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18 September 2019 @ 03:28 pm
Celebrity Death Watch: Charlie Cole was a photojournalist. Peter Nichols was a playwright, best known for A Day in the Death of Joe Egg. Anne Rivers Siddons was a Southern novelist. T. Boone Pickens was an oil magnate. Eddie Money was a singer who got only one ticket to paradise. Ric Ocasek was the lead singer of The Cars, who were a big deal in Boston in the late 1970’s. John Cohen was one of the founders of the New Lost City Ramblers. Betty Corwin created an archive of theatre on film and tape.

Robert Mugabe was a Zimbabwean revolutionary, turned big man politician and dictator. All in all, he destroyed what should have been a prosperous country to line his own pockets. I’ve been known to describe him as the most evil person who never actually played for the New York Yankees. In case you haven’t figured it out, he was someone I was happy to see die. And, yes, I had him on my ghoul pool list.

Phyllis Newman was a musical theatre actress who won a Tony for Subways Are For Sleeping, as well as starring in The Madwoman of Central Park West. She was also the widow of lyricist Adolph Green.

Cokie Roberts was a political journalist. She was one of the first women to break into broadcast journalism. I enjoyed her news analysis on NPR and the columns she wrote with her husband, Steve. She definitely belongs on any list of inspiring and influential women in media.

RSAD: Some people have Seasonal Affective Disorder in the winter, due to lack of light. I am suffering from a different sort of seasonal depression. Namely, Red Sox Affective Disorder or RSAD. Technically, they haven’t been eliminated just yet, but realistically, they have managed to break my heart this season. At least the Nationals have a good chance of a wild card slot.

Anyway, the combination of RSAD and being super busy at work (with two big projects going on), has got me behind on life in general and too tired to go out much. I’ve skipped at least three events I was interested in because I needed time just to do basic life maintenance, i.e. things like laundry, opening mail, changing the furnace filter, etc.

Andy Offutt Irwin: I did go out Saturday night to see Andy Offutt Irwin’s storytelling show at The Auld Shebeen. He told an interesting mix of stories, starting with Odysseus and continuing on to a personal story about his cub scout days. But most of his material was fictional, about his Aunt Marguerite and other (fictional) relatives, who provide a lot of character-based humor. It was an entertaining evening and it was good to get out of the house, as well as to see several storytelling friends.

Dear People Who Schedule Things: I am reasonably sure there at least four Wednesdays in October. In fact, my calendar tells me there are FIVE. So why is everything I want to do on the same one? (I have already paid for my ticket and a friend's ticket to that event and been reimbursed by said friend, so I am committed. I am just kvetching because, as my mother would have said, what else is human language for?)

Retirement Planning: 353 days to go. More to the point, I have figured out two more things to do when I retire. Namely: 1) Spend roughly a month in New Zealand, and 2) take the Smithsonian Resident Associates art history certificate program.

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16 September 2019 @ 10:29 am
I have plenty of other things to write about, but I wanted to close out the series of things I wrote about Graze snacks, now that they've stopped their subscription boxes in my area. (I am not sure what the boundaries of that area are, but I know they've stopped in New York, too.) I was rather annoyed that the last box contained two packets of each of four snacks, but so be it. Anyway, here are the snack reviews I hadn't posted previously.

Cocoa Cranberry Oat Squares With Superfoods: These are rolled oat flapjacks (i.e. soft granola bars) with cocoa and cranberries. Apparently, the cacao nibs are the superfood part. They have 200 calories. This was pretty tasty, though the chocolate flavor is not quite as intense as you might expect.

Cocoa Cookies with Special Blend Black Tea: These are exactly what the name suggests – two cocoa cookies, along with a tea bag of what tasted like perfectly ordinary black tea to me. They have 110 calories and 4 grams of protein. The cookies are not too sweet and a bit on the dry side, but work well with the tea. Overall, I thought this was a good afternoon snack.

Iced Cinnamon Bun: This consists of vanilla cookie drops, yogurt-coated sunflower seeds, and caramelized honey and cinnamon almonds. It has 170 calories. Anything with honey and cinnamon nuts is delicious in my book and this was no exception. All of the ingredients were good, but those cinnamon almonds were orgasmic. I marked this snack as “love.”

Cacao & Orange with Dates and Raw Almonds: This consists of chopped dates, almonds, and cacao orange fruit pieces. It has 170 calories. All of the ingredients are tasty and they blend well together. There is plenty of both chocolate and orange flavor, making this an excellent sweet snack.

Cranberry & Hazelnut Toasts with a Rich Chocolate Dip: This is exactly what the name sounds like. The toasts are twice-baked and contain things like quinoa, as well as the cranberries, hazelnuts, sugar, and flour. The dip is a thick, dark-cocoa spread. Overall, this has 130 calories. I liked it, but I thought the cocoa spread dominated the flavor to the point that I didn’t really taste the cranberries at all. Still, it’s a tasty snack and I’d be happy to get it again.

Sweet and Salty Veggie Protein Power: This consists of honey salted peanuts, edamame beans, baked salted peanuts, and unsalted roasted cashews. It has 160 calories. While each of the ingredients is something I like, the combination is kind of weird. In short, I didn’t think the honey nuts worked at all with the rest of the ingredients. I solved that by eating them separately, but that does rather defeat the purpose of a combination snack.

Apple and Carrot Defense Smoothie: This consists of apple pieces, carrot chews, blanched almonds, and raspberry and chia bites. It has 170 calories. I didn’t really care for this. The carrot chews are bland. The raspberry and chia bites don’t have a lot of raspberry flavor. All in all, the apple bits are dominant and just didn’t blend well with the other ingredients. I marked it “dislike.”

Oatmeal Cinnamon Cookies with Special Blend Black Tea: Nothing mysterious here – two oatmeal cookies, with some cinnamon flavor, along with a bag of black tea. There’s a total of 100 calories. The cookies are a bit drier than optimal but not bad. Perfectly fine, though not exciting.

Overall, I'm not really sorry to see the subscription box end, as it was a bit pricy. More to the point, it accomplished its purpose of getting me to try some things I never really ate before, like raisins and rhubarb and dates. If I really wanted to, I believe I could still order specific snacks from Graze. They do also sell at least some of their snacks at a couple of stores near me.

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11 September 2019 @ 02:15 pm
I have been rather swamped at work, so am (again) behind on writing. Let’s see …

Book Club: Last Wednesday night was book club. Because it was my birthday, we had cupcakes, too. The book was Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, which I had read about a year ago and did not bother to reread. Most of the discussion focused on loneliness and whether there really is an epidemic of loneliness amongst millennials. I think it’s a bit arrogant for a bunch of boomers to talk about what millennials are like. And I’m not sure that it’s really a generational problem, since the issue of lack of social capital goes back more than 20 years. Anyway, it was a good discussion, even when it got away from the book.

Story Swap: Saturday night was the monthly Voices in the Glen story swap. This time, it was out at Gary’s house, which is in the Western Hinterlands aka Loudon County. It was a fun time with a good mix of stories and conversation.

Gelato Festival: I often send out suggestions of things to do to a group of my technie women friends. In this case, I had an offer for three tickets for the price of two for the gelato festival. It ended up with 4 of us, but the fourth person is retired Air Force, so I just bought her ticket at the veteran’s price, which was only about a dollar more, so it worked out fine.

One of my friends and I had lunch at The Commodore beforehand, largely because it was a convenient location. It was a good idea to eat something with actual nutritional value before overdosing on sugar. I got an ahi tuna sandwich with mango salsa and home fries, which I thought was pretty good.

Then we went over to City Market and started in on gelato. There were 12 competitors and you could have as much as you wanted of those flavors. There were also special flavors and you got just one go at those. The first of the special flavors was from Air Italy and was a combination of fior di latte, honey, and corn flakes. It was just a spoonful, which was, frankly, enough for me as I thought it was so-so.

The longest lines for the special flavors were two booths from Pre-Gel, each of which had about a dozen flavors to choose from. (You got 2 or 3 in a cup.) I got blueberry mascarpone and cinnamon crisp at the first booth. The cinnamon crisp was exactly the sort of flavor I like. The blueberry mascarpone was also quite good, with whole blueberries in it. The second booth was less successful for me, with lemon cookie (which I thought a bit too sweet) and gianduiotto (dark chocolate and hazelnut). The gianduiotto was very nice, but the two flavors didn’t really go together well.

We watched a few competitors in the gelato scooping contest, which had two parts. One part involved how many scoops the competitor could scoop in a tall pile in 30 seconds. The other involved how many cups they could fill. They distributed the cups afterwards, but they turned out to be bland, overly sweet vanilla.

The last of the special flavors was from Dolci Gelato and, sad to say, I’ve entirely forgotten which one I got there. I know it wasn’t the birthday cake one, which one of my friends got, nor the pumpkin spice one, which another friend got. Maybe pistachio?

There were also lemonade samples (plain or strawberry) from a company called Pacoiugo. I thought the strawberry lemonade was very refreshing. We somehow skipped the espresso samples from Caffe Vergnano.

But the real point of this was the gelato competition. In most cases, each of us got a cup that was half and half of two flavors. So here is my take on what we had.

Avocado Two Mike: This was from Dolce Riviera of Dallas, TX. It contained avocado, Nutella, salted caramel, and some sort of cookie bit. I don’t care much for avocado to begin with and this was way too weird for me. I tasted a few spoonfuls of it but, no, not my thing.

Piazza Navona: This was from Zerogradi Gelateria in Ambler, PA. This was a coffee and chocolate flavor and was one of my favorites. I was possibly biased by the name, since Piazza Navona is one of my favorite squares in Rome with a grand Bernini fountain. More to the point, Piazza Navona is the site of Tre Scalini whose tartuffo gelato is one of the seven wonders of the gelato world. Ambler, PA appears to be a bit north of Philadelphia and this place is worth keeping in mind should I be meandering up that way.

Salted Caramel Butter Toffee: This was from Pastaria of Nashville, TN and had crunchy cocoa nib toffee layered into salted caramel gelato. I liked the crunch and the flavor but, overall, it wasn’t anything special.

Pistachio Baklava: This was from Bluenoon in Washington, DC and is self-explanatory. This was another one that I liked quite a lot. I think it would make an excellent dessert after a dinner of Middle Eastern food.

Coconut Love: This was from Gelato Gourmet of Weston, FL. It was a mix of coconut, white chocolate and hazelnuts. It had a strong coconut flavor, which I thought was a bit overwhelming. (But I have mixed feelings about coconut and, more often, prefer it in savory foods like curry, so your mileage may vary. It finished third in the competition, so I suspect mine was a minority opinion.)

Mango Raspberry Cashew: This was from Iorio’s Gelato of Kentwood, Michigan. It was a nice, refreshing flavor, with lots of fruit flavor. I’m apparently not the only person who likes fruity gelati as this came in second place in the competition.

Blueberry Pie: This was from Amore Congelato of Fairfax, VA and is supposedly a blend of classic American blueberry pie and fior di latte gelato. The gimmick is that this place sweetens all of their gelati with agave nectar, instead of sugar. I found this disappointing, with not enough blueberry flavor and, as far as I could tell, no whole blueberries.

Sweet Potato Casserole: This is from Particle Food Lab / Café Vine of Philadelphia, PA. It had sweet potatoes, walnut, and marshmallows, which were toasted with a miniature torch just before serving. The marshmallows were tasty, but made it too sweet. I thought the concept had promise but it could have used more subtlety.

Milk & Cookies: This was from Georgia’s House of Gelato’Oh of Philadelphia, PA. The cookies in question were chocolate chip. There was nothing wrong with this, but it wasn’t a particularly creative or exciting flavor.

The All-American: This was from Savannah’s Gelato Kitchen of San Francisco, CA. It was, essentially, apple pie a la mode, translated to gelato form, with salted caramel, white chocolate, graham crackers, cinnamon, and (of course) apples. I thought it was delicious, as did my friends. A lot of other people also thought so, since it won the competition. By the way, I was entirely unsuccessful in finding out just where in San Francisco this gelateria is, which is a shame, because they have other flavors that sound good and won prizes in other cities.

Strawberry Chocolate Chip: They didn’t list this on the website, so I am not sure who made it. It is pretty self-explanatory. Alas, it was bland, with little strawberry flavor. So it doesn’t much matter whose it was.

Bourbon Bacon Cannoli: This was made by Mike Mullinix and the web site didn’t list a shop. I don’t eat bacon, so I can’t tell you what it was like.

All in all, it was a nice couple of hours. I think I ate enough gelato to keep me satisfied for a good six months. And, of course, it is always good to spend time with friends.

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04 September 2019 @ 01:35 pm
Celebrity Death Watch: Larry Siegel wrote TV and movie parodies for Mad Magazine. David Koch funded right wing political causes. Clora Bryant was a jazz trumpeter. Mitch Podolak co-founded the Winnipeg Folk Festival. Vince Naimoli founded the Tampa Bay Rays. Isabel Toledo was a fashion designer, who designed dresses for Michelle Obama among others. Jessi Combs was a race car driver and television presenter. Frances Crowe was a peace activist (and on my back-up ghoul pool list, alas.) Brad Linaweaver was a science fiction writer. Valerie Harper was an actress, most famous for playing the title role in the TV series, Rhoda. (She was also someone I had considered for the ghoul pool, but so it goes.)

Heritage Brewing: I had dinner with flyer talk friends last Wednesday night at Heritage Brewing in Clarendon. The food I had (a turkey burger and salad) was okay, but nothing special. The beer, however, was quite good. I got a flight of their own brews (i.e. four 3 oz glasses). I particularly liked the Revolution (an amber ale) and American Expedition (a ginger wheat ale). I was less impressed with the other two beers I had, to the extent of not remembering what they were, though I am fairly sure at least one was an IPA because I always get IPAs. The atmosphere was cozy and the conversation (largely about travel) was good, too. Overall, a nice evening out.

Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me: Thursday night, a friend and I went to Wolf Trap to see a taping of the NPR show Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me. There were some issues at the beginning of the evening with the sound system, which were mostly resolved after the intro jokes, which, alas, don’t end up on the actual broadcast. You can, by the way, hear that broadcast at Wait Wait for August 31, 2019. The panelists were Negin Farsad, Peter Grosz, and Faith Salle, none of whom I was particularly familiar with. (Hosts Peter Sagal and Bill Kurtis are, of course quite familiar.) The guest was chef Jose Andres, whose restaurants include some of my favorites in the D.C. area (Zaytinya, China Chilcano, Jaleo, etc.) and who is also significant for his humanitarian efforts feeding victims of natural disasters. His English is a little hard to understand, but wasn’t a huge barrier. (I should note that we had been reseated by that segment to a part of the pavilion with better sound.) Overall, it was a fun evening.

National Book Festival: I volunteered at the National Book Festival again this year. That also involved spending a couple of hours on Tuesday evening at the training session. My actual shift was Saturday afternoon, from 12:30 to 5:30. I was a Hall Chaperone, which means I stood around with an "Ask Me" sign attempting to answer questions. I was on the lower level and stood near the escalator into Hall B, which meant that I answered about a hundred times more questions than the other hall chaperones in the area, who weren’t quite as visible. (I think it’s more fun if you are busy, so this was a deliberate choice.)

The most common questions were where to find book sales (since the sign for that area was obscured by a pillar) and where to find the two children’s stages. A lot of people needed to be directed to where specific authors were signing, as the line numbers were only on the app and not on the printed program. Also (and this is not news) the Convention Center maps suck. My most interesting observation was that all of the people who asked about the Veteran’s History Project (which was at one of the Library of Congress exhibit areas) were African-American women. Also, there were several people who had no idea what there was to do on the exhibit floor. I told them about the exhibitors and the book sales and the Parade of States and the stages. Overall, it was fun, but exhausting as I was on my feet for the whole time.

The Rest of the Long Weekend: I had good intentions re: housework, but was too tired to get through nearly as much as I had hoped to. I did, however, get some critical errands done and managed to read most of the Sunday Washington Post. I also partly caught up on puzzles, but I am still a couple of weeks behind. I got out of the house every day – Sunday to do a quick grocery run and Monday for a rehearsal for an upcoming storytelling show. Apparently, "oak tag" is very much a regionalism as none of the other people there knew what it was. (For those who don’t know, it is thinner than poster board and the color of manila folders. It was a mainstay of my school days.)

Now I am busy with work and real life. Yesterday involved a dentist appointment (getting two old fillings replaced plus prep for a crown). And today is my birthday.

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27 August 2019 @ 11:03 am
I had a fairly busy weekend and am anticipating a busy week.

Dear Evan Hansen: I went to see Dear Evan Hansen at the Kennedy Center on Friday night. While it originated at Arena Stage in D.C., I never managed to see it during its original run. The plot involves a teenage boy who writes letters to himself as part of a therapy assignment. Another boy takes one of these letters off the printer at the computer lab in school – and then commits suicide. Finding the letter, that boy’s parents believe that he and Evan were great friends. Evan doesn’t want to break their hearts, so he goes along with this – and the lie takes over, complete with social media campaign.

The music and lyrics are by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who were also responsible for La La Land and The Greatest Showman, both of which I disliked. And, frankly, I found the music here eminently forgettable. In short, the songs pretty much all sound alike. There’s next to no choreography, either. One has to wonder why this is a musical at all. And, frankly, with so much of the story depending on social media, I can’t imagine this having all that long of a life. The emotions will still be relevant in 20 years, but will anybody care about the mechanisms for both hiding and expressing them?

The plus side is in the performances. Ben Levi Ross was excellent in the title role and Maggie McKenna as Zoe (the sister of the dead boy and Evan’s long-running crush) balanced him nicely. There was fine comic relief from Jared Goldsmith as Jared and Phoebe Koyabe as Alana. One just wishes they had less obvious material to work with.

Assassins: On Sunday, I saw Assassins at Signature Theatre. I’ve seen this show before and listened to the original cast album dozens of times, but it is always worth seeing a Sondheim show at Signature, which has made something of a specialty of his work. (In fact, the program points out that this is their 30th Sondheim musical.) So the point of going was to see how they handled this brilliant but difficult work.

Short answer – they handled it very well. Sam Ludwig was a little folksier than I’d have preferred as the Balladeer, perhaps, but not annoyingly so. Lawrence Redmond made a sympathetic Leon Czolgosz, particularly in the bar scene as he explains why it matters that someone breaks a bottle. Evan Casey was surprisingly tender as John Hinckley. Bobby Smith (a local favorite) completely captured the craziness of Charles Guiteau, notably in "The Ballad of Guiteau." Christopher Bloch was very funny as Sam Byck. And then there were Rachel Zampelli as Squeaky Fromme and Tracy Lynn Olvera as Sara Jane Moore, both of whom gave wonderful performances. I should note that Moore’s story is probably the least accurate in the show. (For one thing, Fromme and Moore’s assassination attempts were a couple of weeks apart. For another, Moore’s failed because of a faulty sight on her gun and her arm being deflected on her second shot attempt, not because she didn’t know how to shoot a gun. Nor did she bring along her dog and son. But that’s not as funny.)

Overall, this is still Sondheim at his most brilliant and most disturbing.

Meet Twain: The really big news of the weekend was that I replaced Neptune, my dearly beloved 1994 Saturn SL2. My new car is a white 2019 Hyundai Accent, which I have named Twain (as in Accent Mark.) It’s nice to have a car where the air conditioning works and the ceiling fabric is not tearing and falling down.

Many of my friends are in shock. One colleague (on the West Coast) referred to this as "big news from coast to coast" and said it is a good omen for our purchase of additional satellites.

I am hoping this will be my last car purchase ever.

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22 August 2019 @ 04:29 pm
But first, a bit of food pornography.

Fine & Schapiro: After Lollapuzzoola, I took the bus down to 72nd and Broadway to get a fix of Jewish deli food at Fine & Schapiro. There aren’t a lot of deli options on the West Side and I’d heard good enough things about this one that I thought it was worth trying. I considered it a good omen that the "Papirossen" was playing when I walked in. This is one of my favorite Yiddish songs, largely because I used to play it on the piano when my grandfather sang.

Anyway, I ordered matzoh ball soup and a half a tongue sandwich. Plus diet cream soda, of course. They bring out cole slaw and pickles (and rye bread) right away. The cole slaw was quite good – nice and vineagary, as I like it. The soup was a bit bland and I needed to add a little salt and a lot of pepper to it. In addition to the matzoh ball, it had plenty of noodles, but no chunks of chicken and no carrots or celery. It was okay, but I’ve had better. The sandwich (to which I added mustard) was very good. I also ate one full sour pickle, which was good but not any better than anywhere else. Overall, I would definitely eat there again, assuming I didn’t have time to go crosstown to the 2nd Avenue Deli, which is my favorite.

A Fidler Afn Dakh: As soon as I saw the date for Lollapuzzoola, I looked for theatre tickets and, this time, I had no doubt about what I was going to see. I’d wanted to see Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish (or A Fidler Afn Dakh to give it its Yiddish name) since I’d heard about it. What with Joel Grey (who is, of course, Yiddish theatre royalty, being the son of Mickey Katz, one of the greatest Yiddish performers of all time, as well as Broadway royalty) directing it, how could I go wrong?

I’ll note that Fiddler (in English) was the very first show I ever saw on Broadway. My parents took us when I was in sixth grade, after they’d already seen it and loved it. And, of course, several of the songs have become part of the standard Jewish repertoire. There’s a certain irony in my cousin once removed, David, having sung "Sunrise, Sunset" at my Grandpa’s wedding to his second wife. No, that wasn’t his little boy at play.

Also, before anyone asks, I understand more Yiddish than I speak, but it doesn’t really matter. There are supertitles in English and Russian for those who don’t have the entire script memorized.

Anyway, this was an amazing production. Steven Skybell played Tevye very naturally, capturing his conflicts between the way he’d like the world to be and how it is changing around him. I far preferred his interpretation to the overwrought mugging that people do when trying to imitate Zero Mostel. The other standout performance is by Jackie Hoffman, as Yente. I had a few qualms about the choreography, mostly related to Der Fidler being overdone. But, really, this production is about the emotions of the show, of the warmth of the community and the tragedy of changing times. I sobbed through the last 45 minutes of so, starting with Tevye turning his back on Khave. In fact, I am tearing up just thinking about it.

If you have the chance to go, definitely do. There's a reason this show was extended four times.

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21 August 2019 @ 04:06 pm
Celebrity Death Watch: Henri Belolo helped create the Village People. Katreese Barnes was the music director for Saturday Night Live and is best known for writing "Dick in a Box." Ann Nelson was a particle physicist. George Simmons wrote several mathematics textbooks. Danny Doyle was an Irish folk singer. Barbara Crane was a photographer. Paul Findley was an anti-Semitic Republican congresscritter. Jeffrey Epstein was a rich pedophile. J. Neil Schulman was a science fiction writer. Michael E. Krauss was a linguist, specializing in Alaska Native languages. Reuven Hammer was a Conservative rabbi, who wrote a column for the Jerusalem Post. Kip Addotta was a comedian, best known for songs like "Wet Dream," which got played a lot on Dr. Demento. Peter Fonda was an actor, best known for Easy Rider. Larry Taylor played bass guitar for Canned Heat. Al Jackson pitched for the New York Mets. Myra Katz Frommer compiled an oral history of the Catskills.

Toni Morrison was a Pulitzer Prize winning author and Nobel laureate. Her best known novels include Beloved and Song of Solomon. She also taught at Princeton and mentored numerous African-American artists.

Kathleen Blanco was the first woman to serve as governor of Louisiana. She earned me 20 ghoul pool points and I have backfilled with Roberta McCain.

Richard Booth was the bookseller who was largely responsible for turning Hay-on-Wye into the town of used books that it is now. It’s an amazing place and well worth visiting if you like books.

Non-celebrity Death Watch: Mike Quandt was a former colleague. The most interesting thing about him was that he lived on a boat. He had worked at Boeing for a while and, when he moved to Los Angeles, he just sailed down the coast. Then he remarried and she wanted more space so they bought a condo.

Jim Murrell was one of my bosses for a while. He used a wheelchair, due to multiple sclerosis. I got his office when he moved to a different one, which had a huge plus. Namely, it was set up so that the lights stayed on without you having to get up and flail around periodically. When I moved to a different office a year or two later, I learned about what I referred to as the Building 115 exercise program. On a more personal note, Jim had a reputation at one time for having trouble working with women, but had overcome that by the time I worked for him and I found him pleasant, amiable, and (most importantly) fair.

Laurie Kramer (nee Schwimmer) was a high school friend. She and I were both part of a group who hung out at the library playing word games during our free periods.

New York – the Travel Stuff: I took the train up to New York on Friday evening. Things were relatively empty for that time of day, surprisingly, and I only had a seatmate for the stretch from Baltimore to Trenton. Except she was supposed to get off in Philadelphia and didn’t understand that the announcement that "the next station is…" refers to the one the train is about to stop at in five minutes, not the one a half hour away. I have no idea whether they made her pay for the ticket back to Philadelphia from Trenton. There was also some sort of kerfuffle between another passenger and the conductor, who got someone else on to confront her, because he said had cussed at him. It can’t have been too serious, since she didn’t get kicked off the train. (Note: there was no drama getting home.)

I stayed at the Algonquin, largely because I got a very good price. Or, I should say, a nominally amazing price of $174 a night, except that doesn’t count the taxes and the "destination fee" of $30 that Marriott adds. You get that back, sort of, by applying it to breakfast at the hotel, except that their breakfast is absurdly expensive and you really end up paying $10 or so on top of that for it. It’s still a good hotel price for New York. The location is excellent and, of course, there is all the history there. Also, they have particularly good toiletries (Beekman 1802). They don’t alas, have windows with great soundproofing.

Lolapuzzoola 12: The primary reason I was in New York was Lillapuzzoola 12. This crossword tournament was held at Riverside Church, which proved a bit more complicated than usual, due to subway track work. I took the M5 bus uptown. Which was also more complicated than it should have been, due to a closure of part of 6th Avenue and MTA’s apparent belief that everyone should psychically know how they have rerouted bus service instead of putting up actual useful signs. Still, I got there just fine.

There were three puzzles before the lunch break. Puzzle #1 was by C. C. Burnikel and was straightforward enough. Puzzle #2 was by Stella Zawistowski and was also straightforward, though it had some fill I thought was a bit obscure, making me need to rely on the crossings in a few cases. Puzzle #3 was by Paolo Pascoe and went smoothly, too. I should note that it was printed on larger paper, which was slightly awkward but more readable. At the end of those three, I had solved cleanly. In fact, I was briefly in tenth place, though that was only because not all of the scores for the third puzzle had been entered yet.

I didn’t go out for lunch, opting to eat a couple of granola bars instead. That was probably a mistake, but I guess I can blame lack of protein or lack of vitamin D or lack of something for what followed. (And, oh yeah, have I mentioned the chronic jet lag due to business trip during the week?) See, puzzle 4 is the tough one at Lollapuzzoola, the puzzle that tests one mettle. This one was by Maddie Gillespie and Doug Peterson. In one sense, it wasn’t all that hard. I actually knew exactly what to do. The trick related to something about how the answer was to be entered. And I just failed to execute it. That is, I pretty much saw what they wanted, but I didn’t see a way to actually enter it that way. A lot of people apparently had similar problems, but I was annoyed because, as I just said, I understood what they wanted. Now, to be fair, when the scores were posted, I apparently had some other error, too, so very well may not have solved cleanly. But I was frustrated. What was particularly irritating is that it was actually an excellent puzzle and the most interesting of the set. (Details are in a rot13 comment below.)

Puzzle 5 was constructed by Robyn Weintraub. This was back to straightforward and I solved it cleanly. Not that it mattered at that point.

In addition to the Puzzle 4 fiasco, I found the puzzles this year not to be very interesting, largely because the themes were too similar. (See comment below in rot13). Perhaps time travel was just too limiting a general theme for constructors to work with? What I normally love about Lollapuzzoola is the sheer craziness of the event and I felt that was missing. It was still worth doing and I will continue to come, schedule permitting, but it was disappointing.

I’ve done an annual recap of my placement over the years, so here it is, much as I hate it. I finished 146th out of 258 individual competitors, which comes to the 43.4th percentile. Sigh.

2012 – 42.6
2013 – 44.6
2014 – 57.6
2015 – 51.0
2016 – 59.1
2017 – 53.7
2018 – 55.7
2019 – 43.4

I think I will write about my evening separately.

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16 August 2019 @ 01:43 pm
Volta: I went to see Cirque du Soleil’s show Volta at Tyson’s Corner this past weekend. I generally enjoy their shows, but I thought the costumes and sets for this one were less interesting than usual. The story involves a young man who competes in a talent show but has a breakdown afterwards and is rescued by a roller-skating woman, who tries to teach him to find his true self by introducing him to various extreme sports artists. Those are the more typical Cirque performers – a fairly spectacular trampoline act, for example, and a bunch of daredevil BMX bikers. The most unusual was a "hair dangler," i.e. a woman who performed an aerial act while suspended by a hook attached to her hair bun. That was impressive, but also kind of scary.

Don’t Analyze This Dream: I had two dreams that involved yetis trying to force me to read documents. One yeti looked fairly muppet-like, but the other was much creepier, with longer hair.

Business Trip: I flew to Los Angeles early Monday morning. Meeting there on Monday and Tuesday, then a trip up to the Bay Area on Wednesday. Because the Tuesday afternoon meeting was in Azusa, I stayed that night near the Ontario Airport and flew up from there to San Jose. I don’t think I’d ever been to ONT before. It was definitely the better route, but forced me to fly Southwest, which is the moral equivalent of a Greyhound bus. Actually, the last time I took a Greyhound bus, the passengers on it kept their shoes on.

Anyway, the meetings were productive but exhausting, going on until 7 every evening. I wish I had the stamina that the primary customer for this has. (Admittedly, he is probably close to 20 years younger than I am.) At some point, I speculated about what a lethal does of caffeine would be.

Oh, Brother: I leveraged off being in the area to have dinner with my brother, who lives in San Jose, and his girlfriend. We went to Aqui where, despite the place being nominally Mexican, I had a Thai peanut bowl, which was fairly tasty, although the broccoli in it was undercooked. Afterwards, he insisted on showing me his place, which really wasn’t necessary as far as I was concerned. And then I got sick in his car on the way back to my hotel. Yuk. Fortunately, I had a plastic bag to put my clothes in when I packed them for the trip home. I am assuming this was food poisoning, rather than his driving. I was fine in the morning, though in dire need of more sleep, some of which I did get on the flights home.

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09 August 2019 @ 03:32 pm
National Storytelling Summit: My previous catch-up entry finished with a business trip to Los Angeles. I flew from LAX to SFO the next day to go to the National Storytelling Summit. My superpower is understanding public transit, so I took BART from the airport to a relatively new station called Warm Springs in South Fremont, which was a fairly short Lyft ride from the Fremont Marriott where the conference was being held. This would be a great location for a business trip to the Tesla plant, but was, frankly, a miserable location for a conference as it is really surrounded by industrial wasteland with nothing of interest. (There are a handful of places to eat within walking distance, including a couple of Asian restaurants, a McDonald’s, and a Subway at a gas station.) I, for one, would rather pay more money and be somewhere more interesting. Other than that, the hotel was decent enough, but the break-out rooms tended to be too small and the restaurant was inefficient. I gathered that they had only opened fairly recently so maybe that will improve. Not that I expect to have any reason to be there ever again, but you never know.

But the point of the trip was the conference, not the hotel. And that posed a different sort of problem – namely, my desire (and inability) to be in multiple places at once. I long ago figured out that the best thing to do under those circumstances is to tell myself that I can’t make a bad decision.

Anyway, I was tired after the intensity of my business trip, so took a short walk, got a sandwich for a late lunch / early supper, and gave myself some introvert time in my room until the official opening of the event. That started with a bunch of announcements, followed by an Ohlone Welcome and Land Acknowledgement ceremony. The Friday night keynote was by George Dawes Green, the founder of The Moth. He emphasized decision and vulnerability as being the key elements of good personal stories. I am not convinced, because I think that you also need to have resolution to turn something from an anecdote to a story. He played a number of clips of one-minute stories and I felt that, while they were entertaining, the majority of them didn’t go anywhere. He went on to talk about some neurological studies of storytelling and I thought that was more satisfying.

The keynote was followed by a reception, i.e. chance to hug lots of people I don’t see often enough. It was also a chance to preview the silent auction and decide which items I wanted to bid on. Then there were several fringe shows and the first qualifying story slam. I volunteered to be a judge at that, which may not have been a great idea because it meant I had to stay alert. I also have a problem with how to compare very different types of stories, but I think there are some basic elements you can look for. In particular, I want to be shown what the story is about, not told what I should be thinking.

Friday started with a choice of workshops. I chose to go to Once Upon a Gallery: Using Storytelling to Bring Museums to Life by Liz Nichols and Jeff Byers. They were well-organized, with a good mix of lecture, stories, exercises, and discussion. This wasn’t directly relevant to anything I am doing right now, but there are things I am interested in pursuing when I retire, and I came away with some good ideas.

Next up was a keynote (The Middle of the Middle of Us) by Charlotte Blake Alston. She started out with a poem about the late great Brother Blue, before talking about reconnecting with traditional stories. In particular, she talked about three motifs – the trickster, the orphan’s journey and dilemma tales. She also mentioned untold stories of our nation’s history noting "I have an agenda. It isn’t hidden." Overall, it was an excellent talk. I am hoping it was recorded and will be available for people to hear later on.

Next up was the State Liaison lunch. That qualified as work for me, but was useful. Afterwards, I decided I needed to listen to some stories, so went to a showcase, which featured five tellers from the Pacific region. Nancy Donoval had a particularly well-crafted and amusing story about having her fortune told.

For the next session, I chose to go to Dixie De La Tour’s workshop on Bawdy Stories: The History and Practice of THAT Storytelling. This isn’t really a topic I expect to be relevant to my storytelling, for a number of reasons, starting with my being remarkably vanilla in this area of my life. But Dixie runs a very successful series in San Francisco and I figure there are always broader lessons about producing shows. She was entertaining, but it was mostly a lecture, with some Q&A, while I prefer more broadly interactive sessions.

I went out to dinner with a few people from Southern California, followed by the Oracle Awards, which are the way the National Storytelling Network honors both performers and people who promote storytelling. There was a reception afterwards. There were also fringe performances, but I was exhausted and decided that I would go to bed earlyish. There was a rumor about a Fairy Tale Lobby story swap, which I’d have liked to go to, but sometimes sleep is the best use of my time.

On Saturday morning, I chose to go to an Intensive (i.e. a 2-session workshop) with Joel ben Izzy on Stringing Stories Together. I was hoping this would be helpful for the fringe show I vaguely have in mind, but it was a but too freeform for that. He had some good examples of making some apparently unrelated stories work together, but, overall, it wasn’t really quite what I was looking for.

After lunch, came the NSN membership meeting. The meeting was recorded and I assume it is still available for anybody who is interested. The key things to know are: 1) NSN is struggling financially, 2) next year’s summit will be in Decatur, Georgia, and 3) yes, they know the website is screwed up. I did my part towards the first item by bidding on a couple of items in the silent auction.

The other thing I did in the afternoon was go to one more workshop, on From Print to Story bv Elaine Brewster. I expected this to focus on adapting literary stories, but it was more or less about historical material. There was some useful information, but, again, it wasn’t quite what I was looking for. I also wish it had been more interactive and not quite so much lecture.

The evening featured a concert, with stories from Charlie Chin, Vicki Juditz, Kirk Waller, Disie de la Tour, and Brenda Wong Aoki. It was particularly delightful to hear Vicki, who I’ve known since the very first story swap I ever went to.

That was followed by collecting a necklace I won in the silent auction. It’s made of ceramic figures from Fun With Dick and Jane and I thought that was cute, even though we used the Ginn Basic Readers with Susan, Tom, and Betty instead. I was, alas, outbid on a set of space-related posters, which would have done nicely for my office.

Then came the Slam finale, which Sarah Beth Nelson won deservedly with a very funny story about one of the dilemmas of modern motherhood. Afterwards, I went to the beginning of Mary Hamilton’s fringe show, but I was tired and it was absurdly crowded, so I left after her first story.

I flew home early on Sunday. BART doesn’t start running until 8 on Sundays, so I used Lyft and, fortunately, was able to share a ride with another conference attendee. All in all, the conference was worth attending. I’d say that Charlotte Blake Alston’s keynote was the definite highlight. Well, along with getting to hang out with several people I don't see often enough. One thing, though - there weren't any story swaps on the program and I found that very disappointing. People's stories are the best way to get to know them and swaps work well for that.

Better Said Than Done Show: This past Saturday night was a Better Said Than Done show. The theme was Other People’s Stories and I told this story, about some of my favorite bits of New York history:

If you have some time, you should go to the blog page for the show and follow the link to hear Jay Johnson’s story, which has an incredible ending.

Andy Offutt Irwin Workshop: Sunday involved more storytelling, in the form of a workshop with Andy Offutt Irwin, organized by Voices in the Glen. He talked about various things, mostly related to wit and humor, but touching also on story structure. The heart of the workshop involved what he referred to as "Pen the Tale on the Narrative," which involved a number of words on one side of a piece of paper and each participant listing roles they play on the other. Then we each dropped a pen three times on each side of the paper, resulting in three combinations of words to use as the basis of a story. The catch is that we each had a partner who chose which pair we used. I was given "Discovery" and "Storyteller," which I, frankly, was less than enthused by. I still came up with something, but I suspect it’s rather too meta to use. It was still a fun day and worth the time (and the drive to darkest Maryland). And I might use the random method for inspiration some time when I feel lacking in that.

And now to return to my quotidian existence, which means a business trip next week, followed by a puzzle event and theatre going.

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05 August 2019 @ 02:03 pm
Celebrity Death Watch: Howard Engel wrote Canadian mysteries, featuring a detective named Benny Cooperman. Pumpsie Green was the first African-American player for the Boston Red Sox. Yao Lee was a Chinese singer. Patrick Winston directed MIT’s AI lab for about 25 years. Paul Krassner was the editor of The Realist. Art Neville sang and played keyboards with his brothers. Barney Smith founded a museum of toilet seat art. Russi Taylor was a voice actress, notable for playing Minnie Mouse. Hamza bin Laden was a terrorist, son of Osama bin Laden. Harley Race was a Hall of Fame wrestler. D. A Pennebaker was a documentarian. Ian Gibbons played keyboard for The Kinks.

Johnny Clegg was one of the greatest South African musicians, known as the "white Zulu. He performed both alone and with Juluka and Savuka. He was also an anthropologist and taught at the University of Witwatersrand. I was privileged to see him perform during his farewell tour. (And, yes, he was on the ghoul pool list.)

John Paul Stevens was a Supreme Court justice. I admired his opinions, which were generally liberal. My favorite Stevens story, however, involved somebody who questioned his wearing bow ties, accusing him of having clip-ons. Stevens just stood silently, untied his tie, and retied it. That’s class in my book. (Also, he was on my ghoul pool list.)

Vivian Paley was an educator, noted for promoting storytelling as essential for young children. She wrote a number of books, of which The Boy Who Would Be a Helicopter is particularly well known.

Orania Papazaglou wrote mysteries both under her own name and, more famously, as Jane Haddam. I’ve enjoyed both the Patience McKenna series (under her own name) and the Gregor Demarkian series (as Haddam). Her death has not been widely reported, but someone I know forwarded a mention from a mystery writers’ blog I consider reliable.

Hal Prince was a theatre director and producer, responsible for many of the greatest Broadway musicals, starting with The Pajama Game and including Cabaret and many of Sondheim’s musicals. And he had the good sense to turn down Cats. Without Prince, there really would not be concept musicals. Almost nobody else had as great an influence on the American theatre.

Nuon Chea, known as Brother No. 2, has died. He was Pol Pot’s deputy and oversaw the massacre of thousands at Tuol Seng prison. Normally, I prefer not to speak ill of the dead, but he merits an exemption. Good riddance to an unrepentant evil man.

Genealogy 1: Being home the week between the NPL con and a business trip meant that I was able to meet my cousin, Amnon, and his wife, Rachel, for dinner one night. They stopped in D.C. on their way from Seattle back to Israel largely to donate some items to the Holocaust Museum. Anyway, we had a lovely dinner and conversation and it was great to get to know some Bruskin relatives.

Genealogy 2: I was contacted by somebody researching the surname Nadel / Nodel from Dusetos, Lithuania. It’s a small enough town that we are almost certainly connected. I just need to have time to look at her tree and see if I can figure it out. What is particularly interesting is that there appears to be an artist in this line, too, from what she said in her email.

Genealogy 3: I just learned that my great-great-grandfather, Wulf Schwartzbord, was a coffeehouse owner and coffee dealer in Poland in the 1840’s. This explains a lot.

The Band’s Visit: I went to see the touring production of The Band’s Visit at The Kennedy Center a couple of weekends ago. I’d seen and liked the movie it was based on and the musical is reasonably true to the film, though felt less political. The plot involves an Egyptian police band that takes a bus to the wrong town in Israel. There are no more buses that day, so the residents put them up overnight. People connect, partly through music and partly through basic humanity. It was sweet and believable, with warmth instead of spectacle. The score is a mix of Middle Eastern music and American jazz, with a small dash of klezmer. The most memorable song is "Omar Sharif," in which Dina (the Israeli café owner) and Tewfiq, the Egyptian band leader, bond over a mutual fondness for old Egyptian movies. All in all, it made for an enjoyable afternoon.

By the way, we stayed a bit longer at the Kennedy Center because the Millennium Stage production that day was a tribute to the moon landing. The Chromatics are an a capella group who specialize in songs about astronomy. Their show had less to do with the moon landing specifically than I’d have liked. And they didn’t have any new material, so I was a bit disappointed. But it was free, which is always a good thing.

Business Trip: I had a last-minute business trip to Los Angeles, which was complicated by pre-existing plans to go to the NSN Summit in the Bay Area. I ended up leaving my flight home from San Francisco intact so had an odd-looking itinerary. The trip went fine, though it was exhausting with 10 to 11 hour days every day. And I have a follow-up trip next week which we just found out about today. Oy.

Still to come – a bunch of storytelling stuff to write about.

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