Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Waiting Game...

With the Shiva period for Nana over, the spoken and unspoken question is: how long for Poppy?

Thanks to the suggestion of my Aunt Susan-who has stepped up big time the last few months in helping my mom cover the bases for caring for their parents-the Shiva remained at Poppy's apartment.

The Rabbis who helped establish this communal mourning period recognized that by having the community visit the mourner, it helped to reaffirm life and encourage people to go on. Poppy responded that way and was clearly invigorated by the social warmth.

Last night, however, he wasn't feeling so well and many people were asking: "how long until we are back here again?"

Obviously no one wishes death for Poppy, but the fact that, in his present condition, my mom and Aunt are basically in a "walking on eggshells" type holding pattern definitely puts stress on them.

Is it "better" (not to be flip) for things to happen sooner rather than later so "life can go on" or is quality of life the variable?

These are not easy questions, of course, and it's almost pointless to debate them. You just have to deal with it.

One thing that I did notice...Poppy has a nurse now and it's expensive.

What happens when the Baby Boomers get to that age and each of them requires that type of assistance? We just don't have enough people-right now-legal or otherwise (I would think legal would be necessary for Medicare, but who knows?) to help out.

Read a GREAT book a few years back called the Epidemic of Care. If you're interested in the pending healthcare disaster/tidal wave/challenge, it's a MUST read.

It talks about the challenges of our medical system and how (paraphrasing) 1% of the population consumes 80% of the healthcare budget and that 80% (roughly) of the money spent on your health will be consumed in the last year of your life.

We saw this with Nana as well ( see:$3,000 a month medicine... )

It's one of the great ironies of a society that has built such wealth and increased life expectancy.

You're the DJ...

When I was in Dallas, I renewed an acquaintance with my cousin's cousin (other side of the family) who told me about his son's Internet start-up called SpotDJ. Now, I'm not a huge music person, but for those who are, this could be kind of neat.

You can add your own commentary to tracks and share it out. People can vote on it, etc. It's audio user-generated content.

Works with iTunes.

My Father-in-Law

Was honored by the NY State Senate. See article here.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Drinking from a straw...

Much like it is challenging to teach a kid how to spin a draydel, so too is teaching them how to drink through a straw.

Yesterday, Erez was trying it out and I was struggling to find the right words.

I remember on the bus to school iln 7th or 8th grades, the DJ's were not allowed to say the word "suck" so they said something along lines of "Denver creates a partial vacuum by drawing liquid through a straw."

So, I turned to Paco and said, "Come on, buddy. Create a partial vacuum."

It still didn't work, but it was funny.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Marriage Basics...

A young colleague of mine is about to get engaged. For Valentine's Day, he purchased a beautiful, expensive watch for his soon to be fiancee.

"You've got it all wrong," I said. It's about managing expectations. You want to underpromise and overdeliver.

This morning, Tamar was going into the shower and exclaimed, "Ugh, we're out of conditioner."
I was still in bed. It was 10 degrees outside or something like that.

"I left the new bottle in the trunk of my car. It's going to be really tough to brush my hair."

"Well," I offered, "I guess you should have thought of that last night when you came in because it's unlikely that I'm going outside in my pajamas right now."

She sighend and went into the shower.

I sprang into action, put on some slippers, braved the cold and moments later, triumphantly opened the shower door and heroically handed her the conditioner.

"WOW! Major points!"

That, my young friend, is how you do it.

Taking Things Too Seriously?

We have friends who throw a HUGE Super Bowl party every year. There are probably 100 people there. Food, drink, many TV's, the whole nine yards.

I get invited every year, but only went once...and I'm not going back.

The hostess asked me if I was coming this year...I told her: no.


"Honestly, I take the game very seriously. I either like to watch it by myself or with a few other, like-minded fans who are serious about the game."

"We have a room for those people at our party."

And she does, but it didnt' work for me. There were too many non-fans in the house that took away my focus and appreciation.

For a non-fan, this may sound ridiculous, but to me, watching a football game is like Tamar watching a dance performance. It's art, science, strategy, and much more all in one. I like to dissect it and talk about it-without distraction.

I said to our friend, "don't take it personally."

She said, "I do."

What can I do? This is one of my passions and I can't sacrifice on it.

Dvar Torah this week...

If you are interested, I'll be giving the Dvar Torah at Hashkama minyan @KMS this week (Feb. 3rd @7am).

The opportunity to sponsor a word is closed. :-)

Not Giving Up Yet...

Took the kids over to see Poppy today during the Shiva period.

Originally, the latter portion of the 7 day ritual mourning period was scheduled to be at my parents' home, but the first 2 days proved to be so uplifting for Poppy, that the balance of the week was transferred back to his apartment.

And a good thing that it was.

Today, I saw him walk (instead of a wheelchair) out of his bedroom to the dining room.

He was speaking more clearly. He was engaged. He was laughing.

One of my grandparents' best friends is a woman named Sophie...I'm a huge fan of hers. She's on my mailing list and I called her a few weeks ago on her birthday. She's 87.

We were chatting and I said, "it looks like he's not ready to give up just yet."

Poppy's a social animal and I think one of the points of having people, your community, come over to visit you during your mourning is to positively affirm life in the wake of death.

My kids were playing with their 2nd cousins on the floor of the living room. Lego blocks and little plastic balls.

Life does go on...and I think, I hope, that Poppy is coming to that realization.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

How It All Plays Out...

I was thinking about Nana this afternoon while the kids and I were watching a Sesame Street DVD.

Paco yells, out of nowhere, "A car!" and I looked out the window to see our neighbor exit from his Prius.

He looked very tired and hunched over (he's about 60) and I started to think and wonder if he had any clue that his life at this age would be how it is. [We really like him and his wife].

I am willing to bet that he didn't.

Here's how I know.

Unfortunately, one of his sons committed suicide a few years ago. That's not something a parent, I would surmise, thinks about really happening to him. Even if he does (I suppose I just had that thought), you can't possibly imagine how it would feel to have that happen.

Or to have a son killed in the Israeli Army, as our dear friends, Sue and Max Singer had (see the moving tribute they have built around Alex's life here)

Or any number of other ways that the road of life twists and turns in front of you as you move along it.

Poppy didn't think Nana would go before him. I never envisioned thyroid cancer for myself.

I don't know if there's a "trick" other than to expect the unexpected, trite as that may be.

Just something I was mulling about.

Poor Grammar...

My dad said once that the job he wanted was to be "Grammarian General" of the US, since so many people make grammar mistakes.

Here's a Flickr photo gallery of incorrect uses of the poor apostrophe.

Reminds me of the book Eats, Shoots, and Leaves

The Perfect Houseguests...

If staying at someone's home were an Olympic sport, the family of Rabbi Shmuel and Dr. Rhanni Herzfeld would take the Gold (even from the east German judge) in their category.

In my book, there are 4 categories.
  1. Adults w/no kids who are visiting you
  2. Adults w/kids who are visiting you
  3. Adults w/no kids who are staying with you but are visiting another family
  4. Adults w/kids who are staying with you but are visiting another family

Note: it is common in a religious Jewish community for families to host the guests of a family having a Bar-Mitzvah, for example. Their guests wish to join in the celebration and are not able to drive. Usually, hotels are not an option, so other members of the community provide beds.

The Herzfelds were in Group #4, in town for their nephew's Bar-Mitzvah.

Here's why they were tremendous guests. Please keep in mind, they have 4 children.

Very Low Maintenance
They arrived shortly before the Sabbath began. Their kids were already dressed for the synagogue. They came in, dropped off their one bag, and left. They were probably there for 15 minutes.

After leaving around 8:30am for synagogue in the morning on Saturday, we didn't see them until after the Sabbath was over (6:10pm) and at that, it was only 10 minutes as Rhanni came in and gathered up their stuff. Everyone else was out in the car waiting patiently.

They returned around 8.45pm or so. Tamar and I were in bed. Had I not heard the door open, I never would have known that six people were going through my front hall and down into the basement. The quiet was unbelievable!

Their 12 month old got up at 6am or so and went up into the playroom with their eldest daughter, Leah. And you know what Leah did while she was up there? She cleaned up and organized the toys!

And, in Rhanni's whirlwind packing process, she somehow managed to strip all of the beds, fold the blankets, pile everything in one place and put the room back in even better shape than she found it! It literally took me about 5 minutes afterwards to complete the job (and that was only b/c I had moved the exercise equipment into another room).

They've set the new standard.

With Nana's death this week, I've been thinking a lot about living a life with dignity and making people feel that way about you.

In my mind, the way the Herzfelds chose to be a guest in our home exemplifies that at every step.

And you know what's funny about this? We really like them and would have been happy to hang out with them. That's probably the only demerit they get. We didn't see enough of them! Of course, better to leave your hosts that way than the alternative.

Airline security...

I drink a lot of water. I used to always take a big bottle of water with me on planes. The new security rules have frustrated me...until last week.

Now, I bring a big EMPTY bottle of water through security...and just fill it up at a water fountain on the other side, saving myself the $10 or whatever that the kiosks charge.

I feel so smart! :-)

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Preparing wisely for the end...

Was talking to some friends about Nana's death this week.

I told them that one of the most valuable lessons I had learned was how critical it is to make clear your wishes regarding the end of your life (as I wrote here).

You need a Healthcare Directive, a Will, a Living Will, and what's helpful is a guide to the location/info on all of your financials. I figure...the last thing that Tamar needs in the event of my untimely death is to waste time with our brokerage trying to figure out how to access our account online.

You don't need to spend a ton of money. It takes a bit of time, but we did it for a few bucks using Quicken Lawyer. It's worth it.

Book Review: Dracula

I felt like a member of the landed gentry as I listened on numerous car drives to the full version of Bram Stoker's Dracula.

The illustrative prose and vivid detail made me feel like I was sitting on an English country estate during the golden era of English literature (late 1800's for Stoker), devouring the ongoing drama that was playing out in the mountains of Transylvania and streets of London.

To be understated would be to call this book "fabulous." From the first moment, it grabbed me, like a vampire grabs his prey (corny similie intended) and it didn't let me go.

Even now, with the book done, I am a bit elevated by the feeling it left with me.

From beginning to end, a pure joy. Seriously. I feel richer for it. Very much worth it.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Who should go first?

There's a story in the Bible about King David as he approached death. A young woman, Abishag, had the job of lying down next to the aged king to keep him warm. They did not have sexual relations, according to tradition.

I asked Tamar if, when I got very old, could I find the services of an Abishag-type woman.

Her answer "Yes, when I'm gone." I nodded in approval.

And then, the woman who has figured me out pretty darn well in 6 short years, added, "and when I say gone, I mean dead. Not out of the room."

She saw the wind drop from my sails and smiled that satisfactory grin of victory. She had me and she knew it.

Tamar and I had obviously been discussing Poppy's new status as a Widower and the conversation came up of "which one of us should go first?"

For reasons we won't go into, we both agreed that, if we had our choice, it would be Tamar.

Being the sentimentalist I am (sarcasm foreshadowed) I asked, "Hey, do you think if that happens, it would be ok for me to hit on the 90 year old babes in the nursing home?"

"Sure, go crazy," she said as her eyes rolled all the way back in entertained disbelief.

"Cool. I mean, at that point, I'd be curious to know if I'll still have it, know what I mean?"

Nana's Funeral...

Today was one of those days where time seemed to slow down and my senses were heightened at each moment. The other 2 days (relatively recently) that were similar were my wedding day and the day Calanit was born (Erez was born at night, so it was different).

We took Calanit to the funeral and left Erez with a babysitter. It was the right call. She behaved like an angel and sat on my mom's lap for most of the service, helping with the consolation process.

We had prepped her well. In the morning, we had shown her pictures of Nana and reminded her of the good times she'd had. We also told her that today, "many people would be very sad and they would need a lot of big hugs and kisses." She did her part...and then some. I was so proud...and so emotional. The thought that my grandmother had the opportunity to meet my children, what a blessing. And I felt for my siblings not yet married, knowing the pain they must feel when thinking about that. My sister, Dina, who spoke beautifully at the service, alluded to that same point. I give Tamar so much credit for this.

Putting Calanit to bed tonight, I wanted to make sure she remembered her Nana.
"Do you remember playing blocks with Nana?"
"Do you know that Nana isn't coming back?"
"Yes, she went away. She is sick."
"Where did she go?"
"To the swimming pool and she's not coming back."

Well, who knows? It could be a swimming pool, right? Who's to say that Calanit's wrong?

My mom told a story that after her grandmother's funeral, her mother (Nana) said, "I thought that my life was over, but I realized, life goes on. You've got to go on." I think that Calanit's presence, in some way, represented that for all of us there.

The outpouring of support from friends and family was immense and intense.

Some of those I expected to be there, were. Some of those I completely did not expect to be there, were. Their love for us was palpable and it made me appreciate the role of those who come to comfort the mourners in a whole new light.

After carrying much of the load for the past 2 weeks, Tamar finally had an opportunity to mourn at the service. The speakers (4 including the Rabbi) did justice to Nana's personality and her determination to living a life with dignity, echoing many of the sentiments I expressed here.

As one of the pallbearers, I escorted Nana's casket out to the hearse and as we did, one of the most elegant snow flurry showers I had seen (or at least appreciated) began to fall on a still sunny day. It was an intriguing backdrop to the emotion of the day.

I rode with my siblings in a limousine to the cemetery in Southeast Washington for a short graveside ceremony in the very cold weather. Following doctor's orders, my grandfather (Poppy) was not present at the grave.

In an emotional farewell prior to that, he was pushed in a wheelchair next to the casket while his grandchildren and close relatives held it and given an opportunity to say his final goodbyes. He didn't say anything. What would he say anyway? He didn't have to. You just had to feel for the man who was now on Widower Day #2.

At the grave, following the service, most of the family remained to fulfill the mitzvah of filling in the dirt onto the entire grave. In the sense that you are brought into the world by this person, you are given the opportunity to take this person as far out of the world as possbile (or something along those lines.) It literally provides a sense of closure.

We then returned to Nana and Poppy's apartment for the beginning of the shiva mourning period. It is a chance to be with one another and to help console the mourners, but as my cousin Josh pointed out, it is, in some ways, a "celebration of Nana's life."

And so the "post-Nana" era begins in earnest.

National Aquarium Using Vista...

Here's a great case study of the National Aquarium in Baltimore about business use of Vista. It's pretty neat. Just download the appropriate video file.

Watch TV from anywhere...

I've just spent the past 25 minutes watching Israeli TV.

You can watch stations from all over the world, for free, on your PC.

Very cool

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Conversation with a new Widower...

Last night the immediate family and friends of Nana gathered for an emotional therapy session facilitated by Rabbi Lustig of Washington Hebrew Congregation (it also doubled as eulogy research for him!)

There were a lot of good stories about her and it rounded out a lot of my visions and thoughts about her. Too bad, we only did this after she died.

A few days ago, I was approached by a friend who is organizing a bachelor party for a mutual fund. He was soliciting ideas. The usual suggestions had been made, of course, but I suggested that each friend bring 1-2 great stories about their past with the focus of the weekend. That way, we’d have a fuller picture of him. It occurs to me that, in life, we can make these types of sessions, if we wish, and not wait until the person is dead to obtain that perspective.

The session on my Nana was extremely powerful, but it was the 15 minutes before that which are on my mind.

I went into Nana and Poppy’s bedroom and found Poppy lying on the bed. He doesn’t look so great. Since his stroke, his speech has been impaired, even though he understands what you are saying.

He kept apologizing for “breaking down,” but couldn’t stop himself from crying. I assured him, it was ok.

Growing up, he used to grab us and rub his hand in our hair while asking, “Are you tired of living?” It was a 30 year joke, at least.

“Poppy, I think this may be the first time when it’s not so funny if I ask you if you are “tired of living?” He laughed. “I guess the joke isn’t as funny when you get old.” Another laugh. That was a good sign. There’s still a reservoir of life in him.

But he was very, very sad and I felt so bad for him. The void must be tremendous.

“Pop,” I asked, “in all of your years with Nana, did you ever think she would go first?”

“Only when she got sick,” which was in the past year.

“But five years ago?”

He shook his head. No.

Asher was in the room with me, crying as well and at one point said, “Pop, you’ve been so great to us. You’ve taught us everything we know.”

One of those things is to appreciate life at every step.

Another one of Poppy’s sayings, as I wrote here, is “Every Day is a Bonus Day” which came from his WWII experiences.

I turned to him. “Poppy, I know that today must be very, very, very hard.”
“It is. So hard.”
“But you taught us that every day is a Bonus day, right? Even the ones that aren’t so good.”

He nodded.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Nana's Funeral...

The funeral is scheduled for Thursday, January 25, 2007 at 11 am at Washington Hebrew Congregation.

Thoughts on Nana...

And so, it was the last time I saw Nana.

Tamar woke me up at 7.15am to tell me that my Nana had died overnight.

Yesterday, my Nana was transported by ambulance from the hospital and given "hours" to live.

And the assessment was accurate.

Apparently, when she came home, she began opening her mail, paying bills, and instructing my mom to "make sure the maid's W-2 gets to her before the end of January."

In the days preceding her death, she had dicated 20 pages of notes to my mother about what her wishes were regarding the funeral and the shiva period. Some of these included, "move the coffee table in the living room so there's more room to sit," "don't allow waiters to serve drinks walking around the apartment," and the nature of the casket she preferred.

If there was one thing that was a hallmark of my Nana from day one, it was dignity. She lived with dignity and that was how she died. She was determined to not be on a ventilator or like a "vegetable." She was emotional, but realistic.

I like to listen to music when I work from home and I didn't know what genre was an appropriate choice for this morning, so I chose "Oldies." As it turns out, Frank Sinatra is singing "My Way," which, if anything, is an appropriate song for a woman who, after being told by the doctor that they were out of options, commented to my mom, "a doctor should dress better."

When I was in 9th grade, I had a teacher, Rabbi Diament who was diagnosed with a brain tumor. A group of students, my brother included, went to see him on the day before Yom Kippur. I was invited to go. I demured, saying, "I will see him on Monday." You know how this ends.

Before going to Dallas, Tamar said to me...."you need to go see your Nana before you leave." I did, and it was Tamar's email that ensured all of us getting back before the worst of the snowstorm on Sunday night, so each of us could say our final goodbyes.

When I visited Poppy on Sunday night and he began to cry, I said "I can't imagine how you are feeling now. I imagine it's difficult, but I can't imagine how."

This morning, when Tamar woke me to tell me, I got a glimpse of it.

Through the last few days, Tamar's entire focus has been on my emotional well-being. Tamar didn't have a chance to say her goodbyes to Nana. Instead, she selflessly sacrificed her time to care for our kids and make sure that I had a chance to do so.

I fast forwarded 60 years (hopefully!) and thought..."wow, take all of the selflessness and compound it and you get a hint of the love that Nana and Poppy felt for each other. If we get anywhere near that level, the amount of emotional pain that I would feel would be immeasurable."

And so, in Nana's death, I obtained a different view of my wife, my marriage, and my own marriage. The dignity that is and was Nana is the same dignity that my wife carries with her daily.

In 60 years, it's not going to matter too much what I did at work today or whether I saved a dollar on a gallon of gasoline, but it will matter that I am surrounded by people who love me because of the way I have treated them and what I have done for them and having lived a life with dignity.

On the one hand, feeling that emotional pain is terrifying, but I imagine, when all is said and done, it's as good a measure as any of the quality of life you have lived.

In 6 years of marriage, Tamar and I have helped each other through the deaths of three grandmothers. Out of 8, only one remains (Poppy).

A few years ago, I started a project in a document called "Nana and Poppy Eulogy." I didn't get very far, but here's what I did accomplish.

Today is June 12th, 2004 and though I hate to think about it, I've started
writing the eulogy for Nana and Poppy.

Why? Well, this morning, Tamar, Calanit, and I attended the funeral of Tamar's paternal grandmother. The words spoken there were beautiful and as I sat listening to the speakers, I felt an appreciation growing for Nana and Poppy with each moment, particularly as I appreciated the fact that they are still both alive and well right now.

I became motivated to start a periodic journal of my feelings and thoughts about Nana and Poppy while they are alive so that when the moment I
hope never comes inevitably does-and must-come, I will have captured their essence over the course of time and perhaps shed a different perspective on each
of them than if I had to gather my thoughts immediately upon hearing the sad news.

So I called Nana tonight when I got in the car on the way from BWI to our apartment after the funeral. Nana asked me how it went.

I said, "you know, Nana, it really made me appreciate you and Poppy much more."

I could tell Nana appreciated it and then she said, "well you know, she was very old, she was 95 and a half!"

And this coming from a woman who is 82. "Yeah, you're right Nana, you're pretty young after all."

Poppy called me about two weeks ago on a Wed. night and said, "you know, I'd like to go to lunch with you tomorrow."'Ugh, pop, that's the one day I can't do it.""What about next week?" he asks.

I start mumbling, "hmmmm, let me see. well, maybe I can move this...""You know, Jer, I'm at the age where I don't buy green bananas," he says. [Of course, he's been saying that for 15 years, but I get the idea]

"Ok, Pop, how about Tuesday."

I don't know how many times I've heard that line, but he sure loves it.

Part of me is upset that I didn't capture more anecdotes, but part of me says that it doesn't matter.

There was a night when I lived in Frankfurt in 1996, when my sister Dina (who was visiting) and I were up until 4am crying about the thought of Nana and Poppy dying. Like this past Sunday night in the hospital and then at the apartment, it was one of those surreal moments when your senses are acutely heightened.

Since that night, I never looked at interaction with Poppy or Nana in the same light. I always appreciated hearing their voices or seeing them and was fully engaged. Though I have been crying off and on while composing this, it's not because I feel like I "missed" something with Nana or "have regrets."

My grandfather flew 75 bombing missions over China in WWII as a member of the Flying Tigers. His was the one crew where every single member survived without a scratch. After that experience, he developed and often repeated a mantra. You would ask him, "how are you doing?" and he'd say "Every Day Is A Bonus Day."

That's how I feel about the last 11 years with Nana (and, unfortunately, in the not too distant future about Poppy).

Whatever it was that was the catalyst for Dina and me to have that chat in Frankfurt, it focused me on the priorities and though I am sad, I am "at peace."

I think the realistic approach to life...and death...contributed to a different level of relationship.

About a year ago, my mom and I were driving back from the memorial service of the mother of a grade-school classmater of mine. We called Nana to check in.

The woman who had died had a severe form of cancer and was in tremendous pain.

Nana said, "if I ever get like that, I'm just going to put a gun to my head."

My mom didn't know what to say.

So I piped up...."Nana, if you're going to kill yourself, there are a lot better ways than a gun."

"What do you mean?" she asked.

"Well, a gun is just so messy. I mean, think about it. Someone's going to have clean that all up. If you're going to do that, maybe you could just do something that doesn't take as much work afterwards?"

My mom was in shock, but Nana was cracking up.

(If you are up to here, you are one dedicated blog reader, that much I'll say.)

I think I'll wrap it up now. I'm kind of spent and my thoughts are a bit disjointed now. I'm sure there will be more later, but I'll tell you one thing....if I can go in the way that Nana did, with head held high, with dignity, with grace (and a 20 page project plan!), then that's what I'm going to do.

More on Invitation Etiquette...

No post (ever) has received more comments than the one on Invitation Etiquette.

There are a few things I love about the fact that people comment.
  1. It gives me additional perspective on the topic
  2. It fosters conversation (since commentators comment on each other).

(It's like I'm writing the Mishna and commenters are rounding it out with Gemara, etc. (With a fair recognition of humility that my Blog doesn't even come close to the Mishna on any level...except for having more pictures-I beat the Mishna hands down, but I digress).

So, based on the feedback from the previous post, I've reconsidered our approach.

I think I will tell people who is coming and ask them if they feel comfortable with it. To simplify, in my mind, I will have an "anchor" guest. This is the family is the center of the invite. If another family vetoes them, I will reschedule the non-anchor family.

I also like the idea of a feedback loop. I don't know if people will feel comfortable saying "I'd rather not dine with so and so again," but I'll give them the opportunity.

The question is: how to ask and encourage people to answer honestly?

Modern Movie Watching...

When I sit down to watch a DVD at home, here's what I need...

  1. TV remote

  2. DVD remote

  3. Cell phone

  4. Home phone

  5. Media center remote
  6. X-10 light controller remote (not shown)

A bit excessive, no?

Managing your health...

Call your attention to a new site Revolution Health.

They are trying to do, in some respects, what I discussed here, namely use the power of the Internet to help empower consumers in managing their own health and safeguard them from problems. Doctor and Hospital ratings to help you and education so you can advocate for yourself. It’s a big, HUGE, undertaking and someone will do it.

They are relying heavily on the power of networks (multiple ratings, etc.), but also giving each individual something of value right out of the box (tools, calculators, etc.) to get them involved early and quickly.

Lindsay...our flight hero

Lindsay...our hero.
Originally uploaded by jer979.
Would you ever give up an aisle seat for a middle seat? On a full flight?

After yesterday's rush to get on an earlier flight to see Nana before she dies, I found myself in a middle seat behind Kira (also, obviously, in a middle seat).

On the way to Texas, we had traded an aisle for a middle so Kira could sit next to me (I was in the aisle), but we didn't think anyone would go for it.

This nice young woman got on the plane and after Kira asked, said, "of course, no problem." She took my middle and I was able to sit with Kira, my sister, the whole way back.

Later on, we found out that Lindsay is a sophomore at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, where I am class of '95, which of course explains why she is such a caring, considerate person. And she probably felt the Blue Jay to look out for one another!

Thanks, Lindsay!!

Monday, January 22, 2007

Rules for a Perfect Day

Rules for a Perfect Day
Originally uploaded by jer979.
Marriage isn't easy. We have this hanging on our fridge to help us along the way. (2 of 2)

ABC's of Lifelong Relationships

ABC's of Lifelong Relationships
Originally uploaded by jer979.
Marriage isn't easy. We have this hanging on our fridge to help us along the way. (1 of 2)

The Kid's Got the Right Stuff...

Calanit had a playdate the other day with a boy in her class, Joey.

Joey's dad dropped him off and went to play football.

When he returned, I told him about Calanit's touchdown story and how she is such a big fan of the game.

The proud father turns to his son and says, "Joey, what does the referee do when it's a first down?"

The boy makes the correct signal.

"What about a personal foul?"

Again. A few more.

"Wow, your son has exactly the values I'm looking for for my daughter. Nice work!"

The Last Time You See A Loved One...

It's rare that you KNOW for certain that you're seeing someone for the last time.

After a whirlwind day of travel, cell phone tag, and introspection, I found myself in the elevator of Sibley Memorial Hospital at 8:30pm, thinking..."this could very well be the last time I ever see my Nana alive."

Soon, I was allowed entry into her room. There were a few rules.
  1. I could only stay for 5 minutes
  2. I could not cry or get emotional

These were Nana's instructions.

At first, Nana asked me about the weekend in Dallas and how the kids were recuperating. I answered and expressed Tamar's regret at not being able to visit.

Eventually, I summoned up enough courage to ask her, "So, Nan, how are you doing?"

She replied, "It's my time. It's imminent."

Not sure how to respond to that, I said, "so, uh, how does it feel? Do you
have a heightened sense of awareness about time now?"

She understood that I wasn't trying to make conversation or be flip but to
somehow empathize with her as she ventured towards the unknown.

"It's terrifying. I feel very weak," she confessed.

"I guess no matter how old you get, you never get experience in this area, do

She laughed. "Nana," I continued, "I'm really not sure what to say here...can
you give me some advice?"

"You've been wonderful to me and I love you very much."

I started to get choked up.

"You know, my mom said you didn't want me to cry, but I'm having a really
hard time."

"Don't cry," she instructed, "it makes me depressed."

We both chuckled at that. We heard the voices of my sisters outside and she
said, "go home and see your family. Give them a big hug for me."

I leaned over to her and gave her a kiss. We both knew how significant the moment was. I turned to leave and the moment I crossed the threshold in the hall, I burst into my tears on the shoulder of my brother, Barak. Then, I started laughing since her attitude just seemed so surreal. I didn't know which to do, so I continued to do both.

The day had started well enough. In Dallas, we were all (save my mom, Tamar, and my kids) the wrap-up of a wonderful weekend at my cousin's Bat-Mitzvah. All of us were at a brunch this morning, taking numerous pictures of the various generations. Our flight was scheduled for 4.30pm CST, with a return at 8.40pm EST.

We were all laughing and enjoying ourselves. By a fluke, I took out my phone to look at the time. I had 2 emails and 2 text messages from Tamar. It read:

Subject: Urgent

Please call me or your mom ASAP – you need to arrange to take an earlier
flight if you want to see your Nana before she passes away – things are imminent
at this point.

I called Tamar immediately to get the news and then ran to each family member, showing him/her the email. We sprang into action and within minutes, were on our way to the airport.

Amazingly enough, we were able to ALL get on an earlier flight, thanks to some fantastic assistance from American Airlines (redeeming themselves from earlier this week)...and it was fortunate that we did.

We landed at 6.15 at BWI in the middle of a snowstorm. It took over an hour to get home (usually 35 mins) and we were all able to make it to the hospital to see Nana.

After the hospital, I headed over to see my Poppy to see how he was doing and just spend some time.

As I sat next to him, we talked about the beautiful life he had had with Nana...70 years and how much she meant to him.

We both started crying.

"You're supposed to make it easier for me," he said.

"I guess I am not so good at this consoling effort. Maybe one of my siblings
will do a better job when he gets here."

He chuckled. "You know what is great about you never let a day go
by when you didn't tell her that you loved her. No regrets, right?"

"No regrets."

"You know, since you guys met on Yom Kippur and you skipped synagogue to pick
up women, I think you're a pretty good advertisement for non-attendance."

Again, he laughed. "Thank you for coming over."

The conversation didn't matter really. Here was a man on the verge of losing the "love of his life." There's no way to console someone, just to be there.

I think what impresses me most about the way they are facing up to this last of life's challenges is with eyes wide open. They are emotional (he more than she), but realistic.

It's one of those moments in life where, ironically, you feel really, really alive, since you know, somewhere deep inside, that this is part of what it is all about.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Dallas....and the Firing Line

Can you imagine spending 70 years loving the same person?

This weekend is full of emotional family moments in Dallas where we are for a cousin's bat-mitzvah.

First off, is the drama playing out back at home.

It's like my grandparents are in a synchronized swimming end of life routine. It's a parallel descent that is VERY saddening, but simultaneously romantic.

They first met when she was 15 and he 17 on Yom Kippur in 1937. And they have been together ever since.

My grandmother (Nana) is in the hospital, suffering from an almost perfect storm of diseases. My grandfather (Poppy) is constrained to the house, forced to hold the love of his life's hand only over the phone.

70 years....and now they are declaring their eternal love to each other, knowing that the end is near and it's only a matter of time. Their last hope is to be together when the moment comes.

70 years...WWII, raising children, and all of those events that make up LIFE are culminating in a burst of emotional energy. I never thought it would be Nana first and it almost seems like Poppy is waiting for her to go before he decides to just give up and decides it's not worth the will/energy any longer.

All of this happens in the background as the bulk of the family (except for my mom, Tamar, and my kids) are in Dallas for a cousin's bat-mitzvah.

There's something eternal about the events here in Dallas. It's the same synagogue and the same structure as previous events (heck, even the food at kiddush is the same! Which is great.) What changes, of course, is the people...and that's the point. My cousins here are focused on making a great, memorable event for people to renew old acquaintances, and that is precisely what happens.

My cousin made a remark on Fri. night that really hit he sat with me and another cousin, he said, "wouldn't Bobe have been proud to see all of us here getting along?"
(Bobe is grandmother in Yiddish). She would have been.

My dad made a different comment...
"when I first started coming to these events in Dallas, my parents were the grandparents generation. Now, I'm the grandparents generation. As my father used to say, 'Now, I'm on the firing line."
And within the subplot of Death and the Firing Line, there is the beauty of life.

A young girl becomes a Bat Mitzvah, full of boundless potential. My brother introduces his very serious girlfriend to the extended family. The children of my cousins' run around and play (Calanit was supposed to be here, too) showing that life begins afresh.

All of these life milestones wrapped up into one moment in time.

Your Salary...

How does your salary compare to others in your metro area or around the country?

I'm not a VP of Marketing, but I figured I'd use that as a baseline. Here are the results I got.

See how you fare (pun intended).

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Movie Review: Badlands

This is proof that "collaborative filtering" technology, better known as "Recommendations" works.

I'm not sure how this admittedly bizarre movie got on my queue (well I put it there), but it was made because of some of my other preferences.

And it paid 90 minutes, it was a decent viewing about a 25 year old guy who kills the father of the 15 year old girl with whom he is infatuated. That sets off a killing spree/manhunt but interspersed with profound moments of life introspection.

The killing of the father was that I'm in that position. You think about the stupid things that kids do, thinking they know what life is all about, and bang-literally-the father is dead-for a no-good loser.

But that, most definitely, is not the point of the movie. Honestly, I'm not sure what the point is, but it's a good story nonetheless.

Perhaps the point is the law of unintended consequences is at play or that people get caught and keep doing things that are worse in order to avoid getting caught and it spirals downwards.

Not sure, but despite the film's (based on a true story) relative dark, macabre scenery/cinematography and the bizarre characters played by a VERY young Martin Sheen (and even younger Sissy Spacek)--Sheen did look like James Dean, too--it was somehow enlightening and engaging.

The mind of the blogger...

Renewed an old business acquaintance the other day with Rob Howard. He's the CEO of Telligent, a company that makes a Microsoft-based product for creating online communities. Microsoft uses it.

Anyway, he's a blogger, too, and after showing him some of the new features of Office 2007, he rolled his chair back and said, "that's bloggable."

I laughed, because the blogger lives in two worlds....
  1. the real world
  2. the world of 'would this work on my blog?"
And when he said, "that's bloggable," for his blog, I said, "hmm...I guess your comment is Blogworthy for mine."

Friday, January 19, 2007

What I learned on my trip to NYC...

As I wrote, the purpose of my trip was a “Shadow Day” of my mentor .

Here’s the bulk of the follow up email/thank you note I sent to her.

Just a quick note to say thanks for allowing me to “shadow” your business for the day. It was eye-opening for a number of reasons.

1. A great case study to observe many of the communication techniques we’ve discussed over the years
2. An interesting peek to a completely different business
3. Opportunity to meet some new folks w/different perspectives

It was definitely worthwhile. My key takeaways were:

1. Speed of speech to improve communication
I was very impressed with the deliberate manner of speaking. It conveyed thoughtful reflection and it added to the team’s ability to comprehend the message. This was particularly helpful for me as I tend to speak rapidly.

2. Keep the team focused-find the fulcrum/pressure point

I was impressed by the commitment to pulling back the covers to identify underlying causes and areas of focus. This provided clarity to the team, I believe, and helped shape the conversation to be most productive possible.

Sometimes, my conversations with others get pulled in non-core directions. Ensuring that the focus of the conversation is on point at all times and HOW to do that was a very valuable lesson.

3. Highlight and reiterate priorities out (focus on big rocks)
If I had to sum up one key learning, it’s that

  • People remember with repetition.
  • People remember with repetition.
  • People remember with repetition.

Far from being a tape on auto-replay, you both reiterated the key points to your teams so that the likelihood of retention was increases (a key one, for example was the $500k server commitment). Obviously, I’ve heard the “Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, tell them what you told them” mantra. I liked how the critical messages and expectations were outlined.

I tend to move quickly and not reiterate key points, so part of my effectiveness is lost. This was valuable to see in action.

4. Partner, not adversary
It was clear from the outset that, as managers, both of you were there to assist the team in reach its objective and not simply to identify weaknesses or shortcomings in order to assert authority. This made the atmosphere quite cordial (for the most part J) and helped to inspire confidence and focus on problem-solving.

5. Treat different people differently
Obviously ;-) your account managers bring different assets to the table. Instead of trying to make them snap to a pre-conceived mold, you really sought how to leverage their strengths and not spend too much time on their weaknesses (though you made sure that they were aware of them and had a way to address them.)

A key lesson: there’s not a one size fits all approach for working with/managing people.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Talking about the end of your life…

It’s very sad, but my grandparents health isn’t so great. Back in June (see: Preparing for Death I, II, and III), I wrote about this and in some respects, it’s a miracle of medicine that my grandfather is alive and we’ve had him for the past 7 months. And now, my grandmother, as well, isn’t doing so well.

I know that, to quote Raphi Salem in the NYC FOJ gathering on Monday night, I “don’t do things like most people,” but I’ll tell you one thing I’ve learned from this experience.

For the benefit of the people who love you, you’d be doing them a HUGE favor if you can get over the idea of your own death for a minute and tell them EXACTLY what your wishes are.

My mom and aunt are by no means fighting about my grandparents, but they are spending a lot of time discussing it. I think it would save a lot of time and stress-and allow people to just focus on carrying out your wishes and savoring the remaining time-if people had the ability to say what they did or did not want to have happen.

Write out a healthcare directive and/or living will. Take the time to tell a few people what should happen. Make some copies.

If you have the courage, broach the subject with an elderly parent or grandparent when everyone is lucid.

Death-no matter when it comes-is an emotional and VERY trying time, of course. Do what you can now so that when it does-and like taxes, we know it will-you know what to do and don’t start asking questions when it may be too late or your under a lot of stress.

Priceless Moment...

Sometimes at 5.30am, it's tough to see the bright side of parenting.

Invariably, a small thing occurs that reminds you.

With Paco on my lap, taking his bottle, Tonka comes over and puts her cheek next to his, snuggling for a moment.

She moves away to resume whatever it was she was doing.

Paco says "Again!"

And Tonka returns.

This happens 8 or 9 times.

So cute to see how much they love each other.

Does college really make sense?

An interesting article (from WSJ) questioning the value of college education for everyone. Sure to be somewhat controversial.

Tangentially related, I had a mild 'eye-opening' experience a few years ago.

As part of a team exercise, we went around the room and each colleague identified the college s/he attended.

By the measure of "name-brand" or "US News," I had gone to the top-ranked school of all my peers.

But, in that room, I didn't really matter.

Here was a room of people for whom I had/have a TREMENDOUS amount of respect and confidence in their intellectual/professional abilities. They were, in my estimation, very "smart" and they possessed a commendable work ethic.

Most importantly, they performed exceedingly well in the marketplace of commerce.

I started to the value of the education at a Hopkins, Harvard, Penn, Columbia, etc. for liberal arts so much better than Bucknell, Michigan State, or Texas? Or is this just another case of "branding" and marketing?

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Irritated at American Airlines...

My mom won't be going to Dallas for our cousin's bat mitzvah this weekend due to her parents health condition.

Calanit's got a double ear infection, so she and I may not be either.

I called American Airlines to see about a credit/refund. No refund on our tickets. Fine. Credit, yes.

But...when we re-use the credit there is a $100 change fee associated with it...and oh, they get to hold on to my money until I use it!

Most non-customer friendly in my humble opinion.

NYC-FOJ Get Together...

Looking on the bright side, I got a 7% conversion rate on my email marketing campaign. That’s 6 percentage points better than the industry average. Not quite the high rate of close to 25% for the Boston gathering in July, but still respectable!

A huge call out to Abby, Raphi, Rabbi Jan, Scott, Nava, Caryn, for making the trek to Starbucks and Café Viva on Monday night.

It’s always great to see who shows up to these “court sessions” and the part I love…introducing my friends from different worlds to each other. Fun to see the interaction and, hopefully, enrich their lives by expanding their circle. Goes back to my desire to be the Connector.

It means a lot when people make the effort (no dis to those who couldn’t…ok, maybe a little one :-)) and wonderful to catch up in person.

I took a lot of beatings for relying too heavily on the blog for staying in touch, but, I think (hope) that it was all in good fun—particularly after a few of them admitted to actually reading and (gasp!) enjoying it!

Thanks again, guys, for coming out.

And, as if there were any doubt…NYC has once again solidified itself as the greatest city in the world.

Pinnochio and A Child's Memory...

Do you remember the first time you saw "Pinnochio" or any one of the other "children's classics?"

I put it on the TV for the kids the other night and thought..."this is a life milestone for them."

We got through 20 minutes or so before they ran out of patience, but I couldn't help thinking that I was creating a life memory for them.

I took Paco out for a long walk on Saturday afternoon. We had no goal in particular, just meandered. Eventually, we found our way on to a damp baseball field.

We kicked a ball I had brought around and then started running around the empty diamond. He had a great time as I announced his charge to home plate.

A few minutes later, after he tackled me, we were rolling around in the outfield grass (careful to avoid the deer poop). I had 2 observations.
  1. Kids do keep you young at heart. I had no choice but to laugh as we wrestled in the dirt and mud.
  2. I will my kids remember me when they are grown or when I am dead? Will they remember these moments or think about the Penalty Box and how Captain von Trapp is my paternal role model.

I knew I was having a Mental Snapshot moment and I hoped that Paco/Spencer was too.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Soaps Fan Site...

One area of common culture which I didn't appreciate until I was married is the fine art of the Soap Opera. Now, I do, however, because my wife and her 5 sisters are fans. Mostly of "GH," known to many of us as "General Hospital."

In the pre-DVR era, it was a focus of TV lives (also pre-kid era), but now, thanks to a site that is devotedly entirely to the Soap Opera, fans can stay up to date and analyze.

What ESPN is to sports, Soap Opera site is for fans of soaps.

They are young and looking for feedback. Check it out.

Disclosure: this is a sponsored post

Here comes Google...

If you go to their homepage, they have a new service called Google Checkout. You get a $10 bonus for signing up. out!

Sponsor a Word Opportunity...FREE

We have a friend in NYC named Josh Botnick who has a very unique style of giving Divrei Torah (lit: words of Torah).

A few weeks prior to his assigned date, he reaches out to his friends and asks them to suggest a word or phrase (no matter how random) which he promises to incorporate into the speech.

The last time we heard him, Tamar suggested "Dance," and I requested, "Silent Frog." Both of them (along with about 15 others-he sent out the final list a day or two prior) made the final cut.

Not only was the speech interesting and informative on its own merit, but entertaining because of the anticipation of hearing "your word." What's more, for those on the 'inside,' (since not everyone knew of the process), it was doubly entertaining.

I'm going to give it a whirl.

Submit your word or phrase to me (please use the comments section) for planned Dvar Torah I am giving on February 3rd at the Hashkama minyan @KMS

(BTW...hashkama=first time I haven't found an entry for a term in Wikipedia)

Need not be in attendance to participate (and, of course, full text will be posted.

Deadline: Jan. 28th

Blog-vey Redux...

Repeating last year's Blogvey

Just want to know...who reads. Please use 'anonymous' please :-)

Monday, January 15, 2007

The Train to NYC...

The train is –by far-one of the most productive places in my working life.

I get a seat, two outlets, a light, ready access to a bathroom and a water fountain, cell phone access, and 3.5 hours of uninterrupted focus time.

I have a corporate mentor who works out of the NYC office. Going up for a “shadow day” to see how she does things (she runs a HUGE business).

Monday night is the NYC chapter of the Friends of Jer gathering in the Starbucks at 98th/Broadway. Coming back on Tuesday PM.

It’ll be fun to get back to the Upper West Side (UWS), where Tamar and I met and where my US-based professional career took off (call out to the Snickelways team!) Haven’t been back in 3 years.

Teaching risk/reward calculations...

A friend of mine once told me that he never says "no" to his kids. He says "Yes" with conditions.

For example:
"Can I have a lollipop?"
"Yes...if you finish all your vegetables."
Or "Yes...tomorrow."

You get the idea.

The other night, Calanit was having spaghetti with tomato sauce...while wearing a white shirt. We asked her to wear a bib. She declined.

In the old days, I would have used my authority and power to get her to do it.

This time, I said..."ok, tonight we will have a lesson in risk and reward calculation."

"Calanit, if you don't wear a bib and you spill sauce on your shirt, you will not watch Backyardigans tomorrow. If you don't wear a bib and don't spill, then you will have successfully demonstrated that you don't need one and you can take some measure of satisfaction in that achievement."

I reiterated the trade-off two more times. She agreed to the terms, elected to not wear a bib....

and there were no stains on her shirt after dinner. We were impressed and she was VERY proud.

Battle of the Blog...

You've heard of Celebrity Deathmatch and the Iron Chef.

Welcome to the Battle of the Blog!!

In this corner, the Blog-reader Commenting Champion, Gadi. (see pic).

His track record is unassailable. He regularly quotes my life back to me and if you look in the Comments section of most posts (or in the Comment roll on the nav bar to the right), he is the most prolific commentator-by far.

And in the other corner, the Challenger who will go only by the initials "RW" who threw down the gauntlet via email (to me-which I fwd'ed to Gadi!) saying:
I’m a very loyal reader actually. I am confident I can give Gadi a run for his
money. :-)

The Background

I had the pleasure of discovering that a long-time acquaintance is a daily, avid reader of this blog. Heretofore, a silent observer, she reached out via email and we began a correspondence.

I think she has now gotten more than she bargained for :-)

The Rules
Not sure...a few possible criteria.
  1. Most high quality blog comments (as judged by other readers) over a set period of time (say 2 weeks)
  2. Until one of them says "mercy" and surrenders via a "Comment War of Attrition."

How to figure out who the real champ is?

Any other pretenders to the throne out there?

Gadi does have one thing in his favor....It rhymes with "Roc-ky!"

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Football on a Sunday Afternoon...

Calanit and Erez enjoying dinner in their booster seats (here while watching the Giants-Eagles playoff game and today the NE-SD game)

Am I raising them well or what?

The Faces of Courage...

It's both exhiliarating and humbling to be in the presence of people who so clearly live by their principles.

On the one hand, you feel ALIVE seeing how "common" people strive to reach their full potential.

And, on the other, you wonder....Am I doing all I can to reach my potential?

Much like Tamar's brother who recently moved to Israel, Shmuel and Leah Goldman picked up their stakes in the US (many years ago) and committed to living in the Jewish state.

It hasn't always been easy, of course. Their families are here and the economy there isn't always the best, but they are determined.

You can see their love of life, Israel, and the Jewish people in their eyes...and their actions back it up. It's inspiring. They just bought their first home, have 3 children, and with each passing day, the roots grow deeper. They are truly building a life based on their values and principles.

Though the kids and I had about 30 minutes only to see them on Sunday, we felt invigorated (or at least I did-the kids were falling apart) by their presence.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Lapel Pin Hobby...

When i was 7, my parents took us on a trip to England. Wherever we went, I wanted, of course, a souvenir.

The most cost-effective things to buy (and simple to transport) were lapel pins. Since that trip, I have established a fairly respectable collection of lapel pins (not buttons). Pins have 2 parts (a back and front) whereas buttons are one piece.

I've found in my travels that they are easy to find (usually right near the cash register) and easy to travel with.

As of last count (thanks to Barak and Rebecca!), I'm over 616.

You can see the full list here of each pin, where/when I got it, and any special notes about it.

Oh...and if you have lapel pins you'd like to donate, let me know. As you can see, you'll receive acknowledgement for ages to come.

The 16 year old male mind...

At lunch the other day, the nephew of our host and hostess joined us.

Within the first 2 minutes of our conversation (I think it was in response to my question of "oh, where are your parents?") he said something along the lines of:

"My parents make a project out of everything. I just sit back and laugh at

Now that I'm on the other side of the parental divide, I was taken aback by such brazen disrespect.

After a few more minutes, my mind began to recalibrate...."THIS IS PRECISELY how a teenager is going to talk. It's part of the development process."

I adjusted my posture and took into better account precisely who my audience was. I am not sure exactly what I did, though I think the goal was to demonstrate that
  1. shock value did not shock me
  2. I could give as well as receive
  3. I could call his bluff

Once it was established, at least this is how I interpreted it, that we were, in his eyes at least, equals (interesting, isn't it?), we proceeded to have a number of very interesting conversations.

And, as Tamar noted, towards the end, he even displayed some respect towards me (though I deserve it less than his parents...but that's another story.)

Got to remember your audience...and at what stage of life they are.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Three Types of People and Hockey

Had the good fortune to be the recipient of married Blog Readers Jacob and Panina's generosity.

After donating blood at the Verizon center (she's B- and he's O+ proving that opposites attract), they were given free tickets to the Caps-Flyers hockey game.

After calling an unconfirmed number of people who turned Jacob down, I was offered the chance to go. Having NEVER attended a hockey game there, I figured why not?

Actually, the motivation was the opportunity to hang out with 2 of my favorite people (and it is exceedingly rare that they are married to one another.)

Both of them are what I term "Anvils."

Side digression:
In my overly simplified worldview, there are three types of people.

  1. "Butter"=You give them an idea and it goes right through them, "like a hot knife through butter."
  2. "Pillows"=You give them an idea, they get it, but nothing really comes back.
  3. "Anvils"=You give them an idea, sparks fly, there's a lot of commotion, but when your thought comes back, it's a lot more refined and sharper.

Our topics included:

  • the economics of the NHL
  • marital/relationship development benchmarks
  • the economic disincentive for Metro employees to help customers
  • the racial composition of the crowd
  • the ethical/legal challenges that arise from sneaking a water bottle into the center
  • the changing nature of relationships due to digital technology
  • the discomfort that arises from the change in business attire over time
  • Canadian provinces and territories (incl. Nanuvut)
  • ...and many more

Any long-time reader of this blog will have no trouble understanding why I like these two.

What did surprise me, however, is that Panina (pictured w/her girlfriends-about 10 games/year) is a more serious fan than Jacob (with the bag over his head...just kidding...this was some Flyers fan--and the Flyers are terrible this year.).

In fact, she rebuked me loudly for asking her a question while the game was on!

And here's one more tidbit for you from their joint wisdom.

The Three "Pillars" of Marriage

  1. Dont' Be a Jerk
  2. Don't Keep Score
  3. Respect Your Spouse

Annoying Drop Downs...

annoying drop down
Originally uploaded by jer979.
Call me Americacentric, but I can't stand it when I go to a reg form like this one and I have to scroll ALL THE WAY DOWN to get to US or English.

For most sites I visit, the primary visitors are from the US or one of 7 other countries (I did see one site where the G-7 or so were listed first).

It just makes more sense to make it as easy for most customers/visitors to move on.

I think the folks in Azerbaijan won't mind too much.

Locked in to your cell phone contract?

Don't you hate the termination fees of $200 or more if you want to end your cell phone contract?

There's a new company CellSwapper (good article is here) that plays matchmaker between people wanting to change service provider....the beauty of it...if you transfer your account to someone else, you don't get charged the fee!

It's a GREAT use of technology to solve a market inefficiency.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Vacation Destinations...

My colleague is going on her honeymoon to Hawaii this week. It's one of 6 states I haven't visited, but the one I most want to of those remaining (of course the competition isn't so fierce, think Nebraska and North Dakota.)

I was surfing around and found a cool site for Hawaii Vacation Rentals, which just prompted me to think more about this subject. Hey, maybe I'll fwd her the link :-)

note: sponsored post

What motivates people...

In the world of marketing, we spend a LOT of time trying to figure out what motivates people to do some task or engage in some activity.

You want people to come to the event you are hosting? What's the hot button that will get them there? What incentive will get the job done to make people change their routines to attend?

For the past month (and next two), Microsoft is aggressively promoting the Launch (register here) of the new versions of Office (2007), Windows (Vista) and Exchange (2007). We are trying to figure out: what will it take to get people to take a day out of their schedule to find out about the new products.

Was talking to an acquaintance of mine this weekend. He's the CFO of a relatively large mid-size company. He tells me that he is going to the event.

"What is motivating you to go?" I ask.
"I read a website called Slick Deals and someone posted that if you attend these events, Microsoft frequently gives away a free, licensed version of the software. (approx. $300 value for business customers)."

I was a bit's a top-level executive who is willing to spend an entire day (or half-day) of his time for the possibility of getting 1 copy of software which is worth less than the time he is investing.

On top of that, it made me realize just how people find out about events (or are encouraged to go.)

If we had called this guy or emailed him or mailed him, he probably would have ignored us.

Another tribute to the power of word of mouth marketing.

Aspiring comic...

Blog reader Jason sent this in (his roommate). Pretty funny guy, aspiring comic. 5 mins total.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Allergy Notification Etiquette....

Your kid is having a playdate at a friend's house. Your kid has allergies of whatever kind.

Who's responsible for making sure the host parent knows?

  1. The parent of the kid should tell the host family
  2. The host family should ask
Free polls from
Who is responsible?
Parents of visiting child Parents of hosting child

Gifts for children...

Every parent will tell you this...the box that the gift comes in is more exciting than the gift itself.

Here, Erez plays with a cardboard box. In the background is the brand-new, freshly assembled Activity Table.

We don't learn, do we? :-)

Performance Review: Stomp

Went to see Stomp on Saturday night at the Warner Theater in DC.

Whenever we go out (yes, I know 3 times in 1.5 weeks-a new record), I do my best to make sure that it is dance related. That way, Tamar will be happy.

It's an excellent display of percussion capabilities using every day materials such as brooms, trashcans, and lighters. In some ways, it is a social commentary--you can make music anywhere with anything. One thing that struck me is that the materials were all of the blue-collar work variety...I thought they need to update for the post-industrial era--try making music with laptops, cell phones, laser printers, keyboards, mice, and monitors.

Seriously, though, it was a great night. Here are some clips

Women buying homes...

The National Association of Realtors found in a study of American home buyers in 2006 that a record 22 percent were single women, while just 9 percent were single men. Single women have outnumbered single men as home buyers since the mid-1980s and are responsible for 40 percent of condo purchases nationally

Call out to super-loyal blog reader, Tjada who sent this in (and is pictured on the front page of the Seattle paper)

Monday, January 08, 2007

Creating a Need...

The job of a marketer is to create a "want" and then turn that into a "need."

There are plenty of ways to do this, but one that has affected me recently is the what might be called the inadvertent "advertorial."

I have taped a few episodes of "American Eats" on the History Channel, most recently "The History of Garlic," "Pizza," and "Coffee."

These are hour long episodes (thanks to the DVR only about 40 minutes) where in History Channel fashion, they chronicle the evolution of these foods from their origin to modern times. As a student of history, they are fascinating in their own right.

I've found, however, that as I understand more of the historical context of these foods, my appreciation of them is heightened. After "Garlic," I was on a Garlic binge for a while and I now look at the food differently and appreciate it more-feeling better about the fact that I am eating it. After Pizza, I made my own and savored each bite a bit more--really.

Coffee was particularly interesting. I am no connosieur, but I do appreciate good coffee. I've read Howard Schultz's auto-biography (no link as I wouldn't recomment a purchase) and can understand where he is coming from re: Italian coffee bar experiences.

While each of the numerous experts on the program had a different opinion about their favorite coffee bean, one thing that impressed me was that ALL of them said they preferred to brew their coffee at home using a French Press (pictured-I had seen one but didn't know it was called that.)

For a while, I had been more than content to drink a cup of Elite instant coffee from Israel (it's actually pretty good), but after seeing the documentary, I had a want that became a need and for ($30 or so, I could fill it).

So, now, I am the owner of ground coffee beans (Starbucks, of course, since I don't know any better and we are susceptible to the power of brands) and a French Press.

And the kicker...of course I think it tastes better. It must, right?

New Year's Eve...

Within the Jewish calendar, there are plenty of ways to mark time. These festivals, however, are-for the good-marked by synagogue activities, involvement of children, and some restrictions.

New Year's Eve presents a unique opportunity for adults to get together-sans children-as adults and just enjoy a real "dinner party."

For the past 3 years, we've had the good fortune to join our good friends, Mosh and Tamar Teitelbaum (special call out to Tamar's sister-Rachel-who I've heard is a loyal blog reader :-) for an elegant multi-course meal to ring in the new year with good friends and good conversation.

By investing so much effort in the WHOLE experience-way beyond the food-Mosh and Tamar have made a time within the calendar and raise it well above the mundane. This is not a simple affair.

The food preparations itself requires hours of labor-cured pastrami lox, Vichyssoise, main courses and desserts (all homemade). But on top of that, their attention to detail-tablecloths, lighting, napkin holders, and much more show how much they care about creating an environment conducive to relaxed, adult conversation.

It's a reminder that to have friends over for dinner is not a big deal (well, it's work), but to make a memorable, lasting impression that provides a unique experience...that requires going the extra mile.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Validation of the approach...

It's not a big secret that our approach to inviting people for Sabbath meals rubs some people the wrong way. (Both online and offline comments.)

Of course, when our worldview is reinforced by someone who likes it, we put excessive weight on that comment (while, of course, discounting the negative feedback :-)

At lunch, yesterday, Gail told us:
"I hate making the challah and dessert for meals, so your insistence on
making a substantive contribution
to the meal works perfectly for me!"

Thanks for the external validation, Gail!

Marriage in a nutshell...part 2

Heard a funny comment today by a man.

"The last time I put my foot down in my marriage was when I broke the glass
under the chuppah."

Background here

Marriage in a nutshell...

Our friend Gail summarized marriage in a simple, yet profound way.

She calls it the "Theory of Compatible Neuroses."

You just need the person who will put up with your Neuroses (or as Jews might say "shtick") better than all the rest. :-)

So true.

Medical routine...

I guess the fact that I have to take one 200 mcg of Synthroid every night has finally become routine.

How do I know?

The other morning, I paused and couldn't remember if I had taken the pill the night before. It's become a habit.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Online Poker Phenomenon...

The kids and I are big fans of watching Poker on TV. There's something about the elements of strategy and tactics that is exhiliarating, plus, there's nothing like saying, "I'm All In."

If you've ever watched it, you see that pretty much every player has an endorsement from some online poker site. They are really proliferating. In fact, back when I was in Israel in March, it seemed like every Israeli was in the online poker business. It's definitely one of the Net's biggest profit centers.

Well, if this is of interest to you, just thought I'd share a link to Free Poker that has information on playing poker (particularly Hold'em) online, reviews of online casinos, as well as links that allow you to get discounts on your new account at those casinos.

Let me know if you win...hey do I get a cut if you do?

Note: this is a sponsored post

Friday, January 05, 2007

Negatives and Positives...

How come human nature is to put a greater weight on negative things than on positive things? And why does one negative thing can wipe out a bunch of positives?

The ongoing experience with NetBank (began here) is a good example.

Before X-mas, I put in a mail deposit for a rather large check (and some smaller ones).

I've been a customer for at least 5 years and in that time, I can only think of one example of where a check deposit has been delayed. The customer service has been stellar and I enjoy working with them.

Normally, the deposits get into my bank account within 3-4 days. It's been 2 weeks and it's still not there (believe me, I know how to fill out the forms and mail in the envelopes by now).

It's made me rethink my check deposit strategy.

It's certainly more convenient to put it in the mail, but it might be less risk to drive by the ATM of my local bank (Chevy Chase-which I just use for ATM withdrawals) since I know they got it.

What I'll probably do is put my deposits in Chevy Chase and then do a EFT into NetBank where I manage my money. More hassle for me, but more guaranteed.

Bonus points in this story again to Jeff @NetBank. I emailed him at 8am today to see if he had any ideas re: the missing deposit. Not 8 minutes later, my home phone was ringing (I felt bad for Calanit who was standing there cold waiting for me to get her dressed!-but that's not Jeff's problem.)

He listened to my story and then wrote back:
Have the item reissued, send it to me via 2 day air and I will reimburse
you the cost of the stop payment and the shipping.

I do love his commitment to customer service.

Of course, it addresses the big check issue, but unfortunately the $250 or so in other deposits from 4-5 people (like our neighbor, my sister-in-law, and the kids that Tamar tutors are pretty much gone. It's tough to go back and ask for a reissue of those.)

So, despite this noble customer service effort, this one negative experience-for the moment- counterbalances 5 years of great deposit experience. (not sure it's fair, but that's how I feel now.)

Now that I think about it, this sounds like the way my (and most?) marriage works. I do a week's worth of "good stuff' and then one big screw up and I'm in the doghouse. Hmmmm....

Uh oh, I think that last sentence is the one big screw-up of the week :-)


My dad and sister just got back from a trip to Antarctica.

Some phenomenal pictures here

Teach Your Children...How To Swim

Got a call out of the blue from Morty (loyal blog reader) in NYC the other day. He's a driving force behind the Manhattan Island Foundation which sponors a 28.5 mile marathon swim each year and a great entrepreneur.

At some point, our conversation turned to religion and Morty in his sarcastic, self-effacing (sort-of), and humorous style lamented (only a bit) that he wasn't a "better Jew." [whatever that means].

I told him that, in fact, he's probably a more observant Jew than he realizes. You see, the MIF has helped over 40,000 kids learn how to swim since 1993 and he's just following the Talmud's guidance (but maxing it out.)

You see, in Talmud: Kiddushin 29a, it says:

"Our Rabbis taught:
A father has the following obligations towards his son- to circumcise him, to redeem him, if he is a firstborn, to teach him Torah, to find him a wife, and to teach him a craft or a trade. And there are some who say that he must also teach him how to swim."

He's just maxing the last one out (to cover the bases in case the others don't work out :-)).

Seriously, a great organization. Check out the website.

Lessons Learned on Efficiency

It's becoming more and more obvious to me that the key to success in life is not smarts/intelligence, it's not necessarily who you know either.

It's your ability to focus-and remain focused-on a task.

Can you clear out the clutter of:
  • email lists you don't read anymore
  • not answering the phone when you're in the middle of another task (unless it's your spouse!)
  • NOT multi-tasking. Yes, I'm serious

Remove the distractions. Stay focused. Get the job done.

The more I think about this, the more it sounds familiar...some of these themes were echoed in The Millionaire Mind.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Movie Review: Thank You For Smoking

I heard a short snippet from this movie while listening to NPR and was impressed by the witty dialogue. Put it on my NetFlix queue.

And it was worth it. As one reviewer put it, this is not a spoof, rather a sophisticated satire on lobbying and government. I found myself laughing out loud at times at the pure cleverness of the characters, the dialogue, heck the premise.

Perhaps because I appreciate what Washington DC is about in this respect did I enjoy it even more. It takes an ability to see the humor in any situation (like death via cigarette smoking!) to really enjoy this one.

I loved it and highly recommend it for both humor, screenplay, and social narrative.

Call me "Count von Epstein"...

Parents do a good job of asking each other, "how do you want to be called?"

Most people choose first names. Occasionally, there are parents who insist on their kids calling other adults "Mr." or "Mrs."

Growing up, my dad determined that he wanted to be "Sir David." He felt "David" was too casual for a 14 year old and "Mr. Epstein" too formal.

In his yearning to be an aristocrat/nobleman of the Victorian era, he knighted himself. To this day, it's his email address.

I decided to continue that tradition and asked to be called "Count von Epstein." (Here's why).

Some kids have taken to it...some very well.

Today, Yoni-a loyal blog reader-called me and related the following anecdote.

"My daughter woke me up on New Year's Day and asked about the New Year's
Eve dinner party. She asked who was there. I related the names. When I said your
name, she said:

'oh, and how is the Count?'"

Of course, there are those who prefer to call me "Senator." Here's why.