Sunday, June 29, 2014

Junior is done with high school, now the expensive part begins

Junior graduated from high school last week and I couldn't be prouder.
It took a lot of hard work to get the amazing grades he pulled down. He made the principal's list every single semester of high school.
I made the principal's list only once, and I still maintain my innocence noting there was not enough evidence to convict me or they would, er, ah anyway, back to Junior.
He made the list in a good way and he deserved it.
Of course his mom and I helped out a lot, well, his mom helped a lot.
Don't get me wrong, I did my part: I turned the TV down so they could concentrate better on that trigon-whatcha-callit stuff.
Math is not my specialty and when you throw a few letters in there, I am more lost than a certain Senator trying to remember where he lives.
I did help where I could, which I must admit was not in very many areas.
I took a quick look at one of his math text books and knew I made the right decision to pursue a career that used words and not numbers.
One of the questions in the book was something like X + Y x K = ? I'll tell you what it equals – a headache and a feeling of intellectual inadequacy.
However, Junior is like his mom and just understands how numbers work so trigonometry (I can spell it, I just can't do it), algebra and other forms of numeric torture were right up his alley.
The only pie I can figure out is apple and lemon meringue (I knew how to spell that too, sort of).
The last few years of school, Junior was grooming his courses to help him become a civil engineer and now all he has to do is four years of university and he is there.
Unless he keeps going with his long-term goal to become an architect, then he is looking at a total of seven years. I don't know how much all that education is going to cost, but I am pretty sure I will have to sell a kidney to help cover the bills.
It was not easy for Junior to get such good grades and many was the evening he would be hunched over a stack of books while his friends were working on a stack of empties. I am sure he would much rather have been with his buddies, but he is focussed and driven and that is something you just can't teach someone.
Some of his buddies are going to northern Alberta to make their fortune aiding in the destruction of the environment, a.k.a. working in the oilsands.
But not Junior, he is an eye-on-the-prize kinda guy and at the age of 18 he already knows that while his friends will be making big money immediately, in a few years he will be an engineer making even more money without having to live in a work camp half the time.
Like I said, he is a smart kid; definitely gets that from his mother.
I had no such foresight when I was in high school. School was such a horrendous experience for me, all I could think about was getting out.
I nearly quit a few times, but toughed it out and graduated with a solid C average. I showed them the meaning of the word mediocre.
It was not exactly a glowing report card, but it was enough to get me out of high school, which is all I wanted to do.
When I finally did get around to a post secondary education, I had a B+ average – who knew.
I can not help but brag a little about how big Junior's brain is and about how focussed he is on his long-term goals.
As a dad, that's part of my job. The other part is to help him pay for university. Anyone want to buy a kidney?

Copywrite 2014 Darren Handschuh

Thursday, June 26, 2014

It is a weird world out there

It is a strange world out there and the more news you read, the stranger it gets.
A company in the United States is in hot water for forcing its employees to 'pray' at work and to tell management 'I love you.'
The aunt of the company's founder invented a religion called Onionhead (yup, that is what it's really called) and employees were forced to participate. Those who didn't were demoted and eventually fired.
There is, of course, all sorts of legal action taking place because of the violation of people's freedom of religion.
Several employees were also upset about having to profess their love for management. I have wanted to say a lot of things to management, but 'I love you' was never one of them.
On the other side of the world, North Korean leader Kim Jung-un (which, loosely translated I believe means raging nut job) is upset about inaccurate weather forecasts.
Hey, join the club Chubby.  Who hasn't planned a camping trip, picnic or hike based on a prediction of beautiful weather only to end up feeling like Noah on day 29.
Weather people never get the weather right. It has got to be one of the only jobs in the world where you can be wrong 90 per cent of the time and still get paid. The other jobs are politicians and upper management.
A man in the U.K. credits the Scooby Doo costume he was wearing for saving him from injury after being attacked during a pub crawl to celebrate his friend's birthday (who was dressed as Batman, of course)
A 40-year-old woman attacked the man who said the padding in the suit saved him.
When police arrived, the woman was arrested for the attack, but managed a plea deal where she would be sent to rehab to deal with her serious Scooby-snack addiction.
Back in the United States a man is selling his entire video game collection which consists of a whopping 11,000 titles. He also has numerous game consols, including some that were never released in North America.
The Guiness World Record-setting collection is estimated to be worth around $700,000.
When asked what he will do with the money, he said he hopes to move out of his mom's basement and maybe even kiss a girl some day.
Still in the good old U.S. of A., Florida law enforcement officials arrested the wrong woman – twice.
The lady had the same name as a culprit they were after, but was several years younger and five inches shorter.
Not letting such details deter them, police arrested the single mother and she spent the next four weeks in jail until someone realized they had made a mistake and let her go.
A month later, the woman was in court to clear up the debacle of her first arrest when some enterprising officers noticed her name and arrested her again, once again thinking she was the criminal they were after.
This time, she spent a week in jail before someone figured it out.
She is now one of the most popular women in Florida – with lawyers anyway, who are lining up around the block for the chance to represent her in any possible legal action.
That is if she can stay out of jail long enough to file legal action.
Perhaps Florida police can spend a little more time looking for real criminals, like the 450-pound man with a unique place to stash marijuana.
The man, whose nickname is Fat Boy, was a passenger in a car that police stopped because he was not wearing a seatbelt.
Fat Boy said his gerth would not allow it, but the more police talked to him and the driver, the more suspicious they became so they called in a canine unit to sniff around.
The dog found cocaine in the car and then began sniffing the man's ample belly where police found almost an ounce of pot hidden in one of the fat folds of his gut.
Upon further searching they also found the remains of Jimmy Hoffa and Amelia Earhart's plane.

Copywrite 2014 Darren Handschuh

Monday, June 23, 2014

Terror lurks under the deck

It was not a good job for someone with arachnophobia.
The fear of eight-legged creepy crawlies can be terrifying at worst (and at best actually, because I really do hate spiders.)
Nothing in this world ― not a visit from the inlaws, a trip to the dentist, not even other bugs, scare me as much as a spider.
So with that manhood-shriveling fear in mind, you can understand why I was so reluctant to clean under the back deck of my humble home.
When we moved in to the house, the space under the deck was open and really not good for anything, so I put my vast array of carpentry 'skills' to work and enclosed the area with  two-by-fours and plywood.
The first thing I needed was tools and thanks to a watchful eye, I spotted several much-needed pieces of equipment in local flyers, the discount section of hardware stores and yard sales and soon I had an arsenal of mass construction. 
All of this was purchased with my wife's consent – more or less anyway.
Eventually I had everything I needed from a compound mitre saw (my favourite new tool) to a framing-finishing-gun-air-compressor combo (my second fav tool.)
Feeling like a real carpenter, I even bought one of those little pouch thingies carpenters wear to hold their hammer, nails, pencil, measuring tape, sawdust and what ever else happened to land in all those pockets.
The job didn't take long, and before I could say 'Why won't this stupid board fit, I measured it three times,' the job was done.
I was pleased with my mastery over wood products and the prowess I possessed in building such a fine enclosure.
Three walls, two doors and a window were all done by someone with marginal carpentry experience. 
Next came filling the newly created enclosure with stuff I wanted to store. First were the kid's bikes that could finally be kept under lock and key. After having three bikes 'liberated' from my yard it was becoming rather tiresome, but since I completed the addition to my home not a single bike has wondered off.
As time crept along, more and more items ended up under the deck, some of which had not been moved for years.
But along with the structural addition to my home came another addition: a breeding ground for spiders. At first it was not too bad, but after a few years there were more spider webs in that little space than moustaches in Mexico.
It was also getting full of leaves and dust and clutter, so I decided it was time to charge in and clean it out.
The first task was to move everything out of the area. Actually that was the second task, the first was to get a good pair of leather work gloves so I would not run the risk of my skin coming in contact with an arachnid.
When I moved a box and saw a wolf spider – that was actually larger than a real wolf – scurry away, I knew it was time to call in the heavy artillery: my shop vac.
With the longest tube extensions I possessed, my peak 5.5 horsepower spider killer was ready to go. I would move items with one hand and vacuum with the other. I sucked up roughly 2,347 pounds worth of spider webs, or something in that range anyway.
I also caught up to that wolf spider and I actually heard it make a clunking sound as its enlarged body entered the cold chamber of my shop vac.
I am still shuttering.
It took a while, but a decade of spider build up has been cleaned out. 
I also learned a valuable lesson that day: when doing a job that involves spiders, webs and other forms of ickyness – make my son do it.

copywrite 2014 Darren Handschuh

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

A 'bubble' TV is just fine with me

It drives Junior crazy.
'It' is the ancient TV I have in the living room. It is one of those old 'bubble' TVs and Junior was horrified when we brought it home.
We had a flat screen, but it died so when I spotted an even bigger TV for free in a classified ad, I jumped on it.
Sure, it is at least 10-15 years old, but it does have one very important quality that won me over the second I saw it: it works.
And it was free, so I guess that is two things that won me over.
I am not a high-definition kind of guy I guess. It is just not that important to me, but it is to Junior and he has a high-def TV hooked up to the Xbox and is always ranting about the quality of the image.
Did I mention the bubble TV was free and lets me watch TV programs?
But being a teen, he is smitten by the latest and greatest. His older brother would settle for something that simply does the job.
When I was Junior's age, I wanted the best sound system money could buy for my car, but I had to settle for the best sound system my money could buy, which was pretty far from top of the line.
My first car's 'sound system' was a single-speaker boom box that sat in between the two front seats and ran on batteries. It was just slightly louder than a flea fart.
I eventually purchased a tape deck – yes, I said tape deck – with a built in 40-watt booster and my listening pleasure increased dramatically.
But it was still not good enough, or should I say loud enough. However, having a car to pay for, clothes to buy and bills to pay I had to get creative in building a sound system that could be heard from outer space.
I bought a tape deck from a friend of mine who upgraded to a state-of-the-art model, and hooked up a second-hand 80-watt booster to it.
It was loud, but for an 18 year old, it was not loud enough.
That is when my best friend stepped in with a solution: house speakers.
Not just any old set of house speakers, but house speakers with 14-inch woofers, tweeters and midrange that you could literally hear several blocks away.
Now that was a loud car stereo.
For those of you shaking your head and saying “Dumb kid, you could hurt your hearing” you will have to speak up because I was a dumb kid who hurt his hearing.
Of course at the time, we never thought about hearing loss due to excessive music volume, we just wanted excessive music volume (and excessive it was.)
I can honestly say I had one of the loudest sound systems in the city, and the whole thing cost me less than 200 bucks.
And it was not just loud, it was clear and we loved cruising through town blasting AC/DC at a volume typically reserved for landing jumbo jets.
It rivaled systems that ran into the thousands of dollars.
It did what I wanted it to do and I did not have to break the bank to do it. Which brings me back to the bubble TV.
The main goal of having a sound system was to crank rock and roll at a volume loud enough to wake the dead. The main goal of my TV is to watch programs, which the 'bubble' TV does.
It does not need to have the clearest picture in the world, it just has to show the picture. Besides, my eyesight is not that good these days anyway.
Someday I may upgrade to a LCD or plasma TV, but in the meantime I am enjoying driving Junior crazy with the bubble TV, and did I mention it was free?

Copywrite 2014 Darren Handschuh

Sunday, June 15, 2014

An owner's manual? Never heard of it.

“I'm not sure you should get that one,” my wife said while we were looking at previously enjoyed (see second hand) treadmills at a local store that always seems to have such items.
I am not sure where they get them from, but every time I go in, there are at least three used treadmills sitting in the fitness section.
All have been 'gently' used – likely as a clothes rack or an item in the basement that conveniently takes up space.
They are in really good shape and I have purchased items from this store in the past with good results so I saw no reason why I should not replace my dead treadmill with one of these barely used ones.
Yes, I actually use my treadmill for more than a decoration or a handy dust-collecting devise.
The last one I had was a nice one, but as I was jogging along one day there was a puff of smoke and the jogging belt stopped moving.
I am not a treadmill expert, but even I know a puff of smoke is a bad thing.
It was an older treadmill, but a high-quality one so I called an expert treadmill repair guy, told him about the puff of smoke and he gave me his expert diagnosis: something broke.
Wow, thanks for the insight, Slick. 
He did manage to narrow it down to a most likely cause and said he would call me back with a repair estimate.
When he called back, he told how much the offending part would be and went into a rather lengthy explanation of how the piece of electronics burned out in the first place.
He went on about the walking board, the belt and a few other things, but by then my ADD brain had wondered off and I came back only when he said the cost to fix it - $800.
Yikers, that was double what I paid for it in the first place. I already had almost four years worth of exercise out of it, and for a second-hand treadmill I thought that was pretty good, so I decided to see if I could find another one for less than it would cost to repair this one.
That led the conversation I had with my wife in the store with the used fitness gear.
She didn't think I should buy it because it did not come with an instruction manual.
A what? Oh, right, that's one of those little books men never read on how to operate a piece of equipment.
This was not a nuclear-powered submarine or a high-tech piece of medical equipment – it was a treadmill.
You push the on button, run until you are tired, push the off button and then pat yourself on the back for exercising when you would much rather have been sitting in front of the TV with a beverage.
Ironically, I did not purchase that particular treadmill. Not because it did not have an instruction manual, but because the one next to it was a better deal.
The little woman was happy because this one came with an instruction manual which I am sure is chock full of all sorts of helpful information. And if I ever get around to reading it, I bet I will be correct.
Being a man I decided to live dangerously and try operating the machinery without consulting the manual.
Let's see – on button, check. Off button, check. The little safety thing that attaches to you and turns the machine off that no one uses, check. Increase/decrease speed button – got it. Increase/decrease incline controls – yup.
I think I got this beast figured out. I have been using the 'new' treadmill for a while now without any serious harm or danger to myself or those around me.
Maybe the next piece of equipment I buy I will actually read the operators manual – but I think we all know the answer to that.

copywrite 2014 Darren Handschuh

Thursday, June 12, 2014

I've never been robbed and would like to keep it that way

It was a thought that had crossed my brain more than once, but it never actually happened.
'It' was an armed robbery. (Not committing one, being a victim of one.)
I spent nine months working at a convenience store where people conveniently paid way more for a product than they would at a grocery store.
Of course, the grocery store was not open 24-hours a day, so I guess if you look at it that way the store was convenient.
And thanks to what I believe was an old Monte Python bit, I had to endure the question, “If you are open 24-hours a day, seven days a week, why do you have locks on the doors?” dozens of times.
The people would then guffaw at their 'original' comment.
I would smile and play along, all the while thinking, “Because you can't buy these doors without locks, genius.”
Because my manager was a jerk, I was given straight night shifts, meaning I worked from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. Wednesday through Sunday.
That also meant I got to deal with all the drunks, weirdos and general rabble rousers who were out and about at that time of the night.
And it was during those night shifts I often wondered if I would ever be robbed.
I had escorted a shop lifter out of the store – a very drunk shop lifter – but I never had anyone come rushing in and demand money.
I had been threatened while working there on a few occasions. Once was by a drunk guy – big surprise there – who wanted to fight me because I was tall.
“Are you tough Mr. Tall Man? Why don't you come down here and we will see how tough Mr. Tall Man really is.”
He was the most aggressive customer I ever encountered and all I could think was 'Buddy, I am just trying to do a minimum-wage shift here.' I must admit, I was quite concerned this situation was going to go bad in a hurry.
Fortunately his friends reigned him in and they went stumbling down the street.
For the record, I have never claimed to be tough and being tall is not under my control, but it was just another example of the kind of idiots convenience store, and gas bar workers have to deal with.
But I was never robbed and I am thankful for it.
I know someone who was robbed recently. A man rushed into his store holding what turned out to be an electric shaver.
Not the most lethal of the personal grooming instruments, but the cashier did what he was supposed to do and handed over the money before calling the cops.
“I knew it was an electric shaver and it couldn't hurt me,” he told me. “But I also knew he had fists and those could hurt me.”
Smart man. The bad guy fled the premises and the cashier was left shaken by the ordeal.
And rightfully so. The robber physically pushed him out of the little gas bar and told him to walk away in one direction, while the bad guy ran in the other direction.
When I first started at the convenience store, they had a little orientation session where they told us if we are ever held up, don't resist.
Well no kidding. I knew that before the session. If I was robbed, I would be the most compliant clerk on the planet.
“Here, take the money – all of it. How about some smokes? Do you want some smokes? Let me throw some in a bag for you. Here take 'em.”
There is no way I was going to resist a robber just to try and save a massive corporate a few bucks. Sure, they were paying me a whopping $4.50 an hour, but still it was not enough to put my personal safety on the line.
The guy I know who was robbed is back on the job, but admits he is a little more nervous every time a sketchy looking character walks in.
Who can blame him.

Copywrite 2014 Darren Handschuh

Sunday, June 8, 2014

If it actually happened, this might have been how

If you play with fire, you're going to get burned.
I would imagine just about everyone has heard that line at some point or another, possibly when they are children and they stumble upon a book of matches that are just begging to be used.
While playing with those matches you definitely could burn yourself, or you could accidentally light half a mountainside on fire.
Or so I have heard anyway.
It's not like me and my best friend found a book of matches and were lighting very small piles of sagebrush on fire and then stomping it out.
And we definitely did not make the fires progressively larger and let them burn a little longer before putting them out.
And we certainly did not do it in the middle of a hot summer on a tinderbox of a hillside covered in dead, dry, highly flammable plant matter.
That would just be stupid.
And because we were not doing that, the flames never got away from us and set a massive pile of tumbleweeds on fire that ignited faster than barrel of gasoline.
It does not matter how much you stomp on a huge pile of burning tumbleweeds, they are extremely hard to put out, or so I have heard anyway.
Yup, it's a good thing we never did any of that or else we would have to run to my friend's house – where his firefighter dad had the day off and was doing yard work – screaming the mountain was on fire.
At least his dad and half the neighbourhood did not have to run up the hill with shovels and buckets of water to put out a fire some stupid kids started because they found a book of matches on the street.
It is a good thing none of that happened or a lot of parents would have been really mad at a pair of eight year olds who smelled like smoke and looked more frightened than Dracula's dinner guest.
Had all of that happened, those two eight year olds would have been in a lot of trouble, except one of the eight year olds took all the blame, sparing the other eight year old a lot of grief.
That eight year old, who just for fun we could call my best friend, technically was the one who found the matches and suggested we light some fires in the first place. I, er, um, I mean the other eight year old was just dumb enough to go along with the plan.
Had all of that actually happened anyway, that might be how it happened.
Those two eight year olds were sure good friends. They met four years earlier and were inseparable for more than a decade before life took them in different directions.
However a childhood friendship like that can never be erased. We would cross paths  and it would be like not a day had passed since we last hung out together.
At one point we went almost two years without running in to each other, but when we did, we were still the best of friends.
You only get one chance at having a life-long friend and Greg was mine.
We reconnected in our 20s and began to hang out again on a more regular basis, interacting with the ease of a lifetime bond that only childhood friends share.
We would talk about that stupid fire – had it actually happened I mean – and of the many dumb things we did together over all those years.
My best friend is gone now. Taken from this earth far too soon by the scourge of cancer. It will be three years this month since his passing.
I think of him often. I smile at our past adventures, marvel at our stupidity and bask in the joy of the memories only a friendship like that can create.
I miss you my friend, and I always will.

copywrite 2014 Darren Handschuh

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

It was (s)not a pleasant experience

I am truly impressed. I really am.
It is amazing to take note of and stunning in its volume.
I am talking about the amount of clear liquid stuff that has been flowing out of my nose like a snot waterfall.
This particular cold was a gift from my son who has been running around the house for the past week making a sound not unlike an amorous sea lion.
For days he has hacked, gacked and coughed his way through the house and I knew eventually the bug would bite me with unpleasant results.
I went to bed feeling just fine, but woke up feeling like doo-doo, if I may use a medical term.
I had been attacked and thoroughly thumped by the common cold.
I knew the moment I woke up that not all was well in Darrenland. My head felt like it was the size of one of those Macy Day Parade floats and what ever was making all that internal sinus pressure was forcing an icky liquid to evacuate the premises at an alarming rate.
Two exits, no waiting.
If there was a forest fire, all I would have to do is fly over it in a plane, hang my head out the window and blow through my nose. That clear liquid goo stuff would cover the land and smother the fire.
Gross, but effective.
I have always found the sound of someone blowing their nose to be one of the grossest sounds on the planet, just slightly ahead of a political speech only not as icky.
And I always do my best to spare an innocent world from enduring that sound by clearing my  nose in private.
But after running from my desk to the bathroom for the 100th time in an hour to blow my nose, I said screw it, grabbed some tissues and cleared the nasal passages at my desk.
I felt bad for my co-workers who had to endure the seemingly endless honking sound my nose produced as I forced even more nasal juice from my head.
It couldn't have been pleasant for them either, but what could I do.
By midday I was contemplating just hanging a bucket around my neck and letting the sinuses drain uninhibited.
Instead I went through tissue after tissue until my nose was red and trash can nearly full.
Oddly enough, no one wanted to sit next to me at the lunch table, not sure why.
For the next few days I gulped cough medicine like and addict and after about a week things were back to normal.
And no one is happier than the guy who sits across from me at work.

copyright 2014, Darren Handschuh 

Sunday, June 1, 2014

A 'grand' revelation

I had a brief look into the future the other day.
No, I was not magically tele-ported to see my future self as the ruler of a tropical island complete with doting servants and pet tigers with diamond-incrusted collars. 
This future echo was probably a lot closer to reality.
My niece, her hubby and their children came for a visit a couple weeks ago.
Like many people who live in a beautiful, sunny area surrounded by lakes, a weekend often means visitors and my home became a temporary station for a clan that included a trio of ankle biters.
The oldest two of the this blended family are around six years old, with the youngest barely past one – meaning they don't visit, they invade.
With six extra people descending upon my humble home (my mother-in-law made No. 6, yay) things got a little chaotic.
My great nieces and nephew are all well behaved and were a joy to be around. They had a great time playing with my kid's old toys, jumping on the trampoline, blowing bubbles and in general exploring a new part of the world.
After watching them for a while, I realized where the term perpetual motion came from. They never stopped running, jumping, playing, talking or moving the entire time they were at my house.
And for some reason, little boys need to yell in just about every situation.
Playing a game on the trampoline – yelling. Blowing bubbles and then chasing them around the backyard – yelling. Wrestling – yelling. Running – yelling.
Often they were not even words, but making noise just because that is what boys at that age do.
I had to work one of the days they were visiting and of course it was busy and frantic and all I wanted to do at the end of the day was kick back on the deck with an adult recreational beverage and let the stress melt away.
Or, I could blow bubbles, play the chase-me game and watch the kids do amazing tricks on the trampoline – like jump up an down.
All of which I did and it was a pleasure doing so.
The beauty of this situation was, once I was tired of playing I simply turned the children back over to their parents and zeroed in on that chair. That is not something you can do when it is your own children.
And if the visiting one year old had a special surprise in her diaper, it's not my problem. When they are emitting an odour a skunk would find offensive, time to hand them back to mom or dad.
It was at that moment it hit me: that is what my parents did with my kids.
That is what grandparenting is about (hence the look into the future.) You went through the challenges of raising your own kids and perhaps were not able to fully appreciate the magic a child can bring into a home.
You are too busy taking care of them, disciplining them, cleaning up after them and sometimes you forget to enjoy them.
But as a grandparent, that is your main job. 
I saw a poster once that said 'Grandchildren are your reward for not strangling your kids when they were teenagers.'
While I found it somewhat humorous when I first read it, it was not until the visit with my niece I understood what it meant.
It is the grandparent's job to spoil their grandchildren – which explains why my dad fed my son Reeces Peanut Butter Cups for breakfast one day.
"Dad, did you just give Junior chocolate for breakfast?”
"Um, er, ah, maybe. But it has peanut butter in it, and milk products so essentially it was very close to peanut butter and toast and a glass of milk. Nothing wrong with that for breakfast.”
Good one, Pops.
While I am likely still looking at a few years before I become a grandparent, I now have a much better understanding of the role: annoy your children, by spoiling your grandchildren. Sounds like fun.

copyright 2014, Darren Handschuh