Friday, January 30, 2015

Welcome to 50, try and enjoy the ride

I guess it is all a matter of perspective.
I am turning 50 in a few days and that is a big birthday.
It is one of those occasions where you look back at your life – sometimes with a smile, sometimes with a grimace.
You review the things you have done, the decisions you have made and how they got you to where you are today.
At 50, dead are the unattained dreams of your youth. When you are young, you could afford to dream big dreams, time was on your side and you believed, eventually, you would achieve those lofty goals.
But then something happens along the way: it's called life.
Circumstance changes, people leave your life while others come in to it. Careers take unexpected turns, priorities shift – even change direction all together – and one day you wake up and you are half a century old and you wonder where all that time went.
Your mind drifts back to 20, 30 years ago when the world was your oyster and to all the wonderful adventures you imagined were ahead of you.
Travelling the world, seeing exotic people and strange lands, but you need money to do that, and to make a decent living you need an education so those plans are put on hold for a while.
Then you meet an amazing woman and your priorities change.
Now you think of marriage, and children and the desires of an immature mind are replaced by the goals of a man who has a family to help take care of.
Marrying my wife was one of the smartest thing I have ever done, and I would do it again in a heartbeat. Having children was one of the greatest things to ever happen to me and the joy my family has brought me is immeasurable.
But still, in the back of my mind is the longing for those long-gone dreams of my younger years. I suppose it is a '50 thing,' a bit of a mid-life kind of deal, where you yearn for your youth and the promises it held.
I have a tendency to focus on the negative, so it is easy to become melancholy about those fanciful dreams that, in all reality, probably weren't that realistic to begin with.
Now, you look ahead to what is coming: a body that is more flab than fab; fuzzy eyesight; arthritis; a decrease in strength and energy, aches and pains – it is a long list.
But there are good things coming  as well. Walking my daughter down the aisle, having grandkids where I get to have all the fun of little children without the parental responsibility and dare I say retirement – future fun can be a pretty long list as well.
Like I said, it is all a matter of perspective and a very good friend of mine is helping me gain that perspective, even though I wish he wasn't.
My friend has cancer and the prognosis is not good.
He is a year older than I am and arthritis and failing eyesight are the least of his concerns.
His family is rallying around him, as are his friends and despite his circumstance he still smiles when he sees you, has a funny comment at the ready and can see the bright side of life.
My whining about forgotten dreams and goals suddenly seem pathetic things to mourn.
The real joy of life is family, friends and faith in a god who loves you.
I do not know what the future holds for my friend, I do not know how much time he has left. But do any of us really?
So as the big day looms, I will do my best to push aside those long gone dreams of my youth, and instead celebrate the many blessings I have been given and the joy my life holds.

Copyright 2015, Darren Handschuh

Friday, January 23, 2015

Taking a winged, metal beast to Mexico

The Missus, myself and a couple of the our young ones (who aren't so young anymore) will be heading to Mexico in the near future.
I have never been to Mexico before and am looking forward to a big glass of their refreshing, straight-from-the-tap water.
I am kidding or course, while I may never have set foot on Mexican soil before, I have heard about the fun and excitement that awaits an unsuspecting traveller who downs some of its natural liquid resources. I am hoping to avoid that particular aspect of Mexico as I do not want to spend all my time viewing a foreign land from the inside of a toilet stall.
This will not be your typical Mexican vacation. No all inclusive resorts for this family. Instead of five days pool side, we will be spending three days building a house for a less fortunate Mexican family.
Everyone chips in to cover the cost of the materials needed to build the modest home, so not only are we going there to work for someone else, we are paying to do it.
I have never claimed to be too smart, but of course the reward of helping someone in need will far outweigh the expense and effort.
We are all very much looking forward to it. But it won't all be toiling under the hot Mexican sun, the last two days of our adventure will be spent pool side at a hotel on the ocean.
But before we can do any of this, we have to get there and that means taking flight in a winged, man-made beast.
I do not have a lot of experience flying and the first time I was on a commercial jet was when I was 23. I had been on a short flight in a helicopter before and even 'flew' my buddy's single engine airplane for a brief distance, but my honeymoon trip to California was my first jetliner experience.
My dad is deathly afraid of flying and he passed some of those fears down to me, so when I boarded the metal tube of terror all those years ago, I was a nervous wreck.
It did not help that we were flying at night and bounced our way through a storm. My wife, who was cool as a cucumber the entire time, said I was as white as a sheet as I gripped the armrests of my seat hard enough to leave a permanent impression.
Even after we cleared the storm, the plane was still vibrating, but now it was because of my uncontrollable shaking.
The return flight was much smoother and much more enjoyable and since then I have been on a few flights, including to Russia and back.
That was mostly uneventful flying, except when approaching JFK airport on the return trip where we slammed into a severe thunderstorm.
Uhhh, this is your captain speaking, we may encounter a little turbulence on approach, so we are asking to keep your seatbelts on and secure all loose items.”
A little turbulence? A little? That was like saying Godzilla was an itty, bitty salamander. I have never experienced anything like that in my life as the plane dropped like a stone several times causing screams of pure panic (no, not from me). Many of my fellow passengers were completely freaking out.
I looked over at a flight attendant and even she looked scared.
I thought that can't be good, but when I realized there was nothing I could do about the situation, I just sat back and enjoyed the ride. Being scared and screaming like a small girl would not change things. Besides, it was not like there was a spider in my shirt or anything.
Any fear of flying I had left in me was gone at that moment and taking flight is no longer a concern.
So I am looking forward to the upcoming Mexican adventure, eager to see new lands and meet new people.

Copyright 2015 Darren Handschuh

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Happy birthday and drink up - in moderation of course

So, Junior turned 19 the other day.
That is a milestone for any teen in this province as it means you are old enough to legally purchase and consume adult recreational beverages.
A lot of people go out and get hammered on their 19th birthday.
I can honestly say, I was not one of them.
I wasn't a real big party guy in my teens. I was too busy wasting all my money on stuff like cars and motorcycles to divert it to booze and other party supplies.
I am not saying I was a little angel or anything, I was just not a hardcore partier (well, not in my teens anyway.) I do recall the first time I did get all boozed up. OK, I sort of remember it. I was 17 and it seemed like everyone I knew was drinking, so I figured I would give it a try.
A guy I know bootlegged a mickey of vodka for me and assorted bevvies for my friends and we all hunkered down to imbibe on the alcoholic drinks.
Being new to the drinking game, I drank a lot faster than I should have. One little sip led to one big gulp which led to consuming the little bottle of 40 proof hooch way too fast.
At first, it was all kinds of fun, running around, laughing, being stupid, but after a while the fun stops and your stomach begins to rebel at the assault you have made upon it with your choice of liquid.
Basically, before the night was over I was barfing harder than a super model after dinner.
It was not pleasant. I have some vague recollections of holding a bucket and talking to my girlfriend about...something.
The next thing I knew it was the morning, I was on the coach and herd of elephants had run over my head.
I had never been hung over before and was finding the experience most unpleasant.
Wow, did that suck. My stomach was sore from all the regurgitating I did the night before, my tongue had swelled up like a sponge in a pool and my head hurt so bad the sound of dust falling to the ground nearly put me in a coma.
A couple of my friends were not fairing much better, but the experienced boozers were doing OK and having a great laugh at my expense.
I swore I never wanted to feel that way again as long as I lived. And I didn't, for a couple of years anyway.
I did not get liquored up on my 19th birthday, but was closer to 20 before I entered the party scene full speed, and even then it only lasted a couple of years.
I had a few hang overs – which I hated – and swore I would never drink like that again. Which I didn't, until the next time I did. (I never claimed to be overly bright and if I did, no one would believe me anyway.)
Such is the stupidity of youth I guess, so when Junior hit the milestone I was not sure what to expect. I knew it would not be the first time he tasted alcohol (he's a good kid, but not exactly a little angel either), but I did not know how much celebrating he would do on the big day.
He got together with a few friends, they had a few drinks and that was about it. No one got overly boozed up, no one threw up and no one had to be helped up.
What the hell is wrong with these kids?
I'm kidding of course. I am quite pleased at how responsible they were. They indulged, but not overly so.
Now we will have to see what the next couple of years brings, but Junior is an adult and the choices he makes are his own.
And if he does over indulge, I hope he gets hangover strong enough to knock out a horse.
Darren Handschuh can be reached at For more of his ramblings, check out his blog at

Copyright 2015 Darren Handschuh

Thursday, January 15, 2015

More news, more weirdness

It would seem some people have more money than brains.
A gentleman in the U.K. spent more than $500 to keep an office pet alive.
Very noble you say? Why would I speak negative about such a kind act you say? Because the office pet was a gold fish.
Apparently, the small, finned beast had some sort condition that caused a nasty bout of constipation, which put the fish in a state of distress.
OK, let's stop here for a second and ask 'how do you know if a goldfish is constipated?'
Who keeps track of these things and why?
Do you pay that much attention to the fish you notice he is not doing well in that particular area?
And again, I must ask why.
Anyway, somehow this guy determined the fish was not pooping enough, so he enlisted the aid of a veterinarian who removed the 'patient' from the bowl, flooded its gills with anesthetic-fortified water, and used a tiny scalpel to remove lumps that were causing the constipation, with the surgery guided by a miniature heart-rate monitor.
Remember folks, this a goldfish that can be replaced for less than $5.
When asked why he went through so much effort and expense to save a fish, the man gave no concrete reason, saying only that he liked the fish a lot.
I like fish a lot too, but I prefer mine with some butter, pepper and a dash of lemon.
And thus we begin another edition of weirdos in the news.
Keeping the United Kingdom, a gentlemen was obsessed with American reality star Kim Kardashian.
He was not obsessed in a hide-in-the-bushes-in-front-of-her-house sort of way, but in a I-want-look-exactly-like-her sort of way.
So in his quest to look like the 'star' (who is given that title for no real skill or ability other than to be trashy in public) he spent more than $150,000 on plastic surgery for 50 cosmetic procedures.
I can think of a lot of ways this guy could have spent the money in a more productive manner, the first of which is counselling with an expert in the mental health field.
But, it's his money and if he wants to spend it all to look like a Karadashian, who's to argue – snicker, yes, argue, no.
Speaking of Americans, let's return to the land of the weird where there is no shortage of odd behaviour.
Authorities in Phoenix were pleased that celebratory gunfire was down on New Years.
Police estimated there were 22 per cent fewer bullets randomly fired into the air to celebrate the arrival of 2015.
The department received reports on only 206 bullets discharged without concern for where they would land – good news indeed.
Christopher Soon should get lawyer of the year honours for successfully defending a client who was charged with breaking a law that was written specifically for him.
It would seem the defendant had a rather odd fetish – he liked to collect urine from public urinals. After being arrested and charged twice with loitering in restrooms, obstructing a person from flushing and then collecting his prize, a law was written making such an act a felony.
When he was caught again, his lawyer managed to reduce the charges to criminal mischief.
I really have nothing else to way about that. I think it is weird enough on its own.

Copyright 2015 Darren Handschuh

Friday, January 9, 2015

Snow, snow go away. No really, I mean it - go away

I hate snow.
OK, hate may be a bit strong of a word. How about detest, despise, loathe – feel free to substitute any one of those and you get the general idea of my thoughts on the frozen particles that float down from the heavens.
As a child, I loved the snow – what kid doesn't? Making snow-people (that is the PC name for Frosty's kin) was always a popular pastime. My friends and I would spend who knows how long making an elaborate snow-individual complete with carrot nose etc.
We would stand back and admire our work for about three minutes before smashing it to pieces. I don't know why we did this, but we did, every time.
We were also big on creating snow forts. We had visions of a castle-like structure complete with towers, firing ports for throwing snowballs through and walls so thick they could withstand all but the most aggressive onslaught. What we ended up with was half a dozen huge balls of snow all pushed together in a semi-circle. Not quite a castle, but close enough for our young minds.
Some of us would defend the castle while others attacked. We would then switch sides and the battle would rage until we couldn't feel our toes and a mug of hot chocolate beckoned.
We would also spend hours tobogganing at a nearby hill.
And as I got older, I had the privilege of helping dad shovel the white stuff, but not even that could diminish my enjoyment of the cold, powdered moisture.
When I got my driver's license, snow introduced a whole new world of fun. Sliding cars around an empty parking lot, pulling Rockfords – where you slam on the emergency brake and snap the back end of the car around – was all part of the new found form of winter entertainment.
Gone were the snow-people and snow forts, replaced by motorized mayhem.
Toward the end of the teen years, and for many years following, I never really gave snow much of a thought. It came, it melted, it was gone.
Year after year, the cycle would repeat itself. It is called the changing of the seasons and being in Canada, it happens every year – guaranteed.
But as I age, I find myself disliking the white stuff that was once such a source of enjoyment.
For some reason I have grown almost obsessed with snow removal. As soon as it snows, I must clear the driveway, sidewalk, stairs and any other path I deem needs to be snow free.
That is why the recent massive dump of snow nearly killed me. Not the shovelling part – although that was rather taxing on my aging muscles – but the fact I could not keep the areas snow free that my brain decided needed to be snow free.
Because the snow was falling faster than the hair off my head, no matter how many times I shovelled, the paths were always covered.
So maybe it is a huge dump of snow that I hate.
Perhaps a little snow here, a little there is not so bad.
Hmm, the more I think about it the more I realize, yup, I hate snow. I hate how it freezes your windshield wipers, how it sticks to your boots and gets tracked into the house where it melts into a puddle and you step in it with your sock feet, how it sneaks its way over the top of your hiking boots, how it makes the roads sloppy and slushy, how it – well it could be a long list.
I am definitely a spring, summer and fall kind of guy.
However, having said that, there is one redeeming quality winter has – there are no bugs, specifically there are no spiders.
So I guess winter is not all that bad, except for the cold, and the snow and the...

Copyright 2015 Darren Handschuh

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Dropping the needle on some good memories

I did something the other day I had not done in many years: I dropped the needle.
That's right, I dropped a needle onto a record player for the first time since I can't remember when.
The trek back in time to the nostalgic era of my youth happened on Christmas Day.
For several months, my wife had been talking about getting a turntable so when I found one on sale, I grabbed it, wrapped it and couldn't wait for her to open it.
She was surprised and excited to have a record player of her very own – again.
In the far corner of a little-used storage room in the basement sat a box covered in dust.
Inside was a stack of vinyl history. Records from the '80s from when we were young and records were the No. 1 way of listening to tunes, sat waiting to be rediscovered like King Tuts tomb of rock and roll.
The funny thing is, with ever-advancing technology providing music online, on phones and pretty much anywhere else you could think of, records are making a comeback.
I was talked to a university student recently who said all of her friends were into vinyl.
There is just something about the sound,” she said. “It is much richer, fuller, not as perfect as a CD or digital.”
And she is right. When we played the first record in many years, it did have a distinct sound that was really captivating, and not just because that is the sound I grew up with.
I am sure that is part of it, but the sound of a small needle dragging its way along a grooved piece of plastic does have a unique vibe to it.
Of course, the records we had were 30-plus years old and some were damaged, causing the needle to jump, but that is just all part of the experience.
When a CD skips it is enough to cause me to have a seizure as it repeats the same fraction of a second over and over and over...
A record can be similar, bit not as harsh as a CD.
Digital songs don't skip at all, unless there is a glitch which causes them to stop and start and stop and start and cause that seizure I was talking about.
When a record skipped, you would oh so gently move the needle past the damaged part so you would not miss too much of the song.
Even without playing them, those old 33s brought back many memories.
I pulled out the first record I ever bought – Loverboy - and of course my second copy of Meatloaf's Bat out of Hell (the first copy got stepped on and it was, and is, a must-have for my music collection.)
Supertramp, Styx, AC/DC of course and a whole pile of classic tunage is now available for my on-demand listening pleasure.
But as I flipped through the stack of classics, I stopped cold at a beat up, scratched, liquid-damaged copy of Frank Zappa's Joe's Garage.
Instantly I was thinking of my good friend who was claimed by the scourge of cancer more than three years ago.
We used to listen to that album all the time and even seeing the album cover brought pangs of missing my good buddy, my brother since I was four years old.
My jubilant trip down memory had hit a speed bump. Memories of a lifelong friendship raced through my mind. The trouble we got into and the fun we had while doing it. Discussions about cars, music, girls and the deep thoughts of life all raced through my conciousness right up to the day of his passing, stopping the memories in their tracks.
I sat, silent and still thinking about his loss, before pushing those thoughts aside and rejoicing in the friendship I had, rather than dwell on the cruelty of it being taken away far too soon.
I know eventually, I will drop the needle of Joe's Garage and be reunited with my buddy through the magical time travel that only music can offer.

Copyright 2014 Darren Handschuh

Friday, January 2, 2015

So long 2014, can't say I will miss you

Dear Mother Nature: it would appear you were not listening very well.
Myself and many other people requested snow before Christmas so we would not just have to dream about a white one.
There is something wrong with having a green Christmas.
I can recall childhood Christmases full of the white stuff so we could go tobogganing and make snow forts or our own version of Frosty before running into the house to warm up our frozen feet by the fire while sipping a mug of hot chocolate.
We should not be taking the dog for a walk while wearing running shoes and a jacket.
However, two days after the last present was opened, Ma Nature and her cohort, Old Man Winter, got together and plopped a bunch of the white stuff on us – when it is no longer needed.
Snow is a Christmas thing and once Christmas if finished, I personally no longer have a need for the frozen rain that piles up on the driveway, sidewalk and car.
I especially do not need it on the car where it makes seeing out the windshield most challenging and causes me to be late for work (OK, that last part isn't too bad actually.)
The problem is, we are still looking at many more weeks of winter before things start to heat up and the glorious days of spring thaw the land and warms my heart.
But no snow for Christmas day seems a rather fitting way to close 2014, a year fraught with challenges, heartache and some very dark days.
My children lost their beloved grandma – my mother-in-law - last year. While at times we  had a stormy relationship, there was always love, so her passing was a tough one for me, but much tougher for my wife and our children.
At times the little old lady drove me crazy, but I am sure there are times I drove her crazy. Such was our relationship.
Christmas was tainted by the constant feeling something was missing throughout the entire festive season.
The year that is no more also had its fair share of challenging mental health days. Some very dark days were endured in 2014, days of immense difficulty.
The first half of 2014 was, simply put, no fun at all. Living with mental health issues can be a nasty business and there were many days during the early part of the year that were nearly more than one could bear.
But as always, you soldier on, you grind it out as best you can knowing this too shall pass. And for the most part it did. The darkness did return in spurts throughout the year, but compared to the constant barrage of the early 2014, it was a blip in a relatively tranquil sea.
But I shall not miss 2014, nor recall it as a banner year in my life.
It wasn't all bad and 2014 held moments of great joy and victory, but to be honest, I am kind of glad is it over.
I do not put much stock in the changing of the calendar.
Typically the arrival of a new year feels a lot like the old one, but I am hoping for and am optimistic 2015 will be a better year.
And why not? Why let the hard days of 2014 carry on and plague a new year that everyone says is a chance for a fresh start?
There is no reason to think 2015 will bring with it the same bitter fruits of 2014. And if it does, well, then all I, or any of us can do for that matter, is keep on keeping on.
Take the hard days one at a time knowing eventually the dawn will break, the birds will sing and life will get better.
I have no grand wishes or resolutions for 2015, just the hope of better days. And right now, that is good enough for me.

Copyright 2014 Darren Handschuh