Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Fighting for better school food

Check out this link and angrymoms also.

It's a story (and a documentary) of mothers who demanded (and got) better food at the schools for their kids. It turns out making the switch to better snacks and salad bars is not only quick but easy to do.

Here's a checklist for the school cafe and an action plan. Actually there are too many good links and docs to list - check em out.

New turbine installed at Holy Name

Interesting to see how things pan out. Worth watching for our town too, for the private and public plans for wind here in town.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Fall fest taking shape - October 25

Keep an eye out for the Auburn fall festival. Date is Saturday October 25, 1-6PM, rain date of 26th.

It looks like there will be quite a good representation of non-profit and businesses in the area, with lots of games and raffles - a true all ages event! Watch this space and the town's website and CATV for more in the coming weeks.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Parking and the Shing

Well, it's come up at the BOS and among many in town since reopening: the residents of Walsh Ave are upset about the new Yong Shing location and the problems with overflow parking there.

Having attended the opening karaoke night I can attest it was a zoo! They had the mini-searchlights going and there were cars all over Walsh Ave. Luckily I have a friend on the street (and some others not far from there) so I could find a spot and walk.

The thing that I hope is that the BOS doesn't overreact to this. I think the first knee jerk reaction of some to clamp down, start writing tickets and generally chase people away and such is a shame. The place is popular, obviously the owner has run a successful business for years in town and we should try and work something out.

Given the planning board's desires for a more pedestrian-friendly area down there and the existence of all the parking in the area I think something can be worked out. One example is the post office, which would be closed in the nighttime when the parking is an issue. Another - look at the situation with football games, when many park in the Bed Bath and Beyond/Shaws lot to attend a school function, so why couldn't school lots be used for overflow for a business? I know some will argue liability - I'd like to know the concrete dollar difference between using the lot and not. Is this covered by insurance or is it an exclusion? How much would that cost and could that be compensated or even make it an income stream for the school facility. Think out of the box as some would say - in these times we have to be creative!

Also the mall - many places in Worcester use valet parking at night, it seems to me the mall's Auburn St lot which is used by carnivals in the summer would be viable.

One thing is clear - I think paving more permanent spaces for this temporary issue is a mistake. We have the spaces, they just need to be reallocated. Planning has recognized that Rt 12, with all its empty paved lots as a side effect of our onerous parking zoning restrictions, looks generally unattractive. Modern walkable designs and concepts take this into consideration and allow for more orderly, planned, walkable areas which along with transportation plans (shuttles or public transit) save energy and engender a sense of place and community that attracts people and their cash in. The Veterans corridor effort will allay some of that.

The other side of all of these proposals is to make the area really pedestrian friendly with paved sidewalks and snow removal as needed. Then a truly functioning village district concept would be closer to reality.

And hopefully in all of this, schools, business and residents can work something out instead of rule by argument and who can shout down the loudest which has been the typical old reaction of some. I think people can have a voice in this, so long as there's a willingness to work things out, we don't have to get to that level; the town will be the better for it.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A shameful stat

Childhood poverty is on the rise in Massachusetts according to the census.

"These 182,000 children would form an unbroken line the entire length of the 138-mile Massachusetts Turnpike," said Jetta Bernier, executive director of Massachusetts Citizens for Children.

"A legislator driving on the Mass. Pike from his or her district to the State House would pass by a child who is poor every four feet, or 1,300 children every mile."

Even worse, in a state with one of the nation's highest median family incomes (about $60,000 in 2006), about 87,000 children lived in extreme poverty, or families of four earning less than $10,600 a year.

Bernier said that Massachusetts has the third widest divide between the rich and poor in the nation and that the divide is growing at the fourth fastest rate.

"The chasm is threatening to undermine our state's bright future," she said.

The report suggested that the Census Bureau focus on the federal poverty line, in effect, conceals the true number of people living in poverty.

Let's remember that when we think of how "we had it tougher when we were kids". For a lot of cases it's worse now!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Some Bryn Mawr history

My son is at Bryn Mawr again this year.

Over the weekend I found out a few pieces of information about it. The first class to go into Bryn Mawr was in 1949. My aunt as it turns out was one of the first. At that time, there was only Bryn Mawr and the 8th (I think or 6th?) grade up went to the new wing on the high school.

Also, my late great uncle Werner Bylund reviewed the plans for Bryn Mawr, as Mrs Cutting, who was on the school board at the time only trusted him with the drawings! He found a few things and told them they might have trouble with the roof, which they did. He also designed blueprints for the old Hillcrest dairy building and the Post home which is across the street from the Farmer's Daughter.

I wasn't aware that the school is 60 years old next year - we should have a 60th party for it ;). I went there in 1970 for first grade.

It certainly can use some updates, and is overcrowded (witness the use of trailers).

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Fish consumption risk/benefit if pregnant: eat your fish

Good story about the risk/benefits of eating fish for pregnant women published in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

It turns out fears of mercury and other issues with fish consumption for pregnant women are outweighed by the potential benefits, at least in this study.

Working with Danish researchers, the Harvard team tracked more than 25,000 women, asking them what they ate and how long they breastfed their babies. (Breast milk is also high in DHA, so its influence had to be measured and taken into account.) When the babies were 6 months old and again at 18 months old, the mothers answered questions about developmental milestones, from sitting up at 6 months to putting words together at 18 months.

Mothers who ate more fish while they were pregnant and breastfed their babies longer than other mothers had children who showed better physical and cognitive development when they were 6 months old and again at 18 months old, the study shows. Each practice alone was helpful.

Women who ate at least three servings of fish per week had children who were 25 percent more likely to score high on development at 6 months and 30 percent more likely to score high at 18 months than children of mothers who ate less than one serving of fish per week.

The authors note that the kind of fish most of the Danish women ate -- cod, plaice, salmon, herring, and mackerel -- are likely to have low mercury content.

This can be extended I think logically to fish consumption generally. All those beneficial Omega 3 fats help out cholesterol and even brain function (with the possible exception of tilapia, which has Omega 6s, which we already get lots of in our diets from other animal sources).

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Early childhood ed works! Now stop wasting the money

Little story on Mass early childhood education programs ... and their lack of ability to make progress.

Where'd the money go? Not to open access - to enrich the teacher salaries of course!

There is still a waiting list of 4,400 children seeking state financial assistance to attend preschool.

The report found that the approximately 130 providers participating in the pilot program said improving their teaching staff was their top priority. Roughly half of the grant funding has been used to train and retain teachers by raising salaries.

Meanwhile, this study shows - early access to preschool improves math scores!

An average child of that age who attended preschool scores 27 percent higher on a standard math test than a comparable pupil without the preparation, said researcher Edward Melhuish, a professor of human development at the University of London, in an e-mail on Tuesday.

The finding may buttress the case made by advocates of universal preschool education in the United States, where the federal government provides such programs only for children from low-income families. By contrast, the UK has paid for preschool for all 3- and 4-year-olds since 2004, regardless of their parents' earnings.

"Universal preschool would mean higher test scores, less school failure, and probably also increased high school graduation and college attendance," W. Steven Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research, a program at Rutgers University, said in an e-mail.

So it works - we know that, it's been proven time and again! Too bad the adults are busy using the money to help themselves to an extra serving of salary instead of opening up the access to more kids.

The new Superintendent wants to know "What about Auburn schools should NEVER change"? (ie what works). I'd answer - early childhood education and preschool access to all - it's our startup investment money for the students of the future. Never stop that - you can bank on lower test scores if you cut it.

Friday, September 5, 2008

A frugal cornucopia

Good article about Amory Lovins, of RMI (Rocky Mountain Institute) in the Economist.

He's been arguing for resource efficiency and wholistic sustainable design for years. Ironically (or maybe not so ironic) you end up reaping rich rewards ... so by cutting the chaff you ensure prosperity. It used to be thought that cheap energy fuels the economy. But that's not sustainable - actually it destroys prosperity over time through institutionalized waste of resources.

He's kind of an eco-economist - kind of a cross between Adam Smith and Rachel Carson. Interesting stuff - we could learn a lot from these approaches!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

New England harvest time, enjoy some tomatoes!

This next month or so is so great for local produce - it's almost like living in California ;)

Saw this article wrt Pancreatic cancer prevention - tomatoes are a potential cancer fighter of this deadly disease. I've been eating some heirloom variety for the past few weeks thanks to my father-in-law 's green thumb.

Pancreatic Health

One of the deadliest cancers, pancreatic cancer progresses so rapidly that individuals with the disease who are participating in studies often die before their interviews can be completed-so the benefits noted in the following study of a diet rich in tomatoes and tomato-based products are especially significant.

In this 3-year Canadian study, published in the Journal of Nutrition, individuals with pancreatic cancer were age and gender matched with individuals free of the disease. After adjustment for age, province, body mass index, smoking, educational attainment, dietary folate and total caloric intake, the data showed men consuming the most lycopene had a 31% reduction in their risk of pancreatic cancer.

Among persons who had never smoked, those whose diets were richest in beta carotene or total carotenoids reduced their risk of pancreatic cancer by 43% and 42%, respectively.