Sunday, July 29, 2007

Taking to the Road

I am starting to think seriously about goals for the new year--yeah, after the wedding, and I get a job and all that other lighthearted stuff that's taking up my time right now. (Three weeks from today! OH GOOD LORD! I get married THREE WEEKS from TODAY!)

I've decided that one of my primary goals--one that should take a fair portion of available time and money, etc, is getting a driver's license and a car. I realize that this has been on my 'to-do' list for over five years now, (and I have gone so far as to take about five lessons), and a lot of my friends and family will be rolling their eyes and saying 'this again' (but to my defense, it has been a pretty busy five years)--but I think push has got to come to shove in the near future. Here are some reasons why:

1. Not having the ability to drive eats my time. Sunday mornings, I could go and do the shopping for the week quickly and efficiently. Instead, I wait for the fella to feel like going out, then I resent it if he wants to stay in the car instead of helping. My work commutes eat hours of each day. I can't take work home as easily (YOU carry twenty-five student notebooks in a Trader Joe's bag!) so I have to go in on the weekends--except it takes longer, without a car. Trips to the bank are hard. Trips to the doctor are hard. Everything just takes longer, and is more difficult.

2. Not being able to drive adversely affects my relationships. I rely on the fella, then resent him for not dropping everything when I need a lift. I don't see friends as often, because getting to their homes and back is hard. I have to take public transit to see my parents, and it can be exhausting.

3. I'm planning to reproduce. In the next twenty-four months or so. I cannot parent in my current life without a car. I will need to get the baby to daycare, and home. I will need to take Jezebel to school, dance lessons, the doctor's, her grandparents...and I'd rather not be a new driver and have a new baby simultaneously.

4. Not being able to drive is just dangerous. If the fella were ill late at night, if a friend had an emergency and needed a baby-sitter--endless possibilities here, most of them not good, but bad stuff does happen.

5. Not being able to drive closes off possibilities. My area that I can take jobs in is severely limited--I can't get to places I could easily drive to. Some things I would like to do for pleasure are nearly impossible--go to Ocean Beach on a weekend if I felt like it, drive to Point Reyes by myself and get cheese at Cowgirl Creamery, see Jewish Film Festival movies on the Peninsula, go by bob & bob and buy Chanike candles. Some are hard. Visiting relatives in Southern California, for example. I could have a much fuller life if I drove.

This is not going to be easy. For one thing, lessons and cars cost. For another, I have very little time. For a third, I am phobic as hell about driving. But it's got to happen. I'll keep you all posted.

See you In Damascus

Two things I've seen in the j-b-s got me thinking: this, at An Unsealed Room and this at Baka Diary. Both talk, in different ways, about wanting to be able to travel in the Middle East freely--someday, after peace.

Years ago, one of my college friends, whose grandparents were from Italy, went on a trip to her grandmother's home town. She met the cousins, saw processions for the Virgin, ate, spoke Italian with the family, and got taken to see the local sights. I heard the tales of how cool it was, and something occurred to me that I'd never articulated before--how totally impossible such a trip would be for most Jews. How gone most of 'the old country' is.

Imagine doing the Jewish roots trip just as I did the Irish. Utterly impossible. Imagine a trip to Vilna or Cracow, where instead of 'March of the Living', or a polite tour around what's left, you visited relatives, or stayed with homestay families, went to the same synagogues used for hundreds of years uninterrupted, heard Yiddish in the streets, went to the restaurants...hard to imagine, even without the war, somehow. My great-grandmother once commented that there were some good things in the Old Country, but I believe she was talking about a dessert recipe at the time.

Sure, there are people who visit Europe. There's even Jewish nostalgia tourism developing. But it's basically a trip to the cemetery. The week I once spent in Germany nearly exploded my head. A friend (Iraqi-Jewish) once told me that she bicycled across Europe once, and spit her way across Germany. The scene in the last paragraph just couldn't have happened, could it, even without the Shoah? But it's weirdly inviting, at least to me.

Imagine some of my friends doing the Jewish roots trip. Iraq. Syria. Morocco. Iran. Egypt. Think of the historic Jewish sites out there, the communities that in another world you could visit and see the changing life of.

In some ways, I think we've tried to address this by making Israel our everything. "Drive us out of every other place we've called home? We don't care! We got the original back!" But it's different, more emotionally complicated than that. Sure, we can see where David and Isaiah walked, but the towns our grandparents came from are largely gone, behind borders, burned out, lost. Our most ancient connections, even, go farther than our borders. I've always remembered a Shabbos morning in a Sephardi shul in San Francisco where the rabbi commented "Now, Lavan lived in Syria. Anyone here from Syria?" Hands went up here and there. Imagine being able to do the whole Genesis Roots Tour.

So we wonder. What would it be like to go to Damascus? What would it be like to be Jews in a friendly Middle East? What would it be like? It's tiring, all this war unending, it's exhausting to be the man in the joke whose travel agent can't send him anywhere because of what they did to the Jews. What kind of a world could it be if?

And Now, Something Hilarious

You may have to be a dog person for this one. And not terribly squeamish about the fact that dogs were not originally intended by the good Lord to eat lamb and rice kibble.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Gonna Blow A Fuse

OK. This is rotten.

My darling chasan had already convinced me that I should stay with the dogs overnight by myself, because he was working, and can't sleep well with the dogs either hogging the bed or whining outside. OK. It's chutzpahdik (he was the one who agreed to take care of the critters). But OK.

So then, he develops some sort of horrible bug last night. And is off work today. But it's probably still just as well, because he apparently sweated and shook all last night, and the dogs would have driven him mad. OK.

Meanwhile, I was peacefully sharing a bed with two whippets, who were doing their level best to take up 95% of said bed. OK. They are warm and friendly, at least, I'm just afraid to shove them out of the way because they're so skinny and fragile-looking. They like to be under the covers, and make skin contact. (No body fat.)

So, this morning I make coffee, find that the additional callback for interview I got yesterday is two hours from my home, call my last outstanding job possibility (who, by the by, wants people to start Wednesday). He tells me to wait until Monday or Tuesday at the latest. We ain't cutting that one fine at all, eh? I can't tell if he's assuming I know I've got the job (and will take it), or iif they're planning to wait to turn me down until they're sure their first choice says yes, or if they're planning to just call people until they find eight of us who haven't found other work or WHAT. OK.

Now, I just have to make my way into San Francisco, by public transit, through an area I do not know, that has lousy bus service, go into the city, order a wedding cake, eat Shabbos dinner, and then coerce the fella into driving me to let the whippets out to pee.


On the other hand, the whippets are awfully sweet. This morning I sat up in bed with them, put a hand on each one and wished them 'a broche on their furry little heads'. They are nice little guys. The female is in heat, again, so they're sort of agitated about that. I realize she's not actually PMSing, but I can't help saying things like "Honey, should I get you some ice cream? Hot bath? Heating pad?"

I should let them run around the yard one more time before I lock up and hit the road. This really, really, sucks.

Thursday, July 26, 2007


Tonight, and for the next couple of evenings, I will be in a small city not far from here, sitting the two whippets, two cockatiels and two parakeets belonging to friends of ours.
The whippets are interesting critters. They were bred for speed. Brain power was sacrificed in the process. They are basically little bundles of nerve, muscle and instinct, created solely to run like lightning after anything that runs away from them. They have narrow little aerodynamic heads, and delicate skinny limbs that are actually translucent at points. In their peak physical condition they basically have no body fat at all, and get very cold, very easily. They have sweet personalities, but not very complicated ones. They are rather fun, but if I were getting a dog, I think a black lab, or a German shepherd, or something else slightly less neurotic, and able to play fetch even after the object you throw stops moving.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007


The job I thought I was going to get? The break? The half an hour from the house? Turned me down.

So much for that.

Now, I get my last paycheck in three and a half weeks, and I'm getting hysterical.

I have one school out there that I interviewed with, and I'm praying. And I don't even like them that much.

This sucks.

Tumbleweeds and temples

On Tisha b'Av I think about tumbleweeds. Cut off from their source of water, tumbleweeds dry, and take to the road, blowing for hundreds of miles across open plain and desert. They carry their seeds with them, an entire genetic blueprint for how to be a tumbleweed. When they come to rest, seeds are germinated in the rains, and a new cycle begins, often several states away from their starting point. The original tumbleweeds traveled to the Americas on the clothing and blankets of immigrants. The ones rolling through the Mojave at this moment are descended from ones that rolled through the Siberian steppes a few hundred years ago. They keep on rolling.

The destruction of the Temple was meant to destroy the Jewish people as a religious entity. It was supposed to yank out our spine, and take away our identity. We still mourn the loss of the Temple, the loss of life, the loss of land, but it's those who hate the Jews who should cry today. The attempt on our life as a people failed, when by any sane calculation it should have succeeded. Rabbinic Judaism did not just rise out of the loss of the Temple, it rocketed. Confident, steeped in tradition, the generations of the Talmud created a blueprint for Judaism for the road ahead.

Today, we remember, and we mourn. But we are able to mourn because we, and our people, are alive, and endlessly moving forward.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

And with this fluffernutter...

Today we chose a ring. But first, I managed to get the fella worked up by affectionately addressing him as 'my fluffernutter'. I like sweet nicknames. Even more than sweet nicknames I like the expression on the fella's face when I use them.

Apparently, before today the fella had never heard of a fluffernutter. So I filled him in--a fluffernutter, for those of you who similarly have not heard of such, is a sandwich made with peanut butter and marshmallow fluff. The fella was curious. I ended up having to buy a jar of marshmallow fluff in order to demonstrate properly. Yes, there is kosher marshmallow fluff. God help us all.

Then we went to a jewelry store in Berkeley, and chose a simple, very lovely, ring. But you have to imagine it: we walk in together. I say we are looking for wedding rings, well, a ring, since it will be a single ring ceremony. "All right," the sweet proprietor says, "you'll need a kosher ring in that case, I guess."

"Oh, not necessarily," say I, whereupon she looks baffled.

Later, adding to the thickened plot, it occurs to me that the fella had his hat on the whole time we were in the he customarily does in public...anyway, we found a ring, which is the important part...

It's gorgeous.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Going Bridal, Going Educational

Four weeks to go from tomorrow. Ghaagh.

I just finished matching the veil swatches to the dress--I would have said the dress was cream, but apparently the swatch it best matches is 'champagne'. B'seder.

Also sent off a whole lot of personal info to the ketubah lady. Some of it, given my own personal family, was slightly funny. Father's Hebrew Name? (Give Mr. Bluejean's English name) Cohain or Levi? Well, given that the paternal line is English, I suppose he COULD be, just the Balabusta begins to make up a suitably romantic tale, she comes back to herself: No.

The machatenim, apparently frustrated at their son's total inability to describe what is happening at his wedding, sent me a very detailed e-mail demanding details. I sent details. They appear much relieved. Apparently, they wanted to know things like "do you have musicians", to which Groomra responded "I don't know." They were getting worried.

We had a small earthquake yesterday morning, very very early. Just a four-point-something. This building is weird with earthquakes. It doesn't sway, it jolts, like someone backed a car into the side of the house. Woke us up, though.

I am fairly sure that I will be offered a job next week, since the place I've interviewed at twice called back and asked for references to call. I also have a possibility of being offered a position at a charter school in Oakland. Did a good interview, I think.

Now, of course, being the Balabusta, I am losing my ever-loving marbles over all this. The job that I am most likely going to accept if it's offered--elaborate anti-evil-eye gestures here--isn't a classroom job. It's perfect in a lot of other ways. If I take it, I will be able to finish my MA thesis, start my next degree, see if I can find a part-time religious-school-teaching gig, learn to drive finally, and do some preparatory work to make sure that if I do go back to teaching it's in a gig that works well for me. Because I will have TIME.

But there's a slight ego trip going on here--why couldn't I do all those things and also teach full-time, like the ur-Balabusta I keep trying to be? WHY?

No answer, except possibly that there really are only 24 hours in the day, no matter what I do.

I've been teaching for three years now, and it has been a long, hard haul. I've ended up at two schools with two totally different sets of extreme problems, and it's been rough, and ego-trashing, and very very difficult. I've learned a lot. I've also sacrificed a lot, and I don't know as it was totally worth it.

I like education. If I stay, I want my next teaching job to be something really good, not just something I grabbed because I needed a gig.

And I really want to enjoy this next year, try new things, enjoy being a newlywed...

Friday, July 13, 2007

"God has created us all, in God's own image, and we, too, are good"

Simple. Beautiful. Robbie says everything that needs to be said about Jerusalem Pride.

The Dozen of the Day

1. We've finally settled on a caterer for the wedding. Don't ask. Just don't ask. There will be food. That's all we know, and all we need to know.

2. The job hunt progresses. I have two things I've interviewed for that should be getting back to me. One place turned me down. (Jewish community job of the kind that ALWAYS turns me down...grrrrrrrr.) I really want a job. I really, really, want a job.

3. The fella's temp agency finally came through and got him a nice two-week gig.

4. We are starting to get wedding presents!

5. We are starting to get response cards in the mail!

6. I am thinking about maybe teaching religious school next year, something I haven't done in about ten years.

7. I'm having trouble sleeping. Don't know if it's the heat, or stress, or what.

8. Need to buy a veil. And shoes. And a bra.

9. Bought the first watermelon of the summer. Ahhhhh....

10. Need to do some serious financial planning.

11. I've realized that, at thirty-four, I am now the same age as Marge Simpson.

12. Saw the latest Harry Potter. Not how I would have adapted Order of the Phoenix, but it was nice to go out and see a movie, which I have not done in far too long.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

I Still Don't Believe It All Happened

I am not sure I can do justice to everything that happened at the funeral. But here is my report, humbly submitted. I have deleted a lot of the emotional content, obviously. Names have been changed to protect the innocent, and the guilty, although why the guilty deserve my protection under the circumstances isn't so clear.

Read on...

The Funeral Mass

Friday morning, about fifty people, family and friends of my grandmother, were present for a funeral mass celebrated at Bethlehem House, the Catholic assisted living facility at which my grandmother spent the last few weeks of her life. Bethelehem House has a large population of retired priests, and one of them was available to say the mass. Father is 91, God bless him, and he was not too happy about several things we were doing, chief among them being that the family wished for the grandchildren to speak.

Father declared this to be a Protestant custom, and disapproved of it on those grounds. He also announced that in the past he had dealt with grandchildren speaking, and they had shown a tendency to go on for half an hour and more, and 'cry and snot' on the altar. Somehow, however, we managed to convince him that all the grandchildren are at least well into their twenties, and would be able to control themselves, and use Kleenex. Eventually he relented, to the extent that my aunt's son and daughter would be permitted two minutes, and one cousin from the other side of the family would get two more.

Things improved on the day of the funeral, since Father was (as who would not be) charmed by my cousin and her brother's fiancee. The mass proceeded beautifully, except for a few small mishaps with who was doing what reading, the fact that Father nearly fell over an extension cord (Father is 91, God bless him), and the fact that Father got to his feet purposefully, when one of my cousins ran slightly over his allotted two minutes, apparently with every intention of hooking him off the stage with a crozier if he didn't stop.

The chapel is lovely, with beautiful carved knotwork on the altar, and stained glass--very serene and pleasant--and my cousin had made a program for the funeral with an adorable picture of my grandmother as a little girl, taken in 1924. Listening to my cousins speak was wonderful--they told some stories I hadn't heard before, and it was beautiful and heartbreaking.

Interlude, with brownies
Afterward, my immediate family went to change, and my aunt and her family returned home, and discovered that the dog had eaten three pounds of brownies in their absence.

The dog is a Springer Spaniel, sweet, very friendly, very food-oriented, and was deeply attached to my grandmother. He's not used to being left home alone, and had taken the opportunity to console himself by finding a sealed tub of brownies purchased for the wake, unsealing it, and eating them down to the last chocolatey crumb.

Chocolate being toxic to dogs, my aunt's son was obliged to leave our grandmother's wake to drive the dog to the vet. They gave him (the dog, not my cousin) drugs, and he spent the next three hours throwing up. He was very indisposed and miserable when he came home, and my aunt was incredibly stressed.

The Inurnment (here's where it gets weird)
Internment? Interrment? It turns out the word for placing a funerary urn is 'inurnment'. You learn something new every day.

I should explain that we had very explicit instructions from my grandmother about her resting place. She wished to be cremated, and that her ashes should be placed above ground, since she was claustrophobic all her life. (Point out the obvious irrelevancy of this, and I will ignore you with disdain, much as she would have.)

It turns out that not all mausoleum niches are marble- or bronze-fronted, you can get one with a glass front, so one of those was chosen. She left my aunt with directions that she wanted a beautiful urn, so my aunt and cousin had very carefully, I was informed, chosen one they thought was very attractive, and also in colors my grandmother liked. Aunt and cousin have beautiful taste, so I was sure they would have picked out something exactly right.

The plan was that on Saturday morning, those immediate family members who could remain in town would meet at the cemetery, place the urn, pray together, and I would speak for a few minutes in place of a formal eulogy.

That was the plan, anyway.

Saturday morning, six immediate family members arrive at the Catholic cemetery in San Diego, and are met at the mausoleum by a man in what seems to be a janitor's uniform. We are ushered in, and shown that they have set up chairs in front of the niche my grandmother purchased, and there is a small table set up for the urn to rest on until we are ready to have it placed. Would we like the remains now? asks the mausoleum employee. Yes, we would. Should he bring them out? My aunt asks her brother, my father, to do so.

So my father goes off, and he comes out of their office, carefully carrying something small. Not an urn. It's a plastic box, dark brown, with a stick-on label stuck on it.

My aunt takes one look. "It's not her," she says. Calmly. Flatly.

We all freeze, and wonder what this means--has my aunt's grief reached a breaking point? Does she have second sight, and is able to determine psychically that these are someone else's remains? What is going on here? I am baffled because I have been repeatedly told we ordered a beautiful urn. My father, it turns out, had similar concerns, but thought that possibly the plastic container went into the urn. We examine the stick-on label. "It has her name," my father points out. We stare at one another blankly.

After some babble back and forth between all of us, my aunt explains that they requested that the mortuary place the remains in the urn they selected. This is not the urn they selected, obviously. This is not a container suitable for placement. What is going on? At our suggestion, the mausoleum man eventually goes into the office and calls the mortuary.

The group of us sit in our folding chairs in the aisle of the mausoleum and wonder what happens next. My aunt has begun to weep. My father is reassuring her that we will get this sorted out, and place the urn tomorrow, or Monday, if need be. All of us are uncomfortable, to say the least. My mother passes out kleenex.

Mausoleum man comes back and tells us that the mortuary got the urn delivered after they delivered the ashes to the mausoleum, but someone has gotten in their car with it, and is coming over. If we can wait twenty minutes, half an hour, they'll be right here, and transfer the remains to the urn, and we'll be good to go. Can we wait?

Well, we're not going anywhere. We spend twenty-five minutes on a self-guided tour of the mausoleum.

The mausoleum is actually very pretty, as mausoleums go. There is a lot of religious art, clearly donated by families over the years, and reflecting the ethnic diversity of the local Catholic community. There are inscriptions in English, Spanish, Italian, Irish and German, and statues and paintings in all kinds of styles.

The urn, when it finally did arrive, was indeed very beautiful. And, thank God, the man from the funeral home who brought it did seem to understand that they had messed up, and was apologetic and warm and hugged and shook hands all around.

Mausoleum man made sure we were back at our niche, and settled us down. He also wanted to assure himself that my aunt had a check for him, which she explained she did. At the time, it struck me as tacky, but we were just so darn relieved...

We had, after all this, a beautiful small family service. My father gave a drash about saints, and we prayed together, and I spoke for a few minutes about my grandmother's courage. We said goodbye.

We spent a very long time working on placing the name-plate exactly perfectly on the urn, and then my father placed it with mausoleum man's help. Turned out mausoleum man needs a witness to the inurnment (not sure what we are), so he goes off and finds another man, also in janitor costume, who stands by silently. He asks twice more about the check, finally insisting on being handed it before finishing attaching the ornamental screws that hold the glass in place.

I must say, that as stressed as we were, my grandmother would have loved the whole thing, and is doubtless retelling the story now, perhaps to Francis of Assisi, patron of the animals she loved so much.

And after...
I'm sad, but ritual makes it easier. I cried the night of the funeral, finally properly cried. I suppose I will be crying again, and again (I am now), but it will get easier. I'll stand for Kaddish, and it will get easier. I'll go the mass being said this Sunday at my father's parish church, and it will get easier.

The grandmother who taught me to take pride in my Irish heritage, and to protect animals, to travel wherever you want to go and to ignore the cost when you're doing the right thing is gone. My children will only know their great-grandmother through stories. I learned more of those stories recently.

I miss her. I know I'll be telling all her stories all my life.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Lioness Freed!

Not to praise Hamas for any reason, but this cheered me up. Sabrina the lion is home.

As you may recall, I posted some time back about this story, and I'm relieved to see that someone responsible has this animal back and is taking care of her.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Tracking Abdullah

OK, now I need some help here. Does anyone out there read Arabic?

See, the Abir thing got to me. I am now deeply curious about Lazer Brody's picture of the Aluf Abir's uncles, the fine young Yemeni men guarding Abdullah ibn Hussein in this photo.

I went trawling, and found this photo. As you can see, it seems to be the same photo, except that the new site is showing a less cropped version with what are probably the original edges. And as you can see, it gives the name of the Emir in question (without the 'h' at the end, which most people use in English--Lazer doesn't use it either, interestingly), and the year.

But I can't read the website. Someone, tell me what THEY say it is!