Thru Ellen’s Lens: Montana

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Ellen and I recently had the good fortune to spend 10 days in Montana, three days visiting long time friends in Bozeman, and then seven days with our elder daughter and her family in the Big Sky area . It was a thoroughly delightful time: beautiful weather — clear skies, clean air, and day-time temperatures in the mid- 70’s; a homemade fire pit, wood gathering, and s’mores; rafting, hiking, biking, horseback riding, zip lining, kayaking; a wonderful house perched some 8,000 feet in the sky; evenings of good food (even the children tried bison one night!); and all of us working together on a 1,000 piece puzzle.

Today’s post is for those of you who enjoy seeing “Thru Ellen’s Lens” — her photos from our various travels. As she said repeatedly through out the trip,  “They don’t call this Big Sky country for nothing.” You’ll see that and more.

If you want to see more than the 10 photos below, you can click on the link at the end of this page to see her full 40 photos on Flickr. (Snuck in between the landscapes you’ll even find a few pictures of our three oldest grandchildren, but you’ll have to click on the link below to do so.)

If you want to see more of Ellen’s photos of Montana (and a few of the grandchildren), use this link to Ellen’s slide show: Thru Ellen’s Lens: Montana.

For the best viewing, click on the tiny arrow in the rectangular box near the top right of the first page of the link to start the slide show. See all the photos in the largest size possible (use a laptop or desktop computer if you have access to either).

Caveat Emptor

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Today, after 18 years as a full season ticket holder of the Washington Nationals, I informed the Nats that I am terminating my annual contract with the team and its owners.

Let me explain.

I love baseball.

Ever since my wonderful grandfather took me to Fenway Park and introduced me to the game, it’s been an important part of my life, including playing it in the street in front of our house and then moving on to Little League, listening to games on the radio, then watching on TV, and of course attending as many games as I could. (I use to gather baseballs hit over the fence at Tinker Field in Orlando, FL so I could turn them in for free entrance to Minnesota Twins Spring Training games.)

I’ll spare the reader any of the many baseball related stories with which I’ve burdened my children, my wife, and my friends over the years. Suffice it to say, as my favorite T-Shirt proclaims, “Any Team Can Have a Bad Century.”

In 2005 when the Montreal Expos were relocated to DC and became the Washington Nationals, I quickly teamed up with some friends to get season tickets to RFK Stadium (where they played until moving to their new stadium in 2008). So it’s been 18 years that I’ve been attending Nats’ games – and enriching its owners – largely because I simply love what baseball offers, even if it’s not watching the Red Sox. (In fact, attending Nats’ games is sometimes more relaxing than watching the Red Sox, where I am on edge on every pitch, etc.)

So why my decision to abandon my season ticket status?

Primarily, I do not want to continue to support a franchise that consistently refuses to keep players like Bryce Harper (not my favorite guy), Anthony Rendon, Trey Turner, Max Scherzer, and Juan Soto. The ownership’s model of largely acquiring outstanding players when they are young and relatively inexpensive and getting rid of them when they are reaching free agency and have become expensive may be financially smart for the owner, but is terrible for the fans. (My Bosox did that with Mookie Betts, and while I have still not forgiven them for that, at least they have not made it a way of continually ‘doing business’ as have the Nats.)

Try explaining to my perfect three eldest grandchildren**, one who ‘loved’ Bryce Harper, one who ‘loved’ Trey Turner, and one who ‘loved’ Juan Soto, why none of these players are still playing for the Nats. Although it’s not the only reason, none of these grandchildren have kept up interest in baseball, while they continue to be fans of other sports, particularly football.

The Lerner family paid $450 million to purchase the Nats. They are now in the process of considering offers to sell them, likely for perhaps as much $2,000,000,000 or more. Yes. two billion dollars.

The team has been decimated and is “rebuilding” for the future. But not with the help of my three ticket, full season income.

I will no doubt attend a few games next year, largely because I still love baseball. I enjoy going with others for an afternoon or evening at the park, and with the new schedule of every team playing every other team starting in 2023, there is the opportunity to see any team or player in either the American or National League.

I don’t think I’m the only baseball fan that is choosing to terminate their season plan or to reduce the number of games they will attend.

Caveat Emptor – Let the Buyer (of the Nats) Beware.

**My two youngest perfect granddaughters, six and five, perhaps wisely have chosen to live 1,055 miles away from DC, and so I have only just begun to work on their full baseball indoctrination. Unfortunately, on a recent trip to Kansas City where we attended a game together, the lowly Royals creamed the Sox 13-7. But then, as I learned from experience with my own daughters, it’s probably better not to instill too high expectations concerning my Bosox heroes.

Nats’ Baseball Tickets…for the asking

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I’m going to be away for many Nats’ games in August and would be glad to pass on some tickets to those of you who (still) want to see a Nats’ game.

Here are the dates that are available, on a first come, first serve basis, with no cost to you, The seats are quite good, Section 127, Row Z, Seats 1, 2, & 3., about 20 rows off the field between the catcher and first base.

Friday, Aug. 12, 7:05 vs Padres, 7:05, three tickets

Saturday, Aug. 13, 7:05 vs Padres, 7:05, three tickets

Sunday, August, 14, 1:05 vs Padres,t hree tickets

Monday, August 15, 7:05 vs Cubs, three tickets

Wednesday, August. 17, 1:05 vs Cubs, three tickets

Friday, August 26, 7:05 vs Reds, three tickets

Saturday, August 27, 7:05 vs Reds, one ticket

Sunday, August 28, 1:05 vs Reds, three tickets

Tuesday, August 30, 7:05 vs Athletics, three tickets

Wednesday, August 31 vs Athletics, three tickets

If you are connected with an organization that could use tickets to give to staff and or students, you’re welcome to these games also.

You do need to have the MLB Ball Park App on your phone as the ‘only’ way I can forward tickets are through this AP. No more printed tickets. (In an ‘extreme situation,’ I could go to the Box Office and get a set printed out, tho I would have to do that soon as I’ll be away for most of the days above.)

Let me know if you’re interested in any of the games above. And if you only want one or two to a particular game, that’s OK as I can try to sell the remaining ones…

Contact – Samesty84@gmail.com or 202-320-9501.

By the Sea, By the Beautiful Sea…

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By Ellen Miller

This summer Richard and I had a chance to spend close to a week in Los Cabos, Mexico, a place we had never been.

I was lucky to have a new camera with me, and I spent part of every morning walking along the rock covered beach. I fastened my eye on the waves as they burst on the rocks, trying to capture their force and power. I was almost equally fascinated by the rocks themselves, many of which looked as though they were just mounds of sand, some of which create almost lunar type landscapes.

It wasn’t hardship photography.

I took at least 1,000 pictures over six days.  Below are four of my favorites, and I winnowed the rest down to 20.  You can find those in my Flickr Album.  Look at them on a big screen if you can to understand the majesty of the sea.

PS from Richard: You gotta see these in the biggest format possible. When you get to the album of 20, click on each one to enlarge it and go through them one by one.

Trust me on this one:

Flickr Album.

So Many Books…So Little Time? Here Are 34 Recent Favorite Reads

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

I’m pleased to post this list of 34 titles that were particular favorites to MillersTime readers and contributors over the past few months. (Note: contributors were limited to submitting just one title for this post, and one book was cited by two different contributors). The breakdown between female and male contributors favored females (23-11).

As has been the trend over the past few years, there were slightly more non fiction (NF) than fiction (F) titles (18-16). Also, almost half of the fiction titles were historical fiction (HF).

As always, the value of the list comes from the comments each contributor makes about her or his choice of a favorite read. And even if you don’t know the individual who cited a particular book, I think there’s value in reading all of the comments.

Enjoy the list, I think you’ll find a least a few that might appeal.

As always, this type of posting can only happen because of your willingness to participate.

Thanks to all.

Recent Favorite Reads – Alphabetical by First Name of Contributor

Abigail WiebensonA Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende (HF). I loved it.

Anita Rechler – The Code Breaker by Walter Isaacson (NF). I am not the most likely person to be drawn into a book that takes a deep dive into basic science. FWIW CRSPR could have been a drawer in my refrigerator for storing lettuce. (Well, not really.) For a novice, Isaacson makes the science of gene editing accessible. What kept me engaged were the human stories of people driven by camaraderie, curiosity, competition, collaboration, capitalism. I ‘read’ the book on audible.

Barbara Friedman – American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin (NF), is a fascinating biography of the brilliant theoretical physicist, the man who made the Manhattan Project (and the bombs) happen. He was caught up in the McCarthy Trials – was he a member of the Communist Party? – and ended his career as the head of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. There were heroic as well as tragic aspects of his life. The book is very much worth a read.

Charlie Atherton – When We Cease to Understand the World by Benjamin Labatut (NF), a National Book Award finalist and rated by the NY Times as one of the ten best books of 2021. I must admit that I am usually a reader of fiction, crime fiction, but I most enjoyed the author’s combination of personal details from the lives of eminent scientists and mathematicians, many of which were undoubtedly fictitious, coupled with readable descriptions of ideas produced by the greatest minds of the modern era.

Chris Boutourline – Anxious People by Fredrik Backman (F) (author of A Man Called Ove). I read this after my wife started it and then put it down after 40 pages or so. She said that the transcripts of the police interviews of witnesses weren’t making sense and, that, overall, she just wasn’t enjoying it. Since it is an upcoming  read for my book club I read it all the way through. The gist of the story is that a bank robbery goes bad, and the bank robber takes the attendees of a condo open house hostage while trying to figure out what to do next. Early on the novel does feel disjointed as the witness statements reveal more about those recounting than about the robber. Best not to say much more, other than I told my wife that I thought she’d be rewarded by picking up where she left off, and, after finishing it, she agreed. Suicide is one of the numerous themes the novel touches upon.

Cbris Rothenberger – The Four Winds by Kristen Hannah (F). This is the story of Elsa, unloved by her family, a hasty marriage, and abandonment by her family. The Dustbowl, Great Depression become the backdrop to the story of Elsa’s survival. Starvation and desperation punctuate this book.   She leaves for California with her children in search of a better life and there endures the battle between the “haves” and “have nots,” a nation divided, and the rising up of migrant workers in her struggle to survive. 

This book was a  sad and difficult, but an illuminating read of an era that I knew little about. It puts a spotlight on the land, on love, the definition of hope and heroism, and a country in crisis.  It is a very powerful story that has stayed with me and is a portrait of that time in our history as seen through Elsa’s eyes.

Chuck Tilis Thou Shall Innovate—How Israeli Ingenuity Repairs the World by Avi Jorisch (NF). A compendium of inspiring vignettes describing the incredible  contributions “Israelis” created to improve the lives for all human-kind.  Israelis in quotes as most inventions were due to the collaboration between Jews and Arabs. I liken this book as the sequel to Start Up Nation. Each story stands on its own and can be read one at a time at any pace. 

Cindy Olmstead – The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray (HF). Historical novel about JP Morgan’s personal librarian, Belle de Costa Greene, the Black American woman who hid her identity to curate a collection of rare manuscripts, books and artwork for JP Morgan’s new Pierpoint Morgan Library. This is the story of an extraordinary woman known for her intellect, style (famous for her hats), and ability to mingle in society’s upper circles to accomplish what she knew she had to do. Excellent read!

David Stang – Hair of the Dog to Paint the Town Red: The Curious Origins of Everyday Sayings and Fun Phrases by Andrew Thompson (NF), a lawyer obsessed with finding out the truth about over two hundred Idiomatic expressions and how they were derived. Thompson’s persevering scholarship traces the roots of several terms in his book as far back as the Fifteenth Century. For curious minds this book is a truly fascinating read.

Donna Pollet – Anil’s Ghost by Michael Ondaatje (HF). Given the most recent headlines about the uprising and collapse of the government in Sri Lanka, this novel written in 2000 characterizing an earlier and turbulent civil war of unrest, murder, and kidnapping will evoke interest. The writing is compelling, and the characters are multi-dimensional with absorbing back stories. Anil, a forensic pathologist called in by an international organization, teams up with Sarath, a local government official and archeologist to investigate a series of murders in violation of human rights. Their investigation leads to the discovery of an unidentified victim and becomes a mission to find justice for him and the countless other nameless murdered. It is a story of personal tragedy, individual integrity, and the spirit of human resilience.

Elizabeth LewisWalk with Me: A Biography of Fannie Lou Hamer by Kate Clifford Larson (NF). With its copious footnotes, this biography reads more like a thesis than a popular account of the life of a remarkable woman whose presence in and command of the Civil Rights Movement spanned much more than is popularly known. It is frightening, uplifting, and far too relevant for the faint of heart.

Elizabeth Tilis – Lily’s Promise: How I Survived Auschwitz and Found the Strength to Live by Lily Ebert (NF). The story of a Holocaust survivor from Hungary and her great-grandson Dov who used social media to track down the family of the GI who gave Lily a banknote on which he’d written “Good luck and happiness” the day she was liberated.

Ellen Kessler – Prison Minyan by Jonathan Stone (F). I recently read & enjoyed this novel. It is modeled after Otisville State Prison in Otisville, NY (Michael Cohen, personal atty for Trump before he started talking, went there). The book is very entertaining and often amusing. The rabbi conducting the minyan is one of three rabbis in prison! The characters are stereotypical in some ways, and there are some serious ideas to consider, but I enjoyed the book for the humor most of all. I have recommended it to some friends, and all of them have told me how enjoyable it is. A perfect vacation book!

Ellen Miller – The Twilight World by Werner Herzog (HF). The German filmmaker Werner Herzog’s first novel tells the story of a Japanese soldier — Hiroo Onoda — who defended a small island in the Pacific for 30 years after the end of World War II. It is an absolutely remarkable and mesmerizing story, from both how Herzog met Onoda to the long hours they spent together unraveling Onoda’s story. We learn how Onoda survived in the jungle and fought the enemy as he had been instructed by his superior officer in 1944, just as the Japanese troops began to withdraw from the island. He ignored repeated pleas to surrender throughout the years, thinking they were ‘enemy’ tricks.

Herzog brilliantly adds some details to the story, which are purely fictional, to fill in the blanks of the actual story and to keep the reader engaged. This is an unusual book, an unbelievable and unknown story brought to life by Herzong’s storytelling and literary talents.

Fran Renehan – The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles (F) who also wrote A Gentleman in Moscow, which was one of the best books I have ever read. I think his writing is superb. This story is about a young boy just released from a detention center. He finds his brother, and they set off to find their mother. However, two other boys arrive on the scene that have escaped from the same institution. The stories are twisted, and there are way too many segues for me. But I still could not put it down. 

Fruzsina Harsanyi – The Grieving Brain: The Surprising Science of How We Learn from Love and Loss by Mary-Frances O’Connor (NF). This amazing book by a neuro-scientist shares groundbreaking discoveries about how our brain handles grief and provides a new paradigm for understanding love, loss, and restoration.  During the past 10 months I have read a lot of fiction and non-fiction about grieving, and this is by far the most helpful.  

Garland Standrod H of H Playbook by Anne Carson (F). Anne Carson is an eccentric and quite original poet and translator of ancient Greek texts, and for her translations, she uses modern language and contexts to bring out the depth and wit of the piece involved. H of H Playbook is a facsimile edition of her translation, with illustrations, of Euripides play Herakles. Anne Carson is also well known for her translations of Sappho and of the Oresteia.

Hugh Riddleberger – Clementine: The Life of Mrs. Winston Churchill by Sonia Purnell (NF), author of best selling A Woman of No Importance.  Well written, exploring the life of Clementine Churchill…once again confirms my belief that women are so much better in most things.  Devoted to Winston, without her, most likely Britain would have fallen. His loyal advisor and critic, a complex woman.  Worth a read.

Jane BradleyEmpire of Pain:  The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty by Patrick Radden Kee (NF).  This extraordinary history of the family and the marketing strategy at the heart of the opioid crisis helps you understand, and support, the movement to drop the Sackler name from the museums and galleries whose benefits so many have enjoyed.

Jeff Friedman – The Fall of Robespierre by Colin Jones (NF) provides a detailed, hour-by-hour account of the coup that ended Robespierre’s reign in 1794. The history alone is gripping, but the book also offers fascinating insights into the nature and fragility of political power.

Jesse Maniff – In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson (NF). Set in Nazi Germany in 1933 and told from the perspective of the American ambassador’s family, this book was a terrifying reminder of what can happen when fringe beliefs become normalized in the pursuit of maintaining power.

Judy WhiteThe Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman (NF). I had read this some years ago and re-read it last winter, enjoying it again. The author becomes very involved with all the players in a real-life drama involving a Hmong family, whose young child has seizures that cannot be controlled, and the doctors and social workers who try to help.  She (the author) is able to understand where each of these people is coming from and convey their positions beautifully, no easy task.  The author, too, plays a role even as she observes. An all-time favorite — I’ll probably read it again in a few years.  

Kate Latts – Hands down the best book I have read in the past few month is The Women of Chateau Lafayette by Stephanie Dray (HF). There are three interwoven true stories about the women who were inspired by the legacy of Marquis de Lafayette and his castle in the French countryside. One of the  stories set in the late 1700s chronicles Lafayette’s wife throughout their 34 year marriage and his journey to become a beloved hero. The second story is set during WWI and features the real life woman who created the Lafayette Foundation as she travels between NYC and France establishing Lafayette’s castle as an orphanage. The third story is set in WWII and focuses on a young woman who grew up the orphanage and joins the resistance movement during German occupation. The book is not short, but very good.

Kathleen Kroos – The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid (F). This book has huge juicy secrets right up until the end. 

Larry Maknson – Walking the Bowl: A True Story of Murder and Survival Among the Street Children of Lusaka by Christ Lockhart & Daniel Mulilo Chama (NF). An absorbing, immersive look at the lives of street children in Lusaka, Zambia. The book is a result of a multi-year anthropological study of the slum-dwelling kids, but it reads like a novel as it follows the lives of its four main characters. An absorbing read.

Marsha Harbinson – In the City of Bikes: The Story of The Amsterdam Cyclist by Pete Jordan (NF), It’s a fascinating history of cycling in Amsterdam & especially interesting to read of the cycling resistance to the Nazi occupation in WWII.

Martha Curtin – Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, (HF). I recently read this historical fiction novel that explores life from the perspective of Koreans who emigrated to Japan during WW2. The book is presented in three parts, representing 3+ generations, but is a quick read due to it being well written.  This rich time in history offers personal stories from so many perspectives… I’m hooked on historical fiction from this era. 

Mike WhiteThe Rose Code by Kate Quinn (HF).  I don’t read much fiction but really enjoyed this novel, based on real events and people, about the codebreakers in England during World War II.  Hard to put down; many twists and turns in the plot.  Judy liked it too.

Mary L – Damon Runyan Omnibus by Damon Runyan (F). I finally finished 500 pages of Damon Runyon short stories which I’ve been sampling for four years.  They are funniest when read one at a time as a pause between longer books.  Available on-line in Australia:  https://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks11/1100651h.html

The natural habitat of Harry the Horse and Nathan Detroit is the  neighborhood of Manhattan where I was born. I even found a reference to the hospital where that occurred in one of the stories. Runyon’s stories are all in the present tense which makes them even livelier than they naturally are. I marvel that a man born in Kansas (Kansas!) could capture the ethos of 1920s/30s New York. Set aside all your modern concerns about sexism and representation and go to Guys and Dolls-land.  This guy says the book can do.

Meg Gage – The Weight of Ink, Rachel Kadish (HF). A remarkable story that weaves an interconnected tale of two women: one a Jewish survivor of the Spanish Inquisition and a refuge from Amsterdam, who in London manages to become a scribe for a blind rabbi; the other a jaded and ailing London historian who has a deep personal and professional connection to Jewish history.  The story and the connection of the two main characters is launched when a huge trove of 350 year old original Jewish letters and documents is found in the course of the renovation of an derilict mansion outside London. The book took Kadish over 10 years to write, which resulted in a deeply researched and poignant story with plot threads involving the likes of Shakespeare and Spinoza.  Amazing details about life in London just before and during the plague — I felt like I was there!  One of the most compelling books I’ve read in years.

Richard Miller – The Grieving Brain: The Surprising Science of How We Learn from Love and Loss by Mary-Francis O’Connnor (NF). Recently, I came across what has truly been the most insightful explanation of anything I’ve read in connection with the topics of loss, grieving, and grief.  O’Connor writes about what happens in our brain when we experience loss and why grief and grieving are so powerful. In helping us understand what science has recently learned about these issues, she shows us a new perspective and a new way to think about these powerful issues. O’Connor writes that The Grieving Brain is in no way an ‘advice book,’ yet for me it offers so many new insights on these subjects that I will return to it many times and will certainly recommend it others.

Romana Campos – I just finished The Night Watchman (F) by Louise Erdrich and really enjoyed it.  Can you fact check this, but I believe it won a Pulitzer Prize (Ed. Yup. 2021). So what did I like about it? Cultural perspective. The conversations that take place inside the homes and the workplaces of individuals and families make you feel like you’re sitting at the kitchen table with family, and you find out what’s important and relevant from the perspective of that person, that family, and that community’s lived experience. 

Sam Black – Breaking the Age Code by Becca Levy (NF). Levy, a professor at Yale, develops the evidence that common American stereotypes about “senior citizens” are inaccurate and are quite different from the way society views these citizens in some other countries.  Moreover, she builds the case that when society believes these things, senior citizens go along, to their detriment, and that these beliefs actually increase illness and death rates.  So be warned!

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On a slightly different note, since there are so many books available and we have so many choices, I am curious about how each of you came to read the book you cited. If you have a few moments, please let me and others know in the Comment section of this post how you chose this particular book as well as generally how you go about picking the books you read. That may give all of us ideas of how to find good reads and not spend time on books that are not worthy of our reading time.

Thru Ellen’s Lens: Amsterdam and Beyond

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Following my bike trip from Belgium to the Netherlands, Ellen met me in Amsterdam where we spent four days in that vibrant city and several days in the northern part of the Netherlands. We had last been in Amsterdam more than 20 years ago.

We stayed in the Jordaan neighborhood wandering along the canals, by the cafes, restaurants, small shops and markets, and dodging the bicycles. We joined a demonstration in Dam Square in support of the people of Ukraine and visited the (former) Jewish Quarter and the stunning Holocaust Memorial.

Mostly we drank coffee (and had apple pie and scones) in various cafes and just enjoyed observing the exuberant activity in this part of Amsterdam. We did have two memorable meals (Restaurant Daalder and the Pesca Vis Seafood Restaurant).

We ventured by rented car out of the city, getting lost on numerous occasions but visited some of the small fishing villages and towns to the north. We also took a train one day to The Hague, specifically to revisit the three Vermeer’s and the Rembrandt’s at Mauritshuis.

Below you will see ten of Ellen’s favorite photos from this trip, and if you want to see more, check out the link below to her slide show.

Central Railway Station
Boats, Bikes, & Canals
Pigeons in Dam Square
The Jewish Quarter, Then & Now
A Peaceful Canal
Ukrainian Demonstration, Dam Square
Amsterdam Reflection on a Door
Some Old Ones Still Remain
Hague Reflection
Village Curtains

If you want to see more of Ellen’s photos of Amsterdam and the northern part of the Netherlands, use this link to Ellen’s slide show: Thru Ellen’s Lens: Amsterdam

For the best viewing, click on double arrows at the top right of the first page of the link to start the slide show.

See all the photos in the largest size possible (use a laptop or desktop computer if you have access to either). They are much sharper, and the larger format presents them in much more detail than the ones above, or if you only look at the opening page of the slide show.

One Favorite Read

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

Since it’s the middle of the year, and three months since the last Call for Favorite Reads, I thought it might be valuable to continue mid-year posting of books MillersTime readers are particularly enjoying.

For this mid-year call, I’m asking that you send in just one title and your accompanying remarks about why you enjoyed that book.

As usual, give the title, author, identify the book as F or NF, and, most importantly, write a few sentences or a paragraph of what it was/is about this book that makes it into your category of particularly enjoyable or exceptional.

If you do not have anything to add at this point, you might want to check out the 3/30/22 post, Winter-Spring 2022: Best Reads. There were a number of enticing reads in that post.

I already know what book I’ll select out of the several very good ones I’ve read in the last three months.

How about you?

Deadline for Submission – July 15th

Send to Samesty84@gmail.com

(But don’t wait – I don’t plan to send a reminder)

Yes, It’s True…I Biked from Bruges to Amsterdam!

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A Prologue:

A year ago my ‘older’ cousin and his wife (Ronald & Elizabeth) invited us to join them on a week-long VBT bike-barge trip from Bruges (Belgium) to Amsterdam (the Netherlands). Ellen, immediately, definitely, and wisely declined as she never learned to ride a bike as a child. I was intrigued, in large part because I enjoy being with Ron and Elizabeth. So, with Ellen’s encouragement, I agreed to go.

Basically, I didn’t think much about the trip until about six months ago, when I learned Ron and Elizabeth were ‘training’ for the ‘guided vacation.’ Having only ridden twice on a bike in the last four decades, I suddenly realized I’d better get serious about being prepared. So I rode on an indoor bike throughout this past winter, then borrowed an e- bike from my son–in-law two months ago so I could ride outside. Eventually, I was riding 20-30 miles a day around Washington. (The longest single day ride on the VBT trip would be 40 miles, divided between a morning and an afternoon ride. The approximate 160 miles we’d ride on the trip was on flat bike paths along canals, on country roads, and we’d have the assistance of an e-bike.) I was encouraged I could do it all.

Then, shortly before the trip was to begin June 1, sadly my cousin Elizabeth had to withdraw because of a foot injury, and Ron understandably did not want to go without her.

A dilemma for me. I’ll spare you the details, but ultimately I decided to go anyway.

The Journey:

On June 1 I flew to Brussels, where I was met by a VBT representative, and together with two other VBT ‘peddlers’ we were driven to Bruges. I was not happy to learn that 15 of the 18 people on the trip all knew each other and had been together for many previous bike trips. I was concerned that I was a novice at biking long distances and might be an outsider with so many people already knowing each other. But I did know one couple from a previous trip Ellen and I had made with Ron & Elizabeth.

I spent a couple of days walking around Bruges, a lovely Belgian city Ellen and I and our daughter Elizabeth had visited previously and remembered fondly. I marveled at Michelangelo’s magnificent Madonna and Child in the Church of Our Lady and climbed and descended the 366 steep steps of the

medieval Belfry Tower for a stunning view over city. Basically, however, I just wandered by myself in the city, spending much of my time sitting at the St. Joris Cafe overlooking the main square, eating apple strudel and frites, tasting various Belgian beers, listening to the tower bells, and observing a world away from Washington, DC.

It was a relaxing and lovely start in this quiet city dominated by bicycles.

Our group met one of our guides and walked with her for about an hour to the barge where we’d board, so to speak, for the next six days. Our rooms reminded me of the sleeping compartments on a train, though slightly larger. The barge, named Fiep after the captain’s daughter, had lots of common space inside and outside, space for all of our VBT provided bikes, and proved to be a comfortable home for the week.

We were immediately introduced to our e-bikes — and each other — and embarked on a 13 mile ‘get to know your bike’ ride along the Bruges-Ghent canal into the heart of Flanders, the Dutch speaking area of Belgium. As promised, the bike paths and roads were paved, flat, and well marked. Additionally, we each had a detailed GPS system installed on our smartphones which guided us with turn by turn navigation. So even though I was a novice, this warm-up ride was easy, and I had no trouble surviving my first bike excursion.

After this ride, we spent the first night on our ‘barge,’ moored near the beautiful city Ghent. Dinner aboard the Fiep was delightfully delicious as were all of the following meals on the barge. Following this very chatty and noisy dinner, we sat on the upper deck, introducing ourselves to each other. Despite my earlier fears, I found them to be an impressive group of people. I think most of the group were 70 or older and were mostly retired. (** See my apology in the COMMENT section of this post). Everyone seemed to have a special fondness for travel, for the outdoors, and obviously for biking. Everyone, except myself, had multiple experiences with biking trips in various parts of the world. Many of the group had gone to medical school together and had stayed in touch over the years. I was soon to learn that this group of 15 were warm, inclusive, and interesting fellow travelers. In addition, there were two ‘young’ women guides (in their mid 30s) and one male ‘trainee’. All three were more than just tour guides and experienced bikers as we were to discover in the days that followed. The small staff on the Fiep, including “Captain Harry Sir,” were also friendly and were important in making our time on the barge relaxing and enjoyable.

Vesna Faassan

Croline Ruijgrok

We spent part of the next day touring by a small boat through the canals of Ghent and then a few more hours wandering on foot through this enchanting town. In the afternoon, mostly in a steady rain, we biked along a river and through the countryside and a few small villages to the outskirts of Dendermonde. By the time we finished our 20 mile ride, I was soaked as I foolishly had not put on my rain pants. But I was pleased to have survived the distance and the weather without any difficulty. In the evening, our guides led us through a beer tasting session. There are 370 breweries in Belgium with more 1500 beer brands. We were limited to tasting just nine of them.

The next day we admired the charming square of the centuries-old city Dendermonde as we began our longest ride of the trip, 40 plus miles. We biked through the countryside and ferried across the Sheldt River before stopping in Basel for lunch. We continued through farmland and tiny villages and met our barge in Antwerp, Belgium’s second-largest city. I was delighted to find that I was having no issues with any aspect of the biking and realized that the superb GPS app could allow me to ride more slowly than most of the group without fear of getting lost. For the remainder of the trip, I pedaled more slowly, stopped more often, and took more time to appreciate all I was seeing.

On a non-biking day, our guide introduced us to Antwerp, the “Diamond City” and the home of Peter Paul Reubens. While I generally don’t spend much time in churches, I spent probably an hour almost mesmerized by the four Reubens (The Elevation of the Cross (triptych, 1609-1610), The Descent from the Cross (triptych, 1612), The Resurrection of Christ (triptych, 1612), and The Assumption of Mary (altarpiece, 1626) in Cathedral of Our Lady). I wandered a bit in the old city and enjoyed waffles with ice cream and chocolate sauce before returning to our barge. We spent the afternoon cruising along quiet canals and into the small town of Tholen in the Netherlands. That evening we were divided into small groups and spent several hours in the home(s) of local Dutch families.

The following day involved a 30 mile ride, at least 25 of which were in rainy, chilly weather. We rode through the town of Tholen, along small country lanes, and stopped in the village of Our-Vossemeer, the ancestral home of the Roosevelt family. I rode leisurely, stopping particularly to admire the old fashion windmills and the plethora of new wind turbines. We ended in the town of Dorderecht with its crooked church and buildings. It’s one of Holland’s oldest towns and the birthplace of the state of the Netherlands. Fortunately, I had remembered to wear my rain pants, and thus the rain was only a minor inconvenience and didn’t inhibit my enjoyment of the day.

The next day brought a 38+ mile ride in great weather. The highlight was A UNESCO World Heritage Site – the 19 windmills at Kinderdijk. The Dutch have a long history — more than 1000 years — of using windmills not only for power (e.g., grinding grain) but importantly for water management. As much of the country is below sea level, windmills were built to pump water out of the lowlands and back into the rivers beyond the dikes to deal with flooding issues. This day was particularly lovely, cycling through small towns and back roads with many dairy farms and numerous canals. We ended in the medieval town of Vianeh.

Our final day of biking was a mere 28 miles, starting in the little town of Bruekelen and across its white drawbridge, the original “Brooklyn” Bridge. We admired the large 17th-century summer mansions and country estates built by wealthy Amsterdam merchants. Following a picnic lunch next to a windmill and the River Vecht, we rode single file with the guidance of one of the trip leaders the final eight miles along the Amsterdam-Rhine canal all the way into the city of Amsterdam. That was the only portion of the entire 169 miles we cycled that presented a challenge. But we all made it without mishap.

Ellen had flown to Amsterdam a day or two before our group’s arrival there and joined us for the late afternoon and final evening dinner on the boat. We remained in and around the city for five days, and you will get the benefit of her photography of Amsterdam in another post. In the meantime, here is her photo of our group of 18 and our three guides.

My major takeaways:

  • Delight and pride in being able to bike comfortably long distances without difficulty, even in the rain. I might even do more biking in the coming months.
  • Enjoyment in exploring Belgium and the Netherlands from the perspective of a bicycle, a boat, and on foot.
  • Indulgence of being largely on my own without my usual need to be too concerned about others.
  • Stimulating conversations with the Dutch trip leaders, their backgrounds, lifestyle, and various vocations. They were far more than just guides.
  • Enjoyment of dinners, discussions, and riding with others of my age group who have chosen to be actively in the world. My initial concerns about being added on to an in-group of 15 were definitely unfounded.
  • Learning about the the people of the Netherlands (and the difference between Holland and the Netherlands), starting with the informative book Why the Dutch Are Different by Ben Coates.
  • In the notes I jotted down each evening, I listed 12 times I forgot something or needed help, starting with our drive to the airport when Ellen asked if I had my iPhone (I didn’t and needed to go back into the house to get it). Just some of the other assistance necessary included such things as forgetting evening pills, wallet, helmet, rain pants, backpack, getting my new earphones to work, help with getting the map app started each day, and daily reminders not to trip over the slightly raised doorstep entrance onto the barge.
  • VBT is terrific at all aspects of what they do – planning and executing bicycle vacations.
  • It was a wonderfully restorative week, and I owe thanks to Ron and Elizabeth, Hal & Rona Goodman, the other participants on the trip, the VBT organization, and particularly its guides. And certainly, Ellen’s and my sister’s encouragement was key.

Addendum:

Reading on the way back to DC:

Roger Angell: Thank You

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Angell has helped us appreciate baseball by reaching deep into our chests and saying what we feel but cannot quite convey why we care so much about this odd and wonderful game. Joe Posnanski (Joe Blogs Baseball)

Over the past several days, many, many baseball writers have written about Roger Angell, one of baseballs best chroniclers, who died at Friday at the age of 101.

I’ve chosen to link to Posnanski’s post today as it captures why Angell stands in the very top tier of baseball’s best writers.

See: Roger Angell, and Succeeding Utterly.

Baseball Is Back: Now & What’s Ahead

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As I sat at Nat’s Park on Thursday, April 7th awaiting the start of the 2022 baseball season, I kept hearing the same comment all around me: “It’s so good to be back.”

And indeed it was.

No matter the rain which had delayed the game from 4:05 PM until the first pitch was finally thrown about 8:30 PM.

No matter the cold. I was wearing three layers and had a fourth, a knitted hat, and warm gloves close by.

No matter that Trea Turner, Anthony Rendon, Bryce Harper, Max Scherzer, Ryan Zimmerman, Steven Strasburg, etc., etc. were nowhere in sight.

No matter that the Nats were simply awful, except for a 425 foot ‘useless’ home run from Juan Soto.

It was simply delightful to be back at the park with the green outfield, the freshly swept infield, and enough fans to cheer for either the Nats or the Mets.

And I went again two days later.

The weather was still cold.

There were fewer fans. Probably more Mets fans than Nats’.

The Nats were even worse..

But It was baseball again.

Plus, this was not my beloved Red Sox, who were soon to lose their first two games against those thugs from NY.

Watching the Nats is more relaxing. I want them to win, but if they don’t, it’s not a big deal.

It’s still baseball.

And I think there are some changes coming that will make things better. Wunderkid Theo Epstein (Red Sox and then Cubs GM) is heading an MLB effort to collaboratively evaluate the State of the Game, to look at the rules and institute some changes. His effort is how to make the game better for fans, to restore some action, some drama by putting more balls in play and speed up the game.

*Already there’s no Designated Hitter in the National League.

*Some teams are already using the electronic system between the pitcher and catcher to signal what pitch is to be thrown.

*And there’s a lot of experimenting going on in the minor leagues to evaluate a variety of changes, and some of those will likely make it to the majors during this season.

If you have the time, I high recommend you listen to the interview with Theo where he discusses what is being considered and why:

Theo Epstein Discusses How Rule Change Process Could Impact the Future of Baseball

Whether you believe that nothing should change in baseball, that somethings need to change, or you’re somewhere in the middle, I think you’ll find Theo’s thoughtful approach could just be the best thing to happen to baseball in the foreseeable future. (You can skip the first part of the link above and go to the 13 minute portion of the broadcast. The most important part begins about 23 minutes into it.)

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MillersTime Baseball Contest Update:

It appears that more than 30 MLB sportswriters as well as those from The Athletic have been looking at what the brilliant (?) MillersTime Baseball Contest contributors have predicted for the 2022 season.

Everyone, it seems thinks the Dodgers and the Blue Jays will face each other in the World Series, with the Dodgers the more likely winner. There were a few scattered votes for the Rays and Yankees making it and possibly winning.

But I suspect that both the professionals and the MillersTime contestants will once again be surprised come October/November.

Like last year. Who predicted the Braves would win it all?

As for the first question on the MillersTime contests, there many thoughtful and informed submissions and only a few ‘Homers’. It seems many of you know your team and follow them without blinders (not so Chris E).

But I don’t think anyone will match the brilliance/luck of what Chris Ballard was able to ‘foresee’ last year (see 2021 Contest #2 results).

No matter.

Baseball is back

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If you’re interested in joining me for a Nats’ game this year, email me and indicate if you have a particular game that interests you and/or a particular say or time that works best for you.

Also, if you’re interested in purchasing seats for a game, I have a full season plan in Section 127, Row Z, Seats 1, 2, & 3. They are terrific seats, just about 20 rows off the field, between the catcher and first base. I also have parking next to the stadium. We can negotiate a good price, especially if it is not a game that I already plan to attend (e.g., Dodgers, Orioles).

Winter-Spring 2022: Best Reads

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

At the suggestion of a long time contributor to MillersTime Favorite Books posts, I asked everyone on this mailing list to submit a title and a few sentences about a book or two that have been of exceptional interest in the first three months of ’22.

Of the 19 submissions and 30 books that have been submitted, one thing jumps out: NF topped F by 73% to 27%. Generally this division has been slightly weighted in F over NF, at least until the last two years, when NF began to outpace F. Also, there were many more females than males responding to this three-month call. In the past it’s been more equally divided. I have no idea if any of this is significant, especially since it’s a relatively small sample.

But I hope you can find one or two titles that may interest you.

Let me and others know what you think about the idea of this three-month post and any reactions you have to it. (You can use the Comment section of this post or email me directly at Samesty84@gmail.com.)

Barbara Friedman:

The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret World War by Stephen Kinzer (NF) is a fascinating biography of the two brothers.  During WW II and afterwards, they were both in Switzerland getting to know and fraternizing with all of the relevant foreign leaders and “poohbahs”.  The more interesting part was later in the 1950’s when Allen was the head of the CIA and Foster the Secretary of State – i.e. covert government/foreign affairs and overt government/foreign affairs.  They spoke multiple times a day, saw each other almost every day, and there was no “separation of powers”.  Together they “facilitated” the overthrow of the Iran and Guatemala governments (in the latter case changing it from a democracy to a dictatorship!) and tried but failed to unseat Sukarno and Ho Chi Minh.  Astonishing!  One piece of trivia: Ho Chi Minh for a short time was pastry chef at the Parker House in Boston.

Ben Senturia:

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins (F). American Dirt follows a Mexican woman and her family as they try to escape the clutches of an all consuming drug cartel with a long reach. Well written, it gives you a picture behind the headlines of the hopes and travails of some of these desperate emigres.

Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles (F). The author of A Gentlemen in Moscow again produces a beautifully written story. This time a 10-day trip as a number of young lost souls search for family, future, and heroes. Towles peals away the layers as we understand what drives each of the characters. I loved it.

The Future is Faster Than You Think by Peter Diamandis, Steven Kotler (NF). Taking each category of our lives (transportation, food, health, housing, etc), the authors project what the future holds which at first seems like a Jetsons make believe world. But they quickly show you it reflects real research and big time investment by major corporations, and thus the title. I tried to skip by chapters but became amazed by what’s around the corner.

Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr (F). His previous novel, All the Light You Can Not See, captivated me. His new novel did the same. It focuses on five characters in VERY different time periods (Constantinople in the 1400s, the present day Midwest, and the distant future) and ties them together through a faux Greek novel. Doerr again shows a mastery of layering  character development and plot and a beautiful writing style. Don’t miss it. 

Carol Haile:

The Choice: Embrace the Possible by Edith Eger (NF). I couldn’t put it down and then kept thinking about this book long after I’d finished it. It’s the memoir of Edith Eger’s childhood during the Holocaust and subsequent liberation and adult transformation. She is an eminent therapist, and about half the book is centered around her providing guidance and therapy to others while still working through the trauma of her own life. She has a keen ability to meet people where they are and guide them with an approach suited to their personality and situation. I’d love to hear her speak. The atrocities she lived through are (as you can imagine) unspeakable, yet she came to America and made a successful life and career. She is still alive and practicing at 94 and has a 96 year old boyfriend!  You gotta love that!!!

Forty Autumns: A Family’s Story of Courage and Survival on Both Sides of the Berlin Wall by Nina Willner (NF). I marked this as “To Read” in 2017. Don’t wait five years like I did. I was immediately drawn into this family and the events of the Cold War as it affected them and all East Germans. The author tells the story of her mother’s escape from East Germany and what transpired over the next 40+ years until the fall of the wall in 1989. How this family maintained their cohesiveness and strength to continue living under the communist regime (as all others did as well) is so difficult for me to wrap my head around. I bookmarked some passages because they are chilling to hear today…and too close to some current events to ignore. I’m anxious to learn more about the author and hope she will pen another book in the future. (Ironically, as the Olympics recently wrapped up, you learn how East Germany used the Olympics to create an image of a strong nation to the rest of the world, while controlling every move of their athletes. Nina’s cousin was selected and groomed as an Olympian in cycling. She was an alternate but went on to become a National Champion.) As I saw in one review…this should be required reading in High School.


The Right Side of the Fairway: 18 Golf Inspired Lessons for Healing by, Doug deGrood (NF). A superb quick read where the author shares his cancer diagnosis and journey using golf (a love of his) metaphors to express himself. This is not just for those living with cancer. He offers great perspective on how to live life positively. Infused with humor and reality.

Chris Rothenberger:

The Four Winds by Kristen Hanneh (F). This is the story of Elsa, unloved by her family and abandoned after her marriage to Rafe Martinelli. These became the years of the Dust Bowl, The Great Depression which became synonymous with desperation, starvation, and a fight for survival.  She left for California and endured the battle between the “haves” and “have nots”, a nation divided, and the rising up of the migrant worker.  Sad and illuminating, it placed a spotlight on the story of the land, on enduring love and heroism, and of a country in crisis. This powerful and sad story of perseverance and will long resonate with me. I knew very little of this chapter in American History and the challenges and suffering of farmers.   It was well researched and vividly told, as this era came to life on the pages.

Cindy Olmstead:

The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Dare (F). I listened to this book on Audible, and it was outstanding. Not sure how it reads in print, yet the story is so powerful I am sure the written word is just as poignant. Story of Adunni, a Nigerian child bride who wants to get an education and make a difference in the world. She becomes a house-girl to escape her marital situation, and the experiences that she encounters weave an incredibly moving and inspiring story. Well worth either listening to or reading to gain understanding of the intensity of the cultural mores and the bravery of the young heroine.

Dominique Lallement:

The Hare with Amber Eyes – A Hidden Inheritance by Edmund de Waal (NF). A cultural fresque through a family memoir — the Ephrussi’s — spanning the 19th and 20th C., three continents and many countries, all brilliantly tied by the travels of a collection of Japanese Netsuke’. Most painful descriptions of the Anschluss of Austria and the human devastation from WWII. Some passages reminiscent of what we are living today with Russia’s president.

Unthinkable: Trauma, Truth, and the Trials of American Democracy by Jamie Raskin (NF). Living with the wrenching pain of losing his son to suicide, Raskin confronts the assault of the Capitol on January 6, 2022, the day after he buried his son, and is then called to lead the impeachment effort against Trump for inciting the violence. Very painful to read, but a book full of lessons on humanity and on American institutions. 

[ Bonus Books, only in French. Joseph Kessel : En Syrie. Explains incisively the situation resulting from the French Protectorate, the roots of today’s instability. Laurent Gaudé: Dans la nuit Mozambique. Brilliant short stories. Metin Arditi: Rachel et les siens. The story of a fascinating story teller through most of the xxth C, from her childhood in Jaffa where her Jewish family shared a house with an Arab family, then her time in Istanbul before finally settling in France where she becomes an outstanding playwright. Maybe, one day, these books will be translated into English! ]

Fruzsina Harsanyi:

If “exceptional interest” can mean books I’ve recommended in conversations recently, then this qualifies:

It Was All A Lie by Stuart Stevens (NF). Donald Trump is not an aberration, argues Stevens, a long -time Republican campaign strategist.  His book traces the history of the party over the past 50 years and shows how  the party itself “became Trump.”  While his material is not news to us, it is a thoughtful treatise on how the Republican Party became “the white man’s grievance party.” 

Sensation by Arnold Lehman (NF).  The subtitle of the book “The Madonna, the Mayor, the Media, and the First Amendment” says it all. Written by the former director of the Brooklyn Museum about his battle with Mayor Giuliani over exhibiting Chris Ofili’s Black Madonna is a page-turner lesson in what happens when art collides with power politics.

Ellen Miller:

Booth by Karen Joy Fowler (F). Give me a terrifically written historical novel, and I am hooked. Booth has it all.  It’s a well-imagined story of a notorious American villain (John Wilkes Booth) and, more importantly, the story of his family where he was the favored son out of 10 siblings. It’s well researched; the characters are quirky and fascinating; the times are certainly historically interesting. It begins in Maryland in the Pre-Civil War era (1822) and ends shortly after Lincoln’s death in 1865. I knew nothing about Booth’s family and little about the details of the slavery in a so-called free state. The book is filled with fascinating details.

 John Wilkes Booth only enters the story in the last third of the book, and his story is brilliantly intertwined with that of Abraham Lincoln. Booth is page-turner, and it doesn’t matter that you already know how it ends or that it is just under 500 pages.

Walking the Bowl: A True Story of Murder and Survival Among the Street Children of Lusaka by Chris Lockhart and Daniel Mulilo Chama  (NF). This is one of the most stunning and shocking stories of poverty and deprivation I have ever read (a subspecialty of my reading for many years). It’s been compared to Beyond the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo, which told the disturbing story of a slum in New Delhi. It’s a fair comparison.

But this story is worse. At the opening of the book an unknown child is found murdered in Lusaka, Zambia, lying on a trash heap with his eyes gorged out. Unlike hundreds of other children who die or are killed each year in this slum community, officials have an interest in who’s responsible. The story is told through the eyes and activities of several of the children.

The authors – one an American anthropologist and the other a social worker in the neighborhood where this boy was murdered – had dispatched researchers to document the day-to-day lives of the street children, a number of whom become the main characters in the context of the murder investigation.  This is a crime story, a mystery story, a sociological case study. It’s also a story of survival, corruption, and lack of morality.

It’s a nightmare, and it’s true. I highly recommend it.

Ellen Shapira:

My most outstanding read was The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles (F). I know it was mentioned as one of the most frequently read books on your end of the year list, and I absolutely loved it. As a novel it had everything that I appreciate in a good read: interesting and well developed characters who grow or change as the story progresses; a story that is unique and moves along at a good pace; writing that flows and offers good descriptions with a good balance between prose and dialogue; and finally a surprise ending that works well with the story.

George Ingram:

Powers and Thrones by Dan Jones (NF). Reading a review several months ago, I realized how little I knew of the Middle Ages. It is about the most engaging history book I have ever read. It’s a history book written as a narrative. It’s the only book in which I read all the footnotes – they related what happened 1000 years ago to current world/human dynamics – you come away realizing we should learn from history and, while not the factual details, but the dynamics of human and national behavior do repeat. 

Harry Siler:

Dolly Parton Is Magnificent by Mary Townsend (NF). An exceptional essay.. “The essay puts some heavyweight words behind the good feeling we’ve always had about her…The beloved Tennessee singer-songwriter gets the joke. Do the rest of us?”

Jane Bradley:

South to America:  A Journey Below the Mason-Dixon Line to Understand the Soul of a Nation by Imani Perry (NF). My feelings about the South are complicated, as I come from a Southern family but grew up in the DC area. So taking this journey with Imani Perry, whose work I know from The Atlantic, was a way to revisit my ambivalence about the South. I recommend the audiobook version, which is read by the author – a very insightful traveling companion. 

Joe Higdon:

I finally read a book this year worthy of mention, Power and Liberty by Gordon Wood (NF). The preeminent American historian writes (about) the 1787 Constitutional Convention was a claw back of power by the elite from the more democratic Articles of Confederation.

Judy White:

I am now re-reading a book I’d first read years ago, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures, by Anne Fadiman (NF). I would categorize it as a book of exceptional interest because it treats the beliefs of two very different cultures, Western scientific culture and traditional Hmong culture, with equal respect — more so than any book I’ve read. The author does far more than interview her subjects. She becomes intimate friends with the Hmong family whose daughter has severe epileptic attacks, as well as with the doctors who are treating her, and maintains these close friendships for many years. Learning about Hmong history and culture and why the Hmong have had a harder time integrating into U.S. culture, is eye-opening. Very readable.

Kate Latts:

My top book so far has been The Last Rose of Shanghai by Weina Dai Randel (F). It is set in Shanghai during WWII and alternates between two protagonists…a young Chinese woman running a nightclub and a Jewish refugee who has just arrived in Shanghai. The story is about love, loss, and choices made during the unstable period of Japanese occupation in China. It is well written and a fast read with many side characters supporting the stories of the two main ones.

ML:

Look, I Made a Hat and Finishing the Hat by Stephen Sondheim (NF). March 22nd was Stephen Sondheim’s 92nd birthday. A few years ago, he wrote two books (non-fiction) about his creative processes making the musicals for which he will be eternally remembered. I didn’t read them this year, but they are fun, informative, entertaining, detailed in any year.

Nancy Cedar Wilson:

Counterpoint: A Memoir of Bach and Mourning by Philip Kennicott of the Washington Post and a Pulitzer Prize winning critic (NF). A combined autobiography and analysis of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, and the impact Bach’s music has had on his life. Kennicott was a piano student himself, taught first by his very tough mother. He documents his struggles with trying to master this lovely piece of music as an adult, with both themes woven together in a cleverly written counterpoint. Quite an amazing feat, and one that I found truly engaging, especially with the sometimes delicate, other times firmly played notes playing on my Alexa in the background. (by Glenn Gould).

Richard Miller:  

Walking the Bowl: A True Story of Murder and Survival Among the Street Children of Lusaka by Chris Lockhart and Daniel Mulilo Chama (NF). An amazingly true story – narrated non-fiction(?) – about the street children in Lusaka, Zambia (and by implication other street children around the world?). The fact gathering took five plus years and eight individuals, including five embedded individuals, to gather, sift, and put together this story. The book reads like fiction. Were it so. Similar to Pulitzer Prize winner author Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers. But with a bit of a twist. This one also has a message about how one good deed, if walked forward, played forward, can have ripples of positive effect.

Invisible Child: Poverty, Survival & Hope in an American City by Andrew Elliott (NF). The author, a NYTimes investigative reporter and Pulitzer Prize winner, follows a family in NYC, largely through their eyes and also the life of Disani, the eldest of eight children. It is a riveting, true story of Disani’s eight years of being homeless and living in shelters as she tries to protect her siblings as well as escape the poverty and life she is living. One of the Ten Best Books of the Year 2021 by numerous publications and reminiscent of one of my long time favorites, Random Family by Adrian Nicole (NF). (I alternated between listening to and reading Invisible Child.)

Susan Butler:

The Method: How the 20th Century Learned to Act by Isaac Butler.(NF).  Isaac–my son–writes this rollicking dive of the acting theory the Method from its beginnings in Russia to the end of the 20th Century. Now, don’t take his mother’s critical acclaim! The New Yorker said the book is “an entertaining, maximally informative new book by Isaac Butler;” The New Republic said, “compelling, meticulously new history,” and Nathan Lane wrote “The best and most important book about acting I’ve ever read.”

Midnight in Peking: How the Murder of a Young Englishwoman Haunted the Last Days of Old China by Paul French (NF). The grizzly murder of a young English woman in pre-World War II “Peking” may not have been solved because of social and political reasons, but the author figures it out. French interweaves the tale of  the murder with the historical milieu of the Japanese and the social order in the city.


American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America by Colin Woodard (NF). Forget the idea of the melting pot. Woodard’s thesis is that the United States was settled by 11 different and rival cultures that reverberate in America today. Why is New England (Yankeedom) so different from the South? Greater Appalachia stretches much further than we generally imagine it. Written in 2010, the epilogue attempts to look into the future.


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If you missed the deadline but have a book to add, go ahead and send it now as I can easily add it into the list above.

And if you’re still looking for reading ideas, you can always check out the MillersTime Contributors’ Favorite Reads from 2021..

Carrie Trauth Made the World a Better Place

February 7, 1945 – March 7, 2022

One of the memorable and haunting songs in Lin Manual’s Hamiliton is Who Lives Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story.

For Carrie Trauth, it is no question about who will tell her story.

Over the final weeks of Carrie’s life, family and many, many friends have been telling their stories about her, about what she has meant to each of us, how close so many of us felt to her, how important she was in so many of our lives.

It may not always be the exact same story, but what is being told has similar themes: her importance to her family, her compassion and caring for others, including animals, her nurturing kindness, her toughness, her consistency, her mentorship, her leadership, her remembrance of birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays, her laughter, her genuine interest in others, and, above all, her friendship.

Some biographical information tells just one story about her.

Carrie began her career as a staff nurse at the Washington Hospital Center. She then worked at The Psychiatric Institute of Washington as a staff nurse, assistant head nurse, assistant to the Training Director, and then as the Clinical Coordinator of their day school in Rockville, MD.

In 1975, Carrie was one of the founders of The Frost School and of The Family Foundation, Inc. She had many roles at the school, including being its Clinical Director. She was the team leader for our first high school program, then for our middle school, and then for our elementary school. After retiring from Frost, Carrie continued to return to the school to assist in nursing duties and to give workshops to staff.

At the Foundation she was the Secretary and then Vice President and was a leader in our granting process over the past 15 years. She was an active member of her synagogue and of numerous state and national professional organizations.

For me, Carrie was many things: she was a partner in everything I did professionally since 1971. She taught me about what was important with working with kids and family with problems. She played a key role with the founders of Frost & the Foundation, always bringing her perspective to whatever issue we discussed, problems we were trying to solve, and decisions we had to make. She was fully present at all times. She was a trusted ally and therapist to every student and family with whom she worked. In addition, she was a mentor to many younger staff members and a model to all.

Carrie was all those things everyone has been recounting in the past week – kind, compassionate, caring, engaged, nurturing, strong, and, by example, taught me about friendship and how one individual can have an impact on so many others.

Carrie did all of those things, and many more. She was the first person Ellen I trusted to take care of our first born overnight when we had to be away for one night. That daughter, Annie, is now in her early 40s and has gotten a birthday card every one of those years, as have Annie’s children, and we have received similar cards every year.

Until the last several weeks of her life, she continued to be a touchstone for me whenever I called her, needed to discuss Foundation issues, and most importantly, when I needed her thoughts and advice on whatever was concerning me.

And when I saw her just two days before her death, her first words were, “Rick, thank you for coming,” and final words were, “I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve had a good life.”

There is no doubt that Carrie’s many, many friends, family, and people she touched will continue to tell her story and keep alive many of the lessons she taught all of us.

She made the world a better place.

How Well Do You Know Baseball?

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Photo by Ellen Miller

Now that we will have a full baseball season for 2022, I am announcing a slimmed down MillersTime Baseball Contest.

Since there was virtually no Hot Stove League this year, it is hard to know what team rosters will look like on Opening Day. Still, we have a bit of time to try to get a sense of what we might expect from our favorite teams, from our hated opponents, and for this frustratingly delayed season.

So, only two contests, and everyone has about three and a half weeks to sort out their own teams and the overall outlook for 2022.

The date for your submission is noon on Opening Day (likely to be April 7th.)

I suspect you will all need that time to make ‘informed’ predictions.

Contest #1:

Choose your favorite team or a team you know well enough to prove you are not a ‘homer’ and answer the questions below. (My definition of “a homer” – a sports fan who is (so) loyal to their home team that it may be difficult to be objective about the team’s prospects for the coming year. Other definitions and synonyms: “a simple-minded person; moron; unintelligent person; idiot; someone who has a (too) close devotion to a sports team; not cognizant of the world around them.”

  1. Name the team.
  2. What will their season record be in 2022?
  3. Where will they end up in their Division at the end of the regular season.
  4. Will they make the 12 team playoffs?
  5. If so, how far will they go in those playoffs.
  6. What will be the reasons for how well or poorly they do this year? The more specific you are the better.

Prize: Two tickets to the 2023 All Star Game (Seattle Mariners, T-Mobile Park) or one ticket to the 2023 World Series.

Contest #2:

  1. Who will be the four teams to be playing in the League Championship series in 2022? (Name the two from the AL and the two from the NL).
  2. What two teams will actually make it to the World Series.
  3. How many games will the WS go?
  4. Which team will win the WS?
  5. What are the reasons that team wins?

Prize: Joe Posnanski’s new, fantastic book, The Baseball 10

Additional Details:

  1. There is no advantage this year as to when you send in your predictions. Take as much time as you want to gather whatever info you need, as long as you send in your answers by noon on Opening Day.
  2. You don’t have to enter both Contests.
  3. Send your predictions to me at Samesty84@gmail.com with as much specificity as you can as I suspect that will be important in choosing winners.
  4. MillersTime Winner T-Shirts go along with the prizes mentioned above.
  5. If you get another baseball obsessive to join the Contests and he/she mentions your name and wins, you’ll get a copy of Posnanski’s book too.

Thru Ellen’s Lens: San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

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For not the first time in the last two years, the pandemic interrupted our overseas travel. On deck for January ’22 was a winter train trip (and Northern Lights photography) across northwest Russia to the Scandinavian Arctic. (We know. We know. It’s crazy to do a winter train trip in that part of the world.)

So we pivoted to a warmer January trip…to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico (SMA) where we had been four years earlier with cousins and other friends. We quickly rented a house for two weeks in the El Centro area of this World Heritage site, invited some friends to join us for parts of the two weeks, and gladly escaped the winter weather in DC.

We found SMA every bit as delightful as we remembered. And although we knew we were taking a heath risk to do this trip, we found – to our delight and relief – that everyone was fully-masked all the time, that workers stood outside of the famous markets to squirt your hands with sanitizer, and that everyone took the health precautions far more seriously than what we have experienced in any of our US travels.

After settling into a lovely house a few blocks from El Jardin, the major square in the city, we embarked on our exploration of SMA. Ellen had planned one major activity for each day – a walking tour of the city, a driving and walking tour of the murals in Barrios of SMA, a trip to small towns outside of SMA, a visit to the Jimmy Ray Chapel & Gallery, another day trip to the town of Dolores Hidalgo, a full day trip to the town of Guanajuato (also a World Heritage site), cooking lessons, including a trip to a local market with a wonderful chef (David Jahnke) and a lot of time for just wandering the streets of SMA.

The daily temps were in the mid 70s and the evenings were in the 50s. In addition to the planned activities, Ellen focused on photography, so to speak, spent some time in the local shops, and did a bit of sunbathing. Richard hung out on the fourth floor rooftop balcony, reading (and occasionally sleeping) and did purchase a used sombrero to add to his hat collection from near and far lands.

Of course, we ate at a number of restaurants, some with wonderful rooftop views of the city, some with courtyards, and some with just a few tables. There are so many truly enticing places to choose to eat, the main trouble was deciding which ones to try. (Everyone we talked to and every travel guide or internet site seemed to have a different list of the best places to eat.) Our most memorable meals were with the teaching chef and leisurely lunches or dinners with long time friends.

While Ellen doesn’t think that cities, or street photography, is her thing, you’ll find some lovely photos of all we saw: the cities, churches, the small towns we visited, and their intriguing windows and doors; the intriguing colors and intricacies of the market displays; the people who live in this town doing every day things: and generally the slightly seedy-old-world quality of San Miguel that still exists today. We both found the nighttime in the city magical, and Ellen was able to capture some of that as well.

San Miguel de Allende is indeed and continues to be a precious, small gem.

What you see below are 11 photos from a 59 photo slide show that Ellen has put together after culling from the more than 800 photos she took.

San Miguel de Allende Calle El Centro

San Miguel Street Scene at Night

Overlooking the City of Guanajuato from the Hilltop Monumento Al Pipila

Window at a (former) Convent in SMA Church

Impromptu Dancers in El Jardin, SMA

Colors and Door in SMA

Colorful Walls in the City of Dolores Hildago
Inside Ignacio Allende House, SMA
Relox Street, Walking Each Day to El Jardin
Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel at Dusk

To see more photos, use this link to Ellen’s slide show: San Miguel de Allende, January 2022.

For the best viewing, click on the little arrow at the top right of the first page of the link to start the slide show.

See all the photos in the largest size possible (use a laptop or desktop computer if you have access to either). They are much sharper, and the larger format presents them in much more detail than the ones above, or if you only look at the opening page of the slide show.

PS.1 – For restaurant recommendations, see the Comment section of this post.

PS.2 – For Ellen’s list of other recommendations – shopping, art, touring, send me an email (Samesty84@gmail.com).

“I Used to Be a Human Being” – Andrew Sullivan

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I recently came across a lengthy article by Andrew Sullivan I had read more than five years ago about being “a very early adopter of what we might now call living-in-the-web.”

See: I Use to Be a Human Being, by Andrew Sullivan, Sept. 19, 2016. New York Magazine. (If you are unable to open and read it, please let me know. I can paste it into an email.)

Upon my initial reading, it led to, though was not the total reason for, my withdrawal from Facebook. Now, upon rereading it five years later, it is leading to my withdrawal from Instagram and Twitter.

Sullivan nailed many of the factors in the addictive nature and power of the Web, Smart Phones, and similar devices and activities. Now, five years later, there is even more evidence of the negative impacts of what this is doing to us as individuals and as a society.

I am not withdrawing totally from that world (mainly the prime social media platforms). I will continue to use it for some connections and communications with others (i.e., MillersTime, The Family Foundation, Inc., email) and to keep in touch with many of my areas of interest – news, sports, weather, travel, etc. I hope, however, that I can significantly reduce the time I am involved with the iPhone and the time I spend on the Web.

Like many addictions, this one is powerful and perhaps more intense than any of us realize.

My hope is that I can get more control over it, spend less time with it, and when doing so, use it for its best attributes