Wednesday, December 26, 2012

December 26, 2012

I hope you had a good Christmas yesterday. I hope you spent time with loved ones, and ate too much turkey and had too many sweets. Christmas is, after all, a Feast day and it does only come once a year. I really hope you feasted well.

Dinner yesterday at the Ashbury household was a simple affair. It was just the two of us and our daughter—and her three Chihuahuas. Grandpa puppy enjoyed visiting with the grandbaby puppies. Yes, that is how my daughter talks to and of them and us. The puppies all adore their grandpa, of course.

Mr. Ashbury is a very soft touch when it comes to the animals.

We finished all of our running around before Christmas Eve. In a change of pace, we had breakfast out on the 24th with our son and his family. Our two oldest grandsons have schedules that keep them busy, and it’s hard finding time when they’re available to join in family gatherings. At 19 and 20 they’re becoming adults and beginning to build their own lives. Our son said it was the first time they’d had both boys join them out for breakfast (which they like to go out for quite often) in a long time.

They’ve grown up so fast!

But then, so have my own “children”, who aren’t children at all. Of course, at this time of year, I always find myself remembering those earlier times. My mind fills with images of Christmases past. I think my favorite photograph is of my pajama clad babies, sitting on the stairs, vibrating with excitement as they wait for the word to come down and see what Santa brought.

Mr. Ashbury and I would have made it to bed quite late on Christmas Eve, something I’m sure most of you can identify with. The rule for Christmas morning was that the children were to wake us up and then let us go downstairs, and make our coffee. Then we would take our places, cups in hand, first sips ingested—and only then call them down to rip into their bounty.

This was all, of course, so that we could be awake enough to fully enjoy Christmas morning through their immense and boundless joy.

It’s inevitable that as you get older, you look back on the life you’ve led with a regret or two coming to mind. One thing I absolutely don’t regret is the Christmas mornings we gave our children. Though times were tough and our means were spare, everything went into giving our children the best Christmases we could. That involved a lot of sacrifice, and a lot of post holiday bill scrambling and balancing—we never used credit cards, but we did sometimes put other things off—so that we could give our children generous Christmases.

Not for anything would I have had them understand the harsh realities of life as it was until it became their time to do so.

Now, of course, we have no small children in our immediate family. Our youngest grandchild is 10. It’s been a long time since we’ve experienced that particular kind of magic at Christmas, watching children’s eyes light up and go wide with joy.

Our Anthony once told us that the presents we gave him weren’t all that great, but Santa’s were always awesome! I didn’t mind that one bit.

These days, we content ourselves with giving quietly where we don’t get to see that joy, but we know it’s there—and that’s enough.

And we visit with family and friends, ever mindful of how lucky we’ve been, and continue to be, in the things in life that really matter the most.

Mr. Ashbury and I wish you all the very best in the coming year. We hope it will be the best year, ever!


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

December 19, 2012

If you are a parent, or a grandparent, if you know a child, or a person who works with children, you could not help but be deeply affected by the tragic events of this past Friday.

How do we explain this sort of a tragedy? How can we possibly comprehend it? We understand, at least academically, that there are people in this world who are mentally ill.

We understand there are those whose minds do not work the same as a ‘normal’ person’s, as yours or mine. We know they are sick, and that for whatever reason, their sickness has gone uncured and untreated and perhaps even undetected.

Although I am a Canadian and my history and my precedents are different than those of my neighbors to the south, I still understand the principle behind the U. S. Constitution’s Second Amendment. I understand that this Second Amendment is sacred, and taken as literally as if it were a part of scripture by many people. I understand that and I respect that.

But as a parent, as a grandparent, I say, there has to be a way to mesh those rights with laws that will protect innocents from the illegal, immoral and lethal acts of other people. There has to be a way to protect the rights of the many while ensuring the few do not have access to weapons, especially weapons that were only designed to kill a lot of people in a few seconds.

There has to be a way to protect our children. For they are all, every single one of them, our children.

There has to be a solution to this problem so that future generations will only know of such horrific tragedies by reading about them in their history books.

Consider all that humanity has accomplished in just the last century alone. We have put a man on the moon, and even successfully conducted heart transplant surgeries, for God’s sake! We should be able to solve this—this problem of our own making.

The loss of a child, no matter how it happens, no matter the age of the child, is a loss too horrible, too hard, to bear. It is a loss from which no parent ever fully recovers. Losing your child is something you never, ever get over. There is a hole in your heart that never closes, and an entire chapter in your imagination, entitled “what might have been” that can never be written, or known—and yet it’s a chapter that can never be closed up and put away.

Such a loss is undoubtedly more tragic when the child is still small. I remember my own kids at those ages: actually my eldest was 10, my second son 5 and my daughter was 4 all in the same year.

  Those are years of wonder, years of learning to read, of making friends, of beginning to participate in sleep-overs. They are years of cartoons and best friends and singing along with your favorite songs on you tube. They are years of writing letters to Santa, and getting excited because Christmas is just around the corner.

For each parent who is now in mourning, my heart breaks. There are no words we can offer you to make it better. We can only pray. We can pray that you receive strength and hope from the Comforter, and that in time your memories will be more sweet than bitter.

We can’t do anything to heal your heart. Only God, and time, can do that, and only to a certain degree. As I said, that hole will be there, forever.

But the day will come when there is more joy in remembering than there is sorrow. And maybe, if we can all work together, if we can be open and honest and leave politics and hyperbole behind, we can find a way to prevent some of these tragedies from ever happening in the first place.

Maybe we can give you, and ourselves, and the society in which we live, the gift of hope.


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

December 12, 2012

This has been a very sad week for my husband. Last Thursday, he awoke at his usual pre-dawn time to discover his beloved dog had suffered a stroke in the night. The poor old puppy could barely stand. He was sick and disoriented, although not really in that much pain.

There’s a twenty-four hour animal hospital in the next town, and we were able to get him in immediately. Sadly, the dog was just too ill to save.

Mr. Ashbury thought of Rochie (short for Ferocious, which this dog certainly was not) as his best friend. He’d had the animal for most of the dog’s 14 years. Rochie had been born to the golden lab our daughter had, and was a lab-border collie cross. Originally, this black furry puppy with a white star on his chest was our grandson’s. But when the family moved to the next city, the townhouse they rented only allowed them to have one dog.

Our daughter announced she would try to find a home for this not yet one-year-old pup and asked her daddy if he could keep the animal here while she “looked for a new home” for him.

Ha! I’ll never know why he didn’t see that one coming. Or maybe, he did.

You have to know it took practically no time at all for her daddy to offer to keep the dog. Our grandson was thrilled, of course. At four years old, he had been devastated to think he would never see his puppy again.

My husband and I both worked at the time, and had to employ a crate for our newest family member during the day time, until he was trained and past the chew stage. That didn’t sit well with our grandson at all, as I recall. You would be interested to know the dog himself was fine with it. He was a very easy-going dog.

Rochie grew to be a fairly big canine, and he was absolutely devoted to my husband. He loved to go on walks, and he loved to play with his “Squeaky” toy. He loved his collar and did not like to have it off, for any reason. The only thing he really hated, in fact, was bath time.

Every evening when my husband would come home from work, the dog would run around and literally cry with joy. He would pull his leash down from the coat hook in the hall, and would run around the house with the leash in his mouth—always my husband’s end of the leash, of course—until his daddy took the hint and walked him.

Rochie would mope whenever the suitcases came out, because he knew his daddy was going away. One time, he even dropped Squeaky into my husband’s open suitcase—a hint if ever I saw one.

The dog understood just about everything you said to him, and yet he could not prevent his chain from getting tangled in the back yard, around the same obstacle that had been there for all of the 12 years was chained up in that exact spot.

In the last two years we fenced the yard, so he could enjoy the great outdoors without the restriction of metal.

Rochie may have growled at the occasional passing dog or human, but he never so much as nipped at anyone. He liked some cats—in the house—but outside considered them fair game to chase, if he could. The only exception to that rule was my daughter’s cat MoJo—who of late is no longer her cat, but still comes to visit us from whichever neighborhood home he’s living in at the moment, nonetheless. MoJo and Rochie loved each other and would often nuzzle.

Every Sunday morning when I would make my beloved his big Sunday breakfast, I cooked a sausage link for the dog. If we had hamburgers for dinner, the dog got one too. Daddy would make it for him after we were done eating. If you were wondering, Rochie liked margarine, cheese and sometimes mayo on his burger.

His daddy was always Rochie’s first choice for human company, unless, of course there were fireworks being set off in the neighborhood. Then, it was mommy he wanted. When he was still capable of jumping up onto our bed, which he couldn’t do for the last couple of years, he would try to get under me, no doubt trusting me to save him from the pyrotechnics.

In the bio that’s posted at the back of my novels, I refer to Rochie as a dog with no dignity, and that was very true. But he had an endless supply of doggy grins, which he bestowed on any and all who would come to the house to visit him, and he had a heart bigger than his eighty pounds.

Our pets are truly members of our families, and when they pass, we cannot help but mourn them. And we take time to remember the love and the joy they gave us, and know that we’ve been truly blessed. I have no doubt that my beloved will meet his puppy again at the rainbow bridge.

After all, dog, spelled backwards, is God.


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

December 5, 2012

I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me one little bit that of all the things humans could use something as powerful and amazing as the Internet for, we quite often fall into what one might term the sewer.

After all, if you walk into a shiny new high tech grocery store, you’re still bound to find gossip magazines in a rack by the check-out. This is true even if the grocery store is in the most posh section of town.

Have y’all seen some of the headlines on Internet “news” feeds lately? Here’s one: “Friends Told Her To Do Mortifying Thing.” And, just in case the words aren’t graphic enough, it comes with a video.

I don’t want to see someone I don’t even know (or anyone I do know, for that matter), experience a mortifying moment. I mean, really, why would I? That’s something I tend to file under the heading, “TMI”. And yet, I have to acknowledge that probably enough people go for something like that so as to justify having the item available in the first place. Actually, there’s a “watch this dork make an ass of him or herself” kind of video available for your viewing pleasure every week, it seems.

How about this one: “Baby Boomers versus Generation Y. Are their whines justified?” I didn’t “click” on that one, either, but I can tell you with confidence, the answer, in my opinion, is no. Whines are never justified—that is why we call them ‘whines’ instead of ‘concerns’ or ‘challenges’ or ‘issues’.

If neither of those headlines grabs you, how about: “Kid Embarrasses Mom Trying To Get Her Attention.” Yawn. I mean, really? Kids have been embarrassing their moms to get their attention since there have been kids and moms. Move on, folks!

I’m not a snob—I’m really not. But I do guard my intellectual capital somewhat. I tend to want to use it for things that have some redeeming value. If I am going to spend time reading, I want to read something that will either entertain me, or inform me. I want that time I invest to have a purpose and to give me something—knowledge or pleasure—as my return on investment. I read news articles and I read essays on topics that snag my interest and I can promise you that the name Kim Kardashian is nowhere in sight while I do. I am newly hopeful because as I just wrote that last sentence my MS word spell checker put a red squiggly line under the surname.

All is not going to hell in a hand basket after all.

And it’s not that I don’t waste time from time to time, because I can assure you, that I do. I am as capable of being silly or frivolous as the next person. I suppose I just really hate the idea that someone somewhere does something foolish or unfortunate and the next thing you know a video goes up, that video goes viral, and that poor person’s faux pas is there for everyone to see.

Imagine being that person!

We’ve all probably had a dream at least once in our lives, of going somewhere public either in our pyjamas, or underwear, or even naked. We’ve awakened from that dream feeling horrible—embarrassed, maybe sick to our stomachs, and very, very small.

This is, I suppose one of our primal fears, translated to modern times. I think humans have a basic fear of being singled out, inadequate, the slowest, if you will, in the herd. We fear being the one who’s in danger of getting left behind to end up as food for the fast-approaching predator.

You might be laughing at that analogy, but think about it for a moment, and you’ll (hopefully) begin to see my point. And maybe that analysis is the answer to my question of why we give valuable national/international ‘space’ to a video that shows some poor schmuck being humiliated in the first place.

Maybe we do it and watch them because it gives us a false sense of security: as long as it’s happening to someone else, it isn’t happening to us.


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

November 28, 2012

This past weekend, we had our first snowfall of the season. Though it wasn’t much—about three inches, and a lot of it melted the next day—I have to tell you the arrival of the white stuff was a shock to me.

Just the evening before, we drove about 30 miles to attend the Christmas dinner hosted by my beloved’s employer. I stepped outside to get into the car and holy cow, was it cold! The wind was howling, clutching cold drops of rain within its icy talons. As we drove, the rain turned to sleet and then the sleet turned to snow. And I realized in that moment that here was another instance of my being so “out of it”, that winter weather had snuck up on me.

We’ve less than thirty days to Christmas!

For better or worse, I’m apparently living in my own little world these days, as I have never done before. I am the architect of this unintentional state of being, of course. All it took was relinquishing most of my daily driving duties to my daughter.

 I’m not ready for the winter season—and I’m not referencing here my state of physical preparedness. That, I’ve got nailed. The bin of safety salt is on my front porch, ready to be used on sidewalk and porch steps; the upstairs portion of our house has been closed off, to save on heating energy; and my winter coat is hanging by the front door, gloves stuffed in the pockets, ready for me to shrug into.

My mind and my thinking processes, however, are stuck somewhere between the end of August and the first of October. This explains my shock at feeling the arctic cold blasts of air and seeing the snow.

My beloved and I were discussing this state of disconnect in which I seem to have fallen, lately. In a way, it’s as if I have finally, really become a “retired person”. Oh, sure, I write every day, so I am not technically retired. But I do that writing here; right here where I am at this exact moment, butt in chair with my fingers on the keyboard. I do that dressed as I am on this Wednesday morning, in my “writers’ pjs”. I’ve showered, and washed my hair, and swept it up, mostly still damp, in a clip. And while I plan on leaving the house tomorrow, that’s only in order to keep my scheduled every-other-Thursday appointment at the spa for my massage. Otherwise I’d be able to say I have no plans to go out for the next few days.

We also discussed what we thought things were going to be like for us in about six or seven years, when he joins me and becomes a “retiree”. We pretty much agree that if we don’t get a different house—one that is a bit larger, and with at least one outbuilding—before then the chances of murder happing in this sleepy little town of ours are quite high. He needs to find something to do during the days of course, something to keep his mind and his hands busy (and him away from me). I’ve had him home for a week’s “staycation” in fairly recent memory, and he spent a great deal of that time standing behind me and looking over my shoulder. Seriously, it was more than a little unsettling. And when I would turn and look at him, I’d get some version of, “so, do you want to do something, or go somewhere?” I was doing something—or at least I was trying to.

My beloved absolutely cannot retire without having a good hobby.

Now that I don’t have to get up before the butt crack of dawn to drive him to work every day, I can stay up later at night, if I want to. And I often do, because I get caught up in reading, or writing, or even playing a silly game. Before I know it, it’s approaching two a.m. Now that’s not a problem, really, except it means if I get up around seven thirty in the morning, I am crashing into nap mode by two in the afternoon. I always feel guilty when I do that because it kind of puts me on a different schedule than my husband. I think it’s the part where I’m napping while he’s at work that is the source of those guilty feelings.

That last point, at least, is one thing that won’t be a problem for us once he’s retired, too. We’ve already made a pact that we’ll be awake when we want and sleep when we want, without a care to what anyone else thinks.

After all, there has to be something good in that pot of gold at the end of the work-a-day-world rainbow. And some reason, therefore, to look forward to getting older, rather than dreading it.


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

November 21, 2012

I have an update on the mouse-in-the-house situation.

If you’ll recall, I mentioned that we had a slight rodent problem. Such is the case for anyone living in an older home that lacks complete structural integrity.

I grew up in the country, in a farm house that was very old, and that had a foundation with a few gaps here and there. We would have mice from time to time.

I get teased for my insistence on always looking for the bright side of any situation. In case you were wondering, there really is a bright side to having a few mice in the house. As long as you have those mice, you know you don’t have rats. Apparently—and this is one of the nuggets of wisdom my mother passed on to me—the two types of rodents won’t live together. Now I’m not sure if that’s scientifically proven, but it’s true in my own experience.

That old house in the country did have rats occasionally, most notably when the chicken farm down the road botched their planned fumigation against their rat infestation and sent a veritable herd of them charging down the road in our direction. This happened twice, by the way, about 6 years apart.

But I digress.

You may recall that I’d told you we had purchased those plastic “humane” traps. They were designed to lure the mice in using this nugget of a tablet supposedly irresistible to the little buggers. Once they munched on said tablet, they would doze off to the land of mouse dreams, and you could then carry the box outside, and slip the tiny sleeping beauties out onto the grass.

The traps didn’t work because the mice refused to be lured.

Mr Ashbury set these traps aside, in much the same way he set the problem aside. And the mice did what mice do. They thrived and multiplied.

I reminded Mr Ashbury this past Friday that he really had to take care of the rodent problem. So he went out (again) and bought more of the old fashioned, wooden snap traps. In the mean time, I had made a rather interesting discovery.

The mice, apparently, had a secret something they were stealing and eating: kitty treats. You know the ones I mean, the ones that have the television commercials showing cats jumping through walls, or leaping several stories in the air just to get one of them.

Our cat, Spooky, is addicted to these treats. The fact that the mice seem to like these tiny treats as well kind of make sense, if you follow and then expand that rule of logic that says that you can eat whatever will eat you.

I decided to test the viability of using a kitty treat as bait by placing one inside the plastic, one-way door humane trap.

Half an hour later I heard the sound of plastic rattling. Sure enough, when I checked, there was a small rodent looking confused as he tried but was, of course, unable, to get out of the box.

I’m not very girly, I’m afraid. I had no problem picking up the box, taking it outside, and turning it upside down on the grass hill several feet out the back door. The mouse showed his appreciation for this move by scampering out of the now open box, and running like hell away from the house.

Mr. Ashbury’s new old-fashioned trap did have one victim, but in light of the excellent new bait—and because we just want the mice gone, not necessarily dead—he put the killer-traps away, and has, instead, been loading the humane ones with kitty treats.

Apparently this is one temptation (pardon the pun) the little critters can’t resist.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

November 14, 2012

There’s something very insulating about being an author, and I’m not altogether certain that’s a good thing.

I immerse myself in my W. I. P. - work in progress—and although in many ways writing is my job, for me it’s actually a lot more than that.

For the time that I am working on a novel, that story becomes the center of my world. It’s what I think about most of the time, and the only thing I really want to talk about. Because my stories are character driven, I need to get into the heads of my characters in order to tell their story in the best, most complete way possible.

I know that there is another world—what is generally referred to as “reality”—on the outside of this little creative oasis of mine. I’m somewhat aware of the day-to-day happenings in that world. But it’s as if I am protected from the sharp edges of it.

This is at once both comforting and alarming. It’s comforting because not much can really affect me. I don’t usually become emotionally invested in happenings outside of my family and friends, and my work. That’s pretty comforting when you think about it—the fact that I can pretty much control my environment.

However, sometimes, I wonder if I’m not missing some key something, namely, life itself. I don’t watch many movies, and there’re only two or three shows on television that I will sit and take in. I tune into the news once in a while, I watch a few “talking heads”, and of course, I catch the headlines online.

But there are trends, if you will, of popular culture, that I simply don’t appreciate—basically, I just don’t get them.

And there are some trends I studiously avoid altogether. For instance, some “reality show” personalities, littered liberally, sort of like salt on french fries, almost every day at many and various online sites. Egads, you can’t avoid them! I do my best to completely ignore them.

I have to ask, do people really care about these personalities—how much skin they show in their clothing selections, who they’re sleeping with, who they kiss in public, whether or not they’re having a bad hair day, and what they tweet? I mean, really?

There was a time not that long ago when I worried that my lack of familiarity with popular culture would inhibit my ability to connect with readers. Think about it for a moment. I’m a fifty-eight year old woman writing stories aimed at the generation younger than my own—and even the next one younger still. The women who read my novels are aged about 21 to 45. Those are the ages of some of not only my children, but some of my grandchildren.

My readers are no doubt into popular culture. They watch the same television programs, read the same books, go to the same movies. Some of them play video games, either online and on game-systems. They go to bars and night clubs, listen to rap or country music and know all the moves of all the dances, and all the ingredients of the trendiest drinks.

At one point I worried that I was being too insulated. Maybe I was in danger of falling out of step with my times! If an author is out of step with her times doesn’t she become redundant?

One thing you have to know about these author-types: they have no shortage of imagination and tend to apply it liberally everywhere.

I’ve since come to the conclusion that I can be aware of the world that my readers move in without having to move in it myself. I can be tuned in to what their lives involve, what their mindsets may be, without having to live those lives myself.

I don’t have to be like people who are younger than I am; I just have to listen to them, and to understand them.

And then I have to tailor my stories, so that the words I write mean something to them.


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

November 7, 2012

Tomorrow is my husband’s 60th birthday!

It’s kind of hard to believe, really. It seems like just yesterday that he came up to me at a high school dance and, well, hit on me. Oh, what a tough little guy he was back then. Hair greased just enough, eyes narrowed as if the world was trash, and wearing denim jeans, cowboy boots, and the ubiquitous denim jacket with the collar turned up. He had a chip on his shoulder anyone could see, and presented a kind of a ‘rebel without a clue’ sort of image.

We dated for a short time—as eleventh graders do—and then he decided I wasn’t cool enough, and he was gone.

Only to knock on my door on July 28th 1971—more than a year later.

I didn’t recognize him at first. His hair was missing the grease and his shoulder, that giant chip. And he wore glasses—turned out that before, his eyes hadn’t been narrowed in disdain so much as they were squinted as he tried to see without his specs. This young man bore little resemblance to the one I’d met before.

He asked if he could take me out for a cup of coffee, and a drive in his new (for him) car.

A year later, we were married and the rest is history.

He was 17 when we first met and it’s really hard for me to grasp that since then, 43 years have gone by.

Those years haven’t always been kind to either of us. We’ve had our ups and downs, both internally and externally.

My beloved is a recovering alcoholic, and as of today has been sober for nearly 29 and a half years. He wasn’t a pretty drunk, and his decision to get sober was only one of many courageous decisions he has made in his life.

He has always worked, even when there was no job to be had. Not so long after we got married, he worked for a moving company where he was paid for 40 hours a week but expected to work over 60. He did it because he had a wife, and then a baby to support. He took an extra job one winter, riding shotgun for a “friend” who had a pickup truck with a snow plow blade attached. The man paid him a few dollars an hour and expected him to chip in for repairs to the truck, too.

He took extra jobs where he could, and when there were no jobs at all, he cut fire wood and sold it; shoveled driveways with one small shovel—in short he always worked his ass off, because that was, in his mind, what a man did.

When I had my heart attack and subsequent emergency by-pass surgery he told me in no uncertain terms that I was retired. When I wondered what I should do with my time, he told me to do the one thing I’d always dreamed of doing—becoming an author.

He’s supported me every step of the way in this career of mine, and has always been my biggest fan, handing out bookmarks not just to coworkers and people he knows, but to perfect strangers, here at home and at any conference we happen to be attending.

He has read every single one of my books—and loved them.

We are, none of us, perfect. Neither is this world we live in.

But in this imperfect world, by any measure you care to name, my husband can be counted as a good man—and that, in my opinion, is a hell of a thing to be able to say about a body.

Happy birthday, beloved.



Thursday, November 1, 2012

October 31 2012

I don’t think I have any words that would be adequate to this situation so many are in. My heart breaks for all the people caught these past few days in the fury of Mother Nature.

It’s a somber reminder to us all that as powerful as we believe humanity to be, as strong a force as we are upon this earth with our weapons and our technology and such, there is another force far greater that will always prevail, and we really are powerless against it. The reach of these storms was vast, record-breaking, and wreaking havoc not only in the United States, but Canada as well.

This storm was a killer before it combined with the cold front to become something other. It continued to claim lives in both our countries, and in the aftermath we can only stare, wide-eyed and in shock at the devastation left behind.

One thing I have learned in my life is that there always seems to be some new, “worst thing” to come upon us. Bad stuff happens, and it happens to us all. It doesn’t matter if we’re black or white, Canadian or American; it doesn’t ask our religion or our sexual or political preferences. When disaster strikes it goes after us all with an equally ruthless hand.

From what I’ve seen, as I watch the extensive news coverage, and what has become of New Jersey and New York, I don’t know how anyone can recover in anytime less than a year. The death toll may rise, and the storm wasn’t, as of Tuesday night, even over. It’s projected to sweep back toward the east, trek across upper New York State, and hit our eastern provinces, what we here in Canada refer to as The Maritimes. Monday night in Toronto, a woman was killed when a large sign was blown apart by the incredibly strong winds.

I do, however, see something else as I watch all the coverage of this event, and it’s definitely something worth mentioning. I see Americans working together, to help their neighbors. I see people reaching out, lending a hand, regardless of whatever differences there may be between them.

That is one of the things that, to me, makes America such a great country. Her people don’t turn their backs on each other. They don’t cast their eyes about and say, “well, that’s got to be someone else’s problem”; they just roll up their sleeves and get to work. I see co-operation between elected officials of both parties. At this time, and under these circumstances, they aren’t democrats or republicans. They’re simply Americans who have been elected to take care of their people, and they’re doing just that: putting the needs of their people ahead of any other consideration. In other words, they are doing that which is right.

Adding insult to injury, the temperatures were supposed to drop Tuesday night in some areas, and for those without electricity, staying warm would be a challenge.

There’s another edge to this tragedy, beyond the physical. It’s hard to lose everything you own, to have to look around you and realize that everything is gone. We’re used, most of us, to getting by from day to day; we work, we save, and we do what we can to plan for the future. The sun comes up and goes down, and in the course of our lives we’re presented with challenges. We win some and lose some, but we keep motoring on.

And then we face a disaster, a real disaster, and the enormity of that loss—when everything is gone, when everything that was normal changes—that is something that is really tough to handle.

I’ve mentioned to you before that we’ve been through that twice ourselves, as we’ve lost not one but two homes to fire.

It is the battered spirits of the victims of Sandy that I pray for most; for when our spirits are bolstered, when we feel the strength of the prayers of others, then we can take those first, hesitant and shaky steps toward recovery.


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

October 24, 2012

A not so funny thing happened last week on the day that I was to drive my beloved and our daughter to the airport, so they could begin their vacation.

There was a meeting on a country road between my pretty red 2005 Buick Allure and a deer.

Now, this was a sudden and unavoidable collision. No one was hurt—well, no humans were hurt. The air bags didn’t even deploy inside the car.

The deer, unfortunately, wasn’t as lucky.

There were no clunks, grinds, or any other noises as the car traveled from the site of the impact to home. It was not yet full dawn, but there was enough light to see the results of this meeting. The vehicle was a mess, and I posted a picture of it on Face Book.

This didn’t really interfere with our plans for the day. I was still able to take Mr Ashbury and Jenny to the airport; we used her car, and I would have her vehicle at my disposal for week they were gone.

I figured, that most likely, by the time I contacted my insurance company and took care of all the paperwork and reporting, the car would be repaired and back, if not in time for me to drive to the airport again, then certainly by the next Monday.

Well, that didn’t turn out to be the case at all.

The damage to my car (that I’d had for not quite two full years) was sufficient for the insurance company to deem it a total loss.

Here is where you learn one more embarrassing fact about me. I kind of get attached to my stuff. I used to think I was a packrat until that reality show last year that I never completely watched, but saw enough of to wipe my brow in relief. But I do get emotionally attached to my things, and I sometimes even name them.

I liked my car. It was a Buick. It was mine. It was paid for. I wasn’t ready to part with it, and I really didn’t want to consider getting another vehicle at this time.

One thing I have learned, however, is that sometimes what we would prefer in life has absolutely no relationship whatsoever to what we actually get, or have to deal with.

This was one of those times.

Mr. Ashbury was away, but that didn’t really change the situation. Years of finding our rhythm together has resulted in our behaving for the most part in very predictable ways. Yes, I was ticked about the car being written off. But how I felt about it didn’t change the reality of it. I had to deal with the matter.

We’ve both long ago realized that you can reduce the stress of unpleasant, unexpected problems by focusing on finding a solution, instead of lamenting your bad luck.

 Moments after that call from the insurance company telling me they were giving me a pittance for my car, I went on line and began the task of looking for another vehicle.

 I like Buicks. The ’92 Buick I had before this last one, when it died, had more than 390,000 miles on it—or, in Canadian, 650,000 kilometers. Yep, that’s a lot, and a marvel, and sold me forever on the Buick.

Now, I’ve been pretty fortunate the last couple of times that I had to get a car. The right one revealed itself to me fairly quickly. Actually, the last one Mr. Ashbury found, while I was away at a conference.

We don’t buy new cars. We’re just not convinced in the value of them—that’s just us, and at least we feel the same way on the matter. So I was perusing the Internet for a “pre-owned” vehicle.

And this one I found, while my beloved, unawares, was sunning on the beach. My new Buick is a 2009, and fully loaded, including leather seats, a moon roof, and a digital display of information that’s going to take me a while to master.

I haven’t named it yet—but I probably will.


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

October 17, 2012

As you read this, Mr. Ashbury and our daughter are lounging on a beach somewhere in the Caribbean. Ah, the sand, the surf, the sun.

The joy of having the house to myself, more or less, for an entire week!

Now, I don’t want you to think for one moment that I don’t miss the old dear. Of course, I do. However we have been married an awfully long time. Not as long as some, but much longer than others. And a little time apart is not a bad thing at all.

We’ve never lived in each other’s pockets. And as a matter of fact, our first experiment with the concept of “separate vacations” happened many years ago, when we were still butt-deep in the raising of our three kids.

Mind you, that first “mini” solo vacation was in the form of separate weekends enjoyed at a downtown Toronto hotel.

As I recall, mine was spent swimming in the pool, indulging in a solo restaurant meal or two, and sleeping. I did a lot of sleeping. The weekend was memorable for me, because it was an entire weekend of not taking care of others.

This is the second time my beloved has taken our daughter on a vacation to the tropics. As you can imagine, it’s not easy for a single mother to manage to afford something like a one week resort stay—although they’re not as expensive as they used to be. In this instance, however, our motivation was different than just giving her a break.

Since May, Jennifer has taken her daddy to work nearly every single morning. I no longer routinely have to awaken at 5 am to drive a 50 mile round trip.

I didn’t mind the driving, per se. It was the part that had me rolling out of bed so early that was beating me up. After taking my beloved to work, I’d then have to come home and go back to bed for at least an hour and a half. On mornings when I had the children to get up and get ready for school, that return to bed often didn’t happen until after 9 am.

This, of course, meant I wasn’t out of bed and at work until 11 or later. Then I’d have to leave the house again at 3:30 in the afternoon to pick him up from work—usually just as I was really getting into my story.

A lot of days, Jenny also makes that return trip in the afternoon to bring her daddy home. That’s 100 miles a day all told—and more than 2 hours of my time each day—that I’ve gotten back.

Jenny and her father really are two peas in a pod. She has just as much redneck in her as he does. They spend a lot of time together, and I’m very grateful their relationship is so strong. We’ve not been in communication since they left, but I know they’re having a very good time together, and I don’t have to worry as they will, very likely, keep each other out of trouble.

Or, conversely, they’ll share whatever trouble they tumble into.

I’m just as happy to stay home and get some writing done—interspersed with just enough housework to keep the place functioning. Yes, I know I sound boring to those of you who aren’t writers. You’re likely thinking, “but don’t you do that anyway?”

The answer of course is yes, I do. Vacation for me isn’t the same as vacation for the non-writer. Vacation for me is writing, as always, only in a different locale.

My favorite for this year of 2012 took place in February when we were in Freeport, in the Bahamas. I had a cabana all to myself, the ocean breezes cooling my brow, the view of the pool and the ocean before me, and my very favorite thing: the sensation of the keyboard at the end of my finger tips. The words flowed and I very happily kept up.

My beloved enjoys the ocean, and the sun, and the possibility, however remote, that he might encounter the hint of a hurricane—since it is still the season.

Two very different definitions of heaven—which is what vacation, by anyone’s measure, is supposed to be all about.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

October 10, 2012

The Ashbury’s have a mouse in the house.

All right, in the interests of full disclosure, I suppose I should say that the Ashbury’s have several mice in the house.

The problem is starting to drive me batty.

You will recall that in the past, we had two kitties who, more or less and for better or worse, liked to hunt. Every now and then, they would catch the odd mouse in the house, and take it outside. Once in a while, they would catch something outside, and bring it into the house.

That was life and it had a natural kind of rhythm to it. But alas, those two great hunter-kitties have gone to the hunting grounds in the sky, and we are left with our “Spooky kitty”.

This is the kitty that moved in last August while Mr. Ashbury and I were on vacation. She has adopted us and has graciously allowed us to remain here in this house.

She lets the mice stay, too, although that really is no fault of her own.

You see, Spooky kitty came to us with no front claws. Yes, someone had her declawed—and then tossed her out to make her way in the world, when she couldn’t really even defend herself. This is why God sent her to us. He knew we would take her.

But I digress.

We have mice in the house. Apparently, our Spooky kitty scores very low on the threat-o-meter, as far as the mice are concerned. Spooky has indeed caught a couple of mice. But these mice have either escaped her completely, unscathed, or they have crawled somewhere and died—a situation that we learn of only well after the fact, and is always followed by a frantic game of “where the hell is it?”

We thought we had the problem solved a few months ago. We bought these traps—black, intricate, and hard to operate. We got two of them, and they each caught two mice. And then—nothing. As far as I could see, we seemed to have no more mice.

But they came back, apparently with reinforcements, and they completely avoided the traps.

So we bought some of the old fashioned kind of mouse traps—you know the ones I mean, the wooden ones with the springs? Nope. Someone must have told our mice what they were, because again, they avoided them.

Last weekend I drove Mr. Ashbury to our local Canadian Tire Store. Despite the name, this is a store that carries all manner of things, not just tires. It has tools, and car parts, and household items, even small appliances and mops and such.

And it carries mouse traps.

You know how they say that someone is always trying to build a better mouse-trap? Well, I’m here to tell you that person has some of Mr. Ashbury’s money.

He bought three traps, special traps. Advertised as being “humane” they are clear plastic “boxes” with a one-way swing door at one end. Inside the box is a tiny tablet made of herbs and valerian root. Said table is (allegedly) irresistible to the little rodents. They nibble and then doze off, allowing you to take the box outside, and gently transfer the sleeping rodent to the garden.

I wanted to ask how humane they were if the sleeping, defenseless little critters were then afternoon snacks to the neighborhood’s semi-feral cats, and other predators. But I didn’t, because I now understand and agree completely that these traps are indeed humane.

As of today, not a single mouse has ventured into one.



Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Autumn has a special scent in the air, a certain something that tells you, as a creature of this planet, that summer has waned and soon the winter winds will blow. The sky is a paler blue now, and the days have shortened. It’s a time for preparing for what’s to come, and finishing off projects begun in the spring.

It’s the time of the harvest.

The scent of autumn always calls to my nostalgic self. When I was a kid, autumn was the time of canning and homemade soup slowly simmering on the stove, of rosy cheeks from brisk walks.

I loved walking and did a lot of it. We lived in what, growing up, I considered an extremely rural community. There was a country store just a mile down the road, but the nearest town was about six miles away. As a teen, I routinely walked to town if I wanted to go to a movie, or go shopping. There was no public transportation, and my Mom’s taxi only went one way—my choice which way, but I figured I’d rather have the ride home at the end of my excursion.

Autumn was the time when school resumed—we always started our school year the day after Labor Day—and it was the time when, at least in my family, it was all hands on standby for that first frost warning.

My mother, you see, had a vegetable garden. Did you have one? Now, I need to tell you something about my mother’s garden—the one that became mine for a few years after she passed and we moved into that house.

This garden measured 25 feet wide by about 75 feet long. Each spring, one of the neighboring farmers came with his tractor to first plow and then disk this patch of earth for us.

By the way, we lived on top of the Niagara Escarpment, and the quarry (yes the one where my beloved still works) was just down the road, not even a quarter mile away. The significance of this fact is that every year, after the plowing and disking, the first chore of gardening was gathering all the new rocks that had come to the surface.

My mother grew tomatoes and peppers (mostly green peppers) green beans, yellow beans, and potatoes, cucumbers, squash, and corn. At my mother’s knee I learned not to plant the various varieties of squash too close together—especially the cucumbers and the watermelons—and to put the corn in the west end of the garden.

The most prolific of my mother’s crops were tomatoes, potatoes and cucumbers.

When the first frost warnings came—for the milder frosts—we had to go out and “cover” the plants still bearing fruit. This was an exercise that involved old bed sheets, opened paper bags, and those rocks we’d dug out in the spring. But then, the day would come, when mother would announce that it was time to harvest the garden.

She had a portable double-tub wash tub that we used inside for laundry but which also served as the washing station for the harvest. The tub would be hauled out; the hose would be employed; and the vessel filled with the coldest damn water you ever had your hands in.

I swear, that is my biggest memory, how cold my hands got scrubbing the potatoes and the cucumbers, especially. Yeah, there were such things as rubber gloves in those days, but there was no way in hell my mother would get those for me. And since I was the youngest—I would have been about 10 or 11 at the time—I couldn’t be expected to dig, or pick, or lift baskets and baskets full of produce. But I could wield a scrub brush like nobody’s business, and I did.

Potatoes were set to dry on a sheet spread out on the grass. They had to dry before you could store them. The cucumbers were set into baskets, having been sorted for size. Smaller ones became dills, medium ones, sweet pickles. The larger ones and I had a date later, because they needed to be sliced, the seeds culled out, and the left over veggie put through the grinder, as the first step of making green pickle relish.

Nothing went to waste; everything was used. What wasn’t canned or turned into a preserve, was frozen. Those scooped seeds were tossed into the compost pile out back. I never really understood when I was a child, but looking back from where I am now, I realize that garden fed us. As my mother at that point was a single mom, supporting three kids on a nurse’s salary that in the day was meager, that garden was a God-send.

If I ever get back to the country, you can be sure I will once more have a garden. Although it won’t be quite as ambitious a one as my mother owned.

And you can also be sure that when it comes time to harvest, I’ll corral my grandchildren. Some lessons are worth passing on.


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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Do you notice the passage of time? Do you have little signposts along the way that you look to, that mark the progression of the days of the calendar?

I never understood how thoroughly and in what particular fashion I marked the passing of time and the changing seasons, nor how ingrained that little system of mine had become until just this past week.

I rarely have to rise early to drive my husband to work anymore, and only have to be the one to pick him up at the end of his day one day a week, if that often.

No longer having that regular, daily long commute before dawn and then later again in the afternoon has deprived me of keeping touch with my guideposts for the progression of the seasons. When you travel the same route every day, at about the same time, you tend to notice the changes. Or at least, I do.

You become aware of the sunrise, and how that is a few seconds earlier or later each morning—well, until the clock gets changed, anyway. For example, I would measure the advance of daylight in the spring by where, exactly, I no longer needed to use my car’s high beams on my drive home.

You measure the progression of the changing leaves by noticing certain trees along the journey, and the slowly increasing ratio of red, gold and brown to green.

You also notice the temperature in the morning when you step out of the house before dawn, and mark the day in the fall when you had to wear that jacket for the first time.

This year, I’ve done none of the above and it’s more than a little disconcerting. Because suddenly here we are, in autumn, and I don’t remember getting here.

I had to pick my beloved up just yesterday, and rather than either focusing on the music playing on the radio, or my own thoughts, I paid attention to my rolling environment. I had this strange sense that I’d missed something, for a lot of the leaves have already turned and I don’t know when that started.

I’d already felt as if I’d missed a great deal of the summer, because we’ve been away a lot. We came back from Texas, and I was just settling in to enjoy—or at least pay attention to—our summer, only to realize it had begun to wane.

I always pride myself on being one who stops to smell the roses, or the coffee, and the fact that I haven’t this year gives me pause.

Life happens, sometimes at an astounding pace. Days can come and go and weeks turn to months in the blink of an eye. This is a familiar concept and one I’d had my own little system of besting.

Now I realize, I need to find a new way to stay connected to the world around me, and to pay attention to the days, and the passage of time.

Using deadlines and upcoming conferences doesn’t have the same pleasant side effect of lifting my attention outside of myself. I need to do that, to focus on the world around me, on nature, because that gives me a kind of grounding I haven’t found anywhere else.

Inevitably, when I focus on the trees and the fields, the skies and the clouds, the streams I pass and the forests along the way, I experience a sense of wonder.

I need that sense of wonder. I need that reminder that life is more than my little domain, and in fact consists of things that are both awesome, and awe inspiring.

Without the wonder, without the awe, the magic of life is so much harder to find.


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

I don’t believe that the basic rules of civilized society have really changed. In fact, I know they haven’t.

Having said that, I must acknowledge that there seems to be a growing number of people who act as if they have. Which particular basics, you may ask, am I referring to?

I’m talking about one of the most fundamental principles of “right”, as opposed to “wrong” behavior.

I realize that I am about to step in it again, and I offer an apology—not for what I am about to say, but for anyone who might be offended by the following words. Okay, here goes.

The line between right and wrong has not wavered. Honesty still matters. The truth is still the truth no matter what kind of spin you try to put on things. The Golden Rule is still an important guideline for how to behave outside of your own bathroom.

And doing the thing that is right is still the same right thing to do as ever it was.

There seems to be an attitude lately that I have to tell you baffles the hell out of me. That attitude, stated simply is, “everyone lies, so what does it matter if I lie, too?”

Really? Everyone lies? I’m sorry, but I have to disagree with that assertion.

This attitude I have heard expressed in those exact words by more people I’d never think would say such a thing than you could possibly imagine.

Or maybe you can imagine it because you’ve noticed the same thing, too.

It’s not just kids in defense of bad behavior spouting this maxim. It’s those you would consider to be pillars of the community. Those you used to be able to count on to be an example for others to follow.

And it’s not just that everyone lies, they will tell you. They will tell you that everyone lies all the time.

When someone says that to me, my response is automatic: I don’t. I don’t lie as a matter of course, and I don’t lie all the time. In fact, I don’t lie, period. And by lying, I’m not talking about being diplomatic to save the tender feelings of others. I’m talking about all-out, bald-faced lies. I’m talking about saying that which is not the truth—saying things as fact which actually are not facts at all.

Looking back on the way I was raised, this attitude is enough to make my parents roll over in their graves.

Lying is the one trend in our society that worries me more than any other. When we let go of the truth, it’s as if we cut the bindings that hold us together as a society. When we let go of the truth, we open ourselves up to that which is untrue, that which is said or espoused for a purpose that is unclear, in the shadows—dark.

“You’re being naïve again,” I’ve been told. “People lie to prove their points, to win friends, debates, and elections. People lie because otherwise, they wouldn’t win.”

Really? Imagine that! Guess what, cupcake? Not only can you not always win, sometimes you don’t deserve to.

The one thing about accomplished liars is that they`re not particularly wedded to any one specific lie; they can change their lies to suit the needs of the moment, and because they can and because they do, those needs are often and can be found to be complete reversals of previous lies.

I don’t know where this trend is going to take us, in the end. The greatest accomplishments of our history have been predicated on the truth, not on lies. Despite the fact that I am Canadian, the one line that comes to mind when I think of that is, “We hold these truths to be self-evident.”

Wow! There are not only “truths” but there are “self-evident” truths.

Let me state that again, in case you missed it: The greatest accomplishments of our history have been predicated on the truth, not on lies. As long as we cling to the latter, we abandon the forward momentum humanity has enjoyed since it first came upon this earth.

And let me say just one more thing, if I may. When you tell a lie, you are not just “telling a lie”, or “fibbing”, or “bending the truth” or putting “spin” on something.

When you tell a lie, you are bearing false witness against your neighbor.


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

I would like to announce that hell has now completely frozen over. How do I know this to be true? Because this past week I took delivery of another new cell phone. This one is an iPhone, or, more specifically, the iPhone 4S.

The one good thing about this new phone, as opposed to the last new phone, the BlackBerry which it replaces, is that as far as I can see there are only 5 buttons: on/off, volume up, volume down, mute – and the little indentation button that you press to return to the menu on the “touch screen”.

The bad thing about this phone isn’t really about the phone, it’s about me. I have to learn a whole new “doo-hickey” that’s different from any other “doo-hickey” I’ve ever owned.

Did I ever happen to mention to y’all that I am kicking at the gate of 60 and that my first computer was an abacas?

Not to be too immodest, but I am proud of my accomplishments and my attitude, specifically that I am willing to at least try new things. My daughter likes to chide me that I don’t do well with change, but I think she’s wrong. As I said, I’m closing in on 60 years of age, and yet I earn my living on the Internet, do all my banking online, and have been taking on new pieces of technology as the need has arisen.

Yes, it takes me a bit longer than someone half my age to learn a new piece of equipment. But I do, eventually, learn it.

More or less.

Just before we left for our trip to Texas, I bought myself a new digital camera—something my son has told me, for a long time, that I’ve needed. This will likely be the last one I buy, not because I think I’m too old to ever get another new one. No, it’s because it appears that digital cameras are going to become passé. With all the things they can put into these new cell phones, most people already use them as cameras—and also as alarm clocks.

I have to tell you that I’ve used my last two cell phones as alarm clocks, and taking a time-limited nap has never been easier.

Mr. Ashbury was quite taken with my new camera. Or perhaps I should more properly say, the camera was quite taken by him. Once again, (as he had in Anaheim with the old one that is outdated), he absconded with my camera to the point that I didn’t get to use it for more than a moment or two—and I had to ask for it first.

In case you think I should solve this problem by getting him his own picture taking device, let me assure you I did! I gave him a new video camera for Christmas last year, a camera that takes videos or still pictures and that he loves.

Yes, Mr. Ashbury was walking around in Texas with a camera in each hand, and I do believe his biggest dilemma was which one to use at any given moment.

I can only be grateful that so far he has shown no desire to put his hands on my iPhone.

As with my previous new phone, I was able to install FaceBook and twitter all by myself. My daughter grabbed my iPhone first, of course, and made sure to install a game app on it, which she seems to feel ranks as a necessary installation. This was when she came over to “teach” me how to use the phone.

My second daughter came over the next day, also to show me how to use this new phone. One piece of vital information she gave me was concerning the black hole of data-suck. Rest assured, I know how to turn off the data, so that my various and varied “apps” only work when wifi is available.

If I need something otherwise, I can turn it on, use it, then turn it off.

Beyond that, I’ve had demonstrated for me many of the nifty functions this phone has to offer—said instructions being offered, of course, at the speed of light.

I’ve danced to this particular tune before. I smiled, and I nodded and I thanked the girls for helping me.

And I resolved that in a week or two, when I am familiar enough with this new piece of technology, and the girls are no longer paying attention, I’m going to do what any rational person would do.

I’m going to take myself to the nearest Apple Store and ask for help.


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

This past week I’ve been a little frustrated in my goal to keep my butt in the chair, and my fingers on the keyboard, and write. Life keeps interfering with my attempts to return to normal and it’s starting to really stress me out.

Before the trips we undertook at the end of July and in mid August, I was on a roll, writing wise. I was able to stick to a pretty good daily routine, and produce words at a very satisfying rate.

When I say this to people who are not writers, they’d don’t quite get it. How can they? Now, it isn’t that I think that, as a writer, I’m any better than anyone else. I don’t, and I’m certainly not; however, I am different.

My non-writing family and friend will say, well, just sit down and do it! And they have a point, to a degree. But in reality it is a bit more complicated than that.

Facebook is resplendent with funny little cartoons and posts about writers and their peculiar proclivities. I can tell you that most of those “stereotypes” – the ones that say we writers are somewhat neurotic, annoyingly myopic (focus-wise) and daydreaming hermits – these all apply to me.

I’m happiest when I’m at home, at my keyboard, working on my current “work in progress”. That is never more true than when am able to I slip into the “zone” and become as one with my characters.

What that means is that as I write, my mind becomes filled with the characters and their journey, and if I’ve done my homework right, and if I’m lucky, in a sense I become my characters: so that, as I “live” the plot I’m creating, my words – the characters’ words – are theirs, and not mine.

And you thought authors were sane!

On my latest edit, my wonderful editor had a comment that I really want to have framed. To paraphrase, with each new installment of my series that I create, my characters’ interaction becomes richer, the banter becomes livelier, and the heart of the town I’ve imagined really shines through.

This is what I love about my job. Readers read to escape for a little while. It’s like grown-up recess, isn’t it? You pick up a book, and for a little bit of time you leave your own reality behind, and live in someone else’s world. While you’re reading your mind and heart and soul get a break from the stress, from the handling and the living. That part of you breathes.

It’s all of that and more, being an author.

You’ll hear us talking about things like character arcs and plot points, and you might think that writing is for the most part an exercise in logic and elements combined to tell a story and again, you’d be partly right.

Everyone’s process is different, and every one of us who writes approaches what we do with a completely different mind-set—although there are levels where we can connect to each other with near-perfect synchronicity.

When I’m working on a novel, I don’t get very far if I don’t know the heart of these character’s story. What past events in their lives do they need to overcome? What lessons do they have to learn now? How are they like you and me, but different, and what can we do together—my characters and I—that will somehow touch you, our readers?

Some of those things I really don’t know when I begin my first draft. They are the lampposts of discovery I make as I embark on the journey of writing each individual story.

And more often than not, where I end up when I’m finished is not where I’d thought I would be when I started out.


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

I can still recall the incident, oh so many years ago. I was a newlywed, visiting my mother, and telling her about some matter that, in hindsight, I’m sure was quite trivial. I said to her [or perhaps whined would be a better verb] “it’s just not fair!”

I remember this day in particular because of Mother’s response to that proclamation. She got this horrified look on her face, and immediately demanded, “Who the hell ever told you life was fair? If life was fair, your father would still be alive!”

I remember that her vehemence surprised me. Her attitude wasn’t one I possessed at the tender age of 18. At that age I believed life should be fair and would be fair if only I could figure out how to make it happen.

Times change, of course and thankfully, we mature. After more than a half century of living, one thing that has been proven to me over and over again is this: not only is life unfair, it is sometimes unfair to an appalling degree.

I’ve had that reality demonstrated to me again just this past weekend.

This past Saturday I drove for two and a half hours to visit my friend—the one I reconnected with just a couple of years ago. I wish I could say the occasion for this visit was to enjoy a fun, social time, but it was not.

I went, because her husband was dying from a brain tumor. He was at home, had refused any further treatment, and so she stayed at home with him, taking care of him because, as she said, “I promised him that I would”.

This will be the second time my friend has suffered the loss of a husband. She said to me, “At least this time I know, and I can say all the things I didn’t get to say last time.”

Her first husband died suddenly in his early forties.

My friend and her current husband are good people. They have family and friends, and they are loved by all who know them. They’ve never sought to do harm to another human being, and have offered their help to whomever, whenever they could—even reaching out to those who have wronged them.

Life really is not fair.

When I arrived at her home Saturday, she had friends there, and a nurse’s aide, as well. She needed to get out for a bit—aside from the fact that she had to run a couple of errands, she just needed a break.

I took her to lunch, and we spent time simply being in each other’s company. We reminisced about what it was like being kids in the 1960s, and since we’d known each other’s mothers, we looked back on them from the perspective of being mothers and grandmothers ourselves.

My friend is suffering of course, because, though she’s never been one to wax sentimental, her husband—this man who only a few short weeks before had been a vital, laughing, loving man—is the love of her life. She calls him her best friend, and her soul mate.

He’d been a best friend and a bulwark to her first, this man who’d also been a friend of her first husband’s which was how they met. He had been there for her children, too, as they’d grieved the loss of their father. Friendship eventually gave way to deeper, more intimate feelings. He has been good for her. He challenged her on so many different levels, expanding her horizons. He got her to do things she never thought she’d ever do.

At forty-something years old my friend learned how to ride motorcycle!

We returned from lunch, and she spent time getting her husband settled in the hospital bed that had arrived while we were out. He sleeps, mostly, but she said, he knows her when she’s there. He talks, but just the odd word here and there. After she made him as comfortable as possible in that bed Saturday, he said, “safe”.

She told me that when she held his hand the night before—which would have been Friday night—he brought her hand to his lips and kissed her fingers.

I had no words to give her, but she didn’t need my words. She just needed my hugs and my presence, both of which I was grateful to give her.

I’ve often wondered why some people seem to get such a super-sized helping of crap in their lives. That is a mystery for which I simply have no answer.

My friend’s husband passed away Monday afternoon.


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Writing is a solitary profession. We who are authors each have our own writer’s “cave”, and spend the lion’s share of our days with our butts in our chairs, and our fingers on our keyboards.

Whatever the individual writing process may be, in essence we all do the same thing: we strive to write stories that we hope and pray that someone, somewhere, someday will read.

Every once in a while, we leave our caves and venture forth into the greater world, where we partake of meetings, conferences, and conventions.

This past week, I ventured forth to Dallas, to attend my publisher’s inaugural convention, “TRC2012”.

This was something I’d heard Ms. Hilton say she wanted to accomplish—holding an annual convention—several years ago. I knew the event would happen when the time was right, for my publisher is tremendously savvy when it comes to all things business.

And yet that is not her greatest talent as a publisher.

Her greatest talent is building relationships with her authors. She treats each of us as if we are someone special. If you send her an e-mail, as often as not she’ll pick up the phone and call you to address whatever questions or concerns you may have.

She cares about her authors as unique, and creative people.

She’s also acquired a staff of highly qualified, dedicated women and men who, like her, treat the authors with utmost professionalism and respect. This past weekend I got to meet some of them as they worked tirelessly to make TRC2012 a success.

From me to them, go my deepest thanks for all of their hard work.

I am so blessed to be a part of the Siren-Bookstrand family—and I mean that from the bottom of my heart.

There was something for everyone in this inaugural conference. Authors got together in a fast-track retreat to discuss with our publisher and the president of the company issues that mattered to us—what’s hot and what’s not, and the state of this every-fluid industry we’re all in.

There were workshops and panels where readers were welcomed and sat side by side with the authors they love. What a joy it was for me to meet so many who’ve read my work!

We, as writers, were treated to a panel of avid readers, eager to answer our questions including that very hard to answer subject: “what makes you pick up one book as opposed to another?”

One of the panelists said that to them, we were rock stars. To her, and all the others, I would say, that to us, you’re the validation of all that we aspire to do. You allow us to say to ourselves, “it’s true: someone really reads my work and loves it.” This is the nectar and the manna that we, as authors, hunger for.

Thank you, readers, for feeding us so well.

The convention featured a book fair, and every author had people come to his or her table to meet, greet, receive swag and get autographs. Free books abounded. There were prizes, as well, and man, was that a busy, happy afternoon!

I was personally astounded by how many readers came to this fair.

There are a few things in this life that nourish me, replenish my energy and motivate me to write; but the top two are spending time with readers, and spending time with fellow authors.

I met face-to-face, for the first time, many of my sister-sirens with whom I’ve communicated on line. These women were already my friends, but those friendships now have faces, and smiles.

And I also re-connected with some authors who are very dear to my heart: Lara Santiago (affectionately known as The First Author, because well, she was), Heather Rainier, Peyton Elizabeth, and Corrine Davies.

Heather and I have been collaborating, since our two series’ “towns” are just down the road a piece from each other. It’s the most fun I’ve had writing, ever.

I was honored to be asked, along with Lara Santiago, to be the M. C. for the awards ceremony, and humbled to receive two awards myself.

My beloved was with me every moment throughout the convention, and I know it’s an experience he’s looking forward to repeating next year.

All things considered, I am Blessed and Highly Favored.


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

My beloved and I arrived in Texas last Sunday, eager to get to know a little of this state. We rented a car—something we’ve actually never done before when traveling—and headed out, destination Waco.

For those of you who may have been following my career over the last couple of years, you’ll understand immediately why we headed here, first.

My only two historical novels, written under the penname of Cara Covington, were set in Waco, and westward, into the Texas Hill Country. I wanted to see this city I’d researched.

I wanted to look out and up at the Texas night sky, and breathe in the Texas air. I wanted to feel the intensity of the Texas sun on my skin [and boy, did we ever luck out there].

I wanted to learn firsthand just a little bit about the spirit that is Texas. People are people everywhere, and we all have many things in common. But sometimes there is a regional spirit that binds folks to a location, that binds them heart and mind, body and soul to each other as well.

In my opinion, Texas is one such place. There is a sense of determination here, of pride and an independent spirit that says, “We can do what we need to do to take care of our own.”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that same doggedness isn’t in existence elsewhere in this country or on this planet. I’m just saying it seems to be front and center in the souls of the people of this state.

It’s the main reason I’ve set my series here in Texas.

We spent a couple of hours at the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum. Our inner “history buffs” were thrilled with the wealth of information there. If you ever come to Waco, that museum is a must-visit spot.

For me, the Rangers exemplify what I think of as the spirit of Texas. They had to volunteer for duty, supply their own horses and badges and guns—and they did so, serving proudly, accepting payment in the form of land, when they were paid at all. Many of them worked as surveyors to get by, and the two vocations went hand in hand.

As well as touching and getting close to that which is real and which I have studied, I also wanted to see if I could find that which I have only imagined.

So yesterday we set out, my beloved and I in our rental car, in search of Lusty, Texas.

In my contemporary series based on the historical, I always hedge about where Lusty is, exactly. My characters say, “it’s about an hour or so west of Waco”. Not completely an arbitrary choice, that. After all, my original characters in the historical stories had some connection to that city.

One of them had been a Texas Ranger there, circa 1880.

I do the best I can, when researching a novel, to try and make things at the very least plausible. In looking at the maps available to me, I decided that just outside of Gatesville, Texas, seemed like a pretty good choice for my imaginary town. There were a few small communities between Gatesville and Goldthwaite, but nothing solid—nothing that could ever be mistaken for this completely fictional town which I had created with my mind and described with my words.

I write what I write with no apologies, but that doesn’t mean I’m not sensitive to the fact that some people may react to my work in an unfavorable manner. I seek only to entertain, with no thought of offending anyone.

If someone is offended by my words, they don’t have to read them. For my part, I wouldn’t want anyone thinking “my town” was really “their town”.

Lusty, after all, isn’t Peyton Place.

So we drove, and watched our miles. We’d both decided when the time was right, we’d turn left off the highway. It just always seemed to me the Lusty had to be more left than right.

We found a road, and turned left, and traveled for a spell. Before long, we came upon a bit of flat land in amongst the hills that looked to be just right for an airfield. Then there was another twist in the road, and another few minutes, and… there it was.

Lusty, Texas.

It’s not a very big town, really, a couple of miles square all told, with rolling fields, plenty of trees, and space to spare. And it has a heart as big, and as welcoming, as the state surrounding it.

Just exactly where and how I imagined it would be.


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Hands are really pretty handy, aren’t they?

That’s a basic truth that I’ve had brought home to me anew this past week, as I recover from having carpel tunnel surgery on my right hand last Tuesday.

I am, by the way, right handed.

I find it a delicious bit of irony that the doctor told me that I must not do much with my hand at all until I get the stitches out (later today). I’m allowed to wiggle my fingers—almost identical to the way I move them when I am using a key board—and after the second day, I was able to drive—but that’s about it.

You’d think I would rejoice being told I could write, but do nothing else. Guess I’m just never happy no matter what.

I cannot get my stitches wet, and I cannot lift anything or put any pressure whatsoever on my right hand. I have to sleep with it elevated on a pillow, and I must avoid letting my hand hang down.

Fortunately, our second daughter is a nurse, and she has been kind enough to come by and change the dressing for me. When she has my stitches uncovered, she makes all kinds of “hmmm” sounds.

I’m not sure if there’s a problem or she’s just taking the opportunity to tease me. I am a notoriously easy mark, and my family, to a one—even the ones we’ve acquired—merciless teases.

The worst part of this entire situation isn’t the pain. It’s the forced inactivity.

Friends, it has truly been sheer hell for me, not being able to do anything. I’m such a creature of habit. I have my little routines—my boundaries—and I am happiest when I am plodding away within them.

Every morning I get up, turn on my computer, put the dishes in to soak, and scan my house making mental note of what jobs have to be done. I check my e-mail, then move on to my work in progress, and every thirty minutes or so get up and do other things. I call it multi-tasking.

This is the first time that I’ve been “laid up”, yet basically felt well enough to not be. The last time I was forced by medical circumstances to be idle was as a result of my triple by-pass surgery, 10 years ago. Back then I felt sick, and being inactive didn’t cause me stress.

I told my daughter a few days ago that my house was so “out of order” that it felt as if my skin was crawling. Her response was the same as her father’s had been. She took a moment, looked around, and declared that everything “looked fine”.

I have made a note to see to it they both get their eyes tested at the earliest opportunity.

Having just come home from California a week ago this past Sunday—and leaving for Texas this coming Sunday—I suppose one could say I didn’t exactly plan the timing of this procedure very well.

My beloved pointed out that there likely would never have been a perfect time for me to be “out of commission”. I suppose he’s right. I tend to be a bit of a perfectionist. And I really am used to being busy all day long.

When I hit my bed at night, I’m usually completely exhausted.

I can’t even really write for too long at a time in one go. I keep having to stop and rest my hand.

I know a few people who basically do nothing all day, every day. They sit and read, or watch television. They live in what I call Chaos, and don’t seem to mind it one bit.

How does anyone do that? The inactivity, the inability to tidy and cook and clean, is driving me crazy and believe me, it’s a short trip.

My beloved, in the mean time, has had to pitch in. He’s had to do the dishes every day, vacuum, and tidy where I cannot. By Sunday I was able to fold the laundry but I couldn’t really hang anything up or put it all away.

He knows how bad I feel that he’s had to do “my job”—suffice it to say that we’re both of an age that he isn’t used to doing any housework at all. And I suppose it’s not all negative, this situation I find myself in.

Mr. Ashbury has a newly refreshed appreciation for how much I actually do around the house. Or, as he so eloquently put it, “your life sucks”.

I know he means that in a kind, and loving way.


Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The writer’s lot is an interesting one, and nothing could make me happier. It’s not interesting all the time, of course. As with any other job, there is a modicum of tedium involved, and that’s really okay. But for the most part I find this life I now lead—this career—fascinating.

I’m constantly surprised by the blend of writing, editing, and promotion that’s required in order to be a professional writer today. Sometimes promotion is something as simple as posting a few excerpts on a Yahoo! Groups list. And sometimes it involves travel.

You think I’m going to talk about that conference I was at last week, don’t you? The one that was just three short blocks away from Disneyland.

Well, I’m not.

Instead I’m going to tell you about a brand new conference, one being held by my wonderful publisher, Siren-Bookstrand. TRC – The Romance Convention—will have its inaugural session the week after next, August 17th and 18th, in Dallas, Texas.

The first day will be devoted to the authors who have their books published with Siren-Bookstrand. There will be panels and workshops all geared to the author, to provide the extra tools, and resources and inspiration we need as we craft our stories to give our readers the best in romance fiction.

There is nothing more refreshing for me, as a writer, than to spend time with other writers. There is a chemistry that happens when we gather together that you don’t find anyplace else.

You see, basically, all writers are solitary creatures, working in their individual caves, with just the characters in their heads for company.

I had to grin last week as I was privileged to sit in on a session at the RWA conference with a very famous romance author. One thing she said that particularly resonated with me: “writing doesn’t make you neurotic; you’re neurotic to begin with.”

Because that is so, no one understands an author quite as well as another author.

The second day of this conference, being held at the Sheraton Dallas Hotel on North Olive Street, features a book fair that is open, free of charge, to the public. If you’re in the area, come by and say hello to us. There will be prizes and freebies, and a chance to meet some of your favorite authors. You see, as well as spending time with fellow authors, we writers love to meet our readers.

After all, we write our novels so that someone—you—will read them.

This has been a year of increased travel for my husband and me, especially after last year when we didn’t attend a single conference. But we’re both able to travel now, and so we’re making the most of it.

I’m excited to be going back to Texas. Any chance I get to spend time with my phenomenal publisher, I consider to be a golden opportunity. As well, I’ll be meeting some of my fellow Siren-Bookstrand authors for the first time, authors whose work I’ve read and enjoyed.

I’m also looking forward to spending time with my colleagues Sophie Oak, Kris Cook, and Heather Rainier, all of whom I met for the first time t his past spring, in Chicago. These three very successful writers, Texans all, will be acting as hosts to the rest of us during this convention.

Heather Rainier and I have been collaborating on a fun project. We’re “crossing” our series. She’s the author of the very popular “Divine Creek Ranch” books, and I of course, under my other pen name, ‘Cara Covington’, am the author of the “Lusty, Texas” series—book 9 of which comes out on the 13th of August.

Heather and I are having a blast working together, and I can say without exaggeration, that our readers are excited about our upcoming novels—and so are we!

Honestly, I have the best job in the world!


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

These words are coming to you from Anaheim, California. Mr. Ashbury and I flew in to LAX on Sunday last, and will fly home again next Sunday.

One thing I can say is that I now fully understand the concept of jetlag. I don’t recall it being so difficult to adjust to Pacific Time when we went to San Francisco in 2008. I’m hoping the difference isn’t due to the fact that I’m four years older than I was then.

Seriously, I went to bed Sunday night at 5:30 pm Pacific time, and slept until 6 am the next morning. I figured that was simply a sign that I had exhausted myself more I’d realized, in the days before we left. But Monday wasn’t much better. I laid down for an hour or so at 7, feeling totally wiped.

Mr. Ashbury pointed out that the reason for my Monday exhaustion was that we had spent a great deal of the day outside. He could be right. Between the time we spent by the pool—him reading and me writing—and the three plus hours we were out and about—him walking and me on the scooter—most of our day was spent in the sun and breeze of this city not far from the ocean. That’s a lot of fresh air and sunshine for someone who sometimes doesn’t go out of doors all day.

Today the real business of the conference gets underway. From 5 to 8 pm there’s a book signing event at the Anaheim Convention Center. All of the proceeds of this sale benefit literacy programs in this area. RWA typically raises thousands of dollars every year to benefit literacy. Local chapters, across the United States and Canada also donate money every year to this worthy cause.

On Thursday, the conference itself gets underway. I’ve chosen a few seminars to attend this year. I do love to learn new things. But I haven’t made a full schedule for myself. I prefer to tread lightly, and of course, I do need my writing time.

Mr. Ashbury and I have explored this area together over the last few days. Although I have rented scooters at previous conventions, the venues didn’t have many attractions close by to encourage me to go out and explore. Here, we’re only a ten minute walk from a couple of very busy tourist areas: Anaheim’s Garden Walk, and Disneyland.

The Garden Walk is definitely aimed at the tourist, with restaurants like Bubba Gump’s, clothing boutiques, and a very large movie theatre. Arranged in a park-like setting, it’s typical of what I love to visit when I’m in “vacation mode”.

Ah, Disneyland. The original. The theme park that changed theme parks forever. No, Morgan didn’t, nor will she, actually go to Disneyland.

We did, however, visit the commercial area right outside the park called “Downtown Disney”. It’s packed with places to eat and lots of stores. They had a Lego Store, and a store where you could build your own bear. There were t-shirts and jewelry, purses and hats, and souvenirs of every style and shape and description.

At home, I’m not much of a shopper, that’s true. But I do love to look when we’re away, especially at all the shiny and sparkly bits of stuff offered at these sorts of places.

Also within easy walking/scootering distance of our hotel were places like I-HOP and a 7/11, a Chinese Food restaurant, a pizza place, and a Subway restaurant. There are plenty of what we used to call “motor inns”, all with pools. This area is definitely geared toward the family. The prices range from the mildly irritating to the truly stunningly painful.

Being frugal sorts we purchased only one bottle of water from the hotel. The rest we got and will continue to get at the 7/11. And we ate breakfast yesterday at the I-HOP.

Mr. Ashbury has to be on his own for a couple of days now as I attend to the business of writing and being a member of the Romance Writers of America. And he has decided, for good or ill, that tomorrow he is going to go, on his own, to Disneyland.

When he told me that I just shook my head and wished him luck. And yes, I did wonder, just for a moment, if maybe the poor man isn’t losing his mind.


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

For the second time in our lives, Mr. Ashbury and I are preparing to get on board a plane and fly to California.

A few years ago, we visited San Francisco, so that I could attend the Romance Writers of America National Conference being held in that city.

This occasion is for the same conference, but a different city: we’ll be landing at LAX and then taking the Super Shuttle to Anaheim.

I’m a member of not only my own local RWA chapter, Toronto Romance Writers, but also of two “online” chapters—Passionate Ink, and Kiss of Death.

The first is devoted to what we’ll call the writing of steamier romance, and the second to mystery/suspense authors. Most of my novels have suspense sub-plots, and I strive to hone my skills in this sub-genre with each new story written.

One major reason I’m excited about going to the RWA National Conference is that I will finally get to meet, face to face, with a member of my online writing group: D. B. Reynolds, author of the excellent paranormal series, Vampires In America.

D. B. and I have “known” each other online for a number of years. She and I share moderator duties of the Online Writers Group that is hosted by the website of New York Times bestselling author, Kelley Armstrong.

If you are a fan of a well crafted plot and compelling characters, then I recommend the series. Published by Imajinn Books, they’re available in e-book and print, at Amazon as well as Barnes & Noble.

Whenever we travel for a conference or convention, I always make an effort to do some sightseeing and research in the area. As an author, having a variety of places you’ve visited is golden. It is, of course, possible to set a story in a city you’ve never visited—especially today with all of the research available on the Internet. There are virtual tours and local newspapers, Google Earth, and all manner of photographs and videos available so that a person can get a pretty good sense of a place without even leaving their chair.

But there is something to be said for knowing the scent of a city, the sight and the sound and the rhythm of it. And of course, nothing beats meeting and chatting with the people who live there.

As I have done for the last few conferences, I have arranged to have a scooter available at the hotel when I arrive. Despite wearing a step counter daily, and often managing to take between 5000 and 8000 steps each day, I simply cannot walk long distances without ending up in complete agony. Having a scooter means I’m not confined to the conference site, but can sample some of the neighborhood, too.

I’ve been told there is a wealth of eateries and shops, a virtual treasure-trove of tourist spots—within a five minute scooter ride of the hotel.

I’ll be signing books at the Literacy Autographing event—where all of the proceeds from the books sold go to fund literacy programs both locally and nationally. If you’re there, come by and say hi.

You doubtless recall all the teasing I’ve received from practically every member of my family—as well as several friends—about my proclivity for making lists before I travel. Well, I am pleased to report that my beloved has adopted this habit. Of course, he makes his list on a tiny note pad, from which he also crosses items off once they are in the suitcase. He says he uses the note pad for convenience but I believe he uses it because it is so easy to conceal. I think I’m the only one in the family—or anywhere else, for that matter—who knows that my beloved has adopted my ‘anal’ habit.

Or rather, I suppose I should say, I was.