Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Embarassing But Cute Teacher Moment

Asked where the Pilgrims intended to go before veering off course and landing in Massachusetts, one of my students replies:

"The Vagina Colony."

Then she hears what she said, and blushes. Several other kids begin laughing uncontrollably. I say, smothering a smile, "VIRGINIA, yes, that's correct."

Kevin-in-the-front-row, who hasn't heard properly, yells "China? Nooooooo. What are you talking about?"

It's hard to overstate the important role played by the Vagina Colony in our country's founding.

Monday, November 28, 2005

I Wanna Be A Natural

First day back at work. Kids wild with freedom and turkey poisoning, but not too bad.

Then, at the end of the day, I get a note from my principal telling me that we are 'out of compliance' with the ESL stuff--I am the coordinator--and see her immediately.

I taste adrenaline, like a lightning bolt grounding through my tongue. I feel shocked. Scared. Stupid with fear. (Can you tell that the Balabusta's work ego is not what it might be?)

I run downstairs, letting a kid out of detention early.

Here's what "out of compliance" means. There's a woman in the school who, for about two months has been hocking me for not getting learning disability testing for two kids in her class she's worried about. I'm working on this, but we have almost two hundred kids I'm responsible for, and LOTS of them have teachers who are concerned. I also have a ton of paperwork related to the ESL coordination, meetings, yadda, yadda, oh, yeah, and I teach six periods a day.

Apparently, rather than nagging me if I didn't get back to her, which was the last deal we made, this lady has gone to the principal and used the dread words, 'out of compliance'. The principal didn't bother to ask me if everything was OK, she just opened fire.

Also, the principal has forgotten that I agreed on a date WITH HER for a meeting we need to schedule, so now she's worried about that.

Now I'm:

1. Afraid of my coworker, and unwilling to go back into the teacher's lunchroom.

2. Fearful that whatever I set up will cause further repercussions.

3. Scared I'm going to lose my job at the end of the year--things are not going well.

4. Frustrated and sad. I borrowed a lot of money to do a teaching credential, and I am working really hard. I want to be good at this, but there isn't enough TIME. I had five days off over Thanksgiving weekend, and I spent one day at work, and three more partly on lesson planning. I feel incompetant.

5. Stupid.

6. Scared.

7. Resentful. This is my second year of teaching! I have to do teacher induction. I'm swamped. WHY did I agree to this ESL crud? Did I have a choice?

8. Hysterical. Did I mention hysterical?

9. Why didn't I look for another job over the summer? Oh yeah. We were moving.

10. Why can't I do all this and make it look easy?

Notes for tomorrow:

1. Attempt to expedite Squeaky Wheel's stuff.
2. Make unilateral decisions about several kids in need of support.
3. Talk to LD testing department.
4. Contact head of ESL for district, and ask for help.

5. Don't panic.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Oy, I've Heard This One Before

My local Jewish paper (j., formerly the Northern California Jewish Bulletin) has a Jokes column in the back.

God alone knows why. The column is dedicated to mediocre Jewish humor gleaned from e-mail sent to the various j.-staff, with the occasional Dry Bones pasted in to give it a slightly higher-brow tone. The jokes--well, let me just say there ain't nothin' you haven't heard a hundred times, and very little you ever wanted to hear again.

And of course, what is the number-one topic of bad e-mailed Jewish humor? (Seriously, I did statistics on this at one point.) Give yourself a hundred points and a knish if you picked "Jewish Women (Sex-Averse)". Number two is "Jewish Women (Materialistic Parasites on Their Husbands)" (NB, in the world of bad Jewish humor, it is still 1956. It is assumed that all Jewish women are dependent on their husbands for money and want a miiiiink coooooooaaaaat, Irving. Rest in peace, Henny Youngman, for we can't beat your legacy to death with a STICK.)

So this week, in j.'s Jokes column, we have a Dry Bones, a sort of pointless bit about Moshe asking for details about the Ten Commandments, and TWO (50%) of the Jewish Women: Sex Averse type. One gag runs on the idea that all women fantasize about two men at once, but in the Jewish version one guy cleans and the other cooks. (Badda-bing!) In the other, the wife puts off her husband twice, and then on the third night accuses him of being a sex maniac (even the language tells you it's 1956, who says "sex maniac" in the twenty-first century?) for asking all the time. (Badda-boom!)

Worst part: the bloody Jokes bloody column was put in at a time when the j. changed its name, got a nose job, and went to a stapled magazine format all in order to get the attention of ME, the thirty-something demographic they needed to survive. Oy, did they get it backwards! Although I'm sure some fools out there are getting a kick out of the retro-ness of this woman-hating dreck.

Feh, says the Balabusta. Seriously feh. Extreme feh. I gotta write a letter to the editor now, feh.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

O Tannenbaum

The Balabusta has Christmas on her mind. (We're in the middle of making family holiday plans, plus yesterday she took a bus across San Francisco in the middle of the seasonal shopping madness--downtown was PACKED. And she's begun to see cars with Douglas Firs strapped to the top tooling around El Cerrito. So I'm thinking about Christmas trees...

In the beginning, we had one. I don't remember when we began, but there was a period of my childhood when we had a Christmas tree. I assume it was those years when we did not go to my aunt in San Diego for the holiday.

I loved it. I really really loved having the tree, and the ornaments, and the lights and the presents, and that TREE smell. I doubt I would have cared a whole lot if we didn't have one, but I did like it a lot.

What I didn't like was having to deal with all the dreck this churned up at my local Reform-shul Sunday school, where they were trying as hard as they could to form us into a little anti-Christmas tree brigade. I'm not saying that I support Jewish homes putting up trees, I'm just saying that asking ten-year-olds to do something about it is maybe asking a little much, not to mention the wear and tear on those of us with Christian relatives. We got these stories about little kids who sat on their parents' steps in the cold until the tree was thrown out. Cheery inspirational stuff like that. Plus, I know that wreaths represent the Crown of Thorns, and that gingerbread represents something else really bad that at the moment I can't recall...

We had a tree until we got a dog big enough to knock over a tree. And that was that for a while. I used to get some fir branches from the local tree place and bring them home to get that piney smell.

Then there was college (where we had the Festival of Light and Dark (and I got to be part of a team that once swept down the aisle to do the Chanukah lighting, fighting the whole way and waving books at each other for proof, about whether it was permitted outside of the actual holiday of Chanukah--most authentically Jewish experience we could have given that crowd)), and then there was rabbinic school, and a year or so working in the community (distressing), and then I ended up in the business world for several years.

Man, I tried. I worked at a place where the receptionist had traditionally been in charge of the HUGE Christmas tree they planted by the door. (Something which is common in every business downtown not actually owned by Lubavitchers, which makes me kind of skeptical about Falwell and his "Friend or Victim" campaign.) I thought I would make it a little event, so I bought some cookies and made cocoa, and invited everyone in the office by e-mail to come and help me decorate.

I got one taker, so she and I decorated the bloody tree. It was gorgeous. I showed it off to our office manager. At some point, I could see the realization that he had asked a Jewish receptionist to do this cross his face. "Uh, did you ever decorate a tree before?" he asked, cautiously.

Then there was four months of working for a Jewish magazine run by a liberal rabbi with a large ego, and then it was back to the business world. More receptionist work. Christmas parties. And my entire little island decked with shiny red and green STUFF.

When I moved in with the fella, we had a tree for, I think, two years. The needles never really went away, I would clean in June and find some more dried needles lodged in the carpet. At some point it dawned on us that neither of us really wanted a tree, we had been each carefully getting one for the other one.

I LIKE trees. I think they're pretty, and the smell is incredible. But the fact that they're on every square inch of the world right now is yet another reason why I'm not all that sold on the idea that Christmas displays are being fiercely attacked by the ACLU, or the NYPD, or whoever it is that Jerry's afraid of...

The Cabbage Soup Experiment

I was experimenting with the cabbage soup, and would probably not make it exactly the same way. But here's the basic outline.


-a head of cabbage
-an onion
-some celery
-some other green stuff if you desire, in my case I had a handful of leftover Brussels Sprouts, so I chopped 'em and threw 'em in.
-Tomato base of some kind. I would have preferred a can of tomato sauce, but all I had in the house was two Soup In Hand's of Campbell's Creamy Tomato. I have also heard that one can use tomato JUICE.
-A couple beef-flavor pareve Telma soup cubes. You could also use actual beef stock or something crazy like that, in which case you definately need to use something other than Campbell's Creamy Tomato, which is dairy.
-a lot of garlic and paprika, some pepper
-white sugar to taste
-garlic rice vinegar to taste

This sounds a bit complicated, but isn't.

1. Chop all the vegetables reasonably fine until you've basically got a soup pot half full of salad.

2. Add the tomato stuff, the beef cubes, and enough water to just barely cover. Add garlic, paprika and pepper. Cover.

3. Put on very low heat, and start to simmer. Continue to simmer. Go on simmering. After about an hour of simmering, begin to add vinegar and sugar, until the flavor seems right in intensity and balance. Add some more garlic and paprika. Let the whole thing go for another half-hour or so.

4. Eat.

This is really mark one, but it came out pretty good. I think next time I want tomato sauce or juice, not the creamy stuff. It might be possible to speed up the process by bringing it to a boil before the simmering--I may try that. Also, wouldn't mind trying it with a bit of real stock and some stew beef.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Hodu l'Adonai Ki Tov

Happy Thanksgiving, go and learn a little.

Bought a turkey breast, put it in the Crock Pot at ten A.M with some apple juice and onions and let it go. No carving necessary. No making stock from the carcass necessary. Only problem is getting it out of the pot in sufficiently large sections. That, and no crispy skin. But otherwise, good.

Also made yam with molasses and apricot jam. And stuffing. Messed up a bit with the stuffing. They SAID to put in a bouillon cube. I think they meant a Gentile-style bouillon cube. I put in one of the Telma soup cubes, and only when I tasted the intense saltness of the stuffing did I realize that they meant one of those dinky things smaller than a sugar cube.

We also had roasted corn out of a bag, and cranberry sauce shaped like the can it came out of. There is a pie waiting for us to digest a bit. There is a pile of dishes.

The fella also had two cans of black olives.

Earlier in the day, I made sweet and sour cabbage soup for the first time, and it came out beautifully. Sadly, the fella would eat sweet and sour cabbage soup only if his life depended on it. Maybe not then. So I will have to eat all of it myself.

I'm not complaining.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

So, humor me

A couple of months ago I read a book called Around Sarah's Table, a sweet collection of stories about Chassidic women grappling with love and life in New York City. I liked it, I tend to like that kind of thing. And one story left me with a little bit of a question, which I am throwing out here for no apparent reason.

One of the women in the book has several daughters, and no sons. The neighborhood ladies band together to raise funds to send her a on a pilgrimage to Meron to pray for a boy. Naturally, this works, and she and husband are very happy--all fine and good.

The text assures us that this has NOTHING to do with a preference for boys, it's just that one is supposed to have both in order to have been multipliciously fruitful, and this woman and her husband's family would not have been complete without children of both genders.

I'm familiar with that concept. This is not the question.

This is the question: has anyone ever had the neighbor ladies raise money to send them to Meron (or other gravesites of revered rabbis) who desperately needed a daughter after several sons? Is such a case known? Because honestly, the Balabusta looked at this one and raised a skeptical eyebrow.


Friday, November 18, 2005

Live from En-Dor

So after a long, insane, day, I get my class working on an art project, and sit down to do a little coloring myself.

After a while, I become aware there is a sort of flap going on in the room which seems to involve several of my kids and an ordinary, crumpled-up piece of white paper several of them are apparently afraid to touch. I am hearing words like 'ghost', 'curse', and 'maldito' thrown around.

I take the piece of paper and throw it away, but they recover it out of the trash, apparently so they can be afraid of it some more.

I ask them to disperse and get work done, but apparently they really can't, and after a while, the flap arises again. This time I discover that the problem is being caused by two of my girls who have taken a piece of paper, written words in Chinese in the corners and drawn a circle. They are holding a pencil between the two of them, in a sort of pinkie-locked grip, and letting a line squiggle apparently randomly across the page.

I recognize the thing they're doing as a sort of low-tech cousin to a Ouija Board. Several other kids are standing around shivering and acting out. I ask what's up, and am told that the thing has a ghost in it, and that apparently, if certain things happen, the ghost comes back and visits you later.

I explain that this is not a school activity, and ask that it be put away, especially since it seems to be scaring people. They agree. They tear up the paper, and start to pile it, along with several other torn-up prognosticators, on the stack of test papers I am holding, so I can throw it away.

All is well, until one of my kids stumbles, bumps into me, and causes me to SHOWER the cursed papers down on one of my other students, who bursts into hysterical sobbing and clings to me like a baby wombat.

I'm standing there, with hexed scratch paper swirling around me, and a twelve-year-old girl weeping in my arms so hard she can hardly breathe, murmuring 'there, there', and wondering if this is payback for being a fraudulent fortuneteller in a previous life or something.

Kid had to be sent down to the nurse, she was in a state of shock.

My mother suggests that I explain this is NOT Hogwarts, and we don't learn such things here--which I guess is an easier cultural referent than explaining that I don't think Torah permits me to get involved in this narrishkeit...

OH BOY am I glad it's Shabbos.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Shul Shopping #(What is this? 3?)--Beth Israel

This search would go a lot faster if my job did not currently wring me out so much that I come home, go to sleep on Friday night, and fail to wake up until about 11:30 on Shabbos morning. Really, it would.

Anyway, having gotten yesterday off, I managed to get up this morning in a timely fashion and take myself off to Beth Israel of Berkeley, the Orthodox Option. Report follows.

PREPARATIONS: I went for a skirt below the knees and long sleeves, not being entirely sure what the ladies' dress code looked like at Beth Israel. Then paused. I had no idea if I should bring my tallis or not. Finally decided that if they don't like it, I won't be returning anyway, except perhaps as someone's guest, and took it along.

It's a fairly long but not ridiculous walk from the North Berkeley BART station, perhaps three long blocks past University. This morning was a glorious November morning in North Berkeley, so it was very nice.

I arrived, and wandered around, trying to figure out where I should be. There was a door into the sanctuary, however when I stood on tiptoes and looked through the window in said door, it was wall-to-wall men. I worked out that the women's side is accessible through the matching door closer to the entrance, and found a seat.

Naturally, since it's still the middle of the Shacharit Amidah at this point, the women's side is pretty sparsely populated, however one of the other early populees is also wearing a tallis, which gave me the chutzpah to take out mine, and put it on.

Turns out today was some kind of international singles Shabbaton, which increased the general population quite a bit by the end of the service. Should probably return, as with Netivot Shalom, for a return look when they're not quite so distracted. Also, I was getting over a cold and had to duck out a couple of times to cough in the ladies' room. However, this is my current take:


I love the look of the shul. It's a plain, pleasant. very Berkeleyish building, with a garden, nice multi-pane windows, white plaster walls, and a stained wood ceiling that rises to a peak with the angle of the roof. It feels nice to be in.

I did not feel self-conscious, and I feel self-conscious all the time. The dress code is variable with a high proportion of Berkeley Frum among women my age. The tallis did not seem to be upsetting people. I wasn't getting much attention, but everyone I spoke to was very nice.

It's kid-friendly. There were a lot of children racketing around and crossing back and forth over the mechitza, and everyone seemed relaxed and comfortable about them being there. This may seem like a given, but let me tell you, I've been in some shuls....Also, at the oneg, there was a small kids table set up, where the children could take their plates and sit with their friends, which I thought was a smart idea.

The oneg was very nice.

I liked the drash. Educated, topical, a gentle poke at we of Berkeley...very interesting.

They seem to have a lot of cool-sounding classes going on, some in cooperation with Netivot Shalom, who are right nearby.

Their mechitza is well-thought out. They've split the room down the center, and wrapped the mechitza around the ark and the bimah in such a way that it's separated from both sides, and accessible through little swingy doors from both sides. When the Torah is taken around, the scroll is passed from man to woman at the back of the room, through a gap between mechitza and wall which is formally blocked off by a ritual folding chair. This all allows kids to meander through at will, and allows women to get to the bimah to make announcements easily (and I'm told, deliver the occasional drash). I liked it very much.


Slightly farther away from home than Netivot Shalom. We'll probably be moving again next summer anyway, so it could matter a lot less soon enough. Still, the Balabusta is NOT a motivated shul-goer a lot of the time. Small obstacles can be effective in keeping her away. And the walk that was so pretty this morning might be plain awful in the pouring rain a month from now.

It's Orthodox. Which presents a couple of issues:

Issue 1: I'm not. I'm not shomer Shabbos, I keep the most marginal of kosher, and I live with a man who isn't Jewish and isn't planning to be. There's a real question in my mind of how well all these things will work out. Not that they would prevent me from being a member of this shul, but how compartmentalized I'll have to keep my life. On the other hand, the fella was never interested in my Conservative shul, so, er, the compartmentalization already exists. And I'm willing to bet I ain't the only one there with these issues.

Issue 2: The mechitza is cute and semi-egalitarian, but it's there. This is not a shul that calls women to the Torah, or has women leading whole-congregation services. Despite the vocal involvement of women in the davening, the center-divide mechitza does not make it less clear that the men's side is the more involved side.

I do not especially want to layn of a Shabbos, or lead the davening, but I do like seeing other women do so, and am ideologically opposed to women being prevented from doing so. Perhaps more importantly, I am kind of looking for a shul that I can raise kids at. Now, by the time Bubba and Jezebel are born, I could be living somewhere else entirely. This is all theoretical. But I still have a lot of questions about how I would feel raising children at a shul where they will never see a woman chant the Haftorah, or be called for an aliyah.

Clearly something to think about.

Anyway, Beth Israel and Netivot Shalom seem to currently be in the lead, and luckily are the closest to me. And as a man once said to me, "You don't have to be monogamous with your synagogue..."

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Strange stuff

Once upon a time, about five years ago, the Balabusta started to collect materials for an anthology she hoped to publish. It got so far (a manuscripts worth) and stalled, because of lack of time, mostly, and the Balabusta started to try to get a real career (the same one she's now making herself crazy trying to get to keep), and the anthology languished. She tried to get it a grant. Didn't work. Went back to school.

Now I find, through random Internet surfing, that apparently one of my authors got tired of waiting and edited her own anthology on the same topic. And it's being published in April.

I feel...weird.

Okay, not a good word. Jealous. A little cheated. Maybe a little guilty--did I do right by my idea? Annoyed that her anth has a stupid cover.

Weirdest of all--motivated. I mean, I'm sitting here in physical shock, but at the same time, I've suddenly remembered how important writing was to me when I had time, and how good it feels, how good it is to be immersed in books--and I want it back. I have a novel to finish. I have articles to write. I have a whole different perspective than I did when I was a twenty-something Jewish feminist wannabe. Now I'm a thirty-something Jewish feminist with rent to make, stuff to do, places to go, spaghetti to cook.

Damn. I need to get back in gear.

Starting by getting my computer fixed.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

BART and the Burqa'ed Bandita

So for months, BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) has been displaying these posters, showing a pair of eyes, and a message about reporting mysterious packages.

Today, late afternoon, just before rush hour, the Balabusta is on her way into San Francisco to see her therapist and have dinner with her parents. The train arrives at the West Oakland station, last stop before going into the Transbay Tunnel under San Francisco Bay.

As we are on the platform at West Oakland, a woman, African American, perhaps the Balabusta's age, dressed very frum with a long skirt and her hair covered, approaches the car the Balabusta is in, and puts a black plastic shopping bag, not large, inside the car. Then she walks away from the car, back onto the platform leaving the bag behind.

All of us in the car LOOK at it. After a few seconds baffled and concerned pause, a man in a business suit, nearest to the door, gets up, takes the bag, and puts it back out on the platform, on the other side of the door. He sits down.

The woman, now several paces away, realizes what has happened, and returns. She picks up the bag. The Balabusta wonders if she will throw it back into the car--there is time. She does not. Instead, as the doors close, she shouts something along the lines of 'you dumb fuck!' and gives us/the man who put the bag out the finger.

The train starts to move. When we lose sight of her, she is still on the platform, looking quite annoyed.

The Balabusta presses the button that is supposed to summon someone. It turns bright red, but no one responds to it.

Upon arriving at Embarcadero, the Balabusta gets off the train, and goes to find a BART employee, to explain that something odd happened in car 1501. A young man from the car is ahead of her, and is trying to explain to the lady in the BART cube on the station's main floor.

Unfortunately, the lady calls security without understanding that the bag was REMOVED from the train, so she's already called and told them there's a mysterious package on the Millbrae train by the time we explain. She tells the security guy we are now 'changing our story'. We explain some more.

She asks for a description. We give her one, basically similar, except that I think she was wearing a headscarf, and he thinks it was some sort of headress attached to the rest of her costume. The woman's eyes widen slightly. "Like a burqa?" she asks.

The Balabusta, now torn between liberal disgust and some real concern for the safety of BART passengers, wonders what the hell to answer to that. "No, not like a burqa," she finally explains. "Her face wasn't covered at all, just her hair."

"But that kind of outfit?" persists the lady.

"Her hair was covered."

"Well, that makes it more frightening, doesn't it?" the BART employee asks. The Balabusta thinks she may be losing her mind. The lady does not seem to be kidding. She is very earnest about this.

She takes some notes. She does not ask for our names. We tell her what we know and leave. MAN I feel safe on BART!

Kept a sharp eye out on the return trip, but no women with black plastic shopping bags loomed.