Wednesday, July 1, 2020

July 1, 2020

Life in the Ashbury household has settled into a nice routine, one that seems to suit all of us. Not that there aren’t a few minor annoyances now and then. After all, none of us is perfect. No, not even me!

We live in a house that has a shaded front porch, and a small back yard that also enjoys shade for a good chunk of the day. Early morning, the back yard is cooler, without sunlight until the sun crests the house, about noonish. It stays under the gleam of Sol until about 3 p.m. when it goes behind the line of the tall cedar trees we have there. Conversely, the porch enjoys morning sun, until about 10 a.m. Except for the north corner of our porch. Thanks to the walnut tree, as long as it has leaves, that corner is constantly out of direct sunlight.

However, just because the porch is shaded does not mean it’s cool enough to leave the front door open. In the early spring, yes, throw that puppy wide! Ah, the fresh, bug and fly-free air of early spring! Gotta love it! Right now, however, we are no longer in springtime. It’s summer, whether we like it or not. On some summer days, we have triple-digit temperatures. As I work at my desk, on these hot days, I wonder…what happened to my a/c? And then I realize, the darn door is open. Again. And if the heat doesn’t convey that message, the sound of flies buzzing my head surely does.

Friends, there are times when I feel like I’m the only adult in the house.

The current weather that reads 80 but feels like 95 means it’s hot outside. And it feels like 95 regardless of whatever shade the tree or the porch roof might provide. And in an air conditioned house when the front door is open? Why that heat comes in about as fast as the cool goes out!

My ire has nothing to do with the cost of running the air conditioning. It has to do with that part about the heat coming inside. If I wanted to sit on the porch in the heat, well, please be assured that I would sit on the porch in the heat. The people I live with love that porch and as far as I’m concerned, they can sit out there to their hearts’ content. As long as they keep the door closed.

It won’t surprise anyone that David and our daughter would both be enjoying the great outdoors together. It’s a generally held consensus in our family that when it comes to those two, the apple really did not fall very far from the tree.

This is good because, unlike when our daughter was young, the two of them get along very well together. They have several traits in common, and for the most part speak each other’s languages. They’re very close, and nothing could make me happier.

My daughter and I do well together, too. Being women, we share an eyes-wide-open kind of practicality. Egos? Not much, and not between us. And there’s no real tussling between us as you might expect between two grown women under one roof. It’s not perfect, but for the most part we just choose our hills. We give each other the freedom to be W.I.C. – woman in charge. And we tend to do it on an alternating basis. Yes, we very likely have every moment of every day covered between us.

Poor David.

Or maybe not poor David. He doesn’t need to do as much tidying as he did before our daughter moved in—which by the way was a year ago, today. He also lucks out on some of those nights I don’t make supper, because sometimes, she does. I like that part, too. I’m sure y’all know couples where the husband and wife take turns cooking supper? Yeah, that’s never been my experience. Never. It sure is nice to eat a meal someone else prepared.

She’ll also come home after a couple of hours working in the community, with a three hour break before her next client. On those occasions she’ll make breakfast, and David really loves that.

And when he wants to leave the house? That one surprised me, too, because before we were told that we should stay home, he was all for staying home most of the time. And I know he really didn’t like to go out for the groceries on a weekly basis.

Then our daughter moved in, and of course she has a vehicle. And in the last month he’s been happy to head out for groceries with her. They’re planning to have a breakfast out soon at one of the restaurants in town that has a patio. I hope they have a lovely time.

We have our new normal, and it’s a good one. And her moving in with us, an arrangement that really benefits her as well as us, has reinforced something that most people, if they are lucky, come to understand.

Life really is what you make it. To all my fellow Canadians, Happy Canada Day!


Wednesday, June 24, 2020

June 24, 2020

It’s officially summer here in Southern Ontario. We celebrated this benchmark almost immediately with a heat wave. Of course, we must have a heat wave because, hello, summer! If you sense a bit of sarcasm there, you’re very intuitive.
David took a load of laundry down to the basement on Saturday, the day after the summer solstice. Before he could get the wash going, however, he had to really push on the door that until that day had opened easily. He nodded. “Yep, it’s summer, all right. The basement door is sticking again.”

I’d like to say that I am happy for the arrival of summer, because my arthritis will hurt less. There were years when that was true. But anymore, cold and damp, cool and damp, or hot and damp—it’s all icky for me. I do what I can by covering my ankles all the time, and when necessary, tossing a blanket over my knees to protect them from the daggers known as a draft. That’s normal for me at this point in my life, no matter the season, and that’s just the way it is.

My daughter, who is a PSW and has clients in the community, assures me it’s all good. I’m not over the hill yet, she proclaims. Some of her older clients insist on having the heat on even in the summer. She comes out of their homes completely sweat-drenched. I told her not to worry, I didn’t think I would ever get to that point. The look she gave me was a definite “we’ll see.”

Our table gardens are doing well. I’ve ordered a soil testing kit, because the couple of veggies that aren’t doing well may be failing because of the acidity of the soil. Our son and his wife stopped in for a visit on Father’s Day. David was really pleased, because it allowed him to show off his gardens to his son, and to ask his advice. Our first born is an avid gardener and has delved more into the science of the craft than we ever did.

Relationships—familial relationships—often seem to be wrapped up in traditions and clichés. The men will grunt over grills and gardens, and the women will coo over cookies and kids. I know that clichés become clichés because they were slices of real life that happened over and over and over again. We could also, more simply, call it human nature, and it is in a way.

But perhaps that human nature is not so stereotypical as once it was.

What used to be true in this family was the grunting of my beloved and our oldest over “quarry stuff”; our first born followed in his father’s footsteps and works in the aggregate industry in this province. In fact, he started the thriving career he now has, by working along side his father. My daughter-in-law and I tend, at those times when the conversation turns to crushers to roll our eyes and grin at each other.

The Covid-19 update in this county isn’t as bad as in some places. The people in our county took this threat very seriously. We’ve had 121 confirmed cases in this the county all together, and four deaths. Of the remaining 117, all but 5 have recovered. I do not believe for one single minute that this means we’re out of the woods. This virus isn’t finished messing with us.

I will continue to go once every two weeks to the grocery store and yes, I will wear my mask. But beyond that, I am going to continue to stay home. Some of the restaurants in our area are opening up to patio seating, and that’s fine. David and our daughter will be going for breakfast in the very near future. Me? Bring me a takeout item once every few weeks, and I’ll call it good.

Next week, on Monday, I have an appointment at the optometrist. I’ll wear my mask, and socially distance myself—and I sincerely hope they have their appointments spaced out sufficiently to allow for that. It’s a small office but they have, in the past, liked to crowd people in.

I have an update on my rose bushes. I had three rose bushes, you may recall. The most recent two I got from the girls for a Mother’s Day, and I asked to have those two planted out the bedroom window beside the first, so that I could see them. But only the original one was visible to me, and only if I pressed my face against the glass. The other two were just plain out of sight.

Well, that original one, because it nearly died a couple of times, is thriving this year as it never has before – as a wild rose bush. And it’s vines have crawled all the way in front of the window on the small trellis I had David place there the year I planted some sweet peas.

They still don’t have much scent, but they sure are pretty. And I don’t have to squash my nose to see them! 


Wednesday, June 17, 2020

June 17, 2020

I’ve finally come to a very important realization about something that’s been troubling me. It shouldn’t be surprising that I would have an epiphany every now and then. I’m sixty-five, and though I’m in pretty good shape for the shape I’m in, I am very conscious that there are a lot more days behind me, than there are before me.

Generally speaking, I do tend to over think things. I’ve been thinking about racism, lately. I’ve been thinking about it a lot over the last several years, but especially during these last several weeks. I recall, as a teenager, watching the riots on television in 1968. I was very world aware for a rural Canadian girl my age. You see, my father had died when I was not even ten, and then later that same year, when I was nowhere near old enough to fully understand anything, President Kennedy was assassinated. I remember where I was when that happened, and I remember watching his funeral on the television with my mother. She told me that he was about the same age as my daddy had been when he had died.

And I think now, looking back, because of that, because she connected President Kennedy to my daddy at that time and in that way, that something clicked for me. By the time 1968 rolled around, I watched the news every day. And, I began to go through a phase where I believed the world was soon going to end. That year, 1968, was an horrific year. Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior was assassinated, as was Bobby Kennedy. And then there were the race riots. I had never been aware of race riots before. The concept shocked and confused me. And it angered me.

I didn’t understand. At that point in my life—I was fourteen—I had only ever met two black people. One had been a little boy my sister-in-law babysat for a day, when I was eleven. His name was Johnny and he was so sweet. The other had been a friend of one of my sister’s boyfriends. He wasn’t so sweet. I don’t recall how old I was then. So I asked my mother, because I knew that she had co-workers who were black and some who were brown. I asked her, when she looked at them, if she thought of them as being black or brown. And she told me, no, she thought of them as being nurses.

We know that kids usually take their cues from the adults around them. For me, from that moment on my mother’s explanation formed my base line. Skin color wasn’t a definition of any kind. People were people, period.

David and I have watched a lot of American news over the years. Likely, we’ve watched far more than is good for us. Especially if you’re someone like me, a neurotic author who internalizes too much, and feels everything, watching too much news probably isn’t healthy.

Every time we’ve seen reports of police anywhere killing an unarmed black person, I have been enraged. And over these last few weeks especially, I have internalized my sense of outrage, and yes, a sense of guilt, too. I’m white. I was born white and had lived most of my life with no black people in my community. The violence that I see being perpetrated upon black people is being done by white people.

I’ve believed that I wasn’t racist, but lately I wondered. Was I actually a part of the problem? I told a dear friend that I didn’t see color. She told me, of course I do. I didn’t realize until it was explained to me, that that had been a statement of white privilege. Saying “I don’t see color” aren’t the words I should have said. That upset me. So I came to understand that I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I’ve since refined that comment, though the sentiment is unchanged. I don’t care about what color you are. You’re human, just like me. Period.

I have been wondering especially these last several weeks, how can I be better? What do I need to do to be better? What do I need to learn, that I don’t know? And lately, that worry has been kind of growing worse. I don’t want to be a part of the problem!

And then, I had that epiphany. There is one thing I can make sure that I continue to do that if done right, is enough. I still have much to learn, so I will learn. I will never truly understand what my black friend, or my brother-in-law who is also black, have experienced in their lives. I will never claim as my own those feelings of being marginalized for the color of my skin. But I can open my mind and my heart to hear and to increase my awareness.

But the answer of what else I can do can be found in words spoken long ago by Jesus, who commanded us: love thy neighbor as thyself. Five words, but more, really than just five words.

Love isn’t just a feeling. It’s not just a noun. Love is also a verb. And as we were taught in school, verbs are action words.

Those of us who are white must do all we can to end this horrendous discrimination. Just as it is up to men to end the sexual harassment of and discrimination against women, to end its normalization and its existence, it’s up to us, those of us who are white, to end racial discrimination.

So, enough, already. This is 2020. White supremacy has been our malignant disease for long enough.

Let’s just get that disease eradicated.


Wednesday, June 10, 2020

June 10, 2020

Now that spring has arrived—and just in time for it to turn to summer, I might add—things have settled down a bit here at the Ashbury household. Our two puppies turned 6 months old in May, and on Monday had a trip to the vet, together, where Bear was neutered, and Missy was spayed. Both are doing well, although Missy was a bit draggy the next day.

For the last couple of months, we’ve noticed our freezer looking very old. It is in fact old, for a freezer. We’ve had it more than 10 years. It’s rusting along the bottom some, and although it still works, we thought we should look into getting a new one. The one we currently have is a 5.5 cubic foot model, and yes, we would like one just a bit bigger now as we are a household of three, and often feed more mouths than that.

As well, we’ve been concerned about the food supply chains lately, and while they will probably recover, we’ve already heard that some farmers aren’t planting this year because of the virus. We’d thought from the beginning of this pandemic that the wise thing to do would be to build up a bit of a supply of canned and frozen goods week by week. When the kids were small, we always had at least a month’s worth of supplies on hand, just in case. As the kids grew and left, and our numbers dwindled it didn’t seem as urgent a matter, and that I think was a mistake on our part.

So on the weekend, David and our daughter went out to look at what freezers were available, and I’m really glad they did. Because right now, while our old one is still working, there are no freezers immediately available. So we’ve ordered one, and it should arrive in 10 to 12 weeks. We’re crossing our fingers ours will last that long, and the supply of food available to be purchased will still be good in 12 weeks.

Certainty is no where to be found these days. Apparently, it’s on back order as well.

Anticipating the arrival of our new freezer, which is a 12 cubic foot model, requires a rearranging of our kitchen. That’s the room our current freezer is in, and it’s truly the only place in this small house we can use. The basement, accessed by a narrow and steep set of steps is out of the question. Yes, that’s where our current washer and dryer are. Don’t ask me what we’re going to do when we have to by those again. I don’t want to think about it right now.

But I digress.

We have a sideboard in our kitchen as well, and it’s located along the long wall opposite of the sink, the wall that has the windows. When the new freezer arrives, that’s where it has to go. And the sideboard? Let’s just say that the freezer isn’t the only old dilapidated item in the kitchen that needs replacing. Yes, the sideboard does too. It’s a sideboard now but it was advertised as a beverage cart—made of wood with a stainless steel top—that never found its way to being a beverage cart. I call it the breakfast bar, because it holds the toaster, the hot cereals, and the bread. It used to hold the boxes of cereal too, but those were moved to the single-wide cupboard we bought and set between the sideboard and the fridge. The sideboard has three drawers, one of which has a cutlery tray with our cutlery, and another which holds utensils we use most regularly. It also has two cupboards with three shelves each, and a center area that I only realized very recently was designed to hold wine bottles. I did wonder, who divides a shelving space with a giant “X” of wood, but I guess I never wondered that out loud.

As you’ve likely surmised, no one in this house drinks wine.

We bought this cart/sideboard at Walmart more than fifteen years ago, for just over one hundred dollars. In the interim, the wheels all kind of wore out—not that it was moved around a lot, because it wasn’t. It just wasn’t built to last so long time. All three drawers have had to be fixed and at one point, and the wheels had to be removed. What was left of the cabinet was set on a two-by-four base that David hobbled together the day the first wheel collapsed.

We’ve figured that since we’re getting a new freezer, we’d get a new sideboard too. I’m looking, but I can tell they’re really quite popular these days. There are so many to choose from, and several that I liked that were sold out.

And they are all, to my mind way too expensive.

We have to do something because we honestly don’t think the current sideboard will survive the move across the room. Without the sideboard, the kitchen has no drawers. Not a one. Over the next little while, we’re going to be going through the cupboard area of the sideboard and tossing out or “re-locating” items that have been stored within it—items that can be placed elsewhere or, quite frankly, tossed out.

It will likely be at least a month before we decide on our selection—unless, of course, I stumble upon a deal too good to pass up. I’m frugal, which is a step up from the “parsimonious” which is the kindest word used to describe my beloved’s state of economic mind.

So I will keep my eyes pealed for the perfect bargain in sideboard and hope it won’t be too…um…austere looking?

Stop snickering out there. It could happen.


Wednesday, June 3, 2020

June 3, 2020

I apologize right up front if this essay offends anyone. It is never my intention to offend. Sometimes, however, I just can’t keep the truth inside.

The older I get, the more I understand that I don’t know a hell of a lot about a lot of things in this life.

But there are some things—just a few—that I do know quite a bit about.

I figure it’s the same for everyone, or at least those of us who live our lives honestly, and yes, with a bit of humility. Of course, we’ve all met people who believe they know everything, when we can clearly see that the truth is, they know very, very little. They’re an annoyance, but in positions of authority they can be quite dangerous. How dangerous, you may ask? Don’t make me go there. I’m sure if you think really, really hard, a name will come to mind that will prove my point.

Back to what I do know. Of course, I know how to write. I’ve written 63 novels at this point, all published by my publisher, Siren-Bookstrand. I’m currently working on title 64. As well, I have written an essay practically every Wednesday since November of 2006. It could be said by now that yes, I have an opinion about everything.

I know how to be a friend, a wife, a mother, a grandmother, and a great-grandmother.

That one right there—who I am to others—eclipses the first for importance and personal satisfaction. Just saying.

I know how to love, and I know how to forgive, and I know how to draw the bottom line below which I will not sink.

I know what it is to lose a child and a grandchild as well as my best friend and at this point in my life, every member of my birth family. Grief isn’t my friend, but it has been and will continue to be my ofttimes companion.

I know that I, and every other human being, every creature, every living organism on this planet we call earth, and even this planet itself were created by the same Creator, and in words that were once popular, He don’t make no junk. Period.

I know that when Jesus admonished us to love our neighbors as ourselves, He absolutely said that knowing our neighbors did not look like us or necessarily behave like us. After all, His Father had made all people and people are different from each other.

I know that right now, we are in the midst of a global pandemic, that people are getting sick and dying, and that this is not the time I would have chosen to protest the horrendous injustices committed for far too long and still being committed against so many people—people of color. But there are times when we are challenged to do the right thing even when it’s difficult, or dangerous. This, apparently, is one of those times.

Or perhaps more to the point, this is the time to do the right thing because of all the rest that surrounds us, and assails us, and tests us at this point in our lives. In other words, this is the time to act because of the difficult and the dangerous. 

Turbulent times are not a new concept for humanity to grapple with. Turbulent times without a strong leader to guide the people through—yeah, that’s perhaps a little different. But maybe that’s something that was necessary, too.

Because into the great void of missing leadership, other true leaders have emerged. They have stood tall and strong and have stepped into the breach, ready to lead, ready to do the right thing. What I’m seeing as I watch my television each night is chaos, and destruction and fire, but also phoenixes rising—stronger, brighter, and more just. I see people joining together, in one voice, defiant of those whose goal seems to be to seek the spotlight and the photo ops with no meaning or purpose except self-worship.

The image of Nero fiddling while Rome is burning is now complete.

It's my nature to try to express things in simple terms, so I can wrap my head around them better. Nero fiddling is one that works for me. So is an image of people coming together to try and build something vital and lasting, while being hampered by a buzzing, nattering “no-see-em” swamp bug, a bug that annoys and flits about, trying to distract the people from their righteous work.

We’ve all seen skits on our televisions, and it’s a great comedy routine, the hapless human trying to defeat the annoying insect. And what makes the shtick relevant, of course, is that every one of us identifies with the dilemma; and we each of us share in the victory when the insect is finally vanquished—no matter the cost.


Wednesday, May 27, 2020

May 27, 2020

Our table gardens are built and planted! David is understandably proud of his accomplishment, and so am I.

One of the most difficult things about growing older is that we often do know how to do things. Whether we can actually accomplish them, well that’s another matter, entirely.

He and our daughter went to one of the newly opened big box stores to get the lumber—masks in place and hand sanitizer at the ready. He had a list of the wood he needed, and it didn’t take them long to hit the checkout.

From there they went to two other locations—Walmart to buy the soil, peat moss, and fertilizer and the garden area of one of the local grocery stores to get the plants and seed.

We’d had a discussion, the three of us, about the veggies we’d plant. But just because we had that discussion and more or less came to an agreement doesn’t necessarily have any bearing on the veggies they eventually bought.

I was pleased to see the tomato plants—four of them, hale and hardy and one with a flower on it. These, as discussed, he planted in the corners of one of the boxes. Not tucked in close, but within a couple of inches. That way he can staple a stake at the outside, to help support them. Now, in the center of this box was to be a squash plant, two at the most.

During the discussion, we had considered which kind of squash to purchase. I told him whatever kind he wanted. Zucchini, he suggested. I’d said that wouldn’t make sense since I am the only one of the three of us who likes that veggie.

Ah, well…if they do well, I can always make zucchini bread. My husband and daughter like that well enough.

We’d discussed getting both green bell peppers and cucumbers. I reminded them we never seemed to have much luck with the peppers, mainly because of a lack of watering. I did ask him to see if they had any swiss chard, because lately our local grocery store doesn’t get it in anymore. The reason we were given for that change of policy was because, so few people buy it. The store did have collard greens, and maybe there’s a recipe somewhere that will make them taste good, but at this point I’m not sure if I want to bother a second time.

I really do love Swiss chard.

Garden number two has, in order from front to back (rows planted in widthwise), white onions, Swiss chard, green bell peppers, and cucumbers.

There is about ten feet of distance between the zucchini and the cucumbers, and I am hoping it’s enough. Cross pollination is a real thing, my friends. Ask me some day about the time we planted the cucumbers close to the watermelon in our big old country veggie garden. Here’s the bottom line of that adventure. The cucumbers were plump and good; the watermelon tasted like cucumbers, sort of.

The cucumbers in the back of that second garden, that was good, I said to my husband. A good distance from the other squash. He pointed to the black metal piece of frame, late of our last gazebo, that he has tacked to the high, wooden fence. He nodded and said, “I put them there so that they could grow up the trellis.”

Okay. I nodded. I said, “it’ll work, as long as the cucumbers don’t get too big and heavy.” Roses they are not. String beans, they are not. But we’ll see.

The third garden has the seeds: beans—green, yellow, and new kind that grows to be purple but turns a dark green when cooked. He also has planted carrots, and beets.

 And while we have no idea how this will pan out, he’s already looking forward to next year. He plans to add one more table garden, the lap pool of table gardens, if you will. It will be longer and about a third of the width of what he has now, as well as twice the depth.

He reasons it will make a good potato garden. If it’s deep enough, and with the drainage these boxes have, I can’t see any reason why not.

I know my husband well. He’s already planning a feast of real baby potatoes. 


Wednesday, May 20, 2020

May 20, 2020

I’m finding it enormously interesting and not just a little reassuring that I am hearing people much younger than me, who are staying-at-home, confess that they lose track of what day it is.

It really is easy, when you’re retired, to let the names of the days go. There’s not much to distinguish one from another. When we worked, there was the weekend, and then the days we had to work to get to it. After I no longer left the house to work, I said that now, I have six Saturdays and a Sunday. But at this point, I just don’t seem to have enough time, period.

We’ve had a lot of rain and cool winds the last couple of weeks, and my legs have had enough of that. This morning, as I write this, the sun is shining and it’s 57 degrees outside. Could this be the arrival of spring-like temperatures at last? I can only hope.

David has begun to build our table gardens. He’s got the three frames almost completely built. Now comes the part where he has to build the bottoms. There’s netting involved—the bottom of each table garden is wood slats, with netting on top. The netting will keep the soil in while letting the water drip down and away. He has some netting that he’s planning to use. It’s what we refer to as ginseng cloth. If you’ve ever passed fields of ginseng you know what I mean—that black screen-like material that the growers suspend above the crop.

We’re still working on deciding about which vegetables we’re going grow. I he’s still planning to grow squash, though he hasn’t decided what kind. Tomatoes are in, I know that. So, too, is Swiss Chard. Green beans are also a given. I believe he was thinking two vegetables for each garden, so that leaves us with two more to decide upon. We’re both really hoping this works out for us. We do miss the convenience of fresh vegetables in the summer and early fall.

Aside from the gastronomic advantage of planting a garden, there’s the sense of accomplishment one can only get from growing things. Humans have grown plants for centuries. I think there’s something deep within us that hearkens back to our earliest days, that can only find expression of when we get our fingers in the soil.

As humans, our connection to the soil of our planet is as much spiritual as it is physical.

The number of people in this county who have tested positive for the virus and are not in hospital remains low—there are currently 3. So far, we’ve lost three souls here, and while the loss of even one is a tragedy, I am grateful that we’ve not lost hundreds or even thousands here in our area of the world. As of yesterday, our country has a death toll of 5,912. Our entire population is 37.5 million. People-wise, we’re a smaller country. California has more people than we do.

Since our numbers remain low here, I’ve decided to head out to the grocery store this week. David has already ventured out with our daughter a couple of times. I wasn’t surprised that he caved first. He’s always liked to go out and about. For me, that hasn’t been a thing that I’ve clung to. The last decade has found me coping with gallbladder disease before I had it removed and then increasing arthritic pain. Neither of those afflictions are conducive to going out anywhere.

I feel okay with the decision to go out to the grocery store, but then again, that could change once I’m out there. This is a personal decision that everyone has to make. Of course, I will be taking all precautions. I’ll be wearing a mask, and gloves, and will keep my distance from others.

I doubt I’ll be going out to a restaurant right away, once they do open. We might call in an order and then pick it up. But for myself, I’m going to take baby steps. I’m also going to keep my eye on whether or not the case count in this area goes up, once things begin to open more. It’s been proven that one person infected and asymptomatic can infect dozens. That puts a degree of uncertainty in every situation, at least for the time being.

Am I afraid that I might get the virus, or get it and unknowingly pass it on? Of course, I am. I have been throughout this pandemic.

The way I see it, I’d be a damn fool not to be.