Urban Almanac

December 2020 Almanac

By Greta deJong

         Average temps today: high 43º, low 28º. Sunrise: 7:32am. Sunset: 5:00pm.

2          Planting outdoors in December in Utah? Yes! The seeds of many pollinator-friendly flowers actually perform best if strewn about now (that’s all—no digging); choose a day with no snow on the ground. For details, see James Loomis’ column in the Autumn CATALYST (online at CatalystMagazine.net).

3          Cauliflower is at its best in cool weather. A simple soup: five shallots, 10 garlic cloves, two heads of cauliflower, four cups milk of your choice, three cups water, a fourth cup butter, salt and pepper to taste. Melt butter in a large pot. Cook shallots for five minutes, add garlic, and five minutes later add cauliflower; cook till slightly caramelized. Add everything else and cook till cauliflower is tender (15-20 minutes). Puree; taste and adjust seasonings.

4          Storey’s Curious Compendium of Useful and Obscure Skills: 214 Things You Can Actually Learn How to Do may be the perfect gift for a DIYer you know. Learn how to predict weather by the clouds, make a medicinal honey, rewire a table lamp, test the freshness of an egg and much more. The part on how to milk a goat was written by my big brother, founder of Countryside Magazine, Jd Belanger.

5          Snowfall will be near normal this winter in the Intermountain region, according to The Old Farmer’s Almanac, with precipitation slightly below normal. Winter will be a bit milder than normal, with cold periods in early to mid-December, late January and late February.

         I recently acquired two large and lovely “Christmas cacti.” Actually, they appear to be Thanksgiving cacti. Besides waiting to see when they bloom, you can tell by the shape of the “leaves” (technically, it is all stem). The Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncata) has pointed, claw-shaped projections on the edges. Leaf projections of the Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesti) are more scalloped or teardrop-shaped. The Easter cactus (Schlumbergera gaertneri) has rounded edges. The plants enjoy bright but indirect sunlight. Let soil dry to an inch below the surface before watering—don’t overwater! I’ve heard they do the best when root bound. Some are reportedly over 100 years old, having been handed down from generation to generation.

         Need a new cutting board? Consider bamboo. Technically a grass, it’s less porous than hardwoods, resists knife scratches, and is an environmentally sustainable resource.  Clean it (or any other wood cutting board) as needed with a paste of baking soda, salt and water.

8          Curious how brainless slime molds both learn and teach? That’s one of thousands of questions answered in Asknature.org, a free online tool from the Biomimicry Institute. A field day (or lifetime) for nature nerds, and fun for everyone.

         Nasal mucus, when fresh, traps dust, pathogens and more from reaching your lungs. But dried out mucus, aka boogers, are annoying. Especially in this no-no nose-picking time of Covid, now may be the time to use a neti pot. Choose distilled or filtered water. If using tap water, boil and cool it first.

10        If we lived on Mars, what would our calendar look like? The Martian day is about the same length as Earth days. But a Martian year equals roughly two Earth years. And no correlation can be made with our Moon-based months at all: Mars has two moons, with orbits of seven and 30 hours.

11        Looking for an any-age art activity? Orizomegami, the Japanese art of folding and dyeing paper, is sort of like tie-dye origami. Make your own gift-wrapping paper! Instructions are all over the internet.

12        All of Santa’s reindeer, including Rudolph, are females. How we know: Males drop their antlers in November, while females keep theirs through the winter until their calves are born in May.

13        Geminids Meteor Shower, running annually December 7-17, peaks tonight. Considered by many to be the best shower in the heavens, up to 120 multicolored meteors are visible per hour. The nearly new Moon will ensure dark skies for what should be an excellent show.

14        Practice random acts of interest. Writer and futurist Richard Watson suggests we randomly pick up books and magazines and strike up conversations with strangers to break our information consumption routines and expose ourselves to new viewpoints.

15        Most of us grew up “knowing” that Clement C. Moore authored “A Visit From St. Nicholas” (aka “Twas the Night Before Christmas”). However, many scholars now believe Henry Livingston, Jr. is the author. It’s a wonderful poem, whatever its provenance.

16        Jupiter and Saturn are edging nearer to each other. Go outside just after sunset and look to the southwest. On December 21, the planets will be at their closest since 1623—about one-tenth of a degree apart. That’s about a fifth of our Moon’s diameter—only 432 miles! Weather allowing, it should be spectacular.

17        On Earth, the Sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Similarly, the Moon, stars and planets also rise in the east and set in the west.

18        “In the U.S., we consume twice as many material goods as we did 50 years ago. Over the same period, the size of the average American home has nearly tripled, and today that average home contains about 300,000 items. Home organization is now an $8 billion industry. Still, one of 10 households rents off-site storage.” —Joshua Becker, The More of Less.

19        The first of Great Salt Lake Audubon Society’s annual Christmas bird counts happens today. greatsaltlakeaudubon.org/

20        The often-repeated NASA story about houseplants as air cleaners is so out of context that it’s silly (yes, we’ve repeated that one, too). But houseplants do decrease the incidence of dry skin, colds, sore throats and dry coughs, according to studies at the Agricultural University of Norway. That’s in addition to all their other aesthetic and soul-lifting benefits!

21        Don’t miss the Great Conjunction tonight (see 12/16). Winter solstice begins today, with the Sun at its lowest in the sky all year.

22        Today is the shortest day of the year—nine hours and 15 minutes long.  Spring Equinox is only 88 days away!

23        WARNING—Do not visit this link unless you are prepared (I was not) to disappear down a rabbit hole. Nostalgia Machine is a time machine for music from 1951 to 2015. How far back do your memories go? I recognized tunes to more than half the Billboard hits from the year I turned one. That’s one benefit of having older siblings. TheNostalgiaMachine.com/

24        The breathtakingly colorful Cathedral of the Madeleine, under the patronage of St. Mary Magdalene in downtown Salt Lake City, is live streaming midnight mass tonight (we hope). Details at utcotm.org/

25        Quiet Christmas? Now’s as good a day as any to begin a nature notebook. Record the moon phases. On a walk, look for abandoned bird nests, animal tracks, seed pods and tree bark. Take pictures, and bring something home to sketch. Study frost. Set up a bird feeder and record what happens. Winter’s a great time to learn your trees. I highly recommend A Life in Hand: Creating the Illuminated Journal, by Hannah Hinchman (Peregrine Smith, 1991)—out of print but available online.

26        Even though we’re not concluding this year with a pile of ticket stubs, group photos and other mementos, there still were milestones and memories. Take today to recall and record, month by month, your experience of this “unprecedented” year.

27        “Let us give thanks for unknown blessings already on the way.” — a Quaker mealtime blessing. From The Whole Heaven Catalog, by Marcia and Jack Kelly.

28        CATALYST founder/editor, Greta deJong, celebrates her birthday for the first time in many years not fretting about a CATALYST press date. Also, the website Radio Garden presents you with a spinnable globe of the Earth covered with 8,000 green dots that represent radio stations. Rotate the globe, click a dot and you are suddenly listening to live radio in that part of the world. Right now I’m listening to Radio Parole d’ Animaux in Montgeron, France. Radio.garden/

29        FULL MOON @ 8:30pm, known by early Native Americans as the Full Cold Moon. Full moons always arise at sunset and set at sunrise. New moons always arise near sunrise and set at sunset. Moonrise occurs about 50 minutes later each day.

30        Cozy nights call for candlelight. Consider beeswax over petroleum-based paraffin. Beeswax candles release a subtle honey aroma and are easier on the air. (Keep the wick trimmed to 1/8-1/4 inch.) You can find them at Salt Lake City’s Winter Market (Saturdays, 10a-2p, The Gateway. Two hours of free parking; north garage is closest.)

31        Average temps today: high 35º, low 23º. Sunrise:  7:51am. Sunset: 5:10pm. u

Thanks to Diane Olson, who began this column many years ago, and birthed a book from it (A Nature Lover’s Almanac: Kinky Bugs, Stealthy Critters, Prosperous Plants & Celestial Wonders, illustrated by Adele Flail) and  to art director Polly Mottonen, whose layouts made it so inviting. Thanks to Anna Zumwalt, who contributed in recent years. Researching “Almanac” each month has been hugely time-consuming and utterly worthwhile. I hope you have enjoyed reading it as much as we have loved writing it.

— Greta deJong

This article was originally published on November 30, 2020.