Wednesday, December 28, 2016

December 28, 2016

Was your Christmas wonderful? Was it the best one, ever? I’ve found that the way to make each holiday the best it can be, is to believe it is the best one, ever. Attitude is everything, and an attitude of gratitude and positivity will bring you the most blessings in life. With everything in me, I believe this, one hundred percent. I believe that in the future, it will be discovered that some of that 90 percent or more of our brains that we don’t currently use, can indeed perform miraculous feats of healing, and create a copious amount of happiness if we just believe it’s so, and are open to learning how to use it.

Why not try positive thinking, and telling yourself not only how lucky you are, but how grateful you are for all the blessings in your life? Please, don’t tell me that you’ve struggled, and can’t be grateful because life is hard. My friend, we all struggle, and life is hard for all of us. There have been many times in the past when I didn’t know how we were going to make it to pay day; many times, when we didn’t have much of a pay day to look forward to in the first place. We’ve all lost something or someone. I’ve lost 2 homes to fire, an eight-day old granddaughter, and my middle child. Yet I have been blessed in this life and I’m grateful for all I’ve been given. Simply try it, believe it, and see what happens inside your heart.

It’s that time of the season for the “best of” lists for the year that’s about to end. It can be useful to take a bit of time and look back on the year—the good, the bad, the ugly that happened in the world at large. It can be very useful to make note of the lessons you learned, the wonders you saw, and maybe learn from the inevitable mistakes you made. I keep trying to do that last one, learn from those mistakes. I think I’m getting a bit better at it, because either the mistakes really are fewer lately—or I simply don’t notice them anymore when they happen.

I really hope it’s the former and not the latter.

We spent a quiet Christmas Day here, with just David’s sister joining us for supper. She lives about forty minutes away, and has been spending Christmas Day with us the last couple of years. She and I have always enjoyed a fairly close relationship. Her son and his family, lately, have gone to his wife’s parents on the 25th, and we’re always glad to welcome her here.

We enjoyed our annual Boxing Day brunch at my brother’s on Monday, with all his family there. Later today we’ll head on over to our daughter’s house on the other side of town for another Christmas get-together. This time it’s with the girls and their families. We see them all on a fairly regular basis. Considering we all live in the same small town, that’s as it should be. But we really enjoy the special occasions together. Sonja loves what she calls “family dinner”. I for one will appreciate this gathering, because although I will be taking my meal contributions—sweet potatoes, and my Christmas Pudding—I don’t have to worry about waiting on people or doing the dishes. Then, tomorrow, it’s off to the next town, and lunch with our oldest son and his crew.

It’s now been more than a year since my gallbladder surgery, and my ability to enjoy food, while not completely back to how it had been prior to those problems starting up, is better than it had been for a few Christmases. I don’t generally eat a great deal at any time, but it’s nice to enjoy a few special dishes—like warm crab dip, smoked oysters, and roast goose (not all at the same meal). Christmas pudding, as well, is a very special treat, but I’m quite happy with a small sample of that. I tend to prefer the savory over the sweet.

The holidays for me, more than anything, signify family and tradition. It’s seeing those ornaments on your tree that you remember your mother hanging; it’s knowing your daughter is putting a huge orange in the toe of her grandbabies stockings, just as my daddy did with mine; it’s visiting with loved ones, and sharing special moments. I look forward to giving, and I really don’t care if I get any gifts in return—because what I do get, without fail, is better than any thing wrapped in paper.

I get a sense of legacy, a sense of harmony, and a feeling of joy when the eyes of the children are filled with magic and wonder. I think we could all do with a little more magic and wonder in our lives. Don’t you?

May the coming New Year be all you wish it can be—prosperous and filled with love, laughter and happiness.


Wednesday, December 21, 2016

December 21, 2016

The Christmas holidays in the Ashbury household have officially begun. This year, when we were expecting my husband to have more time off than in recent seasons past, he ended up having less—just two weeks instead of the three he has had the last couple of years. He finished up his work for 2016 last Friday. The first thing he did when he got home was turn off the alarm on his cell phone.

One significant difference between this year and last, aside from his time off being a week shorter, is the change he made very early this past January, when he moved his computer out of my office, and into a corner of the living room. So already, we’re beginning this two-week period with less stress between us than last time. Even more interesting is that a few months ago, he began looking forward to what it was he’d be doing to occupy his time when he retires. Next year this time, he will have been retired for about a month.

His original plan had been to find a piece of old farm equipment, and restore it. This would require a fair bit of physical activity on his part, beginning with constructing a garage to do the work in. About a year or so ago, he officially scrapped that idea. Although his COPD isn’t progressing rapidly, it is a constant for him, and it’s a disease that will never get better. He decided that while he will do his best to remain as physically active as possible, he needed a more sedentary activity to help the days pass.

I didn’t have to warn him that he couldn’t just quit work after more than 40 years and just do nothing; this was something he already knew. There have been people we’ve known or known of in our lifetimes, who did just that—spent their time becoming professional couch potatoes—and died within a year of retirement. He knew he had to have a reason to get up every day. I wasn’t the least bit surprised when he told me he’d found the perfect thing for him to do: he’s going to write novels.

He has already written one novel—a challenge he accepted, from me, back in the day when I was hoping to some day be published. He was so full of “helpful advice” on how I could improve my writing “process”, I suggested that since he was an expert, he should write his own book, which he did.

Now, he would be the first to tell you it wasn’t very good. But it had a beginning, a middle, and an end, and a plot that unfolded in a logical manner. That’s pretty basic, and if you can do that, you can in all likelihood write a passable book. Some talent is necessary, but mostly, it’s craft. He’s not undertaking this activity to make money, just to keep busy. If things in the self-publishing world don’t change within the next couple of years, that’s what he’ll do with his finished novel.

He isn’t going to write romance, which I am certain is good news to those of us who do. Instead, he’s of a mind to write dystopian stories, as those are the ones he likes to read that most fire his imagination. He has a couple of different scenarios in mind, and so far, is enjoying himself, outlining plot points. He’s already started on his first novel, because once that idea creeps into your mind, you can’t always put it off. It needs to be written out—and since my husband decided to write it out (the old-fashioned way using pen and paper), he’s already filled a couple of notebooks. I’ve promised that I’ll help him where I can. End of civilization stories aren’t really in my wheelhouse, as I’ve only ever read one series that had that kind of theme. But that doesn’t mean I can’t edit it for him, when he decides it’s ready to head to the book-sellers. While I would never claim to be able to edit my own work, I believe I have the creds necessary to fill that role for someone else.

I’m delighted he found something to focus on, something to look forward too. I’ve long ago decided that the secret to happiness is to have a goal or, if you will, a dream. It’s better to spend your time being someone going somewhere, rather than just standing still and letting the moss of passing time cover you over.

David and I wish all of you a very Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah, and a Happy Kwanzaa! 


Wednesday, December 14, 2016

December 14, 2016

The Christmas rush is on. This year, fortunately, I’m not too terribly disorganized. Perhaps it’s a cop out on my part, giving everyone except my toddler great-grandbabies gift cards. For me that option is easy as heck. For the recipients—they can get something they really want, and there is no need for them to be disappointed or to return anything.

David and I aren’t getting anything for each other this year. We may go away someplace warm in February, but the jury is still out on that. For the most part, if there’s anything we need we just get it. And we’re both at the point that we don’t want what we don’t really need. This will be his last year in the work force. He’s ready for retirement, and while I’m not quite there yet, I will be on the day he punches his time card for the last time.

Meanwhile, life goes on. We had expected him to be ‘enjoying’ a seasonal lay-off, beginning October 28th. Everyone at his jobsite got notices of the impending action. The plant manager was very upset about the decision, which was a last minute one and came from head office. The man worked some magic and managed to keep a crew of about ten, based on seniority. Since David is the most senior employee—coming up on 40 years—that was a bit of a relief.

We’d already pared back our holiday plans, and tightened our belts. When you get to our stage of life, that isn’t a difficult thing to do. Being older, these bumps in the road don’t jar us the way they did when we were younger. I do dislike uncertainty, but that’s my problem, totally. We would have gotten through a two-month long lay off, but we’re just as happy we didn’t have to.

My daughter is hosting Christmas dinner on the 28th, as that is when she and our second daughter, Sonja, are scheduled to be off. Sonja is cooking the turkey, and my husband is already rubbing his hands in anticipation. Of course, that means that Christmas Day, it’ll be just the two of us. And that will also be a gastronomic treat for him. He loves goose. Absolutely loves it. The rest of the family, not so much. So, this Christmas Day’s supper, here, will be simple: roasted goose, rice with raisins, and some green veggie—possibly spinach or swiss chard. I might even have a glass of white wine with my meal. That’s Morgan’s idea of living life on the edge.

Last Friday we awoke to our first real snow fall. We’d gotten a skiff or two before this, but the temperatures at that point were mild enough that the white stuff melted by end of day. I was just relieved the snow held off long enough for my beloved to correct his slight miscalculation with regard to the porch steps and walkway.

A week or so ago, the temperature dropped and the wooden steps and walkway that were wet at the time, became too icy for me to navigate. On the porch, in a blue box with a lid, there was some salt. We had checked just the day before, but none of our local stores had received their new stock of salt, so there had been none available to buy. All the salt we had was this lump that took up nearly half the box. Now, I had asked my husband a couple of weeks beforehand to take a minute and take something sharp to that salt block, to break it up so it could be used on the steps. I know from personal experience that would not have required a great deal of muscle. That idea, however, apparently didn’t appeal to him. Instead, (and relying on accumulated life experience), on the day those steps iced over, he brought down the kitty litter, and used that on them and walkway.

Friends, have you noticed that kitty litter isn’t the stone dust it used to be? No? Well, neither did my beloved. Let me tell you, as clearly as I can: do not try this, ever! As a result of his ministrations, the steps became slicker than cat poop on a linoleum floor. David was shocked! This should have worked! I explained, with as much restraint on my sarcasm as I could muster, that kitty litter is no longer stone dust like it was in the olden days. It’s all chemicals now, clumping chemicals, that become as one with whatever wetness it comes in contact with.

He used the outside broom and brushed off those steps. That didn’t work. My daughter rinsed off those steps with water (which, yes, is wet). That didn’t work either. My husband finally ended up getting his electric drill out, putting the wire brush tool on it, and going over each step and the entire length of the walk way with that tool, scouring off the goop.

That worked. But now it has snowed, and so the salt (which my daughter broke up for him, took her only a couple of minutes) is in use, and hooray, we have two new bags of that, now, so we’re set.

Just another example of how things can change and we don’t even really notice—until we do.


Wednesday, December 7, 2016

December 7, 2016

We sometimes think that the way things are now is the way they’re always going to be. That’s a natural assumption for humans who are, by nature, creatures of habit. Most people need a certain level of stability or security in their lives, and a sense of having a measure of control over those lives.

That’s why, for example, we love our homes, however humble they may be. As I’ve mentioned more than once in these essays, my house isn’t one of those fancy homes you see featured in magazines. It’s in need of a great deal of cosmetic work and even some work that’s more than cosmetic; my laundry facilities are in the basement and very difficult for me to get to, so in that respect, the house doesn’t even work for me anymore—but it is my house. We own it outright, and there is no place on earth—no fancy hotel (and I’ve been in more than a few) or fancy house (I’ve stayed in a couple of those, too) where I feel more comfortable, or happier, than right here in my own little hovel.

The same can be said for most of us when it comes to our greater environment—like our societies. According to the Pew Research Center, nearly four in ten people in the United States never move beyond the community in which they were born. As for our society nationally, we here in North America are used to living in a democracy—be it one with a parliamentary governmental system, or one that is a republic. We think this is normal and this is the way it will always be. And that can be true, during our life times, with one codicil: we must ensure the continuation of our democracy if we want it to continue. We must protect our freedom if we want to keep it.

Being ‘free’ isn’t a done deal—it’s not a “yay, we made it, now let’s move on to other things” state of being. Freedom is something that must be constantly guarded. It must be protected. It requires a certain vigilance, a certain brightness of mind and an ability to be able to see through the dross of this world to the inner core of what is. And it requires this of all of us. We all must be vigilant.

An attack on our freedom can come stealthily, slowly, a little at a time and seem like no big deal while it’s happening—or conversely, it can seem like the perfect fix for what we think is wrong with the way things are. It’s even possible that those people perpetrating these small incursions don’t even know that’s what they’d doing. They’re just spouting off, because something has offended them, or hurt them, or they feel as if someone is to blame for whatever misfortune they’ve experienced, and the need to “make it right”, or even “make someone pay”, is a need clamouring within them to be met. And so they act, but in a way that begins to contravene our freedoms.

I’m not sure where we got the idea that life was always fair, or even, that how things are now is how they’re always going to be, without any concerted effort on our part to make it so. Since the dawn of time, human kind has been evolving. Not just in the sense of “human evolution”, either. But our societies and our institutions and our technologies have evolved, changing over time. This change is a constant, practically a law of nature. If that were not so, we would all still be living in caves.

Democracy—the kind we have here in North America—is not the only socio-political or geo-political system known to humanity. It is not the only way people on this planet are living right now. It’s just one of the ways. And for now, it’s our way, yes. But for how long, do you think?

We can trust our countries’ constitutions to keep us safe, but only insofar as everyone respects those precepts, and honors those documents. Those who would steal our freedom will act to limit those sacred tenets. There is a danger in closing your eyes and trusting, blindly, that all will go on as it is, as it has always been during our lifetimes. There is a grave danger in trusting the one who says that he alone can fix things. Those are two of the lessons that history teaches us, and we’d be wise to revisit them.

We must be vigilant.

Everything stays the same, until it changes. But that change—like death and taxes, is inevitable. The only question that remains is this: what kind of change will we experience next? Will we expand our definition of rights and freedoms and democracy, and become an even more inclusive, open and just society?

Or will we slowly, but surely, let those rights and freedoms we take for granted be restricted in the name of some so-called greater good? Will we, in fact, invest the nest egg of our future in the businesses of the snake oil salesmen of the world?

Only time will tell.


Wednesday, November 30, 2016

I’m a creature of habit, and I’m willing to admit that my habits may not all be completely healthy ones. I don’t know if it’s always been an aspect of my personality, this tendency I have now toward hermit-like behavior, or if it’s a development arrived at through necessity.

I suppose the fact that I’m happiest at home with only the fur babies for company is a natural result of living with the daily reality of arthritis. When every step and ever movement is painful, it’s natural to want to limit those steps and movements. And while I do wear a step counter every day, and I do aim for four thousand steps a day often achieving or surpassing that number, it’s much easier walking around my house than it is trying to navigate the outside world.

It’s also easier not wearing a smile every minute of the day, which is me at home. The puppy and the puddy are fine with my ordinary every-day, non-smiling, writing-jammie clad self. They’ve not issued a single complaint—as long as I keep the treats coming, they’re happy. I have my routine, something I refer to as “multi-tasking”. That just means that I don’t let myself sit too long at my computer before getting up and applying myself to the housework. My husband works outside at his job, but is on his feet for a good part of the day now, which is always the way it is for him in the last few weeks of the year. Once he comes home at the end of each day, he may nap or he may play at his own computer, but the only thing I ask of him is that he set the table. He’ll do the supper dishes, or not, depending on the day he’s had. I’m fine with that, even though it means I have to pick up the slack when he opts out.

My beloved reminds me that he has less than a year now until retirement; I remind him that retirement does not mean doing nothing around the house. This is an ongoing discussion between us—a negotiation, if you will. He’s all, “I’m not leaving one job to pick up another,” and I’m all, “so does that mean I get to retire, too, from feeding you?”. As I said, a negotiation. I believe we’re close to settlement as he agrees that taking a couple of hours every morning to help out isn’t so onerous a prospect, after all.

I think I’m in the catbird seat here, as he hates cooking with a passion—but loves eating nearly as much as that.

It’s going to be an interesting dance the two of us will be doing once he is officially retired from the EDJ (evil day job). Someone asked me just last night if I was looking forward to his being home full time. The question gave me pause, as I didn’t really know how to honestly answer that and come out looking like anything other than the worst kind of bitch.

On the one hand, and really, most importantly, I’ll be glad he no longer has to push himself, doing what for him has become increasingly more difficult with age. I’m glad that he’ll no longer have to go in every day and face a job he no longer loves, working for a company he no longer respects. He’s looking forward to his future, and I want him to have that.

On the other hand, I am going to have to learn how to share my domain. I know it’s a dilemma faced by every couple in this situation. I recall my old High School history teacher, married for over forty years. Within a year of his retirement, his wife divorced him. Since the man had been my husband’s history teacher for one semester, I remind him of that case as well.

The secret is going to be in compromise—not a dirty word for either one of us. We’ll be embarking on new territory, after all, very much like we did when we first got married forty-four and a half years ago.

But unlike then, we’re a little more mature, and a little less quick to take offense these days. I’m thinking the bumps in the road ahead of us will be solid, but minimal.


Wednesday, November 23, 2016

November 23, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving to all my American friends!

Also, this week marks the 10th anniversary of Wednesday’s Words.

I can’t believe that I’ve been yammering on here every week for ten years. Do you know my first few essays were only two or three paragraphs long? Ah, those were the days. I’m sure there are times when some of you reading my words wish these essays were still that short.

Thanksgiving was my first topic—when I was awaiting the publication of my first book in the coming spring, and trying to find my way in this amazing medium of the Internet. My original goal was to let you get to know me through my thoughts and ideas and dubious artistic style.

Ten years doesn’t seem like much, especially when you’re in your twenties and thirties. But these past ten years, I have gone from being a woman just into my fifties to one in my sixties, and let me tell you, it’s been an…interesting…ten years. The time has flown, punctuated by highlights and lowlights and everything in between. And through those years, and all those different lights, the holidays we celebrate kept returning, like an audio-video panorama on a continuous-play loop.

Each holiday, like Thanksgiving, seems more precious to me, the more the years pile up. The truth is that for those of us alive at this particular time in human history, with everything moving so quickly in our advanced technological age, the holidays are among those rare moments when lasting memories of love and friends and family are made and remembered. They’re the days or the seasons when we take a moment to immerse ourselves in those traditions that we enjoyed from the time we were young. I wonder if anyone has ever written a book about holiday traditions being the touchstones that anchor us in life? Someone should, if it hasn’t happened already. I think of these special times as center points—a spoke in the wheel of our lives that we keep coming back to as we travel our individual paths.

Holidays are also occasions when we are most likely to feel the loss of those no longer with us. I don’t think holidays fulfill their greatest potential for us without such moments of reflection. None of us are immortal, but we can all achieve a measure of immortality by living on in the hearts and minds of those we leave behind when we die. It’s proof of one of my favorite sayings—that people will remember how you made them feel long after they recall anything you ever said.

Turkey and stuffing, candied yams, and whatever other “trimmings” are special to your table are so much more than just food. They, too, are memories. No two cooks prepare their turkey the same way. My husband had an aunt who always cut the skin off the bird, just before serving it…and then tossed that discarded, golden crispy skin into the trash. Our Sonja has become a very good cook only because she knew it was necessary to feed her children (when she first came to us she said she hated cooking. I think she still does, but cooks anyway). And it is Sonja alone in our family who makes the very best turkey, always so moist and tasty—because she bastes it every half hour without fail. My husband only wants to eat turkey if Sonja has cooked it.

Looking back on the feasts over the course of my life, and beginning when I was just a child, I must confess that I enjoyed the turkey sandwiches the day after far more than I did the bird on the feast day itself. I am even guilty of sometimes putting a bit of stuffing between the turkey and the lettuce on my sandwich.

 As you prepare to celebrate this Thanksgiving, I hope that your day will be filled with friends and family, good food, laughter and love. And that you will take a moment to gather it all in and hold it close to your heart.


Wednesday, November 16, 2016

November 16, 2016

Be kind to one another.

If you watch daytime television—specifically, if you watch Ellen—these are words that are familiar to you. You may have caught a part of her show, or heard those words, and thought, “oh, what a nice sentiment”. And then you went back to whatever it was you were doing without another thought.

Be kind to one another.

Only five words, but if you let them sink in, if you let them permeate, they’re powerful, aren’t they? Now, some of you might wave them off, because I mentioned Ellen DeGeneres, a comedienne with a daytime talk show. I have to admit I don’t generally watch her show myself, although I have caught the odd episode, and seen the occasional YouTube clip. But then I don’t watch television in the daytime, period. I’m here, at my desk, in the daytime, half of the time writing, and half of the time pretending to write. If the day was longer, I might watch her show, because she has interesting guests, and she’s generous, not just to members of her audience, but also, and most usually to public schools and families of US military personnel, and worthy people in true need. So, in that way, I guess you could say she lives up to the words she uses at the end of every one of her shows.

Be kind to one another.

But what do those words mean, really? And, where did she get them, anyway? Here’s where my essay today might get a little sticky, but I won’t apologize for that. You see, those words are from the Bible. Ephesians 4:32, to be exact. And while I don’t usually do this, I’m going to write out that verse here, and I have a reason for doing it, so I hope you’ll allow me this indulgence and bear with me. The verse, as it appears in the New American Standard Bible: Be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.

Here’s my reason for reproducing that quote, and I guess I’m directing this chiefly toward the self-righteous out there, especially in light of not only the storm of “unfriending” and hate-filled diatribe that I see taking place in social media in the last week, but also the hate-related attacks that have occurred in the United States since November 8th. I fear that some of you are certain you know those words already. I’m sorry, but no, some of you don’t know those words at all.

That is the entire verse, as I presented it, and looking at it, we can all agree it doesn’t say “be kind to one another but only if you’re of the same color”; it doesn’t say, “be kind to one another but only if you’re of the same political party”; it doesn’t say, “be kind to one another, but only if you go to the same church”; it doesn’t say, “ be kind to one another, but only if you’re of the same ethnicity”; it doesn’t say, “be kind to one another, but only if it’s convenient for you”.

No. It says, simply, beautifully, and in words that are all-encompassing and easy to understand: “be kind to one another”.

When is kindness warranted? Always, but especially if you see your fellow human being vulnerable, depressed, suffering, or in need. If you see kids being threatened with violence, women being abused, those of another religion scorned and beaten. We are called upon to be kind in all that we do, aren’t we? There should be no meanness and no striking out—if only because being mean and striking out brings no lasting peace to ourselves. Being kind costs nothing, mostly, except a moment of your time—a smile, a word of encouragement, letting someone go ahead of you in a line. It can be anything from simply offering a helping hand, to something more demanding, as in standing up for someone who is being treated badly, or bullied.

There are no prerequisites to the ability to offer kindness—because kindness is already within us to give. In fact, that is the only reason it’s within us. And oddly, the more we give, the more we have available for us to give. The more we give, the more we gain for ourselves. We gain a sense of having done something right, something worthwhile, something good. The truth is, we feel good when we do good. Always.

These are difficult times. People are hurting. Hearts are broken. Dreams have been dashed. People who once felt protected, now live in fear. Whether you believe these emotions are justified, or not, does not change the reality that this is what it is. Feelings are real to the one feeling them.

So please, I beg of you. Be kind to one another.


Wednesday, November 9, 2016

November 9, 2016

Yesterday was also a momentous day in the Ashbury family. We had two birthdays on November 8—my husband’s, and our second daughter, Sonja’s. It’s difficult with her schedule and our daughter’s, but we work hard to have a time when we can all go out to dinner together, to celebrate. This year, it was the day before yesterday—Monday, the 7th. It makes for a nice party at the local Keg Steakhouse: there’s ten of us. For this occasion, our instructions to the gang have always been to order whatever they want. We usually get a few appetizer platters for sharing, as well. The main courses by themselves are more food than I can eat, but that’s what ‘doggie’ bags are for.

Our two youngest grandchildren have always had a good sense of gastronomic adventure, willing to try anything once. When they were small, they weren’t interested in eating junk food so much as just basic good food. When I had them overnight, especially during the winter, they would often request hot cereal for breakfast, opting for that over their sugar-sweetened favorites. No instant hot cereals in this house, either. Just regular oatmeal, oat bran, cornmeal and cream of wheat, cereals that require good, old fashioned cooking.

When we’d go to the Keg for our annual expensive pig-out, they would happily try mushrooms stuffed with crab, bacon wrapped scallops, or whatever else we ordered as appetizers. Now they’re 16 (granddaughter) and 14 (grandson) and they spent the first part of the evening with their young cousins, my two great-grandbabies who are 3 and 2. It warmed me to see them encourage the little ones to try the appetizers, too. Abby loved the crab stuffing, and Archer, at two years old, was all about those scallops!

There’s something about the rhythm of day to day life, especially at this time of year, that I find comforting. It’s the beat of the music that our souls recognize as we go through the days, one after the other, as the seasons ebb and flow. Colder weather brings out hearty meals, hot cocoa, and snuggling down with a blanket, often more for comfort than for warmth. There are of course, new episodes of our favorite television shows to watch, and there are always lots of good books to read. It can be challenging sometimes to keep the main thing the main thing and to maintain that rhythm from season to season. Distractions can be…well, very distracting. It’s good to have all the very worst distractions over with, at least for the foreseeable future.

It's also at this time of year, especially, that I rue my advancing age. I agree with those of you who will say, without equivocation, that 62 is not old. However, 62 and riddled with arthritis, and with heart disease thrown in along with a side of diabetes makes me a tad too old or maybe ‘challenged’ to do the things my inner self hungers to do. We’re into the meat of autumn now. I should be making pickles and jams, freezing the produce out of the gardens, and generally, getting my “den” ready for the winter to come. The fact that I feel these instinctive urges so keenly this year, more than any in recent memory in fact, tells me we might indeed be in for what the old folks used to call one humdinger of a winter.

I miss gardening, and believe it or not, I even miss those times when I would don my winter gear and go out and shovel snow off the walkway. I think it’s that whole “self-sufficiency” thing that I really miss. I am at the point in my life where I can’t live the way I want to live all by myself. Not if I want to keep the main thing being the main thing.

What is the main thing? For me, right now, it’s focusing on what really matters in life—relationships, community, and a sense that we are all a part of something much bigger than the sum of our parts. 


Wednesday, November 2, 2016

November 2, 2016

In the aftermath of all the little ghosts, goblins, superheroes and villains who came to our door Monday night (a group I collectively refer to as “the little Halloweeners”), I awoke the next morning to a decidedly dull and winter-threatening sky. The clouds appeared to be what my beloved and I always refer to as a “snow sky”. Well, it is November, and that is usually the first month we get snow. I wondered, what does the Farmer’s Almanac say about this season just technically one month and 20 days away? So of course, being at the keyboard, I decided to find out.

Ugh. I wish I hadn’t looked. To quote: Exceptionally cold–if not downright frigid–winter weather will predominate over parts of the Rockies, Prairies, Great Lakes, Ontario, Quebec, and the Maritime Provinces. Gee, thanks, Farmer’s Almanac. Just what I didn’t want to hear. On the plus side of things, I do have a not yet even one year old furnace. I tend to purchase my groceries so that I likely have about a couple of months’ worth of provisions here—with the exception of those highly perishable commodities like milk and eggs. Maybe I can buy some milk in those cartons that don’t need refrigeration until you open them. Do they still make those? And hey, I know the old timers used to store eggs over the winter in buckets of oil (because chickens don’t lay eggs overmuch in the reduced sunshine time of winter). A light oil, like mineral oil is supposed to work. I’ve heard they also used to use lye. Not sure if I want to put that theory to the test myself, but it is a possibility, I guess.

I’m grateful that at this point in my life I don’t have to do anything I really don’t want to do. When I was younger, I used to make fun of the old folks who liked to more or less hibernate in the winter. Now, being older, I get it. I am trying not to become too much of a hermit, but seriously, I am very happy and comfortable within the walls of my very humble home. The Internet and television keep me apprised of what’s going on in the wider world, I can sit out on my front porch and ruminate if I want to, thus assuring myself of fresh air and sunshine, or, on overcast days like today appears to be, just the fresh air.

I can’t stop the winter from happening. I wouldn’t though, even if I could. The farmers need a good snowfall and cold temperatures to help assure a bountiful planting in the spring, and to provide a good crop of winter-wheat. People who spend the money to have plows installed on the front of their pick-up trucks need some snowfall to allow them to make additional income by plowing parking lots and neighborhood driveways. Not to mention the snowmobile dealers, the ski resorts, and all the others who make their bread and butter from the reality of winter weather.

I can insulate myself against the worst of it, and that I have been doing for the last few years. If it’s too terribly cold, I don’t go outside. It’s not good for a person with heart disease to venture out into the sub-zero conditions, anyway. If the car gets buried in snow, I know that, if my beloved isn’t up to using the snow blower to dig it out, we have a couple of grandsons who can come and do that.

It’s not entirely comfortable for people like my husband and I to admit that we are no longer self-sufficient. There are some things we can’t do, that we need others to do for us. But really, that’s part of the grand scheme of life, don’t you think?

You start out in life as a baby, your every need and most of your wants seen to by another person or two. Then you grow, and mature, and eventually, you have babies of your own. Those babies receive your care and nurturing as you fill every need and most of their wants.

Then you age, and they grow to maturity…and give back. Well, hopefully they give back. There are sadly a lot of elderly persons in assisted living centers who rarely even get a visit from their kids and grandkids. But there are also many who are entering their December years who are held within the loving heart of a caring family.

Life is a movie on a continuous loop. We just need to understand where, exactly, our part comes in. 


Wednesday, October 26, 2016

October 26, 2016

The temperature has dropped and the rain is falling, autumn at it’s best—or worst. We have a walnut tree at the corner of our front porch. Each year, as soon as the walnuts have formed, the tree’s leaves turn yellow and begin to fall. That walnut is the last tree to get its leaves in the spring, and the first to lose them. We’ve already had them raked up once. Unfortunately, this is an exercise that needs to be repeated several times before the snow flies.

The danger for me at this time of year comes when wet leaves on wet wooden steps stand between me and where I have to go. Rubber tip of cane + pressure on same + wet wood and leaves = fall—and not the seasonal kind. That’s the single reason I don’t venture out much—well, that and the fact I can’t leave our dog alone. His separation anxiety is so great now, that neither my beloved nor I want to put him through it. So, if I can take him to my daughter’s place first, I can go out. I do that when I have appointments I must attend. But the general result is, those are the only times I leave the house. I don’t even consider hopping out on a whim to shop or go to lunch. It never crosses my mind to do so. I think my evolution to hermit is nearly complete.

I’m getting older and I no longer really want to traipse all over hell and back. I don’t need to shop beyond the weekly grocery order, and I have food here I can make for pennies on the dollar, so why would I go out to lunch? Of course, there are times when, if the girls are available, we’ll do just that. But they’re both so busy now. Our daughter only has Monday, and every other weekend off. Her days are long, beginning (through the week) when she takes her daddy to work, leaving her house at 5 am to do so, and sometimes not ending her day until 8 or 9 at night. Because she sees clients in the community, her appointments tend to be scattered. If she gets an hour or more break in the day, she’ll often come here to nap (because it’s quieter here). Our Sonja works two jobs as a nurse. The occasions when she is available, for small bits of time in the morning, she comes here and I make her breakfast. We talk, and catch up, and I think those are the only times anyone ‘takes care’ of her by feeding her and just listening. I enjoy those occasions, immensely.

I can’t believe October is nearly done! I’m aware of each day, of course, but they move far too fast for this old woman. In my inner self, I feel as if I’m still 30, still able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. The result of this self-deception is that each day I think I’m going to get a lot more accomplished than I actually do.

It appears as if my beloved is going to get some more practice at being retired, as there may be a temporary shut-down at his job. That’s not an occasion for panic for us the way it would have been in years past. Because we are older, and have been through tough times before, we know how to tighten our belts and make do with less. It’s a blessing that we don’t have to worry about mortgage payments or car payments. We’re very lucky in that regard. We don’t really go out very much, so staying home, keeping busy here, isn’t a hardship for us.

That said, sometimes, tempers wear a little thin when we’re too long in each other’s company, exclusively. So you can be certain I’ll be getting one of the girls to grab “grandpa” at least once a week to either go out for breakfast, or work on something at their homes that needs doing.

Life is a series of compromises, of finding your balance as events occur. The key to getting along, at least in my opinion, is to just roll with the punches when they come, and to understand that nothing is written in stone.

It really is the truth that things don’t come to stay—they come to pass.


Wednesday, October 19, 2016

October 19, 2016

When I sit down to begin these essays, I never know what I’m going to write about. I do know, however, which topics I’m not going to write about. The top item on that list is politics.

 Since y’all know I have an opinion about almost everything, you can surmise I also have a political opinion. It’s not my place, however, to share that with you. First, although I can argue that it does matter to Canada, and Canadians, what the American government does, since our two countries are so intertwined, I believe it is rude for me to say yea or nay with regard to either of your candidates for President.

I also, for the most part, don’t talk about religion. I believe a person’s faith is a personal thing, and that everyone has free will and the right to choose their own beliefs. Now here, at least, however, you may have gathered from some of my comments, and references over the past several years, that I’m a Christian. I’m pleased to have you know that—that’s me. I’ll also tell you I have never thumped a Bible in my life.

Since you know my faith, it’s time for me to confess to you that when I do sit down to write these essays, I take a few moments to pray, to meditate and yes, to await instructions. This past week and a half, especially, I’ve needed that prayer and meditation because something had been eating at me for several days—since Friday October 8th, in fact. Something had been on my mind, day and night, interfering with my ability to focus, and with my desire to “get on with it.” So this week my pre-essay crafting time was especially poignant for me. So I sat down, quieted my mind, opened my heart, and waited.

Instructions were received, so I knew what I had to write—but this one is going to be difficult.

I need to further preface this essay by telling you I’m not writing this for sympathy. At this point in my life’s journey, I don’t need the sympathy of other people; I have my faith. In truth, I’d really rather not write this essay at all. But I have been convicted by the Spirit to give my testimony. When that happens—and this isn’t the first time it has—I really have no choice but to do what I’m told to do.

My father died when I was eight and a half years old. I cannot, to this day, adequately convey to you the degree to which that singular event rocked my world. I do recall that only a few short months later, my mother “threw her back out” and had to, for several days, lay flat on the sofa in the living room, and needed help to get up.

I recall tearfully asking my big brother if Mommy was going to die, too.

I tell you all this, to let you know a little about the emotional state I was in beginning from the time I was eight and a half, onward. There was no such thing as counseling for kids in those days—at least there wasn’t for me. I felt alone, abandoned, insecure, the youngest of three. My brother was eighteen and a half, and my sister was fourteen and a half when our daddy died. My mother worked full time as a nurse, and had to work shifts—either days (seven to three) or afternoons (three to eleven).

I didn’t know at the time that my sister “ran wild”. I’d had no idea she’d been doing so even before my father passed. All I knew was my daddy had died, and life just wasn’t the same.

The first time I was raped I was nine years old. My mother was on the afternoon shift, my brother was out with his friends, and my sister, nearly sixteen years old at the time, received two male callers—one she took upstairs with her, and one she left downstairs with me.

These were grown men, not teenaged boys, and this was something that occurred several times for the next year or so.

I won’t give you any details, except this one: when my rapist was finished, he told me, “don’t you tell anyone. If you tell your mom, she won’t believe you. She will hate you, and send you away. They will lock you up.” That also became the threat, in subsequent times, with subsequent attackers, beforehand.

I guess you could say I was raped, and terrorized repeatedly.

That terrorizing is something that I believe all sexual abuse victims know very well—that most women, even those who haven’t been abused feel the echoes of in their souls—and something not even the most sympathetic, enlightened and well-meaning male will ever fully comprehend. In those days they called rape “a fate worse than death.”

That terrorizing—by others, and by tradition—is the reason why most women do not report sexual abuse. Situation normal in our society is still to blame the woman, the victim, or to simply not believe her.

It took me years to get help; if you need help, please, contact a mental health professional in your area, someone with whom you can feel comfortable enough with to get that help. I know how hard it is to reach out, but please, be brave and do so. And to comfort you, let me tell you what else I know, without a doubt, and without equivocation.

Only the most moronic of morons would ever suggest that a woman or women would open herself/themselves up to such scrutiny as she/they do when stepping forward and giving an account of sexual abuse, for the purpose of, and I think I have this quote right, “I’d don’t know, maybe because they want to become famous or something”.

And only the most ignorant and narcissistic misogynist would judge the validity of a sexual abuse clam by referencing whether or not the woman was “pretty enough” to violate.

Because we know better, all of us, we really do.

Sexual abuse, and rape, these are not at all about sex. It’s violence and it’s about power, control, and ego. And it’s a way for truly inadequate, pathetic, maladjusted and yes, evil men to make themselves feel powerful.


Wednesday, October 12, 2016

October 12, 2016

This past Monday was Thanksgiving Day here in Canada. It’s a holiday we’ve always celebrated, at least during my lifetime. I believe I’ve mentioned before, that as a child in grades one through three, we always created pictures using the images of Pilgrims and Indians and pumpkins and that first Thanksgiving feast of lore, celebrating the first harvest in the New World.

It wasn’t until I became much older, that I realized the concept of the holiday we celebrated was in fact American. This didn’t bother me, of course. There are more similarities between Canadians and Americans than a lot of people truly realize.

That said, the way our two countries came into being is vastly different, and that difference is ingrained in our innate and distinctive ‘national’ characters.

The United States came into being as the result of the melding of Continental Congresses and armed rebellion—the War of Independence in 1776. Canada came into being as the result of the melding of Confederation Conferences, and an act of British Parliament—The British North America Act of 1867—nearly a hundred years later.

Those national births, so different one from the other, go a long way toward explaining the major difference between our two peoples: Americans hold as a sacred right, that right to bear arms; Canadians don’t have that ingrained in their DNA. Arms are not a national symbol to us, as they played no part in the foundation of our country.

And yet, Canadians joined their American neighbors to fight in the same wars since the twentieth century, and on the same side in those wars. Canadians were automatically at war on the same day as Great Britain in the first Great War; Canadians hit the beach on D-Day during the second Great War. Canadians have served in Korea, Viet Nam (in that case, volunteering to serve in the US armed forces in order to do so), have been stationed in Kandahar and our Navy participated in Desert Storm.

Yes, by the numbers, our losses have been less than those of our neighbors to the south, but our Military is so very much smaller, that proportionately, our losses were actually greater.

When we give thanks at this time of year, it’s for the same basic things as our American friends. We’re grateful to live in a nation that is mostly peaceful. We’re grateful to be raising our families in societies that value democracy and the rule of law, and individual rights. We’re grateful for these blessings, and the opportunity to pursue our dreams, and to make our own way in the world.

We’re good neighbors, and good friends. We have each others backs, and are ready to help, when help is needed. Our Thanksgiving is always in October, I would suggest, because this is harvest time for us north of the 49th. We even have our own version of black Friday—but we get two of those: our own, and the one the day after the American Thanksgiving, too.

We really do have more in common than that which makes us different. Going forward, I know that we will remain good friends, good neighbors, and staunch allies.

To my Canadian readers, I hope you had a good Thanksgiving!


Wednesday, October 5, 2016

October 5, 2016

Well, it certainly is autumn, at least in my neck of the woods.

The last few days have been chilly and wet—all right, comparatively chilly at around fifty to 60 degrees. The rain really is a blessing, even if the combination of cool and damp plays hell with my arthritis. My beloved has also been feeling the affects of “uncle Arthur” in recent times. He came in the door from work the other day, and I knew he was suffering. Friends, I have to tell you, this getting older is not for the faint of heart.

This year as winter approaches, I feel a particular urge to prepare to hunker down, and I’m not sure where that urge is coming from. There is so much uncertainty in the world, so many people afraid of so many things—a real sense that something bad is just around the corner. It almost seems as if this pessimism has become an infection, infiltrating our water and spreading into our air, a contamination that is quickly becoming a global pandemic. Such an almost palpable thing is this sense of impending doom, that it seems as if in the last couple of months, we’ve slipped back a few big paces on the societal-evolutionary scale.

There is a part of me that wants to run out into the woods, find a deep cave or dig a deep hole, and hibernate for the next few months. Or maybe I can settle for crawling into bed, pulling the blankets over my head, and sticking my thumb in my mouth. Why, oh why was I in such a darn rush to grow up, when I was a kid? I never knew just how good I had it. If only I could go back to the good old days…but of course I can’t. There is no going back to the good old days for anyone, and there are no do-overs in the real world.

It just goes to show you that no matter how deeply a person believes in maintaining optimism, the pull of the dark and the dank and the dangerous is very real, and very strong. Even the faithful feel the tug of fear, depression, and surrender. The difference, of course, lies not in what one may feel at any give moment, but in the choices one makes in the face of such emotions.

It is really hard to keep the faith and believe that everything will work out the way it’s meant to be when all the news is so darned dismal. Most of my energy is being used in this very endeavor—keeping the faith, and believing.

I decided to pull in a little, and instead of focusing on the big picture which, at the moment, seems to have gone “off station” a bit, I’m focusing instead on the little things.

First, and always, I count my blessings. Yes, you may hear strains of Bing Crosby singing that song from the movie, White Christmas—and by the way, do I ever miss musicals! But counting my blessings is important because it puts me in the only frame of mind that will see me through the tough times ahead. That attitude is gratitude, and if I fill myself up with being grateful for all the many blessings I have, there’s not much room left for negative thoughts to grow.

I have a roof over my head, and in case any of y’all think I live in one of those fancy houses, think again. Mine needs a lot of work, fortunately most of it cosmetic. Seriously, my living room ceiling looks like it wants to come down, but it’s looked that way since 2006. Some things are getting done, little by little, but as I said, we have a roof. We have four walls, and a working furnace, clean water coming out of the tap, and this house, such as it is, is mortgage free.

We have food in the cupboard and the freezer, and our bills are paid each month. There’s nothing “rich” about the way we live, except for our attitudes of gratitude.

So I am going to hunker down. I’m going to appreciate the heat that comforts me, the water that quenches my thirst, the food that sates my hunger—and the fellowship I find both live and online, a connection to others that if we let it, can sustain us all through the darkest of times.


Wednesday, September 28, 2016

September 28, 2016

My late mother-in-law proclaimed, many times, that being a grandmother was the best role she ever had. It didn’t take me very long, once I stepped into that role myself, to agree with her.

It may surprise y’all to learn that, as a parent, I was a world class smart-ass. I was! I didn’t consciously become one, either. I think “smart-ass” was my default personality mode when the stress of life—that special combination of children, job, husband, and financial challenges—combined together and got to be too much.

Some of my zingers caused a great deal of eye-rolling and moaning among my kids, but I have to tell you, looking back at those comments even now, I chuckle. I realize that some of my responses weren’t my own originally crafted words. They’re just the words that emerged from my mouth when the moment was right.

There are a couple of instances and exchanges that particularly come to mind:

Kid: But you SAID I could have that! Me: I most certainly did not. Kid: YES YOU DID!! Me: (sighing). I know you believe you understand what you think I said; but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant. Kid: I don’t get it. Me: Precisely.

Then, of course, there’s the universal-kid response when you are trying very hard to get them to comply with your parental will: Kid: You can’t make me, because this country is a free country. We live in a democracy! Me: This country might be a democracy, but this family isn’t. It’s a benevolent dictatorship. However, if you don’t toe the line and do as you’re told, the dictatorship isn’t going to be so benevolent.

Of course, inevitably, came the time when out of my mouth, despite all my previous vows that it would never happen, came my mother’s words: Kid: But why do I have to do it? Me: Why should I keep a dog and bark myself?

Then there was my middle child, who thought he was equal to his father and me—and he actually stuck to that tenet from the time he was about twelve, for the remainder of his life. I explained to him, gently, that he wasn’t our equal, and never would be. I would never be an equal to my parents, and he would never be an equal to his. That didn’t work. So then I tried another way, and this one I’m pretty sure is original. I told him that the world was comprised of us versus them—and that he was a them, not an us. This was a constant back and forth between us during most of his teen years. And then he became a father, himself. That was a humbling time for him, and I know that at the bottom of everything he loved his children with all his heart.

One day, he came over to visit and he grinned and grinned, because, he asserted, he’d finally figured out that, being a father he was finally an “us”.

I grinned right back and told him, that no, he was not an us. He was still a them. He was always going to be a them as far as we were concerned. But that baby of his? That baby was definitely an us.

Grandparents and grandchildren are natural allies against a common adversary, after all. I think it’s an immutable law of nature. And being a grandparent is…well, pretty grand. And because the law of sowing and reaping is another immutable law of nature, we parents are given great rewards when we become grandparents.

Number one kid as parent: Mom, you wouldn’t believe it! First this kid did that, and then that kid did this. I tell you, I have the children from hell!

Me: Oh, don’t be silly, sweetheart. You couldn’t possibly have the children from hell. I had the children from hell!

Then, another time:

Number one kid as parent: Mom, you wouldn’t believe it! I was in a hurry, picking up my spare pieces of lumber from the kitchen floor after making that repair—and I nearly threw my back out when one piece wouldn’t budge. He’d nailed that piece of scrap wood to the kitchen floor!

Me: Oh, dear, sweetheart, that’s horrible. Horrible! Your father and I never had that problem. You must be doing something wrong. (A special note here. Number one kid is also a world-class smart ass. He just rolled his eyes and laughed.)

Yes, being a grandparent is grand indeed. I’ve been a great-grandparent now for three years, but that role isn’t as hands-on fun as the simple grandparent role. In fact, I’m almost certain I have the progression of roles finally figured out.

We are an us, our kids are a them, their kids are an us…and yep, our kids’ grandkids are definitely a them.

At least they are to us.


Wednesday, September 21, 2016

September 21, 2016

I couldn’t help but notice, as I made my way to Indiana at the beginning of this month, and then home again, that not only were the trees still all vibrantly green, but the sky still held that deep, summer blue it gets in July. I mention this today because that trip was not so long ago.

And then, just last Wednesday—a week to the day after I came home from my trip—I was driving to have lunch with a friend who lives in a rural area not so far away from where I grew up. And as I drove, I noticed the trees were beginning to turn to their autumn colors. Some had traces of orange, some of yellow and red. But it was more than a couple trees here and there, and it was for the entire 25-mile drive.

There are a lot of things I don’t understand in this life. I don’t understand how the days can be slow and fast at the same time. And I don’t understand how the trees can begin to go from vibrant green to twinges of fall colors in so short a space of time—especially when we haven’t even had a frost yet. 

The sad truth is that the older I get the less I realize I know.

I truly enjoyed my time away the first week of September. Despite the glitch of having to get a new battery for my car at the last minute, I consider my solo excursion to have been a success. The lady in the box, aka my GPS, got me there and back without a problem. As for the visit itself, I was so happy to reconnect with a woman I greatly admire. Other people talk of being brave and exuding dignity, but my friend, author Kennedy Layne lives it every single day of her life. She’s overcome challenges many can’t conceive of, and now, having done so, has found her happy-ever-after, and is reaping the benefits of having lived and walked in faith.

That’s not to say the challenges have ended. The truth is that life is a series of challenges for us all, challenges that exist for the sole purpose of our overcoming them. We never know when or from where these challenges will spring. But they’re certain to find us. Our growth as human beings—our growth in character and our growth in faith—relies on these challenges being a constant factor in our lives, and in our efforts to face and surmount them.

A life lived in a bubble, with nothing to challenge the mind, the will or the soul—in short, a life without challenges, would be boring in the extreme. Living our lives day by day, where one day is the same as the next and the next, would seem long, and a punishment of sorts, were it not for the challenges that appear before us, from time to time.

Life can be hard. It can sometimes seem as if you can’t catch a break, or even as if no one knows or cares what you’re going through. There may even be days when you break down in sobs so soul-deep, so wretched, that you think nothing will ever be right again.

But it will be, I promise. It won’t be the exact same as what was, because along with challenges, the other constant in life is change.

Things will get better. Because the truth is that while challenges come to you, and to me, and to everyone, they don’t come to stay.

They come to pass.


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

September 14, 2016

On the morning of September 11, 2001, the Ashbury’s—news junkies who generally could be counted on to know what was going on in the world at any given moment—were clueless. It was a different day for us, because it was the day we went to the travel agent and paid for a vacation we were about to embark upon with our son, Anthony, and his fiancĂ©e, Sonja. We were taking a 7 day cruise to the Bahamas, out of Fort Lauderdale, leaving the first week of December.

I’m not sure why we didn’t have the car radio on as we drove, first into the city and then off to work. We left the travel agent, and I took my beloved to his job, and then I went on to mine. About ten minutes away from my destination, I turned on the car radio for the first time that morning and fell, with the rest of you, into a most terrible day.

That wasn’t the first most terrible day I’d lived through; I still recall the day President Kennedy was assassinated. But this time, I was an adult, with an adult’s understanding and an adult’s tendency to worry about what might happen next.

Twenty-six Canadians died alongside so many more Americans on that most terrible day. Though we do not carry the depth of the wound to our national soul as our neighbors to the south do because of this attack, we have mourned. We have stood with you, because we are good neighbors. We opened our homes to you when all air traffic over our continent was grounded, and some of you were stranded. Although sometimes it is forgotten by both of us, the truth is, we have your backs to the best of our abilities, just as we know you have ours.

That day fifteen years ago fundamentally changed us all—individuals and society alike. Some of those changes were positive, but not all of them were. The one change I regret is the degree to which we, as a society—a North American society—have allowed fear to enter into our lives and control us.

Fear has encouraged us to surrender some of our freedoms, payed for in blood and bone and sinew by our ancestors. Fear has made us regard those not like us not only as being different, but as a being a possible threat to the common good. Fear has lain within the dark recesses of our psyches and in some cases, sadly, grown into gross hatred.

The legacy of this most terrible day must never be left to languish in the annals of history. We must never forget those who died in New York, office workers trying to flee downstairs and rescuers racing upstairs toward peril. We must never forget those who died in Arlington, airline passengers and soldiers alike. We must never forget those brave airplane passengers who, upon discovering events of just moments before, rose up and challenged murderers and died heroes’ deaths in fields of Shanksville.

Plain and simple, above all possible political rhetoric, we must never forget.


Wednesday, September 7, 2016

September 7, 2016

I am what is often referred to as a “grammar Nazi”. It has occurred to me that perhaps this is not a complimentary term at all. However, since the meaning behind the name is to imply that I am a person who likes proper grammar, I choose to accept the title and wear it proudly.

As Shakespeare famously said, “that which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet”. Although between you and me, lately, roses don’t seem to have an odor any more, sweet or otherwise. But I guess that’s another topic.

Even though I can be a stickler for proper grammar, I do commit errors of both syntax and spelling all the time—especially in the first draft of my manuscripts. Most of them are rooted out in my second draft, but my editor could tell you I really do need her services. In my defense, I will only say that I do try to get it right, but sometimes, I fail.

A few years ago, at a time when e-book authors were first coming into their own, and complaining because they were treated like “hacks” in the publishing world, I once wrote an essay, the point of which was: if you don’t want to be treated like a hack, then please, for the love of all that’s grammatically correct, be careful what you post on line. Check your spelling, check your grammar. Edit to the best of your ability.

I got very badly burned over that essay, as I recall. Apparently no one believed I was making a general observation. Several people—people whose online posts I’d never actually read, mind you—all thought I was of course talking about them. I was even temporarily booted from a group where I posted my essays because someone thought I had made a personal attack on someone else in the group—the prime definition of “flaming”.

That was several years ago, and I still don’t really understand what happened in that fracas. I don’t make personal attacks, even if I have been the recipient of same. The personal attacks that bother me are the ones I don’t understand. If I understand where the vitriol is coming from, I can generally deal with it. If I’ve screwed up, I’ve found the best thing to do is to immediately accept responsibility, and then apologize and move on. If I haven’t screwed up, I’ve found the best thing to do is apologize and move on. The willingness to offer apologies regardless of culpability might be because I am Canadian. Who knows?

But apologies don’t cost very much, and the more you use them the more familiar you become with them. That’s not to say they’re not sincere. They are. I’m always very sorry when someone has taken something I’ve said to mean something I didn’t intend. Hurt feelings are always a cause for regret, and therefore I’m always sorry for them.

I’m reminded of that incident because I’ve discovered that lately, I’ve been becoming less picky about the grammatical errors I’m encountering on line. Mostly, I suppose, because there are so many of them, and I feel somewhat overwhelmed by all I have to do in that medium to begin with. But while I don’t actually point out errors, or necessarily even talk about them specifically, my inner imp is always quick to mock them.

In response to any “thank you” I might give, I’m told, “your welcome”. My inner imp says, “my welcome what? My welcome presence? My welcome smile? It can’t be my welcome example of good grammar, because if it was, you might have said, “you’re welcome”, instead.

Sometimes, people agree with me. They do! And they let me know that by telling me, “I think so to.” My inner imp perks up. “To where? To the train station? To the airport? Or maybe, you meant, “I think so, to make things better.” But if you wanted to make things better, you might have said that you “thought so, too.”

That damned inner imp lives, I believe, just to get me in trouble. As I’ve said, I’m not that picky anymore, when it comes to conversational posts on the internet and I do keep my mouth, or fingers, shut. I can’t help but notice them, however, because that is the way I am. And I’m even coming to believe that most of these errors are caused by the authors of same having too much to do in too little time and therefore sometimes relying on spell check—just like me. 

However, these kinds of mistakes—any mistakes, really—in a book are still just as unacceptable to me today as they ever were. They still pull me out of the story, an experience that ranks right up there with bumping into an unforgiving and unexpected wall, and landing on my butt.


Wednesday, August 31, 2016

August 31, 2016

In two day’s time I will leaving on a journey that I have wanted to make for the last three years. On my own, I’ll be driving to Indiana to spend time with one of my writer friends.

It’s not as far a drive as you might think, since the woman I’ll be visiting lives in the northern half of Indiana. I’ve never driven there before, but I have a Garmin, and I sort of know how to use it. And yes, I’m anal enough that I’ve printed off driving directions from the Internet, just in case.

I’ve always enjoyed driving. That was a good thing because I used to drive about 120 miles every day, ferrying my husband to and from work, as he doesn’t have a driver’s licence. This was something I did for a good couple of decades. In the beginning, it was actually half of that, as I was going to work as well, so it was one trip to and one trip home per day. But in the last several years that I chauffeured him after I no longer worked outside the home, the daily task consisted of two round-trips, which would have been two days worth of driving previously.

Fortunately, my daughter took over playing chauffeur to her dad a few years ago, because it wasn’t only distance that was a factor. Two round-trips to the rural community where my husband works took nearly three hours out of my day. More, actually, because I would have to go back to bed after the very early morning run. I’d be getting out of bed again around ten, and then having to leave to get him at around three-thirty. That severely cut into my writing time. When my husband and daughter both expressed the opinion that I should be putting more books out there, I challenged them to take something off my already very full plate. I’m very grateful they came up with the solution they did.

In return for the chauffeur service, we pay for all of our daughter’s gas, almost all of her vehicle repairs, and her daddy takes her on a vacation each year.

I haven’t undertaken a solo trip away from home since I flew to Texas in 2013. I don’t have the travel bug the way my husband does, and the lack of going places hasn’t bothered me except that I really want to spend time with my friends who live in the U.S.

My husband and daughter will be going someplace tropical in November, during which I will be home alone (or as alone as one can be living with a neurotic dog and an unpredictable cat). Father and daughter enjoy traveling together, and I really am happy to stay here and write.

I’m excited about this trip. I’m really looking forward to a couple of days of brain-storming story ideas, and simply catching up. Those who spend their days creating worlds and stories know how energizing it is to spend time with someone of like mind. Creative minds coming together is a truly beautiful thing to experience. It is, to me, the greatest natural high.

I’d begun to wonder if this trip would ever happen. Originally, I thought I’d have that gallbladder surgery, and then be good to go. But it didn’t happen according to the time table I wanted. It was delayed a couple of years while the doctors made certain that all of the symptoms I was having had to do with that particular organ, and were not something else.

 Finally, as you know, the surgery took place last September. I’d always planned for either an early spring or an early fall trip, because my friend is very busy, with a schedule filled with professional commitments and deadlines. Now I’m actually counting down to the day of departure.

I won’t be packing a whole lot because I’ll only be gone a few days. I’ve never been a fussy dresser, and I don’t tend to wear make-up unless it’s an extremely special occasion. I think I was too lazy to ever develop that habit, and now at 62, I’m comfortable letting everyone see my naked face. I was once asked by a female manager, at the company where I worked for more than a decade, why I didn’t wear makeup? She said she believed I could almost be pretty if I did. I immediately replied that I was so beautiful in my natural state that were I to wear makeup, the rest of the women who were my co-workers would feel woefully inadequate by comparison—so out of kindness to them, I abstained.

Yes, I’ve always been a smart ass and rarely at a loss for words when being insulted.

Fortunately for me, this visit will be spent with true friends, in a private setting. My writing friend doesn’t judge a person based on outside appearance, and neither do I. That shouldn’t surprise anyone.

We’re writers. We’re far more concerned about what lies beneath the surface than with whatever may superficially cover it up.


Wednesday, August 24, 2016

August 24, 2016

The Internet is an amazing example of modern technological achievement. It seems like not that long ago, although it has been more than 25 years, we first heard talk of an “information super-highway”, and wondered what it would be like. It was simply too huge a concept for me, at least, to wrap my head around!

 What I recall of those days, there was a lot of concern about things that in the end, never came to be. But I also remember, there was no concern about some things that did come to be, and that is very interesting.

 There was a lot of talk that with the ease of computer use, our kids would stop reading. However, with the way information “goes viral”, that is no longer a concern. There are more kids reading than ever before—remember the Harry Potter craze? Followed by the Twilight craze? All fueled in part by the Internet. No, they don’t teach “cursive” in schools anymore, and that’s a damn shame. But I don’t think we need to worry about reading going out of style anytime soon.

 Another positive that I have touted often with regard to the Internet is the way it has helped the elderly and the shut-in to re-connect with society again. That was my first lesson. I first “went on line” in the aftermath of my open-heart surgery in early 2003. While I healed and tried to focus on writing, it was a comfort for me, this Internet, especially when I found a free game site. There, playing bingo online, I ‘met’ several wonderful women and men, some of for whom that game site and others like it were their only socialization, their only source of fun and their best contact with the outside world. What a blessing for me, and for so many others, to be able to find a place to get together, to chat, and to be entertained without having to go anywhere when that going would be so difficult to do.

There are so many benefits to be found with this amazing medium. The Internet itself is neither good nor bad. It’s the usage of this medium wherein the wiles of the user are revealed. It is ultimately the user who determines if this instrument is wielded for good, or for evil.

There are several ways that the Internet is used for ill, and I don’t think we imagined such would be the case at the dawn of this new age. At least, I know I didn’t.

It’s now much easier for those looking for illicit things—child porn, the drug trade, and even those who would become terrorists—to find what they want on line. There are hackers who specialize in ‘identity theft’ and who manage to take the unwary for thousands of dollars every year. Cyber-Crime is a growing industry on both sides of the law.

But to me, the most insidious use of all is the spread of misinformation, under the guise of “the public has a right to know”. It continues to baffle me, the degree of success those people have who spout ridiculous conspiracy theories. Also incomprehensible to me is the following those who like to spread hate-filled diatribes are able to claim. Where once someone making a speech about the craziest of stories or theories, or who would slander another person’s good name without real proof, would have been jeered off their soapbox, now, there’s an entire realm of crazy talk, crazy theories, and hate to which more than just the crazies are drawn—unfortunately. Remember that old saw, “if it’s in the newspaper, it must be true?” Yeah, that has no place in our reality anymore—neither in newspapers nor on the Internet.

Just because you can read it on line doesn’t make it true. You have to use your brain; you have to use your discernment. Some people with very high IQs, and allegedly very high morals, believe some of the most ridiculous and vile things about the so-called famous—things that absolutely defy logic or anyone’s definition of decency.

Some of the weirdest stuff of course, has a political bent to it. It doesn’t matter that most of the wildest stories circulating these days have been proven false. These characters who spread this crap care nothing for the truth. There are, with every new election cycle, people who haven’t heard those old lies, and thus, new people who now believe them starting the cycle of insanity all over again.

Did you hear the one about the Royal Family of Great Britain all being reptilian, and that at certain times, during secret ceremonies, they eat babies? I can’t tell you much more about it than that. It took me a few seconds for my logic to overcome my shocked disbelief to get the hell out of that video. If you have the stomach for it, go ahead and search YouTube. Seriously.

Now, some of you are going shrug, and say, “hey, there are crazies all over the world, and we all know there’s a lunatic fringe out there.” Yes, there are and yes, there is, true enough. And as long as they remain in the “fringe” category, I really have no problem with that. People have the right to believe whatever far-out crap they want to believe. They have the right to be crazy.

I’ll say that it again. People have the right to be crazy.

My only problem? What happens when the lunatics take over the asylum? When the fringe bleeds into the mainstream? And if you think there’s no danger of that happening, well, my friends, you haven’t been paying attention to the news lately.

I hope and pray and choose to believe that those of sound and discerning mind will continue to outnumber the wackos, at least for the foreseeable future.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go line my hat with aluminum foil to keep the aliens from reading my mind.


Wednesday, August 17, 2016

August 17, 2016

There are memories right on the surface, so close sometimes I swear I could reach out, take a step and be there again. Over the last little while I’ve come to compare two phases of life—elderly and newborn—not something I was planning on doing, of course. But I’m an author—that is who I am down to the bone, more than it is my occupation. We who are authors do three things, mostly.

First we observe life around us, then we think about what it is we’re seeing, and then we write about it.

Have you ever spent any time simply watching a newborn baby? I’ve heard all sorts of things about these wee beings. There are assertions that they really can’t see anything, in the way that you and I see things, not in the first few days or even weeks; that’s why their eyes move so often, why it appears their gazes just roam. And when they stare at something? Why, it must be because something particularly bright has caught their attention. Oh, and no, that’s not really a smile, not at all and not yet. Of course it isn’t. It’s only gas.

But I wonder.

Have you ever spent any time simply watching someone who’s elderly? Someone who seems to be not one hundred percent in this world, mentally? They sit quietly, their gazes roam, not seeming to fix on anything. But every once in a while, they stare. There are assertions that granny is just getting old. She’s not really with us all the time, you understand. If she were, she would certainly be responding the way we are, hip deep in the conversation, as it were, living in the moment. She’s likely off in her own little world, thinking about the past. Maybe she’s recalling her wedding day, or perhaps some other important event in her life. Don’t mind her. In fact, let’s just pretend she’s not really here.

But I wonder.

Have you ever spent any time simply watching an older pet? Have you ever wondered what they’re thinking? Their eyes seem to look all over, except once in a while, when they stare, and you wonder what they’re looking at. And what do they dream about, anyway? I know a lot of people assert that when a dog is twitching in his sleep, he’s dreaming about “chasing a rabbit”. I would argue that a lot of dogs who’ve only ever been urban dwellers likely don’t even know what the heck a rabbit is.

But I wonder.

I wonder, because in those eyes—the eyes of the newborn, the eyes of the elderly and the eyes of an older pet I see something more than nothing. Is there a connection between this life, and the next? Is there a portal between times? Could there be a level of existence and thought and communication that we’re not even aware of?

Maybe babies really do see fairies and ghosts, because no one has told them yet that they can’t. Maybe the elderly really are able to visit the past in a more literal sense than we mean when we say they’re back there. And maybe, our pets bond with us on a level we don’t even know exists. Maybe there’s a point in life, near the beginning and near the end, when communication with our four footed friends is completely normal, natural and yes, psychic.

Can you imagine a park bench of ethereal proportions? The newborn, the elderly woman or man, and the pet, all sitting side-by-side-by-side, watching the world that is in progress around them—separate from it and yet a part of it—as they share thoughts and words of wisdom.

What would that conversation be like? If we could manage to break through that barrier that separates the spiritual from the physical, what words could they offer us as encouragement, words we could hang onto that would serve us for all the days of our lives?

The baby might express a sense of infinite wonder. He might tell us how vast the beauty and the hope and the possibilities really are, and how enormous and miraculous life realized truly is. The baby might urge us to always keep a sense of that wonder close to our hearts, for times when life becomes difficult.

The elderly might caution us to not be in so much of a hurry, because at the end of the day, everything happened in but an instant—here, and then gone so, so fast. Slow down, they might say. Slow down and cherish every single moment, of every single day, and never lose sight that it’s the little things that make a life worth living.

And the dog? Well, the dog might tell us that no matter how busy we are, or how important all the stuff in our lives may seem, it’s crucial that we don’t ever forget one thing: we should never forget the importance of play.


Wednesday, August 10, 2016

August 10, 2016

This coming Monday, our great-granddaughter turns 3 years old. We’ll be having a party, of course on Sunday—this time at her maternal grandmother’s home which is, oddly, just a few doors down from our house.

Abby is a singularly formidable little girl. She knows what she knows and she wants what she wants, and that is it. I’m delighted to have a front row seat to the show, to be perfectly honest. I’m very grateful that I don’t ever have to be the person responsible for her, and therefore on the front line, dealing with her on a daily basis. She really is quite a handful.

I predict, that if she can turn that charm and determination and force of personality in the right direction when she gets older, then she will go very far in life.

Just as grandchildren were different from children, so, too, great-grandchildren are different yet again. There’s another layer of separation, which is a good thing. Most great-grandparents are much older than we are. By the time our grandbabies have babies, we’ve usually earned the right to just sit and smile. For the most part, that is what we do. We see her and her brother on a fairly regular basis. When they come for supper, we spend time with them, of course—and then they go home, and our house returns to it’s quiet, natural state.

A week ago, we’d just returned from Pennsylvania. It’s not a long drive down to visit our friends—about six hours. Our daughter accompanied us as she has the last few times, and we took the dog, as well. Our daughter joins us each year for two reasons. The first is so she can have a few days when she doesn’t have to be responsible for anyone. Her job is a very busy and taxing one, and her son and his family live with her, so times of peace and quiet are few for her. She brings her e-reader, and spends at least a couple of days in her jammies—except when she changes to go to the pool.

Her other reason for accompanying us is to go shopping. It isn’t a question of cheaper prices, either. It's because the selection of products available is so much different down there than it is up here. When she isn’t buying things for her dogs, she is shopping for her grandbabies.

Some of what she bought on this trip was for their birthdays. Abby’s celebration is first, and her brother, Archer, has his next month, in September when he’ll turn 2. The day before we headed home, our daughter carefully packed two little gift bags, to be given to the kids on her return. The rest of what she purchased for them was craftily hidden in her luggage, awaiting their birthday parties.

Of the things my daughter bought her granddaughter to receive as soon as she got home was a pretty summer dress, and “princess shoes”. Abby is a girly girl, a complete opposite of her nanny, who was a tomboy. She loves dressing up, and she absolutely loves anything that is sparkly or shiny. Those shoes were both. Of course, she had to have them on as soon as she saw them.

My daughter was pleased with herself, and I’m certain we can all relate. There’s something very satisfying when you give your grandchildren gifts they love. Well, Miss Abby loved her dress, she loved the toys, but she really, really loved those princess shoes.

She loved them so much she refused to take them off for bed.

I don’t know how they handled the situation, exactly. I do know that it involved a fight. Abby can be quite insistent in getting her way, and she can also, I have seen, eye a person with what I swear is cunning calculation. Yes, she will go far when she is older.

Another thing about being a great granny is that family tends not to ask me for advice. That’s fine. I do believe in letting parents and yes, even grandparents, figure things out on their own. But I’ve begun to slide into what I consider the golden reward for having endured so many years and generations of my own family. I’ve begun simply giving my advice, without a care as to whether it’s wanted or taken or not.

Of course, I had two suggestions on the subject. The first was that they could have convinced her that her shoes could sleep beside her in her bed—because after all, since they spent so much time with her, they had to be tired, too.

Or her parents could have simply let the little girl fall asleep in her shoes. They would be easy enough to remove when she’s snoring.


Wednesday, August 3, 2016

August 3, 2016

How do we define “humanity”?

A quick search online gave me two definitions. The first, of course, is The Human Race. Us. Our entire species. The second definition reads: humanness, benevolence. The synonyms given in this second definition are listed as compassion, brotherly love, fraternity, fellow feeling, philanthropy, kindness, consideration, understanding, sympathy, tolerance.

The first definition is a physical one, explaining that we are living beings, different from others that occupy space on this planet such as monkeys or worms. The second definition has to do with that which is not physical. It refers to the inner being, to our emotional and spiritual aspirations. I use the word aspirations because of all that I have been seeing lately as I watch my nightly newscasts and surf the web. I see many examples of people who lack the essence of the second definition. I see many who appear to lack humanity.

We cannot change the fact that we are human beings; we can, however, exercise control over the level of our humanity. The first definition is etched in stone. The second is a matter of choice.

We began our experiments in society, we human beings, in caves. There is evidence to support this fact. We likely banded together for survival, and not just from other clusters of human beings. I imagine at one point the large, carnivorous predators on this planet outnumbered the humans.

As our social development progressed, we made our structures more complicated. Beginning in ancient times, there was a small upper class—the nobles, if you will, that held all the power and made all the rules; and then there were the serfs and the slaves—the workers who barely survived, but who knew their place and continued to work for the nobles because they didn’t know any better.

Serfs and slaves were drone-like, and completely expendable. The concept of that second definition of humanity had not yet been created. It had not yet been discovered or chosen.

Through the ages, we’ve changed and evolved in our societal structures, although it wasn’t a unified journey that was species-wide. In this day and age there exits several different forms of society on earth, running the gamut from uncontacted tribes, living as they have since the dawn of time, to democracies, where there are neither noble classes, or serfs by birth.

Just as during this process we came to know the depths of the negativity we humans could sink to, so we also discovered the heights of positivity to which we could rise. We learned to define that which was best in us, as our “humanity”.

Modern life is complicated, no question about that. Change is happening at an ever faster rate. The world around us seems unstable. There are wars and rumors of wars. There are those who hate with such fierce devotion, they would kill in cold blood all those they see who are not like them. We call those people terrorists, because they use their violence to breed terror in us.

Others use fear as their weapon of choice, to destroy not the body, but spirit. I’ll leave it to each reader to come up with a name for them.

There are many who believe the best way to combat this fear is to turn back the clock. They believe they can end the reality of terrorism by stopping the forward momentum of our social evolution. These people would like to go back to what they call the “good old days”. Those days in their minds were the days when people knew their place, when life was good, when the “right people” had the jobs in the mines and the sweat shops, giving them money and security.

I feel sorry for anyone who actually believes this. Thousands seem to support the concept of regression and they’re all convinced that not only can they make this happen, but that they’ll somehow come out on top when they do. They will no longer be powerless or insignificant or whatever it is they believe they are now. But you know what? It’s kind of a funny thing, really. All those people who are decrying modern society and wish to somehow create a tumble back in time? They will not, as they believe, suddenly become the elite, the nobles, the ones who will be, to borrow an English expression, in the catbird seats.

No, the ones who will be at the top will be that same 1% that we have at the top, financially speaking, now—because they already are. Those believers will be the serfs, the ones doing their overlord’s bidding—because they already are.

They will, in truth, have sacrificed their freedom and their humanity for a prison of ignorance.