Wednesday, September 18, 2019

September 18, 2019

We’re all settling in here at the Ashbury residence. Life, left to its own devices, usually finds its rhythm, and it’s best for everyone to find that rhythm for themselves as efficiently as possible. With two of us at home most of the time and only one of us leaving to go to work on a daily basis, the dogs have certainly found their rhythm. And time of day really has nothing to do with it as clocks are not a part of that process.

The four who are new to the home watch from the backs of the recliners as their mommy walks down the steps of the porch to the sidewalk and then to the car. This could be as early as six a.m., or as late as six p.m., or any time in between. Those four dogs keep watching until the car is no longer in sight. Then they get comfortable, their goal each morning that she leaves to await her return.

One of the chihuahuas may remain there, lying down to sleep up high, with that view of the sidewalk out the window. But the other three, they generally burrow into which ever of one of three blankets that are currently in the living room.

We say it as a joke, but it’s true. If you come into the living room, for goodness sake, don’t sit on a blanket that may be covering a seat: there’s very likely a chihuahua within its folds. If the puppy-mommy leaves for an evening round of client visits, why, those four dogs have two human pet beds from which to choose, because the evening finds both David and I in our recliners.

Summer is waning, and some mornings have been quite chilly. I resist having the furnace on as a matter of principle. However, there’s another principle, one that takes precedence. If it’s chilly, and there’s a dampness that can be thrown into the mix, then I do turn the heat on. Of course, a couple hours later I usually turn it off again. Conversely, there are late afternoons that beg a little cooling down, and with the touch of a button the central air comes to life. The day is approaching when we’ll cover the air conditioner that sits outside the side window, and the heat will be “on” until it’s spring once more. But that day is not yet here.

Autumn has a scent, a crispness in the morning, and a blue sky that is of a bit paler shade than the vibrant July to August blue. Some blooms wither while others thrive. I see pots of “mini-mums” for sale at the grocery store, of all places, and I sometimes feel the urge to purchase a couple. Very likely, if I spent time outdoors, I’d get them. What fun is it to sit outside without the view of attractive flowers? However, it’s just been too chilly and damp for me to consider that.

I have one new experience to admit to, and it occurred yesterday: binge video viewing. I did, a few months back, watch a few episodes of The Crown over the course of a couple days, but that wasn’t really binging.

I remember a few years back that the girls were talking about Downton Abbey. I think they caught it on Netflix. And while I had access to the service, I never actually used it myself. The beauty of that medium is you can have a few people viewing from one account, so I was very happy to provide it for the girls—and, of course, David, a devotee of stand-up comics, would use it, too. My Netflix experience began a couple of months back, and The Queen and the new season of Designated Survivor have been the only shows I’ve watched.

A few weeks ago, I began to see ads for the new Downton Abbey movie. I recalled the girls enjoyed the series and thought the trailer to the movie interesting. And so I began to hunt for the series, so I could watch it in anticipation of the new release about to come. I finally found it—yesterday, in fact, and spent the late afternoon and part of the evening binge watching. In just one afternoon and evening, I can report that five full episodes of season one are down—and a whole bunch more to go. 

It’s keeping my interest, and I find the characters to be of every type imaginable. The writing is good and there’s not a single character I feel indifferent about. But as with anything that we judge to be a positive, there’s a bit of a negative side.

I’m not very good, sometimes, when it comes to self-discipline. So I’m hoping that I’ll be able to keep my “but in chair, fingers on keyboard” sufficiently in hand this morning—and every morning. I’m going to have to do my best to make the time spent streaming the next episodes a reward for writing, and other chores done.

According to what I see before me, there are 72 episodes left to go, as I’ve access to the entire series. I’m not altogether certain I have that much self-discipline in me.


Wednesday, September 11, 2019

September 11, 2019

One of the most vivid memories I have in the immediate aftermath of the attacks of September 11, 2001, is driving from the city next door back to our town. Just before reaching one of the bridges that spans the expressway, a new billboard had been erected. Featuring the flags of the United States of America, and Canada, the words were simple, and to the point: “We stand with our neighbors. God Bless America.”

Eighteen years on, we live in a different world than the one we inhabited prior to that day of infamy. The immediate visceral response at the time was the surge in patriotism, the temporary dissolution of partisanship, and the new determination that this would never happen again.

Also in the immediate aftermath, we—all of us in North America—had our collective naiveté badly shaken from the events of that day. Terrorism used to be something that happened over there, be it Britain, Europe, or the middle east. Now, it was something that could happen here, too. As time passed and hearts hardened, we became more vigilant, leaving our naiveté behind forever.

I’m going to make an analogy here, and I hope you’ll forgive me if I somehow offend you. That’s not my intent. The attitude of our two governments, in the wake of that grievous attack, could have gone one of two ways. The options are not dissimilar to the psychology of parents who’ve lost a child.

I’ve heard it said that in more cases than not, parents who have suffered the death of one of their children, drift apart. I know that, because some professionals have commented on the fact that they’re pleasantly surprised that my husband and I are still together in the aftermath of the loss of our son, Anthony. My response to that has been, yes, we are together, but life is different now. We are different now, because the death of a child changes you—sometimes for better, sometimes for worse—but it changes you, and that change is forever.

Twenty-four Canadians died in the attack on the Twin Towers in New York. The losses suffered on 9/11 changed us all, Americans more than Canadians, yes. But changed us it has and now, eighteen years on, we have to think about those changes, what they’ve rendered within us, and what they’ve wrought outwardly. And we must decide whether or not those changes are to be our final answer, as it were, to the attacks by those terrorists.

I won’t offer an opinion here, but I will pose the question to my American friends: is your “marriage”, the unity of your nation, in good standing—or are you drifting apart?

 It’s a serious question, because without unity, without a sense of common purpose, how will you decide which direction to travel next through life? Without the strength of a strong union, how will you fend off the attacks of the vultures of this world, those who prey on others?

For couples who’ve lost a child, there’s often counselling. Questions are posed and answers sought out, but at the base of all those questions is this one basic principle: we cannot change the reality of the loss we suffered, and so, we have to decide if the legacy of our loss is to be the dissolution of our marriage. In my opinion, to dissolve the marriage is to reduce the meaning of the lives lived and now ended.

There’s an expression that has been used forever, it seems, and one I never understood until we lost our son. That expression: “I don’t want to think that he/she died in vain.” I used to think, well, death is death, what does it matter if it was in vain or not?

But the loved ones of those who pass who are able to donate their beloved’s organs to strangers in need, for example, can justify that if their loved one had to die, at least some good came from it. They did not die in vain.

Death, loss, unwanted change—these are the things that, we, as human beings suffer and struggle to understand. We endure them, because we have no choice. But once the dust has settled, and we begin to try and pick up the pieces and live day to day, I think it behooves us to take a moment to reflect. To remember what was and see what is, and ask ourselves some very, very hard questions.

Is this who we are? Is this what we want to stand for? Are we happier, now? Better now? More fruitful? Are we on the right track? We must put aside our politics, whether we identify as left, right, or center. Do we feel inspired to stand proud before the world? Or is gravity winning in that we hang our heads in recognition of a kind of failure we never imagined would ever be ours.

This is something everyone of us, and each one of us, needs answer for ourselves. And it is something that answer we must, as we have done, we humans, down through the ages, following every other hard test we’ve lived through. That’s where we stand, today, eighteen years after that day that changed everything.

The sentiment I opened with bears repeating, especially on this day. God Bless America.


Wednesday, September 4, 2019

September 4, 2019

Yesterday, the new dogs in the house learned about school buses, and the very suspicious activity that occurs out on the sidewalk every weekday morning at about eight-fifteen. As Tuffy has before them, they’ve come to the conclusion that a group of children gathering together so early and, in that fashion, can’t possibly be good.

Fortunately, the barking was all indoors, and minimal. I only have to enter the room now and they hush, and sometimes hang their heads. In shame, you ask? Oh, no, no, my faithful readers, not these dogs. Likely they do that so I can’t see them laughing at me.

The other thing the new dogs in the house have learned about is squirrels. Our daughter reminded me that at her former house, there were no mature trees in the neighborhood as it was a newer survey, and therefore, since there were no mature trees, there were no squirrels.

Cats, yes. Squirrels, no. Cats, for those of you who don’t know, are those evil demonic creatures who sun themselves on the top of the yard fence or the house roof and tease you unmercifully with their presence. They mock you, and all you stand for. Or so the dogs believe.

Squirrels, however, are new. One of the new dogs, Porky, has fallen shamelessly in love with the squirrels. She doesn’t bark at them. When she is out on the porch with her mommy, sitting quietly while mommy reads, sometimes a squirrel will climb down the tree that stands at the corner of the porch to check to see if anything was left for he/she/it in the squirrel feeder. Porky believes that if she smiles and wags her tail, that the squirrels will eventually become her new friends and they will play with her.

Porky, sadly, isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed. She’s not even especially cute, thanks to the wire-haired terrier in her. But she is affectionate. She has two favorite humans—her mommy, of course, and her grandpa.

She comes running downstairs, leaps onto grandpa’s recliner, performing a perfect 180 turn, mid-air as she does, to land in the crook of her grandpa’s arm—belly up and ready for a tummy rub. She knows of course that grandpa will gently stroke her belly forever. She goes to sleep and will stay like that until he gets up from his chair—and when he returns to it, so does she.

Our Tuffy has already adjusted to having all of his buddies living with him. One significant change in their dynamic is that, whereas when the dogs would visit, he’d have to work at getting them to notice and play with him, now they accept him as a part of their pack. Even the most standoffish of the new dogs—Bella, the oldest—has been seen cavorting with him. As I write this, the house is quiet. It’s early-morning, and the dogs have been outside, backdoor—that happened before my daughter left for work. She wasn’t kidding when she said her dogs sleep a lot.

Ivy, the mother of Porky and therefore also with wire-haired terrier in her, also not very pretty, has come into my office to tell me good morning—twice. She has been reminded that grandma doesn’t like kisses—twice. She and all of her little pack except for Tuffy are in the living room. There are blankets aplenty there for them to get snuggled down—they all like to be covered to some degree. Tuffy is in my office with me, awaiting his morning excursion with his Daddy via the scooter to the park, for some private Daddy/Tuffy time.

Zeus, the little teacup chihuahua, spends a fair bit of his day down here with us, because he really likes the downstairs blankets, and likely because since he’s so small, he can get away with it. When he sits on me in the evening, I barely notice his weight. Needless to say, there is a new rule that’s really sacred: do not sit on a chair if there is a blanket on it. For under that blanket, may be a Zeus puppy.

When my daughter returns from work today, it will be an immediate case of “treats for everybody!” Well, every furry little body with four legs. If she were to go out to work again this evening—some days she does work split shifts—then her dogs would be in our living room with us. Otherwise they would be up in her bed-sitting room with her. There are food and water dishes upstairs and downstairs. There are blankets in both locations, but the treats remain downstairs, as suitable rewards not only for the return of the mommy, but also for “outside backdoor go pee-pee” events.

At bed time, four dogs will go upstairs to find their spot in the big bed up there, and Mr. Tuffy will await upon his daddy, the last human to retire for the night, knowing that he will then be carried into his bed, where he will settle in wherever the mood strikes him, that night, to sleep. Until, an hour or so later, he meanders to another spot. Of course, the humans, in their sleep, move to accommodate him.

Yes, my friends, in this house, it really is a dog’s life.


Wednesday, August 28, 2019

August 28, 2019

We’ve decided that the Canadian National Exhibition will be an excursion for us to take next year, which is just as well. The last few weeks have been a bit busy for us, and an all-day trip to Toronto is something we both need to gear up for.

Let me tell you, friends, getting older is certainly not for the faint of heart.

However, lest you fear we are becoming hermits, we actually went to Toronto yesterday, to have a late lunch/early supper with some good friends, two of whom were here from another province, and one who was visiting from London, England.

A very quick digression is required here in the interest of complete transparency. We are becoming hermits, but for the most part this is by choice, and not something you need worry about at all. There’s a lot to be said for being left to our own devices in our own home.

Now, back to supper out yesterday. There is but one Cheesecake Factory Restaurant in the entire, over five million in population city formerly known as “Hog Town”, and yesterday we were there. The food is good, the portions huge, and yes, we each had a piece of cheesecake for dessert. David chose the “pineapple upside-down” cheesecake, and I—as I did the last time I was there a year ago—opted for “the original”. This is a rich, creamy-smooth cheesecake on a graham cracker crust with a thin layer of sour cream on top. No fruit or syrup, though of course there was the mandatory dollop of real whipped cream, served on the side.

I rarely indulge in dessert, but how could I not do so at a restaurant called the Cheesecake Factory?

For my main course—no appetizer or salad for me—I was in the mood for comfort food, and a dish called chicken and biscuits sounded like a good choice. I was not disappointed. It was very good—gently savory and fulfilling. Of course, I had to bring some home, because I needed to save room for that cheesecake. And my husband told me, as he took those first few bites of the meatloaf entree he ordered, that although he loves my meatloaf, I now had serious competition. I am totally fine with that. To enjoy my meatloaf, he doesn’t need to travel for more than an hour, nor pay a check when he is done.

While we’re not going to the Ex this year, we do have a fall fair in our own town, and I wasn’t at all surprised to hear my husband say that he thought he’d be going to that this year. That scooter of his has been a real blessing, allowing him the freedom to go where and when he will. He rarely cares to go any place that is not within our town. When he does, of course, I’m always happy to drive him wherever he needs to go. There is no public transit here, so it’s a matter of drive, walk, or, just recently for him, scoot.

I likely won’t bother going to the fair myself. Perhaps we’ll attend one in October, in a near-by town. I do like to go and see and do, but I find I do have to be in the mood for it. The one I’m thinking of takes place over our Thanksgiving Weekend and is a forty-minute drive from here, in the next county to the south.

David has always loved to go to our town’s end of summer fair. There are usually interesting programs offered at the grandstand—anything from tractor pulls to barrel racing to music programs, and of course, there are the tee-shirts.

Something of a tradition for him, he searches out the one vendor selling tee-shirts with outrageous sayings on them. He loves to come home with a few that he will then wear as he goes out and about, hoping for reactions to the words painted on his chest. While at the fair, he avoids the midway, as do I when I go. Neither of us care for either the rides nor the games. Those two areas are great money-makers for the amusement company, but a huge cash pit for the rest of us.

Our kids always were drawn to the rides and games of course, and they would be told to save their allowance so that they could indulge themselves each Labor Day weekend. We always provided some money but like all kids they wanted more. We’d remind them at the beginning of the summer that more was their responsibility. When we first moved to town, they were old enough to go to the fair on their own—ah, the relative innocence of those earlier times! That was an exciting revelation for them. We’d moved from a rural area to a town and going to the fair our first weekend here a nice surprise for them and helped to ease the transition to a new home.

This small town of ours will be a very busy place beginning today, until the fair closes on Labor Day, but we’re used to it. We no longer have children going to school, and only one grandson who’s a student, this year a senior in high school. Labor Day on the horizon had always meant the beginning of the end of summer for us, with that back to school Tuesday. But again this year, as we did last year, we felt that seasonal change in the air last week. Mother Nature has no respect for the human calendar.

Life has a rhythm and a routine. It’s really best when you can sense it, and slip into it, and feel comfortable and at peace in the doing.


Wednesday, August 21, 2019

August 21, 2019

When I was a kid, I always considered the beginning of the end of summer to be when the “Ex” opened. That day this year was August 16—last Friday. And by the “Ex”, I mean the Canadian National Exhibition, held each year in Toronto.

When I was a teen, my mother and I would go every other year, and yes, I understood even then that we went for me. In those days, her arthritis had already taken hold—osteoarthritis, the same as I have—and walking was painful for her, though she didn’t have a cane at that point.

She liked to plan to go to the Ex on International Food Day (I don’t even know if that’s a thing anymore) because at lunch time, you could sate yourself on all the free samples offered in the Food Building, and save your money for the more important things—like rides and games. (Feel free to insert the rolling-eyes emoji here.) Or, in my mother’s opinion, a nice sit-down and be served supper.

I recall one surprising time when mom parked the car on the Exhibition grounds, and who parked at the same time, in the same row, and about three cars down? My brother and his wife. We hadn’t known they were going to the Ex that day, but it was kind of good for all of us. My sister-in-law liked going on rides, and so did I at the time (this was in the days when we were both childless). But neither my brother nor my mother did. So we arranged to meet up later in the afternoon, and Rose and I rode our brains out while my mother and brother sat at a picnic table, had coffee, and relaxed. That’s a particularly fond memory for me, because I lost my enjoyment in rides after I had my first child, which was only about four years later.

I’ve had a lot of fun times at the exhibition. Some of them were unexpected ones, too.

My late good friend—a man who taught high school at the school I graduated from, and with whom I had worked to produce the annual area science fair for elementary (K-8) pupils, talked me into going to the Ex once. He’d already been diagnosed with cancer, though he was still fairly pain free. There were a couple of things specifically he wanted to check out at the Ex, he’d said. He didn’t like going alone, and his wife refused to go after having witnessed a fatal accident at one of the Air Shows there. I had a day off work, and so I accompanied him. As it turned out, what he wanted to check out was something he’d told me later had been on his bucket list.

He was the only person on the face of this earth who could have gotten me on that scary-ass roller coaster, The Flyer, which, it turned out, had been the entire point of the excursion. He’d recalled that I didn’t do rides anymore, and he thought I needed to do one more, and with him. He laughed when I screamed, and then after, we had a glass of beer at the Bavarian Beer Garden. It still touches my heart, when I think on it, that doing something with me had been on his bucket list near the end of his life.

Going once more to this end-of-summer celebration is an possibility that, until this year and the arrival of our scooters was entirely out of the question. The site itself is way too big for us to simply walk it. We’ve discussed going—the last day it’s on is Labor Day—and we still might do that this year. I’ll try to remember to take some pictures if we do. A side note—I’m horrendously bad at remembering to take pictures. For any who are interested, here’s a link to the web-site for the Canadian National Exhibition (aka the CNE or, simply, the EX):

I’m not sure I know where the summer has gone, but then lately, I never do. It always seems to speed by so much faster than does winter. I know that’s all perception on my part. The thing is, I’m beginning to see where perception does indeed become reality.

And why, as you get older, it’s so much easier to sit out the dances that are sometimes offered.


Wednesday, August 14, 2019

August 14, 2019

How do we cope with cruelty? And in this instance, I mean not so much the cruelty that may be inflicted upon us, but the cruelty we witness inflicted upon others in the world around us, and sometimes witnessed day after day via our televisions.

These are shocking and difficult times, my friends. The lid of Pandora’s box is standing ajar—not fully removed, but open just enough for some evils and ugliness to escape and affect the weak and the willing.

Witnessing it, we gasp, and sometimes we feel as if our hearts are going to throb right out of our chests. How do we cope, and how do we hold on to our own souls as this chaos reigns around us?

It can be difficult for those of us who believe in God, who have faith in the Almighty, regardless of our religion, to reconcile the images we see around us with that faith we hold so dear. Sometimes it’s hard to believe in the basic goodness of humanity.

I believe that when this era that we are currently attempting to navigate has come to an end, and on into the future, there will be reams of books written, describing these times, warning of the horrific results of living life in fear and hatred and giving in to our most vile instincts. There will be new emotional disorders named for what some people have gone through, for the affects of the emotional roller-coaster they’ve been forced to ride. I truly believe that.

As with anything in life, we have a choice right now. We can allow the images and what they represent to assail us, non-stop as we wring our hands and bemoan the state of our society; or we can identify ways in which we can take action. I don’t truly suggest closing one’s eyes, eliminating all input from the news media. You can’t let yourself be ignorant to what’s happening in the world, or your country, or your community. You must, to some extent, stand as a witness to the assaults on human rights, the attacks on human dignity, and the attempts to dismantle the institutions that bind your society together. If you don’t see it, and understand it, you are defenseless to prevent it from happening again. And I am sorry to tell you, at some point, it will happen again.

I recall, growing up, the near constant warnings from those older and wiser telling us that if we do not stand guard on our freedoms, someone will try to take them away from us. These times in which we are living are the times against which we were warned!

You need to look reality dead in the eye and know that there’s a point at which inaction equals complicity. Period.

To counter that, you must, where you can, look for the beauty, the good deeds, those awe-inspiring moments where the resiliency of the human heart and the human spirit shine through. There are a lot of moments out there, waiting for you to discover them.

You can get involved your area, seeing to it that you take whatever action you can to nudge your neighbors and friends into being alert and on guard, and most importantly, participating in the choices of who amongst you are elected to serve, to carry out the people’s business in your democracy and in your name. Yes, you must vote!

And there is one more thing you can do.

You can answer bullying with kindness; racism with a spirit of inclusion; fear with joy; hate with love. You can confront lies with the truth, and you can find others of like mind and like heart and form a bulwark against the evil and the chaos that, if not guarded against, can and will swamp you.

It becomes difficult, sometimes, to feel optimism, to believe that any kind of decency will ever prevail. But it will. It does. It has from the beginning of our civilization, and it really will again. No, we won’t go back to the way it has been, in our not-so-distant past, exactly. But that might not be a completely bad thing. We may emerge from this nightmare we are living shaken, and more conscious of how delicate this balance of life is and can be.

But that can truly make us stronger and wiser. And any way you cut it, stronger and wiser are two conditions that always lead to something good.


Wednesday, August 7, 2019

August 7, 2019

I believe in personal responsibility. More, I believe in assuming responsibility for my words as well as my deeds. What I do, I take responsibility for. That’s not to say that I am not open to outside influence. I know for a fact I am—and was even more so, when I was in my twenties.

Here is the reason I know that: When we were married for yet a short time, and our first child was still a baby, we were struggling. In fact, if you asked me to pick a word that suited our first, oh, twenty years of marriage, that word would be ‘struggling’. There wasn’t much money, ever, and as our family grew, as layoffs came and went, I have to tell you, it was bad at times.

We paid the bills—late, a lot of the time, but they were paid. Food came first as we had to feed the kids. Personal spending money? Entertainment allowance? Ha! We did get to the point where we could rent movies from Block Buster. They had a deal, two movies and then one free for the weekend. The kids would pick them. We’d make popcorn, and had soda (no-name soda, aka poverty pop). As things got a bit better, my husband and I each claimed 20 dollars every two weeks and would spend that at the bookstore. We could each buy 2 or 3 books. After we read our books, we swapped and read each other’s.

We got through. And when in those early years we were given something free – wow, that was special! And one of the things we got free was two tickets to attend the Miss Nude World Pageant that was held at one of the area’s “nature camps”. We went, even though I really was a bit of a prude in those days.

David loved it (of course he did. He was a 20-something Y chromosome carrier). As the afternoon progressed at this outdoor event, at one point, I turned and looked behind me (we were sitting only a few rows up in the stands) and discovered that half of the people I was sitting with were naked! The shock was enormous, but not enough to make me leave. And as the afternoon progressed, and it was a very warm summer day with only a slight breeze, and my satiny top was sticking to my back, I began the reasoning process that would probably have led me to taking my top off—and my bra, too. I came close….only inner cowardice stopped me. But I know myself well enough to say that on another day, I would have surrendered to the outside influence and stripped. In public, of a sort.

So yes, personal responsibility, but also, strong outside influences do impact people. They impact some people more than others. It depends on several variables. Not all people are strong willed enough to resist influences. Why do we insist our kids don’t hang around other kids who are getting into trouble? Because we know that the influence of others can be strong. We want to spare our kids the struggle or, if we know our kids aren’t of a sufficiently deeply ingrained good character, the temptation of taking the wrong path.

I believe when someone picks up a weapon, then they are responsible for what happens next. But I also know, that they could have been influenced to pick up that weapon. And when someone in power, someone who’s a symbol of authority says something is ok—or if they infer that it is by their words and attitude, and this they can indicate in many ways—then that encourages some “like minded” people to bring their previously hidden desires, beliefs, whatever, out into the open.

If someone hears their leader declare a certain ethnicity to be “invaders”, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that someone somewhere will take action to repel that invasion. Now, a couple of minor leaders declared that the root cause of the violence so recently perpetrated is mental illness, video games and social media—those old stand-by scapegoats—but definitely not the words of dear leader. Really? They really said that? Well, my question then is this.

Do those moronic minor leaders understand that their blaming of the outside influences of games and media actually means that they are conceding the role of outside influences in the recent spate of mass shootings? They should have stuck to the tried but true, “guns don’t kill people. People kill people.”

We are all responsible for our own actions: and when we’re on the stage of life, in a position of leadership and authority, it behooves us to temper our words. Words matter. It’s not rocket science to understand that. 

Words matter, because we know that our words have the power to influence others—for good, most certainly, but also for evil.