O Canada!

This Monday, July 1st, Canada will turn 146.  This blog is a list of all things Canada for all those who are Canadian and still suffer from an identity crisis, or those who are not Canadian, and want to know what Canadians are really like.

I’m dedicating this blog to our Canadian family living in the Seattle area, and doing a great job of integrating into their new surroundings. I’m sure the locals don’t suspect a thing!

This is being Canadian…

  • We do say ‘eh‘ a lot, but we think it’s more polite than ‘what?’, or ‘huh?
  • We don’t often say ‘No Doubt About It‘ (sounds like ‘nuh doot aboot it’ – it helps with the pronunciation if you purse your lips while saying it)
  • Almost none of us have even seen a real igloo let alone lived in one
  • We get really excited if ANY Canadian city, object, map, name, person, idea, sport, or anything else Canadian gets mentioned on a U.S. television show
  • No one has a pet polar bear – they eat people
  • Beavers and Canada Geese are annoying…really!
  • Maple syrup is not on every kitchen table
  • Celine Dion and Justin Bieber are our gift to the world…. please don’t return them
  • Plaid jackets and fur hats are not part of our wardrobe…at least not in the cities
  • Most of us don’t speak French…in fact most French Canadians don’t really speak French – they speak ‘Frenglish’
  • Poutine is not our national dish, but it should be
  • We spell neighbour and honour and colour with a ‘u’.  I don’t know why, and Microsoft Word hates it
  • We really don’t like it when we’re told our currency looks like Monopoly money
  • We’ll almost never pick a fight, but we’ll almost never back down from one either
  • Even though we have oceans on 3 of our 4 sides, the West Edmonton Mall has more submarines than our navy – don’t tell Russia
  • Canadians like their beer
  • Overall, we are very polite.  We even apologize when someone else bumps into us
  • We invented basketball and hockey, but our official national sport is lacrosse….I don’t know why
  • We eat chocolate bars and drink pop, not candy bars and soda
  • We don’t know ‘Dave’ from Vancouver
  • Most of us don’t understand what people from Newfoundland are saying, either
  • Universal health care is great, and it doesn’t make us communists
  • We interchange the Metric and Imperial systems because we’re still trying to figure out what the heck a deciliter is
  • William Shatner (Canadian) keeps getting cooler
  • We know that you’re not from here because you pronounce ‘Toronto‘ the way it’s spelt
  • There are only 8 people for every square mile of land (or 3.4 per square kilometer), but most of us are crammed into a tiny area around Lake Ontario
  • The Royal Canadian Mounted Police are almost never mounted
  • Tim Horton’s coffee is an obsession.  Get over it
  • We pronounce it ‘zed’ not ‘zee’

That’s being Canadian, from ‘eh’ to ‘zed’.  I hope you found this blog educational and insightful. I also apologize for anything in the aforementioned blog that may be found offensive or otherwise in poor taste and I in no way mean to slander either Ms. Dion or Mr. Bieber…or French Canadians….or beavers.  The comment on the geese stands.

Happy Birthday, Hoser! (we don’t really say that either…)

P.S. – my band ‘Barefoot’ will be playing a street party this Canada Day in Oshawa, and accepting food donations for a local food bank. It will be a free event.  If you’re in the area and want to drop by, let me know and I’ll give you the details.

Life Lessons from Street Hockey

street hockey
If you grew up in Canada in the ’60’s or ’70’s, it’s likely you spent a lot of time outside.  Those were the days when the big rules at home had to do with being within ‘ear-shot’, meaning your mother could yell your name from the front door and you could hear her…naturally, if you were playing hide and seek, you couldn’t give up your location, so you had to weigh the odds between being caught or being in trouble with Mom.

The other rule that got better as the summer months progressed, was the ‘street-light’ rule, which meant you could stay out until the street lights came on, then you’d better be heading home or else!  That one was a total rip off in the winter.  In Canada, the sun goes down around 4:30 in the cold months, so outdoor playtime was precious indeed.  Most of the time, though, it wasn’t all that bad on account that it was Canada and it was winter.

When we could, we would stay outside all day if possible.  Going in the house usually meant being ‘caught’ by Mom, and having to clean your room, or God forbid, vacuum the living room. Nothing was worse than that.

Because of this, we got pretty good at surviving outdoors for long periods of time.  Fluids came from a garden hose behind someones house – no bottled water for us, and nourishment was found in fruit trees growing around the neighbourhood – the trick was not getting caught.   Outdoor plumbing was never an issue…I’ll leave it at that.  Even injuries were managed outside, as long as they weren’t too serious.  There was one time playing street hockey, a kid got the butt of a stick in his mouth, which knocked out most of his teeth.  Because he was wearing a brand new set of braces though, they just kind of hung there on the metal tracks.  Needless to say, his father, who just finished paying for them, was not at all happy with us.

We loved playing street hockey.  It was a great way to live out the skills of your favourite NHL player.  Mine was Bobby Orr – the great number 4 from the Boston Bruins.  Most of the kids didn’t choose Lanny McDonald, not because he wasn’t a great hockey hero, but because none of us could grow thick mustaches.01f74-lanny

Mom liked us being outside because we burned off a ton of energy and we couldn’t break anything.

There were a lot of kids on our street, so getting a game going was pretty easy.  We didn’t have much in the way of fancy equipment like nets, or pads or anything.  We often used rocks as goal posts, and marked center ice with our hats or something else that we probably should have been wearing.  The puck was a tennis ball.  Tennis balls were as precious as gold back then.  Having one was like holding the conch in Lord Of The Flies…but of course, no one got killed.

We didn’t have blue lines on the road, so kids could stand pretty much anywhere on the ‘rink’.  There wasn’t an off-side rule but we did have the ‘Cherry Picker’ rule, which wasn’t so much of a rule as it was an insult.  A Cherry Picker was someone who would wait near the opposing goal area, hoping that the ball would make it down to them, and they’d have  a clear chance to score.  If you were brave enough or thick-skinned enough, you could be a Cherry Picker, but the other kids would yell out ‘Cherry Picker‘, like it was a terrible insult.

The most important rule in the game was the ‘car’ rule.  Because we were playing in the middle of the street, we had to always watch for cars.  If one came by, someone would yell, ‘CAR!‘.  Whatever play was going on, it would have to stop immediately, and get off the street – this was a great rule if the other team had possession of the ‘puck’.

Games kind of just happened if enough kids were around, and pretty much everyone could play as long as they had a stick.  Teams were organized in one of two ways, mostly.  The way I liked was that all the sticks would get piled up in the middle, and one of the kids, usually the oldest or most respected, would randomly throw sticks, alternating towards each net until they were evenly separated.  The other way was to have 2 captains choose their teams in alternating turns.  This wasn’t much fun if you weren’t very good, because you really didn’t want to be the last kid to get picked…’I guess I’ll have to take Troy…‘.  Either way, it was about the most fair, democratic process I’ve seen, even as an adult.

The interesting thing about street hockey was that although we were kids, and clearly unorganized, the rules of the game were strictly adhered to.  Any kid who refused to follow the rules, either spoken or assumed, was pretty much banished from all social games for a long time – kids could really hold a grudge.

We didn’t know it at the time, but street hockey was teaching us a lot of important lessons about life.  Besides being great exercise, we learned about the order of things.  We learned about leadership and hierarchy.  We knew that rules were important and needed to be followed.  We learned about teamwork and about knowing that we had to respect that we were on the street and it belonged to the cars.  It created the framework of morals and ethics for adulthood, and about hard work.

We had hero’s back then.  People we looked up to, and they rarely disappointed us.  Bobby Orr and Lanny McDonald are still stand up guys.  I don’t know if the same could be said about most sports stars today.

I’m seeing more kids in my neighbourhood playing street hockey again.  I’m glad for this, since they will learn the same important life lessons for future generations.  This gives me hope for the future.  They’ll learn about the importance of order, leadership and teamwork.  They’ll learn about not only how to follow rules, but to respect others.

They’ll probably never learn how to vacuum, though.

Mammoth hunters get bad press

Since we’re closing in on Father’s Day, I’m dedicating this blog to all the Dad’s out there.

For my family, Father’s Day is spent as a weekend cottage getaway with my Dad, along with my brothers and their families.    This year, because of my father’s deteriorating health, we’ll celebrate closer to home, but it will still be a celebration none the less.

Overall, I’d say dads get the press they deserve.  I have noticed over the past few years, however, that dads (and men in general) are getting a bad rap in the media – specifically in advertising.  Is it because most advertising agencies are controlled by jilted women who have it out for an ex? Maybe it’s payback for the ‘Mad Men’ years of male-dominated advertising. Or have we, as men, just quietly accepted the role of dumb, bumbling over-grown kids since its easier than challenging this type of stereotyping? Perhaps we really are bumbling idiots, at least some of the time, but any advertiser would be in deep trouble if they portrayed women the same way.

I mean, how well would this go over today?

You do have to admit though, that if your eyes were closed and you heard someone yell out ‘Watch this!‘, you’d know it was a man about to do something incredibly dangerous or stupid.  It’ll also probably be something that you’d want to watch on You Tube.

I have a theory that men have a predisposition to take risks, not because we’re inherently stupid, but for the greater good of mankind.  This probably stemmed from prehistoric times when the men had to figure out a way to track down, corner, kill, then bring home a 10 ton mammoth – that couldn’t have been easy.

“Okay, Grog – you go into that cave and get the mammoth good and mad.  Throw stones at it and dance around.  The rest of us will hide behind this huge bolder and wait until it chases you out.”


Side Note:  Grog borrowed your wheel last spring and didn’t return it…

Chances were, if they had smart phones back then, the rest of the hunters would have dropped their spears and recorded the whole thing. It probably wouldn’t end well for Grog, but if he lived, he’d be the funniest guy in the tribe.  You just know that as he crept up to the cave he’d yell out ‘Watch this!‘.

This probably also supports Darwin’s Theory of Evolution where only the smartest survive, or maybe it’s closer to Cliff Claven’s theory on brain cells:

“Well ya see, Norm, it’s like this… A herd of buffalo can only move as fast as the slowest buffalo. And when the herd is hunted, it is the slowest and weakest ones at the back that are killed first. This natural selection is good for the herd as a whole, because the general speed and health of the whole group keeps improving by the regular killing of the weakest members.

“In much the same way, the human brain can only operate as fast as the slowest brain cells. Excessive intake of alcohol, as we know, kills brain cells. But naturally it attacks the slowest and weakest brain cells first.

In this way, regular consumption of beer eliminates the weaker brain cells, making the brain a faster and more efficient machine. That’s why you always feel smarter after a few beers.”

Either way, it’s clearly part of the great circle of life.

Today, we don’t have mammoths or travel in herds, so we invent our own death-defying stunts to keep our survival skills honed.  There is a statistical truth:  Men and women are physiologically similar enough that we should have the same lifespan.  Unfortunately, because men tend to do more ‘mammoth hunting’, we die younger, skewing the average.  We don’t take the risks believing we’ll die, we take them to prove we can’t die.  It just turns out badly sometimes.

I had my own sort of ‘mammoth’ experience once.  I was tasked with a short list of items to get from the store.  I had my kids with me, and as any parent knows, getting young children in and out of vehicles,  into shopping carts, and navigating any store is considered a suicide mission.  That sounded too much like a mammoth hunt to turn down, so off to one of those big-box stores we went.

The shopping itself was pretty uneventful, but as we were leaving, and heading across the parking lot, I heard a commotion between two people outside the front doors.  Being the awesome, responsible father I was, I did my best to ignore the situation and continue on my way, with my little ones safely in tow.  Suddenly, the commotion turned into a brawl, with one man running, and the other chasing him around the parking lot.  The older man being chased was tackled on the hard pavement, his glasses flying off his face, and landed with a terrible thud. I could no longer ignore the situation.

Somewhere, across the parking lot I heard someone yell, ‘Someone help him!‘.

In my mind, I agreed, but I have 2 little kids with me, so they can find another sucker for this ‘mammoth’.  I quickly scanned the lot.  At any other time, this parking lot would be crammed with people coming and going from the store.  Today?  2 people besides me – an elderly lady, and another woman on crutches…..great!

So, Grog went into ‘Mammoth Hunter’ mode – I grabbed the kids and placed them in a safe area by the shopping carts and handicapped parking spots, then ran into the ‘cave’ to help.  The two men were again running around the parking lot, and there was a lot of confusion.  I didn’t know what to do, so I yelled at them, ‘What’s going on here?‘.

The younger man replied, ‘I’m an undercover cop.  This man is being arrested for shoplifting.

Now, anyone would agree that I believe in helping my fellow man, but I also believe that my blood was meant for the inside of my body and not the outside.  I had no idea what weapons the thief may have had on him, and I have no formal training on tactical arrest maneuvers.  I’m just a Dad….and what do Dads do when faced with chaotic situations?  They yell.

I stood in front of the alleged thief, held out my hand towards him, and yelled at the top of my lungs, “SIT DOWN!“.

To my amazement, that is exactly what he did.  The ‘perp’ was quickly arrested, and brought into the store.  That was it. The mammoth was caught.

I turned to see my kids watching in complete amazement.  I could almost feel the super-hero cape waving in the wind, and the national anthem playing in the background.  My son looked at me like I just saved a bus full of orphans from a speeding train.  What an awesome dad!

All the way home, my son couldn’t stop talking about how Dad helped to catch a criminal.  My daughter asked if she could tell what happened to Mom.

Sure you can‘, I said, certain that this would win me some huge points in both the father and husband categories – this was almost on par with carrying in a leg of mammoth for dinner!

As we walked into the house, my kids ran ahead to gush about what an awesome Dad they had to my wife, who no doubt, was about to become weak in the knees at the virility and bravery of her great man.

Mom, Mom!‘ my daughter cried as she ran as fast as she could in to the kitchen.  ‘You won’t believe what happened at the store!‘….here it comes – chin up, chest out, wait for the outpouring of adulation….’Dad left us standing in the parking lot!

And so it goes, doesn’t it?  Hero to zero in seconds flat.  The great mammoth hunter is brought down by bad press.

I think that’s our real problem.  Men need a better public relations team.  Instead of looking at our actions as fool-hardy or dangerous, we should be commended for bravery, for our innovation in uncovering and exposing potential dangers to others – even recording them, so that generations to come can watch You Tube to learn and be safe.

I say, let all Dads celebrate and embrace our inner Mammoth Hunter this Father’s Day.  What a boring, sterile world it would be without us. Be brave and daring.  Take risks.  Challenge physics and common sense.  We are men – this is what we were put on this earth for.

Just be sure to keep the videos rolling!

Happy Father’s Day, everyone.

Setting a good example

There’s been a lot of talk about teenage bullying lately.  In the news, we hear tragic stories of young lives taken from us in a final, desperate act, unable to find the help they need to escape this seemingly unrelenting terror that is perpetrated by otherwise normal kids.  Our kids.

None of this is really new.  Bullying has, to one extent or another, been a cruel passage into adulthood for generations.  With the onset of social media, however, there are brand new ways to taunt and torture others in ways that we never conceived of as kids.  Regardless of how it’s perpetrated, it is terrible, senseless and far too often deadly.

Of course, there is some good news. We are also seeing a lot of initiatives, led by schools and governments to do their best to curb bullying, and to identify and understand why this is going on and how it can be stopped.  There are some positive signs that our children are creating a new movement of a more caring attitude towards each other.  Thank God for that!

I don’t know why some kids just seem to be a target, even when they move out of the area, leaving a sorted past behind.  For me, it was easy.  I was a small, skinny, freckle-faced ‘ginger’ who played the cello…I might as well have painted a huge bulls-eye on my back, right next to the ‘kick me’ sign.  On the upside, I learned to outrun almost anyone, while carrying that huge instrument on my back – good for aerobics, bad for self-esteem.

I believe that parents play a critical role in supporting their kids if they suspect they are being bullied, or perhaps more so if they suspect that their child might be the source of the bullying.

What doesn’t help the problem I think, is that we as adults can often be the worst example of how to conduct oneself around others.  Take a few examples:

If you live in the Toronto area, you know about its mayor, Rob Ford.  Mr. Ford is self-described as ‘330 pounds of fun’.  Some would call him a crusader for the over-taxed citizens of the city, while others would refer to him as a living cartoon-character who has no business being in the business of politics.

I’m not going to take political sides here – I think the Ford administration has created a lot of their own misery.  I also think that his detractors will stop at nothing to destroy his political career.  This is about people dealing with people.

Recently, Mr. Ford has had a number of serious conflicts which, either self-inflicted or thrust upon him by his opponents, have put him under the microscope, politically and legally.

He celebrated a birthday last week.  A few citizens even showed up with a cake, and held a small news conference.  Instead of singing the normal version of ‘Happy Birthday’, however, they added a few more words, asking the mayor to resign and leave office.  How sweet.  What if that were school children, doing the same thing to the class president?  They’d be suspended and put into counseling.

The most recent crisis in Mr. Ford’s life is an alleged video that some drug dealers had of him smoking crack cocaine, and had been selling to the highest bidder.

At last check, the auction had the selling price at $200,000, and that amount had been raised.  The video and its owners, not surprisingly, cannot be located.

At about the same time, a tragic and confusing murder case was unfolding in the media.  A man, selling his pick-up truck online, mysteriously disappeared.   Several days later, an arrest was made, and shortly after, his burned remains were discovered.  This victim was a young father, Tim Bosma, apparently targeted at random, who has left a wife and a young daughter behind.  The motive for the murder is still a mystery, but one thing is certain.  This young family is broken forever.

Some local family and friends of the Bosma’s have set up a trust fund to help support his wife and daughter who are also now without their breadwinner, and faced with huge bills.

Here’s the rub;  It took less than a week to get total strangers to raise over $200,000 to watch a video that may not even exist, to finally push Mr. Ford out of public office. At the same time, we were able to raise less than a tenth of that amount to help a grieving young wife and mother to support her family.

How sad is that.  We’re suckers for a sensational story.

Another example is the now famous Ikea Monkey, ‘Darwin’.  Darwin is a spider monkey, owned by a real estate lawyer, who has, in my opinion, an unhealthy relationship with the little primate.  ‘Darwin’ made the news this past winter, when he was found wandering outside of an Ikea store, dressed in a fancy fur coat.  He had been left in a car while its owner went shopping.  The smart little pet managed to open a window and go for a stroll around the store.

The monkey was taken away from its owner, but now she’s fighting to get him back.

On the day of ‘Darwin’s’ court hearing, another case was being heard in the same courthouse.  This one was a murder trial involving another young person, a lady, allegedly killed by a young man – they were in a relationship.  It was a terrible, gruesome crime.  The courthouse was standing room only – there was no where to park.  Even driving past the courthouse was difficult.

Why was the courthouse so full?  Not because of the murder trial, but because of ‘Darwin’.  In fact, of all the press that were in attendance, only one reporter was covering the murder trial.

Now, we can blame the media – they’re always good to kick around, but the basic truth of economics states that they’re covering it because we want to know about it and will pay to get it.

Just this past weekend a story broke about a kids soccer tournament right here in Ontario, which was cancelled after parents from both teams ended up in a brawl after a controversial call on the field.  14 people were arrested.  It was even topped off with some racial slurs.

Are these the life lessons we’re teaching our kids? Is it our hope that they conduct themselves with respect and kindness while we demonstrate the exact opposite?

It would seem that the concept of leading by example is not aligned with our expectations.  Luckily, our kids are smarter than that.  I think they understand that we aren’t perfect, and we sometimes do the same dumb things that we preach to them as unacceptable.

I wonder how would things look if we treated each situation like our kids were standing right beside us?  I think they’re worth the effort….maybe we can even learn from them.

What do you think?

Who turned out the lights?

Do you remember where you were on August 14th, 2003?  If you were in the North-Eastern United States or in Ontario, you should remember.  Do you have a child who just turned 9 recently?  Yes? Well done, my friend! You not only survived but were brave enough to continue the propagation of the human race.  Truly one of the hero’s of the ‘Great Power Outage of 2003’.

If you recall, there was a massive power system failure, from a computer glitch in the First Energy Corporation in Ohio that affected over 55 million people.

Here in Ontario, we experienced this outage as only Canadians could.  With wide-spread looting?  No.  We dealt with it by rushing out and eating all the ice cream we could cram into our guts before it all melted.  Lactose intolerant? Suck it up, Bub!  We have a disaster on our hands!  It was carnage – children wandering the streets, sick and dizzy on a sugar rush.  Men and women desperately scrounging and begging for wet wipes.  Lineups a mile long outside the nearest Dairy Queen. It was awful!

For me, it was a slightly different story.

My family was enjoying a holiday at my brother’s cottage up in the Kawartha area of Central Ontario.  He and his wife were kind enough to let us spend a week enjoying the lakeside retreat, blissfully out of contact with the outside world.

As I recall, we were sitting down at the dock enjoying a few ‘adult’ beverages, watching the kids play in the water, and baking in a hot August sun.

At some point, I noticed that the radio had stopped playing in the cottage.  Well, it is cottage country, and the nearest radio station is a long way away.  Sometimes we just don’t get a good signal. I couldn’t be sure how long it stopped playing, though.

An hour or so later, I needed a refill, so I trundled up to the cottage to get a cold beer from the fridge (conveniently located in the front porch).  When I opened the door, I noticed that the little light in the back was out.  Hmm.  Now I checked the radio, and found that it was off.  No power. Checked the lights – same thing.

Uh, oh!  That guy down the road using industrial power equipment all morning must have blown a local transformer.  Boy, is he gonna be in big trouble!

Realizing that the power had been out for over an hour, I acted quickly, and grabbed as much beer as I could, heading down to the lake to cool it off.  Priorities, people!  Of course, my lovely wife reminded me that we had meat in the freezer that was beginning to thaw out…sweet, beautiful, naive girl. Meat?  Next, she’ll tell me that the vegetables might spoil.

It was a while later before I discovered the greatest problem with having no power at a cottage.  No power means no running water, and no running water means no septic system. 2 adults, 2 kids plus a friend…you do the math.  Now we’re in trouble.

As the evening wore on, casual curiosity was replaced by concern.  How long is it going to take for the local power company to track down the guy with the heavy equipment?

As dusk approached, we lit the barbeque and cooked up all the thawed meat – we ate like Kings that night, and as long as no one had to go to the bathroom, we would be in good shape.  Time for another beer, so I headed back to my stash in a fishing net just off the dock – how Canadian is that??

Just then, the guy renting the cottage next to ours came running over, panicked looking. ‘Hey, did you know that the  power is out?’

…pretty sure MENSA has all their members accounted for, but a village nearby is looking for their idiot!

Gee‘, I said in a totally non-sarcastic tone, ‘No, let me check over here‘.

I walked, while hiding my ice-cold beer, over to a light switch. Click, click, click. Nothing.  For some reason we have to flick a light 3 times if it doesn’t work.  I guess that’s the official test. ‘Well, I guess mine is out too – I think the whole bay is out‘.

I better call the electric company‘, my genius neighbour suggested.

Sure, I bet they could use a few more phone calls‘, I suggested, and off he went to save the world.

A while later, the sun had gone down, so we lit candles and sat down to play cards and continued to ‘save’ the beer.  By now, the bathrooms were pretty much bio-hazards and were considered off-limits to any humans, and certainly no one with a lit candle should get even close to the door, or KABLAMO!!

I remembered that I had a flashlight in the car, so I stumbled through the darkness to get it.  I sat in the drivers seat and turned on the ignition.  It was at this point I noticed that the radio in the car wasn’t working either.  No radio stations were broadcasting.  This is NOT good!  And that guy down the road with all that power equipment is going to be in really big trouble, that’s for sure.

I can’t describe how unsettling it is to be out in the country, with no ambient light, no contact with the outside world, and having no idea why I cannot find any radio communication.  It was an eerie feeling for sure.

Eventually I got a weak AM radio signal, which had reports of massive power outages right across the Eastern seaboard.  Wow!  It was either a major terrorist attack or that guy down the road had one massive saw going earlier in the day.

There wasn’t much we could do, and we finally got tired of playing cards and holding our bladders.  We all turned in for the night.  At about 3am, I heard the beer fridge fire back up.  All is well with the world again.  The toilets grudgingly worked through their, uh, stuff, and the lights and radio came back on.

It was a few days later before we discovered how wide-spread the outage had been, and that some areas were still in the dark.  All in all, people were civilized and helped each other through this very North American problem.  A good sign for mankind.

Some of us found ‘cozy’ ways to survive the outage, and now have a 9 year old reminder.  Some went out and helped their fellow man – good for you!

I only hope that if we have another power outage like this, there’s lots of ice cream, wipes and Lactaid.