Senses of Living® Holidays

July 2003
© 2003 by Bret S. Beall

July is upon us, and in the northern hemisphere, we have the dog days of summer (actually, astronomically speaking, the southern hemisphere also has the dog days, but it’s winter there). I am glad that I am a water person. Even though I enjoy the effects of water year round, its refreshment is particularly pronounced during the heat of summer.

I spend lots of time “tasting” water (straight from the tap, or with brewed tea, or coffee, or any of a variety of other liquids that I consume by the gallon), lots of time “feeling” water (long showers, deliberate face-washing, routine dish-scrubbing), and lots of time “seeing” and “smelling” water (particularly when I water my huge collection of plants, but also because I live near Lake Michigan). But, only in the last two years have I been able to “hear” water regularly, though I’ve wanted to do this for a long time.

I enjoy the sounds of water. Rain tapping on the roof or window late at night will surely lull me to sleep. Tapes and CDs of babbling brooks, crashing waves, more falling rain and playful splashes have alternately soothed and exhilarated me. I even found a “sound” machine at a thrift store to create the “white noise” of crashing waves late at night.

Then, a new adventure began during a weekend trip to the resort community of Saugatuck (Southwestern Michigan is a great vacation venue [lots of water]; contact me for more information since, as you know, I’m also a travel planner). As my friend and I strolled through the streets, we saw in a shop window something that looked like the “fog” or “smoke” created by dropping dry ice into water. Yet, it just kept going and going, without any decrease in production. We checked with the store owner, and learned that the effect was created using a little device called a “fogger,” which we could purchase from him for $54. We thanked him for his generous information, and I vowed to track this device down.

A web search from my computer (I think I was using hotbot.com in those days, though I may have graduated to google by then) revealed many sources for “foggers.” I checked many of the websites, but was most intrigued by a company called Fountain Mountain (www.fountainmountain.com). They have pre-made fountains in every style and shape (and price) imaginable, but they also have just the pumps for those of us adventurous enough and creative enough (and frugal enough) to build our own fountains.

After identifying what I wanted, I did some comparison shopping at various garden centers here in Chicago, and found not only extremely expensive choices, but also extraordinarily tacky/ugly options. I raced home and put in my order for two pumps (they had a 2 for 1 sale) and one fogger, which brought my total expenditure to less than what I might have paid for only a fogger at that shop in Saugatuck. I don’t recall how quickly the pumps arrived, except that it was FAST!

I had seen home fountains set up on TV, and had been assured it was easy, but was it really? The answer is an enthusiastic ”Yes!” I selected a decorative, waterproof ceramic Chinese urn that was already adorning my master bedroom. I put one of the pumps into the urn. I added some decorative quartzite rock I had on hand (for flower pots … I consult on indoor gardening, remember) to cover the pump except for the output tube. I returned the urn to its home in my bedroom, added water to cover the rock and most of the output tube, and plugged in the pump …Voila! I had an indoor fountain in my bedroom!

I have since learned several things: The urn’s deep bowl shape creates an interesting echo that is dependent on the level of the water. The level of the water also dictates whether the resulting sound is a splash or a gurgle. The urn turned out to be oh-so-slightly porous, so I have bacteria growing within the walls. Algae will grow in the water, and the pump needs to be cleaned periodically (it’s very easy, and it won’t hurt to wash the stones, too). You can drastically change the appearance of the fountain by changing the type of rock being used; I found a bag of black, polished river rock at a yard sale for $2, and must admit that it fits the overall ambience of my bedroom better (and offers even more of the “splash” sound that I enjoy). I also learned that when some people hear splashing water, they feel the need to run to the restroom.

I have learned other things about the health benefits of indoor fountains. I learned that splashing water creates ozone, which, in the context of splashing water in the home environment, removes negative ions that can increase the level of oxidation of body cells. At the same time, the ozone reduces a variety of airborne contaminants and their odors (cooking, smoke, pet aromas, even outgassing of formaldehyde and other chemicals derived from construction and paint in your home, etc.). Then there is the calming effect that the actual sound of dancing water has (unless you are one of those people who must dash to the restroom); the mindful listening to gently running water will actually lower your heart rate and blood pressure, decreasing stress automatically. Finally, much like the sound machine I mentioned above, the sound of the indoor fountain also masks other sounds in my building and outdoors, creating a virtual sound “cocoon” in my bedroom. I sleep like a baby, and awake refreshed daily.

I also learned that, while the fogger is a really cool device, I don’t use it that much. I have it set up in a truly elegant shallow glass bowl ($3 at a yard sale) in my dining room, on a side table. I have added some small rocks to obscure the device in the center of the bowl. When water is added, the fogging effect is truly spectacular. I use it primarily when I have dinner parties, and it always creates conversation. Unfortunately, it also creates considerable condensation on the side table and on the floor below the table. I have no doubt that my problems would be alleviated if I moved it to a different container, but I don’t want to.

So, go out and get a fountain/pump or two or three. Visit www.fountainmountain.com, or any other vendor that catches your fancy. Create your own fountain, or purchase a pre-made fountain. The choice is yours (and isn’t that what a good life is all about?).

Let’s now look at our July “holiday” celebrations:

Anti-Boredom Month: If you set up your own fountain, you will alleviate boredom. Seriously, though, we all need to take a moment to ask ourselves WHY we might be bored. Virtually every single time, the answer is that we are in a rut. By mindfully working to exit that rut, we can escape boredom. However, external help is often needed to exit those ruts. PLEASE visit http://www.boringinstitute.com/recentevents/17antiboredom.html to learn more about the effects of boredom on our lives and health.

Baked Beans Month: I love baked beans. Really, I do. But, I think commemorating this culinary gem during the summer when we should NOT be turning on the oven is silly. I shall celebrate Baked Beans Month during the winter. So there!

Blueberries Month: Not only are blueberries delicious and convenient, they are nutritional powerhouses, bordering on miracle foods, with high levels of antioxidants that are believed to be good for heart health, cancer and even Alzheimer’s Disease. Incorporate blueberries into the unconventional (yet fantastic) fruit salad I present in July’s Simple! Sensible! Sensational!® Recipes column.

Fireworks Safety Month (June thru July 4th): I am going to make my first-ever public plea: please leave fireworks to professionals. You do NOT need to make things go boom in your own backyards. Every year people have fingers blown off, eyes destroyed, eardrums shattered, and lives are lost due to fires caused by fireworks.

Hemochromatosis Screening Awareness Month: This brings attention to a poorly-known disease. Rather than try to explain it, I would prefer to direct you to MedLine’s excellent page (part of the NIH, your tax dollars at work), http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/hemochromatosis.html; you could also visit either the American Hemochromatosis Society, http://www.americanhs.org/, though their site is really difficult to navigate, or The Hemochromatosis Foundation, http://www.hemochromatosis.org/ (not updated since April 2001).

Hitchhiking Month: All I could find was a single phone number referring me to an individual who could explain Hitchhiking Month. In this day and age, with wackos around every corner (even in your own office), please, please, PLEASE try to not hitchhike.

Hot Dog Month: Sorry, but I think most hotdogs are insipid. Give me the best of the other wurst.

Ice Cream Month: Vanilla is the single most popular flavor of ice cream, but do you have any idea how many of the people who cite vanilla as their favorite are doing so because they have no taste rather than because they love the taste of real vanilla? Ok, that was a snobbish thing to write, but it’s true. With obesity representing a crisis in America, don’t give up ice cream, but enjoy really good quality ice cream in small amounts … really get in there and TASTE it rather than merely consuming it.

Purposeful Parenting Month: If all parents went about their charges with purpose and mindfulness, our next generation would be perfect. Rearing the next generation is the single most important task on the planet, yet I am amazed by how frivolously many parents approach it. I found some cool information at http://www.onlineorganizing.com/Calendar_Purposeful_Parenting.htm which I hope you’ll visit. Most importantly, parents, please take care of yourselves. If you aren’t operating at top efficiency, then you aren’t helping anyone else, particularly your children. Trust me!

Recreation and Parks Month: As I’ve said in previous months for previous holidays, I don’t see a reason to have a single month to recognize parks and recreation, but we have one. Visit http://www.nrpa.org/ for more information.

This month, we have three countries celebrating independence, or a form of it: July 1 (Canada’s first government independent of Great Britain, 1867), July 4 (United States, when the declaration of independence was ratified, 1776) and July 14 (France … Bastille Day, the start of the four-year French Revolution, 1789). Again, I urge everyone that independence and freedom are not to be taken lightly. In honor of American Independence Day, I quote Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers and one of many architects of what may be called history’s greatest experiment, America: “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

July 3: Festival of Ceredwen: Ceredwen is an ancient Celtic Welsh goddess of creativity, knowledge, fertility and luck; I think we all could use some of these things. She is also a goddess of the harvest, reminding us that different crops are harvested throughout the year, and it is best to eat local foods when they are in season, rather than important products out of season. Finally, Ceredwen is also the name of one of my favorite Celtic bands; PLEASE buy their music at http://www.realmusic.com/a_cered.htm.

July 5: Workaholics Day: I don’t know the real meaning of this, except that I hope it is meant to call attention to the health hazard known as workaholism. I used to be one of those people. I know the toll workaholism can have. If you have this problem, seek professional help immediately.

July 6: National Fried Chicken Day: Wow! I LOVE fried chicken. Sure, fried food increases saturated fats, and chicken contains cholesterol, and frying in unsaturated olive oil creates carcinogenic trans-fatty acids, and some have questioned the value of canola oil, but as long as you don’t regard this stuff as a daily staple and instead consider it as an occasional treat, include it as part of your dietary repertoire.

July 7: National Strawberry Sundae Day: it IS National Ice Cream Month, so why not enjoy a strawberry sundae today? And tomorrow? And the next day? But only with REAL strawberries!

July 8: Video Games Day: I do NOT want to hear any crap argument that video games enhance eye hand coordination. They may, but they also create zombies out of otherwise high potential children. I have seen children glued to their joysticks or whatever when they could have been out playing in the sunshine, or painting, or making music, or ANYTHING but vegetating in front of the TV. Someday I’ll share my true feelings about video games.

July 9: National Sugar Cookie Day: My late mother made the BEST crisp and tender sugar cookies, but this is yet another oven-friendly holiday that I will celebrate during the winter.

July 10: Clerihew Day: Fans of these four-line poems of mixed meter and an AABB (not ABBA) rhyming pattern should visit: http://www.smart.net/~tak/clerihew.html.

July 11: National Cheer Up The Lonely Day: Don’t go out of your way to seek lonely people, and don’t label them as such. Work from the assumption that EVERYONE is lonely, and that EVERYONE needs cheering up.

July 12: National Pecan Pie Day: see July 9 for commentary

July 14: National Nude Day: OK, so I think the world would be a better place if we all were more comfortable with our bodies. So sue me.

July 15: National Tapioca Pudding Day: Tapioca is an edible starch derived from the roots of cassava/yucca (different from yucca). I use yuca regularly as a potato substitute (delicious with the garlicky-limey mojo sauce on it), but I’ve never been a big fan of tapioca in or out of pudding. But, if you like it, eat your heart out! I had thought about trying to tie this into last month’s Kitchen Gardening column for Senses of Living®, but I rarely find viable yuca tubers in markets, so I wouldn’t want to send you on wild yuca chase. And bubble tea? Thanks, but no thanks.

July 15: Respect Canada Day: Canada seems to get no respect, and that annoys me. Canada is one of the most beautiful countries I have visited, the people are SO friendly, the cuisines are as delicious and varied as America’s, and the American dollar is very strong. I vacation in Canada as often as I can (in fact, the head of British Columbia’s Department of Tourism once knew me by name!), and encourage you to do the same (FYI, Canadian wines are greatly improving in quality ... get out and try some!).

July 17: National Peach Ice Cream Day: Fresh peach ice cream is such a treat! As I suggested for my previous comments for National Ice Cream Month, a little bit will do you!

July 18: National Ice Cream Day: see comments for July 17.

July 18: National Caviar Day: There’s something really funky about having National Caviar Day coinciding with National Ice Cream Day. In my mind, ice cream might be the ONLY thing that isn’t enhanced by caviar. That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy them separately, and I’ll take this opportunity to direct you to my friends at Collins Caviar, www.collinscaviar.com, for some great caviar at exceptional value! Meanwhile, see any of my Simple! Sensible! Sensational!® Recipe columns (including those in the archives) for examples of how to add caviar to any number of recipes.

July 19: Flitch Day: Just the name of this holiday HAS to get your attention. Essentially, it refers to an olde English custom in which married couples were bribed to be loving and faithful to each other for a year; if they were successful, they received half of a pig (= a “flitch” of bacon). I could make all sorts of comments about the political Right’s positions on the historical sanctity of marriage, but that would be a cheap shot.

July 23: National Vanilla Ice Cream Day: see my comments for National Ice Cream Month.

July 26: All Or Nothing Day: it turns out that this day is meant to encourage people to give their “all.” Once again, I find myself wishing this were encouraged 365 days each year. However, I am delighted to share this quote from Barbara Ehrenreich: “The secret of the truly successful, I believe, is that they learned very early in life how not to be busy. They saw through that adage, repeated to me so often in childhood, that anything worth doing is worth doing well. The truth is, many things are worth doing only in the most slovenly, halfhearted FASHION possible, and many other things are not worth doing at all.” Think about it.

July 28: National Milk Chocolate Day: personally, I prefer dark or semi-sweet, but viva la diversité! Eat chocolate! It’s good.

July 29: Cheese Sacrifice Purchase Day: I was unable to track down any pertinent information about this holiday, so I’m taking control of it: No matter the sacrifice, be it financial or waistline, purchase cheese! Enjoy cheese!

July 30: National Cheesecake Day: Love cheesecake, but again, this is the wrong time of year for baking … do I sound like a broken record? Or just an old environmentalist curmudgeon?

August 1: Lammas/Lughnasagh: These are the first of the major harvest festivals (but see my comments for July 3). Both are halfway between the Summer Solstice and the Autumnal Equinox. The Saxons celebrated Lammas as the “Feast of Bread,” the preparation of bread from the harvest was the prelude to explicit gratitude for a bountiful harvest (later coopted by the Church of England as “St. Peter’s Day”). Lughnasagh (and its many spelling variations) is what might be called the wake of the Celtic Sun/Light god, Lugh, as the days become shorter, and the plants are urged to fruition. It is a time of great merriment, as should be all festivals that celebrate the bounty of the earth.

I wax poetic but wane in energy. So many holidays, so little time. I’ll continue saying, “Treat EVERY day as if it were a holiday.”