Archive for September, 2006

There are a few things in life that you just know without being told. One of them being that any time someone says “… and then it fell off” and they’re talking about something that’s part of their body, well it’s not good. See, our bodies, although comprised of many separate parts that all perform separate functions, is actually just one big part. It’s like a machine with lots of moving bits and bites and they all serve to keep that one machine running well. This morning, my machine stopped running well. Something fell off.

Early in the ZLF soccer season, I sustained a near-career-ending injury that resulted in the second toenail of my right foot turning black. I’m one of those freaks with an INSANELY long second toe, so it’s just hanging out there waiting to be the target of some violent act.

For the entire summer, that black toenail taunted me from my Birkenstocks or when I ran barefoot across golden meadows. It seemed to whisper “Someday, when you least expect it… I’m just going to fall off and your toe will look ugly for the rest of your life”. Weird, eh? I mean… a whispering toenail?

After months of the toenail staying firmly planted on my foot, I’d been lulled into a false sense of security. I came to believe that unlike everyone else on earth who has blacked-out a toenail, mine would somehow miraculously stay on and just grow out. I was naive, and this morning I paid the price.

To say it ‘fell off’ is a bit misleading. You see, toenails are kind of like baby teeth in that they get really loose, but you have to actually get in there and do the deed yourself. One whole corner pulled away when it snagged on my sock and it was swinging open like a rusty gate, only held on by one side… but still firmly hanging on. [Is this where I warn the squeamish that perhaps they should just stop reading? No? Too late? Fair enough] So I took hold of the nail and gave a good hard pull, and I was sitting on the foot of my bed holding my toenail.

So that’s how my friday started. Aside from that, I’m having a great day… and losing my nail wasn’t that bad. It didn’t hurt and I had something disgusting to share in my blog today. My loss is your gain.

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There’s a chilly bite in the air, the leaves are starting to turn, and the sun disappears a little earlier each day. That can mean only one thing. It’s cold and flu season. Yes, that’s right. For the next 8 months or so, we can all look forward to hearing plegmy coughs, wet sneezes and sinus-clearing snorts.

For me, this year will be different. I hereby refuse to catch a cold or the flu this fall like I always do. I’m drawing a line in the sand and saying “Hey, Mr.Virus. Screw you. I’m not getting sick this year”. Granted, he’ll just cross that line and infect me anways, but there’s something comforting about taking a stand (like the Dutch) rather than just rolling over and being invaded (like the French).

For those of you who’d like to build a great big wall to keep out the bad guys (much like the Maginot Line, only more effective), I’ve requested a recipe from my mom for an evil little home remedy that’s been around since the beginning of time. It’s called a mustard plaster and it’s like putting actual fire on your chest. It literally burns sickness out of you. Once I get it, I’ll post it here for everyone to enjoy.

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I used to think that mosquitoes were the worst beings on this planet. I mean, all they do is annoy you, bite you, drink your blood, and leave a nasty welt. Lately though, I’m starting to think that a different animal entirely is the worst being on the planet. People. People… are the worst.

For example, two girls in Manitoba sued their high-school for not letting them play on the boy’s Ice Hockey team… even though the school has a girl’s Ice Hockey team. The sisters won their suit and then failed to make the team in tryouts. If this was in the U.S. I bet they’d sue again claiming the tryouts for the boy’s hockey team are discriminatory and use gender-biased criteria for passing. Still, they got some money out of it.

Even the school board is shaking their heads at how this will turn out. Still, this makes me wonder if I could get a few bucks out of my old high school for not giving me the opportunity to shine on any number of girl’s teams.

So now that I sound like a total misogynist (which I’m not… chicks are great), let me move on to the real part of my rant. These girls aren’t crusaders for human rights. They were upset with the calibre of hockey on the girl’s team (which they felt was beneath their abilities) and wanted to play on a team with a higher calibre. This lawsuit was about personal gain, not some societal injustice.

Fortunately, here in Canada, these lawsuits aren’t as common place as they are in the U.S. but it’s still a shame that our courts have to be tied up dealing with this stuff rather than the real injustices… like polite young men being sold a used car that turns out to be a lemon, or why the same polite young man just can’t seem to win at Roll Up The Rim.

I guess the lesson I can learn from all this is that I need to have anyone who plays with the ZLF sign a waiver so that we don’t get sued for our astronomically low quality of play. Granted, we’re at least an equal opportunity league. Anyone (regardless of gender, sex, race or religion) is more than welcome to come out and make a fool of themselves. Now that’s a ringing endorsement if I’ve ever heard one.

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In 1671, the region formerly known as Lower Canada (now most of the province of Quebec) was in the midst of a crisis of seemingly Biblical proportions. While the pioneering habitants were struggling to eke a living out of the rocky soil of the eastern Canadas, they were hounded at every turn by what they called “Les Poulets Geants”, or giant chickens.

Les Poulets Geants

Understandably, this made their difficult lives almost unbearable and they searched out every solution. They laid traps in the bush, bred special hunting dogs and built humongous chicken coops, but all to no avail. Huge bounties resulted in professional giant chicken hunters emigrating by the hundreds from mainland Europe, but the hearty and wily Lower Canadian Giant Chicken proved too much for them and eventually all of them either moved onto the plains of Western Canada (to hunt the Giant Prairie Dog) or back to Europe (to hunt the less intimidating European Giant Chicken).

In frustration, the King of France had given up hope and was prepared to give up on the colony in the New World when a monk from the tiny community of Ouaouaron (in modern day western Quebec) began a quest. After reading about how St.Patrick drove all the snakes from Ireland, this monk (a priest named Hubert) made it his holy quest to drive the Poulets Geants from the fields, meadows and forests of Lower Canada. By 1692 there was no trace of the chickens anywhere, and although no one knows where they all ended up, the farmers and townspeople in the area at the time mysteriously all gained quite a bit of weight and took a lot of naps.

In return for his act of service to his people, Hubert was showered with gifts and accolades, but refused them all. All he asked in return was that anyone who felt he had helped them would give back to those in need in their community… specifically feeding the hungry and poor. He suggested giving them ‘Salade de Chou’ (a vinegary coleslaw) and a soft flat bun… just enough to keep them alive and strong, but not tasty enough to make them dependent on hand-outs. He was a social crusader way ahead of his time.

In recognition of his miracle, Hubert was beatified by the Vatican in 1743 and made the patron saint of Quebec Poultry farmers. To this day, he is honoured and revered in communities all over Quebec and his likeness can be seen from Pembroke to the Gaspe… his signature coiff of red hair, his big grin from under his yellow beard, and his finger extended in holy blessing toward all the people of Quebec.

Long live the memory of St. Hubert!*

st-hubert.jpg

*For more information on St.Hubert, please consult your local library.

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Wow.  What a weekend.  It went by in a whirlwind of driving, eating and franglais, but somehow we survived.  On the plus side, it turns out that I can still understand a lot more French than I would have thought (after YEARS of not practicing), but it’s going to take a lot of work to get back to the point of speaking confidently.  I guess I should get on that.  Here’s the weekend rundown…

Friday: Danielle and I left TO around 7 and met up with Steve and Sherri in Kingston for a VERY late dinner at a local brewpub. After a brief visit (and a tour of S&S’s new house… including the bathroom for Tiny People), we were back on the highway and headed into the West End of Montreal.  We got to Danielle’s mom’s place late and found ourselves at a locked door, so we had to wake up Danielle’s sister (and the dog) to get in.

Saturday: After a leisurely breakfast and some camping talk, we bid adieu (see?  I’m speaking French again) and braved the Montreal traffic for a driving tour of downtown in the pouring rain.  After some of the easier highway driving with me behind the wheel (sweating the traffic thanks to an accident in Montreal in July of 2000), we swapped seats at a light in town and Danielle took over.

We drove around uptown and headed down to Old Montreal in search of a hot drink. The buildings are all gorgeous, and the streets are picturesque, and despite Danielle’s protests that it’s nicer in the summer when the streets are packed with people and vendors, I was blown away by how beautiful it was.

For dinner, we met up with Danielle’s sister and 6 of their friends at L’Academie (a restaurant for chefs-in-training) for a great meal. I’m not sure what I liked more… the great food, the fact that it was ‘bring your own wine’ or the ratio of men to women in our party (1-7), but we had a great time and by the time we left, we were EASILY the loudest people in the restaurant.

After dinner we headed to a great little lounge called Sofa to meet up with Louis, Minerva and a bunch of their friends.  There was a live band putting on a great show and the vibe was great, although I think they had the heat on.  Apparently it’s a popular spot for all kinds of Quebecois celebrities too.  Who knew?  (More on this later… maybe).

To finish off the night, we headed to a club that was violating every over-occupancy law in Montreal, so we didn’t stay too long.  The music was good and some of the clubbers were… entertaining.  Note to self… in Montreal ‘cover charge’ means affordable drinks while ‘no cover charge’ means you’re going to have to mortgage your house.

Sunday: Late nights mean late mornings and we were scrambling to find a boulangerie for a quick coffee and pastry before we met up with Danielle’s dad downtown to pick up our tickets for the Allouettes game.  After sweating the weather for a week, sunday turned out to be a gorgeous fall day.  Sunny and warm with a cool breeze, which is perfect for sitting in an outdoor arena and watching a football game with a beer in one hand and nachos and hotdogs in the other.

Before we hit the highway for our trip home, we enjoyed a traditional Quebecios meal (St. Hubert chicken) with Danielle’s dad and Madelaine where my French-speaking abilities got their greatest workout.  The restaurant we ate at is in Montreal’s former Windsor Station, and has been beatifully restored.  We had a great visit and made it home in one piece.

Time for a team lunch.  More later… perhaps.

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Most of the time, I’m a pretty quick learner.  I can pick up concepts and ideas pretty quickly even if my abililty to memorize lots of details isn’t really all that sharp.  For some reason, my brain doesn’t like to work with numbers, but I’m great with words and ideas so long as I can connect them.  I guess it comes down to who’s educating me.

I like to think that I come from an exceptionally bright family.  We’re all trivia buffs (who know more useless facts than useful ones) and avid readers, and much of my love for problem-solving and language comes from interacting with my family (sometimes from our collective inability to solve problems and our butchering of language).  Here are a couple of instances of some poor home education and learning from the Duncan home… all from my early childhood.

Phonics: One of the best ways to teach children about reading (and specifically proper English spelling) is to have them sound out words based on their knowledge of how letters are supposed to sound.  ‘C’ make a ‘keh’ sound.  ‘A’ makes an ‘eh’ or ‘ah’ sound.  ‘T’ makes a ‘tee’ or ‘teh’ sound.  ‘keh’ ‘ah’ te’… oh, I get it. Cat!

It’s a well-known and oft-used teaching tool that needs to take into account the difficulties of many English words.  Those more difficult ones are where my family decided to start.  Why learn the rules first, when you can learn the exceptions.

So we’re eating breakfast at the kitchen table at the cottage.  I was pretty young (maybe my mom or Deb could comment on how old I was rather than me making a blind guess) and Deb decided it was time for me to learn how to read the label on a peanut butter jar.  She pointed at a word and had me sound it out.

“S. M. O. O. T. H.  So… Mo… Tee… Ha.”  Bam. No lesson in blended consonants first.  Just right in there.  Fortunately they all laughed and laughed (presumably to build up my confidence for future forays into phonics) so at least I got to be the centre of attention.

Telling Time: I’ve had a life-long agreement with clocks that have hands.  If they don’t demand anything of me, I won’t smash them on the ground and scream obscenities at them.  This is easier in some situations than others.  Until recently, I couldn’t read a proper clock if I had all the time in the world (er.. uh..) and even now, it takes a few seconds for me to work it all out.

I think that it was my sister again, and probably on the same trip to the cottage, who decided that regardless of how little I knew about fractions (I knew nothing about fractions… I was probably still learning to tie my shoes) that the concepts of ‘quarter to’ and ‘quarter after’ would come easily to me.

In her defence, I already had a keen grasp on how denominations of money worked at that point, but I’m also very stubborn and to this very day, it still upsets me that ‘quarter after’ doesn’t mean 25 minutes past the hour.  Why can’t a quarter just be a universal numerical unit?  Stupid fractions.

Yeah, so we argued and got frustrated with one another and with time in general and I swore to always be near a digital clock or to just not care about time at all.  That worked well into University, by the way.

Gladly, I finally learned how to both read AND tell time and thankfully my sister played a big part in both, even after our shaky start.  She would later teach me how to drive (fast and with loud music blaring), dress with style (XL t-shirts are not a skinny boy’s best friend),  and how to survive University (with a healthy mix of not studying and spending time with friends).

It’s really amazing what you can learn in the home… and more amazing how long it takes to unlearn it in the real world.  Just some food for thought on a friday.

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To start things off, this is a gentle reminder that THERE IS NO SOCCER TONIGHT.  Soccer has been moved to sunday afternoons (which means I’m out for at least the next two weeks) at 1:30pm in Moss Park.  Click the ZLF banner to get all the details…

ZLF

The next most important thing I have to get out there is that despite what everyone keeps telling me, today is NOT the first day of fall.  The seasons are not bound by specific calendar dates, but instead depend on the date and time that the sun is either directly over the equator (the vernal equinox and autumnal equinox) or is at it’s furthest point from the equator (the winter solstice and summer solstice).  This year’s autumnal equinox will take place at just after midnight (EDT) on September 23rd, so despite the six degree temperatures this morning, it’s still summer.  So don’t put away your short-shorts and flip-flops just yet.

Aside from the ‘scientific summer’, there are other social indicators that summer isn’t over yet.  For one, I still have an outstanding wedding invite for Thanksgiving weekend, and for another the heat hasn’t been turned on at Pembroke Castle (although with our utility bills, that could go well into November… we’re tough… and cheap).  My Birkenstocks haven’t gone into storage yet, and Apple Cider isn’t for sale everywhere you go.

I’m looking forward to fall… as usual.  Although Thanksgiving is early this year (which means all the colours might not be out by the long weekend), I love the crisp sunny mornings and easy access to the aforementioned apple cider.  It’s the perfect season.  And it’s just two days away.

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Given how few comments I received on the new format, I’m left to assume that all of you are either indifferent about it, enraged and have given up commenting or even reading, or with the upgrade I’ve accidentally cut everyone’s ability to comment but Dan,Chris and my mom.

Personally, I dig the new look. I like the whitespace, and aside from a few issues with the menu on the left <---- and how it's organized, I think I'm pretty happy with it. It'll work and look better with photos (and I plan on using more) and the cleaner design looks a lot more professional. And if one word describes me, it's "Professional". Well, that's enough of my ranting about stuff that none of you even care about... so let's get back to the reason you come here everyday. Weblogtertainment! This weekend, I'm heading to Montreal (Danielle's going to show me around and help me smuggle smoked meat back into Ontario), and among other things, we're heading to an Allouettes game. So, aside from watching a CFL game from McGill stadium with thousands of rip-roaring drunk Montrealers, what else should I get Danielle to show me? What MUST I see and do in Montreal? [Ed.Note: I've been to Montreal twice before and I was already hit on in a bar by a man dressed like Gwen Stefani. So that's a part of Montreal that I don't need to relive.]

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