Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Suicide Hill made for snow much fun

There is a terrific tobogganing hill a couple hundred metres from where I live.
There are several grades from a leisurely slide down the hill to a rocket-like decent for the brave and foolhardy.
The best part is, the run off area is a football field.
My children spent many an hour sliding down and climbing up that hill as did numerous other kids from around the neighbourhood.
There were even a few of us older kids out there once in a while, reliving our youth by taking a blast of frozen ice particles to the face.
I never had an actual toboggan when I was a young lad, but I have ridden on one a few and the snow just pours over the top of the wooden contraption and hits you in the face, tearing off the first layer of skin and rendering you temporarily blind.
Of course, the more the hill is used the less powder there is. Eventually, the snow packs down and the slope ices up until it is basically a downhill skating rink, allowing participants to break the sound barrier before they reach the bottom of the hill.
As a young lad, we would all gather at 'Suicide Hill' to do our sledding.
What else would a group of youngsters name a tobogganing hill? Gentle Slope of Fun? Slide of Silliness?
No, it had to be something dangerous, something that evoked the death-defying acts we were performing.
Actually, it was not the safest sledding hill in the country. There were two runs: a short fast one, and a long slower one.
The short fast one went down a fairly steep slope into a run off area. Doesn't sound too bad except for the barbed wire fence at the end of the run. If you had too much speed, you actually had to jump off your mount to slow down or you would hit the fence – as had been done by many people on many occasions.
The other run was much slower and if you did it right you would slide across a driveway, through a cross road and down another road that was even longer than the actual hill you started out on. The full length of this run could only done when there was a fresh, unplowed snowfall blanketing the blacktop because sliding on bare asphalt is a bad idea any time of the year.
Aside from the risk of being run over, it was a lot of fun. Kids rarely factor danger into their activities, so we hardly ever thought about being clobbered by a car.
Our focus was on racing down the mountain and seeing who could slide the farthest, the fastest.
No one was ever seriously hurt, but one intrepid slider did crash into the side of a car, much the displeasure of the car owner who was more worried about a dent in his automobile than the head of the child that caused the dent.
That hill is now a housing development, so never again will a child have to dodge a Dodge or find a way to stop before sailing through a barbed wire fence.
And perhaps that is a good thing.

Copyright 2014 Darren Handschuh

Friday, December 19, 2014

You are not alone at Christmas

“It's the most wonderful time of the year...”
Or so the song goes anyways, but for many people, Christmas is not all that wonderful.
In fact, it can be the worst time of the year.
For people struggling with mental illness, Christmas can magnify the suffering and the challenges they face on a daily basis.
Depression and other mental difficulties can often be isolating. Being trapped in the darkness of an unhealthy mind is one of the loneliest places in the world.
I told a friend once it is like I was screaming in a crowded elevator and no one hears me.
I can remember driving around in my car and feeling so overwhelmed by loneliness I honestly did not know how I was going to make it through another Christmas.
It is such a desolate place to be: trapped in your own mind that is telling you no one is there for you, no one is in your corner.
Of course, these are lies fed by my illness. I had people who cared about me, but I could not see it through the choking smog of pain ignited by the fires of mental illness.
Christmas and all the joy and togetherness it represents was like pouring fuel on that fire. Those feelings of solitude, isolation and, indeed, desperation, grew to such a fury, the fires of hades paled in comparison.
Over the years, I have come a long way in my personal struggle. I have  sought out  counselling, read a lot of books, taken courses and worked hard to understand why I was feeling the way I was. Dealing with mental health issues, no matter the type, is a self-determined journey: you are the only one who can take the first step on the road to wellness. You are the only one who can make you climb that mountain.
For the most part, those feelings of loneliness are now gone, but they are far from forgotten.
Even as I write this, I remember how alone I felt, how empty I thought my life was and my heart breaks for anyone suffering through such darkness  at any time of year, let alone Christmas.
You are not alone. You are not the only one struggling with those feelings.
I know how hard it is, I know the anguish it can cause, the desolation of the spirit it can bring upon someone.
But there are places to go to not be alone. Many churches hold candlelight Christmas eve services. You do not have to be a person of faith to attend. It is just a peaceful, welcoming place to be where you are not alone, where you interact with people.
A good friend of mine found solace in an online group and it is now a tradition for him to spend Christmas chatting and Skyping with people all over North America.
The Canadian Mental Health Association also has numerous resources available to help,
And if you feel it is more than you can take, I implore you, please call the crisis line where you will find people who care about your well being.
Remember, you are not alone, others walk with you. Help is available, all you have to do it accept it.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Paranoid people are out to get me

Just because you are paranoid does not mean people are not out to get you.
I have heard that saying before and found it kind of amusing.
But there is another version that goes something like this: Just because you are paranoid does not mean people are out to get you.
It just means you are paranoid and perhaps you have an inflated sense of self importance.
My wife and I popped into a little restaurant for lunch a while back when a small group of people came in following a GMO protest.
I am hardly an expert on the whole modified food thing, but I support the anti-GMO movement because man and his scientific brain can not improve on what nature has already perfected.
How can a beaker hugger in a lab make something better than nature perfected millennia ago?
Why do I need a genetically modified tomato when the one God made thousands of years ago works just fine – always has.
I don't need some weenie in a corporate sterile room messing around with my apple so it will not go brown if it sits out too long. That is what apples do, and have done for centuries with no harm to mankind.
I have read the whole thing is driven by massive corporations out to make massive amounts of money. Now that, I believe. And of course the Canadian political machine would never stand up to big business.
Anyway, the Missus and I were having lunch when these people came in and started talking about the protest.
"Ya, I have had an unmarked police car parked in front of my house for almost a month,” said one protester. “I guess someone doesn't like what we are doing.”
Added another, “I know, they have been tapping my phone for weeks now. I guess they wanted to know what our plans were.”
I'm sorry, but I just have a hard time believing the RCMP have nothing better to do with their manpower than to keep personal watch over someone organizing a protest they are legally allowed to hold.
The government, police and secret spy agencies have much bigger fish to fry, but these people were convinced the helicopter flying over the protest – that attracted about 50 people – was taking secret videos of them to add to some massive database.
Really? With terrorists, drug gangs and all sorts of threats to our nation, the government will allocate massive resources to keep watch over a few people peacefully protesting?
Like I said, somehow I doubt it.
I recently dealt with one group that wanted publicity for their cause. They sent the newsroom emails about it, asked we do a story on it, but when I started contacting people on the list, no one wanted to go on the record.
Then why did you contact us in the first place if no one is willing to talk about it?
I spoke with half a dozen people, none of whom would give me any comments and instead passed me along to someone else.
One person said he would not talk to me because he did not know me and sounded very suspicious that I was even a real reporter.
And then these groups wonder why people have a hard time taking them seriously.
But we live in a free country where you can be as paranoid as you want, you can believe government agents are camping out in the hedge in front of your home and that there is a secret conspiracy aimed at your cause.
Now if you will excuse me, I have to put on my tinfoil hat to keep the secret government mind-reading machine from accessing this column before it is published.

Copyright 2014 Darren Handschuh

Friday, December 12, 2014

Lighting up the Yuletide night

The plan was simple enough: every year I would purchase another string of Christmas lights and by the time the Missus and I were married 100 years, I would have enough lights tacked onto the house it could be seen from space.
However, as we all know, things don't always go as planned. Actually, they rarely go as planned.
Initially, I bought several strings of lights at once because I did not decorate our rental unit and when be finally managed to scratch enough together to buy a house, having just a single strand lighting up the Yuletide night would look pathetic.
So, I bought a strand for every year we had been married to that point. It was enough to give the house a festive feel and my plan was well underway.
Then one day as I was walking my then elementary-aged kids to school, my son asked why I took the lights down.
Some Grinch has pilfered a good portion of my pretty lights. At least half the lights were gone. The Yuletide dirtbag had simply grabbed a strand, pulled and took off with his ill-gotten goods.
Whoever took the lights did not put a lot of effort into their act of skullduggery and grabbed the easiest ones they could. They left a few strings still attached to the tree, but it was far from the extravagant light show it had once been.
Hoping the thieving little, um, er, person would get a lump of coal for Christmas, I trudged down to the local mega-store where I bought some replacement strands.
The lights were back on and there were no more acts of holiday barbarism. Until the next year that is, when more strands were stolen.
The strand-a-year plan was officially dead – just like my Christmas light display. But I refused to give up and on Dec. 27 I bought several more strands – on sale – and made plans for next year.
I would put the lights up higher where they could not be easily reached. The tree next to the sidewalk would have to go through Christmas naked even though it looked really cool when the snow covered the lights.
The plan worked and no lights were removed without my consent.
While I was taking care of the outside show of celebration, my wife was looking after the decorations inside.
I never had a Christmas tree when I was a kid, my parents did not believe in it. I did not have my first Christmas tree until after I married. We were young, I was going to college and finances were scarce so we bought the cheapest tree we could find.
It cost $5 and was the quintessential Charley Brown Christmas tree. It was small, spindly and lopsided, but it was the coolest Christmas tree I had ever seen.
Since then, our finances and subsequent tree budget has grown so now, 26 Christmases later, we get a decent tree.
Which is good, because each year the Missus purchases a decoration to represent the year that was. She also buys special ornaments for the children each year and that means we have a lot of decorations to cram onto a tree.
Eventually, we will be looking at a California redwood Christmas tree because a Canadian pine tree just will not be large enough to hold everything.
Every year it takes a little longer to decorate. Not only are there the decorations we purchased, but ones the children made at school over the years, so that little tree is drooping under the weight of it all.
Do the math: three kids, each doing seven years of elementary school and each making at least one ornament per year. That alone is 21 ornaments and we have managed to keep almost all of them.
The kids get a real kick out of seeing ornaments they made when they were little, and they are by far my favourite ornaments inside or out.

Copyright 2014 Darren Handschuh

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Christmas plays sure have changed over the years

For the second year now, I will not have to attend a school Christmas play function.
My youngest is in Grade 9 and high school kids are way too cool to put on a Christmas production, so my days of sitting through an Yuletide show are over.
I don't mean to sound like a theatrical Scrooge or anything, but I must admit I do not miss the annual event.
Sure it was great to see my kids up there singing a song or doing some acting, and for the five minutes they were on stage they had my complete and full attention.
The other 90 minutes or so dragged on like a visit to a singing dentist.
By the time the show was over, the gymnasium was stifling as a couple hundred parents wearing their finest winter gear sat in hard plastic chairs and gave somewhat forced applause as kids they have never seen before did their act.
But every year we would go, we would cheer and we would clap because to the children, it was a big deal. To them it was their chance to shine on stage, whether they wanted to or not.
Christmas productions have been around as long as there have been schools and Christmas.
I participated in them in elementary school even though I was so shy I had a hard time looking myself in the eye in a mirror.
Being more comfortable in the background, I never sought the leading role, but instead opted for something a little more hidden – like a goat, or a tree, or a rock.
Some years I managed to get off the stage completely and helped with building the set, a much more comfortable role for someone of my shy disposition.
Christmas productions have changed dramatically over the years.
When I was in elementary school we always did the manger scene depicting the birth of Christ. Sure there was some singing of Christmas carols and what not, but the show always ended with Mary, Joseph and the baby JC.
By the time my kids were in elementary school, JC was out and it was all about Santa. Political correctness had once again taken over a holiday tradition and the annual production went from the manger to Santa's workshop and stories of elves making presents and Santa saving Christmas from sort of calamity.
God forbid we should offend anyone with a view or belief they did not share.
Sorry, I mean non-specific supreme deity we should offend anyone with a view or belief they do not share.

 Copyright 2014 Darren Handschuh

Friday, December 5, 2014

How parenting has made me ready for the circus

Who would have thought being a parent would give me the skills needed to be in the circus.
There is a whole bunch of circus-related duties I could perform, all from the skills I picked up as I helped the Missus raise three adorable children.
They really are good kids. They are not perfect little angels (like their father was at that age), but they have good hearts, mostly stay out of trouble and have high morals and standards.
But like all young adults, the teen years brought moments of great challenge for their parental charges and it was during those tumultuous years I honed my many circus skills.
I could be a clown. Ask pretty much any teen what they think of their parents and they will agree mom and dad are qualified to wear a red nose, funny wig and outlandish make up.
All teens seem to go through a phase where mom and dad are an embarrassment, old fashioned and don't know anything. It is amazing the 'old people' can walk and talk at the same time they are so incompetent.
Of course, I never thought that of my parents. Just like I never copped an attitude, thought I knew everything or considered them an embarrassment. It was always, 'Yes, mother' and 'Yes, father,' 'What ever you say father.'
No, really, that is how I was as a teen, honest.
Anyway, circus clown is more of a title bestowed upon parents by their children than one they have to work for.
But there are other circus jobs parenting is a perfect training ground for.
Lion tamer. Who has not walked into the lions cage – a.k.a. a teenagers' room to 'discuss' something only to come face-to-face with a ferocious beast.
Sticking your head in a lion's mouth is kiddie play compared to dealing with a hostile teen.
But the good thing about a teen, especially a teen girl, is if you wait a few minutes, their mood will change and the danger will pass. However, as all parents know all you have to do is wait another minute and a new mood will emerge, and so on and so on.
Such it the life of a parent.
When the kids are younger, parents develop skills as a juggler. My wife pretty much mastered the skill of holding one child and chasing another while carrying an armload of groceries.
If a professional juggler really wants to impress me – do all that fancy stuff they do while looking after an ankle biter or two, now that raises the difficulty level to extreme.
Another circus skill is tightrope walking. I am currently in the learning process of this one as I deal with a very emotional teenage daughter.
When it comes to dealing with a young lass who is being assaulted by a hurricane of hormones as she makes the transition from child to woman, walking a tightrope is a must-have skill.
I am quickly learning you have to achieve just the right balance between discipline and freedom.
If the discipline is too heavy handed, you aggravate the situation and said daughter throws up a wall of teenaged anger and defiance and things escalate from there (see lions den.)
Too much freedom and they could get into trouble, but not enough freedom and they feel repressed, spawning that anger and defiance I was talking about.
So it is a fine line, a high-wire balancing act of majestic proportions to find just the right amount of parenting and the right amount of letting them make their own mistakes and figure things out themselves without getting into too much trouble.
So being a parent has developed many skills that are applicable to becoming a carnival performer, and believe me, more than once I have thought about running away and joining the circus.

Copyright 2014 Darren Handschuh

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Mystery of missing brains a real head scratcher

OK, this is just a little too strange to ignore.
The University of Texas in Austin has reported 100 brains have gone missing.
That's about half of the university's collection of brains that were preserved in jars of formaldehyde and used for a variety of studies.
This opens up a whole universe of questions from who took them to why did they take them?
Why would anyone want one brain in a jar let alone 100?
I know people like to collect things – I have several old tools mounted on the wall of my man cave – but I have never thought I needed a brain collection.
What would you do with them? Put them on the mantle? Perhaps on the coffee table as a conversation piece – a conversation that I hope would include the recommendation to interact with a mental health professional.
But wait, that is not all.
The university is home to some of the greatest minds alive today, and this is what one of those great minds had to say about it:
“We think somebody may have taken the brains, but we don't know at all for sure," psychology Professor Tim Schallert, co-curator of the collection said.
You think somebody may have taken the brains!
What do you mean, you think someone took the brains?
If no one took them, what the hell happened to them?
Did they some how come back to life and figure out how to get out on their own? If so, there are a lot of people in Ottawa who could use a method of bringing their brains to life.
Is this some weird horror movie coming to life: Night of the Bottled Brains, Attack of the Fermented Gray Matter, Charge of the Contained Craniums?
I am no detective, or even a high-IQ professor type, but even I can figure out someone took the brains and I have never even been to Texas.
His co-curator, psychology Professor Lawrence Cormack came to the same conclusion and suspected undergrad students may have liberated the brains from the facility for Halloween or other juvenile reasons.
Now that makes much more sense.
Of course, there is always the Frankenstein monster scenario where undergrads are regenerating their own creatures made of accumulated body parts and needed a brain to complete the set, but I highly doubt it.
More than likely it was a youthful adventure by high-IQ, low common sense students who did it for a gag.
The remaining 100 brains are being moved to a different location in the hopes they won't wander away like the others.

Copyright 2014 Darren Handschuh

Friday, November 28, 2014

Shake it off, it's only a head injury

There is a lot of emphasis on sports injuries lately, specifically concussions.
When I was a young lad playing hockey, no one was ever concussed.
There was no such thing as a concussion. Instead of a medically proven head injury, we had our 'bell rung.'
That is the old-school term for getting clobbered. I had my bell rung several times growing up and not once did I see a doctor for it.
Why would I? It was just part of the game. At some point or another everybody had their bell rung. It was just an accepted part of playing sports.
You would spend a few minutes on the bench before the coach would send you out again – even if you thought his name was Susan and you were Princess Eggbert of the Flibber People.
You shook it off and kept playing, everyone did.
I have lost touch with most of the guys I played hockey with so I do not know if they are experiencing any long-term consequences from having their bells rung. I hope not.
We used to play with all sorts of injuries – sprained knees, sore back, sore neck, cranial disharmony from taking a shot to the noggin.
At the time, it seemed very important that we play, no matter what.
I didn't really understand why. This was minor hockey where even if you are the best team in the league all you get is a little trophy and some bragging rights.
Not a great trade for a lifelong nagging injury.
It just goes to show how competitive some people are, even on a minor league scale. They are willing to risk permanent injury just to win a game.
The coaches were also willing to risk my permanent injury just to win a game, but being young and not too bright, you wanted to keep the coach happy because you looked up to him so you played regardless of what hurt.
Looking back, it seems kind of stupid.
Perhaps if you have a shot at the pros it would be worth it to play through the pain, but really, when you are 15 years old playing tier one hockey, the NHL is a long ways away but the injuries are immediate.
I don't have a competitive bone in my body, but I played hockey for many years because that is just what you did. Everyone I knew played hockey – so I played hockey too.
And I got hurt and I played through the pain – just like everyone else.
Now that I am older and wiser I encourage youngsters to take the time to heal. So you miss a few games or practice sessions, big deal. At least you won't be hobbling like Quasimodo when you are 50.
I tell that to all the pups at my martial arts club as well, but like most youngsters they are full of machismo and don't listen.
I didn't listen to 'old people' when I was their age. Why would I? I knew everything there was worth knowing and I knew the pain I felt would soon go away and it was no big deal.
And I was right. It was no big deal, until the years started to pile on, then all those injuries I ignored started to become problems.
But all my physical woes can not be blamed on the stupidity of youth. I made some pretty stupid choices for many years as a full-grown, mature adult for which I am now paying the price.
Hey, I never claimed to be the brightest in the bunch.
Now if you will excuse me, I believe the Flibber People are calling.

Copyright 2014 Darren Handschuh

Friday, November 21, 2014

Dogs are far more than just a pet

Some friends of mine recently had to put down their beloved dog.
They had two dogs, but tragically one died over the summer and this one was a senior and had developed hip problems that caused her pain.
Putting her down was the right thing to do, but it was a hard thing to do.
I have had several dogs over the years and as every pet owner knows, they are more than just an animal.
They become members of the family, companions and friends.
They are always happy to see you, they don't care how much money you make or what your social status is.
Sure they may eat their own vomit once in a while, but dogs love you for you and that makes them invaluable.
Some people take having a dog to the next level, buying them clothes and even jewelry. Yup, I have seen doggie necklaces – not to be confused with a collar – and other forms of bling people adorn their  hounds with.
We had to buy our current mutt, Murphy the Wonder Dog, a sweater to keep him warm in the winter. It was for practical reasons because he has short, fine hair and shivers and shakes all winter, but he still wants to go for a walk every day.
I will never dress a dog up just because it makes then look cute. God already made them look cute, so spending my hard-earned money on fancy duds to make my dog look dapper is unnecessary.
But to each their own I guess. If you want to spend money on doggie clothes, go ahead. Who am I to judge?
I will also never  - ever - share an ice cream cone with a dog as I have seen people do on more than one occasion. I have seen what dogs lick and the things they are willing to eat, so any food I am eating will never come in contact with a dog's tongue – ever.
They may get a few leftovers now and then, but there is no way I would ever directly share my food.
Disgusting dietary habits aside, dogs do have a way of working their way into your heart. Some people do not like dogs and will never know the joy of owning one.
I call those people weird. Who could not like a dog? They are the only animal on earth who cares more about you than they do themselves. History is filled with stories of dogs committing heroic acts to save the life of their master or others in need.
And they are doing this while the cat sits by and watches without so much as a meow. Now, before the cat huggers get their dander up, there are a few (very rare) occasions where a cat has actually come to the aid of a person, but I suspect they are more concerned about losing their meal ticket than the well being of their owner.
Anyway, cat comments aside, dogs really are man's best friend. They are loyal, faithful and can always be counted on.
Sure they bark, leave little doggie land mines all over the backyard and have been known to chew things they were not supposed to, but their unconditional companionship makes it all worth while.
That is why I felt so bad for my friends who lost both of their loyal friends in such a short period of time.
They still have a couple cats, but we all know it is just not the same. They gave their dogs a good life with plenty of space to run around in, a nearby river to swim in, healthy food and were cared for as well as any animal could hope for.
The dogs lived a long, full life, but their passing is still a heartbreak for their people.

Copyright 2014 Darren Handschuh

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

OK 50, here I come ready or not

They are dropping like flies.
At first, it was just one or two, but gradually the wave built until it was a tsunami of birthday celebrations with just about everyone I know being clobbered by the big 5-0.
My high school classmates and many people I work with and go to church with are succumbing to the half-century mark with alarming frequency.
It seems like I can not open FaceBook anymore without seeing someone being consumed by the five-decade milestone.
But the more candles on your cake the better off you are.
I can remember when I turned 20 – sort of. It was a party and a good time. It was a little more concerning when I turned 30 because for some reason, that was a big number for me.
I really appreciated my youth and 30 was definitely not a kid anymore.
Even at 29 you could say, 'Hey I'm still in my 20s,' but at the stroke midnight on the day I was born the calendar decreed I was no longer a 20-something. I was now a 30-something and that felt different for some reason.
By the time I was 31 I had two little kids to worry about and a couple years later the third installment of the Handschuh clan made an appearance so I was far too busy – and tired – to really worry about 40 that was coming at me like I was a deer in the middle of the road, blinded by the oncoming high beams of middle age.
Forty did not come with dread, but was pushed to the side as the chaos of life with three kids took precedent over being concerned with becoming an old guy,
Fast forward nine years and nine months and I am once again staring an age milestone in the face.
This time, however, the kids are older, more independent giving me more time to play the part of a deer that is about to get splatted by the oncoming freight train that is Father Time.
In three months, I will no longer even be a 40 something, but will cross that great divide of age and be a 50 something.
OK, so what does a 50 something act like? I still like motorcycles, like I did when I was 20. I am still doing martial arts, like I did when I was 30. I am the oldest person in my martial arts club, by the way and everyone knows the single most important rule the club has is 'Don't hurt the old guy.'
If my fellow - and much, much younger – students remember just one thing, I hope that is it. For the majority of the people in the club I am old enough to be their parent, and for the little kids even a grandparent and I...Whoa, hold it, I just crossed a line. I am not willing to refer to myself as a grandpa just yet.
Grandpas, and grandmas, are old. I mean my dad was 52 when he became a grandpa and I...uh oh.
Hmmm, I know my own grandpa always seemed old, but he would have been in his 50s when his grandchildren started showing up.
I am not saying there is anything wrong with being a grandparent and I admit it will be kind of cool to be able to play and have fun with little kids until I get tired and then just hand them over to their parents, but I am not ready to go there just yet.
How can I be a rebel, a renegade, a free spirit if I am a grandpa. It just does not seem right.
It is just another aspect of reaching the half century mark I am trying to wrap my brain around.
Before you can be old and wise, you have to be young and stupid. I did very well in the young and stupid department, now I just need some of that wisdom to kick in.

Copyright 2014 Darren Handschuh

Friday, November 14, 2014

Casa del Pineapple, here I come

I am a weather wimp.
The colder it is, the more I whine. I do not like being cold and with winter ramping up for another charge, I predict a season of complaining coming on.
The first snowfall of the year is cool (no pun intended.) And even the second one can be kind of nice, but after that it is just a white blanket of annoyance.
Aside from the challenges of driving in it and walking through it, snow must be shoveled – in the cold.
The coldest I have ever been in my life was when I was in the militia. We were Saturday soldiers – or Weekend Warriors as we called ourselves in keeping with the bravado of youth – and once in a while there would be a multi-day training exercise.
Typically, we trained three Saturdays a month (hence the name), but each winter the powers that be would come up with a cold-weather training exercise where we would charge through the frozen tundra playing army.
I had only been in the unit four days when it was time for the annual winter lesson in military confusion. It was three days in the middle of a January cold snap, running around the woods with little idea of what was going on and even less of an idea of what I should be doing.
Myself and another new guy ended up on sentry duty. Because it was minus a million degrees, guards were supposed to be rotated every 30 minutes. The sergeant in charge of us decided his beauty sleep was more important than keeping an eye on the new guys so while he napped in his nice warm sleeping bag, we spent more than two hours laying in the snow with the wind howling up our backsides.
Eventually, we went back to the main camp to see what was going on and were relieved of our posts.
It was at that moment, at the tender age of 18, I truly hated being cold. I don't really remember thinking about it before then, but following that night, I developed a strong dislike for the lower ranges of the thermometer.
When I was 16, I can remember running out to my car in -10C in jeans and a T-shirt under the logic of 'the car will warm up and I won't need a jacket.'
Today, when it is cold, I give some serious thought to selling everything I own, moving the family to the tropics and growing pineapples for a living.
And I don't even like pineapples.
I would initially miss the change of seasons, but would soon get over it as I am basking in the sun in the middle of January enjoying my pineapple empire.
But, as always, I throw on a winter coat, gloves, hat, boots and whatever else I can find to keep warm, run out to the car muttering something about Casa del Pineapple and start my car so it can warm up while I scrape the windshield with my debit card because I can't find the stupid ice scraper – which is probably in my son's car.
Then I sit in the car – still muttering under my breath – while that very breath leaves a thin layer of ice on the inside of the windshield, so now I have to scrape that off. Of course, you can't actually drive  until the car warms up enough to melt the windshield ice. But we all know the car warms up faster when being driven, so as soon as that little spot at the bottom of the windshield clears up enough to see through, we scrunch down and begin our journey.
All the while we hope a member of the law enforcement community does not see our foolish winter folly and that nothing unexpected pops up in the 92 per cent of the windshield we can't see out of.
Eventually, the car warms, the window thaws and we arrive at work – only to repeat the process eight hours later, and then again in the morning, and then again after work, and then again...
Did I mention I do not like cold weather?

Copyright 2014 Darren Handschuh

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

OK, now you can advertise for Christmas

The candles in the Jack-o-lanterns had barely flickered out when I was assaulted by the first Christmas commercial of the season.
It was the morning of Nov. 1 when I saw the unmistakable images of Christmas being paraded across my TV screen as some faceless corporation tried to entice me into some early Christmas shopping.
There are several reasons why it is just too darn early to run a Christmas commercial. The first and most important is I feel it is disrespectful to our veterans and soldiers.
There is always a big push of Halloween commercials in October, which makes sense, but then it is straight to Christmas commercials. If major corporations ran a commercial between Halloween and Remembrance Day honouring our veterans, that would make me want to shop there, not forcing Christmas down my throat when I still have a Halloween toffee stuck in my teeth.
There is one more very important day before Christmas, let's not forget that.
Besides will waiting until after Nov. 11 to assail me with Yule Tide advertisement really make that big of a difference to the bottom line. Besides, many people will do their Christmas shopping like they do every year – the last few days leading up to Dec. 25.
Maybe we should boycott all companies that have Christmas commercials before Nov. 12. They will likely not notice, but it will make us feel better. However, if they do notice, maybe it will send a message that honouring our soldiers is more important than trying to get us to buy the latest and greatest.
It seems every year there are more commercials barking at me to buy this and to spend money on that.
Like many old guys – hey, I am almost 50 after all – I harken back to the days of old when Christmas was not so commercialized.
Of course, my parents harkened back to their own youth and said the same thing and my children will likely do some harkening of their own and reach a very similar conclusion.
I can remember when the Sears Wish Book arrived. What a great day that was. My sisters and I would fight like mad over who got to look at the book first to leaf through the glossy pages of youthful delight. Page after page of toys would consume hours of our time.
Nowadays, my kids do all their shopping online at any time of the year so they will never enjoy the magical arrival of that amazing book.
Of course, there were Christmas commercials on TV back then, but with only two channels to choose from, our senses were not exactly over loaded with input.
Today, there are a million channels (often with nothing on worth watching) filled with more commercials than I ever thought possible. As corporate greed expands faster than their bank accounts, the urge to suck money out of as many people as possible at this time of year translates into a tsunami of advertising.
One of the big thrills as a kid was going downtown and seeing all the Christmas decorations. Although my parents never did the Santa thing, it was still fun to see him at the mall Ho-Ho-Ho-ing his way through a long line of kids.
Today, the fat man has sponsors at his temporary North Pole in the mall.
It is a sad state of affairs when even Santa Claus sells out to the almighty corporation.
But such is the world we live in – one where ad men are sitting around desperately trying to come up with the next creative way to cash in on the birth of Christ.
I am sure they will come up with something new and inventive. And I am sure people will fall all over themselves in an effort to buy whatever product they have been brainwashed into thinking they must have.
Remember Tickle Me Elmo?

Copyright 2014 Darren Handschuh

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Honour our soldiers 365 days a year

A good friend of mine spent more than 20 years in the Canadian Armed Forces as a driver and heavy equipment operator.
He has been around the world, was stationed in Europe for six years, was asked to be part of a NATO unit and during the last few years of his career, he was sent to pretty much every major disaster, catastrophe and calamity Canadian troops were needed in.
It was not an easy career with long hours and a demanding schedule. One minute he would be at home, hanging out with his young son and the next, he would get a phone call telling him to be ready to deploy in one hour.
Sixty minutes later he was boarding a Hercules aircraft without any idea of where he was going, why he was going there or how long he would be gone.
But go he would – every time they called.
Not everyone could do a job like that. I know I couldn't. I am more a creature of habit and living under such conditions would be too difficult.
But he took it in stride and his unit of engineers, carpenters, mechanics, plumbers and other specialists would be ready to go the moment the phone rang.
“There was never a problem we couldn't fix,” he said with deserved pride.
He retired recently and after a brief stint of being a stay-at-home, full-time dad, he began to go a little wonky and decided to go back to work – sort of.
He takes the summers off and works a few days a week during the fall and winter months to supplement the family income.
The other day he called me out of the blue, the first time we had actually spoken in several years. We keep in regular contact through FaceBook, but it was good to hear his voice.
During our conversation, he mentioned he was delivering a tractor-trailer load of cups for a coffee chain. He was amused at how stressed out the people at the office were over the cups getting where they had to go.
“No one was shooting at me and there were no land mines to worry about, so it was not a big deal,” he said.
A statement like that makes all the stress I face on a daily basis seem rather pathetic.
Deadlines are a part of the newspaper business, but land mines were part of his business. Which would you rather deal with?
It makes me think about those serving in the armed forces and how much they sacrifice.
My buddy missed out on much of his son's early years because he was deployed to a flood, helping hurricane victims or wheeling his way through a war zone.
The men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces make those sacrifices every day. For those called to run out the door at a moment's notice to help where ever they are asked we owe a special bit of gratitude.
We set aside one day a year where we collectively and conciously thank all our veterans for their service and sacrifice.
It is wonderful to have a special day to honour our veterans and they deserve all the accolades hoisted upon them, but they serve 12 months of the year.
We in turn should honour our soldiers 12 months a year, especially now when they are being attacked and murdered on home soil.
If you see a veteran or soldier in coffee shop, pay for their cup of Joe, let them go ahead of you in the check out line or simply shake their hand and say Thank you.
It is the least we can do.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

These are the Corollas I have loved

It was a big day for my oldest son with a rather unexpected turn of events.
He bought his first car.
It is not a fast car, a flashy car or even a two door, but it is in decent shape and it is all his.
It was also the automotive deal of the century: he paid $30 for it. It came with new winter tires that are worth around $600, so he did very well.
There is nothing quite like the feeling of getting your first set of wheels. The sense of accomplishment and the freedom only having your own ride can provide are wondrous.
I was 16 when I got my first car. It was a 1974 Toyota Corolla with a 1,200 CC engine and a four-speed transmission.
It was slower than a molasses fart, but it got great gas mileage and when you are 16 and always on the verge of being penniless, that is a good thing.
Of course, I wanted a hot rod with a big engine that would go 200 mp/h, but had I possessed such a vehicle there is a very good chance I would not be here today.
I would likely have ended up a statistic, a headline in the local newspaper about another lost youth. I did not appreciate it at the time, but considering how much of an idiot I was behind the wheel, that little red Toyo was the perfect car for me.
I put 48,000 kilometres on that car in 18 months and every one of them was a hard kilometre.
My friends and I were rather - how shall I put this – enthusiastic when it came to driving. I was in two accidents, had enough speeding tickets to wallpaper my room and more close calls than can possibly be remembered.
Did I mention my friends and I were idiots behind the wheel? I hope so, because we were. The amazing part is, no one got seriously hurt. The accidents were minor fender benders and not even a scratch was had by anyone.
I then bought my beloved 1969 Nova that I fixed from a rust bucket to a three-tone blue beauty. I drove that car in a much more responsible manner, but the lure of driving like and idiot was far from banished from my mind.
So, when I found an ugly, orange Corolla station wagon for $500 I jumped on it. The purpose of owning this car was to have something to beat on. I could have cared less if the motor blew up or it sustained damage, which explains why I jumped a set of train tracks and a ditch with it. I reserved my energetic driving mostly for off-road, where they was less chance of seeing members of the local police community and much less of a chance of hitting another car.
I drove that car for several months before selling it to a buddy of mine for the same price as I paid for it. He knew what the car had been through as he was in the passenger seat for many of the off-road adventures.
He had it for only a couple of months before he rolled it and sold it to an auto wrecker for $50.
I have owned several vehicles since that ugly orange Corolla wagon and ironically enough I found myself behind the wheel of another red Corolla for the past few years.
But unlike my first red bomber, this car is driven in accordance with the law – mostly anyway. It is my commuter car and it trudges back and forth to work five days week.
Like my other Corollas, it just runs and runs and runs. It is getting on in mileage and will soon be traded off for another vehicle.
It does not have the memories of my first car, but what can compare to your first.

Copyright 2014 Darren Handschuh

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

Friday, September 26, 2014

Reality TV sinks to new low

Well, it's official – reality TV has hit a new low, and based on some of the stuff that is currently out there, it was not easy to do.
According to news reports, American cable channel WE TV has ordered nine episodes of Sex Boy. As you can tell by the name, this will not be for family viewing (or for anyone with a maturity level higher than a 13-year-old boy.)
In the 'show,' couples take to a stage where they engage in intimate relations in front of a panel of what the news outlet called D-list actors who, along with sinking to any level just to get in front of a camera, will critique the 'performance' of those involved.
Like I said, a new low for not only realty TV, but TV in general. Although it is called the boob tube, so...
The show is based on a British series of the same name and is being brought to America because there is currently not enough sleazy things going on south of the border.
But it is not just our American cousins who are kind of weird. The Germans have a few bizarre things going on as well.
It would seem there is a rather trendy hotel located next to the Berlin Zoo that is all the rage at the moment for its spectacular views of the city and the zoo itself.
But the hotel offers views of its own.
According to a news report (and a quick Interweb search), the restrooms of The Monkey Bar have floor-to-ceiling windows so those heeding nature's call can be seen by any gawkers who may be interested in watching from the street.
All I can says is: Why? Why? And why?
Why would anyone want to be watched doing that and why would anyone want to watch them.
Just when you think the world can not possibly get any dumber, someone, somewhere manages to lower the bar even more.
I remember the good old days when both of the previous activities were done in private, behind closed doors without an audience of any sort.
In other weird goings on, London designer Gigi Barker recently unveiled the Skin Chair. The $2,500 creation is made of leather, but is infused with a 'pheromone-impregnated silicone base' (whatever the hell that is).
The selling feature is the chair is like "lounging in the fleshy, comforting folds of a man's belly."
Ick – really, what more can I say?
Will someone buy the chair? Probably, because there is one born every minute.
Here's a refreshing story that does not involve carnal activities, latrine voyeurism or fake skin. Nope, this one involves some good, old-fashioned stupidity.
A teacher in the U.S. of A. (where else) accidentally shot herself in the leg while using the staff restroom.
It would seem the grade school teacher was packing heat and the weapon accidentally discharged while she was um, er, you know, doing her business.
Apparently it is perfectly legal for teachers in this particular county to carry concealed firearms to school and they must keep their weapon on them at all times – even when going to the loo.
The teacher was not seriously injured, but her co-workers were concerned when they heard a loud bang and then groaning coming from the lavatory.
Many suggested higher fibre content in her diet before they learned what had actually happened.
And speaking of schools and guns, several school districts in America are purchasing surplus army weapons including fully automatic assault rifles, automatic pistols and thousands of rounds of ammo.
School officials said the weapons are needed in case of an attack on the school like those that have sadly happened over the years.
They will be used only by trained personelle and will be kept locked inside an armory at the school.
An armory at the school? Machine guns? Automatic pistols?
When I was in school, the most dangerous things we had to worry about was the mystery meat at the cafeteria and Jeff's smelly feet when he took his shoes off.

Copyright Darren Handschuh, 2014

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Murphy the Wonder Dog has developed a disgusting new hobby

Murphy the Wonder Dog has started doing something new and I am not impressed.
As if barking at every living thing he sees, or charging dogs 10 times bigger than he is, or having to stop, sniff and pee on every single blade of grass in the Free World were not enough to make him annoying, this new activity is downright gross.
Murphy the Mutt has suddenly developed a passion for rolling in things.
The other day, the Missus and I were taking him for a walk along a woodland path where he could run free and enjoy nature.
We have been to this spot dozens of times without incident, but then one day Murph decided rolling in a big pile of dog doo-doo would be the perfect way to end the outing.
When we all piled into the van (yes, I drive a mini-van as required by law if you are middle aged with several kids) we noticed the unmistakable smell of dog poop.
We checked the bottom of our shoes thinking we had tread upon such a foul material, but we were clean.
I then looked back at Murphy and he had the biggest, dumbest grin on his face I have ever seen. He also had dog poop all over his left shoulder and side.
If I may, I would like to go on a bit of a rant. If you take your dog for a walk, be it around the block, in a park or along a nature trail, PICK UP AFTER THEM! It is easy to do. You just carry a little bag with you and when you dog does its business, you pick up the poop with the bag and throw it in the garbage. A simple solution to a messy problem. No one wants to step in that so don't be an ignorant jerk.
Anyway, Murph the Surf was obviously proud of his accomplishment and was thrilled with the results of his effort.
Driving home with all the windows rolled down, the odour was still enough to gag a corpse. The messy mutt then went straight into the bath, where he shook and shivered like he always does.
I had no sympathy for him whatsoever. He hates water and having a bath is like a form of CIA water torture for him, but when you roll in poop, you get a bath – simple as that.
I thought perhaps his misadventures with animal scat was a one-time event. He had never done that before, so perhaps in a moment of weakness he was enticed by the lure of, um, er, well I don't know what the lure would be, but he was enticed by it.
My hopes the event was a one off were soon dashed, however.
A few days later we were visiting my parents who live in the country. While picking some plums, I looked over and saw that same dumb grin as Murph rolled around on a pile of deer droppings.
I do not know why dogs do this and am surprised Murphy suddenly decided to take up the hobby.
I have friends with dogs that roll in everything they can find and the more disgusting the better, but they have been doing that since they were pups.
Dog poop – great. Fresh cow poop – even better. Rotting critter of some sort – the best.
But I always thought dogs did not develop new habits when they were adults. But during his sixth summer on this earth, Murphy has decided rolling in poop is just the thing he needs to blow off steam for the day.
We will have to keep a close eye on him from now on and he had better get used to baths because I suspect there will be a lot of them in his future.

Copyright 2014 Darren Handschuh

Friday, September 19, 2014

Depression is a self-determined journey

So how can you make someone recognize they have depression?
This question has been posed many times, but unfortunately the answer is not the one those people want to hear.
The simple answer is: you can't (at the very least it is extremely difficult to do.)
It sucks, I know.
I wish there was a some formula to help people see the lies that are controlling their lives, but no such formula exists. Not that I know of anyway.
I have presented this question to psychiatrists, doctors, counsellors and have even heard it posed to one of the top radio counsellors on the planet.
They all had the same answer: the person with depression is the only one who can do anything about it - they must acknowledge they have a problem and need help.
The best comparison I have heard is to that of an alcoholic: until they admit they need help, they will not seek help.
Sorry if this is not very encouraging, but it has been my experience that this is the sad truth about mental health. I am hardly an expert on such matters, but I have learned a bit from the school of hard knocks, having struggled with mental health issues for many years.
I saw depression manifest itself in a close family relation when I was a teen and decided if I had depression, I was going to admit it and do everything I could to fight it. I saw how damaging it could be, how it can take a good person and make them angry, or withdrawn or so sad they can not get out of bed.
It would be more than a decade from that moment before the depression that runs in my family would arrive at my doorstep. A series of sad and difficult events brought it crashing into my mind like a freight train plowing through a pile of marshmallows.
The instant it took hold, I knew life had changed. I could physically feel it. I also knew I could not fight this thing on my own, so I went to the doctor who put me on medication.
It took a few tries to find the right medication, but through trial and error I found one that works.
So if you, or someone you know, has tried one type of medication and it did not work, do not stop looking for one that will. It is far too important to dismiss after only a single try.
But good for you if you are even willing to try medication to help.
The first and most important step to dealing with mental health is admitting you have a problem – just like an alcoholic. I know several people who have mental health issues – I can see it in their eyes, hear it in their voice and witness its impact in their daily lives – but they refuse to get help.
One friend told me he could not have depression because he has a sense of humour. Another said if her husband would do this or that different, or if she had a different job, or a nicer house, newer car everything would be fine.
I know people who have divorced seeking relief from the mental anguish they find themselves in, only to have that anguish follow them because wherever you go, so does your brain.
For those living with someone suffering from mental health issues, life can be very hard. But there is help for partners through various agencies and online resources (, or My wife has taken several courses to help her deal with my own depression.
As for the person with depression, change is up to them because only they can take that most important step of admitting they need help. And once they do, life will change for the better.

Copyright 2014 Darren Handschuh