Friday, August 6, 2010

The People You Meet

There is something really cool about the people you encounter in the course of traveling. I'm sure there are hundreds of cool people right here in Calgary that I haven't met, but there is just something about the people you meet when you are miles and miles from the familiar. Maybe it's because you are away from home on an adventure so everything seems a little cooler, or maybe it's because the people you meet while traveling are other humans that you would have never met if you were only in your place of residence; your paths crossed because of the travels you were on. Whatever the case may be, it's something to be thankful for. On my recent trip to Maui, I was fortunate enough to meet some really cool people and I wanted to share my experiences with you.

Part of me thinks that when you are traveling on your own you tend to meet more people. I'm not sure if that can be proven, and I may be totally off base but it just makes sense to me. When you are with friends or family when you are traveling the globe, you have people around to interact with and to keep you busy and to take your attention. You don't have time or even the thought to seek conversations with strangers because you have people you know around you for that. However, when you are spending a week by yourself, you're going to be more likely to strike up conversations with strangers because the thought of talking to yourself for a week straight only seems like a good idea intermittently.  So, with the hopes of saving myself from myself, I met some interesting people while in Maui, here are their stories:


My first morning in Maui, I ventured away from the hostel I had stayed in and headed to this local diner called "The Tasty Crust." I read about the most amazing banana macademia pancakes that they had so I had to check the place out. Unfortunately, when I got there and made my order I was informed they no longer had the famed flapjacks. No worries, banana flapjacks with strawberries would be just fine. As I was finishing up my pancakes and my delicious cup of coffee and leafing through a golf magazine trying to plot out my upcoming golf ventures, a little old lady came to my table and sat down. See, the restaurant was mostly made up of these long tables you would expect to see in the dining hall of your local summer kids camp so when they start to fill up, you may find yourself eating with people you didn't come with. So, down sat Pastora right across from me. This sweet lady then proceeded to tell me her life story, how she was descended from ancient Samurai warriors, and how she was so sad that her kids and grandkids lived on the mainland and she rarely got to see them. Eventually we exchanged names and she almost burst into tears when I said my name was Brad Dickinson because when she was a little girl she had a pen pal from New Jersey whose name was John Dickinson.  In those 20 minutes she opened her life to me and by the time I left she had me take down her phone number so I could call her if I needed anything during my week on Maui. I never took her up on the offer but I was definitely touched by her sweet, genuine spirit.

Cole & Kay

Since I was in paradise while my beloved Phoenix Suns were in the NBA semi-finals against the hated Lakers, I needed to find a spot to watch the games. I stumbled on a gem of a place, the Kahului Alehouse. Lots of screens to watch the games, friendly staff, free wifi, and pretty good food. First time I went to watch a game I noticed some passionate Suns fans sitting in the booth behind me. During a break in the action I turned to them and struck up a conversation. Turns out they are from Phoenix and were in Maui for the week for a wedding. They also were flying home that night so they stopped for supper at the Alehouse so they could watch the game. During the rest of the game we chatted back and forth and once it was over we talked for about 15 minutes discussing our different homelands, and what kind of things we had done in Maui. We exchanged e-mails and have kept in touch since. Someday I will finally get to visit Phoenix and Cole and his wife will be there to show me around. And if they ever make it to Canada as they hope to, I will return the favour.

Dave & Dawn

On my second to last day in paradise I decided to hike Haleakala. One of these days that might have it's own blog entry since it was such a great experience, but not today. However, that day I was fortunate enough to meet Dave and Dawn from New Jersey. The particular hike I wanted to attempt was one where you had to park part way up to the peak, hitch hike to the type and then hike a loop that would end you up back where you parked your car hours earlier. The second car I tried to flag down was Dave and Dawn's. They were happy to take me to the top, partly because the hike that I was trying to accomplish was what they had originally intended to do but were dissuaded by the park rangers at the bottom of Haleakala. We chatted the rest of the way up then took in some of the sites together from the top. I came to find out that after they left Maui they were headed to Yellowstone National park for some more hiking and camping. I took their email address and told them I would send them a note about my experiences on the hike so they had some more ideas and info for the next time they were in Maui.

So there are three small, simple examples of regular strangers crossing paths somewhere along the way and adding a little something to each other's lives. Nothing earth-shattering or ground-breaking, just normal people taking the chance to meet new people and make new friends. Take the copportunity to meet someone new and strike up a conversation, you never know what you or them will gain from the encounter.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

One Month at a Time

I was thinking about something. Not only was I thinking about something but I also felt the need to publicize my thought here, at least for those of you that read this 'once in a while' blog.

For a long time I've thought about the fact there are a ton of good books to read and there is no way I will get to read even a small portion of them if I don't start reading more than I do right now. If you were around back in April when I celebrated New Years, you might remember that one of my resolutions was to read more books. Well, I've definitely made progress in that area but I want to put more meat on the bones of that idea.

What I'm going to try and do from August until the end of the year, is read at least one book per month. I really have no idea how easy or hard this is going to be, which is why I'm only committing myself to one book a month, and only until December and not something crazy like for the rest of my life. I mean, what's the point of setting unreachable goals? Since I already have a couple books on the go, what I'm going to do for August is to aim to finish those 3 and then in September start with a new one and so on and so forth. At least one a month, maybe more, we'll see how it goes.

A key part of this plan is to have somewhere to go, an escape, a place to get away from the noise and distraction of my house to read. I found that place on Sunday. There is a little cafe a few minutes from my place called Caffe Crema which I think will be my getaway. Comfortable atmosphere- check; friendly staff- check; good location- check; and most importantly, great coffee- check.

So I encourage you, wherever you are, take the time to pick up a good book sometime and exercise your mind. If you need any recommendations on something to read I might have some ideas for you. Happy reading and you know where to find me.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Things Commentators Say

One of the best things about watching World Cup football, and just international football period, is the great commentating. I am convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that no other sport has announcers as good as the ones that handle big international and European matches. I'm sure part of it is the accent, which seems to fit with the game but the real skill these guys have is with words. They all seem to be very talented wordsmiths who can paint a picture with the spoken word like no one else. They know when to be silent, and when to describe what is taking place. They can take the ordinary and mundane occurrence and bring it to life with a few simple words. They have the ability to find a way to say something different than anyone else would say it to give that extra bit of pizazz. I can't really describe it all that well so I have some examples for you. I jotted down a few lines that I heard while I was watching the games and here they are for your perusal. If you imagine hearing them in a British accent they are even better.

"slightly naughty" -Clearly in this case the player went just barely out of the framework of the rules

"breasted it down" -Um, I guess that's the same as saying "chested"

"he forgot the geography of the goal" -He could have just said that he forgot where the goal was but  
 doesn't that way sound a lot cooler?

"loitering with intent" -I am often a culprit of this as well, just not usually on the field of play

"exchanges looks with daggers in them" -Great line, really adds to the drama eh?

"tickled it down the line" -if you didn't know that you could tickle a soccer ball, well, now you know

"they have the scent of victory in their nostrils" -'nuff said

"an absolute snorter" -not sure if this was the same guy who said the nostril bit but it seems to fit...he was talking about a brilliant goal by the way, the one Van Bronckhorst scored in the semi-final I believe

"hammerblow", "thunderbolt", "wonder-strike" -all great word choices to describe fantastic strikes on goal

"the Dutch defense capitulated for once" -I dare you to try to use the word capitulated in a sentence

"Robben was a sinner rather than a saint" -Nice of them to throw in a religious reference

"hair's breath" -Could there be a clearer, more precise way to describe a close call?

There are some examples of just another aspect of what makes the World Cup the greatest sporting tournament in the world. At least if you watch it on TV with the English commentators anyways.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

So This is Withdrawal

Well, it had to come to an end eventually. For some unknown reason, the World Cup is not able to go on forever, and is all said and done in one month. I guess in the grand scheme of things it's probably a good thing the World Cup is only one month long. For the last month I have breathed, slept, ate, dreamt, and lived the World Cup. I would spend my whole day at work avoiding human contact as well as internet and media contact to avoid hearing the scores of the games so I could rush home after work and watch the 3 games of the day. That takes its toll on a person day after day, week after week. Kind of a strange thing to have to scamper out of a room or cut off conversations with people for fear of some hint of a soccer score being overheard. Now I will say, for the most part I was successful. It took a lot of work and diligence, but I was often able to make it home after a long day of work, sit down in front of the TV, and turn on the games without having any idea what took place earlier in the day.

So, now that it's all over life can get back to normal. It's been a good ride; there has been a lot of drama, controversy, and great football action. Maybe later on there will be some more analysis coming from me but right now I'm still processing what has gone on in the last month. One thing I know for sure, the final game between Spain and The Netherlands left something to be desired. It was a scrappy, cautious, physical game that saw more of ref Howard Webb reaching into his pocket for yellow cards than well-played offensive football. There were a lot of harsh tackles, a lot of acting and diving, and just overall not a lot of free-flowing football. Don't get me wrong, Spain played well and deserved to win, it just wasn't the entertaining game that we all were hoping for .

The fact that in the last week of the tournament and the week after, the bigger news story was Paul the Octopus and his predictions and not what was actually happening on the pitch is an indication of either A)how much North America doesn't really care about football, or B) how uninteresting some of the action was. Probably more so the former, but both are pretty accurate I'd say. Don't forget though, the octopus was a perfect 8 for 8 in his predictions so he's no slouch. If any of us were even 4 out of 8 in those same games, I would be surprised.

The other bit of business I need to cover here is the status of the World Cup beard, or almost-beard. It is now a thing of the past as of Tuesday morning. It was good while it lasted but definitely nice to get rid of  it and get back to a more normal face. You might remember that I had made a bet with a friend when the tournament started that if an African team made it to the final game there would be a facial hair surprise for you. Well, Ghana made a good run but came up just short. Therefore, the facial hair surprise never came to fruition. What you would have seen is Brad making a fool of himself and sporting a handlebar mustache for at least one day in public. Yup, I dodged a bullet there for sure. I do want you to see the finished product before I shaved it all off so here you go. And if this hasn't inspired the guys out there to grow a beard for no apparent reason, then I don't know what will. Wow it's annoying to have my tongue embedded in my cheek like that.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

1 Week Left...

Just because there is no African representation left in the World Cup (no bitterness here of course) doesn't mean that the beard for Africa is no more. Back on June 10 I decided to grow a World Cup beard, and as long as the World Cup is still going on, the beard will continue to grow, or at least I won't shave it. Whether it's growing anymore or not is still up for debate. Another week and then I can rescue my face from this nonsense. Here it is on Day 24

This is the 'angry at Luis Suarez' mohawk version. Maybe next World Cup I will go with a World Cup mohawk instead of a World Cup beard.

As you can see, it's been a tough weekend for me, and a tear or two may have been shed. Ghana lost on Friday, I found a mouse in my car on Saturday, then had to run through sprinklers to get into my condo at 1 AM, and it starting raining while I was trying to clean out and vacuum my car. Oh, and the Blue Jays gave up 11 runs in one inning yesterday and lost in extra innings today to the hated Yankees. It is good that in the grand scheme of things, all of those mean nothing.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Day After

It's the day after one of the most bitter sporting pills I have ever had to swallow. As I write it is approximately 15 hours after I finished watching Ghana's heart-breaking loss to Uruguay, due to the fact I had to tape it and watch it last night because of work during the day. I can honestly say, it will take more than 15 hours to completely digest what happened yesterday. That being said, I will try to compose my thoughts and reactions in a way that you can follow and make sense of.

The Game
The game itself was enjoyable to watch whether you were a neutral observer or were heavily invested in one of the teams. There were definite stages to the game, with each team enjoying the edge in possession at various moments. Out of the gates Uruguay was the better team as Ghana seemed to take a while to get into things. For the first 20 minutes Ghana looked tentative and kind of sleepy. During this stretch, Ghana keeper Richard Kingson was forced into making a couple important saves. Once they got into a rhythm though, they were able to dominate and create a number of chances in the final 25 minutes of the first half. It all culminated in a great strike by midfielder Sulley Muntari (left) from 35 yards out. It came out of nowhere right before the halftime whistle. Pleasantly surprised, the first half had ended successfully.

The second half started with Uruguay again in control. They were rewarded in the 55th when star Diego Forlan (right) executed a great free quick to tie the game 1-1. The goal seemed to boost Uruguay spirits and they continued to take the game to the Black Stars. Forlan and strike partner Luis Suarez (don't worry, we'll get back to him in a minute) continued to look dangerous as Ghana slowly started to find their legs again. As the game got closer and closer  to the breaking point and the seeming inevitability of extra time, Ghana started to assert themselves again. When 90 minutes had passed and a winner had still not been declared, the two brave sides ventured into 30 more minutes of tense action. Ghana had the opportunities in extra time and both Asamoh Gyan and Kevin Prince Boateng came inches from putting Ghana in front. But those chances weren't meant to be, setting up the most dramatic of finishes.

The Controversy
With only seconds left in the extra time before penalty kicks, an unbelievable sequence of events unfolded, which I am still recovering from. In the dying seconds Ghana was awarded a free kick in a dangerous area. John Paintsil stepped up and lofted a precise cross into the box  which Uruguayan keeper Muslera got a hand on. Unluckily for him though, it ended up at the feet of Ghana's former captain Stephen Appiah. His shot was blocked on the line, legally, by Luis Suarez. The ball then ricocheted right to 20 year-old striker Dominic Adiyiah who headed into the net. Or at least it would have been in the net if it wasn't for a moment of brilliant volley ball play from the one and only Luis Suarez. Suarez made a save that any goalkeeper would be proud of. Since he's not a keeper of course, that means a red card, automatic ejection, and a penalty kick for Ghana. It has to be the winning goal, right? Penalty kicks are rarely missed and Ghana had already converted 2 in this World Cup. Asamoah Gyan, Ghana's 24 year old striker and star of the tournament stepped up and well, words can't describe what happened next. Here's the video of the entire sequence of events:

Not easy to watch. In fact, every time I see it it's like when you have that annoying mosquito
bite on your leg that you have scratched so many times that it starts to hurt and bleed, then 
you leave it for a while and forget it's there except for a moment of weakness when you reach  
down and scratch it again, re-igniting the fiery pain. After that, Ghana was unable to recover
and eventually succumbed to the South Americans in a penalty shootout. Ghana's dream run
deep in the first ever World Cup in Africa was brutally brought to an end. Heartbreak for Gyan,
Ghana, and all of Africa.

The Reaction
There was no other reaction possible for me after the game than pure and utter disbelief, sadness, and shock. Could there be a more bitter and difficult way to lose a game of that 
magnitude? I actually felt sick when it was all said and done. 
Probably one the most blatant examples of 'the agony of 
defeat' that I have felt.

Let's get down to brass tacks here. Am I upset with Suarez 
for denying Ghana the victory by clearly cheating? Yes, 
absolutley. Can I hold it against him? No, I don't believe I can. It's the system, the rules that are flawed, he did what a lot of people would have done in his situation. In a split second he made the decision to deliberately break the rules to deny a sure goal to keep his team alive for another few seconds. He knew he would get a red card and that Ghana would get a penalty kick. He also knew that Ghana would probably convert the kick and his team would lose anyways, so he 
didn't really have anything to lose. Luckily for him and his country, and unfortunately for 
Ghana and Africa, Gyan stepped up and hammered the shot off the cross bar. The problem 
here is in the rules of the game. The ref did things by the book, made the right decisions based on the current rules. What I'm saying is the system is flawed. It should not be possible for a 
player to break the rules on purpose, get penalized, and yet still come out as the benefactor. What I'm also saying is that the ref should be able to award the goal to the team that deserved it, 
avoiding the possibility of cheaters actually prospering, which is what happened in this 
case. Take a read through this article and tell me if you think that justice was served. Like I 
said, it's hard to fault Suarez when it's the system that is flawed allowing things like this to 

The Future
This World Cup is only the beginning of the Black Stars who have a bright future ahead of them. In 2009, The Black Satellites of Ghana won the Under-20 World Cup in Egypt by defeating Brazil in penalty kicks, and already a few members from that team have graduated up to the senior squad. Between now and the 2014 World Cup which will be in Brazil, I'm sure Ghana will continue to improve and should be ready for another long run amongst the worlds best teams. Let's not forget, Ghana accomplished as much as they did in South Africa without their leader and most well-known player, Michael Essien. Congrats Ghana for representing Africa so well and showing the world that African football is indeed ready to compete on the world stage. Thanks for the memories, even the tough ones that I will be recovering from for some time.


...just stunned. It will take some time to get over this one. More thoughts to come when I can actually compose them. Right now it's just bitter disappointment.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Ghana: The Hope of a Continent

It's been a wild weekend in the World Cup and I figured it was time for an update.  Since my last update about Africa in the World Cup, all but one of the African teams have been shown the door. We've now moved on from the group stage of the tournament to the knockout stage where it is winner goes on and loser goes home. The only African nation to make it to the knockout portion was the Black Stars of Ghana. To add intrigue and interest, Ghana's first opponent in the knockout stage was to be the U.S. of A.

An intriguing matchup, especially as far as I was concerned for a few reasons. First, with my close ties to Africa and the fact that I lived in Ghana for 6 months, I am always backing the African teams and Ghana in particular. In fact, when Ghana defeated Brazil in penalty kicks to win the 2009 Under 20 World Cup, I had to fight back a few tears of joy. Secondly, as much as I love me American friends, I generally cheer against the U.S. sports teams, for reasons that I don't have time to get into here.  You can imagine the build up of emotions I had leading up to the game knowing it was one of my most beloved teams against the U.S. The third reason for intrigue is the fact that Ghana and the U.S. were actually in the same group in the 2006 World Cup, and it was a victory by the Ghanaian's over the U.S. that sent Ghana to the next round and sent the Americans home.

This time around, the result was thankfully the same. The game was only a few minutes old when a turnover and a brilliant solo effort by Kevin Prince Boateng gave Ghana an early lead and gave me a whole lot of hope. The Americans did fight back though and tie the game, causing me a lot of stress and frustration in the process. I'll be honest, when I have so much invested in a game I really have a hard time enjoying it. After 90 tense minutes of action, the game was still tied meaning another half hour was required. Only a few minutes into the extra period, Asamoah Gyan chested down a long ball and sent a screamer past U.S. keeper Tim Howard. It's not sudden death in extra time in soccer so Ghana had to hold on for the rest of the 30 minutes, but hold on they did. When the final whistle blew it was more relief than joy at first for me, but the joy definitely set in as the day went on. Sweet victory to be sure, and one can only imagine the state of celebration that the country of Ghana was in, and might still be in today.

Ghana is the last hope for Africa in this first ever World Cup on African soil and their next hurdle is Uruguay, who they will meet on Friday in the quarter-finals. Another winnable game for Africa's best, but not an easy opponent by any stretch. Uruguay has only conceded 1 goal so far in the tournament and has a dangerous duo up front in Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez who can put the ball in the net with the best of them. It will take Ghana's best effort so far to keep the dream alive, but I am confident they can, the question that remains though is if they will. One thing I know for sure, an entire continent will be behind them.

For those of you that care little about the actual games being played and are more interested in the status of the World Cup beard, here you go. Still not sure if the term "beard" is applicable in this situation.
Day 17

Monday, June 21, 2010

Prospects Bleak for Africa

Well, it's been a rough couple of days for African teams at the World Cup and heading into the last game of the group stage there seems to be little chance for most of the African teams to stay alive and progress to the knockout stage.  All hope is not lost though and I will hold on to every last strand of that hope as long as there is a mathematical equation that leads to  advancement. To kind of give you an idea of what we are looking at, here is a team-by-team break down of what are the chances and what has to happen for any of the African teams to move on to the next stage in the most-watched sports event in the world. What you need to know about the scenarios that follow is that only the top 2 teams in each group will advance.

South Africa
Here is a prime example of a team that is mathematically alive but in reality will need a miracle. They currently sit 3 points behind both Mexico and Uruguay with a game against dysfunctional France upcoming.  Basically they need to get the 3 points for a win (and win by at least 2 goals) and then have either Mexico or Uruguay win the other game by a couple goals. I honestly can't see this happening because Mexico and Uruguay know they just need a draw to both advance so I'd be surprised if their game ends in anything other than a 0-0 tie sending them both through and South Africa and Mexico packing.

Here is a squad that has a legitimate chance. Yes they need to win and get help from another game but it's not out of the realm of possibility. Basically they need to beat South Korea and hope that Argentina beat Greece. If those two things don't happen, then it's over for the Super Eagles. Can it happen? Absolutely. Nigeria can beat South Korea if they bring their A-game, but we also have to hope that Argentina doesn't take it easy on Greece just because they are in first place and may not have a lot to play for.

The Desert Foxes are up against the Americans and it's not a secret that I normally cheer against my friends to the south when it comes to these kind of sporting events. I still love you Yankees, it's just that you win everything and seem to run the world so that's my reason! So mathematically, there is a way that Algeria could advance and knock out both the U.S. and England (can you imagine that?!?) with just a draw and Slovenia beating England, but really, Algeria needs a win. I believe they can pull off the improbable but it for sure is unlikely. My gut tells me that the U.S. will rise to the occasion and triumph by at least 2 goals.

For a team that is leading their group at the moment, The Black Stars are actually still in a rather precarious position. The reason for that is that they only have a 1 point cushion on both Germany and Serbia and are playing against the tough Germans in the last game. Ghana could actually progress with any result in their game but realistically they need to get at least one point, that would put them through for sure. Can they possibly beat the Germans and advance at the same time as eliminating one of the world's powerhouses? Sure they can, but it won't be easy.

Cameroon is unfortunately already eliminated. They played well against Japan and Denmark but just fell short both times and are playing their last game just for pride. It's too bad really because this squad has a lot of talent and if they got going at the right time could definitely have done some damage.

Ivory Coast
Another team here that is only barely still alive in some abstract, mathematical equation that is unbelievably unlikely. Because Portugal thrashed Korea DPR today 7-0, the Elephants are behind the 8-ball. So, here's what has to happen: Ivory Coast has to beat Korea DPR while Brazil needs to beat Portugal. That part seems reasonable right? Well, that would leave Ivory Coast and Portugal both with 4 points and only one can advance. So, the tie-break would go to goal difference. What that means is that whoever has the best difference between goals for and goals against would move on. Right now Portugal is ahead in that respect with a difference of +7, while Ivory Coast is sitting at -2. You see where I'm going with this now? The results we would need to see Ivory Coast through would have to be something like Brazil beating Portugal 4-0 and Ivory Coast beating Korea DPR 6-0. Could it happen? I suppose, but I won't be holding my breath.

So there you have it. To summarize all that, if somehow both Ghana and Nigeria were able to advance to the next round I would be ecstatic. Either way, it will be fun to watch. Enjoy the games everyone!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Beards for Africa, An Update

Well, every team in the 2010 World Cup has now played their first game and a few have already played their second so I figured it was time for a couple updates for you guys. First I want to give you a quick update on each of the African teams in the World Cup which I am so closely following, and then I figured a beard update was in order. Since I know some of you just want to see how poorly my beard is coming along, go ahead and scroll to the bottom, take a peak at the picture but then come right back up here to read about the African teams...I'll wait for you.

Alright, did you get your laughs in? Now back to business. Here's a quick blurb on each of the African teams in reverse order, starting with the team that played their first game most recently and so on.

Ivory Coast
The Elephants were possibly the best-looking African side in the first round of games. They played a great game against Portugal and deserved to win but came out with a 0-0 draw. They had the bulk of the chances and looked dangerous in creating opportunities on goal but just couldn't put any of them away. I was happy with the way they played though and have given me confidence that they can advance out of the group stage. Their key game will be when they play Korea DPR. They need to win that game to have any chance of advancing in the tournament.

The Indomitable Lions (one of the best nicknames in the Tournament) ran into a tough and well-prepared Japanese team in their first game and fell 1-0. That being said, Cameroon played quite well and aside from the one short defensive lapse that led to Japan's goal, probably was the better team overall. They are in a tough group though and with games upcoming against Denmark and The Netherlands, it seems to be a long shot for advancement.

This is the team I have the biggest connection to. I lived right next to the small country of Ghana for 6.5 years, and lived in it for 6 months. So, naturally I was pretty excited for their opening game against Serbia. I got even more riled up when the pre-game commentators were writing off the Black Stars before the game even started saying that they wouldn't be able to overcome Serbia. You can imagine how proud and happy I was when Ghana pretty much was in control the whole game and scored the winning goal with just a few minutes left to seal a 1-0 victory. With their next game against Australia, who looked pretty bad against Germany, Ghana can all but guarantee their spot in the next round with a victory. The Black Stars are quite possibly Africa's best chance for an African team to go far in the first ever World Cup in Africa.

The Desert Foxes have a really cool nickname but are easily the African team I have the least interest in. They lost their first game to Slovenia 1-0 on a really week goal let in by their keeper (not quite as weak as Robert Green's gaff against the U.S. but close) and now are up against it with their two remaining games being against England and the U.S. They may come away with zero points to their name when all is said and done.

Tonight the Super Eagles took one on the chin. In their second game which was against Greece, they scored the opening goal and looked on their way to a crucial victory when soon after one of their players received a red card and was sent off. Being a man short for the rest of the game was too much to handle and they eventually fell 2-1, despite putting up a good fight. Now with 2 losses to open the tournament, they are all but out. They need to win the last game and got a lot of help in order to pull off the miracle.

South Africa
The host team, Bafana Bafana, definitely have their work cut out for them. After an impressive draw with Mexico in their first game, they suffered a defeat in their second game against Uruguay and now need everything to fall just right in order to advance to the next round. Basically they need to beat France and hope that Uruguay lose to Mexico so they have a chance to get through based on goal difference. 

And how about that beard? Well, not sure if that's what you call it but hey, it is what it is, right? It's now the end of Day 7 of the South African World Cup and my beard in support of African football is making progress. I'm almost to the point where it stops becoming annoying and itchy and is just least that's what I keep telling myself.


Sunday, June 13, 2010

To Beard or Not To Beard

What better way to get into the World Cup spirit than to bring a little NHL flare into it? I am Canadian after all. One of the most common things to see in the NHL during the months of May and June are the players putting away the shaving gel and razor and letting their faces do the talking, facial hair style. Take a look at some of the fine examples:

This strange and amazingly cool tradition of growing beards in the playoffs was started in the 80's by the New York Islanders. After their run of success ended in the mid-80's the tradition was lost for a while until brought back by the 1995 New Jersey Devils. As time has gone on though, the tradition has been adopted by a few players in the NFL as evidenced by Big Ben and Jake Plummer, and now the fans of the teams often get into the spirit and let the facial locks flow during the post-season. A good evidence of this is my buddy Dave whose beard was unfairly short-lived because his beloved Red Wings were not up to the task in this years playoffs.

By now you are probably wondering what all this has to do with me and the 2010 World Cup. Well, I have decided to take an NHL superstition and bring it to the biggest sporting event in the world. In the hopes of spurring African teams on to victory, I will not allow a blade of any sort to touch my face until the conclusion of the World Cup. Don't get too excited- I'm not incredibly skilled at beard-growing so there won't be much to see, but oh well, that won't stop me from trying. I had a few days head start on the lack of shaving but that's ok because for me the World Cup had pretty much already begun last weekend.

Here's the "beard" on Day 1 of the World Cup:

And if any of you were wondering what reason you would have to cheer for the African teams, let me just say that if an African team makes it all the way to the championship game I will have a special facial hair surprise for you.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The World Cup So Far

Well, 2 days of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa have come and gone so I thought I should take a few moments to summarize and share with you my observations so far. I could present my findings in a nice, formal, professional kind of way that flows and makes sense and is by the book....or, I could just give you some random thoughts. Which do you think I chose??

Best game to watch
Has to be the opener, Mexico vs. South Africa with England vs U.S.A. and Argentina vs. Nigeria a close tie for second.  You just can't top the excitement and atmosphere when the home team plays the first game for an African team in a World Cup on African soil. Plus they played pretty well and were unbelievably close to winning.

Worst game to watch
Uruguay vs. far. I should like France because they have 4 Arsenal players on the roster (3 of which started in the game) but I just can't. They just seem to be primed for a big disappointment. On Wednesday I told a co-worker that I think France will play bad and not make it out of the group stage. Based on their first game, I look like a genius.

Ugliest kit so far
In the world of football, the jersey's they wear are referred to as 'kits'. So far the kits have been pretty good with one exception, the United States. Take a look:
The caption to this photo should read, "I really am not thrilled that I look like a contestant in Miss America." Yeah, I get that this is probably supposed to be a throwback to the vintage 1950 World Cup kit but I think this is a throwback that they should throw back.

Best moment
This is an easy one. It has to be the opening goal by South African midfielder Siphiwe Tshabalala. A beautiful build up by Bafana Bafana led to a brilliant strike by Tshabalala. It was the picture perfect opening for the first World Cup on African soil. Check it out:

Best word
Another easy one, it has to be the South African noisemakers called 'vuvuzelas'. These are the horn things that about 75% of the people at the games seem to own. When they are all being blown in unison the sound that is created is like the stadium has just been engulfed by a giant swarm of bees. They might get annoying by the end of the tournament but either way, it's a fun word to say. Go ahead, try it.

Game I'm looking forward to the most right now
That would have to be Ghana vs. Serbia on Sunday morning. Ghana is arguably the best team in Africa and the best chance for an African team to go far in this world cup. Plus I lived in Ghana for 6 months and right beside it for another 6.5 years so I definitely have a strong rooting interest. Go Black Stars!

As always, thanks for reading and please be sure to enjoy yourself some World Cup!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Who Is Your Favourite Handegg Team?

Mine is the San Francisco 49ers. Wait a minute, you say. Even for those that aren't big sports buffs, most people know that the 49ers play in the NFL, aka the National Football League. Those are the same 49ers that I m referring to.

So, there is something that needs to be cleared up right away. The biggest sporting event in the world is set to get underway this Friday; the World Cup, the tournament that decides which nation is the football champion of the world. What this means for me is that I am gearing up for a solid month of early bedtimes so I can wake up for the first match of the day at 5:15 AM local time, as well as avoiding all human contact for the rest of the day so I can go home after work and watch the the other two games of the day that I have taped and hopefully not heard the results for. (This will be a daunting task, but if anyone can pull it off, I believe I am that person.) But the other thing that this means is we need to clear up the debate about what we call this sport and who gets to claim the title of 'football'.

Living in North America we tend to have a very 'America-centric' view of the world. Because of this, when we hear the word 'football' we think of big men wearing body armour and crashing into each other and chasing a funny-shaped brown ball around the field. But for one brief moment let's remember that we live in a very big world, a world in which we are the minority when it comes to this debate. So once and for all, let us set the record straight: there is only one game called football.

Let's all enjoy the great game of football over the next month. And come the fall, I'll be dialed in cheering my 49ers on in another exciting season of handegg action.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Zeke Says Hi

Only in Hawaii will you find a sign like this, eh? Well, I'm back from my little solo vacation to the beautiful island of Maui and I bring greetings from Zeke, the beach, macadamia nuts, and sweet solitude.

There's probably a lot I could say about my trip so I might deliver it to you guys in a few bite-sized chunks. It was definitely a good time, a time which I was very much hoping didn't have to end as soon as it did.  But now it's back to reality, back to work, back to the noise and distraction of everyday. It sure didn't take long to get jolted back to reality as I landed in Calgary on Saturday afternoon and was greeted by sub-zero temperatures (sub 32 for my American friends) and blowing snow. Not a welcome sight, at all. 

So to get a little glimpse into how my week that was was, you need to know one thing: I fell in love while I was in Maui. Don't get too excited, I actually fell in love a few times while I was there. And I'm pretty sure that it was inanimate objects I fell in love with so don't worry, no wedding bells in my near future...or are there? Ok, no really, I'm not getting married, promise. But I did fall in love in Maui. I fell in love with...

...lying in a hammock on the beach. If you have never experienced the relaxation that you get from lying in a hammock in the shade on a beach with a gentle breeze blowing then you are truly missing one of life's better things. In fact, if you ever go to Maui or someplace similar, I strongly recommend you don't go hammock-less.

...having virtually an entire professional-caliber golf course to myself for an afternoon. I broke the bank a bit to get the chance to play a golf course that every January is home to the first PGA Tour event of the year, and quite literally I was all by myself out there. So I relaxed, took my time, and snapped a bunch of pictures.

...going on a 4.5 hour hike through an amazing landscape and once again, having the place to myself. It's going to be super tough to put this experience into words for you but I'll try to in a later post. It was truly unreal.

...macadamia nuts, 'nuff said.

...a local coffee shop called Maui Coffee Roasters that is home to some amazing coffee ($1.50 for an Americano!!!) and free wi-fi. I found my way to this place pretty much everyday, even when it was out of my way.

So there you go, there's a little snapshot into my time away. Some of those things may find their way into other posts later on but for now that gives you a pretty good idea of what my trip entailed.

As always, mahalo for reading. 

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Hooked on Phonics Worked for Me

I have a couple minutes to get in a quick post before I leave for paradise. I'm only there for 6 days and 6 nights but I'm hoping that I have ample time to sit back, relax, and read some good books. I thought I'd give you a quick glimpse into some of the books I'm taking along with me for the flights and the beach-side reading.

This is a book that I have heard described along the lines of the most important book for a Christian to read after the Bible.  Can't go wrong with that right?

How is it possible that in my almost 30 years of life I have never read this classic piece of literature? Maybe I read some kids version of it when I was young but I sure don't remember it. I'm interested to read about this pilgrim's journey and see what I can learn from him.

I've heard a lot of really good things about this book and N.T. Wright. He is one of the most well-known New Testament scholars of the day (so I've read anyways) but I admittedly don't know much about him. Not all may be totally on board with him but I will reserve judgement until I've read some of his writing.

I love everything that Ravi does so I'm really stoked to get his take on love, marriage etc. I greatly respect this man and I expect this book will not disappoint.

I have to have one book that is purely fictional for sheer entertainment, right? I have been looking forward to this sci-fi book for a while. One of my favourite bands is Coheed and Cambria who have five concept albums. They are a prog-rock kind of group and their music brings you into an intricate story conceived by lead singer Claudio Sanchez. I have  been listening to them extensively for a couple years now and they just released the first novel in the series to go along with the music.  Finally a great series of novels that has a great soundtrack to go with it.

I know there is no way I can read all these books in one week. That's ok though, just having a week to get away and spend some time in great literature is going to be awesome. I always feel like I should read more often but usually there are too many distractions, well, here's my chance.

Enjoy your week everybody and I'll be sure to swallow a mouthful of ocean water for you.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Push the button...

Well folks, the time has come.  It's time to exit from the norm, the everyday, the mundane, the constant noise. Sometimes don't you wish you could just get away from it all? Shut off the distraction of life for a while and just stop and think, reflect, re-focus? Sounds kind of impossible, eh? I mean, is it realistic to think that one can get away from it all, even for a short time to just get back to basics and reflect? Well, it might not be totally possible but I'm going to give it a go.

I'm calling it my sabbatical.  According to to a sabbatical is "any extended period of leave from one's customary work, esp. for rest, to acquire new skills or training, etc." Sounds alright, eh? I don't know if you can call what I'm doing an 'extended period' and I'm not sure about acquiring any new skills or training but it will be good anyways.  So, you might ask what am I doing? Well, I might answer. No, I will answer. I'm going to Maui. Since I work for an airline I'm taking advantage of the perks and heading to paradise for a week. When I got this job the first trip I took was to Maui and I've been wanting to go back ever since, that was 2.5 years ago. 

Next question, who am I going with? Absolutely no one. It wouldn't be a real sabbatical if I was doing everything with a bunch of people would it? I want to have some quality solo time, a true break from he everyday. As much as I love people, there is something to be said for not being around them for a while. 

Another big question, where am I staying? On the beach, in a tent. Again, staying in a fancy, touristy resort doesn't seem like a real sabbatical to me. So I'm taking some chances, trying something new, going out on a limb.  I'm headed to Maui with a tent, a hammock, (thanks Jay) some good books and my ipod. Oh, and my golf clubs. You can't go to Maui and not golf right?

I'm gong to try and get it another post before I leave and let you in on some of the books I'm taking and some of my plans for when I'm there but in the meanwhile, here are a few pictures from my last trip to Maui.