Posts from the ‘Fun’ Category

Hey, sweetie, is the oven the thing under the dials – or is that the stove?

When I was growing up, our house was a classic traditional division of labour.  While both my folks worked, my Mom was all about “cooking and cleaning” and my Dad was all about playing with the kids and fixing and repairing stuff. At the end of each work day, I remember Dad  walking through the door and after the requisite hugs, asking my Mom, “What’s for eating?!”

If I had to choose who did a better job, I would have to say that Mom won – there was only so much Dad could do with adjustable pliers, WD40, duct tape (gaffer tape for those in UK and Western Canada!) and Plumber’s Goop. But wow, did my Dad ever teach me to shovel snow and mow grass!

Throughout my early years and into my first marriage, I followed the same path. Grass, snow, garbage, leaves, plugged toilets, lightbulbs.  And if I tried to climb out of the glass cellar?…let’s put it this way, perhaps it is only men who can really appreciate that white has many shades of grey and pink.

But after being on my own for a while, I realised that I had to learn how to become a domestic demi-god out of necessity – I couldn’t afford to buy new underpants every week. But, perhaps  the pivotal moments centred on the fact that my apartment did not come with a full length urinal – I learned things like sitting on the toilet makes less mess and is a much more accurate method in the dark (for my new middle-aged tradition of 3 o’clock in the morning toilet breaks). The result, amazingly a less “gag-inducing” WC that was easier to clean every week (and a much cleaner bath mat –  just kidding – those around-the-toilet mats are so gross. Like carpeted bathrooms.) Why did I have to figure this out myself – why did no one ever teach me stuff like this…?

Now while I do not relish the cleaning aspect of the domestic routine, there is one that I wish I had picked up when I was younger.

How to cook.

Now Like most XYs, aside from the ancient male ritual of grilling meat on fire, making super-sized Dagwood sandwiches, and griddling up some chocolate chip pancakes on Sundays or after sleepovers, I was not really a whiz at food preparation.  If you couldn’t BBQ it or fry it, it wasn’t my lane or part of my skill set.  And how silly is that…because, I love to eat.

So there I was in my 40s before I realised that cooking was actually kind of cool and therapeutic.  Now for those of you who think that cooking is not very masculine…tell that to the Galloping Gourmet, Gordon Ramsey, Jamie Oliver or Wolfgang Puck (okay maybe not Wolfang…)

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not into the Heston Blumenthalian “molecular gastronomy” or “snail-egg and bacon” ice cream kind of experience; and I hate finicky recipes – so I am not a Julia Childs fan (unless you count Meryl Streep’s Julia Childs who exclaimed that “fresh-from-the-boiling-water cannelloni was ‘hotter than a stiff …’ – well you can guess the rest.  And yes, I thought ‘ Julie and Julia’ was a pretty good movie – there I said it. Move on.)

But after developing some basic kitchen skills, I now believe it is fairly easy for a guy to do more than pierce the plastic film and push reheat.  I now think a guy should know his way around a handy-chopper, chopping board, garlic press and crock-pot just as well as he knows his way around a five-speed manual transmission, X-Box console, Mach III, or IKEA Allen Key (…if you do not know the difference between a Paring knife and a Santoku, you might be doing the culinary equivalent of taking your penalty shots with a goalie stick – you will probably get the job done, but man are you making it tough!)

I wasn’t always a Happy Cooker.  I was thrown into the deep end – all of a sudden – as I became responsible for feeding myself and “mini-me one and two” on occasion.  Approaching cooking like an Engineer, I said to myself, “Self, there must be an easy method to learn how to cook.” Hmmm…it was a sticky wicket.  (Sidebar – My kids will tell you about the hilarity of my early efforts – they still do not believe that meat and exotic fruit belong in the same dish. We call it the “Ugly Chicken Mango Quesadilla” incident. So much for my Pork Loin and Lychees…)  But to get back on topic –  a quick look at Cooking Schools yielded that you could shell out anywhere from $1K to $50K if you wanted to.  Who can afford that  – unless looking to make it big on Iron Chef?

So, I learned – through one book and the Internet. (Yes, I was just as surprised to learn the internet is good for more than just porn, boys…)

The book was the Joy of Cooking (and it’s on line site is – note I wrote Joy of Cooking.  I’d have to say that the pictures are not as good as the ones in the other “Joy” self-help book (sorry no image for that one…not many fans of the ‘European look‘).  JoC is an old-fashioned book, containing over 4500 solid and time-tested recipes. Most importantly, it taught me the simple things that were instinct to some, but that were completely foreign to me. Like, how long do you bake a potato? What temperature do you roast a chicken at? What is in spaghetti sauce? Or, what the heck is tarragon? MInd you,  I don’t use all the techniques in the book, but when I am really lost, Irma Bombauer sets me on the right path.

As for the web, there are so many good sites, but a few of my favorites are:

There is one more tool that I have used since the start of 2012 – the Monthly Meal Plan, courtesy of, and as explained by, my friend Laura – author of . Her meal plan concept has sure made life easier – no more six o’clock panic combing the fridge and pantry for meal ideas, no more rotting vegetables in the crisper at week’s end, and great eating every night – it is the greatest “mise en place”. Take a peek over at

I have to say that for me, cooking equals Zen.  Like painting, or playing the guitar, or the daily run, cooking relaxes me…and I feel great satisfaction in recreating a recipe – especially when eating it! The good thing is that eventually you develop enough confidence to use your new-found skills and talents and break away from the recipe book. You have then snatched the pebble, grasshopper.

But, if snatching the pebble is just too much work…just aim small – to quote Kris Kringle, “Just put one foot in front of the other.” Take a chance and break away from take-out “Chicky-in-the Basket Bork Bork Bork” eaten over the sink (c’mon, admit it…every guy has done that). Try something simple – like the time-honoured cheap and easy cooking techniques.  It’s a great start, too.

Happy cooking!



A Calvinist and Hobbesian view on life…

Sorry all…I have been absent as of late. But in my defence I will say that I have not been on the computer much, as I have been away from home.  But now I am done with airports and border agents and Euros – for a spell anyway – and I am enjoying a bit of a Dorothy moment…there’s no place like home!

So after ensuring the cats were alive, checking my e-mails, updating my Facebook etc, I was just “stumbling on” when I happened upon an article about comics that have had the most impact on their day and age (and seriously do not confuse comics with cartoons…unless you want to experience a “whole can of attitudinal micro-culture whoop-ass” from a plaid-shirt, unshaven twenty-something hipster). The article talked about the ones that were way before my time…Gasoline Alley, Little Orphan Annie…and moved to the contemporary ones like Beetle Bailey and Hi and Lois. It event mentioned Family Circus – the “saccarhiney-aspertamey” tasting cartoon that I thought was, Ida Know, kinda boring.

But the timeline stopped before the author hit the Big Ones – the ones that I thought were most cutting, insightful and satirical – Doonesbury, Opus and my all-time “mostest favourite” – Calvin and Hobbes.  Now we all have our favourites, and I am sure you would defend the honour of your choice comic – but since this is my blog, I can say with impunity it is the best – and compared to the talking penguin, or the neo-politicos, the Little Precocious Sh*t Disturber with the Stuffed Tiger wins!

Take up the gauntlet and challenge me on that if you want….

Now, when I started reading this strip in 1987-ish, I immediately fell in love with it (coincidentally, I had no choice but to read it,  My dorm room was tidy AND clean, the laundry was all caught up, and the term-paper was still not due for a whole 16 hours…)  Being an amateur artist, the awesome art work hypnotised me – Bill Watterson broke all the rules as I knew them (or perhaps re-wrote the rules) – using the limited space creatively to captivate the reader’s attention.  But, that was not all. It was his writing that hooked me – hilarious, unconventional and really witty.  Watterson was a smart man, who found a great medium to express his views – particularly his satire – in a fun, yet thought-provoking way.

If you never looked at it like that, then check out these Calvin and Hobbes strips…

Now comes the favourite part of my blogs.  The suspense the reader must feel as they try to figure out where I am going with this.  I have set the hook, and now I am free to move off in any direction (I do love my tangents.). Giddyupppp…..

For instance – I could write about the symbology and very grown up notions swirling around Calvin and Hobbes.  Like how Calvin is named after John Calvin – a man who interpreted predestination to mean that God willed eternal damnation for some and offered salvation for others – and that our lives are nothing but a paradox contrasting inevitable fate versus delusional free will; or, that little stuffed tiger Hobbes is named after Thomas Hobbes, a Primitivist who wrote ,”during the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war; and such a war as is of every man against every man”. (That is from Leviathan, by the way – no plagiarism here…attribution, attribution, attribution )

But, man, that is a lot of heavy mental lifting on a lazy sunny afternoon while lounging about in a T-shirt and underpants, drinking green tea infused with orange blossom and lotus leaves…

So I will go fluffy – well, sort of.

To me, the best part of Calvin was that he was “Every-man” – or more appropriately, “Every-boy”.  Every guy, old or young – whether a student, banker, artist, athlete, engineer, salesman,  tradesman – saw a bit of themselves in a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon.  Once we chucked off the cloak of “responsible-ness” and the husk of our day jobs, we were all Fantasists and Day-deamers and explorers and smart-asses.  We were all Calvin.

And as I say over and over (to myself anyway), Everyone – even comic strip characters – can teach you a lesson – what to imitate and what not to.

Now there are many blogs on the interweb that illustrate how something or another taught the writer “all-they-needed-to know-in-life” – everything from kindergarten, to peanut butter, to yoga, to The Ninja Turtles, or even Will Ferrell. It is a bloated genre; but I will add to the bloat by writing about how  “All I needed to know, I learned from Calvin”.

Calvin taught me to…

Be curious.  What more can we say about Calvin other than to highlight his innate desire to learn more and to challenge the bounds. Interestingly, the Canadian Army is like Calvin,  It guides it members to,“ Pursue self-improvement”  – (it has a supporting principle – “There is no such thing as a stupid question”, which maybe true, but that argument can easily be neutralised with, “there are no stupid questions, just stupid people…”) – and Calvin, well he took the questions to new heights. He pushed the envelope, as we all should. And by virtue of the responses he received, Calvin also taught me that not all sources of authority have the right answer…sometimes you just have to figure it out for yourself.

Be adventurous.  “The more you think about things, the weirder they seem. Take milk for example. Why do we drink COW milk? Who was the guy who first looked at a cow and said, “I think I’ll drink whatever comes out of these things when I squeeze ‘em!”.  IOnce upon a time you just used blind faith and tasted birthday cake and ice cream – no idea if it was good or bad – and you probably discovered you liked it, a lot!  Everyday we face new challenges and opportunities – one of them could be the next cake and ice cream! (It’s an analogy – only cake and ice cream is cake and ice cream…and anyway, I don’t like either – I like gin…)

Be yourself – but learn how you fit into the big picture..  I am sure you will agree that Calvin was never afraid of expressing himself, or doing his own thing.  Now mind you, at times he seemed to break the rules ridiculously (in ways that I, as a parent, could never condone! Mimic, but not condone…); but conceptually, he espoused a great life philosophy. He was an individual, but he also showed us that community is important – though only 6, he was sure astute in realising that some rules are necessary…ask an ant (or read a Lehman Brothers’ lessons learned report…)

(By the way, my Dad taught me this one, too. His quote, “Son, do whatever you want to do when you grow up; but just do something that adds to society – don’t detract from it…”)

Push your limits.  It is easy to accept things as they are, but complacency can lead to stagnation.  As someone once said, “Only the mediocre are always at their best.” Shoot for the stars, they might be in reach!

The English language is amazing, and if you can’t find a word, make one up…a six year old using Scrabble-50-point-bonus-bingo words is amazing – even if it is fiction. As a twenty-something,Calvin and Hobbes taught me that a dictionary is one of life’s essential possessions.  Though expletives are great words with their own time and place, there are so many alternatives to “f*ck or sh*t – Calvin taught me to explore the other ~249, 998 words in the English language (excluding inflections and double meanings). And I am not even counting words like transmogrifier.

By the way, if you find a copy of the book in the image, it can fetch between $8,000 -$10,000!

Girls are G.R.O.S.S (Get Rid Of Slimy girlS) …well not really. But even six-year-old Calvin noticed that women are from Venus…and that we men just can’t help ourselves. We want to be with them, even if we don’t understand them. Ultimately, If a guy is lucky, he will find his own Suzie Derkins!

Wow, the list continues forever – how science rules, how we should take care of our planet, how pretentious talk really makes you sound stupid, how nothing is cooler than a dinosaur…and so on and so on. But I don’t have the energy to go on – and anyway I like to work in the Principle of Fives (like 59,  599, and 5879…they’re all prime number and have fives in them – two of my favorite things.)  Besides I could not think of another good example. And the sun is setting and my tea-cup is empty – so it is too cold to stay in underpants only…

Sadly,like all good things, the Calvin and Hobbes had to come to an end after a good 10-year run (and 3160 comics, which is not prime number and has no 5s) – and like the last episodes of many wonderful things – M*A*S*H or Blackadder or Cheers for instance  – it left the rest of the story untold – left to the follower to complete.

And so with a fresh fall of snow – a blank sheet of paper – and with a whole world to explore, joined by a happy tiger on a careening sled, we knew that Calvin would keep being Calvin…so cool!



Post-script.  Some deluded souls have tried to carry Bill Watterson’s torch further…Google “Calvin all grown-up” to find recent examples…but I warn you – what has been seen cannot be unseen. Some things should just be left untouched

Borrowed from the :)

What we should have learned in our senior year of high school

Cool kid shoes…and other stuff I really wanted (but not enough to loot)

I read an article in 18 February’s edition of The Guardian (UK) called Footlocker: the brand that spells trouble all about how the Footlocker stores – all over the world – are an “automatic looter-magnet” during any kind of civil disobedience.  Hockey riots, race riots, police brutality riot…no matter what the cause, the author contends that the allure of the Swoosh, or the Trefoil are too much for the young masses to resist – legally or not.

The article was a mindless read, a little too full of innuendo about race and poverty and other social issues to be taken too seriously…and I must admit that the part of me that wants to wear a tinfoil cap to prevent the government from listening to my thoughts, thinks the article might have been a fantastic bit of Footlocker covert public relations – a free 3 page advert in the lifestyle supplement of a major Saturday paper.

But to quote the article and I believe you can replace the word trainer (for the North American crowd, we’re talking sneakers) with any other consumer good and it would still ring true…

  • “Trainers have become a very aspirational product. We all remember being bullied for wearing the wrong trainers at school. It’s inconceivable for some people not to take part in the trainer game.”

And like always, that statement took me on a tangent.  And as I am mathematically inclined, I like my tangents – this one about all those things that were so cool, that I had to – just had to – get my hands on them.  Maybe it was because I thought I would be part of the gang and the other kids would not make fun of me, or maybe because they were just fun.  But as I grew up in a “frugal-through-necessity” household, there was not a lot of money to spend on some of these “luxuries”.  Many an evening I lay in a pre-sleep daze, fantasizing about the how I, and Life, would be so much cooler if I had the gear and the fashions.

And just what were those things…well, let’s see if I can recall a few…

Shoes.  Shoes have always been a “cool factor” issue – I believe they always were and always will be (though I am positive they are never “looting-worthy”).  But my parents were practical…kids’ feet grow so quickly that expensive footwear was a silly expenditure.  Whatever was on sale, and cheap, were the shoes of choice: Sonic and Northstars were the way ahead. But, when I got to the age where the choice of shoes would be the difference between going to school happy or sulking in my room like a teenage hermit, my parents eventually gave in and I got the brand names I was looking for.  Unfortunately, the compromises was that the shoes came in the “clearance-bin” colours no one else wanted…

And in the same vein…

MoonBoots.  At our house in 1970s Toronto, the boot of choice was Honest Ed’s nylon snowmobile boots with the felt liners.  Throughout Grades 1 to 8, the snowmobile boot was a constant. I remember how the felt liner would soak up all the moisture – both from the slush and from my feet (I know…yuck!).  In order to stay dry in the soaking liners, we would wrap our feet in plastic bags to keep them dry.  Every night the felt liners would be placed upside down on the central heating register…and every morning they were still wet because my brother or sister had knocked them down, or had moved mine to dry theirs. Bummer. The MoonBoot was different…light, airy, colourful and stylin’.  It was the CoolBoot!! Everyone wanted them.  As I got older the styles changed – construction boots, Kodiaks, Sorels, Mukluks – but the MoonBoot still reigns as the most sought after by my generation of kids…

Levis Jeans – orange labels.  I did not own my first pair of Levis until I was 13 years old.  Up to that point it was always a pair of Sears’ clearance outlet pants …checkered, twill, striped, corduroy…what young hipster today would call “vintage”, but back then they were just “nerd-wear”.  Arthur Fonzarelli would never wear a pair of husky-fit Toughskins…I was doomed to be Potsie forever.  My first pair of Levis were factory seconds from a store called Booboos. Yes, they were Levis, but sadly there was no orange label…Levis had cut the label off them because they were imperfect.  But showing some materialistic ingenuity, I was able to buy a pirated orange tab from a friend who was throwing out an old ripped pair of jeans – so after a bit of sewing, I had my very own pair of cool jeans. Even through the disco period and designer jeans – the ones with that silly white pocket stitching – my love affair with Levis continued…and still does.

Intellivision.  For us, toys were a luxury item.  Not that we didn’t have toys – but I doubt very much that what we played with would be safety approved by today’s standards. We played with cars or trains or planes, cut from sheet metal, painted with Chinese-made lead paint, and with lots of sharp edges – and they were fun for a couple of hours until a wheel, or a wing, or another crucial piece fell off.  Now I had some toys that were winners in the mix, like the time I won the electronic video game Pong as a newspaper boy (along with a Freddy Fender album…Wasted Day and Wasted Nights…yeeehaw!)  But what I craved was Mattel Intellivision. I finally got one in Grade 10…and spent a whack-load of time mastering Tank Combat or Dungeons and Dragons… (click on this link – A Review of Intellivision Games for a reminder of fun times)

The Walkman.  Like all kids, music played a big part of my youth.  First there was the AM radio – belting tunes from 1050 CHUM. Then there was the cassette player…the plug in mic held to the radio so I could record the New Year’s Day Top 100 list. Next, came the radio with the built-in mic and cassette player – which eventually became the “Ghetto Blaster”.  Now the Ghetto Blaster was portable – if you were a weightlifter and had access to 12 fresh D Cell Batteries every 2 hours – but much too expensive for the younger set.  Everything changed, however, when Sony invented the Walkman… the grandfather of the iPod and the MP3 player. The Walkman changed the way we listened to music… a rockin’ 45 minutes of musical bliss, but then you had to flip the cassette over!  I wanted one so badly, and lo and behold, I got my very own Sony Walkman Cassette Player from my parents when I graduated university.  Thanks Mom and Dad…

Street Hockey Net.  Now because I am Canadian, when I was a kid there was only one real game to be played after school…street hockey.  Always at the intersection closest to our house, we played our own versions of the Stanley Cup from the time we got home, continuing under the streetlights until our mothers called us in for dinner. When we were young, piles of snow were adequate for goal posts…and the goalie guarded the scraped goal with his regular hockey stick and a baseball glove.  But as we started getting older – and more discerning – we needed the gear.  The goalie needed a proper stick …even if it was just a plastic blade!  But the piece of kit that put you on the A-list within the gang was the street hockey net.  Each game started with the intricate hockey net ritual…carrying the net to the game over your shoulder, unfolding the net, ensuring that all large holes were repaired with spare shoe lace – and then it was “game on”.  The hockey net was a status symbol…at least until your gang had three or more nets to choose from…

Anything from the Sears Christmas Wish Book…no explanation required.

It is funny that at one time these things were so important to me.  I would like to say that I am all grown up and that I have given up on worrying about “things”…but as I look around the house, I note that my toys have just gotten a little more advanced (and pricey), and since I buy my own clothes, I can buy whatever I want!  And as for my kids, I suppose I am a little indulgent…maybe I should make them wear fluorescent orange shoes to school. Oh wait, they are in fashion again… never mind.



Where did my “Dancin’ Fool” go? Oh there he is…

I was watching CNN yesterday and saw that Don Cornelius died.  Perhaps some of you remember him – especially those of you were born before Stevie Wonder released “Sir Duke.  Mr. Cornelius, if you do not know, was the creator, founder and host of Soul Train – one of the epic early music shows on TV.

Now, I could go on many tangents writing about Soul Train. I could write about the empowerment of the Afro-American community. Or maybe the influence it had on Quincy Jones, Spike Lee and other black producers and directors. But I am too late. Yesterday, CNN covered all that in a stereotypical two minute feature, repeated 6 times an hour.

Instead, I will write about what Soul Train meant to me.  Soul Train was about boogie and moving & grooving.  I will blog about dancing – because when Soul Train was hot, it made all of us into Dancin’ Fools.

Soul Train was just one of many dance shows that influenced a whole generation and provided the “funky” moves we only dreamed of using during the school gym dances.  The brave and hip souls who exposed themselves on the Soul Train Dance Line were the ancient forefathers and mothers of the “So-You –Think-You-Can-Dance” Crowd.  If you cannot grasp the sheer quirkiness of the period’s boogie fever, pre-hip hop dance moves, and fantastic fashions, have a gander of just what Soul Train brought to the table and prepare to groove along to these highlights.

Yes, I can imagine the youngsters giggling through all of that.  Funnily enough, Soul Train was not the first dance show I remember. The grandpappy of all the shows, with the host who signed the deal with the Devil for eternal youth, was American Bandstand. For 30+ years, Dick Clarke did not age one friggin’ day as he hosted a variety of American Icons and the happening teenagers of the day.  But while Soul Train allowed all those who thought they had the stuff to strut it, American Bandstand was more like the mosh pit as the Alpha Dancers tried hard to get just a few seconds of screen time.  And that was the major difference between the ‘Train and the ‘Stand? (Yep, that was the hip lingo back then…and I still got it!)  If you wanted to stick out on American Bandstand, you had to do something really special

Soul Train and Bandstand provided the moves that helped me through school dances. Confidently, I was doing the “left foot, right foot” shuffle to “Kung Fu Fighting” in Grade 4, bumping to “Le Freak, C’est Chic” in Grade 9, or doing the Carleton Banks to “We got the Beat” in Grade 12.  For most of us, the TV dance moves were all we needed to get the other side of the gym begging us to dance with them. Yeah, right…

Inevitably as I grew older, dance shows served another purpose.  Now, for anyone born after 1990, imagine a time before the internet and free porn; imagine an innocent time when the Friday night  Baby Blue movies were the talk of the school lunchroom on Mondays, and when the images of the “20 Minute Workout” helped us master our domains.  And the dance show’s contribution? Yes…the Solid Gold Dancer. My goodness, did someone turn up the heat…

But sadly, there came a time when all the old chestnuts lost their allure.  The music became too mainstream and the dancers in the crowd, well, they were just like me – only nerdier.  I needed something more modern, more “with it”.  And who filled the void…Much Music and its hyper-hip Electric Circus.   Live from City TV studios in the cultural centre of Canada (you guessed it – John Street!) Electric Circus was “poser” Canada at its best…hosted by the chic Monika Deol and her vox basso. I mean, who didn’t want to be – or do – an Electric Circus Dancer? (For the record, that is not sexist. The dancers were both male and female…so people of all five sexual orientations could fantasize about them. How much more inclusively-Canadian can you get than that?)

But like always, the lights in the club eventually turn on – long after last call has passed. You suddenly realise that all that grown-up stuff – marriage, kids, work – has conspired against you and the dancing stopped without you even noticing. No more dance shows with their hip moves. Forget the funk. Forget the Boogie. Dancing – if you still did it – consisted of sweating to the Let’s Twist Again Medley, the Bird Dance or La Macarena at weddings.

But while I did not watch anymore dance shows, I still tried to find the opportunity to try out the moves that I saw during the occasional TV-surfing moments. On New Year’s Eve1999, I nearly suffered a cardiac arrest as I emulated the  Torrance Community Dance Group during an impromptu 4 minute dance solo on an empty floor.  There wasn’t one single Soul Train dance move during that set.  I realised after that unintentional aerobics class, that maybe I was getting old. That maybe I should put away the Billy Idol arm thrashing, the MC Hammer moves, and the Fresh Prince’s Running Man.

But as dance has been there pretty much for all of my life, I heard the advice, but I didn’t really listen to it. And so, dancing has made the occasional appearance during my grown up life (usually in the company of several drinks and the unmistakable beat of the 70s and 80s hits). When that happens, I am bopping because my pelvis and knees have loosened up through the liberal application of a few cocktails.  During these happy times, I still believe that I am just as good as the kids who shimmied along Don Cornelius’s Dance Line – even if I do have an overbite.

Keep dancing!  Later,


PS.  Interpretive dance…gotta love that too. One of my favourites!