Wednesday, April 29, 2020

The new monotony: 20 feet from comfy bed, 10 feet from private bathroom, 0 feet from excited dogs, wrassling over a stuffed winged dragon. This is my workplace now. The syrupy funk from Baby Huey & The Babysitters is cranked to window-rattling levels. The sunlight sits on my eyeballs with nary a fluorescent tube in sight. An extra cup of coffee is served in my favourite mug with no additional expense. Clothing? Purely optional. And my work still gets done, probably more attentively than if I was melting to the floor of my grey-beige cubicle. Also, I get to do all this:

National Blueberry Pie Day

With the last couple slices of our cherry cheesecake still tempting us from the fridge, and the end-bits of the pineapple upside-down cake having to be tossed out due to mold, we were certainly not needing another dessert celebration. But here we are, just two days before Oatmeal Cookie Day, downing blueberry pie. Nothing fancy, just a quick pick-up from the grocery store, but it did the job.

The blueberry is a magnificent fruit. For one thing, it’s one of the only blue foods out there, not counting artificially dyed candies and drinks. It is native to North America, so it’s one of the foods that caught fire in popularity when the colonizers showed up. Prior to that they have been a part of Native peoples’ cuisines for centuries. When they’re tart, they’re terrific. When they’re sweet they’re amazing. The blueberry – or ‘bloob’, as our daughter calls them – is a thing of beauty.

And in pie form it’s right up there with cherry and apple for us. An almond crumb topping fits in brilliantly atop blueberry pie, but we had to make due with what we could get: the little personal pies from the Safeway bakery. We aren’t bakers, and our team baker (hi, Mom!) cannot be over-taxed. We need to keep her fresh. Who knows what May will bring? Not I – my wall calendars need to be updated for May/June. So it’s all a delicious mystery.

National Great Poetry Reading Day / Poetry Month

Great poetry is simply music without need for a melody. If you’ve found the poems that pour into your soul like mana-rich honey, the ones that you re-read over and over again because the beauty of the words tickles your insides every time, then you are lucky. Most people tend to let poetry slip from their lives once they no longer have English classes forcing them to learn about it. Who needs poetry? We have song lyrics. We have rap, which is spoken, so even closer to reading poetry out loud. We have so many things we can consider after contemplating the specific hues of roses and violets, so long as they rhyme with “blue”.

Poetry feeds the soul in a way nothing else can touch. Great poetry takes the language we all take for granted and twists it into something unexpected. It can take simple thoughts and present them in a way we want to experience on repeat, just so our minds can dine on the exquisiteness once more. It can take complex thoughts and distill them to their purest expression, delivering an emotional reaction with just a handful of words.

We had dinner once with a family who took turns reading poetry aloud before every evening meal. Think about that: where some families take a pre-repast pause to thank the creator to which they subscribe, these folks simply injected a moment of beautiful language and emotion into the air. We loved it – not enough to adopt the tradition ourselves (we aren’t nearly that hip), but enough to never forget it.

As mentioned last week, Sir Patrick Stewart is posting daily videos on social media in which he reads one of Shakespeare’s sonnets. Hearing that authoritative and mighty voice deliver some of the most astounding verse ever put to paper is a magnificent way to spend a couple minutes of your quarantined day. Yesterday we picked a few poems – by ee cummings, Walt Whitman, Elizabeth Barret Browning, among others – and soaked in their beauty. Great poetry will never die, because it will never fail to stir the mind that opens itself to it. Grab some and read!

National Superhero Day

It should come as no surprise that this celebration was launched by the folks at Marvel Comics. This was back in 1995 when they were desperate to keep people interested in comics, or to branch their appeal to a wider audience. Then came the wave of the cinematic universe that firmly planted comic book lore into the meaty guts of our popular culture. So is there any need for a National Superhero Day anymore? I’m going to take the position of fuck yes.

Let’s face it, most of the movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or MCU to those who don’t work with Multipoint Control Units or at Marine Corps University, are okay films at best. The special effects are usually pretty great, but the stories can have a tendency to lean on formulas. This is why unusual experiments like Logan, The Dark Knight and Joker tend to stand out. But the magic in superheroes stretches far beyond what we see in the movies, and the stories in print can be much more complex and nuanced.

Superhero stories are often underdog stories – awkward or down-trodden folks who rise up and save the world – in part through their powers, and in part through their humanity. It’s easy to dismiss the MCU movies as box office money-makers – they are. The best cinematic character stories are still showing up elsewhere for the most part. But don’t dismiss the genre entirely. With Disney+ prepping a multitude of Marvel shows this year I suspect they are going to experiment with all sorts of story-telling ideas. And as Daredevil and The Punisher showed us on Netflix, expanding superhero stories to tell in-depth TV-season-long epics can be wonderful. Most importantly, they can give us the character exploration we haven’t seen before. Except in the actual comic books.

Hopefully you paid tribute to your favourites yesterday. If not, make yourself comfortable (we should all be pros at that by now) and watch something today. I kept things weird by watching an episode of the 80s Spider-Man cartoon. It didn’t really hold up, but whatever – even as fluff, it’s still fun fluff. Fun fact: the first few episodes didn’t have the theme song nailed down yet, and the entire show was scored with some poorly-selected, horn-heavy disco grooves. Neat.

National South Dakota Day

It wouldn’t be a day without more food celebrations. This one was technically celebrated on Sunday, but it’s such a flimsy premise – all of these state days were created by National Day Calendar, one of our sources for this project – we’re okay with it being bumped. We don’t know much about the Mount Rushmore State except that Mount Rushmore is in it. Even the state’s alternate title offers no additional information. So let’s see what we can learn.

The state is split by the Missouri River. The east side of the state has the cities and people and fertile growin’ soil, while the west side is full of ranchers. Mount Rushmore is in the west, as are a number of Native reservations. For Beatles fans, the Black Hills are in the west, so that’s where Rocky Raccoon is from. The state contains North America’s “pole of inaccessibility”, meaning the spot furthest from all three coasts. Tornadoes, ice storms and blizzards are part of the South Dakotan experience. The state’s largest city is Sioux Falls, with a population of around 153,000. Pierre, the state’s capital, has a population of about 13,000 people, so roughly about the size of Lacombe, Alberta. That’s the capital.

Can I come up with a good list of cool people from South Dakota? Well I can damn well try. We’ve got January Jones from Helga, Cheryl Ladd from Huron, Mamie Van Doren from Rowena, Al Neuharth, founder of USA Today, born in Eureka, Shawn Colvin from Vermillion, Keith Olsen (he produced the Grateful Dead’s Terrapin Station, Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk and Foreigner’s Double Vision) born in Sioux Falls, and Tom Brokaw from Webster. That’s it. That’s all I could find, apart from a few sports figures.

We made Lamb Chislic, which is a great little dish of cubed meat fried in oil. It was no prime rib roast, but we had that for lunch leftovers yesterday, so all in all it was a fine gustatory day.

Clean Comedy Day

Possibly because they needed a break from freaking out over which bathroom people were using, the Tennessee legislature passed unanimously a resolution to make April 28, 2015, Clean Comedy Day. This was to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Comedy Barn Theater, which was built with the mission to provide clean comedy an entire family could enjoy. Having been raised by the words of George Carlin and Richard Pryor, I’m not entirely sure I’m on board with this, but sure. Let’s celebrate some clean comedy.

We all – and by “we all” I am referring to us middle-age folks – grew up on clean comedy. Network TV wouldn’t let things get very racy, especially not in the two decades between Archie Bunker and Peter Griffin. When Seinfeld did an episode about masturbation (without daring to utter the word) it was delightfully raunchy. Howard Stern, who built his reputation on shocking through sex talk and perceived obscenity, kept his show almost completely free of obscenities while he was on terrestrial radio, and that was all the way through 2005.

I’d stop short of saying that great comedy shouldn’t need swears or adult themes – there is plenty of brilliant comedy from Carlin, Pryor, Chris Rock, Sam Kinison and others that get their punch from being blue. But then you have Seinfeld, who doesn’t swear in his act. You’ve got Jim Gaffigan, Weird Al, and so many others who find laughs without crossing that line. And the best comics can usually mine material from both sides.

I get not exposing kids to the most egregious of racy material. But for the rest of us, we should find funny wherever it lies, clean or no. To celebrate yesterday we enjoyed some network TV comedy fare and a bit of swear-and-sex-free standup. Because sometimes that’s just how it’s done.

Kiss Your Mate Day

No idea where this came from, but it’s another holiday encouraging you to give a smooch to someone you care about. Or, if you’re British or Australian, I suppose this will allow you to kiss all of your friends. However you want to celebrate it, just respect the quarantine and have fun!

Today the stars point us to an assortment of new and exciting goofery:

  • Denim Day. We have worn nothing but sweatpants on our lower extremities for over a month. Today that will change.
  • National Shrimp Scampi Day. No need to wonder what we’ll be eating for supper.
  • International Zipper Day. This could have involved doing zipper merges on city roads or riding the Zipper at our nearby amusement park, but instead we’ll just play with the zippers on all the clothing in our closet. Weeeeeeee!!!!!
  • Viral Video Day. I guess we’ll drown a few minutes in whatever is trending these days.
  • World Wish Day. The Make-A-Wish people deserve a plug today; they do incredible work.
  • Stop Food Waste Day. We’ll do our best.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Yesterday marked the first day of the most unnoticeable four-day weekend either of us have every experienced. We found ourselves sitting at the same desks as any other day, at roughly the same time as any other day, only instead of work stuff we were doing other stuff. Jodie has her classes she’s taking, and I have this wonderful cavalcade of weirdness doled out by the calendar. For example:

National Cinnamon Crescent Day / National Bake Week

My sources could not pinpoint the originators of these sacred and special feasts, but my experience is tilting me toward Pillsbury or some such pastry merchant. For our celebration we simply followed this recipe put out by the little dough boy himself. A baking task that we didn’t have to farm out to our team baker (hi, Mom!) because it was simple enough for me to pull off with my limited baking skills. This recipe is credited to Dorothy Veasey, who entered it as part of the 1973 Pillsbury Bake-Off and is now immortalized on their website.

Sure, heading to Cinnabon or some such establishment would have been easier, but National Cinnamon Roll Day is October 4, and by then we should be able to venture into public for high-carb, high-sugar treats. Besides – it says ‘crescent’ in the name, so there’s no point in aiming for a “close enough” when we can hit the real thing.

It was delicious and simple. And we made enough to get us through today, which is great because we don’t get to celebrate another dessert celebration for two whole days. Next week is food-heavy, even more than usual. This was a great way to kick that off.

It’s also National Bake Week, which I suspect is another creation by the good folks at Pillsbury (but I cannot prove yet). So it’s appropriate that we ventured into the realm of baking. Mom already hooked us up with that coffee cake this week, so it’s only fair that we give baking a shot, even with a ridiculously low degree of difficulty.

Encourage a Young Writer Day

Again, this is a day (much like School Librarian Day last Saturday) that should be slated to land on a weekday that doesn’t get turned into an April holiday. Jodie could have done heaps of this at school, given that she’s an English teacher and a portion of her students (albeit a tiny portion) has some skill with the written word. Fortunately, we’re becoming masters of distance-teaching and distance-working so the day was salvaged.

I always send words of encouragement to our daughter in Vancouver, who has sufficient skills to amaze me with every paper she sends me to look over for school. She’s brilliant, but I didn’t want to heap too much praise on her – she can dance, draw, act and tell jokes. If she thinks she’s too awesome she’ll do the honourable thing by slaying me and taking her place atop the artistic mountain that is this family. We can’t have that.

Jodie sent some emails to a couple of her students who have the gift, and did her best to prompt them into continuing with the act of creation during their quarantine. Preteen kids have got to be tiring of video games and binges of weird tiger-related shows by now, right? The hope is that enough quality writers will create enough quality greatness with all this free time. And yesterday was about celebrating the young ones.

National Siblings Day

This celebration was started by a woman named Claudia Evart, who had lost a brother and a sister at a very young age. Claudia launched the Siblings Day Foundation, which first established this day in 1997. The organization includes a lost siblings registry, a siblings rights project, a support group, and an adopt-a-sibling program. I may look into that last one, since this day means absolutely nothing to me. Siblings-in-law? Sure, I’ve got some great ones. But Jodie was the one hogging all the brotherly and sisterly love yesterday.

And in that spirit, she sent out a loving message to her brothers and sisters on social media, and they all exchanged pleasantries from their socially-isolated homes. Our three dogs, who are technically adopted siblings, spent a great deal of time with one another, but they opted not to specifically honour the day for some reason. Might be the whole language-barrier thing.

President Clinton acknowledged this day in 2000, and since it began it has been endorsed by 49 out of 50 US governors. The one outlier? California, for some reason. Wherever you live, if you no longer cohabitate with your siblings this might serve as a good reminder that they, like you, are going through the weird trauma of watching the world in its weirdest state of melt-down since everyone was ducking and covering under their desks in the 60s. Reach out and give them a call. Appreciate them – some of us never had ‘em.

National Hug Your Dog Day

Not to be confused with Hug Your Hound Day (that’s in September), the long tradition of National Hug Your Dog Day stretches all the way back to… yesterday, I guess. I mean, this showed up online last summer when I began research for this project, but has anyone actually heard of this day before now? No. They have not.

There are a weird amount of days during the year in which we are supposed to acknowledge our canine friends with some love. I say ‘weird’ because that should be an every-day occurrence. Heck, we’ve even got a day just for bulldogs coming up on the 21st, so these dogs are going to get downright sick of our love and attention before the month is up. I joke, of course. Dogs – in particular bulldogs – do not get sick of love and attention, which is one reason we love them so much. For almost four weeks now these three have spent just about 24 hours of every day in our company, and they don’t seem to mind.

Neither do we. We gave our dogs their due, then threw in an extra hug for good measure. They have been great company during this spell of weirdness, and we are grateful for having them around. I suspect when this day rolls around next year we will forget about Hug Your Dog Day (unless we check our social media on-this-day link), but our dogs will be hugged nonetheless. After all, they work so tirelessly for us.

Global Work From Home Day

And if you were looking for a delightful little chuckle of irony to brighten your April 10 in this particular year, look no further. As stated in the previous (and much more fun) entry, we have both been working from home for a while – four weeks this Tuesday for me, and a full three weeks for Jodie, thanks to spring break. Working from home is a radical shift for both of us – Jodie because she is deprived the experience of truly watching her students grow and learn, and me because I don’t have to poop in a stall. Also, the 2-ply quilted TP is nicer than the sandpaper they supply at work. That’s really where most of the advantages lie: in pooping.

Setting up the dual office situation around here has been challenging. We have only one office with a desktop PC, and since I have to be remotely connected to my office at all times I get dibs on it. Also, the laptop is our only PC with a mic and camera, so that fits Jodie’s needs better. Unfortunately she is relegated to operating the thing at the dining room table, which may soon become unworkable if we begin the massive jigsaw puzzle that’s waiting for us.

So adjustments have to be made. But we can both wake up five minutes before work starts, let the dogs out, start coffee, and make it to work on time. I have never been so well-rested in my life. It’s like all we needed was for the world to shut the hell down for a little while so we could get caught up on sleep.

Jodie will be working from home until summer, not returning to her school to teach until September. As soon as that mean ol’ curve gets flattened a little, I expect I’ll be called back to my hour-long bus trip (each way), my grey-beige cubicle, and my crappy bathroom options. But until then, we will celebrate the ever-loving fuck out of this day, as long as the greatness of it lasts.

National Public Health Week

Wow, more irony today, given that we are all presently obsessed with public health right now. To celebrate this week, stay the fuck home. There is literally nothing better you can do, unless you’re one of those front-line public health workers, all of whom should be getting massive raises when all this is done.

I will allow for a slight exception to our no-politics rule just this once, given that it is in the spirit of this particular celebration. Here in Alberta, our doctors were handed a pay cut that amounted to about 30% of lost income right before this fecal matter made complete contact with the fan blades. Think of that. 30%. Think of the young physicians who are probably dragging a boulder of student debt behind them, and have perhaps just invested in a home or a car. Now they have to scrape nearly a third of their income out of their budget.

Then the pandemic hit, and no relief was given. Our doctors have actually filed suit against the government – this is the fight they have to undertake for basic respect while they deal with the public calling them heroes for risking their lives as the rest of us hide out with our families. Our provincial government is hot garbage right now, and when all this is over I won’t blame any of our doctors if they opt for a sunnier environment where their dedication is recognized by the people in charge. And don’t even get me started on how they’re treating our nurses.

That’s all. No more politics. Thank you to everyone charged with maintaining our public health, and thank you to every corner of Canada that still cherishes our public health system and fights to keep it strong. Now stay the hell home everyone – if you can.

Scottish-American Heritage Month

Having already paid tribute to my Scottish heritage earlier this week for National Tartan Day, I feel I am in good shape for this month. I’m not particularly proud to have Scottish roots, nor am I proud that my grandfather was born in Brooklyn, giving me American roots as well. I didn’t do anything to achieve either of these things so pride doesn’t make sense. I’m happy to share both nationalities in my lineage. Good enough?

I’m told the Scots are as stingy with money as the Jews allegedly are, which makes any hope of gregariousness pretty much nil for me. Except I’m a notoriously great tipper, and as generous as I’m able to be most of the time, so perhaps those stereotypes are garbage. The Scots are big drinkers I’m told (and there’s some Irish and Polish muddling about in my blood too, so watch out), but I’m really not. What nationality prefers smoking herb to downing booze? Jamaican? Am I part Jamaican?

This celebration probably shouldn’t be a celebration of which cookie-cutter stereotypes I fit into. I have indulged my Scottish side more this year than ever before, with our true haggis-n-whisky party on Robbie Burns Night. And my American side always gets lots of love from the culture I consume. I hope all Scottish Yanks and Yankee Scots out there take some time this month to appreciate the awesomeness of who they are. It’s a pretty good mix.

Minus the haggis.

National Poetry Month

I love discovering that we have both been celebrating something calendar-appropriate without even knowing it. National Poetry Month might have slipped past my radar, but Jodie happens to be stanza-deep in the poetry unit she’s teaching her students. Those lucky kids get to learn about the haiku, the quatrain, the subtle groove of iambic rhythm, and so on. Most kids hated learning about poetry, but I loved it. The challenge of sculpting a thought into such a rigid format was a welcome challenge of wordsmithery to me.

Of course, that’s not the true essence of poetry, merely the parameters of the medium. Once you sink into words so beautiful they cause your mind to quiver and quake, you have uncovered the language’s hidden magic. Good poetry, whether or not it conforms to a specific style or format, is absolute music. Whether your jam is Keats, Browning or cummings, once you’ve found what moves you, then you have uncovered a fast-track to cerebral bliss.

My poetry intake is oddly up this month, thanks to Sir Patrick Stewart, who has taken to reciting Shakespeare’s sonnets on Facebook, one per day. His voice may not carry the same smooth thunder from his younger, Captaining days, but he pours the Bard’s words into the camera like harmonious molasses, shining light from each syllable and leaving no doubt to the meaning and intent behind each piece. I can think of absolutely no better way to enjoy some poetry this month than to drink a few of these performances in. And they’re all free. Damn, this world is better with him in it. And so much better when you can wash it all back with some beautiful poetry.

National Gin & Tonic Day

We are a couple days late on this one, but due to obvious restrictions on everyone’s mobility it didn’t seem wise to venture into the world to pick up the ingredients we were lacking. Specifically, the gin and the tonic. We had the ice and limes. But yesterday was supply run day, and we snared some of each. Some celebrations we will let pass us by (it was Be Kind To Spiders Week, but fuck those little verminous shits). Some will slip past us much to our displeasure (never did get around to Moscow Mule Day). But the beloved G&T will not be tossed aside.

Jodie has kept gin from her life for the most part. She isn’t a fan. Besides, it was the one alcoholic libation that led her dad into a bout of extreme sickness and hangover, so it never held much appeal for her. I went through a brief gin phase when I was still learning how to consume hard alcohol without making a scrunched-up face, but haven’t had a taste of it in decades. No particular reason – I just haven’t gotten around to it. Yesterday that changed.

National Craft Distillery Day shows up on May 22, and if the world is back in service by then we plan to visit our city’s first craft distillery for a tour and a sampling. But that might not be possible, so this may be our only gin-devoted day of the year. Gin gets its heft from juniper berries, but there are a million ways to twist and twirl those berries into something magical. Tonic water is similar to the soda water we drink on a regular basis, but with the addition of quinine, a medication commonly used to treat malaria. Interesting factoid – shining an ultraviolet light on a bottle of tonic water will cause it to glow, thanks to the quinine inside. I’m kind of sorry we didn’t have one.

So we didn’t get malaria, and we did get a blast of delicious refreshment. I’m sorry to say I still enjoy the hell out of gin, and I think it will work its way into my refreshment routine going forward. I’m doing everything in my power not to become an alcoholic or even more of a sugar-junkie through this project, but the calendar is stacked against me.

Oh well.

Good Friday

Yes, it was Good Friday yesterday, and no, we didn’t celebrate it. Jodie is a lapsed Catholic and I, as a Jew (by heritage, not so much by religion), am kind of the villain in the history of this day, so I kept my mouth shut.

I did have a question though. Why, if this is a tribute to the day Jesus was nailed to some wood and left to die, is this considered “Good” Friday? It wasn’t a particularly bullish day for Jesus. Is it weird twisting of “God” Friday? That doesn’t seem right either.

Thankfully, Google exists and we no longer have to wonder about much of anything anymore. The Good in Good Friday refers to a different meaning of “good” – think “holy” or “pious” or “righteous”. It’s a holy day for Christians, in the same way the “good book” is their holiest of tomes. So that’s it – a seldom-used definition of the adjective creates a smidgen of confusion to those of us who aren’t good – at least in the pious sense. But it’s still a good day for us heathens, and has always been, because it’s a day off.

A day off of working from home, but a day off nonetheless, and we appreciate it.

Today we get rolling with a whole heap of fun parties:

  • National Barbershop Quartet Day. We’ll be listening to some hardcore ‘shop tunes today.
  • National Cheese Fondue Day. Will we half-ass this one? Hell no – we put in an order with a local restaurant for a feast of cheese and chocolate fondue later on. Hell yes.
  • National Eight Track Day. I don’t have an 8-track player laying about, but we will listen to some tunes from the 8-track era and do a bit of learning about this antiquated technology that somehow my family never owned.
  • National Pet Day. Cool. Our dogs get more hugs.
  • National Submarine Day. Can’t hitch a ride in one, but we can eat one of the sandwich types for lunch.
  • National Poutine Day. But we just did this on March 5! How can there be another? We’ll look into that (I guess), but who cares? More poutine!
  • National Louie Louie Day. One of the most fascinating songs in rock’s history gets its own day. Be careful if you sing along incorrectly – you might end up on an FBI watch-list.