Wednesday, April 1, 2020

On this fitful day in the fetid mire of yet another blast of winter, we feel an increasing reluctance to continue our pursuit of endless revelry as the world struggles around us. We toss a cursory wave at things like laundry folding and pencils, yet for what? For whose benefit? Are we richer for it? Or should our focus be presently elsewhere, upon fortifying our futures against this type of horrendous situation?

Our hearts are heavy and our will is weakened. We want to keep celebrating, but it feels as though it would be impossible to maintain such stoic perseverance in the wake of all this madness. Therefore, while we will raise a valiant flag for our last day of March, this project will be put on hold for at least one month, likely two, until this plague has subsided and the world has returned to normal. Thank you all for hanging in there up to this point. Your cheerful words will be missed. See you in May or June.

Here’s how we wrapped up this stage of the project:

National Crayon Day

This should shock few of you – we struggled to find a crayon in this house. I know, as parents of two (aged 22 and 26) you’d think we’d have an abundance laying about, but alas, we haven’t been playing Tic-Tac-Toe on the kids’ menu at Denny’s lately. Where once crayons were a bountiful resource within our walls, now we’re faced with a colourful wax scarcity.

Crayons are, of course, made from paraffin wax, the same stuff used to craft the candles that kept us able to see our dinner during Earth Hour last Saturday. Colourful drawing using a wax tinted with pigment dates back to Ancient Rome, back before there were fridges around upon which the pictures could be affixed. The modern crayon can be traced back to the pastels used by da Vinci in 1495. They have come to be a beloved children’s craft tool, primarily because they don’t get sharp, they usually don’t make much of a mess (depending on the kid), and they’re non-toxic, so if you have the kind of kid who eats things, these won’t kill him or her.

They have also been washable since 1990. When I was a kid, crayon on clothing meant a ruined garment – now you can hope to scrub that stuff away. Crayola has been the crayon king for all my life, and few items were more coveted back in those glory days of the early 80s than a Crayola 64-pack, complete with sharpener in the back. They’ve been cranking these little art-sticks out since 1903. The name was taken from the French word for chalk (craie), and the first part of oleaginous, which is the type of paraffin wax used to make the crayon. And here I thought they were just being fancy with the word ‘crayon’.

Jodie was able to track down a package of wayward crayon relics from her school, and she coloured the spectacular piece of art pictured above. For not being stabby or poisonous to our children, and for bringing colour and creativity to their lives, we happily salute the noble crayon for centuries of quality work.

National Bunsen Burner Day

Jodie, who has about as much interest in science experiments as I do in foam peanut manufacturing, was to spend a chunk of yesterday sitting in on a science class, watching some sort of experiment involving a Bunsen burner. Alas, there was no science class, and it turns out junior high schools don’t actually allow Bunsen burners anymore, likely because today’s generation of kids are weak and soft. So today’s celebration has required some adjustment.

In 1852, Dr. Robert Bunsen was hired by the University of Heidelberg to work in their lab. The city had just started installing coal-gas lines for street illumination, and they ran gas lines into the new building to assist with experiments. Bunsen designed his namesake device to maximize temperature while keeping the brightness down. The trick was mixing the gas with air before the combustion occurs. The result has been barely improved in the 150+ years since its invention.

The Bunsen burner was the first piece of fancy science equipment we got to work with in junior high. But it’s almost a shame that Bunsen is only known for this one tool. The guy did a lot in his lab. He helped to invent spectroscopy by splitting light into its wavelengths with a prism. He discovered the element caesium, which in isotope form went on to play a significant part in the Chernobyl disaster. He also figured out that iron oxide hydrate will neutralize arsenic, thus providing an antidote for the poison.

But yesterday was all about his burner. Jodie was able to learn the sad fate of our modern education system and its relationship with the Bunsen burner, and that was as wild as the celebration could get. But we’re grateful these things exist, and sometimes that’s celebration enough.

National She’s Funny That Way Day

It’s tempting to leave off a holiday that was started by an author trying to shill her work, but we’ll let this one slide. Brenda Meredith published a book called She’s Funny That Way in 2003, which was turned into a 2014 film starring Imogen Poots and Owen Wilson. I have never read the book, nor seen the rom-com movie (with an unimpressive Metascore of 45). But the spirit of the day is certainly worth cheering.

This is all about celebrating the funny, funny women in the world. Females in comedy used to be a novelty – you had Phyllis Diller, Lucille Ball, Joan Rivers, and a handful of others, all overshadowed by the comedic patriarchy. I’m thrilled we are living in an age where women can create, produce, star in and market comedy projects. With shows like Fleabag, Broad City, Garfunkel & Oates, and Girls there is no question that Hollywood should be promoting equality in comedy. Just look at the last few seasons of Saturday Night Live – the entire cast is stellar, but the women are stealing the show.

In our lives, celebrating funny women is easy. Our daughter is one of the few humans who can consistently crack me up. Jodie has moments of comedic brilliance as well, despite my regular insistence that she remain the Abbot to my Costello – not out of chauvinistic antiquation but because I have a fragile comedy ego and a desperate need for validation. Most of my funniest friends are women, and the three ladies who occupy the lower two feet of our home in their best canine capacity are non-stop cavalcades of hearty laughs.

To celebrate, I watched some great female comedy – in particular an episode of Fleabag and a bit of Sarah Silverman doing stand-up, which is truly a pinnacle of the art form. Take a moment and appreciate the funny ladies in your lives, in particular if they can still deliver the laughs in strained times such as these.

Eiffel Tower Day

131 years ago today (well, yesterday), Parisians were welcomed into a weird wrought-iron structure for the first time, and transported to the tallest man-made peak on the planet to soak in the views of their city. The Eiffel Tower lives up to the hype. While the Mona Lisa looks like an adored postcard behind its perpetual throng of gagglers at the Louvre, the Eiffel is just as majestic and impressive as one would hope.

The tower stands over 1,000 feet high, roughly the same height as an 81-storey building. It remained humankind’s tallest structure for over four decades, until the Chrysler Building popped its spike into the New York sky in 1930. It features only three floors – two for restaurants along the first cross-platform, and the tallest observation tower in Europe. When we visited in 2011, Jodie used the bathroom at the top, and the fact that she’d enjoyed the tallest digestive output of her life was the highlight of the trip. Somehow. I don’t think we did Paris right, come to think of it.

Gustave Eiffel, designer of the Statue of Liberty, did not design this tower – that credit goes to Maurice Koechlin and Emile Nouguier, both of whom worked for Eiffel’s company. When it was built, many people felt it was impossible to create a structure that tall, and many others felt it was a blight on the Paris skyline. A group of artists formed an official opposition to its construction. Still, the Eiffel company kept at it, and wound up proving all those artists wrong.

At first there was a post office up top, so people could send out postcards. There was a canon installed at the top to sound whenever the attraction was opening or closing. Also at the top? Eiffel’s private apartment, which he refused to rent out to anyone even for a night. Yes, Gustave Eiffel and his wife had their own pad atop the world, which we common-folk can now tour as part of our visit. Happy 131st, big Tower. Thanks for being as awesome as we’d hoped.

National Caffeine Awareness Month

We here at Celebrate366 are acutely aware of caffeine, and no special month designation is required to reinforce this. Caffeine is what helps us survive those ridiculously early mornings throughout the week, and what staves off the headaches we’d suffer through if we didn’t consume it on weekends. Caffeine is, some days, life.

Caffeine is the world’s most consumed psychoactive drug. It’s the psychoactive drug we first become addicted to, depending on how much Coca-Cola we were allowed to consume as children. When Jolt Cola first appeared in the 80s, long before the age of taurine-fuelled energy poisons, my friends and I consumed it eagerly, watching one another for changes to our behavior and energy levels. But it’s not just about pushing back against the trials of daily life – caffeine is truly a wonder-drug.

Caffeine citrate can help with Parkinson’s symptoms. Some people find it helpful to deal with asthma, and I can attest that a cup of coffee can open up the airways when a persistent cough is weighing you down. It can improve coordination and reaction time. It can help with physical activity and strength. Perhaps most importantly, it can give you an excuse to get the hell away from your desk and make a run for Starbucks.

If you’re trying to hurry someone from their drunken state into a place devoid of inebriation, pouring coffee into them like they do in the movies won’t work. Caffeine won’t do squat for alcohol’s effects, but if you encounter someone who is overly jittery and nervous because they ingested too much caffeine, some alcohol will effectively numb those effects. I’d like to see that popped into a film someday. Oh, and smoking cigarettes while drinking coffee does increase the effects of caffeine too, so I’d like to see that worked into the script.

Thank you, caffeine, for helping me face the world in those days when the vulgar hour of 6:00am heralded the start of my day. Thank you for keeping me going as the weight of existence elbowed me sharply toward having a nap I couldn’t fit into my schedule. May you continue to save all of us when exhaustion comes a-callin’.

National Sauce Month

March has seen us concocting a few sauces to accompany our celebrations: cocktail sauce for National Nevada Day, a couple of dipping sauces for National Artichoke Hearts Day and a tartar sauce for National Crabmeat / Meatball Day. Sauce is the exclamation point on a dish, and sometimes it will make or break it. Ever have eggs benedict with a hollandaise sauce made from powder and water? It’s garbage compared to the real thing. We’ll be making a lot of sauces once this project resumes, but this is the month we salute them.

Fans of French cuisine know there are five “mother sauces” which form the basis of their national food preparation. Those are: béchamel, a milk-based sauce thickened with flour, which fits in nicely with pasta; espagnole, made from veal stock and often made into demi-glace for meat dishes (or French fry dipping); velouté, made from stock and cream and can be made into wine sauce or gravy; tomate, which is tomato-based and used for anything that makes sense with a tomato sauce; and the aforementioned hollandaise.

Every cuisine has its own prized sauces, and we look forward to sampling some new ones. Yesterday saw us enjoying leftover pizza rolls (with pizza sauce) and the last of our cheesesteak meat (with its delicious little sauce).

Women’s History Month

We could not allow March to ride into its wintery sunset without paying tribute to this glorious celebration of women. Throughout history, women have received the short end of pretty much everything. The number of significant women (according to history books) prior to 1900 can be counted in single digits. And that’s not merely a bias of history books – women weren’t allowed to be on the frontier of building our civilization.  Let’s have a look at some of the cooler women that history only barely bothered to record:

We’ll start with Julie d’Aubigny, a French opera star from the 15th/16th century. Rumor has it she was bisexual, and when a young girl she adored was sent away to a convent for having indulged in such a scandalous relationship, Julie tracked her lover down, freed her, then burned the convent to the ground. That’s a woman who gets shit done.

Kathrine Switzer signed up to race in the 1967 Boston Marathon, five years before women were allowed to do so. When race organizer Jock Semple saw her running, he bolted out into the crowd and tried to tear her number off of her, demanding she get the hell out of his race. Luckily Kathrine’s boyfriend was a former football player and hammer thrower, and was also in the race. He shoved Semple to the ground and Kathrine finished with a time of 4 hours, 20 minutes.

Stephanie Kwolek, an employee with DuPont, invented Kevlar in 1964. Not only does the mighty fiber work for parachute lines, cables, tennis racquets and planes, but it gave us the bullet-proof vest. Stephanie has single-handedly saved countless lives, but because she made it while working for DuPont, they made all the money and took all the glory.

Jeanne de Clisson, about whom I wrote in my last little project, was widowed in the ongoing battle between England and France, her husband’s head chopped off and mounted on a pole. Did Jeanne mope and pine for him? Hell no. She sold her estate and became the most feared pirate to Frenchmen for about 13 years, lopping off the heads of every French nobleman she met. Her story reads like five stories about bad-ass men all rolled into one. One did not fuck with the Lioness of Brittany.

Lyudmila Pavlichenko was a sprinter and pole vaulter in university, and while there she also took a six-month course for rifle accuracy. She joined up when World War II broke out, but while they wanted to pigeon-hole her into being a nurse, when they saw what she’d taken in school the Red Army reluctantly allowed her to become a sniper. Within a year she was believed by the Soviets to be the ideal embodiment of Soviet womanhood. She racked up a total of 309 confirmed kills in the war, making her the most successful female sniper in history. Her nickname by the Germans? Lady Death. You can’t get more bad-ass than that.

Our hope is that with every Women’s History Month more of these great women get enshrined in text books and taught to the next generation. Women were far from the background in history, and it’s time that was taught to everyone.

Today we will be doing nothing, as we’re looking at a minimum six-week haitus in this project until the COVID crisis has abated:

  • April Fools Day. Yeah, fuck it. We aren’t calling off or postponing shit. Happy April Fools, everyone!
  • National Sourdough Bread Day. One of the great titans of bread-dom, and we’ll be enjoying it heartily.
  • National Walking Day. I have to walk an entire five feet from my bedroom to my place of work, so we’ll ramp this one up by taking the dogs out for a good walk today.
  • Childhelp National Day of Hope. Five minutes of silence today, in commemoration of the five kids who die every day in the US from abuse. Sadly, that number may end up being higher as people are cloistered together in potentially unhealthy households.
  • Edible Book Day. We don’t have any edible books, but perhaps our sourdough sandwich will look book-like before we eat it.
  • Kha-b Nisan. Something about dancing in a park. We’ll have to look a little deeper into this.

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