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?