Urban Almanac: February 2022

February 1, 2022

By Greta Belanger deJong


Average temps today: high 39º, low 25º. Sunrise: 7:37am. Sunset: 5:45pm.

Technically speaking, February in Utah has no New Moon; it occurred last night, at 10:49pm. You can still engage that “start something new” energy by participating in InCoWriMo (International Correspondence Writing Month), an international letter-writing event that starts now. Hand-write and mail/deliver one letter, card, note or postcard every day during the month of February. https://incowrimo.org/

To jumpstart the process: https://www.npr.org/2021/08/09/1026185212/letter-writing-hallmark-personal-tips

(Also see February 11.)


Groundhog Day. Breathe in… and (one minute later) breathe out. That’s how groundhogs breathe, in their deep-tunnel cold-season cuddle puddles (up to 20 critters per colony). Utah’s most common species of groundhog (also known as woodchuck) is the yellow-bellied marmot.


If you know a Girl Scout of any age with scientific interests and a literary bent, encourage her to enter the “Girl Scouts to the Moon and Back” essay contest, open now through March 1: https://www.girlscouts.org/en/activities-for-girls/for-every-girl/nasa-moon-and-back-essay-contest.html


“I don’t want a Black History Month. Black history is American history,” says Morgan Freeman. It’s way past time to rewrite the history textbooks. Till then, educate yourself. A great place to start: The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration and Caste: The Origins of our Discontents, by Isabel Wilkerson, the first woman of African-American descent to win a Pulitzer Prize in journalism.


Buying a used or new car? Check its smog rating. https://www.ucair.org/quick-links-tools/

Switching from one with a rating of 5 to one rated 8 will reduce your vehicle emissions by 80%!


How do they do it? The Old Farmers’ Almanac claims an 80-85% accuracy rate for their annual weather predictions made as much as 22 months in advance. Their secret formula considers sunspot activity, tidal action of the Moon, the position of the planets, and other factors, according to their website. https://www.almanac.com/winter-extended-forecast-farmers-almanac


Good night. Good morning! The 24-hour clock (aka “military time”) is the model predominantly used around the world, where 0:00 is midnight at the beginning of a day, and 24:00 is midnight at the end of a day. So, say, February 7, 24:00 is the exact same time as Feb. 8, 0:00. Egyptians purportedly developed the 24-hour day, counting each segment of their fingers excluding the thumbs for a base-12 system.


Bananas — organic vs. “conventional”? While pondering whether the higher price is worth it, consider this: Workers on conventional banana plantations face risk of pesticide exposure and its resulting issues, such as respiratory conditions, fatigue and gastrointestinal distress. Also, surrounding air, soil, and water quality suffer, compared with organic farms. While tests do not indicate differences re. nutrition, some research shows that pesticides and heavy metals sometimes show up in non-organically grown bananas. Those can add up. And we do eat a lot of them — an average of 28 lbs. per person annually. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/organic-bananas/, https://today.yougov.com/topics/food/articles-reports/2019/09/18/study-bananas/


You may have noticed that nutrition labels on commercially produced food changed in 2020. Perhaps the most important improvement: No more fat calories listed. Made bad by the sugar industry in the 1960s (read The Case Against Sugar, by Gary Taubes), (good) fats are finally having their (good) day. It’s thumbs up for foods high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats — nuts, seeds, fatty fish, olive oil and avocados. Avoid trans fats at all cost: margarine, nondairy creamer, shortening. Fast food restaurants have been trending away from trans fats, with the notable exception of Burger King. If you have the fast food habit, see how your joint of choice compares: http://www.acaloriecounter.com/fast-food-trans-fat.php/


Fun-to-say word of the month: carnivory (car-niv’-or-ee). In the world of archaeology, increased meat-eating has often been considered the catapult for greater human brain capacity. (Consumption of psychedelic mushrooms and cold-water fatty fish have also been credited with that leap.) A George Washington University study published in January 2022 says the meat-eating hypothesis may not necessarily be so. Tyler Faith, a Natural History Museum of Utah archaeology curator who participated in the study, says that by taking a broader view of the archaeological record, “we find that the apparent increase in archaeological evidence for carnivory after two million years just reflects a better sampling of the fossil record. There’s no meaningful increase in evidence for carnivory after Homo erectus shows up on the scene.” He concludes, “Meat made us human? Not so much.” https://attheu.utah.edu/facultystaff/new-study-questions-importance-of-meat-eating-in-shaping-our-evolution/


While studies are not extensive, they look consistent: Cursive handwriting activates different neurological pathways than typing. So it’s not as efficient (or legible) as typing on your computer. You could still choose to keep a journal or dream diary or do “morning pages” (a la Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way) in longhand. A compromise: Get a digital pen.


Women in the Utah Territory won the right to vote on this date in 1870, a right relished until 1896 when Utah joined the United States of America. Women in Utah (or anywhere) would not vote again until 1920.


Got fungus gnats on your houseplants? You’re probably overwatering. Allow soil surface to dry out. Use store-bought yellow sticky cards to collect the critters or make a trap by placing a small amount of apple cider vinegar, water, and liquid dish soap in a clean and empty tuna or cat food can. https://www.almanac.com/pest/fungus-gnats#RID/


Send a Valentine to life today (and be a good recycler) by signing up as an organ donor. Put your organs, eyes, skin and more to good use after you give up the ghost. You can do this online at www.YesUtah.org/ If, God forbid, you need an organ, know that Covid-19 vaccinations are required for most recipients. Also, testing positive for Covid-19 at the time of death will likely render a donation invalid.


Now through March is a great time to prune your raspberries. Do it right for a bumper crop. This 2011 video from the University of Maine is the best tutorial I’ve seen. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pOzo4s9Z9jE/


FULL MOON 9:59am. Mercury is at its highest point above the horizon. Look for the planet low in the eastern sky just before sunrise. http://www.seasky.org/


Visualize positive outcomes: Neuroscientist and author Wendy Suzuki (Good Anxiety: Harnessing the Power of the Most Misunderstood Emotion) says the most powerful way to combat anxiety is to work on building resilience and mental strength. She recommends this interesting exercise: At the beginning or at the end of each day, think through the uncertain situations currently in your life, both big and small. For each one, visualize the most optimistic and amazing outcome — not just the “okay” outcome, but the best possible one you could imagine. The idea is to build the muscle of expecting the positive outcome. This may even inspire ideas for creating better outcomes. https://www.cnbc.com/2021/08/31/do-these-exercises-every-day-to-build-resilience-and-mental-strength-says-neuroscientist.htm


You know this already, right? If not: Get four free covid tests mailed to your home, one set per household. Super-easy — the entire process takes about a minute. https://special.usps.com/testkits


A tip for reducing food waste: While they taste fantastic together cooked, onions and potatoes in their raw state are bad bedfellows. Both need cool dark places with good ventilation. But, just like apples and bananas, onions give off ethylene gas which hastens rot. And potatoes release moisture which makes onions mushy. If your potatoes came in a plastic bag, remove them and place in a basket or paper bag. Store in the dark, away from onions, but not in the fridge. More ideas for cutting down on food waste: https://ivaluefood.com/resources/

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash


“Would You Compost Your Body to Create Life after Death?” In nature, death creates life. As a big proponent of composting and recycling, I was truly cheered by this article https://reasonstobecheerful.world/human-composting-death-funerals-natural-organic-decomposition/ Three states, including our neighbor Colorado, have legalized “natural organic reduction” — that is, human composting. It’s a sophisticated version of your backyard compost tumbler. The water- and nitrogen-rich body is covered with carbon-rich straw, alfalfa and wood chips. The body enters a rotating steel chamber. Microbes get to work. In a month, voila — the aerobic process has transformed everything into about a cubic yard of soil. Also watch Katrina Spade’s moving TEDx talk on “recomposition”: https://www.ted.com/talks/katrina_spade_when_i_die_recompose_me


In praise of three-day weekends: In 1968, U.S. Congress created the Uniform Monday Holidays act, moving federal holidays with fixed dates to Mondays. Since then, George Washington’s birthday, February 22, is now celebrated (along with, what the heck, why not, all the other presidents) on the third Monday in February. https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/STATUTE-82/pdf/STATUTE-82-Pg250-3.pdf


Got the gardening bug? It’s time to start seeds indoors for cool weather veggies: broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, leeks, lettuce, spinach and more. Learn how from CATALYST’s Garden Like a Boss columnist, James Loomis: https://catalystmagazine.net/from-seed/


Hellebores, snowdrops and pansies have been blooming in the Salt Lake Valley for the last month or so. Go for a stroll through your neighborhood and see what greenery you can find.


Want to be a WWOOFer, maybe after the Covid situation stabilizes? As one of the world’s first educational and cultural exchange programs, the 50-year-old World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms program connects organic farmers with volunteers. You must be at least 18 years old (or travel with a parent). There is no upper age limit. Visit the website, choose the country you’re interested in and explore options from there. https://wwoof.net


There’s still time to make resolutions for the 2022 gardening season. Here are some suggestions from noted garden writer Margaret Roach: If you need more than a little mulch, buy in bulk, not by the bag. Get a soil test, as soon as the soil is workable. Reassess your lawn; do you need all of it? Recommit to composting. www.awaytogarden.com


Appreciation for the beneficial cellar spider (Pholcus sp.): I share the corners of my house with these slender, long-legged creatures. They trap unwary flies and quickly wrap their prey in silk before devouring them. Their dusty webs get cleared away every two weeks and they rebuild fresh ones practically before my eyes. I have noted as many as three generations in one web at once. Not exactly Netflix, but still, fun to watch.


For a delightful (and brief—12-min.) monthly tour of the night skies, including mythology, tune in to the Sky Tour Astronomy podcast. Check it out: https://skyandtelescope.org/observing/sky-tour-podcast-february-2022/ Tonight is a good time to go outside and have a look: The New Moon (which is to say, no moon) is just a few days away, which makes for a dark sky.


Average temps today: high 49º, low 32º. Sunrise: 7:02am. Sunset: 6:17pm.