Uncertain Future for Punxsutawney Phil

Groundhog Day–February 2nd–is rolling around again on Tuesday and you all know what that indicates: how much winter is left depending on whether the critter sees his shadow or not.  I have always worked under the impression that Groundhog Day was acknowledged nationally (afterall, it’s on all the calendars) and that Punxsutawney Phil was the national spokesrodent, whether he was happy or not about being yanked from his hibernation den up on Gobbler’s Knob in the mountains of Pennsylvania by men in beaver top hats.  After all, didn’t he co-star in a movie entitled Groundhog Day?  That Bill Murray movie had national release and retains somewhat of a cult following, so Groundhog Day; Phil; and Punxsutawney, PA would have resonance across the country.  Folks know the back story on this event.

Not so fast!  It seems as though a Utah rival has arisen to claim some of the limelight and notoriety.  Down the road apiece is the town of Sunset, Utah and yes, we all can see the sunset, but that higher-elevation town has a fairly unobstructed view across the lake and desert, so they must REALLY see the sun set.  Anyway, not to be outdone by Punxsutawney Phil, they lay claim to Sunset Sam, a local guinea pig and they’ve been relying on Sam’s prognostications for 15 years.  (I couldn’t get my paws on the statistics of his accuracy percentage.)  This Tuesday will be the 16th annual Sunset Sam Winter Fest and this year’s festivities will expand to a full celebration with a chili cook-off and flag football. Sunset’s recreation director hopes this year at least 100 of the faithful will turn out (a very hopeful attendance prediction, since Tuesday everyone works).  In addition to the chili cook-off and flag football game between the first 2 teams to sign up (Just how many teams could there be?), there will be the ubiquitous hot chocolate and doughnuts; face painting; a pinata (personally, I don’t get the connection); and contests, including Pin the Coal on the Snowman.  (I am not making this up.)

How the guinea pig concept works is is the polar opposite of Phil’s technique: if he stays awake to see the sun setting, thereby seeing his shadow, it’s 6 more weeks of winter; if he is sleeping and misses the setting sun and glimpsing his shadow, it will be an early spring.  (Shhhh!  Don’t anyone awaken Sam!)

If the appearance of competition in Utah isn’t grim enough, the top groundhog is facing threats closer to his burrow just northeast of Pittsburgh.  The well-meaning members of PETA claim it’s unfair to subject an animal to bright lights and tens of thousands of revelers that gather in Punxsutawney each winter, so they are suggesting the substitution of an “animatronic model” for the event: think robotic stand-in. William Deeley, President of the Inner Circle of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, apparently appalled by this suggestion, maintains: “the animal is ‘being treated better than the average child in Pennsylvania.'” (Phil is kept in a climate-controlled environment and is inspected annually by the PA Department of Agriculture.  My question: Are PA children routinely inspected by the Dept. of Agriculture or are they being ignored?)  In a final swipe at PETA, Deeley  feels that PETA isn’t interested in Phil from February 3 through February 1 the following year, but is just looking for publicity.

A Sunset resident somehow started this “tradition” a decade and a half ago and graciously turned the idea and the guinea pig over to the city.  I can’t find out who cares the guinea pig the rest of the year and who feeds him.  (Is there a Utah Dept. of Agriculture inspection?)  Also, guinea pigs don’t exactly have long life-spans, so it’s unclear as to who replaces Sam.  And why a guinea pig? They certainly aren’t native to Utah (I have it on good authority that the indigenous population in Peru often has guinea pig on the menu!).  Seems like a prairie dog would have made more sense.

I’m not sure why everyone couldn’t just be content with Phil. Perhaps eastern forecasting doesn’t work past the Mississippi River when it comes to the length of winter.  Perhaps Sunset, Utah just wanted to get on the map; the Fest can’t be a money-maker for the town, as the event is free. Perhaps Bill Murray can make a sequel, also filmed on location in Sunset: Guinea Pig Day. (Doesn’t quite have the same ring, does it?)

I just hope Phil and Sam come to the same conclusion about the length of winter, otherwise, things could get ugly.  Groundhog Stew or Guinea Pig Cutlets anyone?

Published in: on January 29, 2010 at 4:46 pm  Comments (2)  

“The Chicken Chronicles”–Part II

I know you’re all hanging onto your perches for the next update [refer to my blog of 1/10/10 for the opening installment] on the compelling and on-going saga of egg-layers in the backyard. The top news item above the masthead of the Standard-Examiner last Wednesday was: “Crying foul over fowl.”  The puns just keep coming!!!

In support of their fine-feathered friends, poultry lovers in the nearby towns of Layton and Clearfield who want really fresh eggs on their breakfast plates turned out in force at Thursday’s Layton City Council “issues only” meeting at the City Hall. Chicken supporters were invited to argue the benefits of keeping chickens in more residential neighborhoods.

One of the councilmen stated: “‘I think (wanting) chickens is somewhat of a fad.  Whether it is a fad that is going to get really large or die out, I don’t know.'”  

Meanwhile, while the council is brooding on their eggs and the con-residents are stewing (one hopes with carrots and celery), the pro-chicken citizens have created an online support group and can be reached at clearfield-chicks@yahoogroups.com.  This also is a hen-house of information and offers the opportunity to help support this movement.  One council spokesperson pecked: “‘[This] was a small group–they were very vocal–who wanted chickens so they could be self-sufficient.”  So far the council has determined that the financial argument did not hold water once shelter; feed; and the ability to secure the chickens to keep them safe in the yard and keep predators away was factored in “We’re not against chickens,” another council member assured the public.  A final decision might be made in about a month.

At Thursday’s hen party about 20 residents clucked their testimony regarding the value and advantages of keeping chickens in backyards; my favorite rationalization: “chickens make good neighbors.”  One woman stated she would rather have 50 chickens next door than 4 pre-schoolers (her property abuts a home daycare).  Currently the estimate is 1,000 illegal chickens cooped up in the Layton City neighborhoods where livestock are prohibited by zoning law.  “We’d like to make those illegal chickens legal, without an ax hanging over our heads,” quipped a poultry-owning resident.  I wonder if the chickens are similar to illegal aliens: smuggled across the border at night?

By the way, a rough estimate of backyard poultry costs of a flock of 10 hens was ventured to be about $2.87 per egg.

Published in: on January 25, 2010 at 6:59 pm  Comments (1)  

Bank Karma

Now I know what the ordinary person felt like in October of 1929 when the Stock Market crashed and banks closed.  Last Thursday word hit the street that Barnes Bank–founded in 1891 and a local banking institution–had failed and was being taken over by the Feds.  Apparently, they had put most of their eggs in one basket: shaky real estate and mortgages.  All I can say is thank heavens for the FDIC, which the folks back in 1929 did not have!  The bank reopened on Saturday to all the staff replaced with federal officers, policemen for crowd control, and long lines at the door to close accounts and get one’s money.  My daughter, Lara, banked there and went in on Saturday and she said there were bagels, doughnuts, muffins, and hot chocolate (remember, most everyone here isn’t supposed to drink coffee); I guess the idea was if you supply food, things won’t get too unruly.  I can tell you, except for a few rumors and small newspaper articles prior to last week, this really took everyone by surprise.  No one expected the bank to actually fail.  

Personally, having just moved here 6 months ago and just getting everything (checking, savings, automatic deposits of my SS and IRA checks, automatic bill payment) set up with, you guessed it, Barnes Bank, it was quite dismaying.  And I’m sure my inconveniences were minor as compared with others who had loans, mortgages, and were away on vacation (a lot of retired locals flee to warmer Arizona for the winter). Bottom line is we all have until Feb. 12 to close our accounts and get set up elsewhere.  Talk about bad luck or is it bad bank karma, as the financial world wasn’t done with me yet and actually, looking back east, the weirdness started at the bank I used prior to my move.

Let’s look closely at the time frame before I moved, which was the beginning of the pattern of things happening in threes….

In May, there were rumors that several tellers at my bank, First Keystone, were laid off their jobs under suspicion of embezzling money from the ATM.  When I moved the investigation was still underway.  The Feds were involved and no one was saying anything.  Just recently, I was sent the Delaware County Times front page story picturing the former tellers being led out of the Media courthouse after arraignment and posting bail for admitting to stealing a lot of money from the ATM and parking meter deposits.  

Now fast forward to this week and the Barnes Bank debacle.  I decide to go in on Tuesday and the lines are still pretty daunting and I am more anxious to get some money to open new accounts than I am to actually close my accounts; I have to get new account numbers someplace else to get my retirement checks reestablished, as I don’t want any glitches.  I also need new checks to pay bills due at the end of the month.  If this mess had to hit, for me at least, the middle of the month was the best possible time: in between automatic deposits and payments due.  I’m in line with crying babies and irritated men with a policeman sitting in a corner chair and the Feds prowling and answering questions. After an hour and the line hasn’t moved, I get a brilliant idea: I just need money and don’t have to close my accounts today.  I’m out the door in a flash, with Ethan in tow, and I hop in my car and head for the drive through window.  It was a real eureka moment, let me tell you!  Finally, with several grand clutched firmly in my fist, I drive to the credit union down the block where Lara has also started her accounts.

Of course, they’re swamped with Barnes Bank customers and the wait there is at least an hour.  Praying I don’t get robbed or hijacked enroute home, I decide to lay low with my moolah stuffed in my mattress overnight (just kidding).  Next day, I’m back at America First Credit Union and am taken by an account rep within 5 minutes. Whew!  Almost home.

Well, almost.  If the First Keystone Bank problems were the first of things happening in threes, and the Barnes Bank collapse was the second, do you actually think it would be smooth sailing at America First?  

All was proceeding normally when just as Josh was setting up my account and I could see my membership card and number on his desk, the computer system went down.  According to Josh, I had an account, but he couldn’t find it; it had simply vanished!  I was now caught in a time-space continuum and as he said: “I’ve never seen this message [whatever it was, he never shared it] on my screen before”; he went on to add: “You are now in the ‘Twilight Zone’.”   One option was to open a second account and eventually destroy the first account.  Now, I’ve been down that road before when I had Cygnet Framing and it took Commerce Bank (remember them?) 6 weeks to straighten out the mess of 2 bank accounts (Commerce had mistakenly created them and I didn’t know about it) with deposits going into one account, rubberized checks from the other account careening all over the country and pissed-off framing suppliers, not to mention ruining our good name and reputation.  I had visions of disappearing SS deposits, bounced checks, and creating bad credit which would jack up any interest rates on my credit card and student loan, which I’m still paying off!!!!  I’d be straightening that nightmare out until the moon went blue with cold.

Luckily for me, Josh and his boss put their heads together and after a phone call or two and 20 minutes, a way to circumvent this problem was found and I walked out with checking and savings account numbers, checks, and the requisite paperwork.  

So my trifecta is complete: things do happen in threes and little did I know that three tellers embezzling money in 2009 would be the start of a round of bad bank karma for me.  Talk about stress….

Published in: on January 21, 2010 at 7:40 pm  Comments (2)  

Getting Around Utah Sans GPS

Okay, I get it: The big mountains are to the east and the lake and desert are to the west.  This can’t be difficult and, owning no GPS gadget, I won’t get lost with these two visuals (except in heavy fog when you can’t see squat!).  That’s the easy part; now, try to get around to local addresses that look like my address:

2217 South 1700 East

8o5 West  2600 North

Of course, there are normal sounding streets: Main–each town has a continuation of Main St. running along the Wasatch Front, Gentile (pronounced Gen-TILE, not Gen-tillie), Angel, Bluff Ridge, but most of the residential streets are numbered and oriented to compass points. How did this start, you ask?

Apparently, (but not sure if this holds true 100% of the time now) this was the idea when Salt Lake City was laid out in the 1800s after the Mormon pioneers arrived.  Imagine a grid of square blocks, now plop the Salt Lake City LDS Temple in the center block.  The four lines, or streets, directly around the temple are called North, South, East or West Temple Square.  Moving away from Temple Square in any direction the streets are 100 North, South, East, or West.  Continue this pattern advancing through 200 up to 900.  Obviously, the next street would be 1000 N, S, E, or W, and so on.  Keep in mind the streets designated North and South actually run east and west and the East and West streets run south and north.  Take a few seconds to absorb that; picture that block grid again until it makes sense.  The streets can get up to pretty high numbers; yes, there is a 26000 South in Salt Lake City!  (Have a headache yet?)

The confusion–at least for newcomers like me–starts when one discovers there is more than one LDS Temple along the Wasatch Front, so the numbering starts again from the next temple (at least in theory).  You’ll run into a situation where ending high numbers going in a south direction, like 2500 South, will terminate at the city line and bump into a street with the numbers heading north, like 3400 North heading north out of the more southern town.  Confused yet?  

I guess it’s no worse than an address in New York City like 278  85th St. or the corner of 5th Ave and 67th St….

The locals assure me it will eventually make sense once you know where city and town boundaries are and as long as you can see the mountains you at least know which way is east.  Of course, on bad air days or foggy days, one can’t see the mountains….

Keep in mind that Main Street will often become State Street with little warning and that 1700 North also goes by the name of Antelope Drive. It really gets interesting when 1700 North crosses 1700 West.  It is also amazing that some of the in between numbered streets, like 1865 South will stop and start perhaps a half mile away and tucked in another sub-division of houses. With no GPS–which I doubt if I would trust completely–a numbered street map is imperative!  I haven’t driven too far out of my local turf yet, but I’m sure the rest of the state is set up the same way.  I’m starting to get used to it, but landmarks are sure useful as all those numbers can get mixed up in your brain.

Published in: on January 16, 2010 at 10:14 pm  Comments (1)  

“The Chicken Chronicles”

There’s currently a hot debate (pun alert) embroiling the Top of Utah involving chickens–specifically chickens in backyards. Ogden, nearby Layton and other residential suburbs are pecking at this fowl issue.  

This debate was recently brought to my attention via an editorial in the Standard-Examiner and I have borrowed the title, hence the quotation marks fencing in my posting title.  Apparently there are two camps on this matter, both trying to stake out turf before final ordinances are put into effect.  The editor, who supports backyard poultry flocks offers the following reasons why this makes sense:

  1. Since this area began as agricultural communities, barnyards already may be grandfathered into the law.
  2. Chickens provide a healthy learning experience for youngsters: responsibility, natural life cycles, learning where eggs come from.
  3. Convenience of an egg food source
  4. Chickens do not make a lot of noise and stay where their food is; they don’t fly the coop!
  5. Chickens make good and unusual pets, especially if you name them.

Now, the other side has some good reasons to oppose this back-to-the-good-old-days plan:

  1. Chickens can spread disease, especially if conditions are crowded.
  2. For chickens to lay eggs, doesn’t there need to be roosters? Roosters are noisy.  What if your neighbor has a lot of roosters?
  3. When chickens no longer are egg-layers, farmers kill them for Sunday stew, so to speak.  Chickens might be killed in full view of the neighbors.  Residents aren’t allowed to kill their dogs and cats behind the house, so the same rule should apply to backyard poultry. They will need to be humanely destroyed as they get old, which leads to the next point:
  4. Animal control centers will now have to handle chickens. That means more money for an already underfunded department.
  5. Property values may go down; it’s already hard enough to sell your house.  Image looking at a property with 15 chickens in the adjoining backyard!

Now, I’m sure this debate has been going on for longer than the last several months and I’m also sure other communities in Utah and other states that have farm culture as part of their history have wrestled with this notion.  I already have a noisy rooster (whose presence has appeared in an earlier blog) in a nearby yard, but I’m not sure lots of chickens would be a good idea in our neighborhood.  And that’s the crazy thing; Syracuse was nothing but farms–there is no old shopping district–until the farmers realized they could make more money on a one-time sellout to a real estate developer than they could in many seasons of farming and tending chickens.  Now, suburban folks long for the rural life and chickens are a simple way to reclaim a part of the past and have the chance for a fresh omlette.

Published in: on January 11, 2010 at 8:55 pm  Comments (3)  

Listolution

I hate to make New Year’s Resolutions, but it seems like almost everyone does for some reason, and then not keep them.  (Can’t one make a resolution on one’s birthday? On Groundhog Day?  How about on Easter–you know, spring and new birth?  Or what about on July Fourth?  At least you’d have fireworks to mark the occasion!)

Anyway, here it is, January 4th, 2010 and I am somewhat resolutionless.  (Spellcheck doesn’t recognize this word, so have I created a new item for the lexicon?)  I’ve also noticed that at year’s end many people or groups create lists: 10 best ____, 10 worst ____, 10 silliest ____, and so on.  Being new to Utah, where things are certainly different than back east, I decided to bog the system down (sick of lists yet?) and create yet one more specialized list of quirky things I’ve noticed now that I’m residing in Utah.  (Note: I’m sure these 10 things happen in other states and places and are not totally unique to Utah, but since I’ve become aware of them since my July move, they qualify for my little list.) Oh, and by the way, a lame resolution will appear at the bottom, hence my posting title.

In no particular order:

  1. The local winter sport is not what you’d expect: skiing, snowboarding, ice wall climbing, or even curling.  No, it’s chariot racing.  Yep, up in Ogden at the Golden Spike Events Center the guys get together with their horse teams and homemade chariots each weekend.  Ben Hur would cringe; the chariots are constructed of bicycle wheels and bent sheet metal.  It’s a quarter mile sprint which takes about 25 seconds; one race per weekend and you’re done.  Apparently there are about 30 teams, so this is a serious and according to the article, somewhat expensive.  (No, I didn’t go up and watch.)
  2. On slow days, employees of places like Jiffy Lube, real estate sales, Frozen Bliss yogurt (before it went out of business) will stand on the nearest intersection with a big sign and wave it around and dance (I guess to keep warm in the winter) to advertise the business Actually, it’s rather entertaining at a stop light.
  3. Go to the mall or movies on a Sunday; you’ll have the place to yourself.  LDS folk are all in church at their local ward for several hours each Sunday and the rest of the day they are expected to stay home with family and NOT shop or go to the cinema.
  4. Because family history and geneology are really important to LDS families, you cannot imagine how big a deal scrapbooking is out here.  All the craft stores devote several aisles to the endeavor and there are even weekly cable TV shows focused on making the best scrapbooks.
  5. The other night we all went out to a nice dinner at Olive Garden.  The lobby was crowded (when isn’t it?) and to help pass the time, one of the employees appeared in our midst and organized a trivia game.  No prizes, just who could answer the questions.  One question was: What was the rat’s name in the Disney movie Ratatouille?
  6. Good Mormons all stock at least a year’s worth of canned, powdered, and boxed food for their families.  Some of the basement food storage lockers are huge rooms with steel shelves for holding these items.  One can purchase in our local Walmart 40 lb. containers of wheat (it’s a grind your own project), 10 lb. Moo powder, 5 lb. cans of vegetables, and on and on.
  7. While we’re on food, among the usual movie menu items (popcorn, Sprite, nachos) one can buy a pickle.  Yes, that’s right fans, a pickle.  How would you like to sit next to someone munching on a pickle while watching, say, the next Harry Potter or Twilight film, or Avatar?
  8. Our local Ogden newspaper apparently has a mascot and it makes appearances.  In fact, the paper recently ran an ad for someone to be, on a part-time basis, the Standard-Examiner mascot (one qualification was having mascot costume navigation experience).  And what, you ask is the mascot?  It’s a large, white chicken.  Think Big Bird with a deficit of feathers.
  9. If one gets bored with the usual TV fare, there’s always the ubiquitous LDS General Conference and Women’s Conference testimonies, broadcast constantly on several channels.  Often recycled from a decade ago, these speakers offer their remarks on some uplifting aspect of Mormon spirituality, usually delivered in a flat monotone voice.   
  10. Returning to food one final time, pot luck dinners are famous for delicacies such as Funeral Potatoes, Tater Tot Casserole, and salads made of Jell-o, mostly lime flavor.  In fact, the Utah state legislature officially made Jell-o the state snack food several years ago.  The Salt Lake Tribune at some point ran a Jell-o haiku contest and had many, many entrants.  Two of the winners’ efforts:

                       Red and blue and green,

                       hues never found in nature.

                       We pretend it’s food.

and

                      Without green Jell-o,

                      crushed pineapple, cottage cheese,

                      there’s no Thanksgiving.                                                                  

As for my resolution, well, here it goes: I resolve to enjoy life, live more healthily, read more books, and find new topics for my blog. Happy New Year all!

Published in: on January 4, 2010 at 9:54 pm  Comments (2)