Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Half Empty: Christmas Letters Greatest Hits (Part 2)

They say that when you hit your 40s, your life is half over. We prefer to think of it as HALF EMPTY. Our age has finally caught up with our outlook on life. Remember, it is possible to turn that frown upside down...but you might pull a muscle.


By Rick Kaempfer & Dave Stern

Tis the season for Christmas form letters from long-lost friends and family members. We've been big fans of these since childhood, and we've actually acquired quite a collection over the past decade or two. (Send us yours by clicking on the "E-mail me" link on the right.)

Most letters are a little boring and maybe a little too inside for mass consumption, but others are Christmas letters for the ages. We're going to feature a few of those between now and Christmas this year.

This is one is on loan from the British National Archive. It's yellow and brittle, but it's message of Christmas cheer is timeless.

Christmas 1536

Dearest Friends & Relatives,

It is my fondest wish that you and yours enjoy a wonderful Christmas this year.

The King and I welcomed our daughter Elizabeth to the world this year, a moment that we will surely treasure forever. His Majesty is a doting and attentive father. Why, just yesterday he didn’t even say “get thy ugliness and thy bitch child away from me.”

He is surely warming to her.

Dearest Henry has his moments, as all young sleep-deprived fathers do, but we’ve learned not to take him literally. For instance, when he says something like: “If you don’t give me a male heir, I’ll have you beheaded you filthy whore,” he simply means he wants a little brother for our darling Elizabeth. And when he tells anyone who’ll listen that I used witchcraft to get him to marry me, he simply means that he loves me so much, it’s as if I cast spell on him. He’s really sweet that way.

I’ve only been his Queen for two years now, and I’m slowly adjusting. Life in the palace is wonderful, but sometimes it is a little confining. Luckily, a few weeks ago, Henry promised me a trip to a place called Hades. It’s been ages since we traveled, so naturally little Elizabeth and I eagerly await our voyage. It won’t be a long trip (His Majesty promises it will short and swift), but it’s good to get away. My Ladies in Waiting are extremely anxious about this trip, and I’m sure it’s because they simply don’t know what to pack until we find out more about Hades’ climate.

I’m hoping this trip makes 1537 as memorable as 1536. Can you believe 1536 is almost over already? Doesn’t Henry’s ex-communication from the Catholic Church seem like it happened decades ago instead of just last year? My darling husband is really growing into his new role. Lesser men might have buckled from the pressure of running a country and a church, but my Henry is larger than life…he’s nearly 400 pounds now.

So, dear friends and relatives, as you gather round the Christmas fire this year, please pray for my husband, the Supreme Head in Earth of the Church of England, because, in case you don’t remember, it’s high treason not to.

Look for my postcard from Hades.

Lovingly yours,

Ann Boleyn

Next week...a Christmas letter from this Christmas season.

If you missed any previous Half Empty columns, click here:

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Suburban Man: The Tea-Set

By Rick Kaempfer

My wife Bridget and I celebrated our fifteenth anniversary last week the same way we celebrate every day together: peacefully.

We really don’t argue.

There isn’t a secret to our marital harmony—I think we’re just a good match. We tend to agree on most things, and when we don’t, one of us inevitably buckles before it turns into an argument. Usually I’m the one that buckles. My wife is passionate about everything, and I’m passionate about nothing. That makes it much easier for me to buckle. I have an incredible ability to go with the flow.

Don’t get me wrong, Bridget buckles too. On the rare occasions when I disagree with her AND I actually care, I become intractable. I put my foot down, she senses that I am serious, and she buckles. This happens maybe once a year.

Has there ever been a time when I put my foot down on a subject that Bridget felt too strongly about to concede? Yes, it happened once.

I can tell you everything about that fight because it’s ingrained in my memory banks. It occurred in October of 1997. Tommy was just about to turn 2. The argument began thusly…

Bridget: I got Tommy’s birthday present today.

Rick: What did you get?

Bridget: A tea-set.

Rick: That’s great…um…what did you say?

Bridget: I got him a tea-set.

Rick: You mean like a golf tee set?

Bridget: No.

Rick: You mean like a “pour imaginary cups of tea for your dolls and raise your pinky while you pretend to drink” tea set?

Bridget: Yup. He’ll love it.

Rick: You know he’s a boy, right?

Bridget: This won’t make him gay, Rick.

Rick: Objecting to “girl presents” for your son doesn’t make you homophobic.

Bridget: It’s not a girl present.

Rick: Let me see the box.

(Bridget pulled the pink box out of the bag. A little girl engaged in a doll tea-party was pictured on the front of the package.)

Rick: That’s what I thought. We can give it to one of our nieces.

Bridget: No, we’re giving it to Tommy.

Rick: No, we’re not.

Bridget: Well I’m not returning it. If you want to get him something else, you have to get it yourself.

Bridget wouldn’t buckle, and called all of her friends and sisters for support. They all agreed that I was being sexist and ridiculous.

I wouldn’t buckle, and called all of my friends for support. They all agreed that she was being ridiculous.

Since neither of us could convince anyone on the other side of the sex divide to cross-over and support our argument, we agreed to conduct an experiment to see which one of us was right.

Bridget would still give Tommy the tea-set, but I would give him a more appropriate boy gift (Hot Wheels). We would put both presents on the table in the living room and let Tommy decide which one he preferred. Neither of us would be allowed to talk to him at all, and we couldn’t say or do anything to sway his opinion.

Since Tommy didn’t really talk too much, the winner would be decided by which present Tommy chose first….her tea-set or my Hot Wheels. Winner takes all, loser admits defeat.

That night we brought Tommy into the room and told him the presents on the table were both for him. At first he didn’t say or do anything.

Then it happened…he walked right to the Hot Wheels and asked me to open the package.

He was a little taken aback by my exuberant response and Bridget’s inexplicable muttering, but Tommy had cemented the father-son bond forever by proving me right.

I didn’t dance on Bridget’s grave, and it’s a good thing I didn’t. She was also later proven correct. Tommy did eventually warm to the tea-set, and his two younger brothers also played with the tea-set without sustaining any lasting damage.

The real winner of the argument was our marriage. We both felt really silly and ridiculous after that display, and we haven’t had a real argument since.

It’s much easier to buckle.

If you missed any previous Suburban Man columns, click here:

Sunday, November 26, 2006


Just to show I'm not always joking, I did pen the following article for the Fall 2006 issue of "Get Healthy" Magazine.

By Rick Kaempfer

Once men reach a certain age, prostate problems are a fact of life.

“An enlarged prostate is as inevitable as gray hair,” says Dr. Subba Rao Nagubadi of Urology Associates of N.W Indiana.

Prostate cancer is also the most common form of malignant cancer (other than skin cancer) affecting men today. According to the National Cancer Institute, more than 220,000 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer this year.

But for all the bad news about prostate cancer, there is hopeful news as well. Unlike some other cancers, many men with advanced prostate cancer can expect to live for many years. Often, the prostate cancer grows slowly, and there are now some effective treatment options that extend life even further.

Early Detection

Waiting until the symptoms associated with prostate problems occur (frequent urination, a sudden need to urinate, a need to strain or push to empty the bladder, or pain and burning in urination or ejaculation) isn’t enough. In fact, by the time the symptoms occur, prostate cancer may have spread beyond the prostate.

Luckily there are two fairly reliable tests that may catch prostate cancer, even in the “silent” or early stages before any symptoms occur.

A Digital Rectal Exam (DRE) is the common method used by doctors to physically feel the prostate through the rectum, looking for lumps or hard areas. This is usually done in concert with a blood test which looks for elevated PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) levels. Because most men with slightly elevated levels of PSA do not have cancer, and some prostate cancers can’t be detected through digital rectal exams, it’s important to do both tests. Together they have been much more successful in identifying prostate cancer.

“After age 40,” says Dr. Nagubadi, “I recommend you get tested once a year.”


In their book Updated Guidelines for Surviving Prostate Cancer, Dr. E. Roy Berger and Dr. James Lewis Jr. point out that there isn’t one correct way to treat prostate cancer. “The reason for this is that there have not been a significant number of randomized controlled studies to answer all of the questions related to the various treatment modalities.”

That means that the prostate cancer patient has options, and he should investigate all of them thoroughly. There are basically three variations of treatments; surgery, radiation, and closely monitoring the cancer.

Closely monitoring the cancer is called Surveillance (also known as watchful waiting). If the cancer is low-grade and confined to the gland (early stage) especially with older patients who have other serious medical conditions, doctors may be hesitant to pursue more invasive treatments. With the surveillance method, doctors simply keep a close eye on the growth of the cancer through regular examinations. Once it grows and starts to spread, further action is necessary.

Usually that involves surgery called Radical Prostatectomy.

“We recommend the surgery for any patient who is young enough—up to age 70, and strong enough,” says Dr. Nagubadi of Urology Associates of N.W Indiana.

Radical Prostatectomy surgery removes the entire prostate and nearby tissues, and sometimes the lymph nodes in the pelvis.

For patients who aren’t strong enough to undergo the radical prostatectomy, Radiation Therapy is the other treatment choice. The radiation is normally delivered through external beams, but it can also be implanted directly into the prostate with a needle.


Patients usually fully recover from surgery relatively quickly, but there are a few other possibilities to consider. While the radical prostatectomy is done with nerve sparing techniques, it can cause potential side effects.

“Some men lose the ability to achieve an erection,” says Dr. Nagubadi.

Drugs like Viagra and several similar, newer drugs can help patients resume normal sexual function.

As for radiation recovery, the radiation itself is painless. However, according to the American Society of Clinical Oncology, radiation therapy may cause the following side effects:
• Diarrhea or other disruption of bowel function
• Increased urinary urge or frequency
• Fatigue
• Impotence
• Rectal discomfort, burning, or pain


There are three higher risk groups most likely to get prostate cancer.
=Men over 65
=African-American men
=Men who have a history of prostate cancer in their families (especially those cases diagnosed before the age of 60)
Because the incidence of prostate cancer is lower in Asia, Africa, and South America, some experts think that diets lower in animal fat may help lower the risk. This, unfortunately, has not been proven in any clinical study.
Dr. Nagubadi of Urology Associates of N.W Indiana is skeptical. Asked if there was anything someone could do to help prevent prostate cancer, he replied, “No, not really.”

The combination of age and genetics are still the biggest determinants of who gets prostate cancer, and unfortunately, science and medicine still haven’t figured out a way to overcome either of those factors.

For More Information about Prostate Cancer:

The National Cancer Institute:

Prostate Cancer Treatment information:

Know Your Options: Understanding Treatment choices for Prostate Cancer:

The Prostate Cancer Foundation

Writing this article caused me to have phantom prostate problems for a week. I even went to the doctor to get it checked. The exam wasn't pleasant, but the prostate is fine.