Happy Smarter Day

When Annika woke up on her fifth birthday, she said “Am I five years old today? I’ll stop talking like a baby. As you get older, you get smarter. I’m smarter now!”

To my dear daughter: May you keep getting sweeter and smarter as you grow older.

Happy Fifth Birthday Annika!

Happy Fifth Birthday Annika!

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Magic Potions

One night while getting ready for bed, my five year old daughter said to me: “Daddy, I will love you forever, even after you are dead. I will find you, kiss you on the lips, and give a potion to make you not dead anymore.”

Sounds good to me kiddo!

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Big Business and Their Nanny (Sugar Sugar Everywhere)

In the USA, and also now Canada, there is an ever increasing conservative mantra of “smaller government is better”, and fear mongering of being controlled by a “nanny state”. Hypocritically, most of that noise and propaganda comes from big business and their lobbyists. In truth, big business is actually making sure that the government nanny is working and providing for THEM, and almost never for the good of their customers, especially when it comes to the foods and drinks we consume.

Take sugar for instance, and high fructose corn syrup, where the scales are seriously tipped against the consumer, and I’m not talking about weight gain. Did you know that sugar and corn production in the USA is subsidized by the government? This forces Canadian producers to keep their prices as low as possible, to remain competitive with their American counterparts. In a world like that, protecting the consumer from sugar is harder than pulling teeth from a reticent rhino.

For example: When NYC tried to ban “big gulp” sizes of soft drinks, there was a huge backlash, both from big business and their sugar-addicted clientele. The proposed law was never passed.

Profits and Brainwashing

Supported by the US government, these very large corporations then use those profits to brainwash a large portion of consumers through heavy marketing. For those of you who think I’m exaggerating or being alarmist by using the term brainwashing, think about what advertising is: Highly scientific techniques, combined with outright lying about products, fine-tuned and repeated over and over agai,n on as many platforms as only huge corporations can afford. If that is not brainwashing, what is?

And ask yourselves: Why do big corporations need to brainwash us? Because the less healthy a food product is, the more big business needs to convince us that we actually want it. When was the last time you saw a commercial encouraging you to buy broccoli, or that you really need to put whole grain rice on your “must buy” list? The answer probably is: NEVER!

Advertising (aka: BRAINWASHING) has an impact and increases profits, or else, why bother doing it?

Surprise Surprise

You would expect sugar to be in soft drinks, desserts, and candies, but it also hides in the most unexpected places. A single serving of fruity yogurt typically has about six teaspoons of sugar, or twenty-six grams: That’s more sugar than there is in a cup of chocolate pudding. Do you really think that manufacturers would be bombarding yogurt with that much sugar if it were not subsidized and therefore dirt cheap? Manufacturers pack yogurt full of sweetness so that consumers will crave it more, and NOT to make yogurt healthier.

Would the Sky Fall?

Try to imagine if all those whacked out sugar subsidies were instead put towards producing and eating healthier foods. Even if every single person on the planet suddenly stopped eating highly processed foods, would big business, and all their profits disappear overnight, and would the world’s economies collapse? HARDLY!

Sure, some companies might go bankrupt, and it would be their just desserts for shoveling so much crap into our bodies. The reality is, WE THE CONSUMER own our money, we decide where it goes, and it does not legally and naturally belong to the biggest corporations. If we all boycotted highly processed foods, new companies would crop up to feed the growing healthy demands of consumers. Survival of the fittest at its best!

Healthy Variety Needed

For a long time now, we have known there is a strong correlation to variety: The wider variety of foods we eat, generally speaking, the healthier we are. The wider variety of crops famers grow, the healthier the soil becomes. The wider variety of companies there are, creating healthy competition, the healthier the economy becomes. Do you see a trend here?

The ass-backwards subsidizing of unhealthy ingredients is creating a monoculture mindset, and near monopoly of our food production. This alone is doing more damage to our economies, our health, and even our farmlands, than we will ever fully realize over the next few decades.

With increasing lobbying power residing in fewer processed food corporations, consumers have to be much more careful of what they buy. I’m not suggesting that people cut sugar out of their diets entirely: I have a sweet tooth, and understand how difficult that is. Just be aware of the hidden sources of sugar, and how companies often succeed in brainwashing us into thinking their products are healthy, when they are clearly unhealthy.

We have to protect ourselves, and realize now more than ever: The less processed foods we eat, the better it is for everyone, on so many levels.

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Lawyerly Young Lass

This gallery contains 6 photos.

My daughter Annika and I had a disagreement yesterday. It all began when bedtime approached, and I asked her to put away her toys. When it came to her dollhouse however, for the first time ever, she refused to completely … Continue reading

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Determination Better Than Talent

I’m writing this post today, not to sound like a Whiney McWhiner, but because I want people to realize that my determination has much more to do with my musical abilities than raw talent ever has.

I’ve been told on more than one occasion “I wish I had your musical talent”, as if my skill appeared like magic, overnight and without effort, and that my admirer themselves could not achieve the same results. What people don’t seem to realize or acknowledge is the hard work I put into my practices. Even some of my closest friends don’t know how difficult it was for me to master these instruments, especially considering that my dwarfism also fused the third knuckles in my fingers before I was even born.

Because my doctors always told me I had to do special exercises to increase the mobility of my short and stubby fingers, in high school, the first chance I got, I chose music class as one of my electives. The teacher had me try the flute at first, but, my fingers were not long enough to reach all the keys. The second instrument he had me try was the Bb clarinet: It still was not easy for me, but at least I could cover all the keys properly, and make some music with it.

In my early thirties, I started really enjoying playing Celtic music. I played what’s called the Penny Whistle, which is a very small instrument with just six holes. Eventually, thanks to watching Riverdance, I fell in love with the sound of the granddaddy of all Penny Whistles, something they call a “Low D” or “Base” whistle. I purchased one online, and waited impatiently for it to arrive.

This instrument has just six holes, like its siblings, but it is much larger, and has a flute-like sound in the lower registers that I really love. I remember the day my “Low D” whistle arrived in the mail. I ripped open the packaging, brought the whistle to my lips, and much to my chagrin, realized I could only partially cover up the first two holes. The last four holes seemed to stretch out below into impossible infinity. I thought to myself “It took me months to find a store that shipped these things, and now I can’t even play it?”

After about an hour of trying, I was able to play a paltry three notes. All six holes open (hah, big deal), then first hole blocked, and finally the second hole blocked. You can’t play many songs with just three notes. “What a waste of money”, I thought to myself, deeply saddened at the prospect of never being able to play this awesome instrument.

But over the next few days, determination set in as I began to develop exercises to help me spread my fingers wider apart, and practiced over and over again. The other problem I was having was just holding the darn thing, since this make and model of whistle was nickel plated: A very glossy covering that made it more slippery than an eel.

Bonnie and Frank

Bonnie and Frank

Luckily, I was able to stabilize my hold by sticking a Dr. Scholl’s toe-pad (the un-medicated kind thank you very much), on the middle backside of the whistle. This little oval pad provided a convenient thumb-rest similar to the one I had on my clarinet. I was now able to easily to cover up the last three holes. It took me two whole weeks of brainstorming and practice just to be able to cover all six holes, but soon it became my favorite instrument.

Determined as I can be at times, I never had delusions of being able to achieve impossible dreams, like believing that I could overcome my dwarfism to play professional basketball. But nobody ever earned a degree, won a medal, or mastered a new skill by saying, “Heck, this is just too hard, why bother?”

To me, determination is worth more than raw talent. Sure, raw talent alone can take you far, but when you look closely at different success stories, determination usually plays a bigger role than talent.

PS: If you have children, make sure you teach them the importance of determination. Especially if they have a disability of any kind, being determined will be crucial in knocking down the roadblocks and negative attitudes they will encounter in life.

(Click here to listen to me playing the “Low D” whistle.)

Posted in Dwarfism, My Life So Far | 6 Comments

GM’s Treasure Trove of Tricky Trinkets

If you are a GM who gets tired of dealing with greedy players in your fantasy RPG campaign, this article is for you! You know the kind of player I’m talking about, the kind who’s always first to dive into that treasure chest, looking for what they believe is the bestest most powerful magical item. These “magic hoarders” always place an emphasis on maxing out their characters, and trying to be the most powerful member of the group, rather than realizing that maybe, just maybe, their reckless approach just might sneak up and bite them on the bum-bum one day.

The following list of cursed items will help you dear GM, to teach these magic hoarders a few lessons in humility and caution. They might also provide you hours of fun and adventure, depending on how much you wish to torment your greedy player and their party.

Each item is meant to be generic, and can be tailored to fit almost any gaming system you use. How powerful each item can be is up to you, oh honorable and devious GM. Casting “detect magic” spell only reveals the most obvious aspect of the item, and NOT the curse that lies beneath.

Also, every item or effect (except the Cask of Conversion), should prove very difficult to get rid of. Items themselves cannot be taken off, unless powerful spells are cast (Remove Curse, or an advanced Dispel Magic).

My only request is: If you use any of these items in your campaign, please please please, share those stories with me, and I will post them on my blog along with this article. (And, please feel free to share any devious items you might come up with).

Sword of Cowardice

APPEARANCE: This ornately decorated two-handed sword, has a truly nasty look about it. The hilt curves slightly around the holder’s fist, offering spikes to anyone who would try to grab it from the wielder. The pommel ends in a wicked looking head of a demon.

DETECT MAGIC SPELL REVEALS: This sword can cast a FEAR spell upon the holder’s enemies.

IN TRUTH: Upon engaging in ANY sort of combat, the bearer of this sword must make a saving throw VS. WILL (or COURAGE, or similar stat). GM determines range of penalties, but I suggest, at a minimum, minuses to strike and defenses, up to and including the wielder actually runs away from battle if the saving throw is bad enough.

In addition, regardless of the result of the saving throw, the demon head on the pommel of this sword starts screeching when entering battle: We are DOOMED! RUN AWAY!!! Save me MOMMY! HOW EMBARRASSING, I CRAPPED MY PANTS!!! (Be as creative and as humiliating as you want).

HISTORY: The pommel head is actually a demon that was defeated in battle, and itself was cursed to live for eternity in this sword. The demon’s main purpose in life now is to COMPLETELY HUMILIATE the warrior greedy enough to pick it up.

Sword of Warning

APPEARANCE: This long sword has a very small disk with an arrow engraved on it, where the pommel meets the handle.

DETECT MAGIC SPELL REVEALS: Players get the feeling that the disk and arrow are part of a warning system.

IN TRUTH: The great thing about this sword is that it can DETECT ENEMIES. Within one hundred feet of any enemy, the disk will spin until the arrow points in the general direction of said villain.

The really bad thing is that, when the party gets to within twenty feet, the sword starts hollering “DANGER, DANGER: ENEMY DETECTED!” alternating with a very loud siren, every ten seconds or so. So much for sneaking up on the enemy!

HISTORY: The poor soul trapped in this sword was once the marshal of the tower guards for a mighty mage. One day, the marshal fell asleep while on duty guarding the mages’ chambers, just as a witch snuck into the mages’ quarters. Nine months later, said witch returned, delivering onto the mage his unwanted son. And so, the marshal knows just how peeved a powerful papa mage can get.

Now the marshal must suffer for eternity, never to sleep, and always on guard duty.

Cloak of Insulting

APPEARANCE: This cloak has over 1,000 tiny words inscribed onto it, written in 1,000 different languages.

DETECT MAGIC SPELL REVEALS: This is a cloak of translation, and will help you understand, and speak over 1,000 languages.

IN TRUTH: When in the presence of powerful and important people (royalty, powerful allies, the one you love, you name it), this cloak will translate everything you say into the most insulting thing possible, at the worst possible moment.

HISTORY: This item was created by a renowned mage, who also happened to be the neglected right hand man of a powerful king. Tiring of always playing second fiddle to a man he considered an inferior, he created this cloak which he gave to his king as a present. The mage then sat back, and watched as chaos ensued, and picked up the pieces after the king was assassinated.

Having gained control of the kingdom the mage hid the cloak, in a since long forgotten treasure trove.  And now, it has been discovered today, by your unsuspecting players.

Ring of Truth

APPEARANCE: This simple gold band has a medium sized gemstone of Lapis Lazuli.

DETECT MAGIC SPELL REVEALS: This is a ring of truth.

IN TRUTH: The finger this ring is on will tingle when someone is speaking the truth to the bearer. Unfortunately, when someone is lying, it will start to holler out loud: “Liar liar pants on FIRE!”, “He’s FIBBING!” and otherwise warn you out loud of the lies people say.

HISTORY: This ring once belonged to a wizard, who also happened to be a litigant. This wizard grew tired of the vagaries of the legal system, the wishy-washy nature of jury members, the vile natures of defense litigants, and even the judgy natures of judges.

Having created this ring, he then racked up the longest winning streak of any wizard-litigant that ever existed. Since this wizard was always the forgetful sort, he embedded the “ever present” nature of this ring, so that he would never lose it. The wizard has long ago perished. What adventures will your party now have with this lovely item?

Sword of Vampirism

APPEARANCE: This long sword is cast entirely of ruby red colored metal.

DETECT MAGIC SPELL REVEALS: When this sword is used in battle, it will add bonuses to Hit and Damage rolls.

IN TRUTH: This wicked blade not only adds bonuses to hit and damage, but also, will help the user to recover hit points and stamina whenever he has a successful “to hit” result. (% recovered is up to you oh sneaky GM).

Unfortunately, the more a warrior uses this sword, the more they suffer the other effects of being a vampire: Sensitivity and damage when in sunlight, inability to gain sustenance from mere food, craving to drink blood, reduced reflections in mirrors and pools of water, you name it.

As well, the longer the sword is used, the more likely these changes will be PERMANENT.

Oh, did I forget to mention, the percentage chance of ADDICTION to using this sword increases with each use?

As well, this curse can’t be removed with a mere dispel magic spell, oh no, that would be too easy! Once someone uses this lovely item, ONLY THE DEATH OF THE VAMPIRE WHO CREATED IT will be the cure.

HISTORY: Larry was once a very powerful but essentially lazy vampire. The whole “conversion thing” became so boring, but still necessary, that he decided to create a device to assist in creating his ultimate “army of darkness”. Who knows how many of these swords lay about these lands, but certainly, now at least one member of your party has to deal with Larry in order to avoid joining his army of blood suckers.

Amulet of Ultimate Peace

APPEARANCE: Amulet that looks like a dove made of opal.

DETECT MAGIC SPELL REVEALS: This amulet will soothe any savage beast it comes near to.

IN TRUTH: Any combatant within fifty yards diameter will find their weapons and spells no longer work on flesh. Rather, all damage goes directly to other weapons and armor. If an inanimate object is not dangerous, for instance, like normal clothes, kitchen ware, houses, bridges, are also safe. ONLY weapons and armor will suffer magic or physical damage.

HISTORY: This item was created by a powerful magician, who was also chief negotiator for his kingdom. Tired of having his advice constantly being ignored at the peace talks he was in charge of, he would hand out these cursed items to all participants, a small gift for at least temporarily putting down their weapons.

If the peace talks then failed, the more violent minded noobs who departed would have a difficult time doing any real damage, while the wiser minds gained time to craft a more permanent and peaceful solution.

Ring of Warmth

APPEARANCE: This large band of gold has an engraving on it that looks like a small campfire.

DETECT MAGIC SPELL REVEALS: This ring can cast a spell of WARMTH when necessary.

IN TRUTH: This sneakily dangerous item actually slowly robs its bearer of body heat, and transfers that heat to itself! The ring becomes nice and cozy warm, but the user, not so much.

The bearer will then require that the curse be removed, or, continual spells of warmth will need to be cast upon the wearer: Otherwise hypothermia, and then death, will ensue. (The speed at which this happens depends on you, oh mighty GM!)

HISTORY: This item is actually a reject from Wayne’s Wizard World. Needless to say, the student who created that object got an “F” for that project!

Rations of Ravenousness

APPEARANCE: These rations look very much like modern day army rations, and have a big bold label that states “POWER RATIONS”. Instructions on the back read: Throw these small packets of specially preserved food on the fire or in boiling water for fifteen minutes. Tastiness guaranteed! Strength and vitality renewed or your money back!

DETECT MAGIC SPELL REVEALS: Highly nutritious and super compact packets of magically enhanced food.

IN TRUTH: Just one bite from these cursed packets of food, starts a domino effect of ever increasing hunger, no matter what food is consumed thereafter. Even worse, no nutritional or caloric value is absorbed either. So, no matter how much one eats, one just gets thinner and thinner. Death will eventually ensue: How quickly, or slowly, is up to the GM.

Once a person eats one bite of the rations, they can only be cured by drinking holy water, or via DISPEL CURSE, or CURE DISEASE spells.

HISTORY: A down and out shaman had to beg for food when he was younger. The abuse he suffered at the hands of the wealthy left him permanently embittered towards the rich and powerful. When this shaman grew in stature and power he never forgot this experience: He created and then sold untold packets of these expensive “power rations” to any unsuspecting travelers and adventurers that treated him badly. To this day, the unused and deadly rations continue to turn up in the strangest of places.

Variation: This shaman also created “Rations of Silence”. Eaters of this special delicacy will find themselves mute, until they quaff holy water, or someone casts DISPEL CURSE, or CURE DISEASE spells on them. If a party discovers both types of rations (Ravenousness and Silence), they could be seriously devastated! (Ever try to cast a CURE DISEASE spell, when you, the spell caster or priest, have gone MUTE? Not easy if a spell or prayer has a verbal component!)

Cask of Conversion

APPEARANCE: Very plain and small wooden cask, like the kind you might see on a Saint Bernard dog.

DETECT MAGIC SPELL REVEALS: Magical cask of storage that can hold much more water than it has any right to. You could say, it is a “cask of holding”. Also, the water you pour into it also will be converted to have special recuperative powers.

IN TRUTH: This extra-dimensional cask has the insidious effect of converting water into a highly alcoholic beverage that tastes and feels exactly like water. No effects are felt as it goes down the gullet, or into the stomach. But then, you start to feel good, REALLY good, and then, within minutes, everyone drinking from it becomes BLINDINGLY DRUNK! Everyone SAVE versus STUPIDITY!

Note to GM: You determine the severity of effects, length of duration and saving throws required, depending on how vicious you are feeling that day, or depending on how silly your players are behaving.  And the hangover the next day:  Oy vey!

This nifty item although cursed, unlike the other items in this list, is easily avoidable. JUST DON’T DRINK FROM IT! Unless the party WANTS to party of course.

HISTORY: This item comes to us courtesy of Marvin the Marvelous. Being an excellent drunkard as well as dedicated druid, Marvin tired of having to haul his collection of spirits, as his party traveled the land battling spirits, monsters, and other nastiness. Marvin’s spirit has since moved onto another plane of existence, but his spirits can still be found in our mortal plane.

Posted in Humor, Random Meanderings | 3 Comments

Guédille (The Other Quebecois French Fry Dish)

We ordered in BBQ chicken with fries for supper the other day. After our five year old daughter Annika polished off her meal in record time, I decided to make a uniquely French Canadian delicacy for her second serving: Guédille.

What is a Guédille you may ask? It is basically the tastiest starch on starch sandwich you may ever encounter in your lifetime. Start with a hot dog bun, and stuff it with coleslaw, French fries, mustard, and relish. There are thousands of recipes you can find on the internet, but in my opinion, there should be no hotdog wiener, no meat or seafood of any kind, or it’s merely a sandwich with crazy fixings and not a true Guédille.

Of course, my recipe was an approximation and not the real thing. All I had was half a large hamburger bun, so I folded it in half, then stuffed it with the aforementioned coleslaw and fries. Instead of relish and mustard, I used ketchup and mayonnaise. Close enough. The result must have been super tasty to Annika, for she polished it off in a matter of seconds. Even still, I was surprised by how much she liked it.

Guédille (Sort Of)

Guédille (Sort Of)

“How was your guédille Annika?” I asked her.

“It was delicious. I like it like chocolate!”

As good as chocolate, eh? Now I can sleep at night, knowing I’ve successfully passed on another Quebecois tradition to my daughter.

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Labels Are For Cans

This post is in response to a problem presented by a parent with a four year old child who was born with dwarfism. This young child is already obsessed with height, and gets quite offended when their mother refers to them as a “little person”.

I’m not surprised by this young person’s reaction.

My first thought is: If it’s no skin off your nose, why do or say anything that upsets your child? If your child does not like being called “honey-boo”, “sweetie-pie”, or anything else for that matter, why continue doing it?  This young child is already standing up for their rights, and needs to be listened to.

We teach our daughter that stop means STOP, and no means NO. Even when my daughter is laughing hysterically while I’m tickling her, and seems to be having lots of fun, if she says “STOP!” that’s exactly what I do. It is the only way to truly teach about trust and respect for others.

As for the word “little”, most children at some point or another become aware of the term “growing up”, and develops the desire to become a “big boy” or “big girl”. We as parents are continually encouraging this process, especially whenever we want them to behave properly, or to praise them about some achievement or another. “What a big boy (or girl)!” we will say.

Eventually we get caught contradicting ourselves when we suddenly revert to calling them “little”. Case in point: As my daughter approached the age of four, she began correcting me, and protesting my usage of the phrase “my little girl”. “I’m not a little girl anymore papa, I’m a BIG girl”, she would say. Duly noted!

Personally, I dislike the term “little person” when it comes to describing my medical condition. I do not refer to other people as “that thin lady”, or “that fat guy”, and I would never want anybody to describe me as “that little person”. We are all so much more than what we see on the outside, and deserve better than to have a label slapped on us.

Also consider that medical issues are typically thought of as a private matter for adults, to be discussed primarily with your doctor, and when appropriate, very close family members. Why does that rule change just because someone is a child?

If you feel a strong need to go into details, with close relatives for example, there is still no real need to talk about it in front of your child. I’m not suggesting parents should be secretive, but rather just to be sensitive when sharing medical information about their child, especially in front of them. Kids want mostly to have fun and just be kids.  They don’t need reminders of what they deal with on a daily basis.

For strangers who ask questions about your child’s disability, I suggest keeping the answer as brief as possible: “Because they were born that way”, or some other variant that makes you feel most comfortable.  For more advice, you can read my earlier post labeled: Being Different (Staring Countermeasures).

In closing, I just want to reiterate that even young kids are much more aware than we might realize: We need to be more sensitive how we speak about them, especially when they are in our presence. As your children get older, they will be able to politely speak for themselves, especially if their parents lay down an excellent example for them to follow.

Posted in Dwarfism | 6 Comments

Fabergé Exhibition

This gallery contains 25 photos.

One of my birthday presents this year from my fantastic wife Bonnie was a trip to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, to see the Fabergé exhibition.  At first, I was not as impressed with it compard to the Chihuly … Continue reading

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Huggable Wall

This gallery contains 15 photos.

If ever there was a wall you just HAD to hug, we found one at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.  After we had viewed the entire Fabergé collection, we were meandering our way back to the main entrance, when … Continue reading

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