Urban Almanac

The Urban Almanac: December 2016

By Diane Olson

A monthly compendium of random wisdom for the home, garden and natural world.

DEC 1 Birds add so much movement and vitality to winter’s stark landscape. Watch for juncos, house finches, black-capped chickadees, Downey woodpeckers and the glorious red-shafted flicker.

DEC 2 Look for Venus near the waxing Moon tonight and tomorrow night. Venus may be our sister planet, but she’s not a sister you’d want to visit. Surface temperatures are hot enough to melt lead and it rains sulfuric acid.

DEC 3 This would be a good day to stock up on wine and other spirits, before the liquor stores are crazy busy. tumn) and plum blossom (winter).

DEC 4 Christmas cactus are native to the coastal mountains of southeastern Brazil. They grow in the forks of tree limbs or among rocks, and are pollinated by hummingbirds. As house plants, they prefer high humidity and consistent temperatures.

DEC 5 Web-building spiders glean information about their surroundings by plucking the threads of their web like guitar strings. The playback is received by organs on each of their legs called slit sensillae.

DEC 6 Yes, your dog’s paws smell like Fritos. It’s caused by a combination of yeast and pseudomonas bacteria found in paw crevices. And it’s perfectly normal.

DEC 7 FIRST QUARTER MOON. Mistletoe is a parasite that penetrates the branches of trees and shrubs to suck up water and nutrients. An ecological keystone species, it supports a wide array of plants, animals and insects. In the Southwest, it lives on palo verde, mesquite, juniper, pine and eucalyptus.

DEC 8 Mistletoe extract is used as a cancer treatment in Europe.

DEC 9 Esther Peterson, a life-long crusader for consumer, civil, women’s and worker rights—and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom—was born in Provo on this day in 1906.

DEC 10 Have you mailed your out-of-town packages yet? Do it.

DEC 11 Humpback whales around the world are mysteriously rescuing other animals from orcas (aka killer whales), which feed on sea lions, otters, sharks and the calves of other whales.  Scientists are baffled by what appears to be a concerted global effort to foil orca hunts.

DEC 12 Poinsettia, which are native to Central America, prefer a warm room, indirect sun and water only when the soil is dry.

DEC 13 FULL LONG NIGHT MOON/SUPERMOON, This is the last of the year’s three successive supermoons, as our satellite’s elliptical orbit brings it closer to Earth than usual.

DEC 14 It’s mating time for great horned owls.

DEC 15 In Icelandic lore, lazy villagers who didn’t finish processing the autumn wool before Christmas risked being eaten by the human-flesh-hungry Yule Cat.

DEC 16 Top holiday pet dangers: holly, mistletoe, lilies, tinsel, tree lights and glass ornaments, anything with the artificial sweetener xylitol and turkey bones.

DEC 17 This was once the first day of Saturnalia, a Roman festival first celebrated around 217 B.C. It was a week of eating, drinking and gift-giving, during which masters served their slaves, women were permitted to mingle with men and free speech was respected.

DEC 18 Having guests over for the holidays? This would be a good time to rinse the good dishes, cutlery and glassware, and to wash tablecloths and linens.

DEC 19 The tradition of the Yule log likely began with the ancient Norse, who drank, feasted and sacrificed animals at midwinter in honor of the god Odin, known as “Yule father.”

DEC 20 LAST QUARTER MOON. The Ursids meteor shower peaks tonight.

DEC 21 WINTER SOLSTICE/FIRST DAY OF WINTER. This is the shortest day of the year, as the Sun reaches its farthest point south. For the next three days, it will rise and set at the same time, then begin its journey back to the northern hemisphere. Party at Stonehenge!

DEC 22 There’s a lovely astral menage a trois with the Moon, Jupiter and blue star Spica late tonight. Jupiter’s four largest moons are named after the Roman god’s lovers: Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto.

DEC 23 In Roman mythology, Jupiter surrounded himself with a cloud to hide his infidelities. But his wife Juno, suspicious of the whole cloud thing, blew away his cover. Thus Juno, NASA’s cleverly named Jupiter probe.

DEC 24 CHANUKAH BEGINS. Tonight was once celebrated as Mōdraniht, or Night of the Mothers, when all the great goddesses gave birth and the world was born.

DEC 25 CHRISTMAS DAY. Christmas trees first appeared in Germany in the 17th century. The custom didn’t spread, though, until Germany’s Prince Albert married Queen Victoria. Then, in 1848, an American newspaper printed a photo of one, sparking their popularity in the U.S.

DEC 26 On cold nights, large groups of small birds crowd together in tight spaces to share body heat. Dense evergreens, tree cavities and large vines are popular winter roosts.

DEC 27 Every time you kiss someone, you exchange face mites.

DEC 28 Packed snow begins to squeak underfoot at about 5 degrees F. At 0 degrees F, the squeak becomes hollow-sounding.

DEC 29 NEW MOON. A new species of millipede, recently discovered in California, has 414 legs, four penises, 200 poison glands that spray a mysterious substance, strange, toothy mouth­parts and hairs that exude a silk-like substance.

DEC 30

Time seems to speed up as we get older because our brains calculate the perception of time based upon the percentage of time we’ve lived. When you’re 2, a year represents half your life. But the years between ages 10 to 20 seem to pass as quickly as those between ages 5 to 10. And the 40 years from ages 40 to 80 fly by at the speed of just five younger years.

DEC 31 NEW YEAR’S EVE. Hold that kiss: World timekeepers are adding a leap second just before midnight tonight.

Happy New Year!

Diane Olson’s Urban Almanac (which also spawned a book) has fueled many a Twitter feed and fun conversation, as she introduced us to the celestial, mythic and natural goings-on of our Universe. Beginning next month, she is taking a break from Urban Almanac to focus on other writing. Thank you, Diane, for decades of tasty and humorous enlightenment!

This article was originally published on November 30, 2016.