Wednesday, December 18, 2013

December 18, 2013

My love of the Christmas season is tied up in my memories of childhood—both my own, and that of my children. This love has been tempered through the years I have lived, and has grown and evolved not only from happy experiences, but sad ones as well.

As much as this time of year can be joyous, it also has the potential for being a difficult season, emotionally, for many to cope with. Those who are out of work, or who’ve just returned to work and still haven’t caught up on their financial situations, feel the pressure because they can’t provide those extras for their families, the way they want to. I know, because we’ve been there, many times.

Those missing loved ones feel that loss even more keenly at Christmas. I think it’s because this time of year, for those of us who celebrate it, is drenched in tradition. As you light that special candle, as you prepare that special meal, or as you head out to choose that perfect evergreen, you can’t help but recall the past, and the times you spent with that one who is no longer here.

Losses and crises suffered now seem somehow more tragic than if they happen, say, in the middle of March, or near the end of September. Christmas is a time for families, and so, when things impact the family at this time of year it seems more.

Today is an interesting day, historically for the Ashbury family. On this date in 1989, we had a house fire – our second, by the way – and while no one was hurt, we did suffer property loss, and financial loss, as we were, at the time, uninsured.

On this day in 2002, I had been transported from one hospital here to one in another city to undergo angioplasty, which, mid procedure turned into an emergency requiring triple by-pass, when the artery being given the stint, tore.

Through all of the disasters and near disasters we, like many of you, just keep putting one foot in front of the other. What else can you do? But no matter if you do just keep on keeping on, those incidents add shape and substance to the season.

As I have gotten older, I’ve come to understand that if life is to be lived to its fullest, then we have to do more than just endure hardships and tough times. We have to make them mean something.

I got out of the hospital on December 24, 2002. I came home to a house that was basically tidy, but there was no tree, and not much food in the cupboard. Y’all know I love my husband, and he is a man with many fine qualities. But he does not cook—no, he will not cook. So that Christmas Eve I did send him out to grab a bit of Chinese food at one of the take-out restaurants in town. And then I phoned my brother, who lives in this same town, and who does cook, and because I was a little grumpy 7 days post op, told him, flat out, he needed to bring us Christmas dinner the next day.

This he did with great grace and style—even including a pickle tray.

That was the first of two times in our lives we ‘celebrated’ Christmas without a Christmas tree. The second, of course, was the first Christmas without our son.

The enduring image I have of Christmas morning with my children, is them, in their pajamas sitting on the stairs, waiting for permission to come down to see the tree and the gifts awaiting them. They vibrated with excitement. After only two hours sleep, Mr. Ashbury and I needed our coffee first. We had to have those first few sips, because we needed to be alert enough so that we could enjoy their discoveries.

Because for us, their joy and pleasure was what Christmas was all about.

Next Wednesday is Christmas Day, and I will not be posting Wednesday’s Words. Instead, I will be snuggled down with Mr. Ashbury, and then preparing the dinner for 10/15ths of my family.

May you enjoy love and laughter, and the magic that is Christmas next Wednesday, and in all the days yet to come.


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

December 11, 2013

Are you tired of the “holiday season” yet? Personally, I hate what we as a society have done to what is a very special time of year.

Every year, it seems to me, the hype at the malls gets bigger and louder and glitzier. The music, the decorations, and the push to buy more, get more, have’s enough to give anyone a headache.

As much as possible, I try to stay away from the malls during the Christmas season. For the last couple of years we’ve been giving gift cards to everyone (except the very young), and we give everyone the same amount. One stop shopping for just about everyone on our list. But that isn’t the only giving that we do.

In our grocery store, where we shop every week, there is a big bin that has the words, “food bank” blazoned across it. It is there, permanently, every single day, but it only seems to be full, or nearly so, during this time of year.

I believe that if every single person who shops there, every week, were to buy just one thing—a jar of peanut butter, some tuna, jar of baby food, or even a can of stew—that bin would be full every day, and those most in need would be fed, every day.

But ‘tis the season when the status conscious (as opposed to the morally conscious) make a big show of giving to the poor. Seeing this, knowing this, used to make me shake my head. It’s like they’re saying, hey, if you’re really poor, and hungry, then hurray, you got to eat well for one day of the year.

I saw something last year that really shocked me and made me think. I never spoke out at the time, because I think such acts as this invoke their own Karma. And it happened at this time of year.

In December our local grocery store sponsors a “fill the cruiser” campaign. On three weekends, a police cruiser is parked in front of the doors of the store, lights flashing, and people are encouraged to give the officer some food for the needy, that he then puts in the cruiser. These donations are taken to the Salvation Army, a charitable group that does wonderful work in our community.

Last year, as I had just left the checkout and was heading out of the store, a well dressed man (suit, tie, overcoat and hat) stepped in front of me after going, empty handed, through the lane at the “express” counter. He then scooped a bag that had been placed in the food bin by someone else, and carried it outside and handed it to the officer collecting donations.

Of course, the cop thanked him for his charity, and this good Samaritan stood and chatted with the nice officer for a while, basking in the glow of his goodness.

I didn’t say anything at the time. But I thought about that episode a lot later.

Some people, I guess, are happy with making a “show” of generosity and caring, like that man was. And he got the only reward he’s ever going to get: an empty “thank you”. Not that the officer was disingenuous, because he was not. But since the man had done nothing to earn gratitude, then the gratitude he was given, was worthless.

I believe—I choose to believe—that most people are generous and genuine. I choose to believe that most people will lend a hand to a stranger if the opportunity is there. I choose to believe that the number of selfless acts performed quietly and without fanfare every day outweigh the moments of false braggadocio—or the moments when people simply turn away from helping.

There are always people in worse straits than we are; and no matter how humble are our means, we can always give something.

If I buy one can of stew for 1 dollar, and you buy one can of stew, and everyone buys one can of stew, and there are 1000 people shopping at the store that day, then that is 1000 cans of stew! And if a family of 4 were to eat 2 cans of stew per meal, for three meals a day, that is 6 cans of stew. One thousand cans divided by 6 means that 166 families could eat for 1 day – and all you donated was a dollar.

Yes, that illustration was very simple. But then, so is giving, when you get right down to it.


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

December 4, 2013

Wednesday’s Words is 7 years old!

Over the course of the last seven years I’ve been privileged to write essays that you, my readers, have read faithfully. There have been maybe four Wednesdays in total that I have missed, primarily due to being on vacation where the Internet connection was sketchy.

What amazes me the most when I think about it is that I have found something to say every week for so many years!

As most of you know who’ve read my essays each week, I often let you see me, warts and all. I don’t put on airs, choosing instead to let you see the flaws and the foibles that have followed me around for most of my life.

I’ve had different people—people who know me personally and claim to only be thinking of my best interests—tell me from time to time that this isn’t a good idea. Some have said that since I am an author of romance, my business should be primarily “exporting happy” to everyone, since romance novels are the quintessential happy-ever-after books. They think that if I am going to offer a blog at all, it should be hearts, and flowers, and all things wonderful.

I’ve had others tell me that I need to preserve an air of mystique. I guess they subscribe to the maxim that “familiarity breeds contempt”, or some such business. They feel that I need to keep myself “apart” from my readers (they call them fans), that all celebrities do this, and that very attitude of being “apart” [and here I think they meant ‘better’] helps to make celebrity what truly it is.

I’m not a celebrity, I’m just me.

Then there are those who say, “You shouldn’t let people know your business” as if letting people know my business was tantamount to letting them see me in the bathroom. I’ve asked why they feel that way, but so far, no answer has been forthcoming.

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and to make their own choices in this life. Over the years I’ve been very honest with you about the tough times we’ve been through, and the journey we are on. I’ve shared with you my most vulnerable moments, especially in the aftermath of our son’s death.

It is important to me that I write these kinds of essays, showing you my vulnerabilities, and the reason is simple. I need to share the crap that happens to me in my life so that others out there know they are not the only ones digging themselves out of the muck.

When life serves us up these piles of poop, for want of a better term, we humans tend to hunker down, withdraw, and often, we feel as if we’re the only ones going through, well, what we’re going through. This feeling of isolation is really the worst part of what we have to endure on this earth.

Anyone who has been blessed, as my husband and I have been blessed, also has a responsibility to give back. One of the ways I give back is to let you see me without my makeup, with all my scars showing, all my flaws hanging out, so that you know you are not alone.

The truth is that very little of what we experience in our lives, we homo-sapiens, is truly unique. Individualism exerts itself in how we handle what we’re handed. We can find victory even in the worst of circumstances, if we don’t allow tough luck or hard times to defeat our spirit. If, in other words, we remember that hardships don’t come to stay, they come to pass.

I often have no idea what I’m going to write about when I sit down to pen these essays. But I usually don’t have to wait long for inspiration to find me. Thank you for continuing to read these words of mine. And thank you, especially, for so many of you who so often share right back.


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

November 27, 2013

I’m nothing special. I was given some talent to string words together, and I have been blessed to have this second career. I’ve worked for it, of course. It wasn’t just handed to me.

When I came out of the hospital on Christmas Eve in 2002 after my triple by-pass surgery, I was terrified that at the ripe young age of 48 I would be staring at decades ahead filled with nothing to do. Anyone who knows me, knows that it’s very rare for me to sit idle. I have to keep busy, keep doing. It’s just the way I’m wired.

I feel so very thankful for so many things. I thought I would share some of those things with you, as some of you are about to celebrate Thanksgiving.

With this new career I’ve embarked upon, has come new friends. I am so very grateful for the professional connections I have made. I’ve been a writer down to my toes all of my life. And all of my life, making friends was tough because I was such an odd duck. People didn’t get me and I sure as heck didn’t get them. I found women particularly mystifying. I’ve never liked to shop, fuss with hair or makeup, gossip about boys—or anything else for that matter. And shoes? They really don’t turn me on at all. I suppose that last really is a blessing because as crippled as I am with arthritis, I’m not missing out on anything by not having the latest fashion on my feet.

But now I have friends who understand me. Friends who know what I mean, because they have been there—artistically speaking. Just a few words exchanged via Skype in the middle of a busy day, and I am grounded, comforted and understood. I finally can say I have people in my life with whom I get to enjoy real a sense of belonging.

I’m grateful to have so very many readers—readers who are also friends! Nothing touches me more profoundly than when a reader reaches out, and sends me a few words via e-mail. I’m always very humbled when I read that my words have helped—whether they helped the reader with something in life, or gave them a sense of camaraderie, or just gave them a couple hours of escape from a hectic, difficult life. I can be pretty stoic most days, but when I read those messages from my readers, my heart fills with gratitude and quite often, my eyes fill with tears.

I grateful for my husband of nearly 42 years. Neither one of us, nor our marriage, is perfect. But we are still together, and still friends, and that’s something. My beloved is a good man. He’s overcome many challenges in his life. Most significantly I can say he is 31 years sober. I’m proud of him.

I’m grateful for my children, and my grandchildren and one great grandchild. Yes, we suffered the loss of our middle child, our second son. But we had him for 29 years, and I hold him in my heart, and see him in the two beautiful children he left behind.

I’m grateful to live in Canada, a country free from anarchy. I don’t go to bed at night and fear what may be hiding in the darkness. I don’t need to worry about whether or not bombs will fall, or soldiers will overrun my town.

Though I have had some health challenges, I’m still well enough to plan ahead. We none of us know how much time we have in this life, but I’m grateful for every sunrise I get. And do you know what? I like being grateful for every sunrise I get.

We all have much for which we can and should say thank you—not just on Thanksgiving, but on every day. I believe that an attitude of gratitude enriches us, bringing out the best and the fullest not only in us, but also in every moment, and every relationship.

Gratitude is like a little added dash of nutmeg to the eggnog of life.

On behalf of our entire family, Mr. Ashbury and I wish you all a very happy, healthy and safe Thanksgiving!


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

November 20, 20113

Often life is a dance—a three-step, where you take two steps forward, then one step back. I’ve been trying to think how many people I have met in my life to date: I don’t have an exact number but I do know it’s in the thousands.

I’m still waiting to meet the person whose life is so charmed they have no crises or challenges or issues to deal with, ever.

I am a person who has had many of the above, and what I have learned is this. When we do have these crises, these challenges that spring seemingly from nowhere, there are almost always two things that can be said about them. The first is that they didn’t really spring from nowhere. If you look back far enough, you can see a root cause, an action taken or not taken that contributed to the situation you are now in. And the second is that every challenge is an opportunity in disguise. It’s an opportunity for you to grow as a person.

I can recall our being so broke that every single day began with the prayer, “Lord, please do not let anything go wrong today”. Fortunately for us, God’s answer most days was, “okay”. But there were a few, “no, you need this bump. There’s something I want you to learn.”

Last Thursday, when I was sitting at my computer, in the peace and quiet of an empty house, I noticed that the inside temperature wasn’t quite what it should be. I don’t mind donning a sweater, and I often do just that before I will ever turn up the thermostat. But on this occasion I looked at my thermostat. It was set pretty high, probably over 80, but the temperature inside registered just barely 65.

I couldn’t recall when the furnace had come on last, so I listened as I went back to my writing. I heard it come on, run for about a minute or so, and then go off. My first thought was that the thermostat wasn’t working right. And then, when I smelled a funny odor that reminded me of exhaust, I realized that maybe, there might be something else not right.

On Friday when I brought my husband home from the airport (his flight came in at 0630), we had breakfast and then a nap. The furnace came on and yes, that odor was still present. I asked David about it and he told me that he didn’t really know anything about the furnace. So when I got up again, I contacted the company from whom we bought the appliance. We rent our hot water heater from them, and have a service contract on the furnace, as well. It was late when I left the message.

The next morning I got a call from them asking me to open a window for cross ventilation, and telling me they were alerting the gas company. Good thing they did. I never thought about a carbon monoxide leak, because I know that gas is odorless; however, apparently sometimes when a furnace leaks that toxic material, there are other substances in the emission, too, and those substances stink. Again, lucky for us.

Also lucky for us, our house is nowhere near air tight.

The gas company turned off the furnace, and the repair man showed up. It took him a while but he discovered that the secondary heat exchanger was shot. The part had to be ordered, and so we would be without heat until Tuesday. Good news? We bought this furnace 10 years ago and major parts are covered under the 25 year warranty we had. Bad news? The labor isn’t covered, and that was going to run us over a thousand dollars.

Ouch. But unlike when we were starting out in life, saying that daily prayer, we’re a little smarter financially than we used to be. And while that chunk of change does hurt, it’s not panic time. And because it is not panic time, we don’t have the added stress of wondering how the hell we’re going to manage to pay that repair bill.

We could pay it, and we did, and as of 4 pm yesterday afternoon, the furnace is back at work, keeping us warm.

Another challenge faced and this time met successfully. But only because, in times past, some challenges that we faced, and struggled with, did not end in success, but in failure.

And we learned, and we grew.


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

November 13, 2013

Ah, home sweet home. As much as I loved being away—especially being down in Texas with my good friends the Rainiers, spending time with Bella Juarez, and meeting with my wonderful publisher—it’s good to be home, too.

Of course I missed my beloved, and we had a couple of really good days together—and then it was his turn to fly off.

As you read these words, he and our daughters—both the one I gave birth to, and the one I did not—are undoubtedly having a blast in Las Vegas.

The girls have never been to Nevada before, while this is my husband’s third time there. The other two times, of course, we went together – the first occasion was for our “honeymoon” which we took on our 17th anniversary. The second was related to his job. In 2002, not long before the family who’d owned the quarry where he works sold the business to a large corporation, they treated us both to a trip to Vegas, so he could attend the Con-Agg Expo, which is always held in that city. David really was thrilled to go to that, because he has always loved his line of work.

My beloved and the girls had a lot of plans for what they would do in the short time they would be in Vegas this week. Gambling wasn’t very high on their priority lists, either. The girls did want to visit at least one casino. If my beloved bets a dollar on anything, I’d be very surprised. He is absolutely not a gambler. Mostly, the three of them wanted to see a couple of shows, and take a tour out to Hoover Dam—and they were hoping to squeeze in a tour to the Grand Canyon, too.

Since they only took a short trip—they’ll be home Friday—I don’t know how much of what they have planned they’ll actually be able to accomplish. I did tell them if they felt like they were flagging they should go to a bar in one of the casinos and order a coffee. I don’t know if it is truth, or urban myth, but I had no trouble, both times I was there, believing that they do indeed oxygen into those gambling dens.

I feel like I’m experiencing a reprise of my own vacation, in a way, since I have the house all to myself until they return Well, all to myself except for the puppy and the cat. My husband said that while I was away in Texas for those ten days, both animals “acted out”. I wasn’t surprised to hear that, because they’re not used to being without someone in the house during the day. David still had to go to work, and poor Tuffy probably thought his life had taken a turn for the worst, having only the cat for company.

I’ll have to tell my husband, when I pick him up on Friday, that the animals were actually quite well behaved for me. But the truth is, life for them returned to normal. I’m home with them most days, so it must seem as if everything is as it should be, except for one thing: there’s been no daddy at night which means that for the puppy, no walk at night.

I had intended to walk Tuffy myself Tuesday night, as I thought it would be good for the both of us. He’s little and not capable of pulling on the leash hard enough to unbalance me, so I am able to walk him. The only challenge to my plan was the thin coating of ice that had formed on the stairs attached to our porch.

I have to go out later today and pick up some safety salt. This fall has found us woefully unprepared for the ice.

Right now, I’m in my office, shivering a little, about to put my electric fireplace on and grab another coffee. I can’t help but think about Texas, and how warm I was, comparatively speaking, just last week. And I feel I must assure all of my Texas friends that the dip in temperatures they were experiencing last night—down below freezing—was not my fault.

I’m almost positive that I packed the cold weather and brought it home with me when I returned!

My alter-ego has a new fan page on Face Book! Please take a moment and “like” Cara Covington:

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

November 6, 2013

I have to tell you that I really like Texas.

This is my fourth trip to the Lone Star State. I have always found the people here to be warm, welcoming, and very respectful.

Do you know, it takes some getting used to, having everyone—and I do mean everyone—calling me “ma’am”? I have always tended to address strangers I encounter as “sir” or ma’am”, because my mother may have been gone for more than three decades but her lessons live on. It’s something I do without thinking, and yes, I have received some strange looks in the course of my day to day life.

Here in Texas, the use of good manners is really quite common. But it’s more than that. I think it’s very natural to the people here to treat others with respect. I think it is ingrained. At least it has been with the people I’ve encountered.

Texas is a very logical place for me to visit. My publisher, Siren-Bookstrand, is in Texas—Austin, in fact. The writer with whom I collaborate on a cross-over book once a year is right here in Texas, too. Her name is Heather Rainier, author of the wildly successful Divine Creek Ranch series, and she is in the San Antonio area, which is where I am staying. And the series I am writing under my other pen name, Cara Covington—The Lusty, Texas Collection—is, of course, set in Texas.

This isn’t a vacation, it’s an extended retreat. There’s nothing, in my world that comes close to the joy of being in a room, face to face with a fellow author. There’s nothing that beats digging our fingers and toes into the fertile soil of our imaginations, and seeing what we can grow in it, individually and together.

Bouncing ideas off each other, Heather and I often experience what we’ve dubbed “unimind”. Other times, one will have the first part of a plot twist, and the other will have the second part. We make a good team—we really do.

I was also thrilled to get to meet and spend time with another Siren author, Bella Juarez. Her Black Ops Brotherhood series, which draws on her own military expertise, is not to be missed. We spent the day together yesterday writing and talking about writing. That was great.

I also had the opportunity to spend time with my publisher, and to meet the editorial staff at Siren. It was wonderful being in the same place with so many talented people. I don’t have enough words to tell you how deeply I respect these people—or how much I love my publisher!

The weather here has been pretty warm, for the most part. There was one evening we were out, having dinner, that when we stepped outside to leave, everyone was shivering…the thermometer had dropped to 56 degrees! It was cool, but I can tell you if we get some days back home up to 56 in January I am like as not to go outside without a jacket on.

It may come as no surprise to any of you that I pen these essays ahead of Wednesday – usually. So as you are reading these words, my friend Heather and I should be getting ready to go out and about, touring some of the surrounding area. I’m going to take some pictures and shamelessly play the tourist as I look for a few souvenirs to take home to my loved ones.

I’m going to get myself something, too. Primarily, I want to get me a cowgirl hat. Yes I could easily by one at home, but I want a genuine TEXAS cowgirl hat.

I had a cowgirl hat, black felt, which I had purchased a few years ago, long before I was ever published, but I made the mistake of allowing children to play with it. When it comes to the children I have a very hard time saying no. Alas that hat is but a memory.

In the meantime, until we head out touring and shopping, I’m at my keyboard, working hard. There’s a breakfast room in this hotel just down the hall from my room. The morning meal is complimentary. The coffee, tea, hot water, and juice are available all day—and all night, too.

Sunday morning found that room very busy. I imagine that a lot of people were heading home after spending a long weekend here. I got chatting with one woman, and when she found out I was visiting from Canada, she gave me a hug! She said, “We’re all so pleased that you are here!”

Do you know that hug uplifted me and stayed with me all the rest of that day, as did her kind words and sweet smile?

Like I said, I really like Texas.


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

October 30, 2013

I’ve arrived safe and sound in Texas! My flights yesterday were seamless. It was the first time I’ve flown with United Airlines, and I have to say, their care and service was above and beyond. I need assistance in the airports. They are just too massive for me to manage on my own; so when I book a flight, whether I am alone, or with someone, I always request wheelchair assistance.

Yesterday at Toronto’s Pearson airport, one of the United agents intercepted me as I was headed toward the line-up. He took me over, seated me, checked me in, and called for the assistance. How wonderful to be treated so well. Everyone I encountered yesterday made the trip a very pleasant experience.

The first thing I noticed, of course, when I got my first up close look at San Antonio, was how lush and green everything is—and how warm and humid it is here. It really is like being in a different world. I left a land that was resplendent in autumn colors and falling leaves. It had been raining and the roads were littered with the usual fall debris. It was chilly enough to wear a jacket—one that was zipped up.

Here, it could very well be summer still. Oh, I am certain that the native Texan will be laughing at this, and will very likely be able to point out all the signs that tell them it is indeed fall.

But for this gallivanting Canadian, the illusion of summer is a welcome one.

Today is a day of journeying to the State’s capital, Austin. After six years of being published by Siren, I finally get to go there and tour the headquarters. I’m excited to do so. I’ve met my publisher many times, of course, and I cherish the opportunities I’ve had to spend time with her. After all, with her one word—“yes”—she changed my life.

Insofar as I can (because I am not perfect) I live my life with an attitude of gratitude. I believe in giving thanks on a daily basis, and in being mindful of the kindnesses extended to me. I believe in letting people know how grateful I am for them.

So I thought it only fitting that I give y’all (I’m in Texas, remember) something to be thankful for on this wonderful Wednesday. Today’s essay is short. Very short. In fact, it’s done.

  I’m sure, once I’ve racked up more Texas experiences, that I will make up for this brevity next week.


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

October 23, 2013

This past week, my beloved and I did something we haven’t done in more than a decade. We attended a concert. We went to see Brad Paisley, with his guests Lee Brice and Chris Young.

I purchased the tickets several months ago, on a whim. And the tickets I got were for seats on the floor, as opposed to arena seating.

First I need to tell you that I had a really good time. I have music by all three of those artists in my iTunes library. That was one of the reasons I wanted to go to this event; for me it was like getting to see three favorites for the price of one. All three performers put on a very good show. I was be-bopping and singing along with everyone else there. We were fairly close to the stage, I thought. Then, at one point, the stage hands pushed a button and the short catwalk became a long catwalk and Brad Paisley walked right down and was singing about ten feet away from where we were standing.

I knew, when I bought the tickets, that I would likely need to be on my feet for most of the three and a half hours the show was scheduled to take. As you know that isn’t something I commit to do lightly. Having such severe arthritis means that when I do things like this—stay on my feet for too long (not to mention standing on wood that is temporarily shielding ice)—that I am going to pay for it the next few days.

That is the reality of my life, and I accepted it as so long ago. When there is something I really want to do, then I do it and willingly accept the physical consequences and pay that price.

My beloved was not pleased, but only because he hates to see me in pain. I will admit, too, that I had thought the “jumbotrons” would be placed high enough that we could at least see them if we couldn’t see the stage. This was not the case. Neither were easily visible from our positions on the floor.

The evening started out good but quickly became stressful, until Mr. Ashbury understood that my pleasure in the outing could not be diminished by only seeing the stage part of the time, or having to be on my feet most of the time. There was in fact only one thing that was powerful enough to make the evening less. And once he got that and decided to have a good time too and not grumble at me about the seats we had, then it was a great night. Poor man. He really was just peeved on my behalf—even though I had warned him beforehand how the evening was going to go.

There is something to be said for the raw energy of a live performance. Not just the energy of the performers, but of the audience, too. I felt invigorated, not exhausted. What a gift that was!

I did promise my beloved that the next performance we attend at this venue will be in the arena seats, and not on the floor. I’m not the only person whose legs are no longer young.

At one point it appeared as if Carrie Underwood was standing on stage, while she sang a duet with Brad Paisley. It sure looked like she was there from where we were sitting. It was only the next day that I got a clue her appearance had been holographic.

Unknown to us at the time, our oldest grandson was in the audience with his girlfriend—right up at the edge of the V.I.P seating, very close to the stage. The next day he texted and wanted to know if it was really true that his grandparents had actually attended the same concert he had. So we chatted through text messaging as we sometimes do, and I asked him if Carrie Underwood had actually been there.

His answer made me feel much better. He said that everyone in their area had thought so, too, until there was a tiny technical problem with the hologram, right near the end.

It’s nice to know I’m not as far out in left field as I sometimes think I am.

Next week, these words will be coming to you from the great State of Texas. I’ll be leaving on Tuesday for a ten day stay. I’m very excited, as I get to see not only my wonderful publisher, but also some very good friends who are near and dear to my heart.


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

October 16, 2013

We have a large walnut tree at the front of our house. When we moved in, about 24 years ago, the tree wasn’t very large: a ‘seat’ formed by two big branches growing in a “Y” shape from the main trunk was almost exactly level with the railing along our front porch. The kids used to take turns sitting on that tree-chair.

Now, of course, that crotch is so high, you can’t reach it.

We used to say that the tree grew so well because we spent so much time out on that porch. We are conversationalists, my husband and I, and likely at any given moment to be talking about almost anything. Some botanists claim if you talk to plants and trees they like that and grow better. Our walnut sure did.

But it’s autumn now and this tree is the first to begin to lose its leaves. It is a long, drawn out process. As soon as the walnuts have formed, the leaves begin, one by one, to turn yellow and then drop. We have raked them all up, twice. There are still enough leaves left on the tree to incite another afternoon of raking.

Once that tree is bare, and the leaves from it raked for the final time, the maples across the street will begin to shed their leaves. Friends, I live in a place where the prevailing winds are not from the west—except, of course, when those darn maples are shedding.

We don’t rake the back yard. That piece of our property is terraced, but not evenly so. I haven’t walked up there myself for a long time, and neither has my husband. We have a neighborhood teenager who cuts the grass for us, so it’s basically not an eye sore. But it is a waste of land, because we don’t use it, and that’s a shame, but unavoidable.

My husband was busy this past long weekend, not only raking the leaves, but cleaning the plants out of the gardens that line our front walk. I was sad to see them go; it was the best year we’d ever had for our little walk-way garden. He did, however, promise me that if we purchased some more bulbs in the next couple of weeks, he would ensure they were planted.

That would be nice as I can’t tell you how many times over the last ten years I’ve bought boxes of spring flower bulbs only to have them languish, and then die.

Not being able to get out and do the gardening myself is something I dearly miss. There’s something to be said for being on your knees and having your hands in the soil. Unfortunately, my knees can no longer perform that function. So I content myself with planting my porch flower boxes than hang from the railing, and others that we have in the back yard, and then getting others to do the in-ground planting for me.

Our petunias, the ones we planted in the planters in the back yard, did wondrously well this past season. They absolutely exploded with blossoms and color. I took time nearly every day to just look at them. It’s good to have things in your life that serve no purpose other than just making you smile when you look at them.

We have a small hill of rocks in the back yard, too, in one corner, atop of which we’ve made a garden. The pile, shaped like a small volcano, stands about four feet high. Backed by fencing on both sides of the corner that stretches another four feet above it, the garden we made there has some of those “solar garden lights” which we have scattered elsewhere, too. This garden was also filled with petunias, Portulaca, and some shade impatiens. Unfortunately that garden didn’t fare as well as the others. It wasn’t the lack of sun, or a lack of water, or even a lack of weeding.

It was a lack of restraint on the part of Tuffy the scruffy puppy, who apparently has found his new favorite thing, and, consequently, his very own theme song: Dean Brody’s “Dirt”.


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

October 9, 2013

This coming weekend in Canada is the Thanksgiving Day weekend. Our celebration of the harvest is always the second Monday in October. We have Thanksgiving earlier than our neighbors to the south because our harvest is in earlier.

They don’t call us the great white north for nothing. By the time we reach the fourth Thursday in November—Thanksgiving in the U. S.—we are often up to our butts in that white cold slushy stuff, which I usually refer to as either pollen, or kaka.

I do recall as a kid in grade school—I’m thinking second and third grade—colouring artwork for the holiday that included pumpkins, turkeys and Pilgrims. Now, call me silly, but we Canadians didn’t have pilgrims in our historical record. They landed on Plymouth Rock, didn’t they? Well not actually on the rock, but in the harbor, which is in the United States.

But since we here in Canada co-opted your holiday, why not go all out and co-opt your imagery too?

We almost can’t help ourselves. By comparison our history seems so boring. We didn’t have a rebellion with tea tossed defiantly in the Boston harbor to begin our nation. The Dominion of Canada was created through a conference. Once confederation was agreed to, with an okey-dokey from Queen Victoria, the British North America Act, an act of the British parliament, was passed into law and signed in 1867. Before that our fledgling nation, the British Colonies, consisted of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Upper Canada and Lower Canada—with a group of powerful businessmen called the Family Compact thrown in as spice.

I have no idea if pilgrims are still the center of the school artwork in my country this time of year or not. I suppose it’s a moot point. I don’t know what symbolism we could incorporate that would be completely and uniquely Canadian for a holiday that, quite frankly, is not.

There are similarities between the US feast day and our own. But there are differences, too. We’re not as fervently patriotic with regard to Thanksgiving as our neighbors to the south are. We don’t have our own parades (we watch yours) or traditional football games (we watch yours). We don’t rush out and do any Christmas shopping right after (our black Friday is your black Friday), because we’re a month earlier than you with our Thanksgiving. We do have fall fairs, with candy apples, cotton candy and rides.

The similarities between Canadian and American Thanksgiving are many. Turkey is our most usual feast-day meal and yes, our dessert table features pumpkin pie. A lot of us even serve sweet potatoes as a side dish, too. My family called those candied yams when I was a kid but they weren’t yams, and our turnip isn’t turnip it’s rutabagas...I’m afraid it appears that Canadians aren’t very original, period.

Well, there is one thing that would seem to be original here, but again, it’s kind of problematic, too. We do have Canadian bacon, but I should probably point out that if you come up here and order Canadian bacon you’ll get a blank look. Bacon is bacon and what you call Canadian bacon is actually back bacon, and not very common here at all. If you order bacon with your eggs at any restaurant that I’ve ever been to, what you get is side bacon. And, of course, there is peameal bacon, but that isn’t really bacon, either. It’s lean, cured pork loin, edged with cornmeal.

Really, the most important aspect of this holiday, as with any other, is the fellowship it encourages. Thanksgiving, more than any of the holidays we keep each year, is centered around food and family and friends—and gratitude.

Since so few of us are farmers anymore, I suppose you could say that Thanksgiving isn’t so much a celebration of the harvest in modern times as it is a celebration of our relationships with and connections to each other.


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

October 2, 2013

Life with Tuffy the scruffy puppy doesn’t allow for very many dull moments these days. He’s far more clever than I gave him credit for. He had me lulled into a false sense of complacency. After all, for most of the seven months since we’ve had him, he has slept a lot during the day—my prime working hours.

My daughter had told me that the smaller breed dogs don’t have the same stamina as larger ones do. I believed her because the evidence was right there before my eyes. That dog slept a good 18 out of 24 hours every day. His behavior was regular as clock-work.

The operative word in that last sentence: was.

Over the last few weeks it’s as if the aliens came down and exchanged my happy to be not-too-energetic puppy for a different dog entirely.

He used to let me sleep in each morning. My beloved gets up at 4 am, and leaves the house by 4:45. When he gets up, he also gets the puppy up, takes him outside, and then has “daddy puppy time” while he makes his lunch and gets ready for work. Then he puts the puppy back in bed with me, and leaves. Puppy used to go right back to sleep until I “awoke naturally” or to the alarm at 7:30 if I had the kids overnight, whichever the case may be.

But for the last few weeks, Tuffy the scruffy puppy believes it is his job to make sure that mommy wakes up and knows that daddy has left the building. Then, of course, since mommy is awake, maybe she would like to play?

I have been saying “no” a lot more lately. And I know he understands me. But rather than complying, he has a doggy grin on his face and I know that really, he is just mocking me. “No, mommy does not want to play. It’s not time to play. It’s time to sleep.”

Ah, but Tuffy does not want to sleep. And not only is he a cute, cuddly scruffy puppy. No, sir! He is the big, brave, bold guard dog! Daddy is gone, so it is his job to protect mommy by...barking at every leaf, squirrel, or car that passes by the house—which he can see from the bed, by looking out the window.

Another canine being walked by its owner is cause for DEFCON 3!

Usually, after a few minutes of this energetic, vociferous behavior I do get up—long enough to put Tuffy outside the bedroom, and close the door in his little furry face. I wish I could tell you that the door is substantial and blocks the sound of the energetically barking puppy.

You have no idea how very much I wish I could tell you that.

Only once over the last few weeks was I able to get back to sleep by placing my extra pillow over my head, thus covering my ears. It’s a feather pillow and does a passable job of noise cancellation.

Unless, of course, the noise in question is the sharp, shrill yip/bark of Tuffy the scruffy puppy.

Gone, too, are the fondly remembered mornings where the puppy is content with just a few minutes of play time. What happened to my stamina-challenged little mop head? Lately, Tuffy doesn’t seem to know the meaning of quit, or tired, or go rest or stop!

The other day, the groomer mentioned that at 9 months of age, Tuffy the scruffy puppy is a “teenager” puppy. That bit of information explained a lot, and gave me pause.

I had three children who all became “teenagers”—two of them at the same time. It wasn’t that many years ago, and I remember the trauma of that period of time with horror and gratitude that it came to an end.

I love that puppy and I have no choice, I know it. But dealing with a teenager? I really do not want to go there again.


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

September 25, 2013

Of all the things we look for to enhance our lives, we humans, the one that seems to be the object of the most energy, time and money is happiness. Historically we are so desirous of that quality, that it was mentioned prominently in one of the greatest documents of all time—the U. S. Declaration of Independence.

Television commercials are rife with suggestions of all that you need to purchase in order to become happy. Books have been written on the topic, movies have been made, and entire courses of study have been crafted and taught in our colleges in our efforts to define and condense a definition of happiness and how best to go about achieving it.

Everyone has an opinion about this subject and it should come as a surprise to anyone that I do, too.

First—in my humble opinion—I think we are confusing two words: happiness and contentment. We think “happiness” and the images that come to mind are smiles, laughter, a feeling of euphoria enveloping us, making us feel lighter than air so that we are always up, always, no.

If that is how you are and how you feel, you may have accidentally ingested some whacky gas. You need to go see a doctor. Asap.

I believe the definition of happiness that we want is the one that means contentment. We want to know that we matter. We want to know that the work we do is appreciated. We want to love and be loved. We want to be able to work and earn enough money to meet all of our essential needs, and some of our non-essential “wants”. We want to feel good about getting up each day, because we have a plan for the future. We want to know that we are someone going somewhere. We want to have moments in the day when we sit back and say, “ahh.”

How do we manage to do—to become—all of this?

I really do believe it begins with a decision. How we look at ourselves, our friends and family, our environment—this outlook plays a large role. And how we perceive ourselves, and everyone and everything else is a deliberate choice. Do we like ourselves? My friends, we really need to do that. We are the only us we have. We have to live our entire lives with ourselves. So we might as well like ourselves. We can decide to like our work, too—and if we absolutely cannot, then we need to find work that we can like.

It doesn’t happen overnight. We can start by appreciating the small things. The laughter of a child. The beauty of a flower. Does your grocery store sell flowers? Mine does. Sometimes I buy them, but I always stop to look at them, for a moment. What about the smell of fresh bread coming from the store’s bakery? Or the scent of a really good burger from your local burger joint?

Did you know that every day comes complete with one free sunrise and one free sunset—yours to enjoy at no extra charge? You can do things for others that cost nothing. Open a door, give a smile, say “thank you”.

These are little things, but knitted together become so much more than the sum of their parts. If you want to feel good about yourself, then feel good about yourself. You are alive. You have challenges? Name me one person who doesn’t. We all have challenges, except those poor souls already interred beneath the grass.

I believe that finding a sense of happiness, of contentment, is vital to our psyches. I believe that we can control that feeling, by choosing it. And I believe with everything that is in me that once we do, once we start that first bit of deliberately choosing to be happy, then the feeling begins to mushroom and grow within us.

It’s like emotional dominoes. Once you get the first one moving, the rest cannot help but fall.


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

September 18, 2013

We’ve been pretty lucky over the last ten years or so when it comes to vacations. Prior to 2000, we’d only experienced two trips away. One was up to a lake in the Muskoka region of Ontario. The other had been our “honeymoon” that we took to Las Vegas on our 17th wedding anniversary. The lack of travel and vacations away hadn’t bothered me as much as it had my beloved. I’d grown up with the attitude that vacation trips were rewards you gave yourself once every few years. That attitude came from my mother, of course, and was an attitude shared by many in her generation.

My husband has almost always had a thirst for travel.

You know how some things in life have stayed the same with regard to affordability and some have come down in price? Travel really is more affordable now than it was in the early years of our marriage. Here in our neck of the woods you can get all-inclusive packages to places like the Dominican Republic for a week, including airfare for under a thousand dollars per person—sometimes as low as six hundred. If you live in any of the port cities like New York, Philadelphia, Port Canaveral, Fort Lauderdale or Miami, you can take a cruise for a very reasonable amount, too—and they are always inclusive of meals if not soda and alcohol.

We’ve traveled quite a bit these last ten years, sometimes going away more than once a year for pleasure. This year we had only one trip for pleasure and that was a week or so ago. Most of our vacation trips have been awesome, but I guess you can’t always hit them out of the park.

I won’t name the resort we went to in central Ontario. I will say that we were both disappointed. I am mobility challenged, and came prepared to use my wheelchair to get whatever distances we had to travel, to get to the lake, or the walking trails. The only problem was it turned out there were no “trails” – we would have had to navigate soft lawn or harder packed, pebble strewn ground. My chair has those small wheels, so that was not happening. Our room was on the second floor which was only a slight problem in that there was no elevator.

The food was good – we had an assigned table in the dining room for every meal (the same table each time) not far from what I presumed was the only washroom, which was down a flight of fairly steep stairs. It wasn’t until after our last dinner that I discovered, quite by accident that across the dining room and out of my line of sight was another washroom, no stairs required.

Every one of those servers saw me with my cane, and the maitre d’ seated us that first night, and not a one of them thought to mention the accessible washroom tucked away in an ell to the main room. But I will assume full responsibility because I didn’t ask, either.

I won’t say that I didn’t have a single crabby moment, because that would be a lie. To my shame, I had several.

There were some very nice things about the resort. The food, as I said, was good and some of the staff very nice. The grounds of this historic estate were beautiful and we did make it from our room to the lake, so that we sat for an interlude enjoying the waves. It was a windy day and I was glad I thought to bring my jacket. My brief foray by the water was nearly worth the rest of the time we spent there.

Fortunately, I had to focus on getting as much writing done as I could during those four days as I am on a deadline, and that I did very well. My beloved went for a couple of walks, and was just as happy to catch up—or try to—on his reading, otherwise. He made use of the outdoor pool—he said the water was fairly warm but getting out of it was a very chilly experience. With the air temperature somewhere around 70, I imagine it would be. If it had been warmer I’d have enjoyed that experience with him.

I did make it to the indoor pool our last night there. It was a fair walk from our room to the pool that was in the main building and required you to go up one short flight of stairs, and down another. The water was very warm, the pool very clean and fairly deserted. The hot tub, however, was, due to a malfunction, a cold tub (only about 85 degrees) which does not do my arthritis any favors.

Ah well, live and learn. I will make a note to myself that just because a resort looks good on its website and boasts several awards, doesn’t mean I can take what they offer at face value. And this past week did remind me of why it is that we tend to vacation outside of Canada. My fellow Canadians may throw rotten tomatoes at me for this one, but I have to be honest. We have stayed other places in some of our major cities and I can say one thing with absolute authority.

My country does many things very well, but offering truly world class accommodations that are good value for the dollar, sadly, is not one of them.


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

September 11, 2013

Today marks the 12th anniversary of 9/11. Twelve years later, and no one in the United States, or Canada, has forgotten the events of that day, or the people who lost their lives. We recall the day and our impressions of it, where we were, how we found is one of those days in history that forever will be etched in our hearts and minds. We will forever remember.

This event was even more transforming, for it changed the world in which we live. I can barely recall what the world was like pre-9/11. I wonder if the people of an earlier generation had a similar feeling. Did they, in the years after the Second World War, pause and try to recall what their life had been like before Pearl Harbor?

Blessedly few are the events which shake us to our very core. Yet in recent memory we have had several. Some were manmade like 9/11 and the Newtown school shooting last year. And some were attacks of nature, like the Boxing Day Tsunami that hit Indonesia in 2004, Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the Japanese Earthquake and Tsunami of 2011.

If you look back over the last twelve years, it’s easy to see how some people can let fear overtake their lives. Between our own insanity and the vagaries of nature, who can be sure there will even be a tomorrow?

It’s hard to consider, sometimes, that there have been horrific moments in life, all through the ages. There must have been people in every generation who thought that things certainly couldn’t get much worse. I’m sure there have been many who were afraid “the end” was near. Imagine what Londoners thought during the Black Plague. Looking back just as far as the last century in the 1950s, think of the people who built bomb shelters on their property, because they were certain that a bomb was going to drop on them.

Do you remember the “duck and cover” drills in school? Pure fear in action. There was no way hiding under a desk with your hands over your head would save your ass in the event of a nuclear attack. The only result of those drills was to either instill or allay fear—depending on the mindset of the person performing the drill.

The truth is that life has never been certain, nor will it ever be. Things happen—things we never expect and for sure never want. We really only do have this moment that we are in. We can’t prepare for every eventuality. We can only do the best we can do to cope with the things that come our way.

That is a sentiment that you’ve heard all of your life and in many different forms – “carpe diem” – seize the day. Because this day truly is all you can count on having.

It’s a testament to the incredible resiliency of humanity, and mankind’s unique capacity to have faith despite all evidence, that allows for us to plan for the future, to set our course and aim for our goals.

We somehow manage to eventually find a level of normal after each new flood of chaos and tragedy, and continue on our way through our lives, choosing to believe without any basis in fact, that all will be well and we will live to be a ripe old age.

We know these things and ponder these things, even as today, we pause to have a moment of silence and remember those who are lost.


Wednesday, September 4, 2013

September 4, 2013

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I felt the seasons change about the middle of August this year. I was trying to explain to someone what I meant by that, and I realized that what I was talking about was more something sensed than seen. Autumn has a certain quality to the air, a certain shading of blue to the sky that is just shy of the deep blue of summer. At least around here, and in my perception, they do.

We’re always trying, aren’t we, to fit Mother Nature into our own “human made” little slots? Of course, bless her heart, she doesn’t always fit. But Labor Day has come and gone, and in this part of the world the kids returned to school yesterday, so therefore, summer has waned and autumn is at hand.

The years go so quickly any more. At least this waning summer didn’t seem to pass us by as fast as last summer did. Last year, we spent a total of 3 weeks away from home—two in July, beginning and end, and one in the middle of August. Since those trips were three separate ones, we spent at least a week for each one in preparation of traveling. A total of six weeks in which we were either gone or not paying attention to the weather, and that was half of the summer creeping by without notice.

My beloved and I have mostly stayed at home this year. He has had two “staycations” so far, and they were weeks well spent doing things around the house that had been put off for far too long. He didn’t begrudge the lack of travel, which to me is quite amazing. I’ve dubbed him the traveling fool in recent times, a title he quite likes and up until this year, was well earned.

We were to be heading off to Pennsylvania next week, but our friend and his mother have been having some unexpected circumstances, and out of respect for their needs, we’re staying home. Well, home, as in Canada. We did find a resort not too far from here that had last minute availability, so we’re going away at the end of this week. We’ll take four nights on the south shore of Lake Simcoe. We’re not great fans of canoeing or boating, water skiing or the like. But we do, both of us, really like to sit by the water, have the occasional cup of coffee and read our books.

One of us has a publishing deadline and will therefore be writing a book—but I do have to read what I write, so it’s all good. I don’t really consider this, what I do for a living, to be “work”. Not, at least, in the same way I considered my job work when I was an accounting clerk.

I’m looking forward to my interlude on the lake. We’ve never been to this resort, but it’s only about two and a half hours from home. It’s actually about ten minutes or so from my friend’s house, the one who stayed over last week and who I met when we were both ten.

We may drop in on her on our way there, as she invited us to do so. Now that we have reconnected after several years apart, I would like to keep in touch.

I have a dream, because I believe that as long as you have a dream, you are someone going somewhere. You need to keep looking forward, I think. You need to have something to work toward. My dream is to buy another house. This one, which has a basement and an upstairs, and is situated on land that is terraced, just doesn’t work for me anymore. The goal is to save as much as possible over the next five years, and then see what there is to be had.

I would really like a place that has some water on it, but that is just under the heading of “bonus”. Mostly, I want a ranch style building on a piece of land I can walk on, with room enough for an office and a guest bedroom, and an out building for Mr. Ashbury to tinker in. I might be sixty-five moving into my dream house, but there’s nothing wrong with that.

In the mean time and for now, I’ll be content to have a few days away to absorb some “pieces of quiet” on the shores of a lake, and to spend those pieces of quiet with my husband.


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

August 28, 2013

You’ve heard it said, I am sure, that people come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. My problem is I can’t tell the difference. I am constantly, even eagerly, slotting folks into that last category. I’m like an excited little puppy all wound up having someone—or several someone’s—new in my life—a puppy who gets all frisky and happy and bounces back and forth as if saying, “Wanna play? Wanna play?” Then when things happen—things that seem inexplicable to me, things that leave me wondering what I could possibly have done wrong, I’m left broken hearted because those people turn and walk away with no backward glance whatsoever and I am left feeling totally and completely bereft.

I’m beginning to suspect that the only thing I keep doing wrong is slating people into the “lifetime” category who never should have been there in the first place. I’ve only begun to realize this flaw in my previous behavior because the ones I have now in that “lifetime” slot were the ones meant to be there all along.

I know I can’t be the only person this has happened to. Life has taught me that very, very few of us ever experience something that no one else ever has. I’ve had a number of traumatic and tragic things happen in my lifetime. I know that probably most of you have, too. At some point, maybe twenty years ago or so, I came to the decision that if life really was only 5 percent what happened to me and 95 percent how I dealt with it, then I’d better see if I could deal with things in a way that would be beneficial to others, and therefore beneficial to myself.

Yes, that’s another variation of making lemonade out of lemons.

Because I am, down to my soul, a writer, then dealing with things in a beneficial way meant I had to write about them. Those who can look beyond the wink-wink-nudge-nudge of my novels will discover that I deal with a lot of issues that many of us struggle with in life. What I don’t deal with that way, I manage to tackle within the pages of these essays, every week.

Life is a journey and like any long trip, not all of it is made over smooth roads. Sometimes we have to travel the gravel side roads, and sometimes we find ourselves on deeply rutted dirt trails. Sometimes we’re making our way in the company of good companions, and sometimes we are achingly alone.

Everyone has to define the terms under which they want to live their lives. We each of us have our own priorities, and we’re not all the same. We aren’t all given to the same purposes or causes; we don’t define happiness or sadness in exactly the same way. We really are unique, each one of us. We share a common humanity, yes, and a common spectrum of possibilities, but the fine points, the details, are different for us all.

As I’ve gotten older, as more milestones have gone by my personal window on this, my life’s journey, I understand as I never did before how self sufficient we are, and at the same time, how isolated we are.

I believe that we were created to help one another. Do you want to have a good, really good, feeling inside of yourself? Then take your eyes off yourself and help someone else. Do you want to feel as if you matter? Then matter to others—do something that makes a difference either to an individual or a group.

Are you the only one who has ever made a horrible mistake, lost someone dear, or suffered an injury to your body or your soul? Of course not. We all have. Is every day a day of joy and laughter and all things positive and light?

If only. Nope, there are at least as many dark days as there are light ones in anyone’s life; the difference lies in how we rate them. I personally give happy, sunny days a 5 rating, and the gloomy, sad ones a 0.5 one.

Oh yes, that is stacking the deck in my favor, but then I can do that if I want to. Because the most important principle I have learned in life says I can. What is that principle? Gosh, I am glad you asked.

It’s that, in the final analysis, everything emotional—and I do mean everything—is a decision. How you handle the firestorms that come your way, is a decision.

Life doesn’t control your heart or your mind or your soul. You do.


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

August 21, 2013

This past weekend saw yet another milestone happen in our lives: Mr. Ashbury and I became great-grandparents. Yes, we’re young for that status. But we became grandparents young, too. I was 37 and he was 39 when our first grandchild was born. Now we’re great-grandparents, and that’s amazing.

My daughter is a 35 year old grandmother. She has a bit of my grandmother in her, because she has decreed that she is to be known as “Nana” since, she said, “grandma” just sounds too old. No, I didn’t smack her, but only because she informed me that I am now to be known in the family as “GG”.

I can recall my mom telling me how my dad was annoyed with his mother at one point. By all accounts a vain woman, she apparently promised my brother and sister treats if, when she took them out anywhere, they would call her “nanny” instead of grandma. My dad wasn’t pleased. “Nanny”, my father had said, was the term given to a paid employee charged to look after children. Apparently he retaliated by referring to her, to my siblings, as “your father’s mother.”

My daughter isn’t vain, in fact, quite far from it. And she actually possesses a lot of my mother’s personality traits, too. The most notable of these is that she is a great believer in personal space, and doesn’t often wax sentimental over anything.

And while hugs from my mother were few and far between, I have to say that my daughter, as an adult, is exactly the same.

When I was raising my children, because my mom had not been one to hug or say I love you very much, I ensured that I did that every day with my kids. It was a top priority for me, and I never really cared if it seemed that there was a part of me trying to make up my hug deficit from my own mother that way.

But as an adult, my daughter is parsimonious when it comes to displays of affection. And not just towards me, either.

So imagine my surprise when, a few weeks ago, she arrived as she often does through the course of any given day, and then came right up to me, and threw her arms around me and gave me a huge, really quite wonderful hug.

“Thank you. What was that for?” I asked.

“You refurbished that bassinette for me!”

That made me laugh. Allow me to explain. When I was expecting my first child, my mother brought out of storage a wicker bassinette on a wicker stand. She told me that her mother had given it to her, for her first born. That was in 1944, and I have no idea if it was new then, but likely it was.

My mom used it for all three of us, and gave it to me for my first child. My mother-in-law and her sister-in-law decorated it – fashioning a padded inside, covering it in pretty baby-type material. This “decorating” was complete with a hood made of a pretty blue cotton with little white “pompoms” dangling from the edge.

I used the bassinette for all of my children, and then, put it into storage. When my daughter was expecting her son, I got it out and re-decorated it. I’m not much at sewing or such, but I was able to do a pretty good job of that. The only other things I’ve ever made in my life were my kids Halloween costumes.

My daughter gained a whole new perspective and appreciation when she—who ironically is good at sewing and such—attempted to redecorate the bassinette for her first grandchild. It took her hours to complete and, she said, she considered quitting more than once. But she didn’t, and I’m glad of that. That bassinette is more than a bassinette, it’s a family tradition. It represents one more thing now, too.

It’s a rite of passage. They come in the most unusual ways sometimes, don’t they?


Wednesday, August 14, 2013

August 14, 2013

This past weekend, my beloved and I took a small excursion to the tiny village of St. Jacobs here in Southwestern Ontario. In the heart of Mennonite country, the area—along with another small town called Elmira—has a rich, farming history and despite what many think, the residents have shown themselves amazingly adept at adjusting to the changing times.

St. Jacobs is a huge tourist draw, for nothing brings people in like the enormous Farmer’s Market, just three kilometers outside of the village proper. This was my second trip to the market this year. I went just over a month ago with my daughter. We traditionally go on a Saturday, although the market is open on Tuesdays in the summer as well as Thursday and Saturday all year round.

There are two large buildings and a bevy of tented stalls at the market. In one building you can find meat, cheese, baked goods, produce—everything that a good market has to offer as well as the best apple fritters anywhere. Upstairs there are hand sewn Mennonite crafts, as well as other assorted dry goods. The other building has more of the same and features a food court and mini “flea market”.

One meat we get every time we go, is something you don’t see around here much: smoked pork chops. They’re ready to eat, and we usually have them cold, with salads—a terrific summer meal.

While at the market I made a discovery, this past Saturday. And it pertains to one of the basic differences between men and women. We usually park near the building that has the meat because they have accessible parking spots there. Unless you arrive very early, you’re looking at a long walk, because the market is extremely popular. So we park close, and I am able to walk through this very large building. It’s crowded, but that usually doesn’t faze me overly much. We spent a good half hour or more there, and made the complete circuit. We bought some of those chops, this time, as well as a couple of rib eye steaks. I wasn’t looking to stock up, but I have in the past bought sausage, and chicken and hamburger. Some of the vendors, local businesses all, have signs that assure the buying public that their meat contains no growth hormones or other harmful chemicals. For those who studiously avoid same, that is an assurance you can take to the bank.

There’re also a couple of bakeries represented in this building. One, The Stone Crock, has quite a presence in the village, with a restaurant, meat shop, cafĂ©, and ‘bar and grill’ all connected taking up a full block. The other, I have no idea if they have a brick and mortar store of their own, has been at the market for as long as I have been going there, and they always have the best sticky buns and bruschetta.

After we finished our tour of the building, we took the meat to the car, and put it in the cooler bag. We always bring one, that way even on the hottest day we can take some time to tour the rest of the market, which is quite vast, really. Once the meat has been placed in the bag, the wheelchair comes out of the trunk.

Yes, I have a wheelchair, which I use when there is someplace I want to go or see that would require more than a half hour’s walking. It took me a long time to overcome my prideful tendencies and say yes to the chair. But I have and I do, and it’s a blessing because now I can go and see and do, where I could not before.

And that brings me to the difference between men and women.

My beloved never minds pushing this chair—it’s one with small wheels, not the larger, so I really can’t manoeuvre it myself. Anyway, he never minds pushing it—but he never sees the large cracks ahead in the pavement, or ridges on the sidewalks and sometimes, I squeal as the chair hits these ruts and keeps going, but not in the way it’s supposed to go if you know what I mean.

I have told him, not completely jokingly, that if he dumps me on the ground his life will become a living, breathing hell. That gets his attention, which usually is wandering to the things he wants to look at, and not at where I’m going.

The first item on my agenda was peaches. I have it in mind to make peach jam this year, but they’re not ripe enough for that yet in this area. I bought a small basket anyway, for the kids and to make a cobbler with. David needed to stop at one vendor in the next aisle that sells cloth work gloves. Then he asked me, “What do you need to get next?”

Now friends, you know I don’t shop a lot, and I don’t like to shop, normally. But you also know how I like to look at the sparkly, the shiny and the different that you can see at typical “tourist” venues. So I said, “Nothing in particular, I just want to see what’s here.”

Well, I tell you truly I thought he’d entered us in a race! He moved so fast—yes, faster than I have seen him move in some time—that even whipping my head left and right, I could barely see what was being offered, let alone consider buying anything. Oh, and he did a wide sweep around the table that held hundreds of watches. He swore that manoeuvre was totally innocent. He hadn’t meant to deprive me of the chance to buy a new watch (they’re about 10 bucks a piece, so no big cash outlay here). Did I want to go back?

No, said I. That’s quite all right, said I. And it was, really.

Because the next time I go to the market, I’ll have my daughter with me. The watches will certainly still be there. As for my beloved, however, I’m afraid that when it comes to pushing me anywhere I need to go to see and do and consider, well, that’s a task he has now been officially fired from.


Wednesday, August 7, 2013

August 7, 2013

This summer’s activities have certainly contrasted with last year’s for us.

Last year at this time we were getting ready to take our fifth trip of the year – to Dallas, for a writer’s conference. We’d already been to Freeport, in the Bahamas, for a week of sun, surf and sand in February. We’d hit Chicago in April and Pennsylvania and Anaheim in July. This year, so far, while I took a week in Florida for a writers’ retreat, we’ve only been to Kansas City, Missouri together. We will be heading down to Pennsylvania next month for a trip that will be a combination of research and a visit with our friends. And that is the second and last “shared” trip David and I have planned for the year.

In November, I’ll be going to Texas for a couple of weeks—another writing retreat and a visit with my publisher—and he’ll be taking the girls—our daughter and our “step-daughter” to Las Vegas.

More shocking than the reality of our reduced travel this year is my beloved’s attitude on the subject. He told me that he’s come to the conclusion that we’ve traveled a lot over the last few years (which we have) and maybe it’s time to do other things, instead. Maybe we don’t have to have four or five excursions a year.

Yes, it was one of those “who are you and what have you done with my husband” moments for me.

We have traveled a lot, and while at least half of those trips have been in support of my career, the rest have been our attempts at feeding my beloved’s sometimes insatiable wanderlust.

Conferences and conventions are important for my career, of course, and I’ve been happy to go, especially when I can meet with my readers. But they can also interfere with the writing, even though I generally take my laptop with me.

I’m not as young as I used to be. And while I would not characterize my health as “failing”, I am at a level of challenge that makes me examine each proposed journey and ask myself how important it is for me to go.

There is no question about going to Texas. My best friend is down there and I need to spend time with her—professionally and spiritually. Of course, the opportunity to visit with my wonderful publisher is something not to be missed either. Both visits will feed my soul, and that is worth the hassle and discomfort traveling inevitably entails.

My beloved still enjoys a road trip better than just about any other kind of excursion. There are all sorts of historical and geological sights to see in Pennsylvania. He’s been underground more than once (I’m claustrophobic and determined to stay on top of the grass), and we’ve been to the Steamtown USA museum a couple of times, too. We’ve visited the sacred ground of Gettysburg, and seen the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg.

Right around coal country where our friends live, there’s a wealth of historical places. This is the area of the country featured in the movie the Molly Maguire’s, and yes, we’ve been to the haunted jail in Jim Thorpe where some of those real-life men were imprisoned and executed.

Less well known is the violence that erupted at the Lattimer Mine site near Hazleton, Pennsylvania in 1897, an action against striking unarmed immigrant mine workers that resulted in the deaths of 19 men.

And no visit to the area, in my mind, is complete without a stop in Centralia. You can see the devastation and sometimes smell the coal still burning deep underground. It’s not a place to travel through willy-nilly, as subsidence is a very real danger here.

Northeastern Pennsylvania makes for interesting country to set a suspense novel in, when you think about it. Especially a novel that uses abandoned air shafts and possible redoubts built into the heart of the Alleghenies as plot points. One’s imagination can fly in the mountains, and it’s so different from where we live as to feel “exotic”.

And close enough to home, that a day’s drive puts us in the heart of research and history-buff heaven.


Wednesday, July 31, 2013

July 31, 2013

What a strange summer we’re having this year! The weather here has gone from chilly to hot and back again. Today is the last day of July, which seems incredible to me. I really think that as we get older, how we notice the world around us changes. We march to our own rhythm, and in some ways our focus turns inward—but not really in a selfish way. Things in the outside world that when we were younger seemed so vital to us just aren’t that important anymore.

Sometimes I think that I’m living in a different reality than other people are. The days don’t mean the same thing to me as they used to. Yes, every one of them is precious, but their value to me is different than it used to be. Now, the days are not governed by the time on the clock and what I can get for myself in the hours provided, so much as they are defined by my activities, my thoughts and tasks, my goals and mostly, my relationships with other people.

I’ve been staying up later than I ever have before—now that I am fully freed from having to drive my beloved to work, I’m slowly coming to the realization that I don’t have to live by the clock the way I used to.

It’s been kind of slow evolution for me, though, and while I know that burning the midnight oil has been a choice I’ve made, I’m really not sure I like it.

I may stay up until two in the morning, but then I feel really guilty if I sleep in until nine, or nine-thirty. I feel like I’m standing with a foot in each world—the world of the night owl and the world of the early riser. It’s uncomfortable, to say the least, because those worlds are drifting apart and I am way passed the age when I can comfortably do the splits.

Life is going to change even more for us over the next five years, as my beloved approaches his retirement. Friends, I worry about that, I really do. I don’t worry so much about a change in our income. We’re very blessed that way. Our house is paid for, we live frugally, and we both have retirement savings accounts. Added to those blessings, I am doing something that I not only love but that earns me a living, and it’s something I can conceivably continue to do until I die—the Good Lord willing and the river don’t rise.

No, I worry about what life is going to be like when we are here, together. Every day. Week after week, month after month, and year after year after year. Just the two of us, and the puppy and the cat.

Seriously, I worry about this. I’ve seen my beloved with two days off every week, and I know how he tends to spend those days. I shudder to think of him with nothing but time.

He tells me I don’t have anything to worry about. I’m going to pray that’s so. I do know that like me, he believes that when one retires, one needs to keep busy. People who retire from active jobs, who then do nothing day in and day out but sit on their bottoms watching television and going for naps, don’t tend to live very long. David has long wanted to restore old farm equipment—or old cars, he hasn’t decided which he wants to do the most. Hopefully, we’ll be able to have the facility for him to follow that dream. Our goal is to buy another house before he retires, one that has an outbuilding he can use as a “shop” to work in.

We don’t need or even want fancy, we just need something that will work for us. This house with its upstairs and its laundry room in the basement and its river-terraced yard really does not work for us anymore. Or more specifically, it doesn’t work for me.

  I always knew that life was supposed to slow down as we got older. I’m not certain I understood beforehand that this slowing down would be accompanied by a filter that would weave itself between me and the rest of the world.

But at least now I understand the serene, slightly unfocused expressions I used to notice on the faces of the old people, sitting quietly on park benches, as they watched the world go by.


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

July 24, 2013

Recent events have got me thinking about something that, believe it or not, I don’t really think about all time: professional behavior.

A lot of people associate that phrase, “professional behavior” with how you behave in an office environment—or while at work in retail, or the teaching or medical professions.

However, “professional behavior” is an ideal to strive toward regardless of whether one works in an office or store or school or hospital, or if one works for oneself in any capacity—say, a small plumbing business fixing toilets, or even as an author.

What is professional behavior? I went looking online for a really good definition, because how I perceive that characteristic—at least right now as I am writing this, in a far from objective frame of mind—may in fact be colored by that very bias to which I have just confessed.

I don’t often quote others in these essays, but I came across some excellent words written by someone else. The website where I found those words is here: and you can click on that link or copy and paste the url into your browser and read the entire not very long article. The author is credited as being Lynda Moultry Belcher. Here is what it says on that site about Ms. Moultry-Belcher: Lynda Moultry Belcher is a writer, editor and public relations professional. She worked for a daily newspaper for 10 years and has been a freelance writer for more than 15 years. She has contributed to Divorce360 and Revolution Health Group, among other publications. She is also the author of "101 Plus-Size Women's Clothing Tips" and writes "Style At Any Size," a bi-weekly newspaper column.
This author indeed bears the necessary credentials to have a few words to say on the subject of professional behavior. The section of the article that caught my eye reads as follows:

“It is important to remain professional at all times when engaged in a business environment, whether for a company or your own business. Being professional not only lets people know you are a reputable person to work with, but also conveys intelligence and poise regarding your position. People who are professional are unfailingly polite, courteous and well-spoken, no matter what the situation. Being professional means you keep your cool and remain calm under any circumstances. No matter how upset a co-worker or customer makes you, you don't react; you deal with the situation rationally and calmly. Not everyone places an emphasis on professional behavior. When this happens, it's important that you still remain businesslike and not react to this adverse behavior. Instead, remain professional, no matter what the behavior is of those around you.”

I believe that this is sound advice, and applies to all people who make their living from the good graces of other people. That includes writers, don’t you think?

My personal take is that it not only includes us, we’re a group that should be particularly mindful of the way we are perceived by our peers, our contracted professional associates, and our readers.

I am a logical person, even though I am an author of erotic romance. I could wave the “artiste” flag, I suppose. There are those who would say that after having published 32 books, with the 33rd being in the hands of my publisher, I’m entitled to be a bit of a diva.

But I never believed that having talent, or being published, or having an audience excused bad manners, or tacky actions or rudeness of any kind.

I therefore have some advice to those who need it. I will even give that advice in a way that’s plain, and simple, and logical: Words of edification will never come back and bite you in the ass.


Wednesday, July 17, 2013

July 17, 2013

This past Sunday, my husband and I celebrated our 41st wedding anniversary. We didn’t do anything different, or special that day—except we did exchange cards. Then I made him his usual Sunday breakfast while he watched Meet the Press. Afterwards, he turned off the television and headed out to paint his shed.

I washed the dishes and then headed to my keyboard. I’ve just submitted one novel, and have been working hard on the next one.

There were no fireworks, no flowers, no dinners out. Perhaps for some couples, every anniversary is a big deal. I learned long ago that my beloved doesn’t think that way, and really, that’s okay. We did have a huge dinner last year with relatives and friends, and we likely may have a bit of a to-do in nine more years.

This time, though, I think I’ll leave the planning of that event up to my family.

Sometimes, people will ask me how you make a marriage last for so many years. There have been various answers I have given from time to time. I won’t lie to you. Sometimes, if I know the person asking the question really well, I will chose a specific answer I think they need to hear. There really is a lot of work that goes into maintaining a marriage. There is no one magic bullet that will guarantee success. And whatever I do say in response to the question is always true.

Just recently I heard, for the first time, a song by Lee Brice called Love Like Crazy, and the words to that are spot on, too.

But really, I suppose, the best answer I can give to that question—how do you make a marriage last for so long—the most all encompassing answer I can give is quite simple and can be summed up in just two words: don’t quit.

I don’t know how it came to be that quitting seems to be something people do often and well these days. But quitting—unless you’re stopping a bad habit—is nothing more than capitulation. It’s saying “uncle” to whatever it is you’re walking away from. It’s saying that what you have been involved in is too difficult, too complicated, or too much effort for you. That what you’re walking away from is not worth the difficulty, complications or effort.

Quitting, unless it is quitting a bad habit, is in itself the worst habit you can have.

When you first get engaged, and then get married, you’re in a bit of an euphoric state, I think. Everything about your beloved seems wondrous and magical. And then, for most people, as the days and weeks and months and years progress, your relationship changes. Life happens. You have work and worry. You have challenges and crises. You have children! They bring with them a whole boat load of love and a whole new set of problems and pitfalls.

Sometimes, you suffer devastating losses.

You get older and more tired, your youthful glow becomes a middle-aged pallor, and you don’t always hear the violins anymore when you kiss.

In short, life happens, and life molds you, and it molds your love as well.

If you’re lucky, your love adapts and perseveres, maybe not being the candlelight and roses it was at the beginning of your relationship, but becoming what you need it to be, that bond that unites you as two who are one, steadfast together in the company of others. Fearless in the face of fickle fate because you have that one hand to cling to.

But that evolution won’t happen if you quit. So my advice to you, no matter how long you’ve been married, or what challenges you’re facing, is don’t quit.

Diamonds only become diamonds after enduring tremendous pressures without fracturing. Diamond wedding anniversaries are formed exactly the same way.


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

July 10, 2013

My beloved’s week off of work went by very quickly—for the both of us. I am delighted that he managed to keep himself busy without having to seek me out every half hour or so, as he has done in the past. Not only that, I’m doubly delighted that he finished every item on his “honey do” list.

Well, practically. He needs to paint the shed he built, but the last few days before he went back to work turned out to be very wet. The weather forecast is calling for the rain to be done by tomorrow. By next weekend, we’re hoping, the new structure will be dry enough for him to apply some resin paint to it.

He actually quite enjoyed the act of constructing the shed. Before the company that owns the quarry where he works bought it from the family that used to own it, he used to be responsible for designing and building different pieces of equipment. Of course, that construction was done with steel and an arc welder, as opposed to wood and nails. But the sense of creation is the same, as is the pride of accomplishment.

I know he’s missed that these last few years. Now of course, as his working career is winding down, he is no longer expected to perform the heavy, physically taxing work he used to do. Now, he drives a very big truck for most of the day.

We kicked off his vacation week by enjoying a Sunday out, on the 30th, as we attended a house party to celebrate Canada Day. Our puppy was also invited to this event, which served as Tuffy’s debut in society, as it were. He was the most well behaved puppy, ever. Everyone fell in love with him, with a few people telling us that if we ever got tired of him, why, they would be ever so happy to take him off our hands.

You can probably imagine Mr. Ashbury’s response to those offers. That’s right, two words: not happening.

We did purchase a puppy carrier for the inside of the car, something safe for the puppy to travel in. He hasn’t liked car rides very much at all so far, and that is unfortunate, as we had hoped to be able to bring him with us when we travel to Pennsylvania in September.

The woman who was our hostess at the house party works with animals, and she suggested just taking him for small car rides on a regular basis. We began to implement that plan on Monday of last week. We’ve had some success. Tuffy has discovered that car rides can, in fact, be fun. He likes to have his face in the wind.

On this past Sunday, when it was time to head out to get groceries, Tuffy decided that he would not be left behind. Pennsylvania for him in the fall is looking distinctly possible.

Now that my beloved has returned to work, I’m hoping that I can return to my normal routines as well. I manage a regimen of housework mixed with writing most days that gives me a two-pronged sense of accomplishment. When I have weeks that require me to go out of the house more than a couple of times, I get annoyed. Even if the “going out” is to my benefit, I have found that in the last year or two, especially, I prefer my routines, and my house—and my solitude.

I’ve been told that I am in danger of becoming a hermit. I know that isn’t precisely so because I continue to have my characters for company, as well as my wonderful, online community of readers.

Now my husband has returned to work and they, and the dog and the cat, are mostly the only company I have. But my beloved has reminded me that I won’t have to suffer thusly for too long.

He’ll have another seven days off in just three weeks time.