Sunday, March 29, 2020

Harvest your own coronavirus salad

Due to coronavirus concerns, a lot of families will be visiting grocery stores rarely if at all, feasting on caches that they had collected prior to the state’s shutdown of schools, non-essential businesses, and gatherings of any size.

While that may work for foods that can keep in cupboard or freezer, it doesn’t for items that perish quickly. Among those are leafy greens. Sooner or later, shut-in families might develop a serious hankering for a salad.

Abstaining from going out in public shouldn’t deny you of a salad. There are plenty of opportunities in your backyard and local forests and fields to harvest fresh leaves. The veritable lockdown of the Empire State coincides with the finest wild salad harvest of the year as many of the young plants greening now have vibrant flavors.

I encourage you to grab a good field guide or use an app to help you identify some of these plants that will allow you to amass some very tasty and very healthy salads.

Dandelion: Many homeowners tend to look at this wonderful yellow flower as a blight upon their lawns and do everything they can to eradicate it. They don’t know what they are missing. The leaves, with their teeth-like indentations that lend themselves to the lion name, are delicious this time of year and can be eaten raw. Closer to summer, they take on a little bitterness that deserves a good boiling. The greens are chock full of nutrition -- Popeye would hate to hear that they are healthier than spinach and are especially heavy in Vitamin A. The roots can also be collected, diced and boiled, adding something akin to a water chestnut to your salad.

Chickweed: If you look around fields and “waste areas” (naturalist-speak for disturbed sites left to grow back to weeds and greenspace) you will find plenty of chickweed in bloom right now. It grows low to the ground in vast colonies, its heart-shaped leaves augmented by tiny white flowers. Compared to most wild greens, it is quite tender and can be eaten raw or cooked only slightly. You can eat the leaves, stems and flowers, so you need not worry about having to over-manicure the small plants. It’s a healthy plant, too, as it was used by settlers to keep scurvy at bay.

Plantain: Not to be confused with cooking bananas that are also known as plantain, common plantain, like the dandelion, is another plant that’s a bane to those who fuss too much over lawn perfection. You will recognize its sturdy, oval-shaped leaves that, come summer, are joined by their flowers that grow on skinny spikes or stalks. By summer their leaves have too woodsy of a flavor but for the next month and a half they are tasty raw or boiled. They are quite fibrous, and have laxative qualities, so they are best had as augmenters to your salad, not as the base green. These so-called weeds are also high in Vitamins A and C.

Dock: This is another plant that green thumbs despise, as it can quickly take over a garden. Its long leaves are powerful things, having more Vitamin C than oranges and more Vitamin A than carrots. They have a lemony flavor to them, so they can help season a salad. If that flavor proves too bitter, they can be boiled or panfried – unlike most greens they don’t lose their bulk when cooked.

There are many more wild plants that can be eaten. Being able to identify them and understand their uses – and risks – could make for great science study for homebound schoolkids and collecting them could present an interesting pastime for lockdowned families – especially those wanting a salad or looking for creative ways to have the kids weed the garden or lawn.

Just because you can’t get to school or the store doesn’t mean coronavirus should stop us from enriching our minds and bodies.

Savor nature’s bounty – enjoy a salad!

From the 30 March 2020 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News

Friday, March 20, 2020

Coronavirus will change how we visit nursing homes and hospitals

I’m sure you saw the rather sad news reports of families peeking into windows and waving at their loved ones who were, for lack of a better word, imprisoned in their Washington nursing home in order to prevent the spread, to the outside world, of coronavirus which had sickened so many residents and workers at that facility, killing 22 in the process.

In a less tragic but still heartbreaking scale this is, in various ways, being played out in nursing homes and hospitals across the country. Almost all of those facilities have suspended resident or patient visitation. Millions of Americans have no means to be in the room with their aged and infirm family members.

It shouldn’t be this way.

But, then again, maybe it always should have been this way.

Especially in regard to hospitals, why have we, with few exceptions, allowed outsiders to come in to see the weak and the ill, potentially as vectors bringing outside viruses to those with compromised health? Or, on the flipside, why would we want to expose otherwise healthy outsiders to the bugs that the hospitalized might be fighting?

Both of those questions have come to the fore in this coronavirus crisis. We don’t want the disease to breach medical containment, on the in or the out.

It makes sense to do that. It’s likely a lesson learned that might redefine the nursing and healthcare experience as we’ve known it. Limitations will become the norm on the other side of this crisis – maybe nursing homes will screen all visitors and limit the number per day; perhaps hospitals will screen, too, while suspending visits under many if not most circumstances.

Despite all the logic in doing so, there are powerful emotional factors to contend with.

How do we not visit the people who helped raise us? How do we not be there for our loved ones fighting for their lives?

We want to be with them.

And, they want to be with us.

There’s something to be said about the positive effects on mental, and even physical, well-being when a day at the nursing home is brightened by seeing the kids or grandkids or when someone hooked up to various machines gets a pick-me-up from a friendly visit.

So, how do we go about addressing the emotional constraints of the coronavirus crisis while at the same time preparing ourselves for the culture change set to come from it?

That’s where modern technology comes in.

Websites and smartphone apps are plentiful that allow for face-to-face conversation – FaceTime; Google Duo; Skype. For many of us, it has become old hat; most Americans have the technological means to communicate that way.

But, those in a facility don’t.

When it comes to nursing homes, many of the residents don’t have the physical ability to manipulate keyboards or touchscreens or the mental ability to remember passwords, contact numbers and all that.

As for hospitals, many of those institutions won’t allow cellular technology in some locations and many of the patients might not be in the mood or ability to navigate technology on their own due to pain, pain killers or physical inability.   

So, the technology needs to be augmented with a little customer service and TLC.

We’re in a war against disease right now, so I know personnel, especially on the front lines, are spread thin but I encourage nursing homes and hospitals to make remote visitation a reality now and into the future. Equip a nurse or porter on each shift, on each floor with a tablet that he or she can use to host face-to-face conversations between patients and their loved ones.

In a world chock full of illness, fear and anxiety everyone will savor the joy to be had by grandparents and parents seeing grandchildren and children, husbands seeing wives, and brothers seeing sisters. It’s not the same as being in the room with them, but it’s a quantum leap beyond talking on the landline -- the loved ones can be seen, smiles and tears can be shared, and, communally as family, the much-needed hope for a better tomorrow for all can be had with that human experience. Those on the inside and those on the outside can raise each other’s spirits by letting everyone know – and showing them -- that everyone is still okay and holding up.   

In hindsight, this should have become the norm over the past few years as video conferencing and calling apps have become ubiquitous. But, it sometimes takes a crisis to make us think differently, act and have the foresight to change policies and procedures.

Hopefully this is one of this changes and soon. Remote visitation can be the present and it will be, for many, the future.

From the 23 March 2020 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News

Friday, March 13, 2020

Negative interest rates would steal from your bank account

Back in 2016, the Bank of Japan shook up the markets when it announced that, for the first time, it would impose a negative interest rate on financial institutions. The move smacked of desperation as the once-proud archipelago continued to struggle against deflation, an economic battle it had waged since the 1990s.

The move didn’t help. In the year that the negative rates were launched, Japan’s growth in gross domestic product was 0.61%. Two years later, in 2018, it was only 0.79%, basically nothing.  

Despite similar failures throughout the history of negative policy, we’re guaranteed more nations and central banks will jump on the bandwagon as what’s looking like a coronavirus-driven global recession intensifies.

Among the countries entertaining such an idea is our own.

For months now, President Trump has been pressuring the Federal Reserve for lower and negative interest rates as economic policy.

Last week, amid declining markets, he ramped up the pressure, taking to Twitter - his sounding board - to say, “Our pathetic, slow moving Federal Reserve, headed by Jay Powell, who raised rates too fast and lowered too late, should get our Fed Rate down to the levels of our competitor nations. They now have as much as a two point advantage, with even bigger currency help. Also, stimulate!”

By “competitors” he must not mean our biggest competitor, China, because their rate is well above ours, currently a smidgen over 4% (we’re at 1.25%). So, he must mean Japan (-0.1%) and the European Union (where the European Central Bank has the rate pegged at -0.5%)

This consideration by the President, and one that’s echoed by Wall Street, proves that the coronavirus economy is and will remain a mess. Policymakers and financiers pull out negative rates only when they feel that all other attempts to resuscitate an economy have run their course. It’s a last-ditch effort. 

They believe that an economy is enticed to grow under a negative interest rate because banks are penalized for holding reserves and, therefore, are encouraged to lend in volume at lower rates and with looser reins. Allegedly, businesses intent on growing or, in this case, resuscitating and recovering will take them up on that offer and investment in people, plant, and equipment.

Given that doomsday scenario, it’s counterintuitive that Trump has been pushing for negative rates for months, even before the coronavirus hit, because businesses haven’t been too keen on borrowing for reasons which he would likely admit he created: Businesses weren’t asking banks for help because they were flush with cash -- the economy was in great shape, consumers were spending and corporate tax rates allowed small businesses to keep more of their money and be less reliant on banks. Main Street didn’t need Wall Street.

And maybe that’s why the push is on. The bankers want relevance again.

When that happens, you’ll pay the price.

The banks will penalize their clients for saving and a negative interest rate will be charged on all savings and checking accounts, and certificates of deposit will become more irrelevant than they are now.

You -- the average account holder – will be charged a fee for keeping your money in the bank. Economists believe that this encourages people to take their money out of banks and spend it, thus exciting the economy.

Any businessperson or head of household worth their salt will tell you this is economic suicide.

It was our nation’s corporations, banks, governments and consumers spending beyond their means and not saving that led to the economic collapse that fed the Great Recession. Here we are just twelve years removed from the start of that horrific event – and heading into another one -- and the “great minds” who are the puppeteers of our monetary policy and economy have magically forgotten that.

Saving is a critical part of creating personal wealth and it’s been the only true financially secure means for a family to set aside money. So, why penalize people for being thrifty and saving and not going back into the old, bad habits of spending like mad?

What would negative interest rates do for the American economy? Would you really be spending more if you were hit with a penalty for saving? Many of you wouldn’t, and you would lose money for that very reason. If you took it out of the bank to forgo losses it’s certainly not safe under the proverbial mattress or in the dying stock market.

Simply put: Negative interest rates are insane.

They would be deadly if they worked according to plan and led people to blow their money and businesses to borrow in unusually-high volume. It would encourage the same behaviors that led to the economic chaos of 2008 and 2009. We don’t need that in this crazy coronavirus economy and whatever comes from it.

From the 16 March 2020 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News