After a Cruel Diagnosis, Pat Summitt Teaches Another Lesson in How to Live

August 27, 2011 by  
Filed under Careers, Health, Sports

Pat Summitt, the coach of the University of Tennessee’s women’s basketball team, has taken on daunting challenges for most of her 59 years. She has piled up accomplishments on her way to becoming the winningest college basketball coach — women’s or men’s — bringing home more victories than the likes of Bobby Knight, Mike Krzyzewski and Dean Smith.

She became a college basketball coach at a time when women’s sports were little more than an afterthought and she worked to put women’s basketball in the spotlight and to help shape the characters of the hundreds of players who came under her tutelage.

Summitt achieved her success the way many women have, by starting at the bottom. As AOL FanHouse columnist David Whitley put it:

Summitt was 22 when she got the Tennessee job, largely because nobody else wanted it. She made $250 a month, drove the bus and washed uniforms. Uniforms bought with proceeds from a doughnut sale.

Fast-forward 37 years, eight national championships and 1,071 wins. The Lady Vols have led the nation in attendance 14 of the past 15 seasons. They averaged 12,599 fans last season, a figure most men’s programs would die for.

It’s all due to Summitt refusing to compromise the values she learned growing up on a dairy farm in Henrietta, Tenn. You want resolve?

Summitt was in labor and went on a recruiting trip to Pennsylvania. She did cut the visit short because she was determined to get back and have the baby in Tennessee. She barely made it.

So it seems an incredibly cruel turn of events that now, when she should be riding high on the joy of seeing what she has built, that she has received a diagnosis of early onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type.

With the same class that has marked everything the coach has done, Summitt made her diagnosis public in an interview with Sally Jenkins of The Washington Post and a video in which she speaks to the fans of the Lady Vols. She plans to keep coaching as long as she possible — at least three years, she hopes.

She broke the news to her team this week. “I just want them to understand that this is what I’m going through, but you don’t quit living,” she told The Washington Post. “You keep going.”

And that’s something she already knows plenty about, because she has endured the pain of rheumatoid arthritis since 2006, the Post said.

So there it is. The dirty little not-so-secret fact about getting older. It’s not the same as being young. Ailments, conditions and diseases can become pesky companions, or worse. Even as we are positioned to enjoy some of the best times of our lives, we can be hindered or even knocked down by health issues.

Summitt says she doesn’t want “a pity party.” She is showing us that there is no shame in admitting we’re human, subject to all the frailties of life. And the way to get through these times is to face them with honesty and to be willing to ask for help. The members of the Lady Vols coaching staff will take on some new responsibilities to make it possible for Summitt to keep leading the program.

And that’s the lesson to take from Summitt’s situation: Even though we have spent large portions of our lives trying to be superwomen, sometimes the most productive thing we can do is ask others to help us.

Film Review: “Poetry” that isn’t Lost in Translation

March 27, 2011 by  
Filed under Movies

What’s in a name?  Quite a bit if you’re investing in a movie. Just ask the people behind the unfortunately titled Failure to Launch.

Naming a movie Poetry seems like it might be an extreme act of filmmaking hubris. But this exquisite film by South Korean writer and director Lee Chang-dong lives up to its presumptuous name. It is indeed a two-and-a-half hour cinematic poem.

Poetry is the tale of a quiet, unassuming older woman, Mija, played with almost incandescent grace by veteran actress Yun Jun-hee, returning to the screen after a 16-year sabbatical. Mija drifts through life, waiting upon undeserving others, such as her slacking, resentful grandson Wook and her demanding employer, an older gentleman who has suffered a paralyzing stroke. In her pretty floral outfits and youthful hats, Mija appears to be living in a dream world. She is painfully undervalued by those around her, but by the end of the film they realize that they have underestimated her strength.

The beginning of the movie offers two seemingly unrelated stories. An adolescent schoolgirl is found in a river, the apparent victim of suicide. Meanwhile, we meet Mija as she visits a doctor about weakness in her arm. The doctor is more concerned about her memory loss – Mija is forgetting common nouns – and suggests that she travel to Seoul to a more sophisticated hospital. As Mija leaves, she is mesmerized by the raw and public grief of the schoolgirl’s mother who has just learned of her daughter’s death. We soon find that the two stories are connected in a terrible and tragic way.

With a confirmed diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer’s, Mija enrolls in a poetry class at the local community center. The class is already full, but we see just how charming and persuasive Mija can be. She talks her way into the class and begins her quest for creative inspiration in earnest. While she is frustrated by her inability to write a poem, we glimpse the power of her observations and words through quick notes she records in a little journal. It is not difficult to believe that this modest, decorous woman has the soul of a poet.

What might have been a bittersweet tale of fulfilling one’s dream late in life takes a gruesome turn when Mija is approached by the father of one of her grandson’s gang of friends. Escorted to a meeting of other fathers, Mija finds out that the schoolgirl, Hee-jin, had kept a journal chronicling a series of gang rapes she was subjected to at the hands of Wook and the other boys. The school is eager to bury the story and the local police are willing to turn a blind eye. The fathers have asked Mija to join them in offering a substantial financial settlement to Hee-jin’s family.

The men are not monsters; after all, they are just being practical. As one of the fathers chillingly states, “Although I feel sorry for the dead girl, now is the time for us to worry about our boys.”

The men, sharing a friendly drink while they strategize, wonder whether the sex was consensual (“But who would believe that?” shrugs one) and observe nonchalantly that the girl wasn’t even that pretty. As Mija sits with these men, she is treated courteously but with smug condescension. It is not difficult to understand why she relates more to “the dead girl” than to “our boys.” As the horror of what has happened – not to mention what she is being asked to become party to – floods her, Mija appears to shrink before our eyes. In this scene, and countless others, Yun amazes the viewer with a performance so precise and finely tuned, it is no surprise to learn that a recent poll named her the greatest actress in Korean cinema.

Initially, Mija appears to go along with the plan to pay Hee-jin’s family, but her heart begins to resist. She breaks into Wook’s room and pounds on his computer keyboard, desperately searching for something but frightening herself when his deafening music comes on. She attends Hee-jin’s memorial service but leaves when some schoolgirls recognize her. She confronts her grandson late one night but can’t follow through.

Meanwhile, she pursues her quest for poetic inspiration, attending readings, observing apples, trees, flowers and eventually visiting the bridge from which Hee-jin ended her young life. A poet mentor has advised her that great poetry must come from great truth. Gradually, Mija finds and accepts her own truth about her grandson’s situation and what she must do. Her conviction and the choices she makes are shocking but heroic.

Despite the cruelty and violence inherent in the plot of Poetry, every action and reaction dramatized is quiet and contained. Even the grandest acts of tragedy and redemption feel intimate and deeply private. This is no sweeping epic, but rather a small jewel box of a film carved in ornate and exacting detail. It is remarkable.

The true wonder of this movie is that there are two discrete plots happening throughout at virtually the same time: an elderly woman’s creative reaction to her inevitable cognitive impairment, and the story of a desperate girl, victimized first by classmates and then by society. Either might have provided the foundation for its own powerful film. In combining the two however, Lee Chang-dong’s brilliant Poetry transcends the power of either individual story and elevates the whole to a truly poetic level.

Lee has assembled an outstanding supporting cast, including Lee David as the sullen grandson, Kim Hi-Ra as Mija’s employer Mr. Kang, Park Myung-shin as Hee-jin’s grieving mother, and Ahn Nae-sang as the disarmingly charming father of one of Wook’s friends. But these nuanced portrayals serve mainly as a frame for Yun’s exquisite and heartbreaking performance. It is undeniably her movie.

In the final minutes, the poetry teacher learns that Mija is the only student who has completed the course’s assignment and written a poem. In voiceover, we hear “Agnes’ Song,” a heartbreakingly beautiful tribute to Hee-jin (Agnes was her Christian name). The poem, written in the dead girl’s voice, is at once a celebration of her life, and an indictment of those who stole it from her. At the end of Poetry, Mija does more than write her poem. She is able to speak for the story’s young victim and assure that her death will have repercussions. Neither Mija nor Hee-jin will leave this Earth in silence.

The Library Witch

March 24, 2011 by  
Filed under Aging, Caregiving, Musings

WVFC readers know Roz Warren best for her humor pieces (co-authored with Janet Golden), profiles, and wry book reviews—most recently, her review of a how-to book on (possibly) preventing Alzheimer’s disease. Here, Roz turns a thoughtful and compassionate eye on another side of later life, encountered in her daily role as a small-town librarian. –Ed.

Betty wanders through the library muttering and touching herself in inappropriate places. In her 70s, with scraggly gray hair and a hard, troubled gaze, she resembles a witch, but in baggy sweats and a faded T-shirt instead of a black dress and pointy hat. Because Betty, who once worked in an elementary school, is drawn to small children, she’ll hover by the elevator to the junior room. When the kids get off, she stands here, towering over them and glowering. When they shriek with fear, she’s as alarmed as they are.

Betty also alarms our adult patrons, but since she doesn’t technically interfere with their use of the library, there’s nothing library staff can do. Being weird and inappropriate, while troubling, doesn’t violate any specific library rule of behavior. Betty chants nonsense in a singsong voice and emits bleats and clicking sounds, but quietly. The fact that she often slips a hand down her pants is icky, but not illegal. She’s in a gray area both cognitively and in terms of library policy. She doesn’t really belong here but we can’t kick her out.

But we’d like to.

We’re a small library, and having Betty here for hours each day has made a difference. Before Betty, we were a pleasant, bustling library. Now we’re a bustling, creepy library – the library with the wandering witch.

Bob, the man who brings Betty in, isn’t her husband. We don’t know what he is. All we know is that he sits down at a computer and ignores her, leaving her to wander the library unsupervised. But she isn’t really  unsupervised. He knows that library staff will stop her from scaring children, invading the staff room, playing with the water fountain or wandering out the front door. “It takes a village to look after your demented girlfriend while you surf the net pretending she doesn’t exist,” one of my co-workers muttered angrily after an afternoon devoted to keeping Betty out of harm’s way.

She may not be his girlfriend. Maybe she was, once. Bob isn’t  loving or affectionate with her. Nor is he angry or testy. Mostly, he’s exasperated. “Sit down, Betty!“ he’ll instruct sternly when we bring her back to him. “Stay with me.” A moment later, he returns to web surfing and she’s off again.

I have a friend who lives on their block. “That no-good bastard is living in her house, on her social security check!” she claims. The once-tidy home is run down and packed with junk. When Betty gets out and wanders the neighborhood, naked and shouting, the cops just return her to Bob. “Can‘t you do something?” my friend once asked them. They told her that removing Betty from her home and institutionalizing her wouldn’t necessarily make her life any better. “That’s what will happen if you call social services,” they said. “Are you sure you want to make that call?”

She wasn’t. Neither am I.

Perhaps there is some tenderness there. Maybe the two of them bed together at night, and she’s glad to have him. He’s all she has left. The loving constellation of family and friends we count on to take care of us has let her down. We librarians, all of us strong, independent, middle-aged women, tell ourselves this won’t happen to us.

The public library is the heart of any community. Young parents bring in their newborns – tiny, loved and full of promise. Couples in their 80s come in, holding hands. When you work at a public library you see every kind of person, at every stage of life. You see where you’ve been and where you’re going. You see both the future you want and the future you dread.

What will become of Betty? She’ll probably continue to haunt our library until she manages to spark a conflict with one of our crazy patrons, perhaps the skinny bald paranoid who hisses at you if she thinks you’re looking at her funny. Betty will glance at Old Baldy the wrong way and the next thing you know, we’ll have a good old cat fight on our hands. Then we’ll call in the cops and have them both banned from the library.

It will be a relief to have our pleasant library back. But we’ll feel as if we’ve let Betty down. Of course, she doesn’t belong here. Maybe the real problem is that she doesn’t belong anywhere.

Alzheimer’s Alert: Pour Yourself a Glass of Wine, Hop on the Treadmill, and Read This Book

March 6, 2011 by  
Filed under Books, Fitness, Healthy Eating, Medical Concerns

Jean Carper has written a timely book of advice about Alzheimer’s disease for the lay person—and WVFC regular Roz Warren has written a witty account of her experiences with it, which we know you’ll enjoy. But after conversation with neurologists who specialize in Alzheimer’s research and treatment, I want to offer a few caveats.

Most of the information that Carper cites comes from association studies, not causality studies, so the findings have not been rigorously proven. Recent research on the use of medical marijuana does not support its ability to decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s. Nor is the nicotine patch a well-established method of decreasing risk. Many of the food and wine suggestions are based on the assumption that antioxidants decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s. Again, that has yet to be definitively proven. In terms of wine, it has to be red wine, not white or rosé. And we can’t say with certainty how much wine is safe for women to drink—certainly no more than one 4-ounce glass a day.

On the other hand, Carper’s book does outline many changes in health and lifestyle habits that could decrease the risk of this terrible disease, and would in any case contribute to a healthier lifestyle in general.

So by all means, pour yourself a glass of (red) wine and see what Roz has to say about Carper’s book.  —Patricia Yarberry  Allen, M.D.

Like most women, I don’t know if I’m going to get Alzheimer’s. Like all women, I know that I don’t want to. Which is why I picked up medical journalist Jean Carper’s latest book, 100 Simple Things You Can Do To Prevent Alzheimer’s and Age-Related Memory Loss ($19.99, Little, Brown & Company).

Doing simple things is something I’m good at. And while I’m usually skeptical about advice givers, Carper is reassuringly credentialed. She’s written 23 health-related books and penned USA Weekend’s “Eat Smart” column for 14 years. Besides which, she’s got a personal reason to get this one right—the book’s dedication notes that she and two sisters share the ApoE4 susceptibility gene. (“Know About The ApoE4 Gene” is one of the things she recommends we do.)

100 Simple Things is a grab-bag of advice to follow if you want to stop the Big A in its tracks, from the predictable (“Eat Antioxidant-Rich Foods”) to the unexpected (“Consider Medical Marijuana”). (I’d be glad to! But first they’ve got to legalize it.)  Each recommendation is presented in a concise chapter, which includes scientific data to back it up.

The book is packed with fascinating and potentially useful facts, such as:

  • How long you are able to balance on one leg is a predictor of how likely you are the develop Alzheimer’s.
  • Women who drink only wine—no other type of alcoholic beverage—are 70 percent less apt to develop dementia.
  • Some people with Alzheimer’s temporarily become more lucid after taking antibiotics.

I began reading the book on the treadmill, which took care of items 99 (“Walk. Walk. Walk.”) and 37 (“Enjoy Exercise”). How difficult could it be to cover all 100? I decided to try to incorporate as many of Carper’s suggestions into my life as possible.

Some were easy. For instance, “Beware of Being Underweight.” Being underweight isn’t something most menopausal women need to fret about. Then there are “Google Something,” “Be Conscientious,” and “Say Yes to Coffee”—those three things pretty much describe my life in a nutshell.

Working in a public library, I’ve got “Have An Interesting Job” covered. But that makes it a challenge to “Avoid Stress.” The next time a patron hollers at me for refusing to waive his fines, I’m going to say, “What are you trying to do, pal? Give me Alzheimer’s?”

“Get a Good Nights Sleep?” No problem. Sleeping is something else at which I excel.  But my sweet tooth is going to make “Cut Down On Sugar” difficult. Luckily, there’s “Treat Yourself to Chocolate.” (Cocoa increases blood flow to the brain.)

Thankfully, some of the advice just doesn’t apply to me: “Think About a Nicotine Patch.” “Overcome Depression.” “Get Help For Obstructive Sleep Apnea.” And there are other things I just won’t do, however useful they may be: “Play Video Games.” “Put Vinegar On Everything.” “Embrace Marriage.” (Been there, done that. Never again. )

Some advice is more easy to give than to follow. “Try to Keep Infections Away”? Good luck with that when you deal with the public all day. (Many of whom think nothing of sneezing on their library card, then handing it to me.)

It’s no surprise that much of Carper’s advice is about food and nutrition. “Eat Berries.” “Eat Curry.” (Not together, thankfully). “Drink Apple Juice.” “Drink Wine.” “Eat Fatty Fish.” “Go Nuts Over Nuts.” “Don’t Forget Your Spinach.” I thought about preparing one gigantic meal with all the recommended foodstuffs, but came up against “Count Calories.” Not to mention “Worry About Middle-Aged Obesity.”

It was fun to see how many of the non-food items I could combine. For instance, I was able to “Be Easygoing and Upbeat,” “Keep Mentally Active,” “Beware of Omega-6 Fats” and “Drink Tea” all at the same time.

But I’m afraid that “Be An Extrovert” will forever be beyond my capacity.

Most items, like “Beware of Bad Fats,” make sense at first glance. Others are more mysterious.  What does “Have Your Eyes Checked” have to do with preventing Alzheimer’s? Read the book and find out! If you do, you can cross one recommendation—“Find Good Information”—off the list.

For U.S. Caregivers, Many Changes

December 27, 2009 by  
Filed under Caregiving

The National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP have just logo_nacreleased a new report about caregivers in the United States, an update of the last one issued in 2004. In just five years, I am amazed by some of the new information, and how significantly some of the numbers have changed.

The report is based on interviews with 1,480 caregivers throughout the U.S. These caregivers are unpaid, family caregivers. Of the caregivers interviewed, 32 percent were minorities, including African-Americans, Hispanics and Asian-Americans.

Interesting facts about caregivers:
· There are 65 million caregivers in the U.S., or 30% of the adult population,
· 66% of caregivers are female,
· Average age of caregivers is 48,
· 86% of caregivers care for a relative; 36% care for a parent,
· 65% have been caregiving fewer than 5 years, 31% for 5 years or more.

Observations: The total number of caregivers is a dramatic increase because in 2004, the projection was 44.4 million. Also, the average age of caregivers increased, indicating that younger caregivers under the age of 50 declined. This means the responsibility of caregiving continues to fall on the shoulders of baby boomer women. In addition, the percentage of those caregiving for five years and longer is increasing because of the longer life span of the aging population.

Top 10 reasons why recipients need care (includes percentage of respondents):

1. Old Age 12%
2. Alzheimer’s/Dementia 10%
3. Cancer 7%
4. Mental/Emotional illness 7%
5. Heart Disease 5%
6. Stroke 5%
7. Diabetes 4%
8. Mobility 4%
9. Surgery/Wounds 4%
10. Arthritis 3%

caregiver1Observations: Alzheimer’s/Dementia is the No. 1 illness mentioned, and the most prevalent amongst an increasingly older population. If we expect to live longer, we can no longer deny that there might be a possibility that we will be afflicted with any one or more of these illnesses. Still, it amazes me how many seniors are in denial about long-term care for themselves in terms of financial planning and preparing advanced directives. I cannot advocate it enough. I have seen too many negative experiences in my own family from lack of legal and financial preparation.

Interesting facts about care recipients:

· Average age of care recipients is 69.3 (an increase from 66.5 in 2004 because of the growing aging population),
· 51% live in their own home; 29% live in the caregiver’s household,
· 4% live in nursing homes; 4% live in assisted living facilities.

Observations: It seems more care recipients are being cared for in their own homes. The concept of aging in place is alive and growing. The demand for more services to help caregivers and seniors age in their own homes will certainly increase. I am thrilled by this information because we developed a variety of free tools on eCare Diary, such as the appointment and medication management tool, precisely for this reason: to make life easier and enable independent living.

New information:

· The number of caregivers reporting poor health as a result of caregiving increased,
· 73% of caregivers are also employed while giving care,
· The demand for more information on caregiving is increasing,
· 53% of caregivers have used the Internet to find information,
· 45% reported having used some sort of technology in the care of the recipient.

ecarediarylogoObservations: The importance of caregivers caring for themselves and finding ways to manage couldn’t be more relevant when you read these statistics. And this month, eCare Diary is stepping up the pace.

Among this week’s news: Expert Margery Pabst, author of Enrich Your Caregiving Journey, will now write monthly at eCare Diary on caring for the caregiver. Check out her first blog here. And stay tuned as I report on advances in technology to assist in caregiving that can, and will, help caregivers manage and reduce stress, and save time. These advances will be part of our future — as will the community we’re building every day online.

Susan Baida, former marketing executive with Starwood Hotels, Estée Lauder Companies, Avon and Del Laboratories, is co-founder of, an online community formed in late 2008 for those caring for elders in our families. She and her husband, John Mills, created the site based on Mills’ experience as a caregiver for his father, who had suffered from Parkinson’s Disease. Having spent over 20 years working in the health care system, Mills found coordinating long-term care to be difficult because of the lack of good information. The site includes tools and resources for those seeking and providing long-term care, and a singular set of tools called Care Diary, designed to make coordinating care and sharing information easy among family members and other caregivers.

Susan knows firsthand the challenges of caring for elderly parents and family members with serious illnesses. For eight years, she cared for her paternal grandmother, who suffered from severe rheumatoid arthritis. She also coordinates care for her parents: Her father suffers from Type II diabetes and is partially blind, and her mother recently underwent foot surgery that left her debilitated for several months. A member of Manhattan Community Board 5 since 2002, Baida has served as the Chair of the Human Services Committee, which addresses issues pertaining to the elderly, healthcare, education and social justice. She has written numerous resolutions to help improve services for the elderly and was honored by the Manhattan Borough President for her efforts to address public school overcrowding. She is a graduate of Emory University in Atlanta, Ga. She and John have a 1-year-old daughter, Avery.

More Holiday Book Ideas: WVFC Writers and More

December 18, 2009 by  
Filed under Books

Last week, we offered holiday shopping suggestions for poetry lovers, with all our Poetry Friday authors. But we didn’t want to leave out other books and writers we’ve featured in 2009!

First, just in case you’re still looking for books with Christmas themes, here are a few favorites from WVFC contributing editor Elizabeth Willse, who each year produces a holiday round-up for the Newark Star Ledger and confesses to being “giddy about all things Christmas, from music to tree trimming”:

greeleyHome for Christmas, Andrew M. Greeley, Forge Books, 192 pp., $14.99

Many of Father Andrew Greeley’s novels highlight themes that come to mind at Christmas: kindness, love, family, responsibility and faith. One of the central characters is a soldier deployed to Afghanistan, adding a timely element to this Christmas romance.

Almost everyone in Father Jimmy’s parish knows that Petey Pat and Mariana have been destined for one another since childhood. After a prom-night tragedy, Petey Pat enlists in the military, leaving everything familiar behind.

The many kinds of healing at the core of this novel seem a lot to pack into a tender Christmas romance. Told in brief, choppy scenes, letters, even dialogue that reads like a transcript of a news broadcast, Greeley’s story gets disjointed and in its own way at times. But as the story gains momentum, it gains emotional power.

Greeley confronts the complexity of grief as the two reconnect and face the past. Although he tackles serious themes, banter between Petey and Mariana, and Father Jimmy’s kind humor, add playful warmth.

The young Charles Dickens.

The young Charles Dickens.

The Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits, Les Standford, Crown Publishers, 256 pp., $19.95

“The Man Who Invented Christmas” is a treasure trove of information about Dickens’ past, the evolution of the publishing industry and, of course, the beginning of the modern Christmas celebration. Readers may be surprised to know that the Christmas holiday Bob Cratchit asked Scrooge for was not commonplace in 19th-century England or America, and Christmas cards, gifts and turkey dinners were not prevalent in 1843. For Charles Dickens, who published “A Christmas Carol” himself, marketing the story was quite a gamble, with no indication of the classic it would become or the traditions it would inspire.

Although Standford reveals himself as more of an academic than a storyteller in somewhat dry prose, his attention to historical detail is sure to fascinate and delight curious readers, and may inspire reading or rereading of the original “A Christmas Carol” or other Dickens works.

handmaidcarpenterThe Handmaid and the Carpenter, Elizabeth Berg, Ballantine Books, 176 pp., $17.95

Best-selling novelist Elizabeth Berg’s lyrical prose draws the reader into the lives of Mary and Joseph, forced to travel far from everything familiar in Nazareth. Berg transforms the familiar Nativity story into a close look at a very human couple, struggling with their faith in each other and in God. Her writing gives a sense of a distant place and time, while keeping the couple’s tangled emotions immediate.

This is a story of faith in many senses. It is not easy for Joseph and Mary to comprehend her pregnancy, with only her own faith and a few muddled dreams as guidance. Joseph wrestles with his religious beliefs, as well as his ability to trust Mary’s word and stay close to her.

Berg’s tale is an intimate view of the love and utterly human flaws in Mary and Joseph’s relationship, and a respectful invitation to the reader to meditate on their place in the larger tradition.

Lakeshore Christmas, Susan Wiggs, Mira Books, 384 pp., $21.95

LakeshoreChristmasImageThrown together to plan Avalon’s annual Christmas pageant, shy librarian Maureen Davenport and former child star–turned–rock musician Eddie Haven have nothing in common. She loves the beauty and hope of the season. He’s helping the pageant as court-ordered community service. As sparks of argument and attraction fly between the mismatched pageant directors, there are few surprises.

Few surprises, but still an engaging Christmas tale, fueled by the warmth and humor of their budding romance, along with the stories of the rest of the community. It would have been nice to see more of the rest of the pageant volunteers, like the wisecracking Veltry brothers, geeky Cecil Byrne and photographer Daisy Bellamy, whose subplot feels particularly unresolved.

What makes Wiggs’ story work so well is the plausible flaws and insecurities of her ensemble cast, particularly the screwball comedy of the central lovers edging warily toward a relationship. Even a touch of outright Christmas magic works to add genuine warmth to the story.

But to fill your gift list with the voices we’ve shared this year on Women’s Voices for Change, you can start with the list below. Click on their name to see their post, and the second to their latest books.

gailcollins3When we caught up with Gail Collins a America-s-Women-400-Years-of-Dolls-Drudges-Helpmates-and-Heriones-MC-BargainBabe-fb-20718575few month ago, she gave all of us lots of reasons to buy her new book, When Everything Changed. But you also might love her previous book, America’s Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates and Heroines, which reminds us that women’s resilience has always been the fulcrum of change.

mcnamaraIn times like these, when Alaska is in the kmcover1news for all sorts of reasons, it’s good to know that we can pick up Narrow Road to the Deep North by Katherine McNamara, editor of the long-lost, pioneering Archipelago.

olivekIf it’s awards that most interest your book-loving gift recipients, try Elizabeth Strout’s Pulitzer winner, Olive Kitteredge,hemingsescover or Annette Gordon-Reed‘s already iconic The Hemingses of Monticello (which also won the National Book Award).

stillbrave_Similar intellectual heft comes from Beverly Guy Sheftall, director of the Women’s Resource and Research Center and professor of women’s studies at Spelman College. We plan on starting with her newest, Still Brave: The Evolution of Black Women’s Studies.

nightnavigationcoverGinnah Howard, who graced us with a two-part interview, is still in the middle of writing her grand trilogy, which we can so far enter only with The New York Times–praised Night Navigation.

savannahcrookedhousesSusan B. Johnson, imscreamingone of our newer columnists, gave us a Christmas memory just this week. But for a better shot at why she was named Georgia Author of the Year, you might want to pick up Savannah’s Little Crooked Houses. If Elizabeth Flock‘s essays were more your style, try her newest novel, But Inside I’m Screaming.

bookofnamesJill Gregory and Karen Tintori bluecottongowntalked to us about how friendship made them co-authors and their first book, The Book of Names, as did Patricia Brown about her Blue Cotton Gown: A Midwife’s Memoir.

admissionJean Hanff Korelitz, one of our Still Alice finalfirst Ten Questions at WVFC, talked about reporting and writing the acclaimed Admission, while Lisa Genova, our most recent, let us peek at her journey from neuroscientist to novelist, and that of her novel Still Alice from self-published upstart to center of a national dialogue on Alzheimer’s disease.

Please tell us in comments what books, if any, you’re buying this season, and whether you’re choosing new, used or e-books.

Gay Culverhouse, a Grandmother Who Speaks Truth to NFL Power

November 10, 2009 by  
Filed under Newsmakers, Sports

vaccaInstantly noticeable among the dark suits at the House Judiciary Committee hearing two weeks ago, Gay Culverhouse stood out in her purple dress, but even more for what she said. She hammered the National Football League and its doctors relentlessly, charging that they treat individual football players as “a disposable commodity.”

I confess, I don’t follow football. I don’t even like it. But watching a woman defying a roomful of men, challenging the established wisdom and fighting for a cause she believes in, is a blood sport I can enjoy.

Tgayculverhousehe grandmother of six, who has several homes and raises thoroughbred horses, has clearly benefitted from her connection to the N.F.L. Culverhouse is the daughter of the former owner of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and was president of the team in the early ’90s. But now that she’s learned how much and how many of her former players are suffering from the long-term effects of their football injuries, she is pressuring the N.F.L to take better care of its players. In the room, right next to Culverhouse, were the head of the N.F.L. and numerous team doctors, only some of whom stuck to the party line.

Football, Culverhouse declared, “is a cutthroat business.” The goals scored on the playing field enable the real goal, she added, which “is for the franchise to make money.”

The congressional hearing was convened in response to a series of articles in The New York Times that focused attention on the unusually high incidence of Alzheimer’s, dementia and other cognitive disorders among retired football players, attributable to what experts call chronic traumatic encelopathy (CTE). Despite the mounting evidence in recent studies, the N.F.L. has consistently denied any link between cognitive impairment and playing football (which often means suffering repeated concussions, and even without concussions involves frequent jolts to the system).

Brain slices tested for CTE. In lower middle, see the whole brain section from Houston Oilers linebacker John Grimsley, showing damage in the amygdala and adjacent temporal cortex (Boston University)

Brain slices tested for CTE. In lower middle, see the whole brain section from Houston Oilers linebacker John Grimsley, showing damage in the amygdala and adjacent temporal cortex (Boston University)

Culverhouse aimed her fire at the role of the team doctor and “the medical community in facilitating these concussions.” She looked right past the N.F.L. doctors and informed the committee that the team doctors who attend to players during the game have a financial interest in returning the injured player to the playing field as soon as possible — in “the following game, if not the same game.” To that end, the doctor shoots the injured joint with cortisone to numb the pain, often on the field while the team forms a wall to keep the crowd from seeing the injured player vomit, she said.

Culverhouse has a doctorate from Columbia’s Teachers College in special education. She raises Paso Fino horses, known for their special gait. In the past year, she has been tracking down her former players and doing everything in her power to help them. She is advising them about how to get help for their disabilities and even filling out insurance forms for those who are unable to do it for themselves.

“Shocked” by the deteriorating health of her former players and their inability to receive disability compensation, Culverhouse is finishing a book, Violence: The Underbelly of the NFL, about these experiences. The retired players “walk through our lives looking like old men crippled by arthritis and, in some cases, dementia. My men have headaches that never stop. They cannot remember where they are going or what they want to say without writing it down. Some are on government welfare. Some are addicted to pain medications. Some are dead.” In the case of a head injury, the player “is told to ‘shake it off,’” she said.

“This is inexcusable.” Her testimony riveted the committee.

“The doctor is not their medical advocate. He’s not even conflicted. He knows who pays his salary,” she testified. If the doctors “are foolish enough to care about the players they treat, they are fired.” She described the “chaos in the locker room as players are mended and injected to get back on the field” during halftime, when “a good proportion of the players are getting intravenous therapy,” using arm cuffs “to speed the IV process … against medical best practices.”

Culverhouse added that the players don’t object— it’s not in their financial interest, any more than it is in management’s. Culverhouse explained that their contracts are “backend-loaded with performance bonuses. They need those extra yards and those interceptions in order to make their salaries.” They know that if they report a concussion, another player is sitting on the bench waiting to take their place. And if they consult an independent doctor, they become pariahs, no longer considered “team players,” she said.

At this critical stage of her life, Culverhouse is looking forward as well as back. She has six grandchildren, and one of her grandsons is a football player. “I have seen his future in the bodies and eyes of my former players. I know what is happening in the locker room. Please change football,” she implored the committee and the N.F.L., “before my grandson is damaged.”

Knowledge is power. I, too, have a grandson who plays football. For the sake of all our sons, let’s use this new knowledge to change not just the way the game is played, but the culture that acquiesces in using, abusing and finally discarding human beings when they are no longer profitable.

Susan Baida: eCareDiary, Building Community, and Sex in the Workplace

ecarediarylogoWe at WVFC were thrilled to discover an essential new resource and “neighbor” on the World Wide Web:, an online community formed in late 2008 for those of us caring for elders in our families. In some ways, this is the challenge of our generation: balancing, sometimes, multiple dimensions of caregiving for several generations, each with its attendant financial and emotional roadblocks.

Prior to this venture, Baida  was Vice President of Brand Marketing at Starwood Hotels and held key marketing positions with Estee Lauder Companies, Avon Products and Del Laboratories. She and her husband, John Mills, created the site based on Mills’ experience as a caregiver for his father, who had suffered from Parkinson’s Disease. Having spent over 20 years working in the health care system, Mills  found coordinating long-term care to be difficult because of the lack of good information.

In addition to comprehensive information, tools and resources for those seeking and providing long-term care — including a comprehensive database of nursing home and home care services, guides on long-term care financing, and information on important health care documents everyone should have — the site includes a singular Care Diary, a set of online tools designed to make coordination of care and sharing of information easy among family members and other caregivers. The post below comes from one of the ongoing blogs on the site, which lets readers know they are far from alone. (Ed.)

Susie Papa Pic!Sex in the Workplace: A Caregiver’s Story

The David Letterman scandal has motivated me to share a painful story about sex in the workplace. involving a caregiver and my grandfather.  As my grandfather gets older (he’s 90 years old) and nearing the end of his life, forgiveness has been on my conscience.

My grandmother was young in her fifties when she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, a degenerative disease that causes inflammation of tissues around the joints. Before it really debilitated her, I used to visit her after work and on the weekends to help.  I’d run errands, take her for walks, give her baths, do her hair and put on her makeup.  I did all of these things with great love and pleasure.

I am so grateful for these bonding moments with her because they are seared in my memory and my heart.
In retrospect, I wish I could have been her full-time caregiver when the disease got worse.  She was living with my grandfather.  Their 50 year marriage had very deep bonds, but was very bitter because of past jealousies, infidelities and separations.  In spite of all this, they stayed together because that’s what people of their generation did.

When she became fully debilitated by rheumatoid arthritis, my grandmother requested that an old girlfriend from Ecuador come to live with her and my grandfather to care for her.  The woman was more than happy to come live in the U.S. and earn a living.

While they lived together, my grandfather was not able to serve as my grandmother’s caregiver for a number of reasons.  First, they had a dysfunctional relationship with frequent verbal exchanges.  Secondly, my grandmother didn’t trust that my grandfather could handle bathing her, feeding her and doing whatever she needed done even though he was quite robust and strong in his 70’s.

My grandmother’s girlfriend moved in with them in 1992. Everything worked out beautifully in the beginning. The woman and my grandmother were very compatible, and she got along well with the rest of the family.

My grandfather liked her too.  And that’s where the problems began.  I didn’t notice it for a long time during my evening and weekend visits, but the relationship between my grandfather and my grandmother’s caregiver blossomed.  Meanwhile, my grandfather’s and grandmother’s relationship progressively worsened.

One Sunday afternoon while we were having lunch altogether, my grandmother and her caregiver started to bicker.  To my surprise, my grandfather came to the caregiver’s defense.  I felt quite strongly that my grandfather and the caregiver, who was 23 years younger than my grandparents, were out of line.

My grandmother was no angel, but she was 79 years old and could be very irritable at times from the discomfort and pain of rheumatoid arthritis.  She deserved respect and understanding, not to be ganged up on by her husband and caregiver.

There were more of these incidents that transpired as my grandmother would report to me.  She was very unhappy and wanted to spend time in California with my aunt.  I quickly booked flights and we left New York.

My grandfather was not pleased but he was used to this over the history of their marriage.  The pattern was usually the same.  He would miss her after a few months, apologize and ask her to return which she always did.

It was very different this time.  My grandmother spent a longer than usual time with my aunt and after a year suffered from a stroke.  She was hospitalized, became progressively weaker and fell into a coma.

To read the rest of the story, click here.

Teresa Heinz Kerry: Long-Term Care is The Elephant in the Room

July 7, 2009 by  
Filed under The Economy

by Teresa Heinz Kerry and Jeffrey Lewis


In the middle of the night, an elderly parent cries out, and time and again, it is a daughter answering the call, a woman who only hours later and with little sleep will call out to her own children, telling them it’s time for breakfast and school. And, as she watches the kids head for the bus, she’ll dread the thought of being a burden to them as she grows old.

Every morning, millions of American women wake to tough economic times with growing anxieties about how to care for their aging parents, their own families and their own retirement years. It’s mostly women responsible for the care of elderly relatives — seven out of every 10 adult children helping their parents are female, according to the Older Women’s League. And many of those women are single, divorced or widowed, shouldering the burden alone, living longer with fewer resources.

Long-term care is the real American health care crisis. The American people know it because they’re living it. Two-thirds of American seniors recognize the need to plan for long-term care, yet only 12 percent feel they’re adequately prepared. But it is a crisis Congress avoids, focused instead on redesigning our health care system to help the uninsured.

Meanwhile, it’s the women caregivers whose unpaid labor is helping Congress by relieving budgetary pressures. In purely economic terms, researchers estimate the value of services family caregivers provide at $148 billion to $188 billion a year, helping seniors enjoy the significant physical and emotional comfort of their own homes, even when they can’t care for themselves. By remaining in their homes, those seniors don’t depend on public money for facilities for their needs.

It isn’t easy to wade through information about long-term care planning. Some of it is well intended but confusing. And some is only intended to profit off people’s vulnerability and confusion.

But most Americans — because of social needs, disability, trauma or illness — will require long-term care services at some point in their lives. Focusing on those questions now not only helps bring you peace of mind but can also save you and your family from potentially devastating expenses later.

The Heinz Family Philanthropies has partnered with the Foundation for the Future of Aging in developing the ”10 Questions to Answer” series ( — information to assist consumers and family caregivers who are planning for, choosing and managing long-term care. The series guides consumers in thinking about all of the available long-term care options, while focusing on quality of life.

Having a plan in place gives people and their families peace of mind while sparing them the emotional upheaval that comes from making decisions in the midst of a health crisis.

With long-term care there are no easy answers. Our goal is a simple one: Provide information to help everyone understand they are not alone.

Teresa Heinz Kerry is chairman of the Heinz Family Philanthropies. Jeffrey Lewis is the president and can be reached at

Reprinted from The Morning Call, Allentown, PA.

Amy Tan Operatic at 50; Boomer Addictions Growing, Could Break Medicare; New Clues to Link Between Heart Disease and Cognition

Getting On The Bestseller Lists?? Turning 50 means many things to many busy women. To acclaimed novelist Amy Tan, shown above reading from her book Saving Fish from Drowning , it meant bringing her novel The Bonesetter’s Daughter to the stage,  with its rich narrative of life in the Chinese-American diaspora. But what her mother really wanted to know, Tan told the Times’ Amy Solomon, was why she hadn’t yet cracked #1 on the Times’ Best Seller List:

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News Brief: Magazine Editors Say Bring On Older Women; Want A Great Workout? Slow Down!; Thyroid Hormone and Alzheimer’s Risk

August 4, 2008 by  
Filed under Aging, Fitness, Health, Media

No more waifs: Fashionistas bring on the gorgeous older women.
While much of the pages of fashion magazines still feature models who
look like starved 12-year-olds or college freshmen, magazine editors
are finally listening to their “boomer demographic,” and recruiting
more models over 40. To Francine Tremblay, who 20 years ago founded  Le
Bel Âge in Montreal, it’s about time: after all, it’s our money.

Bel Âge and its English sister magazine, Good Times, are aimed at
mature consumers and the task of finding models in their 40s and 50s
for cover shots and inside features used to be a constant challenge,
says Tremblay, who eventually sold the titles to Transcontinental
Media, the company that currently owns a stable of magazines including
Canadian Living, Elle Canada, Elle Québec and More – a Canadian
franchise magazine for women over 40.

Now, as senior vice-president of the Magazine Group for
Transcontinental Media, Tremblay says the exercise of securing mature
models for her publications has become much easier. The market for
older models has exploded. The bottom line, says Tremblay, if women are
going to identify with a magazine or product they must be able to
imagine themselves in the story – even in the fantasy.

Boomers continue to exert their influence and are estimated to
represent a spending power that’s measured in the trillions of dollars.
As Monica Corcoran wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “What middle-aged
woman wants to buy a moisturizer from a model who’s too young to order
a martini?”

Suzanne Timmins, the 52-year-old fashion director at HBC, says the
Boomer demographic is hitting critical mass. “When I was in my 40s I
could still sort of relate,” she says. “But now women in their 50s and
60s have absolutely lost any sort of identity with very young models.
They are saying this is my daughter. Now I’m getting annoyed. Show me
something I can relate to.”

“You just have to look at who is spending the money,” says Emma
Barker, an agent at b&m Models in Toronto, which has about 50
models on its roster over the age of 35. “Older women these days look
amazing. They are fit and healthy and they have beautiful skin.”

More, which launched just a year ago, is surpassing growth
expectations and this fall the company will launch a French-language
edition of the magazine – one year ahead of schedule.

From advertising sales to renewal rates, the magazine is objectively
successful, explains Tremblay, who believes the figures speak volumes
about the importance of this emerging demographic. “Twenty years ago
I’d take my creative director and my photographer into the stores and
malls looking for beautiful women who could model for the cover and in
the fashion shoots. The agencies just didn’t have models over 50 so we
had to find them ourselves.”

I want a workout with a slow hand.…Strength training has long been part of the prescription for women looking to keep bones and muscles at their top function even as we age. Now, Austrian researchers suggest that the best way to get results may  be the slowest:

[Dr. Alexandre] Sänger’s research group has investigated two particular methods of
physical training. Hypertrophy resistance training is a traditional
approach designed to induce muscle growth whereas ‘SuperSlow®’ is a
more recently devised system which involves much slower movement and
fewer repetitions of exercises, and was originally introduced
especially for beginners and for rehabilitation. “Our results indicate
that both methods increase muscle mass at the expense of connective and
fatty tissue, but contrary to expectations, the SuperSlow® method
appears to have the greatest effect,” reveals Dr Sänger. “These
findings will be used to design specific exercise programmes for
everyday use to reduce the risk of injury and thus significantly
contribute to a better quality of life in old age.”

The study focussed on groups of menopausal women aged 45-55 years, the
age group in which muscle deterioration first starts to become
apparent. Groups undertook supervised regimes over 12 weeks, based on
each of the training methods. To see what effect the exercise had,
thigh muscle biopsies were taken at the beginning and end of the
regimes, and microscopically analysed to look for changes in the ratio
of muscle to fatty and connective tissue, the blood supply to the
muscle, and particularly for differences in the muscle cells
themselves. “The results of our experiments have significantly improved
our understanding of how muscles respond to different forms of
exercise,” asserts Dr Sänger. “We believe that the changes that this
new insight can bring to current training systems will have a
considerable effect on the lives of both menopausal and older women,”
she concludes.

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