Taking Care of Business (or “Don’t Wait”)

In 24 hours, I’ve been to a bar mitzvah, an engagement party, an unveiling (memorial service where a grave marker is displayed), and sent Roya & Sarah off to visit her family in Memphis (the picture is from the airport).

If this was any more “circle of life”, I’d have swarms of cartoon animals doing elaborate choreography around me.

But this got me thinking a bit on the ephemerality of the moment- we live in the unquantized “now”, and to do otherwise is considered a terrible curse (Deut 28:67). Or do we?

How present are we actually? There is a whole cottage industry right now in bemoaning how modern technology brings us out of the moment, and makes us disconnected from each other (“Look Up” is a good example of that) – although I’ve seen enough pictures of people ignoring each other on trains reading newspapers to know this isn’t truly a modern phenomenon.

But I think the essence of the thing is still true, that each of the moments we have is precious, and how we choose to spend them offers revealing insight into our characters.

So given my postulated superiority of temporal presence, what’s the actual takeaway, other than “be here now”? I think it would be “don’t wait.” Anything worth doing is worth doing now.



In Which Humble Pie is Eaten, Along with Cookies (or “The Adventures of Radioactive Man and Fallout Boy”)

It turned out that Sarah had long-ago scheduled to go away this weekend as well, and my memory being what it is (more like a steel sieve than a steel trap), I had forgotten until two weeks ago.  So all of a sudden, I found myself with another opportunity for a civilization game!  Hooray!  That one which I had thought would be the last pre-kidlet would merely be the penultimate, simple, cozy, and all could be right in the universe.

I invited a bunch of folks, most of whom hadn’t been able to make it to recent games, and one of whom has a gluten and soy intolerance, necessitating calling the amazing chosenbites.com: two dozen soy-free, dairy-free, gluten-free cookies made of pure awesomeness would soon be mine!  Muh-wah-hah-ha-ha!!  The chocolate chip cookies are great, but the ginger snaps are magnificent.

Of course, Der Menscht trakht und Gott Lakht (man plans and God laughs), or “life is apparently what happens while you’re busy making other plans” (John Lennon).

I ended up in the hospital this week for unexplained vomiting which the ER docs thought might be my gall bladder due to a worrisome ultrasound.  An amusing side note: Sarah posted a note to Facebook mentioning that we were in the hospital and mentioning “ultrasound” -and apparently a bunch of folks thought we were there for her which thankfully was not the case (I had a bunch of folks tell me that they were glad it was me and not her – me too!).

Sibley Hospital is still really nice, and their staff is still the most pleasant of any hospital I’ve ever been to.  However, I think with their purchase by the JHU team, they’ve now been discovered by some of the rest of region- the ER was actually really crowded and we had a multi-hour wait (which is much more typical for the region).  The staff said they hadn’t seen it that crowded before.

They kept me there for about a day and a half on some saline, Phenergan and some IV antibiotics.  Interestingly, the nurse told me this time about some people’s complications from IV Phenergan, and that they try to use Zofran instead, but I’ve never had the slightest benefit from Zofran.  Looking now at the pharmacological differences, that makes total sense – they work on completely different receptors, and one of Zofran’s known side effects is headache (while I’ve gotten Phenergan for migraine-triggered nausea in the past).  Anyway, I was kept NPO because the ultrasound and physical exam showed me as a possible surgical candidate.  It’s like Tisha b’Av, but colder!

So they performed a HIDA scan, which was my first exposure to nuclear medicine.  I was injected with Technetium-99m (and some other goop), and told to lie very very still for about 90 minutes. Frustratingly, Sarah was not told how long this test was.  Happily, I apparently studied hard, because I passed this test with a negative, and managed to avoid surgery.  The half-life of the Tc-99m is about 6 hours, so it should be quite gone by now, but I figure I did a reasonable Tony Stark impersonation for a while there, so at least that’s some geek cred.  I had a good time talking to the doctor about how the detector worked and what it was showing.

Sarah did a heck of a job taking care of me through this – I fast really poorly, and so my ability to think straight was reduced.  I can’t say enough how much that meant.  She’s the best.

After they reviewed my results with me, they let me eat (I have never been so happy to see a hospital TV dinner in my life) and let me leave.  They didn’t punch my frequent-flyer card.

But then came the game!  Sarah decided that she was too wiped out from taking care of me to travel for multiple hours each way (and enjoy where she was planning on going) so she stayed, but because she is awesome, she was ok with Civ happening anyway.

The game was shorter than usual, and ended one turn earlier than we thought we would – one player needed to leave, and we called it then.  I got the first civil war early on, and then an iconoclasm & heresy in the last turn took me down to two cities in the final round.  Ouch!  Africa was our bye country, and interestingly, that was precisely what rebelled during my civil war, and I never actually rebuilt any cities there.

Final scores:

Italy: David: 1336

Illyria: Merideth: 1655

Thrace: Erin: 1642

Crete: Michael: 1853

Asia: Toby: 1585

Assyria: Rich: 1534

Babylon: Shoshana: 1933 (winner)

Egypt: Larry: 1425 (new)


garlic-ring pineapple fried rice (no added salt/gluten/soy free)

one wasserman & lemberger garlic ring (like a bratwurst)

one can pineapple tidbits (or chunks, but cut the chunks in half).  Drain, but reserve the juice.

bunch of scallions

2c cooked white rice, chilled.

three halves of peppers (red/yellow/orange) chopped finely

one onion, chopped finely

three cloves garlic, minced.

sriracha (optional)


I needed to make a dish with no added salt, gluten or soy for a fleishig meal, and didn’t have time to make it to a market for many ingredients – I think this experiment pretty much worked, so I’m preserving it.

I don’t have a wok, so I had to use a flat-bottom skillet.  Chop the garlic ring into bite-sized pieces.  Sauté the garlic ring, and that will produce grease for the pan.  After the garlic ring is browned, add the onion & garlic until the onion begins to get translucent.  Stir often because it will tend to stick.  Add the rice, stir often.  When it starts to stick to the bottom of the pan, add a little of the pineapple juice.  Repeat this for about 7 minutes or so.  Add the peppers, most of the scallions and sriracha, continue frying until they start to soften, and then add the pineapple and the juice.  Cover and reduce the heat until the liquid is absorbed.  Garnish with some of the green parts of the scallions.

A Game of Temperate Zones

Sarah is at a week-long silent retreat (this sounds like a form of water torture to me), so Civilization was indicated! Two new players joined, and the player who was Crete was doing so for the first time – he had a heck of a time, compounded by a few (IMO, ill-advised) decisions to provoke conflicts when he was vulnerable. One of those was with me: that was a classic “don’t poke the bear” moment – save trash-talking for after the movement phase of the person in question, especially if it’s your neighbor, and you have wide-open fronts.

We had the weirdest ruling occur: civil war came up, and two players had precisely the same number in stock, where one had more cities, and one had more farmers. We (after much argument) eventually resolved that the beneficiary was the player who was further behind on the AST as the tie-breaker – although that is a weak tie-breaker, because it would be easy for that to be the same. According to this thread at boardgamegeek, we should have resolved it in AST order instead. That would have flipped who got it. Another thing we need to do is be more careful about who trades whom calamities – there were several cases of “who gave that to me?” for secondary effects, with several people claiming to have traded the card.

I don’t think I’ve seen a game where we all finished so close together before – we were on the same two points on the AST (Italy, Illyria, and Assyria were “one” ahead). We also decided after the movement phase that it was the last turn – I suspect some of the final moves would have been different (I would have been dogpiled a bit more, I expect, and I would hopefully have remembered to actually *use* architecture to make the extra city – d’oh!)

Africa: 1827 : Shoshana
Italy: 2273: Rebecca
Illyria: 2238: Michael
Crete: 1498: Jared
Assyria: 2317: David
Babylon: 2140: Cole
Egypt: 2108: Merideth

One Year Later

Rosh Hashana just ended, and I was struck by something: Last year at this time, Sarah and I had just been through a miscarriage and were on fertility medicines which were not working, and I had a PICC line, because my Lyme disease just wasn’t getting better. I only saw blackness ahead; it felt like the sun would never come out. I didn’t say stuff like that out loud – it tends to freak people out – but I had felt really hopeless.

This Rosh Hashana was different. Sarah is 23 weeks pregnant, my Lyme is in remission, and while I’ve still got health problems, they’re not anything like what I was dealing with before. Now, I see the world through a different lens. The person who I was feels like a stranger.

But I know people who are suffering this year – who have problems every bit as crushing to them as mine were to me. Their year got worse at the same time mine got better. A few of them are open and public, and others are not.

I pray that God alleviates their suffering, and that next year, their suffering feels as distant to them as mine does to me now. Gam zu ya’avor – and this, too, shall pass.

And in the meantime, I’ll endeavor to do what I can for those whom I can help, and try to be compassionate as a principle, in the manner of “first, do no harm”.

God willing, it will be a good year for all of us.

A Pool for Reflecting

A lot of people have written about privacy, security, trust, and the modern world.

Steven Iveson writes convincingly that we’re doing it wrong.

I think that to an extent what he is describing is a classic tragedy of the commons applied to the value chain, and saying that this is having a corrosive effect on trust as well. Certainly the behaviors of the players involved are not ones which lend themselves toward feelings of goodwill. The interesting thing is that we all seem inclined to sell our privacy birthright for a mess o’pottage in the form of a frequent shopper card at the supermarket – to say nothing of the tracking devices that we all wear 24×7 (or 24×6 for the other sabbath-observant folks out there).

So now where does society go from here? Perhaps countermeasures à la XKCD? Civil disobedience, Little Brother style? or do we just say “I, for one, welcome our new data-gathering overlords”?

I have no idea what the next stage is: it’s both concerning and fascinating to me that we’ve walked here with effectively no discussion and no reflection. Perhaps we should spend a few minutes on this.

Another Win for the Kosher Consumer

According to reporting in the Times of Israel, the Rabbinical Council of California (the group who gave the unmarked supervision to Huy Fong sriracha), have now declared that Trigg products’ “Wet” lubricant is free from nonkosher animal products, and on that basis they have granted supervision. Good to know!

Now this is the kind of outreach which scratches a needed itch in the community. All joking aside, I appreciate the RCC’s proactive approach.

Safe Words

Some of the recent things going on in life recently (IVF/ART/fertility, funerals & loss) are pretty raw, so I’m going to wait for a bit for them to settle before going into to many details.

In the meantime, there are some less-weighty things of some note, which I’ll mention in FIFO order.

The Franchise’s show at the Treehouse Lounge was good, but not as well attended as we had hoped. We got a few decent recordings- once we pick which ones will go public I’ll share them here and elsewhere. I was particularly happy with “Footsteps”, which came out just right.

On Star Wars Day, I hosted a civilization game (this time with planked and baked salmon instead of cholent).

This was an interesting game: the player who was slotted to play Africa skipped, and so we had a hole, but then Toby joined there about four turns in. It was a very crowded board, with all of the experienced players in the North-central board. We didn’t get very far: we ended at havdalah, and one new player was very slow- that player tended to view the determinations of where to move tokens with the deliberation that one wishes our actual government would use in making decisions (oooh, I went there…)

The funniest moment was of course the small band of Italian farmers who kept trying to fight their way out of Egypt, during which time Egypt experienced a flood, famine, pestilence, and eventually Iconoclasm & Heresy. Of course it did.. The Egyptians had even expressed fear that the Italians would join with the Babylonians or Africans against them! I was waiting for the next calamity to be “death of the firstborn.” Amusingly, those Italian farmers survived until the end of the game, regardless of what Merneptah’s inscription said… (tl;dr – one of the many, many too-early obituaries of the Jewish people, from ~1200 BCE)

We didn’t get very far, but our finish did have something notable: Shoshana’s first victory! Yay, Shoshana!

Final scores:
Shoshana, Asia, 1689
Michael, Crete, 1651
Ron, Babylon, 1511
David, Thrace, 1398
Erin, Illyria, 1250
Alan, Italy, 1239
Rich, Egypt, 974
Toby, Africa, 924


Then, after Sarah returned, we headed up to New Jersey for our RMA consult (more on that later), but decided to make a weekend of it. I finally encountered the vaunted Gotham wines, and I had expected to be underwhelmed. Um, NO. I haven’t seen a selection of kosher wine that good in one place, especially with a helpful guy who was suggesting the oodles of stuff for me to try (and what not to try, even more important).

Two which were remarkable so far were a 2007 Chateau Fourcas Dupre Bordeaux and a 2011 Recanati Reserve Petit Syrah / Zinfandel blend. Both were really outstanding, and quite worth it.

I did get to see the Jewish Center, which had two things I liked a great deal: the formal (top hat + vest) attire of the rabbi & gabbaim, and also an absolutely stunning sanctuary where the mehitza isn’t oppressive. Beautiful! I could have done with less talking, but I think that’s probably true almost everywhere.

Our weekend got cut short when we heard the news about the funeral, and logistics took over.

Since then, my mom visited during Shavuot (a lovely visit) and we’re just starting to begin to slow down the whirlwind. Or maybe we’ll have it spin up.

Gordon Lederman, zt”l

I am sad.

I just came from the funeral of a friend. This particular friend was someone who means a whole lot to a lot of people, and I won’t presume to a degree of closeness which I don’t have. However, he influenced me (and lots of other people) in some extremely profound ways.

When Sarah and I were newly married and I went to stay for a Shabbat at Kesher Israel, I accepted a hospitality invitation, and it was Gordon who took me in. I didn’t know anyone, and he made me feel completely welcome. I later learned that this was just who he was: he *always* made people feel welcome, and he welcomed people into his heart in the same way that he welcomed them into his home.

I learned a lot from him over the first few years I was at Kesher. I saw his devotion to his family- he spoke lovingly and often of them, and his apartment was surrounded by their pictures. He was a mainstay of the synagogue, specifically in the unsung tasks of setting up and cleaning up. He neither asked for any particular credit nor sought any recognition for doing this- he simply saw a task which needed to be done and did it.

He had tremendous drive to do bikur holim (visiting the sick) among other things. When he was single, lots of women were interested in him. I remember him telling Sarah and I that the way he knew that Lisa was the right woman for him was that he mentioned that there was a hospitalized person he had wanted to visit who was quite a long way away (if I recall correctly, the patient had been moved). Without missing a beat, she said, “Let’s go!” It says something about him that the quality he prized in a spouse was an eagerness to help others.

I once answered a couple of questions for him about networking, and it turned out that he was doing research for the 9/11 commission report. The copy of he autographed for me is something I treasure.

I’ve long said “I want to be Gordon when I grow up”. He was born just one year before me, but always seemed to have himself so much more together- I had the sense that he was the one who exemplified the things which I should be doing.

I think the story which truly captures the essence of my experience of Gordon is that when we came to visit him after he got sick, and we were talking, when he learned about our health and infertility problems, his response was “I’ll add you to my tehillim (prayer) list”. I think it takes a special person to, when faced with his own terminal Illness, make a point of praying for the recovery of others. And yet that was just Gordon being Gordon.

It is my feeling that he was the single best man in my generation. I miss him already.

May the memory of the righteous be for a blessing.

Gimme Some of the Good Stuff

First and foremost, The Franchise is coming back to the DC night life, with our comeback gig scheduled for May 2 @ 8PM at the newly-opening Treehouse Lounge over at 1006 Florida Ave NE. W00t!

We’ll be doing a half-and-half set – about half old favorites, and half stuff from our forthcoming album Movers and Shakers. (Aside: remember when “groups of songs you buy on iTunes” were called “albums”? I liked that name…). We’re still finalizing the set list now…


Our Sedarim were good, although our first one went from 9 people to 5 people abruptly (all due to illness, boo!), and so we ended up with brisket and chicken soup coming out of our ears. Now, it’s good brisket and chicken soup, so that’s not a bad thing, but it was too bad that we didn’t get to see Sarah’s sister, our nephew, and a pair of dear friends. C’est la vie

We did have a few treats – the awesome cookies made by Rella – clearly, she wants to see more of me! Also, we had some fabulous wine: a 2011 hagafen pinot noir was my personal favorite, although a 2009 Chateau le Bourdieu Bordeaux Medoc and a 2011 Tishbi Cabernet Sauvignon were close contenders. A disappointment was the Yogev Cab / Petit Verdot blend, but it suffered from being cups 3/4 – it’s extremely tannic, and so is an extremely bad fit for drinking quickly without complimenting really, really heavy beef (and those cups were *after* the meal).

A surprise hit this year was Sarah’s marmouna from Foods of Israel Today (excellent book – everything in it is good) – she made it with serrano peppers, and it was hot in a way that very little Jewish cuisine is, and it was fantastic.


After all of the sturm und drang, we didn’t end up making any quinoa so far this year. Go figure. I’ll have to make some for the last days, or I’ll feel silly.

Plowshares for Everyone!

This past Shabbat, Sarah was extraordinarily nice, and let me host a civilization game even though she was in town. Thanks!

This was one of the more peaceful games I’ve seen: 6 players, one n00b (W, playing Egypt, of course, who is a *delightful* fellow). Asia, Thrace, and Crete were out of play. Interestingly, we would have had two more players, but they chose to ditch an opportunity to improve a society by introducing monotheism, rule of law, literacy, and free trade, and go to CPAC instead. Well! I know who came out ahead on that trade! Notably, the three most experienced players were all on the northern side of the board. We called it at havdalah, so it was on the shorter side.

Final scores:
Assyria (me): 3449
Babylon (SDP): 3106
Illyria (MP): 2966
Italy (RR): 2461
Egypt (W): 1623
Africa (JC, no not that one): 1531

I was particularly surprised that as I started to pull ahead, and there was even some discussion of this at the table, ere was not a “dogpile David” moment: this is where the aggressiveness of an E or A or the sheer randomness of a Matt would have probably knocked me down about three pegs. I think SDP is the real success story in the civ games: she’s grown from perennially being at the bottom to being one of the consistently strongest players.

Coinage was a clutch early purchase, and let me completely manipulate the taxation rates, allowing me to really get the better of the trade, and thus technology, cards. A good game, this summer will hopefully have more.