Tuesday, September 1, 2009

VPI Hambone Awards: Vote Now

No matter how hale and hardy your pet may be, never underestimate his ability to get himself into a predicament requiring medical care.
Meet the nominees for this year's VPI Hambone Award, twelve healthy pets who played, ate, exercised or explored their way into big trouble. Read their tales then vote for your favorite.

The winner receives a bronze trophy in the shape of a ham bone and a guest appearance on the Rachel Ray show. The Hambone Award is named in honor of a VPI-insured dog who got stuck inside a refrigerator and devoured an entire Thanksgiving ham before being discovered. The dog suffered a mild case of hypothermia - which, no doubt, he probably considered a minor price to pay for the feast.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Death by Numbers

As a 44 year old white woman living in Massachusetts, I have a 1,600 out of a million chance of dying within the next year. Were I to die during that time, it would most likely be from some form of cancer.
I am about a third less likely to die during the next year as is an African-American woman of the same age and living in the same state. But both of us have better chances of surviving the next twelve months than our counterparts in Kentucky or Mississippi.
All of this grim information comes compliments of the Death Risk Calculator developed at Carnegie Mellon University. This easy-to-use tool allows you to calculate your risk for up to 66 causes of death, from skin cancer to homicide to accidental poisoning.
Sure, it's fun but what's the point? Site developer and professor, Paul Fischbeck hopes it will bring focus and factual information to our nation's ongoing debate over healthcare policy.
"It's much easier to make a persuasive argument when you have the facts to back it up, and this site provides all sides with the facts," said Fischbeck. "We believe that this tool, which allows anyone to assess their own risk of dying and to compare their risks with counterparts in the United States and Europe, could help inform the public and constructively engage them in the debate."

Image courtesy of Stock.xchng

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Trouble with Multi=Tasking

What a relief it was to read about this Stanford University study which found that heavy duty multi-taskers are not, in fact, super-human concentrators with the ability to polish off multiple projects simultaneously and flawlessly. Instead, researchers found that those who regularly juggle several sources of media at once were less successful at assigned tasks than people who usually do one thing at a time.

As someone who has trouble reading a book and listening to music at the same time - unless the music is instrumental only and coincides historically and mood-wise with what I'm reading, I have always been suspicious of multi-taskers. Are their powers of mental focus so superior to mine? How do they keep it up? Something's got to give. It turns out that the "something" is the ability to ignore irrelevant information.

"They're suckers for irrelevancy," said Stanford professor Clifford Nass, one of the lead researchers for the study. That inability to filter out what is immaterial to a task naturally decreases accuracy and delays the completion of that task.

Of course, this is not a big surprise to anyone who has ever been behind a multi-tasker in a check-out line. Trying to swipe a debit card, punch in a PIN and carry on a cell phone conversation at the same time inevitably leads to delays, not only for the multi-tasker but for everyone else in the line as well.

Other skills found lacking in multi-taskers were the ability to organize memory and the ability to switch from one task to another.

"They couldn't help thinking about the task they weren't doing," said Eyal Ophir, lead author of the study. "They can't keep things separate in their minds."

So I feel somewhat vindicated in my affinity for uni-tasking. I won't be pressured into a feeling of inadequacy when I'm happily engrossed in a single activity. I don't need to see how many balls I can keep in the air. I'm happy juggling one at a time.

Teachers, Win Free School Supplies!

Why does your class deserve to win a gift certificate for $2,500 worth of school supplies and how would you put those school supplies to good use? If you are a public school teacher and can answer this question convincingly in 400 words or fewer, you are ready to enter the 2009 Tools for Teaching Contest sponsored byCatalogs.com, and Nasco,

"As a mother of three, I understand the financial hardships many schools are facing this fall and I'm glad we can provide much-needed relief for purchasing school supplies," said Catalogs.com co-founder Leslie Linevsky. "We also hope this contest inspires other small and mid-sized businesses to do what they can to support public education."

Entries may be submitted on the Catalogs.com website starting on Tuesday, September 1 and ending on Wednesday, September 30.

Essays will be judged on persuasiveness, creativity, clarity and demonstration of need.

The top five essayists will receive eNasco gift certificates to be redeemed for school supplies. The grand prize winner will be able to spend $2,500; a second-place prize of $1,500 will be awarded and three runners-up will each receive $500 gift certificates.

Winners will be notified by October 30.

To enter the "Tools for Teaching" contest or for more information, visit

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Top Ten "Human" Ailments That Also Plague Pets

A dog can catch a chicken but it can't catch chicken pox. A cat can swat incessantly at a dangling be-feathered teaser but it won't develop carpel tunnel syndrome. And humans almost never come down with a raging case of mange. Still, there are many afflictions which people and pets endure in common. Veterinary Pet Insurance Company (VPI) recently reviewed its 2008 claims data and compiled the following list of the top ten medical conditions common to people and pets.

1. Allergies - In 2008, VPI received 63,761 claims for skin allergies. Allergic reactions in pets can result from flea bite saliva, the pollen of nearby plants or foods that pets eat. Treatment for pets is relatively the same as it is for people: control the pet's exposure to allergens (in the environment or to certain foods), administration of antihistamines, and, in severe cases, administration of anti-inflammatory medications.

2. Bladder infection - 23,915 claims received. The symptoms of a bladder infection, or bacterial cystitis, can be difficult to recognize in pets. Don't assume all "accidents" in the house or a pet's frequent urination pattern is simply a behavioral issue. There could be medical basis to a pet's change in urinary habits. It is important to never ignore a pet that appears to be experiencing painful or difficult urination.

3. Arthritis - 19,537 claims received. The aging process occurs more rapidly in pets and has many of the same effects on pets as it does on humans. Arthritis, or degenerative joint disease, most often results from a lifetime of wear and can cause pain or decreased joint movement. Pets suffering from arthritis may need anti-inflammatory medications and/or pet specific pain relievers for their arthritis. (Note: never give a pet a human drug or pain reliever, since these can be toxic to pets.)

4. Diabetes - 8,590 claims received. As with humans, diabetes requires daily management of the disease and a combination of treatment involving weight control, specially timed meals, insulin injections and/or oral medications.

5. Skin Cancer - 2,114 claims received. It would be easy to think that with hair usually covering the majority of their bodies, pets don't have to worry about skin cancer. Unfortunately, the three most common skin cancers in humans also occur in pets. Areas of skin that are white or pink on a pet's coat are particularly susceptible to sunburn which, with long-term exposure, can lead to skin cancer. As such, it is important to monitor the skin of pets with white ear tips and pink noses.

6. Gum Disease - 1,748 claims received. Pets have a disadvantage compared to people in the dental category. Food particles tend to gather in the corners of their mouth after a meal, so tooth brushing and regular checkups are necessary. Without tooth brushing the pet is susceptible to the potentially harmful effects of excessive plaque buildup on the tooth's surface. The plaque harbors bacteria, which easily invade the adjacent gum lining, leading to gum recession and gum disease.

7. Acne - 705 claims received. Acne in dogs and cats affects the chin and lips. While dogs often outgrow the condition, cats are more likely to suffer lifelong breakouts. Most pets are not bothered by the condition, but in severe cases, the affected areas may become painful or itchy. Topical medications may be prescribed by a veterinarian to relieve the pet's discomfort.

8. Stomach Ulcers - 584 claims received. Ulcers in pets can be caused by drugs, cancer, kidney or liver disease, pancreatitis, inflammatory bowel disease or chronic stomach inflammation. Pets with stomach ulcers may vomit or display abdominal discomfort.

9. Cataracts - 495 claims received. A cataract is a change in the transparency of lens in the eye. An opaque lens blocks light from reaching the retina and may cause a partial or complete loss of vision. Cataracts in pets may be caused by diabetes, malnutrition, radiation, inflammation, or trauma. Like humans, surgery may be required to remove the affected lens or lenses.

10. Laryngitis - 382 claims received. Dogs and cats can bark or meow for hours upon hours, but every so often, one will lose his voice. The cause may be an upper respiratory tract infection, irritation due to an inhalant, or just excessive vocalization. An inflamed larynx will cause vocal difficulty. Fortunately, it is rarely serious.

Image courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Public Image Library

Monday, August 17, 2009

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Paw Project

Banned or considered unethical in many other countries, de-clawing surgery is commonly performed in the U.S. to prevent cats from scratching furniture. Since a cat's claw grows from within the last bone of its toe, de-clawing requires an amputation at the last "knuckle."
"Declawing is one of the most painful surgeries routinely performed by veterinarians, and it can result in serious physical and behavioral complications," said Jennifer Conrad, DVM, who founded The Paw Project in 2000 to promote public awareness about the crippling effects of de-clawing, to rehabilitate de-clawed cats through reparative surgery, and to support measures to eradicate de-clawing.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Do Your Kids Take School Too Seriously?

For many parents, September brings the blessing of getting to send the kids back to school - a safe and stimulating environment where they will be mentored, protected and enriched, where new universes of knowledge will open up for them to explore with supportive and sensitive teachers and peers.
But, along with the optimistic rush that a fresh start can bring, comes worry about the unknown. What peer pressure is lurking in that new grade or new school? What little ne'er-do-wells populate that new afterschool program?

A recent study reveals that the biggest (29 percent) back-to-school fear in moms' minds is that their children will be exposed to kids who drink and use drugs. Certainly understandable. This was followed closely by worries that teens "will feel pressure to do well academically or pressure from tests" (22 percent). That one surprised me. I guess things have changed mightily in the 20-plus years since I was a teen. Let me just say this; the fear that I was putting too much pressure on myself academically was never one of the things that kept my mother up at night. Not once did I cause her to break into a cold sweat at the thought of her my obsessive study habits.

Still, personal experiences aside, school pressure does seem to be a legitimate cause for concern. On a 2007 survey, teens ranked it first on a list of reasons they've used drugs and alcohol, out-scoring other popular responses such as "to feel cool" and "to feel better about myself."

For more information, visit Partnership for a Drug Free America
Learn about talking to your kids about drug and alcohol abuse at Time to Talk

Monday, August 3, 2009

First School Bus

In 1869 the Commonwealth of Massachusetts passed the first legislation in the United States allowing the use of public funds for transporting children to and from school. Over the next half century, the other 48 states followed suit.
In its earliest days, long before bright yellow paint and flashing red lights, the school bus took the form of a long, wood-framed wagon, pulled by horses or mules, with wide planks running the length of the sides, to serve as benches. Children boarded and exited the wagons at the rear to avoid frightening the animals.
In the anthology Good Old Days Remembers the Little Country School House, Emma B. Lee recalls chilly Indiana mornings, riding to school with classmates, in a wagon drawn by two horses. "The only heat we had came from one of those little round kerosene heaters that was anchored behind the driver's seat. That didn't make much heat for a wagon big enough to haul 18 to 20 kids."

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Scented Puzzles

Imagine yourself on some rainy summer evening, tackling a brand new 300 piece jigsaw puzzle. Little by little, starting with the outer edges, you begin to assemble a lovely pastoral scene of an apple orchard. As you handle the smooth, wooden pieces, flipping them around in your fingers and fitting them snugly together, you are forming the image of a basket brimming with the ripe, red fruit. You can almost smell the sweet, crisp scent of MacIntosh apples on a fall day in New England. No, wait; you really can smell apples. It's coming from those puzzle pieces you've been handling. Move over Smencils. Behold the scented puzzle.

A partnership between Yankee Candle and Hasbro has produced a trio of pleasantly pungent puzzles, each with 300 pieces and each selling for a suggested retail prices of only $9.99. Inside the aromatic packages, buyers will find a $10.00 coupon redeemable at Yankee Candle.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Dancing in Duct Tape

This prom-bound diva, Lauren, and her dashing prom date, Paul are adorned entirely in the sticky splendor of duct tape. Back in 2005, the young couple from Fair Oaks, California took 3rd place in the 2005 Duck Brand Duct Tape "Stuck at Prom" Contest, winning scholarship dollars for themselves and a matching gift for their high school.
Now, from over 200 entries, ten couples have been selected as the 2009 finalists. Behold these adhesive-clad fashionistas and vote for your favorite. Which of the 20 colors of the Duck Brand duct tape rainbow will they use to fashion their formal wear? Which crafty couples will collect this year's prizes?

Winners will be announced on July 9th.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Contest for Kids:The Legend of the Dough

What happens when two little boys find themselves on a deserted island with some nasty and very smelly pirates? I have no idea. But your child might. If so, he could end up with an extra hundred bucks in his treasure chest. 

"The Legend of the Dough" is an adventure tale with a beginning but no end - yet. Children are invited to use their imaginations to add the next chapter and send it to the Yohoho Dough website .

"I thought it was important to show both parents and kids that creativity can and should be rewarded," says Holly Palm, who, with her son Chase, created Yohoho Dough. "That kind of cash can really help show kids that they can do something with the fun things in their minds," 

How to Optimize Doctor Visits by Donna Verry Dee

Making the Most of Your Next Appointment

You wait weeks for an appointment, rearrange your schedule to arrive on time, sit in the waiting room for at least half an hour and then, finally, you are face to face with your doctor. This is your chance to get your needs met.
And you only have about 15 minutes to do it. How can you make the most out of your limited time?

The most satisfying doctor visits begin long before you enter the examination room. As the patient, it is your job to come prepared. Here are some strategies for optimizing your next visit to the doctor.

Get Organized
Keep a diary to track symptoms or health complaints, recommends Carol J. Levy, author of A Pained Life, which chronicles her experiences as a chronic pain patient. "This way you can give a better picture of the timeline of what is wrong, as well as how the symptoms have waxed and waned or what makes them
better or worse." Before your appointment, summarize your findings into a few sentences and bring them with you. "
The anxiety inherent in seeing the doctor as well as the time crunch makes forgetting what we meant to say way too easy to do."

Know Your Medications and Tests
“To help you get the treatment you need, doctors need to know what tests you’ve had – and when – as well as what medications you’re taking,” says Dr. Michael Pignone, chief of the division of general internal medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This eliminates the expense and inconvenience of duplicate testing and reduces the chances of a doctor prescribing medication that has a bad interaction with something you're already taking. The more doctors that are involved in your healthcare, the more important this step becomes.

But shouldn't your doctor already know what medication you're taking? Yes, in an ideal world where information was shared instantly among all of your health care providers and where every patient followed doctor's orders exactly. "What really matters is what pill bottles are in the home and exactly what
medications at what doses the patient is actually taking and swallowing as of
today. Only the patient knows that," says Carla Mills A.R.N.P., author of A Nurse Practitioner's Guide to Smart Health Choices . "A patient carrying a copy of their current med list carries the ultimate check and balance.

Set Goals for the Visit

Decide what you want to achieve from the visit. "Have your top three concerns written down," says holistic chiropractor Dr. Tom Hyland Robertson. "Let your doctor know that you have three concerns - or two or only one - at the beginning of the visit. This will help to streamline [the doctor's] thought processes."

Speak the Language
One of the most powerful things a patient can do is to speak the doctor's language, according to LaRita B. Jacobsa health educator for people with chronic illness. Jacobs teaches seminars on communicating with doctors. She says . "Doctor's think in terms of Activities of Daily Living (ADLs). You will get the doctor's attention if you also speak in terms of ADLs. For example, if I speak to my doctor and tell her that it hurts to have my hands above my head, I may get a patronizing answer reminding me that with the arthritis in my shoulder I can't expect to play tennis. However, when I say 'After I unload the dishwasher I am in so much pain I need to lie down to recover,' I have given the doctor context."

Be an Active Listener
As your doctor talks to you, ask for definitions or clarifications of any words or instructions you don't understand. Take notes or have someone come with you to take notes while the doctor gives instructions. Paraphrase the information back to your healthcare provider so he or she can determine whether the message is clear. If you're still unsure about something, request additional information. 

The bottom line is, a passive patient, who sits back and lets the doctor call the shots, is more likely to leave the office unsatisfied, with lingering questions and festering symptoms. A pro-active patient, who takes initiative, sets goals and expresses opinions and concerns is destined to have a more effective healthcare experience.

To Learn More

Images courtesy of Stock.xchng

Monday, April 27, 2009

Tree-Loving Artists of All Ages

Are you an artist who loves trees - doodling dogwoods, painting maples, etching elms? Would you like to win a year's supply of paper products? If so, you have until June 30 to send your original, arboreal artwork to the "Save the Trees Paper Towel Design Contest," sponsored by Marcal to promote its new Small Steps line.

In an ongoing effort to save a million trees (according to their website, they're up to 20,618,043) Marcal's new Small Steps brand is made from 100 percent recycled paper. In addition, the line is hypoallergenic, virtually lint free, manufactured without chlorine bleaching and made without added dyes or fragrances.

Artists of all ages are encouraged to apply. Multiple entries from each artist will be accepted. Children must have a parent or guardian sign their entry form.

Entries will be judged on three criteria: the appreciation for trees theme (30%), originality/creativity (30%) and appeal (40%). In the event of a tie, the tie will be broken based on the highest appeal score.

The grand prize is a trip for four to "hug a giant tree" at California's Sequoia National Park, a year's supply of Small Steps paper products and the chance to have their artwork used "as inspiration for future Small Steps brand product packaging." The second prize is a tree for the artist's yard, awarded in the form of a $250 check made payable to the winner, plus a year's supply of Marcal Small Steps paper products. The third prize is a $100 gift certificate to a local garden center, plus - you guessed it - a year's supply of Marcal Small Steps paper products.

So get out the crayons, charcoals, chalks and markers. We'll be "root"ing for you.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Kids Fear End of World

As we recycle, conserve, preserve and do whatever else we can think of to "greenify" our homes, schools and lives, children are getting the invaluable message that the Earth is vulnerable. But that message is making some kids nervous about the future. A survey conducted earlier this month, finds that one out of three children, aged 6 through 11, fear that the planet won't exist when they grow up and more than half believe that the Earth will not be as nice a place to live.

  • Hurricanes and tornadoes are the natural disasters that most worry half of the 500 children polled.
  • Clean drinking water was a big concern. Nearly a quarter of all children polled are afraid that there is not enough for everyone on the planet.
  • Penguins, polar bears and other species becoming extinct, is the biggest environmental fear for another 28%.
"I am more committed than ever to help educate children around the globe in a way that is not scary to them," says Sharon Lowe, founder of Habitat Heroes, an ecologically-themed, playful and educational webiste targeted toward children aged 6 - 14. "Hopefully Habitat Heroes fills a void and gives us the opportunity to raise awareness in ways that children embrace to maintain a healthy and beautiful planet."

This report presents the findings of a telephone survey conducted by CARAVAN Opinion Research Corporation, using a national sample of 500 children (half boys, half girls) ages 6-11, living in private households in the Continental United States. The poll was completed during the period of April 3-7, 2009.


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Marriage Calculator

Before heading to the altar or the Justice of the Peace, surf over to the Marriage Calculator to decide if you and your beloved are in danger of ending up divorced. Already married? Check your chances of staying that way for the next five years. The Marriage Calculator uses information from the U.S. Census Bureau to figure the odds of living happily ever after with your spouse.
Matrimonial track records suggest that factors such as level of education and age at time of marriage are strong indicators of longevity. Income isn't one of the specific factors on the Marriage Calculator but level of education is often related to income level.
"The past is being used to determine the future with this calculator," says G. Cotter Cunningham, CEO of divorce360.com. "Here's a tool for everyone who is thinking of getting married right now."
What do you think? Would you let the Marriage Calculator influence your choice of spouse?

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Fired Over Faulty Nose

"The evidence sufficiently demonstrated that Agostino suffered a physical disability that rendered him unfit to serve as a police officer," wrote Judge Bernard L. McGinley in a decision delivered by a Pennsylvania appeals court last month. The disabling injury in question is an inability to smell, a condition called anosmia.
Officer David J. Agostino, who had served as a police officer for Collier Township since 1998, acquired the rare condition as the result of a head injury sustained in an off-duty motorcycle crash in 2004. After two years of rehabilitation, when he was finally able to pass a physical and return to duty, his dimmished sniffer became an issue.
Fellow officers testified that Agostino's nose was no longer able to detect alcohol on a driver's breath or natural gas leaking from a furnace.
Perhaps a larger police department could have found a clerical position for the olfactorally-deprived officer. But apparently, in Collier Township, there are no paper pushers. All police officers work the streets and all are first responders. Therefore, all must be able to pass the smell test.
Except there is no smell test.
According to Pennsylvania State Police Major, John Gallaher, executive director of the state municipal officers' training commission, there are standards for an officer's vision, hearing and cardiovascular health, but not for smell.

Do you use your nose at work? Would losing your sense of smell lead to losing your job?

Friday, March 27, 2009

Sandwich Challenge

Take American Idol, add a little Iron Chef and serve between two slices of bread. The Best in Class Sandwich Challenge is on! From now until May 4, kids aged 6 to 18 are invited to submit their original grilled, pressed, toasted or cold sandwich recipes to the makers of Arnold Bread. And it's not just a lot of bologna, winners will receive one of four grand prizes of $1500, plus an additional $5000 for their school.
The company's first kid-centered recipe contest was inspired by their new line of Arnold Soft 100% Natural Breads made with whole grains and without high fructose corn syrup, sucralose, artificial colors, artificial flavors or preservatives.

Contestants will be divided into the following age groups.
  • 6-8 years of age
  • 9-12 years of age
  • 13-15 years of age
  • 16-18 years of age

Twelve finalists - three from each age group - will be selected by a panel of judges. Recipes will be judged on:
  • (#1) Originality And Creativity - 50% - Uniqueness and creativity of recipe.
  • (#2) Healthfulness - 25% - Includes ingredients that are healthy and nutritious.
  • (#3)
    Perceived Ease of Preparation - 25% - Your Entry must be easy for users
    to prepare and include ingredients that are available everyday.
Will the judges be taste-testing every entry? An Arnold spokesperson says, "We've already received over 100 entries so we're not going to end up trying each sandwich, but will taste the sandwiches in contention for the finalist slots ... So far we've received some really different, fun creations!"

Then, once the judges have selected the most original, healthful, delectable dozen, it's your turn. Starting May 24th, the twelve finalist recipes will be posted online and the public will have a month to vote for their favorite.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Rentable Ear

Have you heard? March is International Listening Awareness Month. Defined by the International Listening Association as "the process of receiving, constructing meaning from and responding to spoken and/or non-verbal messages," listening is at the root of all communication.
If you're not lucky enough to have a first-rate listener on hand next time you feel like venting, there is a new service that can help. Consider confiding in one of the non-judgemental, polite and professional listeners at We Just Listen? For just a dollar a minute, any time of day or night, you can count on a supportive, receptive ear on the other end of the line. We Just Listen is completely anonymous. Even your listener won't know who you are.
"I've found that needing to talk and not being able to has been a major source of frustration in my life." says Robert Connerley, company founder. "We Just Listen offers something that can't always be attained from a friend or a loved one -- the opportunity to speak frankly and openly to
an unbiased empathetic listener."

Monday, March 16, 2009

Sleep More; Weigh Less

If you are serious about losing those extra pounds, then it's time to get up off the couch - and go to bed. Getting too little sleep may increase hunger and affect the body's metabolism, making it more difficult to stick to sensible eating habits.
A commitment to weight loss should go hand in hand with an increase in sleep, according to
Michael Thorpy, MD, director of the Sleep-Wake Disorders Center at Montefiore Medical Center in New York. "Sleep loss is associated with striking alterations in hormone levels that regulate the appetite and may be a contributing factor to obesity." said Thorpy.
Specifically, sleep loss has been shown to affect the secretion of cortisol, a hormone that regulates appetite. As a result, individuals who lose sleep may continue to feel hungry despite adequate food intake. Additionally, lack of sleep may interfere with the body's ability to metabolize carbohydrates and cause high blood levels of glucose. Excess glucose promotes the overproduction of insulin, which can promote the storage of body fat.
But, it's not just getting sleep that's important; it's the kind of sleep you're getting. For example, decreased amounts of restorative deep or slow-wave sleep ( non-REM sleep) have been associated with significantly reduced levels of growth hormone 1 --a protein that helps regulate the body's proportions of fat and muscle during adulthood.
"Sleep loss disrupts a complex and interwoven series of metabolic and hormonal processes and may be a contributing factor to obesity," said John Winkelman, MD, PhD, medical director of the Sleep Health Center at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. "What most people do not realize is that better sleep habits may a be instrumental to the success of any weight management plan."
Unfortunately, many of us are not taking advantage of this snuggly weight-regulation technique. According to the National Sleep Foundation, in the past eight years, the number of Americans who sleep less than six hours a night jumped from 13% to 20%, and those who reportedsleeping eight hours or more dropped from 38% to 28%. Two out of every ten Americans sleep less than six hours a night. People sleeping too few hours report being too tired to work efficiently, to exercise or to eat healthy.

If you have trouble sleeping for more than a few weeks, or if sleep problems interfere with daily functioning, speak with your doctor.

Friday, February 20, 2009

MSPCA Top Dogs Take Home Over $200,000

The Boston Globe reports that, despite a financial downfall which is forcing the MSPCA to close three shelters, downsize several programs and eliminate a total of 46 positions, four of the non-profit's top officials are earning upwards of $200,000 annually. MSPCA spokesman, Brian Adams explains the generous salaries to the Globe. "We have to attract the right talent, and we have to remain competitive. We can't remain competitive by asking people to work for free."Free? Isn't there something between six figures and free? Actually, the MSPCA does ask people to work for free. Every day shelter volunteers clean out cages, feed, water and exercise animals, assist with adoptions and perform any number of necessary hands-on tasks to keep the operation going. Could they be spending their time elsewhere, padding their income? Sure. But, because of their dedication to animals, they choose not to.
The MSPCA is funded by memberships, private donations and fees for services such as veterinary care. It receives no state or federal funding. The Society's website states, "When you give your money, time or energy to the MSPCA-Angell, you can be sure you are having a very real impact on very real animals as well as on the issues that determine the quality of human and animal lives - today and in the future." Well, that's true; donations are certainly improving the quality of human life for the big four at the MSPCA.

Image by Bubamara. Available at Wikimedia Commons.

When Things Get Crazy with Your Teen

From the small stuff - like wearing weird clothes - to the serious - such as suicidal behavior - When Things Get Crazy with Your Teen offers exasperated parents of teenagers an immediate and practical course of action. Subtitled "The Why, the How and What to Do NOW," Michael Bradley's latest tome on taming teens is chock full of bullet lists and bite-sized advice. Set up like a reference book, it's not so much a book to read cover to cover as it is one to consult when the inevitable need arises. For instance, your 15 year old daughter insists she absolutely has to have her nose pierced. Quick! What do you say? What do you do? Pick up this book and scan the alphabetized sub-headings under Body/Appearance Issues until you find "Piercing, Wants A." Turn to the appropriate page and start following the DO list.
  • Set a minimum age requirement before she "has" to have them (if it's not too late).
  • Stay calm (now that it's too late).
  • Ask if she has researched the health risks.
  • Require a consultation with a physician
  • Have the doc list the piercing areas be relative risk
  • Insist on the least risky area.
  • Trade off piercing for increased responsibilities (grades, chores).
  • Negotiate the minimum interval before any other piercing can be considered (if any).
Next, consult the DON'T list for actions to avoid in this situation.
  • Flip out and yell "NO!"
  • Say OK right away.
  • Accuse her of "following a fad." (Of course she is - so what?)
  • Assume that all piercings have equal risks.
  • Allow an additional piercing within a short time (six months).
  • Assume that a pierced nose indicates pierced character.
It's not all this recipe-ish. There are also brief narrative Why and How sections, as well as general introductions to each issue area. And the book ends with "The Twenty Minute Guide to the New Millennium Teen." But, as Bradley himself states unapologetically in the preface, "In this book, you'll find little theory and lots of advice - practical, specific and well-researched advice."

Monday, February 9, 2009

Voluntary Madness

Being of sound mind and body, author Norah Vincent feigned depression, checked herself in to the psychiatric ward of a large, public, city hospital and started taking notes with a blunt-tipped Crayola marker. (Her ballpoint pen had been confiscated during admission - too pointy.) The result is Voluntary Madness: My Year Lost and Found in the Loony Bin. Throughout the course of Voluntary Madness, Vincent samples three mental health facilities from the inside - the public hospital, a private, suburban clinic and an alternative treatment center which touts exercise and intensive talk therapy over medication. The author shares her blunt observations along with her strong opinions on the pharmacuetical industry and its cozy relationship with psychiatry.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Cats and Dogs Exterminated During Plague

During the Great Plague of London (1664-65), cats and dogs fell under suspicion of spreading the disease that was claiming the lives of over a thousand Londoners a week. In his Journal of the Plague Years, author Daniel Defoe wrote of the widely-held belief that because dogs and cats were "domestic animals and are apt to run from house to house, and from street to street, so they are capable of carrying the effluvia or infectious steams of bodies ... even in their furs and hair." Hoping to end the spread of this fatal "effluvia," the lord mayor issued an order to kill all cats and dogs in the city. A special executioner was appointed to the gruesome task. An estimated 40,000 dogs and 200,000 cats lost their lives in a useless effort to contain the Plague. Not only did the disease rage on, but the natural predators of the true Plague carriers - flea-infested rats - had been eliminated.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Tea Poisoning: A Time-Honored Tradition

January is National Hot Tea Month. In honor of this, here are some examples of the time-honored tradition of tea poisoning. A 40 year old Missouri woman was arrested this week for allegedly trying to poison her husband by adding Visine to his tea. She is being held on $100,000 bail. In July 2008, a Saudi court sentenced two Asian housemaids to four months in prison and 250 lashes each for contaminating the tea of their employer with urine and menstrual blood. In 2006, former Russian spy, Alexander Litvinenko, died after radioactive polonium-210 was added to his tea at a London hotel In 1997, a 50 year old UK man denied that his dropping rat poison pellets into his wife's tea was an attempt to harm her. On the contrary, he said, they were experimenting with the blood-thinning properties of the toxic pellets in an effort to relieve his wife's leg pains. "It has great medicinal properties," he told a jury. "Like nearly everything, it is the dose that counts." During World War II, British agents planned to assassinate Hitler by poisoning his tea. Although the poison of choice was known to make tea appear suspiciously cloudy, agents were optimistic that the dictator would not detect it since he always took his tea with milk. "Since the milk is poured first into the cup," a report noted, "it is unlikely that its opalescence would be noticed as it came from the teapot." In the end, the plot was abandoned. In 1867, a seventeen year old Boston girl, Alice Christiana Abbott, was tried for poisoning her step-father's tea. Described by the New York Times, rather ironically, as having "a demeanor that would have been appropriate at a tea party," the young girl denied the charge and stated that her mother's husband had had "improper connection" with her from the time she was 13 years old. When she threatened her step-father with exposure, she says, he committed suicide by poisoning himself. The jury promptly committed Miss Abbott to the Taunton Lunatic Asylum.

Image by Vivek Chugh, provided courtesy of stock.xchng.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Bubble Wrap Competition for Young Inventors

Could Bubble Wrap end world hunger? It can help, according to 12 year old Kellan Horner of Lenexa Kansas, a semi-finalist in this year's Bubble Wrap Competition for Young Inventors. He is hoping that his Bubble-Wrap-encased hydroponic green house, which enables plants to grow without soil, will not only help the hungry but also earn him the contest's grand prize of $10,000. Not to burst his bubble or anything, but competition is stiff. There's the Bubble Wrap Emergency Shelter designed by 10 year old Andrew Teesdale of Sherwood Oregon. This lightweight tent is meant to provide temporary shelter for disaster victims. (FEMA take notice.) Then there's the amazing Pop-Up Solar Cooker Book, invented by 11 year old Jared Mann of Christiansburg Virginia. The portable, solar-powered appliance can be used as a grill or an oven, depending on which page the "book" is turned to.
In all, 2200 students in grades 5 through 8 submitted original inventions. Of these, 15 - including Kellan, Andrew and Jared - were selected as semi-finalists. Three finalists will be announced some time in early January and will be flown to New York City, with a family member, for a three-day trip, where the grand prize winner will be announced on - when else - Bubble Wrap(R) Appreciation Day (January 26, 2009 for those who don't know). The grand prize winner of the competition will receive a $10,000 U.S. savings bond, while the second and third place winners will receive $5,000 and $3,000 U.S. savings bonds, respectively. The teacher/mentor of each finalist will receive a $500 gift card. awarded by the Sealed Air Corporation, the mother company of Bubble Wrap.
Check out all of the semi-finalists and their inventions here.
Good luck everyone!