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