Friday, April 30, 2010

Life scenes

Okay, heaven forfend this turns into one of Those Gardening Blogs, but can I just take a minute to tell you about Texas dandelions? So everyone knows what dandelions are, right? They're cute, they're cuddly, they're a pain in the ass but fun to blow on when they turn puffy and white (unless you're the one who's in charge of lawn maintenance), etc. I thought I knew everything there was to know about dandelions. Until I moved to Texas.

Yes, my friends, that is a Texas dandelion. With my hand added for scale. It's a massive, saw-toothed, waist-high, thick-stemmed, terrifying freak of nature, surely more beast than man, and don't even try to get close enough to blow on it because I'm pretty sure it would eat any part of you it could get its paws on. Texas continues to frighten and confound me.

Speaking of monsters of the vegetable kingdom, I would also like to introduce you to: our parsley.

Let me walk you through this photograph... in the foreground, you got yer end-of-season collards to the left, you got yer shallots to right, a little further back you got yer leeks... and then. And then. What's as tall as my shoulder, has stems I can barely fit my fist around, and doesn't taste as good as basil or cilantro? That's right - our parsley. Who knew parsley could even DO that?????

Wildflower season has come and gone - we're in the thick of rose season but that will surely end any day now, and then Central Texas will be back to its mostly unattractive (and I mean that in the nicest way possible) self again. Fortunately, we have all sorts of other things to entertain us... like babies!

(I also promise not to turn this into one of Those Baby Blogs. But really, how can something that weighs 6 pounds but is still somehow human NOT strike you as completely weird and awesome?)

And finally, I'm pretty sure you all wish that you came home one day in March to find your birthday present being secretly constructed behind a closed door with the following warning posted on it:

Indeed. Indeed.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

When the school bell starts ringin, will we hear it?

Oh, strikes. How much you were romanticized by Newsies*. Even a thorough academic education in labor history (Crushing Realism 101, anyone?) hasn't quite convinced me otherwise.

I have a feeling that tomorrow I'll be cured of any lingering warm feeling. Oakland teachers have called a one-day strike and I'm faced with crossing the picket line.

The very short story is $$. Oakland doesn't have any. California doesn't have any. Teachers really don't have any. The district and the state are infamous for bankrupting Oakland's schools. Things have been improving, but, oh, hello recession! The district won't budge and finally imposed a contract after years of bargaining. Teachers remain unimpressed.

Short and informative NPR interviews with district superintendent and union president.

Where do I come into it? Well, first off, one of the contested provisions of the newly imposed contract is eliminating the minimum number of full time Adult School teachers. As a newly credentialed and yet to be employed Adult Ed teacher, that pretty much blows. (OK, it's possible that throwing full time teachers out of jobs could at least mean more part time positions for people like me. Yeah right, most likely it will spell big cuts to the program.)

Second of all, I have to, you know, go to work! Or not? It's not my union! But... a scab by any other name? I've had an impossible time getting any straight information at work. The district sent us a stern memo: You are expected to work. Written note demanded for anyone who calls in sick. School admin is supportive (the vice principal will be out with coffee for the picketers!) and says it's up to us but the day is still unpaid if you don't come. Recommended we come early to avoid physically crossing the picket line. Teachers are officially mum.

I had to turn to the free press bloggers:
Teachers will be on strike Thursday. But what about your school secretary and custodian? Your teacher’s aide (where applicable)?

There’s been some confusion among district employees about whether the `other unions’ — the SEIU and AFSCME, mainly — will show up to work or stand with the teachers. I can empathize with the confused: I contacted the local SEIU office at least twice, called the Pasadena-based employee hotline, questioned the public relations guy, e-mailed the OUSD rep and got nowhere.
It turns out my union has a no-strike clause, which prevents them from officially organizing us in a strike and makes everyone else afraid to tell us to do anything at all.

Well, I'm going in. I support the teachers but they can make their point without classified staff. Some kids don't have the option not to come to school and I would worry about them without competent staff. (Subs are also striking, district is hiring people off craigslist at $300 a pop for what will amount to crowd control.)

I really, really hope there is not an extended action. I hear the last strike was 14 years ago and lasted a month. But if there is? I can't really afford to, but I would hope to stand in solidarity.

*For everyone that isn't Natalia, the title of this post is a paraphrased lyric from The World Will Know. Please forgive my weakness in embedding above. Oh, Christian Bale, I'll strike with you any day.

Friday, April 23, 2010

He keeps a book of photographs / Of his younger self, clairvoyant self

This has been a ridiculous whirlwind of a month. I think I have germinating cucumbers somewhere in our garden but since I haven't been there in almost two weeks, I couldn't tell you for certain.

We hosted seder for 12 this year, and after two solid days of cooking and cleaning beforehand I never wanted to cook or clean again, which has worked out beautifully as I've spent so little time at home since then that I don't even mind that every surface is covered with my dirty, crusty dishes. I just open a window, eat something sad and pathetic that requires no preparation (stealing bowlfuls of the sugared cereals that R always buys for himself is a particular favorite), go to bed, wake up too soon, and disappear again for 11-15 hours. Lots of it has been work-related and is vastly too boring to get into (although we did manage to pass a local ordinance, which is literally the first proactive piece of policy we've successfully passed (ah, Texas...) since I got this job four years ago, hooray!), but a few other highlights have been: J&J having a baby! Strawberry picking! Going to see "In the Heights" (oh man, SO good)! Okay, that's pretty much it. Then there was lots of karate, going to San Antonio for work, planning meetings, events, and book reading late at night when I should really, really have been asleep. Right now I'm pretty much functioning solely off the anticipatory adrenaline of going to see Owen Pallett next Friday, which R&I are as giddy as schoolgirls about. I'm hoping it'll cure the embarrassingly obsessive-compulsive Owen Pallett kick I've been on lately. In the meantime I've been contenting myself with listening to him on YouTube all afternoon. Shh, I'm a responsible nonprofit employee, I swear.

Oh and speaking of book reading too late at night, I once again bring you (drumroll)... the only reason I ever update my Goodreads account with any regularity (more drumroll)... my 2009 book list cover montage! Please accept this humble widget in anticipation of what will surely be my imminent re-disappearance from the blog, since as soon as April ends, TRAVEL SEASON begins! El Paso, Washington DC, Seattle, Minnesota, Ecuador, and Alabama - and that's all before September. Oy. I miss you all already.

KT's 2009 List

The Inheritance of Loss

Parable of the Sower

The Love Wife


Woodcuts of Women: Stories

Dancing on Tisha B'av

The Name of the Rose: Including Postscript

Plain Brown Wrapper: An Alex Powell Novel

Happy Birthday or Whatever: Track Suits, Kim Chee, and Other Family Disasters

The Book of Salt


The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

Touchy Subjects: Stories

Night Letters: A Novel

Irreversible Decline of Eddie Socket

Changing Pitches

What Comes Naturally

The Persian Pickle Club

A Dooryard Full of Flowers and Other Short Pieces


Katie's favorite books »

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

baby mechanics and baby cukes

I had the most miserable start to my morning, almost enough to turn around and call in sick again. Still hacking, I get on my bike and immediately come up against a terrible headwind. Then it starts raining. THEN I get a flat!! For the second time this spring, and come on, I only commute a measly 4 miles a day, that's ridiculous. *shakes my fist at the Oakland streets filled with potholes and broken glass* Weeeeell, it will be quite the final exam when I fix the flat - I'll also have to readjust the brake and gears when I put the wheel back on. Maybe I'll clean out the back hub while I'm at it, and that will literally integrate all four of my bike classes. It might take me an ungodly amount of time, but I'm reasonably sure I can actually do those things!

Joe's the one cut out to be a bike mechanic though... he can't get enough of all those sturdy moving parts.

When I finally got home my day brightened considerably. Just when I'd started to give up all hope (*shakes fist at the late season rain*) TWO OF MY CUCUMBERS GERMINATED!!!!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Nationalism and slow blogging

I hear it's Israel's birthday today! (One of these days I'll remember to unsubscribe from the birthright spamlists.)

That's... a random statue. Who knows why I took that picture. But it lives outside Independence Hall, where they declared independence on this day 62 years ago. Our tour was fairly awesome in that it was the one moment we got the kind of nationalist propaganda people expect when you tell them you're going on a free trip to Israel. An 80s era informational video and then our tour guide, Itzhak, made a rousing speech about how our parents and grandparents made the country possible and how it's our haven now and forever. He was funny and worked in a lot of you young people today and your cell phones and your google, back in 48 they were packed into this room with no air conditioning and nothing but love for their country to keep them cool - "You cannot google the feeling!" It was a bit over the top, which I think is legally required inside the walls of any country's Independence Hall, but fundamentally true. I mean, all our good Jewish forebears collected pennies for Israel and now the responsibility is on our generation to make things right there.

Yes, I know, it's all about Israel and the census around here these days. My life? Sick + singing + Joe is a big boy + haircut + why aren't my cucumbers germinating? + MP is worth going to West VA for! And, you know, expand that to a few weeks of blog posts. I would apologize, but instead I'll refer you to this fabulous quote from Gen at Consider the Pantry:
I like to think of this blog as a slow blog, you know, like slow food. I take my sweet time doing the mise-en-place, put a post on the burner and simmer it, bake ideas for a week or more at low temperatures. And I promised myself when I started blogging that I would never apologize for not blogging “enough.” What is it with blogger’s guilt? How many times have you read a riffs on the “Sorry I haven’t been posting, I’ve been so busy with work/my baby/getting drunk, I promise I’ll try harder…” missive? Bloggers: blog or don’t blog but never apologize.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

"a more august and austere Enumerator"

More fun with the-census-in-American-culture!

At first glance this may seem a whimsical reference to the census taker going from door to door and taking the names of all people without regard to sex, color, race, or previous condition of servitude. Then we come to the line, "an' he leave my heart in pain," and we know it is a more august and austere Enumerator than any employed in the transient and temporal governments of man.

(click the photo to read more and see the song)

And you were worried about giving your name to the government! I found this while paging through Carl Sandburg's The American Songbag, published in 1927.

You can actually read or download the entire collection at the Internet Archive.

Sanburg even recorded this song himself! (You can find it on the album Carl Sandburg sings his American Songbag, naturally.) Credit for popularizing it generally goes to Lead Belly. Here's Josh White from 1933.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Pickle watch '010

Remember my new year's resolution? With the seed porn? I'm determined to blog the journey of my little cuke seeds into pretty jars of pickles. Because y'all have to keep this lazy gardener honest.

The seeds!

We followed in the footsteps of Pliny and Thomas Jefferson and soaked the seeds first. (Next year... sheep's milk and honey?)

Inder and Steve are generously enabling my foray into gardening. (Don't worry, you can tell they're not working TOO hard...)

The sowing.

Yes, it's really me. Gardening. Sort of.

Joe was on hand to help. By which I mean distract us with his naughtiness adorableness. Do you SEE that curl?

Friday, April 02, 2010


We went back to the Western Wall on our extra day in Jerusalem. On the first visit, I felt the weight of history but didn't feel my own purpose in being there. On the second visit I came prepared with prayer. That made all the difference.

One scrap of paper I tucked into the wall, which you may have heard is easier said than done. (It makes me feel better to know that the prayers are ritually cleaned out and buried twice a year.) On the other paper I had scrawled a few words to say. (Remember my trusty Companion for the Modern Jewish Pilgrim?)

Acknowledgement at the wall:
The wall is silent. For an instant, I am her tongue. O God, cleanse my lips, make me worthy to be her tongue.

View from the plaza into the women's side of the wall. (I've just noticed the lady who seems to be spying on the men's side. Classy.)