Favorite Reads So Far This Year (2017)


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“A Best Friend Is Someone Who Gives Me a Book I’ve Never Read”- A. Lincoln

Several years ago I decided waiting until December each year was too long a time between posts that share favorite reads among MillersTime readers. So I started asking in May/June for books you’ve read so far in the year that have particularly resonated with you. And since some of our memories are not quite as sharp as they once were, the idea of having a midyear call for your favorites and a midyear post, I hope, will be useful to all and will continue to be a regular feature here.

I ask that you send me a few that have stood out for you so far, along with a sentence or two of what was particularly appealing. Send them to my email (Samesty84@gmail.com), and when I get at least a dozen or so responses, I’ll post them for other readers to see. I’ll also do a second summer post for those of you who may be too busy to respond in the next couple of weeks (but know you can expect a couple of reminders if you don’t respond to this first appeal).

To start everyone off, both Ellen and I have listed books that we’ve particularly enjoyed since Jan.1, 2017, along with a few sentences about each. (We may have overdone our list here a bit, but remember we are retired, don’t watch TV, and our grand kinder go to bed early.)

Richard Miller:

Can Heaven Be Void by Brian Milch (NF). In one of the best movies we’ve seen in the last few months, Past Life (see review), there is reference to a diary written by one of the three main characters. I tracked it down and found it to be one of my favorite reads so far this year. It’s the diary of a doctor in Poland from 1939-44. Actually, it’s a combination of his original diary and a rewriting of those years when he could not recover the original. Certainly one of the compelling parts of this book for me was the similarity to what I had learned from a memorable trip with my father, brother-in-law, and cousin to Lithuania almost 20 years ago and what we learned from that trip. Milch’s diary focuses one the aspects of the Holocaust that didn’t involve the death camps. It relates what happened to him and his family in Galacia, Poland and tells the lesser known story of some of the more than three million who were killed in the towns and villages where they lived. The diary is out of print in English (still exists in Polish and Hebrew, I think), but I would be glad to loan my English copy if you are interested.

Insomniac by Bill Hayes (NF). This memoir is written by Oliver Sacks’ partner, and without being invasive or exploitative of Sacks, Hayes gives an intimate glimpse of their relationship and more confirmation of the man Sacks was. In addition to writing about the end of Sacks’ life, Hayes writes of his own love affair with NYC and how he learned to enjoy the everyday small things in life. He’s a photographer and has a good eye, a good heart, and has learned to deal well with grief.

The North Water by Ian McGuire (F). A whaling story, beautifully written, hard to put down, brutal at times but compelling. Ellen last year touted it as one of her audible favorites.

The New Odyssey by Patrick Kingsley (NF). Follows various Syrians, Eritreans, and other refuges fleeing wars and unbearable lives and their travel to and through Europe to find new homes. Best insight(s) I’ve gotten about the current refugee exodus and odyssey. A second book that deals with similar issues and was worthy also is The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between by Hisham Matar (NF). It’s a memoir of a son’s search for his ‘lost’ father and an understanding of his homeland. Pulitzer Prize winner for Biography or Autobiography this year.

Evicted, Poverty & Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond (NF). Another of those books which delve into issues that are in front of us but somehow we haven’t really understood the dynamics of what is happening in our country – why people lose their homes, who makes money off the poor, rental issues in Milwaukee and elsewhere.

I also thoroughly enjoyed The Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas Preston (NF), Stranger in the Woods, by Michael Finkel (NF), Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann (NF), A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (F), and American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House by Jon Meacham (NF).

Three particularly captivating audible books were Not My Father’s Son, a memoir by Alan Cumming (NF);  Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi (F); and Between Them: Remembering My Parents by Richard Ford (NF).


Ellen Miller:

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann (NF). I’ll admit at the outset that I have a prejudice about David Grann after reading his earlier book, The Lost City of Z, and many pieces in The New Yorker. I will read anything by him and love it. This one is a meticulously researched story that took place in the 1920’s about how the Osage Indians were not only robbed of their land and the native birthright, but how they were systematically murdered for their wealth. The investigations of their crimes tie into the early days of the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover’s leadership which reveals another fascinating side of the story. This book has it all: a documented history and injustice that I knew nothing about, and politics. This is my book of the year (thus far).

The Blood Of Emmett Till by Timothy B Tyson (NF). I never tire of nor fail to learn from books that detail the history of slavery, the Jim Crow era, or the more modern African-American experience. There is simply too much to learn and understand. This book details a horrific incident that I recall from my childhood: the 1955 lynching in the Mississippi Delta of a 14 year old boy from Chicago. Read this one and weep.

Do Not Say We have Nothing by Madeleine Thien (F). This is fictionalized account of two generations of families in China who lived through the Cultural Revolution and the impact it had on their lives. It is told through the eyes of two young women descendants and the book carefully uncovers the adaptations that were made in order to survive. It is both a political story and intimate family novel.

Eveningland: Stories by Michael Knight (F). I’ve read several books of short stories thus far this year that I would recommend — Homesick for Another World by Ottessa Moshfegh and Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enriquez among them —  and found that I actually enjoyed all of them immensely. (Short stories are not usually a genre I spend time on.)  Knight’s stories focus on the South, and I found them honest, interesting, and engaging.

Waking Lions by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen (F). A new subcategory of interest for me is writing on contemporary life by Israelis. This book was one I thought presented such an unusual story that developed into a high level ethical dilemma that makes it a must-read.  (Other fiction on this subject I enjoyed included All The River by Dorit Rabinyan and The Man Who Never Stopped Sleeping by Aharon Appelfeld.)

Spoils by Brian Van Reet (F). I have found that reading books about the Iraq war are almost as compelling as the novels that came after Vietnam, and this is one of my favorites. The time period is 2003 and already everything is spinning out of control. Told from two perspectives, it will leave you with lots of questions. If the topic interests you, check out Consequences: A Memoir by Eric Fair (NF).

My guilty pleasures:  Alexa and Eliza by Melissa de la Cruz (F); The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti (F); Ties by Domenico Starnone (F); The Spy by Paulo Coelho (F); and A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline (F).


I started using the Audible App for listening to books during my workouts in 2016, and now I am rather obsessed with listening – when I am riding in the car, working on photographs, getting ready for the day, in short, whenever I can. I find that the really good ones have the same qualities of attending a play, and I often recall these books afterward with more vividness than those I read. Do note that I try to listen to books on dissimilar subjects to the ones I am reading so I don’t confuse the stories.

The Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story by Douglas Preston (NF). Narrated by Mark Deakins. I was captivated by this book as I think anyone will be if intrigued in the myths, mysteries, and explorations of the “lost cities” of the world (think The Lost City of Z by David Grann). This exploration takes place in the Honduran interior, and it tells the story of not only the exploration itself (by one of the participants) but also the logistics and politics of executing it, and the resulting life-threatening consequences of their efforts to uncover one of the great archeological discoveries of the 21st century.

Days Without End by Sebastian Barry (F). This is a wonderful and compelling story set between the American Indian and Civil Wars (a time I know little about). The main characters, an Irish immigrant and his best friend, participate in and observe the horrors that are war. This book will long stay with me, as its storytelling is elegant and compelling as is the narration by Aidan Kelly.

Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag (F). Narrated by Neil Shah. I love nothing better than books about India, and this one evokes personal experiences with our long “family” connections there. It’s a short, tightly woven story of tangled family relationships. It’s a no nonsense, straightforward accounting a family’s challenges to adapt to modern India. The author has been hailed as the best fiction writer from India in the past decade.

A Horse Walks into a Bar by David Grossman (F). Narrated by Joe Barrett. Translated by Jessica Cohen. I can’t say I enjoyed this book, but I think it’s brilliant – a searing story about a standup comic who’s own story is revealed in one night in the most brutal and revealing ways. Not surprisingly, it’s nominated for a Booker Prize.

Between Them: Remembering My Parents by Richard Ford (NF). Narrated by Christian Baskous. Memoirs are another category of book that I have really enjoyed this year. This one is really a lovely tribute to Ford’s parents: simple, straightforward, and not exceptional people, nor perfect in any way. You will love them and him by the time you finish. Other wonderful memoirs that I have loved (and listened to this year) include In the Dark Room by Susan Faludi, Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah, and Alan Cumming’s Not My Father’s Son.

Beware of Grandparents


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We are under assault.

Research presented at a meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies this month warns of a grave threat to America’s children: Grandma and Grandpa. The study suggests older people are so hopelessly out of date on child-rearing recommendations that they may put their beloved grandchildren at risk.

Apparently, because we have not been ‘trained’ adequately, our children are being warned against allowing us to help with the grandchildren. Despite having been parents already, or perhaps because we were parents so long ago, we are out of date and cannot be trusted with the grand kinder.

[I wrote about this a few years ago: Are Grandparents (Becoming) Obsolete?  In that Mar. 3, 2013 post I brought to your attention that we no longer were the ‘go to’ source for answering questions from our grandchildren. We had been replaced by Google. And that may even be out of date if your grandkid has Alexa to answer all of his/her questions.]

Now, in an attempt to stay up to date myself about politics and other issues and not just remain in my ideological bubble, I’ve expanded my morning reading of newspapers and other articles to include, among other sources, The Wall Street Journal and even The Drudge Report.

Imagine my horror when I saw this article this morning in the WSJ.

Sorry Gramps, You’re No Expert by Lenore Skenazy, Wall Street Journal, 5/17/17. (The subtitle of the article: “Are the people who raised you qualified to take care of your child?”)

Apparently we are not to be trusted because we don’t know all of the latest ‘research’ and ‘child expert advice’ that our own children are getting about raising their kids.


Ellen, let’s cancel those six upcoming dates to help out with the three grandchildren in Bethesda and the three scheduled trips to Kansas City in the next couple of months to help out with the grandchild there (and the one that is schedule to come in mid-August). After all, we wouldn’t want to put them at risk.

Maybe we can get back to traveling more frequently.

PS – I told you it wasn’t a good idea to slow down on our traveling. Now I have research to back me up. Let’s put South Africa, New Zealand, and the Arctic back on our schedule. Do you want to call the travel agent or should I?

The Bucky Dent Story: Did Palermo Make the Right Call ?


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Bucky Dent connecting for a three-run, seventh-inning home run off the Red Sox’ Mike Torrez that all but clinched a division title for the Yankees in a one-game regular-season playoff at Fenway Park. Dent had only four other homers all year. (AP Photo)

Generally we don’t know the names of most baseball umpires, which is as it should be. I think the best baseball umpires are the ones that fade into the background and let the game be the centerpiece.

Steve Palermo, from Worcester, MA, was one of the good ones and was popular with almost everyone.

But he may have made one really bad call.

Check out Joe Posnanski’s column, written yesterday when it was announced that Palermo died at the age of 67.

Let me know if you think Palermo made the right or the wrong call.

See: Steve Palermo’s Love of Baseball, by Joe Posnanski

Also, in case you don’t know much about it, or need a refresher, check out the NYTimes article about the game and the disaster that struck the Red Sox that day: Bucky Dent’s Improbable Clout by James Tuite, Oct.2, 1978

A Chance to See More Good Films


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    “The Women’s Balcony” Opening Night Film

One more film festival for those of you living in the Washington, DC metropolitan area – The 27th Annual Washington Jewish Film Festival, May 17-28th.

Lots of good films, including one we saw in our Sunday Cinema Club that we highly recommend – Past Life (see my review, Sneak Previews, from an earlier MillersTime post). Also scheduled is The History of Love, which friends saw at the Miami Film Festival and recommend.  I suspect that neither of these will make it to the major theaters; so here’s a chance to see one or both.

Ordering on the phone was very quick and efficient: 202-777-3250, or you can also do so on line. Most films are showing twice, which gives you some options of when and also where to see them.

Link to the Festival for descriptions of the films and where you can see them: https://www.wjff.org/

Remembering Esty


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I was at a funeral recently where the son of the deceased read a lovely eulogy to his dad, Sol. I only knew Sol briefly in his latter years, but Doug’s review of his dad’s life not only told me much I did not know, it also reminded me of the finale song of Act 2 in Lin Manuel’s Hamilton — Who lives, Who dies, Who tells your story?  (…But When you’re gone, who remembers your name? Who keeps your flame, who tells your story?…)

This weekend, Saturday, it will be ten years since my mother, Esther Goodman Miller, (“Esty”) died. Then, on May 18th, it will have been 100 years since she was born.

As it gets further from her life and death, I want to keep her name and flame alive, alive for myself and my sister, alive for the rest of the family who is still living, and alive for the great grand children, only one whom she ever met.

And so I repost** the Eulogy I gave at her graveside.

EULOGY – May 15, 2007

Some of us [here] are teachers; some are doctors. Some make news, and some report it. Some build bridges, or bridge tables. Some are lawyers, government workers. Some grow fruit, and some seek to make the country and the world a better place.

Esty was none of these, at least not directly.

She was a caretaker and a builder of families.

When you know a bit about her background, that’s kind of an amazing choice of careers — or maybe not so surprising.  Esty’s mother died when Esty was four months old. For the next seven years she lived with various relatives and family friends as her father, Rob, was trying to earn a living and couldn’t take care of an infant and young child. She sometimes saw him on weekends but had no real family life of her own during her early, formative years.

When Esty was seven, Rob, Pappy to many of us, and a prince of a man, remarried and Esty suddenly had a family of her own.  Along with her stepmother Ray came Arnold, the older brother Esty had always wanted and whom she instantly worshiped and who was so good to her.

From an early age Esty’s role seemed to involve taking care of others – grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins.  Many of you here can attest to that. She baby sat for cousin Arthur, standing here, and claims she changed his diapers.

Esty finished high school not far from here (much to her relief) and started nursing school. Her patients loved her, but probably because she so identified with their cares, worries, and illnesses, she agreed with her father’s urging not to pursue that career.

She went the U of NH, met Sam at the opening night mixer, and thought he was a bit mad when walking her back to the dorm, he told her he was going to marry her (I think she had another boyfriend at the time).

Esty and Sam married just a few years later and had Janet and myself in rapid succession. After living in eye sight of Fenway Park (Pappy was a Red Sox devotee all his life) and in Brookline, they moved to Orlando for Sam’s citrus work. Sam soon left to protect his country (as a librarian in San Diego), and Esty devoted herself to a long and never ending career of mothering, care taking, and building of family. Not only taking care of her own, Esty found a circle of young friends with young families and became treasured for her kindnesses and ability to help and care about others.

When I went a few days ago to tell one of these good friends, a friend of more than 60 years, Ruth Esther, that Esty was nearing her end, Ruth Esther cried and cried, saying how Esty was like a sister to her and her best friend and how helpful Esty had been to her in raising her own family. I’ve heard similar stories repeatedly in the last week, many for the first time. I know everyone assembled here could tell about how Esty looked out for you, took care of you, was special in some way in your life, maybe healed a wound or gave you comfort. She just seemed to have a way of touching people and making them feel special.

I’m sure I’m not totally objective, but I spend much of my life listening to and observing people, and I have never once heard an unkind word said about Esty. I would hope and urge you over the next few days and weeks to tell us or to write us of your stories of Esty’s importance to you. We want to know and to remember these stories. It is part of her legacy.

Esty never put herself first. If there was a weakness, it might well have been that she may not have known or appreciated her own worth. Everyone, absolutely everyone’s needs – her husband’s, her parents’, her nieces’, her nephews’, her children’s, her grandchildren’s, her friends,’ whomever she came in contact with – came before her own self.

As most of you know, Esty had breast cancer 25 years ago, had a botched gall bladder operation that almost killed her eight years ago, and over the past three years was overcome by a cascading series of medical issues and crises. But none of these physical difficulties changed Esty’s basic nature. What most distressed her was that she could no longer care for herself. She hated being dependent on others for her care. Starting at 86 she was forced to rely on others. And though she hated this dependency, she did it her way. She kept her frustrations largely to herself (save an occasional harsh word with Sam, probably well deserved) and continued to worry and care about others. (Her sense of humor did seem to emerge and deepen in these later years; just 10 days ago, upon hearing Victor sing, she told him not to give up his ‘day job.’)

A few days ago Janet was asking her if she was afraid, and Esty nodded, ‘Yes.’ “About yourself?” Esty shook her head, “No.” “About your family?” Esty nodded, “Yes.”  She told one of her wonderful aides that she worried about Sam especially, and also her kids and grand kids. We tried to tell her she needn’t worry (she was a world class worrier all her life, tho near the end she seemed to make some progress with no longer feeling responsible for everyone else). She had taught us how to take care of each other — by her example. Even on the day of her death, Mother’s Day, (a week shy of her 90th birthday, which she thought was entirely too many birthdays), she found a way to help her family – Sam, Janet, Victor, and myself.

And so maybe she was not only a mother, a care taker, a builder of family. She was also her own kind of healer, settler of disputes, teacher, cultivator.

While we have already missed Esty some of the last several years – and fear we will miss her even more in the days and years to come – we are glad she is returning to her Goodman family, to lie next to Arnold, Rob, and Ray. She has missed them so much these past years. She deserves to rest, and she deserves this resting place from where she came. And she has certainly earned over and over her maiden name Goodman.

**Posted on MillersTime — 1/15/09 Upon the Birth of Eli David Orgad, Named in Memory of ‘Esty’

Seeing Ourselves in Others


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For those of you who have read some of my baseball related posts on MillersTime, you know that I’m not only obsessed with the game but also believe that there are many life lessons to be learned from baseball. Unfortunately, it has become a cliche to say that the game imitates life (or is it that life imitates the game?), used mostly by baseball fans trying to justify to nonbelievers the importance and value of this wonderful sport.

I was reminded of the intersection of baseball and life the other day when an alert reader (Harry Siler) sent me a link to an article by Doug Glanville**, a former baseball player. Since 2008 Glanville has been a guest columnist for the NYTimes and, until a few weeks ago, was a baseball analyst for ESPN for seven years. (He was laid off with several hundred other ESPN employees in a major company staff reduction.)

In a May 5 NYTimes article, Red Sox, Racism and Adam Jones, Glanville writes about his own fears of possibly being traded to the Red Sox, but it is his way of looking at the recent racial incident(s) at Fenway Park in Boston that most interested me. In his usual common sense way, Glanville concludes:

Baseball gives us a chance to see ourselves in everyone, at times reflecting the image of some complex and difficult shadows in our society. That is a big step toward mutual understanding. As hard as it is, we need to see ourselves in the fans who were ejected. Having biases is human, our flawed yet efficient way to create shortcuts in our lives. But we need to check them more honestly if we are to really understand how to move forward.

**(Glanville played 15 seasons in professional baseball, nine of them in the Majors, with the Phillies, Cubs, and Rangers before he retired in 2004. He was outstanding center fielder, going his last 293 games without making an error. He hit .325 one year and had a lifetime BA of .277. He also graduated from U of Penn with a degree in systems engineering.)

Unacceptable, Sox Fans


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Baltimore Orioles’ Adam Jones was subjected to racial slurs and at least one object (bag of peanuts) thrown at him last night at Fenway. He indicated this was not the first time this has happened at Fenway but was the nastiest one.

Apparently the person (I hesitate to say fan) who threw the peanuts and some others were removed from the stadium.

That is not sufficient.

The Sox need to make it clear that individuals who behave in such a manner will never be allowed to return to Fenway and that they will be turned over to the Boston police for prosecution.

If currently there are no grounds for legal action in Boston, the city and state legislature should immediately pass such laws.

And fans who hear such taunts and observe such behaviors should vocally object and should call Sox security.

There should be zero tolerance for such abhorrent behavior.


See: Red Sox Issue Statement on Jones Incident, Sam Kennedy, Red Sox President

See: No Place for what Jones Faced, by Richard Justice

See: Adam Jones Calls Fenway Fans Cowards…

Sneak Previews


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Past Life: ***** (Ellen *****)

So it happened again, this time at Sunday’s DC Cinema Club film: I knew nothing about the film — Past Life — we were going to see, and then I was totally captivated by it. (As I’ve written before, often my expectations overwhelm the reality of a play, a book, or a film, and I am left disappointed.) As the lights were dimmed, we read a synopsis:

Inspired by true events, Past Life tracks the daring 1977 trans-European odyssey of two sisters — one an introverted ambitious classical music composer, and the other a combative liberal magazine editor. As they try to unravel a disturbing wartime mystery that has cast a foreboding shadow on their entire lives, they realized that freedom from the shackles of the past requires painful sacrifices, as does the struggle to discover one’s unique voice.

What followed was 109 minutes of being transfixed. The story largely focuses on three characters, a father and his two daughters and is about the Holocaust and its after-effects. Set in 1977 and based on true events, it’s told almost as a suspense story and through the eyes of each of the three main characters and several minor ones too. (I am curious to know just how closely and how accurately the writer-director Avi Nesher depicts the actual events, and I’ve ordered the diary upon which it is based.)

All three of the main characters are intriguing individuals, and each of their stories, as well as the interrelationships of these characters, is engrossing. The performances of all three (Joy Rieger as Sephi Milch, Nell Tagar as Nana Milch-Kotler, and Doron Tavory as Baruch Milch) are convincing and compelling. The story moves along so quickly that you barely have time to catch your breath and understand what just happened before you’re confronted with new information.

Had I been told before hand that this was “Holocaust film,’ I might have avoided it, or at least ‘approached’ it differently. But knowing nothing in advance, I simply absorbed what director Nesher presented. Once again I learned there is always one more heart-breaking story about that horrific time and that it continues to affect long after the actual events occurred.

Add this well-told Israel-Polish film to your ‘to see’ list, though I’m not sure it will make it to the major theaters. Maybe you can catch it at one of the Jewish film festivals that now take place in many cities throughout the country.


We’ve seen a number of films over the past couple of months which I have not mentioned on MillersTime. Too much else going on, perhaps. Nothing stands out as must sees, but here are five that we saw last week at the D.C. International Film Fest. (Yes. We have film festival here) We rate the films independently, using a scale of one to five stars.

The African Doctor **** (Ellen ****) This is a “feel good” movie, also based upon a true story, about a Congolese doctor who moves his family to a small village outside of Paris and about their struggles to earn the villagers’ trust. Biography. Comedy. Drama.

Death in Sarajevo *** (Ellen****) This is an award winning film, full of clever, fast dialogue and good acting, that looks at life in Sarajevo in 2015 on the 100th anniversary of the killing of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Drama.

Goldstone *** (Ellen**** ) This is also an award winning film (Australian) and is about an Aboriginal federal cop who comes to a frontier town in Queensland searching for a lost girl. There are two interrelated stories. Ellen found the film and the production first rate. Myself, not so much. Crime. Thriller.

Searchers (Maliglutit) **** (Ellen**** ) This is a Canadian film about an Inuk man seeking revenge for the kidnapping of his wife and daughter in the Arctic. Mesmerizing photography and story, with subtitles. Drama.

Solitaire *** (Ellen ****) This is a “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” story of a Lebanese girl and her Syrian boyfriend and what happens when their two families meet. Again, Ellen liked it more than I. Comedy. Drama.

Classical Chinese Garden Coming to DC !


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Courtesy of the National Chinese Garden

More than 30 years ago, on a trip to China, I found myself captured by the classical gardens of Suzhou. While I’d never been one to think much about gardens, all of that changed following that visit. And for a couple of decades thereafter I thought about building some form classical Chinese garden in the two small spaces on the side and in the back area of our house.

Finally, when I retired, and following a redo of our kitchen, I had time to focus on designing and building my own Chinese gardens. Over a period of two years and in partnership with a wonderful landscape garden builder, Thomas Virnston, we designed and built what we now call The Humbler Blogger’s Garden (after The Humble Administrator’s Garden in Suzhou) and a companion Fragrant Reader’s Garden.

(A few of you may remember that I blogged about this back in Sept., 2013 and linked to an article that a magazine did on the two gardens. Unfortunately, the link to that magazine article is no longer active, though you can see some YouTube videos that Thomas has on his website about our efforts.)

Some of my most pleasant hours of the day and evening are when I am reading and listening to the waterfall in The Fragrant Reader’s Garden or just gazing at The Humble Blogger’s Garden from our kitchen.

Last night I was over the moon, so to speak, to learn that after many years of thought, planning, false starts, disappointments, etc. an ambitious project will now get underway shortly to build a 12-acre National China Garden at our National Aboretum.

According to the Washington Post, the Chinese government has committed to spend $100 million to construct “a garden containing all the elements of a classical Chinese landscape: enticing moongate entrances, swooping and soaring roof lines, grand pavilions with carved wooden screens and groves of golden bamboo. The grounds will boast of two dozen handcrafted pavilions, temples, and other ornate structures around a large central lake.”

Courtesy of the National China Garden

While there are a number of Chinese designed and constructed classical gardens outside of China — there is the wonderful Lan Su Garden, taking up an entire city block in downtown Portland, OR — nothing has been built matching the magnitude of the 30-month project soon to be underway in the National’s Capitol.

All the details of the project are in today’s Washington Post article, From Beijing to D.C.: $100 Million in Seed Money.

Barring any mishaps, three years from now Washington and our country will have a “re-creation of (the) historic gardens in Yangzhou (China), a city along the Yangtze River,” and, I suspect, an unparalleled destination for visitors just two miles from the US Capitol.

I can hardly contain my excitement. While such a project has been envisioned since 2003 (and then delayed on numerous occasions), it is finally coming to fruition. I plan to spend many hours there. And if you are visiting DC and happen to be staying at our house, expect that I will be happy to accompany you to the National China Garden by 2020, just three years away.

My ‘Work’ Is Done


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Before you read any further, check out the photos above carefully. What you can see is my 14th month old granddaughter now ‘sporting’ —  so to speak — diapers that clearly display what I trust will be her life choice of a favorite baseball team.

Believe it or not, her mother, my younger daughter, was the person who found and procured said diapers. (I admit I did support the idea once she mentioned it to me, but in truth, it was all her idea.)

Thus, my ‘work’ is done as far as this grandchild is concerned. Her mother seems to have it all well under control.

However, just in case, here are a few further actions she might take to embed a Sox obsession in her progeny:

  • Secure appropriate clothing each year of Samantha’s life which touts the Sox, Wally, Fenway, etc. (She might want to wait on any ‘Green Monster’ clothing until Samantha is old enough not to be fearful of monsters. Note: A ‘mistake’ was made with my then three year old grandson who was scared by a Green Monster t-shirt I procured for him. Only now, when he is almost four, has he begun to wear it. Hopefully, no long term damage was done.)
  • Parents should themselves, at various times, ‘sport’ appropriate Sox gear and should definitely avoid anything even resembling Yankee clothing. KC Royals’ gear (current home team) is problematic as mixed messages are rarely good for children.
  • Turn the TV on whenever the Sox are on, particularly if it is a playoff or World Series game.
  • Remind Samantha frequently that supporting the Sox is very important to the child’s maternal grandfather.
  • Find a player on the Sox team who is young and/or recognizable and have the child focus on that individual. Ages seven to eight have been found to be the earliest appropriate times to begin serious understanding of baseball. (Note: This has worked well with at least two of her cousins, and I plan to continue this ‘tradition’ with the third cousin when he reaches the age of seven.)
  • Plan her first trip to Fenway when she’s seven or eight. Assuming the early years of propagandizing have produced a desirable result, such a trip can ‘close the deal’ and make said individual a lifelong Sox fan. (Note: Said parents are off to a good start having taken her to a Sox game at the age of two months, tho it’s true the young babe was torn away from her earphones and taken home for bedtime in the second inning.)
  • As often as you can, take Samantha on or near her birthday to a Sox game, and, if possible, make it a birthday celebration with some of her friends attending also. (Note: This strategy may only work for a few years until she realizes there are more fun ways to celebrate her birthday.)
  • The teenage years are too late for any real Sox indoctrination as adolescents seem to get a mind of their own. Thus, it is crucial to be sure that by that time, the parental unit has fully passed on this obsession, which has been in our family now for five generations.
  • Check on whether there are Red Sox diapers in new born sizes (as that will be necessary soon.) We know the new baby will have plenty of onesies and t-shirt to wear, but you never know if the supply of these properly labeled diapers will be available after the initial run on them.

I do want to congratulate her mother on finding the lovely diapers, which gives me  a good deal of relief that I do not have to worry about Samantha’s Sox education.

And a final special note to Samantha’s father: There is no problem encouraging her to follow both an NFL and a MLB team. And while I suspect he will favor football over baseball, it is possible, and quite important, for him to participate in this essential parental duty of supporting Samantha’s potential life long love of the Sox.

                                                                 Photography by Ellen Miller

For Baseball Geeks Only


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Well the best months of the year are here, and baseball season is underway. The Nats have the best record in the National League, despite having a disastrous bullpen that seems bent on blowing every lead the team has in the late innings. The Os, somehow, are leading in the AL East, perhaps another example of the importance of hitting, tho I can’t imagine hitting will carry the day for either of these two teams.

And my Sox aren’t doing too badly, despite lots of injuries and no David Price. Houston maybe the surprise this year, tho I doubt they’ll continue at a .700 pace. Colorado too is a surprise, so far winning twice as many games as they’ve lost.

Anyway, it’s a long season, and we’re only about 20 games into the 162 game season.

Meanwhile, two of you (BT, JM) have sent me a link to an article that I want to draw to the attention of those baseball fans who love looking beyond just who’s winning and who’s losing. Actually, this article may be too technical for many. And I admit that I have struggled with understanding it all. Even the title is dense.

But take a look. It offers a different way of looking at relief pitchers, particularly closers.

See: The Save Ruined Relief Pitching. The Goose Egg Can Fix It, by Nate Silver.

DC Film Festival – April 20th – 30th


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If you live in or near DC, you don’t have to go all the way to Cannes, Berlin, Toronto, Telluride or even Philadelphia or Miami to see some excellent films prior to their nationwide openings. Some of these fillm, sadly many of these international ones, may never make it to the larger screens at all.

Starting a week from today (April 20th and lasting for 11 days), there are 80 films from 45 countries. The opening night film is This Is Our Land and the closing one is Lost in Paris.

There are five categories of films, Division and Debate, which explores contentious issues. The Justice Matters, focuses on social issues, The Lighter Side, international comedies, Trust No One, thriller and espionage, and Global Rhythms, a music series.

Most of the films are being shown twice throughout the festival, usually in the evenings. On the two weekends, there are day and evening showings. Almost all of the films are at either the Mazza Gallery or at the Landmark E Street Theatre. There are a number of different ticket packages, and advance sales include discounts and can assure you of getting into a particular film.

To get more details about this year’s festival, go to their website at DC International Film Festival.

To see a listing and description of the 80 films and times and places where they will be shown, go to Catalogue of the Festival or get a copy of the catalogue in tomorrow’s Washington Post, April 14th (special insert in the Weekend section).

Too Good to Be True?


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Shoei Ohtani -a name you are going to hear about and a person who may do something in baseball that hasn’t been done since Babe Ruth a 100 years ago. While  it may be a couple of years before you see him in the US, check out this young Japanese baseball player who can both pitch (102+ mph) and hit (mammoth home runs).

I know we often hear about Japanese (and other) young players who are highly touted and then never live up to the hype about them. But then some do. I think you’re going to want to follow this 22-year old.

There’s an article (see link below) in the April 17th issue of Sports Illustrated magazine by Jon Wertheim (h/t Ellen Miller) that will introduce Ohtani if you have not already learned about him. (There was a piece on him on 60 Minutes this past Sunday.)

Read:  Shohei Ohtani—Japan’s Babe Ruth—is about to change the face of baseball

What I Love About Blackjack


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I notice that some of you were a bit surprised to learn from a recent post of my interest in blackjack. You are only partially forgiven. Your only acceptable excuse is that perhaps you are new to this site or maybe you were not reading it in 2012. Or, maybe your memory is beginning to dull a bit.

I have written about this pleasure of mine before, however, and if you ignored it, missed it, or have forgotten about the post linked to just below, check it out. It will answer some of the questions that some of you raised, either in the Comment section or in direct emails to me (e.g., How did I come by this ‘interest’ ?)

See:  Like Father, Like Son, Like Daughter

While that post, a favorite of mine, gives you some insights, it does not respond to one question that some of you asked: What is the attraction of gambling for me?

It is not the desire to make a lot of money.

Nor is it an addiction that must be continuously fed.

I think one of the reasons I enjoy blackjack so much has to do with the immediacy of its result, which is different from most aspects of what I’ve done, so far, with my life.

And blackjack is simple.

1. The player is trying to get as close to 21 (the total addition of your cards) without going over 21.

2. The player is trying to beat the total count of the dealer. If you do, you win.

3. If the player breaks (goes over 21), you lose immediately.

4. If player stays with hand, and it is higher than the dealer’s total, you win.

5. If player has the same total count as the dealer, it’s a tie and no money is won or lost.

6. If the dealer “breaks,” i.e., goes over 21, and you did not already “break,”  you win.

While there are other rules, those are the primary ones.

In blackjack, you make a bet, in my case a modest one. Then the dealer deals two cards, face up, to up to seven players around the table and two to him/herself; one of his cards is face up and one face down. Everyone is playing only against the dealer. Then a short period of decision-making takes place. Do I want to ask for another card or two or three, double my bet, or do I want to stay with my two cards? Once I decide, the dealer reveals his hidden card and will ‘stay’ if he has 17 or higher or must draw if his total is below 17.

Then it’s over. Either you’ve won (doubling your money), tied (no money changes hands), or lost (he collects your bet).

That’s what I like. I know immediately the result of my hand and any decisions I’ve made.

And then I get to do it again.

And again.

And again.

There’s definitely luck involved, and some skill — the strategy of knowing when to call for more cards, when to double your bet or split cards, and when to stay with what has been dealt. While the odds are slightly in the casino’s favor, it’s probably the best odds you get on any of the various types of games offered in any casino.

If you are able to manage your money well, if you understand the basic strategy of how to play, and if you have limits on how much you are willing to  comfortably lose, then you can ‘stay in the action’ and have hours of entertainment, and perhaps even walk away with more than you came.

While I’m sure an insightful psychologist (oxymoron or redundancy?) would say there is much more to it than what I’ve said here, I’ve been playing blackjack in casinos for almost 60 years, and I continue to find it exciting and rewarding.

And, I repeat, if you have not read my post from 2012, go to: Like Father, Like Son, Like Daughter.

Gambling Close to Home


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Last weekend was my birthday (29th), and so as plans developed, I thought I had found a way to include some of my favorite things to do all in one day: go to a Red Sox game, check out the new MGM Casino and Resort nearby, play a bit of blackjack, enjoy a good meal at a new restaurant, and share all with Ellen.

Well, it didn’t all work out, but most of it did.

The Sox were scheduled to play the Nats in DC as one of the final Spring Training games here. The Sox appear in this area maybe once every four or five years, and I had seats four rows behind the Sox dugout. I could see all my heroes and get good pictures too. Then, the game got rained out. Harumph.

So instead we just headed to Oxon, Hill, MD, 20-30 minutes from DC, earlier than we had planned, where MGM has built a major 23 acre resort at National Harbor. For those who know me beyond my MillersTime ‘published interests,’ you know I love to play blackjack. I’ve been known to spend time in Atlantic City and Las Vegas for that specific interest. But I had not yet been to the new casino close to home. When I read an outstanding review of one of the restaurants that had opened there, Fish by Jose Andres, I knew Ellen would be interested. Sadly, she’s not a gambler but has been known to accompany me on some of my trips, as long as there are other activities — good entertainment, good food, and a variety of spa services — available for her.

Early reports about the new MGM were positive, though we heard about large crowds, especially on weekends. But since it was now more than three months since it opened, it seemed a good time to check it out.


For me, it’s all about the gambling.

The good news is that the 125,000 square foot casino is a state of the art facility with the emphasis on slots (3,300), poker (39 tables with various types of poker), 10 crap tables, roulette wheels, and numerous blackjack and ‘close to blackjack type games.’ There is a special area for high stakes players. Over the seven hours (three on Friday and four on Saturday) that I sat at the blackjack tables, I found the other players knowledgeable and skilled at playing. There were only two players over that period of time who didn’t seem to know what they were doing and caused rolling eyes, some groans, and a few expletives from the other players. The dealers deal from an automatic shuffling machine that means play is continuous and if you want to count cards, you can’t really do that. The casino is open 24 hours a day.

The bad news is that the minimum bets are high. At blackjack, where I spent all of my gambling time, there were some $15 tables during the afternoon, but they were all increased to a minimum of $25 by early Friday evening. On Saturday, the tables were pushed to $25 by mid-day. That wasn’t the most serious negative. Usually, when you get blackjack (an ace and a picture card), the pay out is 3-2. However, at this MGM, the payout is 6-5, barely a reward for getting blackjack. If you want the 3-2 blackjack payout, you have to go to a $50 table. I don’t know the specifics, but I’m sure that moves the odds quite significantly in the house’s favor.


The 24 story hotel is also quite modern and convenient (upstairs from the casino) for those who want to stay overnight, rather than make a day trip. I think I heard there were only 308 rooms, not a large number for a casino and resort facility. And the prices were extremely high, at least for the weekend we were there. Unlike Vegas, however, the rooms and corridors are done in soft colors, and there is no jazzing things up to keep you out of the rooms and in the casino.

Food & Drink:

Lots of good choices, from Jose Andres’ Fish (reviewed by the Washington Post as the best seafood restaurant in the whole DC area) to Marcus Samuelsons’ more classic American restaurant and the Votaggio Brothers Steakhouse. There’s an Asian restaurant, Ginger, where dim sum is served every day from 11-3). We had a very good dinner at Fish, whose menu is not extensive, but the food is fresh and tasty. Whether it’s the best in the area, I leave that to those who know more than we about seafood in DC, where there are not many restaurants that specialize in seafood.

There’s an area called the National Market which is less fancy and where no reservations are necessary. We had some of the best crab cakes we’ve eaten in a long time at Pappas, but you can also get sushi, grab a Steak and Shake meal, find a slice of pizza, and other food to hold you over between gambling sessions. See Where to eat at MGM National Harbor for a review of all the restaurants.

There are numerous bars, both in the casino and in hotel, each with a specific theme, and there’s a Bellagio Patisserie (Ellen rated her Saturday morning almond croissant there ‘outstanding.’)

Other Activities:

While there is an theater for evening concerts and the like, nothing was scheduled while we were there. Some ‘known’ entertainers were scheduled for the coming months. I didn’t know them, but Ellen did.

Ellen took advantage of the spa and salon and had high praise for those activities. She may have shopped a bit and stopped in at the Sarah Jessica Park boutique, but there were no extra packages to take home. (Tho now that I think about it, we did get two home deliveries of what looked suspiciously like shoes a couple days after we returned.)

Oh, and apparently there is an outdoor area, Potomac Plaza, where there are bocce courts and a beer pong table, and there’s a pool too.

In sum?

This MGM is less of a resort and more of a day trip gambling opportunity with modern, definitely upscale facilities, good food, close to the metro DC area. If you don’t mind the high gambling minimums (and the 6-5 BJ odds), it’s a good place to spend a day, or even an expensive overnight. But it’s not a destination in the sense that Las Vegas is and Atlantic City was.

For those who are curious, I walked away from the blackjack tables with $125 of MGMs’ money. However, they got that and much more back with the room, the food, and the amenities. But there was no airfare or car rental fees.

Just what the doctor ordered for my birthday.