Thursday, September 30

gee, ya think?

I know I'm just a Canadian in Israel, but I can't help feeling that the results of the upcoming US election could well have a devastating effect on all of us. Call me Chicken Little, but I don't like how W has changed the office of the American president from "leader of the free world" to "BMOC aka Nasty Frat Boy". It truly disturbs me to think of him having four more years to spread his slime.

And this may be completely intuitive, but nice to read in print: In polls running up to the big debate tonight, Politics reports that the Harris Interactive internet poll of likely voters "provides an interesting breakdown of how voting intentions correspond to educational background: It turns out the more education a person has received, the more likely he or she is to support Kerry. Bush's numbers are best in the lowest category, 'high school or less,' where he gets 51 percent of the vote. But he's an underachiever among those with a college degree (45 percent), and flunks out with a solid F-minus (37 percent) among those with graduate degrees. "

But Daily Show denizens already knew that, didn't we?

what day is it?

I couldn't remember what day of the week it was -- it feels like shabbat (Saturday) again, with the sleeping-in and the kid at the tv or the computer, anything but read a book. Ok, now I've stolen the computer for another half-hour while she reads to earn some computer time! We have to get the other one online already!

Soon we'll have our shipment with another computer, but right now it's stuck at the port. I've had word that our ship did indeed come in, but that it was anchored offshore waiting in queue to be unloaded. There are still several days of delay due to the backups caused by recent strikes. While in that status at least it's not costing us anything extra; however, if they do unload it, the container will sit there at the port being charged daily for not being dealt with by customs officials who are on holiday this week! That's correct: the workers who unload DO work during this Succot holiday, but the customs people don't. And, somehow, that's OUR problem. So, I'm estimating another two weeks or so till we see our stuff. What's really being missed right now, even more than the computer: my echinacea formula which would have killed the virus giving me a throat thing I've been dealing with for about 5 days now (when my little bottle of drops finally went dry), not to mention my daughter's cold which has now evolved into a sporadic wet cough. And the other thing I packed in the shipment by mistake was the software to download pictures from out digital cameras -- I remembered the required cables, but forgot the drivers were only installed in the computer being shipped. Duh.

Last night we went to the in-laws for dinner, and I was surprised to find that they'd also invited my mother-in-law's sister & husband. It was the first time for this particular configuration. I also noticed my mother-in-law had a yahrzeit candle burning (in commemoration of the anniversary of someone's death, it's a small candle in a small metal open can) and I asked her who it was for. It was for her brother, and yesterday, erev-Succot, was the 40th anniversary of his death. He died tragically of dehydration on an army hike when he was just 19 [or so, it was regular army]. Sadly, 40 years ago, the importance of water consumption was not understood, and I guess it was a macho issue that not enough water was provided. This was and continues to be devastating for my mother-in-law, who helped raise her brother after her mother's death, and was 7 months pregnant with my husband at the time her brother died. My husband was named after him.

And more death last night: As we arrived for the holiday dinner, the tv was broadcasting the breaking news of a makeshift rocket attack on the town of Sderot, near Gaza. Two small children were killed, and about 30 injured on the holiday-eve. We hear this, and hear it, and watch it, and are bombarded with the death and the blood, and what do we do? We really don't know what to do. There is so little belief left that it could possibly stop in our lifetime. We mute the tv and go on with our dinner.

We're not doing anything today, as it's murderously hot and humid outside, but my daughter went out to enjoy her bike for a short time. Yesterday we got her too-small bike "enlarged" by raising the seat and handlebars, but it's still pretty small for a 12-yr-old. It's been so long since she rode it (almost 2-1/2 yrs) that the inner tubes had also dried out and punctured and needed replacing. But she's now old enough to go out by herself a little, where there's no traffic, and yesterday she had some fun sharing her bike with a new class-friend. She's kind of a shy kid at school, and has found two recent South-American immigrants to be her best friends so far. Things have not been so smooth with the friends she used to hang with; loyalties and popularity-ratings have changed the picture substantially since 4th grade, and it's no easier observing it than it was living through it.

Wednesday, September 29

finally something cheers me up

I had a great workout at the gym today. It was an especially good session because I'd made an appointment with one of the trainers for a free introductory lesson, and he spent over an hour talking to me about strategic workouts for optimum calorie- and fat-burning (lots of weight training first, then 40 min. of aerobic such as treadmill). I weighed in at a heart-stopping 65 kg, which is close to my all-time high, just short of the blimpweight I registered when I worked for a year in a commune kitchen.

That's it, girl -- you goin' DOWN!

I was fortunate to have a cute trainer who didn't make me feel like an old, fat cow. In fact, he said my body-fat percentage was normal (ha! his fat-reading device didn't get a look at my belly!) and that I was unusually strong. Talk about psychological advantage: every time he put me on another machine, he set the weight much too low and kept acting impressed when I asked him to raise it. Just what I needed to bolster my self-esteem ... and to give me the motivation to get there 3 times a week.

Meanwhile, upon leaving the highly air-conditioned gym, the heat hit me like an oven-wave. I don't think anyone actually reads or pays much attention to weather reports in this country (at least not from May to September), unlike Canada, because we all know that a) there will be absolutely no precipitation (and precious few clouds) for 5-6 months, no matter what; and b) all they ever say is "HOT" -- with variations occasionally, such as "hotter than usual" or "slightly less hot than the seasonal average" or on a really bad day, "major humidity"; and c) the weather barely even changes when the sun goes down, so it's basically ALL HOT, ALL THE TIME. The only exception, and I always feel it before I hear about it, is when it's SUPER hot, as in "heat wave" -- a day or two when the condition is known as "sharav" in Hebrew, also known as "hamsin" in Arabic. Today and yesterday, for example -- 34 degrees celsius (in the 90s, fahrenheit) -- without air conditioning life is really not worth living. You step out your door and you already need to peel off your clothes and take another shower. But there's good news: in 2 days the temp's going down to high 80s!

"attack poodles and other media mutants"

Media critic James Wolcott is interviewed in Salon and talks about his book (title above) that rips the "yapping universe" of the right-wing media's "attack poodles", the dumbed-down deterioration of CNN, and the absence of any responsible adults in the media in general.

And, speaking of the alien taking-over of the media, I love this, from Atrios:
I've noticed watching Wolf Blitzer over the past few days that the reality as presented by the Bush administration is the reality that he, and much of the rest of the TV news media, convey to the public. It isn't simply a disagreement over certain issues, it's the ingestion and regurgitation of an entire alternative reality world which has been served up by the Bush administration and eagerly spit back out by those in the media. It isn't simply about successful framing of the issues; they've managed to provide an entire canvas, a brilliant oil painting of bullshit. It's impossible for Democrats and other people who are actually living in this world and not the one which the Bush administration has erected around the CNN studios to break through this. It's one thing to challenge errors, or provide a different spin, or reframe an issue. It's another thing to have to tear down the very fabric of this alternate reality.

Tuesday, September 28

bad fit, worse attitude

Yet ANOTHER holiday approaches. If I were working, I'd be delighted. But I'm job-hunting, and nothing moves in this country until "after the holidays". And there are a LOT of them. This time it's Succot, which is the plural of "succa", the little 4-post tent-like affair where religious Jews are supposed to eat (and sleep?) for a week. This is much easier to do when it's 30 degrees celsius, but not much fun in this 90% humidity. Damn, it was humid today.

So tomorrow is the holiday-eve ("erev hag") again. Another duty dinner with the in-laws. Thursday is the full-on holiday, but Succot is not just one day -- it's a whole week of holiday spirit akin to the week between Xmas and New Year's, where not much gets done, and people that work usually go home in the early afternoon (if they're not taking a whole week off to take care of their children, who have another vacation from school!) Whew. After this, it's clear sailing for a good two months plus a bit, until the Hanukah holiday!

The best part of the holidays: sleeping in! Beautiful respite from those mad morning rushes to get the kid to school by 8am. We sleep till at least 9 before the noise outside makes it impossible to go on, although last Friday the bloody gardeners with their hedge-trimmers and leaf-blowers were at it with deafening decibels already at 7!! We are blessed with so many gardens and hedges around here, that the city's gardeners make me crazy almost daily.

Erev-Succot also happens to be the anniversary of our move to Raanana ten years ago, the big move from Tel Aviv to the burbs. How well I remember the aggravation of that move, unwisely and unknowingly scheduled for an erev-hag when movers would be really really annoyed as the assembling of our cupboards dragged on into the afternoon. Not one of my more pleasant memories.

We finally replaced our stolen car today. We now have a new 5-yr-old Mazda. We were determined not to buy another Mazda, since that seems to be the most popular car in Israel, therefore the kind thieves want for parts, but after several deals with sellers of other makes fell through, this is what was left. The good news is that it has very low mileage on it, so it's like a much newer car. Let's hope we can hang on to this one. We've now had our parking space fitted with lockable posts that will make it much more difficult to remove the car, but with four cars stolen so far, we seem to be a special project for these thieves, so who knows? I'm not laying any bets. The most annoying aspect of this is that we are required by our insurance company to fit the car with a special car alarm which has already been proven to be no deterrent, and which cost us another 620 shekels (C$180). The expenses have been endless.

Sunday, September 26

feeling like chopped liver

Today I officially re-entered the job-hunting jungle. It wasn't an actual interview, but it was my first appointment with a potential employer. How was it? Mortifying, actually.

I was told to come for a test that would take 3 hours (or less, if I was fast). When I buzzed the door, the receptionist wasn't there to let me in. Soon, she appeared from an inner room and pushed the button to allow me to enter. She was about 22, stick-thin and wore a belly-exposing t-shirt, medium heels and tight jeans. Tossing her long wavy hair, she asked my name, then sat me down in a small room where 2 employees were already working, and handed me the test. She told me to write all the answers (with a pen!) on the plain white paper she provided, except for one small computer-testing part which should be done and saved on the computer.

She didn't offer me water or let me know where the washroom was. She disappeared again. The guy at the desk behind me farted repeatedly but never said a word.

The first part of this 3-hour test started with a section entitled Logic, and noted that it was worth 15 points. (???) The first question involved two cyclists heading toward the center of the country, one beginning in Eilat (in the south) and the other in Metulla (the north) and a fly that was fascinated with these two cyclists and insisted on flying back and forth between them until they met in the middle. If the cyclists travelled at a rate of 15 mph and the fly at 30 mph, the burning question was, how many miles would the fly have flown by the time they met in the middle?

OY!!! And this on only one cup of coffee and no breakfast! And people walked in and out talking to the woman sitting on my other side, and she talked on the phone, but somehow I managed to concentrate.

I recently read about the new penchant of employers to test their prospective employees' thinking processes with brainteasers of this nature, and it seems to me the point was not to find the precisely correct answer to the problem, but simply to see how their brains worked. So I wrote down my thinking process, figuring how long it would take the fly to travel 180 miles, then realizing that it wouldn't have to go that far, since the first cyclist would have travelled towards him, etc. etc. ... all the way along, I was suddenly realizing there were more details to take into account, but in the end I came up with something.

I was also asked to divide a clock face with 2 straight lines so that the numbers in each section would add up to the same amount. And how old you'd be now if your father was 31 when you were 8, and now he was exactly double your age. And to name 10 US presidents. And the value of pi.

And to define a number of English phrases, one of which was "your fly is down". Gevalt.

The strange thing is, I'm not even sure I was there, since I was barely acknowledged in the 3 long hours I spent in that office. Within an hour, my hand was throbbing, and I thought back to my grade two teacher who wrote in my report card, "must learn to hold her pencil properly" -- when computers took over the world, I thought I'd had the last laugh; sadly, no. I was thirsty and needed to pee. It was time for a self-imposed break.

I had to ask fart-guy where the washroom was. He told me it was out in the corridor on the other side of the locked door. I asked him for the code to get back in, and he told me, Just buzz and she'll let you in. But of course, the receptionist had disappeared. I went to pee, and came back to the locked door. I buzzed; the receptionist's phone rang and rang but she didn't appear. Finally, on my 3rd time, someone took pity and came to open for me. I finished the test, sort of; at 3 hours I felt I'd had enough and didn't care anymore. No one else seemed to either.

I picked up my test and looked for someone to give it to. All the thin young people were in the back room kitchen sitting and eating their lunch. I felt like the school geek interrupting the popular kids in the cafeteria. Where was the hole to disappear into? "Just leave it on the front counter," someone told me, while everybody else looked on with pity.

Insulted that I'd been robbed of 3 hours of my life without even a cursory 5-minute interview, I threw it on the counter and left, big ball of tension in middle of gut, needing to drive home and spew on something, somebody. There's clearly a lot of this sort of feeling in Israel, which would explain the way people drive. I was much more aggressive and careless than I have been in a long while, and was lucky not to have anyone similar run into me.

First of all, I felt like a meaningless piece of detritus. This, I know, is a silly false creation of my own mind, since the way I was treated today actually reflects on the manners of the people I ran into, and not on my own value. And yet, there it was. It came from the powerless state of needing to find a job, make money, have some control over my finances so that I can end the constant arguments over domestic expenses.

And it came from seeing that damn little sexpot (and all those other magazine-perfect 20-somethings) prancing around the office reminding me that I can't trade in that commodity anymore. I felt old. If this were a Toronto office, people would at least be a variety of ages, many of them would be overweight, and they'd be dressed somewhat professionally so as not to encourage leering and sexual harassment. But this is the "silicon wadi" -- Herzliya, Israel's hi-tech world, and it's full of baby geniuses with unwrinkled faces and no manners.

Squarepegged again.

Friday, September 24

erev yom kippur

Here it is, Erev Yom Kippur (Yom Kippur eve) and also a Friday. So no extra holiday for workers this time. Yom Kippur is the only day of the year when I can count on my neighbors NOT having rowdy guests for dinner on their balconies, since the whole country's supposed to be fasting. Whether they really do or not is irrelevant. Probably 50% actually do, and that includes the otherwise completely secular. I make no pretense of fasting, but do try to keep cooking smells to a minimum just to be considerate of those who are.

YK also means no car use, so people are pretty much confined to their neighborhoods, and many take long walks when they're not napping (or going to synagogue).

My father-in-law had prostate surgery earlier this week and is leaving the hospital today, so we'll be taking a trip into Tel Aviv to get him home before coming back and settling in for our "confinement". Traffic pretty much disappears by 4pm and we'll have the highway to ourselves.

Around the same time, the Israeli tv and radio channels go off the air until the end of Yom Kippur (probably 27 hours or so), so the non-religious always descend on the video stores to keep themselves entertained. Last night we went to the local Blockbuster (there's only one in our town, plus a small branch of another chain) and found it mobbed; the shelves had already been emptied of everything but a few straight-to-video titles I'd never heard of. And that's a well-stocked store.

I was delighted yesterday to get a call for a job interview. This was from a company where I'd submitted my CV twice in the past month, so enthusiastic was I at reading the job description which sounded like a perfect fit:

Responsibilities: research, organization of knowledge, and construction of custom solutions and tools. For native English speakers only!
Requirements: Native English · B.A · Strong organizational and methodological skills · Experience working with MS Office tools Advantage: · Background in language related fields (Linguistics, Technical writing Journalism etc'). · Excellent Internet research skills; experience in search engines and information retrieval. · Experience in taxonomy planning and building. · Strong communication and collaboration skills to work with people from a variety of technical backgrounds. · Knowledge and experience with SQL and Access
Ok, so I know nothing about SQL and nearly nothing about Access, but that's what the Internet is for! I've already downloaded a beginner's course. The first time I applied for the job, it had already been filled, but then they advertised it again, so I sent an even more emphatic email, and this time they called. I'll be going in on Sunday for the first part of their screening process.

Sunday, September 19

back-to-school virus grounds us

Today marks one month since we've been back in Israel after our 2-year sojourn in home-town Toronto. Only a month?? My head seems to have stopped spinning (jetlag, heat, new school for kid, too many holidays) and I can hardly remember the "Canadian me" anymore. I no longer notice how Israelis charge through small spaces, whether walking or driving, as I've jumped right into the fray again myself. But I definitely have changed my driving habits: I'm no longer a speed-freak and am appalled at how dangerously fast people drive here. The frighteningly high traffic fatality stats don't seem to have any modifying influence on the volcanic pressure so many carry inside.

It's also a month since I've seen my 20 boxes of crap -- er, personal effects, and after spending half an hour on the phone with my very disorganized, laissez-faire shipping agent, it would seem that I've got maybe 2 weeks more to wait --IF there's no port strike, as is being threatened. He's not sure, but "probably" the ship with my container has already arrived at Ashdod; the trouble is, according to him, the shipping industry has yet to join us in the 21st century and computerize their data. Upon questioning, it becomes clear that he himself and his own little Jerusalem-based, one-person-doing-everything-most-of-the-time rinky-dink operation is the one who sees computerizing his business as a so-far-distant-as-to-be-laughable proposition. He's supposed to be coordinating international shipments and he's abominably inefficient. I won't be nasty enough to mention his name here, but I will not be recommending his services to anyone who asks.

It turns out that Friday in Daliyat-al-Carmel was a little ill-advised, as my 12-yr-old daughter was suffering somewhat with sniffles, headache and general malaise. It was a judgment call, and it cost me today when she woke up still not feeling well after laying low all day yesterday; I sent her back to bed instead of school. She slept another couple of hours, and was pretty well fine the rest of the day, so she's going back tomorrow for sure. It was a beautiful day, but I only escaped around 5 pm to go to the grocery store. The last time she and I were sick was exactly a year ago. In Toronto, I discovered a magical potion: EchinaceaSeal, a combo of echinacea, golden seal and other infection-fighting goodies. Taken at the very first signs of any virus, it works wonders. Like I said, I haven't been sick for a year, having nipped in the bud every cold that tried to catch me. Unfortunately, since I've been using the drops on all of us during our past, vulnerable month, I'm almost out of them -- there are more in my shipment -- and it will be a race to see if I can stay healthy till they arrive.

Saturday, September 18

another new year's holiday bites the dust

It's been 4 days in a row -- pretty rare in this country -- of pure holiday time.

But I have to admit, it ain't like the old days. Not so long ago, a holiday was "sacred" -- I mean there was NOWHERE to buy milk. If you forgot to get something before the stores closed, you were outta luck. Especially in Raanana. SuperPharm drugstores (like Shoppers Drugs) have been open on Saturday for years (and many's the time that shopping there was our only form of Saturday entertainment, lazy non-hikers that we are) but there's a limit to the groceries you can buy in a drugstore. And there were no restaurants open in our little burb.

Today, however, we did the Saturday lunch with the in-laws at a Raanana restaurant for the first time, the classic Israeli humus-pita-meat-on-a-skewer sort of fare. It's in our mammoth mall, on the outskirts of the town, and other than this restaurant, the SuperPharm is still the only other establishment open. Not surprisingly, in our semi-religious municipality, the restaurant was not terribly busy. Serious eaters head to other towns where being a pagan is the norm.

Yesterday was a red-letter day for us: We finally took a trip up north a piece, to the Druze village of Daliyat-al-Carmel, up Mount Carmel, near Haifa. It's in a beautifully scenic area Israelis call "Little Switzerland" because of its height and surrounding views and greenery. This only happened because my husband's best friend initiated the outing; left to our own devices, we get as far as the SuperPharm at the top of the street. Or maybe the beach, 15 minutes further west, on a day when I have the energy for a battle with my sand-hating husband.

Surprisingly, it was a marvelously simple outing and wonderful to smell the air outside of the city. After about 40 minutes of driving, we stopped in a wooded area where Druze women were making fresh pita -- the huge, thin kind they call "laffa" -- and selling it with labane (yogurt meets cream cheese) and zaatar (an aromatic spice called hyssop in English, I believe -- smells a lot like oregano, but powdery and more pungent). Yummy. The old toothless crone working the dough and tossing it like a pizza pie was a great photo op too.

Then we drove on to the town which was crawling with other tourists like ourselves looking for local colour and maybe some bargains. I got a huge decorative pillow for my couch for C$14 and our companions bought a framed picture very cheap. After trudging through the hot, crowded streets for an hour, we collapsed at a local restaurant for the typical humus-pita yada yada yada (see above) -- delicious as always. And then home by 5 pm. It was a relaxing day and an easy trip -- great to get out of town to the country.

Thursday, September 16

Rosh HaShana

Happy new year. Sort of. It doesn't really mean anything to me, even after all this time, but it does kind of make sense. We always feel like the opening of the school year provides a new beginning -- perhaps never more so than as parents, when the kids finally get off the couch!

What with all those one-day weekends, Israelis really love an extra holiday, and this season provides quite a few. This week, Wednesday became the new Friday -- but on steroids. Fridays are days of frantic running around before the kids get out of school; but erev-hag (holiday eve) the kids don't even go to school and there's a whole lot more cooking and other preparations involved. The shopping for food has been going on all week, but on the eve of the holiday, when people are not working, they finally have time to think about all the presents they're expected to buy and the clothes they'll need for that evening. This is like Thanksgiving -- everybody's cooking and everybody's going somewhere, and at least the kids are expecting presents.

One year, when my in-laws were out of the country, we tried to find a restaurant on Erev Rosh HaShana. We felt like the biggest losers. And there was nothing open.

This year, despite my in-laws druthers, we all went to my mother-in-law's sister for dinner. Since my husband and his father are both only-children, and my mother-in-law has only one sibling, it's a very small family and Rosh HaShana or Pesach always include the usual suspects. The 3 of us, the in-laws, the sister and her husband, and their 3 kids, only one of which has kids herself, plus her aged mother-in-law -- 14 in all, 10 adults and 4 kids.

update ....
Usually these evenings are painfully boring, but one of the kids (not mine) provided a heap of comic relief this time. This 8-yr.-old kid is a rabid fan of Maccabi Tel Aviv soccer team, and that night the team was playing Bayern, Germany in Israel, and he and his father were going to the game. He had me laughing throughout the meal with his loud commentary, though his parents must be used to it cause they didn't seem too amused.

The dunce

I just couldn't resist posting this for anyone who missed it: W's former Harvard Business School professor recalls the little Bush not just as a terrible student but as spoiled, loutish and a pathological liar.

excerpts from professor Tsurumi's comments:

I always remember two types of students. One is the very excellent student, the type as a professor you feel honored to be working with. Someone with strong social values, compassion and intellect -- the very rare person you never forget. And then you remember students like George Bush, those who are totally the opposite.

He showed pathological lying habits and was in denial when challenged on his prejudices and biases. He would even deny saying something he just said 30 seconds ago. He was famous for that. He once said, 'The government doesn't have to help poor people -- because they are lazy.' I said, 'Well, could you explain that assumption?' Not only could he not explain it, he started backtracking on it, saying, 'No, I didn't say that.'

Students who challenged and embarrassed Bush in class would then become the subject of a whispering campaign by him.

Tsurumi's conclusion: Bush is not as dumb as his detractors allege. "He was just badly brought up, with no discipline, and no compassion."

DUH. Ya think?

Tuesday, September 14

bush scarier than ever

I'm eating up news of Kitty Kelley's new book on the Bush dynasty. Scary people, these Bushies. Kelley was interviewed in Salon and here's the most disturbing exchange:

What do you think W. will do if he loses in November? Will he happily go back to baseball?
No. You know something that I have found out from this family after four years -- he doesn't plan to lose. They know how to win -- no matter what.

What does that mean?
That means these people can put the Sopranos to shame.

Does that mean vote stealing?
That's a bit overt. But nothing will stand in the way of these people winning. Nothing. You start out looking at the Bush family like it's "The Donna Reed Show" and then you see it's "The Sopranos."

And this quote is almost as frightening:

But, as one of W.'s Yalie frat brothers tells Kelley, it's not the substance abuse in Bush's past that's disturbing, it's the "lack of substance ... Georgie, as we called him, had absolutely no intellectual curiosity about anything. He wasn't interested in ideas or in books or causes. He didn't travel; he didn't read the newspapers; he didn't watch the news; he didn't even go to the movies. How anyone got out of Yale without developing some interest in the world besides booze and sports stuns me." New Yorker writer Brendan Gill recalls roaming the Kennebunkport compound one night while staying there looking for a book to read -- the only title he could find was "The Fart Book."

I find it very difficult to understand why Israelis don't get how dangerous this guy is to the whole world. Because the Bush administration is clearly hardline anti-terrorism and by extension effectively anti-Palestinian-interests, they see Bush as "good for the Jews". This is very narrow-minded and (they admit) provincial, but how can it be rationalized by intelligent people with a world view? Bush (i.e. his ratpack, since it's evident he hasn't got the brains) is only concerned with the interests of the elite (be they American or Arab), and that is bad for everyone, including Israel.

Monday, September 13

school daze

This evening parents of grade 7 students of my daughter's school were invited to the very fancy gymnasium of the sport centre beside the school for a mass meeting with the principal.

Called for 6pm on a regular work day, just two days before a major holiday for which many are in the midst of preparations, the meeting should have been kept short and to the point. Instead, it started 15 minutes late (no surprise there) with a rambling dramatization and musical numbers by children no one knew and for which the parents within earshot had no patience. The applause was polite -- why make the children feel bad? -- but the audience was steaming with resentment at having been made to sit through the pontless presentation.

At 6:30 the principal finally started the meeting, but instead of getting to down to business, he chose to chide the parents who were too busy to show up. If you see the inanity of this, you'll know how we who did show up viewed him in that moment.

By the end of his two-hour tirade, those of us who had thought we might be missing something by not bothering knew we'd learned something vital: In future, avoid all meetings called by this man. There was not even a hint of polite applause when he finally shut up.

I speak Hebrew pretty well, but when I have to listen for long periods of time, or to people who are speaking unclearly in some way or are drowned out by the rustling or chatting of the audience, I lose a lot of information. In his case, because of some foreign (perhaps Romanian?) accent or speech mannerism, I understood approximately one word out of each phrase or sentence. Most of the time, I knew what he was talking about but had no idea what he was saying about it. The man needs to learn to write down those two hours' worth of directives to parents (stuff like: Take trips around the country with your children; Watch what they're doing online; Help even the kids who look like they don't need help; Make sure t-shirts cover bellies). Problem is, he apparently doesn't believe we'd read it. But half the parents knew not to come, so they didn't hear it anyway. Give us the readers digest version, man!! That means, in print!!

After that, we were still expected to spend another hour in our child's classroom listening to the homeroom teacher hold forth. She's a very professional, long-time teacher and she had important information to impart, not the generic stuff the principal went on about, but specific and pertinent to the current classroom situation. She should have had two hours to talk, and the bloody arrogant principal should have held us for 20 minutes, tops. I wish she hadn't used the old teacher's trick of talking very quietly in order to make people listen better; because of it, I missed much of what she had to say, and it was interesting. She turned on the air conditioning in the classroom, adding more ambient noise, and then every time someone went into their purse for a pen, or even whispered to the person beside them, I failed to catch her words. It was very frustrating.

This is what I got from this evening: Our kids are now 12, and we should be worried, scared, or at least very concerned. They will be lashed by the storms of adolescence, they will be buffeted by the demands of academia, and they are in danger of ending up at parties with no parents in attendance. It's terrifying.

Parenthood: the original extreme sport.

Silencing Car Alarm Myths

By the way, if you think we didn't have every kind of alarm and immobilizer required by our insurance company, you're wrong. Studies show they're no use.

carless in the burbs

It's been a month since our car was stolen. For the fourth time. The second from this address, from our covered parking spot. We've never seen any of them again.

Apparently, Israel is the number one country in the world for car theft, according to the Israeli Insurance Association.

"The increase in car thefts was fueled by the Israel-PLO accords, which were signed in September 1993 and took effect in May 1994. According to the London-based Sunday Telegraph (5 July 1998), Palestinian and Israeli car thieves cooperate, and Israeli police say many of the cars end up in Palestinian-controlled areas. According to one Palestinian car thief, "I can have any car you want within a few hours, I'll just call the Israelis I work with."

Each time it happens, insurance covers the current value, not the replacement value -- what we'd get if we sold it. So it still costs us a few thousand dollars to drive again.

But that's not all. It takes at least a month to get the insurance money, and during that time you're lucky if you have a 5-year-old, standard-shift, torn upholstery, sub-compact replacement. We got lucky. But today we had to return the little Punto, so now we're hoofin' it.

The problem is, the insurance check isn't in our hands yet, so we can't close the deal on another car until the money's in the bank.

But the weather has been cooling off a bit, thank god, so I didn't completely melt on my way home laden with groceries.

Finally, validation of my negativity!

Math shows that empathizing with your partner could lead to divorce

from "The Calculus of Coitus"

So someone (actually, Australian Dr. Clio Cresswell) has written a book that lays out the mathematical calculations that help explain sex and relationships. It's full of Ph.D-only equations that prove, among other things, that I'm still married BECAUSE and not in spite of my negativity. Dr. Cresswell posits that empathizing too much -- i.e. holding in that criticism or complaint of Significant Other (SO)'s behavior -- leads to a higher rate of divorce.

Say it with me: "You're getting on my nerves!"

Sunday, September 12

that's one giant step for consumer rights

Three weeks into my return from my 2-yr. sojourn abroad, my lovely Krups espresso machine, 10 years old, blew a hole in itself and bit the dust. Time to upgrade.

Unfortunately, Krups is now nowhere to be found. Instead, DeLonghi reigns supreme, as it did in Canada. I find their product to be far inferior to Krups, but I guess they won the marketing war. (Italian vs. German name I'm sure had nothing to do with it. Likewise, modern throwaway times.)

I checked all the purveyors of espresso machines in the area, including one on sale at our new huge grocery store, where they feature the odd appliance, just like they do at Loblaws. It was the simplest version, the latest generation of what I bought in Toronto, sadly also DeLonghi but cheap at C$85, incl. tax . Too bad I didn't just go for it. Instead, I was greedy and went for the more sophisticated model at $140 (same price as the old one was 10 yrs. ago, but supposedly superior).

The machine was infuriating. Sure, you can fill up a water tank with more water than you need and keep making espressos for your guests (what guests?) all night long, BUT: you have to wait HALF AN HOUR, according to the instructions, for the machine to heat up! (Hel-looo? Anybody got a spare half hour in the morning?) Never mind that the salesgirl stunned me with the information that you get coffee out of this machine in 20 seconds! (Yeah, AFTER you wait the half-hour!) And the filter holds only enough coffee for one cup at a time, so you have to keep emptying the grounds for each cup (so sorry Mr. DeLonghi, but 2 of us want coffee). And the frother doesn't work anywhere near as well as the simpler model did. Major disappointment.

Unfortunately, in this country, once money changes hands, it very rarely changes back. I've never seen it happen. Replacements are offered in the case of defective merchandise, not refunds. But "dissatisfaction with product"? [insert merry chortle here] Take a store credit, if you're lucky. What, you tried it out and now you want to return it? What planet are you from? Like Tony says, "F'geddabuddit."

I was determined, however, not to live with this machine for 10 years -- not that I expected a DeLonghi product to last more than 2 (my last one AND the one I got my sister both started malfunctioning within a year after purchase). So I called the store and began my attack. The strategy of beginning my onslaught with a phone call was, I thought, a key element. I would start to break down their resistance before they could even see who they were dealing with (theory: I sound more intimidating than I look). It was the old me, the aggressive, feisty, big-guns-first bulldog in action. The woman heard that I'd already used the machine, and immediately responded there was nothing to be done, but when I didn't give in she said, Bring in the machine and we'll have a look.

This was okay for a start; I had a foothold. I called another branch of the chain, thinking I was getting the head office, but just got another salesman. He told me the name of the person to deal with at the store I bought from, and with this information I called my store back and insisted on speaking with that person. Sorry, he's out of the country till next week; what's the problem? When I restated the problem, she put someone else on the phone, the same salesgirl, in fact, who had sold us the machine. I start to get the feeling that this very girlish young person may actually have some clout. I restate my case, and she sounds like she's relenting, and repeats that I should bring it in and she'll have a look.

Picking up my husband for backup (theory: two unhappy customers more difficult to resist than one), I took my re-packed machine (yes, I'd cleverly saved the carton and all packing) back to the store and marched in to find our 4-foot-10 salesgirl. I launched into my tirade again, quieter though this time. She was willing to exchange the machine for a different model, but they didn't have anything I was willing to take another chance on. I told her I was sorry I hadn't bought the cheap one from the supermarket (right next door, in fact, steps away).

Apparently I'd succeeded in softening the target sufficiently. She unpacked the machine to make sure all the parts were accounted for, and began filling out a form. She said to me, "I'm going to cancel the sale and you can go buy the one you wanted at the supermarket." I swear this is a true story. She even added, "We never do this."

I was dumbfounded at my accomplishment. Merchants in Israel never give anything more than a credit for returned goods, the best outcome I reasonably could have hoped for in this case, considering that the product was no longer saleable after I'd used it. (Not a satisfactory outcome, but the best of a bad situation.) This was a very satisfying victory, and one which gave me a feeling of greater hope and optimism for life in this strangely famous backwater of a country.

Okay, we didn't exactly get the money in our hand. If we'd paid by Visa, she would have credited our Visa, but we paid by cash, which she couldn't return on the spot. She said we'd receive a check by mail in 10 days. That is to say, they'll mail it 10 days from next Sunday, in other words about 3 weeks.

That's right: they told me the check's in the mail. And yet I remain optimistic.

Saturday, September 11


It's Saturday, and the same old question arises, much like Friday but even more vast and pregnant with possibilities for disappointment. How to spend this day so it doesn't feel wasted?

On the one hand, we just want to sit around reading at the computer, puttering, and (one of us) watching TV. On the other, well -- there's all that Saturday-evening letdown looming: Here we are facing another harried week (starts Sunday morning, with school beginning at 8 a.m.) and we haven't taken real advantage of our paltry day-and-a-half weekend. It's that fear that gets people into their cars for a trek out to the country somewhere, despite the horrific traffic jams as all return in the evening. That's not for me -- I'd prefer to spend the day emptying my veins in the bathtub.

So what to do with the day?

Gotta get to the gym. Gotta visit the in-laws. What else? The park? The beach? The zoo?

Oy, anybody for another cup of coffee?

Friday, September 10

fridays -- aka "erev shabbat"

Fridays are a whole different kettle of fish in this country.

It starts with the fact that the majority of employed people (office types, anyway) don't work on Friday. This is their Saturday, as it were. And yet so NOT Saturday. The kids are off to school, but for an hour or two less than regular weekdays (Sunday to Thursday). That means that parents can do the errands or shopping they haven't had time to do all week, and often squeeze in a couple of hours doing brunch at one of the local restaurants, which make most of their nut providing this on Friday mornings; it's the one time of the week when reservations will be needed.

Almost all stores will close by around 2:30 p.m., at least until the sun goes down Saturday, but usually until Sunday morning. "Shabbat" -- late Friday afternoon (sundown, officially) until sundown Saturday -- means almost nowhere to buy groceries or do other kinds of shopping, fewer places to go out to eat, and any open places of entertainment -- especially free ones -- crowded to the gills.

So we rush to fit everything in by 1 p.m., when we need to pick up the kid from school. (Other days, she finishes at 2:30.) The rest of the day is spent recovering from the high pressure of the morning. People often sit around reading their 10-pound newspapers -- there are two major dailies, and the Friday edition is as big as Toronto's Saturday Star, but with fewer throwaway sections; thank god there are finally newspaper recycling depots in Raanana (a new development). Or they take a nap.

But what to do Friday evening? That's always the big, boring question for us, as we usually have nothing to do, and no energy to make anything happen. But all around us, it seems other people are having guests over, proper erev-Shabbat (Friday night) meals with table cloths, candles, and of course roast chicken. It's warm out and everyone's windows are open, and we can hear them from our balcony. We aren't into all that bother, yet there's kind of an emptiness too, not having anything meaningful planned. I wouldn't care so much for myself, being kind of a loner by nature, but I feel my 12-year-old daughter is missing out on some of the rich potential. We'll see my in-laws in Tel Aviv on Saturday, more than likely eat lunch with them. Otherwise, there is no family here. Most people have tons of family to be with, and go whether they want to or not.

We really need to build a network of friends. We're too isolated.

Thursday, September 9

another day, another job interview

Three weeks back in the country, and I'm already into my job search, though not yet desperately. Through the AACI's Jobnet site, I found a list of the sponsor companies, many of which are HR/placement companies, and sent my resume to about 40 of them. Got only one response, from a seasoned veteran of the business with a lot of big-company contacts. When you don't get responses from 99% of the people you cold-email, you really appreciate that one who doesn't ignore you. I went to visit her in Kfar Saba, a short drive away, and was much heartened by her encouragement. She doesn't think my CV sucks as bad as I'd thought. It's full of years' jumping around from one doomed startup to another ... even after deleting 4 of my shortest or most loathed stints.

Ah, the bubble. How sweet it was, to have ripe jobs falling off the Silicon Wadi trees into my lap, each one paying more than the one before. I even had a company car for about 4 months there. Fat city. But it ended in 2001, and for over a year I couldn't get hired to do anything but teach English. That's when I pulled up stakes and moved back to Toronto, my hometown.

Wednesday, September 8

contradictions of life

People don't so much push and shove in this country, as simply set their visual focus on a target and just MOVE, whether by car or by foot, without apparent concern for who they might bash on the way.

Whereas drivers (and pedestrians) in Toronto are characteristically careful to maintain their personal space bubble without running into others -- even a slight brush has both parties blurting "sorry!" -- in Israel, broadsides don't even merit a glance. That is, as long as the bumpers are strangers to each other. They are, paradoxically, more polite to people they know. Or perhaps more accurately, people who know them. The point being that nasty things might be said about them to others who know them, thus building a bad name for them, and Israelis are more concerned with the level of respect they command than about the nonsense of manners.

Drivers in Israel frequently pay no attention to the rules of the road. They cut you off making right turns from left-hand lanes, they never stop at stop signs, and they back into fast-moving traffic with less than a car's length of space to spare. The unspoken attitude seems to be, "Keep moving, as fast as possible and as close to the bumper ahead as possible, so no one else can merge into the flow". On the other hand, if you can just get their attention, give a little gesture and placating raise of the eyebrows, they'll never refuse to let you in ... the sea parts and you just drive through.

And the absolutely best part of the Israeli character: If anyone is in any distress, friend or foe, relative or stranger, there is an immediate rush to help that person. Instantly, spontaneously, the person in need is surrounded by people anxious to comfort, give a jacket, staunch a bleeding wound, call an ambulance or even drive them to hospital in their private car.

In the superficial everyday harried rush of situation normal, Israelis can be dauntingly aggressive, and often seem not to care about each other. But when push comes to shove, they really do.

Tuesday, September 7

minimal exposure

As has been said, bloggish anonymity allows expression with a less threatening level of exposure. Cathartic, with minimal cleanup, if one takes accurate and honest aim.

I mean to be authentic, to offer another unique voice, and to share my thoughts on the predicament of life and the human condition as it applies -- or not -- to my particular situation: life as a Canadian expat in Israel, a nonconformist who lives in the country not entirely happily, in a decidedly UNorthodox marriage with, clearly, NOT the prescribed number of children, nor the standard matriarchal attitude to proper family meals, even on Friday nights. This is the Squarepeg blog, because even after 20 years here, that's what I feel like.

If I can be both searingly honest and also make myself laugh, I will feel that I have launched upon a successful blogging endeavor.

Heartfelt thanks go out, in advance, as it were, to all honest bloggers out there, whether anonymous or not, who have gone before and given me strength.