent Sky at Ford’s Theatre. The one concert I went to was Jonathan Richman at the Lincoln Theatre and he was wonderful.

I only saw three movies all year, which is not super surprising given that I normally watch movies mostly on airplanes and at film festivals. The Iron Giant was my favorite of them.

As for storytelling, the biggest live event I went to was the First Annual Women’s Storytelling Festival in March. I was on the organizing committee fr this and also emceed part of the day on Saturday. This was just before everything shut down, so attendance was low, but it was still pretty successful. And we are doing it again (but virtually) this March. The other live event I performed in was the Folklore Society of Greater Washington MiniFest in February.

Virtual Events: Once things did shut down, I found myself “going” to a lot of virtual events, mostly over zoom. The bottom line is that I am good at staying busy. Those included:

  • Several performances by the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene, including sing-alongs with Zaman Mlotek, a concert of Allan Sherman songs, and a couple of concerts by Adam B. Shapiro,.

  • Profs and Pints lectures on The Great American Road Trip, Epidemics in American History, Folkloric Felines, and The Truth Behind White Picket Fences.

  • Jewish Food Festival

  • Two plays and an opera, my favorite of which was the opera, Why Is Eartha Kitt Trying to Kill Me?

  • The National Storytelling Conference (which I’ve written up in some length, The National Storytelling Festival (which I still need to write up), and lots of story swaps and performances. I also performed in at least one Better Said Than Done show (and hosted another) and in a Halloween concert. Among the best of those were two shows by Stories With Spirit (which I plan to write more about) that focused on fairy tale variations, one about Snow White and one about Hansel and Gretel. One plus of virtual events is that I can go to non-local story swaps, so I get to see my Los Angeles friends, as well as my local friends from Voices in the Glen and Better Said Than Done.

  • A few sessions at Balticon and at Awesome Con..

  • Book club

  • Loser board games. I should probably explain that losers are devotees of the Washington Post Style Invitational.

  • New York Adventure Club visual tour of City College of New York, which I am mentioning mostly because I’ve been going to more of their virtual tours so far this year.

  • Art history classes, which are part of the Smithsonian Certificate program I am doing (and also need to write about)

  • Various MIT related events, including my 40th reunion.

Goals: I had set 8 goals for 2020. I’ll give myself a 50% on updating household technology, since I still have to decide what to do about replacing my rather ancient television. I haven’t formally written a budget for my retirement income so get a 0% on that one. I did enroll in the Smithsonian Certificate Program in World Art History and took 2 core and 4 elective classes, so get 100% there. I haven’t finished organizing household paperwork, but I have made good progress and will give myself a 75%. I only got 23 books out of my house, so will round down to 10%. I learned 2 folk tales (where learning means to the point of being able to tell them) so get 33% on that goal. I did enter the Style Invitational 4 times (and even got ink once) so get 100% there. And I read 26 books, so get 50% on my reading goal. So it looks like I scored 52% for the year, which is decent, given the pandemic throwing a wrench in the works.

So, let’s see, goals for 2021:

  • Get at least 200 books out of my house.

  • Enter the Style Invitational at least 6 times.

  • Finish the Smithsonian Certificate Program in World Art History. This requires 4 core classes and 6 electives but most elective classes are only a half credit.

  • Get everything out of my storage locker so I don’t need to spend money on that.

  • Organize my genealogy files.

  • Organize my craft supplies, especially yarn.

  • Read at least 52 books. I’m retired, so there’s really no excuse not to spend more time reading.

  • Get at least 4 new stories to tellable form.

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storyteller doll

4th Quarter 2020 Books

I am still working on my year-end summary, but there’s no reason I can’t do the 4th quarter update.

Once again, no movies at all.

As for goals, I’ll address that in the year-end review. The short version is that I took several Art History classes. And I made some progress on household paperwork, but there is still a ways to go.

Which brings use to books:

  1. Kristina McMorris, Sold On a Monday: I read this for my book club. The story revolves around a young man, trying to make his way as a reporter, and a secretary at the newspaper, who has to hide that she is a single mother. The reporter gets his big break via a story about children being offered for sale. Which is dark enough. As he tries to follow-up on what happened to them, there are lots of surprising twists. I thought the book started out slowly, but it picked up and I enjoyed it overall.

  2. Mitch Golant, Ph.D. and Susan K. Golant, What To Do When Someone You Love Is Depressed: This book was in a box that someone gave me. It is not something I particularly needed, though I do have friends with depression. It looks like a useful book for those dealing with a family member’s depression day to day.

  3. S.L.Price, Pitching Around Fidel: Despite the title, this book is about Cuban sports more generally and not just baseball. It’s from 1980 so rather dated, but still interesting. I was much less interested in the material about boxing. On the other hand, I was not really aware of the Cuban track star, Ana Fidelio Quirt, who made a comeback after being badly burned in an accident and I found her story very interesting. Overall, this was worth a read, but I would have liked more on the early history of baseball in Cuba and the development of the sports system under Castro.

  4. Wallace Stegner, Crossing to Safety: This was another book club selection. The novel follows two couples who meet when the husbands and both instructors at the University of Wisconsin. They build a close friendship, spending time together in various places. I really enjoyed Stegner’s writing and thought that the changes in the characters and their relationships over the years were interesting. I did have some reservations about the ending. But, overall, I’d recommend this.

  5. Mary Janice Davidson, Undead and Unappreciated: This is the third book in a series about vampire queen Betsy Taylor and is as much fun as the two earlier ones. It turns out that Betsy has a half-sister, who seems like a nice college student, but just happens to be the daughter of the devil. There’s lots of other silliness, including a fiend who likes to crochet and Betsy’s labor problems at the nightclub she owns. This is pure escapism, but I will continue to read this series.

  6. Walter Linsenmaier, The Insect World: This is part of an Odyssey Library collection of illustrated books that my parents had. It’s a basic overview of insect life, with the most interesting part being a section on parasites, including parasites that feed on other insects. But the chief appeal of this book (and others in the series) is the illustrations, w which are richly detailed.

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I was going to work on some catching up here, but I was reminded that not everybody understands our local geography.

I live roughly 15 miles west of the Capitol. I have been in D.C. itself for roughly 4 hours (to go to a medical appointment in Foggy Bottom) since March. In short, I was in no danger from today'violence, Well, other than the effects of: 1) being unable to take my afternoon nap and 2) more than the usual news overload. This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID.
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Fairly Productive

I am still thinking about goals for 2021, but had a reasonably productive day in the meantime. I got my ghoul pool list for the year in. I managed to get out for a walk in the morning, getting home just before it started raining. I shredded a bunch of papers, though there is plenty more to do. I did a load of laundry, though haven't quite finished putting everything away. And I got started on a project to declutter my music library, which resulted in tossing a mix CD that was completely unlabeled and not particularly interesting when I listened to it.

And, oh yeah, I did manage to write every day of Holidailies, even though some of those posts were pathetic whining about being too tired to write. This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID.
storyteller doll

A Little More About My Paternal Grandfather

The strategic mistake Edith made when she married Grandpa was persuading him they should relocate to Florida. Let's just say that there was a large supply of eligible widows, leading to the inevitable divorce. If I recall correctly they only lasted a couple of years.

Grandpa moved into a place called Century Village, which Dad claimed was named after the average age of its inhabitants. A while later, I was sitting at our kitchen table doing homework while Dad was talking to Grandpa on the phone. I don't remember whether they were speaking in Yiddish or in Italian. (They used the latter if they didn't want my mother to understand what they were saying.) So I wasn't really listening, All of a sudden, Dad's vocabulary but have failed him, because I heard him say - in English - "Pa, you don't have to marry her. In America they call it shacking up."

I am not sure but I don't think he actually legally married his fourth wife, though they did have a religious ceremony. That marriage lasted even less time than his marriage to Edith.

By the way, I like to think Grandpa was faithful to my grandmother, his first wife (who was killed in the Shoah). But I have reason to believe he had been part of a chorus that toured all over Lithuania, so, for all I know, he could have had a woman in every town they went to. This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID.
storyteller doll

About Cars

It turns out that the SUV that hit the power pole yesterday caught on fire and melted some of the fiber optic lines in our neighborhood, which is why my FIOS was out. It was restored a little after midnight.

jwg wrote an entry about cars recently, which triggered these thoughts.

My family was unusual for 1960's suburbia in that my mother did all the driving. My father did have a driver's license, but he claimed that the 1954 Plymouth Bel Air my parents bought when they got married in 1956 didn't work right for him. I believe he'd actually gotten scared after a minor accident, but he never said that.

In 1967, my parents had some success with a stock investment and went to Ocean Spray Dodge, where they bought a brand new Dodge Dart, in which we took a trip to Montreal for Expo 67. A few days after we got the car, Dad decided he would try driving it. Mom wouldn't go with him, so our neighbor across the street did. Dad backed the car out of our driveway, drove around the block, pulled back into the driveway. And never got behind a steering wheel again for the rest of his life.

Mom's attitude towards cars was that you keep them until you can see the road through the floor boards. About 10 or 11 years later, the Dart was stolen from the train station in town. I happened to be home from college so I saw the denouement of that. It turned abandoned, a few blocks away from where it was stolen. The police came to the house. When they told us they'd found our car, Dad said, "who asked you to?" Mom was angry because the thieves (presumably joy riding teens) had broken a window to get in, not realizing the door locks didn't work.

When my brother graduated from college, my parents flew to Michigan for his graduation. Dad had a high school friend there who had arranged their purchase of a 1979 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme, which they then drove back to Long Island. Mom drove that car until the day before she died in 2014.

I didn't own a car until late 1985, when I moved to Los Angeles. I leased a 1986 Toyota Corolla and bought it at the end of the lease term. It served me well for 8 years, though it was annoying that there were a lot of non-standard parts that you had to buy from Toyota, at vastly inflated parts. The sealed headlights, for example, cost $65 instead of the $5 or so for a normal bulb. Similarly, their windshield wiper blades were about four times as much as those for other cars. The Corolla met a tragic end on a rainy day, when I skidded on a wet road and hit a guard rail.

I replaced it with a blue-green 1994 Saturn SL2, which I named Neptune. Neptune was the great love of my automotive life - not sexy, but practical and cheap to maintain. In its later years, the odometer failed and the air-conditioning failed and, finally, last summer, I decided that 25 years was a good enough automotive lifetime.

So I bought a white 2019 Hyundai Accent, which I named Twain. The logic is Hyundai Accent - Accent Mark - Mark Twain. With things being as they are this year, I've only put on a little over 15000 miles in that year and 4 4 months, but I am happy with Twain so far. I doubt that I will ever buy another car. This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID.
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Power Outage

Our power was out for over 7 hours this morning - from roughly 3 a.m. to 10ish. Apparently an SUV hit a power pole over on Nutley Street, which is the major road connecting Fairfax and Vienna.

I keep a flashlight on my nightstand, but had not checked the batteries in a while. They weren’t dead, but the light was dim. It was enough for me to see my way to the living room to get my headlamp, which was plenty bright enough.

I know that I own at least three other flashlights and another headlamp, but I have no idea where any of those are. I also should really put all of the spare batteries in one place. I doubt I have any D batteries at all (which is what the bedroom flashlight takes) but I think I saw some AAA batteries (spares for the headlamp) recently.

This sounds like a useful organizing ptoject.

Anyway, the power came back on, but my FIOS is still down. I can tether my computer to my phone if need be, but I will try calling in the morning. My guess is that Verizon also doesn’t check their batteries. This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID.
storyteller doll

Rainy Days

When I was growing up, they showed cartoons at the junior high auditorium on rainy days during vacation times. (And, before someone asks, I have no idea who "they" were.) The offerings were pretty much Loony Tunes - Porky Pig, Bugs Bunny, etc. The attraction was not so much the cartoons, as the colored lights on the stage curtains between them, which we all oohed and ached over.

But an even bigger attraction was how we got there. Normally, we walked to school. (Lincoln Orens Junior High was basically a wing of Auduon Blvd. Elementary School.) But it was raining, so parents would drive us. And the best of those was when Doreen's father drove. He ran a laundry and we rode in the back of the laundry van, sitting on top of the bags of laundry. So much more fun than sitting in an actual car seat! This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID.