Tuesday, May 30, 2006
Editor's Note: This is the fourth in a six-part series. All are online at www.poststar.com/arts_life/suicide
When Karen Padowicz's uncle called her on a December day almost 25 years ago and said her parents were coming to visit, she guessed why.
"Roger's dead, isn't he?" she asked.
Her older brother, 37-year-old Roger Maune, had hanged himself.
It was an act that would shape the rest of Karen's life and career. She now works for the Warren-Washington Association for Mental Health, developing programs on mental health and suicide prevention.
But speaking out about her brother's suicide didn't come easily.
Her parents arrived at Karen's apartment in Schenectady that night, nodded tearfully, and quickly shuttered their pain behind silence.
"No one wants to talk about suicide. That night was like any other night," Karen remembered.
"My mother read a magazine. My father read the paper. My sister cooked. I said, 'Don't you think we need to talk about this?' "
Karen had visited her brother about two weeks earlier at their parents' apartment in Florida.
"Roger and I had a very unique relationship, like we were spiritual buddies or something," she said.
She remembered the "trust game" they played as kids, which involved falling or jumping into her brother's arms without looking.
"One day, I jumped out of my second-story bedroom window and he caught me," she said. "I trusted him with my life."
Maybe that's why she woke up about 4 a.m. that night in Florida to discover her brother silently climbing over the balcony.
"I jumped up and said in this kind of theatrical voice, 'Roger, you can't kill yourself on your parents' balcony! What will the neighbors think?' " Karen remembered. "That was the right thing to say. It brought him back."
For the next two hours, Roger was lucid. Their conversation flowed as it had in the old days, and Karen thought everything was going to be OK.
"Then it was like a switch turned on inside. He went from coherent to -- just this other place -- so quickly. And I sort of snapped, too, because it destroyed my optimism," she said.
They fought, and Roger left the room. As he walked out the door, he turned to Karen and said: "Just remember, go toward the light."
That was the last time she saw him.
A sensitive soul
Roger was one of those people who seem to be born burning at both ends.
"He and his friends were the kind of people I always wanted to be -- curious, interesting, passionate people. They were people who really lived," said Karen.
In the late '60s, Roger was a striking young man. He was about 6 feet tall, with a Roman nose, big blue eyes and a reddish-blond beard.
"He was such a pretty boy," said his younger sister, Lorraine Dejohn. "Damn it, he had the longest eyelashes, and that wavy hair -- oh my gosh!"
In Karen's childish imagination, he resembled a young Einstein, and she considered Roger just as brilliant.
"I called him the dictionary. Any questions I had, he just knew the answers to," she remembered.
He was the artistic, "Beatnik" type who wrote poetry and listened to jazz. He sang beautifully, played several instruments, and loved to act.
His intensely sensitive nature proved both a gift and a burden.
"Once, he told me: 'Carrie, Carrie, do you know trees cry when you cut them?' I would crumble if I felt the things he felt," Karen reflected. "I mean, how do you live with that depth of feeling?"
He didn't know.
A black aura
Fissures in Roger's mental health began showing up in his mid-20s, leading to a psychotic breakdown that landed him in the hospital.
For the next decade, he became increasingly convinced he was evil.
"He was so totally sure that he had a 'black aura' that was harming people," Lorraine said. "He didn't want anyone near him."
At the height of his paranoia, he would only talk to Karen from around the corners of rooms, fearing that his inner darkness was contagious.
Soon, he moved away to Syracuse. He and Karen communicated through letters, but for a long time, she didn't understand the depth of his problems.
"All I saw was this beautiful human being," she said.
His parents and siblings tried to help him, but they rarely shared their struggles with each other. Stoic self-reliance was considered the best way to handle problems in the Maune family.
Years later, Karen discovered that her family had a history of mental illness on both sides: a great-aunt and grandmother who went in and out of institutions after "nervous breakdowns"; a great-uncle who hanged himself; a cousin with bipolar disorder; another cousin whose teenage child committed suicide. She also found out that when her parents had picked Roger up at the hospital after his first breakdown, psychiatrists had warned them he was at risk of committing suicide.
"If I had known that then, it would have shaped the decisions I made after, no doubt about it," said Karen.
The burden of care
Medication couldn't shake the voices of condemnation from Roger's brain, but it did shake his body. The side effects of several psychotropic medications left him with a debilitating Parkinsonian syndrome that sent him to the hospital again in the late '70s.
Karen moved to Syracuse to care for him when he got out of the hospital, and discovered that he had been sleeping in his car in front of his apartment.
"When I got there, I realized the extent of his illness," she said.
Not long after that, he decided to stop taking his medication.
Eventually, Karen's emotional resources were so exhausted by caring for Roger that her physical health was in jeopardy. She turned to her sister for help.
Lorraine, divorced and living alone at that point, took Roger into her home. She talked to him over coffee and cigarettes at the kitchen table, night after night. She would have hugged him, but he wouldn't let her come close.
A cloud of despair had enveloped him, and it was impossible to penetrate with words.
"I talked to my brother until I was blue in the face, but I just couldn't help him," Lorraine said. "Now, he didn't say he was going to kill himself. He didn't go out looking for someone with a gun to kill him. But he kept talking about this black aura, and I couldn't get him to go to a doctor or sign up for unemployment. ... He didn't seem to feel he was worth the effort."
After 10 months, Lorraine couldn't take it anymore.
"He was driving me crazy -- and I'm not crazy," she said.
In October, she sent him to live with their parents, who had just moved to Florida.
Roger's illness often drove him to wander, so when he disappeared in early December, no one looked for him. His body was found in a grove of trees by firemen responding to a brush fire near his parents' house. No one knows exactly how long he had been there.
His body was cremated immediately, but it wasn't until almost a year later that his ashes were scattered on the land of a close friend. There was no funeral; no grave to visit.
"When you don't have that, it haunts you," Karen said. "There's no sense of closure."
She held out a small red jewelry box, lined with a yellowing square of cotton.
"This is all I have left of my brother," she said, pointing at a few pebble-sized white fragments she snatched from the scattered ashes. She is creating a memorial stone in her backyard, to honor Roger and their father, who died of cancer three years ago.
"My mother and father both had cancer twice, and I honestly believe it's because they held that grief inside," Karen said. "You know that Simon and Garfunkel song, 'Silence like a cancer grows?' It's really true."
Her mother is still alive, but refused to be interviewed.
"For my mother, the chapter is closed. It hurts too much," explained Lorraine. "She did say that losing a child should never happen to a parent."
For both Lorraine and Karen, talking about their brother's death has been a form of healing.
"I think this is important, so people can see how suicide affects not only the person who has taken their own life, but how it affects the whole family," said Lorraine. "I'm not stigmatized by it. My friends know that Roger committed suicide. It was horrible, terrible -- and I think it was preventable, but I didn't know what to do about it. I hope this helps other people."
Feeling the pull
Roger's death sent Karen into a tailspin that she believes was her own attempt at suicide. She spent the next four months in "the most destitute bars possible," drinking heavily and often driving afterward.
"I just did not care," she said. "My behaviors at the time were death-driven and death-seeking."
As she lay on her couch in a stupor one Sunday, she began to lose feeling in her limbs. She was overwhelmed with a sense that she was dying.
Then a thought came to her: "I think you're going into a diabetic coma. Eat some oranges."
She did, and as her body revived, so did her mental clarity.
"You could say that Roger reached out to me," she said. "I realized that he would never want this to happen."
She said family members left behind by suicide often feel pulled toward self-destruction.
"When someone chooses death, it's so contrary to the survival instinct that you think there must be something inside them that's broken," she said. "I began to see it as an inevitability that I would break, too -- so I almost sought it out."
In the years that followed, she tried to bury her grief by becoming a workaholic, and has only recently begun to confront her emotions about Roger's suicide.
"I remember thinking: Karen, if you focus on this, you may go totally insane," she said. "Working kept my mind on other things."
Karen ended up at Warren Washington Association for Mental Health about eight years ago.
She calls the mental health field "my professional swan song," the natural endpoint of the painful journey that Roger's death prompted in her personal life. Her goal is to reduce the public stigma surrounding mental health disorders, and get a message across to those struggling with them.
"People need to seek treatment," she said. "We know more now, and treatment can be highly successful. You don't need to suffer the way people suffered in the past. There's help."
She also offers a warning to those grappling with the grief of a loved one's suicide.
"A lot of people seem to think that if you just ignore or deny something painful, it will go away -- but it doesn't," she said. "It becomes like a lead ball inside of you that grows thicker with each passing year, and makes it harder to access your core emotions. I still can't cry."
She finds release in words, if not tears.
"I love being able to talk about my brother -- to honor him; feel him again," she said. "I haven't been able to do that before."
Roger is gone, but Karen feels that he left her with a gift.
"He left me with this knowledge that people can get to a point where it becomes black and white: Do you want to die or live?" she said.
"And once you realize that you want to live, it's a very powerful feeling."
SIDEBAR: Mental health and suicide
There is no universal cause for suicide -- each death represents a complicated individual choice.
But according to health professionals, most suicides are triggered at least in part by untreated mental illness.
"I would say that in a very large majority of cases, there is a diagnosable condition present, but it's a minority of people that are actually in treatment," said Dr. Paul Benveniste, operations manager of Behavioral Health Services at Glens Falls Hospital.
The National Mental Health Association estimates as much as 30 percent of the U.S. population has a mental health disorder, a substance abuse disorder, or both.
Depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety or panic disorder and schizophrenia are the most prevalent mental illnesses.
The association also notes that, although treatment success rates are as high as 80 percent for some of these conditions, millions of Americans with mental health disorders do not receive adequate treatment.
"I think we have a culture and a drug industry that actively promote partial treatments and quick fixes," Benveniste said. "The implication is that in one little pill, you can solve all your woes ... but in most cases, you can't help a person deal with their mental health symptoms without addressing how they think, feel and act."
In cases of depression, for example, medication is often much more effective when combined with psychotherapy, he said. But many insurers cover only a limited number of counseling visits per year, if they provide any mental health coverage at all.
"Mental health is viewed by insurers as a barely necessarily evil ... something that can be squeezed," he said. "But I would say that, in the long term, there are greater costs associated with not treating mental health than treating it."
Rob York, director of the Office of Community Services, which oversees mental health services in Warren and Washington counties, said stigma is one of the biggest stumbling blocks to mental health treatment and suicide prevention.
People are reluctant to seek treatment for depression because there's a public perception that it's "all in their head," he said, but that's false.
"Depression is a real, biologically based illness. Brain studies have shown that changes in the brain occur that medication can correct," York said. "It's not something you can 'just get over,' as some people believe."
I certainly didn't expect to spend Friday night with my arms around a burly biker named Rocko -- talk about going the extra mile for an assignment.
It started when I called a local motorcycle shop with a few questions and ended up with an invitation to the infamous "Tank," home of The Jury Motorcycle Club in Hudson Falls.
My co-workers raised their eyebrows when I mentioned where I was heading that evening.
"You're going to The Tank?" they asked. "Alone?"
I figured it couldn't be that bad.
Sure, the name of the place referred to an actual tank -- a rusty old steel cylinder the club bought from an oil company in the mid-1970s and converted into a fortress-like headquarters beside the Champlain Canal.
And I knew The Jury had a reputation as a tough-guy biker gang, roaring through town in a pack of black leather and big mustaches and throwing raucous parties every summer.
But the old motorcycle outlined in colored lights and perched on top of the tank added a playful touch to its imposing exterior. I knew that Miss America had survived a visit to The Tank to speak about veterans' rights in 2000. And the club sponsors a Little League team, for Pete's sake. They probably weren't going to attack a visiting journalist.
My confidence was tested when the club's president, who goes only by "Rocko," invited me to hop on the back of his Harley not long after I arrived.
I tried to sound nonchalant: "Sure, why not?"
He handed me a black helmet adorned with a sticker that said "Sex Happens," and asked his blonde wife to lend me her sunglasses. They handled the sun but they didn't block the glare she gave me as Rocko and I rode off into the sunset with a biker named Red.
"Have you ever ridden a motorcycle before?" Red yelled as we paused at a traffic light.
I felt proud for a moment. "Actually, yes, I rode a sport bike around Barcelona --"
"I said, have you ever ridden a motorcycle before?"
The light changed, and we took off at a speed that made my eyes water. I tried to ignore the chilling wind and admire the scenery: a pretty farmhouse; a field of startled goats; an old lady watering the church lawn with one hand on her hip.
I caught a glimpse of myself in the sideview mirror, my hair streaming out behind my helmet, and thought: Hey, I look pretty cool.
By the end of the ride, cool had changed to just plain freezing, since I was wearing only a thin jacket.
But as I returned my borrowed gear and entered The Tank's warm, smoky atmosphere for a drink of water, I realized that I was still alive -- and smiling.
Tuesday, May 23, 2006
"The Da Vinci Code" seems to be everywhere these days, from bookstores to box offices -- and pulpits.
The novel, by Dan Brown, weaves religion, history and politics into a tense thriller that has sold more than 40 million copies worldwide.
Brown's work caused a stir in both mainstream and Christian culture by proposing that the church has been keeping some very large skeletons in its closet -- such as Jesus's wife and kids.
It may be fiction, but many Christian leaders are fighting back with facts. Several local pastors are planning to tailor their sermons around "The Da Vinci Code" this weekend, to coincide with the release of the film based on the book.
"I want to give people a balance to some of the ideas that the movie is presenting," said Rev. John Tether, pastor of Northway Christian Family Church in Queensbury.
Tether said he had no idea what to expect when he read "The Da Vinci Code" a few years ago.
He was a schoolteacher at the time, and his principal gave him a copy of the book.
"I think it was kind of a setup, because he knew I was a minister and he wanted to, I don't know, test my faith," Tether said. "It definitely did."
The book questions traditional church doctrine about the origins of Christianity, suggesting that Emperor Constantine came up with the idea of Jesus' divinity in about 300 A.D., and that the Bible's compilation was heavily skewed by politics.
"Very few people have ever researched anything that happened in the early church, including myself," Tether said. "But when I went to some other sources, I realized that ... all of (Brown's) presumptions are just that -- not statements of fact."
One of the sources Tether went to was a book called "The Case for Christ," written by Lee Strobel as a journalistic investigation of the historical claims of Christianity.
"I presented this to my congregation as kind of an antidote, if anyone felt their faith was poisoned by Brown's book," Tether said.
At Life Christian Center, a small, newborn church that meets at Saratoga Springs high school on Sunday mornings, pastor Dave Shacket is devoting five weeks of sermons to "The Da Vinci Code."
With the movie opening soon, Shacket said he's already been fielding questions about the novel's more controversial elements.
"What does the church say? What is historical, what is true? I figured our people would be asked those kinds of questions, too, so I wanted to spend some time equipping them with the answers," Shacket said.
Although he understands why Brown's story upsets some Christians, Shacket said he enjoyed the novel when he read it last year.
"Boy, it's a page-turner!" he said. "I plan to see the movie as soon as I possibly can."
He's turned to a book by evangelical apologist Josh McDowell, called "Evidence that Demands a Verdict," to counter Brown's version of church history. McDowell has also written a booklet specifically addressing "The Da Vinci Code," which Shacket is giving away to anyone who's interested.
"I think there are people being led astray by the book, because Brown's done an incredible job of wrapping fiction around the truth, and the dividing line is kind of difficult to see for someone who hasn't researched it," he said. "On the flip side, I think it's a phenomenal opportunity for the church to say, 'great, let's talk about why we believe in the Bible!' "
Tether said he "wouldn't encourage or discourage" people from seeing the film, but he has some advice for those who do:
"Go with the knowledge that there are going to be some things that are presented that are not factual," he said.
Monday, May 15, 2006
Published in The Post-Star
The silence in the darkened theater was broken only by sniffles as the credits began to roll.
About 40 people spent Saturday afternoon watching "United 93," the newly released feature film based on the painful reality of 9/11. It opened in select theaters nationwide last weekend and at Regal Cinemas in Wilton Mall on Friday.
While going to the movies is usually considered entertainment, most of the people entering the theater for "United 93" looked more like they were going to a funeral.
"I'm kind of skeptical that I want to see it," admitted Margaret Spiezio, a senior citizen from Schuylerville who sat in the back row. "But those people were real heroes, and I'm proud to witness that."
There were no previews or funny commercials beforehand -- for the first few moments, viewers see only a black screen, accompanied the sound of a softly chanted prayer to Allah. The next few scenes convey the sense of eerie calm that precedes a terrible storm.
Much of the two-hour film takes place on the ground, and it unfolds in real time as air traffic control and military command centers begin to comprehend the scope of the crisis that is unfolding on their radar screens.
Communication between agencies is frustratingly slow and inefficient; as the film's epilogue points out, the military's air defense team was not even notified that United 93 had been hijacked until four minutes after the flight crashed.
"Four and a half years later, you look back at some of this and think, 'How could they have not put the pieces together sooner?'" Scott Thomer reflected after watching the movie for the first time. "But of course, it's always easier to see things clearly when you're looking back."
Thomer choked up as the credits revealed a roster of the 44 people killed on United 93.
"I think it shows the character of Americans in general. ...we don't just sit by and let things happen. We take action," he said. "Those people knew they were going to die, but they didn't let their deaths be wasted."
Paul Greengrass wrote and directed the movie. using details from the cockpit voice recordings and transcripts of phone calls placed by passengers on the doomed flight.
As she waited for the film to start, Hadley resident Tamara Delsignore was nonchalant.
"I just came because I heard it was good," she said with a shrug.
Afterwards, she was visibly shaken.
"It does a really good job of showing how scary and confusing it was for that day," she said. "And it makes you think about how important it is to tell your loved ones that you love them."
Spiezio was thinking about her oldest son as she left the theater. He was on a plane from Boston to New York the morning of 9/11, and the film reminded her of the fear she felt that day before learning he had landed safely.
"It was difficult to watch," she said. "But I'm glad I saw it."
Universal Pictures will donate 10 percent of the film's profits to a memorial fund for the victims of United 93.#
REVIEW: Published in The Post-Star (G6)
United 93 (2006). Written and directed by Paul Greengrass. Starring JJ Johnson, Polly Adams, Cheyenne Jackson, Opal Alladin, Starla Benford, Trish Gates, Nancy McDoniel and David Alan Basche. 111 minutes. Rated R (for language and some intense sequences of terror and violence).
A heavy knot of dread formed in the pit of my stomach during the opening scene of this movie, moving up to a lump in my throat by the end. It wasn't because of a particularly powerful line in the script, or a moment when the music swelled to cue emotional intensity.
It was simply because knowing the inevitable, awful ending of this 9/11-based film from the
start made the experience feel like watching an innocent prisoner march down Death Row in slow motion.
While the flight crew gossips as they prepare the plane for boarding, the soon-to-be hijackers mutter their final prayers and goodbyes, having ritually prepared themselves for death.
After the flight takes off, passengers sip their coffee and read The New York Times, unaware they will be the next day's headlines. There's something particularly painful about watching them deliberate over things like omelettes and orange juice as the hijackers are deliberating over the right moment to start the bloodbath.
The narrative unfolds in real time, flashing between the flight itself and events on the ground, where air traffic controllers and military commanders are lurching into action like a baffled bear whose hibernation has been interrupted.
Writer/director Paul Greengrass used the cockpit voice recordings and about two dozen phone calls placed by passengers in the flight's final minutes to reconstruct the actual events of that day with the precision of a documentarian.
He seems to recognize that the raw material of reality is strong enough to move audiences on its own, and he avoids squeezing the life out of naturally dramatic moments. Even when passenger Todd Beamer utters the famous line, "Let's roll!" it is dropped casually into a longer phrase, and seems more like conversational debris than the future title of a best-selling book.
Viewers are reminded that although the victims of United 93 have since been hailed as heroes for preventing their plane from reaching its intended target -- the U.S. Capitol Building -- they were also ordinary humans. They had no script to guide them through the terror of that morning. All they had were their brains, their bodies and a shared sense of purpose.
Some people have questioned the worth of a movie that profits from a still-fresh national tragedy, but the film's official Web site (www.united93movie.com) notes that Universal Studios will donate 10 percent of the film's earnings to a memorial fund for the victims of United 93. And perhaps the director's statement explains it best:
"The 40 passengers and crew on board Flight 93 were the first to inhabit our new and terrifying post-9/11 world. The terrible dilemma those passengers faced is the same we have been struggling with ever since," Greengrass writes. "Do we sit passively and hope this all turns out OK? Or do we fight back and strike at them before they strike at us? And what will happen if we do?"
Imagine a place where chocolate is a dietary staple instead of a frivolous indulgence -- a place where you can drink a mug of molten chocolate for breakfast every day and call it health food, or even get paid in chocolate.
Willy Wonka's factory? No.
Try Fort Ticonderoga during the Revolutionary War -- and again last week.
"We know from looking at documents like journals and supply lists that the soldiers were definitely drinking chocolate here at the fort every day as part of their military rations," said Lisa Simpson Lutts, external affairs director for the Fort Ticonderoga Association that now maintains the historic site.
"It kind of blows people away, because they don't think of chocolate as something they would have had back then. When we hear of it today, we think: Oh, they got candy for rations," she said. "But it wasn't candy for them; it was food."
In some colonies, she said, soldiers were given supplies in lieu of wages, and a stash of chocolate was part of their payment.
Chocolate was considered a highly nutritious health drink and was commonly prescribed by physicians and included on hospital supply lists in the 17th and 18th centuries.
"They even thought it could cure syphilis," said Simpson Lutts. "They were a little off on that one."
Visitors to the fort got an authentic taste of history on the site's opening day last Wednesday. Costumed re-enactors from the "historic division" of the candy giant Mars Inc. spent the day demonstrating the Colonial chocolate-making process and handing out free samples of the rich treat.
Re-enactor Eric Whitacre explained that most colonial chocolate started in the form of "chocolate nuts," which arrived on ships from places like Central and South America. The nuts, or cocoa beans, were then roasted over a fire, shelled and ground into "nibs," which was probably done by hand with a mortar and pestle.
The final stage, which involved grinding the nibs into a thick paste on something called a metate stone, was the most laborious. Whitacre worked up a sweat Wednesay as he created a slick sheen of chocolate by rubbing two stone surfaces together.
"So, the friction heats it up?" a man in the crowd asked as he watched.
Whitacre gave a sheepish grin.
"Actually, we've got a Sterno under here," he admitted, pointing beneath the base of the metate stone.
Even with such tricks, he said, the process would be very time-consuming.
"If you wanted to get it as fine as the kind of chocolate that's manufactured today -- well, you probably couldn't, but if you wanted to try, it could take 8 or 9 hours," Whitacre said.
Colonial chocolate makers would add spices to their chocolate in the final grinding stages -- usually a little sugar and cayenne pepper, along with things like cinnamon, cloves and anise.
"It was done according to taste, kind of like the way some people will make their own spaghetti sauce, so every batch was different," Whitacre said.
Cocoa and chocolate were almost always prepared as a beverage in Colonial times, he explained, offering a small cup of hot, liquid chocolate to a visitor.
"I had no idea chocolate was part of the culture at that time, but I'm a big fan," said Brian Reavey, a Middlebury College student and first-time visitor to the fort.
He took a sip.
"This is the best historic site I've been to in a long time!" he declared.
The tasting was a one-day event, but American Heritage chocolate products, which are made by hand using Colonial methods, will be sold in the fort's gift shop all season.
IF YOU GO: Fort Ticonderoga is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., May 10 through Oct. 22. Admission is $12 for adults (age 13 and older), $10.80 for seniors (65 and older), $6 for youths (7-12) and free for children younger than 7. For more information, call 585-2821 or see the Web site www.fort-ticonderoga.org.
Sunday, May 14, 2006
When it comes to shopping for sunglasses, everyone has their own style. The carelessly cheap among us will settle for $10 drugstore shades, while others look to their opticians to prescribe specially tinted lenses.
Some see their eyewear as a fashion accessory that shows off their impeccably trendy taste -- no matter what the cost.
If you're the last type, you probably rejoiced at the news that Solstice, a chain of designer sunglasses boutiques, opened a store in Crossgates Mall last month.
"We specialize in very high-end brands: Marc Jacobs, Armani, Gucci, Juicy Couture ..." the store's training coordinator, Deanna Strothers, explained. "We believe in paying for quality."
She pointed out that, although many of the sunglasses on the display racks had price tags as high as $600, their average sale is about $250.
"Our concept in the store is to allow everyone to freely try things on," she added, noting that most of the sunglasses are displayed on open wall racks, not locked in glass cases.
As she spoke, one of the store's "stylists," a sleek-haired young man dressed in black, shadowed shoppers around the store with a polishing cloth to whisk away any fingerprints left on lenses.
"In some of our locations ,we've done celebrity fittings for people like Usher, and the Sopranos' cast," Strothers said.
No celebrities showed their faces at Crossgates on this day, but the store did attract shoppers like Air Force soldier Jake Schweikert and his friends, who came in on a whim as they walked through the mall.
"I came in here because it looked presentable," he said. "I'm looking for something sleek, with good eye coverage, that I can wear on my motorcycle. Nothing too robust or crazy."
He tried on a pair of Paul Franks with big, round lenses in a plastic frame.
"No," Strothers said firmly, as Schweikert's companions burst into laughter.
His friend Nelson English seemed to be taking his shopping more seriously.
"I try to look as good as possible at all times, and sunglasses help with that," he said. "I've got three pairs right now, and I probably spent about $400 total."
That's nothing compared to what some shoppers are willing to shell out.
At ICU Optical Studio, a designer sunglasses store in Saratoga Springs, a pair of plastic-framed Bulgari sunglasses with Swarovski crystal flowers on the temples is selling for $700.
"I guess it's the bling-bling," said store owner Andrea Queng. "And they're big, which is very in right now."
She said she's amazed at how big some people are willing to go in the name of trendiness this year.
"I just sold a pair, it was like twice this size," she said, pointing to a goggle-like pair of Versace frames. "The woman probably couldn't grin without her glasses moving on her face. But that's what she wanted, so OK!"
Andrea Queng, owner of ICU Optical Studio in Saratoga Springs, offers these tips to sunglasses shoppers:
-- If you have a round face, try a more angular, square frame. Round frames will only make you look rounder.
-- Longer faces often look best in plastic frames with small nose bridges.
-- Oval faces can get away with almost anything.
-- Polarized lenses are best for driving because they reduce all horizontal glare, but they make some people dizzy.
-- Properly fitted glasses should rest on the bridge of the nose, without creating pressure points along the sides of the nose or the tops of the cheeks.
-- The most important thing to look for in any sunglasses is 100 percent UV protection, to prevent things like cataracts and skin cancer (which can start in the eyelid) from developing later.
-- If you insist on buying cheap sunglasses, test them first. Hold them at arm's length and look through the lens at a stationary object. Rotate them. If the object appears to move or become blurry, the lenses contain distortions that could cause vision problems.
Saturday, May 13, 2006
As a popular lullaby implies, treetops aren’t the best place to rock babies to sleep. But what about your own bed?
For an increasing number of mothers and babies, what lulls them best is lying close to each other in the same bed, termed "co-sleeping" or "bed-sharing." It’s a form of bonding, and many breastfeeding mothers find it a practical way to give their baby easy access to a midnight snack.
"As a parent, I just believe in whatever gets everybody the most sleep," said Renee Murphy, a mother of five from Queensbury. "So, if the baby’s in your bed and everybody sleeps well, that’s the way to go."
But last year, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a warning that bed-sharing could raise the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) under certain conditions, especially in smoking households.
"I tell patients that it is a risk for SIDS and that it is not recommended," said
Dr. Mary Nevins of Adirondack Pediatrics in Glens Falls. She recommends "sleeping in proximity" — a crib or bassinet at the parents’ bedside — rather than co-sleeping.
On the other hand, popular child care author Dr. William Sears suggests in his writings that a mother can act as "a breathing pacemaker" for her babies and that they can develop a "sleep harmony" that makes the infant’s breathing more regular and healthy — actually reducing the risk of SIDS.
Either way, surveys show that the practice of co-sleeping is on the rise in the United States.
‘Common across the board’
In the most recent national survey on infant sleep position, the proportion of infants frequently sharing an adult bed more than doubled between 1993 and 2000. Almost half of the infants studied had shared an adult bed at least once in the previous two weeks.
The study also found that African-American and Asian infants were three to four times more likely than white infants to co-sleep with adults and that low-income households were twice as likely to practice co-sleeping.
"It’s more common in some cultures ... but it’s obviously common across the board," Nevins said.
What concerns doctors, she said, is the risk that an infant could be suffocated in an adult bed by loose blankets, an overly soft mattress — or worse, the adult themselves.
"I have a cradle in my room, but I never put them in our bed for fear that I would roll over them," said Heather Wagemann, a Silver Bay resident with two young children.
Local prosecutors think that’s what happened in the case of Amy E. Campbell, a 33-year-old North Creek woman who awoke on Feb. 2 to find her 7-week-old infant dead beside her in her bed. She initially told investigators that she drank a 12-pack of beer and was taking several prescription drugs that night, although she later said she drank only three beers.
Nevins said reports of "suffocation by an overlying adult" are part of the reason the academy advises against co-sleeping, "particularly if the adult is in an unnaturally depressed state of consciousness," such as from drug or alcohol consumption.
Part of other cultures
Whatever the experts say, most local mothers who have co-slept said they have never felt
worried about their babies’ safety.
"There’s something about that breastfeeding relationship. ... When I’m in bed with my child, I can be sleeping a nice, solid sleep — but at the same time, every little whimper wakes me up," said Mary Maley, a South Glens Falls mother of four. "I’m very conscious of where my baby is."
Ruth Castonguay, a Queensbury mother of three, did a lot of research before deciding to share a bed with her first baby.
"What I found is that we’re an odd civilization that doesn’t sleep with our babies," she said. "Co-sleeping is a normal part of other cultures. It’s only Western civilization that promotes sleeping apart."
The La Leche League, a national organization that promotes breastfeeding, publishes a factsheet of guidelines for safe co-sleeping.
"Basically, the league says that if co-sleeping is right for your family, it’s fine, but follow safety guidelines," said Stacey Melvin, a South Glens Falls mother of three who helps lead a local chapter of the league.
The guidelines include using a firm mattress with tightly fitted sheets and keeping the baby on its back or side, away from loose pillows or blankets.
Avoid leaving space between the bed and the wall where the baby could become trapped, and keep the bed low to the ground.
"And obviously, don’t use alcohol or drugs," she added.