Wednesday, January 27, 2016

January 27, 2016

Life is back to normal in the Ashbury household. Or at least, as normal as it ever gets around here. Christmas is over, schedules have been resumed, and the house is once more my own. I know it sounds boring, and really, for the most part, our lives are boring. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

Well, we did have a bit of excitement a week or so ago when a bird flew into the house. That was my fault. I like to have my bedroom window open a bit at night when I sleep, and I forgot to close it when I got up that morning. So I got up, and as usual, left the bedroom and closed the door behind me. And no, there’s no screen on that particular window.

Imagine my surprise when I went into my bedroom some hours later to catch a nap—and was subsequently dive-bombed by a bird.

My catching it was out of the question, of course. There were only three possible outcomes for this situation. Either the cat would catch the bird; the dog would catch the bird; or the bird would fly back out the window.

With my head under the covers I did send a text to Mr. Ashbury, but that was just so he could admire how exciting my day was. I certainly didn’t expect him to do anything about the situation. He was, after all, at work.

I fell asleep, and when I awoke from my head-under-the-covers nap, there was no sign of the bird, and no sign of feathers or other biological debris anywhere, so I took that as a good sign and closed the window so the winged creature could not make another foray indoors.

But other than that very rare deviation, our days are predictable and we have no problem with that. I pass my time writing to the sound of the cat snoring, and the dog occasionally exploding into a yapping fit because another dog has dared to walk down his street. And still, with all this boredom and predictability, our days speed by very quickly. Sometimes there aren’t enough hours in a single day (or stamina in yours truly) to get everything done that I want to do.

We are coming upon the one holiday that my eldest son and my husband both look forward to with great fervor—Ground Hog Day. I kid you not, my beloved checks the weather forecast daily just to see if it’s going to be cloudy on February 2nd or not. Up until yesterday, the forecast called for overcast skies on that day.

Yesterday, I looked, and the prediction read that next Tuesday would be sunny with cloudy periods. I quickly checked what was expected in the small Ontario town of Wiarton (pronounced “wire ton”) where our province’s prognosticating groundhog named Willie resides. Sadly, they have the same forecast as we do.

All over FaceBook I’m seeing little memes declaring people’s desperation for spring. So many are tired of winter and want it to go away quickly. I used to be like that. Certainly I don’t particularly like this season. It’s cold which aggravates my arthritis, and it brings with it icy surfaces, which makes it difficult for me to get out and about. But if I want time to speed up to get me out of winter, I feel like it’s going keep going fast, through every season.

I am already in my September years. These are the years when, supposedly, I’ve earned the right to slow down and smell the roses—providing I haven’t developed an allergy for them, which I have not. I’m allegedly out of the rat race, the comings and the goings. Why, I can see the gate to elderly from my front porch!

That all may be true, but so is one more thing. I don’t need to urge time to hurry up. I think it goes far too fast as it is.


Wednesday, January 20, 2016

January 20, 2016

Times change, but we don’t have to.

I’ve lived long enough that I recognize most things seem to come in cycles—and, not only that, they don’t come to stay, they really do come to pass. We’ve all been saddened by the start to the New Year, and the number of celebrities who’ve died, unexpectedly. Someone said to me, “They’re dropping like flies! What is going on?” I only shrugged, because I know this has happened before. I recall more than once thinking the same thing, when several actors or singers or noteworthy people have passed, seemingly one right after the other in a short span of time.

The weather is bad, many have been hit with record cold spells and some have been enduring horrible storms, but you know we’ve done that before, too. I’m not saying the general decline in the climate is not something to worry about. I’m just saying, it’s not a completely unheard of, never-before-experienced phenomenon—to set record lows or record highs and endure horrific storms. There have been blizzards and ice storms, tornadoes and floods, always.

Rhetoric in the political arena seems to be heated and nasty, but there’ve been times like this before. It seems to be particularly virulent this year, with threats against entire races—and religions. There were the same kind of controversies during past war times against Asians and Germans; and during the Second World War, more than just rhetoric as Asian Americans and Asian Canadians were actually rounded up, and had all their possessions and assets confiscated permanently while they were put into “internment” camps just because they looked different. They were Asian. Go back further and heck, there were heated debates around the theme of eugenics, and for a long time before World War 1, the United States was an isolationist nation—something some people say is on the verge of happening again.

If you change who you are based on the world around you, then you put yourself into the position of always having to react, and always having to change because very little in life is static. Why bother going to that trouble? Just be you. It’s really a better bet over the long haul.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t re-evaluate certain stances you’ve taken, especially if it comes to light that your previous ones were based on false information, fear, or hatred. It’s never wrong to let go of the negative and to embrace the positive.

But do not let this unremitting fear that is filling the air, fear that is fueled by those with their own political or social agendas, make you so terribly afraid. Do not let it affect you so that you turn aside your humanity.

Are you a parent? Then why don’t you recognize what some of these people want you to feel? How many times did you tuck your child into bed at night, and they trembled with fear, because the bogey man was going to get them? You reassured them, didn’t you? You looked under their beds and in their closets, and showed them what?

You showed them there was nothing there, and nothing to be afraid of. Of course, it’s not that simple. There are dangers in this modern age that we here in North America never had to face until recent times. And now we do face the same threats those in Europe and the Middle East have been dealing with for decades, and yes, it can be very scary.

But when we trade healthy fear for mass hysteria, when we then re-enact the worst episodes in our nations’ histories—or plan to—it is time to stop, and return to who we really are—our thinking selves. Our humane selves. Times do change, but we don’t have to.

Let’s please put the rabble rousing elements of society back on the fringe where they belong. Because the truth is, to paraphrase Franklin Delano Roosevelt, fear really is our greatest enemy. Or in his exact words (from his inaugural address): “So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance...”

Wise words. Let’s heed them.


Wednesday, January 13, 2016

January 13, 2016

I never knew how totally connected I was, and how dependent on said connection, until yesterday when I awoke to discover I wasn’t connected at all.

To the Internet, that is.

At first, I didn’t worry over much. We’ve lost the Internet before. There was a fresh layer of snow on the ground, and I figured I could blame the weather for this minor inconvenience. I knew the drill. Our television would be working, but not the Internet (the same company provides both). I wouldn’t be able to answer any emails on my phone, either, because my ISP provider was also my cell phone provider.

I could wait it out. I was patient. I could still write, I didn’t need the Internet for that. I’d be fine.

Then my phone dinged, letting me know I had a new email—but my computer was still not online. My phone’s email has always been down when my Internet is down. I began to consider that maybe, something else was wrong.

So I called my ISP. I was pleased that I didn’t have to wait any time at all to listen to an automated voice tell me all the steps I should now take to solve the most common connectivity problems before going any further in this call.

I was briefly reminded of that old, funny bit about the computer user on the phone to tech support about why their computer wasn’t working at all, and no, they were unable to see the back of the tower to verify the cords were plugged in when asked, because the electricity was out and there was no light.

I listened and took note, until the disembodied voice told me I had to unplug my modem, wait thirty seconds, and plug it back in. Sadly, this would require me getting onto the floor under my desk and then somehow getting back up again. I generally ignore my limitations, but there are circumstances under which I cannot, and this was one of them. I was given the option to speak to a real person, and this I did. Within a few minutes, he had verified that my modem was indeed working, and as far as it was concerned, I was online. Then he asked me if I had a third party router. I do indeed, and he advised that the router was likely the problem. All I had to do guessed it. Unplug it, wait thirty seconds, and plug it back in. This would reboot the router.

The router is on the floor, under my desk, beside my modem.

I thanked the man for his assistance, and texted my daughter. She replied that she would drop in around one o’clock to do that little thing for me.

That was a relief. It was only a few hours until she could make her way here to manually reset my router. I had an edit to complete, which I could work on without the Internet. Surely, those few hours would pass quickly.

Here’s the funny part, at least to me. I knew that one way or another, before too much time passed, I’d be back online. But I felt like a smoker who’d just quit, cold turkey.

Actually that’s not really accurate. I was a smoker who’d quit cold turkey some 13 years ago. This was much worse. This was horrible. I felt alone, cut adrift in the world, just another older person trapped inside my house as the snow came down, inch by freezing inch, and the clock ticked ever so slowly. For the first time in a long time, the silence of my house got to me. I reminded myself I could play my iTunes, and since I have more than 650 songs in my iTunes library, which is on my computer, I would be fine. After five minutes of listening to music on low volume, I turned it off. I can’t edit and listen to music at the same time, apparently.

Then my daughter texted that she’d be by when she brought her daddy home—at about 5:15. My few hours without service was stretching out to be the entire day. I thought about a news item I’d seen online the other day about the danger and threat of solar storms, and how a super burst of energy from the sun could cripple our technology, all of it, for decades! I shivered as I realized I was getting a tiny personal glimpse of what this would be like.

I went for my nap at my usual time, grateful the next hour or so would seem normal to me. We were having beef ribs for supper and I thought, as I was getting up from my nap, that I would make a homemade honey garlic sauce to go with. I’d just look that recipe up on line....

Fortunately I had written it out and put it on my computer in my “recipe” file. But I couldn’t print it out because my printer is a wireless one!

Thankfully at 5:15 my daughter arrived. After several attempts to reboot the router, she informed me it was dead—likely of old age. My computer is now directly linked to the modem, so I, at least, am online. And as soon as I finish publishing this essay, I am calling my ISP for an upgrade. I really do need a modem/router combo unit. And while I’m at it, a small table it can sit on, so it won’t be on the floor under my desk.

I guess that’s what I get for not keeping up with the times.


Wednesday, January 6, 2016

January 6, 2016

Happy New Year!

 Are you recovered from the festivities, fuss and fun of the holidays yet? At our house, the tree is down, the decorations have been put away, and even the lights and garland that so recently festooned our front porch have been tucked away for another year.

We do vary our habits some from when we were first married. We used to follow my mother’s tradition—the tree stayed up until after Epiphany (which is today). But my beloved got called back to work a week early, which was for this past Monday, and so we decided to put everything away before he went back.

I spent a lot of time thinking about traditions over the last two weeks. I was very lucky this year in that I got to see all of my children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, as well as my brother and all of his family over the holidays. That made my Christmas. Watching the children put me in mind of Christmases past, all those many years ago when I had been a child myself.

I was pleased to see, at my brother’s house, that he still displays the “Christmas candle” that my father used to light only on Christmas Eve. It used to be, and still is, displayed in an evergreen wreath that sits flat on the table. During those long ago Christmases, it was surrounded by 4 red wooden “Santa boots”, about two and a half inches high and an inch in diameter, that would be filled with that special Christmas hard candy, or salted nuts. I came into possession of the boots a few years ago when my sister passed away. I was the youngest and had lost out when those treasures had originally been “distributed” some forty years ago.

I was also thinking about the food related traditions we have. I know I mentioned before Christmas that one of our family’s customs was the big Christmas Day breakfast. We enjoyed my brother’s variation of that again this year. He makes a delicious brunch on Boxing Day (the day after Christmas). This year’s menu was side bacon, peameal bacon, fried eggs, toast, breakfast potatoes, fruit salad and cheese blintzes served with blueberry sauce. This year there were 11 of us partaking of this feast. It was very good—both the company, as well as the food.

Over the last couple of weeks I spent more time than usual thinking about the way that food plays into our family’s rituals, but I had a good reason for that. This past September, I underwent laparoscopic gall bladder surgery. As a result, this Christmas was the first one in four years that I was able to enjoy the foods being offered. Not that I ate a lot, but what I did eat tasted really good and, for a change, made my tummy very happy instead of miserable.

Does food matter to you as a part of your mores and traditions, above and beyond providing nutrition? I’ve discovered over the years that some people care more for and about food than others do. Despite my recent recovery, I didn’t eat a lot over the holidays. I don’t eat a lot, period. I think it’s a sign of getting older. Neither my husband nor I eat nearly as much as we used to. But food still plays an important role in our memories and customs, and I wonder if that is just us, or if it’s universal.

When David and I were first dating in our teens, there was a grocery store close to where he lived. That store had an on-site bakery. One of our favorite things to do on a Saturday afternoon in the summer was to have a “picnic” in the park. We’d stop at the store, and for not much coin, purchase a fresh loaf of bread, a one pound piece of Polish sausage, and a cold bottle of soda. That was our repast for the event, and no, we didn’t use cutlery or dishes.

Day to day, we don’t fuss over our menu. We prefer comfort food to fancy, although my beloved accuses his weight gain, since he stopped smoking more than a decade ago, on my good cooking.

Looking back, it’s the meals enjoyed with families and friends that stand out in our memories, times when we’ve gathered and celebrated—and shared. I might not be able to recall what was served, but I can remember, fondly, the convivial atmosphere in which it was consumed.