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.


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

July 16, 2014

This past Monday was our 42nd wedding anniversary.

When we got married on July 14th, 1972 I was one week shy of my 18th birthday, and my husband was a much older man of 19. I don’t think many of our family members or our friends believed our marriage would last. I do know that a few of those who were the most critical of our chances of staying together, themselves married at more “socially acceptable ages”. They all have had at least one divorce.

We often are asked what the secret is to staying married. The answer is both simple and complex. If you want to stay married—then you stay married.

We have no illusions, either of us, about the state of Holy Matrimony. It’s not sunshine, lollypops and rainbows all the time. It is damn hard work, and sometimes living peaceably is not easy. If asked, we will both tell you that neither one of us has ever seriously considered divorce. Murder, on the other hand...

We do have a list of things we have learned both to do, and not to do.

We don’t live in each other’s pockets. We each allow the other to have personal interests, opinions, and a life. We don’t tell each other what to do, as we are each of us adults, capable of making our own decisions about things. On the other hand, we don’t either of us make major decisions without discussing it with the other first.

Do you know what else we don’t do? We don’t expect each other to assume responsibility for our own individual happiness. It is not my husband’s job to make me happy—that is something I must accomplish for myself. It’s not my job to make him happy, either. However, it is my job to be there for him, to be his main supporter, the one person he can count on to have his back. He can and should expect that I will listen to his problems, and give him the best advice I can, if he asks for it.

We both understand the concept of compromise. Neither one of us always gets our own way. Sometimes one will seem to bow to the other’s wishes more often – for a short period of time. And then the trend reverses.

Love changes over time. It doesn’t stay the new, thrilling, exciting emotion it was at the beginning of a relationship. It grows to include children and grandchildren. It weathers the trials and tribulations of living, and of coping with disappointment and heartache, tragedy and loss.

Love endures even as it evolves, and remains steadfast even in the quiet times.

This year, we did nothing special to celebrate the day. My beloved went to work, and I stayed home and worked. I made him his favorite dinner, and we exchanged small gifts. We sat side by side for a time in the evening, relaxing in our new power love seat, and read. We do this often – or are side by side at our computers. We don’t talk a lot some nights. We don’t have to.

Just as I always do most of the cooking and the cleaning, in the evening, if I need a cup of coffee or some water, he gets it for me. If I need my feet rubbed, he rubs them for me. Sometimes I’ve been too busy with this career of mine to have made the bed that day. On those occasions, he makes it for us.

My husband could probably give you a long list of things that I have done to tick him off. Believe it or not, I could do the same. But we will also tell you that there is one thing we’ve both done that’s right, and returns to the original question of how we’ve stay married so long.

We haven’t quit—not the marriage and not each other.


Wednesday, July 9, 2014

July 9, 2014

It doesn’t seem that many years ago, that I would plan my weekends, during the growing season, according to what local crops would be available at the market.

Weekends were for canning in the spring and summer, and for freezing produce in the fall.

 I worked outside the home, except for when my two youngest were babies—I went back to work after my daughter started school. All through those early years, we did whatever we could do to outside of earning pay checks, to help feed ourselves. We had a massive veggie garden that the neighboring farmer would plow and disc for us every spring.

When the kids were small, my poor husband had a stretch of time when every job he got ended just before the three month mark. In those days, with so many people looking for work, it was common for companies to hire people for the short term—without telling them that, of course. This meant anything we could do to stretch those pay checks, dollars, we did.

 I don’t know if the practice of using newly hired employees as unsuspecting temp staff is still in vogue, or not. But if you hear me grumbling about “big companies” at least now you know where that’s coming from.

Each year while my family was growing, I would make jams—strawberry from end of June to first of July, and from berries we’d pick ourselves because they were always a lot cheaper that way; blueberry from mid July to August; and then finally, also in August, peach.

Also in August would be a good time to go to the farmers market to get small cucumbers to make baby dill pickles, and bread and butter pickles. The larger cucumbers were good for making green pickle relish. Then in late August, early September the preserve and pickle making would give way to produce processing. We’d buy bushels of broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, and, of course, sweet corn. I copied my mother’s method, and instead of putting those first four veggies into “meal sized bags” I would spread the pieces out on cookie sheets, set them in the freezer and then as soon as they were frozen, we’d put them in larger storage bags. I would do that with my pork chops, too. It was a savings to buy the very large pack of pork chops. Freezing things that way meant if you needed a couple more or a couple less for any given meal, you were able to take what you needed out of the freezer without wasting anything.

My husband helped me a fair bit for most of these activities, except when it came to the jam. He loved nothing better than fresh warm jam on fresh warm bread. I’ve never made my own bread from scratch nor have I ever had a bread-making machine. But I used to buy the frozen unbaked loaves. That was easy enough. Let them thaw, and rise, and then bake them.

So when it came to the jams, he used to help by eating them.

 Of course, that was a few years ago when I was in my 20s and 30s. In slightly under 2 weeks I’m going to be 60, and let me tell you, I don’t have nearly the stamina I used to have. In those younger years, I would make all my own because it was cheaper. These days, when I make my own, it’s for the love of doing it, of remembering those days when it was a way of life, and so that I have fresh jam to give to my loved ones, friends in Texas and family alike.

Last weekend my beloved and our daughter went to the St. Jacobs Farmer’s Market. I’d given them a list. I knew the strawberries were ready, and I’d heard it was going to be a short season this year so I wanted some of those. And I wondered about the blueberries. I never can keep it straight in my head when they’re ready. So I asked them to let me know what the status of the blueberry season was.

Apparently we are in blueberry season now, because husband and daughter came back with more than six quarts of them.

Yes, I spent a good deal of Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning making jam. I still get a sense of pride when I look at all those finished jars—10 one cup jars of strawberry jam and 14 one cup and 2 two cup jars of the blueberry.

But like I said, I’m nearly 60 and that shows. I am almost, but not quite, recovered from the experience.


Wednesday, July 2, 2014

July 2, 2014

I don’t actually spend a whole lot of time on social media sites—well, not unless I am having one of those days when my self-discipline fails to show up.

But I do spend some time there each day, because next to writing there is nothing I enjoy more than interacting with my readers. Many of them I count as friends, and aside from posting things that might be of interest to them, I like to see what all they’re interested in themsevles. But it’s not only my regular readers whose postings I see. For better or worse I have more than 2500 “friends” on face book, so, as you can imagine, I end up getting all kinds of different stories in my news feed.

I love laughing at the funny things—cute animal videos, clever “signs”—some so clever I “share” them on my own time line. I enjoy sarcasm as much as the next person, and I do have a bit of a warped sense of humor.

But there’s been a trend lately that makes me uncomfortable. And I guess in a way—if you read my last week’s essay—you could call what I’m about to write here “Karma, part 2”.

In the last few weeks especially, I have been seeing way too many signs, sayings, pictures with captions, that I would class as hate-speak. And I have to ask the question, why are we letting ourselves take up that destructive emotion? Why are we letting hateful words and thoughts have time in our lives?

Yes, there is such a thing as freedom of speech and it is a precious, precious right. I would never consider curtailing someone’s right to express their opinion. I’m not suggesting that people don’t express opposition or dissension. We can be against something, we can disagree with someone, but do we have to hate?

Hate is the king of negative emotions. It is a seductress, but a false one. When we begin to indulge in it, it floods us with a sense of righteousness. When we post hateful things, striking out at those people or ideas we don’t like, we are rewarded with a sense of accomplishment: Boy, I really let them have it. We get a sense of well being: Glad I got that off my chest. That’ll teach them. And we get a sense of importance: I bet everyone wishes they had said that.

The only trouble is, these “rewards” are false. What you really get, for feeling hate and spreading hate, is more hate building up inside of you! It’s true. Love and hate are polar opposites, but the rules for each are the same. If you show love and feel love, you get more love within; and if you show and feel hate—yep, it gets multiplied, too. Hate will build up inside a person, filling them with darkness, and obscuring any light that was there—preventing any new light from entering in.

Have you ever been filled with hate, and it’s near cousin, anger? I have. Years ago, that was me. I was filled with hate, anger, envy...and quite frankly, I was miserable all the time. What a hellish, horrible feeling that was. I cannot now, all these years later, even imagine being a person devoted to hating, the way I used to be—the way some people seem to be, today. The most dangerous thing about hate is that it is a progressive disease—a kind of cancer of the spirit.

You yourself know this is true. I think most of us have one person in our news feed who begins with the odd hate-filled message, and then escalates. They can’t help it because, yeah, hate breeds hate.

Is there anyone reading this who truly believes that their hate-filled message to an organization or a leader will affect change? I’m not saying one person can’t make a difference. What I am saying is allowing hate and anger to grow inside of you and spewing it out for everyone to read is not the way to affect change.

You affect changed by getting involved and working for change. You don’t like the way your school is being run? Get involved with the PTA, or run for the school board, and help to create a better reality.

You don’t like the way your government is run? Join one of the political parties, and have a say in their platform, and work to get them elected.

Spoiled brats playing in the park kick dirt and throw stones when they don’t like how things are going, when they don’t get their way. If it can’t be their way, then they leave.

But we’re not spoiled brats. We’re adults, living, here in North America, in countries where there is rule of law, and where we have democracy—blessed democracy. Everybody of legal voting age who qualifies through citizenship gets the same thing everyone else gets: one vote. Implicit in that vote, is the acceptance of the outcome of the election, regardless what it may be.

That is what democracy is all about.