Aurora Australis?

People close to me know that because of my daughter’s school’s location, I drive 60 miles per day. While during a portion of that my daughter is in the car and we sing “Disney princess songs” at the top of our lungs, my adult time is taken up by listening to podcasts. One of my regular favorites is Stuff You Should Know by with Josh and Chuck. They cover all sorts of random subjects and about a month ago they talked about aurora. From a young age, I was fascinated by the northern lights and I hope when I see them, they are as mesmerizing as I imagine. Now did you know that you can see Aurora not only in Greenland, Finland, Alaska, etc. but also from Melbourne, Australia? Yeah, me neither.

The name “northern lights” that has been made synonymous with aurora seems very deceiving. When thinking about best places to view them, you automatically consider locations closest to the North Pole. Nobody talks about the “southern lights.”

To understand why you can view aurora at both the Arctic and Antarctic points, you have to know a little about their formation. Electrically charged fragments released from the sun hit Earth’s magnetic field and due to its behavior,  the particles are channeled toward a ring around each pole. There, they ionize colliding with various gases mainly oxygen and nitrogen to emit the different-colored lights based on altitude and the current atmospheric composition.
Aurora in New Zealand
The big question stands – why do we call aurora the northern lights? Both happen just as often, are shaped the same and are just as colorful. Josh and Chuck have a theory and I think it’s as good as any – population density. More people live in  areas where the northern lights can be seen and very few close to the visible southern lights. Tasmania’s population is barely more than 500,000; compare that to only Sweden’s more than 9 million people.
Aurora in Tasmania
Knowing this, I have one more reason to visit Australia. And for any of you other aurora enthusiasts out there interested in touring the Land Down Under, here is a handy Aurora Australis forecaster:

Fog – smother or serene?

It’s been foggy in North Texas lately so that spurred me to actually research the subject.

Fog looks simple but it’s apparently pretty complicated and can form in different ways (radiation, advection, evaporation, topographical reasons, etc.)  under a variety of conditions such as daily temperature changes, freeze and hail.

Generally fog is a ground-level cloud containing floating water or ice droplets. While all air around us contains water vapor, warm air can hold a lot of water but once it cools (drops below the dew-point temperature at a particular pressure), it causes the vapor to condense. If sufficient droplets form, fog is created.

My husband calls fog peaceful, I call it eerie and yucky. This was my drive this morning:Fog2

DFW mid cities early January morning fog
DFW mid cities early January morning fog

Looking at the mugginess makes me think of all the liquefied pollution that we are inhaling. The mixture of the fog with toxins in the air such as sulfur and nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and ozone form vehicle emission and general industrialization can lead to many health issues like decreased lung function, coughing, bronchitis and eye irritation. Don’t get me started on the dangers of low visibility on the highway at 70 mph.

If you step out of the polluted city air, however, fog – as my husband notes – can be quite tranquil:

Early morning Ketchikan, AK
Tracy Arm Fjord from the water
Белоградчишки скали (Belogradchishki Skali), Bulgaria
Белоградчишки скали (Belogradchishki Skali), Bulgaria

Fog is a natural humidifier so in clean air can actually aid lung function and weaken asthma symptoms. Fog can create rainbows, bring water to drought regions and grow grapes (?!) (Nebbiolo grapes in Barolo, Italy).

What about you – yay or nay on foggy days?

Let’s Hug … Because Science

In a month full of New Year’s resolutions, many take steps to live healthier, better lives. Apparently an easy way to boost our well-being along with our life expectancy is to simply hug more.

A few nights ago I was in the middle of cleaning up the kitchen and I asked my husband for a hug. He said ‘no’ and to continue what I was doing so that we can get our daughter to bed. That upset me. The very next day I saw this video on Facebook:

Watching it made me think of the reason why I was upset the night before and how much more a hug can do than just it being a simple physical action.

Hugging decreases cortisol – a hormone that is released when you are stressed. It inhibits insulin production and narrows arteries causing an increased heart rate. Decreasing it’s level can improve your blood pressure and immune system responses.

Touch also increases oxytocin and many of you already know some about that hormone – it is made in the hypothalamus, secreted by the posterior pituitary gland and it’s commonly called the cuddle, love or hug hormone. It promotes social behaviors such as trust, relaxation and psychological stability. It can apparently even help your wounds heal faster!

The video above references women as seeing a higher benefit from touch. While some studies suggest that is true, both genders can see considerable gains from hugging.

I just finished watching Love Actually on Netflix and the movie begins with the narrator saying how when you wait for someone at an airport you don’t see the hate and despair that seems to flood our world every day, but love – people greeting each other, tears of joy, gentle touch. So let’s resolve to hug more often and maybe increase our empathy along with our own health and happiness.




Did You Know: Beer & TV Ads

Cheers to the New Year, everyone! Now that I am done with pregnancy and breastfeeding, I am allowing myself a drink here and there and of course on special occasions such as welcoming 2016. I learned something about beer and TV earlier in 2015 and I am finally getting to share it with you.

This may be old news to many, but apparently you cannot drink beer (or any alcohol for that matter) in a TV commercial. If you are like me and have not heard this before, you are probably saying “Nu-uh, I just saw a Bud Light commercial and there was tons of beer drinking going on.” Well, I encourage you to re-watch that commercial, or any other alcohol TV ad, and see if anyone actually consumes the advertised product.

Many have stated (and what I was told initially) that there is a law prohibiting drinking in television commercials. That is false. One cannot, however, consume alcohol in them. Apparently it is a National Association of Broadcasters code. The FCC’s Public and Broadcasting Guide simply states “Congress has not enacted any law prohibiting broadcast advertising of any kind of alcoholic beverage, and the FCC does not have a rule or policy regulating such advertisements.” Other self-regulatory bodies have their own code of practices, such as the Beer Institute, noting that ads should not be targeted to minors, should not encourage irresponsible drinking, etc. NAB has the only regulation about consuming alcohol in TV commercials and it is obeyed.

If you want some more information, check out this newscast reporting on the question “Drink Beer on Camera?”.

The Magic of Mustard

This year has been an interesting journey with me now being 36 weeks pregnant and getting anxious to meet our daughter. Quite to my surprise and joy, pregnancy has been relatively easy and we have been very fortunate with the whole process. Of course, some minor issues have happened and a pretty annoying one has been leg cramps. It’s a horrible feeling to be asleep and wake up to an intense pain in your calf that you cannot do anything to relieve. Throughout the pregnancy, I have striven to take an all-natural approach simply because I know that for centuries women have been pregnant and had babies without needing blood work, genetic tests or sonograms. Naturally, my first step in relieving leg cramps was stretching and that worked OK but it didn’t prevent them from happening. So I decided to search for what alternatives other moms have found.

Just a little research led me to my answer – simple yellow mustard.

Apparently, no one agrees 100 percent why mustard relieves leg cramps and many do not believe in its effectiveness. Some theories suggest that the acetic acid from the vinegar used in the preparation of the condiment helps the body in producing acetylcholine which in a molecule that aids in transmitting information throughout the nervous system, hence improving muscle function. Others suggest mustard helps because it contains magnesium which when deficient in the body could cause leg cramps. Some believe that it’s the turmeric, used by manufacturers to turn mustard yellow, with its anti inflammatory properties that helps relax stiff muscles.

None of these hypothesis have been proven, but I know the condiment works for me. Also, I have noticed that I enjoy certain foods more when my body needs them and while I do not dislike mustard normally, while pregnant, I can eat it with a spoon.

So, next time you get a cramp, give it a shot and let me know if yellow mustard works for you.


In The Right Direction

So I learned the coolest new thing today. My coworker and I were watching some Good Mythical Morning on YouTube and the hosts, Rhett and Link, were discussing a visit home over the holidays. The story revolved around the SUV that Link’s the father-in-law let him borrow while in town and almost running out of gas. Since Link needed to fill up, he began with stretching his neck looking in the mirrors for the gas cap door side. At this point, my coworker looked at me, smiled and said: “You know there is an arrow next to your gas icon showing on which side your gas tank is located.” What?!

Sure enough, that evening when I looked at my dashboard fuel gauge area, there it was:

Gas Tank Location Arrow
Gas Tank Location Arrow

If you ever rent a car or buy a new vehicle or borrow someone else’s and need to fill up, look for the arrow. Chances are it will tell you how to park at the gas station.

As diligent as I am about research, to my disappointment I could not find any information about the Gas Arrow’s beginnings. Many theories are out there; some say that a large company came up with the concept and to avoid legal issues other manufacturers started implementing it without popularizing it. Others hypothesize that someone devised the idea and car makers began realizing it without a standardization process. To support that, you may notice that you may have a Gas Arrow but your car’s manual might not mention it.

Now, if your vehicle doesn’t have the arrow, that can be due to the make or model. Not all cars have them, not even brand-new ones.

In my research, though, I did find a pretty cool way to spread the word – you can buy a Gas Arrow T-shirt here.

Sparking Green Beans

To save money and because it tends to be healthier, I bring my lunch to work just about every day. Today, I had about a cup of frozen green beans that I decided to put on a plate and microwave. When bringing veggies, I typically leave them in the container and “cook” them in it. This was the first time that I added green beans without a cover. As you typically hear some sizzling and popping in the microwave – ice melting, etc. – I didn’t pay attention for the first 20 seconds. However, I figured since I had the microwave at 70 percent, it shouldn’t really do that. Looking in, I saw tiny, silver sparks emitting from my veggies as though there were little pieces of aluminum foil among the greens. Slightly panicky, I took out my plate and saw small black burns on the vegetables where the sparks came from:

My burnt green beans
My burnt green beans

Naturally, this event peeked my curiosity and my trusty Google told me that apparently, I’m not crazy or the only one who this has happened to. Green beans along with some other veggies like green peppers and carrots have low moisture levels. Along with that, they contain multiple minerals such as iron, magnesium and selenium. The microwaves reflect from the metals in the veggies, causing the sparks and burning to appear.

If you use the defrost setting, you might avoid the phenomenon. Cutting the food in smaller pieces and covering it should also help. It is said that the sparks won’t harm your vegetables but they may not cook all the way, and the sparking could damage the microwave’s magnetron – the vacuum tube that generates the energy to heat your food.

In case you’ve never experienced this, here is a short video to show you what the sparks look like; mine weren’t as impressive but just as unbelievable: