Sunday, June 26, 2016

They're right, you can't herd a cat

So there I was, pitted against a wily beast.
A creature of such cunning, such prowess I knew the odds were heavily against me.
But I refused to give up.
First, I tried sneaking up on the beast from behind, but my ninja-like skills have been slowed by old age, well middle age anyway, and the furred critter made good its escape.
Perhaps enticing the beast with food would bring it close enough for me to get my hands it.
And then again, perhaps not.
Said beast remained just out of arms reach, foiling an otherwise brilliant plan.
A few other attempts were made to grab the wayward animal, but in the end I had to admit defeat.
I had been outsmarted and outmaneuvered by a one-year-old cat.
Young Daughter wanted a pet of her own, so a year ago we picked up a kitten.
Her name is Lisa, a.k.a. Little Cat, and she is your typical cat that does typical cat things.
We decided she would be an outside cat, so we let her explore the backyard in short stints and she seemed fine with that because every little sound scared the snot out of her.
A bug farted and she sprinted for the backdoor like a pack of wolves were after her. Sure it was pretty big bug, but she is not exactly coming across as a fierce creature.
And I am OK with that as it should improve her survival odds in the great outdoors.
And it's not like we live in the deep forest or harsh jungle. We live in your typical suburban neighbourhood mostly devoid of vicious predators.
There are, however, coyotes in the surrounding hills and we occasionally hear them howling and yipping at night.
And that is why I ended up spending a good portion of my evening trying to herd a cat into the house.
It was near dark and Lisa bolted out the back door as fast a cat can bolt, which all cat owners know is pretty fast.
In a flash she was out the door and down the stairs.
She jumped the fence and settled in our neighbour's yard as my wife muttered some words under her breath while watching Little Cat take off.
Not wanting Lisa to spend the night outside, my wife made numerous attempts to corral the kitty back into the house, but to no avail.
You know what they say about herding cats?
Well, it's true. It is an impossible task.
So with my wife stressed out and Young Daughter having a slight meltdown at the prospect of her beloved kitty surviving on her own through the night, I was asked to assist. (Like I am some sort of cat-herding expert or something.)
I spent the next while trying to get Little Cat into the house where there was no risk of coyotes, eagles, cougars, polar bears or any other nasty chompers that might want to have a snack before bedtime.
I tried to explain to everyone that this is what outside cats do: they go outside. She will not have been the first feline in history to spend the night outdoors and I had all the confidence in the world there was a pretty good chance Lisa could do it.
But to appease the Missus and Young Daughter, I did my best to get Little Cat into the house.
However, as darkness enveloped the land, I knew it was a lost cause and finally convinced everyone there was nothing more we could do.
Reluctantly, everyone headed into the house, leaving Lisa to her fate and all hoping she would return in the morning – which she did.
As soon as the Missus got up, she checked for Little Cat who was sitting at the back door with a very proud look on hear face.
She had done it, she survived her first night in the wilds of suburbia with out so much as a scratch.
The Missus was relieved, Young Daughter, oh, hell, we were all relieved.

I learned a couple things that day: Little Cat can make it on her own and it really is impossible to herd a cat.

Copyright 2016, Darren Handschuh

Sunday, June 19, 2016

A vacation to remember

It was a family vacation I will never forget. It included a tent trailer, a campground and an oncoming tornado.
How did a born-and-raised B.C. boy end up staring down the business end of a twister? Let's just say it was not on the vacation brochure.
I witnessed the raw power of Mother Nature when I was about 12 years old and the family was venturing out on one of our annual marathon road trips into the United States.
We were heading to Lousianna because my parents actually knew some people down there whom they had not seen in many years.
It was the first time I had ever heard a Southerner speak (this was long before Duck Dynasty or any other southern red neck show) so it was interesting to hear people say, 'Y'all.'
Apparently, when you are down south certain vowels are optional when you speak. Why? Beats me, but that's the way they did it.
We spent a couple weeks with our American brethren, and to this day I still say Y'all. It is just something I picked up and it stuck with me like a language tattoo. I also occasionally say po-lice, with an emphasize on the 'po' part. Other than that, I remained a true Canadian, eh.
Anyway, on our way to the land of gumbo (whatever that is), we ended up in a campground in the middle of Tornado Alley.
We were a family of six in a big blue van hauling a tent trailer and as we were setting up for the evening, we noticed the sky looking rather ominous. And by ominous, I mean apocalyptic kind of ominous.
We went about our business as the heavens grew darker, and eventually the wind and rain became a concern.
Then my dad heard someone say two words that sent us into a near panic -  'tornado watch.'
We were from B.C., so what did we know about tornados? Nothing, that's what. We dialled in to the emergency radio station where the announcer said if you hear what sounds like a freight train, that is a tornado.
We had been hearing that sound for the last 20 minutes. We all looked to dad for guidance, not considering this was his first tornado as well.
But he knew what to do and we were ready to abandon camp and head for cover.
The announcer confirmed a tornado was on the ground and we spent several tense minutes listening to the radio and trying to figure out exactly where the twister was. Being tourists, we had knew few reference points and had a hard time pinpointing its location.
It turned out to be a lot closer than we thought. The tornado broke up less than two miles from our campsite. It was heading straight for us.
It wasn't a huge tornado and fortunately no lives were lost, but it was one of the most memorable and definitely the most terrifying family vacation moment ever.
It wasn't until many years later I started to wonder what dad was thinking as we huddled in our van listening to an emergency radio channel while a storm unlike any we had ever seen raged nearby.
I remember my little brother looked terrified, mom sat in prayerful silence and my two sisters were on the verge of tears born of fear and stress.
But somehow dad looked calm. 
Perhaps I saw the situation through they eyes of a pre-teen who knew his dad was the biggest and strongest person alive and he would never let anything bad happen to us.
I can recall a look of concern, but not fear on his face. On the inside, he was likely as scared as any of us, but with all eyes upon him, he did not show it.
He told us of his plan should the tornado get closer and I found great comfort knowing Dad had everything under control.
Eventually the radio announcer said the storm had broken up and our moment of tornado terror was over.
I am sure no one was more relieved than my father.

Copyright 2016, Darren Handschuh

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Why when I was a kid...

I think my parents made life too easy for me growing up.
What am I supposed to say to my children about the hardships of my youth?
The only angle I can think of is I had to work a lot when I was younger, but other than that there’s not a lot to whine about.
When I was around 10 years old I asked my dad for some money. Instead of money, he handed me a shovel.
My first thought was, ‘I guess I could sell the shovel for some cash,’ but I knew if I wanted money I would have to work for it.
I took the shovel - which conveniently came with a handy wheelbarrow attachment - out to the section of property where my dad and grandfather were building a nursery.
Sitting in the middle of the empty lot were two dump truck loads of dirt.
My mind was attempting to form a picture: a shovel, a wheelbarrow and a pile of dirt.
“Nope, sorry dad, I’m just not making any connections.”
It’s amazing just how motivating he could be when he explained things, and I began moving those two massive piles of dirt.
Thus began my foray into the working world. I was bringing down a whopping 50 cents an hour.
As I got older, the nursery got busier so I would work after school and on weekends.
Child labour laws, what child labour laws?
Actually, it was good because I could afford bikes, cars and the most important expense – girls.
So that’s about it, that’s all I have to complain to my children about.
I can tell my children, “Why when I was your age I had already mastered the art of moving dirt with a shovel and wheelbarrow.”
I never had to endure any great hardships like being poor or having to eat the family pet because we couldn’t afford meat.
I desperately need more “Why when I was your age” rants, but they are hard to find.
“Why when I was your age we didn’t have any of these fancy remote control units for our TV sets. If we wanted to change the channel we would have to get up and walk all the way over the set, change the channel and then walk all the way back to the couch.
And if you wanted the TV louder….”
It pales compared to my dad’s stories of working 12 hours a day when he was 15 years old.
Like many people of his generation, my dad grew up poor and worked hard to provide for his family. When he goes on a rant about how tough the times were – which I believe is the right of every senior – his stories are of true hardship.
So the TV remote rant is pretty weak. What else can I say?
I may have to resort to making things up.
“Why when I was your age we didn’t even own shoes. We tied a piece of bark to our feet and walked 20 miles to school in the snow in May – up hill both ways.
“We had to get up at 4 a.m. to milk the cats. We had to milk cats because we couldn’t afford cows. Then after school we had to milk the dogs before we went to bed. In fact we didn’t even have a bed. Me and my 18 brothers and sisters all slept in a broom closet. It was so small we had to sleep standing up, on one foot and we liked it.”
I wonder what my children will be telling their children.
“Why when I was your age our computer didn’t have a hyper-gig of RAM. We had to try and get by with 512 megabytes. Do you have any idea how slow that is? Let me tell you kids something, it was pure hell trying to open a website with lots of pictures.
“Why it took a full 22 second. You kid’s don’t know how lucky you have it.”
Somehow it just doesn’t compare to my father’s stories of growing up after the Dirty ‘30s.
I guess the size of the rant depends on the size of the hardship.

Copyright 2016, Darren Handschuh

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Americans love cars and guns

I saw a story about a rather strange car sales promotion - well, in Canada it would be strange anyway.
The story said a car dealership in the U.S. was offering a free handgun with the purchase of a new car.
“Buy the new 2016 SUX-Z and get the latest in high-powered killing technology that is small enough to fit in the glove compartment of your new car. Hurry, you don’t want to have to settle for a substandard weapon. Ammo not included.”
The company was offering $250 toward a new pistol or a voucher that can be used to purchase gasoline.
According to the car dealership general manager, most people were opting for the gun, and he is recommending they choose one of the semi-automatic model “because it holds more rounds.” Really, that’s what he said, honest.
It is just another example of how much Americans love their weaponry.
In Canada, car promotions may include free gas, a chance to win a free vacation somewhere or cash back, but I have never heard of a car dealership offering an implement of death as a lure to get people to buy a car.
We don’t really do the handgun thing up here, so maybe a car dealership could offer a bag full of knives, or a perhaps a baseball bat with a nail in it if they really want to connect violence with the latest in motoring trends.
But south of the border, high-powered guns are as popular as hockey is up here.
Where else can you get a fully automatic machine gun for deer hunting?
“Hey Bob, how many deer did ya get on your last hunting trip?”
“I only got one, but I got it 137 times.”
Of course you can’t eat the deer because it has more lead in it than a toy from China.
I have a few relatives south of the border and it was always interesting to visit them when I was a kid. Crossing into Washington State was fun because it meant I was going to see some really cool guns because all of my relatives were packing heat.
Other than a pellet gun and a .22 calibre rifle, my childhood was relatively weapons free.
Not so for my Yankee cousins. Their home was like a miniature armory and they were just average citizens.
One of my cousins, who was a couple years older than I was and thus very cool, would always show me the arsenal stored in his parent’s home.
The shotgun was kind of neat, but what I really liked was the two handguns because it’s just not something I was exposed to in Canada.
They also had an assault rifle that my uncle said was for “home defense.”
Home defense? Was he worried about being attacked by a herd of rampaging elephants, because that rifle had enough fire power on its own to kill Dumbo and all of his big-eared cohorts – twice.
At my house we had a dog for home defense. When someone came to the house, the dog would bark and we would look to see who it was.
If it was at night, we would simply let the dog outside and it would either keep barking and growling, or it would shut up depending on the circumstances.
The situation was always resolved without the use of lethal force.
When my grandmother died a few years back, another cousin asked if she was allowed to bring her handgun into Canada.
She had a small, .9 millimetre semi-automatic gun that she carried in her purse “just in case.”
We explained Canadian officials frowned upon smuggling restricted weapons into the country, but she just could not grasp the situation.
“But, I take it everywhere,” was her matter-of-fact reply.
In the end, she made it to gramma’s funeral and she brought her little friend with her.
I felt much safer knowing she had a six-shot, clip-load .9 mm in her purse in case the funeral was attacked by a renegade horde of psychos similar to those found in post-apocalypse movies.
I know that has never happened, but if that were the moment is was to happen, at least we would be ready.
Or maybe an errant bear could have attacked the funeral procession and my cousin could have gone postal on the bruin and saved us all.
Maybe Canada should re-think its gun laws, because we also deserve to be safe from post-apocalyptic rampaging bears.