Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Closing Out The Year

Well, folks, I did it.  I did it and then some.  52 weeks in a year and this is my 63rd blog entry for 2010.  I resolved to make at least one entry per week, and I hope the habit has stuck; I'd like to continue this journey with as many of you as care to come along.

I would also like to share a few thoughts here at year's end that inspire me when I am depressed or discouraged.  Maybe they will have a similar effect on you sometimes.

• When you look up at the night sky, your mind is touching light that comes from other stars.  Light that comes from other times as well.  The stars may be unimaginably far away, but we walk in their light just the same as though we were walking on their worlds.  That we are able to do this, and to appreciate it, is a gift from the universe.

• Speaking of stars, Carl Sagan said it best:  "We are all made of stars."  It's true.  Any element higher on the Periodic Table than iron can only be made when a star explodes.  Think about it.  Stars exploded, and their force pushed these elements through space where they ultimately condensed into planets around our Sun.  Every atom in your body was made in the heart of an exploding star.  We are star stuff.  This is ridiculously amazing and humbling all at the same time.

• If there is a more remarkable event in this life than love from another person freely given, I would like to hear about it.  I am so fortunate in my wife and daughter.  I remember being profoundly moved the first time I laid eyes on each of them, and they have blessed me continuously since.  Lucky, lucky man.

• The world, as another wise man once said, is not only stranger than we imagine -- it is stranger than we can imagine.  If you don't believe me, go watch a cuttlefish.

There is so much more I would like to say, but perhaps it might be best if I save it for some of next year's entries.  :)  Happy New Year, everybody.

Monday, December 27, 2010


We had some very nice holidays this year -- absolutely the best blend of intimate time with the immediate family on Christmas morning, followed by the arrival of family for a very good (if I do say so myself!) traditional dinner -- turkey with stuffing, mashed potatoes, fresh green beans and homemade cranberry stuff.  Followed, may I add, by more cookies, pie, pumpkin rolls, egg nogs and chocolates than anyone could wish.  Just lovely.

I myself had a very respectable haul waiting under the tree, but the best part of the holiday for me is seeing how well I have done with selecting gifts for others.  Olivia seemed to actually like her new clothes -- she is just not a girly-girl; she hates shopping and fashion -- and she loved her books, art supplies, and all the goofy stuff I find to fill her stocking.  This year it included a little stuffed Batman plushie, some Lego minifigures (a man in a Lego Gorilla Suit and a Native American warrior, if I am not mistaken) and various other little trinkets, snacks and goodies.  Megan got a necklace she had been wanting and it appears I picked an acceptable style for it -- something I always fret over way, way too much.  She also liked her books and clothing.  (Just about everybody gets books from me -- you can take the librarian out of the library, but good luck removing the books.)

I think my favorite present this year is a tie, between the game of Go that Olivia gave me -- a game I have always wanted to learn how to play! -- and the hand-held music synthesizer Megan gave me.  It's from the Korg company and is called a Kaossilator.  It has more music programmed into it than I have ever learned, including some scales of which I've never even heard.  I hope to learn a lot more about music and have a bunch of fun in the process -- I love electronics, I love music, and I especially love techno music, so this wonderful little toy will have me in heaven.  Best of all, I can jack it into my headphones and play all I want without bothering anyone else.  The hype on the Kaossilator refers to it as the "twenty-first century hand-held lute of the future" (I know -- wow, right?) and I can't wait to explore its possibilities.

I also found the Hal Jordan Green Lantern/Thaal Sinestro two-pack of action figures that I wanted, the one I mentioned in the previous post.  It's terrific!

I hope everybody reading this who celebrates the holiday got to be a little bit of a child again and experienced the magic of opening some unexpected gift on Christmas.  And I hope everyone got to feel the wonderful satisfaction of giving someone a perfect present.  I know that it's the most fun I get to have all year!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Oooh!! Pretty!!

I think by now it's become obvious that I am just a little crazy for all things Green Lantern, the DC Comics superhero.  Well, Mattel Toys has just come out with the ultimate Green Lantern toy and is selling it exclusively through Toys 'R' Us -- action figures of Green Lantern versus his arch-enemy Sinestro that come complete with six -- six! -- green and yellow "energy constructs" which you can use in recreating their many battles.  Or, as the box indicates, at least one famous comic cover.

As Liz Lemon would say, "I want to go to there!"

So far they haven't shown up east of Indiana (I'm in Pennsylvania) and the prospect of trying to scour the toy stores for it in the last couple of days before Christmas definitely has no appeal, in spite of how badly I want this.

So, if you should run across it in your travels and are feeling that ol' holiday generosity....  ;)

I hope you find everything you want under your tree, in your stocking, or otherwise in your hands this holiday season!  And thanks to everyone who has dropped by Oa to check out my blog here -- I can't tell you how much I appreciate it!!  I never dreamed I would have over 750 visitors -- thank you all!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Looking Forward

I just bid a near-tearful morning good-bye to my lovely daughter, who is, probably for the first time in her young life, feeling a little overwhelmed by all that she needs to get done before Christmas break.  Just one more hoop we all jump through on our journey to the adult world, but it's the kind of thing that a parent would spare their child if they could, but never can.

It was very hard for me the first time I realized that I might not be able to do everything I was supposed to do within the time that I had.  I was not used to that kind of failure.  That first time that things don't come easily, when they always have before, or if they haven't, there was always somebody there to bail you out, is a rough slap in the face for some.  I know it was for me.

While I have never done her work for her -- and believe me, in my career as a reference librarian, I had more than my share of encounters with parents who were doing their kids' work for them, so I know that it happens -- I have made myself available to her at times as typist, editor, chauffeur, scut grunt, you name it.  Can't do that any more.  Not "won't" -- "CAN'T."

College applications have to be finished this week.  Only she can do that.  All her various holiday want-to's and need-to's must be finished before Thursday.  Again, only she can do those.  Not to mention all the various homework projects that need to be in before winter break, from English papers to computer animation projects.  I guess her teachers want to use the break to grade big projects.  (When I was in high school, they used the Christmas break to hit us with work; that appears no longer to be in vogue.)

I am always amazed at the depth of feeling I encounter when I run across these situations where I cannot take the pain of the life lesson away from her.  On some level I appreciate the fact that in order for the lesson to be effective it must be experienced personally.  But what parent has never inwardly wished they could trade places emotionally with their kids in order to take on their child's pain themselves?

Yeah, I know, there was a "Twilight Zone" or a Ray Bradbury parable about doing that, and it ended badly for all concerned.  I just hate the helpless feeling as I stand by, watching her grow up, and away.

Monday, December 13, 2010

These Are The Droids You Are Looking For

Been too busy to come up with very much, and yet I am dangerously close to breaking my resolution to average one post a week for all of 2010, so, rather than break my streak so late in the game, I submit for your winter viewing the Star Wars swimsuit collection, courtesy of an Australian couturier.:


and C-3PO:

You're welcome.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


Hard to believe that it's already December.  2010 is just about gone (and still no flying cars or jetpacks, but that's another story!) and we are starting to get ready for the holidays.  It'll be the last Christmas with my daughter as a full-time resident of our home and it feels weird, and a little more depressing in some ways than the holidays can usually be.  Yeah, she'll continue to come home for the holidays, from college or grad school or whatever, at least until she puts down roots of her own.  But once you head out to college, things are never quite the same.  They weren't for me.  "Home" slowly devolves into the house where you grew up, as your new sensibility of "home" becomes where you are now.  The loss of the day-to-day experiences of just living in a place make that change inevitable.

But until then, I soldier on.  The exterior of the house is decorated already, with lights on the shrubbery, garlands on the porch and a wreath welcoming folks at our door.  Red bows and green swathes and candles in the windows to let the neighbors know how festive we are.  Soon the tree will go up and gifts will start to appear underneath it.  I plan to savor every second, atheist or not -- I'm always up for a good solstice celebration.  Yet I can't deny the underlying tinge of sadness that always accompanies something ending.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Thanksgiving week

I'll tell you right at the beginning:  this is another rant about Crohn's Disease, so if you're uninterested you can stop right here.

As of 1:46 PM today, I am declaring the latest attempt at treating my Crohn's to be officially over.  I am referring to my taking a course of low-dose Naltrexone.  It's supposed to be The Next Big Thing in treatment; studies show it knocks something like 85% of Crohn's sufferers into remission after just a week on the drug; blah blah blah.  It doesn't work, at least not for me.  You would think that after all these decades I would learn not to get my hopes up any more.  Yet here we are again.

I'm just disgusted.  I'm disgusted with myself for allowing hope back into my life.  I need to learn to be more pessimistic, at least where this disease is concerned.  Better to be pleasantly surprised in the future than bitterly disappointed again.  I'm sick of taking THIRTY-SIX PILLS EVERY DAY OF MY LIFE.  I'm sick of never being able to go out unless I know exactly where the bathroom is.  I'm sick of having to bring a change of clothes to the grocery store "just in case."  I'm sick of wearing diapers to travel.  I'm just sick of this effing disease, period.  Over the years I have tried sulfasalazine, probanthine, methotrexate, enbrel, remicade, prednisone, kineret, cellcept, flagyl, and a host of other medications.  Nothing has worked.  My immune system remains "convinced" that my GI tract is some kind of invader and stays on the attack in spite of every bloody thing I try.  I have had so much surgery that to remove any more of my small bowel would slowly kill me of malnutrition.  I have none left to spare.  I can no longer feel my hands and feet because of negative reactions to remicade infusions; the drug has given me essentially ALS of the sensory nerves in my extremities.  I am thankful that my motor nerves remain unaffected.

And this Thanksgiving week I want to say that I am profoundly grateful for my family.  If not for my wife and my daughter, this would probably not be a rant.  It would be a farewell.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Worse Details

OK.  It turns out the endodontist was not entirely forthcoming with me, and left it to my family dentist to break the bad news.  Seeing a periodontist is probably just a "Hail Mary" play -- a long shot at best.  There is probably a hairline fracture in one of the roots of my tooth, the one which previously had a root canal in 1998.  Turns out that endodontically treated teeth can become brittle over time.  The hairline fracture allows in bacteria, the infection becomes an abscess, and there you are.  Or rather, there I am.

There is usually no viable periodontic treatment.  Seeing a periodontist is strictly to cover everybody's ass so they can say we tried everything.  I am most likely going to lose a tooth that has cost me almost two large to save over the years.

There are four options open to me.  One:  Have the tooth extracted, and then do nothing and live with a hole which will probably cause me to ultimately lose every tooth behind it.  Two:  Get a partial bridge for around a thousand dollars and live with the discomfort of having a single false tooth.  Three:  Get an implant to replace it.  Cost of an implant is $3,100.00 plus the new crown that goes on top.  Figure four Gs.  Or Four:  Get something called a fixed bridge.  It's three false teeth together in one unit -- #1 gets mounted on the tooth in front of the hole and #3 gets mounted on the tooth behind the hole, with #2 filling in the gap.  Cost of a fixed bridge is $810 per tooth, so $2,430.00.  The advantage of the fixed bridge is that you don't have to take it in and out at night.

If you'd care to leave your thoughts in the comments section, I would love to hear them.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


In my last post -- which I hope you will read, by the way, because I really am proud of that story! -- I made brief mention of a dental abscess with which I've been dealing for about two weeks now.  I just got home from the endodontist, who basically said, "Not my job."  My dentist had diagnosed the abscess as coming from a previous root canal which needed to be retreated.  The endodontist could find no fault with the root canal, and thinks that the abscess is coming from a PERIOdontal problem.  So now I need to wait still longer to see a different specialist.  And I'm still in pain.  Admittedly, the pain is not excruciating, by virtue of the fact that the tooth in question had a root canal and is essentially largely dead, but still -- I am in some pain.

I miss the old days when my dentist did all this stuff, I really do.  And I surely hope that I don't have to lose this tooth.

Owning a body is like owning a house, I guess.  There's always something that needs to be fixed, or worse, replaced.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Another Children's Story

Here is another story I wrote for Olivia, part of that series of "Hats" books I had planned.  Sorry there's no more original post this time, but I am just too sick and miserable to sit at the keyboard much.  (A dental abscess on top of everything else can do that to a guy.)

Regardless of all that, I really like this story.  Here you go:

(a sequel to Olivia’s Hats)
©2001 by Tom Hayes

Olivia lived with her family in a very nice house at the end of a quiet street.  But there was something quite special about this house.  It had something that no other house had.

In an extra room at the back of the house was a huge closet.  That closet was packed FULL of hats.  And these hats were not ordinary hats -- not ordinary hats at all.

Olivia’s house had once belonged to a magician, and the hats had belonged to him.  And every time Olivia placed one of those hats on her head, something very unusual happened.

She might find herself digging for dinosaur bones.  Or in the middle of a baking contest.  Or even far beneath the sea.  All she knew for sure was that if she put on a hat, there would be a loud PHWOMP!  And she would find herself in the middle of some new adventure.

One Saturday morning, Olivia decided it was time to check out the closet once again.  She went back to the extra room, opened up the closet door, and looked at all the racks and hooks and boxes and crates.  No matter when she came to the closet, there was always something special that she had never noticed before.  This time, far back in one dark corner, she noticed a glint of something shiny from between two large cardboard boxes. 

Olivia went over to investigate.  There, behind the cardboard boxes, was a hatbox.  A very unusual looking hatbox.  It wasn’t made of wood or cardboard or paper.  It was made of metal.  It was held together with big rivets and decorated with a gigantic metal bow.  Somehow Olivia managed to take off the heavy lid.  There inside the box was a knight’s helmet!  It was made of a silvery metal and decorated in gold.  On top of the helmet was a gold dragon.  And the visor was made to look like a dragon’s mouth, so that the knight inside was peeking out from between the dragon’s teeth.  It was the most amazing helmet Olivia had ever seen.  Without another thought, she placed the helmet on her head.

PHWOMP!  Suddenly Olivia found herself in a clearing in some dark woods.  She opened her visor to take a better look around.  (She knew that if she took off her helmet she would find herself back in the closet at home again, and that wouldn’t do at all.)  She turned around and through the trees she dimly saw what looked like some sort of low cliff or hillside.  There was a cave.  She started to walk towards the cave, and she realized that her clothes had changed into a suit of armor that matched her helmet!  There were gold dragons on her chest plate, dragon scales on her metal sleeves, and her boots were decorated with sharp golden talons.  She began clanking her way towards the cave again. 

Just as Olivia was getting close to the entrance of the cave, she heard a loud, deep booming voice from inside say, “I HEAR YOU OUT THERE AND I’M NOT COMING OUT!  YOU CAN FORGET ABOUT IT!”  Olivia had no idea who the voice belonged to or what it was talking about.

“I have no idea who you are or what you’re talking about!” she said.


“Truly,” said Olivia, “I don’t know what you mean.  My name is Olivia, and I just got here.”


Olivia didn’t know what to say to that.  She was trying to decide what to say next when a little old man dressed in wizard’s robes and a large pointed hat came rushing into the clearing in front of the cave.
(A note for the illustrator:  This is the same old man as in the other Olivia’s Hats stories.)

“There you are, Sir Olivia!” he gasped.

“I KNEW IT!” grumbled the voice from inside the cave.

“Haven’t you slain the dragon yet?” the old wizard asked.

“D-dragon?” asked Olivia.

“SLAIN?!?” roared the voice.

“Why of course!” said the little old man.  “You are the champion of our kingdom.  It is your job to rid us of this evil dragon!”

“I’M NOT EVIL!” bellowed the voice.

“Of course you are.  You’re a dragon!” said the wizard.

Well, Olivia was a little confused by what was happening, but even so, she knew that what she had just heard was WRONG.  She turned to the old wizard and said in her sternest voice, “Wait just one moment.  You and I have been friends for a long time, Sir Wizard.  You have always been there to help me no matter what hat I tried on or what adventure I found myself in.  But what you just said was wrong.  Nobody is evil just because of how they look or what they are.”

The old wizard looked puzzled.

Olivia said, “Just because I’m a girl, does that mean that I couldn’t be a knight?  Does being old make you a poor wizard?  Of course not!  So why does being a dragon mean he has to be evil?  It’s very, very wrong to say that everybody or everything has to be one thing only.”

Olivia suddenly had a thought.  “What, exactly, is this dragon supposed to have done?” she asked.

The old wizard removed his pointy hat and scratched his wispy gray head.  He thought.  Finally he said, “Well, he’s been really loud and scary.  The people are very frightened.”

“Well, I may not know much,” said Olivia, “but I do know that dragons can’t really HELP being loud and scary looking.  They ARE dragons, after all.  That still doesn’t make them evil.  Has he, um, eaten anybody?”

“No....” said the wizard.

“Has he burned down any houses, or crops, or stolen any animals from the farms?” asked Olivia.

“No....” said the wizard.

“OF COURSE NOT!”  bellowed the dragon.  “I’M A VEGETARIAN, FOR GOODNESS’ SAKE!”

“Really?” asked Olivia.


“I guess we didn’t know that,” said Olivia.  “I guess this is what happens when people -- and dragons -- don’t talk to one another and try to get to know each other.  I’d really like to get to know YOU,” she said.  “Won’t you please come out of your cave so we can start to be friends?”


“Nope.  No sword,” said Olivia.  And she did a little twirl around in front of the cave so that the dragon could get a good look at her.


Olivia looked at the wizard.  It was a look which clearly said, “Don’t you DARE pull out your wand!!!”

There was a rustling and a scuffling from the cave.  Suddenly an enormous golden head poked out.  The dragon was the most amazing creature Olivia had ever seen.  He leaned over and sniffed her.  “NICE ARMOR!” he said.  “IT LOOKS LIKE ME!”  And sure enough, it did.

The dragon sniffed at the wizard next.  The old man trembled, but he let the dragon smell him.  “URG,” said the dragon.  “YOU SMELL LIKE POTIONS.  YUCK.”  The old wizard frowned.

“I think you two have a lot to talk about,” said Olivia.  “But I think if we really try, we can all help each other and learn from each other.  Dragon, wouldn’t it be nice if you didn’t have to worry about knights coming after you any more?”

“IT WOULD INDEED,” said the dragon.

“And Sir Wizard, wouldn’t it be wonderful if the kingdom had a friendly dragon to help it?  Think of all the wonderful things he could do for you!  He could guard the crops, and scare away enemies.  He could make fires for people in the wintertime, and teach us all kinds of things!  Dragons are supposed to be very wise, you know,” she said.

“OH, WE ARE,” said the dragon.

“See?” said Olivia.  “Probably all we’d have to do in return is leave him alone to gather his special plants and herbs, and make sure he had some privacy.”

“YEAH, THAT WOULD PRETTY MUCH DO IT!” said the dragon.

“You would really do all that for us?” asked the old man.  “And all we’d have to do in return is help out with your special plants and leave you alone?”


“Why, of course!” said the wizard.  “I’m sure we could come to some kind of arrangement.”

Olivia went over to the dragon and petted him gently on his great golden snout.  “I’m glad I could be your friend,” she said.  “I hope I can come see you again.”

“CERTAINLY.  ANY TIME!” he said.

“I don’t even know your name!” realized Olivia.


“And I’m very pleased to meet you, too!” said Olivia.

Olivia went over to the old wizard and gave him an awkward hug.  (It’s hard to hug somebody when you’re wearing armor.)  “Now you be nice and try hard to work things out,” she said, “because I will be back to make sure everyone is still friends!”

“Oh, don’t you worry about that, Sir Olivia,” said the wizard.  “I have a feeling that things are going to work out just fine!”  Then the wizard turned to the dragon and they began to talk about carrots and herbs.  Olivia quietly removed the knight’s helmet.

BAMPH!  Olivia was back in the closet once again.  She took off the helmet and carefully placed it back in its metal hatbox.  She thought about this latest adventure, and decided that it was her most interesting one yet.  She was very glad to have made a new friend like Oliver.  Yes, this was a helmet which she would try on again some day!

Then Olivia left the closet, closed the door, and went downstairs to see if her Mom would fix her some carrots with her dinner.

The End

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Carry Me Back

I just got back from a trip to Lynchburg, VA, to visit yet another college in our ongoing search for continuing education for my 18-year-old daughter.  This time we visited Sweet Briar College, a small (fewer than 800 students) women's liberal arts college.  It was the exact opposite of everything we have been looking at so far.  It's small, it's extremely rural, and the only males are on the faculty.  Although the student body numbers about 752, the college itself is situated on the fourth largest amount of real estate of any institution of higher learning in the US.  Sweet Briar is situated in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, and I have to admit, the setting is stunning.  We had perfect weather -- unseasonably warm, mid-60's Fahrenheit, with crystal clear blue skies -- and the school really rolled out the red carpet.

There were separate programs for students and parents.  Parents met with the university president, the dean of admissions and the director of financial aid, while the students slept in the dorms, ate on the meal plan and sampled classes.  The entire open house ran over two days.

Now Olivia has to decide some things.  Does she want a school that's rural, or one that's urban?  Does she want the cultural amenities that a city can offer, or does she want to drive 30 minutes for a pizza so that she can live in beautiful countryside?  Does she want to share classes with men?  Does she want a school where she will eventually know everyone, or does she want a larger institution?  And does she want a school that's well-known, or one that is less familiar to most people?  She doesn't know yet, and neither do I.

There are certainly advantages to both settings.  I have no sense at all of what would be a good fit for her, although I suspect she is leaning, in her heart of hearts, to an urban school.  I didn't see the spark in her at Sweet Briar that I saw in Pittsburgh and Boston.  But I could just be imagining that.  I could also see her blossoming without the distraction that having males in the equation can provide.  I just didn't get that sense of, "yeah, this is the place for me!" though, when we were in Virginia.

I will be very interested to see her final list of schools to which we are to send her SAT scores.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Costume Postscript

Here's what we did for Halloween!  Olivia went as the character "Hungary" from the Japanese comic book (or more properly, "manga") Hetalia Axis Powers which poses the question, "What if each country in the world was actually just one individual person, and they all lived together?"  It's a hoot.

Megan and I went as Grandmama Addams and Uncle Fester from The Addams Family.  On my Facebook page I state that I am Uncle Fester's long-lost twin.  Obviously I wasn't kidding....

Too bad there are no burgeoning opportunities for Fester impersonators....

Saturday, October 30, 2010


Well, it's Halloween.  We had lots of fun carving this year's pumpkins, all of which can be seen here!

I'm especially proud of the "abduction" pumpkin!  Happy Halloween!!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Election fun

Just a brief entry this week.  As we get closer to the election, there are more and more ads, particularly for a very close Pennsylvania senate race between Democrat Joe Sestak and Republican Pat Toomey.  My daughter Olivia turned 18 in September and immediately registered to vote, and she has been paying closer attention to the election than ever before.

The attack ads from Toomey against Sestak have been especially nasty.  Despite their idiotic names like "Citizens for Responsibility" and so forth, it is clear from their content that some of the ads are paid for by the NRA or the National Chamber of Commerce.  The NRA ad makes it seem like Sestak, a retired admiral in the US Navy, is going to come to your house in the dead of night and take away your guns.  Toomey is painting him with the same "liberal" paintbrush that implies that "liberal" really means "treasonous."  (I love how these Tea Party idiots conveniently forget that the United States was originally founded by a bunch of liberal free thinkers.)  Sestak's congressional record is being tied to the dreaded "Pelosi agenda" (whatever the hell that is) and just in general he is being made to look like a man in favor of taxation, abortion, free love and peace without honor.  (Sestak's ads have been pretty straightforward, commenting largely on Toomey's role as a Wall Street lobbyist and questioning the wisdom of his Tea Party endorsements, the implication being that a stamp of approval from the likes of Sarah Palin is not worth much.)

When Olivia first saw the Toomey attack ads, she thought that they were, in fact, ringing endorsements FOR Joe Sestak and decided on the spot that she was going to vote for him.  The very qualities which the Republicans were decrying were in fact her -- and my -- core values.

Chew on that, Mr. Toomey.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Back from Boston

Recently we spent a few days in Boston visiting university campuses to see if any of them were a good fit for my daughter.  We spent the most time at Boston University and at Northeastern.  Both schools are on Olivia's short list because of their excellent programs in both biology and studio fine arts.  She is still torn between graphic art and bioengineering, but I think her innate sense of practicality is winning out, in that she realizes that becoming a successful comics or graphic novel artist is difficult (to say the least) and that she is going to need a day job, at least for a while.  And if you're going to have a day job, pick one that you love.

Bioengineering caught her interest last year in junior biology when her class did things like inserting plasmids into bacteria and teasing the DNA out of strawberries.  When I took high school biology we didn't even get to dissect the frog.  Our teacher was too busy making inappropriate remarks toward the female students and showing us how to make blowguns out of glass tubing.  And this was the chairman of the science department at one of the finest high schools in the country.  Go figure.

The differences between my daughter's education and mine are profound.  She has access to things like computer animation and is creating bacterial colonies that glow blue under special light.  I still used a slide rule in my high school physics class and did not have access to a computer until halfway through my college career.  It just blows me away.

Boston remains a beautiful city, and we were lucky enough to have spectacular weather while we were there.  B.U. was not quite what Olivia is looking for, although it's a wonderful school, but Northeastern seemed to be a very good fit for her.  She like the people there a lot more and was interested in Northeaster's "co-op" program of internships and community service.  Finding this out was more than worth the trip.  Add to that the fact that we got to have a spectacular dinner (French/Cambodian fusion at The Elephant Walk) with an old friend whom I had not seen in entirely too long, and you come up with one of the best trips our family has taken in a long time, albeit a pricey one.

And seeing the Ossining Correctional Facility, aka the former Sing Sing Prison, overlooking the Hudson River on the trip home was a nice bonus too.  Scary prison, October foliage, great trip.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Something With Which I'm Wrestling

After all the heavy posts about the dog and about my ill health (and please, people, I want your comments!) I have decided to tackle briefly a topic with which I have been wrestling in my own mind for some time:  When in the name of all that we hold dear did the Sci-Fi Channel (excuse me, "SyFy") become the home of the World Wrestling Federation??!?

I'm deadly serious.  This bothers me.  A whole lot.

If we accept the definition of science fiction ("syence fyction?") as "literary fantasy involving the imagined impact of science on society" then we accept, I think, the idea that this is a pretty intellectual exercise.  To extrapolate the impact of certain possible, or even purely speculative, developments in science and technology requires a certain amount of, oh, I don't know, intelligence on our part.  Professional wrestling, however, does not.

Don't get me wrong.  I'm all for the broadest possible definition of what qualifies as appropriate for a television channel devoted to science fiction.  It doesn't all have to be Star Trek or Battlestar Galactica reruns.  I love the cheesy movies, like Megashark Vs. Giant Octopus.  (I swear I am not making that up.)  I love that they also show fantasy and horror and everything from Bruce Campbell B-movies to vampire romance.  But wrestling??!?  Seriously?

I just cannot get my mind around whatever Venn diagram they are using that shows a significant enough overlap between sci-fi fans and wrestling fans to make somebody think this is a good idea.

Surely there is no shortage of appropriate programming for a science fiction channel.  Surely there are enough wrestling fans out there to warrant a separate wrestling channel, or at least to devoting part of an existing sports channel's programming time to wrestling.  Does somebody -- somebody who I'm sure makes way more money than I do, somebody with a ton of responsibility at the network -- honestly think that the folks watching Stargate: Universe are going to stick around to see who the Undertaker is going up against this week?  Or conversely, that the wrestling fans are going to stay tuned for Sanctuary?  Really?

Get wrestling off of my science fiction venue and onto the Nascar channel where it belongs.  Give that time back for something I will actually enjoy watching instead of steroid abusers badly acting out juvenile scripted adventures.  If I wanted to watch that, I'd tune in to Supercroc.

Yes, I'm an elitist snob.  So sue me.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Well...HERE'S What:

If you've been following the Dog Saga (see most recent post) you know that we have had some biting going on; a friend of my daughter's as well as my wife.  In subsequent days, I have also been nipped, in the act of putting on a doggie raincoat.  My family and I had made an agreement before taking on the dog that any biting was an immediate deal breaker.  One bite and gone.  One strike and you're out.  They have reneged and I am very unhappy.

Instead we have re-consulted the Dog Listener.  Her advice is that we have a very, very stubborn dog who is nervous rather than vicious.  He does not understand his place in the pack and thinks that he is being forced to be, you should pardon the expression, Top Dog.  It is making him stressed.  Her further advice was to continue with the training techniques we have already begun and to additionally otherwise ignore the dog while around the house.  No playing, no eye contact, no petting, no encouragement outside of his other training.  I have no problem with this, apart from the fact that we are doing it at all rather than approaching his previous owners about taking him back.

The stubborn little so-and-so has, of course, dug in his heels and is resisting us mightily.  We were warned by the Listener that things might get worse before they get better.  They have.  We have had indoor urination every day since beginning the newer regimen.  Often it's occurred right after his regular trip outside, so it's some dog thing, and not relieving an urgent physical need.  I am very tired of dragging our carpet steam cleaner up from the basement.  And I don't think it will improve soon.  We have to lock him up when we have company.  We have to lock him up when we go out.  And we have to lock him up during the night lest I step into a puddle on my own nocturnal trip to the john.

I don't want to do this any more.  Any affection I may have begun to feel towards the animal is rapidly dissipating; I am strictly continuing with this (as opposed to delivering an ultimatum) because I love my wife and daughter and don't want to add to their unhappiness.  But the unhappiness and stress that I am experiencing is, I believe, influencing my already shaky health situation.  My Crohn's Disease has been flaring up badly for over two months in spite of prednisone therapy, a massive increase of my immunosuppressant drugs, and every trick that my gastroenterologist can think of to try.  I believe that the continued stress of living with the dog and the problems he has brought with him are at least partly responsible, and I have no idea how to balance my concerns and my health with the desires of my wife and daughter.  I refuse to let this situation jeopardize my family or my marriage, but I am deeply worried about my own health.  We have some college-search trips planned for the near future and in my present state, I have no idea how I am going to be able to make them.  Well, you get the idea.

I can only hope that these latest techniques cause a breakthrough soon.  Because otherwise I don't see how I can deal with this for very much longer.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

NOW What??!?

If you've been following, you remember that last May we rescued a dog.  His name is KC, he's an eight-year-old apricot miniature poodle, and he's had something of a checkered life.  He was first rescued after being abandoned by a probably-abusive owner.  (He still cringes at odd times and has led us to believe that at one time in his life he may have been whipped with his leash.)  The older lady who first rescued him passed away and KC went to her daughter, a friend of ours from church.  Unfortunately, her daughter already had a couple of large dogs, and those dogs did not "take" to KC.  He was spending his days hiding under furniture -- furniture under which the larger dogs could not fit -- and generally being bullied, beaten up and having his food stolen by his "roommates."  When my wife and daughter heard about this, they were moved and begged me to rescind my long-standing "no" on dog ownership.  See, I knew that with my wife's long hours as a physician and my daughter's career as a high school student, I would very likely be the one who had to walk the dog in foul weather, clean up his messes, and so forth.  As long as they could promise, absolutely promise me that they would be the ones responsible for taking all care of this animal, I would let them bring him into our home.

We were assured by our friends that the dog was of a sweet disposition, that he was housebroken, that he slept in his little bed, and so forth.  He is sweet and affectionate most of the time, but does occasionally snarl and nip at us, mostly when doing things he doesn't like -- like bathing.  (We were also told that he loved baths.  Maybe it's our tub, but...he doesn't.)  The housebroken part is more problematic.  Our friends have a fenced-in yard and a doggie door, so KC could go outside when he needed to do so.  We do not have either the doggie door or the fenced in yard; we simply walk him three times a day, at least.  I began noticing pools of stale urine on our carpet.  Things came to a head when I also began finding -- and I apologize for this but there is no more delicate way to phrase it -- turds in our living and dining rooms.  KC has apparently never learned to ask to go outside, or else is going through some major behavioral issues.  Finally, although we had been told that he was fine to leave alone, we returned from choir practice one night to find that he had completely destroyed the kitchen floor near our back door -- apparently he was trying to tunnel out.  We had to immediately buy a dog crate to place him into when we go out for more than a few minutes.

When we mention the problems to our friends, his previous owners, they are genuinely surprised to learn of them.  He never acted this way with them.

So the little guy is more messed up than anybody realized.  And we are not bad people.  We have dropped over a thousand dollars on veterinarian fees to get his shots up to date, to have tumors removed, to have his teeth brought up to snuff, etc.  Not a small amount of money for us.  We figured consulting a dog behaviorist was worth a shot, if only to justify the investment in him we've already made.

We hired a Dog Listener, a woman who specializes in "it's-me-or-the-dog" problems.  She told us that the excrement, the urine, the property destruction, were all caused by the dog stressing out over feeling like he had to lead our family "pack" successfully.  We were his puppies and he was stressing out over our well-being.  This was why he panicked and lost control of his bowels and so forth.  She taught us a number of simple techniques to help KC learn his place in our family so that he would not worry about being forced to be our leader.  We began feeding him a certain way, walking him a certain way, and giving him rewards for special "following" behaviors.  Things had been going better for the past week.

Then last night, my daughter had a few friends over to celebrate turning eighteen.  It couldn't really be called a party.  There was no loud music, no ruckus, just four girls eating chips and pizza and watching TV and YouTube videos.  My point is that this was NOT a big disruption to our regular routine, it was just a couple of people.  We followed the Dog Listener's protocol for what to do when guests visit, and things were going well.  Then suddenly, for no reason we could discern, the dog lunged at one of our guests.  Bit her.  Thankfully not badly, and we have heard nothing from her or her family today, so maybe they are not litigious.  In any event, the protocol for extreme bad behavior is isolation from "the pack" so my wife went to lock KC in the bathroom.  He bit her.  Again, not badly, but she was bleeding.  She treated herself, while I removed the dog to a bedroom where he barked and barked for the remainder of the night.

I find myself at a crossroads.  We had always agreed that biting any of us was a deal-breaker.  I am fully prepared to send him on his way.  I have not bonded with KC like the women in my family have, despite the fact that I wind up spending the most time with him.  They want to give him another chance, more time with the behaviorist, etc.  I want to be able to come and go as I please, and to have guests over without fearing for their safety or listening to constant muffled yapping and barking until the guests leave.

Please -- if you've made it this far with me and you have any advice to offer, PLEASE leave me some advice in the "comments" section, or e-mail me at  I honestly for the first time in a very long time do not know what to do.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Sequel Time

In honor of her eighteenth birthday tomorrow, here is a sequel I wrote to the story, Olivia's Hats, back in 2000 when she was merely seven years old.  It even has a recipe attached!  Enjoy!

(a sequel to Olivia’s Hats)
©2000 by Tom Hayes

Olivia lived with her family in a very nice house at the end of a quiet street.  But there was something quite special about the house, because it had something that no other house had.

In an extra room at the back of the house was a huge closet.  And that closet was packed full of hats.  And these hats were not ordinary hats -- not ordinary hats at all.

Olivia’s house had once belonged to a magician, and the hats had belonged to him.  And every time Olivia placed one of those hats on her head, something magical happened.

She might find herself digging for dinosaur bones.  Or deep in a cave.  Or even  far beneath the sea.  All she knew for sure was that if she put on a hat, there would be a loud PHWOMP!  And she would find herself in the middle of some new adventure.

One rainy afternoon, Olivia decided it was time to try on another one of the hats.  She went back to the closet and looked at all the hat racks and hooks and hangers and boxes.  It seemed like no matter when she came to the closet, there was always one hat which seemed to especially catch her eye.  And this time was no different.  There, on a hat rack, as white as new-fallen snow, was a baker’s hat.  And somehow, Olivia just knew that this was the hat she had to try on.

As she was lifting the hat up to her head, Olivia noticed a small, yellowed piece of paper tucked inside the baker’s hat.  She pulled it out and looked at it closely.

“Oh!”  she said, “It’s a recipe!”

And indeed it was.  The paper said, “Triple Chocolate Double Fudge Peanut Butter Pow! Kazam! Brownies” and it listed all kinds of delicious things, along with the instructions on how to make the brownies.

Olivia tucked the paper into her pocket, and tried on the baker’s hat.

PHWOMP!  Suddenly Olivia found herself in a huge, shiny room.  She looked around and realized that she was in the biggest kitchen she had ever seen!  She looked down and saw that her clothes had changed into the white shirt and checkered pants of a baker!

Just as Olivia was about to decide what to look at first, a little old man dressed as a baker came bursting in through the double-doors of the kitchen.

(A note for the illustrator:  This can be the same old man as in Olivia’s Hats.)

“There you are, Chef Olivia!” he cried.  “Please, you’ve got to hurry!  The contest is about to begin!”

“C-contest?” asked Olivia.

“Why of course!” said the little old man.  “I hope you’ve finally decided what you’re going to bake!”

Olivia suddenly remembered the recipe she’d found in the hat.  “As a matter of fact, I have, “ she said.  She pulled the paper out of her pocket.  “I’m going to make ‘Triple Chocolate Double Fudge Peanut Butter Pow! Kazam! Brownies’.”

“That sounds . . . very interesting,” said the little old man.  “Shall we begin?”

“Certainly,” said Olivia.  “Here’s what we’re going to need:  flour, sugar, eggs, chocolate, peanut butter, baking powder, fudge, and a teaspoon of vanilla.”

The little old man let out a yelp!  “Vanilla?!?  Are you sure?” he asked.

“I’m pretty sure,” said Olivia.

“Oh, dear.  Oh, dear,” said the little man.  “I’m sorry to tell you this, Chef Olivia, but I think we have a problem.

“It’s the other chef, you see,” he said.  “He got here early, and took ALL of the vanilla!  Every last drop!  It’s for his ‘Va-Va-Va-Voom Vanilla Sponge Cake’, you see.”

“Well, we’ll just have to get some more,” said Olivia.  “I can start the recipe while you run out to the store.”

“No, no, no!” said the man.  “That won’t do at all!  According to the rules, we must only use what we find here.  And that other fellow has already taken all of the vanilla!  Oh, whatever are we going to do?”

Olivia thought for a minute.  Then she got a wonderful idea!

“You just get started on the Triple Chocolate Double Fudge Peanut Butter Pow! Kazam! Brownies,” she said, handing him the recipe, “and leave the vanilla to me!”

Olivia walked into the big pantry.  When the door was safely closed behind her, she took off the baker’s hat.

BAMPH!  Olivia was back in the closet!  She walked down to the kitchen.  Her mom was just beginning to fix dinner.

“Mom,” said Olivia, “Can I borrow the vanilla for a little while?  It’s kind of important.  I promise not to make a mess.”

“Sure, honey,” said Olivia’s mom.  “I don’t think I’m going to need it.  Just bring back the bottle when you’re done.”

“Thanks, Mom!” said Olivia.  She took the bottle of vanilla from the cupboard and went back to the magic hat closet.

She put the baker’s hat back on.  PHWOMP!  She was back in the pantry again, dressed in her chef suit.  She went out to where the little old man was furiously mixing flour and eggs and chocolate.

“Look what I found!” she said, holding out the vanilla.

“B-b-but I was sure that....  How ever did you...?  Wh-why, that’s WONDERFUL!” he finally said.

Olivia measured out one teaspoon of vanilla.  They finished mixing up the brownies, and put them in the oven.

A half an hour later, they took the Triple Chocolate Double Fudge Peanut Butter Pow! Kazam! Brownies out of the oven.  They smelled great!  Olivia cut them up and put them on a plate and took them out through the double doors into a big dining room.

A set of doors on the other side of the room opened up at the same time.  A fat man in a chef’s hat came through them.  He was carrying a tremendous cake.  Olivia realized that it must be the Va-Va-Va-Voom Vanilla Sponge Cake.

There was a table in the middle of the room.  Some men in suits and tall black hats were waiting there.  The fat man set down the cake.  Olivia set down the brownies.  The men in suits tasted the cake first.

“Hmmmm,” they said.  “Light.  Moist.  Spongy.  But too much vanilla.”  The fat man frowned.

Then they tasted Olivia’s Triple Chocolate Double Fudge Peanut Butter Pow! Kazam! Brownies.  Huge smiles spread across their faces.

“These are the most heavenly brownies we have ever eaten!” they said.
“We declare Chef Olivia to be -- The Winner!”

Olivia was presented with a gold medal and a trophy that looked like a golden spoon.

“Thank you all very much,” she said, “but I couldn’t have done it without my friend here.”  She put her arm around the little old man.  He beamed.

Olivia gave him a hug, and then told him that she really had to be getting back.  She went back to the kitchen, picked up the recipe paper and the vanilla bottle, and took off the baker’s hat.

BAMPH!  Olivia was back in the closet once again.  She took off the hat, carefully put the recipe back inside it, and closed the door.  Then she took the vanilla back to the kitchen.  Maybe her mom would help her make some brownies for dessert!

The End

[The recipe for Olivia’s Triple Chocolate Double Fudge Peanut Butter Pow! Kazam! Brownies follows:]

Olivia’s Triple Chocolate Double Fudge Peanut Butter Pow! Kazam! Brownies

4 oz. unsweetened chocolate
4 oz. chocolate fudge
2/3 cup shortening
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1/2 cup peanut butter

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a 13”x9”x2” baking pan.  Melt chocolate, shortening, peanut butter and fudge in saucepan or double-boiler over low heat.  Stir well.  Remove from heat and mix in sugar, eggs and vanilla.  Stir in remaining ingredients and spread in pan.  Bake for 30 minutes or until brownies start to pull away from side of pan.  Cool and cut into bars.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Back to School

A couple of weeks ago my daughter started her senior year of high school.  The search for a college is, if not quite in high gear, certainly moving into a higher one.  Next Thursday is my last "Back to School" night for her, an opportunity to meet her teachers and get a sense of her curriculum this year.  My wife and I have never missed one, not since Kindergarten, and it's hard to believe that the last one is here.

The following Saturday she will turn 18 and become a legal adult.

I love the person she is developing into, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't miss being able to pick her up, or hold her on my lap, or hold her hand crossing the street.  Now I use my hand to wave goodbye as she drives off in her new car.  (Hey, she's 18; plus, we wanted her to be as safe as possible, so all the latest safety bells and whistles are included in her new vehicle.)

Man, it went by FAST.

Time, that is.  Not the new car.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Get Over It!

On Friday evening, we received an automated telephone call from my daughter's high school.  The call informed us that President Obama was planning to address the nation's students on Tuesday, September 14th, and that if I wanted my daughter excused from our President's speech I simply needed to send a note to school with her on Monday.

I briefly mentioned this on my Facebook wall earlier, but I decided that this issue needs a bit more depth.

First of all, I am appalled that our school district would make such a call to families on the eve of the ninth anniversary of the attacks of September 11th, 2001.  I realize that the word "appalled" is thrown around loosely and often these days, but I am truly appalled, as in "greatly dismayed and horrified."

Second of all, I am stunned that the school district even felt the need for this.  Perhaps it is a function of my age -- I'm 57 -- but when I was a student in the public school system, if the President of the United States wanted to address the children of this nation, we filed into the auditorium, they set up the televisions for us, and we watched it.  I didn't have to like the President, nor did my parents have to have voted him into office.  Once the election was over, we supported the current leadership and if that leadership did not perform to our expectations, we had the opportunity to remove them in four years' time.  It was a no-brainer.

Not that I can recall him ever doing so, but if George W. Bush wanted to address my daughter and her peers, I do not think I would have received the same telephone call.

I think this needs to be said, as simply and clearly as I know how:  Mr. Obama is the fairly elected President of the United States of America.  In spite of what the many conservatives, racists, rednecks and Philistines in my community and my country would like, Mr. Obama won the election fairly, by a majority of both the popular vote and in the Electoral College.  He is entitled to the office by virtue of being a legitimate citizen of this country.  And he is most definitely a legitimate, legal citizen, since he was born on United States soil AND his mother was a citizen.  Either of those circumstances confers citizenship legally; Mr. Obama has the benefit of both.  Finally, not that it matters in the least where Mr. Obama spends his Sundays, but he is not a member of the Muslim faith.

We are supposed to be a free nation where anyone and everyone is free to worship in accordance with their conscience, whether that worship is of God, Allah, Buddha, Vishnu or the Flying Spaghetti Monster.  We were founded by a group of dissenters who disagreed with their existing government, vocally protested that government, and ultimately overthrew it.  Somewhere along the way we have lost our path, and with it, our reason.  I would respectfully remind us all that dissent and disagreement do not equal treason.  The labels of "liberal" or "conservative" never should be demonized or vilified simply because one belongs to the opposite camp.

The late Kurt Vonnegut's once said that, "There are plenty of good reasons for fighting, but no good reason ever to hate without reservation, to imagine that God Almighty Himself hates with you, too." [Italics are mine.]  I could not agree more.  I believe that this phone call was to appease the people who have elevated disagreement and partisanship into hatred, often goaded by media pundits as much as by their own shameful prejudices.

Barack Obama is our President.  My daughter is going to hear what he has to say.  I was raised in a time when, once the election was over, we shook hands and united behind our President.  It's what made America a truly great nation, and a truly great democracy.  I didn't like George W. Bush, I didn't vote for him, but once he was sworn in as our President, that's what he was to me -- our President.

Well, now we have a new President, a black man from Illinois.  He is the leader the majority of our people chose.  As far as you people who don't like it are concerned?  GET OVER IT.