Saturday, August 15, 2020

With our insides immersed in focussed tranquility, we exist in the present, shunning thoughts of returning to work until they are absolutely necessary. The ego dreads; the id celebrates, as instructed. We are four and a half months away from the dramatic conclusion (which so far is nothing more elaborate than a video of us napping for most of January 1), but we steadfastly remain locked onto the moment. Our moment is virus-free. Our moment is geographically contained to our house and peppered with puppy antics. Our moment is also jam-packed with all of this nonsense:

National Creamsicle Day

Back on our first popsicle day I wrote about how 11-year-old Frank Epperson accidentally left some powdered soda with a stir-stick outside on his porch back in 1905, inadvertently inventing the Popsicle. But who invented the Creamsicle?

I have honestly no idea. The depth of research I’m able to comb for this exercise is scant; I’ve got a pile of celebrations to cover and an actual life to live. Every search result I found pointed me to Frank Epperson, or to the history of the Popsicle. Clearly it was put out by the Popsicle company long after Frank had been bought out or sold for parts. It is the logical evolution of the ice-pop, with creamy soft-serve perfection tucked inside.

And there’s really not much more to say than that. There is no better way to celebrate the Creamsicle than to just eat a damn Creamsicle, which we did – that’s a blue raspberry flavoured treat that Liberty is considering stealing from me. Some celebrations are this simple. Others are more like this one:

Color Book Day

For this bizarre celebration we travel way, way back to 1457. You’re probably aware that the first book ever pumped out of the first printing press was the Gutenberg Bible, written by star of stage, screen, and the best of the Police Academy movies, Steve Guttenberg. But what about the second book?

That second book was published on this day (yesterday’s this day) 563 years ago, give or take a little due to calendar restructuring and such. It was called Mainz Psalter, and the reviews call it a real page-turner. A psalter is a collection of psalms, so clearly ‘religious texts’ was the first literary fad. The book is notable for a number of reasons.

First of all, it features a date of publication, which the Gutenberg Bible did not. This is how we know to celebrate this particular achievement on this day. It was the first book to contain a printed colophon, which is a quick description of the book itself and the publication details. In that sense, it was the first printed book to get meta, and to draw attention to the act of printing. It featured two sizes of type, whereas the Bible only had the one. And perhaps most importantly, it was the first book printed in colour.

We went through decades of photography and filmmaking before anyone figured out how to reliably create those artforms in colour. But Johann Fust and Peter Schoeffer, two apprentices who split from Gutenberg in order to create this piece of history, made use of black, blue and red inks. It was a time-consuming process, and one that no one was eager to reproduce, which is why you won’t find a lot of colourful books from that era apart from this one. There are only ten copies of Mainz Psalter in existence today, making it even more rare and precious than a Gutenberg Bible.

To celebrate this one we simply learned about something we’d never considered. The first of anything is immortalized forever, but the second can occasionally be even more impressive.

National Kool-Aid Day

Kool-Aid was a Nebraska creation, specifically one procured by Edwin Perkins. Edwin’s dad ran a general store in Hastings, Nebraska, which paved the way for Edwin’s profession: manufacturing stuff people would want to use around the house, then selling that stuff door-to-door. The year was 1920, and this was a legitimate way for someone to make an entrepreneurial buck.

One of his most popular creations was called Fruit-Smack, which sounds like a particularly child-friendly brand of heroin, but was actually a liquid concentrate. In 1927 Edwin figured out how to make the same drink in powder form, which he sold as Kool-Ade in grocery stores, tucking the powder into a small envelope and promising that 10 cents worth would produce 10 glasses of drink. This was the secret. Edwin’s product was in huge demand, and he went from a door-to-door salesman to the head of a successful drink company based out of Chicago.

Edwin became wealthy from his powdered creation, especially when he sold it to General Foods in 1953. You can also become wealthy from Kool-Aid if you’re so inclined, by becoming a collector of vintage products. If you’ve got a packet of Yabba-Dabba-Doo-Berry sitting around, it could net you $225. Got any Pink Swimmingo in the cupboard? You can get $400 for a case of it. Hang on to that stuff and make a mint in 20 years if you’re feeling bold.

Not us. We just drank some of the stuff. It was tasty. Not the tastiest thing we’d drink all day, but for that you’ll have to keep on reading.

National Prosecco Day

If you’re a fan of bubbly wine (and how could you not be? Just look at Liberty, trying yet again to steal the spotlight), you can set aside the expensive champagne and drop-kick that knock-off champ-ale you bought at the dollar store. Prosecco is Italian in origin, made from prosecco grapes, and it is every bit as tasty. To my wife’s palette, it’s even better.

The history of prosecco goes all the way back to Roman author and philosopher Pliny The Elder. Pliny apparently used to rave about the Pucinian, a tremendous wine. The same vino was also touted by Livia, Emperor Augustus’ wife, for its medicinal properties. In the early 1500s a local Trieste wine was created with the marketing gimmick that it was a genuine recreation of the Pucinian. They called it Ribolla. Thing is, there were other wines by that name in nearby regions, so instead it was referred to as ‘catellum nobile vinum Pucinum’ after the castle where this mythical wine had been produced.

That castle happened to be adjacent to the town of Prosecco. Over the ensuing centuries I’m sure that particular wine changed tremendously, but for the sake of inflating our sense of historical gravitas I’m going to pretend that the $20 bottle we downed last night was in fact an exact replica of Pliny’s beloved Pucinian. I know it wasn’t, but we can pretend, can’t we?

And yes, we finished off the bottle. Prosecco is easy on the tongue, so much so that even Jodie indulged a little, and she tends to skip over the alcohol-related celebrations. This one was a treat, and our final alcohol celebration until… cool. Sunday. I can handle that wait.

National Financial Awareness Day

According to the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, 57% of American adults give themselves top marks on how much they know about personal finance. I would most certainly fall into the 43%. I’m not quite at the level of believing lottery tickets are the easy road to financial freedom, but I also have a terrible time when it comes to saving money, keeping to a budget, or investing. If Jodie could counter all of this with a buck-savvy mind we’d be in great shape. Unfortunately she’s all that, plus an impulsive online shopper. If we could afford an accountant, he or she would tell us we’re screwed.

Fortunately, financial habits are not, to my knowledge, hereditary. When our son found his industry sidelined indefinitely by the virus (he is not in an essential vocation, like professional hockey), he decided to train himself to be a day-trader. This is in stark contrast to my approach when I learned I’d be working from home, which was to train myself to be a day-sweat-pantser. I hope his journey is as successful as mine has been.

I also do not possess the financial acuity of my father, whose stack of credit cards upon his death was simply astounding. He would pay one off with another, ride the six months of no interest for the new card, then repeat with another one. I’m not quite that bad. So here’s hoping our daughter learns more from her brother than from us.

We checked our bank balance yesterday and found the news wasn’t as horrible as on some days, though it was worse than others. Our key retirement planning has been our government pensions at this point, which may be ill-advised given that the current inhabitants of said government want to place our pensions into some shaky investments. So maybe the lotto is our ticket out. Either that or one of our kids had better get rich.

Navajo Code Talkers Day

Back in 1982, President Reagan declared this day to honour the 400+ Navajo folks whose code skills helped the US to pull off a victory in WWII. In 2014 Arizona made this an annual affair, and the governor has been commemorating it ever since. Yesterday we took a stab at it.

Why were Navajos enlisted for this? At the time of Pearl Harbor’s bombing, the Navajo language was still an unwritten language. The grammar is tremendously complex, and the language bears no resemblance to any other, even to that of American Indian nations who lived nearby. At the outbreak of the war, it was believed that fewer than thirty people of non-Navajo descent could make any sense of the language. You pretty much had to be raised in the thick of it to make sense of it.

Early in 1942, engineer Phillip Johnston (who came up with the idea to enlist the Navajo in this task) demonstrated under simulated combat conditions that his Navajo volunteers could transmit a three-line English message in 20 seconds. This would have taken thirty minutes by coding machine at the time, and it was virtually unbreakable. The Battle of Iwo Jima would have turned out very differently were it not for the six Navajo Code Talkers who worked around the clock, translating and sending more than 800 messages.

There are only four of those original code talkers left alive today, and the Navajo code remains the only spoken military code to have never been broken by the bad guys. For putting in service above and beyond what anyone could have anticipated, these folks deserve to be memorialized annually.

Saturdays are always a bit more packed than other days. Alas, we find ourselves staring down the barrel of all this:

  • World Honeybee Day. We’ve done a couple of bee-related days already; not sure how to celebrate another.
  • National Leathercraft Day. We had planned to take a leathercrafting course, but that was before the world melted into a puddle.
  • National Relaxation Day. This one I can promise we will celebrate.
  • National Lemon Meringue Pie Day. Another celebration we can tackle in doughnut form. Which is good – we don’t need an entire pie.
  • Chant At The Moon Day. If our neighbours didn’t think we were nuts for sneaking zucchini onto their porches, they’ll think we’re nuts now.
  • Break The Monotony Day. What is monotony? I don’t think I even remember.
  • I Love Cowboys & Cowgirls Day. Do I? Well, considering I’m just a few hours into playing Red Dead Redemption 2, I think I know how this celebration will go down.
  • National Best Friends Day. I am 100% positive we already celebrated this.
  • National Failures Day. Well that’s fun.
  • National Check The Chip Day. A day for reminding us to get our animals chipped, though I suppose we could take this title a number of ways.
  • Chauvin Day. A day to honour the guy they named chauvinism after. That should be a riot.

Friday, August 14, 2020

Ever astute and synched with the vibrations of my calendar’s energy, we dined in truly scrumptious serenity yesterday. A handful of other celebrations ambled across our path, but once you’ve munched down some tasty steak and weirdly-paired fast-food fries, what else matters? I joke, of course – it all matters, as we pile national day upon national day, ever clamouring for that coveted December 31 when we are free to fully embrace our slothful lifestyle. Speaking of which, I have been advised that my tenure as a work-from-homer has been extended into the fall, so you’ll see a lot less grumbling from me about my job, and hopefully even more joy in our daily endeavours. As for Jodie – the government still aims to lead her and her educational ilk to the slaughter next month, so we’ll see what happens. In the meantime, we did this:

National Filet Mignon Day

Okay, we kind of fudged this one, though only slightly. The tenderloin cut of beef, which is well-known as the greatest (and therefore priciest) cut, consists of the filet, which is closer to the middle of the cow, and the ‘tournedos’, or the steaks labeled as ‘tenderloin,’ which are generally from further back. This is not a weight-bearing muscle, and as such it has less connective tissue, which makes it more tender. Also, a single bovine only has about 500 grams of filet mignon to offer, so this stuff is rightfully expensive. It often lacks the rich flavour of other cuts though, which is why you’ll often dine on filet mignon wrapped in bacon, or covered in a Béarnaise sauce or some such fanciness.

The tenderloin steaks we enjoyed were from a bit further back in the cow, and they were so flavourful we had no need to wrap it or douse it with anything. I’d like to boast of how we hipsterishly purchased our steak from an artisan local butcher, but alas these came from Costco. Costco should not have exquisite steaks, but dammit it does. We seasoned them slightly with seasoning salt and grilled them to perfection, which for us means rare ‘n bloody.

Some butchers in America label every tenderloin steak as ‘filet mignon’, so by those standards we celebrated this one with 100% accuracy. In French, the term ‘filet mignon’ refers exclusively to pork tenderloin, while the term ‘filet de boeuf’ is what we ate last night.

Had we been particularly ravenous we might have gone for a T-bone steak, which includes the filet on the smaller side of the T. But we were happy with our selection. It was exactly the celebration called for on a day when I was celebrating my continued ability to stay the hell away from crowds next week. Yum.

International Left-Handers Day

This is the day when left-handed people speak out and raise awareness of how damn difficult it is to navigate an extremely right-handed world. Everything from using scissors to opening cans to not smudging ink as they write – we righties honestly have no concept of all the hurdles out there for those burdened with sinistrality.

Interesting word, that one. Sinistrality, which medically means ‘left-handed’, derives from the Latin word for left, which is sinister. The word for right is dexter, as in dextrous. I can’t say for certain, but given the hardships faced by lefties over time, and the way they were once seen as ‘wrong’ or ‘broken’, I think we can safely assume this was an anti-leftie bias at work here. So let’s flip that and take a look at some of the traits observed in left-handed people. Keep in mind, these are generalizations based on wide observation, and not applicable to everyone.

Lefties have been shown to be better at perceiving musical patterns and performing musical memory tasks. Lefties are also overrepresented among high achievers, in groups like MENSA, and with high SAT scores. That’s the good news. Lefties are also apparently more prone to autism, cerebral palsy, breast cancer, bone fractures, heart disease, immune disorders and schizophrenia. One study suggests that among college graduates, lefties earn 10-15% more than righties, but then another study offers numbers that point to less earnings among lefties overall.

We know that left-handed people are well-represented in the arts. Here are some of my favourites: Rashida Jones, Scarlett Johansson, Ben Stiller, Sylvester Stallone, Jason Alexander, Charlie Chaplin, Lisa Kudrow, Katharine Hepburn (from Connecticut!), Robert De Niro, Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, Cary Grant, Fred Astaire, Matthew Broderick, Mark Hammill, Hugh Jackman, Robert Redford, Keanu Reeves, Seth Rogen, Bruce Willis, M.C. Esher, Buzz Aldrin *and* Neil Armstrong, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg (not one of my favourites, but it’s interesting), Harpo Marx, Jerry Seinfeld, Jon Stewart, Spike Lee, Duane and Gregg Allman, David Bowie, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Phil Collins, Elvis Costello, Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, Albert King, Mark Knopfler, Joan Jett, Annie Lennox, Sting, literally every American president going back to 1980 apart from George W. and the current one, Jim Henson, Isaac Newton, Alan Turing, Marie Curie, David Letterman, Franz Kafka, Lewis Carroll, Mark Twain, and of course Ned Flanders.

That’s one hell of a list. And my favourite person of all, she who indulges in my weird projects and quirky celebrations, is also a leftie. Happy day to all of you weirdos.

Black Women’s Equal Pay Day

I will absolutely admit to knowing a few men’s rights folks who will cite flimsy study after flimsy study that states there is no pay inequity between the genders, and that we should all shut up about it already and get on with planning our Straight Pride Parade. Those people are family, so I’m stuck knowing them.

For the rest of us who live in the actual world, there is absolutely a disparity between what men and women make. And black women make even less on average. According to the Equal Pay Today Campaign, black women had to work all through last year and seven and a half months into 2020 in order to make what white males made in 2019. This is why we see this day land in the middle of August – yesterday would mark the day that black women had finally earned what white men did last year.

Think about that. Think about how long ago last year was – it feels like roughly a decade since we were gathered together in large crowds, owning zero washable facemasks and having no earthly idea who Carol Baskin is, or whom she may or may not have murdered. The National Women’s Law Center estimates black women lose out on $1 million over their careers because of this disparity. These numbers don’t take into account educational differences and geographic locations, or the fact that black women are more likely to be unemployed or working part-time. Fortunately, the Economic Policy Institute did take those factors into consideration and re-tabulated the numbers. Still, black women only bring home about 66% of what white men bank.

And if you think this is bad, Hispanic Women’s Equal Pay Day doesn’t show up until October 29. I don’t have the answers to fix these issues; my job is simply to point them out when the calendar tells me to.

National Julienne Fries Day

The term ‘Julienne’ means to slice up a thing – usually a vegetable, but I suppose it could be a couch cushion – into skinny, matchstick-like strips. It’s a terrific way to serve carrots in a salad, or onions in a stirfry. When it comes to julienne fries, this would most likely refer to shoestring fries, which are about as skinny as fries can get. I’d argue that even regular fries are made with a julienne cut, unless you’re talking about steak fries or potato wedges.

As an example, I present the McDonalds fries above, which we had with dinner last night. They are not purely julienne, in that they could be cut even skinnier, but they are close enough. We were dining at home last night, so this was simply our attempt at raising the flag of this particular celebration while acquiring a simple and inexpensive side dish to accompany the meat we’d barbecued.

The first use of the term julienne goes back at least to the early 1700s and to François Massialot’s Le Cuisinier Royale et Bourgeois from 1722. I suppose had we been planning ahead, we could have obtained that book and made one of the recipes contained within that makes use of the original julienne concept, but it’s hard to stumble across 300-year-old cookbooks when one is sequestered in one’s home, barely even venturing into the actual world.

But we did our best, and we enjoyed our fries, even if they paired rather weirdly with a fine cut of steak.

Today is the final day of my vacation, and one I will savour greatly, thanks to all this fun we get to tackle:

  • National Creamsicle Day. Now this is this part of this project I just love. I HAVE to eat a creamsicle today.
  • Color Book Day. Not ‘coloring book’, this is about books that are printed in colour. Weird? Yes.
  • National Kool-Aid Day. We will drink the kool-aid, as in the actual stuff, not the metaphorical stuff.
  • National Financial Awareness Day. This one does not suit me well, as I generally have very little idea where our finances are at. This is how I sleep at night.
  • National Tattoo Removal Day. I’d have to have one to remove one.
  • National Navajo Code Talkers Day. An interesting story behind this one.
  • National Wiffle Ball Day. I don’t think I’ve ever wiffled a ball in my life.