Wednesday, February 01, 2006

An American Critter Legend

February 2nd, "Groundhog Day"

An old Scottish couplet that predates the Roman invasion of England says:

"If Candlemas Day is bright and clear,
There'll be twa (two) winters in the year."

Candles were blessed by the clergy on Candlemas day, which was mid way between the first day of Winter (the Winter Solstice) and the first day of Spring (the Spring Equinox,) and forty days after the birth of Christ.

If the sun came out on February 2, Candlemas Day, it meant there would be a second winter that year, or six more weeks of winter weather. It was also believed that the hibernating animals knew instinctively when to leave their burrows and dens.

The favorite hibernating
animal to watch in the
British Isles was the

Eventually, the Romans legions would carry this tradition from Scotland and England to Germany, where the badger would be the popular animal to forecast the coming of Spring.

The early American settlers of German origin continued to celebrate Candlemas Day in their new home in the 1700s. They traveled westward to the territory known as Pennsylvania, where in time they would come to be known as the Pennsylvania Dutch.

It was the native-American Delaware Indians who founded a settlement between the Allegheny and the Susquehanna Rivers that they called "ponksad-uteney," the "town of the sandflies," which is known today as Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.

The Delawares believed that the woodchuck or groundhog was an ancestor to be honored, and the new German settlers quickly adopted the American groundhog as their weather forecaster.

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

Visit Punxsutawney Phil

Adopt a Hedgehog in the UK

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Maneki Neko "Lucky Cat"

With only a few minor changes, the Chinese lunar calendar and zodiac, spread to other Asian countries like, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. Only in very few instances, did another country change the year of the rabbit to the year of the cat.

In the end, however, "Rat" who caused "Cat" to be excluded from the Chinese Zodiac, only bears the name of every twelfth year, while "Cat" is known far and wide, with his likeness appearing everywhere. "Cat" is welcomed daily into homes and shops around the world, because he is also known as "Lucky Cat."

Japanese Calico Bobtail Cat

It was some time in the early part of the 17th century, in a little village to the west of Tokyo, in Japan, where there was a very humble temple that had fallen into disrepair.

The priest who resided at the temple was aging and very poor. He would have been very lonely, except for his only treasure, his pet bobtail cat, Tama. Now Tama was a very unusual cat, in that he was a tri-color, a calico. Almost every calico cat everywhere is a female, so Tama's color made him an exceptional cat.

Each day the priest would go about his temple duties with Tama following close behind, and in the evening he would share his meager portions of food with the cat.

One day when the situation seemed particularly bleak, the priest complained to Tama, saying that surely there must be something the cat could do to help out at the temple. After all, the priest said, he had taken care of the cat for quite some time now. Tama was busy washing his face while the priest talked on at some length, he only stopped his grooming for a brief moment, to look up at the worried face of his dear friend.

That night the priest prayed that somehow things would improve tomorrow, and that he and Tama would have food to sustain them. Then they went to sleep as usual, neither knowing what new difficulties another day would bring.

In the morning the priest arose early as was his habit, and he set about doing his daily chores. The sunshine faded, and it began to grow very dark. The priest looked up to see the gathering gray thunderclouds in the sky, and he began to move more quickly in the hope that he would be able to finish his work before the rains came. Mysteriously, Tama had not come with him this morning, and he wondered where the cat had gone. Hopefully, Tama had not gone far, and he would get home before the rains came.

Meanwhile, Tama had made his way to the front gate of the temple, and there he remained as if he was waiting to greet someone.

People were rushing past the temple now, eager to get home, as the sky grew darker and the cold rain drops began to fall. Tama watched with great interest, as one young gentleman sought cover from the rain. The young man had run under the leafy branches of the big tree at the edge of the temple's yard.

The gentleman was Lord Naotaka Ii from the Hikone district near Kyoto. Naotaka had been out hunting, when he noticed the rapidly approaching storm, and now he was trying to make his way back home.

When Naotaka realized that he would have to wait a few minutes before he could go on, he leaned against the tree to be more comfortable. After a moment he finally looked up to see the dilapidated temple. There in the doorway of the temple was a calico cat, and the cat was making an odd motion with its paw, the cat seemed to be beckoning him to come to the temple.

Curious, Naotaka decided to leave the cover of the tree, to see why this cat was waving for him to come to the temple.

Naotaka was only a few steps away from the temple gate and the odd little cat, when an enormous bolt of lightening flashed across the sky and struck the tree.

When Naotaka looked back, he saw the charred remains of the tree under which he had been standing, and he knew that his life had been saved by the cat who had beckoned him to the temple. Yes, little Tama had saved Lord Naotaka's life.

Naotaka went inside the temple and met with the old priest. After relating the story of how Tama had saved his life to the priest, he noticed the poverty of his surroundings. Naotaka decided that his wealthy family should become the patrons of this temple; and with that decision the priest and Tama would have much good fortune.

The temple was renamed Goutokuji Temple, and when Tama died he was buried beneath it. A clay figure of a calico cat with his left paw raised was made in honor of Tama, and it was called Maneki Neko (beckoning cat.) According to some, the Maneki Neko was considered to be the incarnation of the Goddess of Mercy. Even today, owners of lost or sick cats go to the temple to pray for their beloved pets.

Maneki Neko/Lucky Cat

In time Maneki Neko also became known as "Lucky Cat." He could be found in shops everywhere, to entice customers to please come inside.

The gold coin held by "Lucky Cat" is the Koban, an early Japanese monetary unit that was worth about $1,000. Today the coin represents ten million times that much, or a very sizable fortune.

There are numerous legends about Japan's first Lucky Cat, or Maneki Neko (beckoning cat.)

Later Maneki Neko would also become a charm to keep evil spirits away, only this "Lucky Cat" would have his right paw raised as if to protect.

Lucky Cat Paws and Colors:

The Left Paw
Invites customers or people.

The Right Paw
Invites money and good fortune.

Both Paws
Protects home or business.

The Bib and Bell
Represent Wealth and Material abundance.

The Calico Cat
Traditionally the luckiest cat of all.

The White Cat
Symbolizes Purity, and positive things to come.

The Black Cat
This cat wards off Evil and stalkers when placed facing North.

The Golden Cat
Brings Wealth and Prosperity when placed facing West.

The Red Cat
Brings Love, Marriage, Good Fortune in business and personal matters when placed facing East.

The Pink Cat
Brings Love, Happiness and Romance when placed facing Southeast.

The Green Cat
Brings strength in Academics (education/studies,) and sometimes Health when placed facing South.

Perhaps you do not remember seeing "Lucky Cat" at your favorite Japanese, Chinese, or Thai restaurant. Next time you visit, be sure to take a good look around, because he is there I assure you.

In the meantime, there is a very good chance that you will see "Hello Kitty," among your daughter's toys, or on a shelf in almost any store. She was created by a Japanese company about thirty years ago, and there are many who believe that she was inspired by "Lucky Cat."

"Hello Kitty"

Click Here To Color Your Own Lucky Cat

Monday, January 16, 2006

The Year Of The Dog 2006-07

Lord Buddha

In a mythical time very long ago, in a land far away, even before the Algonquin Indians in North America named the "full" moons, the ancient Chinese people were watching the sun, the moon and the stars in the sky with great interest too.

At first they had no way to mark the seasons of the year, to know when to plant their crops, or to do other tasks important to their livelihood, because they had no calendar. But, before Lord Buddha left the earth, a calendar was created based on the phases of the "new" moons.

A month was 29 1/2 days in length, beginning with each new moon, giving 12 months to each year. Five cycles of the 12 years along with the designated elements: wood, fire, earth, metal, and water, combined to complete a cycle of 60 years.

One day Lord Buddha summoned all of the animals to come before him, he had decided to select twelve of the most faithful animals, and to reward them with their own year. Lord Buddha did not tell the animals why he had called them.

In a little while the animals who had obeyed the summons, gathered quietly on the banks of the misty river across from the modest house where Buddha lived. They waited patiently to hear why they had been called. But, once they learned of the privilege that was to be given to 12 of them, they began to argue among themselves, as to who should be given the honor of naming the first year, and the second year, and so on.

Lord Buddha looked across the rushing waters of the river to see the squabbling animals, and he sought to calm the animals by giving them a contest. The animals were told that they must swim to the other side of the river, and the first one to arrive would be given the first year, the second animal to reach the bank would be given the second year, and so on.

The night before the morning of the contest, while everyone was asleep, Rat went to his good friend Cat, to discuss the race. They both agreed that they were at a terrible disadvantage, because they could not swim very well. They knew that they would be the slowest in the race, if they could finish at all.

So, Cat and Rat went to see Ox who was very large, but very gentle and good natured. Cat and Rat told Ox of their concerns, and asked if they could ride on his back in the river. Ox very kindly told them that he would be pleased to carry them across the raging river.

In the morning, when the first rays of pink and yellow sunshine washed over the river and its grassy banks, the animals were already awake and noisily hurrying to prepare for the race.

Ox was quite ready to go. He looked around for Cat and Rat, but did not see them, so he turned toward the river, and slowly walked to the river bank. Just as he was stepping into the water, Cat and Rat jumped out from behind some reeds and hopped up on his back.

Ox loved how he was able to float when he was in the water, and he was a powerful swimmer, so he was able to navigate the river quite well.

Then when Ox was almost half way to the other side of the river, and well ahead of the others; Rat became concerned that Cat would be the first to reach the shore, so he pushed Cat into the river. Cat never forgave Rat, and that is why to this day Cats hate Rats.

As Ox was swimming closer and closer to the shore, Rat jumped off and won the race. Rat was named the first zodiac animal.

Ox lumbered out of the water in second place, and became the second zodiac animal.

Tiger was not at all fond of water, but he was strong and determined, and still he managed to finish the race in third place.

Rabbit told a harrowing tale of his adventure in crossing the river, but he had received a helping hand from Dragon, and finished fourth.

Dragon, having slowed down to help Rabbit, came in fifth.

Then just as Horse was coming ashore, he reared back so as not to step on Snake, who had quickly slithered ahead of Horse. So, Snake was sixth and Horse placed seventh.

Next came Sheep, Monkey, and Rooster, placing eighth, ninth, and tenth. They had all come together on a hastily built raft.

A little time passed before Dog, who was an excellent swimmer, finally came ashore. As he shook and shook, spraying everyone with a shower of water drops from his fur, he barked to say that he had stopped to play. Dog would be the eleventh zodiac animal.

The sun was now overhead, and just when it looked as though there would be no more animals to finish the race, they heard a great splash, and a gurgling that gave way to a loud squeal. Oink, oink, oink, Pig was late, because he had overslept, but he was just in time to be the twelfth zodiac animal.

Now it is said, that each person will have the characteristics of the animal for whom his or her year of birth is named.

According to the ancient Chinese calendar, 2006 will be the year 4703-4, and January 29th, will be New Year's Day in the new "Year of the Dog."

This year's dog is ruled by the element fire. There is a Chinese tale about the celestial red fire dog who chased away evil spirits.

There are many breeds of dogs that originated in China: the Lhasa Apso, the Mastiff, the Pekinese, the Shar-pei, the Shih Tzu, and the Tibetan Terrier and Spaniel.

Most notably the Chow Chow was bred by Royalty, and by the Taoist monks, to serve as temple and palace guards.

Note: This is only one version of how the Chinese Zodiac began, there are several other myths or legends.

Most scholars believe the Chinese Zodiac originated sometime before 1100 BC, before Buddha's birth in India around 500 BC. The system grew more elaborate and complex over the centuries, but its importance in China ensured its acceptance elsewhere.

See The Animal That Hides In Your Heart below.

The Animal That Hides In Your Heart


Rat was the first animal in the Chinese zodiac cycle. It is usually considered aggressive, ambitious, suspicious, power-hungry, honest, generous, quick to anger and prone to spend freely. Those born under the sign of Rat are imaginative, charming, and truly generous to the one they love. However, they have a tendency to be hot-tempered and overly critical. They are usually suitable for sales work or work as a writer, critic, or publicist. Rats will get well along with Dragons and Monkeys, however should avoid Horses.


Ox is a symbol of powerful individuals with unyielding and stubborn personalities. Those born under the sign are natural born leaders who typically succeed when given the chance and will also make outstanding parents. They are upright, inspiring, easy-going and conservative. The Ox would be successful as a skilled surgeon, general, or hairdresser. Ox gets along with Snakes and Roosters but not sheep.


As the fighting animal, those born under tiger's sign are sensitive, aggressive, unpredictable, charming, emotional, courageous and capable of great love. Often risking themselves, they have a carefree life. Tigers usually will be outstanding as a boss, explorer, race car driver, or matador. A happy marriage can take place with a Horse or a Dog but never a Monkey.


Those born under this sign are affectionate, talented, obliging, always pleasant, valuing security and tranquility. They have a tendency to get too sentimental and superficial and to avoid conflict and emotional involvement. Being cautious and conservative, they usually take no risk and are successful in business. They would also make a good lawyer, diplomat, or actor. Their best life partners are Sheep or Pigs instead of Roosters.


Those born under the sign are considered intelligent, gifted, bossy, loud, garish, and unfaithful, but also popular and successful, full of vitality and enthusiasm. They usually look stubborn on the outside, but softhearted inside. They are born to be an artist, priest, politician, or leader. A dragon will be compatible with a Snake or Rooster. However, a sheep will not be a good choice.


Those born under this sign are usually considered clever, passionate, determined, romantic, intense, rich in wisdom and charm, but vain. Women born under Snake are often beautiful. Snakes will be strongly guided by their intuition. They certainly will win a lot of money, but have to avoid procrastination and stingy attitude towards money. The Snake would be most content as a teacher, philosopher, writer, psychiatrist, or fortune teller. Marriage with a Rooster or Ox not a Pig will be best.


They are hardworking, intelligent and friendly, cheerful and popular, but impatient. Usually they consider themselves superior to others. They have a strong streak of selfishness and sharp cunning and should guard against being egotistical. Adventurer, scientist, poet, or politician will be suitable occupations for them. Horses get well along with Tigers and Dogs instead of Rats.


The sign suggests a person who is creative, artistic, passionate, elegant, warmhearted, honest, charming but pessimistic, timid, disorganized and vulnerable. Too dependent on material comforts, they are easy to complain and do not respond well to pressure, but will find their own natural solution to a problem when given space. Best occupation for a Sheep is an actor or a gardener. They are compatible with Rabbits or Pigs in marriage, but not Ox.


Monkeys are intelligent, inventive, clever, entertaining but also dangerous and easily discouraged. Because of their extraordinary nature and magnetic personality, they are always well liked and make close friends. However, they can't be trusted. They should guard against being an opportunist and distrusting other people. The sign suggests success in any field they try. The best matches are Dragons or Rats while the worst are Tigers.


Roosters are courageous, hardworking, shrewd, arrogant, reckless, selfish and eccentric. They are thirsty for knowledge, devoted to work and definite involved in decision-making. They are skilled at what they do and attentive to details. However, they tend to seem boastful to others. Roosters will be happy as a restaurant owner, publicist, soldier or world traveler. The sign promises harmony with Snakes and Ox and trouble with Rabbits.


Those born under this sign are honest, quiet, intelligent, generous, stubborn, loyal and faithful to those they love. They are introverted listeners, dedicated but also cynical and prone to letting their external anxieties get the better of them. Constant worry, a sharp tongue, and a tendency to be a faultfinder will always plague them. However, they are born to be successful. Dogs will be excellent businessmen, activists, teachers, or secret agents. Tigers and Horses are deemed as best matches, and Dragons need to be handled with care.


Pigs are honest, reliable, sincere, tolerant, shy, affectionate, kind, impulsive and short tempered. They are splendid companions, intellectuals with a very strong need to set difficult goals and carry them out. In addition they are extraordinarily naive. Their unquenchable thirst for knowledge will facilitate their success whereas their quest for material comfort will frustrate it. Pigs also will sacrifice their lives for good causes. The Pig will be successful in financial affairs, or as an entertainer, or possibly a lawyer. Pigs should be aware of other Pigs and compatible with Sheep and Rabbits.

See Find Your Chinese Zodiac Animal below.

Find Your Chinese Zodiac Animal

• Jan. 31, 1900 to Feb. 18, 1901
• Feb. 18, 1912 to Feb. 06, 1913
• Feb. 05, 1924 to Jan. 24, 1925
• Jan. 24, 1936 to Feb. 10, 1937
• Feb. 10, 1948 to Feb. 14, 1949
• Jan. 28, 1960 to Feb. 14, 1961
• Jan. 16, 1972 to Feb. 02, 1973
• Feb. 02, 1984 to Feb. 19, 1985
• Feb. 19, 1996 to Feb. 06, 1997
• Feb. 07, 2008 to Jan. 25, 2009
• Jan. 15, 2020 to Feb. 11, 2021
• Feb. 19, 1901 to Feb. 07, 1902
• Feb. 06, 1913 to Jan. 25, 1914
• Jan. 25, 1925 to Feb. 12, 1926
• Feb. 11, 1937 to Jan. 30, 1938
• Jan. 29, 1949 to Feb. 16, 1950
• Feb. 15, 1961 to Feb. 04, 1962
• Feb. 03, 1973 to Jan. 22, 1974
• Feb. 20, 1985 to Feb. 08, 1986
• Feb. 07, 1997 to Jan. 27, 1998
• Jan. 26, 2009 to Feb. 13, 2010
• Feb. 12, 2021 to Jan. 31, 2022
• Feb. 08, 1902 to Jan. 28, 1903
• Jan. 26, 1914 to Feb. 13, 1915
• Feb. 13, 1926 to Feb. 01, 1927
• Jan. 31, 1938 to Feb. 18, 1939
• Feb. 17, 1950 to Feb. 05, 1951
• Feb. 05, 1962 to Jan. 24, 1963
• Jan. 23, 1974 to Feb. 10, 1975
• Jan. 09, 1986 to Jan. 28, 1987
• Jan. 28, 1998 to Feb. 15, 1999
• Feb. 14, 2010 to Feb. 02, 2011
• Feb. 01, 2022 to Jan. 21, 2023
• Jan. 29, 1903 to Feb. 15, 1904
• Feb. 14, 1915 to Feb. 16, 1916
• Feb. 02, 1927 to Jan. 22, 1928
• Feb. 19, 1939 to Feb. 07, 1940
• Feb. 06, 1951 to Jan. 26, 1952
• Jan. 25, 1963 to Feb. 12, 1964
• Feb. 11, 1975 to Jan. 30, 1976
• Jan. 29, 1987 to Feb. 16, 1988
• Feb. 16, 1999 to Feb. 04, 2000
• Feb. 03, 2011 to Jan. 22, 2012
• Jan. 22, 2023 to Feb. 09, 2024
• Feb. 16, 1904 to Feb. 03, 1905
• Feb. 03, 1916 to Jan. 22, 1917
• Jan. 23, 1928 to Feb. 09, 1929
• Feb. 08, 1940 to Jan. 26, 1941
• Jan. 27, 1952 to Feb. 13, 1953
• Feb. 13, 1964 to Feb. 01, 1965
• Jan. 31, 1976 to Feb. 17, 1977
• Feb. 17, 1988 to Feb. 05, 1989
• Feb. 05, 2000 to Jan. 23, 2001
• Jan. 23, 2012 to Feb. 09, 2013
• Feb. 10, 2024 to Jan. 28, 2025
• Feb. 04, 1905 to Jan. 24, 1906
• Jan. 23, 1917 to Feb. 10, 1918
• Feb. 10, 1929 to Jan. 29, 1930
• Jan. 27, 1941 to Feb. 14, 1942
• Feb. 14, 1953 to Feb. 02, 1954
• Feb. 02, 1965 to Jan. 20, 1966
• Feb. 18, 1977 to Feb. 06, 1978
• Feb. 06, 1989 to Jan. 26, 1990
• Jan. 24, 2001 to Feb. 11, 2002
• Feb. 10, 2013 to Jan. 30, 2014
• Jan. 29, 2025 to Feb. 16, 2026
• Jan. 25, 1906 to Feb. 12, 1907
• Feb. 11, 1918 to Jan. 31, 1919
• Jan. 30, 1930 to Feb. 16, 1931
• Jan. 15, 1942 to Feb. 04, 1943
• Feb. 03, 1954 to Jan. 23, 1955
• Jan. 21, 1966 to Feb. 08, 1967
• Feb. 07, 1978 to Jan. 27, 1979
• Jan. 27, 1990 to Feb. 14, 1991
• Feb. 12, 2002 to Jan. 31, 2003
• Jan. 31, 2014 to Feb. 18, 2015
• Feb. 17, 2026 to Feb. 05, 2027
• Feb. 13, 1907 to Feb. 01, 1908
• Feb. 01, 1919 to Feb. 19, 1920
• Feb. 17, 1931 to Feb. 05, 1932
• Jan. 05, 1943 to Jan. 24, 1944
• Jan. 24, 1955 to Feb. 11, 1956
• Feb. 09, 1967 to Jan. 28, 1968
• Jan. 28, 1979 to Feb. 15, 1980
• Feb. 15, 1991 to Feb. 03, 1992
• Feb. 01, 2003 to Jan. 21, 2004
• Feb. 19, 2015 to Feb. 07, 2016
• Feb. 06, 2027 to Jan. 25, 2028
• Feb. 02, 1908 to Jan. 21, 1909
• Feb. 20, 1920 to Feb. 07, 1921
• Feb. 06, 1932 to Jan. 25, 1933
• Jan. 25, 1944 to Feb. 12, 1945
• Feb. 12, 1956 to Jan. 30, 1957
• Jan. 30, 1968 to Feb. 16, 1969
• Feb. 16, 1980 to Feb. 04, 1981
• Feb. 04, 1992 to Jan. 22, 1993
• Jan. 22, 2004 to Feb. 08, 2005
• Feb. 08, 2016 to Jan. 27, 2017
• Jan. 26, 2028 to Feb. 12, 2029
• Jan. 22, 1909 to Feb. 09, 1910
• Feb. 08, 1921 to Jan. 27, 1922
• Jan. 26, 1933 to Feb. 13, 1934
• Feb. 13, 1945 to Feb. 01, 1946
• Jan. 31, 1957 to Feb. 17, 1958
• Feb. 17, 1969 to Feb. 05, 1970
• Feb. 05, 1981 to Jan. 24, 1982
• Jan. 23, 1993 to Feb. 09, 1994
• Feb. 09, 2005 to Jan. 28, 2006
• Jan. 28, 2017 to Feb. 15, 2018
• Feb. 13, 2029 to Feb. 02, 2030
• Feb. 10, 1910 to Jan. 29, 1911
• Jan. 28, 1922 to Feb. 13, 1923
• Feb. 14, 1934 to Feb. 03, 1935
• Feb. 02, 1946 to Jan. 21, 1947
• Feb. 18, 1958 to Feb. 07, 1959
• Feb. 06, 1970 to Jan. 26, 1971
• Jan. 25, 1982 to Feb. 12, 1983
• Feb. 10, 1994 to Jan. 30, 1995
• Jan. 29, 2006 to Feb. 17, 2007
• Feb. 16, 2018 to Feb. 04, 2019
• Feb. 03, 2030 to Jan. 22, 2031
• Jan. 30, 1911 to Feb. 17, 1912
• Feb. 16, 1923 to Feb. 04, 1924
• Feb. 04, 1935 to Jan. 23, 1936
• Jan. 22, 1947 to Feb. 09, 1948
• Feb. 08, 1959 to Jan. 27, 1960
• Jan. 27, 1971 to Jan. 15, 1972
• Feb. 13, 1983 to Feb. 01, 1984
• Jan. 31, 1995 to Feb. 18, 1996
• Feb. 18, 2007 to Feb. 06, 2008
• Feb. 05, 2019 to Jan. 14, 2020
• Jan. 23, 2031 to Feb. 10, 2032