Chocolate bunny. Photo © Michelle (pa1nt), via creative commons and flickr

Warning: The following contains information that may be disturbing to chocolate-lovers. Reader discretion is advised.

I hate to break it to you just as you nibble on your chocolate Easter bunny’s ear, but we’ve been misled.

Happily and willingly misled, but misled nonetheless.

Chocolate eggs. Photo © Emily McCracken, via creative commons and flickrThose expensive, for-adult-consumption-only Easter eggs you stashed out of the kids’ reach? They aren’t going to keep your teeth from falling out.

The dark chocolate bunny (85 per cent cocoa) you selected—expressly, I know—to help stave off the heart disease that lurks in your DNA? It won’t.

Neither will it help you out-debate your belligerent brother-in-law at the festive table this evening, nor remember the names of his three—or was that five?—ex-wives and their abundant broods that he’s invited along.

I’m sorry.

For two decades, we’ve heard that the taste-good, feel-good, go-to food we turn to for a legal dopamine fix when our bosses, brothers-in-law and kids infuriate us can help keep us healthy. Popular media celebrated every study that hinted at links between chocolate consumption and decreased tooth decay, improved memory, improved circulation, decreased risk of heart disease and strokes, lower body mass index, and so on.

The reports provided hope—and justification for indulging…..

Read the rest of this editorial at the Victoria Times Colonist….

Nature Boy faced a dilemma last night. As the person tasked with the weekly grocery run, he had splurged on tenderloin steaks.

As anyone who has recently emptied their wallets at the super market knows, buying high-end grilling meats these days practically requires pre-approval from a bank manager. According to Statistics Canada, retail prices for grilling steaks and ground beef increased by about 11 and 12 per cent since this time last year. That’s six times Canada’s overall inflation rate for the same period.

“Couldn’t we use that money for a vacation instead?” I asked. But Nature Boy pointed out that grilling season is upon us and, besides, the temperature outside these days simply requires use of the barbecue.

“Hmmm, okay. Just this once.”

The dilemma came in the evening. Nature Boy had seasoned and grilled the steaks—rare to medium rare… perfect. He deftly removed them from the heat and placed them on a clean plate. After turning the barbecue off, he took the plate and turned towards the door.

And tripped.

Through an impressive combination of flailing, twisting and flexibility, he saved himself and the plate.

The steaks, however, went flying. The year’s big vacation landed on the patio paving stones. The juice ran down the sliding doors.

There went France….

Read the rest of this editorial at the Victoria Times Colonist….

Playing on beach. Photo © Wynand Strydom, via creative commons and flickr

Summer calls. Many youngsters stand at the leading edge of the season and anticipate two months of endless days, sunshine, mucking around and running about. Two whole months of playing!

However, many instead will endure a packed roster of prebooked, highly managed and directed activities. Many will take part in day camp after day camp, week after week. Many will have formal and informal learning activities thrust upon them. Most will be signed up for numerous and various pursuits that will keep them occupied and out of trouble until Mom and Dad or the grandparents can take their allotted summer vacations.

Few kids will have much time for play.

Many psychologists consider play an endangered activity. Today’s children experience little free time. They participate in activities, take lessons… even play dates must be scheduled and have unwritten agendas. So much of what kids do comes with explicit expectations, predetermined objectives, and the pressing, stress-inducing need to be somewhere at such and such a time, then off to somewhere else for something else, with little time between.

The danger in all this busy-ness, warn child-development experts, is that it comes at the cost of free, creative play. Researchers have long rooted around in the human mind to tease out how play affects kids in the moment, a few months down the road, and later on when they become adults.

Play, they’ve found, is essential for children’s social, physical, mental and emotional development and health. Scientists have found that play increases mental and emotional flexibility, creativity, and social skills, as well as increases kids’ abilities to find meaning in experiences, regulate their emotions and stress, express themselves creatively, coherently and spontaneously, and think laterally and divergently….

Read the rest of this editorial at the Victoria Times Colonist….

Some of Victoria's quieter places. Photo by Andy M. Smith

Quiet may be extinct, I thought atop the Highlands’s Jocelyn Hill. I was far from the nearest road, but the whine and hum of traffic climbing the Malahat drifted across Finlayson Arm.

And then a helicopter whirred into view below, drowning out pretty much everything else.

My friend Don tells me he found true quiet once. He had to climb to the top of the El Teide volcano on Tenerife, in the Canary Islands, to find it.

That’s a long way to go to find absence—absence of sound.

For the record, I don’t classify sounds of nature as noise. There are exceptions: the shotgun-crack of acorns hitting the rooftop, or predawn choruses of birdsong … or monkey screams or jackal howls or Nature Boy’s snores, depending on where I’m trying to sleep.

Research indicates we humans find run-of-the-mill everyday nature sounds relaxing. Serenades of birdsong and squirrel chatter soothe our usual stress responses, lower our blo.od pressure and heart rate, and slow and deepen our breathing….

Continue reading at the Victoria Times Colonist

Parks like East Sooke Park help make nearby residents happier and healthier. Photo by Logan C (flickr's LoganTech)Back when Nature Boy worked at a big California museum, I flew down to visit on a semi-regular basis.

I remember looking out over the city as the aircraft made its final approach to L.A.’s airport. Below me stretched mile upon mile of concrete: buildings, roads freeways, parking lots. Few trees and no green spaces relieved the sunbaked ugliness that extended from the mountains in the city’s east to the Pacific Ocean.

No wonder, I thought at the time, crime rates were so high. No wonder crazy people were using drivers on Los Angeles freeways for daily target practice—events which, by that time, were so commonplace, even the most reputable of the city’s news organizations no longer reported them.

With so many people living in Los Angeles, the absolute number of already-crazy people living among them was going to be high.

But packing so many people in so close together would surely compound the problem. Those conditions could easily push anybody unstable and close to the breaking point, mentally and emotionally speaking, over the edge into outright nuts-dom….

Continue reading at the Victoria Times Colonist