Friday, May 27, 2011

Cool it

It would happen every year.
Every summer, as the heat wave melted my feet into the laminate flooring of my castle, I would swear next year we are getting an air conditioner.
Right now there are more than likely a few shocked faces out there that someone could live in the Okanagan for 20 years and not have an a/c unit cooling the sweltering days of summer.
But for two decades, we endured the heat of an Okanagan summer with nothing more to cool us down than a bank of fans and wearing as little as possible (my apologies for the visual.)
At the peak of each heatwave, we would swear that next year we are getting air conditioning, even if I have to sell my mother-in-law to do it.
The springtime was always welcomed as the mercury started to rise and I basked in the glow of that big orange ball in the sky like a lizard on a rock.
But like clockwork every July we would start to mutter about how hot it is and how nice a/c would be. But we did not have a/c so we would go for leisurely strolls through the mall to get some heat relief.
By mid-August, when it traditionally gets hot enough to fry an egg on my bald forehead, we would vow to get the unit that would bring so much relief. No ifs, ands or buts. Next year, it is going to happen.
But then September would arrive, the temperature would drop to slightly less than the surface of the sun and we realized we survived yet another Okanagan summer without the benefit of the big machine that goes 'mmmmmm' and provides the refreshing coolness we enjoyed so much at the mall.
Then winter would hit and the last thing on our minds was air conditioning. Memories of sweating so bad you would lose five pounds just sleeping were forgotten ñ until the next summer.
Then it was back to the same old whine about how hot it was, how hard it is to sleep and perhaps we should move to the Yukon where they don't know what a hot Okanagan summer is.
That plan was always ñ and I do mean always ñ quashed as soon as it was hatched, because a Yukon summer may not be as hot, but the Yukon winter is a lot colder than anything the Valley could come up with and the only thing I dislike more than being too hot, is being too cold.
So, it was back to the whining and proclamations that next year we would get an a/c unit.
Well folks, after years of swearing we were getting a/c put into our house, we are getting an a/c unit put into our house.
Hallelujah, brothers and sisters. Can you give me an amen.
And unlike the numerous times in the past when we swore we would get the big box, this time we have actually ordered the unit and set up a time for the a/c guy to come by and hook us up to the delightful mechanism that will provide relief when it is most needed.
I don't know his name, or anything about him, but the a/c installer dude is now one of my best friends. Who wouldn't like someone who is making such a difference in your life?
Of course he is not doing it out of the kindness of his heart, and a/c units are not cheap, but the thought of sitting in my livingroom and sweating to the point where I look like Frosty the Snowman after he was locked in that greenhouse over ruled the expense.
Damn the money, I need coolness this year.
So if anyone out there wants to buy a mother-in-law...

Slicing and dicing my finger

I knew what happened the instant it happened.
Even before the pain went from my little finger to my little brain I knew I had screwed up.
I was trimming the top of a rather tall cedar hedge when I nearly lopped off the baby finger on my left hand.
I was half-way up a four-metre ladder and was reaching to the far side of the hedge when disaster struck. Sure, I could have moved the ladder over a little bit, but that would mean climbing down the ladder, moving it a few inches, climbing back up...It just seemed like too much effort, so I decided to reach for it instead.
Before I continue I have never claimed to be overly bright, something loyal readers will confirm no doubt.
To get to the far side of the top of the hedge I reached out as far as I could, holding the electric trimmer in one hand. No problem and all went well until I brought the trimmer back to the near side of the top of the hedge where my little finger did its impression of a branch and the trimmer did its impression of a trimmer chopping up my finger.
As soon as I felt the little metal teeth of the trimmer hit my finger, I knew what I had done. There was nothing else to do but wait for the pain, and stop the bleeding.
The pain arrived ñ big time ñ as did the blood.
It is amazing how much plasma you can distribute upon the earth from a few chops with a recipricating metal blade.
I climbed down the ladder just as the Missus came outside to see me holding my finger with blood dripping to the ground, creating a kind of CSI home edition thing.
My wife is a nurse, so the injury did not phase her and she leapt into immediate action, and grabbed guaze and whatever else she needed all the while doing her best to stifle any and all comments of the humerous variety.
When the kids heard dad had cut his finger they came running out to survey the scene.
ìYou mean you didn't cut it off? Awwww, bummer.î
ìThanks kids. I'm OK, really. Don't worry about your ol' dad. He's a trooper. He'll be fine. Thanks for caring.î
Once the bleeding was under control it was off to the walk-in clinic for some up close and personal care from the doctor.
I spent the mandatory time in the waiting room and was escorted into the little doctor room where the doctor does all of his medical type things.
In this case, the first thing he did was cause me a lot more pain.
The sadist, I mean doctor, put a needle directly into the wound and it took a few seconds before the freezing kicked in ñ a few long and painful seconds.
ìThis may sting a little.î
A little? Did you just say a little?
ìHey doc, I am going to poke you in the eye with a scalpel. Now this might sting a little...î
But once the freezing kicked in all was forgiven. Actually it wasn't, but the man was about to sew up a body part so I felt I should be on my best behaviour.
I set a record that day ñ eight stitches ñ beating my previous record by two.
I no longer have feeling in the very tip of that finger, but that is OK, considering how much feeling I had when it was chopped and stuck with a needle, not feeling anything sounds good to me.

Choice and change

Life is full of changes.
Some of the changes we choose, some of them are thrust upon us whether we want them or not.
When my wife and I had our first child, it was by choice and not a case of ìYOU'RE WHAT!?î
No, that change was thought out, planned out and carried out.
I must admit, I had the easy part in the pregnancy department. All I had to do was, um, er, well you know. My wife was the one who had to carry around this growing little human for nine months, all the while making things like kidneys, lungs and all those other little bits it is best to have a child born with.
After nine months, the little woman had quite enough of being pregnant. If the choice was hers, she would have been in the delivery room the exact day of her due date, but Junior decided to be stylishly late and was born almost two weeks beyond his expected arrival time.
Folks, that was a long two weeks. The Missus was bigger than a Volkswagen, she was retaining more water than the Titanic and was so hot I could roast marshmallows off her belly.
She was also a tad on the cranky side, and by a tad I mean a pack of rabid, post-Apocalyptic trolls wouldn't have messed with her.
But eventually, on a beautiful summers day, Junior arrived.
Having read books, taken pre-natal classes and talked to other people with kids, we thought we knew what we were in for ñ just like all new (see naive) parents.
Once we got Junior home, the work began and there was a lot of crying and wailing, but eventually I calmed down and discovered parenthood was not that bad.
Having a child was a choice we made, a choice we repeated two more times and are choices I have never regretted. Even the teen years brings moments of parenting pleasure where they are perfect little angels ñ like when they are asleep.
Anyway, I was talking about choices and I recently made a choice to apply for a new job. After my first in-person interview since 1986 – that's right, I said 1986 – I was offered, and chose to accept the position.
The decision brings with it an end to a 21-year newspaper career. I chose to go to college and learn how to become a reporter and photographer, and now I am choosing to leave.
Two decades in the newspaper industry have been at times exhilarating, at other times demoralizing and at other times down right scary.
I never could get used to people threatening me with bodily harm simply for trying to do my job.
My new gig will likely see me spending more time chained to a desk and less time running around with a camera and a notebook.
And I am OK with that. I am happy with the choice I made.
But wait, what about my column that several people have come to regard as something they read in a newspaper?
Fear not, I hope to continue these ramblings, even though I am no longer a staffer at this fine, upstanding publication.
Filling this space with my sometimes pointless, occasionally immature but hopefully always entertaining ramblings has been one of my favourite parts of the job for almost five years now. (The other favourite part was going home at the end of the day.)
Some people like it, some don't.
To those who like it, I say 'thank you.' You obviously have good taste, and are an intelligent breed of human. To those who don't like it – too bad.
See ya next Sunday.

Ouch that hurts

I'm not saying I'm a super tough guy, or even a marginally tough guy but I can take a certain amount of pain.
Growing up, I played hockey which brings with it bumps, bruises and more bruises, and I rode dirt bikes for many years ñ which brings even more bumps and bruises.
Riding dirt bikes is not the painful part, it's the falling off that hurts. Actually, the falling off part does not even hurt, but more accurately, it is the landing that causes the pain.
Funny thing about hitting the ground covered in gravel and large rocks, commonly referred to as death cookies, there is not a lot of give, and when you crash there is no escaping the pain.
We had a saying when it came to dirt biking, ìIf you don't crash, you are not riding hard enoughî and some days I was riding really hard. (I have the scars to prove it.)
I have done some martial arts in my lifetime which also involves pain, but as in love, when it comes to martial arts it is better to give than receive ñ way better.
In fact, the goal is to give as much as you can. Problem is, the goal is the same for everyone in the room so there is no way to avoid a little receiving.
When it came to martial arts I had a saying, ìYou're not having fun until it hurtsî and some classes I was having a lot of fun.
Paintball has a similar philosophy and there is no way you can get through a game without getting hit at least once, and yes, it does hurt. My personal best is getting 'shot' 13 times. I looked like I had a case of some sort of weird measles mutation that left dots the size of loonies, and by dots I mean welts.
But just like riding motorcycles and martial arts, getting hurt is part of the game.
Like I said, I am not a tough guy by any stretch, I just happen to have hobbies that involve pain.
Over the years I have broken both big toes, absolutely shattered one little toe and had various injuries, which is why what happened the other day is so embarrassing.
I was at the skin doctor to have this little procedure done. It was not a big deal, just a minor little, tiny procedure ñ no problem for a 'tough' guy, right?
The doc asked if I was allergic to freezing, which I am not, before she stuck a needle in my scalp to freeze the area to remove the whatever it was.
As soon as the needle broke the skin I nearly passed out. I became dizzy, clammy and could feel the tunnel vision starting. All of that from a tiny, little needle.
The sharp pain of the needle lasted a couple of seconds, but I thought I was going to hit the ground like a fat guy trying to skip rope.
I recovered quickly and did some deep breathing to avoid a close up look at the floor.
Why that happened I do not know.
I have had needles before for various things without a problem, but for some reason this needle had my name on it and threatened to take me down.
There have been a couple other times in my life where a tiny amount of pain nearly takes me out of reality, and not in the good way.
So, for some reason big pain does not seem to bother me all that much, but a tiny little pin prick nearly drops me to my knees.
Go figure.

Oprah who??

I have a secret.
A dark, shameful secret I have shared with no one, but now I will reveal it to the world. Well, maybe not to the world, but at least to who ever is reading this, but I shall reveal my secret nonetheless.
I have never watched an episode of Oprah.
Shock. Dismay and what is this guy talking about?
Never seen an episode of Oprah? Unheard of.
It may be shocking, but it is true. Not even once in a quarter of a century have I sat down to watch what's-her-name do her TV show.
Oprah ended her lengthy run last month to much fanfare and even a few tears from fans. OK, I can understand people wanting to watch the last episode and it is the end of an era (I guess anyway), but to cry because one of the richest people on the planet will no longer be on TV seems a little over the top.
And come on, does anyone really believe Oprah won't be back on the boob tube.
She has her own channel. She can go on TV whenever she feels like it. She can disrupt pretty much any show she wants because she owns the entire network.
"We interrupt this program because Oprah told us to, and when Oprah tells us to do something, we do it."
"Hi, I'm Oprah, remember me from the Oprah show? Of course you do. Now everyone look at me, I'm on TV again."
But Oprah is not the only popular show I have never seen. I have never watched a single episode of Survivor.
I know, more shock and dismay, but what can I tell you, the show just never appealed to me.
I caught about eight minutes of one of a show during the first season, but watching a naked guy run around a tropical island just did not turn my crank.
I may have watched a few minutes of the show here and there of the years, but I have never witnessed a full episode and I am OK with that.
I know some people who are rabid survivor fans and would not miss an episode if they cut off a body part.
ìIt's OK, honey, it's just my left arm, and besides, I am right handed. Maybe they can re-attach it after Survivor. I must admit, this will make it a little more challenging to clap, but...î
ìPlease be quiet, Survivor is on. And stop bleeding on the carpet.î
Dancing with the Stars. Never seen it. Ever.
I know it has something to do with TV and movie stars who are dancing, but beyond that my knowledge is rather limited. I do know the 'stars' are typically B or even C listers who are so desperate to get in front of the camera again they are willing prance around each week and risk humiliation to do it.
I wonder when Lidsay Lohan will be on?
If the whole retirement thing does not work out for Oprah, there's always DWTS I suppose.
Another super popular show I have never watched ñ American Idol.
What? He's kidding, right?
Nope. I have not become an Idol worshipper, but I must add that I have watched the tryouts on occasion, just to see how horribly some people sing.
Wow, a cat caught in a weed whacker would sound better than a lot of those people. Who told them they can sing in the first place?
Perhaps they never heard the 'thou shalt not lie' commandment.
Hmmm, I wonder if what's her name can sing and dance?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Time with my dad

I was doing some odd jobs around the homestead the other day when I came across an old and weathered screwdriver.
The plastic handle had a variety of paint colours on it, testimony to a life of use and not just sitting on the shelf.
The moment I set eyes on it I was instantly taken back to the days of my childhood, or more accurately, to spending time working with my dad.
I can remember using that screwdriver as a chisel, paint can opener ñ hence the multi-colour motif - a scraper and, occasionally, as a screwdriver.
That screwdriver had been nothing more than a tool, like countless others I have used, but in that moment, it became more than just a piece of chipped metal with a beaten, clear plastic handle.
In that moment, it became a physical link to my past, to my childhood, to working side-by-side with my dad building green houses for our tree nursery, or painting the house.
Holding that slot screwdriver in my hands I could see my dad in his much younger days and how in awe I was of his size ñ he was a large, powerful man ñ of his ability to build just about anything that needed to be built and his tireless work ethic.
When he was not working as a brakeman for the railroad, he was maintaining our two acres of land, half of which was a nursery that kept the entire family busy through all the sunny months.
I spent many hours working next to my father. At the time I did not appreciate what it meant to spend that much time with my dad.
I just saw it as work, as a way to make money, and to be honest, it was something I just had to do. I was the oldest son so it fell to me to help out around the family business.
I was the only kid in Grade 8 with a job.
But I can look back now and see how that job was much more than a source of income. It was one generation passing his wisdom and experience on to the next.
I don't know if dad even realized it, because at the time there was a lot of work to be done and we were the ones who had to do it.
But as we spent hour after hour working the land ñ literally ñ there would be times when we would talk and he would impart his hard-earned wisdom upon his son.
I doubt there were many of my peers who spent as much time with their fathers as I did.
I used to be upset that dad and I never really played together, it was always work, work, work. But, at the end of the day it does not really matter how you spend time together, as long as you do.
Some say quality time makes up for a lack of time, but I disagree. Quality time is fun, but quantity is invaluable.
I have tried to spend time with my sons, and we would all go camping, or riding bikes, go to little league games or whatever we could do as a family where I did my best to pass on the wisdom I had gained and that had been passed to me.
It may have started out as a screwdriver, made in some non-descript factory in the United States, but it has become a fond treasure, a physical link to the past that will forever remind me of working side-by-side with my father.
The screwdriver is in retirement now, far more valuable as a memory than a tool.

For my friend, Greg

I remember the first day we met.
I was only four years old, but the memory is as clear as any I can recall.
"Hi, I'm Darren."
"Hi, I'm Greg. Do you want to play?"
And that was it. From such simple begins a friendship was launched that continues today.
When I first met Greg, his family was moving into their new home. We lived out in the sticks, a rural area a that was a kind of its own little community. It took 20 minutes or so to drive in to town, and when you are a little kid that is a long time so we felt like we were way out in the boonies.
Greg's family moved in a couple years after mine, and when I met him he was smashing a humungous anthill with big rocks while his parents and whoever moved furniture into their home.
Smashing the anthill looked like fun so I figured I would get in on the action and that is how we spent our afternoon ñ dive bombing red ants with rocks.
For the next decade we were pretty much inseparable. We had fun together and we got into trouble together.
Like the time we nearly set an entire mountain on fire. It was a hot summer day and being kids and not too bright, we were having a good ol' time lighting small piles of grass on fire and then stomping the out.
We thought this was great fun, but each time we lit a small fire we would let it burn a little longer before putting it out. What we did not factor in was the wind and the tinder-dry conditions, because on what would turn out to be the last fire we did not put it out fast enough and kind of set a big patch of tumbleweeds ablaze.
We ran to his house where his dad, who ironically was a fire fighter, grabbed a hose and he and some neighbours put out the blaze before it did any real damage.
To say we were in trouble was an understatement.
We also spent countless hours riding our peddle bikes, climbing mountains and running through the woods.
At around 15 years old, we drifted apart. Our interests took us in different directions, and it was a few years before we would run in to each other again.
And when we did see each other it was like no time had passed ñ that is how true friendship works.
All of those memories of our childhood and the re-establishing of our relationship in my early 20s have been dominating my thoughts as of late.
You see, earlier this month I received a call from Greg's wife saying doctors had found a brain tumor.
I have not not seen Greg very much over the past few years. Life, work, kids and a variety of obligations got in the way.
But as he faces this most dire challenge, I am rallying to my friend's side. I wish I had spent more time with him over the past few years, but I always said I would see him another day, today was just too busy.
I do not know what the prognosis is for Greg. He will be having surgery and undergoing whatever medical procedures he needs.
I do not know what the future holds, but I know the past has taught me to value the important things. When you are so busy living life, you miss out on what life is all about.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Beware the bugs

I saw it coming about 100 metres away.
At first, it was a black speck off in the distance, but as I cruised down the highway at the legally posted speed limit on my motorcycle, the black dot got bigger and bigger until it looked like an eagle wearing a bug costume.
It was Jurassic bug.
This sucker was huge. I could literally see it coming. There was little I could do to avoid it as it was flying right down the middle of the road. I had only a few seconds between spotting it and hitting it, or it hitting me.
This thing was of such bulk I actually felt it hit my shoulder with a thud/splat combination.
I felt kind of bad because I am sure I had just killed the last of an ancient, 10-billion year old line of bugs that used to buzz T-Rex and his friends.
Somehow this thing had survived in some sort of stasis and awoke just seconds before flying into my riding jacket at 90 kilometres an hour (the posted speed limit.)
When I got to work I was mildly repulsed at the bug guts-black jacket motif I had created.
But when you ride, interactions of the bug variety are impossible to avoid.
A buddy of mine took a junebug to the visor once at about 160 k.p.h. and the impact actually damaged the clear plastic screen bolted to his cranium protector.
It snapped his head back and nearly knocked him off his bike, but it also gave him a great story to tell about flying critters and bikes without windjammers.
Another bug incident happened to a different friend who was riding down a lonely road late at night.
He was ahead of me and as he came around a tight corner and under a street light, he rode into a solid mass of white moths.
He gritted his teeth and plowed through. Problem was, when he gritted his teeth he must have opened his lips a little bit because he immediately pulled over and scraped several of the winged beasts from his pearly whites.
I had a full-face helmet on so I just sat back, watched and had good chuckle as he pulled bug guts from his gums.
It is reasons like this I cannot understand how anyone can ride a motorcycle without some sort of face shield. Be it a big windscreen, a full-faced helmet or something.
Years ago when I used to have a life, a few of us would get together once in a while and go screaming down to the Coast for a couple of days of fun and frivolity.
Often we would pop into a bike shop in Washington State where – at the time anyway – riders did not have to wear a helmet.
I can remember crossing the border, strapping the helmet to the back of the bike and thinking, “Is this ever going to be cool, ripping down the road, the wind in your face, feeling free.”
I had thoughts alright, but they were more along the lines of, “Does this ever suck. The wind is plastering my face and all the dirt, grit and bugs are sandblasting my pretty features.”
OK pretty is waaaay too much of a stretch, but if anyone wanted to get rid of wrinkles, just go for a high-speed ride without a helmet and all the crap in the air would blast those wrinkles away.
Of course, if you crash without a helmet, wrinkles would be the least of your worries.
Even if you survive cracking your cranium, there is a good chance you will be getting crayons for Christmas for the rest of your life.
I think I rode for about five minutes without a helmet before pulling over and putting that wonderful piece of cloth, foam and fibreglass back on.
I did learn one thing – you do have to be tough to ride without a helmet – you might not be too bright, but you have to be tough.
I kept looking at the ground and thinking the only thing between my skull and the pavement was a thin layer of hair and for me it was a very thin layer of hair.
I also thought about that junebug my friend encountered and realized riding without a helmet is not that cool after all.
In less time than it takes to boil and egg, I accepted I was a wimp and wanted my helmet back. I missed the protection if offered and felt naked without it and nobody wants to see me naked – trust me on this one.

Have a heart (that works properly)

There are some days in your life that stand out more than others.
The birth of my children are days I will never forget.
Thereís also my wedding day and my wifeís birthday. Mind you those last two are more self preservation than anything else because if I forget those, Iíll be sleeping in the garage.
A day of personal significance is Oct. 20, 2003. Thatís the day I got to see the inner workings of the emergency room from a patientís point of view.
I have had atrial fibrillation my entire life and normally it has not been a problem, but on this day it was. I like to call it A-Fib, kind of like J-Lo or A-Rod.
I also call it the flippity-flop, because thatís what it feels like your heart is doing in your chest ñ flopping around. In reality, the atrium is beating at a different rate than the ventricle, causing a very weird sensation.
Millions of people have it, and considering it is a heart murmur it is not too hazardous and will not likely lead to a heart attack.
Worst case scenario is the blood pools in your heart and form clots which can enter your brain and cause a stroke ñ which doesnít sound like a whole lot of fun now that I think about it.
Fortunately, there are medications to keep the flippity-flop under control.
Anyway, I woke up Oct. 20 with my heart jumping around my chest like one of those cartoon characters when they see a pretty girl.
I waited for it to settle down, which it usually did, but on this day it refused to go away, so I got to go on an all-expense paid trip to the emergency room.
Itís not the first time I have been to the ER, but it was the first time I went there for myself. On recent visits, it was my young daughter who needed medical attention for her asthma.
Of course, an asthma attack can't happen during the day. It has to happen at 2 a.m.
During one family visit to the ER, police escorted a man into the ward wearing a torn shirt-handcuff ensemble, complete with tattoos and bad attitude.
I am not sure what he was doing there, but I heard someone mention an accident and I thought if he got into an MVA while he was DUI he is SOL.
There were drunk people in there, or people on drugs or someone who had been in a fight ñ all in all it was an interesting crowd.
When I went in for my heart, it was in the morning and I was surrounded by the geriatric crowd, so it was much quieter.
Nurses hooked me up to a variety of machines to see what my heart was doing only to come to the conclusion I was in full AF. No duh.
They gave me a couple types of medicines, but nothing worked so the doctor said they were going to have to zap me. I am sure he used a much more professional doctor-type phrase, but you get the idea.
The nurse said they were going to put me under and she injected some sort of knock-out medicine in my arm.
I can remember looking at her as she asked how I was doing.
"I'm feeling pretty groovy," was the last thing I remember saying before waking up 15 minutes later.
My heart felt normal and I felt good.
ìWe hit you with 100 jules at first, but that didnít work so we had to hit you with 200,î said the doctor who looked younger than my dog.
My first thought was, why didnít you just hit me with 200 in the first place, but I am not a doctor and I am sure he knew what he was doing.
Or he just wanted to play with some of the cool machines he had lying about and he thought it looked neat when I got zapped.
"Watch how his leg sticks straight up every time I push the red button. Cool. Sure, you can try it. Hey guys, címere you gotta check this out."
Either way I left feeling much better than when I showed up.