Sunday, May 30, 2010


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


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


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.


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!

Monday, May 03, 2010


Lilly's birthday present. It's NOT a surprise.

When it comes to gift-giving surprises there are two kinds of people: 1)Those who will go to great lengths to NOT figure out what gifts are being amassed or plans being laid for them and 2)The criminally insane.

Guess which one I am? Once when I was seven, I accidentally saw the doll bottle my brother John bought me for Christmas (he hid it in MY closet for crying out loud) and I can honestly say I am not exaggerating when I tell you I was wracked with guilt. I could not look him in the eye until Christmas morning when I unwrapped it and declared very unconvincingly (I am a terrible liar too) "Thank you! What a surprise!"

So I was more than a little taken aback to learn relatively recently that both my girls possess criminal minds. They will go to great lengths to figure out what their gifts are. In fact, one of them confessed that a few years back they actually UNWRAPPED a Christmas gift under the tree while Jeff and I were out to dinner. Of course, then they had to wrap it back up which was a problem because Grace wraps gifts very well and I, well, I don't. So after she re-wrapped it, Lilly had to tell her it was too good and she had to do it all over again only messy.

I guess I shouldn't be too surprised that they differ so drastically on this topic from me. It may be in their genes. I remember that my Grandma Zimmerman, quite possibly the sweetest, kindest person I have known in my life, exhibited these tendencies. In the last few years of her life she started opening her Christmas presents a week early. It gave her a great guilty pleasure to do this and she giggled like a school girl at the shock on our faces when she confessed to doing this.

Lilly's birthday is next week and she's been pestering me for days to tell her what I'm getting her and I just keep shooing her away. I refuse to tell her. I mean, we just can't do that--can we?

You know, when you think about it, people do go to ridiculous lengths to keep birthday secrets. I am reminded of my friend Sondra who once planned a 50th birthday surprise party for her husband. After weeks of finding her having surreptitious phone calls which ended when he came in the room he confronted her. Was she having an affair? No, no she denied it but did not reveal what was really going on. Why, I asked her, didn't she just tell him, for the sake of her marriage, that she was planning a birthday party? "What?" she asked in horror, "And ruin the surprise!"

I thought about that and the whole keeping it a secret thing (I'm in general NOT a fan of keeping anything a secret) so when Lilly pestered me for the umpteenth time last week I finally said, "Okay fine. You really want to know? You really want to ruin the surprise?" and she said yes and I told her. And nothing happened. The gift police did not arrest either of us and the world kept spinning.

Strangely she has shown no regret or remorse for having finagled this info out of me. In fact it seems to give her great pleasure to be able to enjoy the knowledge of her gift before she actually has it. I guess it's like knowing the sex of a baby (something I refused to find out--go figure)--while it does take a small element of surprise out of the event it hardly makes the baby any less of a gift.

So maybe it's okay that Lilly knows she is getting a new outdoor bunny hutch and that she's running around making plans for where to put it. And I guess the "I want to know what I'm getting now" gene skips a couple of generations.

As for me, I like to be surprised, so don't hide my gifts in my closet.