Wednesday, February 26, 2014

February 26, 2014

I know that you’re all counting down the days until spring. I have to admit that I am doing that, too, even though I try very hard not to rush my days. I know it sounds sappy for me to say that each and every day is a precious gift—but that is exactly what I believe, and how I feel.

I don’t proselytize, and I certainly haven’t thumped a Bible in years. That’s not my job. My job is to live my life the best way I can, share whatever insights I glean along the way, and create stories that are full of hope and love, and make people feel good.

But my faith is rock solid—and it, too, is a precious gift.

Time moves so quickly now for me, and I think that is universal to us, as human beings, the older we get. Yeah, I’m sick of the cold and the snow and the ice. But I do know that before very long at all, we’ll turn the corner, and warmer weather will be here.

And I know, too, that some of you who’ve had unseasonably cold weather this winter will, also before too long, be right back into the triple digit heat of summer. I’m sure there will be days in July or August when we will all be thinking a little more fondly of the last few months.

I’ve been listening to the hype from all of the news networks as they’ve reported on the storms we’ve had this winter. Their hyperbole just makes me shake my head. News anchors have employed phrases like “snowmageddon”, polar vortex, and of course, the oft used “storm of the decade” and then, “storm of the century”.

The truth is, what we have had these past few months in the northern half of this continent is a good, old fashioned winter. Now, it’s true that those of you in the southern half of the United States did get hit a lot more severely than usual. I know that some of you saw snow and ice in your yards for the first time in years—or maybe, for some of you, for the first time, ever. That was most certainly noteworthy and perhaps deserving of a little bit of hype. I really felt bad for you, because you’re not used to any snow or ice at all, and you had a lot to contend with. Driving on icy roads is a very special skill, one that requires either snow tires, or winter chains. It’s not for the faint of heart, and certainly not for the impatient. My advice to any of you contemplating trying to drive in icy conditions is just one word: don’t.

Let’s hope you’re done with the ice storms. For that matter, let’s hope we all are.

There’re only two more days left of February and then we’ll be in March—hopefully the beginning of the end of winter. All of my life, the rule of thumb for planting the gardens has been to wait until the Victoria Day weekend. That’s in May—this year, May 17 to 19. Usually by then, all danger of frost is past. I’m not counting on anything this year. We have (way back in my younger days when this kind of winter was normal) even seen snow in April and early May. I hope not this year. I want my gardens.

Last fall, we planted a whole bunch of new bulbs. We’re eager to see them bloom, and hopeful that they will. I love flowers, I love their smiling, optimistic faces, and the way they scent the air. I grew up knowing the joy of lily of the valley, narcissus, daffodils, and lilacs blooming sometimes together. There was a special perfume when several of them blossomed at the same time, and the breeze was just right.

Meanwhile, and until then, I’m going to do my best to make the most of each day, and remember that all things come, not to stay, but to pass.


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

February 19, 2014

This past Monday, here in Ontario, saw us observing a relatively new holiday, begun in 2008: Family Day. Before this holiday was officially named, there was, for the employees of a lot of companies, a “floating holiday” in February—because this one, everyone knew, was coming, thanks to the long, drawn out, government debates.

I don’t think one should read into this day any great reverence, on the part of the provincial government, for the Canadian Family. I think it was more a question of everyone complaining that we had to go from New Years Day all the way to Good Friday without a paid “holiday”.

Some communities hold special family-oriented events on the third Monday in February. We never bothered to attend any, of course, because by 2008 all of our children were grown and gone. This year, actually, was the first time we did anything in honor of the day, and it came about in a backwards sort of way.

It’s rather fascinating how a lot of the things we Ashbury’s end up doing happen that way.

Our second daughter has a great love of “family dinners”. I don’t believe she ever enjoyed one until she became a part of our family. In fact, I remember with a lot of fondness her first one here, and so does she.

The dinner was for our middle child, Anthony’s birthday, the first year the two of them were together as a couple. Now, his birthday was July 5th. This particular July 5th was a hot one. Regardless, the birthday boy (well, birthday man as he was over 21) had expressed his dinner preferences: prime rib, baked potatoes, and cauliflower and broccoli. And cake, of course, as it was his birthday.

My house didn’t have any air conditioning.

So there we were, 7 of us, around the dinner table, perspiring, as you can imagine. I cooked the roast in the oven, so the entire kitchen was sweltering, and the kitchen is the only place here to eat. And then Anthony asked where the cheese sauce was. I told him I just couldn’t manage to make a cheese sauce that day. That comment was followed by my daughter’s then boyfriend, whom she’d been with a couple of years, asking where the gravy was. I explained that with cooking prime rib, one doesn’t have gravy, one has “au jus”. Of course, all the jokesters in the family had fun razzing me about “no cheese sauce” and not even a real gravy, just “au jus”, saying I was falling down on the job, that I should get a demerit put into my folder, and so on and so forth.

Our second daughter was sitting beside me and getting angrier and angrier—until I took pity on her and told her that they were all just teasing me—and that it was something that happened a lot around here.

This past Family Day family dinner was on the other end of the spectrum, so to speak. My second daughter wanted us to have a family dinner, since we hadn’t had one since Christmas. I told her, and my daughter, that if they wanted a family dinner, I would be happy to provide the venue and the food, but they would have to help. I’m not up to the big productions I used to do, and that’s just the way it is. They agreed. Then I asked (foolish question because I knew the answer) what they would like to eat for this meal. The answer? T-Bone steaks. There would be 8 of us eating steak, as my youngest grandson doesn’t care for it and prefers a couple of hamburgers instead.

When I pointed out that the only way to cook these steaks would be to do so on the outdoor grill, my daughter said she would be happy to do that. And she did, wonderfully, after her son cleared the mountain of snow leading up to and around the grill.

The girls were true to their word about taking on the lion’s share of the work. My contribution to the meal was minimal—I prepared the veggies, including that heart-shaped potato for my beloved.

This year, at least, the Ashbury’s lived up to the hype of the holiday. We had supper on Sunday with the girls and their crew and then went to our son’s house Monday mid-morning to have brunch with him and his.

These days, I cherish every opportunity I get to spend time with my loved ones. It is, in my mind, the most fulfilling time I spend.


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

February 12, 2014

It’s not all glitz and glamor, the life of an author. No siree. I may spend my days playing on my computer with people created from my own imagination, but I am still a wife, mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. I still have to cook and clean—although I have convinced my beloved that it really is past time that he lends a hand with the latter.

Still, the bulk of the work running the household falls to me. And every once in a while, strange things happen.

One such strange happening occurred one day last week as I began to prepare dinner. We were having beef stew and it was time to get the potatoes peeled and into the pot. I reached into the bag and pulled out a potato that was in a nearly perfect valentine heart shape.

I kid you not.

I held this thing in my hand and laughed. Of course, I didn’t peel it. How could I? I mean, how often do you suppose anyone reaches into a bag of potatoes and pulls out a heart? So I set the potato aside, and made the dinner. But that heart made me think back to those days long gone when I was a young mother—and probably my only Valentine’s Day fail, ever.

When we were five—mom and dad, and three children aged from five to eleven—we didn’t have much. We scraped and saved for Christmas. For Valentine’s Day, we made sure that we had enough money set aside for the kids to buy their package of cards to give out at school, and to get them each a small, heart shaped box of candies for the day itself.

But some years were leaner than others. One time, in particular, I recall, there was just enough for the cards but not the chocolates. It really upset me at the time—you know how it is. Kids think you’re a big meanine when you have to say no, but you understand, as a parent, that things can happen to prevent you from doing what you’d hoped. When that happened in the past, I always just felt like a failure. You want to give your children not just what they need but some of what they want, but you can’t, always.

Valentine’s Day came that particular year, and I was making dinner—meatloaf, which everyone actually loved, mashed potatoes, and carrots. Suddenly, I had an amazing thought.

So I cooked the dinner carefully—the meatloaf not in the standard loaf pan, but instead on a tray in the oven, because I’d shaped the meat differently. I cut the carrots differently too—not sliced round, as usual, but in sticks.

When my family came to the table for supper, rather than just putting the food on the table for them to serve themselves, I presented them with their plates: meatloaf in the shape of hearts, with mashed potatoes forming a white pseudo-lace “boarder” around each heart, and the carrots laid out across the hearts as “arrows”.

I laugh thinking about it now, because I was so proud of myself for my great ingenuity! Unfortunately the comments I got were less than laudatory. You can imagine: “you should have used corn, because this sure is corny”, and other grumblings of a less than enthusiastic nature. They were children, after all, and more interested in chocolate than the sentiment behind them.

Flash forward about thirty years, to this freak of nature I found in my bag of potatoes. I haven’t done anything with it yet. It’s still sitting in the centre of the “lazy Susan” on my kitchen table. I’m not sure what I’m going to do with it—but I think I might just save it until the 14th. Then I’ll scrub it, prick it, brush it with olive oil and wrap it in foil. I’ll present it to my beloved for dinner, perhaps alongside a steak.

He might think (once more) that it’s corny, but that’s all right. I’m nearly sixty, and if there is one thing in life I’ve learned, it’s this:

Often times, a potato is only, in the end, a potato. And Valentine’s really is about sentiment behind the day.


Wednesday, February 5, 2014

February 5, 2014

In a rare show of unity, three of North America’s weather-predicting groundhogs agree on one thing. Winter isn’t over, baby. We get to have six more weeks of the witch.

In Ontario, we have our own groundhog. His name is Wiarton Willie, and he can boast a 60% accuracy rate. I suppose that’s not bad. I have no idea how the weather network fares on their forecasts. Probably better than 60%, but maybe not by much.

We have another groundhog in Canada, on the east coast. His name is Shubenacadie Sam. Yeah, I know, I can’t pronounce it, either. Sam, apparently, did not see his shadow, thus, according to folklore, predicting an early spring. He, however, and at least this year, is in the minority.

Punxsutawney Phil, the most famous groundhog of them all, saw his shadow...or maybe it was just fear of the large, boisterous crowd coupled with those dudes in the tall hats that scared him. But one must keep in mind, regardless of the reason for his “seeing his shadow” that since the beginning—1887 for this Pennsylvania predictor—he’s only been right about 39 per cent of the time. Of course there are Phil supporters who point out that in recent decades, that number has risen to a nearly impressive 59%. But like Willie, that’s not really very reliable at all.

Then we come to the fourth member of the rodent oracle quartet—Staten Island Chuck.

Now, Chuck is a groundhog you can believe in! He has an impressive 80 percent success rate. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, he is right 80 percent of the time. I don’t think the major networks well-paid meteorologists can boast as much.

So you can imagine that, being fed up with winter the way that I am, I was rubbing my hands in great anticipation for Chuck’s prediction.

Now here, for just a moment, I must digress.

Have you ever had the sense that things go well, until politicians get involved? I don’t mean to be cynical. We need politicians, I guess, because the current way we select those who are in charge of the government is through elections; in order to be elected one must campaign; enter the politicians, women and men who are versed in the best way to appear before the crowds, and woo the voters to their sides.

Personally, I have never understood why someone who’s good at appearances and has an aura of charisma is also, therefore, automatically considered talented at governing. But that’s just me and surely a discussion for another day.

Now, let’s get back to our main topic. I awaited word from Staten Island, that beleaguered community still trying to recover from Hurricane Sandy. As in other places, there is pomp and ceremony—tradition, if you will—surrounding Chuck’s performance on February 2nd. I imagine Chuck hasn’t, in the past, been too unwilling when it came to this sort of thing. I use as my reasoning in this assumption, of course, his 80% success rate.

But then, like the rest of us, he began to become weary of the politicians involved. He certainly let Mr. Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York, know this opinion in 2010. What did he do? He bit the mayor.

I imagine that if it weren’t for the fact that Chuck is a revered and beloved figure, he might have become Chuck stew at that point. However, Chuck remains, and mayor Bloomberg is mayor no more.

But this year, this year, it was poor Chuck who was the victim of a politician when the new mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio, dropped the little guy. Yes, he dropped him, and so—maybe out of pique—Chuck agreed with Phil and Willie, and told us we were in for six more long, cold, miserable weeks of winter.

Friends, I submit to you for your consideration, the following credo, which I believe is only logical: We humans like to boast that we are educated, intelligent, technologically advanced, and forward thinking.

But if we are going to place our faith in prognosticating rodents, then we surely deserve however much more winter we get.