Inappropriately Appropriate (or vice versa?)

Beware the five syllable words you teach your young children, or they may come back to haunt you. While playing with my five year old daughter Annika the other day, she was getting very fidgety. Being a wise-guy papa, I just had to ask her “What’s the matter sweetie, do you have ants in your pants?”

To which she replied “That’s an inappropriate thing to say daddy!”

“Oh? Why’s that?” I replied, a little confused at her objection to this classic saying.

“Because papa, if I had ants in my pants, they would get into my underpants, and they would be bite me on my labia, and THAT would be INAPPROPRIATE”.

What impressed me most was not the usage of the word labia, since Annika has been fascinated for almost two years now by her kid’s book on the human body, and asking a million questions. No, what impressed me most was her appropriate usage of the word inappropriate.

“You’re right Annika that would be inappropriate. And that was an excellent usage of the English language”, I complimented her, as I made a mental note never to use classic sayings in our conversations, at least until she learns to not take things so literally.

Posted in Annikdotes, Humor | 1 Comment

There but for the grace…

Have you ever read the sort of story where someone experiences an event, a single thing, major or minor, that causes them to miss an airplane flight, and that specific flight has a horrific crash that no one survives? Yesterday, we had a similar experience, only it was a huge highway pileup we missed by mere minutes.

On Saturday, August 23, 2014, 6:30PM, we were saying our goodbyes to my mother and brother, in that lingering, chatty, “we have to go but will miss you” sort of way that only loving families do. Eventually, my wife Bonnie, daughter Annika, her godfather’s Chris and Mark (two of the nicest men you will ever meet), and I, slowly got into our car.

Mark was buckling his seatbelt when my oldest brother Andre approached the driver’s side window, and said to Mark “One of your rear tires seems to be getting flat. You should check that out before you head back to Montreal”.

Then Andre continued “Hey Frank, to drive out of Sherbrooke, you should go down this street, turn left, get to the highway and….”

As this point, I cut him off, getting tired of his “older brother giving advice” shtick. “Yeah, yeah, I lived here too, I think I know how to get us back to Montreal, thank you very much.” And then added, “Love you Andre.” Because, I do so love my brother Andre, despite the friction that can too often develop between oldest and youngest siblings.

By 6:45PM we pulled up to a gas station. Chris and Mark got out of the car, checked all the tires, and pumped some air in the one that looked flat. By 7:00PM, pit stop completed, we were back on the highway and heading into the setting sun.

The mood on board was jovial enough, despite the fact our daughter had been misbehaving all day, and was doing her best to drive us, particularly my poor wife who was stuck with her in the back seat, into early parent-retirement, or at least, making us want to go on a vacation to some other country that did not accept Annika visas. Around 7:35PM, something happened that would make the day both longer and more difficult than we could have ever imagined, while putting a whole new perspective on life.

Gradually, the traffic began to slow, and then, come to a complete halt. Ten minutes go by, and then, an ambulance passes us in the breakdown lane. Of course, one assumes car accident, and we were more right than we could possibly have expected. Then, another ambulance, followed by police cars, fire trucks, large flatbed trucks and more, all with sirens blaring. Meanwhile, in front of our eyes, was one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve seen in a very long time. What an eerie and strange juxtaposition that was.

After about an hour, Chris gets out of the car, to walk ahead and see what is happening. He came back about twenty minutes later, and described a scene best left to the professionals. (CLICK HERE FOR THE NEWS COVERAGE OF THIS ACCIDENT).

Considering how far back we were from the accident, we quickly realized that our five minute delay of checking the tires might very well be what allowed us to miss being the car that was crushed by a Mack truck. Thanking the lucky stars that were now appearing in the darkening skies above, and with a five year old in the back seat of our car, we tried to keep the mood as light as possible.

Still, by 10:00PM, I lost it, and let loose a diatribe about how I would handle the situation, if I were the cops. “With the number of cop cars we’ve seen go by, why can’t they bleeping tell us what’s going on? If I were them, I would block the highway, and starting with the last row, get these cars turned around two at a time, and onto a detour that will send us back on our way home.”

In a moment of “Wow, are they really doing exactly what I just suggested? That NEVER happens!” that’s exactly what the police did. By 10:30PM they notified us to turn the care around, and follow the detour signs they had set up. We were moving once again after a three hour delay. But we were not out of the woods yet.

What followed next was a never ending bumper to bumper, stop and start, snail-like journey through the heavily forested back roads of Granby and environs. All the while, our daughter was doing her best imitation of the Tasmanian devil, crossed with Woody Woodpecker: Gabbling, elbowing and kicking her mother, and making herself a total nuisance in the back seat. And I, her not so proud father, was barking at her like a grumpy drill sergeant. Not my best moment, to be sure, losing my composure like that.

In total, it took us another ninety minutes just to travel ten or so kilometers. By 12:00 Midnight, Annika thankfully fell asleep, and even more importantly, we were at long last back on a fast moving highway. Of course, by 12:15AM, we had to get off the highway, or else a few bladders would have understandably popped. We finally arrived at our home by 1:00AM, had Annika tucked in by 1:10AM, and were ourselves in bed by 1:30AM.

Throughout it all, I could not have asked to spend those difficult hours with three better people than my wife Bonnie, and our dear friends Chris and Mark. They set the bar so high for being calm, and maintaining just the right amount of good humor in much less than perfect conditions. Even my daughter, despite her bad behaviour, managed to make us crack up laughing a few times, maybe even when we needed it most. I apologize to them for losing it once or twice.

And to my dear brother Andre, I say: “Thank you for spotting that low tire, you quite possibly saved our lives. And keep right on giving me that brotherly advice!”

Posted in My Life So Far | 1 Comment

Curviest Banana EVER

Happiness Is A Curvy Banana

Happiness Is A Curvy Banana

While eating brunch the other day, I encountered the curviest banana I’ve ever seen.  Of course, the jokes came to my mind fast and furious, but with my very young daughter sitting right next to me, and who was about to eat said curvy banana, I had to just keep my mouth shut.

Instead, I just smiled as my wife took a picture.  Let the jokes begin!




Posted in Humor | 2 Comments

NOT A Motivational Speaker

The following is a speech I shared with the Cougar Ambassadors for Champlain College, Lennoxville, on Friday August 15, 2014.

Cougar Ambassadors for Champlain College - Lennoxville

Cougar Ambassadors for Champlain College – Lennoxville


When Sheila asked me to speak to you good people today, I decided she must come from another planet. What could I, a fifty-something year old, out of work computer geek, possibly say to a group student leaders?

Despite my fear and mounting self-doubt, I then realized, that I deeply admire the alien planet Sheila comes from. Sheila has accomplished so much despite, or perhaps because of, the challenges that she has faced. Sheila must see something positive in me and wants to share that with other people. So here I am today, at the request of Sheila from Planet Q., to talk about leadership, and team building.

To put it bluntly, I do not consider myself to be a leader. I also do not consider myself to be a motivational speaker, at least, not like most common “positive thinking” new age gurus out there. I will NEVER use terms like “vibrational alignment”, or “intention setting”, or any such other gargantuan galactic gobbledygook terminology.

The reality is, life is messy and complicated, and no amount of mystical thinking will EVER change that, or magically align the stars for you. But sometimes, when we do the right things, for a long enough period of time, good things can happen.

(At this point, I told the story of how I coached a lacrosse team that won a provincial bronze medal.  If you want to read that story now, you can click on the following link: Coaching Part 2: The Provincial Lacrosse Tournament)

The Real Job of a Good Leader (as I see it)

Be a good person

  • The world is already full of “leaders”, and look at the state it is in. In Quebec especially, it appears that leader is synonymous to corruption.
  • You are there to help OTHERS excel, not raise your own profile, or build a good resume.
  • If you have ulterior motives, you will NOT be the type of leader this world needs most.

Example: Considering how crazy most minor league parents are, I was certainly not coaching for my own ego gratification. I was there to help the kids.

You are there to DO

  • Some people dream of being a leader, thinking that the only thing they will have to do is wave their arms, and command people to do stuff. That could not be further from the truth. In order to succeed, you must be willing to do whatever it takes, on top of every other duty a leader has.
  • Even with the best people on your team, at some point or another, you will have to jump in, and get your hands dirty. You might not be able to replace a key member, but you will at least have to be familiar with every person’s role and duties.

Example: Some coaches like to show up at the last moment before a game, commanding the team and his assistant coaches, and never do anything else. My approach was different. For every practice, and every game, I called every player to ensure they would be attending. By doing so, I got to know each player better, and also, a bit of what life was like for them at home. I organized our practice drills, I fixed equipment, organized transportation, etc. Coaching became an unpaid full time job, not just a “game day” experience.


  • Most often, you will be handed a team. (Oh, it would be so nice to choose everyone on our team). Get to know each member of your team.
  • Find your Aces as quickly as possible, and assign them accordingly. Most Aces never need to be told what to do.
  • The same goes for all the rest of your other team members, rank and assign them according to their abilities and talents. King’s, Queen’s, Jacks and so on, down to the 2’s.
  • Even 2’s serve an important role, just like a pawn in the game of chess can become the most powerful piece on the board.

Example: Our youngest and smallest player, became our best defenseman, and “giant slayer”, especially during the last period of that bronze medal game.

You are there to TEACH

  • If you don’t like teaching, do not be a leader. Leaders who want their teams to excel have to be willing to share their knowledge and experiences. Spinning off powerful partners through teaching is critical to success.

Example: I always made sure my assistant coaches had all the information to do my job. My practice and game plans, the player lists with phone numbers, parent names, starting lineup, EVERYTHING, just in case I was ever unable to attend

You are there to LISTEN

  • As a leader, you will never have all the ideas and information required to do the job. You must listen to everyone on your team, gathering the knowledge and channeling it, like a river gathers water from all the tributaries and channels it to its final destination.

Example: I always listened to my assistant coaches, and my players. I had my own ideas to be sure, but, each player knows themselves best, and who am I to argue with that?

You are there to SUPPORT

  • Good leaders love supporting people. It is your job as a leader to remove any roadblocks your team encounters. Sometimes those problems are real, sometimes those problems are imagined.
  • You must be willing to not only be a leader, but also, a motivator, den mother, sister, brother, friend, confidant, whatever it takes to get your team moving forward.
  • In essence, each person on your team is unique, and you will have to get to know each one of them, and present unique approaches to maximize each person’s potential.

Example: As coach, the variety of problems I had to tackle were INSANE: The tears of a ten year old player, the unreasonable fears of a parent, bad refereeing, broken equipment, the problems never stopped coming.

This next point is one of the hardest to do gracefully: You are there to TAKE THE BLAME

  • A good leader listens to their client, and takes the blame when things go wrong. You listen and then make corrections: It is the only way to make your team better.
  • Even if someone is truly to blame, fix the problem internally by coaching that person. If coaching does not work, eventually, you will have to fire the person who continually fails, or the whole team will suffer.

Example: In my first years as a coach, we always lost at the major tournaments. Even though the teams from Montreal were always bigger than ours, I never used that as an excuse. I kept digging deeper each season, listening to other coaches from older teams, and kept getting better at coaching.


  • Although I poked fun at “new age positive belief gurus” earlier, believing in yourself and your team is fundamental to success. Positive thinking ALONE is not a cure-all for poor leadership, poor preparation and poor execution.

The true definition of success is not whether we win or lose, but HOW we win and lose.  There are many people in the world who are considered “winners”, but leave behind them a wake of utter devastation. Just one example of these types of false winners are CEO’s who run large corporations that are killing this planet.

Success to me is always giving it your best effort, while trying to make the world and the people around you even just a small percentage better.  With that definition of success in mind, here’s a little reminder I keep in my daily “to do” list:



Author’s Note:  Response to the speech has been very positive.  Here’s what the organizer of the days festivities, Sheila Quinn, had to to say:

“YOU ARE INCREDIBLE!!!!!!!! Frank, Nancy and Richard specifically spoke to me about how incredible you were – Nancy as Dean of Student Services has a huge amount of responsibility on her plate – she really holds the college together – so to see the students so dumbstruck and in awe was SO great! THANK YOU!!!”

And thank YOU Sheila, without you, this would never have happened!


Posted in My Life So Far | 9 Comments

52 Cards = Infinite Fun

I grew up in a large family of six children, with parents who both came from even larger families: Dad’s side, the Verpaelsts, had eight kids, mother’s side, the Lapointes, had fourteen. When just a small sub-section of these families got together for a visit, the house would fill up with twenty to thirty people in a heartbeat.

Naturally, people congregated into different groups: We kids of course would play together, as the aunts and uncles had animated conversations. But the second most common thing our families did was to play card games. Back in the sixties and seventies, when I was a kid, there were no computers, no large screen televisions, or small I-devices of any kind to distract us from truly relating to one another. Especially when the weather was not conducive to being outdoors, card games were our clan’s # 1 choice for a bit of fun.

We’ve played cards when I was stuck in the hospital. We’ve played cards while cramped in our camper on a cold and rainy day. We’ve even played cards during maple season, in a smoky cabin, with the big vats heated by wood fires, boiling the sap away, and the steam condensing on the wooden beams above, and then drip-drip-dripping on us below.

My mother, contemplating her bid, circa 1984.

My mother, contemplating her bid, circa 1984.

It really did not matter which card game we played: It was all just an excuse to sit down at a table to socialize and razz each other good naturedly as the wins and losses piled up throughout the evening. It was a mental exercise of who could make the best game out of the worst cards, achieving the longest winning streak, or even better, dethroning champions who had not lost all evening. It was also my first taste of competing against my elders: At the age of ten or eleven, it was a thrill for me to beat someone who was four or five times my senior.

Aside from the kids games most of us know (Crazy Eights, Go Fish, etc.), our families commonly played more challenging trick taking games. The Lapointe family played a variation of 200 called “La Fouine”. The Verpaelst family played a variation of Euchre called “500”. When we lived in the United States, we played a variation of Pitch called “High-Low-Jack-Nine-Five”. And one of my personal favourites was called “Screwy Louie”, a variation of Oh-Hell!.

Of course, some family members were sore losers, or worse, poor winners, but it was very easy to ignore them. There were so many tables of four player games happening that “losers” at one table would give up their place for those waiting in the wings. The defeated pair then went off to another table, to await their turn for the next open spot.

As the evening progressed, you began to see which table was having the most fun, and soon, most of us preferred to miss a few turns waiting to jump back in at the fun table, rather than playing against the less than nice relatives. Between hands, and especially as you were waiting to get back into an open spot, came the post-game analysis and strategizing sessions.

Below you will find my recollection of the rules for a simple but crazily fun game called “Course aux Rois”, followed by some handy links for the rules of the four-player games mentioned above. The next time you want to turn off all your electro-gadgets and have a bit of a face to face fun with friends and family, give a simple deck of 52 cards a chance.

“The Race of Kings” (“Course aux Rois” in French).

This game sounds so simplistic as to be boring as hell. But I promise, the next time you have 8-15 players willing to give it a try, you will surprised how people really get into it. What’s really nice about this game is that you can have conversations while playing, and even younger kids will be able to play with the older crowd.

The Pot: At the beginning of the game, each player gets five tokens (pennies, buttons, little candies, whatever is handy). Each time a player loses a round, they put one of their tokens into the pot, usually a bowl in the middle of the table. Once a player runs out of tokens, they have one last chance, called your HONOR, and once you lose that one last chance, you are out of the game. Play continues, until there is just one player, who then wins the pot of tokens.

Game Sequence

Cards are ranked from Ace as lowest, 2, 3, etc. up to King as highest.

The dealer shuffles, and hands each player just one card, face down.

Each player looks only at their own card. The goal of the game is AVOID HAVING THE LOWEST CARD, after one round of trading has completed.

To start the trading round, the first player on the left of the dealer looks at their card. If they think their card is high enough to avoid losing that round they can keep their card. If they think their card is too low, they can trade it with the person to their left. THE PERSON TO THEIR LEFT CANNOT REFUSE THIS TRADE.

This person to the left of the trader, then decides if they want to trade with the person on their left, and so on.

Trading continues once around the table, until it reaches the dealer. If the dealer thinks their card is too low, the dealer can trade with the deck, by cutting it. No matter the result of the cut, that becomes the dealers card.

Everyone then reveals their card, and the person with the lowest card that round, puts a token in the pot. (If there is a tie for lowest card, each player with that low card pays into the pot.)

EXCEPTION: There is just one exception to all of the above. IF YOU HAVE A KING, THE PERSON TO YOUR RIGHT CANNOT TRADE WITH YOU. In other words, The King acts as a roadblock. (If you cannot trade with the person to your left because they have a King, you cannot trade with the next person. You are stuck with whatever low card you have.)

There are no rules concerning WHEN you must reveal that you are holding a King. Some prefer the dramatic effect of keeping it face down on the table, preferring to reveal it only if and when a potential trade comes up. Others prefer the drama that develops when you reveal a King faster than people have a chance to even look at their card.

After a round of trading, and the loser pays the pot, the next person deals the cards, and so on, until there is only one person remaining.

Although the game is really a no brainer, with virtually no strategy or tactics involved, the real fun is the psyching out and gamesmanship that develops, especially as people near elimination. The real fun of the game is, even though you cannot refuse to trade, nothing stops you from asking “Are you sure?” in a sly voice, when someone wants to swap out their crappy card for yours.

Especially after the first time you get a chance to hand someone a lower card than the one they had originally, asking “Are you sure?” is like dropping a bomb on their decision making process. Once they make a bad trade, they will hesitate to deal with the likes of you next time they have an iffy card.

200 (La Fouine, Le Rough, La Barouche)

Euchre (500)

Oh Hell (Screwy Louie)

Pitch (High-Low-Jack-Nine-Five)

Posted in My Life So Far, Random Meanderings | 3 Comments

Being Different (Staring Countermeasures)

From a painfully young age, I was made aware that I was different from the stares that other people threw my way. It took me a very long time to realize that this was a normal reaction when people see something different, and not necessarily an indication that they were being mean or stupid. The fact of the matter is, we dwarfs are truly rare and special.

Some estimates indicate that only 1 in 10,000 babies (that’s just 0.01%) are born with dwarfism. To put that statistic in visual terms, in the USA, there are only enough dwarfs to fill a modest football stadium (30,000-40,000 seats). In Canada, we would barely fill up a small minor league hockey rink (3,000-4,000 seats).

Me at the age of 10, around 1974

Me at the age of 10, around 1974

When I was younger, I felt ashamed when people stared at me, and avoided making eye contact, ignoring them as best I could. In the end, my reaction actually made the situation even worse, as my self-esteem headed ever downwards as I grew up. But the reality is that every stare can actually be an opportunity to enlighten people, and make new friends, instead of retreating into our shell.

Rather than avoiding these gazes, try the openly friendly approach. I don’t promise that every staring incident you encounter from hereon in will be positive, but I do promise that with a few simple tactics, you will start to feel better about yourself. (And this goes not only for us dwarfs, but also for anybody who has been stared at for being physically different than the average person.)

If the person staring at you is too far away to speak to, or it’s just too noisy, simply look into their eyes, smile, and give them a hand wave. Most people who stare are just being naturally curious. Smiling back at them often wakes them up to their behavior, and shows them that you are choosing to respond as a sentient, and kind, human being. You could also add a “Hello there!” to your smile and hand wave.

You’d be surprised by how many people smile back at you. Some will look away, and not be a bother to you anymore. Rarely, they might continue to stare or even make fun of you: Obviously those people you should just ignore.

“What if the gawkers I wave or speak to actually come up and speak to me?” you may ask. Well, just talk back to them: That’s how most people make new friends. The more people who understand what dwarfism is, and isn’t, the better it is for us all.

Of course the problem with speaking to human beings is that not all minds are created equal. Without making fun of people who are less intelligent than ourselves, we can deal with just about anyone out there. Heck, like yours truly, we all have moments of “foot in mouth disease” and can ask some very silly questions, so be patient and understanding. Children especially always have questions, and it took me over three decades to come up with some simple answers.

In a nutshell, the biggest question tends to be: “What’s wrong with you?” or “Why are you so short?”

If you are a religious person, you could answer “Because God made me that way”, otherwise, “Because I was born that way.” For children, I often add, “Just like you were born with brown hair, I was born short.” Having their curiosity sated, most children will often wander off to continue whatever they were doing before you came along. Other times, with children and adults alike, the conversation will keep going, as they realize how interesting and wonderful you actually are.

My main point is, until all humans become our economical height, we will always be stared at to a certain extent. Our bravery alone in dealing with an outsized world on a daily basis is reason enough to make others want to get to know us. Rather than shying away, we should use those opportunities to make friends and educate people. Instead of becoming shy or belligerent when people stare at you, be a good ambassador, and open your hearts by being friendly to the world.

Posted in Dwarfism, My Life So Far | 10 Comments

What is Love?

It is so fascinating to observe how a young mind develops, as it observes this crazy world we live in, and tries to make some sense of it. Annika was listening to the radio when Haddaway’s song “What is Love?” started playing. She asked us what the song was about, but before we could answer, she heard part of the refrain, “Oh baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me, no more.”

Annika paused for a moment and then declared, “Well, it must not be true love then!”

Of course, as parents, we praised her for such a clever observation: “That’s right darling, people who are truly in love, try not to hurt each other.”  (Of course I realize that is an idealized view of love, but she will have plenty of time to learn that trying does not always mean succeeding.)

I’d say that Annika, having just turned five years old, is becoming a pretty smart cookie. Also, I’m going to have to review the channels I’ve programmed into her radio: It’s time to move away from pop music before her vision of the world gets stuck in pre-adolescent mode!

Posted in Annikdotes, Humor | 3 Comments

Budding Shutterbug

This gallery contains 9 photos.

This winter, Annika’s godfather Chris gave her his old digital camera.  I realize these things are so automated that almost anyone can take a pretty good picture. Keep in mind, Annika knows nothing about lighting, framing the scene, or anything … Continue reading

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Summertime and Ice Cream Trucks

oldfleet_7e920.LargeNothing says summer to me more than an old fashioned ice cream truck. Where I grew up in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, that ice cream truck was owned and operated by the Palagi Brothers, and it would tour our neighborhood just after suppertime. As we watched television in our living room, we could hear the clanging of the bell getting louder, the sound floating far and wide on the hot humid air. As the bright red and yellow truck got closer and closer to our home, that ringing bell would get drowned out by this child’s excited screaming “Daddy, daddy, it’s the ice cream man!”

My father and I would then head outside just as the truck pulled up to our front yard, and we would step up onto the running board, and place our order at the window. Strangely, as an eight year old kid, I almost never had ice cream because it always left me feeling thirsty afterwards. Instead I usually opted for Palagi’s much more refreshing “frozen lemonade”, just the perfect balance of sweet-tart icy cold goodness.

Back in the house, as we spent family time in front of the television, I would first slowly suck out the chilled lemonade, leaving behind mostly slushy ice. Then, I would let the slush melt a bit, creating a barely flavored but very frosty and thirst quenching combination. Finally, I would finish off the last few gulps by siphoning off every bit of liquid, the slush now leaning on and freezing my lips as I tilted my cup. With the very last bit of liquid thus drained, I would take the last few bites of dry slush and compress it in my mouth into mini ice cubes between my back teeth, and then happily crunch away on it.

Where we live now, there is no such thing as an ice cream truck. So imagine my surprise one summer a few years ago, while at a local park with my wife and three year old daughter, we heard the familiar clang-clang-clang of an old fashioned bell. My heart skipped a beat or two at the thought of introducing an old family tradition to my sweet little girl, as my eyes scanned around. There appeared to be a white van being driven ever so slowly down the street, it’s little bell ringing like I remembered from the days of yore.

As the van pulled closer and closer I could hardly contain my excitement, which suddenly turned to extreme confusion and then disappointment. It turned out not to be an ice cream van at all, but, a van that was offering knife sharpening services. I wondered to myself “Who the hell drives around the neighborhood offering knife sharpening services?”

As the van pulled away, my mind continued with the absurdities of life as I thought to myself, “Get your ice cold metal shavings here! Special today: Sharpen two knives and one lawnmower, and get one metal slushy free!”

I think I’ll just buy a hand cranked ice shaver to ensure one summertime family tradition lives on. That way, I can enjoy some homemade snow cones, and watch my daughter happily enjoy on hers, just like my dad used to watch me. And I can’t help but wonder, if I ever see that travelling knife sharpening van again: Would he be able to sharpen the blades of our ice shaver?

Posted in Family, My Life So Far | 1 Comment

Sunday Soundbites # 2: Important Conversation

When Annika was about a year and half old, before she was able to speak in sentences, she grabbed a toy, and pretended to be on the phone with someone.  This is the conversation she had:

Posted in Annikdotes, Family, Humor | 1 Comment