Wednesday, March 14, 2018

March 14, 2018

It’s March Break week here in our neck of the woods. This used to be a time when I’d be hyperventilating, either looking for someone to watch my kids when they were younger, or worried about what was happening in my house when they were allegedly old enough to be left on their own. Those lovely day programs so many communities offer now were not available when my children were younger.

I often had to field phone calls from my two youngest at work. When I was employed in the city, about a 35-minute drive from home, it was in the office of a manufacturing company. There were about 10 of us in the main area of the office, and we all got along fairly well. I recall telling them about the way my two youngest children constantly fought. One time, in the midst of yet another phone call from home, I held the receiver in the air so that all of my coworkers could hear one of my children yelling about the other one to me.

I even once instructed them not to call unless there was blood.

Of course, those days are long behind me, and there are parts of them I miss, and parts I don’t. Now the only thing March Break means here is that for an entire week, there are no school kids lining up in front of our house, and therefore no kids and buses for Mr. Tuffy to bark at. Our dog is quite clever. He deduced early on that all those children gathered together in front of our house couldn’t possibly be a good thing. The other bonus for him during the break is he gets to go outside to his porch and his squirrels a bit earlier than usual. I don’t let him on the porch during on a school day until the buses have collected their cargo. The children don’t need to be barked at by Mr. Barky McBarksalot.

There’s snow on the ground again here, but in light of all the nor’easters my friends south of the border have been dealing with in the last few weeks, I won’t complain. We’re all, I’m sure, sick of winter and hungry for spring. It will arrive, by and by.

Our lives these days are marked by small improvements, here and there, to our quality of life. The latest was an item I’ve wanted to get to for awhile. The piece of memory foam we had as our “bed topper” started out three inches thick when we bought it about five or so years ago. It wasn’t a very high-quality item, but it worked fairly well and was very comfy. Our mattress itself is in excellent condition. That we did pay a great deal for about fifteen years ago. But it’s a bit firmer than we’ve liked and so, the memory foam. Lately, however, the foam wasn’t as comfortable as it had been, and it sure wasn’t three inches thick any longer.

Our new “bed topper” is a foam/gel combination, with a washable bamboo cover. It is also three inches thick, and we bought it online and had it delivered. That first night on our new topper was, for both of us, a case of not realizing how bad a thing was until we replaced it. In the couple of weeks since we’ve had it, we’ve both slept much better. The big bonus for me is not having a sore back when I wake up in the morning.

I’ve long maintained that I can deal with a lot of things during the day, as long as I can get a really good sleep at night. This new topper is yet another blessing for which I am grateful.

One thing, however, the new topper hasn’t helped with is something, frankly, it probably can’t. We’re just a few days now into Daylight Savings Time, and my body is having trouble adjusting. In previous years, I’ve only been tired or “off” for an extra day, and even that I know was more psychological than it was physical. This year, however, it’s a bit worse. Not only am I still missing that hour’s sleep. I feel just slightly out of step. I’ve awakened in the morning just a bit later than I like by the clock, but my body insists it’s too early to rise. I’ve had to talk myself into getting out of bed that early for the last two days.

Because it bugged me I did a little research. I discovered that yes, the older one becomes the more of a struggle coping with this “time change” is. But in thinking about the sensation I’m experiencing, I’ve decided it feels like jet lag.

Now if only I could claim world travels in my dreams at night to justify the annoyance.


Wednesday, March 7, 2018

March 7, 2018

Spring has sprung! And it sprang for me, as far as I’m concerned, on Tuesday, February 27th. The temperature when I awoke at seven a.m. that morning was a few degrees above freezing—but that wasn’t what told me it was spring time.

The sun was shining, and the sky was a pale blue, just a shade up from winter pale blue, but that wasn’t what told me it was spring. The ground was free of snow and ice, but no, that wasn’t it, either.

It was the bird song. Last Tuesday I heard those wonderful, welcome birds that greet each day with such joy, they must sing about it, making the most beautiful music in the world.

Here in Southern Ontario, many of our birds migrate over winter. Those birds who remain behind, it seems to me, don’t sing all that often from October to March. Fancifully, I imagine that to be because they don’t want to alert near-by predators of their presence, thus becoming dinner. Food is a bit scarce for nature’s creatures in the winter, after all. Just ask Mr. Ashbury. He is forever buying bird seed for the birds as well as sunflower seeds and peanuts for the squirrels. Mr. Tuffy, who loves nothing more than barking at the squirrels, is very happy that he does so.

But I digress.

On last Tuesday morning, the avian music sounded sweet and happy. A veritable symphony of feathered ones filled the air with their own particular celebration of the coming new season. I heard robins, wrens, a red-winged black bird and even a killdeer who joined in the chorus. I didn’t hear any chickadees, not yet. They, I suspect, will be back soon.

Yes, I know the calendar says spring doesn’t arrive until the 20th or 21st of March. Setting a date specific on paper? That’s just part of our puny efforts, us humans, to manage nature. Nature goes her own way. It doesn’t matter one whit that by Friday, three days after this wondrous concert, we received more snow. Received more snow? We experienced a blizzard! But, as I said, that doesn’t matter. It certainly doesn’t matter that it’s snowing hard right now. Nothing else matters. Many of the birds have arrived home, and they’ve returned to their happy task of welcoming each new dawn, and I felt the beginning of my favorite time of year, and that’s that.

I’ve always loved spring the most. I love the first sound of robins singing, and the first sight of those buds lending a shimmering aura of green to the barren tree branches, an aura made of hope and promise. I love the first sight of those perennial flowers poking their green shoots above ground, as if having a look around to see if the snow is gone, or not. And often apparently not caring in the end, because they poke their heads up anyway, and begin to grow.

I love the scent of the early blooming flowers, and the parade of blossoms that march across my yard—crocuses and hyacinths and narcissi; daffodils and tulips and finally, lilies-of-the-valley, lilacs and peonies. I love the anticipation of spring, and the reality of it. I love the smell of freshly mown grass, and as I drive in rural areas with my windows down, the amazing aroma of what we used to call sweet grasses—no, not the native plant by that name. In my neck of the woods, as a kid, it referred to the harvest of the winter wheat.

I’m already looking forward to those few precious days when I can breathe in the scent of lilacs and lily-of-the-valley together in one blissfully aromatic inhalation, as I did right here on my front porch for the first time in decades last year. That was first time I’d revisited that fragrance since my years out in the country. I’m hopeful it won’t be the last.

Despite having moments of doubt, worry and a wisp of pessimism now and again, I am at heart an optimist. I sometimes drive those in my family crazy because I refuse to surrender hope. I’ve had people tell me, from the depths of their misery that I have no idea how bad life can really be, how horrible it can get.

 Friends, I do know how bad it can be and how horrible it can get. But I will never surrender to the darker emotions. I will never surrender hope. Because I did, for a time years ago, and it felt atrocious. Yes, life tests us, and it confounds us, and it slashes and singes our bodies as well as our spirits. But the dark times don’t come to stay, they truly come to pass.

Wise philosophers down through the ages have urged us to look to the natural world to behold the face of God. I’ve done that and found hope and resilience and renewal, the heart and soul of faith and optimism.

And it’s never so vibrant as it is, cradled within the reality of the perennial spring that greets us each and every year.


Wednesday, February 28, 2018

February 28, 2018

Early last year, when we were looking ahead to what life would be like for us once David retired, he had said he wanted to perhaps sell our house. It was a bit of a wild hare on his part. I think he was just caught up in the idea of having a brand-new beginning. He said he wanted a new beginning in a nice, new house. I could certainly sympathize with that sentiment, and so we seriously looked into the logistics of such a move. Eventually, he realized that it wouldn’t be a good idea. I’ve often mentioned in these essays that our house is no palace. That’s not a complaint, it’s simply reality. As such, it’s not worth all that much at all.

Since we were mortgage free, it seemed wiser just to stay put. However, there were a few things we needed to have done around the place, things that had been let go. The first, and a major repair we saw to in the early part of last November. We had new 50-year shingles put on our roof.

The other major “repair” we needed to do, had been in disrepair since our son died. He and my husband were doing renovations on the house, and one of the things they did was to put on a whole new roof—rafters, sheeting and shingles (the last of which turned out to be 10-year shingles, and not the 25-year shingles we’d believed, which is why we had to replace them this past year).

In creating the new roof, our son extended the height of the upstairs walls by just a over a foot, and combined with the style of roof he chose, this gave us a more usable “upstairs”, one that actually had headroom. Prior to this, and until all our kids moved out, our bedroom had been up there, and five foot nothing me could lay my hand flat on the highest part of the ceiling without even stretching.

Unfortunately, the day they pulled off the old roof, we had an unexpected rainstorm, and the kitchen ceiling was adversely effected. The living room ceiling was damaged when he cut the hole to install the new staircase (he changed the stairs from ascending north, to ascending west, and made them less steep, and also less invasive in the living room because they aligned with one of the walls).

After our son died, my husband couldn’t bring himself to return to working on the renovations. The new upstairs has electricity and sub-flooring, as well as new windows. There is insulation, and a vapor barrier, but no drywall. That area is used for storage and not living space as originally planned. Perhaps now, over time we’ll finish it off—install that drywall and think about finishing the floor.

But those ceilings in the kitchen and the living room? They really couldn’t wait. Since 2006, we’ve lived with those ceilings. The living room one looked like it might come down at any moment, though it proved to be sturdier than it appeared, because it didn’t get worse in 11 years. The kitchen one was just a mess, period. Before the damage, it was a painted, stuccoed surface, and didn’t look too bad—except whoever had sprayed on the Stucco-Tex, sprayed it over top of a stove pipe cover that had been in the ceiling. And one day about five years after we moved in, that puppy just let go. So even before the rain damage, there was damage to one small part of that ceiling. After the rain event, half of the plaster on the kitchen ceiling was on the floor and the room looked like the sort one might find in a hovel. David had re-done the floor in the kitchen several years ago, but the ceiling was left in all its shabby glory.

This month, February 2018, we finally did something about those ceilings. We had an excellent team come in and install drop ceilings in both rooms. Since what was in the living room was plaster—the old wooden slat and horse-hair kind of plaster—we decided that it would be less headache and less mess to install drop ceilings. We lost only six inches in room height, making our ceilings now just short of ten feet high. But the difference in appearance is amazing. They look wonderful! We had new light fixtures installed, and I no longer am embarrassed by the appearance of my home. Yes, there are a lot of little things that need doing, and maybe a major renovation down the road if we decide to re-do the bathroom.

But for sheer impression, for the way we feel now looking up in those two rooms, I can tell you that in choosing to stay and fix-up, my husband and I, in essence, have ended up with his desired “fresh start”.


Wednesday, February 21, 2018

February 21, 2018

My heart broke last Wednesday afternoon and I have been grieving for the families and the people in Parkland, Florida. Fourteen babies—for surely they were their parents’ and grandparents’ babies—slaughtered for no apparent reason. Three brave teachers/coaches who gave their lives in defense of their students. Seventeen lives stolen that day, carelessly wasted, and holes mercilessly ripped into the hearts of families and friends.

Anyone who’s lost a child knows that these are holes that will never, ever be filled. These are losses that will never, can never, be made right. Hearts may, in time, mend sufficiently for bodies to carry on, but those hearts will never be whole again.

I understand the second amendment to the United States Constitution. I even agree with it. However, I do not understand why anyone of sound mind would want to purchase a gun of war. I do not understand how anyone of sound mind could claim their second amendment rights would be violated if they could not purchase a semi-automatic rifle. Apparently, the Supreme Court doesn’t understand that either, as they’ve ruled that the ability to purchase one of these specific guns is not a constitutional right.

Oh, what’s that you say? You want to go hunting? You want to use that semi-automatic long gun you have there, that AR-15, to hunt deer and wild pigs? How many rounds per minute you say? On a deer or a pig? Can’t imagine there would be much left of the critters to eat after you emptied that magazine into them.

Did you know the US military was equipped with M-16s in Vietnam? And did you know that there was a push to replace those with AR-15s, because those guns were more lethal and more reliable than what the military was using? Still think it’s just a “hunting rifle”?

As I was watching the news coverage in the aftermath of this latest school massacre, I heard Washington lawmakers claim they needed to focus on mental illness, not any kind of “gun controls”. I heard them say that those who suffer from mental illness should not be able to purchase guns. My question is this: If they really feel that way, then why did they, in early 2017, repeal the very law that was already in place for that express purpose?

There is no other country on earth that has the kind of constant, almost routine mass shooting incidents, as does the United States. Oh, there are other places where mass violence and mass death happen. Namely, in Afghanistan, and in the middle East, and in Iraq and Syria. But those are war zones. The United States of America is supposed to be, as Ronald Reagan called it, “a shining city on a hill”. It’s not supposed to be a war zone. But with on average 33,000 people dying each year from gun violence? With this being the 30th mass shooting incident of 2018? Friends? February 14th was day 45 of 2018. That gives you an average of a mass shooting every day and a half! More Americans die in two years from gun violence than all the American lives lost in the Vietnam War.

By comparison, there have been 10 mass shooting incidents in Canada—since the year 2000.

When the slaughter of the six and seven-year-olds happened in 2012 at Sandy Hook, I was sure that finally something had happened that would cause saner minds to prevail. I was certain changes would finally be made. But nothing changed, and I’m sorry, I just don’t understand it.

Is enough ever going to be enough?

95 per cent of Americans support tougher background checks before guns can be purchased. 65 per cent of Americans support banning assault weapons. Yet nothing changes. And why is that?

Please don’t tell me that this is an issue of American patriotism, because frankly, it’s not. We’re talking about guns powerful enough to cut down the wall of a house—being in the hands of the mentally disturbed. Friends, the refusal to institute tough background checks, enact legislation to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill, and legislation to ban assault weapons has nothing to do with protecting the second amendment rights of the people of the United States.

It only has to do with protecting weapons sales and the weapons manufacturers’ profit margins. It is, quite frankly, flagrant greed at the cost of your babies’ lives.


Wednesday, February 14, 2018

February 14, 2018

Happy Valentine’s Day! As with many of our modern traditions, the celebration of this day goes back to very early Christian times, and a 3rd century AD martyr, St. Valentine of Rome. I’ve researched a little, and generally the consensus is that not much is known about this historical figure.

In the middle ages, people began associating this saint’s day with the tradition of courtly love. As time progressed, this association continued. Early tributes were in the form of written poems, and likely ditties that could be performed to the accompaniment of lyre or harp.

In Victorian times, the tradition of sending Valentine’s messages was set, and special paper for the occasion was marketed. In the 1840s postal rates were reasonable, and the concept of cards that could be sent through the mail gained popularity.

I believe Valentine’s Day is the first solid example of mass marketing, and in my own opinion gave birth to the modern day greeting card industry. And because this is so—the mass marketing connection—we have candy and flowers, and hey, how about a night out? Expensive dinner served amid candlelight and soft music. Or, why not make it an entire weekend? Our hotel has a stunning Valentine’s Day package! Or, hey, go big or go home, how about a cruise?

I’m not a cynic. I prefer to think of myself as a realist. The reality, in the past, wasn’t all hearts and flowers. Those of my generation had to endure that great cruel crucible of childhood, when Valentine’s Day was the day we all found out what others truly thought about us. Yes, in the olden days, no one dictated that if you were bringing Valentine’s cards, you must give one to everyone in the class. That rule was unheard of, which meant that some people received a lot of cards, and some had very few indeed.

I can’t even recall what the standards were, back then, for judging whether a classmate was deserving of a card. I know girls had crushes, and that was certainly a factor. Some girls were popular with other girls in a way that even to this day I can’t explain. It’s interesting, isn’t it, how something can have such a lasting impact on one’s psyche, without the details being etched in the memory?

A small digression here. I recall going to my High School’s 25th reunion, in 1985. At the time I was married, had children, and adulting to the best of my ability. We’d been married thirteen years. The one incident that stood out for me on this occasion was when one of the most popular girls in my school, at the time of my attendance, came up to me and told me how much she’d respected me and looked up to me, back in the day. I recall being gracious, but thinking, dayum, girl, where the hell were you when I needed you? I had perhaps four girls at the time I considered friends. I’m pleased to say that today, I am in regular contact with three of them.

As an adult, I always felt gifts on Valentines Day were nice, but not necessary. A card, on the other hand, was a simply bar to set. And I let it be known to my husband and kids that hand-made cards were the best.

Through the years I’ve received beautiful flowers, and they’re always a wonderful surprise that not only perk up my day but are lovely to look on for several days afterward. And then there was the year when my first books came out under my second penname, Cara Covington. Because my husband had to work, he asked my daughter to arrange with the local flower shop for three bouquets to be delivered—one for Morgan, one for Cara, and one for my real name.

I’m not sure if my daughter explained the situation to the florist, or not. She’s got enough of me in her that she might not have done.

For those of you who do celebrate this day—and I know some folks who observe today as a wedding anniversary—I wish you all continued love, laughter, and a very good life.


Wednesday, February 7, 2018

February 7, 2018

I’m certain y’all have heard by now the results from last Friday. Two groundhogs proclaimed six more weeks of winter. Only Staten Island Chuck predicted we’d get an early spring. I think, over all, he has the highest percentage rate for accuracy. The really concerned should google it. I did a couple of years ago, but that rate could have changed.

Meanwhile in the Ashbury household, we’re chugging along just fine. Yes, we’ve got a lot of snow, again. That’s not a problem for us the same way it used to be in one particular area: we don’t have to go out in it. Since no one who lives here has to go out of the house to work, we can choose to hunker down, if that’s what we want to do. It was snowing this past Sunday, and we had planned to get groceries and pick up David’s new laptop. We just looked at the weather, then at each other, said “Monday”, and carried on with our individual pursuits. That was the easiest decision made and executed, ever.

I’m smiling more these days, because over the last month, during which my husband has been working on his novel, he’s made a few interesting discoveries about writing, the creative process, and an author’s life in general.

My friends, Karma is a wonderful thing.

You may recall that I asked David to relocate his computer and “office” area a couple of years ago. It now takes up a corner of our living room. I made this request of him after a long Christmas “shutdown” during which he was home for about three weeks. All through this time, he was in my office a lot, where his computer was also located. When he wasn’t surfing the web, distracting me because his monitor screen was in my periphery, he was sitting there, his chair turned toward me, and he was reading.

I explained as gently as I could that it was very difficult for me to get into “the zone” with him just sitting there. He protested that he was being quiet, and he just “wanted to be with me”. I felt a little guilty even as I told him I appreciated that, and we could have together time later in the day. Although I knew he didn’t really understand, he acquiesced to my request, and relocated his “office”.

One day last week, I’d finished writing for the moment. It was coming up on two in the afternoon, and I needed to get my legs up. I’ve found my arthritis is marginally better if I do this each day. I walked into the living room and told him I wanted to watch a bit of television, but not to worry, I would use the headphones. I would be so quiet, he wouldn’t even know I was there. He wouldn’t be distracted by the screen, because he sits with his back to it.

My husband said, okay, he’d take a break too. He definitely sounded disappointed. I told him he didn’t have to, I was fine wearing the headphones and watching television on my own.

He turned, looked at me, and the expression on his face…I can only call it sheepish. He told me he can’t seem to focus very well on what he’s writing when I was sitting there, in the room, with him. Friends, a bigger person than I would have simply made sounds of understanding and left it at that. 

Me? I put on a puppy-dog face, batted my eyes at him and said, in a Betty Boop kind of voice, “But I’m being very quiet. I just want to be with you!”

We both laughed, and it was a good moment, really. He’s now beginning to understand a little of what I’ve been saying and hinting at for some time. I know that in the last couple of years especially, he was thinking I was living a live of luxurious ease, while he had to work hard, and in a way, I was.

 But how nice it is for him to finally see my lifestyle through his own eyes, to understand the way the writing process can grab you by the throat, enslave you, enthrall you, and frustrate you beyond measure—all in the same breath.

The best part of all is one that was completely unexpected. Not only do I feel I have more writing time, and less pressure to do other things. This change in our routines has definitely brought us closer together.


Wednesday, January 31, 2018

January 31, 2018

The mild temperatures of last week were more than welcome, they’d been expected. In the olden days, we used to call it the January Thaw. As far as I know, there was never a set time in January for this phenomenon to happen, and it could even show up in February, instead of January.

I eagerly look forward each year to the point in January when the air temperature goes above freezing for a few days. I’ve always been a firm believer in airing out my house in the winter. I believe doing so helps the furnace to work better. This belief is based on a long-uttered bit of folklore that says cold water boils faster than hot water, and fresh air heats better than stale air because the oxygen molecules in both are larger.

It occurs to me at the moment, as I write this, that I could very well believe in a lot of stuff that perhaps isn’t proven, scientific truth. I’m going to have to ruminate on that—but not today.

It comforts me to open my house, especially when there is fresh air to be had. I don’t know how to describe this specific scent I call fresh air to you. In my mind, those two words represent a definite smell as much as a state of being. There’s a quality to it, that when you smell it, you just know—likely because your body immediately tells you to breath deep to grab as much of it as you can. I’ve heard it theorized that if a person from medieval Europe could time travel to today, they would have great trouble breathing, because our air quality isn’t as pure as once it was.

I believe that’s true for one reason: the air’s not even as pure as it was when I was a kid. One of my favorite fragrances of all time, is the smell of clean sheets that have hung in the fresh air to dry and have just come in off the line. In case you’re wondering, this is the reason that we now use chemicals to achieve that “breathe deep and sigh” scent in our laundry. I prefer to achieve that quality the old-fashioned way. Every spring, at least a few times when the air has that “fresh” quality to it, my husband indulges me when I ask him to hang the newly laundered sheets out on the line. I appreciate his kindness in doing that for me, because he has to go part way up the hill behind our house to where our clothes line is to do that. That’s not something I can do and is a feat that requires a great deal of effort from him these days.

What I also love about this time of January Thaw is that sometimes, all the snow manages to disappear. It did that this year. All we had left Sunday morning was a small bit of ice and snow where it had been piled high and remained out of direct sunlight. I was able to wear my running shoes to do the grocery shopping. It was nice not to have to struggle with my footwear for a change. Of course, on Monday, we received another few inches of fresh snow.

Please note: fresh snow is not nearly as welcome to me as is fresh air.

In two days time, on Friday, it will be Groundhog Day again. This winter has had its days—days on end of sub-zero temperatures, and days when it’s snowed and been damp and, though not sub-zero, still darn cold. I scoff when I hear the radio announcer say, “it’s going to be warmer today than yesterday. It’s going up to 3 degrees!” Fahrenheit. I’m sorry, but up to 3 Fahrenheit from 1 Fahrenheit is not warmer. There’s no warmth to be had there. It’s merely less cold.

There are several groundhogs that I’m aware of in North America, though there are likely more: one here in Ontario (Wiarton Willie), one in New York (Staten Island Chuck) and of course the famous one in Pennsylvania (Punxsutawney Phil).

I know a lot of people who think that animals in general do a better job of prognosticating weather than even the most highly university-trained meteorologist can ever do. I’ve never quite made up my mind on that score.

What I do know is that in the depths of winter, when all you want is for the darn season to just be over with already, it’s nice to have something to look forward to, something from which to gain hope.

I don’t know what that says about us humans when that something is a rodent.