Sunday, January 19, 2020

An abbreviated day of revelry yesterday, as we spent the evening celebrating the new Kevin Smith film, along with a Q&A with the director. This was something we were not about to miss – the Jay & Silent Bob Reboot was a treat for any fan. But, it meant packing our party into a tighter window. It meant foregoing our daily video chat (which was fine; our camera lens was still steamed up from that weird fetish chat the day before). It meant…

National Thesaurus Day

Revering. Carousing. Exalting. Lauding. Signalizing. Beating the ol’ drum. So many lexemes, so little chronology.

I (Marty) admit that I was once that obnoxious kid who swam laps in his thesaurus for school papers, undoubtedly straining the ever-rolling eyes of my poor, beleaguered teachers. A writer always keeps handy a thesaurus just in case, but relying on it too much turns it into a palpable crutch. Think of it as a distinctive musical effect that pops up mid-tune, the over-use of which would obscure the brilliance of the melody. Find the melody in your writing, then pants-kick it with a thesaurus if you need to, but do it sparingly.

The word ‘thesaurus’ used to refer to any dictionary or encyclopedia, and its etymology can be traced back to a Greek word meaning “treasure, treasury or storehouse”. Philo of Byblos was the first to cobble together something that resembled a thesaurus, some time back around the year 100. The first modern-era thesaurus comes to us from Peter Mark Roget, the man whose last name is still synonymous (pun only slightly intended) with the thesaurus today. Roget was quite the over-achiever. He was a respected physician, and a founder of the University of London. He wrote a paper on optical deception, which led to the persistence of vision theory, which for a long time was thought to be the basis for our ability to perceive motion as 24 frames per second flash by.

He created his thesaurus as an effort to battle his depression, from which he had suffered for years. Hmm. Concocting a massive project in order to fight back depression – I think Pete and I would have gotten along famously. Exquisitely. Incomparably. Swimmingly. Splendidly. Real good-like.

National Use Your Gift Card Day

Gift cards are for those of us who celebrate the holiday tradition of giving, receiving, and agonizing over what gifts won’t elicit a disgruntled harrumph from its recipient. The gift card has revolutionized the season, in that it has become the easiest go-to for a low-thought, high-praise option. Gift cards can be specifically geared to a single store, can be used for a clump of businesses (probably all owned by the same corporate overlords), or it can simply be a fancy plastic form of cash. Yesterday we used one of those last varieties (given to Jodie by her dad last month) to pick up our weekly stash of doughnuts. She then used a Chapters gift card (courtesy of a kind student with ample-pocketed parents) to pick up a new book.

You really can’t go wrong with a gift card. Unless it has a monthly fee, and you finally try to use it once you dig it out from behind that three-punch Subway card, only to find it now has a zero balance. Alas, if that happens to you, you probably don’t live in Alberta. Here we have a law against gift cards with fees; you also can’t have a gift card with an expiry date. That $50 Starbucks card you get in December can still be used to buy a Venti Duoquadraguple Vanilla Latte (half-sweet, because you want to watch your calories) the following September.

Neiman Marcus gifted the gift card to the world in 1994. The following year Blockbuster (remember them?) launched gift cards around the US and Canada, replacing their paper gift certificates which were notoriously easy to duplicate. Now you can find gift cards for nearly everywhere you’ll want to shop, and if you give one as a gift, it’s almost guaranteed to bring joy and appreciation. Unless you go out of your way to do it wrong, like giving a Victoria Secret card to an 8-year-old boy.

National Winnie The Pooh Day

English author Alan Alexander Milne (a.k.a. A.A.) was born on this day in 1882. He published his first stories about Winnie the Pooh (which may be short for Winnifred the Poop – I’m not sure about that) in 1926. It’s common knowledge that Winnie and his buddies were based on toys owned by Milne’s son, Christopher Robin Milne. The stuffed bear itself had been named by Chris after Winnie, a Canadian black bear who lived at the London zoo, and Pooh, a weirdly-monikered swan the family had encountered on holiday. Winnie herself (yes, the original bear was a she) was named after the city of Winnipeg.

The rights to the Pooh character (and accompanying lore) were purchased by producer Stephen Slesinger in 1930 – only four years after the first collection hit shelves. This purchase included merchandizing and future film and TV rights (obviously TV rights were not part of the original deal, but fell under the ‘everything’ umbrella), and really established the modern era of licensing. Within two years the Pooh trademark was making $50 million a year, with games, records, radio, and toys all part of the empire. This didn’t leave A.A. in the gutter – under the deal he was entitled to 66% of the proceeds, so he did just fine. In 1961 Disney got in on the film rights, ensuring Pooh would sustain for generations.

And why shouldn’t he? Those tales are dripping with fantasy, friendship, optimism and joy. Just two years ago the film Christopher Robin starring Ewan MacGregor overjoyed audiences, earned more money than any previous Pooh flick, and garnered a nomination for Best Visual Effects, which I firmly believe it should have won. I was honoured to extract a moment of my Saturday to pay tribute to the great golden bear of all our childhoods.

National Michigan Day

“Si quaeris peninsulam amoenam circumspice.”

“If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you.”

Such is the official motto of the Great Lake State, or Wolverine State, or Mitten State. We indulged in some state-specific revelry in the greatest of possible ways: we ate.

The cuisine of Michigan includes some wonderful gems. The Sanders hot fudge cream puff is apparently one of the most beloved desserts in the land. We fashioned our own, sandwiching ice cream between the shells of delicious cream puffs, smothered in hot fudge sauce. If that wasn’t enough (and it probably was, but fuck it – it wasn’t), we enjoyed a Boston Cooler, which is a blended shake consisting of ice cream and ginger ale. We should have used Vernors, the classic ginger ale originally sold on Woodward Avenue in Detroit back in 1866, but we had to make due with what we could find here.

This was a magnificent feast. Hot fudge cream-puff sundae and a ginger ale shake for dinner? How could you go wrong? Apart from nutritionally, I suppose. But then couldn’t it all be “part of this nutritious breakfast” once we included some Kellogg’s cereals, headquartered in Battle Creek ever since the Kellogg brothers came up with their toasted corn flakes in 1906? Probably not, but we did it anyway. We’re grown ups. We can do shit like this.

No celebration of Michigan would be complete without a healthy sampling of Motown music. Sure, the state also spawned Madonna, Bob Seger, Jack White, Alice Cooper, Eminem, MC5 and the Stooges, but the city birthed an entire genre. I mean, sure New Orleans gave us Trent Reznor, but the city will always be known for jazz and funk. Detroit will always be Motown. We dipped into everything from Marvin to the Mavelettes; from Tammi to the Temptations; from Smokey to Starr (Edwin, not Ringo). To my ears, this is the pinnacle of popular music. It simply doesn’t get better than this. Thanks, Michigan.

Patras Carnival

I nearly forgot – the Patras Carnival unfurled its majesty on Friday. For a month and a half, until the solemn morning chimes of Clean Monday (welcome to Lent!), you’ll find balls, parades, a treasure hunt, mad colours, wild floats and all sorts of revelry. Patras is Greece’s third-largest city, and this time of year it is probably the #1 city on the continent for celebration. If we ever take this weird celebration gig worldwide, this will be a must.

Because no one felt like parading outside during the consistent -30 temperatures this week, I instead commemorated this event with a lunch-time feast of Greek cuisine at the Oil Lamp restaurant downtown. The salad was tasty, the meatballs divine, but damn… whatever the Greeks do to potatoes (and I prefer this to remain a mystery; there is precious little magic remaining in this world), it is heaven. Take some time and add a little spanakopita to your life before Clean Monday crashes down. Do it for Patras.

It’s championship Sunday for those of us who still enjoy NFL football, in spite of having spent the previous four and a half months watching guys suffer life-altering and potentially debilitating injuries. We were hoping to enjoy some Quark cheese for National Quark Day, but were unable to source it anywhere within the city. So today we get to relax and celebrate only one item (unless we pick something from the weekly or monthly parties):

  • National Popcorn Day. What more needs to be said? Popcorn fuels the soul and evokes memories of cinematic brilliance. Popcorn will be enjoyed heartily.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

As of yesterday morning, Edmonton had achieved the longest continuous stretch of -30 or colder (with wind chill) since 1982. As of the moment of this publication, we’re up to nearly 160 straight hours, which is the 7th longest such stretch in the city’s history. Alas, you wouldn’t know the Chill of Yuki-onna had descended upon this land by the happy warmth of our bellies. Why? I’m glad you asked.

National Hot Buttered Rum Day

Neither of us had ever sampled this delicacy. Its name is the song of a frozen night. It’s the melody of the snow wasset, tuned to a frequency that only the crystalline air of pure unadulterated winter can carry. My (Marty’s) taste buds were in a perpetual quake all day in anticipation of this beverage. Upon learning that it has a history as a tiki beverage, those taste buds were tizzied into an absolute throttle.

We tracked down this recipe from Rachel Ray, which is remarkably similar to the official Trader Vic recipe. The key difference is that Trader Vic made a “batter”, which would be kept in the freezer, then scooped out and mixed with rum and hot water. We decided to try both. Rachel’s recipe calls for honey and spiced rum. Vic suggests no honey, and regular rum. We mixed the ingredients (without honey), and created the “batter”, half of which went in the freezer. The other half got blended with honey and splashed with Captain Morgan’s finest. We’ll try out the batter (with regular rum) later this weekend.

Jodie found it too sweet – which I expected. She’s not a fan of rum, whereas I have all rum’s albums and a closet full o’ merch. I also found it to be a high dose of sweet (kind of like drinking hot caramel, but with spices). Still, I loved this recipe from the bottom of my liver. Mr. Vic has yet to let me down though, so I’ll jot down an update tomorrow or Monday to let you know how his version fared.

National Slow Cooking Month

January knows what it’s about. It’s soup month, it’s Sunday Supper month, it’s hot tea month. And yes, it’s also slow cooking month. Jodie, who remained sidelined from regular life due to a nagging stomach ailment, concocted a delicious pork loin with a root beer barbecue sauce, which was yanked and shredded into the perfect sandwich.

The slow cooker came to us (and by “us” I mean society, not our slow cooker specifically) from Naxon Utilities Corporation in Chicago, and was originally intended to cook beans. This might have been a great way to combine holidays back on National Bean Day had we known this little factoid. Slow cookers are also known as crock pots, but apart from the “crock” portion specifically referring to the ceramic innard of the device I have no idea why this name exists. Specifically a ‘crock pot’ is a brand name owned by Naxon, and it took the 70s by storm. Have a look for vintage 70s recipes and you’ll see a lot of love for the crock pot. Some of those recipes may turn you off food for a while, so be careful.

National Bootleggers Day

One hundred years ago on this day (yesterday), America went dry. For thirteen years booze was either smuggled in from another country (the term ‘bootlegging’ usually refers to sneaking booze over land borders, while ‘rum-running’ refers to smuggling it over water), or made from scratch and sold on the sly. It was an insane paranoia and a misplaced fear that led to this moronic decision, and it would take the country 13 years to ctrl-z this mistake.

Of course, Canada danced this insane little dance too, you just don’t hear about it as much. Federally, alcohol (more than 2.5%, so weak beer could still exist) was banned from April 1, 1918 until late 1919. But provincially, governments held out a lot longer. Most provinces had already closed the bars down by the time the federal ban hit, and many hung onto their dryness for years afterward. Ontario was dry from 1916 to 1927. Quebec reinstated hooch in 1919 because those French-Canadians, they know how to drink. Alberta switched on the taps in 1923, but Prince Edward Island – apparently our most puritan province, at least at the time – was alcohol-free from 1901 through 1948.

The only place in the western world that couldn’t toast the end of WWII with a drink.

Anyhow, we honoured this day by consuming some home-made hooch of our own, courtesy of Jodie’s co-worker, Brent. He crafted some sour cherry liqueur, and it goes down with a smooth fanfare and a resounding, echoing applause that tickles the ventral striatum with every sip. This man knows how to apparate pure joy and wonder in liquid form. He’s a damn wizard.

International Fetish Day

We could have done so many things for this day, most of which we would not be willing to share through photographs on Instagram, video on Youtube, or in print on this site. Alas, we held back (or did we? Would we tell if we didn’t?). Instead we had an interesting discussion of some lesser-known fetishes. Check out our Youtube page (the link is over there, to the right) if this discussion would be something you’d want to subject yourself to.

We won’t judge if you skip it. But we had a few laughs. Ultimately, the lesson learned is that if it ain’t hurtin’ anyone, if everyone’s consenting and on-board, have a blast. Also, trees may or may not be… “hot”?

Today will be a bit different: there will be no Youtube video tonight, and at least one of our intended celebrations (Peking Duck Day) will be passed upon, due to money and time constraints. We have tickets to see filmmaker Kevin Smith do a Q&A after screening his new movie, Jay & Silent Bob Reboot. The man has been a genuine inspiration to both of us, and I can trace a direct and straight line between his words of encouragement (mostly to the world, and not me specifically) and this project. He’s the kind of artist who regularly uses his success to encourage others to craft their own. We’ll also be celebrating these:

  • National Michigan Day. Some delicious treats will be enjoyed, along with a generous helping of Motown music.
  • National Use Your Gift Card Day. A teacher tends to have a gift card or two rattling around their possessions. Jodie still has one from Starbucks and one from Chapters, both of which will be spent today.
  • National Thesaurus Day. I considered leaning heavily on a thesaurus for this article, but that would be abusing it. A thesaurus is like a cool guitar effect – it can alter the texture of a moment, but use it too much and it becomes obvious and annoying. Just ask any English teacher. We will just appreciate it today.
  • National Winnie The Pooh Day. Anyone up for scooping up some honey with their hands? No? Just me? Well, it’s either that or get stuck in a hole. Oh, bother.