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.