Sunday, June 21, 2020

With a cloudless sky and a beckoning sun screaming at me through my window, how can I justify churning out another 3500-word essay to describe all of our manic Saturday celebrations? Is there no hammock for the weary, no pause for the devoted? Must I churn out paragraph upon paragraph of history, recap and quirky trivia? This is my lot for 2020, and I dare not turn back now. Not when a Saturday can leave us this full of merriment and activity to fill every waking, non-intoxicated minute:

National Hike With A Geek Day

This one felt desperately kitchy and wholly arbitrary until I read about the reasoning behind it. At one time there was this notion that all “geeks” (which back then meant people into computers, technology, and possibly prog rock) were pasty-skinned schlubs who never exercised, and seldom left the confines of their home for adventure.

The 21st century geek can be pretty much anyone. That guy kayaking down the Colorado River might be a music geek, with shelves stacked with old 78s and an in-depth knowledge of who played which instrument in every iteration of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. The linebacker who just sacked the quarterback might have been raised in New York and fancies himself a musical theatre geek who knows every word to South Pacific. And that lady who just lapped you three times in your casual and exhausting jog might know how to strip a motherboard of all its parts and fix it.

The notion of geek-dom, as explained on Geek Pride Day (May 25), has expanded. And Jodie and I are both geeks of some nature: me with music and movies and her with theatre. So while we appreciate that some geeks still cling to their indoor oases with both hands, we are also aware that as a society we have moved on from the old 80s stereotype. So we embraced our geekiness and set out on a nice hike yesterday, which would have been much easier to capture in a picture if we hadn’t brought these dogs with us.

However you look at it, this is another get-out-and-do-something celebration, so that’s what we did.

Nature Photography Day

This one had to be bumped – it came up last Monday, and this week has been just too busy to fit it all in. But here we are.

The North American Nature Photography Association (which gets the delightfully familial acronym NANPA) designated June 15 to be the official day for everyone to take a momentary interest in the hobby. There were numerous NANPA member instructional online seminars, only one of which was free. And it looks like that free one took place last Wednesday, so I have nothing to report.

Nature photography is a tremendous skill, one which we do not possess even slightly. It takes patience and stealth to capture that perfect shot without spooking your subject out of the frame. We have a hard enough time doing this with our dogs; to get a great close-up of a bird, a bug or even our squatter/tenant squirrel, Elton, is not an easy task.

Yesterday we made it our mission to try to snap a decent nature pic each. This was particularly challenging given the full slate of activities we had to tackle throughout the day, but dammit we did it. You can see Jodie’s best effort on the left and mine on the right. Hey, trees are nature too, right? Sometimes the plant life is all you can immortalize, especially when there isn’t a lot of animal life roaming about. We opted to exclude dogs, as we take plenty of pictures of them. Jodie’s shot is a close up of one of the roses growing outside our living room, while I captured the fermented (and likely intoxicating) berries Liberty leaps at during our daily hikes. We think she likes to get a little buzz on.

If nothing else, this day helped to reinforce our respect for the quality nature photographers of the world. NANPA had a contest going for the best submission, but I don’t think we had anything to qualify. Hey, we gave it a shot.

National Vanilla Milkshake Day

Break out the eggs and whiskey, it’s time to celebrate milkshake day!

No, I haven’t just suffered from a stroke – that’s what milkshakes used to be. In 1885 it was described as a tonic, an eggnog like beverage with eggs and whiskey. Fifteen years later, it was discovered that no one wanted this to exist, and the milkshake was reconceived as a “wholesome” treat consisting of ice cream and milk.

We don’t have a milkshake maker, just a plain ol’ blender. But the beauty of milkshakes is that they’re hard to screw up. They also pair brilliantly with a boastful summer solstice.

Milkshakes were once deeply intertwined with youth culture, back before youth culture was a marketable demographic. The malt shop was the place to meet up, and the milkshake was the perfect summer beverage. It was milkshakes that first attracted Ray Kroc into the food world, as he’d travel around selling them before elbowing his way into the McDonalds franchise.

We have three milkshake days this year, unless more happen to pop up along the way. Chocolate Milkshake Day is in September and Coffee Milkshake Day pops up next month. This was a genuine treat to have such a celebration on a perfectly toasty day. It could only be surpassed by another, very similar celebration we could enjoy at the same time:

National Ice Cream Soda Day

What is the difference between an ice cream soda and an ice cream float? Nothing. Or possibly something. It depends where you’re from or which kind you’re enjoying. We have National Root Beer Float Day cropping up in August, so to celebrate the same thing today would simply be setting us up for reruns. No one wants reruns.

But reruns is what we got. We were going to go with a different version of the ice cream soda. For that one, you plop some ice cream and flavoured syrup into a glass. Top that off with carbonated water, stir and enjoy. Unfortunately, the flavoured syrup we had was from a home slurpee machine that Abbey bought with her first job (she used it once). The syrup that accompanied it had an expiry date of 2017. So a root beer float would have to do.

The variations on the float or soda concept are immense. In Boston they use Vernors Ginger Ale with vanilla ice cream to make a Boston Cooler. In Brazil the Vaca Dourada (golden cow) is made with vanilla ice cream and guarana soda. The Helado Flotante in Mexico is lemon sherbet and cola. I’ve got to try that one. Then of course there’s the classic Guinness Float, with Guinness stout, ice cream, and a shot of espresso if you feel your insides haven’t been messed with enough.

Our summer is going to be filled with brilliant celebrations like these. We will be consuming so much ice cream, we may explode. I’m willing to take that risk.

National Seashell Day

I think most tundra-dwellers who were fortunate enough to enjoy the occasional vacation to a non-tundra, ocean-adjacent locale as a kid probably had a seashell collection. I certainly did. Every time I’d look at those shells, gathering dust in one of my dad’s old cigar boxes, I’d recall how much I loved gathering them from their sandy homes, washing them up, and adding them to a stash I believed would grow immense with all my travels.

It did not. But I had a few, and they were grand. They most likely didn’t survive the move from my childhood home when I was 19, though it wouldn’t surprise me if my mom was to show up one Sunday afternoon with that old cigar box in her hand. This wouldn’t exactly thrill me, as my desire to collect seashells is non-existent at present, but it would be interesting.

I popped over to to learn a few facts about seashells yesterday. Shells are mollusk homes. The mollusks create this exoskeleton out of proteins and calcium carbonate (which is not, as I learned yesterday, another way of saying ‘fizzy milk’), and they then proceed to wear them for the duration of their lives. So that collection I had as a kid – those were simply skeletons, in a way.

Hermit crabs, which are not mollusks, will wait for a mollusk to keel over before scooping out the innards and making use of the shell themselves. Hermit crabs are opportunists, I’ll give them that. Seashells have also been used throughout human history as currency. Rumor has it you can still do this in parts of Papua New Guinea, so if any enterprising tundra-folk have amassed a huge collection over their lives, that might be the ideal place to head for a cheap vacation.

While I have no desire to once again cultivate a collection of seashells, I would certainly enjoy finding myself in a location where doing so would be possible. This year will not see a tropical vacation for us (or for most people), but someday.

Ugliest Dog Day

I’m not really on board for this one. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve scrolled through a few online galleries of allegedly ugly dogs, and I’ve winced at a few of them. But maybe it comes from nearly two decades of having bulldogs and hearing people say moronic things about them like, “They’re so ugly they’re cute.” What does that even mean? Bulldogs are majestic and deeply textured. We should all be lucky enough to be so ugly.

Of course one cannot hold a contest for the ugliest-on-the-inside dog, as dogs are not born with hateful souls. Perhaps we should simply be celebrating the quirkiest looking dogs, with no insulting modifiers.

Whatever – we’ll play along because this is 2020 and we are supposed to play along with everything on our little calendar o’ mayhem. So in honour of this ridiculous day, here are some contenders for the ugliest dog. I’m sure each of them is a good boy or a good girl. They can’t help it if our silly human brains are wired for such aesthetic judginess. We people are all a little ugly inside.

Summer Solstice

This was the celebration that took the most time yesterday, and we’ll happily re-celebrate it every day that nature will allow. There are numerous ways to welcome the solstice around the globe, some of which date back centuries or more, back to times when we lived by the turning of the seasons. Here in the Canadian tundra, it’s not uncommon for snow to still live on the ground more than a month into spring, so the summer is precious. We’re also keenly aware that by the time the autumnal equinox comes a-callin’, we’ll most likely be deep into brilliantly-hued leaves and chillier temperatures. Halloween often lands after the beginning of our long winter.

So to honour this sacred day, we lay outside for a few hours and savoured the glimmer of summer Edmonton allows us to witness. We turned down the hot tub to its lowest setting, and used that as a chilly mid-tanning bath to awaken our cells and provide some relief from the cold. A nice beer also helped. My hammock (pictured above) held me in comfy splendour right through 3:43pm, when the earth reached its most glorious axis-tilt of the year.

Many solstice traditions are rooted in paganism. In Sweden they don flowers, do dances and feast for Midsommarstang. It’s rumored that if a single girl plops seven flowers under her pillow this night, she’ll dream of her future husband. Or wife – I’m sure these ancient traditions weren’t very LGBTQ-conscious, but we can update them as need be. Big bonfires are the tradition in Norway and Finland, while over at Stonehenge the new-school druids and pagans pop out to witness the sunrise.

In Latvia they leap over bonfires, while in Austria they simply light up a bunch of fires in the mountains, which seems profoundly dangerous. In China this is when they hold the Lychee and Dog Meat festival, which thankfully no longer involves the serving of dog meat. Yikes. I’m happy just enjoying the sun and embracing the incredibly limited summer we are allowed. Hopefully the next few months brings us a few of these wonderful days.

National Daylight Appreciation Day

This day was sponsored by Solatube, a company that will cut a hole in your roof and create a tube that will reflect and project the sunlight into a room in your home. Okay, that’s cool. But let’s look at how we’re really celebrating this day.

That photo up there was snapped at 11:08pm last night. On what is historically the longest day of the year, we enjoy sunlight in these parts long past the reasonable hour for darkness. In fact, our proximity to the Arctic Circle ensures that it never gets fully dark here in the weeks around the solstice. It’s not something most folks notice – at 2:00am it is still very much nighttime. But when I lived in a 20th floor apartment with windows facing north and east, I remember staying up all night and watching the sun’s glow scoot just below the northern horizon from the west all the way to its rising point in the east.

Having the kind of daylight where you can still play frisbee outside until after 10 is really fun. Sure, it sucks when you’re trying to get to sleep and it feels like the world is still in motion outside your window, but it also means your evening recreation can keep going until you’re ready to come inside, not simply when the sun tells you to.

So we honoured this day by heading outside at 11 and really appreciating the majesty of the endless day. Really, with a day as glorious as this solstice was, why would we ever want it to end anyway?

World Juggling Day

Have you ever attended a virtual juggling event? Well, as of yesterday I have. One of the events listed on the World Juggling Day website was an all-day jugglefest streaming live on a Zoom channel as well as a Twitch channel. I tuned in to find a skinny dude with no shirt on, wearing flesh-colored tights (which created an uncomfortable illusion of nudity in the medium and long shots), gracefully manipulating four softball-size glass orbs in his hands. It was damn hypnotic.

There were other live events, but honestly I couldn’t spend the entire day being entranced by juggling – I had a solstice to celebrate, as well as numerous ice cream treats. I’m a very busy man.

The real fun, of course, came when Jodie and I tried juggling. Her juggling experience is about a zero, and mine is only maybe a hair above that. When I was a teenager I passed the time learning to juggle with three tennis balls, or two in one hand. I got to the point where I could go a good five to ten seconds before dropping something. I opted to go no further, lest I fall in love with the pastime and decide to try to make a career out of it. In retrospect, I regret that decision. Being a professional juggler might not bring in the same bank as a government office drone, but I bet it’s a lot more fun.

So we gave it a shot with a few oranges. We weren’t good. My skills have deteriorated to that of an absolute novice. At this rate, we’ll never get invited to star in a twitch juggling livestream. It’s hard to write sentences like that, to reckon with our failures. Alas, these are the perils of such a short life.

Anne & Samantha Day

A twice-per-year celebration you’ve probably never heard of (we certainly hadn’t), Anne & Samantha Day drops on both solstices to pay tribute to Anne Frank and Samantha Smith.

We’ve all heard of Anne. Samantha was born just a couple years before me. When she was 10, while I was spending my days flying a plastic Millennium Falcon around my backyard, Samantha wrote to new Soviet leader Yuri Andropov, asking what he is doing to not have a war with America, and why he would want to take over the country. The letter was published in Pravda, the Soviet newspaper, but she never got a reply.

Until she did. She followed up with the USSR’s American ambassador, and in early 1983, while I was probably still flying that Falcon betwixt my birch trees, Yuri sent her an answer. He explained that the Soviet Union has vowed never to attack first with a nuclear weapon, and that they want peace as much as she does. He then invited Samantha to travel to Moscow, which she did. She even wrote a book about it.

So why on earth would Samantha’s day be paired with Anne Frank, who had died almost 30 years before Samantha was born? Well, like Anne, Samantha’s life was cut tragically short. She was killed in a plane crash at the age of 13. And like Anne, she provided the world with a unique perspective on a massive global conflict (or cold conflict in Sam’s case). And like Anne, we wonder what she might have done had she grown into adulthood with a pure and fiercely strong spirit.

We’ll send them some more love in winter – for now we fire off a bold salute to two very awesome humans.

Cuckoo Warning Day

This is another day tied directly the solstice. Tired of reading about these celebrations yet? Well, on solstice or equinox days you’ll have to expect a landslide of them. This one is purely a superstition, but I’m going to believe it’s true.

Even though it’s not. I don’t care – it’s not in my nature to attempt to carve the grooves in the universe, only to ride through them and enjoy the sounds they make. In the case of this auspicious day, the sound you do not want to hear in your universe is that of a cuckoo bird.

If you thought the mighty groundhog held an inordinate amount of power back in February, the cuckoo’s got him beat. Phil may hold domain over the ensuing six weeks of weather, but the cuckoo controls all of summer. If you hear the sound of a cuckoo on the summer solstice, you are destined for a wet summer.

Good news to my fellow tundra-dwellers: the cuckoo lives all over the planet, but not in the northwest corner of North America. If you heard a cuckoo yesterday, it was either in an old clock or a movie that featured an old clock. So hopefully this one does come true – we heard no cuckoo at all throughout the day.

But come on. Cuckoos are a widely distributed bird. It’s highly unlikely that no one in any region where they dwell will hear one, so logically this would mean a wet summer everywhere, every year. Except for here. And that simply isn’t the case. Then again, why am I wasting the effort to argue against a superstition that, even by superstition standards is ridiculously unlikely? Perhaps it’s the effects of the warm summer sun. Maybe I’ve gone a bit cuckoo myself. So what does that mean? Sleet? Anyone?

International Ragweed Day


According to the International Ragweed Society (you see how far down the rabbit hole of obscurity I’m willing to go for this project?), the first Saturday of summer is the day we are all supposed to pay attention to ragweed. I don’t know about you, but I can’t remember the last time I even thought about ragweed. Is it named that because you can use it as a rag, to tidy a spill of cognac in your den/smoking chamber?

No. At least, probably not. Ragweed is considered a pest, so if it has any beneficial uses, the IRS (that’s the International Ragweed Society, not that other IRS) isn’t boasting about it. Apparently the French ragweed people are putting on webinars every day between June 15 and 30. These “will be diffused from 11:30am to 12:00am (Paris time)” each day, according to the website. So if you’re into learning more about ragweed – and really, you should be – you should tune in online for each… diffusal.

The ragweed scourge is partly our fault. It’s native to North America, but has been tragically introduced in Europe, where it pops up as an unwanted invasive species. It’s believed (and the IRS will back me up on this) that climate change is playing a part in spreading the species around the continent.

Of course, if you’re allergic to ragweed pollen, you’ve probably thought about the plant often. A single ragweed plant can produce about a billion grains of pollen every damn season. It’s one of the most common allergies we’ve got (Jodie is dealing with it presently), so whoever got the idea to bring a plant over to Europe will hopefully be paying for it with a few centuries of karmic suffering.

As devout fans of human health, we flip a pair of taut middle fingers at the despicable ragweed, and hope each plant chokes on its own pollen this year.

International Surfing Day

Here’s something I hadn’t anticipated: International Surfing Day is not a day for surfing, but rather a day for surfers to band together and do some work to protect and preserve the coastlines they love. Most surfers, like skateboarders, snowboarders, etc., are very positive and considerate people. They don’t surf because they hate the ocean and want to show off how they can hold dominion over that stupid water that thinks it’s so great. No, from what I understand (and my surfing skills stretch no further than the Summer Olympics game on the Apple IIe), surfing is a very spiritual connection to the ocean.

So it makes sense that surfers will want to give back. Their website (all the better days have their own websites) suggests people do a solo beach cleanup and post the results online. They usually play a part in organizing mass cleanups, but mass anything this year is out of the question. They’ll also take donations toward environmental activities, if you’re so inclined.

Lacking an ability to remain buoyant in water and having the sense of balance of a drunken Barbapapa (look it up, non-Canadians), surfing is likely something I’ll never try. But we support the efforts of this day, and hope by the time International Coastal Cleanup Day rolls around in September that the world will be a bit more open to mass gatherings of well-intentioned, earth-and-ocean-loving folks.

To honour the high ideals of this day, I put on some vintage Dick Dale and rode the wave of that reverb-heavy guitar. It was great.

World Humanist Day

Hey there, humanists. Hope you had a good one.

Humanism seems like a difficult position to oppose, doesn’t it? If you’re not a humanist, are you an anti-humanist? Unless you’re loading up your twenty-three AK-47s and strapping your backup pistols to your abdomen in preparation for a violent rampage, you are probably not anti-humanist. But let’s be real: humanism is not so much an embrace of our fellow peeps as it is an anti-theist statement.

Humanists don’t believe in God. They believe in science, in reason, and in empathy. When deeply religious people question how someone who doesn’t subscribe to a faith can therefore possess the morality to lead a just and even potentially noble life, it’s humanism that counters that doubt. There are international humanist organizations all around the globe, but most humanists don’t belong to one. They simply accept their life view, and through zero rituals or traditions, they carry on and try to take care of one another.

Jodie and I are, as anyone who knows us will already be aware, humanists. We trust science above gut instinct, and reason and compassion are what drives our ethical considerations. We also believe that folks are entitled to subscribe to whatever faith fuels their motors, so long as that faith doesn’t rain on anyone else’s experience. Perhaps humanism seems so impossible to oppose because it simply is. Unless you are of the belief that anyone who doesn’t share your faith is a lesser being, you probably have no issues with humanists.

Yesterday was a great reminder to all of us that science is important, reason is crucial, and along with empathy and understanding those are the values upon which a society should be built.

Hooray for humans.

World Productivity Day

Today’s article, written yesterday and edited to seamless perfection today, was my longest yet, clocking in at over 4,000 words to cover fifteen celebrations. If that ain’t productivity, I don’t know what is.

And if yesterday didn’t exhaust us completely (and it may have), we’ve now got all this to deal with today:

  • National Peaches ‘n Cream Day. Dessert has already been decided. Nice.
  • National Day of the Gong. My original plan for this day was to Get It On to a local instrument store and Bang a Gong. Alas, this won’t be possible.
  • Go Skateboarding Day. I don’t believe we own one of these, so again – may not be possible. Plus, see above about my pathetic sense of balance. Might be a good thing to skip.
  • National Selfie Day. Woohoo! Narcissism!
  • National Arizona Day. The cuisine of Arizona came out very similar to the cuisine of New Mexico, which we celebrated last week. But there is one key difference: the iced tea.
  • Turkey Lover’s Day. And dinner tonight will be delicious turkey burgers.
  • Father’s Day. And as a treat, I’m hopeful Jodie will make those delicious turkey burgers to give this cooking dad the night off.
  • International Yoga Day. Jodie has this one covered.
  • World Day of Music. Non-stop music, all day long. I can get behind that.
  • National Indigenous Peoples Day. This is not an official holiday in Canada (and the Indigenous people deserve one), but we’ll look into their experience. There won’t be a lot of laughs in this section, but it needs to be discussed.
  • World Giraffe Day. Very cool creatures. We’ll learn what we can.
  • World Handshake Day. The one thing I hope COVID kills completely. I know where people’s hands have been – I don’t need to shake them. I’ll make my argument for the death of the handshake.

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