Sunday, April 27, 2008


Given my heritage that traces to India and the Mayflower, Passover is obviously a very important tradition to me. All my travels meant that I haven't gotten a chance to celebrate in a few years, so it was really important to me to attend a seder this year. But why attend when you can host? I spoke with 1.5 Jewish friends out here, and STEP Seder 2008 was quickly born.

I have been very spoiled in my seder experiences to always have ridiculously delicious food. Not wanting to break this tradition, I obviously turned to my Japanese surrogate mother for help. She lovingly typed up all her recipes and scanned in the haggadah. Now it was up to me to see if I could recreate the magic.

I fully subscribe to the motto of "Go big or go home," so I took on the gefilte fish and matzo ball soup, while my co-hosts Danny and Sarah made the brisket and harroset, respectively.

Okay, so I didn't make the gefilte fish from scratch. Maybe next year. In Jerusalem.

Gefilte fish loaf deemed "delicious" by real Jews.

Matzo ball soup deemed "delicious" by many, deemed "as close as I'll probably get to Mayumi's" by me.

Danny decides if this is how the brisket is supposed to look (the answer is yes).

I give at least 60% of the credit for the AMAZING brisket to Danny's mom, who coached from Chicago.

And from there the event spiraled into a frenzy.

Beginning about 36 hours before showtime, I was on the phone with Sarah and Danny pretty much nonstop. "Um, four more people just responded to the evite." "Is anyone else going to bring food? Will we have enough?" "You don't happen to have a roasting pan big enough for eight pounds of brisket..." "Okay, now two more people want to come." "We only have four chairs." "Does anyone have a working printer for the haggadah?" "Are you kidding me? How are you going to add your name to the evite list an hour before it starts?"

Not to mention the most seder-threatening disaster of them all: The Great Matzo Shortage of 2008. I called about 15 different stores until a lovely woman at the Redwood City Lucky's told that me I was, well, lucky. So I made the drive and found the familiar sight of shelves with nothing but macaroons and a large empty space. I guess I probably should have been a bit more suspicious when the woman on the phone asked me if I was looking for "the kind in the jars."

As the clock ticked down to 7pm, nothing short of a Pesach miracle occurred and somehow it all came together. The guest list finally settled (and came with food!), a STEPpie who's originally from Palo Alto offered her family's table and chairs, and Sarah's parents, who had happened to buy a box of matzo three weeks earlier, supplied us with enough for the afikomen.

The table, ready to go.

Seder plate, complete with genuine lamb shank.

Seder table, now with guests.

Afikomen hunt. Danny (dad for the night) hid it in one of our textbooks--where else?

Kieran sports his prize for finding the afikomen, a remnant from our last ethnic holiday party.

It turned out to be one of my favourite STEP events we've had all year. It was the first seder for a lot of people, but everyone was eager to participate and learn. Of course it will never be the same without Mayumi's cooking, but it definitely made my spring feel complete.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Rememberance (of sorts)

Kiwi food is interesting. Some is good, and some is very British (take that as you will). Nonetheless, I miss it dearly (BTW, if someone can find me lolly cake in the US, I will pay you a not insignificant sum of money). I knew that this would happen, so I left New Zealand armed with the Edmond's cookbook, the quintessential Kiwi cookbook.

Unfortunately I've done a pretty bad job of doing much cooking at all this year, let alone cooking from Edmond's. But I couldn't pass up April 25th without digging it off my bookshelf and whipping up some ANZAC biscuits. So delicious.

My makeshift Godzone kitchen. Unfortunately I had to settle for "all-purpose" instead of "standard" flour, and "shredded" coconut instead of "dessicated." But note the electric kettle and coffee plunger in the background--I feel so Kiwi.

Into the oven

The finished product, of course with the Edmond's cookbook.

Oh, and I also paid homage to those lost at Gallipoli and in the nearly 100 years since. Much love to the ANZACs. And to the biscuits baked in their name.


Today is the National Day of Silence, a day dedicated to bringing attention to anti-LGBTQ harassment and bias. This year is dedicated to Lawrence King, a boy from Oxnard, CA who was murdered because of his sexual orientation.

The GSA at Mission has been promoting the Day of Silence and has posted flyers around the school telling people to wear pink today in support of the GSA Honestly, I didn't expect many of my kids to participate, and I even braced myself for teasing or harassment of those who did wear pink, including myself. And I didn't really expect many, if any, students to try the silence.

How this day is turning out has been a much more than pleasant surprise. One of my students walked in this morning, saw my pink shirt, and said, "Oh no! I forgot today is pink day!" In my other class, two kids came in dressed in pink--two who I definitely would not have expected--and three are participating in the Day of Silence. And they're really sticking to it, not to mention getting other kids to talk about why those students are silent. It's much more powerful than I imagined.

I can't even tell you how proud I am of these ninth graders taking a courageous stand (many of them as allies) in a school that I feel is still very homophobic. If they're this powerful at 15, I can't wait to see what they do next.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

"Everyone was White"

Mission High School tries to promote college and exposure to higher education as early as possible, so yesterday a bunch of the ninth graders took a field trip to UC Santa Cruz. My students mostly reported good times (except for O., who whines about anything one could possibly whine about), so I asked if it was a place they'd consider going to college. The unanimous response was negative. Why? "Because everyone there was White." They described what they had seen as they walked through campus and ate in the dining halls: "It was like 90% White people and then maybe 10% Black people and then nothing else."* "Too many white people."

It fascinates me to contrast this reaction to the one I know many White people have upon arriving at college: being overwhelmed by the diversity. How interesting the way our worlds and perspective change when we set foot on a college campus... What I don't know how to explain to my students, however, is what this type of change would mean for them. For White students who suddenly enter a space where they're in the numerical minority, it can be a culture shock, but they can also rest assured that their cultural dominance will be maintained. White, upper-middle class values will still be privileged, especially in academia. But what happens to my students--who are already excluded in so many ways from the culture of power--when this marginalization is magnified so noticeably? I do want my students to pursue things beyond high school, including college, but I wonder what it means for them that the only options for college are ones that value a culture they've been excluded from. Do they have to trade in their culture to be "successful"?


*UC Santa Cruz lists the following racial breakdown of their fall 2007 freshman class: 47% Euro-American, 25% Asian American/Pacific Islander, 18% Chicano/Latino, 3% African American, 1% American Indian, 6% Not stated (U.S. residents). Does this mean I should give a lesson on calculating percentages or a lesson on (mis)interpretation of statistics?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Musical Math

When my students started screaming/singing during class today I told them to save it. We'd be singing later. Today was the day I summoned all that camp counselor energy I never used and made a fool of myself in front of a bunch of kids. Yes, it was quadratic formula day. There's no way around it, the quadratic formula has to be memorized, so the song is the most painless way of learning what really is a pretty ugly equation.

You can sing along too (to the tune of Jingle Bells):
X equals (jingle bells)
Negative b (jingle bells)
Plus or minus radical (jingle all the way)
B-squared minus four a c (oh what fun it is to ride)
All over two (in a one-horse open)
A! (sleigh!)

This was kind of the perfect day to learn the song because they have been driving me crazy for the past week or so by banging beats on the tables, so finally they had a way that we could all agree on for them to get the beats out of their system. I also got a little reminder of how much they all know, like, and care about each other. I had sent N. out of the room earlier in the period (this is the same N. who started and still uses the phrase "What the feasible!"), and when I told the class that we were going to be singing, they insisted that I let N. back in. He is definitely our class clown (in a good way), so they felt it was wrong--and I agreed--to exclude him from this rare instance of teacher-sanctioned silliness.

After we practiced the song a few times, they all complained about how lame it is. I told them (1) if they can come up with something better, I'll give them extra credit and (2) it may be lame, but I guarantee they'll never forget it.

Oh, you thought this post was going to be about the harmonic mean or something like that? No, just a co-opted/corrupted version of Jingle Bells.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Shoo In

I had my first job interview today. This was an extra-scary one, too, because it was with the whole math department. More importantly, I can't remember ever applying for something that I want so badly. The stakes were high, and I was so nervous I haven't been able to sleep for two days.

I was ill-prepared from the start. I got home from school today with only 15 minutes before I had to leave, so was completely flustered and smelled like school. I didn't have any samples of my or my students' work nor could I think of a single story to represent my teaching skills. I even had an outdated resume that failed to mention a prestigious fellowship because my computer is broken and I didn't have time to get to the computer lab. If someone had offered me a bet that I would vomit sometime during the car ride and/or interview, I would have placed a not insignificant amount of money on that wager.

Then the interview began. One of the first things out of my mouth was accusing one of the teachers (whom I had only met a few minutes before) of smoking pot. Then I pulled out an Equations game to reveal the true extent of my geekiness while simultaneously insulting the math skills of another teacher ("That's your solution? My kids would kill you."). I implied that the amazing conversations their students produce are just the kids' way of playing the teachers' game. It is entirely possible that I had poppyseeds stuck in my teeth.

They said they'll be in touch.