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.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

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

National Thesaurus Day

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

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

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

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

National Use Your Gift Card Day

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

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

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

National Winnie The Pooh Day

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

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

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

National Michigan Day

“Si quaeris peninsulam amoenam circumspice.”

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

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

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

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

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

Patras Carnival

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

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

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

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