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.