Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Some Stuff I Got Rid Of Today (Partial List)

To Goodwill:
a roasting pan
some kind of grill or something, I think
six decorative Christmas nutcrackers
more books
a George Foreman Lean Green Fat-Busting Grilling Machine. Or something. You know. One of those.
a bread machine

To dumpster:
scraps of fabric
old plastic shelving
plaster molds for magnets? I think that's what they are.
ancient pillowcases
trash, trash, trash
odd pieces of glass
more fabric
shoes, so old and smelly that it defied belief
a pair of crutches
odd pieces of Tupperware
a devil costume, complete with red plastic pitchfork
a paper cutter
a broken hatrack

Future unclear:
gumball machine
beveled pieces of glass (I don't know what they're from)
the folding wheelchair

Sweat and Tears

Last full day of packing before we get the U-Haul.

Getting the keys at 5 PM. Getting them from the gal who realtored the house. Need to give her a check for the last $500 that wasn't mentioned as part of the deposit till we went to sign. GRRRRR.

Hauling out stuff I did not know we had to the dumpster. Junk that defies description. If anyone wants to know why the Third World is so low on stuff, it's because all the spare stuff in the universe has been being stored at my house. Yellowed Christmas wrap.

Next-door neighbor comes over to talk. Comments that my machetenim (who had the house last), used to have a lot of yard sales. Discusses how my fella's mother is quite a craftswoman. (Leftover craft stuff lines the bottom of the dumpster now.)

I am shvitzing like an aardvark in heat. I can feel sweat trickling down my legs into my Uggs. I do not want to be discussing the charming means by which some of this stuff got into my house. Must get rid of it. Must get rid of it. I have to be polite to the neighbor. I have to take a shower. I have to throw out all this stuff that should have gone to Burundi, and took a wrong turn somewhere.

Also, the boyfriend is allergic to all the dust we are raising and is currently packing clothes and sniffling a lot. Also, occasionally, sneezing loud enough to be heard in Burundi. He's now asking to go to Goodwill, so he can get outside and be in a less allergenic environment for a while.

The new place has hardwood floors.

Gotta go.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

The Car Left Today!

Early today, someone called and told himself the boyfriend they didn't want the car.

By that time I had called the original place that would give the profits to Hebrew Academy, then I'd called Goodwill, and then the Polly Klass Foundation, but my fella could not identify who had called back, so we were unclear on who was out of the running. (I later narrowed it down to Goodwill.

During breakfast, my fella commented that at work he had watched a TV report on a house fire. No one was hurt, but the entire house, and everything in it, was destroyed. "And just for a split second I thought..." he began, and I realized what he was going to say, "hey, that's an idea!"

After breakfast I dealt with some other small crises, and then called the original car donation's tow place back. Eventually we realized that my donation paperwork had been completely lost. I supplied more information. They said someone would get back to me. I hung up, murmuring "I've heard that line before".

We took a load of stuff to Goodwill. It's gonna take another couple of runs. I would throw everything in the dumpster tomorrow, but a lot of it is books. I can't throw books in a dumpster. Period. So we may have to take some of this with us. They have a Goodwill in El Cerrito, I believe.

And then, a miracle! Around twelve-thirty, the phone rang, and an upbeat voice with a heavy Chinese accent asked me: "Hi, this J & K Towing. Do you have a car for donation pick-up? It's being donated to...Heber Academy?"

I almost wept. "When can you be here?" I asked this wonderful new friend. "Is half an hour OK?" he said. I agreed to half an hour. Then the boyfriend and I did the "we have a tow truck coming" dance. It mostly involves jumping up and down in place, but it's still a dance.

At one-ten, the tow truck man showed up. He was terrific. He and the fella did the paperwork, and then I stood out on the street like a little kid watching him hook the car up and drive it away.

Half an hour later, I was taking a break from packing the bedroom up, when I heard the sound of a vehicle with a diesel engine coming slowly down the street. I sat up in a panic. It's the tow guy, I thought. They don't want it. He's bringing it back!

I sat there in a hold sweat, and after a while, the sound slowly went away. I looked out into the street. The car was still gone.

After a while, my fella came into the room, and we talked for a while about moving details. "You know, when the mail truck came by I thought," he said, and for the second time that day I could finish his thought.

"You thought they were bringing it back. Me too."

"Yeah, I ran to the window to check."

It's still gone. Our first car together has, (yesssss!) left.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Men's Elbows, Bee's Knees

Okay, I now have a question about the halacha. If you know answers, post 'em, otherwise the Balabusta is going to have to do some research.

Over on DovBear's site, they are having a happy, rowdy discussion of women being called to the Torah, and proper dress for doing so, and someone asked why there was no issue of men's elbows being uncovered in shul. DovBear replied that men's elbows are not ervah. I've seen enough men's elbows to have no issue with that. But...

OK, what on men IS ervah? Or what on men needs to be covered?

Both in issues of dress and of kol isha, I have, lots of times, seen detailed explanations and debates about what women are required to cover up, literally or figuratively. In many cases I have seen explanations or rationales given almost exclusively relating to decently dressed (and quiet) women not arousing men sexually.

What halacha relates to what men can uncover? I realize that both for halachic reasons and reasons of traditional misogyny (I do separate the two, YES), the focus in on women's behavior and men's response to it. But is there no halacha, but only tradition about what men can wear? Apparently elbows are OK, short-sleeved shirts would be fine (although Chasidic men, for example, do not wear these. Is it tradition, or modesty.) What about shorts?

Is there a halachic reason a man cannot be called to the Torah in a Speedo? (Aside from the halachic reason of good taste?) What I'm asking here folks, is, does Torah require men to wear clothes? And if so, are there any restrictions on them beyond the custom of the community? (Ignoring shatnes, bans on wearing the other sex's clothing, and other things that would apply to both men and women.) Is there any concept of a part of a man's body being ervah, or some equivalent?

Honestly quite curious. I have no practical application for this (the boyfriend dresses very modestly, and the halacha would not apply to him if he didn't), but I have heard so many detailed explanations and arguments about women's modesty that I had to ask.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Garage Sale Blues and Neighborhood Pride

Well, I didn't know you could actually fail at having a garage sale. Didn't occur to me.

I just sat with my garage for two hours. We had one person come by who didn't buy anything. I closed the door. I feel like a kid who sets up a lemonade stand and gets no customers, except that I can't drink all the lemonade myself. I just wanna get rid of this stuff! We're going to Goodwill once himself the boyfriend is conscious.

Okay, I didn't advertise a lot. And it's drizzly outside, driving us back in to the actual garage. And my father is trying to reassure me that since today is the Pride Parade in downtown San Francisco, all my neighbors are probably at that. ("There are millions of people there today!" he tells me brightly.)

I live in the Sunset. It's mostly elderly Chinese (straight) couples as far as the eye can see. I don't doubt that some of my neighbors are at Pride today, but the neighborhood hardly empties out for it. Ah well. Maybe they are all at Pride. I hope they have a good time. I should be at Pride, except I'm moving, which has become my excuse for everything. But I may join my father later and check out the festival.

The Sunset is fine, really. I was raised in the Richmond District across the park. The Sunset is the other residential west-side-of-SF district, and like the Richmond, always gets described in the press as 'solidly middle class'. I don't deny the description, but it's a little colorless, and the Richmond, in particular, is NOT colorless.

The description I like best comes from a Laurence Yep young-adult novel called "Ribbons", where the young heroine describes her neighborhood:

"Some of my schoolmates from the sunnier, ritzier parts of San Francisco found the Richmond dreary and called the buildings here 'ticky-tacky boxes'. But I wouldn't have traded it for anything. Dad liked to say the Richmond was like some foggy spot on the ancient Silk Road, where cultures met."

Yeah. That's it.

The Sunset is more insular and less cool, although it has many of the same characteristic as the Richmond--similar ethnic mix, similar shopping streets full of small restaurants, Chinese groceries, Irish bars and weird dollar stores. I have liked living here though. Even if my neighbors can't be bothered to buy my used paperbacks. But Clement Street and the Great Geary Way are where my heart lives.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Accomplishment, work, roses and stuff

It has now been a week since I finished my first year of teaching.

Possibly because I spent the week frantically packing my kitchen into boxes, it still does not seem very real. I have celebrated, yes. The boyfriend brought me my favorite jellybeans, my parents took me out to dinner, and my father gave me gorgeous red roses. Apparently I really did finish up this year.

I'm not a person who gloats easily over achievements. I wish I were. I went through my teacher credentialling program with a woman (who I should get in touch with), who expects to do well, or as well as needed, at everything she does, and therefore when she pulls off something difficult, she is pleased with herself and tells people about how cool she is. Me, I count up the number of shoes that have dropped, over and over, trying to figure out if there is one more left up there I oughta worry about. But I envy her approach. When I do something difficult, I more often see the failings, the inability to do it perfectly, than the fact I pulled it off at all.

This was not an easy year. But it's over, and I did it, they want me to come back next year. (Delete several disparaging comments from the self-doubting mind HERE). Now I have six or seven weeks to do other things--move, get settled in my new home, get started on my M.A. field project, do homework for my teacher 'induction' program that I allowed myself to skip during the year, and lesson plan for the fall. Oh, and learn to drive. And I have a week's training for the program I teach. Looking forward to that, actually.

And maybe unclench a little from the knot this year tied me into. Eat popcorn in the evenings, go running in the morning, come back and daven and drink coffee. Have a little time to figure out who I turned into while I was running on the hamster wheel and trying to get my students through the year.

Next year I want things to be different, and I think they will be. I'm going to make sure I have a printer at the school--oh to be able to write a quiz and PRINT IT OUT, not e-mail it to myself at home. I want to walk in on the first day of class prepared, not frantic. I want class rules that work. I think I can. I think I can.

Friday, June 24, 2005

We Should Have Rolled It Off A Cliff

Will she ever stop blogging? NO! She's procrastinating.

When the boyfriend's parents moved out of state, they left us their car. The boyfriend had just gotten his license (at the age of twenty-five), the Balabusta still can't drive.

The car, according to a friend who knows something about cars, is the worst model of car Ford ever made. He could be exaggerating. It's small, and old enough to be a couple of years past its bar mitzvah (if it's a girl, it's time to throw it a quinceaneara), and it ran pretty well for a couple of years.

Then things started getting bad. It began to require insane amounts of transistor fluid to go forward. It smoked. Since the boyfriend and the Balabusta mostly used it to go get groceries and *to go out of town to camp at SCA events*, its tendency to overheat when pushed over forty miles an an hour began to be a problem. One one notable occasion, the boyfriend pulled it off the road, clear across four (empty) lanes of freeway as the car urgently declared that a new pope hadn't been elected yet. Black smoke billowing everywhere. A couple of months later, we spent nearly ten hours getting it to go a couple of hundred miles. We would drive for ten miles, then sit and allow the car to rest, give it more transistor fluid, and try again.

On one of these rest stops:
Boyfriend: "Do you think we should get Triple-A?"
Balabusta: "I think we are currently starring in one of their advertisements, so yes. Maybe we can get a discount."

After that we never took it out of San Francisco at all, except for occasional late-night winter runs down El Camino Real where we could keep it under forty MPH and chilly.

Then the boyfriend bought himself a nice secondhand van, and the car sat in our driveway, and leaked, until we decided to move and realized that we couldn't take it with us.

Somehow getting rid of it turned out to be the Balabusta's problem. After some hunting online I found a place that did car donations, and would give the proceeds from the car to Hebrew Academy of San Francisco. I sent in the form on the fifteenth of June. A day later, I got a confirming e-mail back.

Then, on Wednesday, I got a cheerful call from the donation place asking if getting the car towed had gone okay.

I still hadn't heard from the towing place. When I called them, the number had been disconnected. I called the donation place. They said the number was fine. It turned out to be fine when I called again. (Yes, I'm getting sort of short-fused and distractable.)

I've spoken to the towing place now, and theoretically, they're going to call us back. I think we should have rolled it off a cliff. Unfortunately, the nearest good cliffs are at least five miles away, which makes getting the car to them impossible.

Boyfriend: "I just asked you to do it because I thought there might be some Jewish place you'd like to give it to. Me, I'd just have called"

I may call them next. I considered Chabad, but figured it would take too long. (!!!) One thing's for sure, we can't take it WITH us.

Tzedakah and tzedakah boxes

When I was a kid, we had an empty (washed) Manischewitz gefilte fish jar that we used for a tzedakeh box. Every Shabbos, before lighting, we'd put money into the gefilte fish jar. The impression it made on me was so strong that when I went off to college I felt I needed my own gefilte fish jar. (I also had a mezuzah for my dorm room, and candlesticks and all that. But a gefilte fish jar. Essential, man.)

The reason I'm thinking about this is not that I'm wishing for gefilte fish, but that in the process of packing I've just packed a tzedakah box that was given to me as a going-away present at the most miserable Jewish community job I ever had. It's one of the ones that's heavy resin, shaped and painted to look like an historic synagogue.

I hated the job, and for some reason the parting gift was the cherry on the whipped cream. But I kept it, out of some vague belief that if I got rid of it, I was putting my reaction to the gift ahead of its' intended use.

Sadly, in the years since I took this replica mini Newport synagogue into my home, I have not been as systematic or as consistent about giving money where I think it needs to go as I would like. I dump change in through the shul roof, and I write checks now and then. But what I would like is to have an obligation to give like I have an obligation to pay the bills--when I get paid, sit down and write a couple of checks to make the world a better place.

I think I need to get another gefilte fish jar, make out a short list of addresses, and get with the program. And possibly give the Newport synagogue a new home, although I actually feel less hostile toward it now that I'm no longer expecting it to monitor my giving for me.


I really kind of thought I wouldn't make this political (who was I kidding?) but I was over at the Jerusalem Post site reading columns, and this column by Jonathan Rosenblum caught my eye.

Discussing how conversion is not the 'answer' to raising Jewish demographics (something I actually quite agree with), Rosenblum writes: Anyone can obtain a "conversion" in America that involves nothing more than reading a book or two or learning the first verse of Shema. Yet the rate of "conversion" for non-Jewish partners in mixed couples is dropping. That statistic shows why "conversion" on easy terms only increases the core problem facing world Jewry - the perception of Judaism as something trivial.

I guess it's possible that there's a bais din or two out there that just hands out conversions like lollipops, where all you need to do is learn the first verse of the Shema, read "The Jewish Book of Why", and you're in. But having taught a Hebrew class for conversion students, (back in the day when I was a rabbinic student) and having been a shul secretary in a community with a large proportion of Jews by choice, I have to say that I think this is hooey.

I've seen a lot of people go through conversion. I've seen some leave because Judaism wasn't really what they wanted. I've seen patrilineal Jews agonize over what it means to 'become' Jewish when you were raised Jewish. I have seen people sweating over Hebrew and a huge new vocabulary reassured by their rabbis and teachers that they do not have to become a Soloveitichik to be Jewish. I have never seen Judaism presented as something trivial. (Could this be why non-Jewish partners of Jews are not converting? Because they take Judaism seriously, and do not want to trivialize it by converting pro forma?)

I think what bothers me about this is the dismissiveness, the assumption that anyone whose conversion doesn't meet Rosenblum's standard is faking it, trivializing it, stupid, mislead, or all of the above. There's no interest and no sympathy, certainly no idea that among all these 'conversions' (love the quotes) are thousands of stories, experiences, ideas, possibilities. It makes me wonder how many people he's actually spoken to who've gone through a Reform or Conservative conversion. (That is what this is about, right?)

I guess I feel protective here. No one I have ever met became Jewish through a process that resembles becoming a minister in the Universal Life Church, and yet I suspect they're in there in the quotation marks too. Aaach!

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Pizza Cutter

For the past three or four days, each time I pack up a little more of the kitchen, I see the pizza cutter, and think--hey, I should pack the pizza cutter. Why would I need a pizza cutter in the next couple of weeks? And always, I realize at the last minute that maybe I shouldn't pack the pizza cutter. I wash it and put it back in the drawer.

Currently feeding the boyfriend his pizza (my pizza, without the treyf bits, will be heated up later when I feel like it), and once again, needed
the pizza cutter. I would never have figured that a pizza cutter would turn out to be the most essential tool in my kitchen. I lived for twenty-eight years without one. I had a happy life. (Comments the boyfriend: "Did you really have a happy life, or did you just think you did because you had never had a pizza cutter before?")

My blog has a reader!
Eliyahu found me through a comment I threw out on DovBear's site. HI! (This whole blog thing is kind of fun.)

And I think I may get another dumpster next week. Seriously. I need to get rid of as much STUFF as possible. And I get paid on Thursday.

The dumpster is full

I mean, it's FULL. Granted, it's only about four cubic yards, but we filled that sucker up. And we have the trash guys coming to get the couch and extra bed on Tuesdays.

I'm starting to get the hysterical moving feeling. You know that feeling? It's the sensation that comes over you when you have to be out of your dorm room by noon, and there's just no WAY you're going to get everything out by then. I'm having it now. I have to get all this STUFF out of the house.

I may get another dumpster next week. We have at least two nonfunctioning TVs in here. We have various old folding tables.

This is not being helped by the fact that the boyfriend and I are on radically different sleep cycles right now. Also, my body has gotten the idea that we're on vacation, and keeps trying to pass out at odd moments and sleep for hours.

Millions of people move every day, right? And few of them actually go crazy in the process.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

How is it possible?

How can two people under thirty-five with no children have so much STUFF?

Monday, June 20, 2005

So, Nu, Are There Jews in El Cerrito?

Well, there are farms in Berkeley...

This is the question, isn't it? Not the question for himself, the boyfriend, who eats kosher meat when it's put in front of him and observes with interest as the Balabusta nails mezuzot on everything in sight (doorposts, gates, the refrigerator, the minivan, large books...okay, just the doorposts, but you get the idea.) But certainly one of the Balabusta's first questions.

The synagogue I attend right now is a much better fit than the two that came before it. It's traditional and egalitarian, and I love the rabbi, and the politics are good by me. It is, of course, in San Francisco. Right now I could walk if I wanted to. From Contra Costa, it's going to be a shlep even by car. I don't drive. I don't even know if I drive on Shabbos, because I can't drive. That's going to change soon, but still...

I think I'm gonna need to find a new shul, for at least some of the time. So I checked to see if there were any shuls in El Cerrito. The answer, apparently is no.

Actually, the answer isn't precisely no. Kol Hadash is in El Cerrito.

Kol Hadash is, per their website: "a New Voice for Jews and their families who care about their Jewish heritage but want to celebrate it in a community based on humanistic rather than theistic beliefs. If you are looking for what it means to be Jewish, or what it means to be in a family with Jewish roots, we offer answers that are quite different from those found in traditional congregations."

Their Mission Statement declares: "We celebrate Jewish identity, history, and culture within a nontheistic secular framework."

Okay, well, no. The Balabusta is definately a humanist, and has no problem with secular or nontheistic, she just subscribes to the theory that 'atheist schmathiest, that's no reason not to go to shul and daven".

Elsewhere, the Balabusta gets the impression that there are actually Jews roaming the flat hills of El Cerrito, but that in order to access community you need to go south into Berkeley or Oakland. I suppose I'll be spending some of July and August investigating the possibilities.

Some contenders: Netivot Shalom is highly spoken of. They're egals, participatory (which means the Balabusta might eventually get over her fear of being on the bimah--weird for a rabbinic school dropout, no? And that wasn't even why I dropped out.) They also have a Tiferet Project connection, definately good.

Temple Beth Abraham seems very nice as well--egal, trad sounding, nice and heimish. Also a Tiferet congregation.

These, I think, are the first two I'm going to check out, but there are several others. There's a huge amount of Jewish life in Berkeley/Oakland, which the Balabusta has basically ignored for years, on account of not crossing the Bay too often. Until I started working in the East Bay.

So, I'll pack up my hat and tallis and check things out. I'm sure there's someplace out there that will feel like a good place to daven.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

In S.F. With the Ants

I should explain a little about what the house I'm in currently looks like and why.

I want to be a balabusta because I have no natural talent for it. I am the very opposite of what Flylady calls B.O. (Born Organized). And I just finished a long and stressful period of work which left me basically unable to think about anything but work.

I live with a lovely man who is similarly cleaning-challenged, and perhaps due to his gender, less embarassed about it than I. The house is a MESS.

Anyway, in addition to being behind with the dishes, and the laundry, and the picking stuff up in the living room, we've been struggling with ants for months now, (years, really, but it was going okay for while), and currently, the ants seem to be winning. I am starting to lose my guilt about killing them, as I become concerned that left to their own devices they might actually carry the whole kitchen off.

Simple Green, sprayed directly on the marching line of ants, seems to work quickly. I oppose chemical warfare, but I also oppose the ants, and unlike a single big bug or spider, they can hardly be trapped under a glass and removed to the back yard.


The boyfriend was prevailed upon to take me to Box Bros. We now have forty-five cardboard packing boxes. Lots of tape.

I'm having trouble dealing with the sheer size of the packing challenge, so I'm starting with the fairly easy stuff, books and DVDs/VHS tapes. They're all about the same size, and already gathered together on shelves, so they seem pretty simple. Also, they don't require a lot of padding, or anything technical.

Now I just need to put all the DVDs into a box without succumbing to the temptation to put a few aside to watch this evening. Or tomorrow. Or late next week.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

The Yetzer of Clutter

I think this story may explain some of the problems I have in getting stuff I don't need out of my home:

The house I currently live in used to be home to my boyfriend's parents. When they moved out of state, we took over the lease. Among the 3,495,213 things left behind in the house was a big stack of empty cookie tins left over from many Christmases (the boyfriend is not Jewish, neither are his parents). I gave shelter to the cookie tins for three years, and then I decided one day to clear them out of the kitchen, and give them to Goodwill. I actually picked them up, and began to carry them down to the garage, to join the Goodwill pile.

As I neared the bottom of the stairs, however, something I can only describe as a clutter-specific yetzer ha-ra perched on my shoulder and whispered into my ear. I was suddenly inspired. I should not give away the cookie tins. Instead, I realized in a flash of inspiration, I should keep them, clean them out, and paint them with Purim motifs. (It was just after Simchat Torah at this time.) Then I would fill them with homemade hamantaschen and give them to friends as mishloach manot.

It seemed like the best idea I'd had in ages. Never mind that I seldom bake, and don't normally distribute mishloach manot, this would be a great way to start both! It would jumpstart me on a new mitzvah! It would be creative and cool. Never mind that I certainly don't paint, this would also be a new thing. I would be the Martha Stewart of the Conservative Jewish world!

I actually turned around and started to walk the tins back to the kitchen. A ripple of demonic laughter filled the air. (Metaphorically, I mean, the Balabusta is not actually insane.) Then I got a grip on myself, ran to the garage and dumped the tins.

That's why decluttering is sort of a challenge for me. The reasons I can come up with to keep useless things are very creative, and sometimes just defy reason altogether.

Eastward Ho!

The Balabusta in Blue Jeans is moving to El Cerrito. Stop. Are there Jews in El Cerrito? Stop. Investigation underway. Stop.

You have to understand, the Balabusta never really planned on moving to El Cerrito. The Balabusta was born in East L.A. and raised in San Francisco, and she takes being an urban meydl pretty seriously. Now she's packing her bags and looking toward the burbs.

It's making me a little nervous (abandoning this business of talking about myself in the third person for a while). I'm packing up my whole household, including boyfriend and parakeet, and going across the San Francisco Bay, for complex reasons. (We need a change. We thought the landlady was selling the house we live in now. San Francisco housing is really surreally expensive. I work in the East Bay, and this move will cut an hour off my commute each day. Stuff like that.) But I've decided to take this as an opportunity to record in blog and story my thoughts about striving to be a balabusta in blue jeans.

I want to be an organized person. I want to have a clean, lovely, well-run home. I want to make time to write more, learn more, be involved in the community, do things for my friends and family. And I want to do it all without going crazy. I want to be a balabusta (in blue jeans).

So this is going to be a story about El Cerrito, about identity, about decluttering, about feminism, and about Jewish housekeeping gone slightly haywire. Stay tuned. I'm still in San Francisco right now. The packing has only just begun.