Posts from the ‘Rant or Rave’ Category

The tragic aftermath of cyber-bullies…

Like most of the connected world, I was saddened by the new story out of British Columbia – the girl who committed suicide, evidently to stop the bullying and to end the cruelty of youth.

What a waste.

For those that have not seen the You Tube video (link here – Amanda Todd’s Story: Struggling, Bullying, Suicide, Self Harm – YouTube), it is disheartening. And it speaks volumes about the evil side of the internet and connectivity.

I have commented before that the internet is whatever you want to make of it. It can highlight beauty and achievement and creativity and humour and wonderment; but then again, the internet provides opportunities for deviants and criminals and trolls and the mean.

It is incomprehensible to what depths that some people can descend; especially the bullies and the trolls.  Hiding behind their keyboards, cozy in their anonymity, they dispense vitriol and venom with reckless abandon – content that they have made someone’s life a misery.

Why? I don’t know…I am sure that no one really does.

Now, when it comes to the poor girl in the video, I am sure everyone will admit that it is true she made mistakes.  But seriously, were they life-ending ones? Yes, she was stupid and careless and ignorant of what the internet could be used for – and as a result she suffered fear, shame, pain and depression.  But why was she driven to such desperation? News reports allude to a stalker – while others report of  bullying from peers.

And though she tried to cope, in the end, it was too much. She killed herself.

Now if there was a predator involved, I hope that they find him and punish him to the greatest extent possible.

As for the kids…it is a sad truth that kids can be cruel to each other. And when the cruelness starts, the only options seems to be binary…hunt or be hunted.  And because most of the “hunted” kids are not mentally resilient enough to “let it go”, the effects can be devastating.  The statistics are mounting.

I often wonder why kids are so cruel.  Unfortunately, there could be many reason and contributing factors.  But without benefit of a Master’s degree in childhood development, or child psychology, I would probably blame it on two possible causes: bored kids or disconnected parents.

The results?

Kids who use the internet to amuse and entertain themselves, trying hard to fill whatever emotional vacuums they suffer, in whatever way they can. Maybe they are desensitized – their own emotions stunted through a lack of healthy stimulation; or maybe they are damaged, and want to spread their own pain to as many people they can because misery loves company.

I don’t know.  I don’t think anybody does.

All I know is that every once in a while, we are shocked that some young person tips over the edge and because of bullying – cyber, physical, mental or whatever – is either killed or takes their own life. And then, in the aftermath, we gnash our teeth and beat our chests and say that those responsible must be punished and that we need new laws to deal with the delinquent and the disturbed.

Close the gate – the horses have bolted.

General deterrence might address the issue – but I doubt it.  Bullying has been around for ever. Why not close the gate before the horses bolt? Why not talk to your kids and learn about their lives? Why not get to know their friends and learn about their “un-friends”? Why not share some affection, so that they don’t have to look for it elsewhere?  The shoulder to cry on should be at home…not on the ‘net.

It is too late to help Amanda Todd, just like it was too late to help Reena Virk.

You know, I hope that we do make laws harder on those that stalk or bully others on the internet. But more importantly, I hope that those of us charged with raising emotionally healthy, secure and confident human beings work very hard at it. We can’t protect against everything – some battles belong to our children alone. But, if we do a good job, maybe whatever these ignoramuses write or post on the net will be irrelevant.  No one will care.

And that, in my opinion, would work better than any new laws…

To learn more about the issue, you can check out the following sites:

STOP cyberbullying: Cyberbullying – what it is, how it works and how to understand and deal with cyberbullies

www.cyberbullying.ca

Later,

ASF

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Nil carborundum ab illegitimate!

My wife and I have just moved back to Canada. And the kicking and screaming – at least about moving West of the Atlantic-  has ended.

Once we made our peace with leaving the UK and heading home (going through the full grieving process of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance), we got excited and starting looking forward to our new life back in Ontario: a new job, a new home, new neighbours – all in a lovely, vibrant, lakeside town close to several dozen people we care for.

And I wished I could leave it at that.  But I can’t.  As I started the process to receive overseas shipments and change licences and register cars and ship cats, I started the paperwork associated with returning to my Native land.

And I naively began to negotiate the corkscrews and Immelman turns of the roller-coaster called BUREAUCRACY.  As I delved into the documentation, the processes, the organisation, the departments, the forms, the websites, the personalities and the money, I started the long, dismal, frustrating and worrisome spiral into the government’s “adminosphere”.

I felt like Alice dropping into the rabbit hole.  

And here I am, five weeks after leaving the UK, still dealing with the aftershocks of several counter-intuitive processes that have affected every aspect of my move.

Why can’t things be simple – and if they can’t be simple – then why can’t they be explained in a simple fashion? Websites were confusing and the staff who should answer questions could only parrot what was in the website.  I could not find out what forms to fill and who to give them to.  But, I was warned several times by several people that  “It is your responsibility to ensure the documentation is fully completed and accurate. It is also your responsibility to pay any additional storage charges, processing fees or other related service charges incurred due to incomplete or inaccurate documentation.”

And then I think about the zany, crazy, unbelievable hoops that the multitude of faceless mandarins and pogues sitting at their computers have made me jump through. I only have one thing to say…”What the eff?”

It all started with the several requests from a myriad of third parties to provide numbers, numbers, numbers…serial numbers, vehicle identification numbers, passport numbers, telephone numbers, service numbers, social insurance numbers, shipping numbers, tax identification numbers…sometimes I feel I should just refer to myself as 132657 – it is easier to find my dossier and everything that is linked to it that way.

Using my 13-letter first name just confuses people.  “I am sorry, Sir…is that your surname or given name?”  Just pretending that I am an account named “one-three-two-six-five-seven”, vice a real person with a name, seems to get faster results.

It did not stop there.  It carried on to a number of phone calls to various companies to cease accounts, open accounts, transfer accounts, to pay off outstanding balances, to provide meter readings and so on.  All I can say is that I would really like to know what “training and quality control” purposes my various expletives and curses served as I stumbled through eight automated menus, trying to decide if my request fit better into Option Three – “residential customer” – or Option Nine – “household services”.  All I ever want to do is talk to a real live agent who will answer my question.  And typically, after finally weaving my way through the Orwellian labyrinth of options and making it to “please dial zero or stay on the line to talk to one of our customer service representatives”, I abandon all hope when I hear the dreaded:

“All our agents are currently busy serving other clients. We appreciate your patience. Our wait time is…”

Aaaargh!

And then, the coup de grace?  Finally talking to real person, but then being told that unfortunately they are in the wrong department; they must transfer you to another department; then bouncing between departments, as they all deny culpability; and then inevitably having someone drop the call, as they hit the “This-question-is-too-hard-button” on their console.  I can just see them giggling uncontrollably as they determine which customer representative wins the money pool for frustrating a customer the longest (probably using the “quality control” recording as evidence of their prowess !)

After a full month of such frustration, and for you math-heads, I propose that the two pertinent telephone proportions are:

Probability of talking to someone real    1 / ($ value of the transaction to be discussed)

and

Probability dropped call Time spent on hold

I wished that was the end of the “frustocracy”, but it was simply an introduction.

The next joy came with the return of all our worldly possessions to my home country.  Yes, I had just spent three years on Her Canadian Majesty’s service, with orders issued by a Governmental department, looking after Canada’s international interests and upholding her reputation. You would think it would be simple for a servant of the state to come home and collect his goods…especially if he listed all his goods in quadruplicate and handed it to several sister organisations that protect Canada and her borders.

But no…it was not.

I still had to answer to several agencies – all who have a common purpose and objectives, but no collaborative synergy (virtual or physical) to make that task easier.  No less than seven times I had to explain who I was, what I needed, again providing several numbers (usually 123657) before they each asked me questions I had already answered to someone else – verbally and in writing – even when the previous interrogator confirmed they would add explanatory notes to your electronic file.

My response? You guessed it….aaaaaarrrrgggghhhh!

And I went through this with my suitcases, my cats, my furniture shipment, my car…quadruple the pleasure! First I talked to those who protect our borders, then those who regulate our alcohol, followed by those who licence our foodstuffs and livestock, finally succeeded by those who control our roads.  And how did they wish to communicate? E-mails and scanned document that I could sort out on my hand-held smartphone, even without  home phone and internet? Nope. By facsimile.

Seriously, facsimile?  Who owns one of those? Can we create more of an embuggerance?

And that inconvenience leads me to another one of those moving pleasures – dealing with the new utility companies.

Funny how in this global village of instant connections, of immediate pictures of tsunamis in South Eastern Asia or earthquakes in the Middle East, of techno-savvy agencies discovering clandestine illegal e-commerce rings, of e-spam infiltrating every e-mail account that I own, that the gas company or the phone company cannot determine if I am a credit risk or if I am good to honour my monthly gas bill, or phone bill. That really, they do not need a deposit from me.

That these multi-million dollar oligopolies can’t access a credit check to find out the Bank trusts me, the Mortgage company trusts me, the car dealership trusts me, Leon’s and The Brick and Future Shop and Best Buy all trust me. I am not a flight risk.  I can honour  the $69.99 fee charged to simply flick a switch at the cable box, or telephone junction, or to execute a few key strokes on the computer to grant me a new alphanumeric identity on their databases – reinforcing my status as just another permutation of “132657”.

And for the pleasure of lending them my money interest free, they will honour me with their presence and grant me service: hooking up my cable or phone, confirming my meter reading, or completing another 20-minute house call service, conveniently on a workday some time  between 0800 and 1700 hours (with no guess as to if it will be morning or afternoon!), during which a responsible adult must be available to allow access or the appointment will be rescheduled for another day some time in the next two weeks.

Somewhere in all this confusion and edicts, I seem to have lost the bubble on who is the customer and who is the service provider.  And by the way, when I ask for high speed internet, I am sure, as most of us in Canada are, that I mean wireless internet…how can you come to install internet and cable NINE days after the initial service request  without a wireless router in your truck?  At least The Cable Guy offered a solution to “132657”– tether your laptop to the DSL cable, initiate another request with the Command Centre, and a new Cable Guy could probably return in less than two weeks with a router – for a nominal fee!

Again, all I can say is, “Seriously!!”

And my favourite…wait for it…goes to the Private Contractors who look after Ontario’s driver licence conversions.  My wife – who has reverted to her maiden name – used to have a drivers licence in Ontario under her former married name. In order to prove she is the same person who was entered in the Ontario Ministry of Transport 1990 data base, she must now apply and pay for a duplicate replacement copy of her obsolete marriage certificate before she can be issued a new Ontario drivers’ licence.  That folks, is my winner in the Office Pogue Request of the Year….

And while almost all the nausea has passed – to quote my moving blog of March 2012, while I now “find that I have been…transported into my new house – sitting in my favorite chair watching the game on my high-definition flat screen, while drinking  a cold micro-brewed beer”, the pain has not passed.

I still must gird my loins and submit 45 days of receipts for my moving expenses, all the while waiting for a nameless bureaucrat  – who has likely not moved in decades (if ever) – to approve the expenditures and ease the tension on stressed credit cards and depleted bank accounts.

As I said, I hate moving.  We continue to jam “50 kilograms of furniture and stuff” into our “one kilogram bag” of a house; but we are approaching the point where this house is almost our home. 

And once that is done, it will take a heck of an offer to dislodge us again. I am sure that we wont be considering any changes too soon – it’ll take at least a year or two until we develop “moving amnesia”.  By then I will have forgotten the pain of the “adminosphere”, and foolishly, I will challenge the pogues and mandarins…reciting over and over again, “Nil carborundum ab illegitimate!”  Maybe this time it works. Wish me luck!

I know that many of you may have moved this year….any of you have an entertaining nugget or two that will console me and let me know that I am not alone in trying to climb the “Computer Says No” Wall?

Later,

ASF

I don’t want bushy eyebrows…

I have a pinched nerve in my shoulder.  My left shoulder.  It is so painful that I had to eventually go in to the doctor…of my own accord…without my wife asking me to. All you married people out there – You know that is bad.

And how did I injure myself you ask? Rugby? Hockey? Soccer?  Nope. Nope. Nope. I aggravated it on a soft hotel bed, using pillows that were too hard.  How lame is that?  And over the last two weeks, I have made it worse by spending 8+ hours a day at work in a non-ergonomic work station. I can’t believe I used those words –  ergonomic work station. Even lamer.

But before the doc diagnosed it as a pinched nerve, I was the typical man.  Yep…I self-diagnosed using my years of medical training (countless hours watching ER and Doogie Howser and House, MD)  and writing it off as too much pumping iron, or perhaps the onset of osteoarthritis from an earlier dislocation.  But a couple of weeks of continued pain in the left arm and shoulder, an inability to sleep in my favourite position, and soon I was on the Internet, checking my symptoms on the various medical pages.  There I was, clicking on pages and links that no young man would ever look at…and because it was my left arm that was ‘a-paining’, I was directed to myocardial infarctions, cardiac distress, cholesterol levels (with a lengthy diversion onto the benefits of a high fibre diet courtesy a well-placed hyperlink).  I then moved from there, distracted by Lance Armstrong’s personal sruggle, and starting reading about testicular cancer and prostates and PSA tests. And then it was a simple leap (of  just a few centimetres, really) to learning more about bowel issues and other topics that are just TMI for this blog.

Then I was struck by a thought:  How did I get here? When did I start giving a crap about things like that (no pun intended)?  What has happened to me? And…more importantly…what is happening to my body?  As I edge closer to the half century mark, so many things are changing – and many are unflattering and just plain annoying.  I miss the resilience and endurance I used to have when younger.

I mean, I still love spicy food and curries and jalapeno peppers and hot sauce and wasabi. But, my stomach lining and my diaphragm,  do not. The mild splash of stomach acid weeping into places it shouldn’t weep is just so sad.  No more asking for the Five Alarm CheektowagaIrv Weinstein” Nachos, the “Weep-at-the-aroma-only” suicide wings, theTabasco and Tequila fuelled Prairie Chicken.

Now it’s, “No, not the cheeky vindaloo, Sir.  I’ll have the mild korma, please”.  And, things that were in the old man aisle at Shoppers’ are now an occasional buy – Pepto, Tums, Gavsicon, Maalox.   My new catchphrase to the young and fool-hardy, the ones who have the asbestos-lined stomachs is, “If it burns on the way in, it’ll burn on the way out!”  Most don’t care – they are young and will heal quickly – but it makes me feel wise.  Like the old bull who walks down the hill.  The old bull who rations his chili pepper that is…

And what happened to the full night’s sleep?  That seems to have disappeared along with the hair. Caffeine after dinner is simply inviting the” kiss of death” for the Sandman. And if you have suffered a sleepless night, you will know that insomnia is insidious. Night time is much too quiet, much too long, and too full of bad TV infomercials, to spend awake thinking about all those little things that are in the recesses of your mind – things like did I put enough into my RSPs, why is my shoulder hurting, are the kids happy, should I buy snow tires?  Don’t small problems just grow bigger in the dark?   I do not enjoy that aspect of getting older.

And to add to the insult, just as the diaphragm weakens in the face of the acid onslaught, the nocturnal bladder seems just as frail in the face of the evening peppermint tea or just-before-bed glass of water ( I have learned this unfortunate reality is called nocturia, and is way too common). If I am lucky, I make my mid-night bathroom run at 2am or 3am, allowing for a delicious second “nap” before the alarm buzzes.  If I am unlucky, I do the porcelain shuffle fifteen minutes before I have to get up.  And I hate that…I fight it savagely.  I play mind games and struggle to deny that “too full” feeling like I am in a sleeping bag in a tent in the middle of a wet night. It would all be better if I could just fall back asleep and my bladder could wait until it is time to get up…but there is no cooperation. I might steal a few more ZZZZs, but they are always interrupted by the dream involving a waterfall or rain or a babbling brook.  Muscles that were once taut and resilient are older and less robust (Note to Self: read up on kegles for men…).  I hate the mid-sleep pee, especially since sleep seems to be a rare commodity.

Another sign of the age apocalypse hit me when I was at the barbers’ in Kingston (the Wilstassier was a little too long for the Gillette Mach 3).  At the end of the Zero, the barber asked me if I wanted my ears and eyebrows trimmed.  Excuse me?  What did you say?  Who am I? Dumbledore … Oscar the Grouch…my Dad?  And after a quick glance in the mirror, I relented.  Sadly, I now realise that I am part of the fuzzy-ear, bushy-eyebrow crowd (we won’t mention those unruly nose-hairs). I will need to include this new grooming ritual with the rest of my old man routine of belly lint and toenail clipping and corn medicine and Gold Bond anti-itch powder.  Soon it’ll be sock garters, the suspenders and belt combo, the trousers’ waistband pulled up to the nipples, the love of pastel colours, and the blue-plate special at Denny’s. Though my body may be heading that way, in my brain I am not ready yet – not in the slightest.

The shoulder is annoying, and I will need a physio or massage therapist to work out the issue.  And as I am wiser, I will actually do all the prescribed therapy. I will use the big stretchy rubber ribbons and the 5lb weights and I will stretch.  I will do it because if I don’t, my body will not forgive me. And, I will eventually run out of ibuprofen.

And that leads me to the tragic bit.  Though I really know better, and realise that it is not wise, I will continue to emulate the life I lived when I was 20. But eventually (like the next day) I will have to cash the cheque I wrote earlier.  And while I am not ready to give up the spicy food yet, and I still enjoy my evening tipple, and I will still hobble onto the rugby pitch for an Old Boys’ or alumni game – everything must come in moderation. That is what old people do. They act sensibly.

But I hope that as in the past,  a wee, tiny, little bit of me will rebel and on occasion  quote Oscar Wilde: “Everything in moderation, including moderation.”  And because I am man, and still want to frolic in the fields with the young bulls, I will follow that siren call.

But until then, please excuse me. My beverage just kicked in.  I have to go use the restroom…

Later,

ASF

House Hunting Week from Hell!

Not quite a horror movie …but almost as scary

We have just finished the week(+) from hell…a limited time frame to find, inspect and finance the purchase of a house to live in as a step to moving to my new job.  Don’t get me wrong: the sponsored house hunting trip is a fantastic perk (I’ll just call it The Hunt).  But, it is a complicated and emotionally draining process – only slightly less complicated by the fact we did not have to sell a house, too.  (In my opinion, that just makes it a Orwellian “double-plus-ungood” scenario).

There are many steps to The Hunt – and for you novices, out there, let me warn you that gender has a big role to play in how much emotional capital is invested in each step.  Again – Venus versus Mars!!! First comes the weeks of internet searching, Google-mapping, cross-referencing, short-listing. Questions and comparisons follow: how many bathrooms? Bedrooms? Finished basement? Backyard, hot tub, pool?  Photos?  Price? Every new house that appears on the internet is a veritable hockey-sock full of nervous apprehension – is it sold yet? Now? Will it be sold before I get there?  Aaaaaaahhhhh!!!

And every digital version of a house looks like it is your next new home…its details painted in rosy hues using the painfully optimistic – and truth-bending prose of the realtor’s spin jargon ( I mean really, an “unspoiled basement”? Just tell me it is not finished.  4 bedrooms – really, isn’t the fourth nothing but a utility room with a bed in it?  Slight fixer-upper? Recently renovated? By whom, The Golden Girls?)

But while the ever-present spin can be annoying – there is significant potential for an Evil that lurks below the surface. Is the seller honest, is the realtor trustworthy, is everything transparent, is the house inspector reliable and skilled?…It is all a potential minefield seeded with broken hopes and drained finances.

But even though we fly away from our new Hometown exhausted, emotionally sprained – and for a brief while spiritually crushed – we do have a house!  And soon the pain will subside, as we look forward to our new house with a degree of optimism.  It comes with the promise of many more happy memories.

But what a ride The Hunt is!  Early optimism and mirth is replaced by desperation and tears; further renewed enthusiasm is shattered on the rocks of “creative web design” versus “the real walk-through”…of bad smells and magenta walls and rotting window sills and ugly cabinets and poor plumbing and cracked foundations and wall-to-wall berber carpet and crumbling roofs and daycare-running neighbours. None of these drawbacks were clear in the creatively deceptive and attractive web images.  And into this cocktail of vulnerability, add a healthy shot of the realities of making an offer on a house (and the fear of a bidding war if you are too timid or disrespectful) and offers and counter offers and counter-counter offers – it is, and always will be a high stakes poker game.  In the end, there is the possible loss of a wanted house (or a sale for that matter) – and other potential sad endings.  All can become a stark reality brought about by a simple misunderstanding of the other parties’ psyche, or a poorly-timed burst of  self-righteousness, idignation,  and pride…“ Well I am not paying $500 more – they can bend a bit, too…dammit!”

As I think back on it, and though I have had more than enough, The Hunt had its funny moments, too.  I remember the  two-dozen, or so, houses that did not make the grade – and I took mental notes of the flaws and features that had us backing out the door as fast as we could.  Things like:

Eau de Labrador (or two Labradors and two cats) that permeated the carpet and was only made worse by the unmistakably saccharine sweet smell of the flower-scented powdered carpet deodorizer.  All the Febreeze in the World will not cover up the smell of doggy anal glands rubbed on the carpet, with a nice dash of cat-ammonia to boot.

The Hoarder House…stacks of magazines, paper bags, rubber bands, newspapers, mason jars, … stuffed bunnies and bears and spooky dolls looking down on the marriage bed like lifeless voyeurs.  A weird Bates’ Motel motif that leaves you breathless – for all the wrong reasons.

The Cheap “Good-from-Far-but-Far-from-Good” Basement Bathroom RenovationPrettily executed by a DIY cowboy, complete with bubbled laminate flooring hiding the drain hole and non-functioning ventilation fan…a potential breeding ground for the black mold and microbe infestation after a few months of long hot showers.  It almost had us duped until we noticed that it was like the Wyle E’s numerous schemes – good on paper but a complete disaster in the making.

The Partially-Finished Basement House…all tastefully done in concrete floor and plastic wrapped pink fibre insulation wallpaper, with one dry-boarded, but un-taped-, un-mudded, and unpainted exterior wall. True…so very true that it was only partly finished – I’d say about 3% completed.  It was very cozy in a card-board box kind of way.

And in the same vein…

The Fixer Upper – all you need to do is install new carpets, new floors, new drywall, new roof, new furnace, new appliances (the avocado green and harvest gold are retro-chic, but both appliances in a kitchen should sport the same 1970 Kenmore hue).  A steal at $350K+, as long as you have a spare $50K sitting around and three years to flip it…

The War of the Roses House…aka The Divorce House.  A steal at the selling price I am sure, but rendered completely undesirable due to the complete lack of furniture save the folding camping chairs,  army blanket bed linen, the stacks and stacks of Liquor Store paper bags and a lovely growth of mold in the basement.  Oh yes, and add the smell of depressed man hygiene and unwashed feet to the mix. Given the Sad Sack owner’s poor state of affairs, I would be afraid to have any pets in the house lest a misdirected ex-spouse not realise the house had been sold…and set about preparing a rustic rabbit stew à la Glenn Close…

The “The-Owner-Won’t-Leave-the-House” House Showing. Now we never really had a full one of these, but we did have the “owner sitting on the back deck”, and the “owner coming home early” showings. It is amazing how much people want to show you about their homes – the fantastic touches that make it a great buy. And it is even more amazing how we can make up wonderful things to say about houses that really, really suck. It is actually kinda sad…our politeness gives them false hope. I can just imagine them after our departure, “Looks good, Hon’! Didja’ hear him? He said it showed really well. I have a good vibe on this one!” So cruel…

The Turnip House…our nom de plume for the variety of houses where sellers would benefit from the services of a Fluffer, or Stager…whatever you call them.  The Turnip House sticks out because it smelled bad. “Why?” you ask…because the rotting uncooked turnip in the cast iron pot on the stove smelled bad. And I do not mean just soft…I mean oozy and minutes away from hosting the fruit fly convention that was partying in the bowl of black (yes, black…not speckled, not bruised…but black) bananas a few metres away.  Things that make you go “hmmmmm”.  And into this category falls the dirty underwear on the laundry room floor or the damp towels sitting on the bathroom counter. If you don’t know what sells, I only have one word…Fluffers, people… fluffers…they’re not just for porn stars.

In the end, our Short List was really short and, like Life, timing is everything.  When we lost out on our first house due to someone’s omission (and not ours) we were thoroughly dejected and despondent. But as my Mom says, “Everything happens for a reason, Dear.” And that is so true.  We found one that suits us better!  Happy with our purchase, we now return for our last two months in Europe.  And while we are tired and drained, and perhaps a little sad that our fun outside Canada is ending, we have a bright, tidy, lovely home to look forward to with excitement.

And, thankfully, a great list of things “not-to-do” if we ever decide to sell up because we are moving.  But that, given my experience over the past 9 days, is not something I hope to do in a hurry!  As those of you who are just returning from The Hunt already know – it just hurts too much!

I am sure there are many untold house hunting disaster stories out there.  It would be great if you left a comment and shared some or your personal “best” moments or memories from Your Hunts. I am sure it would make all of Us feel a lot better. Like they say, “Misery loves company”…  🙂

Later,

ASF

I hate moving….

Orders are in.

Time to move again.

After finally settling in after three years, it is time to pack up the tent and load up the wagon. As we used to say in the Army of the West, “Feathers”.  Forget that I have finally got the internet to work in this house, or that I now understand how UK central heat works (or is supposed to work) and that I can figure out which channel is which on the TV…I  guess the roots are starting to grow vertically instead of horizontally, so it is time to go!

Moving…aaaah moving…

Moving is a double-edged sword.  I love living in Europe and will miss it a lot –  but I have missed Canada and Canadians and I am happy to go back to a place where I am not immediately asked if I am from America…

And a move means a new town, with a new job, a new house, full of new adventures and new challenges – all very exciting.

But a move also means a whole lotta moving nausea:

Piling, sorting, discarding, keeping, inventorying, packing, cleaning, cursing, disconnecting, closing out accounts, deconstructing,  disassembling, dismantling, unhanging, repairing, polyfilling, cursing, loading, shipping, travelling, redecorating, painting, opening  new accounts, cursing, reconnecting, unloading, adjusting, cursing, fixing, reconstructing, renovating, re-assembling, reconfiguring, re-hanging, cursing, rearranging, organising, reorganising, cursing…I am already tired just thinking about it.  Add in the beauty of  Customs and Borders – and a federally contracted global relocation specialist who is really only worried about the dollar –  and it just does not get better. Oh wait, I forgot to factor in the unknown about the shipping agent and the quality of the movers – and the worry that the sea container that will transport all your belongings is going to smell like fish.

And that is just the beginning.

Think of what happens when I hit the ground…the pain of adjusting to a new routine in a new place.  Facing the joy of discovery – learning how to recycle anew, when to put out the garbage, where the nearest “best of everything” is – coffee, breakfast, ribs, wings, movies, pints, pizza, chinese food,  grocery store, post office, drug store, dry cleaner…whatever.  And then having to find a suitable dentist, doctor, vet, kenneler, physio, optometrist, orthodontist, chiropractor, bartender,  banker, barber, hairdresser…looking for a car dealer, the best cell phone deal, interesting clubs; starting up the weekly paper delivery, changing the magazine subscriptions, sorting out utility deposits, providing references.

And don’t forget meeting the neighbours – trying to figure out which ones to keep seeing, which ones have the snow-blower, which ones will be simply a mutual driveway wave each morning, and which ones are just not for you.

And all the memorising…a new address, postal code, phone number, e-mail address, licence plate, combinations, which key opens what, which drawer the cutlery is in, which cupboard holds the glasses, the dishes.  Figuring out what days and times the stores are open, when the beer store closes…wait, I am not moving to Atlantic Canada, so the timings should be convenient!

I want to be Jeannie Genie from I dream of Jeannie, or Samantha Stephens from Bewitched (stay pure people, stay pure… okay I wish I had the powers of Jeannie and Samantha), and could just fold my arms or wiggle my nose, and find that I have been magically transported into my new house – sitting in my favorite chair watching the game on my high-definition flat screen, while drinking  a cold micro-brewed beer with my charming new neighbour –who owns a  cottage and a boat and  a box at the local stadium and enjoys the same taste in music and sports as me – as we wait for our pizza and wings (ordered on my high-speed internet connection).  I”d settle for the chair, TV and internet part of that …but how happy would I be if it just happened. I don’t mind moving – I just don’t want to have to do it.

But that ain’t the way it works.  So just as I waited impatiently for the official message telling me to pull up stakes and leave nothing but a memory where I have lived for three years , I must now accept that I must kick into gear, and get organised.  Time to get ruthless and start rifling through the house – a house that my parents, who haven’t moved in over two decades, think is lean and streamlined – but for a seasoned transient is just a little too “hoard-ish” and a little too full.  It is time to do what the Army is pretty good at – time to move quickly and efficiently and without too much fuss. (Note that there is no limit on profanity…)

But I am pretty sure that this is the last time…next house, I am cementing the garden gnomes into place (If i can find the ones below!). And then,  I guess I’ll just include them in the house listing if I ever move again!

So wish me luck…and to all my friends who are moving this Summer, I hope it is not too painful.  Safe travels this Summer and see you when we see you….

Later,

ASF

Every day is Valentine’s Day…or 14 February, “Bah, Humbug!”

February, yuck!  Christmas is but a faint memory, the Groundhog has seen his shadow, and the Northern hemisphere can look forward to a couple more weeks of shivering and cursing.  Now if that wasn’t bad enough, you can chuck February 14th into the mix. And if you are male, that means the dreaded recurrence of the annual St Valentine’s Day Massacre.

Now, while Bugsy Moran’s boys were shot down in cold blood, at least they only suffered one Massacre.  We men, however, suffer through mass media’s idea of love, complete with all the guilt and tension that surrounds it.  Flowers, jewellery, dinner, perfume, lingerie…what do I do, what does she want? How do I show how much she means to me? I can hear the wails of male angst as I write.

And why? Just why, oh why, is it like that?

Now unless you are one of those annoying pricks of a male (you know the kind who rents a white Arabian charger and a full suit of armour to propose kind-of guy, the bastard who just ups the ante to unattainable limits for us normal guys) Valentine’s Day is nothing but a pressure cooker.  Implicitly, subliminally, covertly it is a sad truth that it is the man’s job to be the Romantic one. It’s his job to make the plans, book the venue, and make it a memorable 14 February (or the Saturday before or after, as schedules permit, and when payday happens to fall.)

And what a challenge it is…I mean what is romantic to him, may not be so romantic for her.  Valentine’s Day octagon-side seats to a UFC match? Nope.  Chicken wings and an NHL game on the pub’s big screen?  Doubt it.  A bottle of wine and Caligula? Dreaming…  None of those will cut it.  It is better to play it safe and break out the flowers and Under the Tuscan Sun or Chocolat

But really, what is Valentine’s Day? More importantly, what is expected? A casual question usually yields, a “Surprise me” or a “Something romantic”.   Not helpful.  And what do people think about the day?  A quick check of the Urban Dictionary shows that it is not all that popular – a day of sadness, anger, unfulfilled expectations. Probably not quite what Hallmark and Hershey’s had in mind, I’d guess.  (By the way, don’t get distracted by UD, it can trap you in its sticky, hilariously profane web…and what is seen (or read) can ever be unseen or unread…trust me).

Other sources say Valentine’s Day traces its roots to an ancient pagan holiday called Lupercalia.   Apparently on this day, men stripped naked, grabbed whips, and spanked young women in hopes of increasing female fertility. Now that’s romantic, isn’t it? I wonder when that tradition ended…“Armageddon, Armageddon…”

And who, exactly, is this poster child for those hopelessly in love, this Saint Valentine fellow?  Evidently, he was a martyr; he is the patron Saint of beekeepers, travellers, young people… and believe it or not…epilepsy and plague. How much more loving can you get than that?  Story goes that he married young Romans in secret, disobeying the Emperor’s edicts (evidently fighting age Roman men were more interested in getting laid than fighting wars for The Man – I guess it was a type of pre-Christ hippy movement).  And St V’s reward for the loving spoonful…a beheading. (Maybe that’s why men think with the little one…) Ironically, the figurative beheading still seems to be a tradition that exists today – ask any man who does not recognise Valentine’s Day appropriately.

And what about all those other icons…like Cupid. Now there’s the epitome of Valentine’s Day romance.  But really, he is nothing more than a mythical, chubby, diapered boy-man who shoots arrows at people, changing them into human versions of Pepé Le Pew; They lose all inhibitions and become uncomfortably amorous. Could you imagine that today? A semi-naked, diaper-clad little man, flitting along putting Spanish Fly and Flunitrazepam in random people’s drinks?  Very creepy, indeed…

If I haven’t made it clear already, I am a Valentine’s Day Scrooge…” It’s all HUMBUG, I tell you, HUMBUG!”  Do not confuse my “humbug d’amour” as being a “love curmudgeon”.  True, I have not rented a metal codpiece or greaves to impress my fair lady; but, I do love her and I am not afraid to tell her so, often, and when I want.  I object to the very idea that there is a specific day on which someone is mandated to show their love for their spouse or partner.  I love my wife everyday – all equally. I do not love her more on 14 February and less on other days.  Nobody who is in love does that.  And by saying that there is one day that is a must, people are excused from demonstrating their love on those other 364 (and 365 in 2012.)

I don’t need to be chastised or cajoled by the florists or the chocolatiers or the card-makers or jewellers or perfumers that it is time to buy gifts or I am a miserable excuse of an amour. I am sure that such gifts would be just as appreciated on 11 May, or 16 September or other random date.  I bet they would be even more appreciated, because a surprise gift would come truly from the heart – not from a contrived sense of guilt created by commercial advertising.

Yet the expectation may be huge. If mass media’s guilt trip is too overwhelming, resist – do not yield to the siren call of big business.  Give a gift, but go back to your roots…a home-made card using Elmer’s glue, a doily and red construction paper… a handwritten note recalling one of your most memorable moments together…anything that makes you think of how much you love him or her.   I’d guess you can’t go wrong; it is a safe bet to spend the time, rather than the money.

And that is because real love is not in the gifts; it is about the committment. Like what is in these stories

So, Valentine’s day…I say HUMBUG. Like any other day of the year, I will tell my wife that I love her – probably more than once – and I will remind her that 14 February is just a signal that there are only 54 days until the Easter Bunny arrives…

And that’s that.  Sorry to run, but I have to go and check out the on-line florists…see you later!

ASF

Laissez-faire or Beatings? The two Extremes of Fast-Food Parenting….

My wife and I were travelling by plane a while ago.  Just after the pilot extinguished the seat belt sign, the aisle and area near the front door became a children’s daycare.  Children of all sizes and shapes started running and crawling and jumping in the aisle, blocking passengers from getting to the restrooms. Now, some of you will say I was only distressed because the kids were preventing the attendants from dispensing the miniature bottles, but really…they created a totally unpleasant atmosphere for anyone in the cabin over 30. (Anyone under 30 was too busy with their iPads, iPods and other i-Ignore-U devices.)  Most of the passengers were really annoyed – sharing that beseeching look of “Please. Someone stop this!”  But no one did anything – especially not the parents. What was the parents’ reaction?  Incomprehensibly, it was support, encouragement and the annoying cluck, cluck of “Aren’t they precious?”  Shockingly and sadly, I have run into the same phenomenon at restaurants, cinemas, grocery stores, shopping malls – almost every place where children are allowed.  What the heck is going on?

But honestly, while I may be perturbed by the children’s behaviour, I really was dismayed and angry at the parents.  What were they thinking? How could they possibly believe it was okay  to have little Johnny spread-eagled across the airplane aisle, screeching at the top of his lungs for his soother? There were not enough 50ml bottles of airplane liquor (1.7 ounces for my Imperial-based friends) to deal with this!

I ask myself, why does this happen – especially when I am in a confined space with no escape route?  I read an article in the UK Telegraph (Children out of Control: Britain’s new brat pack by Kate Mulvey) and thought – Bang on, Kate!  She contends that the issue is not the kids; kids act within the boundaries, or lack thereof, set by the parents. She blames the Me Generation’s mommies and daddies. Parents focused on self; parents who allow children to set the boundaries to compensate for their inattention and poor parenting skills; as if treating their children as peers equals good parenting.

Sometimes I wonder who is calling the shots – the three-year old or the 30-year-old. When I was a kid there was absolutely no doubt who called the shots in our house!  And, though it was a long time ago that my kids were that age, I can’t ever recall letting them run around like savage children  – annoying other passengers or patrons with the antithesis of “seen but not heard”.  No, my kids were socialised to the world and understood there were places that were playgrounds, and places that were not.

My kids fit into the dominant culture and adapted – not vice versa.

Lately, the issue of children’s behaviour has become a hot topic in   the UK. The “iffy” Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) mixed with last summer’s riots (particularly as the majority of the violators were hoodie-wearing minors) produce an intense bonfire of emotions centred on effective parenting.

The argument underway now whirls around Britain’s law that limits corporal punishment, and how it prevents parents from controlling their children.

From Wikipedia (and yes, I know it is not authoritative – but the dictionary definitions make me swallow my tongue),

Corporal punishment involves the deliberate infliction of pain as retribution for an offence, or for the purpose of disciplining or reforming a wrongdoer, or to deter attitudes or behaviour deemed unacceptable. The term usually refers to methodically striking the offender with an implement

(You can imagine how bad the dictionary definitions were!)

And the UK is not the only country thinking about corporal punishment for minors…tranquil New Zealand – the Home of the Hobbits and peaceful shepherds – held a referendum on the corporal punishment question – whether to slap or not to slap?

Seriously, what century is this?  What are we – in a Dickens’ novel?  Do we bring back the workhouses for unruly children? What happens when we bring the children home from the maternity ward – the Government issues all parents a leather strap and a rubber paddle?

I mean, is it ever alright to hit a child? Ever? Some will say that every rule has an exception, but this one is pretty absolute to me – forget corporal punishment.  I believe that effective tough love cuts out the need to train children like scared Pavlov’s dogs.  To me, corporal punishment is a cop-out. It lets a parent or guardian deploy the Bomb before they have even tried to use diplomacy.  With the “let them do whatever they want” technique at one end, corporal punishment is at the other end of the “I-want-parenting-to-be- easy” spectrum.

It’s ironic, that when my wife and I went to the SPCA to adopt our cats a couple of years ago, we had to fill out a lengthy, intrusive questionnaire that asked about our lifestyle, our care plan and our commitment to the cats. It was reviewed by the SPCA powers that be, and after a few days of anxiety, we were deemed trustworthy enough to care for cats.  And I know from friends that it is a much more intimate, intrusive and harrowing process for those who wish to adopt a child.

But, to have a child naturally demands no scrutiny.  All that is needed is the coupling of a complementary set of reproductive organs – no forethought, no plan, no education, no commitment. You need more than that to get a driver’s licence.  That isn’t right.   Many potential parents may not have what it takes to raise children with the care, affection and occasional tough love that is required. They need to prove they do. Why don’t “wannabe” parents need a child-raising licence? Wouldn’t a simple pre-conception education/certification process save a lot of grief for society, aid agencies, the prospective parents and the soon-to-be conceived child?  Aren’t the needs of the child just as important as the rights of the parents? Is it really too intrusive?

I admit that I was not a perfect parent – there was the occasional overindulgence, the extremely late bed time, one too many Happy Meals, the occasional missed bath and woefully, the Tooth Fairy fiasco.  But my kids always had my time and my love – including tough love. When they were little, they always knew when they had overstepped the bounds.   They knew it through a cross word or the”time-out”, always followed by an age-appropriate explanation when the time was right.  And now, they are well adjusted young adults, who I hope learned from my example. They learned what was acceptable and what wasn’t – with no need for smacks, backhands, switches or belts.  It wasn’t always easy, but it was never too hard.

So in the future, when you are suffering the hysterical cacophony or exasperating disruption of the wayward child, perhaps you should curb your desire to discipline the child.  Maybe, just maybe, it is the parents who would behave better after some corporal punishment…

Later,

ASF