National Baseball Duty

Were you on the Toronto Blue Jay bandwagon the last time this team was making noise around the playoffs?

I want to be clear. There is absolutely nothing wrong with just tuning in to the Blue Jays now as they approach the conclusion of the gruelling 162-game schedule. The bottom line is their situation is unique. They are the only gig in the country, and all are welcome as the games heat up.

If you have essentially watched every game like me, then you are aware of how exciting it is that the team is rounding into form at the end of September. But if you are getting out of your royal blue for the first time this season, buckle up for the playoffs.

Here are some cliff notes to ramp up your excitement levels for the home stretch:

The first stop on the to-do list is to tune into the Jays series against the New York Yankees, starting on Monday. The Yankees appear to have the division locked up. However, if the Jays can sweep them, they would be back in realistic striking distance of first place. Not only are there implications on the standings, but unless Aaron Judge hits a home run on Sunday there is still a chance to witness history. Judge currently sits at 60 home runs, one behind Roger Maris’s American League record. If he is still knocking on the door on Monday, it will be must-watch TV.

The second stop is Bo Bichette. This guy is hot right now. Molten lava is kind of hot. Bo has seven hits in his last five games with a couple of RBI to tack onto a red hot month. His September stats are video game numbers. To top it all off, the guy’s hair is electric. So is his bat.

Lastly, there is nothing quite like the feeling of all Canadians rooting for the same team. Other than events like the Olympics and World Juniors, it’s rare for all of us to unite as one. Baseball offers that gift to us. Time to dial into the Jays. Consider it your responsibility as a Canadian!

Dogs are the Real Community Builders

When was the last time you had a meaningful conversation with a stranger?

Last week, month, year… or pre-pandemic?

If you are a dog owner, there’s a great chance the answer could even be this morning.

It’s the reality of having to take our furry companions out and about every day. Rain or shine, they make us get up and out the door. By getting out and walking around the neighbourhood they serve as the ultimate connection to the community.

In today’s context, people tend to look to their phone any time they have a second alone in public. On the train, waiting in line, and even while eating. Yet, it’s a lot harder to disengage from technology when your dog is happily prancing beside you, or yanking your left and right.

it’s not surprising that these community interactions happen more often for dog owners. Funnily enough, the conversation is often focused on the pets at first. Asking what the dog’s name is, the breed, and its personality all while watching them play. For whatever reason, it’s easier to breach that conversation barrier when the topic is about animals. Breaks the ice, eases some tension perhaps. Then I can introduce myself and see if they are in the mood to chat. Or, sometimes it takes a while to breach the person-person barrier, and you spend many subsequent walks saying “Oh here comes Bear and his owner” (to your dog of course).

These conversations also act as my community newspaper. Walking through my neighbourhood and stopping to talk to some familiar faces keep me in the loop. My wife and I are still new to our neighbourhood and getting out walking have been a great way to meet our new network. It feels good to interact with the community, especially with so many meaningless passing interactions these days.

Last thought (and I don’t think I am alone on this). It takes me one meeting to remember a dog’s name, every time, forever. But it can take many walk chats to really consolidate those owner names. No matter how many times I walk past “Bear’s house,” I always default to the pup. Am I alone in this or can you relate?

Breakout Festival the New Woodstock 99?

Mob mentality is a wild beast.

I have a feeling some of the partiers at the Breakout Festival had recently watched the Woodstock 99 documentary on Netflix.

Common sense and logic descended into chaos Sunday night at the PNE grounds after Lil Baby no-showed as the headliner of the festival. Fans were told around 9:15 pm that Lil Baby would not be performing the final set that was supposed to get started at 9:30 pm. What ensued could have been footage taken from Woodstock 99.

After the news was delivered, immature fans started throwing garbage cans and rioting. Footage of the beer gardens and festival tents being rushed and destroyed has been posted online. It’s a bad look for the event and community, unfortunately, led by a group who would rather destroy public property than accept the reality that their favourite act isn’t going to perform.

How is it that destroying everything in sight is a path so many individuals elect to go down?

Music festivals seem to breed those kinds of situations. It was on full display during the recounting of events at Woodstock 99. Watching that extreme mob mentality spread across that festival from my couch was surreal. It was the ultimate “fly on the wall” sensation of watching something become unhinged that made the documentary so engaging. That was a very different situation and context than Breakout Festival of course, but the essence of any conduct like this is the same.

A mass of people on day three of a festival is a volatile bunch. If you have ever attended such an event you can relate to your mental state in those final hours. It can be a little touch-and-go (depending on how your weekend went).

Any festival goers who had seen Woodstock 99 were perhaps a little “over-prepared” for a violent outburst.

Acoustic Guitars Are Too Hard. Wrong Answer!

There are countless reasons why first learning the basics on an acoustic guitar is best.

If you are reading this and just getting started on the instrument, please heed this advice. As tempting as it is to be a tractor beamed towards the electric guitar wall when you walk into a music store, don’t spend your money there first.

Even if you recently watched Stranger Things and thought the scene with Eddie shredding the Master of Puppets solo was the greatest scene ever created (I did as well).

I get why the temptation is there. They look far more impressive, coming in a wide array of colours and aesthetics. The light gleams off the hardware and vibrant pickguards, each design and colour scheme unique and enticing. Not only that, but they are also much easier to play as a beginner (and as an advanced player as well). The body of the electric guitar has a thin profile. This allows you to tuck the instrument right up against you, giving you more control. The biggest difference must be the strings. The electric guitar strings are malleable and easier on your fingers. You hardly have to apply any pressure and you have a nice clean note that can carry further if you are plugged in. All of this makes it much easier to accomplish challenging tasks on the fretboard.

This all sounds great, right?

Although true, it is also much easier to start building bad habits. All the good that comes with the electric guitar also makes it harder to have proper left-hand technique. If you have poor thumb placement, you can get away with it on an electric guitar. On an acoustic, if you have any lazy technique at all you will notice the quality of sound production dip right away.

You have to work hard to play clean on an acoustic. Therefore, anyone looking to pick it up should start there.

Do you agree with me? Or am I way off and the electric guitar is king?

Why Don’t Kids Want to Learn Rock and Roll Anymore?

What role has rock and roll played in your life?

I grew up on Rock and Roll. Black Sabbath, ACDC, Guns and Roses, and Deep Purple among others were staples when my Dad was rocking around the house. I wanted to learn the guitar to be like the guys who were ripping solos and playing sold-out stadiums. Angus Young was my favourite to watch on stage.

The guitar has always been my passion. I started teaching guitar to the next generation of young guitar players when I was in grade 10. I assumed I would be teaching bands I was into as well such as Rage Against the Machine, Foo Fighters, and the Red-Hot Chili Peppers. In my mind, all students would be cut like from the same cloth as the ones in School of Rock with Jack Black. It might take a little work, but the love of rock and roll would be unleashed through the tutelage I provided.

Over the years, I have come to discover those kids like me aren’t as common as I thought. After 16 years of teaching, it still blows me away how many of my students don’t care what music they learn. Or are only interested in top 40 music they are hearing all the time, which is soaked in pop and more often than not doesn’t even feature the guitar. What’s left is me either attempting to cultivate that passion and fascination with rock and roll that I felt, often to no avail.

Soapbox rant aside. I will always foster a love for all music. And happily learn how to play the latest EDM or video game theme song if that is what the student is driven by. But where are the kids who want to form a rock band rather than become a DJ?

Every now and then there is a student who comes along that is destined for a lifelong love affair with the guitar like I have. I had one student a few years back who wanted to learn all the classics. We were getting some Jimi Hendrix songs up and off the ground! What a joy to participate in those kinds of learning environments.

We need more kids who want to learn rock and roll, to keep guitar culture alive!

Mountain Biking: What Was I Thinking?

Now that I am firmly in my thirties (sheesh!) I look back at some of the activities that I was participating in during my younger years with raised eyebrows. One sport that comes to the front of my mind is mountain biking.

This was a big part of the teen culture for my friends and I. We would get on our mountain bikes and head out into the community, looking for the next high ledge to fling ourselves off of.

What gets me most when I think about it now is what the best-case scenario was. If everything goes according to plan when you huck yourself off a drop? You will land safely.

That’s it. That’s the ceiling. You still have a fully functioning human body.

Any result beyond that will lead to some form of physical harm ranging from a pedal to the shins to life-threatening injuries. Now, I’d like to say this came to me in my thirty-something wisdom. But, it took an alarming conversation with my friend – the nurse – to sink in that mountain biking is one of the primary causes of severe head and spinal injuries.

The cost of looking cool and participating in an extreme sport, I guess. Just like Josh Bender, an icon, doing the kind of drop we were aspiring to do.

Some would argue the rush, the adrenaline is worth it. I tested my mettle at times when mountain biked as a youth. I was going as high as 12- and 14-foot drops at my… “peak” (read: heavy sarcasm). The very thought of that seems completely ludicrous now.

Our rite of passage growing up was a 12 ft tall drop called the “Blockbuster drop.”

*Heavy wave of nostalgia*

You didn’t really mountain bike until you did the Blockbuster drop. I eventually drummed up the willpower, and the rush was exhilarating. I was a part of this community now. Sworn in by the drop.

I can still relate to that sensation today. But the reality of the activity itself is comically horrifying.

When the best case scenario is you land injury free? What was I thinking!?

Remember the OG Tim Hortons?

What on earth has happened to the Tim Hortons I used to know and love?

There are few establishments as closely connected to Canadian culture as Tim Hortons. They have drawn from the nationalism well with their advertising and marketing for as long as I can remember. The difference is Tim Hortons doesn’t feel particularly Canadian anymore.

Since getting bought out by Burger King the sense of Tim Hortons having a role in our identity has faded for me. Quickly.

I can remember my grandparents taking me to the old school Tim Hortons. Walking into Tim’s felt comforting. A warm environment and atmosphere that was family driven. Like walking into Mom’s kitchen, it would always smell of warm soup. Herbs and stock wafting through the air welcoming you inside. These aromas intermingling with the scent of fresh donuts created a nostalgic combination I can still recall.

Speaking of donuts. The old sour cream glazed recipe absolutely slapped. In my mind, they were handmade with fresh dough. That might not have been true, but the quality of their baking was much better than it is today. It was always fresh.

The Tim’s near my house growing up would give away all the donuts they didn’t sell that day at closing time. We would ride our bikes up there and the owner would give all the community kids what was left.

That’s what Tim Hortons was for me. An extension of the community.

That allure has all but worn off now. I avoid Tim Hortons like the plague. The coffee might be the same, but the menu and quality of food now scream “Burger King” in my face any time that I try it. It’s a shame a piece of our Canadian culture was sold off to corporate America. As they continue to lower the quality and standards, they have lost my business.

I will always be able to recall the OG Tim Hortons in my mind’s eye. Sadly, this is nothing but a memory now. But it is a special and quintessentially Canadian memory that I will carry with me.

Fried Chicken is my Love Language 

Close your eyes.

And picture yourself biting down on the crunchiest piece of fried chicken you have ever enjoyed. The sound of the crunch echoes in your head as your brain starts to interpret this life-changing experience.

We all have dishes we crave when we’re in the mood for a special treat. Food that satisfies far more than just your hunger. Aromas and flavours that excite your senses and establish a connection and story in your life.

Now, I am not talking about your run-of-the-mill KFC fast food. I’m talking about establishments that take their fried chicken seriously. An elevated take on what is deemed inexpensive fast food is the kind of dining that calls to me. Rooted in flavour and far from pretentious, The Downlow Chicken Shack is my favourite spot to hit that comfort food note.

My love for their menu runs deep. They have struck a great balance of taking their craft seriously and pushing limits while also offering the staples of southern cuisine. It’s the nuances of thinking outside the box that keeps me coming back.

Such as the sweet and sour slaw. 10/10. Coleslaw is something that can turn out horribly if not done properly. With the added cumin and pickled red onion, this side dish serves as a refreshing palate cleansing bite between the fried chicken. To me, the must-have item is “The Cool Ranch.” Having that ranch flavour dusted onto the fried chicken is a match made in heaven. Each bite is so packed with flavour….my mouth is currently watering.

One final tip.

Honey is part of their “little things” section of the menu (essentially more sides). ADD HONEY TO YOUR CHICKEN. Non-negotiable. The added sweetness takes this fried chicken to the stratosphere.

Treat yourself. Have some fried chicken done right today!

Do You Trust Hockey Canada?

What is your current perception of Hockey Canada?

I haven’t talked to any hockey people who are standing up for our nation’s pastimes organization. Not after what has transpired this past year.

This entire situation has rubbed me the wrong way. As a Canadian minor hockey alum, Hockey Canada was always the gold standard. Any tournaments or gear that had their brand and logo was a hot commodity. Watching Team Canada compete in the Olympics felt like a can’t miss, once-in-a-lifetime viewing experience.

I remember way back when Esso had an Olympic collector cards promotion. This would have been the 1998 Nagano games when NHL players attending was still novel. As a kid, I had to have all the Canadian player’s cards. I would insist my father go fill up the car so I could have a chance at the Steve Yzerman card. These heroes of mine donning the Team Canada jersey was the pinnacle of hockey viewership for me.

How things can change…

I know I was naive to think that this revered organization would not have some skeletons in the closet. Yet, the nature of said skeletons is far more horrid than I could ever imagine. It is not a shock that humans in positions of power abuse that situation. It’s the systematic cover-up to keep this under the rug that bothers me the most. Instead of taking the right action and embracing the public relations nightmare, Hockey Canada thought using taxpayer money to pay for disgusting settlements was the ethical decision. The optics and selfishness that have been and continue to be displayed seem unforgivable.

The first step is for the current board to step down. The privileged self-interest that is on full display with the current regime needs to stop. Scott Smith handing out the gold medals to the women’s team after all the calls for him to step down was sickening.

Who is fit to rebuild Team Canada’s brand? I don’t have the answer. But I know the answer isn’t currently employed by the organization.

Lions OT Thriller Recap

It might be a cliché around here, but the Lions “scratched and clawed “their way to a 31-29 overtime victory over the Calgary Stampeders Saturday night.

This season has had some tremendous highs and lows since Nathan Rourke was lost for the season with a foot injury. A quarterback carousel that saw four players start over the past four games has finally found someone to give the fanbase hope.

Please put your hands together for Vernon Adams.

Adams put a non-refundable claim on the starter’s job after a standout performance Saturday night. He went 25-32 for 294 yards with a couple of touchdowns. It’s the kind of stable performance we were getting used to seeing with Nathan Rourke at the helm. Acquiring Vernon Adams from the Alouettes is looking like a genius maneuver now. After taking a week to get the playbook under his belt, this was a huge confidence-building performance for the Lions.

It’s only a one-game sample size, but Adams looks ready to provide enough offence to compete and keep this team in the playoff race. That is all we want as fans, especially after rising expectations due to an exciting brand of football with Nathan Rourke leading the way. This product might not have the same pizzazz, but the wins all look the same if you make the playoffs.

The Lions now sit at 9-3 and are still in a great spot entering the stretch run. There is a lot of football left, and there will be some bumps along the road with so much change to the most important position on the field.

Only one thing matters at this point.

Lions football is not done yet if Vernon Adams has anything to say about it.