Thursday, November 29, 2012

Birthdays, football, and being a Canadian...

When I was growing up, I thought that I was the favourite child/grandchild/niece because my entire family always came over to our house for my birthday weekend. Aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents - they were all there. They weren't always there for my brother or sister's birthdays. No siree! But they were always there for mine. It was ME they loved the most.

Then one day, when I was about ten or so, I realized that there was always a lot more beer at my birthday party that at any other kid's party. And that somewhere around the middle of the afternoon, all of my uncles would stop playing with me and gather around the television set. And that from that point on, there was a lot of yelling and swearing coming from our living room. Not to mention a lot more beer drinking.

So being the naturally curious wee thing that I was, I snuck into the living room, tugged on my Dad's t-shirt, and said, "Hey, what's going on in here?"

To which he responded, "Shh!!! Don't bother us right now!"

More than a little hurt, I said, "But Dad, it's my birthday and I want to play with my uncles!"

"Go play with your sister," he said. "We're watching football right now."

And not just any football game. The Grey Cup. You see, my birthday falls at the end of November. Right around Grey Cup weekend.

So my parents weren't even throwing a birthday party for me at all. They were throwing a Grey Cup Party.

(Insert giant sad face here)

As a consequence of this betrayal, I spent years H-A-T-I-N-G football. With a passion. I couldn't even stand to hear the word. CFL, NFL, college football, it didn't matter. If it was on, I would squeeze my eyes tight shut, cover my ears, and run screaming from the room.

Then I went away to university. And I became friends with two guys who, in their spare time, did nothing but drink beer and watch football. Often, the two of those activities occurred at the same time. And even though I didn't love the football part, I loved them. And the drinking beer part. So I hung around with them and watched football. A lot of football. And drank beer. A lot of beer.

When you watch that much football, you can't help but start to develop an appreciation for the game. The hot men in tight pants, the strategy, the athleticism, the hot men in tight pants, the big hits, the excitement of taking the risk on the final down, the hot men in tight pants, the hail-Mary-laying-it-all-on-the-line-to-get-the-win plays. I mean, it's exciting shit! After awhile, you can forgive your parents for pretending they were throwing you a birthday party, and appreciate just why they wanted so badly to throw a football-watching party!

So, I started watching football again, even when the guys weren't around. Their league of choice was the NFL, but as a stalwart Prairie girl, I turned my attention to the CFL. After all, where I come form, it is a religion. My interest in the game really picked up in 2001, when my hometown Blue Bombers took it all the way to the Grey Cup. I fell in love with Khari Jones, who happened to be the league MVP that year, and I was devastated when he and the blue-and-gold lost the Cup to Calgary. The next year, I hopefully watched every single Bomber game of the 2002 season, witnessing one of the most notorious passing/receiving duos in league history in the form of Khari and Milt Stegall. In 2003, I moved to Yellowknife for the summer to be with my not-yet-then Hubby, and because he didn't have a t.v., I spent hours at the Boston Pizza bar watching every Bomber game. In 2004, Khari Jones was traded to the Calgary Stampeders, and I fell apart. I went through a couple of seasons of mediocrity under the new quarterback, Kevin Glenn, but faithfully stuck by my team, until they once again pulled off a good season and made it to the Grey Cup in 2007, which just happened to be in nearby Toronto....

... And of course, I just had to go. I had to!!!! I mean, my team was in the big game! And Toronto was oh so close! And my team was in the big game!!!!!!!

So I did what all good wives would do. I nagged and nagged and nagged and nagged and nagged and nagged and nagged some more my non-football loving husband until out of sheer exasperation, he called a friend of his who was on the organizing committee for the Grey Cup that year and got us two tickets.

Toronto 2007 - Winnipeg vs. Saskatchewan
Way the hell up in the nosebleeds...

We played Saskatchewan that year, our most fervent rivals. And even though we were in Toronto, the entire province emptied out and made its way to this game. We were absolutely surrounded by green. And with the crowd decidedly pulling for the Riders, and with Winnipeg's quarterback on the sidelines because of a shoulder injury, well, we lost. I'm smiling in that picture, but it was right after the game and I was really, really devastated.

We went alone to the Grey Cup that year, but after the game, we hooked up with another couple who were also there so that I could drown my sorrows in a bottle of scotch. As we were leaving, they asked us, "So, want us to get you tickets to next year's Grey Cup in Montreal?"

And so marks the beginning of what has become a tradition: a yearly pilgrimage to the Grey Cup with my new football family. It doesn't matter how the season unfolds for my Blue and Gold (and believe me, there have been some particularly bad seasons). It doesn't matter who winds up playing. It doesn't matter if the game is going to be in an outdoor or an indoor venue, if it will be rain or shine, cold or mild. Every year since 2007, I don my Bomber jersey (and a pair of long underwear) and take in the Grey Cup with friends and family.

This is, indeed, the weekend that I look forward to the most every year. And not because it's the weekend right before my birthday. And not only because, no matter who is playing, football is an incredible game to watch. But because:

  • ...I have carte blanche to eat as many hot dogs as I want! And I love hot dogs. Which I'm not supposed to love because I am a healthy person. But on Grey Cup weekend, I eat hot dogs. Lots of hot dogs. And hot dogs go well with...
  • And believe me, there is a lot of beer at a Grey Cup Festival. This year, I even saw someone checking into his hotel, the Delta Chelsea in downtown Toronto, with a beer in his hand (he was probably a Rider fan...). Admittedly, I am more of a wine drinker myself. But when you are watching a football game, there is nothing in this world more satisfying than a cold beer. It is also pretty fun to try to build a beer-a-mid when you are at one of the...
  • ...parties. Every team has its own sponsored parties. Saskatchewan has Riderville. Hamilton has Tiger Town. The Bombers have the Blue and Gold room. B.C. has the Lion's Den. You can pick one and stay there all night, or you can bounce from one to the other, as long as you are willing to pay the price of admission. Really, it's not much more than a dark room with a live band and way too much high-priced beer. With the occasional player thrown in to get the crowd revved up. And some cheerleader demos for all the horny boys. But hell if it isn't the most fun that I have in a year! And of course, it is where you meet some pretty incredible...
  • ...people. Which is what the Grey Cup is really all about. The fans. Some of them are certifiably nuts, getting all dolled up in weird costumes, funky wigs, and face paint. But most of them are pretty tame people, who, like Hubby and I, are looking for one weekend a year to let their hair down and have some fun with tens of thousands of other football fans. This year, I hung out in Riderville (a dangerous thing when you are wearing a Blue Bomber jersey), where Hubby and I met this great group of guys from Melfort, Saskatchewan, and one of them taught me to two step. We spent the night drinking beer, dancing, and laughing with our new friends. (Which rather unfortunately led to a monster hang over the next day, but that's seemingly also part of the experience).
But the thing about the Grey Cup that I love most of all is the overwhelming sense of Canadian-ness. I know, I know.... We are a hockey nation. And we only have an 8 (sometimes 9) team league. It's hardly our national sport. But I believe that the Grey Cup is our national event. It absolutely is. There is no other like it, that brings Canadians from every province together for one single event. And if you don't believe me, try it sometime. Head to the downtown core of a Grey Cup city, and watch as people from all over the country take over the restaurants and the bars, sporting their teams colours. Listen to the stories of the people who come to Grey Cup every single year, and who have been doing it for far longer than Hubby and I have. Take the opportunity to get to know some of these strangers; who they are, where they come from, what they do for a living. Go two-step with a guy from Melfort. Take in the Vanier Cup with 12-year old girl who is watching her big brother play in the game. Hang out around the TSN booth to get a chance to meet Jock Climie or Milt Stegall with the thousands of other people in the line before you. And then try to tell me that you don't feel connected to them in some way.

Nope. There is nothing that makes me feel more Canadian than the last Sunday of November.

So here's to Regina in 2013. May the tradition continue!

Grey Cup in Calgary - Riders vs. Alouettes, 2009

Meeting a legend. Me and Milt Stegall - Calgary, 2009 

A sea of green in Calgary, 2009

Me and my uncle with the Cup, Calgary 2009
A little colder in Edmonton 2010

Craig being interviewed by the Edmonton Sun after the Als beat the Riders, in Edmonton 2010. Wearing MY jersey... 

Bad picture, but getting his pic taken with two of the Alouettes in a bar in Edmonton after they won the Grey Cup. In MY jersey...

Vancouver 2011 - Meeting Andre Druri 

Vancouver 2011 - Meeting Pinball Clemons

In Vancouver 2011 - the Bombers vs. the Lions. So excited to see my team. Too bad we lost. 

Kidnapped and taken to Riderville, Toronto 2012

And forced to wear Riders tattoos...

Building a beer-a-mid in Riderville, Toronto 2012

Self-portrait at the Grey Cup, Toronto 2012

With our collectors edition tickets for the 100th Grey Cup, Toronto 2012 

One of my new Rider friends from Melfort

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The love affair continues

This morning, as I was standing in my kitchen pouring myself a fourteenth cup of coffee (it was a sleepless night...), I looked up and saw this:

This is not a usual spot for Fergus to perch. Unless one of us is still upstairs sleeping and he is waiting for us to come down. Such was not the case this morning. Hubby was in the kitchen with me, lecturing me about drinking fourteen cups of coffee.

"What are you doing up there, friend?" Hubby broke away from lecturing me long enough to ask.

Fergus didn't flinch at the sound of his favourite boy human's voice. Didn't even lift his head. Just went on seemingly staring into space, looking sad as sad can be...

And what does this dog have to be sad about?!? He'd been for a 6k run through the streets of downtown Ottawa, where everyone smiled at him as he showed off his athletic prowess by jumping over benches and tree planters. He'd stopped in the dog park for a good long sniff and to run circles around the other puppies. And he'd already chowed down on his delicious breakfast!

And then I realized that he wasn't really staring out into space. He was staring at...

...Monkey! Who was perched up too high for him to grab from the ground floor, and on too precarious of a ledge for him to walk out and grab.

"Aha!" I exclaimed! "He's staring at Monkey!"

As soon as I said the word, Fergus jumped up, started wagging his entire tailless bum, and panted excitedly.

So I threw Monkey up the stairs, and Fergus proceeded to whip him around, run up and down the stairs while clutching Monkey in his jowls, and settle down to chew on his tail, which is miraculously still hanging (but only by a thread or two).

I left him and Monkey to their own devices as I went up to shower and get ready for work. When I came back down the stairs, I found this:

Fergus staring Monkey down on the stairwell. Probably plotting how to chew off that damn tail once and for all.

Or maybe planning his next cuddle session...

At least Monkey has survived another day.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

There's something about a tail...

Well, it's been a week. And Fergus and Monkey have been having a jolly 'ole time. Fetch, hide-and-seek, tug, whipping around like a Tasmanian devil... Monkey's very long limbs make it doubly fun.

Here's some snapshots of their beautiful friendship.

Monkey's waving!

Into the lion's mouth...


Yes. Good times indeed.

This morning, Fergus and I were playing our regular game of fetch with Monkey. I throw him down the stairs or into a bedroom while applying my make-up. Beasty runs around trying to find Monkey, then brings him back to me. Before giving the toy up, he spends a few seconds whipping him around. Then he drops Monkey at my feet so I can throw him again. When Fergus is sick and tired of going up and down the stairs, he settles in for a nice long chew, as depicted in the pics above.

But today, I noticed that Fergus was fixating on Monkey's tail. It kind of looked like he was sucking on it like a pacifier. Which at first I thought was pretty cute. But then I realized that Fergus had made his way in for the kill.

Look closely... Do you see it?

Look even closer...

There it is. The distinctive first rip.... In Monkey's tail.

There's something about tails. He destroyed Senor Quackers in the same way. Went after the tail first. See...

I wonder if it has something to do with the fact that Fergus doesn't have a tail. Maybe he has tail envy...

Well, it's only a matter of time before he loses interest entirely in playing with Monkey, and focuses only on expanding his destruction from the tail to the other delicious seams so that he can get at the stuffing inside....


I think we should just stick to indestructible tug ropes...

Monday, November 5, 2012

Fall back

A quick read on my Facebook and Twitter feeds over the past weekend has left me thinking that most people hate the back and forth between daylight savings and standard time.

My question is this:


My second question is this:

No seriously, why? Don't you have better things to worry about?

Okay, okay, I get it. Moving the clocks forward every spring means that you lose an hour of precious sleep, and yes, that kind of sucks. But isn't that a small price to pay for having an extra hour of daylight? For leaving work and seeing the sun still up relatively high in the sky? For having a couple of hours of patio time to kick back a beer after a hard day at work? For farmers having a longer day to get their crops in and to work in the fields? 

And don't even pretend that the extra hour of sleep on the eve of returning to standard time is not something that you have always looked forward to. Think back to your drunken university days, and I dare you to tell me that you didn't get extra excited to know that for one night of the year, all the bars were open until 3:00 instead of 2:00, giving you a whole extra hour to dance, to pick up, and to get slammed. 

And even now that we are all a little bit more mature, a lot more busy, and even a lot more stressed, the idea of an extra hour of sleep is positively intoxicating. Because let's face it. Who gets enough sleep?

Yet all day yesterday, Facebook was filled with complaints about the return to standard time. Pictures of the city skyline at the "new" dusk (5:00 pm). Taglines that read "It's time to get rid of daylight savings time" (which is funny because turning the clock back is the end of daylight savings time) or "Winter sucks" or "I want the light back" or the simple yet eloquent ":(".

But my favourite Facebook complaint yesterday went something like this: "I wish someone would tell (insert kid's name here) that turning the clocks back means an extra hour of sleep." Parents everywhere were up at 4:00 or 5:00 a.m. because, despite their best efforts to keep the wee ones up late the night before, the body clock does what the body clock does... 

Well, I have no kids, so this isn't a problem for me. And I guess I am a little bit unsympathetic. Especially as I selfishly enjoyed that extra hour of sleep with nothing to force me out of my warm bed...

The thing is that I love this time of year. The trees changing colours, the crisp chill in the air, hikes through falling leaves in Gatineau Park... But one of the things that I love most about this time of year is that I am a morning person. And by turning the clocks back, I get a few more precious hours, ever dwindling that they may be until December 21st, of sunlight in the morning.

This very morning, I woke up at 5:45 and was greeted by dark. I puttered around the house to find my slightly-more-insulated running gear (since it was -9 with the windchill), my running head-light, and Fergus' blinking white collar light. By 6:20, we were ready to go. I opened the door, and was instantly reminded of the return to standard time when I saw that the sky was decidedly brighter than it had been 20 minutes earlier. So I took off my head lamp, turned off the Beast's collar light, and set out for a brisk 8k run. When I got to the end of Preston Street, I was supposed to turn left to follow the path along the canal. But then I realized that we could actually run into the Arboretum this morning. This is, of course, Fergus' favourite place in the whole wide world, but we have not run through here in at least 4 weeks because it is not well lit. And it is never a good idea for a lone runner - even with a dog - to run through an unlit area. 

And so, for the first time in 4 weeks, the Beast got to run off-leash at 6:30 in the morning while we went on our run. And I got to enjoy another weekday morning in the peaceful Arboretum, which is undoubtedly a much better way to greet the day than the busy (although well-lit) city streets. And the best part of all is that, on our way back, the sun was actually up in the sky, and I actually wished that I had my sunglasses with me because it was so bright. 

Yes, it will be a little sad to come out of work today and to see the dusk settling in. And yes, the shorter days will soon win out and I'll be back to running in the dark - with Fergus no longer able to go off-leash - for a couple of long months. But I, for one, am going to enjoy these next precious few mornings of sunlight. And so is Fergus.

And so will the school kids, I would wager, who no longer have to wait for the school bus in the dark... So you see, parents, there are plenty of good reasons to turn the clocks back. 

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Let the kids play!

I hate being around other people when I sweat.

Perhaps you remember my rant about running. The only sentient being I want to be around when I run is my dog.

When I lift weights, I won't even ask for a spot when I am bench pressing my body weight because that would involve another person being near me. (This may have once or many times resulted in me dropping a fully loaded bar on my chest so that I could be patronizingly lectured about the importance of a spotter to a "wee thing like me" by the big dude who came to my rescue).

When I do yoga, I work extra hard to ignore all those supremely annoying loud breathers around me so that I can be "present on my own mat" (whatever the hell that means) where, incidentally, I am the only person.

You see, I am a sport loner. With the exception of softball, the only team sport I've ever played. And that is only because (a) I am an ass-kickingly good first-base-woman so it is good for my ego, and (b) there is a lot of beer at all of the games. (DISCLAIMER: I also curled competitively for years, which involves 3 other teammates. But let's stop kidding ourselves. Curling is not a sport, no matter what the IOC says.)

Yet a couple of weeks ago, I got suckered into playing dodgeball. It was a moment of weakness. My friends - who unbeknownst to me were in a competitive dodgeball league - needed me cause they were a (wo)man short. And since it is nice to be needed, I said yes.

I will spare you the play by play call of the games. There are only really two important details. The first is that we were playing against a team of assholes, who take this game WAY too seriously. I mean, they had formations and strategies and knee pads and shit. Either they were really, really unhappy in their jobs (perhaps not a surprise in a town full of bureaucrats), or they just really, really, really needed to get laid.

The second important detail is that the team on which I was subbing was not serious. Not even a little bit, really. There were no formations. And our most complex strategy was "try not to get hit with the ball", followed by "try to hit the other guys with the ball".

So it should come as no surprise to know that we were getting our asses kicked. But what the hell. At least I was burning off a few calories...

And then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw one of the guys on the other team in full wind-up mode, and that ball was going to come straight at me. With cat-like reflexes, thinking only of my survival, I pivoted to face him, held the ball that I was holding up, and...

The good news is that I blocked the shot, preserving myself for a few moments longer.

The bad news is that my left thumb jammed straight back at an unnatural and indescribable angle.

(Have I ever mentioned that I am left-handed)

I immediately dropped the ball I was holding and let loose a string of profane words that should never, ever, ever be uttered in an elementary school gym. A second or two later, I was mercifully hit by an opponent's ball so that I could retreat to the bench, where I rocked back and forth, trying desperately not to (a) vomit or (b) cry in front of a room full of strangers. Not wanting anyone to know how very much pain I was in, I even tried to play again, only to find that my left hand, which was growing ever larger, ever more colourful, and ever more grotesque with each passing minute, was rendered completely useless, because, evidently, thumbs are fundamentally necessary to pick up and throw balls.

I wish that I had taken a picture of my hand to show you just how bad it really was. But I couldn't stand to look at it myself, much less have photographic evidence of its frankenstein-esque existence at the end of my left arm. Suffice it to say that it was bruised, swollen, and extremely painful. And after visits to a walk-in clinic, my physiotherapist, my family doctor, a plastic surgeon, and an x-ray clinic (do you have any idea how embarrassing it is to tell so many health care professionals that you injured yourself playing freaking dodgeball?!?), we determined that it is not broken (Yay!), but it is a level 3 sprain (Booooo!). Which means that the ligament is torn.

I don't actually know what gamekeeper's thumb is...
Like me, you probably take the ulnar collateral ligament for granted. Well, don't. It's what makes us human! (Or raccoons... Raccoons probably have this ligament too, since they also have opposable thumbs...) It's why you can make a fist, make shadow puppets, use scissors, open a ziplock bag, give a thumbs-up or thumbs-down, open a jar, grasp a pen and write, apply make-up, button up a shirt, do up - or undo - a bra, zip up your coat, tie your shoelaces, pull on your knee-high boots, hold on to anything that weighs more than one pound, use a smartphone... I think you get the picture. Suffice it to say that when this ligament is torn, you can't do any of the above-mentioned. At least not without swearing, crying, or vomiting...

This is a thumb spica
And so, I must spend the next six weeks wearing a thumb spica - a rather difficult-to-find (I had to go to about 17 different pharmacies and/or medical supply stores before I found one) splint that immobilizes your thumb so that the ligament will hopefully reattach itself on its own. If it does not, then the plastic surgeon will operate. In the meantime, my insurance coverage for physiotherapy, which I like to use on real injuries (like groin pulls, torn TFLs, knee pain) sustained while playing real sports (like weight-lifting, running, softball) is slowly dwindling so that I can rehab my freaking thumb. But what choice do I have? I am left-handed, and as we have clearly established, I can't function without this extremely important digit!

There is a point to all of this. The point is that Vince Vaughan and Ben Stiller have done a great disservice to us all by making that damn movie. There were no adult dodgeball leagues before 2004. And do you know why? Because there is a remarkable difference between a ball being thrown at another human being with all the force of a fun-loving, grade-five child behind it, and one thrown by a 6'2", 220lb, sexually-frustrated, knee-pad wearing, disillusioned-with-his-job, never-been-really-good-at-anything-in-his-life-so-he-spends-way-too-much-time-perfecting-his-dodgeball-throw adult. Also, children are far more flexible and resilient than 30- and 40-somethings. Oh yeah, and less frail...

And so, let me depart this wisdom, lest you are ever asked to sub in on - or join - an adult dodgeball team...


Instead, just let the kids play.