Sunday, July 5, 2020

We launched into yesterday a few hours before it began, celebrating the glorious triumph of America’s creation as told through a group of actors so talented it’s almost unreal, spewing hip-hop history and melodies so haunting and hook-laden they will be resurfacing in my brain for decades to come. If you haven’t invested the time (and meager money) to see Hamilton on Disney’s streaming service, you simply must. Jodie and Abbey had seen it on stage; for me, it was an experience in enjoying an incredible piece of art for the first time. It was pure magic, and it led us directly (and perfectly) here:

Independence Day

No, really. That was it. That was our celebration of Independence Day. We learned about the initial dream of America: the freedom to be represented by fellow citizens, the vision of immigrants pooling together their efforts and passions to create a better land, the early efforts – unsuccessful as they were – to eliminate slavery. America is a brilliant idea with a faltering execution.

My great-great-grandfather came through Ellis Island and settled in New York; his son did the same just a couple years later. My grandfather was born in Brooklyn and a couple years ago Abbey and I toured every address that he called home while he lived there. My dad was born on the US Army base in Edmonton, meaning he had his pick of citizenships when he turned 18. He didn’t want to go to Vietnam, so he saluted the maple leaf. Well, he saluted the Union-Jack-thing since he was 20 when we adopted the maple leaf flag, but you get the point. He then moved to LA and became an American citizen when he was older. America flows through my blood.

As a kid my friends used to badmouth Americans, and I used to stand up for the nation. The ideals it boasts are just that: ideal. The American Dream, wherein everyone has a fair shot to work hard and become a success, is magnificent. I’ll always love that country, even when it’s not easy to do so. Unfortunately, 2020 is one of those times.

The riotous outrage on American streets reflects the reality that the American Dream does not apply to everyone. Hell, the Occupy battle against the 1% a few years ago also highlighted that, though through a different lens. America is flawed and broken, and the voices we need to listen to in order to fix it are being drowned out by TV talking heads and agendas crafted to keep the power right where it is. COVID may have cleared the way for actual societal change; that remains to be seen. But an America that would feel groovy placing a sub-par reality show host and astoundingly obvious con-man in charge is not the America I grew up loving.

So yesterday, we’d planned a big July 4 party with friends and family but had to adjust due to social distancing concerns (and even weather). Instead we said a quick non-theistic prayer for a fallen nation that it will pick itself back up, and we reflected on the brilliant re-telling of its founding through rapid-fire hip-hop and clever wordplay. Keep shouting in the streets, America. There’s still hope.

National Barbecued Spareribs Day / Barbecue Day

Spareribs are, of course, cut from the lower part of the pig: the abdomen, or “undercarriage” as they say in the industry. They are tasty, and frequently used in Chinese cuisine. Unfortunately, they were also surprisingly hard to find in our shopping trips this weekend. We had to settle for back ribs.

This celebration was, of course, meant to coincide with July 4 picnics and big family get-togethers. I’m not sure why the spareribs people got in for this one, when National Cheeseburger Day would make more sense. But that day has already passed; yesterday was all about the ribs. And besides, this gave us practice for National Baby Back Ribs Day, which shows up in September.

We love ribs off the barbecue, and we’re particularly glad that this project propelled us to purchase a sparkly new barbecue back in May. We have made more meals with that thing than with our stove in the last couple of months, or at least that’s how it feels. The barbecue is a wondrous tool, and even though we already celebrated National Barbecue Day back on May 16, the odd appearance of a second Barbecue Day (no National) is just fine with us. It makes more sense than two World UFO Days a week and a half apart.

This project is all kinds of weird sometimes.

National Caesar Salad Day

Finally, a classic food celebration wherein there is (almost) no controversy over who actually invented it and when. This piece of salad mastery came to us courtesy of chef Caesar Cardini, an Italian-American immigrant who lived in San Diego, but chose to work in Tijuana so he could serve alcohol with his food creations. It happened during a Fourth of July celebration in 1924 when the kitchen was running out of supplies. Caesar took what he had available and created the masterpiece we know and love.

Okay, some members of his staff apparently claim that they invented it. But it’s a Caesar salad; let’s let Caesar have the credit. Julia Child recalled having the salad at Caesar’s restaurant as a child in the 1920s. Sure, the original may or may not have had anchovies, but that salty fish flavour came to add the sparkle that makes this one of the most universally beloved salads, at least in this part of the world.

We didn’t have bacon bits for our salad, though that’s in part because our daughter is here visiting and our bacon bit supplies run wildly short whenever she’s around, so we simply didn’t buy any. But we enjoyed croutons, parmesan cheese, and a terrific dressing overtop some romaine lettuce; it complemented our barbecued ribs perfectly. I love it when food celebrations get on board with one another like this.

Hop A Park Day

This is a day for “hopping” from park to park in your area to truly appreciate the glory of the greenspaces in your city, town, village, hamlet, or evil mountain lair. It’s a great concept, and it’s a shame that the weather, which had turned to full-on thunderstorms by the time our household chores were done, was not cooperative.

But Edmonton has some terrific parks, and I feel it would be a good use of our time to learn a little something about them. Hawrelak Park, once known as Mayfair Park, was almost a subdivision but the Strathcona Land Syndicate skipped paying its taxes and the city claimed it in 1922. It sat unused for more than 30 years until Mayor Hawrelak called for it to be turned into a beautiful park, complete with a lake, a playground, and a heap of fields and picnic areas. Our local blues festival is a great fit for the park. In 1982 they named it after the former mayor, even though he was, from what I’ve heard, an opportunist who abused his position and gave cushy jobs to his friends.

Rundle Park is a spot on the east side of town that we almost never visit. It was built on the site of Edmonton’s first garbage dump, so it has some history. It also used to feature an amusement park and a wooden roller coaster, the likes of which our city has not seen since. The park features a free disc-golf course, which we will hopefully take advantage of for Disc-Golf Day next month.

Laurier Park is about five blocks from where I grew up, and is attached to our city’s zoo. I had a lot of firsts at that park, including the zoo parking lot attached to it: my first drag race, my first high school bush party, my first time almost getting arrested for smoking contraband substances… I’ve had a lot of great times in that park. It’s a shame we couldn’t head out there yesterday, but hey, we’ve still got Google Maps, and that isn’t weather-dependent.

Alice In Wonderland Day

I was a bit thrown by this one, as the official publication date of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was on November 26, 1865. Why on earth would there be a celebration for the story on July 4?

I’m glad I asked. It was on July 4, 1862 when Lewis Carroll was taking a boat trip along the River Thames with his buddy Robinson and three daughters of his boss, Henry Liddell (one of whom was named Alice). Why Lewis and Robinson were travelling with his boss’s kids I have no idea. But to pass the time, Lewis told the fantastic story we’d come to know and love to the three girls. Over the coming years the girls would urge Lewis to re-tell the story again and again, and finally he wrote it down and published it.

So yesterday marked not the anniversary of the story’s publication, but rather its true inception. It was a triumph of creativity, and it went on to be a huge hit on TV, in movies, in comics, and even musicals. It became Lewis Carroll’s masterwork, and it all started with the desire to entertain some kids with a good story.

We could have celebrated the day by watching one of the film adaptations, but I opted instead to give a listen to its greatest pop song appearance, in Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit.” I know, it’s the quickest possible way to observe this, but hey – it’s an observation. And time was tight. We also had this to look forward to:

Invisible Day

There is a notable lack of clarity surrounding this day. It might mean we should acknowledge those who feel invisible, and reach out to them to connect them to the world so they feel a little less alone. Others say it’s to contemplate the notion of invisibility as a superpower: how would you use it? Would you skulk around in change rooms, play pranks on people, or use it to collect incriminating evidence against your enemies? And what’s the deal with clothing – would you have to be naked whilst invisible or would your clothes join your invisibility?

We honoured this day by being mostly invisible to the world. We’d planned a big party, and since COVID and the weather conspired to wipe that possibility off the table we simply stayed at home. Abbey had a friend over, but they remained outside, again, due to virus concerns. We kept out of sight.

As for what we’d do while invisible, we’d both be torn between simply observing the human condition in its purest form, when people think they are truly alone, or playing pranks. I mean, you could really mess with some horrible people while invisible. Hide their tiki torch so they couldn’t go to their White Lives Matter march, then thwack them with it from behind. Make them believe the White House is haunted by a spooky ghost so they give up and decide not to run for re-election, that sort of thing.

Alas, no superpowers yesterday. Just some hiding from the world. We’ve been getting really good at that over the last few months.

National Country Music Day

I am a devoted lover of music. I love great music from any genre, except for the genres that have produced nothing that can be called ‘great music’, like noise music or whatever the fuck ‘brostep’ is. That said, I would rank country music near the absolute bottom of the music styles I enjoy. Especially new country music, which sounds more like mediocre 90s pop with a twangy voice.

Still, this is what we do. I searched ‘Country That Doesn’t Suck’ on Spotify and found a playlist with some Zac Brown Band, some Rascal Flatts and even some modern country by Hootie. I gave it as long of a listen as I could, which wound up being an impressive 45 minutes. I shut it off not out of disgust, but because I had to go make dinner.

As much as country gets its licks from music lovers, we have to embrace its important place in our culture. Without country we wouldn’t have had rock ‘n roll. Country has been flavoring pop music in brilliant and creative ways for as long as pop music has been a thing. I still crank up Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash whenever I can, and that classic era of country produced some absolute brilliance. Country-flavoured rock, from the Grateful Dead to the Allman Brothers Band, is essential listening.

Jodie used country music as an escape when she found she could not tolerate synth-heavy 80s pop music. And given that she was raised by a musician to love actual musician-music, I get it. I was young enough to have hungrily soaked up all that 80s mayhem, but it’s not for everyone. And country music is one of the most approachable genres of music we have. It’s just not for me. But dammit, I did my part.

Sidewalk Egg-Frying Day

I like the spirit of this day, even if we have to put aside its science. The fact is, an egg needs to be heated to 70 degrees Celsius (158 Fahrenheit) in order to be fully cooked. On a super-hot day, the warmest you’re likely to find a sidewalk surface is 60 degrees. So you might get a bit of a sizzle going, but you’re not going to fry that egg.

Now, if you have another surface that conducts the heat a little better, you might be able to luck out and fry an egg under the sun on that. But why would you? Just go inside and fry a damn egg. Don’t get cute.

Given that we topped out at 20 degrees yesterday (68 for my American friends), there was no attempt at sidewalk egg-frying. But hey, we learned some science and isn’t that always a win? We think so.

Today I enjoy my last sigh of freedom before returning to work tomorrow. I’ll be doing so in a more visceral way, so it will be a mental-health getaway from this project for the most part. Smile more, talk less. Celebrate more, write less. This is what’s up:

  • National Apple Turnover Day. We’ll likely be skipping this one, given that we still seem to have too many desserts on hand.
  • National Graham Cracker Day. We might snack on a couple of these, however.
  • National Hawaii Day. Our journey around America hits the tropical joy of Hawaii today. This calls for some grilled pineapple.
  • National Workaholics Day. We work really hard, even on the most pointless things (if you’re on this website, you understand). Maybe we’ll watch some of the TV show by this name too.
  • National Bikini Day. Does Jodie have one? I sure don’t.
  • Mechanical Pencil Day. Woohoo! More office supplies!

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Spitting in the face of logic, slapping a tag upon the priceless fresco of reason, we plow forward through an entanglement of a fucktastic year with another batch of weirdly meaningless revelry. Today’s list was long, but aren’t they all getting a bit long? Has this become more a test of finger-plunking endurance than a dip in a perpetual pool of merriment? Has this project morphed from something to savour into something to conquer through sheer will and meandering pontification? These are the questions I try nightly to shut up in my head, mostly through carefully-plotted intoxication. But enough of this haunting speculation. Yesterday we watched Hamilton. We also did this:

National Eat Your Beans Day

Jodie, for those of you have not observed this when I’ve mentioned it before, can’t stand beans. I don’t mind them; I’d stop short of saying I love them, though a fried-up batch of green beans in butter with toasted almonds is a top-tier side dish. Beans are the filler in chili, which makes Texas-style beanless chili something truly magnificent, as we learned earlier this year on National Texas Day. Beans and hot dogs are tasty, but mostly because of the hot dogs that have been soaking in sweet bean-juice.

Beans are, as I understand it, crucial to vegetarians as a source of protein. This is, to me, an argument against vegetarianism as a lifestyle I could adopt unless a medical professional were to deem it absolutely necessary. Let’s face it, between beans and tofu, beans are the clear winner. And a thick, bloody steak will top both. For me, anyhow. Live and let eat, I always say.

So we figured a workaround. Sure, we could have opted for getting some green beans to honour this day, but they would not have gone well with our leftover Chinese food for supper. And nothing says a trip to virtual Broadway (Hamilton on Disney+!) like jelly beans. We stopped by Carol’s Quality Sweets and snagged some of those magnificent jelly beans that resemble small rocks. Celebration accomplished.

National Chocolate Wafer Day

I’m not sure if the purpose of a wafer cookie is to resemble a waffle somehow, but both contain those distinctive raised markings. For the waffle, those are clearly syrup repositories, designed for maximum sweet deliciousness in every bite. For the wafer cookie, the texture provides a fluffy and intriguing mouthfeel. It’s really a confectionary delight that has been vastly underused in terms of its potential.

The only wafer cookies we can find at our local grocer are generic-branded, bulk biscuits wrapped in plastic and intended for inclusion in some sort of baked dish or ice cream treat (or, in the case of our Baked Alaska a few months back, both). As cookies they are somewhat unimpressive. We had a few, and that was probably enough to satisfy anything close to a craving for the next several months or years.

So why hasn’t anyone done something great with the basic wafer? I’ve had stroopwafels before, those little waffle-cookies with a layer of caramel between them, and that’s as close to wafer supremacy that I’ve seen. But there has to be more we can do with the mighty wafer. This is an untapped resource of potential empty calories. Come on, Mr. Christie, come on, Keebler Elves. Someone has to bring the wafer to its true potential.

For now, the ones pictured above will have to do.

National Stay Out of the Sun Day

Ah, a day to give our skin a much-needed break from roasting underneath that big ol’ chemical fire in the sky. That would be lovely if you lived somewhere that isn’t Edmonton, which has been hammered by rain and gloomy overcastness for the last few weeks, and has seen maybe two days worthy of laying in a hammock or lawn chair and basking in warmth. This city pisses me off sometimes.

Yesterday was a moderate 23 degrees with partial cloud-cover; actually not a bad day to lay in the sun. And given that we didn’t need to take a break from any sort of sunning – my tan, which I’d hoped would be at George Hamilton levels by now, has faded back to its pasty hidey-hole – we didn’t feel we needed to honour this celebration. That said, we also had other things to keep us busy indoors throughout the afternoon, so in the absence of a truly glorious warm summer day, we simply stayed inside. The dogs got a walk, that was it.

It’s important to remember the seriousness of skin cancer, and the dangers of laying unprotected beneath a cozy solar swelter. And if you’ve been hitting the back yard lounger hard this year due to COVID-related free time, maybe you should take a breather. That said, if you live in Edmonton, you are welcome to simply shake this one off and hope summer will show up with a kick sometime soon.

So much hope.

Compliment Your Mirror Day

Hey mirror, you are awesome.

Of course, the real idea is to compliment the person looking back at you in the mirror. We did that too. “Damn Marty, you sure know how to pick out a terrific-looking mirror. Your mirror shopping skills are second to none. You should be picking out mirrors for people professionally. Is mirror-shopper an actual vocation? You should look into that. Heh. ‘Look into’. That’s kind of a mirror joke there.”

We’ve got no shortage of feel-good days in 2020, which one might suspect is a good tool with which to fight back against the mental strain of existing through this manic nosedive of a year. That might work for some, but talking myself up in the mirror was never my game. I indulged, but couldn’t help being a smartass about it (see above).

That said, it’s a lovely mirror. I stand behind my statement.

Comic Sans Day

People hate this font. I mean, they hate it in a weird way, one that I would reserve for neo-Nazis, corporate bailouts and the 2007 New England Patriots. But what is it, really? It’s a typeface. It’s a way letters look on a screen. It’s not going to cause bodily harm or do damage to your automobile. It’s not toxic to pets or bad for the environment. So I will spend this little chunk of article defending Comic Sans, in honour of its special day.

Comic Sans is moderately whimsical. It looks something like the printing of someone with half-decent (but not perfect) penmanship. Font designer Vincent Connare was working on the brand new Windows 95 when he noticed speech bubbles in the Microsoft Bob program (remember that? No, no one really does) featured Times New Roman. Where’s the joy in that rigidity? Vincent drew inspiration from the comics he had in his office, specifically The Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns. So a slam against Comic Sans is a slam against Batman. You want to pick a fight with Batman?

I wrote an entire novel in Comic Sans. I found it easy on the eyes, which is important when you’re staring at the same chunk of computer text for hours at a time. It’s a terrible font for professional signage, or really for anything that isn’t casual, light, and intended to elicit a grin. Webmasters and graphic designers spew venom at this font, but they should – it was never intended for that sort of use.

I won’t switch back to Comic Sans as a daily font. I use Windsor Lt BT for my writing because I find it inspiring and the ampersand features a brilliant theatrical flair to it. I don’t use the ampersand often, but when I do it’s always a pleasant surprise. But I’ll fight for Comic Sans to stay in our world, and to continue to ship with every important OS and word processing program. It’s a dark, grisly world. We need Comic Sans to make it a little less pretentious.

Plastic Bag Free Day

Okay, I’ll admit it: we got a plastic bag from Carol’s Sweets when we bought our jelly beans. They are still operating under COVID restrictions, which means they bagged the bulk product for us, and we were not about to hand them a paper bag and insist they use that instead. They have their procedures, and we don’t want to mess with that. They also have the best candies in this city. You don’t mess with the candy suppliers.

But this is an important day, especially this year. Grocery stores have given the big thumbs-down to bringing in your own canvas bag, or at least they were doing so during the peak of the lockdown. Our stash of plastic bags (which we reuse for garbage bags around the house) had nearly depleted; now it’s overflowing once again. Thankfully stores have reversed this policy, at least in these parts, and so long as we bag our groceries ourselves we can bring in our canvas bags again.

Then again, I’ve heard that the environmental impact of creating a reusable shopping bag can be more devastating than making and disposing of hundreds of plastic single-use bags. I doubt that’s true though, and we’re planning on erring on the side of common sense by not contributing to the heaps of plastic in our landfills. Check with your local grocer and see if you can bring your own bags. If they offer paper bags, those will at the very least decompose or can be recycled.

At the height of this pandemic, these race riots and this moronic political situation in the US, we can’t lose sight of the environmental dangers we face. And when it all gets to be too much, liquor stores are still open. Get yourself a drink. Just don’t let them give you a plastic bag.

Disobedience Day

Disobedience. It’s kind of a recurring theme this year. We’re seeing people disobeying orders to distance and wear a mask, and the anticipated result of higher infections and more deaths. We’re seeing groups of American Republicans who are disobeying the president’s demands for unquestioned loyalty and are actively campaigning for the other side. And most importantly, we’re seeing civil disobedience at a level we’ve never seen in my lifetime, and perhaps not even in my parents’ lifetimes.

We have stated before on this site that, while we will mostly stay away from politics, we will firmly plant our support behind the Black Lives Matter movement. We aren’t happy about the violence and looting going on, as it’s not really progressing us toward a peaceful goal, but we also understand precisely why a peaceful process to this goal may not be possible. Even if it is, the people who are demanding equality are sick of waiting for peaceful protest to work. Colin Kaepernick tried peaceful protest and got drummed out of the NFL for it.

Civil disobedience has played a part in every great revolution. Gandhi used it to rebel against the British grip on India. Germans used it to smash their wall in 1989. China used it by rioting during that same year, and the outrage in Hong Kong is another example of how that revolution has not yet been settled. But it’s necessary. It’s the correct response when no other means of getting one’s voice heard are working. And when the fight is for justice, equality, and setting the world to its correct heading, we should all be behind it.

Fight the powers that be, people. As long as you’re doing it for the right reasons, history will reward you.

National Independent Beer Run Day

It’s Independence Day today, as most of my American friends are already aware. This celebration reminds us to head to our local beer stores (since, I assume, they may be closed down today) the day before the big holiday to stock up on independent, craft-brewed beers. This is a good thing; America should not be defined by an allegiance to Budweiser or Coors. Your nation has so much more to offer, so much more quality that has been crammed into a can or bottle.

We are celebrating Independence Day today with a party of sorts. And yesterday we headed out to pick up a delightful bottle of something made at an independent brewery. What we picked up will end up being our Bonza Bottles this month, so stay tuned on Tuesday..

Support your local independents. Otherwise, the options (and I say this from having grown up at the end of the dark period of corporate beer dominance) are garbage.

Tonight we party. Here’s what we’ll be celebrating:

  • Independence Day. We aren’t American, but I’m descended from Americans and I love that country deeply. We will mourn its present ills and pray for a brighter future.
  • National Barbecued Spareribs Day. We’d planned to do a huge BBQ with friends and family, but we only have a couple friends coming over for a post-dinner drink. But this will be dinner.
  • National Caesar Salad Day. This will also be part of dinner, because the Caesar is among the finest of all possible salads.
  • Hop-A-Park Day. The plan here was to drunkenly stumble from our backyard party to various parks in the neighborhood. Needless to say, we’ll be tweaking.
  • Alice In Wonderland Day. A birthdate for a delightful story. Perhaps some Jefferson Airplane is in order.
  • Invisible Day. Well, then how will we know this day is even there?
  • Independence From Meat Day. Nice try, vegetarians. Not today.
  • National Barbecue Day. We already celebrated this once, but I guess it makes sense for July 4 to feature it once more.
  • National Country Music Day. Ah, fuck.
  • Sidewalk Egg-Frying Day. I don’t think we’re getting that sort of weather, but we can wish.