Monthly Archives: May 2010

A Memorial Day Remembrance: Major Philip B. Larimore, Jr.

This weekend, many of us will gather with family and friends for barbecues and picnics to celebrate Memorial Day, the unofficial kickoff to summer. But, at some point between the hot dogs, hamburgers, and volleyball, I hope each of us will take time to reflect on what Memorial Day is really about – remembering the American soldiers who have lost their lives in battle to protect the freedoms so many of us take for granted.

While Memorial Day is intended to honor our fallen, we should not forget those who have pledged to make the same sacrifice if called upon – the young men and women still serving in Iraq, Afghanistan, the United States and in more than 130 foreign lands.

And, I want to take this opportunity to share with you a remembrance of my dad that is posted at the Home of Heroes website:

Major Philip B. Larimore was the youngest man commissioned in World War II and the most-decorated Memphis hero of World War II: decorated with:

  • the Distinguished Service Cross,
  • Silver Star with Oak Leaf Cluster,
  • Bronze Star with Oak Leaf Cluster,
  • Purple Heart with two Oak Leaf Clusters,
  • Croix D’Guerre with Palm, and
  • Fourragere.

He was also awarded:

  • the European Campaign Medal with three bronze service stars and an arrowhead,
  • the American Campaign Medal,
  • the World War II Victory Medal, and
  • the Combat Infantryman Badge.

Major Larimore’s unit received a Presidential Unit Citation. And, he received Battles Stars for the Rome-Arno, Southern France, and Germany campaigns.

He was promoted to first lieutenant when 18, to captain at 19, and major at 22. He was wounded six times at Anzio and twice in southern France.

In Germany, at 20 years old, as Company Commander of Company L, 30th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Division, while beating down three German machine-gun nests, he received the bullet wound which crushed the bone in his right leg above the knee causing him to lose the leg.

He completed his Army service at Fort Myer, Virginia, as Executive Officer of the Ceremonial Detachment at Arlington National Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Recently, I discovered his citation for the Distinguished Service Cross:

Awarded for actions during the World War II

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross to Major (Infantry), [then First Lieutenant] Philip B. Larimore (ASN: 0-511609), United States Army, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy while Commanding Company L, 30th Infantry Regiment, 3d Infantry Division, in action against enemy forces on 8 April 1945, near Rottershausen, Germany.

Leading his company’s attack, Major Larimore miraculously eluded the hail of enemy bullets concentrated on him and, in hand-to-hand fighting of which he was the center, killed a German officer at point-blank range.

With the unit objective taken, he sent out a patrol. Learning soon after that it was surrounded by enemy forces, he determined to got to its relief.

As he ran toward a tank in which to move up, enemy snipers opened fire, but leaping on the back of the vehicle, he ordered it forward and manned the turret machine gun. Firing into the woods and killing several of the enemy, he drew hostile fire on himself as his patrol used the diversion to withdraw.

Moving across a clearing with the tank, firing and being fired on all the way, he was struck on the helmet by a sniper bullet and momentarily stunned. Leaping from the tank, he was again hit by enemy fire and severely wounded.

Major Larimore, by his heroic leadership and courageous action in diverting the enemy, delivered his comrades from encirclement and greatly aided in securing the battalion objective.

Major Larimore’s intrepid actions, personal bravery, and zealous devotion to duty exemplify the highest traditions of the military forces of the United States and reflect great credit upon himself, the 3d Infantry Division, and the United States Army.

General Orders: War Department, General Orders No. 52 (June 10, 1947). Action Date: 8-Apr-45

We his sons, Walter, William, Philip, and Richard, are aware that he was one of our nation’s heroes, but we choose to honor him even more as a loving husband to his wife of 54 years, Maxine, an incredible father to us, and a beloved grandfather to our children.

So today, on this most sacred day, we pause to reflect on what has been given and sacrificed. Let us never forget. But let us also remember what resulted from these sacrifices.

Let us remember the terrorist plots that were foiled and the killers that have been brought to justice because Americans were willing to pay the price.

Let us remember the tyrannical regimes that have been toppled and the genocides that were stopped because Americans sacrificed life and limb.

Let us remember that without a U.S. military, the world would be a far more oppressive and darker place.

Freedom is not a gift. It is an earned benefit that was paid for by the blood of our heroes. From the Revolutionary War to the War on Terrorism, the sacrifices and caliber of America’s fighting men and women have been nothing short of inspirational.

How to Keep Bugs Off This Memorial Day (and Summer)

Memorial Day weekend marks the beginning of the summer season for most of us. So, now that summer is officially here and everyone is spending some quality time outside — which means protecting ourselves and our kids from mosquitoes and other insects. Bug bites are not only irritating, but can put you and your family at risk for all kinds of diseases, such as West Nile virus and malaria.

CBS News Medical Correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton shared the best bug repellent products as judged by Consumer Reports to keep your family safe through this summer season.

Ashton suggested these bug sprays:

  • Off: Deep Woods
  • Cutter
  • Off: Smooth and Dry

These sprays can give you up to eight hours of protection against mosquitoes, however, many products contain a chemical commonly used in repellents called ‘deet.’

For those who want to opt for a more natural alternative, Ashton suggests products containing oil of lemon eucalyptus and soy-based products.

Ashton noted, “These natural alternatives don’t give you the same protection in terms of longevity … and people should not use them on children under the age of three years of age.”

Ashton warned parents to be careful when using these insect repellents with kids. She said, “Many (of these cans) look a little bit like toys, so you don’t want to give to your child and let them spray it on themselves.”

Ashton explained the best way to keep your children protected is to apply the sprays for them, avoiding the face, eyes, mouth, and hands, but not forgetting problem areas like the ankles or the back of the neck.

On “The Early Show,” Ashton demonstrated how well these products work by spraying her forearm and putting her hand into a box full mosquitoes. The mosquitoes were provided by Rutgers University; they were lab bred and disease-free.

And while she did not get bitten, here are some remedies just in case you do:

  • For irritation caused by histamine reactions to a bug bite:
  • A cold pack or ice
  • Hydrocotrisone cream
  • Benadryl

Ashton advises you to keep a lookout for the labels on bug repellent bottles and cans — a concentration of 15 percent to 30 percent gives you really good protection, while deet products can protect you for up to 300 hours.

Grilling This Memorial Day (and Summer)? Spices may play role in reducing cancer risk

Researchers are reporting that adding certain spices to your steaks or burgers before tossing them on the grill this Memorial Day (and summer)  will not only add to the flavor of the meat, but may also cut the risk of cancer long associated with the cooking of beef. Here’s a report from the AP:

Scientists at Kansas State University found that three spices in particular — fingerroot, rosemary, and tumeric — seem to direct the greatest amount of antioxidant activity toward preventing the formation of heterocyclic amines (HCAs).

HCAs, they note, are the cancer-causing compounds that are produced when foods such as beef are barbecued, grilled, broiled or fried.

Specifically, the three spices appeared to cut back on HCA production by upwards of 40%, the team observed, thereby significantly reducing the HCA-associated risk for developing colorectal, stomach, lung, pancreatic, mammary and prostate cancers.

“Cooked beef tends to develop more HCAs than other kinds of cooked meats such as pork and chicken,” KSU food chemistry professor J. Scott Smith noted in a news release.

“Cooked beef patties appear to be the cooked meat with the highest mutagenic activity and may be the most important source of HCAs in the human diet.”

Therefore Smith and his colleagues looked into the HCA-inhibiting potential of six spices:

  • cumin,
  • coriander seeds,
  • galangal,
  • fingerroot,
  • rosemary and
  • tumeric.

Of all those investigated, rosemary came out on top as the strongest protector against HCA.

The authors suggested that consumers integrate these spices into their menus when appropriate, noting that some, such as rosemary, come in an extract form that has demonstrated HCA inhibition of 61% to 79%.

They pointed out that spicing allows for the sort of high-temperature cooking (above 352 degrees Farenheit) that is typically recommended for safe grilling, while at the same time blocking the increased HCA production that is known to occur when the flames intensify.

Smith and his team plan further research to see what other marinades and powders might do by way of HCA curtailment — they noted that earlier work has shown that marinating steaks with particular herbs and spices effectively lowers HCA production.

5 Skin Protection Tips For Memorial Day (and Summer)

Whether you are light- or dark-skinned, whether it’s cloudy or sunny outside, we physicians recommend you wear a sunscreen, and plenty of it. But, the simple act of preventing a sunburn while enjoying the sun has become complicated with questions about how much sunscreen to use (more than you think), how often to apply (frequently) and what those acronyms (UVA, UPF, SPF) mean. Here’s a CNN article with helpful details:

This week, the Environmental Working Group likened some sunscreens to “modern-day snake oil,” calling most of the products ineffective and questioning their safety. It said that the products were “exposing people to potentially hazardous chemicals.”

The report did not appear in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. Dermatologists say there is no evidence that sunscreen is unsafe and that going unprotected is much more dangerous.

The problem is that not all sunscreens are created equal, depending on their ingredients. And the scars of neglecting sun protection are chronicled on the iReport photo wall of pain.

The sun is not the only culprit. Frequent trips to tanning booths have been found to double or even triple risk of developing melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, according to a study this week.

The rays from the booth or the sun can damage the skin cell’s DNA, producing mutations that lead to cancer.

The National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention has declared the Friday before Memorial Day, which kicks off the summer, a “Don’t Fry Day.” Here are five tips to avoid joining iReporters’ stories of their worst sunburns ever (ouch).

1. Clothing matters

All clothing protects the skin to some degree, said Dr. Ariel Ostad, a clinical assistant professor in the department of dermatology at New York University Medical Center.

A tightly woven fabric such as denim confers more protection than linen, because it allows less light penetration, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.

While it’s unlikely anyone would wear sunscreen underneath thin clothes, it might be worthwhile for extra sensitive people, Ostad said,

“Even with T-shirts, I see people who get burned,” he said. “If someone has a history of cancer or is very fair skinned, it doesn’t hurt to put it on,” underneath the clothes.

Some companies create UV-absorbing clothes. These might be helpful for people who spend hours in the sun, because the fabric’s weave is designed to protect against the sun, said Ostad, who has no relationship with any of the manufacturers.

These clothes have ultraviolet protection factor, also known as UPF, which indicates how much UV radiation can penetrate the fabric. A shirt with an UPF of 30 means just 1/30 of the sun’s radiation can get through.

2. Sunscreens should have UVA and UVB protection.

UVB rays cause sunburns. UVA rays age the skin, causing wrinkles and tans. These are two types of ultraviolet radiation that damage and increases risks of skin cancer.

Make sure the sunscreen product has both UVB and UVA protection, dermatologists say. The key active ingredients to look for are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, said Ostad.

“Evidence has shown the best sunscreens are the ones that block UVB and UVA,” Ostad said. “The majority of these companies that market sunscreen products, they try to make people more aware of the SPF.”

3. A high SPF is hype.

The higher the Sun Protection Factor value, the better sun protection the product is supposed to provide against UVB light.

Research shows that an effective SPF 15 can block about 93 percent of all incoming UVB rays, SPF 30 blocks 97 percent and SPF 50 blocks 98 percent.

The protective factors plateau from there, Ostad said. A product with SPF 100+ blocks about 99.1 percent of the UVB rays.

“You don’t really need a high number,” Ostad said. “They end up being expensive and don’t do more than SPF 50.”

Keep in mind, SPF protects only against UVB rays. This fall, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expected to issue sunscreen labeling changes and a star-rating system to also measure UVA protection.

4. Sunscreen sprays are not as effective.

Sure, the sprays are easy to apply, but the downfall is they’re less effective. Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide doesn’t come in spray form. And most of the sprays protect mainly against UVB rays, Ostad said.

Another problem is that people don’t use enough sunscreen, said Dr. Rutledge Forney, an educational spokesperson for The Skin Cancer Foundation.

An average person should use a dollop — enough to fill a shot glass, she said. About one ounce of sunscreen should be applied 30 minutes before going outside and reapplied every two hours, she said.

“Whether the sun is out or not, put on sunscreen on your face and hands, just like you would brush your teeth twice a day,” Forney said.

5. Darker skin tone isn’t a free pass

Darker-skinned people have some natural protective qualities from their pigmentation, but it’s no immunity against sunburn and skin cancer. African Americans, Hispanics, Asians and people of color get the disease, too.

It might be harder to diagnose skin cancer in these populations because the growths often appear in atypical locations such as palms, soles of the feet, toenails and fingernails.

Skin experts say all racial groups need to use sunscreens.

So, have a great Memorial Day (and, for that matter, summer), but be sure to protect your and your family’s skin in the process.

Warning to Parents: Tobacco “candy” could poison your kids

A scary report is out from Reuters Health claiming that thousands of young children are accidentally poisoned by tobacco products each year in the U.S., and new dissolvable tobacco products that resemble candy might pose an additional risk.

Reuters reports: In a study of reports to U.S. poison control centers between 2006 and 2008, investigators found that 13,705 children younger than 6 were accidentally poisoned by tobacco products. Cigarettes were the most common culprit, followed by smokeless tobacco products, and more than 70 percent of the victims were infants younger than one year. The findings are published in the journal Pediatrics.

In a baby or small child, even a small amount of nicotine, as little as 1 milligram, can cause nausea and vomiting. Larger doses could lead to weakness, convulsions or potentially fatal respiratory arrest.

The new study appears to be the first to bring together the numbers on accidental child tobacco poisonings nationally, according to lead researcher Dr. Gregory N. Connolly, of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston.

“These numbers are alarming,” Connolly told Reuters Health. “Parents need to get the message: Don’t leave these products around where children can reach them.”

That, he said, includes making sure to clear cigarette butts from ashtrays or anywhere else a baby or child could get a hold of them. In this study, cigarettes or filter tips were responsible for nearly 10,600 of the poisonings the researchers documented. Smokeless tobacco products were behind another 1,768.

But there is now a new concern, according to Connolly’s team — namely, the melt-in-the-mouth tobacco products recently put on the market.

Tobacco companies say the products — which come in the form of flavored, candy-like pellets, sticks and strips — are meant to give adults a smoke-free way to get their nicotine fix. But they could also end up as a new route for accidental child poisonings, Connolly and his colleagues say.

“Now we’ve got something in the marketplace that could be more attractive to kids,” Connolly said.

The products are too new to have been behind any of the poisonings in the current study. However, Connolly and his colleagues did do a chemical analysis of one — Camel Orbs, tobacco pellets with a Tic-Tac-like appearance introduced last year by R.J. Reynolds.

The researchers found that the pellets contained a greater proportion of “free” nicotine than the norm for cigarettes or dipping tobacco.

Free nicotine is more quickly absorbed into the bloodstream, raising the possibility that it could more toxic to a child than other tobacco products are.

The Camel Orb packaging is said to be child-resistant; however, Connolly noted that the packaging is tricky enough that many users might prefer to dispense a number of pellets at a time, leaving some lying around.

He cautioned against doing that in any area where a young child might see them. One pellet contains about 1 mg of nicotine, so might cause nausea, Connolly said. “But if a child gets a few of them,” he added, “that could be very serious.”

Connolly and other public-health experts had already been critical of the new dissolvable tobacco products — saying they may only serve to keep smokers addicted to nicotine, and could be especially attractive to teenagers.

David Howard, a Reynolds spokesman, told The New York Times that Camel Orbs were marketed only for adults and come in child-resistant containers. He denied that they look like Tic Tac mints.

“Those packages don’t at all look alike to me,” Howard told the Times.

In an editorial accompanying the study, officials with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) note that while teenagers’ smoking rates have slowly declined in recent years, their use of smokeless tobacco products is rising.

Meanwhile, the tobacco industry — faced with a growing number of indoor smoking bans in the U.S. — seems to have shifted focus to developing new smokeless products, write Drs. Marisa L. Cruz and Lawrence R. Deyton.

They say that the fact that the nicotine from dissolvable products may be more quickly absorbed raises concerns not only about poisonings in young children, but also about the addiction potential should older kids use them.

The FDA is currently collecting study data from tobacco companies and independent researchers on dissolvable tobacco products and their “potential misuse,” according to Cruz and Deyton. They say the agency will use that information to make any future regulatory decisions on the products.

The FDA has already banned cigarettes with added fruit, candy or clove flavorings, but the prohibition does not apply to other tobacco products, including dissolvable ones.

According to the Times, Reynolds’ Howard said it was unfair to criticize the flavoring of Camel Orbs because many other products, including the quit-smoking aid Nicogum, come in flavors. Howard also told the Times that many other common products posed risks to infants or children from accidental ingestion.

“Virtually every household has products that could be hazardous to children, like cleaning supplies, medicines, health and beauty products, and you compare that to 20 to 25 percent of households that use tobacco products,” he said.

So, just how much activity is needed to improve your health?

The government’s latest physical activity guidelines recommend:

  • Keep track by the week. Adults need at least 2½ hours of moderate-intensity activity each week, such as brisk walking, or 1¼ hours of a vigorous-intensity activity, such as jogging or swimming laps, or a combination of the two types. These activities should be done in at least 10-minute bouts and can be spread throughout the week.
  • Get more ambitious.For even more health benefits, engage in 5 hours of moderate-intensity physical activity each week or 2½ hours of vigorous activity.
  • Strengthen those muscles.Adults should do muscle-strengthening activities at a moderate- or high-intensity level for all major muscle groups two or more days a week, including exercises for the chest, back, shoulders, upper legs, hips, abdomen and lower legs. The exercises can be done with free weights or machines, resistance bands, calisthenics that use body weight for resistance (push-ups, pull-ups and sit-ups, for instance) or carrying heavy loads or doing heavy gardening such as digging or hoeing.
  • Don’t use age as an excuse. Older Americans should follow the guidelines recommended for other adults if they are able. If not, they should try to be as active as their physical condition allows. Those who are at risk of falling should do exercises that improve balance.
  • Kids can make it fun. Children and adolescents should engage in an hour or more of moderate-intensity to vigorous aerobic physical activity each day. That should include vigorous activity at least three days a week, and it should involve bone-strengthening activities such as running, jumping rope, skipping and hopscotch, and muscle-strengthening activities such as tug of war, modified sit-ups and push-ups.

Indulging in four unhealthy behaviors ages the average individual by 12 years

It is generally understood that being inactive, eating poorly, smoking, and drinking too much are bad – very bad – for your health. Now, a newly published study assesses and quantifies those behaviors. In short, “combine all of the above and you’ll end up seeming 12 years older than people your age who do none of the above.”

That assertion is based on a study in which investigators “tracked nearly 5,000 British adults for 20 years,” the AP reports.

“Overall, 314 people studied had all four unhealthy behaviors.” That is, they smoked tobacco, had “more than three alcoholic drinks per day for men and more than two daily for women,” attained “less than two hours of physical activity per week; and” ate “fruits and vegetables fewer than three times daily.”

As a result, they “were 3.49 times more likely to die over the course of the study than their countrymen (and women) who practiced clean living,” the Los Angeles Times “Booster Shots” reported.

“That included a 3.14 times greater risk of death from cardiovascular disease; a 3.35 times greater risk of death from cancer; and a 4.29 times greater risk of death form any other cause.”

Conversely, “96% of those with healthy behaviors were alive at the end of the study, compared with 85% of those with the worst health habits,” according to the data in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Lead investigator Elisabeth Kvaavik, PhD, of the University of Oslo, also pointed out that “also having, for instance, two poor and two healthy behaviors, doubles the risk of dying compared to having only healthy behaviors,” the CNN blog “Paging Dr. Gupta” reported.

Still, “modestly changing behaviors can have a big health impact.”

In fact, such modifications “‘are likely to have a considerable impact at both the individual and population level,’ the study authors write,” according to a report from Medscape.

Thus, “developing more efficacious methods by which to promote healthy diets and lifestyles across the population should be an important priority of public health policy.”

More than that, it shoud be an important priority for you and your family.

Overall survival rate for children with cancer approximately 80%

The Wall Street Journal “Health Blog” reported that research published online in the Journal of Clinical Oncology indicates that the overall survival rate for children with cancer is now approximately 80%. This is GREAT news.

However, during the past 10-20 years, the five-year survival rates for most solid tumors in children and teenagers have not changed, but overall, we’re curing more childhood cancer than we ever have in the past.

Nevertheless, with many newer and more effective treatments available for kids, the researchers report that “when 1975 age-specific death rates for children are used as a baseline, approximately 38,000 childhood malignant cancer deaths were averted in the United States from 1975 through 2006 as a result of more effective treatments identified and applied during this period.”

The blog also included an interview with Eugenie Kleinerman, professor and head of pediatrics at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.

Calcium and multivitamins may be linked to reduced breast cancer risk

Daily Calcium Plus Vitamin D Supplements May Reduce Fracture RiskBloomberg News reports that “calcium doesn’t just build strong bones, it may fight cancer too,” according to a study presented at the meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research.

Investigators found “that women who took calcium had a 40% lower risk of getting breast cancer, while those getting multivitamins showed a 30% reduction in risk.”

These “data contradict results of a December 2008 trial that showed no reduction in cancer risk from vitamin supplements.”

HealthDay pointed out that “the authors of the study … did not separate out which specific vitamins might be beneficial, but suggested that the interactions of different vitamins together might account for the beneficial effect.”

You can read a couple of my other posts about the benefits of calcium:

A couple of other tips about calcium. I recommend synthetic calcium carbonate. No reason to take a natural calcium (coral, oyster shell, dolamite earth, or bone) as they may be contaminated with heavy metals.

Also, the body absorbs calcium best when it’s taken with food. But, remember, taking more than 600 mg of elemental calcium in a single dose is not recommended. If you’re going to take more than 600 mg, take it in two or more doses.

Last, but not least, if you are on any prescription medications, check with your pharmacist or physician about whether the can or should not be taken with vitamins or supplements.

Hormone Therapy for Menopause Reviewed

According to a new review of the role of perimenopausal hormone therapy published in Obstetrics & Gynecology, women must be informed of the potential benefits and risks of all treatment options for menopausal symptoms and concerns and should receive individualized care. Here’s an update from MedPage. It’s long, but very helpful:

“With the first publication of the results of the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) trial in 2002, the use of HT [hormone therapy] declined dramatically,” write Jan L. Shifren, MD, and Isaac Schiff, MD, from Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

“Major health concerns of menopausal women include vasomotor symptoms, urogenital atrophy, osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, cancer, cognition, and mood. … Given recent findings, specifically regarding the effect of the timing of HT initiation on coronary heart disease [CHD] risk, it seems appropriate to reassess the clinician’s approach to menopause in the wake of the recent reanalysis of the WHI.”

Many therapeutic options are currently available for management of quality of life and health concerns in menopausal women.

Treatment of vasomotor hot flushes and associated symptoms is the main indication for hormone therapy, which is still the most effective treatment of these symptoms and is currently the only US Food and Drug Administration–approved option.

For healthy women with troublesome vasomotor symptoms who begin hormone therapy at the time of menopause, the benefits of hormone therapy generally outweigh the risks.

However, hormone therapy is associated with a heightened risk for coronary heart disease. But, based on recent analyses, this higher risk is attributable primarily to older women and to those who reached menopause several years previously.

Hormone therapy should not be used to prevent heart disease, based on these analyses. However, this evidence does offer reassurance that hormone therapy can be used safely in otherwise healthy women at the menopausal transition to manage hot flushes and night sweats.

Although hormone therapy may help prevent and treat osteoporosis, it is seldom used solely for this indication alone, particularly if other effective options are well tolerated.

Short-term treatment with hormone therapy is preferred to long-term treatment, in part because of the increased risk for breast cancer associated with extended use. Also, the lowest effective estrogen dose should be given for the shortest duration required because risks for hormone therapy increase with advancing age, time since menopause, and duration of use.

Low-dose, local estrogen therapy is recommended vs systemic hormone therapy when only vaginal symptoms are present.

Alternatives to hormone therapy should be recommended for women with or at increased risk for disorders that are contraindications to hormone therapy use. These include breast or endometrial cancer, cardiovascular disease, thromboembolic disorders, and active hepatic or gallbladder disease.

In addition to estrogen therapy, progestin alone, and combination estrogen-progestin therapy, there are several nonhormonal options for the treatment of vasomotor symptoms:

  • Lifestyle interventions include reducing body temperature,
  • maintaining a healthy weight,
  • stopping smoking,
  • practicing relaxation response techniques, and
  • receiving acupuncture.

Although efficacy greater than placebo is unproven, nonprescription medications that are sometimes used for treatment of vasomotor symptoms include isoflavone supplements, soy products, black cohosh, and vitamin E. (You can read more about these in a previous post of mine.)

There are several nonhormonal prescription medications sometimes used off-label for treatment of vasomotor symptoms, but they are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration for this purpose. These drugs, and their accompanying potential adverse effects, include the following:

  • Clonidine, 0.1-mg weekly transdermal patch, with potential adverse effects including dry mouth, insomnia, and drowsiness.
  • Paroxetine (10 – 20 mg/day, controlled release 12.5 – 25 mg/day), which may cause headache, nausea, insomnia, drowsiness, or sexual dysfunction.
  • Venlafaxine (extended release 37.5 – 75 mg/day), which is associated with dry mouth, nausea, constipation, and sleeplessness.
  • Gabapentin (300 mg/day to 300 mg 3 times daily), with possible adverse effects of somnolence, fatigue, dizziness, rash, palpitations, and peripheral edema.

“Women must be informed of the potential benefits and risks of all therapeutic options, and care should be individualized, based on a woman’s medical history, needs, and preferences,” the review authors write.

“For women experiencing an early menopause, especially before the age of 45 years, the benefits of using HT until the average age of natural menopause likely will significantly outweigh risks.

Trip to Italy – Our Last Day

1. “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” – Mark Twain
2. “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” – St. Augustine

Finally, we’ve reached the final day of our Italian adventure – and Sunday in Rome is a wonderful way to do this.

This morning we said good-bye to Massimo, our host at the Roman Residence, since we will likely be gone for the airport by the time he arrives tomorrow. We recommend him and his four-room hotel highly. Massimo could not have made us feel more at home (and even had a load of laundry done for us). Being a native, he can give you all the tips you need to know.

We spent our last day here just wandering through the ancient ruins and the old central city. We visited and worshipped in a number of churches, viewing relics …

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St. Peter’s chains

Fabulous sculpture …

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Michelangelo’s Moses

Cute little terra cotta …

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Barb says this is a lady’s purse with a crawfish

And, even found another church with three more unexpected Caravaggios …

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Caravaggio’s The Calling of Matthew (don’t you love the “you talkin’ to me” look on Matthew’s face as Jesus calls him)

Of course, we had to see the ruins, including the Roman coliseum …

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… Constatine’s Arch …

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… and the Roman Forum … ending with the ostentatious Victor Emmanuel Monument.

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And, what trip to Rome is complete without seeing the statue of the She-Wolf with Romulus and Remus …

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And a statue of a Caesar, in this case Marcus Aurelius …

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But, the highlight of the day was just wandering from piazza to piazza, each with its own wonderful sites, statues, sounds, and shops.

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Bernini’s Four Rivers fountain in Piazza Novona (this man represents the Ganges)

But, the most meaningful moments to us were based upon a prayer I had this morning during my quiet time … it was that the Lord might lead us back to the young crippled man we had met yesterday. I realized the odds of this prayer being answered were pretty low … but, the Lord was pleased to do just that (isn’t that just like Him?).

We didn’t see the handicapped fellow by the Trevi fountain, as we had yesterday, but rather, just caught a view of him on a side street. He was watching an artist draw a comical characture of a Roman woman. As her family smiled and laughed, so did he – off to the side, at a distance.

Despite his terrible physical condition, here was a young man apparently full of joy.

We knelt down and introduced ourselves. He smiled from ear-to-ear. I’m sure he recognized Barb.

He said his name was Nicholi and that he was from Armenia. We gave him almost all of our remaining money as a gift and blessed him. We pray he uses it wisely. We pray also that we might meet him again, healed, in Heaven itself. Perhaps you’ll offer a prayer for him, also.

As we left him, I hugged Barb and handed her my handkerchief. We exchanged no words. But, I believe that when our hearts are broken (or, at the very least, saddened) by the poor and their plight, that somehow we are closer to the heart of God.

After a romantic lunch, our last gelato, a good-bye to the Trevi fountain, and a last metro ride, we’re back at the hotel. We’re packing now … but not just our clothes.

We’re also bringing home memories that we think will last a lifetime. Viewing a history and a culture allows one a better view, I think, of him or herself. St. Augustine once wrote, “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” Amen.

We cannot travel without learning not only more about our world and her people, but also more about ourselves.

Our trip to Italy was, then, more than just seeing many wonderful sights; it was a change in us, a change that will go on and on – one that will be, should be, deep and permanent. Or, as Henry Miller wrote, “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”

And, we pray, we come home different … more sensitive, more inquisitive, more knowledgeable, of people and their Creator. For, “travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness,” said Mark Twain.

And, for those of you who are thinking … I wish I could do a trip like this … our encouragement would be … DO IT!

Mark Twain rightly recorded, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

And, let us know when you go, so that we might enjoy sharing in your blog.

Thanks for joining us for our trip. Join us in praying for a safe trip home tomorrow. And, if you haven’t, put Italy on your bucket list.

Ciao!

Here’s the entire series:

Dr. Walt and Barb’s Italian Adventure — May 8-25, 2010

If you’ve ever wanted to go to Italy (or even if you have in the past), you’ll want to come along with us and enjoy the sites, sounds, food, and art.

Hopefully, this blog will stimulate you to put visiting these amazing cities on your to-do list. Just click on any of the days or cities you want to visit with us.

  • Days #1 and 2 – Flight Nightmares
    • Okay, so you think you don’t know anyone whose plane to Europe was canceled due to the volcanic ash … or who were on another plane that blew two tires on take off and had to make an emergency landing … well now you do!
  • Day #3 – Rome
    • Rome and the Vatican Museum. Come visit the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica, and Michelangelo’s Pieta.
  • Day #4 – Venice
    • The tourists call it ‘Venice,’ the Italians call it ‘Venezia,’ while the Venetians call it ‘Venexia.’ Barb and I call it romantic and captivating. Come on an afternoon and evening stroll and be quickly drawn into her whimsical wonderment … right to the Rialto Bridge.
  • Day #5 – Venice
    • We were awakened by the sound of an accordion and an operatic voice, singing to a couple taking a romantic ride in a gondola in the canal just outside our hotel window. Then off to Piazza San Marco, St. Mark’s Basilica, the Bridge of Sighs, and an amazing discovery.
  • Day #6 – Venice to Cinque Terre
    • We spent the day traveling to the Cinque Terre. If you’ve never heard of it, you’ll want to visit the next two days with us.
  • Day #7 – Cinque Terre Day #1
    • We awoke this morning to throw open our shutters and let in the fresh sea air and the sound of the waves crashing on the shore. The music of small children laughing in the square, and the smell of fresh-baked bread from the bar below us wafted up and in our window. Today we explored Riomaggiore, the ‘Via dell’Amore,’ Manarola, and Corniglia. Come along with us.
  • Day #8 – Cinque Terre Day #2
    • Cinque Terre is a remote mountainous chunk of the Italian riveria that is called “the traffic-free, lowbrow, underappreciated alternative to the French Riveria … just sun, sea, sand (pebbles), wine, and pure, unadulterated Italy … exploring, hiking, shopping, and evening romance in one of God’s great gifts to tourism.” Join us as we visit Monterossa.
  • Day #9 – Florence Day #1
    • A trip by Carrara (home of the world famous marble), Pisa (home of the world famous tower), and then to Florence for quick visits to the Duomo and the Baptistery to see Ghiberti’s bronze doors. And, it was a hot night in Florence.
  • Day #10 – Florence Day #2
    • Come visit the Oltrarno area, to the south of the Arno River, to get a sense of rustic, old Florence. Then, off to the Santa Croce Basilica and the amazing tombs of Michelangelo, Galileo, Dante, and Machiavelli.
  • Day #11 – Florence Day #3
    • The Uffizi Museum, the greatest collection of Italian art anywhere, was our morning adventure. Then join us at Piazzale Michelangelo, where we saw a second copy of Michelangelo’s David, and relived our memories of romance 30 years ago … followed by an evening at the Palazzo Vecchio and a wonderful meal at the Fescobaldi Wine Bar.
  • Day #12 – Florence Day #4
    • Join us at the underappreciated Duomo Museum and then the Academy, to meet the real David. Our afternoon was Fra Angelica and the Santa Maria Novalle Church. For our Florentine finale, the Lord was pleased to provide us a riverside, bridge-view table near the Ponte Vecchio for sunset.
  • Days #13-14 – Rome Days #1-2 – The Wedding
    • We’ve been to a lot of weddings in our lives, but a wedding at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican comes right at the top. We had a magnificent time with dear friends, accompanied by fantastic fellowship and food.
  • Day #15 – Rome Day #3
    • Join us for a journey through the Trastevere area of Rome, and then to devotions at the Church of St. Cecilia, followed by our amazing trip to the Villa Borghese Gallery. Our evening was capped off at  the magnificent Trevi Fountain and the the world-famous Spanish Steps.
  • Day #16 – Our Last Day – Rome Day #4
    • We’ll start at the Roman coliseum, an tour by the Arch  of Constantine,  the ostentatious Victor Emmanuel Monument, and Bernini’s Four Rivers fountain in the Piazza Novona. As well as a visit with an amazing young man.

We’ve hoped you’ve had fun accompanying us on this trip to Italy, and that one day you’ll be blessed to experience and enjoy her yourself.

Trip to Italy – Day #15 – Rome Day #3

Rome is magnificent and brutal, painfully historical and modern, wonderfully peacefully and maddeningly bustling, captivating and repulsing … at all at the same time.

To us, it’s not nearly as serene as Venice, nor as romantic as Florence, but it is more so than both a showcase of Western civilization.

If you’re careless you can be run over or pickpocketed. And, with the wrong attitude I suspect you could quickly become frustrated.

As Rick Steves says, “While Paris is an urban garden, Rome is a magnificent tangled forest.” But, we’ve found that with pacing and organization, you can love this jungle and find many, many treasures in her.

Today, Sunday, May 22, we began our day at some beautiful, ancient churches not far from the train station (Santa Maria Maggiore, Santa Maria del Angeli, and Santa Maria Vittoira). Many of the churches in Rome, even in hidden squares and corners are more ornate than most cathedrals in the U.S. – and all are adorned with fabulous art work.

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Santa Maria del Angeli – designed by Michelangelo and contained in the old baths of Diocletian

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Santa Maria Maggiore, which claims to have pieces of Jesus’ manger below the main altar …

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Beginning our day with a quiet time of reflection and prayer has been a several decade habit for us – but, to exercise that discipline in churches like this – amazing indeed.

We then took a bus to the south of the TiTibergres River, to slowly savor the Trastevere area – what one guidebook called “the crustier side of Rome.” It was a delightful tangle of small streets, ancient churches, secret nooks and crannies … and mostly a chance to enjoy the city, her people and shops, and, well, smell the roses a bit …

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Well, one of us smelled them …

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… while the other mugged for the camera!

We crossed the Tiber River at the Isola Tiberina (Tiberina Island), where Rome got her start 3000 years ago. This was as far upstream as big boats could sail and the first place the river could be crossed by a bridge.

At the high point of the bridge we found an ancient stone with a faded inscription said to date from about A.D. 370, when this then-400-year-old bridge was rebuilt …

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Note, just above Barb’s hand the word “Caesar” (now that’s history)

We passed a small church celebrating a fiesta holiday. It’s bell tower dates from 1069 and is the oldest working bell tower in Rome.

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And we still saw some pretty amazing knockers …

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We happened into the Church of St. Cecilia at about noon, and were blessed to be able to listen to the nuns and sisters singing a meditation. Beautiful.

The church is named for a wealthy Christian convert who was martyred for her faith (along with her husband). They had used and then bequeathed their home to their local Christian community for worship services (remember, there were no church buildings before A.D. 312).

In the days when Christianity was illegal, wealthy converts would often host church services for the local community in their homes. When Christians were finally allowed to build churches, they often did so on the sites of these homes.

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Church of St. Cecilia

After our relaxing morning, we caught a cab across town to the Villa Borghese Gallery – a cacophony of Bernini sculptures, as well as paintings by Caravaggio, Raphael, and Titian – in an obscenely beautiful Baroque palazzo built and owned by an a-religious Cardinal who clearly had plenty of money.

If I was to show you pictures of many of the statues, you would recognize them, for they are world-famous. But, the most interesting to me was carved by Bernini when he was 11 years old …

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Bernini’s “Two Babies Milking a Goat”

I was astounded. I think I was doing paper mache or some sort of primitive sand sculpture crucifixes at age 10-11, but nothing like this. No wonder when Pope Paul V saw sketches made by little Gian Lorenzo (Bernini’s real name), he announced, “This boy will be the Michelangelo of his age.” And, so he was.

After our art tour, we spent an hour or so strolling through the massive gardens of the Villa. It’s kinda like Rome’s Central Park. There were thousands of lovers walking and sitting, multigenerational families picnicking, playing, and walking … it was a lovely Saturday afternoon and we had a wonderful time people watching and enjoying the walk.

One of the avenues we walked down, the Avenue of Magnolias, reminded us of our Louisiana days. The Magnolia flower is the state flower of Louisiana.

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As we descended the hill from the Villa Borghese, we entered the Piazza del Popolo (which contains the tallest of the 13 Egyptian obelisks in Rome – Egypt only has 5 left), we decided to stop in to the three churches bordering the piazza. In the first one we visited, the beautiful baroque Santa Maria Del Popolo, we discovered a small chapel, called ‘Raphael’s Chigi Chapel,’ that was designed by Raphael and inspired (as Raphael was) by the Pantheon.

In a second chapel, the Cerasi Chapel, we found two amazing paintings, both by Caravaggio.

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The Conversion of Paul by Carvaggio

In this painting, Paul is sprawled on his back beside his beautiful horse, while his servant looks on. The startled future saint is blinded by the harsh light as Jesus’ voice asks him, “Why do you persecute me?”

And, in response, Paul receives his faith with open arms.

Ever had God knock you back a step, knock you to the ground, knock the breath out of you? He can sure get our attention if he wants to, eh?

The second painting was even more captivating to me than the first — and these two paintings are of two sides of a small chapel — not 12-15 feet from each other.

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The Crucifixion of Peter by Caravaggio

I agree with the art professor who wrote:

Although most art scholars prefer the Conversion of St. Paul, I must confess that this is my favorite picture. It shows the moment when Peter, the first Bishop of Rome, is crucified, upside down, in Nero’s Circus.

Three shady characters, their faces hidden or turned away, are pulling, dragging and pushing the cross to which Peter has been nailed by the feet with his head down.

This St Peter is not a heroic martyr, nor a Herculean hero in the manner of Michelangelo, but an old man suffering pain and in fear of death.

The scene, set on some stony field, is grim. The dark, impenetrable background draws the spectator’s gaze back again to the sharply illuminated figures who remind us, through the banal ugliness of their actions and movements — note the yellow rear and filthy feet of the lower figure — that the death of the apostle was not a heroic drama, but a wretched and humiliating execution.

I just observed it for a while – stunned. It’s moments like this that I think capture what great art is. It stops you in your tracks. It sobers you. It makes you think – reconsider who you are and why you are doing what you are doing.

Peter’s always been my favorite Apostle, but even more so, now.

We spent the evening just walking through the central portion of the old city. There are many pedestrian boulevards and we had a wonderful time stopping at shops, watching street performers, looking over the wares of artists and street vendors.

We found a lovely restaurant for dinner and sat at a street-side table to people watch, before finishing our meal at yet another superb Gellatoria (pistacchio, coconut, and dark chocolate all deserved a trial this evening).

Then as dusk settled, we stopped by the magnificent Trevi Fountain (who can go to Rome and not stop here?). As it always is, it was packed with tourists all marveling at it and tossing coins into the fountain over their shoulder. It’s a tradition that’s supposed to guarantee the person tossing the coin will return to Rome.

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Walt and Barb at the Trevi Fountain

Part of the magic of the fountain is that the square on which it is found is approached directly by no street. So, you can hear, but not see the excitement until you actually enter the small square.

Barb and I went through the ritual of tossing the coins when we were last here in 1978. But, we didn’t feel led to do so this evening. We weren’t, at first, sure why.

But, after we visited another amazing church, just above the fountain, we came out, and took another picture. See if you can see what caught our eyes …

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Although we didn’t see him when we took the picture, when we walked down the steps there he was. A young boy with severe clubbed feet, scoliosis, and apparent mental retardation.

Having raised a wonderful child with several physical handicaps, our hearts always break to see kids who have these special needs.

So, with tears in her eyes, Barb bent over, spoke to the child, prayed briefly for him and blessed him, and then left our coins for him.

We hugged on the corner for a few moments. “If we were home,” Barb said, “he could have the surgery he needs to stand and walk.”

“Just like our Kate,” I thought, whispering a prayer of thanks that Kate was able to get the care she needed.

We walked from the Trevi Fountain to the world-famous Spanish Steps (named for the Spanish Embassy to the Vatican, which has been here for 300 years) and just sat for a while as the sun set on Rome.

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History books say John Keating pondered his mortality here and then died in a building next to the steps at age 25. Fellow Romantic Lord Byron lived for a while on the square. And, in the 1700’s and 1800’s, when young British and Continental aristocrats took their “Grand Tour” of Europe, stopping here to contemplate Rome’s rise and fall was always considered a must.

As the sun set, and we pondered those weighty questions, what came to my mind was a verse of Scripture … “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” rather, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”

For me, that’s pretty sage advice.

Well, I hope you’ll join us for our last day in Rome, tomorrow. We’ve still have some pretty cool stuff to see.

Here’s the entire series:

Dr. Walt and Barb’s Italian Adventure — May 8-25, 2010

If you’ve ever wanted to go to Italy (or even if you have in the past), you’ll want to come along with us and enjoy the sites, sounds, food, and art.

Hopefully, this blog will stimulate you to put visiting these amazing cities on your to-do list. Just click on any of the days or cities you want to visit with us.

  • Days #1 and 2 – Flight Nightmares
    • Okay, so you think you don’t know anyone whose plane to Europe was canceled due to the volcanic ash … or who were on another plane that blew two tires on take off and had to make an emergency landing … well now you do!
  • Day #3 – Rome
    • Rome and the Vatican Museum. Come visit the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica, and Michelangelo’s Pieta.
  • Day #4 – Venice
    • The tourists call it ‘Venice,’ the Italians call it ‘Venezia,’ while the Venetians call it ‘Venexia.’ Barb and I call it romantic and captivating. Come on an afternoon and evening stroll and be quickly drawn into her whimsical wonderment … right to the Rialto Bridge.
  • Day #5 – Venice
    • We were awakened by the sound of an accordion and an operatic voice, singing to a couple taking a romantic ride in a gondola in the canal just outside our hotel window. Then off to Piazza San Marco, St. Mark’s Basilica, the Bridge of Sighs, and an amazing discovery.
  • Day #6 – Venice to Cinque Terre
    • We spent the day traveling to the Cinque Terre. If you’ve never heard of it, you’ll want to visit the next two days with us.
  • Day #7 – Cinque Terre Day #1
    • We awoke this morning to throw open our shutters and let in the fresh sea air and the sound of the waves crashing on the shore. The music of small children laughing in the square, and the smell of fresh-baked bread from the bar below us wafted up and in our window. Today we explored Riomaggiore, the ‘Via dell’Amore,’ Manarola, and Corniglia. Come along with us.
  • Day #8 – Cinque Terre Day #2
    • Cinque Terre is a remote mountainous chunk of the Italian riveria that is called “the traffic-free, lowbrow, underappreciated alternative to the French Riveria … just sun, sea, sand (pebbles), wine, and pure, unadulterated Italy … exploring, hiking, shopping, and evening romance in one of God’s great gifts to tourism.” Join us as we visit Monterossa.
  • Day #9 – Florence Day #1
    • A trip by Carrara (home of the world famous marble), Pisa (home of the world famous tower), and then to Florence for quick visits to the Duomo and the Baptistery to see Ghiberti’s bronze doors. And, it was a hot night in Florence.
  • Day #10 – Florence Day #2
    • Come visit the Oltrarno area, to the south of the Arno River, to get a sense of rustic, old Florence. Then, off to the Santa Croce Basilica and the amazing tombs of Michelangelo, Galileo, Dante, and Machiavelli.
  • Day #11 – Florence Day #3
    • The Uffizi Museum, the greatest collection of Italian art anywhere, was our morning adventure. Then join us at Piazzale Michelangelo, where we saw a second copy of Michelangelo’s David, and relived our memories of romance 30 years ago … followed by an evening at the Palazzo Vecchio and a wonderful meal at the Fescobaldi Wine Bar.
  • Day #12 – Florence Day #4
    • Join us at the underappreciated Duomo Museum and then the Academy, to meet the real David. Our afternoon was Fra Angelica and the Santa Maria Novalle Church. For our Florentine finale, the Lord was pleased to provide us a riverside, bridge-view table near the Ponte Vecchio for sunset.
  • Days #13-14 – Rome Days #1-2 – The Wedding
    • We’ve been to a lot of weddings in our lives, but a wedding at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican comes right at the top. We had a magnificent time with dear friends, accompanied by fantastic fellowship and food.
  • Day #15 – Rome Day #3
    • Join us for a journey through the Trastevere area of Rome, and then to devotions at the Church of St. Cecilia, followed by our amazing trip to the Villa Borghese Gallery. Our evening was capped off at  the magnificent Trevi Fountain and the the world-famous Spanish Steps.
  • Day #16 – Our Last Day – Rome Day #4
    • We’ll start at the Roman coliseum, an tour by the Arch  of Constantine,  the ostentatious Victor Emmanuel Monument, and Bernini’s Four Rivers fountain in the Piazza Novona. As well as a visit with an amazing young man.

We’ve hoped you’ve had fun accompanying us on this trip to Italy, and that one day you’ll be blessed to experience and enjoy her yourself.

Trip to Italy – Days #13-14 – Rome Days #1-2 – The Wedding

Yesterday, Thursday, May 20, we trained to Rome and then checked into the Roman Residence (where we stayed earlier in the trip). Massimo, the owner, warmly welcomed us back and had our very large and comfortable room ready for us, including the wedding clothes he had kept for us.

After sprucing up a bit, we took the metro to a small trattoria not far from the Vatican and spent the afternoon with about 40 dear friends from Kissimmee and Orlando who were attending the wedding of the youngest daughter (Anne) of our dear friends, Dr. John and Cleta Hartman.

John and I practiced family medicine together in Kissimmee, from 1985 – 2001, when we left Florida to join the staff of Focus on the Family. Before that, in 1978-1979, John and I had been family medicine residents at Duke and we share the common bond of rooting together for the Duke Blue Devils. John and Cleta are two of our dearest friends. We’ve seen our kids grow up together, and John was our family’s family physician for those many years.

If was a wonderful and refreshing time for us to catch up with dear friends and enjoy a fabulous Italian meal outside on an ancient piazza in Rome. Magnifico.

We were there from 2 pm until 5 pm, and then walked around the old city a bit, stopping in at the Pantheon and a couple of amazing churches.

After a restful night’s sleep, we were up and off to the Vatican by 930 am today, Friday, May 21st. The wedding was scheduled to start at 1030 am and we thought we had given ourselves plenty of time.

And, indeed, we were in St. Peter’s square by 1000 am, but the line to get in the Basilica backed up as far as the eye could see. We tried to get in via an exit, and were turned down.

So, Mrs. Barb put her head down and just bypassed folks who had been standing in line for who-knows-how-long, saying again-and-again, “We’re attending a 1030 wedding.” To my amazement, no one complained or even grimaced. They just let us by.

We were in the Basilica by 1015 am, finally found the private chapel (mind you, this is the biggest church in the world), and were seated in a choir stall just and the main gates to the chapel were opened and in entered the wedding party.

Whew. We just made it … which is critical, for once the chapel gates were closed and the curtains pulled, no one else was allowed to enter.

The wedding mass, co-officiated by two priests who had been friends when we lived in Kissimmee, Father John McCormick and Father Brian (both Irish, by the way), and could not have been more lovely.

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Walt and Father Brian

The Vatican provided the organist and soloist, who were both amazing. Imagine Ave Maria being sung in St. Peter’s, with the perfect acoustics. Heavenly.

During the wedding, the Old Testament reading was from Genesis, chapter 2 (the two shall become one); the New Testament reading from Ephesians, chapter 5 (wives submit to your husbands, husbands love your wives as Christ loves the church); and the Gospel reading from John, chapter 2 (the miracle of turning water into wine at the wedding feast).

It was during the reading of this last section of Scripture that something amazing happened to me. I was listening to the words of the Gospel, and looking up at this amazing and ornate chapel, when Jesus’ mother’s words to the servants rang out to me as if she was speaking, “Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:5)

What more simple or profound advice could any of us be given to follow. Simply, “do whatever He tells you.” It was a special moment for me.

At the end of the wedding, Father John read a Papal letter that had been sent from his office to Sean and Anne and signed by him. Pretty cool. That wouldn’t happen at your average American wedding, eh?

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Sean and Anne leaving the chapel at St. Peter’s as husband and wife

Then, the guards opened the curtain and the gates to let us out of the private chapel, to walk through the Basilica, across St. Peter’s square, to awaiting buses.

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Walt and Barb outside St. Peter’s Basilica

Hundreds and hundreds of tourists snapped thousands of photos of Sean, Anne, and the wedding party. It’s the closest I’ve ever been to a paparizi feel.

From St. Peter’s, we were whisked up to the Villa Borghese and a private reception at a private villa on the grounds named Casina Valadier. For the next five hours we enjoyed an amazing view of Rome, fabulous food, a stunningly good jazz band, and the delicious fellowship that can only be had with the dearest of old friends – and the joy of seeing dear, dear friends enjoying the wedding fiest of their daugher.

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Dr. John Hartman and daughter, Anne

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John, Anne, and the Jazz Band — oh, and an Italian wedding cake!

During the reception dinner, we were each given a gold coin that had been minted for the wedding by friends of the family. On one side of the coin, was the Vatican Seal and the date of the wedding. On the other side were Anne & Sean’s names, two doves holding two wedding rings, and at the bottom was the quote, “Be kind to each other.”

Dr. Hartman explained that our good friend, Bill Prather, had always given this advice to couples and this was the advice that he and Cleta wanted to give Anne and Sean … always, always, always, “be kind to each other.”

Barb and I were sitting at a table with Bill and his wife, Polly. Bill explained that that advice did NOT originate with him, but rather with Polly’s mother, Edna Thacker, who had given it to them when they first were married.

Edna and her husband lived across the street from us when we first moved to Kissimmee. The Thackers loved us and our kids. In fact, our first small-group Bible study was in the Thacker home with the Prathers and Hartmans — and was lead by Father Brian. Small world, eh?

Anyway, it’s great advice for us all to remember, not only in our marriages, but in our relationships. “Be kind to each other.”

Finally, at 6 pm, the bride and groom were off. We shared some tearful hugs and good-byes with wonderful friends and then wistfully walked down the hill as the sun set and took the metro back to our hotel.

The last two days have been magical for us and we are grateful to the Lord for giving us this privilege.

So, we’ll rest up tonight and then hit the ancient streets of Rome for two more days of action-packed sightseeing, before we head home Monday.

Here’s the entire series:

Dr. Walt and Barb’s Italian Adventure — May 8-25, 2010

If you’ve ever wanted to go to Italy (or even if you have in the past), you’ll want to come along with us and enjoy the sites, sounds, food, and art.

Hopefully, this blog will stimulate you to put visiting these amazing cities on your to-do list. Just click on any of the days or cities you want to visit with us.

  • Days #1 and 2 – Flight Nightmares
    • Okay, so you think you don’t know anyone whose plane to Europe was canceled due to the volcanic ash … or who were on another plane that blew two tires on take off and had to make an emergency landing … well now you do!
  • Day #3 – Rome
    • Rome and the Vatican Museum. Come visit the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica, and Michelangelo’s Pieta.
  • Day #4 – Venice
    • The tourists call it ‘Venice,’ the Italians call it ‘Venezia,’ while the Venetians call it ‘Venexia.’ Barb and I call it romantic and captivating. Come on an afternoon and evening stroll and be quickly drawn into her whimsical wonderment … right to the Rialto Bridge.
  • Day #5 – Venice
    • We were awakened by the sound of an accordion and an operatic voice, singing to a couple taking a romantic ride in a gondola in the canal just outside our hotel window. Then off to Piazza San Marco, St. Mark’s Basilica, the Bridge of Sighs, and an amazing discovery.
  • Day #6 – Venice to Cinque Terre
    • We spent the day traveling to the Cinque Terre. If you’ve never heard of it, you’ll want to visit the next two days with us.
  • Day #7 – Cinque Terre Day #1
    • We awoke this morning to throw open our shutters and let in the fresh sea air and the sound of the waves crashing on the shore. The music of small children laughing in the square, and the smell of fresh-baked bread from the bar below us wafted up and in our window. Today we explored Riomaggiore, the ‘Via dell’Amore,’ Manarola, and Corniglia. Come along with us.
  • Day #8 – Cinque Terre Day #2
    • Cinque Terre is a remote mountainous chunk of the Italian riveria that is called “the traffic-free, lowbrow, underappreciated alternative to the French Riveria … just sun, sea, sand (pebbles), wine, and pure, unadulterated Italy … exploring, hiking, shopping, and evening romance in one of God’s great gifts to tourism.” Join us as we visit Monterossa.
  • Day #9 – Florence Day #1
    • A trip by Carrara (home of the world famous marble), Pisa (home of the world famous tower), and then to Florence for quick visits to the Duomo and the Baptistery to see Ghiberti’s bronze doors. And, it was a hot night in Florence.
  • Day #10 – Florence Day #2
    • Come visit the Oltrarno area, to the south of the Arno River, to get a sense of rustic, old Florence. Then, off to the Santa Croce Basilica and the amazing tombs of Michelangelo, Galileo, Dante, and Machiavelli.
  • Day #11 – Florence Day #3
    • The Uffizi Museum, the greatest collection of Italian art anywhere, was our morning adventure. Then join us at Piazzale Michelangelo, where we saw a second copy of Michelangelo’s David, and relived our memories of romance 30 years ago … followed by an evening at the Palazzo Vecchio and a wonderful meal at the Fescobaldi Wine Bar.
  • Day #12 – Florence Day #4
    • Join us at the underappreciated Duomo Museum and then the Academy, to meet the real David. Our afternoon was Fra Angelica and the Santa Maria Novalle Church. For our Florentine finale, the Lord was pleased to provide us a riverside, bridge-view table near the Ponte Vecchio for sunset.
  • Days #13-14 – Rome Days #1-2 – The Wedding
    • We’ve been to a lot of weddings in our lives, but a wedding at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican comes right at the top. We had a magnificent time with dear friends, accompanied by fantastic fellowship and food.
  • Day #15 – Rome Day #3
    • Join us for a journey through the Trastevere area of Rome, and then to devotions at the Church of St. Cecilia, followed by our amazing trip to the Villa Borghese Gallery. Our evening was capped off at  the magnificent Trevi Fountain and the the world-famous Spanish Steps.
  • Day #16 – Our Last Day – Rome Day #4
    • We’ll start at the Roman coliseum, an tour by the Arch  of Constantine,  the ostentatious Victor Emmanuel Monument, and Bernini’s Four Rivers fountain in the Piazza Novona. As well as a visit with an amazing young man.

We’ve hoped you’ve had fun accompanying us on this trip to Italy, and that one day you’ll be blessed to experience and enjoy her yourself.

New research touts the benefits of marriage on health

Tara Parker-Pope, of the New York Times, recently did an excellent analysis on the topic of the effects of marriage on health. Parker-Pope reports, “Contemporary studies … have shown that married people are less likely to get pneumonia, have surgery, develop cancer, or have heart attacks.”

I wrote quite a bit about this phenomena in my book 10 Essentials of Happy, Healthy People: Becoming and staying highly healthy.  Now, a group of Swedish researchers has found that being married at midlife is also associated with a lower risk for dementia.

Indeed, Parker-Pope writes, “for many years, studies like these have influenced both politics and policy, fueling national marriage-promotion efforts, like the Healthy Marriage Initiative of the US Department of Health and Human Services.

From 2006 to 2010, the program received $150 million annually to spend on projects like ‘divorce reduction’ efforts and often cited the health benefits of marrying and staying married.”

Yet, “while it’s clear that marriage is profoundly connected to health and well-being, new research is increasingly presenting a more nuanced view of the so-called marriage advantage.”

She concludes her comprehensive column sayhing, “… (the) research shows that some level of relationship stress is inevitable in even the happiest marriages. The important thing … is to use those moments of stress as an opportunity to repair the relationship rather than to damage it.”

In other words, “It can be so uncomfortable, even in the best marriages, to have an ongoing disagreement …  but when your marital relationship is the key relationship in your life, a disagreement is really a signal to try to fix something.”

If you’re interested in improving your health, consider reading 10 Essentials of Happy, Healthy People: Becoming and staying highly healthy. You can get a signed copy here.

Also, if you’re interested in improving the health of your marriage, consider reading, with your spouse, my and Barb’s book, His Brain, Her Brain: How divinely designed differences can strengthen your marriage. You can get a copy, autographed by us both, here.

Raw milk advocates and health officials step up dispute

In the past, I’ve blogged about the potential dangers (including a few fatalities) from consuming or giving your children raw (unpasteurized) milk. Recently USA Today carried a reasonable review of the topic:

Maybe you can’t cry over spilled milk, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have big fights if it’s unpasteurized.

To a small but dedicated community, it’s “raw milk,” a life-giving, vitamin and enzyme-rich miracle cure for asthma, gastrointestinal disorders and multiple other illnesses.

The viewpoint, championed in the past decade by the Weston A. Price Foundation, which follows the nutritional teachings of a mid-century Ohio dentist, has gained a life of its own on the Internet.

To public health officials and state departments of agriculture, unpasteurized milk can be a dangerous, germ-ridden drink that is especially hazardous to children and their immature immune systems.

An outbreak of campylobacter tied to unpasteurized milk in Middlebury, Ind. sickened at least 20 people in March in Michigan, Illinois and Indiana, according to the state departments of health.

New website launching

The latest round in this dispute at the intersection of food, alternative health and anti-government activism took place this week, first with a national conference of pro-raw-milk advocates in Wisconsin on Saturday followed by today’s launch of a well-financed website warning of raw milk’s risks.

The Madison, Wis., symposium featured more than a dozen speakers, including Fresno, Calif., dairyman Mark McAfee, delivering the keynote titled “Raw milk as medicine Proudly violating FDA drug laws.”

Emily Matthews, a supporter of raw milk and a registered nurse, keeps a cow so her family can produce its own raw milk in Schleswig, Wis.

Selling unpasteurized milk except at the farm is illegal in the state. She doesn’t believe unpasteurized milk is dangerous, especially if it comes from cows fed on grass rather than corn.

“I have seen more kids directly harmed by vaccines,” she says. “I’ve never seen anybody whose kids were harmed by raw milk.”

Most states disagree.

Retail sale of unpasteurized milk is legal in only 10 states and banned in another 10. In the rest it is legal only at the farm, via “cow-share” (when people buy shares in a cow so they’re drinking their own milk), according to the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund.

The Food and Drug Administration simply wants to protect the public from disease, says John Sheehan, director of FDA’s division of plant and dairy food safety.

Unpasteurized milk is unsafe, a view held not only by the FDA but also by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Virtually every scientific association there is is saying exactly what we do, which is that raw milk can contain pathogens and it shouldn’t be consumed,” he says.

Milk can be contaminated with pathogens such as salmonella, campylobacter and E. coli O157:H7 carried in manure via unclean udders or milking equipment, Sheehan says.

Pasteurization, which was invented in the 19th century and has been common in the USA since the 1920s, is the process of heating milk to at least 161 degrees F for at least 15 seconds to kill pathogens.

It’s that heating raw milk advocates object to, as they feel it destroys health-giving vitamins, enzymes and organisms.

The Real Raw Milk Facts site, launched today, was created by more than a dozen scientists and health educators. It’s meant to carefully lay out the research on raw milk, without being as dogmatic as government sites that just tell people not to drink it.

But the site is not to be confused with similar ones, some several years old, such as www.raw-milk-facts.com, www.realmilk.com, www.rawmilktruth.com and www.rawmilk.org, all hosted by advocates of raw milk.

‘Granola tea-partiers’

The site gets funding from a surprising source: Seattle-based food-safety lawyer Bill Marler, who made his fortune suing food producers.

He has underwritten the $20,000 cost, even though it might cost him business if fewer people get sick. “Raw milk is where the right and left come back together. It’s an intersection for the ‘back to nature’ and the ‘don’t tread on me,’ people — they’re the granola tea-partiers,” he says.

What might be most convincing to those trying to decide about raw milk are the videos on the new site of three children and two adults hospitalized by illnesses linked to drinking unpasteurized milk.

One of them is Kalee Prue, 29, who got E. coli O157:H7 from the first bottle of unpasteurized milk she ever drank, in 2008. Her son, who was still nursing, had skin problems, and she had read online that raw milk might help.

Prue, of East Hampton, Conn., was in the hospital for 33 days and now has kidney damage and can’t have more children.

Prue still believes people should take their health into their own hands but says “there are many ways of getting similar benefits” without drinking raw milk.

“I would tell them to research it more … and make sure they understand the risks, because they’re real, not just statistics.”

Unexpected Consequences of Twitter, Facebook, and the Self-Esteem Movement?

Here’s an interesting story that I’ve excerpted from an article, “Twitter and YouTube: Unexpected Consequences of the Self-Esteem Movement?” published in the Psychiatric Times.

To Americans over 30, YouTube, Facebook, MySpace and Twitter are buzzwords that lack much meaning. But to those born between 1982 and 2001—often referred to as “millennials” or “Generation Y”—they are a part of everyday life.

For the uninitiated, these Web sites are used for social networking and communication. They are also places where individuals can post pictures and news about themselves and express their opinions on everything from music to movies to politics.

Some sites, such as YouTube, allow individuals to post videos of themselves, often creating enough “buzz” to drive hundreds and even thousands of viewers; in some instances, these videos create instant media stars—such as the Obama imitator.

Although baby boomers and members of “Generation X” are signing up for these sites, it is the youth market that drives their appeal. While on the surface, they are touted as venues for networking and communication, they may, ultimately, be eroding real relationships and social contacts much as e-mail, instant messaging and “texting” have replaced cards, letters, and phone calls.

This technology may be interfering with the normal development of a generation, prolonging the “normal” narcissism of adolescence and preventing the establishment of mature relationships.

Rather than learning critical lessons about emotional sensitivity to others and reciprocity in relationships, our youth are creating alternate, solipsistic realities where they are the focus of attention. Those who do not agree are simply excluded from their inner circle.

Thus, these technological advances may be fostering a sense of isolation, alienation, and (at worst) promoting a tendency toward narcissism that may ultimately lead to an increase in violence and aggression.

What makes such sites appealing to “millennials”?

Web pages posted on social networking sites tend to be filled with photographs and writings expressing the opinions of the individual. In some cases, they are examples of exhibitionism at its most extreme.

Yet, the number of videos uploaded to YouTube and “tweets” sent on Twitter increase exponentially by the day.

The prevailing assumption is that everyone has something to say that is worthy of the attention of the masses.

This is a generation screaming for attention and recognition, seeking their promised “15 minutes of fame.” And millennials often go to great lengths to get it, posting suggestive and downright salacious photos of themselves or uploading outrageous videos.

The reward for bad behavior is, it seems, instant fame as measured by “hits,” “views,” and “followers.”

If this trend continues, fueled even more by technology, the implications are disturbing.

Narcissism, at its most malignant, fosters lack of empathy, poor impulse control, and frank aggression when insult or threat is perceived, particularly in the context of social rejection.

It is the most extreme narcissistic individuals who tend to be the most dangerous.

While it can be argued that any perceived increases are small, at best, they cannot be minimized. Small changes on a bell curve are most apparent, not at the average, but at the extremes. Therefore, even small increases over time will foster the development of greater numbers at the far end of the curve.

The rise of social networking sites is indeed a disturbing trend that may be continuing to fuel the narcissism of a generation becoming more desperate than ever to maintain their fragile self-esteem. By investing more and more time and energy in a virtual world where they can maintain their sense of importance and specialness, they risk even more disappointment when confronted with the harsh realities of life.

Relationships become shallower and more fleeting; self-interest exceeds the common good. The costs of narcissism, then, are paid by the society at large.

And since millennials equate their very existence with their self-image, they may react aggressively to protect it.

Anything that threatens their ability to maintain their false sense of self is considered a threat to life itself.

As such, the dangerousness of the millennial generation may yet be actualized.

My friend, Christian Psychiatrist, Todd M Clements, MD, commented about the article on the Christian Medical Association website:

The amount of time that Americans are spending on social networking Websites is overwhelming and steadily growing. More than one-third of all Internet use today is devoted to social networking on sites like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and My Space.

While touted as networks for relationship building they may ultimately be eroding real relationships. This technology can prolong the “normal” narcissism of adolescence, preventing the establishment of mature relationships.

These homepages are filled with empty-talk, self-absorption and even frank exhibitionism.

People rate their popularity, or stature in life, by the sheer number of followers they attract on their website. Recent studies of college students found that those who spent the most time on these networking sites scored much higher on narcissistic scales.

They also rated themselves as isolated and very lonely.

While networking Websites, like Facebook, can allow us to re-connect with old classmates, or keep up with the daily life of friends who live far off, they can also squander valuable time.

Several pastors broached this subject recently, in a meeting I attended, as they relayed their experience in counseling congregation members who have marriages on the brink due to “excessive facebooking.” In most cases it was the wife who was consumed by this from early evening until wee hours of the morning.

Our psychiatry office now receives daily calls for help from exasperated spouses or parents.

Studies at Oxford University have shown that Twitter is the perfect model of intermittent variable reward, which is the strongest addictive pattern.

Unfortunately computer screen interactions don’t build empathy, mutual gratification, or a realistic sense of self. They can bring self-gratification and pleasure, particularly at first, but in the end leave you more lonely, and isolated.

The Apostle Paul reminds in 1 Corinthians 16:3 to be on our guard—and do everything out of love.”

Trip to Italy – Day #12 – Florence Day #4

Our final day in Florence started out cool and crisp before a drizzle interrupted, but did not stop, our few remaining explorations.

After a breakfast of cappuccino, croissants, and fruit, we were off the explore, starting with the Duomo Museum. Many of the statues and artifacts of the cathedral, have been replaced with replicas, while the originals have been restored and placed in this amazing museum that we quite enjoyed.

One of our favorite exhibits was a choir balcony designed and sculpted by the then little-known young sculptor, Luca della Robbia. It was commissioned after almost 150 years of construction on the building.

The choir box he designed was a balcony for singers next to the organ in the cathedral. The original panels of the box are at eye level and are the artist’s interpretation of Psalm 150, which says:

  1. Praise ye the LORD. Praise God in his sanctuary: praise him in the firmament of his power.
  2. Praise him for his mighty acts: praise him according to his excellent greatness.
  3. Praise him with the sound of the trumpet: praise him with the psaltery and harp.
  4. Praise him with the timbrel and dance: praise him with stringed instruments and organs.
  5. Praise him upon the loud cymbals: praise him upon the high sounding cymbals.
  6. Let every thing that hath breath praise the LORD. Praise ye the LORD.

Praise ye the LORD. Praise God in his sanctuary: praise him in the firmament of his power.
2      Praise him for his mighty acts: praise him according to his excellent greatness.
3      Praise him with the sound of the trumpet: praise him with the psaltery and harp.
4      Praise him with the timbrel and dance: praise him with stringed instruments and organs.
5      Praise him upon the loud cymbals: praise him upon the high sounding cymbals.
6      Let every thing that hath breath praise the LORD. Praise ye the LORD.

His reliefs turned out to be the MTV equivalent of the early 1400’s.

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Barb liked the panel that demonstrated the verse, “Praise him upon the loud cymbals: praise him upon the high sounding cymbals.” It’s the upper one of the two below …

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However, if you notice, in the upper left of the panel, there’s a little boy who thinks the sound is a bit too loud …

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Perhaps the most famous piece in this museum is a sculpture Michelangelo was working on for his own tomb – a pieta. Unfortunately, he had not finished it when he died. Many believe the large man holding Jesus, Nicodemus, was a self-portrait by the master.

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On the way to our next stop, the Academy, we passed this street. We think it is likely a sign for Saint Elisabeth Street, but we like to think it means ‘Sarah Elisabeth,’ in honor of our second granddaughter.

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Of course, The Academy is world famous for one statute, and one alone … and even from a distance he’s pretty impressive … all seventeen feet of himself …

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Crowds gathered around in admiration. Many just sat and looked, and looked, and looked. As high as our expectations were, they were exceeded.

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Even with the most close up views, the work is still remarkable.

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After The Academy, we lunched at a trattoria filled with locals. The house Chianti perfectly matched the two pasta dishes we enjoyed along with fresh bread and olive oil. We enjoyed a visit with a local businessman who was a Mets fan.

The afternoon was whiled away visiting the Santa Maria Novalle Church (near the main train station), and walking the crooked streets in town, all overseen by the massive dome of the Duomo.

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Of course, we needed one last visit to the Duomo, Baptistery, and Campanile …

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… before heading to the hotel for a late afternoon nap.

After that, we took a long evening stroll and ended up at the Ponte Vecchio and stopped at the Rick Steves’ recommended Golden View Open Bar. This restaurant is located on the south shore of the Arno River with a magnificent view of the bridge.

And, the Lord was pleased to have a riverside, bridge-view table open for us. Usually, we were told, these tables are held months in advance by reservation. But, not for us …

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We were blessed, not only with the view, but with a wonderful two and a half hour romantic dinner … starting with bruschetta, followed by a heavenly Prosciutto de Parma accompanied by an amazing aged Parmesan cheese. My oh my.

I had first read about Prosciutto de Parma and Parmesan cheese in John Grissom’s fun book, Playing for Pizza. His main character commented, after enjoying it the first time, that it was the best thing he had ever eaten (or something like that). To which I say, “Amen.”

A local red wine was joined by fresh spaghetti followed by a veal scaloppine with porcini mushrooms as the sunset and the flood lights lit up the ancient Ponte Vecchio.

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The magic only continued with a three chocolate dessert course – a dark chocolate pudding, a decadent dark chocolate mousse, and the piece-de-resistance, a hot chocolate centered, hard chocolate covered molten chocolate dessert over a wonderful cream.

After sealing our love and life-long commitment to each other on the top of the bridge, we walked home and passed two carvings on walls that summed up our stay here. The first …

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… was a Fleurs de Lys, the symbol of the City of Florence, a city we have admired and enjoyed in the past, and learned to love even more deeply the last few days.

The second caused us to pause a few moments in contemplation and thanksgiving …

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When we saw it, Barb quoted John 1:29, saying the words of John the Baptist when he saw Jesus coming to be baptized, “Behold the Lamb of God , which taketh away the sin of the world.”

And, I immediately thought of Jesus’ words in John 10:10, when he said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

Out time together and our time in Florence has been full, abundant, and meaningful indeed.

So, off to Rome tomorrow. Hope you can keep up with us!

Here’s the entire series:

Dr. Walt and Barb’s Italian Adventure — May 8-25, 2010

If you’ve ever wanted to go to Italy (or even if you have in the past), you’ll want to come along with us and enjoy the sites, sounds, food, and art.

Hopefully, this blog will stimulate you to put visiting these amazing cities on your to-do list. Just click on any of the days or cities you want to visit with us.

  • Days #1 and 2 – Flight Nightmares
    • Okay, so you think you don’t know anyone whose plane to Europe was canceled due to the volcanic ash … or who were on another plane that blew two tires on take off and had to make an emergency landing … well now you do!
  • Day #3 – Rome
    • Rome and the Vatican Museum. Come visit the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica, and Michelangelo’s Pieta.
  • Day #4 – Venice
    • The tourists call it ‘Venice,’ the Italians call it ‘Venezia,’ while the Venetians call it ‘Venexia.’ Barb and I call it romantic and captivating. Come on an afternoon and evening stroll and be quickly drawn into her whimsical wonderment … right to the Rialto Bridge.
  • Day #5 – Venice
    • We were awakened by the sound of an accordion and an operatic voice, singing to a couple taking a romantic ride in a gondola in the canal just outside our hotel window. Then off to Piazza San Marco, St. Mark’s Basilica, the Bridge of Sighs, and an amazing discovery.
  • Day #6 – Venice to Cinque Terre
    • We spent the day traveling to the Cinque Terre. If you’ve never heard of it, you’ll want to visit the next two days with us.
  • Day #7 – Cinque Terre Day #1
    • We awoke this morning to throw open our shutters and let in the fresh sea air and the sound of the waves crashing on the shore. The music of small children laughing in the square, and the smell of fresh-baked bread from the bar below us wafted up and in our window. Today we explored Riomaggiore, the ‘Via dell’Amore,’ Manarola, and Corniglia. Come along with us.
  • Day #8 – Cinque Terre Day #2
    • Cinque Terre is a remote mountainous chunk of the Italian riveria that is called “the traffic-free, lowbrow, underappreciated alternative to the French Riveria … just sun, sea, sand (pebbles), wine, and pure, unadulterated Italy … exploring, hiking, shopping, and evening romance in one of God’s great gifts to tourism.” Join us as we visit Monterossa.
  • Day #9 – Florence Day #1
    • A trip by Carrara (home of the world famous marble), Pisa (home of the world famous tower), and then to Florence for quick visits to the Duomo and the Baptistery to see Ghiberti’s bronze doors. And, it was a hot night in Florence.
  • Day #10 – Florence Day #2
    • Come visit the Oltrarno area, to the south of the Arno River, to get a sense of rustic, old Florence. Then, off to the Santa Croce Basilica and the amazing tombs of Michelangelo, Galileo, Dante, and Machiavelli.
  • Day #11 – Florence Day #3
    • The Uffizi Museum, the greatest collection of Italian art anywhere, was our morning adventure. Then join us at Piazzale Michelangelo, where we saw a second copy of Michelangelo’s David, and relived our memories of romance 30 years ago … followed by an evening at the Palazzo Vecchio and a wonderful meal at the Fescobaldi Wine Bar.
  • Day #12 – Florence Day #4
    • Join us at the underappreciated Duomo Museum and then the Academy, to meet the real David. Our afternoon was Fra Angelica and the Santa Maria Novalle Church. For our Florentine finale, the Lord was pleased to provide us a riverside, bridge-view table near the Ponte Vecchio for sunset.
  • Days #13-14 – Rome Days #1-2 – The Wedding
    • We’ve been to a lot of weddings in our lives, but a wedding at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican comes right at the top. We had a magnificent time with dear friends, accompanied by fantastic fellowship and food.
  • Day #15 – Rome Day #3
    • Join us for a journey through the Trastevere area of Rome, and then to devotions at the Church of St. Cecilia, followed by our amazing trip to the Villa Borghese Gallery. Our evening was capped off at  the magnificent Trevi Fountain and the the world-famous Spanish Steps.
  • Day #16 – Our Last Day – Rome Day #4
    • We’ll start at the Roman coliseum, an tour by the Arch  of Constantine,  the ostentatious Victor Emmanuel Monument, and Bernini’s Four Rivers fountain in the Piazza Novona. As well as a visit with an amazing young man.

We’ve hoped you’ve had fun accompanying us on this trip to Italy, and that one day you’ll be blessed to experience and enjoy her yourself.

Trip to Italy – Day #11 – Florence Day #3

Ah … a great night’s sleep. GREAT night’s sleep. Did I say, we slept great? Anyway, our new room was cool and quiet and comfortable. In fact, we slept in a bit longer than we had planned … after all, what’s a vacation for!

Last night, after posting my blog to you, we both had a hankering to walk a bit. We took off to enjoy Florence at night. And, as beautiful as it is at day, at night it is even moreso. Magnifico!

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The Duomo, Campanile, and Baptistry of Santa Maria del Flore

We finally ended up on the Republic Square and found a cafe for a light dinner. We people watched, were amused by street vendors and performers, enjoyed a delicious dinner of bruschetta, fresh baked bread dipped in olive oil and balsamic, fresh pasta with a cream sauce and mushrooms (yummy) and a glass of an excellent local Tuscan wine.

During dinner and desert, we (and all those in the square) were serenaded by an opera singer who was standing in a nearby portico. The acoustics were marvelous. And, her Ave Maria put us in the mood for the wedding we’ll attend Friday at St. Peter’s in Rome.

By the way, desert was Vin Santo and biscotti … or Sacred Wine with biscotti. We have not had this special European desert since enjoying it in Southern France when we were students over 30 years ago. There it was called Sacre Coeur (Sacred Heart) wine and was a sweet red wine. Here it was a sweet white wine. But, my oh my oh my … bueno.

It would be hard to imagine a more romantic evening … and reminded us of another just over three decades ago … but, more on that in a moment.

After our wonderful sleep, we were up and off to the Uffizi Museum. We were SO happy we had studied the guide books and had made reservations for tickets. The line to get in was endless … but, at the appointed hour we breezed right in.

The Uffizi is said to have the greatest collection of Italian art anywhere and was a wonderful lesson in the history of art from medieval times through the Renaissance … from Giotto, Lippi, Botticelli, Da Vinci, Duerr, Michelangelo, Raphael, Titian, to Rembrandt.

Barb loved Boticelli’s Birth of Venus, which she calls Venus on the Half Shell

15-Boticelli-Venus

But, my favorite was the Baptism of Christ by Andrea del Verrocchio. I loved findin and studying this large painting for a reason that may surprise you … it certainly did me.

Verrocchio_Leonardo_Baptism_1476

It’s not that the painting itself is so well-known (it’s not), or that it’s a masterpiece (it’s not), but it signals something amazing in the art world Notice the little angel in the lower left hand corner of the painting …

baptism1

I’m sorry that the picture does not really reflect the stunning beauty of this little angel. And, here’s the story behind him or her. It was painted by a 14 year old student of the old man … one Leonardo Da Vinci.

Legend has it that when Verrocchio saw that some kid had painted an angel better than he ever would … he hung up his brush for good.

After the Uffizi, and lunch at a trattoria packed with locals (thanks, again, Rick Steves), where we enjoyed grilled pork, freshly hand-made pasta with butter and garlic, fresh-baked bread dipped in olive oil, and a very enjoyable Chianti … followed by delicious gelato at Vivaldi gelato (my friend, Len Frommer, says it’s the best in the world. The servings are small, and expensive, but pretty good, Len.), we were off to the south bank of the Arno River again.

This time we climbed above the  Oltrarno area to a Benedictine church, San Miniato al Monte, overlooking the city. According to legend, the church’s namesake, Saint Minias, was beheaded on the banks of the Arno in 250 A.D., whereupon, he stood up, picked up his head, and walked up the mountain to this point where he died.

I’ll tell you this, it would have been a tough hike with our heads on. So, we took a cab. Inside the church, under a carved pillar holding the pulpit …

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… was a VERY unusual sculpture of a cat whose eyes seemed to follow you as you walked around. And, the cat could watch more than one person at once. Creepy …

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We then walked down the hill a bit to our favorite overlook of the city, the Piazzale Michelangelo. Here we encountered our second copy of Michelangelo’s David …

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Yep, even the copies are pretty good. Looking forward to revisiting the real one tomorrow.

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And we just dwaddled for a bit, living in the memories of camping overnight in this same Piazzale Michelangelo in March of 1978. We had just been skiing for 10 days or so on the Italian/French border (at Tignes Val D’sire) with a bunch of single friends from England. We drove from Northern Italy to Florence only to find the camp was closed for the evening. They directed us to camp here.

Well, that was the first week of March in 1978, and Kate, our first child, was due November 25, 1978. You get the idea. And, thus our smiles and recollections of a Piazzale with much significance to our family …

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Even though Kate decided to come early (October 30, 1978), we reminisced together the wonderful gift that our children have been to us … the two we have (Kate and Scott) and the four we’ve lost (who we’ll one day meet in heaven). And, we’re grateful to the gift of God our children represent.

We walked back into town, had a rest time at the hotel, and then an evening stroll around the Palazzo Vecchio. We stopped in at the Fescobaldi Wine Bar. Frescobaldi is one of the better known wine makers in Italy and we sat for a long visit, tasting super-Tuscans and a wonderul Chianti Reserva … along with carpaccio prosciutto and shaved parmesan drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and a dash of sea salt. Oh, Nellie …

The chef must have seen how we were enjoying our feast, so he made us a small plate of crostini (grilled Tuscan toast) covered with sushi-grade Red Tuna (from the Mediterranean) dashed with olive oil and herbs. It was fabulous.

We listened to a marvelous musician play his guitar and sing in the courtyard of the Uffizi and then headed back along the pedestrian walkways, stopping, of course, for a last dark chocolate and coconut gelato. A perfect ending to a great day in Florence.

And, we still have one more to go. Hope you’ll come back and join us for it.

Ciao.

Here’s the entire series:

Dr. Walt and Barb’s Italian Adventure — May 8-25, 2010

If you’ve ever wanted to go to Italy (or even if you have in the past), you’ll want to come along with us and enjoy the sites, sounds, food, and art.

Hopefully, this blog will stimulate you to put visiting these amazing cities on your to-do list. Just click on any of the days or cities you want to visit with us.

  • Days #1 and 2 – Flight Nightmares
    • Okay, so you think you don’t know anyone whose plane to Europe was canceled due to the volcanic ash … or who were on another plane that blew two tires on take off and had to make an emergency landing … well now you do!
  • Day #3 – Rome
    • Rome and the Vatican Museum. Come visit the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica, and Michelangelo’s Pieta.
  • Day #4 – Venice
    • The tourists call it ‘Venice,’ the Italians call it ‘Venezia,’ while the Venetians call it ‘Venexia.’ Barb and I call it romantic and captivating. Come on an afternoon and evening stroll and be quickly drawn into her whimsical wonderment … right to the Rialto Bridge.
  • Day #5 – Venice
    • We were awakened by the sound of an accordion and an operatic voice, singing to a couple taking a romantic ride in a gondola in the canal just outside our hotel window. Then off to Piazza San Marco, St. Mark’s Basilica, the Bridge of Sighs, and an amazing discovery.
  • Day #6 – Venice to Cinque Terre
    • We spent the day traveling to the Cinque Terre. If you’ve never heard of it, you’ll want to visit the next two days with us.
  • Day #7 – Cinque Terre Day #1
    • We awoke this morning to throw open our shutters and let in the fresh sea air and the sound of the waves crashing on the shore. The music of small children laughing in the square, and the smell of fresh-baked bread from the bar below us wafted up and in our window. Today we explored Riomaggiore, the ‘Via dell’Amore,’ Manarola, and Corniglia. Come along with us.
  • Day #8 – Cinque Terre Day #2
    • Cinque Terre is a remote mountainous chunk of the Italian riveria that is called “the traffic-free, lowbrow, underappreciated alternative to the French Riveria … just sun, sea, sand (pebbles), wine, and pure, unadulterated Italy … exploring, hiking, shopping, and evening romance in one of God’s great gifts to tourism.” Join us as we visit Monterossa.
  • Day #9 – Florence Day #1
    • A trip by Carrara (home of the world famous marble), Pisa (home of the world famous tower), and then to Florence for quick visits to the Duomo and the Baptistery to see Ghiberti’s bronze doors. And, it was a hot night in Florence.
  • Day #10 – Florence Day #2
    • Come visit the Oltrarno area, to the south of the Arno River, to get a sense of rustic, old Florence. Then, off to the Santa Croce Basilica and the amazing tombs of Michelangelo, Galileo, Dante, and Machiavelli.
  • Day #11 – Florence Day #3
    • The Uffizi Museum, the greatest collection of Italian art anywhere, was our morning adventure. Then join us at Piazzale Michelangelo, where we saw a second copy of Michelangelo’s David, and relived our memories of romance 30 years ago … followed by an evening at the Palazzo Vecchio and a wonderful meal at the Fescobaldi Wine Bar.
  • Day #12 – Florence Day #4
    • Join us at the underappreciated Duomo Museum and then the Academy, to meet the real David. Our afternoon was Fra Angelica and the Santa Maria Novalle Church. For our Florentine finale, the Lord was pleased to provide us a riverside, bridge-view table near the Ponte Vecchio for sunset.
  • Days #13-14 – Rome Days #1-2 – The Wedding
    • We’ve been to a lot of weddings in our lives, but a wedding at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican comes right at the top. We had a magnificent time with dear friends, accompanied by fantastic fellowship and food.
  • Day #15 – Rome Day #3
    • Join us for a journey through the Trastevere area of Rome, and then to devotions at the Church of St. Cecilia, followed by our amazing trip to the Villa Borghese Gallery. Our evening was capped off at  the magnificent Trevi Fountain and the the world-famous Spanish Steps.
  • Day #16 – Our Last Day – Rome Day #4
    • We’ll start at the Roman coliseum, an tour by the Arch  of Constantine,  the ostentatious Victor Emmanuel Monument, and Bernini’s Four Rivers fountain in the Piazza Novona. As well as a visit with an amazing young man.

We’ve hoped you’ve had fun accompanying us on this trip to Italy, and that one day you’ll be blessed to experience and enjoy her yourself.

Church health fairs help spot high blood pressure

Churches and parish nurse programs have proven to be essential to the physical, emotional, relational, and, of course, spiritual health of their congregants. Now, new research shows that church health fairs are an effective way of identifying people with high blood pressure and making sure they get treatment. Here are the details in a report from Reuters Health:

These fairs are a venue to get people from low-income immigrant communities into medical care, Dr. Arshiya A. Baig of the University of Chicago told Reuters Health.

Baig and her team worked with a faith community nurse program in Los Angeles that runs clinics and provides community outreach. Registered nurses also partner with churches, holding office hours there and providing services.

Baig and her team visited 26 health fairs in Los Angeles County from October 2006 to June 2007, testing blood pressure in 886 people aged 18 and older.

They randomly assigned 100 people with high blood pressure to a referral to the nurse at the church holding the health fair, or to get help making an appointment with a doctor by telephone.

People in the first group were introduced to the nurse at the health fair, and instructed to make an appointment with the nurse within the next two weeks. The nurse would provide counseling and help them set up an appointment with a physician.

People in the doctor referral group didn’t meet with a nurse. If they didn’t already have a primary care physician, Baig and her colleagues would find a clinic nearby and make an appointment with them.

Four months later, the researchers were able to follow up with 41 people in the nurse group and 44 in the physician referral group.

They found that 68 percent of the nurse group had seen a physician during that time, compared to 80 percent of the doctor referral group. This difference was not statistically significant, meaning it could have been due to chance.

The average systolic blood pressure drop (the top number) in the community nurse group was 7 mm Hg, compared to 14 mm Hg in the physician referral group.

Twenty-seven percent of the patients in the nurse group had their medications changed during follow up, while 32 of the telephone referral group did.

The telephone referral group may have fared better because they saw a doctor earlier, Baig noted; she also pointed out, however, that patients in the nurse group were more likely to get counseling on lifestyle changes to help lower their blood pressure, which probably wouldn’t have had an effect within four months.

The findings shouldn’t be interpreted as meaning that telephone referrals to a physician are more effective than faith community nurse referrals, Baig added. “I think at four months you can’t say one is better than the other.”

The important thing, she added, is that both nurses and telephone-assisted appointments were an effective way to get people in to see a doctor. And without faith community nurses, Baig said, “There wouldn’t be health fairs, we wouldn’t be finding people who have undiagnosed or poorly controlled (high blood pressure).”

So, the bottom line is that we in faith communities can and should think of the physical, and not just the spiritual, health of our fellow parishioners.

SOURCE: Journal of General Internal Medicine, online March 27, 2010.

Friends, Not Grandkids, Key to Happy Retirement

In my book 10 Essentials of Happy, Healthy People: Becoming and staying highly healthy, I talk about “avoiding loneliness like the plague.” (more information on the book and free resources at the end of this blog) In other words, I stress that a strong social network bodes well for golden years. Now, another study finds this to be true. Here are the details in a report from HealthDay News:

It’s said that one of the joys of old age is taking pleasure in your grandchildren, but an English research team begs to differ.

An active social life, being married and having a partner who is also retired all make a huge difference in seniors’ enjoyment of life, but having children or grandchildren matters little, the University of Greenwich team found in its study of 279 British retirees.

Grandchildren are a source of pride, but there are trade-offs to having them, said lead researcher Oliver Robinson, of the university’s department of psychology and counseling.

“There are both benefits and drawbacks to the presence of children and grandchildren in retirement, which balance each other out,” Robinson said.

“The positives are that having children and grandchildren imparts a sense of purpose and meaning, while the drawback is the frequent commitment for child care that can potentially interfere with the sense of freedom and autonomy that is at the heart of a positive retirement.”

Robinson and his team were to report their findings … at the annual conference of the British Psychological Society in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Study participants, who were recruited from a retirement Web site and online newsletter, answered questions about family, friends and their life in retirement. They also completed a scale designed to measure their satisfaction with their lives.

The researchers found no difference in life satisfaction between retirees who have children and grandchildren and those who don’t.

But a strong social network tended to have a major positive effect on retirees’ enjoyment of life. Seniors with high levels of life satisfaction strongly agreed with the statement, “I have active social groups I enjoy spending time with.” Conversely, seniors who aren’t enjoying life much strongly agreed with the statement, “I miss the socializing of working life.”

“Social groups in retirement, particularly those that revolve around shared interests, can provide a retiree with a number of basic psychological needs — a sense of connectedness, of purpose, and of mastery if there is a skill involved,” Robinson said. “The great retirement trap is loneliness, and active social groups negate the possibility of that.”

American retirees have expressed similar sentiments regarding what makes their life most enjoyable, said Rosemary Blieszner, associate dean of the graduate school at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University and director of the Center for Gerontology.

“Older adults are very interested in their grandchildren and want them to succeed, but really, I think that most of your happiness and psychological well-being is going to come from your peers,” Blieszner said.

“For many stages of life, not just old age, people feel like their age peers understand what they’re going through and give them that social support that comes from friendship and understanding.”

Having a spouse or a longtime partner also matters significantly when it comes to enjoyment of retired life, the British team found. Seniors who are widowed, never married, divorced or separated reported lower levels of life satisfaction than people in long-term relationships.

It also makes a difference whether your partner is retired along with you. The study found that retirees whose spouse or partner is still working enjoyed their life less than those who have been joined in retirement by their partner.

“Those retirement individuals whose partner is not retired miss their work lives more, perhaps because they are unable to fully engage with retirement,” Robinson said.

“They are in a kind of limbo state, unable to make plans for long holidays or a substantial change of life until the retirement of their partner happens,” he added.

“When a couple retire together, they can plan aspirationally together, and help each other adapt to the new life phase.

If you want to read more about this and other ways to build a happy and healthy life, consider reading my book, 10 Essentials of Happy, Healthy People: Becoming and staying highly healthy:

  • You can order a signed copy here.
  • Find the Table of Contents here.
  • Find the Forward here.
  • Find Chapter One here.
  • And, last but not least, find a free Reader’s Study Guide here (can be used by an individual or small group).

Major medical organization endorses active surveillance for large numbers of prostate cancer patients

The Chicago Tribune reported that “for the first time,” active surveillance is “being  endorsed for large numbers of men by a major medical organization: the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, an alliance of 21 leading cancer centers across the US.”

According to “new guidelines,” the approach is recommended “for men deemed to have ‘very low risk’ prostate cancer and a life expectancy of less than 20 years,” as well as for those men whose “prostate cancer is considered ‘low risk’ and” have a “life expectancy” of “less than 10 years.”

In other words, “almost 40 percent of the 192,000 men diagnosed with prostate cancer each year could qualify for active surveillance under those standards, said Dr. James Mohler,” part of the “committee that prepared the guidelines.”

Researchers in Illinois conducting active surveillance studies.

The Chicago Tribune reported that last year, NorthShore University Health System began “recruiting men who are at least 60 years old with low-grade prostate cancer (Gleason score of 6 or less) and relatively low PSA scores (less than 10)” to find out which patients “can be managed safely with active surveillance.”

Adhering to “a slightly different protocol,” University of Chicago researchers are also “tracking about 50 men with low-grade, low-risk prostate cancers.”

Meanwhile, a third trial, in which University of Toronto researchers “examined 453 men undergoing active surveillance over a period of up to 13 years,” revealed that “men’s risk of dying from prostate cancer during the study was one percent, while their risk of dying from another condition was 16 times as high,” according to results “presented last year at meetings of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.”

When it comes to prostate cancer, the times they are a changin’.

Trip to Italy – Day #10 – Florence Day #2

Buono journo, friends and vicarious travelers.  And, we hope your sleep last night was better than ours!

We didn’t rest so well last night for three reasons:

  1. our legs ached (ibuprofen and a hot soak in the tub helped,
  2. the hotel air conditioner is not on (it was cold last week and being in a controlled architectural zone, they must obtain permission to change from the heat to the AC), and
  3. opening the window let in the cool air, but also all the street noise.

Fortunately, this morning, after an excellent breakfast at the Albergotto Hotel, they upgraded us to a larger, cooler, and much nicer room (not that the last one was a bad room at all). In fact, this one is huge. Twelve foot ceilings and the room itself is 20 x 30 feet – and that does not include the foyer or bath. Nice!

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Note not only the palace within, but the palace across the street

Then we were off to an area of town not frequented by many tourists, but one that is right up our alley – the Oltrarno area to the south of the Arno River.

We’ve found that staying in the tourist-only zones of any European city leaves us with an incomplete impression of the city. This is particularly true of Florence.

We’ve been told this area is the best place to get “a sense of rustic, old Florence,” and we received that in spades just wandering the neighborhoods, visiting the shops. We passed many shops of working artists – a man refinishing an ancient wood chair with ornate carving, a shop cleaning and refinishing what looked like ancient painted panels from a church, shops making jewelry, furniture, leather goods … it was a view into the lives of working artisans who each made us feel welcome.

There were several fun markets …

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The flowers were gorgeous – especially the Canna Lillies

… and we stopped in at several gorgeous parish churches, as well as a nice coffee and gelato shop. We discovered a hidden view of the Ponte Vecchio …

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Ornate watering spots for horses or pets …

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Icons, statues of saints, or cherubs overlooking many intersections …

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An even a modern icon just above a trash receptacle …

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Note – It’s a statue of a woman holding her nose! Cute.

We found the only remaining 14th century gate to the city (through which the road to Pisa ran) …

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Near that gate was an interesting piece on a corner of the city wall near the Arno River. Paul McCusker, I’m thinking we need to put this symbol in our next TSI novel … the eye that sees all, looking up river at the city … and the symbol has similarity to the one on our one dollar bill …

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By the way, and as an aside, the second novel in the TSI series, Time Scene Investigators: The Influenza Bomb, should be out in the next couple of weeks. If you read it, let me know what you think.

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And we saw many more fun knockers … both those warning away door-to-door salesmen …

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And those with an even more devilish theme …

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For lunch we found a spacious and cheery trattoria hidden near the ancient gate to Pisa. The family-run, we-speak-Italian-only staff, had a simple and ridiculously inexpensive menu with stunningly tasty food.

The house wine was delicious and matched perfectly to spaghetti with tomato sauce, garlic, and freshly grated Parmesan cheese. (Barb smelled of garlic the rest of the day! And, I loved it!!) Barb had a mixed salad, while I enjoyed stewed beef and potatoes, which had a marvelous peppery flavor and a simple rustic feel.

The deserts looked exquisite, but we had gelato on our minds, so after paying our small bill, we were off.

Our late afternoon was spent back on the north shore of the Arno, after crossing over the Arno on the Ponte Vecchio (do you feel like you’re learning your way around by now?), where we visited the Santa Croce Basilica, …

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Santa Croce Cathedral

… which is Michelangelo’s home parish (he grew up quite near to this square and church) and his final resting place is inside the church …

Michelangelo's Tomb

Along with the tombs of Galileo …

Galileo's Tomb

… Dante …

Dante's Tomb

… and Machiavelli.

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After a brief gelato stop (dark chocolate and cream for me, milk chocolate and strawberry for Barb) at Gelateria Grom (unfortunately, Vivoli’s Gelateria was closed today), we were back at the Duomo for a late afternoon tour of its massive baptistery (remember Ghiberti’s doors from yesterday?).

This is believed to be the oldest building in Florence, dating from the 11th century. The dome is as amazing as those in St. Mark’s in Venice – and, with good reason.

In the 1200’s, workers from St. Mark’s came to Florence to do the massive mosaics of the dome in Venetian glass. The pre-Renaissance, Byzantine style is marvelous. And they were stuck on gold!

Here’s how part of the ceiling is described by Rick Steves:

“The Last Judgment on the ceiling gives us a glimpse of the medieval worldview. Life was a preparation for the afterlife, when you would be judged and saved or damned, with no in-between. Christ, peaceful and reassuring, would bless you with heaven (on his right hand, thumb’s up) …

Romantesque Christ

“… or would send you to hell (below Christ’s ultimate thumbs down).

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Hell’s the bottom half – not a pretty sight, eh?

“… to be tortured by demons and gnashed. The hellish scene looks like something right out of the Inferno by Dante … who was dipped into the baptismal waters right here.”

We popped back to the hotel to give our legs a well-earned rest … and now are off for an evening in the city.

Tomorrow will include a much anticipated visit to the Uffizi Museum, one of the top four or five art museums in the world – and much more of one of our favorite cities in the world. Hope you’ll come back for more.

Arivederchi!

Here’s the entire series:

Dr. Walt and Barb’s Italian Adventure — May 8-25, 2010

If you’ve ever wanted to go to Italy (or even if you have in the past), you’ll want to come along with us and enjoy the sites, sounds, food, and art.

Hopefully, this blog will stimulate you to put visiting these amazing cities on your to-do list. Just click on any of the days or cities you want to visit with us.

  • Days #1 and 2 – Flight Nightmares
    • Okay, so you think you don’t know anyone whose plane to Europe was canceled due to the volcanic ash … or who were on another plane that blew two tires on take off and had to make an emergency landing … well now you do!
  • Day #3 – Rome
    • Rome and the Vatican Museum. Come visit the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica, and Michelangelo’s Pieta.
  • Day #4 – Venice
    • The tourists call it ‘Venice,’ the Italians call it ‘Venezia,’ while the Venetians call it ‘Venexia.’ Barb and I call it romantic and captivating. Come on an afternoon and evening stroll and be quickly drawn into her whimsical wonderment … right to the Rialto Bridge.
  • Day #5 – Venice
    • We were awakened by the sound of an accordion and an operatic voice, singing to a couple taking a romantic ride in a gondola in the canal just outside our hotel window. Then off to Piazza San Marco, St. Mark’s Basilica, the Bridge of Sighs, and an amazing discovery.
  • Day #6 – Venice to Cinque Terre
    • We spent the day traveling to the Cinque Terre. If you’ve never heard of it, you’ll want to visit the next two days with us.
  • Day #7 – Cinque Terre Day #1
    • We awoke this morning to throw open our shutters and let in the fresh sea air and the sound of the waves crashing on the shore. The music of small children laughing in the square, and the smell of fresh-baked bread from the bar below us wafted up and in our window. Today we explored Riomaggiore, the ‘Via dell’Amore,’ Manarola, and Corniglia. Come along with us.
  • Day #8 – Cinque Terre Day #2
    • Cinque Terre is a remote mountainous chunk of the Italian riveria that is called “the traffic-free, lowbrow, underappreciated alternative to the French Riveria … just sun, sea, sand (pebbles), wine, and pure, unadulterated Italy … exploring, hiking, shopping, and evening romance in one of God’s great gifts to tourism.” Join us as we visit Monterossa.
  • Day #9 – Florence Day #1
    • A trip by Carrara (home of the world famous marble), Pisa (home of the world famous tower), and then to Florence for quick visits to the Duomo and the Baptistery to see Ghiberti’s bronze doors. And, it was a hot night in Florence.
  • Day #10 – Florence Day #2
    • Come visit the Oltrarno area, to the south of the Arno River, to get a sense of rustic, old Florence. Then, off to the Santa Croce Basilica and the amazing tombs of Michelangelo, Galileo, Dante, and Machiavelli.
  • Day #11 – Florence Day #3
    • The Uffizi Museum, the greatest collection of Italian art anywhere, was our morning adventure. Then join us at Piazzale Michelangelo, where we saw a second copy of Michelangelo’s David, and relived our memories of romance 30 years ago … followed by an evening at the Palazzo Vecchio and a wonderful meal at the Fescobaldi Wine Bar.
  • Day #12 – Florence Day #4
    • Join us at the underappreciated Duomo Museum and then the Academy, to meet the real David. Our afternoon was Fra Angelica and the Santa Maria Novalle Church. For our Florentine finale, the Lord was pleased to provide us a riverside, bridge-view table near the Ponte Vecchio for sunset.
  • Days #13-14 – Rome Days #1-2 – The Wedding
    • We’ve been to a lot of weddings in our lives, but a wedding at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican comes right at the top. We had a magnificent time with dear friends, accompanied by fantastic fellowship and food.
  • Day #15 – Rome Day #3
    • Join us for a journey through the Trastevere area of Rome, and then to devotions at the Church of St. Cecilia, followed by our amazing trip to the Villa Borghese Gallery. Our evening was capped off at  the magnificent Trevi Fountain and the the world-famous Spanish Steps.
  • Day #16 – Our Last Day – Rome Day #4
    • We’ll start at the Roman coliseum, an tour by the Arch  of Constantine,  the ostentatious Victor Emmanuel Monument, and Bernini’s Four Rivers fountain in the Piazza Novona. As well as a visit with an amazing young man.

We’ve hoped you’ve had fun accompanying us on this trip to Italy, and that one day you’ll be blessed to experience and enjoy her yourself.

Trip to Italy – Day #9 – Florence Day #1

We were awakened today, Sunday, May 16th, for our third bell cantata by the church bells in Vernazza. Packing and saying goodbye to our hosts, Andrea and Franca Maria, we walked up the street to our last breakfast with Jeff at the Blue Martin Bar.

There are two things I need to say here. The ‘bars’ in Italy, like ‘pubs’ or ‘taverns’ in the UK, are family oriented establishments. Yes, alcohol is served, but in most, so is a simple menu and we enjoyed all our meals here.

Secondly, in his travel guide about Italy, Rick Steves says he has never met an American male who married an Italian female. Well, Rick, you need to meet Jeff the next time you’re in Vernazza.

Jeff was born in California, met his wife-to-be, and has been living here the last few years with not plans to return home. We can understand why.

After breakfast and goodbyes, we were up to the train station to catch our train to Pisa. A surprise on the way was seeing mountains in the distance that looked like they were covered with snow.

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Is it snow???

As the train drew closer, we came to see it was a massive quarry. A fellow traveler told us it was the world famous white marble quarry of Carrara.

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Carrara marble quarry

Carrara marble has been used since the time of Ancient Rome; the Pantheon and Trajan’s Column in Rome which we will see later this week are constructed of it.

Many sculptures of the Renaissance, such as Michelangelo’s David, were carved from Carrara marble. For Michelangelo at least, Carrara marble was valued above all other stone, except perhaps that of his own quarry in Pietrasanta.

Our trained rushed by stations with mountains of monstrous slabs of the marble being prepared for cutting or shipping. All in all, it was an unexpected surprise.

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Multi-ton chunks of Carrara marble

Within an hour we were in Pisa. We’ve not visited here since our trip to Europe as students in 1978. Other than one of the the most famous bell towers in the world …

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Tell me you don’t need a caption for this one? Correct??

By the way, if you’re worried about the lean, don’t be. The final solution to prevent the collapse of the tower was to slightly straighten the tower to a safer angle, by removing only  50 cubic yards of soil from underneath the raised end.

This straightened the tower by 18 inches, returning to the exact position that it occupied in 1838 and was declared stable for at least another 300 years.

In 2008, after the removal of another 70 tons of earth, engineers announced that the Tower had been stabilized such that it had stopped moving for the first time in its history. They stated it would be stable for at least 200 years.

Beside the tower and the accompanying basilica and baptistery, there’s not much to see in Pisa. But, the baptistery is worth a trip.

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Baptistery, Basilica, and Bell Tower in Pisa

What a baptistery it is – the largest in Italy. In gothic and renaissance times, one had to be baptized before entering the church. And, what a baptismal it is …

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One major baptismal font, eh?

No sprinkling here. This is a major immersion tub. You could almost swim laps in it! And, the pulpit is one of the prettiest we’ve seen. Bet our pastor, Bill Story, would love one of these at Little Log Church. Elders, you need to get to work on this …

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Pulpit in the Baptistry in Pisa

Back in the train station at Pisa, we stopped in to a McDonald’s and it’s not like being in the US. There’s a full coffee bar (our usual cappuccino and latte) and a full pastry bar (one chocolate croissant, par favor).

The fast-food restaurant also has Italian-only sandwiches and well as many of the U.S. items. We just went Italian.

After another hour on the train, we were in Florence, the birthplace of the Renaissance by 1 pm, found our hotel with little difficulty, and hit the streets for Rick Steves’ “Renaissance Walk.”

We visited the Cathedral of Florence, the Duomo, which stands as the proud symbol of the Renaissance – the rebirth of Greek and Roman culture that swept across Europe in 15th century …

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I’m in front of the Bell Tower, and the Duomo is in the background

In an amazing step of faith, the Duomo was built in the 1300’s with a giant hole in the roof for the dome. There was no technology to build a dome that big at the time.

In the 1400’s an architect finished the job in only 14 years, and it became the largest dome in the world other than the Pantheon in Rome. It also became the model for the dome of our U.S. Capitol in Washington and Michelangelo’s dome at St. Peter’s in Rome.

When he saw the dome, Michelangelo is reported to have said, “Not even the ancients could have done it.” Of his dome over St. Peter’s, he said, “I’ll make its sister … bigger, but not more beautiful.”

… and the Duomo’s Baptistry have two sets of world-famous doors that are said to have “opened the Renaissance” – the most famous of which were designed by a 25-year old artist, Ghiberti, who spent 27 years molding the 10 bronze panels on these two doors.

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Ghiberti’s Bronze Doors in Florence

Of these doors, Michelangelo is said to have commented that they were “fit to be the gates of paradise.” Barb’s favorite panel was the one on the upper left – of creation.

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Ghiberti’s Creation of Adam and Eve

From these beautiful buildings, which we will explore later this week, we wanted the streets with thousands of Florentines (our for Sunday afternoon family walks) and tourists from around the world.

The streets were pretty packed – and, it’s not even high season. Of course, we had to stop at several gelato stores. I had a mint chocolate chip gelato in honor of my daughter, Kate, who was conceived here in Florence in 1978. (More on that story later)

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Note how they put hints to help you know the flavor each gelato

Barb’s favorite so far? Dark chocolate. Mine? Mint chocolate chip!

One interesting building we did visit was the Orsanmichel Church, built as a granary in the 1350 and then converted to a church in 1400. Various guilds would commission artists to do sculptures for the church.

One, on the outside, is of four early Christians that were martyred for refusing to sculpt pagan images.

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Four men who were will likely have a special place in heaven

Below each statue is a bas-relief depicting the guild that paid for the chapter. There is some debate about which guild this represents. Some say the carpenter’s and mason’s guild …

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Ouch!!!

… others say the guys who did discount circumcisions.

The inside tabernacle, which soars to the ceiling, is over 650 years old. Amazing.

From here we were off to the Palace Vecchio, Florence’s political center. It is surrounded by amazing sculpture, including a copy of Michelangelo’s David (one of three we’ll see here).

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Barb in front of the Medici Family Palace. Notice David? I know, hard to miss him with a beautiful woman commanding all the attention!

Then down to the Arno River and one of the most famous bridges in the worlds, the Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge). And, indeed, old it is as a bridge has spanned the river here since Roman times.

The bridge is a cacophony of people and a bevy of jewelry shops. Barb had a ball shopping, but fortunately, did not buy anything. The prices they were asking were a King’s ransom.

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The Ponte Vecchio

Then, we completed our afternoon just wandering around the old city, her amazing building, her brisk and bustling bazaars, her charming ambience.

We even stopped at a bronze statue from 1612, where we had stopped over 30 years ago, to rub the nose of an ancient boar for continued traveling safety.

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Remember all the knockers we talked about in Venice. Well, Florence has them also. Here’s one that reminded us of our dear friends John and Nancy Lion in Kissimmee.

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But, as you can see, they make them much, much bigger in Florence …

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Well, Barb’s about walked my feet off. I can’t believe how sore my legs are, so it’s back to the hotel of a good hot soak before bedtime.

Here’s the entire series:

Dr. Walt and Barb’s Italian Adventure — May 8-25, 2010

If you’ve ever wanted to go to Italy (or even if you have in the past), you’ll want to come along with us and enjoy the sites, sounds, food, and art.

Hopefully, this blog will stimulate you to put visiting these amazing cities on your to-do list. Just click on any of the days or cities you want to visit with us.

  • Days #1 and 2 – Flight Nightmares
    • Okay, so you think you don’t know anyone whose plane to Europe was canceled due to the volcanic ash … or who were on another plane that blew two tires on take off and had to make an emergency landing … well now you do!
  • Day #3 – Rome
    • Rome and the Vatican Museum. Come visit the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica, and Michelangelo’s Pieta.
  • Day #4 – Venice
    • The tourists call it ‘Venice,’ the Italians call it ‘Venezia,’ while the Venetians call it ‘Venexia.’ Barb and I call it romantic and captivating. Come on an afternoon and evening stroll and be quickly drawn into her whimsical wonderment … right to the Rialto Bridge.
  • Day #5 – Venice
    • We were awakened by the sound of an accordion and an operatic voice, singing to a couple taking a romantic ride in a gondola in the canal just outside our hotel window. Then off to Piazza San Marco, St. Mark’s Basilica, the Bridge of Sighs, and an amazing discovery.
  • Day #6 – Venice to Cinque Terre
    • We spent the day traveling to the Cinque Terre. If you’ve never heard of it, you’ll want to visit the next two days with us.
  • Day #7 – Cinque Terre Day #1
    • We awoke this morning to throw open our shutters and let in the fresh sea air and the sound of the waves crashing on the shore. The music of small children laughing in the square, and the smell of fresh-baked bread from the bar below us wafted up and in our window. Today we explored Riomaggiore, the ‘Via dell’Amore,’ Manarola, and Corniglia. Come along with us.
  • Day #8 – Cinque Terre Day #2
    • Cinque Terre is a remote mountainous chunk of the Italian riveria that is called “the traffic-free, lowbrow, underappreciated alternative to the French Riveria … just sun, sea, sand (pebbles), wine, and pure, unadulterated Italy … exploring, hiking, shopping, and evening romance in one of God’s great gifts to tourism.” Join us as we visit Monterossa.
  • Day #9 – Florence Day #1
    • A trip by Carrara (home of the world famous marble), Pisa (home of the world famous tower), and then to Florence for quick visits to the Duomo and the Baptistery to see Ghiberti’s bronze doors. And, it was a hot night in Florence.
  • Day #10 – Florence Day #2
    • Come visit the Oltrarno area, to the south of the Arno River, to get a sense of rustic, old Florence. Then, off to the Santa Croce Basilica and the amazing tombs of Michelangelo, Galileo, Dante, and Machiavelli.
  • Day #11 – Florence Day #3
    • The Uffizi Museum, the greatest collection of Italian art anywhere, was our morning adventure. Then join us at Piazzale Michelangelo, where we saw a second copy of Michelangelo’s David, and relived our memories of romance 30 years ago … followed by an evening at the Palazzo Vecchio and a wonderful meal at the Fescobaldi Wine Bar.
  • Day #12 – Florence Day #4
    • Join us at the underappreciated Duomo Museum and then the Academy, to meet the real David. Our afternoon was Fra Angelica and the Santa Maria Novalle Church. For our Florentine finale, the Lord was pleased to provide us a riverside, bridge-view table near the Ponte Vecchio for sunset.
  • Days #13-14 – Rome Days #1-2 – The Wedding
    • We’ve been to a lot of weddings in our lives, but a wedding at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican comes right at the top. We had a magnificent time with dear friends, accompanied by fantastic fellowship and food.
  • Day #15 – Rome Day #3
    • Join us for a journey through the Trastevere area of Rome, and then to devotions at the Church of St. Cecilia, followed by our amazing trip to the Villa Borghese Gallery. Our evening was capped off at  the magnificent Trevi Fountain and the the world-famous Spanish Steps.
  • Day #16 – Our Last Day – Rome Day #4
    • We’ll start at the Roman coliseum, an tour by the Arch  of Constantine,  the ostentatious Victor Emmanuel Monument, and Bernini’s Four Rivers fountain in the Piazza Novona. As well as a visit with an amazing young man.

We’ve hoped you’ve had fun accompanying us on this trip to Italy, and that one day you’ll be blessed to experience and enjoy her yourself.

Trip to Italy – Day #8 – Cinque Terre Day #2

After I posted the blog last night, I was shutting down the computer, when who should come walking up to me but our three new friends from Oklahoma. Janet and her newly-graudated-from-OSU daughter, Sarah, and Janet’s sister, Elizabeth, were back in Vernazza from a day of exploring Monterossa. Continue reading

Trip to Italy – Day #6 – Venice to Cinque Terre

This morning, Thursday, May 13, we left Venice early (745 am), via water taxi to the train station and caught the bullet train to Milan. After a brief layover, we caught a second train to La Spezia and then a local train to the tiny harborside village of Vernazza, a quaint and charming little hamlet of about 500 locals – arriving about 5 pm. Continue reading

Most St. John’s Wort Supplements Fail Quality Tests

As I report in my best-selling book, Alternative Medicine: The claims, the options, the evidence, how to choose wisely, St. John’s wort can be a safe and effective antidepressant herb for mild to moderate depression. But, as I warned in my book, and as yet another independent quality testing lab reports, heavy metal contamination and low potency are still concerns.

ConsumerLab reports, “St. John’s wort has been shown to be effective in treating mild to moderate forms of major depression.” But, the independent quality testing lab’s newest report found that only a few of the herbal supplement brands recently tested met quality standards.

Among the ten St. John’s wort supplements selected for testing, only four (40%) met ConsumerLab.com’s quality standards. In other words, 60% of the brands tested FAILED quality testing.

Americans purchased $55 million of St. John’s wort supplements in 2008 according to the Nutrition Business Journal, down significantly from a high of $315 million in 1998. And, since natural medicines (herbs, vitamins, and supplements) are essentially unregulated in the U.S., consumers can have a difficult time finding product that is both safe and effective.

This is why I recommend to my patients, that before you invest your hard earned money in a natural medicine, spend a bit to get a quality testing labs results on the herb(s), vitamin(s), and/or supplement(s) you are considering. Single reviews of products by ConsumerLab.com cost less than a bottle of most natural medications, and can help protect your from contaminated or mislabeled product.

With St. John’s wort this is particularly important, as the herb is known to naturally heavy metals from the soil. There are more details about the ConsumerLab results below, but if you’d like an evidence-based, best-selling review of alternative medicine (including the most popular alternative therapies and natural medicines used in the U.S.) consider:

  • Purchasing a copy of Alternative Medicine: The claims, the options, the evidence, how to choose wisely here.
  • You can view the Table of Contents here.
  • You can read the First Chapter here.

Now, here are more details from the ConsumerLab.com report on St. John’s wort:

Four supplements (40% of those tested) failed testing due to contamination with cadmium, a heavy metal that can cause cancer and be a kidney toxin.

One of these four products (25%) was also contaminated with an amount of lead that, although small, would necessitate a warning label in the State of California if the company was required to test for it.

Three products (30% of those tested), including one of those contaminated with cadmium, contained only 22.6% to 36.2% of St. John’s wort plant chemicals (hypericin or hyperforin) expected from their labels.

ConsumerLab.com’s Product Review of St. John’s Wort Supplements is available here and includes results for thirteen supplements.

Ten were selected by ConsumerLab.com and three others are included in the report for having passed the same evaluation through ConsumerLab.com’s Voluntary Certification Program.

Also listed are two products similar to ones that passed but sold under different brand names.

Brands included in the report are CVS, FreeLife Depeze, Kira, L.A. Naturals, Nature’s Answer, Nature’s Bounty, Nature’s Sunshine, Nature’s Way, New Chapter, Puritan’s Pride, Rite Aid, Solaray, Standard Process, Vitamin Shoppe, and Vitamin World.  The report provides evaluations, ingredient comparisons, and expert tips on buying and using these supplements.

ConsumerLab.com is a leading provider of consumer information and independent evaluations of products that affect health and nutrition.

Reviews of St. John’s wort and many other popular types of herbs, vitamins, and supplements are available here.  Subscription to ConsumerLab.com is available online.  The company is privately held and based in Westchester, New York.  It has no ownership from, or interest in, companies that manufacture, distribute, or sell consumer products.

As readers of this blog know, I highly recommend ConsumerLab and use it almost daily in my office practice.

Let Your Kids Play Creatively and They Will Become Healthier Adults

According to new research, we grown-ups need to encourage our kids to play. Indeed, children who engage in creative and active play may grow up to be healthier adults, suggests a British study. The finding comes from a study that involved 505 young adults who provided information about their health and their childhood play experiences. Here are the details from HealthDay News:

Four types of play were found to be associated in different ways with adult health, said the University of Ulster researchers.

Higher levels of creative play in childhood predicted good adult health habits, such as eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise. More active play in childhood was associated with better overall health and more exercise in adulthood.

Adults who had restrictions on play — such as less time to play — were more likely to be overweight and have less healthy lifestyles.

“Having the freedom and opportunity to play is important for all aspects of child development and is a right that is often overlooked,” study author Tony Cassidy said in a news release from the British Psychological Society.

“It is something that most children want to do, and do naturally, but its importance is not always recognized by adults, particularly policymakers.”

“For all sorts of reasons, our society has restricted child play,” he added. “To remove restrictions and reverse a potentially damaging trend requires a change in attitudes across adult society.”

For more information, the American Academy of Family Physicians offers tips for healthy children and families.

A Simple ‘Thank You’ Brings Rewards to All

Expressing gratitude benefits both you and the person being thanked, a new study finds. This new research backs up the studies I discuss in my book, 10 Essentials of Happy, Healthy People: Becoming and staying highly healthy. I discuss how an attitude of gratitude not only can result in a more highly healthy you, but even increase the health of those around you. More details on my book at the end of the blog, but here are the details of the study from HealthDay News: Continue reading