Thursday, July 12, 2018

Grandkid Interviews

Dear George,
Our NOLA family came last week for a long weekend, and it was a welcome dose of happiness and excitement in the midst of our smothering heat wave.  Our daughter-in-law K had taken V and L on a long road trip to Michigan and was headed back home via Cincinnati, and our son J flew up for the occasion.  As is true each time we see them, the children were older, taller, smarter, funnier, and more accomplished.  L, in particular, has grown 9 inches in the last two years.  The visit went by quickly, but we packed in a lot.  Swimming at Coney Island’s Sunlite Pool, visiting Fiona at the Zoo, “The Ant-Man and the Wasp” at the Cinemark (appreciated more by the youth than the adults), some Wimbledon for the grownups, Skyline Chili, supper at Bronte’s, and ice cream at Graeters.  J did several household tasks I’d procrastinated on and made us a gift of fire extinguishers from Ace Hardware.  The children showed me how to make slime, and I showed V how to do Suduko (she solved the entire puzzle on her very first try).  After the road-trippers set out on Sunday, J and I went to the Terracotta Army exhibit at the Art Museum.  It was totally amazing, and it turns out the archeological treasures were from the same region of China in which our grandson L was born.  J said they would go there as a family one day.    I did do an interview with each of the kids while they were here.  These are some of the things they had to say as they’re nearing age ten.

  • What is one of your earliest memories as a little child?   Walking up to a man who was sleeping on the side of the road and asking him why he was sleeping there.  
  • If you could only eat one thing for a week, what would it be?  Mashed potatoes.  
  • What is a food that makes you want to throw up?  Beets. 
  • Where would you like to visit someday (that you’ve never been)?  Hawaii. 
  • What is one of your best talents?  Art.  
  • One word to describe you would be ___?  Loving.  
  • Would you say you are more serious or more silly?  Silly.   
  • Are you more good-looking or more intelligent?  (pause)  It’s a tie. 
  • More brave or more timid?  Brave. 
  • More artistic or more athletic?  Artistic.  
  • More quiet or more talkative?  (laughs) Talkative.      
  • If you could change one thing about yourself, what it would be?  Be better at spelling.  
  • What do you think you will be doing ten years from now?  I’ll be 19.  In College.  Where?  I don’t know, but based on a farm and take care of animals.  
  • What is something that scares you?  Being alone in the dark.  
  • Would you rather give up TV, chocolate, or friends?  (pause)  Chocolate.  
  • If you could be anyone in the world for a day, who would it be and why?  My best friend Chelsea.  
  • What is something your mom always says to you?  This ain’t my first rodeo.  
  • What is something your dad always says to you?   Hurry up.  
  • What do you think your parents are too strict about?  Not letting me have a YouTube channel.  
  • What is something that makes you sad?  Animal shelters that kill animals if they’re not adopted.  
  • Do you like:  
  • Horror movies?  Yes.
  • Art museums.  Not really.  
  • Going to the dentist?  Yes. 
  • Flying in airplanes?  Yes.  If it is more than a one plane flight, No. 
  • Doing math?  No. 
  • Watching sports on TV?  Not really.  
  • Quiz shows?  Yes.
  • Skateboarding?  Like to watch, like my cousin Ben.      
  • Walking the dog?  Not really.  
  • Which would you like most?:  To have lots of friends; to make lots of money; to help homeless people; to star in a Broadway show?  Help homeless people.  
  • What animal are you most like?  A dolphin.  
  • What do you like to do for fun?  Draw.  
  • What do you love most about your brother?  He’s funny.  
  • What is one word to describe Nana?  Loving 
  • Which do you value most?  Kindness, being smart, being a good athlete, being a leader?  Kindness.  
  • How many pets do you have?  Seven.  2 dogs, 1 cat, 4 quail.  
  • What are the quails’ names?    Dolly, Anjelica, Eliza, Peggy.  
  • If you had 3 wishes, what would they be?   Have all the pets in the world.  Become a teacher.  Always be friends with my best friend.  
  • What do you think makes for a happy life?  Pets.
  • What is one of your earliest memories as a little child?  My first word — “mine”. 
  • Which would you like most?:  To have lots of friends; to make lots of money; to help children and poor people; to star in a Broadway show?  To have lots of friends.  
  • Would you say you are more serious or more silly?  Silly.   
  • Are you more good-looking or more intelligent?  Intelligent.  
  • More brave or more timid?  Timid.  
  • More artistic or more athletic?  Athletic.  
  • More quiet or more talkative?  Talkative.    
  • Do you like:  
  • Horror movies?  No.
  • Art museums.  Kind of.    
  • Going to the dentist?  No. 
  • Flying in airplanes?  Yes.  
  • Doing math?  Yes.  
  • Watching sports on TV?  Yes.  
  • Quiz shows?  Yes.   
  • Skateboarding?  No. 
  • Walking the dog?  No.   
  • If you could only eat one thing for a week, what would it be? Noodles. 
  • What is one of your best talents?  Building legos. 
  • What is your favorite thing about school?  Math. 
  • What is the most difficult thing?  Grammar.  
  • How would you describe yourself as a student?  Good.  
  • Who is someone that you miss?  Cody, my cat.  
  • One word to describe you would be ___?  Smart.  
  • What do you love most about your sister?  She’s funny.  
  • What do you think you will be doing ten years from now?  Be driving.  Be living alone?
  • Will you be married?  No.
  • Will you have a job?  Somebody at a cafe.  
  • If you could have one superpower, what would it be?  Walk through walls.  
  • If you could be anyone in the world for a day, who would it be and why?  Me.  Why is that?  Because I like me.  
  • What’s the hardest thing about being a kid?  You can’t make your own decisions.  
  • What is something your mom always says to you?  Don’t hurt your sister.  
  • What is something your dad always says to you?  What’s up?  
  • What is a food that makes you want to throw up?  Broccoli.  And mushrooms.  
  • What is something that makes you sad?  Thinking of when I die.  
  • What do you value most?  Kindness, being smart, being a good athlete, being a leader.  Kindness.  
  • If you had 3 wishes, what would they be?   To live in a bigger house.  Have kids.  To be rich.   
  • What do you think makes for a happy life?  Friends and family.  

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

July Four

Dear George, 
I don’t remember being this glum on the Fourth of July before.  This is, of course, the most patriotic holiday of the year, but there doesn’t seem to be much in current national life to celebrate.  I’m not going to blame it all on the President.  The forces that put him in office — racism, sexism, xenophobia, extreme inequality — have been disrupting American political life for decades.  And we have, of course, lived through equally bad or worse times as a society — World War II, McCarthyism, the Vietnam War era, assassinations, 9/11, etc.  In my more optimistic moments, I find myself imagining that politics have bottomed out, the Republican Party has pretty much destroyed itself, and that we’ll see a revolution of sorts beginning in 2018 and 2020.  We’ll see.  In the meantime, here are few quirky facts to help brighten up the Fourth of July:  

  • Jefferson changed the word in the Declaration of Independence from “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of property” to “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” 
  • 200 copies of the Declaration of Independence were made, but the whereabouts of only 27 are known today.  One was found in the back of a picture frame at a yard sale.   
  • The names of the Declaration signers were kept secret for six months since they would have been executed if independence from Britain hadn’t been achieved.   
  • Three U.S. presidents died on the Fourth of July (all in a row): John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe.  
  • The song “Yankee Doodle” was written by British army officers to make fun of colonial, buckskin-wearing “Yankees”. 
  • Miners in Swan, Colorado, blew up the post office in 1884 because they didn’t receive fireworks to celebrate the holiday.  
  • Before the advent of cars, the Fourth of July was the worst day of the year for horses because of the noise and of children throwing firecrackers at them.  (Now it’s worst for dogs.)   
  • After the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the Declaration of Independence was moved by train to Fort Knox, Kentucky.  It was returned to DC in 1944.   
  • July 4th is Americans’ top beer-drinking holiday, accounting for about $340 million in beer sales. 
  • Joey Chestnut of San Jose, California, holds the world record for eating 73.5 hot dogs in 10 minutes at Nathan’s Coney Island Fourth of July contest.    
  • There is a 42% decrease in air quality on July 4th because of fireworks.
  • Malia Obama was born on July 4, as were President Calvin Coolidge, Neil Simon, and Kiera O’Hara.    
  • The modern 50-star U.S. flag was created as a class project by Lancaster Ohio high school student Robert G. Heft.  When his teacher gave him a B-, Heft sent his flag to President Eisenhower who chose it for official adoption.  (The teacher changed Robert’s grade to an A.)  
  • The vast majority of imported U.S. flags are made in China.  

SOURCES:, “20 fun facts about the 4th of July/Independence Day”, “10 unusual facts you probably didn’t know about the Fourth of July”, “Independence Day: Fun facts you may not know about July 4”, “Independence Day Fast Facts”, “Fourth of July Facts”, “4th of July Trivia Facts 2015”, “25 4th of July Fun Faces That Will Make You Want To Celebrate”, “Independence Day — 4th of July Trivia & History”, “15 Fourth of July Fun Face and Trivia”

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Some Other Irritants in Life

Dear George,
I must have too much time on my hands these days because I’m a lot more grumpy than usual.  To get a handle on this, I made a list of things that make me irritated.  My biggest irritant is reading the political news in the New York Times each day.  The second biggest is watching Chris Hayes and Rachel Maddow on MSNBC.  This is paradoxical since I like and respect the Times and MSNBC.  However, the events that they report on are typically so outrageous and disgusting that the content casts a pall over my entire day (as I’m sure it does for much of their audience).  I don’t even want to think about these matters, so here are the other main items on my list of irritating things in life.  

Bad Air 
I was going to walk into my office today, but the air is so bad that I decided to stay home.  That’s how it’s been for the last week, and it will probably be worse for the rest of the summer.  According to the American Lung Association’s State of the Air report, Cincinnati has the worst air in the nation outside of California.  High traffic volumes are a major factor.  Beyond that, the city is located in a valley which serves to trap emissions, keep the air stagnant for days on end, and increase the density of pollution.  Here are some facts about air pollution in the U.S. (see sources at end):     
  • More than 50% of Americans live in counties that received an F for air quality in the American Lung Association’s 2016 “State of the Air” report.  
  • Breathing in particle pollution can increase the risks of lung cancer, heart attacks, strokes, emergency room visits, and early death. 
  • For the average person in the U.S., breathing air pollution decreases one’s life by one to two years. 
  • The seven most polluted metro areas in the U.S. are in California, including Fresno, Bakersfield, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.  
  • Air pollution in California causes 25,000 deaths per year and costs $200 million in medical expenses.  
  • Indoor air pollution is 2-5 times worse than outdoors.  
  • People in cars and trucks can be exposed to nearly 8 times as much air pollution as pedestrians and cyclists.  
  • 72% of Americans believe they are not affected by air pollution from automobiles. 

My number one source of annoyance is unwanted calls from telemarketers even though they’re not as deadly as air pollution.  A majority of our friends and relatives have shifted to cell phones only, but Katja and I seem to be landline diehards.  While we both have cell phones, there is something comforting about a phone system that is connected to the wall with a wire.  And we get most of our calls on our landline.  Unfortunately, at least 95% of them are from charities, political organizations, or commercial enterprises.  For some reason, I am always in a different room from the landline, so I leap up and race to the other room to get the phone before it stops ringing.  The result is constant disappointment and frustration.  Last week I got a call from a young man who claimed to be my grandson and who was in dire straits.  Here are a few things to know about telemarketing:  
  • There are nearly 9,000 telemarketing companies in the U.S., and their workers make nearly 150 million calls a day.  
  • Telemarketing centers operate mainly in small towns where they are as common as local banks, restaurants, and hardware stores.  
  • On average, it takes about 80 calls to get one sale or donation. 
  • Several hundred telemarketing firms exist solely to defraud people via charity schemes, credit card fraud, credit repair and loan schemes, and phony lotteries.  
  • Americans lose approximately $40 billion a year to fraudulent telemarketing.  
  • 80% of victims of phone scams are elderly.  

We live on a busy street corner, and I spend a bit of every day picking up the litter on our front and side lawns.  I don’t mind this entirely because I look for unusual items to add to my personal litter collection.  However, it always amazes me how much trash people discard on other people’s property,  Cigarette butts are the worst offenders, and fast food items (bags, styrofoam containers, napkins, plastic utensils, etc.) run a close second.  One guy regularly leaves a banana peel on our side lawn that is undoubtedly left over from his breakfast.  Here are a few litter facts:    
  • About 17% of all trash in the U.S. is disposed of by littering.
  • It’s estimated that there are about 6,700 pieces of litter per mile on our streets and roadways.  
  • About 81% of littering is done intentionally. 
  • Motorists account for 53% of litter.    
  • Younger people are more likely to litter than older people.    
  • Cleanup of litter costs about $11 billion per year.  
  • About 1 million sea birds and 100,000 marine mammals die each year from being entangled in or ingesting litter.  

Thermostat Wars
Now that summer’s in full sway, Katja and I have daily “discussions” about where to set the thermostat.  She always likes to have it cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter than I do (she likes comfort; I like saving money).  When the furnace guy was last here, I asked him what is the best temperature to set the thermostat at.  He said, “The best temperature to set your thermostat at is whatever your wife wants.”  Apparently we are not the only couple who goes through these squabbles.  Here is some thermostat info:  
  • According to a recent survey by Honeywell, 30% of people who live with one or more other persons quarrel abut the thermostat setting.  
  • 25 % of spouses or housemates change the thermostat setting without telling the other.
  • This is especially true of younger people (18-34) where 39% secretly change the temperature.
  • On average, women prefer warmer temperatures than do men.
  • In the summer you save 5% to 15% on your energy bill if you raise the thermostat five degrees. 

Having done my research, I somehow I feel a little better about these matters.  Next I plan to make a list of sources of joy.  So far, it has been easier to think of irritants than joyfulness, but I will do my best.  I will let you know.

SOURCES:, “The 10 Most Polluted Cities in America”, “Air Pollution Facts”, “20 shocking facts about air pollution”, “8 Crazy Facts About Air Pollution”, “36 Air Pollution Facts and Health Statistics”, “Air Quality Facts” 
www.controversialtelemarketing,, “Telemarketing”, “The Startling Facts About Telemarketing Fraud”, “5 Amazing Facts About B2B Telemarketing”, “FacTs and Figures on Telemarketing”, “20 astonishing Facts About Littering”, “23 Littering Statistics That Will Blow Your Mind”, “End Littering Resources”, “Couples fight for control in Battle of the Thermostat”

Monday, June 18, 2018

Lazarus Lizards

Dear George,
I frequently walk down our street to the public library which is about six blocks away.  In the middle of my journey I run across some cute little creatures sunning on the sidewalk who dart away into the grass as I approach.  I thought they were salamanders, but it turns out that they are European wall lizards (or common wall lizards).  In Cincinnati they’re called “Lazarus Lizards” (more about this below).  I’ve been seeing these little guys for years, but this spring I was surprised (actually very pleased) to discover that they’ve moved down the street to our patio and driveway.  Despite being in a big city, we have lots of wildlife in our yard — even deer at times — and I’m happy to welcome our new Lazarus Lizards.  Here’s a poem in their honor and a few facts too.  

Lazarus Lizards

We have brand new pets on our patio  
They’re skinny and green with the longest tails  
They look to be eight hundred million years old   
Older than meerkats or hippos or whales    

Lazarus Lizards are our new pets’ name  
Brought to Cincy by a twelve-year old boy  
Born in Italy, they’ve gained local fame   
Like Fiona, they give me much joy   

Our lizards enjoy sitting out in the sun 
They patiently wait, to entice an ant   
I snuck up, attempted to capture one  
So quick, off it went, disappeared in a plant 

Since we lost our dogs my heart has been sad
But with Lazarus Lizards, life’s isn’t half bad    

There are literally millions of Lazarus Lizards in Cincinnati, spread throughout the entire city and, from there, infiltrating parts of Northern Kentucky and down the Ohio River to eastern Indiana.  There are also colonies in British Columbia (escapees from a small zoo) and Long Island.  Native to Europe, they always live around people, e.g., in rock walls, piles of wood, cracks or crevices in a house.  Wall lizards grow up to seven inches in length; are green, gray, or brown in color; and have an angular head and long limbs and toes. There are several theories about the origins of wall lizards here, but the most widely accepted resulted when an elderly member of the local Lazarus department store family wrote to UC biologists who were studying the reptiles.  In 1951 at age 12  George Rau, stepson of Fred and Irma Lazarus, was vacationing with his family in Lake Garda, Italy, about 80 miles east of Milan.  He captured about ten local lizards, put them in a sock, and brought them back to their family home on Torrence Court in East Walnut Hills.  (Torrence Court is now known as Lizard Hill.)  Recently a UC biology graduate student has compared DNA samples from Cincinnati and Northern Italy, verifying their common ancestry.  Moreover, the very low genetic diversity of the Cincinnati lizards indicated that as few as three had survived the migration, eventually producing the millions that exist today.   Lazarus lizards have distinguishing features so that one can recognize individuals.  They come out in the morning, once the sun has warmed the rocks (or patio tiles), and will sit an wait for an insect.  While they’re very quick, they’re not skittish and sometimes humans can approach within a foot or two.  I say hello to a Lazarus Lizard or two every morning, and they brighten up my day.. 

SOURCES:, “‘Imported’ lizard flourishing with few predators.”  Mark Wert, Nov. 25, 2014., “They came from Italy.  Now, they outnumber us all.”  Carol Motsinger, Aug 31, 2017., Porarcis muralis.  

Monday, June 11, 2018

An Ode to Menominee (Circa 1949)

Oh, Menominee, true world of wonders
Water and forest, sunshine and snow 
Stretching three miles on the Green Bay shore 
Her southern border, the handsome Menominee River
Wisconsin right over the bridge

1890 logging capitol of the world
The surroundings, lush woodlands
Birches, pine, oaks, maples
Deer, bear, beaver, porcupines, foxes
The very edge of the Great White North
Gateway to the U.P.  

All U.P. towns are smallish
Menominee, the fourth largest 
Nine thousand, plus or minus a few 
German, Scandinavian, Polish, French
Catholics and Protestants, some non-believers too
Friendly, caring, honest, helpful  

Menominee people are an outdoor sort 
Camping, swimming, ice boating
Sailboat races to Mackinac Island
They say, the best bass fishing in the world
Muskies, whitefish, Northern pike
The first day of hunting season, time to skip school
Our county, the largest deer population in Michigan
At age 16 our dads brought us to Jean Worth’s camp   

Summers are the stuff of dreams 
Temperatures in the seventies, air so pure it sings
Hot dogs, firecrackers, softball at the circus grounds 
The winters, quite opposite, hardy and majestic 
Snowstorms with drifts three or four feet high
Icicles stretching from the eaves to the ground 
Cross-country skiing, plodding on snowshoes
Days off from school when our county road closed 

Boats from Milwaukee tied up in the harbor
Thursdays, bandshell concerts at Marina Park 
Only ten cents a ticket, matinees at the Opera House
Roy Rogers, Tom Mix, Laurel and Hardy
Playin at the Dome, Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington
Every August, the Hagenbeck Circus 
Elephants, slapstick clowns, high-wire beauties   
We fed the deer, watched the buffaloes at Henes Park
Snuck into the stock car races at Spies Field
Cheered for the Menominee Maroons 
Afterwards, root beers at the A&W drive-in

Our family moved to our house on the river
We built rafts from old logs, rowed our boat through the channel
Caught snakes and fireflies, crayfish, toads
Were frightened by the snapping turtles feeding at dusk
And deadly quicksand at Mr. Shaver’s lagoon
Steve and I played basketball on the snow and ice
The Ideal Dairy, just one mile away
Lemon Flake ice cream, two dips for a nickel
We pulled our wagon to the city dump
Such treasures we brought home, you’d never believe 

Menominee was a safe and welcoming place
We children could go wherever we liked 
The whole town, within ten minutes on our bikes 
We never were scared to go anywhere
A pretty good place for young kids to grow up  

[Footnote: For more Menominee poems, see]