Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Chanukah starts tomorrow and I don't know where my menorah and other paraphernalia are. Somewhere I have dreidels galore, books, hannukiah (menorahs by another name), candles,etc. But since Jeremy moved out I don't know where they are. They used to be in his drawer, in the storage bed, where I knew how to find them.
Jeremy naturally loved Chanukah, as Christian kids do Christmas, and every year for a long time I would have a big dinner party, for which I would cook for a week. He would invite his non-Jewish friends, to show off what a great holiday it was. He would light his own menorah every night, and spin dreidels day and night. Naturally, the daily presents were nothing to sneeze at either.
This year I managed to get R a couple of gifts, but nothing for Jeremy because I had no idea what he wanted or needed. He said simply to take him shopping for clothes and to give him money for food. That's what we will do. Yesterday I took him out to eat sushi to discuss this, and today I will take him to the dentist to pay for his extensive treatment plan. He didn't go for years, and this is the price he pays. But he also needs a night guard because he grinds his teeth and has to have his wisdom teeth out too. Before that, dentists were no big deal for him, as for me. I have had only two cavities in my life. Good genes.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Talk About Awkward

I met up with the former student who is living in the house on which we put a bid. He and his mom are losing that house, and I feel rather awful about the fact that I stand to gain from that. But not awful enough not to bid because we have such a limited amount of money to spend on a house and I really want to stay in Irvine. If I go elsewhere, it is likely to be someone else who is losing a house. Most of the places we could afford will be priced that way because of this. So would it be hypocritical or silly to withdraw the offer for that reason?
In any case, he says that his mom is trying to get the loan's terms changed so they can stay in the house, and I wish them the best of luck on that. He is a very nice kid, and a good student, soon to transfer to a 4 year school.
So many people are suffering in this economic climate. It is too bad it is the only way I can afford to think about buying a house here.

Still Waiting

The realtor told us that there were multiple bids on the place down the street. So we don't think we're going to get it. We get MLS listings every day that fit our criteria in the places we would be willing to consider. Just about all the Tustin places look as if they are along big loud streets and in bad neighborhoods except for a couple that are too expensive. We will look at some more Lake Forest places because I am beginning to doubt that we can get anything in Irvine. There are a couple of Woodbridge places, one I would love to have, but it is too expensive. The place we looked at first, with the wet bar in the bedroom (weird!) and the black granite floors is still available, but the price has been raised beyond our range.
I don't know if the realtor will call us to go look at some of these places. Maybe I will email him this morning.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Cold Like Somewhere Else

Winter is truly here. The days are dwindling now, and I am wanting my sweaters, the few I have. The rest of the year makes them items that just get in the way, and I stuff them somewhere because I don't need them. Now I need them.
The winter holidays are almost upon us. I can understand our ancestors' desire to celebrate light, as darkness encroaches.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Vegetarian Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you! Thanks for hanging out with me all year long!
Spurred by my yoga teacher Denise's repeated entreaties that we not engage in animal sacrifice for the holiday, I decided that since my parents were gone, and it was at most, just the three of us, I would make something different and untraditional--at least, not part of MY traditions. I took out my gigantic Deborah Madison Vegetarian Cooking For Everyone cookbook, and paged through it. It is a beautiful book, and comes highly recommended. Many times, sitting at yoga waiting for class to start, I looked through it. Finally I just decided to check out Amazon and see if there was a used copy I could buy.
Today I made three dishes: pearl onions and Portobello mushrooms in cabernet sauce; buttermilk skillet cornbread; and red bean gumbo. The onions were rather ugly (what I have seen called a "twilight" dish, like black beans), darkened by the wine glaze and the blackness of the mushrooms, but they tasted great--a bit crisp to the bite, and sweet. The cornbread was wonderful, particularly since I used coarse ground cornmeal, not that stuff out of the box that has been degerminated. The gumbo was very impressive looking, with red and yellow bell peppers, assorted shreds of greens, and red red kidney beans. It took forever for the roux to darken, and I think I should have waited some more. It might have had more taste. The pot I cooked it in, the enamel coated cast iron pot I bought last year, cooks everything way too slowly. My back hurt too much to stand there stirring any longer, so I quit. I shouldn't have. The wild and white rice pilaf I made to mix in it helped a little, but it wasn't as good as regular gumbo. It was a disappointment. At least it was warm. Seems like the right sort of day for that.
The real estate guy was here today. He told us that the agent who was handling the house down the street finally told him there have been multiple bids on it. I don't think we will get it, but one never knows. I am just hoping that we will get SOMETHING and not be bid out of everything in our price range in this town. Still, I am feeling excited about the future, anticipating having my own home to have Thanksgiving dinner in next year, if all goes well.
Hope you are all enjoying your families and your dinners, whatever they may be.

Reading the Contract

I'm no legal eagle, but I just read the contract for the little sale I made of the essay I wrote last year to order for an anthology called Flashlight Memories, and I'm impressed. $10. isn't much, but the terms are nice. I retain full rights,and the book will be sold in print and e-book forms and will be available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble online and print. I can get author's rates for 2 years.
I'm new to all this, and it is amazing to me. Soon I will sign what I am sure will be a more formidable agreement for the other anthology I'm to be published in, Bless Your Heart, the one where my essay/story, "A Village" will be published. I worked much harder on that one, and the editor was a really sharp cookie, eliciting more and more details from me that I added to the story.
There is drama on the home front, though I don't know what today will bring, besides dinner, after a few hours of labor. The realtor will be coming at 10:30 to give us news of the counter-offer put forward by the other party. All I know is that it doesn't involve money. What it could involve I have no idea, and whether this means that we will not get the house I don't know. If we don't, I guess the search is on again.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


You may remember that I wrote a piece for an anthology about reading called Flashlight Memories about a year ago. It was accepted, and I got a contract, my first, since the one for the parent anthology hasn't arrived yet. I will be paid $10. and one copy! Whoopie do! I guess this makes me a professional?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

New One

I've been tinkering with the whale poem.


The whales gather
calling across
thousands of miles
their wise if
inadequate eyes
on either side
of their heads.

In contrast
the ear cannot
be seen; its chambered
cochlea coils
within the cavern
of its skull.

Humans experience
the ocean with
their eyes:
pulsing coral
flame bright
Imperiator Angel
the angler with its
worm-like lure.

Seeing hardly
matters to the whales
chanting their collective
saga that will
never end perhaps
of humans in their
clumsy ships
their subtle
hands ill-shaped
for swimming
their grapple hooks
and insatiable nets.


We put in the offer last night, and now we wait. I pick up papers today and tomorrow too.

Monday, November 22, 2010


It ain't over till it's over, as they say, but if this does go through, it will be the fastest shopping trip for a major purchase I ever had. We knew that the place a few doors away, a two floor townhome, where one of my former students lived with his family, was for sale. It is the biggest style in the complex, where we have lived for a number of years. While I had preferred a one floor model, it was, according to the realtor, the only place for sale in Irvine that fit our criteria and price range. So it was the first place we looked at, and I decided after our epic trip to Lake Forest, that I wanted to put a bid in on it. So many people had looked at it by that time, I assumed there was no chance at all we'd even get a chance to bid, but only one person had put an offer down on it, and he bid so low, below the asking price, that the owner wouldn't even consider it, according to the realtor. So if the bank approves, we will get this place. It is more expensive than the ones in Lake Forest, but it is here, in familiar territory, close to everything, and it makes me feel comfortable. It has beautiful fruit trees in the yard (it's a corner unit) and no mello roos. The taxes are low and it is lots less expensive than the comps, though we can't figure out why. But we aren't asking.
If it doesn't happen, we'll hope more Irvine stuff turns up. And we'll look at some places in Tustin.

Here a House, There a House, Everywhere a House

This weekend was full of house hunting, house thinking, house obsession. We thought seriously for the first time about what we really wanted in a place. And I realized how attached I had grown to Irvine. It is hard for me to imagine how I, a city girl, born and bred, from a tough blue collar Philadelphia neighborhood, and hence, I thought, skeptical about suburban splendor and little-box mentality. But I have grown attached to the amenities in this place, the beautiful trees from all over the world, the thoughtfully designed walking paths, the amazing ethnic grocery stores and other shopping, and most of all, to the proximity of our digs to our places of work. That, by far, for someone who does not like to drive and has a car that is admittedly somewhat old and on its way out in the next couple of years, is the largest concern.
Irvine is full of short sales and foreclosures, and they look affordable, even for us. We must save our money to help our son transfer to a four year school, and if he plans to go all the way to the prize, an advanced degree in psychology and eventual career, something I hope with fervor that he does do, though I recommended that he go the education route and teach small children, something he would be very very good at, without the need for so long a haul, we need to help him with money and perhaps a place to live down the line. So we are looking for a 2-3 bedroom place, and our ideal place would also have two full baths. But in Irvine, these are tough to impossible in our very small price range, especially since I refuse to move into a place where I will not have my own washer and dryer.
Over the weekend, we (I got R to come with, and he participated with enthusiasm that surprised me) took a trip with the realtor to look at places. Our first journey was quite short--several doors away to look at the place one of my former students and his family was losing in a short sale. His mother was there, looking about to cry, and it was awkward, to say the least, but although I am ready to say yes to this place, so are lots and lots of other people, who are going to bid it up way beyond our means in no time.
Then we went to Lake Forest. We looked at 4 places there. The first was respectable. It had nice wood floors and a granite counter in the kitchen as well as its own personal little laundry room out on the huge patio. True, the neighborhood was a tad questionable, the parking scanty, the HOA very large (in fact all the places in Lake Forest had huge HOAs, though the cost of the houses was extremely low), and the carpet upstairs and on the stairs as well as the curtains gruesome. But it was really large, had three bedrooms and 2 1/2 baths, and nice storage space of all kinds. The next place was the stuff of nightmares, with a drooling and barking pitbull whining for our blood locked in a crate in the kitchen. The whole place looked like a drunk who had had a very bad night. The cabinets were scored and scarred, the walls painted intense, almost dayglo colors, the closets covered with makeshift curtains, and the bathrooms dingy and tiny. I hated it with a passion I seldom feel about anything, even though the realtor said he could get it really really cheap and then we could tear it apart. It was huge, almost 1800 sq ft. The third was in some ways worse than the second, being located in a complex that was so poorly designed we wondered at how someone could have screwed up so badly (on coke? drunk? hard to say). There was nothing at all good to say about it, and it was weird in a way that is not interesting enough to examine here, especially the enormously high ceiling that looked like one could shoot a rocket from it or set up an enormous telescope, something R might have been tempted to do if we were foolish enough to buy this place. The final one was sublime, from the moment we opened the door and saw its immaculate garage and stairs. It was not a short sale, though it was very cheap. It was beautifully kept, with dark wood cabinets all over the house. Even the pantry shelves slid out so one could see what was in the back, something I desperately need because there are things in the back of my cabinet I forget almost immediately, and hence waste lots of money buying again. There was a huge linen closet. The bathrooms were generous and had new looking fixtures. There was a patio the whole length of the place, but one I could not think of a use for since it was up over the garage, not on the ground. The ceilings were so low, they even made me feel oppressed, and that was worrisome, but R, seeing that this would be a great place for the pool table he was dreaming about, which will double as a dining room table, wanted to buy it right away. At first I thought it was okay with me, but the more I thought about it, the less I thought that was true. I want to stay in Irvine, if that is possible. So the search continues, if, as I expect, the bid on the house next to ours falls through.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Learning More About Houses

Today I went to see the real estate guy. He discussed what I was looking for and where for a really long time, and he told me that what I wanted at the price I could afford to pay for it was going to be difficult to find, especially in this town. If I go over one town, I can find something, most likely. He said that the place we were looking at that had come down to $250,000. had attracted a number of people who were bidding the price up beyond what we could afford.
Tomorrow we look at more places, including one a few doors away.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Swinging back in the other direction today

I spoke with Michael, the finance guy, and he gave me some numbers. Looks like if I am more flexible about where we live and the price of the place, we can swing this house thing very well. I may have to go for a fixer upper and put some money into having it done up, since neither I nor R nor J can do anything to fix it, or go to neighboring communities to live, but this is more than possible, and we may end up paying less than we do now for rent.
We are helped by the fact that people with short sale and foreclosure houses are getting desperate and dropping their prices at an alarming rate. I am sorry to have to take advantage of someone else's misfortune, but I will do it because it's the only way for me to get into this market.
For example, the only house I have looked at so far was almost $400,000. It was damaged and there were lots of little things I didn't like about it. But now it is $250,000. For that much less, I can overlook some things, have them fixed. It wouldn't be hard to pay that off, in comparison. I ask myself whether there are other places of this ilk, and I am sure there are. In fact, I've seen a place listed that was from all appearances quite similar right down the street from that one.
So tomorrow I will have a chat with the real estate guy and see whether he is willing to help me find a place like this one. He seems set on putting us into a brand new place in West Irvine with Mello Roos and marble counters. I don't need marble counters (though the place I looked at has granite floors that are pretty fancy too). I don't need a brand new house. I just need one that is basically sound and not full of toxic mold, bedbugs, or something of that nature. If he's up for that, we can work together.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Nominate Food Posts

I just got this in email about nominating blog posts about meals and food. I plan on going out there and looking at Lou's blogposts and nominating one of them, if she doesn't mind.


I need to eat my breakfast and take vitamins, but I confess I've gotten into a bad situation with one of my students. He has been consistently difficult, hyper, immature, and a trouble-maker. He naturally fancies himself a writer, and has sent me a chapter of an ersatz fairy tale, and asked me to give my opinion, clearly thinking I'd rave, as probably high school teachers did. I didn't, though I told him it was worth taking to a workshop. He didn't know what a workshop was; I explained. I don't think he'll like workshops. I use similar techniques in my comp class, putting up anonymous samples for class discussion, and warned students of this at the start of the semester. No one told me not to use his or her writing, until, after the fact, he did, taking it personally rather than a means of instruction. But he tends to walk out of class in the middle of peer review, not do homework, not listen to comments (or not to understand them). Not surprisingly, he tells me that he didn't bother to sign up for the Writing Center because they didn't help him in earlier classes. I'm sure he was one of those students who couldn't listen to what people were telling him then too. I've made the mistake of persisting, trying to get through to him and actually help him improve, and I deserve what I get. He thinks I'm persecuting him. Should have just let him be.

On a Dime

As I've said about myself before, though I don't think I've inherited my dad's bipolar disorder, I am pretty volatile. Last night, with all the house stuff in motion, R and I had a talk about things.
People don't know him very well since he isn't very open, the direct opposite of me, who is Ms. Blabbermouth. One of my cherished early memories of him is before we were married, when he came to Philadelphia one Winter Break to visit me and my parents. He drove up from VA, and I remember the sight of that tiny white Datsun chugging along. I thought then that the car and he, despite the disparity in size, with R's long legs crunched almost up to his years as he sat behind the wheel, were much alike.
The car was nothing fancy. It was new when he bought it, but had no radio or other frills. But it was beyond all things reliable. And he is just the same, to this very day. Everyone can always count on Richard to serve, never complaining, chugging along, not needing or accepting repairs.
He has been like that as a partner, a parent, an employee. Now, after he has taken over as supervisor of writing teachers for James, R is becoming battered and weary. He sits in a sort of hunched over way, and I know he is suffering. He will, as usual, never complain though.
But when I wanted to talk to him about the house and he said we couldn't afford to pay the monthly payments we would need to in order to cover HOA, morgage, insurance, and yearly taxes, I confess I flipped out. And he laid it out for me in such a way that I realized I have forgotten a lot of important things, like how I am going to be able to make these payments when I am in my 80s, and not working, and how we are going to cover the cost of Jeremy's transfer to four year college and probably graduate school, since he wants to be a psychologist, and this indeed is where his talent lies.
As usual, he is the calm, rational, responsible one. I am impulsive in comparison, and above all apt to fly off on gusts of fancy, either toward the negative or the wildly, unrealistically positive.
I am not sure what to do now. I guess I will consult my financial sources, and see what they say.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Search Begins

Heard about the loan! The process begins, as soon as I have time ,maybe today, maybe tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

What ABOUT THanksgiving?

I just read blog-sister Lou's wisdom on the holiday of Thanksgiving. She amazes me with her energy and the way she pours love into the meals she makes, even if it is just the three of them at home; when her daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren come to stay, she really goes to town, and sounds like she is doing that next Thursday too. No surprise.
A few days ago, J surprised me by saying when I asked him to come to dinner on Thanksgiving that HE and his roommates would fix dinner for us at his apartment, which I have not yet visited, though he has told me to drop by any time. Knowing that he does not like to make appointments, and in my strictly scheduled life, there is no other way of doing things, I have never made it over there, and I wondered how the spontaneous kid would ever in a million years manage Thanksgiving dinner, particularly since he refused to allow me to teach him the rudiments of cooking. Not surprisingly, yesterday, he said forget it. He is going to work, for double-time at the market. R and I are on our own. It makes me feel sad because I will miss him and of course my parents. Last year's Thanksgiving dinner saved my mother's life, giving her another half a year of life, I believe, before she stopped eating for good. It is up to me to get excited and overcome the fact that I will have papers to grade, most likely, and do this thing up right, if somewhat simply, for R and me. He isn't crazy about turkey, but I love it. I could make a very small turkey breast or buy that Trader Joe's half a turkey and make a vegetarian dish that he would prefer. I'll ask him what he wants.

Didn't hear from the loan guy

I didn't hear from the loan guy yesterday, which probably means nothing. But it doesn't help that feeling go away.
Now I am in the thick of dealing with students' problems with the research paper. I cannot do much for them because each is responsible for picking out information from the research and deciding how to use it. Once they give me a draft, I can help them, but maybe 1/4 of the ones still left gave me a draft yesterday, and I cannot delay this paper. I assigned a chapter on this kind of argumentation weeks ago, but it seems that the majority never bought the book. That should not be my problem, but I cannot in conscience fail most of the students. Ah the moral dilemmas of working with people!

Monday, November 15, 2010


Today we are supposed to hear from my yoga friend, Michael, the morgage guy, about whether he will give us a loan to buy a house. I made less this past year than the year before, quite a bit. Though R may have made more, it is not enough to make up for the difference. This coming year, with the new job at CSUF, I may be back to what I made before, but of course, that is not reflected in the figures we gave Michael. If he gives us a loan that is too small to buy here, less than about $400,000, I am not sure what I'll do. I'll have to consider moving somewhere else or to a different town than this one, where houses will be less expensive. Still, I am not sure whether we will be able to get anything decent. But I won't catastrophize here. I'll just wait and see.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Last Night At Shul Again

This weekend was the annual meeting of the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation convention, which met at the Hyatt Hotel in Irvine. Our synagogue is part of this federation of synagogues and groups who espouse a Reconstructionist philosophy of Judaism. The simplest way I can explain Reconstructionism is that it is a rational, modern form of the religion that "reconstructs" or adapts the tradition to suit the sensibilities of intelligent, educated modern Jews. This means that it is uncomfortable with the notion of a supernatural God or with exclusionary doctrines like "the chosen people." Instead, this movement embraces those parts of the tradition that are all about social justice and social action, education, and progressive government and international policies. In other words, it comprises that branch of Judaism that has always existed--the left-wing and socially aware. Sometimes I am a little bit uncomfortable with how much it privileges science over other things--for me, science is no more "true" for the most part than anything else, though I know this is problematic. And sometimes I feel that there are elements of supernatural in the world that this movement neglects, but there is room in the tent for me and others like me. No one is casting me out for a few ideological differences. The name of the game is tolerance.
Last night at the service, I gave out social action information at the door--actually, I was trying to round up locals to fill out a social action survey. Although I don't have time to do much for the Committee, at least I can do things like this, and I am glad to do them. Once a year or so, I try to go to a soup kitchen with the committee. I wish I could do that every week. We used to go to the Catholic Worker years ago twice a week and cook for homeless people, and we got to know them. I felt privileged to be able to do it, and found it was a boon to myself more than anything else. I wish I had time to do that again, but I find that I don't, between school, yoga, and writing. But there will be time at some period in my life, and I will begin doing that again.
Anyway, it was our monthly musical service, which is always wonderful. We have some really gifted musicians who play and perform, including our cantor, Ruti Brier, who is married to the Rabbi, and others, including a clarinet/sax player, Leo, who does kletzmer, and a violinist, Julie, who plays for the Pacific Symphony when she is not playing for us. Because of the convention, there were others, including an amazing Argentinian cantor who performed like a star singing a Spanish Jewish song, "Gracias por la Vida." Our cantor, who is from Argentina and Israel, does this song sometimes too, and she is good, but this guy was amazing.
Then Irwin Chamerinski, who is a member of our synagogue, spoke. He is the dean of UCI's law school and an expert in Constitutional law. He discussed separation of church and state, and told us that for the first time in the history of the U.S., there are 5 justices on the Supreme Court who do not believe in Jefferson's "high and impregnable wall" between church and state. For them, only the government's actually starting its own church or coercing others to join a particular church would break that law. He said that in the 40s, even the most conservative justices did not believe that, and told us about a case he tried before the Supreme Court, the last case Renquist heard before his death, and how Renquist responded to Chamerinski's case about the 6 foot high three and a half feet wide monument of the Ten Commandments that if the client didn't like it, he could just turn his head. Of course, Chameriniski lost the case. He urged us to write to our representatives about this issue, and to let them know that we were not against religion, but that we wanted to feel that this was our government too, and that for the sake of Buddhists, Moslems, and atheists and others, we didn't want to feel excluded from our own government.
I remember having the annual discussion with our son's teachers in elementary school about Christmas, and how I told them of his tears every year when he was forced to do Christmas crafts. His ignorant teacher told him he could make his wreath blue and white, but a wreath is a Christian symbol, and Jeremy and his Moslem and Buddhist and Hindu classmates sat silently and sadly, feeling as though they were being made an example of. We told Jeremy we would hang his wreath, and that we loved anything he did, but he wouldn't let us, and sadly dropped it into the trash bin, crying all the while.
No child should have to feel like this, but of course, the parents of his Christian classmates and his teachers didn't understand this. They didn't see why we had to be such killjoys.
Every Jewish child who grew up in the public school during the time of school prayer as I did has memories of this. I would sing very religious Christmas songs, thinking that maybe lightning was going to hit me. I would say the prayers, which, to be fair, were mostly from the Old Testament (though not from Jewish translations of those books), but I wondered how others who were neither Christian nor Jewish felt. And I thought that it would be better even then not to have had to say these prayers at all.
After his talk, there was more music, and my friends Shannon Fowler, head of the choir I sing in at synagogue, and Steve Hirsch sang a terrific duet that was among the best music all night. Hooray for the homies!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Revision of Harvest

Richard and others have been telling me that this poem isn't finished for some time, and I knew it, even if a few people embraced it as it was. So this morning at 3:45 I got up and added the narrative it needed to make it complete. I'm sure it isn't finished, even now, but perhaps you can suggest what needs to be done.
in memory of my father, Mish Kellman

The air has lost its savor.
Once, the fields and lots of Irvine
shone with star-bright blossoms,
the sweet air heavy with twilight
heralding the trees’ full load.
Then, I would be drawn to stand out
in the silent grove, dizzy with perfume,
and gaze up into dark green depths
where secrets swelled. I’d peek
into the petticoats of leaves and reach
a hand to palm the nascent fruit,
mindful of proprietary farmers and their dogs.

In a month, as in a nebula light years away,
galaxies are born in bursts of brightness
no one can see, the perfect planetary globes
of lemons, grapefruits, and oranges would light
our moonless evenings, smooth-skinned and bright—
the Meyer lemon, rounder than the ordinary kind;
squat mandarin; pink grapefruit
blushing in the half light of the leaves
among the twisting rows of guardian eucalyptus.

At home in Philadelphia, with only
one small square of rock-hard dirt,
you made things grow beneath a narrow
sky fretted with wires, wondering
all the while at what you
managed to bring forth.

In California where the wide skies
stretch for acres, sown with clouds,
you planted everything: the seeds
of each new fruit—pomegranate,
star fruit, hand of Buddha,
dirt beneath your nails, along
the half-moon cuticles. Every week,
you wandered narrow aisles
of nursery and farmer’s market,
holding up each perfect berry,
burying your face in golden
bells of angel’s trumpet, nurturing
each sign of life. But though I tried,
I couldn’t do the same.

On nights like these, only
knot-hard stars will ripen
where the trees once stood.
No wonder that I haunt the farmer’s
markets Friday afternoons, taking in
the glistening peppers, pendulous tomatoes
like grandees, pebbled avocados,
that even I, a stranger to the soil,
now long to plant a seed.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


I offended a student yesterday by using his paper anonymously as an example of an approach that would not work. He was so upset, he left class early. I told him later that he was not the only one with this particular problem of not writing an argument or using research. Though this is supposed to be a research argument that persuades an audience, I see very little of either go on. Again, it is something we have been talking about and practicing all semester, but once they are immersed in their research and take a side, they forget all about the necessity of argument or persuading a reader. It is frustrating to me, but I guess to be expected. This morning I will see that student individually, and I hope he is less indignant now about my using his paper.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

New Gig

Next semester, in addition to teaching at the college, working on the same course I've tested this semester, I'll be teaching it also at a satellite campus of Cal State Fullerton. I have to thank Lou and my other friends at the college for writing recommendations for me.
I'm a little nervous. This is the closest to full time I've been in a very long time, teaching three classes in the research paper. It will be a lot of work, a lot of grading, a lot of conferences. Of course, at the college, there is nowhere to conference my students to speak of. At the library people get annoyed when I discuss their papers with them. The one room available to do that is always occupied.
I don't know whether things will be different at the University. I know I could arrange to meet them at coffee houses. There is a nice coffee house near the college. Though I once did an open mic there that was a nightmare, it would be a good place to see my students, and I'm sure they wouldn't mind, especially if I ordered an occasional tea and muffin. I think the U's new campus is near the Spectrum. There are enough places to sit around there, in addition to places that are probably on the campus itself. I haven't gone there yet.
I took on the task not for its own sake but because I wanted to get a foot in the door at the University in hopes of being assigned more varied sorts of classes--lit classes, poetry workshops, etc. Though going up to Fullerton would be hard, for one who doesn't drive on freeways particularly, I'd do it for that opportunity. A workshop would likely be only 4 hours on one day, as it is usually taught. That would be relatively simple. Lit classes may be taught at the satellite too. So we'll see.
Now that I don't have excuses, it is time for me to branch out.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Research Paper

My students are engaged in the first part of their research paper--the definition argument. Though I talk and talk and assign pages and chapter and put up examples, I sometimes wonder if I have been yelling into a wind because none of the students seem to have any idea what I am asking them for, and they are afraid to jump into the breach and make their own topics or use the research to argue it though I have modeled it for them again and again. It is a new curriculum for me this semester. Perhaps I will do better next time at guiding them so that this stage will seem like a natural progression, the way I intended it.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Morning Again

The first week of the time change is most difficult for animals. I had already been preparing myself somehow for the change. I wonder about this because after all, it is a figment. In the natural world, there is no time change, no standard or daylight savings time, just the world with its usual rhythms. But the cat knows that at a certain time every day, the owner should get up and shake herself awake, should go to the big bucket of cat food and take out a handful and put some in the bowl. If he cannot rely upon this, what will become of him? So I have been all too happy to sleep for an extra hour for weeks now, but the cat is puzzled and insistent. He won't allow it. His indignant whiskers poke me in the shoulder, in the neck so that in spite of myself, I heave off the covers at last, and feed him an hour early, angry with myself to have failed in the training. The sky comforts me with rain, its soft murmur lulling me back to sleep. One can get used to anything.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Some Places

We looked around at places I found listed online, but we were only able to get into two of them. One of the two was potentially nice, but a wreck, with holes punched in the walls and the cabinets a total wreck. It had beautiful granite floors though, and some nice rooms. I don't want that much of a fixer-upper though, particularly since I have no talent or patience for fixing up.
The other was actually not one I saw on the list, and it was more than we could afford, but it was like another one that was the right price, the agent said. It was beautiful, far nicer and larger than anything I thought I could afford, but it was a newer complex, and everything was so crowded together that it was almost impossible to park or drive the narrow streets. It seemed to me that things are still coming down, by what the agent said, telling us to come back in a week or two, when the things that were too much now would be just the right price for us. But I don't want to live in that complex, something more spacious, even if it is a bit older.
I have lists of places we haven't looked at yet, and I haven't been to an agent. I think it will be time to do that soon.

Today We Start the Process

Starting a new endeavor is rather frightening. Perhaps it is appropriate that today, on the first day of standard time, we begin the process of looking at houses. Liz, with her expertise in the business of buying and selling real estate, will look at a few places with me, though R has not yet filled out the papers so we can be pre-approved. There are many tempting sounding places out there, and I am afraid of being whipped into a frenzy, and buying from someone unscrupulous. We are not going to a particular person, but looking at things advertised online. The idea is to get a feel for things, not to go for a particular place yet at this point. I am going to have to restrain myself.
Although I'm pretty sure I don't have my father's bipolar disorder, per se, I do sometimes feel a proto-manic surge of unbounded energy and satisfaction. Right now, I feel those things, the sense that I am blessed in many ways that sometimes it is hard for me to see, and that things are going well. Knowing myself, I can wake up tomorrow with an altogether different sense of half-emptiness.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Last Night At Shul

I delivered the Torah interpretation I posted here the other day, the one about Jacob and Esau. The audience was rapt. Afterwards, many people in the small group came over to discuss the piece with me, and to ask me how I managed to put this interpretation together. I discussed it long into the night, though that afternoon I had felt so tired that my body seemed carved out of lead. Somehow, I got a second wind. Maybe that short nap I took in the afternoon helped?

Friday, November 5, 2010

At last, the conversation

Last night I finally sat down and made time to listen to my friend from college, Ilene, and what she had to say about the manuscript. Though it is enormous,
a heavy burden, she was happy to be asked, since she has long ago stopped writing poems, but the poems are still in her although she is unwilling to give voice to them.
She explained that they and the stories she was writing at one time were the opening for a prophetic power that frightened her, the power to foresee death, illness, and accident, not only of her immediate family, but of those she did not know at the time. After some encounters that came too close to the bone for comfort, she stopped writing, unwilling to live with this.
It was a long long conversation that will cost me a lot of money, but it was worth it. She perceived things about the poems that no one else I have spoken with does, and was able to cut through some stylistic nonsense that did not have to be there, allowing me to see through to the poem's impulse and free it. I may not take all of her advice, which will require me at times, as I thought, to reconceive of some of the poems completely, but I will think about it and perhaps act on it in the future. It was good to know that, at least for her, the majority of the poems and the essential design of the manuscript worked okay, and that I can go forward feeling that with some work, this is a viable book.
She kept looking for the writer I used to be long ago, and surprisingly to me, she found that writer there, the voice I thought had been altered beyond recognition since that time. A continent and many years later, I apparently am still there.

Thursday, November 4, 2010


I have had a very interesting semester of class, teaching a new curriculum that has gelled very well. Of course, there are some big changes I will make next semester when I teach it. I gave the students too much to do on the first assignment, and it ended up taking twice as long as I had expected. Next semester I'll scale it way back, so I can give them more time to work on their research projects.
But this semester, despite the very very good discussions and classes I have had, for most of the semester,despite the enthusiasm of the students, who are always engaged and interested, the place has emptied out because students who were passing, students with C+ or even B- averages, don't want those grades. Anything less than an A won't do. So despite the fact that they need to learn these skills and no one teaching Writing 2 at our college is guaranteed to be easier than I am, one student told me that she was probably going to drop and go take a class at Saddleback, our sister college, that is equivalent to this one and requires only one essay. Everyone gets an A, she said.
I pointed out that when she gets to a four year school, next year, perhaps, she will need to know how to do research and integrate material into her papers and cite them, and she won't have done it. She will therefore be getting Cs and worse at that school, when it will cost her many times more than it now does, and may indeed mean that she fails her upper division classes. She shrugged. I guess that means she would have to find out the hard way.

November already?

I cannot get over the idea that it is almost the end of the semester... hell, almost the end of the year. That this has been a difficult year is undeniable. Reading Lou's blog about the tremendous difficulties this year has brought her and her family (traumatic illnesses, financial crises, accidents, considerations for the future), I see that things could have been worse here.
I lost my parents back in June, and that of course haunts me all the time, nearly every day. When I sit in the car, the stillness scares me sometimes. When I come in from work, and there are seldom messages on my answering machine, it still feels wrong.
No one needs me to do this or that. While that is something of a relief, it feels sad and wrong sometimes too. There is no one now to do anything for but us, me, R, and J.
This strange weather is also a bit off-putting, and it saps my energy. I wonder if the intense heat at this late point in the year might mean that the big one, the earthquake we've been told to expect, is imminent. Last time we had a big earthquake, back in 1990, there was heat like this, but it was August. I heard somewhere that this sort of heat sometimes heralds earthquakes.
But probably it is just an anomaly, one last opportunity for people to hang out at the beach, as they were yesterday when I drove down to Laguna for yoga. I was very grateful for that yoga class, as my hip has been aching for days.
Tonight after yoga class I am supposed to call my old friend and have a long talk about the manuscript. Somehow I will manage that, even though I will not have had any supper beforehand. I'll eat some lunch today so I can manage that, though I generally don't. I'm a bit nervous. How many poems will she advise me to take out? How many will need to be given a great shaking, like old rugs? We'll see. Maybe the whole concept is wrong, and I'll have to begin again. This is what I asked for, so I have to be grateful.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Commentary on Toldat, Genesis 25:19-28:9

Commentary on Toldat

The relationship between the Torah and commentary is rich and complex, as an examination of the literature on the parashah Toldat reveals. Because of his actions in striving to divest his brother of the rights owed traditionally to the first-born, and his active deceit in the service of this goal, a reader relatively unschooled in the tradition, like me, is tempted to see Jacob as a trickster, a man who lives by his wits, and as such, one who embodies those qualities that have permitted the Jewish people to endure so many years of hardship. The fact that he will later become the namesake of the nation Israel after he wrestles an angel, in pursuit, yet again, of his blessing, makes this theory seem even more likely. Yet despite Jacob’s deceit in pretending to be his brother and in twice taking from Esau what is his elder brother’s by birth, the text hints that Jacob is “wholesome” or “innocent”—an observant and civilized man who dwells “in tents” rather than “in the fields” like his brother.
Commentary magnifies these hints, creating an entire tradition in which Jacob embodies all that is pious and pure, despite his lies and deceit, while Esau takes on the coloration of the true liar and deceiver, a shrewd conman, controlled by his violent urges, and progenitor of Amalek, enemy of the Jewish people.
In this tradition, the struggle of the twins in utero ensues when Jacob endeavors to escape to a house of prayer Rebekah is passing, while his brother wishes, even at that early stage, only to worship idols. Besides a lengthy rap sheet,this alternative tradition even gives Esau supernatural powers. One rabbi declared Esau's hunting prowess to be aided by the possession of Adam's clothing, which drew all beasts and birds to him, the better to be bagged for Isaac's supper.
In this presentation of the case, Esau sells his birthright, the place of spiritual head of the family and the duty of service in the temple on behalf of his family, because it seems to him worthless, too tedious for a man of action like himself to bother with. On the other hand, the blessing Jacob makes off with on the behest of his mother would have given Esau and his children political and economic riches. It is this part of the package that Esau truly covets, and for this reason, he has curried the favor (as well as the stew) of his father, taking advantage of Isaac’s blind favoritism to persuade him that he, Esau, is pious and observant, despite being married to two idol-worshipping women. Not one to let sentiment stand in his way, Esau later abandons these wives in order to marry a woman his parents might regard as more suitable, his uncle Ishmael’s daughter.
Stylistically, the Torah itself remains cryptic, saying less than it omits. The commentators embroider on each bit of wordplay, each hint until the world they reconstitute by interpretation swells in relation with what is visible to the naked eye. Investigating these characters, I feel like the man in China who went to draw water from the well, but instead uncovered the enormous head of an ancient stone warrior, only to learn, upon excavation, that an entire army of gigantic stone warriors, in full armor, with many mounted on horseback, lurked below.
Thus, in this looking glass world of commentary, the man who appears to embody the simple physical laborer, none too bright, in contrast to his brilliant and sophisticated twin brother, becomes something quite apart from what he appears.

Monday, November 1, 2010


Yesterday was Halloween, but I didn't celebrate it. I used to love the holiday when I was a kid and young adult, making up bizarre costumes that disappointed my mother no end. She wanted me to be a sexy black cat, but I preferred concepts like a #2 pencil, a lightbulb, a fly, or a moth. Actually, the moth was kind of sexy, but she still didn't like the idea of her daughter dressing up as an insect. And after the experience at age 11 when I did dress up as a black cat, and was mortified because I was precociously well-developed, I didn't allow her to dress me in the costumes she chose.
Even though no kids ever come to our door, I still buy candy just in case the really little ones come early in the afternoon, but they don't. I didn't decorate. I just can't get it together. I will take the candy to my students today, as always.