Life is good for actor Kirk Cameron. In 2008, he starred in the hit independent movie Fireproof and released his autobiography, aptly titled Still Growing.
In Fireproof, Cameron plays a firefighter named Caleb, who is called a hero at work but facing marital strife and burnout at home. The inspiring and action-packed film cost $500,000 to make but as of early February has raked in more than $33 million in ticket sales and is now out on DVD.
While forever linked to his role as the lovable teenage troublemaker Mike Seaver on the award-winning TV series Growing Pains, the actor did an about face in his teens, converting to Christianity and leaving the Hollywood scene behind. In 1991, the former teen heartthrob married his on-screen girlfriend, actress Chelsea Noble. Seventeen years later, the couple—along with their six children—remains happily together.
The Post recently caught up with the actor to learn more about his latest movie, his family, and his faith.
In Fireproof, the firemen emphasize the firefighters’ creed “Never leave your partner behind.” While a theme in the movie, is this also a key to successful marriages?
Absolutely. Never leave your partner behind. Statistics today tell us that more than half of people who say “I do” at the altar end up with a failed marriage before long. In this movie, we wanted to uphold a very, very high standard of marriage in a day when marriage is attacked and undermined in many ways. The writers, producers, and I wanted to say, “No, marriage is honorable, sacred, and wonderful—a foundation for a family.”
Your character lives in a strained relationship on the verge of divorce. Both parties blame the problem on lack of respect. You say, “Marriages aren’t fireproof. Sometimes you get burned.” Do you believe that all marriages can be saved?
If including all possibilities, I would say yes. Now, there are extreme circumstances where marriages are just destroyed beyond hope of recovery. I was talking to a friend the other day who did everything he could possibly do to save his marriage, but his wife was just absolutely set on a divorce. You can’t make somebody love you and stay in a marriage if they don’t want to. But more often than not, both people suffer from the same thing—a chronic case of selfishness. If one person can find what it takes to make an about face and put 200 percent into loving their spouse, the effort can transform a person. Suddenly an antagonistic spouse begins to melt and warm up. Pretty soon, he or she starts to bloom into the flower you married. That’s what love can do. It’s certainly not easy. It takes hard work. For many people today, it’s just so easy to trade in your spouse for a newer model.
Your character, Caleb, questions his faith in the movie. Did he mirror your personal struggles with faith and belief?
Yes. I call myself a recovering atheist. When I was young, I never went to church. We never talked about God — never saw the need for it. Things were going great in my life. I was 9 years old and in the entertainment industry. Growing Pains was going great. I just started asking questions like, What happens when you die? Walking down that path and asking those questions led me to a place where really, with all my heart’s desire, I turned my heart to God and allowed God to make me the person that he created me to be. That has just transformed my life. When I get a chance to share that with people on a personal level or in an inspirational movie like Fireproof, I consider it a privilege.
Was there one central message you wanted to convey in the film?
A line in the movie keeps coming back to me. My character’s wife is talking with her girlfriends, and they’re consoling her. One of the ladies says, “A man has got to learn to be a hero to his wife before he can be one to anybody else.” She’s absolutely right. If you’re getting an A at work and a D at home, you’re not successful. You made a commitment and a vow. I know that marriage is hard and everyone has got their unique situations, but a man has to learn to be a hero to his wife and kids first before he can be a real hero.
What is the “Love Dare” challenge, and how did it translate into a book?
In the movie, the “Love Dare” is the 40-day challenge passed from father to son. It was just a plot device in the movie. There wasn’t a published book titled The Love Dare until after the movie was released, then everyone asked where to get that book. They wrote the book quickly so that they could release it with the opening of the movie. The 40-day challenge is to love your spouse unconditionally. Halfway through the dare, you realize you can’t do it. The standard for unconditional love goes against so much of your feelings, as a person who deals with pride and ego. You soon realize that “I don’t think I can do this without some help.” You then turn to the source of love and the creator of marriage and ask for help me.
Is it true that the film cost about $500,000 and grossed more than $33 million?
Yes. We were all very surprised when it turned out to stay in the top 10 and be the No. 1 independent movie last year. No one expected that. But we were confident that it was going to hit the bull’s eye because the script was great. We had high hopes and good expectations but the film’s success really exceeded what we thought would happen.
Did you donate your time and effort to support a personal mission?
I didn’t have a paycheck. I agreed to donate my time up front, like everybody had done in the move. And Sherwood Pictures — the filmmaker — made a donation to the nonprofit camp for terminally sick children and their families that my wife and I run. It’s called Camp Firefly.
Would you tell us about the camp?
Camp Firefly is a camp my wife and I started when we were working together on Growing Pains. We met many children through the Make-A-Wish Foundation. These were kids with terminal illnesses, who wished to come to the set, meet the cast, and get an autograph. Our hearts went out to these families who were dealing with such tragedy in their lives. We wanted to do more than sign a piece of paper, so we put together an all expenses paid week’s vacation. Then, we invited six of these families to get away from the hospitals, needles, and treatments to simply be together as a family and have fun. Forget about being sick. Be around other families who understand what they’re going through. We spend time together as families, getting to know each other, making new friends, talking about life and death, what’s important and what’s not. It turned out to be a real blessing in our life and in the lives of over a 100 families who had come to camp during the last 20 years. If you go to www.campfirefly.com or www.kirkcameron.com, you can find out all about it.
In Fireproof, you had a physically demanding role. Do you exercise regularly?
It was physically demanding. I like to keep in shape, but I had to gain 15 pounds of good, solid muscle for this movie to not only look the role but to be able to carry some of the equipment and do things I had to do. I followed firefighters before the movie to research and prepare, which was very helpful. When you really realize what firefighters do, the courage it takes, the way that they put their lives on the line for other people, and the discipline to be ready in an instant to rescue somebody’s life while you put your own in danger, they command a lot of respect.
Your wife Chelsea came in for the kiss at the end of the movie instead of the actress playing your wife. What was the reasoning behind that?
When I married Chelsea, it was important for me to reassure her that my love is for her alone, so she didn’t have to worry about me being one of these actors who’s going out with other women. I’m not going to be kissing any other woman but Chelsea. That is a promise I made to my wife regardless of what it did to my career. When we did this movie, the writers were on the same page and thought, Wouldn’t it be great to write this romantic scene that is just screaming for a kiss? Then, the writers would have Kirk’s wife put on the dress and wig the actress was wearing and shoot it in silhouette, so you can’t tell. It allowed me to keep my commitment to my wife and make the movie great and romantic.
Anything coming up in the future that people might want to know about?
I recently wrote and released an autobiography called Still Growing, which is a fun, entertaining journey back into the 1980s. You get a feel for what it was like to be a teen idol and how I wound as I am today.
You and your wife have six kids and been married for 17 years. How do you maintain autonomy from the Hollywood community?
I just really dig being with my family most of all, and I don’t live right in the center of the commotion in Los Angeles. I live in the outskirts. We have a nice, big backyard for our kids, and my life is really about my family. My friends are really not in the industry—a separation that is just healthy overall. Your best friends are not the people you’re competing against in business.
Late February is not the time for gardeners to recline in their favorite easy chair beside the wood stove. Spring is waiting in the wings and an early start on gardening chores can make the difference between a mediocre and a great harvest of flowers, fruits, and vegetables. Here are some of the gardening tasks that will reward you in the future:
Late February and early March is the ideal time to prune grapes, roses, holly bushes, and fruit trees. Prune apple trees by no more than 30 percent to avoid overgrowth of suckers. Peaches and nectarines can be pruned back 70 percent. Cut hybrid-tea roses back by one-third to one-half, leaving canes about 18 inches long. Prune climbing rose canes back to three of four buds.
This is your last chance to use dormant sprays on roses and fruit trees.
As long as they have not sprouted buds, most bushes and deciduous trees may be transplanted at this time of year as long as the soil is not frozen.
Bring out the fertilizer. Fertilize shrubs and evergreens using an acid type rhododendron fertilizer for evergreens, conifers, broad leaf evergreens, rhododendrons, azaleas, and camellias. Use an all-purpose fertilizer on roses and other deciduous trees and shrubs.
This is a good time to burn ornamental grasses allowing the new grass shoots room to emerge come warm weather. If clumps are large and near other shrubs and trees that could be scorched by the heat, a good option is to use a chain saw, cutting the grass clumps as close to the ground as possible.
Zone 8 and Above
If you live in zone 8 or higher you may begin rejuvenating your annual flower beds and planting cool season vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, lettuce, spinach, and onions. Plant out cold hardy annuals such as pansies and Icelandic poppies. Begin dividing perennials.
Some nights, whether you are getting home late or you are just feeling lazy, the idea of making dinner is exhausting. Last night was one of those nights for me. And while takeout is always the easy (though not necessarily healthy) option, we are trying to stick to a budget.
What do you make when time is tight?
My family’s go-to easy meal is pancakes. Quick, simple, and healthy, especially if you replace some of the flour with whole-wheat and add fruits or vegetables. I mash up a banana, spoon in some applesauce, mix a heaping scoop of peanut butter, or shred some zucchini or carrots for added flavor and nutrients. Below is my base recipe.
Alyssa’s Famous Pancakes
- 1 cup all-purpose flour (or a mix of white and whole-wheat flour)
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1 cup of milk
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1-2 tablespoons peanut butter
- 1/2 cup applesauce
- 1 ripe banana, mashed
- 1/2 cup shredded carrots, zucchini, or other vegetables
- 1/2 cup chocolate chips (for an indulgent night)
1. Combine dry ingredients in a medium mixing bowl. Make a well in the center and add wet ingredients. Mix until smooth. Stir in any additional mix-ins.
2. Heat nonstick pan over medium-low heat. Spray with cooking spray or lightly grease with butter. Spoon about 1/4-1/3 cup of batter into pan, depending on size you prefer, and allow to cook for a couple of minutes without touching. When the top of the pancake begins to bubble, flip pancake. Cook a couple of more minutes until lightly golden. Serve with syrup or any other topping you like.
Dealing with the day-to-day aspects of diabetes—blood glucose, nutrition, and lifestyle management—is a formidable challenge for all people with the disease.
However, American men living with diabetes also grapple with unique physical, emotional, and sexual health issues, according to recent survey findings from the American Diabetes Association. In an online survey of 1,000 men with Type II diabetes and their spouses, researchers found that many men with diabetes are aware that they are at an increased risk for complications such as heart attack, stroke, and blindness, but not aware of the increased risk for other conditions affecting emotional and sexual health. In fact, the survey showed that more than one-third admitted to experiencing associated with low testosterone levels – depression, erectile dysfunction, and fatigue. The survey also revealed that men are reluctant, for many reasons, to discuss disease-related complications with a doctor, further diminishingtheir ability to take a proactive approach to managing their disease.
“These survey results reinforce that there are some health issues associated with diabetes that men are currently aware of, life the importance of managing blood glucose, blood pressure, and cholesterol,” says Richard M. Bergenstal, M.D., American Diabetes Associated Vice President, Medicine & Science. “But these same men were not aware that diabetes can also negatively affect several emotional and sexual health issues such as erectile dysfunctin and low testosterone.”
Responding to this need, the ADA recently launched an awareness campaign (www.diabetes.org/menshealth ) to help men and their families better manage the disease. To learn more about the survey and new campaign, the Post spoke with Dr. Bergenstal.
Why launch a campaign specific to men’s health?
Twenty-four million people are living with diabetes – half of them are men. Numberous awareness programs have focused on women’s health – largely because they make most of the health decisions in families. Additionally, men typically don’t dwell on personal health issues unless some crisis emerges.
Successfully managing diabetes requires prevention and planning ahead. In our survey of 1,000 men and their spouses, we discovered that men didn’t understand many aspects of the disease, including how diabetes can affect sexual health, emotional states, and relationships. Survey results also revealed that many men feel uncomfortable bringing up these sensitive issues with their doctors. The new campaign addresses sexual health and function as well as emotional health, including the issue of depression.
Certainly, sexual intimacy is an important part of life and relationships. Were men in the survey aware that diabetes could significantly affect their sex lives?
No. But, in fact, impotency or erectile dysfunction (ED) is two to four times as common in men with diabetes. While there are good treatments for ED, men don’t really want to discuss the issue with their doctors perhaps due to embarrassment. And doctors are busy monitoring for other complications associated with diabetes—problems with eyes, kidneys, nerves, and heart disease. As a result, health care providers may never get around to asking if men are experiencing other issues.
Many men tend to associate erectile dysfunction with getting older. How does diabetes affect a male’s sexual health?
First, ED is not a normal part of getting older, and it doesn’t happen to all men with diabetes. However, there are two factors that one must consider. One is as a complication of diabetes. An erection results when there is good blood flow to the penis, provided that the nerves are working properly. Diabetes affects blood flow and nerves. Over time, both can become damaged, leading to ED. As a result, if you don’t control your diabetes, you are at higher risk for ED because you may damage either one or both of those circuits.
The second factor —unrelated to controlling diabetes —is low testosterone levels. Studies show people with diabetes are twice as likely to have low testosterone levels as people without the disease. Low testosterone can decrease your interest in sexual activities or actually get low enough to decrease cians should be screening men with diabetes for more of these issues as part of a patient’s annual diabetes evaluation. We’ve got to start the discussion, and it is usually a family affair. We want men to step up, but we want their spouses to be supportive as well.
Were men in the survey surprised that anxiety, stress, and depression are associated with diabetes?
Yes. Many men in the survey considered coping with diabetes more of a nuisance. But the link between diabetes and depression is much more than a nuisance: It keeps some people from functioning. In fact, depression is twice as common in men with diabetes.
If depressed, you really aren’t on top of your diabetes—a finding that’s been proven now in good studies. For example, men who are depressed don’t monitor sugars regularly, don’t care if they miss a dose of medicine, and are not as likely to think about health. Treating the depression often improves diabetes management.
How do you discern if the depression is due to low testosterone or a complication of the diabetes?
Usually, our first goal for people with diabetes is to get their blood sugar within a reasonable range so they feel better. High blood sugars can really drain you. If you can get blood sugars within a reasonable range, people function better, make rational decisions, and feel engaged. Then, you start tackling other issues like depression. To build a cycle of health and well being, you’ve got to attack all of these areas, because any one of them could pull you down. In addition, there are very simple screening questionnaires for depression. If low testosterone is suspected, a simple blood sample can be drawn to check testosterone level.
Do diet and exercise help prevent erectile dysfunction that occurs as a side effect of diabetes?
Controlling diabetes definitely decreases the risk of sexual dysfunction because it decreases the chance of abnormal circulation or nerve damage.
But if men with diabetes remain overweight, they may continue to have low testosterone levels even if they have controlled their blood sugar levels.
It’s really the weight and insulin resistance that leads to low testosterone. If a man controlled his blood sugars with medication and lost 30 pounds, he probably would experience fewer issues with low testosterone including reducing his chances of experiencing ED.
ED is hard to reverse. If it’s in an early stage when diabetes may be out of control, interventions can help reverse or stop its progression. But if you have waited 10 years, it’s hard to reverse. If ED or low testosterone is present, ask about treatment. While prevention is the best measure, there are effective treatments for many men as well.
What is your take-home message?
Men can take small steps that can have a big impact on their ability to better manage their diabetes. Doing what they know, like staying active, sticking to a healthful diet, learning about increased risks for related conditions, and talking with a doctor if they are suffering from bothersome symptoms, is the key to managing diabetes today.
About the author: David L. Shern, Ph.D., one of the nation’s leading mental health experts with more than 30 years of distinguished service in mental health services research and system reform, is the president and CEO of Mental Health America.
This month, Mental Health America is celebrating its 100th anniversary —a remarkable legacy of one man who turned his personal struggle into a national movement.
Around the turn of the 20th century, recent Yale graduate and newly minted Wall Street financier Clifford W. Beers suffered his first episode of bipolar disorder (manic depressive illness) and spent the following three years learning firsthand of the inadequate and often cruel treatment of people with mental illnesses.
Upon his release, Beers set out to expose the abuse and reform care. In 1908, his autobiography roused the nation to the plight of people with mental illnesses. And on February 19, 1909, Beers, along with the philosopher William James and psychiatrist Adolf Meyer, created the National Committee for Mental Hygiene, an organization we know today as Mental Health America. The modern mental health movement had begun.
Today, we remain focused on many of the issues highlighted by Beers in a speech delivered in June 1932 to the French National League for Mental Hygiene: a struggle to eradicate stigma, to focus on prevention as well as treatment, and to bring mental illness under the umbrella of care designated for physical illnesses. Consider his words:
“One who founds a movement of vital importance to humanity inevitably builds better than he knows. In my earliest plans and first editions of my autobiography, A Mind That Found Itself, the salient features of the mental hygiene movement were outlined as follows: scientific treatment and humane care for the mentally ill; research into the causes and cure of disorders of the mind; and the application of methods and measures for their prevention. The movement, however, is now so broad in scope and purpose that it can be of possible benefit to everyone.
“One [result] is the remarkable and steady change in the attitude of the public toward disorders of the mind, toward those who suffer from them and, also, toward the institutions in which such patients are treated. Indeed, so-called insanity is now widely regarded as a disease and not as a disgrace.
“A second outstanding result of organized work in mental hygiene is the bringing of the medical profession, especially the psychiatrists, into close and continuous cooperation with the lay public, particularly the leaders in education, law, religion, and in social work.
“With this merging of forces, the mental hygiene movement will not only reach its known objectives, but will continue to develop and will endure so long as the mind of man serves as the sanctuary of the divine spark that makes possible such work and such movements as have brought this distinguished audience together in this great amphitheater tonight.”
Inspired by the work of Beers and many others over the past 100 years, Mental Health America continues to transform our nation’s approach to mental health. The Mental Health Parity Act ended discrimination in insurance coverage for people with mental illness, removing some of the financial barriers that have kept people from treatment. We must, and will, continue our efforts to remove the stigma of mental illnesses, effectively treat and prevent mental health conditions, and promote positive mental health as a reality for all.
For more information from Mental Health America about advocacy, education, and support for Americans with mental health conditions, visit mentalhealthamerica.net .
In the 17th century, “it was the Saint Valentine’s custom for a girl to declare her choice of sweethearts that morning, in the expectation of receiving a gift from him,” according to the article “Roses are Red” that appeared in the February 17, 1940 issue of The Saturday Evening Post.
On Valentine’s Day, flowers, cards, and candy top the gift-giving list.
According to the Greeting Card Association, an estimated one billion valentine cards are sent each year, making Valentine’s Day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year. (An estimated 2.6 billion cards are sent for Christmas.)
The most popular gift—according to the article Men: Big Spenders for Valentine’s Day from Money.CNN.com—is flowers, which 58.3 percent of men buy, followed by cards at 56.7 percent, and finally candy at 42.9 percent.
Consumer spending on Valentine’s Day is not a new development. The exchanging of cards with loved ones has been going on for centuries.
Valentine greetings were popular as far back as the Middle Ages (written Valentine’s didn’t begin to appear until after 1400), and the oldest known valentine card is on display at the British Museum. In the United States, Esther Howland is credited with pioneering Valentine’s Day greeting cards during the late 1840s. Howland, known as the “Mother of the Valentine,” made elaborate creations with real lace, ribbons, and colorful pictures known as “scrap.”
“By 1857, some 3 million [cards] a year were being sold,” reads the Post article. As to the origins of the annual event, the Post author writes:
“The name [Valentine’s Day] comes from two Christians who were executed at Rome on February 14, 270 and canonized, both of them, as Saint Valentine. The transition from martyrdom to mushiness is obscure. Possibly it involves the pagan fertility festival called the Lupercalia, which was celebrated in mid-February. Possibly it has some association what a venerable piece of folklore to the effect that birds begin their mating on Saint Valentine’s Day. Chaucer mentions this; so does Shakespeare.”
The early bird gets the worm they say; and for garden lovers, the early seed planter gets the flowers.
Some flowering plants require early planting, and depending on where in the country you live, February may be the time to get going and gain a jump-start on the growing season. Some flowers, such as larkspur, definitely require planting as early as possible if you plan to enjoy their spectacular blossoms at all.
The following is a partial list of flower seeds that can be planted directly in the soil if your ground is thawed and workable:
- Dahlberg Daisy
- Primula Quamoclit
New Flower Varieties for 2009 from the National Garden Bureau (ngb.org)
Poppy ‘Jelly Beans’
Double flowered California poppies.
2 to 2½-inch flowers in orange, salmon, rose, and gold. 10 inches tall Full sun.
Seven unique colors that flower simultaneously.
Compact, 3 to 4 inches tall. Full to part sun.
2- to 3-inch hot pink flowers that bloom summer through fall.
Dwarf African marigold with large, 3-inch flowers.
6 to 8 inches tall. Bloom in 45 days. Full sun.
Valentine’s Day is synonymous with chocolate, just view the seasonal aisle of any supermarket or gift shop. And while I love a box of chocolates as much as the next gal, what I really love is something homemade and decadent.
Here is one of my favorite chocolate cake recipes from my Hershey’s Make It Chocolate! cookbook. Please share your favorite indulgence in the comments section.
Deep Dark Chocolate Cake
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cup Hershey’s Cocoa
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup milk
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 cup boiling water
One-Bowl Buttercream Frosting (recipe follows)
Heat oven to 350º. Grease and flour a rectangular 13-by-9-by-2-inch pan. In a large mixing bowl, combine dry ingredients. Add eggs, milk, oil, and vanilla. Beat on medium speed 2 minutes. Remove from mixer; stir in boiling water (batter will be thin). Pour into prepared pan. Bake 30 to 40 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool completely before frosting.
One-Bowl Buttercream Frosting
- 6 tablespoons butter or margarine, softened
- Hershey’s Cocoa (choose one of the following):
- 1/3 cup for light flavor
- 1/2 cup for medium flavor
- 3/4 cup for dark flavor
- 2 2/3 cups confectioners’ sugar
- 1/3 cup milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
In a small mixing bowl, cream butter. Add cocoa and confectioners’ sugar alternately with milk; beat to spreading consistency. Additional milk may be needed. Blend in vanilla.
You don’t have to be a master gardener to appreciate—and enjoy—the ancient craft of espalier.
It’s a centuries-old horticultural technique with roots as far back as ancient Egypt. There, through faded tomb paintings of fig trees planted and flattened against sun-drenched stone walls, evidence suggests that espalier (ess-PAL’-yay) had a place in the garden.
Later refined by French monks in the late 1600s, this art of pruning and training trees and deciduous shrubs into stylized, flat patterns is as relevant to today’s green thumbs as it was back then. That’s because espalier offers a number of rewards that 21st-century gardeners can reap.
No one understands the benefits— and beauty —of espalier more than Peter Thevenot, owner of River Road Farms in Decatur, Tennessee. He tends to approximately 3,200 of these living works of art at all times. Thevenot’s intense passion for espalier began some 16 years ago after a visit to the vegetable gardens at the historic Mount Vernon estate in Virginia.
“Aside from the beauty and character espalier brings to any garden, these magnificent pieces of living architecture are part of our country’s gardening history and perhaps America’s best-kept secret,” Thevenot says.
“They boast practicality as well. Their architecture lends structure to the garden, and can define and separate outdoor rooms. Use them to accent bare walls or provide privacy as living screens.
“They are also ideal for small spaces because unlike a standard-size fruit tree, you can place an espalier plant in a 15-inch-wide garden bed. So someone living in a condominium or tending a rooftop garden can essentially enjoy a fruit orchard that’s no bigger than 4 feet tall by 5 feet wide.”
And who knew the ancient Egyptians were so “green”? After all, espalier plants require less chemical intervention than their larger counterparts. “Everything is in arms reach. If you need to use a pesticide, it’s just a matter of getting out a small spray bottle, as opposed to the harsher treatment a full-size specimen requires.”
So how exactly does espalier work? Here’s the short version: The pruning of unwanted branches directs energy away from from the plant’s vertical growth so it can focus on producing “spurs” or side shoots from the trunk.
“When you start cutting, the tree feels threatened, and it goes into survival mode,” Thevenot says. “Since its primary purpose in life is to reproduce, it reacts by producing more fruit and flower spurs per square inch available to it.”
No doubt this tough-love approach to pruning can be intimidating to some gardeners. “Get over your fear of cutting,” suggests Thevenot. “You’re not going to hurt the plant. Most anytime you cut a plant back, it encourages growth. It’s amazing how tolerant plants are to shearing or having their branches bent. At the nursery, for example, we start out with a young apple tree that’s no bigger around than your ring finger. The first thing we do is cut it back to 18 inches tall.”
Thevenot also encourages novice gardeners to become familiar with other living architecture found in garden design, including topiary and pleached plants. “Doing so creates awareness for something other than a flat of pansies or row of boxwood.”
Apple trees (Malus) are the most popular plants to espalier (Thevenot suggests Liberty, Gala, Arkansas Black, and Red Delicious cultivars), however; most any tree or large woody shrub is suitable for training. From fruit-producing fig (Ficus carica) and pear trees (Pyrus) to familiar, flower-laden ornamentals, such as crabapples (try Donald Wyman or snowdrift), magnolias (Magnolia grandiflora), jasmine (Jasminum), viburnum, rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus), and weigela (Weigela florida), the possibilities are only as limited as your imagination.
Many of these plants also provide four-season appeal. Take the crabapple, for example: In spring, it boasts beautiful boughs of white or pink blossoms before setting autumn ablaze with berry clusters and fantastic fall foliage. Even in winter, espalier plants have something to offer a stark landscape. “Espalier trees are most beautiful to me in winter. That’s the only time of the year when you can see their true form. The bare branches catch the snow and provide perches for winter birds,” says Thevenot, who strings Christmas lights along a candelabra form embellishing the entryway of his house. “My grandkids think it’s the neatest thing.”
Once you select a plant to espalier, choose a suitable location and pattern. A trellis, wood (or even chain-link) fence, or masonry wall all offer adequate support. You can also fashion espalier into freestanding forms such as privacy fences or domes. Equally as important to consider are your plant’s growing requirements —sun, soil type, drainage.
Espalier forms are as versatile as the plants you can choose to manipulate. Here are a few of the most popular patterns:
- Informal: A free-flowing design that takes its cue from a plant’s natural growing tendencies.
- Horizontal cordon: One of the simplest formal designs, it serves as a focal point, living fence, or screen. Horizontal branches may be single or multitiered.
- Fan: Used most often as a focal point, branches are shaped into a fanlike pattern.
- Candelabra: It’s impossible not to notice this dramatic form, as vertical rows of branches grow off a single horizontal trunk.
- Belgian fence: A complex lattice pattern, it visually breaks up large walls or acts as a see-through screen if created free form.
No matter what pattern or plant you select, the espalier experience is a deep one. “Gardening’s ultimate goal is to bring a sense of happiness and oneness with the earth,” shares Thevenot. “Because you have absolute control over an espalier’s architecture, you enjoy a personal relationship with it that’s unlike any other in the garden.”
Let’s get growing
Thevenot suggest that budding enthusiasts begin with the simplest for formal designs, the horizontal cordon
Step 1 Select a planting site, keeping in mind your plant’s specific growing requirements. Choose a location that offers support, such as a wall, fence, or trellis.
Step 2 Dig a hole for your plant that’s about 6 to 12 inches from the supporting wall or fence. This allows for proper air circulation and room for maintenance.
Step 3 Once established, shape the plant into the desired design by pruning unwanted lateral growth and bending young branches into horizontal arms. Secure to a trellis using soft string or twist ties. (Check periodically to make sure they don’t strangle the plant as it grows.) If attaching to a masonry wall, secure with 14- to 16-gauge wire anchored by 6- to 8-inch-long eyebolts driven into the wall.
Step 4 Prune a few times a year to keep your espalier looking tidy. Stop pruning eight weeks before the first frost is exprected to avoid damaging new growth.
For years nutritional scientists talked up dietary fiber as the key to better health, and now they are onto something even bigger and better. Whole grains, with their heart disease-fighting properties and the combined synergistic health effects of their phytochemicals and nutrients, can provide powerful protection from modern diseases and even help people stay slim. Although whole grains such as wheat, oats, and rye are all healthful, they are not all created equal. Recently, a handful of researchers around the world have been studying one of the lesser known but potentially most beneficial of all whole grains, the white-seed variety of the Salvia hispanica plant.
Once a favorite food of the ancient Aztecs who believed it increased their stamina, Salvia hispanica ranks among the richest of grains in omega-3s, dietary fiber, calcium, iron, and antioxidants.
“This grain’s nutrient composition seems phenomenal,” says Dr. Vladimir Vuksan, director of the Risk Factor Modification Centre at Toronto’s St. Michael’s Hospital. “Its health benefits are becoming more and more apparent with emerging scientific evidence.”
In the first major study of Salvia hispanica, Dr. Vuksan and his University of Toronto colleagues baked the mild-flavored grain into white bread and assessed its effects in patients with well-controlled diabetes. They used the Peruvian-grown variety of white Salvia hispanica called Salba, noted for its superior and consistent nutrient composition. Subjects eating Salba for three months (compared to controls eating wheat-bran bread) had a dramatic six-point reduction in blood pressure and a 40 percent decrease in C-reactive protein levels, the inflammation marker that is a predictor of heart disease. Most important, Dr. Vuksan points out, the patients enjoyed eating the Salba bread, suggesting that it might help overcome a major hurdle in treating diabetes patients’ dietary compliance.
At the University of Antwerp in Belgium, independent researchers found similar improvements when healthy people added Salba to their diets for one month. Data showed reductions in blood pressure and triglyceride levels, but also that the subjects’ waistlines became smaller, even though none of them lost weight. “There was no change in total body weight,” Dr. Vuksan says, “but there was a difference in waist circumference, which indicates a change in body composition.”
In effect, the whole grain appeared to be selectively reducing visceral fat. “This is important,” Dr. Vuksan stresses, “because accumulating fat around the belly is the main problem with respect to developing heart disease and especially diabetes. Once we have this ‘spare tire’ around our belly, we get into trouble.”
The Toronto researchers have since identified further Salba potential. They found “impressive glucose-lowering effects of up to 40 percent” after meals, depending on how much Salba bread was eaten, Dr. Vuksan says. On average, each gram of Salvia hispanica reduces blood sugar levels by 2 percent.
Flax, which has a similar makeup and even more viscous dietary fiber, lowers blood sugar by about half that much, notes Dr. Vuksan. “We actually know the reason for this difference,” he explains. “The soluble fiber of Salba, although less than found in flax, is much more viscous on a per-gram basis. It has the ability to gel stronger with food in the gastrointestinal tract where it slows the absorption of nutrients in the small intestines. All the food will be absorbed, but the increased length of time means the glucose level will not go as high after eating Salba-enriched starchy foods.”
Dr. Vuksan also says that Salba’s soft, permeable husk gels easily, whereas flax husk is hard. Salba can be consumed either as the whole seed or finely ground because both forms are equally effective in lowering glucose levels. On the other hand, he says, “I’m not sure whether one will be able to see any effect with eating whole flax.”
Most recently, a study on Salba conducted at the University of Litoral in Santa Fe, Argentina, and published in the British Journal of Nutrition adds more to the Salba resume of benefits. Rats were fed for months with a sucrose-rich diet causing them to develop metabolic syndrome and obesity. Yet their condition was reversed by adding Salba to their diet. Their triglyceride levels came down, and abdominal fat was reduced. Additionally, their blood levels of omega-3 EPA increased.
The University of Toronto researchers are planning further studies of Salba, especially for its potential to curb weight gain. A brief study of subjective satiety indicated Salba bread eaten for breakfast reduced the desire to eat by 40 to 60 percent two hours after a meal.
“Those are quite impressive results,” Dr. Vuksan says. “It’s a pretty big change with a practical amount of Salba.” Next, researchers hope to study objective satiety, giving people a Salba preload and measuring how it actually affects eating behavior for the next meal. “Clinical data to date, though preliminary, are encouraging to us,” Dr. Vuksan says, “especially at a time when everybody is looking at how to reduce food intake, lower body fat, and improve insulin sensitivity and diabetes control. After all, we all want to live forever. Maybe this ancient grain holds one of the keys.”
Related: Salba Recipes.
The inventor tinkering in a garage and coming up with a better mousetrap is a cherished American image. These days, that tinkering is likely to take place at a sophisticated computer or high-powered microscope. But no matter how they do their work, scientists continue to come up with ingenious and useful advances. Here are a few gee-whiz breakthroughs that are already helping us, or soon will.
Given that heart disease is the leading cause of death in the country for both men and women, it’s no surprise that researchers are always looking for better procedures and devices to assist people with heart trouble. From the University of Michigan comes the recently approved HeartMate II, a device that’s implanted in the chest to help a failing heart pump blood and keep patients alive until they can receive a transplanted heart. The new device is smaller—about the size of a D-cell battery —than earlier versions of heart-assisting implants, making it more suitable for people with smaller bodies, like women and adolescents. According to research published in The New England Journal of Medicine, the HeartMate II helped 75 percent of 133 patients stay alive —and improved heart function and quality of life—for at least six months or until a donor heart became available. One patient even recovered to the point where a transplant was no longer needed.
Folks in cardiac arrest need to be cooled down —and quickly—to improve their chance of recovery and to avoid brain damage. But how? Methods such as packing unconscious patients in ice can take hours, which makes survival dicey. Now, emergency medical personnel have the Thermosuit, a plastic suit filled with cold water that reduces body temperature in approximately 30 minutes. Survival rates have improved in the hospitals where the Thermosuit is in use; a National Institutes of Health-sponsored trial will soon be underway to test the device further.
Get Your Own Cells
The heart muscle tends to become weaker after a heart attack because it doesn’t regenerate itself well. One day, heart patients may be able to use their own skin cells to repair their hearts, using a new type of stem cells called induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS). Like embryonic stem cells, iPS cells have the potential to develop into any type of cell in the body. A team of scientists at University of California, Los Angeles has grown functioning cardiac cells in the lab using cells from mouse skin reprogrammed with iPS cells. Scientists hope that this will lead to heart patients using their own skin cells to create iPS lines that will repair and regenerate.
Fabrics are a basic human need. And now, “smart textiles” do more than the ancient functions of protecting us from the environment and making us look good. They can sense certain stimuli and adapt or respond accordingly, explains Tushar K. Ghosh, Ph.D., a textiles professor at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. Among the many purposes are: protective gear for firefighters; garments that monitor patients’ vital signs like blood pressure and temperature; the delivery of drugs; and to serve as antibacterial or artificial skin for people with severe burns. In the works are fibers that mimic human muscle fibers, which hold promise for prosthetics and robotics. Ghosh and his team are researching a “heatingcooling garment, with fibers that get smaller or larger,” he says. “The idea is to create a piece of clothing that can let the wind come through or tune it closed if it gets too windy or cold.”
In the same vein, an electrical engineering researcher at Mississippi State University has developed a “smart” adhesive bandage that can check cholesterol, insulin, and blood chemistry without needles—a boon to people with diabetes who are used to sticking themselves many times per day. The bandage reads people’s biochemistry right through their skin. The inventor, Ray Winton, expects the bandage to be commercially available in one or two years.
Mag-netting Cancer Cells
Magnets: not just for science fair projects anymore! Scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology have found a way to use magnets to catch cancer cells in the bodies of mice with ovarian cancer. They hope that this will be useful in diagnosing or slowing the spread of this deadly cancer in women. The way it may work: A peptide (a protein-like molecule) designed to attach to ovarian cancer cells is fastened to very tiny magnetic particles and injected into the abdomen. The peptides latch on to the cancer cells, and a magnetic filtering device outside the body pulls them out. Other researchers have developed magnetic nanoparticles that show promise for spotting and getting rid of harmful.
Gas prices of late have convinced just about everyone that we need better ways to get around. For Leik Myrabo, Ph.D., an engineer-ing physics professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, one answer is the Lightcraft. “The Light-craft will move goods and people around the planet in more environmentally friendly ways, using power from renewable energy sources, such as the sun or wind,” he explains. The Lightcraft doesn’t carry its own energy or fuel, instead moving by energy beamed to it from remote laser or microwave power plants, either on Earth or in space (hence the name Lightcraft, a hyperenergetic craft flying on a powerful beam of light). That means it can weigh significantly less than conventional vehicles, such as jet planes and rockets with their massive fuel loads. Myrabo has been working on the concept for more than 30 years, but only in the last few years have power-beaming sources become cheap enough to make the Lightcraft feasible. He estimates that in three to five years, his company, Lightcraft Technologies, Inc., will be able to launch something to the edge of space; moving people will follow within a few more years. “This is species-changing technology,” he says, “sustainable global mobility that will enable you to go anywhere on the planet in 45 minutes or to the moon in a few hours.”
My husband, Tom, placed three letters on the table. The first was a payoff notification from the bank. After 30 years of monthly payments, the house was finally ours. The second contained the finalization of Tom’s retirement package. No more Monday-through-Friday nine-to-five days. Every day would feel like Saturday. However, the third note brought the biggest smile to our faces. It listed the itinerary for our recently booked European vacation. After years of being tied down to family, work, and home responsibilities, we would finally have the life and foreign adventure we’d dreamed about.
Tom’s excitement equaled mine. “I promised Thomas that Grandma and Grandpa would buy him something in every city we visit,” Tom said.
Sixteen-month-old Thomas was our only grandchild. He didn’t communicate, nor did he respond to the world around him like other children his age. His pediatrician labeled Thomas a late bloomer. Because we are members of a generation who’d been raised to believe a doctor was never wrong, Tom and I accepted this. Our daughter, a single mother, did not. Her gut feeling said something wasn’t right with Thomas. Despite the pediatrician’s lack of concern, she insisted Thomas be referred to a doctor who specialized in developmental disorders.
During the past two weeks, Thomas had undergone a series of physical and psychological tests to answer the questions our daughter had raised. The neurologist, who headed the testing team, asked us to meet him at his office the same day we took our suitcases from their attic storage. The diagnosis, a mere six letters, changed our lives forever.
“There are several degrees of autism. Some children remain trapped within the confines of their own worlds; others are able to progress into functioning adulthood. Only time will tell how severely Thomas is affected,” the neurologist explained.
I’m a writer, a lover of books. At his birth, my gift to Thomas was an entire set of classics in anticipation of the two of us exploring Sherlock Holmes’ eerie moors and sharing the intrigue of King Arthur’s court. Now the possibility existed that Thomas would never read nor develop the comprehension necessary to enjoy such tales.
Whenever a person says that his or her “heart broke,” it’s usually thought to be just an expression of speech. However, at this diagnosis, my heart did break—with an emotional pain so severe I almost fainted. Everything else the neurologist said that day about early intervention and specialized education didn’t register in my numb mind. My grandson, the light of my life, had been condemned to what I considered a living death.
My daughter and my husband, who are both “glass-half-full” optimists—instead of a “glass-half-empty” pessimist like me—accepted and adapted to the addition of autism into our lives. Tom canceled the trip he knew neither of us now had the heart to take, while our daughter investigated how best to get Thomas the help he needed.
I simply fell apart. I didn’t leave the house for a week. I cried; I worried; I questioned my faith each time I read a research summary that stated there is no cure for autism. I did things totally out of character. I took Thomas to a faith healer and probably would have participated in a curse-removal ceremony if I’d known somebody who practiced voodoo. I made bargains with God and the devil. My love for my grandson was so great that I would have gladly given up the remaining years of my life and burned in the fires of hell if my eternal suffering would cure this little boy.
I rarely slept more than an hour at a time. I lay awake in the dark and tortured myself with questions that never had an answer. How did this happen to us? Why? No members of our family tree have it, so it can’t be genetic. Was there something in the air? In the water? Did something go wrong during a pregnancy that had no notable problems? Was it, maybe, undercooked meat? How about the pesticides sprayed on fruit? Food additives?
One Sunday morning I had an altercation with a judgmental church member who announced in front of the entire congregation, “God punished your daughter with an autistic child because she had him without the benefit of marriage.” If not for the pastor’s intercession, we probably would have come to blows. I did not regret Thomas’ birth before the diagnosis, and I do not regret it now! It took several weeks, but I finally came to terms with the unexpected life thrust upon us. Within the remnants of my broken heart, I determined to stop grieving for the grandson I once dreamed Thomas would be and put all my energy into developing the person he was.
Our daughter did not ask us to change our chosen senior life path to provide home care for Thomas. We volunteered to stand by her side while she struggled to support the two of them and do what was in Thomas’ best interest. Our world-travel plans were put indefinitely on hold. Tom got a part-time job that allowed him the flexibility to spend many hours a day with Thomas. Our lives revolved around the schedules of the six early intervention therapists working daily with Thomas at our house.
Each morning after his 6 a.m. arrival, I cupped Thomas’ chin in my hand, looked deep into his eyes, and told him, “I know you’re in there, Thomas. Don’t you worry. I’m going to find a way to come in and get you. We will explore the world, maybe not the way I planned, but in another, better way.”
Thomas hugged me whenever I told him this, and I felt an understanding in the little arms wrapped around my neck. I stopped reading emotionally devastating case histories and listening to the dire predictions of doctors. Instead, I developed a new hope in the intervention path we’d chosen to pursue with Thomas, along with the total family involvement that continued and supplemented the therapy.
The months spread into years. Life fell into a new routine where tears no longer had a place. We took weekend trips to the New Jersey shore where Thomas splashed in the ocean, went to restaurants, Thomas & Friends events, and the circus. We never avoided any family event because of Thomas’ autism.
Challenges? Many! Thomas went through a period where high-pitched sounds, such as those emitted by a house alarm, sent him into a panic. He’d bolt into traffic if he weren’t held onto tightly. This terror disappeared, only to be replaced by fear of a certain color of ice-cream truck. The sight of this truck would send him into a meltdown of sobbing and hiding in his bed. This reaction also left him as mysteriously as it came upon him. Thankfully, neither problem has resurfaced.
By age 4, Thomas proved to be high-functioning. He was toilet-trained, able to converse, and possessed a memory that was sometimes sharper than mine! However, despite his aging out of the early intervention services he’d received at home (and therapists’ recommendations that he be put in a mainstream program with an aide), he was denied entrance into a universal pre-K.
Ignorance, unfortunately, exists in school systems. For her first excuse, the school administrator said, “We don’t have any autistic children in our school.” She also said, “We don’t allow aides into our pre-K classrooms.” However, if a child was in a wheelchair, or needed medical care, an aide would be permitted. Finally, I was callously informed, “There are schools for kids like this.” The administrator, who hadn’t taken the time to meet Thomas, handed me a list of schools she’d written out on a yellow sheet of paper; each school was for severely retarded kids. Thomas is not retarded —he simply learns in a different way than other children.
I was offended, and I vowed to fight back. Thomas has his quirks, but in a group of other boys his age, it would take a trained eye to realize he is autistic. He is not violent, he is very social, and he loves all the things other boys do—playground swings, slides, worms, fire engines, building snowmen. The only reason he has an aide is to help keep him on track when the class transitions from one task to another. He would much rather work on an art project than practice printing his letters!
Believe me, hell hath no fury like angry grandparents. Together, Tom and I declared war on the ignorant segment of society that doesn’t have a clue when it comes to autism. Vocal opposition, writing letters, public protesting with signs—we’ve become so visible at local rallies that we are affectionately known as Grandma and Grandpa Autism. We’re disgusted with the parents who don’t invite Thomas to their child’s party because they’re afraid he might act up. Put 10 4-year-olds in a room for any amount of time, and some will misbehave —it’s the age, not the condition.
We’re angry about our major medical plans. Our daughter must work a certain number of hours to maintain medical coverage. No plans cover the cost of all the specialists Thomas must see, and some specialists, knowing how desperate parents of autistic children are, do business on a cash basis only. The retirement savings Tom and I had put aside has been depleted to pay for services Thomas must have and his mom can’t afford.
We’re tired of always having to retain legal representation for Thomas to receive the services, school placement, and benefits he’s entitled to under law. And yes, he is now attending the pre-K we applied to and doing better than many of his classmates, but help was necessary to gain acceptance.
We’re disappointed in the behavior of former friends, some of whom have been part of our lives for decades. Rather than support us emotionally and accept that Thomas is who he is, they decided to ignore his existence. When confronted, a common defense was, “We don’t know what to say.” Not an acceptable excuse. A simple “How is Thomas?” would have done just fine.
Most of all, I’m concerned for my declining health. Conditions brought about by stress affect my life, yet I must hang on until the day when Thomas realizes —and he will —that he was born into a cruel world where people will always shun him because he has autism. I must be here so that I can instill in him that autism doesn’t matter to those who love him. Yes, he has a mother who is his greatest advocate, a grandfather who adores him, and two aunts ready to assist him in his life journey. Still, I believe there is no love more intense than a grandmother’s love. So I take my prescription medications, diet, exercise, and pray a lot!
Thanks to intensive one-on-one early intervention therapy, a strong family support system, and his now-mainstream class, Thomas continues to make excellent strides in his development. He is a good boy and will become a good man, despite the tough future he faces. We believe the day will come when an adult Thomas, with some supervision, will have a job and be able to live independently.
This past summer, Thomas received his passport. He would like to visit the Caribbean because he wants to swim with the dolphins. If I can squeeze myself into the bathing suit purchased for the canceled retirement trip, I just might take that swim with him.
Occasionally, someone asks us if we regret not taking that European vacation. Tom and I always laugh because we have been on a never-ending journey called autism. It’s our everyday foreign land. We don’t speak the language; we learn as we go; we get confused, lost, and exhausted. Still, we are not unhappy as we move forward with our senior lives. The addition of autism to our family made us stumble, but we did not fall. Together, with high hopes for the future, we go onward.
Advice for grandparents who have an autistic child
- Let out your grief! Cry. Rant. Break some glasses. Throw rocks at the ocean. It won’t cure your grandchild’s autism, but you will feel better.
- Accept that you are second in command. Although you may feel strongly about what should be done for your grandchild, the final decision ultimately belongs to the parents.
- Do not compare your grandchild to other autistic children. Although each child shares some behaviors, they are all different.
- Learn your grandchild’s legal rights! Find a lawyer who specializes in representing children with disabilities. Some offer a free consult, a senior-citizen discount, or base payment according to economic need. It is also a good idea to find the best way to legally protect your grandchild’s financial future after your death.
- A pediatrician will be one of the most important persons in your grandchild’s life, so it’s imperative you help your son or daughter find someone with autism experience. A knowledgeable doctor will be able to care for your grandchild’s special physical needs, and he or she can also guide you to other beneficial services.
- Network. Speak with others who have an autistic grandchild. It helps you mentally to know that you are not alone with your fear and your hope. With autism reaching epidemic proportions, it’s not hard to locate families who share your situation. Other families are also great sources of information when you need to locate activities such as an autism-friendly Cub Scout pack or a Little League geared to special-needs children.
- Do not assume you must refinance your home to help pay for your grandchid’s care! Our neurologist referred us to an Early childhood Direction Center that, in the state of New York, is administered by the Office of Vocational and Educational Services for Individuals with Disabilities. They helped us secure services that Thomas required – free of charge. However, financial allowances for services for Individuals with Disabilities. They helped us secure services that Thomas required – free of charge. However, financial allowances for services, such as home-based early intervention, vary from state to state.
- Take time for yourself. I like to sit in the silence of our local Barnes & Noble, browsing through books that have nothing to do with autism. Tom enjoys stretching out on the sofa and watching vintage television shows.
- Spend quality time with each other. Tom and I take evening walks along a favorite oceanfront path. We also take advantage of early-bird specials and eat out once a week.
- Finally, just love your grandchild for the special person he or she is.
I was 1 year old in 1949 when polio struck our family. As I grew up and could understand why my mother was in a wheelchair, she told me about her time in the hospital. She said that late at night she often lay awake listening to the rhythmic pumping of the iron lungs on her polio ward, and to the whooping cries of babies infected with pertussis that echoed down the hospital’s corridors.
Paralyzed from the neck down, she was one of many polio patients in that hospital. This scene of paralyzed polio patients in iron lungs and of pertussis babies struggling to breathe was repeated again and again in hospitals across the country. That year there were more than 40,000 cases of polio and almost 70,000 cases of pertussis in the United States.
In some ways, my mother was one of the lucky ones. She left the hospital alive. And though she had no use of her legs, limited use of only one arm, and limited breathing capacity, she could breathe on her own. Some of her less fortunate friends had to go home in their iron lungs. When the Salk polio vaccine became available in 1955, my mother made sure that my brother and I lined up to get it. And when the Sabin oral polio vaccine came along, we got that too. It’s not that my mother rushed us to the doctor for all the latest treatments; we were rarely in a doctor’s office. But my mother knew all too well the value of immunizations.
My mother was 50 when she died from complications of polio. One year later, I was in an immunization line at boot camp. The military didn’t waste time with which recruits had previously received immunizations. We just got them all. Apparently the military and Mom saw eye-to-eye.
After the service, I used my GI Bill to go to college and to medical school. By this time, widespread immunization had all but eliminated polio and pertussis in the United States, but other severe infections were still common. We regularly saw children with bacterial meningitis and with epiglottitis—a frightening infection that can rapidly result in airway closure and suffocation. Now with the development of new and safer vaccines, bacterial meningitis is rare in childhood, and most newly trained doctors have never seen a case of childhood epiglottitis. However, outside developed countries, the burden of vaccine-preventable death and disease remains staggering. Despite significant progress worldwide, 2 to 3 million children under age 5 die each year from diseases that could be prevented.
The success of immunizations in the United States and other developed countries has had unintended consequences. Many people no longer understand the value of immunizations. Not exposed to the death and suffering that were common prior to vaccines, they have come to view vaccines with suspicion. At best, they may see them as having significant risk and little benefit. At worst, they may regard them as a sinister plot forced on a naive public by misguided doctors and greedy drug companies. But while it is true that everything we do in medicine, including administering vaccines, has risk, there is nothing else that provides such an over whelming benefit with so little harm.
So I continue to be saddened when I see a child who suffers or dies from a disease that could easily have been prevented by a routine immunization. Still, I do not fault the parents. Having no personal experience with vaccine- preventable diseases, and with exposure to an ongoing misinformation campaign by a small but vocal group of vaccine opponents, they make the wrong choice.
I also understand when parents blame immunizations for other conditions that strike their children, such as autism. Though multiple studies have shown no link between autism and vaccines, and both the Institute of Medicine and Centers for Disease Control have gone on record stating that the evidence does not support such a link, parents desperately searching for the cause of their child’s affliction still may blame the vaccines. After all, they see the signs of autism develop only after their child has received multiple vaccines.
But autism is also recognized after a child has had breast milk or formula; after a child has ridden in a car seat; after a child has been exposed to televisions and other electrical appliances; and after a child has had a host of other experiences common to early childhood, including immunizations. No matter how well-intentioned, blaming vaccines for autism is like convicting the wrong person of a crime. Not only does it unfairly condemn the innocent, it stops any attempt to find the true culprit. It also threatens to allow the reemergence of multiple devastating and life-threatening infectious diseases.
So I do my best to explain to parents the true value of vaccines. But sometimes the message just doesn’t get through. At those times I wish Mom were here to help me. Somehow I think that she could help these parents understand.
Dr. Leonard is an author, teacher, and specialist in both preventive and emergency medicine.
It’s a big year for our 16th president. Throughout the year, the Lincoln Bicentennial (www.lincolnbicentennial.gov) will celebrate his life, his work, and his words. Considered among the most revered Americans of all time, Lincoln continues to captivate our imagination and inspire the nation. Our 44th president counts Abraham Lincoln among his list of heroes, even placing his hand on the same burgundy-velvet-bound Bible that President Lincoln used at his first inauguration.
On the 200th anniversary of his birth, our nation continues to strive to advance Lincoln’s ideal to build a more perfect union. Certainly, that was the goal of the February 10, 1945 Post article Thoughts on Peace on Lincoln’s Birthday. The commemorative feature presented ideas on peace of two great Americans.
A Lincoln scholar who published a Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Honest Abe, Carl Sandburg found his inspiration for the poem The Long Shadow of Lincoln presented in the Post feature from one of the president’s messages to Congress in 1862. Artist Norman Rockwell drew inspiration from the last paragraph of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address that reads: “With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan — to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.”
In the introduction to the article, Post editors wrote: “In the heart-lifting symbolism of Norman Rockwell’s great painting there is thought for all of us. For here we find not only the crippled soldier who must learn a new way of life, the builder who will help put a shattered world together, the teacher and her brood, and the sorrowing family of a fallen warrior, but also the hand of brotherhood extended to the downtrodden and, in the background, the less fortunate races of humankind who must not be forgotten if peace is to be anything more than an armistice. Here, in the faces and attitudes of these people, are determination and tolerance and the yearning for a better world.”
It’s official: Punxsutawney Phil predicted six more weeks of winter this past week. When it’s cold and snowy, I like nothing better than a warm comforting meal; especially the aroma that permeates every room of my house as it simmers on the stove for hours.
My family loves this pot roast recipe from Tyler Florence. I serve it with mashed potatoes and peas.
Be sure to share your favorite recipes in the comments section. I’d love to try them.
- 1 (4-pound) beef chuck roast
- kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 large onion, sliced
- 2 carrots, peeled, thinly sliced
- 2 ribs of celery, thinly sliced
- 5 cloves garlic, smashed
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup red wine
- 1 (15-ounce) can chopped tomatoes, in juice
- 2 cups beef broth
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/3 cup coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, optional
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1. Preheat oven to 350ºF.
2. Heat large dutch oven, with lid, over medium-high heat. Season the meat generously with salt and pepper. Add the oil to the pot, lay the meat in the pan and sear on both sides until brown, about 10 minutes. Transfer the meat to a plate. Pour all but about 2 tablespoons of oil from the pan.
3. Add the onion, celery, and garlic to the pan and cook until vegetables are tender, about 8 minutes. Add the flour and use a wooden spoon to scrape up any browned bits that cling to the bottom of the pot. Add wine and tomatoes and cook until liquid has thickened, about 5 minutes more. Add broth, thyme, and bay leaves and bring to a boil. Return roast to pot, nestle it in liquid, cover, place in the oven, and cook until the roast is just tender, about 1 1/2 hours. Remove lid and continue to cook uncovered until tender, about 1 hour more.
4. Transfer the roast to a plate and cover loosely with foil. Skim the fat off the surface of the liquid and discard. Bring the sauce to a boil over medium-high heat and cook until thickened. Stir in the parsley and vinegar. Add salt and pepper, to taste. Keep the roast warm in the sauce until ready to slice.
5. Slice pot roast across the grain and lay on a platter surrounded with vegetables. Pour some sauce on top and serve the remaining sauce on the side.
Taking a daily break in the school day of at least 15 minutes may promote overall health, academic, and social development in elementary school children, according to a study published in the February issue of Pediatrics. Experts from the American Academy of Pediatrics advocate free, unstructured play for helping kids reach key developmental milestones. It also helps children manage stress and become more resilient. Sadly, playtime is getting squeezed out of the school day, a trend exacerbated by the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act. “Many schools responded to No Child Left Behind by reducing the time for recess, the creative arts, and physical education in an effort to focus on reading and mathematics,” says Romina M. Barros, M.D., the study’s principal investigator and assistant clinical professor of pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University. Children from disadvantaged backgrounds are especially affected. “We know that many disadvantaged children are not free to roam their neighborhoods, even their own yards, unless they are with an adult,” says Dr. Barros. “Recess may be the only opportunity for these kids to practice their social skills with other children. When we restructure our education system, we have to think about the important role of recess in childhood development.”
The second study, published in the January 2009 issue of the Journal of School Health, found that odds of passing standardized math and English tests improved as kids passed more fitness tests, even when controlling for gender, race/ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. “For families and schools, these results suggest investments of time and resources in physical activity and fitness training may not detract from academic achievement in core subjects and may even be beneficial,” the authors conclude.