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Monday, November 22, 2010

Don't bag fall leaves!

"Just pick up the damn bags!"

It was a quick, flippant answer that struck a responsive chord with many London folk — especially those with clear plastic bags, filled with fallen autumn leaves and sitting forgotten at the curb, passed over by city crews doing the fall leaves pick-up. It seems those leaves were ignored because they were in the wrong bags.

Plastic leaf bags are so passé; Paper bags are in. But not just any paper bag. No, the paper bags you fill with leaves, and place at the curb, must be certified compostable and bear the appropriate logo from either the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) or the Bureau de Normalisation du Quebec (BNQ). No label, no pick-up.

How much does it cost London to pick-up leaves?
The problem had grown into quite the local dust-up when London mayor-elect Joe Fontana stepped boldly into the fray. Fontana called News Talk 1290 Today with Andy Oudman and sliced through the Gordian knot of confusing green rhetoric. Fontana, shooting from the hip — some might argue lip — said, "Just pick up the damn bags!"

Free Press columnist Ian Gillespie found the “just get ‘er done” response refreshing. I wasn't immediately enamored with Fontana's response but I have slowly climbed on-board. Gillespie was right. And so was Fontana.

With the problem at hand "solved" by our mayor-elect, I say, "Let's clear up the whole messy, costly, leaf pick-up program and kill it for 2011. The Free Press reports that the city enjoys an annual savings of about $200,000 simply by banning plastic bags for leaf pick-up. This makes me wonder how much the city could save by scrapping the needless pick-up altogether.

Fontana promises to be a "Get Tough" mayor. He ran for office vowing to freeze property taxes over four years — a financial get tough platform. Maybe one place to apply his new, bold approach might be here, and tackle the whole leaf pick-up problem head-on.

The truly get tough answer might be, "They're leaves. Run your lawn mower over 'em and get on with life. The city is out of the leaf pick-up business. We can't afford the luxury anymore."

I can hear the outcry now. "The leaves will kill my lawn." "Leaves harbour mould and plant diseases." "Rotting, wet leaves offer sanctuary to breeding mosquitoes."

Relax. It doesn't have to be that way according to many researchers who have studied fall leaves. Steve Bender, the Grumpy Gardener, says:

"Stop Being So %^&*@#+ Stupid! Do you bag your leaves? . . . Are you, in other words, a certified cretin?

Leaves are a great source of organic matter. And they're free! Why throw away good, free stuff in favor of peat moss, composted cow manure, and shredded bark from the garden center that costs money? Hello? Is there anybody home?"

He see fall leaves as free organic matter! Did you hear that? Free! Grumpy writes:

"Hydroponics aside, you can't grow good plants without good soil. And no matter if your soil is mucky clay or worthless sand, the best way to improve is to add lots and lots of organic matter. Organic matter improves soil drainage and aeration, increases storage of moisture and nutrients, and makes things cozy and comfy for earthworms and microbes that stir and digest the soil and make its nutrients available to plants. Organic matter is brown gold."

Grumpy is not alone. The Website of The City of Guelph calls leaves Mother Nature's gold. The tell homeowners:

 "Keep your leaves on your lawn. . . . Research has proven that mowing leaves into your lawn can improve its vigor, and help to slow down weed germination in the spring. Organic matter and nutrients from leaves mown into lawn areas has been proven to improve turf quality."
The City of Guelph calls leaves Mother Nature's gold.

Personally, I've never understood the whole autumn leaves problem. My dad was a farmer born more than a hundred years ago in the early years of the twentieth century. He always saw fallen leaves as a valuable commodity. Something to be composed, or used to insulate plants from the harshest cold and fiercest wind of winter. Leaves represented the goodness of the soil; He recycled them back into the earth.

My grandparents on my mother's side were both born in the 1870s in small farming communities. They agreed with my dad. Despite living for most of their lives off the farm and in the city they never showed any sign of being caught up in the off-the-land fear of leaves that seemed to grip the city slickers.

A The Free Press photographer, now retired, had a farm west of the London. He told me that he wished there were a way to convince the city to dump the leaves collected from city homes at his farm. He saw them as a fine addition to the soil and he'd just plow them into the earth. Unfortunately, his farm was too far out of town for the city to have any interest in his idea.

A few years ago The Free Press ran a Business Monday feature on a company selling and installing special replacement blades for electric and gas rotary mowers. They installed two special blades with a total of six sharp cutting edges which made quick work of mulching lawn clippings, including leaves.

The company's product was obviously accepted by Londoners as the shop in North London was backed up with hundreds of lawn mowers waiting to be upgraded.

Sadly, it seems that the multi-blade, mulching invention, as good as it was, was better than the inventor's business acumen; The business folded and the mulching blade invention disappeared with last year's leaves.

And Joe, if you should happen by, do a quick google about the Net and check out all the cities that are getting on the mulch 'em bandwagon.

e.g. Seattle Public Utilities: Mulching lawn mower guide

. . . and they are even into mulching in Merry Old England.

e.g. Warwickshire County Council: Mulch Mowing

e.g. . . . and a sister paper of The London Free Press,
The Chatham Daily News, says:
"Use a mulching mower and feed your lawn and keep shredded grass and leaves out of the landfill."
So go get 'em Joe. Tell those damn voters,
 "Just leave the damn leaves!"

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Don't take medicine in front of a baby!

According to many authorities, such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration:

"Don't take medicines in front of children younger than 4 years old. They may try to copy your behavior."

Babies imitate. It's a well known fact.
The actions of Miss Baby yesterday underscored this warning. Her grandmother and aunt were busy with Christmas baking. Miss Baby was watching. Within minutes the little girl was beating and pouring imaginary batter to make imaginary cookies.

Babies learn by mimicking. Don't set a little one up for a potential life-threatening incident. Every year thousands of children consume dangerous medicines and must be rushed to Emergency. Keep all medicine locked away and do not encourage a baby's interest in your medicine cabinet by taking pills, capsules and syrups in their presence.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

It takes guts, stick-to-itiveness, patience and more to learn to walk

Fiona may soon give up keister scooting for walking.

Watching a baby leaving babyhood to become an active toddler is to be privy to an amazing transformation. I'm in awe of Fiona as I watch her systematically working oh-so-hard to perfect a difficult skill: walking.

Fiona has never crawled. She keister-scoots. First, she tugs off her socks, they are too slippery and she needs the friction of her bare feet on the smooth floor. Then, she stretches out her legs, gets a grip on the floor with her heels and pulls herself forward. It doesn't sound efficient but it is. She can scoot from one end of the house to the other in very short order.

In preparation for her learning to walk, I removed a large, glass coffee table from our front room. I worried that if she fell and hit her head on that table, she would get badly hurt. It was a wise thing to do but quite possibly unnecessary. Babies don't just stand up and promptly fall on their face when learning to walk. Babies aren't stupid. (Still, accidents do happen and removing anything that could injure a falling toddler is important.)

Fiona began her quest to walk by pulling herself up on anything that provided a good grip. No surprise here. But as quickly as Fiona learned to get herself up, she learned to lower herself back down. I had read that babies needed to be given support to get back down without injuring themselves. Maybe some babies need this, but not Fiona.

Pulling herself up allowed Fiona to work her legs and strengthen them. Soon the hand-grip only steadied the baby. Her legs were strong enough to raise her to a standing position without assistance from her arms.

With strong legs well practised at raising her to her feet, Fiona no longer required a hand-grip. She began using smooth, vertical surfaces to steady herself. With a wall, for instance, she could slide her hand both up and down the wall, steadying herself while standing up and again when sitting back down. Perfect.

Fiona is now standing unaided for a quarter minute or more. But she keeps her centre of balance such that she always falls forward and breaks her fall with her hands on the wall. Like I said, babies aren't stupid.

Walking is going to take strength, along with balance, and she she seems to have figured that out. Starting this week Fiona embarked on an exercise program to build the necessary strength and balance. She stands on Judy and my double bed, getting herself up without support. This is tough and she often falls. She is practising three things on the bed: getting up, standing unsupported and making a controlled fall. And doing it where she has a soft, cushy surface on which to tumble.

I bet she is walking within a week.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Lindsey Graham: The parrot's not dead . . .

Lindsey Graham, right, with John McCain at the Forum.
One of my favorite Monty Python Flying Circus skits was The Dead Parrot Routine. A routine about denial.

Over the years, I have learned that that routine plays itself out in many different forms daily --- and sadly, but not unexpectedly, it is not funny in these reincarnations.

Take Lindsey Graham, a U.S. senator who would make Monty Python proud. With the U.S. deep in financial doo-doo, and to a great extent because of its involvement in two foreign wars, one truly unnecessary, Graham was back saber rattling this past weekend at the Halifax International Security Forum held in Nova Scotia, Canada.

With his party, the Republicans, now controlling the U.S. Congress, the senator from South Carolina felt empowered to threaten Iran with the full wrath of the mighty United States military. Tehran must veer from their present course when it comes to developing and constructing the bomb.

Graham was addressing a panel looking at the ramifications of the recent U.S. midterms on American foreign policy. AP reports Graham said that if the United States were to go to war against the Islamic republic, it would not be to:

". . . just neutralize their nuclear program, but to sink their navy, destroy their air force and deliver a decisive blow to the Revolutionary Guard, in other words neuter that regime."

Reportedly, Graham's position left many "stunned." Personally, I think it left Graham looking a little stunned.

If you have five minutes, check out this video found on YouTube which argues that the South Carolina senior senator is as delusional and just as openly ridiculous as Baghdad Bob, a propagandist for Saddam Hussein.

For a more complete report and a video of Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak at the Forum commenting on Lindsey Graham's remarks, check out my post on Digital Journal.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Eggs: Healthy or Not?

The other day the University of Western Ontario sent out a press release informing the media that an acclaimed researcher at the London Ontario university had co-authored a review of dietary cholesterol studies.

The doctor, David Spence, along with two other Canadian experts in the field, came to the conclusion that dietary cholesterol is bad, very bad. Just about the worse offender when it comes to supplying a concentrated dose of dietary cholesterol is the egg.

The review points out that one egg contains from 215 to 275 mg of cholesterol. In comparison, the infamous KFC Double Down contains 145 mg of cholesterol. For those who don't know, the KFC Double Down sandwich replaces the bread or bun with two KFC chicken breasts to hold multiple slices of bacon and cheese.

The London Free Press, the local paper, carried a story on the review under the headline "Eggs worse than Double Down."

That, of course, is not quite what the doctors were saying. In fact, Dr. Spence told The Free Press that the Double Down is a "dietary disaster."

No, the doctors were talking only about cholesterol and they did raise some interesting points.

The paper correctly points out that The Heart and Stroke Foundation has given eggs their seal of approval. Yet, a search of the foundation's website finds this warning.

" . . . foods that contain high levels of dietary cholesterol, such as egg yolks, may have a small effect on blood cholesterol levels in people diagnosed with high blood cholesterol or type 2 diabetes. A recent study showed that individuals with type 2 diabetes need to watch their egg intake because it can increase their risk of heart disease. The Canadian Diabetes Association suggests that people with diabetes may have up to two eggs per week . . . speak to your healthcare provider, who will advise you on how much food containing dietary cholesterol you should eat."

In their review, the Canadian trio points out that in two major studies those who developed diabetes while consuming an egg a day doubled their risk of cardiovascular disease compared to those eating less than an egg a week. The studies also showed a significant increase of new onset diabetes with regular egg consumption.

There seem to be some points of agreement between the Heart and Stroke people and the three renegade researchers.

A story in Canada.com reported:

The last time Spence spoke out publicly against yolks in his local newspaper, his house was egged.

"I had to pay someone 150 bucks to come in on a ladder and clean up the second story. They hit the wall on the second floor and the door and the windows on the main floor."

But he remains unperturbed. He said yolks "shouldn't be regarded as an item that's suitable for human diets" for anyone at risk of vascular disease. "And you name me a Canadian that isn't."

Ironically, on the very day The Free Press was warning its readers of the health risks posed by eggs and dietary cholesterol, the paper carried a story on one of nature's most nutritious foods: Eggs!

If you still want to eat eggs, and I can understand that, Dr. Spence sets an upper limit of 200 mg. of dietary cholesterol a day. I guess that means only eating half a yolk at one sitting. It will make for some rather lightly coloured omelets but I can "live" with that.

To see my take on this story running in Digital Journal click HERE.

For The London Free Press story by Debora Van Brenk, click HERE.