Thoughts and assorted philosophical musing about: Family, Friends, Fun, Hobbies, & other everyday things.
My continuing efforts to serve as a First Sergeant (Top) in the Army of God.
My latest interest is in Letterboxing.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Winter and Winter and Winter and Winter

This morning I took Donna in to her Eye Doctor's office for a followup on the surgery she had yesterday morning. In a repeat of when she had the first eye worked on ten days earlier, we were forced to slip and slide our way over during another of the most sever snow storms to hit our region in years. The checkup went well and everything seems to be OK.

This year winter storms have followed winter storms. It seems that we are reliving these episodes of snow over and over and over again. I hope we are not faced with the six more weeks of winter which is "forecast" when the ground hog sees it's shadow. At any rate these seemingly endless storms really make the repeating theme of the Groundhog Day movie seem appropriate.

The Groundhog day movie has become a neoclassic. People watch this 1993 film over again every year. Some just for the fun of it or because of it's over and over theme. But for others it is a reminder that people can change for the better.

To summarize the plot Phil, an obnoxious big-city weatherman is sent with his attractive, but distant producer Rita to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania for Groundhog's Day. The action really starts when Phil wakes up the next day to discover that it is Groundhog Day all over again. Incredulously, he relives most of the same events he went through the day before, then falls into bed exhausted and confused. The next day is Groundhog Day again. And so is the next day. Phil catches on and begins acting out his frustrations and using people, knowing he'll have no consequences. But, eventually boredom and Phil's failure to make any headway with Rita convince him that "all is vanity."

Finally, two factors change Phil's attitudes. First, he learns compassion through an old vagrant who dies in the street late at night, moving Phil to try to save him from that fate. But the deepest change comes as Phil falls into real love for Rita. Rita awakes every day disliking the Phil she knew yesterday. While he realizes a little more every day just what Rita could mean to him if only he deserved her.

Phil has already pretended to change. But when he realizes he really needs to change he does. He learns to play piano. He reads good books. He even starts becoming kind to other people. By the movie's end, compassion and love have motivated Phil to become the person that he should have been all along. Apparently, all he needed was a little encouragement and an infinite number of tries to get it right. Too bad we don't get the same number of "redoes" in life. Or do we? Couldn't every day be a bit of a "redo" if we wanted it to be?

One aspect of the movie theme is that if you just work on becoming a better person one day at a time, you eventually will become a better person. This concept of "incremental self-improvement" fits in with the traditional themes of the holiday. All of February 2nd's other themes look forward. Candlemas ends the liturgical Christmas season and looks toward the Easter season. Emerging wildlife, fresh-plowed fields, pregnant livestock, and even spring cleaning celebrate spring's "rebirth."

Here I offer some thoughts on applying the idea of personal renewal.

What about taking one part of your life that could stand improvement and working on that, a little bit every day for a year? Instead of making a list of New Years' resolutions you can't keep, using a metaphor that is appropriate for the feast day, light One candle. You are lighting one candle at a time, and not trying to keep a whole candelabra going until you're ready for it. Next year you add another candle, and so on. Maybe each day you could do one unsolicited nice thing for a family member. Or learn one new word in French, or read one chapter of the Bible, or do one physical exercise, or write one line of a poem, or send one note of encouragement to a friend, or say one kind word to one stranger.

You May Need Help for the Big Stuff. I do, in fact, it's only through the grace of God that I make any appearance at all of progress. But that doesn't let me off the hook of striving to become a wiser, kinder person. As Saint Peter wrote: . . . make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. Another way of summing it up might be: If it's too hard to muster up compassion, start with kindness. If it's too hard to muster up kindness, start with courtesy, which you can control, if you've half a mind to.

What areas of your life could stand a little self-improvement? Could you learn a new skill, or share a skill with someone else? Would it hurt you to turn off the television and pick up a good book? Will the world really be a better place if you hold the door open for strangers, help your wife with the dishes, replace some of your television time with some good reading, and learn to play the harmonica? Of course, you already know the answer.

If nothing else, becoming a better, and a better-rounded person will give the people you love a fighting chance of loving you back. No, this isn't a "stairway to Heaven." But it is a way to make life on earth a little better for those around you and eventually for yourself too. Choose this year's candle carefully, prayerfully. God grant you and your loved ones grace and a spirit of generosity and service this season.

On a much lighter note, you may have noticed that one of my favorite subjects is food. Yep, I'm an foodie While looking around for a hearty and unusual chili recipe that would be good for a Superbowl/Groundhog Day/Candlemas gathering I found this one at Penzeys Spices that really sounds yummy to me.

And now I will once again put out the challenge!
My first posting "Chuck this Weather" contained the following opening lines.

Q: Who ya'gona call!

A: Snow buster Chucky!
Of course you did recognized that as a play on the "Ghostbusters" theme, Right!

So what is the connection between Ghostbusters and Groundhog Day?
I still have not received a correct response.

If you think that you know, send me email with your answer!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Hog Heaven

This morning I took Donna in to have a cataract removed from her right eye. The left eye had been done a few weeks ago and was very successful, with no complications. The surgery today also went well, but she has a bit more pain and swelling this time. We will see the doctor for followup tomorrow and then she is supposed to return to work on Wednesday. She needs our prayers.

The weather is still keeping us cooped up inside. I have a few letterboxes that I want to plant, however I can not place them now without leaving a trail in the snow. The world will just have to wait for for the opportunity to locate my new offerings.

But let me get on to today's primary subject. There is a quite little town in Pennsylvania that has become Hog Heaven, Groundhog heaven that is! For many years It has been the site of one of America's most unusual celebrations. In fact it's name is almost synonymous with the event. Of course I am talking about Punxsutawney the home of Phil the prognosticating woodchuck, or as this animal is known locally groundhog.

In 1723, the Delaware Indians settled Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania as a campsite halfway between the Allegheny and the Susquehanna Rivers. According to the original creation beliefs of the Delaware Indians, their forebears began life as animals in "Mother Earth" and emerged centuries later to hunt and live as men. The name Punxsutawney comes from the Indian name for the location "ponksad-uteney" which means "the town of the sandflies." The name woodchuck comes from the Indian legend of "Wojak, the groundhog" considered by them to be their ancestral grandfather.

When German settlers arrived in the 1700s, they brought a traditional feast held on February 2nd, known as Candlemas Day. Superstition held that if the sun came out that day, it meant six more weeks of wintry weather. If the sun made an appearance on Candlemas Day, an animal would cast a shadow, thus predicting six more weeks of Winter. Germans watched a badger for the shadow. In Pennsylvania, the groundhog, was selected as the replacement.

The earliest known American reference to Groundhog Day is a February 4, 1841 entry in Morgantown, Pennsylvania storekeeper James Morris' diary..."Last Tuesday, the 2nd, was Candlemas day, the day on which, according to the Germans, the Groundhog peeps out of his winter quarters and if he sees his shadow he pops back for another six weeks nap, but if the day be cloudy he remains out, as the weather is to be moderate."

Pennsylvania's official celebration of Groundhog Day began on February 2nd, 1886 with a proclamation in The Punxsutawney Spirit by the newspaper's editor, Clymer Freas: "Today is groundhog day and up to the time of going to press the beast has not seen its shadow."

The groundhog was given the name "Punxsutawney Phil, Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators, and Weather Prophet Extraordinary'' and his hometown thus called the "Weather Capital of the World.'' His debut performance: no shadow - early Spring. The legendary first trip to Gobbler's Knob was made the following year.

The production of the "Groundhog day" movie helped to implant this otherwise obscure event in popular culture. While, early observances of Phil's predictions were conducted privately in the wooded areas that neighbor the town. Today's celebration sees tens of thousands of visitors from all over the world await Phil's annual appearance.

Pictures of the event often include guys in the top hats and topcoats. These gentlemen are known as the Groundhog Club's Inner Circle. They're a group of local dignitaries responsible for carrying on the tradition of Groundhog Day every year. They are not only responsible for planning the events every year, but also for the feeding and care of Phil himself!

Phil lives high on the hog (pun intended). He is housed, feed, and cared for throughout the year, along with his family and other groundhogs, In the Punxsutawney Memorial library which is part of the civic complex. The den, or "Groundhog Zoo", can be observed on the inside of the building from the children's library and also from outside of the building.

Now I can't really WHIN any longer without discussing food. The dish that is most associated with Candlemas or Groundhog day is probably the crape.

In France, Candlemas (La Chandeleur) is celebrated with crepes. People looking for ancient roots to the custom claim that the round crepe resembles the sun whose return is celebrated on the pagan festivals often celebrated at the same time of year. In fact, pancakes serve a very useful function at this time of year, especially when Lent begins soon after Candlemas, for crepes and other sorts of pancakes are a good way of using up eggs and butter and other rich foods that are given up in Lent. Shrove Tuesday (Mardi Gras) is another day when crepes are eaten--with various rich fillings. Crepes are a versatile food and may be eaten as a main course or as dessert. The favorite dessert crepes for Candlemas are filled with strawberries and whipped cream. The strawberry is known as the "Fruitful Virgin" and is regarded as sacred to Mary. Two good sites for receipes are Fisheaters and World wide Gourmet.

The French have added to the custom of eating crepes on la Chandeleur a bit of ritual related to their making. When it is time to turn the crepe, the cook is supposed to hold a coin in one hand, make a wish, and flip the crepe in its pan with the other. Everyone is invited to attempt this operation and those who are successful may expect good luck in the coming year. If you are inexperienced with preparing crepes this may not work so well--but much fun will be had in the attempt.

If you want something a bit off beat and different you may have fun singing this little ditty with your children to the tune of Rudolph.

Phillip the Weather Groundhog

You know Bambi and Lassie and Goofy and Winnie
Smokey and Porky and Mickey and Minnie
But do you recall the most famous mammal of all...
Phillip the weather groundhog has a very chilly task
And if you ever watch him, be sure to wear your ski mask
All of the other groundhogs stay inside their cubbyholes
They never help poor Phillip look for any shadows
On the second of this month, Phillip comes to say
"Winter with your arctic blasts, won't you go away at last"
But if he sees his shadow, then we know that it will be
Six weeks or maybe more, till the winter's history.

That is it for today, Closer to the big day I will make one last post about the Movie.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Bluedog Birthday

Over the weekend Donna and I drove to Toledo to enjoy a birthday celebration for our Grandson who has, despite his propensity to challenge both his surroundings and his parents patience, managed to survive until his second birthday without serious injury. Maxwell loves dogs and the theme of the party was planned to be dogs.

Among other attention getting habits Maxwell is a budding artist who, after decorating his home with permanent markers, was instructed to never again write on doors, floors, walls, appliances, and etc. Also all markers were removed from his reach.

Ten days before his birthday he found a marker that had somehow been overlooked, then searched diligently for a new surface to express himself on. As if to accentuate the selected birthday theme, the art canvas he finally selected to use was the hide of Missy, his beloved and on so patient pooch.

His mom then published a plea on her blog for advise on eradicating these creative markings. She included a picture of the dog. Those who saw it quickly told others. Knowledge of her posting spread exponentially. Although prior to that her blog had a decent following, she now started to get hits from all over the world. In the following week the hit count quickly increased by over 6000.

Now world famous as the creator of the "Blue Dog" max's Birthday decorations were modified slightly to incorporate his new found fame. The markings on Missy's coat have faded a bit but are still clearly viable. His instructions for where he may draw/mark have been simplified to only on paper.

It was a very nice party which we enjoyed very much. I have developed a sincere appreciation for Family gatherings. They are very important to me. This goes beyond pure enjoyment, I fell a real need for more family time.

In the morning Donna, my spouse, goes in for surgery on her right eye. The left one was worked on early in the month and went very well. We are anticipating a repeat of that positive experience. Tomorrow we will be driving to the surgery center in a snow storm. Please pray that we have safe travel and God will guide the doctors hands.

I expect to be whining more about Groundhog day later today or tomorrow.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Let me out of here - I Can't take anymore !!!

I CAN'T STAND IT ANYMORE!! Stuck in the house day after day after day!! Cold, snow, cold, snow, and then more cold and snow. We must have a two foot accumulation now. Yuck!

It seems that all I can think about is getting out and of eating. By a little after 9:00 a.m. I had already checked the fridge and pantry twice to see what I can fix for dinner tonight. Fortunately at this point I think that I have consumed all of the snacks and candy in the house. Still I am tempted to bake something that is sweet and full of calories. NO! NO! NO!... HELP!!
I have cabin fever and I MUST get out of the house. At least this weekend we will be heading to Toledo for Maxwell, one of our Grandsons, second birthday.

I very much want to do some letterboxing so I just signed up for the "Groundhog Day With Buckeye Chuck-Again" event. Buckeye Chuck is the Ohio answer to Punxsutawney Phil. I did read that they offer hot chocolate and SPAM sandwiches to the waiting crowd. I have not eaten Spam for a long time now, but may try it. Also a local restaurant is noted for fried Bologna sandwiches. See, here I am thinking about food again!!!

It may well prove to be too cold and snow packed to do any real letterboxing by slushing along on foot or riding on my little scooter, but I will try to at least work the drive by's. There will also be exchanges at a gathering following Buckeye Chuck's appearance.

I have been toying with the idea of planting a local "Berea Bart" box celebrating groundhog day which would only be available in late January and early February of each year. If I go ahead with it, and finish it in time, I may introduce it at this event prior to placing it in it's permanent seasonal home.

I have not yet received any correct responses to the challange question!
My first posting
"Chuck this Weather" contained the following opening lines.
Q: Who ya'gona call!

A: Snow buster Chucky!
Of course you did recognized that as a play on the "Ghostbusters" theme, Right!

So what is the connection between Ghostbusters and Groundhog Day?
If you think that you know, send me email with your answer!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Superhog Day - Superbowls and Groundhogs

Here it is midwinter and it has been frigid outside. While shut in by the cold, I have been working on getting a hydroponic winter garden started. It is a project that I should have begun much earlier in the year, and one that has been a real learning experience. My main objective is to grow some tomatoes that taste like real tomatoes instead of those pasty supermarket things. I hope it will work out. Next weekend we have a family birthday gathering in Toledo which I must finish getting ready for. I have been having unrelenting cravings for more smoked turkey and so smoking a breast is on my list for as soon as the weather warms enough to be outside tending to it. I also want to bake some bread, a sourdough loaf from my own secret recipe. All of that plus I hope to put out another letterbox "Berea Bart (or perhaps Barth a well know Berea family name)".

Instead I am preoccupied with this Groundhog-Candlemas thing. I promised to review the history of this holiday for you and to give you some ideas that you could incorporate into your Superbowl weekend. So today I am offering a very compressed history and passing along some celebration ideas. I have cut it down a lot, but I know this still takes up a lot of blog-sphere. I will not get to discussing Pennsylvania or the Movie today with two exceptions - Cookies and a Challenge.

So picking up more or less where I left off. Bears, badgers, candles, Celtic grain rituals, ancient prophecies, and the Virgin Mary - February 2nd has one of the richest traditional mixtures of any holiday we celebrate. And yet, we barely celebrate it today.

The only things most North Americans associate with February 2nd are Punxsutawney Phil and the movie Groundhog Day. These modern additions are like the stones from the foundation of a long-leveled building. Before we disparage the modern remnants of the holiday, and maybe the whole holiday with it, it might be good to take a closer look at how Groundhog Day contributes to the richly woven tapestry of this season. Then, maybe we can decide what, if anything, February 2nd "means," or "should mean," or could mean, if we took the time to think about it. Of course this year Groundhog day falls on a work day which is the Monday following the Superbowl. This presents a real challenge for those living around Punxsutawney as the nearby Pittsburgh Sealers will be playing in that game. Folks out Phil's way will either have to choose between the Superbowl and groundhog day, or to somehow wed them together. Ta da dada - Superhog Day

The History of this Holiday: February 2, a True Midwinter Feast, is the middle of winter as astronomers calculate it (the mid-point between the Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox - A cross-quarter day). Pre-Christian Celtic cultures celebrated this time of year by holding ceremonies to bless the spring planting. Many cultures celebrated the fact that by this time you could really tell that the days were getting longer, the ewes were carrying lambs, and the ice was thinning over the lakes and rivers. Germanic legend had it that badgers and bears came out of their caves on February 2nd to see if it was warm enough to stop hibernating.

About the fourth century, Christians began commemorating the day that Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple. By the 6th century the Catholic Church had declared, February 2 was “The Feast of the Purification of Mary”. You may remember that a prophet named Simeon predicted that Jesus would bring "a light of revelation to the Gentiles." So the feast day became associated with candles. Each community's elder or priest would pray a blessing over candles, and then pass them out for people to take into their homes where they serve as talismans and protections from all sorts of disasters. This custom is the origin for the name Candle-mass. In Hungary February 2nd is called “Gyertyazsenteio Boidog Asszony” (Blessing of the Candle of the Happy Woman). In Poland, it is called “Swieto Matki Boskiej Gromnicznej” (Mother of God Who Saves Us from Thunder).

Actually, this festival has always been associated with fire. In ancient Armenia, this was the date of the pagan spring festival in honor of Mihr, the God of fire. Originally, fires were built in his honor in open places and a lantern was lit which burned in the temple throughout the year. When Armenia became Christian, the fires were built in church courtyards instead. People danced about the flames, jumped over them and carried home embers to kindle their own fires from the sacred flames.

During the middle ages and renaissance, the feast took on other meanings. In parts of England, Candlemas became the day to take down your Christmas greenery and start spring cleaning.

In Ireland, this holy day is called Imbolc and begins at sunset on February 1 continuing through sunset February 2nd. There are several different derivations offered for the name Imbolc: from Ol-melc (ewe's milk) because the ewes are lactating at this time, from Im-bolg (around the belly) in honor of the swelling belly of the earth goddess, and from folcaim (I wash) because of the rites of purification which took place at this time. All of these explanations capture the themes of this festival. February 1st is the feast day of St. Brigid, who began her life as a pagan grain goddess and ended up a Christian saint. She was a fire and fertility goddess. In her temple at Kildare, vestal virgins tended an eternal fire. On her feast day, her statue was washed in the sea (purification) and then carried in a cart through the fields surrounded by candles. The legends about the goddess, Brigid, gradually became associated with Saint Brigid who founded the first convent in Ireland at Kildare. To celebrate St. Brigid's day, people put out a loaf of bread on the windowsill for the Saint and an ear of corn for her white cow, offerings for the grain goddess like the loaf buried in the first furrow. A small quantity of special seeds are mixed with those to be sown. Wheat stalks are woven into X-shaped crosses to serve as charms to protect home from fire and lightning. In the Highlands, women dress the corn doll or last sheaf (from Lammas or the autumn equinox) in a bridal gown and put her in a basket, which is called the Bride's bed. A wand, candle or other phallic object is laid across her and Bride is invited to come, for her bed is ready. The theme of purification remained a link between the two holy days. Eventually the celebration came to be called Candlemas.

Since Lent can sometimes begin as early as February 4th, some Candlemas customs became associated with Shrove Tuesday (Mardi Gras) and the beginning of Lent, which is a time of purification.

Ideas for modern interpretations: What do you do on Candlemas if you haven't had a baby lately or if you're a guy? Well, you dress up in your best clothes, burn lots of candles and sing songs of praise. Maybe for good measure, you could throw in a feast and invite friends over. That sounds to me like the makings for a Superbowl party except I would not dress up for it.

Celebrating Candlemas Candles and Christmas Greens. The main element of a decorating scheme for Candlemas is fairly obvious: candles. You can gather all the candles in your home in one room and light them from one central candle. Or place a candle in each window. Candlemas is one of the traditional times for taking down Christmas decorations. They are tinder dry but, If you are very careful you can burn them. Or, better yet, return them to the earth mother by using them for compost or mulch. Of course as with any other activity involving open flames appropriate precautions and supervision are necessary.

Feast Food: Certain foods are traditional for Candlemas (It is a feast after all), including crepes, pancakes and cakes, all grain-based foods. Pancakes and crepes are considered symbols of the sun because of their round shape and golden color. I will offer more on this next time.

Purification and Renewal: If you have a fireplace, clean out your hearth and then light a new fire. Sit around the fire and reflect on your hopes for the coming year. What do you hope to accomplish? What are you passionate about? What seeds do you wish to plant? Discuss these ideas with others or write them down in a journal but make them concrete in some way so that on Lammas (August 2nd, the festival of the first harvest), you can look back to see what progress you’ve made. Since Candlemas is often considered the beginning of spring, you can perform another ritual act of purification: spring cleaning. This would be a good time to do a thorough house cleaning, sweeping the floors with salt water, banishing the gloom of winter and creating a sparkling, shiny new setting for spring. If you plan your own ceremony, use these two powerful symbols: fire and water. For instance, wash your hands and bathe your face in salt water, which is especially good for purification. Light a candle as you make your pledge. You may wish to incorporate seeds, the third symbol of the holiday, by planting a seed or bulb in a pot to symbolize your commitment, or by blessing a bowl or packet of seeds that you will plant later.

Brigid is the goddess of creative inspiration as well as reproductive fertility. This is a good time for sharing creative work or, if you don't think of yourself as especially creative, an idea that worked or a plan that materialized. Be thankful for whatever past inspirations you have received and plan for a future work dedicated to filling some special need that you are being inspired to address.

Making Pledges and Commitments: Since Candlemas is a time of new beginnings, this is a good day to ritually celebrate all things new. Plan a ceremony to name a new baby, officially welcome a new person into a family or "plight your troth" (pledge your undying commitment) to your beloved. You might make a commitment to a goal similar to a New Years resolution.

Have you ever given anything up for Lent?
If not, you might consider it. You don’t have to be Catholic to gain spiritual benefits from the voluntary surrender of something you cherish. You can give up something frivolous or something serious, but it should be something you will notice. Folk wisdom says it takes six weeks (or approximately the 40 days of Lent) to establish a new habit, so you may end up with a lifestyle change. Kids are often eagerly to embrace the idea of giving up something for Lent. We have heard of one little girl who gave up TV for Lent and another who gave up catchup, her favorite food. Forty days is enough time to notice the difference in the way you feel without a favorite substance or distraction.

I promised to talk about the cookies. I wanted to get the information out now to give you enough time in case you want to get a groundhog cookie cutter. They are readily available on the Internet. Try or Google it. In a tradition which appears to have been started in Punxsutawney, PA it has become popular to prepare cut out cookies shaped like a groundhog for this special day. The often used "official" recipe for this cookie, a type of gingerbread which has currents embedded for eyes, can be obtained here. I was unable to locate a photo of these on line, therefore I must confess that I ripped this one off from Penzey's One magazine

And now I will present that challenge!
My first posting
"Chuck this Weather" contained the following opening lines.
Q: Who ya'gona call!

A: Snow buster Chucky!
Of course you did recognized that as a play on the "Ghostbusters" theme, Right!

So what is the connection between Ghostbusters and Groundhog Day?
If you think that you know, send me email with your answer!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Chuck this Weather

Want to chuck this weather!
Q: Who ya'gona call!
A: Snow buster Chucky!
Q: Chucky who?
A. Chucky the woodchuck.
Q: Woodchuck!!... how much snow would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck snow?
A: About 6 weeks worth
Q: Whats with the woodchuck... err Groundhog?
A: Lets go back to the beginning.

Loren, my oldest (think Jack Benny) son is, for no particularly good reason, enthralled with Groundhog Day so I have come to gather quite a bit of information about this whimsical day on the American calender. This is the first of several "WHINs" that I am planning about groundhog day.

Astronomically, winter starts December 21st, the winter solstice, and ends with the vernal equinox on March 21st. The midpoint or what we consider midwinter is February 2. In ancient Europe there was little to do in winter except to bundle up and curse the weather. Peoples of that era would watch it closely and soon discovered that by now the days were growing noticeably longer again. This date became associated with the reawakening of the earth, new beginnings, and new life. Many customs and traditions evolved to mark this occasion of the return of light. Most of them included feasting and the lighting and display of lamps and candles along with some good juicy fertility rituals.

As Christianity spread across Europe the church was not adverse to picking up on the traditions and customs of "Pagans" and incorporating them into there own practices. Most of the converts were totally uneducated illiterate folks that needed ceremonial practices and rituals adapted from their older customs to keep them comfortable and on course in their new faith.

When the celebration of Christmas was set as 25 December it resulted in a fortunate coincidence in that under Jewish law the ritual purification of Mary mother of Christ, 40 days after his birth, occurred on the same day as these older midwinter observances. The heathen practices merged nicely with the cleansing, purification, and celebration of new life from the Judaic-Christian traditions. These blended practices were historically know by many names including Imbolc, Candlemas, and St. Brigid's Day.

Among the most popular superstitions associated with the February 2nd feast day was the belief that if that day was bright and sunny it was an indication that there would be a long and cold winter. In Europe weather patterns tend to change more slowly than they do here in the American Midwest giving some credence to this belief as a sunny day would be likely to indicate that you were experiencing a cold snap.

Some of the old ditty's associated with this midwinter feast day include:

From old England:
If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Winter has another flight.
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Winter will not come again.

From Scotland:
If Candlemas Day is bright and clear,
There'll be two winters in the year.

From Germany:
For as the sun shines on Candlemas Day,
So far will the snow swirl until May.
For as the snow blows on Candlemas Day,
So far will the sun shine before May.

And from America:
If the sun shines on Groundhog Day;
Half the fuel and half the hay.

Now it stands to reason that if the day is sunny any animal out and about would cast a shadow. An old Germanic legend had it that badgers and bears came out of their caves on February 2nd to see if it was warm enough to stop hibernating.

The Pennsylvania Dutch settlers brought along the notion that bears and badgers came out on Candlemas to check the weather. Somewhere along the line, those folks (or their ancestors) merged that notion with the superstition that a sunny Candlemas indicates a cool, late spring. Bears and badgers were becoming rare in most of Pennsylvania, just as plowed fields and fence-rows were contributing to an explosion in the population of woodchucks, known locally as groundhogs. So transferring the superstition to the groundhog wasn't a huge leap. Groundhogs are a little safer to handle than bears and badgers, but I still wouldn't corner one in the wild. The famous prognosticating groundhogs like Punxsutawney Phil are raised in captivity.

I hope to bend your ear further concerning the Groundhog day movie, some old practices and traditions, and ideas for food and fun associated with that day but I'll save that for later in the month.

We are now in the midst of one of those infamous cold snaps here in the Cleveland Ohio area. I am not inclined to go out much in this weather, but after my last WHIN about enjoying sushi and sake I did develop such a craving that I drove over to a local place for a sushi O'bento consisting of assorted nigiri-zushi (finger sushi), maki-sushi (rolls), misoshiru (white soup), tempura (battered and fried shrimp and vegetables), shumai (pork dumplings), and a shredded salad. I skipped the sake though.

With our frigid temperatures Letterboxing is not in the cards for the next week or so. However, I am finishing up on another Berea letterbox, "Berea - Puffer Belly". One of Berea's historic landmarks is the Old Union Station. After it was no longer needed as a train station this building was put to several uses. Most recently it was used for the operation of a now closed quaint restaurant which was known originally as 'The Puffer Belly" and later as "The Station". This box will be associated with that historic building.

I just learned from my daughter Ellisa's blog that her nearly two year old son (his birthday will be in two weeks) has just decorated the family dog with magic markers. Does anyone have an idea how to get permanent marker off of a dogs coat??

Monday, January 12, 2009

It'Snow'fun 't-all

It has been no fun at all lately as we have accumulated way too much snow for my liking. The "North Coast" has been more like the North Pole.

Friday morning we were up before five as we prepared to take Donna in for her cataract removal and lens replacement. In the past Donna has not fared well with surgery. Although we are very careful to select the most highly recommended surgeons available, she has consistently been among the 10% that have complications or less than expected improvements. We had a lot of doubt and concern going into this. It seems everything at the surgery center was running behind schedule so we were there much longer than we had expected. It was well into the afternoon before we got home and settled. By the time we were both exhausted. The heavy snow starting before we got home Friday and continuing all day Saturday. Then Saturday morning we went sledding in my car back to the doctors office for a followup. Everything appears to be very, very good. Sunday we both slept in and missed church, then made a much needed trip to get groceries and grab a bite to eat. Sitting at the pub Donna looked up at the TV and read the score of the playoff game without glasses while I could not see it clearly with mine on. We are very enthusiastic.

I did spend a little time over the weekend writing up clues for a few letterboxes that I will put out whenever the weather will permit. I can't take the cold anymore with my stressed out heart, so nothing is likely to occur until it is above freezing. The one I will probably plant first is "Berea - Its a Lou Lou". Lou Groza was a Berea resident for many years. He and his estate have provided significant funding to Berea city recreation so this seems appropriate.

The weather we are having now reminds me of the years we spent in Northern Japan. We were in Misawa, which gets a lot of snow. They have an annual snow festival which, although much smaller the the one in Sapporo, is still a lot of fun. But that is in February so I will save it for another day. This time of year friends and coworkers would often gather together to watch the sumo matches on TV while enjoying snacks, primarily sushi and sashimi, and drinking warm sake.The winter sumo matches start on a Saturday and continue for two weeks (actually 15 days) ending on a Sunday. The upper division matches, which are televised, start each day about 4:00 p.m. This years Sumo Basho (tournament) started yesterday and will continue through the 25th.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

All's Quite on the Home Front

Yes it has been a quite week here. We are getting settled back down into a routine. Donna is back to work. The special events culminated with one last Birthday Dinner hosted by Donna and two of our children that live locally. It was also pleasant to answer my cell phone to find Paton, my 5 year old grandson, calling to sing Happy Birthday to Grandpa, AKA "Papa Bear".

Since then the week has been mostly sorting out the Christmas and Birthday loot... Discarding or recycling the old, finding places for the new, and getting stuff generally organized and put away.

I have carved three new letterboxing stamps ("It's a Lou Lou", "Puffer Belly", and "On the Rocks") to add to my Berea series, and I have three more of them ready to carve. Also I have been putting together logbooks. While I have tried several ways of binding and covering them, I still haven't found a method that I am crazy about.

I have also been planning and preparing to raise tomatoes, peppers, and herbs indoors this winter as well as acquiring supplies for my spring garden.

Donna's doctor has decided that it is finally time for removal of her cataracts that have been forming for several years. That should help her to see clearly again making life easier at her teaching jojb and improve her night vision. The doctor will also do a lens replacement which he thinks may be able to correct her vision totally. She has worn glasses since long before we meet. If he can pull that off it will take some getting used to. Very early tomorrow morning we will go in for surgery on one eye. The plan is that she should be back to work Monday. I hope and pray that it works out that simply then she can have the other eye done in a few weeks.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Berea Letterboxs, Birthday, and 2008

After three weeks of saturation with Holiday events and activities, I was able to settle back and find the time yesterday to work on my letterboxing. I sorted things out, ordered some supplies, and worked on several of my new Berea boxes. I have my work table all set up back in my home office and I have transferred several of the images which I want to use to some PZ Kut. I also worked on creating additional logbooks and drafting some clues. Hopefully they will be ready to plant soon then we will wait for a break in the weather.

Many of my readers may be aware that a number of Ohio Letterboxers, and a few guests, began a 6 month long weight loss contest just before Thanksgiving. Everyone started off well and most made it through Thanksgiving dinner, through "Grabbing a quick bite" while out shopping, and even through Christmas dinner with reasonably good success. However judging from the moans that I have been hearing all of that leisure time from Christmas until now has been hard on most of us. I have had the same problem which has been further aggravated by having a Birthday to celebrate, or at my age to endure is probably more appropriate. However, we have done will up until now, and next week we should be back into the routine.

The year end is of course a time of reflection. I am always tempted to contemplate and evaluate the past in a sober manner so I was pleased to discover this bit of lighthearted and irreverent political satire recently on U tube.

But back to a serious note consider this. In the October 20, 1996, issue of Parade magazine, Dr. Billy Graham was asked by reporter Colin Greer, "How would you most like to be remembered?" Graham paused for a moment, then said, "That I was faithful to do what God wanted me to do. That I maintained integrity in every area of my life, and that I lived what I preached."

When asked if he had any regrets, Graham replied, "I would have spent more time with each of my children. Also, I would have studied more." This man, who has been a friend of presidents and preached to more than 200 million people in live audience settings, is not really much different in his wants and regrets than most of us. For Dr. Graham, the journey is nearing an end, but for many, there is time to make the changes we know we need to make. In order to finish well and have few regrets, we must daily evaluate every aspect of our lives and see if we like the answers we get.

Here are some questions you may wish to ask yourself today:

  1. How much time do I spend each day with my kids?
  2. Am I careless in matters of morality and integrity?
  3. Do I practice what I preach?
  4. Do I have any regrets?