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Release: Dec. 11, 2000

Media Advisory: Seasonal story tips from the University of Iowa

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- GIFTS GALORE: Many holiday traditions are geared toward children, including gift giving. A child's excitement in unwrapping and examining every detail of a new toy brings joy to giver and receiver. But there is a point at which it all becomes overwhelming, especially for the youngest children. Lisa Oakes, a UI associate professor of psychology, studies infant development and says that presenting a baby with dozens of new toys at the same time is very confusing for the child who cannot process so many new details at once. Oakes suggests that parents allow infants to explore a new toy fully before offering another.

Oakes can be reached at (319) 335-2455 or through Dec. 15.

TIME CRUNCH: Americans are constantly on the run, busy juggling work, family and social obligations. This pace only increases as the holidays approach, leaving people at a loss for how to get everything done on time. Benjamin Hunnicutt, a UI professor of health, leisure and sport studies, says Americans devote so much time to work all year that they find it difficult to incorporate other obligations into their schedules at the holidays. He says the pressure does not dissipate once we have finished our holiday "to do" lists. At that point, a whole new set of problems crop up as people find themselves at loose ends -- with time off to spend with family but with no idea how to fill time away from work. "We have a lack of leisure and social skills, like carrying on a conversation," Hunnicutt says. "We are not used to it in a context outside of work. We're thrown together at the holidays and we don't know what to do."

Hunnicutt can be reached at (319) 335-9953 or He will check phone and email messages frequently during the semester break. His Web site is

STRESSED OUT: Along with the joy and fun of gift giving, parties, family visits and tasty meals, stress is often an expected part of winter holidays. However, it doesn't have to become a negative tradition. Nancee S. Blum, a social worker and adjunct instructor with University of Iowa Health Care, can provide tips on how to effectively manage holiday stress. Blum recently led a question-and-answer discussion on the topic for

Blum can be reached at (319) 353-6180 or

SHOPPING COMPULSION: Holiday spending can be a touchy subject for many families. For compulsive shoppers, however, the gift-giving season can be downright disastrous. Donald Black, a UI professor of psychiatry and an expert on compulsive behavior disorders, has studied compulsive shoppers, including the use of antidepressants to curb these patients' urges to spend.

He can discuss the symptoms of compulsive shopping and explain the difference between compulsive shoppers and those who simply cannot resist making lists, checking them twice and paying full price every December.

Black can be reached at (319) 353-4431 or and suggests afternoons are the best time to call.

PRACTICAL PRESENTS: InfoTech, a service of the Iowa Program for Assistive Technology (based at University Hospital School) provides elderly or disabled Iowans and their families with information on assistive devices or other ways to make their lives easier. Amy Hanna, a staff member with Iowa Program for Assistive Technology, can discuss how small, manageable projects for the home of an elderly or disabled person can be an excellent holiday idea. Many simple devices or small adaptations are easy to install and can be purchased at a local hardware store. Some examples: replacing ordinary light switches with those that glow at night; installing handrails for the toilet or shower; and replacing doorknobs with lever handles for easier use by people with arthritis. Other gift ideas include easy-to-grasp kitchen utensils, timers for lamps, and bathtub seats that allow a person to sit and slide over the tub edge.

Hanna can be reached at (319) 356-1514 or

NON-CHRISTIAN TRADITIONS: Gerald Sorokin, director of the Hillel Foundation, says Hanukkah is not "the Jewish Christmas" despite the proximity on the calendar and the tradition of gift giving. He can speak about the history and traditions surrounding Hanukkah and can be reached at (319) 338-0778 or gerald-sorokin

Those who practice Islam are also celebrating a holy time this month. Ramadan continues through Dec. 27, when the month of fasting ends with a celebration of the holiday Eid. This Feast of Fast Breaking lasts for three days and includes gift exchange and family gatherings for prayer and large meals. UI medical student Aman Aminzay, who produces an informational program on public access television about Islam, is available to discuss the traditions of his faith. He can be reached at 338-8896 or

SURE FOOTED: A Dubuque mother and her two children are especially grateful this holiday season to Dr. Ignacio Ponseti, a UI professor emeritus of orthopaedic surgery who has given them the ability to take a walk in a winter wonderland. As a baby, Mary Beth Clewell was taken to Ponseti for treatment for clubfoot. When her own children, Ellen, 11, and Christopher, 3, were born with the same deformity, Clewell again called on Ponseti to help. For 50 years, Ponseti has practiced an alternative to surgical treatment-- a technique he developed that involves manual manipulation and straightening of the foot and the application of toe-to-groin plaster casts. These casts are changed weekly after health care professionals manually manipulate softened foot ligaments to gradually achieve near-normal alignment of muscle and bone. Because treatment begins soon after birth, the foot is pliable and gives easily. It looks normal by the time the baby is two months old.
At that point, the child must wear a brace full-time for three months and then only at night for two to four years.

Ponseti can be reached at (319) 356-3469 or and Clewell can be reached at (319) 556-5320 or (319) 589-9696.

TEMPTING TREATS: Sugary goodies abound at the holidays distracting many from their diets. And while no one looks forward to those added pounds, the diet detour can be disastrous for those with diabetes. Rhonda Barr, a University of Iowa Health Care physical therapist, who was instrumental in creating the UI's diabetes intervention and management program, can talk about exercise as a way of helping control diabetes especially during "tempting" times like the holidays. The incidence of type 2 diabetes and impaired glucose tolerance (a precursor condition to diabetes) is on the rise among Americans.

Barr can be reached at (319) 356-0816 or

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