Wednesday, February 24, 2021

 February 24, 2021

At approximately 12:15 p.m. every day except Sundays in the Ashbury household, we pause to enjoy a very strange musical interlude. Because I’m anal and I live to categorize, I have dubbed this interlude “The Lament of the Left Behind Puppy”, and it is a musical movement in two parts.

Those of you who’ve read these essays of mine know that we are the parents to two dogs. The pups are fifteen months old, a boy and a girl, and are the progeny of our late, beloved Mr. Tuffy. Each day, David walks the dogs. He always takes Missy Dawg for the first puppy walk of the day. He does this every day except Sunday, weather permitting, and has done so for just about a year, now.

Once Daddy and Missy are out the door, Bear performs the first part of this musical movement, since he is, of course, the first puppy that is left behind. He’s a soprano, unusual for a male dog, but not for one of his…we’ll call it diminutive stature (he’s a bit over 5 pounds). He ably leads the other four dogs who are also not walking with his daddy in a magnificent chorus of mournful howls and yips, reminiscent of coyotes—musical key of which is not known because while I have a good musical ear, I am not musically trained.

The second part of the movement is performed by Missy Dawg, once her daddy betrays her by taking her brother for a walk without her. Now, Missy has been laboring under the false impression that her daddy is her daddy, and no other dog’s. This is, of course, a big lie. Not as musically gifted as her brother, Missy nonetheless enthusiastically embraces her solo performance with passion and devotion, giving a series of yips and barks apparently deeply felt and relentlessly non-stop, that only the most musically talented ear could possibly interpret. And when her daddy finally comes home, she lets Bear know that he was a bad, bad brother for absconding with her daddy. Every. Single. Day. (Except Sundays).

As you can well imagine, The Lament of the Left Behind Puppy effectively marks the end of my productive work period. Any ideas or inspiration that had been lurking on the periphery of my mind  to that point are, I guarantee you, gone, gone, gone, once that lament begins. As is, I believe, a tiny little bit of my ability to hear.

That’s not to say, of course, that noon hour is the only time that the dogs make sufficient noise to wake the dead. If one of them barks, the others usually follow suit. And the truth of the matter is that Missy is often the one who quite…well, mindlessly gets the yipping ball rolling.

Missy will bark at anything, real or imagined. I say imagined because it seems to us that she might just possess the ability to see ghosts. We’ve often seen her barking at a space where there is no one that we can see for her to bark at. But she clearly can (see someone or something, that is), and it’s always a puzzle to us.

This sometimes happens during my allotted work time to the point that I have to get up from my chair, leave the office and track down the offending little yipper. Missy sees me coming, knows she’s not supposed to make such a cacophony, and immediately rolls over and offers her belly for a rub. I figure that’s her version of an apology.

And of course, that performance of cuteness has no bearing whatsoever on whether or not she does it again as soon as I leave her sight and return to my office.

Because she always does it again.

Too be fair, there are also many days when those hours from when I get up until noon pass very quickly, and quietly. There are many days when I don’t even know the dogs are here, so immersed in their sleep are they. I have come to the conclusion that is the saving grace of all small dogs. They appear to require a great deal of sleep.

On days that find me heading into the living room more than three times to wag my finger at a dog, I finally will stop and tap David on the shoulder.

You see, he has his office in a corner of the living room. On any given day or time except, of course, walk time, he might be writing, or he might be composing an email, or, most usually, he’s fallen down a YouTube hole and having a good time.  Doing the first two activities, he will not be wearing his headphones, but he will if he’s “tubing”.

And I have to alert him to get him to help with keeping the dogs from giving us a 6 doggie unscheduled cacophony because, of course, he’s very hard of hearing.

Or perhaps he’s just more talented at keeping out distractions than I am. To my mind, and the bottom line, it’s probably a matter of either/or.







Wednesday, February 17, 2021

 February 17, 2021

One day last week, I awoke to a cooler than usual house. At first, I thought that it was just my imagination. After all, those first moments out of bed always seem a bit cooler, because the bed is so warm.  Also, I sleep in shorts, because everything else I’ve ever tried has twisted around me as I move in the bed to the point that I can’t. Sleep, that is.

But after I came out of the bathroom, I checked the thermostat. It read 67 degrees, Fahrenheit.

Yes, I know I’m Canadian and I should be thinking Celsius, but I can’t. I grew up with Fahrenheit and my mind understands that scale. And yes, pounds instead of kilograms, but that is another story.

The first thing I did after I saw the temperature on the thermostat was to go back to the bathroom and check the heat register. Yes, good warm air was being spewed from that vent. So then, I went to my computer in order to check the weather outside to know what the temperature was in my little town, according to the weather network.

I didn’t gasp but I may have uttered a bad word or two. Minus 2 Fahrenheit but “feels like” minus 11!

I suppose it was a case of the temperature being too cold outside for the furnace inside to keep up. By the time I was ready to leave my work that day and head into the living room and my recliner—just a bit after the noon hour—the temperature in the house was a bit more tolerable. It reached 72 finally at about three in the afternoon.

Once I’d established that the problem wasn’t a non-working furnace, I let it go. I’ve had two working doors on my office since just before our daughter came home. One door opens to the kitchen and the other to the entrance hallway. Directly across from that office door is the living room. I’d previously had doorways but no doors. Two doors means that they can both be closed and the electric fireplace in my office is now able to heat this moderately sized, 12 x 15’ room.

My office, as well as the kitchen, has two outside walls that have no insulation. Yes, this house is more than a century old.  In addition to a lack of insulation, the front of our house faces east, and this office is in the north east corner of the building. When the winds blow, they tend to blow directly at this office. And to say that this old house is somewhat askew and full of tiny cracks allowing myriad tiny drafts inside might be an understatement.

I’m a creature of habit. I have a way I start my day every day, and the routine does not vary. Once I’m ready to get to work, you can be assured that, especially in the winter, I have my sweater on, a blanket over my lap to protect my vulnerable knees, and my electric fireplace is working away.

There are two candelabra light bulbs in the back of the fireplace that provide the illusion of a fire burning. It’s really well done, and in my mind extraordinarily realistic. I sometimes regret that the setup here has the fireplace behind me, specifically over my left shoulder. That means I can’t sit and stare at the “flames” and allow myself to be mesmerized. I can easily visualize myself in a comfy chair, blanket over me, legs up on an ottoman, with a mug of hot cocoa in one hand, e-reader in the other as I take breaks from reading to gaze at the fire…

Of course, considering the fact that this room is where I work, maybe that’s not something the lack of which I should regret.

This is my home and has been since the early 1990s. Prior to moving into this house, I’d lost two houses to house fires and was absolutely determined that I would not become attached to this place. I was done with that, loving a place only to lose it. I think I lasted on that resolution a good ten years. Now that our daughter is here with us, I feel reasonably certain that here is where I’ll stay for the rest of my life.

It's not fancy, although in the months before our daughter came home, and in the year following that wonderful event (and before the virus), we’d first hired someone in and then David had gotten to work with our daughter and a few improvements were completed. We have new ceilings in the living room and kitchen, and a new bed-sitting room upstairs. We have a new floor in the living room, which also received new paint, curtains, and a sofa-recliner.

We still have a few rooms that David wants to renovate, and that may or may not happen. The good news is that the property values in this area are rising. We have a long way to go before we spend more than can be reclaimed in a sale—if that was a consideration for us, which it’s not.

We are only interested in being comfortable and happy. In other words, we are the embodiment of that old saw, “be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home.”







Wednesday, February 10, 2021

 February 10, 2021

I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned it in these essays, but I never binged watched anything until the last half of 2019. That seems like ancient history, but in fact I’m referring to a period of time that began about twenty months ago. That was the year my brother had his first stroke, and my son, who has type 1 diabetes, had a problem on one of his big toes, a blister that wasn’t healing. And those two crises were the reason for the binging.

It was a stressful four months, June through September. I found I was having a lot of trouble writing. After struggling for the words, I decided to try something different.

I bought the entire series of Downton Abbey—the complete multi-season experience. And I watched it over the course of about a week, I think it was. I hadn’t understood the concept of binge watching before that. Both my husband and my daughter have binged watched on several occasions—sometimes the same series at the same time but on separate devices—but I had never seen the attraction.

I suppose I should say that particular experience was a conscious choice on my part to “escape” for a bit. And hell, that was even before the damned pandemic. But while the pandemic has been a definite distraction, it hasn’t hit at my heart the way those threats to two of my beloved family members did.   

I’m glad I did indulge myself and take a week to just binge, even as I understood on one level that I was wasting time. I had a book to write, after all. But in the moment, I didn’t see how I could do that, because my mind was not cooperating with me. I didn’t want to think about my story. I could only think about my brother, and my son, both of whom were facing major challenges. So I binged and took that little escape because at the time it was what I’d needed to do. The book, of course, got written. And the delay didn’t put me behind my publisher’s schedule, just my own.

The problem with using “having a book to write” as an excuse to not waste time is that I always have a book to write. The process is not as fast as it was for me just a few short years ago. I used to routinely have days when I was able to produce two or three thousand words. In fact, in my career, I’ve had days when I’ve written as many as seven thousand words!

But not for a long, long time. In fact, now that I think about it, I feel fairly confident in saying, certainly not since my husband retired at the end of 2017, have I been able to amass a large quantity of progress in one day.

I don’t believe the fact of his retirement has negatively impacted my productivity. I would say that actually, it’s just the opposite. I recall thinking in the months after he’d been home for awhile how happy I was because I was able to work better than I had imagined I would with him at home.

What I do believe, however, is that his retirement coincided with my reaching a point in age that brought with it a slowing down of everything.

In that regard this pandemic sure isn’t helping. Apparently, our lockdown in this area will be done on February 16th. It’s been in force since December 26th. That’s been a long time. I’ve left the house once during that time—I had to get my quarterly blood work in advance of my next doctor’s appointment, which will be in the form of a phone call this coming Thursday.

Now, even when the restrictions are lifted and restaurants are open again to partial in-person dining, I won’t be going to one. That’s something I’ll consider after we have received our vaccinations, and of course, depending on how the infection numbers are running. I haven’t been in a restaurant since the first of March 2020—in other words, pre-pandemic. I will, perhaps, drive us to pick up take-out. But when the restrictions are lifted, we may find ourselves going for a drive once a week which technically we can’t do right now.

Provided, of course, that we no longer have arctic air surrounding us when we go outside. There was a time when I enjoyed going out and feeling a bit of that stinging cold on my face. That wasn’t just pre-pandemic. It was pre-arthritis.

Come to think of it, it was also pre being in my fifties.





Wednesday, February 3, 2021

 February 3, 2021

Yesterday was Groundhog Day. If you’re a long-time reader of these essays, you know that Groundhog Day has always been an important day here in the Ashbury household.

The importance began years ago because both David and our firstborn had careers spent outdoors. Our son went to work with his dad when he was seventeen, and while they worked at the same quarry for only about six years, he went on to work at other open pit mines in the area closest to where he lives, a city about thirty-five minutes away from us. And while his dad has long since retired, he still works outside.

My husband awoke yesterday morning and on his way to the coffee pot, stopped and looked out the front door. “What’s with the sun? There’s not supposed to be sun today! Where are my clouds?”

He was quite serious, of course. His fervent desire was for no sun yesterday, so that no groundhog would see his shadow and predict a longer winter.

He no longer works outside and in my point of view, that would be a good thing. But he quite loved working in the open air every day. Yes, there were days during his nearly forty years at the quarry that were difficult—be it from bitter cold, blistering heat, or torrential downpours.

But he loved being outside and now that he’s retired, he misses that. He misses spending most of his day out in the open air with no walls around him. In the good weather, he often can be found out on the porch or sitting in the back yard. He’ll just sit and ruminate, or he’ll read. He does what yard work he can. COPD plays a part in how much, of course. But he’s learned to live with working in smaller stints and resting, and reading, in between.

Even now that it’s winter, if the day is sunny out, he’s apt to take some porch time after walking our two dogs, simply to sit with his coffee and just…be outside. I would never do that, myself, because it’s harder than you would believe to prevent cold drafts hitting my arthritic legs and making them scream. But if it makes him happy to sit out, then I say, he should go for it.

At the end of the day, my husband’s devotion to the observance of Groundhog Day is a habit that he doesn’t see any reason to break. And while this winter hasn’t seemed as long as some we’ve known, we’ll both be cheered when the green shoots appear and the sky evolves from it’s current pale blue to a slightly deeper, more spring-like hue.

Because he was looking so sad yesterday morning, fearing the worst from the furry meteorologists, I went online to search out the news from the weather prognosticating rodents. I culled the results from five groundhogs, three Canadian and two American. The verdict is in, and while not unanimous, it’s a solid four out of five.

Shubenacadie Sam from Nova Scotia says it’s going to be an early spring. Quebec’s Fred La Marmotte also predicts an early exit for winter. Wiarton Willie, from right here in Ontario, was, it’s reported, nowhere to be found.  I saw no explanation for his absence, but his keepers went back to the way things, apparently, used to be done. They tossed a fur hat into the air and it landed in such a way that they reported the decision was an early spring.

I can’t make this stuff up, folks.

Staten Island Chuck agreed with his Canadian colleagues in proclaiming we’d soon be all done with this cold season. Only Punxsutawney Phil, down there in Pennsylvania, of the five groundhogs called for a longer winter.

So, four out of five groundhogs say it will be an early spring. I don’t know how you feel about the subject, but I’m not arguing with such sound, clinical proof. Early spring it is!

Meanwhile, here in the Ashbury household, we’re looking forward to the spring. We’ve been under a stay-at-home order in Ontario since the day after Christmas. Not that it bothers the two of us, necessarily. I’ve really gotten the hang of this hermit life, but regardless of that fact, spring will bring fresh, warmer air and new beginnings and little green shoots promising pretty petals.

And one more thing that spring will bring to the Ashbury household this year? We’re supposed to get that brand new freezer that we ordered and paid for the first week of June last year. It’s supposed to be delivered around the end of March.

Or so they say.







Wednesday, January 27, 2021

 January 27, 2021

As much as I strive each day to get some solid writing done, as much as I try to find just the right themes, to convey just the right story lines that will, when completed, uplift my readers, I still end up falling down internet rabbit holes.

It often starts out innocently enough. I need to find the answer to a question with regard to something technical—either related to a career that one of my characters has, or some obscure something that has somehow found its way into my plot. I try hard not to have any “mistakes” in my novels. When I give a character a job, or when I introduce some element that I don’t really know much about, I need that information to be right. So I go earnestly seeking, but while I’m looking, my mind does wander.

And then my eye wanders as well, to the side bar.

The reality of the constant temptation hiding in the sidebar begged a question. Do they sell modified horse blinders for humans? You know, I thought to myself, I could put on a pair of those that would restrict my ability to see those side bars, and maybe that would prevent my mental meanderings.

Some time after thinking that question I found the answer to it, which, strangely, is yes. Yes, they do sell blinders for humans. I actually saw them when I searched for the answer to that question, because I used Google “images”. The pair I looked at included noise canceling headphones and claim to be just the ticket for those less disciplined souls working in “open space” offices. Do you see how behind the times I am? I didn’t even know there’d been a move afoot to get rid of the “office cubicle” and create brand new “open spaces”.

A small digression. I do hope you perceived a trace of sarcasm in that last sentence. When I began working in an office it was “open space”. No one was distracted because music, and conversation were more or less—no, more not less—discouraged.

“The perfect way to create your own personal space while in a crowd” might not be the actual tag line the company that made these horse blinders for humans uses, but it certainly appears to be the raison d’ĂȘtre for the blinders themselves. I looked at them, and I thought there might just be some young parents, especially in these times of home schooling and twenty-four-hour togetherness, who might consider ordering these. If it’s a two-parent household, then perhaps the parents could share the device, on a drawn up schedule so that they both get equal breaks.

I, however, doubt that horse blinders for humans would prevent me from looking at the sidebar while I’m on YouTube, or any of the “news” sites that have those handy bars. No, what I need is more self-discipline. My inner imp just fell over laughing, saying “good luck with that”.

I understand, intellectually at least, that the more times I go to specific sites, the more “they” (the programmers of the internet) take note of what I look at, so they can offer me more of the same in, you guessed it, those sidebars. What really gets me, though, is that because my husband and I are on the same Wi-Fi, I get suggestions from his browsing habits, too.

When I am not in my “work time”, I sometimes go to YouTube, just to be entertained. I’m always on the look out for something that will make me smile, or laugh, or even tear up. My latest “discovery” is in fact a “rediscovery” because I saw these several months ago but had forgotten about them: videos taken of life-long colorblind people receiving a pair of EnChroma glasses. For those who don’t know, these glasses help color blind people to finally see colors.

These videos are heart-warming. They’re also irritating.

I find them heart-warming because, really, how can you not feel good watching someone who’s never really seen color before, put on glasses and see a “whole new world?” Those of us who are not color blind take the colors in nature, and in life, for granted. It’s humbling and gives your heart a hug when you watch someone putting on those glasses for the first time. But…

Sorry, with me there is often a but. But, I wish those people who are giving the glasses and filming what I am certain they hope will become a viral videos, would take a chill pill.

Here is your loved one, living a moment, the like of which they’d probably never imagined would really happen for them. Stop bombarding them with questions, please, and let them be in their moment. Let them have the time to process. Their brains will have to adjust to what their eyes are seeing.  I truly, watching those scenes, want to reach into the video and tell those family members or friends, “Shh! Stop! Wait!”

Sometimes, we rush moments that should be held close and cherished. And we do that, with color blind glasses or without.

Life is a series of moments, one lived on top of the next, that combined make up the book of your life. I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, but I sometimes try to make adjustments to how I do what I do, and sometimes, when I do it.

Having this week watched several of those videos showing people putting on the glasses for the first time, I’ve decided to try another adjustment. I’m going to try and slow things down by taking the time to live in the moments that I am blessed with.








Wednesday, January 20, 2021

 January 20, 2021

On June 6, 2020, my husband and my daughter went to a local big box furniture/appliance store and purchased a new freezer. The one we had at the time was only about 5 cubic foot, and we’d had it more than ten years. It was beginning to rust badly, and we were concerned that it might quit on us.

At the time of the purchase, the salesperson warned that delivery would likely be end of August, early September. With the onset of the virus, manufacturing, which happened in the U.S., had been slowed.

That wasn’t a surprise, of course. Pretty much anything you want to order, when it comes to furniture and some appliances has to be made. No one keeps a large stockpile of anything anymore.

This new freezer is a larger one, a thirteen cubic foot freezer. I was glad they’d chosen a larger model because I was hoping to stock up on frozen veggies and meats and other things. We’d already faced a few shortages of grocery items at our local store. My plan to ensure our own food supply by meant either purchasing frozen veggies or to go to the local markets in the fall and buy the veggies to freeze, myself.

But for any of that to happen, of course, I needed the new, larger freezer. My smaller one was in a perpetual state of “fullness”.

Apparently, we weren’t the only ones who had that plan. I guess there were a lot of people ordering freezers in response to the supply-chain threatening virus. Well, good. I was and remain delighted that people were thinking logically, and planning to ensure their family’s ability to keep themselves fed.

I thought that was remarkable as we’re not used to even considering that there might be a shortage of food. Oh, from time to time, there have been items here or there at the grocery store that have been temporarily unavailable. The most usual reason, in my experience, was when a company would be changing their packaging. That, of course, usually signaled an impending smaller size.

Does anyone remember when a pound of bacon was a pound of bacon? Here in Canada, it used to be 500 grams (a bit more than a pound); then, it went to 375 grams(.82 of a pound), but for the same price as the 500.

I hope those manufacturers didn’t think we weren’t wise to their shenanigans. I regularly purchase a powdered, non-dairy whitener for our coffee. It was a practice we began years ago, so that all the milk in the house would be for the children. We’re both at the point that we prefer the powdered whitener to anything else in our coffee, as does our daughter.

You can purchase the large size which is 1 kilogram; or you could buy the product in the smaller size, that used to be 500 grams each but lately is about 450 grams. How anal am I? I use my cell phone’s calculator to determine which is the least expensive per gram to purchase, two small containers or 1 large one. Unless the whitener is on sale, I usually get the big one.

But I digress.

I wasn’t surprised, particularly, when September arrived, but our new freezer did not. I called, and they informed me that it would be here by October.

In November, David and Jennifer returned to the store. David was not happy one bit that they’d had our money all this time, and we had no freezer. He was going to tell them to give us the freezer or cancel the order.

I was grateful indeed for my daughter. She suggested they have a look around at the handful of other suppliers of appliances in our area and see if there were any deals to be had before going to the store that had received our business in June and canceling the order.

Wise move. They learned that no one had any freezers at all. Period. It made no sense to cancel the order.

Later that day, November 30th, after David had let the store staff know how unhappy he was not to have our new freezer, the store called me and said that they’d received word from the manufacturer, and the store would receive delivery of their shipment of freezers on January 16, 2021.

Today, as you know, is January 20th. Now, the 16th was a Saturday, and I gave them two full days that weren’t a weekend to contact me. Finally, this morning, I called them.

I am awaiting a return phone call. I’ll be certain to let you know how it goes. The only thing I know for certain is this.

The new freezer will get here when it gets here, and I don’t think there’s anything we can do to influence the date of shipment.

In the meantime, I remain very grateful that the freezer we’ve had all this time has kept working, small though it may be.

And yes, I also “knocked on wood” as I wrote that.





Wednesday, January 13, 2021

 January 13, 2020

I was held in shock as I watched the events of last Wednesday. I had worried, after posting my essay, that I might have been overstating things, that my words and the emotion they expressed might be seen as being overly dramatic. The part of that essay I’m thinking of is this:

     What we’re witnessing isn’t something as on-the-surface laudable as an attempt to stand up     for justice. At best, it’s a political stunt.

   At worst, and really, in truth, it is an attempt to subvert democracy, pure and simple. What’s planned to happen today in the United States Congress is not the peaceful protest of men and women standing firmly in the light of righteous principle.

   It’s an attempt by people with no morals, and certainly no love of the U.S. Constitution, to highjack a nation to feed their own greedy political ambitions.”

Those words, written the day before they were posted, for the most part, proved truer than I wanted to see.

In the aftermath of the attack on the Capitol, there’s been an earthquake registering 2.2 on the Richter scale caused by all the people scrambling to try and cover their asses.

I’ve been hearing a lot of caveats to the violence from the promoters of lies. For the record, there were no “antifa” or “BLM” protestors who were causing the damage while the saintly MAGA people fought to defend the place. That was a lie that is actually gaining traction and I dare anyone to show me a clip of that happening. Silly me, wanting bald-faced liars to provide proof!

In fact, a statement was released several days before by the leaders of BLM which is an actual group (as opposed to ANTIFA which is not), saying they were not going to be anywhere in the vicinity of the U. S. Capitol. And for those silly MAGA people who claim otherwise….well, never mind.

Truth needs to be spoken. Senator Romney said that in his remarks Wednesday night, and he is absolutely right. All those in the congress who voted to overturn a legitimate election need to assert that there was no wide-spread fraud in the November election. Period. Before there can be reconciliation, there must be confession and accountability.

It was several years ago when David and I stayed in Arlington for a few days and took a cab into D.C. each morning, to tour the White House, the Capitol, The National Cemetery, the Vietnam Memorial, and the Lincoln Memorial. In the Capitol building, we were even shown into the gallery – congress was in session—and we also got to see the “old Senate Chamber”. We were filled with a sense of reverence and being under the capitol dome was an experience neither of us will ever forget, no matter how old we get. This was in the 1990s.

We went to the archives and saw the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence under green glass!

We’d had to get tickets for the White House and the Capitol and I think the Archives, ahead of time, and being Canadian, that was very understandable. The security was tight, as it should have been.

Last Wednesday, we were heart-sick watching the lack of respect, the lack of morals, the careless disregard for all that those so-called patriots claim to hold dear. I began writing this essay several days later, and I still feel sick over what I saw.

I stayed up late to watch the proceedings when the joint session resumed—which in my opinion was the very best middle finger the congress could have given all those insurrectionists—seditionists—who’d tried to tear down what they could not even understand.

I’m not a Democrat. I’m not a Republican. I have admired politicians from both those parties, and I have condemned politicians from both those parties as well.

I am a human being. I believe in democracy, and democratic republics. I believe in people. I believe that love is stronger than hate, and that we’re all here on this earth to help each other. I believe that truth is, and that’s something I never imagined I would ever have to say.

I have a long-time friend who lives in Pennsylvania who has believed for some time now that a second civil war in the U. S, is inevitable.

As I have since I first heard him say those words, I pray every day that what he believes will happen, will never come to fruition.