Daily Archives: May 18, 2010

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!


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


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.


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 …


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 …


… 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 …


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 …


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


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 …


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.


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’.