Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Wednesday's Words for January 31, 2018

The mild temperatures of last week were more than welcome, they’d been expected. In the olden days, we used to call it the January Thaw. As far as I know, there was never a set time in January for this phenomenon to happen, and it could even show up in February, instead of January.

I eagerly look forward each year to the point in January when the air temperature goes above freezing for a few days. I’ve always been a firm believer in airing out my house in the winter. I believe doing so helps the furnace to work better. This belief is based on a long-uttered bit of folklore that says cold water boils faster than hot water, and fresh air heats better than stale air because the oxygen molecules in both are larger.

It occurs to me at the moment, as I write this, that I could very well believe in a lot of stuff that perhaps isn’t proven, scientific truth. I’m going to have to ruminate on that—but not today.

It comforts me to open my house, especially when there is fresh air to be had. I don’t know how to describe this specific scent I call fresh air to you. In my mind, those two words represent a definite smell as much as a state of being. There’s a quality to it, that when you smell it, you just know—likely because your body immediately tells you to breath deep to grab as much of it as you can. I’ve heard it theorized that if a person from medieval Europe could time travel to today, they would have great trouble breathing, because our air quality isn’t as pure as once it was.

I believe that’s true for one reason: the air’s not even as pure as it was when I was a kid. One of my favorite fragrances of all time, is the smell of clean sheets that have hung in the fresh air to dry and have just come in off the line. In case you’re wondering, this is the reason that we now use chemicals to achieve that “breathe deep and sigh” scent in our laundry. I prefer to achieve that quality the old-fashioned way. Every spring, at least a few times when the air has that “fresh” quality to it, my husband indulges me when I ask him to hang the newly laundered sheets out on the line. I appreciate his kindness in doing that for me, because he has to go part way up the hill behind our house to where our clothes line is to do that. That’s not something I can do and is a feat that requires a great deal of effort from him these days.

What I also love about this time of January Thaw is that sometimes, all the snow manages to disappear. It did that this year. All we had left Sunday morning was a small bit of ice and snow where it had been piled high and remained out of direct sunlight. I was able to wear my running shoes to do the grocery shopping. It was nice not to have to struggle with my footwear for a change. Of course, on Monday, we received another few inches of fresh snow.

Please note: fresh snow is not nearly as welcome to me as is fresh air.

In two days time, on Friday, it will be Groundhog Day again. This winter has had its days—days on end of sub-zero temperatures, and days when it’s snowed and been damp and, though not sub-zero, still darn cold. I scoff when I hear the radio announcer say, “it’s going to be warmer today than yesterday. It’s going up to 3 degrees!” Fahrenheit. I’m sorry, but up to 3 Fahrenheit from 1 Fahrenheit is not warmer. There’s no warmth to be had there. It’s merely less cold.

There are several groundhogs that I’m aware of in North America, though there are likely more: one here in Ontario (Wiarton Willie), one in New York (Staten Island Chuck) and of course the famous one in Pennsylvania (Punxsutawney Phil).

I know a lot of people who think that animals in general do a better job of prognosticating weather than even the most highly university-trained meteorologist can ever do. I’ve never quite made up my mind on that score.

What I do know is that in the depths of winter, when all you want is for the darn season to just be over with already, it’s nice to have something to look forward to, something from which to gain hope.

I don’t know what that says about us humans when that something is a rodent.


Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Wednesday's Words for January 24, 2018

Have I ever mentioned how very much I love my job? In the here and now, my life is so much different, so much better, than I thought it would be, sixteen years ago when, in the aftermath of a triple by-pass, I became a retiree.

Before I had that mild heart attack at the age of forty-eight, I was working in the field of accounting, and I very much enjoyed my work. I enjoyed working with numbers, and although I didn’t have a college degree in the field, I had taken a few college courses in accounting. I’d learned, through my working career, how to handle a computer, and I did a pretty good job of it all, too.

Meanwhile, while I was fortunate to have an office job, where I got to sit in a comfortable chair, and work, for the most part, on my own, my husband worked in the aggregate industry, and for the most part he worked outside.

Driving a huge haul truck with tires taller than he was, that was what he did for just the last few years of his career at the quarry. For most of the thirty-nine and a half years he was employed there, he worked outside, year-round. Early on, he did a lot of shoveling, and a lot of “unjamming” of the crusher.

A crusher is a machine that takes large rocks, the size of your kitchen table, and reduces them to much smaller rocks, of various sizes depending upon the need. A lot of those large boulders ended up gravel. And sometimes, those boulders would get stuck and the crusher could not work. Enter my husband, sledge hammer in hand. Yes, he would stand over the rock jammed in between the jaws of the crusher and hammer away until it was stuck no more.

Ah, the early days. He used to have very well-defined biceps and triceps.

In the winter time, it wasn’t the crushers that got stuck so much as it was the conveyor belts. Snow and ice would accumulate at the top, by the pulley. In those early years, when that happened, my husband would climb up those hundred-foot-high belts and fix the problem. During those same winter months, when there would be a tear in a belt, he sometimes worked up there, in the snow and the wind and the ice, cutting out the piece of belt that was defective and lacing in a new piece.

One thing I can say about that industry in those days: they never heard about the folly of putting new wine into old bottles.

I share these bits of trivia with you, so you can understand why I always assumed that David would retire early, and I would keep working until I hit 65. In fact, I had no doubts whatsoever that was what would happen.

Imagine my shock when at forty-eight, my “working life” ended. I was worried about no longer bringing in a pay check, although I knew I would be all right for a year, because I had not collected unemployment benefits for a very long time. But that wasn’t my only worry.

What was I going to do with my time? I had a hard recovery from the heart surgery and it took me a very long time to feel good. I tired easily, and I was feeling almost hopeless. I could see—hopefully—decades of life ahead of me. What would I do to pass those years?

And then I began to pursue my dream, and before five full years had passed, my first novel was published. That was in 2007. Yesterday, I submitted my 55th novel.

I love my job. It gives me what I need, which is the ability to go to work in my pajamas; I avoid traffic and difficult co-workers. I get to immerse myself in a fictional world that operates according to the ideals of honesty, kindness, integrity, and decency. The good guys win, and the bad guys lose. And the very, very bad guys are always brought to justice.

All this, and people buy my books, so I even get to bring in a paycheck, too.

And the very best part of all is this amazing job has given me wonderful friends who’ve made my life so much richer than I ever could have imagined it would be.

Who wouldn’t love a job like that?


Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Wednesday's Words for January 17, 2018

Today is R plus 54. Yes, we’re closing in on the two-month mark of my husband’s retirement from the work-a-day world. I have to be honest, and tell you, it’s actually gone much better than I had hoped it would.

Please don’t judge me too harshly for my reservations. I’d only had past experience to go by. The last few years, my husband had enjoyed three or more weeks off each year, stretching from before Christmas until into the New Year—well, all except for the Christmas of 2016, when that long period of respite was canceled due to unexpected sales. And for those last few years of long weeks off, right after the two-week mark, he started to go stir crazy. Add to that knowledge all the times he’d had vacation time, with no vacation destination…friends, it wasn’t pretty. Three years ago, during one of those three-plus week long Christmas hiatuses, was the year I banished his computer from my office.

It’s hard to get your head into the story when someone is sitting practically beside you, staring at you, watching you to see if maybe you’re bored yet, and would like to go somewhere and do something? Would you? Huh? Huh?

For the first full month of his retirement, my husband focused on resting, and reading, and binge-watching shows on Netflix. He’d informed me before he actually retired that he had no intention of wasting his days by sleeping in. No, he was going to be up by seven-thirty each morning. He’d spend that hour or so I asked of him, doing things around the house, and then he’d apply himself to recreational pursuits.

I bet you’re all wondering how that plan worked out for him? Well, from my point of view, perfectly. In our natural habitats, you see, I’m a morning person, and he is not. I’ve been getting up, for the most part, between seven and seven-thirty since he’s been retired. And I have my house to myself until at least nine on most days, and some days until ten. The only problem with his plan to get up early was that it was predicated on the unspoken natural law that early to rise goes hand-in-hand with early to bed. And by early, I don’t mean early morning. A man going to bed at two-thirty a.m. is sure not getting up at seven.

Over the last week or so, my beloved has finally read enough, and binge watched enough, and surfed the internet enough, and napped enough, was ready to begin what he had decided would be his major focus in his golden years: writing.

He’s working, actually, on his third book. The first one he wrote years before I was ever published, after I challenged him to do so. The challenge came, perhaps not in as friendly a tone as it might have, after he’d spent a few good long minutes lecturing me on all the things I was doing wrong in my process of writing. Yes, my friends, I uttered those words, “if you think it’s that easy, why don’t you write your own damn book?”, never expecting that he actually would take up the challenge.

I can tell you that book had a beginning, a middle, and an end—as did the next one—and that is more than a lot of aspiring authors ever produce.

The fiction sub-genre he’s writing is “dystopian”, and he had a lot of notes before he actually sat down at his computer and began to use the word program for the first time. And as I sit here, writing this, he is in the other room, at his keyboard, working.

He tells me he loves what he’s doing, and that is the most important thing. When the time comes, he’s going to look into “self-publishing” his novel. Neither one of us cares if it makes a penny, though I have a feeling, the way life can sometimes send you a funny little twist, that it might.

For now, he’s happy, and it is in fact bringing us a little closer together. He’s just recently learned one little diddy, an “author’s lament”, if you will. Those of you who are authors know the tune well. It’s called: that moment when you do something, you’re not sure what it was, and several hundred of your hard-crafted words simply disappear from the screen. Forever.

I came when he called me, retrieved his latest saved version, and commiserated with his grief of the unfair vagaries of fate. I told him been there, done that—which is why we have Dropbox.

I also told him: save, save, save.


Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Wednesday's Words for January 10, 2018

In my neck of the woods, at least, the terrible deep freeze has let go—for now. In its place have come temperatures a little more “normal”, whatever that really is these days. According to the weather network, the rest of this work week – from today to Friday inclusive – the temperatures will be in the low forties, and instead of snow, we’re to get rain!

There are two major problems with this turn of events. The first, of course, is that when you have (relatively speaking) warmer air come in over an ice and snow-covered landscape, you inevitably end up with fog. Thick, impenetrable fog that takes a while in the morning to burn off. I am a veteran winter driver. I can drive through fog. I can drive on an icy road, as long as it’s not obscenely icy. What I hate more than almost anything in the world? Driving on obscenely icy roads, in a thick fog. I did that from time to time when I was younger, and when David was still working. He had to be brought home from work, after all and once in a while, when it was one of my days in the winter to do so, we had those ghastly driving conditions. These days, I take one look outside and plunk my butt down, inside if it’s icy with a side of fog. The second major problem with rainy days coming too soon after such a harsh deep freeze with a ton snow is that it’s possible what you’re going to end up with thick, slick ice over every damn thing.

I’m grateful that I have plenty of safety salt on hand. Once the rain is done and the temperatures drop again, my beloved will ensure my walkway and sidewalk are well salted. I hope we get enough of the darn liquid precipitation to reduce the snow significantly, rather than just make it wet and heavy before it turns the landscape into an ice sculpture. Reducing the snow means it’ll mostly be gone all that much sooner; wetting it will only leave us those unholy chunks of ice to deal with.

We used to call what’s slated to happen over the next few days a January thaw. I’m not sure what to call it in 2018. Apparently, we’re in for some above freezing temperatures at the end of next week, as well. We’ll have to wait and see how it all comes out. The forecasters do their best, but I think it’s the nature of the beast that in the end, all the professional prognosticators can give us are their best guestimates. Sometimes there are elements involved in the process of weather prediction that sneak into the mix that no one expects. They call meteorology a science, and I get that, but in my opinion, it’s not a pure science. It’s a combo science, crap shoot, and mass of voodoo spells. If this were not so, we would not have that February pagan festival known as “Ground Hog Day”.

But those circumstances, they’re almost a metaphor for life, aren’t they? We can study a situation, make plans, and form a decision to act, only to have everything change at the last minute. There’s that wide category in life called “shit happens”, and there is nothing, not a single darn thing, that you or I can do about it.

So, all you can do is all you can do, and when it comes to the weather, you just have to hope for the best. This is one area in life when it really pays to be prepared. Any plan you make that calls for the weather to behave in a specific, wished for manner is a plan A that desperately needs a plan B.

Not wanting to get stuck in a situation where, as we get older, we run the risk of having our furnace foul up on us—been there, done that—we now rent that appliance. Having lived through the third of three winters in a row, a couple of years back, when our furnace quit on us told us this was not a scenario we wanted to experience again any time soon, especially going into retirement. This way, the utility company can soak us a bit each month instead of our being faced with a two-thousand-dollar invoice to unexpectedly have to pay on a fixed income.

If this particular January thaw comes to fruition, I won’t get excited or change any of my plans. I may open a window to get a bit of relatively warm and fresh air into the house. Being closed up is my least favorite state of being. But I’m not going to go nuts.

I’m going to keep on as I mean to go, marking each day off the calendar as one more step toward spring, which will almost certainly be here sometime in March. Maybe. If we’re lucky.


Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Wednesday's Words for January 3, 2018

On this day, especially, I remember my father, who passed away when I was eight and a half years old. That was 55 years ago, on January 3rd. He was only in his forties, and he died of a stroke. Just a month or so before, he’d had a heart attack, and was not long home from the hospital when he left us. My memories of him aren’t many, as I didn’t have him in my life for very long, and I imagine the trauma of losing him had an affect on my memories as well. Mostly, looking back, I see freeze-framed moments, mere snapshots of the life I lived in those few years when I had two parents.

In 1963, children of 8 years old weren’t as sophisticated as they are today—at least, I sure wasn’t. We had school, and we had some television. Not much beyond Saturday morning cartoons and whatever was on before eight p.m. on a week night. I watched whatever it was my parents watched, and there for sure wasn’t much objectionable on the airwaves in those relatively early days of television.

I don’t think that life, in general, was necessarily more innocent in that day and age than it is today. But for a kid living in a rural community, with no community resources near-by, no “outside influences” beyond my little three-room school, no Internet, no social media, no cell phones—well, life sure was a lot more sheltered compared to today.

I sometimes wonder how I would have grown up differently, if I hadn’t lost my father at so young an age. Certainly, between my parents, he was the more affectionate of the two. He would read to me at night, and tuck me into my bed. As a matter of fact, one of my earliest, most vivid memories of him was his doing exactly that, tucking me into my bed. In the winter, my dad would put me in that crib, then take my sheet and blankets out to the living room where, one at a time he would warm them on the oil space heater, and then tuck them close around me.

I would have been three or four at the time. And yes, I was still sleeping in a crib at that age—ours was a small house and my parents, my sister, and I shared a bedroom in those days, so there was no room for an extra bed. My paternal grandmother had the second bedroom, and the vestibule by our front door was converted into a sleeping area for my brother.

As I said, I sometimes wonder how I, and my life, would be different if only…but of course, you can’t change what was, and to covet to do so would be to wish, in a way, to surrender all the good of your “what is”. Things happen in life to all of us, and for better or worse we are shaped by those experiences.

I do know that my father, when he was a young man, was a writer. I recall a family friend, a man who grew up with my dad, once told me “wherever Jack went, he always had a note book and pencil with him”. I have some of his work, all that survived that long-ago time when the young man who eventually became my father would craft stories and poems. He stopped writing after his own father died when he was seventeen or eighteen, and he had to leave high school to go to work to support his mother.

It truly was a different world back then. Not better, or worse, necessarily. Just different. How my father’s life changed by the passing of his own dad had a direct affect on how my mother responded when toward my brother, when our father died. My brother was eighteen at the time and in his second to last year of High School. And while it was still common for young men of that age, in those days, to leave school and work to help support the family under such circumstances, my mother refused to consider that option. My brother was to stay in school and go on to college—it was what my father had wanted for him, and what my mother insisted upon.

My brother is now seventy-three, a retired elementary school teacher who attained a masters degree in education. I’ve never asked him if he ever thinks about the sacrifice our mother made for him, because he and I, though we love each other, are different people with different perspectives and different world views.

I do my best to appreciate each new day I’m given. Family history has shown me that life is short and uncertain. So I do the best I can, and treat people as kindly as I can.

I live with an attitude of gratitude and know, for me, that is the way I was meant to be.