Archive | September, 2010

Santa’s Christmas Cat?

24 Sep

Claus, our two year old cat seems to be on a rampage over the holidays.  He won’t stay away from the artificial tree and  when I went into the family room the other day  the real Christmas tree was   laying on the floor. The rug was soak with water from the tree stand and Claus was nestled in the branches, denying any knowledge of how it could have possibly have happened. Although a very attractive cat, Claus unfortunately is an inveterate liar.  
For example,  all winter he keeps insisting that he wants to go outside. He is a very vocal cat—  not a desirable trait in a feline. He sit by the door for hours,  whining about how he needs to see a man  about a rodent or something.  But no sooner than you let  him out than he is on the other side of the door complaining about how cold it is outside.  You would think he could at least go to the bathroom while he was out there, but noooo,  that might  be too uncomfortable for his majesty. He saves it up,  apparently preferring his litter box that I have to clean
The other day my wife Diane let him out the back door and then went down to the basement where she immediately met him again.  Evidently Claus has learned to dematerialize and  reappear in  our basement at will.
Diane and I constantly compare him to our previous cat, Hobbes.  Poor Claus is like   the second wife in Daphne du Maurier ‘s  novel Rebecca,  who must compete with the memory of  the beloved  first wife.  Hobbes was one in a million:  an elegant gentleman cat  and Claus, I am afraid to say, is no gentleman.  Unlike the noisy and disconcertingly human-sounding Claus,  Hobbes only meowed  his orders once and expected and usually received  total  obedience. If we didn’t rush to  open the door at his first command, Hobbes would simply  walk away and act totally indifferent, there was none of this pedestrian  squalling.  Also Hobbes always did his business outside, bless his cat soul.
Of course, we have a selective memory when it comes to  Hobbes. He wasn’t perfect either,  if the truth be told.  As a kitten he ran up our  Christmas  tree and batted at every ornament  he saw.  
There was even one Christmas when the  great Hobbes totally disgraced himself.    Against our better judgment and express wishes, our oldest  son   brought another cat into our  house. This new  cat, Clawdy, was a female who had shared an essentially feral existence with a bunch of  college boys.  Clawdy immediately took  possession  of Hobbes’ favorite   place  our bedroom. Hobbes was too much of a gentleman  to evict a lady and besides Clawdy had become  terribly ferocious,  competing  with   college boys for   pizza scraps and having to use a filthy litter box that was hardly ever changed— much like the boys’ apartment bathroom if I remember correctly. 
Thus having both gender and territoriality issues,  Hobbes apparently  wanted to make certain that everyone in the house  knew that the  shiny presents under the tree were his property, which caused Diane, an obsessive compulsive wrapper, to almost have a seizure.
Last winter Claus was outside during an  ice storm and managed to get severely injured. We don’t know  exactly wheat happened,  but he managed to drag himself up the porch steps and to lay next to the dog.  Fortunately our son-in-law, Jeff is an emergency veterinarian near Cincinnati  and managed to patch him back together. We are also  lucky that cats have great recuperative powers. Jeff says if you throw two pieces of cat  in a room,  they will grow together into a cat. Claus was in intensive care  at my daughter and Jeff’s  house for several months, while my granddaughters nursed him back to health. I am not sure Claus truly appreciated all the attention, wearing a baby bonnet,  or riding in the doll stroller. Except for the indignity of having several inches removed from the tip of his tail, he recovered  remarkably, given the extent of his injuries. And he can still catch a mouse, he would like  you to know.
Claus was  named by our middle son after friend of his from Germany, but we still think of him as a Christmas cat. At the restaurant at Holiday World there are several paintings of Santa’s workshop  and many of them contain a cat that   has the same unique markings as Claus. We told our granddaughters that the paintings  prove  that Claus is related to Santa’s cat. They just smile back at us skeptically and humor us,  as if we were completely insane, much the way our  children do.  

Originally published in the Tribune & Evening News (


Card Sharks

23 Sep

I need to find some new card playing partners. The last time I played, I got taken to the cleaners.  I didn’t win a single hand.   The entire time we played   was filled with insults,  constant  griping,  and complaining. You never saw so much blatant cheating, outside of a New Orleans  Riverboat. And to top it all off,  on the final hand of the day I was soundly ridiculed when I ended up with  the  Old Maid.  I don’t think I’m playing cards with my granddaughters again, any time soon.

You would think such an intelligent five and three year old could be more civilized at card playing. Even before we began the recriminations start flying,  as well as all of the anxiety about being branded a loser. I can’t help it, I’ve always been competitive.   And as for all the cheating,  I can sort of justify that, after all they haven’t learned to  hold their cards so that I can’t see them.

The last time we played, we added a new game called Animal Snap. Animal Snap is a Victorian card game, somewhat along the lines of slapjack. My wife Diane says that she has read that Queen Elizabeth used to play Animal Snap when she was a girl. I suspect her Royal Highness was a tad more courteous and did not try to constantly jam a blue punch ball in Princess Margaret’s face during the game.

We bought Animal Snap game  at a restaurant gift shop.  The cards are tiny and difficult to see. Emanating from some undefined foreign country, they also have   complicated and bizarre drawings of things such as alligators playing golf. You are supposed to shout out “snap” when you turn over a card that matches the card showing on the discard pile.  All those little cards just look like a blue and orange blur to me, so I was the first player to lose all my cards. 

The kids and Diane, are card sharks at  Go Fish, no pun intended. I’m lucky to get a single turn.  When we played this time, I partnered with Rebecca, the youngest. She is a very sweet baby, but a lousy card partner. She was extremely squirmy and kept showing our cards to Tori,  her older sister. She almost cried when anyone would try to take a duck card from us, since she loves ducks so much. Go Fish is very much dependent on the honor system. Since lying about the contents of one’s hand is hard to prevent, it is probably not the best game for us to play.

Old Maid is a  children’s card game said to have originated in China or India. It is  similar to a game called  Chase the Ace. I generally have done better playing “Old Maid”. I use the same strategy my older brother, Norman  used on me many years ago.   If  I get the Old Maid,  I  place that card higher in my hand,  than all the rest,  so it sticks out. The kids used to fall for this every time, but they have wised up and now I  have switched tactics.  I slyly place the Old Maid at the end of my hand and shove up  some  other card as a bluff.  It doesn’t seem to work either. 

Old Maid is no longer politically correct and so recently we have started playing a game called Old Owl. 

The brilliant Tori designed her own Old Maid game. Instead of animals she used the children in her class at school as card illustrations. For the Old Maid  she used a boy named Andrew,  who evidently gets into a lot of  trouble in her class. We suggested that maybe she should use  her teacher or principal instead, but Tori  was scandalized at the very thought of this.

In England there was a rather violent variant of Old Maid called Scabby Queen, in which  losers  are either  rapped on the back of the hand with the deck or have the  deck scrapped across their knuckles.  I don’t think Scabby Queen would go over very well these days and I seriously doubt that Queen Elizabeth ever played it.

Originally published in the Tribune & Evening News (

I Do Not Like Green Eggs and Salmon Croquettes

18 Sep


               I wouldn’t call our three year old grandson, Oliver,  a picky eater, although from year one it was clear he didn’t want other people to feed him. Even now he wants to maintain control over things. When we recently went to the movies, he was determined to supervise  the popcorn. He would share, but insisted on giving me one kernel at a time and he had to thoroughly examine each one before he would let loose with it.  Perhaps that comes from having two bossy big sisters.

            When she was a little girl, Oliver’s mother was, at times, too good of an eater. To our mortification she would literally lick her plate clean when we ate out in restaurants. 

            But I, believe it or not,  had the reputation in my family as being an incredibly fussy eater. I rejected almost everything. For a while I would only eat the yellow part  of eggs. Later I switched and would only eat the white part. Comedian  George Carlin says that “fussy eater” is just a euphemism for “Big Pain in the Ass”. As I grew older I would rarely eat anything but hamburgers and chocolate milkshakes.  Dr. Berman, my jolly, rotund, cigar-smoking pediatrician, told my mother not to worry.  He said that I could get along just fine on this diet, which I now suspect was pretty much the same things he ate.   

            About 20% of children are fussy eaters. Two factors contribute to this rejection of foods:   “food  neophobia” and picky eating. “Food neophobia”  is  the reluctance to eat unfamiliar foods.  New foods are often rejected by children solely on the basis of their names.   George Carlin says he would never eat food with names like squash, wheat germ, or  horse radish when he was a kid. Picky eaters are children who eat a very limited variety, because they reject both familiar and unfamiliar foods. On average, picky eaters are lighter and shorter than their  peers, but still within the normal range for their age.

            In some instances picky eating is matter of imitating parents or older siblings. For example, my brother Norman disliked cucumbers.  Once when we all went out to dinner, he and his two daughters acted liked they had been poisoned when they discovered cucumbers in the salad.   In other cases it is some characteristic of the food, itself, that leads to its rejection, such as taste, color, or consistency.  For instance foods that are hard,  mushy, gooey, or chunky are often summarily rejected.

            In the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes, Calvin asks his mother if he has to eat the “slimy” asparagus.  Calvin hates mushy vegetables, but when his mother tells him that they’re really monkey brains, his weakness for grossness overcomes his resistance and he’s happy to eat them. Picky eating is seen throughout popular culture. Who can forget Dr. Suess’ classic  Green Eggs and Ham.  There is also the episode of  Leave it to Beaver,  in which  the Beaver’s  refusal to eat Brussels sprouts almost causes him to miss the  trip to Mayfield to see the big game. 

            Cultural factors also play a role in food rejection. In Japan kids tend to hate carrots and green peppers. In one episode of Pokemon,  the Misty character  says the three things she  hates most in life are “bugs, carrots, and bell peppers”.

            Picky eating is not confined to children. You might remember that President  George H.W. Bush   created quite a stir when he announced that he  didn’t  like broccoli.  University of Pennsylvania  anthropologist Jane Kauer surveyed over  500 adults regarding their eating habits. She found that one-third of them described themselves as “unusually picky eaters ” and  about 20%  had  an extremely narrow range of acceptable  foods.  

             Kauer also discovered that about  60% of adults clean their plates at mealtime and about half  eat the same breakfast nearly every day.  Many of us won’t drink while we eat or eat food that has any sort of filling (ravioli, pirogues,  blintzes, etc.).   About 20%  of us abhor the jellied consistency of  raw tomatoes and routinely avoid  unfamiliar foods. One of our kids always ate things sequentially and made a big fuss whenever foods touched each other on his plate. To desensitize him, my wife Diane would always serve him his hamburger with one baked bean on top of the bun. 

            Kauer and others have found that fried chicken, chicken fingers, French fries, chocolate chip cookies, plain cheese pizza, and Kraft macaroni and cheese are among the small number of food items that are almost universally accepted. These comfort foods are   familiar, bland,  and obvious  in regard to their make-up.   At times picky eaters are   almost paranoid about what is in the food they eat. There is a lack of trust about ingredients,  and in more extreme cases, preparation.  I once had a boss who flatly refused to eat ethnic foods, fearing they were tainted in some way.   Kauer says, “We all know what’s in fried chicken…   …even if we get it from some place we’ve never been before.”  And George Carlin neatly summarizes the issue saying, “I only eat things I can immediately recognize. I came to eat, not to make inquiries.”
            Extremely picky eaters displayed more obsessive-compulsive and depressive  tendencies,  expressions of disgust,  and avoidance of unfamiliar foods than non-picky eaters.  In taste tests,  they also subjectively rated sweet and bitter flavors as being more intense. As a group they weren’t food-haters, they just saw themselves as “highly selective”. Never-the-less, mental health experts are considering adding a classification  called “selective eating disorder ” to the American Psychiatric Association’s new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual.

            So the next time I won’t eat a salmon croquette with that yellow stuff on it, remember,  I’m not being “picky”–  just “highly selective”.

Originally published in the Tribune & Evening News (

How to Purchase Dr. Stawar’s Parenting book for Offenders

18 Sep


Click on the link below to purchase this book online

Halloween Howlings

13 Sep

  Halloween is just around the corner.  This is the  holiday  when Americans  typically buy the most candy.  Like a lot of kids, a major part of much of my  childhood was essentially  a quest to acquire  as much candy as I possibly could get my hands on and Halloween  was the Holy Grail.

I loved dressing up and trick-or-treating. My mother devised a spectacular witch’s costume  that never fail to win a prize.   Both my brother and I won   first place  at the annual junior high school contest with it.

  With more than a little irony,  my mother  had used a black dress and shoes, belonging to my grandmother (her mother-in-law)  as the foundation  of  the outfit.  She added a cape with a jack-o- lantern emblazoned on  the back, a tall witch’s  hat,  the wartiest witch’s mask she could find, and a wig fashioned from an old  mop. My father never cared for the costume,  possibly because  the  final product was basically  a mildly exaggerated  caricature of  my actual grandmother (his mother). Given the relationship between my mother and grandmother,  this was undoubtedly  how  my mother envisioned her.

The witch’s costume was too elaborate for trick-or-treating, so  I wore those   commercial costumes that came in a box. I never liked how they  had a picture of the character you were portraying  displayed across the  front. Even I knew that Zorro never wore a shirt that had a picture of himself on it.   They also  had  those uncomfortable hard plastic masks, that were impossible to see through and  made breathing difficult. They were  held in place  by   flimsy black elastic bands with metal clips on the ends,  that never seemed to  make it  past the front steps.

Every year there were always rumors that  some big kids would knock you down and take your candy— kids like my archenemy, Marlin Hutchingson. Marlin and his gang of thugs always dressed  like hobos. These were popular costumes  among children whose  parents grew up during the depression. I never saw a real hobo, but I knew what they looked like,  thanks to Red Skelton’s portrayal of Freddie the Freeloader. The classic hobo costume was made up  of raggedy  oversized clothes, a rope belt, a battered fedora, and a stick with a red bandana bundle. To   appear as if  you hadn’t shaved,  you’d smear    cork soot on your face. Marlin, who   looked like he needed a shave,  since  the third grade,  could forgo this step. While most of us carried cute little plastic trick-or-treat  bags with black cats them, Marlin and his ilk  preferred ratty king-sized pillowcases, which could double as  giant blackjacks, when needed.      

Back  in elementary school,  Marlin’s  lunch always came  from the candy machine. I shouldn’t talk since   in high school a  root beer and Butterfinger was my standard bill of fare.  But even as a young child,  Marlin was constantly eating candy,  so I wasn’t surprised when a recent  study in the British Journal of Psychiatry showed that children who ate sweets and chocolate every day were much  more likely to be violent as adults.  Ten year-olds who ate candy daily were significantly more likely to have been convicted for violence crimes at age 24. The relationship  between sweets  and violence remained even after controlling for other factors. According to  lead researcher Simon Moore,  “Giving children sweets and chocolate regularly may stop them learning how to wait to obtain something they want. Not being able to defer gratification may push them towards more impulsive behavior, which is strongly associated with delinquency.” 

In the 1960s, Walter Mischel at Stanford University gave four-year-olds a marshmallow and promised another, only if they could wait 20 minutes before eating the first one. Only about a third of the children could wait.  As adolescents,  the children who could wait,  were  rated as better adjusted and scored an average of 210 points higher on the Scholastic Aptitude Test.  This is an enormous difference.  Chidlren who were future oriented,  benefited tremendously more  from their education that those who focused on immediate pleasure.  A similar experiment, using presents,   found that children who could not delay gratifications were routinely described   more   “irritable”, aggressive, and whiny”,   while those showing restraint,  were rated as more  “intelligent”, “resourceful”, and “competent”.

In Walden II,  psychologist B.F. Skinner’s book about an ideal society  based on the principles of behaviorism,  young children  were given   lollipops, dipped in powdered sugar,  to wear around their necks,  to develop self-control. They were told that they could  eat the lollipops later, but only if it hadn’t  been touched.  These children   were expected to learn  to ignore the temptation of the candy.  Skinner’s protagonist  says  “Some of us learn control, more or less by accident. The rest of us go all our lives …  blaming our failure on being born the wrong way.”  Of course  such training  would never work with  kids like Marlin, who would just  jerk your  lollipop from around your neck, saving his own for later.

Forbidden lollipops may not be the answer,  but we indulgent parents and grandparents, who  enjoy immediately giving our children everything they desire, have to think twice  about  whether we are actually doing this for our own benefit and are inadvertently putting the next generation at risk. 

Besides candy bullies, I remember  being afraid of  crazed neighbors,  who might hide foreign objects in apples or contaminate candy with deadly poisons. We all heard the urban legend  about the kid who, in the dark,  grabbed some  candy right out of his trick-or-treat bag and ended up biting into a Gillette double edge razor blade.

Sociologist Joel Best, from University of Delaware, researched  major newspapers back to 1958 and found fewer than 90 cases of alleged candy  tampering.  There were only a dozen reported cases over the past 20 years. Most turned out to be false alarms or  hoaxes,  like the recent story of boy in the  runaway helium  balloon.

Best did identify   five suspicious  deaths, initially believed to be related to tampering. In  three cases,  investigators found no evidence of foul play. In one case, however,  a  father was convicted and eventually executed for  lacing his son’s  candy with cyanide. In the last instance,  a  family covered up a child’s accidental ingestion of an uncle’s drug stash, blaming it on tainted Halloween candy. So despite all the psychopathic killers lurking about, the greatest danger, it seems, unsurprisingly comes from our own families.

All this doesn’t mean that such things can’t happen,  and a little prudence never hurts. The Red Cross  recommends  having adults inspect all candy  and advises discarding any open or  unwrapped items.

  Of course, the greatest Halloween dangers are the average parent rushing home to spend the holiday with their children  and  distracted  drivers texting on the road. This year make sure your kids are alert to these potential Halloween monsters and have a safe holiday.

Originally published in the Tribune & Evening News (

Another Steeltown Story: The Emergency Room

7 Sep

My first visit to the hospital emergency room took place when I was in the second grade. At the time I had a very young and very nervous first-year teacher, Miss Dole. And a few weeks into the new school year I was to add to her anxiety. Not being particularly precocious, I was easily influenced when someone suggested we play “slot machine”, using the nickels intended for the purchase of chocolate milk. I was suppose to put several nickels in my mouth, then someone would pull my arm down, I would roll my eyes, and spit out the nickels— Jackpot!

As I said I was not particularly advanced, so after putting the first nickel in my mouth, I immediately swallowed it. I decided that I should probably tell Miss Dole. Knowing how jumpy she was, I spoke in a very quiet voice. I had to repeat myself several times. When she finally comprehended what I was saying, she screamed, grabbed me, and carried me from one end of the hallway to the other several times. Her worse nightmare had come true. No one seemed to know what to do. The school nurse suggested that I eat a piece of Wonder Bread®. I was in no discomfort only curious about what was to happen next. Eventually they called an ambulance and I rode to the emergency room along accompanied by the truant officer. The driver was very nice and let me turn on the siren and flashing lights. At the hospital they said the nickel was lodged (probably in Wonder Bread®) , but didn’t constitute any danger, so after receiving a massive dose of radiation from a fluoroscope, I was whisked back to school.
Curious why I wasn’t very hungry and why I glowed in the dark when I got home, my mother asked me what happened in school. I thought she was going to faint when I told her an ambulance took me to the hospital and I had a note from the school nurse I’d forgotten to give her. Despite my hope for instant celebrity, an ingested nickel turned out to be small potatoes in our family. When that show-off Norman was in the second grade, he managed to swallow a bullet.
My second visit was a few years later. My dad was very frugal and believed that nails should be recycled. So I would pull old nails out of boards and then flatten them to be used again. On this occasion I had a large nail, in the workbench vise that I intended to straighten. I hit the nail with my hammer and a piece of it struck me right in the middle of the throat. Again I felt no pain, but blood was gushing out, as if I had severed my jugular. My mother almost fainted when she saw me, but we slapped a handkerchief over the wound and rush to the emergency room. They x-rayed me and called my pediatrician. Dr. Berman was a large, affable, cigar-chomping doctor from the old school. He breezed into the emergency room, scanned the x-ray and casually asked, “Who shot you Terry?”, as if that were not surprising. On the x-ray, the nail piece resembled a tiny bullet. He probed for it for a while and then decided it was harmless where it was. He explained about shrapnel and just left it there. To this day whenever I go through metal detectors, I worry the nail will set them off.