Friday, July 30, 2010


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


"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


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


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


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


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.