Category Archives: Kids

Positive Lifestyle Changes

The month of March was pretty difficult for our daughter.  Early in the month she rear ended a large pickup with her Subaru Forester.  She was only driving about 30 mph at the time when the pickup in front of her stopped suddenly. She was cited for following too close.  The pickup sustained no damage. There was only $3000 damage to the front end of her car, but, since all eight of the air bags deployed, the insurance company wrote her car off.  It would cost $16,000 to repair them.  This, then, entailed her getting a rental vehicle, waiting for the damage estimate and the insurance cheque to get deposited in her account, and the purchase of a new vehicle.  There were tons of phone calls to me, with her in anxious agony when adjusters didn’t get back to her when they said they would or when the  cheque wasn’t deposited when it was promised.  (The local car dealership  was having a great sale on new Subarus, and she wanted to get in on the deal. They told her to just write them a cheque and they wouldn’t cash it until the insurance payment arrived.  Since the insurance payment was late, there was angst and heartburn that the cheque to the car dealership was going to bounce.)  This is the second car she has totaled in three years. Thank goodness the insurance company isn’t going to cancel her policy.  She lives in an area noted for horrible traffic and lots of accidents, and she isn’t even considered high risk.

March’s next blow was a doozy.  Daughter lives in a one bedroom apartment with her cat, a cat that never goes outside.  Last week daughter noted that her cat was particularly droopy and was avoiding eating and was hesitant to walk on the carpeted floor.  A closer look revealed that the cat and the carpets were infested with fleas. There were even fleas in her rental car.  Daughter surmises she brought fleas home with her from work.  She does intensive family therapy in people’s homes, and probably picked the fleas up in one of the homes. The same thing happened to her supervisor last year.  Daughter had no previous experience with fleas, so this meant multiple, distressed phone calls to me, trips to the vet, constant laundry and vacuuming, and setting off flea bombs in the apartment.  We are now flea free.

Daughter said that March’s events have prompted her to make positive lifestyle changes. She wants to slow down,  simplify her spaces, and get rid of unnecessary things and be more orderly. She said that when she cleaned her Forester out preparatory to  the insurance adjusters looking at it, she was appalled at all the junk she had there. “Mom! It looked like the Box Car Children were living in my vehicle!”  She stripped down to socks and underwear outside her front door after work the other night and put her clothes directly in the washing machine. I told her she could probably strip in the bath tub for the same results and less alarm for the neighbors.

It does no good to scold someone  when they are distressed, so my internal, unspoken monologue to Daughter during March has been a very constant and rapid “YOU NEED TO START  TAKING YOUR G** D***** ADHD MEDICATION AGAIN!!!  YOU ALWAYS DRIVE TOO FAST! SLOW DOWN! PAY ATTENTION!!  THERE IS NOTHING I CAN SAY THAT IS GOING TO MAKE YOU FEEL BETTER RIGHT NOW.  DEAL WITH IT!!  HERE, TALK TO YOUR FATHER!!

It is no surprise my dentist told me yesterday that it looks like I have been grinding my teeth in the daytime. This is a recent development since my last checkup six months ago.  I imagine it really increased in March. I paid attention today and noticed just how much teeth grinding I am doing. I hope that as long as Daughter sticks with her positive lifestyle changes, I can make my positive lifestyle changes and save my tooth enamel.

What has prompted, or could prompt, you to make positive lifestyle changes?

What’s in a Name

Today’s post comes from Steve Grooms.

Most people cheerfully accept the name their parents gave them. But not all. Some folks have strong emotions their given names . . . strongly positive or strongly negative emotions.

A Jewish friend had a teenaged daughter named Sarah. For some reason that chose not to share, Sarah came to despise her name. My guess was that she decided it was too Jewish and old fashioned. Sarah began identifying as “Daisy.” That put her in conflict with her teachers, for they knew her given name and felt compelled to use it. After months of moods and conflicts, Sarah proved she would only respond teachers called her Daisy. The teachers caved in.

Names can be difficult in several ways. My mother’s name—Charmion—was a problem all her life. The name sounded vaguely French and was a challenge to spell or pronounce. People assumed it should be pronounced with a hard “ch” sound, like the word “charm.” But my mother grew up thinking the only correct pronunciation began with a “sh” sound like the word “shard.” Later in her life my mother began spelling her name Sharm, hoping that would be less confusing. Then, in her seventies, she went back to the original spelling. She was Charmion, dammit, and if other people couldn’t deal with that it was not her problem.

I have had issues with my name, which is Stephen. While I always knew that was my name, nobody called me that. As a kid, I was “Stevie” until the day I demanded that my parents and friends call me Steve. I have been Steve almost all my life, although some people—like bankers, lawyers and doctors—insisted on calling me Stephen, for that is my name on official papers.

After I moved to Michigan about a year ago, I acquired a new team of doctors and nurses who call me Stephen. Sometimes I ask them to call me Steve, but they don’t always comply. It really shouldn’t matter if the phlebotomist about to draw my blood calls me by my formal name. And yet it does matter. When people call me Stephen a little voice in my head notes, “You don’t know me, do you?”

When I became a writer I had to choose the name I would use on published work. A writer friend who lived in Boston was Steve to friends and yet the author name on his books was Stephen. I’ve always been amused and slightly put off by that decision. And actually, he is a somewhat vain fellow who tries hard to impress others. But then, many writers present themselves in print as being more accomplished than they actually are.

I decided to publish under the name of Steve Grooms. It was an easy decision. I am a thoroughly Midwestern guy, and the core of being Midwestern is humility. My mother raised me to be modest, optimistic and unpretentious. The persona I used in print was that of a guy who was often amused by his own incompetence. For me, this Steve/Stephen thing is not trivial. I have feelings about it. In my heart, I am Steve, not Stephen.

I haven’t mentioned my middle name, and that was another easy choice. I hate my middle name. It was “given” to me by my father in a foolish attempt to flatter his father. But his father (my grandfather) was a bigot and misogynist who was disliked by most people in his family. I never mention my middle name.

Do you have any issues or thoughts about your name?

Feed My Starving Children

One of the great things I like about my job is that the management believes in giving back. There are lots of ways during the year to contribute to various programs but one of my favorites is Feed My Starving Children.

FMSC packs food and sends it around the world to places where children are at risk due to malnutrition. But the best part is that this isn’t just an organization to give money to; volunteers actually do the packing of the food.  Vitamin mix, veggies, soy and rice make up the “manna pack” that gets reconstituted in places like Haiti, Mali, Pakistan, Cambodia, Guatamala and many more.

Normally we go as a group every other month to one of the Twin Cities’ FMSC locations but today, they came to us. They had all the packing stations set up, surrounded by palates of bales of rice and soy.  After all the instructions, we split up among the stations to get going.  Today I did the “get the bag onto the funnel” job.  After I do that, then other team members put in the ingredients.  Then I weigh each filled bag and pass it along to the folks who seal the bag and the packer, who gets the packs into boxes.  6 meals per bag, 36 bags per box, 32 boxes for my station in 90 minutes.  If I’m doing the math correctly, that’s 6,912 meals from just my group’s station.

Tonight I’m sore from bending over and my feet are a little achy from standing in the same spot for the whole session, but having done the work is like a salve – I feel like I’ve done a little bit of good in a world that seriously needs it right now.

What’s your favorite rice dish?


Being an author whose books have “yet to achieve” major bestseller status isn’t particularly rewarding in the monetary sense. Currently, my greatest rewards come from meeting avid readers, advocating for literacy and the love of reading, and making friends with other writers around the world.

That being said, the biggest motivator for me is helping my favorite charity through sales of my books. All these perks are worth far more than any money I hope to someday earn from my book sales.


I recently had the privilege of making a donation to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southern MN for $297 generated from book sales in 2017. I donate one dollar to BBBS for every copy of Castle Danger I sell–print or eBook. I raised additional dollars by asking people to round up the purchase price of the print book to $20 when they buy a copy. I sold 190 books in 2017. Nearly every person who bought a book from me in person gladly rounded up the extra $1.80 to an even $20.

I’m pleased to announce my sales increased from 2016, so I was able to donate more money to BBBS this year. I hope to continue that upward sales trend in 2018. I expect sales will be boosted when Straight River is published (as soon as is humanly possible!!) With steady sales of Castle Danger continuing this year added to new sales of Straight River later this year, I hope to reach a $400 donation for 2018.

(Point of interest: even if I factor back in my BBBS donations, I’ve still only covered about 60% of the total cost of producing, editing, formatting, printing, and promoting Castle Danger. And I don’t even want to think about all the coffee and pastries I’ve purchased to fuel my writing energy! Warning: Think twice before becoming a writer for the income. 🙂 )

What do you do (or what have you done) that surprised you by generating more personal rewards than you expected than financial rewards?

P.S.–If you’re interested in learning more about becoming a Big Brother, Big Sister, or Big Couple, check out the national BBBS website or click on the Southern MN link above.

Blatant self-promotion: Hey, Babooners, I’ve got several signing appearances scheduled in the Twin Cities and greater MN (and WI) this year. The first one is in Rosemount on Saturday, March 24. I’ll also be in Hudson, WI, and Hopkins, Morristown, Owatonna, Hackensack, and Mankato later this year. To get all the details, go to or like my FB author page.



Barbie Haute Couture

Image: Mattel

Barbie dolls came up yesterday on the trail, with a couple of gals saying they had never had them when they were growing up. It caught my attention because some new Barbies have been released onto the market this week, modeled after inspirational women, among them an Amelia Earhart, a Frido Kahlo and a Katherine Johnson.

This has made me think of my history with the doll. In my early years I was the oldest of two however my younger sister was born with a heart defect and didn’t have the corrective surgery until she was almost two.  She was frail up until that point and I wasn’t allowed to play with her much.  We also moved homes quite a bit during my childhood (some due to my dad’s work and some due my parents’ continual wanderlust).  I learned pretty early on to entertain myself and let my imagination go with whatever I was doing.

I had a couple of Barbie dolls – at least one of them was inherited from the older sister of a friend – and I enjoyed them quite a bit. Back then there wasn’t a mountain of plastic silliness to go along with the Barbies.  No Malibu Barbie houses or Barbie & Ken matching convertibles.  But what I did have was CLOTHES.  A friend of my mother was a big knitter and sewer and I was the beneficiary of that talent.  I had masses of clothing for my dolls and not the cheap little bits of cloth that you could buy for Barbies in the store.  I had knitted sweaters, a-line skirts with poodles, shorts, t-shirts, dresses with little stoles, a beautiful white wedding dress with a train.  No shoes, but lots of everything else.

Since I needed a place for my Barbies to live with their beautiful clothing, I turned my dresser into a Barbie house. I cleaned out the middle section completely for this house.  Because I didn’t have any “real” Barbie furniture, I drew and cut out furniture from paper and pasted it onto the walls of my two-story Barbie house.  My dolls were living the life of Riley.

I still have my Barbie house dresser – it’s in the attic. I haven’t used it as a dresser for decades but every time I think about getting rid of it, I look inside, see the remnants of my Barbie furniture and I can’t bring myself to let it go.

Did you have a favorite childhood toy?


Cautionary Tales

My son and daughter in law have asked for some children’s books for their baby shower.  I plan to give them many of the books we have at home.  They have been used for both son and daughter, and are a little worn, but they are still wonderful.  I will not, however,  give them any of the stories I ran across the other day-German cautionary tales by Heinrich Hoffman. This is how Wikipedia describes them:

Der Struwwelpeter (“shock-headed Peter”) is an 1845 German children’s book by Heinrich Hoffmann. It comprises ten illustrated and rhymed stories, mostly about children. Each has a clear moral that demonstrates the disastrous consequences of misbehavior in an exaggerated way.[1]The title of the first story provides the title of the whole book. Der Struwwelpeter is one of the earliest books for children that combines visual and verbal narratives in a book format, and is considered a precursor to comic books.[2]

  1. Struwwelpeter describes a boy who does not groom himself properly and is consequently unpopular.
  2. In Die Geschichte vom bösen Friederich (“the story of wicked Frederick”), a violent boy terrorizes animals and people. Eventually he is bitten by a dog, who goes on to eat the boy’s sausage while he is bedridden.
  3. In Die gar traurige Geschichte mit dem Feuerzeug (“the very sad story of the matches”), a girl plays with matches and burns to death.
  4. In Die Geschichte von den schwarzen Buben (“the story of the black boys”), Nikolas (or “Agrippa” in some translations)[6] catches three boys teasing a dark-skinned boy. To teach them a lesson, he dips them in black ink.
  5. Die Geschichte von dem wilden Jäger (“the story of the wild huntsman”) is the only story not primarily focused on children. In it, a hare steals a hunter’s musket and eyeglasses and begins to hunt the hunter. In the ensuing chaos, the hare’s child is burned by hot coffee and the hunter falls into a well.
  6. In Die Geschichte vom Daumenlutscher (“the story of the thumb-sucker”), a mother warns her son not to suck his thumbs. However, when she goes out of the house he resumes his thumb sucking, until a roving tailor appears and cuts off his thumbs with giant scissors.
  7. Die Geschichte vom Suppen-Kaspar (“the story of Soup-Kaspar”) begins as Kaspar (or “Augustus” in some translations), a healthy, strong boy, proclaims that he will no longer eat his soup. Over the next five days he wastes away and dies.
  8. In Die Geschichte vom Zappel-Philipp (“the story of fidgety Philip”), a boy who won’t sit still at dinner accidentally knocks all of the food onto the floor, to his parents’ great displeasure.
  9. Die Geschichte von Hans Guck-in-die-Luft (“the story of Johnny Look-at-Air”) concerns a boy who habitually fails to watch where he’s walking. One day he walks into a river; he is soon rescued, but his writing-book drifts away.
  10. In Die Geschichte vom fliegenden Robert (“the story of flying Robert”), a boy goes outside during a storm. The wind catches his umbrella and lifts him high into the air. The story ends with the boy sailing into the distance.

Not the most comforting books to get little ones to sleep.

What were your favorite books from your childhood? What are your favorite children’s books now?


Today’s post comes from Steve Grooms

When my friend Dick’s wife went into labor, Dick rushed her to the hospital, then paced in a room just outside the delivery ward. After hours of waiting Dick confronted a nurse, convinced that the birth had happened but they forgot to tell him. No, the nurse said, just be patient. She said the same thing two hours later, and again hours later. The waiting room had nothing to read, and Dick nearly went crazy. After the longest night of his life, Dick finally got word he was a father.

Dick was no dummy, so he was ready for the birth of his next child. He staggered into the waiting room with a stack of books several feet high. Dick plopped into a chair and opened the top book. Suddenly a nurse was in front of him saying, “Mr. McCabe? You have a healthy baby girl!” Dick was outraged. “You can’t be serious! Look at all these books! I just got here! Surely the baby needs a few more hours!”

When my erstwife and I prepared for the arrival of our first child, we attended birthing classes. A couple we met there had one bit of advice: “Bring FOOD!” They hadn’t been able to eat during a very long labor, and by the time the baby finally came they were hungry enough to eat the hospital drapes.

Based on those stories and others, I became convinced every childbirth is unique.

My only personal experience with childbirth was typical enough for people like us in the late 1970s. I was eager to experience the whole event, staying with my wife in the delivery amphitheater. We hoped to avoid drugs, and we wanted this birth to be supervised by a nurse-midwife. Our midwife, Anne, was friendly and reassuring.

The only unusual element of our plan was that we would have a witness. Ellen was a dear friend and fellow grad student. Ellen had recently decided she was gay. She asked to share the birth of our baby because, “As a lesbian, I’m not likely to experience childbirth myself.” We agreed, and Anne was happy to include Ellen.

Things began well for us, and then not so well. Our baby girl got hung up halfway into this world. We understood the birth would be tricky when we learned the umbilical cord was wrapped around our baby’s throat. Anne told us the delivery was going to be done in the delivery room, and she could not perform it. Hospital rules dictated that a doctor would now supervise the birth. Because the hospital had a rule against extra people in the birthing room, Ellen wasn’t welcome.

And that is how the birth of my only child morphed into a feminist drama. We had suddenly lost control of the birth, and the doctor in command was a stranger. Because he was a man, we feared he would be unsympathetic. Anne stuck a scrub suit on Ellen and gave her a surgical mask. “You are now an intern nurse,” she said. “Keep your mouth shut. If the doctor throws you out, well . . . that’s that. But if we pretend you are an intern maybe he won’t make an issue of it.”

Then we rolled down the hallway to the delivery room. The young doctor looked hard at Ellen. But he said nothing, and we all got busy with the birth.

Having Ellen present was a joy with unanticipated benefits. My wife was totally occupied with the pain and effort of birth, so she saw nothing. I couldn’t see a thing because I was crying uncontrollably. But Ellen saw everything with clear eyes. She wrote up the experience with affection and specificity and later gave us a copy of it.

I think childbirths are like snowflakes. No two are alike.

Do you have any childbirth stories?