Friday, October 27, 2017

Surviving Halloween - A Day in the Life

Most years, Halloween falls on a weekday.  Also known as a school night.  There's no doubt everyone is going trick-or-treating but there's always a question as to whether to celebrate Halloween on the actual date.

Since 2004 our family has celebrated Halloween in the way that only Briers North can - with a few thousand of our closest friends.  We've taken a break here and there but the routine is mostly consistent.

It's work.  And there are expenses.  And planning.  Lots of planning.  But we've figured out how to enjoy ourselves and the day with some foresight.

Note:  I'm going through a lot of "work" and thinking steps.  It seems like a lot.  It IS a lot.  But there is such a joy to it, it's hard to put into words.  You have to see it and feel it for yourself.

This narrative does not include weekend Halloweens, parties, or those years when I did the actual planning.

October 15 - the organizers have been working since August to work out large-scale logistics like police and volunteers.  The parking passes and wrist bands created for each family arrived on the front porch today.

October 16 - call the usual babysitter and ensure she's available.  Of course she is, she loves the event as much as we do!  Hit Wally World for candy.  All 1500 pieces of it.  Have your explanation ready for the incredulous checkout girl who invariably has a comment.

October 19 - dig out the containers of Halloween costumes, sort the Shrek character pieces and make sure everything is in good repair.  Every year I swear I'm going to get a new "Fiona" wig.  Every year I wait too late.  Wash, rinse, repeat.

October 21. - The Outhouse.  The centerpiece of Shrek's swamp is hand-built of 2x4's and reclaimed scrap.  Pat takes down the custom cut and numbered pieces from their racks in the garage and gets them assembled.  The "Beware Ogre" signs copied from the "Shrek" cartoon are pulled out of the shed and set up.  The front yard barrier that says "come closer but not into the yard" is made of stakes and raw hemp rope.

The next week - nothing happens.  Focus is on work, school, and work.  Pat schedules 10/30 and 31 off.  (I get 2 hours to celebrate my birthday before it's back into the fray.)  The kids are "too cool" to join the family business anymore.  They used to be Donkey, Puss in Boots, and a baby dronkey back in the day.  Now they're making arrangements to trick-or-treat with their own friends.  (Except the first grader, of course.)  Only the 2nd grader has picked her costume.  The other two are making it me wing it at Spirit Halloween or Party City the weekend before.

Tourists are making the rounds of the street.  Cars are making the slow crawl down the street, snapping pictures.  In 2004, the first year we saw a weekend Halloween, it took 30 minutes to drive 100 meters from the subdivision entrance to our house on October 30.

Shrek is showing on one channel or another so Pat can practice the voice, complete with obnoxious Scottish accent.  It's either that or the DVD a dozen times.

October 28 is supposed to see rain.  Hold off on putting up the lights.

October 29 - purple and green lights on the makeshift fence.  Find a sawhorse or something similar to block the driveway.  Even with barricades people will help themselves to your yard until they are politely but firmly escorted off.  That's ogre-style polite.

October 30 - final build.  Do an early trim on the crepe myrtle and drape the stumps in fabric tarp to simulate Shrek's house.  Track down some old fence slats to simulate the door.  Add Halloween lights to make it look like Shrek is celebrating Halloween.  No campaign signs this year, although anyone with more than half a skull running for office should show up to shake hands.  You'll never get this kind of crowd in one place on any other day.  Install and test the flood lights that indicate when the show goes on.  Take a break for a nice lunch.  I'm asking for either McKendrick's or Flemings'.
Check supplies of fog machine liquid, spare light bulbs and do the shopping.  Get parking passes on the cars in case the unthinkable happens and you're trapped outside of the street.


7 AM - kids get taken to school with their permitted Halloween garb.  They who are "too cool" to join the family show are not "too cool" to brag on the big event itself.

8 AM - check with teachers about homework load.  Send the YouTube video from 2010 to show them you're not kidding about the night's activity.  Call the tennis coach to cancel.  Send the YouTube video again so he knows your daughter isn't goldbricking.

9 AM - Pick up the paperwork and random flotsam and jetsam that accumulates around the house.  Even if you're not throwing a party, it's going to be bedlam and something essential WILL get lost.  Plus there's always someone who shows up to say hello and the swamp is outside, not in the front door.  Track down the fake Dunwoody "Stop Work Order" that Terry Nall requested from Tom LaPenna a few years ago just for laughs.  Nail it to the outhouse and see who thinks it's real.  (Answer: at least 10 people will think it's a real stop work order.)  Test the fog machine in the outhouse.  It's a key part of the act.

3 PM - pick up kids from respective schools.  Both parents are available so each takes a school.  (One in Dunwoody, one in Johns Creek).  High tail it back home.  Do not pass GO, do not collect $200.

3:30 - first grader is home first.  Talk him through chores and homework before the distractions intensify.

4:00 - girls are home.  Stand over their homework so the absolute essential "due the next day" stuff gets done

4:30 - get dinner started.  Usually steak and french fries because they're easy to make outside while people run around inside.

5:00 - babysitter arrives.  She knows to have her butt here well in advance of 5:30 or she's parking at Crossroads like everyone else.  Dinner for all wherever you can find a seat.

5:15 - dump the candy in the biggest container we can find and keep it by the front door.  Make the sign to put on the outhouse that Shrek hands out candy at 7 PM.

5:30 - the main road is closed  (They advertise 5:45 but trust me, those barricades go out at 5:30.)  Get kids into costumes.  It's usually too hot for "Shrek" to hike around with the kids so the ogres are in street clothes.  Find the candy collection buckets we forgot in the storage closet.  As of now there are at least 1,000 people in the street just milling around.  The homeowners collectively agree to start distributing candy at 6 PM.  There has to be a limit or we'll be out there all day.  

6:00 - TRICK OR TREAT!  No more excuses, the candy starts flying!  Kids and respective friends are matched up.  Middle schoolers are read the riot act about not leaving the neighborhood.  Second/third graders form their clique with a parent.    (Something about a Descendants 2 theme this year.)   Wristbands on all kids and babysitter:  check.   The first grader insists on riding on Daddy's shoulders.  Great for the view, but he'll figure out the logistical conflict with actual trick or treating in 3...2...1.....

House to house to house to house.  It's easy to clean up fast with the candy and treats.  

6:40-ish - The first grader tires quickly from the crowds and excitement so it's easy to herd him back into the house with plenty of time for our own "show".  Hand off to babysitter for bath and bed.  Get the "Shrek" and "Fiona" outfits on and breathe.  Line up the basket and wooden bucket for giving out candy.  Get the giant candy stash into the outhouse.

7 PM - SHOWTIME  The outhouse opens and out comes Shrek with a bucketful of candy.  Shrek needs Fiona to be his eyes because it's hard to see through the mask.  Dozens of bags and pillowcases come out at once.  Just put a piece of candy in the bag.  Say "Happy Halloween".  Repeat.  Quickly.  Dozens of trick or treaters become hundreds in a few minutes.  Every 15 minutes or so the bucket runs out.  "Shrek" heads to the outhouse and sets off the smoke bomb.  Ominous looking smoke wafts from the top of the outhouse door.   "Fiona" gets sympathetic looks from the females in the crowd.  A couple of minutes later the ogre opens the outhouse door with a full bucket of candy.   A crowd 15-deep in the street has waited up to ten minutes for this scene.  

Put a piece of candy in the bag, smile, wave to the little kids, offer candy to a tired parent who just got off work.  Smile and pose for a picture from the tourists.  Occasionally I hear Pat say something in Spanish, but with a Scottish accent for effect and a knot of children bounce around in glee.  

The Ogre Fiona has to come out when the crowds press too close.  We keep the visitors in the street for our own safety, and theirs.  My worst fear is someone breaking an ankle from standing on the curb or worse - getting impaled on a temporary fence post.  So Fiona has to yell at everyone to get off the curb NOW!!!!!  Hey, she yelled like that in the movie, I'm just playing a part, right?  Other times we have to stop and get the crowd to back up so "Shrek" - kneeling at the fence in a heavy mask and gauntlets and who has a hard time seeing what's in front of him, doesn't get crushed under a pressing mob.

"Hi Shrek!  Where's donkey?"  "Hi Fiona!"  "Where's Dragon?"  I swear, we need to have an inflatable or animatronic pink dragon some day.

8:15-ish - the candy is about to run out and we announce that what we have in our bucket and basket is it for the night.  That's 1500 pieces of candy - one to a customer - distributed in 75 minutes.  Other homes have already run out of candy and have turned off their porch lights, or the floodlights on their decorations.  The front entrance will close to all non-residents at 8:30 so the timing works out just right.  

Last pieces of candy are given away and we have to turn away the rest of the crowd.  "Happy Halloween!  Come see us next year!"  

8:30, at the latest - Pull the plug on the floodlights decorating the set.   Retreat to the house.  Peel off the sweaty costumes in the laundry room.  Replace with t-shirts and pajama bottoms.  Check in with the babysitter re:  first grader.  If all goes well, he was asleep 10 minutes ago.  Second-grader was back home by 8 pm and insists "I'm not tired" as her eyes roll back in her head.  Grab an adult beverage and watch the remainder of the show from the front porch.  Keep an eye out for the middle schooler who needs to be in the house by 9, or else.  

8:45 - everyone's out of candy.  The volunteers and police are sweeping the streets, urging everyone to the front entrance and out of Briers North.  Radios are used to alert to lost children/parents.  A makeshift lost and found appears at the corner of Tilly Mill.

9:00 pm - Lights Out.  No, really, there's no more candy and the show has come to an end.  Closing time.  You don't have to go home but you can't stay here.  Middle schooler scoots in the door with seconds to spare.  The rest of the gossip with her friends has to wait til tomorrow.

9:05:  Ghost town.  The streets are literally barren.  While the babysitter oversees the older kids bedtime (they both need it whether they admit it or not) the grown folks slip outside to turn on the decorative lights on the set.  The street is open again and pedestrians enjoy the sets one last time.

9:30 - everyone under 18 is passed out.  Driveway barricades are removed and the babysitter goes home, entertained and paid.  Adult beverage #2 makes an appearance.  Adults pick through the candy and lay claim to whatever a child is allergic to.  Wind down time in front of the TV.  Be ready to answer the door in case a friend comes by and asks "So, how did it go???"

There are social plans this weekend so we have to figure out when the sets will be broken down and hung in the garage.

Adrenaline overcomes fatigue - next year can't come fast enough.

See you on the 31st!


Thursday, October 26, 2017

Halloween Deserves its own Season in Dunwoody

Between Truck or Treat - the close of the Dunwoody Food Truck Thursday season - and actual Halloween - and the maelstrom that is Halloween @ Briers North, I wanted to post an annual reminder. At these large public events, we meet and greet all kinds of people we don't see every day. Let's use the opportunity to create some great memories for all.

With Halloween upon us, please keep in mind, a lot of little people will be visiting your home.

Be accepting. The child who is grabbing more than one piece of candy may have poor fine motor skills.

The child who takes forever to pick out one piece of candy may have motor planning issues.

The child who does not say "trick-or-treat" or "thank you" may be non-verbal.

The child who looks disappointed when they see your bowl may have an allergy.

The child who isn't wearing a costume at all might have a sensory issue (Sensory Processing Disorder) or autism.

Be nice. Be patient. It's EVERYONE'S Halloween.

Thursday, October 26 5-9 PM
Brook Run Park
Be there or be square

Sunday, October 15, 2017

The Ballad of the Underground Utilities

This ode is dedicated to all of our citizens who believe that life will be a dream if utilities are all underground.  99 times out of 100 this situation runs smoothly (unless someone makes the monthly drive into a transformer).  This is the story of Number 100.

The story starts on September 3.  We wake up one sunny Sunday and head out to church in the morning.  Our neighbor has a new "fountain".  No, they didn't install a fancy artistic bird bath; there was water bubbling up through a crack in the driveway.  A 12-18-inch water main had ruptured some time overnight. 

Frantic phone-calls, emails, social media posts and front-door pounding revealed my neighbors were home and were on top of the situation.  Whew!  By lunch time DeKalb Water had sent out a large crew with heavy equipment to turn off the valve at Tilly Mill, excavate the yard, completely rip out the irretrievably damaged driveway and remove the damaged section of pipe.  Then a trailer of replacement pipe was brought in and a section welded into place.  Water was back on before midnight.  Every man on the job was moving like he had a purpose; no one was just standing around on a shovel.  What's more, each one was a gentleman to the neighbors and kids coming out to see the excavator at work and they even refused coffee and dinner when we offered it to them. 

Water pressure was priority one and treated as such.  But there are still downstream (pun intended) effects.  The neighbor's driveway and yard had all the curb appeal of a nuclear test site for a couple of weeks.  Eventually a Dekalb-funded contractor returned and installed a new basic concrete driveway and leveled the damaged yard, making it ready for re-landscaping. 

Imagine my confusion when a single electrical circuit in MY house started flickering.  Not the whole house, just one circuit.  Check the breaker board - all is good there.  Before I had a chance to make a call a Georgia Power cherry picker is in my driveway ready to solve the problem.  The power fluctuation set off an alert at the service center on Shallowford.  The previous water main break and its (essential, however ham-fisted) repair had damaged the underground power conduit. 

Repairing underground utilities doesn't happen in a day.  The crew brought in a portable transformer to power the house.  Just a hand truck with a metal box on it, with enough juice to run my abode for, potentially, years.  As I mentioned to my FB groups, if your kid plays in my yard, remind them to not touch the box on wheels.  Bad things will happen. 

Life is going back to normal and the utility troubles are fading into memory.  The spray paint appeared on the lawn this week.  The red, orange, and blue segments that make your front yard look like a steer getting divided into two freezers.  This is the only notice you'll get that "someone" is planning to dig.  Who will it be?  AT&T?   Comcast?  The power company?  Will they be sending a company crew or a contractor?

Another Sunday morning.  Not as sunny yet.  Headed out the front door to Sunday School and I'm greeted by two trucks and a trailer from Georgia Power's contractor, UTEC. 

"Good morning, gentlemen.  Welcome to my yard.  What's the plan for today?"

It's a good thing I did because there was no intention to knock on the door and announce themselves.  There wasn't exactly a "plan", per se.  Just some vague vision of a ditch-witch running between two houses,  flying dirt, a broken brand-new driveway and a large tree falling at random.

Two hours later - back home.  Parked half way up the street because the ditch thingy is in my driveway (unused) and the vehicles are still in the street (unmoved).   Pails of tools dropped in my flower bed.   Three guys in hard hats are sitting around having a chat.  Still haven't knocked on the door because after my son goes inside, my husband comes out to see what's going on.  Which means:  they screwed up w/ the house "good cop".  Now they have to deal w/ Pat. 

I didn't hear the argument as I was on the phone with Georgia Power regarding such trivialities as, "How do you NOT send an engineer to determine the best work plan given an R-50 neighborhood and houses less than 15 feet apart?" and "Are you going to knock down the tree onto my house or maybe we'll get an arborist to do it right?"  and most of all, "If you're going to rip out trees, a section of yard, and my neighbor's driveway, show me the guarantee that Georgia Power is going to pay for replacements".  Little stuff like that. 

A senior honcho at Georgia Power talked with the supervisor on site and decided we needed to plan this operation a little more thoroughly before going forward.  Holy Common Sense, Batman.  The crew wrapped and left.  (Pat didn't have to tell them to "pack your s**t and get out".  But he was thinking it.)  Allegedly, I'm going to have an appointment from an engineer this week to review the intricacies of the site, what damage is unavoidable, and we'll go forward once I have a written liability statement in my hot little hands. 

So what have we learned from this little saga?

1)  Third party contractors are too often the weak link in any operation.  Company staffers have more skin in the game, so they put more effort into getting the job done right.  Third-partiers are too many steps removed and thus are hindered by a broken giveadamn.  Where else in our municipal operations do we have third-party contractors that  may not have as great a commitment as a company wo/man?

Contractors may seem less expensive in a contract but how much extra are you paying in padded hours and recovering from fouled-up work?

2)  The underground infrastructure we already have is past its useful lifespan and we're all going to be playing catchup with emergency repairs for the foreseeable future.  How comfortable do you feel putting anything else down there when it can be washed away at random?

3)  Underground utilities require a property owner to use extensive foresight when doing anything from planting a tree to replacing pavement.  When something is damaged, repairs are time-consuming and cause collateral damage in the process.  The story above is about utilities between completely separate single family homes.

How do you think this emergency would get handled in one of the many duplex and townhouse developments going up in the city?  There's no wiggle room.  One home's utilities go on the fritz, the neighbors will suffer even more.

4)  How much money and effort are the "everything underground" advocates willing to pay to create "contingency access" to utilities in case emergency repairs are needed?  Because if you insist on this type of infrastructure, you have to have a way to get to it.  Especially with water conduits surviving on band-aids and borrowed time.

Stay tuned, folks.  It ain't over yet.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Why Facts Don't Convince People

But I'm going to keep posting them anyway.
No one can defend tribal political alliances forever.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Candlelight Vigil for Las Vegas TONIGHT -Tuesday - in Dunwoody

Reposted from the Dunwoody Homeowners Association Facebook page.

We are all stunned by the horrific tragedy unfolding in Las Vegas last night and today.

In response and solidarity, we have secured a permit to have a candlelight vigil in Brook Run park (the front field) starting at 8:30 today (Tuesday) night.

The vigil will last no more than 30 minutes.

There will be no protests, or speakers, just a chance for our community to come together in grief.

Please invite your family, friends and anyone else who wants to feel the warmth of our community at this terrible time. Feel free to share on Social Media!


Candles or flashlights
Weather appropriate clothing
No signs (it will be dark anyway)

This gathering is intended to be non-political.  

Elected officials and candidates:  I challenge you to actually keep your politics aside.  That is far more than just repeating the words "non-political".  

City Council members:  your constituents are not expendable or disposable.  Use this event as an opportunity to live out that standard.