Family valued - 5.24.06 

The Boss for a new generation

If I'm not mistaken, Bruce Springsteen recently released a children's CD. I'm sure that wasn't the original plan, but my kids' enthusiastic requests to hear "Erie Canal" and or "Old Dan Tucker" tell me otherwise. I couldn't be more pleased.

The CD is We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, a collection of traditional folk and gospel tunes, most popularized by Pete Seeger. Instead of using the E Street Band, Springsteen recorded with a large group of relative unknowns.

It's an intriguing mix of American roots music, the result of just three recording sessions with minimal rehearsal. Between the fine musicianship and smorgasbord of sounds and styles, there's plenty here for the adult music fan. But the kids?

I can't explain the attraction, except to ask, Why is it that we sometimes dumb down our expectations for what kids might like in music? Why shouldn't they like this, too? With music, it's plain to me that, if given the chance, kids will take quality over garbage any day, even if in other areas --- say, like eating --- they'll generally go for ice cream before broccoli.

Great music knows no age boundaries, which is why I'm happy to see my kids attracted to someone who has been a favorite for my entire adult life. Do they like every song? No. Lyrically, some of it is way beyond them, and some of the musical arrangements are challenging. But, heck, they're 3 and 5.

For now, they can sing along to "Froggie Went ACourtin'" all they want. And so can you. The cultural and historical lessons that are contained herein can wait for when they're older. Buy this now because it is joyful and fresh, and because it stirs the soul. Not to mention that it's an unexpected opportunity to connect with your kids.

--- Michael J. Peter

Reacting to allergies

An idyllic painting hangs on the wall across from my desk. Toward a distant cottage a stone path meanders through a meadow abloom with vivid wildflowers. To people with allergies at this time of year, the painting is offensive. It makes their eyes water, their noses stuffy, their throats scratchy, and everything itchy. It's allergy season.

Why have we evolved these hyperactive immune responses we call allergies? A leading theory is that our environments are too germ-free. Our immune systems don't have enough to do so they become hypersensitive and overreactive. When an offending substance triggers them, vigilant (mast) cells release a barrage of chemicals that make tissues swell and itch. The triggers can be anything organic: molds, plants, foods, animals and insects, medicines and perfumes. Depending on our genetics, age, and exposure, we can develop hives, puffy eyes, stuffed noses, coughing, wheezing, diarrhea, and even, rarely, circulatory shock. Allergies are disabling.

How do we manage? It's impossible to avoid exposure to all allergens; our immune systems find them. Most people take drugs like Benadryl and Claritin. These have side effects and don't relieve all the symptoms. Medicating also gets expensive. Singulair, nasal sprays, eye drops, and shots alter our immune response but usually fall short of complete relief. So do acupuncture and a variety of homeopathic and herbal products.

Allergies are a health problem that has evolved as we've changed our environment. There are no easy solutions, just a lot of very busy allergists and therapies that don't work too well.

Intriguing evidence suggests that our minds can regulate the intensity of our immune responses. Hypnosis, expectation, and suggestion can increase or decrease allergic activity. The prospect of mindful self-regulation presents a promising direction for future allergy therapy.

Meanwhile, I'll avoid the painting on my wall.

--- LaurenceI.Sugarman, MD

Speaking of Bruce Springsteen, ALLERGIES

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