Friday, December 19, 2008

A Hitler by any other name is preferable

My daughter, an English teacher, says that every possible permutation of the human condition has been addressed by William Shakespeare. She's probably right. I just don't know if he had poor little Adolph Hitler Campbell in mind when he wrote, "What's in a name?"

The child with the unfortunate name, age 3, is at the center of a brouhaha in Holland Township, N.J. His parents wanted his entire name (again, Adolph. Hitler. Campbell.) inscribed on his birthday cake. The Shop Rite bakery near their bunker refused.

This wasn't Shop Rite's first introduction to the Campbell clan. For the last two years, the bakery has declined their request for cakes decorated with swastikas.

Shop Rite offered to sell them an uninscribed cake so they could write whatever they pleased but the parents - surprise, surprise - contacted the media instead. Turns out they also have toddlers named JoyceLynn Aryan Nation and Honszlynn Hinler Jeannie. Good grief.

Thanks to the immediacy of the Internet, the story has spread world wide. By Thursday morning there were over three quarters of a million Google hits for the child's name. Again, good grief.

My first reaction to the article was disgust. Naming a child is a sacred responsibility. Other cultures incorporate fasts, prayer rituals and clearly defined cultural expectations into the naming of a baby. In Iceland, one must choose from a list of approved names and any deviation requires consent from a government committee.

Here, sleep deprived new parents fill out a couple of forms and that's it. I'm convinced that's how I ended up with a pesky second "s" in my first name. After 22 hours of difficult labor, my mom just wasn't thinking clearly.

If you look to the upper right-hand corner of this Opinion page, you'll see the text of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. For you online readers, here's a refresher: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

That's what gives parents the right to name their children anything they please, no matter how stupid, insulting, racist or disgusting. And I'm in total agreement with that. No matter what, you just don't mess with the First Amendment.

But wait, I have an idea. It's none too well thought out and fueled by 6, but it's an idea nevertheless. I think names should come with an expiration date. How about if names were good for, let's say, 18 years? Then you would have to fill out a revised birth certificate, either confirming the name you have or selecting another. It could become a new life cycle event like birthdays, Bas Mitzvahs, QuinceaƱeras and registering with Selective Service.

Let's call it Name Day (hey, remember, it's 6 a.m. and I'm working with a deadline breathing down my neck.) Parties would grow up around it. There would be a whole new line of Hallmark cards ("You chose WHAT?" and "P. Diddy will be SO proud.")

Of course, some 18-year-olds have the judgement and maturity of, well, an 18-year-old, so you'll end up with a lot of Britneys, Beyonces, Bella Swans, Flava Flavs and Eminems. But at least it'll be their choice. I, for one, would drop that second "s" like a hot brick.

Armed with the new Name Day legislation, in 2023, if little Adolph Hitler Campbell so decides, he can become Filbert or Robert or Rasputin, for that matter.

I guess he could even decide to retain his name. After the indoctrination he's receiving that may be a distinct possibility. And a crying shame.

Originally published in the Gainesville Times, December 19, 2008

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Teressa Glazer's Favorite Things, 2008

You can tell the season of the year just by checking TV listings. The channels are packed with offerings like "Frosty the Snowman", "A Christmas Story" and animated holiday specials featuring Charlie Brown, the Grinch and Shrek.

Another icon of the holiday season is Oprah's Favorite Things. Since 2002, there's been a yearly segment in which she presents items that she thinks are noteworthy or would make good gifts. There are usually some yummy food items from obscure regional companies that are promptly inundated with more orders than they could possibly fill in three years. There's a breathtaking display of jewelry and watches. There are cutting-edge electronics- cell phones, digital cameras, camcorders, GPS devices. Best of all, the lucky studio audience members get to take the featured items home with them.

I missed this year's episode, but I can just imagine the audience's reaction to the 2008 selections: "regifting" parties to swap unwanted gifts for other, more needed, items, gift baskets of fruits and vegetables you grew yourself (mine would consist of nothing but mint and rosemary), time with a love one, gratitude boxes with notes of gratitude from various people. Noble as Oprah's intentions are, I can just imagine the audience's reaction: "Where's my car? Where's my digital camera? Where's my pashmina shawl?"

I'm an Oprah fan, really I am, but being lectured on thrift by a woman who hasn't had a financial care in the world since 1986 is just a little weird. After all, 45% of the country's population wasn't born the last time Oprah had to comparison shop.

So, I wondered, what sort of Favorite Things list would I come up with? After all, I'm walking the walk, talking the talk and clipping the coupons.

After a little thought, I came up with Teressa Glazer's Favorite Things, 2008:

1. As the economy started it's free fall, the first thing to go was eating out. Then I discovered It's a website where you can buy discount coupons for area eateries. Right now they're running a special selling $25.00 off coupons for $3.00.And these aren't for just any old restaurants...there's the Oar House and Caruso's in Dahlonega, there's Scott's on the Square, Seabones and Pasquale's in Gainesville and Angelo's in Athens. There are lots of choices if you dine in the Flowery Branch/Buford/Gwinnett area.

It's so easy. You just buy a coupon online for the restaurant of your choice. Then you print out the coupon and go out to eat. Usually a minimum purchase of about $35.00 is required so with your coupon you get a feast for $10.00.

A few weeks ago Arthur and I had some of the most wonderful Caribbean food ever (chicken with mango chutney, yellow rice & black beans, fried sweet plantains and mango/passion fruit cheesecake) at Dante's on the Square in Dahlonega for all of $11.00 plus the tip. And we'd bought our coupon on sale for just $2.00.

Through Christmas Day, is running a program called Feed It Forward. Each day, you can send free $10.00 coupons to any three people of your choice. Then they can do the same. They expect to give away over $30M in coupons.

2. CVS Extra Bucks Some marketing genius had the inspired idea of making refunds easy. You scan a card at the register and not only does it keep track of your purchases and give you a 2% rebate coupon every three months, it also prints out discounts at the register. Some items are actually free- you purchase the item and then immediately get the purchase price back in a coupon. This week it's Powerade. There are lots of ways to use the card to it's best advantage and Debra Chavis, the manager of the Jesse Jewel location, knows them all. Just stop in and ask her for a tutorial. She'll be glad to help.

3. 129 Salvage Located just north of the State Patrol barracks on (need I say it?) Hwy. 129, this salvage store is always the first stop on my bargain shopping rounds. There's a little of everything- toys, electronics, cleaning supplies, office items, home decor, clothing, beauty supplies, all at greatly discounted prices. My favorite find was a beautiful blue and white ceramic tray for $10.00. It was only after I got it home that I turned it over and saw it was Limoges. Wow. Megabargain.

4. Just $2.00 This amazing little store is right in front of Wal-Mart on Shallowford Rd. My only complaint is that it isn't larger. The name says it all- everything in the store is $2.00. I get name brand beauty products for a fraction of the drug store prices. Like 129 Salvage, the inventory changes every day so it's best to stop in often. I treasure the appliqued University of Alabama fleece hoodie I found there for...that's right...$2.00.

5. This awesome service comes from the Music Genome Project. You program your own music station. Just type in the name of a favorite artist. For example, say you like Rascal Flatts. The station will start with one of their songs, then move on to artists with similar music- Keith Urban, Tim McGraw, Brad Paisley,Kenny Chesney and Carrie Underwood. Choose Beyonce and you'll also get music from Destiny's Child, Rihanna, Alicia Keyes, Aaliyah and Mariah Carey. You can send links to your station to friends or find others online who are listening to the same music. It all free and they never try to sell you anything.

So those are my top five favorites. There are lots more- Rite Aid's rebate program, Dollar Deals and Discounts in Cleveland, the way The Times bundles two issues of the Sunday paper for the price of one so you get twice the manufacturer's coupons.

I hope the economy turns around soon. There will be lots of indicators- the stock market, interest rates, gas prices and falling unemployment numbers. I'll know for sure we're in recovery when Oprah's favorites again start including plasma TVs and UGG boots.

Shopping day signals season for optimists

It’s here. Today is Black Friday, the Friday after Thanksgiving and the beginning of the traditional Christmas shopping season.

My friend, Cheryl, takes this day very seriously. She, her mother and sister nap after Thanksgiving dinner and then are up and out of the house by midnight in order to hit the nearest outlet mall.

Their shopping is planned with military precision. They spread out among the stores then periodically reconnoiter at a predesignated location to advise each other on the best deals. Eighteen hours later, they’re back home, the majority of their Christmas shopping completed. If shopping were an Olympic event, they’d take the gold.

Black Friday has another meaning for me. It heralds the opening of the Optimist Club’s Christmas tree lot. Since 1956, the Gainesville Evening Optimist Club’s primary fundraiser has been the sale of Christmas trees and wreaths. For three weeks in November and December we take over a corner of the property at Gallery (Wolfman) Furniture on Browns Bridge Road.

The trees came in on Wednesday. They’re gorgeous Fraser Firs, personally selected from a mountaintop in North Carolina by Earl Odell, Harold Platt and Cheryl Hughes. Cheryl, Judy Kellogg, Yvonne Clarke and I are manning the wreath hut, turning the trimmings from the base of the trees into wreaths and swags.

When it came time to order trees, we were worried. In this Grinch-like economy, would people spend their dwindling discretionary income on live trees? Well, they don’t call us Optimists for nothing. We’re betting on the affirmative.

As we get the lot ready for business, it’s a good time to mention the Optimists who have done so much to bring us to this day.

Recently, our group was thrilled to have the opportunity to help the Hall County Optimist Club endow a scholarship in honor of Optimists J.H. and Margaret Holcomb and their late sisters, Mildred and Nelle.

Lifelong educators all, they influenced and encouraged three generations of area youth. J.H. and Margaret continue to do so through their Optimist work. They’re absolute treasures.

Soon J.H. will celebrate 50 years as an Optimist. J.H., who just turned 92, says he won’t be able to work at the tree lot this year. Carwell Odell, 94, won’t be there, either. We’re really going to miss them. It won’t be the same without them, but we’ll soldier on.

In the last couple of years, we’ve lost some of the tree lot’s mainstays: Jim Snow, Bob Holbrook, Mark McClure, Lowell Hipps, Virginia Ricketson-Wills, James Rowan and Haskell Stratton. These people left a legacy of happy-spirited service to the youth of Hall County. For decades they did the heavy lifting for the club. They leave big shoes to fill.

Buy your tree at a commercial location and your money goes into some anonymous corporate pocket, maybe here, maybe abroad.

Buy your tree at the Optimist tree lot and every penny goes to support Optimist projects in our area: oratorical and essay scholarship competitions, Youth Appreciation programs, Respect for Law dinners, youth golf tournaments.

So in case you’re the sort who needs an invitation, here it is: Come on out to the Optimist Tree Lot on Browns Bridge Road. Let the kids play hide and seek among the trees while you and your
better half pick out the perfect one.

Have a cup of coffee or cocoa with us and, if you ask, we’ll tell you all about the Optimist Club, the work we do and how you can become part of it.

I look forward to seeing you. I’ll be the one in the Hanukkah sweatshirt.

Originally published in the Gainesville Times, November 28, 2008

Finding caregiver may come at a price

My mother-in-law, Claire, is determined to spend the rest of her days on Long Island. While most of the family migrated south to Georgia and Florida, she remained in her house on Peconic Bay.

I can’t say as I blame her. It’s idyllic there. The bay is on one side and she’s surrounded on the other three by a nature preserve teeming with deer and fox. Southampton, with its trendy shopping and exclusive restaurants, is only a few miles to the east. In the opposite direction is Riverhead, its roads lined with big box stores and outlet malls. She could take classes, perform volunteer work and play bridge to her heart’s content. Move? Never.

Three years ago things began to change. Claire had several bad falls. Well past 80, she became more forgetful, losing keys and neglecting to turn off the oven. The dings and dents on her Volvo’s bumpers told the rest of the story. If she was going to stay in her home she would need help.

My brother-in-law, Ron, was the only family member living nearby. The work of hiring and managing a caregiver fell upon him. He did everything right. He advertised and interviewed applicants. He checked references. He kept at it until he found the perfect person. We’ll call her Jane.

Jane was bubbly and funny and energetic. She lived nearby and could spend part of each day with Claire. She took her shopping and to medical appointments. Claire reveled in the attention.

She gave Claire a reason to get up each morning. We saw an immediate improvement. She was more alert and seemed happier. It was wonderful.

Thinking back, there were some hints that all was not quite right. Jane quickly insinuated herself into the family, calling Claire, "Mom" and Ron and my husband "bro." She would bring her young children over to play in Claire’s yard and encouraged them to treat Claire as a surrogate grandmother. It creeped me out a little, but I told myself I was being petty and jealous.

It made sense to give Jane a credit card. After all, she was doing a lot of Claire’s shopping and picking up prescriptions. We made a big mistake when we failed to insist on accountability in the form of detailed receipts from the start.

Each month the credit card purchases mounted. Mostly there were increased grocery purchases but the prescription charges increased as well. Later we found out that Jane was getting pain medication prescribed for Claire by asserting that she was experiencing severe back pain.

Since Jane was the person who accompanied her to medical appointments, the physicians knew her and took her at her word.

Strong pain medication was prescribed and filled but we’ve never seen any indication that Claire actually took the pills. We’ve never found a bottle of them in the house. Indications are they went home with Jane and from there, who knows?

As Ron’s suspicions grew, the grocery store proved to be an ally. I had no idea that they could retrieve every sale charged to Claire’s card. There it was in black and white. There were purchases for pork chops, beer, huge sacks of dog food. Charged to a teetotaling Kosher grandmother with a cat but no dog.

My brother-in-law acted quickly. Jane was fired and he made a police report. While never admitting any wrongdoing, she eventually made some restitution in order to avoid prosecution.

Echoes of Jane still reverberate from time to time. Recently Claire called to ask me if she had given me or her granddaughters a particular piece of gold jewelry. She hadn’t. I suspect I know who has it.

We’ve all been affected by this experience. Each of us felt duped and taken in, none more so than Claire. She was genuinely fond of Jane, and this betrayal is never far from her thoughts.

There’s a new caregiver. We’ve learned a lot from the Jane debacle. Expectations are fully outlined and receipts are routinely checked. Things have gone well for the last year.

What makes this story so sad is that it’s so common.

As the sandwich generation struggles to care for aging parents while maintaining careers and raising children of their own, there’s frequently a need to hire outside help.

All I can say is, be careful. Be very, very careful.

Originally published in the Gainesville Times, November 18, 2008