Sunday, March 27, 2016

Treasures mark path to mindfulness

Most of those at the party missed the small bouquet of artificial flowers.  Not my
granddaughter. The six-year-old got my camera and saved the moment with a picture.

What does a Harvard Graduate School of Education article and a little six-year-old girl have in common? Answer: Both promote a positive approach to life reinforced by the seeking of small treasures in daily life.

The Harvard folk have a name for this: Mindfulness. One exercise to develop mindfulness is to remain constantly alert for small moments of beauty throughout one's day. My oldest granddaughter has a word for these beautiful things, these beautiful moments: treasures.

She constantly sees treasures in her world. She stops her little bike to pick up walnut shells split and emptied of  meat by a squirrels. She finds the intricate sculptural shapes inside, once secret but now revealed to the world by the hungry squirrels, beautiful and worthy of careful inspection. The shells grab her attention and make her smile as she rolls them in her hand to quietly inspect their inner beauty.

I have a small, orange pail filled with her collected shells. This pail makes me smile. The pail is one of my treasures

Steel cut oats make an inexpensive and very healthy breakfast

Steel cut oats for a good but inexpensive breakfast.

All too often I have read how difficult it is for retirees to eat well on a tight budget. One reporter even went so far as to suggest retirees should prepare themselves for eating pet food as human grub may be out of the question. That's nuts.

I'm retired and my breakfast is nutritious, filling, amazingly delicious and cheap. Even my granddaughters, two and six, have given it a thumbs up. The steel cut oats are the main ingredient and these cost as little as 11-cents a serving or less. The fresh and dried fruit, nuts and maple syrup drive up the cost but the whole mixture still comes in at a bit more than a dollar a serving.

Keeping the number of strawberries used down can keep the cost in line as strawberries are the most expensive ingredient. When apples are inexpensive, I dice an apple, soften it in the microwave, and add apple instead of strawberries to my mix.

I like the PC Blue Menu Steel Cut Oats. I boil 1 1/4 cups of water in the microwave, remove the steaming water from the oven and stir in 1/4 cup of the coarsely cut oat groats. I return the oats and water to the microwave and cook for 12 minutes at 40% power. This is important. At full power there is a big risk of the cooking oats boiling over.

At the end of the ten minutes, I remove the bowl from the oven and stir. Any foam that has gathered at the water's edge, I stir into the mix. I return the mixture to the microwave for a a further five minutes at 40% power. At the end of five minutes I stir the mixture, making sure to stir anything adhering to the side of the bowl back into the oat mixture. I finish by cooking the oats for up to one minute at full power. When I remove the bowl from the oven, the top of the mixture is covered with bubbles. (These times and power settings will vary depending up the microwave used.)

While the oat groats are cooking, I measure 1 tablespoon of Qi'a into a bowl and add two tablespoons of milk. I let the chia, buckwheat and hemp cereal soften for a few minutes while I turn my attention to dicing four or five strawberries to add to the bowl of Qi'a. I dribble one tablespoon of maple syrup over the berries. I coarsely chop 20 grams dried blueberries plus a couple (2) of Brazil nuts. I add these to the mixture. Finally, I mash a banana and add it.

All the measuring, dicing, dribbling, chopping and mashing takes time. If I time this right, I may have to take a break to look at the morning paper, at the moment the oats are done the sweet fruit and nut mixture is added to the hot cereal. I stir all together and enjoy.

You MUST experiment with the cooking times and microwave power settings to ensure you do not overcook the oats or have the oats bubble over and splatter about your microwave. My times are unique to my microwave. Take care. Go slowly. I use the approach I do because I am sure it will not result in a mess. It takes a bit of time but it works and like a said, I take a break and read the morning paper. When one is retired, time is not a problem.

Addendum: Bought some Bob's Steel Cut Oats at Costco. Price was a bit less than the PC Blue Menu Steel Cut Oats I've been using. Bob's claims to cook quicker than the PC variety but does carry a warning about the potential for boiling over if cooked in a microwave. From weighting equal volumes of both brands of oats, I believe the PC variety is a bit denser than Bob's. The PC oats may be ten percent heavier when equal volumes are compared.

Difference One: I have cut the amount of water to 3/4 cup.

Difference Two: When using Bob's, I have cut the time to five minutes at 40% power. After that I stir the cooking oats and return the bowl to the microwave for another three minutes at 40% power. At this point I may give the mixture another minute at high but usually I can give it a bit less. You'll get a feel for how much extra cooking is required as you gain experience cooking the steel cut oats.

Warning: I liked my oats cooked a little more than many folk but as time goes by I am finding I like a little more crunch in my finished cereal.

This is not only a filling breakfast, it is very healthy. The exact nutrition numbers will vary with the amount of fruit and nuts one adds, but I think it is safe to say that this breakfast may provide 15% of one's calcium needs, 35% or more of one's daily fibre requirements, more than 100% of one's need for Vitamin C thanks to the fresh strawberries, a quarter of one's potassium, magnesium, iron and B6 needs. The nuts provide a bit of protein without adding any cholesterol to the mix.

And these are only the good things listed on the packages of fruit and nuts. On the Web you will learn that just two Brazil nuts, the number I chop up and add, meet all of one's daily selenium requirements.

This is definitely a healthy breakfast.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Looking beyond the Thames for answers

Community leaders in London, Ontario, like to throw money at problems in an attempt to buy quick, expert-sourced solutions. All too often once the solution is provided, it is praised, criticized, shelved and forgotten. London leaders embark on spending sprees before first checking out the market place of ideas.

The dual problems of how best to treat the Thames River at the forks and what to do with the broken Springbank Dam are just the latest in a long string of brouhahas following this pattern. The city leaders would do better if they spent a little more time investigating what others have done.

Think of Stamford, Connecticut, and what that community has done and is continuing to do in respect to its river. In many ways, Stamford has the same stated goals as London but Stamford is taking an approach more in tune with present thinking. The Stamford approach is the one being taken by more and more communities around the world. Read the project statement reprinted below:

Formerly a polluted, derelict riverfront, Mill River Park and Greenway is now a verdant, animated civic space that mends the ecological and social fabric of downtown Stamford, Connecticut. Working closely with engineers and ecologists, the team conceived of a landscape designed to revitalize aquatic and terrestrial habitats and reduce flooding by restoring the channelized river’s edge and introducing hundreds of new native plants. The transformative effect of this park builds on ecological sustainability into social sustainability and social justice. A series of walking paths along the river reconnect neighborhoods to this vibrant landscape, granting access to the river’s edge for the first time in a century. The design provides much needed park space for active and passive recreation and a flexible “Great Lawn and Overlook” for large programmed events. A model for redefining active urban life, the park is a catalyst for residential, corporate and commercial growth and economic sustainability. 

If you are curious and want to know more, check out this link: The Plan for Mill River Park. It is interesting to note that Stamford, once it settled on the direction it wanted to follow, found a consultant to assist with realizing its dream. The community did not go it alone. Instead, the community turned to the Laurie Olin design team. Olin has been called the most significant landscape architect since Olmsted, the chap behind Central Park in New York and more.

If you would like to know more, the following video makes it clear what was accomplished in Stamford, Connecticut.

The two largest water resources management agencies in the United States, the US Army Corps of Engineers and the US Bureau of Reclamation, often work together today on dam removal projects. Something in the neighbourhood of a thousand dams have been removed in past twenty years in the States alone.

Monday, March 14, 2016

A bee in my bonnet

My wife likes to tell me I have a bee in my bonnet. In fact, sometimes I have a whole hive buzzin' about in there. I sit at my computer, coffee in hand, heart held in check by my ICD-pacemaker, and I tap out page after page addressing whatever is distressing me at the moment. Today, it's the Thames River.

Years ago I wrote a weekly column for The London Free Press called Celebrate the Thames. I put a lot of myself into that column. For instance, there was a little boy that my wife and I often cared for at the time and he and I explored the Thames River system together, often by canoe. We traveled from the source, near Tavistock, to the mouth where the river empties into Lake St. Clair. We covered literally thousands of kilometers in the year and a half that I wrote that column. Much of the investigative work was done on my own time. I mixed business with pleasure.

Following UTRCA directions, we drove over the Thames River near Tavistock.

Today all that work is forgotten. When Randy Richmond, the paper's present Thames River expert, writes a piece on the river, I shake my head in disbelief. He is making many of the same mistakes I made all those years ago.
Map of North Thames River is from the GNBC Website.
Like Randy, I got sucked into the what-is-the-correct name for the Thames River and its tributaries confusion. I watch as Randy drowns in the same flood of different monikers.

I wish I could throw him a lifeline but as a reporter, a professional journalist, he is unapproachable. I've learned that reporters do not handle criticism well. They perceive criticism as an attack on their skills as journalists.

The problem that sunk both Randy and me is that the Thames River and its main tributary sometimes have the same name depending upon the map. Unless one has an excellent editor checking accuracy and consistency, errors creep in.

Some maps show Fanshawe Dam on the North Branch of the Thames River, others label the same river the north branch of the Thames River and others simply call the river the North Branch. The river flowing into London from the north is rarely labeled the North Thames River but that is its actual name. If you don't believe it, check the Geographical Names Board of Canada site.

In Canada, since 1897, names on official, federal government maps have been authorized through a national committee, now known as the Geographical Names Board of Canada (GNBC). 

The need for a Canadian names authority was recognized in the late 1800s, when resource mapping beyond the frontiers of settlement and extensive immigration made it an urgent matter to manage the country's geographical names - to standardize their spelling and their application.

I first learned that there was a lot of confusion surrounding the name of London's river and its main tributary from readers of my column. These folk were keen on local history and wanted to clean up all the confusion surrounding the name of the local river. My sloppy river naming was driving these folk crazy. (I imagine they were surprised and disappointed when a respected, investigative journalist stepped in and stumbled just as the photographer-playing-journalist had.)

Note: the Thames River reaches Tavistock and beyond.
The river with the flood-controlling Fanshawe Dam is the North Thames River. The river flowing into the Forks of the Thames from Woodstock is the Thames River. Pittock Dam is located on the Thames River. There is no south branch of the Thames River. That is a misnomer for the Thames River itself.

If only Randy would think for a moment about what he is writing, he would realize that if there were two branches merging at the forks and no Thames River upstream from London in either direction, then the Thames River according to this logic springs to life at the Forks of the Thames.

This, of course, doesn't mesh with the  John Graves Simcoe stories of the mighty Thames River flowing east possibly as far as the highlands north of Toronto. After arriving in Canada, and viewing the river firsthand, JGS realized the Thames was not so mighty after all but he still saw it as flowing east to Woodstock.

As for Randy's claim that the Thames River starts as a drainage pipe, that is a bit of a stretch but not as big a one as the folk at UTRCA would like. Way back when my little buddy and I traveled all the way to the source of the Thames River we walked along the narrowing river until we reached water-logged ground. We stood with our feet wet in the boggy wetlands that are the source of the Thames River. Later I took a picture of the young boy straddling the creek that would quickly expand to become the Thames River.

Near the Ellice Swamp, the source of the Thames, the river is but a big creek.

I understand that there are signs of drainage activities in the lands surrounding and in the headwaters of both the Thames River and the North Thames River. This should come as no surprise as historically wetlands just seem to beg to be drained and turned into farmland.

For me the constantly shrinking drainage activity in these wetlands areas symbolizes our awakening understanding of the value of wetlands. UTRCA recognized the importance of Ellice Swamp near Tavistock almost 70 years ago when the conservation authority began purchasing property there in 1948. Over the intervening years, the swamp has been declared a Provincially Significant Wetland (PSW) and is recognize as one of the largest natural areas in south-central Ontario.

It was Randy-the-award-winning-writer who wrote the south branch of the Thames River starts as a drainage pipe and the north starts as a wetlands and came to the conclusion that "one source (is) symbolic of human management and one source symbolic of nature." Writers love a good dichotomy.

A more boring reporter might simply say that both are symbolic of human management and good human management at that. Take a bow UTRCA.

Both the Thames River and the North Thames River have their origins in what remains of their respective historic wetlands and not the remnants of drainage canals, drainage pipes and tiling. And I didn't come by this belief from just looking at a map. Back when I was writing Celebrate the Thames, it took almost an hour's drive, a canoe and a soggy hike to find and become intimately familiar with the source of the Thames.

The Plan for Mill River Park
In the coming days, I am going to try and find the time to examine another false dichotomy that The London Free Press is pushing: human needs versus environmental concerns. The paper pits "human enjoyment of the river" against the goals of environmentalists. The two goals are intertwined.

Randy makes reference to the worldwide movement that finds more and more people viewing dams as environmentally damaging. He, in my estimation, needlessly adds that these people also view dams as "tributes to human arrogance." In a lot of cases, this is simply not true. Many of those dams served a purpose at one time and many do not dispute this. But times change.

The Free Press fails to report in depth what is being done in other communities worldwide. There are increasing numbers of cities removing dams and being hailed for the move by a majority of residents from the young to the old, from millennials to baby boomers.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Redesign of Springbank Dam may be faulty

Canoeists prepare to run the river below the dam.
The question many are asking in London is: "Should the out-of-operation Springbank Dam be reactivated?" Maybe a better question would be: "How much will it cost to reactivate the Springbank Dam?" I have a gut feeling it could take quite a lot of money.

I was there when the rebuilt dam was first tested back in 2008. Many of those present had serious concerns about the design of the the new gates. Almost all the folk with whom I talked told me, off the record, that bottom-hinged tilting flap gates demand sophisticated engineering to operate reliably. One of the most common problems encountered with this design, I was told, was stream debris interfering with the operation of the submerged hinges. Not just the gates were being tested but the quality of the engineering was also being tested.

I got in touch with the reporter who was with me at the initial test. The reporter confirmed he believed those present thought they would encounter some teething problems bringing the new dam online. That original test was not just some perfunctory operation done to satisfy bureaucratic demands. It was a genuine test conducted to discover the strengths and weaknesses of the new dam design. And, it appears they did discover a weakness -- a weakness that a simple tweak or two was not going to set right.

As most folk know, the initial test of the new dam design had to be aborted when one of the four gates failed. Some blamed stream debris. In mid-summer of 2015 the three remaining gates were retested. Two passed but yet another one failed. Should more money be sunk into repairing a dam which has now failed two tests? Are there serious design flaws at work here?

According to writer Larry Cornies, the new design allows "year-round, dynamic adjustment of water levels in the river." In other words the dam can be fully open, fully closed or anything in between at any time it is felt necessary. Really?

Springbank Dam sits, gates down, out-of-commission.
Based on my talks with those present at the initial test, I believe the present design does not allow frequent adjustment of the position of the gates. Two tests and two failures. This does not inspire confidence. I have read that when operational reliability is paramount there must be a way of clearing debris away from the submerged hinges at the bottom of tilting flap gates.

How much will it cost to correct the faults in the present dam design? Would jets of water or bursts of compressed air clear debris? Possibly filtered river water could be used to flush the hinges before the flaps are raised or lowered. Possibly the design of the gates needs to be altered to modify the water flow pattern as it passes over the hinges.

Restricting the operation of the gates to being lowered in the spring and raised in the fall, as was done in the past, may be necessary. And possibly divers will have to be present to guide the operation and clear debris. Using divers whenever the gates are moved may not be the most elegant solution but it may be the least expensive.

The new dam design may be doomed. I say, remove Springbank Dam. In the past, the river water trapped behind the dam could be damn foul. I used to write the Celebrate the Thames feature for The London Free Press. I can tell you that the river in the area of the Greenway Pollution Control plant was the foulest section of river I encountered during my year and a half of traveling the river from its headwaters to where it discharges into Lake St. Clair.