Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Roosevelts and Epsteins in New York

It was a relatively low-key day for us following a long day in NYC, so we had minimal objectives.
The first was the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Home and Library in Hyde Park.
Apparently, it was the first Presidential Library ever created and the only one established while the President was still in office.
We had a wonderful tour guide who taught us a great deal about FDR's early life and home life. I didn't know how he contracted polio (a Boy Scout Jamboree), for example, or how strained the relationship between Eleanor and her mother-in-law was.

It was a quicker visit than we would have liked, but it was still valuable.

The rest of the day was spent doing water tubing on Lake George. I had never been there, but it was special to the history of the NFO as she had spent many vacations there during her childhood.

It's 32 miles long and absolutely gorgeous and majestic, nestled into the big hills and mountains of the Lower Adirondacks.

We lucked out with the weather and had a great time on the Lake.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

New York State of Mind...Epsteins on the Road, Summer 2071

So it's not New's New York.

I had a previously scheduled commitment to speak at an event in New York City today so we took the Metro North in from Poughkeepsie to Grand Central Station. 

My kids had apparently read about the zodiac signs on the ceiling before and we discussed the historic importance of train terminals and why they were so ornate.

At that point, we split up with the NFO and my uncle taking the kids to lunch with my great uncle and great aunt and then to the Cooper-Hewitt Museum (which was a hit with the kids!), a walk across Central Park, a visit with the NFO's sister and then dinner on the West side.

Meanwhile, I went south to New York Law School where the event was held.

After I was done, since it was an absolutely beautiful day, I walked about 7 miles all the way up to meet them.

The best walking city in the world. Gorgeous weather. Another great day in the books.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Natural Beauty-- Epsteins in New England

Today, we took some time to appreciate the natural beauty of the region.  Our first stop was Lyman Orchards outside of Hartford where we picked raspberries and strawberries in an absolutely beautiful setting.

A great business if you ask me. Instead of paying people to pick fruit, you pay to pick the fruit.  I need to figure out how to replicate that!

Afterward, we made our way out of Connecticut and into New York where we will be for the rest of the trip.

We arrived in Poughkeepsie and walked halfway across the Hudson on what is apparently the world's longest elevated pedestrian footbridge.

It was a majestic day as we surveyed the Hudson Valley and we took the opportunity to talk about the historic importance of waterways, steamboats, the Erie Canal and trade/commerce.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Epsteins in New England-- the Literary Tradition

We left Maine in the morning and made our way to Derry, New Hampshire and the Robert Frost farm.

Though I was familiar with many of his poems, I certainly didn't appreciate much of his personal history at all.  We had an excellent guide who helped bring it to life for us.  He dropped out of college, married a sophisticated and educated woman who came from wealth and was gifted a farm by his grandfather-in-law.

Yet, he wasn't much of a farmer and maintained a somewhat atypical lifestyle for someone on a farm in many of the things he did; the items in his home, how he educated his children, and the fact that he didn't offer much of the produce for sale. It was there to feed his family.

At the same time, the rural environment provided him with the inspiration for many of his poems. The highlight, for me, was seeing the actual wall that inspired his poem, "the Mending Wall."

After a drive through the rest of New Hampshire and Massachusetts, we ended up in Hartford, CT where we went to the Mark Twain House.  The tour was fantastic (we took the "butler" tour where a man-Tom Raine- played the role of Twain's butler and guided us through the house accordingly.).

It was the house where Huck Finn, Tom Sawyer, and others were written. 

To be honest, I didn't know that Twain had lived in Hartford. I had always associated him with Missouri, but he had quite the life in Connecticut.

The house was opulent (money from his wife and her family- which I guess proves that to be a great New England male writer, your wife needs to have money- or at least that was the case once upon a time).

Though, apparently Twain blew all his money and ended up destitute for a decent portion of the latter half of his life.

Both of the writers, interestingly enough, were fond of technology and used many "cutting-edge" devices in their homes. That certainly made me feel better about some of my purchases.

If you are ever in the area, it is certainly well worth the visit.

A Weekend in Maine... Epsteins in New England

We made our way across New Hampshire to Maine where we spent the weekend.
On Thursday, we went paddleboarding on the New Meadows River courtesy of Sea Spray Kayaking.

It took us a bit of time to get used to it, but we had a wonderful time once we did. The water was exceedingly refreshing and paddleboarding is actually a great workout.

It wasn't so far from Freeport, ME which is the home of L.L. Bean and hence a massive outlet center. We figured "may as well," so we hit the mean streets and found a few bargains. We also posed with some hunting rifles because, well, why not?
Aftewards, we made our way to the Old Port part of Portland, which is a rejuvenated area like the Inner Harbor in Baltimore or numerous other urban renewal efforts.  It has a ton of bars and restaurants, but not so much for the kids, sadly. We did hear about a small gauge railroad and made our way over there, but we missed the train by 2 minutes. Oh well, at least we found some tasty vegan ice cream.
The Old Port has a great feel to it, but it was hot and my team wasn't so up for it.
For Shabbat, we went to Old Orchard Beach which has one of the oldest orthodox synagogues in Maine.  It was sparse in terms of attendance, but it was quite meaningful to pray in a building that was over 100 years old and represented a very different period when "OOB," as it's known was a popular destination for Jews from New York, Boston, and Montreal. 
Today, it is kept alive by the Weinstein brothers and they rely on summer visitors and donations to keep services going (though apparently the High Holidays attract 100+ people).
Still, it was a beautiful sanctuary and a nice experience.
The afternoon was about a perfect a beach day as you could ask for. So relaxing and refreshing and, at night, we hit the boardwalk and enjoyed some of the carnival rides.

Friday, June 23, 2017

How We Let Our Kids Plan Our New England Vacation

As we hatched the idea of going on an extended road trip this summer, the NFO and I came across an article in the Wall St. Journal that inspired us.

It suggested that we " Dare to Let the Children Plan Your Vacation." (link)

We thought that was a great idea.  So, we discussed with them and they agreed. I sent the following email setting up some parameters.  To their credit (and granted, it was Tonka -13- who did the bulk of the work), they made it happen.

Team Finland,
I am super excited that you are taking on the responsibility of planning our summer New England trip. 
Ima can give you the deadline of when we need the rough draft plan and when we need the final plan.
As for me, I am just documenting the things I care about, so you have them
  1. I like seeing how things are made. Manufacturing, technology, etc.
  2. I like historical locations
  3. I want us to do things that we cannot do in Maryland.  It should be "unique" to that location. If the answer to the question of "could we do this/something like this at home?" is yes, then we shouldn't do it on our vacation (with obvious exceptions like eating, drinking, bathing, swimming, breathing, talking, etc. ;-)
  4. I like exercise....workout rooms in hotels
  5. I need to have wi-fi (preferably free) in our hotel room
  6. I have to be in New York City for a presentation on the afternoon of June 27th.  The rest of you don't, but I will need to get there. It shouldn't be a huge deal, but something to keep in mind.
I think that does it...for now. Love, Abba

Here's the full article...
Summer is a time of family trips and outings. Figuring out a plan that suits everyone can be tricky. It pays to involve children in the decisions—without giving them too much control.
Taking part in family decision-making teaches children valuable skills. They learn to advocate for what they want, listen to others’ wishes and make compromises. But parents who have ceded some decision-making to their children warn there are right and wrong ways to do it.
The Johnson family of Denver is planning a car trip to western Colorado this summer. Amber Johnson says her daughter Hadley, 12, persuaded the family to go jet-boating, racing over the Colorado River at speeds of up to 40 miles an hour in boats driven by professionals.
It’s a plan Ms. Johnson and her husband Jamie would never have chosen for the family. But Hadley sees children’s museums as cheesy. “I’m kind of growing up and everything,” Hadley says. “I’m a little more crazy and adventurous than museums.”
Bode, 10, says he was nervous at first about jet-boating. Ms. Johnson reassured him that passengers wear life jackets and the boats are safe. Now he’s on board with the plan. “I think I might actually learn something, including having a positive attitude and being willing to do new things,” he says.
Giving the children a voice keeps them excited and interested, Ms. Johnson says. It also means suffering through their mistakes. Bode and Hadley picked a hotel online for a road trip last summer because it had a big pool, says Ms. Johnson, editor of Mile High Mamas, an online community. She suggested they might want to do more research, but “they jumped on it because it looked really fun,” Ms. Johnson says.
When they arrived, the pool was closed for renovation. Ms. Johnson sees such “soft failures,” or missteps with minor consequences, as learning experiences. “We would call ahead and do more research” next time, Hadley says. 
Internet savvy helps children gain influence because they can research travel options online with ease. Jack Ezon, president of Ovation Vacations, a New York City travel agency, says clients bring children as young as 7 or 8 to planning sessions. Mr. Ezon recalls one 12-year-old who made a convincing argument for his family to fly Emirates Airline because of its business class.
Parents can channel that kind of energy by setting spending limits or offering acceptable choices and letting children research and advocate for the ones they want, says Sean Grover, a New York City psychotherapist who works with children and teens. Parents should make the final decision, says Mr. Grover, author of “When Kids Call the Shots.”


Tips for the best ways to let the youngest members of the family help plan a vacation.
  • Offer choices of acceptable activities or destinations.
  • Let children advocate for plans they want.
  • Keep control of final decisions.
  • Give in to demands that violate your goals or budget.
  • Make decisions when you’re stressed or rushed.
  • Allow one child always to take the lead.
Gina Luker of Lawrenceburg, Tenn., and her husband Mitch enjoy attending live concerts with their four children, ages 17 to 26. They allowed their youngest daughter, Hannah, to choose the most concerts, including Fall Out Boy, says Ms. Luker, editor of a blog on food, crafts and decorating. Ms. Luker stopped saying yes two years ago when Hannah, then 15, no longer seemed grateful or excited over VIP passes to meet her favorite bands.
Now 17, Hannah appreciates that her parents let her have a voice but also set limits. Being allowed to drive family decision-making “gave me a big head,” she says. “Parents have to walk a fine line: They shouldn’t be afraid to say no, but they also need to say yes sometimes, so teens don’t feel trapped” in a world of their parents’ making.
Parents should model good decision-making for small children and give them a small but growing role as they go through school, says Dave Anderson, a clinical psychologist with the Child Mind Institute, a nonprofit mental-health organization in New York City. He advises parents to progress through “I do, we do, you do” stages of coaching from childhood through the teen years, with a goal of instilling independent decision-making skills.
Among those skills are listening to others’ ideas, accepting compromises and being open to new experiences, says Eileen Ogintz, founder of Taking the Kids, a website on family travel. “Maybe one kid is all about the thrill rides and another kid is a foodie. You can allow each of them to have a voice, and then they’re each exposed to something new,” Ms. Ogintz says.
Yana and Raul Gutierrez ask their children Marcos, 13, and Maya, 11, for travel ideas, “but my husband and I always have veto power” and insist on destinations where the children can learn about geography or other cultures, says Ms. Gutierrez, of Montclair, N.J. They agreed to Maya’s request to visit China two years ago because they’d already been planning to travel there at some point, Ms. Gutierrez says. While both children were excited about seeing pandas, they learned “how much more China has to offer than pandas.”
When Marcos asked to visit Fiji after seeing ads for an underwater hotel there, his parents said no because the family traveled to the South Pacific last year. They gave Marcos and Maya a say in planning a trip to Indonesia this summer, however. The family is looking forward to snorkeling, hiking volcanoes and visiting temples.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Manufacturing in Vermont- Team Finland in New England, Day 3

Today's theme emerged by accident (a bit) as we headed north from Springfield into the Green Mountain State.  And it is GREEN. So beautiful.

I knew that Vermont means "Green Mountain" but wasn't so familiar with all of the French influence (it says "Bienvenue" on the welcome sign to the state). Once we looked it up on Wikipedia, it made sense. Apparently, 900,000 Quebecois migrated to the state in the early 1900s and 10% of the state still speaks French!

Our first stop was in Waterbury, CT at the Green Mountain Coffee Visitor's Center.  Bottom line...skip it. One panel about how they get their coffee and then a cafe.  I did get a free cup of coffee, but honestly not enough to make me a brand fanatic.

Stop #2 was Ben and Jerry's. While we were disappointed that the assembly line wasn't working while we were there, the introductory movie did a great job of telling the story of the brand and their commitment to social causes. The kids got to see the assembly line and, of course, the free sample at the end.

It was fun to see all the license plates and international travelers (Swedes, Israelis, Malaysians, and more) there. Gives you a sense of how much of an impact they have had.

Then, we headed to Shelburne, Vermont where we had a tour of the Vermont Teddy Bear factory. Our guide (Pam) was great and it was impressive to see not only their commitment to quality (a lifetime guarantee), but the fact that so much is still done by hand. I couldn't decide if that was good or not, but it did show an appreciation of craftsmanship and enhance the overall brand story as well.

We ended the day in Red Rocks Park on the shore of Lake Champlain which is absolutely gorgeous and where I did a critical paternal task...taught my daughters how to skip rocks.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Epsteins in New England, Day 2- East Haven and Springfield

Though the end of Day 1 was plagued by thunderstorms, Day 2 of "Epsteins in New England" or shall I say, "Team Finland in New England" started off beautifully.

We hit the town beach in East Haven and though the NFO and I didn't go in, the kids had a great time.  The weather was perfect and we both remarked about how it is so great that the three of them play so well together (most of the time).

Apparently, according to some locals, about 40 houses in East Haven had been destroyed by Superstorm Sandy, but the town is extremely quaint and picturesque now.

Afterwards, we hit the road north to Springfield, MA where we first stopped at the Basketball Hall of Fame. I was there about 20+ years ago and they have since moved into a new building. While the architecture is nice from the road (looks like a ball), when you get to the parking lot, the sign "Basketball Hall of Fame" gets as much prominence as the adjoining restaurants. Honestly, it was tacky.

Nadia said it best, "Is the Hall of Fame in the mall?"

The HOF itself was fine with some nice memorabilia but the NFO and I both thought that the Football Hall of Fame was better because they did a much nicer job of connecting the history of the sport to American history overall.

There was some of that in Springfield, but not as well done.

The whole building circles around a large basketball floor on the main level and it's open. The consequence is that, while you are reading the exhibits and watching videos, you hear non-stop bouncing of balls and people shouting about their shots. Plus, the obvious corporate tie-ins (a room dedicated to Nike) just made it feel a bit cheap. Look at the sponsorship list for the enshrinement ceremony and you get the picture. I wasn't so impressed by it. It was good, just not great.

What was great was the Dr. Seuss Museum we visited afterward. It was magical. Imagine walking through a Dr. Seuss book and you know what it was like. Really first rate. I loved it.

In the same complex (and you get admission to all with your ticket price), there is the museum of fine arts where we had the chance to see some Monet, Picasso, and some other great works as well.

Tomorrow, off to Vermont....

Monday, June 19, 2017

Epsteins in New England

Team Finland has hit the road for a summer trip (we go North in the summer and South in the winter) and we're going after New England this year.

Day 1 saw us in New London, CT where we visited my mom's alma mater (Connecticut College) and the US Coast Guard Academy (my dad served in the USCG, but didn't attend the Academy.)

I kind of felt bad for the USCG. The museum had a major theme...." we do really great work, but most people don't appreciate us compared to the other services."  

Which is probably true, on both fronts.  The museum was great. We definitely don't appreciate the USCG as much as we could and my kids who are "Hamilton" fans were thrilled to know that it was Hamilton who started the forefather to the USCG, the "Revenue Cutter Service."

From there, we headed to Newport, RI and the oldest synagogue in North America, the Touro Synagogue.

During these troubling times, it was really powerful and inspiring to appreciate the history of Rhode Island, the only colony founded 100% based on religious tolerance.

The synagogue also has a special place in history because of George Washington's famous letter to the congregation in 1790 and the words which resonate particularly strongly today.

For happily the Government of the United States gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

We're headed (a bit back-tracking) to New Haven (will check out Yale) and then off to Springfield, MA and the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The 4 Rules of Epstein

The other night, we had our kick-off session for the Never Stop Marketing Summer Intern program.

Nadia and Paco sat in on it. Naturally, they both read the 11 page prep material as well.

Nadia also took responsibility for taking notes on the whiteboard and, in so doing, captured the 4 biggest rules of the Epstein house.  In other words, how I want them to live their lives.

  1. Never Stop Marketing-- obviously.
  2. Go big or go home. (But sometimes, especially when you are in college, it's better to go home).
  3. Leave it all on the field. All the time. No excuses.
  4. If you don't ask, you never get.

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Paris Climate Accord and What I'm Doing About It

Over the past few years, I've become increasingly concerned about climate change.

I really worry about it.

Trump or no Trump, I am increasingly skeptical about government's ability (US or otherwise) to actually solve big problems.

It's sad.

But that doesn't mean I am going to sit around and wait for someone else to fix the problem.

Here's what I am committing to in order to do my little part.

  1. I've committed to a near vegan lifestyle (for now, I still eat eggs).
    Like it or not, the meat and dairy we eat probably does more to impact the environment than carbon emissions. That's an inconvenient truth.
  2. I intend to not buy another plastic water bottle unless it's a truly life threatening situation. (Note: this doesn't apply to my wife and/or kids and I won't judge them for it.) I will carry a refillable water bottle with me wherever I go.
  3. I will bring a refillable coffee mug when I go out for coffee whenever I can (let's call this 50% of the time).
  4. I have solar panels on my roof.
  5. I will continue to compost.
  6. I will continue my work with blockchain-based technology, because I believe that it powers a new type of decentralized organizations that are going to be better suited to solve these big problems.
  7. I will continue to migrate (when possible) to more efficient lighting in my home.
Will this save the world by itself? Probably not. But if we go down, it's not going to be for my lack of effort.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Commitment to Coffee and God

Maybe in that order.


Anyway, you may enjoy this story of how my synagogue got corporate sponsorship of our late night (Shavuot) festivities.

Monday, June 05, 2017

Budapest- 14 Miles on Foot in 1 Day

I told the CEO of one of my portfolio companies (Fermat) that I would come visit him in Budapest on one condition...That we did all of our meetings while walking the city.

I hadn't been to Budapest in 20 years and had no idea when I would get back.

So, off we set...Over the course of 11 hours, we covered 14 miles, including:

The Liberty Statue, originally dedicated to the memory of the Soviet soldiers who died liberating Hungary and subsequently changed after the 1989 transition to democracy.

The Dohany Street Synagogue, the largest in Europe. Apparently, it was where Theodor Herzl had his Bar Mitzvah.  There's also (unusually so) a cemetery immediately adjacent to the synagogue. In 1945 when the Soviets liberated the city, they found 2000+bodies piled high in the courtyard and a mass grave was created.

There's a garden of remembrance as well and a small plaza dedicated to Raoul Wallenberg for his efforts to save Hungarian Jewry.

Apparently, in the winter of 1944/1945, nearly all of the deaths in Auschwitz were Hungarian Jews. 

The tour guide was excellent. A young man who didn't know he was Jewish until he was 15 because his great-grandfather, in an effort to protect the family, burned the identity cards that had "Judaism" as the religion printed on them.
I know the Hungarian Nazi sympathizers were right up there with the Poles in terms of their hatred of the Jews, so I'm not whitewashing history here.  

I did notice, in more than a few places, the very public pronouncements (both official and otherwise) of Hungary's complicit role in exterminating Jews. There were a few places (like the memorial behind this sign below) where the blame was placed squarely on German shoulders.

This is the memorial that blames external factors.

But there's obviously a current of people who are openly challenging it...and the signs are allowed to remain up.

 One of the most poignant sights is the shoes along the bank of the Danube, which is a memorial to the Jews who were brought down to the river, told to undress, and then shot, falling into the river.

Apparently, some were psychologically tortured first (asked to get undressed, witnessing execution of those next to them, and then told to return back to the ghetto-which had 70,000 people in a 24 square block area.)

Obviously, it was quite sobering.

We also saw the Hungarian parliament, which is a magnificent building.

and then made our way up the hill to Buda castle for fantastic vistas of the city and the river below.

and there's a horse statue up near the castle grounds. It is made of bronze, but apparently, it's good luck if you put your hands on the horse's testicles.

That's why they are shiny.

Naturally, I wouldn't want to miss the opportunity to have some good luck come my way now, would I?

When I was here 20 years ago, Budapest was still fresh out of the Communist era.

Now, it's a different city. The level of English (at least among the young in touristy areas is first rate). It's VERY clean. There's a modern looking tram system. Some fashionable eateries/cafe's and, I'm told, it's very safe

It's VERY walkable and the river is majestic. I certainly lucked out in terms of weather.

They don't use Euros, btw. (which I figured out when I got here---oh well) and there's definitely a lot of energy. Great bike paths, a lot of runners, and I found people to be generally very friendly.

Towards the outskirts (as you come in from the airport), there's plenty of Soviet era architecture left over, but as you get into the city center, there are some really nice buildings that have a ton of character and charm.