27 August 2009

Book Review: One from the road


The Mill on the Floss
George Eliot


Not sure I will have the time and opportunity write all of my travel reading reviews from the road, but since I have a moment I thought I would give it a whirl.

This was my first go reading George Eliot (née Mary Ann Evans). For the most part I found it quite enjoyable. It was much more readable than I expected. Usually I need something fluffy and easy for the plane, but I ended up reading two thirds of this over the Atlantic. It is supposedly the most autobiographical of her novels with the main character Maggie being the stand-in for Eliot. Given the ending, it cannot cleave too closely to her own life. It is also supposed to be a tale of the limited choices that women had in the mid 19th-century. And the book certainly does focus on that, but I was surprised at how much the first part of the book was about Maggies brother Tom.

SPOILER ALERT: I could not believe the ending. I wanted a happy ending in the worst possible way. Ultimately the way Maggie meets her end seems more a result of, dumb luck, her own martyr complex, and her overweening love for her brother than a result of her limited choices in life. If Eliot really wanted to say something about the lack of, and consequences of female independence in her life, she could have come up with many other possible endings that would have made her point more effectively.

Still, definitely worth reading and encourages me to read other books by Eliot.
And no, that is not me along the banks of the Floss. But it is me reading my beat up copy of The Mill on the Floss on the banks of the River Cher on the grounds of Chenonceau.

France est parfait

Having a great time in France, but using this French keyboard is not easy. For instance where is the apostrophe?

20 August 2009

Look Out France and Switzerland, Here I Come.


In no time we will be wending our way through the Loire Valley, Provence and the Bernese Oberland. We plan to eat lots of good food (that is until we get to Switzerland where I am not sure if the food will be too good), drink lots of wine and enjoy not being in the humid, humid environs of Washington DC in August.

When I travel long distances I like to buy used pulp paperbacks to read along the way so I can leave them behind when finished, and so they take up as little room and weight as possible. With that in mind I had to set aside the enormous "to be read" pile and actually go buy some good pulp editions to take with me on the trip.

So what do you think, will 8 books be enough for 16 days? Part of me thinks yes and part of me thinks no. Certainly the long plane ride and a few train journeys will give me ample reading time. I always over pack on the book front. It is not like I will really read 8 books in 16 days. I am just always worried that I won't have the right book for the right mood. Stuck on a plane for 8 hours with a good book, but one I am not in the mood for. So I overcompensate by bringing a little of everything.

The other thing is that reading is a great way to soak up a place. It doesn't matter what you read, it is just the fact that it slows you down enough to sit and experience a place. When I first met my husband he thought I was crazy. Whenever we went somewhere beautiful (Grand Canyon, Tuscany, Paris, etc.) I would want to sit down and read. But then he realized that I would read for a bit, looking up now and then, maybe move to another vantage point, stop and read a little more. It turns something that might have ended up just being a too-quick photo op into something a little more meaningful. Kind of like the touristic equivalent of slow food.

I toyed a bit with doing a French and Swiss thing when choosing books, but that was a little more effort than I cared to take. So, without further delay, here is the Summer 2009 literary cast that will be travelling with me:

The Mill on The Floss by George Eliot
I have never read anything by George Eliot and felt like this might be the right time to start. I have already primed the pump and am about 80 pages in and am quite enjoying it. Not sure what I expected, but it is more amusing than I would have guessed.

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Another classic I have never read. Thankfully I never saw the Demi Moore film version. I heard it was terrible and that if she had adapted Moby Dick for the screen Ahab would have killed Moby instead of the other way around.

The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
I haven't had much luck with Henry James. I had to read Washington Square twice in school, but other than that I haven't been able to get through a James novel. I feel like I really should like him. I love Edith Wharton and folks tend to mention the two in the same sentence fairly frequently. But I have never really been able to get into James. But I thought I would give it a go. And with an opening line about the ceremony of afternoon tea, Portrait of a Lady seemed like it might the one to break through my aversion to James. Here's hoping they have lots of tea to sustain my interest.

A Weekend with Claude by Beryl Bainbridge
I know nothing about Bainbridge, and I really hate the cover image on this edition, but there was something about the first paragraphs that made me decide to give it a go. Fingers crossed. In any case it is nice and short.

Some Tame Gazelle by Barbara Pym
I have read a few other Pym and found that she can be relied on for an amusing time. Very English, very right up my alley. According to the book jacket, this was her first novel published in England but the last one of hers published in the USA. Another shortish book.

Fly Away Home by Marge Piercy
I have read two other of Piercy's books and really liked them. They have been contemporary, easy reads that have female protagonists getting their lives sorted out in one way or another. I love a good personal transformation story and I got sucked in by this synopsis: "Successful Boston cookbook author Daria Walker, whose greatest pleasures are her home and family--and who loves her husband deeply--is devastated to learn he wants a divorce. Now she must put her life back together..."

Cheri and The Last of Cheri by Colette
This is my one French book. I read The Ripening Seed earlier this summer and enjoyed it, so I thought I would give Collette another try.

The Summer Before Dark by Doris Lessing
Yet another author I haven't read. Since she won the Nobel in 2007 I figured she was worth looking into.

There wasn't much method to my madness in choosing these books. Most of the used bookstores near me specialize in trade or hardcover fiction and don't have much in the way of literature in pulp editions. So I took what I could get. But I actually think it is a good, diverse bunch o'books that I am looking forward to reading.

How about you?
How do you choose your travel books? Do you take too many when you travel? Do you try to match your book choices up with your destination? Have you ever "found" a book where you were staying that became one of your favorites?

17 August 2009

Book Review: Romance in Switzerland


A Perfect Waiter
Alain Claude Sulzer

I can't remember where or when I bought A Perfect Waiter. I came across it on my bookshelves the other day having had completely forgotten its existence. I had been prompted to pick it up at the bookstore by the striking cover image--surely the dapper waiter on the cover must be gay. Reading the synopsis on the inside flap of the book jacket confirmed my literary gaydar. Even though, gay lit helped me come to terms with being gay back when I a teenager in the 1980s, I am not one to spend much time looking for fiction with gay themes. What piqued my interest in A Perfect Waiter is that the book is set in the 1930s and 1960s. I am always interested to read about how same sex attraction played out in the days before the Stonewall Riots.

In this case, the protagonist Erneste, working in a Swiss resort town in the 1960s, gets a letter from Jakob, someone he hasn't seen since 1939. The novel is a series of flashbacks that tells the story of Erneste and Jakob who were roommates and co-workers who shared an intense but short relationship. The 1960s Jakob is in trouble and writes to Erneste for help. But helping Jakob means that Erneste needs to confront his past and seek help from the person he least wants to talk to. But there isn't much more I can say without spoiling the plot.

Although the book presents a totally believable snapshot of what life would have been like for a homosexual in the 1930s, that isn't really what the book is about. It is more a tale of love and betrayal set against the formal, regimented backdrop of a Swiss resort. As I get ready to go to Switzerland for the first time, Sulzer's evocation of the era and setting is bound to shade my expectations of what I will find when I arrive in Interlaken and environs. Images of steamer trunks and dressing for dinner will, no doubt, be quickly replaced with the reality of backpackers, unruly families, and my own casual way of traveling. But a little part of me will be imagining, perhaps even looking for, Erneste and Jakob--living their personal drama out behind the scenes and under our noses.

16 August 2009

Sunday Morning


Boy am I glad I am done blogging about that 40 by 40 list. Hope it isn't as tedious to read as it was to write.

We are about to head off to "Julie & Julia." I loved the book based on the blog, and I loved watching Julia Child as a kid, and I LOVE going to the Julia Child kitchen at the Smithsonian. I am not sure I like Streep's Julia voice from the trailers, but the film has gotten good reviews so I will reserve my judgement.

I took this photo about 4 years ago on a sunny Sunday morning in London. This fabulous stack of scones was taken in the Orangerie at Kensington Palace. A really wonderful and comfortable place to sit with friends. I am very proud of this picture, I think the lighting is just perfect. Unfortunately, this was taken before I had a digital camera and the only copy I have is this well worn one that has been tacked above various desks over the years, so it doesn't scan very well. Looks better in person. Maybe I still have the negative somewhere.

15 August 2009

40 by 40 Update: #40 Give $10 to Charity for Every Goal Not Completed by August 17, 2009


(Back in May of 2007 I noticed that a bunch of people in the blogosphere had created lists of 101 things to do in 1001 days. I was intrigued by the notion but felt I needed to change the parameters. So I created my 40 by 40 list. 40 things I wanted to do before I turned 40. Well on August 17th I turn 40, and I need to give $10 to charity for every uncompleted item. So it is time to see how I did.)

40. Give $10 to Charity for Every Goal Not Completed - COMPLETED
Final Tally: $190.00 to charity.
Thankfully the 40th goal was to give money to charity. Any other goal probably would have put my success/failure rate at 50%. At least this way my failure rate was just below 50%. Some of the goals were good ones, even if I didn't complete them. And others were the victim of changed priorities. It was a fun experiment. But kind of glad I am done. I don't really want to contemplate the next milestone (50). I still have 10 years for that.

I am actually going to give the money to two different charities.

Washington Animal Rescue League: A really wonderful animal shelter here in DC and the place where we will hopefully find a nice pound dog next year.

Alzheimer's Association Southwest Chapter: My dad puts a lot of time and effort into a practically full time volunteer job with the Alzheimer's Association chapter in Phoenix. Honestly, he puts in too much time and effort. He is supposed to be retired after all. At any rate, his efforts and the cause deserve support. Among other things, they provide Alzheimer's information and referrals for friends and families of people with Alzheimer's.

40 by 40 Update: #39 Sing in a Choir


(Back in May of 2007 I noticed that a bunch of people in the blogosphere had created lists of 101 things to do in 1001 days. I was intrigued by the notion but felt I needed to change the parameters. So I created my 40 by 40 list. 40 things I wanted to do before I turned 40. Well on August 17th I turn 40, and I need to give $10 to charity for every uncompleted item. So it is time to see how I did.)

39. Sing in a Choir - NOT COMPLETED
Running Tally: $190.00 to charity.

This is perhaps the most disappointing unmet goal. My interest in singing in a smallish choir that does a mixed bag of repertoire with lots of variety was overwhelmed by my disinterest in giving up Sunday mornings. I wish I could just rehearse with a choir during the week and not have to get up on Sunday. For other, non-church, choir options the problem is that they tend to focus on big symphonic choral works. They spend months preparing a big concert of one or two big works and then they get dressed up and sing. That isn't the kind of choir singing I like. This is one that I need to work on, it has been too long since I sang in a choir.

40 by 40 Update: #38 Go to a Concert at the Peabody Institute

(Back in May of 2007 I noticed that a bunch of people in the blogosphere had created lists of 101 things to do in 1001 days. I was intrigued by the notion but felt I needed to change the parameters. So I created my 40 by 40 list. 40 things I wanted to do before I turned 40. Well on August 17th I turn 40, and I need to give $10 to charity for every uncompleted item. So it is time to see how I did.)

38. Go to a Concert at the Peabody Institute - NOT COMPLETED
Running Tally: $180.00 to charity.

Baltimore has a wonderful music convservatory called the Peabody Institute. They have all kinds of student performances that I am told are worth the time. But getting my butt up to Baltimore (an hour's drive) seemed impossible to do. Inertia seems to get the better of me at times. This one is staying on my radar for next year. I definitely still want to do this one.

40 by 40 Update: #37 Find an Opera/Orchestra/Concert Buddy

(Back in May of 2007 I noticed that a bunch of people in the blogosphere had created lists of 101 things to do in 1001 days. I was intrigued by the notion but felt I needed to change the parameters. So I created my 40 by 40 list. 40 things I wanted to do before I turned 40. Well on August 17th I turn 40, and I need to give $10 to charity for every uncompleted item. So it is time to see how I did.)

37. Find an Opera/Orchestra/Concert Buddy - NOT COMPLETED
Running Tally: $170.00 to charity.

No doubt if I had one of these I wouldn't have such a hard time getting to concerts on weeknights. John likes going to concerts with me, but I was hoping to find a real music egghead that wants to sit around and gossip about orchestras and conductors and temperamental singers. Seeing that I couldn't find 4 new friends in 2 years time (see #5 below) it was unlikely I was going to pull this one off.

40 by 40 Update: #36 Go to a Concert at the Library of Congress

(Back in May of 2007 I noticed that a bunch of people in the blogosphere had created lists of 101 things to do in 1001 days. I was intrigued by the notion but felt I needed to change the parameters. So I created my 40 by 40 list. 40 things I wanted to do before I turned 40. Well on August 17th I turn 40, and I need to give $10 to charity for every uncompleted item. So it is time to see how I did.)

36. Go to a Concert at the Library of Congress - NOT COMPLETED
Running Tally: $160.00 to charity.

The Library of Congress has an amazing concert series, lots of classical chamber music among other things, that is virtually free. I had tickets to go to 3 or 4 different concerts and didn't make it to any of them. I really have a hard time going to concerts on weeknights.

40 by 40 Update: Go to a BSO Concert at Strathmore


(Back in May of 2007 I noticed that a bunch of people in the blogosphere had created lists of 101 things to do in 1001 days. I was intrigued by the notion but felt I needed to change the parameters. So I created my 40 by 40 list. 40 things I wanted to do before I turned 40. Well on August 17th I turn 40, and I need to give $10 to charity for every uncompleted item. So it is time to see how I did.)

35. Go to a BSO Concert at Strathmore - COMPLETED
Running Tally: $150.00 to charity.

I think this is the only performance-related goal that I met. The Strathmore is a lovely modified shoebox concert hall in the Maryland suburbs of Washington DC. In my opinion it is much better aesthetically and acoustically than the National Symphony Orchestra's home at the Kennedy Center. Very smartly the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra made this their home away from home and do a fairly full season of concerts here, tapping into the affluent suburbs of DC for a customer base that might be reluctant to drive the hour to Baltimore. The orchestra played well, the experience was very nice. We will definitely go back.

40 by 40 Update: #34 Have a Vegetable Garden

(Back in May of 2007 I noticed that a bunch of people in the blogosphere had created lists of 101 things to do in 1001 days. I was intrigued by the notion but felt I needed to change the parameters. So I created my 40 by 40 list. 40 things I wanted to do before I turned 40. Well on August 17th I turn 40, and I need to give $10 to charity for every uncompleted item. So it is time to see how I did.)

34. Have a vegetable garden - NOT COMPLETED
Running Tally: $150.00 to charity.

This one is directly tied to owning a home, and since that didn't happen, neither did the vegetable garden. Next year at this time, however, I plan to be up to my ears in excess produce. (You will note that my interest in a Victory Garden predates Michelle Obama's White House garden. I can't say she got the idea from me, but I love her for doing it.)

40 by 40 Update: #33 Streamline my Wardrobe

(Back in May of 2007 I noticed that a bunch of people in the blogosphere had created lists of 101 things to do in 1001 days. I was intrigued by the notion but felt I needed to change the parameters. So I created my 40 by 40 list. 40 things I wanted to do before I turned 40. Well on August 17th I turn 40, and I need to give $10 to charity for every uncompleted item. So it is time to see how I did.)

33. Streamline my Wardrobe - COMPLETED
Running Tally: $140.00 to charity.

This consisted mainly of getting rid of things that I would never wear or things that didn't fit. I did also do a bit of comparing things to see what might go with what to extend flexibility and usefulness of what I already had. In addition I took a casual inventory to see what I might need or had too much of, and separated warm weather clothes from cool weather clothes. Even though I met the goal, it may be time to do it again.

40 by 40 Update: #32 Go to the Museum of Television and Radio

(Back in May of 2007 I noticed that a bunch of people in the blogosphere had created lists of 101 things to do in 1001 days. I was intrigued by the notion but felt I needed to change the parameters. So I created my 40 by 40 list. 40 things I wanted to do before I turned 40. Well on August 17th I turn 40, and I need to give $10 to charity for every uncompleted item. So it is time to see how I did.)

32. Go to the Museum of Television and Radio - COMPLETED
Running Tally: $140.00 to charity.

Back in December I made it to the Museum of Television and Radio, now called the Paley Center for Media. My main interest was in finding old television appearances by The Womenfolk. I only managed to find one, on a show called Dial "M" for Music. It was a really great show and the women sounded great. You can read about it here. I did a similar search at the Library of Congress and did manage to find more recordings of shows that included the Womenfolk. Unfortunately, at the LOC the recordings are on various tape media and you aren't allowed to fast forward. This meant I had to sit through lots of boring variety shows waiting for the women to appear. On top of that, the performances were a little to canned to satisfy the show formats. The Dial "M" appearance that I saw first was by far the best. I wouldn't mind seeing it again.

40 by 40 Update: #31 Don't Curse for Two Weeks

(Back in May of 2007 I noticed that a bunch of people in the blogosphere had created lists of 101 things to do in 1001 days. I was intrigued by the notion but felt I needed to change the parameters. So I created my 40 by 40 list. 40 things I wanted to do before I turned 40. Well on August 17th I turn 40, and I need to give $10 to charity for every uncompleted item. So it is time to see how I did.)

31. Don't Curse for Two Weeks - NOT COMPLETED
Running Tally: $140.00 to charity.

I didn't even try this one. I know I can do it, I just never tried. It is not like I curse like a sailor, but I wouldn't mind cursing less or not at all. I am particularly amazed at how ubiquitous swearing is in public. It is unbelievable what kids are exposed to these days. I remember the first time I heard an adult use the F-word. I thought my eyes would pop out of my head. Now people use it anywhere and everywhere without regard to who might hear.

40 by 40 Update: #30 Finish Organizing My Recipe Files

(Back in May of 2007 I noticed that a bunch of people in the blogosphere had created lists of 101 things to do in 1001 days. I was intrigued by the notion but felt I needed to change the parameters. So I created my 40 by 40 list. 40 things I wanted to do before I turned 40. Well on August 17th I turn 40, and I need to give $10 to charity for every uncompleted item. So it is time to see how I did.)

30. Finish Organizing My Recipe Files - COMPLETED
Running Tally: $130.00 to charity.

I have a file system with recipes organized by ingredient (e.g., fish, beef, vegetables, potatoes, etc.) but also some that say more about type of cooking (e.g., quick meals, holiday baking, etc.). No doubt I will want to make further improvements to this system. But for right now it is as good as it is going to get.

40 by 40 Update: #29 Go Back to Ithaca for a Long Weekend




(Back in May of 2007 I noticed that a bunch of people in the blogosphere had created lists of 101 things to do in 1001 days. I was intrigued by the notion but felt I needed to change the parameters. So I created my 40 by 40 list. 40 things I wanted to do before I turned 40. Well on August 17th I turn 40, and I need to give $10 to charity for every uncompleted item. So it is time to see how I did.)

29. Go Back to Ithaca for a Long Weekend - COMPLETED
Running Tally: $130.00 to charity.

I loved living in Ithaca for two years while I was a grad student at Cornell. It awakened a latent (and unknown) desire in me to live in a small town. Of course Ithaca isn't your typical small town. Set in the Finger Lakes region at the bottom tip of Cayuga Lake, Ithaca is about a four and a half hour drive from Manhattan and about the same distance to Toronto. And with Cornell University and Ithaca College in town, there is an intellectual and artistic community that most small towns could only dream of. There are some town and gown issues, and it can get a little too crunchy granola sometimes (the home of the famous Moosewood Restaurant of the cookbook fame), but over all a really nice place. The views from Cornell's campus are breathtaking and Ithaca has one of the best farmer's markets anywhere.
Last August on our roadtrip we got to spend a long weekend there visiting our friends Joe and Leslie.

40 by 40 Update: #28 Go to the Udvar-Hazy Air and Space Museum



(Back in May of 2007 I noticed that a bunch of people in the blogosphere had created lists of 101 things to do in 1001 days. I was intrigued by the notion but felt I needed to change the parameters. So I created my 40 by 40 list. 40 things I wanted to do before I turned 40. Well on August 17th I turn 40, and I need to give $10 to charity for every uncompleted item. So it is time to see how I did.)

28. Go the Udvar-Hazy Air and Space Museum - COMPLETED
Running Tally: $130.00 to charity.

The Air and Space Museum on the National Mall in Washington, DC is the most popular of the Smithsonian museums. Unfortunately, it is in real need of an update from all the use. Both the building and the exhibits are in really sad shape. The Udva-Hazy Air and Space Museum on the other hand is an enormous hangar-like branch out in Virginia right next to Dulles Aiport. It is a great place to go see the space shuttle, Concorde, the Enola Gay (dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima), the Blackbird (spy plane and fastest jet ever) and tons of other big pieces of machinery. They also have an IMAX theater and an observation deck where you can watch air traffic in and out of Dulles. It's fun to watch a jumbo jet come in practically at eye level.

40 by 40 Update: #27 See Every Best Picture Oscar Nominee


(Back in May of 2007 I noticed that a bunch of people in the blogosphere had created lists of 101 things to do in 1001 days. I was intrigued by the notion but felt I needed to change the parameters. So I created my 40 by 40 list. 40 things I wanted to do before I turned 40. Well on August 17th I turn 40, and I need to give $10 to charity for every uncompleted item. So it is time to see how I did.)


27. See Every Best Picture Oscar Nominee - COMPLETED
Running Tally: $130.o0 to charity.

The nice thing about this goal was that we went to see films we might otherwise have skipped. The idea was to see all five of the best picture nominees before the Oscar telecast. The good thing is that most of the nominees were worth seeing. Over two years there was one of that I hated (There Will Be Blood), one that just wasn't my kind of movie--too Hollywood (Benjamin Button), and two that I liked but didn't seem Oscar-worthy (Juno and Milk).

The Academy announced recently that they were going to have 10 nominees for Best Picture, not just 5. I am glad I no longer have to meet this goal, because with 10 nominees there are bound to be lots more crappy blockbusters that I reall don't want to waste my time on.

In 2008 the nomines were:

  • Atonement
  • Juno
  • Michael Clayton
  • No Country for Old Men - Winner
  • There Will Be Blood
This is what I said about the films back in February 2008:

1. No Country For Old Men.Violent and gruesome, not usually my thing, but an excellent film. Scary, chilling, well-paced, fascinating. All of the actors in this movie are fantastic. Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, and Josh Brolin all deserve high praise, but so do bit actors like Gene Jones in the role of the gas station owner and Kelly MacDonald as Carla Jean Moss.

2. Atonement. A literary costume drama, right up my alley. A fabulous movie. I found it captivating and clever, with some twists I didn't expect. I also appreciated that it didn't go for cheap emotion. Loved every minute of this film.

3. (Tie) Michael Clayton and Juno.Both are very good films but don't necessarily seem Oscar-worthy. Of course if you compare them to that piece of crap As Good as it Gets discussed above, they are absolutely marvels of cinematic greatness. George Clooney seems incapable of making bad movies. I really enjoyed this film. I thought it was gripping and I thought Tilda Swinton was amazing. If she is up for an award she deserves to win for not over playing this character. Juno was leagues better than your average comedy but that bar is set so low these days that I think this one gets an Oscar nod because it reminded everyone that not every comedy has to dripping in treacle or be some cartoonish spoof of some 1970's stereotype.

5. If I could, I would place There Will be Blood in 87th place.Perhaps there is some artistic merit to this yawner of a movie, but I wasn't able to identify what it would be. Man, I hated this movie. It was glacial in pace about two hours too long, and totally uncompelling in any way. The characters didn't inspire any kind of emotional reaction whatsoever. Not love, hate, compassion, pity...nothing. And it is no fault of the actors, although I do think that Daniel Day-Lewis sounded like he was pretending to be a
newscaster or something, I never never quite got used to his voice and accent. If you haven't seen this one skip it. Or rent it as a cure for insomnia.
In 2009 the nominees were:

  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  • Frost/Nixon
  • Milk
  • The Reader
  • Slumdog Millionaire - Winner
This is what I said about the films back in February 2009:

I liked The Reader much more than I thought I would and I disagree with those who think that the movie did too much to exonerate Winslet's character. I don't think the film let anyone off the hook. Not Hanna, not the German people, not Ralph Fiennes character, no one comes out smelling like roses. It did an effective job portraying a situation that can have no happy ending or even meaningful resolution.

I thought Slumdog Millionaire probably placed second. I sobbed like a baby at the end. Not because the hero gets his true love, but because of the intense depictions of conditions in the slums of India. To think that people live in such dire circumstance all around the world and even to a certain degree in the U.S. is truly overwhelming.

Milk and Frost/Nixon were both excellent movies and were well executed, but as bio-pics I have a hard time thinking they are Oscar-worthy as films. Sean Penn definitely deserved his Best Actor win for the role of Harvey Milk and Frank Langella certainly deserved one for his portrayal as Nixon.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Eh. I enjoyed much more than I thought I would, but then again I was dreading having to go see it. The more I think about it the less I like the film. It had some redeeming qualities but overall it was a little too Forest Gumpy for my tastes.

13 August 2009

40 by 40 Update: #26 Go a Month Without TV

(Back in May of 2007 I noticed that a bunch of people in the blogosphere had created lists of 101 things to do in 1001 days. I was intrigued by the notion but felt I needed to change the parameters. So I created my 40 by 40 list. 40 things I wanted to do before I turned 40. Well on August 17th I turn 40, and I need to give $10 to charity for every uncompleted item. So it is time to see how I did.)

26. Go a Month Without TV - NOT COMPLETED
Running Tally: $130.00 to charity.

I came close on this one. I stopped about 6 days short of a month. I have gone long periods in my life without TV but in those cases I actually didn't have a TV in the house. That makes a big difference. I also decided to forgo other time wasters like news and politics websites, Facebook, and Freecell. All of this might have been okay, but then John was gone for a week and I just got way too bored.

I still love the idea of having a media free month. But I think I will have to be tucked up in a secluded house/cabin/cottage somewhere with nothing but books and board games (and John). Trying to do it with everything swirling around you is a little tough.

40 by 40 Update: #25 Get the Maximum Roth IRA for 2008 and 2009

(Back in May of 2007 I noticed that a bunch of people in the blogosphere had created lists of 101 things to do in 1001 days. I was intrigued by the notion but felt I needed to change the parameters. So I created my 40 by 40 list. 40 things I wanted to do before I turned 40. Well on August 17th I turn 40, and I need to give $10 to charity for every uncompleted item. So it is time to see how I did.)

25. Get the Maximum Roth IRA for 2008 and 2009 - COMPLETED
Running Tally: $120.00 to charity.

Well it was technically the 2007 and 2008 tax years, and I split the money between Roth and a regular IRA for tax reasons, but I did put down the max both years. So I call this one done.

40 by 40 Update: #24 Go Back to the House in Italy for 2 Weeks


(Back in May of 2007 I noticed that a bunch of people in the blogosphere had created lists of 101 things to do in 1001 days. I was intrigued by the notion but felt I needed to change the parameters. So I created my 40 by 40 list. 40 things I wanted to do before I turned 40. Well on August 17th I turn 40, and I need to give $10 to charity for every uncompleted item. So it is time to see how I did.)

24. Go Back to the House in Italy for 2 Weeks - NOT COMPLETED
Running Tally: $120.00 to charity.

(The picture doesn't do it justice.) This one was supposed to have been my 40th birthday present. We have been lucky in the past to spend a couple of weeks at a time at a wonderful house in Tuscany. The place is absolutely amazing. Not being millionaires, however, the way to rent this seven bedroom house for two weeks at a pop is to find friends and family who are interested in renting a room. Well, the house was reserved, the plans taking shape, but then the economy started to make several participants jittery so we ended up having to cancel it. Oh well. As a consolation prize we are taking trip to France and Switzerland instead of renting the house. Should be a lot of fun, but it won't be the same thing as the house in Italy.

40 by 40 Update: #23 Finish the Rest of the Modern Library's Top 100

(Back in May of 2007 I noticed that a bunch of people in the blogosphere had created lists of 101 things to do in 1001 days. I was intrigued by the notion but felt I needed to change the parameters. So I created my 40 by 40 list. 40 things I wanted to do before I turned 40. Well on August 17th I turn 40, and I need to give $10 to charity for every uncompleted item. So it is time to see how I did.)

23. Finish the rest of the Modern Library's list of 100 top novels of the 20th Century (except for Faulkner and Joyce-I just can't do it) - NOT COMPLETED
Running Tally: $110.00 to charity.

Back in the late 1990s, the Modern Library compiled a highly controversial list of the top 100 novels of the 20th century (in English). My goal was to read the whole list (except for Faulkner and Joyce who I think are too excruciatingly difficult and boring to read). The good news is that I have read about 65 of them since the list came out, but the bad news is I don't have too much interest in finishing the rest. I will definitely finish more of them over time. And then others I won't. Some may be brilliant books, I am just not interested in them. I had this to say back in November of 2007 about this goal:

I may even abandon another goal (#23) on the 40 by 40 list. What is my problem you ask? Why am I such a loser that I can't achieve these simple goals? Life, I tell you, life. Not in the sense that life is overwhelming me and I can't possibly achieve these goals. But LIFE, as in I am loving every minute of it. As in, life is too short to not enjoy every minute of it. As in, Philip Roth's American Pastoral, as award-winning as it may be, is just too damn boring for me to care about even though I am 2/3 finished. The irony is that the big things on my list (quitting my old job and
starting my new one) have given me a fabulous new lease on life that makes caring about the little things on my list (reading a book I find boring just to make myself a better person) far too tedious. I still have a book in my hands every free chance I get, and I am still going to check out and enjoy the giants of the literary world. But I no longer feel the need to impress myself or anyone else by finishing "important" but ultimately unfulfilling books. The same goes for my life. I will still take a stab at the important goals and even those that aren't fun, but I won't force myself to finish something just for the sake of crossing it off of a list.

40 by 40 Update: #22 Read the First Volume of Proust's In Search of Lost Time

(Back in May of 2007 I noticed that a bunch of people in the blogosphere had created lists of 101 things to do in 1001 days. I was intrigued by the notion but felt I needed to change the parameters. So I created my 40 by 40 list. 40 things I wanted to do before I turned 40. Well on August 17th I turn 40, and I need to give $10 to charity for every uncompleted item. So it is time to see how I did.)

22. Read the First Volume of Proust's In Search of Lost Time - NOT COMPLETED
Running Tally: $100.00 to charity.

Kudos to Proust for helping me reach $100 in my charitable giving. I am about 80 pages into Swann's Way, the first volume of one of the seminal works of literature in the 20th century. I actually kind of like it, but I just know I am not going to finish it by Monday. It is low on plot and high on atmosphere, which I generally don't mind. But it is the kind of book that you need to savor to truly enjoy. Reading it on deadline is making me dread it. Of course if I had started a year ago, instead of a month ago, everything would be groovy. I probably will continue this or pick it up in the future. But for now, it is a no go.

12 August 2009

40 by 40 Update: #21 Hear Mahler's 8th Symphony Again

(Back in May of 2007 I noticed that a bunch of people in the blogosphere had created lists of 101 things to do in 1001 days. I was intrigued by the notion but felt I needed to change the parameters. So I created my 40 by 40 list. 40 things I wanted to do before I turned 40. Well on August 17th I turn 40, and I need to give $10 to charity for every uncompleted item. So it is time to see how I did.)

21. Hear Mahler's 8th Symphony Again - COMPLETED
Running Tally: $90.00 to charity.

I had a few Mahler Eights I could have chosen from in the U.S. I ended up choosing the New York Philharmonic's version at Avery Fisher Hall in June 2009. Mahler's Eighth Symphony is also known as the Symphony of a Thousand because of the huge forces required to give it a proper airing. Larger than usual orchestra, organ, antiphonal brass, double chorus, children's chorus, 8 soloists. The first part of the symphony is based on the hymn Veni Creator Spiritus and the second part is based on the end of Goethe's Faust. It is a real barn burner. The first time I heard it was when I sang in the giant chorus with the Minnesota Orchestra and the Gothenberg Symphony under Neeme Jarvi.

Since then I have heard it performed again in Minnesota and by the National Symphony Orchestra here in DC. The second Minnesota performance, back in the 90s was the best one by far. The NSO's was darn good, and well, New York's this past June was really disappointing. Conductor Lorin Maazel took the first half too slow. The chorus was not up to snuff. The hall itself has terrible acoustics. And the electronic organ sounded ridiculous. Overall it was murky and lacked the punch it should have had. The New York Phil played well in most places, but not well enough to make up for all of the other deficiencies.

40 by 40 Update: #20 Make Pudding From Scratch


(Back in May of 2007 I noticed that a bunch of people in the blogosphere had created lists of 101 things to do in 1001 days. I was intrigued by the notion but felt I needed to change the parameters. So I created my 40 by 40 list. 40 things I wanted to do before I turned 40. Well on August 17th I turn 40, and I need to give $10 to charity for every uncompleted item. So it is time to see how I did.)

20. Make Pudding From Scratch - COMPLETED
Running Tally: $90.00 to charity.

This one was easy, fun, and delicious. It was an American pudding not to be confused with the British use of the word. I made Brown Sugar Pudding and it was out of this world.

40 by 40 Update: #19 Release 25 Books Into the Wild Through Book Crossing

(Back in May of 2007 I noticed that a bunch of people in the blogosphere had created lists of 101 things to do in 1001 days. I was intrigued by the notion but felt I needed to change the parameters. So I created my 40 by 40 list. 40 things I wanted to do before I turned 40. Well on August 17th I turn 40, and I need to give $10 to charity for every uncompleted item. So it is time to see how I did.)

19. Release 25 Books into the Wild Through Book Crossing - NOT COMPLETED
Running Tally: $90.00 to charity.

I gave this one up back in July 2007. As I blogged back then:

If I could figure out how to do a strikethrough on this blog I would cross
this one out. I thought I would love this particular challenge. The idea is that
you tag books you have read with a Bookcrossing label, register them online, and
then leave them somewhere for someone to find in hopes that they will pick them
up, see the tag, go online to note where they found it and what they thought
about the book and then release it back into "the wild" for someone else to
find.I loved the idea of people connecting through books, but the process of
leaving them out in the wild gave me more stress than joy. Maybe because you
don't really get to connect with people this way, and maybe because the kinds of
books I read aren't going to find a broad audience, or maybe it is because I am
sure that most if not all of the books I have left out in the wild were probably
thrown away. In any case, I didn't find anything edifying about the process and
it was stressing me out. So I am abandoning this one which means at least $10
for charity when I hit 40.

40 by 40 Update: #18 Start and Finish the "Write Now" Better Handwriting Program

(Back in May of 2007 I noticed that a bunch of people in the blogosphere had created lists of 101 things to do in 1001 days. I was intrigued by the notion but felt I needed to change the parameters. So I created my 40 by 40 list. 40 things I wanted to do before I turned 40. Well on August 17th I turn 40, and I need to give $10 to charity for every uncompleted item. So it is time to see how I did.)

18. Start and Finish the "Write Now" Better Handwriting Program - COMPLETED
Running Tally: $80.00 to charity.

My handwriting has gotten so bad over the years of keyboarding that I can hardly read it these days. I followed the program, and it certainly re-taught me some things I haven't thought about since second grade. And I discovered a new way to hold a pen that gives me better control. I am glad I did it, but in the end, the biggest trick is to write much more slowly than is useful for most practical applications.

40 by 40 Update: #17 Spend a Long Weekend in Vienna, Berlin, or Barcelona

(Back in May of 2007 I noticed that a bunch of people in the blogosphere had created lists of 101 things to do in 1001 days. I was intrigued by the notion but felt I needed to change the parameters. So I created my 40 by 40 list. 40 things I wanted to do before I turned 40. Well on August 17th I turn 40, and I need to give $10 to charity for every uncompleted item. So it is time to see how I did.)

17. Spend a Long Weekend in Vienna, Berlin, or Barcelona - NOT COMPLETED
Running Tally: $80.00 to charity.

We have gone on many amazing trips since I made the 40 by 40 list, but did not do this one specifically. From a road trip up the Eastern Seaboard to the Great Barrier Reef, to Kenya, to many weekend trips around the U.S., but alas no Vienna, Berlin, or Barcelona. These will remain on the list in my head.

40 by 40 Update: #16 Get a Letter Published in the New York Times

(Back in May of 2007 I noticed that a bunch of people in the blogosphere had created lists of 101 things to do in 1001 days. I was intrigued by the notion but felt I needed to change the parameters. So I created my 40 by 40 list. 40 things I wanted to do before I turned 40. Well on August 17th I turn 40, and I need to give $10 to charity for every uncompleted item. So it is time to see how I did.)

16. Get a Letter Published in the New York Times - COMPLETED
Running Tally: $70.00 to charity.

Getting a letter published in the New York Times is harder than it may seem. I saw my opening back in July 2007, wrote a pithy little ditty, and managed to get my name in print.

40 by 40 Update: #15 Volunteer During the Next Presidential Cycle

(Back in May of 2007 I noticed that a bunch of people in the blogosphere had created lists of 101 things to do in 1001 days. I was intrigued by the notion but felt I needed to change the parameters. So I created my 40 by 40 list. 40 things I wanted to do before I turned 40. Well on August 17th I turn 40, and I need to give $10 to charity for every uncompleted item. So it is time to see how I did.)

15. Volunteer During the Next Presidential Cycle - COMPLETED
Running Tally: $70.00 to charity.

After the nightmare of the Bush years, I would have volunteered for any Democratic running for president. Being able to volunteer for Barack Obama was an honor. It was nice to be able to go next door to Virginia to knock on doors. In 2004 I had to go to Pennsylvania and Ohio to campaign in a swing state. Obama was a wonderful candidate and he has already done much to improve Washington. I wish some people would cut the man some slack. He had only been in office for about 7 months. If you thought the economy or anything else would turn around that fast, you are delusional.

(I was early Hillary supporter, but am very happy that things turned out the way they did. And I love Hillary as Secretary of State.)

40 by 40 Update: #14 Make a Timpano


(Back in May of 2007 I noticed that a bunch of people in the blogosphere had created lists of 101 things to do in 1001 days. I was intrigued by the notion but felt I needed to change the parameters. So I created my 40 by 40 list. 40 things I wanted to do before I turned 40. Well on August 17th I turn 40, and I need to give $10 to charity for every uncompleted item. So it is time to see how I did.)

14. Make a Timpano - NOT COMPLETED
Running Tally: $70.00 to charity.

For those of you who saw the movie Big Night, you will recognize the timpano. It was that amazing looking Italian dish that has everything but the kitchen sink baked into it. I was very excited to make a timpano, but my partner said they weren't worth the effort. After the movie came out he and a friend took a cooking class on how to make a timpano. He said the result was less than satisfying. Rather than spend dozens of hours trying to prove him wrong and getting fat in the process, I decided to give up on this one. Maybe some day when I am retired and bored.

40 by 40 Update: #13 Reduce My Cholesterol Below 200

(Back in May of 2007 I noticed that a bunch of people in the blogosphere had created lists of 101 things to do in 1001 days. I was intrigued by the notion but felt I needed to change the parameters. So I created my 40 by 40 list. 40 things I wanted to do before I turned 40. Well on August 17th I turn 40, and I need to give $10 to charity for every uncompleted item. So it is time to see how I did.)

13. Reduce My Cholesterol Below 200 - COMPLETED
Running Tally: $60.00 to charity.

Although I have no other risk factors for heart disease, my cholesterol has been consistently in the neighborhood of 226. Anything over 200 is considered to be high. At one point in the summer of 2007 when I was at my fittest I managed to reduce it to 217. But since then it has gone back up. I finally came to the conclusion that I would never have the will or desire to have the kind of diet that would allow me to get my cholesterol any lower. If it is even possible, sometimes genetics wins the contest no matter what you do. So I went on a statin drug earlier this summer. I don't go in for a follow-up until September 14th, so I don't know for sure if it is below 200 at this point. But, I am giving big Pharma the benefit of the doubt and assuming that it is.

40 by 40 Update: #12 Become a Homeowner

(Back in May of 2007 I noticed that a bunch of people in the blogosphere had created lists of 101 things to do in 1001 days. I was intrigued by the notion but felt I needed to change the parameters. So I created my 40 by 40 list. 40 things I wanted to do before I turned 40. Well on August 17th I turn 40, and I need to give $10 to charity for every uncompleted item. So it is time to see how I did.)

12. Become a Homeowner - NOT COMPLETED
Running Tally: $60.00 to charity.

The last time we tried to buy a house was in the overheated DC housing market at the height of the real estate bubble. Thankfully our offer that was way over asking didn't even make it into the top five of those who bid on the same house. After that hairy experience we decided to wait out the bubble. Now that the market here is finally starting to soften we are going to take the plunge and start to seriously look for a house starting in February. Even if the market ticks up we are going to bite the bullet and buy anyway. However, it is highly unlikely that the market will go up much between now and then. Even if the market has bottomed out, it wouldn't bounce back up in any meaningful way by February. In fact, a report just came out this week that shows that 48% of all houses in the U.S. will be worth less than their mortgages by 2011. This certainly doesn't suggest that we have reached the bottom yet. Fingers crossed.

40 by 40 Update: #11 Take a Cruise

(Back in May of 2007 I noticed that a bunch of people in the blogosphere had created lists of 101 things to do in 1001 days. I was intrigued by the notion but felt I needed to change the parameters. So I created my 40 by 40 list. 40 things I wanted to do before I turned 40. Well on August 17th I turn 40, and I need to give $10 to charity for every uncompleted item. So it is time to see how I did.)

11. Take a Cruise - COMPLETED
Running Tally: $50.00 to charity.

As I blogged about back in January. John and I were both skeptical about taking a cruise. But we did and had a fantastic time. Our ship was the brand new Celebrity Solstice and it was perfect for us. The spa and fitness center was amazing as was our room and verandah. We still remain independent travelers at heart, but there are definitely more cruises in our future.

40 by 40 Update: #10 Finish My Business Plan

(Back in May of 2007 I noticed that a bunch of people in the blogosphere had created lists of 101 things to do in 1001 days. I was intrigued by the notion but felt I needed to change the parameters. So I created my 40 by 40 list. 40 things I wanted to do before I turned 40. Well on August 17th I turn 40, and I need to give $10 to charity for every uncompleted item. So it is time to see how I did.)

10. Finish My Business Plan - NOT COMPLETED
Running Tally: $50.00 to charity.

Numbers 1 and 2 below should explain why this one didn't happen. If things had gone differently in the world of travel planning, the plan was to strike out on my own and be my own boss. Thus the need for a business plan.

11 August 2009

40 by 40 Updatd: #9 Outline My Second Novel

(Back in May of 2007 I noticed that a bunch of people in the blogosphere had created lists of 101 things to do in 1001 days. I was intrigued by the notion but felt I needed to change the parameters. So I created my 40 by 40 list. 40 things I wanted to do before I turned 40. Well on August 17th I turn 40, and I need to give $10 to charity for every uncompleted item. So it is time to see how I did.)

9. Outline My Second Novel - NOT COMPLETED
Running Tally: $40.00 to charity.

See Number 7 below. 'Nuff said.

40 by 40 Update: #8 Submit Novel for Publication

(Back in May of 2007 I noticed that a bunch of people in the blogosphere had created lists of 101 things to do in 1001 days. I was intrigued by the notion but felt I needed to change the parameters. So I created my 40 by 40 list. 40 things I wanted to do before I turned 40. Well on August 17th I turn 40, and I need to give $10 to charity for every uncompleted item. So it is time to see how I did.)

8. Submit Novel for Publication - NOT COMPLETED
Running Tally: $30.00 to charity.

Do I need to explain why? See number 7 below.

40 by 40 Update: #7 Finish My First Novel

(Back in May of 2007 I noticed that a bunch of people in the blogosphere had created lists of 101 things to do in 1001 days. I was intrigued by the notion but felt I needed to change the parameters. So I created my 40 by 40 list. 40 things I wanted to do before I turned 40. Well on August 17th I turn 40, and I need to give $10 to charity for every uncompleted item. So it is time to see how I did.)

7. Finish My First Novel - NOT COMPLETED
Running Tally: $20.00 to charity.

Wow, where do I start explaining this one? In some ways I thought I could approach writing a novel the same way I would approach writing a research paper. Make an outline and fill in the spaces between outline points. Easy, novel written. Now don't get me wrong, I had no delusions I was going to produce an enduring work of art. I doubt that it would have contained anything too profound. I would have been happy writing one of those "young" author first novels that is somewhat interesting or amusing with the majority of the small print run ending up in a clearance bin somewhere for $1.99. No lofty aspirations. One wonders why I wanted to write it in the first place. Oprah wasn't going to choose it. It wouldn't buy me a house, or allow me to quit my job. Literary prizes weren't going to be coming my way. Why would I try?

Besides boredom, perhaps my biggest motivation was I felt that I had stories to tell, that someone else may actually be interested in reading. But I also felt like I didn't have enough tricks or talent up my sleeve to waste time on short stories to actually work on writing fiction and getting feedback. I was worried that once I finished a short story or two I wouldn't have anything left in my head to write a novel. All my limited creativity used up with just a few short stories. I know it is ridiculous but that is what I was thinking.

About thirty pages in I began to think that I didn't have enough material for a novel. Could I really just puke words down on a page to fill in between the good bits and hope no one would notice? And then on top of that I thought I would make the protagonist straight, not gay. I didn't want to write a gay book. I thought this might limit my audience. (Get's more ridiculous doesn't it?)

After another 15 pages I lost interest all together. That last word I wrote was in May of 2008. But recently after reading Maeve Brennan's collectiton of short stories The Rose Garden, I began to feel differently about trying my hand a short stories. The idea of writing a short story or two suddenly didn't bother me. Probably because I knew the novel was never going to happen. Why not try and get something meaningful on paper?

So I sat down and wrote my first short story. I'm even ready to share it with a few people. I'm interested to see if there is anything redeeming about the story. Stay tuned.

10 August 2009

40 by 40 Update: #6 Write a Blog Tribute to the Womenfolk

(Back in May of 2007 I noticed that a bunch of people in the blogosphere had created lists of 101 things to do in 1001 days. I was intrigued by the notion but felt I needed to change the parameters. So I created my 40 by 40 list. 40 things I wanted to do before I turned 40. Well on August 17th I turn 40, and I need to give $10 to charity for every uncompleted item. So it is time to see how I did.)

6. Write a Blog Tribute to the Womenfolk - COMPLETED
Running Tally: $10.00 to charity.

Many of you may remember my tribute to the world's greatest all women folk group from the 1960s. The tribute turned out to be wildly successful. Not only did I add some (a little) substance to the very little out there on the Internet about these five fabulous women, but the following also happened as a result of that blog post:

  • I spoke with three of the four surviving members over the phone and got to satisfy 20 years of curiosity. Thank you Leni, Lalah, and Babs.

  • I got to actually meet Babs Cooper in New York. I don't know about her, but I had a wonderful time.

  • The four surviving members actually got together to catch up with each other. For some it was the first time they had seen each other in 40 years. And the women got some good local press.

  • Music writer Tony Sclafani wrote a great piece about my quest in The City Paper, the weekly alternative newspaper here in Washington DC.

  • All of the Womenfolks' recordings are now available on iTunes and other music download sites. A far cry from scarce, scratchy vinyl that the Womenfolk's fans have had to rely on for 40+ years.
This was a 40 by 40 goal that ended up exceeding all my expectations.

40 by 40 Update: #5 Make Four New Friends

(Back in May of 2007 I noticed that a bunch of people in the blogosphere had created lists of 101 things to do in 1001 days. I was intrigued by the notion but felt I needed to change the parameters. So I created my 40 by 40 list. 40 things I wanted to do before I turned 40. Well on August 17th I turn 40, and I need to give $10 to charity for every uncompleted item. So it is time to see how I did.)

5. Make Four New Friends - PARTIALLY COMPLETED
Running Tally: $10.00 to charity.

Being a homebody, stuck in books most of the time, I don't really have the opportunity to meet many new people with whom I could become friends. I have gotten back into touch with lots of old friends on Facebook, but that isn't the same thing. I did manage to make one new friend in the last two years. We both started work the same day as part of my ill-fated and previously discussed change from urban planning to travel planning. And despite my switch back to urban planning, we are still good friends and gossip buddies. So hey Deniz, thanks for the memories.

40 by 40 Update: #4 Pass the TAP Exam

(Back in May of 2007 I noticed that a bunch of people in the blogosphere had created lists of 101 things to do in 1001 days. I was intrigued by the notion but felt I needed to change the parameters. So I created my 40 by 40 list. 40 things I wanted to do before I turned 40. Well on August 17th I turn 40, and I need to give $10 to charity for every uncompleted item. So it is time to see how I did.)

4. Pass the TAP Exam - COMPLETED
Running Tally: $0.00 for charity.

I took the Travel Agent Proficiency (TAP) exam and passed it with flying colors. They allow 2 hours for the hundred question exam. It finished in 20 minutes and I only got 2 questions wrong. And believe me, that says more about the test than it does about my capabilities (as brilliant as they are).

40 by 40 Update: #3 Go to My 20 Year Class Reunion

(Back in May of 2007 I noticed that a bunch of people in the blogosphere had created lists of 101 things to do in 1001 days. I was intrigued by the notion but felt I needed to change the parameters. So I created my 40 by 40 list. 40 things I wanted to do before I turned 40. Well on August 17th I turn 40, and I need to give $10 to charity for every uncompleted item. So it is time to see how I did.)

3. Go to My 20 Year Class Reunion - COMPLETED
Running Tally: $0.00 for charity.

I was really looking forward to this. High School wasn't the best time for me but I was interested in seeing some folks that I hadn't seen for 20 years. I enjoyed myself and blogged about it
here, but now I realize that I will keep in touch with those that I want to (and who want to keep in touch with me) and the rest...well, it might be 40 years before I decide to go back to another one.

40 by 40 Update: #2 Get Another Job

(Back in May of 2007 I noticed that a bunch of people in the blogosphere had created lists of 101 things to do in 1001 days. I was intrigued by the notion but felt I needed to change the parameters. So I created my 40 by 40 list. 40 things I wanted to do before I turned 40. Well on August 17th I turn 40, and I need to give $10 to charity for every uncompleted item. So it is time to see how I did.)

2. Get Another Job - COMPLETED
Running Tally: $0.00 for charity.

I was ecstatic when I started in the travel biz. I got a job working for a local travel agency where I was the low man on the totem pole, but I didn't care. I loved every minute of my work day. I couldn't stop talking about how much I loved my job. When we were up in New York for Thanksgiving I looked at John and said "I wish I was at work."

So why did I last for only a year? The reasons are legion. One of them was an incompatibility with the firm that hired me. Even though I was the lowest man on the totem pole and had the salary to prove it, I was asked to do things that were far above what a "junior agent" would be required to do. At first I didn't mind. I put in hundreds of extra hours planning the design for a new website and writing huge amounts of content. But it was fun, and I was getting to set the style and tone for the business. When the man who hired me quit, I was de facto manager for while. When his replacement didn't know how to do her job, I was de facto manager again. When she quit, the owner asked me to take on a managerial role--but get this--for no additional salary. Even then I might not have minded if I had any sense that the business was going to move forward in a direction that I thought made sense. But that wasn't going to happen.

I could have looked for other work in the travel business but by that time the economy was in the toilet and travel seemed even less lucrative than it had a year earlier. Plus, the odd thing about travel is that unless you are working for REALLY high end clients, the harder you work the less you make. Yes, that is right. Even if they charge a planning fee, agents still have to rely on the rather measly commissions that suppliers pay--and they generally make NOTHING on airline tickets unless they charge you a fee. The reality is there is a whole group of middle class and upper middle class travelers who are tired of trying to weed through all of the junk on the Internet and have gone back to using travel agents. Unfortunately, they have brought their bargain hunt mentality with them. That might sound fair, but what it means is that they are unwilling to tolerate a mark-up. So the agent has to work harder and spend more time to find a "deal" that the customer is willing to pay for. And the net result for the agent is that they get even less money despite the increase in work. And even then customers sometimes balk and want to walk away and "get it cheaper online." It would be like working with a Real Estate agent who finds you your dream house, negotiates the price, fills out the paper work, and then you say "I don't need you anymore, I can get the house 3% cheaper if I finish this up myself."

Unless you do a huge volume on things like cruises and (shudder) Sandals, the only way to make money in the business is to have really high end clients who are willing to spend big money on travel. It sounds terrible, but that expensive $10,000 trip to Disney that you bought with your home equity loan is small beans and ain't going to do much to pay the agent's mortgage, or even pay for groceries.

So, realizing that it was unlikely that I was going to tap into enough big spenders to make anything other than chump change, I decided it was time to get out. As much as I loved the world of travel planning I want to actually retire someday on more than just Social Security.

And now I am working back in the land of urban planning and making a decent living again.

40 by 40 Update: #1 Quit My Job

(Back in May of 2007 I noticed that a bunch of people in the blogosphere had created lists of 101 things to do in 1001 days. I was intrigued by the notion but felt I needed to change the parameters. So I created my 40 by 40 list. 40 things I wanted to do before I turned 40. Well on August 17th I turn 40, and I need to give $10 to charity for every uncompleted item. So it is time to see how I did.)

1. Quit My Job - COMPLETED
Running Tally: $0.00 for charity.

I was almost 38 at the time that I made the 40 by 40 list and I felt the milestone birthday breathing down my neck. I felt like something was missing from my professional life. I was working as an Urban Planner for the federal government. The unfortunate thing is that the agency I worked for wasn't so interested in what an urban planner had to say. So in October of 2007 I made a big change. I quit my government job in urban planning to get into travel planning.

I love to travel and I really love to plan travel. As soon as I returned from one vacation I was planning the next one. I like dreaming about the possibilities, I like doing the research, I like crafting the perfect itinerary, and I love to share my travel experiences with others. Combining this with my undying love for organization made travel planning a natural, if somewhat risky, choice for me. I knew the pay would be bad, but the prospect of being able to talk about travel all day at work seemed like more than ample consolation for a reduction in salary.

Well, as you will read in the update for #2 on my list, travel didn't quite work out for me...so I quit that job after a year and am back working in urban planning at least temporarily.

07 August 2009

Senators to Let Big Banks Walk All Over You

Senator Dodd, who I like to call Senator Big Bank, and Senator Schumer, who I like to call Senator Wall Street, are doing their best to ensure that regulatory reform in the financial services sector results in nothing but good news for their biggest donors. Senator Big Bank this week chaired a Senate Banking Committee hearing on regulatory reform where he asked this ridiculous question: "Is the administration's proposal really enough, or should we be listening to previous administrations...that greater consolidation should be the next step?" (quoted in American Banker, 8/5/09) Apparently he feels that the Bush, and to some extent Clinton, administrations' march toward regulatory consolidation, the same administrations who laid the groundwork for the banking crisis, had the right idea. Huh?

And Senator Wall Street pulls the Rovian tactic of calling it a "turf war" effectively shutting down meaningful conversation before it even starts. It seems as if his turf (his millions of dollars of campaign contributions from Wall Street) is the only one that needs protecting. And forget about consumers/taxpayers in all of this. Banking consolidation will mean just a handful of bigger banks calling the shots for consumers and on Capitol Hill. The same way the ones that were too big to fail and needed bailing out have done it for the past decade.

One of the important things that kept the credit moving moving and prevented a total melt-down of the system, was the existence of over 6,000 state-chartered banks, many of them smaller community banks. State regulators in general have been doing their part to try and protect consumers and do their part to ensure the safety and soundness of the banking system. They are by no means perfect, and have for a long time been blocked by the feds from doing their job, but they provide checks and balances that would disappear if Senator Big Bank and Senator Wall Street get their way.

(Crossposted at Opensewer)

05 August 2009

My All Time Favorite Books

When I made the chart below showing the distribution of my book ratings I noticed that 23 of the 646 books I have read since 1995 fell into the "All Time Favorite" category. Keep in mind these are not in any order, and they don't necessarily equate to "great books". They are just books that were my favorites. And please keep in mind they don't take into account anything I read before 1995, so not all of my all time favorites are listed here.

It was interesting to see what showed up on the list. Although I am not a huge fan of non-fiction, six putative works of non-fiction showed up:
In Cold Blood - Truman Capote
The Piano Shop on the Left Bank - Thad Carhart
Ex Libris - Anne Fadiman
The Diary of a Young Girl - Anne Frank
84, Charing Cross Road - Helene Hanff
Comfort Me With Apples - Ruth Reichl

There were two that can be considered "juvenile" books:
Harriet the Spy - Louise Fitzhugh
Heidi - Johanna Spyri


Five that could be considered "classics":
A Room with a View - E.M. Forster
A Prayer for Owen Meany - John Irving
The Color Purple - Alice Walker
The Age of Innocence - Edith Wharton
The Picture of Dorian Gray - Oscar Wilde


And the rest are just novels that I really liked for one reason or another:
Oryx and Crake - Margaret Atwood
The Robber Bride - Margaret Atwood
The Uncommon Reader - Alan Bennett
Entries From a Hot Pink Notbook - Todd Brown
The Professor's House - Willa Cather
The Seven Sisters - Margaret Drabble
The Student Conductor - Robert Ford
Under the Net - Iris Murdoch
As for Me and My House - Sinclair Ross
Tepper Isn't Going Out - Calvin Trillin

Not surprisingly to me, 13 of the 23 books were written by women.

The Shape of Things


Jackie over at Farm Lane Books Blog asked the question "What shape is your rating system?" She was wondering what the aggregate data of book ratings would look like represented graphically. So I went to my trusty spreadsheet that contains all the books I have read since 1995 and did a quick little chart that shows how my book ratings are distributed. From the chart you would think that I never met a book that I didn't like. But, it turns out that I am much like many the commenters on Jackie's blog. I don't finish books I don't like so they don't show up on my booklist and therefore don't show up on my ratings chart.

Bill's Big Adventure

Although she puts her usual snarky spin on the situation, Maureen Dowd says something in her column today that sums up how I feel about Bill Clinton's trip to North Korea. "Hillary and President Obama look bigger when they share the stage with other talented players." That is exactly what I was thinking as the media and blogosphere pondered the notions that Hillary is once again in Bill's shadow, or that even in Obama's America the Clintons loom large.

This is the way I see it: We have a very competent President working hard to clean up messes he inherited and make some change in general. We have a very competent Secretary of State working hard to clean up messes she inherited and make change in Africa (at the moment). And we have a very competent former President helping to clean up a mess and just maybe set the stage for the possibility for some kind of change in North Korea. It just makes me want to shout "Hooray, adults are in charge again!"

And didn't you love how normally smiley Bill looked like he was at someone's funeral the whole time he was there?

(Crossposted at Opensewer)