Tornado drills are a joke.

How about practicing elsewhere?

As a girl who’s always lived in Missouri, tornado drills have always been a part of my life. I could tuck my head under a desk in my sleep (it’s the bus fire drills that always left me queasy). Having been in a couple of tornados, I can vouch for the ineffectiveness of the drills themselves. They’re pretty much a joke.

For starters, those hallways that we have in schools and those desks we have to cower under do not exist in real life! So forget curling up under/next to them during a real tornado. Secondly, there’s no teacher telling you what to do—and instead of some idiot hurling spitballs at you, there are crying toddlers scared of the storm. It’s a much more different environment than you might think! Here are a couple of places where we experienced real tornado warnings—I highly recommend practicing at any of them, as well as at home.

The movie theater. We were in the middle of watching Kung Fu Panda when this happened. We all filed out and were unable to get out to our cars—not that we’d want to-so we were to line up along the dimly-lit walls, cuddled over our children as we listened to the siren blare and the winds scream outside. This gave me lots of experience in calming my child—which came in handy during the next two scenarios—but it also made me realize that disaster preparedness is probably 80% about just being flexible and savvy enough to keep a clear head during a disaster.

The store. Last year we were stuck at the store the weekend before Easter during a tornado that went right past us. It was terrifying—loud and angry and everything you’d think a tornado might be—and some people just kept right on shopping, even though we were directed to the center of the store! I huddled in the floor with my daughter in my lap, ready to cover her with myself, attempting to keep her calm during the scariness of it all, which wasn’t easy. But I certainly learned a lot from it.

The museum. This happened just yesterday—a tornado was sighted in north county, which was far enough away from us where it probably wouldn’t hit us, but you never know; plus, it was the nature center’s policy to duck and cover per any warning. So we were in the basement, pretty much just chilling, and my daughter was much more level-headed than she’d been at the previous two warnings, which just goes to show that experience can also help a lot. Together we were able to calm a couple of other children down as well, which gave us both a lesson in staying zen during a storm.

Harmonizing with the Power of Nature

We all have stress in our lives, some of it avoidable, much of it inevitable. Maintaining an inner sense of peace is essential to a harmonious and joyful lifestyle, and it can be difficult to prevent stress from throwing us off balance. Getting in tune with the natural world can help you relax, regain your center, and boost psychic abilities.

Try these easy ways to tune in and turn on to the power of nature:

Everyday Places: Begin getting in touch with nature through the everyday world all around you. Even in the heart of the big city, nature can still be appreciated if you seek it out. Does your daily routine take you past any trees, grass, or other plants? If so, enjoy it! Touch, smell, look, feel—take some time to appreciate the beauty and natural energies of the plants around you. Place your hands on the ground and let worries flow out. Let intuitive insights and rejuvenating power flow up from the earth and into your body, mind, and soul.

Enjoying the Animals: Animals are naturally attuned with the rhythms of the earth, and being compassionate to the furry and feathered friends in your world can do a lot to enrich your enjoyment of life and put stresses in perspective. Do you take time each day to really enjoy your pets? If you don't have any pets, consider volunteering at a local shelter, or offer to walk a neighbor's dog. In addition to being nice to domesticated animals, try befriending the wild animals, too. Share nuts, seeds, or fruit with the squirrels and birds—just do so in moderation so you won't interfere with their natural abilities to find food on their own.

These simple activities might already be a part of your everyday routine. If so, being more conscious of the benefits will enrich the experience. If you don't already make time in your life to tune in to the natural world, why not make 2012 the year to put your spirit in harmony with the earth and take your soul to new heights of a peaceful and compassionate existence in perfect balance with Nature's endless song?

Disaster Zones Like Chernobyl and Fukushima Result In Human-Free Ecosystems

Nearly nonexistant on the globe anymore, a fully diverse and unaffected ecosystem is a prime research area.

The tragedy of the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan has reminded us of the dangers of nuclear power as we continue to grow in size, and the demand for cheap energy continues to expand with us. Other incidents like Three Mile Island and Chernobyl have likewise served as a reminder that there is a cost to progress. However, there has been an unintended benefit to these now uninhabited radioactive sites, as Dr. Barry Star elaborates on QUEST Northern California.

We imagine an area like Chernobyl to be a desolate place, devoid of life or at least a twisted and misshapen landscape. Chernobyls meltdown caused thousands of deaths and has contributed to cancer, illness, and premature death in tens of thousands more cases. Initially, it also caused a massive die-off of plants and animals in the surrounding ecosystem. However, even as the radioactive levels remain too high to once again repopulate with humanity (although that has started to happen regardless), animals and plant life have resurged in the area.

Around Chernobyl wolves have returned to nearly their pre-human levels, along with beavers and other species. In fact, the biodiversity has proven to be something worth studying for scientists to get an idea of what an ecosystem looks like free of human intervention. One may be asking, “But aren’t the animals sick? How can they live there?” It’s a question of perception. To humanity, who fear for their children developing thyroid cancer, or birth defects, it would seem a hell to live in a as-of-yet radioactive area like that around Chernobyl. However, as Star points out, “It is a chance to live a life without human interference.” The species actually seem to be doing fine despite the radiation. There are higher instances of birth defects and a slightly lowered life expectancy in many species inside the area than those in surrounding areas, but overall the background radiation isn’t significantly affecting their numbers.

Similar cases of natural resurgence are apparent in areas like the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea. This area, stricken with landmines and off-limits to the human population (at least those that care about being shot at) has become a kind of safe haven for species seeking respite from the constant threat of human activity. The result is something that is almost eradicated on the planet anymore, an intact ecosystem free of human intervention or activity. No planes, no hunters, no subdivisions, roads, traffic noise, or artificial light; a nearly pristine environment (aside from the radiation and landmines of course), that gets along fine, even better, without us.

How to Stay Safe When It's Cold Outside

It's officially the first week of winter and some snow is finally appearing on the weather map. With that fact in mind and the recent blizzard out west, I've done some reflecting on how to properly plan for an outdoor excursion into cold, snowy weather for reasons including exercising, taking part in a winter sport and playing with children out in the elements.

 

Pick out clothes you can layer while you're getting dress as this will help you stay warm and protected while you're outside. Later, you can remove the layers when you start sweating but will have the needed gear to stay warm. Experiment until you find the right combination to wear outside while you're active. Wear shoes with good traction to prevent slips and falls from happening during wet or icy conditions.

 

Don't forget about your hands, feet and ears because these body parts are vulnerable to cold weather and wind, which can lead to frostbite, according to the Mayo Clinic's website in an article titled “Exercise and Cold Weather: Tips to Stay Safe Outdoors.”

 

Factor in changing weather before you head outside if the forecast calls for extreme wind chills or rain and wait until these conditions dissipate before scheduling your favorite outdoor activity. Cold rain and wind chills can penetrate through clothes, causing your body's core temperature to lower.

 

Learn the symptoms of frostbite and hypothermia to prepare for the potential hazards that crop up in extreme cold weather. Frostbite signs include numbness, tingling or you can't feel the affected body part. Hypothermia causes speech loss, excessive shivering, uncoordinated movements and tiredness. Seek emergency medical care for signs of frostbite if any area of your body goes numb as a result of cold weather. Head straight to the nearest hospital if you suspect you or a loved one shows signs of hypothermia.

 

Keeping these cold weather tips in mind will help you dodge the majority of problems associated with outdoor activities during the winter months.

 

Yellow Blooms That Add Cheer During the Winter

Winter Blooming Flowers

I'm lucky, in some ways, that I live in Florida where birds sing and flowers bloom year round. I have, however, visited the northern areas of the United States on several occasions during winter. When ever I spent too much time in the snow I missed the greenery of Florida. This fact lead me to want to find out if any flowers grew wild up north during winter. After clicking through a couple of “Google” pages I found one that does grow up north, even in the southern region of Canada.

The Winter Aconite (Eranthis hyemali) grows in USDA plant zones three through seven. This means that even those who live as far north as Canada can enjoy this wonderful yellow flowering plant with deep green leaves. The Winter Aconite is known to bloom in February but the majority of plants flower during March, at the very beginning of spring. I have heard it reported that some gardeners and observers of this plant, that is relating to buttercups, see the yellow buds begin to grow beneath the snow.

 

Winter Anconite grows wild in locations throughout Europe where it mixes with buttercups and daisies, depending on the specific location, according to aboutflowers.org. This website reported seeing blooms appear at Christmas in parts of Italy. Which means that, given a somewhat warmer climate, the plant can produce buds when other flowers couldn't survive the temperatures typically seen in the middle of December.

 

Gardeners from USDA plant zones three through seven can plant Winter Anconite in full sun to partial shade. The Missouri Botanical Garden website recommends planting in soil well-drained, partially moist organic soil. Find a spot where the plant will enjoy full sun while the flowers bloom and will sit in the shade once the trees regain their leaves during the spring. The flowering plant needs an adequate amount of moisture throughout the year. Wet down the tubers the night before you plant them. Place them in the ground 2 to 3 inches deep and 3 inches apart during the planting season of late summer to early fall.

 

One of the key facts I've heard about the Winter Anconite is that you don't need to pay it much attention once it's in the ground. These plants are hardy and can do very when left alone.

 

 

How to Identify Bear Tracks in Winter

Black and Grizzly Bear Winter Tracking Guide

I always find it interesting how some animals scurry around during the winter, especially bears that people typically think of as a hibernating mammals during the cold months. Black bears still forage for food on warmer days as far north as North Carolina in the southestern U.S. Grizzly bears in the Yellowstone National Forest wait until late December to start their hibernation. Black bears will sleep for long periods of time in the southeastern Appalachian mountain range but will wake up during streches of warmer weather.

Identifying bear tracks is a favorite pastime of mine as long as the bear isn't somewhere nearby. Seeing a fresh snow fall with tracks on it is the best way to tell which animal is which. It is important to note that bears have 5 toes with claws. However, you may not always see the fifth claw when studying their tracks.

 

Look at any decently sized shallow marks in the snow to see if they are the work of a bear.  This type of animal steps with flat feet which sometimes makes it harder to determine whether or not you are looking at an actual footprint, even in the snow. The shallow groove gives you the chance to further identify the marking as a bear track that you otherwise might have missed.

 

Find a bear trail while you're out identifying bear tracks. The bear trails tend to have growth over the tops of them and are narrow and may resemble a tunnel made of brush.

 

Locate four paw prints, appearing in sets, at a 45 degree angle away from where the animal moved. If you see this type of marking in the snow it's the work of a bear.

 

Note the difference between grizzly and black bear paw prints. Black bears have short claws with spaces between them while a grizzly's claw can grow up to four inches. Toes that appear uniformed are likely that of a grizzly bear.

 

Study the trees around where you're walking. Both black bears and grizzlies climb trees. Black bears in the southeastern U.S. prefer to hibernate in the deep grooves found in some trees. Bears also use trees to mark their territory. If you come upon a tree with one inch grooves that run down the trunk and stand about six feet high, you are more than likely looking at a bear territory marking. Claw marks on trees indicate that a bear has climbed up the trunk.