Thursday, February 1, 2018

Groundhog Day

Who could ever be afraid of their own shadow? That might seem rather silly, but in fact, that is what's behind the concept of Groundhog Day. It is a long-held tradition - and we at J and L love traditions - that when a groundhog comes out its burrow, if it sees its own shadow, it will turn and run back to the comfort of its dirt abode.

If the little marmot monax (scientific name) sees its shadow and retreats, that means there will be another six weeks of winter left on the calendar. If the little critter does not see its shadow, then there will be an early spring. Of course, in the lovely state of California, we always hope that there is a big old shadow terrifying the groundhog – we are tired of droughts.

Uh, Winter or Spring - I'm not quite sure
In actuality, the male groundhog emerges in late winter, hoping for the right conditions to begin to search of a mate. If the weather isn't right for groundhog love, back to sleep he retreats. That reality wasn’t quite exciting for superstitious humans curious about how much more of the cold winter weather they had to endure. So those creative souls imagined that the groundhog's search for a soul mate, might actually be the work of a furry meteorologist.

Perhaps this is the reason that our little friend the groundhog seems to be having an identity crisis. How would any mammal feel when his human neighbors change him from Romeo to Weatherman. Then, to make matters worse, they call him by no less than twelve names: groundhog, chuck, woodchuck, groundpig (that sounds a little offensive), whistlepig, whistler, thickwood badger, Canada marmot, marmot, monax, moonack, weenusk, and the red monk.

Just call me Sam
These ground squirrels typically measure up to 26 inches and weigh in around 31 pounds, making them a very large marmot in anyone’s mind. They are adapted for quickly digging in the territory they roam, generally in the northeastern and central regions of the United States and into Canada as far as Alaska. Some of these cute little hairy diggers can be found as far south as Georgia.

They do get around and are so famous, that they've inspired a neat little tongue-twister:

How much wood would a woodchuck chuck
if a woodchuck could chuck wood?
A woodchuck would chuck all the wood he could
if a woodchuck could chuck wood!

Try saying that three times in a row. 

"How much, uh, chuck would upchuck - ah forget about-it"
These sharp-toed creatures hibernate in the late fall and then emerge from their dens sometime in February or early March, depending on the temperature. If it's too cold, then its back to beddy-bye. But if it's a bit warmer, then it's a long stretch, and Mr. Groundhog is back among the living and looking for love. 

So, where does this imaginative interpretation of Groundhog Day come from?

It started a long long time ago in a land far, far away. Candlemas is an ancient tradition when European priests would hand out blessed candles for the winter season. The Holy Day is celebrated as the ‘Presentation of Jesus at the Temple’ and the date of February the 2nd was chosen as the day for passing out those candles to those in need of them in the community during the cold and dark winter nights.

Jesus being presented at the temple
 So, the people would awaken on the 2nd day of February and look to the heavens for sign. A telling, so to speak, if the dark days of winter were almost over.

If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Come, Winter, have another flight;
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Go Winter, and come not again.

That tradition was later changed by the Germans, who used hedgehogs instead of candles to seek an answer to their question of whether winter was going to be longer or not. Now, the hedgehogs were not used as candles, (even in those by-gone days that wouldn't have gone over too well,) but as the harbinger of longer colder days or the promise of a warm and early spring.

Groundhog presenting a candle - weird
When German settlers immigrated to the United States, they exchanged the hedgehog for the groundhog for two simple reasons: hedgehogs were hard to find, and the groundhogs were plentiful in the Keystone state of Pennsylvania, where they primarily settled.

Where are those darn hedgehogs - maybe just a hog - no, not right
The tradition carried on for decades and then finally in 1887, a newspaper editor from the melodious sounding town of Punxsutawney announced that a groundhog by the name of Phil was the only true weather-forecasting groundhog in the United States.

Not sure how many ‘fake’ weather-forecasting groundhogs there were at the time, but Phil hit the big time, and has since made it into the history books. Since these little furry creatures only live about six to eight years, there have been plenty of Phil Juniors since then.

Since then, other towns have tried to break into the groundhog meteorologist gig by having their own prognosticating varmint, from Birmingham Bill to Staten Island Chuck, and there is even a Shumbenacadie Sam in Canada.

But it’s the one and only Punxsutawney Phil people recognize nationwide. Thousands of people from around the world trek their way to Punxsutawney on Candlemas Day to see if Phil will frolic in the sun or turn around and head for his burrow, marking another six weeks of winter to endure.

Phil and his fans - not sure who the man with the hat is though

The one and only true home for Punxsutawney Phil
It is also this Punxsutawney Phil who was immortalized in the 1993 movie, Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray as a reporter who awakes every morning to relive the previous day, which of course happens to be, February 2 - Groundhog Day.

A block buster movie based on Phil - and oh yeah, Bill Murray
So, Phil – shadow or not, will remain the truest form of a weather forecaster for many people around the world.

We wouldn’t have it any other way. Forget satellite images of the weather when we have a four footed celebrity willing to risk his furry rear end to let us mere humans when winter will end and spring will begin.

There's always politics involved - so sad

Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Great Communicator

President Ronald Reagan - at the podium

Dr. John R. Beyer - at that same podium

In a small town in northern Illinois, a boy was born to a very poor family – poor that is financially but not spiritually. They struggled to achieve the American Dream, and it was their determination, along with the boy’s desire to make more of himself than his humble beginnings offered, that lead to success. Ronald Wilson Reagan entered this earthly plane on February 6, 1911 and from there, the rest is history, as the story goes.

Reagan with Bette Davis - 'Dark Victory'
Enrolling Eureka College in Eureka, Illinois Reagan excelled as a student - especially in sports. The future 40th President of the United States graduated in 1932 and entered the world of radio, beginning as a sports announcer. After stints on several regional radio stations he turned his talents to acting in 1937, starring in some major productions. ‘Dark Victory’ with Bette Davis in 1939, ‘Knute Rocknew, All American’ in 1940, ‘Bedtime for Bonzo’ in 1951, and dozens more made him a major household name. Serving as the President of the Screen Actors Guild offered him a chance to hone his skills as a communicator, negotiator, and understanding human nature.

"Do it for the Gipper!'

Sometimes a little levity is needed

With this background and experience, it wasn’t much a jump for the passionate man to enter the world of politics – first as a Democrat but in 1962 before switching parties to the Republicans where he backed, unsuccessfully Barry Goldwater’s presidential campaign.

Ronald learned a lot in both worlds
The result of that effort though was national political recognition for Ronald Reagan. Enough that he ran for the governorship of California in 1966, serving to two terms as the state's leader, and leaving the state budget with a surplus. Every political party likes that. In 1980, the Great Communicator defeated President Jimmy Carter in a landslide.

Hollywood Star to President - unprecedented - wait there's Donald Trump
Of course, with the presidency comes dang,er and it struck President Reagan, along with members of his entourage, on March 30th, 1981 in Washington D.C. when a lunatic tried to assassinate the President with a Rohm RG-14 (.22 caliber) pistol. Luckily, though four people (one being Reagan) were seriously wounded, the President survived. It would take more than a whacko with a gun to keep the ‘Gipper’ (nickname from Knute Rockne) down for long. His run for the second term in office was won with the largest Electoral College victory in the country’s history.

A sad day for the United States and the entire world
So, in honor of one of our greatest presidents, in our humble opinion, we planned a visit to the Reagan Presidential Library at the beginning of 2018 in Simi Valley, California. The grounds are situated at an incredibly beautiful location, standing strong and proud on the top of a hill overlooking the valley.

With over 100,000 square feet in dozens of various galleries, visitors can easily spend an entire day wandering over the spacious grounds, and the library which details Reagan’s humble beginnings to his time as President and beyond, to his death in Bel-Air on June 5, 2004.

The Wall
Everything is there for the visitor. His rise to power – the people he met – the conquests he made toward world peace with an actual large section of the Berlin Wall, next to the Ruwe Terrrace, which came crashing down after his famous speech at the Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin.

“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” And the wall fell ten months after he left office as the demise of the ‘Evil Empire’ – Soviet Union – officially began on December 26, 1991.

The Great Communicator had done it -- and as a tourist you can walk long hallways depicting the struggles entailed as well as view the actual video footage of this and countless other historical events taking place during President Reagan’s tenure at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Walk onto Air Force One, parked on pedestals while looking out massive glass windows staring out over Simi Valley and marvel at the White House of the sky. Tour ‘Marine One’ or simply walk by the Presidential motorcade utilizing the actual vehicles which drove the 40th President to his functions.

There is so much to see that one blog – this one cannot begin to tell the tale of what the visitor to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library will experience.

An experience for the American citizen as well as to our friends from around the globe – visit this sunny valley in Southern California and see the grandeur of what made America who she is today and will always be.

The life of one great leader the world respected, loved and feared.

Ronald Wilson Reagan.

Even President Reagan had issues with the media

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Anti-Resolutions: New Year's Resolutions You Might Actually Be Able to Keep

Since the dawn of mankind, we have looked to the Heavens. We mark the path of the sun, and note the passage of a day. We notice the phases of the moon, and gain an awareness of a month. Then, those intrepid ancients took note of the alignment of the visible universe, and created a way to measure seasons, and years.

And with all our fascination with time, we promise ourselves that THIS year will be better than the last. WE will be better, do better, try harder. We make New Year's Resolutions. And before the end of January, most of those resolutions are out the proverbial window. And right now, who can even remember the resolutions made last year at this time?

So, to evolve beyond this rather masochistic practice, and end the self-punishment, it is time for anti-resolutions. These are resolutions you not only might actually be able to keep -- but perhaps, are the ones we should have been aiming for all along.

We at J and L present our anti-resolutions, and invite you to comment below with yours.

  1. Have a sense of adventure. You don't need a gym to work out. Get outside. Breathe in that fresh (well, fresher) air. Walk with someone you love -- hold hands if they are bipedal; hold leashes for the four-legged love in your life. Walk the path less-traveled. See things you haven't seen before -- across the world or across the street. But get outside. Say hello to fellow adventurers out for a walk or a hike. And don't forget to watch the sunset. Now that's our idea of exercise!
  2. Get some sleep. Well, after all that outdoorsy exercise, you've earned it. No guilt. Science tells us that a good night's rest can reduce your level of stress, and thus your blood pressure. You burn calories as you snooze, and rest helps curb your appetite. So, sleep does a body good! 
  3. Look up from your devices -- after you finish reading this blog, that is. Unplug. Read a book. Have a conversation. Play a board game. Enjoy spending time with friends and family. None of us are getting any younger, and no number of  'Likes' is worth missing a moment of 'Life.'
  4. Love yourself. Sometimes you have to spend a little money on something unnecessary. Sometimes, you need to have an hour to do nothing all by yourself. If you spend all of your spare energy on trying to make someone else happy, you will be miserable. You can't MAKE someone happy, anyway. Love yourself and you'll find you have more love to share.
  5. Use it or lose it. You know that special something that you've been saving for a special occasion. Well, today is that special occasion. Wear it, use it, play with it, drink it. Material items aren't meant to last forever. Enjoy them now instead of saving it for someday. And less truly is more. Get rid of the stuff that has been cluttering your closet and your life. All of it. If you don't have a use for it, donate it. Or, in the case of old divorce paperwork for instance, have a good ole bonfire.
  6. Write. Pencil or pen and paper are best. It doesn't have to be brilliant or inspirational. Write a story, a poem, a song. Make a list counting your blessings. Write a letter or a thank-you note, and send it. When was the last time you sent or received an honest-to-goodness letter? Not email. Real, physical paper and stamps. Remember when you could go the mailbox and there was something waiting for you besides bills and advertisements? Ah, those were the days. We could start a revolution right here and now. Bring back cards and letters -- and not just at Christmastime.
  7. Be creative. Make something with your hands. Plant. Rearrange. Beautify. Just don't do what everyone else is doing the way everyone else is doing it. Be yourself. Your best self. And definitely be different. 
Now, the anti-resolution purists will tell you that anti-resolutions must be stated in the negative -- to emphasize what you will STOP doing. But we believe that violates #7. A resolution is a firm decision to do, or not do, something. Therefore, anti-resolutions are more, well, guidelines. And none of these cost most than the price of a stamp -- but can be priceless. These anti-resolutions are about seeing the best in yourself and others -- rather than punishing ourselves for our bad habits. And that is our wish for you in 2018. See the best; be the best; hope and work for the best for all of us.