Wednesday, January 25, 2017

January 25, 2017

Despite the amazing recovery from the great recession of 2008, times are still really tough for a lot of people.

Those that have jobs may have seen their hours cut. Some are still out of work, or newly out of work, and are just getting by, barely managing to keep body and soul together. For those who are working hard, frustration builds because it’s getting harder and harder to make those dollars stretch. The cost of living keeps climbing while the wages do not. Some people are looking for creative ways to make ends meet, coming up with all sorts of unique money saving options – from shaving cheap bar soap to make liquid laundry soap, to using less expensive paper products to substitute for the costlier. Some are using paper bags to make drawing pads for their kids, melting old crayons to make new—the creativity of the human spirit can be truly amazing.

Free stuff is a great resource, too, isn’t it? When you have the opportunity to snatch up free stuff, it’s a bonus. I like it myself. Some places where I go to shop have “rewards” programs, and there’s nothing better than buying that roast of beef at the grocery store, or filling your car’s gas tank, on your “points”. It really makes me feel as if I’ve ‘won’ for a change.

There is, however, one category of “free stuff” being offered on the Internet that is not free at all. In fact, it’s worse than these items not being free because they are, in truth, stolen property. And, since I am a published author, you may have guessed that one category is books.

Now, if you go to Amazon, or to an author’s web site, and a book is free, that’s perfectly ok, it really is free. The author or the publisher have elected to offer a free book hoping that after you’ve read and enjoyed it, you will then purchase other books that author has penned. It’s a great marketing tool, especially for brand new authors. But that’s not what I’m talking about. No, I am talking about those unassuming looking “sharing sites” where people upload books and say to all and sundry, “come and get ‘em. They’re free!”

The only legal sources of free books are the author, or the publisher (and this can be through valid third party sellers like Amazon, Apple, Google, Nook, Kobo, etc.). Period. If you have or are partaking of web sites that offer free books, and only free books, the rest of this essay is directed to you.

Those books, ALL of those books on ALL of those sharing and torrent sites, are stolen property. When you buy an e-book from the author, a publisher, or a legitimate third-party vendor, it is yours, but it is not yours to share. You may not send it to friends or family, and you sure as hell may not send it to the world at large by uploading it to a ‘sharing’ site. That is called pirating. Pirating is theft.

I know times are tough for you, but let me ask you this: because you’re hurting financially, does that give you the right to steal money from my paycheck? Of course, not—no more than it gives me the right to steal money from yours. I am going to assume that until this very minute—again, as I said, if you were doing that whole sharing thing—you didn’t realize it really is, by legal definition, theft.

No, don’t use that excuse that authors are all rich and it’s only a couple of bucks anyway. Most authors are not rich. Very few authors are, you see. Some of us are just barely making a living—just like you. We need the money from each and every sale. When you steal from us, you are taking food out of the mouths of our children; you are preventing us from providing for our families, paying our electric bills, paying our mortgages or rent, and enjoying the fruits of our own very hard labor.

I know of several good people who are giving up their hard-won dream of being a published author because they are no longer able to support themselves, thanks to the pirates. It was for many of them, as it was for me, their only dream. They’d achieved it! Can you imagine experiencing the joy of achieving your life-long dream—and then the crushing grief of having that dream stolen away from you by greedy, selfish people?

So, thieves—and that is exactly what you are— to recap: you’ve not only stolen our paychecks, stolen the milk for our table and the bread from our babies’ mouths. You’ve also stolen the dreams of those who only wanted to earn their living by painting pictures with words to uplift their readers. You’ve also stolen the anticipation of new stories from the thousands of readers who rely on their favorite authors to help them get through these very same tough times that we’re all experiencing.

If you are getting your books from these “sharing sites”, they’re not free—they are actually costlier than I believe you’re willing to pay.

 Please stop. Honor the rights of myself, and others, to earn our living doing what we love to do, what we do best and that which uplifts you in these tough times.

It’s the right thing to do, and I thank you, in advance, for choosing to do the right thing.


Wednesday, January 18, 2017

January 18, 2017

Are we there yet?

Those aren’t my beloved’s exact words, but they might as well be. After today, he has 307 days to go until he is retired. They’re still finishing up repairs and yard clean-up at the quarry where he works. It’s all part of getting ready for when the bulk of the crew returns and they can fire up the rock crushers for a new season of turning large limestone slabs into various sizes of gravel. When that happens, David will be back in his truck full time, driving from point A where his giant vehicle gets filled with the crushed stone, to point B where the product is stored in a pile on the floor of the quarry.

Until that time, he is doing whatever needs done—and it’s a more physical process than he’s used to. Many nights he comes home so spent he goes straight to bed for an hour before supper, just to recharge his batteries.

I feel for him. I’m not as young as I used to be, either. Each day I learn this anew as I set an aggressive agenda for myself—and then realize my to-do list was a bit too optimistic. Friends, getting older is not for wussies.

I tried to encourage him, when he took over driving the big truck, making his job more sedentary for him, to exercise and keep his stamina where it had been when he first climbed into that truck. After all, we don’t truly understand the meaning of the phrase “use it or lose it” until we’re over fifty. I’d like to tell you he heeded my words of wisdom—but I can’t. No, he gave in to the joy of not having to bust his butt, and simply reveled in the inactivity. The result of this, of course, is that when he has no choice but to be more active, it takes a lot more out of him than it should. Certainly, it takes more than it would have if he’d kept moving.

The other result of his lack of physical activity is that he’s gained a fair bit of weight over the last few years. That doesn’t bother me, image wise. I don’t tend to look at a person based on their physical appearance. But the added pounds are not good for a man whose body had always supported a very modest weight, a man who also suffers from COPD. I haven’t criticized, and was very happy when he announced over the Christmas holidays that he really wanted to lose weight and would, come the new year.

I’m doing my part to see that his goal is achieved. He needs to do his part by resisting the urge of the extra snacks. He knows this, of course. It really is all in his hands.

I take after my parents who were both overweight. I’ve been heavy all my life. Losing weight for me isn’t an easy process anymore and really never was. I have my own health issues, including hypothyroidism, diabetes and heart disease. I also have severe arthritis, in my ankles, knees, hips, and lower back. I had resumed going to the pool, determined to get back to where I had been before my gallbladder rebelled and interfered with my ability to go swimming.

Unfortunately, my reward for several months of increased activity was such a bad flare up of my arthritis that I could barely walk and really couldn’t even climb stairs without the aid of my hands—on the steps above me. The flare up and acute pain have eased off, but my new normal is a lot less active and a lot more painful than it had been. All I can do now is keep moving. I still wear my step counter, and I refuse to just sit still when it hurts like hell to move. I understand that to stay sitting on bad days will limit my abilities even more. As I’ve already said, getting older is not for wussies.

My beloved was thrilled when, just before Christmas, he got a letter from the government about his OAS – Old Age Security. It’s a stipend outside of the Canada Pension Plan that we receive up here, once we’ve turned 65. The letter confirmed his first check will arrived the month after he achieves that landmark birthday.

As for the rest of his future retirement income – his CPP and his company pension - he’ll have to make arrangements for those. He will, from time to time, mention this thing we have to do, or that thing, to prepare for his happy event of retirement. My only input here is that I’ve told him he needs to make a list of what has to happen, and any questions he has.

I don’t believe I’m being anything but fair when I tell him, like his eating habits, that’s in his hands, too.


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

January 11, 2017

Over the last several weeks, I’ve been learning of some disturbing stories from people from all walks of life who’ve been attacked verbally, and a few who’ve actually been physically assaulted. These cases are many, and they are real, and I’ll even bet that most of you know someone who has been targeted (I refuse to say victimized) by the outrageous and unconscionable actions of those who can only be called thugs and bullies. These bad seeds appear to be pervasive, showing up unexpectedly, striking out at will, because now they feel entitled to do so—they’ve been given permission.

Yes, we seem to suddenly find ourselves in a time when people will do despicable things because they believe that truth, honesty, and integrity no longer matter, or worse, that those principles no longer have a place in modern life. It is up to all of us, and up to each of us, to stand for what is right. There are some people among us who look around at how being a pathological liar, a cheater, and a hate-filled bully has so recently been publicly rewarded, and have decided that if one person can get away with it in such an open, spotlighted way, then they can, too. As I said, they’ve been given permission.

This is a danger that is so elemental, so prevalent, that it truly can touch us all. We need to stand firm and stand ready to call out those who would abuse the rights of others, those who would practice their bullying openly on the unsuspecting, and those who would blatantly lie. This danger is real and it is serious, and it is urgent.

Words matter, my friends. The words we say, matter. They have power, more power than you can even imagine. You know the positive side of this truth. If we have words of encouragement and kindness for those who are struggling or suffering, our words lift their spirits and fill their hearts with love, and hope. I have seen this reality play out time and again in my years on this planet, and in my experience as an essayist. Many of you have written to me to tell me how my words have helped you, uplifted you, or encouraged you. The flip side of that coin, however, is just as true.

 If our words are ugly, then they carry an ugly air to them, staining the atmosphere with such an ugliness that sinks into every nook and cranny of our lives and will thus eat away at the fabric of all that is decent. If our words are lies, again, those lies fill the atmosphere with an unreality that like a constant drip of caustic acid will burn away all that is true.

We will be left with a world filled with distrust and hate, teeming with untruths, and where nothing will be sacred—not our faith or our ideals, not our laws, not our most cherished historical documents, not even our lives.

We can no longer sit back and let things happen around us, trusting that saner minds and kinder spirits will eventually prevail. We are the saner minded and the kinder spirited. We must do all we can to ensure that our personal parts of this world—as in, everywhere we go and everyone we meet—is treated with kindness and respect. And when we see this bullying, this harassment, this blatant lying, we must stand up to it. We must use our sanity and our kindness to rebuke this unacceptable behavior. We must call out the liars among us every time they lie, no matter what office on earth they sit in.

I have often, in various of these essays over the course of the last ten years given examples of how one person taking action can make a difference. If I am kinder, saner, and stand up to the bullies and liars, and you do the same, and others reading these words do likewise, and all of us get others to do so as well? That, my friends, is an army. The future truly is ours to mould. What happens next really is up to us all. I reject the concept that we are all nothing but tiny little mice with no voice, no power, no hope. That we have no choice but to submit to the whims of the power-hungry and money-grubbers of this world.

We are mighty. We are powerful.

We are the hope of our future generations.


Wednesday, January 4, 2017

January 4, 2017

Happy New Year! Did you celebrate with friends and family Saturday night? Did you party hearty?

We’ve gone to a few New Year’s Eve gatherings in our time, but for the most part, we’ve stayed home—as we did again this year. Although in the past we’ve sometimes gone to bed before the grand moment, this past Saturday night we stayed up. Our celebration was simple—we turned on the television in time to watch the ball drop in Times Square. Enjoying the quiet and the ambiance of vacation time, we were both into reading our individual selections from our TBR piles. So, we turned on the television at about twenty minutes to midnight, watched the silliness for a bit, participated in the countdown as we watched the ball drop, wished each other a happy new year…and went back to our reading.

Though my husband and I don’t indulge much in the end-of-year celebrations ourselves, I can say that, collectively, we humans get more excited about the beginning of a new year than we do about any other national or international occasion. It certainly is a curious thing, to see all those people wearing funny hats, waving banners and flags and noisemakers, to see the joy, and the hope. And, of course, we mustn’t forget the kissing. There’s always a lot of kissing.

I believe we tend to make a big deal out of ringing in the New Year, because no matter who we are or where we live or what our circumstances, we all crave two things: to get rid of all the crap that happened in the previous twelve months, and to earnestly seek out a brand spanking new beginning. It’s as if, when we toss the old calendar into the trash, we’re saying, “everything is new again!”

What a testament to the basic optimism of the human spirit!

The last few months have been filled with uncertainty and peppered with small tragedies. There have been wars, and rumors of wars. New phrases have entered the lexicon, the most unfortunate of which, in my mind, is “false news”. We find ourselves in the position of facing the prospect of having to wage anew the battles for human rights that we fought in decades’ past. Many of us are filled with uncertainty for the future.

And yet, millions of people gathered in town squares across the globe, and millions more who couldn’t gather in person, tuned in via their televisions or their computers or even their smartphones, to herald in, with great pomp, the arrival of 2017.

The New Year is a clean slate, ready for you to write upon it. What will you choose to do with it? As you may recall from past essays, I don’t really indulge in “New Year’s resolutions”. They are easily made and even more easily broken. Instead, I like to think of what, in general, I would like to accomplish.

At the top of that list is always a prayer to God, that He helps me to become a better person, in every area of my life. I am a work in progress. I have mountain-top moments and then great swallowing valley ones. In other words, I’m like most everyone else. I want to be a kinder me, as there are enough times when I’m not to prick my conscience. As I said, a work in progress, with lots of room for improvement.

This is also a notable year for our family as my beloved begins his last year in the work-a-day world. In the note he left me yesterday, (he usually leaves one for me to find on work-day mornings) he announced that he had 323 days left as an employee of the company. In recent years, he’s lost the love he always had for his job, a fact that in my heart and mind is a tragedy. But his words yesterday were optimistic. He wrote, and I quote, “I hope they are good days and I’m going to try and enjoy them. You enjoy them, too.”

Sound advice from my beloved that I plan to follow, and I am happy to share it with you.