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PARENT TALK Steve Barmash Is Here To Tickle Your Funny Bone
Take a break and enjoy the wit and wisdom of Steve Barmash, our resident humorist
One day recently over lunch, a friend of mine commented on how his 18 year old, college bound son hasn't been around the house long enough to mow the grass the past 2 years, not since he became popular with the girls and took up playing the bass guitar. That got me thinking about my own son and his lawn mowing history.

Not all that long ago, my son would follow alongside me as I mowed the lawn, pushing his Fisher-Price Bubble mower, his Mowie, mowing the grass down there in his 3 foot tall world. We both dreamed of the day when he would finally be old enough to take over the real chore.

A rare congruity of desire. Child wanting to perform work. Parent dreading doing same piece of work. Sweet perfection! If he could only just grow up already, I'd be ready and willing to teach him all I know about the fine art of lawn mowing.

Well, well, well. He's nearly 11 now and hasn't lost a bit of his desire to mow. He's fascinated by loud, roaring dangerous machines. He loves the concept of the sharp metal blade furiously spinning around beneath the mower, much like an airplane propeller. He wishes we owned a tank or a Hum-Vee, because they're cool!. He's also informed me that he's ready to help with my weed-whacking!

So, one day I taught him the fundamentals of the Sears Craftsman, self-propelled, 22 inch, rear-bagging mower and set him loose in the front yard.

Much to my pleasant surprise and relief, he actually loved mowing. He can't get enough of it. After one and a half hours of mowing, he actually cried when I informed him that he couldn't go across the street and mow the lawns of the neighbors, since he didn't have their permission and they weren't home! Two days later he was pestering me to mow again. Ahhh! Life is Good!

You see, I come from a family of apartment house dwellers who'd never touched a lawn mower in their lives. (The maintenance men from the housing company performed all the lawn care). So to me, mowing is nothing but a form of exercise required to maintain the grass at a reasonable height in order to keep the neighbors from siccing the town police on me for violating the grass height ordinance.

I now get a kick out of surreptitiously standing in the doorway, watching my son operate the mower. Sometimes he pretends that he's giving the lawn a haircut. Other times the mower is a space cruiser.

His mower lines chiseled into the lawn are not always perfectly straight. Our lawn doesn't resemble the Yankee Stadium outfield. But since my son doesn't mind returning to a missed or imperfect section to improve it, he definitely gets an A for effort.

Last week was a memorable mow. As 60's classic rock blared within the house from my daughter's boombox radio, I watched Alex pass back and along the side of the house, alternately passing in and out of my sight of vision. He was quite a sight, wearing a tank top, a black beret, and a set of dark Blues Brothers style shades. Even though he couldn't hear the radio, he seemed to be mowing and moving in sync to the music, as if it was his personal soundtrack. One pass, he suddenly dropped down to his knees for no special reason and happily waddle-walked in time to the music behind the self-propelled mower. I've rarely seen him happier or more self-fulfilled than when he's mowing, performing some real adult work.

Finally, as dusk approached and the mower was put away until next time, I sent him into the back yard to use the garden hose to wash out the grass bag. He was gone for quite sometime. I quietly walked around the side of the house and heard him spraying water against the fence. I turned the corner to see Alex, his back to me, standing in the twilight, aiming the hose against the 6 foot tall wooden fence. A steady stream of water played out against the fence, moving in lockstep with his hand motions upon the nozzle. The shadow of the water stream and his own shadow, made tall by the setting sun, reflected back from the fence. He and his shadow fought a Luke Skywalker-Darth Vader Light Saber dual to the death. With each stroke and counter stroke of the hose against the fence, the stream of water left its trail. The shadow image matched each parry. Fantastic light sabre sound effects filed the backyard from my son's lips. Luke and Darth fought valiantly to a draw.

Finally the water was off. The grass bag was carried to the front of the house to dry. I couldn't help rubbing my son's head and saying, in my best James Earl Jones voice,

Luke, Do you Know Who I am? I am your Father!

I know Dad.

May the Force be With You, my son!

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Art Linkletter (am I dating myself?) once said, kids say the darndest things. Well, I would like to expand on that by adding and they save the darndest things too!

I recently took a long, hard look at all the stuff my 10-year-old son, Alex, has in his room. Where many of the items came from, and why he keeps them is beyond me. Here is just a very small sampling of some of the hundreds of things I found.

I begin with his collections. He has a rock collection, a baseball card collection, a Star Wars toy collection, a pencil collection, and a who-knows-what-else collection. But the collection, which amazed me the most, was his dirty socks and underwear under-the-bed collection!

Now, I don't know how long it has been in his room (and I am afraid to ask), but I found Lifesaver candy wrapper in his room with one linty Lifesaver candy left in it. Is he saving it for an emergency sugar fix? And I wonder about the piece of partially eaten chocolate candy that seems to be left over from Halloween? But from what year!

You would think we don't have any trashcans in the house! I ask you, why would he save an empty box of Smith Brothers cough drops?

Then there is the Hawaiian Lei. Where did it come from? He has never been to Hawaii. I am not even sure if he knows where Hawaii is on a map! Why does he have it? I am afraid to ask.

And what about his US Navy Dog Tags from the Battleship Massachusetts? Is my 10-year-old leading a secret life which I know nothing about?

Now, I can understand his having a yellow yo-yo; a metal toy plane; a Hershey's Chocolate Company piggy bank; and the seashell from the beach. But why the rings?

He has all types of rings. He has a yin/yang ring; a peace symbol ring; and a bat ring just to name a few. But the boy doesn't wear rings! Never has, and probably never will!

I could go on and on...the multitude of caps he never wears; the dusty container of pogs; the Queens College pennant; the rubber snakes; the old zoo pamphlet; the 2 flashlights without batteries; the assorted magazines...

I dread to think what I will find in his room when he is a teenager.

Yes, kids save the darndest things!

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Can you imagine a world where children actually change rolls of toilet paper? How about a planet where children save the last couple of chocolate chip cookies for mom and dad! Ah, to dream...

...hey mom, is it OK for me to eat the rest of the lima beans?

...uh dad, remember how you were going bald on the top of your head? I've just noticed that you have an incredibly thick growth of hair coming in. Boy, I hope I can look as young and handsome as you when I'm your age! mom, I've had the remote control for the last hour. That's certainly long enough. Now it's your turn to select the programs we're going to watch., the shirt I put on this afternoon is still clean. I'm going to wear it again tomorrow. That way, you won't have so much laundry to do., dad - we've arranged simultaneous sleep-overs at our friends' houses because we can tell that you need some quiet time alone.

Yes, my goal is to live long enough to see my daughter paint each of her fingernails the same color and for my son to have a complete, rational thought. Until then I just dream!, because Alex has been such a wonderful brother and is such a great humanitarian, I've nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize., mom - I've reconsidered my plan to become a US Navy fighter pilot and instead have discovered an incredible desire to become an investment banker. thanks dad, we don't want to go into the toy store. We have more than enough toys at home. We'd prefer you save your money for our college education., I think it's way cool how you play your guitar and harmonica and sing those old Bob Dylan tunes!, I've decided not to spend the night over at Zachary's house. I don't feel that his parents provide enough adult supervision. Did you know that they actually let him watch South Park?

Ah, to dream!

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They say, Eating is one of life's greatest pleasures. Oh, yeah? Well, exactly who are these people? Whoever they are, they've obviously never eaten out with my children! 

Whenever I utter these words to my family, Hey guys, we're going out to dinner tonight. Where do you want to eat? My mood begins to alter at near-light speed. 

My younger child, Amanda will cry out with glee, McDonald's, as visions of Happy Meal Toys and french fries twirl before her eyes. And my older child, Alex will break away from Nintendo just long enough to call out the name of the all-you-can-eat buffet house. 

Fleeting images of mashed potatoes, macaroni & cheese, and soft-serve ice cream are immediately replaced in his consciousness by Super Mario. 

And of course, without a doubt, my wife Aggie will say, I don't care where we long as it's not to McDonald's or the buffet house.

Now me, I'd be more than happy to huddle in front of the NFL game on TV and suck down two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. But out to dinner we will go! 

Eventually, my wife and I decide we'll go to the local diner. Amanda sulks, But they don't have Happy Meals there. And Alex whines, They don't have pizza!

As we drive to the diner I wish I didn't invite everyone to eat out. From the back seat I hear the ominous chant, The diner stinks! The diner stinks! The diner stinks...

After what seems like the longest drive in history we reach the diner. 

Uh oh! Alex has spotted the video game sitting in the alcove just off the lobby. Cool...look dad! Can I play? Can I borrow 50 cents? I'll only play one game. I'll pay you back when we get home..

Aware that one game leads to two. Which leads to three. I say with a fair, but firm tone, No, we're here to eat.

Come on, please let me play.

No, Alex. We're going to sit down at the table together, as a family.

You're not fair! You're the meanest parents in the whole world!

Our table is ready. Amanda says, I want to sit next to Daddy. Alex answers, No you're not! You sat next to him last time. I'm sitting next to him! Amanda sticks out her tongue and says, No you're not. You sat next to him last time!

Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in front of the tube seem better and better! I decide not to sit next to either child. I sit with Aggie. Together, we gaze upon the not so angelic faces of both of our li'l darlings. 

As we look over the 18 page menu Alex exclaims, There's nothing to eat here!

What do you mean?, says my wife. They have plenty of things you like

They don't have pizza! Alex snarls. And the service is too takes forever to get your food! And it's freezing in here!, says Alex as he pulls the oversized hood of his sweatshirt over his head, covering his face down to his chin. 

Eventually the children agree on pancake/scrambled eggs platters. And as the waitress takes our order, it occurs to me that I have no idea what I want to eat. After a moment of speed reading I order a peanut butter and jelly sandwich! I resolve not to eat out again with the family until the children are in High School, no...COLLEGE! 

By the time dinner arrives everyone is settled in. Miraculously, the children began to behave wonderfully. Tales from school are told. Upcoming sports and scout events are discussed. Knock-knock jokes are exchanged. We laugh together as a family. Perhaps I am mistaken. Perhaps we will eat out again! 

After dinner I pay the cashier. The kids use the little teaspoon in the dish next to the cash register to pour some fruit-filled after-dinner mints into their hands. And of course, more mints fall onto the floor than into their hands. And as soon as we get in the car, the kids decide (of course), that they don't like the mints and want to spit them out. We provide some napkins from the glove compartment. 

Nearing home, Alex softly says, "Uh, Dad. I'm sorry I acted like a baby at the diner. I love you.

I love you, too, I say. 

Mom, I love you, Alex says. 

I love you, Alex, Aggie says. 

Amanda, I love you, Alex says. 

I love you, Alex, Amanda says. 

Warm and fuzzy feelings fill the car. It's like The Waltons. Eating out with the family passes into history. We arrive home. It's shower time, I say. I don't want to shower, says Alex. I want to take a bath..

I guess we'll continue this tale another day!

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Food, glorious food. It's what keeps us alive. We crave it and we love it. But we eat too much of it, so then we diet. Yes, it's a vicious cycle we all share!

But for today, let's look at the harmless, fun side to nutrition. I'm not talking about your toddler spilling Spaghetti-Os on the floor; smearing chocolate cake all over his face and hair; or applying peanut butter to the cat's ears. No, I'm talking about the fun, crazy combinations of foods we eat. Foods, which alone might be perfectly viable, but when eaten together, makes everyone around you go "O, YUCK!".

As a parent you have seen your children eat interesting assortments of consumables, without batting an eye, counting a calorie, or feeling any shame or guilt. For instance, my daughter Amanda washes down cheese pizza and salad loaded with Thousand Island dressing with a warm mug of hot chocolate topped with a mound of whipped cream. And my son Alex enjoys a stack of pancakes smothered in maple syrup along with a mess of french fries full of ketchup, accompanied by a delicious glass of apple juice! Not exactly my first choice for breakfast!

But I must come clean and admit, there are few things in life I find more enjoyable than a cold bottle of beer with a box of chocolate chip cookies. I'm sure you'll all agree with me on that one!

However, I don't hold the same warm and fuzzy feelings for pizza dipped in soy sauce. And to tell you the truth, neither does Alex. Not after giving it a try it last month.

In my house there's no condiment quite as flexible as Bar-B-Q Sauce. It's not just for steaks and chicken anymore. To my kids, it's delicious with french fries, carrots, string beans, macaroni & cheese, and of course, their fingers!

Yes, children eat the darndest things. I know of a child who never eats a morning bowl of cereal with milk. Instead, she pours orange juice on her breakfast cereal! "O, YUCK!" But it's not only children that make me say "O, YUCK!"

My wacky brother-in-law likes to spread a mess of artery-clogging butter on a slice of white bread, load it up with squares of milk chocolate, and shove the bread and all into his mouth! (To me, this sounds frighteningly close to something Elvis might have done in his latter years hanging around the Graceland kitchen).

But like I said, he's wacky! He also likes to dip his potato chips in mustard. What's next, pretzel rods dipped in ketchup, Cheese Doodles sprinkled with balsamic vinegar, and Doritos topped with Russian Dressing?

I give him a double "O YUCK!"

Meanwhile, back on beloved mother-in-law's favorite sandwich consists of cold baked beans on white bread. That's the truth! I couldn't make a thing like that up! And my son's favorite sandwich is mayonnaise on white bread. No meat, no lettuce, no tomato, no cheese, no baked beans. Just mayo on white bread. (The apple doesn't fall far from the tree, I guess).

Most important of all, though, whatever you do, remember to never, ever, drink shots of 151-Proof Rum chased with full glasses of Maneshewitz Heavy Malaga Grape Wine, followed by a six-pack of Budweiser!

Especially outside in the noon sun...on a hot, hazy, humid June day...while playing full-court basketball...and downing mass quantities of pickles, hot dogs, salsa, birthday cake, and Kentucky Fried Chicken.

I just barely survived!!!

If you think you can top my experience or have a food tale or anecdote you'd like to share with the worldwide "Parent Talk" readership, please drop me a short note.

Let me hear the absolute wierdest combination of foods and/or drinks you've ever seen anyone consume. Perhaps you've watched your kids eat something really bizarre, without the slightest bit of self-consciousness. Maybe, however, it was YOU, the intrepid reader, an adult and parent who should know better, who consumed the wild food and/or beverage mix.

Drop me a line and try to make me go "O, YUCK!"

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A family misfortune can result in feelings of sadness and regret, but surprisingly, can also yield some funny moments.

One fine day I took my son Alex ice skating at the Albany indoor rink. I intended it to be a "Sunday Fun Day", an opportunity for father and son to bond. Instead, it became A Day Which Will Live In Infamy (in our family history).

We paid our money and put on our rented skates. For the first hour, a fun time was had by all. We skated round and round the rink like little Gretzkies, occasionally pretending to shoot an invisible hockey puck at imaginary goal cages.

During the Zamboni break, Alex played a spaceship shoot'em up video game in the lobby. Once the rink re-opened, we quickly joined the crowd on the ice.

A short while into the second skating period, Alex suddenly fell down hard, slipping while rounding the turn at full speed. He slid across the ice, directly into the boards. His right leg smashed straight into the wooden wall.

He sat on the ice crying while I did my best to comfort him. Eventually, I helped him to get up and we hobbled over to the nearby bench area used for hockey games. He was still crying and he told me his ankle hurt and was probable broken. I of course, told him, Stop your whining and act like a man. It's not broken. You've fallen down like that plenty of times and have always been OK. Just snap out of it already.

But as time passed, and the tears continued to flow (and as the other parents skated by giving me dirty looks like maybe I was a relative of Joseph Mengele) it slowly dawned on me that the big baby might not be faking it. (No, I thought. He just couldn't have broken anything. Or, could he have?)

So, I carried him off the ice, returned the rental skates, ice-packed his ankle, and took him home. I figured he only had a bad sprain.

Arriving home, my wife Aggie greeted me with a dirty look and exclaimed, What did you do to him?

Aggie looked at his ankle area and said, It looks like it's just sprained.

All right, I thought. Mothers know these things!

After a short while at home, though, we decided to take Alex down to the emergency room, strictly as a precaution. The ER nurse, a Kathy Bates look-alike, took the vital information and advised us that it looked to her like only a sprained ankle.

Super!, I thought. She's gotta be right. She's a Health Care Professional!

The Doctor came in to examine Alex and said, This doesn't look too bad. I believe it's just sprained, but we'll take an X-Ray, just to be careful.

Hmmmm. Sounds pretty encouraging!

When the Doctor returned and advised Alex that he had a compression fracture of both the tibia and the fibula, well, I was just flabbergasted!

Alex's face dropped and turned pale. Tears welled up in his eyes. He put his hands over his face and he started to shake. The Doctor tried to soothe him by mentioning that his leg would only have to be in a cast for 8 weeks. But for Alex, 8 weeks is an eternity. The nurse, though, more helpfully told Alex that he'd be the coolest kid in his class and everyone would want to sign his cast.

Me, I just felt guilty! Guilty for not somehow preventing the accident and guilty for not believing Alex when he said his foot hurt and he couldn't stand or skate on it.



Now, let's cut ahead in time to April. Finally, the big day was here. YES, it was time for the trip to the Doctor's Office to remove the cast from Ol' Peg-Leg. As we entered the Cast Room and Alex eyeballed the electric saw laying on the counter, he said to the nurse, You know, I think it would be better if you left my cast on for a few more weeks. That way, my bones can harden-up some more!

But the nurse insisted on cutting off the cast, per Doctor's orders. And Alex was very scared that she might slip and accidentally cut off his leg, in addition to the cast.

So, the nurse positioned Alex on the examining table and turned on the mean-looking, loud, rotating saw blade. Eerily, it closely resembled torture devices seen in many a Hollywood horror movie. She told Alex to stick his fingers in his ears (to lesson the noise or to ensure his fingers wouldn't accidentally be cut off?).

Then she quickly made two decisive cuts in the cast. Each starting at the knee and ending at the toes.

While this was happening however, Alex's face turned crimson and he started howling like a madman. His screams were so loud and urgent that, for a brief moment at least, both Aggie and I believed that the nurse had cut too deeply into the cast and was actually slicing through his flesh!

But finally, the cast was off.

At last the time to rejoice was at hand!

But curiously, was the room filled with laughter, mirth, and high-fives all around?

Did the sounds of a heavenly choir singing Hallelujah!, Hallelujah! permeate the air?


Instead, Alex took one quick look at his dirty, hairy, thin leg, full of pale pealing skin and fuzz balls, and cried out, I can't look at it! It doesn't look normal! It doesn't look like my other leg!

Why, it doesn't even look like a human leg! He snarled.

He then pleaded with them to put on a new cast, so he wouldn't have to look at his leg. The medical staff, though, decided to decline this request, and wished us all the best, with a wink and a smile, as we later walked out the door.

As we approached the car for the short drive home, Alex, with an extreme sense of urgency said, I have to sit in the front seat of the car! I can feel my heart beating through my kneecap!

In conclusion, after a few days, he was up and hobbling around the house. Eventually, Alex was back in Physical Education class. Now, he's completely healed and thinks nothing of jumping down a full flight of stairs or making an Evel Knievel jump on his bicycle over a ramp of wood and cinder blocks. He says he's even ready to go ice skating again some fine winter day.

But, the question is, am I ready for it???

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Friday night, the 1st night of the Fall Cub Scout Campout, we had an early season Autumn snowstorm.  We had about 7 or 8 inches here.  But up in rural Saratoga County where the Camp is, they had 16 inches! 

I did the prudent thing. I waited until Saturday morning, after the snow had stopped and the roads had been plowed, before I drove Alex and another boy up north for our usual cub scout camp-out extreme weather experience. 

We took hikes thru deep, unexpected snow halfway up to our knees.

Very tiring. 

Then we went snowtubing and sledding for hours. 

Very tiring. 

Then we did dinner up at the main cabin, followed by leather crafts. 

 Very tiring. 

 Then we hiked thru the snow back to our Den's cabin. 

 Boy, were we tired. 

Light's Out was at 10:45. 

By 11:30, in the total darkness of Camp Boyhaven, everyone was in an extremely deep and well-deserved sleep when suddenly, BOOM!! 

 A pile of board games on a table in the center of the room had suddenly slipped off the table onto the floor.  Chaos and rapidly beating hearts ruled the day. However, after a little conforting and TLC, the boys got us adults calmed down and back to sleep. 

By 12:15, in the total peace and tranquility of the North county, everyone was in extremely deep and well-deserved REM sleep when suddenly the cabin filled with the sound of someone gagging and making desparate sounds. 

A flashlight beam revealed the site of Alex's friend and fellow scout John in the top bunk across the cabin puking into his sleeping and bag and over the edge of the bed onto his father Matt below! 

To make a long story short...after assisting in the puke cleanup, I climbed back into bed for some badly needed and well-deserved sleep. 

Most of the boys were sleeping at this time. Lucky kids! 

It was getting chilly in the cabin so I asked Matt to throw another log or two into the wood burning stove.  He unfortunately threw in a log that was an inch or two, too long for the stove. As much as he tried for the next few minutes, he could not close the door of the woodstove. 

Meanwhile, the end of the log was burning nicely inside the stove! 

This is happening, by the way, in a cabin with no water, due an earlier burst waterpipe. 

However, since the stove's door was open, the cabin started to rapidly fill up with thick layers of smoke! 

Suddenly, in the Night from Hell, the cabin (and I think the entire Lower Adirondacks) were filled with the HONK, HONK, HONK, HONK, HONK of the world's most powerful smoke alarm! 

The boys quickly got up, thinking it was morning. 

We settled them down, opened both cabin doors for ventilation (reducing the temperature greatly, in the 15 degree air). After jockeying the wood, I managed to get the stovedoor shut and the smoke alarm to stop honking. 

By now it's 12:45, smokey and cold. 

Some of us were starting to get perhaps just a wee bit cranky. 

By 1:15, miraculously, all was quiet. 

All were sleeping, except for me.  My bed had taken up a 33 degree slope to the right as I lay in it!  Bad springs or something.  But I did my best.  I was ready to drift of to sleep. 

Suddenly...What happened...What occurred now? ...Why, it was...MORE PUKING, MORE PUKING, MORE PUKING, MORE PUKING, & MORE PUKING! 

Over the next couple of hours there were 5 more puking attacks by John. Each separated by periods of almost getting back to sleep. 

I awoke Sunday at 6:00 am with a headache and upset stomach. 


I wonder why? 

After more tubing and sledding we got home around 1 pm Sunday. 

I took a long, long, long nap that afternoon!

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