Save the sand dunes by recycling your tree

The most depressing day is just 12 hours away.  Roger and I have agreed that Christmas must be boxed up and put away tomorrow.  (According to some, it’s bad luck that I have waited this long.)


On Wednesday, I clipped the notice in The Frederick News Post about the Frederick tree recycling program.  Residents have until January 26 to give their tree back to Mother Nature.  Locally, trees will most likely be processed into mulch, but then, I learned that trees are used for other environmental benefits.  This infographic tells the story of a tree’s possible afterlife.


One of the four possibilities includes erosion prevention/shoreline stabilization.  Do we do that in Maryland? I couldn’t find a specific program in Maryland, but there was a great article about how New Jersey was using trees for shoreline stabilization after Hurricane Sandy.

This is a good video describing the Canadian National Park program that recycles trees to help stabilize shore areas.

I’m curious about whether our readers, who are also lucky enough to live along the coast, have a Christmas tree shoreline stabilization program in their communities?



“Diving” into Greek Festival of the Epiphany

Fla-town-hosts-hemispheres-largest-epiphany-event-RFPMSUQ-x-largeI’m not going to say that my brother Jim’s Epiphany Jeopardy! game is my sole reason for posting, but events surrounding this holy day have inspired a great deal of thought, curiosity, and research.

Today, Roger pointed to the photo in The Washington Post of a Greek youth in Piraeus (near Athens) holding aloft the cross he had retrieved from the very cold waters.  This is a tradition of the Greek Orthodox Church (Eastern Orthodox) on January 6, or Epiphany Day (also called the Theophany or Fota).  The symbolism relates to the celebration of Jesus’ baptism (one of the three events commemorated on this day).

Young Greek men dive for a cross, and the first to bring it out of the frigid waters is reputed to be blessed with good health or, depending on the tradition, “freed from evil spirits” throughout the year.

Outside of Greece, one of the biggest celebrations of this event is held in Tarpon Springs Florida.  This year, the young man who “won” the cross, 18-year-old Kosta Pseftelis, was diving for his third (and last eligible) time.  The event draws 10,000 spectators.  As the dive has continued to grow in Tarpon Springs, church officials, concerned that  “the dive had become more of a sporting event than an opportunity for the young men to reflect spiritually and biblically on the cross,” began requiring the young men to attend classes focused on the development of their religious lives.

In other parts of the world, similar dives are held .  I read about the annual tradition in Battery Park, NYC on the Hudson.  Of all of the dives, that sounds the coldest!

Blessed be the chalk!

Epiphany ChalkYesterday Natalie wrote a little recalling some Epiphany posts of the past. It sparked me to review some ideas and practices for the liturgical feast.  Today Epiphany is celebrated at the mass on the Sunday between January 2 and 6, but the actual feast day is the 6th (or the 5th if you stick to the strict Julian calendar dates of old- but that’s a whole other post).  The feast combines the major points that showed the new baby Jesus being recognized as man and God’s flesh on earth- the adoration of the Magi, the baptism of Jesus in the river Jordan, and the 1st miracle of the wedding feast in Cana.  The importance and level of recognition of the feast varies around the world today.  It is relatively unnoticed in the US but continues to be a national holiday in places like Finland, where all but a few essential services are closed.  Traditions of the day include activities like the baking of the king’s cake, community carols, and gifts for the children to represent the gifts of the Magi. Did you remember to replace your shepherds with the wise men in your nativity scene?

The formal mass for the feast includes the blessing of the gifts the Magi brought- the gold, the Frankincense, and the myrrh.  Also blessed is sone epiphany water and some chalk. Chalk? That’s right chalk.  The chalk is blessed with the prayer: “Bless, O Lord God, this creature chalk to render it helpful to men. Grant that they who use it in faith and with it inscribe upon the entrance of their homes the names of thy saints, Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar, may through their merits and intercession enjoy health of body and protection of soul. Through Christ our Lord.”

Epiphany Chalk 2At the end of mass people take some of the epiphany water and the chalk home.  The water is used to bless the rooms of the house for the new year.  The chalk is used to bless the house.  To do the blessing the chalk is used to write above the door to the house like this 20 C + M + B 15.  The 20 signifies the millennium and century and the 15 the decade and year.  The C, M, and B are the initials of the Magi- Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar but also represent the blessing “Christus mansionem benedicat”- Christ bless this house.  The blessing remains above the entryway until Pentecost (May 24th).  As an added little challenge, tradition holds that the first time any enter through the door they should step first with the right foot- maybe the origin of the phrase “starting out on the right foot”.

Epiphany ChalkI didn’t make it mass to get chalk last Sunday but it’s ok for the “father of the house” to do a blessing as the note is made above the door: “Let us pray. Bless, + O Lord God almighty, this home, that in it there may be health, purity, the strength of victory, humility, goodness and mercy, the fulfillment of Thy law, the thanksgiving to God the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. And may this blessing remain upon this home and upon all who dwell herein. Through Christ our Lord.”  A blessed and happy new year to you all!

Twelfth Night and Epiphany Jeopardy!

IMG_8760On this day in January 2013, Jeremy wrote about the ancient tradition of Twelfth Night, the night before the Feast of the Epiphany. I thought I knew everything there is to know about the Epiphany—but I was wrong—so wrong.

For his religious education family group on Sunday, my brother made a Jeopardy! game about all things related to the Epiphany. We took his test—and failed miserably.

The first problem was coming up with the names of the three kings. I defaulted to Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, knowing I was very wrong, but there were three names, and they are figures in the Bible. I couldn’t conjure up Melchior, Casper (or Gaspar) and Balthazar. The pressure of the timed moment was just too great—even with the hint that one of them sounded like a “friendly ghost.”  This CNN iReport describes the Lithuanian celebration of the three kings.  (Another future post, for certain.)

I completely failed on the three gifts. I could name them, sure. But I forgot the spiritual purpose of each one, especially myrrh. Later, I spent some time reading about each of the gifts and how they relate to the recognition of the divinity of the baby Jesus.

My brother asked about the Massacre of the Innocents and the names of ancient kings. The only answer I was sure of was “Egypt” (where Mary, Joseph and Jesus fled).

Although, Roger and I earned an imaginary $1800, it was a struggle. I will be re-visiting some of the major points of the Nativity story this year. Be prepared for Epiphany Jeopardy! rematch.

“The Writer’s Almanac” today featured a description of Twelfth Night in the early American Colonial period.

This month marks the third year of The Yule Log 365, and I feel like I have so much to learn.


Christmas or Thanksgiving Cactus?

Cactus 2Right “on time” our Christmas cactus is blooming, as it has the past three years since our neighbors, Greg and Luci, presented the seasonal gift to us.

Although we profess to be gardeners, I can tell you that I have a long history of killing anything green and growing indoors, except for the standard philodendron.

(And I’ve come VERY close to killing those, too.)

I did a little research, and found that the Christmas cactus is one of the Schlumbergera (say that three times) genus of cacti, growing in the coastal mountains of south-eastern Brazil. There is a second type called a Thanksgiving cacus, that blooms in the fall, and a third, Easter or Whitsun cactus (blooming at Easter).

On the linkedwebsite, someone posted a question about why her Christmas cactus blooms near Thanksgiving, and that’s when I learned there are two types! The cactus needs the shorter days with less light to inspire the blooming period to begin. In my experience, they survive largely on neglect (That’s why we are Master Cactus Gardeners.) and a little water. I read extensively about how they should be watered every 10 days and thrive on humidity, so I guess Roger does a lot more behind-the-scenes care than I knew.

I have linked to a great description of how to propagate the Christmas cactus. I will have to wait until the early spring to do this because the plant should not be actively blooming. Jeremy likes to give “to do” advice, so my “to do” advice will be to look for a good sale on holiday gold or silver pots/buckets in January. Or stock up on gold or silver spray paint.   Also, look for the end-of-holiday Christmas cactus that needs some love.

I’m going to set a reminder on my calendar to try propagating the Christmas cactus in April. That’s going to be an adventure, and it will make a terrific personal gift next year. Maybe I’ll give a “baby” to Greg and Luci!Cactus 1