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.