Sunday, June 28, 2015

There's hot and then there's summer heat

I used to love the heat.
When I was a young lad and had a head full of hair and a stomach full of muscles, it could not get too hot.
Now that I am at a stage in life where my hair has fallen out and my ab muscles have been replaced with a layer of ab flab, my summer attitude has changed as well.
Growing up, scorching hot summers were just a way of life. It happened every year and as far as I was concerned, the hotter the better.
I can remember running around pretty much the entire summer in shorts and no shirt. No one worried about nasty things like UV rays and getting too much sun, we just worried about having as much fun in the sun as we could.
Sunscreen was used occasionally, but in no time it had all been sweated away. Nowadays, you can't even look out a window without slathering on SPF 10w30 suntan lotion. The stuff is so thick if you jump in a lake with it on, the oil slick looks like the Exxon Valdeze passed by.
We would go from backyard pool to backyard pool – without sunscreen – for days on end. It was a little swarm of young boys in swimming trunks descending upon a home where the noise level would go up and the amount of Kool Aid would go down.
Ahhh, Kool Aid, what kid did not drink gallons of Kool Aid in the heat of a summer's day? Red, orange, blue – it all tasted the same, but we didn't care – it was Kool Aid.
Anyway, my love affair with the sun carried on for years. All through my teen years and well into my 20s I adored the sun and the heat it brought with it.
But gradually, things began to change.
I found myself less enamoured with the sun and the blazing rays of warmth it drenched my part of the world with.
At first, it was no more than noticing how hot it was that particular day. Over the years, it progressed from noticing how hot it was to complaining about how hot it was, to full-fledged whining about how hot it was.
By the time the real heat of July and August hit, I found myself to be a complete and total heat-wave wimp.
It's too hot. Why is it so hot? It doesn't need to be this hot. Anything over 28C is unnecessary and is just Mother Nature showing off. 'Oooo, I'm Mother Nature, look how hot I can make it.'”
The older I get, the less I like the blast furnace that is summer in this region. Of course the older I get, the larger I get as well.
My body is substantially more enhanced than it was back in the good ol' days and I am sure that has a lot to do with my lack of joy over the rising mercury.
I find these days I look like a decorative water fountain in the heat, with sweat spewing water out of my pores in every direction.
I know, not a pretty picture, especially when I exercise in the summer months. I look like I went swimming with my clothes on after just a few minutes on the treadmill.
My new-found aversion to heat makes me really appreciate a loving and caring God who gave someone the idea to invent air conditioning.

So if you need me, I will be sitting in my air-conditioned basement, complaining about how hot it is outside and longing for the days of my youth.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Shirt shopping seriously sucks

It was supposed to be a simple task.
Run to the local store, buy a couple of new shirts for work, come home, put one on, go to work.
How simple is that?
Not that simple actually.
I quickly learned the world is not geared to someone of my physical stature.
The problem is I am an XXL human living in a M world.
At 6'4” and almost 260 pounds I am pretty far from average size and it would seem the world is only interested in providing attire for those of regular frame and girth.
I am neither.
My quest began a few weeks ago and led me to just about every store on the city that sells men's clothing.
I went to one clothing store that had roughly 27 million medium-sized shirts and one – yes, only one – shirt that would fit me.
I am not really a lime-green-with-yellow-flowers kind of guy so I did not even get that one.
I can see why it was in the discount section and probably will be for many months to come.
The story was played out time and again as I went to store after store in my noble quest to look good on the job.
I did find three shirts that would fit me at a high-end store, but I would chew tinfoil before I would pay $90 for a single shirt. Sure it was a nice shirt, but it was not that nice.
I have spent less than that on a shirt, pants, socks and dinner after shopping.
Having failed finding what I need locally, I went online to see what I could find and did not meet with much better results.
There were some shirts in my size, but they all were in a style called 'slim fit.'
OK, let's review: if I am looking for an XXL shirt, odds are I am not slim.
It was explained to me the slim fit look was for people with broad shoulders and narrow waist who want to show off their physique.
How many people out there match that description? Probably a lot less than would match how I look.
I have broad shoulders, but my waist is far from narrow. I am not exactly a big tub of goo, but I am not svelte like I was back in the younger days either, so a slim fit amounts to me looking like a sausage rolled into a piece of cloth.
Not the look I was hoping for.
There were a few in the 'classic fit' (see out of shape fit) but it appears many clothing chains think large people have no sense of fashion because those were some of the ugliest shirts I have ever seen.
I guess the obvious solution is to lose weight – which I have been doing, but I am sure most people will agree weight goes up like a rocket and comes down like a helium balloon.
So, until I drop the 20 or so pounds needed to don a slim-fit shirt, I am left with the task of finding attire that will fit my larger-than-average frame.
It took a while, but I did finally find a couple shirts that I feel comfortable in and do not make me look like a fashion reject.
And on a side note, could someone please explain to me how one XXL shirt can be so much smaller than another XXL shirt? Who does the measuring and how did they get the job in the first place?
I have run into the same problem with pants, shoes and socks.
Anyway, I have completed my quest, have two new shirts and am ready for work.

I will likely need a couple more shirts in a few years, better start looking now.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

I guess I'm dumber than a dog

I was walking the dog the other day and came to the conclusion he is not the brightest penny in the purse, because every time I take him for a walk he almost hangs himself he pulls on the leash so hard.
I am sure many dog people out there are mumbling something about how to train the beast so he does not do that, and it is on my 'to do' list, right above teaching the cat to use the toilet.
Pretty much every time I take him out, the mutt cranks up his 17 pounds of raw animal power and does his best to drag me down the street.
Murphy the Wonder Hound pulls so hard he begins to choke himself. He will gack and sputter and make this nasty hacking noise, but he will not stop pulling - that is until he finds a pile of doggy doo-doo which he simply must investigate.
Watching the dog form of inspection once again makes me glad to be a human. How much fun could it be to put your face millimetres away from a big pile of doo-doo and breath heavily through your nose? For us human types I doubt it would be any fun at all, but dogs seem to enjoy it and Murph the Surf really loves it and does not miss an opportunity to enjoy such an event.
I have often contemplated what he is thinking while investigating a pile o' crap (which is yet another indicator as to how sad and pathetic my life really is.)
"I wonder if I know this guy. It kind of smells like a lab, no, wait, it might be a shepherd. Hmmm, Alpo, good choice of dog food."
He will then tire of inspecting the subject and move on, once again pulling so hard he coughs like a life-long smoker trying to climb a set of stairs.
While watching him pull on the leash and make all sorts of weird noises, I wonder just how smart does he have to be to realize it is his own actions that are causing him pain.
I had the exact same thought while paintballing the other day.
Paintball is a game where you run through the woods with air-powered markers (aka guns) and hunt your friends for sport and enjoyment.
I was stealthily hiding my 250-pound frame behind a few trees, waiting for the enemy horde to appear only to be struck down in a hail of little yellow and blue balls when I heard the pop of a paintball marker behind me, followed by the splat of a paintball as it hit the tree beside me.
Not a good thing.
I knew my sworn enemy - which is whoever happened to be on the opposing team that day - had flanked me and I was about to have a close encounter of the painful kind.
And I was right.
Before I could react, there were a few more splats against the tree followed by the most painful hit I have ever experienced in three seasons of shoot 'em up.
My valiant and noble adversary had managed to hit me in the back of the head, right where the neck and skull join.
Can you say "That friggin' hurt?" 
I could, but because there are several words I no longer say aloud, I had to keep my thoughts from becoming spoken, which was easier said than done.
When the ball hit I saw a lovely collection of spots and stars. I briefly dropped to one knee before retreating to the re-spawning area where I took a couple of seconds to gather my thoughts (and to wait for the stars to go away) before rejoining the battle.
During that time, I remember thinking about my dog who was so dumb he pulls on his leash to the point of causing himself pain.
"You dumb dog, all you have to do is not pull so hard and it won't hurt."
With the replacing of a handful of words, that sentence can be applied to yours truly.
"You dumb ass, all you have to do is stop playing paintball and you won't get hurt."
I then began to wonder who the dumb beast really was. At least Murphy didn't have to pay money to do something that hurts.

Copyright 2015 Darren Handschuh

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

I tried to pay attention, honest I did

There is lots of talk about exams in school at this time of year and listening to the chatter sent me for a ride down memory lane and my own battles with high school tests.
As the moment of cranial challenging drew near, I would hunker down and spend days studying. Well, maybe not days, perhaps it was more like hours. Well, maybe not hours, perhaps an hour.
Well, perhaps I just read through my notes while having breakfast the morning of the test.
Not the best study techniques, but they worked. OK, they didn’t work, but I still managed to graduate.
And my grades were amazing, as in it is amazing I passed.
I was not exactly the most dedicated student. I had what you might call focus issues.
Pretty much every report card I ever had in my entire life read, “…would do much better if he did not day dream so much.”
You see, back then it was called day dreaming, where a student had a hard time focusing on the task at hand. I would get distracted by birds in a tree outside, bugs crawling across the floor, shiny things – whatever happened to be going on other than school work always seemed to grab my much-divided attention.
It is no longer called day dreaming. Today it is has a label like ADD – attention deficit disorder, or ADHD – attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or IDRCD – I don’t really care disorder.
I am pretty sure I suffered from the first disorder on the list, and as the school years progressed I morphed into the last disorder.
Looking back, I am sure with the right medication, counselling and large enough bribe I could have achieved much better grades.
That’s not to say I am dumb, I just suffered from a lack of enthusiasm for school.
Although I am sure a few people who read my column on a regular basis will opt for the dumb defence.
They are likely sitting back, mug of coffee in hand thinking, “That explains a lot.”
But if I was interested in something, I knew pretty much all there was to know about it. I can remember going to motorcycle shops and telling the salesman things about the bikes they were selling that they didn’t even know, but ask me to do some algebra and I would stare at you like you were speaking Swahili.
A few days after every school exam the results were posted on a wall in the hallway outside of the classroom. That was yet another brilliant and diabolical scheme by the teachers to highlight the under achievers – and it worked very well.
One time, I remember lining up to check the results when a girl in front of me burst into tears and ran down the hall. I looked up her grade to learn she was devastated she got a mere B-plus in one particular course. It was the first time in 11 years of education she had received anything lower than an A.
Meanwhile, I am doing back flips down the hallway because I pulled off a mighty C in the same class. I guess it is all a matter perspective.
By the time I made it to college I realized diligent study was needed, and I actually cracked the books (and the occasional beer) and knuckled down to do some serious studying.
I don’t think anyone was more surprised than I was with the results. In two years of post-secondary education, my lowest grade was a B.
Perhaps if I had applied myself more in high school I would have…hey, look at that dog.

Copyright 2015, Darren Handschuh

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Time to go live among the trees and bugs and...

Spring has arrived and a young man’s fancy turns to love.
For us middle-aged guys it turns to yard work, helping the wife with spring cleaning – not a man’s idea, but mandatory to maintain marital harmony – and to go camping - that wonderful activity where said hardworking man leaves his big house to drag a little house behind the family wagon to a place where bugs roam unchecked, rain is likely and “a little dirt in your food never hurt anyone” is repeated to children from one end of the campground to the other.
Camping actually goes back to biblical times. Moses did it for 40 years. It may not have been by choice, but he still spent four decades pitching a tent and looking for just the right fauna for personal use.
I get tired of camping after just a few days.
Like camping through the ages, my personal expeditions into the untamed wilds of B.C. have evolved.
My earliest camping experience was when I was in the Cubs. My family was not really the camping type, using our tent trailer only for our annual marathon road trips into the United States, so I was excited to spend time with the woodland creatures I had heard so much about.
Learning to pitch a tent, set up camp and gaining information about the fauna and critters of the region were fascinating and I soaked it up like a sponge in a monsoon.
I have to admit, as a novice camper I was not really thrilled with the whole outhouse concept and I waited as long as possible before using the age-old contraption.
The most distressing part of the outhouse was the aromatic essence of the structure. Outhouses have a special smell that just can’t be described without actually experiencing it.
Having adjusted to the non-flushing, wood-surfaced, bug-laden loo, I looked to yonder camping adventures and learned they included a fire.
OK, now this was cool. Our Cub leaders are not only encouraging us to burn stuff, they are showing us how to do it.
The big thrill for the troupe of lads was to cook our own meals on the open flames of a crackling fire. I use the term ‘meals’ loosely as it was actually a can of beans, but to us it was a feast.
We learned how to open part of the lid to let the pressure out and to stir it so the middle was not cold – a big accomplishment for a 10 year old.
Once this skill was mastered, all we wanted to eat was beans.
There were three little boys per tent, each of whom had been eating beans once or twice a day for three days.
I am sure you are starting to form a picture here.
By the morning of the last day, we woke up and the walls of the tent were actually forced outward and anyone who zipped their sleeping bag up to tight looked like a giant, bloated grub.
With eyes watering, the first one awake had to crawl to the tent flap and unzip it. There would be this rush of air out of the tent – sounding not unlike a balloon that was not tied up.
Birds would fall from the sky, squirrels would flop around on the ground having seizures and dogs several kilometres away would be sniffing air wondering what that smell was and how could they roll in it.
Let’s just say the car ride home involved open windows and a gaggle of giggling boys who found the entire situation quite amusing.
Our Cub leader, who drove remarkably well with the entire upper half of his body out the window, was less pleased.
Thus was my first experience with sleeping among nature.
There are more tales of camping to come and fortunately, none of them involve beans.

Copyright 2015 Darren Handschuh

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Just call me a city slicker

I have never felt more like a city slicker in my life.
I grew up in a rural area with hills to climb and creeks to fish in, but after spending four days at a real working ranch, I realized I am seriously out of place on a real working ranch.
We were visiting relatives who owned the ranch which was a fair drive down a winding, forest-lined dirt road.
The ranch house was an amazing log home, and the 400 acres came with a full compliment of ranch-type critters.
We arrived in a mini-van loaded with people, pulling a tent trailer loaded with stuff.
We don’t visit, we invade.
Working on one of the corral fences when we pulled up, was a cousin who was in amazing shape. He had spent the last few years working hard at the physical job and it showed. I am not gay or anything, but damn….
He, of course, was shirtless and I figured the only way I would take off my shirt was if it was on fire. And even then I would try to roll around and put it out first, lest the people and animals be frightened by my pasty white complexion and hard-earned layer of flab.
We said hello to everyone and set up our trailer before exploring the wonderful world of ranching.
Among their stock were a few cows, a bull, seven big dogs and a quite a few horses.
On the second day of our visit, there was a commotion near the barn. One of the horses had gotten out of his stall and was having words with another male horse.
The alpha mail horse – the one who got out – was not taking kindly to this upstart pony trying to muscle in on his ladies, and he was not shy about letting his feelings be known.
He was huffing and puffing and clomping his feet on the ground while the other, and somewhat smaller horse, did the same in an effort to save face in front of the girls.
If it came down to a good old fashioned horse brawl, I had my money on the alpha male.
The ranch hand cousin then stepped into the middle of the melee and tried to herd alpha male back to his coral.
Being all worked up, Alf, as I started calling him, was not interested in being confined and trotted around in a show of horse defiance.
We were asked to stand between two fences with our arms outstretched to make a human fence, while Cuz’ tried to move the beast into his pen.
For a brief moment Alf ran straight at me. This was the biggest horse I had ever seen and I figured if it got any closer, I would keep my arms outstretched, point to the wide open hills behind me and say, “There you go” while stepping to the side to make room for him.
However, he decided to go back into his coral, only to escape again a couple hours later. It would seem Alf had figured out how to undo the latch on the gate. Smart horse.
The latch problem was soon solved, but my personal interaction with ranch animals was far from over.
The next day I was walking with my 10-year-old niece when I noticed the bull had gotten out of his pen.
“What is with animals getting out of their confines around here? Hasn’t anyone ever heard of a lock?”
Anyway, I was looking at this bull and he was looking at me. The day prior, I had pulled a muscle in leg and could barely walk let alone run, so I calmly said to my niece to slowly move to a nearby fence, crawl through it and we would be safe.
Just as I said the word “safe,” I looked over to see a trail of dust as my niece sprinted for the house faster than Elvis heading to an all-you-can-eat buffet.
This got the bull’s attention and left me and the beast in a classic stare down. Let’s just say I blinked first and hobbled to the fence as fast as I could while he strutted over to check me out.
Safely behind the fence, I felt a surge of courage, and besides, the ranch hand cousin had shown up on his horse and all his bulging muscles and was moving the bull back to the coral.
In both cases, I felt rather inadequate and thought maybe the ranch life wasn’t for me, at least not a ranch that has animals on it.
I don’t even know if I could handle an ant farm.

Copyright 2015, Darren Handschuh

Friday, June 5, 2015

I think I will let someone else settle the new world

I admit it. I would have made a lousy pioneer.
I am just not a settle-the-new-world kind of guy.I enjoy camping and living among nature, but my version of roughing it is not showering for a couple of days and flicking a bug off my plate before I eat.When I camp, it is in a trailer with a cushioned bed, stove, bathroom and most important of all, a furnace to keep me toasty warm at night.I recently visited a historic ranch and heard tales of pioneers that confirmed I am not the gold-rush type.Some of these hardy souls would spend weeks, even months walking to the gold fields in the hopes of striking it rich.My first thought was, “What kind of bathroom facilities were there along the gold trail?”Even before the question finished forming in my cranium, I knew the answer involved sticks, leaves and probably a rash of some sort.Sounds like a good time to me.I pity the uneducated prospector who grabbed a handful of poison ivy after a trip to the bush to take care of some personal business.I would imagine word about that particular plant and the need to avoid it would have spread like wildfire.Who would be providing this information? The guy who had been walking funny for the past three days, that’s who.Having lived on the land for generations already, I would imagine the local aboriginals already knew to avoid the plant.Maybe it was a local native who suggested to the fat, white guy with the beard the ivy was perfect for personal use and then ran home to tell the rest of his village what he had done.“You will not believe what I just got some white guy to do. You know that plant that makes you itch really bad, well….”
They of course would break out in roaring laughter every time they saw a cowboy doing the poison ivy shuffle.
“Hey white guys, you know what else is a good idea - sleeping with food in your tent. Bears hate that and will avoid you like the plague.”Then there was the bathing issue. Many of those intrepid pioneers would bathe once a year whether they needed it or not.That’s why so few of them were actually eaten by bears. The bear would take one taste, hunch up and spew his breakfast before swearing off those smelly white things in favour of berries and grubs. You know it’s bad when bug larvae is the most delectable meal in the woods.It was not an easy thing to lather up in those days and the last thing someone wanted to do was dive into an ice cold lake or stream.It was much easier to just smell bad and besides there were no ladies to impress anyway so what’s the point?“Frank you smell absolutely delightful today, what have you done?”“Well Bob, I took a quick bath in that crick over thar and then used the aloe vera plant to keep me smelling like a fresh spring rain. It also helps keep my skin soft and supple.”Somehow I doubt that conversation was every uttered among the tough-as-nails customers of the old days.Of course the natives were kicking back and lounging in local hot springs.“Do you think we should tell the white guys about this?”“Naw, it’s way more fun to watch them the way they are.”“Good point.”So, pioneers searching for gold were a smelly lot with poor hygiene – using your finger for a toothbrush does not count as cleaning – who would spend months on end living with other men.Is gold really that important? I would much rather have found a job somewhere in the city and slowly squirreled some money away for retirement.Who needs to settle a new land anyway? Look at all the land we have now, going out and claiming more would just be plain greedy.But the lure of gold was too strong for many and they left the comfort of the city and plunged head first into the challenges only Mother Nature could provide.And after a while I am sure even Mother Nature plugged her nose when ever an intrepid gold seeker went by.

Copyright 2015, Darren Handschuh