January 19th, 2021

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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