Wednesday, March 22, 2017

March 22, 2017

Life sure is complicated these days, isn’t it? Everything happens at the speed of light. People want what they want, and they don’t just want it now, they want it five minutes ago. Not only individuals, but our entire society, it seems, has pivoted to the instant, and even to the unreal.

There are instant foods that you pop into the microwave, aka the instant cooker, to prepare your daily bread; there are machines on street corners and in most stores where you slip a piece of plastic into the slot and receive back instant cash—and it doesn’t even have to be cash you have in the bank. It can be cash you don’t even really have at all.

Then there are all the bells and whistles attached to this behemoth we call the Internet. Talk about unreality? I like to play games. I always tell anyone who will listen that playing a few games each day helps my brain to stay limber. Insofar as that goes, it’s true. But one of the game sites I go to, where I pay a fairly modest annual fee to be a “member” will allow you to purchase, for money, things such as backgrounds and clothing, pets and other accoutrements for what essentially is a non-animated computer-generated image that is your “face” on the game site. Yes, you can pay real money for something that truthfully isn’t real at all. And what you’ve purchased is only “yours” for as long as you’re a member of that site. Stop paying your annual fee? Bye-bye avatar and all those purchased items.

This modern age we find ourselves in is a time when we, as individuals, as a society, have re-defined so very many previously well established and accepted concepts and norms of life.

TV commercials now show an “ideal” home life where evenings find family members sequestered in different rooms in the house, where they’re “on line”, or “watching movies”. Groups of kids in two separate rooms, and the parents alone in a third. This is the new, modern family time. But it isn’t just activities that are being redefined, it’s actual tenets, the codes by which we as a society are organized and behave. I can recall a time, not so long ago, when individuals and society as a whole condemned the telling of lies. There was a time when, if you lied even once, you became known as a liar, and it was a long, long time before you would be trusted again. Being known as a liar was an anathema. 

Making a mistake in life was something we all avoided, and still do, but it would happen regardless, and that was bad enough. But add onto that mistake the crime of lying? That didn’t just make your original mistake doubly bad—it made it practically irredeemable.

But today we are sliding into a world of “alternate facts”. People who should be our role models as examples of decency are lying on a daily basis, and getting away with it. They are getting away with it because we let them. We say they are confused, or not completely informed, or that they really didn’t mean, literally, what they’d said, or tweeted, or any number of euphemisms we use these days instead of good, old fashioned plain speaking.

I would dearly love to see us return to that plain speaking. I know it’s normal for someone of my age to wish for simpler, kinder times; hell, when I was in my teens, I heard older people then express this same, basic desire. But here’s the thing: There wasn’t anything as overtly alarming in those past times that inspired this desire in the older generation for those kinder, simpler days. It was more a longing to embrace once again that which was familiar, that with which they’d grown up. The desire was, basically, sentimental in nature.

It can be very disorienting when the minutia of life changes so much that those who are older can feel left behind, and long for the days when they weren’t in the dark, long for the times they felt included and a part of it all.

That is worlds away and far different from the problems facing individuals and our society today. The problem we face is not a problem of feeling lost in the unfamiliar: it is a problem of being divorced from basic decency and the truth.

The bad news is that until people stand up for what is right—until they are willing to speak truth to power and say, “no, sir, that is a lie”, and curb that tendency toward lying at every turn, things are only going to get worse, and they will get worse in ways we can’t even fully imagine yet.

The good news is that I just picked up a book that many of those very people who appear to be unwilling to do the right thing, claim to hold as a treasured source of inspiration. This book they claim to be the cornerstone of their lives, is a book that they claim to hold in reverence. I opened that very book, and I quickly thumbed to a specific point, and, whew, what a relief! Just when I thought everything had changed—turns out, it really hasn’t!

Exodus 20:16 still reads and means the same, exactly, as it always, always has—and always, always will.

Love,
Morgan
http://www.morganashbury.com
http://www.bookstrand.com/morgan-ashbury

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

March 15, 2017

Crocuses and daffodils and tulips are awakening in my garden, (currently covered with an inch of snow), the grass had dared to turn green in places, and as I, despite the recent blanket of white, await signs that my small lilac trees survived another winter, at times it really does seem as if spring is in the air. My thoughts turn briefly to that age-honored tradition of spring cleaning—and then skitter away from it again. I used to look forward to spring cleaning—when I had the stamina to clean for the entire day. Oh, the joy of having those windows opened wide and the sweet, spring air flooding into my house! Good times, indeed!

I’m down to about half a day’s worth of stamina now, the other half taken up with resting in between spurts of activity. But it’s not only lack of stamina that I, as a sixty-two-year-old woman, must cope with in the here and now. It’s also a decrease in my flexibility and level of mobility that hampers me. Gone are the days of climbing onto the sofa or a chair or even a small step ladder to reach some out of the way spot. While I will, on occasion, use my small kitchen step stool, I’m very cautious when doing so, ensuring I have solid surfaces to hang on to just in case.

The other challenge I have is that I seem to have less “stamina” in holding my focus. Week by week, it seems more difficult for me to keep my mind centered each day on the main thing. Sometimes, the biggest battle is remembering just what the main thing is. I understand it’s a facet of getting older that our memories become less reliable than once they were. Yes, I do understand that, but I sure as heck don’t have to like it. And trust me, I don’t.

I’m at that stage in life where I’ve taken to writing myself reminder notes, and even as I do so, I chuckle, recalling my late mother-in-law and her experience doing the same thing. She was coping with this exact problem, and wrote herself notes so she’d remember what she had to do the next day. One of those notes, on one particular occasion, was to remind herself to pay the phone bill. She showed me the piece of paper as she related this incident. It was a torn scrap, and the words “Phone Bill” were printed on it in her shaky scroll and yes, each word began with the upper-case letter.

As she showed it to me, she laughed, telling me how she’d picked it up, looked at it….and tried to remember who “Bill” was, and why she’d wanted to call him.

That’s going to be me, next year, the year after, at the latest. I just know it. Getting older really isn’t a game for sissies.

My beloved has pointed out, more than once, that a faulty memory can be a fine thing indeed. I can see his point. Since I do, truly, want to keep seeing that glass as half full, I can rub my hands together in anticipation of all the books I can read all over again, for the first time. Now I just reread them to revisit old friends. Then, I will re-read to meet new friends. Sounds good to me.

But despite all the new challenges I face as I get older, I really wouldn’t want to be 30 again—unless I could keep all the knowledge, sounder judgement, and better attitude I’ve developed over my lifetime. And that’s the whole ball of wax, really, isn’t it? The purpose of life is to teach us lessons, for us to fully experience what comes our way, and, learning these lessons, to grow and mature and become the very best person we can be.

For now, I’m doing my best to cherish each day as it comes, to anticipate that my “good old days” are ahead of me instead of behind me, and to practice laughing at my self at every opportunity I’m given.
Fortunately, these days, that means I laugh a lot.

Love,
Morgan
http://www.morganashbury.com
http://www.bookstrand.com/morgan-ashbury

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

March 8, 2017

I’m not much of a movie buff anymore. These days, I don’t even go out to a movie theatre except on rare occasions. I don’t watch many movies at home, either. In fact, my daughter was astonished when I told her that, this weekend just past I watched two movies, one on Friday night and one on Saturday: Arrival, and Trolls. Thinking about this past weekend has brought to mind those times long ago when the kids were younger, and our weekends completely predictable. Every Friday, we’d head to Blockbuster, and pick out four, or sometimes six movies as our weekend entertainment. Every once in a while, there would even be snacks and soda to go along with those movies.

Then, for the next two nights, we’d gather together on the sofa (the boys liked the floor) and watch those movies together. That was family time for us, and those times were golden. They inevitably led to our other great family time, Sunday Morning in Mom and Dad’s Bed. The kids would pile on, usually waking us up, and we’d talk and laugh, tickle and snuggle and read stories. At the time of our lives when we had precious little money to spare, we did what we could to promote family unity.

Supper time, our other great instance of family time, was always all five of us at the kitchen table, every night, together. It was a time of communion, with the television off. You can be certain if cell phones existed then, they’d have been off and away from the table as well—as ours are now when we sit down to eat, just the two of us.

This was our life in those lean but not so dismal years, according to my own recollections. I don’t doubt the facts of those memories. It’s possible, of course, that the beauty of them, the degree to which they were at the time of making them, cherished, might be open to interpretation. We’re all human, and our memories, our experiences past and present are inevitably colored by our own perceptions. We all have filters, built in filters and biases that have been molded and adjusted according to our own life experiences—and how we’ve reacted to those experiences—through the years of our lives.

The most vivid example of this I can give you is something to which I’m certain we can all relate. We all know at least one optimist who, no matter what, clings to their positive outlook. Conversely, we all know someone so miserable that they even complain about the whipped cream and the cherry on top.

It could be said that striking a balance between those two forces, pessimism and optimism, has been my life’s work. I’m not naïve enough to believe that life is all sunshine, lollipops and rainbows, to quote a song from my youth. But it’s not all doom and gloom, either. I’ve lived long enough to understand that our perceptions have a lot of power. They have a huge influence on our emotional well being and how we react to everything we experience.

You might not believe this, but the reason I focus so much on this topic is because, from my early twenties, right through my thirties and even into my forties, I really had a crappy outlook on life. When I would look back on my younger days, or past incidents, I had a tendency to recall every time I was dissed or disappointed or hurt. It wasn’t the sunny days I recalled, only the rainy ones; not the joy of a friend’s company I remembered, but the hurt of that same friend abandoning me.

That I was able to change my perspective was no mean feat. It required hard work and prayer, which is to say, I learned to get out of the way, and let God do the heavy lifting on that one.

Once He opened my eyes to the fact that having that negative perspective in the first place was the source of most of my misery and heartache, I finally got on board with mostly looking at the glass as half full.

That’s why I try so hard to encourage people to have a positive attitude now. As long as you practice that tenet, as long as you tell yourself that no matter what happens to you, you’re going to choose to smile instead of cry, then your emotions will be your friend, and not your enemy.

And as long as you continue to choose to be positive, to smile instead of cry and step out on faith instead of cower in the shadows, then, no matter the minutia of the details, you will have won.

Love,
Morgan
http://www.morganashbury.com
http://www.bookstrand.com/morgan-ashbury

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

March 1, 2017

Who could have imagined days of seventy degree temperatures in February? Not me, that’s for sure. I’m 62 and I don’t think I recall ever hearing of seventy degree days in February. What I do recall is being a child of 7 who had a father who referred to the mid-winter month of February with a prefix that was a blasphemous expletive. What I do recall is that for most of my life—and maybe because of my father’s opinion of the month?—hating the month of February for the deep, bone-eating, joint-screaming sub-zero cold temperatures it usually brings.

I think February, ultra cold and foreboding as it traditionally has been, could be used as another example of the principle behind that old saying, “it’s always darkest before the dawn”.

But today is the first day of March. And in this household, March is celebrated as the last month of winter. That coldest season is marked on the Ashbury’s calendars as October to March, inclusive. That is, I believe, the only topic upon which in my thinking that is more glass half-empty than glass half-full. Each season is technically of equal duration on the calendar, according to all the dead scientists and government people who long ago decreed such things.

What I have experienced that led to this outlook, is that it can often be way too cold and even snowing in October, and we don’t get true warmth again until the first or second week of April. Any cold weather after April the first is spring—an unseasonably cold spring sometimes with rare spring snow storms, but spring nonetheless. The up side of using my stated belief in a six month long winter, is that just days after winter has officially arrived, it’s already half over.

This is the time of year that tries what little patience I have. For example, on this past Saturday, in the morning, the weather was chilly and wet with rain, with greenish brown grass everywhere. And by Saturday evening it was cold and snowing. All the snow in our entire area had melted days before, yet we awoke last Sunday morning with a dusting of white covering everything. My inner curmudgeon (which really isn’t so inner anymore) was screaming, enough, already! Get rid of the white kaka!

In the back of mind came the whispered words: patience, grasshopper.

Patience, indeed. I’ll let you know if I find any. In the meantime, my heart always yearns for spring, because it’s my favorite season. It’s the season of renewal and rebirth, a time when it is so easy to believe that anything is possible.

Now that I have flower bulbs planted in my front yard, I look forward to seeing those green shoots poking up. Last year, when several of my crocuses and daffodils and hyacinths were bravely emerging from their winter sleep, snow came yet again and covered them in an icy blanket. I honestly didn’t know if they would survive, or not, but they did.

I’m even more hopeful this year, because in our area the winter of 2016/2017 was a fairly mild one. Or I should say, is a fairly mild one, so far.

My hands will forever itch, each spring, to get into the good earth, working around my gardens and caring for my plants. This isn’t going to happen as it used to because of how very difficult it is for me to get down on the ground and get back up again. Fortunately, we have “window boxes” that we plant each year, and that we then hang on our front porch railing.

While I can get one of my grandchildren here for an afternoon to weed and tend my ground plants, I can get my own fingers into the top soil/peat moss blend we use for the planters. That’s not as personally satisfying as it was back in the day when I could be on my hands and knees in the dirt, ensuring the health of flowers and vegetables alike.

But the secret to happiness really is learning to improvise, adapt and overcome. Because it isn’t the body that needs to touch on these tributes to the past: it’s the soul.

Love,
Morgan
http://www.morganashbury.com
http://www.bookstrand.com/morgan-ashbury

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

February 22, 2017

I am a believer in life-long learning.

For me, that doesn’t necessarily mean taking courses—although it could. There are all sorts of courses one could take without even leaving home, and a lot of them are free! But basically, life-long learning can even be as simple to achieve as being an avid reader, asking questions about the world around us, and looking for answers.

Life-long learning is more a mind set than it is any specific activity. It means being open to discovering new things. You need to have a healthy curiosity—about the world, the past, new discoveries, people, whatever. Perhaps it comes easier to me, being a writer. Writers always begin with those amazing two words: what if? They always begin with a question, and then go in search of an answer. 

I don’t ever want to stop asking “what if”. I don’t ever want to stop seeking answers—whether they are answers that will be contained within the covers of a novel, or just answers because I want to know them.

One of the things that’s wrong with modern life, in my very humble opinion, is there’s a definite lack of curiosity in people these days. Curiosity is that one trait that has propelled humanity forward, as a species. What’s over the next hill? What’s on the other side of that ocean? What are those lights in the night sky? If you think about it, without curiosity, we would all still be living in caves. Some would say that might not be such a bad thing. I strongly disagree. I believe that without curiosity, the human race would have become extinct long, long ago.

As we age, we humans, we become a little bit like hermits. I find this to be especially true if the times in which we are living are particularly uncertain. It can be so easy to just huddle within ourselves, becoming metaphorical turtles. Fear and uncertainty become awesome weapons in the hands of the greedy, wielded without conscience against the many. But if you give in to that, if you hunker down, close the shades, and live in a fantasy realm of your own construction, you’re not safer. In fact, you’re in more danger than you could ever possibly imagine.

We must keep learning. We must keep wondering what’s over that next hill. We have to keep our minds open to new people, new experiences, new ideas, and new discoveries. Giving in to fear, hiding from the truth, never helped anyone in the long-term. Short term gains resulting in long-term pain is a reversal of an old saying, but true, nonetheless.

Our brains, like any other part of our body, need to be exercised. The more you exercise your mind, the stronger it becomes. The stronger it becomes, the more formidable of a human being you are. Being a life-long learner means you are more likely to develop the ability to improvise when the need arises. You’re more likely to adapt to a changing situation, reading the signs around you yet being able to keep your focus on the main thing. Keeping an open mind, having a curiosity about the world around you, positions you to be better able to overcome the challenges you face. And trust me, folks, where there is life, there will be challenges.

The greedy, the corrupt and the bullies around us can appear invincible, can seem as if they are in control and fear nothing, and yet nothing could be further from the truth.

They fear those who are aware, curious, and insightful; they fear those who excel at the ability to improvise, adapt, and overcome. In short, they fear the life-long learners of this world and the power of the knowledge, and the knowledge of self they hold.

Love,
Morgan
http://www.morganashbury.com
http://www.bookstrand.com/morgan-ashbury

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

February 15, 2017

As of today, the Ashbury family is at Retirement minus 279 days. Where has the time gone? It seems like just yesterday we were at R minus 323.

My beloved has been a little less than chipper over the last few weeks, because that wonderful beginning-of-the-end scenario he expected to happen mid January, so far hasn’t. He’d believed that by this point in his final working year of 2017 he’d be well entrenched in his routine. That routine consists of sitting in his truck, balancing between transporting loads of finished product to the stock piles and reading his kindle as he waits for the truck to be loaded.

He’s still boots on the ground, and the plant (the rock crusher) is yet to be “fired up”. I asked him what the problem was. He snorted. “What else? We’re waiting for the engineering firm they hired to figure out that while something may work in a computer simulation, it doesn’t necessarily work in real life.” Basically, there’s this new “chute” for a product that is an over-sized rock called gabion stone. According to the computer simulations, that chute manages to control the rock coming out of the crusher just fine. The problem? In the real world, larger rocks cannot, on their own volition or even with the aid of a little bit of gravity, turn ninety-degree corners. Small gravel and sand, yes. Larger rocks? No. They just jam up the whole shebang. The laws of physics are laws for a reason.

I asked him if he was itching to go up to the office and show them, on the chalk board, why the chute won’t work. He shook his head. At this point, having given so many years to the cause, and having been looked down upon in the last several years by those with university degrees in engineering, he said that he’s finally gotten the message, that he isn’t “qualified” to design these pieces of equipment (despite having done so for many years, with his “designs” all having successfully lasted for decades). No, these days he’s quite happy to let the “experts” have at it. It’s not that he doesn’t care. He did tell them, when they first showed him what they were planning to do, that the chute wouldn’t work. They didn’t listen. In my opinion, that’s fair enough. He shrugged and said that it’s not his thousands upon thousands of dollars being flushed down the drain.

My husband hasn’t exactly been physically slogging away, though, during these last couple of weeks. Instead, he’s been managing a few crews of younger men, teaching them how to do other repairs that need to be done, and letting them slog away. Between you and me, I don’t think he minds that too much. The only problem is that he’s on his feet most of the day, and after several years of not being on his feet most of the day, it’s really hard for him to get used to it.

Aging really isn’t for the faint of heart.

He did perk up on this past Monday, as he was assigned to use another truck to do a job connected to clearing a section of the floor in advance of that area being worked. He’s glad not to be on his feet this week, and has his fingers crossed that they’re going to get things back to normal soon. His site has a quota, every year, of how much stone they are expected to produce to meet projected demand; the longer it takes to get started on that goal, the longer it takes to achieve it.

Often, his company ends up offering overtime hours to compensate when long delays happen. I won’t be the least bit surprised if he decides to go in on some Saturdays again this year, as he’s done in the last couple of years. He took advantage of the opportunity in the recent past because in the several years prior to that, there was no overtime offered at all. The person who was plant manager during those lean years claimed that was a company-wide policy; however, that was a lie. The truth was that the more money that manager did not allow his men to earn, the bigger the bonus he received for himself at year end. The result for his employees is that each one of those hard-working people had their annual income cut by several thousands of dollars, each.

You may have guessed that particular manager was the one who killed my husband’s love of his job and respect for the company he works for.

Of course, the grapevine has it that things are not going so well for that man; I’m not surprised in the least. I really do believe in the principle of sowing and reaping.

Or, to state it as popular culture would have it, the karma bus has picked that man up for a nice, long ride.

Love,
Morgan
http://www.morganashbury.com
http://www.bookstrand.com/morgan-ashbury

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

February 8, 2017

There’s this wonderful meme making the rounds. I bet you’ve seen it. It depicts a wolf with a definite air of “smug” about him. The caption reads: “The groundhog said six more weeks of winter. So I ate him.”

This is a meme that I am sure my first born, my son Christopher, would enjoy having printed out, framed, and hung in his home office. He has long held that his favorite holiday, which isn’t a holiday at all, is Groundhog Day.

You know that old saw, “A son’s a son till he takes a wife; a daughter’s a daughter for all of her life”? Well that pretty much describes my relationship with my first born to a tee. We’re not in daily contact, or even in weekly contact. Our communications, never mind visits, are hit and miss—mostly miss.

Then, last March, he broke his left femur when a very large dog decided to attack my son’s dog, got away from his handler, and plowed into Christopher. That collision sent my son airborne, and he crashed down half on the road, half on the sidewalk. Being diabetic, we all knew he was looking at a very long recovery. Surgery was required, of course, and I was very worried about him. I began to text him each and every morning, and some days, I even got a response back. I was trying to get us both into the habit of at least a once a week contact.

I’m still working on that little thing.

But I have hope! On February 2nd, first thing in the morning, I sent him a message that read, simply, “Happy Groundhog Day”. I can tell y’all without reservation he is the only person I know (and I know a lot of people) to whom I would send this message. To my astonishment, he replied, not after his work day, but within minutes! And his reply simply filled me with joy and hope. He said: “Thank you. I was wondering if you would remember.”

That made my day for two reasons. The first, was that he sent his reply within a few minutes of my texting him. The second is the most important, and the source of my hope. He told me that he’d been thinking about me.

I’ve never been one to demand a lot from my kids, not when they were under my care, and not now that they’re adults. In some ways, that hasn’t been a positive thing for any of us. I likely should have demanded much more of them. My parenting wasn’t lackadaisical; it was, rather, parenting done by a woman who’d grown up without a father, and whose mother had instilled an unhealthy level of fear in her. I didn’t want my kids to ever be afraid of me the way I was afraid of my mother. I probably did allow them too much leeway when it came to expressing their opinions, and their freedom to choose certain aspects of their lives.

I’m not going to waste a lot of emotional energy in regret, because my attitude was the best it could have been at the time, all things considered. Hindsight really is 20/20, isn’t it?

Now, back to those prognosticating rodents. Apparently, according to the four varmints I’m aware of, there is no contest as to the ‘forecast’ for spring. The Canadian two (Shubenacadie Sam and Wiarton Willie) proclaim there will be an early spring, as does Staten Island Chuck. Only Punxatawney Phil saw his shadow, predicting six more weeks of winter.

I’m thinking poor Phil was likely rudely awakened from a pleasant nap, and that forecast was the rodent version of “a pox on you! A pox, I say!” One alternative is to somehow imagine that one area of the continent will hang onto winter while the rest of us bask in the hopeful renewal of springtime. I really hate to imagine that groundhogs could have that much power.

Of course, there is one more possibility: Phil could be wrong. But in these modern times, knowing that and getting the little varmint to admit as much are two entirely different things. Accepting responsibility for mistakes is, by all appearances, passé.

These days, truth no longer matters: it’s all about the spin.

Love,
Morgan
http://www.morganashbury.com
http://www.bookstrand.com/morgan-ashbury