Monday, April 13, 2020

While scores of devout folks negotiated with the wonky present to somehow find a safe way to celebrate Easter and/or Passover yesterday, we carried on with our piles of alt-holiday goofiness and discovered scores of methods for achieving mirth and merriment from sun-up to sun-down and beyond. 103 days in and we’re getting good at this, despite the whole endeavour feeling more and more surreal with each passing day. We hope everyone found some peace, comfort and family over the weekend. Here’s what we undertook:

National Big Wind Day

It was a cool April 12 in 1934, when the weather observatory at Mount Washington in New Hampshire was rocked by a gust so phenomenal, it remains a notable blast of history some 86 years later. The wind rocketed up to 231 miles per hour, the strongest wind ever recorded in human history – understanding, of course, that they weren’t accurately recording wind gusts for long before 1934, and even now those gusts are only logged at designated weather stations. But it was a news-worthy event.

It took more than six decades for the record to be shattered by a 256mph gale on a small island off the coast of Australia, aided by a typhoon. But that blast of wind doesn’t get its own day, or if it does maybe we haven’t crept up on it yet. This is the day we salute the wind.

Salute the wind? How the hell are we supposed to celebrate National Big Wind Day? Well, if we lived near Mount Washington, the observatory has a little event to commemorate that particular windy day on April 12 every year – well, probably not this year for obvious reasons. Otherwise, we can share stories of how wind has… affected us? This is flimsy, but let’s go with it.

Wind, if you live in Edmonton, is your enemy for half the year. From September through… well, through April (so more than half the year) the cold months dominate here, and the presence of wind makes them colder. Have you ever waited for a bus when it’s nearing -50 with the wind chill? It’s not pleasant, and the next time I’m in that position, I’ll look back fondly on this brief period of working blissfully from home. But wind also gives us power, moves boats, and makes kite-flying an activity that doesn’t involve dragging something on the grass behind you as you run. We got out and tolerated the wind today, as it was dragging our temperatures down to as low as -19. Our dogs, who led our journey around the block, didn’t seem to mind. We celebrated through gritted teeth and aching extremities, but we learned a little about this day and it’s tiny place in history so we’ll call it a win.

National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day / National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Month

It all started with a dream. Literally, with a sandwich called the Cheese Dream. It was a Great Depression-era sandwich, which means it was cheap and easy to make, and was being promoted as an effective way to craft a meal that most folks could fit into their budgets, even though it would likely bring little gustatory joy to their lives. Throw a slice of bread in a pan, lay some American cheese on top, then wait until it bubbles and browns. Fancy homes could toss something on top of it: bacon, tomato, their hopes and dreams, whatever.

Once the world got back on its feet and food was once again in abundance, an extra slice of bread was added to make it into a real sandwich. If you’re really fancy nowadays you can make yours in a panini maker or a sandwich toaster. Those are big in the UK, where they call them ‘toasties’. In Australia they call them jaffles, because the Aussies seem to have a weird word to describe everything.

We made ours with cheddar and mozzarella yesterday – no processed cheese. Jodie can’t stand the stuff, and while I don’t mind it in this context, it’s not as good as the real thing. Jodie crammed a lot of cheese into those sandwiches, so we couldn’t help but truly celebrate the magnificence of the simple recipe.

National Colorado Day

We passed through the Centennial State five years ago when a dear friend allowed us to crash at his apartment in the funkiest and most interesting part of Denver one August week. The beauty of the state – or the part we saw, which stretched from Denver to the Red Rocks Amphitheatre just outside of Denver – is incomparable. Every person we encountered was delightful, apart from one particularly unhelpful woman at the car rental counter. We dined on terrific food, and – because it was 2015 – we sampled the novelty of legalized marijuana in the only place we could at the time.

Colorado is a fascinating little place. It doesn’t predictably skew liberal or conservative, and it often dances to its own thick little groove. In Boulder, which I had only known from it being the backdrop of Mork & Mindy, a regulation prevents billboards and oversize signage, so the visible world is all architecture, infrastructure and nature. In Denver last year they decriminalized psychedelic mushrooms. How weird is that?

We boast about our majestic mountains up here, but all 30 of the highest summits in the Rockies are in Colorado. The state also boasts the lowest levels of obesity in the US, which is possibly due to the excessive amount of outdoor activities people can do there. Colorado is a mecca for culture, and a lot of films have been shot there. Boulder, which was named the “foodiest town” in American in 2010, has more Master Sommeliers per capita than any other city in the country. It’s a good place to eat, and we have chosen to honour the state with a serving of lamb – Colorado is one of the main exporters of lamb meat in the nation. The place is warm, inviting, interesting, breathtaking, and delicious.

And of course, there’s a solid roster of great humans who were born there: Tim Allen was born in Denver, Ken Kesey was born in La Junta, India Arie hails from Denver, Kristen Schaal was born in Longmont, T.J. Miller is also from Denver, Jon “Napoleon Dynamite” Heder was born in Fort Collins, Lon Chaney was from Colorado Springs, director David Fincher and Douglas Fairbanks both come from Denver, and of course there are the geniuses behind South Park and Book of Mormon, Trey Parker from Conifer and Matt Stone (who was born in Texas but lived in Colorado).

We hope to visit again, and maybe catch another Broncos game. For now, we’ll settle for the lamb.

National Licorice Day

Licorice – also called ‘liquorice’ in the UK, but that spelling seems to suggest something the candy doesn’t deliver – comes from the root of the Glycyrrhiza glabra plant, which is a perennial legume that spurts up all over southern Europe and western Asia. This is why the snack is more popular in European countries, while here the most common forms of licorice are red Twizzlers or Red Vines, neither of which carry the oomph of real licorice flavour. And most folks are just fine with that.

Not us. We are big fans of actual licorice, and we no longer buy jujubes because we end up fighting over the black ones. It’s a flavour unlike anything else, with its sweetness coming naturally from glycyrrhizin, which is 30-50 times sweeter than sugar. Often the licorice we get as candy tames that sweetness, and sometimes the stuff is served as a salty snack. Licorice used to flavour tobacco before that was outlawed, and it stands out as the principle taste in stuff like Sambuca and Ouzo.

Licorice has been used as traditional medicine, though it should be noted that’s only in the realm of naturalistic experimentation – there’s no scientific backing for this. Eat too much and it will have toxic effects. Fortunately, we have self-control.

Our licorice of choice yesterday included some miniature allsorts. The legend behind this stuff comes from Bassett’s (who still makes the stuff), and tells of Charlie Thompson, a salesman who was showing off a tray of samples, but tripped and spilled them everywhere. After gathering them up, the client fell in love with the mix. Maybe this is true, maybe not, but it’s a cool story. Well, it’s a cool story so long as you believe floors were a lot cleaner back then. I also enjoyed some schoolkrijt, which is a little cylinder of licorice surrounded by a minty candy shell. Trust me, it’s heaven.

Walk On Your Wild Side Day

I’m sure Thomas and Ruth Roy, those folks who invented 80+ celebrations throughout the year including this one, were not expecting this day to land in the middle of a quarantine situation. We can’t do a lot of wild things right now. Two days ago I mused about juggling knives. Yesterday I was wondering if I’d actually have to do that.

A great man (I think it was Leslie Nielsen’s character in Police Squad!) once said, “You take your chances getting up in the morning, backing the car out of the driveway, or sticking your face in a fan.” That’s the attitude we’d have to adopt yesterday. We walked on our wild side the day before, venturing into the world and interacting with the public. I even had to pay cash a couple of times, which resulted in near contact with another human.

It’s a wonder we are still alive. No, we are not wild folks at heart at the best of times, and we certainly weren’t up to endangering ourselves yesterday. We listened to the Lou Reed song that adopts this notion, and that would have to do.

We have stuff planned for our wild side a little later this year. The spirit of this day was celebrated yesterday, but the true wildness awaits.

National Drop Everything And Read Day

This one stems from one of the 20th century’s most magnificent children’s authors, Beverly Cleary. Ms. Cleary – who is still going strong at 104 years old – included the notion of Drop Everything And Read (DEAR) in Ramona Quimby, Age 8, the story of a young girl trying to get by with her father, who was the corrupt mayor of Springfield. There’s a possibility I’m misremembering the book.

The idea behind this event, which has been interwoven into English teachers’ lesson plans for years, is that everyone should spend some time dropping their chores and obligations and stimulating the mind and spirit with a good read. Jodie and I both enjoyed some quality paper time yesterday. She started a new novel, and I read a smattering of articles, one of which I’d written the day before. I guess that one doesn’t count. Drop Everything And Fix Your Damn Grammar Mistakes isn’t a day on our calendar. Not yet.

April 12 will always be this day, as it lines up with Ms. Cleary’s birthday (happy birthday!!!). These days we don’t have a whole lot to collectively drop to get to our reading, and I’m sure any kid with a love of the written word has already been reading up a storm since the schools closed. But for those who lean more toward screens and passive entertainment, this is a good excuse to shove a book in their hands and see if their imaginations can be salvaged. We’re going to need some great imaginations to get this world back to normal soon.

National Only Child Day

Hey cool, a day for us. Right after all those warm and loving “Happy National Sibling Day” posts on social media yesterday, I got to post a pic of myself and wish myself a happy day. Myself was thrilled, and gave me a warm hug.

This day holds no special significance, except that whoever came up with National Siblings Day in hopes of selling some niche greeting cards decided they could include my ilk and maybe sell a few more. I doubt it worked.

But, for the sake of celebrating, here are some famous only children: Al Pacino, Samuel L. Jackson, Lauren Bacall, Robert De Niro, Robin Williams, Daniel Radcliffe, Gregory Peck, Frank Sinatra, Anthony Hopkins, Adrien Brody, Candace Bergen, Betty White, Leo DiCaprio, John Lennon (not counting half-sisters – his dad slept around), Cary Grant, Natalie Portman, Drew Barrymore, James Dean, Elvis Presley, Christina Applegate, Anthony Perkins, Cole Porter, Jack Nicholson, James Earl Jones, Elvis Costello, Liz Taylor, Ernest Borgnine (who played a guy named Marty!), Tommy Lee Jones, Sammy Davis Jr., Burt Bacharach, Janet Leigh, Elton John, Weird Al, Matthew Perry, Don Rickles, Richard Pryor, Jack Lemmon, Peter Falk and Ringo Starr.

I’m in good company. Happy day to all of us.

Easter Sunday

We had no children at home and carry no connection to any organized religion, so how, you may ask (or you may not, that’s cool) did we celebrate Easter? The old fashioned way. With an Easter egg hunt.

I tucked this one at the back of today’s article on the off chance anyone from my work happens to be reading. I promised my bosses I’d come up with something fun to distract everyone this week, as most of us have been working from home and all of us are feeling the strain of a heavy workload right now. We work in consumer protection, and that includes landlord and tenant legislation, so things are rocking in our office. We needed some fun.

So, donning masks and gloves, Jodie and I ventured into my office yesterday when no one was about, and took photos of plastic eggs stashed all over the office. I’ll put it onto a webpage today, then send out an email for everyone tomorrow to guess the locations of each egg. It may seem silly to organize an adaptation of a children’s activity for a bunch of grown government employees, but sometimes a little mirth is needed when the work is crazy. I do what I can to twist the steam valve every so often – I’m hoping they’ll have fun with this.

Hopefully you all had a great Easter, Passover, or just weekend. Stay safe and stay home – we will all be celebrating in the streets before too long.

It’s Easter Monday, which means nothing unless you’re a government worker or a student. Maybe a banker, I don’t know if they still close. Here’s what’s up today:

  • Dyngus Day. Apparently there’s a tradition involving waking people up with a bucket of cold water over their heads. Maybe…
  • National Make Lunch Count Day. Today our afternoon repast learns how to do math.
  • National Peach Cobbler Day. We’re gonna cobble us some peaches!
  • National Scrabble Day. Easy enough, play a game.