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.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Worms Are Starting To Look Good

So, as you know if you've been reading, I struggle with this whole package of autoimmune diseases which are probably interrelated somehow.  I have Crohn's Disease, rheumatoid arthritis, peripheral neuropathy, asthma, so-called "cotton-wool" patches on my's quite a list.  My autoimmune "package" tends to flare up in the spring and in the fall, and is probably related in some way to allergies.  This past spring's flareup was so bad it lasted into the beginning of August before six weeks of prednisone therapy finally quashed it.  Prednisone is a corticosteroid, which in small doses can be an effective anti-inflammatory.  In larger doses and over longer periods of time, however, it side effects can tend to outweigh its benefits.  These side effects include mood swings, irritability, weight gain, and actual physiological changes, notably a round "moon" face and an egg-shaped belly.  Part is from the steroids, and part is from the raging appetite that prednisone gives you.  I hate prednisone.

I am back on prednisone again after just a few short weeks of normalcy as my autumn flareup is early this year.  I cannot go anywhere or do anything without extensive planning, medicating, and embarrassment.  I won't go into the sordid details, but suffice it to say that I find them humiliating.  At age 57 I feel I am still far too young to be dealing with such things.

So there was this story on NPR and the BBC not too long ago about this British fellow who also suffered from similar autoimmune diseases, and who decided to do something about it.  What he did was, he went to Africa and walked barefoot through as many latrines as he could until he was well and truly infected with hookworms.

You see, he theorized that these autoimmune diseases are caused by our immune systems going into overdrive in our overly hygienic modern world.  Our bodies have nothing to fight against so they attack themselves, according to this theory, and so infecting one's self with worms gives the immune system  the enemy it "needs."  It stops attacking itself and starts on the worms.

This fellow maintains that the worms are controllable and that in the right doses they can be more beneficial than parasitic.  I have my doubts.  There are holes in the logic that I am having problems getting my mind around.  But as sick as I have been these last couple of weeks, I feel compelled to say it:

The worms are indeed starting to look good.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Another Story

Here's another story I wrote for my daughter back when she was six years old.  I had hoped it would be the initial offering in a series -- there are two sequels which I may post someday -- but the publishing world felt differently.  At any rate, I'm proud of it, and it entertained her when she was younger, which is all I was really asking from it:

© 1999 by Tom Hayes

Olivia and her family had finally moved into their new house, and Olivia couldn’t wait to begin exploring it.  She opened the closet in a little room that was all the way at the back of the house.  

“What’s all this stuff?” Olivia called out.  The closet was full -- of hats.

“They must have belonged to the man who used to live here,” said Olivia’s Dad.  “I think that the lady who sold us this house told me that he was a magician.  I guess he liked to collect hats!”

Olivia decided to take a closer look at all of the hats.  There were hats in boxes.  There were hats in bags.  There were hats on hat racks.  There were hats of every color and hats of every shape.  There were old hats, and there were new hats.  There were hats with feathers, and hats with ribbons.  There were hats for boys, and hats for girls, and grown-up hats for men and for women.  Olivia realized that the closet was actually quite large, almost as big as a whole room.  A whole room filled with hats.

Well, of course, Olivia decided to do just what you or I would do:  she decided to try on some hats!  But which one should she choose first?

One special hat seemed to catch her eye.  It was an explorer’s helmet, the kind that the dinosaur scientists wore on TV.  Olivia decided that she wanted to try that one on first.

PHWOMP!  As soon as Olivia placed the hat on her head, she found herself standing on a mountain, in a desert, near a pile of old bones!  “Dinosaur bones!” she said to herself.  “Wow!”  She examined the bones.  “These are the bones of a Tyrannosaurus Rex!” she said.  “Now how exactly do I know that?”  She took off the
explorer’s helmet so that she could scratch her head and think about things.

BAMPH!  As soon as the hat came off her head, Olivia found herself back in the closet again.  She was back among all of the hats.

“Everything O.K. in there?” her Dad called.

“Everything’s fine,” said Olivia.  She wasn’t sure what else to say.  She was fine, after all.  After a moment, she decided to put the explorer’s helmet back on her head.

PHWOMP!  Once again, she was back on the mountain, near the pile of bones.  Suddenly, Olivia heard noises coming from behind one of the boulders that were nearby.  Before she could even decide whether or not she should see what was making the noises or hide, a little old man came running around the boulder.  He almost ran right into Olivia!

He was dressed just like Olivia, in a tan explorer’s shirt with lots of pockets, tan shorts, knee socks, a pair of sturdy hiking boots, and of course, a helmet.

“Thank Goodness I found you! “ he cried.  “Something terrible has happened!  One of the bones is MISSING!”

“Wha -- what?” asked Olivia.  She wasn’t quite sure if the little man was actually talking to her.

“Oh, Doctor Olivia, I’m so sorry!” he said.  “I’m sure it’s all my fault!  One minute I  was looking at the map of our dig, and the next I was looking for the Tyrannosaur’s last caudal vertebra, and it was GONE!  It simply disappeared!”

Olivia was very confused.  “The -- the Tyrannosaur’s what?” she asked.

“The last caudal vertebra -- the tail-tip bone!” the old man cried.  “Oh, what are we going to do?”

Olivia hated to see anybody so unhappy.  “There, there,” she said.  “I’m sure we can figure out this mystery.”  (Olivia loved figuring out mysteries.)  “Let’s go take a look.”

The little man led Olivia around the boulder to a small tent.  Inside the tent was a 
table.  On the table was a map.  Olivia could see that once upon a time, the map had been all rolled up, because now the little man needed to set some things on its corners in order to hold the map down flat.

Olivia took a closer look.  On the first corner there was a cup.  On the second corner there was a rock.  On the third corner there was a can of sardines.  And on the fourth corner . . .
“Why, there it is!” cried Olivia.  “It’s holding down the map!  You must have forgotten about it!”

The old man blushed.  “I can be quite absent-minded,” he said.  “Thank you for finding it, Doctor Olivia.  Now we can send the museum the first whole, entire T. Rex skeleton ever.”

“I was quite glad to help,” she said.  “But now I’d better be getting back.”

Olivia left the tent and walked back to the pile of bones.  She was very happy that she was able to help the man find his missing bone.  When she was sure she was alone again, she took off the helmet.

BAMPH!  Once again, she was back in the hat closet.  Back in her regular clothes.  Back in her regular house.  Back in her regular life.

“Everything O.K. in here?” asked her Dad.

“Sure,” said Olivia.

“Well, what do you think?” asked her Dad.  “Is all this stuff worth keeping?  Or should we just throw it all away?  I called the lady who sold us the house, and she has no idea what’s become of the old magician.”

“Oh, no,” said Olivia.  “I don’t think we should throw it away.  We should keep it.”

“I think it’s getting pretty close to suppertime,” said her Dad.  “Let’s go get something to eat.  We can always come back up here later.”

“Yes,” said Olivia.  “I will definitely be coming back later.”

Because there were still a lot of hats for her to try.

The End