Tuesday, December 28, 2010

iPad myPad

If there's one thing I can do well it's pontificate and pronounce. No, wait, that's two things. Well, I do them a lot. I think of a brilliant idea, or notion, or theory and I turn it around in my head and then I pronounce. Prompted by a mere nod of your head I will go on (and on just a bit). I will polish the hypothesis then tell it afresh to someone else and someone else and someone else and unfortunately to you again (oops sorry). I'm especially insightful and eloquent if I've had a martini or two (and prone to tell an old theory again).

I have lots of theories that I hold on to tightly some times for years. Most of you have heard them. Many times. I hold on tight right until I don't. And then I've been known to drop the theory, take the opposite side and argue for it just as vehemently.

But I can't think of any of these golden nuggets I have ever dropped as quickly as I did on Christmas day.

So here's my original gem (as if you haven't heard it): On newspapers in print vs. electronic form: Ahem. I know it makes more sense to get your morning news on a computer and I see that my kids are pretty comfortable with that. And I know that the day is fast approaching when papers will not be printed. But electronic news is not for me. No sirree. I LOVE having my New York Times at the end of the driveway. I LOVE hearing it hit the driveway with a thump then go out in my bathrobe (no coat, year round, that is my rule, no matter how cold) and then come back to the counter and unsheathe it and dive in, coffee cup in hand. That's right. That's how I've always done it and that's how I'll always do it. Go ahead younger folk, kids, and early adapters--feel free to get your news on your silly Smart Phone or you goofy iPhone or your little laptop or whatever. But I will be sticking to the old newsprint. That's just the way I roll. I'm old school and proud of it. I love my print paper and I am so grateful for those who print it and deliver it to me every day.

Then on Christmas morning Jeff gave me an iPad. An iPad! I never even dreamed of having one. I mean it's cool but I'm the last one in the house to get anything electronically cool. I have a cell phone that's two-kids old (moms will know what that means) and I can't even figure out how to text properly on it. But there it was, under the tree--an iPad! In about ten minutes I had that puppy up and running and sliding my hand across it in that satisfying way they show on the commercial, making stuff bigger then smaller with magic spider fingers. Soon I was surfing Facebook from the couch (oh, THAT's how you get addicted to Facebook)

After a while we moved the post-unwrapping party into the kitchen for coffee and newspaper time. Jeff volunteered to shovel out to get the paper for me. While he was gone I leaned over, hit about three different buttons on my iPad and downloaded the free New York Times app. By the time he brought that stupid, enormous, environmentally unsound hunk of tree-pulp covered in snow behemoth to the counter I was already reading the front page in vivid color, in print big enough for my aging eyes, with that nice back light, on my nice little lightweight iPad.

I sipped my coffee and looked up at Jeff, as if I were surprised he'd bothered to get that relic from last century at all--"Thanks for getting that but I probably don' t need it now." In less than five minutes I'd converted. And the only thing it took for me to do this was to --wait for it--actually TRY it.

I then went on to enjoy my Sunday Times in a whole new way. I read entire articles because I wasn't flipping through pages, getting distracted and forgetting what page the story was continued on (whoever started that stupid custom?). I downloaded the crossword puzzle app and discovered the beauty of that (oh yeah, crossworders--you want to do this, believe me).

And there you have it. I don't want to cancel my print subscription just yet. I'd feel bad for Wayne, my paper deliveryman who I just tipped for the holidays. And the nice thing about the print version is you can share the paper. The kids do still look it over from time to time. Right after they check the news on the internet. I probably will keep getting the print version until I can figure out how my iPad can make a nice satisfying thump on the driveway. Maybe Jeff could set it out there for me and I could go get it in my bathrobe.

Whatever I decide at least you no longer have to hear me go on about why I prefer print to electronic newspapers.

Unfortunately, you're going to have to hear about how great my new iPad is.



Monday, December 13, 2010

CHRISTMAS PAGEANT



Yesterday was the annual children's Christmas pageant at church and I can think of no other event that so clearly marks the passage of time. One minute your kids are among the preschoolers wearing sheep heads and donkey ears then you blink and they're an angel or a shepherd and after a few more weeks pass they're playing the big parts of Mary and the Wisemen. This year only Lilly was in the pageant and her big teenaged siblings sat in the audience-- a real sign that my kids are growing up fast.


Yesterday's event had it all: we had the cow who succumbed to a fierce bout of stage fright and burst into tears upon seeing the audience. The donkey next to him looked annoyed and tried to soothe him but it was no use. One of the adult wranglers had to go up to the altar and lead him to safety; we had the bossy angel (daughter of the children's choir director) who was exasperated to find a mic missing just before Mary's solo and stomped off the altar in search of a replacement saving the song just in time; and we had the perfect, tear-inducing solo, sung sweetly by Mary (oh, did I mention Lilly was Mary?)

When I went to pick her up from rehearsal on Saturday the pageant director shared with me that Joseph (an eighth grader) had suggested he put his arm around his wife when she comes to the manger. You can't blame a guy for trying. I mean here he has gone to the trouble to bring Mary safely to the warm stable and not only does he not get any credit for the birth thing but he has not one line in the Christmas play. Surely he had something to say that night like, "Can I get you some ice-chips?" During the rehearsal this Joseph tried to slip his arm around Lilly/Mary but she just shrugged it off without looking up from her script. I assume the first Mary was much more kind to Joseph.

I have seen many Christmas pageants over the years from the very modest to the slickly produced but I always prefer the slightly messy ones where angel's wings get tangled (one year one got set on fire) and sheep heads slip askew and Wisemen get a fit of giggles--the show that is far from perfect, kid-friendly, and full of hope and promise--just like the first Christmas at the manger.

Whatever kind of pageant you get to enjoy this year I hope it moves you to smile and be thankful for all the children, Sunday school teachers, church-lady seamstresses, and choir directors who bring us this little piece of magic every year.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

D-BAG

Once when I was in college I got a prank phone call in the dorm from a guy asking if I had ordered a pizza with a douche bag. Now, I knew what a douche bag was (it was the 80s and we had all grown up with douche bags lurking in our bathroom cabinets) but it was such a ridiculous question –sort of like asking if I had ordered a pizza with an Ace bandage on it --that all I could say was, “I know you’re trying to be obnoxious but I don’t understand it. Hey,” I said to the room at large, “why is it funny to ask if I ordered a pizza with a douche bag?” By now the guy had hung up.

I know calling someone a douche bag has been an infrequently used insult for some time but more recently the high school-aged kids have co-opted it and use it as a common insult meaning “jerk” or “asshole”. Sometimes they shorten it to “D-bag” or “douche”. I’m quite sure they have NO idea what a douche bag is. In fact when I asked my kids none of the three had any idea.

On one of the sitcoms recently the kid called someone a D-bag. The father said, “Do you even know what that means?” the kid answered, “Yes!” to which the father said, “Well I wish you’d tell me.”

Has there ever been an insult flung around so frequently when no one has any idea what it means? Calling someone a “douche” quite literally just means “shower” in French. Are French kids saying “Tu es un shower Americaine!”

It’s not the worst thing to call someone but for those of us who actually know what it is, it isn’t so much offensive as odd and arcane, like calling someone a chamber pot. So if your kids are throwing this term around and you don’t care for it—try the direct approach like my best friend LFR in Michigan. Here, in an excerpt from a letter I got from her, is some fine parenting at work:

B. called F. a douche bag today. I asked him do you know what that means? He said, “Animal poop?” I told him it was an apparatus used in the 50s to clean women’s vaginas. He almost got sick. Then I told him we now know women’s vaginas clean themselves naturally with the bacteria produced by our bodies so women no longer use douche bags. So…do you think you want to call people a douche bag anymore? He apologized to his sister and told me he learned it at school. Ahhh, the important facts we remember from the day at school…math equations, poems, science formulas….no, that would be douche bag.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

DRUGS

As a yogini who pops an aspirin reluctantly it is rather jarring to find I suddenly have a counter-top full of drugs. Most of them are to fight side-effects of the most toxic drug of all--chemo--so a little bit of this and that shouldn't bother me but it takes some getting used to.

I'm learning a lot about these drugs. One is that it's pretty damn easy to mix them up. On Sunday I woke up a little nauseous and asked Jeff to bring me a Zofran (anti nausea). He did and I fell back to sleep for two hours. When I woke up and told him I was still nauseous he admitted had misunderstood and brought me a Xanax (anti-anxiety) instead (they do both start with a Z sound). Which explained why I was still nauseous but curiously not worried about it.

Last night I learned not to mix Benadryl (for the itchy rash the chemo gave me) with Xanax because it makes me jittery and have strange dreams in which I am in Los Angeles and unemployed actors are used to help street vendors sell fruit and tacos through elaborate song and dance sequences that are like a cross between Glee and that market scene in Oliver. Wait, they don't really do that do they?

And that's just a snapshot of the legal drugs. Do you know how many people tell you they can score medical marijuana for you when they learn you have this disease? My nieces and nephews I expect. Some of my hardier partying friends I expect. But my aunt and uncle? Well, they do live in California. But the funniest was the offer that came from a certain nonogenarian family member who shall remain nameless. Now that is generous.

Okay, I'm off to enjoy a dose of a slightly less toxic but legal drug--caffeine.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

TO SLEEP PERCHANCE TO DREAM

One of the worst symptoms so far of this new illness I have is that it causes insomnia. Not just for me but for all my loved ones too. I don't think Jeff, my parents, my sister, or Coffee Friend 2 have had a good night's sleep in several weeks. Coffee Friend 1 does but that's because she takes Ambien. Although, even that didn't work for her those first few days after my surgery.

We compare notes and ask each other what time we woke up, trying to figure out if we should just get together every night at 3:00. Poor Coffee Friend 2--when she wakes up she never goes back to sleep--just lays there "waiting for the f***-ing sun to come up" as she said. My parents told me they wake up at 3:00 and ask the other one if he/she is asleep. My sister-in-law in LA said, "I went to sleep worrying about Judy, dreamed about her all night, and woke up thinking of her."

I myself seem to wake up at exactly 1:30 and 4:30 every night.

I am normally blessed with the ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. It's a gift really. As I have often said, I respect sleep and it respects me. But even I wake up a couple of times a night and play "what if" in my mind. I find if I talk to my Grandma Zimmerman at those times it helps. I can fall back asleep. Grandma Z. died in 1990 by the way but we still chat when I'm worried about things. She's very reassuring.

When we found out about Lilly's illness on vacation in Florida we tried to go to sleep that first night and I don't think I slept a minute. When we got up I told Jeff that was the worst night's sleep I never had. My mom said she had slept like a baby--she woke up every two hours and cried.

I hate that I am keeping people up at night. But what can you do? That's what happens when people love you.

Last night Jeff slept well for the first time since my surgery because we finally had a good day with some good news. I still found I had to have a chat with Grandma but I'm hopeful that this symptom will go away soon.

For anyone else out there who has had trouble sleeping, I apologize. I hope your insomnia is gone now, but if you still have trouble you can always talk to my Grandma about it.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

OKAY ENOUGH OF THAT

As most of you know I have been struggling with a new cancer diagnosis and subsequent information from the medical establishment that seemed to be getting worse and worse by the week. This has had the understandable and normal effect of scaring the crap out of me (and my family) and making me feel very sad, even depressed despite all the wonderful support and prayers from you all.

Today it changes. I am taking back my life. I am tired of worrying about the worst that could happen. I am ready to expect only the best and then some.

I am ready to heal.

I believe in the incredible power of the human body. I believe in the power of mind over matter. I believe in the power of prayer. I believe in my own body's ability to heal. I believe in the power of being loved and cared for by a multitude of family and friends.

The only thing any of us has is today and today I feel damn good. I am strong and have no pain. I look damn good. The sun is shining and it is a gorgeous fall day.

I am ready to heal.

Friday, October 08, 2010

CARINGBRIDGE AND A COOLER

Oh crap. The surgery I wrote about below did not go as expected. When they opened me up they found out the benign tumor was not. Miraculously, the gynocological oncologist who is only in the hospital once a week was there. They found her to finish the surgery. After five hours of emergency surgery and two pints of blood they sewed me back up.

It appears I have a rare form of uterine cancer. Something called Leiomyosarcoma. It means (roughly translated) "benign fibroid that decides to turn into cancer". One in a million or something.

Having gotten Lilly through this with her rare cancer eight years ago we are beyond devastated. How on earth do two people from one family have rare cancers? I eat blueberries. I do yoga. I don't use pesticides. I don't even use weed killer for God's sake. But there you have it.

I am only going to write about this once here on this blog and then I want to return to writing about other things. If you would like to follow my medical progress, you are free to do so at my Caringbridge website http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/judyzimmerman

In my neighborhood when someone is in trouble the women rally like an army with meals. The afflicted family puts a cooler at the back door which is filled on a regular basis. The cooler is there so no one has to greet the food giver and try to make small talk which can be exhausting.

No one wants to be the one with the cooler at the back door.

Jeff and I will be traveling to Boston in a week or so to see the specialists for this thing I have. I'll let you know by Caringbridge what we find out. Though they caught this early, treatment is likely as it is aggressive.

This thing is aggressive and rare. Just like me.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

THAT'S DONE: PERIOD


Warning: if you don't know the difference between an ovary or a fallopian tube, or if TV commercials for feminine hygiene products make you run from the room--you should stop reading now.
So here's the deal. Tomorrow I have to have my uterus removed. It's because I have a "benign" tumor (uterine fibroid). I put the word benign in quotes because although it is true that it is not life-threatening (and I am exceedingly thankful for that) I would hardly call something that has caused two years of pain and six months of hemorrhaging "benign". But there you have it. And the only way to get rid of this sucker (it is embedded in the uterine wall, size of a golfball) is to take the whole dang uterus out.


It is really strange to think that after tomorrow I will never have a period again. Most people don't get to know this in advance--things just drift on until one day they realize they haven't had a period in a long time. Which got me thinking of a piece I wrote some time ago.


So in honor of my "procedure", I give you a recycled essay. To my uterus I say farewell, you served me well. To my little red-headed friend I say, good riddance, you were always a terrible friend.

This first appeared in The Chicago Tribune under the title of “ Chronicling the strangest of relationships: Period" on April 21, 2004

I was talking to a good friend the other day and she told me that her daughter had just gotten her first period. My friend had been prepared for this momentous occasion and she got out the necessary products and helped her daughter with them. About an hour later her daughter came in the kitchen and said, “OK, Mom, can I take this off? Am I done yet?”

Oh honey, if you only knew. Her daughter is embarking on a very long relationship that lasts from puberty to menopause with her new “friend”. If I were to tell her what I’ve learned about this relationship (which I wouldn’t, there’s no reason to send her screaming back to her childhood) here’s what I’d say.


It will be a strange and dysfunctional relationship but it will follow a fairly predictable chronology. First, you will start out hating and loathing your new friend. No filmstrip or book or talk from mom can convince you that this is “beautiful”. It’s uncomfortable, painful, messy, and embarrassing. It requires the use of mysterious, unwieldy products you have never even seen let alone know how to use. With the help of a best friend shouting directions through the door you will finally figure out how to use the more challenging but effective products. Eventually, say in 5 to 10 years, you will even master said products so that you are not totally uncomfortable with your new friend. But then you will do something to mess up this relationship. You will become sexually active.


Now, instead of loathing her, you look forward to seeing your friend every month. She is a reassuring and visible sign that you have not made the biggest blunder of your life. Even if you are exceedingly careful, you will not know real relief until you see concrete evidence of her return. Cramps are not enough. You need proof of your freedom.There are times you are less cautious than others. On these occasions you will not be just glad to see her, you will fall on your knees and thank God she has returned. You will reassure her that next time you will take every precaution necessary to ensure her timely return. The relationship will continue along like this for some time.


Then one day you will hear the unmistakable ticking of your biological time clock. Now you will find yourself in an upside-down world in which you will try, very, very hard to achieve a physical state that you have tried very, very hard to avoid for a very, very long time. This will seem very, very strange.


Most of us will be in this phase for what seems like an eternity even if it is in fact only a few months. Each month you will not only hate the mere hint of your friend’s return, you may actually be moved to tears of bitter disappointment at the sight of her. You will resent that the pregnancy tests are placed so closely to the sanitary products at the drugstore.The longer this phase goes on, the more you will come to hate her. Sadly, because of the vagaries of life, some women will find themselves in this phase for many years without a happy resolution.If you are fortunate enough to reproduce more or less when you want to, you will finally rejoice at your friend’s absence. If she is even a day late you will run out to the drugstore and purchase your EPT kit and wave that magic wand around in glee.


For the next several months your friend will be replaced by a myriad of bodily changes that are absurdly taxing, but you will not wish for the return of your friend’s relatively gentle presence. One day, quite suddenly, you will remember her for a few nostalgic moments as your labor begins. But your friend is to labor as a chimp is to King Kong and you will soon forget her again.Nursing will keep her away for a few more months and then one day, she will return and you will be happy to see her again. She will remind you that your body no longer belongs to another tiny being but is in fact returning to you.Now you will be back to the days of welcoming her every month, glad to know that at least for now your body is your own. Until you decide your child needs a sibling, then you can revert to the days of dreading the sight of her again.And so it goes. Until one day your house is full of children and you realize you are done.


But strangely, your body does not. Though you are mentally and physically past the optimal age to reproduce, your body keeps trying to. You do not want to be like someone in the Old Testament and you return to the days of fearing her presence. Even if your husband has been “fixed” you know that mistakes can happen.These days stretch into months and years and your old friend will visit with less and less regularity. Sometimes she’ll stop by for a brief unexpected visit and other times she will hunker down for an extended stay. And then one day, without any word of warning, she will disappear for good. Like all old friends, you will not realize that her last visit is her last.


As my friend’s daughter begins this relationship I am fast approaching the end of my relationship. I don’t know how I’ll feel when I realize my friend has left for good but I suppose I’ll be as conflicted about her departure as I’ve always been about her arrival. I’ll be relieved she’s finally gone but no doubt a little regretful to see her leave forever.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

I SPY

I was recently with some mom-friends when one of them mentioned her adolescent son was starting to get text messages from girls. "Oh, it was harmless though. I went back later and read them all and it was just silly talk."

This casual admission of invading her son's privacy made me, umm, queasy. I know, I know, everyone does this. Now that we can peek into our children's lives via electronic media it's easy to do but I'm not sure that makes it right.

I grew up in a house where personal privacy was highly regarded. I could have left my diary (had I kept one) open on my bed-stand and my mother would have walked by and gently closed it without looking. I extend the same courtesy to my own children.

I have wrestled with this thing since I see so many of my peers peering and see that some even consider cyber-spying to be good parenting. I'm not so sure.

So in an effort to help myself understand this a little better, I offer the following points of consideration:

1. First, ask yourself why you are spying. Do you have some reason to be generally concerned for your child's safety (drugs, abusive relationship, bullying) or are you simply spying because you can--or because it is entertaining or because it makes you feel like you have a little control as they grow up and more out of your control. That's not nice. Would you like your spouse or your children to hack into your email just for fun or just to see what you are up to? Probably not.

2. Try to think of the cyber-communication in terms of something you already understand and have established boundaries for--for example, texting is a little like a phone call--it's direct communication from one person to another, not intended for anyone else to see/hear. Would you ever pick up the receiver in the other room and listen in? E-mail is similar and is like a letter --would you ever open your child's mail? I hope not as that is a federal offense.

3. If you do decide to spy, alert your kids first. It's only fair to give your kids a head's up. Simply declare that going forward you reserve the right to peek in on their Facebook account (or whatever) from time to time. Facebook is a little more like a public space and therefore it is not as invasive as spying on emails or texts. It is said Facebook is like the mall--although that said, would you go to the mall and follow your kid around eavesdropping on his conversations?


So there you have it. Some food for thought as we navigate these new high-tech media-crazy times. To quote The Onion, "Now the only thing keeping you from spying on your kid is having a life of your own!"

Friday, September 10, 2010

HAND ME DOWNS


One of the great things about having kids who are too close together in age is that they can hand text books down to each other in high school. Why, you might ask, would that matter? Because, despite the fact that my kids attend a public high school with amenities such as a sushi bar and a rock-climbing wall, for some reason, I have to pay for their books to the tune of about $600 each kid each year.

So when the book list comes out I like to go through it and see which books we already have in the house. Of course, this is not as simple as one might hope. For one thing, the school likes to "update editions" rather frequently (how much can the World History book change in a year?) and apparently the teachers are sticklers about having the correct edition (are they getting a kick-back from Scott Foresman which happens to have its headquarters here in town?).

Sometimes, when I get real lucky I can reuse books we already had in the house even before we had kids. For Atticus, since he is a flexible kid, this works pretty well.

Me: Oh, Great Gatsby, I have that book!
Atticus: Okay.
Me: Hmm, but it says you need the 2007, hard-cover, annotated version . I think I have the 1977 totally dog-eared version.
Atticus: Who cares? It's not like anyone has re-written the story.

Unfortunately, Grace is not so flexible. Instead we have conversations like this.

Me: Catcher in the Rye! We have three copies of that. (and I go fetch them all)
Grace:(inspects them all and declares) I need a new one.
Me: WHAT?
Grace: It has to be the newest, rack-size version and this one has the wrong cover, this one is the wrong size, and this one is right but Atticus has already written notes in it and I have to turn it in so the teacher can check our notes.
Me: They should not be encouraging you to write in books.
Grace: I need to buy a new one.
Me: Forget it. Your choices are to use the wrong size or the pre-noted version.
Grace: I can't use the wrong size! When she says we have to read pages 23-47 it won't line up!!!
Me: And you can't figure that out? Fine, if you need a fourth copy of Catcher in the Rye, you can buy it yourself.

That was the end of it it I thought until driving to school the other day when Grace said, "Atticus, I cannot figure out why you circled this sentence and I had to make up a reason for my teacher."

"What sentence?" he asked. She read it aloud.

Thus ensued a spirited discussion on Holden Caufield and his propensity to label everything as phony and what exactly phony means anyway and I thought of the law of unintended consequences and decided that while reading a book and trying to explain why your brother circled certain passages is not exactly the assignment the teacher had in mind, it isn't the worse way in the world to discover a piece of classic literature.

And most of all I was glad to know we didn't need a fourth copy of Catcher in the Rye though it will be interesting to watch Lilly try to explain all the passages both her brother and sister circled.


Friday, September 03, 2010

DON'T ASK DON'T TELL

I'm on my way to Baltimore to celebrate the marriage of my dear friends Anna and Julie. I post this in their honor. Long after many a hetero marriage has disintegrated, they will still be together, exemplifying what a wonderful, strong, God-filled marriage looks like. Bless you both.


Apparently, this topic of gay marriage is rather controversial. I am told. Often I hear otherwise sane people say "Well I don't have a problem with them being gay, I just don't want to know about it. I don't want to know about anyone's sex life! It makes me uncomfortable."

And we wouldn't want that would we? We don't want anyone to be uncomfortable. So for all of you with delicate sensibilities, I suggest a Don't Ask Don't Tell policy that applies to us all equally.
From this day forward, none of us, gay, straight, lesbian, whatever, will discuss our "sex life" as you put it.

Beginning immediately, you must:

1. Stop talking about your spouse in any way that might let us know you are more than friends. please don't mention he snores or that he sometimes walks around in his underwear. If we know that then our minds might wander to the fact that you are intimate and that makes us uncomfortable. For some of you, it even grosses us out, frankly. Refer to your spouse as "your friend" so you don't offend anyone.

2. No longer attend weddings or celebrate anniversaries. These events acknowledges that you are a couple and probably share a bed and we all know what that means and we don't want to think about it.

3. Take down the pictures of your spouse you have at work. No one wants to know that he is more than just a friend to you. Also get rid of the pictures of your kids. When we see you have kids we know you had sex and that is something we are very uncomfortable thinking about.

4. Never hug, hold hands or for god's sake kiss your spouse in public. This includes in front of family and friends because it makes a lot of people uncomfortable. Really, we don't need to know about your sex life!

5. If your husband leaves you tomorrow, you are not entitled to anything because the law no longer recognizes that you are a couple. That's because if they recognize you are a couple, the law would also recognize you have sex, and we don't want to know about anyone's sex life.

6. If you go to the hospital your spouse will not be able to find out how you are doing. He can only find that out through blood relatives like your parents and siblings. I think you know why.


If this all seems ridiculous, then ask yourself, why do you expect this from our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters?


Peace and blessings to all married couples today. What God has joined, let no one put asunder.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

THE KISSING HAND


Each year, the night before school begins, I read the book The Kissing Hand to each of my children. In case you are not familiar with this sadistic book, it is a children's story about a raccoon who is scared to go to school until his mother gives him a kiss on his palm and explains that this symbolizes that her love will be with him no matter where he goes. There is not a mother in the world who can read this book aloud to her child without crying and I once saw a kindergarten teacher read it aloud to an entire room of parents and kindergartners on the first day of school with nearly disastrous results. No one likes to see grown men in suits sobbing.
Still, it is a tradition, and so I soldier on. This year, as I dusted the book off, I said to Lilly, "This year I will not cry," and I meant it. "Sure," she said, "Good luck with that."
I made it past the part where the raccoon says how much he just wants to stay home with his mommy because that no longer applies--she loves school and is happy to go. But when I got to the part where the mommy realizes she will miss her little raccoon I could not go on. I just pointed to the page and Lilly finished reading it for me.
With Atticus I made it all the way through. Teenage boys don't have much patience for their crying moms. But for some reason when I tried to read it to Grace I couldn't even start. I just had an image of her pleading with me not to send her to preschool. She just wanted to stay home. And I have to say, I should have let her stay home. Hindsight is 20/20 especially when it comes to parenting. Preschool is over-rated. Mandatory schooling starts soon enough. I started crying as soon as Chester said he wanted to stay home and Grace had to read the whole damn book to me, shaking her head in bewilderment as tears poured down my face.
As you go through your back-to-school rituals this fall with your own raccoons, from preschool to college, remember you are not alone. Despite the funny commercials showing the moms celebrating as the bus pulls away, we are all crying inside.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

FACEBOOK: TIDAL WAVE


I suppose earlier generations had to sit through all this huffing and puffing with the invention of television, the phone, cinema, radio, the car, the bicycle, printing, the wheel and so on, but you would think we would learn the way these things work, which is this:
1) everything that’s already in the world when you’re born is just normal;
2) anything that gets invented between then and before you turn thirty is incredibly exciting and creative and with any luck you can make a career out of it;
3) anything that gets invented after you’re thirty is against the natural order of things and the beginning of the end of civilisation as we know it until it’s been around for about ten years when it gradually turns out to be alright really.

Douglas Adams, Sunday Times, August 29, 1999


So, are you on Facebook? Probably. Now that Facebook membership is up to 500 million (that would be 200 million more than the population of this country) you have probably jumped on board. I did a while back and since I've been on for more than a year I'd like to make a few observations.

1. If you are not on Facebook, do not brag about it: Yes, we know, you don't get it. You say you don't need to know that your best friend from high school is making pot-roast. Saying that is the equivalent of saying, "Airplanes! If God wanted me to fly he would have given me wings!" To quote Bob Dylan, "Come mothers and fathers Throughout the land And don’t criticize What you can’t understand Your sons and your daughters Are beyond your command" Besides, when you say stuff like that, it makes you sound, well, old.
If you are new to Facebook--here are some tips:
2. Do not take quizzes or answer questions that your friends "send" you: I do not understand how this all works but if you answer a simple question or take a fun quiz, Facebook sends weird messages to all your friends and you may not even know it. This happened to my friend Mary who answered something silly and next thing she knew, all her friends received an alleged messaged from her asking if they thought Jack M. had a nice ass. This is especially weird because Jack M. is her son. Eww.


3. Don't play Farmville: This is apparently an addictive game you can play on Facebook and I'm sure it is quite fun. I myself like to waste time doing crossword puzzles so who am I to say Farmville is or is not a good way to pass the time. But the thing is when you play Farmville, Facebook sends out messages, unbeknownst to you, broadcasting messages like "Cindy needs just one more plank to build her pigpen!" Which is just another way of saying "Cindy is playing Farmville at work again!" Thank goodness my crossword puzzle does not do this to me or you would learn just how much time I spent trying to figure out a five-letter word for Carribbean getaway when I was supposed to be doing the laundry.


4. Never respond to a post truthfully or sarcastically--it's not the Facebook way: Since everyone on Facebook is a friend, the tone is quite kind and civil (I'm speaking of adults here, apparently the under 20-set can get ugly). This means when someone from your past posts "Just got back from the mall! So happy to find a lot of clothes in size 0 and 2!", you should not respond with, "Who in the hell were you shopping for?" or even the obvious, "Bitch." Instead you must say something like, "OMG, you're so skinny still!" and "You have such a darling figure, I'm so jealous!!!!!"
And, along the same vein, when people post photos you must always tell them how darling they/their pet/their children are. And they really are because no one posts bad pictures of themselves and if their kids are ugly they don't post those pictures either.


So that's what I know so far. Facebook is a fact of life for better or for worse and it's not going anywhere soon. It's a great way for people of a certain age to keep in touch with the friends, coworkers, and relatives you tend to acquire from a life well-lived. And yes, I do want to know that today is Val's birthday, and Christine is on her way to California, and Wendy had a killer margarita in Mexico City last night. These things make me smile.
If I figure out Twitter, I'll let you know.

Friday, July 30, 2010

THE TRUMP-INATOR

The Trump-inator: Brilliant

When I play Euchre with my family (which is something we do nearly every time a bunch of Zimmermans are together) I have trouble keeping track of what trump is. This should not be difficult--there are only four choices--hearts, clubs, spades, and diamonds but I find myself frequently asking, "What's trump?" and hearing the standard reply of "Hearts, Maxine," accompanied by groans at my ridiculous inability to remember something so simple. "Hearts Maxine" is an expression my family uses because my cousin Maxine was sort of the pioneer of forgetful Euchre players and asked what trump was so many times that the phrase was coined.

As the next generation is learning to play Euchre, I find they are even more impatient with my forgetfulness than my own siblings so I have devised a way to keep track. I simply take out four number two cards (you only use 9-Aces in Euchre) and set them at my elbow. When trump is called I turn over the two of whatever suit was called and that way instead of having to ask all the time I can just glance down. This is such a brilliant idea that I have named my stack of four cards "The Trump-inator" Never mind that sometimes the Trump-inator gets tangled up in the discard pile or worse yet the score-keeping cards, it works pretty well overall.

I think The Trump-inator is so ingenious that I am starting to collect other ideas that need a similar solution--situations when people frequently have problems keeping track. Here are a few ideas. I don't actually have a device to solve these problems; I just think it would be cool if there were such a thing. Let me know if you have any ideas and no, "there's an app for that" is not an answer. I don't have a Smart Phone.

1. The Link-inator: this handy device would somehow collect all the websites, YouTube videos, shopping links, and family photos that are referenced in a given conversation and automatically send them to everyone involved. For example, you are out to dinner with your sister and you reference a slutty drunken picture of one of the cousins you saw on FaceBook and she says she hasn't seen it so you say you'll send her the link the next day but by the next morning you realize that you said that about several things and you cannot for the life of you remember what the links were that you thought were so damned funny/relevant/interesting the night before. This would solve the problem and ensure that your sister will never again miss that amazing video of a cat playing piano.

2 The dinner-party-guest-name-inator: This pocket-sized implement has the names of all the guests at the dinner party you are going to along with photos and dotted lines to show who is married to whom. This will eliminate the need for the conversation in the car on the way to the dinner party when your husband keeps saying, "Now what's Susan's husband's name? The Jackass?" and "Will that hot babe from book club be there--what's her name?"

3. The anti-re-gift-inator: This is a discrete stamp noting the date and giver on the bottom of every hostess gift and bottle of wine you receive so that you may never ever accidentally give that bottle of Prosecco back to the person who gave it to you.

4. What's-her-name-inator: Somehow this projects a person's name above her head at a social function so that you will never again know the panic you feel when you realize you need to introduce two people and have somehow managed to forget the name of the person you know best, perhaps someone you know very well and have known for years, I'm just saying, Coffee Friend 2, this could happen.

Just imagine how awesome the world would be if we had these wonderful little helpers. But for now, you can take comfort in knowing you'll never again have to ask what's trump, Maxine.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

LUNCH WITH PETA PROTESTERS


"Oh, hey did you come for the protest?" the nice girl who had been packing up her car with the "Stop the McCruelty" signs asked, leaning in through our car window.
"Yes. Well, she wanted to come," I said, nodding to Lilly in the passenger seat.
We were parked along a secluded country road in Oak Brook, outside a gated community.

"Well, we're all done, I'm sorry, but we're about to go out for lunch. Can you join us?" she said with a big smile. I looked to Lilly for an answer. She was wearing her "Hell yes!" face so I turned back and said sure.
Which is how I came to have lunch with four PETA protesters, complete strangers until that moment, a few Saturdays ago.
The girl in charge who had introduced herself as Kate, closed her hatchback and went over to thank the police who had been assigned to keep the protest peaceful. They seemed like friendly guys and she obviously had dealt with them before. I suppose it's no surprise that when the CEO of McDonalds lives on your beat you would get to know the animal rights activists by name.
We followed Kate and two other cars to the mall and trooped up to a store directory board. "If we find a vegan certified restaurant I can expense it," Kate, the only employee of PETA present (the rest were volunteers) explained. As that would eliminate any restaurant that sold meat, eggs or cheese I decided to intervene. I eyed up the four of them, pegged them all as vegetarians, possibly vegans (how much could they eat?) and made a quick decision.

"How about we just go to Cheesecake Factory and I'll pick up the tab."

They were young. They were grateful so we soon found ourselves looking at the world's largest menu. I was right, there were three vegans, a vegetarian, Lilly (also a vegetarian) and me the carnivore. Watching them study the menu was kind of comical. To make it even more challenging, Kate is a vegan allergic to wheat and peanuts--that leaves umm, not much. At last the vegans ordered veggie burgers--hold the mayo hold the cheese.

We sat and chatted amiably. They were possibly the most earnest, sincere, kind, young people I've had the good fortune to spend time with in a long time. Kate, just a year out of college, has worked for PETA (her dream job) for just a few months. When she talks about Ingrid Newkirk she gets breathless (Lilly had been hoping she'd be at the protest, but no luck). It's Kate's job to organize protests. She explained what it was she wants McDonalds to do--simply use a more humane method of killing their chickens. The method, she explained, has even been recommended by an internal McDonalds committee but no change has been made. We all agreed that the CEO, Jim Skinner, had an unfortunate last name given he was being accused of scalding and butchering animals alive.
The others, two women, and a man were equally passionate about animal rights. Carmen (it was her first PETA protest but she had agreed to wear the chicken costume despite the 90 degree temps) described the poor swans at her workplace who adorn the corporate pond. "They clip their wings so they can't fly away," she said.
"Horrific!" Kate said looking a little like she might cry.
Lilly didn't say much, though her kindred spirits kindly tried to draw her out. Mostly she sat absorbing every word of the conversation with that contented look she gets when she is among other people who are as crazy for animals as she is. I've seen the same look on her face whenever she is at the bunny shelter where she is a volunteer. She loves crazy animal-lovers as much as she loves animals and I have to say her affection is not misplaced.
I paid the check and hoped that somehow this counted as doing something good. Later Lilly thanked me. "We're changing the world, Mom." And I hope she's right because I have come to believe that though there is nothing immoral about eating another creature, it is most certainly immoral to torture it before you do.





Tuesday, July 20, 2010

PAPER OR PLASTIC


Harpoon-caught? Ouch.
I just came from Whole Foods and I thought I'd get some swordfish because everyone knows we should get more Omega-3 oils in our diet. The only thing was I couldn't remember what kind to buy. As I stood at the counter trying to remember if I'm supposed to buy fresh or farmed (something about mercury?) Alaskan or Norwegian (something about over-harvesting?) I noticed a sign that said "Harpoon-caught Swordfish" Under those words, in small print, I was informed that it was "from a fishery certified sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council."

Now first of all I have to take exception with the phrase, "Harpoon-caught". I'm pretty sure "harpoon-impaled" or just plain old "harpooned" would be more accurate but then that doesn't sound so nice does it?Harpoon-caught. Okay, sure, that must be a good thing or why else would they put it on the sign? No nets to accidentally catch dolphins or something. But wait a minute--what exactly are the harpoons made of? What if they're made of teak and come from a rain forest (formerly known as a "jungle") and each time you eat a fish that has been harpooned a teak tree is cut down to make the harpoon and the beautiful rain forest is being destroyed which in turn leads to increased global warming and those melting ice caps so the penguins, like the ones in that cute movie no longer have a place to live (although I saw how cold they are and it wouldn't hurt them to warm up just a teeny bit). Anyhoo, do I really want the deforestation of yet another rain forest on my conscience? No. No I just could not support harpoon-caught salmon without further research.

So I went off to the vitamin aisle in search of fish oil supplements for my Omega-3's but then I remembered I read something about being careful of which kind of fish oil to buy because, well, I don't remember why. Something about how the fish oil is harvested--sometimes it is cruel or "unsustainable" (formerly known as "wasteful"). Think about it--how DO they get all that fish oil? Milk them? Wring them out then throw them back? The truth is I had no idea and now I felt like just another thoughtless, lazy consumer who might as well be buying McDonald's cruelly-raised food and taking it home in a non-biodegradable plastic bag and giving my kids the Happy Toy made by a child-slave in China. So I nixed the fish oil.


I veered away from the vitamin aisle and realized I still needed something for dinner so went back to the meat counter. I decided to get burger, (Lilly could eat a veggie burger). I read the choices carefully and after convincing myself that the cattle had been raised humanely, in sunshine, allowed to eat real grass, not fed hormones or antibiotics, AND that no workers were exploited, the neighbors were not offended by the smell of the cattle ranch, and that no American lost his job in the process, I went ahead and bought a pound.


Exhausted, I stumbled to the checkout counter only to realize I had left my reusable bag in the car. I felt too guilty to use a paper bag for just a pound of beef so I put it in my purse and left quietly, thinking wistfully of a time when our mothers' only tough choice to make at the A&P was beef, chicken, or pork.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD PART II: THE NAME

Our Atticus


When I was pregnant with our first child, Jeff and I decided on a boy name and a girl name but we did not tell anyone the names, fearing ridicule. Which is what lead to this endearing exchange in the hospital just after our son was born when my parents came to visit.

my mom: Oh my gosh he's darling! What's his name?
me: Atticus
my mom: (snort-laugh) No, really...?

I thought it was a great idea to name a child after a beloved literary figure--after all you would avoid the potential pitfalls of naming your child after a beloved historical figure only to find out later the figure was not exactly who you thought. Imagine the disappointment of that couple in "The Cosby" show who named their twins Winnie and Nelson, only to find out a few years later that Winnie was a big opportunistic ho. Well, I'm sure they weren't as disappointed as Nelson himself, but you get the idea.

So I thought a literary figure was safe. What I did not even consider, but now see nearly 17 years later quite clearly, was the possiblity that I could name my kid after one of the most revered fictitious heroes of our time and then my kid could turn out to be an asshole. How stupid would that have looked?

Fortunately, I am quite happy to say my kid is not an asshole. In fact, I think he nicely embodies the spirit of Atticus Finch. Our Atticus is cerebral, and kind, and well beyond his years. Last summer, as many of you know, he asked to go to a Buddhist retreat in the Catskills where he meditated for hours. Really. As I write this he is in the city where he is taking a class in Sound Recording and one in Creative Writing at the Columbia College Summer High School program. He'll take the train home, something he's done on his own for some time.

So though it was a big risk, it turned out great. He loves his name and he loves that about half the world, upon hearing his name for the first time will ask, "Like from To Kill a Mockingbird?" (Apparently the other half never went to high school). And he likes that the name is unique. There is only one other Atticus in Glenview--a boy three years younger who is as unique and cerebral as our Atticus, (and also a Buddhist). He does not mind sharing his name with him.
When he was born I wrote a letter to Harper Lee. I just addressed it to Miss Harper Lee in Monroeville, Alabama, not expecting anything but wanting her to know the name lived on. A few weeks later I received a letter from her--typed obviously on a typewriter. It is among my most prized posessions. (Of course, having said that, I have to confess that I have torn the house apart for two days and can't seem to find it, but it's here, of that I'm sure.)
( A bit off topic but regarding kids' names, I should mention that my girls both have heroic middle names. Grace's middle name is Imogene after the character Idgy in Fried Green Tomatoes, and yes I have a letter from the author Fannie Flagg. Lilly's middle name is Ruby, the only name we chose of a living hero, after Ruby Bridges, the girl who appears in a Norman Rockwell painting, accompanied by federal marshalls as she integrated the New Orleans school system. And I have a lovely letter from her as well.)
So on this 50th anniversary of the publication of To Kill a Mockingbird, rest assured, the good name of Atticus lives on.

Even if Harper Lee's letter is temporarily misplaced.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD


Harper Lee and Gregory Peck during filming of Mockingbird.
As someone who named her son Atticus, most people instantly know I feel strongly about the book To Kill a Mockingbird. This week I have received emails from friends letting me know about various events being held to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the publication of the book. So I felt it was appropriate that I say a few words about the book and what it has meant to me.


Growing up my father did not watch TV very much apart from the nightly news at 11:00. In fact, he watched it so seldom, I have clear memories of the few things he did watch. Here are the few things I can remember him watching-- an episode of Star Trek that my (future film critic)brother dragged him in to the basement to see; Wizard of Oz--I sat on his lap during the scary parts; an episode of Petticoat Junction that my mom wanted to see because of a wedding (was that Bobbi Joe or Betty Joe?); the end of the football game that was famously interrupted by Heidi; the moonlanding; and To Kill a Mockingbird. I new instantly by the tone of voice he used when my mother told him it would be on that night that it was a very special movie indeed. I was only 8 or 9 and not surprisingly the movie did not hold my interest.


A few years later, at the age of 11 during one of those locust-like summer readings binges in which I ravaged my parents' library (and you know just what I'm talking about)I read To Kill a Mockingbird for the first time. I loved it instantly. I did not know exactly what rape was but I had an inkling and the themes of racial injustice, personal bravery, and loss of innocence, resonated with me. I was completely taken with the hero and father-figure Atticus Finch and have throughout my life continued to ask myself "What would Atticus do?" in times of moral dilemma. Quite recently an acquaintance mentioned that she had done that too and I suppose we are not the only two on the planet who have held Atticus in such high esteem.


I have never read To Kill a Mockingbird for a class, ironically. I have read it at least three times through but more often I pick it up and read a passage here and there. It never fails to delight--the story, the phrasing, the place and time, and above all the characters. So memorable you can recall them all easily, Jem and Scout, Miss Maudie, Boo Radley....and many more you could name too I'm sure but above all Atticus.


Over the years I have read quite a bit about the book and how it came to be. For those of you who enjoyed the book but perhaps haven't delved in to the topic as deeply, I offer some trivia:


-The character Dill is based on Harper Lee's next-door neighbor, Truman Capote who did indeed come spend the summers with his aunt. His parents were horribly neglectful--father had abandoned them and mother was, for all practical purposes, a hooker who left him locked in hotel rooms while she went out to the bar. Some claim it is Truman Capote who really wrote To Kill a Mockingbird but there is scant evidence of that. Some also surmise that it is really Harper Lee who wrote the only good book Truman Capote published, In Cold Blood but that probably is not the case either. To be sure Harper Lee helped him research the book as no one in Holcomb, Kansas where the murders occurred wanted to talk to the pompous sissy boy from New York City. I can understand how they were good friends as children but often wonder how she put up with such a pretentious ass when she lived in New York. Maybe she didn't very well--they had a falling out at some point and were not speaking to each other when he died at 59 after drinking himself to death.


-Harper Lee was in her early 20's when she dropped out of law school and moved to New York to write. After struggling a few years with the age-old dilemma of trying to earn a living and finding time to write she was given a generous Christmas gift from friends--a year's salary and direction to quit working and write. She did and at the end of her year she had her masterpiece.


-Harper Lee hobnobbed with the New York glitterati for a few years. Helped Truman with his book and then seems to have had enough. She retired at a young age back to Monroeville Alabama and remains there, now in her mid-80's. She does not do interviews and as far as I know will have nothing at all to do with any of the anniversary events including the Monroeville County Presents: Celebration Weekend for To Kill a Mockingbird which, by the way, begins today.


-To Kill a Mockingbird is the only book she ever wrote. This makes a lot of people crazy (and some point to it as evidence that she did not even write it to begin with). But it doesn't bother me a bit. Why should she write another book after writing something so wonderful AND making sure it was turned respectfully into a weighty movie? Isn't that enough? I say thank you Ms. Lee for the gift and enjoy your peace and quiet.


Next up: On naming a kid Atticus and excerpts from the letter I have from Harper Lee!

Friday, July 02, 2010

GOING HOME

Though Jeff and I moved to the Chicago area 24 years ago, we still sometimes say "going home" when talking about going back to Michigan for family events or visits. Last weekend I went home for my sister's retirement party. I don't get back there very often anymore.

Before kids we went home every few months. When the kids were very little we still tried to get there for major holidays and events but not so much anymore.I don't like this but what can you do? When you move away four hours (now up to six hours thanks to ever-increasing and unavoidable Chicago traffic) and when you go from two of you to five of you (and two of them are teenagers with lives of their own) you aren't as mobile as you'd like to be.

This does not make the people back home happy. My mother gamely tells me about every baby shower, dance recital, and pig roast that she thinks I should attend involving any of my dozens of cousins (some of them are HER second cousins, I don't even know what that makes them to me, twice removed or something) but for the most part we just can't pull it off which is why we're down to weddings, funerals, reunions, and retirements (for parents/grandparents/siblings/nieces & nephews only).

Those who have not moved away from home and indeed some who have not moved out of the zip code they were raised in, are not very understanding or sympathetic of those of us who have. In fact, I have come to realize there are a lot of unwritten rules about an arrangement like this. I know from talking to other friends who have "moved away" that these rules are pretty universal.Here are some of the unwritten rules I've learned in 24 years of living away from "back home".

1) If you are the one who moved away, you are the one who has to come visit. It does not work the other way around." Yes, this defies logic and even common sense but still the grandmas and the aunties like to say "Gosh, it's been a long time since you came to visit" even though most of them have never been to your home or have been only once a long, long time ago.

2) No matter how long it has been since you moved away; no matter how far away you now live; no matter how busy you are; no matter how many kids of your own you have; no matter how much traffic you must battle--you are still expected to attend major events. I don't know if this applies to people when they get to a certain level of busy-ness or have so clearly made a new life for themselves far away. Maybe Oprah's cousins still ask if she will be attending the annual Thanksgiving dinner. Perhaps George Clooney's sister expects him to attend her daughter's ballet recital. I don't know but I know in my family and in most families, this stuff is still expected.

3) It is the right, nay the duty, of those who have chosen to stay in the childhood town to make fun of those who moved to "the big city." Though you would not make fun of the podunk town you have escaped, they feel free to tell you that they would NEVER live in the city you have chosen. The traffic is awful, there are too many people, the housing is outrageous, and the last time they visited they had to pay $6.00 for a Coors Light!

4) It's best to sneak into town and out of town without telling too many people. No matter how many of the family and friends you want to visit you will never be able to see them all so you will have to resort to sneaking in to town. My sister now does this to me since two of her three kids live about 20 minutes from me. The fact is by the time you make the long drive and have a nice visit with whomever you've come to see you have NO energy or desire to try to cram in one more visit. I'm okay with that since I've had to do it for about 24 years now.And finally, the most important rule of all:

5) Regardless of how long you've been away, and how much you love where you live it's nice to know that when you go back home, you are always welcome. Because that's what home is all about.If I've missed any more rules (Jennifer K. I'm thinking of you by the way) please let me know.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

SHAMELESS COMMERCIAL PLUG


Dut Tah Tah Daaaahhh! My new business!




The last time I was bemoaning the state of the publishing world in general and my lack of paid gigs in particular, Jeff suggested gently that I might want to try a new way to make a little cabbage--the old, "keep writing and blogging and hope I get discovered and on Oprah" plan having not panned out so much. He suggested I turn to one of the growing businesses out there--internet sales and god knows I'm familiar with that market as I buy almost everything except groceries and cars online (I know, you can buy those too, but I don't).


And so after kicking a few ideas around and brainstorming with a renowned retail consultant (my niece Layne) I decided to open an online gift shop of really cool gifts that you could take to a party as a hostess gift. (What, you may ask is a hostess gift? And many have. It's a nice little gift you take to hand the hostess when you have been invited to a party instead of bringing the usual bottle of wine you picked up at Trader Joe's on the way over.)


The entire process of coming up with the idea, figuring out what exactly is entailed with starting an online business, applying for the myriad of business numbers and licenses, meeting with my accountant and a banker, finding and working with a web designer, and oh yeah by the way, shopping for and amassing inventory, would probably take an ambitious web-savvy person about two months. I managed to drag it out to six months. But in my defense. No I don't really have a defense. It just took me that long.


Anyhoo, today I announce to you, my loyal readers, that I have started a new business called Happy Hostess Gifts (second, not so subtle, chance to check it out!). I even hope you might buy something and send the link on to two or three of your favorite people.


My hope is that the site will be fun and entertaining (for the reader as well as me of course) AND a great place to find a hostess gift. Most of the items are gifts I actually have received over the years. Well, not the actual gift, that would be re-gifting--I mean I got the idea from an actual gift. For example, the fun fashion rubber gloves are the same kind Jennifer K. gave me a few Christmases ago at our annual bash and I LOVE to wear those while I clean the toilet and pretend I am Bree VanDeKamp.


My new plan is to get this site up and running, sell a few things then get on Oprah to talk about it and have a wealthy business investor beg me to sell her the site (like the Facebook guy although he still said no to the latest offer of several billion--yes that's with a b--and who can blame him he's only 26 and what on earth would he do with all the money and free time?)


So thanks in advance for helping me realize my dream. And for those of you into that sort of thing you can follow my business on Facebook or Twitter.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

GOING HOME

Though Jeff and I moved to the Chicago area 24 years ago, we still sometimes say "going home" when talking about going back to Michigan for family events or visits. Last weekend I went home for my sister's retirement party. I don't get back there very often anymore. Before kids we went home every few months. When the kids were very little we still tried to get there for major holidays and events but not so much anymore.

I don't like this but what can you do? When you move away four hours (now up to six hours thanks to ever-increasing and unavoidable Chicago traffic) and when you go from two of you to five of you (and two of them are teenagers with lives of their own) you aren't as mobile as you'd like to be. This does not make the people back home happy. My mother gamely tells me about every baby shower, dance recital, and pig roast that she thinks I should attend involving any of my dozens of cousins (some of them are HER second cousins, I don't even know what that makes them to me, twice removed or something) but for the most part we just can't pull it off which is why we're down to weddings, funerals, reunions, and retirements (for parents/grandparents/siblings/nieces & nephews only).

Those who have not moved away from home and indeed some who have not moved out of the zip code they were raised in, are not very understanding or sympathetic of those of us who have. In fact, I have come to realize there are a lot of unwritten rules about an arrangement like this. I know from talking to other friends who have "moved away" that these rules are pretty universal.

Here are some of the unwritten rules I've learned in 24 years of living away from "back home".

1) If you are the one who moved away, you are the one who has to come visit. It does not work the other way around." Yes, this defies logic and even common sense but still the grandmas and the aunties like to say "Gosh, it's been a long time since you came to visit" even though most of them have never been to your home or have been only once a long, long time ago.

2) No matter how long it has been since you moved away; no matter how far away you now live; no matter how busy you are; no matter how many kids of your own you have; no matter how much traffic you must battle--you are still expected to attend major events. I don't know if this applies to people when they get to a certain level of busy-ness or have so clearly made a new life for themselves far away. Maybe Oprah's cousins still ask if she will be attending the annual Thanksgiving dinner. Perhaps George Clooney's sister expects him to attend her daughter's ballet recital. I don't know but I know in my family and in most families, this stuff is still expected.

3) It is the right, nay the duty, of those who have chosen to stay in the childhood town to make fun of those who moved to "the big city." Though you would not make fun of the podunk town you have escaped, they feel free to tell you that they would NEVER live in the city you have chosen. The traffic is awful, there are too many people, the housing is outrageous, and the last time they visited they had to pay $6.00 for a Coors Light!

4) It's best to sneak into town and out of town without telling too many people. No matter how many of the family and friends you want to visit you will never be able to see them all so you will have to resort to sneaking in to town. My sister now does this to me since two of her three kids live about 20 minutes from me. The fact is by the time you make the long drive and have a nice visit with whomever you've come to see you have NO energy or desire to try to cram in one more visit. I'm okay with that since I've had to do it for about 24 years now.

And finally, the most important rule of all:

5) Regardless of how long you've been away, and how much you love where you live it's nice to know that when you go back home, you are always welcome. Because that's what home is all about.

If I've missed any more rules (Jennifer K. I'm thinking of you by the way) please let me know.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

BUENA SUERTE SRA SERAFA


My former high school Spanish teacher, Ms. Serafa is retiring this month and I wanted to send her a photo of the fantastic trip to Spain she took us on in the summer of '77. So I dusted off my photo album and found this picture. Atticus (16)looked at it with disbelief. "Is that girl holding a cigarette?" he asked--yes, I explained, students used to smoke in front of their teachers if they were over 16. , "And what's in all those cups?" Beer and wine silly! We were in Spain for crying out loud!
Sometimes when I regale my kids with a story of my own teen years Atticus will sigh and say, "You guys had so much fun." Usually this is in reference to something stupid and reckless we did which is now prohibited (which would be pretty much everything)--such as doing donuts in the school parking lot on a snowy day or cruisin' down Main Street with six or seven girls in the car, the radio turned up, and one of us hanging on to a coat hanger because the car antennae had long since fallen off. Current laws forbid driving in a car with more than one non-related teenager until you are 18. The law is perfectly sensible but not much fun.
This picture is just photographic evidence of a time long gone when kids were allowed to get in trouble some times and teachers and parents did not bail their asses out if they did. At our last reunion a friend reminded me of a band trip they had taken to Jamaica in the late 70's. On the way back through customs, one of the drug dogs sniffed out the pot the drummer had (surprise) and the police pulled him aside. When it came time to board the plane the police were still working the idiot over. One of the chaperones said to Willie, our band director, "Hey what are we going to do about him?" and Willie said, "F*** him. We're going home." And they did. No one got sued. I don't think anyone was even annoyed with Willie for leaving the chuckle-head there. In fact, I think his parents let him sit in a Jamaican jail a day or two before coming to get him.
Yes, kids. These things really did happen once upon a time in America. Kids got in trouble and their parents made them pay the consequences without the help of attorneys and phone calls made to authorities (well, unless you were a Kennedy).
It was indeed a different time and I thank Ms. Serafa and her husband Pete who were only in their mid-20s when they took us all to Europe and allowed us to have fun and even if it meant we might get into trouble. I thank them for turning a blind eye to some of our behavior and thank Pete for pretending to believe us when we missed curfew and said it was because we had not set our watches to local time (three weeks into the trip). It was a great trip and I know it changed my life, opening up a world I did not know existed and showing a sheltered girl from the suburbs everything from the running of the bulls in Pamplona to the majesty of the Alhambra in Granada to the late night discos of Madrid.
Now, thanks to overprotective parents and aggressive law suits most teachers don't take these trips. Those who do go have to impose such restrictions on the kids and themselves that they pretty much take all the fun out of travel (a teacher friend recently chaperoned a trip to Ireland. No one, not even the adults when they were alone, had a beer. Not one beer on a trip to Ireland. I weep for humanity.)

So today I salute Ms. Serafa as she moves on from her 35 years of teaching. I thank her of course for her countless hours of fantastic classroom teaching. And I thank her and Pete for showing Europe to me and so many others for the first time. I wish them well as they move on to the next adventure in their lives and I hope they can have a fraction of the fun we all did that summer.
And to Atticus I say, you will have plenty of your own fun and you will be ultimately safer than we were.
But you're right, sometimes, we did have more fun.

Friday, June 11, 2010

ARE YOU A HOARDER OR A PITCHER?

We had a dumpster in the driveway a few weeks back. Nothing gets the neighbors talking like a dumpster in the driveway and I don't blame them. You see a dumpster and you know something big is going on--anything from a new bathroom all the way up to a complete house demolition.
So when my neighbors inquired about it I had fun giving them the truth--no project, just throwing some stuff away.

People reacted to this intel in two distinct ways --they either 1) became completely puzzled as to how someone could fill a dumpster of everyday household items or 2) were instantly smitten with the idea and wanted to know how to order one. The difference is based on whether the listener was a hoarder or a pitcher. I am obviously a pitcher. I am an extreme pitcher. If you set it down and don't use it for a few days I am likely to throw it out. Stuff does not make me feel good or comforted. It makes me feel smothered and claustrophobic.
As with all big house projects I didn't just wake up one day and say "I think I'll order a dumpster." No, it started with a small and simple sentence when Wine Friend 1 mentioned that she'd heard second refrigerators use a lot of electricity and we should unplug them. This is particularly relevant around here becaues just about everyone has a second refrigerator left over from a remodel (done back in the go-go mid-2000s) when we all put it in the garage or basement and filled it with extra beer. Then our kids became teenagers and we all emptied our refrigerators.
I went home and checked what was in my second fridge and found two boxes of very old Girl Scout cookies, a dish of pudding circa 2007, and crickets for Lilly's pet frog. I pitched it all (except the crickets) and unplugged the fridge.
But this story goes on in If You Give a Mouse a Cookie fashion because the very next day I was driving along when I heard an ad on the radio from ComEd telling me if I unplugged my second fridge they would come and haul it away AND pay me $25. The only caveat was they needed easy access to it. Which was a problem because it was in the basement in the former laundry room buried under seven years of crap and after careful consideration I decided there was really too much junk to just move it around into different piles. What I needed was to get rid of it all. What I needed was a dumpster. But, I wondered, how does that work?
The very next day I had my final Church Lady breakfast of the year and I threw the question out to the crowd. They are a very resourceful group of women and I knew if anyone would know, they would know. They did. Call our garbage service and they will bring you any size dumpster you want then pick it up when you want (for a price of course).
And that's why there was a dumpster in our driveway a couple weeks ago. First I cleared out the basement, then Jeff moved on to the shed, and finally he finished up with that attic above the garage. He was skekptical at first that we could fill a dumpster but we filled that puppy to the brim.

I share this with you all so that if you are a pitcher you may know how simple it is to achieve pitching nirvana. If you live with a hoarder, I am sorry as I know you could never pull this off and I know your opposing views on stuff cause domestic strife.
As for me, I'm just happy as a clam, light as a feather, and pleased as punch to be 6 square yards of junk lighter.
Oh yeah, and I got rid of the second fridge too. Thanks ComEd!





Tuesday, June 01, 2010

I'M FIFTY

So today I turn fifty and I thought I ought to say something about this momentous occasion. I don't have any particular wisdom to impart so I'll just share some random thoughts about the whole thing. To all my peers, NHS class of '78, this one's for you:


- First of all I have to say that fifty really is old. You can no longer put a good spin on it and saying "Fifty is the new forty" does not make it so. No matter how you slice it you are well into middle age and on your way to old age. But I don't find this dismaying--instead I find it liberating.We are grownups and we can stop running so fast and let those younger people carry some of the weight. At last we have arrived.

-At fifty you should stop trying to suck your stomach in. As a friend once said, "The other day I noticed the cat was sitting on my lap. Then I remembered I don't have a cat." The point is, by 50 everyone has a cat sitting on his or her lap. Stop trying to fight it. Enjoy your cat. Exhale.

-We are happier: new studies out just this week declare it so. Happiness peaks at 18, declines rapidly as the real world throws its crap at us and doesn't pick up again until we are 50. So if you feel as good as you did your senior year in high school, you are probably 50 or older. Life IS good.

-People who fight too hard against aging look foolish. Madonna and Melanie Griffith come to mind. Yes they might be thinner or tauter but they are also kind of freaky. They do not look better. So do not try to be like them. As my friend Christie Mellor says in the title of her book, "You Look Fine, Really". Most people would rather look at Meryl Streep than Madonna. Embrace your inner Meryl Streep.

-And finally, when you have an older sister, mother, and grandmother still alive and all quite active, how old can you really feel? Yes, when my sister got her first AARP card (8 years ago) she said it made her feel old. Then my mom pointed out that when your first child gets her AARP card you feel old. Then my grandma chimed in saying that when your first grandchild gets her AARP card you feel really old. So how old can I feel? We have many more years ahead and miles to go before we sleep. Just ask my grandma.


Happy birthday to the class of '78. Happy birthday to us all.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

THE DUMPSTER: HOARDERS AND PITCHERS


We had a dumpster in the driveway a few weeks back. Nothing gets the neighbors talking like a dumpster in the driveway and I don't blame them. You see a dumpster and you know something big is going on--anything from a new bathroom all the way up to a complete house demolition.
So when my neighbors inquired about it I had fun giving them the truth--no project, just throwing some stuff away.

People reacted to this intel in two distinct ways --they either 1) became completely puzzled as to how someone could fill a dumpster of everyday household items or 2) were instantly smitten with the idea and wanted to know how to order one. The difference is based on whether the listener was a hoarder or a pitcher. I am obviously a pitcher. I am an extreme pitcher. If you set it down and don't use it for a few days I am likely to throw it out. Stuff does not make me feel good or comforted. It makes me feel smothered and claustrophobic.
As with all big house projects I didn't just wake up one day and say "I think I'll order a dumpster." No, it started with a small and simple sentence when Wine Friend 1 mentioned that she'd heard second refrigerators use a lot of electricity and we should unplug them. This is particularly relevant around here becaues just about everyone has a second refrigerator left over from a remodel (done back in the go-go mid-2000s) when we all put it in the garage or basement and filled it with extra beer. Then our kids became teenagers and we all emptied our refrigerators.
I went home and checked what was in my second fridge and found two boxes of very old Girl Scout cookies, a dish of pudding circa 2007, and crickets for Lilly's pet frog. I pitched it all (except the crickets) and unplugged the fridge.
But this story goes on in If You Give a Mouse a Cookie fashion because the very next day I was driving along when I heard an ad on the radio from ComEd telling me if I unplugged my second fridge they would come and haul it away AND pay me $25. The only caveat was they needed easy access to it. Which was a problem because it was in the basement in the former laundry room buried under seven years of crap and after careful consideration I decided there was really too much junk to just move it around into different piles. What I needed was to get rid of it all. What I needed was a dumpster. But, I wondered, how does that work?
The very next day I had my final Church Lady breakfast of the year and I threw the question out to the crowd. They are a very resourceful group of women and I knew if anyone would know, they would know. They did. Call our garbage service and they will bring you any size dumpster you want then pick it up when you want (for a price of course).
And that's why there was a dumpster in our driveway a couple weeks ago. First I cleared out the basement, then Jeff moved on to the shed, and finally he finished up with that attic above the garage. He was skekptical at first that we could fill a dumpster but we filled that puppy to the brim.

I share this with you all so that if you are a pitcher you may know how simple it is to achieve pitching nirvana. If you live with a hoarder, I am sorry as I know you could never pull this off and I know your opposing views on stuff cause domestic strife.
As for me, I'm just happy as a clam, light as a feather, and pleased as punch to be 6 square yards of junk lighter.
Oh yeah, and I got rid of the second fridge too. Thanks ComEd!







Friday, May 21, 2010

PROM NIGHT

It's prom night in Glenview and of course all week the town has been getting ready. My neighbor finished sewing her daughter's dress and brought it over for me to admire. Hair and nail appointments were made. Boutonnieres and corsages ordered. It's a fun and magical time.

The school is gearing up for it too. Yesterday I took Atticus up to school early so he could help with the sound for the bi-annual anti-drunk-driving demonstration the school puts on for its seniors and juniors during prom week. As I dropped him off I grilled him about it but he didn't know much--just that they had some kind of program out at the football field and he'd be working the sound board.

When I picked him up after school he told me all about it so here is what went on at my kids' school yesterday, according to Atticus:

All the juniors and seniors came out to the football field and the principle spoke about the dangers of drunk driving and texting while driving. He spoke eloquently about how this has affected him personally. He told the kids that texting now kills about as many kids as drunk driving. Behind him were two vehicles shrouded in tarps with firemen standing on each side. As he finished his speech two firemen pulled the tarps off dramatically. Jobee, a senior sound guy leaned in and told Atticus to make sure the mikes were up full volume. As the tarps came off there was a bloodcurdling scream from inside one of the cars. Then there was a multitude of crying and screaming from both the cars.

The cars which had been smashed by the firemen to simulate a car accident were full of student actors in prom dresses and tuxes. They had fake blood all over them and volunteer nurses had applied makeup to look like actual wounds. The kids screamed and cried and then the actor playing the drunk kid got out of the car looking bewildered, trying to help his date and the two couples trapped in the other car. Soon a Glenview cop car pulled out from behind the field house, sirens blaring and pulled up to the "accident". He radioed the accident in (he and the radio had mikes on them) saying there were two possible fatalities. The drunk driver grew more distraught and when the ambulance pulled up and the EMTs started working on the victims the police officer administered a field sobriety test to him, which he failed. The EMTs called for back up and a fire truck which had been parked around the school roared on to the field.

They announced they'd need the jaws of life to get the kids out. They pulled out the equipment and ripped the car open like a can opener (Atticus said one of the actors is in his math class and he said THAT was scary, having a giant metal claw a few inches from his head). The police officer cuffed the drunk driver and put him in the squad car and drove away. Just then they could hear a helicopter and soon the med-vac copter dispatched from the hospital next door roared over their heads landing in the middle of the field. The EMTs got out and hustled two of the victims into the helicopter and flew off.

The remaining two kids, a boy and a girl in their bloodied tux and gown lay lifeless on the ground. A hearse, driven by a former Glenview student who now owns a local funeral home pulled up. He and his partner got out and quietly zipped each student into a body bag and loaded them up.

As the hearse drove away, a firefighter who has had to do this in real life got up and spoke to the kids about the horror of it. He wept as he talked.

By now a lot of the kids were crying and when he finished speaking the 1,000 or so kids were silent.

Now, usually I kind of make fun of the over-the-top stuff they do at my kids' school. But in this case I have to say that this is an impressive and admirable use of the dramatic arts. Can you even imagine the adrenaline, heart-pumping scenario of hearing sirens and helicopters and watching them zip your fellow student into a body bag? If just one kid out of that thousand doesn't get behind the wheel of a car drunk for the rest of his or her life because of this re-enactment, lives could be saved. I wish every school in this country had the resources to do this for their students.

When I dropped Atticus off yesterday morning at 6:50 I saw the actors in their tuxes and gowns as they walked out to the football field, the early sun on their backs, and I was puzzled about who it was and why they were there. I don't know why but the hair on my arms stood up because there in the mist, for just a moment, I thought they were the ghosts of prom-night accidents past.

It's prom night in Glenview and around the country. God bless and keep everyone safe.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

AWARD SEASON!

This is a repeat from last year. Partly because it is so appropriate this time of year and partly because I have writer's block.

Enjoy!

The month of May in Glenview (and in many school districts I suspect) means lots and lots of award ceremonies for all our brilliant and talented children. Of course, in a world where kids can't attend a birthday party without getting a custom-made T-shirt, we would not expect them to finish up their school year without making sure each and every one of the little darlings is given an award, a plaque, a certificate and a big round of applause just for being you!

This means that as a parent you will get a letter or a phone call from the school inviting you to attend an award ceremony because your son or daughter has received an award for some great scholastic or athletic achievement at school.

At least that's what you think the first time you get one of those letters or calls. You get the video camera fired up and see if you can talk a grandparent or spouse or a child into going with you for the big event.

Imagine your disappointment (not to mention your mother's irritation) when you get there and find out the award is for "Good Effort In French" which is an award given to just about any kid who attended the class on a semi-regular basis. Heh heh you smile apologetically at your mom for keeping her from her Pilates class as your brilliant progeny traipses across the multi-purpose room along with a dozen or so other slackers while Mademoiselle Jones hands him a "special certificate" she just printed out on her computer and says with a big smile, "Tres bien!"

I am only exaggerating a little here. To be fair, they also give out awards to children who really deserve the recognition for the nearly herculean efforts they put into the school year and the extra-curricular activities they participate in. The problem is that when you are invited to attend an award ceremony you have NO idea if your kid is going to get a real award or a bogus award. So you go, and since you've been duped before you don't make a big deal about it or even tell your spouse because you don't want him to take time off to watch your kid get an award for being above average in social studies. And THAT will be the time your kid actually wins the school award for all-around kid greatness that goes to only one kid and the newspaper will be there and they'll want a picture of your entire family and they'll wonder how such a great kid could come from such an apathetic family.

Well, that has never happened to me but it nearly happened to my friend Kelly who, a few years back, sent her husband off to work with reassurances that their son TJ would be getting some meaningless award only to find out that he was about to set a school record for receiving the most (real) awards. Thank goodness for cell-phones. We fondly remember that event as the "TJ Awards Ceremony" around here.

Of course it helps if you can crack the code. Last year I was going to the meaningless award ceremony (You're only invited to this one if your kid is going to win several meaningless awards, I have at least figured that much out by now) only to see the parents of the superstars leaving the building. "Hey, where are you all going?" I asked naively. TJ's mom explained gently, "Oh,they have the school-wide awards first. They just finished up," she said, trying to hide behind her back the stash of gold medals and award statues her son had just won. She's a modest woman.

WTF? They have the real awards first then break up into classes for the meaningless awards and I didn't even KNOW that?

All of this came back to me yesterday when I got a letter inviting me to the Science Awards Ceremony at the High School. This is the first year I have someone in high school so now I have to try to decode the ceremony system there too. I was quite suspect of the invitation. For one thing Atticus is barely carrying a B+ in that class. Can they really award that? Maybe he found a cure for a disease or something. So I asked him about it when he got home.

"Oh that. It's nothing. I think the teacher has to give out a certain number of awards and our class is so lame he had to choose me. I wouldn't come unless you're incredibly bored."

"So you knew you were getting it?"

"Yeah. The teacher had me address the envelope to you."

Wow. That is an honor. Here, send this letter to your mom so she'll know we're giving you this prestigious award. (author update--went to the ceremony--it was a ruse to get the younger kids to see the amazing things the older kids are doing in science--a sort of science PR event if you will)

So I'm proposing an award system code that is just for the parents. The invitation to the award ceremony could have a three-tier code system like our oh-so-helpful homeland security threat system:

Code Blue: This is a perfunctory award given to your kid because he or she has not physically harmed anyone in this class and did show up, fully dressed almost every day of the school year. Come if you can squeeze it in between the grocery trip and the bill-paying.

Code Yellow: This is an actual award only the top 15% of the class will be given. Nifty certificates with their names printed on them will be given! You may want to attend this and even make an attempt to photograph the event on your cell-phone.

Code Orange (also known as the TJ code): This is a REAL award. Your son or daughter not only got all A's but also headed up a project to implement an easy-to-use recycling system for the cafeteria that involves the help of the special needs kids AND led the basketball team to a state-wide victory (another author update...Grace actually won one of these last year and I was able to attend the early award ceremony for high achievers...and I was restrained and only said "In your face" once to Kelly who was there with her usual armload of awards) Bring your family and your camera and your video camera with tripod.

Happy awards season. I hope your children get many awards, real and otherwise!