Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Some days it feels as though the vast expanse of our imaginations serve only to reflect the peaks of our optimism or the depths of our depravity. And like a half-blind, three-quarters-drunk neophyte trying to figure out how to calibrate his personal sextant, we perilously claw through our daily diversions to figure out which one stands in the spotlight. Yesterday we sought to provide closure to cluelessness and answers to the unanswerable, all wrapped up in a handful of goofy (if sometimes unfulfilled) celebrations, but alas it was one of those days into which real life stuck its busy proboscis. As such, a couple of our more anticipated dives into the pool of revelry had to be postponed. Fortunately, we still had these:

National Upsy Daisy Day

I’m going to quote directly from nationaldaycalendar.com, the most info-packed and content-rich online source I used from this project. This day “is set aside to encourage you to face the day positively and to get up ‘gloriously, gratefully and gleefully’ each morning.”

Do you see my frustration here? Not that I disagree with the spirit of the day created by Stephanie West Allen in 2003, who aims to make a positive attitude “part of the Upsy Daisy Day way.” It’s just that there are only so many ways to spin “slap a smile on your face” concepts, and we seem to get multiple celebrations like this every week.

I suppose one interpretation of this would be to focus specifically on those first few minutes of every day, and to steer them toward a positive place in hopes that the rest of the day will fall into line. Well, here’s my bombshell surprise for the day: Ever since National Running Day last Wednesday, I have been popping straight down to the treadmill every morning. Well, not *every* morning – I let the weekend slide. But for five consecutive workdays now I have invested 20 minutes into getting some cardio, which is a longer stretch of exercise for me since… I don’t know, my early 30s?

Starting each work day with a brisk walk or run has certainly impacted my mornings. I have more energy and focus, and don’t get quite as frustrated by the repetitive perils of dreary office-drone work. Is this the upsy daisy epiphany I was meant to have? I’m going to say yes, because to suggest otherwise would simply be yet another exercise in generic positivity. And we’ve got enough of that this year. So perk up everyone, and start your day with a bit of heavy breathing and sweating. And if that means you have to leave your bed to get that (and it might not), then take part the upsy daisy way.

World Oceans Day

The proposal to the 1992 Earth Summit to hold an annual World Oceans Day came from Canada, so that’s a little feather of pride we can stick into our hats, or, if we’re not wearing hats, our hair. It took ten years for the day to come together, I guess because life moved more slowly in the 90s. The UN recognized the day in 2008, and here we are, a day for everyone to learn a bit more about the oceans on our planet and what we need to do to preserve them.

World Oceans Day’s official website offers a plethora of things to do. They’ve got links to online documentaries and TED talks. They’ve got a petition you can sign to lend your support to their 30×30 campaign, to save 30% of the planet by 2030. There are scads of teaching material, links to online ocean-related artwork, and even some cool science experiments you can do to learn more about oceans. Given that we had work yesterday and puppy class in the evening, we didn’t get a chance to do any of those.

But this day shan’t go to waste. If nothing else, let’s learn something.

First of all – and really, one of the biggest reasons we should all give a shit about our oceans – 94% of the world’s animal life exists within those waters. We have also only explored under 5% of it, so a lot of mystery still lurks down there. There are also treasures beyond compare beneath the waves. More than 1,000 shipwrecks are sitting off the Florida Keys alone, so if you fancy yourself a treasure hunter you may want to grab some scuba gear and get busy. Also, up to 80% of the oxygen we breathe is produced by the ocean, so if we don’t pay attention to how we’re treating that water, we’re really inviting some horrific consequences on human and other land-lubbing life.

So we all know the value of the ocean, and we also know there is at least one gigantic island of trash plopped in the middle of the Pacific, wreaking who knows what kind of damage upon the nearby ecosystem. I’m going to recommend everyone pop over to the link above and sign the petition. I don’t know if it will have any effect – I tend to be quite skeptical of online petitions – but it doesn’t hurt. And if you have the ability to take some more visceral action where you live, do it. We won’t get another shot at saving these oceans.

Healthcare Executives Appreciation Week

This one will be quick and easy. I think as a society we are all happy to drop what we’re doing and provide some quality appreciation to those poor, oft-neglected executives who get so little love, yet provide so much tireless and thankless work to the rest of us. Really… shame on us for not appreciating our healthcare executives more. They ask for almost nothing, apart from tremendous benefit plans, golden retirement packages and more pay in a year than most of us will see in a decade.

We have government-run healthcare in this country, which deprives us of the joyous experience of knowing there are men (and maybe a few women, if it’s allowed) buying Armani suits and fancy yachts all so you and I can spend $1500 to set a broken finger. If only we’d provide these folks with the opportunity to pay even fewer taxes, I’m sure the benefits from that would no doubt “trickle down” to the rest of us. Hey, someone should write that down. That idea has legs.

Okay, sarcasm aside, my American friends really need to take a good long look at their healthcare executives, and appreciate just how much they are profiting off of the very basic human right of health care. You know, that basic human right that is guaranteed by every other industrialized nation on the planet. Appreciate these people for what they truly are, and at what price they provide basic care to you. Then do what you can to change the system so that it benefits you, not them. No politics in this project… but there is an election coming up in November. Just sayin’.

National Headache Awareness Week

I suppose this is as good a week as any to remember that headaches exist. We all get them, and hopefully something as simple as a pill will take care of the problem most of the time. I’ve noticed that Jodie and I have both woken up with headaches more often than usual lately, which might mean some poisonous gas is seeping into our home (which is possible – we have angered Elton, the squirrel who lives in our shed, so maybe he’s exacting revenge), or perhaps we just need to buy new pillows.

Did you know that women are three times more likely to experience migraines than men? Also, as many as 50% of people who suffer from migraines don’t even know they are migraines. Feeling a sinus headache? Chances are it’s either a migraine or a tension headache. There’s no such thing as a ‘sinus headache’. Foods that can cause headaches are often chock-full of nitrates or MSG or sugar. Hot dogs are a big one, so is westernized Chinese food. Some folks are even sensitive to tyramine, which shows up naturally in bananas, avocados, aged cheeses, onions, citrus fruits and nuts.

Have you ever heard of a rebound headache? That’s a headache you’ll get if you take too many pills for your headaches. So how’s that for the body kicking itself in the nuts, so to speak? If you fast, that can bring on a headache, so that’s just one more reason not to. And if you suffer from migraines, you may wish to blame your parents – that is, if you’re the type of weirdo who blames their parents for everything in their DNA. Like their parents just sat down and hand-picked the crappy genes to pass on to you.

If you’re getting a brain-freeze, which is a headache caused by quick ingestion of ice cream or slurpee, press your tongue to the roof of your mouth. Sometimes that works for me. Sometimes it doesn’t. If your headache is hangover-induced, drink lots of water, not coffee. And if you’re not sure why you have a headache, it’s most likely tension from your shoulders and neck. Get a massage or maybe lie down.

Headaches are a really common thing, and sometimes a bit of relaxation is the best cure. Or, you could just pop a pill and give those underfed, underloved health care executives a bit more pocket change. It’s up to you.

Teacher Thank You Week

Normally this would be the week you’d want to head out and buy the Starbucks gift card or sappy Hallmark card for your kid’s teacher, to let them know how much you appreciate their hard work in dealing with your monstrous brood over the last ten months. But this year there will be no kids showing up with gifts for their teachers (or sometimes for their teacher’s husbands if they have a Starbucks right in their office building). And honestly, teachers are okay without the goodies.

But a thank you is another matter. Over the last few months of a disturbingly weird school year, your teacher has most likely bent their brains in new and inventive ways to try to provide your kid with a learning experience wherein everyone involved may still be in their pajamas. It has been an uphill fight, in some cases just in getting these older teachers to work with technology that might have scared them before all of this. And some teachers have shined, creating new videos for their kids, keeping in close contact with them as questions arise, and even engaging with them one-on-one when they need it. Others have not. Still others, like gym teachers for example, haven’t had much they can do.

So drop an email to your kid’s teacher or teachers if you feel they have gone above and beyond to continue delivering knowledge and education through all this. If you’re old enough, you should be doing that yourself. Teachers love that shit, even more than Starbucks cards and homemade ashtrays. Alternately, send them some cash through e-transfer to their email. Or directly to their husbands if you’d rather.

Today we tread into deeper, more intense and focussed water, with all this goodness awaiting us like happy flotsam:

  • National Donald Duck Day. Don doesn’t get a lot of love. Also, did he ever let anyone – even Daisy – call him Don?
  • National Strawberry Rhubarb Pie Day. If we’re lucky enough to find some, we’ll be lucky enough to eat some.
  • National Earl Day. A day to give some love to folks named Earl, because that’s necessary. We don’t know a lot of Earls, but we’ll do our best.
  • Call Your Doctor Day. I will literally call my doctor, which I have to do anyway. How convenient!
  • World Pet Memorial Day. We’ll give some love to our long lost pets.
  • Writer’s Rights Day. This happened once in 1992, but we’ll see if the tradition has been carried onward.

Monday, June 8, 2020

Much like the unending flow of weirdness 2020 has been delivering, an ever-flowing cascade of rain kept us barricaded indoors yesterday. This worked out well, as we had only indoor celebrations to tend to. It didn’t work out well for my hammock, which has been used only once so far this year, and is in need of some love. But yesterday wasn’t about laying prone beneath a boisterous sun, nor was it about tuning our clocks to the rhythms of nature. It was, let’s be honest here, pretty much about the food. With Covid having ravaged our world for much of this year, all we’re left with some days is the eating. But damn, we love the eating.

National Oklahoma Day

And at last we get to the Land of the Red Man… wait, let’s use the other official slogan… to the Sooner State. The one state whose name evokes memories of vintage musical theatre. The state with a weird rectangular panhandle that keeps Texas from having to make physical contact with Colorado or Kansas (or is it the other way around?). The state with the cutest nickname for its residents (Okies). The… wait a second. I have to learn why they call this the Sooner State.

Apparently it refers to the white folks who swooped in and staked their land claims before the official opening date for the territory. Well, that’s one piece of trivia I’ve wrestled to the ground today.

The name comes from a Choctaw term that literally translates as ‘Red People’. No, it’s not racist; this was a term Choctaw folks used to refer to all American Indians. The part that nudges up my eyebrows is that the name was suggested by Chief Allen Wright as he was negotiating a treaty with the federal government. He envisioned the region being an all-Native-American state. That certainly didn’t happen. Allow me to pause to reflect on how little that surprises me.

Some great folks have entered our world within the borders of Oklahoma, only to go on to do awesome things. People like Kristin Chenoweth from Broken Arrow, Bill Hader from Tulsa, Chet Baker from Yale, director Blake Edwards from Tulsa, J.J. Cale from Oklahoma City, James Garner from Norman, first lady of rockabilly Wanda Jackson from Maud, Ron (and Clint) Howard from Duncan, Leon Russell from Lawton, Rue McClanahan from Healdton, Chuck Norris from Ryan, and Tony Randall from Tulsa. That’s a fine batch of Okies.

In researching the cuisine of Oklahoma I learned that chicken-fried steak is a beloved classic there. I’ve never actually tasted this dish, which is just tenderized steak, breaded and fried. That’s fine, it’s really just wiener schnitzel with steak instead of a veal or pork cutlet, right? Also, topped with a gravy that we made using bacon fat. So it isn’t a health food, but whatever – it was delicious, though it left me feeling like I needed more vegetables. Another great state, another great meal.

National Chocolate Ice Cream Day

In 1775, an Italian doctor named Filippo Baldini felt it would be prudent to prescribe chocolate ice cream as a cure for gout and scurvy, among other things. I’m not sure how long his patients lived, but it must have been great having Dr. Baldini as your family physician.

Chocolate has always been one of the most popular ice cream flavours, dating back to the late 1700s when ice cream began to enter into American culture. At first it was a treat for the rich folks, but eventually technology leveled the ice cream eating field. But if we go back a little further, ice cream was an extension of frozen drinks (which were invented first). As such, coffee and tea flavours were among the first flavours of ice cream. Chocolate, which was served as a hot drink in Europe at the time, was also ported over to the ice cream world, long before vanilla.

There wasn’t much we could do to celebrate this day except to simply celebrate it. We had some Rocky Road left over from last week, and that works with a chocolate ice cream base. But of course we had the actual stuff, because we are purists. At least whenever we can be. But alas, the chocolate ice cream betrayed us with a thick coating of freezer burn, so Rocky Road was our only… road, so to speak. We have several more ice cream celebrations coming up over the next 2-3 months, so we are anticipating a terrific and delicious summer.

National VCR Day

What an utterly strange day to celebrate in 2020. Where at one time in my childhood we owned about 10 VCRs in our house, we now own one. I think. It’s not connected to a TV and I honestly don’t know if it works. If it does, we’ve got a bevy of old Disney movies on tape, and I might even have some old episodes of SNL laying around somewhere. Given that I have the SNL app on my phone and our subscription to Disney+ has rendered all of that stuff useless, we didn’t feel we needed to plug one in to celebrate this day.

Video tape is, much like Shreddies, Eggo Frozen Waffles and Sting, a product of the 1950s. In 1956 the Ampex VRX-1000 hit the market, opening up possibilities for networks to record their own creations, and to work in a medium different from live performance. The first at-home recorder was the Telcan, produced in the UK in 1963. It was a few steps down from the tape players we grew up with. First, it cost the equivalent of about $2000 in modern Canadian dollars. Second, it came as a kit you’d have to build, and we’re not talking IKEA-type construction here; it was tricky. Third, it only recorded about 20 minutes of black & white footage.

There were home recorders available throughout the 60s, mostly looking like large reel-to-reel machines. There wasn’t anything that was actually called a videocassette until 1972. The technology exploded in popularity in 1975, and by the end of the decade there were three formats available. Soon there were only two. Betamax used smaller cassette tapes, recorded in better quality, and were better overall machines. They might have won the battle for the soul of VCR technology, except that Sony wouldn’t let anyone else make the players. JVC’s VHS technology was leased out for any competitor to manufacture, which led to more VHS machines on the market, and the ultimate judge of technology survival – the movie rental industry – threw its weight behind VHS technology.

My dad swore by Beta, and only begrudgingly bought a couple of VHS machines for rental purposes. But once DVD became the new standard in the late 1990s, no one wanted their VCRs anymore. There was simply no point, except to honour someone’s collection of tapes. We never looked back, and we likely never will. Even our DVD player is collecting dust now. I think if anything, that’s what we need to celebrate: the fact that we are no longer dependent on VCR technology. That is a big win for society.

Canadian Homebrew Day

The first ever Canadian Homebrew Day was held in 2019, and the date was meant to be honoured on the first Saturday in June going forward. Then they realized that the first Saturday in June this year was going to be June 6, which deserves solemn respect and temperance as the anniversary of D-Day. So yesterday was it: a day to gather and taste the home-brewed efforts of our fellow Canucks. There were virtual events all over the place, including a Calgary homebrewer who was going to make a cream ale on a live Zoom call.

Neat. Unfortunately, we don’t know anyone who crafts their own basement hooch, nor do we possess the equipment to do it ourselves, so watching the call could provide no practical advice. Or really, the desire to craft our own beer. I love beer, but I love other beverages more. Also, the beer that I love is quite varied, so I’m happy popping over to one of our well-stocked retail establishments and just buying the damn stuff I want to drink. I enjoy eating elaborate meals that I cook; I really don’t care about creating something to drink too.

So instead I enjoyed a can of local brewery Alley Kat’s Main Squeeze Grapefruit Ale, which is ideal more for a summer than the 7-degree rainfest we had all day yesterday. It’s refreshing and dangerously easy to drink. Perhaps over the next year we’ll get to know someone who has undertaken this hobby and we can dive into this day full-on. Maybe I’ll even write about it. More likely I’ll be too drunk to write about it, and that’s okay too.

Cancer Survivors Day

We have, as most everyone on this planet has, a network of cancer survivors who are very near to our hearts. I have an aunt who dodged its blade, and friends who have come disturbingly close to slipping off this mortal plane by cancer’s roughshod shove. We are so deeply grateful to still have all of these people in our lives, and we reached out to a few yesterday to let them know that.

Cancer is not a death sentence. The statistics for surviving some cancers are phenomenal: over 90% if it’s your thyroid or your balls that are stricken. For others it’s not so good: only about 13% of esophagus cancer patients and about 7% of pancreas cancer patients make it through the next five years, according to stats published by the Cancer Society in British Columbia.

The key, as I’ve learned from very powerful second-hand experience, is to act as soon as you have even a maybe diagnosis. My dad had a concerned furrowed brow from his doctor, followed by a written recommendation to get a biopsy on his prostate. That sounded gross and painful to him I guess, which is why I found out about this diagnosis on the paperwork that was left to me after the cancer got him. No one wants to be a cancer survivor, but the alternative the universe presents may be far more grim.

But yesterday was meant to be a celebration, and I do celebrate these people very day – literally every time one of them pops into my Facebook or Instagram feed I smile a little, just glad that they’re still around. If you missed this day, reach out to your people. And if you are one of these people, give yourself a hug and know there are a lot of folks who are damn glad you’re here.

Another work-week, another batch of weirdness to tend to:

  • National Name Your Poison Day. A day to drink anything we want? Sounds like a time to invent a new drink. Prepare to be grossed out.
  • National Best Friends Day. Since we are each other’s best friends we’ll just hang out together today. Is that cheesy as fuck? It sure is.
  • National Upsy Daisy Day. This is another day to keep a positive attitude. So we’ll haul that old chestnut out for another roast.
  • World Oceans Day. Well, since all of our favourite oceans are world oceans I guess that’s what we’ll celebrate today.
  • National Gingerbread Day. We haven’t forgotten. Just need to get supplies.