Urban Almanac: December 2021

December 2, 2021

By Greta Belanger deJong


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


Planting outdoors in December? Yes! The seeds of many pollinator-friendly flowers actually perform best if strewn about (that’s all—no digging) now; choose a day with no snow on the ground. For details, see James Loomis’ column, “December in the Garden: Plant next summer’s flowers now!”


How to burn a candle like a pro: Keep the wick trimmed to 1/8-1/4 inch. Place it away from drafts. Rotate it every 30 minutes, for two to four hours, to get an even pool of wax, each time you burn it. If you blow it out before the candle has become completely liquid across the surface, you’ll get a tunnel of wasted wax leading down to the wick. If you have a previously tunneled candle, put down that sharp knife and make your candle a tinfoil hat! This will allow the wax to pool properly. Instructions here: https://www.bhg.com/news/aluminum-foil-candle-hack/ (And next time, choose a candle with a smaller diameter.)


New Moon: 12:43am. Remember that amazing total solar eclipse in 2017? You can see it again tonight if you find yourself in Antarctica or the Southern Atlantic Ocean.


As the temps dip, many outdoor gardeners fight frost by covering prized plants. By now, all but the toughest have abandoned the battle. The frozen morning dew has burst the cells of all tender plants. However, even as the green parts die, many vegetables are just fine. Cabbage, broccoli, brussels sprouts, carrots, kale, leeks, rutabagas and turnips can survive temperatures as low as 20˚F. If the weather warms a bit, they’ll keep growing. Mulching your carrots and turnips with leaves (or straw, if you can find it) will prevent the ground itself from freezing so you can harvest all winter long. https://www.hortmag.com/


Give yourself the gift of lower heating bills and a smaller energy footprint: Caulk and weather strip doors and windows that leak air. Check for breezes where plumbing, ducting or electrical wiring penetrates through exterior walls, floors and ceilings. Install rubber gaskets behind outlet and switch plates on exterior walls. If you know how to do this, and know someone who needs it done, you may have the perfect gift to offer!


Lamb, the Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal (Christopher Moore: 2002) includes the most captivating backstory on the Three Magi: As decreed at His birth, Jesus (or Josh, as Biff calls him) apprentices Himself to each of the kings in turn during the “lost years.” A magician, a Buddhist and a Hindu yogi train Him up to be the Messiah. Time travel, sex and sacrilege (though not for Our Savior) ensue. A fun read suitable for the season.


Is there a burgeoning, budding or wanna-be birder on your holiday gift list? Here’s a link to user-recommended field guides, apps, bird song resources, software, listserves, social media, and birding binoculars and spotting scope guides, as well as birding stores in the Salt Lake area: 



Nasal mucus, when fresh, traps dust, pathogens and more from reaching your lungs. “It doesn’t just stick to them — mucus is loaded with protective proteins that kill and disable germs, like bacteria and viruses,” according to the British Society for Immunology in an article “The Secret Life of Snot.” If your mucus turns green, it means your immune system’s rapid response system is engaged. Called neutrophils, these selfless cells swallow bacteria and viruses and spray an antiseptic on nearby germs. In the process they destroy themselves as well, ending up as the green stuff (they contain iron) in your snot. You will swallow most of this, and stomach acid will destroy it. https://www.immunology.org/ 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.


Wonder where all the birds have gone? Between 1959 and 1972, according to Peter McIndoe, leader of the Birds Aren’t Real movement, the government killed off all birds and replaced them with surveillance drones designed to spy on the American public. Currently on a cross-country rally (filmed by Vice), this Tennessee English and philosophy major is getting straight A’s for marketing his merch, that’s for sure. But birds are real! For proof, download the Audubon app featuring 800 actual North American species. And consider participating in the Annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count, beginning December 18.


Event for beginning birders: This year’s Audubon Christmas Bird Count begins December 18. But if you’ve never participated before and would like to, come to this morning’s easy Audubon stroll along the Jordan River. Trip leader Ian Batterman will introduce you to counting and identifying birds just as you’ll do on the official count. Meet at 8am at the Confluence Trailhead parking lot on 4800 South at about 600 West in Murray. Alert Ian 920.360.0805 (talk & text) that you’ll be coming.


In the name of gender justice, we must reiterate this every year: All of Santa’s reindeer (aka caribou), 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.


Geminids Meteor Shower, running annually December 7-17, peaks tonight. Considered by many to be the best shower in the heavens, you can see up to 120 multicolored meteors per hour. The near-full moon will outshine fainter meteors. But the shower is so big and bright that it could still be a good show. http://www.seasky.org/

Geminid Meteor by Brian Tomlinson | https://www.flickr.com/photos/brian_tomlinson/39018441532 | Licensed under CC by 4.0


Since you may think this is a cool Christmas present for someone, I’m saying it now: Don’t buy a Keurig (which, by the way, its inventor says he regrets having invented). Yes, millions of Americans rely on single-serving machines each morning, with 39,000 pods produced every minute — most of which end up in landfills, even the recyclable ones. If you, too, eschew the more traditional rituals of brewing your morning cuppa and demand this level of convenience, consider a Nespresso, whose pods are marginally easier to recycle. https://www.nytimes.com/wirecutter/blog/nespresso-or-keurig-better-for-environment/

monarch butterfly on coneflower
Photo by Erin Minuskin on Unsplash


Some good news from the nonprofit Southwest Monarch Study which tags and tracks this once-ubiquitous butterfly: Sitings are way up this year! Last year’s numbers topped out at fewer than 2,000. But good size breeding populations were seen in parts of Nevada, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico this year. As of November 23, over 100,000 tagged monarchs had been counted across California overwintering sites with more sitings each day. Facebook@SouthwestMonarchStudy, https://xerces.org/blog/bounciness-of-butterflies


For most of us, the human body’s senses dim with age. That said, clean your tongue. According to Boulder, Colorado holistic health physician John Douillard, regular tongue-scraping will activate the taste buds and improve your sense of taste. Nice side benefits: It will also improve digestion. He recommends copper as it is known to resist bacterial accumulation. https://lifespa.com/


Remember our feathered friends with this treat: Tie twine around some pinecones and then, with a knife, work peanut butter into the scales. Roll them in wild birdseed. Hang from a tree near a window where you can enjoy your visitors.


Full Moon. 4:38 pm. Today the sun sets at 5:02 pm. Full moons always arise around sunset and set at sunrise. 

Photo by Jorge Gardner on Unsplash


Some friends and I have been enthusiastically enjoying Hildegarde de Bingen’s Cookies of Joy. According to their inventor, a brilliant 12th century nun, these cookies will strengthen the five senses and reduce effects of aging. The significant ingredients are butter, eggs, spelt flour and a whole lot of nutmeg. Recipe here: https://www.healthyhildegard.com/hildegard-spelt-cookies/


Wake Up: A Transformative Guide to Creating Simple and Sacred Rituals for More Energy, Focus and Fulfillment (Jacqueline Morasco: 2021) is a guide to year-end practices for putting the past at rest and stepping into a more vivid future, based on hard-won insights from the author’s early-life battle with addiction. As a person with ADHD, I found many of the rituals particularly grounding. My favorite is her Ritual for Committing: Design and hold a commitment ceremony. Create a sacred space and daily ritual (the book is full of ideas). List small steps that take you closer to your goal. Create a vision board with images and words for how you want your life to be and look at it regularly. Available at Golden Braid Books and online: https://spiritedpractice.com/product/wake-up-signed-copy/


Astronomically speaking, winter begins today in the northern hemisphere, with the Sun at its lowest in the sky all year— rising at 7:48am and setting at 5:03pm in Salt Lake City. Enjoy the season—the Spring Equinox is only 89 days away!


Luminarias, originally called vigil fires, transformed from small bonfires to the form we know today when Spaniards discovered the paper lanterns of China. Luminarias are easy to make. All you need are some paper sandwich bags, sand and some votives or tea lights. Fold each bag at the top, then add a few inches of sand, enough to stabilize the candle. Place each bag on level ground alongside your walkway. Once lit, do keep an eye on them, especially if there’s no snow on the ground.


“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


On this date in 1968, the photo that’s become known as “Earthrise” was taken by astronaut William Anders during the Apollo 8 mission, the first crewed voyage to orbit the Moon. On its 50th anniversary, Anders wrote, “We set out to explore the moon and instead discovered the Earth.” Another image, known as “The Blue Marble” (1972), has become emblematic of the environmental movement. But the earlier “Earthrise” was influential in building momentum toward 1969’s first Earth Day. (The image as we know it is actually a rotation of what Anders and his fellow crew members saw.)


Winter is a good time to begin a nature notebook. Record the moon phases. On a walk, look at leaf-free trees, abandoned bird nests, animal tracks, seed pods and tree bark. Take pictures and bring something home to sketch. Photograph frost. Set up a bird feeder and record what happens. I highly recommend A Life in Hand: Creating the Illuminated Journal, by Hannah Hinchman (Peregrine Smith, 1991)—out of print but available online.


Another curious year, but likely with a few more ticket stubs, group photos, milestones and memories than last year. Take today to recall and record, month by month, your experience of 2021.


Jigsaw puzzles were a thing last year. In fact, there was a supply chain snafu that made them a premium commodity. Now that you have some, why not haul out your puzzles and have another go? According to Baylor College, puzzles are good for the brain, improving cognition and visual-spatial reasoning. “The act of putting the pieces of a puzzle together requires concentration and improves short-term memory and problem solving. Using the puzzle as an exercise of the mind can spark imagination and increase both your creativity and productivity.” And hey, they’re fun! https://blogs.bcm.edu/2020/10/29/a-perfect-match-the-health-benefits-of-jigsaw-puzzles/


I remember turning 13 and feeling ancient, as I realized I could easily say, “Remember 10 years ago when….” My point is that everyone, even a young person, has memories. A topic for an all-inclusive dinner table conversation might be: What do you remember of Christmases past? Family, visitors, weather challenges, best (or worst) gifts (given or received)? You may be surprised what even the little ones remember!


If you or someone you know has had Covid-19 and is fully recovered for at least two weeks, you may help save the life of a current Covid patient. Visit the Red Cross website for details.


Ready for a deep dive? Here are step-by-step instructions on how to create your personal end-of-year ritual. What a way to end (and begin) a year! http://yourspiritedlife.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/Create-an-End-Of-Year-Ritual.pdf


Presbyterians, theologically similar to the Pilgrims, were the grinches of the 1600s — they convinced the Scottish Parliament to abolish all observations of Christmas, declaring it was based on superstition. In its place, celebrating New Year’s (called Hogmanay) became the big deal. “Auld Lang Syne,” an ancient Scottish tune with lyrics codified by Robert Burns in the 1700s, became a North American tradition when, from 1927 to 1976, big band leader Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians played the song at the stroke of 12 on radio and, ln later years, TV. For an interesting six-minute deep dive into the history and meaning of the song, watch this video.

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