Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Wednesday's Words for February 23, 2011

There are all different kinds of talents that people possess, and some of them leave me in awe. The one I’m thinking of at the moment is the talent to keep a spotlessly tidy house.

Yes, that most certainly is a talent and, sadly, not mine. Not even a whisper of it do I possess.

I’ve been to peoples’ houses where everything is so pristine you could eat off the floor. Not a speck of dust is visible, no cobweb can be found. Not a crumb mars the perfection of the perfectly clean, shiny surfaces and not a paper, or a pen, or a candy wrapper can be found out of place on any table, chair or ottoman.

How do they do it? I spend time cleaning and tidying. I do! I vacuum and I dust, I sweep and I put things away. I wash the dishes (by hand because, pity me, I have no dishwasher and never have had one). I wipe the counters and the stove, the fridge, and the freezer. Once a week I also do that with bleach in the water!

And my house looks…okay, but pretty far from immaculate.

My brother, on the other hand, is a very fastidious fellow. His house is always very near perfect. It’s just a natural state of being for him and it always has been. Very intimidating when he’s coming to dinner, let me tell you.

He’s ten years my senior. I recall a lecture he gave me when I was around 8 or 9, on “the seven places where clothes are allowed to be”. They were: hanger, dresser drawer, body, laundry hamper, washer, clothes line, and ironing basket.

Yes, that lecture took place a long time ago, in the last century. I don’t know if many people have ironing baskets any more. I know I don’t have one.

I have tried to be more conscientious about my housekeeping. Theoretically it should be easier now than it was when I was raising my kids because in those days it was four against one (I was the one). Now it’s only one against one most of the time. Of course, I’m older now, and not nearly as mobile as I used to be. Neither does my stamina take me as far as once it did.

Do you know what I think? I think there are evil little invisible elves that creep in when I’m not looking. They dirty dishes, and leave stuff lying about. They create dust elephants, cobwebs, and general disorder in the blink of an eye. They also spread their invisibility. I think I am done cleaning, so I sit down, and then I see what I’ve missed.

And when my grandchildren are here, why then, those darn elves work twice as hard!

I tried to think when was I last really successful at getting my house to a level of cleanliness that not only felt good but lasted for a few days. And I remembered it was the year that RT was in Pittsburgh.

My beloved and our daughter left for the Caribbean, and when I came home from taking them to the airport, I cleaned my house.

I was alone for a few days, and didn’t need to repeat the process as it was quite easily maintained. I cooked, I ate, I did all the things that normally take place here. And the house stayed spic and span.

My good friend came from far away, and she stayed over two nights. And still, the general orderliness of tidy took but a few moments to accomplish. Then we left for the convention.

Of course, when I got home, my husband had returned and, come to think of it, the first thing I did after I unpacked was clean the house which somehow had returned to its usual state of chaos.

I haven’t been fortunate enough to visit again that place of Nirvana where all around me stays neat and tidy. But then, I’ve not spent any days alone here, either.

Hmm. I wonder if this is a clue?


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Wednesday's Words for February 16, 2011

I hate, absolutely hate, talking to machines.

Our society seems to be inundated with voice activated computers that are slowly, but surely taking over the planet. They are! Sometimes, you make a phone call to a business or a service provider and speaking to a real, live human being isn’t even one of the options.

I’m old fashioned. I not only want to talk to a human, I want to talk to one in my own country.
I understand the need for businesses to “trim costs”. Personally, I’d rather see the managers and CEOs take a hit, vis-a-vis a pay reduction than have them replace their telephone receptionists with a computer. But what do I know?

Case in point. I upgraded my cell phone again. The pretty white and pink one I had with a full, slide out qwerty key board was good, but the battery was dying, and then I dropped it, and it wouldn’t turn off, or “hang up” a call. Since I had to get a new cell phone anyway, I got a BlackBerry.

Yes, hell has indeed frozen over.

So I got this new piece of technology, and it took me a while to figure it out. For one thing, the diagram of all the keys and functions omits pointing out that the square shiny one in the middle above the keyboard is the “mouse”. I know that fact was likely obvious to many of you, but it wasn’t to me.

I inserted the battery, and the SIM card, and turned it on. A message appeared that was longer than the screen allowed and so it was necessary for me to scroll down. But there were no arrows down, up, side to side. The message was telling me it was unlawful for me to reverse-engineer the BlackBerry!

Reverse engineer it? Hell, I couldn’t even operate it!

I found the mouse by accident. Whew. One obstacle down.

Then the screen went white, with pretty little lines of colour, first vertical, then horizontal. Yes, my first BlackBerry turned out to be a lemon, which meant that I needed to call my wireless service provider (from whom I had gotten the phone) and get help from Technical Support.
I know what you all just thought: good luck with that one.

Let me just say, that tech support was not an option on this particular night. I called the number quoted in the literature that accompanied the device. The phone was answered by an automated voice telling me, in French, that if I wanted to continue in French, I should press number five. (This, by the way, is standard in Canada). Then in English, I’m advised that I have the following options for my Cable TV and Internet service...

Hello? Calling about wireless, here. Called the number that came with the wireless device! So I got smart and I hit “0” about five times in a row. The machine informed me, that it would direct my call to a real person. Success!

And then an automated voice comes on the line and tells me that the Credit department is currently closed, and further advises me of its hours of operation, and to call back then.

These glitches with automated answering services happen all the time, and the result is that by the time the customer (that would be me) finally gets hold of a real human being, said customer is not in a very good mood. This brings me to the part I don’t get.

What savvy business owner/manager/operator wants to deliberately tee off its customers? I mean, in this age of global competition wouldn’t it make more sense to keep your customers happy?

To make a long story short, after several hours using my computer to “update” the BlackBerry I ended up having to get them to send me a new one, which thankfully works fine. So far.
I have tweeted, and I have “face booked” and I have sent a text on this amazing new piece of technology.

And maybe, someday soon, I’ll even make a phone call on it—but to a person, and not to a machine.


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Wednesday's Words for February 9, 2011

It seems that just a few short weeks ago I was feeling smug as all get-out, because here in my little corner of Southern Ontario, there was almost no snow on the ground. All around us, the countryside, and her people had been inundated, with more than two foot of snow having fallen in some areas. But here, where we live, and through to twenty-five miles to the east, where my beloved works, there’d been next to no snow on the ground.

Yes, I should have recalled that old saw that pride goeth before a fall.

The good news is that the inexpensive, electric snow blower that Mr. Ashbury bought in November works very well. He’s found that if he goes out when there’re just a couple of inches of snow on the ground(and thereafter repeating the performance every couple of inches) he’s able to keep up with the accumulation.

The bad news is, we’re running out of places to pile the darn stuff.

This past Saturday the on line weather service we use reported the day would have partly cloudy periods with some snow flurries. Sounded like a good day to just stay inside, keep warm and follow our favorite pursuits. For me, that’s writing. For my beloved, it’s relaxing in his recliner and reading.

Somewhere around one in the afternoon, Mr. Ashbury said, “What the heck is going on out there? That doesn’t look like snow flurries to me. That looks like a major dumping in progress.”
Eight inches of white stuff later, my poor husband was outside for the third time in one day, pushing the electric blue monster down the sidewalk, around our car, and our next-door neighbour’s car, too.

Usually our town is very good about having the plows come along early on; this past weekend however, they were slower than usual.

Mr. Asbury swears the snow plow driver grinned with malicious intent when he pushed the snow up around our car as he passed, just minutes after he’d finished clearing it. I’m inclined to believe him.

We’ve been working in tandem with our neighbor this year—not something that we discussed before hand, it just sort of happened. The first couple of snow falls we got weren’t much, really. But when the young father of three who lives next door went outside to clear his sidewalk, he shovelled to the point where my new walkway joins the sidewalk, and then he did the walkway, too.

He did that the next time we got a small dusting, and I told him how much I appreciated it. Even a bit of the white stuff under my cane can send me flying.

I’ve discovered the hard way over the last couple of years that falling down is to be avoided at all costs.

So of course, the first time my husband brought the blue machine up out of the basement and took it outside, he did all of the sidewalk for our two houses, as well as the areas around our cars that of necessity have to park on the street.

And while this cooperation has been wonderful, and probably the brightest spot of the winter, we’re all a little bit weary of the need for it at this point.

Now we’ve been plunged into the deep freeze again, which means any snow ridges on walking or driving surfaces have now become ice ridges, and my coffee cup is again doubling as a hand and finger warmer.

It is a challenge to remember that spring really is just around the corner.

Morgan Ashbury is writing as Cara Covington!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Wednesday's Words for February 2, 2011

Ah, joy of joys, Ground Hog Day has arrived at last.

In the Ashbury household, this is a very special occasion indeed. This is the day when we dare to hope that maybe – just maybe – winter will soon give way to spring.

I understand that many people actually like winter. I also understand that still others depend upon it for some, if not all of their livelihood. There are those who sell snow related equipment, and those who have purchased plow blades for the front of their trucks. The farmers, too, need a lot of snow to put moisture deep into the ground for their planting season. I have no desire to circumvent anyone’s needs or their pleasures.

I just wonder if there isn’t some way to make these snow-and-ice enthusiasts happy without punishing the rest of us.

Of course, there isn’t, and thus we look forward to Ground Hog Day, as if the prognosticating rodents among us can truly offer us hope in our time of cold.

This has always been a particularly poignant day for Mr. Ashbury, who until this year spent almost all his time working out of doors. Now, as a senior employee, he’s moved from maintenance to driving an enormous “haul” truck at the quarry where he works. He’s no longer out in the elements so much, but there are still days he has to lend a hand, and in winter that can be a very cold hand.

I may have mentioned that in my opinion, winter in Southern Ontario, Canada isn’t a three month season; rather it extends from October to March, inclusive. Yes, six months of winter. The other six months here, by the way, are known as Construction season.

The positive side of looking at winter as if it lasts six months is the sure and certain knowledge that the dread season is, as of now, mostly over. Four months down, two to go.

At this moment, I am hunkered down in my house waiting for the snow storm to wane. It’s the first real one we’ve had this year, so I am not going to complain about it. In fact, I think I’m going to enjoy the temporary sense of being “snowed in”.

I had told my beloved last night that if we awoke to a blizzard, he was taking a snow day. No way was I going to drive in a blizzard, though I have done so in the past.

The older I get, the fewer things there are that seem worth my risking my safety for.

The school busses are all cancelled today, which means the schools are closed, so the little ones get a snow day. You should have heard the cheering. We had them here overnight as their mother worked a late shift at the hospital. But she arrived first thing to take them home, and so everyone is happy.

Certainly Mr. Ashbury is happy as he gets to play with the new snow blower we purchased in November. At least he will, he assures me, when he gets up again. He doesn’t often get a snow day either, and promptly went back to bed.

My beloved has only used the new snow blower twice, and neither time was there really much snow to test the machine—or him. Last night we received more than ten inches of the white stuff, with at least another ten to come today.

This is his first snow blower. It took many years for me to convince him that he needed one. Now he’s got his eye on an even bigger model, self-propelled, that will shoot that stream of snow clear into the next county.

I’m hoping the novelty of the toy won’t wear off any time soon.

In the mean time, our Ground Hog day celebrity here in Ontario, Wiarton Willy, is scheduled to emerge from his burrow sometime this morning. Now, the folklore is if the groundhog sees his shadow, he will be frightened and run back to his hole, heralding six more weeks of winter; and if he doesn’t, why then, it’s an early spring for us.

Considering the entire province is covered overcast skies dumping this storm upon us with no sunshine until tomorrow, this has to mean, hooray, an early spring for us.

I’ve checked, but no one seems to know whether the rodent will be afraid of a blizzard, or not. Personally, I think the little critter has it all backwards.