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Sunday, May 18, 2014

Expanding one's world

Photo of sculptures by Carolo taken by Marc Grenet (www.marcgrenetphotographe.com)
I've been asked why I watch TV5 almost every morning. The answer is simple. It broadens my world.

This morning my wife and I caught a story about a young sculptor in France, going by the name of Carolo, whose medium of choice is cow dung. And yes, there is a lot more to be said for this artist's work than just the material used in making her sculptures. The cow dung is simply her "hook" so to speak.

If you'd like to know more about Carole Chanard (Carolo), read the piece on the artist by Zelda Meyer and posted by La Terre. My link should take you to a Google English translation of the French Internet site.

As someone who studied sculpture in the '60s, I still have a small nude hiding in my garage, I loved much of what I saw of her work. I believe she is untutored but she clearly has a much better grasp of working in a three dimensions than I ever had back in my art student days.

I find some of her pieces have a certain Picasso feel but without the obvious threatening edge. The tension may be there in some pieces but it is subdued. Many of the works exhibit dry humour -- an understated comic undertone. Like sugar in food, humour in art can easily be overdone. In lesser hands it can become cloying. Carolo has a deft hand and a clear artistic vision.

Carolo spent some of her mid-teens living with her parents in the West African country of Burkina Faso. Apparently it was there she discovered mud huts can be made from material other than mud. Meyer quotes Carolo: "If we can make mud houses with dung, you can also make sculptures!"

If you have the time, do some Googling of Carolo. Don't let the fact that most of the stuff posted is in French. Use Google translate. And check out the posted work of Marc Grenet. His portraiture is absolutely wonderful.

And this is all stuff that I never would have discovered had I not been watching TV5.


Friday, May 16, 2014

A soft toothbrush, floss and mouthwash keep a mouth healthy

My dentist gives me a new toothbrush every time I visit, which is normally every six months. A few years ago he went on a soft toothbrush kick. As I understand it, a small group of Canadian dentists decided they didn't like any of the toothbrushes on the market -- all had bristles which were too thick and too hard, in their estimation. They feared that over time the harsh bristles would damage teeth and gums.

The dentists had a toothbrush manufactured to their specifications. It was a very traditional design. No sharply bent neck, no coloured bristles that fade with use. The big difference between this new toothbrush and all the others in the market were the very thin, soft bristles. My dentist got a number of the first toothbrushes and gave them to his patients. I loved mine. My wife hated hers. A soft bristled toothbrush may or may not be better, the jury is still out, but the ultra soft bristles definitely don't please everyone.

The last time I visited my dentist I got a standard Oral B toothbrush. It claimed to be soft but it was downright hard compared to that special, soft-bristled toothbrush. I tried keeping my old brush but it was clearly worn out. Regretfully I tossed my unique toothbrush.

I take an anticoagulant daily to reduce my risk of stroke. The blood thinner makes bleeding gums more of a problem for me than for the average person. I try to take good care of my gums and my new Oral B toothbrush was too hard. No matter how lightly I brushed my teeth, I had bleeding.

I searched the Internet for a new toothbrush and discovered Colgate is making a brush similar the one given out by my dentist. If anything, the new Colgate SlimSoft toothbrush is a little lighter and slimmer with more bristles than other brush. This is possible because each bristle is thinner and more tapered. I bought a SlimSoft and I love it. I'm going to buy a number. I don't want to run out. I've already watched as one good brush was withdrawn from the market.

When one has had some types of heart valve surgery, the risk of endocarditis, a heart infection, increases. Although endocarditis is rare, affecting less than 20,000 people in the States annually, it is serious. Those affected can die.

I've had the mitral valve in my heart repaired. Whenever I had a dental procedure performed I was required to take 2 grams of amoxicillin an hour prior to my appointment. Taking a walloping big dose of antibiotic to possibly protect one against a very low risk infection is controversial. Personally, I side with those who argue the risks associated with taking a massive dose of amoxicillin are greater than the risk of developing endocarditis from having one's teeth cleaned.

I saw this preventive use as an abuse of a powerful antibiotic. After the first few dental visits, I refused to take the amoxicillin. My dentist allowed me to refuse but I have heard that some dentists told patients that they had a choice: take the meds or take the door.

In the past year or so, the tide has turned. The American Heart Association admits "there is a concern that widespread use of antibiotics for this purpose might contribute to promoting antibiotic resistance, an important issue today, as well as needlessly expose patients to antibiotic side effects such as allergic reactions."

What is agreed upon is that it is important to try and prevent the development of endocarditis. Good oral hygiene, daily brushing and flossing followed by the use of a good mouthwash is believed to offer a fair degree of protection. To this end, I have added a thirty second mouth rinse using Listerine Total Care to my daily oral health ritual.

Total Care is not the only suitable mouthwash but it is the one that I have settled upon. A few years ago Listerine ran into problems when the manufacturer claimed Listerine could replace flossing. It can't.

I know I am at risk of endocarditis but I honestly believe I have lessened that risk by adopting the use of the new Colgate SlimSoft toothbrush and teaming it with the daily use of dental floss followed by a morning and night 30-second cleansing slosh of Listerine Total Care.

At my next check-up the dentist is going to measure the pockets at the base of my teeth. I'll have a better idea at that time of how successful this three tiered assault on periodontal disease has been.
Today was check-up day. My pockets measured mostly 1s and 2s. I had some 3s and two 4s. 4s are bad while 1s and 2s are good. Pretty good for an old geezer in his late 60s. Clearly, I am doing something right.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

If a layoff goes down and no one hears . . .

The e-mail to The London Free Press failed. Using Twitter, I publicized the layoff.

I have it on good authority that Sun Media informed its staff at the former Bowes Publishers operation in northwest London that a major layoff will take place at the end of the month (May 2014).

Reportedly someone from The London Free Press made the announcement to a staff left shocked by the news. Many of those working at the facility on Gainsborough Road just west of Hyde Park Road had felt their jobs were secure. Just hours before the announcement one staffer had signed on the dotted line to buy a new house. Now, that sale has been scuttled.

How many jobs are being loss? I have heard numbers ranging as high as thirty. That's a lot of good, jobs -- well paying jobs. This is but another blow to the  London economy which has not recovered from the recession now officially some years in the past.

Jim Bowes worked for The London Free Press and branched out into publishing in his off hours. With his publishing business flourishing, Walter Blackburn, Free Press owner, gave Bowes a choice. Either work for The Free Press or leave and devote all his time to his own expanding publishing business. Bowes left the paper and, in the end, left London.

Bowes moved to Grande Prairie, Alberta, where he added the weekly Herald Tribune to his growing chain of small newspapers and niche publications. At the same time, he kept his publishing operation in London going and growing. By 1988, when Sun Media Corporation acquired a 60 percent interest, Bowes Publishers had 22 business units. Two years later Sun Media took complete control of the now not-so-little publishing operation started in London, Ontario. And now Sun Media is slashing employment at the London facility and moving many, if not most, of the work to Barrie.

What do Londoners think of this sad turn of events? Nothing. Most have no clue that it is even happening. It may have been a honcho from The Free Press who announced the layoff to the Hyde Park workers but the paper has been strangely mum about the impending layoff when it comes to informing the public.

I have called the paper and left messages. I have send a tweet hoping Hank Daniszewski, the business reporter, would notice. Nothing. No response. (To be completely accurate, a local Londoner who seems to stay abreast of everything retweeted my Twitter post. Score one for a very alert Butch McLarty.)

Monday, May 12, 2014

A neat way for kids to make art

If you know a young child who likes to paint, I have a tip on teaching a child to create art like that shown.

Fiona, my four-year-old granddaughter, loves the Children's Museum in London, Ontario. One of the activities that brings her back time and time again is the art instruction. Each time we have gone they have had a class demonstrating a new art technique designed with little children in mind.

The piece shown is actually circular and not rectangular. I cropped the subject in the camera. It is circular shape is a result of the fact that the art is on a round, white paper, pie plate that had been jammed into a salad spinner. The plate's diameter was a little larger than that of the plastic spinner insert. This large size is important as the tight fit keeps the paper plate firmly anchored.

After pushing the plate into the spinner, the instructor had Fiona place dabs and gobs of colourful paint in the centre of the plate. When the mix of colours was just right, she put the top on the spinner and turned the crank as fast as she could. Inside centrifugal force thrust the paint out to the sides.

I'm going to try this at home with both Fiona, 4, and Eloise, 3, my oldest granddaughters. I'll use Crayola non-staining, washable water colours. These will wash out of the spinner with a little warm water and dish soap, plus Crayola paints are clean and bright with good density.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

French potato salad; No egg

I had to make a potato salad today. It was my contribution to a Mother's Day dinner. Bill, the gentleman hosting the party, requested the potato salad as he loves my wife's cold potato salad made with hard boiled eggs and mayonnaise. He figured I could use Judy's recipe.

The problem with Bill's request was the egg. Egg is off limits for me as it is for Bill's brother. He has heart problems as I do. Eggs are exceedingly high in cholesterol and dietary cholesterol is a no-no to those with heart disease.

I found a recipe for French potato salad posted by a Swedish blogger by the name of Ewa (Eva). She lives in Seattle, WA., and enjoys sharing her recipes. I don't believe she'd mind my posting a link to her site and her recipe for French potato salad: Delishhh.

I made some small changes to the recipe. I used a little less olive oil and a little less salt than called for and I added some roasted, chopped walnuts immediately before serving. I used my Cuisinart blender to mix the olive oil, champagne vinegar, Dijon mustard, salt and pepper into an emulsion. I tried whipping it manually but failed. The blender was the perfect answer.

I put the scallions, dill, parsley and basil in a bowl and mixed all together before adding all to the salad. As I mixed the salad, I salted and peppered it to taste but on the conservative side. I figure folk can always add more salt and pepper at the table. It is impossible to remove if added with too heavy a hand.

So, what was the verdict? Was my, or should I say Ewa's, recipe as good as my wife's? I believe it was. Bill, a tough critic at times, said the best two potato salads he has every tasted both came from my home. One was Judy's and the other was mine (Ewa's).

This potato salad is not for who fear calories. The olive oil adds fat and calories. This is one reason that I cut back on the olive oil in my version. But for those on a heart healthy diet, a serving of this squeaks by on the heart healthy side. This salad contains no saturated fat and no cholesterol.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Homemade soup: Easy to make, nutritious to enjoy

I've modified this recipe. For one thing, I've increased the amount of cauliflower used. Click on the link to see the new recipe: Elegant soup for about a dollar.

I'm not overly fond of cauliflower. I don't dislike it but it is not in my usual veggie rotation. Still, I found the idea of making a thick, creamy cauliflower soup without resorting to heavy cream appealing. And it gave me a chance to use my newest toy: A Cuisinart blender.

I've come to believe that it is almost impossible to make a poor soup at home. The canned stuff is just so boring, the makers seem to rely on salt to kick up the flavour. Homemade soups seem almost magically in comparison.

Judy and I had this soup the other evening. It was good. I can see making a big batch a day in advance and serving it to guests at the next holiday dinner.

Cauliflower Soup

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 small, chopped onion
1 chopped celery stalk
12 oz. chicken stock or vegetable stock
6 oz. 1% milk
10 oz. cauliflower florets
1 bay leaf
1 sprig of thyme
a little nutmeg to taste (just a few pinches)
2 tablespoons of chopped chives
pinch of freshly grated pepper - I like black for the flavour and colour

  • Put olive oil in a deep fry pan and place over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and chopped celery. Cook until celery beginning to soften and onion looks translucent. Do not brown.
  • Add chicken or vegetable stock, milk, cauliflower florets, bay leaf and sprig of thyme. Heat until simmering and then place a lid over the pan. Simmer for about 25 minutes or until cauliflower is tender. When done, remove from heat and let cool.
  • Remove the bay leaf and the thyme sprig and pour the soup into a power blender. Blend until smooth.
  • Pour the soup into a medium sized pot and reheat. Do not boil. Let soup quietly simmer until the right degree of thickness is obtained. Stir in the nutmeg and let simmer for another couple of minutes. All this reheating and thickening should not take more than 30 minutes. If it is not thick enough, I understand adding a small amount of potato flakes should quickly thicken this soup without damaging the flavour.
  • Serve with sprinkles of  chopped chives and a couple of passes of the pepper mill. These add a little flavour and some much needed colour.

The next time I make this, I'm adding a clove of crushed garlic to the finely chopped onion and celery. I may oven roast a small number of cauliflower florets in a little olive oil. When the florets are almost done, I'll sprinkle on a little Parmesan cheese and return all to the oven until the cheese is just melted. I'll add these flavoured florets to the soup moments before serving. I think some little bursts of concentrated flavour hiding and floating in the soup might add extra presence.

I'd try this soup straight the first time, though, and leave the tarting up with roasted cheese-flavoured florets to later.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Just asking for a basic level of journalistic integrity

I went to a breakfast this morning in London, Ontario. The monthly social event is attended by those who once worked for the media in town but who have now, for whatever reason, found themselves put out to pasture.

It is always fun catching up on the latest media rumours, but this morning was a little more interesting than usual. I learned that Joe Warmington, the award-winning Toronto Sun columnist, wrote a story and posted it to the Internet before the event had occurred. Oops!

According to Now, a weekly news and entertainment tabloid serving Toronto, The Toronto Sun declared Rob Ford's appearance on the Jimmy Kimmel show a "victory for Ford" even before the writer, Joe Warmington could have seen the program. The Ford segment was taped at approximately 9:40 p.m. Eastern Standard Time but the date stamp on Warmington's first report was 9:13 p.m.

In talking about a program he couldn't possibly have seen, Warmington said the Toronto mayor's appearance "was vintage Rob Ford."

The Now report goes on to say that Canada.com's Marc Weisblott first tweeted out the column at 10:31 ("Joe Warmington reviews a show before it airs"). Fifteen minutes later, amid suggestions from those in studio that the appearance had been a disaster, the Sun pulled it down. (It has disappeared as well from Google's cache.)

One exchange that hasn't gone missing is the Twitter tweets between National Post columnist Bruce Arthur and Toronto Sun staffer Cynthia McLeod.

In the ensuing conversation I thought the responses by Alex Colangelo and Stan the Man Chan were among the best. Colangelo offered, "So I guess perfection is waiting for an event to occur before writing about it?" Stan clarified the problem that McLeod seemed unable to fathom: "No one's asking for perfection. We're just asking for a basic level of journalistic integrity."

Friday, May 2, 2014

Seeking solutions to the housing crisis

Streetscape from Hong Kong shows dense residential does not have to be boring.
This is an intro to a link to a New York Times piece on the housing crisis facing cities around the globe. I really liked some of the stuff the writer said.

As someone who attended many of the ReThink London meetings, I believe cities may well lack  the fortitude to deal head-on with the numerous problems encountered trying to supply decent, while also affordable, housing.

Housing policy can be very tricky to get right. “Success is going to be in the eye of the beholder,” says Eric Belsky, the managing director of the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard. “If success means building more homes at greater densities, you’ll end up with some neighbors not happy . .  .

Personally, I find the London, Ontario, solution of embracing sprawl to be totally unacceptable. That said, I feel quite alone in my opposition. Oh, lots of folk talk the end-the-sprawl talk but they fail to walk the end-the-sprawl walk.

Here is the link to Rent Too High? Move to Singapore. Read it, let it make you think and don't get hung up on statements like the following: "It seems the only solution would be to level all of, say, North Brooklyn and put up monolithic prefab tower blocks. But New Yorkers don’t want to live in Singapore." (And there is no demand to emulate Singapore housing in either London, Ontario, or New York, New York.)

When it comes to housing, Singapore and Hong Kong are guideposts and not final destinations.