Did you know? The month of March is:
Alport Syndrome Awareness Month: I was not aware that this is so until looking it up just now, nor was I aware of Alport Syndrome itself. According to the National Kidney Foundation’s website, Alport Syndrome is a congenital disease identified by physician Cecil Alport in 1927 that damages the kidneys and can lead to kidney failure as well as hearing loss and eye problems. How does the Syndrome accomplish this? By attacking the glomeruli. And those are? Your kidneys’ tiny filtering units.
American Red Cross Month: The American Red Cross is a humanitarian organization founded in 1881 by Clara Barton, whose work with medical and veterans’ aid during the Civil War aligned her with the International Red Cross movement launched in the 1860s. At age 10, Clara cared for her brother when he fell off a barn roof and sustained a severe head injury. She nursed him back to full health by administering medication and leeches (accepted treatment at the time), even after his doctors had given up on him. When the Civil War began, it became clear that no provision had been made to minister to battlefield casualties. Clara went to the still-unfinished Capitol Building in Washington D.C. in 1861 to nurse the multitudes of wounded soldiers who were sent there and spent years thereafter organizing volunteers and supplies for medical relief. The Red Cross went on to become one of America’s foremost charitable organizations, responding not only to military conflicts but also to a long line of peacetime disasters, from the sinking of the Titanic to hurricanes, floods and earthquakes. On a related note, any month is a good month to enjoy the music of Redd Kross, an exhilarating L.A. punk band formed in 1978 by teenaged brothers Jeff and Steve McDonald that is still releasing top-notch music today.
Caffeine Awareness Month: I was previously aware of caffeine, a central nervous system stimulant in the class of methylxanthines. Consumed by some 90% of humanity, including children who drink caffeinated sodas, caffeine is thought to be the world’s most widely used psychoactive drug. A cup of coffee typically delivers around 100-200 milligrams of caffeine, which means that one would have to drink some 50 cups of strong coffee at a sitting to exceed the 10-gram dose classified as toxic for adults—although eating a single teaspoon of pure caffeine, a bitter white powder, would also do the trick. The point of Caffeine Awareness Month is to encourage you to think about the downsides rather than the upsides of this fun chemical. Excessive coffee drinking can cause sleeplessness, anxiety, elevated blood pressure, and stomach acid. But studies have also shown that a moderate intake can lower certain cancer risks and improve cardiovascular health, and of course the energy and mental focus it brings are universally known and craved. Tea drinking goes back thousands of years to ancient China and coffee to ninth-century Ethiopia, while cacao was favored by the ancient Olmecs and Mayans. Caffeinated beverages eventually made their way to the Arab world and Europe, where writers like Michael Pollan credit the mental boost they provided with kickstarting the Enlightenment and powering the Industrial Revolution. World demand for coffee has created unfortunate side effects, including the brutally labor-intensive and often exploitative system of farming and harvesting, and the environmental degradation that now threatens many coffee-producing lands.
Employee Spirit Month: It is frowned upon if not unlawful in most states to employ ghosts in the workplace, although many office spirits pass unnoticed. Employee Spirit Month aims to heighten awareness of what can be an invisible or blurry occupational phenomenon.
Eye Donor Month: This sounds like it would refer to complete eyeball transplant; however, that is not yet a medically possible procedure. It generally refers to donating and transplanting tissue from a healthy cornea to repair a diseased or damaged one. The cornea is the transparent tissue covering the eye’s pupil, iris, and lens, which refracts light in a way that accounts for much of the eye’s focus. The rest is produced by contractions of the more flexible interior lens. There are no blood vessels in the cornea; instead, oxygen is dissolved in tears and diffused through the tissue. The medical term for this kind of transplant operation is penetrating keratoplasty.
Flour Month: There are many kinds of flour, a powder produced by grinding grains, nuts, roots or seeds; it has been a staple of the human diet for thousands of years. As Richard Wrangham tells it in Catching Fire: How Cooking Made us Human, our ancient ancestors at some point discovered that cooking raw meat and plants made them easier to eat and digest, and thus energetically richer. The transition to cooking enabled the gradual shrinking of the human gut and the enlarging of our brains, which now utilize around 25% of the energy we consume, and perhaps gave rise to human culture as we know it (along with caffeine of course). Grinding flour helps separate the energy-rich protein and carbs of a grain like wheat from the tough bran husk and the perishable germ, resulting in a nutritive, portable baking ingredient with a long shelf life. It is thought that Mesopotamians in the Fertile Crescent collected wild grass grains some twelve millennia ago, soaked them, and bashed them into a rough paste. The Egyptians pounded ancient wheat varieties like Khorasan into a meal, adding sweeteners and even yeast before baking it on stones. The Romans mechanized the flour-grinding process into milling, and spread the technology across their empire; wind- and water-powered mills replaced human and draft animal power in the Middle Ages. Bleached white flour was standard in mid-century American baking, but nowadays, you can buy not only whole wheat, corn and rye flour, but amaranth, oat, potato, cassava, and plantain flour if you know where to shop.
Fresh Celery Month: Celery has been cultivated and eaten, fresh or cooked, since ancient times; celery leaves were determined to have been a component of the funerary garlands found in the tomb of Tutankhamun. A celery stalk is basically a column of water suspended in strings of fiber, with a dose of vitamin K, and a mineral flavor that most find crisp and refreshing but a few, such as my wife, find unaccountably revolting. Discontents of her ilk have likened its taste to that of dirty rainwater. Some have actual allergies to chemicals in celery, but her case seems to be one of those mysterious socio-genetic sensory groupings, like people who see the dress in the viral optical illusion as having blue and gold stripes rather than white and gold ones. Not even the usual mitigants of peanut butter or a yummy onion dip can assuage her occult horror of the taste and texture of celery, an antipathy she also extends to bean sprouts and water chestnuts.
Frozen Food Month: Food has long been frozen to slow the growth of bacteria and thereby preserve it for extended periods of time, but it was not until Clarence Birdseye developed flash-freezing in the 1920s that the frozen food industry took off. In the early 1900s, Clarence was traveling in northern Canada and observed Inuit fishermen using wind and ice at subzero temperatures to quick-freeze fish as they caught them. Subjecting food to rapid cooling driven by liquid nitrogen or similar methods causes smaller ice crystals to form in its structure than with slow freezing, and thereby damages its tissues less. After World War II, home freezers became widespread, and with them came the frozen TV dinner, which aimed to replace the hassle of cooking with a flat receptacle segmented into pre-cooked courses like Salisbury steak or chicken à la king, a side of mashed potatoes and maybe a berry crumble for dessert. Perfect for eating from a TV tray while enjoying I Love Lucy or Bonanza, rather than having to make conversation with the family! Nowadays, the frozen food aisle offers everything from kale puff pastries to dino nuggets to choco tacos, a wealth of options for celebrating Frozen Food Month.
Irish-American Month: This is, of course, due to Ireland’s national holiday, St. Patrick’s Day, falling on March 17, as anyone will recall who has ever been pinched all day long for forgetting to wear green to middle school. St. Patrick was a fifth-century Christian missionary and bishop originally from Roman Britain. He was captured by Irish pirates as a teenager and taken there as a slave; after escaping some years later, he had a vision telling him to return to Ireland to walk among the people and spread the word of God. He did so successfully, using the three leaves of the shamrock as a visual metaphor for the Holy Trinity. Legend tells that after some snakes rudely interrupted a 40-day fast he was trying to complete on a hilltop, St. Patrick lost it and chased all Irish snakes into the sea, thereby ridding the isle of snakes. (Party-pooping zoologists hold that Ireland has never had any snakes.) St. Patrick’s Day is the national holiday most celebrated around the world, with festivities involving beer and whiskey drinking and Celtic music finding popularity as far away as Argentina and Japan.
Music in Our Schools Month: We did not have a band at my all-boys Jesuit high school in downtown El Paso, Texas, but we did have a sentimental school song, "I Believe." And at almost any gathering, we could find cause to belt out our rowdy Fighting Irish spirit song "Cheer, Cheer for the Irish Again." Our student body and faculty were overwhelmingly Hispanic and not Irish, but our branding was adapted from Notre Dame University. We also listened to a lot of Duran Duran and Kajagoogoo back then.
Optimism Month: There is no Pessimism Month—perhaps pessimists lack the confidence and initiative to push for one. It probably wouldn’t work out anyway. Optimists and pessimists are staples of the dad joke, such as these:
Why did the optimist lose his job at the photo lab? He couldn’t focus on the negatives.
The pessimist says, 'It can't get any worse!' The optimist replies, 'Oh yes it can!’
What is an optimistic vampire’s favorite blood type? B Positive.
Why is Tom Brady an optimist? He always sees the football as half full.
Paws to Read Month: Studies have shown that reading out loud to a dog or cat (who usually provides a supportive audience, depending on their mood) can improve children’s reading skills and their enjoyment of reading, as well as help with anxiety and focus issues. Many libraries offer storytimes with a groovy nonjudgmental dog, such as this one hosted by the Sun Valley Branch and this one at the Los Feliz Branch.
Sauce Month: Every cuisine has its own exciting sauces, from mint jelly and Worcestershire in British cooking, chili, and oyster sauces in China, béchamel and Hollandaise in France, tamarind sauce and chutney in India, Bolognese and carbonara in Italy, ponzu and shōyu-based sauces in Japan, and of course, the many Latin American salsas and sauces from pico de gallo to chimichurri and mole. The cookbook section of your local library undoubtedly has several devoted entirely to sauces. Sauce also has various slang meanings, including ‘sharp-tongued’ as in the piratical expression "a saucy wench," and ‘something that adds swagger or luxury’ as in the 2016 song by DJ Esco, Future and Lil Uzi Vert, "Too Much Sauce."
Umbrella Month: This was rescheduled for February this year and also part of January. Observance is likely to continue into March.