Sunday, December 28, 2008

New Year Wishes

Penultimate is one of my very favorite words and thus I am always excited at this time of year to casually mention to anyone who will listen that, “Oh, by the way, Tuesday will be the penultimate day of the year.” According to, penultimate is defined as “next to the last” or “of or pertaining to a penult,” which, according to the same source, is “the next to the last syllable in a word.”

I’ve known the word for some time, but don’t know exactly where or how I learned it. The meanings of other words are newer to me and often come from the “A Word A Day” email that lands in my inbox each morning. From this venue I’ve learned the meaning of these and other words and phrases: “Toronto blessing,” “cibarious” (quite timely as I was in the midst of managing the "chicken, fish and veggie" function for the Union for Reform Judaism's Biennial convention) and “balbriggan." Still others come from experience. Last year at about this time, I was building my vocabulary with such lovelies as hepatitis C, biliary colic, cholecystitis and laparoscopic cholecystectomy. Suffice it to say, I’d have been perfectly happy to stick with “A Word A Day” to enhance my vocabulary.

In any event, that was last year and this is today. As we look ahead to 2009, I offer you these simple words (no dictionary needed) from a Jewish new year card that I received some time ago:
May the new year find you content with your life, happy in your friendships, and at peace with yourself.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Games Galore!

Every so often, friends and I get together to play mah jongg. Although a few of us use our grandmothers’ sets – and feel close to them when we do – we’ve definitely put our own spin on the tile clacking game, often adding Chinese food delivery (and sometimes margaritas) to the mix of bams and cracks, winds and dragons.

Last night, we played a number of hands, many of which were won by my sister. It was, however, the second game I’d played during the day – and wouldn't be the last (or even the penultimate one). The first was Bananagrams -- a wonderfully fast-paced word game that marries Scrabble together with Boggle and the comic page’s word Jumble – to which I was introduced at friends' “tacky holiday sweater” brunch yesterday morning.

As we were about to call it a night, my sister excitedly showed us Doodle Dice, a game for ages six to adult that she’d gotten for my nephew for Hanukkah. Before we knew it, we were tossing the dice and using them to try to create the stick figure pictures shown on the cards in the game’s “gallery.” When Doodle Dice ended with one of us a winner (having collected one each of the different color cards from the gallery), my sister, now on a roll, innocently asked the Midwesterner among us if she knew how to play euchre. After a quick tutorial, we were once again playing a game -- this time dealing cards, designating trump suits and collecting tricks.

Euchre? Bananagrams? Mah jongg? Doodle Dice? I’m game…

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Dating Buffet

Dating is sort of like a Sunday brunch buffet. You get in line with an empty plate, peruse the many choices and make a few selections. Fresh fruit, yogurt, cereal, scrambled eggs, potatoes, toast, bagels, sausage, bacon, blintzes, lox and so on… A few steps away are the chef-manned stations: made-to-order omelettes, waffles, and the carving board – roast beef, turkey, and ham.

Sometimes you’re lucky and the choices you make are appealing and you can’t wait to go back for seconds (and sometimes even thirds) on one particular item. Other times, not so much. From time to time, the offerings are not to your liking at all and when you get to your seat you find the eggs too runny, the lox too salty and the sausages cold. After a few bites you aimlessly push the food around until the plate (thankfully!) gets cleared from in front of you.

My personal favorite brunch item is a made-to-order omelette filled with cheddar and bacon, cooked until the eggs are brown and almost crunchy around the edges. A side of crispy breakfast potatoes and a steamy mug of decaf with lots of milk are the perfect accompaniments. Unfortunately, in last night’s buffet I ended up with a runny omelette filled with Swiss, two kinds of mushrooms, green pepper and tomatoes. Cherry blintzes on the side and a cold cup of black coffee rounded out the meal. Oh well…

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

You Saw it Here First

Nearly two months ago, I blogged about several walk/don’t walk signs in my neighborhood that display both signals at once. The malfunctioning signs I pass every day are at Second Avenue and 33rd Street (on both the northeast and northwest corners) and again at 39th and Third (also on the northeast corner).

Today, the New York Times picked up on the story. Read about it here, but remember, folks, you first read about it here.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Social Networking or Blast from the Past?

Last night while waiting in Tampa for our long-delayed flight to New York, my colleagues and I had plenty of time to talk about a host of different things. Among them was Facebook, the explosively popular social networking site. One among us claimed he doesn’t want to have to accept a “friend request” from someone from 20 years ago just because the person contacts him.

Ironically, sitting in my inbox at the time of that conversation was just such a “friend request” from Craig A. Cunningham, the 1982-83 editor-in-chief of The Lafayette, the oldest college newspaper in Pennsylvania. Because I hold a different opinion of Facebook than my colleague, I accepted the request and am now “friends” with Craig. Browsing through his many on-line photos from those oh-so-long-ago days at Lafayette College in Easton, PA, I was surprised to find a “tagged” photo of (a much younger) me with other members of The Lafayette staff. Another photo, this one of Monica Van Aken, brought back memories of her oft-talked-about weekly column, “Things that Matter by Monica,” a pre-cursor to today’s blogs. In one particularly memorable installment, Monica hilariously described her adventure in moving from one dorm to another in the middle of the semester, and the ordeal of packing and schlepping all her worldly possessions across the quad to make the move.

And, although I wouldn’t say that Craig and I were friends way back when, I was, as a lowly freshman reporter, always pleased to get a call from him or one of his deputies – usually on the hallway pay phone on the third floor of Ruef Hall – asking me to cover a particular story for the paper. Following a link on his website, I found digitized images of The Lafayette and, perusing the site, located the first article I ever wrote for the paper: “Committee on Religious Program Coordinates Events on Campus,” which appeared in the October 9, 1981 edition of the paper.

Today, The Lafayette has a website of its own, Craig Cunningham is an associate professor and director of the Technology in Education Program at National-Louis University in Chicago, and Monica Van Aken is head of the Milwaukee Montessori School. Me? I’m still writing about many things, including things religious…

Thanks, Facebook.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

From Dry Cleaning to Flight Delays

So I went to Tampa with only half my dry cleaning and now I can’t get home. We (four colleagues, two board members and I) were scheduled to leave Tampa on a 6:25 p.m. flight and to land at LaGuardia at about 9:15 p.m.

All was well when we boarded the plane, stowed our luggage in the overhead compartments and pulled away from the gate. Only when the pilot attempted to start the second engine -- and couldn’t -- when we were in line for take off did our troubles begin.

We returned to the gate, a maintenance crew checked out the plane and determined that a new starter was needed. Unfortunately, there isn’t one in stock here in Tampa. At that point, we unbuckled our seat belts, unstowed our luggage and returned to the terminal where we were given a choice: spend the night (on Delta’s nickel) and fly to LaGuardia in the morning or wait for one of two incoming flights (due to arrive near 11 p.m.), one of which will be reloaded with us and all our stuff for an 11:30 p.m. estimated departure.

We opted for the latter and here we sit at Casa Bicardi just beyond Gate 68 in Terminal E chatting, drinking and generally having a good time... Yes, of course I’d like to be home and unpacked, but all things considered, it could be a lot worse.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Wow...Customer Service Lives

Last night on my way home from work, I stopped at the dry cleaners to pick up my order – nearly 10 pounds of wash and fold, four blouses that needed pressing, four pairs of pants, and a dress and jacket set -- so I could pack and be off to Tampa this morning. The dry cleaner is in the basement of my building and at 5 p.m., the guy tells me it’ll be here by about 6:30 or 7, depending on traffic. So I go upstairs and start to pack the things that I can. I go back down at 6:40, but still no clothing. At 7:20, I go down again, wait for the three people ahead of me to pick up their cleaning and packages and then it’s my turn. By now it’s nearly 7:30 and they close at 8.

“Is my dry cleaning back?” I ask.

“Yes,” he says, “but there’s a problem.”

The guy gives me the wash and fold, the four pairs of pants, the dress and jacket set and then points to the computer screen where the blouses are listed and says, “They’re still in the plant.”


After a brief exchange in which I use my “I am not pleased voice” to tell him this is totally unacceptable, I leave with the laundry that did come back, as well as a brochure for Prestige Valet and Concierge, the company that provides the service.

Back upstairs, I visit Prestige’s website and use the on-line form to send the following email:

On Saturday, December 6, I dropped dry cleaning and wash and fold in the Package Room at Kips Bay Towers. I was told that everything would be ready by today, Tuesday, December 9. However, four blouses did not get on the truck and they were "still at the plant" when I went to pick up my order. Unfortunately, I am leaving for a business trip at 7:30 tomorrow morning and now do not have the clothing to take with me. When I do pick it up upon my return next week, please be advised that I do not plan to pay for this order since the clothing was not ready when promised. Furthermore, I will no longer be using the services of Prestige Valet and Concierge and will advise my neighbors and friends to do likewise. Your service is unreliable and I will take my business elsewhere.

I left a similar message at the number printed on the company’s brochure.

A short while later, much to my surprise, my cell phone rang and the owner of the company was at the other end. In addition to a profuse apology, he offered to FedEx the clothing to me. Although this wasn’t a workable option for a number of reasons, he did offer – and I accepted – a $25 credit on my next order. Once that’s used up, I’ll reassess Prestige and decide whether or not to continue using their services.

In the meantime, customer service lives.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Hallmark Hall of Schmaltz

Last night, after I’d watched a few re-runs of House, I switched over to CBS for the Hallmark Hall of Fame movie, “Front of the Class.” In it, we meet Brad Cohen, an idealistic, driven young man, and ride along with him and his family as he pursues a teaching career despite his struggle with Tourette Syndrome. And, even though I knew (as is always the case with the Hallmark Hall of Fame presentations) that everything would turn out all right in the end, the movie still made me cry…in scene after scene after scene.

And, never mind the movie. What about the commercials? Oh-my-gosh, did they ever turn on the waterworks. Considering that I’m the one who wants to fast forward from this season of holiday cheer straight through to Tu Bishvat, I’m somewhat ashamed to tell you that there I sat, bawling at the commercials. Whether it was the Hallmark kids unpacking the family's ornaments and remembering Christmases past or a grown daughter reading a schmaltzy birthday card from her reticent father, the evening -- thanks to both the movie and the commercials -- was a four-tissue affair, complete with smudged mascara and red, stinging eyes.

Bottom line, though, is that Brad Cohen – and his incredible moxie, gumption and courage -- stands as an inspiration to anyone who’s pursuing a dream that seems – for the moment – to be out of reach. Indeed, his story is one that deserves to be told.