Z- Zombie Preparedness

26 Reasons to Take Your Family Outside -- Zombie Preparedness

Photo adapted from Currens @ pixabay.com

Yes, in honor of the last day of the Blogging from A to Z challenge, I’m going to go there:

ZOMBIES!!

I know, you’re probably thinking that I’m stretching it here by including zombie preparedness in my “26 Reasons to Take Your Family Outside,” but according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, if you’ve got the skills needed to survive the zombie apocalypse, you’re ready for anything.

If you're ready for a zombie apocalypse, then you're ready for any emergency. emergency.cdc.gov

I tend to think those who have some outdoor skills would fare pretty well against the undead.

The CDC includes a list of five things people should do in order to be prepared for a zombie invasion–or any other sort of disaster. Here’s there list, along with my commentary on how outdoor skills make you ready to address these challenges:

  1. Make an emergency kit. If you’re going on an outdoor adventure, my guess is that you’ve got this covered. The CDC recommends water, food, tools, medication, a first-aid kit, clothing, etc., all things that anyone going outside for more than a short time should be thinking about anyway.
  2. Identify the types of emergencies that are possible in your area. If you’re headed out on a hike, whether you’re headed over the hills, through the woods, or across the desert, you’re likely thinking through what you might encounter. While you don’t want to dwell on the bad things that can happen, it’s smart to be prepared for them.
  3. Pick a meeting place for your family to regroup in case zombies invade your home…or your town evacuates because of a hurricane. Okay, so you might not be thinking about evacuating for zombies, but if you’re headed outside, you’re probably thinking about the safety of the people in your party. Smart parents discuss with their young children what they do if they’re ever lost, for example.
  4. Identify your emergency contacts. This is sort of a version of the old buddy system. Most people recognize it’s not a good idea to head out without letting someone know where you’re headed. The outdoors are unpredictable, so we have to be prepared.
  5. Plan your evacuation route. While it’s not always possible, it’s useful to plan a route–and have a Plan B in mind just in case things don’t go as planned. People who spend much time outdoors realize that things change quickly–from unexpected storms to trail closures, sometimes we have to amend our itinerary. Knowing how to get back to the car–or to safety–is important.

Listen to this interview with the CDC as they discuss their preparedness plan and think about how prepared you are for a zombie apocalypse–or any other disaster:

How ready are you??

 

This is the last of my 2016 Blogging from A to Z Challenge posts. Thank you for putting up with my 26 Reasons to Take Your Family Outside throughout the past month! 

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Y- Learn About YOURSELF

25

I can’t believe the end of the 2016 Blogging from A-Z Challenge is almost here. Admittedly, I’ll be glad to see the end of April so I can focus on something other than my blog for a change! That having been said, my first attempt at the challenge has been a great one. I’ve interacted with so many interesting people, and I’ve learned a lot about so many topics. I also learned a lot about my own topic—and about myself.

It’s useful to take a moment to focus on what you learn about yourself through challenges like this one. The definition of a challenge is something that isn’t easy—so why do it? What do you get from it? My guess is that you learn a lot about yourself through challenges. You learn your strengths and weaknesses as well as your stamina. You learn what you’re willing to put up with and what sends you over the edge. You learn that you’re capable of much more than you imagined.

Taking your family outdoors presents similar challenges. It’s not always easy to get everyone off of the couch and out of the house. You quite likely have to set aside other important things in order to make outdoor adventures happen. You could even face the wrath of kids who’d much rather be playing video games or texting their friends than tromping through the woods. I’d like to hope that the rewards—intangible though they may be—make the challenge worthwhile.

At the end of every challenge, it’s beneficial to consider your accomplishments. In the spirit of that sort of self-evaluation and since we’re so near the end of this blogging challenge, I’d like to challenge you to evaluate what you’ve learned about yourself through your most recent challenge—whether it’s an outdoor one, the A-Z Blogging Challenge, or something else.

Five Questions to Learn About Yourself

  • What was my goal in this challenge?
  • How was I challenged?
  • What did I learn through this challenge?
  • How did I grow through this challenge?
  • What can I share with others about this experience?

To be fair, I’ll take up my own challenge and answer these questions:

My goal in the 2016 Blogging From A to Z Challenge was twofold. First, I wanted to prove to myself that I could write 26 posts in a month. Second, I hoped to assert the importance of getting outdoors, something that is rapidly falling out of favor with families these days. I found that writing the actual posts wasn’t tough, but coming up with ideas sometimes was. I didn’t want to be repetitive, and sometimes I couldn’t come up with anything to say on a topic. This challenge definitely taught me to be creative; avoiding repetition meant I had to think about topics from different angles. I learned a lot about the reasons people avoid going outside (myself included). Even more interestingly, I learned so much about topics I knew little about, from printing presses to Queen Victoria and even frogs during the A-Z Challenge. In terms of growth, I definitely got into a consistent habit of writing this month. I tend to procrastinate about writing, doing it when “I have time,” which means it doesn’t happen often enough. The A-Z Challenge added the pressure I needed to be consistent about my writing goals. If I break my writing into achievable goals and stick with them, I can succeed. Finally, I really hope I’ve encouraged people to get outside—just a bit. I know the logistics of getting outdoors present a challenge some days, but the rewards in terms of physical and mental health are great, as I’ve explored this month.

Thank you to all who’ve stopped by and said hello during this challenge. I couldn’t have made it to Y without YOU!

X – X Marks the Spot

26 Reasons to Take Your Family Outside - X Marks the Spot

What is it about the idea of treasure hunting that interests us? Countless books have been written about pirates searching for an elusive treasure. Thanks to their maps, the phrase“X marks the spot” has become synonymous with an advantageous find. Modern-day treasure hunters often use high-tech equipment like metal detectors and sonar to aid them in their quest, but the aim is the same as the pirates of yore. Gold, right? Money, jewels, and long-lost coins top the list of things people are hunting for. Have you ever noticed, though, that even when these treasure hunters find what they’re looking for, they aren’t satisfied? No matter how big or impressive the treasure, the hunters are right back out there trying to find the next big haul.

I think it’s safe to say that while the treasure is great, it’s the HUNT itself that is the best part. Just a couple of weeks ago I read a Huffington Post article about a man in Oregon who found a rare gold coin with his metal detector. When asked about his find, the man responded, “Finding it is better than keeping it.”

If you’re a modern-day treasure hunter and haven’t yet tried out geocaching, it’s time you get your family outside to try out a new hobby. Simply put, geocaching is an international treasure hunt using GPS coordinates to locate geocaches, hidden containers or points of interest. Once you find a geocache, you log your success on a written log within the container and/or on the website geocaching.com (you can create an account on the site for free and even download a free app so you can find your first cache today).

No, you won’t find gold, jewels, or money in these geocaches, but you’ll have the fun of the find.

How to Begin Your Geocaching “X Marks the Spot” Adventure

Now get outside and get hunting! 

W – Wildlife Knowledge

23

The headline caught my attention the moment I saw it last month:

Prairie Dogs Are Serial Killers That Murder Their Competition

What?! I used to live in Colorado, and I fell in love with the cute, social prairie dogs scurrying here and there along the side of the road. I understand that property owners and ranchers out west are not a fan of these critters because of the damage they do by burrowing. They’re just so fun to watch, though! That’s why when I saw that headline on my morning news feed, I had to read more.

Apparently, those adorable creatures are pretty brutal to ground squirrels. They kill them so they don’t have to compete with the squirrels for food. This is particularly interesting because prairie dogs aren’t killing the squirrels to eat them. On the contrary, prairie dogs are herbivores. The fact that they kill ground squirrels not for sustenance but to decrease competition for food caught scientists off guard. That’s not what they expected to find when they studied these animals.

I know the prairie dog example is a gruesome one, but it shows that we’re constantly learning more and more about the wildlife with which we share the earth. Wildlife knowledge is useful in many ways, from pest control to protecting endangered species, from economic advantages to aesthetic ones. The more we learn about wildlife, the more we learn about our own species, too.

There are many ways to introduce our families to wildlife knowledge and wildlife conservation. The following activities come from the National Wildlife Federation:

Wildlife education group Black Snake Productions highlights well the importance of sharpening our wildlife knowledge:

Teaching wildlife conservation through fun and interactive education can be an amazing experience for children. It teaches a child about the awareness on sustainability and the damage to native animals and the environment. As well, teaching kids about wildlife conservation ensures that our beautiful country and its matchless wildlife will be preserved for future generations.

Fortunately, improving our wildlife knowledge isn’t difficult. How many different birds, animals, and insects will you see today? Take a few minutes to Google that bird sitting in the tree or learn more about your family cat. Can you imagine our world without these creatures?

V – Vitamin D

22

We’ve all been told we need to get plenty of Vitamin D, so our bodies can absorb calcium and phosphorous. Jack Charles wrote an excellent article for Eureka Tents in 2014 that clarified some other lesser known benefits of this hormone (yes, I just read that Vitamin D is actually a hormone—who knew?). Zach at All Things Appalachian Trail added a few more benefits to my list:

Vitamin D may…

  • Decrease your risk for heart disease and some cancers
  • Decrease the severity of asthma
  • Decrease your likelihood of depression
  • Decrease high blood pressure
  • Decrease your likelihood for multiple sclerosis (women)
  • Decrease your likelihood of Alzheimer’s
  • Decrease your likelihood of diabetes
  • Boost your immune system

As we’ve all been told, the easiest way to get Vitamin D is to expose ourselves to sunlight—and no, sunlight through a window isn’t the same as direct exposure. Our bodies are designed to function best when we get outside. Yes, it’s true that you can also get Vitamin D from other sources like some fish and even mushrooms, but these sources aren’t as efficient as sunlight.

One of the biggest challenges to the idea of stimulating our Vitamin D production from sunlight is skin cancer. Sunscreen blocks UV rays, which are needed for Vitamin D production. If we don’t wear sunscreen, we risk skin cancer; if we do wear sunscreen, we aren’t able to get our Vitamin D boost from the sun.

Clearly, this is a valid concern—and one we don’t discuss often enough. There are risks to being outside—but there are also risks to staying inside and inactive. Stephen Honig, MD, director of the Osteoporosis Center at the Hospital for Joint Diseases, in New York City, says just 20 to 25 minutes in the sunshine [without sunscreen] is helpful each day. Likewise, Australian epidemiologist Robyn Lucas argued that compared to the severity of problems associated with vitamin D deficiency, some sun exposure is the better option. I’ve read in places that 5-10 minutes of unprotected sun exposure is helpful. HOWEVER, the Skin Cancer Foundation says any unprotected sun exposure is too risky.

I am obviously not an expert in this topic. I like the idea of getting that Vitamin D boost from a natural source like the sun rather than from supplements, but I understand the risks involved. Sunscreen is an important part of any outdoor adventure. Fortunately, even if you avoid any unprotected sun exposure, getting outside will surely result in some Vitamin N(ature), as Richard Louv calls it.

U – Understanding of Science

16 Reasons to Take Your Family Outside - Understanding of Science

Photo adapted from pixabay.com

Why should you take your family outside today?

In short, because there’s so much to learn and understand about our natural world. Kids today spend the bulk of their day in classrooms surrounded by books. Science, however, is a subject best learned in the outdoor laboratory where they can touch, smell, and even break things. The UK grasped this already in 2004, as they noted in a report titled “A review of Research on Outdoor Learning”:

There is growing concern that opportunities for outdoor learning by school students in England have decreased substantially in recent years. In response to this, and recent Government calls for ‘schools to make better use of the outdoor classroom as a context for teaching and learning,’the Field Studies Council (FSC) and several partner organisations commissioned the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) to undertake a review of research on outdoor learning.

The English Outdoor Council goes even further to support the need for outdoor science education in a literature review on the topic: What Does Research Say?

If that’s not convincing enough, listen to foremost astrophysicist, Neil Degrasse Tyson emphasize that investing in science is critical to our society, and letting kids experiment is an important part of that process:

So, it’s clear the experts understand the need for outdoor science education, but what does that mean for our families? It means that we have plenty of opportunities to explore, learn, and understand science right in our own backyards.

Here are some of those opportunities:

Most importantly, take time to reflect on your outdoor learning. Take a page out of the experiential education playbook by asking three reflection questions: What? Now what? So what? Reflection will lead to understanding–and perhaps to more exploring!

S – Sensory Experience

26 Reasons to Take Your Family Outside - Sensory Exposure

Happy Earth Day!

I read a book a couple of years ago titled Room by Emma Donoghue. If you haven’t read the book, perhaps you’ve seen the movie version that came out this year. Either way, the narrator of the story is a five-year-old boy named Jack who has spent his entire life trapped inside a small room with his mother. I won’t get into the details of the story itself, but for just a moment, try to put yourself into Jack’s position.

Imagine what it would be like to be born and raised entirely inside—with your only experiences of nature coming from TV and books (poor Jack doesn’t even have video games). What would it be like to then walk outside for the first time? Shocking, right? But why? Why aren’t those depictions of nature on TV and in books comparable to the real thing?

I wrote about how incredible video game and movie depictions of nature are earlier this month, but this idea has stuck in my head. As beautiful as the world in Avatar is, I’d rather take a swim in a real lake and tug gently on a real willow tree’s branches any day.

But again, I’m back to that question of WHY?

Perhaps it has to do with the fact that no author’s description or computer rendition of nature is truly multi-sensory. Sure, movies engage our senses of sight and hearing. Video games try to go one better by adding in a touch component (although I’ll argue that hard plastic controller isn’t in the same tactile category as petting a rabbit or scooping up pebbles). And I know throughout the years, attempts have been made at creating smell-a-vision, but I can’t imagine a puff of artificially scented air will make me feel like I’m walking through a field of wildflowers. I don’t even want to think about how they’d recreate taste in artificial reality.

The point is, being outside is a 3-D multi-sensory experience that is often copied but can’t be replicated. Perhaps instead of spending time trying to perfect synthetic nature, we should just get outside and experience it firsthand. Remember, poor little Jack from the book Room was trapped indoors. What’s our excuse?

R – Relaxing

26 Reasons to take your family outside: Relaxation

Photo adapted from Unsplash @ pixabay.com

I chose this lovely visual of a person hanging out in a hammock to exemplify how relaxing outside can be. However, if I’m being truthful, I’m rarely relaxing like this when I’m outside.

On the contrary, I tend to be doing something outside, whether it’s washing windows, mowing the law, going for a walk, pushing my sons on the swings, pulling weeds, or a million other things. This past weekend, for example, my husband and I spent two long days doing the yard version of “spring cleaning.” It was anything but relaxing.
I’ve spent most of the past month writing about being active outside, so this idea of relaxing feels a bit counter to that mission. A major reason we go outside is to get moving—not to relax.

With all that in mind, when those moments of outside relaxation do come along, there’s something really precious about them. We took a break from our yard work last weekend, for example, and sat on the swing my husband had just pulled out of the shed. We had a drink, ate a snack, and rested our tired muscles while listening to the birds singing in the trees around us. It was a glorious few minutes!

What is it about nature that allows us to relax and recharge—even if just for a few short minutes? I only have to watch the swans paddling on Lake Michigan or follow an autumn leaf tumbling in the breeze to improve my mood. Vancouver writer Tuija Siepell got it right when she wrote

We love gardens and parks, ponds and water features, playgrounds and sports fields, open plazas, avenues and boulevards. We want more of it because even the smallest green feature lifts our spirits, while the wide open spaces can change our lives

(By the way, you should check out the rest of Siepell’s article for some amazing nature photography.)

I’m not arguing that being outside is always relaxing. However, when those relaxing moments come along, they really are priceless. I hope you find some outdoor relaxing time today!

P – Pausing for Play

16

Photo Adapted from Night Owl @ pixabay.com

I’m supposed to be writing about problem-solving skills today. That was what I told myself when I made my list for the A-Z Blogging Challenge. However, when I sat down to write this morning, all I could think of was watching my sons play outside this past weekend. So, today, I’m pushing the pause button and thinking instead about the value of unstructured play (which has a lot to do with improving problem-solving skills, too).

See, here in Michigan, spring *finally* arrived. After a winter and early spring of temps not getting above 40 degrees (F), the sun came out this weekend and the red in the thermometer shot above 70. We were like people who have been trapped in a dark, wet cave as we walked outside, shielding our eyes from the intense sun we haven’t seen in months. It was glorious!

My husband and I spent the weekend doing yard work—you know, the spring clean-up tasks that seem never-ending this time of year. My sons helped for a short time, but they they got bored (see my earlier post on Imagination for why I find this such a great moment). They went out to their play area, a wooden structure my dad built them surrounded by sand and woods. In a few minutes, they were digging holes (We’re making a mine, Mom!”) and leaning tree branches against a big oak (”Our fort!”). My oldest grabbed a rake to make the front yard of his fort tidy and then called excitedly to show me. Before the weekend was over, they’d played just about every backyard sport they could come up with (anyone for a game of badminton-softball-into a soccer goal?) and replanted some lovely flowers (weeds) into pots to decorate their fort.

At the end of both Saturday and Sunday nights, my sons were filthy, hungry, exhausted—and HAPPY. What more could a parent ask for? I didn’t entertain them or set up fancy games they could play. And neither one once asked to go inside to play with their electronics. They were having too much fun outside playing. They were solving problems with creative solutions.

The benefits of outdoor play have been well documented. This list comes from Head Start Body Start:

  • Become fitter and leaner
  • Develop stronger immune systems
  • Have more active imaginations
  • Have lower stress levels
  • Play more creatively
  • Have greater respect for themselves and others

If you’re into lengthy academic articles (sorry, my kind of thing!), I highly encourage these two articles on the value of outdoor play:

How will you get outside to play today? (And yes, adults need to get outside and play sometimes, too!)

N – Natural Beauty

14

Photo adapted from Sara Juggernaut @ pixaby.com

When I sat down to write my “N” post for the Blogging From A-Z Challenge, I figured writing about nature would be easy. Gaining an appreciation of “natural beauty” seemed like something I could write about without thought. After all, barring a natural disaster, it’s not very often we hear people talk about how ugly nature is. Nature’s beauty is sort of a given. Everyone knows that already. So why would I need to convince people to experience this beauty for themselves. A no-brainer, right?

Then why do so few people get outside and experience nature firsthand?

After some thought, it occurred to me that nature’s beauty has some major competition these days. Check out these examples of what I mean:


What breathtaking scenery! In the 21st century, computers can create the details of the natural world with amazing accuracy. Computers generate rain, animate insects, illustrate the wind, and place viewers right in the midst of it all. Why would anyone bother to go outside when nature can be experienced on a television screen from the comfort of the couch?

Here’s why:

As good as those computers are, they can’t compete with the real thing.

True natural beauty can’t be computer generated. I’ll take hopping from one sun-warmed boulder to the next along Lake Superior over watching it on TV any day. I’d rather lie in the freshly cut grass and stare up through the leaves of an ancient oak tree than pick pixelated flowers in a video game. Take me to the ballpark where I can eat popcorn and come home with a slightly sunburned nose. I’ll take the real thing over the artificial substitute every time.

Now, the million dollar question: How do we get kids to pick the beauty of nature over the electronic version? I’m still working on that…