Tag Archives: family

A New Year Starting with Chaos; Ending with Thanks

By Jason Menard

You’re never too young or too old to learn. And as we welcome 2014, I’d like to offer a few lessons that I’ve had the fortune (both good and bad) to learn — and, in some cases — relearn as I say goodbye to what ended up being a life-altering 2013.

I’m not a woe is me guy. On this blog and in my social media feeds, I tend to avoid talking about my personal life. You’ll never read a “sigh” or see an open-ended statement that begs for a sympathetic response. What I do is try to offer solutions based upon my experiences — and while I prefer to talk about my professional or political interests, every once in a while it’s worthwhile to share something a little more private. Continue reading

In Hockey, Life, There’s No Place Like Home

By Jason Menard,

Whether your name is Dorothy or Dmitri, there really is no place like home.

In the wake of Alexander Burmistrov’s return to the KHL and Ilya Kovalchuk’s decision to forsake $77 million US to return to his homeland, the Winnipeg Sun’s Paul Friesen looked into whether teams should be concerned about drafting and investing in Russian players. Continue reading

Trying to Not Cut My Ties to the Past

By Jason Menard

When it comes to shaving, I avoid the cutting edge. My experience has been that the classics never go out of style.

In my case, that’s literally a classic — a Wilkinson Sword Classic double-edged blade. Continue reading

Delusions of Culinary Grandeur

By Jason Menard

I’ve discovered that the greatest thing those TV cooking shows serve up are delusions of culinary grandeur in people like me. But for every cooking nightmare they spawn, they’ve also helped to foster a dream-like world of excitement, flavour, and exposure to a world of food influences.

I admit it. I’m a Food Network addict. I can while away countless minutes watching any manner of food presentation on television. From Giada De Laurentis to Anthony Bourdain, from the Iron Chef to the Surreal Gourmet, I’m hooked on the concept of food preparation – and now I’ve deluded myself into believing that I can emulate what I see on TV.

After all, it seems so effortless. The fact that these people have honed their craft through years of slogging through the culinary trenches doesn’t seem to register to the average viewer like me. If we view it, we can do it.

Maybe I’m hearkening back to my youth, when Martin Yan would exhort, “if Yan can do it, so can you!” Of course, back then I was content to let mom and dad handle the cooking duties, so that latent passion for cooking lay dormant for many years. Even in my university years, when long days working at the student newspaper meant take-out took precedent over home cooking my idea of cooking was to pour some salsa over a chicken breast. When I got married, my wife ruled the kitchen – although I was a willing assistant who had my own set of meals in the rotation.

In the end, necessity truly is the mother of invention. And its father is clearly access to information. A few years back, my wife and I were involved in an accident that has left her with severe pain issues. As such, I’ve gladly taken up the slack in the kitchen and the Food Network has fuelled my delusions of culinary grandeur.

A recent meal? Tandoori chicken with saffron-infused basmati rice. If the ends justify the means, then the meal was a success – but the process of preparing the meal certainly didn’t come off as smoothly as the Man-Made Food broadcast made it seem it would. And that’s often the case. Exotic ideas that celebrity chefs pull off with flair and élan often don’t have the same sense of romance when you try to transfer that experience from the television screen to the dining room table. Yet despite the challenge (and the mass clean-up that resulted), I know I’ll be back in the kitchen trying out something new.

But at least I’m not alone in this passion. It seems that our increasing access to culinary television has broadened our perspectives on food as a whole. Meals and presentations that were once the exclusive domain of high-end restaurants have been demystified and made accessible to the average family. Ingredients once considered exotic are now commonplace on the local grocery store’s shelves.

Best of all, people are no longer will to settle for the status quo. My generation has truly embraced the foods and influences of a broad spectrum of cultures and our palettes have been improved because of it. We grew up in a Canadian society that was becoming increasingly multi-cultural. As such, we were able to take the staples we grew up with and accent them with ethnic influences that we were comfortable seeing as they were the ones our friends were growing up with. For us, it wasn’t about experimenting with food – it was about embracing our peers’ cultures as we embraced them as friends.

And we’re seeing that change commercially as well. Where not all that long ago Italian and Chinese restaurants were considered ethnic, we’re now inundated with a delectable panorama of dining options ranging from Lebanese to Peruvian to Ethiopian to Indian. Our culinary passport is now only restricted by our own threshold for experimentation!

So as our cultural influences expand, we’re introduced to new influences in our food. And then when you combine the proliferation of food-based television designed to make cooking accessible to the masses, you have an equation that allows average guys like me to believe that cooking for my family can be an event, not just a chore.

In the end, not all experiments turn out well, and I’ve had my fair share of disappointments. That will happen when one’s aspirations exceed one’s talents. I know I’ll continue to grow in the kitchen. Already I’ve come leaps and bounds – moving from dry chicken with salsa to hand-made Chicken Kiev or Marsala dishes. But the great thing is that there will never be a point where we’ve done it all.

There’s always room to grow, there’s always room to learn. Too often we shovel our food down without appreciating it. We take for granted what we’re eating, when we should be savouring it. And if food television has taught me anything, it’s been that food should be an experience.

So I’ll continue to emulate what I see on TV. After all, the worst thing these delusions of culinary grandeur can bring is a failed cooking experiment. But the potential reward that comes from making food an experience is one that my family and I can enjoy for years to come.

2007© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

A Matter of Perspective

By Jason Menard

One of the great things about life with my wife is the difference in our backgrounds – and our relationship has helped me to broaden my perspective on life. Oddly enough, I was reminded of this by the news that a new reality series focused on the creation of a new Menudo was in the offering.

That’s right. Menudo. Trust me, this will all make sense.

My wife is the daughter of a former diplomat. As such, much of her youth was spent living abroad: Algeria , Niger , Brazil , and Mexico . She spent a number of years in Mexico City , living at the embassy, but able to immerse herself in the language and the culture – a culture that included the Puerto Rican boy band Menudo.

For young pre-teen and early teen girls in that area of the world Menudo and similar band Timbiriche were music idols. Unfortunately, for young pre-teen and early teens in this neck of the woods Menudo’s impact was felt in a significantly different manner.

This first came to light when we were going through our collection of vinyl albums. Sifting through a stack of appropriately named dust jackets, I came across my wife’s collection of old albums. Our reactions were quite different — her eyes misted over with youthful memories; my eyes were wide with shock.

Now, it was at this time that I realized that I take my youthful influences for granted. Popular culture references that, to me, are common are, in fact, restricted only to a certain sub-section of people who lived during a specific time in that specific area. I had always, to a certain extent, assumed that because my wife and I are both Canadians and of the same age, we’d share many common experiences – much in the same way that I could easily relate with other friends and acquaintances that I had met. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

I believe my, “I can’t believe you actually own this,” was met with an icy cold stare in return. Once that look thawed, it was followed by her asking how it was I knew of Menudo, growing up in the Great White North.

And here’s where our perspectives differed greatly. To many Canadian kids of a certain age, our exposure to Menudo was limited to breaks between Saturday morning cartoons. After getting fit with Mary Lou Retton, we’d then be subjected to perfectly coiffed, pastel-wearing young boys galavanting about in highly choreographed routines. To us, Menudo was nothing more than a cheesy, kid-friendly, boy-band precursor. But to my wife and her friends in Mexico they were so much more.

A band that was a source of mockery for us was an object of reverence for them. While we viewed them as disposable filler to be endured until Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends came on, in fact they were filling concert halls throughout the Latin world. We cried tears of laughter, they cried tears of idolatry.

Since that moment, the tables have been turned time and time again between our youthful experiences. Movies, music, and films that I view as iconic touchstones of my youth and carry the full weight of being cherished memories pass over my wife’s head as if they were light as a feather. Pop culture references, key literary experiences, and other character-defining moments are met with a quizzical look and quiet acceptance.

And, very quickly, it reinforced the notion that while two people, both of whom were born three months apart and only a few kilometers apart in Montreal, may arrive at the same destination, our perspectives can be drastically different based upon the route we’ve taken to arrive where we are. No version is right, no version is better – and the sharing of these journeys have allowed us to grow as individuals because we’re able to see beyond our own entrenched views and be more appreciative of the diversity and complexity of life.

But in the end, if we end up watching the Menudo reality show, we’ll probably still do so for two separate reasons. And while she’s recapturing fond memories of youth, I’ll probably be doing my best to stifle any grins and chuckles. After all, I’ve learned to respect her perspective – even if the view is slightly different than my own.

2007© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

What Was Actually Stolen

By Jason Menard

Just when you want to hope for the best in this world, someone comes around and makes you question whether good truly exists.

Earlier this week, my wife was robbed outside our home. The thief physically only walked away with a portable Nintendo DS Lite system. But emotionally the toll he took was far greater. To the man who robbed my wife this week, here’s a list of what you stole.

You stole confidence. That woman you robbed was outside her home late at night for two reasons: pain and suffering. Due to the continued effects of a traffic accident almost four years ago, my wife experiences crippling pain that’s barely dulled by significant amounts of medication. As such, sleep comes fleetingly, and discomfort is the norm. Combine that with medicinal side-effects including a feeling of internal heating that’s disproportionate to the actual temperature, and that explains why she – like hundreds of other nights – was sitting alone outside her own home. Yet still, despite being racked with pain, she fought back – unsuccessfully. But in that one brief exchange, she showed more humanity than you will ever know.

You stole security. A home is supposed to be one’s sanctuary, but by committing such a vile act just outside of our home, you’ve robbed a number of people of that sense of security that is one’s right. My wife, my children, and I now are more wary of stepping out our doors. The night that was once so welcome is now merely foreboding.

You stole pride. A woman struggling with an injury that already causes her to question her value now must deal with the fact that you placed her in a situation that rendered her helpless. A man, who slept through the whole ordeal – familiar with his wife’s nocturnal wanderings and no longer fazed by them – feels less of a husband due to his inability to protect his family.

You stole sanctuary. Your act was not just physical. It was emotional. While the robbery only took 10 seconds of your life, it was replayed in my wife’s mind all night and will continue to haunt her anytime she sees someone in a dark, hooded coat sweater. I, sitting at work, no longer can feel as assured that my family is secure – the questions will always linger.

You stole innocence: And this may be a good thing, in the long run. It can be argued that no one should put themselves in a position of risk – but one’s home should be exempt from that. Your act changed that. No place is safe anymore, save for our own vigilance. And vigilant we will be.

In the end, my wife did nothing wrong. In merely trying to live her life and cope with the side effects of another person’s mistake, she became the victim of someone else’s malice. You spoke no words, but your actions speak volumes. You disappeared into the night, but remain ever present in our thoughts and minds. To you, my family meant nothing. And you, who once meant nothing to us, are now an unwelcome part of our lives.

That system you stole was worth $150 at most. In the end, was it worth it? You’ve mortgaged your soul for a cheap toy. But the cost to us is immeasurable. What we’ve lost physically is nothing. What we’ve lost in terms of hope for the world, trust in our fellow man, and belief in the future is priceless.

That’s a debt you could never repay – even if you were so inclined. But for one to be so morally bankrupt as to take advantage of an injured person, then the concept of honouring one’s debt is not one that comes to mind. But who knows, maybe you’ll read this and the faint beating of that cold heart will start pounding through your callous exterior. Perhaps knowing your victims had faces, names, and feelings will stop you from believing that your actions have no lasting impact. Maybe, just maybe, you can repay the debt you owe us by becoming a better person and not putting anyone else through this torment.

Forgive me, however, for not holding out hope.

We will come out of this stronger, eventually. The one thing you cannot steal is our family’s bond and love for each other. We will be more vigilant and we will protect each other better because you’ve stolen more than just a video game – you stole our belief in a better world.

2007© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

My Pocket Picked by a Mouse

By Jason Menard

Mar. 2, 2007 — Call CrimeStoppers, I’ve had my pocket picked! The culprit? A short, dark male with a propensity for wearing red pants and no shirt. He has overly large ears and a high-pitched, squeaky voice.

Aiding this crime were his female accomplice, an unintelligible duck – who should be approached with caution because his frothing at the mouth may indicate rabies – and a large, clumsy dog with an aw-shucks countenance and limited cognitive abilities. Amazingly, these clever bandits made off with my money while I was sitting in the comfort of my own home, as the real scene of the crime took place when my wife, daughter, and mother attended the recent Disney on Ice spectacle at the John Labatt Centre.

But let’s not blame Disney alone as this gang wasn’t alone in perpetrating the crime – the management of the local arena was more than a willing conspirator.

There is an expectation, at any event, that you will pay a premium for items and memorabilia. Like at amusement parks and sporting events, people are more willing to part with their hard-earned money once they’ve become caught up in the atmosphere. But the combination of over-the-top pricing and preying on small children is something that, while it fills the company’s coffers, should leave the recipients with an empty feeling.

In the end it may have been cheaper to take my family to Disneyworld , especially after considering the $15 program, the $20 wand, the $4.50 beverages, and the $10 popcorn — $10 for something that probably costs 30 cents in kernels. And we complain about movie theatre prices!

Now, the argument will be that you don’t have to buy these things, and that a simple no is enough. And we, as parents, do our best to show our kids what can and can’t be done on limited resources. Although all children will ask for everything, we try to show that you can’t have everything, and that things need to be saved up for or budgeted. We say no far, far more often than we say yes.

But at a celebration, specifically targeted to young children, you can forgive any parent for wanted to maximize the enjoyment. What seems like a cheap piece of plastic with flashing lights to an adult is, in essence, a magical experience for a young girl. To us, it’s a toy wand, to her it’s the embodiment of her dreams and a tool to use to create future memories and experiences. They say there’s no price you can put on those memories, but these cash-grabbers are certainly doing their best wring out every last dollar.

Unfortunately, the prices charged are only reflective of what the market will bear. If people weren’t willing to shell out these exorbitant rates, then they wouldn’t charge them. But there’s a subtle difference between fair market value for a product that’s targeted towards an adult, and what’s considered fair when your demographic is under the age of 10. And while parents have a responsibility to their own budgets, marketers abdicate any responsibility towards not exploit the dreams and imaginations of the youth that propel their product.

It’s not a matter of parents feeling that not buying something for their children makes them lesser parents, but rather it’s a desire to accentuate the experience by having something tangible to take home with you (or, in the case of the $4.50 Diet Coke, having something to ward off dehydration…) It’s a matter of helping to make memories last and being able to afford to do so.

The thing is, there is no legal obligation for producers and venue owners to change their price structure – it can be argued that there is only a moral one. If they can justify charging $20 for $3 worth of cheap plastic and circuitry, then so be it – they’re not alone in the market for inflating the value of their products. And, yes, adults should take a stand and fight back against price gouging. But must that stand be taken upon the foundation of our children’s imaginations?

And let’s not just base this argument on the consumer end. There are plenty of reasons why shows like this – and the venues that host them – should re-evaluate their pricing. First, the tangible: by lowering your prices, you would increase consumption. There have been many times I’ve heard people walk away from concessions and booths without spending a dime because the prices are too high. By lowering the prices a bit, while still respecting the margin, you would increase the number of consumers taking action. The key is to find that right balance to maximize profits – the same type of math we learned in high school.

Secondly, the intangible – and, by far, the most important. In large part, people aren’t offended by the total they spent, they’re irate at the individual prices. By providing better value-priced merchandise, you’ll stimulate spending, while leaving people with a better feeling about their purchases. They’ll feel they’ve received value for their dollar and will be more willing to return for subsequent events, thereby creating a self-perpetuating, steady source of reliable income. If morality doesn’t sway you, then cold hard business should.

In the end, yes, I was robbed (and thank goodness for generous grandparents – who were also robbed), but it’s an inflated price I – along with many other parents – am begrudgingly willing to pay to help my children live their dreams.

2007© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved