Saturday, March 21, 2020

Surreal, sublime and sequestered – the new reality of waking life for the time being. So many celebrations, so little I can do from the comfort of my office chair, especially now that I actually have to perform work functions at home. But I count myself lucky, and count on zero fingers how often I’ve complained. How could we complain? After all, today is:

International Day of Happiness

Once upon a time, about a decade back, a group of people decided to form a charity geared toward providing the world… happiness. So simple, yet intangible. Action For Happiness designated this day (well, THAT day – it was yesterday) as the International Day of Happiness, a movement that has been pushed forward by the UN, and is recognized in nearly every nation on the planet.

If this sounds fluffier and less crucial to the world than, say, a cancer charity, keep in mind that the UN has recognized happiness as a fundamental human goal. It should be the end-game of any society to maximize happiness among its citizens. The day’s official website acknowledges the reality of the world we’re in, and offers some tips and tools to bump up the happiness meter for us and the people around us. If you’re into getting positive affirmations through email, they have a 10-day mailing list for some good e-vibes.

They also include the World Happiness Report, which lists the happiness levels of numerous nations, pointing out that Finland tops the charts with maximum smiles. Canada is the 11th happiest country, Israel the 14th, and the US the 18th. The bottom of the list is populated by Afghanistan, South Sudan, and numerous other nations that seem to be perpetually at war.

They also track changes to happiness since their last report, which covered the years 2008 through 2012. Hungary, Togo and Benin have all increased their happiness level the most, while Venezuela, Afghanistan and Lesotho have had the highest increased unhappiness in the same window. Our levels of happiness have dipped a bit. Let’s counteract this trend and celebrate.

National Sparrow Day

I was relieved to discover that this is not a dining celebration. Instead we’ll be learning about the mighty sparrow. We’ll focus on the house sparrow, the most widely distributed wild bird on the planet. Here’s a quote: “It has also often been kept as a pet, as well as being a food item and a symbol of lust, sexual potency, commonness and vulgarity.” Here’s where I want to begin my investigation; I don’t care about what these things do to crops, how they poop on cars or even who eats them. I want to know who’s using a sparrow to symbolize lust.

One source identifies the sparrows as being associated with the “common and vulgar, or the lewd” because they are so ubiquitous, popping up in almost every settlement in Europe, North and South America, and western Asia. It was the Ancient Greeks – they associated the sparrow with Aphrodite, due to the birds’ apparent lustfulness. So that’s it: these birds love getting it on, and the Ancient Greeks tied that into their lore.

But do they? They certainly don’t sleep around. House sparrows are monogamous and mate for life. They do, however, participate in ‘extra-pair copulation’, which is kind of like an open relationship, for one of the birds anyway. There’s an evolutionary advantage for males to spew their seed around the community (as I’m sure many an unfaithful human husband has tried to insist), but female sparrows do it too. They’re a weird bunch. That said, humans are weirder. In Europe, some people would chow down on sparrows because they believed they contained aphrodisiac properties.

As one of our most familiar friends, I’m happy the sparrow gets a day, even if they have to share it with ravioli. And speaking of which…

National Ravioli Day

Like most kids from my era, my first exposure to ravioli came from a can, and involved Mr. Boyardee’s patented tomato-like sauce-juice. I loved the design, though questioned why the ‘meat’ inside possessed so many of the properties of common sand. Ravioli deserves better.

Fortunately, I can now appreciate ravioli as it was meant to be eaten. Of course, like any pasta worth its weight in semolina, ravioli is a blank canvas. In Italy, ravioli contains ricotta cheese. In Rome they’ll add in spinach, nutmeg and black pepper. Over in Sardinia they’ll opt for grated lemon rind instead. In the south of France they like to use leftover beef from their Provençal stew inside their ravioli. In Cyprus they’ll stuff them with halloumi, a delicious hard-to-melt cheese.

In Turkey they’ll cram in spiced meat and serve ravioli with paprika and yogurt. In China… well, that’s a wonton. Similar, but a bit different. In India their similar dish is called gujiya, and it’s a sweet snack. Jewish cuisine features kreplach, which is one of the most fun food names to say out loud. Then you’ve got the classic American take known as toasted ravioli, which is deep fried.

Our dinner last night came from my supply run to Costco this week, a tasty chicken-spinach filled ravioli, fried up in some garlic butter. For being one of the most versatile and exciting pastas on the roster, we happily salute ravioli and wish it the best on its special day.

The Great American Meat-Out

I want to hang out with the Hebrew cow with crotch-level utters.

And to those who observed our choice of chicken-filled ravioli today and shook their heads in vegan disgust, I offer the Great American Meat-Out. This is a day for people to embrace veganism, and to forego any traces of meat, eggs and dairy from their diet. Our original plan today had us trying to track down some vegan almond ricotta cheese and preparing a vegan ravioli dough, which includes something called aquafaba. Alas, we opted not to pop into numerous specialty shops in search of these ingredients, because we’re supposed to be staying at home.

Ask any vegan why they’re vegan, and you may end up with statistics and horrifying truths about meat consumption and its effect on the environment and our animal friends. I won’t be supplying those numbers today, because a finger-wagging lecture is not much of a celebration. So for those of you who are meat-outing, here’s a little history of the day.

This was the 35th Great American Meat-Out day, reduced in its fabulousness by the cancellation of all public events associated with it. But last year 101 events were held in 5 countries. An “event” could be a public protest, handing out leaflets to sway people to veganism, or just community food events. I don’t ever foresee a shift to veganism for Jodie and I – even vegetarianism is a long-shot. We are thrilled for those who have made it work, and we’d ask for no judgment of our carnivorous diet. It may make for awkward conversation if I ever meet Paul McCartney, but dammit I love meat.

If you’re on the fence though, do some research and pay the 35th Meat-Out a bit of your time. Maybe it is right for you. Maybe this is the healthy shift your body wants you to take.

Just leave us out of it.

French Language Day

Puis-j’écrire tout cela en français? J’ai pris le français pendant dix ans, jusque à ma neuvième année. Les mathématiques, les études sociales, les sciences – tout en français. Il était extrêmement difficile de réapprendre toutes ces informations en anglais; C’était probablement une erreur. Aujourd’hui je ne parle jamais le français. Hereusement, mon éducation m’a aidé à comprendre les films français au-delà de leurs sous-titres.

La partie la plus difficile à écrire en français est de retrouver tous les raccourcis pour les accents au-dessus and en dessous des lettres. Ça prend beaucoups de temps. Comme pourrait le dire un juif français, le oi vey. Je m’excuse – l’oi vey.

Oui, j’ai triché et utilise Google Translate pour ces paragraphs. Comment ne pourais-je pas? Ça fait des années depuis l’école, et mon cerveau s’est transformé en merde. Tant pis. Lavez vos mains, et restez à l’intérieur. Prenez soin de vous et vos voisins.

Kiss Your Fiancé Day

This day is a reminder for those who are in the maelstrom of frantic wedding planning to step back and remember what it’s all about. Well, nature’s little virus gift has us all stepping back right now, given that weddings are off the table for much of the world. But we see the point in this day. Weddings can spiral out of control very quickly, given that most products and services that cater to weddings are grossly over-priced and over-sold.

Cakes cost more than they should. Flowers are inflated to such stupid levels, it almost makes sense to get actual inflatable flowers instead. Catering is more than you’d ever want to spend on your family and friends for all Christmases combined. But ours is a culture of tradition, and just about every wedding we’ve gone to, we’ve wished for the couple’s sake that they hadn’t spent all that cash.

In the months leading up to our own wedding (which was held only because my mother insisted we not elope), we felt no such strain. We kept costs down, and kept everything simple. It still meant a 12-month deferral for our honeymoon.

We shared a kiss yesterday, given that the only people either of us are likely to marry down the road are one another, perhaps in some romantic renewing of our vows at the top of the Eiffel Tower, or in the ball pit of a Chuck E. Cheese. A fine celebration, and some quality advice.

Snowman Burning Day

Over at Lake Superior State University in upper Michigan, things get a little wild on March 20. Back in 1971, a campus club who called themselves the Unicorn Hunters decided this tradition belonged at the school. They were inspired by the Rose Sunday Festival in Germany, in which the mayor would burn a straw snowman if the local children had been well-behaved. The Unicorn Hunters held a big public burning of a straw snowman locally, and shortly thereafter a blizzard rolled through the area, hitting everywhere around them, but sparing the school. Coincidence? Almost certainly. But the foundation for a drunken celebration had begun.

I assume it’s drunken because it takes place at a college. I could be wrong, of course, and often I am. But even if we shelve any meteorological magic hooey, the first full day of spring seems like a great day to burn a symbol of winter. The sad news is that there is no info about this year’s event on the website, almost certainly because it has been cancelled. This isn’t the time for mass gatherings, even to welcome in spring.

The really sad news is this would have been the 50th Snowman Burning Day. We could all use some cathartic, controlled destruction right now. Having no straw to burn our own snowman, we simply pay tribute to those who have fashioned this day, and we hope someday to pop into LSSU and join in. For now, happy spring everybody.

Atheist Pride Day

I know a number of atheists, many of whom take an astoundingly proud stance on their faith. They speak with the certainty of any devout Christian, only they authoritatively declare that we’re all worm-food after we pass – no ticket to heaven, no more wild ride. It’s all a bit of a downer to me.

I am, for lack of a better understanding, probably an atheist myself. I don’t believe in any higher power, but I lack any certainty in that. I simply don’t know, and really I don’t care. The one thing atheists have done right is to ascribe their morality to objective truth – they claim they don’t need a sacred text to teach them how to act, and that is an evolved perspective.

Figuring out how many atheists are in the world is tricky. Most non-religious people will lean toward identifying as simply non-religious, rather than truly atheist. A 2014 survey found that 12% of Canadians called themselves ‘convinced atheists’. By comparison, a similar survey conducted in Mexico that same year only identified 4% of the country as atheists. As religion comes to dominate less and less of our culture, it’s likely the numbers for atheism will continue to rise. So what about agnostics? Well, check out this handy chart:

Clearly I fall into the category of agnostic atheist – I don’t think there’s a God, but what the fuck do I know? Those five words guide my faith, and they guide a lot of my life. Some may chuckle, or say that’s not a good thing, but I find comfort in it. Questions like this offer no certain answers, apart from what one’s faith may produce. I’m proud to have no idea, and really it frees my mind to ponder other, more achievable answers.

It also keeps my Sundays free, which will be great if we get a football season this year.

Hufflepuff Pride Day

And while we’re boasting about our faith (or lack thereof), let’s send a big ol’ wave to those among us who identify as Hufflepuff. What does that even mean? If you don’t know, then you haven’t read or seen any Harry Potter universe stuff, and this entry will just prompt an eye-roll from you. That’s cool – not everyone can be into everything.

For those who have taken the official online test and found themselves sorted into Hufflepuff, you should be waving their flags on this day. Hufflepuff is all about hard work, patience, justice and loyalty. President Jed Bartlet would have been a Hufflepuff. So would Captain Picard. Hufflepuffs dress up in yellow and black, just like the mighty Pittsburgh Steelers. Their common room is located in the basement at Hogwarts, and I’m not really sure why that is.

Cedric Diggory, Professor Sprout, Nymphadora Tonks and Newt Scamander were all Hufflepuffs. Of all the dark wizards who have sullied history, Hufflepuff has spewed out the fewest. That’s got to count for something, right?

So wave that banner, Hufflepuffs. Yesterday was all about happiness, ravioli, and you.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor Day

That’s right, Fred Rogers would have turned 92 yesterday. This means he should still be with us on this planet right now. There are numerous ways to pay tribute to a man who is revered as one of the purest, most decent examples of humankind. We spent a chunk of yesterday evening catching Tom Hanks (another beloved human) playing Fred on film in last year’s A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood.

In this weird period of history, our culture seems to glom on to uplifting role models because we need to. Politics divides us, a disease hunts us, and it’s tragically easy to find reasons to dread the outside world. To know that humanity can produce someone like Fred Rogers, who by all accounts surpasses his public image of kindness and compassion, it’s a comfort. Fred really was who he put out to the world.

I grew up a huge fan of Mr. Rogers. Mr. Dressup was our Canadian equivalent, but he didn’t exude the kindness and patience of Mr. Rogers. Mr. Rogers was about finding your potential, about understanding the world around you and seeing the beauty in it. I got to experience that twice – I was a stay-at-home dad when my daughter was Mr. Rogers-viewing age, right at the end of his run. It was my show as a kid, and with my daughter it became ours.

Mr. Rogers didn’t talk down to kids. He didn’t judge kids. There are so many stories: soaking his feet in the same pool as an African-American man, announcing he was feeding his fish so that a blind fan would know they were doing okay, stepping up and valiantly defending public television. I’ll try to find a few things I didn’t know.

He married his college sweetheart and stayed with her for 50 years, until his death. He played a preacher on an episode of Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman. He was red-green colour-blind. In the early 80s, he might have participated in the Great American Meat-Out, as he went vegetarian, not wanting to eat anything with a mother. He was a preacher before he was a TV star, but he also studied other religions and cultures in great depth. He napped every day. He also kept his weight right at 143 pounds, which he felt was special because 1-4-3 represents the number of letters in I-love-you.

Fred was that kind of guy. Happy birthday, friend.

Dear god (or lack thereof) – this is going to be a sadistic little Saturday.

  • National Quilting Day. I’ll be e-visiting my beloved auntie to learn more about quilting, since we can’t meet up in person.
  • National Common Courtesy Day. We will be heading out today for a few supplies, so we’ll test out the courtesy of local drivers. I don’t have much hope for this.
  • National Countdown Day. We will come up with some countdowns for you. I just finished the High Fidelity TV show, so that should come naturally.
  • National Fragrance Day. We’ll examine our fragrances a little closer. We don’t wear many, but we’ve got to be putting some kind of funk out there.
  • National California Strawberry Day. We have strawberries, though they aren’t from California. Gotta take what we can get in these uncertain times.
  • Memory Day. I have a terrible one of these. But we’ll look at some ways to improve memory. Unless I forget to.
  • National French Bread Day. Eat some French bread. This one’s easy.
  • World Poetry Day. We’ve had a couple of poetry days so far. Always nice to celebrate some more.
  • International Colour Day. Our clothes today will be full of colour.
  • World Puppetry Day. We might… I don’t know, put on a puppet show? For our dogs?
  • Walk In The Sand Day. We don’t have any sand, so we may just have to listen to the Shangri-Las’ “(Remember) Walkin’ In The Sand”.

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