Tuesday, December 29, 2020

We spent a very non-standard-issue Monday yesterday. Apart from being off from work (which was divine), we took the day off from life in general. Meals were cooked and dogs were walked, but the rest of our time (obligatory writing excluded) was spent in full recreation mode. This is how we plan on spending every day of this final week of 2020, not out of resentment for a challenging calendar year, or as some sort of rebellion against obligation and responsibility. We simply feel we have earned it. Jodie has achieved the halfway mark in her hunt for her Masters degree, Abbey is on the precipice of graduating this spring, and I… well, I did all this. And I still have to do some soul-scraping and discover what grand lesson I’ve learned about life and/or myself this year. So far all I’ve got is “I hate riding the bus and I’m sick of writing an article every damn day”. Not much, but it’s a start. Here’s how we Mondayed:

National Short Film Day

We actually Sundayed this one, by celebrating it a bit early. We are big fans of short films. Every year (prior to this past year, when this project took all of our free time) we aim to watch every movie in Oscar contention before the award ceremony in February. The short films are usually tricky to track down, though a local theatre does put on an exhibition of the live action and animated shorts a week or so before the broadcast. Short documentary films are tougher to find.

But we have seen some incredible work over the last few years. Skin and Fauve, both up for the 2018 Oscar, were game-changing. Hair Love, which won the animated short Oscar last year, was touching. Bao, the Pixar-created short which won the year before, is utterly beautiful. Every year Pixar gets a film in contention for this Oscar, and they tend to win more often than not. Last night we watched Burrow, which was released to pair with Soul, Pixar’s newest feature on Disney+. We have no doubt both will be among the list of nominees in their respective categories.

A subscription service called Film Movement Plus created National Short Film Day only a year ago, most likely as a way to get people to watch movies on their site, and hopefully throw them some cash. Their selection looks intriguing for folks who are into foreign and obscure artsy movies. I fit that bill perfectly, but I’ve got the Criterion service starting up on January 1, and that (along with the Kanopy offerings from our library for free) will keep me busy enough. But watching a short film for this celebration was an absolute treat. Take six minutes of your life (if you’ve got the Disney service) and check out Burrow. It’s damn sweet.

National Download Day

I deferred to Jodie for this one. Apparently, December 28 is the most active day on app stores every year. Why that is, I have no idea. Do people give app store gift cards for Christmas? Then do people tend to wait until three days after Christmas to cash in those cards and get some stuff? Are app-lovers that patient?

I received no such gift card, and I have no use for any new apps. The only app I use for productivity on my phone is my Google calendar app (which I will suddenly use a whole lot less in three days), and maybe my Webex chat app if the program on my computer isn’t working properly. I have exactly the right number of games that hold my interest on my phone, in that I will not ever find myself bored without anything to play. I scrolled through some of the suggested offerings and came up dry.

But Jodie doesn’t play a lot of games on her phone. One, specifically. A generic brick-breaker game with a seemingly endless supply of levels (she is up over 4,000 now). The other day she decided she wanted something new, so for National Download Day she found something called Project Makeover. It’s essentially the exact same game she has already played for more than four thousand levels, but with the added between-level feature of being able to make over an avi and its residence. So, a game plus some stuff that a hairstylist or interior decorator would call “work”. But she likes it, and that’s all that matters.

National Card Playing Day

This is most likely a perfect fit for holiday seasons when folks are still gathered together, have recovered from their holiday (and post-holiday leftover) feast, and have finished all their Boxing Day shopping trips. Yet they are still stuck with these people through the new year, so they may as well do something to pass the time. Hey, everyone knows a card game or two, right?

We only had three of us present for this holiday season, and while we have recovered from our delightful foodstuff consumption, we did not go shopping and we aren’t really lacking in things to keep us occupied until the chiming of midnight Thursday night. And the place we’d play cards is currently occupied by a partially-built jigsaw puzzle. So I took matters into my own hands and dusted off my Fairway Solitaire app so I could play some virtual cards.

There is no specific origin story to this day, but my prediction from two paragraphs ago sounds about right. Most of these celebrations this year have stemmed from someone using some logic to justify the date to themselves, then submitting it to a website or to Chase’s Calendar of Events to make it ‘official’. Nothing is truly official. Maybe that’s the big lesson of 2020.

National Call A Friend Day

My old pal Steve took care of this one for me. A couple days ago he surprised me with a Facetime call, which was a treat since I haven’t seen the guy since before this fiasco started last December. He lives in Calgary, and despite his dad living a few miles away from me, he has avoided traveling up here all year. I understand – who wants to come to a city where a ridiculous number of numbskulls march through our downtown every weekend, decrying the ‘oppression’ of having to wear masks?

We don’t use the phone nearly as often as we need to, and I don’t think that’s an erosion of social skills as much as a recognition of efficiency. Texting gets the point across quicker, and those who know my voice can even deliver my jokes in the correct way when I write them out, or so I hope.

In between casual card games, phoning up a friend and swapping holiday stories sounds nice. That said, everyone who wants to know what we did for the holidays can simply be directed to this website, thus saving me the hassle of having to hold a conversation for any length of time. That’s what we call a win in the celebration industry.

National Maine Day

No, we did not forget this final entry in our culinary trip around the United States. I’m pretty sure we nailed between 46 and 48 states this year, skipping only a few when we couldn’t obtain the necessary ingredients to try their regional dishes. Maine was one that might have also been tossed into the skip-bin, but dammit, we do surf & turf at Christmas in this household, and the Pine Tree State is well-revered for its surf contributions. Pictured above is the lobster feast we enjoyed on Boxing Day. Or, as we shall call it henceforth, Maine Day.

Maine was perfectly positioned to be among the first US colonies, but it wasn’t snared by colonizing Americans when 1776 went down. The British, French, and of course those indigenous Algonquins were fighting for the land, and for a while during the War of 1812 it was claimed as part of Canada. When that didn’t stick, it became a part of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts until 1820 when it split off and became its own state.

The small town of Lubec (motto: “We have a bridge to Canada!”) is the easternmost settlement in America, with its lighthouse being the closest American structure to the shores of Africa. Not counting any American embassies in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, I guess. Maine remained Republican throughout the Great Depression, and along with Vermont was one of the only states that never cast an electoral vote for FDR. After that, they started leaning left a little more, and throughout its recent history it has been one of the strongest states for supporting independent candidates. The most populous city in the entire state is Portland, which tops out at just over 66,000 residents. It’s a great place to go if you want to visit the scenery. Or eat the lobster, which we totally did.

And to keep consistency with all of our other entries, let’s briefly celebrate a few famous Maineans (or Maine-landers, or whatever). We’ve got the lovely and talented Andrea Martin from Portland, Judd Nelson from Portland, Linda “Alice” Lavin from Portland, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow from Portland (yes, most all of these people are from Portland), John O’Hurley (Seinfeld’s J. Peterman) from Kittery, David E. Kelly from Waterville, Anna Kendrick from Portland, Stephen King (obviously) from Portland, Charles Rocket from Bangor, Timothy Simons (Jonah, the best character on Veep) from Readfield, the great director John Ford from Cape Elizabeth, Kevin Eastman (co-creator of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) from Portland, Patrick Dempsey from Lewiston, and lastly the great Milton Bradley, who was born in Vienna.

It’s been a fun trip around the country. I hope to do it in person someday, eating even more regional gems.

National Chocolate Candy Day

We have so many to choose from. Pictured above is some of the chocolate peppermint bark my father-in-law got me for Christmas. It was delightful. Days involving the words ‘chocolate’ and ‘candy’ have been among my favourites this year – it only makes sense that a day that combines both words would be an absolute treat.

Are we winding down? Building up to a big finale? Probably just winding down, but just in case, here’s what we could get up to today:

  • National Pepper Pot Day. A very complicated soup food that requires ox tail. I shan’t be making this.
  • Tick Tock Day / Still Need To Do Day. What final things do we have to do in 2020, apart from get the hell out of 2020?
  • National Hero Day. I guess heroes deserve a day too. Seriously? That’s it for the 29th?

Monday, December 21, 2020

As I’ve established for the last 14 Sundays, I am not a fan of overloading our schedules when there are numerous football games to hold my attention. I had already resigned myself to missing most of football this year for this project, but that was before the world shut down and blocked us from diving into these celebrations as deeply as we’d have liked to. This was a bit of an issue, as many Sundays tend to be jam-packed with potential parties. Thankfully, yesterday was an exception that fit our mood. We coasted through the day and did what we could. I’ve mentioned several times this month that we are winding the project toward its conclusion, not by ramping up the celebration count but instead by taking it easy. We hit our goal. We’ve earned these breaths.

Dot Your I’s Day

This is a celebration of one’s ability to focus on their work and catch all the little details with care and concern. I suppose people are (usually) planning big, elaborate Christmas dinners, arranging seating charts to keep relatives who hate each other apart, and making sure that no niece and nephew has been forgotten, and won’t be waking up on Christmas morning wondering why you suddenly think so little of them. In a typical year, this is when the Christmas crunch is resounding off the hills and prompting so many folks into a frenzy.

The gift-buying, while likely not at the levels you’ll normally see, is still a thing. Jodie has a big family, and purchases gifts for all the nieces and nephews. I have zero siblings, and zero people in my clan to buy for, except for my mother. I spent yesterday being meticulous only in my writing and publishing work. That said, I’m still expecting someone will message me with a typo, thus indicating that I’d left an I un-dotted. We’ll see.

Jodie checked her list once more, and found that all she’s missing is a few more presents for me. Not really, but she’ll read this, and maybe the subliminal message that I need more treats and more booze will sink in and prompt some capitalist inspiration on her part. We’ll see.

The best part of this day shows up now that it’s over. Until December 20, 2021, we don’t have to pay attention to every last detail of what we do. Dot Your I’s Day only comes once a year!

Mudd Day

Celebrating his 187th birthday yesterday was Dr. Samuel Mudd, a man you may have never heard of, and a man who probably doesn’t deserve his own special day in this celebration-fest. But here we are, without much to cheer us forward on December 20, making mention of the guy, and learning a little something about him.

Sammy Mudd was a doctor who also owned a small tobacco plantation right before the Civil War. The war took a toll on his livelihood, which led him to consider selling the farm and focusing on his doctor work. The man who came to potentially buy the place? John Wilkes Booth. This meeting was the beginning of a long, weird chain of events that would bring Sammy to the brink of death.

The details of how well John and Sam knew each other are somewhat sketchy. They certainly met a few times, though some who knew him claim that there’s no way Sammy would have gone along with John’s original plan, which was to kidnap President Lincoln and ransom him for the release of some high-profile Confederate prisoners. But after John shot the president and broke his leg trying to flee Ford’s Theatre, it was to Mudd’s that he and co-conspirator David Herold went. Mudd set the leg with a splint and hooked him up with some crutches. He then waited about 24 hours before alerting the authorities.

That wasn’t smart. Whether or not he was in on the job, or simply happened to be the doctor John Booth knew would do his medical duty and fix his leg, that was something the courts tried to figure out. Sammy Mudd was sentenced to life in prison. Only one jurist’s vote spared him from the death penalty. A couple years into his sentence, a yellow fever epidemic broke out in the prison and killed the prison doctor. Mudd took over the role and likely saved a number of souls. Was it an act of redemption? Or was Mudd just the type of dude who took his medical oath seriously enough to save lives (or splint legs) when the need arose?

Samuel Mudd was pardoned in 1869, and he lived another 14 years before pneumonia took him down at age 45. He’s a fascinating character in one of America’s most incredible historical tales. I still don’t know why his birthday is an official day in our calendar, but there it was. A great little story.

Games Day

I had figured this would simply be a generic day to remind us that the holidays are here, people are sitting around looking for things to do, so why not play some board games? A truly dull premise for a celebration, but an acceptable way to pass the time.

But no, this day has the heft of history behind it. In August 1975, a gaming convention was cancelled, prompting Games Workshop, which I assume is a company that creates games in the UK, created their own little version of the convention on December 20 of that year. Every year, people gather at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham to game their hearts out. We’re talking more about games like Dungeons & Dragons, Warhammer 40,000 and Magic: The Gathering. People aren’t gathering in a convention centre to play Sorry or Monopoly.

The trend has spread around the world, but of course this year I’m sure it was scrapped, along with pretty much everything else fun on the planet. That’s okay; we could keep the spirit alive, even though none of us play any of those games.

For starters, we had numerous football games to watch throughout the afternoon, which fit the vibe nicely. Then in the evening, I played a fun little chunk of Red Dead Redemption 2. Jodie is not a fan of board games, and she showed only the mildest of interest in learning how to play chess earlier this year, but I’m sure we’ll dive into a few of those before our break is over. Abbey and I will have fun. So will Jodie, even though she claims she never does when we play board games.

She always does. We know this.

A Monday free of work, with only a bit of near-last minute shopping to do, plus whatever the calendar throws our way. Turns out it’s throwing this:

  • National French Fried Shrimp Day. Abbey is not a fan of shrimp, so making it while she’s staying with us would be astoundingly rude. We aren’t known for our astounding rudeness.
  • National Maine Day. We will celebrate this with some classic lobster a little later on this week.
  • Crossword Puzzle Day. Crosswords are 107 years old. I’ll muck around with one today.
  • Winter Solstice. Our final season change for the year. We’ll find some way to honour it.
  • Yule. Satanists apparently celebrate this day instead of Christmas. Not sure we want to wander into that little conflict, but we’ll see.
  • National Short Girl Appreciation Day. Well this will be easy.
  • Humbug Day. A day to express some of our grumpiness about the holiday season. This will be just about as easy to celebrate as the last one.
  • Celebrate Short Fiction Day. A day for some short stories, short films, or a puppet show with tiny puppets.
  • Shorts Day. Why? Why in December? Who decided this?
  • Don’t Make Your Bed Day. Celebrations in which we don’t have to do something are like getting a freebie. Damn, this is shaping up to be our last huge day of celebrations in 2020.
  • National Flashlight Day. Use a flashlight? Okay.
  • International Dalek Remembrance Day. Whovians around the world unite and remember the fallen daleks.
  • National Coquito Day. It’s a rum beverage, which is awesome. But we’d need coconut milk and evaporated milk, and my lactose intolerance is just telling me to drink the damn rum on its own.
  • National Hamburger Day. Wow, these are really crammed in for a Monday, aren’t they?
  • National Look At The Bright Side Day. We will be celebrating a lot. On the bright side, this should give us an excuse to do next to nothing for the rest of the year.
  • National Kiwi Fruit Day. Oi vey.
  • Ribbon Candy Day. I guess we found a second use for Abbey’s ribbon candy.
  • Phileas Fogg Win A Wager Day. Should we travel around the world? Or just use Google Earth?