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Asma Shuaib, a 22-year-old student attending a rally near Ellis Island to protest the new and confusing immigration rules, was in tears when a reporter for The New York Times caught up with her.
"If you see something that you believe in your heart is wrong," she said, "you must speak out, and then act."
When I read that, I knew I had a sweet way to begin my annual Valentine's Day column. Because, your heart isn't just a mindless pump that pushes blood around your body. It's command central for overall well-being. It's the center of joy and spirit in your life. It's the center of heartbreak, too.
There's plenty of scientific evidence that positive emotions and compassionate actions are big contributors to a healthy heart. We also know that anger, hatred and other negative emotions can cause damage to your heart, no matter how many followers you have on Facebook.
So thanks, Asma.
Along with listening to your heart and speaking out, here are a few more strategies for celebrating Valentine's Day this year, especially "this" year, when so many of our hearts are taking a beating:
LOVE. "If I could ask someone only one question," writes best-selling author John Robbins, "and I wanted to learn the most I could about their health and how long they are likely to live, my question would not be 'Do you smoke?' It would not be 'Are you overweight?' Nor would I ask 'What's your cholesterol level?' or 'How's your blood pressure?'
"Instead I would ask, 'How much love is there in your life?'"
If you can answer that question with high numbers and deep gratitude, it means more to the ongoing health of your heart than all the fish-oil capsules in China.
And if your answer causes a little heartburn because you really wish there were "more" love in your life, do what the happiness experts teach at Healthy Lifestyle U: Open your heart to others. Cultivate kindness; be less judgmental and more compassionate. Be funny, and be a good listener, because your friends will benefit most of all from your attention, not your well-meaning advice.
BE MORE ACTIVE. You knew this was coming. February is National Heart Month, and I'd have to turn in my official Red Cross Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation card if I didn't restate the obvious: Physical activity -- at home, in the gym, in your office -- is a must if you want to nurture a healthier heart. Get focused. Get moving. Have fun. Bonus points if you do it outdoors, in nature. Take a walk! Ride your bike! Vacuum to the Supremes!
And don't forget one of my personal favorites: yoga, a 5,000-year-old recipe for vibrant health that includes meditation and conscious breathing, two more proven paths to a calmer, stronger heart.
Whatever you do, do "something" Take action, as Asma Shuaib said, and remember this: Just going from a sedentary lifestyle to a more active one has tremendous health benefits. Start where you are.
LET GO OF ANGER. If you hold onto anger in your mind and body -- at your boss, your thoughtless and noisy neighbor, your senator -- it depresses your immune system, drains your energy and weakens your heart. So this Valentine's Day, indulge in a ritual that identifies your anger and lets it go: Light a candle; write a poem; float a feather out to sea. Practice forgiveness, and your heart will expand in ways that will help you feel more connected and less stressed, no matter what your most trusted news channel is reporting.
EAT SMARTER. Extra pounds weigh heavily on your heart. To lighten your load, eat in a more enlightened way. Forget dieting. Diets are all about denial and deprivation, and the moment you go off your diet, the weight piles back on.
Instead, this Valentine's Day, hold your hand over your heart and vow to consume moderate amounts of real food: more clean fruits and veggies and fewer junky meats and processed foods. Learn to prepare meals using the freshest, most local ingredients you can find. Don't depend on supplements or fasts to power up your heart. It thrives on good food -- pure food -- prepared with love and eaten slowly, with awareness and appreciation of all the blessings in your life.
"Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all." -- Aristotle

Marilynn Preston

Wednesday, 08 February 2017 18:33

Eating Meat Causes Obesity: The Doctors Weigh In

Depending on the study you consult, the numbers may vary a bit, but they all say that over 70% of Americans are overweight. To be clinically overweight means that our condition will likely at some point adversely affect our health, and our life, particularly if we are obese. There are many causes of being overweight.
Lack of exercise is a big one, especially for Americans. Granted, many of us have jobs that keep us busy, especially given the service economy so much of this country finds itself in (“desk jobs” are becoming the exception for the majority it seems); yet even so, this sort of activity rarely constitutes healthful physical exercise, like biking or swimming or even brisk walking. Given our love of video stimulation, whether movies, TV or gaming and computer entertainment in our spare time which only compounds the problem.
Genetics can also be considered, as some of us are small or large, yet for most of us our inherent size is only our baseline.
Then there is diet, which is for nearly everyone the primary issue. Given our culture’s reliance upon fast food, processed food and arguably even GMO foods--- diet can prove to be an important issue as well for people with no overweight condition.
What is becoming increasingly clear in the corporate consumer culture, gaining mainstream media attention, is the role of meat and animal product consumption in American diets.
To be thorough, there are environmental and human health issues stemming from the industrial production and consumption of meat: resources used to produce animal protein, along with the resulting waste products, “may be responsible for 18% of human- caused global greenhouse gas; Animals confined to US factory farms produce three times more waste than the entire US population which can contaminate water supplies and emit harmful gasses such as hydrogen sulfide, ammonia and methane."
Animal protein is very resource-intensive, for example, requiring up to 26 times more water to produce than a pound of soy protein; wastes cause outbreaks of salmonella, e.coli and similar pathogens, particularly in people living near production facilities; antibiotics are used in the animals in these facilities to try to keep them healthy. These antibiotics are now found in the groundwater, soil and air there, and in humans as well, contributing to antibiotic-resistant infections.
According to Dr. Michael Greger, HSUS Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture: “We don’t need to consume animals to be healthy--- just the opposite. Nutrition experts worldwide advise us to increase our consumption of plant-based foods and to cut down on saturated animal fat and cholesterol, which are found exclusively in meat, eggs and dairy products. Meat-free diets are recommended by the American Heart Association, National Cancer Institute, World Health Organization and U.S. dietary guidelines.
“The benefits are clear. People who eat fewer animal products have lower rates of obesity, dementia, arthritis, high blood pressure, kidney disease, gallstones, hemorrhoids, constipation, diverticulosis and appendicitis. People who eat completely meatless diets are half as likely to become hospitalized or require medications, and they’re less likely to need emergency medical procedures. Meat-free diets are even being used to reverse chronic diseases: opening clogged arteries, curing type 2 diabetes and alleviating obesity.
“Humane diets may also boost our longevity. The population with the longest life expectancy isn’t the Okinawa Japanese or the Mediterranean Sardinians, but the California Adventist vegetarians, who live up to 10 years longer than the average American and enjoy lower rates of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and certain cancers. Choosing animal-free foods is an easy, inexpensive way to shed unnecessary pounds, reduce cancer risk and improve heart health.”
Professor Maciej Henneberg of the University of Adelaide wrote, “In the analysis of obesity prevalence across 170 countries, we have found that sugar availability in a nation explains 50% of obesity variation while meat availability another 50%. After correcting for differences in nations’ wealth, calorie consumption, levels of urbanization and of physical inactivity, which are all major contributors to obesity, sugar availability remained an important factor, contributing independently 13%, while meat contributed another 13%.”
Youfa Wong, MD, PhD, MS at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School’s Center for Human Nutrition, wrote in the “Journal of Human Obesity”: “While Americans had a high level of meat consumption per capita they lacked adequate consumption of fruits, vegetables and dairy… translates to approximately 4.6 servings of meat, 3 servings of fruit and vegetables, and 1.4 servings of dairy per day although Americans are recommended to consume at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables and 3 servings of dairy a day. Participants consuming higher amounts of meat were nearly 27% more likely to be obese, compared to those who consumed low amounts. In fact, higher intakes of “all meat” and “other meat” products were associated with higher BMI (body mass index) and waist circumference, whereas intake of vegetables and fruits was inversely associated with BMI.”
“Our analysis based on the recent nationally representative data shows a consistent positive association between meat consumption and adiposity measure among U.S. adults.” There are many studies that have shown direct correlations between the consumption of meat and obesity, yet Dr. Wong asserts that some authors’ claims that it is the fat content of the meat that contributes to human obesity are incorrect: “On the contrary, we believe the protein in meat is directly contributing to obesity.”
The research for Professor Henneberg’s study was conducted by PhD student Wenpeng You, who recently published his findings in the “Journal of Nutrition & Food Sciences”, he says, “There is a dogma that fats and carbohydrates, especially fats, are the major factors contributing to obesity.“
“Whether we like it or not, fats and carbohydrates in modern diets are supplying enough energy to meet our daily needs. Because meat protein is digested later than fats and carbohydrates, this makes the energy we receive from protein a surplus, which is then converted and stored as fat in the human body.”
­
Dave Bowman
Fort Myers

Wednesday, 08 February 2017 18:30

SOCIAL SECURITY AND YOU

My Advice:
Don't Play by the Rules

Well, let's see if I get in trouble again! Today's question comes from a retiree who plans to return to work, he will make about $20K and is worried about how his earnings might jeopardize his eligibility for his Social Security benefits. It's a question I'm often asked. And my usual answer doesn't exactly follow the Social Security Administration playbook. In the past, I've gotten into trouble with some of my former colleagues at SSA who took me to task for encouraging people to bend the rules. But I still think I'm handing out good advice. Before I get to the question and my apparently controversial answer, let me first explain the rules. Once you are 66 years old, you can make as much money as you want and get all of your Social Security checks. But if you are on Social Security and you are under that magic age and you return to work, then the law says that for every two dollars you earn over $16,920, one dollar must be withheld from your Social Security benefits. It sounds simple enough. But the reason it gets complicated has to do with the mechanics of how the law is administered. Let's follow an example. Jack is 64 and getting Social Security. He starts working and dutifully reports his earnings to Social Security (after waiting on hold for 45 minutes). He is told that based on his reported earnings, he isn't due any benefits for the next five months. After a couple of months' processing delay, SSA finally stops his checks. And being a good citizen, Jack had returned the two checks he received before his benefits were stopped. But then a month later, Jack got an overpayment letter from SSA telling him he owed an amount equal to the two benefits checks he already returned. It took several more months to straighten that out. Then later in the year, Jack learned he was getting a raise and was asked to work more hours. So now he was expecting to make several thousand dollars more than the first estimate he gave SSA. Once again, he reported this. And that report led to another overpayment letter advising him of benefits he was now not due based on his new estimate. Then, at the beginning of the next year, when he got his W-2, it turned out that he didn't make quite as much as he had previously reported to SSA. So now, the agency owed Jack some of that money they had asked him to repay last year. But at the same time, Jack reported his anticipated earnings for the new year, and this led to another round of benefit reductions and overpayment letters. And on and on it goes! And this is not an exaggerated example. It is fairly typical of what happens to folks when they get wrapped up in the administrative nightmare of dealing with Social Security's earnings penalty rules. So now let's look at today's question and how I suggest that slightly bending those rules can save you a lot of heartache. So, you could play by the rules, like Jack did in the example I cited above. But look where that got him! In other words, you could contact SSA and report your anticipated earnings. They will eventually stop your benefits. Then you could just cross your fingers that you keep your job, earn exactly as much money as you initially reported, and don't get slapped with any overpayment letters. Or you could do what I've been advising people in your situation to do for years. And that is to do nothing. Just let your Social Security checks continue to flow into your bank account -- remembering all along that you aren't due all of those benefits and will eventually have to pay some of them back. At some point down the road (it might be later this year, or it may even be early next year), SSA will learn that you have been working -- either because of earnings reports from your employer or through a computer data exchange with IRS. Once they learn you had been working and the precise amount of your earnings, they will send you an overpayment letter. But you will be expecting it and, assuming you didn't lose all the proceeds of your Social Security checks in a wild gambling spree in Las Vegas, you will have the money sitting in your bank account ready to pay them back. (And by the way, they don't charge interest.) There are two advantages to doing things this way. One: You can pocket what little interest you might have earned on those benefit payments before they were stopped. And two: You avoid all the back-and-forth hassle with SSA -- the calling and waiting on hold and starting and stopping of Social Security checks that Jack experienced. What I am suggesting you do isn't exactly kosher, but it's not illegal. You'd simply be bending the rules a bit. As long as SSA eventually gets its money back, they'll be satisfied. And as a side note: Here is a message to any of my readers under age 66 who are getting Social Security checks and decide to return to work, thus forcing a suspension of those checks. Once you reach age 66, you will get credit for those months in which you did not receive a benefit -- in the form of an adjustment to your initial benefit reduction.
Tom Margenau

Looking back on Earth’s global temperature over the past three years...2014: record warm—wow! 2015: record warm—wow!! 2016: record warm—holy cow!!!
In 2016, the annual global temperature reached a record high for the third year in a row, a remarkable occurrence rarely seen in the 137-year NOAA record and one not seen since the streak of record warmth (at the time) of 1939, 1940, and 1941.
Those years, which ranked as third warmest, second warmest, and warmest, respectively, in 1941, now rank as 64th, 50th, and 38th warmest today. But back to the current streak…how did this happen?
If you guess long-term climate change—Yes! If you guess El Niño—Yes! Also correct. If you guess supermoons—umm, sorry, not so much.

The Background
First, Earth’s temperature has been rising at an average rate of 0.13°F each decade since the start of the record in 1880 and more than twice that rate (0.31°F) if you consider the past half century alone. That increase is due to long-term warming.
Second, natural climate cycles, the biggest player being the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO), cause global temperatures to temporarily rise (El Niño) or fall (La Niña). Generally, the stronger the El Niño or La Niña, the greater the impact will be on the average global temperature. Over time, the effects of El Niños and La Niñas balance each other out, so the net effect on long-term warming is negligible.

The Story
Near the end of 2014, one of the strongest El Niños since at least the mid-20th century, and the strongest since 1998, emerged in the eastern Pacific Ocean and lasted through late spring 2016. So not only was this a strong El Niño, it was the longest-lasting one since the Climate Prediction Center began tracking the phenomenon in 1950. This extreme intensity and duration led to the fall of lots of annual and monthly global temperature records. And when they fell, they fell hard.

Annual temperatures
With a couple of months in the El Niño phase at the end of the year—but still weak at this point—2014 broke the annual record set in 2010 (another year with El Niño by the way) by 0.07°F.
El Niño continued to strengthen throughout 2015 and was among the strongest on record by the end of the year. (Side lesson: there are a lot of complicated dynamics between the ocean and the atmosphere, but to simplify here, a strong and long-lived El Niño exposes a lot of warm water to the atmosphere. If you take away some of the details, it's like adding a subtle temporary floor furnace to the atmosphere.) With all the extra heat pumped into the atmosphere from the ocean, 2015 broke the annual record set in 2014 by an incredible 0.29°F, the widest margin on record.
El Niño began to weaken around the beginning of 2016, officially ending in late spring. Often, the effects of the phenomenon continue to impact global temperatures for up to a few months after the event has ended because all of that added heat in the atmosphere doesn’t immediately go away. And as sometimes happens, a La Niña event emerged a few months after El Niño’s demise, bringing its cooling effect with it.
Because of its strength and lingering effects, the 2016 annual global temperature was influenced more by El Niño than by La Niña. And so, with the global temperature already elevated at the beginning of the year, 2016 set yet another annual global temperature record, albeit by a slimmer margin of 0.07°F.
But how does the 2016 temperature stack up against 1998, the year of the last strong El Niño? If we were comparing apples to apples, we would expect the temperatures to be roughly close to one another. But it’s not apples to apples: this is where the effect of long-term global warming can clearly be seen. Although each year started with a strong El Niño and ended with La Niña, 2016 was more than half a degree (0.56°F) warmer than 1998. That matches up well with the average decadal rate of warming. Even 2014 beat out 1998 by 0.19°F.

The monthly records
While three record warm years in a row is pretty incredible, monthly temperatures during these three years were equally astonishing. Lots of records were broken, several in dramatic fashion.
In the 28-month span between May 2014 and August 2016, 24 monthly global temperature records were broken. That includes 16 in a row (s-i-x-t-e-e-n!) from May 2015 to August 2016. Fourteen of the 15 largest all-time monthly temperatures departures were set during 2015 and 2016, with the highest in March 2016 (January 2007 tied for 10th warmest, and yes, El Niño was involved here too).
El Niño is over. What now?
El Niños and La Niñas and other natural climate patterns are really difficult to predict far in advance. It is unknown exactly when they will occur, how long they will last, and how intense they will be. So it’s not really possible to know exactly how warm or cool next year, or the year after, or the year after that will be.
But underlying this uncertainty is the certainty that the annual global temperature record has been broken five times since the beginning of the 21st century and the certainty that the global temperature has been increasing around 0.3°F per decade over the past 50 years.
Although we don’t know when, the global annual temperature record will be broken again. Monthly global temperature records will be broken again. We will not see new global high temperature records every year, nor do we expect to. We probably won’t see a new record in 2017, but we probably will see one in the not so distant future.
that the average global temperature is just that - an average. Different parts of the world will set new records at different times, and yes, we expect to see some records this year too. We expect a few of these will even be cold records. In some regions of the world, like the Arctic, temperatures are rising at a much higher rate than most other regions of the world. Increasing temperatures manifest into impacts, like melting glaciers and ice sheets that lead to sea level rise, among countless others. That won’t change—new record annual global temperatures or not.

Jessica Blunden
Noaa.gov

The year was 1904. The American Flag had 45 stars, Theodore Roosevelt was president and the average American earned 22 cents per hour. It was the year that T.J. Laud-Brown convinced the city founders and the rail line that they needed to bring the South Florida Fair to the grounds of the Tampa Bay Hotel. The Fair was held on a 27-acre plot, now known as the University of Tampa.
Today, the Florida State Fair attracts up to 500,000 people in twelve days. Each year Florida residents create exhibits for Aquaculture, Horticulture, Woodcarving, Needlework and more. Over ninety years later bragging rights are still won for the prized bull, best pie and the most beautiful quilt. The Mildred W. and Doyle E. Carlton, Jr Cracker Country living history museum has original structures, including homes, a general store, railroad depot, print shop and more. Offering guests a representation of home life, commerce and transportation as it was in many rural Florida communities just before the turn of the 20th century. The Midway rides provide our visitors with all the thrills and chills they've come to expect.
As the first State Fair of the year, we get all the latest and greatest in Fair foods such as the Pizza Cone, Redneck Burger, Bacon Ice Cream, and more! It’s affordable family fun at its best.

Admission

Adult admission for ages 12 and older is $11 for Monday through Friday entry and $13 on Saturdays and Sundays
Child Admission for ages 6 to 11 is $6 for Monday through Friday admission and $7 on Saturdays and Sundays
Senior admission for ages 55 and up is $9, but senior tickets are only valid on the following Senior Days: Feb. 13-17. All other days require adult admission tickets.

Ride Armbands

Any day ride armbands cost $35 at the fair and provide unlimited rides
Weekday ride armbands are $25 at the fair and are only good on Feb. 9 and Feb. 13-16.

Concerts

Feb. 10, 8 p.m.: Shalyah Fearing.

Feb. 11, 7 p.m.: Mighty Mongo

Feb. 13, 11 a.m., 1 and 3 p.m.: Z Street Band

Feb. 14-16, 5:30 p.m.: The River City Boys present a Tribute to the Statler Brothers

Feb. 14-16, 6 p.m.: Elvis Extravaganza

Feb. 14, 2 p.m.: Country Gold Tour, featuring Leroy Van Dyke, Johnny Lee, David Frizzell, Barbara Fairchild

Feb. 15, 2 p.m.: Country Gould Tour, featuring Leroy Van Dyke, Steve and Rudy Gatlin, Marty Haggard, Bobby Bare

Feb. 17, 7 p.m.: Shawn Scheller and the Contenders

Feb. 18, 7 p.m.: Lauren Mitchell Band

Feb. 19, 6 p.m.: Building 429, opening act: Overflow

Feb. 19, 7 p.m.: Joe Zuniga

Feb. 20, Roots and Boots Tour: Aaron Tippin, Colin Raye and Sammy Kershaw

Competitions and Special Events

Feb. 11: Florida State Fair Cheer and Dance Championships

Feb. 11, noon: Sunshine State Jack Russell Terrier Races

Feb. 12, 2 p.m.: Championship Tractor Pull

Feb. 15-16, 3 and 7 p.m.: Florida State Fair Ranch Rodeo
Feb. 16, noon: Draft Horse Pulls

Feb. 17-18: Vex Robotics Championships

Feb. 18, noon and Feb. 19, 2 p.m.: Winter National Championship Lawn Mower Races.

Free Daily Entertainment
Special Days & Discounts

When: February 9 – 20, 2017

Where: Florida State Fairgrounds – 4800 US Hwy. 301 North, Tampa 33610

Parking: FREE

Tickets Sales: • Purchase online at www.FloridaStateFair.com. Tickets also are available through the Fair box office, website, mail or fax. Call 1-800-345-FAIR (3247)

Wednesday, 08 February 2017 18:21

Festival of Lupercalia

February has long been celebrated as a month of romance, St. Valentine’s Day, as we know it today, contains vestiges of both Christian and ancient Roman tradition.
The holiday's roots are in the ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia (for 800 years the Romans had dedicated this day to the god Lupercus) a fertility celebration commemorated annually on February 15.
Pope Gelasius I recast this pagan festival as a Christian feast day circa 496, declaring February 14 to be St. Valentine's Day.
To begin the festival, members of the Luperci, an order of Roman priests, would gather at a sacred cave where the infants Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, were believed to have been cared for by a she-wolf or lupa. The priests would sacrifice a goat, for fertility, and a dog, for purification. They would then strip the goat’s hide into strips, dip them into the sacrificial blood and take to the streets, gently slapping both women and crop fields with the goat hide.
Far from being fearful, Roman women welcomed the touch of the hides because it was believed to make them more fertile in the coming year. Later in the day, according to legend, all the young women in the city would place their names in a big urn. The city’s bachelors would each choose a name and become paired for the year with his chosen woman. These matches often ended in marriage.
The Roman Empire was experiencing massive turmoil at the time. Dubbed the ‘Crisis of the Third Century’ by scholars, this period saw the empire divide into three competing states, with the threat of invasion all around.
Claudius made the unpopular decision to ban marriage among young people, believing that unmarried soldiers fought better than married soldiers. With the Roman Empire hanging by a thread, Claudius needed all the brazen war power he could get.
This is where Valentine comes in; the pesky priest who believed marriage to be a God-given sacrament. Valentine began officiating marriages in secret but was eventually found out and imprisoned.
According to one legend, an imprisoned Valentine actually sent the first “Valentine” greeting himself after he fell in love with a young girl–possibly his jailor’s daughter–who visited him during his confinement. Before his death, it is alleged that he wrote her a letter signed “From your Valentine,” an expression that is still in use today.
The priest was eventually beheaded and then named a martyr by the Church because he gave up his life to perform the sacrament of marriage: for love of love and love of God.
There was also a conventional belief in Europe during the Middle Ages that birds chose their partners in the middle of February. Thus the day was dedicated to love, and people observed it by writing love letters and sending small gifts to their beloved.
The oldest known valentine still in existence today was a poem written in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt. (The greeting is now part of the manuscript collection of the British Library in London, England.)
Americans began exchanging hand-made valentines in the early 1700s. In the 1840s, Esther A. Howland, a Mount Holyoke graduate and native of Worcester, Mass., began selling the first mass-produced valentines in America, made with real lace, ribbons and colorful pictures known as “scrap.” She is known as the “Mother of the Valentine.”
Although the mid-February holiday celebrating love and lovers remains wildly popular, the confusion over its origins led the Catholic Church, in 1969, to drop St. Valentine’s Day from the Roman calendar of official, worldwide Catholic feasts.
Today, according to the Greeting Card Association, an estimated 1 billion Valentine’s Day cards are sent each year, making Valentine’s Day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year. Valentine’s Day is celebrated in Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France, Australia, Italy and Denmark and Great Britain.

Jennifer VanderWest

Friday, 27 January 2017 06:56

Garden Railroading

Gardening and building model railroads have been popular hobbies for ages. But a recent trend combines these two hobbies: garden railroading.
Garden railroading can be as simple as a railroad track looping around a flower bed, or as complex as a full model of a rail yard. Knowing proper terminology is important for any hobby, so let's start there.
An original full-sized real-life rail car is called the prototype; the miniature model you carry around the backyard is called a model. Many people design their entire garden railroad based on a prototype. Others mix and match rail cars, buildings and landscaping according to their personal taste.
The proportions of rail car models are scaled to the prototype. For example, if one-half of an inch on the model is equal to 1 foot on the prototype, the model is considered half scale and the proportion is written as 1:24. There are numerous railroad modeling scale standards; the G scale is used for garden railroads and is nearly the same as the half scale, at a proportion of 1:22.5.
The gauge of a railroad is the distance between the rails. The standard gauge on prototype tracks is 4 feet 8.25 inches apart. Tracks that are closer together are called narrow gauge. Some prototype railroads had their own particular gauge to suit the terrain and location, such as a custom narrow gauge to go up a mountain.
You can buy different kits to build an entire model railroad based on a specific prototype. If you want your railroad trestle to span the length of your garden stream, you could also design and build your own to make it look like an old wooden bridge from a Western movie. This is called scratch building. Or, scratch build a whole city to surround your scratch built train. Scratch building is more difficult, but worth it.
A third option is kitbashing -- creating a new scale model by taking pieces out of commercial kits to make it look like a scratch build. This gives you a personalized look and a functional sub-structure.
Whether building a garden railroad from scratch or installing it into an existing landscape, the train tracks need to be nearly level. It can slope for a maximum of 3 inches for every 100 inches of horizontal distance. Make wide curves in the track for the train to move right and work properly. I recommend a radius no smaller than 6 feet for garden scale trains.
Many model trains run on the same low-voltage wiring as most garden lighting, but some of them are designed to run on battery packs. Steam trains, alternatively, burn butane or alcohol to create steam.
Some trains run on control systems, just like the old train we remember from childhood, running around the Christmas tree. And there are radio controllers that operate as many as ten trains at once with no wires at all. Remember the sounds of those little trains chugging around the living room? Well, now there are sound systems that re-create those sounds.
Many garden railroaders use dwarf trees, shrubs, ground covers and flowers to create a miniature landscape inspired by real life. Most of the gardening techniques are the same for any flower bed, but the real concern is keeping it all to scale.
If you're following the half-scale model, you'll need a 5-inch-tall model tree to depict a 10-foot-tall prototype tree. Use moss to make model grass and a boxwood shrub for a model oak tree. You'll want to buy plants that grow small -- otherwise, you'll have to prune them often. Plants used closest to the tracks need to look the most realistic; plants farther away can be more generic-looking.

JEFF RUGG

Thursday, 26 January 2017 15:23

'We Must Think Big and Dream Even Bigger'

In all the media back and forth over President Donald Trump's inaugural speech, most have missed a central point: His address was infused with a wonderful sense of optimism.
As an old Ronald Reagan guy, I have learned through the years that optimism equals true leadership. And yes, true leadership cannot be achieved without optimism.
Toward the end of his speech, Trump said, "We must think big and dream even bigger." To understand Trump and his message on Inauguration Day is to appreciate the importance of that sentence.
He then added: "The time for empty talk is over. Now arrives the hour of action. Do not let anyone tell you it cannot be done. No challenge can match the heart and fight and spirit of America. We will not fail. Our country will thrive and prosper again."
All the media's talk about the so-called dark nature of the speech completely obscured these crucial lines.
I don't know about you, folks, but I am tired of all this talk of permanent American decline, secular stagnation, a new normal that dooms us to slow growth, falling living standards, weak middle-class wages and all the rest, you hear it enough that you could almost come to believe it.
Yes, in recent years, the country has fallen into a pessimistic funk. But this is not the America I know. And far more important, it's not the America President Trump wants.
Trump was a change candidate who blasted away at the establishment's failures at the expense of ordinary Main Street folk. And he successfully ran with the simple idea that things can be fixed. And he brought that optimism to his inaugural address.
As he said: "Now arrives the hour of action. Do not let anyone tell you it cannot be done."
Decades ago, when Reagan was elected president, the intellectual consensus was that high inflation, high unemployment and American decline could not be changed. The idea was that the country was ungovernable.
But Reagan put an end to that. He did it with a clear set of easy-to-understand policies to fix the economy and restore American leadership abroad. And he guided that plan into place with his quintessential optimism.
Trump and Reagan are very different people. And Trump's governing style will be nothing like Reagan's. But the underlying principle of optimism is the same.
"Finally, we must think big and dream even bigger," he said. How quintessentially American is that? Can we return to being the proverbial City Upon a Hill? Yes, we can.
For these reasons I believe President Trump has the potential to be a transformational figure. And he is moving fast. His actions and energy in just the first couple of days have been remarkable.
Everywhere he repeats the theme of economic growth with lower taxes and fewer burdensome regulations. The war on business is over. We will reward success, not punish it.
He talks bilateral trade deals that can be enforced. He is freezing federal hiring, proposing to cut government spending $10.5 trillion over 10 years, doing away with Obamacare mandates, getting the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines in place, welcoming a constant flow of visitors from businesses and unions and taking calls from foreign heads of state.
He has set up a meeting with British Prime Minister Theresa May, moving a U.S.-Britain free-trade agreement from the back of the queue to the front.
He is making it clear that he will seek border security, replace catch-and-release with catch-and-deport, institute skills-based legal immigration (rather than family-based), deport criminal illegals and end sanctuary cities.
Following up on his inaugural pledge to eradicate the Islamic State group -- to "unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the Earth," as he said -- he is calling for a military strategy memo from the joint chiefs and backing an allied coalition of ground forces to take the IS stronghold in Raqqa, Syria.
There will be no more containment of IS, but rather the eradication of IS. We have wanted to hear this for years. Trump said it, and he means it.
Finally, conservative journalists are recognized at the beginning of press conferences; Cabinet nominees are getting through confirmation; and Republicans on the Hill are finding they can work with the new president.
In all this -- from strength at home to strength abroad -- Trump is moving at warp speed. And he is keeping to his inaugural pledge that "Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs will be made to benefit American workers and American families."
This is what he ran on. Thankfully, he is not about to change. And that's why he has the potential for greatness.
Right now, I truly wish folks would help him, not seek to harm him. Give him a chance.
We must think big and dream even bigger.

Lawrence Kudlo

Thursday, 26 January 2017 15:21

Police on Front Lines of Mental Illness

Too often, police officers are the ones who suffer when the safety net snaps.
This nation's failure to maintain an adequate safety net for people with serious mental illnesses falls hard on American families, businesses and communities. But law enforcement may bear the heaviest burden of all. With every encounter, officers have to wonder whether they'll be facing someone who is dangerously unstable and potentially violent. That possibility is always high. Among the inmates of the nation's jails, 15 percent of men and 31 percent of women have a serious mental illness, according to a 2015 study by the VERA Institute of Justice.
The last few years' spate of high-profile shootings -- both by and of police officers -- has escalated the tension almost unbearably in some communities. Police are acclimated to keep situations under control, but people with mental illness can be unpredictable, their responses to commands defiant or disassociated. Police are expected to quickly identify aggressors and perpetrators among victims and bystanders, but someone caught in the grip of delusions or paranoia can slide suddenly from any of those categories to another. And most police are motivated by the need to make positive change in their communities. Yet they end up confronting the same individuals time and again, often with only one option, jail, and the knowledge that people they haul to the local jail or crisis unit could be out again within a day.
It's no wonder many officers say they feel a mounting sense of powerlessness and futility. And Florida -- ranked the second-worst state for mental health funding per capita -- does a particularly poor job of supporting Floridians struggling with mental illness.
Those communities and their law enforcement agencies can't afford to pass the buck the way Congress and state legislatures can. Law enforcement leaders are looking for more peaceful and predictable solutions. There is clearly more to be done. Crisis services can help avert an immediate tragedy, but the Baker Act only authorizes treatment until a person is deemed stable. Florida needs better options for those who need longer-term treatment and medication. Services like Stewart-Marchman's FACT team, which provides comprehensive help to people who have been hospitalized multiple times for mental illness, have a good track record of keeping clients safe and out of trouble. But there's often a long wait for an open spot in that program.
Too many Florida leaders still see treatment services as acts of charity or luxuries. Florida law enforcement officials know better: It's a matter of community well-being and public safety, and too often, police officers are the ones who suffer when the safety net snaps. Through training and self-reflection, law enforcement agencies are pushing their officers to treat mentally ill people with dignity and defuse potentially dangerous situations without violence. But until Florida leaders change their priorities, police officers across the state will be trapped on the front lines of a war they have little chance of winning.

Thursday, 26 January 2017 15:18

2017 Wake-Up Call:The Doctor Is Out!

It's not my nature to end the year on such a somber note. Normally, I'm a pop-the-cork, hats-and-horns kinda gal, but this year is a little different. A“little” different? Hah!
So here it is: the single worst bit of health and wellness news as we look at 2016:
For the first time in 20 years, the National Center for Health Statistics reported, life expectancy in the U.S. declined.
This is a uniquely American phenomenon, points out Dr. Peter Muennig, a professor of health policy and management at Columbia University. It's simply not happening in other developed countries.
Out of 43 countries, we are now rated -- hold on to your Dunkin' Donut -- 29th for life expectancy, just a tad behind Korea, Slovenia, Chile and the Czech Republic.
What's making America so sick? For starters, obesity is out of control. It's not getting better; it's getting worse. And that's only the tip of the melting iceberg. Americans are experiencing “rising” rates of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, dementia and -- the latest screw-up by mainstream medicine -- opioid addiction.
All this startling news has been widely reported, but I like to read about it on Mercola.com, where the fearless Dr. Joe Mercola uses evidence-based studies to rail against the corruption and breakdown of the American health care system.
The U.S. anti-obesity campaign is a big fat failure, he writes. I still believe that ex-first lady Michelle Obama deserves her reputation as a force for good in the last eight years, but not only did her anti-obesity campaign not improve the situation; kids are actually heavier than ever, and they are suffering from Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and mental issues in record numbers.
Sick kids -- obese, sedentary or stressed -- become chronically ill adults, and the cost of tending to them will send health costs even higher than they are now, a whopping 17 percent of gross domestic product!
If U.S. doctors and policy makers decided to “reduce” health care costs by reducing “demand” - doctors pushing prevention, not just toxic and addictive drugs -- the country would have more than enough money to fix our schools, renew our infrastructure, and support wellness programs throughout the land.
"More than half of all Americans are chronically ill," Mercola reports. "I don't know about you, but I find this statistic absolutely astounding."
Me, too. Astounding! Especially since the majority of chronic illness is related to lifestyle choices: the amount of exercise you get, how you handle stress, how much you weigh, how much sleep you get, and yes, the amount of processed foods you eat and the beverages you drink.
"The root cause of most health problems can be traced back to a poor diet," Mercola explains. "Most Americans spend the majority of their food dollars on processed foods, most of which contain one or more of the three ingredients that promote chronic disease, namely corn, soy, and sugar beets, all three of which are also typically genetically engineered and contaminated with toxic pesticides."
It's too early to tell what the health policies of a Trump presidency will actually be, but I'm pretty sure that toxic pesticides have nothing to fear. Our food, water, air quality, drugs and household poisons will be subject to less regulation in the coming years, not more. Medicare and Medicaid are under attack, and there is no mention whatsoever of the need to “prevent” illness, not just treat it with expensive drugs that can make you even sicker.
The good news about all the bad news I've just burdened you with is this: 2017 is your wake-up call. Dr. Uncle Sam is doing next to nothing to protect you from rising rates of sickness and death. We have a broken health care system that is more interested in corporate profits than your personal health. More than ever, it's up to you.
And the best news of all is that you can make a difference:
--Move! Move! Move! And stop
sitting so much.
--Eat real food. Maintain a healthy
weight.
--Get 7-8 hours of sleep a night.
--Find healthy ways to release
stress.
--If you don't have one, start a
meditation practice.
Include two or three of these practices in your 2017, and even if the U.S. downward spiral continues, you'll be healthier than ever.
Oh, goodie. I've ended on a high note.

"I wish you love, health, peace and joy in 2017. May the rest of your life be the best of your life."

Marylynn Preston

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