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Monthly Archives: January 2012

Groundhog Day: Punxsutawney Phil Sees His Shadow

Update:In the Feb. 2 early morning on Gobbler’s Knob, Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow for the 99th time to predict 6 more weeks of winter.

Jan. 30 – Groundhog Day, February 2, has basically everything going for it that I love in a holiday — It marks a point in a season; it’s full of folklore and wisdom, superstition, ceremony, civic charm, science, mystery, agrarian history, and weather — and it was featured in perhaps my all-time favorite movie of the same name, which itself is a study in acceptance and inner calm while being outright hilarious in nearly every frame.

Altogether now: It’s Groundhog Day!

In an early morning ceremony, groundhog Punxsutawney Phil will rise from his heated burrow at Gobbler’s Knob, PA, as he has for 126 years, and signal to his handlers whether or not he sees his shadow. If he sees it – an early end to winter. If not – 6 more long weeks of the season. Over the years that the ceremony has taken place, Phil has seen his shadow 98 times and not seen it only 16. (Records don’t exist for every year.) The last time he didn’t see a shadow was in 2007. In 2008, the crowd heartily booed the prospect of “six more weeks of winter”.

Some have stated that Phil’s “handlers” make the prediction for him. What do we think of that?

How did the groundhog tradition get started?

According to this excellent Groundhog Day site, German settlers arrived in the 1700s in the area of Pennsylvania, northeast of Pittsburgh, which had been previously settled by the Delaware Native Americans. The Germans celebrated Candlemas Day, originally a Medieval Catholic holiday to mark the mid-point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere. The holiday also has roots in Celtic-Gaelic and Pagan cultures, where it is celebrated as St. Brigid’s Day and Imbolc, and is a time of festivals, feasting, parades, and weather prediction, as well as candles and even bonfires to mark the sun’s return.

According to Wikipedia, the origin of the word “Imbolc” is “in the belly”, and among agrarian people, Imbolc was associated with the onset of lactation of ewes, which would soon give birth to lambs in the spring.

The German settlers of Pennsylvania put candles in their windows and believed that if the weather was fair on Candlemas Day, then the second half of winter would be stormy and cold. While this has always seemed counter-intuitive to me, this site explains the science of Groundhog Day and that cloudy weather is actually more mild than clear and cold. It makes sense, then, that the shadow would portend six more weeks of winter. (A lifelong mystery is solved.)

The English and Scottish had wonderful sayings to mark this occasion:

The serpent will come from the hole
On the brown Day of Bride,
Though there should be three feet of snow
On the flat surface of the ground.

— Scottish saying
(Note the serpent instead of the groundhog.)

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

— English saying

Punxsutawney’s first Groundhog Day celebration was in 1886, and though other towns, particularly in the eastern U.S., have Groundhog Day ceremonies — Staten Island Chuck, anyone? — none is nearly as famous as Punxsutawney’s. Some of this may lie with the groundhog’s official name, “Punxsutawney Phil, Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators, and Weather Prophet Extraordinary”. Still more popularity, and tourists, have come as a result of the movie Groundhog Day. The first official Groundhog Day prediction in Punxsutawney? No shadow – early Spring.

This site has more information about the groundhog itself and about the filming of the movie.

If you are a Groundhog Day movie obsessive like me, you will enjoy this site that breaks down exactly how long Bill Murray’s character, Phil the Weatherman, experiences Groundhog Day in Gobbler’s Knob.

Shadow or no, here’s wishing you a happy remainder of the winter, a ceremony or two, a dash of lore and wonder, and a fruitful spring.

Photos: Aaron Silvers, Creative Commons

Activity: See if you see your shadow on Groundhog Day!

Read: Happy New Year! Celebrate with Traditions from Around the World and at Home.

Fun Winter Activity: Create Ice Art

If winter’s cold weather has you thinking you can’t play outside, think again. There’s simple fun to be had by creating ice sculptures, or ice art. All you need are some empty containers with large openings, rain or tap water, food coloring, and some freezing weather to bring your winter artist out of hiding — or at least outside.

Gather a variety of empty containers with large openings, such as milk cartons, juice boxes, and disposable cups and bowls. Collect rain or water in your containers and color with food coloring, if desired. Leave the containers of water outside to freeze. Carefully remove your containers to reveal the ice sculptures!

Not cold enough where you live? No problem. Have fun making ice sculptures in your freezer!

Active Kids Club in Toronto and Sanborn Western Camps in Colorado both have excellent ideas and photos to inspire your ice art.

Go Explore Nature has lots of ideas for winter backyard nature fun, no matter what the weather!

Photos: Top – Active Kids Club, Bottom – Sanborn Western Camps

 

Bake Your Own Soft Pretzels

My family has had the joy of folding and baking soft pretzels in the 150-year-old Sturgis Pretzel Factory in Lititz, Pennsylvania, the oldest commercial pretzel bakery in the U.S. There’s nothing quite like rolling and then shaping the pretzel dough into its classic shape, and then seeing it placed into giant brick ovens on large wooden boards, all in the stone basement of a building that dates back more than 200 years. Pretzels themselves date to 6th century Italy, say the folks at Sturgis, where monks molded them into the shapes of children’s praying arms.

Baking pretzels at home offers the same delights – the pleasure of working with dough, the wonderful way it smells when it’s cooking, and of course, that classic soft-pretzel taste.

You’ll need:

1 package (1/4 ounce) active dry yeast
1 ½ cups warm water (110° to 115°)
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons salt
4 cups all-purpose flour
8 cups water
½  cup baking soda
Coarse salt or mixture of equal parts cinnamon and sugar
Pat of butter, to grease bowl and dough
2 bowls, 1 greased
Towel
Saucepan
Paper towels and plate
Baking sheets
Cooling racks

In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water.

Add the sugar, salt and 2 cups flour and beat until smooth.

Stir in remaining flour to form a stiff dough.

Turn onto a floured surface and knead about 5 minutes until smooth.

Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease top.

Cover with a towel and let rise in a warm place about an hour, until doubled.

Punch dough down and divide into 12 portions. Roll each into thin rope (approx. 12”) and loop both halves up and back around to the middle to twist into a pretzel shape. Apply a little pressure to make the ends stick.

Preheat oven to 425.

In a large saucepan, bring water and baking soda to a boil. Place pretzels into boiling water, one at a time, flipping once, for 15 seconds on each side.

Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.

Place on greased baking sheets.

Brush with water and sprinkle with salt or cinnamon sugar.

Bake for 12-14 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on racks.

Yield: 12 pretzels

Gone: in about 2 hours

Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman

Slow News: Let the Kids Play

The subject of Play is getting a lot of serious attention these days. For good reason – study after study is illustrating that, in our rush to feed children what we perceive as quality academics, and in our over-scheduling and over-hovering, for fear they’ll be injured or abducted, we are neglecting to give them what they truly need to develop, grow and thrive:

Play. Independent, free, age-appropriate, active, imaginative play.

Nanci Hellmich in USA Today reports that preschoolers spend too much time on sedentary activities. As a result, they’re missing out on important motor-skill development, as well as opportunities for discovery, peer play (and the learning associated with it) and fun.

Alice Park in Time Magazine tells us that physical activity is associated with better academic performance.

At the same time, many schools have reduced recess, and 30% of American schools have cut recess altogether. This may be a bigger problem for children in less advantaged neighborhoods, who may not be as overscheduled as their better-off peers, but lack access to safe play spaces, says a new study from the American Association of Pediatrics.

It’s time for a cultural shift toward recognizing the importance of play for all children’s growth and well-being.

Update. This just in:

Parents are Biggest Obstacle to Letting Kids Play, Janice D’Arcy, Washington Post
Playgrounds too Safe to Keep Little Kids Active, Crystal Phend, MedPage Today
Both feature this study in Pediatrics on the physical activity of pre-school children.

Photo: Susan Sachs Lipman

You may also be interested in:

Movement to Restore Free Play Gains Momentum
Children Opt for the Box Over the Toy
Babies Learn By Playing
New Childrens Book Reminds Us to Play
Slow Family Resources

First Meteor Shower of 2012: The Quadrantids

The year’s first meteor shower may be a great one! The Quadrantids are set to peak on January 4th, 2:30 am ET. Astronomers are calling for clear skies and a dramatic show in much of the Northern Hemisphere, especially in the pre-dawn hours.

Can’t watch it at the exact time? Don’t worry — astronomers tell us that meteor showers can last for hours before and after the peak date.

This is a good article about the Quadrantids from Huffington Post.

What is a meteor shower?

Meteors occur when the Earth passes through streams of dust and debris from ancient comets which have entered the Earth’s atmosphere. (When the comet has flown close to the sun, its dirty ice evaporated and that, in turn, caused the comet dust to spew into space.) The Quadrantids are a relatively recent discovery (1825).

How to watch the Quadrantid Meteor Shower

The Quadrantids should be visible with the naked eye in North America and perhaps in other parts of the world. Sky watchers in cold climates should bundle up, grab a chair (ideally one with some neck support), and perhaps a blanket, head outside where you can see the largest patch of night sky possible (with as little city light as possible), and look up.

Because meteor showers last for days before and after the projected peak, be sure to scan the skies during the surrounding days, if you can.

A thermos of hot chocolate is a great accompaniment for the Quadrantids.

This American Meteor Society page is a great site for exploring more about the Quadrantids and where and when to see them in your local night sky.

Slow News: Discovering the Joy of Quiet

It seems many of us are taking time for contemplation and looking inward – or we wish to. The turning of the year could have much to do with this, as we use the marker of time to take stock, begin anew, and resolve to create more of the things we desire in life. It’s also winter in the Northern Hemisphere, a traditional time for many to embrace stillness and rest in a way that mirrors nature. And, if that weren’t enough, it’s the end of the holiday season, which can also signal a return to routine and calm.

But there’s also something else at work.

Pico Iyer tells us, in his New York Times piece The Joy of Quiet, that people are so desperate to get away from the din of information and chaotic lives that the future of travel “lies in ‘black-hole resorts,” which charge high prices precisely because they are internet- and television-free.

In barely one generation we’ve moved from exulting in the time-saving devices that have so expanded our lives to trying to get away from them — often in order to make more time. The more ways we have to connect, the more many of us seem desperate to unplug. Like teenagers, we appear to have gone from knowing nothing about the world to knowing too much all but overnight.

Iyer notes that “the urgency of slowing down is nothing new”, but perhaps these latest trends point to the fact that, while the desire to slow down is not new, the urgency and the need to do so has increased. The frenzy of modern life and 24/7 communications has stretched many to the limit, and families and others are seeking techniques – be they “black hole resorts”, electronic-free days, or turning down team sports and birthday party invitations – to regain a sense of sanity, necessary down-time and quiet.

The good news is that you needn’t completely check out of life and into an expensive resort or an ascetic ashram.

Make a pledge to slow down as a family by turning off the electronics for one or more evenings a week and playing cards or classic board games.

Get out in nature together. Power of Slow author Christine Louise Hohlbaum offers some ideas.

Do a family craft or cooking project:

Whatever you do, try to bring your whole mind to the endeavor. Enjoy your family and time.

Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman

You might also like:

Slow Family Online:

New Year’s Resolution: Spend More Time in Nature
Slow Parenting Gaining Steam: It’s About Time
Coming Next Summer: Fed Up With Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World

New York Times:

Disruptions: Resolved in 2012: To Enjoy the View Without Help From an iPhone

 

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