My Detroit trip - The flight there

  16-Sep-2014 (20:44)

Given that I had a 10:05am plane flight from LAX on a Thursday morning, what time should I leave for the airport? I thought I should get to the airport about an hour before my flight (what an optimist I am!) I planned on taking the Fly-Away bus from Van Nuys, and it is about half an hour from the Fly-Away to LAX with no traffic, but no traffic seemed unlikely on a Thursday morning between 8 and 9 am, so I decided to allow an hour for the bus and catch the 8am Fly-Away. It’s about 20 minutes to the Fly-Away, but I decided to allow extra time for parking and ticketing and traffic, and I planned to leave the house at 7:15 – coincidentally, just a few minutes after I typically leave for work each morning.

Well, I didn’t make it out of the house at 7:15 – more like 7:25. And the traffic was heavier than I hoped, but still I pulled into the Fly-Away at 10 minutes to 8, and to my great surprise, managed to park and get my ticket and get on the 8am bus. Whew!

Then traffic was heavier than I expected on the way to the airport, and I started to sweat a little. Probably should have left a little earlier, but too late now! But I arrived at terminal 4 (American Airlines) just a few minutes after 9. “As long as it security doesn’t take an hour, I should be fine,” I thought.

At the American Airlines kiosk, I tried to look up my reservation, and it spit out a note saying that I needed to check in with the airline that my flight was on. I looked at my reservation and realized that although I had made my reservations with American and was using American Airlines frequent flyer miles, my ticket to Detroit was with U.S. Airways. So I went to an American Airlines attendant and asked where I was supposed to go. She looked at my flight information and said, “US Airways is in terminal 3.” Terminal 3! I was at Terminal 4 and the Bradley International terminal is in between terminals 3 and 4 – So If I was going to walk there, I was going to have to go two terminal, not just one, and if I wanted to hop on one of the busses that circle the airport, I was going to have to go past terminals 5, 6 7, 1 and 2 before I got around to 3, because the busses only go one way. Now I really started to sweat!

I ran over to terminal 3, and the first thing I see at the United Airways terminal is a huge sign that says that if I’m flying on an American Airlines booked flight, I need to go to the American Airlines terminal. But wait! The American Airlines terminal sent me here! How do I get out of this loop? I asked and was told that I was in the right place. The line for getting a boarding pass looked to be about a half hour, but I found a self-serve check-in kiosk, and within a few minutes I had my boarding pass and was off to security. Man, I love those kiosks!

To get to security, I had to go up an escalator. At the bottom of the escalator, there was an attendant checking for boarding passes, (and a line waiting to get past the attendant.) I chafed in the line, but it was pretty quick. The attendant asked the woman after me if she was traveling alone and, when she said yes, sent her to the right, when he was sending everyone else to the left. I got to the top of the escalator, and rounded the corner and was dismayed to realize that the line to get through security had to be about an hour. It was 9:20.

I also realized that the escalator the young woman had been sent up led to a much shorter line. So I wondered if I could go back down and talk my way up the other escalator. There are stairs in between the two escalators, but you can’t go back down the stairs. When I expressed my concern that I would miss my flight to the attendant preventing people from going down the stairs, she pointed out another attendant blocking access to a shorter line and said I could ask her. I went around to that attendant, and when I got to her, she had her back to me. So I just went past her.

However, the person in front of the scanners who checks your id and ticket had seen me do this and told me I had jumped the line. I admitted that I had, in fact done exactly that, but begged her to let it slide, as I was going to miss my flight if she didn’t. She gave me a hard time, but, in the end, let me through.

I grabbed a bin, pulled off my shoes and tossed them and my stuff into a bin. As my stuff started going into the scanner, I patted my pocket and realized that I still had my key in my pocket, I pulled it out and tossed it towards the bin. It missed and landed on the conveyor belt. “It will be OK,” I thought, “where can it go?”

Of course, you know what comes next. All my stuff comes out the other side – all my stuff, except the key, of course! So I had to beg an attendant to find it, which he eventually did. I grabbed it and took off for the gate.

You would think that after all this I would have a huge walk to the gate, but actually, the gate was pretty close, and I arrived just about 9:40 – they hadn’t even started boarding my zone yet. I was completely shocked that after all my mistakes and poor estimation of how much time I would need, that I had actually made my flight!

I called a co-worker (because I had left 2 bananas on my desk, and I thought that leaving them for 5 days was a really poor plan) and she said, “Yeah, yesterday when you were working out what time to leave for the airport, I thought you might not have allowed enough time!” Boy was she right! Of course, she also said, “But you made your flight. So you haven’t learned a thing.” Right again!

Our San Francisco adventure - Day 10

  12-Sep-2014 (18:19)

Sunday morning (8/10), we pulled everything out of the car, put the back seat down and loaded everything back in. We headed down for the wedding which was in Burlingame. We arrived right at 11, which was when the wedding was supposed to start. The boys had theater tickets to see the Lamplighters do the Pirates of Penzance at the Mountainview Center for Performing Arts, which was a half hour south of Burlingame. So they took the car and headed south.

The wedding was at a golf course, and was set outside in one of the prettiest settings for a wedding I have ever been in. It was set up on a point of land overlooking a canyon, with deep green mountains on the other side of the canyon. There was fog on the top of the mountain, but not on the slope and it was gorgeous. Juanita was wearing a lovely dress that showed off her figure wonderfully, and Dan looked dapper indeed in his suit. The wedding brought back memories of my own wedding - my own wedding had also frequently been in my mind this trip because we had joked several times that we should have had Kari come down from Oregon so that we could see ALL our friends that had been in our wedding party on this trip. The minister who married Dan and Juanita was quite good, a nice blend of jocularity and seriousness.

After the ceremony, we became aware that the reception was at the clubhouse which was about a half mile away, and we had no car, since the boys had already gone south. But we easily bummed a ride with Lois, and it was not an issue. I took one look at the appetizers: fried won-tons, meatballs, this fila dough thing, shrimp cocktail, and bacon wrapped scallops, and thought, “Oh, Benjamin would have loved this!” Lunch was a buffet with more than half a dozen different salads, plus chicken, salmon, and carved prime rib – wow! We sat at the “intellectual table” – 6 of the 8 people had Ph.D.s! But, for the most part. the conversation did not turn to particularly intellectual topics, we mostly talked about kids and vacation travels and ordinary stuff like that. The D.J. impressed us. He’s the first one we have encountered that had the song we danced to at our wedding (Storybook Love – from the Princess Bride) in his repertoire. He wouldn’t play it right away, “too slow” he said, but he played it later on, and we got to dance to it.

I had hoped to find someone to that would take us south at least to Palo Alto, if not to Mountain View, but I was not successful. So we hung out and waited for the boys to come back and pick us up. I took off my shoes and walked on the grass on the putting green near the clubhouse, and we went down to the driving range and marveled that the deer thought it was a good idea to hang out in the middle of the driving range. They were fairly far away from the people hitting balls, but not so far that there wasn’t a ton of balls out where they were.

The boys showed up about 20 after 5 and we took off. There was an accident on the 5 that had traffic down to a crawl, but the GPS knew about it and plotted a route around the blockage, so we didn’t get caught in it. We got off the freeway, and drove parallel to it for a while, and we could see the congestion from the accident. I was very glad for the GPS! We made it home a little after midnight, tired but happy – it had been a wonderful trip, full of friends and sightseeing and good times.

Our San Francisco adventure - Day 9

  10-Sep-2014 (22:29)

On Saturday (8/9), our plan was take the bike out of the car so that we could put the back seat up and seat more than four people, pick up Daniel, get some lunch, and meet Marc’s friend Elana and her son Zack at the Point Bonita lighthouse. We knew parking would be tight at the lighthouse, so Elana suggested we meet at a market near her house, leave one car there and all go in one car. But we were running faster than she was so we ended up going to her house and picking her and Zack up. Then we went to the market and bought lunch food. I put her in the front seat so she would have an easier time talking to Marc. She said she knew how to get there, so I didn’t bother turning on the GPS. I had expected that it would take about 15 minutes, maybe less to get there, so I was surprised that after half an hour we hadn’t arrived yet. But after another 15 minutes we saw a sign saying “lighthouse” so we knew we were on the right track. Still it was more than another half hour before we arrived. When we got there, I figured out what happened. We were not at the Point Bonita lighthouse, we were at the Point Reyes lighthouse. Oh well, a lighthouse is a lighthouse, right? The parking was even more limited than I expected (there were only about 20 spaces) and appeared to be completely full, so I suggested that everyone get out and I would go park the car. But parking karma was with me again and when I went around to the other side of the lot, someone pulled out, and I snagged a space.

It was cold, but the cold wouldn’t have been an issue if it hadn’t been for the wind. There was a good stiff wind blowing the whole time we were there. We found a sheltered spot and ate our lunch. Benjamin and I walked out to a nearby point and looked out over the ocean and down at the beach. We walked the half mile path to the exhibit building, looked at the exhibits, and then went down the 300 steps to the lighthouse. The lighthouse is very cool. It has a #1 Frennel lens, which is the largest. There was a ranger there that told us about the lighthouse’s history and explained how the lens and the gears work to send out a periodic beacon. I had forgotten that each lighthouse has a particular signature of light flashes so that you can easily tell which lighthouse’s beacon you are seeing. Of course now with GPS, lighthouses are much less needed.

I was surprised at how well I did in the cold. I only had my sweatshirt, because I had forgotten that I had brought my coat into the house the previous night, so I didn’t bring it. But the cold did not make me crazy. Perhaps climbing all those steps going back warmed me up! I did wish that had brought my coat. One display said that Point Reyes was perhaps the windiest point on the California coast. I would not be surprised. We did not hang around long (parking karma for someone else.) On the way back to Elana’s, we stopped at Good Earth Market and bought pasta and ground beef for dinner.

At dinner, Elana suggested that Zack play the “1-30” game with my boys. It didn’t take long to realize that this was the very same game I had taught to Elan just a few days earlier, only with a goal of 30 rather than 10. If you know the secret, this game is deterministic and he person who goes second will always win. Since we all know the secret, there seemed little point in playing, but Jonathan agreed to play with Zack. Then ensued an “argument” over who would go first. So we knew that Zack knew the secret too. But Elana did not. Daniel came up with a nice way of leading her to the secret rather than telling her. He suggested that they play to 6 rather than to 30. So she said 1 and he chose 2, making the total 3. Elana realized that if the total was 3 and they were playing to 6, she could not win. So Daniel pointed out that therefore the game isn’t really to 6, then, it’s really to 3. And whatever the first person says, the second person can make the total 3. So the second person can always win. I was very amused that this game had come up twice in a week under unrelated circumstances.

After dinner, the boys settled down for a game of Seasons. Zack just teamed up with Jonathan rather than try to assimilate the numerous facets of the game. Elana and Marc and I hung out and talked about kids and relationships. Zach showed Marc and I a magic trick that involved laying out 9 cards face up in three columns and having me pick a card. He then asked if my card was in column 1, column 2, or column 3. “Yes” I replied. A little while later he did the same trick for Benjamin. Zack laid out the cards and asked if Benjamin’s chosen card was in column 1, column 2 or column 3. “Yes” Benjamin replied, completely unaware that earlier I had given that exact same answer. All too soon it was time to go. We dropped Daniel off at his house and returned to Lisa and Sharon’s. This time the “dog alarm” didn’t go off – whether he slept through our arrival or whether Lisa and Sharon kept him from barking, I don’t know (but I rather suspect the latter!)

Our San Francisco adventure - Day 8

  8-Sep-2014 (19:40)

Friday (8/8) we decided to do something non-science oriented and we went to the San Francisco Craft Museum. This turned out to be somewhat of a bust, as it was very small, and the exhibits weren’t all that much to our taste. However, we did have a fabulous lunch at a local restaurant called Marcella's Lasagneria. Not only was the lasagna (which is all handmade by the waiter and his father) delicious, but we had gelato for dessert and it was amazing! Next time we are in San Francisco, I will definitely try to go back.

After lunch, we set off to Embarcadero center, but then decided to go to Coit Tower. Unbeknownst to me, when I entered Coit Tower into the GPS, it didn’t take, and it continued to give us directions to Embarcadero Center. We arrived, parked, paid for parking, and realized that we were in the wrong place. On the bright side, we didn’t have to pay for parking at the next three places we went, so it all averaged out.

We went to Coit Tower and got a parking space at the top of Telegraph Hill. The sign said 30 minute parking, and we figured that 30 minutes would be about right. We went to the Tower, and there was an employee at the door saying that the wait to go up was 45 minutes. Upon hearing this, Marc stopped, but I pushed ahead into the tower, and everyone followed me. Inside the tower base, the walls are coated with frescos of California life in the early 1900s. We walked around the base looking at the frescos to the other side from the entrance. There we found the ticket booth. I told the guy at the ticket booth, that we wanted to go up, but there was a 30 minute parking limit and a 45 minute wait. He said not to worry about it, that they knew that about the problem and wouldn’t ticket the car. So we bought tickets. The wait turned out to be more like 30 minutes. When we left, there was a line out the door that looked to be another half hour wait. They were restricting access to inside the tower, so that it wouldn’t become too crowded. So we were very glad we had arrived when we did. The Tower was neat. The elevator operator was this French kid with a wry sense of humor. We enjoyed him too.

After Coit Tower, we decided to go over to Ghiradelli square. Again, parking karma was with us, and we found a free space half a block from the square. We went into Ghiradelli and they were handing out chocolates. So we took a chocolate, went out, went in a different door, collected another chocolate, and went out again. We wandered into an oil store, and they offered us samples. Overwhelmed by the choices, I turned them down. So they suggested we try their best seller. OK, why not? It was orange olive oil and blueberry vinegar. They put a small amount of each onto a small spoon – man it was delicious! I seriously thought about buying some, but the prices were ridiculous. So we wandered on. We went into a novelty shop that had some cute stuff. I had forgotten to bring a card for Dan and Juanita’s wedding, so I asked Marc if he thought there was a store here where I could get a card. He pointed out a store close by and said I could get a card there. So I went to the store and found that it was a store that sold stuff for dogs. I was puzzled as to why he would have sent me to this store, when suddenly it occurred to me that he was trying to get rid of me so that he could buy me something. So I went back and found him and the boys just exiting the store. Sure enough he had a bag in his hand. So I told him that I suspected that he had just sent me to the dog store so that he could buy me something. He denied it and said that it was an honest mistake. “So what’s in the bag?” I asked. Well, he had bought me something, but he had already bought it when he sent me to the dog store. So the dog store *was* an honest mistake, but yes he had bought me something. What did he buy me? The oil and vinegar that I had liked so much!

We wandered some more, until it was time to leave. As we left, we saw the Rainbow man, whom we thought was a little creepy. I took a picture. We dropped the boys off at a game store on Divisidero street, where they planned to play a game of Magic with their friend Daniel (and anyone else who showed up) and we went to Dan and Juanita’s rehearsal dinner in Palo Alto at the Gravity Bistro. The food there was fantastic and the company was wonderful. We met Juanita and think she is terrific. At the tail end of the evening, Marc struck up a conversation with Dan’s brother, Bruce, and I was talking to his sister-in-law, Lois. We had some time to kill before we needed to pick up the boys from the game store, so Lois suggested we find a coffee shop and continue the conversation. It was a lovely end to the day. When we set off to pick up the boys, we called and discovered the Magic game had ended, but they were going to hang out at the store until we got there. When we arrived, we learned that they had just started another game, which was in progress. That one ended after not too long, and we set off for Lisa and Sharon’s.

Knowing that we would be getting in late, they had given us a key. We tried to be super quiet, but our attempts at being quiet were thwarted by their dog. “Intruder alert, Intruder alert!” he cried. Knowing that the best way to quiet him was to pet him so that he would know we were friendly, I went into Rose’s room where he was. That was sufficient to stop his barking, but he was still giving short “wuff”s under his breath, until Rose finally passed him off to her parents who stuck him under the covers and that shut him up!

Our San Francisco adventure - Day 7

  5-Sep-2014 (23:56)

Thursday (8/7) morning, we hung out and goofed around all morning. We then decided to go to the Computer History Museum in San Jose. That museum is way bigger than I thought it would be. The first thing we saw was the Charles Babbage difference engine. Charles Babbage was a genius who lived in the 1800s who designed a machine he called a “difference engine.” It was not built in his lifetime, but in 2000, someone took his specs and had one built. Then he had a second one built and loaned it to the Computer History Museum. I was impressed that they built it according to Babbage’s specs, and it worked – no tweaking needed. Babbage also designed a machine called the “analytic engine” which is the first computer, although, it too was never built. He wrote a paper about it in French. He wanted the paper translated to English, and asked a young mathematician, Ada Lovelace, to translate it for him. She did and added an appendix containing sequences of commands that could be used to accomplish a task. Although the analytic engine was never built, and therefore Ada’s sequences of commands were never tested, they represent the very first computer program ever written.

The Computer History Museum traced the history of computers from ancient abacuses to the present. It was very well done, and contained numerous things to touch and manipulate as well as to see and read. There were some ancient computer games there (Pong, Pac-man, Colossal Cave Adventure.) You could try your wits against Watson, the program that was a contestant on Jeopardy. We ran out of time and I had to skip over some of the stuff near the end, so we will definitely have to go back.

We had dinner plans with cousins Lisa and Sharon, so we left at 4:30 and arrived at their house in San Francisco slightly before 6pm. Their daughters Miriam and Rose were there, and it was great to catch up with them. The kids played a game of Gloom after dinner, while the adults chatted. I was pleased to discover that I did not react at all to their dog or their three cats.

Our San Francisco adventure - Day 6

  4-Sep-2014 (22:24)

Wednesday (8/6) we had planned to go to Alcatraz, but I didn’t know that the tickets sell out, and when I went to buy tickets, I couldn’t. So instead we went to Golden Gate Park. First we went to the deYoung Museum. We liked the “sculpture” in the front, but decided that we weren’t so interested in the exhibits. So we went to the Japanese Tea Garden. Then we went to the California Science Academy, but discovered that it costs $36/person, and we only had 2 hours, so we decided that that was a little too pricey for only two hours. So we had lunch, and then looked at the sculptures near the deYoung museum. There’s also a Turrell Sky Space close by - I really liked the Sky space! The Rice campus has a Turrell Sky Space too, so Jonathan told us about the similarities and differences between the two.

Next on the itinerary was Hazel (Marc’s friend from college) and Paul’s house. On the way there, I was navigating using Marc’s phone and a message came in from Hazel saying that she had brought a cream cake for dessert. I read it out loud and Marc grimaced and said that the cake was supposed to be a surprise for my birthday. I laughed and said that it would have been a surprise if Marc hadn’t said anything, because I had just thought that she was saying she bought dessert, and it didn’t occur to me that she was specifically getting something for my birthday! At Hazel and Paul's, we just hung out and chatted until dinner.

Benjamin amused Hazel and Paul’s seven-year-old son, Elan, who took quite a shine to him. Later on, Benjamin said that one of the fun things about seven-year-olds is that you can be quite snarky, and they don’t get it. They played chess and Benjamin and Jonathan taught Elan to play Forbidden Island. After dinner, we were sitting around and talking and Elan wanted Benjamin to leave the table and play with him. I first distracted Elan by teaching him a game we call the one-two game. You start with a total of zero. Each player in turn picks either one or two and adds this number to the total. The person who makes the total equal to 10 wins. This distracted Elan for a little while, but soon he again wanted Benjamin to go off and play. So I called him over again and showed him my pedometer. I asked him to see if he could add steps to it. So he ran furiously around the house for a couple of minutes and then came back to see how many steps he had added. I helped him figure out approximately how many steps he had added, waxed poetic at how many steps that was, and then he ran around the house some more. Repeating this process a dozen times kept him occupied for at least half an hour.

A good part of the conversation that night was whether Hazel and Paul were going to be able to go on their planned vacation to Hawaii. They were supposed to leave on Saturday, and a hurricane was supposed to hit the next day, with a second to follow a few days later. Plus a 4.5 earthquake had just rocked the island the day before. “Do you think someone is trying to tell you something?” I asked!

Our San Francisco adventure - Day 5

  2-Sep-2014 (22:29)

Tuesday (8/5) was a long awaited trip to the Exploritorium and the Tactile Dome. We drove to the Milpitas Bart Station, met Hazel and her son Elan there, and took Bart in. Because there was four of us, it might have been cheaper to drive in and park, but taking Bart gave us extra time to sit and talk to Hazel and get to know Elan.

The Exploritorium is pretty much how I remembered it, only more polished. We got there around 10:30 and needed to eat lunch around 11:45 or 12 (because our Tactile Dome tickets were at 12:45) so I suggested pushing through to the back, because the restaurant is at the back. Ha! Moving a group of 6 through the Exploritorium was one long sequence of “Wait, I just want to look at this!” But we did manage to get lunch into everyone in time. The Tactile Dome, like the Exploritorium, is much like I remembered it, only more polished. Of course the fabrics on the walls are different, and now the monitor keeps track of the people inside with infra-red cameras, not just sound. The room at the top was slightly different, and the birdseed at the end is now beans, but basically, it’s the same. Everyone loved it – how can you not?

Benjamin had obtained a 1:30 ticket to make a Pendulum drawing. However we had an hour in the Tactile Dome, so I told him to trade it for a later ticket. However, they weren’t giving out the later tickets until 2. So after the Tactile Dome, we went over to the Pendulum Drawing area. There wasn’t a well-formed line to get tickets, so people were sort of jockeying around trying to figure out where to stand. They started giving out tickets, and it soon became clear that they were giving out all the tickets for the rest of the day. They came down to the very last ticket and there was two recipients left, Benjamin and a pair of women. I protested that Benjamin had had a ticket earlier, but had given it up because we had been in the Tactile Dome. The worker asked who had gotten in line first, and Benjamin admitted that the other family had been there first, so the worker gave the ticket to the other family. I felt terrible, because I had told Benjamin to give back his 1:30 ticket. In retrospect, he should have just stepped out of the Tactile Dome at 1:30 and come back after he made the drawing. It would have been fine. But all was good, because the women were angels, and they decided to give their ticket to Benjamin, so he got to make his drawing after all.

The Exploritorium made me wish I lived in the Bay area and could have a yearly pass, and I could come periodically and do a subset of the Exploritorium in more depth, rather than trying to see everything superficially. Maybe someday.

When the Exploritorium closed, we explored the store for a while, and then headed out for dinner. We went to the Ferry Building, and Daniel Hoffman, who is working in San Francisco this summer, joined us. I had brought both my sweatshirt and my coat on this trip. Having both jackets had been somewhat annoying in the Exploritorium, but I was glad at dinner, because we ate outside, and the cold wasn’t a problem.

After dinner, Hazel and Elan caught BART back home and we stayed and walked around San Francisco with Daniel. First we checked out an interesting pair of sculptures. Then Benjamin wanted to find a restroom, so we went into the Hyatt. After using the restroom, we decided to go up the elevator, which was a glass elevator. We went up to the 14th floor, and looked over the rail to the lobby below. There was an interesting sculpture in the lobby, so we went down and checked out the lobby. There was a river near it, which was neat. There was also an electronic concierge, which we played with and broke. Well, we found broken links, and told the front desk about it. We left the Hyatt and walked around San Francisco for a while and then we took BART back to our car in Milbrae. When we got to our car, we found that we had gotten a ticket. That surprised us because we had paid for parking. But we had unknowingly parked in a restricted zone. I took a picture showing the parking space and the pillars in front of the spaces to either side, neither of which had any sign. There were pillars every other space, so the nearest pillar with a sign was four spaces away. There was a website where I could file a protest about the ticket, so I filled a protest and sent my picture. We will see what happens.

Our San Francisco adventure - Day 4

  1-Sep-2014 (20:47)

Monday, 8/4 - This morning we were disappointed to find out that the breakfast served by the San Jose motel was pastries and orange juice. We had been spoiled by eggs and French toast and waffles and muffins and cereal and fruit and yogurt at the last hotel!

We had planned to go to the Tech Museum of Innovation, but Benjamin had gone there with Cosmos and said that it was for younger kids. We wanted to go to the Computer History museum, but it wasn’t open on Mondays. So we went off to the see the Winchester Mystery House. Our tour included a new baby and a woman who looked to be about 90 - quite the age range! Afterwards we set out to find lunch and ended up in a very pricy part of town. The food was very good, but I hope we don’t have to spend that much for all our lunches! It was a very expensive morning, because the Winchester house is also way overpriced.

We then went down to Santa Cruz, to the wharf. Overheard on the wharf: “The ocean is just like an aquarium, only free!” We saw a sea lion in the ocean close to the beach, and could hear them under the pier. Someone in a uniform told us how to find the stairs that would take us down to the landing under the wharf where we could see the sea lions. We went down and found a lot of sea lions hanging out on beams under the wharf. Two sea lions were arguing about ownership of a beam, which was humorous, because there were plenty of unused beams. We had to leave earlier that we would have liked, because we had 4pm reservations at the Mystery Spot.

Traffic was horrible, and it took 40 minutes to cover the 8 miles to the Mystery Spot, so we missed our tour. He put us on the next available spot, which was at 5pm. A few minutes later I overheard him tell a family that the next open spot was at 7pm! The Mystery spot is cute, and at $6/person, I did not feel like we had been ripped off. Our guide was pretty entertaining.

We went back to Jeff and Magnolia’s for dinner, and we were joined by Marty (Jeff’s father) and Avery (Marty’s wife’s grandson.) Avery will be a junior at Stanford this fall, and the boys all got along fabulously. My boys brought out Bananagrams, and Avery held his own against Jonathan, Marc and Jeff. Since there were two college kids, and two kids applying to college, there was, of course, lots of conversation about colleges and majors. Dinner was delicious, and there was cake and ice cream for dessert.

Our San Francisco Adventure - Day 3

  31-Aug-2014 (22:34)

Sunday 8/3 – After spending the night in Davis, we had more wonderful breakfast, and then went to Berkeley. We found a Laundromat and washed all Benjamin’s clothes while we had lunch. I showed Benjamin the house I had lived in for three years while at Berkeley, and then we went onto campus. First, we went to the top of the Campanile (the Bell tower) and looked around. The visibility wasn’t too bad, and there was a nice breeze blowing. We went over to the Bectel building (the Engineering building) and saw the tables with the embedded chess boards where I used to play Go. We tried to get in to Evans hall (the math building) but it was locked. We were able to follow a student in, but once in, we couldn’t see much because everything was shut down for the summer. So we headed back – stopping at one bridge to play Pooh sticks (Benjamin’s stick won) and also stopping at the bridge I call “the bridge to Pooh corner” because the only thing on the other side of the bridge is the back corner of a building. There’s really no reason to have this bridge there – there’s no entrance or path to somewhere else on the other side - unless Pooh corner were on the other side. So that’s where it must be.

We set off for San Francisco Airport to pick up Jonathan. Despite traffic on the Bay Bridge, (going into San Francisco at 5pm on a Sunday? Really? Is there ever NOT traffic on the Bay Bridge?) we arrived at SFO just as Jonathan’s plane landed. Found him easily (cell phones sure make airports easier) and set off for San Jose.

We had dinner with my college friend Jeff, his wife Magnolia, nephew Kevin and baby Madeline – boy is she cute! They barbequed tri-tip, and boy was it yummy! We sat around the pool and talked until sun went down and we couldn’t see each other. Then we went inside and ate equally yummy dessert.

Our San Francisco adventure - Day 2

  30-Aug-2014 (23:41)

Saturday 8/2: We ate a light breakfast at the hotel, even though we knew Cosmos would be serving us brunch, because brunch wasn’t going to be until 10. Plus the hotel breakfast was awesome, and who knew what Cosmos would be serving? First stop was to get gas, because we had come into town on fumes. After we got gas, we got a text from Benjamin saying “When will you get here?” Do you reply to a text like that, or do you just park and walk up to his room? We put all his stuff in the car including the bike, and learned that the purchase of a U-Lock the day that we dropped him off at Davis was a wise investment. Benjamin said that all the people he knew who used a cable lock to secure their bikes had their bikes stolen.

When we arrived at brunch, there was a long line to get served, so we went to look at Benjamin’s project instead. His group had modeled the effect of fishing on fish populations. Benjamin explained his project and then explained the other five projects for his cluster. After all that explanation, we were ready for some food, so we went and got brunch. After we ate, they were gathering the clusters together to go into the auditorium where the closing speeches were going to be given. So we hung out in the same area. In retrospect, I wish we had gone back and looked at some other clusters’ projects, because it was a long time before we went in, and we never got the chance to see the other projects.

Closing ceremonies was mostly just presentation of certificates of completion, and with 190 kids attending Cosmos, it was longer than we would have liked, but not too bad. Academic Connections, the program Benjamin attended last summer, had done the same thing, so we knew what to expect. Afterwards we took some more pictures and then we were done.

I was concerned that Greg, being a Rabbi, wouldn’t check his Facebook messages on the Sabbath and wouldn’t get my message until too late. However, it’s easy to find a Rabbi on the Sabbath! We googled the name and location of the Davis temple and just went there. We arrived while they were chanting Haftorah, and stayed for the end of the service. As it turned out, my fears were unfounded, and Greg had seen my message. But I was glad we had gone, because the Davis Temple is very nicely done with lots of wood and a lot of stuff done with light. Also, there was a math quilt hanging in the entry to the synagogue that was very cool.

After the oneg, we got lunch. We thought about checking out the Arboretum but decided instead just to go back to the hotel for some down time. We just hung out until it was time to go to Greg’s house. We met his wife Julie and son Noah and then Greg and Julie and Marc and Benjamin and I went to dinner at a Thai restaurant in Davis. Afterwards we went for ice cream. It was wonderful catching up with Greg, and getting to know Julie.

Our San Francisco adventure - Day 1

  29-Aug-2014 (22:07)

Over the summer, Benjamin attended a four week academic program called Cosmos at UC Davis. It ended (and we needed to pick him up) on Saturday, August 2. In addition, we were invited to my friend Dan’s wedding on Sunday, August 10. We decided to take a vacation in the Bay area during the week between the two events to visit friends and be tourists. Then Jonathan called home and announced that he was going to come home on August 3 for a three week break between his summer job and the start of school. We told him not to fly home, but to fly into SFO, and so he joined us for our adventure. The boys really enjoyed the sightseeing and were good sports about the friend visiting.

I wrote about the trip while we were on it, but I don’t like posting stuff about vacations on my blog while we are away from the house. So now it is almost a month later and I’m just getting around to posting what I wrote. I’m planning on posting a day each day – we will see how it goes.

Friday 8/1: We had planned to drive up to Davis on Friday after work, and to my great surprise, we actually left at 6pm as planned, although without having eaten dinner. But that was mostly because we weren’t hungry yet. We stopped at Blanche’s and dropped off the dog. We were surprised to find very little traffic getting out of LA, and we arrived at our hotel in Davis just before midnight.

The first friend we had arranged to visit was Greg, a friend from college who is now the Rabbi in Davis. I sent a Facebook message to him saying that we had arrived and that he should contact us on Marc’s cellphone tomorrow, as I would have limited access to internet.

How I minimize the stress of doing taxes

  3-Mar-2014 (20:16)

Well, here it is March 1 and I have filed both Federal and State taxes! Wow! Take away my procrastinator’s license. On the other hand, it took me 3 days (after writing it) to post this – give it back!

To compute and file my taxes, I have an Excel spreadsheet with all the forms I file for both Federal and State taxes. I update that spreadsheet to the current year, and then use that to estimate my taxes. Then I go to TurboTax online and enter all the numbers there. TurboTax only charges you if you use them to file your taxes. You can use TurboTax to calculate your taxes for free. I then compare the answers I got with my spreadsheet to the answers I got from TurboTax and resolve any discrepancies. Then, to file, I go to the IRS website and use the FreeFillableForms application to file for free. For State taxes, I go to CalFile and file for free.

I’m sure some people think I’m crazy to do it this way. Just pay an accountant, they would say. But I’ve always felt that for people with simple taxes like me, gathering the information was 80% of the effort in filing taxes, and once I’ve gathered all the information, it’s not worth paying someone $300 to type it into some accounting software. Plus, how do I know that my accountant hasn’t made some typo in entering the numbers, unless I do the calculation myself as well?

Well, if I am not going to pay an accountant $300 to do my taxes, why not pay $50 for TurboTax? Well, I *am* using TurboTax, I just don’t use them to file – I file for free using the FreeFillableForms app the IRS provides (and using CalFile on the Franchise Tax Board website.) This does mean I have to enter all the information again. On the other hand, my tax return is not all that complicated. It only takes me about 15 minutes to enter all the information again. $50 for 15 minutes of my time is definitely worth it! Even if it were more like 30 minutes – still worth it!

So really the question is – why use the Excel spreadsheet in addition to using TurboTax online? Because then I am confident that I entered everything correctly – no typos, and that I haven’t missed anything. The redundancy gives me confidence that it was done right. That peace of mind regarding my taxes is worth the time it takes to do it twice.

But do I advocate this method for everyone? Definitely not! My solution is not a good one for those with more complicated taxes, those who find dealing with numbers stressful, and probably a ton more situations. Like with most questions, my answer does not fit all situations - but it works for me!

Choosing a College or University

  29-Dec-2013 (16:11)

I’ve been reading Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book “David and Goliath.” In one of the chapters, he talks about a young woman (given the pseudonym Carolyn Sacks) who loved science and was accepted to both Brown and the University of Maryland. She chose to go to Brown, since it is widely regarded as the better school. As so many do, she had trouble with chemistry, dropped the class, retook it in the following semester and got a low B. She was pretty demoralized by the class, especially since she was a sophomore competing against freshmen. Then she took organic chemistry, and it destroyed her. She would listen to the other kids in the class, who obviously “got it” and despair, because she didn’t. So she dropped out of science altogether.

So what did Gladwell think that the woman’s problem was? Was it that she had lumped all science together, and when she wasn’t any good at chemistry, she discarded astronomy, biology, ecology, geology, meteorology, oceanography, physics, and zoology (to name a few)? Was it that she attributed her failure to herself, rather than to the teacher, or to a poor fit between the teacher’s teaching methods and her learning style? No, Gladwell thought the problem was that she was comparing herself to the other Brown students. Since the other Brown students were (for the most part) succeeding, this made her feel like a failure. Gladwell says, “Sacks isn’t stupid. She’s really, really smart. But Brown University made her feel stupid – and if she truly wanted to graduate with a science degree, the best thing for her to do would have been to go down a notch to Maryland.”

Gladwell’s solution to the problem that surrounding yourself people smarter than yourself makes you feel dumb is to surround yourself with people less smart than yourself? His message is that it is better to be a big fish in a little pond than a little fish in a big pond.

Now far be it for me to criticize being a big fish in a little pond! I, and many of my friends and family, have made significant hay out of being a big fish in a small pond! But in criticizing Sacks’ choice of Brown over Maryland, he focused on one point only – how likely she is to finish Brown with a degree in science. The statistics clearly show that a person in the middle or bottom of Brown is way more likely to drop out of science, than someone in the top at Maryland. And Gladwell makes the point that the best students at “non-top” schools publish in prestigious journals as much or even more than the bottom or even the middle students from “top” schools. Therefore, his conclusion that it is better to be a top student at a less prestigious university than a bottom student at a prestigious university seems well justified.

But his conclusion raised many questions in my mind. The first is – how do you know that you are going to be a middle or bottom student at the prestigious university you are considering? Gladwell tells the story of Stephen, who was doing algebra and geometry in elementary school, taking high school classes in middle school, taking college classes in high school, had nearly perfect college admission test scores and was valedictorian of his high school class. He went to Harvard as a physics major and did fine until he took quantum mechanics in his junior year and got a B-. He then dropped out of physics and became a lawyer. Now, there was no indication that this kid was going to be anywhere but the very top, even at Harvard. If he had known going in that he was going to have trouble with quantum mechanics, if Sacks had some expectation that she was going to have trouble with chemistry, then I can see an advantage to choosing a less prestigious university (or at least a less competitive one.) But these kids had every expectation that they would sail through these classes with flying colors.

Which is precisely Gladwell’s point. Both kids thought they would sail through at the top of their class, and when they didn’t, they looked around at the other kids sailing through and were demoralized. So if these kids, who had every expectation of doing fine, did not do fine, it could happen to anyone – so by Gladwell’s logic, *everyone* who gets into both Brown and Maryland should go to Maryland, which would mean that all the super-bright kids would now be at Maryland, and when Sacks and Stephen got their B’s at Maryland, they would still be surrounded by bright kids and would still be demoralized. Gladwell’s logic doesn’t work if everyone follows it.

At a more selective school you get a better caliber of student. Gladwell thinks that being surrounded by really bright people is a disadvantage because it can make a smart student feel dumb. I would agree that, if it is important to you to always be better than most everyone in your class, you should go to a less selective school. It can also have advantages in impressing and getting attention from professors. But I liked being surrounded by kids that were smarter than me, kids that challenged me, kids that made me think, kids that I could look up to intellectually. It was one of the things I liked about Berkeley and it is one of the things I like about my job.

My solution to the “being surrounded by smart kids can make you fill incompetent” issue is NOT to go to a school with fewer bright kids. My solution is to inoculate bright kids so they don’t give up on science at the first difficult class! Make sure they know that not everything will be easy, and that when it’s not, it doesn’t mean they can’t succeed as a scientist. Remind them they should not give up on all of science because chemistry isn’t intuitive. Reinforce that they should not give up on physics because they can’t do quantum mechanics. Tell them that lots of scientists can’t do chemistry and that many physicists can’t do quantum mechanics.

Having said that, I also say – don’t choose to go to an Ivy league school just because it is prestigious. I do believe that going to a top-ranked school is an advantage in obtaining your first job, but only a small advantage, and only in your first job. As soon as you have some experience, it’s the experience that matters, not from where you graduated. The prestige (or lack thereof) of the school should only be one factor considered in choosing a college. The program, the classes offered, the majors available, the living situation – all these should considered when choosing a college.

How to tell a PG-13 (language) joke without swearing

  25-Dec-2013 (17:15)

One of the (many) quirks of my family is that we don’t like to swear. Even when relating a story involving other people are using swear words, we will tend to substitute more acceptable words for the swear word. When it comes to one particular 4-letter word (starting with ‘F’) we borrowed a rather ponderous approach to avoiding using the word itself from an episode of the NPR radio quiz show Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me. Noting that the word means “what people do when two people love each other” and deciding that that phrase was too long to use as a replacement for the simple one syllable word, we shortened the phrase to “when two people love each other.” It’s very silly to use this long phrase, which is why we like doing it. With that preamble, here’s a story that Marc told us the other day.

The other day, he had dinner with a Paula, a quilter friend of his, and she told him of a quilt which had the theme (as he put it – which is not how she put it) “when two people love each other Cancer.” She then said that she had participated in a quilting block swap with the theme of “when two people love each other.” In a quilting block swap, the participants chose either a fabric or a theme, and each person makes a quilting block using the fabric or theme for each of the N participants. So each participant makes N blocks that are all the same, and ends up with N blocks that are all different, which each person (typically) turns into a quilt. So Paula had 20 blocks, most of which said “when two people love each other.” She hadn’t turned them into a quilt as yet partly because she wasn’t sure what she would do with it. I mean, is this a quilt you would proudly display on your guest bed when your mother comes to visit? Donate to your favorite charity for their silent auction? What do you do with a “when two people love each other” quilt?

Marc pointed out that she can’t GIVE it to anyone, because... “Nobody gives a `when two people love each other`!” (Ba-dum-bum!)

WRJ/URJ Biennial - Days 4&5 (Sat&Sun)

  21-Dec-2013 (10:14)

WRJ/URJ Biennial - Days 4&5 (Sat&Sun)

Just to wrap up my summary of the WRJ/URJ Biennial:

The morning was, of course, filled with services. I liked how they read from thirteen Torahs set up around the room (two of which came from our Temple!) so no matter where you sat you were close to a Torah. The d'var torah was really well done.

During lunch, I attended a workshop put on by the new Jewish Science camp (6 points sci-tech academy) that is opening this summer, and we got to build a tower out of spaghetti and marshmellows, so that was fun! Afterwards, I did Israeli dance - it was nice to really move after all the sitting that weekend, but I had to cut dancing short to attend the WRJ installation. The installation was one more really well done event in a weekend of well done events.

After dinner, we had the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Women of Reform Judaism. Highlights included Anat Hoffman (executive director, Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), chairwomen, Women of the Wall (WOW) and a truely amazing woman) being given the WRJ Jane Evans Pursuit of Justice Award, WRJ being given the URJ Eisendrath Bearer of Light Award, NFTY kicking off its 75th anniversary year, and musical performances by some of the biggest names in Jewish music. Plus Havdallah, of course. Erika and I finished off the evening by going to the Josh Nelson concert afterwards.

Sunday was the closing plenary, which included a speech by Netenyahu via video feed from Israel. Details are in my biennial report): After Netanyhu spoke, there was just a few more speeches and then the day and the convention ended. I headed home with my head swimming with all I had seen and heard, the new songs I had learned playing on my CD player, and me singing at the top of my lungs, despite having almost no voice left!

WRJ/URJ Biennial - Day 3 (Fri)

  19-Dec-2013 (19:20)

WRJ/URJ Biennial - Day 3 (Fri)

Here are highlights from Friday (for details, go to my biennial report):

The day started with the YES fund breakfast. It continued with a second workshop on social media. Thursday's workshop was on how to *do* social media, Friday's was on how to *use* social media. It was very good, and very different from the one the day before.

After lunch I went to a workshop on Challenges in the Advancement of Women in Home and around the World with Anat Hoffman, Illyse Hogue, and Ruth Messinger as panelists. Oh my god, these women are soooo amazing! I recorded many of the things they said, some because they were deep or thought-provoking, and some because they were funny (example: Hogue said, “You asked for international examples, so I’m going to use the State of Texas as my example.”) After hearing Anat Hoffman speak here, I was not surprised that WRJ gave her an award on Saturday night - she is an incredible woman.

Friday night started with services. It's hard to describe what it is like to say the Sh'ma with 5000 Jews all in one room. After services we all ate dinner together - the logistics of serving 5000 people dinner all at once boggle my mind, and they did a fantastic job. After dinner we took a picture of all the TAS people who were at Biennial - its in my biennial report.

After dinner, we had a good old-fashioned camp song session - it was amazing! I was in heaven!

WRJ/URJ Biennial - Day 2 (Thurs)

  16-Dec-2013 (20:26)

WRJ/URJ Biennial - Day 2 (Thurs)

I reread what I had written about Biennial and thought, "no one in their right mind is going to read all this, even if I post it in pieces over the course of two weeks!" Some of it is good, but other pieces are just note taking during workshops (one workshop very much had me flashing on my college days!) So I decided to post it all in one piece to our old newsletter website and just blog about the highlights here.

When I uploaded it to my website, I was amused that the last thing I posted to this site was the last Sisterhood Convention I attended!

Thursday's highlights:

Thursday morning was the WRJ Pacific District meeting and a workshop on social media. If you're interested in what WRJ said about using Facebook and Blogs to promote your Sisterhood, it might be worth reading what I said about Day 2.

After lunch was a workshop on search for religious equality in Israel. I wrote down some of the more humorous things that the panelists said. Examples: "The longest conversation I’ve had in my life is with God – whether she listens or not" and "I don’t care what congregation you belong to as long as you are embarrassed by it."

We had a WRJ plenary session that day. I had dinner with my San Diego cousins and missed the URJ plenary, so I don't have any comments on that. There was a Max Jared and Rick Recht concert that night, which was very high energy. Day 2 includes a discussion about the gender balance at the concert, which seemed very skewed female to me and what that means.

Good workshops, good speakers, good food and good singing - what more can you ask from one day! I went to bed happy.

WRJ/URJ Biennial - Day 1 (Wed)

  13-Dec-2013 (10:50)

WRJ/URJ Biennial - Day 1 (Wed)

I decided that it would be fun to go to the Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ) biennial convention in San Diego. It is the 100 year anniversary of WRJ, and the convention was being done jointly with the Union of Reform Judaism (URJ) so the convention promised to be extra special. My Sisterhood paid my registration, so that gave me the responsibility of reporting back on what happens. So I decided to blog about it.

Looking at the traffic report, I was concerned that 3 hours would not be enough time to get to San Diego, but my worries were not born out and I made it down in just over 2 ½ hours (whoo hoo!) When I arrived, I found that parking was $28/day at the hotel, so I took the time to look around and found a garage for $15/day. That started the trip on a high note!

I picked up my registration and went to find the afternoon workshops. It took me a while to figure out where they were being held, because you had to walk through the exhibit hall (which was not set up yet) to get to them. I had brought my lunch from home, which meant I didn’t have to scramble to find something to eat. So I could go directly to the workshops, which had already started. I was really glad I had brought lunch.

I went to the workshop on baby boomers (and found Rabbi Lutz there). The workshop was all about how the needs and priorities of Jews differ (or don’t) by generation, and how congregations need to change to stay vibrant. I found the ideas to be a little somewhat abstract (e.g. give your membership a “tapas” menu rather than a “grand prix” menu.)

Next was the WRJ plenary session, Rabbi Rick Jacobs (URJ president) (speaking to a room full of women) told a great story about his daughter Sarah, who attended a school assembly where religious leaders from four religions came to speak to the kids about religion in the 21st century. Sarah asked the question, “What can four *men* have to say to us about religion in the present day?” What a firebrand!

Steve Sacks (URJ Chairman of the Board) spoke next, telling of his granddaughter, (also a Sarah,) who, in reference to praying at the Western Wall, asked him, “It’s just not fair that girls can’t pray like boys. What are *you* going to do about it?” Another spitfire!

The other speakers were also good, but didn’t have any stories about Sarahs. Lynn Magid Lazar (WRJ President) amused us by quoting from Dr. Seuss’s Oh the places you’ll go. She reminded us of what WRJ has done over the years, but fortunately didn’t list everything, or we’d still be there.

There was a panel on philanthropy, which discussed the following questions:

What are the characteristics of a good women’s philanthropist? Answers: One who makes sure the money goes where it should go and does what it should do. One who knows how to listen and can ask questions. Advice: Figure out your passions and don’t spread yourself too thin.

In what way are Jewish women unique as philanthropists? Answers: American Jews are incredibly generous to charity – more so than your average American. They give a little less to congregations than average – which may be because they attend services less than average. Advice: We need to make sure that Jewish women’s voices are heard in planned giving.

How has the increased impact of Jewish women changed the philanthropic world? Answers:

How as an organization should WRJ think about approaching donors? Answers: The number one tool is the internet and technology. WRJ needs to find out what your donors’ interests are. Advice: The number one predictor of whether someone gives to a Jewish charity or a non-Jewish charity is whether they feel connected.

I went out to dinner with friends who live in San Diego, and didn’t get back in time for the beginning of the URJ plenary. I did hear the speakers at the end, but didn’t have my netbook, so I didn’t capture what they said.

I went to the late night Michelle Citron and Julie Silver concert, because I love Julie Silver’s songs, and as good as Julie Silver is, I thought Michelle was even better – although it’s hard to compare, because they have very different styles.

Virgin Mobile makes my day!

  12-Nov-2013 (23:13)

The other day I was at work until 6pm, and when I left it was dark. As I went to leave the parking lot I saw a skunk on the grass. I pulled over and took several pictures with my cell phone. When I got home, I wanted to put the pictures on my computer, and didn’t want to email each one individually. So I called Virgin Mobile to ask them how to do it. The first person didn’t know how to do that, so she passed me to a supervisor. He told me that it would be easy if I had an android phone. Thanks, but I don’t have an android phone. So he said that there was no way to do it (other than emailing each one individually.) Then he said, “is there anything else I can help you with?”

I didn’t say my first thought, which was “you haven’t helped me with anything, yet” or even my second thought, which was, “can you not end your sentences with prepositions?” Instead, I gave my stock response to that question, which is, “Can you add money to my account?” “Sure!” he said brightly, “Just hold on one moment” and he put me on hold. “Oh great,” I thought, “he’s going to top up my account from my credit card, which they probably have on file, and I don’t want that! But surely he won’t do that without my approval, will he?” Then Marc called me to dinner. So I said to myself, “forget this!” and hung up the phone and went upstairs. Just as we were about to sit down, the phone rang. It was the Virgin Mobile guy calling me back. “We got disconnected,” he said. “I wanted you to know that I added $25 to your account.” “From my credit card, right?” I replied. “No,” he said, “I just added it.” Stunned, I thanked him and hung up. Later, I double checked my account. Sure enough, the balance was $25 higher than it was earlier in the day! Wow!

Bureaucratic headaches

  4-Nov-2013 (22:19)

Over the summer, Marc got a new job, one that does not provide health insurance. However, my company provides health insurance to spouses, so no problem, right?

I added him to my policy. A month later, I received an email saying that I had to verify that Marc was my spouse. Really? Why don’t you just look at your records from two years ago (before he got the job at CSUN) when you *used* to cover him? Sigh. I guess that would be too much to ask.

So what do I need to submit to “prove” that we are married? A marriage certificate and my last tax return, they say. OK – fortunately, we *have* a marriage certificate, because I hear they take about 6 months to obtain. So I scanned and uploaded both documents.

Two weeks later, I received an email saying that Marc was NOT verified. Why not? The email didn’t say. Of course I got the email at 5pm on Friday, so I had to wait until Monday to call.

When I told Marc, however, he came up with the answer. Our marriage certificate records the marriage of Jackie Schuster and Marc Gelman. The name Zev is nowhere to be seen. When I called on Monday, sure enough, that was the problem.

So, I asked, what document do I have to give them to show that we are married. I was told to upload the court order. We don’t have a court order, I responded. When we changed our name, you didn’t need one. The woman asked, “Well, did he *legally* change his name?” I said, “What does ‘legally change his name’ mean?” She then said, “Did he change his name *legally*?” To which I again responded, “What does ‘legally change his name’ mean?” And she said again, “Did he *legally* change his name?” At this point, I said, “restating the question does not tell me what ‘legally change his name’ means!”

She was taken aback by this. At this point, I took pity on her and offered up the information that Marc’s driver’s license has his name as “Marc David Gelman Zev.” I asked if that would be sufficient. She had no idea. So she ran off for about twenty minutes trying to find out. When she came back, she still didn’t know, but said to submit it and hope it was enough. She said she would keep an eye on the case.

I pointed out that I should send in a copy of my license too. She said, no, they didn’t need that. I pointed out that the marriage certificate mentions Marc Gelman and Jackie Schuster, and if there is a problem connecting Marc Gelman to Marc Zev, there should also be a problem connecting Jackie Schuster to Jackie Zev. This also seemed to confuse her. She said again that there was no problem with my identification, only with Marc’s.

Once again I took pity on her and let the matter drop – clearly there is a box to check off that says “is husband’s last name on marriage certificate the same as husband’s last name on tax return” but there is no box to check off that says “is wife’s last name on marriage certificate the same as wife’s last name on tax return”! Since it’s really not about showing that Marc is my husband, it only about checking off all the boxes, it doesn’t matter what my last name is now.

I wonder what she would have done if, when she asked if Marc *legally* changed his name, I had just said “No, but he’s still my husband – so what document should I give you to prove it.”

I’m off to upload a scan of his driver’s license and passport. We will see if that is sufficient!

Choosing a college or University

  18-Oct-2013 (00:29)

Several of my friends, like me, have 11th grade college-bound children and we are all somewhat obsessed with where they will go after high school. One friend has been singing the praises of small liberal arts colleges, and sent me an paper by Thomas Cech titled, Science at Liberal Arts Colleges: A Better Education?

The paper made a number of excellent points, including that excellent small liberal arts colleges rank well on the list of the top 25 Colleges and Universities in terms of percentage of students who go on to earn a Ph.D. in science and engineering.

But the article fell short on other ways, particularly in making many unsupported statements that would convince someone who already agreed with his premise, but fell short of being convincing to the non-choir members of his audience. For example, he states without support that “At the colleges, lecture sections rarely exceed fifty students in an introductory class and drop to perhaps a dozen in the upper level science courses inhabited mostly by junior and senior science majors. At research universities, the numbers are typically much higher, with sometimes as many as five hundred students in a single classroom for an introductory class and as many as one hundred students in an upper-level course.” I thought he was comparing the liberal arts colleges on his top 25 list to the Universities on his top 25 list, but clearly NOT, because (except for Cornell at 14,250 undergrads,) all the schools on his list had less than 7000 undergrads. Not one of the schools on the list was going to have classes of 500 – they don’t have enough undergraduates attending the school! I found a website listing, for each college or university, the percent of classes with less than 20 students, and low and behold, the Universities on his top 25 list did very well. When his top 25 list was sorted by percent of classes with less than 20 students, the top 10 schools contained 7 universities and 3 colleges. So his arguments could be valid if he was arguing in favor of attending a small College/University, but I did not find them convincing to attend a liberal arts college rather than a University.

Next he said, “The teachers in the two sorts of institutions also have a very different orientation towards education. Many university professors enjoy teaching, or at least take satisfaction in their teaching, but rarely is it their first love.” I know that several of the Universities would take exception to that statement, for which he provides no evidence. Both Harvey Mudd and Rice have specifically stated to me personally that one of the advantages of their University is their focus on teaching undergraduates.

I also took exception to his statement, “What impact does a liberal arts curriculum have on a career in science? In brief, the classroom and laboratory sessions are more personal” I believe that this again is a difference based on the size of the school, rather than the whether the school is a liberal arts college or a university.

He then talked about the advantages and disadvantages of undergraduate research at liberal arts colleges vs. research universities, and again, all of his arguments in favor of liberal arts colleges seemed to me to be more a function of the size of the college than a function of the nature of the college.

He finally moved on from arguments that were a function of size to discuss the advantages of a liberal arts education. He made an analogy between athletes who cross-train and are better for it to students who study more than one discipline, saying that they would be better off for it as well. Perhaps, but again, he provides no evidence. My experience has been that the value gained from a class is directly related to the interest one has in the subject. So the student who can find subjects of interest to fill out the liberal arts requirements could benefit greatly. Much less so, the student forced to take uninteresting classes.

There were other unsupported statements that I found unconvincing, but this essay is long enough! However I have to mention the one statement that motivated me to put my thoughts down on paper. “Perhaps there is also a tendency to underestimate the effect of the peer group on the quality of education. In this regard, the colleges may be successful because they surround a student not simply with other bright students who performed well on standardized tests but with students who are excited about learning, who are confident but not overconfident about their own abilities, and who enjoy working hard.” What is the implication here? That the students that go to Universities like Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, Columbia, and Yale are “simply bright students who performed well on standardized tests?” That these students are not “excited about learning” and that they do not “enjoy working hard?” I take exception to those implications! Schools that are highly selective work very hard to make sure that they DON’T just take students that perform well on tests, that their students are excited about learning and that they are willing to work hard.

Cech makes a very convincing argument for small liberal arts colleges – if you already agree with him! Those who already agree with all his unsupported statements will find them very compelling. However the more uncommitted reader will not find his arguments quite as persuasive. His essay did support my belief that we should not reject excellent small liberal arts colleges simply because they are liberal arts colleges. However, he was unsuccessful at persuading me that a small liberal arts college is necessarily better than a small University!

Benjamin and Confirmation Class

  14-Oct-2013 (21:22)

Benjamin has not been doing religious school at our Temple for the past three years, because he was doing Hebrew High, which has a major Judaica component. But he wanted to participate in the Temple’s 11th grade Confirmation classes. I’m very glad he decided to do that, because then then he comes home and tells stories like the following:

In Confirmation class, Rabbi Lutz said that the prophets were all about T’kun Olam - making the world a better place. So Benjamin asked about that unnamed prophet who asked a person to punch him in the face, and when the person refused to do that, prophesizes that the man would be eaten by a lion, which he was. Then the prophet asked another man to punch him in the face, and (fortunately for guy number 2) he did as the prophet asked. Benjamin wanted to know how that prophet was all about making the world a better place.

I expressed surprise at this Bible story (1 Kings 20:35-42,) which I had never heard before (not that I’m any kind of an authority on Bible stories!) Benjamin then told me the rest of the story. The prophet disguises himself and waits for the King. When the King comes by, the prophet says to the king something along the lines of “I was told to guard another man, and that if the other man went missing, my life would be forfeit. The other man escaped.” The King (not knowing who the speaker is) responds that his (the speaker’s) judgment shall be as he has said (i.e. he has to die.) Then the prophet says, “Because you have spared the man I said must be destroyed, now you must die in his place, and your people will die instead of his people.”

I figured that this Bible story sounded bizarre because Benjamin was paraphrasing and taking it out of context, so when he went to bed, I looked it up, and found out that he had pretty much laid out the story exactly as it appears in the Bible. I asked him about the last line, which made way more sense to me if the King had said it, and Benjamin explained that the story before this one was about how the King had been told to kill another leader, but the King made a treaty with the leader instead.

So now I understood that the story was really about doing what God has commanded you. Benjamin was amused by this story, because when some random person doesn’t strike the prophet when the prophet tells him to, the prophet has a lion eat him. Seems somewhat extreme to me, but hey, I’m not a prophet.

Benjamin said that Isaiah is about making the world a better place (Ezekiel somewhat less so,) but there are also prophets like the one in the lion story, who are all about doing what God commands. So, if doing what God commands and making the world a better place is necessarily the same thing, then the prophets are all about making the world a better place.

What I really like is that Benjamin was able, when the Rabbi said that the prophets are all about making the world a better place, to say, “But what about that prophet that has a guy eaten by a lion for not punching him in the face?”

Making a difference

  30-Sep-2013 (21:36)

All my life I’ve been taught that the importance of working to make the world a better place. “Tikkun Olam”, repairing the world, is a frequent theme in sermons at religious services at my Temple. I was raised on quotes like Margaret Mead’s, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Well, here is a real example of people coming together to make a difference in which I was proud to play a small role.

I have been a member of the American Association of University Women (AAUW) ever since I was 21. AAUW is a nationwide organization that has been working for equity for women and girls since 1881. Our saga starts with some members of the San Fernando Valley Branch of AAUW who recognize the value of working with our colleges and universities. The key was that not only were they cognizant of the potential there, they actively took steps to make something happen.

They met with Shira Brown, the Director of the Women’s Research and Resource Center (WRRC) at California State University at Northridge (CSUN,) to tell her about AAUW, and what opportunities AAUW offers that CSUN could leverage to make a difference. They told of AAUW’s fellowships, of their research into gender equity issues in education and the workplace, of things AAUW does in STEM education to level the playing field for girls and women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, of AAUW’s advocacy for policies that advance equity for women and girls, of their support for victims of sex discrimination in higher education and in the workplace. And they told of AAUW’s Campus Action Project (CAP) grants. AAUW’s CAP grants provide funding for projects that will raise awareness on college campuses of recent AAUW research.

When our story began, the recent AAUW research was about the wage gap. AAUW’s research showed how, not only do women get paid (on average) less than men, that even one year out of college and even controlling for factors like women tending to choose jobs that pay less, women tended to earn less than their male counterparts. For example, among teachers, women earn 89% of what men earned – one year out of college.

Brown listened and recognized the importance of educating CSUN students about the wage gap. She thought that it would be excellent to incorporate information about the wage gap into one of CSUN’s classes. But she wanted to reach more than just a few students in one class. So she thought of having the students design and build displays that would be installed around campus that would help teach CSUN students about the wage gap.

But she couldn’t do it alone. She needed a professor to actually incorporate education about the wage gap into a class and to make the installations required elements of the class. She found the perfect partner in Dr. Ricky Manoff who teaches the Women, Work and Family class in the Gender and Women’s Studies and History department at CSUN. Dr. Manoff agreed to handle the education, CSUN agreed to allow the installations, and Brown wrote a grant proposal to get funding.

Getting funding was by no means a done deal. AAUW only funds about 10 research projects a year and proposals come in from all over the nation. One of the perks of obtaining a CAP grant is that AAUW provides funding to send a member from each CAP grant team to report on their project at the annual National Conference for College Women Student Leaders (NCCWSL) in Washington, D.C.

Much to the excitement of the all involved, Brown’s proposal was accepted! Manoff did an excellent job of presenting the wage gap material to her students, and the students made some incredible displays. The displays were interactive, to draw the students in and engage them. For example, in one display there was two pulleys lifting weights and you had to work much harder to lift the “female” weight than to lift the “male” weight. There was, of course, accompanying text, explaining how much more women have to work on average, to reach the same financial status as men. One of the students made a webpage with a description of the displays and some pictures. She also made a facebook page. All the displays invited viewers to leave comments, and the comments showed that the average CSUN student is very unaware that wage inequity persists, and will affect them, their sisters, their wives and their daughters.

At the end of the class, the displays were presented to the class and AAUW was invited to hear the presentations. We were impressed by the thought and creativity that went into them. The students were very grateful to AAUW for providing the financial means to purchase the supplies for the displays. AAUW’s financial support gave the students significantly more freedom in designing and building their displays.

But the story is far from over. In March, AAUW-SFV became aware that Lily Ledbetter, the women whose story of injustice led to the passage of the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in 2009, was going to speaking in Southern California. AAUW-SFV suggested that CSUN to make it possible for Ledbetter to speak at CSUN as well, and CSUN made it happen. Between the installations and Ledbetter’s speech, the message that pay inequity is by no means a thing of the past reached hundreds of CSUN students and faculty.

Not only did CSUN come through in having Ledbetter speak on campus, but they also decided to fund a second student to attend and present the CSUN project at the National Conference for College Women Student Leaders (NCCWSL.) The two students that attended NCCWSL did an excellent job of presenting the project at the conference. Both enjoyed their time at the conference immensely, and came home inspired. Brown, Manoff and the students gave a presentation at an AAUW-SFV meeting on the entire project, from proposal to conference. The enthusiasm and passion displayed by the students was inspiring. The presentation left the SFV branch members knowing that we had all come together to make a difference.

Because of AAUW talked to Brown, because Brown had the idea to incorporate information about the wage gap into a class, and was willing to write a proposal to get funding, because Manoff was willing to change her class to present the material, because CSUN was willing to support the project and do what it took to get Ledbetter to speak on campus, and because the students came through with amazing installations and presentations, the message that wage inequity can be a significant factor in the lives of young women right out of college reached many who had no idea that this was still an issue. Look what a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can do!

Beware of PepBoys!

  12-Aug-2013 (22:30)

The saga started when the battery for the 2001 Honda died in the grocery store parking lot. It was a 24/60 battery, which means free replacement if it dies within the first 24 months and an expected lifetime of 5 years. I thought it also meant that the replacement would be pro-rated between 24 months and 60 months, but Marc said no. *Of course* we bought battery 2 years and 4 months ago.

Jonathan took the van and the jumper cables and got the car started and Marc drove home. As an aside for all you Prius owners – do NOT use your Prius to jump start another car! Unless you use a very special procedure that takes 15-20 minutes, there is an excellent chance that it will start a battery fire which can destroy your Prius battery. I kid you not. Look it up.

I went online and found a $25 off coupon for PepBoys if we spent $100 or more. PepBoys had a 24/72 month battery for $108.99. The website said “Free Professional Installation* Now at All Pep Boys Locations (*applies to most vehicles)” It also said that installation was $10.60 and that the optional Battery Protection Service was $9.99.

So in the morning, Marc jumped the Honda again, and we sent Jonathan off to PepBoys with coupon and instructions not to pay for installation or the Battery Protection Service. I expected everything to cost $85 (plus tax) and I hoped it would be less, since I thought we should get a prorated refund on the old battery. Imagine my surprise when the total bill came to $140.60!

What happened? Well, when Jonathan gave them the coupon, he was told that the computer wouldn’t take it. When he told them that the installation should be free, they refused, pointing out that the website said “most vehicles” and the computer was telling them that our car was not one of the vehicles. And after getting slapped down on the coupon and the installation, he forgot to tell them not to put on the Battery Protection Service. When he got the bill, he realized that he had been charged for this service, but at this point they told him it was too late.

They really had him, because once he turned off the car, he needed a jump to take it somewhere else. So he really didn’t have any options when they turned down the coupon and the free installation.

When Marc found out how they had treated Jonathan, he decided to complain. There is absolutely no reason that our car shouldn’t be on the list of cars that are not charged an installation fee. So he called customer service and asked for the list. He was told by the person answering the line that each store had a list that stated what installation cost for each car. However, that was all the person knew – he said that someone else would call Marc back.

The manager of the PepBoys where the car had been serviced called Marc back that same day. He said that there is no list. The computer just tells them whether to charge installation for that particular car or not. Marc pointed out that the website says their “Free Professional Installation” applies to “most vehicles” and how is he supposed to know whether that is truthful unless he can see a list? If installation is not free on at least half of vehicles, then you shouldn’t advertise free installation on “most vehicles”! The manager just reiterated that there was no list and they just rely on the computer.

Marc also complained about the Battery Protection Service being an “opt-out” charge (you get charged it unless you ask not to be charged) rather than an “opt-in” charge (you get charged it if you choose to have the service.) The manager agreed to refund the charge. Jonathan went back to PepBoys and was given $10 in cash.

The next day, Marc got an automated call asking if he had received a callback in response to his complaint. Since he was feeling like the manager blew him off with respect to the installation charge, he said no. He was told that his case would be escalated.

Marc received a callback from that same manager, who didn’t understand why he had to call Marc again, since he had called him once. Marc explained that he still wanted to see the list, and the manager simply told him yet again that there was no list. This did not satisfy Marc any more this time than it did the last time, so after he got off the phone with the manager, he called the complaint line again and insisted that the case needed to be escalated to someone above the store manager.

This time, he got a callback from the regional director. The regional director listened to what Marc wanted but said there was no list, although Marc did get him to admit that there was no paper list, the list was only in the computer – which was more than the store manager would admit to. Somehow the store manager was content with the idea that the computer magically decided what battery installation would cost without human input. When he found out that our car is a Honda Civic, he was surprised that we were charged installation, because accessing the battery on a Honda Civic is so easy. He said he would look into it and get back to Marc.

When he called Marc back, he said that the company would not provide the list. However, he also said that there is a known problem with the computer and that is being working on. He said that PepBoys is going to refund installation charges to customers that have been inappropriately charged installation. The regional director asked how he could make Marc happy. Marc wanted the installation fee refunded and the list of installation charges so he could see that PepBoys was not making a false claim. The regional director said that he cannot provide Marc with a list, and asked again what he could do to make this right. Marc asked him what discount he would be willing to make on the battery and the regional manager offered Marc a $35 discount.

But the story is not quite over. I went to write up this story, and so l looked up the work order to find out exactly how much we paid. The work order said that the “Battery Protection Service” was 8.50 in labor and $1.49 in parts, so we were charged $110.48 for parts, $19.10 for labor, and $9.94 tax, for a grand total of $140.60. Then I noticed that $110.48 + $19.10 + $9.94 does NOT equal $140.60! It equals $139.52! So in addition to all the things they charged us for that they shouldn’t have, they ALSO overcharged us $1.08! More computer glitches?

All I can say is that the only thing that could convince me to go back to PepBoys is free lifetime service on my car!

National Square Dancing Convention - part II

  6-Aug-2013 (19:27)

At last year's convention, the halls containing the DBD, the hot hash and the high energy dancing were often too small for the number of dancers wanting to dance. This year, they solved that problem by completely eliminating hot hash and high energy and having very few hours of DBD. My friends and I do NOT consider this to be an optimal solution!

One thing this year’s convention got right was the hex dancing – well, almost. Hex dancing, which is square dancing done in groups of 12 instead of groups of 8, is becoming incredibly popular. They had introduction to hex classes on all three days, and hex dancing scheduled for Saturday after the (third) intro class. Both of these were GREAT decisions. I missed the Thursday class, but Friday’s class was held in one of the largest rooms they had – another good decision, because 16 hexes showed up – that’s 192 people! On Saturday, we’ll never know how many people would showed, because it was held in a smaller room, and once the room filled, people found other things to do. I tried to get the hex dancing after the workshop moved to a bigger hall, without success.

There were numerous issues with the program, some minor, some significant. Minor problems included type that should have been in the same font or same size that was not and name misspellings. It would have been nice if the one-day books had all of a room’s events on facing pages, rather than on the front and back of the same page. Significant problems include times for classes that were incorrect.

In addition to issues that I experienced, I heard of others as well. A couple of callers complained that they were asked which halls they preferred to call for, but their responses were ignored. Not a good way to treat callers that are volunteering their time! A challenge dancer friend complained that the challenge dancing and the handicapable dancing was in the same hall, but information about when each type of dancing was being done was not in the schedule. Also this hall wasn’t big enough for everyone who wanted to dance challenge.

The floor in the Arena was lousy for dancing (although better than carpeting!) but I don’t know that there was a good solution to that. It would have taken a LOT of tiles to cover THAT floor!

What did they do right? Last year there were badge problems galore, and this year I didn't hear of any, so they certainly got that right. With the exception of the youth hall, the rooms were all pretty close together. Last year, I felt like I spent a LOT of time traveling back and forth between rooms; this year I was really happy with the layout of rooms.

Food! There was good cheap food, good moderately priced food, and good restaurants within walking distance.

Live band! Saturday night, we were hex dancing to a live band - that was loads of fun! Although a couple of my favorite callers were not at convention this year, overall, the quality of callers seemed better than at past conventions I have attended.

I was hoping that they would solicit comments about convention on the last day, but I never saw any forms to fill out. I particularly wanted them to know how pleased I was that they did the hex dancing workshop in a large room on Friday.

Overall, despite the things I would have liked the organizers to do differently, National's is still my favorite convention/festival!

National Square Dancing Convention - The Youth Hall

  27-Jul-2013 (18:39)

The people running the Oklahoma National Convention did a lot of things that I, and many others, did not like, but as the mother of two youth dancers, the most egregious was how the Youth hall was run. The boys, particularly Jonathan, who has been to other conventions, and experienced well-run youth halls, were appalled at how the youth hall was run at this convention.

The whole point of having a youth hall is to promote square dancing among younger dancers, who are essential for the activity to survive. Youth halls are also good for adults who prefer not to dance with younger dancers. Young dancers are often substantially shorter and lighter than adult dancers and their dancing is frequently a lot zanier than many adults are willing to put up with. The Youth hall gives the younger dancers a place to be, and thus the adults do not have to deal with their antics.

The youth hall needs a set of rules to keep the kids safe, prevent lawsuits and generally insure the smooth functioning of the room. These needs need to be balanced with encouraging the kids to dance and have fun. The people who wrote the rules did an awesome job of balancing the two sets of needs. However, the people running the youth hall at this convention seemed to have lost sight of the need to let the kids have fun when they interpreted the rules.

The youth hall is divided in half, with one half designated as the “youth” side and the other being the “family” side. Only youth are allowed to dance on the youth side, but anyone can dance on the family side. The point is to give the youth a place to dance without adults, but still provide a place for parents and their kids to dance together. The youth hall administrators initially took the principle to its logical extreme, and decided that the ONLY people who could dance on the family side were blood relatives of kids who were signed in. This was frustrating and problematic for a number of kids who had aged out of the youth hall, but, because they had been dancing in this hall for years, were friends with many other kids who had not aged out. At first, the older kids were not allowed to dance in this hall at all. Fortunately, this rule was inconsistently enforced.

The rule that only youth can dance on the youth side is a good one, but it can lead to a situation where a square has 7 kids and can’t get an eighth. The people who wrote the rules, and who ran the youth hall for years (but not this year,) wisely would watch for this situation and send in one of the hall administrators (to the youth side) to fill in the square. They could have had the entire square move themselves to the family side, but this would have forced the dancing to wait while the square moved. Or, if the tip was in progress when the square formed, it would have prevented the kids from dancing while the square moved. When the people who wrote the rules were administering the hall, the rule was “only youth can dance on the youth side, unless an adult is absolutely required to complete the square and then the adult must be an administrator.” A good rule. This year, the rule was, “adults can never dance on the youth side – period.” At one point, an adult was needed to complete a square, and the dancing started with this adult (apparently the monitors had let their attention wander.) But then the monitors noticed that there was an adult on the youth hall, and mid-dance, she stopped this square and made everyone sit down. Because following the rule was way more important than letting the kids enjoy themselves.

To the rule that both adults and kids can dance on the family side, this year’s administrators added the codicil that there had to be an adult in each square on the family side. If an all youth square formed on the family side, they had to move over the youth side. This meant that if a square formed on the family side (with an adult) and a kid wanted to dance, the adult couldn’t just step out and let the kid take his or her place. Making the swap would force the entire square to have to move to the other side. At one point, a bunch of kids wanted to establish two squares and scramble promenade. (Mix up the two squares on each promenade.) One square formed on the youth side, but then there weren’t enough youth for a second square. So they pulled in adults to complete the square. But then the second square couldn’t dance on the youth side because it had adults. So they moved to the family side. But then they couldn’t scramble promenade because they were on different sides of the barrier. So the youth square moved to the family side. But then they couldn’t dance because they had no adults. So before they were allowed to dance, they were forced to swap a couple from the second square with an adult for a couple in the first square so that each square had an adult. And this in a situation where the two squares were planning to swap couples repeatedly throughout the tip.

Another thing that showed how little this convention valued our youth was that the hall with the youth dancers was carpeted, and no tiles were laid down. Dancing on carpeting is hard on the knees, although hopefully the lack of tiles did not affect the young dancers as much as it would have affected older dancers. It did mean that adult dancers did not dance in the youth hall as much as they would have otherwise. The reduced numbers of adults available and willing to dance may have meant that some youth did not get to dance as much as they wanted. I discovered that there were extra tiles that had not been laid, and asked if they could be put down in the youth hall and was told no.

The youth hall does a “Chinese auction” to encourage the kids to dance. In past years, every time the kids danced they were given a raffle ticket for the auction. This encouraged the kids to dance, and not just to hang out in the youth hall. This year, raffle tickets were simply passed out at various times throughout the day and everyone present got one. The randomness of the timing of the ticket distribution and the fact that you didn’t have to dance to get one did not encourage participation. In addition there were substantially fewer raffles than in the past and the raffles were not chosen to appeal to the desires of kids or the stores where they shop.

The youth hall provides candy and snacks for the kids too. This year there were no snacks, and hardly any candy. They also did not do the popular "black light" dance which had been done in the past.

One last thing annoyed Benjamin, but I think it was actually the right thing to do. The youth hall has a “no pictures” rule. This is because taking pictures of kids is problematic unless you have a signed release for each kid in every picture. Rather than trying to guarantee that there is a signed release for every kid in the room, they just ban pictures. Annoying, because youth dancing is really cute, but I get it. To ensure this rule is followed, they make everyone give up their cell phones. They had a pretty efficient way of collecting them when the kids walk in. Despite the fact that the reason behind the rule is to prevent picture taking, they made Benjamin give up his cell phone, even though it can’t take pictures. The reason I think this was the right thing to do is that if someone saw that Benjamin still had his cell phone, they wouldn’t know that it can’t take pictures, and they would think that you don’t have to give up your cell. Benjamin thought that they should have just trusted the kids to not take pictures when they were told not to, and he has a valid point.

The youth hall was in the room that was the furthest away from the largest and most used rooms. In terms of use, this makes sense. The youth dancers are the least likely to go back and forth between the youth hall and other halls. However it discourages parents from checking on their kids on a regular basis, which is an undesirable side-effect.

Fortunately, despite all the annoyances, the kids still had a good time dancing in the youth hall and want to come back to Nationals next year. Hopefully next year’s youth hall administration will do a better job than this year’s.

Wells Fargo trials

  22-Jul-2013 (19:18)

In January, the Temple Sisterhood started using online Bill Pay. When I set it up with Wells Fargo, I was very clear that it needed to be free. They assured me that they had to make some changes so that it would be free, but they were taking care of everything. However in February, at the end of the month, we were charged a monthly fee of $14. At the beginning of March, I called and asked why we were charged a monthly fee. I was told that our balance was too low. They offered to waive the fee, since we had just started using online bill pay. Then they asked if I wanted to hear ways that I could avoid the fee in the future. “Sure!” I was told that I needed to either a) always have a minimum balance above some number, or b) have an average balance above some number, or c) transfer $150 from checking to savings every month. “Wait a minute!” I cried. “We ARE transferring $150 from checking to savings each month! We set that up when we set up online bill pay!”

The cheerful assistant who was helping me observed that, yes indeed, $150 had been transferred from checking to savings, and put me on hold while she tried to figure out what the problem was. She came back and said that the problem was that my savings account was the wrong kind of savings account. She said she fixed it. She then offered to reverse half of a $12 fee that we were charged because one of the checks we deposited bounced. OK, I’m sure the person who wrote us the check that bounced will be happy to hear that.

That was the beginning of March. At the beginning of April, I looked at the statement for March and noticed we had been charged a monthly fee again. So I called (again) and asked why I had been charged a monthly fee. I was told that it was because we didn’t maintain our minimum balance, and our average balance was too low, and we weren’t doing a $150 transfer from checking to savings. “But we ARE doing a $150 transfer from checking to savings!” I protested. “Oh yes, you are.” The cheerful assistant replied. But the savings account is the wrong kind of account. I will fix it.” “That’s what the last person said.” I thought. She reversed the monthly charge too.

That was the beginning of April. I was expecting the beginning of May to be different. And it was. Sort of. We still got charged a monthly fee. But this time the savings account wasn’t the wrong type. When I called and asked why we got charged a monthly fee *this* month, the cheerful assistant replied that he didn’t know why we got charged the fee. He reversed the fee, and said he would have his manager look at the problem. He gave me a ticket number.

The next afternoon, I called and inquired using the ticket number I had been given. I was told that the savings account was indeed the right type, but it “wasn’t in the package.” The cheerful assistant helping me said she could take care of that. She said that now I would not be charged a monthly fee. I said I would believe it when I don’t see it!

A week later I had to go into the bank. As long as I was there, I asked one of their cheerful assistants to check as to whether I would get charged a monthly fee at the end of May. “Yes, you will” she told me. Would you like to know how to avoid it?” I told her my shaggy dog story. She looked into the problem and explained that my savings account was not in my package, and that she would fix it. Really? That’s what the last person said! I told her that she would have to forgive me if I didn’t believe her. But this last cheerful assistant turned out to be more competent than the other four cheerful assistants, and when June arrived, at long last, we were (at long last) not charged a monthly fee!

Conversations with Jude

  31-May-2013 (21:27)

Two fun conversations with our houseguest:

1) While washing hands
Jude:The faucet is backwards. Why is the faucet backwards?
Marc: Yes it is. I bought the wrong faucet and I installed it backwards.
Jude: You stole it? You shouldn't do that!

2) While playing make-believe where I was the Mommy and he was the Daddy
Mommy: I'm hungry. Go to the store and get some dinner.
Daddy: OK. I'm going in my car.
Mommy: What are we having for dinner?
Daddy: Burgers and fries. But not the kind of burgers that come from your nose. Vegi-burgers.
Mommy: I'm glad to hear that!

More Jude stories

  29-May-2013 (21:44)

Jude surprised me today. Twice. First, when I came home, I was told that dinner was delayed because Jude had requested to take bath. "Excuse me? I think I could not have heard you correctly. What did you say?" Sure enough, I went upstairs and found Jude in the bathtub happily playing. I volunteered to watch him and work on the quilt I'm binding. Jonathan happily accepted, as he found the temperature in the bathroom way outside his comfort zone.

The second surprise came at dinner, when Jude ate 2 and a half burritos. I ate one. Admittedly, the tortillas were small tortillas, but still! Have we not been feeding this child?

After dinner, Jude came to me and asked if Jonathan could do the dishes. Why did he want Jonathan to do the dishes? So that Benjamin would be available to play with him! Jonathan *gave in* to Jude's request!

Oh and did I mention that Jude requested a "cold blanket" last night? I'm glad Jonathan understood what he wanted! (A sheet)

Jude comes to visit

  27-May-2013 (21:03)

Jude comes to visit

Jude (age 4 1/2) is visiting. He wanted to watch a video. At first I said, not yet, later, but I finally gave in to his persistent –um- requests. He picked out a video, but we were stymied when I discovered that I didn’t know how to start a video on our equipment. And I wasn’t the only luddite. Neither did Jonathan nor Benjamin. Jude couldn’t watch a video until Marc came back from the store, at which point Jude had moved on to playing Uno with Jonathan.

Marc and I took Jude to IKEA and gave Jonathan a break from watching him. Jude was good as gold as long as we were moving, but wasn’t happy when we would stop to consider something. Fortunately we didn’t have to stop much.

At dinner we all ate vegetarian. We had vegi-burgers, which Jude turned his nose up at without trying (“I already tried that!”) After tasting them, I kind of agreed with him. I’ve had good vegi-burgers, and found these to be mediocre. But Jude also turned up his nose at the crescent rolls, which I think are only slightly removed from candy.

Jonathan put Jude to bed, and I got called upstairs to sing the song. I brought out my guitar, and was thrilled NOT to get the same response from Jude that I used to get from my own boys, which was, “Don’t sing Mommy!” And this from boys who (unlike Jude) had never heard good singing and guitar playing, and didn’t know how truly bad both my voice and my guitar playing actually are.

Valuing my time

  28-Apr-2013 (19:38)

I was talking with a friend about whether to have an accountant do your taxes or whether to do them yourself. He was advocating the philosophy that the way to decide was to look at what you get paid per hour and figure out how many hours it takes you. If the accountant would charge less than what your job would pay you for that time, you should have an accountant do your taxes.

I argued that my free time is not worth what I get paid at work. Not only that, but even if I had to take a day off from work to do my taxes, it would not be worth a day’s pay to have an accountant do my taxes. My reasoning is that I get paid the same regardless of whether I take a day off or not – I just have a day’s less vacation time. And a vacation day is not worth to me what a day’s work is worth to my employer.

Case in point. Last week, I took four hours vacation and went to the Craft and Folk Art museum. Suppose I made $50/hour. I would not pay $200 to spend the afternoon at the Craft and Folk Art museum. Therefore, I conclude that I don’t value 4 hours of vacation time at $200. Another example: Benjamin has a choral competition in Glendale during the school day. I will try to arrange for him to go with someone else, but if I can’t, I will take a half day off from work and drive him out to Glendale. But would I pay someone $200 to drive him out there so that I could avoid taking time off from work? Absolutely not! If the only choices were “pay $200” or “don’t go,” he wouldn’t go. Fortunately, these are not the only choices!

The value I put on vacation time is affected by how much vacation time I have. I currently have a lot of vacation time. Consequently, I don’t value it as much as I would if I had very little vacation time. If I don’t take multiple weeks of vacation time before the end of the year, I will max out and stop accruing vacation. I am very motivated not to let this happen! So I have to take vacation, it’s just a question of what I do with my time.

I can’t trade money for my vacation time, I can only trade things like spending time with a friend, going to a museum or reading a book. And while I would rather do any of these things than my taxes, it would cost me the price of an accountant doing my taxes, say $350, to make the trade. And it is not worth $350 to me to spend the day reading a book!

I do pay money to avoid tasks I don’t like to do. I pay someone to clean my house. I pay someone to clean my pool. I pay someone to mow my yard. Why? Because I dislike doing these things enough that if I didn’t pay someone to do them, they wouldn’t get done. But I don’t have to pay someone to ensure that my taxes get done. If it wasn’t for the stress of not being confident that I was doing it right, I might even like it. I like manipulating numbers. I like accounting. If I hated doing my taxes, I would pay someone else to do them!

Those were the days, my friend!

  11-Mar-2013 (22:42)

Those were the days, my friend!

Every week, my Temple sends a “weekly email blast” with upcoming events. In last week’s blast, the first paragraph of the Rabbi’s message was, “"Rrrrring, rrrring, time to start another grumpy day!" That is how my Oscar the Grouch alarm clock used to wake me up. That grimy green muppet popping out of his trash can. How different from "modeh/ah ani lifanecha: "I am grateful to you ...", with these words our tradition encourages us to start each day. Giving thanks, of course, involves stopping and recognizing the blessings that surround us.

I read this and about fell out of my chair. Why? Because *I* used to have an Oscar the Grouch alarm clock too! Actually, it was my Dad’s alarm clock. My Dad was never grouchy with his family (“what never? No never! What, NEVER? Well, hardly ever!) However he did have a reputation of being a grouch at work, and at some point in time, he had received this Oscar the Grouch alarm clock as a gag gift.

I was home on vacation from college, and I asked if I could take the alarm clock back with me. My Dad, who had no desire to actually *use* the alarm clock, was happy to let me have it. At college, I was living in a house with 5 or 6 other students, and we had quite a bit of fun with this alarm clock.

One of us (perhaps me, but I don’t remember for sure) set it and hid it in one of the bedrooms. At some ungodly time of night, it went off. I remember the “ring” as going like this, “Rrring, rrring, rrring. This is Oscar the Grouch speaking. It’s time for YOU to GET UP! It’s going to be another grouchy day, so GET UP! And don’t forget to wind the clock so I can wake you up again tomorrow!” And then, right away, it would repeat and repeat and repeat until someone got up and turned it off.

Well, when the clock is *hidden* in your room and it wakes you out of a sound sleep in the middle of the night, it’s not so easy to find and turn off the alarm. And did the first housemate who was the victim of the alarm clock blithely return it to its owner? Oh no! That clock found its way into another housemate’s room (hidden, of course, and set to go off at some inconvenient time.)

As I recall, that Oscar the Grouch alarm clock made its way through multiple housemates’ rooms, until one particular irate roommate threw it down the stairs and it broke. Well, the Oscar the Grouch part broke. The sound box and clock survived to inflict itself on me and my housemates a few more times. Ah, college, those were the days!

My thanks to Rabbi Lutz for the trip down memory lane!

Caring about customers

  5-Mar-2013 (15:56)

I have a Discover Card and a Discover Savers account. Each month, the Discover Card is paid off from the Savers account. In early February, I realized that my Savers account was very low and there wasn’t enough money to pay the February bill. I transferred a big chunk of money into the account, but I was concerned that the money wouldn’t clear before the payment went through and the payment would still bounce. So I called Discover Card to see what I could do.

When I explained the problem, the woman I was talking to suggested that we pay off the Discover card balance from another account. Then my balance would be zero and the payment wouldn’t bounce. She took care of paying the balance right then while I was on the phone with her. “Great,” I thought, “problem solved!”

Of course you know what happened next. I received a letter from Discover Bank saying that the payment had been made and it had bounced. I immediately called the number on the letter to find out why.

As soon as a “live advisor” came on the phone, it occurred to me that I had just called Discover Bank, because they sent me the letter, but I should have called Discover Card, because they were the one who submitted the payment to Discover Bank (after telling me that this wouldn’t happen.) It wasn’t Discover Bank’s fault that Discover Card had submitted the payment for processing when the balance had already been paid.

It was good that I didn’t need to talk to Discover Bank, because they wouldn’t talk to me anyway. As it turns out, although my name was on the account, my social security number was not, and thus they couldn’t verify my identity. I’ve run into this before, and before, I have either put Marc on the phone and had him tell them to talk to me, or I have just called them back and told them that I am Marc. This works fine, but it’s annoying.

Marc wasn’t around, and I needed to talk to Discover Card anyway, so I hung up with Discover Bank and called Discover Card. I told them about how I had paid off the balance so that the payment wouldn’t bounce and they had submitted the payment anyway, and it had bounced, and as a result I had been charged $30. The annoying person not helping me listened to my story and basically said, “So what?” “So what?! So, I want my $30 back.” He said that he couldn’t give me the $30 back because Discover Card had not charged me $30, Discover Savers had charged me $30. Well, maybe you couldn’t give me the $30 *back*, but you could give me a $30 credit, which to me would be the same thing.

The unhelpful person said that Discover Card’s action was NOT a mistake. He said that the balance had been paid off too close to when the payment was scheduled to stop the payment. “But I was told that paying off the balance would stop the payment!” I protested. “Oh well,” he responded, “she shouldn’t have told you that.” When I complained some more he asked me what I wanted him to do. I suggested that he could either give me a $30 credit, or he could conference me in with a Discover Saver’s person and request that they waive the overdraft fee. He said he would write down my suggestions. Thanks! NOT!

At this point I asked to be transferred to a supervisor who could actually help me. He said he would, but instead of transferring me to a supervisor, he actually transferred me to an automated system that wanted me to rate the helpfulness of the person to whom I had been talking. With pleasure! At the end of my automated prompts and my 1s and 2s for answers, the automated voice said, “From your answers, it looks like you were not happy.” Genius!

Rather than call Discover Card back, I called Discover Savers again. By now, Marc was home, so first, we fixed the problem so that they were willing to talk to me without his having to approve it every time. Then I poured out the story of how Discover Card had been jerking me around. At the end, I asked if they could waive the $30 overdraft fee. To my surprise and pleasure, they agreed to this immediately. Unlike Discover Card, Discover Savers apparently cares about their customers!

Why Benjamin hates group projects.

  23-Feb-2013 (16:37)

Recently, Benjamin and I were discussing his latest group project. Benjamin was frustrated because the other kids in his group were not producing the caliber of work that he wanted for the project. He said that, ironically, that the amount of work needed for the project was not really all that much. He would be willing to do it all, but the unfairness of the other kids getting a free ride on his effort rankled. On the other hand, if he chose to make the workload even, his experience has been that the other kids produce work that is poor quality and is delivered too late for him to fix it. As a result, he gets a lower grade.

I suggested that it was not so important that each kid contribute content. Benjamin should look for alternative ways that each kid could participate, e.g., finding pictures for the project, formatting the content, etc. Benjamin said that he was already doing that. He would often dictate and others would write down what he said.

I also said that the problem was, to a certain extent, in his attitude. He doesn't have a problem with the amount of work, his problem is with the unfairness. If he didn't care about the other kids benefitting from his effort, the whole problem goes away. So, I said, “So the other kids benefit from your work. So what? It’s just not a big deal. It doesn't hurt you in any way. Don't be so concerned about fairness."

One bonus of trying to solve his problem by adjusting his own attitude rather than by changing the work put out by his group partners is that changing his attitude has a dramatically higher probability of success. And Benjamin seemed to recognize the truth in everything I said and take my words to heart.

Sometime later, I picked up Benjamin from school and he was furious. He said his group had been working on a project in class and his teacher had yelled at them because everyone on the team was not contributing equally to the discussion. The teacher wanted them to start over, and there was only 20 minutes left in the two hour class. Benjamin thought that it was ironic that his teacher’s demand directly contradicted my advice. The unfairness of making them start over 20 minutes before the end of class upset him way more than the unfairness of the other kids not all contributing equally!

Today, I told Benjamin that I wanted to blog about this issue and tell his story and I asked if he was okay with that. He was, and he told me that, there was another time that the teacher was absent and they had a substitute who didn't care about all the group members contributing. So Benjamin just did the whole project that day. A few days later, his teacher was reading the various projects to the class and he praised Benjamin's group’s project very highly. Benjamin felt that his decision not to try to get everyone in his group to contribute was very justified.

Some might object to our attitude that Benjamin should just do it all, saying that working in the real world involves working in groups and Benjamin's just doing it all isn't teaching him to do that. My response is that, in the real world (or at least in the real world that *I* work in) the goal is to produce the highest caliber work by the deadline, *not* to get everyone to contribute equally to the project!

I also think that if the teachers want the kids to learn how to work well in groups, and simply giving them group projects is insufficient. You don't teach kids to add by simply giving them addition problems. You don't teach them to write by simply giving them writing assignments. You have to give them instruction too. Just like any topic you want someone to learn, If you want someone to learn to work in groups, you must a) provide instruction and b) give them feedback. The feedback should be on how well they work in groups, not just on the project itself. Teachers provide neither instruction nor feedback on working in groups, unrealistically expecting that the kids will figure out how to work effectively in groups on their own. Well, Benjamin *has* figured out how to work effectively in groups. Do what it takes to get the work done, and don’t worry about how much everyone contributes.

I notice that working in groups does have a distinct benefit to the teacher. The teacher has significantly fewer projects that need to be graded. If, like in one of Benjamin’s classes, you do writing assignments in 5 person groups, the teacher has one-fifth the assignments to grade. The angel on one shoulder says, “A positive side effect of reducing the number of assignments needing grading is that the teacher can give more graded writing assignments.” But the devil on the other shoulder responds with, “But if each student is contributing 1/5 to each assignment, they are not actually getting any more writing practice.”

I’ll have to suggest the group project idea to my math teacher friends who complain about having to grade unending piles of homework. Just have your students do their homework in groups. If you have them do their math problems in 5 person groups, you will have one-fifth the homework assignments to grade. What could be wrong with that?

Stage 2 in the Single vehicle vs private property saga.

  12-Feb-2013 (23:10)

Stage 2 in the Single vehicle vs private property saga.

AAA, the insurance company of the woman to put a hole in our wall, is refusing to pay anything until they get a ruling from Toyota regarding whether the accident was caused by a defect in the car. The restoration company who put up the temporary fence would like to get paid for the work they did, so they sent us a bill. The accompanying letter said, “Per your Insurance Adjuster, they are not covering the claim, so you are responsible for payment.”

*We* are responsible for payment? Why are *we* responsible for payment? The insurance company sent them out to do the work. Well, according to AAA, they did not authorize the temporary fence. They claim that they only sent the restoration company to get an estimate. Well who authorized the work, then?

The restoration company has a signed contract. Well who signed the contract? Well, Jonathan did. We were at work and he was home on winter break. I’m sure the restoration company came to the front door and said, “We need your authorization to put up a temporary fence.” So Jonathan signed it. I would have signed it too. It would never have occurred to me to ask, “Is the insurance company paying for this and I am just authorizing you to do work on my property, or is this a contract between you and me that the insurance company knows nothing about?”

At this point we pulled out the “big guns.” *Our* attorney (that would be my brother-in-law) called the restoration company and the insurance company. I don’t know what he said, but next we heard, the insurance company had agreed to pay the restoration company bill. Whew! Thanks, Reid! If anyone needs a collection attorney, call my brother-in-law! He gets the job done.

What's in an acronym?

  11-Feb-2013 (21:59)

I am the newsletter editor for the San Fernando Valley Branch of AAUW. The upcoming edition discusses how AAUW supports programs such as the National Conference for College Women Students. The logo for this conference is next to the article. Under the letters in the logo it says AAUW – NASPA. One of my proofers asked "what is NASPA under the logo?" I looked at the logo and thought, "I have absolutely no idea!"

So I typed "AAUW NASPA" into Google, and was sent to http://www.naspa.org/divctr/women/nccwsl.cfm. This page had a NASPA logo in the corner with the tag line "Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education." Well, I couldn’t see how you would get NASPA out of that! This particular page is the page for the National Conference for College Women Student Leaders. NASPA doesn't stand for that either. So I went to the "About us" page. That didn't tell me either. I clicked around on the website for a while until I finally spotted their FAQ. The first question on the FAQ: "What does NASPA stand for?" Hurray! I found it! The answer:

     NASPA stands for National Association of Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education.

Really? Really? Really?

Burning emotion

  6-Feb-2013 (22:09)

Today, my cousin, who lost her mom last summer, posted the following message on Facebook: “What do you do to knock yourself out of a depressive mood when you do not want to eat, sleep or anything appeal to you? (including talking to people)”

The question really touched a nerve, because last Thursday I went to a Shiva minyon (our Rabbi’s father passed away) and it afterwards, I was missing my Dad something fierce. For some reason, this particular minyon touched me much more than any of the other funerals I have attended in the 4½ years since my father died. It was really bad Thursday night after the minyon, and on Saturday morning, I was still not my normal self. So instead of going for my usual morning walk, I decided to run.

I don’t particularly like running, and it does not give me the “runners high” that others talk about. But I do find that physically pushing myself to the limit burns off emotional energy. And after my run and a shower, my level of missing my Dad was at a much more normal level, and I was able to concentrate on the work I wanted to accomplish.

So that’s my answer – don’t know if it will work for anyone else, ‘cause everyone is different. You just have to try different things and find what works for you.

Single vehicle vs private property

  28-Jan-2013 (18:56)

Single vehicle vs private property

On Dec 14, around 2 in the afternoon, I was at work, and I got a call from Marc saying that someone had crashed into our block wall. Jonathan was home, but didn’t hear the accident. He found out when a police officer came to the front door and said something along the lines of “Excuse me, but there’s now a big hole in your wall!” Jonathan called Marc, who said “get as much information as you can and take pictures!” and called me.

Jonathan was able to get the front page of the police report (very cool that they can print it on the spot!) which showed the name and address of the driver. It turns out she lives on our street, about 5 houses down. We were humored by the title of the police report which was "Single vehcle vs private property!"

Our neighbor was driving north on Corbin and started to make a right turn onto Chatsworth. Instead of turning, the car went straight, crashed into our block wall and flipped over. She was taken to the hospital, but her injuries were not severe.

There was lots of speculation about what had happened. Most people assumed she was speeding or drunk, or on drugs, or really old. I was more charitable. I remembered when a car had crashed into a neighbor’s front yard because the driver was diabetic and had passed out. When I found out she was driving a Prius, I speculated that she had run out of gas and had run on battery power for a while and then she had run out of battery. When the battery ran out, she lost power steering and power brakes. When the power steering and brakes cut out, she was unable to negotiate the turn or stop and crashed.

In an effort to figure out whether any of this speculation was correct, about a week after the accident, I took a plate of cookies, walked down the street to her house, and knocked on my neighbor’s door. She welcomed me in and thanked me for coming. I listened to her story and found that not one of our speculations was correct. When she went to make the turn, the wheel locked. Less than a month before the accident, Toyota had sent out a recall, saying that the Prius steering wheel can lock up when making a slow speed right hand turn. We don’t have official confirmation yet, but we think that is what happened.

But how could she have flipped the car if she wasn’t speeding? We think that this was a function of the fact that she just grazed our wall. The wall, which is over 40 years old, was not built anywhere close to today’s code. Her fender hit the wall and, due to the lack of reinforcement in the wall, basically just pushed the wall over, which lifted the corner of the car. The right wheel of the car essentially then drove up the wall, flipping the car over.

Needless to say, when I was off from work between Christmas and New Year’s, one of the first things I did was to take *my* Prius to the dealer and had them deal with the recall. I take that same turn every day!

Fortuitously, when we put up the wood fence above the block wall, we did not attach it to the block wall. The wood fence got a chunk taken out of one of the boards (probably by a flying brick) but is otherwise completely untouched.

Her insurance company put up a temporary wood fence as soon as we asked. However, they are now refusing to fix the wall until a decision is made on whether it is Toyota’s fault. And that is taking a while. Sigh.

The day of the accident, someone left a quote for fixing the wall. Probably was driving by, saw the accident and took the opportunity to perhaps gain some business. The quote was for $1,800. Yesterday we received got a letter from the insurance company (saying that they weren’t paying until they determined fault) which contained a quote for fixing the wall. This quote was for $13,000! We were shocked at how different the two quotes were.

So, it’s annoying that it will take a while before it finally gets resolved, but we are confident that the wall will eventually get rebuilt, and that someone else will pay for it. If only all our problems could turn out as well!

Email mystery

  23-Jan-2013 (22:57)

I received the following email recently. The subject was “Thanks for helping my youth group with the Zea Family Genealogy square dancing webpage”

“I just wanted to write you a short email to say thank you for your webpage ([URL]). My name is Jess, and I volunteer with a youth group where we have activities for elementary school aged children. We usually end up doing the same few projects and activities year after year, so I thought doing some research would give me some new ideas. Your page had some great square dancing resources and info that we will be able to share with the kids. Thanks for all the help!

One of the girls in my group, Cara, found a great resource on square dancing that I thought I'd share with you, http://www.datehookup.com/content-an-online-guide-to-square-dancing.htm . Can you add this to your list? She's a bit quiet around the other kids, so I thought showing them all your page with her suggestion on it would help her stand out more. Plus, I thought other dancers would like to see it.

If you have any dance tips for the kids, I'd love to share it with them. Thanks again, and have a great week!

Take care,
Jess Rangel”

Instead of [URL], the email had the URL of my webpage with all my bookmarks. I started this webpage years ago so that I would have access to my bookmarks on any computer. I was very surprised that she had found it, because there aren’t any links to it that I know of. It’s on my genealogy site, so the spiders must have found it that way.

I was curious about Jess Rangel. Her email address is jessica.rangel@westwoodyouthgroup.org, so first I went to www.westwoodyouthgroup.org. I was surprised that there was no phone number and no address anywhere on the website. I tried searching on “Jessica Rangel” on both the internet and on facebook, but her name is common enough that that provided no conclusive findings. Then I typed “Jess Rangel westwoodyouthgroup” into Google. One of the links was to a newsletter for an animal rescue society that contained the following,

“We got an email on Nov. 8 from Jessica Rangel which said, "I just wanted to say thank you for your Interesting Links page. I volunteer with a youth group where we have different activities for middle school aged kids. Next weekend, we are having an event to celebrate Animal Shelter Appreciation week. I wanted to make sure to teach the kids about pet care and safety, and your page had some great information that we will be able to share with them. Thanks for the help!" She added that one of the girls in her group, Catie, found a great resource on dog bite prevention that she thought would be a good addition to our website. We agree! We are very grateful to Jess and Catie for contacting us.”

Well, that email was similar enough to the one I received to make me wonder. So next I typed “I just wanted to write you a short email to say thank you for your webpage” (with the quotes) into Google. This sent me to a Facebook page containing the following,”

Virginia Square Dancers Review
November 30, 2012

I just wanted to write you a short email to say thank you for your webpage (http://squaredancers.org/). My name is Beth, and I volunteer with a youth group where we have activities for middle school aged children. We usually end up doing the same few projects and activities year after year, so I thought doing some research would give me some new ideas. Your page had some great square dancing resources and info that we will be able to share with the kids. Thanks for all the help! :-)

One of the girls in my group, Kylie, found a great resource on square dancing that I thought I'd share with you, http://www.datehookup.com/content-an-online-guide-to-square-dancing.htm . Can you add this to your list? She's a bit quiet around the other kids, so I thought showing them all your page with her suggestion on it would make her stand out more. Plus, I thought other dancers would like to see it.

If you have any dance tips for the kids, I'd love to share it with them. Thanks again, and have a great weekend!

Kind regards,
Beth Pawlicki
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Elizabeth@pathwaytoempowerment.com
Pathway to Empowerment Youth Groups

Interesting! I looked up the website pathwaytoempowerment.com, and, like the westwoodyouthgroup.org page, there was no address or phone number anywhere.

Next I searched on "I thought doing some research would give me some new ideas" and found:

Hello!
I just wanted to send you a quick email to say thank you for your webpage (http://www.soonerscribes.com/links.html). I work at a library where we host weekend activities for middle school aged children and every year in December we have an arts and crafts day. We usually end up doing the same few projects year after year, so I thought doing some research would give me some new ideas. Your page had some great calligraphy resources that we will be able to share with the kids. Just wanted to say thanks for all the help! :-)

One of the girls in my group, Melanie, found a great calligraphy resource during computer time that I thought I'd share with you, http://www.overnightprints.com/calligraphy. Could you add this to your list? She's a little shy around the other kids, so I thought showing them all your page with her link on it would help her stand out a little more. Plus, I thought it would make a great addition to your page. If you have any ideas for our group, I'd love to hear them.

Thanks again, and happy holidays!!
Take care,
Ms. Brandie Cornett

I also found this one thanking ArtyNancy.com (Feb 2012):

"I just wanted to send you a quick email to say thank you for your webpage. I work at an after school program for middle school students and every year in February we have an arts and crafts day. We usually end up doing the same few projects year after year, so I thought doing some research would give me some new ideas. Your page has some great art resources that we will be able to share with the kids. Just wanted to say thanks for all the help! :-)"

And this one on swapscropsandshops.com (March 2012)

"I just wanted to send you a quick email to say thank you for your webpage. My name is Brandie, and I work at a library where we host weekend activities for middle school aged children and every year in March we have an arts and crafts week. We usually end up doing the same few projects year after year, so I thought doing some research would give me some new ideas. Your page had some great scrapbooking resources that we will be able to share with the kids. Just wanted to say thanks for all the help! :-)

One of the girls in my group found a great scrapbooking resource during computer time that I thought I'd share with you, http://www.mycoupons.com/store/saving-memories-all-about-scrapbooking/. I thought it would make a great addition to your page for others looking for information.

If you have any ideas for our group, I'd love to hear them. Thanks again, and have a great weekend!
Warm regards,
Ms. Brandie Cornett"

Another search found this one on www.alternativepetcaremd.com (October 2012)

Hi Sandy, I just wanted to send you a quick email to say thank you for your webpage (http://www.alternativepetcaremd.com/links-resources.html). My name is Beth, and I volunteer with a youth group where we have different activities for middle school aged kids. Next weekend, we are having an event to celebrate National Animal Safety and Protection month. Your page had some great information that we will be able to share with the kids. Just wanted to say thanks for all the help! :-) One of the girls in my group, Kaylie, found a great resource on pet safety while traveling: http://www.thetruckersreport.com/traveling-by-car-or-truck-with-pets/ . Could you add this to your list of resources? She's a bit quiet around the other kids, so I thought showing them all your page with her link on it would help her stand out a little more. Plus, I thought it would make a great addition to your page for others to learn how to keep their pets safe. If you have any advice for the kids about pet care, I'd love to share it with them. Thanks again, and have a great rest of the week!

Take care, (Ms. Beth Pawlicki) Elizabeth@pathwaytoempowerment.com

And this one to www.incacaa.org (September 2012)

I just wanted to send you a quick email to say thank you for your webpage (http://incacaa.org/index.php?pageID=23652_3). My name is Beth, and I volunteer with a youth group where we host weekend activities for middle school aged children. We are doing an autism awareness project next weekend, so I needed to find some online information and resources about autism. Your page had some great stuff that we will be able to share with the kids. Just wanted to say thanks for all the help! :-)

One of the girls in my group, Cara, found a great resource about autism spectrum disorders: http://www.worldmedassist.com/autism-spectrum-disorder-a-medical-guide/ . Could you add this to your list of links? She's a little quiet around the other kids, so I thought showing them all your page with her suggestion on it would help her stand out a little more. Plus, I thought it would make a great addition for others looking to learn more about autism If you have any advice for the kids, I'd love to share it with them. Thanks again, and enjoy these last few days of summer! Warm regards, Ms. Beth Pawlicki

And one for www.dyslexia-adults.com, and one for www.idipic.org, and one for gbphotodidactical.ca, and one for www.bettycjung.net, and one for aqualandpetsplus.com and one for friendsandneedles.org and several more on facebook pages.

What is going on here! The emails must be hand generated, because there is a typo in the subject in the one sent to me. Are Jess and Beth and Brandie real people? Are there really girls named Cara, Catie, Kylie, Kaylie and Melanie (all of whom are a bit shy) surfing the web for websites to add to other people's lists of resources? Is this some sort of a new game? (See how many websites you can get to change because of an email you sent.) I have no idea.

Fun with genealogy

  21-Jan-2013 (22:08)

I enjoy looking up census pages on Ancestry, but I rarely have the time to do it. So it’s not worth the $23/month (or $78 for 6 months) for an Ancestry subscription (since most of the time, I wouldn’t be using the subscription.) What I really want is to pay $5 and get a day, but that’s not an option. You can look up names for free; you only have to pay to see the pages (and most of the data on the pages.) So when I do have time, I look up names. When I think I’ve found a census page I want, I go to the library (because they have a subscription) and get the page.

These days, I’m mostly looking for 1940 pages, which are available for free even without an Ancestry subscription. But when I was looking up pages for my relatives at the tail end of December, I kept finding census pages for earlier years. I went to the library twice, but when the third time hit, I broke down and signed up for a free two week trial. Now I had two weeks to find all the pages I could find, and then I had to pay $23 or cancel. In the first two days, I found over a dozen pages for relatives (plus another dozen 1940 pages that I could have gotten without the subscription.) But then I got busy with other things, and didn’t do anything genealogical for over a week. This is the way it always goes.

Then, with the subscription about to run out, (or cost me money – can’t have that!) I did some more research. I looked up a co-worker’s father in 1940, 1930, 1920 and 1910. Then I turned back to my family. I found a few 1940 census pages, and was feeling discouraged, when I just did a name search on Dorothy Galinsky (my grandmother) and told Ancestry to show me the Family Trees with her name. To my great surprise, there was a tree on Ancestry that listed Dorothy, her parents, and her grandparents. Excitedly, I fired off an email to Kim Wheatley, the owner of the tree.

In the meantime, I did some more research. In this particular part of my family tree, I have Dorothy’s father, Max, listed as having 3 brothers. But I only have names for three of the four brothers. It was very possible that Kim (or actually, her husband) was descended from the unnamed brother! At first, I was convinced that I had found long lost relatives, because she had all three brothers and their parents’ names right. But then I realized that there is another tree out on Ancestry that lists all this information, put up my cousin Gary Galin, who got most of his information from me. If she found Gary’s tree and decided that the Max on Gary’s tree was related, then she would bring all of its information to her tree. So it’s possible that the reason that all the names match is because she got them, ultimately, from me. Well, the excitement was good while it lasted!

One fun thing was that, while I was waiting for Kim to email me back, I looked her up on Facebook and was able to see her picture, and learn that she lives in Wilmington, Delaware, her husband’s name is Alan, that she is the mother of twin 16 year olds (a girl and a boy,) and she has a cat and two Great Danes. I don’t know if being able to find out all that so easily is cool, or scary. A little bit of both, I think.

My winter 'vacation'

  16-Jan-2013 (22:46)

My office was shutdown all Christmas week, and my plan was to get caught up on Sisterhood, AAUW and Avodah and to play lots of games with my family. I succeeded in playing lots of games with my family, but I was less successful with the rest. I was derailed by two things.

The first was that Marc decided that it was time to clear out the toys from the playroom that hadn’t been touched in years. Of course, being the overly anal sentimentalist that I am, I couldn’t give him carte blanche to just toss everything he wanted to toss. I had to go through everything that he pulled out of the playroom before he was allowed to get rid of it. Fortunately, I was in a tossing mood, and only kept a small subset of the huge volume he pulled out. (On the other hand, as a recent XKCD pointed out, a small percentage of a really large number is still a pretty big number!) It was often a real trip down memory lane (the neck thing! You want to rid of the neck thing! We can’t get rid of that!)

One of the best consequences of emptying out the playroom was that we put the plotter in the closet. For years, the plotter (which is six feet long, four feet tall, and only barely fits through the playroom door) has been put in the music room when we needed the playroom and then moved back into the playroom when we needed the music room. Now we don’t need to do that anymore. The other great consequence was that we could now sit on the couch and watch TV! To celebrate, we dumped our old tube TV and bought a flat screen. Marc set up a table so that he could work on his new hobby (Repoussage) and watch TV at the same time, and turned one of the shelving units that he had emptied into storage for his supplies.

The second thing that derailed my good intentions was an email from a cousin reminding me to add her newest granddaughter to my family tree. That reminded me that I had received some other updates, which I had lost when I switched email servers. I tracked down the lost emails (fortunately I had a backup of my email,) added the updates to my database and updated my genealogy website. Then I went looking for 1940 census pages for each of the families that sent me updates. I posted them on my website too.

The playroom excavation and the genealogy pretty much sucked down my entire week. I did make a progress on Sisterhood, but that was it. Although I was disappointed that I didn’t accomplish all my goals for the week, walking into the playroom and marveling at the fact that I could see the floor would remind me that the things I did accomplish were a fair trade for the ones I didn’t!

Chanuka 2012

  13-Jan-2013 (15:11)

Chanuka was VERY long this year. I was singing the song “the 12 nights of Chanuka” about it. It started on a Saturday night. That day, Benjamin had a Robotics tournament and his Winter Concert. That evening Hunter Keller (my favorite square dance caller) was calling, so I wanted to go to the dance. Both Marc and Benjamin begged off, so I went alone. In my rush to grab dinner and get to the dance after we got home from the concert, I completely forgot about Chanuka, so we didn’t do anything that night.

The next night, Sunday, we had dinner at Mom’s. We ate latkes and lit candles but didn’t exchange gifts, as Jonathan wasn’t back from Rice yet. The Wolfs joined us for dinner, and they are a lot of fun. On the third night of Chanuka, we decided to wait for Jonathan’s return from Rice the next day to give out any presents.

Jonathan came home the next day and we picked him up and went out to dinner. The next day, he had his wisdom teeth pulled. When I brought him home with a mouth full of gauze and swollen cheeks, he amused us both by reciting tongue twisters! I was pretty impressed by how many he knew just off the top of his head.

He was on an all-liquid diet for 24 hours, and then on soft food after that. We had dinner and Chanuka at Grammy Blanche’s the next day, because cousin Randy was in town on business. Randy looks great! He’s been doing a diet and exercise program that have helped him drop a bunch of weight (not that he was fat before!) and has toned him up nicely. He said that Danielle has been doing it too, with similar results. Diet and exercise does work!

Fortunately, Jonathan’s pain from the extraction was easily controlled with Tylenol, although he still looked like a chipmunk! He was even able to eat some of the latkes Blanche served, by cutting off the crunchy edges and only eating the soft middles. We didn’t do gifts that night either (except to Randy) because we were waiting for Mitchell to get back into town.

The next night (Friday) was a big Chanuka dinner at the Temple, and I had signed up the whole family to help. We ate latkes at the Temple and did candles and gifts when I got home. Saturday night, the last night of Chanuka, was really the only night that all four of us had a relaxed dinner together with lighting candles and giving out gifts. We had a family game night that night as well. It was a really nice evening.

But wait! There’s more! The next night was dinner at my Mom’s and we celebrated Chanuka in all its glory with latkes, candle lighting and gifts (it was the last *day* after all – and it *was* before sundown – somewhere…) Then, three days later we had Chanuka dinner at Papa Al and Grammy Irene’s house with the Steinfelds (with latkes and gifts, but no candle lighting.) And the next day we had Chanuka dinner at Grammy Blanche’s (again with latkes and gifts, but no candle lighting.)

So we might have missed some gift giving at the beginning, but we made up for it at the end – or, more precisely, after the end! But I’m not complaining. Like with all celebrations, I’m perfectly happy to stretch Chanuka out for more days than it is scheduled on the calendar!

Thanksgiving

  23-Dec-2012 (00:01)

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving was so much fun! We celebrate Thanksgiving and Passover with the Schuster, Picus and Katz families. Each family has three generations, and the youngest generation ranges in age from 13 to 26. The second generation families living in Houston, San Francisco and Washington could not join us, but all the Southern CA families came, including all four of the Southern CA grandkids that are away at college. And, as a bonus, Val’s boyfriend Isy joined us too. For the next three years, each year one more Southern CA grandchild will start college, and it will become increasingly difficult to bring them all home. It was great to see everyone and hear stories about how much they are enjoying school. It’s wonderful how well everyone gets along and enjoys one another’s company.

I took a picture of all the kids, but was not happy with how it came out (click on the picture to get a bigger image.) I know that my camera does not take good pictures in low light and I resolved to buy a camera that does!

The next day we were invited to the Scullers DAT (Day After Thanksgiving) party, and that was a blast too. We joked about whether it was a DAT party or a FAT party (Friday after Thanksgiving), and after eating all that yummy food, the FAT name certainly described *me*, if not the party!

The next day we had dinner with the Segals. That dinner was subdued, as Kevin’s mother (my first cousin once removed) passed away on Thanksgiving, and we were all dealing with that. But all four of Marilyn and Art’s children and all 7 grandchildren had joined them for a wonderful Thanksgiving and we took comfort in knowing how happy she had been surrounded by all her family.

On Sunday, we had our usual dinner at my Mom’s house. It had been a weekend filled with family and friends and I was sad to see it end. Next year will be interesting because Chanuka starts the day before Thanksgiving, so the entire weekend will be filled with Chanuka in addition to Thanksgiving!

Hebrew High Back-to-School night

  18-Dec-2012 (21:57)

Sisterhood board meetings are usually the first Thursday of the month. So, of course, Hebrew High scheduled its Back-to-School night on November 1, the first Thursday in November. But our Sisterhood president decided that her life would be somewhat easier if we pushed back the board meeting a week. So no conflict! Hurray!

Hebrew High back-to-school night started with a speech from the Director about how wonderful Hebrew High is, and some new electives they are implementing. I have my own opinions about how wonderful Hebrew High is, and would rather have had more time in the classroom with the teachers. But maybe others got more out of the Director’s speech than I did. After the speech, we went off to meet with teachers.

Benjamin has two classes on Thursday (Hebrew and Bible) and four on Sunday (Hebrew, Dancing, Israeli current events and Prayers.) The Hebrew classes on Thursday and Sunday have the same teacher, but rest of Benjamin’s teachers are all different. Since this was Thursday, we only got to meet the Thursday teachers. We never get to meet the Sunday teachers, since there is no Sunday open house.

Benjamin’s Bible teacher is Michael Becker, who Benjamin had two years ago for Genesis, and he is excellent. Of Benjamin’s five teachers this year, (and of all the teachers he has had at Hebrew High) Michael Becker is the only one that Benjamin praises. After talking to Michael Becker, I met Benjamin’s Hebrew teacher.

There are only five kids in Benjamin’s Hebrew class, and I was the only parent to come to back to school night, so I got a one-on-one parent-teacher conference with the teacher. She spoke very highly of Benjamin. This didn’t surprise me, because I want Hebrew High to be more than an easy way of getting past the High School language requirement with an A, which is (my impression of) what Hebrew High is for most kids. However, the kids only get about 2 ½ hours of Hebrew a week, even though they are at Hebrew High for more than 7 hours a week. This is not enough hours to master a language! So I work with Benjamin outside of Hebrew High on Hebrew. Between my work with Benjamin on the way to school, and Benjamin’s good memory for vocabulary and his intelligence which enables him to see the patterns in Hebrew grammar, it’s not surprising that he has a much better grasp of both vocabulary and grammar than the typical Hebrew High student.

I feel for the parents who also would like their kids to actually learn Hebrew, but don’t have the Hebrew background that I have, and don’t have the option to work with their kids outside of class.

Reflections on my son

  16-Dec-2012 (13:48)

Reflections on my son

I regularly read a web comic called XKCD. I was amused by the XKCD comic called Sky Color. Every XKCD comic has “mouseover text” and this comic’s mouseover text was “Feynman recounted another good one upperclassmen would use on freshmen physics students: When you look at words in a mirror, how come they're reversed left to right but not top to bottom? What's special about the horizontal axis?” I commented to Benjamin that the question of “Why does a mirror reverse right-to-left and not top-to-bottom” is one that I have pondered before. I said that many people respond that a mirror doesn’t reverse right to left, and I think that answer is absolutely wrong. My answer was that a mirror reverses front and back, and that left and right is a function of front and back, but top and bottom is not a function of front and back. Benjamin paused a minute, got a *look* on his face, and replied, “Isn’t that begging the question?”

If you read my post about begging the question you will understand why I got up and gave him a big kiss for that answer!

It was, indeed, begging the question, because my answer didn’t explain *why* a mirror reverses front and back. And then Benjamin showed a phenomenal amount of insight on this question. He said that a mirror reverses front-to-back when it is in front of you. But when it is on top of you, it doesn’t reverse front to back, it reverses top-to-bottom.

I instantly saw the correctness of his statement, and wondered that I had never heard it before. The answer to “Why does a mirror reverse right-to-left and not top-to-bottom” is not “it doesn’t reverse right-to-left” (which I have heard a LOT) but rather “the premise is invalid – a mirror does indeed reverse top-to-bottom”! A mirror reverses right-to-left when it is in front of you and it reverses top-to-bottom when the mirror is above (or below) you.

I was so pleased with this conversation and its conclusions that I posted on Facebook, “Fascinating conversation with my son tonight on the topic ‘Why does a mirror reverse right to left and not top to bottom?’” This triggered a series of posts by Jonathan (and one by me) on the topic. I was humored that I got more people posting because they were amused at the discussion than I did contributing to it!

I am so proud of Benjamin for showing such insight on this problem!

WRJ Pacific District's Portland Convention

  3-Dec-2012 (15:03)

The last weekend in October was the WRJ Pacific District’s biennial convention in Portland Oregon. (WRJ is the Women of Reform Judaism, which is the umbrella arm for most Reform Temple’s Sisterhoods.) I like to write up everything significant that happens in my life, but I felt more than my usual obligation to write up this weekend, because Sisterhood paid for a big chunk of my expenses. The entire writeup is too long to post here, so I posted in on my jmzconsulting website. Here is a synopsis.

I was very impressed by the caliber of the women who attended the convention. It is worth going just to spend time with such high-powered women Overall, the workshops were good, but not particularly memorable. The speeches were excellent (well, at least the ones I remembered were excellent!) Plenaries were (surprisingly) interesting – of course “interesting” meant we were late to lunch! Friday night services were not to be missed! First of all the Temple was magnificent, and secondly there was the Sh’ma Smackdown! What will Pasadena do for an encore in 2014?

Chanuka Boutique finances

  25-Nov-2012 (10:31)

The Sisterhood uses the following mechanism for collecting and disbursing funds for their Chanuka Boutique. When a buyer wants something from a vendor, the vendor makes out a receipt, but doesn’t collect any money. The buyers take all their receipts from the various vendors to our cashier’s table and pays Sisterhood. The Sisterhood rebates 80% of the sales price and any tax charged to the vendors and keeps 20%. This means that the Sisterhood Treasurer (that’s me) has to total all the receipts for each vendor, not to mention all the cash, checks and credit card receipts. It’s a LOT of data entry, and there’s no way (other than simply looking at each receipt again) of double checking the numbers.

We don't get involved in anything to do with sales tax. Whatever the vendors charge, right or wrong, we collect, and give what was charged back to the vendors. I was very amused to note that the only vendors that charged the correct tax on every item were the ones selling food items who weren't charging any tax at all! Frequently I would see two receipts for the same purchase price, but with different tax amounts. Usually (but not always!) this was due to rounding the calculated tax up in one case and down in another. I made a resolution to provide tax sheets to the vendors next year! Having the correct tax makes data entry easier, because then I can have Excel calculate it and I don't have to enter it.

For the next three days, I scrambled to get the numbers from the Chanuka Boutique entered so that the checks could be cut. I was leaving town on Thursday for the weekend, and if I wanted to get the checks out within two weeks like we promised, I was going to have to use every available minute to get the data entry done. Sue Cohen came over Monday night to help, and that made a big difference. Benjamin scanned all the checks and also helped with the data entry, and by Wednesday everything had been entered and double checked. When I got back from Portland, I would just have to print and mail the checks. Everything went much more smoothly than last year, and it made me sad to think that now that I have it all figured out, I won’t be doing it next year! (There’s a two year term limit on being Sisterhood Treasurer.)

Sunday night without Mom

  22-Nov-2012 (09:55)

Mom was in China on vacation so our customary dinner at her house was cancelled. The previous week, we had considered inviting friends over for dinner. However, Benjamin has Chorus Sunday afternoons until 6, so dinner would have to be at 7, which doesn’t work well on a Sunday. But this Sunday, Chorus had been cancelled. So we invited a couple of our game-playing families over for dinner and games. We played Fauxcabulary, which is a great game to play with a lot of people of a variety of ages and abilities. In many ways it is like Apples to Apples, another game that works well with a variety of ages. There were 10 of us, and technically the game only supports 7, but we figured out how to have it support 8, and Marc and I just watched. It was a fun night.

Even more Soccer and Robotics!

  20-Nov-2012 (21:58)

The following weekend, there was another Robotics tournament, this time in Calabasas, so MUCH closer. This weekend, Benjamin’s soccer game was at 3:30, so he was there at the beginning, but had to leave early. I got Lisa, another team mom, to help me with the data entry (and this time I got the team list right,) and at 9am, at the start of the runs for ranking, I was good to go.

Both of Reseda’s robots did better than last week, although neither one was doing all that well. Robot A, which is the better of the two, had some bad luck, and lost its first match, while Robot B got lucky, and won (despite contributing hardly anything to the score.) Robot B continued to have good luck, and at lunchtime they were ranked 13th (of 37) despite having scored hardly at all. Robot A was 23rd so the official rankings did not reflect the quality of the Reseda robots very well. I was VERY pleased to note that *my* statistic, which is specifically designed to reduce the effect of getting lucky (or unlucky) in your match partners, had Reseda’s Robot A in 15th place, and its Robot B in 22nd place. So my statistic (correctly) discerned that Reseda’s Robot B had gotten lucky in its partners and gave it a lower score because of that. Benjamin decided to leave at lunchtime, since he needed to go home and change into his soccer uniform before his soccer game.

Soccer was fun – it seems like for every game, Benjamin’s team has been short a player or two, but for this game they had every position filled. They played well, and they won. It was fun to watch. However, it was cold. I had my sweatshirt, but I didn’t bring a coat. At the Robotics tournament, It had also been cold in the gym, colder than outside. My shoulders were aching, which I figured was from being tense from the cold. So at home, sitting at the computer, I got out a heating pad, figuring that the heat would both help my aching shoulders and also warm up my core temperature. After a couple of hours, I was still feeling cold. This didn’t make any sense, and it got me wondering. I decided to take my temperature. It was 100 degrees! Yikes! So I went directly to bed. I didn’t take any aspirin, figuring that a slight temperature would help my body fight off whatever bug it was growing.

In the morning, I felt fine, and my temperature was normal. Whew! Dodged that bullet! That day was the Sisterhood Chanuka Boutique and Temple Blood Drive. I had signed up to give blood, but was not sure whether I would be allowed to give, having had a fever only 12 hours earlier. I decided to let the nurse decide. So I told her the whole story, and she said that I would be allowed to give, but she would advise me not to, because if I had some underlying issue that was not resolved, giving blood would compromise my body’s ability to deal with it. I took her advice and did not give blood, and, of course, I’ve been fine ever since!

Soccer, Robotics and TLC Sharim

  15-Nov-2012 (22:49)

The following weekend Benjamin had a soccer game at 7:50am. The early time wasn’t so bad, because he had a Robotics tournament (in Carson) from 8-5. The soccer game’s early time minimized the number of hours of the Robotics competition he had to miss. Marc had agreed to be a judge, so he went down with the team. Benjamin and I got to the tournament about 10:30. I wanted to test out my scouting spreadsheet from last year on this year’s game, so I got Benjamin to help me enter all the matches. The people running the tournament were having trouble with the network, so they weren’t displaying the scores from all the matches and I had missed the first half of the scores anyway, so I didn’t even try to record the scores until the runs for ranking were done. Then I asked the scorekeepers if they would print me all the match scores, and they kindly obliged. I entered all the scores, but there was an error somewhere in the spreadsheet and I could not get any stats. Fortunately (or unfortunately!) it wasn’t an issue, because Reseda’s robots weren’t doing that well. Later on, I tracked down the problem, which turned out to be that I had entered one of the team numbers incorrectly on the list of teams, which meant that, on the matrix showing who was playing whom, there was a line that was entirely zeros (this team isn’t playing anyone.) Well, I invert the matrix, and you can’t invert a matrix where a row or column is all zeros. That taught me to double check my team list!

I needed to leave by 4, and the team was done, having not made it into the elimination round, so Benjamin opted to go back with me. Marc would have gone too, but he had left his car on the Reseda campus when he went down with the team, and we couldn’t get onto the campus without the coach. He berated himself for not leaving the car off campus and stayed with the team.

The reason I needed to leave by 4 was that that evening was the first TLC Sharim in over a year. I started TLC Sharim at our Temple in 2008 so that I would have an opportunity to sing each month. It started well, but only developed a core following of about 20 people. In any given month, about half of them would not be able to make it, so we were getting about 10-15 people each month. I got frustrated that it was not attracting more people and last year, when the Temple cut Rick’s hours (Rick is our songleader,) I let it drop. Nobody in the Temple leadership seemed to care, or even notice. But I still wanted to sing, and Rick was still willing to lead it, so this year I started it up again, and October was the first meeting. I hoped that after a year’s absence, the turnout would be better, but, no, the core group is the same, and only 12 people attended. I think that I did not do a very good job advertising it, so hopefully, the next one will be better.

My Berkeley weekend - Saturday and Sunday

  12-Nov-2012 (21:08)

My Berkeley weekend - Saturday and Sunday

On Saturday, the university had scheduled a series of lectures. I attended the Robotics lecture, and Jeff went to a Political Science lecture. Outside the Robotics lecture, some students had set up a couple of 3D printers and were demonstrating 3D printing. They were raising money by selling the objects they printed. It was pretty interesting to watch a 3D printer at work. After the robotics lecture, there was lecture on a recently released exhibit showcasing photographs taken by Ansel Adams of the UC system. Adams took the photographs in the 1960s for a book called “Fiat Lux” — commissioned by former UC President Clark Kerr — to commemorate the university’s 100th anniversary. The people who put the exhibit together did something interesting. They rephotographed some of Adam’s pictures and then merged the old and new photographs. Since the original book was called “Fiat Lux” the exhibit was called Fiat Lux Redux.

After the Fiat Lux Redux lecture, we went to see the Fiat Lux Redux exhibit. When we got out, it was close to 2 and we were hungry. But dinner was being served at 4ish, so we didn’t want to eat lunch. So we got Jamba Juice, which really hit the spot. Then Jeff and I wandered over to Spens Black, the dorm where we met 34 years ago. These days, you can’t just wander in, the way you could when we were there. But it’s easy enough to follow someone in. So much for security. We went up to the 6th floor, which was the floor Jeff’s room was on. When he was there, the 6th floor was an all-male floor. Jeff wanted to remind himself how many rooms there were, because he and a friend have a project to list the names of everyone who lived on the floor. Shortly after we arrived, a girl came into the hallway and stared at us. We explained why we were there, and she responded with “you know, this is an all-girls floor.” No wonder she stared at us! We decided that they probably change what floor is the all-male floor on a regular basis, because if they didn’t, it would become unlivable!

We left the dorm and headed back towards the center of campus. I chose a route that took us past the bridge that I have always called “The Bridge to Pooh Corner”. I gave it this name because the bridge doesn’t really go anywhere. The bridge goes from a walkway over a creek. The other end of the bridge is at the side of a building. The entrance to the building is not at the end of the bridge, and there is really no reason to go across this bridge. So, when I was attending CAL, I used to go across it on a regular basis. When we got to the bridge, we discovered that a picnic table and benches had been installed on the far side, so now there is more of a reason to go across the bridge. I considered whether I liked that this change and decided that I was fine with it.

Next we headed over to the Campanile, the bell tower. We rode the elevator to the top and looked out over Berkeley and across the bay to San Francisco. The Blue Angels were putting on some kind of demonstration (for the Giants game?) and we could see the planes way off in the distance. It was very nostalgic. Next was dinner – hamburgers and hot dogs. Afterwards, we went over to Memorial Stadium and found that there was a bunch of booths next door. We wandered around the booths and I collected a nerf football, dog chew sticks, refrigerator magnets and a skin cancer screening. The doctor who did my skin cancer screening said that I didn’t have anything that looked suspicious. Thanks! I thought it was a little unusual that they would be doing free skin cancer screenings at a pre-football game fair, but whatever!

We left the booths and went into the stadium. First we had to check out the brand new redone bathrooms. Very nice. Money well spent. Then off to find our seats. They were handing out free t-shirts, which I put on over my polo shirt, and under my sweatshirt and coat. I hoped it would help keep me warm. It might have helped, but later on I was still cold – I should have brought gloves.

Cal played UCLA, whom, at that point in the season, was still ranked. (Well, they were ranked 25th, but that’s still ranked!) Cal had NOT been playing well, and we were expecting to get trounced. Jeff and I kept *reminiscing* about the Cal-UCLA game from our freshman year. Jeff had asked me to join him at the game and UCLA killed us 35-0 - the only touchdown Cal scored was called back for a penalty. At the time, Jeff was sure I would never go to a football game with him ever again! (But no, apparently I am a glutton for punishment!)

UCLA reinforced our expectations by scoring first. But then Cal came back and scored a field goal, and then a touchdown. Wow! Dare we have hope? At half-time, they rededicated the stadium and did the first-ever full-stadium card stunt. Every seat had a card taped to it. I took a blue card and a yellow card home and gave them to Dori, who used to design the card stunts when she was a student at Cal.

Had we know that UCLA was going to turn the ball over five times and that (very UNcharacteristically) Cal would capitalize on most of them, we wouldn’t have been so pessimistic. The depth of our pessimism was shown by the fact that, despite the 43-17 final score, we were not confident that Cal was going to win until about 3 minutes before the end of the game. But win they did – a very pleasant surprise!

Afterwards, we had dinner reservations at a nice restaurant in Oakland with Jeff’s father and a friend. The food was good, but I didn’t find it particularly amazing. It was family style, which I liked, because I got to taste a lot of different dishes.

Sunday, Jeff picked up bagels and cream cheese and lox, and we had a relaxing breakfast. Then we went to Hicklebee’s, a children’s store in San Jose. It has a lot of toys and adult books in addition to the children’s books. I picked up a book called Heroes for my Daughter. I looked at the list of heroes, and practically every person I admire was on the list. Then I read the story of Mallory Holtman and Liz Wallace, two women I had never heard of, and the story moved me. So I bought the book.

We returned to Jeff’s house, where he packed me a very nice care package of cheese and turkey and crackers, and I hit the road. It was a wonderful weekend – very nostalgic and fun – and we won the football game! Jeff says that it was me, that I have to come back more often. I, on the other hand, am thinking that maybe I should quit while I’m ahead!

My Berkeley weekend - Thursday&Friday

  11-Nov-2012 (11:13)

My Berkeley weekend - Thursday&Friday

Between the facts that a) my friend Jeff has come down from San Jose to visit enumerable times and I’ve only gone up to visit him once, b) this year is the 30 year anniversary of my graduation from Cal, and c) Cal’s Memorial stadium just finished undergoing a massive renovation and was being rededicated, I decided to go up to Cal for this year’s Homecoming game the first weekend in October.

I went up on Thursday night after work and spent the night in Palo Alto with my friend Dan. On Friday, Dan and I walked over to downtown Palo Alto and just meandered around the stores. We went into a used bookstore – a dying breed these days – and I bought a book, more to support the book store than because I wanted the book. We had lunch downtown and walked back. Dan’s cleaning crew was still at his house, so we drove to a nearby recreation area and walked around for a while. By the end of the day, I had over 20,000 steps, which is very unusual for me for a single day.

A little after 4, We took some pictures with my cell phone (I wish I had remembered my camera, because my cell phone is a poor substitute!) Then, I said goodbye to Dan and drove over to Jeff’s house. Jeff and I drove to the Lawrence Hall of Science at Berkeley, where there was a reception for all the alumni celebrating reunions. We made a meal out of the hors d’oeuvres they served. There was entertainment in the form of two pairs of Tango dancers who put on nice exhibition. First, one pair danced in a very elegant fashion, then the second pair danced in a flashier mode. Next. both pairs danced together, with the girls switching back and forth between the two men. I was intrigued to note that the second girl markedly changed her style to match her partner. The alumni committee presented an enormous check from the various reunion years to the University. An a capella women’s group sang, and the marching band played. Jeff ran into some people he knew. One was a TA in one of his classes over 30 years ago. The evening wasn’t particularly memorable, but I had a good time.

My lucky day

  26-Sep-2012 (22:43)

One Thursday in September, Marc was given free tickets to see a band called the “Asphalt Orchestra” at CSUN at 8pm in the evening. This was problematic because Thursdays are my day to drive the Hebrew carpool, and pickup time is 8pm. It was also the first Sisterhood event of the year. I tried to swap carpool with one of the other moms, but both of them had back-to-school night that night (at different schools!) In end, I told Marc that I couldn’t go with him to see the Asphalt orchestra. When he got home from the event, he told me the following story.

“When you couldn’t go, I called Mitch (our nephew.) He was interested, but had Dodger tickets. He would rather watch the Dodgers lose than see the Asphalt Orchestra (good choice.) Fortunately, I didn’t have to pay for parking. When I went in, I only pulled out one ticket. I had seats 120 and 121, and I expected that 120 would be closer to the center so I used that one. I was in part C, which I assumed (since the tickets were free) was on a higher level, so I went up the stairs. At the top of the stairs someone asked if they could help me and directed me to door 3. At door 3, someone offered to show me to my seat. Then I had to walk all the way down to my seat. I should have gone in on the main floor! There were 4 seats on the end, and 120 was the fourth one in (the closest to the middle, as I expected.) There was someone sitting in 119. He was large and had taken over the arm rests, so I concluded that I would be more comfortable in 121. I stood there for a second waiting for my usher to leave, which she didn’t, so finally I sat in 121. She said, “You’re in the wrong seat.” I said “That’s OK, I have that ticket too.” This seemed to confuse her, so I pulled it out and showed it to her. Then she said “Is someone else coming?” I thought the question was odd, since I had both tickets - how would someone else get in? She still seemed confused, but eventually she went away.

While I was waiting for the show to start, I saw people I knew and I read the playbill. The day before, the Asphalt Orchestra had marched around CSUN and played and they were very loud, so I was glad I wasn’t closer to the stage. The Asphalt Orchestra is like a mini-marching band, so I expected that they would play popular music but in a marching band style. Because they are small and agile, they could do a lot of stuff that a large marching band couldn’t do to make things more enjoyable than a standard marching band. I might have been right about the seat, but not so good on predicting the band.

The show started oddly. The lights went out but nothing happened. There were some instruments on stage, but no people. Then a small light went on up front in the audience, like someone had opened up their cell phone to turn it off. It was the Asphalt Orchestra. They started doing something that sounded like a bunch of 6th graders pretending they were doing drum rifts. It was not very coherent.

Eventually they all went on stage, and started playing - nothing recognizable. They had choreography, but it didn’t make sense. It had nothing to do with what they were playing. There were two saxophones, two trumpets, two trombones, a sousaphone, three percussionists and a piccolo. I spent a lot of time listening for the piccolo, but most of the time I couldn’t hear it, so I figured she was there because she knew someone (wink, wink, nudge, nudge.)

After a couple of numbers, people started to leave. I could have left without climbing over anyone, but I thought that leaving before intermission would be rude. After 45 minutes they did a piece, and when it ended, and the players all walked offstage (leaving a bunch of instruments). At that point, a bunch of people in the audience walked out even before the lights came on. The people a couple of rows in front of me started to stand up, but then the players came back on stage, and the people ahead of me slumped dejectedly down into their seats with the realitation that they were trapped - like me. When it was clear there was not going to be an intermission, a couple more people left. Thankfully the whole show was only an hour.

The next day I asked Suzanne what she thought of it. She said that she liked it more than her husband, but not *much* more - and her husband hated it. I commented about the piccolo not being very audible and she said (she has a better ear for music than I) that it was better when you couldn’t hear it because, when you could, it was awful.”

There is an online review of the show with such ringing endorsements as “The ensemble calls itself a neo-marching band … the Asphalt Orchestra, with a mere 12 members, seems more a scruffy band,” “The gimmicks weren't original” and “A kind of sameness pervades the Asphalt Orchestra's music, arrangements, movement, lighting (designed by Jesse Belsky). What was cute for five minutes was still cute but predictable after 10 minutes. And then there were 50 more cute and predictable minutes to go.”

Marc summed up the whole thing by saying, “When you couldn’t go, I really wanted it to be great, so that I could come home and tell you all about the wonderful show that you missed. But I just can’t do that. You caught a break by not being able to go.”

Conversations with my son

  24-Sep-2012 (20:34)

Conversations with my son

After Labor Day we settled into a regular routine of meetings and schlepping. For meetings, I have my quilting group, Sisterhood, and AAUW. For schlepping, aside from taking Benjamin to school, Benjamin has Robotics after school on Mondays, music lessons and soccer practice after school on Tuesdays, Hebrew school after school on Thursdays, Robotics after school on Fridays, soccer games on Saturdays, and both Hebrew and Chorus on Sundays. Whew!

He just turned 15 ½ and will be getting his permit soon. I have mixed feelings about him driving. On the one hand it will free up a lot of my time. On the other hand, I enjoy our conversations in the car. He has far less of a tendency to escape into a book for the entire car ride than Jonathan did. The other day, we had a very funny argument about how to survive a zombie apocalypse. Benjamin was arguing that zombies are slow, so it’s easy to evade them. I argued that, if there were enough of them, they could over power you. I said, “What if everyone who had ever died rose from the dead and became a zombie?” Benjamin responded indignantly, “That’s impossible!” Ten minutes later (which is how long it took me to stop laughing) we had a discussion on what he meant, which was that in the world that he was using as the underlying premise, zombies aren’t created from dead people, and particularly not from long dead people. It was a very fun conversation. Isn’t that what everyone discusses with their children on the way home from school?

Labor Day weekend (Part 4)

  18-Sep-2012 (22:18)

Monday was Labor Day. We had planned a party for my office and Marc’s office. We never had our annual 4th of July party (since I was gone both the weekend before and the weekend after!) and since we had just re-plastered our pool, and it looks fabulous, a party seemed in order! Monday morning, Benjamin and I ran around setting up canopies and chairs and dealing with a myriad of non-food logistics. Marc dealt with food.

At 3 pm, guests started to arrive. I had been stressed over not having enough chairs, but as most parties do, it all worked out fine. When we re-plastered the pool, one of the things we did was to add a shelf in the deep end, where you can sit, which I have only wanted since we moved into the house 16½ years ago! I actually went into the pool during the party - I don’t think I have ever done at any of our previous office parties!

It was really nice that, for the first time, Marc had coworkers that he could invite. Up until now, it’s always been just my coworkers. The weather cooperated too, and the late afternoon had a light cloud cover, which was nice, because my two canopies would not have provided sufficient shade. I was wondering if I would regret holding a party when there was work the next day, but *because* there was work/school the next day, people did not stay late, and by about 10 everything was cleaned up and put away (except the 2 canopies, which I think are STILL up!) It was a marvelous ending to a wonderful weekend.

Labor Day weekend (Part 3)

  17-Sep-2012 (17:27)

Sunday, the theme was “Beach Party” so the callers were all in shorts and Hawaiian shirts. They had bogie boards on the stage and would jump on them like they were surfing while they were calling. They were also throwing beach balls around the floor. There were beach chairs set up in a beach scene in the back where you could go and take your picture. At one point, in the middle of a tip, two of the (male) staff sauntered onto the stage with beach chairs and set them up as if they were there to catch some rays (yes this was inside.) One of the guys cracked up the callers, and the dancers too, by removing his shirt before settling into his chair. In general, the last day of a convention is often the best, because many of the weaker dancers don’t dance that day, so the squares hold together better. The dance was scheduled to end at 2, so my plan had been to stay until 1 ish and then get lunch, but at noon everyone was starving, so we went to lunch and then came back for the end. It’s nice to be there for the last tip, because you feel like the callers really appreciate the die-hards who stay until the end. After the dance, the kids wanted ice cream, so we went for Coldstone and then headed home.

The dancing was a lot of fun – the callers, Charlie Robertson, KO Jeanes, and Matt Worley were superb! Matt Worley, despite being this not particularly tall, unassuming guy, has this deep, bass voice which was really marvelous. I talked to him at one point, and he said that he doesn’t get to sing bass when he’s calling by himself, but in situations like the Jamboree, when three callers are singing together, he can “go low.” I came home and immediately looked up when they would be calling near me so we can dance to them some more. Unfortunately, Matt Worley is from Virginia Beach, so my opportunities to dance to him again will be limited. KO Jeanes is from Texas – Jonathan will have more opportunities to dance to him than I will, but Charlie Robertson is local, and I put a couple of his dances on my calendar.

As soon as we arrived home, Benjamin needed to leave for the first choir practice of the year. We switched to the van, because I wanted to borrow tables and chairs from Mom and Don. I dropped him off and went over to Don’s. Don and Sue weren’t home, but luckily for me, Samantha was just arriving home as I got there, so she gave me their table and chairs. Then I went to Mom’s and took hers. Then I decided to go to BevMo and pick up some beer. They were giving away a free 20 lb bag of ice with $20 in purchases, which was just about what I was planning to spend on beer, so that worked out great! I bought the beer and then went back to pick up Benjamin. It all worked out so well, you would think I had planned it, but I just got lucky. Hurray for luck!

Labor Day weekend (Part 2)

  15-Sep-2012 (21:24)

Labor Day weekend was an extra long weekend for Benjamin and me. For Benjamin, because he had Friday off from school due to “Admission Day”. (I don’t remember Jonathan ever getting Admission Day off, but whatever!) Since they didn’t have school, Benjamin and Abby went to Magic Mountain. They had a fun time, went on a bunch of rides and ate ice cream. It was a long extra long weekend for me because I took the day off from work to try and get caught up on filing. It sounds boring, but I felt like I got a lot accomplished, so it was satisfying.

Benjamin came back from Magic Mountain exhausted, and Marc was interested in cooking for the party we were throwing Monday, so we skipped square dancing on Friday night. As it turned out, Kathleen and Jake’s hotel had a hot tub and beer, so they missed Friday night too.

Saturday, we got there at 10 am when it started. The first hour was “So you think you know mainstream!” and it was fast and furious – Just the way we like it. It was a blast. Then there was going to be an hour of singing calls, an hour of “So you think you know plus!” and then an hour of APD (all position dancing, which is HARD and fun.) In order to get lunch, we were going to have to miss something, and I suggested we miss the singing calls. The kids were all for that, and so was Marc, who is not so enamored with singing calls. It took us a while to find a place that was open, but we finally ended up at a Chinese restaurant. Then back for more fast, furious, and fun dancing.

After the APD, there was an A1 workshop (where they teach the calls) which was MUCH slower paced, and then there was “Plus Insanity Dance” and the afternoon finished off with normal plus dancing, which was still pretty intense. We went to dinner very happy with the afternoon’s dancing. For dinner, we ended up at “Henri’s Café” and the kids both had breakfast for dinner. And ice cream! After dinner, the dancing was much calmer, and there were rounds between tips which also broke things up a lot. After an hour or so, we decided that we didn’t need to stay until the end, since we were going to be back in the morning and we wanted to get some sleep in between! So we took off. It was a great day!

Labor Day weekend (Part 1)

  12-Sep-2012 (20:53)

Two years ago, there was a square dancing festival on Labor Day weekend in Oxnard called the Labor Day Jamboree. We all went, as did the Hollands, and we had a great time. That year they had a hospitality room that was open to everyone, and the Benjamin thought that that was the best part. Last year there was no Jamboree, and we were sad. But this year it was back, so we signed up to go. First I sent an email to the chair asking if there would be a mainstream level hall. If there was going to be a mainstream hall, I would invite Abby to join us (Abby took square dancing lessons, but was unable to finish due to injury, so she could dance mainstream.) Days went by and I heard nothing, so eventually I sent in my registration for just the three of us. Two years ago, there was no mainstream hall, so I thought it would be unlikely that there would be one this year, but one never knows until you ask.

More days went by, and I didn’t hear anything about registration. A few days before the weekend, I realized that not only had I not received confirmation that I was registered, I didn’t know what time anything started, so I didn’t know when to show up. So I sent off another email complaining about the lack of contact. As it turned out, the deficit was totally not the fault of the people running the festival. They had received my original email asking about whether there would be a mainstream hall and HAD responded. Where that response went, nobody knows. He did a “reply” to my email, so I should have gotten it, but didn’t. And they never received my registration that I (snail) mailed. Just a pair of coincidences that happened to align. They were very nice about it and even said they would honor the early registration price.

I told the Hollands (who had gone with us two years ago) about the Jamboree and Jake and Kathleen decided to go and make it a weekend getaway. They found a babysitter for the kids, and made reservations at a nice hotel in Oxnard. I asked Kathleen if that meant that Carolyn was not going to attend, and she responded, “You can invite her, if you want” i.e., Carolyn was not invited to stay with her parents on their weekend retreat, but if we provided transportation, they had no objection to her attending. Since we were planning to drive back and forth each day, and since Carolyn is on the way between our house and Oxnard, we were happy to provide transportation. So I called Carolyn and invited her to ride with us if she wanted to go, which she did. This made Benjamin happy, because he likes square dancing better when he doesn’t have to scramble for partners.

My non-race (August 18)

  9-Sep-2012 (21:28)

This day was one of those days that makes me think that there is someone out there watching out for me. I had planned to run in the Valley Breast Care "Make Every Women Count!” 5K & 10K Run in Woodley Park. Both Benjamin and I signed up for the 10K race. However, when I signed up, I misread the start time as 10am when it was actually 8:10am. I figured this out on the day of the race at 8:30am – too late to run the race. Oh well! But it occurred to me that, while I couldn’t do the 10K race, , I could do a 10K run. All I had to do was to do my normal 5K jog twice. So I decided to do that.

Benjamin joined me for the first loop, and with him pushing me, I did it faster than I ever had before (and the morning was hot!) He dropped out after the first lap (I think because he knew that I would be walking a LOT on the second loop.) I still managed to do the second loop in less than 45 minutes, and overall I did the 10K in 80 minutes, which was 10 minutes faster than my goal, so I was very pleased. On the second loop, it occurred to me that one side benefit of my mistake was that I could attend the Guitar Minyon at Temple, which, if I had run the race, I would have missed. Then I started wondering about whether I had signed up a babysitter for the Guitar Minyon, and I decided that if I hadn’t, I would get Benjamin to do it.

When I got home, I thought about going for a dip in the pool. The thought was very attractive, but the thought of peeling off my sweat-soaked clothes and wriggling into a bathing suit was not. But then I thought, “So, don’t do that!” I took off my shoes and socks and walked into the pool with my clothes on. I did remember to take my pedometer off just seconds before it hit the water. The pool was wonderful! And I loved it that I was the first person to swim in our newly replastered and retiled pool. I then asked Marc and Benjamin to join me. But we didn’t stay in long, because I needed to get dressed for the Guitar Minyon. I discovered that, as I feared, I had forgotten to solicit a babysitter, so I shangheid Benjamin to babysit.

When we arrived at the Temple, we found Jude in a *mood*. One of my favorite parenting techniques when kids are being recalcitrant is to give them a choice, where you (the parent) are happy with either choice, because making the choice makes the kid feel in control. So I said to him, “Do you want to stay here with me or go with Benjamin?” To my great surprise, Jude chose to stay with me. So I sent Benjamin off to the babysitting room by himself, and plunked down on the floor. Jude sat down in my lap, and just sat there quietly for a long time. I was in heaven. Services with a child sitting quietly in my lap is one of my favorite things. Just before the Barechu prayer, he finally got bored and asked to go to babysitting. So I had him wait until after this prayer, and then took him to babysitting. Giving Jude the choice didn’t completely cure him of his mood, but it seemed to help tremendously.

In the end, my mistake about the race start time meant that I didn’t run in the race, but a) I still ran a 10K today, b) I swam in my pool, c) I swam in the pool in my clothes, d) I was able to attend the guitar minyon, and e) I was able to rectify my mistake of not soliciting a babysitter for the guitar minyon. So I was VERY glad that I had made the mistake about the race time! I hope all my mistakes turn out this well!

School starts for both boys

  6-Sep-2012 (23:11)

School started for Benjamin on August 14th. He is taking Honors Math Analysis, AP Music Theory, Honors English, AP European History, Honors Chemistry and Jr. ROTC (instead of PE.) His English and Math teachers are the same as the ones he had last spring, so he knows what to expect from them. He seemed to settle in quickly and easily.

The following Thursday was Jonathan’s last night in LA for the summer, so he invited friends over for dinner and games. He has great friends and it was a nice to have dinner with them. On Friday, he had a noon flight, so I took the day off from work to spend the morning with him and take him to the airport. I could have gone to work after I dropped him off, but on Thursday, I had solved a problem that had been plaguing me for a week, and it seemed like the better part of discretion to rest on my laurels! So I had a nice relaxing afternoon by myself at home.

Fun Theater!

  3-Sep-2012 (12:41)

The next weekend we had tickets to see “People vs Friar Laurence - The Man Who Killed Romeo and Juliet: a Musical Comedy.” It was put on by the IOTA Theater company and was showing at the Whitefire Theater and. Marc had spotted this play and thought it looked interesting. I had never heard of the show, the company or the theater, and was more skeptical, but hey, don’t knock it until you’ve tried it, right. That was a good choice, because we LOVED the show. It was witty and silly and zany and fun.

We saw the show with Marc’s co-worker Paula and her husband Neil, and had dinner with them beforehand at Café Bijou. I had the citrus salmon and it was excellent (as usual!) We were glad that we had not invited anyone with young children to join us, because the show was pretty adult in terms of language and innuendo. Afterwards, I looked up the IOTA theater company, and found that IOTA stands for "Inmates of the Theatrical Asylum"! It’s a brand new theater company, and I look forward to more craziness from them in the future.

Celebrating my birthday

  31-Aug-2012 (18:45)

August started off with square dancing to Hunter Keller again. Kathleen and Carolyn didn’t come, so the boys had to scramble for partners. A friend from the Rowdy crew was there, and that was fun.

The next day we went out to Thousand Oaks to see Benjamin’s friend Samuel in Peter Pan. The actors and actresses did an excellent job. I was sitting next to a young boy who was about 4, and he cracked me up twice during the show. When Peter Pan came on stage, the boy asked, “Is that a boy or a girl?” The role of Peter Pan was played by a girl (isn’t it always?) and I was amused to hear the adult next to him struggle for an answer. Then, at intermission, he cracked me up again, when he hopefully asked, “Is it over?” Sorry kid, you have to be good for another hour! After Peter Pan, we went over to Mom’s house for a delicious dinner. Marc had made this really wonderful cheesecake to celebrate my birthday, and it was very yummy.

The next day was my birthday. I went to work, and had a really good day fixing problems. Dorothy brought a cake to work in honor of my birthday, and it was excellent. That night was the Sisterhood budget meeting (at my house, since I’m the Treasurer.) I served everyone leftover cake from the day before and from the afternoon. The meeting went well, and didn’t take overly long (for a budget meeting anyway!) I was pleased that I had yummy desserts to serve at the budget meeting without asking Marc to bake! I’m going to do budget meetings on my birthday every year! (Well, next year I won’t be Treasurer, so maybe not!)

The last weekend in July

  25-Aug-2012 (22:16)

The last weekend in July was great! A few weeks earlier, I had an argument with a friend. I told her that I was planning to celebrate my birthday by dancing to Hunter Keller (my favorite square dance caller) the first Saturday in August. She said that Hunter was calling the last weekend in July. When I checked, it turned out we were both right. He was calling two weekends in a row at different clubs near my house. So the last Saturday in July, we all went to Simi Valley to dance to Hunter Keller. Kathleen dragged her daughter Carolyn to the same dance (her husband was out of town) and that worked out great, because it meant that both Benjamin and Jonathan had partners. Carolyn hadn’t danced in ages and ages, but when you are young, it all comes back very fast, particularly when the rest of the square knows what they are doing. Hunter was calling fast and furious and the dancing was a lot of fun.

The next day the Temple Sisterhood had a leadership retreat for the board. We spent 2 hours on bonding, the history of the Temple, the history of WRJ (the Reform Sisterhood umbrella organization), Bylaws, and Standing Rules. Some of it was interesting, but 3 hours of it all was a bit much! I would have liked to have seen more describing the different roles within Sisterhood, so we had more of a feel for what the other board members are doing. When it was over, I skedaddled out of there, because I had somewhere to be!

The Ventura County Gilbert and Sullivan Repertoire Company (VCGSRC) was doing a Mikado sing-a-along. Both Jonathan and Benjamin invited a friend, and the six of us had a great time. The VCGSRC actors dressed in costume and went through the entire Mikado script, and the audience joined in where appropriate. VCGSRC provided lyrics to the songs, and we had come prepared with our own copies. It was great fun, but it made me miss my Dad something fierce, because the Mikado was his favorite G&S show. We came home from that, packed a picnic dinner and went up to Santa Clarita, where the Santa Clarita Shakespeare Festival was doing "Macbeth" for free in the park. All the actors were fabulous. We were also impressed with the set, which seemed old and rickety and about to fall down, but in fact was built specifically for this production. We came home very impressed and wanting to see more next year.

The Lawrence family party (July 22)

  23-Aug-2012 (22:55)

A couple of days after I returned from San Jose I was telling my friend Matt that I had met woman whose son would be going to Lawrence in the fall. Matt’s son will also be going to Lawrence in the fall, and it occurred to me that would be nice if the two boys could meet before school started. Matt liked the idea so I sent an e-mail to Shelly asking her if we could find a date where her family and Matt’s family could come over to my house for swimming and dinner. As it turned out there was only one day before school started when they would be available, (the next Sunday) but luckily, both my family and Matt’s family was also available that day and it was a date. I also invited Kevin and Rachel and her family, since Shelly had met them in San Jose and Rachel's daughter went to Lawrence and her son is currently going to Lawrence.

Marc was also trying to arrange a get-together with niece Jordan, who has a new job in Seattle and would be moving there shortly. A couple of days before the scheduled pool party, we got word that there would be a family dinner the same night as the pool party. Arrrg! We couldn’t move the date of the pool party and they couldn’t move the date of the family dinner, so we were stuck. Jordan saved the day by agreeing to come over earlier in the day to visit.

The day before the get-together, I decided to go through all the pool toys in the shed, and hose them down, and throw out anything disgusting. This was a *really* good idea, but the boys were not at all happy that I recruited their help. There were quite a few disgusting things in there, including a black widow spider. Between the shed they built at the Temple and the one we cleaned out at home, “SHED” is definitely a four-letter word in our house!

The Lawrence student get-together went swimmingly (pun intended!) Daniel brought his Lawrence planner and went over things like 6th grade classes, homework, and teachers with the two boys. I was impressed to learn that that had been his idea! No event goes perfectly and the imperfection for this one was that I knocked over a bottle next to the pool. It smashed against the concrete and broke into a ton of tiny pieces. Some of the pieces went into the pool. We spent a long time picking up all the pieces and Daniel still came home with a piece of glass in his foot. It was a graphic example of why public pools don’t allow glass in the pool area. Jordan came over just as we were serving dinner so Marc and I ate in the kitchen and talked to her. I was pleased to see that after dinner, the two Lawrence kids were running around together like they had been friends for ever. It was a very nice day.

Benjamin comes home, and other fun affairs

  19-Aug-2012 (11:20)

Benjamin comes home, and other fun affairs

The following Sunday (July 15), Benjamin came home from camp. This was Benjamin’s “Mitzvah” year, the last year he can be a camper at Hilltop. If he goes back, it will be as a CIT or a counselor. He took notes on his experience, and together we have written it all up. It’s too long to post on my blog, but you can find it on his website. It has pictures as well as a day-by-day description of his experience.

Chicago cousin Eric was in town with his family that Sunday, so we picked Benjamin up and went directly to Don and Sue’s house for lunch and swimming. Mom, Rhonda, Debi and Jen joined us and next door neighbor Debbie came over too. It was a wonderful afternoon.

The next day we were invited for dinner at Fanny and Ron’s. Fanny made chili, Marc made the most delicious cheesecake and other guests brought salads. The boys came too and had a good time talking to the other kids their age who were there. It was a nice relaxing evening and I hope to reciprocate soon.

A few days later, I took the day off from work and went to a weaving convention with my Mom. The display room contained a fun mix of really interesting and amazing stuff, and other stuff that didn’t appeal to us at all. There was a technology section which incorporated micro-LEDs into the fabric, but in order to see the LEDs in action we would have to go to the technology fashion show, which wasn’t until late in the day. We went through the vendor room, and some of the stuff there was just as amazing as the pieces on display. Afterwards we went to the Long Beach Museum of Art to see an exhibit called Small Expressions 2012. Small Expressions is an annual, international, juried exhibit featuring high quality, contemporary small-scale works. It is sponsored by the Handweavers Guild of America, Inc. to showcase small scale works created using fiber techniques in any media, not to exceed 15 inches (38 cm) in any direction. That exhibit was well worth the trip. We ran into someone whom Mom knew because she had done a workshop at the convention that Mom’s Pomegranate Guild (which is a Jewish needlecrafters guild) had just hosted in June. When we got halfway through the Small Expressions exhibit, we realized that one of the reasons the woman had come to the exhibit was that she had a piece in it! I was very impressed by all of the pieces exhibited.

The San Jose trip - Day 3

  14-Aug-2012 (22:54)

Saturday morning, Mom and I went to the Temple for Eitan’s Bar Mitzvah. He did an excellent job – it was a nice service. Afterwards, there was a Kiddush lunch and it was quite a spread! There weren’t enough chairs inside, which worked in our favor, because it meant we went outside to eat and it was nice eating outside. After lunch, we went back to the hotel. We changed and Mom and I walked over to a nearby bakery to see what they had. Nothing really interested me, and we walked back. We passed a gallery and the photos interested me so we went in. The artist was Stephen Oachs (http://www.stephenoachs.com/) I was impressed by his work, and took a brochure. Then it was time to get ready for the evening’s festivities. We changed and went to the restaurant to celebrate Art and Marilyn’s birthdays and their anniversary. More family time catching up – it was really nice. Eitan is the oldest of four, so I’m glad that I will be able to do this every couple of years for quite a while – and then, hopefully, the weddings will start!

Sunday, Mom had made lunch arrangements with friends and I had lunch with my friend Jeff. Jeff and I went to a Japanese restaurant in this trendy shopping center and had appetizers for lunch – they were yummy! Afterwards we just strolled around and talked. I was itching to take off for home because I wanted to have dinner with Marc and the boys, so I didn’t want lunch to run late, but Mom was not so eager to leave her friends. When she was at last ready, we said our goodbyes, used the restroom and left.

About an hour out we came to the Casa de Fruitas fruit stand, and mom said she wanted to stop. I silently rolled my eyes because I wanted to get home and agreed. When I got out of the car I automatically checked my back pocket for my wallet and discovered it wasn't there. I called the restaurant where we had used the restroom and asked them to check whether I had inadvertently left it in the restroom. Indeed I had. I decided to call Jeff and ask him to pick it up and send it to me rather than drive an hour back to San Jose to get it. I was then VERY glad that mom had wanted to stop because otherwise it would have been hours before I discovered that the wallet was missing. I couldn't reach Jeff so I left messages for him on his cell and home phones. Mom and I continued on and soon encountered signs warning us about construction on Interstate 5 and recommending that we take the 152 all the way to the 99 and take the 99 down. We did this but in retrospect I'm not convinced it was the fastest way home. So although the signs helped on the way up, they hurt us on the way down. I guess we came out about even. After another three hours mom wanted to stop and get a little snack. We went to a Starbucks and I used the stop to call Jeff again. This time I was able to get him. He hadn't gotten my messages and said he would go right away to the restaurant to pick up my wallet. So again I was very glad my mom had wanted to stop. We continued on and an encountered heavy traffic through the grapevine because they had eliminated a lane. We finally arrived at home and had dinner that Marc had prepared for us. My wallet arrived home a few days later.

The San Jose trip (July 5-8) Days 1&2

  13-Aug-2012 (22:47)

Five weekends in June was not enough to cram in all the trips I wanted to take, so they spilled over into July, when I traveled (with Mom) to San Jose for cousin Eitan Myron’s Bar Mitzvah and his grandparents’ birthday and anniversary celebrations. The first Friday in July, Mom came by my house just before lunch. I made lunch for the two of us and we took off for San Jose. As we approached the 5-99 split, the freeway signs said that there was a lengthy delay on the 5 due to highway construction closing lanes, and taking the 99 was advised. So we did. I think those signs significantly reduced our travel time. We arrived and checked into our hotel.

My friend Dan drove down from Palo Alto, and the three of us went to dinner at a nearby fish restaurant. Dinner was excellent. Afterwards, Dan and I drove to his house. We spent the evening talking and catching up and I spent the night. In the morning, Dan got lunch meat and while he ran kids around, I fixed us sandwiches. Then we went to a nearby recreation area and went for a hike. It was a gorgeous day and the temperature was perfect. After the hike, we went back to Dan’s house and Mom, who had been in Palo Alto too, picked me up. We went back to the hotel, showered, changed and went to the Myron’s for Shabbat dinner.

Dinner was yummy and it was fun reconnecting with relatives and meeting new people. At one point I overheard a women mention that her son was going to Lawrence Middle School in the fall. Lawrence was Benjamin’s middle school, so I introduced myself to her. Her name is Shelly and it turns out that she lives about 5 miles from me. Her husband and Eitan's mom have been friends for over 30 years. We talked at length about schools in general and Lawrence in particular. There was also a boy at the dinner that looked a lot like Benjamin, but he was from the other side of the family!

National Square Dancing Convention - Last day

  8-Aug-2012 (22:37)

National Square Dancing Convention - Last day

On Saturday, the first event of the day was the youth competition. (See picture with previous post.) There were three squares, one where the average age was about 10 (boy, were those kids cute!) one with Jonathan, and the square that won the competition. As the dancing got harder and harder, the cute square was knocked out, but not before they impressed all of us with how good they were. After the cute square was knocked out, Jonathan’s square was in a near perpetual state of breaking down. However, breaking down did not knock you out, as long as you continued to dance, so that’s what they did. I’m not quite sure how, though. The square that won deserved to win – they were quite good.

After the competition, we went to the youth hall and then had lunch with Kaitlyn. (See picture with this post.) As we were walking to lunch, I caught a snippet of Kaitlyn and Jonathan’s conversation and said, “Are you guys talking about calculus?” Of course they were. At lunch we discovered that both Jonathan and Kaitlyn had containers full of origami stars at home. After lunch, we went to the variety hall for more hex squares. Then Jonathan and Kaitlyn went to the youth hall and I went to the Plus hall to dance to Cody Pierce and David Heffron. For dinner, we were joined by Chelsea, another youth dancer, and she and Jonathan traded conundrums.

After dinner, we were dancing in the mainstream hall to the Ghost Riders live band. Kaitlyn gave Jonathan a box of chocolates. We were able to get into some hex squares in the mainstream hall. That was a lot of fun. We had 3 hex squares going and that’s 36 dancers! Later on, the Rowdy crew started scramble dancing with 6 or 7 squares. Scramble dancing is normal square dancing, except that you don’t promenade to a place in your own square, you promenade to anywhere in any square that is participating. It means the squares all break down and reform with each promenade. After dancing ended, we took a picture with the Rowdy Crew. Jonathan went to the after party in the youth hall and I went with the Rowdy crew.

Back at the hotel, the Rowdy Crew hung out at the pool until we got kicked out and then we moved to the breakfast area. We told jokes and played games like drawing moons, Bob’s World, the golden screw. One of the Rowdy Crew is famous for a particular joke, so we played a joke on him. When he went to tell it, we all stood up and left the room. Jonathan stayed later than on the other nights, but left before the group broke up. After he left, some of the crew danced a tip (in the breakfast area) with one of the Crew calling. The younger kids played jelly bean roulette. They had a set of jelly beans where any given color of jelly beans had two possible flavors, one innocuous and one awful. For example the black jelly beans might be licorice, or they might be skunk. You pick a jelly bean and take your chances. I thought it was way more fun to watch than to play! In the wee hours of the morning, we took pictures of everyone still there and went to bed.

We had been told by the hotel that they did not provide shuttle service to the airport on weekends, but faced with dozens of square dancers who all wanted to go to the airport Sunday morning, they relented, which we greatly appreciated. We had a 1pm flight, so we got to the airport around 11, and had lunch there. Our flight home stopped in Phoenix, but we didn’t have to change planes. The guy making the announcements on the plane was pretty funny. He said, “In case of a water landing – um – we’re having a really bad day – but, you can use your seat cushion as a flotation device.” I was going to compliment him but then when we arrived he said “Drive safe” and it irks me when people use adjectives when an adverb is appropriate and so he lost out on the compliment.

It was a fabulous weekend, and we want to do it again next year (in Oklahoma.) Next year, Benjamin will have aged out of camp, and he is looking forward to going too. Most of the kids he went to camp with this year will go on a camp sponsored trip to Israel next year. However Benjamin would rather go to National's. He was having fun telling people, “I’d rather go to Oklahoma than to Israel!”

The National Square Dance convention - Day 3

  7-Aug-2012 (22:09)

The National Square Dance convention - Day 3

Friday morning, I went to the Youth hall to dance to Cody Pearce, one of Rowdy crew who only recently became a caller. He did a nice job. Then I headed over to the mainstream hall to watch the adult square dance competition. This was a “last square standing” competition. Basically, you dance until your square breaks down and the last square left wins. It was early, so I went to peruse the vendors next door. There, I ran into my friend Debby who was going to be in the competition. “Aren’t you supposed to be over in the competition hall already?” “Doesn’t it start at 11?” “I thought you were supposed to be there at 10:30” “10:30! Aaak!” She arrived just in the nick of time. One of the squares was missing a couple and was looking for a substitute, so Jonathan and I volunteered. Early on, Jonathan said, “Either we are going to win or they (Debby’s square) are going to win.” I said, “I hope so, because we’re not going to win, so that means they will!” Our square hung in long enough to not be embarrassed, and then we broke down and were out. As Jonathan predicted, Debby’s square went on to win the competition, for the third (I think) year in a row. They were REALLY good!

After lunch, the variety hall was doing hex squares, so Jonathan and I did that. The first caller had us do rectangles rather than hex squares, which I was less interested in doing, but the second caller was Andy Allemeo, who is awesome. After hex squares, Jonathan and I danced in the youth hall (on the family side) with Bob and daughter Brittney. Brittney had never taken lessons, but in the youth hall that is less important than being willing to dance.

For dinner, we went back to the hall with the non-fast food, but there was no one playing piano this night (awww!) After dinner, we danced in the mainstream hall, and then moved to the plus hall. Jonathan was dancing with Kaitlyn, and I was scrambling for partners. At one point, 12 of us formed a hex square. We got through the first call just fine, but could not hold it together after that, and after a while we gave up. We went to the youth hall for the after party because Hunter Keller was calling the after party and he is awesome! After dancing was over, the Rowdy Crew went the pool to hang out. Jonathan retired fairly early. I stayed a little later, but not very late – there was dancing the next day!

Ths National Square Dancing Convention (June 27-31) Day 1&2

  5-Aug-2012 (11:53)

June had five weekends, which meant that I could cram in a fourth trip! Three days after returning from New York, I was off again, this time with Jonathan, flying to Spokane for the 61st annual National Square Dancing convention. Marc passed on this trip because, having just started a new job last December (and having taken two trips in June already!) he didn’t have enough vacation time.

Our flight arrived a few minutes early. I called my friend Phyllis to see if she could pick us up or if we should take a taxi to the hotel. “We’re almost at the airport,” she replied. “We’ll probably get to baggage claim before your bags arrive.” What awesome timing! We got to the hotel and Phyllis introduced me to the members of the Rowdy Crew she had been traveling with all week. We changed into square dance clothes and went off to dance. We danced in the Plus hall and met Kaitlyn, a teenager from Hawaii, who was dancing with her father, and danced with them a bunch.

Our hotel was less than a mile from the convention center, so we just walked back and forth. Square dance attire was optional during the day, so I wore jeans, a choice I regretted later when I had to walk back to the hotel to change. Jonathan managed to get certified as a youth (despite being 19, and no, he didn’t lie about his age) so he was able to dance on the youth-only side of the youth hall. There was a workshop on hex squares (yes, I realize that is an oxymoron) from 10-11am, which I attended. Jonathan thought that YAHW (yet another hex workshop) would be boring, so he and Phyllis danced Mainstream to the Ghost Riders (live) band. We met up and all danced DBD plus and then high energy plus.

Just before dinner time, I walked back and changed and then walked back to the convention center, and decided I was just going to wear square dancing clothes during the day! Then we had dinner. They had a hall where they were serving real dinner (as opposed to fast food) and right outside there was a piano. Some random person was playing, so we ate dinner serenaded by piano music. After dinner, we mostly danced in the plus hall with the Rowdy crew. For the after party (which is just one more hour of square dancing that is not on the schedule) Jonathan danced in the youth hall, and I went to the hall where the Rowdy crew was dancing and danced with them. Back at the hotel, we went to Bob’s room and visited with Rowdy Crew for a while. Jonathan and I didn’t stay late though.

The NY trip - Days 2&3

  1-Aug-2012 (20:22)

Rob’s daughter Courtney and Randy’s daughter Alyssa attend the same school, and both just finished 7the grade. Friday was their awards ceremony. Both girls finished with high honors, and we all went to see the ceremony. This ceremony was also warm, humid and, again, only an hour.

Randy and Danielle had errands to run, so I suggested that Marc and I watch the girls swim at Rob and Sandra’s house (where we would be having dinner) so that the girls didn’t have to be dragged along on the errands. The girls thought this was a great idea. So we had a nice relaxing afternoon, just hanging out in Rob’s backyard. For dinner, Rob and Sandra brought in a sandwich. We joked that they only got one sandwich to feed all of us! (It was 6 or 8 feet long.) After dinner, Marc and I were changing into clothes for services, when Marc’s phone rang. It was cousin Jacque. “Uh-oh,” Marc said, “This can’t be good.” Indeed, Jacque was calling with the news that her mother had passed away (after a long illness; the news was no shock) and the funeral was Monday. Sigh.

We arrived at the Temple about a quarter to 8 and we were the only people there. We rehearsed Randy on the aliyah he would be doing the next day, because he was pretty sure he hadn’t done an aliyah since his Bar Mitzvah! But after going over it a couple of times everything seemed to come back to him. Services were (again) an hour (this seems to be a theme in New York!) and Kiddush afterwards was yummy. Then home (Randy’s home) and to bed.

Saturday was Bat Mitzvah time. Alyssa was terrific. Such poise, and letter perfect! Randy did a great job on his aliyah too – you wouldn’t know that the last time had been when he was 13. After the service, there was Kiddush, but we didn’t eat much or hang around long, because the celebration was elsewhere. We went to the hall where the reception was, and took some pictures outside in the garden. Then, inside to the cocktail hour. We walked into a long room with a huge table in the middle piled high with platters of fruit, vegetables, cheese and crackers. There were stations all around the outside – a sushi station, a carving station, a Chinese station, and a potato bar (that I originally thought was sherbet!) And this was just the cocktail hour! After completely stuffing ourselves we went into the main hall, where we did the traditional hora, ate salad, saw the montage, danced, and had lunch. There was also a photo station where you could have your picture taken and a lounge area for the kids with couches and small tables. Lunch was really good – and then there was dessert! TWO chocolate fountains (one milk chocolate, one white chocolate) with a ton of things to dip, cake, popcorn, cotton candy, and a Sundae bar! Those New Yorkers really know how to throw a party! The family didn’t want the fun to be over so soon, so when the hall kicked us out, we went back to Rob and Sandra’s house. The plan was to barbeque, but there wasn’t a big interest in eating, so when people did get hungry, we just snacked on leftovers from the party. What an awesome day!

Sunday, we went back to Rob and Sandra’s house for brunch, and then off to the airport to fly home. We arrived just in time to go to Mom’s for dinner. Michael was back from college (Cal Poly) and it was good to all be together again.

The NY trip (June 20-24) - Day 0 & 1

  31-Jul-2012 (22:53)

The fourth weekend in June, I took another trip, the third of the month. On Wednesday, we dropped Benjamin off at the bus to camp (Gindling Hilltop Camp - clap, clap) and Marc and I flew to New York, taking the red-eye that night. We were amused that both this year and last, we dropped Benjamin off to go to camp and went to the airport for a trip of our own the same day. But since this is Benjamin’s last year of camp (he’s aged out) next year we will take him with us!

I was pleased to get about at much sleep as you can on a red-eye to New York (about 5 hours.) We got the rental car and caught some breakfast on the way to Randy and Danielle’s house. We arrived in plenty of time to go with them to watch middle daughter Jaime culminate from middle school. We almost weren’t able to see the ceremony because there was a three ticket per family restriction, and Marc and I made four, but the people behind us in line only needed two and offered us their extra ticket. That was lucky! I had asked if the ceremony was indoors, because in California, an indoor ceremony can be overly air conditioned and cold. They laughed at this idea, and said that the schools in New York are not air conditioned. Being cold was not the problem, instead, it was hot and humid in the auditorium and I had to struggle to stay awake. Fortunately, the ceremony, which had been billed as an hour was indeed only an hour (almost to the minute!)

Randy and Danielle suggested that we all go out to lunch together to celebrate. “All” meant the five of them, the two of us and Randy’s brother Rob’s family – 11 in all. Danielle called a local restaurant called Robke’s to make reservations. When she said we wanted 11:30 reservations, she was told that we could have them only if we were out by 12:30, because they had another big party with a reservation at that time. Which was fine, especially because we knew it meant we would get quick service. Rob and family arrived first, and they were greeted with, “You’re going to be out by 12:30, right?” “Good morning to you too!” The food was good and, as anticipated, the service was quick, and we were out by 12:25.

Rob and family took off, and the rest of us went back to Randy’s house, where we changed into swim suits and went to the yacht club to use the pool. I found the water to be cooler than I like, but the girls were more tolerant. Marc napped and Danielle and I chatted with her friends who were there. Late in the afternoon, Randy went back to the house to start preparing for dinner and Marc and I went with him. Randy and Danielle had invited family over to celebrate Alexa’s birthday and her culmination from kindergarten and Jamie’s culmination from middle school. Randy made humus (which he sells locally) and it was really good, and they barbequed hamburgers and hot dogs. One humorous point of the evening occurred when Rob, who is conservative, got into a political –um- discussion with his Uncle Eddie who is pretty deep into the liberal end of the spectrum. The wives were just rolling their eyes and staying out of it. The evening was a lot of fun.

Father's Day weekend - Sunday & Monday

  26-Jul-2012 (21:52)

On Father’s Day, we had tickets to see War Horse at the Ahmanson. We left the house about 15 minutes later than I thought we should have, which was an issue when we hit Dodger traffic. When I pulled up to the parking attendant at the Music center, I told Marc and the boys to get out and go in and I would park the car. I paid for parking and went up the ramp. There was a space at the top of the ramp, so I just parked, got out and scooted. I got to the door to the auditorium just as they were calling, “Last call.” Fortunately, our seats were on the very end, so I didn’t have to make anyone stand up to let me in.

War Horse was wonderful. The horses are amazing, the singing was great, the story was moving – I liked everything about it. We deliberately didn’t see the movie, because we didn’t want the movie to set up expectations for us which the play, being a completely different medium, couldn’t fulfill. I had read the book (actually before we knew that there was a play or a movie,) so I knew the story line – although both the play and the movie modify the storyline somewhat to fit their abilities. It is a story about World War II, and does not try to hide the awfulness of war. We were very amused, when at intermission, a woman near us commented, her voice dripping with irony, “Such a wonderful Father’s Day show!” It reminded us that last Father’s Day we saw Les Miserables. We decided we would have to find some other play about people dying in France to see next Father’s day!

For dinner, we had planned on going out to dinner with Kevin and Rachel and kids. They were also at the theater, but at the Pantages seeing the Adams Family (somewhat lighter fare!) But we realized that meeting up for dinner might be difficult because the shows might not get out at the same time, so we all went back to Kevin and Rachel’s, and Kevin barbequed. So the third weekend in June might not have involved travel, but it did involve a good meal with extended family!

Usually we don’t see Marc’s father and Irene on Father’s day, because they spend their summers in Colorado, but Irene’s grandson graduated from Santa Barbara that weekend, so on Monday we went out to dinner with them and with Rhona, Reid and Jordan. Another good meal with family! That has definitely been the theme for June!

Father's Day weekend - Saturday

  25-Jul-2012 (19:49)

Saturday, Marc said, “You are expecting HOW many AAUW women here for lunch? Come on boys, we’re going to do manly things.” They went to the Temple to put together the Temple’s new shed, which is the last thing he is going to accomplish as chair of the Beautification committee.

Back at the house, with help from Virginia’s assistant, I put up two canopies, six tables and 22 chairs. Lunch was Rosie’s and the entertainment was the singers Wendy and Rik who did songs from the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. Everything went marvelously, and I got tons of thank yous and compliments. We also did a planning exercise, which normally my Mom would have led, but since she was in Detroit, leading it fell to me. Leading planning exercises is not my forte, and I had been dreading it, but it went swimmingly too.

Around four, everyone had gone and all the small items cleaned up, so I called Marc and told him, “The *estrogen* has left the premises. It is safe to return.” “Oh good,” he said, “I could really use your help at the Temple with the shed.” So off to the Temple I went. One of the advantages of my arrival at the Temple, is that building the shed is really a two-person job, and for most of the day, Marc had been doing the primary role, with Jonathan in a secondary role, so there wasn’t much for Benjamin to do, and he was bored. But when I arrived, I took the secondary role, which freed Jonathan up. So Jonathan and Benjamin started assembling the door, with less success than we would have liked, but at least no one was bored.

After about three hours, we had the roof on, and we called it a day. We came home, but our work was not over yet. The canopies still needed to be brought down and stored and the tables and chairs needed to be brought in. At the end of the day, my pedometer showed over 21,000 steps, one of the highest days since I got the pedometer in January, and I was not surprised.

Father's Day weekend (June 15-17) - Friday

  23-Jul-2012 (19:17)

The third weekend in June was Father’s Day weekend, the only weekend (of 5!) where I wasn’t flying anywhere. But that didn’t mean I wasn’t busy! I had offered to host my local AAUW branch’s June meeting, so that we could have a relaxed, informal meeting. So as soon as we returned from New York, I set about putting the house in order – in particular, the music room, which, since it is used the least, tends to be the dumping ground for all sorts of miscellaneous *stuff*.

On Friday, I took the van to work, so that I could go over to Mom’s and pick up a table and her folding chairs. I knew that the boys wanted to go over to Jonathan’s friend’s house and play games, so I deliberately left them the keys to my car. However, when I got to work, I discovered that they had already put the games they wanted to take in the van. This meant they had a car but not the games. They decided to come to my work and get the games. I decided to go to Mom’s early and get the table and chairs, and then give them the van.

Mom was in Detroit, but I know the alarm code, so that was not a problem. However, it seemed like there had been a power outage or something at her house. The UPS in the office was complaining, the garage door would not open, and the cordless phones said “low battery.” So I took the table (which was in the garage) out the garage side door. I didn’t know this at the time, but when I closed the side door, it didn’t latch. I set the alarm and left. Later, the water softener guy came to the house. Usually, he uses the garage keypad to get into the garage, but like me, he found that the garage door wouldn’t open. So he went to the side door, and found that it wasn’t latched. He also didn’t latch the gate to the side yard, so when Danielle came over to take in the mail, she found it open. Now, opening the side door sets off the alarm. So Don and Mom both got phone calls from the alarm company, and Don got a call from Danielle saying the side gate was open! This stressed them out until we figured out what had happened. Ironically, the last time I came over to Mom’s house when she was out of town, I set off the alarm then too! (Well, technically *I* didn’t set off the alarm this time, I only made it possible for someone else to set off the alarm!)

Friday night was our annual *Shabbabeque* at the Temple. Marc wasn’t feeling like socializing and the boys were still playing games, so I went alone. It was a good feeling when I sat down and Jude spotted me and immediately got up and came over to me and gave me a big hug and sat in my lap. On the other hand, it was only a minute or two before he asked me to take him to babysitting, so I wondered if part of his interest in coming to me is that taking him to babysitting is a role that I frequently perform when his parents are leading services (which they were that night.)

After services there was dinner, and after dinner there was Israeli dancing. I had fun dancing holding Jude, which (now that he is 3 1/2) is not as easy as it was when he was one! He especially liked the spins. I came home flush with adrenaline and happy.

The Houston Trip (June 9-11) - Day 3

  20-Jul-2012 (22:51)

The next day we had a 1pm flight, so we (Marc, Mom and I) had time in the morning to visit Rice. We went by Jonathan’s “residential college” (dorm) and to Duncan Hall, which Marc knew had a cool interior design. Then we went over to the “design kitchen” where Jonathan had told us we would find his ENGI 101 project. Sure enough it was lying out on a table there. Jonathan’s team had built an improved goniometer, a device for measuring joint angles. Goniometers are used for older people or with people with joint injuries to track how far they can extend or flex their arms or legs. There are cheap mechanical ones that are challenging for one person to use, and expensive electronic ones that are, well, expensive. Jonathan’s team designed and built one that, while being more expensive than the existing cheap ones, is still inexpensive, but is easy for one person to use. They are applying for a patent for it, with support from the university, which is handling the legal end and the fees. See my recent post titled "Jonathan comes home from school" for a picture.

Next we went over to the Rice Art Gallery. There was a very cool exhibit there that had been custom designed and built to fill the room. Since the pictures I found of it don’t do it justice, I certainly won’t be able to adequately describe with words. It was an enormous white plastic sheet that almost filled the room. It was hung from the ceiling with what looked like thousands of fishing lines, but what turned out to be glue. It was hung with the center higher than the edges, with craggy peaks and dips, so that overall it looked like a mountain in relief. We walked around and under it, and wondered about how it had been made. Fortunately for us, there was a video of its construction that answered that question. It was very cool, and we liked it very much.

Then it was time to go to the airport, which was fine with Marc and Mom, who had had enough of the heat and humidity! Marc, who has lived all his life in LA, would like to move somewhere else, so I teased him by suggesting that we move to Houston. But he had enough heat and humidity in three days in Houston to last the rest of his life, so I don’t think we’ll be moving to Houston!

The weekend was wonderful, full of conversation, family and delicious food. Todd’s family is great and I think that he and Mali will be very happy together. I look forward to celebrating holidays and watching their family grow over the years.

The Houston Trip (June 9-11) - Day 2

  19-Jul-2012 (23:12)

The wedding was Sunday at the hotel just before noon. It was very nice, and brought back memories because 22 years ago, we were married under the same Picus family chuppah that Todd and Mali used. Our names are embroidered into it, as Todd and Mali’s names will be. Nancy and Mark had a group photo taken of everyone who had been married under the chuppah that was there. I hope that, one day, my boys will be married under it as well.

Lunch was very good, although nothing could have topped the night before. We had a good time dancing. During the toasts and speeches, Mark was very funny. He said that Nancy had told him to get a new credit card (preferably one with miles) to pay for everything for the wedding, and now they will be able to go on a nice vacation on all those miles!

After the wedding, Don had to go to the airport to join his family in Washington D.C. and while Marc took him to the airport, Mom and I decided to go for a walk. There was a park nearby with a couple of water play areas and an interesting art sculpture. After a while Jean joined us and later on, Marc caught up with us too. From a distance, the art sculpture reminded both Marc and I of animals, but up close, you had to work hard to turn it into animals. It was interesting.

We had been invited over to Mark and Nancy’s that night for leftovers for dinner. Joy and Gerry, Emily and her kids were there, as were Daniel and Aaron. We just sat around and told stories and laughed and laughed. Joy told about how when she was at the airport, they kept offering her a wheelchair. Well, Joy (being only *39*) does not have mobility issues, so she found the offers pretty annoying. Hopefully she found Mark’s teasing about it for the rest of the night less annoying! The family camaraderie was a warm and wonderful end to a very special day.

The Houston Trip (June 9-11) - Day 1

  18-Jul-2012 (23:06)

The second weekend in June was cousin Mali’s wedding. She married Todd Davis, who is just the nicest young man. Marc, Don, Mom and I all flew in Saturday afternoon. The night before, when I went to print my boarding pass, I called Mom and asked whether we should try to move our seats so we were sitting together. She said no, because she had an aisle seat so she didn’t want to trade. Since we probably couldn’t get two together at this late date, moving Marc’s and my seats wasn’t an option. OK, so what seat was she in? 24D. What seat were we in? 25B&C. So even if we could move seats, it would be hard for us to get much closer!

We had made reservations for a car at $19/day. We were going to be there for two nights. So I was somewhat surprised when the guy at the rental car counter told us it would be $74 for the car. That’s right, $38 for the car, and $36 in taxes and fees. Wow!

I had printed directions from Google, Mom had her GPS, and Don had his cell phone. I was amused that each gave us different directions. Despite this (“Turn right!” “No! turn left”) we got to the hotel just fine. We arrived at the hotel we were given an enormous gift bag from the Davis family that included nuts, chips, candy (M&Ms that said “Todd&Mali”), pretzels, popcorn, peanut butter crackers, raisins, water, carbonated water and wine. Wow! Next, we learned that the Davis family, who was hosting a dinner for out of town guests that night, had arranged for a bus from the hotel to the restaurant. Very nice! And the bus was leaving in half an hour. Aaack! But half an hour was enough time to get settled and changed. We were actually one of the first people on the bus (partly because it took many of the guests a while to figure out where to go to find the bus!)

Dinner was at Brennan’s and it was incredible. That restaurant is one of the best restaurants I have ever eaten at (not that I’ve eaten at many really nice places, but still!) The evening started with a cocktail hour, where they were serving “Tomali”s in honor of TOdd & MALI. They were also passing around hors d’oevres that were marvelous.

Mali had her hair straightened and I didn’t recognize her at first. It was very becoming and she looked GREAT! Dinner started with soup, which was delicious and then salad. The main course was just as good as each of the other courses and then there was bananas foster (which I love) for desert. I think I gained another five pounds that night and we hadn’t even gotten to the wedding yet!

After dinner, Todd’s 17 year old brother roasted him, and he was better than many professional comedians. He had great lines, poise and delivery. We were all very impressed. Some of Todd’s fraternity brothers from college were there and spoke, and Mali’s brothers roasted her a little too. It was all very entertaining.

My Chicago trip (June 1-3)

  15-Jul-2012 (10:37)

The first weekend in June was cousin Michael Tresley’s Bar Mitzvah. I flew in Friday night and stayed with Aunt Sandy and Marty. We had a nice relaxing Friday evening sitting around and chatting, and then more chatting in the car as Aunt Sandy and I picked up Rhonda from the airport.

Saturday morning, we got to the Temple slightly later than we had planned, due to traffic from road construction, but only a few minutes later, and were surprised to find that the Torah service had already started. I think they started early because the Torah portion was really long and they wanted to end at the same time as usual. But maybe not.

Because the timing was early, Eric missed the honor he supposed to do. So he took off his tallis. Then later they needed someone for an honor, so Lee told them to use Eric, but they wouldn’t take him because he wasn’t wearing a tallis. So someone else did it. Then later, they needed two more people for an honor, (and Eric had put his tallis back on) so Lee said to use him and her best friend, who was sitting two seats away from me. But, on no, her friend was wearing pants, can’t use her! Fortunately, I was wearing a skirt (and a head covering!) so Lee sent me up instead. Eric and I walked up to the bema, and I whispered to him, “What are we supposed to do?” “Heck if I know!” he responded. Turned out we were supposed to open the ark. I was amused at the restrictions and consequent orchestrations that resulted.

Michael was absolutely perfect. I was also very impressed at how he sat through the entire service without fidgeting or yawning. He was way more adult at that service than many adults. The oneg afterwards (which was sponsored by Aunt Sandy and Marty) was yummy.

After services, Aunt Sandy and Marty and I went back to their house and we all took naps, which is pretty unusual for me – I don’t nap much. That night, dinner was at Morton’s steak house and boy was it good! I think I gained five pounds just at dinner that night, despite the fact that I was good and didn’t finish everything they put in front of me. I sat at a table with Eric and Alice, Debbie and Marc, Don and Rhonda, which was wonderful as it gave us all evening to talk and catch up on each other’s lives. There wasn’t a big Bar Mitzvah reception (the family is going to Africa instead), so they showed a video montage at dinner.

Sunday, Aunt Sandy, Lee, Don, Rhonda and I all went out to brunch. That was very nice, because although I had had lots of conversation time with Eric, Rhonda, and Aunt Sandy, I hadn’t talked to Lee hardly at all. So brunch gave us a chance to talk. Afterwards, Don and I went to the airport. My time in Chicago was short, but sweet, with lots of good conversation. I was really glad I was able to attend the Bar Mitzvah.

Jude visits again

  12-Jul-2012 (22:45)

Jude’s parents asked us to watch their son again this year so they could attend the same songleading convention that they were attended last year. Initially I said no because, with Marc working now, things would be much more complicated, and it would require one of us to go in to work late to drop Jude off at preschool. Had I known that LAUSD would implement furlough days, and that consequently, there would only be one day that both Benjamin and Jude needed to be dropped off, I might have given a different answer. On the other hand, had it occurred to me that we were going to be invited to my cousin’s Bar Mitzvah in Chicago, I would definitely had said no.

However, I came up with an even better solution. It occurred to me that Jonathan would be home from college, so I suggested to him that he offer to take the Jude watching job, and the rest of us would back him up. Jonathan thought about it for a week, and decided to do it.

So Memorial Day, after dinner, Jude came to visit. I fully intended to be involved in Jude watching, and I helped get Jude to bed on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights. I also helped a little in the mornings, but I had to get Benjamin to school, so Jonathan was the main man in the morning. I was very proud of Jonathan when one day he reported that he had had a problem when Jude absolutely refused to get dressed. He solved it by suggesting that Jude wear his shirt backwards, which Jude thought was a great idea. Now that was innovative thinking!

Thursday night, I had a Sisterhood board meeting and Friday morning, I flew to Chicago for a Bar Mitzvah. So Jonathan got far less support from me than I had intended when I suggested that he take the job! Fortunately, he was more than equal to the task and did great. I was VERY pleased with of him. It’s not something that your average 19 year old boy would be willing to do, but then Jonathan has never been your average boy!

Jonathan comes home from school

  10-Jul-2012 (22:47)

Jonathan comes home from school

Jonathan came home from Rice on his birthday, May 1st. For about a week before he came home, every time Marc or I talked to Blanche, she would say, “If you need someone to pick up Jonathan, I’m available.” “OK” we would say. But Jonathan was arriving at 6:30 in the evening, so both of us were available. In the end, we decided that Marc, Benjamin and I would all go to pick him up, and then we would go out to dinner. I suggested that we invite Blanche to go with us, but Marc wanted our first night together to be just us. This turned out to be a fortuitous decision, because it didn’t occur to us not to take the Prius. Despite leaving his accordion in Houston, Jonathan showed up with 5 bags, and it was a tight squeeze to get everything in! We went out to dinner at the Daily Grill near the airport.

Jonathan had a great first year at Rice. He loved his classes, he made lots of friends, he got involved in a ton of great activities (the Marching Band, the Hillel, FastWarp (a gaming group) and he brought home excellent grades. I remember my four undergraduate years at Berkeley as being some of the most fun years of my life, and it looks like Jonathan will be able to say the same thing about his time at Rice. If only it wasn’t quite so HUMID, it would be perfect!

Next year he will have a single room in the same residential college he lived in this year. (Don’t get me started on the fact that they call his living quarters a residential *college*. I get that they don’t want to call it a dorm, but why can’t they call it a house, like CalTech does?) He’s very pleased to be staying on campus.

I was particularly pleased with his Engineering Design class, where he had to invent a new object given a set of requirements. His team invented a improved goniometer, a device medical practitioners use to measuring the range of motion of an arm or leg. Not only did it give him real-world experience in designing, mocking up and building the tool, the university is supporting the team (legally and financially) in applying for a patent for the device.

We are just thrilled with Rice and highly recommend it. If you are looking at colleges, take a look at Rice. Their outreach doesn’t end when the kids enroll – they make a big effort to support the kids the entire time they are enrolled.

World VEX Robotics Championship - last night

  8-Jul-2012 (22:40)

World VEX Robotics Championship - last night

Finals ended with the announcement that next year’s World Championship will also be in Anaheim, which made the parents happy because it means no plane fare. However, there was no afterparty this year, and the kids believe this is because of the proximity to Disneyland, so *they* were disappointed to hear it was going to be in the same place next year. Since there was no afterparty, the Reseda team planned to go to Downtown Disney. We split into two groups, one that went back for sweatshirts and one that went on to Downtown Disney. Since I had my sweatshirt, I was in the group that went ahead.

After a long walk, we got to downtown Disney and started going into the various shops there. I find it intriguing that, three months later, the two stores I remember from downtown Disney are the two stores that I *didn’t* like. One was this car store that appeared to be something like “Build-a-Bear for cars and the other seemed to cater to the goth crowd. Neither contained anything that I found remotely interesting. We then heard (via cell phones) that the “sweater group” had arrived, so we walked back to meet them. Then the whole group walked back to where we had been. Then it was almost time for fireworks, and the best place from which to view them is the entrance, so we all walked back. Benjamin wanted ice cream, so once we knew where the group had parked themselves, he and I walked back and got ice cream. Then we walked back to the entrance and joined up with the team again. After fireworks, the team decided to get dinner, so we walked back (yet again!) We did a LOT of walking that day! We went to the rainforest cafe for dinner and it took a while to get a table for 11 (a couple of the kids had already departed with parents) which surprised me because it was 11pm already! After dinner, we drove home and finally arrived at Reseda High School around 1, and Benjamin and I got home about 1:30am. Whew! It had been a long, exhilarating, fun day.

World VEX Robotics Championship - Day 3

  6-Jul-2012 (09:46)

World VEX Robotics Championship - Day 3

On Saturday, it was sink or swim time. One loss, and we would have no chance at the elimination round. But swim, we did, and after the last match we were in 16th place. Not enough to guarantee a spot – we still needed to be picked, but since 24 teams go to the elimination round, we had high hopes. However, we might have been 16th in the win-loss ranking, but we were 37th in the match score ranking and 33rd in my ranking using my formula. Translation – we had not been scoring very well, and we had more than our fair share of either good partners or bad opponents. But would the other teams know this, or would be impressed by our 16th place ranking? Unfortunately for us, the team captains had good enough scouting to avoid us, we were not picked for the elimination round, and we were done for the year.

It was interesting to note which robots the other teams were picking. Some had clearly done good scouting and were making what I considered excellent choices – teams that were not high in the win-loss ranking, but were high on my ranking. Interestingly enough, more than one alliance’s second choice was ranked higher on my statistic than their first choice. In the end, the alliance headed by El Camino Real (my high school alma mater, and the only undefeated robot after the matches for ranking) went undefeated through the elimination round and won. This did not please Reseda, who had found El Camino’s sportsmanship to be less than stellar.

But this was not the end of the World Championship! Reseda and the 98 teams it had been competing against comprised only one of the four high school divisions competing that weekend. Now that El Camino had won their division, they still needed to compete against the winners of the other 3 divisions.

Benjamin and I thought that we were supposed to get lunch and then meet at the pit to help pack up. We went to a nearby IHOP for lunch. But when we returned, we discovered that everyone else had decided to do it the other way around, and the pit was completely cleared out and there was no one to be found. So we went to get seats in the main arena to watch the finals. The finals would not only include the playoffs from the high school divisions, but also playoffs from middle school and college divisions. Finals also included two skills’ challenges and a dance production. Unfortunately, before we found seats, Benjamin and I were separated and we didn’t find each other for hours. We would have found each other sooner if Benjamin had thought to turn on his PHONE! Too bad for him, because I snagged a pair of seats right near the high school playoff field.

At one point before anything had started, I looked down, and saw Mr. Vanderway (the Granada Robotics coach) standing on the floor of the arena waving his arms trying to get the attention of someone in the stands. So I went to the section that clearly contained the person Van wanted and pointed to the person I guessed was the person he wanted. Van shook his head no. So I pointed to someone else. No again. I got it right on the third try, tapped the guy on the shoulder and pointed to Vanderway. Mission accomplished! Maybe the guy Van wanted should have turned on HIS cell phone!

Turned out the Reseda team went to Denny’s for lunch (what WERE they thinking?) and lunch at Denny’s took so long that they missed the dance performance. They also missed out on getting decent seats, and were forced to take seats waaaaaaay over on the side. This was not as awful as it could have been, because they had these huge screens set up on which they were projecting the matches, and the resolution on these screens was pretty amazing.

Much to Reseda’s satisfaction, El Camino got wiped out in the first round and did not go on to higher glory. We were very impressed by the team that won the driver’s skills challenge, because the robot completely cleared the field. Even more impressive - it was a middle school team, not a high school team.

The World VEX Championship - Day 2

  3-Jul-2012 (23:24)

The World VEX Championship - Day 2

Friday we had better luck, and won four of five matches. I was stunned that we lost the match that we lost because we were paired with the second best team (the only game they lost all weekend was the game they lost with us.) Then we won when paired with the second worst team – so go figure! So at the end of the day, we were 5 and 3 – not too bad, but we would have to win all three of the remaining games on Saturday to have a prayer of getting picked in the elimination round.

My spreadsheet’s formula produced three sets of rankings. The first was a win-loss ranking (which should be the same as the one the competition published.) The second was a match score ranking which was based purely on averaging the match scores. The third ranking used the formula that I had written to reduce the effect of getting lucky or unlucky with alliance partners and opponents. On Friday night, I spent a great deal of time trying to figure out why my win-loss ranking was different than the one the competition computed. The differences turned out to be due to no-shows and DQs (disqualifications.) I didn’t have good access to either of these, and had to infer their existence from match points assigned.

Friday night, I went out to dinner with my friend Kathleen and her friend Marc. Kathleen and I worked together until her son was born 16 some-odd years ago and she decided that the hour commute each way was a little much(!) We went to the Lazy Dog Café, and the food was good, and the company was even better. Since I was not driving, I indulged in a beer sampler which was lots of fun.

We took pictures, but didn't think to have a waitress take the picture, so I didn't have one of the three of us. But in this day and age, that's not a problem - I just photoshopped Marc into the picture of Kathleen and me!

The World VEX Championship - Day 1

  2-Jul-2012 (21:09)

Thursday morning was setup and practice. I spent the morning setting up my spreadsheet. There was information available on the internet, but we were not allowed to connect to the internet at the convention center, so I spent the morning going back and forth between the convention center and the hotel, where I could use the internet. You would think it should only have taken one trip, but I couldn’t seem to remember to get everything I needed every time I went to the hotel. On the plus side, I set a record on how many steps I recorded on my pedometer that day!

For lunch, Benjamin and I got teriyaki bowls from a place in the convention center and brought them to the opening ceremonies to eat. We both thought they were the worst teriyaki bowls we had ever eaten! After opening ceremonies, the runs for ranking started. Reseda had some bad luck at the beginning, and lost our first two matches (the second one because our alliance partner didn’t show up at all.) But after that our luck changed, and we won our third match which was the final match of the day.

With two losses, I was not optimistic that we would even make it into the elimination round, and the chance that we would be a team captain or would even be giving advice to a team captain seemed very remote. Still, we made improvements to our scouting technique. On Thursday, the two kids scouting together as a team had sat together and both kids recorded information about all the matches. However the matches occurred on two fields and it was hard to get good information about the further field. So we decided that each kid should sit near one of the fields and only record information about matches on the field they were near. Not did this greatly improve the quality of the information gathered, but this had the advantage of giving the kids a short break between matches, which made scouting much less stressful.

The World VEX Championship (April 19-21) - Day 0

  30-Jun-2012 (09:38)

Thursday through Saturday of the third week in April was the World VEX championship in Anaheim. The Reseda team caravanned down Wednesday night. It took a long time at Reseda High School to get organized and to get all the equipment and bags loaded into cars so we arrived just in time to dump our stuff at the convention center before the center closed for the night.

Our hotel was just about as close to the convention center as possible which was really awesome. We had two huge rooms at the hotel. One had two double beds and a bunk bed - we put the two girls, the coach’s wife, me, and our guest in that one. The other had two double beds and a pull-out couch - we put the 8 boys, the team coach, and the team mentor in this one. It was *cozy* (particularly in the boys’ room!) but having only two rooms had definite advantages.

I was organizing the scouting. Traditionally, scouting involves watching every single match and taking notes on the teams in the match. This is very time intensive and tedious, but is a useful way of occupying junior members of the team who would otherwise have little to do. But since we had my spreadsheet to give us a ranking of the teams to use for alliance selection, the need for scouting was much lower than usual (See my post titled “Vex Robotics Tournament - March 3” for more information about my spreadsheet.)

We discussed scouting Wednesday night and decided that the scouting would focus on whether the robots could score during the autonomous period. This information could be useful strategically. We decided that 6 of the kids would be scouting, divided the 6 kids into 3 teams of 2 and made a schedule when each team would be scouting during Thursday’s matches. The kids were all excited and hyped up and getting them to go to sleep was a challenge. I was glad I was not in the boys’ room!

Passover 2012

  28-Jun-2012 (09:49)

Spring break started with Disneyland and ended with Passover. Passover was at our house again this year. The Katz family, (except for Debe & Jen) celebrated in northern California, so we only had 26 people this year – tiny, by our standards!

Marc has done and redone the Haggadah, and this year I redid it again. This meant that I got to put in the things that were important to me, most notably a longer Birkat Hamazon, and lots of songs at the end. In addition to all the regular Passover songs, I found a bunch of Passover parodies of familiar songs on the internet, and put them in too.

I came close to chucking the whole Haggadah project when I went to print and found that there were pictures in the text that I couldn’t see on the screen that were printing none-the-less. And because I couldn’t see them on the screen, I couldn’t delete them. And they were printing right over my text. It was very frustrating. I finally figured out that the images were way off the page, and Word wouldn’t let me see anything off the page. I managed to see them by making the page size really big, so that they were on the page, and then I deleted them. Why Word wasn’t ignoring those icons that were off the page when it print, I couldn’t tell you.

I really love Passover. Yes, it is a lot of work, it is sooooo worth it. I love the seder itself, with its familiar traditions and foods. I have a great extended family and I love catching up with everyone before and after the seder. I love watching the kids grow up and I am thrilled that each and every one of them is someone that I am proud to call a niece, nephew or cousin. My life is richer because of Passover and other occasions like it. I listen to friends complain about Passover, who clearly regard it as an annoying obligation and think of how blessed I am that my entire family not only gets along, but truly likes each other.

Begging the Preposition

  25-Jun-2012 (20:44)

We have two running arguments in our family. The first is about whether it is acceptable to end a sentence with a preposition. The boys and Marc maintain that there’s nothing wrong with ending a sentence with a proposition. I believe that that, most of the time, rewriting sentences that end with propositions improves the sentence, so it’s worthwhile to rewrite them when you are writing.

The second debate is about the phrase “begging the question.” To define this phrase, I quote from http://begthequestion.info/: "Begging the question" is a form of logical fallacy in which a statement or claim is assumed to be true without evidence other than the statement or claim itself. When one begs the question, the initial assumption of a statement is treated as already proven without any logic to show why the statement is true in the first place. A simple example would be "I think he is unattractive because he is ugly." The adjective "ugly" does not explain why the subject is "unattractive" -- they virtually amount to the same subjective meaning, and the proof is merely a restatement of the premise. To beg the question does not mean "to raise the question." (e.g. "It begs the question, why is he so dumb?") This is a common error of usage made by those who mistake the word "question" in the phrase to refer to a literal question.

Marc and the boys argue that words change meaning over time with common usage, and this is one example of that. I argue that people commonly write “your welcome” when they mean “you’re welcome,” but that doesn’t make it correct to do so. They also argue that since almost nobody knows the correct definition and it’s almost never useful in casual conversation, it makes sense to adopt a new meaning that is frequently useful. I maintain that there’s already a phrase to use in this situation (“raises the question”) so changing the meaning of “begs the question” adds nothing.

Today at work, I asked a coworker if we had release notes for an upcoming release. He responded that he had started them, but the details needed to be added. I filled in the details and sent him an email that read, “I fleshed it out. (How do you change that sentence so that it doesn’t end in a proposition?)” We had fun batting around ridiculous alternatives – “Out with it I fleshed.” “Out it fleshed I.” “I fleshed out it.”

At dinner, I told this story to Marc and Jonathan (Benjamin is at camp) and Jonathan suggested the phrase, “I filled in the details.” I (making my oft said argument that rewriting sentences that end in a preposition improves your writing) said, “See, that’s a much better sentence!” Jonathan asked “Why is that a better sentence?” I responded, “It doesn’t end with a preposition.” Jonathan paused a minute and then said, “Isn’t that begging the question?” Ding! Ding! Ding! A three point swoosh! I’m so proud!

The end of March, 2012

  24-Jun-2012 (22:04)

The end of March, 2012

In May 2011, we watched Jude, the young son of friends of ours for a week while they were at a conference. The weekend after our trip to Bakersfield, Jude’s parents had a wedding on the east coast, so we watched him again. Last time we watched him for a week, and he was 2 ½. This time it was three days and he is 3 ½, so the time seemed to fly by.

We had a really good time throwing pompoms around. We have these yarn pompoms that are about 3-4 inches in diameter that Marc made for the boys when they were little. They make excellent things to throw in the house, because they are soft, so I don't worry about them hitting anything. Jude loved them. In the picture, Jude is holding one in his hand and has a container of them at his feet.

Spring break started for Benjamin the following weekend. It started on Friday with Cesar Chavez day. Benjamin had wanted to celebrate his birthday with a trip to Disneyland with a couple of friends rather than a party, and Cesar Chavez day was the only day that everyone was available. Unfortunately, it was also the date of the Regional Science Fair, and his 9th grade science project had qualified for the fair. He was supposed to go and present his project to judges. So he had to choose between celebrating his birthday at Disneyland with friends and participating in the Science Fair.

Marc and I decided to leave the choice up to him. Benjamin was clearly conflicted about what to do, but, in the end, chose Disneyland. A major part of his conflict was feeling like he was letting Marc and I down by not doing the Science Fair. I told him that presenting one’s project to judges was a really good and important experience, but that since he had done that last year (when his 8th grade science project was selected to participate in the regional Science Fair) his father and I were perfectly happy with his decision. And with that, he went to Disneyland with a clear conscience!

We invited Benjamin’s friends to spend Thursday night at our house, so that they could get an early start Friday morning. The tactic wasn’t so effective on achieving an early start, but it did save us from having to drive around and pick up the kids. I didn’t actually go, because (to our great surprise) Marc had the day off from work, and I did not.

Marc left the timing for the day up to the kids, which resulted in their arriving at Disneyland around 10 and leaving about 5. I was surprised that they didn’t stay for fireworks, but by 5 they had done all the rides they wanted to do, and they were not interested in just hanging out until dark. They dropped Samuel off at his house and then came back to ours. Abby and Benjamin just hung out and read until – well, until Saturday. Whatever!

Saturday night we had tickets to Gilbert and Sullivan’s Utopia Limited, which was put on by the Ventura County Gilbert & Sullivan Repertoire Company. We have seen many plays by this group and all have been excellent. We are so lucky to have a Gilbert & Sullivan Repertoire company locally, because G&S’s plays are hardly ever performed otherwise, and then only the “big three” ever get performed. We have seen Princess Ida, the Sorcerer, the Gondoliers, and now Utopia Limited. I look forward to their fall show.

Bakersfield Fiesta - March 18

  20-Jun-2012 (20:28)

Bakersfield Fiesta - March 18

My experience has been that many of the weaker dancers take off on Sunday, and so the Sunday dancing is often some of the best dancing of the weekend. This weekend was no exception. The last two tips, I was able to snag some of the best dancers in the hall to be in our square, and we had a blast.

When the dancing ended, we grabbed a quick lunch and took off for home. We were concerned about the weather – we had heard it would be snowing in the Grapevine. The weather was fine and clear in Bakersfield. As we approached the Grapevine, the view was awesome. It was yellow-brown in the flats, where we were, bright green on the mountain slope, and white at the top. And as we started to climb the hill, it started to rain. And as we got higher, it turned to snow. But all in all, the driving was easier than the year before, when it was raining so hard that water was washing over the windshield in sheets.

Although we took two cars up to Bakersfield, we had been driving our car all weekend long and Phyllis’ car had just been sitting. When we went to put things in her car Sunday morning, it was clear that someone had gone through it. Phyllis didn’t think too much of it, because she didn’t think that she had left anything in the car. Bu then she remembered that she had left her GPS in the car. Sure enough, it was gone. I think that every time I have seen her in the past couple of years, *something* bad has happened. First she took a bad fall and scrapped herself pretty badly. Then she borrowed my car and someone rear-ended her. And this time someone stole her GPS. So the next time we get together we are NOT doing it in California!

Aside from the stolen GPS, it was a marvelous weekend. I look forward to having an equally good time dancing at the National convention in June!

Bakersfield Fiesta - Saturday, March 17

  19-Jun-2012 (23:14)

Friday’s dancing gave Phyllis confidence that she could handle the plus hall on Saturday, and she had not overestimated her abilities. This made me happy because for the rest of the weekend, Hunter Keller called in the plus hall (along with several other excellent callers.)

Saturday was the 17th which was Benjamin’s birthday. So early on, I mentioned this to Hunter, who promptly announced it to everyone in the hall and led us in singing Happy Birthday to Benjamin.

We knew that friends Debbie and Robert were dancing in the Advanced hall and considered having lunch with them, but they had plans to join other friends. Benjamin and I wanted Panda Express, so we ended up at the food court of a local mall. We had just sat down when in walked Debbie and Robert! Their friends had gone to Taco Bell, and Debbie decided she didn’t want to eat with them THAT much! Their loss was our gain and we had a very nice lunch.

A few days before the festival, my officemate Rita told me that she was talking to a friend in her line dancing class. The woman was telling Rita about how she had just bought a new (enormous) RV and that they were going to take it out for its first trip to Bakersfield the coming weekend. Wasn’t the woman surprised when Rita knew exactly why she was going to Bakersfield! So I was told to watch for Joy and Ron. Then a day or two later, another co-worker walked into my office and told me that his sister had mentioned that she would be square dancing in Bakersfield the next weekend. So he told me to watch for Bethel and John. Finding someone when all you have is a name is not hard at a square dance - everyone wears badges with their names and people customarily introduce themselves to one another before dancing. But it helps if they are dancing in the same hall!

It also helps if you remember their names. Knowing my inability to remember names, I had written them down – and left them in the hotel room. Midway through the afternoon dancing, I looked at the woman across the square and saw that it was Bethel. I introduced myself to her and the tip began. After the tip, I told her the story of how I was watching for Rita’s friend as well as for her, and it turned out that Bethel knows Joy and they are camping together. She pointed out Joy’s RV (which was indeed enormous!) Coincidentally it was parked right outside the hall. A little while later, Bethel dragged Joy and Ron over to meet us. Mission accomplished!

For dinner, we had planned to celebrate Benjamin’s birthday at a steak house. But he preferred to go to the Carrows across the street from the hotel. I think he had wanted breakfast for dinner, but when he saw the steak and shrimp, he went for that instead.

Dancing after dinner started with the usual Grand March. Usually, our club, Boots & Slippers, comes about 100 strong to Bakersfield (by far the largest club there.) This year, we were a little less, due to sickness and the threat of terrible weather. Usually we hand out red, black and white balloons to all our club members and walk in the Grand March under a canopy of balloons. The weather was not nearly as awful as we feared, but the winds were pretty high Saturday night, so we didn’t do the balloons this year.

The evening dancing was a lot of fun. There was a teenage girl there and we encouraged Benjamin to ask her to dance. He was reluctant, but for one dance, Marc hooked the two of them up. I told Phyllis to dance with Marc, which left me without a partner. So I boldly went up to Hunter Keller and asked him to dance. For the 4th couple in our square, I grabbed a friend from previous conventions (who happens to be a caller.) I forget who the caller was for that tip, but he was calling fast and furious. Squares were breaking down right and left, but we were fine and loving every minute.

The Boots & Slippers, die hards that we are, organized an ice cream social after the Saturday dancing ended (with more dancing, of course.) It was at a nearby roller skating rink. Since Jonathan (our son who doesn’t eat ice cream) wasn’t with us this year, we bought tickets. We were pleasantly surprised at the quality of the ice cream, but found that, after dancing since 9am, we not so interested in more dancing!

Bakersfield Fiesta - Friday, March 16

  18-Jun-2012 (23:13)

In February, I got an email from my friend Phyllis, who lives in Colorado. “I’m going to be in L.A. the weekend of Mar 16-18 – Want to get together?” “Well,” I responded, “we’re going to the Bakersfield Square Dancing Fiesta that weekend. Come with us!” Phyllis and I met because of square dancing, but she had not danced in years. But Benjamin was going with us, and was more than willing to be Phyllis’ partner all weekend, so Phyllis would not have to scramble for partners. She decided to come. This made Benjamin happy because it meant that he would not have to scramble for partners either!

Friday, I picked Benjamin up from school, and came back to the house. Phyllis had already arrived, so we loaded up the car and took off for Bakersfield. Phyllis and I drove up in her car and Marc and Benjamin went in ours. I had printed directions to the hotel, from the hotel to our probable restaurant for Saturday night, and to the dance. I thought I had given Marc directions to the hotel, but it turned out the directions I gave him were from the hotel to the restaurant. So it took him a little longer to get to the hotel than it took us! We checked into our hotel and went to dinner. I was in the mood for Japanese food, and the nearby Japanese restaurant served Teppan, so we ended up with Teppen. I like Teppen, but I liked last year’s Japanese dinner better.

We went back to the hotel to change into square dancing clothes and then off to the Festival. That first night, we danced in the Mainstream hall, because it had been 20+ years since Phyllis had last danced. However, her lack of recent experience was not an issue – in fact, she was better than many of the people we danced with! The other reason we were dancing in the Mainstream hall was that Hunter Keller, my favorite caller, was the Mainstream caller that night. Hunter was not “pushing the envelope” as much as he often does (probably due to the lower level of the hall) but he was still lots of fun.

Phyllis had minor clothing issues which we easily dealt with, since there were lots of vendors on site –when you haven’t danced for a number of years, restarting by dancing at a festival or convention makes it easy to deal with clothing issues!

(To be continued...)

Vex Robotics Tournament - March 3

  14-Jun-2012 (22:19)

Vex Robotics Tournament - March 3

March 3 was the last local VEX Robotics competition of the year, which meant it was Benjamin’s Robotics team’s last chance to qualify for the World VEX Competition. The Reseda robots had been plagued with problems at the beginning of the year, but had been steadily improving to the point where they had a pretty good robot.

In the first part of each VEX competition consists of the ranking matches. In these matches, robots are randomly paired and they compete two against two. The win-loss record and match scores from the ranking matches are used to compose an overall ranking of all the robots. The second part of the competition consists of elimination matches. Eight alliances are formed by the top robots choosing two partners each. These eight alliances then face off to determine the single best alliance. Only 24 robots make it into the elimination round; the rest are done competing. In most competitions (with variations based on the total number of competing robots), the winning alliance qualifies for the World Championship, along with the robot who wins the excellence award.

Near the beginning of this season, I had thought about how it is possible for a mediocre robot to do well in the ranking matches just because it got paired with good robots (or conversely, for a good robot to do to poorly because it was unlucky in its alliance partners.) So I developed an Excel spreadsheet designed to take the scores from each match and produce a ranking of the robots that reduces the effect of getting lucky (or unlucky) in your robot’s partners and opponents. My ranking would be useful to a team captain choosing alliance partners, because it allows one to distinguish between a good robot and one that did well just because it got lucky in its partners.

Reseda’s “A” robot was doing pretty well, and it was looking like my ranking was going to be useful during the alliance selection just after lunch. Sure enough, we ended up being one of the top robots, which made us a team captain, so we would be choosing two other robots to be in our alliance

Then, just before I reached the point where I would generate the list, my netbook decided that there were updates that it just HAD to install, rebooted itself and would not let me work until installation was complete. Arrrg! I did manage to get a list written down, just moments before alliance selection began.

We were the 6th ranked alliance which meant we would be playing the 3rd ranked alliance in the quarter finals of the elimination round. To move on to the next level in the elimination round, a robot has to win two matches. We won the first match, but in the second match, one of our alliance partners made a mistake and our alliance was disqualified. Then in a hard fought third match, we came up a little short, and we were out. The team was sooo bummed that we had not qualified for World.

Most of the team was back at the pit commiserating, when up ran a team member who exclaimed that they had just announced that we had won the design award, and that winning the design award qualified us! The team ran out to accept the award – it all happened so fast that our team captain wasn’t even there. We took the trophy back to the pit, and the same question rang over and over in the air – “Since when does the design award qualify you for Worlds?”

What a roller coaster of a day! First we were exuberant that we made it to the elimination round. Then we were devastated that we had been knocked out in the quarter finals (and over a DQ to boot!) And then we had won the design award and were going to the World Championship. Wow!

I'm back!

  13-Jun-2012 (23:08)

I have kept a journal ever since my teens. I started it for two reasons – to be able to express the roller coaster of emotions I was experiencing, and to record the events in my life. My memory for places, events and names has always been lousy at best and non-existent at worst. I recognized early in my life that I had a choice: I could not remember my life or I could journal. I started journaling. My lousy memory is also why I became a genealogist. The only way I would ever be able to explain to my kids how my relatives were related would be to write down the relationships.

Being in a steady relationship (and getting out of my teens) reduced my need to journal my emotions, so my journal became more a record of what was going on in my life than a record of my emotions. Around 1996, I started to email these journals out to friends and family. I loved the positive feedback I received whenever I sent stuff out, but the actual sending took enough effort that I didn’t do it very often. So a year and a half ago I started this blog. The blog has been fun because I’ve blogged about my opinions, pet peeves, and just random thoughts in addition to what’s happening in my life.

Last March, my life got a little crazy with all the commitments I had made and I didn’t have time to blog. I find it intriguing that a year earlier I also stopped blogging in March. March and April appear to be busy months for me! I’m frustrated that I’m not recording all the things that are keeping me so busy that I don’t have time to record them! So now that things have eased up a little, I’m going to play a little catch up, and cover the major events that I have missed, and then I will go back to blogging about a wider variety of topics.

I find it ironic that one of the things that is making it possible to blog is that I’m traveling four out of five weekends in June! Hopefully I can get through the events of March, April and May before I run out of plane flights!

My boys, the authors!

  15-Mar-2012 (22:49)

In the past few months, both boys have had school assignments to write short stories. And in both cases, I was impressed by the stories they wrote. The stories are too long to post here, so I posted them on our jmzconsulting site and you can click on the links below to read them.

Jonathan’s story is called “Labyrinth”.

Benjamin’s story is called “Late”. One of the reasons that I’m so pleased with it is that it clearly shows that our dinner table discussions have entered his psyche.

Benjamin was asked to have a family member or friend write a forward to his story. He asked both Jonathan and I to write forwards. Here are the forwards we wrote:

My Forward:

People have been writing poetry for millennia. The earliest known poet was Enheduanna, a Sumerian high priestess who lived from 2285-2250 BCE. Poetry has a long and illustrious history. Now, into the ranks of such renown and respected poets as Aristophanes (446 BCE-286 BCE), William Shakespeare(1564-1616), Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849), Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861), George Elliot (1819-1880), Emily Dickenson (1830-1886), and Robert Frost (1874-1963), comes a new poet, Benjamin George Zev.

Zev is a creative and artistic soul, who has long had an abundance of poetical thoughts churning in his mind. However, it is only recently that scholastic requirements have conspired to force him to put these thoughts to paper, where they can be enjoyed by all. In his poems, there is budding talent, which, like a rosebud, is attractive as is, and when carefully nurtured, will blossom forth into magnificence.

The themes that run through Zev’s poems: what is real?, fitting into society, are themes that will resonate with the reader, who has undoubtedly had many of the same thoughts without these thoughts crystalizing into poetry. Zev has done an excellent job of capturing these ideas with meter and rhyme for us all to enjoy.

Jonathan’s Forward:

What are dreams? What is reality?

These are the questions that Benjamin's poems explore. The poems take the distinctions between dreams and reality and dissect them, and analyze the boundary. Does it matter that a dream is just a dream? Should it be treated differently from reality? How can you tell the difference?

The relationship between dreams and reality has long been a topic that has fascinated humanity. Freud believed that dreams were windows to the secret desires of the dreamer. Jung believed that dreams were messages for the dreamer. But dreams facinate more than just philosophers. The 2010 science fiction film Inception explored the ability for a dreamer to distinguish dreams from reality, an ability that Benjamin's poems explore as well.

Benjamin's poems provide a fascinating look at dreams and reality, and leave the reader with more questions than answers.

Genealogy in the digital age

  24-Feb-2012 (22:57)

Genealogy in the digital age

I started researching my genealogy when I got pregnant with my first child. I have a good sized extended family, which gathers regularly for holidays and life events. It occurred to me that if I wanted to be able to explain to my children how everyone was related, I'd better write it all down.

After a few years of collecting names and dates and relationships, I had amassed a good size database, although it only goes back into the late 1800’s, which is when both my and Marc’s ancestors started emigrating from Europe. When the Ellis Island website came online, I started looking up ship manifests, and as the census pages came online, I would look up census pages for my relatives.

I soon had a lot of ship manifests and census pages, and decided to share them with my relatives by posting my research on a website. Having my genealogy on the web has meant that relatives that I’ve never met have contacted me, and that has been a lot of fun. Because of the website, I had someone contact me with a photograph of a store on fire which had the caption “Picus Store Fire” which turned out to be a store owned by one of my relatives. It was 7 years before I was able to verify this fact, and it was a real rush when I finally did (and obtained newspaper stories of the event!)

Today’s rush was even bigger. A few weeks ago, an article appeared in the Israeli newsletter, Israel Hayom, titled Groom-to-be goes 100 years back in time to prove he is Jewish. It talks about Chicago-born immigrant Yehosha Bloomberg, who needed to prove he is Jewish in order to get married in Israel. Here’s a quote from the article:

“First I Googled my name,” Yehosha described the search. “I found a family tree someone had created using documents tracing back to my great-grandmother, who emigrated from Europe to the U.S.”

Yehosha used the documents he found on that website to prove he is Jewish, which allowed him to marry in Israel.

The “someone” the article refers to is ME! The website is my genealogy website, and the documents that proved he is Jewish are census pages and ship manifests I have posted on my website. Yehosha is my 2nd cousin once removed.

I never imagined that my research would have this kind of side benefit to one of my relatives and I am thrilled beyond words that my website enabled him to prove his Jewish heritage and thus get married. What a rush it was to read the article and to realize that it was my website the article referenced! I’ve always described genealogy research as somewhat like a treasure hunt – what a treasure indeed!

Benjamin's Recital

  23-Feb-2012 (07:00)

Benjamin

Sunday, Benjamin participated in a recital put on by his music teacher, Jackie Henderson. He played two pieces. The first, on keyboard and clarinet, was Hunters’ Chorus by Carl Maria von Weber (arr. by Henry W. Davis). The second, played on piano, was He’s a Pirate: from Pirates of the Caribbean by Los Badelt. We (i.e., Marc) videoed his whole performance and posted it on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W7B0N10Gx7c

For the first piece, Benjamin sat down at the keyboard and played the piece. Then he picked up his clarinet, pushed a button on the keyboard and played the piece on his clarinet with the keyboard piece he had just played as his accompaniment! It was VERY cool! Afterwards, Benjamin said that this was the one time when making a mistake has an advantage – it proves that the keyboard recording is a recording of what he just played and not some perfect recording made earlier.

The second piece Benjamin played is one of my favorite pieces of all the songs the boys have learned (in a combined 22 years of learning music!) The other day, Marc and I went to take a walk and just before we left, Benjamin started practicing it. I went out the front door and then paused. Marc turned and said, “What?” “Well,” I responded, “I have a hard time walking away when he’s playing this piece – I really love it.” So we waited until he was done, and then we took our walk. I’m sad that, now that he has performed the piece at the recital, he won’t be practicing it every day anymore. Being serenaded by wonderful music every day is my favorite perk from insisting that your child take music lessons and practice!

Benjamin was the last student to perform, but then we got a special treat. His music teacher, along with her songwriting partner, Shanna Gilfix played a couple of original songs that Jacky wrote with Shanna’s help. Jacky wrote the first song when her grandmother was dying and the second for her baby who (in her words) “is due to arrive by stork this summer.” Both songs are amazing! You can hear a home recording of the second song on Jacky’s website, JackyHenderson.com.

Sexual Harassment in Schools

  20-Feb-2012 (23:01)

Saturday, I attended the general meeting of the San Fernando Valley branch of AAUW. The topic was AAUW’s latest research, a survey documenting sexual harassment in middle and high schools. The speaker was excellent, and the results disturbing, if not surprising. For example, the survey found that almost 50% of students had experienced sexual harassment at least once in the past year.

One point particularly caught my attention. The speaker pointed out that when 23 students were the victims of lewd acts by two teachers at Miramonte, it was all over the news. But 50% of the students being harassed in a year, THAT nobody talks about. Why?

Perhaps you doubt the 50% number (clearly you haven’t been to middle school lately, then.) But even if the real number is more like 5%, you are still talking about over a hundred students at any large middle or high school, which is way more than the number of students affected by the Miramonte incident. And if the 50% number is anywhere close to correct, we are talking about hundreds of thousands of students experiencing sexual harassment every year.

So why isn’t more being done about sexual harassment in schools? Is it because the preponderance of sexual harassment is verbal, and people believe that words are not damaging? Is it due to a perception that it’s so prevalent that nothing can be done about it? Is it that it’s just too hard to determine when sexual speech crosses the line into sexual harassment?

The AAUW study showed that sexual harassment is damaging, even when it is verbal. It showed that there are things that can be done about it. And, as I have said to my kids too many times to count, “Just because something’s hard, doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing.”

It is worth taking action to reduce sexual harassment in schools. We need to convince administrators that it needs to be addressed. We need to teach teachers how to recognize and how to respond to it. We need to tell our kids that regardless whether “everyone does it,” it is not OK. We need to teach our kids what to do when it happens to them, and we need to encourage them to speak out when they see others being harassed.

I see the need to reduce sexual harassment in schools, but what is the first step? The first step is dialog – with our kids, with their teachers, with administrators, and with each other. This blog is my first step. It will hopefully be followed by many more, by myself, and by others.

An international day

  18-Feb-2012 (21:11)

I took last Thursday off from work to see my Canadian cousins. We went to the Japanese garden in the Sepulveda Basin. We were joined by cousin Marni and my Mom. We just walked around and schmoozed and admired the bonsai shaped trees and the tea house. We were amused by the various sizes of tilapia in the water and the green heron standing on a rock eating the littlest ones. We found animal tracks in the dried mud that I think were raccoon. After a while we went to Starbucks and hung out and sipped coffee and smoothies and caught up on each other’s lives. The weather cooperated and gave us a clear sunny day with a bit of a cool breeze. It was really nice and relaxing. Come back soon, Avra!

Bat Mitzvah fun

  12-Feb-2012 (16:13)

Bat Mitzvah fun

Had a great time last night at a Bat Mitzvah. The Bat Mitzvah girl did a great job reading Torah and leading services, and the party afterwards was fabulous! The party started with excellent hors d'oeuvres and a hosted bar – a fine way to start. The decorations were excellent – we especially enjoyed the movie posters with the Bat Mitzvah girl photoshopped into the lead actress’s role on each one. We loved that they were playing songs from musicals during the appetizers. They also had a green screen and were taking photos of party goers, so you could choose the background for your photo. Marc and I took an excellent photo together, something that rarely happens. But the best thing at all came late in the party, when many of us had tired, aching feet and had taken off our shoes. They covered the dance floor in bubble wrap, and had us dance on that. It was such a treat for my feet! I felt like a little kid stomping on the bubble wrap. I was very sad when we had stomped out all the bubbles and there were no more to pop. I highly recommend this to anyone with a Bar or Bat Mitzvah to plan – particularly if I am invited!

My office's exercise program

  11-Feb-2012 (09:53)

My employer is encouraging its employees to exercise more by sponsoring a program called Virgin Health Miles. Each employee that signs up gets a free pedometer (a good quality one, too) and, if they reach certain goals, they can get up to $150 (in gift cards). I already try to walk 3 miles every day, so I saw this as a way to get $150 for the activity level I’m already putting out.

The pedometers record two things, steps and “active minutes”. They record an “active minute” whenever you take 135 steps in a minute, which is a pretty quick walking speed. They have a USB port so that you can upload the steps and active minutes – all you have to do is to plug the pedometer in and it uploads the steps and active minutes to your account automatically.

What do you have to do to reach the $150 award level? You need 36,000 points within a year of signing up. You can earn up to 100 points a day for “activity”. There are 4 ways to reach this 100 point maximum: 1) recording 20,000 steps in a day, 2) recording 45 “active minutes” in a day 3) recording 12,000 steps in a day and logging into the website and entering two journals about the day’s activities or 4) recording 30 “active minutes” and journaling twice.

There are other ways of earning points yearly, monthly or weekly. if you did all of them, you could earn a little more than 5000 points in a year. There are also some points they give you for reaching certain “firsts.” For example, the first time you record 20,000 steps in a day you get a 100 point bonus. If you earned all the “firsts” you would get another 1450 points. The bonuses for “firsts” make up for the fact that you have to earn your points within a year, and your year starts on the day you sign up, but it takes a week or two for your pedometer to arrive.

I assimilated all this information and immediately realized that to reach 36,000 points based purely on activity, you have to earn 100 points on 360 of the 365 days in a year (366 this year!) And my pedometer took a week to arrive, so I didn’t record ANY steps or active minutes the first week! Fortunately, the bonuses for “firsts” make up for that, but I set a goal of earning 100 points every day. Then, if I don’t make it, I have the 5000 points for yearly, monthly and weekly activities to fall back on.

So, do I have to change my current activity level to earn 100 points a day? My walking partner and I quickly discovered that when we went out walking, after 45 minutes at our normal pace (close to 4 miles/hour) she would have about 40 “active minutes” and I would have none. NONE! Why? Because I have longer legs and a longer stride, and thus take fewer steps each minute. I tried shortening my stride, and started getting active minutes. At first, taking short steps was quite challenging, but now I’m getting used to it.

So if we do our typical walk, I have no problem reaching 30 active minutes, which with 2 journal entries gives me 100 points, and I frequently reach 45 active minutes, and then I don’t have to log in. But unless I am trying to get active minutes, I don’t get any, so the days when we don’t walk I have to reach 100 points with steps. It’s pretty easy to reach 7000 steps (which does get me 60 points) even if I don’t walk, but reaching 12,000 steps without a walk is hard. Reaching 20,000 steps (about 10 miles) even with a walk is so hard that I’ve only done it once in over a month.

Having the program has actually been a double edged sword. There have been days when I have thought, “It’s a nice night. Maybe I should see if Marc wants to take a walk. Nah, I already have my 100 points, so a walk won’t get me any more points.” But on other nights, my goal of 100 points a day has caused me to invite Marc to go on a walk when I otherwise wouldn’t have. One thing that is definitely true – if I am close to the next “point level” at the end of the day (7,000, 12,000 or 20,000 steps,) I will make sure I put in the extra steps to make that point level!

I also found that I bounce more. You can get steps just by standing in place and bouncing up and down. So if I’m just standing around, I tend to bounce (more so when I’m alone.) If you think it’s cheating, try doing it for 10 minutes straight, and you will find that it is harder than walking. Recently at work we had to attend our annual “security refresher briefing” full of scintillating information like, “Yes, you really do have to include an upper case letter, a lower case letter, a number and a symbol in your Windows password.” Instead of sitting like a lump for the hour long meeting, I stood against the back wall and bounced for most of the time. It felt WAY more productive to be earning steps and active minutes while I listened to the briefing than just to be sitting there!

All-in-all, I think I am spending more time active because of this program (which is precisely the point!) If I could work out the amount of extra time, and divided the $150 by the extra time, it probably would not be worth my while to do it. But hopefully, the health benefits ARE worth it!

How to get people to volunteer

  6-Feb-2012 (20:45)

How to get people to volunteer

Last Friday I was at the Temple for services (which were awesome! – Shabbat Shira is the best!) One of the announcements was that Sunday was the Temple’s first “community clean-up” day. “I should participate in that,” I thought. Near the end of the oneg after services, one of the people still hanging around was Shellie, one of the co-chairs of the “Sundays of Service” committee, whom I’ve known since our kids were little. She was trying to convince people to sign up for the clean-up day, and she said to me, “Jackie, I signed you up!”

I had no idea when or where the event was being held, so I said, “OK, where is it happening?” “No, I was kidding.” Shellie responded, “You don’t have to do it.” “Well,” I said, “I’m happy to help out, but I have to work around needing to drive Benjamin to Hebrew High and having to pick him up.” As it turned out, the clean-up was planned for 12:30, about a half-mile from my house. So I told Shellie that I had to pick up Benjamin at 12:30, but that I would drop him off at the house and then come over.

When I said goodbye, I think Shellie was still trying to accept the fact that telling me that she had signed me up actually worked!

On Sunday, I showed up around 1:30. It would have been sooner, but I walked over. Turns out the “clean up” was trimming back the trees and bushes that had overgrown the wall on Tampa and were blocking the sidewalk. By the time I arrived, the work really involved cutting up the trimmed branches and stuffing them into bags. It was kind of fun, actually. Take that you big fat branch! Hi-yah!

I don’t think that simply telling people that you signed them up to work a community service day would work in most cases, but it worked in this one, and both of us were glad that it did!

The Komen controversy

  5-Feb-2012 (10:23)

I have been amazed by the Susan B. Komen Foundation story that has played out over the last few days. On Tuesday (1/31) the foundation announced that “it would end funding for Planned Parenthood's breast cancer screening and education programs because the foundation had adopted a new rule prohibiting grants to groups that are under investigation by local, state or federal authorities.”

On Wednesday, the foundation issued a statement that did not directly mention this rule, but offered a different explanation. “We made the decision to implement stronger performance criteria for our grantees to minimize duplication and free up dollars for direct services to help vulnerable women.” It also alluded to “more stringent eligibility standards to safeguard donor dollars” and emphasized that its decisions were not about politics.

Thursday, Komen Founder Nancy Brinker and Komen President Elizabeth Thompson spoke with reporters, saying that the decision “doesn’t really have anything to do with” the Congressional probe, and that it actually has to do with wanting to fund organizations that actually provide mammograms to women, rather than providing mammogram referrals.

Then on Friday, Komen announced that well—actually—it did have something to do with the probe. “Our original desire was to fulfill our fiduciary duty to our donors by not funding grant applications made by organizations under investigation,” the statement reads. “We will amend the criteria to make clear that disqualifying investigations must be criminal and conclusive in nature and not political.”

The first thing that amazed me was how poorly the Komen leadership handled the incident. Everything they did -- not anticipating the uproar that would follow from Tuesday’s announcement, contradicting themselves, offering multiple explanations of their actions -- made me wonder about the leadership of the organization and their ability to think things through.

The second thing that amazed me was the vitriol Planned Parenthood evokes. In reading about the Komen event, over and over, I encountered posts saying that Planned Parenthood claims that they do mammograms and that this is a lie. Why do these posts say that Planned Parenthood claims that they do mammograms? Because Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards said that if Congress cut off funding to Planned Parenthood “millions of women are going to lose access, not to abortion services, to basic family planning, you know, mammograms.” The posts point out that most Planned Parenthood affiliates don’t have mammogram equipment on-site, they refer women out other facilities for mammograms.

When I read the posts about how Planned Parenthood lies about providing mammograms, I couldn’t help but note that Richards never said that Planned Parenthood *performed* mammograms, she only said that cutting off funding would mean women would *lose access to* mammograms. If Planned Parenthood pays for the mammograms when they refer women to other facilities, Richards’ statement is true. I actually had a hard time figuring out who pays for the mammograms, but finally I found the following words on a pro-life site: “Planned Parenthood, with funds from the Komen grant, pays for the mammograms but does not actually perform them.” So Richards did NOT lie.

The bulk of the Komen money to Planned Parenthood went for breast exams (Komen dollars have funded 170,000 exams over the last 5 years), rather mammograms, and Komen has a big emphasis on mammograms. So I can understand Komen not funding Planned Parenthood, in the future based on that. Then the argument turns into a debate about the efficacy of breast exams and mammograms, particularly in the population Planned Parenthood serves, which tends to be younger than then general population. But Komen only said that it was about mammograms once the backlash started, and in the end they stood by their original statement.

The third thing that amazed me was how fast and how big the financial response was. By Thursday, outrage-fueled donations to Planned Parenthood had nearly exceeded the $680,000 that Planned Parenthood's affiliates received from Komen last year. The financial impact on Komen is less clear. There are many, many posts from people saying that they are going to be giving money they used to give to Komen to Planned Parenthood now. On the other hand, Komen has received donations from Planned Parenthood haters. However, the Komen reversal will certainly end these donations, so I expect the long term impact on Komen to be negative.

Once I started looking into the matter, I happened across the Wikipedia page for the foundation, which is under “Susan G. Komen for the Cure,” the current name of the organization. I found it interesting that this article has an anti-Komen slant. For example, in the second paragraph, after saying that “Komen is one of the most trusted nonprofit organizations in America,” the article says “However, the organization has been criticized for its use of donor funds…” After mentioning that Komen supports universal screening mammography, it devotes a paragraph to why mammography is no longer recommended for women under 50. Along with detailed statistics on where Komen spends its money (21% to research, 39% to education, 13% to health screening services, 6% to treatment services, 10% toward fund-raising and $11% to administration,) there is a large graphic emphasizing that Komen spends almost twice as much on education as it does on research and three times as much on education as it does on health screening services.

By contrast, the Wikipedia page on Planned Parenthood doesn’t mention that anyone is critical of Planned Parenthood until paragraph 16, and the article itself is not critical of positions that Planned Parenthood takes. Spending stats are reported succinctly with the single line, “Approximately two-thirds of the revenue is put towards the provision of health services, while non-medical services such as sex education and public policy work make up another 16%; management expenses, fundraising, and international family planning programs account for most of the rest” and there is no graphic. The user can’t even figure out how much they spend on administration and fundraising because “international family planning” is lumped in with “the rest.”

I found many facets of this whole story interesting and amazing. But the most interesting will be to see how well Komen weathers the storm and what the long term effect on their fundraising will be.

Reading Torah

  28-Jan-2012 (17:23)

Our Temple’s “Sisterhood Shabbat” was today. The entire Sisterhood board was encouraged to participate, so I volunteered to read Torah. I’ve read Torah before, and like doing it. It takes me about a week to learn three verses (sentences) of Torah which is one aliyah at our Temple. I was given the first aliyah to read. I put a copy of the Cantor chanting it on a CD and would listen to it whenever I was driving alone in my car.

I was amused to find that the part I had the most trouble learning was the very first word. I would listen to it and then chant it and I would be fine. Then I learned the next couple of words and I could do those fine. But then I went back to the beginning and found that the first word was gone out of my head. I learned the entire first verse and still could never get the notes in that first word right. I don’t know why the seven notes that represented the first word would not stick in my brain.

Finally, I went to Benjamin and asked for help. He listened to the CD and said, “The last 5 notes in that word go like this: You sing a note, and then you go down one and then back to the first note and then up one and then back to the first note.” And with that, I was able to sing the first word. Don’t ask me why this helped, but it did.

Benjamin was astounded that I couldn’t recognize the note pattern on my own, that I needed someone to tell me. I, on the other hand was astounded that he could just listen to it once and be able to tell me the pattern of notes. I don’t know where Benjamin’s music ability comes from, because his father is even more tone-deaf than I am.

The weekend before the Sisterhood Shabbat, the Cantor asked if I wanted to practice reading from the Torah, which looks very different than the text I was using. But I didn’t think it would be an issue, and didn’t really want to make the 10 minute drive each way for a minute and a half of chanting, so I didn’t take her up on her offer.

A couple of days later, I had the chanting down. I could do it without looking at the text. One advantage of practicing while driving is that you don’t have many opportunities to look at the words! I was not worried.

The morning, of the Sisterhood Shabbat, I did my aliyah in the shower, no problem. Then during services, I thought, “I’d better make sure I can do that first word without any problems.” And I couldn’t do it! Panic! Fortunately, the next thing in the service was the silent meditation. The Rabbi told us to read silently in the prayerbook or to find words in your heart. I, of course, did my aliyah, and found that while I can’t do that first word when other prayers or songs are going on, I can do it just fine when they are not. Whew!

Soon after, I was called up to read from the Torah. And as soon as I looked at our Torah, I wished I had taken the Cantor up on her offer to practice with the real Torah. We were reading from our little “Holocaust” Torah – the operative word here being “little”! Man-oh-man, that text is tiny! And close together too! Reading it wasn’t too bad, but each time I reached the margin, I had a hard time identifying where to go next. But I did fine, with only one long pause when I couldn’t find the beginning of the next line. I’m sure the pause seemed much longer to me than to anyone else!

Rhapsodizing about Rice

  27-Jan-2012 (21:58)

Rhapsodizing about Rice

Tonight I spoke with a friend to whom I hadn't spoken in a long time and she asked about Jonathan. She didn't know he was going to Rice, and I launched into my usual speech about how wonderful Rice is and how pleased we are that Jonathan is attending college there.

After I got off the phone, I remembered that I had never gone back and redownloaded the pictures of Jonathan at Rice from Facebook that I lost in my hard disk crash. So I did that and found new pictures.

I showed the new pictures to Marc, and he said. "That's what I love about Rice! How many students at other Universities have attended a Shabbat dinner hosted by the President of their University?"

You can see pictures from this Shabbat dinner, and other pictures from other Rice events by clicking on the "Jonathan at Rice" link at the top of the column on the right.

Benjamin's story

  23-Jan-2012 (23:06)

Benjamin

Benjamin wrote a short story for English. I may be a little biased, both by the author and by the subject matter, but I liked it a lot. It might be a short story, but it's still almost 2200 words, so it's a little long to post here. If you want to read it, go to
http://www.jmzconsulting.com/benjamin/grade9/late.html.

Hopefully this will be the first in many more stories in the future. I know Benjamin has a ton of stories in his head, but getting him to write them down typically requires an English assignment! Give him more English assignments!

Aunt Marjorie and Uncle Milt come to visit

  19-Jan-2012 (22:53)

Aunt Marjorie and Uncle Milt come to visit

Aunt Marjorie and Uncle Milt left today to go back to Detroit. Boo hoo! I had a great time with them while they were here. The day after they arrived, we had dinner at our house to say good-bye to Jonathan the day before he went back to Houston. A week later, I went with M&M and Mom (M&M&M) to the Huntington library to see the Maloof exhibit and the craft furniture. Sam Maloof (who passed away less than 3 years ago at the age of 93) made the most amazing furniture. Everything was sanded and polished to a fine sheen. I wondered how he could have made any money with all that sanding. Then I found out that a Sam Maloof chair is worth about $25,000! Oh! That’s how! The museum had a chair that you were allowed to sit in – boy was it comfortable! No padding, no cloth at all, and it was one of the most comfortable chairs I’ve ever experienced.

After seeing all his wonderful pieces, I wanted to take back a small souvenir of the exhibit. But what could I get in the gift shop that wouldn’t cost an arm and a leg? Well, they had the perfect thing. They were selling these small wooden spoons, about 2 ½ inches long, that are used for spooning out salt. Spooning out salt! Who would do that? Well, my husband would! He has a small ceramic container with a “bail top” closure in which he keeps the kosher salt that he uses in cooking and to season his cast iron skillet. So I bought him a spoon for his salt. Now every time I see the spoon, I think of the Maloof exhibit and of the day.

We also wandered around the grounds some, which are wonderful (and the weather was superb that day!) and wandered through other exhibits. The craft furniture was not so much to my liking, especially after the Maloof exhibit, which I liked so much more. Overall, the Huntington contained an interesting mix of stuff that I really liked and stuff that didn’t do a thing for me. But the best part was just hanging out with my Aunt and Uncle.

The following Sunday, at dinner at Mom’s, we celebrated Aunt Marjorie’s birthday, which was the day before. Cousins Craig and Ronna joined us – seems like ages since we’d had the chance to catch up with them. Mom bought the most scrumptious chocolate cake from Edie’s – even she liked it! It had a wafer-cookie base, then a layer of mousse, then a layer of cake, then another layer of mousse, then another layer of cake and the entire thing dipped in chocolate and with chocolate flowers, chocolate dipped strawberries and other berries on top. Wow!

With departure time rapidly approaching, I arranged for M&M&M & me to go out for lunch. We went to PF Chengs, which is right near my office and serves a pretty tasty lunch. All too soon, the time had come for Aunt Marjorie and Uncle Milt to go. As if echoing my sentiments, the weather, which had been really nice pretty much the entire time they were visiting, turned cold, and now it’s supposed to rain this weekend. Come back soon, M&M!

Bank troubles

  15-Jan-2012 (23:37)

I am the treasurer’s assistant for the San Fernando Valley branch of AAUW. I misplaced the debit card for the checking account, and went to get it replaced. Our accounts are at Premier Credit Union, which has a branch on the premises where I work. So I walked over after lunch.

I was told that first I had to call a phone number (which they gave me) to report the card missing. They graciously allowed me to use one of their phones to do this. But when I called the number, I needed to provide the organization’s tax id number or the mailing address (which is the treasurer’s address) neither of which I had memorized. So I left.

When I got home that night, I looked up the information and called the number. But without the card number (which I didn’t have because I lost the card!) they could not locate my account. The guy on the phone apologized profusely, and sent me back to the branch.

The next day, I went to the branch office before lunch. They were able to look up the card number for me, and said I still needed to call the number and report it missing. This time their phone was in use (by someone working there) so I went back to my desk.

After lunch, armed with the card number, I called the phone number to report it missing. This time they found the account, but said they could not issue a new card because there was a problem with the address on the account. They told me to go back to my branch, and they could resolve the problem. REALLY? You want me to do what?!

So back I went to the branch, and sure enough, they were able to resolve the address issue. I was sure that, now that the address issue was resolved, they were going to send me back to the phone number, but no, they actually took care of issuing the card too. Whew!

I’m just thankful that the branch is on the campus where I work, and so my three trips to resolve the issue only involved a pleasant 5 minute walk and not a 10 minute drive!

Jonathan goes back to school

  14-Jan-2012 (22:04)

All good things much come to an end, and at the end of the first week in January, Jonathan had to go back to school. He geared up for leaving by having lunch with Grammy Blanche (and Benjamin) and dinner with Grandma and Aunt Marjorie and Uncle Milt who had just come into town (and Marc and Benjamin and me.) After all that togetherness with relatives, he was probably ready to go back!

An hour before we were going to leave for the airport, he received an email saying his flight has been cancelled. Well, not the whole flight, just the first leg. Lovely. He managed to get on another flight that went through Denver, which, since it was supposed to SNOW there, had us wondering when he would actually arrive in Houston. But all went well (only delayed half an hour in Denver,) and in Denver he met up with other Rice students and was able to arrange to share a super shuttle back to campus.

On Sunday, I attended a Sisterhood luncheon (another Temple) where a friend was being honored, which was mostly notable by my friend’s absence, because she had been running a fever for days and it hadn’t broken yet. Sigh. You think that God would give you a break when you are being honored by your Temple! Yeah, yeah, I know, it doesn’t work that way!

SKIIING!

  13-Jan-2012 (23:43)

January started with SKIING! Hurray! In anticipation, I took the boys to the used sporting goods store Play it Again Sports and outfitted all three of us with new (used) boots.

We went to Mountain High, the local resort (90 minutes by car.) I took Jonathan, Benjamin and Samantha (Michael had already gone back to school) and my friend Kris and her son Jason joined us too. It was a nice mix of abilities. Although Kris and Jason are better than Jonathan and I, we can keep up (particularly at Mt. High, where nothing is really hard.) Benjamin and Samantha are about the same level (as each other) – they can do the easier intermediate slopes if they work hard, and can do the beginner slopes with ease. We all skied together until lunch, and then after lunch we sent Benjamin and Samantha off by themselves and the rest of us skied the hard stuff.

At lunch, Jonathan got two hot dogs (each of which came with a bag of chips.) Benjamin got chicken fingers, which came with French fries. Benjamin is not a French fry fan, so Jonathan ate one of his bags of chips and Benjamin’s fries. I told Benjamin he could get more food if he wanted, and he decided to get a hamburger as well – of course, he doesn’t eat the bread from any sandwich, so he just ate the meat. From watching the boys eat lunch, you might think that Jonathan was in the teenage-eat-everything-in-site phase and that Benjamin was a picky eater, which is just the reverse of how we think of the two of them! Benjamin typically eats as much as the rest of us combined at dinner and we think of Jonathan as being the picky one. These days however, although I think the set of food that Jonathan really likes is still pretty small, the set of food that he is willing to eat is at least as large as Benjamin’s.

The weather was fantastic, on the verge of spring skiing weather, but not so hot as to make the snow overly slushy. The snow, being groomed, was not too bad. No powder, because they haven’t had snow in weeks. Mountain High makes snow, so it has snow, when many of the Tahoe and Reno resorts don’t. Essentially all the beginning and intermediate runs were open and groomed. Some of the expert runs were closed, but enough were open for us to have a good time. We did try one non-groomed expert slope that was a solid sheet of ice from top to bottom and scared the bejeebers out of me! There were no lift lines to speak of, and we were told that the day before the place had been packed – timing is everything!

All-in-all it was quite a lovely day.

2011 wraps up

  10-Jan-2012 (17:03)

The year ended with a trip to the theater to see “Wicked” again. Well, Jonathan and I went. Benjamin and Marc declined with a “been, there, done that.” Mom, Don, Sue and Samantha went too. Michael was supposed to go, but had a scheduling conflict with his test to get his pilot’s license, and chose getting his license over seeing “Wicked” again. Wicked was *WONDERFUL*. I wonder how many times I would have to see it before it would get old. Afterwards, we all (including Marc, Jonathan and Michael) went out for dinner.

For New Year’s Eve, Jonathan and I went square dancing, but since Benjamin and Marc weren’t interested in joining us, Jonathan and I left the dance early to watch the ball drop with them. Humorously, when we called to say that we were leaving, we found that they had just left, so that they would be with us at midnight!

Chanuka

  6-Jan-2012 (23:00)

Chanuka

Chanuka arrived, and boy was it fun this year! First we had 4 days of just the four of us. Then we had four nights of friends and family. We had friends over for dinner and games on Saturday, went out to dinner with friends on Sunday (and came back and played games,) had Marc’s family over for dinner on Monday and went to my Mom’s house on Tuesday! Whew! At the end of it all, my gastrointestinal track was saying, “That was good, but NO MORE LATKAS, please!”

Normally, Marc is the gift buyer in our household, but this year I took a bigger part than usual. I’m usually not very good at seeing something and thinking, “Oh, I bet so-and-so would like that” like Marc is. But this year I did exactly that for 5 different people, and to my great surprise, each gift seemed to hit the mark. Maybe there’s hope for me yet.

But the biggest success was a joint effort. Marc found directions for sewing a plushie weighted companion cube, which is a virtual object used in Portal, a computer game that Benjamin really likes. So I set about making physical one for my son out of fabric. I started on a weekend that Benjamin was out of town, but wasn’t able to finish, and quickly ran into the problem that there are not many occasions that I am home and he is not! So when Chanuka started, it was not yet done. It occurred to me to bring it to work and work on it during lunch, and I made some good progress that way. I actually finished it on the 6th night of Chanuka, except that I wanted to redo one of the corners, because it was not well done. But I decided to give it to him, and fix the corner afterwards. We gave it to Benjamin on the last night of Chanuka. He liked it very much, and gave me a big hug. I was especially gratified when I told him that I wanted to redo one of the corners and he looked at me in amazement and said, “You MADE this?!” and gave me another big hug!

When you hit the mark, giving gifts is WAY more fun than receiving!

Bar Mitzvahs and Museums

  2-Jan-2012 (19:29)

Bar Mitzvahs and Museums

Jonathan finished his finals and came home from college. We were very happy to see him. It took me a couple of days to stop being surprised every time I walked into a room and he was there – that was interesting. He looked the same, albeit with longer hair, which he promptly got cut.

He arrived home in time to attend Eric’s Bar Mitzvah. Eric did a great job leading services and reading Torah, and the party, which was that night at the Odyssey, was lots of fun. It was great to just hang out and schmooze with Marc’s family and we had a lot of fun with the photo booth they had set up. We took some serious pictures and some goofy ones.

The next day was Benjamin’s second choir concert. He invited a couple of friends to come and we all went out for dessert and/or dinner afterwards. A couple of days later, I took a day off work and went museum hopping with my mom. First we went to the craft museum. One room displayed pieces from quite a number of artists – just a few pieces from each artist. Mom was astonished to find a couple of tie-dyed cloth wall-hangings. Why did they surprise her? She instantly recognized who the artist was (Carter Smith.) How did she know? Partly because she has a piece by this artist (which she bought some 40 years ago) hanging in her own entry way. Little did she know when she bought her piece that the artist would have similar works hanging in museums a generation later. I wasn’t surprised. She has always had good taste in art!

We also went over to the LA County Museum of art to look at their “Monet/Lichtenstein: Rouen Cathedrals" exhibit. It was interesting to see these two artists painting the same thing with completely different styles. I would like to see more exhibits like that!

A typical weekend

  1-Jan-2012 (22:57)

A typical weekend

In early December, we had another Vex Robotics competition. This time, both Benjamin and I went. I used my scouting method again and learned some lessons. The most important lesson was that it is not enough to track which robots are in each match and the score of the match. I also need to know whether the robots show up for each match! In this competition, there were a relatively high number of no-shows, and I definitely needed to factor this into the calculations! Benjamin learned how difficult collecting statistics for the more traditional methods of scouting can be. And again, after a long day of scouting, neither Reseda robot made it into the elimination round, and so after all that work, our scouting wasn’t needed. Ah, c’est la vie!

We did not stick around to the end of the competition because that evening we had theater – too many choices! We wanted to see the Nobel Middle School production of “Annie”, but my mom invited me to go see “Radiance” at the Geffen (the Alan Alda play about Marie Curie) and Reseda was doing “Of Mice and Men” – all at the same time, of course. I can tell you that “Radiance” was excellent – the writing had Alan Alda’s dry wit all over it, and the acting was marvelous. I heard that both the other plays were also well done.

The next day (Sunday) was the first of two concerts by Benjamin’s chorus group. They did a nice job. The group has a new director this year. Colleen, last year’s director, was fun and quirky, and this year’s director is more serious and keeps a tighter lid on the kids and doesn’t let them goof off as much. I expected a bunch of kids to drop out because of that, but this has not been the case at all. Benjamin likes that there is less clowning around, but he misses Colleen’s whimsy. Benjamin also wishes that he wasn’t the only tenor in the group!

Benamin's bus adventures

  31-Dec-2011 (16:33)

With Marc working full-time, Benjamin now has no transportation home from school. Mondays and Fridays, he stays at school until 5:15 for Robotics, and I pick him up on my way home from work. That leaves Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

Tuesdays are “teacher development days” and Benjamin gets out at 1:13. He could take the school bus to Nobel, at which point he would have a little more than a mile walk home (uphill) or he could walk a block to the city bus that travels west on Victory and take that to Tampa, and switch to the Tampa bus which will take him to Chatsworth, at which point he would have a ½ mile (relatively flat) walk. Benjamin opted for the city bus, partly because it gets him home substantially sooner.

On Wednesdays, Benjamin gets out at 3:07, and simply takes the city bus that goes up Reseda to CSUN. He walks to Marc’s office and then Marc takes him home. Thursdays, Benjamin has Hebrew High out in West Hills, so he hops on the city bus that goes down Vanowen to Valley Circle. When he gets off the bus, either my mom will pick him up and take him the rest of the way, or he will simply walk the ¾ mile to the Temple. Three days of taking the bus – four different buses!

Before he was to start taking the bus, we went over each of the pickup spots with him, and drove the route he would have to walk to get to CSUN. The first day he had to take the bus was a Tuesday – Of course he would have the most complicated ride first! That day was also the day of the AMI – The Annual Military Inspection. Benjamin is taking Junior ROTC, and was spending the entire day in ROTC being inspected, missing his other classes that day. So he got into the car in the morning in his uniform and without his backpack. Which meant that he didn’t have his wallet, or money or his cell phone. Not so good. I gave him the map I had made up with the three bus stops on in, money and my cell phone and sent him off to school.

The first thing that happened is that when he got on the Victory bus, he discovered that passengers in military uniform don’t have to pay bus fare. And apparently Junior ROTC counts. Cool! He successfully got off at Tampa as planned. He saw the bus stop and went over and waited… And watched the northbound bus go by on the other side of the street. Hmmm. I guess we didn’t discuss that. He called me and asked to be picked up, but I pointed out that it would take me a half-hour to get there, and by that time the next bus would be there. Of course, as it turns out, the Tampa buses only run every hour, not every half-hour. Oh well, he did have a book to read.

The next day, Benjamin caught the Reseda bus and got off at Prairie, as planned. And then he called Marc and said, “Where’s CSUN?” “You should walk east,” Marc replied, “Do you know which direction is east?” “No..” “The bus you were on was going north. Now, do you know which direction is east?” “Yes!” And with that, Benjamin was able to find Marc’s office.

On Thursday, Benjamin again had no difficulty getting on the Vanowen bus. He did miss his stop, but got off at the next one and called my mom to let her know that she should pick him up in a slightly different place. So, no harm no foul. Now, Benjamin had navigated all the buses, and should have no further difficulty, right?

The following Tuesday, he got on the Victory bus, but didn’t start paying attention to the stops until he was past the Tampa stop. When the bus turned left on Owensmouth, he knew he has missed his stop and got off the bus. Now he ran into a small problem. He had charged his phone on Sunday, and it was still sitting at our house. At this point he was less than a mile from my office – but he didn’t know that. He walked back up to Victory and decided to walk back to Tampa. When he got to Tampa, he realized that he had just missed the Tampa bus (and the next one wouldn’t be coming for an hour) so he decided to walk up Tampa. He walked all the way home. From where he got off the bus, that was 9.3 miles!

Around 3:30, I had gotten worried that he hadn’t called in (remember that school let out at 1:13 that day) and tried to reach him at home, without success. Work distracted me for a while, but at 4:15 I called Marc with my concerns. Marc said that he could leave and would go home and see if he could figure out what was going on. He was delayed getting out of the office and did not get home until 5, which turned out to be just a few minutes after Benjamin arrived home.

So Benjamin got home, safe and sound, if a little tired. It wasn’t the solution I would have chosen, but it worked just fine. The next day had no associated incidents; on Thursday, Jonathan was home from college, and we had him provide Benjamin with transportation, and then it was vacation. Jonathan’s comment on the whole bus thing was “When Benjamin starts driving, he’s going to know the streets in the Valley way better than I did when I started driving!” I think that, after Tuesday, he does already!

The winds of change

  29-Dec-2011 (22:21)

“Wind's in the east, mist comin' in./Like something is brewin' about to begin./Can't put me finger on what lies in store./But I feel what's to happen, all happened before.”
(Bert, in Mary Poppins)

December brought a big change to the Zev family as Marc started working full-time for the Tseng College at Cal State University, Northridge. The Tseng College does online and distance learning, and Marc will be supporting their back-end computing. He’s in charge of transferring data between the university and the college, making sure data from people applying to the college gets to where it’s supposed to go, and he’s going to be re-architecting the whole system. He likes his coworkers and he likes the work. The job has some nice perks, like flexible hours, a 4 mile commute, free dental and vision benefits for both Marc and the boys, and, if Marc stays 5 years, lifetime health care.

When Marc was interviewing for this job, they asked him a ton of questions. I loved his answer to the following: “What’s your favorite website?” Well how in the heck do you answer that in a job interview?

“Your site!” - Obviously a lie.
“My site!” - Too pat.

Marc’s answer was “Facebook – but not for the reason you think. Facebook is my favorite site because it tells me when my son, the college student, is online – and then I can Skype him!” I would have added to that answer – “and because other people take pictures of my son and post them on Facebook where I can steal them. Because of Facebook, I have pictures of my son at college – something *my* parents never had!”

Marc’s job has brought about changes to our lifestyle, but that’s a *story*, so I’ll save it for its own post!

Thanksgiving

  28-Dec-2011 (11:32)

Thanksgiving

The last weekend in November was Thanksgiving. As usual, the Schuster, Picus and Katz extended families joined together for Thanksgiving dinner. This year, Emily and Brian hosted it in San Diego. Unfortunately, Marc’s mother was in the hospital, and it was pretty serious, so he stayed home. Jonathan also stayed home (albeit in Houston) and also had Thanksgiving with Picuses – with the Houston Picuses! Benjamin and I drove down with my mom. Thankgiving was *wonderful* - being in San Diego did not stop anyone from coming and we really had a full house. Even Dan and Josh came down from Washington. I was sad that we hadn’t brought Jonathan home for Thanksgiving because he was the only one of his generation not there, and with the kids all starting to go off to college, who knows when the next time they will all be able to get together again?

Except for the Schusters, we all spent the night in San Diego, and a large contingent went to the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park the next day. I thought that we were nuts for going in a group of 15 to the park, but it really wasn’t as bad as I feared. We got good advice to do the tram ride first (where we completely filled an entire tram car!) This required walking to the other end of the park. Afterwards, we had lunch and then slowly meandered back to the entrance, looking at the exhibits along the way. Cell phones meant that we didn’t have to worry about staying together, and the kids went at their own pace, which was a bit faster than some of us older folks’ pace! The day ended with watching the cheetah run. Then we went back to the hotel and Benjamin and I met up with Mom (who had opted for museums rather than animals) for the drive back. We arrived home to find that Blanche was much improved, which was a great ending to a great Thanksgiving!

Scouting robotics competitions

  23-Dec-2011 (23:39)

Scouting robotics competitions

The third weekend in November was Benjamin’s Hebrew High retreat. Going to the retreat meant that he had to miss out on the soccer playoffs and a Vex Robotics competition. But in the end, his soccer team and his Robotics team both lost, so perhaps the Hebrew High retreat was the best place to be after all!

I went to the Robotics meet even though Benjamin was out of town. This was because I wanted to test out a new system I have developed for ranking robotics teams. In VEX robotics competitions, teams compete as part of a two-team alliance against another two team alliance in each match. Competitions have two parts, the “qualification” matches and the “elimination” matches. In the qualification matches, alliances are formed randomly, and change with every match. After the qualifications matches are completed, teams are ranked based on their win-loss record in these matches. Then the top 8 teams become team captains and each team captain chooses two more teams to form 8 alliances of three teams which will not change for the entire elimination round.

When choosing alliances, it is worthwhile for the teams to know something about the strengths and weaknesses of the other teams. Luck plays a factor in winning matches, so teams can be ranked higher or lower than their true ability. Many teams assign students to scout out the other teams and to assess their abilities. I could go on for pages about the issues making traditional scouting arduous and problematic. I wanted to develop a scouting method which would use the match scores and would not require watching every robot play in every match.

After consulting with some very smart co-workers, I developed a spreadsheet which would use the match scores to calculate a statistic for each and every team. I came to the Robotics competition that Benjamin had to miss because I wanted to test out my method. The first thing I discovered is that you can’t enter which teams are playing in each match ahead of time, because that list is not generated until 20 minutes before the competition starts (because until that time they don’t know who is going to show up.) The second thing I discovered is that you either have to have a friend recording the match scores that will let you look at the match results (which, fortunately I did,) or you have to pay very close attention, because each match score is only posted for a short time.

But these issues were not too much of a problem, and my spreadsheet successfully calculated a ranking that we could have used to choose alliance partners if we had made it into the elimination round, which, unfortunately, we did not. That’s life in scouting. You can put in a ton of time and effort coming up with excellent rankings, only to have your own team crash and burn, and not make it into the elimination round.

I wanted some way to validate my ranking; some way to demonstrate that my ranking was better than the win-loss ranking that the competition puts out. I had computed a number for each team, so now I calculated a total for each alliance in each match. Even though the alliances each comprise 3 teams, only two teams play in any given match. I looked at which teams played in each particular match, and then added the numbers for the teams that were playing in that match. Then I used my totals to predict who would win the match. Advancing in the elimination round requires winning 2 out of 3 matches, and every alliance team must play at least once.

My statistic predicted that alliance 1 would win two matches in a row to beat alliance 8, and that alliance 2 would win two matches in a row to beat 7, and both of these happened. However this was no big surprise, as the competition rankings predicted the same thing. But I got excited when (contrary to what the competition rankings would predict) my statistic predicted that alliance 3 would lose its first match to alliance 6, but win the second, and that’s exactly what happened!

In theory, my statistic also predicted that alliance 4 would win its first match to alliance 5, and lose the second (which did happen) but my totals were so close that I don’t consider this a validation of the statistic. Really, according to the statistic, these matches were too close to call.

So my ranking system was a roaring success, even if we were unable to use it for anything for that particular competition. Hopefully, we will have better luck in the future!

The car accident aftermath

  14-Dec-2011 (22:48)

An update on what happened to the car after the car accident. Remember (from “My busy (and wonderful) life (part 4)") that when my friend Phyllis was in town she borrowed my car (well, actually, Marc’s car) so she could visit a friend in Thousand Oaks, and she was rear-ended on the off-ramp. The off-ramp has a curve in it and bushes on the sides that block the view of the end, so it is posted for a 25 MPH speed limit. As Phyllis passed the curve, she slowed, because she was not confident of where she was going. The guy behind her rear-ended her, and then the guy behind him rear-ended him, and pushed him ahead and he hit Phyllis a second time.

A CHP officer showed up and directed Phyllis to pull the car off the off-ramp so that it was not blocking traffic. Which was not much use, because the car behind her was not drivable, and could not follow her. It did effectively sequester Phyllis from talking to the other drivers and exchanging information, which meant that we had to wait for the CHP report to find out who the other drivers were and what their insurance companies were. That was really annoying, because the CHP report took over a week.

While we were waiting, our insurance company inspected the car and told us that based on the cost of repairs and the value of the car, they would total the car. That was annoying – Although it is 9 years old, the car only has 56,000 miles on in and is in great condition. There’s no way we can replace it for what they will give us!

When the CHP report finally came out, it placed the blame on Phyllis! We were astonished. We thought that a rear-end collision is *never* the first car’s fault (unless it is backing up.) How could it be her fault? The report said that it was a violation of section 21718. "No person shall stop, park, or leave standing any vehicle upon a freeway." Therefore it was her fault. Well a) she wasn’t on a freeway – but maybe the offramp counts – and b) she wasn’t stopped! Ah, but the person that hit her said that she was stopped. He also said that he only hit her once, after the third car hit him. Why the CHP decided that he was telling the truth and she was lying is beyond me – sexism?

However, the CHP report is not the ultimate decider of fault, the insurance company is. Luckily for us, both the other cars had the same insurance company (State Farm), which meant that as far as we were concerned, it didn’t matter which of the other two cars was at fault, as long as Phyllis wasn’t. Thankfully, the insurance company saw through the guy’s lies and gave him 40% of the fault. The car at the end got 60%, and we breathed a sigh of relief.

State Farm also totaled the car, but we wanted to get the car fixed. So they sent us a check for the value of the car ($7800) minus the salvage value (~$2300.) However, that was still enough to fix the car with money left over. In fact, the car now looks better than it did when we got it! So, as in the computer crash, this definitely had a silver lining.

May all your accidents turn out as well as this one did!

Benjamin and Hebrew High

  12-Dec-2011 (21:03)

On Veteran’s Day weekend Benjamin was invited to see “Blood Brothers” by his friend Samuel. He enjoyed the show very much, despite the fact that it is a tragedy, a genre that is not his first choice! He talked about that show for days afterwards. Our house guest series had come to an end, but that didn’t mean the end of visitors! Marc’s father came over on Saturday just to visit. Rhona and Reid and Jordan came over too, and we spent a very enjoyable afternoon just hanging out and talking. We need to do that more often!

On Sunday, Benjamin had his last soccer game of the season, since he would be out of town the following weekend, and would miss the playoffs. Fortunately, the game started at 7:50am (well it was *scheduled* to start at 7:50am anyways) so Benjamin was able to attend half of Hebrew High that day. Although I doubt Benjamin would have put the word “fortunately” in the preceding sentence! Benjamin does not enjoy Hebrew High nearly as well as I did when I attended over 30 years ago (am I that old? Maybe it was only 20 years ago!)

After being VERY disappointed by the Union Hebrew High program that Jonathan attended, I had high hopes for the LA Hebrew High program that Benjamin is attending. Unfortunately, LA Hebrew High has only been slightly better than Jonathan's program was. I would actually not recommend it to anyone who really wanted their kid to learn Hebrew.

I don’t get the impression that learning Hebrew is a priority. For one thing, although Hebrew is 3 hours and 45 minutes on Thursdays and 3½ hours on Sundays, for a total of over 7 hours a week, Benjamin only spends 2 hours and 15 minutes a week in Hebrew. The rest is a 1½ hour Torah class, a 45 minute history class, a 45 minute Rabbinics class, and a 45 minute dance class. All these classes are nice, but I’m paying for Benjamin to learn Hebrew, which he is not doing.

Some examples to illustrate my point. On November 10, I went to their Back-to-School night. The teacher passed out a syllabus that showed lesson plans for each week of the semester. At that point there had been 2 weeks in Sept, 4 in October, and one in November. I looked over the syllabus and asked. “How far have you actually gotten in this syllabus?” The answer was “October.” I came back with, “the beginning of October or the end of October?” (I mean, it’s a four week difference!) The answer was “the middle of October.” So they had covered half of the material that they should have covered. The teacher even stated that covering all the material wasn’t important. After the meeting with all the parents, I hung around and expressed my concern that it is difficult to learn Hebrew on 2 hours a week. I told her that I had been working with Benjamin on the way to school. She expressed surprise, and said that Benjamin was one of her better students. She discouraged me from working with Benjamin outside of class.

Last year Benjamin liked and respected one of his teachers. This year, he is not so lucky. He was telling me about his final for his Torah class. One of the questions was, “Is the following statement racist? ‘Illegal immigrants are good for America because they take jobs that Americans don’t want to do.’” I asked Benjamin what in the world this had to do with Torah, and he said that the teacher was trying to make the Torah relevant by drawing parallels between slavery and illegal immigration. Benjamin said that his Rabbinics teacher gave them “as little a final as he could get away with – he doesn’t believe in grades.”

Benjamin says that, this year, the best of his Hebrew High teachers have mediocre control over their classes and it goes downhill from there. His Hebrew teacher tries to control the kids for yelling at them for every little thing. She even yells at them for taking notes.

I asked Benjamin what a teacher needs to do to earn his respect. He replied with a story from the “Wheel of Time” series by Robert Jordan. This particular story was actually ghostwritten by Brandon Sanderson. The story goes like this: “There once was a man who lived in a house near a river. Beautiful flowers grew there, and the man loved the flowers. Then some people built a bridge over the river. People started walking through the flowers to get to the bridge, trampling the flowers and killing them. The man tried talking to people, putting up signs, fences, nothing worked. The field of flowers was turning into a field of mud. Then he got an inspiration. He built a path through the flowers. People started using the path and the flowers were saved.” Benjamin says that a good teacher can build paths to direct the students to a goal. A poor teacher gets nothing but trampled flowers.

My busy (and wonderful) life (part 8)

  28-Nov-2011 (22:32)

My busy (and wonderful) life (part 8)

The first weekend in November, Jude came to visit again, this time only for two nights. Friday afternoon, Marc picked him up from preschool. We had been warned that he had stopped taking naps, so I was prepared for a difficult, irrational child at bedtime, but this was not the case at all. When it was time for bed, we went upstairs, got into pajamas, etc., watched half an hour of cartoons, and turned out the lights. That was easy!

The next day, Erika and Elise came over and Elise played with Jude while Erika and I did Sisterhood stuff. Then lunch. After lunch, I bundled Jude up in both of his jackets, and off we went to Benjamin’s soccer game. It was pretty cold, so I wrapped my jacket around both me and Jude, and we kept each other warm. One nice thing about Jude not taking naps is that he was content just to sit on my lap and zone out watching the game. And again, that night when bedtime rolled around, putting him to bed was easy.

Sunday was the Sisterhood brunch. The plan was for Jude and me to come late, possibly missing much of the entertainment, because Rick would not be available to take Jude until Sunday school let out at 11am (Addie was at the brunch, of course.) However, after dropping Benjamin off at Hebrew High and going to the market, we came home to a message asking me to bring the name badges to the brunch. Well, the name badges needed to be there at the very beginning – in fact, right then! Fortunately, I had already gathered all of Jude’s stuff and put it in the car, so I only needed to take the name badges and go. Also fortunately, being that religious school was in session, there were lots of kids around to amuse Jude. So having him there was not really a problem at all.

Having Jude for the weekend was fun. Two days is a good length of time. And I got my big reward a few weeks later at the Chanuka boutique. Addie and Jude were there, and when Jude saw me he came over and gave me a hug. Addie remarked that I was one of very few adults that will evoke that reaction from him these days. That was a very good feeling!

My busy (and wonderful) life (part 7)

  23-Nov-2011 (23:04)

The following weekend, my friend Jeff came to visit. After work, I came home and picked up Marc. We went and picked up Benjamin from Robotics, and then we went to Burbank airport and picked up Jeff. We had dinner at a restaurant near the airport and then went to Santa Clarita because we had theater tickets to see “Dracula.” Dracula was well done, but it’s not exactly my favorite story.

Saturday we went to Benjamin’s soccer game at 11. Afterwards we met Kris at her house to carpool with her and Patrick to the UCLA-CAL football game. We got there around 2:30, and tailgated with some friends of hers. After eating some yummy hot dogs wrapped in bacon, we went looking for Mal, a friend of Jeff’s and mine from our Cal days. Despite having a text describing his location and calling him on his cell phone, it took us a long time to track him down. But we finally found him. We reminisced for a short time and then it was time for the game to start. We were excited when Cal jumped out to an early lead, but this was not to last. In the end UCLA crushed CAL, assisted by numerous turnovers. Ah well, you win some, you lose some. Mostly, as a CAL fan, you lose some.

Sunday, Jeff and I spent the day taking Benjamin to his various activities and just hanging out. We had dinner at Mom’s, and then it was time to take Jeff to the airport and say goodbye. It was a fun weekend, despite the game’s outcome. There was one other casualty that weekend, however. My computer caught a virus or something, and would not boot.

In the end, I took my computer to Fry’s and they solved the problem by reformatting my hard drive and reinstalling Vista. This was an annoying, if effective, way of solving the problem. It meant I had to reinstall all my software, and that I lost all changes since my last backup. So when was my last backup? A month and a half ago. Sigh. Mostly I lost a month and a half of email, some posts for ITYFAQ that I hadn’t put up yet, a spreadsheet I had been working on for Robotics, and a bunch of financial entries into Quicken and QuickBooks. Fortunately, I could reconstruct all of these, except the email, which was probably not that important anyway!

The reformat and reinstall had one positive side effect. Recently I bought a new video card so that I could have two monitors. After I installed the new card, I found that the picture displayed by my TV tuner card was unwatchable. I assumed that the problem was an incompatibility between the TV Tuner card and my new video card and since I didn’t think the TV Tuner drivers were supported by Vista, I had assumed that I would have to buy a new TV tuner card. But I had balked at the $40 price tag and hadn’t done it yet. But lo and behold, after the reformat and reinstall of Vista, and once all the drivers were reinstalled, not only did the TV tuner work, it worked better than it used to work! Hurray!

My busy (and wonderful) life (part 6)

  15-Nov-2011 (23:15)

The following weekend, we had no house guests. This weekend there was a Robotics Vex competition and we all went. One of the Reseda robots did very well, making it to the elimination round as one of the team captains. The other robot did not make it to the elimination round, but it was considered a success as well, as it did better than expected.

Sunday, Benjamin had a busy day with Hebrew High and a chorus performance at the Pierce Harvest Festival. We were amused that both of these were at Pierce College, and Benjamin could have walked from one to the other. I missed Benjamin’s performance because I was at the Hurdle Jumpers fundraiser with my mom and Joy and Gerry. The fundraiser was very nicely done – Kudus to Janet for all her hard work putting the fundraiser together! The day ended with a barbeque at Temple Aliyah celebrating the new Torah they had had written. They carried the Temple in a little parade of people from the Rabbi’s house (up the street from Mom and the Temple) playing instruments and singing, down to the Temple. They had a short ceremony thanking everyone’s hard work and then dinner. It was nice.

My busy (and wonderful) life (part 5)

  14-Nov-2011 (22:56)

Friday morning, I dropped Phyllis off at the Orange Line and went to work. After work, I picked up Benjamin from school and we went straight to the Temple (after a stop at Panda Express to pick up dinner.) Benjamin was helping in the Sukkah and I was setting up the oneg.

The Temple was expecting a huge turnout for services that night because the Leadership Training for the Southern California division of NFTY (The National Federation of Temple Youth) was being held at our Temple that weekend with about 200 high school students participating. Temple members had been asked to host the kids.

Initially, we weren't going to host anyone, because we had a busy weekend, but they seemed short on hosts, so we had said that we would take as many kids as would fit in our van (6). The host families were responsible for transportation to and from the Temple, and I didn't want to have to make two trips. But I didn’t take into consideration that, Friday night, Benjamin would be at the Temple and would also need a ride home.

On the other hand, because I had come to the Temple straight from work, I didn’t have the van either! So Marc came and left the van and took Benjamin home, and it all worked out.

I had planned to have three kids sleep in Jonathan’s room and three kids sleep in the playroom, but the kids wanted to all sleep together, so they asked if they could just all crash in the living room, which we said was fine. Saturday morning, I dropped them off at the Temple at 9 and came home. There was a guitar minyon that morning, but I hadn’t planned on going because I had an AAUW meeting that I needed to attend at 11:30. But then I realized that I needed to talk to several people, all of whom were at the Temple, so I went. As it turned out, I was the 10th person at the guitar minyon, so I was glad I went. I just left early to go to the AAUW meeting.

Benjamin had a soccer game at 5 that evening and we had invited Harriet and Joe for dinner in our sukkah afterwards. As it turned out, Joe was sick, so I called Harriet and offered to pick her up on our way home from the soccer game. Normally this would not have been the optimal solution, as it would have required me to drop her off at her house when we done. However, Harriet lives a couple of blocks from the Temple and I needed to go to the Temple to transport kids to our house, so it all worked out perfectly.

When I brought the kids back to the house at 11pm, they asked if they could go swimming. Marc and I looked at each other and said, "sure!" We knew what would happen next! Sure enough, sticking one toe into the cold pool convinced them that swimming would NOT be fun! Sunday morning, I dropped the kids off at the Temple one last time. The limited contact I had with the kids impressed me with how nice they all were. One of the kids particularly reminded me of Benjamin. This was the one who left his suit behind at our house! Fortunately, he realized it before the weekend was over and Marc brought it to the Temple when he was running an errand.

When all was said and done, I was glad that we had overcome our initial reticence and had offered to host the NFTY kids. They were nice kids and did not interfere with our weekend in the slightest. Many of them will be the next generation of Jewish leaders, and I am optomistic that they will be good ones.

My busy (and wonderful) life (part 4)

  27-Oct-2011 (07:07)

October 10, my friend Phyllis came in to visit from Colorado. I left work at 2pm to run some errands and pick her up at LAX. The errands took less time than I expected, and I arrived at LAX almost an hour early. I called Marc to find out when her plane was going to arrive (some people have smart phones, I have a husband at home) and he said that, actually, her plane had just landed. Cool! It was doubly cool, because then we were able to go home via Benjamin’s school and save Marc the trip to pick him up. If the plane had arrived on time, we would have arrived back in the Valley too late to pick up Benjamin.

Phyllis and I started the next day by walking to Ralphs and buying food for breakfast. Then we went to IKEA. We walked around and talked and looked at the stuff and talked and had Swedish meatballs for lunch and talked some more. Then we picked up Benjamin from school and came home and talked some more. Great day!

On Wednesday, we walked to Whole Foods (do you see a theme here? I have a much easier time convincing myself to exercise if there is food involved!) After breakfast, Phyllis had to make some phone calls, so I called my friend Dan, whom I don’t get to talk to much, because our schedules don’t match. We talked for hours – it was wonderful! Phyllis and I went to a crepe place in Thousand Oaks for lunch and had excellent crepes and gelato. In the evening, Phyllis borrowed our Honda to go visit a friend in Thousand Oaks. Unfortunately, as she was getting off the freeway, she was rear-ended. Fortunately, all the people involved were OK, and the car is still drivable, if a little shorter than it was before.

The next day we took the Prius in for a much overdue tune-up and walked to the mall. We got there at 9:15, and the stores were closed, so we just walked the mall until the stores opened at 10. We did some shopping and I bought some sweaters. We tried on Vibram FiveFingers shoes, but were not impressed. That night, a friend of Phyllis’ came over and the four of us (Curt, Phyllis, Marc, and me) all went to downtown LA for their monthly art walk. We found it to be loud, and the art was not to our taste. Oh well!

Friday, Phyllis had to leave and our visit came to an end. (Awwww! Come back soon Phyllis!) Boy it was fun!

My busy (and wonderful) life (part 3)

  23-Oct-2011 (20:10)

My busy (and wonderful) life (part 3)

The ten days after Rosh Hashona seemed to fly by, and before I knew it, Yom Kippur had arrived. Again, there were regular services on Friday evening and alternative services Saturday morning. Very similar to Rosh Hashona (except no going out for lunch after services!) I liked Rabbi Lutz’s sermon Friday night and his discussion of “refrigerator rights relationships.” At the alternative services, I read Torah, which I like doing (partly because of all the compliments I get!) For break-the-fast, we went to Blanche’s house. The Steinfelds (and Walter, of course) were there, and Carol, Rhonda, and my mom joined us too. Boy, I love family get-togethers!

On Sunday, I had several errands at the Temple. One was to see if I could get some of their leftovers from the Temple’s sukkah for my sukkah. But two blocks from my house, I encountered a tree trimmer who had just finished trimming a palm tree in front of my neighbor’s house. I asked if I could have some of the branches he had cut off. Sure! It took two trips to bring them all home, but I ended up with 9 ten-foot branches. So I didn’t need any of the Temple’s leftovers! Which was good, because when I arrived at the Temple, I think the Temple had cleaned up all their leftovers already. Someone seems to like me!

Jonathan built a sukkah too, with Hillel, on the Rice campus (see picture.)

My busy (and wonderful) life (part 2)

  21-Oct-2011 (21:21)

On October 1st, we went to see “The Gondoliers” put on by the Ventura County Gilbert and Sullivan Repertory Company. Another outstanding performance by the VCGSRC! If you are a Gilbert and Sullivan fan (and even if you are not!) this group is not to be missed! Rumor has it that VCGSRC will be doing “Utopia, Limited” in the spring.

A few days later I went to a WISE Reception at CSUN to hear Dr. Bonnie Dunbar speak. She is a former NASA astronaut and is currently President & CEO of the Museum of Flight in Seattle, WA. She spoke on the shortage of scientists and engineers in America in general and the shortage of women in these fields in particular. I was impressed with her presentation, and wished more people could have heard her speak.

The next night was my quilting group, which is always full of stories and camaraderie. The day after that was the Sisterhood board meeting. I was signed up to do the Dvar Torah, and for that, I read my 10/2 blog post about the importance of community. It seemed to resonate with several board members and I got lots of compliments on it.

My busy (and wonderful) life (part 1)

  20-Oct-2011 (22:13)

When I used to send out newsletters, each newsletter was intimidatingly long. When I started blogging last December, my hope was that I would write more often, and each post would be a more reasonable length. For the most part, this has been true. At the beginning of October, I was blogging about things that interested me, more than about what I was doing. When I decided to write down what I’ve been doing lately, it ran to four pages(!) Consequently, the theme of the next half dozen posts will be “my busy (and wonderful) life.”

The fun started even before October began, with Rosh Hashona. There were regular services on Wednesday night and alternative services on Thursday. Boy, I do like the alternative services! After services on Thursday, the Arana/Bauers, Hoffmans, Krauszes, Luperts, Sklars, and Zevs all went to Abe’s for lunch. It was great just to hang out with everyone and catch up on what is going on in everyone’s life. We got home and had an hour or so before we went over to my Mom’s for dinner. In addition to the Schusters, the Picuses, Picus/Pasternaks, Blanche, Walter, Rhonda, Debe and Jen were there. So we spent the evening hanging out with everyone and catching up on what is going on in everyone’s life. What a wonderful day!

The next night, we went to see "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” at CSUN with the Segals. It was nicely done, although I did like how Benjamin portrayed the character Leaf Coneybear (in a student performance a year ago) better than the CSUN student’s portrayal. The CSUN student’s portrayal was more erratic, while Benjamin’s was more “Pooh Bear-ish.” Daniel signed up for a walk-on part, and I was impressed at his willingness to participate - that took guts! Good for you, Daniel!

‘Blog like no one is reading it.’

  11-Oct-2011 (22:42)

Whenever I blog, I post a message on Facebook saying that there is a new entry on my blog. The Facebook message for my last post was “When you blog for yourself (rather than for a newspaper or something) you can put down your thoughts even when you think nobody would be interested.”

Marc read this and said, “This could be a new line for that ‘Dance like no one is watching’ poem. The new line would be ‘Blog like no one is reading it.’” Intrigued, I decided to look up the entire poem. So I googled “Dance like no one is watching” and found no less than 6 poems, all attributed to different authors, containing this line. All were very similar, but none were exactly the same. Sometimes the only difference was the order of the lines. The poems were attributed to William W. Purkey, Crystal Boyd, Satchel Paige, Mark Twain, Alfred Souza and last but not least “an old Irish proverb.” Who originally wrote or said it? God only knows.

My favorite (because it has meter and almost rhymes) is the one attributed to William W. Purkey

“You've gotta dance like there's nobody watching,
Love like you'll never be hurt,
Sing like there's nobody listening,
And live like it's heaven on earth.”

Some of the other poems included the lines “Live like there's no tomorrow,” “Live life every day as if it were your last” or “Work like you don't need the money”

One thing about the internet – it’s very useful for providing possible answers to your questions. However, it’s important to remember that that is exactly what they are – *possible* answers.

While my new line (Blog like no one is reading it) fits into the poem thematically, in terms of meter and rhyme, it fails. Maybe if I sleep on it, I’ll come up with something that fits better. Suggestions cheerfully accepted!

Storing health

  9-Oct-2011 (22:58)

When I was attending Cal, the best part of chem lab was that the classroom was on top of a hill, and on Thursday afternoons, after 4 hours of lab, I would burst out of the building and run all the way down the hill. And it was a loooong way.

I have a lousy memory, but I vividly remember the exhilaration of running down that hill – a combination of happiness at being released from 4 hours of concentration on a subject that was not my best, and a physical rush from having a healthy 19 year old body.

I walk and jog regularly, despite disliking it immensely. This morning, I went jogging, and for the first time in months, the day was cool. I took advantage of the cool weather to push myself a little more than I usually do and running down the hill on my route, for the first time in many, many years, I got that same rush.

It made me think of a series I read (Mistborn, by Brandon Sanderson) where some people could store up physical capabilities – strength, mental ability, wakefulness, health, etc. in metals. Then they could tap those capabilities later on when they needed them. “This is why I exercise,” I thought. “I’m trying to store up health, so that I can tap it later on.”

I firmly believe that your ability to recover from illness and adversity is partly a function of how healthy you are going into it. And so, I exercise regularly, because I want my health stores to be high the next time I get blindsided by illness or accident. I hope it will be a long time before I have to tap these stores!

Yom Kippur shoes

  8-Oct-2011 (21:31)

Today was Yom Kippur. I went to Temple wearing a white dress and tennis shoes. Normally, I would NEVER wear tennis shoes with ANY dress, and it took me a lot of years to convince myself that it was OK, even preferred, to wear tennis shoes on Yom Kippur. Why do we wear tennis shoes on Yom Kippur? Because on this day, we don’t wear leather. But upon returning from Temple, I asked myself, “Why *don’t* we wear leather on Yom Kippur?”

The prohibition of leather on Yom Kippur stems from the Biblical commandment to “afflict” ourselves on this holiest day. The rabbis determined that "affliction" means that we are to deny ourselves of certain luxuries, and among them is wearing leather footgear. Wearing leather was considered a comfort until recent years when it became possible to manufacture comfortable shoes of other materials.

As a consequence, Yom Kippur is the only day of the year when I eschew my patently uncomfortable leather high heeled shoes and wear my exceptionally comfortable tennis shoes to services.

This reminds me of the mom who always cuts the pot roast in half before cooking it. She does it because her mother did it. Her mother did it because her mother did it. Why did her mother do it? Because she didn’t have a pot big enough to hold a whole pot roast. We often do things one way because we’ve always done them that way without thinking about the underlying reason. In the case of the pot roast, the original reason doesn’t apply any more, but the mom continued to cut the pot roast in half. In the case of Yom Kippur shoes, the reason still applies, but the thing we are doing is now antithetical to this reason.

But I think there IS a reason to wear tennis shoes aside from the “afflict yourself” commandment. It makes a statement to others. It says, “This day is not just any day to dress nice and go to Temple. This day is special. On this day I do things differently. I fast. I wear white. I wear tennis shoes.”

So what will I do next year? Probably, I’ll wear tennis shoes. This choice says that making the statement that Yom Kippur is special is more important to me than following the biblical commandment to afflict yourself. The commandment clearly carries some weight with me, because I *am* fasting. Although, to be honest, following the commandment is the least of the reasons that I fast on Yom Kippur. Maybe I will do a blog entry on why I fast (but not now.)

I’m curious about what my observant friends would say about wearing comfortable non-leather shoes vs. wearing uncomfortable leather ones. Does the dictum of the ancient rabbis overrule the principle that underlies it? I will have to find out!

Found money

  3-Oct-2011 (20:32)

I had some fun tonight. I went to the CA State Controller's website for unclaimed property and started typing in names of my various friends and relatives. To my surprise, a pretty high percentage of the names I typed in got hits! So each time I got a hit, I fired off an email letting the person know. I must have fired off almost a dozen emails before I got tired of the game. None of the amounts were very big - only three people had amounts over $100, and the largest was $300. Marc took the prize for the smallest amount - $0.25 - not even worth the price of the stamp to mail in the paperwork!

Providing community

  2-Oct-2011 (23:52)

On Rosh HaShonah, we came into the synagogue, and I greeted friend after friend. I looked around at all the people I know and thought, “This is why I wanted my kids to get a Jewish education even though I don’t believe in God. Judaism provides an identity and a community and I think that that is important.

Then I reflected that it was interesting that two separate things I had read recently both mentioned the importance of identity and community. One was an article by Jonathan Haidt called “What makes people vote Republican?” In this article, Haidt says, “morality is not just about how we treat each other …; it is also about binding groups together, supporting essential institutions, and living in a sanctified and noble way.” This is what religion is all about and why the Republican message resonates so strongly with so many voters.

I also recently read “Teach with your heart” by Erin Gruwell. This is the true story of a first year English teacher at Wilson High School in Long Beach. In 1994, Gruwell is given five classes of “at risk” freshman English students, students considered unteachable (“at risk” means “at risk of dropping out.”) These students bonded, and dubbed themselves the “Freedom Writers.” Gruwell teaches these students for all four years of High school, and, in the end, all 150 Freedom Writers graduated. One of many memorable things Gruwell says in her book is “It all made sense to me: my sorority, Chris’s platoon, Maria’s gang – we all wanted to belong to something.” One of the reasons Gruwell was so successful with these kids is that she provided the community that they so desperately craved.

I belong to my Temple for the same reason that inner city kids belong to a gang. They both provide a place to belong, a community. My Temple isn’t the only place I’ve looked for community – but it’s my favorite. I think that many people don’t recognize how important community is. Could it be that if inner city schools tried to provide a community as well as an education, then the need for gangs would diminish? Indeed, I think that schools are moving in this direction, by moving towards smaller schools and by creating multiple “learning communities” within schools. But “providing a community” isn’t all that easy – all the elements that will create a community for one person will not necessarily resonate with another. For example, while I found a community in my Temple, none of the other members of my family have (although my kids have developed a reasonably strong Jewish identity, so perhaps they will find one in another Temple.)

One of the reasons that I love Rice and I am thrilled that Jonathan is going there, and (I believe) one of the reasons that Rice students were rated the happiest (by the Princeton Review) is that Rice makes a concerted effort to create a community, to encourage participation in extra-curricular activities, to stimulate friendships and to make the students feel like they belong.

I feel like the need for community is powerful, but is rarely explicitly discussed. Perhaps this is because, while it is obvious how to meet someone’s need for food or a place to sleep, meeting the need for friendships is much harder. But as I say to my kids, “just because something’s hard, doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing.” We need to come up with better ways in society to meet this need, and to make everyone feel like they have a place to belong.

Pippen's sleepover

  25-Sep-2011 (10:35)

Pippen

Pippen turned 7 the other day and celebrated with a sleepover. The two dogs had a good time together. We did have a small problem feeding them. Pippen is on special food (which is somewhat expensive) to help with his skin problems. But when I set down the two food dishes, Bon-bon wanted to eat Pippen's food and Pippen wanted to eat Bon-bon's food. So I put the dogs in different rooms so that they would only eat their own food. So, of course, neither dog would eat. Hmmm. I don't want to keep them locked in a room until both have eaten, so what do I do? Then I hit upon the perfect solution. I mixed the two dishes together, then split them in half, and gave each dog a mixture of the two foods. They each proceeded to gobble up their breakfast. Problem solved!

Virgin Mobile

  23-Sep-2011 (22:42)

In my family, each of us has a Virgin Mobile phone. Benjamin, Jonathan and I each have pay per minute plans. For reasons I don’t know, Jonathan and I both have 18¢/minute plans, but Benjamin’s is 25¢/minute. I don’t really care that Benjamin has to pay more per minute than Jonathan or I, since Benjamin typically uses less than 10 minutes each month.

Recently I logged into the Jonathan’s account to make sure that he had enough money on his phone. I noticed that in the two month period I could see, he had 17 charges for “XTRAS.” So I called Virgin to ask what “XTRAS” were. First I had to get past their annoying computerized system. “Hi! This is Alex, your annoying virtual advisor at Virgin Mobile! Just say, “Top up”, “Start up service”, “Check Balance”, “Change my service”, “Troubleshooting”, “Buy a minute pack”, or for answers to frequently asked questions say “Ask a question.” I said “Representative” and Mr. Annoying Virtual Advisor said, “So that I can get your call to the right live advisor say, “Top up”, “Start up service”, “Check Balance”, “Change my service”, “Troubleshooting”, “Buy a minute pack”, or for answers to frequently asked questions say “Ask a question.” I waded around in computer phone hell for a bit before I figured out how to get a live advisor on the line.

When I reached the live advisor, I explained that I wanted to know what the “XTRAS” that I was being charged for were. He pertly replied that they were downloaded ringtones or games. Well that didn’t sound like Jonathan, but I wasn’t going to argue with the man without checking it out first. So I got off the phone and shot Jonathan an email asking him. He replied saying that he had never downloaded any ring tones or games.

So I called Virgin Mobile back and waded through their computerized answering system again. When I finally got to the live advisor, she checked his account and informed me that the “XTRAS” were pictures. OK, pictures are fine. So I sent another message to Jonathan telling him that “XTRAS” were pictures. “Hmm...” he replied, “Do you know how I could view these pictures?”

I got out my phone (which I have used to take 2 pictures, but have never tried to get my hands on the pictures) and figured out that Virgin Mobile used to have a website to which you could upload pictures from your phone. However, a month ago they got rid of the website. But they haven’t changed any of the documentation on the website that tells you to use it, so it’s pretty confusing. You can send the picture to an email address and I did that with my two pictures and posted one of them on ITYFAQ. I sent all this information to Jonathan, who replied, “I must remind you that my phone can't take pictures. It doesn't have any picture options.”

Oh. Right. So I called Virgin Mobile back yet a third time and waded through their computerized answering system one more time. When I reached the live advisor, I asked how Jonathan could be charged for pictures when his camera can’t take pictures. She replied that these were pictures he had received, not sent. I said that they either needed to give him a way of viewing the pictures he received or they needed to remove the charges, because charging him for pictures that other people have sent to him that he can’t view was quite unreasonable!

Since she could not give me a way to view the pictures, she reversed the charges. Then I had her block picture phone messages to his phone (and to Benjamin’s, as long as she was on the line.) When they get a camera phone, they can unblock the picture messages if they want.

You would think that it would occur to Virgin that maybe they should automatically block picture messages to phones that can’t view them. On the other hand, I’m sure many people never check their accounts and just pay the charges without realizing they’ve been charged. The money they make from these people probably far outweighs the ire of those who do check, so it makes good business sense not to automatically block picture messages. And in a decade, you won’t be able to buy a phone without a camera, so it won’t be an issue anymore.

At least all the advisors I reached spoke excellent English, which is more than I can say of the technical support I received from Quicken! But that’s a story for another day...

My brilliant son

  15-Sep-2011 (21:58)

My brilliant son

Today we noticed that when Benjamin does really well on a test in Algebra, his grade drops.

Huh? Well, going into the test that was posted yesterday, Benjamin had 105% (due to 5 extra credit points.) Then he got 100% on the Unit 1 assessment test and his grade dropped to 103.1%.

Benjamin reports that this may happen in Humanities as well, as he scored 83 out of 79 on the first test…



Ending a sentence with a preposition

  12-Sep-2011 (18:06)

Call me old school, but I still think you should not end a sentence with a preposition. I know that if you Google "end a sentence with a preposition" you will find dozens of websites stating authoritatively that "its not really a rule at all" or "its no longer considered a crime ... to end a sentence with a preposition." However, I'm of the opinion that when a sentence ends in a preposition, there's usually a clearer way to state the same thing without the preposition at the end.

Case in point: today I wrote the sentence "I came up with a list of all the potential supplies I could think of from which you could just delete the ones you don't buy." Even though the sentence does not end in a proposition, it's still an example of the kind of wording prohibited by the rule. So I tried to fix it. I deemed my first attempt ("I came up with a list of all the potential supplies of which I could think from which you could just delete the ones you don't buy.") an outright failure. But after reflecting, I realized that the "I could think of" was completely superfluous and I deleted it, resulting in "I came up with a list of potential supplies from which you could just delete the ones you don't buy." So the "don't end a sentence with a preposition" rule helped produce a better, less wordy sentence.

In general, I find that applying the preposition rule improves my writing, which is why I think we should not be so quick to discard it. I do agree that it is a rule, not a law, and there are cases when ending a sentence with a preposition is fine. I certainly don't think that automatically rewriting the sentence using "with which" is always the right answer. Winston Churchill's famous quote ("This is the sort of bloody nonsense up with which I will not put.") being a case in point! Sometime the entire sentence has to be rewritten to avoid the preposition at the end, and doing this can be difficult. But, as I often say to my children, "Just because something's hard, doesn't mean it's not worth doing!"

A marketing excess

  10-Sep-2011 (21:56)

A marketing excess

The other day, I ran out of hydrocortisone cream and went to buy a new tube. Imagine my surprise when I opened the box and found that the new 1oz tube was 20% longer than the old 1 oz tube! When I examined the two tubes I discovered that the larger tube says that it contains 28g while the smaller tube says it has 28.4g.

"Well", I thought, "maybe the longer tube has a smaller diameter." It might. The crimp on the end IS about 1/8 inch bigger in the shorter tube. But if diameter explains the difference in length, why does the longer tube feel so squishy, as if it were filled with air?

One final note. The shorter tube was bought at RiteAid for something about $4, I think. The longer tube was bought at the 99cent store, for $1. So all marketing aside, the longer tube is by far the better deal!

On the same theme...

  6-Sep-2011 (07:03)

Waiting dogs watching
The closed door so patiently
Wishing it open

Keteks

  4-Sep-2011 (17:29)

Keteks

At dinner, Benjamin told us of a new poetry form invented by Brandon Sanderson called a “ketek.” In a ketek, the poem reads the same forward and backward (allowing for changes in verb form), and is also divisible into five sections, each of which also expresses a complete thought. The complete poem must form a sentence that is grammatically correct and (theoretically) poignant in meaning. The Way of Kings describes the ketek as "a complex form of holy Vorin poem." It also says, "Because of the difficulty in constructing a ketek, the structure was once considered the highest and most impressive form of all Vorin poetry." (This is a challenge, right?)

Two examples are provided in the book:

“Above silence,
the illuminating storms
—dying
storms— illuminate
the silence above.”

“Radiant
of birthplace
the announcer comes
to come announce
the birthplace of Radiants.”

So I wrote one, but it needed context to make sense. So despite the fact that Benjamin doesn’t like it as a ketek (because it’s not particularly poignant) he wrote a story around the poem, to provide the context. Here is the result:

I ran through the storm with my friends. I haven't realized the storm would start, so I had not taken necessary precautions. It was cold, and I had been in the storm with my dog friends for awhile. We were all cold and hungry and desperately needing a rest. After what seemed like hours of searching, we found an abandoned house. I desperately knocked on the door. The dogs barked frantically, but none of us got the owner’s attention, apparently, for the doors would not open. The house was big and foreboding. Suddenly, I recognized the house. It was the house of the wishing dogs. They would answer any wish they felt was worth being answered. "Open door, the wishing dogs--waiting dogs wish the door open!" I cried. The giant foreboding doors slowly opened. My waiting friends and I staggered into the room and I collapsed on a nearby couch.

We do good work together, n’est pas?

Learning to read

  3-Sep-2011 (13:40)

Learning to read

One of my favorite stories about my kids is the one about how they learned to read. Jonathan was taught phonics. He learned the rules, and he would follow them to sound out the words. “Cuh Aah Tuh – Cu-aa-t – Cat!” Then the next time he got to the word it would be “Cuh Aah Tuh” all over again. After he had sounded it out dozens of times, he got to the point where he recognized it, and didn’t have to sound it out. Watching him go from a non-reader to a reader was a lot of fun.

Four years later, it was Benjamin’s turn. I figured it would be just like Jonathan – after all, Jonathan’s experience is exactly how kids are *supposed* to learn to read, right? Oh, no! With Benjamin, when he hit a word he didn’t recognize and we said, “Sound it out,” his response was, “Forget this ‘sounding out’ garbage. Just tell me what the word is, and I’ll remember it!” He didn’t use those words of course, but that was his attitude. And we would tell him and he would remember it.

I clearly remember my amazement that the two kids learned to read using completely different techniques. Both went to the same school and both learned phonics, but Jonathan was a phonics kid, and Benjamin was a whole-word reader. It really brought home the truth that teachers shouldn’t use just one approach to teaching concepts. Some kids will learn better with one approach and some will learn better with another. To use only one method leaves all the kids who respond better to the other approach struggling.

I recognize that it’s hard to come up with these varied approaches and to incorporate them all into your teaching. But as I say to my kids, “just because something’s hard, doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing!” I really think it’s the responsibility of researchers for a particular subject to come up with the varied approaches for that subject and then make these approaches available to educators. Then it’s the teacher’s responsibility to be flexible and incorporate multiple presentations of the curriculum in their classrooms and in the homework.

The internet provides an unprecedented opportunity to provide multiple alternative approaches to students who are not responding to the particular method being used by the teacher. Suppose for a particular topic, the teacher explains the technique and gives the students problems to do. Some of the students aren’t “getting it” because they are more visual – all these words the teacher says go right over their heads. But if a video was available on the internet, the teacher could have those students who respond better to a visual approach watch the video at home, rather than taking classroom time to present the video.

I think we have barely scratched the surface of what computers and the internet can do to assist education. Hopefully, by the time my kids have kids, the full potential of what could be done with computers and the internet will become a reality and we will come closer to realizing the full potential of each and every kid.

Missing Jonathan?

  27-Aug-2011 (00:40)

Missing Jonathan?

Before Jonathan went off to college, I wondered how much I would miss him and when I would notice he was gone. I figured I would find out soon enough and didn’t stress over it. I read my friends’ posts on Facebook and felt like the cartoon applied to most of them way more than it applied to me. (For those who can't read the captions, the left panel says "First day of school" and the right panel says "First day of college.") But before something actually happens to you, you never know for sure how you are going to feel.

I made it through dropping him off at Rice without feeling much angst. Perhaps because the trip and spending time with my Houston cousins was so much fun, that it kept me from focusing on why I was there.

Back at home, Benjamin started school and we fell into a regular routine. I didn’t miss waking up to Jonathan’s piano practicing because Benjamin took over his time slot (and his seat at the dinner table for that matter.) And for two weeks, Benjamin’s school issues has kept our focus on him.

I did notice that for the first week after Jonathan was gone, I said “Jonathan” when I meant “Benjamin” half a dozen times for the first time in years. Marc was delighted and teased me about it, saying that it showed that I was missing Jonathan more than I thought I was. Maybe.

Tonight was the first Friday night that we had dinner together since Jonathan went off to college (last week I went to see Circ du Soleil with my Mom.) Most Fridays, we get two Kiddush challahs and do Shabbat as a family. Ever since Benjamin was little, we’ve lit 4 candles, one for each member of the family. And for quite a few years now, we have bought one poppy seed challah (because Benjamin likes poppy seed and sesame seed best) and one chocolate chip challah (because Jonathan and I prefer chocolate chip.)

We still lit 4 candles, because there are still 4 of us in the family, even if one is in Houston. And we still got 2 challahs, (one sesame seed and one chocolate chip.) So Shabbat didn't seem much different than before.

We did the blessing over the candles and the blessing over the wine, and then we got to the blessing over the challah. Lately, the boys have been doing what I call “challah wars.” Benjamin would start on the preamble to the blessing, “Hamozti lechem min ha’aretz. We give thanks to god for bread.” Jonathan, on the other hand, would launch directly into the blessing itself. Sometimes one kid would win, sometimes the other, usually depending on which one started first. Tonight of course, Benjamin started the preamble. Marc made a feeble attempt to go directly into the blessing, but it was clear that, without Jonathan here, there will be no challah wars. And that made me miss Jonathan!

Skunk 1, Pippen 0

  22-Aug-2011 (22:57)

Skunk 1, Pippen 0

Well! We had an *interesting* time last night! I was talking on the phone in the office and the dog growls and then runs outside barking. He often runs outside and barks, but this was the first time I had ever heard him growl in the office first. Then he runs back inside, and we smelled something, well, *interesting*! Marc thought the dog was on fire and went outside to see what was going on out there. I figured out that the smell was skunk. But, by the time I got off the phone and grabbed the dog, he had already rubbed his face all over the carpeting in the living room and in the office. I locked the dog in the bathroom for the moment and went outside. Marc confirmed that it was a skunk – near the compost bin, but it was gone. Now, what to do about the dog? We had no tomato juice, but I pulled a good substitute off the internet. Hopefully you will never need it, but just in case!

     Mix one quart of fresh hydrogen peroxide,
     1/4 cup of baking soda and
     one teaspoon of liquid soap.
     Wash with the mixture while it's still bubbling.

Thank goodness we had hydrogen peroxide! In fact, the only reason I *knew* we had hydrogen peroxide was that Jonathan had given it back to me (it was in his bathroom) when he was packing/cleaning up before leaving for Houston. So thank you Jonathan for that!

Despite the hydrogen peroxide not being particularly fresh, the solution worked pretty well on the *dog*, but I was unwilling to use hydrogen peroxide on the carpeting, because I thought it would bleach the carpeting. Today, a friend said that it would have been fine. Oh well, the carpeting needed to be cleaned anyway!

I was pretty happy for two things. The dog hadn’t gone upstairs, so I expected the bedroom to be odor-free, and I have a pretty poor sense of smell, so the downstairs was annoying but not unbearable. I finished what I needed to do and went to bed early. However the bedroom was *not* odor free, since the bedroom window overlooks the backyard where the spraying occurs. So I had to be content with being happy that I have a poor sense of smell!

Today, we sent the dog to the groomers for a thorough bath and hired a carpet cleaner who specifically says they can deodorize skunk from your carpet. The showed up 45 minutes before the appointment, which normally would make me happy, but not this time, because we hadn’t finished emptying the office. Then, the guy said that he could not guarantee that he would get rid of the smell. The website had a coupon for $99 for 5 rooms and a hallway. We expected it to be more because of the deodorizing. So, what was the quote? $460. What?!!! So we eliminated the dining room and the long staircase, which the dog had not rubbed against, but we were going to do because, well, heck, the guy was here and they could probably using a cleaning. That brought the price down to $300, which was only 50% more than I thought we should have paid. So we gritted our teeth and said, “go ahead.”

So he starts to clean the carpet without vacuuming first. What?! Why aren’t you vacuuming? He explains that vacuuming will push the smell into the carpet. Are you nuts? Are you saying that you are not going to do a thorough steam cleaning that will lift all the dirt and chemicals out of the carpeting? I was fuming. I insisted that they at least vacuum the office, which does not get vacuumed very often, because the carpeting is usually somewhat hard to find, being covered with stuff. They started cleaning and I went back to work, figuring that that would help lower my blood pressure.

One bright spot. I have been coveting a netbook for months, and just Sunday I used my birthday money and bought myself one (Thanks, Blanche!) So when we couldn’t use the office until the carpeting dried, Marc took the netbook into the bedroom and spent the afternoon using it.

I came home from work to find clean carpets and a clean dog and did not smell skunk. But with my nose, I wasn’t confident that the smell was gone. However, Benjamin had a piano lesson tonight, and the piano teacher did not smell skunk either, so the carpets are now officially clean. And Marc bought more hydrogen peroxide and more baking soda, just in case the skunk comes back. At work, friends wanted to know whether the dog would avoid the skunk the next time. Hah! I wouldn’t bet on it!

All in all, I count myself lucky. A coworker has a friend whose dog ate a bowl of grapes, which are poisonous to dogs, and spent over $1000 making sure the dog didn’t die from that. I spent less than $400 and got clean carpets and a clean dog as a bonus!

Reseda High School - Benjamin's first week

  21-Aug-2011 (15:23)

Reseda High School - Benjamin

Reseda is on a block schedule, which means that all the classes are about 2 hours long. On odd days, the kids attend periods 1, 3, and 5, and on even days, they go to 2, 4 and 6. So on the first day of class, Benjamin only had 3 classes: Honors Algebra 2a, Biology, and Advanced Orchestra.

Benjamin came home from his first day and reported that in Math they had been learning all about whole numbers, integers and rational numbers, something he had learned in elementary school. During orientation, he had learned that his math teacher was out on paternity leave, and he would have a long term sub for three weeks, which may account for why the teacher seemed somewhat disorganized or not prepared. During orientation, the sub had said that the first semester of algebra 2 was all review of algebra 1. Still, Benjamin was dismayed by the rudimentary level of the day’s lesson.

Benjamin liked his Biology teacher and the kids in that class, but advanced orchestra was a disaster. They had combined the advanced orchestra class with beginning instruments, (can you say “budget cuts”?) and the teacher spent the lesson teaching everyone what a music staff is. He didn’t do any differentiation at all, worse yet, he required every student to take notes on material that my son has known since he started receiving music lessons nine years ago.

Marc sent off an email expressing our dismay at the math and orchestra classes to the Magnet coordinator, and asking the procedure for changing electives.

On Tuesday, Benjamin had Humanities, English and Jr. ROTC (which he is taking instead of PE.) He likes the humanities teacher. English was consumed by a presentation of a written Korean language so any evaluation of the class would have to wait. ROTC looks to be a fine way of avoiding PE.

Tuesday and Wednesday, Benjamin talked to the magnet office about his classes. They were pushing him towards marching band, (they could use a clarinet player!) but he was concerned about the time commitment. Marching band is rarely just a 6th period thing! In the evenings, we would discuss what had happened that day and I would ask questions like “what about taking a shop class, like wood shop or electrical shop” and Benjamin would say, “I don’t know, they didn’t suggest that.” On Wednesday, Marc sent another email saying he was willing to come in. The magnet coordinator replied, suggesting that Marc come in before school on Thursday, but of course, he didn’t get the response until after school had started. He called and they said to come in at 9:30, which he did.

They said they have no shop classes – the school only has classes that lead to college, and apparently shop doesn’t. They were still focused on replacing orchestra with a music class until Marc pointed out that this wasn’t a priority, as Benjamin is taking private music lessons and doesn’t need to get music from school. At this point, they suggested a drawing class, which Benjamin was amenable to taking.

Then Marc brought up the math class, asking whether Benjamin could avoid doing a semester of review of concepts he knows well. The magnet coordinator arranged to have Benjamin tested by the Honors Math Analysis teacher, and she reported that she thought Benjamin could be changed from the Honors Algebra 2a class into Honors Math Analysis.

At dinner Thursday night, I was brought up to speed on all that had occurred that day, and I was extremely concerned about the decision to change Benjamin’s Math class. I raised a number of questions, like “Does this mean he will not be taking either Algebra 2a or Algebra 2b, or will he still take Algebra 2b?” and “How will he learn the material in Algebra 2b that is not review of Algebra 1?” and “What will he do when he runs out of math in high school?” The answer to the last question was presumably “take a college math class” but I wasn’t happy with that answer either – what if there wasn’t a college math class available that fit Benjamin’s high school schedule?

I wanted a better feel for what is covered in Algebra 2b, and Marc suggested calling a friend that teaches Math at Van Nuys High School. This was very useful. Brad confirmed what the substitute had said, that Algebra 2a is basically a recap of Algebra 1, making sure that the kids have the concepts down before moving on to more advanced material that depends on a good understanding of these concepts. However, he also added that the Honors Algebra 2 class covers more material than the Algebra 2 class, and thus the review time is shorter. He thought that a student who did have a good grasp of the Algebra 1 concepts could easily skip Algebra 2a, but he didn’t think skipping Algebra 2b was such a good idea. He suggested looking up the California state standards on the internet so we would know exactly what is taught in the various math classes. We did this and learned that by skipping Algebra 2b, Benjamin would have to pick up the concepts of complex numbers, logarithms and fractional exponents on his own.

Now from his outside reading, Benjamin already has a fundamental understanding of all of these concepts, but each of them is so important to advanced math and engineering that I was not willing to let him skip the class that would give him a thorough grounding in the topics. So I sent off an email to the magnet coordinator expressing my concerns, and saying that I thought he should stay in Algebra 2. She responded saying that the change to Math Analysis was made after the math teacher's assessment of Benjamin's ability and a discussion with Benjamin and his father, but it was not a problem putting him back in Algebra 2.

On Friday, I had planned on going in and discussing the decision, but Benjamin said that there was no need, that he could handle it. And since we are trying to encourage him to handle things on his own, how could I argue?

So the week ended with Benjamin being exactly where we think he should be: not in the orchestra class, and in the Honors Algebra 2 class, but it left me feeling very unsettled. I was very dissatisfied with the “discussions” that had taken place. Since I hadn’t been part of them, I couldn’t get my questions answered. I was frustrated that I felt like there had never been a real discussion of the question of which math class would be the best one for Benjamin to be in. We had expressed dismay with the Algebra 2 class, the math analysis teacher tested him and recommended moving him to Math Analysis, I expressed dismay at this decision, so they moved him back. There was no discussion, no laying out of the pros and cons of each possibility, no deliberation on the issue. I was also dissatisfied with the testing that the math teacher did, as the questions she asked did not involve the subjects they would be teaching in Algebra 2b. It felt like they were simply doing what we wanted. However, what I really wanted was to understand which math class would be the right one for Benjamin, and I definitely did not get that. Benjamin reported that the math analysis teacher had said that he would get any concepts that he missed in Algebra 2b in the Math Analysis class. So I am left with the feeling that maybe moving him ahead would have been the right move after all. The bottom line is that having Benjamin skip Algebra 2 was the riskier option. We went with the safer option of leaving him in Algebra 2. But I am left with the feeling that I didn’t truly know what the level of risk was, and had I known, perhaps we would have chosen differently. So I feel like the school let me down.

At least I have an outlet for my feelings of frustration here, and having released them, I hope I can approach the next issue with an unbiased mind and make the right choice!

Sending Jonathan off to college - The trip home

  17-Aug-2011 (22:36)

I had planned to leave at 5 for the airport (my flight was at 7 pm) but by 4:30 I was done, so I decided just to go. This decision proved fortuitous for two reasons. First, just as I arrived at the car, it was starting to rain and 10 minutes later it was coming down hard. If I had waited, I would have gotten very wet! Second, I needed to put gas in the rental car before I returned it. But the rain storm had knocked out the power in the first gas station I went to, so I had to find another. I brought the GPS with me, so finding another station wasn’t hard, but getting gas took a lot longer than I thought it would.

The plane took off without incident, only 10 minutes late, but when I arrived in Phoenix (at 7:30,) I found my flight to LA was scheduled to take off half an hour late, at 9:30. However, the 6:30 flight to LA was also late. It was scheduled to take off at 8:30. “Could I get on that one?” “Yes, I can.” “Can my bags get on too?” “No, of course not!” But I took the earlier plane anyway. When I got to LA, I could decide whether to wait for the luggage or just come home and pick them up later.

The 8:30 plane didn't take off until about 9, so now the planes were only half an hour apart. When I arrived in LA, I went out to the Flyaway bus pickup point, and lo and behold, the Flyaway pulls up. “When’s the next one?” “Half an hour.” Okay, so my bags better arrive within a half an hour, otherwise I should get on *this* Flyaway! I went back into the terminal and the monitor said my original flight (with my bags) had landed. OK, good, how can it take the bags to get here? Up to half an hour, according to the voice on the PA. Sigh. I'm going to miss the next Flyaway, aren't I? A *minute* before the Flyaway bus was supposed to arrive, the carrousel started. Fortunately, my bags came quickly. I grabbed them and RAN to the Flyaway stop. There was a Flyaway bus sitting there, but it was for Union Station. I couldn't find a driver to ask if I had missed the Van Nuys bus (in which case I should try and cross the airport to terminal 7 and pick it up there) or if the Van Nuys bus hadn't come yet. After an agonizing minute, I spotted the driver and asked about the Van Nuys bus. “It's right there,” he said, pointing to a "Coach America" bus that was just starting to pull away from the curb. "That's my bus!" I exclaimed, and he flagged it down for me. I breathed a sigh of relief and got on the bus. It took about 10 minutes for the bus just to get from terminal 1 to terminal 2 and I thought, “Oh, I would've had plenty of time to walk across to terminal 7 if I had missed the bus.” Plenty of time, yes, but I was very glad I hadn’t missed it when the bus ran out of seats at terminal 5 and didn’t stop at 6 and 7 at all! I finally got home at 15 minutes after midnight, tired and very glad to be here!

Sending Jonathan off to college - Day 3

  16-Aug-2011 (19:29)

Sending Jonathan off to college  - Day 3

On Sunday, we said goodbye to Mark and Nancy and thanked them for putting us up when they already had a house full of kids and relatives. First, we went by the Hillel, but it was closed. Consequently, we had some time to kill before we were scheduled to arrive at McMurtry. So we went to the CVS in the Village and bought some hand soap, which we had forgotten the day before. We arrived at McMurtry right at 10am to find a dozen screaming students welcoming us. We unloaded Jonathan's luggage, and one student took Jonathan off to get checked in, two others took his luggage up to his room, and I took the car to another parking lot to make room for the next student. I was impressed by how well orchestrated the processes was.

On the shuttle back from the parking lot, I was sitting next to a McMurtry mom and behind another one. One was from Austin and the other one was from Chicago. "Oh," I commented, "I have a cousin in Chicago." "Where does she live?" "In Highland Park." "*I* live in Highland Park," the woman responded, "What's your cousin’s name?" "Litt", I said, "No – Tresley – Litt’s her maiden name." "*Emily* Tresley?!” The woman asked in amazement. "Yeah," I responded, "my cousin is Lee Tresley and her daughter is Emily." Turns out, the woman's son, Adam, went to preschool with Emily and her younger son is going to school with Emily's brother Jack. Small world! And while it's not so surprising that someone from Highland Park would end up at Rice, when you factor in the odds that the two boys would end up in the same residence college and that Allison and I would end up sitting near each other on the same shuttle, the odds that we would figure out that we had a common contact back in Illinois become pretty small!

I arrived at Jonathan's room to find out that he had emptied all his suitcases and his room looked like hurricane Katrina had just passed through. I called Marc and told him about meeting Allison Bloom. I decided to take the empty suitcases that were returning with me to LA back to the car, while Jonathan put his stuff away. As I exited the building, I saw the shuttle pull away from the bus stop. Knowing that I could walk to the car before the next shuttle would arrive and since it wasn't as obnoxiously hot or humid as the day before, I set out on foot. About halfway there, a couple of women in a golf cart offered me a ride. That was nice of them! When I got back to Jonathan's room, it was about 11:30 and Jonathan's door was closed. I knocked but there was no answer. I assumed he been sent down to lunch, since his door had been open previously. I went down, but I couldn't find him, which turned out to be because he'd been in his room; he had just been in the bathroom.

Lunch was jumbo shrimp, Portobello mushrooms, eggplant, steak salad, some Indian chicken dish and several other dishes that also looked good, but there wasn’t enough room on my plate! It was *really* good. Dessert was cheese crepes with glazed fruit on top, chocolate cake and fresh fruit. If the kids eat like that every day it won't be the freshman 15, it'll be the freshman 45! After lunch, the kids went off to start their week of orientation and we parents met the advisers for McMurtry and had a Q&A session. Then over to Tudor Fieldhouse (the Basketball arena) where all the parents heard speeches from the university president, a couple of upper-class students and a parent of an upper-class student. The speeches were much better than I feared. The funniest part was when they made us practice (in unison) saying to our students, “That IS a problem. What are YOU going to do about it?”

I then went to the student union where there was a “fair” with people from different organizations. I talked to people from the Hillel, food services, the campus police (who will sell you a really good bike lock for $10) and health services. My question for food services, "Is the West Servery chef really the best one like the people at McMurtry say?" provoked a very funny eye roll from the food services guy. Finally, I went over to the store and bought Marc a Rice T-shirt, and then I was done.

Rice is very proud that they are ranked #1 for best quality of life and happiest students by Princeton Review. And judging by the people we met and the way we were treated on Sunday, they deserve the ranking. Very happy with Jonathan's chosen University!

Sending Jonathan off to college - Day 2

  15-Aug-2011 (20:54)

Saturday, Jonathan and I headed over to Rice to check out the University. We visited the student store, McMurtry (the "residence college" where he will be living,) McMurtry’s “servery” (dining hall) and the Main Library. At McMurtry, we ran into upper-class students, who welcomed us enthusiastically. In the dining hall, there were students painting the week's agenda onto 20 foot sheets of butcher paper. These students also were very excited to see us.

Around 2pm, we were hungry, so we headed over to a nearby collection of shops called "the Village." After lunch, we decided to get dessert. At the nearby chocolate shop nothing looked particularly exciting, so we decided to find sherbet. We spotted a shop called "Berrypop," but it was frozen yogurt. We punched "ice cream" into the GPS, but the store it directed us to didn’t have sherbet, only ice cream. We spotted a CVS and decided to see what they had. No luck, they just had big tubs of ice cream.

As long as we were there, we decided to pick up some things Jonathan needed. When we went to leave, it was pouring. "Well, at least we can buy an umbrella," Jonathan pointed out. "Well," I responded, "Let's wait 10 minutes and see what happens." Sure enough, 10 minutes later, the rain had almost stopped and we left.

We return to Mark and Nancy's and spent the afternoon hanging out with them, their boys and Elena. After awhile, Mali and Todd came over. Mark got inspired from Aaron’s accidentally referring to them as Tali and Maude and dubbed them "Tamale" (much as Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez are called “Bennifer.”) After dinner, Nancy taught Jonathan and Elena to play cribbage, and then we all went out for gelato, which was much better than that sherbet we didn't get earlier.

Sending Jonathan off to college - Day 1

  13-Aug-2011 (08:21)

After going back and forth and back and forth about whether to drive or fly to get Jonathan and all his stuff to Houston, we finally decided to fly. The thing that tipped the balance to flying was that Southwest allows you to check two bags for free. So, with two of us going, we could check four bags, plus take 4 carryons. The other thing was that Jonathan learned that there is a piano in his residence, so, for now, at least, he wasn't bringing the keyboard. So even with the accordian, Jonathan was able to take all his stuff without shipping anything.

We got to the airport for our flight in plenty of time, which was good, because Jonathan seems to be the King of packing things that confuse the security checkpoint scanner. When we flew from Detroit, it was the candy and the books. This time, it was the Magic cards. They pulled us aside, swabbed the luggage for drugs/explosives, removed the cards and sent the bag though again without the cards. Fortunately, we were not in a rush to catch our plane!

Our flight took off on time, but when we arrived in Phoenix for the layover, we found there was an hour delay because the plane had not yet arrived from Ontario. In fact, the plane had not yet arrived *in* Ontario. Sigh. We decided to get lunch and save the sandwiches we brought. We got Chinese food and sat at the end table of 5 2-person tables pushed together. At the table to my right was a pair of teen-age girls, and then a couple about my age. The father was wearing a Texas A&M T-shirt, so I asked him if he went to A&M. He said his only connection with A&M was financial - paying for his two daughters (the two girls) who were both going there. Then he said that the people sitting at the tables at the other end of the line (who were older) had gone to Texas A&M. Small world! I advised the girls that if the sailing club was still around, they should check it out.

On the plane to Houston, we were in the last row of the plane which, contrary to previous experiences, was not bad at all. We were playing chess when the plane touched down, so we just sat and played as the plane emptied out. When we got up, everyone else was walking out, so I stood up, pulled down the bag above my head and left. As we walked to baggage claim, Jonathan looked down and said, "Mom, that's not our bag!"

At first, we thought that someone else had taken our bag, and I had taken the only bag left without looking at it, so I had their bag. We rushed back to the gate and explained our problem to the woman at the desk. She put out a page saying that if someone had our bag they should meet us at baggage claim. But then I realized that the bag I had taken had a "flight crew" tag - It belonged to one of the flight attendants. So our bag was probably still on the plane (which was now boarding.) So we went to the gate. The man at the gate sent us back to the woman at the desk, who sent us back to the man at the gate! He then stopped the boarding process and let me onto the plane, where I was able to retrieve my bag, which was still there. Whew! Next time I will look!

I was REALLY glad that Jonathan had spotted that the bag was the wrong one while we were still at the airport (and, as an added bonus, before we passed security) because our bag did not have a tag with our name and phone number. One of our checked bags had been missing a tag, so I had pulled the tag from the carryon bag and put it on the checked bag - so the carryon had no identification.

Now that we had the correct bag, we went to baggage claim, where we had no further difficulties. In fact the mixup with the bag didn't even slow us down, because when we arrived at baggage claim, our bags had not yet arrived. We got our bags and I went to get the rental car. The woman at the rental car desk asked why I was in Houston. When I said I was dropping off my son at Rice, she said, "Oh the couple who were just here are doing that too!" I got the rental car contract, and we went off the catch the shuttle to the rental car lot. The shuttle pulled up just as we walked up and the couple with the son going to Rice got on ahead of us. Turns out the son's name is John. The two boys are not in the same residential college, but they share an interest in books and spent a good piece of the ride discussing authors.

We shoehorned our 4 carryons and 4 suitcases into the compact car I had rented and set off for Mark and Nancy's. We arrived shortly after 8, and joined them for a marvelous Shabbat dinner. All three of their kids were there (apparently for the first time in a long time) as was Mali's fiance, a niece, and a couple of friends. It was a wonderful dinner.

Today, once Jonathan gets up, we will go see what campus is like!

The American mindset and the economy

  6-Aug-2011 (14:49)

Everyone knows that the economy will not recover without jobs and businesses aren't creating jobs. Republicans want government to give tax breaks to business so that they will have money to create jobs. But until the economy recovers, businesses have just been hoarding the extra money.

The only way to be sure that government money creates jobs is for the government to create the jobs. When the government creates jobs, the size of government grows. But creating jobs makes the economy recover. When Obama was handing out stimulus money, the economy turned around. When the Republicans cut off the stimulus money, the economy stagnated.

We should shrink government when the economy is good and grow it when it is bad. However, we tend to do the reverse. When the economy is good we say, "Look at all this money we have! Let's spend it." When times are tough, we say. "We have no money. We have to cut back." This is reactive thinking.

We need proactive thinking. When the economy is good, we should think, "The economy is great! We can shrink the government without hurting the economy." When the economy languishes, we should think, "The economy is awful. We need to grow the government to improve the economy." Until the American public and their elected officials learn to think proactively rather than reactively, our economy will continue to swing from feast to famine.

Supporting brick and mortar

  1-Aug-2011 (18:15)

Marc and I went to Fry's to look at webcams so that we can Skype with Jonathan while he is away. We picked out the camera we wanted and Marc pulled out his phone and checked the price on Amazon. Amazon listed it for the same price as Frys, but it was on sale for $20 less. "We'll get it on Amazon then," Marc said. "No," I said. "Frys has a policy that it will match any online price. Let's get it here. Brick-and-mortar stores are going out of business because of competition from the Web. If we want brick-and-mortar stores to continue, we have to patronize them. Fry's has made it possible for us to get Amazon's price. We need to support Frys by buying it here."

So the first action we took to support Fry's was to buy the webcam at Fry's. The second was for me to get on my soapbox on my blog and preach. Don't let what happened to Border's happen to Fry's! Go to Fry's to check out the items you need. Check out prices online. Then buy the item at Fry's. They will give you the online price. You don't need to bring proof. All you have to do is to tell Fry's, "I can get it cheaper on Amazon" and they will use their computers to look up the price and give it to you.

If you value being able to handle the keyboard, to try the mouse, to view the monitor, you have to buy things from the store that allows you to do that. Fry's has done their part by matching any other price. Now it is up to us to do ours.

Benjamin's hamster

  28-Jul-2011 (21:06)

Benjamin

After Benjamin returned from almost 4 weeks at camp, he brought his hamster, Garlic, to us. Garlic clearly had a serious eye infection in both eyes. The next day we took Garlic to the vet, trying really hard not to think about the fact that:
1) Garlic is over two years old,
2) A hamster's lifespan is only 2 years,
3) Hamsters cost about $5, and
4) Just the office visit alone was going to cost us $60, plus the inevitable medication.

The doctor diagnosed Garlic as dehydrated, and gave him a shot to remedy that. Then she prescribed eye drops and antibiotics. The total bill: $125. Sigh.

Garlic does not like the eye drops at all, and they seemed ineffective. The hamster's eye was too small for the eye drop to go onto the eye. I seemed like they would just roll off. On the other hand, Garlic LOVED the antibiotic. The dosage was one drop, delivered via syringe. Benjamin only had to touch the syringe to Garlic's mouth, and Garlic would grab the syringe with both front paws and lick and lick.

After a week of medication, Garlic appears to have lost his sight. On the positive side, however, other than that, he seems to be doing very well. We have decided to keep him on antibiotics, since he love them so much, and since we figure that at most he has 6 months to live.

Vet bill: $125
Happy hamster: PRICELESS!

Haikus

  25-Jul-2011 (08:07)

Yesterday Benjamin was writing bad haikus. Here is one of them:

Haikus are seven-
teen syll'bles run together.
And press enter key.

So Jonathan wrote one in return:

Hey! Hey Benjamin!
I have a haiku for you!
Do you want to hear?

Jonathan on XKCD

  24-Jul-2011 (09:32)

Last Friday, XKCD posted a comic about "mimic octopuses" which spawned a *loooong* debate on the xkcd forum (on page 4) about the correct plural of "octopus." Some of the comments were funnier than the comic that spawned them! Jonathan joined in the debate with the following post:

"About the pluralization: Languages constantly change. They have to, to cope with new ideas. Yet not every change can be valid, because if everybody had the right to amend the language however they choose, then the language would quickly descend into gibberish. So, what denotes a valid word? Since the main purpose of language is communication, I think that any word (or pluralization) that doesn't hinder communication can be considered valid, and any word that hinders communication is not valid."

Using the above criteria, "octopi" is a valid plural, because when it's used, everybody knows what is meant. However, the use of "octopi" has clearly prevented any practical communication on this thread, so I conclude that "octopi" is a valid plural, except on the xkcd forums, or anywhere else where it will provoke hours long discussions on pluralization.

It's a quantum plural - it's both valid and invalid until it is observed.

Political lies and bias

  23-Jul-2011 (10:40)

I've always had the feeling that Republicans tell big flaming whoppers more than Democrats, but I've never seen any stats to back up this feeling. So I went to Politifact.com and tabulated some statistics.

I looked at Politifact's "Pants on Fire" list. These are statements that Politifact has found not just to be wrong, but to be flamingly wrong. I found that Republicans make over 6 times more blatently false statements than do Democrats and there are over 5 times more Republicans making blatently false statements than there are Democrats.

But I didn't stop there. Perhaps more Democrats are lying than Republicans, but Politifact is just not mentioning the lies by Democrats. So I typed "is Politifact biased" into Google.

The first link was to Hotair.com, which talked about a study by Eric Ostermeier at Smart Politics which analyzed the Politfact's "Pants on Fire" statements and reported the same stats that I found. Hotair then goes on to point out that during the period of time covered by the statistic, control of Congress lay in the hands of the Democrats. Democrats had sixty percent of the Senate seats, and close to the same percentage in the House. Hotair did admit that "The answer to the overall question could still be that Republicans tell more Pants on Fire and False statements, and that Politifact is merely a disinterested referee." But the final line in their article was "However the numbers suggest that PolitiFact is more “curious” about Republican statements and less curious about Democratic statements, even when Democrats vastly outnumbered Republicans in the halls of power. And that certainly is … curious."

Now I wondered whether Hotair was conservative or liberal. On their "about" link, they describe themselves as ".. part of ... a network of conservative websites and publications." so I went on to the next link. It was to the Oregon Catalyst, and the title of the Oregon Catalyst's article was "Study finds significant pro-Democrat bias by PolitiFact" OK, we know what the Oregon Catalyst's conclusion will be. Is that site liberal or conservative? I found them described as "OregonCatalyst is a place for conservative Oregonians to gather and share news, commentary, and gossip. We're the leading Conservative blog in the state. Oregon's idea brain trust. "

And so it continued. The liberal sites concluded that Repbulican public figures lie more than Democatic public figures, and the conservative sites concluded that Politifact reports on Repbulican lies more than it reports on Democratic lies. I did notice that in all the conservative sites complaining about Politifact's bias, not a single one offered any statistics to support their contention of bias.

So are there any sites out there that evaluate the truth of statements by public figures that DON'T show more Republican whoppers than Democratic? Inquiring minds want to know!

Camp 2011 - Picking Benjamin up

  20-Jul-2011 (23:24)

In the tail end of June, we realized that Benjamin was coming home from camp on the Sunday of Carmageddon, the weekend that they were closing the 405 freeway for some 48+ hours so that they could tear down half of the Mulholland bridge. If all of the normal 405 traffic was going to be on the 170 and the 5, then we didn’t want to be anywhere near either one. But the best way to Wilshire Blvd Temple, which is the pick up point, is the 170.

So I tried to come up with alternatives. Wilshire Blvd Temple has two camps, Hess Kramer and Hilltop. Both are in Malibu, with Hess Kramer at the base of the mountain and Hilltop on top. To get to Hilltop, you go to Hess Kramer which is right off of PCH, and then you take this narrow windy road with a steep drop off on one side to Hilltop. This road is a big part of why Wilshire Blvd Temple is the pickup point. So I sent the camp an email asking if we could either pick him at Hess Kramer (and avoid the hill) or if they would consider sending a bus with all the Valley kids to the Valley.

A week went by and I didn’t hear back, so I gave them a call. They would not consider either option. They did say that we could pick him up at Hilltop though. Sigh. They do not want two dozen parents driving up and down that road at the same time! But, a week before carmegeddon, picking Benjamin up at camp seemed like a better option than braving the freeways. So we told them we would pick him up at Hilltop.

A day or two later, we got a postcard that talked about camp pickup and said “Please confirm by email if your child is being picked up at CHK.” Well! CHK is Camp Hess Kramer (the camp at the base of the mountain.) So I guess they changed their mind! So we sent them an email saying we would pick Benjamin up at Hess Kramer.

A few days later, Marc got an email saying that if we were picking up our child up at camp, we should get to Hess Kramer at 9:45. They were planning on holding all the cars at Hess Kramer until the busses came down the hill. Then they would caravan all the cars up to Hilltop all together. OK, so now we are back to picking up at Hilltop again.

Then carmageddon arrived. The residents of Los Angeles opted to stay home, rather than risk huge traffic jams, and all the freeways were clear. On Saturday we looked at all the green on the traffic maps and asked ourselves, “Why are we going to Hilltop?” So I called the camp and asked them if we could pick up Benjamin at Wilshire Blvd Temple. (Do you have whiplash yet?)

Sunday morning, before we left for the Temple and after we thought that they would have put all the kids on busses, I called the camp to verify that Benjamin was on a bus. With all the changes in pick up point I did not want to make any assumptions! But he was, and we set out for the Temple. The freeway was wide open, and we were glad we hadn’t stuck with picking him up at Hilltop!

Camp 2011 - Week 3

  19-Jul-2011 (22:58)

Camp 2011 - Week 3

We didn't have the third Beach Day, instead we had time capsule day. We unburied a time capsule that was buried 15 years ago and buried a new one. We wrote letters to ourselves. Hopefully our time capsule will be sealed better than the one we opened, which a tree root got into. They poured cement to mark the time capsule, and we wrote our names in the cement. That night was Mitzvah night. Jonathan came and told me about flaming cheese.

On the last Shabbat during evening song session we managed to really annoy Danielle (the song leader) by clapping awkwardly with silly expressions on our faces. The last Shabbat in dance we did Tikva and Yoya, two old dances that are not done much anymore.

Unlike previous years, this year Todd Silverman made limud good by teaching us about Israeli politics and Israeli movies. He told us about a movie called "Sallah Shabati" (a pun on S'lach Sh'Bati which means "sorry I came") and another called "Walk on Water." We saw portions of both movies. Todd Silverman is a good limud dude.

At the end of camp, they have banquet which is a themed dinner. People always say the theme will be Star Wars, but it never is. This year the theme was Nickelodean. Afterwards we had a “top 10” song session and then a “top 4” dance session. Then the dance chug and the drama chug did performances. We saw the omanut skate decks that they had decorated, which were nicely done. Then we had ice cream for desert. Next we went in for yellow buses (a summary of camp,) what-ifs (a bunch of cabin inside jokes) and the camp video which was called "(25) days of summer" (which is way funnier if you've seen the real movie called "(500) days of summer"). The video was about "Tom" (played by Sammy from "Really?! with Daniel and Sammy") and "Summer" (played by Lily). In the video, there was a "what do I love about summer?" montage which sometimes made sense, and sometimes not. During the video there were a lot of scenes of omanut. My cabinmate Josh was told to draw a unicorn, to which he said, "Why?" But in the end there was a scene of him coloring a unicorn which was very amusing. In the end, Tom broke up with Summer and met a girl named Autumn.

The last day was very sad. We got into a circle and sang "Leaving on a Jet Plane". Then the orange county kids left. Then we ate breakfast (the orange county kids ate earlier.) Then we sang Sh'ma and Haskiveinu like we do each night, and then we got on the busses and came home.

(Jackie speaking) Despite all these activities, Benjamin still found time to read 4 Michael Crichton books (“Sphere”, “Lost World”, “Andromeda Strain”, and “Great Train Robbery”), two non-fiction books (“50 Mathematical Ideas” and “Einstein for Beginners”) and most of “The Hunchback of Notredame.” That’s my Benjamin!

Camp 2011 - Week 2

  18-Jul-2011 (23:58)

Camp 2011 - Week 2

In the second week we had pioneer day. The theme was pirates vs ninjas. I was a pirate. The pirates won. Then we celebrated the Forth of July (the same day) so we had a carnival.

On the second beach day, Kahuna was really old. Although 1000 years is actually fairly young for a kahuna. I actually went in the water, which I didn't do on the first beach day. I didn't put on as much sunscreen and got burned. Then there was talent show with skits with many of the same titles (but different content.) There was a Saturday Night Live takeoff which was new. People sang "For Good" and a bunch of other songs, including the Shaving Cream song.

When the peluahs changed half-way, I got into teva (the ropes course) and that was fun. We tried to put 12 people onto a platform that was 2ft square. Fortunately the platform was close to the ground because people kept falling off. We also did giant swing. You put on a harness, climb up to a platform, fall off and start swinging. Another fun thing was "the leap of faith." You put on a harness, climb up a telephone pole, and stand on the top. When you are at the top there’s nothing to hold onto and it’s pretty scary. There's a metal bar about 4 feet away. You jump for the bar and then get lowered to the ground by everyone else in the teva peulah.

Each day we have cabin rotation. One day during cabin rotation, we had teva and we stood on the 2ft platforms and played tug-of-war. They also have a small zipline (nothing like Costa Rica!)

One of the weirder parts of camp was when a male CIT was sitting in a chair that a camper wanted to sit in. He said that he would get up if they guessed his birthday. I guessed July 27, which was not his birthday, but was his mom's birthday. He said he would give up his chair to me for my guess, but I wasn't interested.

One of the evening activities was food themed. We made pita, which was really good, and tried a bunch of mystery foods. The mystery foods included pickles, something that looked like humus but wasn't, and cow tongue, which tasted like corned beef only better.

On Fridays, instead of Limud (which is Todd Silverman talks to us) there was Israel hour (which is Israelis talk to us). Then there was "Sportz," then song session and then dance session. After the second Shabbat we had learned all the dances. Then Na'aseh (literally "we will do") where we get to choose an activity to prepare for Shabbat. Activities included walks, talks, chalks (drawing on the ground with chalk,) dancing, torah time. Then shower, services, dinner, song session, and dance session. At the end of the day we have a Shabbat chill which is the counselors reading to us or doing madlibs or talking about their childhood.

On Saturdays, we sleep in until 9 - well, everyone else sleeps in - I wake up at 7. After breakfast, we have services overlooking the ocean. During silent meditation we are told to move so that we can see the ocean and do our meditation looking at the ocean. After services there are two Shiurs (discussions) where we talked about things like how God relates to quantum physics and how Harry Potter relates to Judaism. I find it surprising how few people know about mobius strips. After dinner there is an evening activity and then Havdallah. We had a few sermons about how camp goes on forever and how "How was camp?" is an invalid question - it should be "How is camp?" and the best answer is "Infinite!

Camp 2011 - Week 1

  17-Jul-2011 (16:20)

Camp 2011 - Week 1

Benjamin skipped the last three days of school and his own middle school culmination so that he could attend his favorite camp, Gindling Hilltop Camp. He returned today and told me all about it. What follows is what he told me, so it's from his perspective and is (mostly) his words. It ran three pages, so I'm posting it a week at a time.

The first night began with Joey Meyer and Aaron Leven (two of the mitzvah counselors) going up and doing the exact same thing. They were both doing schtick, but doing the same schtick at the same time. Then they said "Welcome to *clone* night. Just kidding! Jinx! Welcome to mixer night!"

We did a classic first night activity - speed dating. You sit in two circles facing each other. You are given a topic. You talk to the person you are facing for about a minute and then one of the circles moves and you are given a new topic. Topics are things like "What is the favorite place you've ever been."

I was in dance for peulah (elective). Orli taught dance. She's very good. I was in omanut (art) for my chug (another word for elective).

Each day we have limud (studies). Todd Silverman (the camp rabbi) taught us that we have to have perspective and attitude. Meaning you have to have a good attitude, you have to look at things in the right way.

Every cabin had a cheer. Even Todd Silverman had a cheer. His cheer was "Todd Silverman? More like Todd Silverman!" Even zaznu (what they say when it's time to leave) had a cheer.

They made us stop banging on the tables during birkat hamazon. (Note from Jackie - I remember the same thing happening when I was at camp. Some things never change, do they!)

One of the evening activities was about antisemitism. It was on country club night. We would go to a "country club" and they would ask our names and what church we went to, and they would tell us that the country club was full or they would ask where were our "horns." In the end we had a discussion on antisemitism and we were accepted into the Gindling Hilltop Camp Country Club.

Wednesdays are beach day. This year we went to Sycamore beach rather than Zuma Beach. Beach Day starts with Emily Mann, one of the Mitzvah counselors coming out in a Kahuna mask and speaking gibberish. Joey Meyer translated for us - "Have fun in the sun and drink lots of water." The first beach day I put on lots of sunscreen and didn't get burnt.

After the beach we come back and do campfire and talent show. On the first beach day, Pioneer Pete (Spenser, a mitzvah counselor) came in and Little Boy Boo (my last year's counselor, whose name is Jobu) came in and begged for oranges. It turns out that Little Boy Boo is a fruit starved orphan. This year, Pioneer Pete came on with a limp and a cane. He explains that he had gotten a report of a Chupacabra in the Midwest and went to defeat it. In the immense struggle, Pioneer Pete got bit by the Chupacabra. But in the end Little Boy Boo defeated the Chupacabra. When it was time to light the campfire, they didn't have fire starting equipment and so Little Boy Boo had to do a really long stall while they went for the equipment. But finally they got the fire started and we began the talent show. We had skits like "The Garrett family singers" and a parody of various musicals. We also saw the first installment of "Really?! with Daniel and Sammy" which was two mitzvah campers making fun of various things about camp and was really funny.

Benjamin creates life

  10-Jul-2011 (22:40)

During the last week of school, I asked Benjamin what he did in school that day. He responded, "I created sentient life!" "Oh," I said, "what class did you do that in?" "In science," he replied. "It was an amphibian and they were miserable. The world was too hot. You see, I was trying to decrease the oxygen in my world by taking volcanoes erupt. That made the world hotter. I was trying to decrease the oxygen levels so that I could get a better grade. The sentient life evolved while I was making the volcanoes erupt."

I found his response to be not quite comprehensible, so Benjamin elaborated.

"Mr. Zem (Benjamin's science teacher) has a bunch of really old Mac computers. He has a program called Sim Earth, which is also really old. To show you how old the computers are, when you run the program, you get an alert, ‘this program runs better in 16 color mode.’

The idea behind Sim Earth is that you start with a dead planet and terraform it to sustain life. It keeps track of the amount of life using biomass units. To get an A, I needed 10,000 biomass units and less than 8% oxygen. You have a finite amount of energy which accumulates as time passes, but it's easy to spend it faster than it accumulates. I managed to get a planet with more than 10,000 biomass units, but also more than 8% oxygen. But I knew I could use volcanoes to decrease the oxygen. So I waited for energy to accumulate. My life forms, which had been basic one-celled organisms, started evolving. They involved into basic multi-celled organisms, and then into sea life and then I got land animals, including amphibians. I also got dinosaurs and mammals. Then I got sentient life. My sentient life form was an amphibian. I got the planet to less than 8% oxygen, but I didn't know what Mr. Zem would say because the program wasn’t reporting the biomass anymore. Now that it had sentient life, the program was only interested in the people (who were miserable because the planet was too hot!)."

Sounds like fun! But I never did find out if he got his A...

2011 Vacation - Day 7 (the return flight)

  9-Jul-2011 (13:39)

In the morning, we were all set to go to Cranbrook when Stuart called - "What are you doing today?" "We're going to Cranbrook." "I think I'll join you." "Great!" So Stuart met us there. Since he had a family membership, we got in for free. Actually, they wanted to charge us for two people, but Stuart pointed out that on the day he bought the membership, the fire alarm had gone off, and his family didn't get to use it that day, and the museum people decided not to argue. As it turned out, the museum is fairly small (and focuses a great deal on natural history, which is less interesting to us than some of the other sciences) and in a little over two hours, we were done. We went into Birmingham to purchase lunch (Stuart had brought his, but we hadn't) and then brought it back to Cranbrook to eat. After lunch we wandered up to the house on the top of the hill and admired the gardens. Just leisurely wandering around and schmoozing with Stuart was really nice. Then it was time for Stuart to go back to work and for us to head over to the airport. We went via the hotel and picked up Marc's jacket, which I had left in the closet.

We were concerned about getting the nerf guns through airport security. They are not on the prohibited list, but they are something that has the word "gun" in the name. Jonathan had them in his backpack, but he took them out and put them in the bin separately so it would be clear we weren't trying to hide them. The guns were not our only problems! The first problem was that although, in LA, I had been TOLD to take my wallet from my pocket and hold it in my hand over my head as I was scanned by the body scanner, and, in Dallas, when I did the same thing they thought it was fine, in Detroit, they pitched a fit. "Now, we have to either send your wallet back through the X-ray, or go through it by hand!" they complained. So go through it by hand - who cares?! Then the problem was that I had forgotten that on the plane to Detroit, Marc had put his half full water bottle in the side pocket of my backpack. They pitched another fit. So toss the water bottle - who cares?! Then the problem was all the candy Jonathan was carrying in his backpack. Apparently it mucks up the x-ray. So Jonathan had to take everything out and have it inspected by hand. Then we got to the guns. Over and over, I stated - "They are toys. They are not replicas. They are not compressed air." (Replicas and compressed air guns are prohibited in carry-on luggage.) Finally, after several pow-wows, they decided that they could not prohibit them, but they strongly advised us to put them in our suitcases, not the backpacks, and not to open the suitcases until we were home. They were concerned that someone on the plane would see them and innocently remark that we had guns, and a Marshall would hear the comment and take unfortunate action. We promised to follow their instructions and they let us go - with the guns. Whew!

And where was Marc this whole time? He had gone through a different line, which did not have a body scanner. He ended up walking through with his belt on, just because he forgot about it. Despite having numerous metal pieces in it, the belt did not set off the metal detector. Go figure!

We only had a 45 minute layover in Dallas for the return flight, so when the flight from Detroit took off 15 minutes late, we were a little nervous. However this time there were several latter flights we could catch (if there was room) so we didn’t stress too much. We touched down and ran to our gate. Although we didn't have to leave the terminal, we did have to take the tram to our new gate, so it took a while to get there. But we did make it in time. I think we were the last people to get on the plane. The plane pulled away from the gate and then sat on the tarmac for an hour while they investigated some warning light that was on. We watched the later flight, (the one we would have been on if we missed our flight) take off. Finally, they decided that the problem was the light, and we took off.

The flight was uneventful, but we got a preview of what the 405 freeway will be like when they shut it down in a week on July 16 and 17. They are doing construction on the 405 and it was down to 2 lanes in a couple of places. We crawled along at 15 mph both times. At 11:30 at night! We arrived home just before midnight, tired and happy to be home - and I was glad I had decided not to go to work the next day!

2011 Vacation - Day 5 & 6

  6-Jul-2011 (23:31)

On Sunday morning, Marc took the car back to the airport to exchange it for our originally reserved car. Jonathan and I just hung out until Marc called to say he was on his way back, and then we went to check out of the hotel. Renting the car took a long time, because, despite the fact that they told us that we could rent a car for three days (for $60) and then for another three days (for another $60, which was cheaper than the weekly rate of $195) when they had rented the car to us for the first three days, they used the confirmation number for the second three days, thus throwing away the second car reservation. Sigh. But in the end, Marc got the car.

The hotel had put a receipt under the door, so we could have just left the keys in the room and left, but I had a complaint. We went to the registration desk, and I complained that we were not informed that there was a special parking rate for square dancers. The person assisting me clearly had received this complaint before, because without asking any questions, she immediately credited my account $40! So in the end, renting the car was definitely cheaper than taking a cab.

Marc picked us up and we drove to my Aunt Marjorie and Uncle Milt's house. We spent the day relaxing and chatting. We walked down to the lake and back. Stuart, Marci and Kayla came over with the dogs and we went back to the lake and Stuart took us out on the boat. We went back to the house and Tali joined us and we all had dinner together.

On Monday, we had lunch with Aunt Renee and Aunt Marjorie. In the afternoon, we decided to go to the Science Center at Cranbrook. However, we were moving so lazily that it was almost three by the time we got there. It was going to cost us almost $40 to get in, and we would only have a couple of hours there, so we decided to wait until the next day and just walk around the grounds instead. After a while we went shopping - me to Chico's and Marc and Jonathan to a bookstore. But we didn't buy anything. Then back to Aunt Marjorie's for a delicious dinner of grilled salmon. Uncle Milt had rented "True Grit" (the new one) so we watched it that night (and ate Jonathan's movie candy that he won square dancing) and enjoyed both very much.

2011 Vacation - Day 4

  3-Jul-2011 (23:59)

Ooops! When I wrote about Thursday and Friday, I forgot about two very important events! First, when I ran into Debby and Robert on Thursday they had just come from the square dancing competition, where they had won first place! Nice! And on Friday, the last hour before dinner in the youth hall was a youth square dancing competition, where Jonathan took second place! A repeat performance from the last time he went to the National Square Dancing convention, when he also took second place. Jonathan's square lost out to the square containing not one, but three, callers in it - so there was definitely no dishonor in coming in second!

Saturday started out much the same as Friday, but as time went on, Marc's hip was acting up from all that dancing, and after lunch, he took a break and I went off to dance without him. First I decided to try the "solo" hall, but the dancers there all looked to be my grandmother's age, so I decided not to stick around. Next door was a room labeled "clinic" (meaning: teaching) so I looked in to see what they were teaching. It just so happened that they were teaching hexagon dancing, which I enjoy very much, and the dancers seemed about my age. So even though I don't need hexagon lessons, I decided to join them.

Regular square dancing is done in "squares" of 4 couples, and hexagon square dancing is done in "hexs" of 6 couples. All the same calls apply, with very minor modifications. There were a number of single men dancing there, and when one of them indicated that he was interested in the "high energy plus" that would be going on in the variety hall when the hexagon clinic was over, I suggested that we go down there as a couple and then we would not have to scramble for partners. He thought that was a good idea. In the "high energy plus" dancing, we got into a couple of weak squares, which was disappointing. Then he spotted a friend and we were able to move into her square, and for the rest of the hour we had a blast!

At the end of that hour, Marc found me. His hip had recovered and we danced together until dinner time. This day they pulled the tickets for the raffles in the youth hall before dinner, and Jonathan won a pair of nerf guns, an MP3 player (for which he did not remember putting a ticket in the box) and something else too. He had no interest in the MP3 player and gave it away to another child who coveted it. For dinner, we went into Greektown again and had dinner at a pizza place. The Greek restaurant the first night was better! After dinner, Marc decided that his hip was not up to dancing anymore, so Jonathan and I went back to the square dancing and Marc took Jonathan's raffle winnings back to the hotel.

I spent the evening dancing with my friends from other conventions. We were doing scatter promenading again, but it wasn't working so well, because there were 5 squares participating, and this meant that we almost never had the right number of couples in all the squares when they reformed. And sometimes it seemed like there were 5 squares plus an additional couple, because at least once when the squares reformed, my partner of the moment and I were cut out of all of them. But that didn't matter, because on the next scatter promenade, we got right back into a square, and I assume someone else was cut out. Despite the chaos, it was lots of fun. This group of dancers calls themselves the "Rowdy Crew" and every one of them is a good dancer, so dancing with them is always fun.

Later on in the evening, we put together 6 couples and danced a hexagon, despite the fact that the caller was calling regular square dancing.

A little after 10, Jonathan was ready to call it quits and we headed back to the hotel. We arrived at a side door and spotted a sign that said, "This door locked after 10pm." As we were wondering where to go, a couple of black men came up behind us and two more square dancers behind them. A guard was inside and she opened the door. "You can't come in this door after 10," she explained, clearly speaking over my head to the two tall men. She directed them to the door they could use. Then she turned to us and the other couple and said, "Are you staying here?" When we responded in the affirmative, she let us in. I joked that it was easy for her to tell that we were staying here and the men weren't by the funny outfits we were wearing!

2011 Vacation - Day 3

  1-Jul-2011 (22:57)

Friday morning, we all voted to sleep in. That felt good. I think it was after noon before we got to the Cobo center. Our badges were waiting for us - hurray! Jonathan's name was STILL misspelled (Two 'o's this time) - Sigh. Jonathan went to the youth hall and Marc and I checked out the vendors. We bought a shirt for Benjamin. I'm very disappointed with the shirts that are for sale these days. They used to have these very cool shirts with horses that are just not available at all anymore. But I really like the one we bought for Benjamin. It's black with horse heads embroidered on it.

Around 1, they had "High Energy Mainstream" dancing in the variety hall so we did that. After a while, Marc wanted to take a break, so I went to pick up Jonathan's badge, which was, at long last, correct. Amazing! It also occurred to me that we should get lunch - we tend to forget about eating. There was a snack shop in the Cobo center that was selling chicken BLT paninis. That sounded good, but I knew that Jonathan wouldn't want the bacon, the lettuce. or the tomato. So I asked if I could get "a chicken BLT panini without the B, without the L and without the T." They were happy to oblige. So we got two paninis - one with BLT, which Marc and I split, and one without for Jonathan.

In the afternoon, the variety hall was doing "High Energy Plus" and so Marc and I did that. The "high energy" dancing is good for two reasons. First, we like the higher energy level, and second, the weaker dancers tend to choose other halls, so the squares break down less often. At 5pm, when the youth hall broke for dinner, we decided to get dinner at the buffet at the hotel with Debby and Robert and two friends of theirs. We had to fight with the waitress to get her to allow us to sit at table rather than the bar because "you can't put 7 people at a table." But we held our ground, and got the table we wanted. We were unimpressed by the food, except that they had a brussels sprouts with bacon dish that was really good (but not as good as Marc's.)

At dinner, we learned that the convention had arranged a special parking rate for the square dancers. If you went to the hotel and got a voucher, you could park for $8/day instead of $20/day. Well! It would have been nice if the hotel had mentioned that! Marc moved the car so that we could get the cheaper rate for the last day.

After dinner, we danced with the group I knew from previous dances again, and had a lot of fun. Jonathan stayed in the youth hall, where they had another blacklight dance, but he didn't win anything in the raffles this day.

2011 Vacation - Day 2

  27-Jun-2011 (18:05)

When we arrived at the convention (a little after noon,) the first thing we discovered was that Jonathan's name was mispelled on his badge. One 'H' is enough in his name! We went to 'badge repair' to get it fixed and we were told to come back in two hours to get his new badge. Since to fix the badge all that was required was to print a new label, it wasn't clear why it would take two hours to do that, but, since it didn't stop him from dancing, we didn't argue.

The next thing we discovered was that while, at 18, Jonathan was young enough to dance in the youth hall; he was not old enough to sign himself in. So we signed him in and we went off to dance in the plus hall.

We soon became aware that Jonathan's badge was not the only one that was wrong. All of us had our home town listed as "Chatsworth, GA." Well, GA, CA, what's the difference? So after a while, I went back to badge repair to get my badge and Marc's badge fixed. And I told them to fix the state on Jonathan's badge, too.

After a couple of hours of dancing, I noticed I was making more mistakes than I would like. "Well you are 50, what do you expect?" I thought. But then it occurred to me that I was dancing on 4 hours sleep, and maybe that was the bigger factor!

Just before 5, I went to pick up our badges, but they were not ready yet. How long does it take to make a label, really? I was told to come back at 8. On the way back, I ran into friends Debby and Robert. They said they were going to dinner with some friends at a restaurant in Greektown that served sushi. I said we would try to join them.

The youth hall closes at 5 for dinner (and we were starving anyway.) First we went back to the hotel and I changed and then we walked to Greektown. We saw a restaurant that served sushi and checked the menu. Jonathan said that although he could find something to eat there, it wouldn't be his first choice. So we decided not to eat there. But first we went in to see if Debby and Robert were there, which they were. We said hello and traded cell phone numbers and went off to find a more Jonathan-friendly restaurant.

Being in Greektown, we decided to get Greek food (and what would we have eaten in Bricktown?) We chose a restaurant called Pegasus, which turned out to be a great choice for a couple of reasons. First, the food was excellent. Marc ordered a combination dish with mousaka and soulaka and something else-aka and I ordered a spinach salad and we shared. Jonathan ordered fajitas. Around us we kept seeing dishes being brought to tables and then going up in flames. This turned out to be a flaming cheese appetizer which looked really good.

When we left, we discovered it was raining! We decided to take the People Mover back. The second reason that the choice of Pegasus was fortuitous was that we could get from the restaurant to the Greektown People Mover station without going outside. And we could also get from the People Mover to our hotel without going outside. I was pretty happy about that!

We went back to the hotel and I changed back into square dance clothes. Marc decided that he was too tired to square dance coherently and stayed in the room while Jonathan and I went back to the Cobo center. We took jackets and umbrellas, but we needn't have bothered, because by taking the People Mover, we never needed to go outside.

We went to badge repair to get our badges, and the good news was that our badges were there. Yea! The bad news was that Jonathan's name was again misspelled! (Too many "O"s this time.) Sigh. They said to come back in the morning.

For the evening, they had a live band playing in the main hall, and I found some people I recognized from previous conventions and danced with them. There were a couple of squares who all knew each other that started doing this thing called scatter promenade. In a scatter promenade, you don't promenade home, you promenade to somewhere, anywhere, in the squares participating. Most times, the squares end up back as two squares with 4 couples each, but sometimes they ended up as one with 5 and one with 3 and then a couple in the 5 square had to scramble to the one with 3! It was a lot of fun. After doing that for half an hour, I went upstairs to get Jonathan so that he could try it. He agreed that it was fun and then went back to the youth hall where they were doing a blacklight dance.

Just before the blacklight dance, they drew the raffles. In the youth hall, they do a Chinese auction each day. Each kid gets one ticket for the auction each time they dance. Jonathan had put all his tickets into the basket containing 10 movie size boxes of candy. His persistance worked and he won the candy!

For the blacklight dance they passed out white gloves and glow sticks, turned on blacklights and turned out the lights. They kids loved it!

At 10, the regular dancing ended. There was still more dancing in some of the halls, but Jonathan and I decided to call it quits and get some sleep!

2011 Vacation - Day 1

  26-Jun-2011 (17:04)

Wednesday, June 22 - Are we there yet?

Benjamin went to camp and Marc, Jonathan and I went on vacation to the 60th National Square Dance convention in Detroit starting the same day. It has been quite the adventure!

Things got off to a pretty standard start. Wednesday morning, we brought Benjamin to Wilshire Temple to take the bus to camp. We checked him in, and the nurse-like person took his temperature while we kibitzed with the staff. I said to Benjamin, "You're going to write, right?" An eyeroll from Benjamin and laughter from the staff. Then I said, "And you're going to comb your hair, right?" More eyerolls and laughter. The next thing we know, Benjamin is walking away to meet his counselor. Not even a goodbye. We chased him down to get our hugs, then off we all went. Benjamin by bus to Malibu, and us by plane to Detroit. I hope his trip was less eventful than ours.

Our flight was scheduled to leave at 1:50pm, and we got to the airport in plenty of time. When we reached our gate we discovered the departure time was now 2:00. We originally had an 80 minute layover in Dallas, it was now down to an hour. We had brought sandwiches with us, but decided to buy lunch in LA and save the sandwiches. That turned out to be an excellent decision.

After lunch we learned that our 1:50 departure was now a 2:25 departure, then a 2:45, then a 2:55 departure. The plane was now scheduled to arrive in Dallas at about 8pm and our plane to Detroit was scheduled to leave at 8:20 - it would be close! We were particularly nervous because we knew that the flight from Dallas to Detroit was the last flight of the day.

Our uneventful flight touched down at 7:57 and arrived at the gate at about 8:12. We hustled the 16 gates over to our departure gate, getting there at 8:17.

The plane was still at the gate and we breathed a sigh of relief. But our relief was shortlived. The plane was still there, but our seats were not. They had given away our seats! And we were not the only ones staring forelornly at our plane. About a dozen people had been on the delayed flight from LA and had tickets on that flight to Detriot. We were somewhat confused. They knew they had 12 people on a flight from LA for this flight. They would rather put 12 people up in hotels than to hold the seats? Apparently, yes.

So, when's the next flight? Tomorrow - but they're all booked.

First, the ticket agent helped the guy who was traveling (first class) with his wife and in-laws. They were traveling to Detroit to see the in-laws' institutionalized son and then on to the East coast. If they couldn't get to Detroit until Friday, they were not going to be able to see their son. After a really long time, the ticket agent got them on a Delta flight (we were on American) to Detroit the next morning.

Our turn. He got us on a 3:55pm flight the next day. He was being very quiet about it, which turned out to be because to do this, he upgraded our tickets to first class, and (he said) he didn't want his supervisor (who was standing there helping others) to know. He made us hotel reservations at Courtyard by Marriott and gave us a voucher for the hotel room and vouchers for dinner, breakfast and lunch.

We called our hotel in Detroit to say we weren't going to arrive until tomorrow and they shouldn't give away our room, and could we avoid paying for tonight? We couldn't avoid paying for tonight because "this is a group rate and you can't make changes." Well at least they weren't going to give away our room!

We caught the shuttle to the hotel and checked in. We went to go have dinner, and discovered the hotel restaurant was closed (since it was after 10.) So we decided to just eat our sandwiches and save our vouchers (since the vouchers only came to $60 for all three meals, they weren't going to go very far.)

Marc called Blanche and I called my Mom. When I told her we were planning on getting to the airport early and seeing if we could go standbye on an earlier flight, she went online and looked up the flight times of the earlier flights. She mentioned that there were two seats on the 9:30 flight. We decided to try and get two of us on that flight. So we called the airline and were told that there was only 1 seat on the 9:30 flight, but there were 3 seats on the 6:45(am) flight. Sure! We would rather dance than sleep! We can sleep later! We could only get 2 seats in first class, so we had to trade one of our first class seats for coach.

We got even less sleep than we expected, because we couldn't arrange for a 5:30 shuttle to the airport. The hotel's shuttles only left on the hour, so we had to wake up at 4:30 to catch the 5am shuttle. Sigh.

We arrived at the airport found that they would only give seat numbers to the two first class seats. The flight was overbooked, and so they weren't assigning seats to the unassigned seats just yet. Does this mean the coach seat could get bumped? Possibly, yes.

We went to get breakfast. We used one of our $15 vouchers at McDonald's, where you can get breakfast for 3 for less than $15, if you don't get drinks.

We got back to the gate to find they were already boarding. Fortunately, we were able to get a seat for our coach ticket and we all got on board the flight. Marc and I took the first class seats and discovered they were serving breakfast to the first class passengers, which we passed on, since we were stuffed from eating McDonald's.

We arrived in Detroit and called the hotel to find out where to pick up the shuttle. "Shuttle?" they said, "there's no shuttle. Take a cab. It's only $45." (Each way, of course!) Well, we had a rental car reservation for three days (for after the convention to visit family) for $65, so what would it cost to get the car for 6 days? $195, as it turns out. WHAT?! The weekly rate was 10x the daily rate? Apparently, yes. So we rented a car for three days for $65, and then we turned it in and rented a new car for another three days (also for $65).

Before we left the airport, we bought sandwiches, cereal, muffins, and milk with our remaining airline vouchers.

We finally made it to the hotel and checked in. In an inspired moment, I asked, "Are we getting charged for 3 days or 4?" Here we actually benefitted from the right hand not knowing what the left hand was doing. The staff person replied, "Today is Thursday and you are checking out Monday, so 4 days." (The reservation was for 4 days.) "No," we excitedly told her, "we are checking out Sunday!" "OK, I'll change that." she replied. So in the end, we didn't have to pay for Wednesday night!

We got to our hotel room around noon and changed, and went off to dance. We actually only arrived at the convention a few hours after we expected. What we really sacrificed was sleep!

I'll blog about the convention itself tomorrow.

Life with Jude - Day 6

  19-Jun-2011 (21:26)

Sunday (June 5) was Jude’s last day with us. In the morning we played in the house for a while and then I thought, “I have this wonderful backyard – let’s go outside and play. We took some balls and other things to throw, and went into the backyard to throw them around. We did that for a while, and then I picked a loquat from our loquat tree, (which still had a lot of fruit on it,) peeled it, and offered it to Jude. The loquat fruit tastes like a mix of peach, citrus and mild mango. Jude loved it. Now the loquat tree in our yard is at the bottom of a steep but shallow slope near the fence. I had already picked and eaten all the fruit that you can reach without going down the slope to the base of the tree, so when Jude wanted more, I had him go get one. There are stairs he could manage easily (not near the tree of course) so he would go down the stairs, walk along the fence, pick a loquat, come back to the stairs, go up the stairs, and give me the fruit to peel (and take the seeds out.) He would scarf down that fruit, and then go get another one. Now loquats are small, a little smaller than a ping pong ball, with a bunch of large seeds in the middle, so there’s not much actual fruit on each one, but after he had eaten A DOZEN(!) I thought maybe I should cut him off! So I distracted him with the fun activity of throwing balls over the pool fence. He liked that! After a while we came in and had lunch. My friend Harriet came over to make final plans for the shower the two of us were throwing the following weekend, and one of the boys took over watching Jude.

At 2:30, Harriet had gone, and it was time to take Benjamin to Chorus. It occurred to me that, if I took Jude with me when I dropped off Benjamin, Jude might fall asleep in the car in the 40 minute round trip. Sure enough, on the way back, he fell asleep, and when I arrived back at the house, I had a sleeping toddler in the back seat. However, I remembered that the day before, he had not stayed asleep when I took him out and I pondered what to do. I rejected leaving him to sleep in the car, despite the fact that the day was cool. I decided to try transferring him to the stroller. If he transferred, Marc and I could carry the stroller inside and let him sleep in the stroller. If not, I could immediately go for a walk, and with luck, he would fall back asleep.

Transferring him woke him up, as I feared, so we immediately set out on a walk. For a while, I thought my plan was inspired and he would fall back asleep, but it did not happen. And when we passed some (older) kids playing, he sat up and looked at them longingly, and I knew I was out of luck. We walked for a while and at one point he turned around so that he was facing backward and kneeling in the stroller. I stopped the stroller. He said, “Go!” I said, “Sit on your tush.” We repeated that exchange several times, and then he turned around and sat properly, and we went. After awhile he put his feet on the foot rest, stood up as much as he could, and leaned over the lap bar. I could see this ending once again in a child refusing to sit in the stroller, and I decided I didn’t want to do that again! So I simply buckled his seatbelt. Well! This did not make him happy at all! But he soon calmed down, and we proceeded. After a while, he let his foot dangle down against the wheel. Why do they make strollers where the child can reach his foot to the wheel, that’s what I want to know! Jude was not wearing shoes, just socks, so letting the wheel rub against his foot was out of the question. But, knowing that arguing with two-year olds that haven’t had a nap is an exercise in frustration, I just sat down on the curb and waited. Eventually, Jude wanted to go more than he wanted to dangle his foot, and he put his foot on the bar and we went.

This perfectly illustrates my prime childcare philosophy. Getting good behavior out of typical children is all about figuring out what motivates them and using it. And often, as is in this case, “what motivates them” is often as simple as “make the stroller go.” Of course, this is just a *philosophy* - implementing it in real life in often not so easy!

At any rate, not long after we returned to the house, it was time to leave for dinner at my Mom’s house. We took two cars, both so that we could borrow tables and chairs from my Mom and brother for the shower the following weekend, and also so that I could take Jude home directly from my Mom’s without taking the boys with me. At dinner, I was reminded of the days when Marc and Jonathan and I would go out to dinner with Don and Sue and Michael. Jonathan and Michael, being 2, would want to get up and walk around, and, typically, two adults would take the boys outside while the other two sat and talked and waited for the check to come. In other words, Jude wanted to get up long before the rest of us were done with our meal! And, as in those days when Jonathan was young, we just traded off who was watching him, until we had all eaten. When dinner was over, I did the dishes, and then took Jude home. I fully expected that Jude, who had only had a 10 minute nap that day, would fall asleep in the car. I thought it would be better if he were awake to see his mom and dad when we got to his house, so I kept him talking the whole ride there. That kept him awake and he had a joyful reunion with Rick and Addie.

Life with Jude - Day 5

  18-Jun-2011 (13:47)

Saturday was the first day of Jude’s stay with us that Benjamin did not practice piano and clarinet at 6am, so of course Jude woke up earlier than he had on the previous three days. He just lay quietly in his bed for quite a long time, but eventually he wanted to get up. I tried to talk him into crawling into our bed with us, like I used to do on weekend mornings with our kids, but he was not interested. So I got up and we went downstairs. We played and had breakfast and got dressed. Around 10:30, I suggested we go for a walk in the stroller. Jude liked that idea and he and I and bear and the spiderman bag and two necklaces he had found went off for a walk in the stroller.

After about a mile and a quarter, Jude said he wanted to walk. Sure, why not? I’ll tell you why not. Because Jude does not define the word walk the way I define the word walk. He does not define walk as “to move forward in a straight(ish) line.” There’s no “straight” in his definition, not even “ish” and there’s definitely no “forward” at all. Jude defines “walk” as to go up the steps and down the steps and around the lawn and through the “garden” of whatever house he is at – over and over again. I was able to convince him to move to the “next house” about a half dozen times. Then, he seemed to just run out of steam all at once. So, fine – I picked him up and carried him for a little bit. The problem came when I tried to put him back in the stroller. Not acceptable! Now I could easily have carried him home, but carrying him while pushing the stroller was a challenge. So I had to decide – did I want to battle a tired, hungry boy or did I just want to carry him? I decided to save the battle for when I didn’t have another option.

We got back and had lunch. We played some more, and then went to Nobel Middle school with Jonathan and Benjamin to see Nobel’s production of “Beauty and the Beast.” The Nobel kids did a first rate job with the show and the costumes and sets were amazing. Not to mention the magic that changes the Beast back into the prince. Jude sat quietly in my lap through the first act. He was scared by the Beast – not his appearance so much, as the way he roared at people and made demands of them. But the Beast isn’t in the first act so much. During intermission, Fanny took him to pet the Beast, and he was OK with that. I took the opportunity to do a little moralizing and explained to Jude that the Beast was not a nice person and didn’t use nice words. I told Jude that Belle would teach him to be nice and to use nice words and when he acted nice to people and used nice words, he would change from a scary Beast into a handsome Prince. In the second act, Jude was fine until the Beast again started yelling and making demands and stomping around. Jude didn’t cry, he just asked if we could go outside. So we did. We came back in after a while and stood in the back and Fanny spotted us and asked what was going on. I explained the situation and she suggested that the daughter Nicole, who had seen the show already, watch Jude so that I could see the rest of the show. Nicole brought Jude in for the end so he saw the Beast turn back into the prince, and he liked that.

On the way home, Jude fell asleep, but he woke up when I tried to transfer him from the car. I tried to get him to take a nap, but although I got him to lie quietly for a while, he didn’t fall asleep. We played some more, and I gave him some dinner, and we went to a square dance. I thought he would like the dance because it was a fundraiser for the guide dogs and there were a bunch of guide dog puppies there. We took two cars, in case taking Jude home early was a good idea. This turned out to be an excellent decision, as Jude fell asleep in the car on the way there, and Marc just turned around and took him home and put him to bed. Benjamin and Jonathan and I stayed and danced and petted puppies!

Life with Jude - Day 4

  16-Jun-2011 (22:56)

Life with Jude - Day 4

Jonathan arrived home from grad night after Benjamin and I left for school/work. However, he didn’t go to directly to bed like many kids would have. In fact, Jonathan didn't lie down for a “nap” until the afternoon - about the same time Jude did. Benjamin wasn’t home for dinner that night because that was his “grad night” at Magic Mountain. Being an 8th grade event, this grad night went from 2 to midnight, not midnight to 8 am like Jonathan’s grad night.

When dinner rolled around, Jude and I went to wake up Jonathan for dinner. We got him to open his eyes, but he never woke up! So Jude and Marc and I had a nice Shabbat dinner all by ourselves! After dinner I gave Jude a bath - this time with no crying and yelling. In fact, the biggest problem I had was that Jude was having so much fun, he didn’t want to get out! But I showed him how much fun it was to push on the plug and let a little bit of water out and eventually he had so much fun doing that that there was no water left, and he got out.

Life with Jude - Day 3

  15-Jun-2011 (23:02)

Life with Jude - Day 3

Thursday, Jonathan graduated from Granada. Granada gives each family 5 tickets to the graduation ceremony. No exceptions. In our family we have 2 parents, 4 grandparents and a brother. That makes 7. Benjamin reduced the problem by one by requesting that he be allowed to miss it. Since that meant we didn’t have to get a sitter for Jude, and since we didn’t have a ticket for him anyway, we granted his request. We got an extra ticket from our friend Harriet – except that the ticket was for the green (A-F) section and Jonathan was in the blue (R-Z) section. Jonathan managed to trade the green ticket for a yellow ticket (M-Q) section, which was at least on the same side of the football field as the blue section! Jonathan had to be at graduation early, so he took the Honda.

At a quarter to 6, the rest of us (except Benjamin and Jude) all piled into the van and went to Granada. Blanche has a handicapped parking pass, so between that, and arriving over an hour before it began, we figured we would have good parking. But when we arrived, we found that handicapped parking was already full! We were directed to the overflow handicapped parking lot. This turned out to be fortuitous because the overflow handicapped parking lot was right next to the spot where the blue section students were lining up. We found Jonathan and gave him hugs and took pictures. Then we went to find our seats. I held all of our tickets together in a stack with the yellow one on the bottom, and prepared to be told that one person had to go sit in the yellow section.

Because we came from the handicapped lot, we didn’t go through the normal entrance. We met people who were there to keep people from coming in without tickets and I waved my stack of tickets at them. They motioned for us to proceed. We arrived at the handicapped seats and were told that only the handicapped person and one non-handicapped person could sit in the handicapped section, the rest would have to go up in the stands. So Blanche and I sat in the handicapped section and Marc, Sharon, Al and Irene went up to the stands. I gave them 4 blue tickets, but nobody ever looked at or tore our tickets. So I wondered what all the fuss about tickets was about. But later, someone asked us if anyone had an untorn blue ticket. Apparently she had come with 5 blue, 1 green and 1 yellow ticket and the green and yellow were told they could not sit in the blue section. So somebody was monitoring tickets, just not ours. Perhaps because we came in from the handicapped lot, who knows? At any rate, it worked out just fine and we had great seats.

The ceremony started right at 7:00. When it took 20 minutes just for all the kids (862 kids in his graduating class) to enter the stadium, I was a little concerned, but in the end, graduation only lasted until 8:45. They did name each student with a GPA of 4.0 or higher, which took a while because there were 98 of them! As they called each name (alphabetically, of course,) the student stood and remained standing until they called all the names. What a good time to have the last name Zev! Jonathan’s name was called as “Last, but not least, Jonathan Zev.”

At one point the choir was singing and, to our great amusement, the kids started a wave. It was fun to see how it grew. The first time it started in the front row of the blue section and went down the row. Then it slowly grew until the entire blue section was involved. As this was happening, the other sections noticed and started their own waves.

One of the ways that Granada shortened the ceremony was to eliminate an adult commencement speaker, which surprised me. Later on, my mom commented that Tom Hayden had been the commencement speaker at my graduation. She said that she remembered that he said that society had reached a point where the graduating class should not expect to do better than their parents. She thought this was a very perceptive statement to make in 1980.

At 8:30, Marc got a call from Benjamin saying that Jude was really tired but that Benjamin couldn’t get him to lie down. Marc told Benjamin just to put him in bed and ignore the crying and we would be home soon. Sure enough by the time we were home (a little after 9,) Jude was asleep. Jonathan didn’t come home with us; he went to grad night at Disneyland instead.

Life with Jude - Day 2

  14-Jun-2011 (23:16)

Benjamin always (well, almost always) practices piano and clarinet starting at 6am on school days so I woke up at 6am to the sound of the piano. Fortunately, Jude slept through it! At 6:30, I got up and took a shower and got ready for work, and just as I was finished and about to go downstairs, he woke up. So I took him downstairs and fed him breakfast. I left him with Marc, and went to work.

That night, I had a board meeting at the Temple. Just before I left, I suggested that Jude could use a bath, and Jude happily said, “take a bath” and we went down to find Marc. Jude told Marc he wanted to take a bath and the two of them went upstairs. The next I know, Jude is crying and yelling that he does not want to take a bath. What changed? Who knows? He’s two.

I came to see if Marc needed anything and got Jude’s shampoo and a small bucket and a towel for him while Marc got Jude into the tub (still yelling.) When I got home, Marc said that after the bath, he got him into pajamas, and gave him a snack and put him to bed. Jude would not let him tell a story, so he just put him in bed and went downstairs, and Jude yelled for a little bit and went to sleep. Marc said, “You can put him to bed the rest of the nights!”

Life with Jude - Day 1

  13-Jun-2011 (21:44)

Life with Jude - Day 1

At the beginning of June, we watched Jude, the 2 1/2 year old son of our friends Rick and Addie, so they could attend Hava Nashira, the Jewish Songleader and Music workshop. Here is what happened the first day (Tuesday, May 31):

In the evening, I was in the kitchen with Jude and he asked what I was making. I said I wasn’t making anything. I surveyed the kitchen and commented that Jonathan needed to do the dishes. Jude said the kitchen needed to be cleaned up. I said, “Do you want to tell Jonathan to clean up the kitchen?” Jude said yes, and marched downstairs to where Jonathan was and said, “Jonathan, clean up the kitchen. It’s a mess!”

Jude had a lot of fun exploring our house. He found the pretzels that we keep at two-year old eye level and asked for one. But then he decided that he would rather have the Rice Krispy treats that are also at two-year old eye level. When I said he couldn’t have one, he spotted the M&Ms that are in the same place. I decided we had had enough fun playing in the kitchen!

The boys have Piano lessons Tuesdays and while Jude and I waited for them to end we played pick-up sticks and Connect 4, and Match 7 and some other games that are normally for much older kids. If you just change the goal, they are a lot of fun for a two-year old (e.g. our goal when playing Connect 4 was to take turns putting the tokens in the slots.) Because of the piano lessons, Jude went to bed late, but he still didn’t want to go to bed (what child does!) I changed him and gave him some milk and brushed his teeth. We played with the remote (for the ceiling fan light) for a little bit and then went through the house and turned off all the unused lights. Then back upstairs. I suggested that he might want to fall asleep in our bed rather than on the air mattress we set up for him and he liked that idea. I liked that because then I could lie down next to him and get off the bed easily. I told him that if he laid down, I would tell him a story.

So he laid down and I made up a story about a boy and a girl who lived alone and didn’t go to bed at their bedtime and ate lots of food that is bad for them. And there was a Mommy and a Daddy who didn’t have any children, which made them sad. So the Mommy and the Daddy decided to take a trip to find some children to raise. So they drove and they drove and they came to a land where there were lots of dogs. But they didn’t think dogs were a good substitute for children. So they drove and they drove and they found a land with lots of cats. But they didn’t think cats were a good substitute for children either. So they drove and they drove they came to a land where there were lots of lions. They didn't think lions were a good substitute for children either. In fact, at this place, they didn’t get out of the car. So they drove and they drove until they came to the seashore. And they knew they couldn’t go any further, so they gave up on finding children and built a house and lived there by themselves. Now the girl and the boy got tired of not having a Mommy and a Daddy and decided to go look for one. So they went for a walk and they found this house by the seashore. They went inside and found the Mommy and the Daddy and everyone lived happily ever after.

Actually the story was much longer than that when I told it to Jude, with lots of moralizing about going to bed when it was bedtime and eating healthy food, but the way I told it here was too long already and you really don’t want to hear the whole thing.

Anyways, when I was done, I just laid there quietly for a few minutes. When I got up, Jude was still awake, but he didn’t protest, and I slipped out.

Stay tuned for the further adventures of Jude and the Zev's! Coming up soon!

Benjamin's Science Experiment

  12-Jun-2011 (19:46)

Benjamin

Benjamin's 8th grade science class required each kid to do a science experiment. I got pretty involved in this experiment - way more than I had been in any previous experiment by either of my kids. It culminated with Benjamin's participation in a science fair at CSUN and the publication of his abstract in a journal of middle school science projects. I took a lot of flak from Marc about how much I input I put into the experiment. When it was all over, I dealt with the tension that his criticism had created by writing up the whole experience. The write-up is *long*, so I decided not to post it here, but if you are curious (or if you just want to see the pictures) you can go to http://www.jmzconsulting.com/zev/news/Science2011/

My Dallas trip (May 9-11)

  7-Jun-2011 (19:22)

Work wanted me to go to Dallas and make a 20 minute presentation. Normally travelling for two days for a 20 minute presentation would not be something I would jump at, but when it's in Dallas? My friend Patty, that I've been close to since high school, lives in Dallas. Go visit her for free? And not have to take vacation time? Absolutely.

I flew out Monday around noon, arriving in time to have dinner with her and her boys. We went for Mexican food. Mexican is not my favorite genre of restaurant, but I was feeling flexible that night, and boy was I glad. The food was REALLY good. I had a seafood burrito that was out of this world. I didn't eat it all, and brought the rest back to Patty's, expecting that it would just get tossed later on.

I checked into my hotel room that night and in the morning went to the meeting (my presentation was just one part of a three-day meeting.) At lunch I was sitting with a female coworker and someone else that I didn't know. A friend of his walked up and invited the three of us to go sit outside and eat. My co-worker and I didn't want to get up but the guy did. But 15 minutes later they were both back, because it was raining outside! That's Dallas for you!

When I gave my presentation, I started a little rough, partly because I was pressing the "advance" button on the remote too hard, and this would flip the presentation slides too far and then I would have to back up, and this flustered me. However, after the first few slides I settled in, and the rest of the presentation went smoothly. It humored me that I had the most trouble on the first few slides, because I had practiced my presentation quite a bit and frequently my practices were interrupted, so I practiced the first few slides WAY more than the rest of them.

After the meeting was over, I went to the airport and dropped off the car. Patty picked me up from the airport and we went back to her house. She normally takes a "gentle yoga" class on Tuesday evenings, so we went and did yoga. I'd never taken a yoga class before. My back had been bothering me a little and it seemed to make it better, which I liked. I was expecting it to be somewhat boring, but it wasn't really. But it wasn't enjoyable enough to make me want to start doing yoga regularly either. I would consider it as a social thing - if others I knew were doing it I might join them, but I probably wouldn't do it alone. It wasn't raining when we arrived, but we got wet going back to the car! That's Dallas for you!

When we got back to Patty's house, I was feeling a little hungry - I had snacked in the late evening, knowing that I didn't want a full meal before yoga, so I wasn't starving. What to do? Well, there was this delicious half a seafood burrito that was probably going to get tossed if I didn't eat it. So it did get tossed - into my stomach!

Patty and I chatted for a while and then went to bed. Patty had planned to take Wednesday off from work to spend with me and to go to a doctor's appointment. While she was at the appointment, I hung out and read my book. I was reading "Hero of Ages" by Brandon Sanderson. My boys had been raving about this book and the two that precede it, and I decided to read them and see what all the excitement was about. I decided that they were right - Brandon Sanderson is very good.

Patty and I decided to go for coffee. (Well, she had coffee and I had a smoothie.) Then we checked out a store Patty had never been to that sold purses and accessories. There wasn't anything in there that interested me, but Patty found some gifts for her sons' teachers. We had planned to go to a museum in Fort Worth next, but on the way there it started pouring down buckets of rain, and this California girl looked at our complete lack of umbrellas or coats or anything and said, "Why are we going out in the rain to a museum when we could just hole up in your house and drink the wine I brought?" And Patty said, "Really?" And I said, "Yes!" And she turned the car around and we went back to her house. It was good that we did that, too, because then Patty was able to make arrangements for her boys to get dropped off closer to the house, which worked in one case and didn't in the other! But fortunately they don't melt.

We went for dinner at a restaurant on the way to the airport, and the food was good, but not particularly memorable. Then Patty dropped me off at the airport with the admonition that if my flight got cancelled to call her! "Cancelled!" I thought, "It's not raining that hard!" But they were cancelling flights right and left, not because of the Dallas weather, but because the weather in other cities was so bad that they couldn't get enough planes into Dallas to serve all the scheduled flights. Fortunately, my flight wasn't cancelled, just delayed (2 1/2 hours!) which worked in my favor, because then I didn't have to take any vacation time for Wednesday, as my travel time on Wednesday was 8 hours.

I'm hoping that work sends me back to Dallas again soon!

The St. Louis Robotics competition (Apr 27-May 1)

  4-Jun-2011 (12:24)

Jonathan and the rest of the Robotics team went to the FRC National Robotics competition in St. Louis. This was the 20th anniversary of this competition and the 10th anniversary of the Granada High School Robotics team, so it was doubly a landmark event.

Jonathan described this trip as follows: Wednesday (April 27) we met at the Flyaway at O-dark-thirty. I carpooled with Daniel to get there. We were not the last people there, but close to it (Omar was late.) At the airport there were some issues because people had packed the team laptops in their checked baggage, but we didn’t want the laptops checked, so they had to be extricated. There were a couple of other teams on the plane with us. The flight passed uneventfully. When we arrived it was raining but fortunately I had brought an umbrella. At the hotel there was some problem that prevented us from getting into our rooms for a couple of hours. The uncrating crew went ahead to the arena to uncrate the robot and set up the pit, while the rest of us had dinner and then went up to our rooms.

The next day (Thursday), my room (and a few others) got up early and went to the pits. The rest of the team followed. Chris and I went to the stands to set up scouting. We scouted the other teams pit by pit. Once we finished scouting the teams in our division, I wandered off to collect buttons and other goodies that teams, sponsors and colleges were handing out. Lunch was upstairs and wasn’t very good, a trend that continued throughout the weekend. Then we came back and scouted the matches for the rest of the day. Our robot wasn’t doing very well – OK, but not amazing – I don’t think we won very many matches – maybe none at all the entire event. Mostly everything worked, except we had trouble with the minibot – it didn’t deploy very well. When the day’s matches finished and they closed the pits, we all went to dinner.

Friday, our matches were in the arena rather than the field in the pits which meant a good five-minute walk to get there. We had opening ceremonies, which we could barely hear. They weren’t very interesting. Woody Flowers annoyed me by demanding (rather than requesting, as is normally done) that everyone rise for the national anthem. The day went pretty much the same as before. We had trouble with the autonomous mode because they didn’t have time to calibrate the sensors. Around mid-day, Chris left to go look at scholarship row and get goodies and buttons. When lunch came, I lost the scouters for a while, but after awhile they all came back. For dinner we went to the Old Spaghetti factory, which was notable for being the place we celebrated my birthday in Dallas two years before. We celebrated Alex’s birthday. After dinner, we went back to the arena to see a concert by Will I Am and the Black-eyed Peas and Willow Smith. We ended up in the nosebleed seats. I threw a paper airplane which made it all the way down to the ground to the great amusement of all of us in the nose bleed seats. They announced the Chairman’s award winner during the concert. This is a little surprising because the Chairman’s award is the highest award of the event. But the concert got more media coverage than the final award ceremony, so they decided to give it there. After the concert, we all went back and went to bed.

The next day, the qualification matches ended around mid-day and we were not selected to be in the elimination round, so our team was done for the competition. We got our picture taken by a big banner and went to see the semi-finals and finals matches between the divisions on the Einstein field. Our division’s alliance, including RAWC (Robotics Alliance of West Covina – team 968) made it to the finals, but were defeated by an alliance which included another west coast team, the Grey Bots – team 973. The Grey Bots were our alliance partners in Los Angeles. They didn’t break this time, which they did in Los Angeles. After a really long awards ceremony, we ate more bad food for dinner and then went to the team social, which was really not that impressive. I spent my time playing Ninja and Egyptian war. There was a small concert in another room where several team members went crowd surfing. Then we went to one of the back rooms which we had designated as our meeting spot and interacted with the life sized cutouts of Dean Kamen and Woody Flowers. We went back to our rooms and slept (more or less.)

On Sunday, a large majority of the team went to see the arch, but my room skipped it and slept in. Then we packed all our stuff and went to the airport and came home. It was a good trip, despite not making it to the elimination round.

Heritage Festival (Aprl 29-May 1)

  4-Jun-2011 (11:58)

Benjamin and I went to San Diego where his chorus group was performing in the Heritage Festival competition. We drove down with Max (10) and Amanda (14). I got to chaparone (i.e., share a room with) 2 other boys in addition to Benjamin. But it wasn't that bad. I made Benjamin share a bed with me. The other two boys (who were 9 and 10) refused to share a bed. They both claimed the overstuffed chair, and I gave it to the younger, smaller boy, who also (as it turned out) had claimed it first. His mother was also on the trip and she wasn't too thrilled when she found out he had slept in the chair, but he was adamant and slept in it the next night too.

Benjamin described this trip as follows (with additional comments from me in paremtheses): "We got there (our hotel in San Diego) at nine (in the evening on Friday.) Max got into the pool. They (all of the chorus kids) were supposed to get out at 9:30 but Sue (the group's coordinator) let them stay in until 10. Max was very annoying about taking a shower. (He said he HAD to take a shower before bed, but kept not doing it.) We turned out the lights at 11:30.

Saturday: We woke up after a while and we went downstairs. We practiced (singing) a bit. We went to the place (where we were going to perform) and practiced some more. Then we performed. Afterwards we got free instruction and learned to sing North-South instead of East-West. Then we got our pictures taken. We went back to the hotel and changed. Max started swimming. We (Benjamin,, Amanda and I) went to the mall for lunch without Max and then we went to Sea World (again, without Max.) We went to a sea lion and otter show. During that show there was a "Detective Seymour" trying to figure out who stole the fish. He accused "Clyde" but then the otter came out with a fish, and they said "oh it was the very 'otter' guy!" Before the sea lion show, there was someone playing songs from movies and acting them out. He had a standing wardrobe and was changing to fit the music. Then we saw several aquariums. We watched belugas and a baby beluga and polar bears.

We went to the Blue Horizons ampitheater and saw the dolphin show. It started with someone coming out from the bedroom window, which was really high up, and she started by diving into the water. Then she met Dolphin man who has power over fountains. His servants rode around on dolphins. Dolphins splached some people. Than a macaw came and a macaw lady came out in a harness and flew around and did flips. Then some black vultures flew across the arena and some "bad guys" came out and were lifted high to a platform and dove into the water. Other bad guys started bungee jumping. Pilot whales came out and splashed people and then Dolphin man came out and rode on dolphins. The original woman came out was lifted into the air.

Next we saw penguins and saw sharks in an under-tank tunnel (very cool.) There was a moving walkway in under-tank tunnel and also for the penguins. We went and ate dinner and complained about the music. Then there was the awards ceremony where we got a plaque. We were silver and first place in our division. Then we went to see Shamu (the Shamu show), but it was somewhat boring. (Most of the chorus kids insisted on sitting in the splash zone, so Benjamin and Sue and I didn't sit with them!) Afterwards, we extricated Max from the shops and went back to the hotel. Max wanted to swim again but it was too late for that.

In the morning (May 1), we let Max and Amanda swim for a little while and then drove home. (It was Jonathan's birthday, but we celebrated at my mom's house without him, because he was not yet back from St. Louis - see post about Jonathan's trip to St. Louis!)

Next year's schools for my kids

  19-Apr-2011 (21:35)

Where will my kids be next year? Both kids are graduating from their current schools in June and will be transitioning to new schools in the fall. Jonathan will be going to Rice University in Houston, TX and Benjamin will be going to Reseda High Science Magnet.

Jonathan will be in Rice’s George R. Brown School of Engineering. He was attracted to Rice’s Engineering program, and he likes that he will be able to explore various Engineering disciplines before declaring a major. He also likes their system of Residential colleges which should give him a community to fit into, and ease the transition to living on his own in a strange city. Marc and I like that we have relatives in Houston, and that Jonathan was offered a scholarship to attend. As I've been mentioning to people that Jonathan will be going to Rice, the feedback I have been getting is that Rice is a very warm, welcoming community, and that they make a concerted effort to hire professors who are good teachers and not just Prestigious Nobel laureates.

Benjamin was accepted both into the Reseda High School Science Magnet and to Granada Hills (where Jonathan currently attends.) He wanted to attend a high school with a Robotics program, which both schools have. He chose Reseda because the programs at the two schools are similar, but while Granada is a huge school of almost 4000 kids, Reseda's Science magnet has closer to 400.

The fall will see many changes in our lives but we are pleased with the schools they have chosen, and think that the changes will be good ones!

Genealogy in the internet era is a lot of fun

  16-Apr-2011 (23:19)

Well! I sure love the era of the internet!

My cousin sent me an email containing a story about my grandfather. She said he signed up on a ship as a merchant sailor. There was a warrant out for the arrest of a man who had murdered his wife. They mistook my grandfather for this man and arrested him. My mother had heard the story and called it a "trunk" murder.

I know that a lot of newspapers have images of old editions online, so I typed "Morris Fox trunk murder" into Google, and up popped a number of newspaper articles about the murder and about my grandfather's subsequent arrest and extradition. What fun it was to read all about the incident in the newspapers!

I posted some of the articles on my website for stories about my Fox Family relatives. Now I'm wondering what other references to my relatives are out there in old newspaper articles, just waiting for me to find them!

Benjamin's New York Trip

  11-Apr-2011 (21:43)

Benjamin

Benjamin just got back from New York. He was there participating in Model UN. He had a great time. First he told us all about his room, then the site-seeing they did, and then about his Model UN experience. He said his room was one of the earliest ones to fall asleep the first night (which was around 2 am,) but one of the latest to go down to breakfast. They were given a time to wake up, but not a time to come downstairs for breakfast, so they came down at 7:40 when everyone else came down at 7:20.

On Thursday, they explored New York. First, they met Barry the bus driver and Mr. Swarn the tour guide. They learned that New Yorkers don't know basic geometry. All of their "squares" are triangles. They went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which is where the picture of Benjamin was taken. This is what Benjamin said about the Met. "We saw a painting called "Madonna and Child" that had incredibly bright colors for a painting so old. We then saw other things like one art piece consisting of a wall with little human figures--as far as I can tell all different--to show a migration. There was also a bunch of little mirrors that were slightly distorted so that you would look into them and see a bunch of little images of yourself. There was a very bright and colorful thing next to it, and to leave it you would catch a glimpse of this bright and colorful thing in the "mirror" and it was quite stunning."

They had "Halalian food" for lunch. ("Halal" is to Muslims what "Kosher" is to Jews.) They took a tour of the UN building and went to the 86th floor of the Empire State building, which Benjamin described as "crowded and cold, but amazing!" They saw the Chrysler building. I asked, "What's there to see at the Chrysler building?" Benjamin replied, "Nothing as far as I could tell!"

Friday, they went to Ground Zero and saw the 9/11 Memorial. They saw the new building which will be 1776 ft tall. They had lunch at Grand Central Terminal. Benjamin ate two 9-piece packs of sushi. After lunch, they did Model UN. After Model UN, they went to Times Square (triangle) and went to the M&M store. They went looking for "I love NY" shirts, but Benjamin didn't buy one, because they didn't express how he felt about New York. Marc asked if he wanted a "I like New York, but just as a friend" shirt.

On Saturday, there was more Model UN. In the evening, they went to the Broadway show "Million Dollar Quartet" which is about Elvis Presley, Jimmy Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash. They sat in the last row of the balcony, but Benjamin said the seats were still pretty good. He described the play as a lot of good singing in between boring dialog. Dispite the dialog, he enjoyed it quite a bit and described it as "amazing." He said that it was pretty realistic - the actors played real instruments.

On Sunday, they saw the Statue of Liberty and went to the gift shop, but did not climb to the top. Benjamin commented that the lamp is a really bright yellow. He expected it to be a dull gold color. They went to Wall Street and rubbed the bull. Then they flew home. On the flight home, they watched the movie "Tron Legacy," which they had already seen on the flight to New York.

About the Model UN experience, Benjamin said that at first he was nervous that he would not know anything, but he found that he knew enough. So then he was nervous about the speech he was to give. The second day the speech had been made, so he was able to relax and enjoy the day more. Benjamin's country was Namibia. He was on the UNICEF committee and his topic was Primary Education for All. He said that he was glad he wasn't in the General Assembly, because he was told it was horrible. In the General Assembly, they were asked the same questions over and over. UNICEF had three resolutions and they all passed. The resolutions were: 1) The UK, Grance and Germany should give money to Sudan and other developing countries. 2) (Benjamin didn't remember this one) and 3) We are going to give money to build roads, schools, and get craftmanship classes into the schools. Benjamin thought the first part of the last resolution was poorly written.

Benjamin agreed with the choices of which delgations won awards. He thought that Germany was the best (and they recieved the award for best delgation.) He thought the UK was really good and that Bangladesh was charasmatic (and they both got honorable mentions.)

There was a man in front of the MUN hotel with 2 albino rats that he had dyed yellow. He was flipping one. He dropped it but that didn't seem to hurt it. He put it on his shoulder and the rats started fighting, so he took the other one off his shoulder and started flipping it. He then put the rat's head in his mouth and flipped the rat onto his shoulder with his mouth.

Abby made a list of the funny things that happened in New York. The list is four pages long. It was a very busy and full trip, and they really enjoyed it!

Oh, and I almost forgot. Benjamin returned safe and sound, except for his suit, which apparently enjoyed New York so much that it hid in the closet and stayed behind. Hopefully, it will also find its way home in a few days.

LA Robotics Competition

  27-Mar-2011 (15:32)

LA Robotics Competition

Jonathan just got back from three days in Long Beach for the L.A. Regional FIRST Robotics competition. Granada's robotics team did very well. They won the Jack Kamen Imagery award. We believe they won it for their portrayal of their team's theme. The Granada team ("The Robodox") named their robot "the Chiropractor," dressed in white lab coats, and ran a Robot First Aid station, which provided other teams with parts and advice. Robodox also had a good looking robot and pit area, complete with banner.

In addition to winning the imagery award, the Robodox did extremely well in the competition, too. They were in first place for most of the qualification rounds, eventually ending up ranked 4th. Once they got their autonomous working, it was the only one that never failed. Their minibot was one of the fastest. Their alliances broke the record for highest score twice. Every alliance that scored over 100 points contained either the Robodox or the Penguineers. In the elimination round, they made it to the semi-finals and then ran into difficulties when one of their alliance partners stopped working and the Chiropractor's minibot failed to deploy.

The most exciting event at the competition occurred when team 702's robot caught fire during a match and a fire extinguisher had to be brought onto the field to put it out. The match was restarted without team 702, who missed their subsequent match as well. However 702's robot (now renamed "the Phoenix") made it back for the match after that, and it performed even better than before!

The Robodox are very pleased with their performance in the L.A. Regional, and are looking forward to going to St. Louis for the World Championship in April.

Jonathan has participated in the FIRST robotics program throughout high school, and has enjoyed it very much. To learn more about the program go to FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC)

Bakersfield

  24-Mar-2011 (23:27)

Bakersfield

We spent last weekend in Bakersfield, Square Dancing. We all had a blast! The first thing we did was to celebrate Benjamin's birthday by going to a Japanese restaurant and eating far too much Sushi and tempura ice cream. We danced Friday night and Saturday morning. For lunch Saturday, we found a local Bar-be-que place - Fabious Corner Best BBQ. Either it was delicious, or we were starving, or both! Jonathan was a little disappointed in his meal. Jonathan is not a fan of chicken sandwiches where the chicken is still on the bone, and where there is lots of sauce, and both were true of his chicken sandwich. I traded my pork sandwich with him, but there was still too much sauce for his taste. *I* thought both sandwiches were delicious! Then back for more dancing. We ate light for dinner, as we were still full from lunch. Then back for the Grand March.

In the Grand March, the dancers dress in club outfits, march out onto the floor and then everyone dances one dance together. It was a truely awesome sight to see our club, as we constituted over 100 dancers out of the 1200 dancers present. Not only do most of us dress in the red, white, and black club outfits, but our club also gives each club dancer a triplet of red, white, and black balloons, so we are a huge sea of red, white and black. All the other clubs dress in club outfits, but none have anywhere close to our number of members present at Bakersfield, and none of the other clubs do anything like what we do with the balloons.

Sunday morning we woke up to find out that a large portion of a tree in the parking lot had come down during the night, and if our car had been 5 spaces over, we would be replacing our car right now (see picture - that little dot by the truck on the right is Jonathan.) But it wasn't, and no other car was either, thank goodness! So we did more dancing, and then we needed to get back to LA before they closed the Grapevine! It was sprinkling when we left, and the rain got worse and worse as we went south. There was one very scary moment when a wall of water washed over the front of the car and we couldn't see a thing. But it cleared without incident and we made it to the valley safely. Much to my surprise, we got Benjamin to Chorus only a few minutes late, and well before the Grapevine closed due to snow a few hours later. I heard of families who came south later in the day and had to go out to the coast to get home.

Marc and I danced in the plus hall all weekend, but the boys switched back and forth between the manstream (easier level) hall, which had more teen dancers, and the plus hall. The callers were fantastic, and because there was mainstream hall, we had subtantially fewer problems with squares breaking down than we did at Oxnard last fall. To all you who turn up your nose at square dancing, I say - Don't knock it until you've tried it! It's really a lot of fun.

Our busy weekend!

  13-Mar-2011 (23:32)

So much is happening these days! I went skiing with a friend at Mountain High (the local resort) on Saturday. Both kids love skiing but their busy schedules have made this impossible so far this year. Like this weekend, when both kids were out of town! But I decided not to let their unavailabilty stop me from going and I had a really good time. We went to the East side of Mountain High, to which I had never been, and it was empty! This nearly did me in, because we were skiing down and then going back up so fast that I wasn't getting enough rest between runs. Once I figured this out, I slowed down and started taking breaks. It was spring skiing, but it wasn't too bad, and the diamonds and double diamonds were awesome!

Jonathan was in San Diego at the FIRST Robotics competition. The Granada team (Robodox) made it to the quarter finals and also won the Gracious Professionalism award. Granada won this award due to their extensive aid to other teams, including helping a rookie team completely rebuild their robot, taking it from a robot that could not pass inspection to one that was scoring on the field. Nice job, Granada!

You can view video of the matches from this event at http://regionalwebcast.com/sandiego/2011/. The Granada team was in matches 1, 17, 29, 34, 44, 54, 63, 72, 82, and 91, Match 34 is a good one to watch because you get to see the Robodox (Team 599, blue in this match) score and you get to see their minibot go up the pole at the end.

Benjamin was on a Hebrew High retreat in Ojai. We extracted him out of this retreat an hour early on Sunday so that he could go with us to Chicago. No not the city! The musical! Jonathan brought Bridget, a friend from school, Benjamin brought Abby, and Marc and I brought his mom. College of the Canyons did a great job with this show. Afterwards we dropped off all our guests and went to Jackie's mom's house to celebrate Benjamin's birthday a few days early. It was a busy, busy weekend!

Square Dancing

  9-Mar-2011 (22:26)

Square Dancing

Two and a half years ago, I said to my kids, "You should try square dancing. I think you would like it." Benjamin was too busy with Track and Hebrew and Drama and Piano, but Jonathan agreed to give it a try. One class and he was hooked. I went to class with him each week, and we went to the convention in Bakersfield in March and then to Nationals in June, and had a fabulous time.

Benjamin saw what a good time his brother was having and wanted to try it too. So a year and a half ago, he started class. Not to be left out, Marc also took the class. We weren't able to go to Bakersfield that year, but we went to the State convention in Fresno, and had a blast.

I had no kids left, so we kidnapped cousin Abby and took her to class last September. She liked square dancing too. This is a picture of the three of them at the class dance last Saturday all wearing square dancing clothes. Look at the big grins on their faces.

I realize that my kids are unusual kids with unusual tastes, but really, square dancing is a lot of fun. Get your kids to try it, they just might like it!

Conversations with my kids about God

  5-Mar-2011 (16:15)

I had a fun and interesting conversation with my kids tonight. At dinner, Marc asked each of them if they believe in God. Both gave essentially the same response, but with subtle differences. Intellectually, no, they don't believe in God, but spiritually/emotionally, they kind of do. (Jonathan said this is a gross oversimplification, and I agree, and look forward to future conversations elaborating on the subject!) Then they asked me if *I* believed in God, but that conversation got deferred until later so that we could discuss something else. So, when Benjamin went to bed, I suggested we continue the conversation while he was getting ready.

I explained to him that my philosophy regarding God stems from what I learned from Dennis Prager, now a conservative talk show host, when Dennis taught a class at a Jewish summer camp I attended when I was 20. I disagree with Dennis on most everything he says, but on these fundamental philosophical points, I agree with him.

He says that you should ask yourself the following questions:

1) Do you believe that there was no plan, no design, no guiding force in the creation of the world; all the intricate connections and balances that exist are a mere consequence of random chance?

2) Do you think there is an objective good and evil or does "good" and "evil" merely represent what society likes and doesn't like?

3) Do you believe that there is any purpose to your life and others' lives (regardless of whether anyone knows what that purpose is) or is everything we do meaningless?

4) Do you think that once you die, that's it, there's nothing more, no continuation, nothing goes on?

Dennis Prager taught that in order for there to be a guiding force, objective good, purpose to life, and something after death, God must exist. And I agree with him. Dennis said that if you believe in any of these things, you have to believe in God, because none of them can exist without God. And at the time, (I was 20) I was amazed. Because then, as now, I believed in none of them. And I was amazed that at this Jewish summer camp, designed to train Jewish leaders, they would teach me the philosopical underpinnings to my atheism.

I explained all this to Benjamin, and as I brought up each question, Benjamin would immediately launch into what his answer was to that question and why. I would let him talk for a while and then I would cut him off because my point was not to discuss the questions, but to lay them out, and to point out God's function in each one. Not to mention the fact that if we had discussed each one, we would have been there all night!

It was interesting to note that, in each question, Benjamin argued that the position that does not require God was the correct position.

At dinner time, we talk about morality a lot, but haven't really discussed God much before this. Too bad, because this conversation was a lot of fun! We won't wait so long before the next time.

Has Newt Gingrich lost his mind?

  1-Mar-2011 (22:02)

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich said during an interview with Newsmax that he thinks President Obama’s decision to stop enforcing the Defense of Marriage Act might be an impeachable offense. Really! Well Newt, I have a few questions for you.

Was it an impeachable offense when President George W. Bush chose not to defend a law prohibiting the display of marijuana policy reform ads in public transportation systems (ACLU et al., v. Norman Y Mineta)?

Was it an impeachable offense when President George H. W. Bush made the decision not to defend federal statutes that required minority preferences in broadcast licensing in Metro Broadcasting v. Federal Communications Commission?

Was it an impeachable offense when the Reagan administration was actively involved in arguing that a law passed by Congress was unconstitutional (INS v. Chadha)?

Was it an impeachable offense when President Bill Clinton decided the Clinton administration would not defend a law barring HIV-positive men and women from serving in the armed forces? Wait - don't answer that one - he's a Democrat.

Newt is clearly letting his objections to Obama as president get in the way of rational thought. The question in my mind is, among Republicans, is he the exception or the rule? I fear it is the latter, that Republican leadership has gotten to the point where they will oppose any program proposed by Obama, regardless of cost or benefit to the people of the US. This cannot be good for the country.

Die Fledermaus

  28-Feb-2011 (21:41)

Yesterday we went to see "Die Fledermaus" at the Madrid theater. Jonathan described it as "a USS Pinafore version of Die Fledermaus," a reference to a play we saw last summer which was HMS Pinafore cast in a Star Trek setting, with very comedic results. In this production, Die Fledermaus (which normally takes place in late 19th century Vienna) was cast in a 1970's "flower power" setting, also with very comedic results. The voices were very good, and we enjoyed the performance very much.

Benjamin didn't get to see the show, because the performance was from 3-6 and he had Chorus from 3 to 5:45, at a church only a mile or two from the theater. We dropped him off and told him he would have to hang out for 15 minutes or so after Chorus before we would be back to pick him up. But the show didn't get underway until 3:20, and we became concerned when the first intermission lasted 25 minutes. The show didn't break for the second intermission until 5:35, at which point it was clear that it was not going to be over at 6! We called my brother's family, and asked if someone could pick up Benjamin for us, and fortunately they were able to accomodate us. Indeed, the final curtain fell at 6:30, and it was 6:45 before we were able to get to our car.

When we exited our seats and entered the foyer, we realized what had caused all the delays. There were over 30 walkers sitting in the foyer, and a bus to the local retirement community parked in front of the theater! We were glad that the cause was simple logistics and not any more serious problem. And we were especially glad that the Schusters had been available to get Benjamin and he didn't have to wait for us for an hour at the church!

Clever solution

  27-Feb-2011 (13:25)

Clever solution

The other day, I asked Benjamin what he was learning in Math. He told us they had discussed a puzzle where you had to figure out the area between two concentric circles. The only numeric information about the circles you are given is the length of a line touching the outer circles in two places and tangent to the inner circle, which we called "T". Jonathan thought for a minute, wrote the answer on our white board and said, "this is the answer but I don't know why."

We were bemused. How could he know the answer, but not know why it was the answer? He explained. Since you can solve the problem without knowing the size of the inner circle, the inner circle can be any size (any size less than the outer cicle, anyway.) So make it have radius 0, in which case T is the diameter of the outer circle, and the answer is what Jonathan wrote on the white board.

It took us another couple of minutes to derive the answer algebraicly and verify that he was, in fact, correct. We thought Jonathan's approach was very clever.

Brrrr! Cold!

  24-Feb-2011 (07:08)

Last Thursday, we were awakened at 5 am to what sounded like our furnace committing hari-kari! Alarmed, Marc leaped out of bed and turned it off. The furnace repair man said that the sound was not the furnace dying, just a loose bolt, which he tightened, and then charged us $85 for the visit. "But," he added, "it will run now, but I wouldn't do it, because it is cracked and spewing carbon monoxide into your house." Lovely.

So we arranged to replace our furnace. While we were at it, we replaced our air conditioning as well. Both are over 40 years old and don't owe us anything. We were told that our air conditioning "was fine for a 2200 sq ft house" (ours is 3300.) Since the soonest we could get the replacement was last Monday, we had a very cold weekend.

Tuesday morning I anticipated waking up to warmth, but it was only 64 in the house. "Oh" Marc said, "I didn't program the themostat." Well why not? Sigh. Wednesday morning, I anticipated waking up to warmth, but it was only 66 in the house. "Oh" Marc said, "I must have not set the clock" Sigh. Thursday morning I anticipated waking up to warmth, but it was only 64 in the house. Sigh. This last sigh is not for his lack of ability to program the thermostat, but for my lack of ability to learn that after the first cold morning I should have checked what he had done! I realized that it was time for me to stop depending on him to properly program the thermostat and I took matters into my own hands.

Tomorrow I will wake up to warmth!

Benjamin's amazing memory

  18-Feb-2011 (23:53)

Tonight, Benjamin and I went to Temple. The Torah portion was Ki Tissa, Benjamin's Torah portion from his Bar Mitzvah, but he missed the service because I had needed him to provide babysitting. There was a Bat Mitzvah, and I thought the girl made some interesting points in her speech, including that Moses was wrong to have expressed his anger that the Israelites made the Golden Calf by breaking the tablets and that having to carve fresh tablets was how Moses redeemed himself for his actions. So afterwards, I asked if I could keep a copy of her speech to show to Benjamin. Benjamin read it and a lengthy discussion about what she had said insued. Towards the end of the discussion, Benjamin mentioned Matthew's speech, and how Matthew had talked about Moses arguing with God, and how Matthew used that to segue into how Matthew also liked to argue. "Matthew?" I said, "Matthew who?" "Cousin Matthew," Benjamin replied, "You know he had the same Torah portion as me." "My God," I responded, "Matthew gave that speech 4 years ago! You remember it?" "Well," Benjamin said, "Not *all* of it."

Superlative Award

  18-Feb-2011 (07:07)

I'm so proud of my son! Yesterday they anounced the superlative awards at his school. Superlative awards are when the class votes on things like "Best dressed," "Most likely to succeed," "Most likely to become a superhero," etc. Well Benjamin was voted "Best bookworm"! Well, actually he was voted "Best male bookworm." Who was voted "Best female bookworm"? Why, Abby, of course!

I'm reminded of Jonathan's 9th grade year, when the Robotics team awarded him the superlative of "Most likely to be reading right now, and not even realize he won a superlative award."

Boring?

  17-Feb-2011 (22:09)

A friend told me that my blog was boring. "Boring?" I replied, "You don't like my stories about my son?" "No, they are OK," he said, "I didn't like the story about the shopping." I told this to my husband who replied, "Yeah, well... I'm kind of with him on that one." (!)

Well, rest assured, given my *love* of shopping, I can't imagine there will be too many stories about shopping!

The perks of walking

  15-Feb-2011 (18:45)

My co-worker Rita and I try to get out of the building and walk every day during lunch. We try to do 3 miles in 45 minutes, although stop lights usually prevent us from achieving that. Today it was raining on and off, so at noon Rita went outside to check out the weather. She came back and reported that it was not raining and the ground was dry. So we changed into walking clothes, but in the short time it took us to change, it started to sprinkle. So we decided to walk inside the building in the corridors. This is not a great option (because to go 3 miles we end up covering the same corridors over and over) but it's better than potentially getting soaked. We set out, and shortly encountered the vendor guy restocking the vending machine. "Hi!" I said flippantly, "Are you giving out free samples?" To my complete astonishment, he replied with, "Sure, what do you want?" (!)

As they say, the squeaky wheel gets the grease - or in this case - the bag of potato chips!

Another Benjamin story

  10-Feb-2011 (21:01)

Tonight, I picked up Benjamin from Hebrew High, and like always, I asked him what he did there. First he told me all about his Beresheet (Genesis) class. He said they had learned about rape, but not incest. They learned about how Lot offered up his daughters to the Sodomites so that that the Sodomites wouldn't rape the men Lot was sheltering. Then Benjamin told me all about the story where Noah's daughters get him drunk so they can have sex with him. I said, "I thought you *didn't* learn about incest." "That's right," he replied, "I read ahead"

Then I asked him about Hebrew class. Benjamin said that they had listed to a story by Yonatan Geffen in Hebrew. This is a short version of the story (translated, of course): There was a green man. He lives in a house with green walls, green windows, green doors, green tables. He smokes green cigarettes. He has a green wife and green children. He meets a blue person. He said, "Blue person, why are you here?" The blue man replied, "I'm from a different story."

Then the kids were told to write their own stories. Here is Benjamin's story (translated, of course): In a world, there is Japan. In Japan, there are cities. In the cities, there are houses. In the houses, there are rooms. In a room there is a table. On the table, there is a candle. There is also a book. The book is big and green. In the book, there is a world...

I loved how both stories were so, so simple and yet had both had funny endings. I was very impressed by how much Benjamin did with a very limited vocabulary.

Benjamin story

  7-Feb-2011 (18:12)

Yesterday, Benjamin said that they did the dance "Adamah VeShamayim" (Earth and Sky) in his dance class. I know he likes that dance a lot. He said he likes the second part better than the first because he knows the words to the second part, and he only knows the first line ("Adamah VeShamayim") to the first part. What are the words to the second part?

"Heya..…heya…heya…heya…heya
Heya…heya…ho….…………

Heya…..heya…heya…heya…heya
Heya…heya…ho….…………
(!)

Costa Rica photos posted

  5-Feb-2011 (23:37)

Costa Rica photos posted

Hurray! I finished wading through the almost 3000 pictures we took in Costa Rica, and choosing a subset to post here. Not only was choosing the pictures extremely time consuming, but I also tried to identify all the mammals, birds and butterflies in the pictures, and that was a challenge. Then I scaled down the pictures so they would download in a reasonable time. Sometimes I did a little editing to brighten up dark pictures or reduce the yellow in pictures taken indoors. It's amazing what you can do with photoediting software. Compare the original photo to the left of this text with the edited version on Day 7 (first picture.) Quite a difference! I hope you enjoy our pictures - we certainly enjoyed taking them!

Awesome services!

  4-Feb-2011 (23:53)

Went to services tonight at our Temple, and they were incredible! The services were a tribute to Debbie Friedman, the Jewish singer/songwriter who passed away last month. Rabbi Lutz, Canter Linsky, and songleader Rick all spoke about how they had all known her and been influenced by her teaching and songwriting. The TAS House Band played and were excellent, as always. The evening was particularly sweet for me because there was no babysitting that night, so I traded off watching Rick and Addie's son, Jude, with Debi Chesler. I had him during Mi Chamocha, and was able to toss him into the air and dance around the sanctuary with him, just as I used to do with Benjamin when he was that age. Ah, memories!

Deal week

  1-Feb-2011 (23:14)

On Sunday, I went to Ross and found two tops and a pair of slacks for $40. Later that day, Abby and I went to a square dancing used clothing sale. Abby found an outfit and a petticoat for $13. I found an outfit for $10, and a petticoat for $20. When I commented that I found it humorous that the petticoat cost more than the outfit, I was told that this was because the petticoat (which showed no wear at all) would have been $300 new!

But wait, there's more! Yesterday, I decided to replace my cell phone, which has been missing for more than a month. So I went to Radio Shack, and got a better cell phone with a camera for $10.

If shopping was always like this, I'd do it more often!

Happiness as a function of religion

  28-Jan-2011 (22:07)

I went to services tonight and the Rabbi spoke of the Gallup poll (of more than more than 372,000 people) on happiness, where they found that of all the religions, Jews had the highest happiness scores. Gallup also found that people who said that religion was important in their lives and went to services regularly were (on average) happier. I looked around the sanctuary and noted that almost all the people there were regulars. "Hmmm," I thought, "She's preaching to the choir!"

It doesn't surprise me that religious people tend to evaluate their lives as happier. I think that negative people tend to reject religion too - at least enough of them do to cause the difference Gallup observed. If this is indeed the explanation, then convincing non-religious people to be participate more in religion will not affect their happiness. But if you can teach people to be less negative, a side effect might be that more people participate in religion.

I was intrigued by the fact that the average happiness score for Jews was higher than that for the other religions (and higher than that for aetheists/agnostics/no religion) - regardless of how religious those Jews were. That is not so easily explained. Perhaps it is somewhat evolutionary - the Jews who survived the holocaust tended to be those who were optimistic about their chances of making it in another country and emigrated from Germany. Social Darwinism!

Birds of a feather...

  24-Jan-2011 (21:05)

Today Benjamin told me about a movie he saw in science. However, he thought the movie was boring, so he was (in his words) "sort of reading during the movie." (How do you "sort of read"?) Consequently, he missed an important part of the movie. So tonight he asked a classmate what had happened at that part of the movie. Her answer? "Um, I don't really know, because the movie was boring, so I was sort of reading."

The CAL-UCLA Basketball game

  21-Jan-2011 (07:04)

Went to the CAL-UCLA Basketball game last night with my brother, who has season tickets - Thanks, Don! Mostly the game was uninspiring, with neither team playing particularly well. UCLA lead throughout, but Cal held it close until most of the way through the second half, when they stopped shooting baskets, and UCLA ran up a 15 point lead. For a while it looked like it was going to be a free-throw contest, rather than a basketball game, with the refs calling fouls each and every time someone went to shoot. Then, with a minute on the clock, CAL put on a full court press, and things got exciting. They pulled it even with a three-point shot, UCLA made one more basket, and time ran out. So UCLA won, but that last minute was very fun to watch!

Pants problem

  18-Jan-2011 (19:08)

Pants problem

Jonathan and Benjamin just came to us, both wearing black jeans, and Jonathan said, "The problem with going on trips is that I just realized that I'm wearing Benjamin's pants - they fit, they're just a little tight - and Benjamin is wearing my pants - they fit, they're just a little loose."

Normally we all do our own laundry, so our clothes don't get mixed up. But after our trip, all the clothes got washed together and everyone was responsible for picking their own clothes out of the pile and putting them away. Apparently, the boys are just as bad as telling their clothes apart as I am - even when they put them on!







Costa Rica Pictures

  16-Jan-2011 (16:02)

Costa Rica Pictures

The link to our Costa Rica pictures is up (under "photo galleries" in the upper right hand corner of the page) but at the moment, it only has pictures from days 0-3.

Marc went through the thousands of pictures we took and picked out the "good" ones, so I thought that posting them all would be easy. But my taste on what should be posted isn't close enough to his for me to just take all his pictures and post them. So this will take longer than I thought it would. It's going to take me a week or two to get the whole trip up. On the bright side, that means you don't have 500 pictures to look at all at once! Just kidding, I won't be posting that many pictures. I plan to limit myself to 26(!) pictures per day.

And after you've looked at the umpteenth bird picture, just remember that we didn't get pictures of all the birds we saw, and I didn't post all the pictures we took! And I promise not to post all the pictures of mammals I took. Jonathan pointed out that you can tell by looking at my pictures that I have a definite mammal bias!

Financial aid pain

  12-Jan-2011 (19:01)

Last night, I said to Marc, “With regard to Jonathan's college applications, you have been in charge of nagging Jonathan about essays, but I helped. I am in charge of the financial stuff, but you will help, right?” He responded, 'No problem, what do you want me to do?” I said, “I want you to review the CollegeBoard financial form I just finished filling out.” “Sure!” he replied. But when I handed him the 15 page printout of several hundred questions, he stared at it in shock and said, “You have got to be kidding!” I replied, “Now you understand what I've been complaining about!”

And I really don't have much hope of getting any money out of all this tsouris. I think I'm in the “earn too much money to be eligible for scholarhips, but not enough to pay for college” category. Sigh.

A legend is gone

  9-Jan-2011 (14:58)

I was stunned to hear that Debbie Friedman, the most phenomenal composer of Jewish music ever, passed away early this morning. I knew she had been hospitalized, but she is young, less than 10 years older than me, and I was sure she would pull through. But it was not to be. The world has suffered a profound loss today. Her music changed people; it changed the liturgy; it changed how others wrote Jewish music. How can she be gone?

My favorite mathemusician

  9-Jan-2011 (10:35)

Vi Hart, who did the “Snakes on a plane” video I referred to in one of my first blogs, has made another great video that all my math geek friends will love. She calls it The Gauss Christmath Special. It's long, about 10 minutes, but you can get the jist of it in the first couple of minutes. The link is just to her blog, not to the video, so when she adds more stuff, you will have to scroll down.

Fortunes go 21st century

  8-Jan-2011 (21:55)

Benjamin and I went out for Chinese food tonight. My fortune was 'You have a charming way with words. Send email to a friend.' Now there's a fortune you wouldn't have found a decade ago!

Costa Rican Food

  8-Jan-2011 (13:14)

Every place we stayed (except the Houston Marriott) served free breakfast, usually an extensive buffet, and always including eggs, toast, fruit and rice-and-beans.  The boys frequently had pancakes and/or waffles for breakfast.  Benjamin tried fried eggs for the first time and liked them.

Despite the plethora of American fast food restaurants, we only ate American food twice, on our first day (KFC) and on our last day (food court at the mall.)  We did lunch at Costa Rican pizza joints a couple of times, much to Jonathan's pleasure.  I tried a bunch of new foods, patacones, ceviche, gallo pinto (rice-and-beans) and I liked everything I tried.  Many lunches had a fried plantain (which I had had before) on the plate, the same way a deli would serve a pickle with a roast beef sandwich.  Costa Rica also has several drinks that were new to me, guanabana, cas, papaya - I liked them all, too.  I was told that the beef tastes different in Costa Rica, which did not surprise me, as the cattle eat different food in Costa Rica but my undiscriminating palette could not taste the difference.  Benjamin, who is a bolognese fan, bolognesed his way across Costa Rica.  Although his biggest criticism was of the sauce to pasta ratio, he never thought it rated as high as the bolognese he makes.  Jonathan mostly ate grilled chicken, often with rice (never with beans.) He did join us in eating steak at our last dinner.

In general, the Costa Rican food was very similar to the food we ate at Las Delicias, in Van Nuys. I recommend this restaurant for a taste of Costa Rica.

Costa Rican Weather

  8-Jan-2011 (13:12)

Although it rained to some extent on most of the days we were there, (and this was the dry season!) the only day that rain really was an issue was the day we went to the Poas volcano.  And on that day, it was more of a heavy mist than rain - it just meant we didn't see the volcano.  It only rained hard during the day once, the day we went to the hot springs, and we were all in bathing suits, so we didn't care. One disappointment was that we never saw more than the base of the Arenal volcano, because the mountain was always shrouded in clouds. We finally saw stars for the first time at Rincon de la Vieja - day 7.  Temperature-wise, it was cool but comfortable until we got to beach.  Then, it was nice the first day (the day it rained on us) and hot the day we left.

Costa Rican Hotels

  8-Jan-2011 (13:08)

Except for the first and last places we stayed, at each place we stayed, the rooms were laid out cabin-style, with two rooms per cabin and cement paths connecting the cabins.  There was WIFI at every place, but usually only near the reception desk. Usually there would also be computers at the reception desk, but I was glad I had borrowed my brother's iPad for the trip, because often the computers would all be in use, and at some places the reception desk closed at 6. Mostly, the places we stayed in had all the standard hotel amenities, but two were more, um, rustic. But, really, the only complaint about the accommodations were the two places which did not have enough light it the rooms to read by.  In fact, in one place the lighting was so bad, that when we tried to play a card game after dark, we had to give each person a flashlight!   At this place, the light *was* sufficient for the mosquitoes, and they feasted on us pretty good.  Marc was the big winner (loser) with 53 bites.  This place was the only one where mosquitoes were an issue, which was why we weren't using insect repellent.

Day 11 in Costa Rica & beyond 

  8-Jan-2011 (12:29)

Woke up at 5:30 because I had forgotten to turn off the alarm in my watch. (oops!) When I couldn't get back to sleep, I decided to blog in bed, and created yesterday's entry. Breakfast was surprisingly bad, considering that this was a Ramada.  We all took scrambled eggs from the warmer and then discarded them and went and had the omelet guy make us scrambled eggs.  Mom had said earlier that she wanted to try to go to the Jade museum.  But at breakfast, she said she was more interested in shopping at the mall across the street.  The boys, however, were more interested in seeing the museum than shopping, and in the end we all went to the museum.  This museum was across the street from our first hotel and we had tried to go when we were staying there, but had arrived after it closed.  The hotel provided us with transportation (for a price, of course) and we arranged for him to pick us up after an hour and a half. However, an hour was more than enough time to see the whole museum, so we killed half an hour walking around a nearby park.  We got back, checked out and went to the mall for lunch.  The mall proved to be a lousy place to shop, so we were glad we went to the museum.  Then off to the airport.  
 
  We took off without incident and had a smooth flight to Houston.  We only had an hour between flights in Houston, so we went quickly to customs. When we arrived at customs, we learned the computers were down, and this had caused a huge backup while they decided what to do. Finally, they figured it out and the line started moving. They pushed some people to the front of the line, but not us because they were holding our flight.  After customs, we picked up our bags, ran to checkin, checked them in and then had to go through security. After security, we were able to secure a lift to our gate on one of those little airport motor carts.  Our gate was a very, very long way from where we were and we appreciated the lift, but it was to no avail; when we arrived at our gate, we learned we had missed our flight by minutes. Sigh.  Continental gave us each a bag of toiletries and the phone number of the airport Marriott.  We called, made a reservation and took the tram to the hotel.  When we got to our room, the boys were hungry, so we ordered room service.  I didn't think I was hungry, but after I ate the onion soup I ordered, I felt much better.  Then we all went to bed.  Once again, I left my watch alarm set to 5:30 (deliberately, this time!) because we had to be at our flight at 6:45.

Day 10 in Costa Rica

  7-Jan-2011 (04:14)

At 5:20am Marc got up to use the bathroom.  The door caught on the towel, and he made a lot of noise freeing it.  In my sleepy state, I thought it was someone trying to break into our room. By the time I figured out what had happened, I was wide awake.  So I decided to get up and go down to the beach for an early morning stroll on the beach. I left my room and before I had gone 100 feet I had seen a monkey, a bat, and a squirrel.  Then, at the beach, I was walking along, and off in the distance I see... a pig.  Startled, I said something, and some guy walking the other way told me that 'the restaurant was named after the last pig' and that I should 'just push him out of the way'. So kept walking and shortly came upon a restaurant. As I was looking at the restaurant I heard a sound behind me and there was the pig. She rubbed her snout against my leg hard enough to hurt!  Ah, so that's why you push her away! I walked back and met Mom and our guide.  Mom said she was about to go down to the beach, so the three of us walked down together. When we returned, we had breakfast, and Marc and the boys joined us. After breakfast, I took the boys to see the pig, and Marc went to the room to pack up. Then it was time to hit the road for Alajuela.  It was a long drive.  We tried to do a geocache, but we only had the coordinates, not the description, and that was insufficient. Our hotel in Alajuela turned out to be a Ramada Inn, with all the amenities that were lacking in the previous two places, and then some some (like both a phone and a bottle opener within easy reach of the toilet!)  We had dinner at a steak house - we all had steak, and it was really good.

Day 9 in Avenellas, Costa Rica

  6-Jan-2011 (19:53)

Our guide offered to take us birding early in the morning, but I was the only person who took him up on his offer. Getting up wasn't hard - after the howler monkeys went off at daybreak, and the iguanas scrabbled around on the roof, I was awake! We went out to the beach and saw a ton of shorebirds.  After breakfast, everyone except Mom put on swimsuits and we all went down to the beach. We walked on the shore for a while and then the boys went into the water and started jumping waves.  After a little bit Marc joined them.  I waited a little longer but eventually I also joined the boys. I convinced Jonathan to dive the waves instead of jumping them and dove a few waves myself. Haven't done *that* in some 35 years!  When jumping waves got old, we headed back, showered, and had lunch.  

After lunch, the boys wanted to veg, so Marc, Mom and I went for a walk without them.  We walked down the road, which turned out to be less pleasant that we expected, because there was a lot of traffic on the road, which raised a lot of dust when they went by, and there was no side to the road.  At one point, Marc slipped on gravel on the side of the road, went down, scraped his leg, and smacked his brand new expensive camera into the ground.  Fortunately, the camera proved hardier than Marc's leg!  We found a tiny market and bought Popsicles on the way back.  When we got back, we veged for a while, and then played Chrononauts.  Then dinner. When we left dinner, our guide heard an owl. I was amazed when he backed up, walked alongside a building, stopped at some bushes, and shined the flashlight right on a little owl!  How did he do that?

Day 8 in Costa Rica

  5-Jan-2011 (15:25)

We left early for the Rincon de la Vieja National Park. We took a trail through a forest that led over tree roots, rocks, and streams to a very pretty waterfall.  Then we continued to a thermal mud pool and then on to see fumeroles.  It was a lot of climbing up (or down) rocks and crossing steams. Sometimes we crossed streams using rocks, sometimes there would be a log to walk on, and once we used a suspension bridge. The boys loved it, but it was the hike was a little rigorous for Mom's taste. We added to both our list of birds seen and our list of animals, with, most notably, white faced monkeys and a roadside hawk. We also came across a very large iguana eating fruit in a bush so close we could touch it. In fact, I did.

After the hike we went back to the hotel for a quick shower and then we checked out.  We had lunch in the same restaurant as yesterday because it was so good. Then on the road to Playa Avenellas. We arrived just before sunset, and discovered that the hotel had more 'niceties' than the last hotel - in addition to towels and running water, this place had a safe in the room (again, not that we thought we needed one here!) on the other hand, it did not provide shampoo, conditioner, or lotion, which the last place had provided. Whatever. It did have a plethora of wildlife. Before we went to bed, we had seen howler monkeys, iguanas, cane toads, frogs, house geckos, and several six inch grasshoppers, one of which evoked quite a shriek from a young woman when it landed on her. Not that I blame her!

Day 7 in Rincon de la Vieja, CR

  4-Jan-2011 (05:34)

Our current hotel lacks some of the niceties of previous hotels - things like a television, safe (not that i thought we needed one,) blow drier, clock, tissues, phone, refrigerator, towels, running water. Well, the lack of towels and running water was only temporary, but still!  On the plus side, it did have jays eating the banana flower right outside the boys room. How many Hiltons have that! When we arrived, we found our plan to visit the National Park on Monday had to be modified because the park is closed Mondays. So we moved our planned horseback ride to the morning, and had a free afternoon. We all rode, even my mom, who had never in her life been on a horse before. She did great, and even got to trot some.  The horses were great, some of the best rented horses I've ever been on. Afterwards, we showered (the water was now on, and they gave us some towels when we asked) and then went into Liberia for a really delicious lunch. After lunch, we shopped and came back to the hotel. We then sat by the pool and played games all afternoon.  After several hours Jonathan looked up and asked, 'Are those bats?'. Sure enough, there was a small colony of bats (~20) roosting near the top of the covering under which we were sitting.  We asked the bartender to identify the bats and learned that they were vampire bats!  Jonathan went back to the room for Marc's camera, and we got some great pictures!  

Day 6 in Costa Rica

  3-Jan-2011 (04:38)

We left early because we had a 2 1/2 hour drive to our next adventure. The first two hours were on an unpaved road which was *not* fun! Our 'adventure' was a two-hour float trip Tenorio rivier near Cañas.  We saw a bunch of animals including: more howler monkeys, long nosed bats, numerous iguanas, basilisk lizards, and crocodiles (including one enormous crocodile!) We also saw too many birds to list here.  Part way through the trip they pulled to the side and gave us cookies, pineapple and drinks. After the trip they served us lunch. Then we left and went to a nearby cat rescue, where they rescue, rehabilitate and release (if they can) cats like margays, ocelots, jaguarundis, pumas, and jaguars. In addition to examples of each of these, they also had otters, spider monkeys, parrots, toucans and an iguana on display. We said goodbye to the kitties and and set off for Rincon de la Vieja. I decided to make a list of all the bird species we had seen.  There are 56 species on the list so far, and I know I've missed some.  We checked into our hotel, and Marc and I and our guide decided to go for a walk.  We didn't see many birds, but we saw another howler monkey, an agouti and a couple of lizards.  On the way back, when we arrived at where we had seen the howler, our guide hooted.  The howler responded very noisily! It was another great day!

Day 5 in Monteverde, CR

  2-Jan-2011 (04:17)

Today was the cloud forest of Monteverde. It was an overcast (but, thankfully, not raining) day and this seemed to put a damper on the bird population. We did see a black guan sitting in a tree. But any annoyance at the lack of birds faded away when we saw a resplendent quetzal! And then we saw a pair of spider monkeys - very exciting! After the cloud forest, we went to a hummingbird 'garden' - really it was just a porch with a bunch of hummingbird feeders. There were hundreds of hummingbirds of multiple different species flying sometimes inches from our heads. It was very neat. Next we went to a sloth rescue. Mostly they rehabilitate and release the injured sloths that are brought to them, but there are some that can't be released, and we got to see them quite close, with no bars or glass in between. After this very busy morning we had pizza for lunch and afterwards went out for ice cream.

Next we went to the sky walk, but instead of doing the sky walk, we did the zip line (well, Mom passed on the zip line.) That was a blast! I highly recommend it. It started to rain at one point, but that was a good thing too, because it produced a magificent rainbow on the hillside while we were on the zipline. We saw coatis again here - they seem to be everywhere.

Then back to the hotel to rest and play Scrabble. We went to an Italian restaurant for some really good paella for dinner.

Day 4 in Costa Rica

  31-Dec-2010 (15:50)

Yesterday, I forgot to mention that we saw two-toed sloths at the waterfall. For sloths, they were moving pretty fast (which means they were moving at all.)

Last night after dinner, Marc and I came down to check email, and when we got up to leave, it was pouring down rain. Of course, our umbellas were in the room. So we waited ten minutes, until the douwnpour died to a heavy mist, and only got wet, not completely soaked, going back to the room.

This morning before breakfast, Jonathan found a parrot in a tree right outside the dining area. After breakfast we headed out to Monteverde. Along the way, we saw coatimundis by the side of the road. There were some tourists there feeding them junk food, and our guide spoke up and told them how bad that is for the coatis. Later on, we saw a howler monkey in the trees. Our guide hooted at the monkey and got the monkey to respond. We also saw an iguana on a fence. And loads of birds. We saw a meadowlark, swallows, vultures, and a blue crowned motmot. The road to Monteverde is not paved for the last 25 miles, and contains numerous potholes. It was very trying.

We finally arrived, and celebrated by going to a pizza place for lunch. Then off to a butterfly garden. The guide at the garden started out by showing us a bunch of other insects - Her comment was that the place is an really an insect zoo, but if they called it the 'roach center' they wouldn't get nearly as many visitors! At the garden, we got to hold millipedes, stroke a fuzzy caterpiller, and see more coatimundis. Not to mention the butterflies! They also have a colony of leafcutter ants, which are pretty cool. After the butterflies we went to the hotel and then relaxed until dinner. It rained some more off and on, and we got to see a rainbow.

Day 3 in Fortuna, Costa Rica

  30-Dec-2010 (16:32)

What a fantastic day! It started at 6 am with a bird walk before breakfast. We saw toucans, hummingbirds, a woodpecker, flycatchers, robins, tanagers, orioles, sparrows, and probably a several others I forgot. After breakfast, we went into Fortuna and did a geocache. We had brought a geocoin, and we left it in the cache. Then we went to see a waterfall. It was some 480 steps down to the base and 520 steps back (slightly different route.) We all made the trek, even my mom, who did fine. It was a beautiful waterfall. We passed on swimming in the pool at the bottom, because the water was COLD! Then we went into town for lunch.

Next was a trip to the local hot springs, where we had our choice of pools from 37 degrees (celsius!) to 63 degrees (also celsius!) In addition to the hot springs, they have paths through native plants that we strolled on, and were delighted to find that at one point they had put out bananas to attract the birds. Unlike the day before, it had been dry (although overcast) all day long. At one point at the hot springs, we noticed that the sun had come out. Then, not ten minutes later, it started to sprinkle. Then it stopped, but ten minutes after that, it started to pour. It rained really hard for about five minutes, and then stopped. I didn´t even take shelter - it was a warm rain, and I was already wet from being in the pools, so it was kind of fun to be rained on!

Day 2 in Costa Rica

  29-Dec-2010 (16:21)

We left our hotel (in sunshine) and set out for the Poas volcano. As we drove it got gloomier and gloomier. We stopped at a coffee plantation and tasted the fruit picked right off the plant. When we arrived at Poas (elevation about 7500 ft) there was a heavy mist blowing. We walked up to the observation point and couldn't see a thing. On a clear day you can see the caldera 900 ft below, and the Carribean. Today - nothing. Oh well, you win some you lose some. Then, on to Fortuna, the town next to the Arenal volcano, which is tomorrow's stop.

Our hotel was definitely today's high point. We were met by employees offering us moist towels and watermelon juice, so we knew that this was no 2 star hotel. But we were surprised to find that the bathroom was as big as some hotel rooms and contains a waterfall shower and a massage shower. The room is enormous, almost 400 sq ft, and there is a private jacuzzi on the porch. I've never had a room quite as nice as this one. After dinner, perhaps we will go to the pool, which is heated and has a swim up bar.

Time for dinner. More tomorrow.

Day 1 in San Jose, Costa Rica!

  28-Dec-2010 (13:50)

Arrived safe and sound last night. A very unexciting trip. We were concerned we might be affected by bad weather on the east coast which was limiting the supply of planes, but we weren't. The first thing we noticed when we arrived was a plethora of familiar names - Hilton, McDonald's, Quiznos, Subway, etc.

Today we learned about Costa Rican history through visits to the National Museum and the Gold museum. Since we are having authentic Costa Rican food for dinner, we allowed the boys to pick the lunch restaurant, and thus had lunch at KFC.

Weather is cool and windy - feels like a storm is coming in. Hotel is nice - rustic, but with comfortable beds and a modern bathroom.

Another 'dog' story

  24-Dec-2010 (22:56)

Another

Frequently at night, the dog goes into the backyard to bark at objects that we can't see. But tonight he was barking *inside* the house, so I went to see what was making him crazy. Turns out there was an opossum on the fence right outside the house. Ah, my intelligent dog. He must have been somewhat concerned that the opossum (which likely outweighed him) would EAT him, so he barked at the opossum from inside the safety of our house. :)

Once we all came outside to see the opossum, this gave Pippen the courage to bark at the opossum from outside the house. He went right up to the fence and barked and barked. The opossum didn't seem to care that there were 4 adults standing less than 20 feet away and a (admittedly small) dog barking its head off right below it. In fact, I imagined that the opossum was looking at the dog and thinking, 'Nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah, you can't get me!'

My clairvoyant dog

  23-Dec-2010 (21:15)

My clairvoyant dog

How does he know? We are all sitting in the office, each at his or her own desk, and the dog is hanging out too, mostly sitting near Marc's chair. Marc gets up and leaves the room. When he comes back, the dog is hiding under my son's desk. Marc hauls the dog out from under the desk, puts ointment in his ear, and goes to put the medicine away, leaving me to wonder: How did the dog know that Marc was going to put ointment in his ear?






'Snakes on a plane'

  19-Dec-2010 (23:07)

I loved this video my son found that I call 'Snakes on a plane'. She makes it look so easy - anyone can do it - you don't have to be an artist - HA! As you watch the video, notice how her 'ropes' are always a constant width. Mine certainly aren't! If you have as much artistic talent as I (i.e., none) my suggestion is - don't try any of her 'games' - that way you can maintain the illusion that you could create these beautiful designs just as easily as she does!

In the beginning ...

  19-Dec-2010 (00:00)

My New Year's resolution is to start a blog. So... done! I started one! I started it before our trip to Costa Rica so that I might have the chance of blogging while on the trip. No promises though! (Note to thieves - my niece will be housesitting, so don't think my house is easy pickings!)

My *plan* is to blog once or twice a week, but we will see how *that* turns out!

 

September 2014

9/16

  My Detroit trip - The flight there

9/12

  Our San Francisco adventure - Day 10

9/10

  Our San Francisco adventure - Day 9

9/8

  Our San Francisco adventure - Day 8

9/5

  Our San Francisco adventure - Day 7

9/4

  Our San Francisco adventure - Day 6

9/2

  Our San Francisco adventure - Day 5

9/1

  Our San Francisco adventure - Day 4
August 2014

8/31

  Our San Francisco Adventure - Day 3

8/30

  Our San Francisco adventure - Day 2

8/29

  Our San Francisco adventure - Day 1
March 2014

3/3

  How I minimize the stress of doing taxes
December 2013

12/29

  Choosing a College or University

12/25

  How to tell a PG-13 (language) joke without swearing

12/21

  WRJ/URJ Biennial - Days 4&5 (Sat&Sun)

12/19

  WRJ/URJ Biennial - Day 3 (Fri)

12/16

  WRJ/URJ Biennial - Day 2 (Thurs)

12/13

  WRJ/URJ Biennial - Day 1 (Wed)
November 2013

11/12

  Virgin Mobile makes my day!

11/4

  Bureaucratic headaches
October 2013

10/18

  Choosing a college or University

10/14

  Benjamin and Confirmation Class
September 2013

9/30

  Making a difference
August 2013

8/12

  Beware of PepBoys!

8/6

  National Square Dancing Convention - part II
July 2013

7/27

  National Square Dancing Convention - The Youth Hall

7/22

  Wells Fargo trials
May 2013

5/31

  Conversations with Jude

5/29

  More Jude stories

5/27

  Jude comes to visit
April 2013

4/28

  Valuing my time
March 2013

3/11

  Those were the days, my friend!

3/5

  Caring about customers
February 2013

2/23

  Why Benjamin hates group projects.

2/12

  Stage 2 in the Single vehicle vs private property saga.

2/11

  What's in an acronym?

2/6

  Burning emotion
January 2013

1/28

  Single vehicle vs private property

1/23

  Email mystery

1/21

  Fun with genealogy

1/16

  My winter 'vacation'

1/13

  Chanuka 2012
December 2012

12/23

  Thanksgiving

12/18

  Hebrew High Back-to-School night

12/16

  Reflections on my son

12/3

  WRJ Pacific District's Portland Convention
November 2012

11/25

  Chanuka Boutique finances

11/22

  Sunday night without Mom

11/20

  Even more Soccer and Robotics!

11/15

  Soccer, Robotics and TLC Sharim

11/12

  My Berkeley weekend - Saturday and Sunday

11/11

  My Berkeley weekend - Thursday&Friday
September 2012

9/26

  My lucky day

9/24

  Conversations with my son

9/18

  Labor Day weekend (Part 4)

9/17

  Labor Day weekend (Part 3)

9/15

  Labor Day weekend (Part 2)

9/12

  Labor Day weekend (Part 1)

9/9

  My non-race (August 18)

9/6

  School starts for both boys

9/3

  Fun Theater!
August 2012

8/31

  Celebrating my birthday

8/25

  The last weekend in July

8/23

  The Lawrence family party (July 22)

8/19

  Benjamin comes home, and other fun affairs

8/14

  The San Jose trip - Day 3

8/13

  The San Jose trip (July 5-8) Days 1&2

8/8

  National Square Dancing Convention - Last day

8/7

  The National Square Dance convention - Day 3

8/5

  Ths National Square Dancing Convention (June 27-31) Day 1&2

8/1

  The NY trip - Days 2&3
July 2012

7/31

  The NY trip (June 20-24) - Day 0 & 1

7/26

  Father's Day weekend - Sunday & Monday

7/25

  Father's Day weekend - Saturday

7/23

  Father's Day weekend (June 15-17) - Friday

7/20

  The Houston Trip (June 9-11) - Day 3

7/19

  The Houston Trip (June 9-11) - Day 2

7/18

  The Houston Trip (June 9-11) - Day 1

7/15

  My Chicago trip (June 1-3)

7/12

  Jude visits again

7/10

  Jonathan comes home from school

7/8

  World VEX Robotics Championship - last night

7/6

  World VEX Robotics Championship - Day 3

7/3

  The World VEX Championship - Day 2

7/2

  The World VEX Championship - Day 1
June 2012

6/30

  The World VEX Championship (April 19-21) - Day 0

6/28

  Passover 2012

6/25

  Begging the Preposition

6/24

  The end of March, 2012

6/20

  Bakersfield Fiesta - March 18

6/19

  Bakersfield Fiesta - Saturday, March 17

6/18

  Bakersfield Fiesta - Friday, March 16

6/14

  Vex Robotics Tournament - March 3

6/13

  I'm back!
March 2012

3/15

  My boys, the authors!
February 2012

2/24

  Genealogy in the digital age

2/23

  Benjamin's Recital

2/20

  Sexual Harassment in Schools

2/18

  An international day

2/12

  Bat Mitzvah fun

2/11

  My office's exercise program

2/6

  How to get people to volunteer

2/5

  The Komen controversy
January 2012

1/28

  Reading Torah

1/27

  Rhapsodizing about Rice

1/23

  Benjamin's story

1/19

  Aunt Marjorie and Uncle Milt come to visit

1/15

  Bank troubles

1/14

  Jonathan goes back to school

1/13

  SKIIING!

1/10

  2011 wraps up

1/6

  Chanuka

1/2

  Bar Mitzvahs and Museums

1/1

  A typical weekend
December 2011

12/31

  Benamin's bus adventures

12/29

  The winds of change

12/28

  Thanksgiving

12/23

  Scouting robotics competitions

12/14

  The car accident aftermath

12/12

  Benjamin and Hebrew High
November 2011

11/28

  My busy (and wonderful) life (part 8)

11/23

  My busy (and wonderful) life (part 7)

11/15

  My busy (and wonderful) life (part 6)

11/14

  My busy (and wonderful) life (part 5)
October 2011

10/27

  My busy (and wonderful) life (part 4)

10/23

  My busy (and wonderful) life (part 3)

10/21

  My busy (and wonderful) life (part 2)

10/20

  My busy (and wonderful) life (part 1)

10/11

  ‘Blog like no one is reading it.’

10/9

  Storing health

10/8

  Yom Kippur shoes

10/3

  Found money

10/2

  Providing community
September 2011

9/25

  Pippen's sleepover

9/23

  Virgin Mobile

9/15

  My brilliant son

9/12

  Ending a sentence with a preposition

9/10

  A marketing excess

9/6

  On the same theme...

9/4

  Keteks

9/3

  Learning to read
August 2011

8/27

  Missing Jonathan?

8/22

  Skunk 1, Pippen 0

8/21

  Reseda High School - Benjamin's first week

8/17

  Sending Jonathan off to college - The trip home

8/16

  Sending Jonathan off to college - Day 3

8/15

  Sending Jonathan off to college - Day 2

8/13

  Sending Jonathan off to college - Day 1

8/6

  The American mindset and the economy

8/1

  Supporting brick and mortar
July 2011

7/28

  Benjamin's hamster

7/25

  Haikus

7/24

  Jonathan on XKCD

7/23

  Political lies and bias

7/20

  Camp 2011 - Picking Benjamin up

7/19

  Camp 2011 - Week 3

7/18

  Camp 2011 - Week 2

7/17

  Camp 2011 - Week 1

7/10

  Benjamin creates life

7/9

  2011 Vacation - Day 7 (the return flight)

7/6

  2011 Vacation - Day 5 & 6

7/3

  2011 Vacation - Day 4

7/1

  2011 Vacation - Day 3
June 2011

6/27

  2011 Vacation - Day 2

6/26

  2011 Vacation - Day 1

6/19

  Life with Jude - Day 6

6/18

  Life with Jude - Day 5

6/16

  Life with Jude - Day 4

6/15

  Life with Jude - Day 3

6/14

  Life with Jude - Day 2

6/13

  Life with Jude - Day 1

6/12

  Benjamin's Science Experiment

6/7

  My Dallas trip (May 9-11)

6/4

  The St. Louis Robotics competition (Apr 27-May 1)

6/4

  Heritage Festival (Aprl 29-May 1)
April 2011

4/19

  Next year's schools for my kids

4/16

  Genealogy in the internet era is a lot of fun

4/11

  Benjamin's New York Trip
March 2011

3/27

  LA Robotics Competition

3/24

  Bakersfield

3/13

  Our busy weekend!

3/9

  Square Dancing

3/5

  Conversations with my kids about God

3/1

  Has Newt Gingrich lost his mind?
February 2011

2/28

  Die Fledermaus

2/27

  Clever solution

2/24

  Brrrr! Cold!

2/18

  Benjamin's amazing memory

2/18

  Superlative Award

2/17

  Boring?

2/15

  The perks of walking

2/10

  Another Benjamin story

2/7

  Benjamin story

2/5

  Costa Rica photos posted

2/4

  Awesome services!

2/1

  Deal week
January 2011

1/28

  Happiness as a function of religion

1/24

  Birds of a feather...

1/21

  The CAL-UCLA Basketball game

1/18

  Pants problem

1/16

  Costa Rica Pictures

1/12

  Financial aid pain

1/9

  A legend is gone

1/9

  My favorite mathemusician

1/8

  Fortunes go 21st century

1/8

  Costa Rican Food

1/8

  Costa Rican Weather

1/8

  Costa Rican Hotels

1/8

  Day 11 in Costa Rica & beyond 

1/7

  Day 10 in Costa Rica

1/6

  Day 9 in Avenellas, Costa Rica

1/5

  Day 8 in Costa Rica

1/4

  Day 7 in Rincon de la Vieja, CR

1/3

  Day 6 in Costa Rica

1/2

  Day 5 in Monteverde, CR
December 2010

12/31

  Day 4 in Costa Rica

12/30

  Day 3 in Fortuna, Costa Rica

12/29

  Day 2 in Costa Rica

12/28

  Day 1 in San Jose, Costa Rica!

12/24

  Another 'dog' story

12/23

  My clairvoyant dog

12/19

  'Snakes on a plane'

12/19

  In the beginning ...
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