Thursday, October 30, 2014

Hooked on the electronic opiate

It was slow, subtle and devious in its seductive luring.
You don't even realize it at first, but every day the need grows more and more. Every day it gets embedded deeper into your brain until you can not possibly live without it.
The thought of not having it for even a day is more than one can stand.
I didn't start out to become an addict – does anyone? I did not mean for it to become so important in my life, but alas I have joined the masses who are hopelessly addicted to their stupid cell phones.
I resisted a long time before getting one of the infernal contraptions, but with the kids getting older it was just an easy and efficient way to communicate and keep in touch.
A quick text, a short phone call no matter where they are and you know where they are.
It took a while, but eventually, I caved and became one of the millions carrying a small transmitter in my pocket. 
My first phone was very simple (like me) and very basic (like me) but after a while it was very old (not like me, I am a young pup of 49.)
My phone was at least five years old. In phone years, that is an ancient piece of equipment.
My kids all had fancy smart phones, while I had the phone technology I had was equal to that of a petrified dinosaur turd.
My wife even got rid of her old phone – that was almost seven years old – and picked up an iPhone.
Now, everyone in the family had one but me, so I decided to take a quantum leap forward in technology and get one of the latest and greatest.
This thing has more gizmos and gadgets to it than the Apollo spaceships.
I still haven't figured out everything it can do, but I am working on it.
At first, I was kind of coy with it. I could take it or leave it – much like my old phone. I only used it when I really needed it and would leave it in my coat pocket the rest of the time, but then the electronic opiate began to get its hooks into my psyche.
It is much more than just a phone: it is a small, portable computer that could access the Internet, texts, emails, games, take pictures, record video, act as a GPS and even make a phone call if you needed to.
Soon, I was like one of those mindless techno-zombies you see staring down at the little gizmo in their hands, oblivious to all that is happening around them.
OK, I may not be quite that bad – not as bad as my kids anyway – but I do spend a lot more time with this phone than the last one.
The old one I would often leave sitting on the counter when I milled about the house, but this new one has put some sort of voodoo spell on me where I have to carry it with me everywhere I go.
And not just for the communication aspect of it, but my phone has all sorts of cool games on it, and that is a significant draw for my attention.
Waiting in a doctors office? Dig out the phone and play a game or two. Who cares how long I have to wait, that will just give me more time to get Scooter to level seven.
Passenger in a vehicle? Get the phone and play a game. You will have plenty of time to talk to the driver when you get where you are going. Besides, you would not want to distract them with all your mindless chatter.
Remember kids, safety first.
It took several years, but I have finally given in to the electronic mistress known as a smart phone.
I believe it was Albert Einstein who said he pities a world where people spend more time interacting with a machine than each other.
Welcome to the 2000s, Al.

Copyright 2014 Darren Handschuh

Friday, October 24, 2014

Remember kids, safety first this Halloween

It's a wonder the human race has made it as long as we have.
What with all the dangerous activities we indulged in during our youth, it is amazing any of us survived.
There are more rules, regulations and safety precautions now than ever before in the history of mankind.
When I was young – which was a long time ago – we only wore helmets when we played hockey. No one had even thought of wearing a helmet when riding a bike, but now they are mandatory.
I am not saying it is a bad thing as helmets do save people from injury, but it is just another sign of how times have changed.
Take Halloween for example. The third coolest day of the year is coming up (Christmas and my birthday are the coolest days) and the list of how to have a safe Halloween is growing ever longer.
Again, I do understand the need for safety, but the list gets more detailed every year and with each item added a little chunk of the carefree fun is taken out.
When I was a kid we wore those smelly, plastic masks that got all sweaty when you breathed to the point you had condensation running down your chin like you were a St. Bernard.
Of course, the eye holes were just big enough to see straight ahead, but not to the sides, top or bottom, perfect for running around the neighbourhood in the dark.
But every store sold them and a lot of kids wore them.
Back in the day, I do not recall officials of any type passing on safety tips about anything other than to let your parents check your goodies before you eat anything in case some lunatic stuck a razor blade in an apple.
I assume that must have happened at some point, or the warning would not have been issued and we were all deathly afraid of apples and homemade treats that could be laced with something nasty.
But we never heard a peep about the masks we wore, our costumes or most of the stuff they worry about these days.
The other day I was emailed a very extensive list of safety procedures everyone should follow this All Hollow's Eve.
People are advised to wear reflective vests and armbands over their costumes.
Oh look, another vampire construction worker.”
I know, safety first, but some of these rules must have come from desk of Capt. Obvious.
Children should wear a costume that fits properly and be flame resistant.
Really? I was going to send my daughter out in my dark-blue, oil-soaked coveralls, work boots and gloves - with a mask that blocks her vision of course.
Children should not run back and forth across the street.
"But, officer I am going as a jaywalker this Halloween, and you wouldn't want me to break character.”
Never get in a car with a stranger is more of a year-round safety advisory I thought, but it was on the list of what not to do this Halloween.
Parents should be aware of the route their children are taking.
Ya, good luck with that.
Parents should accompany children as they trick or treat.
When I was a little guy, my parental charges would escort our Halloween adventure, but when I neared the double digit years they accompanied me to the front door, said if the police bring home I will be in more trouble with them than the cops and told me to be careful.
These are just a few of the 30 or so Halloween safety tips that I received.
I agree safety is paramount, but let's not stifle our children so much they can not have any fun, or eventually they will all be going dressed as the bubble wrap vampire, the bubble wrap Frankenstein, the bubble get the idea.

Copyright 2014, Darren Handschuh

Friday, October 17, 2014

Spiders, spiders everywhere - eeeeek

Just reading the story freaks me out.
There is a family in the U.S. who bought a house that was already occupied.
No, there was not a hillbilly family living under the stairs, it was something much more horrifying – spiders.
Not just a few spiders, not even a few dozen spiders, but thousands of spiders. Thousands of brown recluse spiders - a very poisonous and dangerous spider.
It was estimated there were up to 5,000 of the creepy crawlies living in the walls, cupboards, closets, bathroom and every nook and cranny the house of horrors had.
The owner said the walls were 'bleeding spiders' there were so many of them. They would come out of every opening they could find, they would fall on people in the shower, they would...sorry, I had to stop typing for a second to do the spider dance where you twitch and jerk and brush away imaginary spiders that your mind is convinced are crawling all over you.
Just thinking about that many spiders is enough to give me the heebie jeebies and make me feel like they are crawling down the back of my shirt and...sorry, spider dance again.
The family has moved out and successfully sued the former owner for failing to mention the unwanted guests.
The former home owner immediately filed for bankruptcy, leaving the current owners stuck between a rock and a house full of spiders.
When we first moved to the area, my wife and I rented a home that had more than its fair share of arachnid activity.
Their numbers may not have been in the thousands, but a handful is more than enough to keep you awake at night wondering what is crawling into bed with you.
There was an extremely low vacancy rate at the time and the slumlord, er, I mean home owner knew it, so he had little interest in making improvements to the 1940s abode that had not seen an upgrade in many years, meaning we were left to face the hell-born beasts on our own.
After smashing more spiders than I ever thought possible, I bought a can of bug killer spray and hosed down the entire house. I sprayed every nook, cranny, opening and any area that might possibly harbour one of the messengers of terror.
Once the spraying was done, it was time to get out of there for a little while.
We took the dogs for a walk and when we came back it looked like a horror movie with dead bugs everywhere and...sorry, spider dance again.
We cleaned out their remains, but we knew the spiders were anything but vanquished.
They would be back, oh yes, there would be more.
But by this time we were at peace with the spider realm and shared our home with God's multi-legged creatures, living in harmony and happiness – yea, right.
Nope, we smashed every single one we could. After the chemical attack of doom, there were fewer spiders, but even fewer spiders is still too many spiders.
Zero spiders is the target number of spiders I am willing to share my home with.
We called that house The Addams Family home because it was just as creepy as the home of the TV ghouls who enjoy stuff like that.
We did not enjoy it, but there was really no where else for us to go. At the time, we were so broke a homeless guy gave me 25 cents, and we could not afford to move for several more months.
In all, we lived in the spider nest for 15 months before we had saved up enough to buy a modest town house – a spider-free town house I might add.
I look back on those early years of our marriage with fond memories – except for the spiders of course, that I look back on with terror and...spider dance.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Bad cholesterol sucks the joy out of eating

I miss the good old days.
Not just the days when nothing hurt when I stood up, or the days when I had hair on my head and not my back, but the good old days when I did not have to watch every single thing I ate.
With the big 5-0 looming in the not-so-distant future, one has to start thinking about what one eats or one will end up looking more like two than one.
There are also pesky things like a risk of having a heart attack, stroke or some other nasty bit of body breakdown that come from not living a more healthy lifestyle. And that healthy lifestyle means giving up pretty much any and all food that I used to enjoy.
As a young land, cholesterol was an old person problem. Well, it is now my problem so that must is a middle-age person problem too.
There is good cholesterol and bad cholesterol, and it would seem I have an abundance of bad cholesterol, as does several of my kin.
I did not exactly win the genetic jackpot with a family history that includes just about every ailment modern science knows about.
I am not talking about stuff you can catch – like malaria or anything – but medical issues that are part of your genes and you have very little choice of getting them or not.
Among my inheritance from my forefathers, foremothers and forecousins was a wonky cholesterol situation.
The doctor informed me of my cholesterol woes and said I would have to change many of my eating habits. So naturally, I got a new doctor.
Actually, I took note of what he was suggesting and walked out of his office with a stack of papers on what I can eat, should eat, must eat and must never again even think of eating ever again.
How come bacon tastes so good, but is so bad for you? I will add that to the long list of things I plan on asking God as soon as he gets email.
Ironically, my current dietary issues had nothing to do with my past penchant for all things tasty.
A double bacon burger, fries and enough gravy to float an actual boat please,” was a request I made more than once at a restaurant.
So, I have had to adjust my diet and I am proud to say my cholesterol is around where it should be. My enjoyment of eating is way down, but at least so is my cholesterol.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Eventually it will get easier, won't it

First it was, “I can't wait until they are out of  diapers, then I will not have to  change poopy butts.”
Then it was, “I can't wait until they can walk. It will be a lot easier to take them somewhere because we won't have to carry them all the time.”
"I can't wait until they are in school because then they will be away for a few hours a day to get some stuff done around here.”
"I can't wait until they are more independent.”
Looking back at the never-ending list of “I can't wait” moments, I see how futile it all was.
I can remember thinking when they reach the next milestone, raising kids would be so much easier.
What I didn't realize at the time was raising a family is cycle of challenge, victory, challenge, victory etc.
When they started walking I did not have to carry them everywhere - I had to chase them everywhere as they were always on the move, something always distracted them and something always took them down a path away from our intended destination.
Then I kind of missed them not being able to walk. At least they would stay where you put them and you always knew exactly where they were.
Getting out of diapers was a good thing, but for the first little while accidents did happen (with the kids, not me) and instead of packing diapers, we were always hauling around extra clothing, so it was a quasi-victory at best.
Heading off to school did provide some much-needed and much-appreciated free time, but it also brought with it the challenges of homework, parent advisory council meetings and, of course, drama.
Oh my, the drama was rather unexpected. As girls hit the teen years, their mind is assaulted by a typhoon of raging hormones and they go from happy to angry to sad to furious to happy in less time than it took you to read this line.
Instead of drama, I remember my boys being angry for about two years. They did not really need a reason to be angry, other than they were in their early teens and that just seemed to be what boys their age did.
They are older now and pretty much back to normal, so I am hoping (and praying daily) my daughter will grow out of her hormonal hurricane.
When she is older things will be better – wait a minute, I have been saying that for years.
I realized as kids age they do outgrow certain problems and difficulties, but they are replaced by other ones.
Then those are replaced by others and so on until I am curled up in a ball in the closet hoping no one finds my hiding spot.
As teens they are a lot more independent, which I quickly learned was good and bad. They can better take care of themselves, but they are a little too wise in their own eyes and sometimes that is not a good thing.
Also with the teen years comes those hormonal changes I was mentioning.
But looking back, I see how the rewards of raising children far outweigh the challenges. Life will always bring difficulties to your front door, but the key is it look through the hard times and embrace the victories, no matter how small they may seem.
Over time, the difficult days are lost in memory and only the victories are worthy of recalling.
My children are now all entering another phase of life, whether it be going to university or striking out on their own, so I am prepared for not only a few more challenges, but some more victories as well.
I guess I will have to just sit back and see what happens. Of course, I will keep the hiding spot in the closet at the ready.

Copyright 2014 Darren Handschuh

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Don't wanna be the centre of attention

I am not really a centre-of-attention kind of guy.
I am just not comfortable being in the forefront where everyone is looking at me. Doesn't really matter the size of the crowd either – I just don't like being everyone's focal point.
I never have. I was a very shy child and preferred to blend into the background as much as possible.
Getting up in front of the class to give a report was terrifying and I would often hope for a bout of malaria, or scurvy or something the day of the event so I would not have to perform in front of my peers.
But of course any sickness was reserved for the weekends and I was fit as a fiddle when I had to give my report – a very nervous fiddle that is.
I gave my report with not just butterflies, but California condors fluttering in my stomach.
I managed to get through the presentations somehow, but it was not pretty.
Um, er and ah were the most spoken phrases and I stumbled my way through my notes.
When doing drills in hockey, I always made sure I was in the middle of the group so I did not stand out. When coaches were selecting players and when I saw them concentrating on me I wanted to melt into the ice.
And that is why I find birthdays so nerve racking.
Birthdays are supposed to be days of merriment and fun. When I was a kid they were, but as I grew older I began to dread them and not just because I was getting older.
I noticed how incredibly uncomfortable I am as the centre of attention when my then co-workers had a little birthday do for me.
I knew it was coming because that is what they did at this office. At 11 a.m. on someone's birthday, work would be put on hold for a half hour while everyone gathered in the boardroom to celebrate your arrival on the planet.
Deep down I was hoping they would miss my birthday, but when I saw the boss walking down the hall with a birthday cake I knew there was no escape.
I was fine as everyone gathered around the table, chatting away and sipping coffee.
It was when they all looked at me and started to sing Happy Birthday I wanted to bolt from the room like a gazelle being chased by a herd of cheetahs.
I fidgeted through the birthday song while trying not to look too obvious I was uncomfortable. I failed miserably. But eventually the song ended and we all ate cake. I no longer work at that establishment and the place I work at now has a very strict 'no employee perks of any sort' policy so I never have to worry about the birthday trauma again.
The weird part is, I have done some public speaking as an adult and was quite at ease with a microphone and a few notes.
OK, at ease might be a bit of a stretch. More like terrified into numb submission to the point where I could have been addressing the nation and it would not have bothered me.
Actually, it went pretty well the half a dozen times I have done it. I managed to throw in bits of humour mixed with the message I was trying to deliver.
However, I still prefer to hide behind a keyboard where no one can see me and I can simply rewrite something I do not like, because unlike writing, what has been said, cannot be unsaid.

Copyright 2014 Darren Handschuh

Friday, October 3, 2014

Making my man brain shop like a girl

So the little woman turns...another year older this week (like I was going to tell you her age).
And as the husband, it is my job to purchase items that let her know I am thinking of her on the date of her birth.
And that means I have to go shopping – for girl stuff.
Shopping for tools, motorcycle gear and other cool stuff is not a problem, but making my man brain think like a girl can be a challenge at times.
Every time I wander around the ladies' section of a shopping establishment, I always feel out of place, like everyone is watching me.
But why would they care there is a male in the female shopping area? It's not like I am trying the clothes on, or prancing around in a bra or anything.
The song “One of these things is not like the others, one of these things doesn't belong” plays endlessly in my mind as I stumble through my gift-purchasing duties.
Occasionally, I will see another lost soul, a.k.a. a husband shopping for his wife, and we look at each other with a knowing glance and nod slightly as if to say, “Present for the little woman hey pal, don't worry you can do it.”
When my teenage daughter's birthday rolls around, the shopping is easy. Step 1: purchase card. Step 2: sign card. Step 3: put money in card. Step 4: give daughter card with money in it. Simple.
The same gift-giving path is taken with my sons as with my daughter.
For a teen, cash is the perfect gift.
But that just does not seem right when it comes to the Missus, although a close family member did get her a gift card to Canadian Tire one year, which she appreciated, but did have to wonder at a little bit.
I prefer the gifts I give my beloved to be more personal, to say she means enough to me to make an effort to go beyond simply stuffing a few bills into a dollar store card.
But it is the same story every year – several times a year actually if you count Christmas and our anniversary – I spend time looking for a unique item, something different, something she would not expect and then when my man brain fails to come up with anything new and refreshing, I run to the department store and buy a bunch of clothes.
It is kind of a cop-out, but that old standard has never let me down. I will get her a few other items as well – CDs, DVDs etc. - but clothes typically make up the bulk of the gift.
Fortunately she likes getting new clothes, and I can say with some level of pride, I am pretty darn good at picking out items of the fashion variety. The key is to avoid the clothes designed for teens and clothes designed for grannies.
The little woman would not want a sweater that would look good on my mom, nor would she care for clothes that she can trade with our daughter.
So there is a fine line I must walk, which I usually do – or least she says I do, but I do see her wearing the clothes I bought her in public, so they could not have been that bad.
And wrapping presents is easier than ever since I discovered gift bags. What a wonderful idea: take the present, put it in a bag, put some of that decorative paper stuff on top so she can't see in before opening it and 'ta-daa' the wrapping is done.
And for the record, I would just like to state I have never forgotten my wife's birthday or our anniversary.
I wish I could claim this was because I am such an awesome husband and my wife is always first and foremost in my thoughts, but a lot of it is simply a matter of survival. Besides, I just don't think it would be that comfortable to sleep in the garage.

Copyright 2014, Darren Handschuh

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

A pox upon you thieving little rats

 Dear thieves: you suck.
The other day, my daughter was relieved of her iPhone. It was taken from her backpack while she was in school.
We immediately canceled the service, essentially turning the phone into a paperweight and leaving my daughter very upset.
She learned a couple valuable lessons: never leave your phone in a backpack, and thieves suck.
I hate it when people steal my stuff. I worked hard to get what I have and then you just come along and take it. Did I mention you suck?
I have had a vehicle broken in to 14 times. One van we had was hit five times. The first time was when we were at a hiking trail and they caused $600 damage just getting in so they could steal my wallet – with $40 cash, my credit card - that they managed to put a couple hundred bucks on before we cancelled it – and some old-guy CDs that I am sure ended up at the side of the road before they were even 10 minutes down the road with their ill-gotten loot.
The next time that same van was broken into was in our driveway and they took some change, a couple tools and few other items.
From that point on, I did not even lock the van and left nothing of value in it, but three more times someone rifled through it looking for my stuff to put in their pockets.
Over the years, I have had hundreds of dollars with of cassettes stolen, various tools, a radar detector (which made the cop smile when I told him) and a bunch of other minor items.
Nothing major, but still an invasion of my privacy and violation of my personal space.
I take it personally when someone steals my stuff and for a few minutes indulge in the dream of calling down the wrath of God upon them before calming down and realizing my anger will only harm me.
But I must admit, for a little while it was fun to imagine all sorts of nasty things happening to them like boils and hard time chained to a fat guy with zits while they break rocks in the sweltering heat all day.
Might be a little extreme for a stolen cellphone, but for a few moments it did make be feel better.
Somehow the imagined wrath of aggressive vengeance calms a frustrated soul.
The van we have now has an alarm system, but the other day we left it unlocked and a couple items went missing: some change and a stethascope my wife uses at work.
My guess is it was the work of kids and our van was a target of opportunity.
Ya, it was my own fault for leaving it unlocked, but that still does not excuse the actions of the these little rats who deserve to be...
Well, let's just say what comes around goes around and I am sure the universe will administer some sot of punishment – I just wish I could be there to see it.

Copyright 2014 Darren Handschuh