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Girl from the East goes to a co-op preschool. What this means to the uninitiated is that in exchange for ridiculously affordable tuition, the parents provide everything from the food for snacks, some of the classroom supplies, and the cleaning and light maintenance of the classrooms, hallways, entrances and gardens. We hold bimonthly board meetings, volunteer a few hours a month as classroom assistants and we all have a set fund-raising commitment.

When I signed up for this a year ago, I was all oh-yeah-baby excited about the idea of a co-op. It seemed like such a tight-knit, socially involved community. I ignored words like fund-raising commitment per family and active involvement. I focused on words like school as in Girl is not-at-home, and school as in she’ll be occupied for a few hours a week so I can get stuff done and maybe work a little bit.

After almost a full year into the program, I feel like a co-op failure. We are behind (although not as behind as some families) in our fund-raising. We have our super deluxe extravaganza fund-raiser thingy this weekend. Each family was asked to rustle up some donations from local businesses, put our talents to work and create something at home, or purchase some items and make our own festive gift baskets. We also were supposed to be peddling the tickets to all our friends and families to boost attendance. I’m sure there was something else, too, but I forgot.


As of today, a mere three days from the event, I’ve done exactly nothing. Sure, I’ll go to Costco and buy a few jugs of juice and some massive bags of pretzels and veggie sticks for the kiddie snack table. I’m on board for clean-up after the shindig. I bought two tickets, one for me and one for my husband.

I made a feeble attempt to get a local business to donate a gift certificate or gift basket.  I visited in person, handed the owner one of our handy-dandy fliers with all the details and then waited. And waited. After an unanswered phone call, I just gave up. I’m guessing the deafening silence is a “no.” I know, a true salesperson would take that no and turn it into a yes with sprinkles. But, I am not a salesperson. Not now. Not ever.

Now I’m walking on pins and needles. The event is only days away. I have neither the time nor the energy to do whatever it is I’m supposed to be doing to make up for lost time. I like volunteering in the classroom. I like the social element of the school even if I’ve not participated in many of the events. I do not like all this fund-raising. I’ve been through 11 years of it with Girl from the West. I think it’s possible to burn out on fund-raising.

Next year, I’m taking the early buyout option. I’ll pay upfront my family’s obligation and wash my hands of flower bulb catalogs, cookie dough tubs, pizza kits and wrapping paper booklets.

But I’m not sure I can get off that easy. I  sense a moral scale, some ethical yardstick at work behind the scenes tirelessly weighing and measuring commitment to the cause. The results, I’m sure, are published in the Big Book of Gossip.

I’m crossing my fingers that next year will be different, that I’ll go in knowing what to expect and make more of an effort to add my co to this op. Otherwise, it’s just been a co-oops.

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Even glamour has an underbelly

Welcome to the monthly installment of Glamorous In Real Life, sponsored by Marcy, who has it goin’ on when it comes to the glamorous life. Today’s rhinestone-encrusted gem is from the November 2007 vault. If you live in a state with the bottle-deposit law, you may know what I’m talking about.*


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As part of Girl from the West’s fund-raising efforts for her trip to Europe next summer, we initiated a returnable bottle and can drive. Oh, what jolly good fun it was to write and print the flyers, wait for the appointed pick-up day, and then stroll about the neighborhood and collect the booty in shiny black bags.

We marveled at the growing hill of trash in our back yard. We’d get them cashed in right away, we promised.

Well, they sat and collected leaves. They sat and collected rain water and leaves. Finally, after husband cleaned gutters and plopped gutter gunk onto leaf- and rainwater- covered bags, we decided that was our cue.

All I can say is: WTF? No wonder people are more than happy to dump 500 cans on their porch for us to haul away. This is not fun work. Maybe it’s our deflated economy. Maybe it was our choice of market or neighborhood. I don’t know but each time we went to the neighborhood grocery store to cash in these bottles and cans, it was some kind of nightmare.

First time: Every employee we sought help from was in some kind of bad mood on a bad day, squabbling with other employees in bad moods on bad days. Or, the machines were malfunctioning on some kind of bad day. Not only that, but the facility also is a strewn with trash, there are puddles of spilled beer and soda on the floor, and there is no heat.

It got to the point where we dreaded pushing the little buzzer for assistance, as most certainly some growling, cussing worker would emerge from behind the swinging doors in a swirl of discarded plastic bags insisting that we weren’t feeding the cans into the machines properly or that they were too squished. We just weren’t doing it right.

Second time: Not only were the employees in a horrible mood, but also the people waiting in line. With few exceptions, most appeared to be street people who had this down to a science. I guessed they were hungry and impatient to get cash in hand to buy a meal or drink or whatever was tearing at their guts. They probably resented us suburbanite yuppies in to cash out on our garden party returnables.


Image from

Image from


Girl from the West and I waited longer than anyone should for this sort of thing until it was our turn. As I rolled my overflowing cart to the glass bottle machine, I heard a commotion behind me. I turned to see Girl from the West being bull-dozed by a four-foot tall, screeching and elderly Asian woman in a knit hat.

I don’t know what she as saying or why she targeted us. I don’t know where she came from either. She was not ahead of us and I didn’t see her behind us. She came from nowhere plowing her cart like a tank and pinned Girl from the West between two carts. No one else in this long line did a thing. All stood and stared wide-eyed.

Girl from the West and I exchanged knowing looks, meaning: Do not move an inch. First opening, start pitching cans into the machine. Do not let her in. I don’t care if she’s 85 years old and homeless.

We learned our lessons as tourists in China. Once, while waiting in line at an airport bathroom, an elderly Chinese woman pushed and shoved me out of line while no one batted an eye. Not knowing what cultural faux pas I committed, I just endured the harassment. But this is my turf here.
So we stood our ground, while this holy terror continued her tirade in (I think) Chinese. The others in line continued to ignore her and say nothing. At one point, after numerous butts with the cart, Girl from the West pushed back. That stopped the harassment for a while.

Finally we were done and began to work our way through the crowd. Others in line asked us what we’d done to upset this woman. We told them we’d done nothing. One employee piped in that this was “typical stuff.” On my way past her, I stopped and told the woman there was no good reason for her to push us like that and that we all could be little nicer, couldn’t we? This fueled another tirade. I’m sure I was cursed to endure a thousand snake bites in the firepit of hell, and whatever else would be appropriate.

Who knew? I feel I’ve been introduced to a new world, one in which I hope not to set foot again.

** Quick tutorial: Collect bottles and cans marked with bottle deposit refund. Take bottles and cans to store. Got to bottle collection machines and feed them into machines. Collect receipt from machine. Go to cashier to claim your deposit refund. Go home and take a shower.