Saturday, April 25, 2020

And as the sun stretched its sinewy limbs into the weekend, we enjoyed a pleasantly light Friday schedule. There was not a lot staring us down from our calendar today – in fact, this was the first day since March 24 when we only had two items listed. Fortunately, a bit more digging gave us some new stuff to add to the revelry. Unfortunately, that included this:

New Kids on the Block Day

This is a day in which you are encouraged to visit any neighbours who are new to your community, and to welcome them in a kind and gregarious way. Bring them a basket of goodies. Let them know they moved into a welcoming place, full of… oh shit no. It’s not about that at all.

On this day 31 years ago, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (led by Michael Dukakis) declared it to be New Kids on the Block Day. The band members all come from Dorchester, so that would be why. They were also tearing up the charts in 1989. I was given a bootleg cassette of Hangin’ Tough at the time, and I listened to it a couple of times. Then, about a week later I discovered the Beatles in a big way and I left all this crap behind.

NKOTB was created by impresario Maurice Starr, who was looking for a white-kid equivalent to his other hit group, New Edition. He recruited Donnie Wahlberg (yeah, the guy in Blue Bloods on CBS), who put the group together. Donnie’s younger brother (Marky) Mark was in the group for a while, but he left right away, possibly due to his stint in prison for a hate-crime. I wish I was making that up.

Look, the New Kids were a phenomenon. There were no boy bands quite like them beforehand, and an entire genre of pop music afterwards. So… good for them. I’m celebrating this day by giving Hangin’ Tough another listen. I’ll be honest, it’s painful. The production slathered onto R&B music in the 80s was excessive, and none of these songs are particularly well-written in any way. But this is the vow we have made, to celebrate all these weird holidays. So I’ll take the bullet for the team and let Jodie continue her nap undisturbed. In short, I’ll hang tough.

National Arbor Day

To be perfectly clear, this is an American holiday. The Canadian equivalent is celebrated on various days in May, since Canadian trees in April are barely awake. That said, I will give praise to Arbor Day and to trees in general today, if only to drown out yet another garbage pop-ballad from the New Kids with the tapping of my keys on the keyboard.

Arbor Day was first birthed in Nebraska City, Nebraska in 1872. Newspaperman J. Sterling Morgan challenged people around the country to plant more trees. The day is still a holiday in Nebraska – like, a real holiday, not one of our arbitrary ones – on the last Friday of April. The day became official in 1972, a century after Mr. and Mrs. Morgan’s bold challenge. On that day, roughly one million new trees were thrown into the soil just in Nebraska.

The Canadian version also stretches back to the 1800s, and we can thank Ontario Premier (then the Minister of Education) Sir George W. Ross for this one. Calgary celebrates theirs on the first Thursday of May, and I’m sure Edmonton does something right around that time as well. I remember we used to get little evergreen saplings in a Styrofoam cup to take home and plant. Every year I’d plant mine, then forget about it until it died. In retrospect, it’s wise I avoided having kids until later. Also, I was like 10.

To commemorate the joys of arbor this year, I present our new little tree above. This one popped up on its own. There used to be a dead tree in this spot when we moved in, and it was yanked down in 2006. A seed must have found the right conditions last year, because this little dude just showed up. We decided to let it grow.

To be accurate, the conversation went something like this. ME: “Hey look, our little tree is getting bigger!” JODIE: “I hate pine trees.” ME: “Then we’ll call this one Hitler and you can hate it all you want.” So, I present to the world, our little Hitler. Ain’t he cute?

Day of Silence

I’ll say it straight away – we weren’t silent. I had two meetings, one by phone and one by webcam, and Jodie had to go into school to work with a colleague. Also, the dogs needed our conversational skills to know how groovy we think they are. We were silent for a portion of the afternoon though. Here’s what this day is about.

This day is actually rather important. Launched by GLSEN (the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network), this is a day to spread awareness about the bullying and harassment of the LGBTQ community. Students have been encouraged to spend the entire day in silence in order to represent the symbolic silencing of these bullied youth. It was first held at the University of Virginia in 1996, and it spread to over 100 campuses the next year.

There is a section of this day’s Wikipedia page devoted to the opposition this day has faced from various groups, but I’m not giving those assholes any attention. If you have a problem with standing up to LGBTQ bullying, you are literally the problem with society and you should immediately remove yourself from it.

I wonder if LGBTQ youth are having a remarkably easier time this year, what with bullies locked into quarantine, far away from the bullied. Cyberbullying is very much a thing these days of course, and I have no doubt that’s still going on. But maybe this hellish lockdown is a bit of a respite for some. Next year, I hope students jump on board this day. The young generation right now seems to be the most accepting and inclusive bunch of kids we’ve ever seen, but there’s a long way to go. In silent solidarity, everyone with common sense is standing with the LGBTQ community.

National Pigs In A Blanket Day

And from the serious and solemn into something completely different. And it just occurred to me that we almost cheated with this day by using 100% beef hotdogs. We would have been eating cows in a blanket. Not the same.

Fortunately we celebrated the spirit of the day, hog-anus and all, which is pretty much taking wieners, either of the cocktail variety or the more fully-realized full-size ones, and wrapping them in some sort of pastry. Yesterday we went with Pillsbury crescent rolls because we’ve used those a few times in recent celebrations, and they’re always fluffy and fantastic. This was dinner last night, and it was terrific.

In the UK, this dish actually consists of little sausages wrapped in bacon. The Brits use a much more awesome blanket, in other words. Here we call that a whistle-dog (with cheese, of course). Now there’s a food that needs its own day. They also serve their blanketed piggies with roast turkey dinner at Christmas. Very nice.

There are a number of other global varieties of this food. Israelis roll kosher hot dogs in a ketchup-covered sheet of puff pastry. This is inherently wrong however, as it implies that ketchup belongs on hot dogs. In China the ‘lap cheong bao’ is steamed instead of baked. In Denmark they’ve adopted the British version, which they call sausage in a blanket. The American version also shows up, but those are called sausage horns.

These were a fine feast – the crescent rolls are much tastier than a plain ol’ bun. The only down side was that, while we dipped them in mustard, we couldn’t load up the dog with all the fixin’s. That’s alright, it was still a delight. Also, I’m done writing now, so I can stop listening to this garbage 80s boy-band pop, so there’s another celebration right there.

Another wild Saturday to keep us entertained:

  • National Hug A Plumber Day. We don’t live with one, and we’ve still got quarantine rules here. So maybe I’ll do something really minor (plunge the toilet?) and get a hug for it.
  • National Kiss of Hope Day. A day for volunteering. We need to stay away from other people, but we can look into some ways we can volunteer from home.
  • National Sense of Smell Day. We will be appreciating everything we smell, from fresh coffee to beer to our doughnuts to our dog’s farts.
  • National Zucchini Bread Day. We won’t have any of this, as our team baker (hi, Mom!) didn’t want to make it. I can’t stand zucchini so I’m happy to skip this one.
  • Independent Bookstore Day. We will drive by our favourite in town. Can’t browse the shelves though.
  • National Dance Day. We do the dance of joy!
  • World Penguin Day. We were supposed to go visit penguins at our local mall today. Unfortunately (and this REALLY sucks) we can’t do that.
  • Bob Wills Day. We will learn who Bob Wills is, and why he has a day.
  • International Marconi Day. A day to celebrate the man who gave us radio. No, not Dick Clark, the other guy.
  • Eeyore’s Birthday. Happy birthday!
  • National Telephone Day. We’ll enjoy our telephones. Like we do every day, only more so.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

The swollen elbows of a 5-day work week swung clumsily into our bedroom yesterday morning, a full hour before our alarm clock was ready to stretch its voice. Trixie, one of our canine co-creatives, felt it was time to arise and poop. It was an auspicious start to a busy week, but a start we could temper with a heap of fun.

Penguin Awareness Day

What could be more fun than penguins? Of course, we didn’t actually get to see any today, apart from the Google Images search I (Marty) flipped through for about 20 minutes. Our plan was to head to our local shopping mall, which (of course) has a number of penguins as part of a permanent exhibit. Unfortunately the demand for penguin visitation on winter evenings is shockingly low, which meant they closed up at 6:00, right around when we’d be getting home from work. Alas, World Penguin Day on April 25 will have to be our fall-back for some penguin face-time.

Penguins are evolution’s answer for what must be a truly hilarious question. They waddle with an unabashed, shameless humor that requires no setup or punchline, then after a clumsy negotiation with gravity they swim through the water with an unanticipated grace. One thing they cannot do, however, is fly. But how could anyone hold that against them?

A zoo or weird mall exhibit is our only hope of spotting a penguin in these parts. They have average hearing, stupendous eyes for seeing underwater, and a really thick layer of feathers to keep in the heat. They have no problem sidling up to humans, as they have no experience with a land-based predator. Well, almost no experience. Dogs used to attack them, back when dogs would be part of a sled team of early Antarctic human explorers. As such, dogs are no longer allowed on the continent of Antarctica. I don’t agree with banning dogs from an entire continent, but I suppose if it keeps the penguins happy it makes sense.

National Oatmeal Month

Jodie’s morning improved while I was gawking at flightless snow-birds on my phone. She lowered her taste buds into a warm, satisfying bath of oatmeal. Oatmeal may be nature’s comfortiest comfort food. It’s the blend of warmth, of gentle but not boisterous sweetness, and the otherwise cold and unfriendly time of day in which it appears. It’s like a hug from the inside.

Or so I’ve heard. I’m not a big devourer of oatmeal, and found myself instead dining on some Corn Pops left over from Michigan Day. Jodie had the better meal. She enjoys the steel-cut oats to the thick old-fashioned or the prepackaged instant. In Scotland they soak the oats (usually ground) overnight in salted water, then cook ‘em at a low heat. Apparently oats are a big part of haggis, which we may experience this weekend for Robbie Burns Night. Needless to say, oatmeal is an ideal breakfast in this, the chilliest and dreariest of months. Why is it dreary? I’m glad you asked…

Blue Monday

Happy most depressing day of the year!!! Yes, attached to those clumsily-swinging elbows yesterday morning was Blue Monday, commonly referred to as the most morose Monday on the calendar. The date is calculated in terms of its relation to Christmas being long over, spring being far away, Christmas’s debt having made itself present, and the weather usually leaving everything to be desired. Needless to say, this only applies in the northern hemisphere (it’s summer down south), and it doesn’t really apply in the United States, as it tends to coincide with Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which is a day off for many.

We fought back against Blue Monday with an exceptional amount of self-care. We focused on our celebrations, we took time to enjoy ourselves and each other, and we spent as much up-close-time with our puppies as possible. Blue Monday is a state of mind, and a deliberate one at that. We say, paint this Monday and every Monday in a dazzling range of hues to fight back the day’s inherent nasties. Or, just hang on until late June when the happiest day of the year shows up.

National Camcorder Day

Why would camcorder day fall specifically on January 20? Why do we still celebrate a day dedicated to one of the myriad of technologies that has been rendered all but obsolete by the smartphone? I know, some folks still love their camcorders (and I feel it’s necessary here to distinguish between a camcorder for family use and a professional camera), but the iPhone is the camcorder of today. We celebrated this day by shooting one of our nightly videos, and drawing attention to just how great it is that we have this technology at our fingertips. As a kid I begged my parents for a camcorder. I instead received a typewriter. This may be why I’m spending my days in a beige-grey cubicle and not on a studio backlot in Burbank.

The first camcorder released for us common folk was the Betamovie BMC-100P from Sony, which recorded onto Betamax cassettes (the better video format – come on, we all know it). That model dropped in 1983. JVC popped out the first VHS camcorder that same year, and within a year Kodak had unveiled the 8mm format. Camcorder technology progressed similar to VCR tech – Beta shifted more to professional use, while VHS became the standard – the key difference is that 8mm didn’t go away. The VHS folks also dropped the VHS-C format, which was a tiny tape for a hand-held camcorder, but you could pop the tape into an adapter that allowed it to be played immediately on any VHS machine.

Great. But I’ll stick with my iPhone.

Take A Walk Outside Day

This day fell into our laps like an over-feathered pillow. The week-long stretch below -30 had taken one day to excuse itself (that was Sunday), and yesterday we launched full-on into an unseasonably warm week. Snow won’t melt, outdoor breath will not become invisible, but we will be able to enjoy breath upon breath of pain-free air. We both took advantage of this day: Jodie walked outside her school, while I took a stroll downtown before catching my evening bus.

It’s easy to dismiss the outdoors entirely during this time of year, in particular if you aren’t big into skiing, skating, sledding, snowshoeing, or one of the other winter sports I choose to pretend do not exist outside the Olympics. But a walk outside – provided the outside isn’t actively trying to murder you with cold or some other inclement rage – is possibly the greatest cure for the common blahs. It lifted me up from my dreary day and popped me into a fantastic mood for my ride home. Which was perfect, since that ride home led me into…

National Cheese Lovers Day

Cheese is a hard thing not to love. Vegans have told me that cheese was the lone holdout that prevented them from making the switch from vegetarian to full-volume vegan, but that hurdle has now been conquered with plenty of vegan cheese options. For those of us who have not taken that step (or even the step to vegetarianism, which is a steep leap for many), we have cheese. Glorious cheese.

I huffed back a quartet of Lacteeze pills in preparation for this feast. We obtained some Le Maréchal cheese from Switzerland at the recommendation of the lady working at Paddy’s International Cheese shop. We swallowed some super-smooth goat cheese, some of that addictive Boursin and a bit of sharp Canadian white cheddar. It was magnificent, and not the last of our fromage-laden celebrations this year. And thankfully we have plenty of leftovers, which is great, since the pills did their job and kept my system running smoothly last night. Ah, glorious cheese.

National Disc Jockey Day

Rather than lean on the eternal jukebox of Spotify today, we instead opted for some good ol’ radio. We haven’t abandoned radio, and in fact we pay monthly for the privilege of enjoying Sirius/XM Satellite options, as the music channels have no commercials, and they employ some of the greatest DJs on the planet. A proper shout-out on this day to some of the great DJs to pioneer the profession: Alan Freed, Dick Clark, Casey Kasem. And another shout-out to our favourite local DJs at community-driven station CKUA: Lionel Rault, Terry David Mulligan, Bob Chelmick, Grant Stovel, Allison Brock and Holger Petersen.

Jodie enjoyed some of Lisa Walton’s afternoon drive-time today. I hopped onto Sirius and started my day with David Johansen, lead singer of the New York Dolls, who puts on a rollicking ride of a show he calls the Mansion of Fun. Alas, this week’s episode featured a mix of 20’s/30’s blues and classical, and it was a bit too mellow for my morning commute, so I switched over to Marcus Miller’s jazz show. At work I was enjoying the staff of Little Steven’s channel, including Mighty Manfred, Palmyra Delran and Little Steven himself. On the ride home it was Tom Petty’s Buried Treasure, a show that still unveils new gems to me. Tonight I’ll give Drew Carey’s last show a spin.

A DJ can cultivate a mix of songs unlike any algorithm in a streaming service. The right DJ can explain the connections between songs, and teach us new things about the world through their selections. For example, I learned today from Mr. Miller that Dave Brubeck willed the royalties to his Time Out album to the American Red Cross. How cool is that? Don’t abandon radio, and don’t abandon the DJs who can truly ply their trade with style and aplomb. It’s still a profession that should be integral to our lives.

National Buttercrunch Day

Holy hell this was a busy day. If you flip back to January 8, you can read all about English Toffee, and how what Americans call toffee is generally known to the British as ‘buttercrunch’. Buttercrunch is generally made with almonds, so it’s the stuff you’ll find at the heart of a Skor bar or a Heath bar. We’re in Canada so Skor is our only option. We enjoyed this one tremendously – it was a brilliant end to a day that began with a snarly little grunt and a dog with bursting bowels.

Today will feature mostly me, as Jodie will be ferrying 40 kids to the theatre for a play tonight. We’ll get up to some fun though.

  • National Granola Bar Day. Should I eat a granola bar? No – most store-bought granola bars are processed crap. I’m going above and beyond and making my own tonight.
  • Museum Selfie Day. Looks like I’m taking a walk to snap some pics in front of some Edmonton museums. I’d go in to each one, but I still need to make a living.
  • National Hugging Day. Lots of hugs. Someone had better call HR, because our arms are gonna be a-wrappin’ ‘round folk today.
  • National Hug Your Puppy Day. What could be better than hugging people? Hugging puppies of course. We will be doing plenty of that.
  • National Squirrel Appreciation Day. The little fur-dude who lives in our shed out back will be getting a heap o’ peanuts today. He’ll know why.

Monday, January 20, 2020

As of 9:00 last night we had celebrated absolutely nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Bupkis. Whoops! A bit of National Thesaurus Day bleeding over past the weekend. No, we had only one National Day today, and it didn’t show up until bedtime.

National Popcorn Day

So many options with popcorn – a veritable buffet of bountiful bizarrities can be splattered upon the stuff. Caramel? Sure! Cheese powder? Why not? Actual cheese? No ref will intervene on that one. Soy sauce? I mean… you could. I’ve tried it, and found it somewhat foot-like, but why let that stop you? Popcorn, like pizza, is a palette. It waits for nothing but the creativity of the person preparing it.

We are tragically old-fashioned with popcorn, and prefer to let it soak in its familiar jacuzzi of generous butter and salt. On its own, popcorn is a passable snack; with some seasoning it gets elevated to the divine, apart from the inevitably obnoxious tooth-snagged husks. Popcorn is perfection, and thanks to psychological conditioning for all our years, it accompanies a film unlike any other noshable treat.

As for its origin, we have to look at the ancient peoples who used to inhabit the land we now call Mexico. They figured out the crop of corn about 10,000 years ago, but it couldn’t have taken long for a kernel or two to drop onto a hot surface and explode into something yummy. Remnants of popcorn have been found there dating back to about 3600 BC. Charles Cretors from Lebanon, Ohio was the first to patent a machine to pop corn in oil, back in 1885. Thanks, Charlie.

To quote the late great James Brown, in his loving tribute, “Mother Popcorn”:

“Look-a-here! Ha! Good lord!

Hu! Hu!


Do the popcorn and do the horse

Show everybody where you at!

You gotta be boss

The way you do your little thing

Step in a small ring

And jump back, baby!

James Brown gonna do his thing!

Popcorn! Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!”

Truer words were never sung. Thanks for that one, James.

National Glaucoma Awareness Month

It’s not so much a celebration, but a commemoration. January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month, and unless you know someone who has suffered from this condition you probably have no idea what it is. Maybe you’re aware that it has to do with the eyes. Maybe I’m wrong – maybe you have done your research so you could fake the condition to get a medicinal marijuana prescription. I’m not judging.

Good news! Glaucoma does not cause you eye pain. The bad news: you’ll lose your peripheral vision, then your central vision, then you’ll be totally blind unless you seek treatment. You know that little blast of air you get at the eye doctor? If the doctor spots an abnormal amount of cupping in your optic nerve, he or she may want to dig a little deeper. Treatment can include medication, lasers or surgery – you can slow this disease or even stop it entirely, so if you suspect it might be affecting you, get off your ass and get it looked at.

The early symptoms are just that: a bit of vision loss. It’s gradual, so you may not even notice its beginnings, which is why popping into the eye doctor on a regular basis is crucial. This one does tend to run in the family, so call up your older relatives and ask them if it might come up. You may get treated to an extensive chat about whatever actually is ailing them at the moment, so that might be fun.

Sugar Awareness Week (UK)

Are you aware of sugar? I am as well. Great, can we call this thing celebrated and move on?

No, we have to do right by this week, and maybe try to learn something. According to the American Heart Association (sorry Canadians, this statistic popped up first, and sometimes we have to go for expediency), men should be eating 37.5 grams, or 9 teaspoons of sugar per day. Women should keep it to 25 grams, or 6 teaspoons. Now, unless you’re the type to plop a bag of sugar in your lap and mindlessly scoop it into your mouth with a teaspoon, this won’t mean anything to you. So let’s look a little deeper at what this means.

  • A 3 Musketeers candy bar contains 8.14 teaspoons of sugar.
  • A can of Coke contains 7.25 teaspoons.
  • A single bowl of Honey Smacks cereal? 11.4 teaspoons.
  • A serving of grapes (FRUIT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE OUR FRIEND!): 3.14 teaspoons.
  • A single cup of low-fat yogurt can contain 12 teaspoons.
  • A bottle of any “ade”-type sports drink may contain 8 teaspoons.
  • Vitamin Water – which sounds like a health food – contains about 8 teaspoons.
  • A caramel Frappuccino from Starbucks contains over 18 grams.

So the lesson here is just… don’t eat anything. Everything good contains sugar, and if you eat more than one serving you’ll be over your recommended limit for the day. Maybe that’s not the lesson, but that’s what I’m digging from this mess. It also makes me think that the hot buttered rum I drank on Friday night probably contained 30 or 35 grams of sugar. Yikes.

Happy Monday! We’ve got some fun ones to get to today.

  • National Penguin Day. Unfortunately, work must intervene in this life of utter revelry. So we may not have time to meet any penguins in person. But we will pay tribute to their majesty, because how could you not?
  • National Disc Jockey Day. A good day to stick to the radio. We will be sampling some of our favorite jockeys throughout the day.
  • National Buttercrunch Day. A Skor bar is made of buttercrunch. A Skor bar is a wonderful bit of candy.
  • National Cheese Lovers Day. We are. We shall behave as such. A sampling of fine cheeses with dinner.

Also, for the sake of completeness I should add that we sampled the Trader Vic’s version of the Hot Buttered Rum last night, which involved scooping some of the premade “batter” from the freezer into a mug, then adding rum and hot water. It was much less sweet than the Rachel Ray version, and would serve as an adequate alternative to a hot rum toddy. If you’re interested in the recipe, check out the link in Saturday’s article.