Wednesday, August 19, 2020

There is little question that this journey through 2020 has tested each of our mental resources. Many of us have hit the once-distant frontiers of our mental well-being and blasted through to the other side. I have used this project to crank the knob of the immediate all the way to the right, eyeing not the potential fall-out of possibly contracting this virus but instead the moments of bliss and comfort as they happen. I may be done my summer vacation, but as long as Jodie is home and we can both remain safe in our comfy little hidey-hole, the present will continue to hold court. And we will continue to pour our efforts into our myriad of distractions, like these:

National Mail Order Catalog Day

Here’s a relic from the past. Mail order catalogs still exist, but they are hardly the consumerist force they once were. People relied on their Sears & Roebuck catalogs to outfit their homes. As a kid we scoured the Consumers Distributing catalog to pick out the toys we’d be harassing our parents for. And it wasn’t very long ago that we’d look forward to flipping through SkyMall’s catalog on a lengthy flight, if only to scratch the itch left behind when Sharper Image went away.

The first modern version of a mail-order catalog was set up by a guy whose actual name (and I double-checked this) was Pryce Pryce-Jones. He was a Welsh entrepreneur, and in 1861 he created a mail-order catalog to move his stores of flannel. Pryce Pryce-Jones was also the inventor of the sleeping bag and the recipient of a knighthood, so he did pretty well for himself with such a goofy name.

The first mail-order catalog set up in the United States was the coveted Blue Book, put out by Tiffany & Company. Montgomery Ward beat out Sears & Roebuck by launching their mail-order catalog in 1872. Even Timothy Eaton’s company started publishing theirs in 1884, four years before Richard Sears began selling his watches that way.

There aren’t a lot of paper-printed mail-order catalogs left, though Hammacher Schlemmer claims to produce the longest-running of its kind, having first been printed in 1881. Even SkyMall has shifted to an online shopping experience. Luckily we still have the Bradford Exchange, where you can get ultra-cheesy Americana, angel tchotchkes and Elvis belt buckles. I think the only folks who still thrive on mail-order catalogs are the ones who fit the Bradford demographic.

Yesterday we perused a couple of mail-order sites as they exist today. And we pined for the days when a Kenner AT-AT would brighten our holiday season.

Bad Poetry Day

From Thomas and Ruth Roy,

Many strange days were deployed;

Their voices were oft-heard,

And thus, this verse: a turd.

We cringe and force a rhyme

Like a most reluctant mime;

And when one slips our tongue,

We use the same word: tongue.

Bad poetry’s an art;

It’s not too late to start,

But don’t expect applause

For adding to this cause.

My words may not be thicc,

And to a predictable rhythm I may not specifically stick,

But try not to be sad;

It’s meant to be this bad.

In trying to suck it’s fun;

I’d give this verse a ‘1’.

Perhaps I’ll add more depth:

We are all teetering upon the eternal abyss of unflinching death.

Too far? Perhaps a bad limerick before I go.

There once was a man from Peoria

Who once in a state of euphoria

Declared, “I can’t rhyme!

Nor find enough time

To finish a thought.” And that was pretty much it for that idiot.

International Ice Cream Pie Day

Ice cream pie? I mean, we had Ice Cream Cake Day on June 27 (which we skipped over), why on earth would we indulge in ice cream pie? Who even makes ice cream pie, apart from Dairy Queen?

Fortunately we didn’t need to figure out the answer to this confusing riddle. I decided to build my own, using an open-face ice cream sandwich and some blueberries. It looked weird, and fell apart at the moment I snapped the above photo. If this project doesn’t kill us from pure exhaustion it will drive our calorie count into the stratosphere and rub us out that way. Don’t get me wrong, it was remarkably tasty – and I am looking oh-so-forward to National Soft Ice Cream Day (that’d be tomorrow, in case you’re keeping track of our food-induced demise), but damn. How much can we eat?

2020 will hold the solution to that question. But while we’re at it, how many paragraphs can I bring to a conclusion using a question?

As many as I damn well want. And I’ll eat all the home-made ice cream pie I damn well want. Because this is 2020, and if you can’t devour some MacGyver’ed frozen treats while the world is burning down, what’s the point?

Serendipity Day

Serendipity may be one of the most fun words to say out loud. Try it. Serendipity. Isn’t it pretty? That was fun.

Alas, this day is another for appreciating the unexpected good fortune in our lives. One site actually says we should try to experience moments of serendipity on this day, but that strikes me as running counter to the purpose of the day. Serendipity is simply supposed to happen. You can’t will it into being.

We are told to step out of our comfort zone, but in this new-fangled world of restricted possibility, what is outside our comfort zone anymore? Wandering into a crowd of folks downtown while not wearing a mask? Actually setting foot on public transit? No, the most serendipitous thing about 2020 was discovering just how great my comfort zone actually is, and that I want to remain here as much as humanly possible.

I suppose that honours this day, in some weird fashion. I think we’ve all found a moment or two of unanticipated joy from the bizarre circumstances of this year, and maybe that should be the serendipity we embrace.

National Fajita Day

The difference between eating a fajita and eating a soft taco that happens to contain grilled meat can be negligible. That’s all a fajita ever aspires to be: chicken or beef (usually), topped with peppers and onions and cheese and whatever else tickles your fancy, curled into a flour tortilla. The term used to point to the skirt steak that was once the focal point of the meal, but no one will look at you with disgust if you order chicken fajitas. Unless you try to order them at Burger King, I guess.

The fun in ordering fajitas at some restaurants (and here I’m remembering when it was our go-to dish at Chili’s) is assembling them yourself. The history of this dish goes back to feeding ranch hands with some freshly-slaughtered cow parts, though I’m sure the cowboys of old didn’t get to include caramelized onions or fresh pico de gallo on their campfire fajitas.

For this celebration, we were torn. We found a recipe for chicken fajitas, but we sought not to spend an inordinate amount of time in our sweltering kitchen. Instead we ordered the above fajitas from Julio’s. It meant a trip to the south side to pick them up (and me putting on pants for the first time in two days), but it was worth it. They were delicious.

If only there was something to wash it down with…

National Pinot Noir Day

The pinot noir grape (which, unsurprisingly, is where pinot noir wine comes from) grows in colder climates, so naturally it’s a prized source of great Canadian wines. It also creates some dynamite vinos from America, France, Italy, England, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. It even gets to feature in sparkling wines in the champagne region. While the grape may grow in our complicated climate, it’s still a very tricky grape to bring to fruition. It packs into clusters as it grows, which leads to an entire mess of cultivation problems that I can’t even pretend to understand.

It also provides the grape’s name. ‘Pinot’ refers to the pinecone-like clusters of grapes, while ‘noir’ indicates that this particular grape would taste delicious in a 1940s Dashiell Hammett cinematic adaptation, ideally starring Robert Mitchum and lots of fedoras.

Look, I do a great job of pretending I know a tremendous amount about wine (just look at that timely Robert Mitchum reference in the previous sentence), but the truth is I do not. I enjoy it, and I’ve enjoyed it since I was eight days old, but I don’t believe my tongue possesses the equipment to discern the complexities from grape to grape, or vineyard to vineyard. Isn’t it enough to simply enjoy the stuff? Do I have to pretend like I can notice the robust cherry undertones or the “savoury fleshiness” of a pinot noir?

No. I do not. This is all about the celebrating, and the only way to celebrate wine properly is to drink it, not to pontificate about it endlessly. So that’s what we did. We are pros.

Hopefully today will find us firing our rockets into the blitzing glory of all of this wonderful celebratory mayhem. Either way, we’ll do our best:

  • National Soft Ice Cream Day. This falls into the category of ‘unskippable’ celebrations, so yes, we will be enjoying some.
  • International Bow Day. The tie? Don’t own one. A pretty one for Jodie’s hair? Don’t own one of those either. So I guess we’re wearing Christmas bows.
  • National Potato Day. Woohoo! Potatoes!
  • National Hot & Spicy Food Day. We did enjoy a magnificent hot and spicy chicken sandwich from Popeye’s a couple days ago. Does that count?
  • International Orangutan Day. Finally, a day we can celebrate all of our favourite international orangutans.
  • World Photography Day. We will take some photographs of the world around us, I suppose.
  • National Sandcastle & Sculpture Day. We don’t have any sand around here to play with, but looking up some of the greatest sand castles sounds like a good time.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

We crawled into yesterday upon rocky terrain, with the promise of a new work-week unfurling its tattered and well-worn banner. Jodie continues to float down the lazy river of summer vacation, while I am at least spared the agonies of an over-crowded beach, and am allowed to continue working from my remote, well-distanced boat. By which I mean my home office, lest my metaphors become too muddled (and they usually do). Our celebrations did not languish with this return to semi-normalcy; in fact I welcomed the distraction from emails and survey reports. How could anything not pale in comparison to all this:

National Nonprofit Day

This is where I would like to boast about all the volunteer work we do for local non-profits. Unfortunately, most of our volunteer work is tied either to theatre or school situations. We have worked with non-profits, but we are not the bastions of selfless volunteerism we probably should be. Of course, all of that can change. Volunteering looks very different in 2020, especially with so many of us refusing to leave our homes unless absolutely necessary. But it ain’t dead.

I found a website where you can search for volunteer opportunities in your area, and like anyone who feels that incessant pang of guilt at not having done enough for their fellow humans, I checked it out. Even with filtering out the stuff I’d deeply not want to do (public speaking, IT management), there are still some non-profits out there doing fine and important work, and looking for help.

The Edmonton Down Syndrome Society is looking for a board member. This is not something I have any personal experience with, but maybe one of my readers does. The Centre for Intellectual Excellence is hoping to land a communications director. This is also not something I’d likely be qualified to do, but I’m curious about the organization. I checked out their website and was redirected to a “You just won a Samsung Galaxy!” page with a couple of pop-ups. No need to look any further.

A handful of other opportunities looked interesting, but it was the city clean-up crews that grabbed my eye, and I’m not sure they are affiliated with any official non-profit. But that’s a volunteer opportunity that will make the city a prettier place, and which I can do whilst blasting various extended remixes of “Axel F” in my headphones. That’s what I call a win-win. If you missed this day, haul yourself out into the world and try to connect with some organization that is spreading goodness and grooviness.

National I LOVE My Feet Day

From what I can tell, this celebration was submitted to the mirth-o-sphere by a civilian, not some company shilling foot-care products. For that reason I will embrace it fully. By that I mean I will admit to loving my feet. They are the only feet I have ever owned (like most of you, I’ve rented several others), and they have effectively transported me through nearly 46 years of global insanity. Well, not counting the time before I learned to walk or those days when I remained firmly planted on my ass in bed.

Sure, I’d like my feet to be prettier (they are not). And I’d like them to have self-clipping toenails (which, after hours of online research turns out not to be an actual thing). And if I could have some sort of rocket-boosters implanted in the sole I’d be much happier about having to take the dogs for their daily strolls. But they have done their jobs adequately, and for that I am grateful.

The real reason for this day is not just admiring one’s own appendages, nor is it a day for cultivating a new fetish. This is a day to treat one’s feet well. I purchased a fresh pair of walking shoes for this date, given that my walks with Liberty now stretch far beyond what the other two girls can handle. And Jodie went and booked a pedicure, because unlike me she actually has attractive feet which deserve her upkeep. Mine… well, they deserve comfort. All feet deserve comfort. Which loops me right back to National Nonprofit Day (because I like to do this sort of thing). If you have a chance, donate to or, two great non-profits which aim to bathe every foot in the nation in comfort, even if the people attached to those feet can’t afford it.

Feet deserve love, after all.

Black Cat Appreciation Day

There are, from what I have just now learned, 22 feline breeds that can produce black coats. Yet black cats often get a crappy reputation when it comes to superstition and notions of ‘luck’ or prophecy. Some have called them witches in disguise. If one crosses your path, you are expected to deviate, except in Germany. In Germany if the cat crosses right to left you’re in for bad luck; left to right is a good thing.

The black cat is a symbol of anarchy. Among the first settlers in America if you were caught with a black cat it could get you flat-out killed. There are stories of black cats burned in midsummer bonfires in Europe, so needless to say this serves as evidence that people have been doing stupid shit throughout all of existence.

But there is some global love for the black cat. Sailors who were looking for a ship’s cat to stow aboard a vessel found the black ones to be good luck. Scottish superstition states that if a black cat pops in to visit your new home, it will bring prosperity. Welsh stories attribute the black cat to bringing good health. My favourite piece of lore is the tale of the Cat sith, a spectral kitty who haunts the Scottish highlands. Presumably some sort of Dog Jedi would be required to bring balance to the pet force in the region.

Pictured above are the beloved black cats of my friends and family, who were pleased as always to contribute their photos since we have none to offer. Say what you will about their place in legend, but once you brush aside silly superstition, black cats are undoubtedly pretty cool.

Baby Boomers Recognition Day

Ok, boomers, I’ve got your back.

It is fashionable at the moment for the younger folks to blame all the world’s problems on the baby boomer generation, while we Gen-X’ers sit quietly biding our time until it all becomes our fault. Yes, the people who benefit the most from our political and economic systems tend to be boomers. And sure, the cranky old folks who vote conservative and grumble that All Lives Matter are quite often boomers as well. And I will agree that many boomers have but a fleeting concept of the current financial situation for those who are starting out, with college tuitions, rent and life expenses having risen far quicker than the average wage.

But it isn’t their fault. The boomers inherited a broken system, and a few well-positioned greedy bastards have made sure that system became more and more rigged. But how do you fix an entire system like capitalism? The younger generation are fond of slogans like “eat the rich” or “death to capitalism”, but slogans can only do so much. And I’m willing to bet a sack full o’ doubloons that when the millennials are in the 60+ age group, we’ll still have a broken system. But they will have improved a lot of it, especially in regards to human diversity, environmental activism and human rights.

And the boomers have done their part as well. Thanks to boomers we have legal gay marriage, legal weed, and a lot of other incredible things. They were the first generation to actively push for abortion rights, interracial relationships, and even the normalization of LGBTQ in the media. They invented the internet and Crystal Pepsi. They marched for civil rights and women’s rights and pushed the pendulum for both causes. They demonstrated to end a ridiculous war, and while they did end up starting a couple later on, their example also taught us that people will listen to protests.

Then there’s the culture. The Hollywood New Wave brought fresh art into cinema, and that was followed up by the magnificence of the blockbuster. They poured a woke reality into formulaic TV in the 70s and set the landscape for the brilliance to come. And they produced the greatest music ever made, in my opinion. Sure, Mozart was great, but have you ever listened all the way through Exile on Main Street? It’s life-changing.

So we send out our love to the boomer generation today, and we do it loudly (since many of you have lost your hearing). You are honoured on this date because 51 years ago, it was the pinnacle of your cultural oomph when half a million folks gathered together on Max Yasgur’s farm in upstate New York. We still love you. Just please vote like you would have when you were 25. You knew what you were doing then.

National Meaning Of “Is” Day

My favourite part of this celebration is simply remembering a time when the nation (that would be America, the goofy nation down south) was brought to the brink of outrage because the president acted sexually inappropriately with a White House intern. It was a simpler time, one when everyone could pretend that they were deeply offended by such shenanigans. And don’t get me wrong, it was shitty of Clinton to fool around on his wife, and deeply shitty that he used his position of power to schmooze a woman into it. And he did lie about it, which is what sparked the impeachment proceedings.

This was a time when the Republican party pretended to be the party of morality and family values. I mean – they weren’t; there was at least as much scandal and infidelity and freestyle boinking going on with them, but at least they pretended. They wanted that evangelical vote, and they wanted the good, wholesome folksy folks of America to see them that way. They have since abandoned this to become the party of openly disabled-mocking, pussy-grabbing, and utter classlessness.

And while Bill Clinton was most certainly in the wrong, when he uttered the phrase “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is” on August 17, 1998, he gave us some comedy gold. And he probably knew it. Bill was a flawed man, but he usually meant well, and he did some great things. Unless you believe all that nonsense about child trafficking and pizza-gate and so on, in which case I’ll just back slowly out of the room and let you finish wrapping yourself up in tin foil.

For offering us a hilarious and ultimately ludicrous defense, we thank you Mr. Clinton. You brought ambiguity and word play to a new level 22 years ago.

National #2 Pencil Day

That magnificent piece of craftsmanship up there is one of Jodie’s most beloved favourite pencils. Not simply because they come pre-sharpened to a perfect point – they do, but that’s not why she loves them. They have the right feel, the right balance, and they produce a perfect result. I get it. I used to write by hand and I had my favourite pencils as well. To one who writes, it can be as precious as a musician’s most beloved guitar.

Actually, no – guitars don’t get tossed out and replaced with identical replicas. Let’s say it’s the same as a musician’s favourite guitar pics; it’s literally the thing they hold in their fingers that releases the magic in their soul upon the guitar (or the paper).

The #2 refers to the Numerical Graphite Scale, which rates the hardness of the core of the pencil. The higher the number, the harder the writing core, and this leaves a lighter mark on the paper. Softer pencils will dull faster, but will leave a darker mark, due to the deposits of graphite material on the paper. The American system can range from #1 up to #9, but #2 is the style that is most popular, and is usually most in demand for kids taking exams.

Most of the rest of the world – Canada included – uses a slightly different scale. We were required to use HB pencils – the H stands for ‘hard’ and the B for ‘black’. There are other varieties as well on this scale, but for the purposes of this celebration, the HB (which is equivalent to the American #2) is the one we’ll celebrate. Jodie took a moment to appreciate her pencils yesterday, which she does every time she picks one up. She loves those things. It’s almost weird.

Unless you’re a writer. Then you get it.

National Thrift Shop Day

Fitting in well with National Nonprofit Day is this one. Most thrift shops are run by non-profit groups, who seek to repurpose all the crap we no longer use into crap that others can use, ideally for a reasonable price. I know Value Village is one thrift shop chain around here promoting this day as something we should all jump into, but I also know that Value Village is a private company who takes donations, then marks up the products and re-sells them for their own profit. So fuck those guys. Well, not really – they do offer inexpensive stuff, which is very helpful for those who need it. But yeah.

We still have Goodwill and a number of other thrift shops around town, and while we have friends who are able to shop at these locations and procure clothing that perfectly reflects who they are and looks damn funky to boot, neither of us have ever had such luck. It appears that, in the thrift shop chain of supply and demand, we are destined to be suppliers. And that’s what we did – we had a bunch of clothes and such that were hardly worn, and we donated them as we tend to do.

One of the first charity shops to pop into existence was created by the Wolverhampton Society for the Blind, selling items that were made by blind people. By WWII, these shops were showing up everywhere, with the Red Cross even running a number of them. Environmentalists love these shops, since repurposing goods for fresh use has a negligible carbon footprint. Jodie loves them because they are treasure troves for drama teachers looking to acquire costumes, props, or whatever. So support your local thrift shop, either by spending some money and supporting their cause, or by helping them to stock their shelves.

But please, and I’m sure they’d all back me up on this, no used underwear. When you’re ready to part with your soiled underthings, just toss ‘em.

National Vanilla Custard Day

I have never made custard in my life, and I’m not likely to start anytime soon. A custard can be a creamy sauce or it can be a thick éclair cream. It can be served on its own, or get crammed inside a pastry. We opted for the latter, as evidenced by the delicious Salted Caramel Sundae doughnut pictured above.

Custard is thickened by the coagulation of the egg protein, which is why you have to keep stirring it and avoid heating it too fast or too strongly. Curdling is always a possibility with custard, so care is required in its preparation. This is why I’ll leave it to the professionals to create it, while boasting about my own status as a professional eater of custard. Or anything the calendar tells me to.

Custard is at the heart of crème brulée, of an English trifle, of Boston cream pie and egg nog. Even a quiche is considered a sort of savoury custard, but I avoid that stuff. Custard has been around since at least the Middle Ages, and remains a classic element of the dessert landscape. It was a delight to dive in and enjoy some yesterday.

And on we go, into the wild unknown, with a heap of weird celebrations to guide us onward:

  • National Fajita Day. A terrific option for dinner tonight.
  • National Mail Order Catalog Day. Just the name of this sounds so antiquated. SkyMall anyone?
  • International Ice Cream Pie Day. I didn’t even know this was a thing outside of the Dairy Queen freezer.
  • Bad Poetry Day. A day for Vogons to trot out their worst.
  • Pinot Noir Day. Ah, good. More calendar-mandated alcohol. Delicious.
  • Serendipity Day. A day to “celebrate your aliveness” – oi vey.
  • Helium Discovery Day. Wasting good helium to make goofy voices on this day seems like a bad idea; aren’t we running out of the stuff? We’ll look into it.