Wednesday, December 31, 2014

December 31, 2014

I really like this time of year—the lead up to the end of the current year and the beginning of the brand new one. Generally, right after Christmas Day, the media is full of retrospective programming, looking back in music, film and news at the year that was (or should more properly be called, the year that still is for another few days yet).

Looking back on a regular basis can be not only a helpful thing; it can be a healthy one as well.

As we live our lives, day to day, we tend to get mired in the mud of the path we walk. What is happening right now at this very moment can seem so important, so vital, that we can be sidetracked away from what the important things in life truly are. It really is easy to get caught up in the minutia, or, as is commonly said, to not see the forest for the trees.

It’s good to take a step back and focus for a bit on the bigger picture.

I don’t—as you may or may not recall—make New Year’s resolutions. For me, these have proven to be traps just waiting to be fallen into. There’s nothing worse in my estimation than making a resolution on New Year’s Eve, and then ending up failing on New Year’s Day, or the day after. That kind of behavior just breeds frustration, a sense of failure, and self-loathing. I try very hard not to fall into that pit.

But while I don’t specify a list of things I am going to change about myself, or my circumstances, or anyone in my sphere (yes, I do sometimes have those kinds of thoughts and I know I’m not alone), I do like to take a few minutes and give some thought as to what I would like to accomplish in the twelve months ahead.

Most of the items I think of are rather generic, and don’t change much from year to year. I’d like to be kinder; I’d like to be a bit more patient, and a bit more generous. I’d like to, at the bottom of it all, do something that matters to someone—I want to be a blessing to another human being.

Some folks think that in order to change the world you have to do big things. This is simply not true. The way you change the world the most is by touching, in a positive way, the life of another person.

Do something big, and you may be written about in the history books. Do something small and you’ll be written upon the heart of another human being.

 If enough people do the small things that touch the hearts of others – that, my friends, is a whole lot of darn good karma—the kind of good karma that changes the world.

In the mean time, I’m back to my generalized list of things for the next twelve months. The one last thing I would like to add is that I want to be sure to remember to take time to breathe. Sometimes I get too busy, and I need to set aside some time to ponder the miracles in life, to breathe in the scent of the roses and the coffee, and to be grateful for the bounty with which I have been blessed. Some folks might look at my house, that’s more than a little ramshackle, or me—you won’t find a designer label in my closet, and rare is the day I put on makeup—and think that the bounty I give thanks for isn’t much at all.

To them I say, just look inside my heart. It’s full to over flowing with love, and that’s bounty enough for me.

Happy New Year to you all!


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

December 24, 2014

It’s been a long time since Christmas seemed like a magical day, wherein my fondest dreams might, just might come true. To a very real extent the magic ended for me with the passing of my dad when I was 7—a tragic event that occurred on January 3, 1962.

I don’t remember much from that particular Christmas, our last one as a whole family. I don’t recall the next one particularly well, either. I imagine it would have been very hard for all of us but especially my mother, who’d lost her soul mate, a loss from which she never fully recovered.

When I think back to childhood Christmases, it’s to recall a montage, as if in fact there’d only ever been one. I remember the breakfast on Christmas morning, because it was one of the few times in the year we had bacon on our breakfast table, along with both orange juice and grape juice. I could have a small glass of each! The tradition of the Christmas morning feast is one we observed with our own children and continued on with until just fairly recently. Our breakfast tomorrow morning is likely to be a very simple one.

Looking back to those very early years, I believe what made it all so special wasn’t only that gastronomical bounty itself, but the unusual circumstance of our enjoying it together, as a family. Oh, we always had supper as a family, even when my mother, an RN, was on the three to eleven shift at the hospital. My dad worked days, so he would be home when she was not. He cooked, and cleaned, and so we had family around the supper table every night.

But we never sat down as a family to have breakfast except on Christmas Day.

I also remember Christmas as being a time for visiting with family. My parents observed the tradition of dropping in on their nieces and nephews on the day after Christmas, and always visiting extended family where there were children. They’d usually have a gift of some sort for the kids—nothing extravagant, of course. But truly, in those days a small gift—either a toy, or perhaps a small basket filled with cookies and fruit or chocolate—could be had without spending a large sum. My parents saved their coins all year, and used that money at Christmas for extras such as our Boxing Day gifts.

Another cherished memory for me is going to the midnight Eucharist at our church (Anglican/Episcopalian). It was the church we attended all through my childhood, the same one my husband and I were married in, and the one we brought our children to as a young family before moving away to a different town. But at Christmas, the service that began at 11 pm on Christmas Eve was pure pageantry– complete with an old, rich sounding pipe organ, and all the trimmings of the High Anglican service—candles, robes, and a processional. The interior of the small building was old, the pews and hassocks a lustrous dark wood that the caretaker would polish to a high gloss. Years after my parents were both gone from this earth, sitting in that church brought them back to me, as I took in the sounds and scents of the place, along with the familiar, comfortable words of a liturgy which never changed.

It is also at this time of year that I feel the loss of family and friends most keenly. It seems to be unavoidable, that sense of something missing. There are always moments when I think back to having my house full, with all my chicks in attendance. The holiday season really is a double edged sword: for those who have, be it material goods or loved ones, it can be joyous indeed. For those in want, it can pinch and sting like nothing else on this earth.

Memories are made, one day at a time, and they are all made the same way, be they happy memories or sad ones.

My beloved and I wish you all the happiest of memories to be made tonight, tomorrow, and throughout the whole New Year.


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

December 17, 2014

How are you handling the pre-Christmas hype this year? Are you tired of it yet? Wishing that Christmas was in the past, already?

To me, that is the sad reality produced by the glut of advertising foisted upon us this time of year. Every business that you can think of—and even some that you never would—all seem to be having Christmas sales, and are begging for your hard earned cash.

I can only shake my head as I watch commercial after commercial, the announcers/actors feverishly pitching everything under the damn sun—and funeral plots too, so I guess you can include everything under the damn ground, as well.

Really? Yes, I kid you not. Take advantage of XYZ Cemetery’s special Christmas sale! Act now, and we’ll throw in a plot for one offspring of your choice at 50% off! Okay, it wasn’t quite that ghoulish, but you get the idea. Please, you want to scream, make it stop!!

If you’re wondering if there’s anything we can do to counter this assault on our psyches, and to get back the joy—the real true joy of Christmas, I have good news for you. The answer is yes!

The first thing you need to do is to turn down the commercials. If you have a PVR I strongly suggest recording some of the programs you watch, and then fast-forward past those annoying spots. Or, better yet, turn off the television altogether. Have a family game night, or two. Listen to music. Everything in life is a choice, isn’t it? So choose not to allow yourself to be inundated with the horrible hype of the season.

Now, you want to get some of that wonderful feel-good Christmas spirit in your heart? There’s an easy and inexpensive way to do that. Several ways, in fact, and I’m happy to list some of them for you here.

You can, as I said, turn off that television and have family time. Or, if you need to watch the tube, choose something you all can watch together. Make a night of it with snacks, and beverages, and use the commercial time to talk about what you’re watching.

The other thing you can do that I absolutely guarantee will fill you with the holiday spirit is to give something to someone else.

Every community has toy drives and food drives at this time of year. Here in Canada, there in the United States, overseas—that is one thing that is common to all of our nations. So give.

You don’t have to give a lot. Here in North America, dollar stores abound. Some toys maybe are too poorly made for you to consider as good gifts, but every dollar store has coloring books and crayons, balls, card games, dolls, barrettes and bracelets and ear buds and calculators—all for a dollar or two. They have scarves and mittens and hats, too, if you’re in a chilly part of the country.

They also have cans of soup, 3 for $1. Or you can go to your local grocery store and buy a few tins of food. Tuna is good, as are vegetables, soups, and pasta. You could purchase jams, and honey and cheese spread. Peanut butter is a good bet as well, because it is high in protein. You can get jars of baby food, boxes of pabulum, or even boxes of regular cereal.

Maybe you can only spend $5. But that $5 can go a long way, especially if everyone you can think of gave $5. Can you imagine? I’ve said it before and I will say it now, and likely again at some point in the future. If everyone who shopped at your grocery store bought 1 thing for the food bank, your local food bank would overflow!

You don’t have any money? Then do a good turn for someone. Shovel a driveway, help carry a bag, hold a door open. Life is filled with opportunities great and small for you to do good. All you have to do is take your eyes off yourself and put them on someone else.

Take your eyes off of yourself, and put them on somebody else!

If you want the Christmas spirit, and it’s missing in your life, then create it by helping someone in need. It really doesn’t take a fortune, or a wealth of time.

It really only takes a determination to make a difference, and the decision to do so.


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

December 10, 2014

Wow, it’s only two weeks until Christmas Eve, and there’re only three weeks left in 2014! My beloved has only two more work days left in the year, and he’s really looking forward to having three weeks off.

I gently pointed out to him just the other day, that three weeks off his day job did not equal three weeks of doing absolutely nothing. I have no objection whatsoever to his reading, lounging about, watching television and napping. But he can’t indulge in all leisure, all the time.

“But we tried that whole ‘house bitch’ experiment last year,” he said, “and I failed at it!”

Friends, y’all would have been proud of his delivery of that sentence, because he did indeed appear to be very sad and disappointed about that truth.

I again, gently, told him the reason he failed was because he’d gone into the experiment with the mistaken idea that being a house bitch meant he had to do only one chore a day.

“You mean,” he asked, eyes wide, “I have to do two?”

Ah, Mr. Ashbury missed his true calling! Not even the great Olivier could have delivered such an emotional, heart-felt performance as I witnessed right there in the front seat of my car as I drove him home from work that day. My husband’s pending Christmas lay-off is indeed a harbinger of a not-too-distant in the future event. Yes, we are very quickly coming to that time that I’m anticipating with equal parts pleasure and dread: in just a couple of years, Mr. Ashbury will become a retired gentleman.

Sadly, he’s looking forward to that. I say sadly because not that many years ago he loved his job. He loved what he did, and he really cared a great deal for the owner of the company, and all who worked there. He cared about the company, itself. But in 2003 the fourth-generation family owned business he’d worked at for 25 years was sold to a large, world-wide conglomerate.

It’s taken that conglomerate eleven years, but they’ve finally completely eradicated my beloved’s joy of going to work each day. He used to tease that he might never retire, and would instead “die in the saddle” as it were. Now, he can’t get out of there fast enough.

That grieves my heart more than I can say.

However, he’s more than an employee—always has been, of course. And even at the age of 62, he has dreams. Some of those dreams are of doing what he would love to do, once he retires. One thing he wants to do is to find a piece of antique farm equipment and restore it. The other thing he’d like to try might surprise you—or maybe it won’t.

He wants to write.

Don’t ask me what genre he’ll be writing, because I seriously don’t know. He has very eclectic reading tastes and he has a love of history. What he ends up penning really is anybody’s guess.

But one thing I do know is this: when that time comes, and he is no longer working at a day job for a living, he won’t need to worry about getting something part time to bring in a few dollars. He has a decent pension, and I of course, will still be writing. Good Lord willing, people will still buy the books I write, which will make our latter days more comfortable than they might otherwise have been.

But my beloved will have to shape up when it comes to working around the house. The deal I’m going to offer him is simple, and, I think, fair. On top of working on my manuscript of the moment, I’ll make the bed every day and the supper every night. But everything else that I am currently doing around the house will become his job.

And because I know him so very well, I will add this proviso to my offer: if he “accidentally” fails at the dusting, vacuuming, mopping and other cleaning chores, then I’m going to “accidentally” start burning the supper. Every. Single. Night.

It’s always good to know your spouse’s weak spot, and Mr. Ashbury’s is definitely at the supper table.


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

December 3, 2014

With December comes the “holiday season”. That’s the politically correct term for it. One tries to be politically correct, but sometimes it’s a challenge. I send out Christmas cards, but not as many as in years past. The postage can be prohibitive, so it’s not an action to be taken lightly.

I try to be sensitive if I am sending a card to someone who I know happens to hate organized religion. There’re a few of them among my family and friends. So I have Santa cards, and other cards that might just say, “Season’s Greetings”. And thinking about it now, I realize how silly that really is, in a way.

Why would I need to send a Christmas card to someone who doesn’t believe in Christmas? People will answer that and say, well, you know, Morgan, it’s the polite thing to do. And it is—of course it is. I can support that statement despite the fact that no one has ever sent me a card for a single non-Christian holiday. Maybe there aren’t any cards for Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or...whatever other non-Christian holidays that in my ignorance, I’ve never heard of.

Conversely, I don’t think I have ever personally heard anyone make a fuss if I wish them Merry Christmas and they’re not Christian. Most people I know of different religions, when I say “Merry Christmas”, respond with a “thank you”, and quite often, “and the same to you”. Likely because they know that behind the words there is only a wish for good things for them in the days to come.

I was very pleasantly surprised last night as I was watching television—there were some commercials where the advertisers actually said, “Merry Christmas”. Good. Let’s not go all silly about what we call the holiday. Let’s call it what it is, and then move on.

My favorite thing about this time of year is giving. I love to give—sometimes much to my beloved’s dismay. I was showing him the budget for Christmas that I’d worked out on Monday, breaking down what was going to be spent and where. For a little while he niggled, as he invariably does. To the tune of twenty dollars here, twenty-five dollars there. Yes, yes, I believe in being frugal and I am most of the year. For the most part.


But there comes a point where frugality ends and miserliness begins, and my beloved was standing on the far side of that line and looking like he might want to settle in for a bit.

As has been mentioned before in these words of mine, one of us is generous and one of us is not. Compromise is key to the health of any marriage—even at Christmas. We do take turns “winning” our way. So I told my beloved he was perfectly free to disagree with me about the Christmas list, as long as he realized that in the end, we were going to do things my way.

That came as no surprise to him, and he even laughed.

There are other gifts, of course, that he doesn’t argue over. There are charitable donations to be made, and there are gifts related to my career—tokens of appreciation to my professional colleagues and associates.

I am reminded that it wasn’t so long ago that my beloved’s treasured personal philosophy won the day just about every year. He used to tell everyone he shopped at the dollar store. Twenty relatives, twenty dollars, twenty gifts. When you’re trying to raise a family and there are sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles, and cousins by the dozens that is absolutely the way to go.

But we are now “dinks”. Do you remember that acronym from the eighties? It stands for “double income, no kids”. For us, in my opinion, the meaning of that term is clear.

Now that we are dinks, we don’t need to be dinks about giving gifts at Christmas.


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

November 26, 2014

The very first Wednesday’s Words that I wrote was only a couple of paragraphs long, just prior to Thanksgiving, 2006. My first book was going to be released in March of 2007, and I came up with the idea of a weekly essay—primarily at the time to get my name “out there”. Between then and now, I have missed but a few Wednesdays. Personally, I can’t believe I have had enough opinions to last for a once a week essay for eight years.

Of course, the love of essay writing has since eclipsed the desire for publicity when it comes to writing these words for you each week.

I generally shy away from overly controversial topics. That’s just my nature. I see no reason to offend people with my own political or religious views. Because I’m Canadian, I tend not to speak out about the issues facing my American friends, as they head to the voting booth, or more recently, as they deal with tense domestic situations.

I can feel sympathy for a mother who loses a son, and for a cop who believes he’s doing his job when he shoots that son—even when it would seem those two emotions are in conflict, one with the other. I can also tell you that in my 60 years, I have noticed that looting, pillaging, burning, destroying—none of these actions has ever been successful in obtaining justice for anyone. Except, of course, against those doing the looting, pillaging, burning and destroying.

I know there are a lot of people who don’t believe “the system” works. But if mob violence, and striking out against others, hurting the innocent alongside the not-so-innocent with brutality could change the way the system does operate, then it would be even more badly broken than it already is.

The one thing I know without question is this: there is a lot of hurting, a lot of anger, and a lot of desperation in the world today. Having experienced all three of those emotions in my lifetime, I wouldn’t wish any of them on anyone.

We’re entering the time of year when families get together, to celebrate their special holidays. It’s also, and not coincidentally the time of year when those who are lonely, or in need, feel those circumstances most keenly. I know of some people who work in the public sector who cringe as the holiday season approaches, because there always seems to be an increase in general grumpiness—aka the hurting, the anger and the desperation.

“Bah, humbug” rivals “ho, ho, ho” for the title of the most overused expression of the season.

We hold on, and we hope that the tensions and the tempers will ease, that the weather will ease, and that the economy will continue to improve, little by little, so that keeping body and soul together becomes less of a titanic struggle.

One thing I have noticed lately that is very encouraging, is the number of people making daily posts in social media of things for which they’re thankful. I have long believed that one of the secrets to happiness is having an attitude of gratitude all the time.

No matter how bad things get in your life, there is always something to be thankful for. I’m not just sucking wind here. My beloved and I have known great loss, and great need. And even in those darkest of days, there were things that we were grateful for.

Maybe if we focus on that, on being thankful, we’ll invite a little good karma into our lives and thereby into our world.


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

November 19, 2014

I’m not going to complain one bit about the unseasonable cold, or the four inches of snow we have on the ground. I’m not going to grumble about the slightly impaired driving conditions, or having to take extra care getting about when I’m outside. I’ve been watching the news, and I know so many of my American friends have it so much worse.

I don’t think I have ever seen as much bad weather as y’all have been having over the last few months. My beloved and I sit down a few nights a week to watch the evening news on ABC, and each time we have, there’s been another headline about severe weather in the United States.

More often than not, we just sit and stare, and then say, “Again??”

Monday night it was reported that the mainland US is currently more than 50 percent snow-covered, and it was only about 12 percent covered this time last year. That’s a heck of a difference. And cold? This latest influx of arctic weather we’re all enduring makes last year’s polar vortexes seem like an autumn chill.

Now, the weather is the weather, and it is cyclical. We humans have only been recording it scientifically for what, just over a century? So we don’t really know what the big picture is, with regard to “normal”. We have a tendency in our own ego-centric way, to call “normal” that which we’re used to. But we don’t know whether a span of several years of highly unsettled, unstable weather isn’t on its own, normal.

But on the surface of things it appears as if our climate is running amok, meteorologically speaking. And I have to wonder how anyone can truly doubt that we’ve damaged our own environment with the way we have carelessly spewed chemicals and gasses into the air for decades.

There’re these things in existence called natural laws. One of those laws is summed up as “cause and effect”. Or, if you prefer a biblical term for it, “sowing and reaping”.

Yes, they’re the same thing.

You have to wonder, if our atmosphere ideally is comprised of a balance of certain gasses, and we send other gasses recklessly into the mix, how we could expect anything but change and upheaval when nature’s balance is disrupted that way.

We have to do a better job of stewardship with regard not only to this planet but the creatures and people populating it. God gave us this planet, and we need to respect his gift, and take better care of it, because from all I’ve heard and seen, there’s not another one waiting in the wings for us to use.

Some problems in life seem insurmountable to us. They’re huge in scope, and we think, since we’re so puny, that we can’t do anything to make a difference. But that thinking is just plain wrong. If everyone does something, then something big will happen.

 Let me say that again, because it is important. If everyone does something, then something big will happen. That’s not wishful thinking or naiveté or even unbridled optimism.

That, my friends, is mathematics.

Here’s a simplistic illustration of what I mean. Have you ever seen that proposition: which would you rather have, five million dollars, or a penny doubled every day for 30 days?

Did you ever work it out mathematically? One cent, on day two, would be two cents; on day 10 it would be $10.24. On day 20, it’s looking a little better – it’s now $10,485.76. And on day 30? $10,737,418.24.

One cent isn’t much—it’s what you do with it that counts. Combined, multiplied, it’s a fortune. So too are the acts, the small, daily acts, that we each can perform, the small decisions we each can take every day, to do a better job taking care of our planet.


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

November 12, 2014

I haven’t always taken the time to remember. Some years, the moment passed, and I, unawares, continued on with the minutia of my life. There may have been a time or two when I couldn’t actually stop, and ponder, and observe. As I get older, I recognize that many of those failures to give tribute were born out of a life full of shallow and sometimes frivolous goals and ideas and occupations.

As I get older, I make a better effort to keep the day on my mental schedule, and think about it as it approaches.

I remember that there was a war that began a century ago this year, and ended four years later with a cease fire that was enacted in the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, in the eleventh month. In Canada, this day of which I speak, November 11, is known as Remembrance Day.

We live in a free and prosperous nation, one in which peace prevails, and the rule of law is embraced; one in which individual citizens have the right and the privilege and the responsibility to vote, to have their say in the laws and the rules which guide us all. That freedom and that rule of law and that peace were all bought and paid for by the blood of our nation’s sons and daughters, our mothers and fathers, our sisters and brothers.

We owe a debt to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice in the cause of freedom. That debt is only in part a debt of respect and remembrance. It is also a debt of determination: to hold fast to those freedoms they purchased for us at so high a price, and to guard them, ceaselessly. It is a debt best expressed in the great optimism uttered in the aftermath of the Great War: never again.

Watching the camera pan the crowds at our National War Memorial ceremony of remembrance yesterday, the faces of the elderly, uniformed, beribboned, and somber made me wonder. In eyes turned translucent with age, I saw true remembrance: as the bugler played The Last Post; as the moment of silence descended; as the cannons fired on interval; as the Governor-General spoke of the purpose behind our having these memorials erected in the center of out towns, great and small, across the nation; as Princess Anne, The Princess Royal, read a message from Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, the Queen of Canada.

I saw remembered camaraderie, and remembered pain. I saw remembered struggle and remembered victory. I saw the understanding that they had lived on, while those with whom they shared that camaraderie, and terrible violence of conflict, had not.

War has been a part of the human landscape since the first caveman picked up a club. Violence exists in our society because it exists in our DNA. On Remembrance Day, we recognize this quality in ourselves, and rededicate ourselves to doing all we can to honor their sacrifice and to keep the peace. And sometimes keeping the peace means actions taken to stop aggressors and oppressors and those who would destroy us in the name of dogma.

As dichotomous as it sounds, sometimes keeping the peace means going to war.

We know this and we acknowledge this, and we promise to those who’ve gone before us, and to those who shall come after us, that we will not take these decisions, or their sacrifices, lightly.

And we vow, once more, that we shall never forget.


Wednesday, November 5, 2014

November 5, 2014

Anyone who’s read these essays knows I’m opinionated, but there are some topics I shy away from. I try not to preach my religion to you, and I stay away from political topics. This isn’t to say I don’t have opinions in those areas—I just keep them to myself.

Instead, I try to write about the personal values I have—y’all know by now I believe that people need to accept responsibility for their lives, and their actions. I believe in self-reliance, and I believe we all have a duty to help those less fortunate.

I suppose my beliefs were forged in my childhood. I can still recall the time my mother got this horrified look on her face, when, as a teenager, I proclaimed some circumstance or other to be “not fair”. “Who the hell ever told you that life was fair? It’s not fair, not for anyone.” And then she added, that if it was, my father wouldn’t have died so young.

She didn’t often mention him—even then I knew that to be caused by her great, unrelenting grief. My mother was only forty-three when she was widowed, and in the few years she had left on this earth—she passed away at 56—she never even looked at another man.

Growing up without having a dad, and with a mother who took responsibility for everything that needed doing, surely shaped me. But there was one other incident in my relative youth that shaped my outlook in life, and I want to share that with you.

You may think of Canada as being a peaceful, even polite nation, untouched by terrorism; but we went through an act of ‘domestic terrorism’ before that phrase was ever coined. It took place in 1970, when I was sixteen years old. Referred to now as the “October Crisis”, it began with the kidnapping of two government officials—British Trade Commissioner James Cross, and the Quebec provincial Minister of Labor, Pierre Laporte—by a group that called itself le Front de libération du Québec(Quebec Liberation Front), the FLQ.

The government’s response to these acts of terror was swift; Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau invoked the only peacetime use of the War Measures Act, giving police sweeping powers of detainment without writ, and the deployment of Canadian Forces who only ever served as support to the civil authorities. During this period, police detained 467 people, all but 62 of whom were released without being charged. In the end, Mr. Cross was released, Mr. Laporte was murdered, the perpetrators were eventually arrested and convicted, and the FLQ disbanded, never to terrorize again.

The other response to this act that seems remarkable in today’s world was that not a great deal of “media attention” was focused on those perpetrators—they weren’t featured, spotlighted, or made into media stars.

 I mention all of this, because of an incident you may have heard about that took place in our nation’s capital a couple of weeks ago. A person, “radicalized” to the cause of ISIS, after having shot and killed a young solider standing as guard at the National War Monument, proceeded to enter the Center Block of our Parliament building in Ottawa, in an obvious attack directed toward the Canadian government. While Caucus was locked down, for the protection of the government ministers including our Prime Minister, and the security team advanced, Kevin Vickers, a 58 year old former RCMP officer, and our current Sergeant-at-arms, left his office, gun hand, ran toward where the suspect was hiding behind a column, and without hesitation, held his pistol in a two-handed grip, leapt, turned in mid air, and opened fire on the criminal, even as he himself hit the hard marble-over-concrete floor on his back.

He was joined at that point by the bulk of the security force and they also opened fire. Mr. Vickers then returned to his office, reloaded, and went back to the “field” as no one, at that point, knew for certain if the attacker had help or not.

When it was deemed the gunman had indeed acted alone, Mr. Vickers entered the caucus room—gun still in hand—went to the microphone, and announced, “I have engaged the suspect, and he is deceased”.

The next day—the very next day—parliament re-opened, and it was back to business as usual.

Mr. Vickers received a standing ovation from the members of Parliament and the Prime Minister as he performed his ceremonial duty of bringing one of the symbols of power into the chamber. In true Canadian fashion, he nodded his thanks and appeared embarrassed by all the attention. Later, he said the true heroes were the rest of the security force. And then he, too, got back to work—business as usual.

Immediate action, spotlight on the victims and the heroes and not the villains, and then back to work.

That’s how you deal with domestic terrorism. I was very proud, on that day in particular, to be Canadian.


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

October 29, 2014

Ah, well laid plans. Aren’t they a kick? If you’re anal like I am, nothing compares to the pleasure you derive from sitting down and making detailed plans. I have spreadsheets out the wazoo, for just about every major and most minor occurrences in my life.

I have a grocery list spreadsheet, which yes, I print out and attach to a clip board to take into the store with me every week. My mother gave me two non-negotiable laws for grocery shopping: never shop hungry, and never shop without a list.

I may have taken it a step further than she might have envisioned, organizing the list in the order of the grocery store aisles as I encounter them, although she would certainly approve of my entering the price I expect to pay per item on the sheet.

I make a list when I am going on a trip, for all the things I need to take with me especially my clothing. I actually plan ahead what I will wear on any given day of my excursion. This is particularly helpful when the trip is a conference, and there are day as well as evening events. No, it doesn’t matter that I don’t always stick to the plan exactly. I have the list, and I enjoyed the time spent in anticipation, making it.

I didn’t actually make a list for this week—what I planned to do and where I needed to go, or perhaps more to the point, what I didn’t plan to do and where I didn’t plan to go. I think, quite possibly, that was my mistake. Well that, and my general lack of specificity beforehand.

As talk circulated amongst the family about this vacation that the grandfather and his daughter were taking in the weeks leading up to their departure, general comments were made. I said that this would be a wonderful time for me, too, even though I wasn’t going. I expressed joy at the prospect of having the house to myself, without interruption, or service to others.

Perhaps I should have been more blunt. Perhaps I should have come right out and said, “please, do not hesitate to just leave me alone”. I guess I shouldn’t complain. It is, after all, nice to be needed, and I really do value any opportunity to serve others.

I contacted second daughter Sunday evening, because my beloved had purchased a cherry cheesecake on Saturday and had eaten only one piece. The rest was in the fridge and I wouldn’t eat it, and I know she loves that dessert. So I suggested that she pop by on her way home from work and take it home with her. She suggested instead that since Monday was her day off, she could stop in for a short visit, and she could grab it then. Great! She’s busy and I don’t get to see her enough, so of course I agreed.

About a half hour before she was due to arrive, she called. Could I possibly, pretty please make her eggs and cheese....and sausage....and toast? She’d been running around doing errands, and she was starving. How could I refuse?

Later that same day she texted me because she’d forgotten that she had volunteered to participate in a survey at work (on her day off) and would I mind taking her son (my youngest grandson) to his football game? At 8 o’clock that night? Since my daughter, who would normally do this for her was away, there really was no one else to do it. How could I refuse?

Then, yesterday around five-thirty, my 20 year old grandson—my daughter’s son—called. “Grandma, I have a huge favor to ask. I need to go to the variety store and get a couple of things. Can you come and get me and take me there?”

Yes, I do have trouble saying no—but I said it this time. He’s twenty and healthy and the store is less than a half mile from his house, and it was a glorious fall day. And, I’d just sat down to have my supper.

So I said no, and it only took me about an hour and a half to stop feeling guilty that I did. And at that point I began to wonder how long it would be until I wound up doing something else for someone else. Not long, as it turns out. I’ll be taking my young grandson—whose football season was over Monday—to his hockey practice, tonight.

Next year, I’m thinking of telling everyone that, while father and daughter are away on vacation, I’ll be on one, too. Yes! I’m going away, away, very far away....I’ll be booked on a week-long excursion on the ship of my imagination.

A place where the possibilities are endless, and there is no cell phone reception.


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

October 22, 2014

Yes, the temperature has dropped, and the forecast warns we could be in for a winter to rival the last one, as far as the cold is concerned. Already the winds of autumn are blowing, and boy, are they nippy. We’ve had rain the last few days, the icy-cold kind of rain that gives us a hint of what is to come. I may or may not have told you, but I consider October to be the first of our six months of winter. October to March inclusive is on average too cold, and too damp. And looking at it that way, by New Year’s Day we are at the halfway point, instead of just a couple of weeks in!

As the winds blow, and the rain falls, what could possibly be better, you might ask, than hopping on a plane and heading to the Caribbean for a week of sun, sand, and surf?

Let me answer that question for you: being the one who inherits the house all to herself when the other one flies south.

Each year, my husband takes our daughter on a week-long trip. It’s his way of saying thank you, because she gets up every day before the butt-crack of dawn and drives him to work. Our “second daughter” does this as well, on the days when she works the early day shift. Last year, she went with them and they all flew to Las Vegas. This year, she couldn’t get away, so it’s just the two of them.

He’d asked our daughter where she wanted to go and she confessed that she would really, really like to take a cruise. To give my beloved credit, he did look into it.

Now, I feel I must digress for just a moment. You see, while Mr. Ashbury and I have been married for forty-two years, we are not the same, in several interesting ways. To demonstrate one, in this case relevant difference between us, allow me to recount an episode that occurred over a decade ago, when our oldest son was getting married.

Our daughter came to me, and, knowing that we would give her brother and his wife a monetary gift, she wanted to know how much that would be. I replied that we were still in negotiations, and as one of us was generous and the other cheap, agreement had not yet been reached.

She laughed, raised her hand, and said, “I know, I know, let me guess which of you is the cheap one,” all the while looking at her father.

He prefers the term, “frugal”.

So, as you can probably infer, my daughter is not going to be taking her first ever cruise this month. I think that is just as well, and I’ve already told her that a cruise is more of a mother-daughter vacation. Instead, my husband was able to get a good package—all inclusive, including air, accommodations, and meals, for a very reasonable price.

They leave this coming Sunday, and will be back the following Sunday and are headed to the Caribbean.

And I, dear friends, I get my house to myself, with no interruptions, no scheduling, no fetching and carrying and I can guarantee you after the initial cleaning as the airport limo drives out sight, very little housework, as well. I have no plans to go anywhere, except perhaps to visit my son and his wife and go to bingo with them one night.

Yes, it is quite possible that I will get just a bit lonely...probably the day before my husband comes home. And that is fine, that is how it should be. That allows me the very best circumstance of all.

I’ll be happy to see him go, and happy to welcome him home.


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

October 15, 2014

There can be no doubt left in anyone’s mind that summer has fled, and autumn has arrived. We’ve already had one night here in my area where the temperatures dipped down to the freezing mark. The news was filled with warnings about the impending, wide-spread frost.

That warning took me back to my childhood. We grew up in a rural community. My mother and father had purchased the “big house” next door to the “little house” that had been my first home. The lady in the big house had decided to sell, because she’d been widowed. She’d had enough of country living, and planned to move to the nearby small town.

My parents bought the house and kept the one they already had. The plan was to rent out the little one, and make a good portion of the mortgage payment that way. Sadly, the January following the summer this sale took place, my father died. So mom was left a single mother, with three kids, and an old farm house, that sat on three-quarters of an acre of land.

Not a lot of land, but certainly enough to have a good sized garden. I can’t give you the exact dimensions of it but it was large enough that the farmer down the road would come each spring on his tractor to plow and then disc the garden.

It was always full of food. She grew beans, beets, carrots and potatoes. There were rows of tomatoes, broccoli and cabbage. We had melons, and egg plant, and green peppers. The garden was longest, east to west, so the rows ran north to south, and the last two rows at the west end of the garden were always corn.

Did I mention the cucumbers? Man, I hated those things. I hated them because they were not harvested, for the most part, until we got that first frost warning.

Harvest day was a family effort. Being the youngest didn’t get me out of any work at all. While mom and my sister dug and picked, I got to scrub.(I believe my brother had escaped by this point. He’d married and moved off).

We had a metal twin laundry tub that got rolled outside for the occasion, and then filled by the garden hose. And every bean and pepper and potato and cucumber that was harvested, had to be scrubbed.

Holy mother of cold water, did I ever hate that job.

Inevitably, the water wasn’t just cold, it was ice cold—as was the wind that would come up and caress my poor wet little paws.

But that was only part of the reason I hated those cucumbers. The other was what she did with the majority of them after they’d been cleaned and dried.

I don’t see it much down in the U.S. but up here, if you order a burger at a restaurant, one of the condiments you nearly always have brought to the table is green pickle relish. And that is what my mother made with the majority of those cucumbers.

I was drafted each year to help her. Step one was: slice the cucumbers in half, length-wise, and, using a spoon, scoop the seeds out. There would be something like oh, a bushel or two of these green monsters for me to process.

I hated that part so much that I edited it from my memory so that the first time, as an adult, that I attempted to make the relish, I forgot to do it. Seriously. Seedy relish. Ugh.

Then I had to grind the cucumbers, using an old fashion manual crank-operated grinder. The rest, though, was all mom. She would add vinegar and sugar and a large “bouquet garni” that contained cloves and cinnamon and other pickling spices, and she would cook that relish for a few hours over several days. The very sharp and distinctive aroma that relish produced each fall, permeated our house, our clothing and, I’m certain, burned our olfactory senses for at least a month.

But that relish was far superior to anything you could buy in the store—and our pantry was always full, with the bounty of our garden, my mother’s frugality, and all of our family’s hard work.


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

October 8, 2014

The Ashbury family has grown by one. Our second great-grandchild, our first great-grandson, Archer William Anthony, has arrived. He’s the second child for our grandson David, (our daughter’s son). David gave his new baby “Anthony” for his third name to honor his late uncle, whom he loved, and who had been like a father to him.

I’ve said more than once that being a grandmother is my best role, ever. I’d have to lump great-grandmother-hood under that same umbrella, although with this next generation, I have to admit, there is a bit more of a distance between baby and me.

I can recall what fun it was for me when, at the ripe old age of thirty-seven, I’d tell people I was a granny. Their reactions were always so very interesting to watch. It goes almost without saying that at thirty-seven I was the same age as some new, first-time moms. I always believed there was something good to be said about having gotten such an early start with our family. I reasoned that as a young grandmother, I’d be more energetic, and better able to cope with the wee ones than a woman in her sixties or seventies.

But my theory didn’t exactly pan out the way I expected. You see, I discovered one of the truths of life. Going back to dealing with a babe-in-arms after my own children had grown and gone was a lot more work than I’d anticipated – certainly more work than when I started out with my first-born all those years ago.

You may recall from past essays that my beloved and I, over the last few years, had been fairly involved in raising the two children of our late son. While their mother—our second daughter—first went to college to get her certificate and then got her position as a nurse at a hospital about twenty-five miles away, we took care of the two kids a lot. They’d be with us for the evening and overnight, when she had night shifts. And they’d be with us until after supper when she worked days. Making supper in those days was often a case of cooking for five. I sent their mother home with a plate of food as often as I could, to save her the time and the work of cooking for herself.

Now those two grandchildren are old enough to be left on their own. Of course, we and our daughter are close enough, just five minutes away, should they need us. But they manage very well all by themselves. Well, them, and their very big dog.

There won’t be any babysitting of the youngest members of the family, by the oldest. There are enough aunties and uncles and grannies and grandpas, all in the thirty to forty year age range, that we can leave that responsibility—and joy—to them.

From us, for this new generation, there will be hugs and kisses, songs and rocking, and, of course, candy and cookies and chocolate and gifts. We will listen to their tales of daring-do, smile with pleasure when they arrive, and do the same when they go home.

We’ll sit back and watch as our grandchildren—who are still babies to us—learn to become parents, and as our children discover the great good bliss of being grandparents.

I’m recalling an ongoing conversation we had with our son, Anthony. When our kids were growing up, we used to tell them that the family structure was very simple: there was “us” and there was “them”. This basic structure, we assured all our kids, permeated all aspects of life, as they or we knew it.

Sometimes they would want things, and we’d say, “well, if you were an us, it would be fine. But you’re a them, so it’s not.” Anthony, more than the other two, really, really wanted to be an “us”.

Just after his first child was born, we visited them at the hospital. He wore this big grin, not only because he because, he said, he’d realized that he’d finally made it! He was finally an “us”.

We had to disabuse him of that notion right away, of course. His father said, “Son, you’re still a ‘them’, and you will always and forever be a them. But it’s not all bad news, because, you see, that sweet little baby girl of yours in there? She’s an ‘us’.”

Ah, when you’re an “us”, life is truly good.


Wednesday, October 1, 2014

October 1, 2014

I hope I don’t offend anyone with the following essay. For the most part, I am addressing only certain people out there. The rest of you, please just bear with me.

Authors don’t make a lot of money. Some of us make a living, and are lucky and grateful to do so. But most of the authors who write and publish e-books are ordinary people, really. We’re not rich.

Do you know how it is I make my money? It’s not a mystery—it’s actually quite simple. People buy my books. The more people who pay to download my novels, the more money I get.

Yes, that’s right. People buy my books, with real money. Oh, yeah, I know they’re only e-books. Heck, an e-book can be stored on your pc, or on your iPhone, on your tablet or your e-reader.

And hey, if they’re on your pc, then you can copy and paste, right? Or upload to a file sharing group or site, or create a file sharing group or site yourself, using FaceBook or Dropbox, or any number of nifty tech sights, right?

Wrong. Oh, so very wrong! In fact it’s more than wrong it is actually criminal. The sharing of an e-book is theft. Authors say so; publishers say so; and considering the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that was approved by Congress and the Senate and signed into law by the President of the United States in 1998, the authorities say so. It is as much an act of theft, when you download a “free” copy of my book from one of those sites, as it would be if you opened my purse and took my wallet.

What I am having difficulty understanding is this: why do otherwise law-abiding people think it’s ok to steal an author’s intellectual property? Why do you think it’s acceptable to get free copies of books from these “sharing sites”, instead of paying for them?

I understand that these books cost money, and maybe you don’t have a lot of that, either. But that doesn’t make stealing them, right.

There are a lot of women who write romance, and erotic romance. Some of these women are single moms. Some are single women, with no one else to help support them. When you steal books from an author, you’re taking the milk away that her child needs. She can’t buy that new pair of sneakers to replace the worn out ones because you and your friends saw fit to read her books for free rather than paying for them.

You wouldn’t (I hope) steal candy from a baby—so don’t steal her groceries, either.

Maybe you don’t care. You want the books, you can’t afford them, so you take the books. Are you going to go to your local mall, next, and help yourself, without paying, to whatever is on display that you want? Why not? You’re already a thief. You already stole books. Why not steal makeup, or a sweater, jewelry, or a couple of CDs? Just tell the security guards when they apprehend you that, hey, “I wanted the necklace, I can’t afford it, so I just took it.” See how far that gets you, cupcake.

Ah, you say. You wouldn’t do that! That’s against the law!

Yes, it is. And so, too, is either downloading free e-books from a sharing site, or uploading them to a sharing site. It doesn’t matter that you upload the book you paid for so that others may enjoy it free. You are still breaking the law, and beggaring authors.

Please, stop. And if you didn’t know this was illegal, well, now you do. So I’ll say to you agiain, please, stop. And tell your friends to stop, too.


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

September 24, 2014

I remember as if it were yesterday, the shock and trauma of going into the “Catheter Lab” at the hospital, to undergo angioplasty, and ending up being rushed in to surgery for a triple by-pass when the intended procedure went south. I awoke in recovery, intubated, and with the dawning realization of what had happened.

I came out of the hospital on Christmas Eve, 2002, with no earthly idea what would happen next. It was a slow and difficult recovery, likely made more so because who I had been—in my own mind—a woman who had always worked, always contributed, no longer existed.

My beloved told me straight off, that I was retired. I even recall how he worded it. He told me that all these years, I not only worked outside the home, but I had borne the burden of dealing with the children and doing nearly all of the housework. “That’s three jobs for more than twenty years which is enough by anyone’s standards.” When I asked him, “I’m only forty-eight. What am I going to do?” he replied as if it was the most logical thing in the world. He said I was going to do what I had always dreamed of doing, and work at being a writer.

Although I made it my goal to do just that, and to become published, I never actually believed it would happen. I knew I would write, and if I had never become published, I would be writing anyway.

Sometimes when I realize the scope of this career I now have, I am overwhelmed. My fortieth book has just been released by my publisher, and my readers number in the thousands. That’s not a boastful statement; it is a statement of awe.

I understand that even though for the first 52 years of my life I was not a published author, I was still a writer. I began writing when I was about 8 or 9, after the death of my father who, I didn’t know at the time, had also been a writer. I’ve often said that being a writer isn’t what I do but who I am. At my core, that is me. It is a definition that can be underlined by the way I view people and events; the way I think about things, which is vastly different than the way my non-writing family thinks and views things.

When you’re a writer at your core, it is to see everyone and everything through a particular prism as a part of the whole, a part that has its own unique story, with patterns and relationships, with hopes and dreams and even tragedies. You see these patterns repeated, time and time again, and are moved to try and communicate them, with the hope of touching people’s hearts.

I don’t mean to make it sound as if I am better than anyone else, because of course I’m not. I’m just me, trundling to the beat of my own obscure drummer. Definitely different, but not better.

Everything I have experienced in my life, for good or ill, has filled my well, the well from which I draw to create my stories. Yes, they are all under the umbrella of romance, and most of them, the smaller umbrella of erotic romance. But they are more than that stark definition, because they are stories about people.

I create fictional characters who deal with real life challenges. My characters aren’t perfect, though they are perfect for each other. But they are flawed, and make mistakes. What sets them apart is that they don’t give up.

Not giving up in life, I have learned through my own unique experiences, is key. And if you don’t give up, then what you end up doing, after you can no longer do what you’ve always done? That, my friends, is when the real adventure and joy of life begins.


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

September 17, 2014

We spent a few days this past week, visiting our friends in Pennsylvania. Over the last few years this has become an annual event for us, although we had to miss out last year. We’d been set to go but then the gentleman, who’d retired from one career, had decided to embark upon another. This trip, our daughter accompanied us—the first time for her since she went with us in 2006. We also took Mr. Tuffy, too.

We were grateful to have our daughter on hand as we had never, ever taken a trip with a pet and weren’t sure what to expect.

 There were a couple of reasons that Tuffy got to be a traveling dog. First reason, of course, was that after having seen pictures of the little guy, our friend, John, wanted to meet him. And second, we needed to know if traveling with the dog was something we’d be able to do, since it’s our hope to begin taking the coldest two months of our year—January and February—down where the weather is warmer, likely in Texas.

It’s always good when you can get together with old friends. That reunion is sweeter when the time in between is unexpectedly longer. Despite fervent use of the Internet and all forms of modern means of communication, nothing beats being face to face with good friends.

 We were happy that our favorite hotel was also one of two pet friendly hotels in the area. We’d booked a two room suite a few months ago. At the time, I did something that I thought was likely pure silliness and a waste of the few dollars extra per night: I arranged for us to have a suite with a fireplace in it.

As it turned out, no silliness at all, as the weather took a bit of a chill while we were there. It was an actual gas fireplace, and worked on a timer – you could choose five minutes to thirty minutes and it threw out quite a nice heat.

 We didn’t, this time, indulge in sightseeing. Previous trips found us traveling all over, which I considered as doing research on the area. There’s a rich history in Northeastern Pennsylvania; coal country, the area is dotted with “patch towns”, settlements born of the mining industry that boomed in centuries past, as man sought to extract the anthracite coal from the veins that run so richly there. 

We’ve visited Eckley Miner’s Village, an authentic patch town where the movie, The Molly Maguires was filmed in 1969. We’ve been to Jim Thorpe, and the haunted jail. We got out and read the plaque near the site of the Lattimer Mine Massacre in September of 1897. We also visited the sad site of the former town of Centralia, where an underground fire still burns.

On past visits we’ve toured the Mid-Atlantic Airplane Museum, in Reading, the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, the state’s capital, Steamtown, USA an extensive railway museum, in Scranton, and two mines: The Lackawanna Mine, also in Scranton, and the Number 9 Coal Mine and Museum, in Lansford.

Here I must confess that I did not accompany my beloved and our friend John underground. The only other place where I felt a complete and total inability to accompany him while on vacation was the tour of the engine room on the USS Yorktown at Patriot’s Point Naval Museum in Charleston Harbor.

Wherever we went, our friend provided knowledgeable commentary. We’ve come to know the area, and some of the people there quite well. We could see definite signs of economic recovery since our last visit, and that was a good thing to witness.

And Mr. Tuffy, I am so proud to report, behaved like a true gentleman the entire time. He was well behaved in the car, friendly with the people he met, and very much like us, in that while he enjoyed himself, he was very happy to come home again.

He’s happy to be back to his normal daily routines, like dozing on my computer desk, as I write these words.


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

September 10, 2014

This week I am doing something I have never done before. I am writing the first part of these words on Sunday and then the rest of the essay on Tuesday. You’ll soon know why.

I may have already mentioned a time or two that I get not one, but two “horoscopes” delivered to my online inbox each day. Now, you need to know right off the bat, that I consider these as entertainment. I’m not an avid follower of astrology, and I don’t believe much of what I read in them.

One of the fun things I like to do each day is compare these readings, one to the other. Sometimes they are absolutely opposite. Sometimes they are close. One of the readings I get is definitely recycled. By that I mean, the company that sends them has a raft of paragraphs, “insights” that they use over and over again.

Sometimes, I wonder at the thinking behind some of these paragraphs. They are, after all, trying to convince you they can “see” your future so they can sell you stuff. Why then, would they ever tell you, “tomorrow you will receive and unexpected windfall!” Duh. It’s not unexpected anymore, is it? Which means, it likely won’t be received. I think for the issuers of these little scopes that could be considered a self defeating prophesy.

Now, here I am, reading my horoscope on Sunday, and at the end of the week’s run this particular one has a peek into the week head. Mine read:

Morgan, next week on the 9th, the Full Moon in Pisces could be the trigger for some emotional outbursts. If you happen to be on the receiving end, try to maintain your calm and wait for the drama to subside. Of course, it could be you who is letting off steam, so you will want to keep this in mind!

My immediate response was: oh, crap! Because on Tuesday, September 9th I have only one entry on my “calendar”: TV Tech due sometime today.

Yes, the TV tech. For those interested, no, our big-ass TV is not yet working; and wow! Apparently they do work on days other than Friday, because he is, allegedly, coming on Tuesday this time.

That day will be day 45 that our TV has been broken. However, we haven’t been suffering the last few weeks, because when we hit day 28 (or somewhere in and around there) we decided to go to our local Walmart and purchase an inexpensive, 39 inch television. Yes, for the first time ever, the Ashbury’s are a two-television family [the times when kids came back for a few months toting their TVs doesn’t count.]

I need to share with you a few facts about this entire debacle. We purchased the television in 2011 from a National chain store, that is affiliated with another similar chain in the United States. We purchased the extended warranty, because that is our policy, especially with expensive purchases. And this television cost more money than anything we’ve ever bought, except for the house and our cars. The set is a very popular name brand, too.

Speaking to the people at the “tech center” as well as the store (albeit it all of them sounded to be under 30), no one thought that having to wait 45 days was a big deal. Apparently, that’s ok as their replacement policy only kicks in if you’ve been waiting more than 60 days.

You can understand, then, why when I read that horoscope this morning (Sunday), I said, “oh, crap”. Ah the suspense....will the Ashbury television be fixed, finally, on Tuesday, or not?

The punch line:

9:15 am Tuesday September 9th: I received a call from the tech. He wanted to know if I could help him bring the part into the house from his van when he arrived as it was fragile and weighed 30 pounds. Because otherwise he would need to have another tech meet him here, and that might have to be rescheduled. Yes, I pulled the phone away from my ear and looked at it before I put it back to my ear and said, “Sure, I’m game. I’m 60, I’ve had triple by-pass surgery and I’m half crippled with arthritis and walk with a cane. But I will give it my best shot.”

1:15 pm Tuesday September 9th: the tech arrived, and two minutes later a second tech showed up to do the heavy lifting.

2:00 pm, Tuesday September 9th: I waved goodbye to the two techs, our 54 inch big-ass TV now working.

I did ask if this was something I could expect to have happen again in another three years? The answer was that no, the manufacturer had improved the quality of the panel, and this would not happen again.

When they weren’t looking, I knocked on wood. Not very high tech but in my opinion, very effective.


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

September 3, 2014

The last few days have actually been hot and humid here, but nothing like some of my friends south of the border have been enduring for weeks, now. This year you could almost say we are the frozen north, as we have had a much cooler than normal summer.

This past long weekend found Mr. Ashbury with not just the usual three days off, but four. They had an equipment malfunction at his place of employment late Thursday afternoon, one that would not be repaired before Tuesday morning.

He was glad for the extra time off. While he still loves what he does, he’s looking forward to retirement. He’ll be sixty-two this November. In addition, he has COPD. The latter is the reason we’re looking at heading south for at least a month this coming winter. We’ll try to do two months the year after that. Cold weather is not great for his breathing, because the colder the air, the smaller the oxygen molecules.

But then, neither is the hot and humid weather of a normal summer good for him, either.

This past weekend, since he had four days off, he decided he needed to do something by way of house repairs. Our old, worn out hardwood floor in our entrance hallway finally “sprang”. With the wear and tear, and the humidity over the many years, the nails holding the hardwood in place, over time, rusted out to the point of disintegration, and we had a bouncy little popup near the door that happened about a week ago.

So early Friday morning we headed to the local hardware store where he purchased the aspenite sheeting, the very thin mahogany sheeting to go on top of that, and a box of tiles to finish the job.

My beloved had replaced the kitchen floor a couple of years ago, a vastly larger project, with not that much difficulty. This smaller job was a bit more taxing, not only because of the progression of the COPD, but mostly because it was such a small, awkward space in which to work. Being by the front door, he couldn’t set up his saw and work table in the back yard—that would be too far to carry the heavy wood. So he had to manage it all on the front porch, a cramped work area to be sure.

But over the course of the four days, he prevailed, and we now have a nice tiled floor right inside our front door.

 It was interesting, as always, listening to him as he tackled this project. He can sometimes come up with very colorful phrases, especially if things don’t go quite the way he wants them to. This house of ours is old, and nothing is square, or even close to level. Each new job is a challenge for him. But he has more patience than he had in his younger days which just might balance out the lack of stamina.

Of course, there are some things in this house of ours that likely never will be repaired. We have an upstairs that he and our late son created when it was time to replace the roof. Up until then, the upstairs was essentially an attic, but finished to make a bit of a living area – long and narrow and only about five foot high. When we first moved in, two of our kids had their bedroom up there. A few years later, it became our bedroom.

When it came time to do the roof, by adding just a couple of feet to the existing wall, they were able to create a place that in fact doubles our living area. But it still needs gypsum sheeting on the walls, and the flooring there is just sub-floor. But in the summer, with fans in the windows, it was sufficient to hold what was needed to make temporary bedrooms for our grandchildren.

They no longer need to come here overnight, and that area has become mainly storage space. It was originally designed to give us a large master bedroom area, but that just isn’t ever going to happen.

But that’s okay. Having enough room to store the accumulated minutia of four decades worth of marriage cannot be overrated.


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

August 27, 2014

You can never predict just what new thing will capture the imagination of the masses on the Internet. The latest trend to catch fire and go viral in the last couple of weeks is the “ice bucket challenge”, and it’s in support of a very worthy cause: funding research to find a cure for ALS - amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

It’s refreshing to see something like this become popular. I’m not certain how it started. The why of it doesn’t really matter. Every day brings new little videos posted to the Net, a few even filmed by folks I know, getting in on the fun(?) of either self or family inflicted icy water filled buckets being dumped on their heads.

I don’t imagine it hurts the popularity of the challenge that so many areas have wicked hot weather right about now. [I’m pretty certain the challenge wouldn’t have caught on at all in the winter.]

Of course for some people, dumping a bucket of frigid water over their head isn’t recommended, for health reasons. But that’s fine. The challenge, as I understand it, is take the bath and donate $10, or decline the bath, and donate $100. I’m glad it was structured that way, so people like yours truly could still participate without any undue health risks.

Yes, it is refreshing that this latest fad is for such a great cause, because sometimes I worry about really unlikely things when it comes to humanity. For example, I worry that ET will be training his telescope on us just as we’re consumed with twerking, or doing things gangnam style, or tossing ourselves off of cliffs, bungee cords attached, hopefully, correctly. I mean, really, do you want “first contact” to happen when all the aliens know about us is some of the stuff that we egomaniacal Homo sapiens have posted on YouTube?

But if that event happens in the next little while, at least we are shown to be a race willing to endure a good dousing in support of our fellow human beings.

You can never know what’s going to catch on next. In recent memory, there have been some books: Harry Potter, Twilight, and Fifty Shades. Who could have predicted any of those would be such phenomenal hits?

With dancing and music, the afore mentioned twerking and gangnam have been recent crazes, but there have been dancing fads catching on since the jitter bug back in the 1930s—and likely even before that. Just a few years ago, it was “flash mob” dances and songs. Fads come and go, but the speed with which they do so has increased with each year, and with the new and many technological ways we have of communicating and sharing them.

There are video compilations making the rounds on a regular basis showing us at our worst: we’re either doing stupid things, or dangerous things, or illegal many times, as you’ve surfed the Web have you been tempted to click on those little montages and witness your fellow human’s most embarrassing moments?

Some of these embarrassing events are staged, of course. I suppose there are those who think fame is fame, and as long as they have that video of themselves up there and people watching, it makes them...famous. Some aren’t staged, they’re the result of people, armed with cell phone cameras, who cash in on the misfortune of others—seizing the moment, as it were.

Just one brief digression, if I may. People, in this day and age with cell phones everywhere, and even satellites taking pictures which you can then see on Google Earth, why, oh why would you do anything outside, ever, while naked? How many times have you heard of someone speeding dangerously, filming it themselves, posting it, with the result that they are subsequently arrested? Seriously, give your heads a shake! It’s not a case of “big brother” watching you. No, it’s more like little brother and the damned varmint is going to tattle on you big time, no ifs, ands, or buts.

In the meantime, keep those ALS ice bucket challenge videos coming, and, more importantly, keep those donations flowing.

When we stand together, and will it to be so, we can make miracles happen.


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

August 20, 2014

The saga of the Ashbury’s quest for television repair continues. The bad news is we that are still without our television. The good news is, the part that was needed to fix the thing is in the hands of the tech, and has been since last Friday...when the service desk called to give us the earliest possible appointment for said tech to come with the part in hand. That date? This coming Friday, August 22nd.

To recap, our television went on the blink on July 27th. We called the service center that very day, and we received the earliest possible appointment for the tech to come came out to our house which was... Friday August 1. Of course, it turned out that a part had to be ordered. The tech had told us it would take a week. It took two.

I was very polite when the young woman called us last Friday. After she announced (in a tone of voice that suggested I was most fortunate to receive such prompt service) that the tech would make his appearance at our door the following Friday, I told her I only had one question. I asked her how she could imagine that waiting 27 days to have one’s television repaired was, by anyone’s definition, acceptable.

Strangely, the young woman seemed at a loss for words as to how to answer me.

Now here I must be honest and tell you that I, personally, don’t actually miss the thing all that much—but only because it’s still summer re-run season. Even when the new shows start, I won’t, in any given week, watch the tube for more than a handful of hours.

It’s Mr. Ashbury who has been going into withdrawal.

Knowing this would be so, the first thing I did when it we realized we were going to be setting a family record for waiting for a repair was to set him up with a service our cable company provides called “anyplace TV”. This service is included in the astronomical subscription we pay the company and in essence, lets him watch several channels on his computer.

Sadly, the news networks aren’t among the channels provided, and those are the programs he especially looks forward to watching—and arguing with—on Sunday.

However, he’s been able to see a few programs, and of course, he has his kindle, currently loaded up with a good dozen books from his “TBR” pile, so he has been a relatively happy camper throughout this very trying time.

 He has also been spending almost all of every evening since July 27th with me, right here in my office—which is where his computer is. Yes, he and the dog have been keeping me company as I sit here and do my thing. Since I multi-task all day, interspersing my writing time with housework time, and since I also often nap in the afternoon, I end up extending my “working” hours into the evening. After dinner I write, and I also attend to my social media obligations.

It’s very unnerving having him looking over my shoulder as I work. If I’m writing, at some point I stop noticing his attention, because I get lost in the words. But if I’m scrolling through Face Book, following up on “tags”, reading what some of my “friends” are doing, or even posting in my street team, it’s very disconcerting to have a face hanging over my shoulder—even the face of my beloved. I don’t have anything to hide, it’s just...weird. And in case anyone thinks I’m being overly sensitive, Mr. Ashbury himself positively hates it when people look over his shoulder at his computer screen.

So if I seem a little antsy as the days count down this week to blessed Friday, it’s really got nothing to do with waiting to have the boob tube working again, filling my brain with minutia and my ears with noise.

It has to do with ending the twenty-seven days long siege of my office.


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

August 13, 2014

Hell has indeed frozen over. Mr. Ashbury this past week became the proud owner of a brand new cell phone, and iPhone 5.

This is something that the rest of the Ashbury family, myself included, have been suggesting to the man for, oh, the last ten years or so. Why now, you might ask. It could very well be that the decision to arm himself with one more piece of modern technology (he has a Kindle, a digital camera, and a PC) is connected to the fact that his major piece of modern technology—the fifty-four inch totally digital, complete with computer keyboard on the back of the remote television is still not working.

The tech came out a week ago last Friday, but discovered the part that was kaput was one he didn’t have. Update: as of the end of business last Friday, the part had been shipped to him, but he had not yet received it.

So, did Mr. Ashbury cave and get an iPhone because of boredom? Possibly. But I rather think it was that day last week when my daughter was nearly an hour late picking him up from work that pushed him over the edge. He claimed he was neither upset nor worried, because he’d heard on the news that a local bridge had been shut down by a drunken dump-truck driver. Actually I think most of North America heard about that one. But I believe the incident brought home to him how isolated and cut off he really was.

He couldn’t call home to ask me about daughter being late because, as luck would have it, the phones where he works were out that day.

So yes, he has a cell phone. He has actually not only spoken on it, but he has sent texts! My husband, for all that he is a senior citizen, isn’t one to let technology scare him over much (unless it’s the afore mentioned big ass TV. The first thing he does when there’s a problem with that is to call our daughter).

There are several reasons why a cell phone for him is a good idea. I’m looking forward to the next time we are both in a big box store and I’m trying to track him down. That will be handy, indeed.

He doesn’t like to talk on the phone much because he is partially deaf. Even his hearing aids don’t help him when it comes to phone calls. But he can text, and that requires no hearing at all. He’s sometimes felt as if he’s out of touch with his son who lives thirty minutes away. And actually, unless we go there or they come here, he is—because he doesn't like to talk on the phone.

I use my cell phone to keep in touch with those grandchildren, too. They all live busy lives, but all I have to do is send a text, and they answer me.

 Mr. Ashbury has already also figured out how to use several different functions on his phone, including looking up the weather, and doing just a little bit of web surfing. Three days into cell phone ownership, and it’s already the first thing he checks when he gets up in the morning.

I, of course, am looking forward to another benefit of my beloved finally having a cell phone. I can text him from the next room instead of trying to yell at him (especially when he has his TV headphones on), to remind him that the dog is still outside—or that it’s time to feed the cat.

And of course with texting, it’s ever so simple to copy and paste so I’ll be able to remind him again and again and again.

But maybe I’ll hold off on that until he is thoroughly hooked on the thing.


Wednesday, August 6, 2014

August 6, 2014

Quite the debate has been happening in the Ashbury household this summer. And the topic of these intense discussions has been our back yard. We don’t spend much time there, because it’s unappealing. Basically, we have a couple corner gardens, it is a fenced space so it is puppy proof, but I’d like to be able to use it more. But how best to use it? That was our discussion.

To give you an idea of the situation, we have a back yard that stretches from our back door, about 110 feet to the west, to our back property line. And of that land, only about the first 18 feet of it is flat and level with the house. The rest is a hill, steep in places, with a couple of small plateaus. If you stand at the back property line, you are level with the roof of our two-story home.

We have a corner property, and the only way I can get up to the top of my yard, is to walk up a steep road and then make a 90 degree turn and walk onto the grass. This “terrace” is part of the old Grand River, river bottom, from ancient times, when it was very wide, indeed.

Even with my cane, I can’t walk up that road onto my yard without assistance.

So our useable back yard measures about 25 feet wide and 18 feet deep. In recent years we had one of those umbrella-type clothes lines in the grass, to the left of the back door, and, an innovation that my beloved installed, a flagstone patio to the right of it. In between grass and flagstone, the area in front of the back door, for a foot left and right and extending for all of the flat area to the beginning of the slope, is a concrete slab that is beginning to crumble. On that concrete slab, near the back fence, stands our propane barbeque.

Now, the thing about a flagstone patio is, if it isn’t installed meticulously, beginning with a ground sheet to prevent weed growth and extreme settling, then the weeds take over and some stones settle more than others, making it uneven.

You can weed that patio in twice April....and then May....and then June....well, you get idea. You are never free of those weeds. Up until a couple of years ago, however, I did weed it. I was able to get down onto a chaise lounge cushion, stretch out on my side, and weed. Getting up was difficult, but doable with the help of one of our sturdy metal lawn chairs and my cane.

Unfortunately, I can no longer put that much pressure on my knees, even for a moment.

I’ve tried various “home” methods to kill those weeds – methods that won’t poison our animals. But nothing has worked really well. I wanted my beloved to re-do the patio, this time putting down the ground sheet that should have gone down the first time. Alas, he said no.

I suggested then that we just dig it up and forget about it—let grass grow there again. This wasn’t an option either, as it was labor intensive plus we really have no place to store the stones. We spent too long picking them out to just waste them (for free, years ago, when his place of employment was family owned and the boss said, “help yourselves”). The truth is, I do believe my beloved is emotionally attached to that patio.

In the interim, after our clothes line thingy broke and while we were debating what to do with the yard, he suggested that we might get a small pool for the area to the left of the door. Ah, my beloved knows how to mollify me. I began to look into this. We could fit a 12 foot diameter above ground pool in that grassy area (because, remember, the concrete and flagstone stay). The pool I was looking at had special steps out of the water that I could easily manage, and we could build outer steps, that I could use to get into it. The pool we considered had a 52 inch sidewall, effectively making it 4 foot deep. I don’t need more than that in the dog days of summer. Just enough to get in, get cooled off and get out.

And then my beloved said, “And we can move the dog’s area to a fenced in run up the hill.” I wouldn’t be able to get him there on my own, not in the summer and sure as heck not in the winter. So, alas, no pool. I threw my hands in the air and said, “Okay, fine. You decide, do whatever you want.”

I love my husband. I really do. And I accept that he is, as he takes great pride in admitting, a redneck.

We now have outdoor carpeting covering the flagstone patio and most of the concrete slab. On top of this carpeting, stands a gazebo with mosquito netting, and a patio set consisting of a table and 4 chairs. He has wired the gazebo so that I may sit out and use my lap top plugged in if I so choose. The patio beneath is still uneven and I need to take care walking on it, but it works.

And, he said, in the fall, both the rug and the gazebo will be stored in his shed until spring, and the theory is that the patio beneath will then be weed free—and grouting should take care of the problem permanently.

I didn’t point out that the weeds are no longer an issue if the patio is going to be covered, spring until fall. I just thanked him for his hard work and left it at that. 


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

July 30, 2014

It’s been a different kind of week here in the Ashbury household. Something happened last Sunday that hasn’t actually happened to us in a very long time.

Our television went on the fritz.

Televisions used to be considered appliances, did you know that? I can recall the black and white one we had when I was a kid. Um, for you younger folks, black and white refers to the colors of the pictures the television produced, not the colors of the set itself. One day—and seriously, only ever one day that I recall—ours didn’t work, and my mom had to call the T.V. repair man.

Yes, just like you might today call a washing machine repair person, or a refrigerator repair person, you used to be able to call the television repair person.

 It was quite the occasion, in my mind at least. I was just a kid but he let me watch him as he worked. He unscrewed the back panel of the television (they really were bulky pieces of furniture in those days). The inside of the beast was filled with one big picture tube, and several little tubes, elongated glass things with rounded tops and prongs on the other end. Thinking back, I guess you could liken them to fuses, because when they “blew” they’d have a black area on them, a sign of burn out.

Of course, it didn’t take the repair man long to find the tube that had blown. Fixing it was a simple matter of exchanging the burned out tube for a new one and then, like magic, the television worked again.

Well, in 2014 it’s not a television repairperson that gets called—it’s a television technician. You may recall that my beloved bought this monster set three years ago, the result of a bargain hunting adventure with our daughter that still gets recounted at family gatherings. Fortunately, at the time of purchase, he also bought the four year extended warranty.

Here I will digress for a moment and tell you, flat out, in as stern a voice as I can muster, when you buy anything electronic in nature, get the extended warranty if one is available. We have done that as a regular practice for years, and several times, collected on it. We have used, for periods of two to three years, and then received full refunds for a digital camera, a GPS unit, and an expensive one-cup coffee maker.

Not to mention that there will be no charge for the “adjustment” to our 54 inch brand name television. And no, I don’t feel guilty for any of that. Manufacturers don’t want their products to last forever. If they did, their sales would stagnate. Much better for them to plan, for example, that they can sell that expensive one-cup coffeemaker to you every three to five years or so, than to make it so good it will last ten to fifteen years.

My mother’s large freezer lasted twenty-seven years, I don’t recall she ever got a new fridge, and I just inherited her wooden ironing board that I used to iron clothes on as a teen.

Now, back to our broken-down television. I called the 1-800 number on the warranty brochure last Sunday—that is good innovation, call centers that operate 24/7—and after I recited all the warranty information, the young person on the other end of the call expressed appropriate sympathy that our television was “down”.

He promised to send a tech right out to us, and scheduled the service call—for this coming Friday.

My beloved gasped when I told him how long we would be without his TV, and looked for one moment as if his world was about to end. I even knew what question was coming next: “But what if I had planned to watch something good this week?”

Really? During summer re-run season when he only puts on the news, and even that only once or twice a week? Or catches the occasional episode of that one new series he’s watching on our cable provider’s “watch on demand” service?

Still, I didn’t want to seem unsympathetic to his concerns, so I gently stroked his cheek and said, “Then you can just plan to watch it on your computer, dear.”

This is the reason it’s been a different kind of week in the Ashbury household. Yes, every spare moment after dinner he’s been right here, in my office, just two feet away from me, doing just that.

Thank goodness for headphones.


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

July 23, 2014

So far, being 60 isn’t as horrible as I’d feared it would be. But then, I’ve only been 60 since Monday.

One of the things that has always amazed me—since my early 20s—is the realization that despite our age, there’s a part of us, deep inside that is, in fact, ageless. Think about it for a moment. Focus on the you beneath the physical. Don’t you feel like the same person, inside, that you’ve always been?

Sometimes that sense is so strong, that it can be a real shock, looking in the mirror. And I’m not the only one to experience that, either.

One day, a few years ago, my daughter was going through her wedding photo album. My husband was close by, knew what she was doing, and had a look over her shoulder. Then he frowned, and in all seriousness, pointed at one of the pictures and said, “Who’s that old guy? I don’t remember seeing him there.” My daughter just met his gaze and said, “That’s you, you fool.”

 My husband mumbled something that sounded like “no way”. Then he sighed and said, “I was afraid you were going to say that. It’s why I don’t look in the mirror unless I have to.”

As we age, for the most part, it’s our bodies that change. We lose height and gain body mass (well, most of us do). Where we used to take a single vitamin in the morning, now we have those handy little pill organizers chock full of our daily doses of better living through chemistry. We use new and creative means and then resort to cuss words when we try to get our bodies to bend the way we need them to bend just to be able to put on our socks. One thing that doesn’t make any sense at all: why the floor has gotten so much farther away when we’re not as tall as we used to be.

We need afternoon naps much more than we ever used to—and earlier, too, beginning mid-morning. We used to walk for blocks, and now we just read the blogs, instead.

But it really isn’t only in the physical disciplines, or lack thereof, where our increased age shows. Some things that used to really annoy us don’t cause a single blip on our mental or emotional radar, while things that are really inconsequential in the overall scheme of things, are often causes for all out, bloody war.

We used to have no trouble at all with the concepts of tact and diplomacy when we were younger—yes you might have thought something, but you certainly never would say it. Now—for better or worse—our inner curmudgeon seems to have taken over. He—or she—isn’t so inner anymore.

I wondered about that last fact, and I decided that the real truth is, the emergence of our heretofore mute inner imp is, in fact, a reward to us. It is! It’s nature’s gift to us for our having lasted so long. It likely begins coming out around the age of 60 (imagine that!) but isn’t fully out of its cocoon and at full power until the mid seventies heading toward eighty.

Do you doubt me? Remember that friend who always asked you if a particular outfit made her look sallow and ugly? And you, being in your twenties or thirties would find creative ways of either not commenting, or telling one of those myriad little white lies to assure her she was beautiful? Because, really, what was the point of being honest?

Well, getting older seems to free people from the need to be quite so diplomatic. I can foresee a time when someone might ask me, “does this outfit make me look ugly?” and my response might be, “honey, the outfit has nothing to do with it.”

And no one will shush me because, well, I’ll be old!

One more thing getting older means is a slight change of perspective. When you’re older you look at the youth of today and realize they’re lazy, they have no respect, possess hideous personal hygiene, questionable taste in music and clothes, and are completely self centered.

Hmm. Come to think of it, I seem to recall hearing words to that affect from the elders of my day, when I was a twenty-something.