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.