Wednesday, February 12

Yesterday began stacked with potential revelry, so much so that to have conquered all of it would have strained our time circuits. It was National Shut-In Visitation Day, and we were not only at work all day, but lacking any local shut-ins to visit. Then the snow hit and I spent two unpleasant hours with shovel in hand, requiring the postponement of two of our celebrations. Such is the nature of this frozen wasteland.

National Don’t Cry Over Spilled Milk Day & Get Out Your Guitar Day

Due to the excessive snowfall, these are the two celebrations to be postponed for a day or two. By the time my tardy bus delivered me home and the heap of powder had been cleared from my property it was 9:00. We have these parties planned and we’d like to do them properly.

National Inventor’s Day

Let’s have a look at five of the most prolific inventors in history, and the goodies they imparted unto us, the schlubs who can’t even come up with a single invention of our own when the calendar demands it.

#5: Thomas Alva Edison (1,084 patents). As someone who has studied extensively the early days of cinema, two items must be stated: Edison was crucial to the development of film technology, and he was also a massive dick when it came to letting people use that tech. But let’s put that aside, as well as the light bulb and phonograph. Let’s look at some of T.A.E.’s lesser-known back-catalog. Edison improved upon telegraph technology to give us the stock ticker. He crafted the first commercially available fluoroscope to take X-rays. He revolutionized iron ore mining using rock-crushers and magnets to suck the iron out of the dust. He came up with a battery for an electric car. He also created chemicals to be used in World War I. He was busy.

#4: Gurtej Sandhu (1,335 patents). Gurtej is the most prolific inventor in India’s history, mostly creating semiconductor technology I couldn’t explain with any coherence if I tried. One of his big ones was a method for coating microchips with titanium without exposing the metal to oxygen. That changed the game for chip-makers. For us laypeople, let’s just be glad Gurtej is still hard at work, since he is probably partly responsible for every piece of tech we’ll touch today.

#3: Lowell L. Wood Jr. (1,924 patents). Lowell is quite a phenomenon. He has made things like an electric razor that uses a laser, and a microwave that can cook different items on a plate with different power settings at the same time. But his main focus is on stuff that will help humanity. He built a giant thermos for preserving vaccines. He works with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on solving hunger and disease issues around the world. He’s worked on football helmet technology to save high school kids’ brains. Lowell is definitely one of the good guys.

#2: Kia Silverbrook (4,747 patents). Keep in mind, these are US patents. Kia (who hails from Australia) has nearly 9,900 patents with the international patent database. His specialty is also high tech, including printers, solar panels, and a device that can analyze diseases using a smartphone.

#1 Shunpei Yamazaki (5,608 patents). And just in case you weren’t sharing the inferiority complex that’s weighing me down as I type this article, here’s the most prolific inventor in history. Much like Mr. Silverbrook, a lot of Shunpei’s inventions show up in smartphones. That solid-state hard drive in there? That’s him. He’s worked on the display tech. The camera. The chip that runs the thing. In short, without the people on this list we’d all still be playing stickball and staging gladiator fights for entertainment.

National Make a Friend Day

Hi Jenny! Hi Brenda! Hi Jeanne!

Friends these days are more of a social media construct than a social construct. Once you’re out of high school, making new friends is a rare occurrence. But with social media taking over our lives (or enslaving us – whichever linguistic alternative tweaks your fancy), we have new ways of communicating and a new definition of the parameters of ‘friendship’.

I’m “friends” with people I’ve never met in person. In the past we’d have called them pen-pals or correspondents, but the reality of human interaction has shifted. Some of those long-distance bonds are as genuine as any friendship I’ve ever had. We have sent things to one another. We have travelled to meet one another. One of these friends I would absolutely consider to be among my closest. This is the new state of camaraderie, and it’s wholly accessible and absolutely legitimate.

So today I reached out to a few friends-of-friends and fired off a handful of requests. Does it count if I already know the person with whom I am becoming “friends”? Sure it does – with a new reality comes a new form of access to one another’s lives. I’m thrilled that Jenny, my cousin’s girlfriend, has joined the ranks of my Facebook pals who will now see my lame jokes, my dog photos, and my ill-advised forays into political discourse with idiots. Jodie’s colleague Brenda followed suit, as did one of my favourite humans and my former boss, Jeanne. Welcome to the party!

Grandmother Achievement Day

Between the two of us, we have precisely zero remaining grandparents. That’s a downer of an opening sentence for a celebration, but it sets up a great train of reminiscent thought – one aboard which we’ll hop right now.

Let’s start with Marie, Jodie’s nan. She was a tiny lady. She had the cojones to flee an abusive husband – not an easy act for a Catholic woman in the mid-20th century. She was excommunicated and shunned by her family, but she got healthy, remarried, and adopted Jodie’s mom and uncle. Then there’s Mary on the other side of the clan. She emigrated from Czechoslovakia at the tail-end of WWII. A stranger in a frigid land, she landed a job as a waitress. She continued to wait tables (sometimes holding 2-3 jobs at once) until after her 80th birthday.

My grandmothers were also split – one immigrant and one descended from immigrants. Velma (on my mom’s side) was born in this part of the world. She raised six kids into six awesome adults, endured emotional agony as a war widow, and in her 80s she began to write. Her stories are rich and colourful, and tell the tale of a woman who lived, who loved, and who inspired everyone she knew. Ann, on my dad’s side, fled the Nazis out of Poland at a young age. She raised her family in the classic New York Jewish Mother tradition, with lots of food (homemade bagels and apple pie that could bring a person to tears), lots of humor, and a beautiful energy.

I like the idea of celebrating grandmothers, as opposed to the generic Grandparents Day that shows up in September.

National White T-Shirt Day

Back in the depths of the Great Depression, the newly-formed United Automobile Workers were trying to nudge their way into the General Motors plant in Flint, Michigan. On December 30, 1936 workers began a sit-down strike at the plant. It was a union-organized strike, but the aim was simply to legitimize the union’s presence. The UAW was trying to gain a foothold in protecting automotive workers, and getting in at the Flint plant (the biggest factory for the nation’s largest auto-maker) was the key.

The sit-down strike meant that workers occupied the factory and protested inside, rather than picketing outside. For a month and a half workers stayed in the plant, keeping things neat, tidy and undamaged. Vendors sent in food and supplies. On January 11 police invaded with guns and tear gas, but they were rebuffed by the workers. FDR encouraged GM to sit down with the union. The strike finally broke up on this day (well, yesterday’s day) in 1937. The UAW had won, and auto workers were protected.

We wore our white shirts yesterday in solidarity with this union movement. We are both members of unions who are in the midst of some ugly negotiations at present, and it’s important to remember why they’re there. We have weekends, sick days, holidays and decent working conditions because of unions. And as long as there are employers (and governments) driven more by profit than compassion, unions will continue to be necessary.

National Peppermint Patty Day

The York is the patty standard, I think that’s quite clear. Up here in Canada, we were all about the Pep. Tragically, one day in late 2014 the Cadbury company confirmed on its Facebook page that the Pep has been discontinued. So to Pennsylvania we turn.

Actually, to Mexico. In 2009 production of the York Peppermint Patties was outsourced from Reading, Pennsylvania by the Hershey corporation. But enough of the bad news.

The peppermint patty is a glorious contrast. The blast of peppermint breathes an icy chuckle underneath the furrowed brow of dark chocolate. The two collide in an otherworldly harmony that gets the better of both sensations. It’s no chocolate-peanut-butter symphony, but it’s nonetheless a powerful duet.

These treats date back to the 19th century on the Isle of Man. A quartet of brothers launched the Kendal Mint Cake Company in the 1880s. These spread over to our part of the rock in the early 1900s, achieving perfection through the York Cone Company of Pennsylvania. York got the firmness down – other peppermint patties were softer and mushier, the Yorks had a snap. In 1972 the Peter Paul Candy Company (later a division of Cadbury, then Hershey) bought them up and made them a nationwide hit. We enjoyed some last night, and while I didn’t have any post-shovelling hot chocolate, these made me feel happy to be alive (and inside).

With a respite from shovel work we should be able to tackle this one thing today:

  • Georgia Day. That’s seriously it. In honour of James Edward Oglethorpe on the anniversary of his arrival in what would later become Georgia. I wonder if I can make another peach melba…

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