Wednesday, December 30, 2015

December 30, 2015

On this day every year, my father-in-law was fond of telling his grandchildren, “If you go to the corner store, you’ll see a man there with as many noses on his face as there are days left in the year!”

Silliness often abounds at this time of the year, doesn’t it? There’s something about the approaching New Year that makes us cut loose a little more than usual. Celebrating the end to the old year, and a beginning for the new—giving this time its own special traditions—seems to answer a need that lies deep in the heart of humankind.

It’s a need I believe is as natural to us as is breathing. Just as there is a springtime each year, and with it a renewal of life—trees bud again, flowers poke their leafy green above the ground and critters are born—this need for a new beginning has been bred into us. And it’s defined, in this day and age, by our celebration of the arrival of the New Year.

At no other time do we count down the seconds to the dawn of a new day.

Graphically, we picture the year that is ending as an old man with a long, white beard, needing the assistance of a staff to walk, as he hobbles on his way, out of sight. In contrast, the New Year is depicted as a newborn baby—innocent, and sweet and fresh.

This is the time of year for those lovely end-of-year lists—the lists of milestones achieved, the top one hundred songs and movies, and of course, the list of those renowned public figures who passed away. We seem to need those lists, to be able to categorize and organize all we’ve experienced in the year just ending.

But this time of the year is about more than looking back. I think mainly, it’s about looking forward. At no other time of the year do people feel as much hope, or embrace the possibilities, as they do on New Year’s Eve. This is the time of year we take stock of our lives and our circumstances, review the past twelve months, and for some of us, make resolutions for the year to come. We start over fresh from here. We resolve to do better.

Everything is new again.

This is closure at its finest. Some of us have had a rough year. You only have to tune in to people, to listen when you’re at the mall, or to surf around FaceBook to have some examples of this reaction. “I won’t be sorry to see the end of this year!” is a common sentiment. “Good riddance to 2015; come on, 2016!”

Most of us have hope, we can’t help it. Because we’re presented with a new beginning, we dare to dream that it can actually be one. This is going to be the year I finally get my act together; this is going to be the year I have my break out moment. This is going to be the year!

It’s not logical. From one moment to the next, there really is no difference, not in any measurable way. There’s no physical change, no specific event. It’s all perspective. If you’re alone, outside in a rural area, say, then the dawn of the brand new year arrives without fanfare, and completely unnoticed. If a tree falls in the forest, and there’s no one there to hear it, is it still “Happy New Year!”?

We only have our own perspectives in this life, and since we also have emotions, those nebulous things that are illogical and esthetic, why not make positive use of them? Why not recognize one particular moment as a new beginning?

So shut away 2015 and all the negative and hurtful memories you may have of it; then turn and face the coming dawn, and know that you can start over right now—and more, that this new year can be whatever you make it to be.


Wednesday, December 23, 2015

December 23, 2015

Christmas is many things to many people. I’ve heard just about every opinion on the holiday you could name. Many like to point out that there are “pagan” elements to the Christian celebration. Some, especially today and for the purposes of their own political agenda, cry out that there’s a war on Christmas. There’s a lot of brouhaha about political correctness (one of the more interesting expressions we’ve come up with in modern times in my opinion), and coffee cups not honoring the season, and the like.

I believe there is room for everyone’s personal beliefs in this world, and I also believe we are all better served when we remember that and show respect to one another.

In the Ashbury household, one of the many meanings of Christmas is the passing down of traditions. And one of the best traditions I participate in (again, in my opinion) is cookie baking day.

My second granddaughter, Emma, and I have baked Christmas cookies together each Christmas since she was very young. Her brother used to join us, as he’s only a year younger than she. But these days, it’s just the two of us. And this year, for the first time, we didn’t take a Saturday a week or two before the holiday itself to do the deed. This year, we got together yesterday, late in the afternoon and baked into the evening.

Emma is now fifteen and has a part time job. For the last year she has been a “buss person” at a local eatery. She has worked every weekend, worked all through summer, and was scheduled to work every day during her Christmas break from school, except for the holidays themselves.

In the beginning of this tradition, it was Emma helping me, as we mixed the batter, rolled the dough, cut, baked, and finally decorated. I taught her as my mother taught me, and we talked about all manner of things in the doing. It was very special Grandma/Emma time, right from that first year.

 She and her brother used to spend a lot of time here when they were younger, especially when their mother, our second daughter who is a nurse, worked nights at the hospital. We not only baked together, we cooked together, and I taught her, again, as my mother taught me.

At fifteen, she does most of the cooking at home, especially since mom still works some nights, and on day shift doesn’t get home until eight in the evening. Emma has taken the craft beyond the small lessons I gave her and is a very good cook in her own right. It’s something she enjoys doing and like I do, she often just tries things that she thinks will taste good together.

She also has an artistic flair, and this comes out in the decorations she gives each sugar cookie. In recent years, since this is the part that takes the longest, we’ve opted for convenience and purchased the rolled sugar cookie dough you can find in the grocery store.

There are other traditions we’ve observed over the years for this special day, most of which our own children carried on. When our kids were small, they had to wake us up Christmas morning, and then wait until we had our coffee and were in the living room before they could come down stairs to see what Santa had brought. No, this wasn’t to torture the poor children. This was, as I am sure many of you can appreciate, so that David and I could get that first sip of coffee to wake up since we’d only had a couple hours sleep. This was our fun, watching the kids’ reactions. And oh, that Santa! He always gave the best toys, and put the biggest orange he could find in the toe of the stocking. I was able to tell my kids he’d always done the exact same things for me.

Christmas morning was the one day in the year, when I was a child, that we sat down together as a family for a huge breakfast—bacon, sausage, eggs, pancakes, fried potatoes, orange juice and grape juice! Often food forms a basic element in our traditions, doesn’t it? The large Christmas breakfast was another tradition that I continued.

I have in the past prepared the Christmas feast myself to feed upwards of twenty people. Those days are behind me now, but others have taken over, carrying the torch, as it were.

Whatever your traditions, I wish you great good happiness and fun times over this Christmas season. May joy and love and the company of family and friends bless your celebrations!


Wednesday, December 16, 2015

December 16, 2015

And so it begins.

For the last several years, my husband’s work place has conducted a partial shutdown over the Christmas season. Actually, he’s rarely worked the week between Christmas and New Year’s. When the kids were smaller, he took those days as “vacation days”. The last couple of years, he’s been given not one, but two weeks off, and that has been pleasant enough for him. We don’t travel during this time, as we both consider it family time. Our family is all here in this area, and so here at Christmas, is where we stay.

I might have mentioned previously that my husband’s company was sold to another company, with the hand-off happening this past summer. There have been few changes in style so far, except one. There has been a slight change in the holiday closure schedule.

David finished working last Friday, December 11—and goes back to work on January 11. Yes, he will be home, with me, for 30 long days!

Financially, this isn’t too bad for us. He had accrued vacation pay, and he wisely decided to draw from that. We budget well these days, and as we’ve gotten older, we’ve discovered we really don’t need as much as we once thought we did. Our appetites are much smaller than they used to be, and not only for food. We don’t need to “go out and do things” all the time. We’re happy to stay home. We have books to read, and I, of course, not being on vacation, have books to write. You’re likely thinking that all is well, then for the Ashbury’s.

However, this is a fairly small house.

It’s not even been a week yet, and already we’ve had a couple of funny moments. On Saturday—the day after his last day at work for the year—I turned to my husband and said, “Enjoy your weekend of doing nothing, because on Monday, it’s back to work for you.” He shook his head. “Oh, no, no no. I am on holidays!” My husband has always called vacation time “holidays”, a decidedly British habit. I then said to him, “Well, I’m not on holidays.” Yes, I was baiting him. I admit it (mainly because it’s so easy and it’s fun to do). He replied that I could be if I wanted to be. It was my choice to keep working. So I agreed, and told him I had decided to take a holiday, too—a holiday from cooking for him.

Monday came, and he dutifully, even eagerly, performed his assigned task for the day—setting up the Christmas tree. I rewarded him with five dozen soft-chew chocolate chip cookies that have since dwindled very quickly.

I don’t know if I have enough ‘make work’ jobs in mind for him for thirty days. It’s going to be touch and go. It won’t be so bad if he spends his non-chore time (which would be most of his day, by the way,) watching television. He has cordless headphones, which means he mutes the television so I don’t hear a thing. No, the problem arises if he decides to spend his time on his computer or if he gets “bored” and wants to go somewhere.

His computer is not far from mine. When he is at his keyboard, I certainly know he’s near. He makes sounds. All sorts of old man sounds, yes, but there are other sounds too. If he watches YouTube (again using headphones but these ones are to facilitate his hearing and not out of consideration for me), he’ll be viewing comedy skits, so then he’s laughing. Or sixties songs, so then he’ In any event, he has the sound up so loud that I do kind of hear what he’s listening to.

Don’t get me wrong. I love to hear him laugh—except when I am trying to write.

When we discovered he was to have a whole month off—only the day before it happened, by the way—we discussed how it should go so that neither one of us would become overly stressed. And on that occasion, and as proof that he really does love me, my beloved gave me a “nuclear option”.

It’s a simple and effective one, too. If I get close to my limit, I have his permission to handle him much like his mother used to do.

I’m to tell him to go outside and play, and to not come back inside until the streetlights come on.


Wednesday, December 9, 2015

December 9, 2015

My beloved and I get along very well—most of the time. But there are some times when, if others were to hear us talking to each other, they’d swear we were people from two different worlds. Of course in some ways we are, as men and women are quite different in several ways, one from the other.

We married when I was one week shy of my 18th birthday, and he was a much older man of 19½. During our forty-three years together, we’ve raised three children, welcomed seven grandchildren, and buried one of each. There have been times so lean, we used to hunt beer bottles at the side of the road to cash in so we could buy milk and bread for the table. Lately, though we’re not rich, we don’t struggle, financially, at all. We’ve learned how to budget—money, time and differing opinions—and we’ve learned how to not sweat the small stuff.

We haven’t, like some married folks do, drifted apart. That’s not just luck, that’s us working at being married. We talk, we share, we fight and make up, and we understand the concept of compromise. And we make allowances for each other’s...foibles.

A couple of weeks ago, our furnace—that had just turned twelve years old—broke down, again. It broke down in the coldest part of the winter in 2013, and cost us over a thousand dollars to fix at that time. It broke down in the deep cold again last year, but that repair was covered under the protection plan. At least the timing of this current malfunction was better—the temperatures were chilly but not freezing when it stopped working at eight o’clock at night. Because it wasn’t yet the rush season for furnace breakdowns, the repairman was out two hours after my call the next morning.

When my husband came home from work, I reported that the furnace was indeed fixed—but that I had told the repair man yes, he could have a salesman call. David said, “It’s only twelve years old. Furnaces are supposed to last twenty-five years!” I commiserated with his feeling of frustration. We purchased that furnace in 2003 and paid a few thousand dollars for it. It likely would have lasted twenty-five years – if we’d bought it in 1975.

While I had been hoping to wait until this coming summer to buy a new furnace, I was no longer willing to take the chance of another breakdown. For me, it was a case of three strikes, you’re out. Yes, we pay a monthly 30 dollar protection plan fee to the gas company (from whom we bought the furnace), so just about anything that goes wrong with it is covered. But the repair man told me the heat exchanger that had been the cause of the break down and waiting for the part in 2013 might go again—as several others for this same model had done, in his experience. That was one of the few parts not covered by warrant or protection plan, and an expense even my husband was not willing to pay again.

“It won’t hurt to sit down and talk to the man,” David agreed. “But we are not renting a furnace. I’ve heard horror stories from some of the guys at work about renting furnaces. Besides, if you calculate out the cost of renting over twenty-five years, you will end up paying for that furnace two or three times more than if you’d bought it in the first place.”

Some concepts are tough to let go. Between then and the day the man came to talk to us about replacing our furnace, my beloved did a little more research and found out that truly, the twenty-five year furnace had gone the way of spats and the two-pants suit. Once he’s presented with facts he’s not afraid to change his mind. I have to respect that about him.

I’m happy to report that we now have a high efficiency furnace that so far has proven so much more efficient, I figure we’ll make back a great deal of the monthly rental fee on gas and electricity savings. We already no longer have to pay that 30 dollar protection plan fee.

And the best part is that come summer, we will have something that we have never, ever had before. We’ll have central air—which came with the furnace at no extra cost.


Wednesday, December 2, 2015

December 2, 2015

Bells are ringing, all right, but they’re not Christmas bells. No, sir, they’re telephone bells as every telemarketer that you’ve ever heard of—and some you probably haven’t—are trying to meet their Christmas quotas.

My phone rings several times a day with eager, dare I say determined people placing those calls, anxious to sell me something—anything! No, I don’t usually listen long enough to know what. I generally tell them I’m not interested, and sometimes I repeat that several times before I just hang up. These last few days, if call display shows a 1-800 number, I simply don’t answer.

The media refers to the day after the U. S. Thanksgiving as Black Friday. I understand why that is, of course. That one day is when retailers, who’ve been operating in the red all year long, supposedly sell enough to pull themselves out of debt, and if not firmly in the profit column, at least onto even ground.

But it’s “black” for other reasons, in my estimation. There were times in years past when I thought it should be called, “black eye Friday”, as in, people behaving badly gives all of the rest of us a black eye.

Fortunately I didn’t read of any truly horrific incidents of moms trying to beat each other to death over the latest Star-Wars toys, Barbies, or iPhones. There doesn’t seem to be any planned shortages this year of “must have” toys to make people frantic to have a particular item, as I suspect happened in years past(remember Tickle Me Elmo and Cabbage Patch Kids?).

That doesn’t mean that the Black Friday shopping experience was necessarily completely without peril. But I did hear on the news that the actual dollars spent in brick and mortar stores was down several billion over years past—and that the answer to Black Friday—Cyber Monday—was most definitely a hit, bringing in several billion more.

Gosh, I hope no one sprains a brain trying to figure that one out, but I suspect they will. Can you just see a meeting of great marketing minds? They’re sitting around a table, wondering why people would rather stay home, save gas, order from the comfort of their den, living room, or home office as opposed to joining the general melee known as the Black Friday in-store shopping experience.

Well, the answer is simple. A lot of us would much rather stay home, save gas, order from the comfort of our den, living room or home office as opposed to joining the general melee known as the Black Friday in-store shopping experience.

Generally speaking, I prefer shopping on line, primarily for all of the above twice mentioned reasons. Not to be dismissed from the equation is the fact there are no commission-paid sales staff following you around, asking you every two minutes if they can help you. Not, of course, that the online browsing experience is without the cyber version of those facilitators. Actually, in some ways, the cyber version is much scarier.

Let me tell you what I mean. Are you on FaceBook? If you are, then I invite you to go to Amazon and browse something—but make it something specific, maybe something unusual. I recently went looking online for a new feather pillow. The one I’ve been using for the last 4 or 5 years lost its “umph”. I can only sleep on feather pillows (the other kind tend to give me headaches). Not too many stores have feather pillows anymore, and I wanted one, specifically, that had added down. If you don’t know, a pillow boasting “down” has the hard quill part of the feather removed.

The day after I was looking at feather pillows from a specific company through Amazon, low and behold, the ads that began appearing on FaceBook as I was going over my news feed were for the exact same brand of pillows! Coincidence? I think not.

I do sometimes worry about all the metadata that Amazon generates, and how they use it. But I guess I don’t worry about that nearly as much as I want to avoid, whenever possible, going to stores during peak shopping seasons.

No, it’s much quieter and much more pleasant to shop from my home—even if big brother really is watching me.


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

November 25, 2015

A month from today is Christmas. Are you ready for it? I’m not. I pride myself on being organized and yet every year, Christmas draws near and I realize I am nowhere near being ready. That’s really silly, given that the holiday comes every year on the same day. You’d think by my age, I’d stop being surprised by its imminent arrival.

I don’t think it’s a question of Christmas not being important to me. I know it is, but it’s the day itself, and its significance of it that matter to me—not all the hoopla we have, by secular tradition, attached to it.

There’s another factor, especially these last nine years that play into my resistance to all the lights and glitter of the season. When you’ve lost a child, even if that child was an adult when he died, it forever leaves a hole in your heart. It’s kind of difficult to fully get into the spirit of joy when a piece of you is forever in mourning.

Therapists will tell you that this is one of the most stressful times of the year for many people. The older we get, the more we celebrate our special holidays while thinking of those loved ones no longer with us. Yes, missing children and grandchildren is harder—we’re not truly meant to bury those younger than us by a generation or two. Most of us as we reach our middle years, or enter into our December years, miss our parents and some siblings as well. The Christmas season, when we were kids, was filled with joy and magic. As we age, I think we hunger for that sense of wonder again. We long for the days when life seemed only bright and beautiful, and when anything—anything at all—was possible.

We’d all like an escape, every now and then, from adulting.

A month away and I can’t tell you how, exactly, we’ll pass the day. Our surviving son and his family generally spend their Christmas with my daughter-in-law’s people. That’s fine, because as I have noted in the past, and find it to be more true than not, that sons do that very thing. That old saying that says a son’s a son till he takes a wife is based on truth, after all.

Because Christmas falls on a Friday this year, it’s a working day for my daughter. I don’t yet know if she’ll have a couple of hours late afternoon to stop in and eat. We’ll figure it all out. Too, there’s nothing wrong with just the two of us having our quiet Christmas dinner together. We get along pretty well, for a couple of older folks.

It all went by so fast! It seems like not that long ago I was a child, bubbling with excitement to see what Santa left under the tree. Then, just a few moments after that, I was a young mother, bubbling with excitement to see our little ones’ jubilee over what Santa left under the tree.

These days if I feel bubbling, I’m tempted to call the doctor.

Still, I must say that giving remains my favorite part of the secular holiday. I’ve been told on more than one occasion by more than one person that I am way too generous. I know that I am. My first instinct has always been to offer a hand up, to give to those who are in need as well as my loved ones, just to see them smile.

I make no apologies for that. For a lot of people, giving is the best part of Christmas. And there’s certainly nothing wrong with that.


Wednesday, November 18, 2015

November 18, 2015

We live in a society governed by rule of law. Most of us agree to live by those laws, and understand that if we want them changed then there is a civilized means through which to do this.

Most of us willingly give ourselves to live under the dominion of our governments. We don’t always agree with the person or persons who’ve been elected to run the show, but we respect the institution of government and know those people may be replaced at the next election. We can even volunteer to help that along, by becoming involved in the process.

If we’re really unhappy with the decisions being made by our officials, then we can pick up pen and paper and write our representatives; if we feel strongly enough, we organize petitions, rallies, get media coverage, understanding that this is one of the routes to change in our countries.

Here in North America, if we feel the move to evangelize, to bring others to our own point of view faith-wise, then we speak to others of our faith; we give testimony of how our faith has worked in our lives.

We don’t pick up guns, gird ourselves with explosives, and kill people we don’t even know. In fact, we tend to think the people who do that are psychopaths.

And really, that is exactly what they are.

It’s very, very hard for us to wrap our heads around the events in Paris last Friday. Our thoughts and prayers were immediately engaged and invoked for the victims and their families and friends.

We all have begun to think, “There but by the Grace of God go us.” But something else is afoot as a result of the events, too, and while I understand it, I can’t, in good conscience, agree with it.

Of the over one million refugees fleeing the same violence we witnessed in Paris, one person is thought to have been one of those psychopaths. And because this may be so, many now no longer wish to welcome any refugees into their communities.

We’re afraid. We’re afraid, because we don’t understand the violence. It’s foreign to us, and we don’t know how to fight it.

I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if that was the whole point of having one of the attackers get to Paris that way. The psychopaths were faced with the dilemma: how do they keep their immediate victims there, how do they stop them from fleeing? “They are millions, we are only thousands. If they all flee, we can’t stop them. Oh, I know. We’ll taint them with one of our own—just one, that’s all it will take—and no one will want to take in any of our victims who are fleeing for their lives. Winter is coming. They will die. And the rest, knowing there is no deliverance, there is no escape, there is no mercy—they will stay put.”

That thinking on our part, where we say, “none of them can be trusted, keep them all out, turn away the stranger at the gate”, that thinking makes us no safer than we were, but it does make us much less than we were.

I turn back to the early lessons in my life. As a kid I was bullied, and sometimes that was hard to take. It made me angry and I wanted to get back at those who were treating me badly. But my mother would tell me, that if I did, I would be “lowering” myself to their level, that I would then be no better than those who persecuted me.

And she reminded me of the Sermon on the Mount, and the admonition to turn the other cheek.

This situation is much more serious, this situation with those psychopaths who ran rampant and murdered and injured hundreds in the City of Light. Turning the other cheek against murderers isn’t the way to go.

But neither is making those not responsible for the carnage pay the price for those who are.

We need to be very careful that we don’t ascribe blame to a particular religion. It’s easy enough to do. It might even be emotionally satisfying in the short term. But it would be very wrong to do so.

We need to focus on placing our anger where it belongs: on the organized group of psychopaths who are directly responsible for the violence and the killing.


Wednesday, November 11, 2015

November 11, 2015

One hundred years ago this year, the first Great War raged across Europe, but its impact truly was felt world-wide. When Great Britain declared war on Germany on August 4, 1914, Canada, as a part of the British Empire, was automatically also at war.

Many of the young men of the day signed up to serve—some as soldiers, and some as medical support. One of those who volunteered his services was a Doctor who’d been born and raised in Guelph, Ontario (just down the road from me), who’d been a resident at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, Maryland at the dawn of the 20th century, and who had already seen the affects of war on the human body. His name was Dr. John McRae, and when he enlisted, he was appointed as a medical officer to the First Brigade of the Canadian Field Artillery—and given the rank of Major.

McRae wasn’t just a doctor. He expressed himself in words—as a poet, and a writer of articles for medical journals—and he was also an artist who rendered pencil sketches of some of the places he’d been during his world travels.

He wrote to his mother, while stationed in Belgium, of the carnage of war. He did what he could for the wounded in the trenches near Ypres, Belgium, often doing without much sleep or relief of any kind for days on end. And it was while he was in Belgium, and after the death of a friend, that he gave us words that are as timely now as ever they were, and a symbol we all recognize as synonymous with honoring all those who’ve died in military service to their countries.

That poem is called In Flanders Fields. In case it’s been a while since you’ve heard it, here it is:

In Flanders Fields 
In Flanders fields the poppies blow 
Between the crosses, row on row 
That mark our place; and in the sky 
The larks, still bravely singing, fly 
Scarce heard amid the guns below. 

We are the Dead. Short days ago 
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow 
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie 
In Flanders Fields. 

Take up our quarrel with the foe: 
To you from failing hands we throw 
The torch; be yours to hold it high. 
If ye break faith with us who die 
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow 
In Flanders Fields. 

Today is a day we pause, and with a minute of silence, honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice so that we could live our lives blessed with freedom. 

That first Great War, and the next one—the Second World War—seem far removed from us in 2015. And yet, today, there are other wars, and rumors of wars, and there are acts of war not committed nation against nation, but man against man. 

Now more than ever we need to stop, and pause, and reflect: lest we forget. 


Wednesday, November 4, 2015

November 4, 2015

Sometimes, I have trouble with the concept of keeping the main thing, the main thing. The everyday living of life can be overwhelming at times, with some occurrences taking on more importance than they need to. This is especially true, at least for me, when things don’t do the way I hope they will—or maybe the way I count on them to go. Let’s face it. Crap happens in life to all of us. Sometimes dealing with that crap can be a challenge. I mean, who can think when unexpected glitches arise?

Do you ever listen to Ted Talks? Have you heard about them? These are a series of “talks” or mini-lectures, most of them under twenty minutes long, by experts in varying fields. Arts, sciences, religions, social issues—there are more than a thousand “talks” and they can all be found here, for free:

This past weekend I listened to one given by a neuroscientist entitled, “How to stay calm when you know you’ll be stressed.” It turns out there’s a medical reason why I can’t keep the main thing the main thing when I’m having one of those days. It’s a chemical called cortisol, it gets released by your brain into your body when you’re stressed, and one of the things it does is to cloud your thinking. You chemically can’t be logical and concise in your thoughts with that stuff floating around free inside you.

The scientist’s suggested solution to the situation was to conduct a “pre-mortem” for any upcoming special event—that is, to sit down and try to think of all the possible things that could go wrong in the upcoming situation, things that if they occurred would stress you out. Then, he said, think of a solution for each possible problem. He reasoned that you could think clearly ahead of time when not under stress, and then if one of those situations did arise, you’d not be hampered my muzzy thinking. You’d know what to do. In my thirties or forties, I might have rolled my eyes, hearing this suggestion. Now I’m sixty-one, and I’m thinking that his idea has merit.

I can totally see myself doing this. I already have an edge on anyone else who might have heard this talk at the same time I did and decided to incorporate the good doctor’s advice. I already make an extensive clothing list when I’m going on a trip!

As I’ve explained in a few past essays, I make a list of the days I’ll be at an event, list the activities I’ll be participating in, and then assign an outfit for each day. Sometimes I might have two activities on a single day, and there might be a wardrobe change required. I’ve even, in the past, after finalizing my list of outfits, gone ahead and picked out my accessories, put them in individual baggies, and assigned them a number or two, so I would know which outfit or two they’d match.

It would appear I was already doing that whole “pre-mortem” thing with regard to my clothes without knowing that was what I was doing. So I suppose that taking the process to the next level – making a list of all the things that could go wrong on a trip, or in the event of some other special occasion like throwing a dinner party, or attending a special function, and then coming up with a solution to each problem is a great idea.

There are actually only two potential problems I can see with this system, and likely both of them are connected to the fact I’m not as young as I used to be. The first is, will I remember, in the moment of crisis, that I had done the exercise and come up with a list of well thought out, and logical solutions to the unexpected problem?

And the second is much more to the point: if I do, will I be able to recall exactly where that list might be?


Wednesday, October 28, 2015

October 28, 2015

In the beginning, all I have is an idea.

Sometimes it’s a complete idea, and sometimes, it’s just the trace of one. Sometimes a scene appears in my mind, full blown, down to the words that are being said. One single scene and nothing more. Sometimes, all I know in that first instant are the characters’ names, and maybe a hint about what their back story might be.

Once I’ve had a taste of that idea, the fun begins. Often, I get those ideas when I’m already hip deep in another story. I usually stop and make a very fast note—and then carry on.

That’s when the magic happens. You see, for me, a story germinates like a four-day relish on the back burner of the kitchen stove. There’s just enough heat to keep it to a barely-there simmer. Like the relish, once in a while I might catch a whiff of it, but otherwise I forget about it. And all the while those characters are whispering to my subconscious, and their story is forming in the creative vault in my mind.

Then the day comes when it’s time for me to begin that story. I’m a little anal in some things, and a scatterbrain when it comes to others. I like to think that over all, I’m kind of cute. The first thing I always do is begin a new word document in the new word file that bears the title of the new project. This first document is called “Basic Concept” and could be likened to a sketch-artist’s doodle pad. I write. I write about who these characters are, what is unique about them, where they grew up, and what the influences were that helped shape them. I might even write about the time they were caught throwing spit-balls in class. If I imagined them in a scene, I write that scene, briefly, just the bare bones.

I write and write and write some more, a rambling document that admittedly would be hard for any reader to follow. And I keep writing until I know the opening line of the story. And as soon as I know that first line, I stop my rambling, go to the first page of the manuscript, and begin.

It’s not all easy sailing from there. Sometimes I get stuck. I either get stuck because I began to write too soon and don’t have a clear idea of where I’m going, or I get stuck trying to make my characters do something they’re not meant to do. Often, as I’m writing, my story shifts away from what I thought it was going to be about. That means there are moments when, if you could see me, all you would see would be me with a somewhat vacant look on my face, staring off into space, as my mind tries to plot a new course—with the input of the characters, of course.

Being a writer isn’t just what I do, it’s who I am. These stories I write are more than just words. They’re a part of me. Every single novel I’ve written has a theme. My characters are facing challenges that are realistic, taken from the annals of everyday life. They’ve survived abusive marriages, or abusive childhoods, they’ve gotten over heartache and the pain of loss. They’re dealing with emotional baggage that would be heavy for anyone to bear.

Some of these stories contain instances from my own experiences, and some from the experiences of others. But they are far more than words or even the sum total of those words, they’re a part of me.

The relationship between an author and their work is a deeply intimate one. Although I love what I do, writing is not easy. It can be painful, sometimes more painful than tearing a bandage off a particularly raw and sensitive wound.

This is why I get very upset when people steal my books, which they do when they download my work from a file sharing site for “free”. That’s money I’ll never see, although I’ve earned it. And no, I’m not rich, and yes, it does matter.

Pirating an author’s hard work is bad enough. I don’t even want to think about how I’d feel if some hack decided to steal my words by plagiarizing them. Apparently that’s been happening to others lately. Someone has taken the novel of other authors, changed a few things like names and places, and then slapped their own name on it, published it, and taken their ill gotten gains to the bank.

To the author whose heart and soul are in their work, that kind of pillaging is beyond devastating. It is, in fact, a form of rape.


Wednesday, October 21, 2015

October 21, 2015

It’s time for my seasonal lapse into denial. You may (or may not) be surprised to learn that there are some things I like to pretend don’t exist. This is why, on this past Sunday, I told my beloved—and my street team—that I had awakened to discover a fine dusting of pollen on my car.

For the record, I know it was snow. I was just determined not to make that admission. Winter. Ugh, we all know it’s coming. For some, the knowledge that another winter will soon be here must be news they don’t want to hear, either. There are parts of the United States that have been hit almost constantly since last winter with devastating weather conditions. Some of you haven’t been able to catch a break.

No doubt about it, Mother Nature is definitely menopausal.

I know there are some things we can prepare for in life. We can have little survival “kits” stashed in the pantry with candles and the like, in case the power goes out. We can live frugally and prepare financially for life’s inevitable emergencies like sickness, unemployment, and car repairs.

But I don’t really know how one prepares for the horrific circumstance of losing everything.

I can tell you that my beloved and I didn’t prepare for it or expect it. We lost our home—twice, two different homes—to fire. And while in the end we recovered, in the midst of the situation, I remember thinking the same thing, both times: that at least none of us was hurt, or worst, killed. And I think that is how most people handle this sort of devastation. When horrific circumstances hit we look for that ray of sunshine, for something to focus on that’s good. It’s human nature, I believe, tied to the survival instinct. After all, it’s not just our bodies that need to survive, but our spirits as well.

Lives have been lost during the recent spate of flooding in the south. That’s hard, very hard to deal with for the families and the friends of the dead. For those whose loved ones were safe but who lost all they had, that they had survived was a blessing to cling to. They could at least rejoice in the safety of their family.

We’re in a period of climatic upheaval. Who can deny it? Whether you believe that we’re on a path to previously unknown perils due to climate change brought about by human hubris, or you’re a hold out, believing that this is just a cycle like many others in our planet’s history, the truth is right now, our weather is unpredictable and nasty.

I’m thinking back to what life must have been like in ages past, when people began to explore and settle this continent, when they pushed westward into the unknown, seeking only the opportunity to carve out a life for themselves and their families. Uncertainty would have been a constant companion. There were no guarantees in life at all in those times.

We, in this age, have gotten “soft”. It is only in the last century that we’ve begun to expect fairness and prosperity; that we’ve begun to expect guarantees in life.

But the truth is we are human beings, and while we have learned to manipulate much of our immediate environment—not just the natural kind, but our circumstances in a socio-economic sense—we must remember one thing.

In the end, none of us can live forever—and none of us can control Mother Nature.


Wednesday, October 14, 2015

 October 14, 2015

With this issue, Wednesday’s Words turns 9 years old. I know what you’re thinking: does this woman not know when to shut up? No. No, I don’t. That said, here’s this week’s essay.

This past weekend here in Canada, was our Thanksgiving weekend. In the U.S. Thanksgiving is always celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November; here in Canada it’s the second Monday in October.

In years past, the family gathered here at our house. I’ve always loved to cook—I still do—and it was never a chore for me to prepare a feast for anywhere from five to fifteen people. But those days are no more. It takes almost more stamina than I can manage to pull off a huge production like that. So for the last two years, we’ve had our Thanksgiving at my daughter’s house.

It was a big enough gathering—10 of us including our two great-grandchildren. I must say Jenny did a wonderful job. The turkey was moist, the stuffing had just the right about of spice. There were veggies—squash, a broccoli/cauliflower combo with cheese sauce, and candied yams. She even had coleslaw and a tossed salad. Dessert was pie—apple and pumpkin—with ice cream.

My daughter is a woman I truly admire. She was a single mom, who raised her son mostly on her own—she never went on welfare. She always worked and did the best she could.

Her son, his fiancĂ©e and their two babies live with her. She works full time as a PSW—personal support worker (the equivalent of a Nurse’s Aid). While she does see some clients in the long term care facility here in town, most of her clients are in the community. Some are young, dealing with disability or disease. Some are elderly. Some are short term clients—assigned a worker because they’ve had recent surgery or are recovering from an accident and aren’t yet able to care for themselves when it comes to meals or bathing, or even getting dressed.

Some of her clients are hers until the end of their lives. I hear her speak of these people, always in a kindly way. She forms relationships with them, and I know she often does more for them than is required.

One time, when she was coming for supper on a night when we were having a special dinner, she asked for a plate of food for one of her clients she knew didn’t have family coming by. She said, “Mrs. X doesn’t eat as much as she should, she just picks. But if I take her a plate and tell her you made it and sent it along, she will eat every bite.” Of course, she got the plate of food.

Another time, a client she had for several years was complaining of a cramp in one foot. She’d tried using a heating pad, but she couldn’t get it wrapped around properly—and she likely shouldn’t have been trying that, anyway. This woman was reasonably active, still driving, and not that old. Jenny came and asked me if I had one of those bean-bag hot packs for feet. I laughed and told her I didn’t think they made them for feet, but I had one for hands and she was welcome to take them to the woman.

She came to me one time, and asked me if I had any nightgowns in good condition that I would like to give away. There was a woman in the facility with only one, and her family never came by to see her, or cared to see to her needs. I had a couple, and was happy to help—and proud that she’d thought to help the lady.

She buys Christmas presents for her long term clients, and I know that for some of them, those presents mean much more than the few dollars she’s spent on them.

 There are times, inevitably, when her clients pass on. One was a young woman who’d had Cystic Fibrosis and Diabetes. Jenny had been seeing her nearly every day, several times a day, for several years.

I’ve asked her if it doesn’t just tear her up when that happens. I know myself, and I can tell you, I wouldn’t be able to handle that gracefully.

 But my daughter said no. She said she wouldn’t know them, except that they were clients. While they were hers, she did the best she could to take care of them, to be someone they could talk to and feel comfortable with. When she can, she attends their funerals.

Yesterday she got word that one of her clients of five years went into hospice. The woman actually left her a voicemail, thanking her for all she’d done, and saying goodbye.

I consider myself a capable woman, but I tell you truly, I would not be able to do my daughter’s job—and certainly not with the degree of compassion and professionalism she does.

I’m very proud of her.


Wednesday, October 7, 2015

October 7, 2015

As I get older, I hear words come out of my mouth that I used to hear come out of the mouths of my mother, and later, my father-in-law.

I remember how I felt hearing those words too, words that began with the phrase spoken or intuited, “back in my day”. This would appear to be the same way those around me feel when I utter that same concept—if their eye rolls are any indication. There’s a tendency, I suppose, to dismiss out of hand some of the grumblings of the senior generation. I understand that, actually, because I do fully recognize and accept that the older I get the crankier I can be.

That said, I do believe, unrelated to the emergence of my inner curmudgeon, that it can generally be said that in this day and age, two very important—dare I say sacred?—qualities seem to be lacking in our society: common sense, and the art of compromise.

Lack of common sense, when I was a kid, used to get me a swat on the back of the head—or a more severe punishment, like being grounded. Lack of common sense used to be something most people avoided like the plague. To be accused of having no common sense was a stinging indictment, a horrible insult, or in other words, a really bad thing.

When, and why, did that change? Why did we kill common sense? I don’t have the answer for that, but I sure as hell see the results of it in the news nearly every single day. I’ve read stories of a kindergarten boy being suspended from school because he placed a kiss on the cheek of a female classmate. Georgie Porgie anyone? Actually, school administrators are the most bereft of common sense, if you ask me. The latest asinine school admin decision I’ve read about? A boy brought a clock he made to school to impress his teacher and ends up suspended and being considered for charges—hoaxing a bomb, wasn’t it? If you want to charge anyone with that, charge the dumbass teacher or principal who panicked and called the police.

Yes, I know. Perilous times and blah blah blah. People, do I have to say this? Yes, hold the line. Be vigilant. But if y’all are going to run around like chicken little, divorcing your common sense and, apparently, your intelligence, guess what? You’ve handed those terrorists a huge victory—a bigger one, in fact, than the one you’re trying to prevent.

I can just hear them over there now at terrorist central. “Ha! Over in North America they used to have freedom, they used to be caring and kind to one another, they used to have rational discourse between political factions. But we fixed all that!”

Just think about it for a few minutes. It might sink in.

Thinking of those political factions brings me back to the second virtue that’s been murdered: the art of compromise.

Didn’t our parents tell us that we could not have our own way all the time? Mine did and I am positive yours did too (you know, in the days of common sense).

Here’s how I will explain the art of compromise it in terms relevant to my husband’s and my life for those younger folk who don’t know what it is. We married young, and went from our parents’ homes to our own. We had but a weekend honeymoon. David grew up in a family with both parents, but more, a father who was the Commander In Chief. He’d say “jump” and everyone would ask, “how high, sir?”

I grew up in a house where my dad was the head of the family until he died when I was seven and a half. After that, my mom was in charge, and did everything from earning the money to cooking the meals, to fixing the toaster when it broke. She built window valances, and planed one of the plank floors upstairs to make it level.

David and I got home from our honeymoon and my dear new husband tried his hand at edict-issuing a la his dad. He said, “I’ll tell you right now, I eat roast beef, roast pork, mashed potatoes, cream corn and canned peas.” I looked at him and said, “I’m sorry. We don’t earn enough money to eat roast beef and roast pork every night. So you’ll have to eat what I put in front of you.”

We very quickly compromised: he would try everything once. What he didn’t like, I would not make again. In those days the only thing he didn’t like was liver. Now he’s older, and he even likes that too.

I hope we can all get back to common sense and the art of compromise. In my opinion, they can make the difference between living a good and meaningful life, and merely being alive.


Wednesday, September 30, 2015

 September 30, 2015

I have a confession to make. I’m a bit of a pack rat. I don’t know why throwing anything away is so hard for me, but there it is. Every once in a while, I need help. This past week end, I closed my eyes, gritted my teeth, and since it was her weekend off work, asked my daughter to please come and clean/clear out my office.

She decided she’d do the deed on Sunday. There was a reason for that. She knew I had to go into the city to the nursing office. Then my beloved and I planned to have lunch out before we went grocery shopping. Those chores on the agenda guaranteed that we would be gone while she got a good start on the job.

Two days before the appointed day, when she was here, I started to tell her about how I wanted a few things to be arranged...and she told me to hush. “You’ve asked for my help. Now you must let go and let me help.” My response to that—aside from calling her a cheeky wench—was to wait until she left. Then I sorted through what was in my immediate work area, and took care of everything in that small space. I could live with her arranging the bookshelves, and completely replacing the one small bookshelf that I used for sundry items (our unopened boxes of coffee pods for the Keurig and my entire liquor supply—a small collection of bottles, most of which are several years old).

I wasn’t the only one being ordered about. Our daughter told my husband he must put together the unopened wooden shelf kit so that she could install it in place of the somewhat bowing one that had been there for a couple of years and that she intended to replace.

I let my daughter see that I was somewhat concerned when she arrived Sunday morning, and the first thing she did was to open the contractor-sized garbage bag she brought with her and grin like a maniac. I was going to ask her to use the recycling bin when possible, but I knew what that request would net me. She’d do what she liked, regardless. I wasn’t really worried that she would throw out anything important. She has a pretty good sense of what I want/need and what I don’t.

My daughter and I pretty much see eye to eye on most things. There is, however, one area in which we do not agree, and I would say the fact this is so, was inevitable.

I know my daughter believes that she and I are making “the transition”. Those of you who are in your thirties or forties with elderly parents know what I’m talking about. There comes a point, if you’re fortunate enough to have your parents still alive as you move into your middle years, when you begin to assume some responsibility for them. As they age and their faculties begin to wane, you begin to do little things to help them. You check on them and see to it that they’re well. Maybe you make sure of their medical appointment schedule, get them there, or make sure their medications are up to date. You check the fridge to see that they have the food necessary to eat healthy meals.

And as you perform these services it almost seems as if you become the parent to your parent who’s now like your child. That’s what I call the transition.

That’s where my daughter’s mind set is heading and all I can say to that is a good, old-fashioned Southern “bless her heart”.

Yes, I’m 61. Do I have trouble walking? Oh, you bet I do. Every step is a challenge especially right now, as I begin to work at regaining my stamina after three weeks of being less mobile than usual because of my surgery. But do my physical limitations translate into metal or intellectual feebleness?

Hell, no.

My daughter does have a good heart. She works as a nurse’s aide. She gives to her clients in the community—most of them elderly—and often to a degree that is above and beyond expectations. There have been a few in the local nursing home who don’t have family visiting them, and she makes sure they have a gift at Christmas—and yes, it comes out of her own pocket.

I am sure that when the time eventually comes for me to have someone “supervise” me, she’ll do a really good job. But that day is far from now.

In the meantime, I am happy to have her work for a day cleaning, clearing, and feeling superior as long as at the end of the day, things are easier for me to manage.


Wednesday, September 23, 2015

September 23, 2015

It’s the first day of autumn. That seems later this year, as for some reason, my mind thinks the change of season day is always the twenty-first of the month. That’s because when my brain finally matured, whatever was “normal” at that time—be it the price of a loaf of bread, the proper way to wear jeans, i.e., cinched at the waist and not mid-way down the butt crack, or the day the season changed—became normal for me, forever.

We get set in our ways, but maybe we should take a lesson from Mother Nature. She doesn’t get set in her ways at all. She has no problem having hissy fit after hissy fit, and does whatever the hell she wants. I wish someone would give that lady a tranquilizer so she could mellow out.

My beloved and I always note the day when we think the season changed from summer to autumn, and it’s usually a week or more in advance of the actual, official, first day of fall. Summer seems to have a sky that is a rich, vibrant blue, a blue with depth to it. Then comes a day, usually lately near the end of August, when we notice the sky isn’t that rich blue anymore. The shade seems a bit lighter—and even if the sun burns hot on that day there’s a quality to the air and combined, those two signals, to us, scream “autumn”.

And usually within a couple of days of that, we see the first tiny sign in the leaves on some of the trees we pass as we drive—a few tiny little traitors who, tired of life, have let it go and allowed the yellow or red to infiltrate their tiny leafy bodies.

We have a walnut tree that stands at the corner of our porch. This tree is the last in the area to gain its leaves, and the first to lose them. As soon as the walnuts are formed—these nuts are only edible to the squirrels—then the tree has fulfilled its annual purpose, and its leaves turn and begin to drop. It is generally bare by the time the neighbors’ maple trees have turned color. There is constant leaf raking to be done here from mid September to late October.

This constant, seasonal reality for us is going to prove a boon this year for our youngest grandson. He’s 13 now, and eager to earn money. We’ve hired him to be our lawn boy, and we’re hoping he will want to work next year, too, cutting grass. He already cuts the small yard at his own home, with an old fashioned push mower. But he’ll be 14 in January, old enough to learn how to use our electric mower.

This has been a fast year for me, mostly because I tried to focus on not thinking about my health. We only took the one excursion in the summer, and that was to Pennsylvania. And as I’d already had my surgery booked by then, the time flew while my mind was otherwise occupied.

And while I am having, for the time being, to have my one incision re-bandaged every day—necessitating a trip into the city to see the nurse—I already feel better than I have in a long time. I’m hoping that by the time Christmas rolls around, these issues will be firmly in the past.

Bumps in the road are always unexpected, and quite often unpleasant. But they happen to everyone, and they’re the reason for my favorite axiom.

Challenging times don’t come to stay—they come to pass.


Wednesday, September 16, 2015

September 16, 2015

I want to thank everyone who took the time to send me best wishes over the last two weeks. I was completely overwhelmed by so many prayers on my behalf. Thank you all very much.

As you know, I was scheduled for the removal of my gallbladder on Friday, September 4th. I was very hopeful that I would receive the laparoscopic procedure and not what they call the “full surgical” one.

I was very fortunate, because that is exactly what happened. It was 9:45am when I was wheeled into the operating room, and it was approaching 1 pm when I was wheeled out to the car.

My beloved had previously booked the week after my surgery as his September “staycation”. I know that the week he ended up with was not the one he’d hoped for. He had planned to just be home but had thought we might take a day trip or two. That of course didn’t happen. He managed to do a lot of reading, and he “binged watched” a couple of historical television dramas. He and his daughter attended a local annual village-wide yard sale. He stayed up late and slept in late—in other words, he rested. That’s what a staycation is for.

I had shopped before my surgery, loading up on various frozen entrees for the duration, as David doesn’t like to cook at all. Unfortunately the first few days the temperatures were way too high to have the oven on. So one night we had one of the entrees done in the microwave, and then we made do with sandwiches. And since I didn’t have much of an appetite that was fine by me.

Although I was lucky to end up receiving the laparoscopic procedure, this entire adventure has not been smooth sailing. One thing that went exactly as hoped, I received my edit just a few days after my surgery. I was able to get the work done, spending an hour and a half at a time behind the keyboard.

I was determined to meet my professional obligations—but I was also determined to do exactly what I was told to do in order to heal. I spent most of my time either in my lounger or in my bed. I rested. I napped. On day 6 post-op, my main incision site, the one called the umbilical site, hurt more than the day before, not less. I was afraid it might be infected—but no one else seemed to think so. Over the weekend, of course, it became clear that it was infected. I got antibiotics, and was told to contact my surgeon on Monday, which I did.

I won’t go into the gory details. Suffice it to say I now understand about having an incision reopened, drained, and then packed. I’ve also added a trip into the city next door to my agenda every day for the next while, at least, to a nursing office where my bandage is changed daily.

Though I have work I need to do, I am taking a few more days to rest. Monday night, after seeing the surgeon, was the first decent sleep I’d had since the Thursday before.

 I realize that many people deal with far worse things than what I am going through, and I really try not to think about it too much. It’s only temporary, after all. In a month or two these last couple of weeks will all be just a memory.

 I’ve even decided there’s value to still not having much of an appetite. Maybe when I go for my regular check up in November, I’ll have lost another 10 pounds.

It’ll be a hard-won loss, but I’ll take it.


Wednesday, September 2, 2015

 September 2, 2015

September has arrived! In the Ashbury household this means that summer is over. After this next weekend, at least in these parts, the kids return to school. My beloved told me the other day that in his mind, this was always the “New Year” to him. In fact, he declared, it will likely always be so.

We no longer have kids in the house returning to the halls of academia, of course. That’s been in the past for more years now than it ever was our reality—and we don’t even want to mention how many years it’s been since my husband went back to school. Back to school time was always a mixed blessing—inward cheers that they were finally not going to be home getting into mischief all day long; and inward winces at the expense of it all.

I have to admit, though, that today’s parent is expected to put out a lot more money than we ever had to do. “School supplies” used only to consist of back packs, paper, binders, and pens and pencils. I was in our local Walmart a few days ago and saw families shopping—with long lists supplied to them by the Board of Education.

We had to pay for babysitting during the summer months over the course of a few years—there were no day-camps where we lived out in the country. A couple of years I was out of work during the summer, which was good for the pocketbook but hard on the nerves. I loved my children, but I’m only human. By the time September 1st came around, you could likely find me at the school, outside, caressing the bricks fondly, mumbling “soon, soon.”

There are many differences between the school experience here, and what a lot of y’all know. Up here, while there are High School sports, they aren’t community-supported the way they are down there in the United States. I went to one football game when my oldest son, Christopher, was on the team. Otherwise and for the most part, the games were held in the middle of the school day, and I often had to work. The stands tended to be filled by the student body of whichever school was playing host, with but a very small smattering of parents in attendance.

September has always been my beloved’s preferred vacation time. There was no coincidence to the reality that he planned to be off work a week or two when the kids weren’t around during the day. When the kids were school-aged, all of our vacations were stay-cations. Yes, it’s true! We’ve always been edgily avant garde.

And though we have traveled some this year, next week finds my husband home from work, planning to do nothing more than read, and rest...and as it turns out, play nurse maid to me.

This coming Friday brings with it a resolution to a situation I’ve been dealing with for the last several years. In the beginning we didn’t know what was causing my ‘plumbing’ problems. But a year and a half ago, when I had the first painful episode, we had a clue.

Tests revealed that I have several gallstones. The surgeon was leery to remove my gallbladder until the other problem was resolved. Finally, a gastroenterologist figured out the cause of the situation, and in fact, it was related to my gallbladder. So finally, in two days time, it comes out.

I’m really hoping for the laparoscopic procedure, and that is what they intend to do. But I was cautioned that sometimes, a more invasive surgery is required. If I end up having the former, I will be home the same day and likely out of it for the weekend. And while I plan to rest, for the most part, for as long as the doctor recommends, I am expecting an edit and fully intend to complete it when it arrives. But that will likely be the extent of my “working” for the first week post-op, at any rate.

If I end up having the full surgery, I will be in hospital for a few days; but I have a lap top and the hospital bed will take the place of my wonderful electric recliner, so the edit will still be done.

Looking back, I believe there have only been a handful of Wednesdays when I haven’t posted my essay. Next week will be another one.

But I look forward to getting back into the rhythm of this life I so love. God willing, I’ll be back with a new Wednesday’s Words on September 16th.


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

August 26, 2015

I don’t think I understand much of anything, anymore—and I’m not certain if it’s because I’m getting older, or because life on this planet is getting more convoluted.

I don’t really understand why we’ve had a couple of year’s worth of weather upheaval. There’s barely been a news cast in the last few months that didn’t have headlines about record cold, record storms, or record heat. Weather patterns? Personally, I think Mother Nature has been doodling while drunk on Sangria.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, it seems this may be a year of record wild fires. Just look at a map of the west coast of the United States, and you have to wonder. Is there anyone living out there not being forced to breathe in smoke every day? Of course all these fires underscore a reality we humans have failed to accept. Seriously, I would have suggested years ago that we need to reconsider where we build houses, and allowing nature’s forest rejuvenation program—before humans, there were forest fires that burned until they went out, and then, there was renewal. That is how the giant sequoias came to be—well, giants. I would have suggested that, but it appears nature has just gone ahead and done that very thing this year.

And it’s not just natural disasters lambasting us these days. I don’t understand why the stock market is picking now to go crazy. Yes, yes, fears of this and worries of that drive the prices up and down, up and down. I had no idea that the main prerequisite of managing other people’s money in a large investment fund was the propensity for turning into Chicken Little.

Now, because of all this damn panic by the money managers, people who really have little say are worried, and on the surface, I can understand that. You’re working hard, building your 401K and all of a sudden, it’s worth substantially less than it was, just the day before. We’ve had similar setbacks in years past in our own retirement funds, so I get that. But I also get the only people who should really be worried are the ones set to retire in the next few months. For them, my heart aches.

Everyone else needs to take a chill pill, because if the markets can regain the losses and even surpass the big blow out of 2008 (just seven years ago), then they can overcome this, too. So everyone who has at least a couple of years of saving time left, you need to stay calm.

Fear and panic seem to be contagious. All you have to do to catch either of those two states is to be near them. Sometimes, I wonder if “they” don’t use those two emotions as tools. It suits “their” nefarious purposes to whip everyone up into a lather from time to time. The person who’s afraid or in a panic sure is easy to direct—and maybe is too worried about what they’re worried about to pay attention to other stuff.

That’s a cynical thought for me—but then since I hit my 60s, my inner curmudgeon has been coming out to play a lot more often. I like to keep a positive attitude but I don’t want anyone to think I’m blind to machinations of some people.

After all, God gave us free will. We can choose to uplift, or tear down; we can choose to do good, or to do evil.

If we let it, life can chew us up and spit us out. There are always things happening, events that cause concern. In any given year there are natural disasters, outbreaks of disease, and financial woes. The Internet, that I applaud for allowing shut-ins to keep in touch, and providing educational connections to those who might otherwise not be able to get an education—that same Internet spreads worry and woes faster than a California wild fire.

Because we all are so darn connected to each other—not just individuals, but nations—we know of things and hear of things at an ever dizzying rate of speed. The constant spate of news, mostly about negative things, keeps us all in a near constant state of anxiety.

So let’s all relax, if we can. Take a deep breath and step back. Begin to think of what you can do to make things better.

And then look for the opportunity to do so.


Wednesday, August 19, 2015

August 19, 2015

We enjoyed our annual trip to Hazleton to visit our friends who live there. I also use the time while in Pennsylvania to do some research into the history of the area, and the people, as I’ve been working on a story that takes place in the northeastern portion of that state.

During past trips, we’ve visited various museums and historical areas connected to the boom times of the coal years. We’ve also ventured to Gettysburg, and the Civil War museum and State Capitol building in Harrisburg.

We’ve gone to the haunted jail in Jim Thorpe, taken a tour of the Lackawanna Mines (though I declined to go underground with my husband and our friend) and have twice visited Steamtown USA—the national railroad museum—in Scranton.

We’ve driven through what’s left of Centralia, the borough that became deserted after the mine fire that began burning beneath it in 1962—and is burning there, still.

It’s interesting to get to know a region, little by little over the years. My husband and I both think the area we go to is coming back a bit from the worst of the recession of 2008. Our friend, who has lived there all his life, assures us there are still those who believe the mines and associate industries of the region’s boom times will come back—just as soon as everyone gets over this silly Internet craze, and trying to import new businesses into the area.

It’s taken me a few years to understand that there really are people who actually think like that. Of course, we know that technology never—in the history of the inhabitants of this planet—has ever gone backward—starting with fire, and the wheel. Maybe it will happen one day. Maybe we’ll come up with some form of technology that seems good, and isn’t, and in fact threatens us so badly that we will ban it all together from the face of the planet.

But I’m not holding my breath.

In essence, the truth is that technology in and of itself isn’t good, and it isn’t bad. The only “good versus evil” is found in the souls of the people who use the technology—and in what they use it for.

I consider myself pretty savvy when it comes to the Internet, the programs I use for writing, and the social media scene that I’m a part of. Not bad for a woman who will never see 60 again. There are some, older than I, who are also computer literate.

Of course there are a lot of people who aren’t. My brother is one. 10 years my senior, he doesn’t have (nor does he want) a cell phone. He has no idea of the uses of the items that are displayed on the cover of the Best Buy catalogue, and he barely surfs the web at all. His wife is one up on him there as, while she will never own a cell phone or an e-book reader, does look everywhere on line to find her amusements.

My brother doesn’t understand the allure of Sudoku games at all.

Spending time with our friends in Pennsylvania just underscored this divide in thinking. Our friend is a bit younger than us and quite Internet savvy. His mother, of course, a woman in her eighties, doesn’t understand the attraction, nor does she want to. They have satellite television now, a new innovation he convinced her to try because it was more cost effective than the local cable company. I’m not sure how many hundreds of channels they have available to them. She—our friend’s mom—will travel between the same five or six channels she knew on the cable system. And that is all.

She also gets quite annoyed when her daughter and family come over to visit because they are on their cell phones constantly—texting or updating social media, instead of actually visiting.

Having experienced such a visit from them while we were in town, I can understand the older woman’s annoyance. But again, that has nothing to do with the technology and everything to do with the people using the technology.

Mr. Tuffy accompanied us to Pennsylvania, as did our daughter. He traveled well, again, and was a perfect gentleman while visiting. He clearly remembered the people and the place from last year—and that following our friend when he went out to the kitchen was certain to net him a tasty tidbit.

All in all, a good time was had by all.


Wednesday, August 12, 2015

 August 12, 2015

A couple of weeks ago, I came upon one of those postings on FaceBook, the kind that urge you to use it to change your status for an hour if it’s something you can identify with. The words that caught my attention were: “A person who loses a partner is called a widow. A child who loses a parent is called an orphan. But there is no word that describes a parent who loses a child because the loss is like no other.” The meme, for lack of a better term, went on to invite others to share it, in memory of lost loved ones of their own, or people they know.

I felt moved to post this and almost immediately people responded. That, right there, is what I love so much about the Internet. Before this platform ever existed, thousands of people went through life feeling isolated, because they had experienced something that no one else they knew had experienced. Be it the loss of a child or grandchild, or almost any negative circumstance you can imagine, people who suffered from such an event often felt alone.

We are born alone, and we die alone, but we don’t have to always feel alone. If we’re lucky, we live our lives among friends and family and find a communion of spirit that uplifts us, and helps us to make sense and meaning of our lives. But even when we’re among loved ones, we can sometimes feel isolated and alone.

We need this wonderful technology of ours so that we can reach across cyberspace and touch those who know what we have endured. There are just times when you need that connection—not only to receive comfort, but to give it as well.

 I recall my first experience going online. It was in 2003, in the aftermath of my open heart surgery. I had a long, slow, and difficult recovery. My daughter brought her computer over for me to use one day, and told me that I was going to go online—because she didn’t like to see me just sitting around doing nothing. That proved to be a Godsend because I really couldn’t do a lot, physically. The ultimate goal, of course, was for me to get writing. I began to look for writing contests that I could enter as a first step toward pursuing that long held dream of mine—becoming a published author.

But writing, and researching writing, wasn’t all that I did on line.

I discovered Pogo games. They had word games and Bejeweled and solitaire and Word Whomp. They had bingo! I used to love to go to bingo both alone, and with my daughter once in a while before my surgery, so that was something for me to do online that was fun. Pogo is a free game site, or you can buy a membership and skip the “ads”. They have all sorts of games, and the basic structure is that the games are organized in “chat rooms”. So while you’re playing bingo, or crossword, or hidden object games, you can, if you’re so inclined, chat with others who are doing the same.

Some of the women I “met” in these rooms I also later met in person. And some of the women I met there online were what we used to call “shut-ins”. They were in wheelchairs, and older, or recovering from heart surgery, and rarely got out to socialize. But when they played bingo every afternoon, they were really getting together with their friends. They’d agree to go to a specific ‘room’ (the rooms all have names) at a specific time. Each would first get their coffee or tea, and then they would settle in for a couple of hours of bingo, and chatting. The conversations were lively and uplifting and funny, sometimes so funny that you’d be close to tears.

What a wonderful thing the Internet was for these people! And really, it’s still a life line for those who need it to be one.

Of course these days, I don’t go onto those game sites the way I used to, before I was published. I do work a crossword puzzle in the morning, and a couple of other games that help to wake up my brain and keep my mind active. Every single morning, I play just two or three games, or maybe it’s four or five. But honestly, I play these games so that I can jump into my workday fully alert, and functioning.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.