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What makes today special?

Today is a special day because Feb. 29 appears on our calendar only once every four year. We call it a Leap Day and 2024 is a Leap Year.

The famous Julius Caesar is credited with standardizing the calendar in 45 BC. He created a calendar of 12 months with 365 days numbered sequentially within the month.

Most people today use the Gregorian calendar, introduced by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582.  Our year is the length of time it takes Earth to orbit the sun. Because our year is approximately 365 ¼ days, this revised calendar allowed for an extra day which we now know as Leap Day.

Leap Days occur in years that are multiples of four, except for years evenly divisible by 100 but not by 400. For example, 1896 was a Leap Year, but 1900 was not. Correcting the calendar with a Leap Day allows for the length of the Earth’s orbit at 365 days 5 hours, 48 minutes and 45 seconds.

The term “leap year” probably comes from the fact that a fixed date normally advances one day a week from one year to the next but inserting an extra day in February causes the date to advance two days thus “leaping” over one day in the week. For example Christmas fell on Friday in 2020, Saturday in 2021, Sunday in 2022 and Monday in 2023 but it will “leap” over Tuesday to fall on Wednesday in 2024.

A person born on February 29 may be called a “leapling”. In non-leap years they usually celebrate their birthday on February 28 or March 1.

Some famous leaplings include:

  • American singer Dinah Shore born Feb. 29, 1916;
  • Montreal Canadiens star Henri Richard was born on Leap Day 1936;
  • DC comics says Superman was born on Feb. 29..

An Irish legend allowed a woman to propose marriage on Feb. 29. If the man rejected the proposal he had  to pay her a fine … a kiss,  a pair of gloves or money for a silk dress.

In 1984, Pierre Elliott Trudeau took his famous walk in the snow and announced on Feb. 29 that he would be stepping down as Prime Minister. Should we await an announcement from his son, Justin, today?

Tea is timeless

Captain Picard, in Star Trek the Next Generation, orders Earl Grey tea, hot, from the food synthesizer. Although that television series is set 300 years in the future, the history of tea goes back 5,000 years, suggest that the popularity of tea is timeless.

According to legend, in 2737 BC, the Chinese emperor Shen Nung was sitting beneath a tree while his servant boiled drinking water, when some leaves from the tree blew into the water. Shen Nung, a renowned herbalist, decided to try the infusion that his servant had accidentally created. He went on to research the health benefits of tea.

Indian history of tea attributes its discovery to Prince Bodhi-Dharma, who founded the Zen school of Buddhism. In the year 520, he left India to preach Buddhism in China. To prove some Zen principles, he vowed to meditate for nine years without sleep. It is said that near the end of his meditation, he fell asleep. Upon awaking, he was so distraught that he cut off his eyelids, and threw them to the ground. Legend has it that a tea plant sprung up on the spot to sanctify his sacrifice.

The tea plant originated in regions around southwest China, Tibet and northern India. Chinese traders may have travelled throughout these regions often and encountered people chewing tea leaves for medicinal purposes.

It was not until the Tang dynasty (618-907), that drinking tea become widespread. We know this because the government imposed a tea tax on China’s national beverage.

A Buddhist monk, Saichō, is credited with introducing tea to Japan in the early Ninth century. While studying in China, Saichō discovered tea and brought back seeds to grow at his monastery. Over time, other monks followed suit, and soon small tea plantations sprouted up at secluded monasteries. However, due to the isolation of these plantations, tea’s popularity in Japan did not blossom until the 13th century.

The most popular method of preparing tea involved grinding the delicate green tea leaves into a fine powder using a stone mill. This powder, called Matcha in Japan, was a precursor to the traditional Japanese tea ceremony. Matcha is prepared with bamboo whisks and served in hand-crafted bowls.

It was not until the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) that tea was prepared by steeping the whole leaves in water, like it is today. Instead of compressing tea leaves into bricks, or grinding them in a stone mill, the tea leaves were dried, rolled, and then heated in iron woks to stop the oxidation process. The brewing process simply involved steeping the tea leaves in hot water, without the need for a whisk.

Explorers and missionaries brought tea to Europe. Around the Ninth century, references in Arab trade documents refer to the process of boiling bitter tea leaves. Later, Marco Polo (1254-1324) alludes to his discovery of tea in his travel writings about the East.

Dutch merchants entered the picture in 1610. That year, the first shipments of Japanese and Chinese tea arrived in Europe via ships charted by the Dutch East India Company. The popularity of tea rapidly spread to Amsterdam, Paris, and London, although its high price limited consumption. In Shakespeare’s time coffee was the beverage of choice for men who met in coffee houses, but wealthy women drank tea at home with friends.

And what about Captain Picard’s favourite hot beverage? It’s named after Charles Grey, a British earl of the 1800s. This quintessentially British tea is a black tea flavoured with oil from the rind of bergamot orange, a citrus fruit.

How to enjoy Family Day in Prince Albert

In most provinces, the third Monday in February is Family Day, although some provinces use a differentt name for the holiday. Saskatchewan first celebrated Family Day in 2007; Ontario followed suit in 2008 and British Columbia in 2013.

Family Day got its start in Alberta when Helen Hunley,  then Lieutenant Governor of Alberta, proclaimed the Family Day Act in 1990 , on the advice of her premier, Don Getty.

Other provinces have similar events: Family Day  in New Brunswick,  Islander Day in Prince Edward Island; Louis Riel Day in Manitoba; Heritage Day in Yukon and Nova Scotia. In Newfoundland, Quebec and the there territories the third Monday in February is a regular working day.

In Prince Albert, Family Day signals the beginning of the spring school break and the last week of Prince Albert Winter Festival. There are lots of local events scheduled so it should be easy to find something to do with your family.

On Family Day, Feb 19,  there will be a sliding event on the toboggan hill at Liitle Red River Park,11 a.m. to 3 p.m. On Sliding Day you can take a ride on a horse-drawn sleigh and enjoy a hotdog and hot chocolate provided free by Lake Country Coop. Children must be accompanied.

Family Day wraps up with fireworks at 8 p.m. at the Art Hauser Centre.

The Prince Albert Winter Festival Family Cultural Days, at Prince Albert Exhibition Centre, are free with a Winter Festival Button. All children must be accompanied.

Family Cultural Days includes:

  • Feb. 20, 1-4 p.m , Jigging demonstration and learn to jig; story reading with Leah Dorion, beading crafts, games.
  • Feb 21, 10 a.m. to noon, sensory friendly activities for children. Register in advance at 306 960-6928
  • Feb. 21, 1-4 p.m., powwow dancing  with Jessica Rabbitskin and her children, story walk, horse-drawn sigh rides, dot-painting craft, ga,es
  • Feb. 22, 1-4 p.m., hoop dancing with Lawrence Roy Jr., storytelling, crafts and games. 
  • Prince Albert Winter Festival has almost daily activities for all ages, many of them free.

    See details at www.pawf.ca

Is Valentine’s Day for everyone?

Sometime during the next week you may find yourself helping a young student to address a multitude of tiny greeting cards. It’s the desperate preparation for Valentine’s Day, an annual celebration of love and friendship that many believe is just another merchandising gimmick. 

On Feb. 14 people celebrate Valentine’s Day by sending messages of love and affection to partners, family and friends.. The holiday may have originated as a Christian feast day honouring a Roman martyr but by the Middle Ages, St. Valentine shows up in Chaucer’s poem “Parliament of Fowls” (referring to the mating pattern of birds in early spring), and later in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, which alludes to lucky lovers meeting on St. Valentine’s Day.

History professor Elizabeth White Nelson says those origin stories were popularized in 19th century North America to give the holiday a historical grounding, particularly as a counterpoint to society’s fears about its commercialization. “Saints’ days are often merged with pagan holidays…, so it’s very possible that Lupercalia turns into another fertility holiday that somehow gets associated with St. Valentine, and over a period of time, all those associations stay connected. ”

Valentine’s Day exploded in popularity in the 1840s, although it was confined to a very specific idea of romantic love. According to Nelson, exchanging gifts, particularly spoons and gloves, became a way for couples to convey a sense of permanence with their beloved, and, traditionally, they remained each other’s Valentine for the entire year.

In 1850, Esther Howland began one of the first mass-produced Valentine’s Day card businesses in the U.S. These initial Valentines were rectangular in shape, assembled with fancy lace, and often featured poems, cherubs, heart motifs, birds, flowers, and other imagery commonly associated with the holiday today. Her cards became a commercial success but there was pushback in popular literature against buying these pricey cards. It was thought that a husband wasting his hard-earned cash on something as trivial as a fancy paper card was not a good sign for the marital road ahead.

“Whether it is frivolous is embedded in the commercial celebration of it from the very beginning,” Nelson says. So the need to justify the holiday and anchor its roots in something historically meaningful becomes a way to address this criticism. But skepticism didn’t stop its growing popularity.

The holiday continued to evolve from the 19th century on, becoming more of a technological and marketing story. The inexpensive mass-production of Valentine’s cards coupled with the advertising boom of the early 20th century, eventually paved the way for large companies like Hallmark to dominate the market.

Companies like Hallmark have actually helped broaden our notions of love and allowed for more inclusivity in celebrations, particularly in recent years. Greeting cards have expand the notion of love and the way that Valentine’s Day is depicted.

Some people don’t feel included in the holiday, as if it were a party and they didn’t get an invitation. For some, Valentine’s Day can feel lonely and isolating. However, inclusivity for Valentine’s Day celebrations has drastically expanded in recent years. Greeting card companies came to understand that love is broad — it’s not just romantic love. Inclusion is important for humans but also from a business and marketing point of view. It’s called market expansion. Only depicting romantic love and card exchange would be totally excluding all these other types of love, such as children exchanging little cards or giving teachers cards, or bringing colleagues or coworkers cards.

While the Victorian celebrations revolved around  traditional ideas, today we have a much wider scope of how we celebrate our affections for one another. People celebrate with their children, pets, friends and more. 

Most agree that we shouldn’t only celebrate love once a year, nor feel pressure to buy anything to show our affections. But creating awareness that true love is for everyone — and that it shows up in a myriad of forms — is definitely something to celebrate.

Why we celebrate Groundhog Day

Each year on Feb. 2, a large rodent emerges from its den in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. If this groundhog, named Phil, sees its shadow, it will retreat to its den and winter will go on for six more weeks; if it doesn’t see its shadow, spring will be early.

This lighthearted ritual was immortalized in the 1993 film Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray. Its roots, however go back two centuries in North America and beyond that in Europe.

According to the U.S. Weather Service, Groundhog Day has its origins in ancient European weather lore, wherein a badger or sacred bear predicts the weather, as opposed to a groundhog.

Groundhog Day is also similar to Candlemas. For early Christians in Europe, Candlemas on Feb. 2 was a day to bless and distribute candles. It was at the mid-point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox.  Early Christians decided that clear skies on Candlemas Day meant a longer winter was ahead, while a cloudy day foreshadowed the end of winter.  According to the English version:

If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Winter has another flight.
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Winter will not come again.

In the 1700s Germans who settled in Pennsylvania celebratedf Candlemas and introduced the tradition of an animal seeing its shadow into the prediction of the weather on that day.  In Germany, a badger had been used, but a suitable replacement in America was the groundhog.

In 1886, Clymer H. Freas, city editor of the Punxsutawney Spirit Newspaper proclaimed Punxsutawney Phil, the local groundhog, to be the one and only official weather forecasting groundhog.  Phil’s fame spread, and newspapers from around the globe began to report Groundhog Day predictions.

According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, Wiarton Willie, of Wiarton, Ont., has been predicting the weather since 1956. Like Punxsutawney Phil, Wiarton Willie is not a wild groundhog. He lives in a house in Bluewater Park, safe from predators, and the town of Wiarton cares for him year-round.

Today we celebrate a powerful poet

Today is Robbie Burns Day, a time to celebrate all things Scottish, but especially the birthday of Scotland’s most famous poet and lyricist, Robert Burns.

I first learned about Burns in a high school literature class, but it wasn’t until I attended a Burns Night supper that I understood the power of poetry in Scottish culture. Burns simple songs and poems have united the Celtic clans more than any warrior chiefs have ever been able to achieve. Scots and wannabes around the world gather annually to eat, drink and sing in honour of Burns, leaving their differences at the door.

Burns’ poetry was first published in 1786; his volume “Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect” brought him wide acclaim.

Burns spent the last ten years of his life collecting, revising and writing traditional Scottish songs.

It was Burns who wrote To a Mouse “Wee, sleeket, cowran, tim’rous beastie” that he had disturbed while plowing. It was Burns who wrote down and tinkered with “Auld Lang Syne”, now traditionally sung on New Year’s Eve.

Burns was born in 1759 at Alloway, Scotland. He died July 21, 1796, possibly from a rheumatic heart condition following a dental extraction.

Throughout his 37-year life Burns also made his name for his stand against orthodox religion and for his numerous love affairs … he fathered in total 12 children.

As colourful and enjoyable as Burns Night is, it is not an official Scottish national day. St. Andrew’s Day, Nov. 30, celebrates Scotland’s patron saint and is its national holiday. We all know and love the St. Patrick’s Day on March 17, the day to celebrate all things Irish. But less well known is the celebration for England ’s patron saint, St. George, which is April 23. While people in Northern Ireland get a bank holiday for St. Patrick’s Day and people in Scotland also have a day off for St. Andrew’s Day, unfortunately for people living and working in England, St George’s Day is not a bank holiday In fact. England does not have a national day, although the King’s birthday celebration comes close.

The Welsh celebrate St. David’s Day on March 1.. St David’s Day is not a bank holiday despite 87 per cent of Welsh people voting to make it one in 2007. Nevertheless, the day is marked with tasty treats and celebrations. I think the reason the celebrations of St. George and St. David never caught on in North America is because there is less drinking involved. More people get excited about drinking green beer for St. Patrick and whiskey to honour Burns than they do to drink tea and eat pastries. Despite their popularity, none of the celebrations of culture from the United Kingdom is a holiday in Canada.

Canada’s national day, of course, is Canada Day on July 1, the anniversary of confederation in 1867. Canada does not have a patron saint because there has never been a state church in this country. In Canada, Quebec alone celebrates Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day on June 24.

We now have a national day to recognize indigrnour people on June 21. On National Indigenous Peoples Day we recognize and celebrate the history, heritage, resilience and diversity of First Nations, Inuit and Métis across Canada.

Canada has become increasingly multicultural since Confederation. In recent years there have been in Prince Albert celebrates of Diwali, the festival of lights, which is the biggest annual celebration in India. Muslims in Prince Albert have celebrated Eid at the end of Ramadan, a month of fasting and prayer. I expect other cultures will soon enhance the Prince Albert social scene.

Walking through a doorway affects memory

Have you noticed how older people often talk about “the hereafter”? We walk into a room and exclaim, “What am I here after?”

We’ve all experienced it: The frustration of entering a room and forgetting what we were going to do or get.

It’s a well-documented psychological effect called the “doorway effect” or “location updating effect”. It’s when a person’s short-term memory goes blank when passing through a doorway or moving from one location to another. Most often the memory loss would not have happened if the person had remained in the same place.

Research from University of Notre Dame suggests that passing through doorways is the cause of these memory lapses.

“Entering or exiting through a doorway serves as an ‘event boundary’ in the mind, which separates episodes of activity and files them away,” says Psychology Professor Gabriel Radvansky.

“Recalling the decision or activity that was made in a different room is difficult because it has been compartmentalized.”

In her experiment Radvansky asked college students to perform memory tasks while crossing a room and while exiting a doorway.

In the first experiment, subjects used a virtual environment and moved from one room to another, selecting an object on a table and exchanging it for an object at a different table. They did the same thing while simply moving across a room but not crossing through a doorway.

Radvansky found that the subjects forgot more after walking through a doorway compared to moving the same distance across a room, suggesting that the doorway or “event boundary” impedes their ability to retrieve thoughts or decisions made in a different room.

The second experiment in a real-world setting required subjects to conceal in boxes the objects chosen from the table and move either across a room or travel the same distance and walk through a doorway. The results in the real-world environment replicated those in the virtual world: walking through a doorway diminished subjects’ memories.

The final experiment was designed to test whether doorways actually served as event boundaries or if our ability to remember is linked to the environment in which a decision – in this case, the selection of an object – was created. Previous research has shown that environmental factors affect memory and that information learned in one environment is retrieved better when the retrieval occurs in the same context. Subjects in this leg of the study passed through several doorways, leading back to the room in which they started. The results showed no improvements in memory, suggesting that the act of passing through a doorway serves as a way the mind files away memories.

When I was a child my mother would sometimes enter a room and say she had forgotten what it was she wanted to tell me or what she had come to do in that room. She usually went back to the room where she had come from because, she said, “the idea she had forgotten was hanging in the air,” in that room.

I think Prof. Radvansky would have loved to have had my mother participate in one of her experiments.

Take three steps to healthier habits

Many of us make New Year’s resolutions that involve personal change. If you are like most people I know, you have already fallen off the wagon. Don’t despair; it’s never too late to learn a good habit.

When we want to make personal changes, most of us try to change too many things at once or set goals beyond our reach. When we make a mistake on the way to reaching that goal, we feel like a failure and just give up.

Take weight loss as an example. I might set out to loose five pounds in a month. A totally reasonable goal. Inevitably, I will have a setback and fail to loose the weight I wanted to. That’s not my cue to abandon my diet and exercise program.  It just means I need to figure out where my plan went wrong, refine the plan and then get on with it.

There’s nothing magical about New Year’s Day for personal change. You can choose any day to begin your journey for change. But the best day to change is “today.” Don’t put it off to tomorrow, because tomorrow never comes.

Most of the things we want to change in our lives come under the heading of “bad habits.”  A habit is just something we do over and over without thinking about it much. 

Unfortunately, it is almost impossible just to “cut out” a habit. The hole in your life left by not doing that behaviour will fill up at light speed. For example, what happens when I say, “For the next minute don’t think about elephants.” I immediately envision elephants of all shapes and sizes! You not only need to eliminate a behaviour, you need to find a substitute behaviour. Instead of not thinking about elephants, I might tell myself to think about kittens.

Keep your plan for change as simple as possible. In fact, three basic steps are all you need.

    •   Write down your plan.

    •   Identify the triggers for the behaviour you want to change in yourself and decide which behaviours you want to substitute.   

    •   Focus on doing the replacement behaviours every single time the triggers happen, for about 30 days.

Ask your friends and family to help you achieve your goal. Remember, we’re all in this together.

How to sooth the post-holiday blues

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Christmas has passed, the guests are gone, the wrapping paper is in the trash and you feel… blah! With all the buildup to the holidays, why do we feel blue when they are over?

The National Alliance on Mental Illness describes the holiday blues as feelings of anxiety and stress that come up around the holidays and may be due to unrealistic expectations or memories connected to the holiday season.

Gina Moffa, a New York psychotherapist,  says post-holiday blues are temporary.

“This can be akin to feeling sad, anxious, or depressed with the characteristics of seasonal affective disorder… Your sleep may be affected, energy levels, and even your ability to concentrate.”

Post-holiday blues can be caused by a variety of things including alcohol consumption, overeating, too many activities disrupting routines, lack of sleep, financial strain. Sadness at this time of year may be caused by grief over death of a loved one or loss of a relationship, loneliness or illnesses.

Taking care of yourself can help you cope with holidays blues:

  • drink enough water
  • move your body
  • get enough sleep
  • create or maintain strong boundaries as needed
  • connect with nourishing people around you
  • embracing moments of solitude and quiet
  • stick to a routine

The dark cold days of January seem to stretch out bleakly forever. But by taking care of yourself, as you would take care of others, you can learn to live with the letdown after the holidays.

Each days brings new opportunities. My wish for you is that this coming year will be your best yet.

How to show your love for humanity

During Advent, the four weeks leading to Christmas, I have focused my columns on the four themes of Advent: hope, peace, joy, love. You might wonder why I have difficulty writing about this last topic because popular culture speaks so glibly about love. Many many pop songs focus on romantic love. Ballads extol love of country, friends and family.

Philosophy describes four types of love:

  • Eros – erotic, passionate love
  • Phila – love of friends
  • Storge – love of parents
  • Agape – love of humanity

It is this fourth type of love, agape, that resonates most strongly with me during Advent. But how can we love humanity when there is so much fighting and hatred at home and abroad?

Gleaned from the Internet, here are some ways to show your love for humanity:

1.  Look for the good in people – We all have our good and bad sides. Don’t be quick to judge others based on the things they’ve done. Condemnation never brings out the best in people … altruism and sympathy do. Maybe all they need is for someone to understand them.

2. Smile – Don’t underestimate the power of a smile. A smile not only lightens up your face, it can also brighten someone’s day.

3. Give back to the community – Phone a shut-in. Volunteer a few hours for the Salvation Army. Make a donation to the food bank.

4. Treat others as equals – Let go of your biases and stereotypes. See people for who they are. Respect strangers the way you respect your parents. If even some of us do that, the world will be a better place.

5. Love yourself — You cannot give what you don’t have. Try to love yourself first. Give yourself a pat on the back. Avoid criticizing yourself. Take care of your physical and mental health. Eventually, that love will pour out  into the people around you. 6. Forgive — Whether it’s your family or a stranger, the best way of showing love is forgiveness. All of us can make mistakes but not everyone can forgive. And if we do, we usually don’t extend that courtesy to people we don’t identify with. Everyone deserves second chances. We can learn to forgive and accept others despite our differences.