Wednesday, March 25, 2015

 March 25, 2015

It really is beginning to feel like spring around here—sort of. Most of the snow has melted, with tiny mounds remaining only where no direct sunlight hits, or where those enormous parking lot piles lurk—the ones the snowplows made. The latter may not be gone until June.

I know it’s spring time, of course, because I’ve begun seeing ants here and there scurrying about in my kitchen. Not too many of them, yet, but they’ve begun. I think it’s still too cold out for them. And me, too. It is definitely still too cold out for my liking. Spring may have arrived but it is taking it’s sweet time to manifest in warmer days. Although I got teased one day last week. The temperature neared 50. On that day, the air smelled really fresh and clean. The scent reminded me of my childhood, when “fresh air” was not such a rare commodity as it is today.

Spring is my favorite season for many reasons. The lilacs and lilies of the valley bloom in spring, infusing the air with the most amazing perfume. The trees shimmer with an aura of green as they bud, and you know it’s only a matter of time before the leaves appear. Spring is nature reawakening after the dormancy of winter. It is fresh and clean and everything is new again.

In spring, hope becomes renewed as we embrace the concept that everything and anything is possible.

It doesn’t take us long, most years, to forget about the hard, cold winter just passed. It’s best, of course, for the most part, to do just that. We know it will come again, that dark, cold and inhospitable reality called winter. But we happily put thoughts of it away until there is no choice but to face it and endure it once more.

This one just passed was a bad one, of course. Even worse than the one before it and we would not have believed that was possible. A lot of people had horrid winter driving conditions for the first time in a long time, and for some, the first time, ever. I was heartsick watching the news, and seeing how many of our neighbors to the south were hurt or killed in car accidents—many of which could have been avoided if drivers had simply slowed down.

I guess I’ll take it back. Put away thoughts of the awful winter just past, but please, remember if—or more likely when—it happens again, drive slower, and with great caution. It is absolutely impossible to maintain control of a vehicle if you’re driving too fast for the road conditions. I don’t care if you have snow tires or even chains on your car. Speed equals catastrophe in blizzard-like conditions. Consider that a natural law.

My family all made it through all right—and this year it feels like a real accomplishment. As I write this I hear birdsong, another sure sign of spring. Don’t ask me what birds they are. I know we have starlings and robins and blue jays in the area. I’ve seen cardinals and wrens and red-winged black birds and even the odd hummingbird here and there. But I would have to listen to a bunch of YouTube videos of each one of them singing to be able to tell you which ones are out there now. I’ve never been overly curious about identifying my avian choir. I’m quite happy to call them “spring birds” and leave it at that.

It’s still not full-on spring. We’ll still likely get a storm or two before we can put our mitts and boots away. But at least we are completely done with winter storms until after October. Anything that happens in the next few weeks will be a spring storm. I’m not all together certain if that should make us feel better, or not.

Buck up. One day at a time, and we’ll get to summer. Just try not to complain about the heat when you get there.


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

March 18, 2015

I got my very first computer – one that belonged to me right out of the store – back in 2004. That was a couple of years before I wrote what would be my first published novel. This computer was an IBM and had been on sale at a furniture store (a big chain furniture store). Since they didn’t have any more in stock, we got a discount because we were willing to take the floor model.

The staff at the store had installed Microsoft Office 2003 and, they’d downloaded a number of songs into the library of the installed media player. These, they graciously left on the computer. Not only that, they told me how I could download some more songs to add to the library. I did that for a while, but we were on dial up at the time, and it took too long. I think at most the total number of musical selections we had on that computer was about 100. I thought that was a ridiculous number, really. 100 songs? Who has time to sit and listen to 100 songs?

Eventually, as these things happen, that computer died. The next one I got was an HP (all my computers have been PCs, because that was what I’d used at work and what I knew). The only music I put on that computer I uploaded from CDs that I’d purchased at the mall. The media player didn’t tell me how many songs total I had, but there were a few albums that I owned, and had loaded onto my system.

 I don’t listen to music every day, and I’m not one of those authors who writes while performers are singing in their headphones. Generally speaking, when I listen to music it’s for relaxation, or for a boost in mood. I discovered long ago that it is impossible to stay “down” when you’re belting out your favorite song of the moment, at full blast.

 Flash forward (pardon the pun) to when I got my current cell phone. It’s an iPhone, which has many possible cool apps. Music is one, of course, so I went ahead and got an account at the iTunes store, and put a few songs on my phone. Imagine my joy when I discovered that I could also access those songs from my computer.

Ah, the iTunes store. Has there ever been a more convenient way to purchase music? I prefer to pick up my “iTunes” cards at the grocery store, as I need them, rather than using a credit card to purchase music online.

I’d hear a song, and like it and buy it. Or, I’d listen to a few from one artist’s album, and then buy the album. Easy, peasy. Didn’t think about it much. Also added into my iTunes library a couple of CDs I had purchased at Amazon, but only a couple. I’d started out with mostly country music in my iTunes library. The first album I bought from the iTunes store was Luke Bryan’s Tailgates & Tanlines. Then, I’d hear something and think, oh, yeah, I should get that. Then I began to diversify just a bit. Barbra Streisand came out with a new album, and I had to have that. We watched the movie Jersey Boys, and I was reminded how much I had loved Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons as a teen, and so I had to have all of those. I became fascinated by the BBC’s special recording of Brian Wilson’s “God Only Knows”, and so I had to get the original...and several other Beach Boys hits, too, because I’d really loved them as well.

One here, one there, just whenever the mood struck me. I learned how to create play lists, and that’s mostly what I use because it’s easier. I have a number of playlists of songs that I put together. Plus, if I’m in the mood I can go to the “album” section and play a whole album – either one of the several I now have by Luke Bryan...or Blake Shelton or Miranda Lambert or Tim McGraw or Brad Paisley...

Well, do you know that buying one song here and one album there can really add up? I wasn’t paying attention, but I had occasion to look at how many songs I have in my iTunes library because my daughter was boasting to me that she had 200 songs on her iPad.

Over the last couple of years, I have acquired, according to the bar at the bottom of my playlist, 516 songs. That is how many I, as of this morning. By the end of today, who knows? To play them all would take roughly 29 hours—a fact I only know because that same information bar tells me so.

Now, if I could only figure out how to access my iTunes library from my lap top, which I use when I travel, I would truly be in music heaven.


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

March 11, 2015

It shouldn’t matter to me anymore. I mean, it’s not as if I have to go to a job every day, working 40 hours a week, punching in and punching out. It’s not as if free time is at a premium, like it was fifteen years ago when I was working that 40 hour work week.

Filling my mind with all the logical reasons why it shouldn’t matter now, however, doesn’t change a thing. I still resent that “spring forward” advancing of the clocks we all endured early Sunday morning. We went from 1:59am to 3:00am in sixty seconds, flat. Poor 2:00 am and the fifty-nine minutes following it never got a chance to exist.

And I want my hour of sleep back.

 I’m always a little messed up—more than usual, that is—when we move the clocks forward. I do recall when I was working outside the home, how those first several days felt strange because all of a sudden, the sun that had been beginning to rise as I drove my beloved and I to work in the morning was gone. Of course, it was nice not to be coming home in the dark. Still, taking that bit of sunlight from the beginning of our day and tacking it on the end never did seem right to me.

Conversely, it was jarring how, when we finally got that hour back, it meant the beginning of that long stretch of both going to work and coming home in the dark. David didn’t mind that so much, as he has always worked outside. But at one point in my working life, I toiled away in an office with no windows. It was always a horrible few months, feeling like we dwelled in the land of the midnight sun.

But I’m not that working person anymore. Here I am now, living the dream, able to go for a nap whenever I need to, and often if I just want to, and yet the disruption to my “normal” daily cycle is still quite noticeable.

My personal belief is that this happens—and to more people than just to me—because we’re still tied to the rhythms of the planet. In the totality of human existence, we’ve had artificial means of telling time for a very short period, really. We devised sundials, as a means of helping us regulate our time fairly soon out of the gate. But even sundials can be considered natural as they depend upon the sun. Of course, they did have one major problem: a sundial wasn’t much use on an overcast day.

We are still a part of nature, whether we like to admit it or not. And as a part of nature, our bodies respond to the natural environment, and especially the light—to regulate our circadian rhythm—our 24 hour cycle. Those who study such things report that it generally takes a day per hour of time change for a person to fully adjust—and this is something that applies not only to the change to daylight savings time but to changing time via travel. Yes, the difficulty I’ve had adjusting to the spring change is in fact a form of jet lag.

The worst part of the process for me happens when we don’t get all the clocks in the house moved ahead. Of course, the computer and the box from the cable company, and our cell phones all change without our assistance. Big Brother does that for us.

But we actually have battery operated clocks in our house—two of them—as well as a clocks on the stove and the microwave. This year, the clock in my office was somehow missed. So there I was on Sunday night, thinking I was doing well, getting ready to wrap up my day, and it was not even eleven at night yet! And then I realized the clock on the wall—which I tend to look at more than the “clock” on the bottom right of my computer screen—was wrong.

I was up past my bedtime, and maybe I was more tired than I realized because then and there I came up with a new adage all by myself.

A broken clock may be right at least twice a day, but a clock not moved forward is forever chasing the moment.


Wednesday, March 4, 2015

March 4, 2015

For the couple of weeks, Mr. Ashbury has had a cold. I’m sure by now, most of you have seen that British-made video on YouTube, called “the man cold”. I’ve likely even referenced it before in one of these essays, myself. I know I’ve shared it with several women friends, and to a one, they’ve all said the same thing: “oh, my goodness, that is so my husband”, or words to that affect.

The reason the video is so funny to women, is because men, for the most part, become helpless when they’re sick—even if that sickness is nothing more than a cold.

I’m not one of those people who thinks it’s anti-woman or anti-man to talk about the differences between the genders. There are differences between men and women, physiological differences, and anyone who doesn’t understand that is doing themselves, and all those around them, a very big disservice.

While there are some men who are exceptionally thoughtful, who will cater to their women with a degree of insight that can be considered uncanny, these men are not the norm. If they were, romance books, such as the ones I write, would have no market. Men and women were created for different functions, to ensure the best possible chance for the survival of the species. That is the truth and no amount of modern day revisionism is going to change that.

In fact, I wish we, as a society, would embrace the simple truth: men and women are equal, but different. We need to stop comparing men and women to justify our individual need to feel superior, one gender over the other. We’re equal but different. So let’s get on with it.

There are jobs and responsibilities that are better suited to men, because they call for the exercise of those qualities that are more innate in men. There are jobs and responsibilities that are better suited to women, because they call for the exercise of those qualities that are more innate in women. Does that mean only men can do some jobs and undertake certain responsibilities and vice-versa? Of course not. If you’re a woman and want to undertake what might be better suited for a man, or a man and want to undertake what might be better suited for a woman, you should be able to. Because if you want it badly enough, you won’t care that it doesn’t come as easy, or as naturally to you; you’ll work for it and make it happen.

But the differences are there, regardless. And the differences, when you think about them, really are quite splendid. It’s those differences combined that make the world go around.

I can recall an occasion, probably more than a decade ago, when I was driving and in the back seat, were my daughter, who’d just broken up with her fiancĂ©, and my second daughter, who’d broken up with my son, Anthony. They were airing their grievances as young women do under such shared circumstance. They were each listing, one by one, the qualities they wanted their next love interest to have; specifically, they each wanted to find that lifelong mate they were certain was out there, waiting for them.

Of course, I wasn’t eavesdropping, as they were chatting quite openly. They wanted their mates to be sensitive to their moods, to listen when they wanted to complain about what was bothering them without making suggestions as to how the situation could be fixed. They wanted to find someone who would think of them often, who would be eager to share the minutia of their days, who wouldn’t be afraid to sit and talk about their feelings, and who would really be interested in the little things that they were interested in. The list went on and on, and as I listened, I began to smile and then, I’m sorry, I couldn’t help it, I laughed. They wanted to know what was so funny. Did I not think it possible for them to find mates with those qualities? Did they not deserve such spectacular specimens for themselves?

I assured them that they did indeed deserve, and could indeed find such wondrous people to marry, as long as they understood they would, in all likelihood, be marrying women. They thought about it for a bit, and then, somewhat dumbfounded, realized I was right.

Then I gave them the best advice I could think of. I told them that it’s easy for us women to want men to think and love and care for us in the same way we do them. It’s easy, but not realistic. What we really should want, and pray for, is for our men to think and love and care for us as real men should.