Thursday, December 30, 2010

Change can be gradual, too!

For those of you who are faithful followers of my weekly essay, welcome to the place, the creation of which is long overdue: Wednesday's Words, the Blog.

Over the course of the next couple of months, I'm going to cease posting in so many different loops, and concentrate on just a couple. In the meantime, Wednesday's Words will begin to appear here, every week.

Nothing would make me happier than to have you take a moment and share your thoughts, ideas, gripes, whatever. Have an idea for an essay that I haven't tackled yet? Let's hear it!

In the meantime, thanks for reading. It's why we writers, write!


December 29, 2010

Did you have a good Christmas?

I often wonder, is there much in life that every year receives such a big build up as Christmas does, only to be done in a single day?

It is over in one day in these modern times. When I was younger, we used to stretch out Christmas. We’d go to church on Christmas Eve for the midnight Eucharist. Then of course, the big day, with gifts and our enormous family breakfast—because our means were spare, it was the only morning all year we sat down to a full breakfast of bacon, eggs, home fried potatoes, and, oh joy, orange juice and grape juice!

We’d have the traditional turkey dinner of course, and my mother’s Christmas Pudding—a steamed carrot pudding that has no added fat, and that I still make each year, to this day.

Then the next day—Boxing Day—would begin the “Christmas Visits” – they usually took place over the next two or three days, actually—visiting friends and relatives. For any who had small children, my parents would always bring along some gift or treat for the kids.

Christmas, back then, was very nearly a season.

Do we blame the retailers in our world, or ourselves? Here in Canada, we begin to hear radio and television ads for “Boxing Day” sales, before we even have Christmas! It’s hard not to let the loud and constant cacophony from the world of consumerism influence us.

I often lament the passage of what, in retrospect, appear to have been simpler times. But I wonder if they really were simpler? Or does my subconscious soften the memories so that they just seem that way?

I do look forward to the “review of the year” that seems to be a popular feature of many news shows. I like to take a moment and remember the milestones, the passages, and the achievements of the year. Sometimes, I learn of things that escaped me when they happened originally. And sometimes, I think, was that only this past year?

Times change. People change. Nothing stays in a comfortable place, not for long, at any rate. I think it’s a facet of the human condition that the older we get, the more we want things to slow down and stay somewhat the same. We want to seek comfort in the familiar. It’s why we have our favorite mugs, our favorite chairs, and even our favorite restaurants!

It is, at the core of it, why we have traditions in the first place.

I really believe this need is universal. It’s one of the reasons older folk are always characterized as beginning a lot of sentences with, “Back in my day...” There’s a sense for some of us, as we age, that how things were back in “our day” was the “right” way, the “best” way, and of course, for those of us whose inner curmudgeon isn’t inner any more, the “only” way.

Sometimes I hear younger people admonishing the older to “keep up with the times”. To those younger folk I would say, you can hope, but most often, it’s just not going to happen.

I spent time with my older brother on Sunday. He hosts a “Boxing Day Brunch”, and for the last few years he’s invited us to attend. He and his wife of more than 45 years do the cooking together, making the usual fare. Always delicious, of course!

I found it interesting to sit and listen to him afterwards as he was telling my beloved that the fliers come in the newspaper for the local electronics store, and he marvels at all the pieces of technology for sale that he has no idea, whatsoever, how to operate. He said he didn’t even know what a lot of them were—and really didn’t care to learn.

I can recall this same brother, not so many years ago, describing to me his latest blow-your-eardrums sound system with woofers and tweeters and other things I didn’t even understand then.

Now I’m e-published, on line all the time, hip deep in IMs and e-mails, and he doesn’t even use the computer he has. Times do change.

I wish you all a blessed New Year. May 2011 be very good for you all!


December 22, 2010

Don’t you love this time of year? It’s the time of year when tradition saddles on in to take over our lives, mostly for the good.

Except in the case of the Ashbury household.

It would appear that we have a more recent tradition (since it’s happened now about four years in a row) that I would just as soon do without, thank you very much.

‘Tis the season of the car needing something expensive repaired.

Now in case you all think that perhaps I jinx myself by speaking about m-o-n-e-y within the confines of the automobile, let me assure you all most emphatically that I do not. Ever. That is a lesson I learned many years ago.

For those too young or green to understand this (until now) “unwritten rule” of car ownership, let me write it out for you: if you mention raises, Christmas bonuses, small lottery wins, gifts, inheritances, or any amount of money you may think you will have over and above your usual, the car will take advantage of you and break down so that you must spend that windfall on it.

Being the overly cautious types that we are, Mr. Ashbury and I never discuss money of any amount from any source in the car. We also never discuss if or when we might purchase another car, in the car.

Now, on to the Ashbury Christmas tradition of the expensive car repair. The first time this happened, we needed the signal switch replaced, as the mechanism also controlled not just the signal but the high and low beam of the headlights. That repair, about ten days before Christmas, cost us over a thousand dollars.

The second time it happened, it was the replacement of two headlights, within two weeks of each other. One was my fault, and one thanks to the courtesy of an unknown motorist in the parking lot of our local grocery store. Although together these replacements didn’t quite reach the thousand dollar mark, it still meant an outlay of cash at a time of year when all discretionary funds had already been allocated.

Last year, I bought the vehicle four brand new winter tires, hoping to head off disaster, in November. Alas, that ploy didn’t work. Tie rod end, front driver’s side, eight hundred dollars.

This year, I had thought we’d gotten off easy. It was twelve days before Christmas, and when my beloved went out to start the car, he discovered the heater fan wasn’t working.

Although not a problem in good weather, in winter, the car can’t be driven without the heater fan working, for the windows ice up on the inside.

Looking back on it now, my mistake was thinking, great, ‘only four hundred and fifty dollars’! A mistake, most certainly, as on Monday the car really didn’t want to start and my husband said, “the battery is nearly gone”.

Now, I’ve been taking my car to the shop for all its repairs since several years ago when my beloved said he didn’t want to be bothered fixing cars anymore. However, on Sunday he did fix our daughter’s car. So I looked at him and said, “I’ll buy it, you install it.”
Which he did, successfully.

I know I really shouldn’t complain. We’ve had this car since 2006 and have put half a million kilometres on it. And I’m not really complaining, I’d just like the car’s timing to be better. No pun intended.

I wish you all a happy, healthy Christmas, filled with warmth and laughter and love and yummy things to eat. And no car repairs.

God bless you all!


December 15, 2010

Many moons ago, my beloved and I were unrepentant coffee drinkers.

Perhaps “drinkers” is the wrong noun. I’m a writer, I should be able to come up with the noun that fits. Let’s see, we could try, imbibers, consumers, no, no, I have it: guzzlers!

Yes, we were both guzzlers, and when I think about the amount of coffee we ingested each day it makes me shudder now. It was enough that a large container of coffee (975 grams or 2.15 pounds) would last us a week and a bit. Scary, huh?

Those days are long gone, for both of us. I, of course, have to watch my caffeine intake as I do have a heart condition. My beloved says he doesn’t drink what he used to because he no longer smokes, and that could likely be true. Coffee and a cigarette used to go together like a hand in a glove, at least for me it did. Yes, I too am a former smoker. When I quit (eight years ago on December 2nd) I smoked two packs a day. My beloved did as well, and he had been a smoker for 40 years. He quit the same time I did.

So, here we are, non-smokers, reformed coffee guzzlers. We do, however, still drink the beverage. We each of us average two cups a day. Generally, if I want more, I drink decaffeinated.

During my visit to Indiana this past September, I had coffee differently than I’d ever had it before. My hostess had a one-cup coffee machine, with all sorts of little plastic “coffee cups” you could choose from to insert into the machine. Heck, there were even some teas available too. I was doubtful at first. Just ask my closest friends, I am a purist when it comes to my coffee. No flavor shots; no flavoured blends or creamers. Despite the best efforts of some very beautiful and talented fellow authors, Morgan refuses to go over to the dark side. But I also needed my morning coffee, so I tried it.

Oh. My. Goodness!

When I came home, I discovered this very same machine was on sale at a location near me. Yes, I went right out and bought it.

My beloved, bless him, only raised one eyebrow. He said nothing, and when invited to, finally chose one of the sample coffees that had come with the machine. He picked a “bold” blend of coffee.

He said, “Oh. My. Goodness!”

Yep. Instant new addiction. Though we still limit ourselves to our two cups a day, each cup is fresh, and wonderful. It didn’t matter that I had to order my coffee from Quebec. It didn’t matter that the coffee is more expensive than buying a regular “975” gram container (although I did get an adapter for the machine so I can use my own coffee in it, I haven’t done so yet). All that mattered is that this coffee was good; and if you’re only going to have a couple of cups of it a day, you might as well have what’s very, very good.

And this trend, in this area, is taking off. Forget about the claim that our consumption of bottled water is going to bury the planet in non-biodegradable plastic bottles. It’ll be the empty little coffee cups that will drown us.

In the mean time, a friend of mine has one of these machines too. And when I visited last week, he told me of a retail store just a few minutes from his house, where I could get an amazing selection of these coffees and teas.

My beloved and I went there last Thursday evening. Yes, the exact same coffee I was ordering on line is right there, not close, but certainly close enough—and with a larger selection, too.
I believe that in time, I will earn my very own designated parking spot in front of that store.


December 8, 2010

Have you ever noticed that despite the fact that Christmas has always been on December 25th, it sneaks up on us every year?

At least it always seems to sneak up on me. Here we are, just 16 more days to go and once again, I am nowhere near ready.

I think one of my major problems is denial. I always think I have more time than I actually do.
Logically, there’s no reason why I shouldn’t be able to begin my preparations weeks or even months earlier. But once the holiday is off my radar, there’s a part of me that denies it even exists, until just a few weeks before it comes again.

At least the gift shopping part has ceased to be a hassle. We get gift cards for everyone, and yes, that is the lazy way out, but it really does let people get the one thing that they didn’t find under the tree. It’s especially handy for teenagers, who are always changing their minds as to what they want.

The next item on the list, after gifts, is the tree. Do you remember last year’s “Christmas Yucca”? If you recall, we had absolutely no room to put our tree up last Christmas because the Yucca was too big to move successfully to the office (as we had done in the past, putting the Christmas tree up in its place). So last year we threw some garland on the Yucca and called it done.

This year, of course, we had a bit more room in the living room, since we’d replaced the loveseat with three bookcases. Unfortunately, this past May, when we rented a dumpster and the girls cleaned out the upstairs in preparation for turning it into a temporary living space (again), my daughter thought that the tree in the box was her old tree and so she tossed it into the bin. What she actually threw out was our new tree that we had enjoyed only once.

My beloved says it was likely just as well, as that tree would not have really fit in the one space we have available for it—in front of the ‘corner’ made by the bookcases. So we bought another one—this also an artificial one since our daughter has recently developed an allergy to the real thing.

This “new tree” is only five feet tall, and only thirty-six inches around at the bottom. I stand five foot one. Yup, it’s little. But it fits and the grandchildren who are 10 and 8 were able to decorate it all by themselves and could even place the star on top without the aid of a ladder.
They were both very proud of the excellent job they did, and so were we.

There’s only really one item left on my list of preparations, and that’s the baking. I used to do a lot of it, back in the day. I haven’t baked a great deal lately because I hate tossing food away. My beloved still has his sweet tooth but it’s not as hungry as once it was. The days of his filching an entire cherry cheesecake out of the fridge for a midnight snack are behind us (thank goodness). But as I did this summer, when for the first time in years I made pickles, this year I want to bake.

Last Christmas, my two younger grandchildren and I had an evening, where we made sugar cookies—primarily, I must confess, so that we could spend the time together and so they could have the fun of decorating them.

This year, I think it will just be my granddaughter and I in the kitchen. I want to make some of my traditional have-on-hands for the holidays: thumbprint cookies and shortbread. But we’ll try a couple of new recipes, too. I know we’ll have fun not just in the making but in keeping the grandfather of the house from snatching finger dips of batter as he so loves to do.
In other words, we’ll have fun making memories.


December 1, 2010

Back in the day, when I used to watch movies, some of my favorites were the musicals. If you’re my age, you know the ones I mean. I’m not referring to the movies we get these days with lovely songs and dances by a few people on a small set. I’m talking the major extravaganzas. Think Oklahoma, My Fair Lady, Hello Dolly, Oliver and, because we’re getting close to Christmas, Scrooge!

I can recall a time or two when, watching the major dance scenes (Put On Your Sunday Clothes from Hello Dolly or Thank You Very Much from Scrooge), someone would invariably say, and quite derisively, too, “as if people would just break into song and dance in a public place like that”.

Can you figure out where this is going? Flash forward to 2010 and the flash mob craze. Is it a craze? For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, a flash mob is when a group of people in a very public venue either begin to dance, or to sing, seemingly “spontaneously”, but of course, I doubt spontaneity has anything to do with it.

I saw my first ever flash mob dance about a year ago, I guess, when the Black Eyed Peas sang “I’ve Got A Feeling” for the Oprah show in downtown Philadelphia. If you saw that on TV or later on you tube, you recall how excited Oprah became as it was happening.

I wonder why it is people do these things now? The fear of “being centered out”, which I recall so well from my younger days, seems to have been replaced by a hunger to be centered out. After all, if You Tube can make a mega star of Justin Bieber, it can happen to anyone!
So is it the search for fame and fortune that finds people sucking up their nervousness and just putting it out there for everyone to see?

Or is it maybe, with the advent of You Tube, and even American Idol, people no longer fear being the center of attention. I don’t watch the Idol show, but I’ve heard there have been some pretty horrendous acts on there. Many of us might find ourselves saying, “hell, I can do a better job of it than that!”

This flash mob phenomenon isn’t just a North American craze, either. I have one in my “you tube favourites”, a video filmed in the central train station in Antwerp Belgium of a group of 200 dancing to Julie Andrews singing “Do Re Mi” from the Sound of Music soundtrack.

What I like most about these videos, aside from getting a real kick out of seeing all these different people united for a common, entertaining purpose, is the looks on the faces of the people who are there, watching it unfold.

Those expressions go from disbelief to pure joy in a matter of moments. For those few minutes while their fellow travelers or diners or shoppers perform, their cares are forgotten as they either listen raptly or bounce to the music, or, in some cases, join right in.
What an extraordinary gift these performers are giving! You might tune in to You tube and see these “impromptu” performances and enjoy them for a few minutes, and even play them again, but can you imagine what it would be like to actually be there while it’s happening?

If you want to see the video filmed at the train station in Belgium, it’s here:

For a Christmas treat, and if you’re a fan of the Hallelujah Chorus, may I suggest this:
If some day in the future you’re out somewhere and a song or dance breaks out around you, think of me, please, and join in. Moments like that don’t come around every day.