Posts from the ‘Fun’ Category

The shame, and joy, of doing nothing!

to-do-list-nothing[1]

I have a confession to make.

I did nothing today.

Well that is not quite true. I did do some things. I showered. I emptied the dishwasher. I ate. I watched TV. I actually went outside and turned on the water sprinkler.

But did I meet the Facebook criteria of doing something? Did I build a deck, or bake a cake or wash my car? Nope, nope, and nope. So technically, I did nothing because I have nothing to brag about.

Maybe that should be something to brag about.

But it was not easy.  The idleness came with a price tag. A nice dose of self-shame. Crazy! Why do I feel guilty about doing nothing? Why do I feel I need to busy – like the ant instead of The_Ant_and_the_Grasshopperthe grasshopper? Does busy ever end?  I mean, there is always the sense of satisfaction in doing things, but it is never like I get any closer to getting everything done.  Every time I finish something, there is always another thing surfacing…it is like the Three-Headed Hydra:  my list gets longer as each completed task seems to spawn two more!

And I tell you, being busy takes effort. There is always something to fill the time –  something to tighten  because it’s loose, to glue because its broken, clean because it is dirty, polish because its dull, cut because its long, empty because its full, fill because it’s empty…the list can go on forever and ever.

All of us that have come out of the long winter hibernation know that the brief period between “snow thaw” and “mosquito season gets busy.  (I think it is called spring – a time where Canadians don shorts and flip-flops at a balmy 6*C.)  You know the to-do list…thatching and weeding and fertilising and planting and mowing and gutter-cleaning, organising, vetting, discarding, washing, cleaning, assembling dandelion_farmetcetera. And no one wants to be the home-owner who brings down the neighbourhood property values with the huge dandelion farm, or the lawn that looks like a grade school baseball diamond.   So I will admit that there has been a tiny degree of panic and stress because I needed to get a few things done or yard will continue to look trashy, the garage will stay chaotic, or the summer clothes reamin buried under boxes and boxes. There is so  much that should be, or really “could be”, done.

But let’s park the whole spring-thing aside. The spring clean and renewal will happen eventually – hopefully before Labour Day…

I have to ask, “Why is ‘being busy’ my default setting?”  Why am I embarrassed to do absolutely nothing productive? And when did I forget how to relax idly? Even calming things, like running or biking, seem to have become agenda items.  Why do I plan my “down time” and not just let whatever is going to happen, just happen?  And it seems like I am not alone – check out all the Facebook statuses – full of accomplishments and activities and running around and getting things done.  Rarely do I see the status, “I did sweet FA this weekend, and I am good with that!”

I remember being a kid, bouncing from activity to activity carelessly.  One minute it was staring at the clouds, the next examining the anthill, then a game of hide-and-go-seek, then my paper route, then a game of street hockey or soccer or touch football,  and then homework and a bit of TV, and then bed, all the while looking forward to the next day full of who-knew-what!

kids playing

And today, things have changed now that I am almost half a century old (ouch!). Let me think about it…oh yeah, responsibility, reliability, dependability, accountability.  All those translating to timings and deadlines and tasks and task reminders and “to do” lists. It means not letting down the side and not being the point of failure, the choke point. or the weakest link. It means checking and rechecking and confirming and rescheduling and prioritising and eventually, completing.

And what if it that has been a part of your life for 30-odd years? What if paying attention to detail and ensuring the equipment is ready for its next use, that the car is full of fuel before the big trip, or the clothes are laid out the night before to save time, is part of your being?  What if your whole life has been an exercise in finding time and maximising concurrent activity and minimising effort expended?

I guess it means that it is hard to relax.

Not impossible, but hard. It takes a few days to get into vacation mode.  It means accepting that things might not get done.  That the lawn will be weedy for one more week and that I will have to dig through the Rubbermaid totes in the garage for my favourite pair of cargo shorts.

its-better-to-be-doing-nothing-than-to-be

So today, I took my first step at doing nothing. I was able to sit around and take control of the big screen and eat leftovers and basically chill. It was great. It wasn’t completely blissful – I did have the inevitable pangs of guilt: yes, I thought about the lawn (rationalising that the seeding I did last week was too fragile to be mowed); I shuddered at the winter disorganisation as I tossed the empty pop cans into the garage recycling bins. But I fought through the shame and managed to find my way back to the man-cave and Lucky Slevin. I made my peace…

And to quote the sage Dr Seuss, once you make that peace, “Oh, the places you’ll go! There is fun to be done!” So let the fun begin.

And as for those other things, I’ll get them done later.  When there is nothing good on TV, or the internet ends.  watching-tv

Later,

ASF

Advertisements

Bubble wrap and the Bogeyman….

Need more bubble wrap....

Need more bubble wrap….

I recently read an article in the Globe and Mail by Stephen Quinn.

In his blog, he recounts the adventures of his two lads as they try to make their way home via public transport from downtown Vancouver – with minimal help from  dad. The short piece has its funny bits – sometimes  “funny ha-ha”, but sometimes more  “funny-peculiar” –  like how the two boys were slightly perplexed and seemingly naïve to the perils around them. Well according to the author anyway; his lads seemed confused about the perils as assessed by a worldly man standing 5’11” . The world is probably a lot rosier when you are well protected boys standing only 4 foot plus…

The article took me back in time. No worries, I never  “abandoned” my kids downtown with only bus fare, phone money and a Hot Rod pepperoni stick each. But rather, I remember being a kid in Toronto at a time when parental overwatch was minimal.

Oh the things we did! Before grade six, I remember walking to soccer tournaments during the summer holidays, leaving the house at 7.30 am, walking what seemed a hundred miles to Riverdale Park at Broadview. Funnily enough, I “Google-Mapped” it a little while ago (I think that is a verb); surprisingly, it was really a simple walk through the side streets of the Danforth, across Greenwood then Pape and finally to Broadview – but each walk had Stand By Me proportions. A simpler time, each day Mom would pack me a ham sandwich, an apple and a can of RC cola – and if I was really lucky, a two-pack of Dad’s Brand oatmeal cookies.  That and a hug on the way out the door was all the motherly attention I needed. Heaven!  And at Riverdale Park,  I played soccer all day – no worries of sunscreen, no bottles of water, no sun hat – and ran around crazily all day. I would get home about 10 hours later – dirty, banged up and really happy –  just in time to hear my Dad’s favorite greeting as he walked in the door from work, “…’Jinder, what’s for eating?”

Streetcars on Queen Street c 1970

Streetcars on Queen Street c 1970

Donwtown Toronto 1975...I have no clue who is in the middle of the road....

Downtown Toronto 1975…I have no clue who is in the middle of the road….

I also remember as the oldest child of three – and at the ripe old age of 12 years – leading my brother and sister (aged 10 and 8), right into the heart of Gotham, to Dundas and Yonge. We would see Black Beauty or the Shaggy D.A. or Star Wars at the Old Imperial Six theatre. It was great! And how many times did we jump on the subway or the bus or the streetcar to head to Ontario Place or the Ex’, or Maple Leaf

The Imperial Six....

The Imperial Six….

Gardens or the Royal Ontario Museum, or the Planetarium, or the Science Centre (which even today is not a TTC-friendly destination…)? A kids’ adventure…

And where were my parents during all this?  At home or at work – who knows?  I didn’t care; I had a dime for a phone call – there were lots of phone booths around.  Who needed a smart phone or a GPS or a child tracker? Not us…

I remember those days – we all reminisce about sitting untethered in the back of the station wagon, people smoking everywhere, when biking or skating without a helmet was okay. Parenting today is so different; so many things that we do and things that we buy to keep them safe. Comparatively, we lived a relative Darwinian existence.

I remember being doing things on my own: buying stuff, and making change and generally being aware of things when they just did not feel right. I remember looking both ways and crossing with the green, and reading a map and asking for directions from complete strangers. I never felt threatened nor scared.

But I can’t ever remember letting my kids do that. Why not? Is it because I felt that the world was not a safe place, that the risks were too high? Probably.  And by not letting them, did I do really do them a favour?

Everyone knows that parenting has changed. Even the big corporations. I mean, look at the Chevy car ad…the parents fawning  over their poor lad Tonito!  Okay, what is that all about? That kid is gonna be scarred and look to Mommy and Daddy for everything. He will never learn the life lesson of forgetting your indoor shoes in the winter, or why idiot strings on mittens aren’t such a bad idea or the thrill of swimming to the far side of the pool without water wings and with that slightly terrifying panic of “I’m gonna drown…” – of realising that yes, yes he can do it on his own without mom or dad holding him up – or back.

Lucas the Forever Scarred... See the vid at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-IZDzlZXNG4

Tonito, the Forever Scarred… See the vid at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-IZDzlZXNG4

So why are we so different from our parents? I know – the world has changed… rapists and molesters, murderers and abusers, drug pushers and pimps and slave traders all abound in droves now. But sadly, statistically speaking – and counter intuitively – our kids are probably in more peril being with those in positions of trust than with complete strangers. But still,  I had the same fears as all parents, and I had to fight the urge to be over-protective. Hopefully I kept it in check to some degree – the scar on my daughter’s forehead is testimony to that.

But I am sure that, like all of my generation, I have imparted some of my anxieties and tics to my children. It’ll be interesting to see what their parenting style is like!

I think about what my parents did, or really, didn’t do. They never drove me anywhere unless they were going there too – I walked, rode my bike or took public transit. They rarely gave me money – I delivered papers, had summer jobs or did chores for money.  Don’t get me wrong.  I never wanted for anything. I had clean clothes (not necessarily the most fashionable). I had good food…though it took me until my 20s to realise that curry was something special. I had birthdays and presents and video games – Pong and Intellivision –  and the ever-present music.

But somewhere between my growing up and becoming a parent, I began to think that was not enough for my kids. I did not want my children to want for anything, or to get hurt or to be sad or tired or hungry or anxious. But in retrospect, I could have done better.  I now believe that independence and challenges are the very best teachers; a fishing pole instead of a fish.   As I look around, I am not sure that coddling or bubble-wrapping kids is working. Failure and rejection and disapproval are pretty good teachers, too.

I am who I am because Mom and Dad let me explore and experience and take risks and the occasional scolding.

Yes, my kids are confident and happy (I think). And they are independent: one living on her own and having spent a good chunk of last summer backpacking through Europe with friends, and the other just about to head off to residence and uni. Not bad, and even though they still do love Dad’s taxi and the occasional help from  Dad’s bank account, who wouldn’t!

But, thinking back, I wish I had released the reins a bit more. Think of all the other places they could have gone and the adventures they could have had.  And you know what, I am sure that if you giv’em a little age appropriate latitude as they grow, they will probably find out where the real bogeymen are all by themselves…

Later,

ASF

Bread and Circus XLVII – NFL Style

superbowl47

I am writing this while watching Super Bowl 47 (or EX-EL-VEE-AYE-AYE if you prefer), so my thought streams might be a little more convoluted than usual.  Add in the stupefying pre-game show, I am unable to concentrate well as I am caught up in the high tech, sternum-thumping music and sensory overload that psyches us up for the game to come. All I can say is, “Wow”… do the Americans ever go big!

Is it me or is the Super Bowl way more than a sports event; I feel like a 21st century Titus or Maximus preparing to watch full-blown Roman theatre.  Based on the hype and pageantry,  I keep expecting to see Joaquin Phoenix lower his thumbs as the vanquished gladiators prepare to retreat from the field of battle – a panem et circenses sort of thing. (Sorry, still justifying that Grade 11 Latin class). I guess that is why it is XLVII instead of 47!

Gladiator

I am convinced the Super Bowl is fantastical. It is no longer a game – it is a Major Event (note the caps). It is a  stunning (not like “holy cow” stunning… more like a “taser” stunning), mesmerizing festivity that keeps us hooked with the promising potential of a  “train-wreck”.

Really, who even cares who is playing? Maybe fans of the two teams (who are the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers, if you care).  As for me, I‘ll just root for whoever loses the coin toss – I love the underdog! (By the way,  in keeping with the sheer extravaganza, did you notice the coin toss also included a laudatory speech from the Referee…reminding us how America provides great opportunity for anyone who is willing to work hard… or has a spare $124,707, 285 to payroll a NFL team).

The game is one thing, but if you ask me, most could really care less about who is playing or who will win.  I betcha that most of us are hypnotised by the prospect of gorging on gluttonous volumes of food and gallons of alcohol.  According to msn.com, the stats are staggering – we will consume 51.7 million cases of beer, 6.2 million pounds of nachos (that is a mere 3 million kg for my Euro friends…), 2 million pounds of chips (crisps, old boy…) and who knows what else. After the binge, I am sure all of us will look like NFL linemen on Monday…

NFL HEAVYWEIGHTS

The Super Bowl is simply an excuse to party; a chance to enjoy our first post-Christmas celebration.  Think about it; it has been a proverbial 40 days and 40 nights of roaming the wilderness since our last festival of merry-making. And it is so friggin’ cold and cheerless, that we need something vaguely positive event to justify our want to drink ourselves into forgetting it is only February and Punxsutawney Phil or Wireton Willy has seen his shadow… SO why not drink like a bunch of honey-badgers?!

punxsutawney-phil-photo“But. but, but…” say the football purists among you.  This is really about celebrating American Football!

You sure about that?

I will admit that the Super Bowl is more modestly named than the major league baseball finals, humbly dubbed “The World Series” (in what atlas are the continental United States and Toronto featured as the World? – what about Japan or Korea and Cuba?).  No one pretends that the Vince Lomabrdi trophy is a World Trophy (though it probably has more right to do so than baseball’s).  Football takes the moral high ground and posts for the simple and plain adjective, “Super” (and funnily enough the trophy is not a bowl either, not like the CFL’s Grey Bowl).  I am surprised that the game is not called the Most Fantastic Marvellous Tremendous and Terrific Bowl of the United States of America. “Super”, in comparison seems quite sedate.

But how Super is it?

Well, a 60 minute game is tightly jammed into a closely choreographed 5 hour-long spectacle, showcasing all that emotion, glitz and “over-the-toppedness” that only the US of A can generate. It is a showcase…and why not? It is watched by 11o million people worldwide. I think that is roughly the same size as the seating capacity of New Orleans’ Mercedes-Benz Superdome (Mercedes-Benz? Is that even American?)

jhud_sandy_hook-600x450I admit that the spectacle started poignantly, with a Celebration of America…Jennifer Hudson and the Sandy Hook Childrens’ Choir. And though that was a touching moment. that made me think back to the horror and how resilient kids are/ With a nice version of America the Beautiful, I couldn’t help but think of the subliminal and manipulative message it heralded: children who have experienced horrific gun violence singing with an adult who has also suffered through gun violence. A tribute to America or an indictment of the Gun Culture? I am not sure that was all about the pigskin…

And then it moved to Alicia Keys…a great artist for sure. But her stylised US anthem, “a 45 rpm song delivered at 33 rpm”, must have frustrated everyone. Those waiting for the game and those ad execs who were robbed  of an extra ten 30-second commercial spots. And what about her ad-lib at the end? Why don’t our singers do that on Hockey Night in Canada? Oh wait, our singers  know they and the anthem are merely foreplay; get it over with, let’s get to the main event!

So now, 35 minutes after flipping on the TV – the TV guide did say “Super Bowl XLVII @ 1800” – and the game has just started…and now at 1838 hours, it has been an exciting three minutes of football – two plays!

And then on the 39th minute, CBS created the commercial. Lots of them.

Now Super Bowl commercials are legendary and there have been some very good ones over the years. But then again, they should be good at $3.8 million per 30 second spot (that equals $456 million/hour – or  I am guessing, about one minute’s interest on the US national debt).  But I am pretty sure that the Super Bowl advertising revenues subsidise all the CBS Executives’ annual Christmas bonuses. Why else would there be a commercial break every 12o seconds?!  How do you keep up our interest with such a choppy game flow? How do they possibly hope to stoke my competitive fire? Or is it a conspiracy to keep me drinking more Anheuser-Busch and scarfing down Chili Heat Doritos.

kia-slow-walk_s640x427

Anyway if you care, at the half Baltimore has bitch-slapped San Francisco. It has that disappointing feel of another Super Bowl blow out…

BeyonceSo now, I am sitting here having watched two hours of commercials and a bit of football waiting impatiently for the Halftime Extravaganza – Beyoncé…in all her Bootyliscious glory. Now if you have not been tracking Beyoncé – I have to ask why not? (Kidding.)  Seriously,unless you have been stuck under a rock for the last two weeks, you have to know that she is still reeling from that Inauguration scandal – LipSynchgate! The question asked ridiculously often the past week has been “Will she sing live, or will she pull a Brittany?” It was big news on the major news channels.  Guess that civil war in Syria was just too dull.

And because I was not going to make the under-over spread on the game now that Baltimore is kicking ass, I checked NFL.com for the stats to get a reasonable betting line on the Halftime Show.  I found that for Super Bowls played in February in the Southeastern US, where one of the teams is named for a Bird, or if one team’s uniform has gold as a supporting colour, the odds of a lip-synch performance by an act of two or more performers was 83%. Gambling on an NFL trifecta of “lip-synch, wardrobe malfunction and arrest of a starting linebacker for a concealed weapon”, the payout would have been 3800 to 1.  Mind you, those are the odds is in the pre-NFC/AFC unification era – today’s odds might have been less. Unfortunately I could not get that bet into Sports Line before the 6pm deadline.  For once I wished there was a British bookie shop nearby; that bet would have been a nice pairing with my betting stub on whether the Queen would wear Lime Green during the Royal Jubilee Flottilla or whether the new Royal Baby will have 11 toes…

Anyway, all I can say for the half time show, and the much vaunted togetherness of Destiny’s Child, is that after all the hullabaloo, Beyoncé should have lip-synched. It was no Janet Jackson…

And so we move to the last half. Looks like it is might be boring…oh wait, the lights have just gone out. Seriously? Well half of them anyway.  Jeez, why didn’t I put money on that? Wearing my tin-foil hat, I am thinking that SanFran may have paid off some the Mercedes-Benz staff  to turn the lights out – maybe they are hoping for the game to be called off on account of “dark”.  Or maybe it was just good old Mercedes-Benz engineering and a German-manufactured switching transformer blew; don’t worry they can get the parts at the nearest dealer…on Monday!

And so the minutes tick by…and during the glorious 31 minute delay…I witnessed the best of American Sports Journalism. (Okay, I sat and watched it…Loser)  Interviews with the sideline crew, replays of the first half low-lights, detailed analysis on Beyoncé’s “dress”, and explanations on why the Forty-Niners still haven’t showed up for the game. 31 minutes to figure out the lights…amazing that the most technologically savvy country in the world, the one that is the envy of the undeveloped world in terms of infrastructure and wealth, can’t figure out how to play football with only half the lights on.  Anyway, in the stadium there was still enough light for every kid in Africa to read a bedtime story; just not enough for a professional football player to catch a ball. Did these guys never play sports in the dark as kids? Maybe they should have asked all the fans to turn on their cell phones and turn them around – it worked for the half time show. Ummmm….sorry, was that my internal voice?

Super Bowl 47 Power Outage

….Sorry, I was transfixed for the second half. Who knew a power outage would kick start a 49er? Okay the game is over; it turned into a good game. 34-29 for Baltimore…and San Francisco made a game of it.  After 5 hours and 10 minutes of  TV coverage – or 60 minutes of game play –  EX-EL-VEE-EYE-EYE is over.  I hope that I am not the only one who watched it all!

But is it really over?  Wait, here comes the onslaught of post-game analysis. Baltimore will be applauded for their effort and SanFran will be consoled for their bad luck and misfortune;  Beyoncé will be heralded as a great entertainer, and everyone will comment on the ocean of tears shed for brave kids from Sandy Hook.

And for one more year, the Super Bowl will have served its purpose of rejuvenating the Stars and Stripes and reinvigorating America’s love for manufactured goods, food and alcohol.  And for a brief evening I forgot it was the middle of a cold, snowy winter…regardless of the score.  Perhaps like the Roman theatre, maybe that is what it is was all about in the first place. The Super Bowl,  just like the panem et circenses, cures everything.

Can’t wait for EX-EL-VEE-AYE-AYE-AYE!

Later,

ASF

Happy Christmas to all…and to all a Goodnight!

christmas-wallpaper47

Wooohoooo….It’s Christmas time!

What a great time of year.

Meisterburger BurgermeisterNow if you are one of those Burgermeister Meisterburghers who will begrudge Yule, complaining about the commercialism, the forced family intimacy, the loss of spirituality, the absurd political correctness that swirls around it all – all I can say to you is , “Bah…Humbug!”

Even though I am not Christian, I have been versed in the “Reason for the Season” courtesy of a knowledgeable and tolerant Dad. And if both he and I are not mistaken, the “reason” is the Bearded Fellow’s birthday…no, not the One in the Red Suit.  I mean the One in Flip-Flops. You know what I mean…Christmas is the day that the cute little baby Jesus, the one that Ricky Bobby loves so much, was born.  And alongside his birth come all the things recorded in song, like the Star of Wonder, and the Three Wise Men, the Little Drummer Boy, and most importantly Peace on Earth.

PEACE_ON_EARTH

And how can anyone argue against Peace on Earth?  Christmas…perchance originating from the Roman celebration of Saturnalia…has many cousins of all shapes and colours and sizes.  Not all of them fall on 25 December, but they fall conspicuously close to time of year known as the Winter Solstice. Hannukah, Kwanza, Eid, Diwali, Borodin, Mithra, Tree Festival are just a few of the diverse holy and significant days.  And though they do not all center on Jesus, they are all centred on celebration, togetherness, and generosity.

And all of them, I am guessing, at the very base of their being, have one common denominator … Goodwill to all Mankind.

So, given that this is the Season of  Goodwill, how can you possibly not believe in it?

So many things to love…the excitement, the happiness, the time to spend with family and friends, and to celebrate each other.

“But, but…”, says the nay-sayer…

Yes,  I’ll admit that I don’t enjoy the shopping or the crowds, but I do love my children’s laughter , the special look on my lovely wife’s face, the smiles on my parents’ and siblings’ faces when they open the gifts I have selected for them.

And yes, it is true I don’t enjoy the hard work of “decorating”. But the look of a house all festive and resplendent with lights and snowmen and penguins and reindeer and holly, is unbeatable.  And then Die Tannenbaum, l’Arbre de Noël, Den Julgran, Joulukuusi, Pom de Craciun, Arbol de Navidad, the Christmas Tree … one chosen with special care…is adorned and aglow, filling the house with the fresh clean smell of evergreen and sparkling with decorations that remind me of Christmases and places past.

how_the_grinch_stole_christmasAnd I do enjoy the Christmas specials…all which remind me of a younger, innocent me who revelled in Rudolph, Kris Kringle, Charlie Brown, the Grinch, the Red Ryder Air Rifle, the Griswalds and a host of other Christmas characters like Yukon Cornelius or Cindylou Who or The Bumpuses.  They bring back a joy and happiness and a little bit of Christmas magic, the years when I tried frantically to go to sleep so that it could be Christmas morning.

And the music…Thumpety Thump Thump and Hark the Herald Angels and Good King Wencelas and Fa la la la. Many a school concert and wassailing evening have been filled with songs that make you happy.

Charlie Brown

Oh, and the food…the Roast Beast and the Who Hash. Kidding. Christmas dinner was and is a feast.  Roast turkey, and Italian Sausage and Apple Dressing, sour cream mashed potatoes, a golden cheese cauliflower globe, green beans, gravy and cranberry sauce, apple and pumpkin pies…all of us pushing away from the table, and waddling away with loosened belts… swearing that we will never, ever eat again. Until the next day, when the turkey sandwiches on fresh bread, and turkey a la king, and turkey soup lay waiting…yum yum.

christmas-dinner1

I love all these things.  But it is not what I love most.

What I love most  would be the kinship. The reconnection with friends, and with family, through cards and calls and Skype and in person is fantastic. And some large-hearted people move it to the next level, sharing their good fortune with strangers and the needy.  This time of year, many of us will give generously to charities and churches and community groups.  We give to the homeless, the lonely and the less fortunate. It is a kindness we should share all year round – but, out of Christmas can grow a generous spirit to last the whole year.

homeless-christmas-4

Christmas is a time of year to reflect on what we have accomplished and to recharge our emotional and spiritual batteries. To spend time with our loved ones and to remember all that is good amongst us.

The boxes and bags and wrappings and food are all extra.

So…

Welcome, Christmas, bring your cheer. Cheer to all Whos far and near.

Christmas Day is in our grasp, so long as we have hands to clasp.

Christmas Day will always be just as long as we have we.

Welcome Christmas while we stand, heart to heart, and hand in hand.

Whoville Christmas

 My best wishes, to you all, for a Happy Christmas full of love and joy and peace – especially for those who are facing hardship and strife. And for those that are away from home serving your country or your fellow citizens in dangerous places, know we are thinking of you and hoping for your safe return to your loved ones.

All the best in 2013…see you in the New Year.

Later,

ASF

Jingle bells, Jingle bells…

The Canadian Army Run – way more than just a run….

This past weekend I participated in the Canadian Army Run.  Now, way back in February when I signed up for the run, I was full of good intentions to train hard and hopefully come close to meeting my personal best.  At least that it what I thought 7 months ago…that I could match a time that was achieved when I was eight years younger, 20lbs lighter and whole lot less arthritic.  (Roll eyes now…)

I started training and for three months I was doing really well. Speed work, hill work, endurance runs… I did everything that John Stanton recommended and I was feeling powerful.

But then life got in the way.

First the debilitating pinched nerve – the one I blogged about in May – then a house hunting trip from UK to Canada, and then a full-fledged move which included 30+ days in a hotel.  The latter was the killer: restaurants and beer and fried eggs and the occasional work out.  Any half-marathon discipline was wiped out by waves of stress-related hedonism! Time ticked away and I consoled myself that I had two months, then a month, then three weeks…blah blah blah.

And as 23 September loomed closer, the sinking feeling of “Man…this is gonna hurt. Hurt real bad!” started growing momentum. And while I wore the badge of “I am running the 21.3km Army Run”, I was a bit worried that I was going to embarrass myself and not finish. Instead of eagerness and impatience, there was a bit of unease and anxiety. And occasionally, I would think that the easy thing to do was to forgo the whole experience and take a “pass”. Everybody would understand that I was “not ready”.

But I couldn’t.  And with the exact same logic, neither could my wife. We said we would, so we had to.

So Sue and I sucked it up and headed off to Ottawa to do our bit.  To finish what we set out to do and to complete our respective 5k and 21k.

And during, and after, our respective runs, we both wondered what the heck we were worried about.  For among the 17,000 runners in both events, there was no thought of failure, no thoughts of poor performances, no winners and no losers.  It was a celebration: a celebration of an institution and its values.  Of taking on a challenge and sharing in everyone’s victory. Of cheering on everyone and applauding their commitment – whether they were Olympic calibre athletes or novices who wanted to show their support by taking on a huge challenge.

And mostly, it was humbling.  It was humbling to watch the disabled and the injured soldiers and fellow citizens take on the same challenge as us.  And honestly, nobody cared how fast they were. It was simply sobering to watch a triple amputee, injured in an IED attack, walking on two prosthetic legs holding a cane in his good hand. I can only describe it as awe-inspiring. It talks to the human condition – the drive and spirit that make us do things that we thought we could never do.  It put all of our challenges and worries into perspective.

And alongside this multitude of marvellous, amazing individuals, ordinary Canadians of all

His Excllency the Governor General particpates in the Canadian Army Run 5k

shapes and sizes, colours and creeds, ran, or jogged, or walked, defeating their own internal demons to make it across the finish line. And while their challenges may not have been as mountainous as the disabled and hurt, their victories are no less significant.

And after it all, the array of emotions that faces displayed were incredible.  Happiness, relief, tears, incredulity…the full gamut.  And why not?  It was a wonderful day full of personal bests and personal victories – of completing what you may not have thought was possible. And as I look at the pictures friends have posted, and the comments that they and all the people who care for them have made, I know that everyone feels the same.  It was so worth it!

And I feel a wisp of shame that I thought about avoiding it because I was not “ready”.  Because if I had not done it, I would not have been rejuvenated by the remarkable role models and spectrum of positive emotions throughout the course, and the valuable lessons it taught me.

No one cared if I ran slowly. No one mocked me for my slower finishing time. It was simply a celebration of what I, and We, achieved.  How we achieved the “objective”.  That we were a team focused on the same goal.  And that, in a nutshell, is how I would describe the Army and the Canadian Forces. How perfect is that?

So, if you have not attempted the Army run – 5k or 21k – join the thousands that have done it and will return for another year. It is a reawakening and a nice demonstration of what is right about sport and personal endeavour. Despite your fears and worries, you can do it just like others did.

See you on the course next year!

Go Army!

Later,

ASF

…Most wonderful time of the Year!

First day of school! Back to school supplies, new clothes, lunches all sorted and arranged in a frenzy of preparedness…parents across the continent have snapped pictures and sent the kids packing.  A mixture of pride, and perhaps relief, with a whiff of sadness.  They are growing up.

And for some, the day is full of angst as four-year olds make their first forays into junior kindergarten, or their older kids start at a new school for the first time, and as older ones spread their wings and leave the nest in their first years of university.

So much emotion, so much anxiety.  Will they make friends? Will their teacher be nice? Will they be bullied?  Will they be happy?

The answers – yes, hopefully, hopefully not, and yes.  We were happy – just like the generations before us. Both at school and after school.

I can’t say that everything at school was fantastic, I mean my Grade 4 teacher Mrs. B used to chastise us with, “Stop whispering back there!  I used to listen for airplanes during the war – I can hear you plainly!” Also, several of her students passed out while executing the daily “Lead the Class in Oh Canada” duty…and there was the unfortunate “karate chop” incident that led to my one-on-one with the Principal…

But overall, thinking of school is nothing but a nostalgic visit with memories that make me happy.  We all have them. Things like:

Recess.  I mean recess…how cool.  Unless it was “Indoor Recess” because it was too cold or too wet.  Recess meant “foot hockey”…tennis ball soccer with goalies using their coats as “goalie pads”. Or it meant Four-Square or Kings’ Corner, with the red rubber bouncy ball (you know, the one that made the pinging sound as it bounced) and three opponents in a four sectioned square.  Or it meant tether ball, or dodge ball or Spud or tag or hide-and-seek or British Bulldog or red-rover.  These were the things that made school fun.

Or was it the School Sports Day?  One whole Spring day full of relay races, where everyone sat down in line – calmly – once they had navigated the obstacle course, or hula-hooped, or put on the clown outfit, or did whatever the teachers invented. A day full of competitive spirit, when every team was in the hunt for the coloured ribbons.  And it was the day when you got that awesome orangey-like juice from the McDonald’s cooler, to wash down the one lunchtime hotdog.

And what about assemblies…the whole school in one place. All the kids kept trying to get the attention of their best friend in the other class…or it was youngest siblings waving at their “cooler” older sibling who was trying their hardest to ignore them. And the snake-like cacophony of the teachers’ constant “shhh”s  as we waited for the Principal to introduce the Visitor.  Rumours were prevalent just before Assembly…would it be Elmer the Safety Elephant or Blinky the Police Car…would it be a guitar sing-song or a short film?  Would we be watching another class do a special play? So much excitement, so much fun!  Regardless of the reason, it was always an exciting break from the routine.  Good for some time away from the grindstone!

And in the same vein, what about the perennial Christmas concert…I have been to them as a parent, and except for that four-minute period that your own child is singing a Christmas medley of Rudolph/Frosty/Jingle Bells…it is painful.  Oh, wait…the kindergarten kids, regardless of their song, are so cute with their snowflake hats or elf costumes!! Regardless of the pain, for uncounted generations, parents have endured as their child has sung with gusto to be heard above the others in the Choir.

And lastly there was the favourite “Parent Night” (not to be confused with the dreaded parent-teacher conference.  Moms and dads coming in to the open house, as their children showed off their notebooks, their desk space (all tidied up and neat for the special occasion), and proudly pointing out the artwork that made the bulletin board, or the short story with the gold star at the front of the classroom.  For me and my sibs, the evening was usually capped off at the house with an evening treat – ice cream or cake and hot custard.  It was awesome.

As I sit and reminisce, I think of all the other things that made me happy to go back to school…

  • the 64 pack of Crayola with the built-in sharpener and awesome colours like Periwinkle Blue and Vermillion, which morphed into Laurentian Pencil Crayons as I grew older….
  • the utility math kit, with the compass and the protractor and the six-inch ruler and the eraser – which usually finished the season with a broken case containing only a snapped ruler…
  • marking your supplies with your name – and usually putting a masking tape “flag” on your pens on which to write your name….
  • Coming home at lunch time to tomato soup and a cheese sandwich as I watched Fred and Barney get into another jam. They were “Stupid Good-lookings”…a “Judo-chop-chop”
  • Chocolate bar sales as we raised money for some unknown cause, motivated by earning that Pizza Party for the class
  • Feeling slightly sad for the kid who forgot his indoor shoes during the winter and had to spend the day walking around in socks…but boy, could they slip and slide down the polished hallways!

  • The audio centre at the back of the classroom, where we could put on a record, don the headphones and listen to “A Spoonful of Sugar” or the “Bear Necessities”… with the teacher tapping us on the shoulder to tell us we were singing a bit too loudly
  • The jokes we used to tell…Knock,Knock…I was born on a Pirate Ship…or the mildly risqué story that was made up entirely of Chocolate Bar Names (you remember, with Oh Henry and Sweet Marie…)
  • The foldy paper-thingy – a “fortune teller” or “cootie catcher” – that had numbers and colours and told you your future depending on the combinations you gave the owner…
  • The arts and crafts that produced Mother’s Day and Father’s Day cards, or Easter baskets or snowflake calendars….
  • And finally, the classroom party – dressed up for Hallowe’en, or participating in the gift exchange at Christmas ( I remember getting socks one year.  Practical; but what 8 year-old wants practical?), or the Valentine Day card-giving (with the little cards, and the unofficial competition of who would receive more, and your parents’ advice to give one to everyone so that no one’s feelings got hurt), Easter and then the  year-end Party. Surprising that we got anything done.

I don’t know if all that happens anymore.  My kids have grown.

Maybe things have changed…maybe computers and smart phones or Health and Safety and our litigious nature have changed everything.  I hope not. I hope that underneath our radar, underneath the white noise of “earning a living”, or “paying the mortgage”, or “the pursuit of the material goods”, that our kids are doing the things that kids should do – and that they are having fun. That’s the way it should be.

And, because, kids are kids, whether it is 1976 or 2012 – I bet they are! And If I’m wrong, I am sure you will let me know.

Happy back to school, Everyone.

Later,

ASF

Oh Canada…Happy 145th!

I am Canadian! I like beer and canoeing and playing Hockey (that’s ice-hockey for my European friends) and frolicking in the snow.  There are only two types of dress – I am either wearing flip-flops and shorts, or a toque and a parka. And, I like to say, “Eh?”, eh?

And while the Canadian stereotype is funny…it’s so true!  We are polite.  We say please.  We open doors. We say, “How’s it going, eh?” instead of the typical international “passing each other in silence” with our heads down.

And there are so many things that are just uniquely Canadian – things that, unless you have been to Canada, you won’t get it.  Things like suicide wings, mittens with an idiot string, Canadian Tire, “tabernouche”, a double-double and an apple fritter, a wrist-shot, bumper-shining,  poutine, Crown Royal, “Oskee wee wee, Oskee wa wa”, HNIC and Double OT,  “nine-six-seven…eleven, eleven”.  We can say Homo Milk without offending anyone.  And evidently we say aboot and hoose…and we call it a zed (not zee)…

And because we are humble and unassuming , nobody knows that Canadians have influenced sport and music and film and art and science FOREVER…if you don’t know what I mean, here’s just a short list:

Steve Nash  Mike Meyers, William Shatner, Neil Young, Leonard Cohen, Peter North (yes, that Peter North), Oscar Petersen, Hank “I’ve been Everywhere, Man” Snow, , Bachman-Turner Overdrive…who are always Takin’ Care of Business, Lorne “Bonanza” Green, Mordecai Richler, Leslie Neilsen, Keanu…ummm…uh…Reeves, Kiefer and Donald Sutherland, The Group of Seven, Peter Jennings, Morley Safer, John Candy, Scott Goodyear, Gordie Howe, Bronko Nagurski, Norman Jewison, Lorne Michaels, Pamela Anderson, Fay Wray, WP Kinsella, Margaret Atwood, Jim Carey, James Cameron,  Alex Trebec, Sir Frederick Banting, Stomping Tom Connors…the list could go on and on.

And if that is not enough, Canada is just so beautiful…from “Bonavista, to Vancouver Island, from the Arctic Circle, to the Great Lake waters” (you can sing it if  you want)…Urban beauty and natural wonder hand in hand; a land full of natural resources, of open spaces. Of crystal blue lakes, of hiking and skiing and boating, cottage country – and BBQs!

And what does it mean to be Canadian? It means peace making and peace keeping. It means supporting the weak. It means helping friends. It means never backing down from a fight, and never giving up even if you are the underdog. It is a multicultural mosaic, not a melting pot.

It is Spanakopita on Toronto’s Danforth, Dragon Boat races at False Creek in Vancouver, a midnight ski run in Banff, watching the Blue and Gold on a sunny, but absolutely frigid -40*C afternoon in Winnipeg, kissing the Puffin in St John’s, having a few glasses of Québécois Caribou at the Winter Carnival, racing Chuckwagons in Calgary, the Maid of the Mist at the Horseshoe Falls, or a sun that never sets in Iqaluit.  It is home.

So on 1 July, I will join about 35,000,000 fellow Canadians as we celebrate our nation’s 145th birthday. Our party will be a couple of hours earlier than back home, as we party in Trafalgar Square at the largest Canada Day bash outside Canada.  Not a bad gig, eh?

To all Canadian home and abroad, I wish you all a fantasticly Happy Canada Day, eh?  For our troops in dangerous places, be safe and know we are thinking of you.

“Oh Canada!…The true North strong and free!”

PS And just so you know I am not a calloused, curmudgeonly fellow, but that I am really a softie, it is not just Canada Day…it’s a “double-plus good” kinda day. It is also my third wedding anniversary! Doesn’t get better than that!

Later,

ASF