Wednesday, June 20, 2018

June 20, 2018

As you may recall, four years ago, after much debate and back and forth between us discussing our two options, we decided to give our back yard—the part of it that is immediately accessible to us—a face-lift. Originally, we thought we’d get a small on-ground pool installed, but aside from the hassle of the red tape with the town, we realized that doing so would take the entire back yard away from the dog.

So instead, we bought ourselves a gazebo, some outdoor carpeting, and a patio set consisting of a table with four chairs, and called it done.

At the end of that first season, when we were close to getting snow, my beloved disassembled the arrangement, and stored everything in the outside shed that he’d just built. Also spending time over the winter months in that shed, as it turned out, were some chippies—chipmunks to those of you less familiar with the cute little critters. Now, to give those tiny rodents their due, they never chewed the canopy of the gazebo—just the ends of the “screens”, that part of the screens that touched the ground when the gazebo was erected. And since, when David put the gazebo back up the following spring after we bought it, we could no long technically use those screens, because they no longer met so they could not be zipped up, well, that wasn’t a real problem for us. (A slight digression here—he admits he may have had challenges recalling just how the metal frame went together, and sort of winged it, making the structure just a teeny weeny little bit not quite as it was.) The screens continued to hang bunched together in the corners of the gazebo, and the tattered ends weren’t particularly noticeable.

However, we decided as we took the canopy down last November, that this year, 2018, we’d get a new gazebo. In the fall, we thought, when such things might go on sale. But thanks to the skewed sense of seasons as calculated by the retail community in our country, we found a clear-out sale in May, and ordered our new back yard shelter. This one is a bit bigger than the lst, a bit fancier, and cost about the same as the first one did four years ago.

It is also a nice, bright, cheerful, sun-courting red! And, (this is really the cherry on the cake), it arrived last Thursday, in time to be erected for our Father’s Day barbecue supper that we’d decided to hold.

Armed with the invaluable munition of experience, David began to erect the new gazebo on Thursday about noon, taking his time, determined to get it right. He’d already decided that in the fall, when he takes it down to store, it will be stored in the house—upstairs, in fact, where there are (knock on wood) no chipmunks, and where there is no possibility of theft. He will also only take down the canopy and the side panels. The metal structure, he will leave standing. Our back yard is somewhat sheltered, and the metal structure of the last one weathered three winters just fine.

Neither of us are overly active these days, and our dog is so small that the remaining yard really is sufficient for him to exercise in. He does get a walk each day, and as a bonus, he has a “run”—aka our front porch which spans the width of the house and upon which he runs back and forth whenever there is a person or a dog walking down the street. And by whenever, I of course mean at least ten, possibly fifteen or even twenty times a day. Every single day.

Mr. Tuffy believes himself a guard dog, thinks he’s a BIG guard dog, and takes his responsibilities very, very seriously. And we love him for it.

We had our little family party last Saturday, with our oldest and his wife, and one of his three children—the other two, sadly, had to work. I was so pleased they came, and we all enjoyed a good meal. It was special having them come, and for me, that’s the best part of any holiday—the time I get to spend with my family, whether that family is by blood or by tradition—and with friends.

I hope the fathers reading this enjoyed a day last Sunday of spending time with your kids, grandkids, and loved ones. I hope there was lots of love and laughter—and, of course, food!

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

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

June 13, 2018

We’re nearly at the half-way mark for 2018. So far, I’m not sure what to make of this year. The last couple of weeks have been particularly notable because the actions of two celebrities have brought the subject of suicide into the spotlight once more.

We think we make progress, we humans. We continue on with our various social experiments as the decades roll past. We divest ourselves of the concept of division by class, with most of us moving toward an attitude of inclusion. Some have said that the technology of this modern age has worked to keep people apart. Others claim just the opposite—that thanks to the Internet and social media, people who were uncomfortable or had challenges mingling with their fellow humans, face to face, feel freed now, with the various forms of online “gatherings” to open their metaphorical arms and minds to their fellow persons.

And yet at the heart of it all, regardless of the strides we’ve made or the modernity of our times, we remain singularly individual beings. We appear to live in a “herd” with our cities and our towns and our villages, with our high rise apartments that house thousands of souls at one address, but in fact we are, at the end of the day, alone inside these shells we call bodies, alone and far too often, we are lonely.

This state of loneliness is, for some, a difficult state in which to exist. Our bodies may decree that we’re separate entities, but I don’t believe we were made to be isolated. Indeed, people invest a lot in the quest to seek connections with other people and sometimes fail utterly to make ones that last. Most of us aren’t very good at judging the difference between “a reason, a season, or a lifetime” when it comes to allowing people into our lives—into our hearts. Because we are individuals and different, each of us, all of us, one from the next, there are any number of ways we react to this situation we can find ourselves in, to this, for some, crippling loneliness. We can appear, on the outside, to have it all including the proverbial gold rings of human existence—fame and fortune. And yet, on the inside of our hearts and our minds and our souls, there is a hunger, a need, a desolation, and eventually, there can be a hopelessness.

I don’t claim to hold a degree in psychology, but I believe with all my heart that at the base of every suicide, and every suicide attempt, is a sense of being trapped in a state of hopelessness.

Hopelessness sprouts not only in the lonely, but in the hearts of those coping with difficult life circumstances. People lose jobs, relationships, fortunes and loved ones. They can be abused, mistreated, and stripped by others of their dignity. We get in these very tough times, and we think—we come to believe—that no one, ever has gone through this. No one knows the pain, the heartache, the weariness—the hopelessness that we feel.

This is a situation so pervasive, I wouldn’t be in the least surprised to learn the number of people inflicted with this feeling is nearing epidemic proportions.

If only we could get through those who are in these emotional and mental quagmires that they’re not alone. They’re not the only ones going through those rough patches. I can guarantee you that whatever it is any one individual is experiencing, they’re not the first and not the only person to be dealing with that exact circumstance. We can think we are and believe we are, but we are not.

Help is available, but one has to reach for it. Perhaps you have a friend, an acquaintance, a relative that you feel may be in dangerous straits, emotionally. Or maybe it’s you who’re in that place. Maybe you feel as if there is nothing left for you but the end.

There is help, and I urge you to reach for it. I urge you to tell others who you may feel are too close to the edge. There’s no shame in that, in reaching out and asking for help. And no shame in providing the information below to a friend, and acquaintance, a relative. Or maybe, it’s information you can use yourself. There are thousands of professionals and volunteers dedicated to the cause of suicide prevention. Here are some links:

In the United States: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/  or call 1-800-273-8255

In Canada: https://suicideprevention.ca/need-help/  the website has a link to each provincial center.

In the UK: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/suicide/

People are waiting to help. Hopelessness doesn’t have to be terminal. Some decisions, once taken, cannot be undone.

I urge you, for you, for your loved ones. Reach out. Get help.

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

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

June 6, 2018

I’ve been trying my hand at some new recipes over the last few weeks. I enjoy cooking, and even though I’ve cut back on the number of meals I make for us each week, I try to change things up. I also believe that just as playing a couple of games each day helps to keep certain of my synapses firing well, so, too, trying out new recipes keeps another part of my brain thriving.

I sat down and calculated it out. Well, maybe calculation implies a heavier reliance on logic and mathematics and than I actually employed. I suppose the closer truth is that I performed a combination of calculation and guessing. Here then, are the results of my guessulations (guessing/calculations): I will have been a wife for 46 years on July 14th. Since number 46 isn’t yet completed, I used 45 years as my base, figuring on 11 leap years in that time. This gave me 16,436 days. Allowing for times when we might have eaten out, ordered in, or gone to someone else’s house for supper, I took off 14 days per year. Now, for most of our married life, we rarely went out and didn’t take more than a scant handful of vacations until I became published, in 2007. So I don’t think I’ve allowed for too few times not cooking. Taking out those two weeks per year, leaves me 15,806 days. Let’s make allowances for a possibly faulty memory and therefore possibly skewed perceptions and cut that back to 14,000 days. That’s still a lot of suppers that I have created in my lifetime! Even the most enthusiastic chef would get tired of preparing the same meals over and over and over again.

Which, of course, I have, mainly because there aren’t that many varieties of meat to center our supper around. Beef, pork, poultry, lamb, and only very occasionally—because my husband really doesn’t care for it—fish.

I always was one for trying new things. When we married—in fact, on the very afternoon when we got home to our small apartment after our weekend-long honeymoon—my beloved told me he eats roast beef, roast pork, mashed potatoes, creamed corn and canned peas. [Imagine shocked face emoji inserted here.] After I got over that shock, I told him that since he didn’t make enough money to buy only roast beef and roast pork, he’d have to eat what I could prepare based on our grocery budget. We compromised. I’d make it, he’d try it, and if he really didn’t like it, I wouldn’t make it again. In those early days the only thing he didn’t like was liver, which now is one of his favorite meals.

That whole give-it-an-honest-try mindset worked very well for us, to the point that he eagerly looks forward to each new concoction I set before him. He’ll tell you that I have had very few fails over the years. I think I’ve had more, because he liked some of the things I’ve made that I didn’t.

Now that I have more time, I have more freedom to let my adventurous spirit peruse new recipes—primarily ones I see on my friends’ Face Book walls. Recently I’ve made potato crusted quiche, potato and leek soup, Colcannon soup, French toast bake, and cashew shrimp. Not all at the same meal, of course. Sometimes I have to look up baking equivalents. Sometimes I have to hunt up ingredients that I don’t have and sometimes, that means ordering an ingredient online because not even the local grocery stores have what I need.

 My beloved and I were talking, as we often do, about how things used to be, and we both remembered fondly the gravy that I used to be able to make from hamburgers. There would be an option on the menus of the local restaurants back in the day called “hot hamburger”. Basically, this was a hamburger patty with gravy all over it. No condiments necessary, just the bun, the meat, the gravy inside and outside the bun, and a fork and knife with which to eat it. Kind of like SOS but with a hamburger patty. And at my table, usually served with a veggie instead of fries, of course.

I have noticed, in this day and age, even using what’s billed as “extra lean hamburger”, it’s practically impossible to be able to make a pan gravy from it. Normally that wonderful hamburger pan gravy would have remained a fond memory of the past.

Unless you’re me and go out and buy a beef roast when it’s on sale super cheap—and then proceed to cut that roast down to chunks and then put it through a meat grinder.

The meat grinder we have is an old one, and only has one cutting face, and the holes are very small. I do have a food chopper, and I ended up using that this time, and while it did the job it wasn’t the best it could be. However, I took that roast and ended up with 12 very good-sized patties. The first couple we cooked in a frying pan. Ah, the gravy! That was a real blast from the past. The rest of the burgers I cooked outside on the grill, as I wanted to freeze the bulk of them, which I have done. For us, twelve burgers equal 4 to 6 meals, and that’s a darn good value from a piece of meat that cost less than 17 dollars.

My husband loved the results so much he told me to order a new electric meat grinder. His exact words were, (and said around a mouthful of meat) This. Is. So. Good! I’m rubbing my hands together in anticipation of the fun I’m going to have with my new kitchen aid, just thinking about the hamburgers, and ground pork and maybe even ground chicken creations that may be in our future.

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

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

May 30, 2018

Watching the news anymore is an onerous task, and one that causes me considerable inner conflict. On the one hand, I believe in being informed. To the best of my ability, I believe that I should be aware of what’s going on in my world, so that I can contribute what I can, when I can. On the other hand, it’s darned depressing. Did I say depressing? Add on disheartening and dispiriting. Yes, an onerous task indeed.

One of the greatest bits of research anyone who’s a writer can carry out, is to study real people; their mannerisms, how they think, how they react. That research extends to trying to puzzle out why people think and react the way they do. I look for patterns, and I try to find the clues of motivation that are sometimes quite clear, and at other times deeply hidden.

I was raised in a household where the newspaper was read daily, and the television news watched that often as well. My mother was a nurse. She only ever had to work eight-hour shifts in her career, and not the twelve-hour shifts many nurses do today. In addition, when I was about eleven, she received a promotion to assistant head nurse for her ward. That meant she no longer had to work afternoons or nights. In her last working years, which ended when she was in her mid fifties, she confessed it was an effort when she worked her seven-day stretches, twice a month. Her schedule was staggered, with 7 days on, three off, three on, one off.

Mom gardened in her spare time, and she also read mystery novels, watched television and kept up on the news. She was very well informed and had very definite opinions about people and events and why people behaved as they did. She was a single parent, not by choice, but as the result of her husband’s—my father’s—early, unexpected death. She was not a feminist, and yet how she lived her life inspired a core of feminism within me.

I watched her do it all—cook, clean, fix the toaster, get down on her hands and knees to plane the pine plank floors in the upstairs of our house to level them out, build valances for our living room windows—and go to work at a full-time job to support us all.

And yet, in the days leading up to my wedding, she told me words I have never forgotten—and mostly, never heeded, at least not in the spirit in which she intended when she said them. I must have been giving her a hard time in the moment, being a brat, because she told me that while I was still under her roof, I would obey her; and when I got married, I would obey my husband.

If you have ever wondered what carries more weight, the example you set by your words or the one you set by your actions, wonder no more. My father died when I was only 8. Despite those words of my mother’s, I do not recall ever seeing the woman behave in a subservient or submissive fashion at all. What I did see with my own eyes was that even a woman who believed the man was the head of the household could be the head of the household if necessary. In my children’s eyes, I always deferred to their father. But between us, my beloved and I have been an equal partnership. Yes, I do confess that was a relationship dynamic I insisted upon. At the time, it was the only possible choice for me.

Remember, I was a child of the sixties and the women’s movement.

Being raised in the days before the twenty-four-hour news cycle, I remember what it was like to be “informed” according to that day’s standards. But how informed were we, really? We knew what the powers-that-be wanted us to know at the time; things happened around the world’s seats of power that even reporters kept to themselves. It wasn’t until much after the fact we learned, for example, the extent to which some in power were philanderers, and some played fast and loose with the truth when it came to the Vietnam war.

I might occasionally lament the loss of “simpler” times, but that’s the inner whiner within me, the self within wishing for a reality that, when you think about it, never truly was. In all likelihood, we came a lot closer to Armageddon in the 1960s and 70s and 80s…than we could ever have known. The more complete truth is that we’ve never really existed in a painting by Monet, or a poem by Sassoon.

Those were merely our secret refuges, where we’d escape from the real world, where we would rest and recoup, and seek the path to the kinder, gentler times of our imaginations. As far as I can tell, that’s still about the only way we can catch a break from the harsh realities of the day.

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

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

May 23, 2018

My mother would be shaking her head, wondering where she went wrong with me. I just know she would. My only excuse is that I am now sixty-three years old and riddled with arthritis. A damp and chilly environment is not my friend, no, not at all.

So that is why on Saturday, May 19th, just this past Saturday, when two days before I had engaged my central air conditioning for a few hours and then turned it off again, I turned my furnace on once more. Yes, I did and I’m not really ashamed to admit it.

I know I commented in my last essay that the older I get the fewer things there are in life to get my panties in a twist over—or words to that effect. However, I think I forgot to mention, that with regard to those things that can raise that response within me, I’m likely to fight, and fight hard.

I’ve come to the conclusion, just this year in fact, that there is no reason whatsoever for me to endure being cold, for my ankles to be cold, or for my knees to be cold. Not one single solitary reason, because the result of that cold is unremitting pain.

My beloved doesn’t think I get outside as much as I should. Here, we have differing opinions. I am happy to go outside, on my porch or in the back yard, provided I can do so without getting drafts on my legs. I will even take a blanket outside with me in the springtime. Because, while it is true that these last few days, and likely moving forward until we hit sweltering summer (scheduled for the week after next, I believe), the thermometer may indeed rise up to seventy plus degrees, it is also true the slight breezes accompanying those days are often cooler. In fact, they are just cool enough to be called drafts, drafts which make me ache.

Don’t tell me the slight breeze is warm. I know it’s warm. I also know that after a half hour sitting there, with that warm breeze wafting over my legs, without that blanket, those legs tend to scream in protest when I stand up and try to move.

So there I was, May 19th, turning on the furnace, telling myself that one more day of using it wasn’t going to break the bank. Truly of all the expenses we have in our lives at this point, the natural gas which fuels both the water heater and the furnace is the least of our monthly bills.

The day after I turned the furnace on again, I proved that whole outside thing to myself anew. On Sunday the 20th, my sister-in-law, my husband’s sister came for a visit in the morning. I decided to make breakfast and invited my daughter to come, so she could see her auntie. My daughter brought her grand babies.

The breakfast part was an unqualified success. The times I don’t feel the weight of my age are when I’m preparing, as I did for this occasion, a dish I’ve never served before. This one was called “French Toast Bake”, a dish I assembled the night before as per the recipe, set in the fridge overnight, and only had to slip it into the oven in the morning.

Because my family is for the most part carnivorous, I also prepared sausage links and bacon. Of course, we also had what my grandchildren call “Gramma berries”; chopped fresh strawberries, in this case with blueberries tossed in.

After breakfast the little ones wanted to play outside in the back yard since it was warm enough to do so. My daughter and sister-in-law joined them, and of course I went out too. Our back-yard furniture is set up, so I sat on one of our padded chairs at the outdoor table under the canopy….and because I am 63 and occasionally forgetful, I didn’t bring my blanket with me.

My final words on this matter are thank God for modern pain medication. Yes, Sunday once more proved that wise motto: better living through chemistry.

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

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

May 16, 2018

There are few things in life that please me more than the scent of spring wafting through my house. For the first couple of weeks of mild temperatures hereabouts, there are very few flying insects to infringe upon my pleasure. I open the front and back doors, ensuring to block both from the ability to suddenly swing shut, and let that fresh, sweet oxygenated air flow in.

Some days, the air actually smells fresh. Those days I wish for a ground floor laundry facility and a wonderful clothes line. When we lived out in the country, I would take such a spring day and wash all the sheets and blankets, hanging them out to dry. That night, climbing into a bed in which everything had been freshened? Oh, my goodness, it was the best sleep. Ever.

I miss those days. Where we are now, there is a clothesline—up a hill that is far too steep for me to navigate alone. I haven’t been up there myself for more than a year. Though my husband can make that climb, it needs to be for just one load of laundry per day. He can go up to hang, then up to fetch, and that’s it.

My mother-in-law had a clothes line that was not only on a pulley system, length-wise; but once the line was full, she could pull a cord and raise it into the air, about eight feet up, changing the elevation sufficiently that nothing even hung even close to the ground, and the laundry was in a position to get that beautiful breeze above the fence lines. Yes, I had severe clothes line envy, and haven’t since seen a similar system.

At one point, we had to purchase one of those outdoor clothes hangers. You know the kind I mean, a pole with four arms and plastic line in several tiers forming squares? My kids called it a foreign swing. I had one, and I used it, though I was never completely happy with the way it worked—unless the day was particularly breezy. I also had David string some clothes lines in the basement, and again, while that worked—as did the wooden indoor clothes hanger that folded down like an accordion—I was just spoiled by rural living. Nothing beats sun and fresh air on clothing that is pinned and stretched out, seducing the breeze and the sun to caress and dry it.

Then there was the time I washed and then hung my favorite blouse on that clothesline in the country. I was a teenager at the time, and in Home Economic class that day, I had managed to get a mustard stain on my sleeve. I came home and washed that blouse, hoping for a miracle. But, alas, the stain remained. So, I hung it on the line and didn’t get it in until the next day. Imagine my surprise when I discovered the mustard stain was gone. You can’t convince me otherwise: Mr. Sun fixed that problem for me—the sun, nature’s bleaching agent.

These days, my house isn’t as clean as I could make it whilst in my twenties or thirties or even forties. I do what I can, and my beloved gives me some help. But it still freshens the place when I air it out, making it feel clean, and that helps. Things are certainly tidier here on a day to day basis than when the kids were in residence. Ah, those long-ago days when it was four against one vis-à-vis the housework. And while I do my best, as mobility-challenged as I am, I don’t fret about the state of tidiness as I once did. All I can do is the best I can do, and the best I can do is enough.

Maybe that’s the biggest benefit of getting older. Fewer things seem worth getting upset about. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

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

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

May 9, 2018

Mother’s Day is coming up, this Sunday—that’s just 4 days away. To those of you who have a mother, or a wife who’s a mother, or even an adult child who’s a mother, this is your official “head’s up”. Use it wisely.

There are many times through the year when I miss my own mother. She died when I was just 21, at a time in my life when I was going through challenges that made me really want my mother. I don’t think that’s a wish that ever goes away, do you? Our relationship wasn’t perfect, because neither of us was perfect. It was what it was.

She never ever would admit to having made a mistake. In her mind, that would be a weakness, not a strength. For my part, I was guilty of sometimes tuning her out, simply because she was my mother. I guess we can file that under typical human behavior.

Do you know where I see remnants of her today? In my daughter. Jenny possesses many of my mother’s traits. As well, she’s in a medical-related career. My mother was a registered nurse. Jenny recently told me she was born without the “emotion” gene. She bases this belief on the fact that some of the things other people “feel”, the things they get upset about or excited about, she just doesn’t get. Now, I’ve seen her in action and I’d dispute her self-analysis, but it is true she doesn’t like to show her emotions, and that is very much like my mom. I can get away with giving her a hug, sometimes. Anyone else? She puts up both hands and says, “personal space.” She’s not my mother, of course, she’s my daughter and her own woman. I think she sells herself short, but I’ve learned there’s only so much you can tell a grown-up child. “Grown up” is such a subjective concept, isn’t it?

Mothers Day, historically for me at any rate, was and remains a day for the giving of flowers, or plants. I mostly gave my mother plants, that she could then transplant into one of her four flower beds. One time, the three of us—my brother, my sister, and myself—got together and bought her 2 flowering crab apple trees, which she planted in front of the house—one in each of 2 round gardens.

Those trees, which would have been gifted in the early 1970's, were still in existence until about a year or so ago, when the current owner of that property finally took them out. In his defense, I believe they were failing at the time.

I have always told my children that I didn’t need gifts—a card was good enough, and a homemade one was even better. That wasn’t only something I said to spare their tender hearts, it was how I really felt.

These days, of course, they’re adults, and I can’t say that I’m as overly concerned about their tender hearts as I was when they were small. I’m not above giving a kick in the ass when one is warranted, though those times have been few, indeed. I’d like to see my son more often than a handful of times a year. When they had young children and were shepherding them to sports and clubs and other extra-school activities, I completely understood. Now that their kids are all adults? Not so much. 

Regardless, I love them as much now as I did when they were little, and enjoy them more, when we’re together, because the stress of parenting is absent.

As for the girls—my daughter, my second daughter, and my daughter-in-law—I have a Mother’s Day tradition that I’ve observed for the last several years. Our local grocery store has a small garden center, and in advance of every Mother’s Day, there are miniature rose bushes for sale. I always buy three, as well as a card for each of the girls. And yes, I get my son something on Father’s Day, too.

All three of the girls appreciate these roses. I know this, because they’ve, all three of them, planted them in their gardens. Each of them now has several miniature rose bushes that bloom each year.

Now if only I knew why roses no longer smell like roses. I have no real clue, but I wonder if it has to do with some kind of genetic modification. But that’s a topic for another day. To all the mothers, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers out there – I hope you have a very happy and family-filled Mother’s Day!

And a very special Happy Mother’s Day to my newest granddaughter, Nathalie who, with my oldest grandson Nick last night welcomed to the world their first son and my third great-grandchild, Noah. 

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