Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Ah, the New Year! It’s a time when everything can be new again.

The countdown to 2012 has begun. Everywhere you look there are those entertaining end-of-year lists. Didn’t someone come out with a list of the 10 best and the 10 worst lists of the year?

I think if they haven’t, they really should.

It is poignant as the year draws to a close to take some time to look back on the last twelve months. A lot has happened in the world this year, some of it awe-inspiring, and some of it heartbreaking.

There’s so much news available to us now, and so many news entities competing for advertising dollars and audiences, that we can feel constantly battered by that ‘breaking news’ intro music the media outlets like to play.

Do you remember when you might go more than a couple of months without once hearing that on your television? And if you did hear it, then something really important had occurred. You might be in the kitchen, busy doing dishes or making dinner. That music would play and you’d rush into the living room, to find what had happened.
Over the last couple of decades there’s been so much media hype over incidents of every level of import that I believe we’ve become seriously desensitized to the entire concept of ‘breaking’ news.

Do you take a few moments at year’s end to contemplate the events in your own life over the past twelve months? I don’t as a rule, at least not formally. Of course, I can’t always stop my thoughts from wandering back. Sometimes my mind wants to just dance again to the music, and sometimes it needs to scan the battlefield just one more time in hopes of finding just one more memento left behind to cling to.

Despite my propensity for list making in other areas of my life, I don’t make end of year lists. Maybe I should. Perhaps it would serve me well to recall my 10 best moments, and my 10 worst. I’m not sure how honest I could be in this exercise, however. I still tend to push away that which is unpleasant while trying to focus instead on the positive.

Maybe it would be more to the point if I simply took some time to set 5 personal goals for the coming year. Sure, 10 would be more ambitious, but I personally feel that 5 is a more manageable number for me.

One thing I do need to do is set a few goals that have nothing to do with my career. Writing is my passion, of course. But there’s a very real danger that I can let it consume me. I don’t want to miss any special moments in my life, or the lives of my family, because I was too centered on finding just the right word or, hell, even just the next word.

I have long range goals, of course. I do tend to call them dreams, even though they generally are eminently achievable.

I believe that no matter how old you are, you have to have a dream, something that you’re working toward. You need to have a purpose, a reason to get up each morning.
I know the year ahead will have a few notable milestones for me. I have just this month signed my 25th contract with Siren-Bookstrand, and that book, under my other penname of Cara Covington, will be out, likely in the spring; and in July of this year, my beloved and I will celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary. [And they said it wouldn’t last!]

One more milestone has to do with Wednesday’s Words. I’m going to be posting my essay in only a couple of Yahoo loops come the New Year. I’m blessed and honoured to have my humble words hosted by others as well: writer, editor, TV host and speaker Cynthia MacGregor hosts my essay as “Morgan’s Column” in her EZine, “ EZine Does It” which can be found here:; and author Brenda Williamson hosts me as a guest blogger on her blog, “An Eclectic Author” at .

My essay will continue to appear on the Siren-Bookstrand Blog, and of course, on my own blog, Wednesday’s Words by Morgan Ashbury. The link for that is below.

I wish you all a very happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year. May 2012 be the best year, ever!


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

This time of year can be the brightest of times, or the darkest of times, depending mostly on the people in our lives, and how we choose to see things.

For those lucky enough to be surrounded by family and friends, Christmas and Hanukkah can be filled with love and laughter, fun and food. Yes, it’s a hassle going shopping at the mall, or trying to find the best roast or turkey at the supermarket. A good parking spot can be difficult to find, and sometimes one has to deal with others whose patience has deserted them. When we’re running low on that commodity ourselves, it doesn’t take much for us to lose it.

But generally, with all the rushing around and money spent, nerves frayed and the air around us sometimes turning blue, in the end we decide it’s all been worth it.
When we’re in the midst of the celebrations, surrounded by the warmth of loved ones, when we share fellowship, we know that these are the moments that build memories and the ones that led up to them, those noisy, bothersome hassles, are nothing in comparison, and soon forgotten.

But for those who are alone or lonely, those who are dealing with very lean finances, and those who are grieving the loss of loved ones, this time of year can be excruciatingly painful. For those whose hearts have been shattered, whose souls have been battered, it’s hard to be surrounded by the joyousness of the season, when songs and scents remind us of happier days, and those lost to us forever.

I think that life is like an empty vessel that is filled with a varying combination circumstance and attitude. Things happen beyond our control and it is left to us to deal with those occurrences, however we can, for better or for worse.

Traditions help, I think. Yes, they can be reminders of what has been lost, but they can also bring us closer, for just a moment, to those now gone, both people and times. Whatever our traditions may be, whether it is the sharing a particular meal, or the lighting a particular candle, an orange in the toe of a stocking, or a certain movie watched on television, in those moments, what was and what is are joined in the spirit of that tradition. Past and present become one, a chain unbroken reaching through the generations.

In our household we observed various small traditions, some that I enjoyed as a child, and some that my beloved cherished in his youth. These we passed on to our children, who in turn have passed them on to theirs.

There is comfort to be found in family traditions. We need these touchstones, even more as the world around us becomes increasingly hectic. As I get older, the world does seem to move faster. It’s harder to keep up. How wonderful, then, that some things don’t change.

This isn’t, of course, only a Christian truth. I think it’s a human truth. I think that no matter one’s faith, there is a need within us to have something we can look to, to hang on to, that is permanent, and in its own way, sacred.

Life may be spanned by decades, but it is lived a moment at a time. Memories are made in these special moments; memories are precious, and memories last.

I wish everyone every good thing during this Holiday Season. May you have peace and joy, love and laughter. Whether you’re celebrating Christmas, or Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa, I hope the traditions you create and the ones you perpetuate bring you happiness and joy.

One of my family’s favorite traditions is a steamed pudding that my mother made each Christmas, and that I now make as well. You will find that below. What makes this pudding special is that the only fat it in comes from 1/3 of a cup of milk!


Morgan’s Mom’s Carrot Pudding

2/3 cup of flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
2/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup raisins
2/3 cup currants
2/3 cup grated raw carrot
2/3 cup grated raw potato
1/3 cup of milk

Butter a one quart casserole dish. Set your steamer on to get making that wonderful steam.

Mix together all the dry ingredients. In a small bowl, place all the liquid ingredients (the grated veggies and the milk). Pour the liquid into the dry, stirring just until mixed. Pour into the buttered dish, and put in the steamer. Steam for 2 to 2 ½ hours, until the top is set.

Sauce for Pudding
¾ cup brown sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
¼ cup butter
1 cup light cream
Mix sugar, syrup, butter in a sauce pan, then heat and boil for five minutes. Add cream and bring just to a brisk boil. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. Spoon warm over Carrot pudding.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

This past Saturday the Ashburys perpetuated their newest Christmas tradition, now three years old: grandmother-granddaughter cookie baking day.

My youngest granddaughter, the one I help care for on a regular basis, loves to bake. 11 is an interesting age for a girl, don’t you think? Half child, half adolescent, 11 is a time for sometimes forgetful/clumsy/emotional moments, and sometimes amazingly adult and insightful ones.

At least I have found it to be so with Emma.

One moment she’s bemoaning the fact that not getting her way is just not fair [stamp foot here]; the next, she’s using her fork as a pointer at the dinner table when she tells my beloved, “Remember, Grandpa, happy wife—happy life.”

Emma’s mother isn’t a baker, and so she comes to me and her other grandmother, for the chance to indulge her culinary creative side.

I happen to know that I don’t let her do as much as her other grandmother does—she informed of this on Saturday—but then she admitted that her other grandmother makes cakes, not cookies that have to be rolled out.

I am immune to the efforts of children to apply guilt.

I rolled out the dough – and this year I cheated and bought pre-made sugar cookie dough – and she cut them, put them on the tray, and then collected the cooled cookies for decorating.

We have fun, and I try and teach her how to do things “the old fashioned way” [read, by hand]. It’s a good time to talk about anything under the sun. Mostly, she talks and I listen. I like to think that when she’s a granny, she’ll look back on these times with a smile.

I made the icing for the cookies but she did the rest, with icing and sprinkles and a pretty good job she did, too.

We ended up with a few dozen sugar and gingerbread cookies, all of which she took home with her. I did promise that she could help me in a couple of weeks when it’s time to make my mother’s steamed Christmas pudding.

She and her brother love this traditional dessert almost as much as their father did. He was a crafty one, coming to me at the beginning of November every year, a solemn look on his face. “I’m worried that you may have forgotten how to make it,” he would say. “So I think you should practice by making one now. We’re all willing to be your test subjects. After all, you wouldn’t want to serve a flawed pudding to guests.”

After such a creative plea, of course I had to make an extra dessert ahead of Christmas. And yes, it did get a two-thumbs-up.

Keeping in mind Emma’s complaint—that I don’t let her do as much—I think I’ll get her to grate the carrots and potatoes for the pudding. She won’t mind doing the work, she never does when we’re baking. She’s just a typical 11 year old, anxious to get to the part where she gets to eat her creations.

Of course, in the case of the sugar cookies, Emma can see no reason to wait for the whole baking/decorating process. She spent a good deal of time begging for little bits of raw cookie dough to eat.

That, I’ve been informed by the child in question, she gets from her mother’s side of the family.

With the permission of the parents, I have posted a family photo here on my blog. This was taken last month when we went out to celebrate the November birthdays [they have them the same day] of my beloved and our second daughter. This, of course, is only half of my family. My son and his brood live in another city. I’ll try to nab a pic of all of us with them on Christmas Eve.


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

For many, the Christmas rush is on. There are trees to be purchased or cut down, decorations to be unpacked or upgraded, and gifts to be bought.

Do you send Christmas cards?

I’m only going to send a few this year. I’m really trying to tow the line on excess, and it’s all because of a few blogs I’ve read recently—well those, and one of my local radio stations.

The station in question began playing Christmas music—all Christmas, all the time—about a month ago.

I was annoyed at first—not because I don’t like Christmas music, I do. Mostly I was annoyed because they keep playing the same songs, or different versions of the same songs, over and over and over again. And the songs they play generally tend to be contemporary “Christmas” songs, not what I would call real Christmas songs at all.

I’m afraid that when it comes to Christmas, I am a purist. I refuse to say “Happy Holidays”, or “Season’s Greetings”. I say, “Merry Christmas”.

To my knowledge, no one I’ve ever said that to has ever been offended by it. I don’t go out of my way to preach to others. I tend to keep my faith more or less private, unless I’m approached by someone who either wants to talk to me because they are curious about my faith; or because they think I need to be lectured as my faith is not the same as theirs.

Which brings me to the blogs. Basically, they were very well written rants (as even my blog can be from time to time). The gist of them was that Christmas has become far too commercialized in this day and age. It’s no longer the holiday it once was and is, instead, nothing more than a tribute to rampant consumerism.

I can’t really argue with the premise. It’s true that everyone has a Christmas sale, even if they aren’t in what one would normally consider a business associated with Christmas, or Christmas gift-giving. Everyone and his Uncle Harry seems to have an ad on the radio, television or, God save us, the Internet.

After just a couple of weeks, no one could blame anyone who was already sick of the holiday, and it’s only the first week of December.

I have great news! It doesn’t have to be that way.

All you have to do is turn the annoying device—whichever annoying device it is—off. What’s more, just because marketing agencies and sales people have made December 25th a celebration of shopping doesn’t mean that you have to as well.

Yes, I know, it’s hard to buck the trend, and hard to listen to your kids beg for more and more and more, and not give in to them. But you know what? Giving them everything they want isn’t necessarily doing them any favors at all.

In the end, it’s up to my husband and I what kind of Christmas we have. It’s our decision how we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.

I asked my daughter recently what her favorite memories of Christmas were. And do you know what? It wasn’t any one toy she recalled, or the year she got two of a particularly wished for pricey item (one from Santa and one from her grandparents).
She says her fondest memories are of “Christmas morning breakfast” – an extravaganza of bacon, eggs, sausage, hash browns and pancakes, all served with two kinds of juice—a menu offered only once a year, and, just as rarely all of us sitting down together to eat it; and Christmas dinner, when we’d either go out to family or have family in.

Breaking bread with family and friends—and of course my mother’s steamed Carrot Pudding—that was the tradition of Christmas in the Ashbury household that my children grew up with.

Those traditions haven’t changed, and I guess that’s one definition of ‘home’.
How gratifying it is that those memories that were made are the ones that have endured.


Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Like most people, I get spam e-mail nearly every day, and that really isn’t a problem, because, of course, ‘delete’ is an option I exercise on a regular basis.
But lately there have been some e-mails that have just made me shake my head in wonder – and not the good kind of wonder, either.

In the subject line, these e-mails read: “Secretly watch your kids, your spouse, your boyfriend or girlfriend...”

Seriously? Is this what our society has devolved into? Are we all a bunch of frightened, paranoid, voyeurs, spying on our loved ones?

Those spam mails are designed to sell a product, and it occurs to me they must work some of the time as they keep coming. I doubt even the most optimistic entrepreneur would continue to incur the expense and trouble of creating and sending them if they didn’t.

Because I’m curious, I checked out the link to a web site that was contained in one of these missives.

Now, here I’ll digress for just a moment. When I was a kid, I wanted to be a secret agent. My favorite program on TV was “Man From U.N.C.L.E.” (yes, I still remember it stands for United Network Command for Law Enforcement.) For Christmas when I turned 11 my big brother got me the Multi-Pistol 09, which had a bazooka that took caps, and a derringer that fit in the handle, to name the two features I remember off the top of my head. I googled it, by the way, and there’s actually a you-tube video on that gun!

I mention this bit of trivia that in all likelihood you couldn’t care less about because, when I went to the web site promoted by this spam mail, I felt the ghost of that old career ambition tremble with excitement.

Did you know you can get a car key chain with a built in hidden video recorder/camera? Or, shades of Dick Tracy, a waterproof DVR spy camera watch?

I had no idea that lack of trust in our modern society had spawned such an in-depth technological industry!

This web site offered video baby monitors, and I think that’s a wonderful idea. I can also understand having the odd hidden camera if you have outside contractors coming into your house to do work.

Not sure I go for the rest of the concept, which basically is (in my words) violate the trust of your loved ones by spying on them to see what they’re doing when you’re not there.

Would you do it,if you could? Would you spy on your spouse, or family members, to see what they were up to?

I understand the temptation to peek in on your kids—not just the babies but the older ones; perhaps of all the personal relationships mentioned, this is the one that’s different, simply because it does involve our children.

I can understand those parents who may search through their kids’ drawers, motivated by fear: they’re afraid their kids are using drugs or are sexually active, or may even be concerned their children are stealing.

We’ve all seen horrific cases in the past couple of decades of kids who’ve become violent, and committed crimes. When the police searched, it was to discover these kids had weapons in their rooms, and we all wondered, “Where were the parents?”

You want to trust your children, but they are children, not yet in full possession of the ability to make good decisions. Too, as the parent you’re responsible for them. If your minor child, for example, commits a crime that demands reparations be paid, you the parent can be held financially responsible for those reparations.

So I get that, in a way. Do I think that kids have a right to privacy? Yes, but not the full slate of privacy that adults enjoy.

But I don’t understand why anyone would want to spy on someone they’ve supposedly got a relationship with—a wife, a husband, or a lover.

Because trust is definitely a two way street, and when you spy on your loved one, then you’ve already broken that trust.

And in my book? You’ve broken it beyond all repair.


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Someone once told me that the secret to achieving real, long lasting happiness was to live life with an attitude of gratitude.

Those were very wise words, and quite possibly the best advice I’ve ever received.

The truth is that every single one of us—no matter who we are, where we’re from, and no matter what life is throwing at us at any given moment—we all have things to be grateful for.

I know it can be hard to focus on the positives in our lives. I’ve had my share of hard times and tragedy. I’ve met grief and despair, desolation and want. But everyone has hard times and tragedies, because that really is the nature of life.

Bad things happen to everybody from time to time. But those bad things don’t come to stay, they come to pass. The difference between living with contentment and wallowing in discontent really is just attitude.

Sometimes, people feel powerless. There are things that happen to us, or that occur in our world that are completely outside of our control. Be we each of us have an amazing power within our grasp. We really do have the power to make lemonade out of lemons, to get up off the ground after we’ve been kicked down, and to smile in the face of failure.

We all have that power, and to exercise that power, all we have to do is choose to do so.

My American friends are about to celebrate their Thanksgiving, and that is a holiday that, as far I know, is only celebrated here in North America. We had ours in Canada last month, and our traditions are similar to yours, and stem from the same root.

We do have a lot to be thankful for here, in our two countries. Is life perfect? Heck, no. But seriously, neither are we.

I have a great life! I get to get up every morning and spend my time doing what I love most in the world to do. I get to create characters, and stories that many of you read, and some have even written to say you love. And, I get paid for it! How wonderful is that?

Because of this life and this career I have met a ton of amazing people, and I have the most awesome bffs in the world. Ladies, you know who you are. I love you with all my heart.

I am blessed, and highly favoured.

Someone I know said to me, not that long ago, that I was lucky to have my writing. And to a certain extent, that’s true. But nobody handed my career to me. Certainly, what talent I have is a gift from God. But making the talent grow and getting published, while luck did play a role, is primarily the outcome of a decision I made.

I chose to be an author, to do the work and to work hard. I came out of the hospital after a triple by-pass, barely able to move, with no job, and fewer prospects. I didn’t have a really good recovery. It took me nearly three years to get to where I was almost 100 per cent. I’m sure that no one would have blamed me if I’d thrown up my hands and said, “ok, life, you win. I quit.”

Well, no one but me...and the Lord.

I give thanks every single day for the blessings I’ve been given. And yes, by the way, that is the secret to achieving real, long lasting happiness.

May your Thanksgiving be full and rich, and may you be blessed to share it with the ones you love.


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

I have just one final essay inspired by our recent vacation.

Cruising seems to be the new family thing to do. I say this because our cruise featured something that was, for us, very unexpected: hundreds of children.

I’m sure this is good news for a lot of parents out there considering a cruise vacation. Most cruise lines have some ships that cater to kids, and Mr. Ashbury and I somehow, (through no fault or plan of our own), ended up on one of those.

This particular cruise line has teamed up with Nickelodeon to provide a kids program that I have heard is quite entertaining. Among the attractions for the younger set, were Dora the Explorer and Sponge Bob Square Pants, and Sponge Bob’s pal, Patrick! My two youngest grandchildren were more than a little bit jealous when they found out we sailed with some of their favourite characters.

I spend a lot of time with those two youngest grandkids of mine, as I take care of them when mom is working. They stay overnight some nights, and I get them up for school. We’ve been experimenting with hot breakfast cereals and so far, they like them all. When mom comes off the night shift, she arrives in time to take over, and takes them to school. When mom works days, I do the honors of taking them to school, and then we have them for dinner those nights, too.

So you can believe me when I say to you, I like children. But I like well behaved, well mannered children.

I thought I understood the way parenting had changed during the last generation. For all that our second daughter is a single mom, she manages to keep her two involved and busy in sports and extra, organized activities. Our eldest and his wife, when their children were younger, were parents whose every bit of leisure time was filled with their children’s sports and recreational activities.

Their oldest played hockey and baseball, their second son played soccer and joined a chess club, and their daughter played soccer and baseball, attended singing camp, and now is involved in cheerleading. Getting a chance to see this growing, active family was difficult, because they were always so busy! And when they vacation, while they’ve never experienced a cruise, they vacation as a family, together.

They’ve been to the Caribbean twice and Disney World once and they go camping every year.

Perhaps because they spent so much time together, I can attest to the fact that when my grandchildren were small, and as they matured, their behaviour out and about in public was well mannered and well-disciplined.

I just assumed that was the way of modern families.

During our cruise, I got to see another side of modern parenting—the side that has as its credo, “here’s some cash, kid, now go away”. This type of parent appears to believe, “I paid for this cruise so therefore my kids can do whatever the hell they like, as long as they are not bothering me.”

Now, some children were well behaved and under the supervision of their parents; but there seemed to be a lot who were running wild and loud, and who didn’t seem to think there was anything wrong with pushing past people to get to wherever they wanted to be.

Please be proud of me, I resisted the urge to use my cane as a weapon. Oh, no, I wouldn’t have hurt the children. It was the parents I wanted to bash.

Perhaps I’m different from most folks. I don’t like to see parents knocking back alcohol when they have their small children with them. How vigilant can mom and dad be if they have a few beers, or a few shots, flowing through their bloodstreams?

And what would ever make an adult think it was fine that their child could shove their way through a crowd of people, push every button on the elevator, or have a screaming fit and throw food that lands on others?

There was a family in the cabin next to us, a mom and a dad with two children. Just about every single night, the kids whined, and had temper tantrums over something. Please understand me, as far as I am concerned this is not the kids’ fault. Their parents allowed them to behave this way. In fact, in the case of this family, they encouraged it by example, for when the kids were in bed, the parents seemed to do nothing but fight—out on the balcony, presumably so the kids wouldn’t hear them. Did they think that because there was a partition on either side of them that they had privacy on their balcony? Hello, big ship here, thousands of people on board—and people on either side of you, with balconies of their own.

I wish I could give advice to these parents. I know exactly what I’d say. I’d tell them that I know raising children is hard work. I know how tiring it can be to have more than one young one at a time – we had three. But you’re not doing anyone any favours when you wash your hands of your parental responsibility and give up by screaming and yelling at them, or letting the little ones run free.

What you’re actually doing is not only causing irreparable harm to your children; you’re causing harm to society, too.


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Just before we docked in Nassau, in The Bahamas we discovered that we could rent a wheelchair for the duration of the voyage.

Now, I blame myself that I didn’t think to check into having a scooter on board, renting it ahead and having it there for me when I embarked. It just never occurred to me that I could, that there would be scooters allowed on board the ship.

Of course, we saw them right away. Next time, of course, I’ll know better. The vessel itself doesn’t have any scooters for rent, but they did have some wheelchairs.
I wanted to see some of Nassau, but I remembered how very long the wharf was, and I quite frankly didn’t know how much walking I’d be capable of. I’d been doing pretty well for the first four days of our cruise, averaging more than 4000 steps a day.

But when I keep moving, which I need to do, there’s a price to be paid and that price is called pain.

So my beloved said, “Why don’t I go and see if we can get a wheelchair?” I didn’t even hesitate. I said, yes!

I thought of my mother, then, who also suffered from osteoarthritis. She didn’t use a walking aid until after she had surgery on her knees. Before the surgery, she was in pain, every single day.

I recall one time in when she lamented that she couldn’t go anywhere or do anything anymore. I think on this one particular occasion it was the Canadian National Exhibition that she felt was off limits to her, due to her difficulty in walking. I suggested getting a wheelchair there. I was only about 15 at the time. I told her I would gladly push the chair for her, and then she could go to the Ex and see whatever she wanted to see!

My mother was so offended by the idea, and so angry with me, that I never made that suggestion to her again.

As I got older, and as my own arthritis hit and then slowly and steadily progressed, I carried her attitude as my own. So I consider it a sign of my own personal progress through my path in life that I’m now willing to use devices such as scooters and wheelchairs—when the occasion calls for them.

I’ve gotten better with the scooters, and now hardly ever run anyone down!

This was my third time in Nassau, and it was a lot more crowded than I remembered it being. A part of me wanted to tour the island, but mostly, I wanted to see the glitzy shops, the high end jewelers and the touristy souvenir stores. Oh, we found one shop called Bijoux Terner (right there on Bay Street, just down from Parliament), where everything in the store was only 10 dollars.

Some people like pens and have dozens of them I love watches. I love to buy watches. I don’t necessarily wear them all the time, but I love to have a very large selection from which to choose. In my defense, I will tell you that I don’t own any expensive watches. Yet. Most of the ones I buy are quite inexpensive. So imagine my pleasure when I walked into this store and saw watches, dozens and dozens of watches, all only ten dollars each! I only bought one—a green one, because I didn’t have any green ones—but then I got a second chance as that store had some of its wares onboard the ship, and there was a sale on the second to last day!

I enjoyed my shopping excursion in Nassau, where I was able to buy gifts for every member of my family. The use of the wheelchair didn’t make me feel uncomfortable or self conscious as it would have done in times past.

In fact, I tend to use a scooter when I do my weekly grocery shopping. If I go into a store that provides scooters, why then, I make sure to make use of them.

In fact, I’m getting so much better in my attitude, I am actually thinking of getting my very own scooter.

In a year or so.



Wednesday, November 2, 2011

We’re back from our wonderful vacation, and as always, I’m glad to be home. True to my word, I wrote while I was away. I spent time working on my work in progress, and, I while I didn’t post Wednesday’s Words, I did write some, and here’s the first, written last Wednesday:

I’m writing this as our ship, The Norwegian Jewel, is docking in Nassau, in The Bahamas. The very first cruise we ever took, all the way back in 1993, was a three-day excursion from Port Canaveral to here and back. I do recall that as that first ship – the Oceanic of the Big Red Boat Line (renamed the Disney Line)—was due to dock, we had requested a wake-up call to ensure we could be on deck to watch this very exciting procedure.

There have been no wake-up calls on this cruise, so far. Of course, times really have changed and if I want to get up at a certain time, I’d just set the alarm on my cell phone.

I do know one thing, at this point, with absolute certainty: every cruise I go on from now on must be on ship where I can have a private balcony.

Our cabin is on deck 9, so we’re a ways up from the water. The balcony door is heavy, and stays open until you close it. Each night we’ve gone to sleep with that door wide open, the sound of the wind and the ocean a seductive lullaby.

I haven’t slept this well in years!

There can be no doubt that most of the people who boarded this vessel in New York City were in desperate need of a vacation. Swear to God, I’ve never seen so many unhappy or angry faces in my life.

And complaints? Holy cow, some people complain loud and long about everything and anything! The port terminal was too hot, the port terminal was too cold, there were too many people, there was too much waiting, the free coffee was too strong, the free coffee was too weak, they didn’t get a very good boarding number...

I live a very sheltered life, I know I do. But we went on vacation earlier this year to the New Jersey shore, and the people we met there were great, lots of smiles, everybody focused on having lots of fun. There’d been nary a frown to be seen.
We’re at the mid-way point of the cruise, and I can tell you for the most part, the faces seem a little bit happier now.

Soon, my beloved and I will have breakfast and then go ashore. Fortified with meds, I should be able to walk a bit of Nassau. Fortunately we have most of the day here, so there’ll be no rush. We can take our time, and do as we like. We may even take a taxi ride to see some of the island.

I’m not much for shopping, which, if you’ve read these essays over the years, you know. However, there are exceptions to this rule, vacation shopping being the biggest one. I can’t resist looking at the “souvenir” offerings whenever we travel. You can be certain I’ve already gone into a few of the shops here on board, and will likely do so again before our time at sea is done. I’m also looking forward to seeing all the glitz and glitter Nassau has to offer.

I even attended the shopping seminar the other day! Was I surprised that the talk focused on diamonds and emeralds and tanzanite? Nope. I’m sure there are people who come all the way down here to buy their jewellery as this is a tax-free, duty-free shopping destination for my American neighbours.

I’m not really in the market for precious gems. But I do like the sparkly and the shiny, and I’m certain I’ll be able to find something inexpensive that fits the bill.

My beloved has already given me a necklace he bought at our one and only shore excursion, which took place in Port Canaveral. I am now the proud owner of a buffalo horn necklace, from which dangles a prehistoric shark’s tooth. This exquisite piece was handcrafted by a gentleman, one of your noble veterans. The man sells his wares at the Lone Cabbage – where you can get air boat rides, deep fried gator tail, and in our case, a mini wild-life show—on the shores of the beautiful St. Johns River, not far out from Port Canaveral.

Yes, I know I’m spoiled. What can I say?


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

I’ve gone back to making my vacation lists, but I’m worried that after all this time, I may have lost the knack for it. You wouldn’t normally think such a thing could happen, but then, this is me we’re talking about.

I don’t usually let the teasing and chiding of family and friends get to me. It mostly doesn’t faze me, what other people think of me. But for some reason I took exception to the high hilarity with which my family discussed my vacation list-making.

They showed they were related to a creative person by some of the very original lines they came up with. For example, “if you put on your Tuesday underwear on Sunday, does that screw up your whole week?” Another was, “if you’re standing on the deck of the ship reading your list and a gust of wind blows your list away, can you still get dressed?”

So for that and other reasons—primarily, being way too busy—I stopped making lists. I should have known better, because every vacation I’ve gone on where I haven’t made a list, I’ve forgotten something.

So I began to make a list for this vacation, but now I’m in a quandary because it kind of looks as if the vacation might start before the list is complete.

We set sail on Saturday for a 7 day cruise from New York to Florida and The Bahamas. This will be our fourth cruise. The last one we took was in 2005. That one also left New York, but went to Bermuda, and lasted ten days.

It was my turn to pick a vacation destination, and I have to admit a fondness for cruises. There really isn’t anything about the experience I don’t care for except, perhaps, the outrageous amount they want to charge for Internet access. My family tells me I can afford to pay the price, and yes, I can, but I simply refuse to.

Therefore, for only the second time since I began these weekly essays five years ago next month, I will not be posting Wednesday’s Words next week. I’ve been chided that I won’t be able to go an entire week without the Internet. If I find myself in need of a fix I might spend a half hour at the Internet Cafe. For a one shot deal, I might be able to stomach the cost. But between you and me, I know I’m made of sterner stuff. We’ll have to see.

My beloved also loves cruising. He believes he was a pirate in a previous life. One difference for this cruise, from the last: every other cruise we’ve taken has actually been in hurricane season—as is this one—and in times past DH has always hoped we’d get one. A hurricane, that is. Yes, I know your eyes are widening in horror, mine too, but we all have our little quirks and idiosyncrasies, don’t we?
He sort of had his wish granted last time, as we sailed behind hurricane Ophelia on the return voyage to New York from Bermuda in 2005. (It’s kind of weird that there was a hurricane by that same name this year, don’t you think?)

Anyway, there my beloved sat, on the bow deck—literally on the deck, because the seas were too rough to stand for long—in the company of a hand full of other brain affected men—as the ship drove forward, down into the water troughs and the waves shot many feet above them...

He really enjoyed that, but he’s a few years older, now. Also, on the last voyage, he did have a bit of motion sickness (on the calmer seas, if you can imagine). So this year, he is actively hoping there will be no big storms along our path.

I’m looking forward to our Florida stop, because I get to visit and spend time with one of my best friends, fellow author, the lovely and talented Miss Lara Santiago.
I’m also anticipating quiet moments on our own small, personal balcony, as the ocean itself tends to rejuvenate me. I know some of my readers—one in particular—is going to be jealous, and I apologize. He’s a seafaring man, who’s been landlocked for the last few years. I think it’s always hard, and beyond unfair, that we sometimes reach a point that we can no longer do that which we love most to do.

And while I won’t be online next week, I will be writing—because that’s what I love most to do, and I plan to keep doing it until I can no longer draw breath.


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

For the last several months, I’ve been trying to talk Mr. Ashbury into investing in a new television. Ours still worked most of the time, but it was more than 10 years old, and was beginning to have intermittent “issues”.

I honestly didn’t think it would take me as long as it did to win him over to the idea. That it did, surprised me because I knew he really wanted a new entertainment system. I thought at first he was only offering me token resistance.

As for myself, it didn’t really matter. My only concern was that our television didn’t die causing me to miss one of my three or four weekly one hour shows.

I see you shaking your heads. That’s all right, I don’t mind at all. Now you all know that not only doesn’t Morgan go to the movies or watch movies on DVD, she doesn’t watch much TV, either.

I’d much rather write, or read.

But my beloved truly enjoys his television time. He spends hours watching the various ‘Discovery’ channels, as well as the Military channel, numerous news shows, as well as several different drama series. I wanted him to have a really good device on which to enjoy his down time. After all, what’s the sense in working hard all your life if you can’t finally benefit from the fruits of your labor?

I knew something else had to be at work here. I’m embarrassed that it took me so long to understand the underlying issue at the bottom of his reluctance to get a new television. It wasn’t the money, and it wasn’t that the old TV still worked.
It was the technology.

Over the course of the last ten years, televisions evolved from being the “boob tube” that we grew up with, into being technological marvels with many and varied options and functions.

We’re both older than we used to be, and neither of us learns things—technical things—especially quickly. So the truth was, my beloved wanted to buy a new entertainment system, but was hesitant because he didn’t understand them.
Our daughter is a help in this area, and so is our son. They’re both in their thirties (where it seemed we were not that very long ago) and a little savvier when it comes to electronics—though our son admits that his kids, who are nearing their 20s, understand the new and the latest better than he does.

Timing, of course, is everything. A couple of weeks ago, a local chain store that deals specifically in electronics featured a promotion sponsored by Samsung. And so it was that my beloved and our daughter headed off to see what kind of a ‘deal’ could be made.

They were clever, going to the different suppliers in town, showing them the promo ad, and asking them if they could surpass it. A couple of the larger named retailers tried. But in the end, my little bargain hunters settled on going to the store that ran the ad—and were rewarded by an unexpected perk.

It seemed that while the chain’s head office had issued the flyer and authorized the promotion, not all stores had in stock the model of Samsung TV featured in the ad.

So my beloved ended up with an “up-graded” package—for just one hundred dollars more, he got a TV worth several hundred more than the one featured. He was happy because the one he got was actually the one on display at the store—the very one that he’d watched, and liked, and yearned for.

And so it came to pass that the Ashbury family now has a 3D LED monster (55 inch as opposed to the former 35 inch) TV in their rather modest living room. The controller for this behemoth has a keyboard on the other side of it! The package included a Blue Ray DVD player, Surround Sound, a lovely glass stand to set it all on, and 2 pairs of 3D glasses with which to watch the complimentary set of 4 Shrek movies. It also came with a Skype TV camera, which we are giving to our oldest son.

My beloved is mastering the controls faster than he thought he would, and is a very happy man.

And me, you ask? Well, I do know how to turn it on, and turn it off. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll learn to do even more.

Probably just in time for summer re-runs.


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

It’s been two months since we returned from vacation to discover that we’d been claimed by another cat.

You’ll recall that we named this cat “Spooky” because that sounded better than “Creepy”—and because, quite frankly, the entire circumstances of her arrival, and her behaviour were more than a little of both.

I have been unable to discover any previous owner for this lovely black feline. I’m beginning to think my daughter is right. She believes that whoever owned the cat had been an elderly woman who had been moved into a care facility (Spooky isn’t as comfortable around men, you see). Jennifer tells me that some relatives calm “granny” by assuring her that her beloved kitty went to a good home, when in fact they simply either just abandon it on the spot, or dump it out in the country somewhere.

Spooky is not the first homeless animal the Good Lord has directed our way, and something tells me she probably won’t be the last.

In the next couple of weeks we’ll make an appointment with the vet, and have her examined, just to be certain she’s healthy. However, this was no scruffy alley cat that came our way. She wasn’t obviously suffering from hunger, neither was her fur unkempt looking.

But even without the veterinarian’s exam, there are some things I already know about this new familiar of mine.

As I may have told you, she’d been declawed (front claws only), and, we think, neutered. She was more used to women than men, and more used to adults than children. She’d cottoned to my daughter until I got home. I only had to pet her once, and she decided I was hers.

She’s not a young cat. I think she sleeps probably 16 to 18 hours a day, and she has no interest in playing. This tells me she’s more than middle aged. Our Booty kitty began to follow that pattern of behaviour when he was around nine or ten years old.
Spooky clearly is more accustomed to a quieter environment than the one offered here. Just by her mannerisms you can tell that she’s having a bit of difficulty adjusting to the comings and goings in this house. On top of that, just when she was getting used to the way things were, we re-arranged the kitchen, the office, and got a new TV—which I’ll tell you about next week.

Spooky appears to never have been given the opportunity to develop social skills as they apply to other animals. She doesn’t like that we have a dog, but seems to be adapting to the beast. On Sunday last, the dog wandered into the bathroom. Spooky followed and plopped her furry butt down right in front of the open door. Our poor dog—who out-weighs the cat at a ratio of at least 20 to 1—whined and cried until his daddy came and removed the furry predator from blocking his egress.

Our late Crashy kitty tormented the dog from time to time, and so the dog just assumes this cat will, too. Personally, I’m not telling him about her having been declawed.

There is one thing Spooky appears to hate even more than the dog, and that’s the occasional incursion of the MoJo kitty.

MoJo was the kitten my daughter got that caused her dear Crashy kitty to claim alienation of affection and move to granny’s (that’s here). MoJo has turned out to be quite the little con artist. He’s been visiting me off and on since he was old enough to find his way the two and a half city blocks from my daughter’s to here.
Now, however, he apparently has another house in the neighbourhood, and no longer goes back to my daughter’s (in his defence she did get two more kittens when he was young, and while they all got along at the time, they no longer do). He’s only here and at this other home—where, actually, he likely spends most of his time. We only see him once, maybe twice a week. He comes, eats, and goes, arriving and leaving at will, through the kitty window.

I know one more thing about Spooky that I can share with you at this time. She’s a very, very smart feline. She’s taken to sleeping in a highly conspicuous spot—on the shelf beneath the kitty window, thereby effectively blocking ingress for any itinerant cats, in general, and the MoJo, in particular.

If you go to my blog, listed below, you can see a picture of Spooky, taken while she was in one of her favorite places.


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

We have a walnut tree at the front of our house, a tree that I both love and hate.
There’s not much yard between my house and the sidewalk; our porch has wrought iron railing, and it’s at a corner of the railing and to the edge of the sidewalk that this tree thrives.

The Walnut has more than doubled in size since we’ve been here. When we first moved in, the kids could step from the railing to the crotch of the tree, giving whichever one of them called it first a really cool seat when we were all on the porch together.

In those days, the tree shaded about a third of the house for part of the morning. Our house faces east, and in the south east corner of my porch, the morning sun has never shone when the tree is in full leaf.

We used to spend every nice summer evening—and more than a few thunderstorms—on that porch, under that tree, sipping coffee, reading, or just talking. My beloved and I believe it was our near-constant presence and chatter that helped the tree to grow so well.

Now, the crotch of the tree is forever out of reach, unless one wishes to execute a dare-devil manoeuvre from the roof of the house; the porch is completely in shade in the morning; and, sadly, branches are threatening to rub on our roof.

We’re going to have to have the tree trimmed, and despite whatever valiant noises Mr. Ashbury makes, I think we are going to have to call in professionals to do so.
That’s for this spring, I think, before the new leaves come out.

As I write this, I can tell you that not only does the tree shade the porch, but my office window, too. Yes, it stretches that far to the north—my office is to the north of the front door. And as I write this, there are walnut leaves, one by one, floating serenely to earth.

The odd thunk on the roof is the sound of walnuts falling to the ground…eventually.
Most of the walnuts are quickly gathered by the local squirrels. Every time I go out to get in the car, I toss any I see on the road back onto the lawn. It’s not only being kind to the furry little rodents; it’s making sure the road in front of my house isn’t dotted with those ugly brown splotches of squished walnuts.

This tree is the last one to bud in the spring, and the first one to drop its leaves in the fall. Actually, it starts losing those leaves before fall—just as soon as Mother Nature decides the walnuts have grown enough.

My Walnut began shedding its leaves about two weeks ago; and, lucky me, it will continue the process for at least another month and maybe even longer.
If I were the fastidious sort, I’d be committed to getting out and raking those leaves at least once every weekend. However, as you may have guessed, fastidious I am not.

A few years ago I tried to be a neatnik. I made myself get out there and I worked hard. I raked and bagged my walnut leaves when the tree was mostly nude. I filled nine bags, and set them to the curb to be collected. I then took the opportunity to admire my front yard, so neat and tidy.

Until the next weekend, by which time the many maple trees in the yards across and down from me had dropped their bounty of red, yellow and brown leaves.

I told myself, as I raked furiously this second time, filling another several bags, that I really didn’t mind cleaning up the mess from my neighbour’s trees; after all, I had enjoyed sitting on my porch and looking at those maples in full leaf for most of the summer.

That particular and very personal and silent mantra didn’t make the chore go any faster, or become any easier to do, of course.

But it did give me a sense of satisfaction—and I’ll take all of that I can get.


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Saturday of the Labor Day weekend, my beloved and I traveled to a farmer’s market that we like to visit a few times a year. Sometimes, we go there to buy meat; sometimes we want to look at tools, or crafts, or baked goods.

This particular trip was for veggies. The crops available there, directly from the farmers, are fresh, plentiful, and reasonably priced. Specifically, we drove for forty-five minutes to buy cucumbers.

I’d mentioned to my DH about a week before that I wanted to make sweet pickles again this year, the ones I made last year that had been such a hit with the family. Last year, I’d purchased a six quart basket, and ended up with something like 10 - 1 pint jars of pickles. At that time, I had also attempted to make pickled beets, but we won’t talk about that.

Oh, all right, I’ll tell you. I second-guessed the recipe and added more cloves than the recipe called for. Ugh. Ick. Enough said.

My beloved thought I should expand my repertoire and make dill pickles this year, too. I’ve made them in the past, of course. I should perhaps mention at this point that I last made them more than 20 years ago. But it’s just like riding a bicycle—or so I told myself.

I was impressed with the selection and the bounty at this very large, and very diverse indoor/outdoor market. We took our “granny cart” with us, and in short order had what we needed. I bought two sizes of cucumbers, “number 1” and “number 2” which are baby dill size and the next size up. I bought a peck of each.

Do you have any idea how many cucumbers there are in a peck? A whole heck of a lot more than I thought there were, that’s for sure.

My granddaughter came over to help me. She just turned 11, and she loves to cook. She proved an able assistant, and chopped the green and red peppers and peeled the tiny pearl onions (for the sweet mix).

I knew of course that I had more cucumbers (the #2s) for my sweets than last year. But somehow, in the fond memories of how well everyone, including me, liked those pickles, I’d forgotten just how much work was involved in scrubbing and slicing those little green buggers. But finally they were scrubbed and sliced and mixed with pieces of green and red pepper and small succulent onions. I sprinkled the entire mixture with pickling salt, coved them with ice, and sighing in appreciation of a job so far well done, let them begin to sit for the prescribed three hours.

Then I turned and saw the laundry basket full of #1s waiting to become dills.
I think I’ll leave the play by play recounting right there. My beloved stepped up to the plate and helped me with the work. By the end of the day, we had 12 quart jars of dills, 24 pint jars of sweets...and a lot of cucumbers left over.

I didn’t pay a lot for the produce, really. Logically, there was no reason I couldn’t just call the rest compost. Emotionally—wasting food simply isn’t how I’m wired.

I recalled the wonderful green relish I used to make—excellent by the way, my American friends, on hotdogs and hamburgers. I thought, well, there’s not that many cucumbers left. Surely it won’t take that long scrub, slice, scoop out the seeds, and chop. [On the heels of the effort just put out you would have thought I’d learned my lesson].

It took most of a morning to do that. But once everything was in the pot, it became simply a matter of slow simmering and stirring... off and on for the next three days.
I now also have 12 pints of green relish on my shelves, keeping the dills and the sweets company.

For any who are interested, the recipe for my mom's relish is below.

Despite the exhaustion, I experienced a sense of accomplishment that money can’t buy. And I’m pretty sure that come next autumn, I’ll be repeating the exercise—but with a fewer number of cucumbers.


Morgan’s Mother’s Green Relish

This is the recipe I used to make relish this year, and this is how I did it. I didn’t have anything written down; I thought I had my mother’s recipe inked in my cook book, but sadly, I did not.

I’m a kind of ‘pantster’ when it comes to cooking. Seriously, you probably need to be one, too, as the quantities are all subjective. I can tell you that I had enough veggies chopped in pieces, before putting them into the food processor, to fill a 3 gallon pail.

One thing I should warn you about, straight off. The aroma of this relish, as it cooks, permeates the entire house. There is no escape from it. None.


Green peppers

Red Peppers

Onions (I use cooking onions)

1 – 2 cloves garlic

1 cup pickling salt

Ice chips to cover

3 to 4 cups White vinegar (depending)

1 to 2 cups Cider vinegar (depending)

3 to 6 cups White sugar (depending)

Bouquet garni of 2 tbsp pickling spice, 1½ tsp whole cloves, 1½ tsp celery salt, ½ tsp turmeric.

1 Cinnamon stick (or pieces of cinnamon bark)

Canning jars (pints or the smaller jam size)

The Process

First, sterilize your jars. To do this, they must be immersed in boiling water for 5 to 10 minutes. Can you sterilize them in the oven? I don’t know if it works as well, or not, but I have heard that some people do.

How many veggies you use is up to you.

Scrub and slice the cucumbers lengthwise, and scoop out the seeds. Wash and hull the peppers, and peel the onions and garlic. Chop these to a size you can easily then put through a grinder or chop in a food processor and mix them all together in a bucket or a big pot. While they are in this pre-mushed state, sprinkle the pickling salt over top, and cover with a layer of ice. Let stand about 1 hour. Drain well. (I poured some cold water over it all after the hour and then drained it.)

Either put them all through a grinder, or chop in food processor. You want everything about the size of coarse oatmeal, or not much bigger than.

Place the ground/chopped veggies in a heavy pot. Use cheese cloth to make your bouquet garni. If you are using the cinnamon bark, as I did, put that inside the cheesecloth, too.

Add vinegar and sugar to your veggies; you can increase or decrease these depending on how much veggie mash you have, and depending on your tastes.
Add the bouquet garni.

Bring the mix to a slow, low simmer, and stir occasionally so that it doesn’t burn or stick. Now here’s the part that may not pass muster with some: I simmer it for about 4 hours on day 1.

Then I turn it off and let it rest until day 2. Then I repeat the slow, low simmer for 4 hours on day 2. You may cover the pot for a little while, but basically you’re working on reducing this relish, so that the liquids mostly turn to vapour.

**On day 3, I simmer for about 2 hours and then ladle it into jars and seal. You don’t need the water bath, really, because you’ve simmered it for so long. If your jars and relish are hot, and your snap lids in simmering water, you can fill, wipe the rim, put on the lid, then the screw band and viola your jars will seal.

My mother used to sometimes use jars that weren’t canning jars. She would sterilize them, and then she would cover the relish with a layer of paraffin. I have done that in the past. I didn’t do that this year.

I put the two ** where I did, because I cooled a spoonful of the relish then tasted it to make sure

I was happy with the flavor. Since I was, I put it in jars. You might want a bit more time. Really, as long as the basics of canning are followed: sterile jars and equipment, food that has been simmered, and lids that seal, then you should feel free to experiment.)

The relish does not need to “sit” to be ready; it’s ready now.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

I’m careful, when I write these essays, not to choose as a topic anything that might seem as if I’m trying to profit in any way from other people’s tragedies.

Truthfully, while the concept of my weekly essays originally was to make my name known, I no longer look at Wednesday’s Words as being primarily a promotional tool.
The column stopped being that the day I told you about my son, Anthony, and the heartbreak of losing a son who had himself lost a daughter.

If I had to categorize WW, I guess I’d stick it in a box labelled “dues”.

I am a writer of genre fiction, and while I do put a lot of effort into creating characters that are empathic and a plot that keeps the reader’s interest, while I take care to toss in some real-life issues, basically I write books to sell them.
No one pays me anything for Wednesday’s Words. This is the writing that comes from my soul, and the sharing of one’s soul ought only to be a gift.

This past Sunday, the United States marked a terrible anniversary. There have been commemorations and reminiscences by those who were there, and those whose loved ones were victims of that despicable violence. In the wake of their eloquence, my words seem, to me at least, inadequate.

I’ve been trying to recall what the world was like pre-9/11. The picture is hazy. We were na├»ve, I suppose. We felt safe, and secure, confident that terrorist attacks happened elsewhere, never here, never in North America. Even after the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, we still clung to our belief that we were safe, here in our two countries, from such violence.

We weren’t safe, of course, and now in this “post 9/11” world we understand that while we may be relatively secure, we’re not immune from the senseless and futile acts of hatred that others commit. The truth is, we never were.

The attacks of September 11, 2001affected all of us, each in different ways. It changed us, and continues to change us in ways we could never have imagined. We’ll none of us ever forget those horrible moments, when stunned disbelief gave way to hideous reality. In those minutes and hours when we waited to find out “what’s next”—when we didn’t know if there was more destruction to come, we had a glimpse of the apocalypse.

And yet, as the sun continued to rise and to set, we heard stories of human amity and love in the aftermath of tragedy. In Gander, Newfoundland, a city opened its doors and its hearts to strangers who were stranded when airliners were ordered to land, the travel itineraries of thousands halted; volunteers from every walk of life undertook a pilgrimage from all points west, north and south to go to New York City, to lend their hearts and souls, their hand and their backs, to the massive task of rescue and recovery.

It’s human nature to look for these moments of grace, and to not only celebrate them but cling to them.

For to find grace in the midst of devastation is, I believe, to assert the immutable triumph of the human spirit.


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The calendar says that autumn will arrive on Friday, September 23, 2011 at 9:04 a.m. However, I believe the season already arrived on August 19th. At least, that’s the way it seems to me.

Sitting here at my desk writing this, I can now look out my window (though I promise you that I am not staring at the scenery too often). Looking at the beautiful, cloudless sky, I know that it’s a much paler shade than the deep cornflower blue of summer.

The days aren’t nearly as hot as they were just a couple of weeks ago, and the evenings have turned quite a bit cooler.

My duvet is right where it belongs, back on my bed.

We have a fall fair here in town every Labor Day weekend, and it’s the biggest fair in the county. My beloved swears that it’s always chilly on Fair weekend. He was right again this year, because as Monday dawned, a cooler air mass settled over our area. Anyone wanting to attend that outdoor event on Labor Day likely would have needed a jacket.

Regardless of the temperatures, it’s the color of the sky and the scent of something in the air that tells me that as far as Mother Nature is concerned, it’s already fall.

Autumn always takes me by surprise. Didn’t summer begin just yesterday? There are never enough hours in the day anymore. Time management is the Holy Grail that continues to elude me. I’m beginning to think that my being busy is not only what keeps me from getting a grip on that elusive concept, it’s the single biggest culprit in making time fly.

I bet you if I were to sit back, kick my feet up, and do absolutely nothing, time wouldn’t fly, it would crawl.

Unfortunately—or fortunately—I’ve never quite gotten the hang of doing nothing.

I’ve taken to wearing a step counter lately, because I need to keep my body moving as much as I need to keep my mind active. There’s a strong tendency, because I spend so much time sitting at my keyboard, to allow myself to slip into a totally sedentary lifestyle. The step counter makes a bit of a sound when I adjust my position in my chair, and then I remember to get up and move.

It’s only 9:30 in the morning, and already my pedometer reads 2770, which tells me I haven’t been “doing nothing”, at least not so far today.

No matter the time of year, no matter what day it is, there’s always plenty of work to be done. I don’t know about you, but I sure don’t have to look very far to find things to do, either.

One thing about living here in Southern Ontario is that our seasons tend to be very distinct, one from the other. In spring, it seems to take a long time for the trees to leaf. But then you look around one day and see that shimmery green aura on each of them and know the buds have sprouted, and the leaves will soon follow. In summer, there’s an intensity to the heat, and a stillness to the air when the breeze dies down that’s really quite unique from any other time of year.

Autumn brings air that is more likely to carry a nip the closer you get to November. The sky darkens more readily for storms, too, and sometimes those grey clouds turn a lighter shade of smoke-grey—the color I call ‘snow clouds’.

I always considered November to be Mother Nature’s way of taunting us, as she tells us “I’m going to get you, just you wait and see!”

Wait and see, indeed. Here we are, and it’s already September. The kids have gone back to school, vacations for the most part are done, swimming pools will soon be closed, and good grief, the stores are already sporting Halloween merchandise.

Does anyone else feel as if they’re on a merry-go-round that not only won’t stop, it keeps turning faster and faster?

Oops. I think my age is showing again.


Wednesday, August 31, 2011

My first ever winners!!!

I am so excited, because I just randomly chose 3 winners from among those who follow my blog.

Congratulations go to:

Karen H in NC who won the $10 gift card from

Pomma Emeraldwolfeyes who won the $20 gift card from

mom1248 who won the $30 gift card


I will be announcing new prizes to be won in the coming days. Thanks for following my Wednesday's Words!

After years of being exiled to the far corner of my office, sitting with my back to the room like a recalcitrant child, I am pleased to announce that I finally rebelled, and ordered a complete and total re-organization of my work space. And in the process, I discovered, among other things, that no one in this family remembers things in quite the way they happened.

I do recall that I came home one day several years ago to find that my daughter had re-arranged my office for me when all I had asked her to do was “clean up my wires”.

Imagine my surprise to discover my antique oak library desk that had been situated in front of the window, shoved into a corner, and not only into a corner but angled in such a way as to make me face that conflux of two walls if I wanted to work at it.

When I came home on this particular day, my husband saw my face as I took in for the first time this new arrangement. He said, “I told her not to do it. I told her you’d be mad!”

I wasn’t mad, but I was a little disappointed. I left the office in this new arrangement for two reasons. First, a lot of the work had been involved in carrying out the move in the first place. Second, the truth was that this new set-up was necessary for Internet access, which at that time was through my phone line. My daughter hadn’t been able to move the phone line to the computer as we had thought she could, so the alternative was to move the computer to the phone line instead. At the time, I hadn’t yet been published and didn’t spend all that much time BICFOK [butt in chair fingers on keyboard].

So through the years there I’ve sat in this room everyone agrees is my office, in the far corner, facing the wall, while life goes on behind me.

There are two doorways (but only one door) in my office. One opens to the entry hall and the living room; the second opens to the kitchen. And yes, the preferred route—but not the only one—from living room to kitchen is through my office.

The rest of my office is filled with file cabinets, book cases, and of course, a second computer, one that my beloved likes to use.

You can just see us, can’t you? Silently sitting, back to back, and surfing the web in matrimonial harmony.

Two winters ago saw the addition of an electric fireplace to my office. My beloved set it up in front of the window, of course. Ah, a fireplace! That sounds cosy—until I tell you that after it got moved in, we shortly discovered that to use it meant to pop a fuse breaker. Thus it sits, in the winter, in front of the window, looking cosy.

I’ve been continually reassured that we’re going to have that glitch looked at, one of these days.

There had been only one real down side to this desk in corner arrangement. In the spring, the sun streaming through my window shone upon my computer screen so brightly that for an hour and a bit each morning, seeing the screen was out of the question.

I quickly bought a bamboo blind to solve that problem.

Eventually, of course, I got tired of the corner, so about two weeks ago I informed all and sundry that I intended to move my desk back to in front of the window. I want to at least see the sunshine and blue skies each day.

No one recalled the actual circumstances of the first move, and I heard grumblings of “make up your mind where you want to be” despite that at least six years have passed since the desk was moved to that corner.

So on the appointed day my daughter came over, and the move was accomplished.

As soon as he saw it my beloved announced he wasn’t completely happy with the new look, as we were now sitting closer together, and at right angles to each other. But then he proved he’s come a long way when he hastened to add that it was after all my office, and I was the one who needed to be happy with it.

And they say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks!

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

I was fortunate enough to be invited to be on a panel of published authors at my RWA chapter meeting this month. The moderator of the panel asked me to tell the aspiring authors present my best “publishing story”. I thought that perhaps you, my faithful readers, would like to hear it, too.

A long time ago, before I ever truly believed I would someday really get published, I wrote a Cinderella story that was just for me. If you’re a writer, you know how it is: you’re feeling down, and so you write. This story was about a widow who, with the help of two fairy godmothers, won a trip to a Mediterranean kingdom; she then met the king while he was staying “incognito” at a resort. They fell in love, of course, and they lived happily ever after. I wrote this story by hand, and it wasn’t more than 30 pages long.

The story had no conflict to speak of, but it was, after all, an escape, and just for me.

Flash forward to 2005; I attended CanWrite, the writing conference of the Canadian Author’s Association, in Kitchener, Ontario with my friend Kelley Armstrong. There I heard of something called “erotic romance” something that seemed to be a new genre just opening up, being published in e-books, a new medium just opening up. I’d been writing romance for years; I’d already finished 10 novels! Surely I could spice the romance up enough to make it erotic romance. So I began to write a story I called Simply Irresistible. But I had never written anything specifically to sell before. It was really tough going. Words dried up, and I wondered if I could really do this thing called “writing”, after all. Then along came NaNoWriMo. Kelley said she was going to participate just for the fun of it, and suggested that I should, too. Also, since I’m a moderator of the writing group on her web site, the two of us together could encourage the entire writing group to join in the madness that is NaNo and thus inspire them to finish their novels. I agreed, of course, even though I didn’t have a clue what I was going to write about.

And then I remembered my Cinderella story. I got excited about writing again, and I ended up producing 54K words in a fortnight.

The story still had no conflict to speak of, but it was, after all, just a writing exercise, and just for me.

Two years later it’s 2007. The book that had been written as Simply Irresistible had been released with the new title Made For Each Other, and my publisher put out a submission call for “adult fairy tales”. She wanted to publish an anthology of them. Eager to have another title published, I put my thinking cap on and came up with “Beau and the Lady Beast”. I pitched it, and my publisher loved it. She then asked, “Do you have any other ideas?”

I remembered my Cinderella story, which for NaNo I had renamed “Once Upon A Time”; I really loved that story. But it had no conflict to speak of….ah, but now I was a “published” author, and I knew I could “fix” it. So I pitched it to my publisher, who suggested making the story into a three book series. It was my first series, and, since the name “Once Upon A Time” had already been taken, I called it “Magic And Love”.

What had begun as a short story hand written one sad, lonely day ended up as a 145,000-word series.

If you have a story that you wrote long ago that you love, it doesn’t have to stay in the past. You’re a writer, a professional. You can make it work, if you want to.

These three stories of Magic and Love (The Prince and the Single Mom, The Princess and the Bodyguard, A Prince for Sophie) are very far from my best sellers. But to this day, they remain my favorites of everything I’ve written, and I even re-read them, from time to time, myself.


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

So I was sitting on my front porch a couple evenings ago. It was that time of day when the heat is just right, the shadows comfortable with sun dappling through trees, and the neighbourhood kids out and about enjoying their summer.

On this particular day, our youngest grandson was playing with a friend of his a couple of doors down. They had water guns and were taking turns trying to see who could shoot the farthest.

Yes, I had already been asked if they could shoot each other and I (being a party-pooper kind of granny) had said no.

As they were playing, the other boy’s younger sister chose to ride her bike back and forth along the street.

She got distracted watching the boys, lost control of her bicycle, and ended up on the pavement. Now, she wasn’t badly hurt, just a minor scrape to her knee and a major one to her ego.

Even before her father came out of the house and picked her up she was wailing that it wasn’t her fault she’d fallen; the boys had made her fall.

Having seen the entire episode unfold, I will say that the little girl, who’s 8, let her attention wander, watching the boys instead of what she was doing and where she was going on her bike. However, neither boy did anything to cause her to fall. They weren’t even “shooting” in her direction.

As I sat and pondered this mini-accident, what got me was that in fact that entire episode struck me as being a micro-encapsulation of what I think is the main thing that’s wrong with today’s society.

My question isn’t so much doesn’t anyone own their own actions anymore? It’s more, what the heck are we really teaching our children and grandchildren?

I can guarantee you, that if that had same thing had happened to one of my kids, along with the hugs and the murmurs of sympathy and Band-Aids would have been the words, “well, if you’d been paying attention to what you were doing, you wouldn’t have fallen and gotten hurt”.

It seems to me that these days, we let our children get away with saying whatever they want, which mostly is to publicly disavow any culpability in their own stupid actions.

Thus they don’t learn to think before they act, or look before they leap. They aren’t taught the simple logic of cause and effect. They’re not made aware that their actions can have consequences that go far beyond the one simple moment of inattention, or far beyond anything they could ever imagine.

Having these lessons learned when they are small, like my young neighbor, will result in scraped knees and banged elbows, and bruised egos. Maybe, they’ll result in a broken arm or leg, or a mild concussion.

But failure to learn these lessons when our children are young could have possible much more catastrophic outcomes for them when they become teens or young adults.
They could lose relationships, or jobs, or sometimes something totally irreplaceable.
Some of those consequences don’t bear thinking about.

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Drawing August 31 2011

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Those of you who follow me on Face Book know that just a few days before we were scheduled to leave on vacation, my sweet little Boots kitty fell ill, and passed away. He’d lived a good long life—more than 15 years, having come to us when he was about 5.

When Booty arrived, I already had a cat. Her name was Gray Kitty. She was old at that point, and ignored the interloper. When Gray died at the age of 18 (human years), Boots became top cat—actually, he became the only cat.

Over the years, Boots had mellowed from being a feline who barely tolerated a scratch to a needy kitty who demanded I pick him up and snuggle him like a baby—yes, on his back so I could rub belly and scratch chin—every day.

I knew he was getting old, and I had told myself many times that he wouldn’t be with me much longer. Still, our pets really are members of the family, and despite my efforts, I wasn’t prepared to lose him.

When I came back from the vet, I had my daughter take the 7 foot tall cat stand that had been in our living room these past ten years to her house – only Boots had ever used it here, and my daughter has two other cats at home she thought would like it. Also, I wanted her to have it so I wouldn’t have to look at it every day.

We left for vacation, as scheduled. While we were gone, my daughter for the most part stayed here at the house, to watch over her cat that still lives with us—Crash Ktty is also very old and not well—and our dog.

On the Thursday of the first week we were away, Jenny came to the house between clients (she works in home healthcare). It was raining, and as she climbed the steps to the porch she realized there was a strange cat sitting in one of the padded patio chairs. My daughter shrugged, because it was raining at the time, and she figured the cat was simply escaping the wet.

This unfamiliar cat was all black, like my Boots kitty, except for a tiny flash of white on her chest. I don’t want you to think this cat is an exact physical replica of Boots. First, she’s female and second, she has short hair. Boots had been a Persian cross breed. The eyes, however, are the same color exactly.

An hour later this cat was still there, and when my daughter opened the front door to let the dog out on the porch, the cat came inside as if she owned the place. She immediately walked over to my beloved’s chair, jumped up, and stared at the corner where the cat stand used to be. Then she turned, gave my daughter a dirty look and meowed.

Can anyone else hear the theme from the Twilight Zone playing in the background?

My daughter has given this cat the name “Spooky”. She tried several times to get it to leave, but of course, it didn’t. Jenny even took it a block away, thinking it would find its way home. Instead, it found its way back here. It claimed as its place the fourth step leading to the upstairs.

The minute I came in the house and met it, this cat decided I belonged to it, and moved into my office. Spooky thought she could sleep on my keyboard. I’ve given her temporary lodging on the open shelf in my file cabinet, instead.

My daughter is making inquiries of the area vets and humane society to see if anyone is missing a cat. This animal has had its front claws removed, and looks healthy, well fed and well cared-for.

Spooky has clearly been someone’s pet, and if she belongs to someone, then of course, I want them to have their familiar back.

If she doesn’t have an owner claim her, well, we’ll see.


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

It’s summer and we’re on vacation again, taking two weeks off to kick back and recharge our batteries.

Our first stop last week, was, as it has been these few years, the north-eastern Pennsylvania city of Hazleton. We have friends who live there, and each year we take a few days to visit them. My beloved also likes to go on excursions, feeding the history buff within. This year on our schedule was a return to Steam Town, USA, the railroad museum in nearby Scranton, Pennsylvania, and a first time visit to the coal-mining town of Ashland.

As well as museums, my husband enjoys exploring historical sites. The first time we came to visit the area, he took the Lackawanna Mine tour. He liked going deep underground for the duration of the guided tour, which lasted over a half an hour.

During that first trip, I of course stayed on top of the grass. As I have done during every mine tour since.

The day after the return to Steam Town, we went to the small town of Ashland. There my husband and our friend toured the mine. While they explored, I stayed in the shade in the park there and read. A perfect outing for us both.

One thing both my beloved and I agree upon is that our marriage has lasted 39 years (as of this past July 14th) mainly because we allow each other to pursue different interests.

After Hazleton, we took two days in Philadelphia. We’d explored the city once before, but one thing David didn’t get to do that last time was visit the New Jersey, an Iowa Class Battleship that has been decommissioned and is moored at the waterfront of Camden, New Jersey.

While I stayed back in our comfy room on Friday David did just that. The tour he took was led by two World War 2 veterans, whose knowledge and experience awed their audience. My DH thoroughly enjoyed himself.

Most of our second week – this week – we are spending on the Jersey shore, in a place called Wildwood Crest. We’ve never been here before, but count ourselves lucky to have discovered it, and this very comfortable beachfront motor inn. We have a two room efficiency unit, which suits us to a T. We brought our Keurig with us, of course. One definition of heaven for us both is an ocean view and a freshly brewed cup of coffee.

We’ve already decided that the next time we come here, we won’t travel from Philadelphia on a Saturday. What should have been a two hour trip lasted nearly six, due to several instances of gridlock along the way. But we arrived safe and sound in the end. Within the hour we’d changed into our swim suits, and taken a dip in the pool.

After dinner that first day, around sunset, my beloved set off to have his first walk along the beach.

And showed up sometime later, dripping wet. Tee shirt, shorts, everything, soaked through because, in his words, “I wasn’t going to go in, but then I simply couldn’t resist.”

I shook my head, because that’s what he expected me to do. But what I actually thought was how cool it was for a man kicking at the gate of 60 to be able to enjoy the moment enough that he could give in to the temptation to wade into the ocean, despite not being dressed for it.

His sense of adventure and his thirst for knowledge are two of his most attractive traits.


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Have you ever flown on an airplane? If you have—and I’d have to say that a lot of people probably have—you know that even before the flight takes off, the flight attendant goes through the procedures to be followed in case of an emergency.

Whether you board the plane in the United States, or Canada, or Europe; whether you fly Delta, Air Canada or British Airways; whether your flight will last one hour or many hours, these emergency instructions are given, without fail.

And without fail, those instructions are the same. When it comes to the most important part—the life-sustaining oxygen—the flight attendants will tell you to put on your own air mask before you help someone else with theirs. The principle at work here is simple: you can’t save someone else until you save yourself, first.

That is advice that should be given to everyone with regard to life in general, but especially to the mothers among us.

Mothers tend to do for others first and always. We feed others, if you will, before we even consider feeding ourselves. Even when we feel under the weather, our kids (and often times, they are our grown kids) look to us for their favorite pasta, or their favorite dessert, and we, being mothers, do everything we can to accommodate them.

The point of today’s essay is that it’s okay, sometimes, to say no.

We get so busy and are so intent on taking care of others we forget to take care of ourselves, first. We think putting ourselves and our needs first is selfish.
Nothing could be further from the truth.

Just as, on a flight, we would need to secure our own air supply first, in life, we need to secure our own health and well being first if we truly want to be able to continue to take care of others. Ignoring our bodies’ needs for exercise, proper nutrition, sleep, and down time is not the way to ensure that we give our best to our families.

Of course, when our children are younger, we often do just that. No amount of reasoning with us is likely to get us to change our ways, either. Taking care of the kids is what we do, period.

But we moms have to recognize that there comes a point when we need to step back from the plate. When our children are no longer children, it is time for them to not only do for themselves, but hey, pay a little attention back to the ones who’ve given so much of themselves for so long.

When we reach our fifties, I believe it is good and wise and noble to begin to put ourselves first from time to time. We didn’t sacrifice for our children to earn a reward; we did it because we love them, and it is what moms do.

But the rewards are there regardless, and they need to be enjoyed. Probably one of the last lessons our children learn—and they don’t learn it until they’re well into adulthood—is that mothers are theirs forever, to love and appreciate and respect.

But mommies pass on the mantle of parenting to the next generation.


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

I recall a conversation I had with my beloved several years ago. We were discussing the fact that he was becoming deaf—the result of working at an open pit mine without benefit of hearing protection for too many years. This was back before his site was purchased by the large international firm that owns it today.

At the time he was adamant, of course, that he didn’t need hearing aids. “Those things don’t work, anyway. All they do is make everything louder so that all you hear is loud static.”

Still, I had said, he should look into getting them. He said he would, as soon as hell froze over.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I have an announcement to make. Hell has, apparently, frozen over.

This past Saturday my husband took delivery of his first set of hearing aids. He began the process to get them back in January, at the request of his employer. They suggested he go through the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, a provincial government agency. This agency will provide equipment such as hearing aids if the damage suffered is work related.

So at the beginning of the year he went to get his hearing tested and was told, very frankly, that he was so hearing impaired as to be considered disabled.
This came as a surprise to no one but him.

One thing I can say about my beloved: he isn’t a man to believe something just because someone tells him so.

Or even if several someones do.

Needless to say there have been loads of improvements to hearing aid technology since the “olden days” when his uncle got one (I believe in was in the 1960s and that was what my DH was basing his opinion on).

He got the call to go in last Saturday, and when he came out of the building, he was wearing a couple of very small pieces of ultra-modern technology.

Aside from being light weight, they came with a “remote control” device. He immediately pointed the device at me and said, “I can turn you off, now.”

Congratulate me, I held my tongue.

He said they were comfortable, and that was good. We went home, and he went out to sit on the porch. Our front porch, that faces this very quiet street in our fairly small town, has always been a good place to sit. Dozens of trees line the street. Trees, of course, are the homes of birds.

On our street, the trees house hundreds of birds, at times.

“Good Lord, are they always so noisy?” DH asked. I just grinned.

He took the dog for a walk, and when he returned, he said, “I didn’t realize how much I didn’t hear until I got these.”

Again, I guarded my tongue. I like to think that, at my age, the need to say, “I told you so” has faded—that I’m mature enough to just let it go.

Yes, I’d like to think that, but I’m not sure I’m really strong enough to resist the temptation forever.


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

It’s been a long time since I have personally lamented the unfairness of life. There doesn’t seem to be a point to it. Life is unfair; it’s unfair for everyone; I know this, so the best thing I can do is just get on with things.

But then there are moments when I am left at a such complete loss, when the vagaries of fate are more than unfair, they’re just wrong.

Nine years ago the next door neighbor who for years had been the bane of our existence put his house up for sale. Nothing could have pleased us more, as the man—a divorced father of two—seemed to be on a personal quest to complain about as many things as he could each day.

I totally understood why this man was divorced.

One young couple came, with her parents, to see the house, and decided it was theirs on first sight. They moved in not long afterwards, as soon as they came home from their honeymoon.

These new neighbors were a delightful change from the other guy. They were a simple couple—he worked at a wood products factory, and she at a community home for the severely handicapped. They entertained a fair bit, but not the way you’d expect young people to entertain. There were no raucous parties, no drunken feasts. They instead hosted plenty of family-friendly picnics and barbeques. There were always kids there, either with their parents or on their own just having a “sleep over” with their uncle and aunt and you knew that this young couple would make excellent parents.

They had their first child slightly more than a year after they moved in; another daughter came about two years later, and then finally a little boy two years after that.

In the summers, mom and dad both took delight in playing with their children, and getting the children to pitch in on outdoor chores. In winter, you’d see them go on family walks around the block, or find them building snowmen together.

Sundays they would emerge from their home, all dressed neatly, and go to church.
Just slightly over three years ago, the young mother found a lump in her breast. It was suddenly just there, a massive growth, and when she went to have it checked, it was to discover that she had stage three breast cancer.

We were never intimately friendly with these neighbors. We’d chat when we’d see each other. This past winter, the husband and my beloved took turns clearing the snow from our respective sidewalks and from around our cars. The young couple would ask, from time to time, how my career was going. We’d chat with the children and, one day when all their tricycles were on the sidewalk, stated in mock horror that an outlaw biker gang was living next door.

They’ve been good neighbors, and from all I’ve seen, good parents and very good people.

Over the past three years we’ve watched them fight this disease called cancer, always determined, both of them, to stave off the worst. Throughout the battle, that young woman never wavered. She had her faith, not only in God, but in her own self. You knew she would do whatever it took to win this battle.

It had begun to look as if she would succeed.

And then the tide changed.

I remember talking to her husband one day, when it seemed she was in remission. “She’s always done everything right,” he said. “She’s never smoked, she’s always eaten a healthy diet, and she’s exercised regularly. I just don’t get it. Why did she have to get sick?”

That is so human of us, isn’t it? To think that if bad things happen, we must have done something to deserve them. The truth is, bad things happen to good people for no reason, and that is that.

In the wee hours of this past Sunday morning, my brave young neighbor lost her battle with this disease. She passed away at home, her three young children and her husband by her side. She was only thirty-eight years old.

Her husband told me the news himself, but I’d awakened and seen the ambulance there, and I’d known.

He said he was grateful the children got to say goodbye to their mother. He also said that she’s in a better place now. I believe that, too.

No, life not only isn’t fair, it was never meant to be fair. This I’ve always understood.

But sometimes, the degree of unfairness I witness quite simply leaves me gasping for breath and begging for mercy.