Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Wednesday's Words for March 13, 2019

It always amazes me how very quickly life can go back to pre-vacation “normal” as soon as the bags are unpacked and stored upstairs once more.

One thing I try to do now—now that time seems to be moving so much more quickly than it did even ten years ago—is to cherish each day, regardless of the circumstances. I try not to wish any time away by staying, as much as I can, in the moment in which I find myself. That doesn’t mean I don’t anticipate the days to come, but I don’t make the future my focus. Taking things one day at a time seems to help me hang onto that day just a tad longer.

And even doing that, the memories made during those eleven days when I was outside my own country, have already dimmed slightly. It’s a conundrum, in my opinion: plan a trip and prepare for it for several months or more prior to departure (in this case, WWW in San Antonio was on my appointment book for 2 years); leave on a jet plane, or by car; enjoy each day of the time away; actually sit back and relish the moments. Then come home and get sucked back into the routine that you forgot, while you were away, was something you love.

When I am having less kind thoughts, I chalk this need for a balancing act up to humans being mostly a fickle lot. The grass is always greener, and blah blah blah. I think this quality is human nature, but one that is neither good nor bad; it just is. Maybe our “fickleness”—our letting go of some of those memories so quickly—harkens back to the beginning of human society. If the cave woman let her head stay on yesterday’s party, she wouldn’t see the saber-tooth tiger about to pounce on her today.

I spend a lot of time watching people. I find them endlessly fascinating, of course, and it’s also research for me, all part of the way I spend my days. You can’t create relatable characters if you don’t understand humans and their foibles. You can’t express emotion in words if you don’t learn how to read facial expressions and body language.

The words I pen are my life’s work. I am convinced they’re the reason I was put on this earth—at the very least, they’re the reason I didn’t die when my angioplasty procedure in 2002 turned into an emergency triple bypass. Knowing this, I seek always to get better at penning those words and communicating the story—or the message—that I believe someone needs to hear. I used to say that everywhere I went, everything I saw, everyone I met and everything I did—in short, all of my experiences—went into my “well”, and it is from this well that I draw to tell my stories. So if I didn’t go and see and meet and do, my well would run dry. I still believe that. My most recent challenge in this life has been to expand the definitions of going, seeing, meeting and doing. If the purpose is to inscribe knowledge upon the hippo-campus, then any knowledge one obtains through any medium qualifies. I still want to actually leave my home (occasionally) to physically go, see, meet, and do. But as that becomes more challenging, I have to improvise. So far, that plan is working. I just have to keep getting up each day, remain curious about the world I live in, and keep learning.

Oh, and I have to keep writing, too.

Life throws challenges our way on a regular basis. That is life’s job—and it does its job pretty damn well, let me tell you. Our job is to dig through the copious piles of crap life tosses at us, looking for that pony.

The memories that I know will remain with me of the trip so recently taken are the times I spent with good friends, sitting quietly and listening and sharing ideas. Life for me, at its core, is about connections.

It’s people that matter, more than anything else, because people—helping other people, touching other people—are the entire reason we’re all here on this earth.


Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Wednesday's Words for March 6, 2019

We had a wonderful time on our trip to Texas. There were a few anxious moments as we traveled, wondering if we were going to make connecting flights, but it all turned out well in the end. I enjoyed meeting so many of my readers face to face for the first time, and making new friends as well, who will hopefully become new readers.

After the book event—Wild Wicked Weekend, excellently organized by Cate Beaumont and Trish Bowers—we traveled to an undisclosed location to visit with good friends. We had a tour of the Hill Country, and spent some precious time together, time to reconnect and talk of big things and small. Time for which I am very grateful.

The afternoon before our flight out, I was fortunate enough to have lunch with my publisher, Amanda Hilton. It had been nearly five years since we were face to face. I am so grateful to be published with Siren-Bookstrand. I first met Amanda in the late spring of 2006, when I pitched a book to her during the Romantic Times Booklover’s Convention. That was twelve years ago, and the book in question became my first published novel.

I’m now working on my 60th title for Siren.

Ms. Hilton was accompanied by a woman with whom I communicate each time I have a book ready for publication. How wonderful to have a face to go with the name!

And then, too soon, it was time to head toward home. Even in the anticipation of the trip back to my everyday world, there was an opportunity to see something new. For all the traveling we’ve done, and the flights we’ve taken and the several times we’ve landed in New York City, we’d only ever been to La Guardia airport. This time, coming back from San Antonio to Buffalo, our lay-over was at JFK International Airport.

Of course, we were excited about that. We were going to be visiting one of the most famous airports in the world. The glitz! The glamour! Alas, the…disappointment. It began as soon as we landed. We waited on board the plane for all the other passengers to get off, before we deplaned. And when I got to the jet-way it was to discover there was no wheelchair waiting for me. There should have been, as I was on their “list”.

After several minutes, one of the flight attendants went up the jet-way (which turned out to have three levels), found a wheelchair, and brought it down, so I could at least sit. The amazing Delta Airlines flight crew attempted to call the gate, but the phone in the jet-way wasn’t working. They waited with me, and after another ten minutes, they took me up to the terminal proper themselves. There was another wait then, but at least I was no longer in the cold jet-way.

Fortunately, we had a couple of hours until our flight to Buffalo, and eventually someone did arrive to assist us. We were able to grab a lunch, and then we settled in at our gate to read as we waited for the final flight of this trip.

It was good to have one more over-night in Buffalo after a long day of traveling. The hotel we chose across from the airport had an on-site restaurant, so it was easy to settle in for the evening. Having gotten up at three a.m. so we could get to the San Antonio airport on time for our early morning flight, we were exhausted by nine-thirty that night.

Now we’re home, unpacked, and reunited with our fur baby, Mr. Tuffy—and in the way that I’ve always found curious, back to normal so soon after our twelve-day excursion. All that’s left for me to do is to ruminate on the places we visited, the events we experienced, but most importantly, at least to me, the people we met.

We all have our lives, our minutia, our routines—we all take our life’s journey one step at a time. But among the choices we make and the moments we experience, the going and the doing and the sitting and the thinking, it’s the connections we make that matter the most. When we open ourselves up to meeting other people, to listening and sharing, we’re doing what I’ve long believed we’re all meant to do here in this life and on this earth, to one degree or another: we touch others.

For a space of time, we interact, and share, we lend our life force to those around us, we give, and if we’re lucky, we receive back that communion of spirits, that interlude of interaction. When you look into someone’s eyes, when you take their hand and open yourself to their presence, to their thoughts and their heart, when you acknowledge them, you’re giving a gift that is priceless, yes, even beyond gold or precious gems or fame.

Because this connection, one human being with another, is the most real and significant thing in the world—and the one thing that has the power to change lives.


Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Wednesday's Words for February 27, 2019

A very short essay today, direct to you from me, on vacation in Texas!

We have been having a wonderful time here in Texas. Yes, we did arrive, although I have to tell you, it was a close thing—at least in our minds.

Our flight out of Buffalo left a bit late, and that was a worry because we had a connecting flight to catch in Atlanta. It was looking good, especially since we were seated in the 10th row, which boded well for getting off the plane fast. Usually, because I require wheelchair assistance, we wait until the plane is empty before we get off, but this time, it just wouldn’t be an option. And we were feeling good about our chances—until the pilot announced that we would be in a holding pattern over Atlanta due to a storm.

That didn’t last too long, but long enough for us to know we were landing after the scheduled departure time of our flight to San Antonio.

Sometimes, and in the face of facts that would appear to be to the contrary of what we wish them to be, it’s difficult to keep the faith. I was down to my fingernails hanging on, when we got off the aircraft. Fortunately for us, that flight out had been delayed too. In the end the flight scheduled to leave Atlanta at 7:35 p.m. didn’t go wheels up until a quarter after ten.

The event we attended “Wild Wicked Weekend” was delightful. I’m so grateful for author Cate Beaumont and all the effort she put into creating a place where authors and readers could meet. I’m very grateful for and to all the readers who attended, and sought me out. Thank you all so much. Some of you shared personal stories with me, stories of how my words had touched you. What a wonderful gift you gave me!

After the conference, we packed up our bags and headed to the airport—to rent a car. The next stop required a bit of driving as we were headed to an undisclosed location, off to meet up with good friends not seen in four years.

I’m actually writing these words on Wednesday February 27, but I have no idea if they will be posted today or not. I’m outside of San Antonio, in a hotel that purports to have a Wi-Fi connection. I’ve been here since Monday but haven’t seen a sign of that little thing yet.

So I’m trying something I’ve never tried before. I’m going to use my iPhone’s “personal hot spot” to see if it works. If not, I’m going to relax, tuck these words away, and send them to you when I get home. I do need to learn how to worry less about things I can’t control.

This seems like a good place to start.


Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Life really is 5 percent what happens to you and 95 per cent how you cope with it. As I write these words, we are ensconced in our hotel in Buffalo, because Wednesday is flight day. At least according to our tickets.

We’ve already had an adventure and we’ve barely begun our trip.

Mr. Tuffy is also having and adventure – a sleep over with his buddies at our daughter’s house. He was really quite happy to go, and while he’s having a few adjustments, we know from past experiences that he will do fine. If he shows signs of being anxious, our daughter will move their party to our house, where he will, of course, fare better.

So we awoke on Tuesday morning, dog-free, and planning to leave sometime after noon hour. I must at this point tell you a little not-so-secret secret about my beloved. When the day of vacation is at hand, he wants to leave five minutes ago. I thought, with this trip, things would be different because, well, he has vacation every day now. But, no. He’s still the same. At one point I suggested (this was actually on Monday night) that he could start walking to Buffalo, and that I could pick him up at some point, eventually.

Good thing he didn’t.

At a little before 1 pm, we went out our door, got into the car…and it wouldn’t start. Deader than a doornail. We have coverage with the auto club….but my poor husband was convinced we were done. Never have I seen such a sad, disillusioned, I-knew-it-was-too-good-to-be-true face.

We went back inside and called the auto club. They promised to be out in an hour. Fortunately, we had no flight to catch. This was Tuesday and Wednesday is flight day.

While David speculated that the car would need more than a boost and appeared to be preparing for the inevitable cancellation of all plans, I started to look for our options.

I believe there are always options.

My daughter said she could take the day off when we were due to come home in order to come and get us, and so I looked into taking paid transportation to the airport. It would be a bit expensive but spending an extra 280 seemed better to me than blowing off the 800 we’d already paid for our flights.

I shared these options with my husband. He cringed, of course, and that told me that he thought it was a lot of money to spend. He was absolutely right, it was. But it was an option.

The man from the auto club arrived. He boosted the car, and it started and, he reported it was charging. He didn’t have the size of battery we needed with him, which turned out to be just as well. Then he left and we let the car running for a half hour. David went out, turned off the vehicle, then was able to restart it. But the head lights didn’t come on.

And then my daughter texted me, telling me that if we could wait to leave until 3:30, she would drive us to Buffalo. She was worried the car would act up while we were on route, and we’d be stuck on the side of the road.

Quite frankly, I was, too.

So that is what we did. By the time my husband and I were in the hotel’s restaurant, ordering supper, he had recovered the spirit of vacation. Now, we are traveling in February and there is another winter storm about to wreak havoc on part of the United States. Today as you read this, we’ll be heading to the airport just after noon hour, for a four-thirty flight. There could still be delays. We’ll have to wait and see.

But even if there are, I am determined to have the best possible attitude about this time as I can have. I’m a worry wort at times, yes. But beyond that, I’m an optimist—just one of those irritating people who’s convinced that where there’s manure, there has to be a pony.


Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Wednesday's Words for February 13, 2019

I don’t remember a great deal, first hand, about my father. He died when I was eight and a half years old. I wasn’t a sophisticated eight-year-old, not by a long shot. I don’t think many kids were in those days. Television didn’t have a huge influence on our lives, back then. You might say it was the golden age of parental controls. If it was a nice day outside, no Saturday morning was spent in front of the television, except for maybe a half hour or so. Then it was, “get outside and don’t come in unless you have to use the bathroom.”

Most of what I know about my father I gleaned from the few times, when I was an adolescent and then a teenager, that my mother would tell me little things about him. I do have a few personal memories, ones I’ve held close because there really are so few of them. I believe the trauma of losing him when I was at such a young age did something to my memory, which is why I don’t have many. I mean, I really didn’t know there was such a thing as a parent dying, and then one of mine did!

One thing I do recall both in reality and from my mother mentioning it was that the name of this second month of the year was generally preceded by a very bad word, when my father said it. I don’t know if that’s because it was the month of his birth, or if it was because traditionally, at least in those days, February was the harshest month of the winter.

Yesterday as I read the new winter storm warnings, and as I looked out my window at the white precipitation and heard the sound of ice hitting the glass, I realized this month still is the harshest winter month.

And of course, it’s this month in which we are flying for the first time in a couple of years. Go figure.

While I excel at maintaining a positive, and basically happy attitude on the outside, I do tend toward worrying on the inside. Some worry in life is unavoidable. I recall that for a few years after my father died, I lived in fear that my mother would, too. About a month after he passed, my mom “threw her back out”. She had to lie on the sofa for a time, and I was convinced she was dying.

If she was late getting home from work, or if she didn’t arrive home when I expected her, I would tremble in terror until she arrived safe and sound. In point of fact, she did leave us thirteen years after my father, when she was 57 and I was 21. She died at home of a heart attack.

To this day if somebody isn’t here when they say they will be, my first thought heads down that same dark fear-strewn trail. And into this rich psychological background and history, I’m introducing something new, something never before contemplated: a drive to Buffalo and a flight to Texas in expletive-deleted February.

I’m pretty good at setting my worries aside, and I have denial down to a fine art, so I’ll probably be fine. But still.

I’m not looking forward to the travel, but I am looking forward, eagerly, to the people who await me at the end of this trek. My best friend lives in Texas, just a half hour from San Antonio and I can hardly wait to see her again. Another very dear friend lives in Utah, and she’ll be in San Antonio at this time, too. The friend I’ve had the longest in my life winters in Texas, and there’s a slight chance I may see her, too.

I’ll be spending some time with my publisher, and what a magnificent bonus that is!

There are also some wonderful people who’ve been kind enough to read my books and support my career, cherished friends! Some I will be hugging again, and some, for the very first time. I’d pledged to attend this author/reader event, “Wild Wicked Weekend”, two years ago, and let me tell you the intervening time has sped! There’s so much to plan and get ready, I’m in just a bit of a quandary at the moment. I haven’t even begun my list, and if all y’all know anything about me after all these essays I’ve written, it’s that I always have a list, and I have it early.

“Morgan, don’t worry. Clearly, you’re simply mellowing in your September years,” you might say. Ah, how I wish that was so! Unfortunately, the truth is a bit less cheery a thought than that.

I have a darn good memory – it’s just that lately, it’s really, really short.


Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Wednesday's Words for February 6, 2019

The deep freeze finally left us, and within two days of that, practically all of our snow had melted. It had been fairly deep, five or six inches, and I was amazed at how quickly it simply vanished. Today, there remains but small isolated piles, remnants of snow and ice, where the snow had been shoveled into mounds. The stairs leading down from my porch and my walkway are completely clear, for which I’m grateful.

That means there’ll be only one layer of ice to worry about, and that’s the one placed there by the freezing rain now falling. It’s morning, and this ice will taper, supposedly, this afternoon.

I’m not kidding myself that the white stuff is done for the season. I understand that winter still has a few howls left in it, I’m sure, before full spring blooms. That was the second-deep freeze of this winter so far. We had one in November, I think. It only lasted a few days, and it wasn’t nearly as bad as this most recent one.

Now here I must digress for just a brief moment, to share with you one of my pet peeves. I really feel the television and radio meteorologists suffer from a lack of specificity. For example, I must insist that once cold gets to a certain “temperature” it’s just frigid. And when the “weather people” say the next day is going to be warmer because it’s going to be minus eighteen instead of minus twenty? Then I submit, it is not warmer at all, it is merely slightly less cold. People, there is nothing warm about minus eighteen. Can I get an amen on that?

I don’t think I particularly mind the on again/off again approach Mother Nature has taken this winter. Immediately on the heels of that week of extreme cold, we had a couple of really warmer days—one day it went up to (plus) fifty degrees. While the back and forth of fluctuating temperatures might cause havoc for some, I feel it’s better to have a few days break than to have an unrelenting winter. I’ve experienced a lot of those in my lifetime, and having breaks is definitely better.

On either Sunday or Monday, I heard geese passing overhead. I don’t believe they’re geese that have returned from migration. I think they’re birds that are wintering here. I don’t even know if they all “fly south” for the winter any more. If they do, do you suppose they get stressed out to arrive in to Georgia, or northern Texas, only to find there’s snow there, too?

It’s odd, the questions that occur to me sometimes.

Our dog, also, is happy that the extreme cold has left, because he doesn’t like the frigid temperatures any more than we do. He’s just a little guy—barely eight pounds—and not very tall, so we’re particularly careful of him. We don’t let him out for more than a few minutes when it’s really cold, and in fact, he just goes out, takes care of business, and hurries right back in.

Because he is so little, we need to ensure there is a path created for him in the back yard, a “path to peedom”, using a phrase coined by a friend. Little dogs don’t do well in deep snow. Additionally, Mr. Tuffy is a male, and if the snow touches a certain part of his anatomy, well, he’ll have no part of that at all, thank you very much. Generally speaking, we need to ensure he has a path for any amount of snow approaching four inches. He’s really that short.

I want to try and impart a positive message here. I want to always try to uplift, but if I can’t uplift, I’ll settle for amusement. That’s not always easy to do, and I don’t always succeed the way I’d like to. I do try, and I believe the need is urgent.

You see, I heard a speech yesterday and I didn’t feel there was much positivity in it, no plans to make things better and certainly no uplifting. Hence, I do feel called upon to give some here.

I’m pleased to inform you that three of the four North American groundhogs I know about, Punxsutawney Phil, Wiarton Willie, and Staten Island Chuck, have all predicted an early spring. And truthfully, if you think about it, the earliest sign of spring has in fact arrived.

The days are a noticeably a little longer now than they were a month ago. I noticed, because at five-thirty p.m., yesterday afternoon, there was still enough light to see the neighbor’s back yard out of our living room window. The sun did not set, officially, until 5:50 pm.

The sun will set today at 5:52 p.m., two minutes later than yesterday. So spring is arriving, and at a speed of two minutes per day. This is not only positive, it’s something else that’s rare these days.

It is the unvarnished, unapologetic, unaltered truth.

I’m a big fan of the truth, and I’m more sad than I can say that I have to turn to the weather in order to find some.


Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Wednesday's Words for January 30, 2019

We’re getting ready to take our first trip out of the country in a couple of years. In February, we’ll be flying to San Antonio, Texas. I’ll be appearing at a reader/author event called “Wild Wicked Weekend”. The event is hosted by author Cate Beaumont, and I gave my word two years ago I’d be there.

There will be a lot of my friends attending this event, some friends who are readers and some who are authors. Friends I’ve missed and haven’t seen in person for a very long time. So, I am very much looking forward to this—but it’s not a trek I undertake lightly, and it will require a fair bit more than my last book event in the U.S., which was quite some time ago.

Getting older is not for the faint of heart. It’s been, as I said, a couple of years since we’ve gone beyond our border. My last trip out of the country was a drive to visit friends outside of Fort Wayne, Indiana in the early fall of 2016. I managed the drive in less than eight hours and stayed with them for a few days. Prior to that, we’d gone to Pennsylvania to visit our friends in the eastern part of the state. That trip we’d taken in early July. It, too, is a single day’s drive.

In the last couple of years, we attended only one writer/reader event, and that was in 2017 and just down the road from us - a thirty-five mile drive to one of our neighboring cities. It was hosted by American author Kallypso Masters. I’ve actually never attended a Canadian event hosted by a Canadian group as a published author. The stars just never quite aligned for me.

This trip is different from the one in 2017. I have “swag” to get ready, though I’m not taking a lot, because we’re flying. I have some new pens and note pads, and I also have some book “covers”. I had wanted to take some actual print books with me for the book signing, but this whole going across the border thing makes that challenging.

When I used to go to the RT Booklover’s convention, I could arrange with the organizers of the book fair to have them get the books for me. I just had to guarantee my sales. I didn’t have to lug them and fill out forms and pay extra freight for them.

This event is a smaller a scale event than RT, and there is no bookstore organizing the signing. Most of the authors attending are self-published. That’s not a complaint by any means. It’s just the way it is. Each author is responsible for their own appearance at the venue, and for me that calls for a creative approach. So I’ve announced, several times, I won’t have books there, but that readers should feel free to bring whatever books they’d like me to sign.

The event itself is scheduled to last a few days, Thursday through Sunday. The schedule looks like fun and provides a lot of interaction between authors and readers. It doesn’t sound too overwhelming.
Ah, but there’s a catch.

For the last two years, I’ve let my age catch up with me a bit. My pace has been steady around the house, and I’ve had a routine of sorts, and I’ve kept moving, more or less. But I’m not really busy. Busy and I don’t seem get along as well as once we did. I’m really looking forward to this trip. At the same time, I know it’s going to be a challenge for me, and for David, too.

Of course, I’ve reserved a mobility scooter for myself, for the period of time I’ll be at the hotel in San Antonio. After the event, we’ll be traveling a small distance away from the major city to see friends for a few more days. We fly back to Buffalo on March first.

I’ve got my lists started, but again, I’m moving much slower than in the past. I never thought it would happen, but I strongly suspect that I’m mellowing out, where my anal tendencies are concerned.

I’m trying to decide if that’s a good thing, or not. I guess I’ll know for certain, after this event is over.


Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Wednesday's Words for January 23, 2019

Last Saturday—all day and into the night—we finally got some snow. It was the kind of snowfall that looks innocuous. You know the kind of snowfall I mean. You peer out the window and can barely make out that snow is actually falling. The flakes don’t look like flakes, but like nearly-microscopic specks. Because the wind is blowing, you’re almost lulled into the sense that, yes, it’s sort of coming down, but the wind is carrying it away…very far away.

The sun sets, and it gets dark out. Is it still snowing? You have to look at the street light to tell. In that small circle of light you once more see those same nearly-microscopic specks. So technically, you know it is snowing. Then you look at the ground and the car, and you begin to comprehend what’s happening. It’s a silent but getting deep invasion.

Of course, you are slow to this realization because, while you looked out every hour or so, you really didn’t see much change in accumulation between the first hour and the second. But by Sunday morning—well, it was enough for me to alert our sixteen-year-old grandson that we were going to need his assistance in the “digging out” department. His mother assured me he’d be by on Sunday at some point to take care of that for us.

I like snow, if I can stay safe and warm indoors and simply peer at it outside the window. I like snow in the Christmas season especially, because, well, all those Christmas cards showing cozy cottages covered with snow, and of course the city sidewalks, busy sidewalks, dressed in holiday style…. However, Christmas is past. Mother Nature gave us a green Christmas this year, and that’s not a complaint, just an observation.

So snow is pretty to look at and I don’t mind this snowfall, as long as it doesn’t last too long.

I think the lack of the white stuff so far this year has spoiled me. Basically, I believe this is just one of those off winters. The usual situation in our neck of the woods is that we get a lot of snow, that it comes sometimes as early as October and is still here into March. I say it’s an off year because I am hearing of some places in the U.S. that are getting hammered, that usually see no snow and ice at all. I guess that’s where our snow went this season. Of course I know with global warming, everything is in flux. It would be handy if those who are deniers would wake the heck up. I’ll stop there as I don’t want to digress.

Fortunately, I don’t actually have to leave the house until later in the week, though we had planned to nip out and pick up a few things on Monday. That was easy enough to cancel. Waiting until late in the week leaves plenty of time for snow plows and shovels to come into play.

But while the snow stopped falling, the temperatures didn’t. The bone-eating cold that came on the weekend was a surprise. Yes, I check the forecast each day, and I register that it’s going down to the minus digits, Fahrenheit—but it’s a shock to the system when one actually opens the door and a block of ice tries to enter your lungs.

I don’t mind imitating a hermit. Actually, the older I get the more comfortable that state becomes. One of the questions I get asked at my doctor’s appointment every three months is this: “Do you still enjoy going out?”

That’s not a good question to ask me, because I don’t believe I’ve ever enjoyed going out. I especially don’t relish the act in winter, when I have to dress carefully for warmth, wear my boots which I sometimes need help to get on, ensure the ice claw is extended on my cane (but not until I’m at the door), and then step outside as cautiously as if I have vials of nitroglycerin strapped to the bottom of my boots and the teeniest tiniest wrong step will result in—kaboom!

Seriously, who can enjoy that? But I usually answer “yes”, because once I’m where I’m going, I always find a way to have a good time—despicable winter weather notwithstanding.


Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Wednesday's Words for January 16, 2019

It’s already the middle of January! And, I’m kind of sorry to have to confess this because I know what a lot of you are going through, weather-wise. But as I post this essay (January 16) we do not have any snow on the ground.

Not one bit. Zip. Zilch.

This is so not normal for where I live. You know that place, the TRUE NORTH (a phrase from our national anthem). Oh, it’s cold enough. At the moment, at eight-thirty in the morning, the temperature (in Fahrenheit) is 28 but “feels like” 18. We just don’t have any snow.

When I think back to the winters of my childhood, they featured snow mounded so high on the side of the road, after the plows went down, that those banks towered over the cars so you couldn’t see over them. We’re not talking the sleek little cars of today, either. Think 1959 Studebaker, and you know I’m referring to a heavy, steel, behemoth.

We used to make snow forts. The kids in the neighborhood—our rural neighborhood had about six counting me—would divide into two groups and build the snow forts and then we would have snowball fights. Or, if the snow was deep enough, we would make tunnels between the forts. Oh yes, we did, in the open field beside my house and, no, we didn’t know at the time how dangerous that was! We just did it and had fun.

The other winter fun thing was the natural skating area right across from my house that extended more than a quarter of a mile. In those days the land on the other side of the road was very boggy, and if the water had been deep enough when it froze, you could skate from my house to the last neighbor’s house, no problem. Of course, we had to clear off the ice, and keep it maintained (repairing any ice divots created when one of us was clumsy—but hey, that was a small price to pay for free, unlimited skating.)

I mourn the loss of those carefree times. I mourn the loss of the joy that seemed to be just there for the plucking, as you roamed and explored and did. I’d leave the house some days right after breakfast and not come back until dusk. To my knowledge, my mother never worried where I was, nor did anyone’s mother worry about them. That thought is taking me slightly off topic. But y’all are used to that, aren’t you?

Were we naïve? Yes, most definitely. Bad things happened to kids back then, it was just never broadcast. It isn’t that things are “worse” in the current time than in the “good old days”, necessarily. It’s that back then, no one spoke of the dangers that were lurking in the shadows for kids. Back then, there was no such thing as the twenty-four-hour news cycle. The news came on as 6 p.m. for a half hour, and that was that.

If you saw the words “Breaking News Alert” or “Special Bulletin” on your television screen, something very bad—or really exceptional—had happened.

I’m not sure why it was, that we weren’t more up front with kids in those days about the dangers they faced. As kids, we were warned “don’t talk to strangers” – but that was it. No details were offered about what dangers lay in wait if we did. There was a vague sense that a stranger might take you and you’d never see home again. Certainly, there was no warning about private space and inappropriate touching. A part of me feels as if that failure to alert and prepare kids for the dangers they could encounter was a kind of complicity—because we know today that a lot of the sexual abuse crimes committed against children are not committed by strangers, but by “trusted adults”. And not knowing of the dangers that non-strangers posed gave us all a sense of well being. It also gives a shading to the phrase and concept of “good old days” that’s completely false.

Once more, I digress.

So here we are, mid-January, no appreciable snow fall—and I’m okay with that, for this year. I know there were green Christmases here and there all through my life. And I’d rather not have to fight my way through snow and ice, thank you. Walking is difficult enough without Mother Nature’s hissy fits thrown in.

But nothing is really all good. We’re reasonably pleased, because we haven’t had to worry about digging out the car or clearing our walk as yet. However, those who make extra money in the winter by plowing are having a lean time. Those who count on snow to have their leisure activities via winter sports are also likely feeling glum about now.

I try not to be selfish when it comes to my wishes for specific weather. Sure, I’d love to see it about seventy-seven degrees the year round, with maybe a week or two of cool, crisp temps in three of our four seasons—and maybe one hot summer day. But that would be selfish. So, I’m content with however much snow we need to have in order to provide extra money for the part-time entrepreneurs and to put as much moisture in the ground as the farmers need for spring.

But beyond that? Mother Nature can keep the deep piles of that white stuff—I call it kaka (and I don’t mean the Brazilian ‘football’ player, either)—and she can take some anger management for those hissy fits, too.


Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Wednesday's Words for January 9, 2019

I recall watching an ABC news special, a few years ago, about the amazing medical recovery of former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. As you may recall, Representative Giffords was attacked in January of 2011 when a man opened fire at a mall where she held a “Congress on Your Corner” event, meeting and greeting her constituents. Eighteen people in all were shot, and six people—one of whom was a nine-year-old girl—died.

After having taken a bullet to the brain, initially it was believed that if Miss Giffords did survive, she would spend the rest of her life in a vegetative state.

Of course, now we see how well recovered she is, and while she’s not back to where she was before the attack, she walks and talks and understands her world, and now, her new role in making it a better world than it had been. She didn’t let this attack send her into hiding but used her experiences to help her chart a new path.

Two of the major factors cited by many in her recovery are pure force of will—and the use of music therapy.

I have heard it said that music is a universal language, and I believe that’s true. I also believe that music accomplishes more to the benefit of our bodies, our minds and our spirits than we truly know right now. The science isn’t there yet, but I believe that music is as fundamentally necessary to a healthy and happy existence as is food, air, water, and shelter.

I’m at that point in my life when sometimes, words escape me. I have to really think to remember things that a few years ago, I had no problem recalling. Our brains do change as we age, and that is something I’ve long known. The fact that I’m pushing 65, and that I do have several health issues means I’m not surprised to have a few lapses here and there. It doesn’t really bother me, at least not overly much.

A couple of weeks ago, I was going through my iTunes library. I wanted to make a Christmas play list on my PC. As I looked down the list of songs that I had purchased over the last several years, I saw that I had music I’d forgotten that I had (my library consists of more than 800 songs, a realization that left me a little slack-jawed).

There was a girl-group that was quite popular in 1990, when they came out with their debut album. They were active for a few years, and then fell off the radar, returned in 2004, and then made a comeback again in 2010 and are, according to what I can tell, still performing on stage.

The group’s name is Wilson Phillips, and their first big hit, Hold On, hit so many non-musical chords for me, that it quickly became my favorite song of all time. Well, until it was superseded by the next one.

That’s my usual relationship with music. I love so much of it and times change, and my favorite song, if I have one, depends on the moment I’m in. Right now, I have two: This Is Me, from the Greatest Showman, and Baba Yetu (The Lord’s Prayer in Swahili), by Christopher Tin.

So, there I was, in the last two weeks of 2018, doing a mental fist-pump because I had discovered that I have two Wilson-Phillips songs in my iTunes library: Hold On, and Release Me.

Task at hand completely forgotten (and that does happen fairly often), I put on the headphones, turned up the volume, and listened to the opening chords of that first hit. And then…I began to sing when the group did. To my astonishment, I remembered ever word, every pause, every extra little “uh-huh” along the way.

It was the most wonderful moment for me, because it was a moment when I realized that, as much as I focus on moving, and playing a couple of strategy games each day to keep my body and mind active, I realized there was one more thing I should be doing at least once a week, too. Something that really lifted me up and made me feel younger.

I need to do this more often—put on those headphones and reconnect with songs I have loved in the past…and maybe, who knows, it might prove to be the tonic I need, if not physiologically, then at least emotionally.

If you have access to music and a few minutes to yourself every day, I recommend that you do the same. Music not only soothes the savage beast; it can give us respite, and calm our busy, modern-day souls.

Music lifts us up and leaves us better than it found us—and that’s a wondrous thing.


Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Wednesday's Words for January 2, 2019

Happy New Year!

Thinking back, I’m willing to admit I may have grown up with some “different” notions on things—notions that in this day and age may not make any sense. For example, when I was a kid, it was held that Christmas was for children but New Year’s? Oh, baby, that was all about the grown-ups. I thought that meant, you know, adults partying along with Guy Lombardo at the Waldorf Astoria on their TVs, dancing at a club, the big ball at Times Square…and the endless toasts, the silly hats, and the noisemakers and confetti. You can’t forget the noisemakers and the confetti!

Now that I’m one of those grown-ups, I have come to the conclusion that this really is an amazing time of year for adults. For a few brief hours, we adults can let go of our sour moods, our cares, and the weight of the world that is constantly dragging us down. For just a breath of time, we can believe once more that anything is possible. It’s a time of new beginnings, and as we enter the New Year, as that clock chimes and the sound of Auld Lang Syne rings in our ears, we can once more feel that everything is new again—yes, even if only for a brief moment.

We’re not indulging in silly pipe dreams or flights of fancy, we’re simply celebrating the New Year!

I always feel that way, every New Year’s—and I don’t go out anywhere in order to feel it. It’s a right here in my humble home kind of feeling—likely a right here inside my mind sort of thing. This is not a logical thing, it’s completely emotional and subjective and yes, I know that in many cases it’s not based on any facts what-so-ever. Nope, it’s an off-shoot of pure living, made of pure emotion, and in thinking about the fact that it is both of those things, I have come to another conclusion.

If some people can avow with a serious looking face that truth is not truth, or that truth is unknowable, then I can say any conclusion I may draw based purely on emotion is valid and true.

This sense of new beginnings is the reason I’ve always considered spring to be my favorite season. The air smells fresh and new, there are new buds on the trees, and new flower shoots poking above the ground. It doesn’t matter how bad the winter just past has been, that sense of newness abounds.

With spring comes nature’s new birth, a sign that life does indeed carry on and the future is waiting for us to make it.

That said, I do not make any New Year’s resolutions. Yes, I know it’s a tradition, but not all traditions are necessarily good ones, as far as I’m concerned. And this one is just a giant trap, in my humble opinion, waiting to gobble me up. Created, no doubt, by someone who believed that where there is hope, there must also be disappointment.

And should anyone press me about this failure on my part, I have the perfect answer. I do not need to make resolutions for the New Year as I am asked to make them on a regular enough basis as it is. 

Allow me to explain: Every three months, I go to the doctor. I’m a diabetic, type 2, and so this is my quarterly diabetic check up. I go for blood work a few days before my appointment, so that when I get there, the doctor and nurse can see all my important medical information, including what they call a “six-month sugar” level. And every three months, at this appointment, I am asked what my goals are for the next three months.

I don’t want to portray myself as a difficult patient. I’m really not. But this is silly. I’m not a person who makes new goals every three months; I’m a long-game sort of gal. So I give them the same two goals, every three months—to keep moving, and to stay alive. They’ve also encouraged me to have a “minimum step per day” target, since I do in fact wear a step-counter.

It’s a Fitbit these days, but in past days I had a step counter pinned to the waist of my slacks. Healthy adults should aim for ten thousand steps a day. My stated goal at the moment is four thousand, but in fact I am managing between four and six thousand most days, depending. I even, every once in a while, hit that magical ten-thousand step count, but not while my arthritis is in flare-up mode.

By anyone’s definition, four to six thousand steps a day is moving, even if it isn’t at a “brisk walk”. At this point in my life I’m not capable of a brisk anything. So it’s one foot in front of the other, and I ensure I get up every hour, and I take whatever progress I can get.

I always keep “staying alive” as a goal because—well, who wouldn’t? I usually call it “staying on top of the grass”. Those were words said to me in a chat/bingo room when I first went on line in the aftermath of my open-heart surgery, back in December 2002. The “room” was filled with women, older women, most of whom had health issues. I disclosed my sad story—yes I did feel sorry for myself for a few months as I coped with this major life change at the ripe old age of 48—and one sweet lady, who was a paraplegic and also a shut-in, typed, “Morgan! Stay on top of the grass!”

Her command made me laugh and was the moment I began to not feel so sorry for myself. She gave me good advice, don’t you think? So I keep that as a non-negotiable resolution the year round, and consider that it, along with the determination to keep moving, are really the only two all year’s resolutions I really need.

I hope this new year of 2019 is a good year for your and yours. And I hope all y’all keep moving and stay on top of the grass.


Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Wednesday's Words for December 26, 2018

I sincerely hope everyone reading this had a wonderful Christmas. For those of my readers who don’t celebrate the holiday, I hope you enjoyed some peaceful and joyous family time.

And today for those who celebrate it, Happy Kwanza!

For my husband and I, and especially lately, Christmas has become a time to be with loved ones, to remember the past—and with the New Year just a week away—it’s also a time to look ahead. David and I don’t buy each other gifts any more. When we were starting out and were scraping our dollars together as we eked out our living, this was the time of year I looked forward to receiving a few things I not only wanted, but needed.

New slippers, a pair of panty hose, and before the word processor, a couple of typewriter ribbons topped my list. I loved certain fragrances—Chanel #5, Chloé, and Oscar—but never expected to ever receive them. I was never so delighted as when “imitations” of these scents began to show up on the store shelves. In those days I was certain that was as close as I was going to get to the originals, and I was content with that.

When the kids were small, we poured most of our resources into getting them their gifts, because we didn’t want them ever to know how tight money was. We often ran at least a month behind in the bills in those days, because we had to give our kids a good Christmas. It was who we both were, and I doubt any amount of reasoning could have changed our minds about that in those days.

I am gratified to know that our son and daughter have both told us they never knew a Christmas, when they were kids, that wasn’t plentiful and magical.

Current day, we’re no longer generous to the point of beggaring ourselves. We bought simple gifts for the three great-grandbabies; we gave a very modest sum of money to everyone else in our immediate family (each of our children, grandchildren, and their significant others), and called it good. We’re much happier spending time with family than receiving gifts from them, and our reality reflects that.

When you ask us if we had a good Christmas, we’ll always answer yes, because for us both that is simply a matter of spending time with family. This year is the first Christmas for our youngest great-grandchild, born in May. He is the grandson of my oldest son and his wife, a little baby who is loved and adored by all.

His paternal grandmother—my daughter-in-law—is over the moon in love with him. I know for a fact she cherishes every moment she can spend with her grandson. We had supper with them on the 23rd. The look on my daughter-in-law’s face as she reached for that baby when he arrived was pure love.

That one moment, to me, is what Christmas is all about.

Thinking of my association of children and childhood with the best of Christmas, I’m not at all puzzled by that mental connection. We generally associate magic and wonder with this day of the year, if we think of them at all. That’s been reflected in popular culture all my lifetime at least, having been encapsulated by two of the most beloved holiday movies ever—It’s A Wonderful Life, and Miracle on 34th Street.

Children are the ones most susceptible to magic and wonder. They’re the fortunate ones among us, able to feel and appreciate those two elements full measure. They can believe easily in miracles and magic. And that is the second major connection, between children and Christmas.

The first is simple, and cuts to the heart of it all. Because at the very heart of this special day is the reason we celebrate it to begin with. A child was the very first gift of Christmas—a gift given to us all.

I truly hope your Christmas gave you at least a small taste—as it did me—of magic and wonder. And, of course, I hope there was love.


Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Wednesday's Words for December 19, 2018

Last Sunday, my daughter brought her niece, our granddaughter Emma, and her two grandchildren—Abby and Archer—to our house for supper. Her grandchildren are five and four years old respectively. They’re cute kids, bright, energetic…did I ever tell all y’all that my youngest grandchild is sixteen? It’s been a while since dealing with little ones was a part of our regular routine.

We don’t see our great-grandchildren very much. That’s just the way it’s turned out. These two come perhaps every other month for supper, or for a short visit. I’ve never had the occasion to babysit them, the way I did with three of my six grandchildren. We occasionally looked after our daughter’s son, and for a time, more than a decade ago, she and her son moved in with us for several months while she went to college to become a PSW (nurse’s aid).

In the days following our son’s death, we had his two kids, Emma and Gavin, here a fair bit, too. Our Sonja had been working at a manufacturing facility that was closing down. She wanted, very much, to be a nurse.

She was able to get a student loan with some grant money, and we agreed to watch the kids when they weren’t in school and she was in class, or later, working. This began in 2006, the same year we lost Anthony. Her schooling took a couple of years, and then she began to work.

The kids considered this their second home during the latter part of their childhood. There were a few days here and there they spent with an older couple who lived in their same apartment building. But we had them here a lot of the time.

We had bedrooms upstairs for them, with beds and dressers, and they’d sleep overnight when mom worked nights. This was several years after I had stopped being a “mommy” on a daily basis, to my own kids. Most school mornings, whether they were dropped off here or slept over here, I’d make them breakfast.

It was a busy period for us, and a bit of a struggle at the time, but I never complained. We were here and could help out in a way that our son could not. By 2013, our services weren’t as necessary, but we were gratified to have been a help.

Flash forward to current times. As I said, the great-grandchildren came over for supper on Sunday. Our great-granddaughter, Abby, gives new meaning to the word precocious. Emma had brought a smoothie with her, one that was green. Yes, it had spinach in it. She offered Abby a sip, which the little girl accepted. Watching, I could see she took a very small sip. Then she looked at her older cousin and asked, “why would you even want to put that in your mouth?” As the evening progressed, this little dynamo once more gave us a little preview of how she would be as ruler of the world some day in the future and did an adept job of ordering us all how to play a game she came up with on the spot.

Lots of drama in that one, and no timidity at all—which is both good and maybe not so good. My money’s on her for being the boss of whatever endeavor she pursues in the future.

Our great-grandson Archer did his best to grab his share of the limelight from his sister, but he was too easily distracted just being a kid to make a budding world dictator. I’m betting he’ll never develop an ulcer and will always find a way to get along regardless of the circumstance.

By the time our supper guests left, only about three hours after they arrived, my beloved and I had been pleasantly entertained, and were completely exhausted. Totally, completely wiped-out-exhausted. I know I’ve mentioned before my theory that young kids and babies suck the energy right out of any adults in their vicinity. I’ve always believed it. The only problem for us “old fogies” is that lately, we don’t have all that much of a storehouse of energy to begin with.

I have a new business idea, and I’m wondering if I should try to copyright it. Here is the advertising pitch: “Suffering from insomnia? Can’t get your mind to quiet so you can sleep? Don’t take drugs, simply have a couple of very young children over for an hour or so!”

As far as I can tell, that is the very best non-invasive, non-addictive sleep aid, ever.

It certainly proved to be so last Sunday night when my beloved and I began snoring in our recliners just minutes after the kids went home.

David and I wish you all a very Merry Christmas!


Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Wednesday's Words for December 18, 2018

Yesterday our oldest son turned forty-six. It doesn’t seem all that long ago that I was forty-six. In truth, there are only eighteen years between my son and I. I do recall that at one time, likely when he was in his very early twenties and being a bit of a smart ass (a family trait), I told him it wasn’t entirely impossible that at some distant day down the road, we could end up living in the same old folk’s home.

At that point I was already using a cane to help me walk, and I shared with him a vision of a crotchety-tempered me waving that piece of wood in his direction—for emphasis, or just to underscore that the younger him should mind his Ps and Qs. In this imaginary tableau I was ninety-eight and he was eighty.

Theoretically, it could still happen.

I have a hokey little thing I do, usually, on the annual occasion of my kids’ birthdays. I call them and I sing the birthday song to them, deliberately off key and out of tune—and at the top of my lungs. I did call my son yesterday to wish him a happy birthday, and the first thing he said was not hello. It was, “please don’t sing. I’m at work and you’ll embarrass me.” I replied back that it would only be embarrassing if he put me on speaker phone. Nevertheless, I relented and instead just wished him the best on this day, part of the countdown, I informed him, to birthday number fifty.

He tried to convince me that no, no, he was counting down to forty. My son is a generally man of few words but an exceptionally quick wit. He could have inherited that trait from either my husband or myself. His dad is pretty fast with a come back, sometimes, too. Of course, I told him he could always claim forty with ten years experience, an idea he acknowledged then and there had merit.

Yes, smart-ass does run in our family, and proudly, too.

My son and his wife are going to Mexico over the Christmas break. I call it a break because my daughter-in-law is a teacher—an early childhood educator. She works for one of the school boards in the community to our north. This means she takes her vacation time when the schools do.

Since they will be gone between Christmas and New Year’s we’ll get together before the 25th for our annual Christmas-season supper. I used to host these gatherings, but the amount of work required to feed many mouths really is too much for me now.

I love cooking and I especially love feeding people. I don’t particularly love getting too old to do any of that. But I am getting older—those darn birthdays! —and I’ve decided to stop trying to pretend I can do the same amount of work I could do when I was in my thirties. I generally get things done—dishes, making the bed, various other house work tasks, and cooking. I just do it at a slower pace, and what I used to accomplish in an hour and a half now takes me at least twice as long, mostly because I need to take little breaks along the way.

I am grateful that I’ve never been one to just lay around and do nothing. I do like being busy, even if it means I’m busy doing chores. And there are only the two of us now, and not five of us, so that sort of…almost…counts for something toward less work than I used to have to do. Almost.

The thing is, aging happens to us all. We don’t know when we’re younger whether we’ll age well, or not. We don’t know if we’ll be hale and hardy, or not. You might think that being extremely health-conscious all your life means you automatically will have a graceful, and gracious September through December path to travel. But I don’t think it’s a given at all.

Like with other situation in life, the only thing you have the power to guarantee is your attitude.

I don’t generally waste much time bemoaning my difficulties. I admit them, and then move on. I do the best I can do and will continue to do so for as long as I can.

 And I will continue to cherish each new day—be it an ordinary day or a son or daughter’s birthday—for the amazing gift that it truly is.


Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Wednesday's Words for December 5, 2018

Perspective is a powerful force. We all own it, and it controls not only practically everything we think and do, but our reactions to everything we experience.

Where the challenge arises is realizing that this force is a subjective one. My attitude toward something is not your attitude toward that same something—and neither my attitude nor yours is right, nor is it wrong. Perspective is not synonymous with fact. Period.

I think one of the greatest talents to call your own would be the talent to be able to separate subjective perspective from objective facts. That can be a challenge, and one that a lot of people, lately, haven’t been able to wrap their heads around.

The topic of Christmas is a good example to use in explaining how perspectives can be true even if they’re opposing, and neither right nor wrong.

The unassailable fact is that Christmas is a Christian holiday in which people of that faith celebrate the birth of Jesus.

For some people, Christmas is a magical time of year. This is especially so for children. It always warms my heart, the way so many adults go out of their way to foster this sense of wonder in the wee ones, whether those children are theirs or not. Whether it’s helping them write letters to Santa, or the great good gesture of delivering unwrapped presents to a local toy drive, it’s been my experience that for the most part, adults will take the opportunity to promote the spirit of the Christmas, especially if children are involved.

We look forward to Christmas for our children, drawing upon our own memories of Christmases past. I understand that for me, the joy of awaking that morning to discover a filled stocking and a gift under the tree inspired my desire to pass that joy on to my own kids. All my Christmases included a fat juicy orange in the toe of my stocking. What a wonderful, and wondrous treat!

There were bacon and egg breakfasts on Christmas mornings, one of the few mornings in the year when breakfast didn’t come out of a box. Oh, and there’d be a pitcher of gape juice and orange juice, and real butter, too! I don’t recall the Christmas suppers as fondly. When I was a child, the bacon, eggs, butter and juices were all of my favorite foods, and all in one meal. Along with the food, there was family and music, and laughter. We had midnight Eucharist on Christmas Eve, and a general sense of contentment, peace, and well-being.

Of course, as a mom, I did my best to duplicate all of the above for my own family. I understand my perspective of Christmas being a magical, wondrous time of plenty was formed from my own experiences—and yes, flavored a bit from my own personality.

For some people, however, Christmas is a time of empty bellies and aching hearts, and sometimes that ache is nearly unbearable. For some, there never was a sense of “plenty”, or that sense was experienced for a time, and then lost. The Yuletide is a period of year when, for some, their state of want is more keenly felt thanks to the inevitable comparison to the bounty that surrounds them.

We’ve all seen that photo of a child looking into a window longingly gazing at a family celebration, or through the window of a toy store at the array of toys he or she has no hope of ever being able to call their own. Most of us hurt when we see that image, because we understand it represents a perspective shared by far too many in our society.

For some, Christmas is a time when the loss of loved ones is felt sharply. For these people, there’s a part of them that cannot fully celebrate, because the hole in their hearts is just too deep, and too black.

These two perspectives of the Christmas season are on opposite ends of the spectrum, but they are true, while being neither right nor wrong. As the saying goes, it is what it is.

Want and loneliness aren’t restricted to the Christmas season. But this season of giving and having and joy shines a brighter light on the need and the suffering of others. Thirty percent of all charitable donations occur in December. Whether as a reaction to the “spirit of Christmas” or the realization that one needs a bit more of a tax deduction, who can say? There’re another two perspectives that are true and neither right nor wrong.

If you can give even a little to someone in need, I hope you will feel encouraged to do so. And if you know someone who is alone, or missing a loved one, I hope you will think of them, and extend a little kindness.

Giving kindness to others is, I believe and yes, in my perspective, the reason we’re all here on this earth in the first place.


Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Wednesday's Words for November 28, 2018

I didn’t mean to do it, but somehow last week, I accidentally started my Christmas shopping. Yes, every year I swear that next year, I’ll get an early start on this annual chore.

I guess this year is last year’s next year, for real this time.

We were in Walmart on Friday, with a specific list of things to get, including some shirts and pj bottoms for my husband—but we also needed light bulbs. Now lately, we’ve been going to one of those big box stores that deals in everything you need to fix your house or supply it with appliances. We’ve been getting our light bulbs there because they have such a huge selection, even if they are a bit pricey. Since my husband wanted to go to Walmart to get a few things, I thought it would be smart to get our light bulbs there, too. After all, it would save us a fifteen-minute drive and save us a fair bit of money.

Unfortunately, it looks like we’ll be going back to the big box store for light bulbs, because we didn’t find the ones we needed at our local Walmart. With that item off our list, we headed down that large aisle past the computer supplies toward the grocery section and there, right there in a display on that aisle was a selection of arts & crafts sets for kids with over 300 pieces each! They were sparkly and shiny, and I thought that would be a really good gift for our oldest great-granddaughter. This particular child is, chronologically speaking only five and a half years old, but attitude-wise she’s much older. I texted my daughter and asked her what she thought. She confirmed her granddaughter would love the set. Into the cart that big, though not fat box went, and yes, maybe I chuckled a tiny bit about all those pieces that someone else would have to worry about.

This gift would be given at and would stay at that little angel’s home.

We’d decided this year that for all the older folks—our kids, and our grandkids—we’d once again just give them some money. We had been giving gift cards, but each one costs about six dollars just to buy, and that is an expense that we don’t need. Now, if I had the energy, I could probably simply buy gifts for each of them that would cost less money than what we’re gifting. But I don’t have that energy or, frankly, the patience—the patience to wade through several stores. Our kids & grands are all of an age (my grandchildren range from 16 to 26) to prefer to get their own treasures.

But we do have three great-grandchildren with a fourth on the way, and for those little tykes, it’s gifts.
Another milestone reached: last Friday marked the one-year anniversary of my husband’s retirement. Time flies when you’re having fun. And since he’s retired, we are on a fixed income now, so we need to watch our nickels and dimes. And I must confess that we have reduced our Christmas shopping list somewhat from a couple years ago. Just gifting our kids, grandkids (including significant others) and great-grandkids, we’re talking more than 15 people. We’ve reluctantly given up buying for nieces and nephews and the greats in that category, which actually cut about 20 people from our list.

We do give what we can to the Salvation Army each year and to the local toy drive, knowing in those cases the gifts are sorely needed.

I enjoy giving and have been told I’m a little too generous. That’s not really a bad flaw to have. I don’t particularly care about receiving gifts myself. I’d rather just have visits with my family.

It’s been a very long time since all of my kids and grandkids have been together under my roof. The last time they were all of them together with us was at that retirement party the company had for my husband in October of last year. There are always issues between one’s children. One would think that being in their forties would mean my son and daughter were mature adults and capable of getting along.

The key words in the previous paragraph were, “one would think”.

My beloved reminds me that we didn’t really hit maturity until we were in our fifties, and he has a point. In the mean time, I will be content with what I can get vis-à-vis time spent with my loved ones. I keep in touch with my grandchildren by texting them regularly, and sometimes that even works with their parents!

And I’ll (hopefully) always have my memories of family gatherings past to visit whenever I feel the need to feel them close.


Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Wednesday's Words for November 21, 2018

My husband is nearly finished the renovations he began several weeks ago on our front entrance hallway and the staircase leading to the second story.

I’m going to be glad to see the completed result. As I mentioned a couple of essays back, he went with our granddaughter’s suggestion of a satin-finish white for the trim, to match the satin-finish beige. He agrees that the two together look quite elegant. Once he has installed the trim this week, all that will remain will be to bring down the bamboo and glass shelving unit and then reinstall the coat-hooks onto the wall (this is a piece of 2x4 upon which are affixed 6 metal coat hooks).

We have a boot tray we get out once the weather turns, and a mat we put down just inside the door—far enough away from it that the mat doesn’t catch on the door, but close enough so you don’t have to walk too far with wet boots/shoes on the linoleum tile.

I need to be really careful, because that floor is very slippery when wet. But since I am careful with every step I take, that’s not a difficult thing to remember.

My husband was rubbing his hands together at the prospect of starting his next project—the living room. I asked him to please hold off for a few weeks. The truth is, I want a bit of time without things being topsy-turvy and out of place.

The fact that I am a bit nervous about how he plans to partially move things around the room as he goes (which would have him on a ladder behind the very expensive television) has nothing to do with my reticence. Honest. Well, mostly not.

I understand that at the moment, I’m being more than a little contrary. For the last several years, my husband has had travel as his priority. That began before I became a published author. Each year, that’s where his vacation pay went. A part of me wished, at the time, that we could travel a little less and engage in at least some home improvements. But I understood how difficult it was going to be for him to turn that corner. He’d begun the renovations by putting a new roof on our house—well, he didn’t do it, but he stood by and watched as our younger son, Anthony, did. Then Anthony died and that was the end of anything resembling renovations.

In the years following, David could lay a floor—and he did a couple. But he would consider nothing connected to the renovations he’d worked on with his son. I never nagged him about this, because I believed that the time would come when he’d be able to move on.

And now my husband has finally turned that corner. His priorities have shifted, and that’s a good thing…except I find the disruption of his working on renovations that have the house in upheaval puts me in upheaval. I’m suspecting, with a kind of dazed shock, that I might be one of those women I used to scorn in my thoughts—the sort who is a miserable old biddy, impossible to please no matter what.

We did have one more budding “situation” arise just a couple of days ago, with regard to a kind of trim called “corner molding”. The plan was to put this vital piece of trim over the corners, where drywall met drywall, in order to protect it from being damaged—you know, leaned against, brushed against, bumped against, etc. We went into the city to our local Lowe's to purchase all the trim. When we got home, my husband, after he organized things, sought my opinion—something for which I am very grateful.

He held a piece of this special trim where it would go in the living room….and it went just a bit above the height of the door frames. He asked me what I thought of it. I told him it would look good, and, because I know him, I added, “if you plan to install it floor to ceiling.”

He frowned at me and said, “no, I was just going to take it to the height of the door frame.” The door frame in question, by the way, is on the adjacent wall. When I just looked at him, he said, “What? I’ve seen it done like that in lots of places.”

Now, my beloved is not above telling a teeny weenie white lie on occasion. My response was to simply shake my head. Then he admitted that he had been planning to take it to the ceiling, but the darn stuff was just so expensive! If you think my husband is parsimonious, you’re on the right track, just keep going. There’s no help for it and he completely agrees: he’s cheap.

I say that here because when we went back to the store to get the rest of the trim that he would need to reach the ceiling? Yeah, that was a whole extra twenty dollars.

I’m counting down the days to project completion. All this haggling over decisions has taken a lot out of me. 

Maybe I need a vacation.


Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Wednesday's Words for November 14, 2018

Hellscape. It’s a word that has entered our lexicon and is used far too often of late. It’s a word that brings to mind the ruins of an obliterated, ended world—a place with no life, no future. Barren, empty, leeched of color, bled of life.

As my husband and I have sat each evening watching the news, taking in the horror of the fires raging in California, our hearts have hurt for the affliction before us. Being both of us writers, seeing footage filmed via cell phones of those driving through the fires of hell raging on either side of them as in their vehicles, they flee for their lives, begging God to guide them….

It makes it all too vivid, imaging the last moments of those poor souls who didn’t escape, whose remains are, even now and one by one, being discovered in the burnt-out vehicles melted into the roadside. Who among us does not feel heartsick at the testimony of this carnage left behind? I think a person would have to be a complete and utter sociopath not to feel compassion for the lives ruined or lost, for homes leveled—for a reality just gone.

One would have to be devoid of humanity not to feel for the futures devastated by the miasma of uncertainty and the scars inflicted by the reality of these wildfires.

I look at the devastation before me, entire neighborhoods—hell, entire towns—wiped from the face of the earth, nothing left but ash and rubble, and I wonder how anyone can ever recover from such loss, such damage. And yet…

We know, from all the examples we have seen over the course of our lives that little is, in the end, totally insurmountable for the human spirit. I don’t know how to describe the sense of wonder I feel in the aftermath of such heartsickness, when I see people rolling up their sleeves and diving in. People beginning to build not only their own lives, but helping neighbors rebuild theirs. Be it fire or flood or deadly winds, when the calm returns, so do the people. And out of the ashes, out of the rubble, new lives arise.

Sometimes things happen, and we think that the future is ruined, that we’ll never recover or get over this horrible thing that has befallen us. Be it natural disasters or man-made ones, we are hit with these catastrophes and for a time we can’t imagine how we can possibly overcome them.

But the human spirit is indomitable. There is a time for mourning, a time for grieving, a time for letting ourselves fully absorb and process the horrible thing that has happened. And then…

The sun rises, the air blows clean, and we emerge, renewed by our faith, by our life force, by our newly refurbished appreciation not only for the fragility of life, but for the beauty of it. We behold anew not only the fallacy of humanity, but its nobility, too.

 We began our existence in caves. We lived, adapted and evolved. We connected with our God, received his Grace, and began to see the world beyond our own bodies, our own narrow existence. We reached out our hands to help our fellow humans, and in so doing, opened up the possibilities of all that, together, humanity can achieve.

There are charities dedicated to helping people whose lives have been impacted by these fires. I hope you’ll give what you can. Five dollars is five dollars, yes. By itself it’s lonely. But if one hundred million people each give only five dollars, that’s five hundred million dollars, and that is a good beginning.

Thank you to all the first responders who have been working non-stop to fight these wildfires. These are men and women who turned their focus outward, instead of inward, and they are our heroes. 


Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Wednesday's Words for November 7, 2018

As I told one of my good friends very recently, modern technology is a wonderful thing—until it isn’t.

Over the last few months, my cell phone had been acting up. Freezing so that I would have to turn it off and then on again and turning itself off for no apparent reason. If you know me personally, you might scoff at the concept that I’m a patient person. I suppose, since I do believe in transparency, that I need to confess that I’m not that patient at all when it comes to people. Inanimate objects are another story altogether.

My beloved maintains that’s because most people I can best, but inanimate objects clean my clock every single time. His point has merit.

Finally, however, the foibles of my phone hit the breaking point. I woke up on the 29th of October unable to turn the phone on. It had been on with a full charge when I went to bed. The next morning, nothing. I plugged it into my computer, and got the instructions on the Apple site that I needed to either update the phone, or, if that wasn’t possible, restore my phone to factory settings.

It wouldn’t update, and so restore it was—losing all my contacts in the process. And no, I did not know the contacts could be stored on the cloud. Y’all know a techie, I am not.

On Tuesday, we went to the mall, to the kiosk that represented our cell network, to get me a new phone. I expected I might have to pay for a new phone, and I was prepared for that. I never expected the process to take more than two hours.

Now, back in my day…. yeah, I hate starting a sentence with those five words, but there are times when there simply is no choice. Let me begin this stroll down memory lane by saying that my first full time position in the working world was as an accounts clerk in the credit office of a department store—one that is now defunct. This was in the day before computers were a thing in the work place. Along one wall in our office stood a line of card index files, marked A to Z. These held all the files that represented all the credit cards issued by this department store. Between each cabinet were places we could insert our headphone jacks—so that when a sales clerk called up to us from the sales floor in order to get authorization for a sales purchase, we could quickly go to the appropriate cabinet, plug in, find the customer’s ‘file’ and either approve or disapprove the purchase.

The key word in that entire paragraph was “quickly”. Customer service was to be polite, efficient, and above all, speedy.

Ah, the good old days. In those days we worked with paper, and it was a manual, painstaking activity. We’d receive the “filing” each morning, which were the credit card slips from the purchases the day before. Those were to be filed immediately to the correct accounts, so that when we were looking at a customer’s file, we could mentally add up what they’d spent so far that month and know if they had room in their credit limit for the purchase being authorized.

Now we’re in the computer age. The Internet age! The age that is beyond the space age! Calculations are performed at the speed of light…and everything, yes everything, seems to take longer.

At the thirty-minute mark, the entire time during which my husband leaned on the sales counter while I was relatively comfortable in my wheelchair, he looked at me and said, “You know, we’ve bought houses in less time than this.”

He’s a swift one, is my beloved. I giggled. The polite clerk (for he surely was that if not efficient or speedy) finally said it was just a matter of updating the new phone—which was new only in the sense it had never been used. It was an older iPhone, which was absolutely fine by me. He asked us if we could come back in forty-five minutes?

We agreed and went for lunch at one of the restaurants across the way. We luxuriated in the experience because we seriously don’t do that very much at all. We came back in an hour and a half…and still had to wait. Apparently, they were having issues with their internet reception in the mall. Imagine that. Finally, I asked the clerk to give me the phone and I would update it at home on my so-called high-speed internet. The clerk displayed speedy for the first time and had that phone, plus all my free gifts—a new case and a new portable storage unit—in the bag faster than you could say customer service.

As we were leaving the mall David said, “We must remember, next time, when one of us needs a new phone, to bring camping equipment—tent, Coleman stove, sleeping bags, air mattresses, food—and our Kindles.”

The twists and turns of life are much easier to deal with when one lives with a comedian.


Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Wednesday's Words for October 31, 2018

Happy Halloween! Or as it once was called, All Hallow’s Eve. I know that for my American friends, the kick-off to the Christmas season is Thanksgiving—the day after that holiday being the biggest shopping day of the year. But up here in Canada, it’s the day after Halloween that seems to usher in the yuletide season—but not by a big black Friday sale. We have those the same day you do, the day after your Thanksgiving. I was referring to when the retailers here haul out everything Christmas and strew it every-darn-where. Yes, we get a few more days of seeing Christmas items in the stores, and decorations here and there than you do…of course, if I’m honest, I’ll tell you the habit of leaving the Christmas lights out all year around thrives here in the great cold north.

I’ve long associated the beginning of the true nippy and chilly weather with this fun holiday of Halloween. In my memory, there were more chilly and wet Halloweens than there were pleasant ones. Fortunately for me, it was my husband who, as the children really got into the trick-or-treat stage of life, gladly took them around to knock on doors. We’d usually go to my mother-in-law’s house, because they lived in a town and we lived in a rural community with few houses about. That, of course, was before we moved into the town we live in now.

I can recall being a child growing up in the country whose daddy drove her into the same town my in-laws lived in. He’d been born and raised in that town. There were cousins, and old friends of my parents whose doors he’d take me to. There wasn’t much more visiting than a quick hello. My father’s focus was on the task at hand. It’s one of the few solid memories I have of my daddy.

Once David and I moved our family into a suburban setting, I would hand out the candy while David took the kids around—until our oldest was about fifteen, when he would shepherd his siblings about for us. Of course, he would then come back, drop off his brother and sister, change his costume and go out again, this time with his friends. Fancy Halloween bags? Cute plastic pumpkins? No thanks, my kids insisted on pillowcases. And they darn near filled them, too. Fun times and nice memories.

Winter is coming, of course. I have a kind of a mental check list that I know I should make into an actual physical one—my short-term memory being not quite as strong as once it was. We’ve had the furnace inspected, and the filter changed. It’s only a couple of years old, and that maintenance was a free service, because the furnace is a rental. If anything goes wrong this season, I don’t need to worry about coming up with mega bucks to fix or replace it. Freedom from worrying about that is huge to me and worth the cost.

My beloved continues to work on his home-improvement project, which was to replace the drywall in the front entrance hall, and encasing the stairs leading to the second story. The drywall is in and has been taped and mudded and sanded to the best of his ability. He applied two coats of primer paint and one coat of really expensive (but found on sale) color. Yes, it’s beige, but I would call it beige with a very subtle peach undertone. This past Friday he applied protective tape and began paint to the trim. He did mud and then primer that, too, so he figured one coat on the trim should be good.

The accent color he picked out is called Rich Brown, and I was looking forward to seeing the finished product. As he was painting, he was grumbling. Not only was this paint not going on as nicely as the beige, despite being the same brand and type; the rich brown was more like reddish brown. He had the bathroom door frame completed, and I suggested he wait until it dried. Sure enough, the reddish hue was practically gone when dry. I thought we were set, and it would be all steam ahead.

Friday evening, he decided he didn’t like the brown. Actually, he said he hated it. When I asked him what color he wanted, he said he’d let me know. I love my husband, but I am fully aware of his foibles and short comings. One of them is knowing which colors compliment each other. I put in an emergency call to one of my granddaughters, the one who is in her second year of college, studying interior design. She suggested classic white for the trim. My husband got right on board with that and informed me he would get a semi-gloss to go with the satin finish already on the walls. His reasoning was that the semi-gloss would be easier to clean. One more emergency (and horrified) call to granddaughter, and he bowed to our granddaughter’s expertise—he’d keep that white trim a satin finish, too.

Neither one of us has an eye, really, for what goes with what—but only one of us knows that. Fortunately, the one who does has no problem “calling a friend”.

I’m just glad to have such a consultant in the family. Another bullet dodged.


Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Wednesday's Words for October 24, 2018

Autumn colors abound. The air holds a nip of impending winter, and displays of jack-o-lanterns, calico corn, and gourds both colorful and distinctive find their way to porches and decks, and even store fronts. Those first few really nippy mornings of fall always remind me of my youth, of donning a jacket and just walking until my cheeks were nearly stinging. Fresh air and sunshine, accompanied by the darkening clouds, or the dense grey clouds that I refer to as a “snow sky” paint a tableau of the changing season. The breeze in the trees whispers “winter’s coming”.

Squirrels are scampering to gather and save, to prepare for the lean months to come. I’ve already made my first bean soup of the season—I refer to it as “beanie goodness”—and I’m practically itching to imitate the squirrels, not by gathering nuts, but by canning. If the urge doesn’t pass I might see what I can make. But likely it will. Wanting to batten down the hatches and ensure there’s lots in the larder is an urge as old as time. It’s part of our survival instincts at work. My larder is full enough at the moment.

Our walnut tree had a great many leaves this year and almost no walnuts. I’m not sure if that is a harbinger about the nature of the impending winter, or just a cyclical event in the life of walnut trees. I’m not sure I recall the tree every yielding quite so few walnuts before, but then my memory isn’t as reliable as once it was. Honestly, I only saw three or four walnuts, total, and this is a big tree. Since I live in a kind of self-imposed bubble, I have no idea how the other walnut trees in town fared. I really should take a short drive and find out. There are so many of them in the area, and the walnuts leave such a mess on the street, it shouldn’t take me long to know if our tree is unique or a part of a natural trend.

The tree has already dropped all its leaves. For the most part, they’ve been seen to. My husband used his leaf-blower to amass them, and our grandson carted them by the wheelbarrow full up to the back corner of our yard, where we now have a compost pile. On two separate occasions. Now we’re awaiting the maple trees across the street from us to shed their foliage. I always tell my husband and grandson that cleaning up the maple leaves that end up on our property is the price we pay for having had the privilege of enjoying the view of them from spring to autumn.

We’ve already purchased our Halloween candy—mini chocolate bars consisting of 4 varieties that are popular here—one of which is not available in the U.S. (Coffee Crisp). They were on sale, and so I bought 2 boxes. No, we don’t get that many little Halloweeners, as I call them. But I am the wife of a man and the mother of a woman who both love their chocolate. I don’t mind an occasional taste of chocolate myself, but I eat so little of it, I buy it the rest of the year by the small bag that has little tiny servings—like the mini peanut butter cups. I go weeks without any cocoa-laden product passing my lips. So for me as well, having individually wrapped mini bars in excess for a time works.

I used to make all my children’s Halloween costumes, although I would never say my sewing skills were prime. I did well enough to please them, and that’s all that mattered. Both my daughter and my son have a fine hand at sewing and making clothes. My father-in-law taught my son and my daughter how to knit. Sewing from a pattern my son learned on his own. This allowed him to create a fine tradition with his daughter—he used to make her little princess dresses for trick-or-treat time. Their other tradition for the season is father-daughter pumpkin carving.

They take their competition seriously and produce very creative jack-o-lanterns.

When I watch my children being parents, I can’t help but smile. I see in their actions some of the traditions I passed on from my own childhood—and a desire, in them both, to discover brand new ones to hand down.