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The standard American diet is very low in nutrients. METRO photo
Nutrient intake is stunningly low in the United States

By David Dunaief, M.D.

Dr. David Dunaief

Most chronic diseases, including common killers, such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and some cancers, can potentially be prevented, modified and even reversed with a focus on nutrients, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

Here’s a stunning statistic: 60 percent of American adults have a chronic disease, with 40 percent of adults having more than one (1). This is likely a factor in the slowing pace of life expectancy increases in the U.S., which have plateaued in the past decade at around 78.8 years old (2).

The truth is that many Americans are malnourished, regardless of socioeconomic status and, in many cases, despite being overweight or obese. The definition of malnourished is insufficient nutrition, which in the U.S. results from low levels of much-needed nutrients. Sadly, the standard American diet is very low in nutrients, so many have at least moderate malnutrition.

I regularly test patients’ carotenoid levels. Carotenoids are nutrients that are incredibly important for tissue and organ health. They are measurable and give the practitioner a sense of whether the patient may lack potentially disease-fighting nutrients. Testing is often covered by insurance if the patient is diagnosed with moderate malnutrition. A high nutrient intake dietary approach can resolve the situation and increase, among others, carotenoid levels.

High nutrient intake is important

A high nutrient intake diet is an approach that focuses on micronutrients, which literally means small nutrients, including antioxidants and phytochemicals – plant nutrients. Micronutrients are bioactive compounds found mostly in foods and some supplements. While fiber is not considered a micronutrient, it also has significant disease modifying effects. Micronutrients interact with each other in synergistic ways, meaning the sum is greater than the parts. Diets that are plant-rich raise the levels of micronutrients considerably in patients.

In a 2017 study that included 73,700 men and women who were participants in the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, participants’ diets were rated over a 12-year period using three established dietary scores: the Alternate Healthy Eating Index–2010 score, the Alternate Mediterranean Diet score, and the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet score (3).

A 20 percent increase in diet scores (indicating an improved quality of diet) was significantly associated with a reduction in total mortality of 8 to 17 percent, depending on whether two or three scoring methods were used. Participants who maintained a high-quality diet over a 12-year period reduced their risk of death by 9 to 14 percent more than participants with consistently low diet scores over time. By contrast, worsening diet quality over 12 years was associated with an increase in mortality of 6 to 12 percent. Not surprisingly, longer periods of healthy eating had a greater effect than shorter periods.

This study reinforces the findings of the Greek EPIC trial, a large prospective (forward-looking) cohort study, where the Mediterranean-type diet decreased mortality significantly – the better the compliance, the greater the effect (4). The most powerful dietary components were the fruits, vegetables, nuts, olive oil, legumes and moderate alcohol intake. Low consumption of meat also contributed to the beneficial effects. Dairy and cereals had a neutral or minimal effect.

Quality of life

Quality of life is also important, though. Let’s examine some studies that examine the impact of diet on diseases that may reduce our quality of life as we age.

A study showed olive oil reduces the risk of stroke by 41 percent (5). The authors attribute this effect at least partially to oleic acid, a bioactive compound found in olive oil. While olive oil is important, I recommend limiting olive oil to one tablespoon a day. There are 120 calories per tablespoon of olive oil, all of them fat. If you eat too much, even of good fat, it defeats the purpose. The authors commented that the Mediterranean-type diet had only recently been used in trials with neurologic diseases and results suggest benefits in several disorders, such as Alzheimer’s. 

In a case-control study that compared those with and without disease, high intake of antioxidants from food was associated with a significant decrease in the risk of early Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD), even when participants had a genetic predisposition for the disease (6). AMD is the leading cause of blindness in those 55 years or older.

There were 2,167 people enrolled in the study with several different genetic variations that made them high risk for AMD. Those with a highest nutrient intake, including B-carotene, zinc, lutein, zeaxanthin, EPA and DHA- substances found in fish, had an inverse relationship with risk of early AMD. Nutrients, thus, may play a role in modifying gene expression. 

Though many Americans are malnourished, nutrients that are effective and available can alter this predicament. Hopefully, with a focus on a high nutrient intake, we can improve life expectancy and, on an individual level, improve our quality of life.

References:

(1) cdc.gov. (2) macrotrends.net. (3) N Engl J Med 2017; 377:143-153. (4) BMJ. 2009;338:b2337. (5) Neurology June 15, 2011. (6) Arch Ophthalmol. 2011;129(6):758-766.

Dr. David Dunaief is a speaker, author and local lifestyle medicine physician focusing on the integration of medicine, nutrition, fitness and stress management. For further information, visit www.medicalcompassmd.com. 

A group of gelada monkeys in Ethiopia. Photo from Jacob Feder

By Daniel Dunaief

Timing can mean the difference between life and death for young geladas (an Old World monkey species). Geladas whose fathers remain leaders of a social group for as much as a year or more have a better chance of survival than those whose fathers are displaced by new males under a year after they’re born. 

New males who enter a social group can, and often do, kill the young of other males, giving the new male leaders a chance to impregnate the female members of their social group who might otherwise be unable to conceive.

Jacob Feder

 

The odds of a new male leader killing a young gelada are about 60 percent at birth, compared to closer to 15 percent at around a year of age, according to researchers at Stony Brook University (SBU).

Additionally, pregnant gelada monkeys often spontaneously abort their unborn fetuses once a new male enters the group, as the mother’s hormones cause a miscarriage that enables them to dedicate their resources to the future progeny of the next dominant male.

At the same time, the survival of females depends on becoming a part of a group that is just the right size.

Jacob Feder, a graduate student at SBU, and Amy Lu, Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology in the College of Arts and Sciences at Stony Brook, recently published a paper in Proceedings of the Royal Society B that explores the ideal group size that optimizes the longevity of females and the number of their offspring.

The researchers discovered a Goldilocks effect. By studying the behavioral and group data for over 200 wild geladas over the course of 14 years, they determined that a mid-size group with five to seven females has the greatest benefit for their own fitness and for the survival of their offspring.

“There tends to be a trade off” in the dynamics that affect female geladas in different groups, Feder said. Females in the biggest groups face a higher risk of takeovers and takeover-related infanticide, since males are more likely to try to dominate a part of larger social groups where they have greater reproductive opportunities.

By contrast, individuals in the smaller groups may live on the periphery of a multi-group dynamic. These females are less protected against predators.

In their native Ethiopia, geladas are vulnerable to leopards, hyenas, and jackals, among others.

For the females, the survival of their offspring depends on the ability of males to remain in the group long enough.

“The male turnover is one of the major drivers of their reproductive success,” explained Feder.

Researchers have seen new males enter a group and kill infants born from another father. The infants, for their part, don’t often recognize the need to avoid new males, Lu said.

When males enter big groups, females often have to reset their reproduction.

Groups with about nine to 11 females often split into units of four to seven, Feder said. A new male might become the leader for half of the females, leaving the remaining male with the other half. Alternatively, new males may take over each group.

The pregnant females who are part of a group with a new male will spontaneously abort their offspring about 80 percent of the time, as females “cut their losses,” Feder said

About 38 percent of females live in a mid-sized group that is close to optimum size.

Gelada charm

According to Feder and Wu, geladas are a compelling species to research, Feder and Wu said.

Feder found his visits to the East African nation rewarding, especially when he had the opportunity to watch a small female named Crimson.

An important part of daily life for these primates involves grooming, where primates comb through each other’s hair, remove insects and, in many cases, eat them.

Crimson, who was a younger member of the group when Feder started observing geladas, didn’t have much grooming experience with this activity. Instead of running her hands over the body of her grooming partner, she focused on her mouth. Her partner’s wide eyes reflected surprise at the unusual grooming choice.

One of the favorites for Lu was a monkey who has since passed away named Vampire. A part of the V group, Vampire was taller and bigger than most adult females. She displaced male geladas, some of whom were larger than she, almost as often as they displaced her.

“If you go out in the field enough, you know the individuals pretty well,” Lu said. “They all have their own personalities. Some of them walk in a different way and react to situations differently.”

A resident of Centereach, Feder grew up in northern Connecticut, attending Wesleyan University as an undergraduate, where he majored in music and biology. A bass guitar player, Feder said he “dabbles in anything with strings.”

In fourth grade, Feder read a biography of Dian Fossey, which sparked his interest in biology.

While he has yet to combine his musical and science interests with geladas, Feder said these monkeys have a large vocabulary that is almost as big as chimpanzees.

Lu, meanwhile, started studying geladas as a postdoctoral researcher. They’re a great study species that allow scientists to ask compelling questions about reproductive strategies. “At any point, you can follow 20 social groups,” Lu said.

Lu, whose two children are four years old and 16 months old, said she has observed the similarities between human and non-human primate young.

“Babies throw tantrums, whether it is my child or a gelada infant protesting being put on the ground,” she described in an email. Gelada infants use a sad “cooing” sound. Sometimes, the sad cooing sound is real and sometimes “they just get what they want.”

Chicken Kabob. Pixabay photo

By Barbara Beltrami

This is the third in a series of columns about easy summer dinners, and because it’s about meat and poultry, it’s mostly about grilling. One of the great things about these recipes is that they make tasty leftovers which pay forward for less time in the kitchen. Slice or chop them up for salads or sandwiches, but on second thought, they’re all so good that I doubt you’ll have any leftovers.

Saffron Chicken Kabobs

YIELD: Makes 4 to 6 servings

INGREDIENTS:

1/2 teaspoon saffron threads

1/2 cup boiling chicken stock

1/2 cup dry white wine

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

2 pounds boneless chicken breasts, cut into 1 1/2” cubes

DIRECTIONS:

In a large bowl stir together the saffron and chicken stock and let steep for half an hour. Add the wine, oil, cardamom, salt and pepper; add chicken; toss to combine, cover, and stirring occasionally, refrigerate for 3 hours. Prepare grill: oil grill rack with an oil saturated crumpled paper towel and place rack 4 to 6” above fire. Remove chicken from marinade but reserve the liquid; pat the chicken dry with paper towels, then thread it onto skewers and arrange them on the rack. Grill, turning frequently and brushing with reserved marinade, until cooked through, about 10 minutes. Serve with rice pilaf and sliced tomatoes with olive oil and fresh herbs.

Barbecued Beef Brisket

YIELD: Makes 8 to 10 servings

INGREDIENTS:

One 4 – 5 pound brisket

4 garlic cloves, cut into slivers

1/4 cup vegetable oil

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1 1/2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves

1 teaspoon paprika

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 onion, diced

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

3/4 cup ketchup

3/4 cup tomato sauce

1/2 cup red wine vinegar

1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce

1/3 cup brown sugar

1 tablespoon chili powder

1/2 teaspoon hot sauce

DIRECTIONS:

Make slits all over surface of meat and poke garlic slivers in them; rub brisket with two tablespoons of the oil. In a small bowl combine salt and pepper, thyme, paprika and cayenne and smear over meat; let sit at room temperature 15 to 20 minutes. 

Meanwhile make the barbecue sauce: In a medium saucepan over moderate heat warm the remaining two tablespoons oil, then add the onion and chopped garlic and heat, stirring frequently, until onion starts to turn golden, about 5 minutes; add ketchup, tomato sauce, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, sugar, chili powder and hot sauce; stir to combine, then reduce heat to simmer and cover partially; cook until sauce thickens, about 15 to 25 minutes. 

Prepare fire for indirect heat cooking and position an oiled rack 4 to 6 inches above fire; place brisket so it is not directly over heat, cover grill and cook for one hour; brush meat with about a third of the sauce and cook another hour, turning occasionally and brushing sparingly with more sauce. Remove from grill and let sit for 10 to 15 minutes. Slice across the grain and serve with coleslaw and fresh corn on the cob.

Spicy Pork Chops

YIELD: Makes 6 servings

INGREDIENTS:

1/3 cup grainy Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons orange juice

2 tablespoons orange zest

2 tablespoons whiskey

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage

Freshly ground pepper to taste

Six 6-8 ounce boneless 3/4” pork chops

DIRECTIONS:

In a small bowl combine mustard, orange juice , orange zest, whiskey, Worcestershire sauce, sage and pepper. Smear over both sides of pork chops and let sit for 30 minutes at room temperature. Oil grill rack and heat grill to medium-high. Cook, turning once, until chops are barely pink inside, 4 to 5 minutes. Serve with sweet potato fries and salad.

A scene from 'Roadrunner'. Photo courtesy of Focus Features

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

Not since Julia Child has a chef had a higher profile than Anthony Bourdain. Smithsonian Magazine labeled him “the original rock star” of the culinary world. Gothamist referred to him as a “culinary bad boy.” His uncensored television persona was known for its profanity and sexual references. 

Born in Manhattan in 1956, Bourdain graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in 1978. He ran several high-end kitchens, notably serving as executive chef of New York’s brasserie Les Halles. Bourdain’s memoir Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly (2000) became a bestseller, followed by additional works of both fiction and non-fiction. His television work included A Cook’s Tour, Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, The Layover, and appearances on a variety of television programs. 

A scene from ‘Roadrunner’. Photo courtesy of Focus Features

On June 18, 2018, while in France filming Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown, he committed suicide. He was sixty-one years old.

In Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain, director Morgan Neville explores the controversial celebrity chef through extensive video and interviews with friends and associates. While his childhood and early career are mentioned, the timeline begins with his rise to fame with the publication of Kitchen Confidential. 

With a two-hour running time, the expectation is a complete look at Bourdain. Fans will embrace the documentary, showing the subject in a sympathetic, if complicated light. Those who are less enamored will find it unsatisfying. Bourdain talks, smokes, eats, smokes, preens, and smokes. It touches on his drug use and hedonistic lifestyle. But mostly, the film consists of watching him smoke, talk, and preen. He ponders about life and his purpose. He travels. He smokes. In one particularly ghoulish cut, he eats a beating cobra heart. But mostly, he talks and smokes.

Neville almost ignores Bourdain as a chef for highlighting the man “hooked on travel,” describing him as “always rushing (thus the title). Bourdain was on the road at least two hundred and fifty days a year, covering hundreds of thousands of miles. The film emphasizes the exotic places: Lebanon, Port-au-Prince, Laos, and most dangerously, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, his Apocalypse Now/Heart of Darkness moment.

This would all be fine if it did not feel so posed. Neville constantly presents a brooding Bourdain, looking lost and despondent, or walking alone on the beach. Whether this reflects Bourdain or the filmmaker cobbling together footage to support his thesis, it is hard to parse. Particularly squirm-worthy is a clip of Bourdain in therapy that rings false and hollow.

There is a nod to his nearly thirty-year marriage to Nancy Putkoski that dissolved with Bourdain’s rise in fame, which “burned down [his] previous life.” His second wife Ottavia Busia (to whom he was married from 2007 to 2016) is interviewed extensively and has mostly kind things to say (whether this is fact or editing …). It was with Ottavia that he had his only child, Ariane. 

A scene from ‘Roadrunner’. Photo courtesy of Focus Features

In 2017, he began seeing the much younger Italian actress, Asia Argento. She became heavily involved with and perhaps manipulative of his professional life before ending the relationship. The film less than subtly speculates that this contributed to his suicide. Argento declined to be interviewed, leaving a large hole in the accounting of his final days.

Neville alludes to Bourdain’s controlling side, illustrated by Bourdain’s range of obsessions, including taking up jujitsu at age fifty-eight. He became outspoken during the #MeToo movement, but this might have been due to Argento’s activism more than his personal beliefs. (One fascinating detail references him speaking ad nauseum about Argento’s skill at parking.) But nothing lasted with him—“not a person, place, or thing.”

The talking heads range from his producers and travel companions to various artists and musicians who became confidants. They seem to speak freely and appear devastated by his death. What is missing are interviews with people outside in the inner circle, who might cast light on the less sensitive behaviors and actions of which there are only hints.

There are multiple clips of Bourdain referencing violence against himself or others. His talks of self-doubt may be real or just part of the façade. Given the myriad footage, these could be passing comments. Even more damning is Helen Rosner’s interview with Neville in The New Yorker. Neville admitted to using A.I. technology for the construction of some of Bourdain’s voiceovers: “There were three quotes there I wanted his voice for that there were no recordings of … I created an A.I. model of his voice.”

Roadrunner feels incomplete, vaguely disingenuous, and almost rigged. And while all documentaries have a point-of-view, one wishes for a more objective and whole look at an unusual individual with a troubling legacy.  

Rated R, Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain is now playing in local theaters.

Blazer. Photo from Smithtown Animal Shelter

MEET BLAZER!

This week’s shelter pet is 1-year-old Blazer who is currently up for adoption at the Smithtown Animal Shelter. Blazer assimilated himself into a local feral cat colony several months ago. He was so sweet and outgoing, the caretaker assumed he had a home, but Blazer continued to show up for food daily. 

This boy has a beautiful personality to match that handsome face. He is outgoing with people and with other cats and is very adventurous. He will need a home that can commit to keeping him indoors and giving him endless love! He is neutered, microchipped and up to date on his vaccines. If you are interested in meeting Blazer please call ahead to schedule an hour to properly interact with him in a domestic setting, which includes a Meet and Greet Room.  

The Smithtown Animal & Adoption Shelter is located at 410 Middle Country Road, Smithtown. Shelter operating hours are currently Monday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. (Sundays and Wednesday evenings by appointment only). For more information, call 631-360-7575 or visit www.smithtownanimalshelter.com.

 

Pixabay photo

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

There is so much chaos in our midst. As we see a light at the end of the tunnel and start to feel free from the shackles of this pandemic, we need to seek out a deserted place to renew our spirit, recharge our battery and reflect on the things that are most important to us.

These past 18 months have been challenging. We have seen so much suffering, so much death, so much pain. For many of us, over the past few weeks we have been fortunate to reconnect with children, grandchildren, parents and good friends for the first time in more than a year. It’s overwhelming because we are beginning to realize that we have to create a new normal.

Hopefully, this new normal will cause us to value human connections over things; to see the importance of the people in our lives and to try to live every moment to the fullest. Hopefully, this new normal will underscore the importance of human relationships and the need for us to be respectful of all human beings no matter what their social circumstance, their sexual orientation, their race, religion or ethnicity.

As we begin to embrace this new normal, may we appreciate the sacredness of all life at all stages; may we also appreciate life’s fragileness and respond appropriately. We never know the time, the hour or the day that life as we know it might end. So, the challenge is to live life to the fullest, to make every moment count and to communicate to the people we love how much we love them and how important they are to us.

During this pandemic, I have seen so much pain and suffering, so much senseless death. I have deepened my appreciation for the people who give of themselves every day in healthcare and mental health — for all the essential workers that have sacrificed so much so others might live.

This past year has made me appreciate how hard life can be for so many who live in the shadows of mental health and addiction. Recently, I buried a 35-year-old recovering heroin addict who died last year in the midst of this pandemic. He spent the better part of his life in active addiction and destructive decision-making. He was lost and couldn’t find his way. Finally, he made the decision to embrace the road to recovery.

As he began that journey, it was very difficult. He had a number of stumbles along the way. He committed himself to a long term, nontraditional residential treatment program that helped him to change his life. He discovered a voice he never thought he had in poetry. It helped him to see life with a different lens. It empowered him to discover spirituality that helped him to cope with some of the potholes that he encountered along the way. His mother said she discovered a son who she thought was dead and found a son that, at first, she did not recognize. She saw laughter, compassion and concern for others. His new voice provided solace for so many and she found peace of heart. Although brief, she had reclaimed a lost son who was blessed with three years of a wonderful life.

This young man was doing well but like anyone who carries the cross of addiction, it took only an instant for him to disconnect and lose his life. The world is better because he walked among us and shared his new voice of hope, love and life. However, he is also a powerful reminder of how fragile life is and we do not know the time, the hour or the place when life ends. His life is a powerful reminder that we need to live each moment to the fullest, to become the best version of ourselves and to leave this world better than when we found it.

Addiction is like a cancer spreading out of control. People do recover and reclaim their lives but we have to do more to support those who are struggling on that road to find their way.

Father Francis Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.

By Cayla Rosenhagen

Cayla Rosenhagen

In 2011, Stitch, a young Red-tailed Hawk, was flying low over the grasslands hunting for her next meal adjacent to Sunken Meadow Parkway. She could never have foreseen how drastically her life was going to change that day. The hawk spotted a rodent darting out onto the highway and she swooped in. With all her attention focused on her prey, she did not notice the cars hurtling toward her and was struck. 

Fortunately, a good Samaritan rescued Stitch, and she found her way to Sweetbriar Nature Center in Smithtown to be expertly cared for. The team at Sweetbriar did an amazing job rehabbing Stitch back to health. Although she cannot be released into the wild as a result of losing an eye and part of her wing, she now lives a comfortable and happy life at the Center.

Over 2000 animals, like Stitch, are taken to Sweetbriar every year to be rehabilitated, including various reptiles, rodents, opossums, deer, and birds. The staff at the Center work tirelessly tending to the animals and eventually releasing many of them back into the wild. The dedicated team also cares for about 100 permanent animal residents who cannot be released and often answer 50 to 100 calls a day regarding animals in need. Additionally, they run educational programs and events to encourage the public’s appreciation and respect of Long Island’s unique wildlife and ecosystems.

On July 11th, I attended an event at Sweetbriar hosted by Long Island BIRDtography, a Facebook group made up of local photographers and birding enthusiasts. The fundraiser allowed the photographers to meet and photograph Sweetbriar’s ambassador raptors. Participants heard the extraordinary backstories of the birds of prey and how each one made their way to the Nature Center. 

We met Bee, a female American Kestrel who was captured for falconry and malnourished, as well as Nugget, an Eastern Screech Owl who was rescued from a collapsed nest in a storm, and Tiger Lily, a Great Horned Owl who was hit by a car. Other birds of prey we met included Cleo the Harris Hawk, Nebula the Barn Owl, Seven the Barred Owl, and of course, Stitch the Red-Tailed Hawk. 

All of these birds are now permanent residents of Sweetbriar because of their inabilities to survive in the wild due to injury or imprinting on humans. In addition to our feathered friends, we were greeted by some furry ones, too. As we were snapping photos of the birds, Charlotte, a very amiable white-tailed deer, sauntered up to us looking for attention. Also, Ricky, an Eastern Grey Squirrel, and Tulip, a Virginia Opossum nearly stole the show with their cuddly antics.

Among the 2 dozen photographers at the fundraiser, Susanne Bellocchio, one of the administrators of BIRDtography, warmly expressed, “It was just a perfect day…Everyone is so kind…I am thrilled…These birds would never be something I could get to photograph.”

The team at Sweetbriar was so welcoming and eager to share their extensive knowledge about the animals. The employees and volunteers I met with greatly expressed how much they love their time at the Nature Center and how rewarding their jobs are.

Veronica Sayers began her career there as a volunteer to care for the baby squirrels and she was later hired as the program coordinator three years ago.

“I love teaching people of all ages about our local wildlife and the environment around them. When I see people excited about what I’ve just taught them, it’s a wonderful feeling. The wildlife rehab part of my job is a passion of mine as well. Nursing an animal back to health and seeing it released back into the wild is a thrill,” Veronica explained when asked about her favorite aspects of working at the not-for-profit organization.

Isabel Fernandes, the Wildlife Care Coordinator, feels it is critical to educate people about wildlife, so they become good ambassadors in their own homes and communities. She loves “seeing kids so excited to see the animals up close and personal.”

Sweetbriar’s many upcoming events can be viewed on their website. They truly have something for everyone. Check out their adult and children programs and the long-anticipated Taps and Talons beer-tasting event, presented on September 19th for those 21 and over. The Center also offers frequent yoga classes in person as well as online.

The Center and Preserve are open for the public to visit daily. The grounds are open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and are free of charge to enter. The main house is open from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m and the butterfly house is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. for a minimal entry fee. I encourage you to visit the outdoor animal enclosures and walk along the Preserve’s beautiful nature trails.

Sweetbriar Nature Center is a 501c3 not-for-profit organization and therefore relies on the community’s generosity to continue their invaluable work. Make a difference by attending their programs, visiting the Center, or through a donation. Monetary contributions can be given through the Donate Now button on their website or by participating in AmazonSmile and selecting Environmental Centers of Setauket Smithtown to receive donations. They also use Amazon Wishlist to ask for necessary animal care supplies.

Visit Sweetbriar’s website, sweetbriarnc.org, to learn more about their mission, to see complete listings of their programs, and to view heartwarming photographs of the animals they have rehabbed. The site also provides comprehensive resources for what to do if you should find an animal in need.

In the words of Veronica Sayers, when asked what else community members can do to support Sweetbriar, she replied enthusiastically, “Share, share, share! Talk about us and what we do. Let your schools and libraries know we do programs. If you learned something about wildlife through us, please share it. Become a Sweetbriar member. Attend our events! On social media, comment and share our posts. If you have the time and can commit, consider volunteering.”

Cayla Rosenhagen is a local high school student who enjoys capturing the unique charm of the community through photography and journalism. She serves on the board of directors for the Four Harbors Audubon Society and Brookhaven’s Youth Board, and is the founder and coordinator of Beach Bucket Brigade, a community outreach program dedicated to environmental awareness, engagement, and education. She is also an avid birder, hiker, and artist who is concurrently enrolled in college, pursuing a degree in teaching.

Photo from WMHO

The Ward Melville Heritage Organization (WMHO) has announced that they are now accepting individual reservations for Discovery Pontoon Boat Cruises starting in August. Cruises (up to 27 passengers) will run from August through October, seven days a week where high tide, sunset and weather allow. Reservations are heavily recommended – $35 per person, $25 per child aged three to six, and $5 per child aged two and younger.

Enjoy an hour and a half long cruise on West Meadow Creek on a roofed, open-air pontoon boat. Onboard, a naturalist will narrate your experience – the wildlife observed, the natural and human history and development of the area.

Walk-ons are welcome, but are cash only ($40 per person, $30 per child three to six, and $5 per child two and younger). Private cruises are also available for up to 27 passengers and are $550. Children under 12 must wear a life jacket, children four and under must bring their own.

For more information about the cruise, the WMHO, other upcoming events in Stony Brook Village and to reserve your seats, please call the WMHO office at 631-751-2244.

By Heidi Sutton

For the second year in a row, the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts will present outdoor performances of Disney’s Moana Jr. on the grounds of the Smithtown Historical Society through Aug. 14. With a new performance space behind the Frank Brush Barn, a larger and more elaborate set, fresh choreography and the return of most of the original cast, the show launched last Thursday night and brought the house down.

The Cast:
Moana: Gabriella Fugon
Maui: Michael Gualtieri
Gramma Tala: Gianna Oppedisano
Sina: Adrienne Porti
Chief Tui: Logan O’Leary
Tamatoa: Alia Romanelli
Pua: Zachary Podair
Hei-Hei: Lorelai Mucciolo
Chief Ancestor I: Max Lamberg
Chief Ancestor I: Dylan O’Leary
Chief Ancestor II: Gabby Blum
Chief Ancestor III: Gabrielle Arroyo
Right Claw: Derek Hough
Left Claw: Justin Walsh Weiner
TeFiti/TeKa: Savannah Shaw
Ensemble/Claw Understudy: Ari Spiegel
Ensemble: Jonathan Setzer

The strong-willed daughter of Chief Tui and his wife Sina, Moana lives on the Polynesian island of Motunui, never straying beyond the safety of the lagoon. When the island’s coconuts turn black and the fish in the lagoon disappear, she follows the advice of her grandmother and sets sail on a journey across the Pacific Ocean to find the demigod Maui, so that he might help her restore the heart of Te Fiti, the Polynesian goddess of earth and life, and save her people from starvation.

Along the way, the pair stop at Lalotai, the Realm of Monsters, to retrieve Maui’s magical fishhook from Tamatoa, a giant coconut crab, and battle the volcanic demon Te Kā.

Directed by Courtney Braun and Jordan Hue, with musical direction by Melissa Coyle, the stage adaptation follows the 2016 animated film Moana closely and hits all the right notes with the wonderful songs by Lin Manuel-Miranda from the film including “Where You Are,” “How Far I’ll Go,” “Shiny,” “I Am Moana (Song of the Ancestors)” and “You’re Welcome.”

The young energetic cast does an excellent job in retelling the story.

Reprising her role as Moana, Gabriella Fugon is perfectly cast and tackles her solos with confidence and ease. Her rendition of “How Far I’ll Go” could easily match that of Auli’i Cravalho (the voice of Moana in the film). Her vocals are flawless.

Michael Gualtieri is equally matched as the self-centered and egotistical Maui. His rendition of “You’re Welcome” is magnificent. 

While the entire cast has strong voices, special mention must also be made for Logan O’Leary in “Where You Are,” and Alia Romanelli in “Shiny.”

The show itself is a visual feast for the eyes. Costumes by Ronald R. Green III are colorful and fun with Polynesian dresses, grass skirts, leis and flowers in the hair. The set, designed by Michael Mucciolo, is quite impressive. Everywhere you look the legends and traditions of the Polynesian people are evident with Moana’s traditional camakau (canoe) and oar as the centerpiece. Long flowing sheets in shades of blue are used to represent waves and a screen print depicts the beach and ocean. 

As with many children’s theater productions, there is a moral to the story, best described by co-director Courtney Braun. “Moana really provides a lesson for each individual audience member. A journey of self-love and passion for some, the importance of family for others, and most importantly — a strong message of perseverance and overcoming fears.”

Don’t miss this one.

While folding chairs are available, theatergoers are welcome to bring blankets or chairs for seating. Mats are available for smaller children who would like to sit up front. Bathrooms are available on the premises and merchandise and water will be sold before and after the event (debit or credit only).

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts presents Moana Jr. on the grounds of the Smithtown Historical Society, 239 E. Main St., Smithtown on various dates and times through Aug. 14. Running time is one hour with no intermission. Tickets are $18 per person. To order, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.

Stock photo

By Michael Christodoulou

Michael Christodoulou
Michael Christodoulou

Here is something to think about: You could spend two, or even three, decades in retirement. To meet your income needs for all those years, you’ll generally need a sizable amount of retirement assets. How will Social Security fit into the picture?

For most people, Social Security won’t be enough to cover the cost of living in retirement. Nonetheless, Social Security benefits are still valuable, so you’ll want to do whatever you can to maximize them.

Your first move is to determine when you should start taking Social Security. You can begin collecting benefits when you reach 62 – but should you? If you were to turn 62 this year, your payments would only be about 71% of what you’d get if you waited until your full retirement age, which is 66 years and 10 months. (“Full retirement age” varies, depending on when you were born, but for most people today, it will be between 66 and 67.) Every month you wait between now and your full retirement age, your benefits will increase. If you still want to delay taking benefits beyond your full retirement age, your payments will increase by 8% each year, until you’re 70, when they “max out.”  Regardless of when you file, you’ll also receive an annual cost-of-living adjustment.    

So, when should you start claiming your benefits? There’s no one “right” answer for everyone. If you turn 62 and you need the money, your choice might be made for you. But if you have sufficient income from other sources, you’re in good health and you have longevity in your family, or you’re still working, it might be worthwhile to wait until your full retirement age, or perhaps even longer, to start collecting.

Another key consideration is spousal benefits. If your own full retirement benefit is less than 50% of your spouse’s full retirement benefit, you would generally be eligible to claim spousal benefits, provided you’re at least 62 and your spouse has filed for Social Security benefits.

Survivor benefits are another important consideration. When you pass away, your spouse would be able to receive up to 100% of your benefit or his/her own retirement benefit, whichever is higher. Thus, delaying Social Security could not only increase your own benefit, but also the benefit for your surviving spouse.

An additional issue to think about, when planning for how Social Security fits into your retirement, is your earned income. If you’re younger than full retirement age, your benefit will be reduced by $1 for each $2 you earn above a certain amount, which, in 2021, is $18,960. During the year you reach full retirement age, your benefit will be reduced by $1 for each $3 you earn above a set amount ($50,520 in 2021). But once you hit the month at which you attain full retirement age, and from that point on, you can keep all of your benefits, no matter how much you earn (although your benefits could still be taxed).

One final point to keep in mind: The more you accumulate in your other retirement accounts, such as your IRA and 401(k) or similar employer-sponsored plan, the more flexibility you’ll have in managing your Social Security benefits. So, throughout your working years, try to contribute as much as you can afford to these plans.

Michael Christodoulou, ChFC®, AAMS®, CRPC®, CRPS® is a Financial Advisor for Edward Jones in Stony Brook. Member SIPC.