Tuesday, March 31, 2009

New fangled toys

I was watching my daughter play with some electronic, computerized doll house thingy that talked, lit up different rooms when the digital character entered and did everything but the dishes and was intrigued by the complexity of a young child’s toy.
It even talked to you, which is a feature I discovered when I bumped it late one night.
“Where have you been?” this unfamiliar voice said from right beside me.
Upon hearing the strange voice in the darkened room I did what most people would do – I jumped three feet in the air and nearly had a heart attack.
When I calmed down, I investigated the device and harkened back my own youth and the toys we had.The biggest change in youthful entertainment is the rise of computers and the toys the techno age has spawned.Computers are in everything. I am sure it is a sign of the times – which is a nice way of saying I am getting old - but some of the electronic toys kids have today are so complicated I need to take a day off of work just to read the instruction manual.My kids on the other hand, have the game figured out in about 30 seconds.When my son was seven he was going online to get information about Pokemons, or whatever the latest craze was at the time.When I was seven, I kept myself amused by trying to spell words on a calculator.If I recall, 07734, if held upside down and punched in the right sequence spelled 'Hello.'If you left off the zero at the end, it turned into a naughty word which was good for a snicker among my juvenile peers.Wow, the technological marvels of my youth were amazing.Of course today, kids have computers, video games and hand-held electronic games with enough power to run the space station.
They have all sorts of gadgets that I could only see in sci-fi movies when I was a kid.To the kids of today it's just another toy that need batteries, has interchangeable games and makes lots of noise.I remember when Pacman first came out. The game consol was the size of a Smart Car. Now, they can put 27 of those games in a wrist watch.That was my first foray into the world of digital entertainment. Before the yellow eating machine came along most toys did not need electricity.Today, you need solar panels on the roof of your house just to power all the electronic doodads cluttering up the homestead.When I was a wee lad, an Etch-a-sketch was a wonder of science."If you turn this knob the line goes this way. If you turn the other knob, it goes that way. Incredible."An Etch-a-sketch was good for drawing all sorts of things, as long as all they had were straight lines. Angles and other such intricacies were beyond my ability, so I drew lots of castles, with big, rugged walls – full of straight lines.OK, I actually just drew one castle wall. OK, it was just the top of a section of castle wall – left knob, right knob, left knob, right knob – and so on until the wall was built.
My kids saw an Etch-a-sketch once and were amused by it for about three minutes."Where's the on button?"
"It is on.""Really, what does it do?""Actually it's pretty much doing it, but if you move this knob the line goes this way...."Another low-tech toy of my youth was a Slinky. Those metal marvels that could walk down the stairs, walk from hand to hand and, well, that's about it.You could hold the top and watch it stretch and retract as well I suppose - kind of like a metal yo-yo. Talk about a full day of fun.When you were bored with the Slinky, you would grab one end, your friend would grab the other and you would stretch that sucker out as far as you could.That, of course, would be the end of the Slinky as there was no coming back from that and you were left to play with a very long piece of metal instead of a coiled piece of metal.While visiting my parents a few summers ago we came across an old lawn dart set.My children wanted to try them so my oldest - who was around nine at thetime - grabbed one and threw it straight up in the air before I could explain the subtle nuances the sport entailed.Too young to know he should dive for cover, Junior stood there while the dart landed about a foot away.OK, that's enough fun with lawn darts.It's amazing my friends and I survived such a toy because we used to throw them at each other all the time.We would lob the metal projectiles - that I am pretty sure could have killed a moose if thrown hard enough - toward the other person and the first one to move was branded a little sissy boy. Bravado is a strange thing because we would rather take a lawn dart to the throat than risk the moniker of fraidy cat.The idea was to plant the metal-tipped toy of doom into the ground as close to your friend as possible. Fortunately emergency rooms weren't that busy back then so everything worked out just fine.We also used to play with knives, pellet guns and bow and arrow sets. It was just a regular arsenal of merriment.Today, many kids aren't allowed to play with any of those items for fear they will grow up warped and shoot, stab or stick people.I never did any of those things (outside of the realm of fun and games anyway).So when I get home today, I will plunk myself in front of the Playstation for a few minutes and try to get Scooter to level three. Of course this will only happen if my son is in the same room to tell me how to do it.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Why ask

“Why do you even ask?”
I have thought that a lot more than I have said it when it comes to queries from my wife, and it is a question that is as applicable now as the day I got married.
I really noticed it during a pre-Christmas shopping outing. My wife and I were looking for items for her step-mom and my mom and sister.
My wife picked up an item and said, “What do you think of this one?” (for her step mom.)
Examining the sweater I thought, “Ya, that will do,” so I responded accordingly.
“Looks good to me. I think she will like it. The colour is nice.”
“No, I don’t think so. I don’t like it.”
She then puts the item back and keeps on shopping.
This happened with the next two items as well, prompting the question, “Why do you even ask?”
After almost two decades of marriage I have learned not to ask that question out loud.
When I did express such sentiment the answer is always something along the lines of “Because I want you opinion.”
Now that is only part of the answer.
The full answer is, “Because I want your opinion which I will immediately disregard and go with what I think will be best unless I am in agreement of course, but thanks for playing along.”
Which brings me back to, “Why do you even ask?”
I could probably say just about anything with the same results.
“What do you think of this one?”
“I think it is perfect. If you do not get it, you are making a colossal mistake, one that will haunt you for the rest of your life.”
“No I don’t think so.”
“Right, what I meant to say was it is the ugliest piece of rat cloth I have ever seen and even a beggar wouldn’t be caught wearing.”
Either answer would typically get the same response, but at least she includes me in the goings on.
I am typically not offended by her inclination to disregard my advice. We both know my main goal when shopping is to get out as quickly as possible, so my answers may be skewed by the fact I am starting to break out in hives and am being overwhelmed by an urge to run like a madman.
My wife, however, has the shopping tenacity of a pitbull.
When she heads into a store it is with a purpose – until she gets distracted that is.
When men shop, they go in, get what they need and get out.
Browsing? What is the point of that? If I need something all I have to do is find it, buy it and get on with my day.
My wife on the other hand – and I have heard similar tales from my married male friends – will be looking for something and wander off to look at something else.
We can go into a store looking for shoes and she ends up trying on jackets.
“Well, I was heading to the shoe department when I noticed a really nice sweater that was on sale. The colour was similar to my jacket and I got to thinking how ratty it was looking so I decided to check out what other jackets they had……”
This is not her fault, nor is this a criticism of her or any member of the female persuasion. It is just that men think differently. Brain doctors, a.k.a. psychiatrists, have discovered men tend to have a more singular focus than their opposing gender counterparts.
With men, each thought has it’s own little box and being the big, strong guys that we are, we can usually only use one thought box at a time.
Women, on the other hand, can jump from one topic to the other with ease and even integrate topics such as trying on jackets while looking for shoes. A guy would look at shoes, then, if needed, he would head to the jacket area of the store, his single-thought brain happily switching from shoe mode to jacket mode once shoe mission is complete.
Personally, I can only spend so much time in a department store or mall before my eye begins to twitch and I know it is time to leave or I will lapse into a grand mahl seizure. For my wife, shopping can be an all-day affair, and she will keep trudging through the store until she finds what she wants.
If she can’t find the item by closing time, she heads to the camping department to hunker down for the night.
She joins the myriad of other female shoppers who are setting up tents, digging out sleeping bags and preparing meals in what can only be described as shopper’s refugee camp.
In the morning, the mass of die-hard shopping aficionados returns to their mighty quest.
Meanwhile their husbands have fallen into a coma and can be revived only by sitting them in front of a TV – preferably with a hockey game on – and by putting a remote in one hand and a beer in the other.

Pets of the weird variety

Pets have been a hot topic around the homestead lately, with much debate centering on bringing more animals into the fold.
We have a cat, a newt named Noodle, and a dog has recently been added, but some of the other creatures on the ‘can-we-get’ list are simply not going to happen.
For a while Junior wanted to get a weasel. No, not a pet politician, but an actual long-bodied, furry, supposed-to-be-a-forest-dwelling-beast member of the rodent family.
“But dad, they are sooo cool.”
“But son, we are sooo not going to get one.”
What good is a pet weasel? They are too much like a rat with soft fur. They are not cuddly, they do not eat mice - I don’t think they do anyway - and they will not guard the home from intruders.
Some friends of ours got a puppy last year (thanks a lot guys) and that ramped up the pressure on us to get a dog which is a battle that has been won by the supporters of said mutt. But our friends have also been delving into the world of exotics, which is some where we will never go.
When their oldest turned 15, his aunt kicked in some cash for him to buy a tarantula. Needless to say his mom was thrilled at the thoughtfulness of her sister.
I am sorry folks, but a big, fuzzy, scary ass spider is not my idea of the perfect family pet.
I would rather cuddle with a weasel, or a worm, or road kill.
Their son thought this was the coolest thing going, until one day when he was feeding it a live cricket and it lunged at him.
He jumped about five feet in the air and now treats the tarantula like the mini-monster it is. I saw the multi-legged beast the last time we visited them.
Just looking at the gigantic arachnid gave me a case of the willies, but when they took the top of the cage off and gently pushed his fuzzy butt with a chopstick to get it to move, I was ready to bolt out of the room like I was on fire.
The creature did move a little and that was enough for me.
“Wow that is really cool. Hey, I have an idea, let’s put the top of the cage back on and then let’s put a 10-pound weight on top of the lid and then let’s get the heck out of here and never, ever do that again. Who’s with me?”
I am a million times bigger than he was, but I guarantee I was more afraid of him than he was of me.
You hear that a lot when it comes to animals.
“Look, a grizzly. It’s OK, he’s more afraid of us than we are of him.”
I wouldn’t bet on it.
I doubt the bear is thinking, “Look, it’s a Darren, am I ever scared.”
Having escaped from the gigantic insect of doom, the fun and games at our friend’s house continued, however the next pet in the miniature zoo they are building was not nearly as creepy.
Their youngest son got a lizard for his birthday.
Again, not exactly the definition of cute and cuddly, but at least this thing does not have venom oozing from its pointed fangs of death.
He asked my son if he wanted to see his new skink, however my son heard a different word and wondered why (and how) his buddy came to own a pet skank.
Being a teenager, I am sure he was wondering just how he could get one himself.
Following a surprised look and a query of, “Uhhh, what did you just say?” the type of lizard was annunciated more clearly.
“Oh,” said Junior. “That makes much more sense.”
Thankfully, none of my kids were interested in getting a giant spider, a lizard or a skank for that matter.
They did want a snake for a while, and I was OK with that, but was quickly overruled by a much higher authority.
My wife has an aversion to snakes and muttered something about me sleeping in the garage with the snake. Personally, I think snakes are pretty cool.
The dad of a childhood friend of mine had a thing for bizarre pets. He owned a sheepdog and a Siamese cat – wait for it I am getting to the weird part – along with two iguanas, several turtles, a boa constrictor and, for about a year, he had a crocodile living in a pond he built in the living room.
The croc was shipped out to a zoo when it got big enough to climb out of its pond and was looking at the cat as a meal to go.
One entire wall was dedicated to the creatures, with an upper and lower pond, a small creek and several large glass enclosures for the reptile members of the family.
I loved visiting that place. We would often take out the boa and wear it like, well, like a boa. Not many kids could say they were taking their snake out for some fresh air.
His mom had one Tupperware party, but when a green snake that managed to get out of its enclosure slithered across the room, the party was over.
Too bad, the ladies did not know the fun they were missing out on.

Kid goo is gross

There are many things about raising children no one tells you before you have kids.
You hear about how cute they are and the funny little things they say and do, but parents rarely tell non-parents about the train wreck raising children can be.
Yes they are cute. Yes they say and do funny little things and I wouldn’t trade being a father for the world, but there are certain aspects of parenting I could do without.
It seems little kids are always emitting some form of liquid, especially when they have a cold.
I first noticed it with my oldest son when he was a baby, and the bigger he got, the more goo he produced.
When he had a cold and crawled across the room, it looked like a giant snail had slinked through my house.
The upside was he was easy to find, just follow the trail of mucus.
The dogs enjoyed it too. There was always something to sniff, lick or roll in.
Junior would come crawling over put his arms in the air and say, “Up daddy, up.”
“No, slimy little dude, no.”
But of course I would pick him up and we would wrestle around for a little while. I would then have to burn the clothes I was wearing because they had been encased with so much kid goo they had become their own life form.
Because this was our first child, I was mildly horrified at the excretions coming out of such a cute little person.
OK, perhaps mildly is too gentle a word.
There were some diapers I had to beat with a stick to get into the trash can. The government was investigating my garbage bags for bio-chemical warfare agents.
Good thing George Dubya wasn’t around at the time, or marines would have landed in my driveway looking for WMDs, which in this case was Wicked Messy Diapers.
It was a good day when it came time for potty training.
Dr. James Dobson says it is important to make a big deal out of it when Junior goes on the potty.
So my wife and I would whoop and holler and dance around like drunken lunatics whenever Junior “made a stinky on the potty.”
He would laugh and feel quite proud of himself.
He was also encouraging to others. Like the time at a restaurant when he accompanied me to the washroom and let out a victory cry of, “Yay, daddy went pee in the potty.”
It is amazing how far a little kid’s voice can carry.
Just as Junior was starting to figure out the whole potty thing, we had another son and it was back to diapers, bio-chemical agents and other nasty stuff you usually see only in horror movies like The Blob.
But he too mastered the art of using the lavatory and there was much rejoicing in the House of Handschuh.
But we were not done yet. We had one more bundle of joy to get through the diaper stage. Fortunately the third and final installment of our clan learned quickly and we were once again free of diaper changes.
But we were not free of cleaning up, not by a long shot.
One of the happiest days of my life was when the last of my children learned how to barf in a bucket.
One thing I have learned as a parent is how not to be grossed out (to a degree anyway.) It is still disgusting, but you build up a sort of immunity to it. The mind is an amazing thing that has the ability to block stuff out, which is a very good thing.
Many was the night when a kid would blow chunks in bed, on the stairs, in the hallway on route to the bathroom and once even on the dog.
The hound didn’t seem to mind or need any help getting cleaned up because by the time I got around to wiping the mutt down, the job had already been taken care of.
Dogs seemed to have mastered not getting grossed out. In fact, when it comes to the family hound the rule of thumb seems to be the grosser the better.
Man’s best friend is truly a disgusting creature.
But being grossed out is only a minor burden to bear for the rewards of being a dad.
And for all you non-parents out there, I would just like to say having kids is a wonderful experience. It truly is.
So go ahead and have children, lots and lots of them. They say and do the cutest things.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Who needs a seatbelt anyway?

Every year my parents would go on a two-week vacation that typically involved a marathon road trip somewhere in the United States.
We would all pile into the station wagon with the fake wood grain finish and head out on the open road while towing a tent trailer that would be our home for the next 14 days or so.
My parents would sit in the front of course, my two sisters in the back seat and my brother and I would lay down in the back with some pillows.
Seatbelts? We don’t need no stinking seatbelts.
We would wave at police as they went by and sometimes the police would wave back. No one gave it a second thought that we did not have any seatbelts and the only thing keeping us back there was gravity.
We were kids, we never thought of the possible dangers. What did we care if in the event of an accident we would rocket through the air like little pink missiles - we had the back of the family wagon to ourselves and it was sweet.
It was a different world back then. We would drive at 60 miles per hour for hours on end and the only safety device my brother and I had were the pillows that would hopefully pile up at the windshield before we did thus cushioning the blow as our young selves hurled around the interior of the car.
Other kids would be sitting in the back of their cars waving at us. It was like a rolling convoy of kiddie carnage just waiting to be unleashed.
When dad had to slam on the brakes we would go sliding up against the back seat, books would be flying around, pens, pencils and what ever else we had back there with us would projectile to the front of the car.
A sharp corner had a similar effect only in a lateral manner rather than back to front.
It was kind of like a home-made rollercoaster, except there were no seatbelts of course.
We never thought of the possible hazards, nor did our parents, the police, the government or anyone else.
Now days, everyone has to wear a seatbelt, which is a good thing. You are also supposed to wear a helmet when riding a bike – another good thing.
As a young lad I learned to ride a bike with no protective gear whatsoever.
Helmets? Those were for motorcycles. No one needed them on a pedal bike.
These days when most parents send their kids out their bikes then have helmets, knee pads, elbow pads, a full suit of armor, home-made airbags on the handlebars and the occasional over-protective parent will run along side their child with a large pillow to throw beneath them should they have an unplanned dismount from their metal steed.
Of course no child should be sent out without being completely encased in bubble wrap. That way, when junior crashes all there will be is a multitude of popping noises as the child bounces down the street.
Crash – pop, pop, pop – bounce – pop, pop, pop. “I’m OK.”
The kid will look like the Michelin Man, but the new mantra is safety first so there can be no such thing as too much gear.
One area where safety has not penetrated is the world of skateboarders. You will see the occasional helmet, but in general the only thing between a skater’s melon and the cold, hard concrete is a hat or some goofy hair.
I guess it’s not ‘cool’ to be wear a helmet, but one good wack on the bean and you are eating Jello and playing with crayons for the rest of your life.
I am sure eventually the skater safety attitude will change and soon everyone on a skateboard will be covered in a titanium suit that could stop a speeding freight train.
Meanwhile, the rest of the world will already be several steps ahead in safety and all cars will come with dozens of airbags, all occupants must wear complete hockey gear – football gear would be an acceptable substitute for our American cousins – and, of course, the car, the driver and the passengers will be completely encased in bubble wrap.
Remember kids, safety first.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Full-contact skiing

The last time I went skiing was in elementary school.
I enjoyed screaming down a tree-lined mountain while attempting to stand on two pieces of glazed wood, but I just did not have an opportunity to pursue it.
My dad gave me a choice of skiing or playing hockey. It was an easy decision because I already had some hockey gear and it was hinted that hockey should be my sport of choice.
It was a subtle hint, something along the lines of “You’re playing hockey this winter.”
“OK dad.”
I didn’t mind, actually, because I liked the game and some of my friends played so I laced up the blades instead of strapping on the planks.
I did do some skiing as a kid and in Grades 4-7 when our class went several times on organized day trips to a local ski hill.
We all piled onto a big yellow bus and, much like in the classroom, the cool kids sat at the back with the social heirachy sorting itself out until the dorks were left sitting at the front next to the teacher.
I can’t remember exactly where I sat, but I do recall it was not a very long walk once I got on the bus.
Once aboard the provided transportation it was a raucous and noisy ride to the ski hill where we would put on our rented boots – that always and without fail made our feet hurt – and grabbed our rented skis before heading to the T-bar for a tow up the hill.
A great deal of social status came with the type of skis you were given as well. Certain kinds were in vogue and if you were unfortunate enough to get one that was not considered cool, well, you might as well strap a couple of 2x4s to your feet.
The uncool skis worked just as well as any other pair of skis, but they simply were not cool therefore the wearer was not cool.
The ski days always started out with a brief lesson before 60 kids were turned loose on the mountain.
As often happened, a few of us turned skiing into a full-contact sport. We would barrel down the hill at break neck speed all the while trying to body check each other into oblivion.
After delivering a hip check to a buddy of mine, I soared down the hill laughing all the way, while he sat at the top of the hill just being sore.
My joy did not last long as payback was on the way.
I spent the next couple of runs trying to ski while looking behind me all the way down the mountain.
Eventually we reconnected at the top of the hill and my buddy – who was acting suspiciously friendly – encouraged me to follow him down a trail that went through some trees.
He took off and a few seconds later I followed. I watched him go around a bend and as I reached the same bend I found there was a small jump.
Now that would not be a big deal except my ‘friend’ was standing at the bottom of the jump with an evil grin on his face while holding his ski pole in the air like spike.
He was kind of crouched and ready for impact. He had obviously planned this little incident from the moment I accidentally ran into him a couple of runs earlier.
Sure, it may have looked like I intentionally came across the slope slightly from behind and then cut hard at the last moment to deliver a near picture perfect hip check, but in reality I was simply skiing, minding my own business and we just happen to collide.
It was not my fault he did a triple summersault with a full twist while I zoomed away.
I knew immediately revenge was at hand, but it is hard to dodge something when you are airborne. I managed to knock his pole out of the way with my own ski pole, but I twisted to the side as I did it.
When I hit the ground the tips of my skis had crossed and one went on one side of a tree, one went on another tree making an X while I went through the middle.
My skis hooked on the trees and I did a Superman impression without the cape as I shot straight forward. My skis however stayed with the tree and I crashed like the Exxon Valdez on New Year’s morning.
To say it was painful was to say Elvis had a doughnut problem.
My friend took off laughing like a madman while I lay in five feet of snow wondering when they would find the body.
A few classmates witnessed the incident and asked us later why we did such stupid things.
The best answer I could come up with was, “I dunno, because it’s fun.”

Furnace furor

Waking up for another fulfilling day at work, I noticed it was quite cold in the house.Having lived in a sunny part of the world for the past 18 years, I am particularly sensitive to such atrocities and thought it must have been really cold outside, which would have been strange because it was only the first week of November.Looking out the window it didn't seem that cold, but it was sure cool in the family homestead.My wife, who was just returning from her morning exercise class, noticed it as well, so we began to explore the situation.Within seconds my sixth sense kicked in and I came to the brilliant conclusion that the furnace was not working.Had it been operating in its usual manner, there would have been this big whooshing sound when it got below a certain temperature because all furnaces make that whooshing sound moments before the sweet, soothing heat of a burning non-renewable resource fills the house.The whooshing sound was absent so that meant the heat was absent and that meant my toes were cold and I don't like having cold toes (really, who does?).I drew upon all of the expertise I had collected over the years when it came to furnace repair and set off to fix the problem, thus saving my family from having to endure the hardship of living in a home that was a little cooler than we would have preferred.First, I approached the thermostat. I stared at it for a second to evaluate the situation before gently tapping on the wall-mounted contraption.It didn't work, so I moved on to plan B: I moved the little lever thingy back and forth a few times thinking that might get things going, but still the gas-sucking giver of warmth in the basement refused to play along.Having exhausted my knowledge of thermostat maintenance and repair, I headed downstairs to check on the furnace itself. I knelt down to check the pilot light.Seeing it was burning away, I had officially reached the end of my ability to get a furnace to go whoosh and make heat.All the while, dollar signs were not really dancing through my head as much as they were smashing around like a cat trapped in a clothes dryer.I just knew it would be a major repair. I just knew the entire furnace was shot and I just knew it was going to cost thousands of dollars to fix.I started to think of how we were going to pay for it."Well, I guess the kids don't really need to go to university. Maybe a nice correspondence course or something. Perhaps something online from Paraguay."While thoughts of having to sell a lung to help pay for the new furnace crashed through my cranium, my oldest son walked over and said, "What about that switch, dad?"On the wall near the furnace was a switch with two words written on it: off and on.I may not know a lot about furnaces, but I do know a little about the English language and I knew those words just might play a role in solving this mystery.I felt I was on the right track, especially when you consider the switch was in the 'off' position."Houston, I think we found the problem."As soon as I flipped the switch, the furnace made the whooshing sound followed by the roaring sound that means heat is on the way.It was like the serenade of the first bird of spring as it sits in a tree while I sit on the deck sipping iced tea and marvelling at the wonders around me.I breathed a sigh of relief, but I kept the Paraguayan education system idea stored away for future reference, because you never know.My next question was, "If we have already used the furnace this year, how did it get switched off?"Seeing as it was Junior who brought the switch to my attention in the first place, I was pretty sure I had found the answer.His explanation was less than stellar."Well, um, I, aaaah, you see…."It turns out Junior was carrying a strip of plywood down the hall when he somehow hit the switch and accidentally turned it off, thus plunging our home into a marginally uncomfortable temperature zone.We all learned a lesson that day.I learned that I know absolutely nothing about furnace repair, my wife learned, well, basically, that I know absolutely nothing about furnace repair and Junior learned to watch out for rogue wall switches (and that his dad knows absolutely nothing about furnace repair.)

From the D'uh files

You have to wonder about the wisdom of people some times.
Making headlines recently is the duck genocide at an oil sands facility where some 500 water fowl were killed in a gooey lake of death.
People are up in arms about the poor beaked beasts and the icky death they endured, as well they should be. The mallard holocaust even made CNN.
The mantra of environmentalists was save the creatures and blast the company for the damage it was doing to the environment and how evil and dangerous the corporate suits are as they sit in their ivory tower and count money while innocent ducks get sucked into the black ponds of doom.
So, in an effort to save face, the corporate executives came up with the touching move of flying three ducks to a rehab centre aboard the company jet.
We are talking about three whole ducks here. That should polish their image in light of the hundreds that have died. Good job.
Correct me if I am wrong, but does this not make sense to anyone else out there? How much pollution was pumped into the air from the jet in what amounts to a PR effort to save three members of Daffy’s extended family?
Sure the ducks may survive, which is a good thing, but the temperature of the earth rose four degrees from the pollution created saving their lives.
It’s kind of like using a stick of dynamite to catch fish because you are worried about losing some fishing line in the water.
Here’s a nutty idea, why not bring the material needed to save the ducks to the ducks?
What a plan. Instead of flying a few feathered friends first class to the rehab centre, maybe bring the rehab centre to the ducks.
Another item from the ‘You-have-got-to-be-kidding-me’ file is one of a lady holding a fundraiser to help her ailing pooch.
Apparently Fido has some sort of eye dilemma going on and the worried owner is holding a party at a night club to raise money for a medical procedure.
The hound has two problems actually: a growth coming out of his eye and his teeth need to be fixed because he chews rocks.
It sounds like this dog went to ‘special’ obedience school.
I know dogs are not the smartest creatures on the planet, and I admit I had a canine that bit a few rocks as a puppy (he soon got over it and his teeth were fine), but I find this scenario a little odd to say the least.
It’s going to cost $1,400 to have the dog repaired. I am an animal lover and have had pets my entire life, including several dogs, so I know how much you come to care about them, but at $1,400 Bowser may just have to live with the deficiencies and cut back on the rock consumption. There was no mention the dog’s life was in peril, so perhaps a re-evaluation of priorities is needed.
I know it’s easy for me to say because it is not my dog, but that is a lot of money to spend on something that licks its own butt.
“I’m sorry kids, we were going to take Fido in and get him looked after, except last night he ran away.”
But I have to admit, the silly beasts do become part of the family, so I can appreciate the effort made to repair said animal. The organizer even lined up a variety of door prizes and the entire event will, of course, have a dog theme.
No word if fire hydrants are going to replace urinals in the men’s room and I hope no one decides to mark their territory in the canine sense because that would get kind of messy to say the least.
According to the pet owner, admission is by donation as long as the donation is $5 minimum. In other words, “Gimme five bucks and you can enjoy a sense of satisfaction by helping a dog so he is not laughed at by other dogs.”
We all know how cruel animals can be.
“Hey, Fido, what are ya gonna do? Gum me to death? Oooh, your flat teeth are so scary.”
And that is just from the cats in the neighbourhood. The dogs would be even less understanding.
Any cash raised over and above the money needed to provide the hound with the required plastic surgery and dentures will be donated to the SPCA, a noble cause indeed.
The fundraiser scheme got me thinking (which is generally not a good thing.)
If the fix-my-dog cash generator plan works, maybe other personal fundraisers could be held.
I would like to have a buy-Darren-a-new-motorcycle fundraiser, where people would get together and donate money for me to purchase a new machine.
Any money left over would go towards purchasing a more expensive motorcycle.
Not quite as noble a cause as saving Bowser from a lifetime of having a gimpy eye and being able to eat only pureed food, but a motorcycle can become like a member of the family and…I know, I know no one is buying this in the least.
OK, so maybe a fundraiser for a personal toy won’t work, but if anyone wants to send me some money anyway, I would let them.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Bears have the right of way

I saw a story recently where wildlife officials were warning the motoring public to be cautious of bears.
Do we really need an official warning for that? When you drive the mountain roads and highways of B.C., shouldn’t you watch for bears all of the time?
It’s not like when you hit a gopher or something. With a gopher there’s a small thump and another groundhog is off to rodent heaven.
Hitting a 500-pound black bear would be a little more traumatic to you and your car.
I have never hit a bear in a car before. However, having lived my entire life in B.C., I have had vehicular interaction with a variety of other animals.
I have hit the aforementioned gopher in the past, as well as a squirrel, a couple of coyotes, a deer and I even had a seagull fly into the grill of my car once.
Now, this creature has the ability to fly and can soar through the heavens at will. Instead, this one decided it was much better to fly two-feet off the ground where it had an up close and personal experience with the front bumper of my motorized carriage.
That is natural selection at its finest. Natural selection is where nature weeds out the weak, the lame, and in this case, the stupid.
The deer was not too bright either. It was in Northern B.C. a couple summers ago and this critter – which some consider nature’s cow and we all know how smart they are – was running along the side of the road.
I slowed down as I neared the beast, which is good because it made far too much sense to the deer to stay on the side of the road or even run off into the woods. Noooo, it was a much better idea to turn 90 degrees onto the road and run head first into the side of my van. That is the kind of stupid that impresses us all.
So technically, I didn’t hit the deer as much as the deer hit me. There was a little thump as it bounced off the side of my van before it altered its course and took off into the woods.
“Great plan genius. Maybe next time you could skip the whole smashing into a vehicle thing and just go straight to the running into the woods part. I’ll be seeing you during hunting season.”
I am sure he had quite a story to tell his little deer friends when he got back into the woods.
“Man, you should have seen it. There was this big, green beast with bright eyes and a hard shell. I hit that sucker as hard as I could and the last I saw of it, it was taking off down the highway knowing it messed with the wrong deer.”
The closest I have ever come to hitting a bear was when my dad and I were coming back from a fishing trip when I was a wee lad.
We were driving a little Toyota truck and we had just rounded a corner on a dirt road deep in the woods when my dad jammed on the brakes.
Standing in the middle of the road was the largest bear I had ever seen in my life. Growing up in a rural setting, I had seen quite a few bears over the years, but none were as big as this hombre.
It was the first and only time I have seen a grizzly bear in the wild, and it was one of the coolest things I have ever witnessed.
This guy was the top of the food chain and it was easy to see why.
Upon seeing the size of this thing I realized I would never have to worry about being killed by a bear, because if this one came charging at me, I would die of a heart attack long before he managed to get his massive paws on me.
The bear was casually sauntering down the middle of the road and when we pulled up behind him. He just kind of turned his head toward us with a look of, “Yeah, and what are you gonna do about it,” and kept meandering along without a care in the world.
This guy knew he was the king of the mountain and I am sure he could have totaled the truck with a single swat.
The bruin walked another 20 metres along the road before heading down a trail that led to a creek, still completely unconcerned about the presence of the tiny pink creatures in the little blue truck.
My dad and I looked at each other, both realizing we had just seen something rather magical in the majesty of such a creature, and both being happy he was not having a bad day and felt like beating up a Toyota.
Needless to say, the next time we went fishing in that area, we paid a little more attention to the shoreline in case our friend decided the fish we had caught would make a better snack for him than a meal for us.
And believe me, if he wanted the fish, he could have them. He could also have the keys to the truck, our credit cards, our fishing poles and the boat if he wanted.
Who am I to argue?

The joys of pregnancy

We visited a lot of relatives this year and many of my kin had little ones running around.
As I watched the young parents interact with their infants (ie: changing poopy diapers) I thought, “Man, am I glad that is over.”
However, it did take me back to becoming a dad for the first time and I have to admit entering into fatherhood was rather thrilling.
Parenthood is an adventure not for the weak or the lame or the overly bright.
The adventure begins at the moment of conception (which for the guy is the best part) and doesn’t end until, well, I will have to get back to you on that one.
Many years ago, some good friends of ours had become pregnant with their first child.
Accident, I mean, Lee was a bit of a surprise for them and as soon as our friend, Marcia, learned she was up the spout, she immediately wanted my wife to get pregnant so they could go through the misery, um, I mean, joy of being pregnant together.
My wife and I had agreed to wait until a certain date before we started trying to get knocked up, so we made some vague comment that we will do what we can.
Hey, it’s not my fault our friends had never heard of birth control.
The decided upon date arrived and soon it was I who was looking at the prospect of becoming a dad.
By that time, our friend was just slightly smaller than a 1967 VW Bug as she was nearing her due date.
Watching Marcia balloon up like a float in a Macy’s Day parade, I was pretty sure what was in store for my wife.
At around the eight-month mark, I jokingly said told my wife she so big she was starting to form her own atmosphere.
She jokingly threw a 14-inch butcher knife at me.
I kid, of course. I did say the atmosphere bit, but as my wife and I share the same sense of humour, she found it funny and laughed, but I have to admit it was a smother-him-with-a-pillow-while-he-sleeps sort of laugh.
For all you men out there, before making any comment about your wife when she is pregnant you must be absolutely certain she shares your humour and will find it funny.
If not, be prepared to sleep with one eye open.
And no matter what, not under torture, whippings, wedgies or merciless noogies are you ever to say, “Yes, your butt does look big.”
Her butt could be the size of an ocean-going freighter and your job as her hubby is to keep a straight face (which can be a bit of a challenge) and say, “No honey, you look just like the day we got married.”
Even if you have to grease up her hips so she can walk down the hall the answer is always, “No, baby, you can barely tell you are pregnant.”
She will likely know you are lying because there are mirrors in the house, but she will appreciate your effort to make her feel better.
For the record, I think anyone who expects their wife to maintain a slim and trim figure while she is pregnant is selfish and a moron.
When a woman is pregnant she has to eat for two, she retains water and in general her entire body has to change to accommodate the baby.
The Missus was packing on the pounds like a Kodiak getting ready for a winter slumber, but, like I said, that is what happens when one is pregnant.
Not that I have ever been pregnant. If I was that would make one helluva column, but I am the father of a trio of sproggs and I have stood by my wife as she grew a tiny human in her body three times.
My wife bonded with Junior the instant she learned she was pregnant, but it was not until I heard his heartbeat for the first time that the gravity of the situation sunk in. It was like that for all three and they are moments I will forever cherish.
No matter what a man achieves – climbing Mount Everest, building a space ship, burping the entire theme to Hockey Night In Canada – it fails to compare with a woman’s God-given ability to create an entire human being basically from scratch.
I may have received an award from work, but she made a pair of lungs. It’s kind of hard to compare the two.
Pregnancy also brought with it a complete new wardrobe full of tantalizing garments like preggo pants with the stretchy front piece, great big shirts and my personal favourite, massive granny-style undergarments.
If we were stranded on a deserted island we could have sewn three of those together to make a sail.
Yes, those days are far behind, and in a way I miss them, but not enough to wish they would return.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Young luv is weird

As I watch my children get older, I harken back to the days of my youth and think, “Am I ever glad that is over.”
I remember that transitional stage of life when I went from being a kid to a young man and all the confusion that came with it.
The biggest area of confusion revolved around members of the female persuasion.
I can remember the actual moment girls became girls in a much more significant manner.
It was near the end summer holidays going into Grade 8 and I saw a girl from school who had always been a Tomboy.
She was one of the best athletes in the school and her nickname was Sam, which was an abbreviation of her last name.
I had known her since Grade 2 and never thought of her as anything more than one of the first picks when choosing a team.
But seeing her at the mall a few days before school started again, she went from being Sam to being Shelly.
Anyone standing close by may have heard a barely audible ‘ping’ as my brain switched from ‘Girls are icky’ to ‘Helloooo ladies.’
From that point on girls took on a whole new meaning.
The problem was communicating those new-found feelings. It is no secret that young men are not the greatest communicators in the world.
Actually, many fully grown men have a hard time communicating which might explain the never ending series of wars.
While girls could most often express their feelings verbally and with insight, guys would likely just mumble something before pushing the girl in the shoulder.
Nothing says “I like you” like smacking someone on the arm.
The way a young man communicated with a young girl was also dependent on the environment.
If it was winter and a young lad was smitten with a young lass, there was a good chance the lass was going to end up face first in the snow or clobbered by a snow ball as the young lad attempts to express his feelings.
Not possessing the words to say how he feels, the young man decides hurling a ball of compressed ice particles at the fair maiden will get the message across without the need for verbal interaction.
When he gets older, he figures out intelligent banter is a much more effective way of getting a girl’s attention.
Mind you, pushing someone in a snow bank does get their attention, but usually not in a positive way.
Girls have a much different – and more civilized – approach to the opposite gender. The girl will try to engage the young man in conversation, or maybe try to help him with his school work or something as a way of spending time with him on a meaningful and intellectual level.
For the guy, in the winter anyway, young love is expressed with projectiles of the snow variety.
In the non-winter months other methods of communication must be devised. In elementary school, chasing a girl with a snake that was found in the tall grass was one way of saying, “You’re kind of cool.”
At that age, the young Romeo may not know why he feels this way, but for some reason he feels the need to scare a particular girl.
If a snake could not be found then a bug, worm or other objects could be used. They just had to be scary or gross, because as every young man knows, a young girl will like you if you frighten them or make them feel nauseous.
As they head into the teen years, snakes and other such critters are replaced by more mature forms of communication.
For example, young men will try to impress the girls with their video-playing skills. He is sure she will be amazed at his ability to get Scooter to level nine without stopping even once.
He will spend hours and hours impressing his love interest, who, no doubt, will sit in absolute awe of what a big, strong man he is because he can defeat the ice dragon before it melts his suit of armor.
Guys will also try to impress the opposite sex with acts fuelled by testosterone.
In the animal world, gorillas beat their chest and jump around to show how big and strong they are, while in the human world, um, well, actually it’s not that different.
They may not actually thump their chests, but teenage boys will find a plethora of other ways to strut their stuff.
Thank God for sports, or teenage boys would be walking around with sore chests and girls would be wondering what they are doing.

Costly kitty

I came home from work the other day to find my son’s cat stoned out of his mind.
It’s not because he was running with the wrong crowd or anything, but because he just had some minor surgery.
A few days prior, something had bit him on the butt, just to the side of his tail on his haunches. I guess that’s what that area of a cat is called anyway. What do I know about animal anatomy, so to make my life easier I will refer to it as his butt.
Anyway, he came sauntering into the house one day with a cut on his butt and he would express his displeasure anytime someone would pet him and touch the affected area.
We decided we had better take the critter to the vet who informed us the wound had abscessed and he was in need of a medical procedure.
In other words, “Your cat is going to help pay for my vacation to Mexico.”
The vet figured it was a bite of some sort, which we suspected ourselves because it did not look like a scratch from a catfight.
It was likely a dog, but if you ask Gilbert the Wonder Cat, he would probably say it was a 900-pound grizzly bear, or a pack of coyotes or something.
I can just see him talking to his little cat friends.
“So there I was, my back to the fence staring down 12 mangy, flea-infested coyotes. The first one lunged and I took him out with one swing. I managed to lay a whoopin’ on 11 of the filthy dogs before No. 12 snuck up from behind and bit me on the butt. But don’t worry, I know what he looks like and one day, revenge shall be mine.”
Either way, something took a small chunk out of his hindquarters.
My wife called me at work and told of the woes of Gilbert and what needed to be done and when I walked in the door after work the first thing I saw was Junior’s cat with a white cone around his neck, a shaved butt and 10 stitches.
That’s more stitches than even I have had at once. The most stitches I have ever received at one time is seven. That was in my pinky finger when I accidentally chopped it a little bit with a hedge trimmer, but the story of attacking yard maintenance equipment is to be told another day.
Because of the surgery, Gilbert had to be knocked out and was still rather buzzed at the end of the day.
When I came home, he was sitting in a half-crouch looking at the floor. He was just sitting and staring.
I could almost hear him singing, “Lucy in the skyyyy with diiiaaaamonds.”
He would look at his paw and go, “Wow man, that is like my paw. My claws go out, my claws go in, that is soooo cool.”
He would walk around for a few seconds in a half crouch before stopping to stare at the floor some more. He spent a good 15 minutes looking at a toy that was left lying on the ground.
Maybe he was trying to communicate with it, who knows.
Once the drugs began to wear off, the cone started to become an irritant. He tried to shake his head until it came off, but soon realized it was futile.
That does not mean he was pleased with his new fashion accessory and he made some unique meowing noises that I can only assume is a cat version of swearing.
Along with the stitches and the bald patch on his butt where the vet had to shave him, was a small rubber tube.
I looked at the tube for a second and asked my wife, who is a nurse, what the tube thing was for.
“Oh, he needs that to drain the abscess,” was her matter-of-fact reply.
“Wait. Stop. Hold it. Whoa. Whoa. Whooooaaaaa. Did you just say it was to drain the abscess?”
“Yes, the abscess has to drain so it will heal properly.”
“OK, let me get this straight. This fur ball is going to be walking around the house draining abscess goop all over my home. That is disgusting.”
I had visions of him walking across the floor and it looking like a giant snail had just crossed the room.
My medically knowledgeable wife explained there would not be very much drainage and that the tube had to be cleaned daily.
That is definitely a medical procedure and seeing as how she is trained medical personnel…
I can barely handle looking at the tube sticking out of him, so the odds of me being able to clean it are pretty slim to say the least.
“It doesn’t bother me at all,” said the missus before going into one of her medical stories that make me queasy just to think about.
“There was this one guy who had nine drain tubes in his abdomen and he…”
At this point in our conversation I stuck my fingers in my ears and said “la-la-la-la” until she got the idea and stopped talking about it.
Gilbert will get the drain taken out in about a week, but the stitches have to be in for two weeks, which means he has to wear the cone for another 10 days or so and he is not allowed outside until the stitches come out.
Mind you looking the way he does that is probably for the best because cats can be cruel and they would all just point and laugh.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Bald is best, baby

So what is the big deal about hair loss?
What’s wrong with showing a little scalp?
As you may have guessed I am of the forehead enhanced group and I don’t have a problem with it.
But some people do. They arrange their hair in goofy configurations – known throughout the land as a comb over – to cover their shame.
There are advertisements for laser hair therapy, or LHT for those in the know, and a whole truck load of ways to make the locks last longer.
There are even clubs for bald guys who wish they were hair guys.
I don’t get it.
Like with so many other woes of society – such as every movie Pauly Shore has ever made – Hollywood is to blame.
You will notice there are no bald people in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy.
More than 200 hours worth of movie and there is barely a scalp to be seen in all of Middle Earth. Oh sure, there is one bald Hobbit in the opening and closing scenes, but that’s it.
Other than that, the only ones without hair are the Orcs.
Is Hollywood saying losing your hair is akin to being some hideous creature with bad teeth and a skin condition that really should be looked at?
What if Frodo was bald? Or Legolas? Would that be so bad?
Instead, the main characters have more hair than a 1980s rock band.
The monstrous ‘90s hit “Jurassic Park” did have a few hair-challenged characters, but they were all eaten by dinosaurs.
The balding lawyer was the first to go – chomped by a T Rex.
The balding computer technician played by Samuel L. Jackson was also a dino pate when he was set upon by a flock of velociraptors which obviously preferred a hairless meal because they also ate the balding big game hunter.
So who survived? People with hair, that’s who. All the heroes with their lovely locks lived to be part of the sequel.
So once again Hollywood is screwing the bald man.
Do people with hair know how tough it is to be bald? Do they appreciate the hell we must endure on a rainy day and we don’t have a hat?
Do they know what it’s like to feel that great, big freezing drop of water fall from the eves of a building and land with a smack on an uncovered cranium?
No, they don’t because they have a little helmet of hair between them and that Volkswagon-size drop of water acting like a personal ozone layer.
On TV it’s the same story. People with hair are running around being the hero and saving the damsel in distress while the bald guy waits in the wings and is treated like the drunk uncle nobody talks about.
“OK. The script says it’s time for someone to get killed, quick, send in the bald guy.”
And the bald guy shows up just in time to get munched on by a dinosaur with an eating disorder or to get splatted by a falling piano.
There are a few exceptions to the rule. Take Bruce Willis for example.
True, he may have started his career with hair, but he is now one of us – a brother of the scalp. Fortunately shaving your head bald is en vogue so he can get away with it.
The trend of shaving one’s head is proof that deep down inside, hair people want to be bald people.
Ron Howard is bald, but he always wears a hat – obviously he has not come to terms with his condition. Accept it Ron, you are a bald man.
But the ratio of bald actors to hairy ones remains seriously lopsided. It’s an attempt by Hollywood to keep the bald man down.
It’s like Hollywood is terrified some sort of weird hair leprosy will strike them down if they associate with the follicle-diminished.
So it’s time for baldies to unite. Stand tall and stand proud. And when one of the hair people come close, reflect the sun off your forehead and blind them.
It won’t give you any more hair, but you might feel better knowing you have just fried their retinas.

I feel safer already

I am sure there are hazards associated with the job, but do mall security guards really need to wear bullet-proof vests?
I was strolling through a local mall recently when a SWAT wannabe walked by with his Kevlar-covered chest puffed out in a you-better-not-mess-with-me strut.
He did look pretty fearsome I must admit, and once I was done chuckling at the show of machismo, I was actually almost close to being intimidated.
I’m all about the safety, ask anyone, but I just thought the body armor was a little over the top. Or maybe the black vest was fine, but the swagger of the little man wearing it was the over-the-top part.
Either way, something was over the top and, for me anyway, kind of humorous.
I mean it was a mall, not some drug-addled, inner-city ghetto where he had to take down crack dealers on a regular basis. Not all security guards wear the vests, but I have seen a few mall guards donning the black body armor.
I can understand why there is a need for security, and to be honest with you, it is not a job I would want because who wants to deal with obnoxious and ignorant shoppers all day? I guess there is the possibility of being stabbed and in that case the vest would come in handy.
I hope it would anyway. If the thing can stop a bullet, I assume it can stop a knife. So I guess there is some justification for wearing a bullet-proof vest, but the sniper helmet, balaclava and jump boots were definitely too much.
I saw some security guards working the downtown core, and for those guys I could appreciate the vests because of their clientele, but having been to the mall many times in my life I have never viewed it as a hotbed of danger.
The downtown security guards need a certain attitude, a certain aura to do their job. They need an aura of, “Mess with me and you will be wearing your butt as a hat.”
The ones I saw were also quite big and strong and somewhat scary looking, but that is kind of an occupational requirement for those guys.
I talked to one and he said it was not unheard of to get into a “scuffle” on a regular basis.
Not to diminish the dangers the mall guards face, I have just never felt my safety was marginalized while walking past the food court.
“Hit the ground, a small child is running down the hall.”
“Everybody scramble, a group of teens are talking loudly and laughing.”
I did feel some concern the last time I was in a mall in the United States. I half expected a crazed gunman to come in and start shooting people at random because the store did not have his favourite type of cheese doodles.
At 6’4” tall, I would make an easy target.
“I hate tall, bald guys. I was frightened by a tall bald guy once when I was a kid.”
I wished I was wearing a bullet-proof vest, and bullet-proof underwear (with optional diaper attachment because if someone starts shooting…), and a bullet-proof helmet and gloves and neck protector and – well, basically just wrap me in Kevlar like a mummy and point in the direction of the tool store.
The most frightened I have ever been in a mall in Canada was when it was just my wife and myself and I noticed a sign at a ladies clothing store boasting “Everything 50 per cent off.”
Eeeek, nooooooo.
I had to think and act fast. At first I tried to walk between her and the sign hoping she would not see, but felt that tactic left too much to chance, so I tried distracting her.
“Hey look over there. Doesn’t that guy resemble Brad Pitt?”
My cleverness turned out to be my demise as she checked out the Brad Pitt look-a-like, reflected in the window where Billy McStudbagel was walking past was the 50 per cent off sign.
Of course in the window it was “ffo tnec rep 05” but she quickly reversed the numbers and letters and spun on her heels like a military drill sergeant and headed straight to the store.
It was like an invisible force was drawing her.
I began to protest, but upon hearing my words of disharmony, a security guard, dressed from head to toe in medieval battle armor, intervened and asked me if everything was alright.
Everything was fine, and besides who could argue with someone dressed like King Arthur (with a bullet-proof vest of course.)

Monday, March 9, 2009

Getting there

It is the Mecca of family fun and widely agreed upon to be the ‘happiest place on earth.’
I speak about Disneyland, of course.
It is a pilgrimage that has been made by countless millions of families over the years - a journey to the land of merriment, fun and really expensive food.
Where else could you spend $11.50 in American cash for a hot dog and a pop? That’s around $200 Canadian I believe.
When we walked through the front gates, I could almost see Mickey sitting in one of the towers wringing his hands with joy as two more teenaged boys entered the grounds.
“Dad, I’m hungry.”
“I know son, it’s been at least 20 minutes since you last ate. Hang on a second, we just have to refinance our home and I will buy some more food.”
But the price of dining at Disney was to be expected, it’s just the way it is at any tourist destination.
Anyway, before we could spend a king’s ransom on a pauper’s meal, we had to get there and that in itself was a bit of an adventure.
Upon boarding the propeller-driven plane for the short jump to Seattle, I quickly learned the ceiling of the plane was only six-feet tall, I am four inches taller than that, so after bonking my head more than once, I developed a Quasimodo kind of walk to get up and down the narrow aisle way.
Upon reaching my spacious seating area I was quite appreciative of the short flying time as I squished into my assigned spot. Having to use the facilities mid-flight, I quickly learned the bathroom on said plane was just slightly larger than a hamster cage.
But before we knew it, we were landing in Seattle, where we would hop on a jet and head to sunny California – that is once we cleared the 357 security check points required to enter the U.S.A.
There was the typical checking of our passports and our luggage, carry on items and, of course, our shoes.
People have to take their shoes off for inspection before boarding a plane because of that nut job who tried to take out a flight with a pair of loaded loafers a few years back.
By stuffing his footwear with explosives he became known as ‘The Shoe Bomber.’ I am just grateful he was not known as the ‘Suppository Bomber,’ or taking flight would take on a whole new meaning.
Entering the U.S. would become a very personal experience, a little too personal actually.
Even though I was doing nothing wrong, I still felt a kind of nervous, especially after entering the immigration area of the Seattle airport and the first thing I see is a border guard snapping on a pair of rubber gloves.
I began to wonder just how thorough the search would be and if he would send me flowers when it was over.
The border guard we had was actually quite friendly and even joked around with us a little bit.
But despite being completely void of any wrong doing, I still felt somewhat intimidated. Maybe it is because everyone with a uniform on had a gun strapped to their hip. That is just not something you see in Canada.
After scanning our passports through a passport-checking machine, the guard compared our faces to the passport pictures, determined we were not a threat to national security and let us in.
The return to our homeland a week later was much more relaxed. There were two customs guys sitting in their booths, where as in Seattle there were about 3,000, and in Canada nobody had a gun.
A quick check of the passport was followed by a friendly welcome home without a rubber glove in sight.

Happy in Disneyland

One of things I remember most about my childhood excursion to the Happiest Place on Earth was the agonizingly long drive.
My dad hated to fly, so we all piled into a big blue van and spent the next several days cruising on the highways of the U.S. as we made our way to Disneyland.
To say my dad gets a little stressed in big city traffic is to say Moses went on a little camping trip.
But once we got there, dad relaxed and we did all of the tourist type things you are supposed to do and in general built memories that endure to this day.
When it was time to take the role of the dad leading his clan to the Magic Kingdom, I took a slightly different approach.
I am not a huge fan of flying. OK, who am I kidding, flying used to scare me stupid and the first time I went on a commercial jet I nearly had a heart attack every time the winged beast would hit a little turbulence.
But any concerns I had about spending a few hours in the air were far outweighed by the dread I had about spending three days driving there, and three days driving back, with a van load of kids.
We decided to let a travel agent make all the arrangements and in a matter of days return flights for five were made, as were accommodations, bus vouchers, multi-day passes to Disneyland and California Adventure parks, a day trip to Universal Studios and a pirate-themed dinner theatre.
Flight time from Kelowna to Orange County took around three hours. A short layover in Seattle added a couple of hours to the journey, but beat days of motoring by a long shot.
We chose to go the Magic Kingdom in mid-February because it is the off season, it is still warmer than the Okanagan in winter and we hoped the crowds would be lighter so we could avoid spending our vacation waiting in line.
Upon arriving I briefly questioned our strategy.
Catching a weather report our first evening in the hotel what we heard was “…the worst winter storm of the year will hit the area at around midnight…heavy rains…high winds…enjoy Disneyland suckers…”
We woke up to exactly what was predicted, but we were Canadians and we were not going to let a little weather stop us from having fun, so we grabbed our gear and off to the bus we went.
The Anaheim Regional Transit system offers reasonable rates with an adult ticket costing $4, and a child was a buck, which allowed us to ride all day and the Disneyland bus stopped at our hotel every 20 minutes.
The rain poured for several hours forcing us to buy authentic Disneyland raingear, for a premium price of course.
Initially, we thought the monsoon would detract from the experience, but we soon learned Californians are allergic to rain and going to Disneyland in precipitation makes them break out in a rash, so we pretty much had the place to our selves.
There were other people braving the weather of course, and I noticed many of them bore the Maple Leaf.
Most of the rides were indoors, or underground to be exact, and we got on them about as fast as we could wind our way through the turnstiles.
Our remaining days in Disney were sunny and beautiful, but the crowds were still light.
The Magic Kingdom is not immune from the current economic woes, and attendance has dropped 32 per cent. That is bad news for the bottom line, but good news for those waiting in line.
Fast passes are available for most rides. This is where your park entry ticket is scanned and a pass is given to go on a ride at a certain time. You won’t have to wait in line, but you can only have one fast pass at a time.
The big thing in the Magic Kingdom right now is 4-D shows. This is where 3-D is supplemented by physical attributes such as in the Bug’s Life show where as a termite ‘spits’ at the crowd, little drops of water hit you in the face. The chairs vibrate when ‘bugs’ walk under them and all sorts of little forms of interaction make for a humerous experience.
Then there were the rides. All of them were fun – some of them were fun in a throw-up-on-your-shoes sort of way, but they were fun none the less.
Between Disneyland Park and California Adventure there are rides for every taste. The California portion of the amusement park features adrenaline-pumping rides with lots of twists, turns, drops and G-forces, while the Disney area presents more relaxed and amusing rides.
The granddaddy of all Disney roller coasters was California Screamin’ where you were hurled at break neck speed up and down and doing all sorts of things typically reserved for air force fighter pilots.
The smaller roller coasters were still fun and they did not leave your spleen in your chest cavity.
There are the traditional rides that have been part of the Magic Kingdom since the beginning, and there are the newer rides that incorporate the latest in video and digital technology.
When I went to Disneyland as a 12 year old, I remember running around Tom Sawyer’s Island. It was memorable to watch my own children run around the same area having the same fun.
New memories were built with rides like the Tower of Terror – an elevator drop – and Indiana Jones that are as much a story as they are a ride. The detailed sets are amazing and add greatly to the experience.
Wherever you go there is something to look at, listen to or take part in. Street performers keep you entertained as you walk from attraction to attraction and the ever-popular Disney characters were in abundance.
Of course, every 10 metres is a souvenier stand, and as should be expected at such touristy destinations, the items are not at bargain-basement prices.
For a family of five, we found on-site food to be one of the biggest expenses. A hot dog for $7, or a cheeseburger for $8 were commonplace and that did not include a drink. Once you leave the grounds and cross the road to where there are a bevy of restaurants and hotels, prices are somewhat better.
When booking a hotel, look for one that includes a free breakfast. Ours had a well-stocked hot breakfast – including eggs, fruit, waffles and cereals – that saved us a considerable amount of money each morning.
We used cash, traveller’s cheques or credit cards for most purchases. I tried using my Canadian debit card a couple of times outside of Disney, but both times it was rejected. The cash machines in Disney happily accepted the Canuck bank cards and spit out as much cash as I could afford.
Credit cards are universal, but beware of less-than-spectacular exchange rates when the bill comes in.
One of the most important items to bring is comfortable footwear. The Disneyland train runs around the perimeter of the entire park, stopping at four main locations, but be prepared for a lot of walking.
A small bottle of hand sanitizer is also a good idea as thousands of people have touched the same rails, controllers or door handles you are about to.
Was Disneyland cheap? No. Was it worth it? Absolutely.
The value of a lifetime of family memories was well worth the expense of providing them.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Now that is scary

We all saw its shadow before we saw it.
“It” was a humungous rock spider that was walking out of the campfire. That’s right, I said walking out of the campfire.
It was the colour of granite with a big round body, huge fangs and a bad attitude.
It literally cast a shadow from the fire and was calmly walking within inches of the hot embers.
A friend of mine took a stick and poked the multi-legged terror and it reached up with one of its front legs grabbed the stick and slammed my friend to the ground.
OK, maybe it wasn’t that bad, but you could see it actually pushing the stick down a little bit.
My buddy was stunned at the strength of this thing and I felt a shiver go up my spine that lasted for the next 17 minutes.
I had visions of this Godzilla of the spider realm hiding in my sleeping bag or attacking me from below as I used the outdoor loo.
Any such interaction with the arachnid (especially the loo part) would cause me to squeal like a small, frightened school girl moments before I passed out.
Spider - one, big strong man - zero.
As we examined the spider he, or she, or whatever it was, took up a defensive pose and would push the stick every time it came near him.
I suggested we nuke the spider so it would never frighten small children or big adults again.
“Hey, why don’t you put on those leather work gloves, pick the spider up and throw it in the fire?” I suggested to my friend with the stick.
“Why don’t you?” was his response.
“Are you out of your mind? Look at that thing. I’m not going anywhere near it. Why do you think I suggested you do it?”
Four fully grown adults stood trembling in fear over a spider that probably weighed less than my fingernails, but no one was going near it – no matter what.
OK, plan A was a bust.
Plan B involved death from above and a bombing run using a five-pound stone was decided upon as the best way to rid the world of the grey terror that was holding us at bay.
I threw the rock and it kind of hit the spider on his side. He then seemed to bounce off the rock and the last we saw he was shooting across the hot embers to the other side of the fire.
No carcass was found so we assumed he had survived the assassination attempt which sent more chills up my spine (kind of like right now actually.)
This freaked all of us out as none of us are overly fond of spiders or any other type of insect for that matter.
I had more visions. This time it was of a wounded monster spider hiding in the woods, plotting its revenge, waiting for the perfect moment to attack.
Perhaps it would limp its way up the tree behind me, climb out on a limb and then drop onto my hair-challenged head.
“Eeeek,” does not even come close to what my reaction would be.
Maybe it would die a slow death, but survive long enough to pass on a message of vengeance to its 20,000 offspring.
That would be just my luck to have a small army of ticked off arachnids hunting me and my kin down to fulfill some sort of insect vendetta.
There were only so many rocks I could throw.
Fearing retribution, I conducted a more thorough search of the area around the campfire, but no sign of my new nemesis could be found.
Sure we all hatched the murder scheme, but it would be my scent on the rock. I don’t know if spiders can smell, but I do not want to take the risk.
We tried to relax around the fire and laugh off the incident, but deep down every one of us was keeping a close eye out for any sign of the spider of terror.
We have been back to that spot since that fateful night and have yet to be carried off into the woods by avenging insects, so our fears of a sci-fi like rebellion by an arachnid army are unfounded.My fear of spiders however, remains as strong as it ever has – perhaps even more.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Hockey, it's a funny ol' game

It’s not uncommon to have special guests at hockey games to make presentations or whatever it is they do.
It’s usually a dignitary of some sort, a special athlete or a celebrity and once I saw a drunk naked guy run across the ice making a (very) small presentation of his own.
While attending a game a few years back, I watched as Big Tom of Survivor fame walked to centre ice for the ceremonial face off.
Having never seen a hockey game in his life (which by Canadian standards is like never having eaten bread before), the big man flipped the puck into the air between the two team captains.
Everyone cheered and he waved to the crowd as he left the ice. He admitted in a later interview he was somewhat baffled by the game, but found it fast paced and interesting.
It is obvious Big Tom was not a Canadian.
In Canada, babies are born with hockey bred into them and before anyone knows it Junior is crawling around the house going, “Goo-goo, gaa-gaa. Pass it to the point. C’mon guys, get some traffic in front of the net. Goo-goo, gaa-gaa.”
Now, I am not a rabid hockey fan who would eat sautéed rat intestine for play off tickets, (OK, maybe if it were the Canucks) but I do like the game, as does most of the country.
I doubt if there is a community in the entire nation that does not have an ice surface of some sort – a frozen pond, arena, a pool someone forgot to drain, whatever.
There are super fans out there who would not miss a game if their leg was cut off. They would casually sew it back on during the first-period intermission so as not to miss any of the action.
Super fans also know every detail there is to know about the players on their favourite team and could probably challenge the player’s mom to a game of who knows more.
There are many customs and rituals to the game, both for the fans and the players.
I overheard one fan say everything was going to be fine because she had her lucky penny, pen and sock. Not socks, but sock - singular. I guess the other sock was evil and helped the opposing team.
But I am glad she did have all that gear, because if she didn’t, the team would have to rely on skill and determination to win. Viva la lucky foot covering.
Throwing a hat on the ice when a player scores three goals (it’s called a hat trick in case Big Tom is reading) is a popular action for hockey fans who didn’t mind spending the rest of the game with hat hair.
Some traditions are team specific as well, such as in Detroit where they throw an octopus on the ice.
How did this unique tradition start? I have no idea. Of course, the octopus probably doesn’t enjoy it and I am sure the Coalition of Octopus Lovers of America protest each time it happens.
Some traditions seem to be getting lost however.
I can remember taking in games years ago and the people in the arena (section H to be exact) were the loudest I have ever heard.
When an opposing player got a penalty, hundreds of people would yell, “You out. You out.”
With that many people yelling at the same time it sounded like “Ooog-Ugg, Ooog-Ugg.”
I did not know what ‘Ooog-Ugg’ was supposed to mean, but I cheered along merrily, just being happy to be out of the house.
Learning it was actually ‘You out’ made much more sense. But you don’t hear ‘You out’ or even ‘Ooog-Ugg’ at all anymore.
The age-old tradition of yelling at the referee is alive and well and sometimes people pursue their chastising of the zebras with a little too much gusto as headlines will attest to.
Then there are the play off traditions. The most common one is nobody shaves for the duration.
When I played minor hockey we wanted to be like the pros and follow tradition, but because most of us were barely able to grow peach fuzz, the shaving thing didn’t work so we had to come up with our own traditions.
One year, someone suggested we don’t wash our undershirts until the play offs were over. Being the braniacs that we were, we thought that was a great idea.
After the first game, the sweaty T-shirt worn under the shoulder pads was stuffed into the duffle bag until the next game. By game two it still wasn’t too bad, at least not compared to what it was going to be like because as luck would have it we kept on winning and before we knew it we were in the finals.
That’s about 15 games without washing the shirts. My dog kept trying to roll on my hockey bag. It was a special feeling to put that wet, clammy shirt on before a game.
However, it turned out to be an advantage during the games because we smelled so bad none of the other players would come near us.
We won the play offs, but had to drive a stake through the centre the offending shirts because they had become their own life form.
Hockey - what a great game.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Want mucus with that?

So I saw this promotion for some sort of cleansing diet and one of the selling features was a claim to be mucus free.
Hmmm, I am no dietary genius, but I would assume anything mucus free is better than anything loaded with mucus.
If that diet is claiming to be mucus free, does that mean there is a diet out there that boasts its mucus content?
“Try the green gelatin diet aid, now with extra mucus. For those tough cases, try the new elephant mucus, all the way from Africa.”
I doubt it will be a big seller, but it could help people lose weight because after eating all that mucus who could possibly hold down any real food.
Even saying the word mucus is unpleasant and I seriously doubt the inventor of the mucus-laden diet had both oars in the water, or even in the boat, or even knew what an oar was.
How would you like to be the person who has to market this plan? It would be easier to sell a time share in Baghdad.
Last year, my wife went on a cleansing diet (a completely mucus free diet) that lasted a gruelling 21 days and was supposed to free the body of all toxins and bad stuff.
From what I could see, all it did was free the body from any real food.
My wife is an amazing person, but she can get a little grumpy when she is hungry, so I was somewhat nervous to hear about her foray into the realm of dieting.
She was actually in good spirits throughout and only tried to attack me with a claw hammer once. It was my own fault, actually. I made the mistake of being on the same continent she was.
I am kidding of course. She maintained a pleasant demeanor for the entire time of torture, which is a testimony to just how strong of a person she is.
If I went that long without any real food, all the cats in the neighbourhood would mysteriously disappear.
“No Mrs. Jones, I haven’t seen Fluffy. What am I eating? Um, chicken, that’s right, it’s chicken. It’s not Fluffy or anything.”
At first she had to cut out certain food groups, like dairy products, which wasn’t too bad because she doesn’t drink milk or anything so she survived the first couple of days with relative ease. (It was easy for me anyway, because all I had to do was sit back and watch.)
A few more days later she had to cut out meat. This one really hurt because my entire family is a clan of carnivores who jump on hamburgers like a pack of jackals on a three-legged Chihuahua.
Then, she could only eat fruit and veggies. She slowly had to give up more and more food groups until all she was allowed to do was suck nutrition out of the air like a plant.
Once the peak of the cleansing diet was reached, she could start to reintroduce food groups to her menu until she was back to chowing down with the rest of her clan.
I feared for any cattle within striking range the day she was allowed to eat beef again. Let’s just say dead animal was on the menu that night.
I have to admit I was very impressed that she endured for the entire three weeks. A good friend of ours agreed to go on the diet the same day and she lasted about six hours, which is still two hours longer than I would have made it.
My wife said she felt better after the diet and that I should try it.
I had a better plan.
“How about I just tell you how great you did and we both rejoice in your success over a pizza loaded with mechanically separated meat products?”
I never did attempt the diet.
In fact, I have never been on a diet in my life.
When I was a teen, I was as skinny as a rail and used to take all sorts of protein supplements in an effort to gain weight.
It was kind of like the anti-diet I suppose. Anything that might help me pack on a few pounds was fair game, but for several years I barely gained a pound.
I could literally eat as much of anything I wanted and not gain an ounce.
It was when I turned 35 that this dietary disaster came back to bite me on the, well you know.
It was like I woke up one day and, phooomp – I had an ever expanding portable food storage facility attached to my waist.
While I am hardly tubby, or built like an American – watch the news and see how many obese Yankees you can spot, it’s fun for the whole family – I could stand to lose a few pounds.
The battle of bulge is being waged and so far the bulge is holding its own.
While I have not jumped head first into a full-blown diet, I’ve got to admit I am trying to be a little more careful with what I eat.
But no matter what is on the dinner plate, I can guarantee it is all 100 per cent mucus free.

Computers are evil

The more I use them, the more I am convinced computers have been placed on this earth to drive me crazy. I suspect I am not alone in my assessment of the ‘marvels’ of science.
Many movies have been made about computers running rampant and destroying humanity. I say we are almost there.
The electronic beasts have effectively taken over the world and are in control of everything from traffic lights to international banking.
They were supposed to make life easier, but as my home computer proved this week that’s like saying alcohol makes people smarter.
My computer had been acting up for some time and the other day it gave the electronic version of a death gurgle and shut down.
My computer at work is in good shape, but it still drives me crazy. As I was typing that very sentence I accidentally hit a combination of keys and this red line and information bubble suddenly appeared in the middle of the column telling me what I had just deleted.
Thanks, but I know what I just deleted because I was the one who deleted it.
Then there is the perennial problem of the electronic terror crashing without warning. One minute you are merrily working away, your fingers happily caressing the mouse and then - BAM – you are left staring at an error message.
I think I know why quirky little things happen when using the infernal machines: computers are evil.
More than once I have wished I could bring a computer to life just so I could have the pleasure of killing it.
“Hi, I’m your computer. I have just come to life.”
“Really, that’s great.”
“Reboot that.”
Acting as a buffer between feeble-minded computer users – I’m not mentioning any names here - and the technologically bloated machines are the tech experts, who are sometimes referred to as geeks.
I, of course, would never call them that and have a deep and heart-felt respect for their astounding ability to communicate with said machine, and to correct whatever digital crisis the device may be enduring.
I really mean that. I am not just saying it because there’s a chance the company tech will read this and take offence to being called a geek.
Because if he were to take offence to the comment (which I am not making) the next time I go scampering to him for help, he might just stick his fingers in his ears and go, “La-la-la-la-la” until I went away.
Or worse, he might put his hands over his eyes and say, “Where’d the tech go? Where is he? He’s all gone.”
When it comes to fixing computers I am lost after re-booting, which is the first thing I do no matter the problem.
Smoke and flames could be pouring from the hard drive and my first course of action would be to reboot. If rebooting doesn’t work, I might try hitting it on the side like the Fonz would have done. I would like to add that never works on computers or anything else for that matter.
I would then think bad thoughts about the computer, wish it were alive and I had a gun and then go running to our most beloved in-house computer tech who is not unlike a knight in shinning armor waiting to battle the evil, glitch-breathing dragon that has dared attack one of his flock.
Techs are busy people, and one time I explained the problem, but he was too busy to tend to the matter immediately, so he rattled off some possible solution and asked if I knew how to do it.
I said I didn’t have to know how to do it. That’s what he was for.
He corrected the problem in about four seconds.
“The least you could do was make it look difficult so I could salvage some shred of self worth. Maybe spend a whole minute fixing it or something, I mean, c’mon will ya. Every body is watching.”
The only computer course I have taken in my life was in high school and, at the risk of aging myself, they weren’t really computers as much as electronic type writers with monitors. True computers with hard drives and all those other fancy gizmos were not available to our school yet.
I can remember some of the computer geeks, um, I mean, future computer experts getting all excited about the new-fangled device. They would scurry about the hallways with floppy discs, salivating at the opportunity of spending more time with their electronic mistress.
I didn’t learn a lot about computers during the course. Part of the reason may be because it was the first year it was offered and some of the smarter students were showing the teacher how to do things.
By the time the school year was over, the ‘computers’ we were learning on were outdated by several computer generations and the knowledge we learned was only good for reminiscing about the good ol’ days when men were men and computers were just another gadget.
Maybe I’ll just sit back and wait for this whole computer “fad” to end.
I have a feeling it’s going to be a long wait.