Wednesday, October 28, 2020

 October 28, 2020

First, I want to begin this essay with these words: I am at home, and I am well.

But last week at this time, I was in my local hospital. I’d arrived there by ambulance on Sunday the 18th, and on Wednesday, I was awaiting transportation to a larger General hospital in a city that lies about thirty-five minutes to the east. That hospital has a full function cardiac department. I was going there in order to have my second, ever, angiogram.

The last one occurred in December of 2002, about four months after my first and only heart attack which I suffered in August of that year. In November I’d begun having angina, and the doctor told me if angina woke me up from a sound sleep, then I was to head to the hospital, which I did.

An angiogram is a test that takes pictures of the coronary arteries and the blood vessels that supply the heart. During the test they use a catheter, inserted into a blood vessel to inject a special dye into the blood, in order for the pictures to be taken.

Due to the ongoing presence of the pandemic, new rules are in place in our hospitals, here. In order for me to be able to undergo the angiogram, I had to first have two negative Covid-19 tests, taken within twenty-four hours. Once that was a fait accompli, (late Tuesday afternoon) the procedure was scheduled for the next day. I didn’t even think of complaining about the Covid tests, even if it did feel like my brain was being sting-tickled with vinegar and a wire. Taking every precaution is one way we prevent the disease from spreading. I happen to believe that is very important.

Eighteen years had passed since my last angiogram, and as one would expect after that amount of time had passed, some improvements have been made to the procedure. The major one I was aware of was this: that if a blockage was found and if the doctor decided a stent would be appropriate, it would be done then and there.

Unlike that last time, the access point for the catheter was not my femoral artery, but my radial artery – in my right wrist. And also, unlike that last time, my test results this time were excellent. There were no blockages, and nothing to explain the couple of incidents of unstable angina that I’d experienced. They did find some mild plaque in one of the arteries. The doctors reached the conclusion that this plaque could be treated with medication. They added two new meds to the ones I was already taking, and increased the dosage of two others, and I’m (obviously) fine with all of that.

I am grateful for all the services that I received, beginning with the ambulance ride to the hospital. I was taken into the emergency room immediately, put on a stretcher, and hooked up to blood pressure and heart monitoring equipment.

They admitted me to a room on the Cardiac ward around nine Sunday evening. After the first Covid test came back negative, I was moved from that room to another, this one with a roommate who was also awaiting the results of his second test.

My roommate turned out to be a gentleman. I’m old fashioned enough that I felt some objections wanting to emerge as I realized that. I soon learned that this was not uncommon at all. They have to manage the patients they have, as well as the ones they don’t but might receive. Restricting rooms by gender means blocking beds from use, and even under normal circumstances, that’s not good.

I came home early Thursday afternoon, and I have decided to take things easy, rest a fair bit, and try to “chill”. I’ll probably get back to pushing myself eventually, because I don’t think such a relatively short stay in hospital is enough to convert this A type personality into a beta forever.

But it’s always, good, at least in my humble opinion, to take full advantage of the opportunities we’re given. And that is never so true as when the opportunity comes wrapped in a scare, and reminds us that we are, after all, very mortal.






Wednesday, October 14, 2020

 October 14, 2020

It’s autumn, all right. We used to call it sweater weather, but we’re older now. It’s jacket weather, to be certain. I love the “fresh air” days. You know the ones I mean, those days when you open the door and inhale deeply, and then sigh with the pure pleasure of smelling fresh air. We’ve had a couple of them this month, already. Last Friday, our daughter, who is a very early riser, decided have the doors opened wide, to bring all that lovely fresh air into the house. We were still in bed, bedroom door closed, and she had really hoped that she would be done with her cleaning project and house airing before we got up.

Our thermostat for the furnace is in the living room, a major recipient of all that fresh air. This meant, of course that the furnace was chugging away throughout the time the front and back doors were wide open. The thermostat is set at 72, but I think the outside morning temperature here on Friday was about 42. Well, the outside temperature and also the inside temperature—in the living room.

An interesting thing happens in the rooms that have closed doors and open heat vents when the furnace keeps pumping out the heat because the thermostat in the living room tells it to. I got up for a bathroom visit just shy of 7 am and while I might have considered staying up before opening the bedroom door, I changed my mind and headed straight back to my very warm and toasty bedroom afterward.

Normally first thing in the morning before actually getting up, I do like to have the blankets off for a bit, as I tend to sleep warmer than I like, but thanks to that open door and shot of cold from the bedroom to the bathroom and back, that was not a problem on Friday.

David got up for the same reason I had when I came back to bed. I told him to put his robe on, which he did—bless him for doing that so trustingly when the bedroom was so toasty. He took the puppies with him, as he always does, putting them outside while he goes into the bathroom. Then he came back to bed. He'd left the dogs in the living room because our daughter, and her dogs were up and downstairs. The puppies love that. They don’t miss us at all during those mornings when they get to be with Jenny and their mommy dog, and the others.

That is to say, usually, they love that.  Missy-dog has a distinctive sound she makes when the bedroom door is closed, and she wants in. I’ve heard it because a few times David has ejected her from the room during afternoon nap time. It’s a pitiful and pathetic low-pitched moaning-whine, and I heard that sound five minutes after David came back to bed on Friday morning.

I got up and opened the door, and Missy shot into the room, and around the bed, likely trying to get as far away from the cold as possible. Even Bear, who doesn’t mind (and often prefers) being left alone on the sofa with a blanket around him perked up, ran down the doggie staircase, and headed into the room, too.

Bear, our boy puppy, son of Mr. Tuffy, and Zeus, our daughter’s teacup chihuahua can neither of them jump onto the couch so yes, we have a doggie staircase. But I digress.

When we all four of us got out of bed an hour later, those darn doors were still open. My office, however, had been closed up the entire time, so I just headed into that small sanctuary of warmth and stayed there until the doors were finally closed. The house did smell nice and fresh, and really that freshness was and is worth a bit of discomfort.

Autumn is also soup weather. We do buy canned and packaged soups, for convenience, and for cooking. David can’t eat regular spaghetti sauce as it gives him tummy troubles. But he does like a soup – tomato with basil and oregano – so when we make spaghetti, we use that. We also use canned mushroom soup when we fry pork chops. It’s either my homemade coating mix, or mushroom soup when it comes to the chops.

But the soups I was referring to are the ones I make myself. I will confess to using a bit of prepared vegetable, chicken, or beef broth—I prefer the powdered forms—but everything else in my soups are home ingredients.

There are family favorites, of course: cream of potato (either with leek or bacon), cream of mushroom, and cream of broccoli. Any stew or pot roast is the source of homemade beef barley soup with veggies, or occasionally just beef and veggies soup. I also will make either chicken noodle or chicken with rice soup. A new favorite the last couple of years has been butternut squash with red pepper soup. Sometimes, I get a text from our second daughter asking if there will be soup. Others, it’s my husband who hints for soup.

I am more grateful than I can say that even at this time in my life when I can’t do anywhere near as much as I used to around the house, I can still make a damned good pot of homemade soup.







Wednesday, October 7, 2020

 October 7, 2020

The fall colors, in our neck of the words, are beautiful—not yet at their peak, but progressing nicely, the reds and yellows eating away at the green. We make a game of it, David and I, each fall when we spot that first tree that is blazing with some red and gold. We call it a traitor, because, of course, it’s a sure sign that winter truly is on the way.

Autumn is my daughter’s favorite season. She hates the high heat of summer, and the general wetness of spring. She’s not a fan of winter, either, because of the added risk in driving, something she does a lot of daily because all her clients are in the community.

But autumn, she declares, is cool and crisp and clean—and a joyous break from the heat and humidity of the weeks just passed.

I used to love to take walks in the fall, to feel the cool crispness in the air, to feel my cheeks chill from it. Every season has its own beauty, and while I know the secret is to cherish each one for its uniqueness, I haven’t quite mastered that yet.

As I write this, I am still battling my usual fall cold. I get one in the spring, too, and because I’m on heart medications, I pretty much only have sleep as my weapon against it. As with all colds, some days are better than others. Mostly, I become annoyed at my inability to do as much as whatever had become normal for me, just prior to the cold’s onset. But this, too, will pass, and so I do my best each day to acknowledge that fact and then dismiss the inconvenience of it all.

Last night, we had the last serving of beans from our garden. The entire enterprise is pretty much done for the season. We all think that the amount we harvested was well worth the effort we put in.

I didn’t spend all that much time sitting outside in my back yard this year. There weren’t that many days that were “just right” for me. I tend to be conscious all the time, whether or not my legs are getting any drafts on them. Even a breeze that feels warm can bring agony later. I’ve tried having a blanket on my legs, but that doesn’t always work. In the end, being grateful for pain medications does not mean I want to consume them copiously. So I take care.

But the back yard did see plenty of use this year. We had a few small gatherings of family for family suppers. Great-grandchildren were here a few times, and the back yard is a good place for them to run off some of their energy.

As well, our daughter bought a small charcoal barbecue, because as far as she and her dad are concerned, steak tastes so much better grilled over charcoal. She even purchased a bag of hickory to add in with the charcoal. I’m not surprised they both like that “smoky” flavor. They’re alike in a lot of ways. I like it well enough but would choose my propane grill if given the choice. Of course, because of the amount of time it takes the charcoal to give you that good, hot burn, we did only use it a few times and yes, only for the steak.

We had a few meals grilled outside in foil, for which the propane grill is the best. Jenny has taken over all of the outdoor grilling. That isn’t something that David was ever interested in doing, so I’m glad that she really enjoys doing it. Our daughter likes to marinate chicken breasts, then wrap them in foil. She also loves those small potatoes in foil—with salt, butter, and maybe a couple of drops of olive oil. And our favorite new thing this season was whole carrots, wrapped in foil, and grilled. Butter, and perhaps a tablespoon of honey goes in with those carrots, and my, they are very tasty, indeed.

David and I are staying home these days. The numbers of infections is rising in our province, though here in our county, they’re up and down, and at 11 as of yesterday. The situation is wearing on us, just as it is on everyone else. It’s stressful to always have that “what if” scenario in the back of your mind. There’s really no escaping the fear that lies in wait for a weak mental moment.  They call it Covid fatigue, and it is that, but we have to be made of stronger stuff. Yes, acknowledging that this virus will be here for another year or so feels like too much. And for some of us, a total of two years is a lot of time, because we don’t all necessarily have that many years left.

But when it’s a matter of public health, of doing what’s best not just for yourself but others, you just have to suck it up. We’re all in this together, which, turned around, mean’s we’re not, any of us, alone.





Wednesday, September 30, 2020

 September 30, 2020

We live in an old house. In fact, it’s more than a century old. When we first moved in here, into this house on a corner lot, there was an elderly woman living kitty-corner from us who told us that when she was a girl, this house of ours had actually been a duplex. She knew this because she and her family lived on one side of it. He chuckled and told me that was how far she’d come in life—all the way across the street.

We’ve made some repairs and improvements to this house over the years, but an old house is an old house, and often features something that those who did not grow up in a rural environment might find creepy to think about—mice.

Our house in the country, when I was a kid growing up, always had an influx of mice in the fall—field mice coming inside for the winter. My mother would set traps, of course, but she also had one wise saying: mice are a pain, but as long as you have mice, you know you don’t have rats. Apparently those two rodents do not live together.

Now y’all are saying, “OMG rats?” Let me tell you. There were two times in my memory when rats were a real problem. Both occurred when we lived on that old road of ours out in the country. About a mile to the north of us was a chicken farm operation. The story, as I heard it from my mother was that one day they decided to fumigate their barn between shipments of chicks – and did something very wrong, because there ensued a stampede of a herd of rats down the road. It wasn’t a very busy road, so not many of them were killed by traffic. All the neighbors had rat problems for a good month.

I awoke with one on my bed, and I wasn’t much more than nine or ten at the time.

That said, I’m still not a fan of having any rodents here in the house. At all. Over the years we’ve tried standard traps and those small plastic box so-called humane traps. We’d catch a few each fall. But not all of them.

Over the last few months or so, I have endured two major irritants in my life: my family’s habit of leaving the doors open for extended periods of time, and the darn rodents. And then I discovered that those two irritants had merged.

I had the suspicion that we had a critter in the kitchen, one larger than a mouse. I caught sight, a couple of times, of something zooming fast in my peripheral vision. Something…furry. Just a wisp in the corner of my eye, but I knew what it was. I knew.

And then one day, I heard a sound…I swiveled my chair and looked, and I saw it! From my chair in my office, I saw it! I told the others, but they did not believe me.

What is it about one’s having grey hair that makes people discount anything you have to say? I swear, one of these days, I’m going to demonstrate why I refer to my cane as a whoopin’ stick.

But I digress.

Indignant that I was not believed, I formed a plan. It took some time but finally, I heard that sound again. I reached for my cell phone and ever so silently swiveled my chair around. I took a picture, one that proved that I had indeed seen…a chipmunk. Living under my kitchen cupboards but coming out during the day to see what he or she could scavenge.

We tried leaving the back door open during the morning—the Chippie’s active time of day—and it completely ignored the hint to be gone. None of us can move fast enough to capture the little varmint, and those dogs? Why would they hunt a rodent? They have kibble in their dish.

Finally, I went looking online, and found a small live trap that listed that it could accommodate chipmunks, mice, rats and even muskrats—so glad I don’t live near a marsh.

The trap finally arrived last week, and we set it up. Though we also knew we had mice we didn’t expect to catch any, but we did. A few small mice have been relocated to the far back yard atop the hill—as has our former, resident Chipmunk.

Poor Chippie was not a happy camper when the door to that cage slammed shut.

But I sure was.





Wednesday, September 23, 2020

 September 23, 2020

Autumn officially arrived yesterday morning. We felt that it had actually arrived several days before when we welcomed cooler temperatures to our area. I don’t care for extremes in temperatures anymore. I was never fond of extreme cold, but I used to not mind the heat so much. The last few years, however, rather than finding the heat comforting, the humid high temperatures of summer seem to aggravate my arthritis just as much as the wet damp of fall and icy cold of winter do.

I’m afraid I’ve turned into one of those clich├ęd humans who is never happy, no matter the weather. I hate being that person, but I won’t deny that I am.

Tomatoes and green peppers and beans are still growing, but they’ve slowed. David cleared out some of the vegetation that was just growing in the gardens but not producing anything. We’ll catch a break if the first few frosts are light. Since the gardens are not at ground level (they’re about three feet up), there’s a chance those first few chills won’t kill the veggie plants still producing.

In our part of the world, in our small part of Southern Ontario, we’ve had another surge in the number of virus cases, which doesn’t surprise anyone here. And I’m not complaining, because here in this county of Brant, and adding in the City of Brantford which is in the middle of the county and covered by the same Health unit, we have a population of 138,866 and 10 current cases of Covid 19. For those of you paying attention, in a previous essay I had cited the population as being 36,707. That’s the county, not the city. The city’s population is over 134,000. So therefore, mea culpa, I stand corrected.

Surges of the virus are relative, of course. We take this pandemic very seriously here. The premier of Ontario has announced new restrictions on private gatherings. Toronto especially has seen a real spike in cases lately, and he is prepared to do what has to be done in order to try and mitigate the spread. The limit now for private gatherings is 10 people inside, 25 outside. The fines for violation are hefty: a maximum of $10,000 for the organizers, and $750.00 for each of those attending.

David and I are both grateful for the Premier’s willingness to put the brakes on. Interestingly enough, this is a man we weren’t fans of before the pandemic. But for some people, events happen that bring out the leader in them; Premier Ford has done a good job, cooperating with the federal government (different political party), and seeing to it that the people under his aegis are taken care of.

David and I continue to remain very cautious in our “outings”. Face masks and hand washing and social distancing and yes, hand sanitizer as well. We go to the grocery store, and the market garden store, and sometimes, the pharmacy. We have not yet eaten out a restaurant, nor do we plan to in the foreseeable future. We have not objections to drive-through take-out, and we also have had a few things delivered.

Some things are just more important than going out.

Our second daughter is a nurse, and our daughter is a PSW (nurse’s aid). Our daughter, Jennifer, doesn’t have any contact with persons who’ve contracted Covid 19. All her clients are screened on an ongoing basis, and if there is a concern, those clients are not seen until the concern is cleared up.

Our second daughter mainly works on a forensic psychiatric ward, so she doesn’t deal with patients who have the virus, either. But she went for a Covid test on Monday, as she has been teaching medical students for the last week, and awoke on Monday not feeling well—sore throat and a runny nose. Fortunately, she tested negative. Sometimes cold symptoms mean you only have a cold.

We were ready to raise the drawbridge, as it were, if she had tested positive. We’ve done that before. Early last month our daughter learned that her former daughter-in-law had gone to a large weekend party. As a result, Jennifer denied herself time with her grandchildren. She monitored the situation and it was only after about a month that she spent time with her grandchildren again. As our Jenny has said, she has a responsibility to protect not only herself and us, but her clients as well. Most of them are older than we are, and with more risk factors.

Yes, we here in the Ashbury household take the Pandemic seriously. We understand that it is real—that we are not nearly important enough in the scheme of the world—us and our friends and our community—for the entire world to try and pull one over on us for unnatural and undefined purposes.

Nope, it’s just a real pandemic and our job is to do all we can to ensure that we do not get the disease and thereby spread it to anybody else. Not a terribly sexy goal in life, but it is reality—something none of us would ever have believed would one day become a shrinking resource.

Belief in reality, that is.





Wednesday, September 16, 2020

 September 16, 2020

Ah, the vagaries of the aging human when it comes to the art of remembering…anything.

I recall a time, must have been a good thirty years ago, when David and I were visiting his mother. She would have been about the same age I am now. On that day, she told us that she felt stupid. She held up a piece of paper. On it was her unsteady scrawl, “Phone Bill”. Then she said to us that she’d made herself a note a few days before to pay the phone bill. Then that morning, just before we arrived, she found her note, looked at it, and wondered who the hell Bill was, and why she needed to phone him.

To this day, those two words, “phone bill” have been a kind of a code between David and I as we have our own senior moments…moments when our memories tell us that they’re having a power brown out, and to check back later.

It’s not that there are a lot of those moments for either of us—yet. For me they happen a couple of times a week. Monday I had one, when I was making my morning coffee. I saw the soup pot on the stove and realized I needed to go over and turn it on to bring it to a slow simmer. When I got over to the stove I blinked and had to work hard to recall what I wanted to do there.

David has the same problem. He gets up from the sofa and heads out of the room, and then calls to me to ask me what it was he was going to fetch. I tease him when he gets back that he forgot two things: first, what he was going to get, and second, the fact that I can’t yell loud enough for him to hear me, because he didn’t put his hearing aid in.

Life changes as you age, and that’s no joke. I’ve sometimes said in these essays that aging is not for the faint of heart. I’ve decided that the best way to deal with the reality of getting older is to just try and adapt. There’s no sense in getting upset about what one can or cannot do any longer. That’s just the way it is. When I was in my forties, I could clean my entire house in one morning. Now I can do one thing a morning. Our daughter is here, and she’s in her early forties, and she can clean the entire house in one morning, and I let her. I still get a few things done on my own, and I still do most of the cooking. It’s as much effort now for me to do the few things I manage as it once was to do it all.

David having built those table gardens is another case in point when it comes to adapting. Instead of both of us grumbling about not being able to garden, this was a way of getting a little of that hobby back. Last night I went out and picked green beans for supper. No getting down on hands and knees required.

We’ve had a successful year of tomatoes and beans; the rest—well, frankly I knew the carrots and beets wouldn’t take. They should have been thinned, and they weren’t. We’re not sure why the Swiss Chard failed—it might have been something in the soil. We had one small green pepper, with three more still growing and three medium sized cucumbers. The zucchini squash? They were planted in the tomato box, (two plants of squash and please don’t ask me why he put them there) and while they bloomed, several times, there was never any squash that formed. I think that the bees couldn’t get in to pollinate, and the breeze didn’t touch them, protected from it by the tomatoes as they were.

Next season, we’ll be less ambitious with what we plant. A friend is planning to send me some beefsteak tomato seeds, and I am looking forward to planting those next year. I’ll start them out early, and in cowpots—we have a wonderful window in our living room with southern exposure. It did wonders for that old Yucca we had. I’m certain it will do well for those tomato seeds.

Also, next year David is planning to build one more table garden. This one will be a bit longer and narrower than the other three, but it will be deeper. In it, we’ll plant potatoes. He argued about getting seed potatoes and whether we could find any, when we first hit on the idea a couple of months ago. I just shook my head. At the time I had a bag of potatoes that had sprouted. That was what my mother often used. So to prove a point, I planted one. He then planted a few more.

On Monday, having seen a chipmunk digging in the vicinity of one of those potato plants, I went to investigate and found 2 potatoes. David dug around and found a few more. Not much of a potato harvest, enough for one meal. It was an experiment after all. I believe the Chippies got a few and had themselves a feast. But it’s all good. This year was a learning year. Next year has to be better, right?

I’ll add a caveat to that. It’ll be better, provided we don’t forget the lessons we learned this year—and memories rediscovered in the aftermath of mistakes made, this year.







Wednesday, September 9, 2020

September 9, 2020

Each day I take some time to cruise around social media because even though I should know better, I still do that little thing. Sometimes you find things posted online that just make you shake your head. It amazes me the things some people put out on the clothesline of public discourse for all to see. That practice gives an entirely new meaning to the term about airing one’s dirty laundry.

Despite that, I still turn to social media because it really has a great value these days. It is a good, socially distanced way to check up on friends, readers and even family members. It’s a good way to discover how everyone’s doing and feeling, and if there’s anything that needs my attention.

As you know, for reasons I have never understood completely, I feel compelled to do what I can to give virtual hugs and words of commiseration and/or encouragement. Life is hard, and sometimes it helps to know that it’s not just hard for you, it’s hard for most everyone, especially in this year of 2020.

Almost every day, there are people asking for prayers for loved ones who are ill, for those who are worried about the results of their latest Covid or other medical tests, or about pets who have departed. These are all tense and sometimes tragic events for the folks who are experiencing them, and I do take them seriously. I believe in the power of prayer.

I also love to give congratulations to those celebrating good news, because the truth is, we all could use a bit more good news in our lives.

There have been more prayers offered up lately for friends who have lost family members, or dear friends. There has been far too much death in recent weeks and months. That is sadly a sign of these times that we are all in, that we are all struggling with. I don’t have any magic methods of coping. We really are all in this together.

Clinging to a sense of humor has never been more difficult, nor more crucial. Fortunately, if you are in need of an emergency smile, there are still laughing baby videos on YouTube. Baby goat videos are good for a chuckle, too.

There seem to be a lot more sites lately that offer good, credible advice about how to cope through stressful times. One of the best things about the internet, especially in these days, is there are a lot of options to choose from, and in most cases that choosing can be done anonymously. The days of reaching out for help with stress being a taboo are long past. No one needs to know your business. If you need help, get help.

In a very real way, that’s what I do…I help people cope with the crap in their own lives by weaving stories that hold the reader’s attention and, for a couple of hours at least, lift them out of their every-day life. I’m grateful that I have the ability and the privilege do that, and that for those people who buy my books, the world I give them is a gentler place to visit. I don’t fool myself into believing that what I do is of great importance—but it is something, at least.

David is no longer quite as enamored of the road-building project beside our house as he was when it began. The paving company arrived last week, and in a very short period of time, laid the first layer of asphalt. Then, on Saturday morning, a two-person crew arrived to fix a mistake the pavers had made—they failed to raise the manhole covers, and the cover to the catch basin. Then, Sunday night a wave of intense thunderstorms with heavy rain rolled through our area…and rolled some of that asphalt and underlying roadbed down the hill.

David went out to inspect the damage and said that there were a couple of places where the newly laid surface was cracked and felt “wobbly” when he walked on it. Later that day, when the a team of men came to clean up some of the debris at the bottom of the road, he went out and told them about the state of the road, and their response really got him annoyed. They said those words that are all too common these days: “that’s not our job.”

He was out there again, earlier this morning talking to the job supervisor, and the man agreed that the pavers had done a horrible job. He had reported the problem “up the chain” and the powers that be decided just to lay more asphalt on top of the substandard first layer. This is a small piece of road, from the street behind us to the one we’re on, about the length of two city blocks.

David has been grumbling about pride of accomplishment and giving an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay, and that nobody gives a damn anymore, and I just agree with him. He understands, as I do, that there are days and situations when you can make a difference, and days and situations when you know you can’t.

As we all await our new normal, there are some truths that are truths on whichever side of the great divide you find yourself: the times, they are a changing…and not all the changes are good ones.