Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Soup, a movie...and a kitten...

 September 20, 2023

We’ve had an interesting week, that’s for certain. It was a good week, with just the right mixture of accomplishments and socialization and rest to make it all well balanced.

First, I have an announcement to make: it is the judgment of all the members of the Ashbury household that soup season is upon us.

Ah, soup season! And wasn’t it just lucky that when we got our groceries on Friday that the store had both cauliflower and broccoli on sale? I made a large pot of soup with my purchases—and yes, there is some cheese involved.

My husband was making happy tummy sounds late Sunday night when he had his first bowl of it. And it was but a fond memory by yesterday afternoon.

One weekend a month, we have two of our great-grandchildren with us from Saturday morning until Sunday after supper. They are the two who are my daughter’s grandkids. It was a good visit, with minimal hassles. Daughter took the children to the large sports complex in the next city for a couple hours swim on Saturday, and to the large park here in town on Sunday. In between times, we had a family movie night on Saturday.

Our daughter had decided to rent the Barbie movie (making her granddaughter very happy), and since my husband had apparently told her he wanted to see it, that’s what we did, all five of us. This was a movie night that harkened back to the day, when we’d go, as a young family, to our local Block Buster and rent a couple of films, make popcorn, and enjoy. The children and my beloved really enjoyed the movie. My daughter and I not quite so much. I think it’s one of those movies that doesn’t appeal to everyone.

There were, however, some very good parts and a very good message. I wouldn’t discourage anyone from seeing it.

In other news, about a year after our daughter moved in with us—with her 4 chihuahuas—she mentioned that at some point she wouldn’t mind acquiring a kitten. Before she had the dogs, she’d had a cat named Crash, whom she loved for many years. And she had a cat after acquiring the pups as well. This is her home, and we—my husband and I—both want her to feel she has as much autonomy here as we do.

When she asked me what I thought about getting a kitten—she reminded me that her dogs were used to cats—I gave her as honest an answer as I could. I told her that if God wanted her to have a kitten, He would put just the right one in her path.

That moment happened this week. Monday is her day off and she was going, finally, to take her son to brunch. She had been supposed to have done that the past two Mondays, but on the first one, something came up and then last week she said it totally slipped her mind!

A digression here. David and I both have slight memory issues as we are 71 and 69 respectively. Do you think it’s contagious?

Anyway, while at the park with her grandchildren on Sunday, she had been scrolling on her cell phone and came across a picture of two litters of kittens (at the same house); the kittens were 6 and 7 weeks old, and ready to be adopted. And the farm that had them was just one road over from where her son lives.

Our daughter is a grown adult and fully accepting of her responsibilities in life. She knew that there might be a problem with our two dogs and a kitten, but David and I both felt confident she would be able to handle it. Bottom line? She told us she had a plan B. If the new kitten didn’t work out, she knows a few people who would be happy to take the little critter.

She picked one out from the picture that she thought would suit her (yes, it’s a boy, and so cute!) and took her son with her after their brunch to get it. Sadly that so-cute one that she thought she wanted wasn’t for her. But another one, a soft furry grey one, apparently was.

This kitten, named Smokey by her great-niece (our second daughter’s granddaughter), is now in residence. While daughter goes to work, the little guy (she really wanted a male) is up in her apartment, alone, with food and water and the run of the place. When she is home, then the little guy has lots of company, and happy that is so.

One of my daughter’s dogs, the youngest, thinks she is the kitten’s mommy. The kitten thinks so too.

As for the reaction of our two dogs?

Missy, our female, could care less. No animosity, just a bit of curiosity, and content to allow it to exist. I think she senses it’s just a baby, and now a member of the family.

Our little Bear-Bear, however, was excited and happy and curious and ran up and down those steps yesterday like nobody’s business! His reaction was not at all what we were expecting.

Jennifer said that he appears to be in love. Only time will tell how this will all work out, but we can definitely say, in the case of Smokey-kitty, so far, so good.




Wednesday, September 13, 2023

When your day doesn't start off right...

 September 13, 2023

I have a confession that will come as no surprise whatsoever to anyone who is a loyal reader of my essays. I am a creature…of habit.

I have often said, in one way or another, “you know what happens if the day doesn’t start off right. It’s all downhill from there.” On Monday and well into Tuesday of this very week, that proved to be the case once more.

Friends, it’s never a good sign when you are awakened because of a text ping and discover a message from your Internet service provider that begins, “We have detected a service interruption in your area.”

Our internet service provider also is our television provider. You may recall that there was that dark, awful day about a year ago when my daughter left a message on my keyboard informing me that our provider was down, all across Canada. I think within that message was the phrase, “welcome back to the dark ages.” That was the day when I decided that we needed a radio so we could keep up on things if that every happened again. But I digress.

I didn’t let myself worry overmuch; we’d gotten through that day, and we’d get through this day, too. At that moment I wasn’t awake enough to remind myself of my personal caveat about the day not starting out right.

At first, things didn’t look too bad. I was actually able to do Wordle (the third thing I do after my devotional time and my look at my twitter notifications). But when I went to check my email, I discovered that “that site is not available”.

Neither were either of the two game sites that come next in my schedule: one that is a free acrostic game site, and one that is an all-round game site (NOT a betting site, just a playing one). After my acrostic and two other games—one a Mah Jong and one a match-three—my next step in my morning routine is getting to work.

Working is writing but it is also research. As it happens, I find that I need to stop several times in the course of writing a story to look things up. Monday morning, that was what I was supposed to be doing, and had to do before I could proceed with my work in progress.

But I couldn’t look anything up because the response to practically everything was “site not available”, or “you’ve timed out”. My usual solution to computer problems is that I go to the Geek Squad and let them deal with whatever my challenge is. But that is impossible to do if you can’t get on their site.

I sat back and practiced some relaxation techniques. Likely, this was just temporary. I had been awakened just an hour before by that message; probably, in the afternoon, all would be back to normal. So, I took up my iPad and opened to a book I was reading and went to my recliner to spend the morning there. David joined me because, of course, his computer was having the same problem.

Well, the afternoon wasn’t much better. I had Facebook; I had YouTube. But I had nothing else. I could watch videos on YouTube but that is my end-of-day-winding-down-for bed thing, because some of them quite literally nearly put me to sleep.

I turned my computer off and then on. When I turned it back on, I saw there was an update ready. Hope bloomed in my little heart. I performed the update, and when I started the computer again, there was another update notification! Alas, all updates done, still no change. I was stuck in a hell of timing out, or unavailable sites.

I went to bed confident that on Tuesday morning, all would be well. Only it was not. Another day of regular routine not started. This time I couldn’t even do my Wordle! I got out my laptop, just in case the problem was computer specific. And once I updated that, I found I had access to my emails, and other sites. But I didn’t want to use my laptop. It’s small, and while it’s good to have when away from home, it’s not my usual. But the one good thing was that apparently my problem was computer specific.

I comforted myself that I had options—I just needed to review what they were. I could do what I could about maybe scanning for a virus; I could call tech support on the phone, both the Geek Squad and my service provider. If needs be, I could take my tower into the Geek Squad and have them check it. I had a plan of action!

So, I began a full system scan on my desktop. And…. five and a half hours later I ended it. But in the midst of all that, my daughter asked, “did you try shutting the router off then on?”

I hadn’t. I should have, because I knew that if I called the ISP company that was going to be the first thing that they suggested I do. It was mid afternoon, just before David went for his nap. He has to perform the unplug/plug in because the router is under my desk, and I cannot reach it at all. So he crawled under there, he reached down and pulled the plug, waited a couple minutes, and then plugged it back in again.

And that turned out to do the trick. While David napped, I was able to ensure that all my sites were now accessible.

It wasn’t until supper time that I asked aloud why my laptop had been able to work but my computer had not (same Wi-Fi). The suggestion was made that my router—installed in 2019—was old. Four years is old? I know my eyes crossed at that point. It may be true. But I will think about that, a bit later. Maybe. In the meantime, I focused on the most important thing.  My day, but more importantly my next day, had been saved, as I knew that on Wednesday morning (today) I would be able to return to my regularly scheduled programming.

I would also claim that my sanity had been saved, as well. Except that I know that the jury is still out on that one.




Wednesday, September 6, 2023

A trip to St. Jacob's Farmer's Market

 September 6, 2023

Well, here we are in September! The weather had cooled some, but this week we’re back into the triple-digit heat indexes. Fortunately, tomorrow the heat/humidity combo is supposed to break. My fingers are definitely crossed.

This weekend past found us taking our annual trip to the St. Jacob’s Farmer’s Market. If you’re ever in southwestern Ontario, this market, and the village of St. Jacob’s which is about a ten-minute drive away from it, are worth a visit.

The village is smack dab in the middle of Mennonite country, so there are plenty of horses pulling buggies to be seen. But more pleasing to the aesthetic senses, there are arts and crafts, clothing, preserves, freshly baked bread and many things produced by the Mennonites available for the discerning shopper.

This year, we didn’t take a drive into the village. There were a lot of people out and about, and since we had realized this would be so on a holiday weekend, we decided ahead of time that our trip would be limited to the one stop.

Mostly, we go to the market for the apple fritters. Well, actually, those were just one of the items that was on our list this year. Our daughter drove us the forty-five minutes to the market, because both of our scooters fit better in her car, and she likes to go, too. She volunteered to get in line for the fritters. Yes, there is a line up, every time. And yes, on the Saturday of the Labour Day weekend, that line was about 35 minutes long. She told me she wished she’d brought my walker. Her knee has been bothering her as she has reinjured it, and while it will heal in time, the humidity is not her friend any more than it is ours.

Our list for this year’s trip wasn’t very large. We got the fritters, but on the list were some items from the butcher’s shop as well.

There are a couple of venders there who have meats without any added growth hormones or other chemicals. So when we can, we’ll pick up some of their bacon, and an item we all enjoy, smoked pork chops.

And of course, my husband is a true carnivore, so no visit to the market is complete without the purchase of steaks. I will tell you that we bought really good steaks and leave it at that.

I like to see all the different goods that are available. The market is quite large, with a few large buildings to tour, as well as outside stalls. Inside the buildings is where you’ll find your hand-crafted clothing and jewelry and whatnots. Outside, there are plenty of venders in of every sort around the grounds, offering everything from lawn ornaments to sunglasses. It’s an amazing feast for the senses. And of course, the scent of street food—burgers, funnel cakes, really just anything you can imagine—is free to inhale, stirring the appetite.

The only “extras” I purchased that weren’t on my list were two loaves of bread—one rye and one sour dough—made that day, and something I had been looking for but not finding: mint sauce. In this case, mint jelly, which I hope does for lamb what my mint sauce of old has always done. I’ll keep you posted.

I also had only one veggie on my list that I wanted to purchase and then put down: green beans. Our tomatoes continue to flourish, but they have deprived the beans of their true potential this year.

On Monday, David harvested some more tomatoes from our table gardens, enough that he filled one of our large bowls. Fortunately, there are a whole lot more tomatoes to come. Also, fortunately—for me at least—I was able to choose two large and two medium tomatoes so that I can make one of my favorites—stuffed tomatoes.

I make this dish once a year, usually. It’s my way of celebrating our garden. Also usually, I have a granddaughter and a second daughter who always seem to know when this dish is in the works. They’re the only other members of my family hereabouts who love stuffed tomatoes. And they’re also sure to drop by and I’m telling you, their timing is usually impeccable.

Notice the use of the word “usually”, above.

I plan to make this dish today, despite the heat. Also today, my second daughter and her daughter are not in the area. Or rather, granddaughter is, after a trip to L.A., just home late last night and off to work this morning. Poor thing, she’s probably so tired she’s likely to go home and straight to bed at the end of the day. And second daughter, why, she’s off with some friends for a nice, relaxing get-away in a quaint town in Quebec.

She comes back to us tomorrow, likely not getting to her house until the evening.

I’m not saying there will be stuffed tomatoes left for them. But I’m also not saying there won’t be. I guess we’ll just all have to wait and see.




Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Humans, their seasons, and a tomato...

 August 30, 2023

The summer progresses, as summers often do. I find myself wondering why on earth I was so eager for this one to get here. Seriously, it’s been making a complete mess of things, don’t you think? Remember those really cold days just a few months ago, this past winter? How we all put our hopes and trust on spring and summer giving us the blessed relief we craved. We had not fully formed images in our minds of sweet, warm days, idyllic scenes with slight breezes and distant but delightful birdsong. Maybe you imagined a bower, private and welcoming. Perhaps there was a hammock in this image, or a lounge chair with a pillow to cradle our world-weary head.

And then those two seasons, once more posing as inseparable twins so one could not tell where the first ended and the second began, arrived. There was heat and rain, rain and heat. The air was thick with humidity, and it felt as if we were once more living within a trap. This one, of course, was a hot trap instead of an icy cold trap, but a trap none the less. For far too many this idyllic summer has instead been an almost insufferable inferno.

I am coming to the conclusion that we humans are endlessly fickle and eternally impossible to please. We are seriously flawed—because we do tend to equate contentment with circumstance, and that, I believe, is always a mistake.

Later today I am finally off to purchase my new glasses. It’ll be a week until they’re ready, but that’s ok. Once more I am going to be frugal. There is a place in the next town that offers “three-for-one” and that’s my favorite choice. That way I get my bifocals for driving, and such. I can get a pair of glasses calibrated for my computer; and I can get a pair of prescription sunglasses. This time I have a discount card, and I certainly won’t be choosing the most expensive frames.

This is something I should have done at the end of July, but it simply got away from me. I forget the darnedest things, lately. One wouldn’t think I would forget to go get my glasses, especially since, as I suspected had happened, my prescription has changed.

I’m still struggling with my cold. A friend helped me feel much better about this situation. She says that her rule of thumb for colds was that a cold takes a week coming, a week being, and a week going. By her measure I am in the last week of my cold. I’m looking forward to having more energy, and of course, being able to focus.

There was a tomato growing in our garden that was a really good size. The perfect tomato for putting on your hamburger, as one slice would completely cover the bun (and did). My daughter claimed it as her own, and we were fine with that. Last night, she grilled hamburgers for us and her two grandchildren. The kids, being kids, have not yet discovered the beauty of tomatoes. Daughter, of course, was gracious in allowing her father and I a slice, each. It was very good.

Tonight, she plans to have the second half of that tomato between slices of toast. We have promised to leave her chosen tomato for her, as there really are plenty more where that one came from. She also shared a picture of it with me. If you’re interested, you can see that on my Face Book wall.






Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Dripping eaves troughs, dripping nose...

 August 23, 2023

I’m in day five of a summer cold. On the first couple of days my ability to think was practically nonexistent. I had no focus, and while I do well dismissing arthritic pain most days, there was just no way I could dismiss the general “icky” feeling this cold has brought me.

Over the last few days, I have spent a bit more time in front of the television than is normal for me. The upside of this is that the constant presence of droning voices does wonders for my ability to doze off with impunity.

According to the weather network it’s planning to rain here all day—with a few thunder boomers thrown in for good measure. That doesn’t bother me overly much. I actually prefer, intellectually speaking, to be experiencing a gloomy weather day when I’m not feeling my best. It makes the whole, get comfy on the recliner, lay back and close your eyes if you want to routine seem completely justified.

That said, I should take issue with that science-based website, “the weather network”. It’s actually showing only a trace of rain expected until after 11 today. What we are experiencing right now is not a trace, it’s a deluge, and it has been for about twenty minutes. And we’re not supposed to have thunder until this afternoon, but those are boomers I am hearing at 9:50am.

I long for better accuracy in all mediums, but especially those that claim to be meteorological.

The rain is as good for our gardens as ever, and while we have harvested a few tomatoes, they are now taking their time turning red. Of course, we know that’s because the heat here has dissipated. I can’t find the wherewithal to really regret that. Not with so many people on this continent still being thrust into heatwave after heatwave. We’ve been quite a bit cooler here over the last few days, and that is something to be grateful for.  The tomatoes will eventually ripen. And for those that don’t, there’s newspaper to wrap them in.

I used that old hack last year and it worked out very well.

We’ve finished watching the last television series that we taped, just a week ago. There will be nothing more of interest in entertainment programming until the strikes are over. I truly hope that they’re settled fairly, and soon. They will be eventually, because no one is interested in permanently pulling the plug on the American entertainment industry.

Of course, I do realize that I could watch practically anything that I’ve never seen before, because I do have access to a few streaming services—but I’m picky when it comes to programmes that I invest my time in. I used to watch a lot of movies—we had a weekend movie habit when the kids were younger, and Blockbuster was in town. But I’m not into movies so much anymore. In most cases I would rather read, or write, a book.

But for the moment both of those beloved activities are on hold, because to do either requires focus, and that’s something I just don’t have in abundance now. This is why this week’s essay is a lot shorter than usual.

Hopefully next week I’ll be back to my usual overly-opinionated self. For now, take care, and God Bless.









Wednesday, August 16, 2023

About this "writing" thing...

 August 16, 2023

I’ve often told anyone who would listen that being a writer isn’t just what I do, it’s who I am. I look at the world through a writer’s lens. My being a writer informs absolutely everything about me as a human being. Everything I think, or do—every opinion, every choice, and every emotion that I may claim—these all exist as they do because I am a writer.

There is a lot of emotion in my make-up and there’s absolutely nothing I can do about that. Of course, by now I understand there is nothing I should do about that. If not for my capacity to feel, I truly believe I would not be able to write—at least not in the way that I do or even would want to do. In my opinion, the ability to perceive and convey emotion is crucial to good storytelling.

It takes a lot of different kinds of people to make a world, and it would be boring as hell if we were all just carbon copies of one another. If you’re a writer, and if you write stories about people and relationships, then you spend a lot of time studying people. You want to know not just what, but why. You want to know the trail from there to here. You want to know the deepest, darkest secrets, and you want to see how many and varied ways there are to connect the dots.

That’s me. I want to present characters to my reader who evoke emotion because when you evoke emotion in your readers, they become invested in your work. If the reader doesn’t care about the characters you create, they will not finish reading the book. And if you write too many books where the readers don’t care, then the “prime motivation” for the writer is lost.

The prime motivation for a writer is to write so that others will read.

Now that sounds rather obvious, doesn’t it? But it’s really not that obvious, nor is it always necessarily the case. Over my career I have met different authors who write for many different reasons. And sadly, not all of these authors even understand their own motivation.

Some folks write because they want to tell others the truth—so that they can stop being themselves and start being who those authors think they should be.

Some folks write because they want to vent their anger, their rage, and their sense of deep personal injustice—it’s their way of shouting, “watch me, watch me! I matter!”

Some folks write to make money. Now, this is a motivation I really don’t understand because (and I can say this as the author of sixty-nine titles and counting published by my publisher) there must be at least a million ways far easier to make money that to write. When one is a writer, one willingly puts oneself through extreme torture from time to time. It’s like every time you write a book, you are taking a knife and eviscerating yourself and letting all that you are hang out there for everyone to see and quite often, mock.

Who of sound mind would do that? For money? One would have to be extremely desperate—and that same one would eventually be extraordinarily disappointed, because except for the very few rare cases, most published authors do not make a whole hell of a lot of money. I guess it’s the same as those who chose the career of acting. Most actors don’t necessarily even make a living wage.

It’s worse for writers than for actors when it comes to earning their way. Who would sit down in front of a blank computer screen and imagine that they could create a world, characters and a story worth reading out of only what’s within them? Well, and to partly answer my own question, I suppose that extreme narcissists would imagine that they could and that the resulting work would be a page-turner. The key word in that last sentence, of course, was “imagine”.

But otherwise, one might expect that the true answer to that question of “why do it” might be that if one has no friends and no life, one might indeed need to resort to such a thing if only to quell the boredom.

Money doesn’t qualify as good enough reason to go through what I go through to write a book. I may have my truths I want to share, but I don’t ram them. I just reveal them and then leave it to the reader whether to take it or not. As for the expression of pent-up emotions? Oh, my friends, y’all should know by now there is nothing at all pent-up about my emotions. They’ve had free rein over me for all my life.

When it comes to writing, for me, it goes back to that prime motivating factor.

I write so that others will read. And in the process, I hope the reader will find a few moments of entertainment, that they will recognize something that is relatable for them, and that when they finish the book, they will feel just a bit better than when they began to read it.

One reader once told me that reading my books was like having their heart hugged. And really, what could be a better reward than that?










Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Our dichotomous conundrum....

 August 9, 2023

Because I am older, and I recall what used to be, I can look back and see differences between what is and what was—even as I admit that some of the unintended consequences of the way things are today, I never saw coming. What a strange world this is that we are living in—strange, and oddly dichotomous.

In this modern age, most people have cellphones and Internet access. They have cable and they have streaming services. They spend their time online with “their friends” or chilling, watching videos. Information can be had at the stroke of a key or the push of a button. Everything is so easy and instant and at our fingertips. On the one hand, there is much good to be said about these modern technologies and current methods of operating in life.

And yet, the reality for the average individual human being, it could be said, belies all of the above.

We have access without any concrete connection, and information without any real knowledge. And as a result of that, we have never been a people more tribalized, while we have never been persons more alone.

This evolution in our society likely began as a trickle back in the last century. Our civilization used to be one of community, in that we came together for varied and different things. In days of yore, we’d participate in a barn raising or a quilting bee. In the times of my youth, we’d attend a place of worship; we’d join a flower club, the 4 H, the scouting movement, or a reading group. There were extracurricular activities at school that were strongly encouraged to join.

We would go to the library, to Main Street for a parade, or the local park for a 4th of July or Canada Day/Victoria Day picnic.

The local churches would hold their annual bazaars or bake sales, and people from the entire area would attend.  In the U.S. y’all had Friday Night lights—the local high school football games where you’d mix and mingle with other parents(this was never a thing here in Canada when I was in high school).

But today, we have those cellphones and that Internet access and those twenty-four-seven streaming services. We have busy lives that we somehow have molded into solitary lives, and it’s not a good thing at all.

Dr. Vivek Murthy, the Surgeon-General of the United States posted an advisory entitled, “Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation.” I believe that there is merit in this premise. Humans were not created to live alone; we were created to be social beings, and that’s a Biblical principle. Dr. Murthy states unequivocally that there are real health dangers born out of loneliness and isolation—not to mention the danger they can pose to the healthy maintenance to our democracy. Here is a link to Dr. Murthy’s publication:

There is a world of difference between “social media” and socializing face to face. The media is only a one-dimensional screen shot. It has no warmth, no depth, and no nuance. It is easier, of course, to just do something online—whether it’s playing a game or even participating in a chat. But it’s not nearly as satisfying as getting together with friends for a game night, or just meeting the guys, or the gals, for a couple of drinks and a good chinwag.

I think we need to begin to take time out from our algorithm-influenced, hermit-like ways. When there are community events being held in our area, we should go. Oh…there won’t be anyone there that you know? That’s kind of the point. We need to interact face to face with new folks, with people who might not believe everything that we believe. We need to reach out and make real, living connections with real, living people. We need to begin again to feed our intrinsic need to socialize.

Nothing happened overnight. We’ve fallen into these habits, that have ended up putting us in isolation, over time. So let us begin to reverse that, over time. Let’s become communities again.

We can start in our own homes, with our own families and friends, and then go on from there.