Wednesday, September 30, 2009

More Torah

Last night, after all those days of practically living in the synagogue, we met for Torah again. I hadn't really had time to do justice to these portions of the Torah because of Yom Kippur and the tons of papers I was grading, am still grading... . And these were such rich and important sections of the Torah, parts that affect our lives all the time because fundamentalists insist on reading them literally and applying them across the board.
These were the holiness code sections of the Bible, the places where the priestly scribe, channeling God, instructs the people how to behave. These parts of the Torah are particularly important since the Temple has ceased to exist. When the Temple was there, the High Priest and his assistants could petition God for the people, could carry out all the meticulous instructions on how to make the connection with God and purge all contagion from the vicinity. But now that there is no temple, that has changed everything. It has democratized the community, and made us all responsible for our own connection to God and to the community.
In the past, reading the tiny details about how the temple was to be built and how sacrifices were to be carried out, we all developed an idea of the temple as a stifling, odiferous, and generally overstimulating place, rather like the grotto of the Greek oracle, who swooned over fumes from a deep crevice in the earth, delivering wisdom to the masses. But with these portions, I realized that the Temple was the communal slaughterhouse. That was rather stomach turning. No one was permitted to slaughter animals privately. All were to be taken to the temple, so the priests could take their cut (literally). This was not only to keep the priestly class going, but to avoid the practice of fertility cults, where, as the Torah commentator remarks, eating, sex, and religion are intimately tied together. Thus, during pagan rites, animals were sacrificed, perhaps after a bout of bestiality, and an orgy ensued. So Judaism developed its own way of tying these areas of life together. The sections of Torah we discussed last night, barely touching the surface of such rich mines of ideas, passes freely between laws relating to sexual relations, rules against incest (except for father/daughter relations, which are never mentioned, the only kinds of familial relationship to be omitted from the discussion), religious practices, and dietary codes. It is stunning to realize how central Torah's distinctions and values have entered our culture and our lives, even if we do not consider ourselves religious. We have embraced and incorporated so many of the distinctions made by these ancient texts, without even realizing it.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Post Reflection, the World Looks the Same, Feels Different

Yesterday, too many things happened at Yom Kippur services to adequately sum up. The day was stimulating in many ways: the music was absolutely glorious, and I helped to make it, being in the choir. The fabulous pianist, drummer, saxophonist, and violinists gave traditional prayers a rhumba or reggae beat, threw in humorous little musical comments and quotations, and generally made us all alternately swoon and smile. We in the choir responded by singing out more strongly than ever, but gave each song its proper dynamics. Somehow, we really did much better than ever before, I think.
The discussion groups were all really interested, and I finally decided to make myself write in a writing practice group based on Writing Down The Bones' method. It was fun and eye-opening since people I knew for years were in the group. I didn't get to read mine outloud, but it was nonetheless useful and interesting. The sermon was particularly good the night before because it related to how people think about their children and how it is often unfair to expect them to live up to expectations in that way. That one rang a bell for me.
Yesterday we also heard a version of "Blowin in the Wind" translated into English, which Peter Yarrow, a friend of our rabbi's and congregation's, will soon record. I suppose we will be singing these familiar songs in Hebrew soon too, since he gave permission for us to do that.
Altogether, an outstanding day of fasting and thought, topped off by eating a giant bowl of Japanese noodles with Richard and a fabulous ramen place in Diamond Jamboree.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Musical Interlude

Today I went to the theater at South Coast Repertory theater. It is true that I probably should not have taken time out to do this, given that I still have 15 papers left to grade although I have spent every second I can grading since I got the papers on Thursday, and still have not planned classes for the week, with a holiday coming up tomorrow night and the responsibility of taking care of my parents tomorrow for part of the day. But I had inadvertently gotten tickets for last Saturday, Rosh Ha Shanah, and had to change for this week because it was apparently the only Saturday still available for this show.
Although it was a stretch, given how busy I am, I really enjoyed the show, which was actually more like a review, composed of songs from several Sondheim musicals, some of which I knew quite well. Sondheim is such a genius that listening to his lyrics is an education in itself. They are so clever, but also profound. He is a poet of song lyrics, as most people who write them are not.
I especially admire this skill because in another life, I might have been a lyricist. I have always loved writing song parodies, and have learned something from messing with Sondheim's lyrics to West Side Story.
I have read critics talking about this show, grousing that it just patches things together, willy nilly, from other musicals, but I think it actually does more than that, capturing themes present throughout his work. And the conceit of a group of people at a party was interesting and provided ample room for us to wonder about the relationships among these people--two young men, the maid, and an older, wealthy couple sick of each other and themselves, perhaps, as well.

Season of Reflection

Monday is Yom Kippur. I am supposed to be reflecting on my weak points, for example, my anxiety, how quickly I become discouraged when things don't go my way, the way I get sucked into the black hole of negativity and stay away from the people I care about, thus plunging further into the hole... but I am too busy this weekend to think. On Monday, when I am stuck in the synagogue all day, I will give it up, and reflect. This sounds like a hard thing, a depressing one, even, but it is actually freeing. When you are backed up against that wall and can't avoid thinking of these things anymore, you do it, and you proffer apologies to everyone who deserves one. So to all of you I've slighted, being self-involved and into my own affairs, I'm sorry. I'll try to do better this year.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Full Load

I just collected the papers from my two Writing 2 classes. Writing 2 is a class in rhetoric and research. It requires a lot of work from the students, who must research and form their own topics around the theme (this semester, it's modern slavery), and write long researched arguments. It also requires a lot of work from the instructor, who must prepare lessons in the dry material of rhetoric in such a way that it becomes compelling and useful, as well as reading looong essays and commenting on them.
Meanwhile, both my sections have their own little dramas as far as relationships in the class are concerned. There were two male/female couples, one in each class. Now the girl has dropped from the later class, and the guy (lonely guy) is still there. There's some heavy duty flirting going on in the back right corner though. I may have to move them. One of these students is very bright, but unmotivated. The other is a ditz. Together, they have the potential to disrupt that corner, so I'll keep my eye on them.
The big shitload of papers is intimidating, given that this will be another holiday weekend, and somehow, I have to get it all done.


I was glancing at the Zoonooz magazine, publication of the San Diego Zoo, and it featured an article and pictures of a strange creature, somewhere between a cat and a weasel, called a fossa. It looks like an animated cat, sort of off, with weird goat-like eyes, but is actually a rare creature all to itself, from Madegascar, land of strange critters. Apparently, it's getting rarer because the inhabitants of Madegascar tell all sorts of stories about the evil inclinations and powers of these animals, one of the only preditors in the ecosystem.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Busy Tuesday

Today my class had a research presentation at the library. That was sort of a relief for me, as I did not have to prepare a class, but in the case of one of these presentations, it set the students back rather than helping them because the presenter clearly did not understand the topic my students must research--modern slavery! The students have to choose particular manifestations of modern slavery relating to the U.S., whether they are here or abroad, such as slave workers in another country who are making products that will end up being sold here or components of products sold here. She told them to use search terms relating to 19th century slavery in the U.S., while this is not appropriate for their topics, and spent an age on Lexus Nexus, when I specifically said I wanted them to use only professional journals and government/NGO reports and documents.
I sent material to the librarians in advance, and explained what my students were being asked to do, which was a short definition of the problem they had chosen. This will be followed later in the semester by a cause/effect essay on the problem and a proposal relating to the problem, then a big researched argument where they put these elements together.
I had to email the students after the session and tell them to disregard a sizable percentage of what was said.That is discouraging.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Magicians

I am reading Lev Grossman's novel The Magicians, and I absolutely love it. It is like an R rated Harry Potter or a grown up and slightly blue Narnia. Marly, have you seen it yet?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Second Day of Rosh Ha Shanah

Today was a far different kind of service than yesterday, when the synagogue was packed with families, everyone dressed to the 9s, all the kids in little outfits you wouldn't believe, outfits I never would have gotten my kid to wear in a million years. The parking lots were also packed, and everyone was on his best behavior, trying to keep those resolutions they knew they would break immediately, at least after this day was over.
There were probably more of us on the stage than in the audience. But it was an interesting service, in which we discussed possibly the most disturbing Torah portion--the Akedah, the story of Abraham almost sacrificing his son Isaac, the child of his and Sara's old age. This is the traditional portion for the second day of Rosh HaShanah, the new year, and the choice for the first day is the birth of Isaac and the casting out of Hagar--his consort, and his first son, Yishmael, so it's a continuation of that first day's portion, and the rabbi asked us if we thought it was a good choice, and if not, what other texts might be better choices for this day. Some people thought the creation of the world should be the text for the first day, or Lech L'cha, the day God told Abraham to get up and take himself to a new land, as the beginning of something new. But I see why the rabbis of old chose these texts, particularly today's, to be the ones we would discuss today.
This is the beginning of the 10 days of self-examination we are supposed to do before Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. In the Akedah, God tests Abraham. Most traditional synagogues say that he is being tested to see whether he will show absolute fealty to God, but I don't think so. I think that it's about whether Abraham has learned a lesson after turning out Hagar and Yishmael, his firstborn son, to die in the desert. He hasn't, apparently. I think he failed the test, and it's a test we have to pose for ourselves, to see whether we have understood the serious errors we have made in the past, or whether we're doomed to repeat those old negative patterns forever, or at least for as long as we live.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

L'Shanah Tovah (Happy New Year)

Last night, Jewish New Year started, and it has been a wonderful experience of singingwith the choir and being with my community. The holidays are a wonderful time for reflection, and they make me deeply contented, despite having to dredge up in the process many things about myself I am dissatisfied with and want to change. I am doing it with others, and singing, which I love to do.
This year, the rabbi has had some intriguing things to talk about. Last night he discussed a book the title of which I do not quite remember, although it was written by a famous mathematician Hoffstetner?, and was called something like The Strange Loop. It was about how individuals change each others' ways of thinking and the entire social organism.
Today he made a terrific speech about incivility and how people on all sides of all issues in this society do not consider adequately the impact of their words. Considering that we had been discussing this only the other day on Lou's blog, it was welcome fodder for thought, and he tied it in interesting ways to Torah.
Tomorrow I go back to service again and sing. I am buried under papers and haven't planned next week's class. I have a student with swine flu, and I don't know what to do about it. I'm sure it won't be the last one. There has to be some kind of policy for this problem. Too much to think about... .

Friday, September 18, 2009


While we were away on vacation and watching tv before going to bed, we happened on a documentary on A&E about hoarding. The people on the show had very severe hoarding problems, but I still recognized in the them the same level of anxiety I get when I try to deal with my mess. These people had accumulated disgusting amounts of filth. One woman hoarded cats, and there were dead cats and decomposing cats all over her home and property, rats, etc. She was completely unaware of the severity of her problem, and could not conceive of the idea that she might have to get rid of all her animals. She had a terrible panic reaction at the idea that this could happen, which of course it did, had to, since she was endangering herself and the animals.
Although it was hard to look at, I took it in, remembering my parents' home, and the mess I had to deal with, and vowed that I would never let my own problem, minor in comparison at this point, get out of hand.
When we came home from our trip, Jeremy, that wonderful boy, had cleaned up the table and surrounding area. And I am trying to keep it clear, as a new year resolution. I cleaned out the cabinet and am giving away packaged food I do not think we will use. The next task is the refridgerator.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Return of the Rejects

It is now official. I spoke too soon about the success of the latest things I have written this year. Stories and poems I have sent out, some back in the early part of the year, have returned to me rejected. It is true that Mezzo Cammin, the online journal of formed women's verse, responded quite personally that they liked certain parts of at least one of the poems, and requested more, but I don't have enough formed verse to send them, so it will have to wait until I write some more.
Rivertooth, the nonfiction journal, kept my story since last Feb. or March, but it came back with a form rejection, although it does say at the end that they welcome more pieces from me.
The journal in San Francisco I read about in Reb's blog sent back poems quickly, with the formiest of form rejections.
I know that I have to just keep on writing and sending out. But it is discouraging, of course. And it's been awfully silent around here as well. I have checked in day after day to no comments. I know you are out there. There are at least a few of you lurking. Please say something. I need to know you are there.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Impurity and Oddity

Last night we discussed two odd portions in Torah class from Leviticus, Tazria and M'Tzora. These portions, and most of Leviticus, are about the duties of the Priestly class as regards purification rituals in the temple. The first of these was about afflictions of the skin translated as "leprosy," but which are not really leprosy as we know it, but mold or any skin ailments, from rashes and allergies to whatever. The priest's job is not to cure these afflictions, but to make sure that the people in the community will not contaminate the temple. The idea is that if their affliction spreads to the temple, since they believed that objects and not just people would be contaminated, God would not make himself manifest in the temple anymore, so the priest had to guard carefully against any agents of contamination, and isolate them.

I have spoken before about how menstruation is one of these contaminants, and so is any bodily fluid leaking in an unseemly way from an individual, whether it be semen, fluids indicating a disorder such as a venereal disease, etc. Anything smacking of death to these ancients was a contaminant. Ironically, semen and menstrual blood are related to death, because they represent the death of potential life. For the fluids of life to become mixed with things related to death, such as corpses or dead meat, is contamination. That is why kosher meat is cooked well done (no exceptions!) till it is as hard as shoe leather, or otherwise becomes stewed, in pot roast, for instance. Rare meat is not kosher.

These books discuss the impurity related to childbirth. After giving birth to a boy, the mother must stay away from the temple for a certain period, and also away from the father, who must not have sex with her until her period of contamination is over--for one thing, she is bleeding for at least part of that time, and sex during menstruation is verboten. After the birth of a girl, however, the mother must stay away from the temple for twice as long! The commentators say that this is because the baby's hormones may cause her to have bloody discharge, but this is by no means certain. It sure looks like the text is saying a baby girl is more impure than a baby boy is. But, at any rate, the mom probably appreciated the opportunity to rest and to bond with her new baby. Cooking or touching items in the house proper is not permitted, so she does get a sort of vacation.

As far as skin eruptions go, the contaminated individual also had to isolate himself for a given period and not, by any means, enter the temple. He had to offer sacrifices, wash himself and his clothes, and sometimes shave off all his hair. We marveled at the number of elaborate rituals required not only of the afflicted individual but of anyone who came into contact with him or his belongings, and wondered at how, in the desert, the community could manage to wash itself this number of times.

It is true that in Europe, the Jewish community did not die anywhere near as often of the plague as the rest of the population, probably due to these purification rituals and the custom of isolating those who were ill. So I guess these obsessive rituals came in handy and preserved us, but they prompted one practical-minded member of the group to wonder whether the Levites were prone to inherited OCD, so obsessive and detailed were these rituals and the concern with purity.

The leader of the group pointed out that these sections of the text were written by the Priestly writer, whose job it was to justify the existence of the priestly caste and invent jobs for them to do. Certainly these books succeed at that, if nothing else.

The amazing thing was not only the response to people with skin eruptions, who had to walk through the street with their faces covered calling out "Impure! Impure!" so others would stay away from them, but the information about inanimate objects, such as houses, that were afflicted with "leprosy." These could be emptied of belongings and people, scoured thoroughly, replastered, and then reinhabited, or torn down and burned. In one passage, God says that God is the source of this affliction, which was, a commentator suggested, a means of indicating moral impurity that had gone unrecognized or unacknowledged.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

More on the trip

Saturday was a busy day. We managed to fit more things into that day than into any one weekend. In the morning, as I said, after a breakfast at the "pretty good grill" appended to the motel, we went to see the elephant seals, then drove up to San Simeon beach, walked the beach and pier, and I visited the little natural history center there, talking with the couple who ran the place about what we should see in the area. They pointed out Moonstone Beach, which we visited later that day. But we also got a taste (literally) of Cambria that afternoon, visiting the bakery and walking around town. After walking the boardwalk alongside Moonstone Beach, where I imitated a squirrel and almost had one climbing up my leg, we drove over to Morro Bay. It was crude and touristy compared to Cambria, but there were lots of interesting galleries, and I ducked into one to look over local art, which was interesting and priced well. I resisted most of it, but bought one piece. I had been hankering for some seafood, but without paying top price for it, some little place out in view of the water, with picnic tables, maybe. That's exactly what I found, and soon R. and I were eating our fish and chips (him) and a grilled halibut sandwich (me) in view of Morro Rock and in hearing of the seals you see in my header, which were hanging around the fishing boat, looking pretty full and satisfied. There were lots of people tossing things to them; I'm sure the junk food will shorten their lives, but they seemed to be enjoying those tidbits right now.

Monday, September 14, 2009

San Simeon

Although there are many lovely and elegant b&bs in Cambria and the surrounding area, we didn't want to spend that much for a place we were only going to be in to sleep. I planned lots of running around, so instead, we stayed at the San Simeon Motel 6, which had only rudimentary tv and a handicapped bathroom, which was rather inconvenient because it didn't have a counter for toiletries. But it was okay for our needs, clean and comfortable, and across the street from San Simeon State Beach (that may not be the exact name), which was dramatic and lovely. About 12 miles down highway 1 from there was Piedros Blancos, the beach where elephant seals breed and hang out. At this time of year, the poor beasts are molting, but we didn't see many adults (the only ones that molt, I think)--just one. The rest were large juveniles, who behaved in hilarious beachy ways, such as basking in the negligible sunlight (it was cold and foggy,and of course we weren't prepared for that), and throwing sand on themselves and their buddies. They rolled on their backs like cats, and the males pretended to be big shots, or as the Russians say, balsheyeah shishki (big pinecones, literally), bellowing and throwing themselves at the other males' chests, elbowing the littler guys out of the way with their flippers. We hung out there for a long time, watching the seals from behind the guard rails. Humans aren't allowed on that beach.
I scanned the area for sea otters, but didn't see any.
Then we drove over to Cambria. The last time we were in that little town, back in the 80s, it seemed much smaller. That was because we didn't know there were two sides to the village, and only went to the East part of town, where the toy soldier store was. This time, we went first to Cambria as soon as we got our rental car. It was quite late by then, and we were very hungry. The train had arrived at 4:00, almost too late to get our car, since the rental place closed at 5 on Friday night, but we walked the mile and a half, shlepping our bags, to the place, and drove away hungry in our black Kia. So when we got to Cambria, which the guidebook told us was full of good places to eat (expensive ones, unfortunately), we were almost overwhelmed by good smells. We considered the new Chinese place, across from our parking spot, but decided that because it was so cold and we were dressed inadequately, the pot pies at Linn's sounded good. And they were. I had a vegetable pot pie with tofu, which had a lovely winey sauce, and Richard had meatloaf--good comfort food. The smashed potatoes were wonderful! We began the meal with warm, homebaked bread with housemade seedless oalliberry jam. We were told the restaurant grows the berries themselves and makes their own jam and fruit products, and it was certainly the best jam I have ever tasted in my life. And we ended the meal with herbal tea and a cookie (me) and coffee (R). The next day we went by their bakery and tried a mini- oalliberry pie. I think I like the plain jam better.
Cambria seems to me like a place where people landed in the 60s and never left. The town is a long strip of stores, interesting eccentric ones, galleries, and craft places, as well as more mundane fare, run by people about our age, dressed as one might expect aged hippies to dress. The population runs to retired people and these other folks. The town sits on a beautiful stretch of beach, Moonstone Beach, that supposedly is covered with moonstones, but we didn't see any. We walked along the boardwalk, scanning the sea for orcas and otters (didn't see any). It was lovely.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Home Again

Today R. and I came home from our vacation feeling entirely different from when we left. We were laughing and relaxed, feeling close and looking forward to the week. The trip up was rather different.
On Thursday, it was one of the hardest day I have ever had at work. I wasn't sleeping because I was very excited about the trip. And it was a busy day--hours at the Writing Lab, conferences with students, and two classes in a row. By the time I got out, my legs felt wobbly, and I was buried under homework that required my immediate attention and comments by email, since I couldn't manage to conference the majority of the students before I left.
All day Friday on the train, while Richard read his golf magazine and looked out the window in the observation car and ate snacks, I graded papers, wishing I had a laptop so I could send comments to my students. But I finally finished, planned my classes for this week, and soon I too was looking out the windows and listening to the forest service volunteers' commentary on the natural and human history of the places we were passing.
The peoplewatching was good too. There were tons of characters, including singles bar type behavior in the observation lounge, busy body seat watchers, who tried to keep us from sitting down in the chairs unoccupied by people who were in the dining car, for hours at a time, and extremely friendly people who jabbered away to anyone who would listen.
I didn't take any pictures in the train; I was too busy on the way up, and by the time we came home, the train was full. Most of the pictures are sideways, and cannot be turned around, I'm told, without seriously compromising their quality, so I guess I can't post them, but I'll post a couple, and I'll tell more about what we did once we got there tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


The other day, on our weekly constitutional around the trails and paths of Northwood, R. and I argued about the issue of Obama's speech to school children. Schools around the country were invited to play the speech for children, as Obama urged them to stay in school. As a black man in a powerful position, he was in a position that no president has ever been in before to urge this, and it might just make a difference. But irresponsible forces of the opposition decided to use lies and fear to stand in his way just because they could. I was fuming about that.
Of course R., as a person who grew up in a small, southern, and very Republican town and household, reasonably pointed out to me that Obama is nothing if not a politician, and even if he never said a word about his policies, he would represent them just the same, so it made sense for the opposition to object to this. But the point was, they DIDN't object to this, but to some imagined boogie-man red scare--he would transform their children into socialists!! That's what those parents said they were told and what they feared. Aren't we all tired of all these lies? Of people believing them?
In a week when my class showed itself unable to distinguish an "objective" newspaper article from an editorial, I was disgusted and losing hope for our country. But interestingly, Public TV news pointed out that when the shoe was on the other foot, years ago, when Daddy Bush did something similar, the Dems objected. Of course, they didn't lie to the public about it either. But they did object.
Can't we send all these liars back to school to study logic and reinstitute some sort of order and civility into this discussion?

This semester's classes

Yesterday was the first time I gave back something with a grade to the students. They had two major homework assignments, designed to gauge their reading and summary skills. One section did very poorly. Despite my explaining what an editorial was, where to find them, and how an argument differed from exposition/a regular newspaper article, about half of them gave me regular articles, not editorials. Some of these didn't even get the position of the piece right. The study questions on the story were written in every form of illiterate prose. I was appalled. They looked and sounded (some of them) as if they were written by 4th graders. And I have no reading class to send them to. At least one of these told me he did very well here in Writing 1. I don't know how.
At least three people dropped on the spot, after receiving this assignment back. I tried to be moderate in my comments, but I had to tell them they had work to do, needed to take the class more seriously, etc.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Upcoming trip

This coming weekend, R and I are stealing some time to take a train trip up the coast to San Luis Obispo. We will hang around that town for a little bit, then drive down to San Simeon, where we'll be staying. I love the Hearst Castle, but R doesn't want to go there. Instead, we will rent a car and drive the backroads, hike by the beach at Cambria and Morro Bay, and ride back home by train Sunday. J. will watch the cats. I will tell my students I won't be available this weekend by email. They'll be writing their drafts, so they may need me, but they can wait till Monday. I am looking forward to it! I will try to remember to take Jeremy's camera and take some pictures.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Vegetarian Bliss

I like the idea of eating vegetarian, but generally, I find cooking solely vegetarian dishes much more labor intensive than eating mixed foods. This is because vegetarian dishes require subtle saucing and much chopping, while meat has inherent flavor and juices that vegetarian foods generally do not have, thus might not require as much effort from a chef.
I stopped eating beef years ago because of the cholesterol, but cheat with lamb, which has just as much cholesterol and more fat, because I like the smell and the flavor of meat. And we all eat tons of turkey and chicken, in every conceivable form--burritos, meatloaf, meatballs, curries, etc. And fish too.
But this evening we went to a Vietnamese vegetarian restaurant called Bo De Tinh Tam Chay, in Westminster. I saw a writeup in the LA Times food section about a month ago, and since then I have been trying to get Richard to go there to eat. We finally went, and it was worth the wait. It was a lovely place, with lots of dark wood and faux waterfalls, not your standard hole in the wall Asian joint. There were even metal chopsticks.
The review offered enthusiastic recommendations of several things, and we tried them, plus at least one other dish. We ordered the standard vermicelli with imperial roll (egg roll), which also had shredded tofu and something called "charbroiled citrus fry," an unidentified substance with the texture of meat. I don't know what that stuff was, but it was delicious. Once I topped it with red-hot chili sauce, shredded basil, bean sprouts, mint, and lettuce, I liked it better than the regular version with meat. We also ordered a spring roll filled with vermicelli, daikon, and shredded carrot, with a peanut dip. That was wonderful too! The third dish was a "sparerib" made with lemon grass. It was sort of funny looking, no bone, of course, but tasted fantastic. There are 100 0ther dishes to try (I'm not kidding), so we'll go back and try some different ones next time.
This restaurant takes the place of an old favorite we used to like that has long since closed down. We like this new one even better, though it is more expensive than the old one. Nicer place too... .

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Bad neighbors

Reading Lou's blogpost this morning about a long-term bad neighbor, I was inspired to think of a classic bad neighbor I grew up with--Lil. I don't know her last name, but she was a doozy. Lil was a fuzzy haired biddy who lived next to me when I was growing up on Stirling St. in Philadelphia. She never had a family that I know of, as in a husband or children, and she always seemed old to me, but I guess at one point, she wasn't. It was hard to tell.

She was a dead ringer for Larry of the three stooges, and had a grating voice that made me think of nails on a blackboard. What she said with that voice was more annoying than the mere sound of it though.

Lil was a gossip and a mean-hearted individual. She ridiculed my parents and me, and spent a lot of time getting the other neighbors to gang up on us. For example, my dad loved to plant vegetables in his postage-stamp garden out front. Lil didn't approve; she had chopped down and cemented over her own lawn and put lawn furniture on it. But because she lived on a corner lot, she had a bit of greenery alongside the house as well.

At one point, she called the police and claimed that my father's vegetables (tomatoes, watermelon, cucumbers) had attracted rats. There were certainly rats in the sewer that would come out and munch on the garden, but even without the garden, they were there, and we frequently saw them. Well anyway, the health department bought her argument and made my dad uproot the garden and chop his garden way back.

Frustrated, dad planted hedges all along the borders of his property, such as it was. Then she decided that 3/4" of the hedges belonged to her, and ripped them out, at least the ones on her side. In their place, she put a full trashcan full of garbage, right under our window, in the middle of summer, and we didn't have an air conditioner.
For the record, it is very very hot in Philadelphia, very humid, miserable. Hell. There are frequent thunderstorms, and one is always hopeful that they will cool things off, but they don't. Even when it is raining, it's still hot as hell, and afterwards, it's worse.

Friday, September 4, 2009


Well it seems that the full moon hike for tonight is canceled because the workshop leader injured herself and cannot walk! While I am of course sorry to hear that she injured herself, I really was not looking forward to driving out there on Santiago Canyon Rd., where the motorcyclists and hotrodders scare me. Generally when I drive there, there are lines of impatient drivers behind me, with really pissed off looks on their faces because I am going the speed limit or a bit below.
I do not like driving there, and since driving at night is hard for me (I don't see well at night, or not as well as I could), I am relieved that I will not be driving that road tonight. However, I will spend some time outside, looking at the moon, perhaps on my way home from synagogue.


My pen-friend through yoga, Kathy Ricci, is suffering from cancer. I heard through the grapevine in yoga that she was ill, so I began sending her cards and notes via email about a year ago. Since then, I have come to marvel at her amazing spirit. Although she suffers from the pernicious effects of her disease and chemo as well, she refuses to allow all that to hold her down. She practices restorative yoga, tai chi, walks on the beach, and enjoys her life insofar as she is able, and she seems able to a very great degree to do that. It is a lesson to me that she refuses to give in to despair or to pain.
I hope that this fierce spirit is rewarded and that she improves again.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

New Worms

My dad's worms died when the ants he attracted by chopping up garbage in his room in his food processor in order to feed the worms caught the attention of the landlord. He sprayed with Raid and killed the worms. So my dad cleaned out the worm farm, made new bedding, and I contacted the worm lady so we can pick up some new worms tomorrow at the Farmer's Market in Laguna Hills. I will bring my dad, and maybe pick up a few other things while I'm there.
Tomorrow evening is another full moon walk at the Red Rocks again. I am tempted to call it off; I'm so tired, and I've been to Red Rocks a few times now. Next month it will be held somewhere else, and I'm signed up for that, but the wilderness workshops have provided an opportunity for me to write poems. I haven't been writing many these days, though I have been reworking old poems for the manuscript and for the list I'm making of what can go into the manuscript and what can be sent out. I hope to get back some things that are out soon so I can send them out again or know that they are going to be published somewhere. I'd especially like to hear about the story I sent to Riverteeth 6 months ago or so. They are still considering it. Sometimes it takes a long time to get those things back. Sometimes they don't come back at all.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Anxiety Dreams

We have all had such dreams, where we toss and turn and feel as if we haven't slept at all the next morning, even if we have. For a while recently I was dreaming that I was lying in bed and couldn't sleep, even though I was sleeping when I dreamed this, obviously. I would dream it over and over again, like a real sleepless night. Last night, I dreamed that I was supposed to be driving, but was in the back seat of the car sleeping. I woke up with the car hurtling down an empty mall, and jumped into the front seat just in time to stop the car. What a horrible night! I don't know exactly what I am anxious about; it's sort of generalized. Perhaps it's the fires, or the fact that my hearing seems to be worsening, making it harder to hear my students. I am thinking of calling the doctor and getting a new hearing test. I don't think there's anything I can do about it. There are only two kinds of hearing aids that will work for me, since my hearing is opposite of everyone else's. Most people with hearing loss lose high frequency. I have lost low frequency sounds. I suppose the insurance would cover new aids. I got these two years ago, I think. It's probably time to get tested again. But it upsets me to think that I will go totally deaf, and soon. Maybe I ought to learn to lip read a little better.

Torah Taboos

I was too tired last night to get into the discussion as much as usual, but there were some interesting topics last night. We began to discuss the laws of kashruth, particularly the pork taboo. The commentaries all agreed that pig meat is the most delicious meat of those forbidden. After all, I have no desire to eat an owl, one of the forbidden meats, or even a snake (though I have indeed eaten french fried rattler and alligator--two forbidden foods-- actually), but I and most other Jews tempted by a BLT have wondered what's with pigs anyhow that they should be so tremendously taboo that one is not even supposed to touch their skin. The commentaries suggest that pork was a central feature of the festivals in other nearby cultures. It was a matter of distinguishing ourselves from those others. Making distinctions--between holy and secular, night and day, etc., is a great part of the laws in this religion. The dangers of not making such distinctions are made clear by the story we discussed last night, where the new high priests, sons of Aaron, got carried away and offered a little spontaneous ceremony not planned beforehand, and were instantly zapped for it. Their dead bodies were contaminating the sanctuary, and had to be dragged out for the grand opening of the temple to go forward. God then proclaims that priests should beware of hitting the bottle, so commentators speculate that this is why the two new priests went off the rails.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Slippery Section

Enrollment in one of my sections at school is at 26 and has held steady since the first day. However, the other section has been like a revolving door. I had to ESL students, both of whom dropped. I forgot to check what the LD instructor said about my possible LD student. I know I have a student with Aspergers or some other disorder in the Autistic spectrum, but he seems to be doing okay. He's a little peculiar, but he's smart and pretty much with it in class. He'll be okay, I think.
There are some students who apparently don't pay attention or read things well, but one always gets this sort. I put up the assignment sheet in class and discussed it, and now I get home and have a student tell me she doesn't know what's due next time. Sigh. Then there are students adding. The one who added last time was nodding off in class. She seriously looks as if she's on some sort of drug. And today's add can't get the college to accept the APC code; she says that they have accepted her writing 1 credit from another college, but then she says they want her to take Writing 1. I am confused... I know she is. As far as I'm concerned, it's too late to add anyone else.