Tuesday, March 31, 2020

For a bit of perspective today we’ll look again to the words of Walt Whitman:

“The sickness of one of my folks or of myself, or ill-doing or loss

          or lack of money, or depressions or exaltations,

Battles, the horrors of fratricidal war, the fever of doubtful news,

          the fitful events;

These come to me days and nights and go from me again,

But they are not the Me myself.”

Hold close to your Me, and know that the bombardment of sorrow and fear oozing from our phone screens, tablet screens, TVs and monitors, is not who we are. We are We, and We will persevere. And to keep busy, we’ll keep partying:

National I Am In Control Day

I’ve found a source that traces this day to Secretary of State Alexander Haig, who announced he was in control at the White House while Ronald Reagan was being treated for gunshot wounds in 1981. The day evolved to be an excuse to get one’s life under control by taking a more active role in scheduling appointments and tasks, and keeping organized. I’d argue that this year, the day should means something entirely new.

Our lives are, many would say, mostly out of control right now. The government has dictated who can and cannot work. We’ve been told to stay at home – an easy and welcome task for us introverts and homebodies, but arguably tortuous for outdoorsy types and those whose home situations are less than pleasant. The headlines remind us every minute that the course of our great society is presently out of everyone’s control, apart from that nasty little virus who appears to be calling the shots from its microscopic director’s chair.

A few things we can control. We can control the soundtrack that scores our days – choose music that lifts us up. We can control our input of bad news. Turn off news notifications, and get off social media. Everyone is re-posting statistics, analyses and what various governments are and are not doing, so you can’t even pop onto Instagram for a respite of dog pics anymore. We can control our physical selves. Take your home-bound body out for a stroll, take a drive, get the hell out as long as you can keep away from others. And to some extent, we can control how we react to all this madness. Create art. Play around with that instrument you bought but never learned. Write that story – don’t worry if your sentence structure or character development is weak, just get it started and get it out of you.

And celebrate with us. On Thursday you’ll get to eat PB&J and burritos. What could be more fun? Stay happy, stay positive, stay creative, and stay in control.

Grass Is Always Browner On The Other Side Of The Fence Day

Quite possibly the longest title of any of our 2020 celebrations so far, and another one we can use to set our minds into balance during this historical blip. This is a day to take stock of what you have, and to realize how much worse it could be.

First off, if neither you nor your loved ones are suffering from this horrid bitch-virus right now, that should top your list. If you still have a job and/or sufficient money in the bank to not be worried about bills this month, that’s some sparkling green grass right there. If you live in a place with a solid safety net, with leaders who are compassionate and empathetic and a community that will stick up for you, each of those are blades of bountiful emerald grass.

Even if you don’t get to count each of those green-grass points as your own, have a look for what you can cherish. Is the person with whom you are quarantined a pretty decent human being, as far as human beings go? That’s a win. Do you have pets that are keeping up your spirits? Another bonus. Maybe you’ve finally passed that complicated mission on whatever video game has been occupying your time, or you’ve re-discovered the joys of watching early Simpsons seasons on Disney+.

The grass is always browner because things could always be worse, and most likely you wouldn’t have to travel too far to find a worse situation for someone. Take joy and comfort in your green grass today.

National Pencil Day

A day to pay tribute to the noble pencil. Whether you’re a Palomino Blackwing fan, an adherent to the Staedtler Norica #2, or like me a Dixon Ticonderoga lover, this is a good time to give a virtual hug to your favourite lead-based writing implement. Some prefer the mechanical variety – I appreciate the lack of sharpening, but you lose something with the feel of plastic and those micro-size tips. When I used to pour out my creativity longhand, it was always with a wooden pencil.

The word ‘pencil’ comes to us from the Old French word ‘pincel’, which meant an artist’s paintbrush. That in turn comes from Medieval Latin’s ‘penicillus’ (painter’s brush), which derives from the same root word as ‘penis’. So that’s something to think about whilst you hold that hard wood in your hand. (sorry – I’ll blame this paragraph on extended quarantine)

The ‘lead’ in pencils is actually graphite. This isn’t some new swap-out for health reasons, like removing lead from gasoline. Sometime in the 1500s a large deposit of graphite was found in England, and this became part of the first pencils that resemble what we use today. People didn’t really know what the stuff was back then, so they assumed it was a form of lead. An Italian couple, Simonio and Lyndiana Bernacotti, came up with the idea of cramming some of this graphite into juniper sticks to create the first wood-encased pencil in 1560. Today pencil makers will craft all sorts of pencils, ranging from the #1, which makes dark markings, up to the #4, which produces a much lighter result. Naturally it’s the #2 middle-ground that has become the most popular standard.

Jodie has a strong preference for her pencils, as many teachers and pencil-wielding professionals do. She loves the dark blue Staedtler Norica, which she claims has the best action, the cleanest lines, and erases nicely. I have a chronic pain in my arms that makes writing longhand rather unpleasant, so I will defer to Jodie for premium pencil selection. I hope you took a moment to praise your pencils yesterday. The world would be far muckier without them.

National Turkey Neck Soup Day

To be perfectly clear, we had little intention of making turkey neck soup, even before the quarantine. We found a recipe, yes, and figured that one of our local butcher shops would be able to supply us with the necks… but why?

From what I can gather, turkey neck soup is going to turn out pretty close to chicken soup. The meat from the neck will be tender, but when was the last time  you had tough, stringy chicken in soup? Turkey neck soup makes sense the day after you cook and serve a massive turkey, as a way of changing things up once people have gotten tired of leftover sandwiches (moist-maker or no). Jodie’s mom used to make soup using the turkey neck as stock on Boxing Day every year – so why the hell does this celebration show up on March 30?

I’m going to call this a half-celebration. There is no real history to delve into – humans have been cooking with turkey necks ever since we’ve been cooking with turkeys. We stopped short of actually making this dish, but we will appreciate that it exists, and when made properly it can be wonderful. If anyone out there is craving a little comfort food, and you feel like venturing out of quarantine to source some turkey necks, we wish you the best. We’ll stick with our leftover pepperoni rolls and shrimp cocktail for now.

International Laundry Folding Day

We celebrated this with the eastern hemisphere, as most of our laundry was finished and folded late Sunday evening. And oh, what a celebration it was. Really? Laundry folding? On the same day as pencils and a soup no one gets excited about? I’ve got to say, day 89 of this project was a bit of a let-down.

To be clear, Laundry Day is in April. This is about folding. Why do we fold? To keep our clothes fresh and wrinkle-free. To make space in our drawers. Because we are not savage animals, wallowing in our own filth and mess. Mostly.

Anyone who has worked in clothing retail most likely can fold a shirt brilliantly. Most of us who haven’t still probably won’t struggle for this, and we shouldn’t so long as there is Youtube to guide us. You can even learn how to fold a fitted sheet, though I suspect each of those videos are made with extensive CGI just to make this seem possible.

The device pictured above is an actual laundry folding machine, displayed at the Consumer Electronics Show last year. If you’re looking to spend close to a thousand dollars just to avoid this tiny task, it might be worth the investment. Or, you know, spend that money on something useful instead.

If you have a pile of clean clothes laying somewhere about your place – and here I’m speaking specifically to my college-age daughter, who almost certainly fits this description – this is a good time to make an exception and fold those babies up. Once you’ve got all your clothes folded and put away neatly, you can count that as yet another blade of jade-green grass, confident that someone else in your neighborhood is probably still buried beneath their slovenly, wrinkled garments. What a glorious celebration indeed.

National Take A Walk In The Park Day

Here’s something we can all actually do. Provided we keep far from other humans, the park is a great destination to soak up some fresh air and remove ourselves from our situationally-imposed isolation. Yesterday Jodie had to go into work, and since Liberty had a vet appointment, she went along too. Both of them enjoyed a walk in the park during a brief respite in the continued onslaught of winter.

That’s the real obstacle for this day. Winter. In this part of Canada, finding anything that resembles actual spring on March 30 is nothing short of a miracle. It has happened, but usually we are either still in the slog of snow-piled yards and treacherous roads, or else we’re deep into that ugly month of melting snow, sloppy walkways, and puddles the size of small lakes everywhere – especially in parks. Yesterday Edmonton was securely in the former, facing another massive dump of snow and the temperature still leaning toward -10. It’s going to be a long April if we remain sequestered at home with the weather outside being unpalatable.

So if you missed this day, head to your nearest park and brave the cold. Try to pretend things are normal, as they will soon be once again. Take a walk, get some exercise, and believe in your heart of hearts that spring will be here soon. Sometimes miracles do happen, after all.

National Virtual Vacation Day

I would like to introduce you all to randomstreetview.com – a brilliant means for escapism, tucked into the folds of the world wide web. It is exactly what it sounds like – click the Next button and you’ll be whisked away to one of the gazillions of random locations within Google’s Street View. Once you land you can wander about, exploring some far-off region without leaving your seat or exposing yourself to any airborne nastiness.

Sure, most of the time you’ll land in the middle of a highway without much to see. But in one virtual outing I discovered a glorious little village in Slovenia, a wedding-cake-shaped building in the middle of nowhere in Bangladesh, and a seedy strip club in Carson, California. If you get a lucky click you might end up near a beloved landmark or inside Disneyland (back when there were people allowed there). Yesterday I somehow landed on an Andorran ski slope – apparently Google has expanded their definition of ‘street’ views.

A virtual vacation is not a substitute for the real thing. In fact, it’s not even close. But it might be the only way we get to venture out into the world for a few months. It can be eye-opening to wander through other cultures, to see what daily life looks like a half-world away. It’s not an immersive experience, and you won’t emerge from your desk as an experienced traveler. But it can be a fun momentary twist in your day. Get out there, even if you can’t actually get out there.

National Doctors Day

Back on February 3 it was National Women Doctors Day, and I felt giddy that my visit for a checkup with my doctor (also a woman) was timed appropriately. Today the notion of a day devoted to medical professionals has quite a different meaning.

Most of us are, at present, hiding from doctors. We are avoiding medical appointments where possible, and putting off unnecessary procedures. We are hiding out from this virus in our homes as instructed, and hopefully doing our part to flatten that vicious curve. Our doctors, meanwhile, are on the front lines of this. They don’t have the luxury of quarantine (unless symptoms dictate otherwise). They don’t get the experience of removing themselves from the world to binge-watch Netflix with their families, or build jigsaw puzzles until the weirdness blows over. They are struggling with an abundance of illness, a shortage of supplies, and an absolute inability to remain far away from the virus.

After 9/11 we were all more acutely aware of the heroism of firefighters. After COVID-19 we will all hold more reverence for our medical professionals – doctors, nurses, lab techs, admin, and every other individual who keeps those offices moving. We have probably all thanked a surgeon, or some other medico who has intervened and blatantly saved our lives or the life of someone we care about. But this is different. Today – and sure, National Doctors Day was yesterday, but this applies going forward indefinitely – we need to see those doctors as the heroes they are. Shit has hit our collective fan, medically-speaking, and the men and women (and non-binary others) in white coats have stepped up.

Happy National Doctors day every day. They’ll all deserve a sweet vacation and a barrel of hugs after all this passes.

Today we’ll wrap up some March monthly celebrations, since our daily roster is pretty light:

  • National Crayon Day. I’m not sure we have any crayons laying about. If we do, we might make some art.
  • National Clams On The Half-Shell Day. Another food item we had planned to enjoy at a restaurant, but alas, we’ll be dreaming of it instead.
  • National Bunsen Burner Day. Jodie was going to sit in on a science experiment at school, but given current circumstances we’ll simply be learning about these little things.
  • National She’s Funny That Way Day. A loving tribute to some funny, funny women.

Monday, March 30, 2020

So we are back again, screeching into the abyss with another pack of celebrations. Our road to 2021 remains the same, though our intentions may have shifted. Where we began determined to rally a steady party of celebrants through the year, we soon abandoned that mission and sought instead to see if all this revelry would provide a medicating effect upon our mental health. A couple weeks ago we began celebrating simply to drown out the noise of each day’s increasingly dire headlines. Now it seems we are doing this simply to see if it can indeed be done under this year’s wonky circumstances. Our friends and family are enjoying this on social media, but these articles, where the true party is focused, see us simply… well, screeching into the abyss. Screech along if you’d like.

National West Virginia Day

It was but a week ago when our weekly journey from state to state was supposed to land us in the Mountain State. Alas, we were one ingredient short, and this is not the time to be racing to a grocery store for a single forgotten item if it can possibly be avoided. So yesterday we paid tribute to this wonderful place that neither of us have ever seen in person.

West Virginia may have the greatest origin story of any state. As the Civil War was stretching its gruesome gore across the country in 1861, a bunch of Virginians decided they didn’t want to mess around with the Confederacy, and that they were fine not owning other humans. So they separated and formed West Virginia, which fought for the Union side. The state sits completely within the Appalachians, so it’s chock full of mountains. It’s a gorgeous place, though surprisingly uneducated. Only 17.3% of West Virginians have a bachelor’s degree, the lowest in the US. They also have one of the highest poverty rates in the nation. And to make things worse, for five consecutive years West Virginians have rated themselves as being more miserable than people in every other state.

So the state is not without its problems. And I’m sure it doesn’t help that their coal industry, which was once a beacon of energy, is drying up. But the state is packed with vistas you won’t find anywhere else, and some cool people have come from that place. Like Randy Moss from Rand. Steve Harvey from Welch. Don Knotts from Morgantown. Northern Exposure’s John Corbett from Wheeling. Joyce DeWitt, also from Wheeling. Filmmaker and McDonalds aficionado Morgan Spurlock from Parkersburg. Not a bad list.

The classic West Virginia dish, as I learned through numerous sources, is the pepperoni roll. These made for a great Sunday snack – simply stuff some pepperoni and cheese into a Pilsbury crescent roll, spin it up and bake it, then dip into some warm pizza sauce. A great way to celebrate the state.

National Nevada Day

And now to the Silver State, a place noted for being a den for aliens, gambling, and quickie divorces. Jodie and I have spent a lot of time in Nevada – strictly in Las Vegas though, not venturing around the numerous ghost towns and the vast desert that encompasses them. Nevada also has an interesting origin story. Eight days before the 1864 election, the state separated from Utah Territory in a bid to add an extra state that would support Lincoln’s Republicans in the election. The minimum requirement to form a state at the time was 60,000 people, and Nevada was home to only about 10,000. Still, the paperwork was pushed through, and though Lincoln wouldn’t end up needing the help, Nevada was born.

Nevada was built on mining, so the frontier lifestyle, which also included gambling and panning for gold, was the state’s first personality. Gambling was outlawed in 1909 (just as the fable of the Old West was retiring), but it was legalized again in 1931 as a response to the Great Depression. Eight days earlier, the Hoover Dam project had been approved, so there were plenty of workers to take advantage of the new laws. A few enterprising gangsters saw the potential, and Nevada’s new bold face emerged.

Prostitution was legalized in the state, and left up to each county to decide how they want to handle it. They made divorces easier to get than anywhere else in the country, at least up until the 70s. The state features no personal income tax, and no corporate income tax. In 2018 Nevada became the first state to have a female majority in its legislature. There’s a lot going on in Nevada outside of those casinos. And the state has produced some cool people: Dawn Wells (Mary Ann on Gilligan’s Island) is from Reno, Matthew Gray Gubler from Criminal Minds was born in Las Vegas. Edna Purviance, Charlie Chaplin’s first great muse and co-star, hails from Paradise Valley. Brandon Flowers, lead singer of the Killers, is from Henderson.

We dined on a Nevada classic for dinner, shrimp cocktail. We used this recipe for the cocktail sauce, and improvised with the shrimp. We haven’t been to Nevada in more than a decade, but we hope to go back – ideally when they finally outlaw tobacco smoking in the casinos. And when we’re allowed out of the house again, of course.

National Lemon Chiffon Day

This was, as my mom made a deliberate point of telling me, a difficult recipe. She is our team baker, and has produced such luminous treats as coconut torte and lacy oatmeal cookies. This fluffy concoction, which was creamy and smooth with a blast of lemon glory, was a challenge. It had to be created in stages. At one point a large bowl of ice water was required to regulate the temperature. The candied ginger had to be abandoned, because the ingredient was too hard to find.

But oh, the result. This cake tasted like a gentle swell of strings, rising up to the roof of an auditorium. The crust crumbled with a satisfying chortle, but the contents were all pillowy clouds and decadent dreams. We are without dessert celebrations for a few days, but this will carry us through.

The chiffon pie was created by Monroe Boston Strause, who was known as the Pie King. It dates back to Los Angeles in 1926, and is an off-shoot of the chiffon cake, which uses vegetable oil instead of butter or shortening. We could have opted for a cake instead, as lemon is the reigning king of chiffonery, but then we’d have missed out on this glorious creamy swirl of otherworldy bliss. And that wouldn’t do.

National Mom & Pop Business Owners Day

This was going to be a road trip day, with us popping in to our favourite locally owned businesses. Instead we find ourselves quarantined with no business in sight. So instead, we’ll detail where we would have gone.

We’d have started out at Barb & Ernie’s Old Country Inn, now owned and operated by B&E’s son and daughter-in-law, Thomas and Char. They make the greatest eggs benedict in the city (at least), serve perfectly-brewed coffee, and mix it up with a delightful array of other breakfast greats, from bratwurst to crepes to potato pancakes. From there we’d scoot over to Audrey’s Books on Jasper Avenue, one of the last great independent bookstores in the city. They are, for any interested local readers, still open during the COVID crisis – just give them a call and pick up your books curb-side. Keep supporting local.

Next we’d have headed west to Carol’s Sweets (obviously), where the owners make their own line of astounding chocolates, and also feature the best selection of candy in town. Maybe not the biggest selection, but the greatest variety of fresh, outstanding candy. Every other place I’ve visited just has a larger selection of the same stale bulk candies you can find at the grocery store. And for licorice fans there’s simply nowhere else to go but Carol’s to get this much to choose from. Lastly we’d have dropped into Da-De-O, the Cajun diner that fuels our joy and inspires our taste buds to expect greatness. Karen, the owner, has created the perfect blend of neighborhood pub, gastronomic wonderland, and lively hangout.

This would have been a really cool day, and when all this madness is behind us, we will play it out. These local businesses, all the ones you love and frequent, will need our support. The big chains will survive just fine, but these businesses depend on the love of the community. Keep them in your thoughts, and if possible, in your wallets.

Back to work for Jodie, albeit in a weirdly altered capacity. I’ll be working from home once again, free to focus my energy on this:

  • National Take A Walk In The Park Day. So long as we keep a good distance from strangers, this will be a great idea. Except it’s snowing. Why is it always snowing?
  • National I Am In Control Day. A questionable concept, but we’ll have a look at what we truly can control in this weird little chunk of history.
  • National Pencil Day. Jodie will take the helm for this one, boasting about the specific pencils she adores.
  • National Turkey Neck Soup Day. Not going to happen. I might look into how this became a thing, but we won’t be cooking it.
  • National Virtual Vacation Day. The only kind of vacation we can do, unfortunately. We’ll look at some options.
  • Grass Is Always Browner On The Other Side Of The Fence Day. What’s better than to imagine how much shittier things could still be?
  • International Laundry Folding Day. Laundry day was yesterday, but we’ll celebrate by not having to fold any today. Interesting how that works.