Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Well ho, ho, and nearly ho then – Christmas is looming like a Universal movie monster, albeit shrouded in grainy half-light this year. We have already celebrated more than two thousand other things so far in 2020, so making a big deal over the anniversary of Santa’s bar mitzvah (or whatever – I haven’t yet done my research into the Christmas story) doesn’t seem quite as important. But it is. This is when families usually gather in masses, toast with various forms of intoxicating cheer in the glasses, and occasionally smooch, punch or drink one another onto their asses. And this year it’s profoundly different. But we will endure, and embrace the knowledge that this is a one-time glitch in our lifetimes of Christmases. Besides, look at all the other fun shit happening during Christmas week:

National Cookie Exchange Day

A cookie exchange, as we all know, comes under the Oakley protocol, which is a protocol of key management. Now that I think of it, Wikipedia may be letting me down on this one. I’m pretty sure this cookie exchange page is a computer thing, and not a baked goods thing.

That’s okay – we all know what a cookie exchange is, right? Everyone bakes up a batch of whatever, then in a grand get-together which features rigorous sampling, everyone goes home with an assortment of everything after only having had to bake up one type. It’s a great idea, and it makes absolutely no sense in the time of Covid. No one is getting together, and if they are, we are supposed to call the police, apparently. I won’t be calling any police if my neighbours get together this holiday season, and I won’t even scowl at them from a distance if it happens to be a cookie exchange and they float me a few freebies.

Because there was no exchanging of baked goods for us yesterday, Abbey and I took a more straightforward approach to this celebration. We each picked a cookie from our selection of baked goods (which grew in number once again yesterday), and exchanged them with one another. Technically, this counts. Technically is good enough in 2020, as we have established already. Besides, why complain when the end result is eating cookies?

National Flashlight Day

Technically the birthday of the flashlight is (maybe) January 10. It was in 1899 when David Misell filed a patent for the thing, which used dry cell batteries, invented only 12 years earlier. Maybe there were flashlights before that, but it doesn’t really matter – it wasn’t until the invention of the tungsten-filament lights we know and love (1904) when flashlights became a must-have tool.

So why celebrate them yesterday? Technically we simply bumped this one from a day earlier – National Flashlight Day is meant to land on the year’s longest night. This is, after all, the biggest chunk of time in which someone might wish to use a flashlight.

I’d love to spiral into an interesting flashlight anecdote from my past, but I really don’t have one. I have used one to read under the covers, to lightsaber duel with a friend at a sleepover, and to find stuff when the power goes out. Like pretty much everyone else. We celebrated the day by using a flashlight for a few moments, which was more than we’d actually needed to use a flashlight yesterday.

Still, we’re glad we have it.

National Look At The Bright Side Day

Okay, I’ll do one more of these, and that’s it. Of all the celebrations (seriously – over 2,000?) in which we have indulged this fanciful and oft-frightening year, this is by far the most common recurring motif of the bunch. Things are good. Appreciate the good. It’s good to be good. Power of positive yadda yadda and all that.

And we have celebrated these well. We have watched the world spiral through an utterly ridiculous year that will one day get its own set of shelves in reputable libraries everywhere. Doom and gloom and the same ol’ room have dominated conversations, and every other day we see an article or two about society’s crumbling state of mental well-being. Well, speaking on behalf of those of us whose mental well-being was crumbling long before 2020 came along to shake things up, we will get through it.

And one of the best ways to get through it is to look at the bright side from time to time. We have skipped over a handful of these, but I’ve found the ones we’ve tackled to be a welcome pause in the crap-packed deluge of 2020. There is always a bright side. Even when it’s fifty to sixty times tinier than the crappy side.

So we’ll indulge once more. The bright side of this lost Christmas is that it’s the only one. Down the road we can all reflect on things with thoughts like, “Hey, at least it isn’t 2020.” Another bright side of this year is that we all went through it together. Putting aside numbskulls who still don’t believe there’s a pandemic or who feel American democracy is worth sacrificing so that the rich guy doesn’t have to go back to his golden toilet, we have all endured a shared cultural experience that will shape our collective understanding. In ten years there will be a generation of young people who won’t get any of the references to this year, or life before it. That will be weird. And we old folk will be even more firmly united.

I encourage everyone to look around you and find the bright side of this mess. It’s there. You just might have to dig. And dig. And dig.

Be A Lover Of Silence Day


I am. No question. As much as music provides the billows to the flame of my being, silence is just as necessary for survival. Sometimes it’s the silence within the music that moves me. Sometimes it’s the pure, uninterrupted bliss of utter peace.

I don’t get a lot of silence in my life. At work there is always a dull hum of monotonous blather in the distance. Even working from home, if I don’t have music playing I usually have the serenade of my fingers tip-tapping on the keyboard to fill my earholes. At night, with three dogs on our bed (two of whom are flat-nosed perpetually-snoring bulldogs), I am ensconced in white noise, not true silence. So when I get the opportunity to savour it, I like to savour it.

Yesterday I took a few quiet moments while writing to pull my hands back and just listen to nothing. The dogs were even courteously downstairs, allowing me the closest to absolute quiet I can achieve without leaving the house and hiding somewhere. Colton, our absentee (not by choice) son, has told me about the wonders of a sensory deprivation tank – a true immersion in absolute silence of the senses. But I never got a chance to try one out before Covid hit and all those places have shut down for now. Perhaps that’s a goal for 2021: to achieve that true complete silence and to swim in it.

Until then, I’ll deal with the snores.

National Short Person Day

Yesterday I took a few moments to spew out some loving words for my lovely wife, who fits the definition of a short girl perfectly, by being both short and a girl. Today is Short Person Day – note the word ‘appreciation’ is not in there anywhere – and I don’t feel it’s right to simply repeat the thing I did literally one day ago.

So instead I’ll contemplate my own shortness. At 5’9” I’m not exactly living in fear that I’ll be barred from riding any roller coasters due to my stature. But I’m also keenly aware that I never rose to my dad’s 5’11”. I’m also aware that my height is ‘average’, but average means there will always be shelves in my home that are tricky for me to reach without standing on something. It means I probably won’t be obstructing many views in a crowd situation, but I also have a strong possibility someone will be obstructing mine. Not that a crowd situation is likely for the next few months, but still.

Randy Newman famously penned a song that claims that short people have no reason to live. He reportedly hated that people took that song seriously, when it was clearly meant to be a satirical look at the arbitrary and fickle nature of prejudice. People don’t get nuance, that’s the lesson here.

I am fine with my averageness, and Jodie rarely bemoans her legitimate shortness. There are plenty of other things to complain about in this world – though even then, we need to keep Look on the Bright Side Day in our minds – and being short is easily conquerable with chairs, stepladders and high heels.

Rock on, little folk.

National Hamburger Day

We celebrated this day back in May, as I’m sure you recall. Why wouldn’t you recall that, fictional person to whom I’m addressing this paragraph? Were you not paying attention? Should you go back and re-read everything I wrote until you understand? Christ, even I don’t plan on rereading all this.

We have celebrated hamburgers, cheeseburgers and bacon double cheeseburgers this year. I have poured through the history of the burger and dissected its importance in western culture several times. Yesterday, which is acknowledged as the second National Hamburger Day of the year, seems to have no special significance, date-wise. So we simply made some burgers and ate them.

Some of these are just too easy.

Today is the ultimate last-minute day for folks who still need to shop, wrap, and deliver gifts. We are fortunate to be done with all that, so we’ll have plenty of time for this:

  • National Pfeffernusse Day. This is some sort of complicated German cookie. We are plenty full of cookies at the moment.
  • National Roots Day. A day for looking into our family history, which we have already done this year. Maybe we just listen to the band?
  • Night of the Radishes. It’s a day for carving radishes, which apparently is a big deal in Oaxaca, Mexico.
  • Tibb’s Eve. This is a Newfoundland tradition, which automatically tells me it’s probably a blast to celebrate. Sure enough, it’s a day during the period of advent in which it’s groovy to crack a few and drink up. Nice.
  • Festivus. I look forward to challenging Liberty, our beloved golden retriever, to some feats of strength.

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?

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Our publication yesterday featured a total of ten celebrations – far from our record, but an ample summation of a busy Sunday. Today’s epistle will be far less ambitious. At the time of this paragraph’s writing it is 26 degrees outside, with a heat index making it feel like 31. This is simply not a day for combing the city in search of the best crème brulée. We are keeping that on our to-do list, but yesterday was for the sun. And, I suppose, for all of this:

National Scotch Day

We have celebrated scotch whisky on three separate occasions this year (at least). We indulged in Robbie Burns night in February, downed some for National Whiskey Day in March, and here we are once again.

So what makes a scotch a scotch? First off, it has to be made in Scotland. There are specific rules about what goes into a scotch (malted barley, whole grains of other cereals, water and plain colouring). It must be aged in oak casks for at least three years. It has to be at least 40% alcohol by volume, no less. And it must maintain the colour, smell and taste of the materials used in its creation. Also, it must say ‘whisky’ on the label, not ‘whiskey’, or (for whatever reason) ‘wiss-kee’.

Three years ago it was estimated that the production of scotch whisky accounted for about 40,000 jobs, with a contribution of over 5.5 billion pounds to the UK’s economy. This stuff is an essential global commodity, and I’m pretty sure almost no one enjoys their first sip. Most alcohol, apart from the fruity and sugary drinks, require a bit of palette conditioning in order to appreciate it. Scotch may be the most intricate and flavourful beverage on the hard liquor shelf. It might not be. I honestly don’t know, and I don’t care because scotch is tasty on ice, and that was the extent of what I needed to experience yesterday.

Sometimes learning about these items we should be celebrating squeezes out the romance. Scotch is meant to be tasted, not understood.

Norfolk Day

Norfolk is a lovely county on England’s eastern elbow, a land of exquisite beauty and bountiful history. That said, from what I can understand, the good folks of Norfolk are often the butt of jokes elsewhere in England, which sparks in me an empathetic comparison to New Jersey, which we celebrated the day before yesterday. Apparently folks from the region are known as ‘Norfolk Dumplings’ which references the flour dumplings they eat there. There are also tales of inbreeding and backwards-ness there, so maybe it’s more American-South than Garden State.

Whatever. Yesterday was the day for all Norfolk Dumplings to gather together (so to speak) and celebrate their Norfolkiness. The 5k and 10k runs were celebrated virtually. There were picnics and some outdoor activities, but people were advised to stay safe, and maybe watch a movie that was shot in Norfolk, like Out of Africa, Full Metal Jacket, or Avengers: Endgame. The website also suggests a paper hat one can make that features the Norfolk flag. So make a hat, run on a treadmill, eat some cold chicken in your backyard and watch a disturbing Stanley Kubrick movie. Sounds like a party.

Another option would be to celebrate the great humans that Norfolk has produced. I scanned the names and didn’t recognize a single one, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth celebrating. There’s Tracy Philipps (a man-Tracy, not a woman-Tracy), who spent some time as a secret agent before helping to create African national parks. Or Olive Custance, who was a notable poet of the aesthetic movement of the 1890s. Or how about Black Bart, who moved to America and became an outlaw on the wild frontier, notable for leaving little poetic messages behind after a robbery.

Norfolk is, I’m sure, a delightful place full of astute and groovy people. Even if your experience may vary, it doesn’t matter – yesterday was the day to celebrate those little Dumplings. Happy day, Norfolks.

Bagpipe Appreciation Day

I guess it makes sense to celebrate the bagpipes on the same day as we celebrate scotch. But it doesn’t make me any more excited about it. We already honoured International Bagpipe Day on March 10 – how many times this year am I expected to listen to this instrument?

At least twice, I suppose. I’ve already covered the history of the bagpipes so I’m just going to report on my listening experience. Because I did. As pictured above, I opted for a selection of songs by the Red Hot Chilli Pipers. I don’t know what to say. “Baba O’Riley” with bagpipes is not horrible. “Low Rider” was shockingly intriguing. Even “Radio Ga Ga”, which is no one’s favourite Queen song, was worth a listen.

Bagpipes don’t have to be all solemn and funeral-ish. They can also leave you longing for a teenage wasteland among the moors. I can appreciate that.

Cross-Atlantic Communication Day

On this date in 1866, the first sustained working cable was laid across the Atlantic Ocean, enabling a steady means for communication between North America and the UK. It wasn’t achieved on the first attempt: back in 1857 two ships set out on the dime of entrepreneur Cyrus Field. The USS Niagara and the HMS Agamemnon met up in the middle of the ocean, spliced their cables together, then scooted off in opposite directions, laying cable as they went. Which was great, except for all the times the cable broke, rendering the effort moot. Cyrus was successful in an attempt the following year, but after a few weeks the cable deteriorated and the signal was lost.

Cyrus wasn’t licked. He had to take a breather while the US went through a pesky Civil War, but in 1865 he set out again, this time with a single ship that would take care of all the work. The Great Eastern set out from Ireland, en route to Newfoundland with a massive length of cable. They made it about 1,000 miles, then the cable snapped. I can imagine the feeling of the folks aboard the Great Eastern as they watched that length of cable gently drift into the dark ether, destined for an ocean floor no human would ever reach.

The next year, Cyrus gave it another shot. He used the same ship, but they improved the strength of the cable this time. And on July 27, 1866, it was done. It was an absolute game-changer in bridging the world together, and it led to a huge increase in trade. That little cable is no longer used, but it’s most likely still sitting there, watching the sea life float by, satisfied that its place in history was pretty awesome.

I sent a note to my buddy Josh in Israel yesterday, using no cables at all, apart from the one that connects my modem to the wall. The future is kick-ass.

National Coffee Milkshake Day

We get to celebrate vanilla, chocolate, strawberry and coffee milkshakes this year. I mean, we can celebrate any damn milkshake we want, but the calendar specifies these flavours, which I suppose presents the surprise that coffee is actually a popular flavour of milkshake. Indeed, the thing tasted like a Coffee Crisp, which, for my American friends, is a delicious type of candy bar you would be fortunate to find at a local import shop, and grateful if you purchased it.

We made these for dessert – actually Jodie did all the heavy lifting, though I did read her out the directions. It’s simply a quarter-cup of cold brewed coffee, a half-cup of milk, three scoops of ice cream and a tablespoon of chocolate syrup, blended into a blissfully chilly dessert beverage.

It was excellent. We’d pushed this one back from Sunday (which already featured the hot fudge sundaes we’d bumped from Saturday) and it was very much worth the wait. I can’t wait to see what desserts we’ll get to dive into next.

Today is my one day at work this week, albeit from my cozy remote office just a few feet from where I sleep off all these food celebrations. Here’s what’s on the menu:

  • National Milk Chocolate Day. We’ve got some delicious Dairy Milk to savour for this one.
  • National Waterpark Day. We couldn’t even if we wanted to – and with the weather outside we absolutely want to. So we’ll make our own with our hot tub.
  • National Hamburger Day. We… we already did this on May 28. How many National Hamburger Days can there be?
  • Buffalo Soldiers Day. A bit of a history lesson for today.
  • World Nature Conservation Day. We will do what little we can without leaving the house, because we really hate leaving the house right now.

Friday, May 29, 2020

We have found ourselves scrapping with the seconds on the clock to keep up with our madness. Things are getting bumped and there is little we can do to prevent it. Time, even time in lockdown, is fleeting, and our assertive mirth-making must be tempered with employment obligations and the preservation of our final few trickles of sanity. Here’s our attempt to get caught up and pointed once more toward the sunny horizon:

National Brisket Day

Brisket, or cow-pecs as we call it in the business, is an unusual cut of beef. While still attached to its bovine host, this muscle holds up roughly 60% of the cow’s weight, so it can be a tough and unpleasant cut for us omnivores to chew through. Some people – and I’m not sure who these people are or why they’d do this – will boil the meat. Of course, you can bake it while basting the hell out of it. But why would you? This meat is meant to be smoked, or slowly cooked over indirect heat above charcoal or wood. A properly prepared brisket can out-perform any other chunk of cow, flavour-wise.

Brisket is the source material for corned beef, and when smoked it becomes pastrami, the finest of all sandwich meats. The Jews over in Montreal – undoubtedly the hippest Jewish community in all of Canada – came up with Montreal smoked meat, a close relative of pastrami. By contrast, the Maori in New Zealand boil the brisket with vegetables and potatoes, which can’t possibly taste remotely as good.

A kind and generous friend has been roasting his own brisket for a while now, and he shared some of his creation with us. It was immaculately seasoned, tender as can be, and when steamed (you don’t microwave this stuff) and slapped atop some rye bread with mustard, it was the perfect sandwich. I’ve bemoaned the tragic dearth of quality pastrami in this city many times, including many times on this page, but if I can continue to score snippets of Boris’s brisket, I’ll be a happy guy. This was fucking delicious.

National Grape Popsicle Day

Grape, cherry and blueberry Popsicles each get their own day this year. This makes sense; we all know that orange Creamsicles put Popsicles to shame, and no other flavour really stands out. Blueberry might be tough – I didn’t even know they made those. But that’s a problem for September 2. Yesterday we merely had to track down a grape one, which wasn’t difficult.

The Popsicle, much like the Kleenex and the FlameThrower, is a brand name that we naturally call any generic equivalent. Technically it’s an ice pop: frozen flavoured sugar-water with a stick in it. The Popsicle is the OG ice pop though, invented by accident (as the best things are) by an 11-year-old boy. Frank Epperson was mixing up some powdered soft drink mix with water back in 1905 Oakland, when he was called inside suddenly, perhaps to hear from his parents how the Russo-Japanese War was going. He left the stuff outside on the porch with a stir-stick in it, and came out the next morning to find an ice pop.

Frank held on to this thunderous revelation for 17 years, then debuted the product at a fireman’s ball. It was a hit. He called them Epsicle Ice Pops, which was a horrible name that his children thankfully encouraged him to change to Popsicle. Six months after nabbing his patent, Frank was sued by the Good Humor company who were making something similar. Good Humor was not true to their name; they crushed Frank and settled out of court. Shortly afterward, Frank sold his rights to the Popsicle because he was flat broke.

It’s an ugly beginning to a tremendous legacy, but the Popsicle has become a staple of summer. I wouldn’t call what Edmonton is going through right now as ‘summer’ yet, but a good Popsicle is always a good snack.

National Hamburger Day / National Hamburger Month

Here it is, the day we get to celebrate that most basic staple of North American cuisine, the glorious hamburger. I know, we’ve still got National Cheeseburger Day on September 18, and Double Cheeseburger Day on September 15, but this is the all-encompassing one.

So who invented the hamburger? Crap, don’t get me started. Its roots go back to the Hamburg steak, a similar, albeit bun-less concoction from Hamburg, Germany. But here’s a list of folks who tried to take credit for the burger we know and love:

  • Louis Lassen, owner of Louis’s Lunch in New Haven, Connecticut. 1900 is pretty early, but the claims that some sailors from Hamburg tried it, loved it, then named it after themselves is unlikely. Also, Louis used toasted bread.
  • Charlie Nagreen from Seymour, Wisconsin, sold a meatball between two slices of bread in 1885. Pretty close, and he did get the nickname “Hamburger Charlie” at some point. So far I’m rooting for Charlie. In fact, I think he was cited as the reason for our devouring burgers for National Wisconsin Day.
  • Otto Kuase gets the thumbs-up from White Castle for being the inventor, though his was with a fried egg on top in 1891. Does White Castle know the truth? Should they be considered the experts on burgers? Have you ever tried their food whilst sober?
  • Oscar Weber Bilby, also an 1891 claim, but his family says it was served on a yeast bun on his farm. This is the first claim involving a bun, but Hamburger Charlie’s claim predates it by six years.
  • Frank and Charles, the Menches Brothers, claim to have substituted beef from a butcher when they ran out of sausage for their sandwiches, then to have named the thing after Hamburg, New York, not the one in Germany. This was at the 1882 county fair in Akron, Ohio, but the brothers were from Hamburg, NY. This is the oldest claim, and it does have a link to *a* Hamburg, but given that the Hamburg steak was already a thing in Germany, I’m suspicious of this one.
  • Fletcher Davis of Athens, Texas, claims to have sold a hamburger steak between slices of bread at his lunch counter in the 1880s. It then became popular when he had a stand at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. Maybe.

So ultimately, we have no clue who invented the hamburger. We do know that having a barbecue once again means our burger game will be fantastic going forward, as evidenced by the ones we devoured yesterday. Wherever it comes from, the hamburger is always good eatin’.

The Slugs Return From Capistrano Day

Thank you so much to Thomas and Ruth Roy, that wacky duo that has gifted us with so much weirdness during this year already steeped in unanticipated kookiness. Mission San Juan Capistrano is an important site in southern California, known as the birthplace of the Orange County, or “the OC” if you’re the type to use that sort of shorthand (and you really shouldn’t). Every year around March 19 the migratory swallows return to the area, and much like how New Yorkers flock to surrounding states to view fall foliage every autumn, people gravitate to Capistrano to check out the swallows. Maybe not this year – nothing is normal this year.

So Thomas & Ruth decided that for one of their manufactured-holidays-for-the-sake-of-manufacturing-holidays they should extend the spirit of this day. Since the slugs tend to leave when the swallows show up, not desiring to be anyone’s dinner or mid-morning snack, they presumably meander back to their less-bird-infested homes elsewhere. They move slowly (being slugs and all), so it takes them a couple months to get there. But on this day they’re back, messing up your garden and praying you run out of salt.

There’s no proper evidence for this, and that’s fine – Thomas and Ruth didn’t make up holidays rooted in scientific observance. The ideas for ‘celebrating’ this day involve taking precautions to secure your garden against slug infestation, but given that we don’t have a garden, nor do slugs live in this part of the tundra, we’ll be happy simply acknowledging the day and adding it to our hefty roster of writing topics. After all, the only place they should really be celebrating this day is in Capistrano, where they don’t have to worry about all those pesky slugs hanging about.

Lyme Disease Awareness Month

Okay, this isn’t so much a celebration as a public service message. When we can leave our house these days it’s mostly to outdoors locales for hikes, walks, and possibly Frisbee-related shenanigans. It’s important to know that ticks are still out there, immune to COVID and eager to mess all our shit up by passing on this delightful little condition. Lyme Disease is a massive pain, and we should keep it in mind when we participate in any outdoor activity, be it a shenanigan or something else.

You never hear about a single shenanigan, do you? Weird.

Lyme Disease is a tough bugger to catch. Symptoms may appear within a few days or it might take months or years to pop up. Most of the time the first symptom is an expanding bullseye pattern rash around where the tick bit. It’s a warm rash, but not an itchy one. Still, it’s one that you should pay attention to. You might then get some viral type symptoms, like fatigue, body aches and fever, but your respiratory system will be fine and there will be no up-chuckery involved. If you’ve got that roster of symptoms, get yourself checked out, because the stuff that can happen later on is a lot more unpleasant.

Antibiotics will treat the disease, but it can come back. Lyme Disease is not a simple one-shot-and-it’s-gone deal; and it’s not something exclusive to humans – if your pets have been wandering around in the tall grass you should be checking them for ticks or bites. Hell, it doesn’t have to be long grass; the critters can live in your lawn.

Of course I tend to employ the #1 method for preventing Lyme Disease, which is to be really into movies and video games and other indoor hobbies. All those times your parents said it was healthy for you to go and play outside? They were lying. Outside will murder you. Take care, and be vigilant with these creatures.

Today we journey forth into another fun-filled Friday. Isn’t every day fun-filled? It had better be, or we’re not doing our job.

  • Put A Pillow On Your Fridge Day. For prosperity & good luck. Of course.
  • National Paperclip Day. Well, it ain’t gonna get more wild than this.
  • National Coq Au Vin Day. We’ll probably be making this over the weekend, as we have much more fun plans for dinner tonight.
  • Learn About Composting Day. We will… learn about composting I guess.
  • End of the Middle Ages Day. A day to celebrate advancing to the next era, which is something I understand as an avid player of Civilization VI.
  • National Heat Awareness Day. We will contemplate heat, and thus be aware of it.
  • National Biscuit Day. Biscuits for all!
  • World Digestive Health Day. Okay, sure! Let’s talk about being healthy, digestively speaking. What a party!

Thursday, May 28, 2020

As another chapter begins in this skewed-orbit twirl around the sun we call 2020 we proceed with abandon and enthusiasm. To approach a cookie-cutter Wednesday any other way would have been to succumb to the tedium and repetition this year seems to want to offer. But we keep things spicy, alive, intense… we forge forward with an unabashed resilience to monotony, and a steadfast commitment to pursuing the most dynamic and noble quests our calendar puts before us. This is how we become mired in such glorious pursuits as this:

National Cellophane Tape Day

Cellophane tape. What a party. Some unknown person or corporate entity (whom I suspect may be 3M) came up with this day, possibly looking at the relative dearth of National Days on May 27, for us all to pay tribute to cellophane tape, better known as Sellotape in England. Over here we’d call it Scotch tape. I was initially looking forward to celebrating this day by wasting office supplies by seeing if we could tape someone to a wall in our office. Given that we were at home (as usual), with no office supplies storeroom to raid, we had to shift.

So how does cellophane tape enrich our lives? I have a roll on my desk at work that I have not had to replace since starting in that office five years ago. Before that I used packing tape all the time to seal up boxes filled with printed material to send out to customers. Jodie uses it occasionally at school. When the handful of warm days hit our town, I use packing tape to seal the vent for our little portable AC unit in our window. That’s… really about it from us.

Cellophane entered our world courtesy of Swiss chemist Jacques E. Brandenberger, who was hoping to create a surface that would repel liquid and not stain. He thought spraying a waterproof coating onto a tablecloth would be the way to go, but it made the fabric less fabric-y, and more something you could club someone to death with. Then he noticed the coating would peel away from the fabric, and he saw the potential in that coating on its own. This was back in 1900. He eventually created the stuff we know today, calling it cellophane after cellulose (the key ingredient) and diaphane (which means transparent). It took until 1930 for 3M engineer Richard Drew to invent Scotch tape, which officially hit the world on May 27. So a big happy 90th to tape.

Richard also invented masking tape, so maybe this day should be more about celebrating his awesomeness than the tape itself. But we don’t make the rules, we merely bend them when we need to. Happy tape day, everyone.

Old Time Player Piano Day

I found one source that claims this day exists, and upon further digging that source is no longer online. So do I toss the day? Or simply make my own statement that yes, it exists, and we’re celebrating it. I think you know which way I’m leaning.

A player piano, for anyone in my audience younger than 150, was the stereo system of the early 1900s. It was a piano that would take pre-made scrolls of punched paper that would then trigger the piano to automatically play whatever sheet music was on the paper. Initially these were powered pneumatically by foot pedals. Pianos in homes were just becoming a huge thing around this time, and this was the only game in town for hearing music in your house without playing it yourself.

The initial Pianola (as they were called) would sell for $250, equivalent to a whopping $7700 today. Compatibility between manufacturers was often a hurdle, but some brands had access to over 9,000 pieces of music. It would be like having a killer Spotify mix today, except you had to painstakingly swap out the massive paper rolls between each track. Sometimes the scrolls would have lyrics printed in the margins so people could gather ‘round and sing along.

So what killed the player piano? The Victrola didn’t help, especially as the quality of records improved through the 1920s. Then radio began to offer the ability to hear entire orchestras in one’s parlor or drawing room or whatever antiquated room you’d prefer. Lastly, the stock market crash of 1929 killed the production of the player piano. Anything made after that was done so as a novelty. We didn’t have one laying around the house to listen to, but we did watch this video, which shows how the mechanics work. It’s pretty intense.

Nothing To Fear Day

On this day 79 years ago, President Franklin D. Roosevelt addressed the nation and began to prepare them for the war they’d be shoved into come December. “We must not be defeated by the fear of the very danger which we are preparing to resist. Our freedom has shown its ability to survive war, but our freedom would never survive surrender. The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Damn, remember when politicians would talk like that? It was a very eloquent and poignant observation, and it holds true today in facing any crisis.

FDR did, of course, crib that line from himself, having used it in his 1933 inaugural speech. Back then he was speaking of the issues of the Depression, and the fear people may have about making tough choices to get the economy back on track. He got his nation through that turmoil, and that phrase became one of the most cited as a brilliant example of presidential oratory. Raymond Moley was FDR’s aide who penned most of that speech, but it’s believed the big line about fear was Roosevelt’s creation.

To celebrate this day one site suggests we examine our fears and reevaluate them. Okay. Jodie’s fear is birds, specifically their wings flapping near her head. That’s a rational fear, and given her horrifying experience when a bird dropped through her sunroof and fluttered around the passenger seat, I’d say her fear is legit. For me it’s spiders, and while I know there are many poisonous ones out there we all should fear, it’s the fear itself that paralyzes me. I can’t stand to look at them, and I practically jump through my skin when I see one. I can’t help it – it’s a chemical response in my brain that propels me into a state of immediate madness. It’s a fear I could conquer, but I’d rather not. I have a hunch it’s somehow protecting me from an untimely encounter with a black widow.

Mostly we celebrated this day by simply admiring the power of such an eloquent phrase. In just a handful of words, FDR took the fears of an entire nation and presented them in a way that made them appear conquerable. And he did it twice, with two different global crises. That’s pretty damn impressive.

MCS Awareness Month

I’ll be completely honest – I was excited to write about this one because I thought it was MC5 Awareness Month, and I was intrigued by an entire month devoted to kicking out the jams with that Michigan-born rock band. But no, MCS is something very different. It refers to Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, or a sensitivity to exposure to common societal chemicals. This is considered a controversial condition, not fully accepted by the WHO or any other professional medical association. So is it real?

Well, probably. There hasn’t been a lot of research into MCS, possibly because it isn’t killing anyone. But you’ve probably known someone who gets a nasty headache whenever they smell perfume or paint fumes or even smoke. It was thought of as an allergy at first, but the lack of weird antibodies or strange white blood cell counts ruled that out. Some believe it to be psychological, given that many people diagnosed with MCS also deal with depression and anxiety. Others believe it’s just technophobia or chemophobia, manifesting in a way that induces nausea, headaches, or some other symptom.

Whatever the cause, the symptoms people deal with can be downright debilitating. There is no cure, only to adjust your life so that the presence of these smells is limited. And to be clear, it isn’t just smells – some folks have a similar response to plastics and synthetic fabrics. It’s more commonly appearing in women, and the diagnosis of this condition has climbed significantly in recent years. There’s also a weird correlation with veterans who returned from overseas with Gulf War Syndrome – they report a significantly higher frequency of issues with MCS symptoms.

Roughly 50% of MCS sufferers report an improvement in their condition over time, so there’s hope. But with this not being a wholly accepted condition I don’t see a lot of research money pouring into a cure. If you know someone who suffers from this, treat them kindly and don’t expose them to the smells or sensations that drive their insides bonkers. And maybe pop on an old MC5 record and crank it up. Couldn’t hurt.

Today glides smoothly into port with a small bevy of delicious celebrations:

  • National Brisket Day. I was so worried I’d have to write about this from memory, but a friend came through and gifted us with some of the best brisket we’ve tasted.
  • National Hamburger Day. Yep, this is the official one.
  • The Slugs Return From Capistrano Day. This is not so much delicious as weird and quirky. We’re all about the weird and quirky in these parts.