Wednesday, February 22, 2017

February 22, 2017

I am a believer in life-long learning.

For me, that doesn’t necessarily mean taking courses—although it could. There are all sorts of courses one could take without even leaving home, and a lot of them are free! But basically, life-long learning can even be as simple to achieve as being an avid reader, asking questions about the world around us, and looking for answers.

Life-long learning is more a mind set than it is any specific activity. It means being open to discovering new things. You need to have a healthy curiosity—about the world, the past, new discoveries, people, whatever. Perhaps it comes easier to me, being a writer. Writers always begin with those amazing two words: what if? They always begin with a question, and then go in search of an answer. 

I don’t ever want to stop asking “what if”. I don’t ever want to stop seeking answers—whether they are answers that will be contained within the covers of a novel, or just answers because I want to know them.

One of the things that’s wrong with modern life, in my very humble opinion, is there’s a definite lack of curiosity in people these days. Curiosity is that one trait that has propelled humanity forward, as a species. What’s over the next hill? What’s on the other side of that ocean? What are those lights in the night sky? If you think about it, without curiosity, we would all still be living in caves. Some would say that might not be such a bad thing. I strongly disagree. I believe that without curiosity, the human race would have become extinct long, long ago.

As we age, we humans, we become a little bit like hermits. I find this to be especially true if the times in which we are living are particularly uncertain. It can be so easy to just huddle within ourselves, becoming metaphorical turtles. Fear and uncertainty become awesome weapons in the hands of the greedy, wielded without conscience against the many. But if you give in to that, if you hunker down, close the shades, and live in a fantasy realm of your own construction, you’re not safer. In fact, you’re in more danger than you could ever possibly imagine.

We must keep learning. We must keep wondering what’s over that next hill. We have to keep our minds open to new people, new experiences, new ideas, and new discoveries. Giving in to fear, hiding from the truth, never helped anyone in the long-term. Short term gains resulting in long-term pain is a reversal of an old saying, but true, nonetheless.

Our brains, like any other part of our body, need to be exercised. The more you exercise your mind, the stronger it becomes. The stronger it becomes, the more formidable of a human being you are. Being a life-long learner means you are more likely to develop the ability to improvise when the need arises. You’re more likely to adapt to a changing situation, reading the signs around you yet being able to keep your focus on the main thing. Keeping an open mind, having a curiosity about the world around you, positions you to be better able to overcome the challenges you face. And trust me, folks, where there is life, there will be challenges.

The greedy, the corrupt and the bullies around us can appear invincible, can seem as if they are in control and fear nothing, and yet nothing could be further from the truth.

They fear those who are aware, curious, and insightful; they fear those who excel at the ability to improvise, adapt, and overcome. In short, they fear the life-long learners of this world and the power of the knowledge, and the knowledge of self they hold.


Wednesday, February 15, 2017

February 15, 2017

As of today, the Ashbury family is at Retirement minus 279 days. Where has the time gone? It seems like just yesterday we were at R minus 323.

My beloved has been a little less than chipper over the last few weeks, because that wonderful beginning-of-the-end scenario he expected to happen mid January, so far hasn’t. He’d believed that by this point in his final working year of 2017 he’d be well entrenched in his routine. That routine consists of sitting in his truck, balancing between transporting loads of finished product to the stock piles and reading his kindle as he waits for the truck to be loaded.

He’s still boots on the ground, and the plant (the rock crusher) is yet to be “fired up”. I asked him what the problem was. He snorted. “What else? We’re waiting for the engineering firm they hired to figure out that while something may work in a computer simulation, it doesn’t necessarily work in real life.” Basically, there’s this new “chute” for a product that is an over-sized rock called gabion stone. According to the computer simulations, that chute manages to control the rock coming out of the crusher just fine. The problem? In the real world, larger rocks cannot, on their own volition or even with the aid of a little bit of gravity, turn ninety-degree corners. Small gravel and sand, yes. Larger rocks? No. They just jam up the whole shebang. The laws of physics are laws for a reason.

I asked him if he was itching to go up to the office and show them, on the chalk board, why the chute won’t work. He shook his head. At this point, having given so many years to the cause, and having been looked down upon in the last several years by those with university degrees in engineering, he said that he’s finally gotten the message, that he isn’t “qualified” to design these pieces of equipment (despite having done so for many years, with his “designs” all having successfully lasted for decades). No, these days he’s quite happy to let the “experts” have at it. It’s not that he doesn’t care. He did tell them, when they first showed him what they were planning to do, that the chute wouldn’t work. They didn’t listen. In my opinion, that’s fair enough. He shrugged and said that it’s not his thousands upon thousands of dollars being flushed down the drain.

My husband hasn’t exactly been physically slogging away, though, during these last couple of weeks. Instead, he’s been managing a few crews of younger men, teaching them how to do other repairs that need to be done, and letting them slog away. Between you and me, I don’t think he minds that too much. The only problem is that he’s on his feet most of the day, and after several years of not being on his feet most of the day, it’s really hard for him to get used to it.

Aging really isn’t for the faint of heart.

He did perk up on this past Monday, as he was assigned to use another truck to do a job connected to clearing a section of the floor in advance of that area being worked. He’s glad not to be on his feet this week, and has his fingers crossed that they’re going to get things back to normal soon. His site has a quota, every year, of how much stone they are expected to produce to meet projected demand; the longer it takes to get started on that goal, the longer it takes to achieve it.

Often, his company ends up offering overtime hours to compensate when long delays happen. I won’t be the least bit surprised if he decides to go in on some Saturdays again this year, as he’s done in the last couple of years. He took advantage of the opportunity in the recent past because in the several years prior to that, there was no overtime offered at all. The person who was plant manager during those lean years claimed that was a company-wide policy; however, that was a lie. The truth was that the more money that manager did not allow his men to earn, the bigger the bonus he received for himself at year end. The result for his employees is that each one of those hard-working people had their annual income cut by several thousands of dollars, each.

You may have guessed that particular manager was the one who killed my husband’s love of his job and respect for the company he works for.

Of course, the grapevine has it that things are not going so well for that man; I’m not surprised in the least. I really do believe in the principle of sowing and reaping.

Or, to state it as popular culture would have it, the karma bus has picked that man up for a nice, long ride.


Wednesday, February 8, 2017

February 8, 2017

There’s this wonderful meme making the rounds. I bet you’ve seen it. It depicts a wolf with a definite air of “smug” about him. The caption reads: “The groundhog said six more weeks of winter. So I ate him.”

This is a meme that I am sure my first born, my son Christopher, would enjoy having printed out, framed, and hung in his home office. He has long held that his favorite holiday, which isn’t a holiday at all, is Groundhog Day.

You know that old saw, “A son’s a son till he takes a wife; a daughter’s a daughter for all of her life”? Well that pretty much describes my relationship with my first born to a tee. We’re not in daily contact, or even in weekly contact. Our communications, never mind visits, are hit and miss—mostly miss.

Then, last March, he broke his left femur when a very large dog decided to attack my son’s dog, got away from his handler, and plowed into Christopher. That collision sent my son airborne, and he crashed down half on the road, half on the sidewalk. Being diabetic, we all knew he was looking at a very long recovery. Surgery was required, of course, and I was very worried about him. I began to text him each and every morning, and some days, I even got a response back. I was trying to get us both into the habit of at least a once a week contact.

I’m still working on that little thing.

But I have hope! On February 2nd, first thing in the morning, I sent him a message that read, simply, “Happy Groundhog Day”. I can tell y’all without reservation he is the only person I know (and I know a lot of people) to whom I would send this message. To my astonishment, he replied, not after his work day, but within minutes! And his reply simply filled me with joy and hope. He said: “Thank you. I was wondering if you would remember.”

That made my day for two reasons. The first, was that he sent his reply within a few minutes of my texting him. The second is the most important, and the source of my hope. He told me that he’d been thinking about me.

I’ve never been one to demand a lot from my kids, not when they were under my care, and not now that they’re adults. In some ways, that hasn’t been a positive thing for any of us. I likely should have demanded much more of them. My parenting wasn’t lackadaisical; it was, rather, parenting done by a woman who’d grown up without a father, and whose mother had instilled an unhealthy level of fear in her. I didn’t want my kids to ever be afraid of me the way I was afraid of my mother. I probably did allow them too much leeway when it came to expressing their opinions, and their freedom to choose certain aspects of their lives.

I’m not going to waste a lot of emotional energy in regret, because my attitude was the best it could have been at the time, all things considered. Hindsight really is 20/20, isn’t it?

Now, back to those prognosticating rodents. Apparently, according to the four varmints I’m aware of, there is no contest as to the ‘forecast’ for spring. The Canadian two (Shubenacadie Sam and Wiarton Willie) proclaim there will be an early spring, as does Staten Island Chuck. Only Punxatawney Phil saw his shadow, predicting six more weeks of winter.

I’m thinking poor Phil was likely rudely awakened from a pleasant nap, and that forecast was the rodent version of “a pox on you! A pox, I say!” One alternative is to somehow imagine that one area of the continent will hang onto winter while the rest of us bask in the hopeful renewal of springtime. I really hate to imagine that groundhogs could have that much power.

Of course, there is one more possibility: Phil could be wrong. But in these modern times, knowing that and getting the little varmint to admit as much are two entirely different things. Accepting responsibility for mistakes is, by all appearances, passé.

These days, truth no longer matters: it’s all about the spin.


Wednesday, February 1, 2017

February 1, 2017

Here I go again, probably getting myself into hot water. It is not my wish to offend anyone. But I must speak out, because right now, my heart is hurting. It’s hurting for many of my friends and readers.

I’ve been watching the Face Book posts that have been entering my news feed since January 20th and even before. I can’t recall another time when I felt so disheartened by what I was seeing. There is so much anger, so much hatred, you can literally feel it choking off the very breath of freedom.

Many of my friends are citizens of the United States, which has recently experienced a very hotly contested election. The divide between the two political parties has been, to my observation in recent years, absolutely toxic, and it’s getting worse. It wasn’t always this way. It doesn’t have to be this way!

A trend began about a decade or more ago that is so full grown now that it’s commonplace, and that trend is to demonize one’s political opponents. It has been noted by various different U. S. researchers that in these times of increased political polarization, people in that country tend only to congregate with and talk to those who are of the same opinions as themselves, sometimes even moving to live near others of like mind—politically speaking. Cordial dialogue and friendship between people of opposing political viewpoints is practically non-existent anymore. This entrenches the concept that “I am right and you are wrong.” But the lies and the vitriol online and elsewhere, on both sides, has poured gasoline on the situation so that sentiment has become, “I am good and you are evil” and even, “I am of God and you are Satan!”

I’m not a part of this great ideological schism, because I am a Canadian. But I am also a human being with a heart and a soul and a conscience and, yes, an intellect.

Anyone on either side demonizing the other, is in the wrong. Period. Anyone on either side telling someone on the other side to shut up, or otherwise interfering with their ability to express their opinion is in the wrong. Period.

My American friends, you live in a nation that holds as sacred both the Declaration of Independence and The Constitution of the United States. I’ve seen these documents with my own eyes. My beloved and I viewed them on our trip to D. C. back in the 1990s. You call them sacred documents? I can tell you they are indeed, for an aura of sanctity filled the very room they were in. We both felt it, as did all of the rest of the tourists around us, everyone talking in hushed tones. The only other place I experienced anything like it was at Arlington National Cemetery.

What makes these documents sacred to you? That they are old? That you can see them through green glass (which was how they were on display when we saw them)? Or is it the words they contain, the meaning of those words, and the heart and the soul of those words, held as holy truths written during a time when most governments of the day were monarchies or tyrannies?

The following quote is about a part of your Constitution, the First Amendment. The First Amendment, as in the very first thing deemed important enough to be added onto this document of holy truths. This quote is from the Cornell University Law School website, and you can find it here:

“The First Amendment guarantees freedoms concerning religion, expression, assembly, and the right to petition. It forbids Congress from both promoting one religion over others and also restricting an individual’s religious practices. It guarantees freedom of expression by prohibiting Congress from restricting the press or the rights of individuals to speak freely. It also guarantees the right of citizens to assemble peaceably and to petition their government.”

Yes, the amendment only forbids Congress from interfering with these rights…but is not congress representative of the whole of the American population? Or do you think it’s all right to spew hate-filled diatribes against your ideological adversaries, because hey, you have a right to your free speech and you’re not the congress, after all, and in addition to all that, you are good and they are evil?

Now, reasonable people will tell you that having the freedom of speech doesn’t allow you the freedom to shout “fire” in an enclosed public space, like a movie theatre, because that would cause a panic, a stampede, and people could be wounded or killed. Can we all agree on that, at least?

Well I believe that you should observe the spirit as well as the letter of the law. I believe reasonable people should also refrain from vitriolic rants aimed at spreading hate against others, because that could and likely would end in the possibility of damage to the spirit and wounds to the soul.

To be precise, you cause damage to the spirit of your adversaries—and wounds to your very own immortal soul. Can’t we go back to the time when we all agreed to disagree on certain things? Can we not offer to our brothers and sisters the very same right to an opinion that we cling to ourselves?

When you deny the right of others to hold their own opinions, insisting all must only believe in yours, at the very least you make yourself a prisoner of your own narrow mind set, ceding your right to change your own mind. At worst, you reject the very concepts of democracy, of a democratic republic and metaphorically turn your back on those two documents you claim to revere.

Please, my friends, can’t we all be a little bit kinder to one another, and respect each person’s right to their own beliefs?