Wednesday, July 27, 2016

July 27, 2016

Tomorrow we leave for our annual visit to Pennsylvania. We’re headed to coal country once more, as we’ve done at this time the last few years. We go to visit our friend and his mother, and for me, as well, to do just a little more research into the area. I’ve been planning a mainstream suspense novel that takes place in that part of the country, but there’s a lot I still don’t know about the region. There’s probably more I still don’t know about the novel, too, but that’s another topic.

During past visits, we’ve toured northeastern Pennsylvania with our friend as tour guide. We’ve walked through the Eckley Miner’s Village, famous for having been the filming location of the movie, the Molly Maguires in 1969. We’ve visited the haunted jail in Jim Thorpe and seen that handprint. We’ve toured the Steamtown National Historic Site which houses an extensive rail museum in Scranton, and we’ve been to the Lackawanna Coal Mines which offers underground tours of some of the anthracite mines once vital to the economy of the region.

We spent an afternoon at the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum in Reading, a place that had my husband’s attention every bit as much as the locomotive museum did.

We’ve heard the stories of people who came to this part of Pennsylvania from across the oceans to dig their futures out of the ground and who built their lives in the company owned patch towns—some of which survive to this day, having morphed into current day boroughs. We’ve listened to the tales of a hard existence, of a time when simply earning a subsistence living was fraught with peril. 

We listened to stories of wives, suddenly widowed, faced with being tossed from their company-owned homes unless they sent their young sons to work in the mines, in place of the fathers who’d lost their lives doing just that.

We’ve driven the grass dissected, heat-ruptured streets of Centralia, a former borough and now a ghost town, the location of an underground coal fire burning since 1962. We’ve stood and read the plaque at the site of the Lattimer Massacre of 1897.

 The mountains dominate this land, and the mountains rule. They affect the weather and the culture and the livelihoods of those who call them home. They support houses, and even entire towns built vertically into the rocks, and streets that are steep and narrow. They can also play games with radio signals—our friend, when he worked in Scranton, which is several hundred miles away from us, at night would listen to the radio station in Hamilton, Ontario—a city just thirty-five miles down the road from where we live.

This year we’re also honored to be attending the wedding of our friend’s niece, a young lady we first met several years ago.

 We look forward to this visit each year, to reconnect with old friends and meet new ones. It’s a family time, of sorts, as our daughter accompanies us—as does Mr. Tuffy, our dog. Our fur baby has proven to be a good traveler. He’s especially content, I think, because he has all three of his favorite humans all to himself, for the excursion.

Do we even need to talk about the big, smoked, chewy bone our friend has waiting for him? It takes the dog no time at all to remember he’s among friends as he follows our host out to the kitchen at every opportunity, knowing a tasty morsel will most likely be his as reward. For a few days he trades his computer desk and his porch for a different house and a hotel room, guarding his two domains like the brave sentinel he is.

He, too, has been invited to attend the wedding. It is, after all, going to be a family affair.


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

July 20, 2016

War has broken out in the Ashbury household. Like most wars, it’s over “territory”, more or less. The piece of real estate under dispute is that space of my writing desk between my computer monitor and the tower. The two combatants are the dog and the cat. I must tell you it is a war of aggression started by the cat.

Now, shortly after this cat came to live with us (you may recall she just showed up one day), she decided that her place would be on the desk. That was fine, the dog we had at the time was a big dog, one that weighed over seventy pounds and had no interest in being that close to me—unless of course, there were fireworks being set off in the neighborhood. When that happened he wanted to be not only close to me but under me.

After a few weeks, Puddy, as she is now called (a name which beats Scary Kitty or Spooky Kitty, the names she was dubbed with when she found us), tired of that place on my desk, and found softer, more luxurious surfaces to sleep the day away upon. But she wouldn’t stay in one place too long. The sofa, one of the chairs in the living room, a kitchen chair, and the top of the wicker chest in my office all took their turns—as did the bathroom counter and at one point, the bathroom sink. Sometimes she’d want to come to the bed, but mostly not. It seemed like she would sleep in one area for several days, and move on to the next. Rarely did she avail herself of that original place on my desk, but I kept the towel there, just in case.

Then times changed, we lost our old dog and eventually adopted Mr. Tuffy. He had a baby playpen which we’d bought for him, our version of a “crate” and that worked well. It was portable and I’d have it in the office in the morning, and in living room in the afternoon. Yes, that worked, until our daughter eschewed the use of it entirely the first time we went to a conference after he became a member of the family and she stayed here. Since the cat didn’t seem to care for it anymore, I began to put him on the desk. He loves the desk! He can be close to me, sleep, and of course keep an eye on the outside, on guard, if you will—since there’s a window right there.

We bought him a bed after Christmas last December, and put it on the floor in the office. At that time, Mr. Ashbury still had his computer in this room, and if we were both web surfing at night, Tuffy often wanted the bed which though on the floor was positioned exactly between us.

The first sign of feline aggression came shortly after we got that bed. Puddy decided that it would make a better Puddy bed than it did a Tuffy bed. Just a note here, Tuffy weighs seven pounds, and Puddy twenty-five. So when Tuffy trotted over to get in his bed one evening…there was Puddy. She just fits in the bed, but obviously decreed it was hers. For that day, anyway.

This continued off and on for a few months. One day about two months ago, Mr. Tuffy was minding his own business, on duty, as it were on the desk (sleeping, but there, ready just in case) …when from out of nowhere the cat leapt from the floor beside me, up, past me, and landed on the desk, beyond the keyboard, a perfect Puddy landing. She didn’t land on the dog, a good thing, because she could seriously have hurt the little guy. We’d come home from being out (Tuffy always goes with us or goes to our daughter so if we’re out so is he) and discovered her there on the desk; this was the first time, however, she pulled a full frontal assault, while the territory was occupied.

Then she turned her patented Puddy stink eye on him, and Tuffy proved he’s not stupid. He got up and asked, in his own way, ears down and head bowed, for me to lift him off the desk. I asked him if he was going to just surrender his territory so easily? Apparently that was a question he deemed rhetorical.

This happens now at least once a week. And when it does, there’s no growling from him, and no clawing from the cat (she came to us with her front paws declawed), but the tension here can be high. I’ve done what I can to protect the Tuffy space from attack as I work away, here. But I must say it’s damned disconcerting when Puddy decides she wants the desk, because what she wants, she takes.

Though heavy, and old, she can still exert her position as head of household when she’s in the mood to do so. This only reasserts that basic law of nature: dogs have masters, cats have staff.


Wednesday, July 13, 2016

July 13, 2016

Do you ever wonder how it is that some people can take punch after punch, and still maintain their positive outlook, while others seem to wallow in the aftermath of the first real blow in life they ever get?

To me, people are endlessly fascinating. Some are resilient, and some are not. Some you look at and think, “Lord, how do they manage to keep getting up and taking that next step time and time again?” What fuels them? What gives them that strength?

I can tell you what that something is, but I can’t tell you where to find it. I know where I get mine, but I believe for each of is, the source of that quality is different. I believe it’s different because we are all unique individuals, designed by the original manufacturer to be just that: unique.

That something is attitude. I have long believed it’s not your aptitude but your attitude that determines your altitude in life. That, plus that old saying, “life is 5 percent what happens to me and 95 percent how I deal with it”, are my two favorite maxims.

When I was ten years old, a momentous thing happened in my life: two doors down from me a new family moved into our rural neighborhood. This family consisted of a mother, and five children—three girls and two boys. One of those girls was eight days older than me. We became fast friends. We had one huge thing in common: neither of us had a father living with us. Mine had gone to heaven, and hers had gone to another family because her parents divorced several years before.

For nearly two decades we were inseparable, and then we lost touch for nearly that long again. When next I saw her, she’d been widowed, and was in a relationship with another man, a man who made her happy. We didn’t live close to each other, and our interests had varied, but the core of our friendship, those early years of being as close as sisters, held. In a lot of ways, it was as if we’d never been apart.

Our families had been close in those early years; she and her first husband would bring their three kids for a Saturday night get together. We’d put all the kids—hers and mine—to bed and play cards and visit into the wee hours. When we drifted apart—primarily because they moved several hours away—our families grew up independent of each other’s.

Life happened to us both and time moved on.

 A few years ago, the relationship, the happiness she’d found in the aftermath of the death of her first husband, ended as she was widowed once more. This loss wasn’t as unexpected as the first, as her husband was ill. She cared for him, of course, in his final days. Love is, after all, a verb. Her strength then astounded me.

Many of you will be shaking your heads, and you might even say, my goodness, to lose two spouses! What kind of endurance does a person have to have? You have to wonder at the vagaries of fate, too. And many of you, learning that when this second loss occurred she was nearing 60, would think—as I had thought—that she’d been fortunate to find two loves. Most of us are lucky to find even one!

She seemed content to be on her own for a change, and didn’t let her latest loss hold her down too long.

I know some people who’ve lost a mate, and have vowed to never again get married—not because they don’t want to love and be loved, but because they could not bear a second such loss.

My good friend turns 62 today. And this past Saturday I attended her wedding to a man, who although I don’t know very well at all, I know is a good man. I know this because I have never seen my friend looking quite so happy, and healthy as she did when she said her vows.

To wallow in that first loss, to never have taken another chance, would have denied the heartbreak of a second loss, this is true. But it would also have denied her the joy and happiness of her second love, and would certainly have closed her off from finding her new love.

It’s all attitude. Life knocks us all down, at one time or another. It can batter us, and I don’t know a single human being who has not been battered.

But the secret is this: don’t let that battering define you. Don’t stay down. Get up and keep going, because as hard as the path may sometimes seem, if you don’t walk it, you’ll miss the joy and beauty just waiting for you, right there along the way.

Diana and Bill, I wish you all the love and joy your hearts can hold!


Wednesday, July 6, 2016

July 6, 2016

I realize the following may not be “politically correct”. I’ll apologize for that right up front, and in many ways, that apology is sincere. But as you know, I am rather dedicated to showing myself to all of you, warts and all. How else can I connect with people, how else can I show everyone that we have more similarities than differences, we humans, if I don’t let you see my not so shiny side?

I can’t. So therefore it’s time for me to show you that I have my issues and shortcomings, just like everyone else on this planet.

There ought to be a law against men, shopping on their own without supervision in the grocery store. That, in my opinion, nearly qualifies as a crime against (female) humanity. But there’s a transgression that goes one step further, is even more heinous on the crime index scale. Yes, I’m talking about men, shopping on their own without supervision in the grocery store while accompanied by 1 or more children under the age of 10! Ah, my friends! Sadly, it happens more than you know it does.

Why do I feel this way? Over my years of encountering men shopping without supervision in the grocery store, I’ve discovered they can’t find anything; they can’t understand the list their wives have given them; or even how the aisles are laid out. They let the children dance or play tag in the aisles; they block the aisles with their carts right there in the middle and at a skewed angle as they wander up and down, arms akimbo, looking for tomato sour, only to suddenly realize (after another shopper looks at their list and tells them thus) that it’s not tomato sour but tomato soup they’re after! And when they suddenly notice their children are walking in front of other shoppers, causing them to stop and wait for their havoc-wreaking antics to be done, they then bribe those children with allowing them to pick out two kinds of cookies instead of one, and promising a bag of candy at the checkout counter if they’ll only behave.

Now, I have to confess that I don’t understand what the problem is—why it has to be this way. A man makes a list and goes to the hardware store…. or the car part store…or he goes to the very huge “outdoor” store, the kind that has hunting gear, fishing gear, and sports equipment. Those are a lot of stores and men seem to have no trouble navigating their way around them. They have a list, they procure the items on their list, and they head to the checkout. No fuss, no muss, no interfering with the shopping experience of others. Perhaps they have to ask someone to point the way toward something, but over all, they do quite well.

So…what seems to be the problem at the grocery store? Someone suggested to me when I asked that very question, that it was likely because the products were unfamiliar to them. To which I snarked (yes snarked wasn’t a word but it is now), what, men don’t eat? That was a ridiculous excuse my friend offered. We women all know who eats the most groceries in our households and it’s generally not the female of the species.

But no, apparently, “grocery shopping” is different, and hence the disorientation, the confusion, the tendency to de-evolve into a near-fetal state, the need to block the aisle as they search for…they know not what.

I will admit that this seems to happen mostly on the cusp of holidays. You know the kind of days I mean. Days that are close to Christmas, perhaps the Saturday before it; maybe the day of New Year’s Eve; perhaps the day before Thanksgiving; or, like this past weekend, a beautiful Saturday smack dab in the middle of a long, patriotic holiday weekend.

These are all days when you know the woman of the house is probably either at home getting ready doing what needs done in preparation of a party or dinner or barbecue of some sort, or at work with that ahead of her. In order to be able to clean the house, get the food on to cook, and do the myriad other chores that need doing to make the house “guest ready”, the woman sends the man out—and sometimes the man with the children—for a “quick” run to the grocery store—knowing full well there will be nothing quick about it!

Women, I understand your dilemma; I really do. I know the temptation is great. On such days, those errands give you the only time you get alone, the only break in a busy day to take a deep breath and get centered. So I understand how this whole, send him to the store to get the last-minute-stuff came to be.

But please, in the name of all that’s efficient, can’t you send them somewhere, anywhere else instead? To the park, maybe? Or off to get ice cream! Much healthier that than the pre-packaged cookies and candies the kids will end up with anyway.

Actually, I suppose I shouldn’t complain overly much. Men shopping on their own without supervision in the grocery store can be kind of cute, especially if I’m not in any particular hurry to get done and get home. Of course, these men jump at the chance to help their wife or girlfriend out. Even if the woman in question furrows her brow and wonders in the aftermath if this was a wise idea, or not, sending him off to get those few last minute necessities.

Aside from the very real possibility he won’t come back with the right items she needed—resulting in her either sending him back, or going there herself—there’s the whole unleashing her situationally inept male on an unsuspecting public thing that will inevitably niggle her conscience.

The only thing I can say in my defense for this flaw in my character, during this latest encounter with at least 6 unaccompanied males shopping without supervision in the grocery store last Saturday?

For once, I kept my mouth shut and thus, my snark to myself.