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.