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Columns

Reflections: Humankind has been enjoying a 'cold one' (or two) since nearly 4,000 B.C.

François Jaques' 1923 painting depicts peasants enjoying beer at a pub in Fribourg, Switzerland.
François Jaques' 1923 painting depicts peasants enjoying beer at a pub in Fribourg, Switzerland.

So we’ve made it closer to the end of another northern Illinois winter. Not that late February is analogous to spring, of course. It’s actually lots closer to winter than spring, at least in weather terms, although the calendar tells us that we can at least see spring on the horizon.

We’ve left Groundhog Day behind – the event, not the motion picture, which, fortunately, gets regular play on TV (and, by the way, nicely showcases downtown Woodstock, Illinois) – as well as Lincoln’s Birthday and Valentine’s Day, as we start looking forward to March and its climate schizophrenia. It’s not for nothing that February’s full moon was called the Full Snow Moon by our Native American cousins, thanks to Mother Nature’s habit of dropping large amounts of the white, fluffy stuff this month.

By the way, the Full Snow Moon just showed its face on Feb. 19, so on clear cold nights it’s still pretty bright and showy. The March full moon, which will rise exactly one month from yesterday, was called the Full Worm Moon by Native Americans because toward the end of the month the land was finally beginning to warm and earthworms would occasionally be prompted to leave their safe burrows.

But despite the on-again, off-again weather of a typical northern Illinois winter, we must all doff our hats to the folks at the U.S. Postal Service who, rain, snow, mud or cold, keep their appointed rounds delivering all the mail – whether we want it or not. But even junk mail has its positive side, as I find out on those days when the mail shows up out in front of the Matile Manse. In fact, here are a number of things I never would have found out if I hadn’t opened all the junk mail each and every day it was delivered:

Beer is one of the oldest alcoholic beverages. It was brewed at least as early as 4,000 B.C. by the ancient Assyrians, Babylonians, Chinese, Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and those wild and crazy Teutons.

February – Februarius in Latin – was named after the Latin term “februum,” which means purification, after the purification ritual Februa held on February 15 in the old lunar Roman calendar.

Says here that tongue prints are as unique as fingerprints. Guess all we have to do is get the crooks to say “ahhh.” On the other hand, I do wonder how that ink they use to take prints tastes.

In the “We Don’t Know How Good We’ve Got it Department”: In the Middle Ages, most towns had public ovens because large numbers of people did not have an oven at home.

February was one of the last months added to the old Roman calendar, and is also the shortest, usually at 28 days, but at 29 during every four years’ leap year added to keep the calendar chugging along.

The name of the gazelle comes from an Arabic word meaning “To be affectionate.”

The gigantic Hale telescope at the Palomar Observatory is 20 inches in diameter and can collect about a million times as much light as the human eye.

On this day – Feb. 21 – in 1878, the first-ever telephone directory was published in New Haven, Connecticut.

It takes your eyes a while to adjust to wearing contact lenses. In most cases it will take about a week for each year you’ve been wearing glasses. Or so it says here.

Scuba divers use a belt with lead weights to adjust their buoyancy in the water. The average diver needs 10 percent of their body weight in extra lead for neutral buoyancy.

Says here it takes a cord of wood (a stack 4 feet high by 8 feet long by 4 feet wide) to boil down 25 gallons of maple syrup, so you better start chopping because sugaring season is nearly here.

When setting up your lobster tank, provide at least two gallons of refrigerated water per pound of lobster. Got that?

February’s birthstone is the amethyst, and the month’s flower is the violet.

The first women to compete in the modern Olympics were Marie Ohner and Madame Brohy, who competed in the croquet contests at the 1900 Games.

Believe it or not, but ant season is on the way. A good method of persuading the critters to amble elsewhere is to put a few bottle caps filled with cinnamon on your kitchen counters and other places ants might gather.

Good walls make good neighbors, the poet said. You should plan on ordering or collecting two cubic yards of stone for every cubic yard of finished wall when you start building.

Says here you can park 100 cars on one acre. Wonder what size cars those would be?

Babies are born with flat feet. Arches develop slowly over the next six years. At least they are supposed to.

Professional football is the most popular sport on TV for female fans. During the last Super Bowl, 50 million women tuned in to watch the mayhem.

Going to the Gulf Coast or Florida to get away from winter? On average, every seventh wave is a big one.

To protect your back, keep it straight when lifting heavy weights. Bend your knees and let your legs do the lifting – leg muscles are far stronger than back muscles.

The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World were: the Pyramids of Egypt at Giza; the Hanging Gardens of Babylon; the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus (in modern Turkey); the Colossus of Rhodes; the Statue of Zeus at Olympia, Greece; the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus (also in modern Turkey); and the Lighthouse at Alexandria, Egypt.

Every state has as many Electoral College votes as the total of its senators and representatives in Congress. The 23rd Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1961, gave the District of Columbia three electoral votes.

Finally, an ermine is only called that when its fur is winter white. In the summer, its fur is brown, and it’s called a weasel.

• Looking for more local history? Visit historyonthefox.wordpress.com.

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