Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Top ten best ever amazing (and surprising) nature facts!

Top ten best ever amazing (and surprising) nature facts!

DK's remarkable Natural History Book
DK's remarkable Natural History Book
I've recently been enjoying reading the nature section of Miles Kelly's Science Encyclopedia, as well as DK's remarkable The Natural History Book. Both are very informative and beautifully illustrated. Here are some incredible facts I'd like to share to help remind you just how amazing the natural world is - it's a real pity we seem to be destroying it!

Older than Civilisation Itself?

'Tjikko': World's Oldest Tree
'Tjikko': World's Oldest Tree
The world’s oldest tree is ‘Tjikko’, a spruce in Sweden. It first prouted nearly ten thousand years ago when Britain was still joined to Europe by the ice age! As for sprouting, lotus seeds have been known to germinate after being buried underground for 400 years!
However, as Tjikko continues to slowly grow, half of the world’s remaining rainforest will be cut down by 2030, while in the past 40 years alone it is believed humans have reduced the world’s flora and fauna by HALF. Tragic.

A Real Flower Bed!

The biggest flower head belongs to the Puya Raimondii plant in Bolivia, which can reach over two and a half meters, meaning the world’s tallest man can lie down on one and still not touch the edges.

Favourite Foods

Tomato - a berry not a vegetable!
Tomato - a berry not a vegetable!
Rice grains are actually grass seeds, and people around the world eat more than 600 tonnes of it every second!
Some people believe tomatoes to be the most popular vegetable in the world, yet they are not a vegetable but a fruit. They are a type of berry. Tomberry anyone?

Animal Communication: Scouse Crows?!?

Lemurs have different types of calls to indicate varying types of danger, such as whether it’s coming from the ground, the trees or the sky (Harpy Eagles like to catch and eat lemurs). Bees ‘dance’ around flowers to tell each other where the pollen is, while crows have 300 different kinds of croaks, though crows from other areas might not understand them (like speaking Scouse in America?).

Dragonfish uses light to attract prey
Dragonfish uses light to attract prey
At the bottom of the ocean, the only light is that which is generated by mysterious sea creatures attempting to communicate, such as the dragonfish or the cookie cutter shark, while the lantern fish’s whole body glows in the dark.

Small but Deadly

tiny pygmy shrew
The tiny pygmy shrew - a deadly hunter
The smallest land mammal in the world is the pygmy shrew. Shrews like to eat slugs, worms, snails and spiders. Yuck!!! They weigh less than 2 grams and are barely 6cm long, including the tail! Apparently, their saliva contains a toxin which poisons their prey.

Powerful Predators

An adult male lion can eat up to 30kg of meat in one ‘sitting’ – then doesn’t need to eat for several days afterwards. I wish I could do that!

nile crocodile
Nile Crocodile - easy to 'shut up'
A Nile crocodile has one of the most powerful bites in the world, at an astonishing 2000kg per square cm! However, the muscles they use to open their mouth with are so weak that you can hold it shut with an elastic band.

Bat-tastic Bat Caves

Mexican free-tailed bats form some of the largest colonies in the animal kingdom, numbering up to 10 million in a single cave!!!

'Lazy Tree Huggers'

koala bear baby mother's back
Koala bear baby on its mother's back
A baby koala spends the first half year of the lives in their mother’s poach, then another half year on her back. After that, they spend the rest of their lives sleeping for 18 hours a day. Nice.

High (and fast and far) Flyers

Ruppell’s vulture flies higher than any other bird, at up to 37,000 feet – which means you might even see one when looking out of an airplane window. Arctic terns fly the farthest, covering 40,000km a year and reaching nearly 1,000,000km in a lifetime! The fastest bird is the peregrine falcon which swoops down on its prey at speeds of over 300km per hour!

Reptile Skin – something we have in common!

Gecko giving a 'hi 5' with its sticky toes
Gecko giving a 'hi 5' with its sticky toes
The skin of reptiles is made of the same stuff as our finger nails – keratin. Speaking of reptiles, the beloved gecko (I say beloved because they eat mosquitoes) has about half a million tiny hairs on the skin of each of their feet, and on each of those hairs are thousands of microscopic ‘stickers’ hence their ability to walk on walls and even ceilings.

David Attenborough: Arkive
David Attenborough: Arkive
I hope you enjoyed learning something from these amazing facts. Nature is truly wonderful. I hope you can enjoy any nature around you, even if it's just a bird in a tree or a 'mooch' around a garden.
If you want to see more, perhaps visit a zoo or natural history museum, like the fascinating Clore Centre in the World Museum, Liverpool. Or if you prefer to discover things from the comfort of your own home, you can learn all kinds of things at the great David Attenborough's nature website, 'Arkive'.

If you have any other cool natural facts, please share them with us...

Thursday, 12 March 2015

How to write Poetry the quick and fun way: 'The Ten Minute Poetry Challenge'!

Writing Poetry the quick and fun way:

The Ten Minute Poetry Challenge!

I stumbled upon a poem called ‘Good Books’ by Edgar Guest while sitting in my dentist’s waiting room this morning and it made me realise something: I haven’t written - or even read - a single poem in ages!

So, while I was sitting there I invented the ‘Ten Minute Poetry Challenge’ (well, I’m sure I’m not the person first to really invent it, but anyway ;-):

It involves having 30 seconds to quickly think of a topic and decide on which type of poem you’re going to write, and then use the rest of the ten minutes to actually write the poem. Try to give yourself at least a full minute before the end to read through and check for any grammatical errors. Then think of a title and hey presto, your poem is born!
And remember, while you are writing poetry, you are a poet. Maybe not a professional one, but at that moment you’re a poet nonetheless!

Here is my effort from the waiting room earlier today, called ‘Remember Your Shadow’:

Shadows are scary when you don’t know
What they belong to or where they’ll go
They change shape throughout the day
They have no name but they never stray
Yet they disappear in the dark
And it’s difficult to see one from a shark
Shadows follow you around the park
But they never ever leave a mark
You’re never alone when you’re with your shadow
But people forget, or just don’t know
Sometimes they walk right over it
Even if they didn’t mean to do it
You can make your shadow climb the wall
Or use it to make your hands into a ball
Watch it grow across the hall
Rise up to the ceiling, then quickly fall
Shadows can change
You can watch them rearrange
They can warn you
They can cover you
They can shelter you
They can scare you
Some have two heads
They can even have three legs
Others look like giant birds
Or like buffalo travelling in herds
Well, my ten minutes have now passed
No more shadow poetry will I cast
After reading this, please remember your shadow
It’s the one thing that sticks with you, wherever you go...

If you think this one isn't so bad, there a couple of 'bonus poems' I spent more than ten minutes on in my 'Smell of Poo' Children's Story Book Collection, here:

'The Smell of Poo' poems: 'Your Poo & You' + 'Who Dunnit?'
'The Smell of Poo' poems: 'Your Poo & You' + 'Who Dunnit?'

Coming from Liverpool, I’ve always been aware of poetry and a ‘poetry scene’, but it takes courage to recite your own work in public, which many talented people do here. Here’s what happened when writer Marcel Theroux – son of acclaimed travel author PaulTheroux and brother of brilliant TV journalist Louis Theroux – came to Liverpool to write and perform some poetry:
Marcel Theroux tries live Poetry in Liverpool
Marcel Theroux tries live Poetry in Liverpool

liverpool poets poetry scene
Liverpool Poets

Here are some other links that might help inspire you:

Why not have a go at the ‘Ten Minute Poetry Challenge’ and share your work here? You can do it anywhere, whether in your break at work or school, while sitting on the sofa at home, or even when you stop along the way outside wherever you are, be it a park, cafe, stadium, you name it!

Let your surroundings inspire you. You don’t even have to read it to anyone, just have fun with it, it’s a great creative outlet – though the trickiest thing can be rhyming, in which case you can cheat a little by visiting here:

poetry poems rhyme zone
Find a rhyme at the Rhyme Zone

If you want a few hints and tips, go to the ‘For Poets’ page to help start you off...

writer's guide to Poetry
The writer's guide to Poetry

Take care, enjoy, and happy writing!!!

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Top Ten Tips for Meditation

Top Ten Tips for Meditation:

meditation tips guide stress therapy
Meditation - not as simple as it sounds..!
Recently the woes of the world have been playing on my mind. An unfair society, violent crime, worries over loved ones, and so on. I’m usually quite ‘happy go lucky’ – but in a world that at times can be so cruel, it’s not always easy! So recently a good friend of mine recommended I gave meditation a go. It sounded a good idea and once I looked into it, I wondered why I’d never really tried it before.

Everyone has a ‘cross to bear’, yet most of us never seem to have the opportunity – or rather the patience – to meditate.  Personally I’ve always used exercise or hanging out with friends to escape from any deeper concerns or issues I might be having, but that is still just an escape and lately it hasn’t quite been doing the trick.
meditation tips guide stress therapy

However, my first attempt at meditation was a bit of a disaster – in fact I had to quit before I went mad! It seemed that the more I tried to ‘empty my mind’, the more negative nonsense kept popping into it. I suppose if it was easy we’d all be doing it and the world would be a better place. Still, I’ve tried to keep going and have actually been having some very mind-opening experiences of late, especially at night when I end up just looking at the stars for a while after the meditation – feeling more ‘at one with the universe’ if not with the planet I’m actually living on!
meditation tips guide stress therapy
Meditation can open your mind while calming it down...
Anyway, I’ve been researching it online and tried to ‘boil it down’ to the most useful tips I could find. Handy links with more detailed guidance follow on below...

1)            Sit still and tall

You need to be comfortable but not too comfortable because you still need to be aware of your surroundings and not in danger of dozing off!

2)            Relax

Close your eyes and scan through the different parts of your body, from your toes to the top of your head, relaxing each one and then moving on to the next. Remember, nobody expects anything from you in this process, ideally yourself included.

4)            Breathe 

Breathe naturally until fully inhaled / exhaled: ‘follow your breath’ in your mind.

3)            Cleanse your 'chakras'

Breathe in the ‘clean energy’ from the Earth. Breathe out anxiety and stress. Purify your chakras by doing this with each one (see the link about chakras below if you’re not too sure about this part). The position (apparently) of your Chakras:
                              Tail bone (root chakra)
                              Middle eye         
                              Top of head
                   Keep your palms open, supposedly that’s good for energy flow...

 5)            Remain silent

Be aware but don’t react to or try to change anything. If you hear a sound, don’t ‘name it’ in your mind.

6)            Repeat your 'mantra'

Repeat your mantra with each breath. For example, “I am breathing in / I am breathing out”, or “Let it go” or whatever you like, but keep it simple...

7)            Keep a calm mind

Don’t dwell on any thoughts that may pop into your head. You can acknowledge them, but then just continue focussing on your breathing and your mantra if you’re using one. Keep an ‘empty mind’ – this is the greatest challenge for me, the more I try to relax (‘trying’ to relax is probably the problem) the more silly or stressful thoughts pop into my head – even more than usual! But anyway, don’t give up, a new calmness might end up taking you by surprise...

meditation tips guide stress therapy

8)            'Wake up' slowly...

When you choose to ‘wake up’, slowly wiggle fingers and toes, and then gradually get up.

9)            Find the time 

Find the time to do this every day – even if it’s for just 5 minutes. It sounds easy, but I’ve found it takes more self-discipline than I ever expected!

10)         Find a place

meditation tips guide stress therapy
Meditating in nature - as ideal as it seems?
You can supposedly meditate anywhere – ideally in nature. However, that might not be so realistic for some people. Even if you do find a place where nobody disturbs you, you might still feel a bit silly if you’re not in the comfort and safety of your own home. I tried to sit on a hill by the sea the other day, it was great for a minute or so but then I kept on imagining somebody creeping up behind me! Then again, I guess I didn’t help myself by watching ‘Constantine’ – a spooky TV series about a Liverpool trickster with supernatural powers –   just before heading off to meditate!

john constantine hellblazer liverpool
Constantine - probably not the best thing to watch just before meditating!
I know it all sounds very nice and healthy but it's actually been quite a challenge of sorts. If it’s difficult for you too, all I can really say is follow the steps and don’t give up! What’s the worst that can happen from trying this anyway..?

Of course, if you’re still struggling and there’s something that’s really bothering you, perhaps meditation isn’t the way to go? You could try counselling, such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (there’ll also be a post on this sooner or later – once I finish the course!), or even try taking some action over your perceived problems if at all possible – you might just surprise yourself..!

meditation tips guide stress therapy
Good advice...
Incidentally, if you need to meditate to help you relax before falling asleep, this ‘blue energy technique’ seems quite good (though I’m yet to find a good method to help me get back to sleep in the mornings – if you know of any, please share it in the comments section below!).

Here are some other useful links on the practice of meditation, including advice from esteemed thinkers such as Ekhart Tolle and a guru of Vipassana:

For books on Meditation, here are a few suggestions:

'25 best Books on Meditation' (Amazon)

mindfulness meditation williams amazon
'Mindfulness' comes highly recommended
If you have children and they are disturbing your attempts to meditate, why not encourage them to read one of my kids' stories while you practise (there's even a set of 'follow-up' questions for them to answer after each one, so you can read their answers when you're both done ;-):

funny children's poo book allerton
Distract your kids with a book while you meditate!
If you're still finding it difficult to escape the 'reality' of everyday human existence, consider this: On Earth, you are presently spinning around at 1700 km per hour, while the Earth is orbiting the Sun at 108,000 km per hour. The Sun in turn is orbiting around the Milky Way galaxy at 790,000 km per hour (on a journey that takes around 200 million years to complete just one orbit), while the Milky Way is rushing through space at around 3,600,000 km per hour. It's all a bit hard to imagine while you're 'sitting still', but it provides a very different perspective does it not?
You're moving faster than you can imagine
Anyway, I hope you found these hints and tips useful. A peaceful mind makes for a more peaceful world – hopefully... Good luck.