Tuesday, April 14, 2020

It dawned on me as the crack of noon nudged me out of bed yesterday that we were better prepared than most for this unanticipated quarantine. Not because of our food and TP supplies – which have proven more than adequate – nor because we have jobs that allow us to work from home. No, we are excelling because we entered this year with a silly time-absorbing activity that can be done from the monotony of home every day. We don’t need to learn a new skill or build a LEGO replica of the town from Northern Exposure – we have our celebrations. Most would barely register as worth the time in a normal year, but in 2020 they are a daily shot of spice and weirdness. Our only daily shot of spice and weirdness. Then there are the rare few that are tempered by this curious condition:

Easter Monday / Dyngus Day

“It’s not a real holiday,” my parents informed me when I was young. “It’s only for banks and government workers.”

As a student, subject to the holiday designations bestowed upon our teachers (who work for the government), it was a real enough holiday for me. Back then, as it is today in provinces where Family Day, Islander Day and Louis Riel Day aren’t a thing, it was the first bonus day off after New Year’s. It was a day to sleep in late and do what we wanted, which is exactly how we celebrated it yesterday. Jodie even found a way to justify an afternoon nap after having done nothing out of bed besides eat two slices of toast.

Things get a bit weirder when you head to Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary. Smigus-dyngus (Wet Monday) is what they call this day, and tradition dictates that young boys are to awaken young girls by pouring cold water over their heads, then thwacking their legs with switches yanked from willow or birch trees. You know, what we’d normally call assault. In Ireland they commemorate things more solemnly, with a parade of veterans honouring those fallen during the Easter Rising in 1916. In a number of other countries egg hunts and family get-togethers are the norm.

Dyngus Day has carried over to the US though various Polish communities, in particular in Buffalo, NY. The day is usually filled with a huge parade and plenty of outdoor activities. Yesterday I imagine it was simply another day. It was for us. Another day of sleeping in and slacking off – a true day to celebrate.

National Make Lunch Count Day

This will be our first, and likely our only celebration that was launched by national restaurant chain TGI Fridays. According to a study commissioned by the restaurant (“study” may be a generous description here), most US employees suffer from FOLO – Fear Of Lunching Out. Not sure this shows up in the DSM-V, but I’m not a professional. On this day, workers are encouraged to not eat lunch at their desks and instead to dine out with their co-workers. Ideally, I’m sure, at a TGI Fridays.

There is certainly a benefit to doing this, even for those of us who use our lunch hours productively, to catch up on TV shows our wives don’t care about. That new episode of Brockmire isn’t going to watch itself. This makes lunch into an event, and it gets you up and walking for at least 10-20 minutes, so that’s a plus. TGI Fridays’ hearts were in the right place, even if their luck is not. They came up with this celebration in 2016. Last year April 13 fell on a Sunday, when most folks aren’t at work. This year, it’s a day when dining out is either impractical or impossible. Maybe next year their business will pick up on 4/13.

With no restaurants offering sit-down service and none of our coworkers on the premises, we instead dined with our dog companions / research assistants. They made lunch count, and even cleaned up a few crumbs that fell on the floor because they are hard-working and dedicated employees. It wasn’t much, but lunch counted. Thanks, restaurant chain.

National Peach Cobbler Day

This is the recipe that we used to create a thoroughly divine dessert that we absolutely did not need. We still have licorice, coffee cake, caramel popcorn, caramel candies and various other treats lying around. But how do you shake your head and let National Peach Cobbler Day pass you by?

The cobbler, which has no connection I can find to the people who make shoes, originated in America back when it was a British colony. The aim was to make a suet pudding, which consists of the beef or mutton fat found around the kidneys and loins mixed with raisins and breadcrumbs. When they couldn’t source the suet, they found other things to cobble. Often these would end up as savoury dishes, but we can thank the good folks in the deep south for focussing on fruit. They also came up with the idea of dumping a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top.

Out east the variant of cobbler they make is known as the grunt, or the slump. Those are cooked on stovetop. The apple pan dowdy has had its topping crumbled and stirred into the fruity guts. The buckle is made with yellow cake batter. The sonker is a North Carolinian deep-dish version of the cobbler. The Brown Betty is made with breadcrumbs and fruit in alternating layers.

Of all the cobbler concepts, the simple peach is the most appealing to us, and luckily it’s the only one with its personal day. Wait, that’s not accurate. Apple Betty Day shows up on October 5, so we have that to look forward to. More desserts. So many desserts. We’re going to roll out of this house like spheres when this quarantine is done.

National Scrabble Day

In 1938 architect Alfred Butts sealed his fate of having his entire legacy tied not to the design of a building but rather a family pastime. Ten years later a man named James Brunot, who was a fan of the game, felt it should be marketed widely. He bought the rights, then he and his wife converted a schoolhouse into a board game manufacturing facility, and pumped out 2,400 sets in their first year. Still, they lost money. Then in 1952 Jack Straus, president of Macy’s, played the game while on vacation, and that launched the game into the stratosphere. No other word-building board game has improved on it, because how could you?

The rules of the game have evolved over time, though each change was minimal, like a single challenge counting toward every word formed by the last turn, or that a player can pass their turn if they want to. The letter values are not arbitrary – Alfred Butts invested a lot of effort tabulating the frequency of letters in multiple issues of the New York Times, the Herald-Tribune and the Saturday Evening Post.

A few notable Scrabble moments from competitive play: Michael Cresta scored the highest recorded single-game score with 830. The highest tie game occurred in 2012, and was knotted at 532-532. The highest losing score is 552 in Round 12 of the 2008 Dallas Open. This all makes it a little bit less impressive that neither of scored even close to that losing score yesterday.

We aren’t professionals. That’s okay, we had fun, and that’s really all that Mr. Butts ever wanted.

National Facial Protection Month

Had this dropped in January or February we probably would have skipped right over it. There isn’t a lot of call for facial protection when you work as a junior high English teacher or a government office drone. But facial protection is the new chic this spring, and we are happy to sport our own custom-designed masks, courtesy of my beloved Auntie, who stitched a bunch for the entire family.

It has been broadcast far and wide that we had best avoid purchasing the COVID-proof surgical facemasks, as those are needed and in short supply for the professionals who are – no pun intended – face to face with the virus every day. But home-made masks are the new fashion craze, whether you’re aiming to protect yourself from breathing in the virus or you just want to avoid “talking moistly” and inadvertently spewing spittle onto surfaces your neighbors might touch. Ours feature a little pocket in which we can insert a small filter made from a shop rag – it won’t protect against everything, but it will help.

Jodie piped in at this point and insisted that this celebration likely refers to protecting the skin on one’s face, and not one’s immune system through blocking out germs. She puts on a daily moisturizer with SPF protection, so we’re covered there. A bit of research reveals this month is actually intended to raise awareness for proper face guards whilst playing sports. Since neither of us can claim any connection to this form of facial protection, and since Jodie is the only one among us who protects her face with a daily cream regimen, I’m going with my initial thesis and promoting face-mask usage. It’s topical and logical.

Keep them mugs secure!

Alcohol Awareness Month

It’s probably safe to say that most adults are becoming more aware than ever that alcohol exists this month. There are only so many ways to pass the time in quarantine, after all. So let’s pour a little love into a hearty glass o’ booze this month.

Here’s to wine, the favourite meme topic of middle-age women and the delicious nectar of so much national pride.

Here’s to tequila, whose shots I have vowed to abstain from until once again celebrating our societal return to one another. Here’s hoping it comes soon.

Here’s to whiskey and whisky in all your delectable permutations, from rye to bourbon and beyond. You challenge the taste buds and inspire what brain cells you don’t murder into coveting your complex composition.

Here’s to gin, which has ventured so far from my palette over the years, only to return in a new nightly ritual ever since Gin & Tonic Day last week. May you never depart again.

Here’s to those noble liqueurs that boast sweetness and immaculate sensation upon the tongue, and whose potency we respect because the hangovers they deliver can be crippling.

Here’s to cider, whose gentle fruity strains will chime out this summer when the weather evolves to match their wit and optimism.

Here’s to brandy and cognac, and all those mighty liquids we can sip from snifters while we pretend we’re plotting the demise of James Bond. I don’t really get your appeal, but I respect your game.

Here’s to vodka, that infamous chameleon, so versatile and vivacious as to lead us down many a path of excessive indulgence, yet always greeting us with that same sly smile that draws us in every time.

Here’s to those little sugary shots sold in plastic shot glasses and test tubes at liquor store checkout counters. You don’t taste good, and we feel stupid and juvenile whenever we drink you. You know what – fuck these things; I rescind my toast.

Here’s to peach vodka, which I consumed en masse for National Hangover Day a few months back. You bested me, and I relinquish any claim of dominance over your big hairy, peachy fists.

Here’s to rum, that most precious of amber fluids, that critical ingredient in the greatest of mixed drinks, the pillar of tiki culture which embraces my soul and transports me to the same tropical escape no matter where I taste it.

And here’s to beer, in all its devilish incarnations. You dazzle and enchant and offer the broadest spectrum of possibility. We are grateful for your brightening our fridges.

Happy alcohol month to all. May it last as long as this quarantine, and for at least one wild weekend afterward.

Today we have our busiest Tuesday of celebrations since March 3:

  • National Ex-Spouse Day. Jodie has one of these, so maybe she’ll reach out to her ex and have an uplifting and invigorating chat. Nah, not likely.
  • National Gardening Day. It’s still winter. There will be no gardening, likely not at all this year.
  • National Pecan Day. Found an interesting recipe for pecan-crusted salmon for dinner.
  • Cake & Cunnilingus Day. Considering how Jodie’s illness cut short the equivalent day for me last month… we’ll have cake.
  • National Look Up At The Sky Day. I like a celebration that involves merely tilting one’s head back slightly.
  • International Be Kind To Lawyers Day. A happy hello to our attorney friends today.
  • International Moment of Laughter Day. We laugh. We’re in quarantine – what else can we do?