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.


Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Wednesday's Words for October 17, 2018

I don’t know what to think of the fact that we’ve turned into one of those couples. You know the kind I mean. Their kids are all well and truly grown up, moved out, and off on their own leading exciting and busy lives. We—the older generation—are at home, alone, reportedly retired and in our September years. They probably would have been golden years if we’d done a better job of saving while we were working and raising our kids, but that’s another story.

So, as I said, one of those couples who no longer has children underfoot, whose grandchildren are also all off leading exciting and busy lives…and here we are, at home, just us…and the dog.

Our fur baby. And what do we do? Do I tell Mr. Tuffy to go and see David if he wants something? Does David tell Tuffy to go and see Morgan? No, of course not. Because he’s the baby, right? That means, he is told to think of us as mommy and daddy.

About the only point to our credit is we do not talk “baby talk” to him. Well, there might be a bit of a sing-song inflection in my voice when I tell him he’s so cute I just can’t stand it—but that’s the only time, I swear.

Thinking about it now, I wonder if it would have been better, right from the get-go, if we had referred to ourselves as grandma and grandpa? Or maybe, her/his majesty? Because I have to tell you, establishing ourselves as the “parents” of this little seven-pound, too cute for words Morkie of ours means that we are going through the whole child-rearing thing, all over again.

Complete with cheeky back-talk and a few nights of interrupted sleep when the baby is restless.

On the plus side, he doesn’t ask for money and hasn’t yet demanded the keys to the car. He might some day ask for those keys and then hide them, so I can’t find them, and we can’t, therefore, go somewhere and leave him alone, possibly never to return again leaving him to eventually starve to death! But that, too, is another story.

Of course, once you start this charade of referring to yourselves to the dog the way we have, there really is no going back. I’m his mommy, David is his daddy, and our daughter, Jenny, is therefore, his sister. He knows us by those names, too. The fact that Morkies tend to be devoted to their families is part of the mix. We are the only three people he loves absolutely. He’s happy when either of my two closest grandchildren, Emma and Gavin, come to visit. He gets excited and wants to be picked up and takes the time to sniff their clothes to see where they’ve been and what they’ve been doing.

New people occasionally come to the house, but he doesn’t want anything to do with them. He doesn’t bark at them, he just stays away from them. It took our son (Mr. Tuffy’s brother) about four times visiting after we got the dog for the dog to allow him close and tolerate being picked up. I think he’d be like that with others, too, if they visited more often. My brother and his wife don’t come over often enough to make any kind of impression on him, so it’s no, thanks. I’ll just stay with my daddy. He is absolutely the happiest when our daughter is here, so he has all of his humans present and accounted for.

We love the little rascal, of course, even if occasionally we wish he’d be a little less vocal—a little less diligent in his job as “Tuffy on Guard” as he feels he must alert us to every passing human (with or without a canine) as well as every squirrel that dares to venture close.

He’s the first small dog we’ve ever had, and there are marked differences between him and our previous large hounds. For one, he really is a lap dog, and having him on me isn’t cumbersome at all. Being the breed that he is, he doesn’t shed. The last dog we had—and the last cat, too—were fur shedding machines. One had to vacuum daily to keep up with the fur. I don’t miss that. He also sleeps a lot more than the bigger dogs ever did, and he’s easier to exercise. Heck, sometimes he just has to run for the pure joy of running, and runs laps from the living room, to my office, into the kitchen, around the table and back again.

Mr. Tuffy, being the baby, is spoiled. This house has three actual puppy beds in it. One is in the office, on the floor beside me, and has a towel for a blanket and several bones in it. Being creative, we call that the bone bed. There’s another with a towel for a blanket on the spare chair in the living room. That’s his television chair. There’s a third one, with no towel, that we keep on a bottom shelf of a shelving unit we have in our entrance hallway. There’s only about a foot and a half between the shelf the bed is on and the one above it, and we call that his “little house”.

Of course, when it’s bed time, it isn’t to any of these luxurious beds that he goes to. No, when it’s bed time he stands stoically waiting for his daddy to pick him up so that he can then carry him into our bedroom and the big, high bed (so high he can’t jump onto it). Yes, he sleeps on our bed, every night. He’s a restless little sleeper, too, finding his place on top of the blankets—sometimes wanting to be close to daddy, sometimes mommy, sometimes at the foot of the bed, sometimes by our pillows—and sometimes exactly between us and under the blankets.

Awakening at night, I know the males in the family are sleeping well and soundly when I see them both on their backs, snoring away.

In case you had any doubt at all, I will tell you that is, truly, how I like them both best.


Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Wednesday's Words for October 10, 2018

This past Monday was Thanksgiving Day in Canada. I can tell you that the history of this holiday as I was taught in school was that at its inception, it was a uniquely American one. I know I mentioned that last year at this time, (and likely the year before that and the year before that). My childhood memories of the holiday, at least in school, were of coloring pictures of the pilgrims and the Indians, and pumpkins and turkeys—and learning, of course about the Mayflower.

I definitely recall, as we heard the story of the first Thanksgiving, no teacher ever informed us that pilgrims were not a part of the Canadian historical story—or indeed, that the first Thanksgiving was celebrated in Canada in 1578. I didn’t learn that until very, very recently. Apparently, our Thanksgiving is more closely tied to the harvest celebrations held in Europe, usually in October. No, I never learned that in school, where we had to set out our Thanksgiving decorations of pilgrims and pumpkins and such.

We didn’t, in my personal experience, begin to make a big distinction between the United States and Canada until we drew close to our own Centennial. Yes, we stood on Main Street for the parade on July 1st, Dominion Day, which later was named Canada Day. But that and standing for our National Anthem (as often as not, in those days, God Save the Queen), was the full extent of Canadian patriotism that I’d ever seen displayed in public.

I recall the great flag debate of 1964. In our family it was a battle of sorts between my Mother (wishing to retain some semblance of the Canadian Ensign and the Union Jack on our flag) versus my brother, who wanted that beautiful new white and red flag with the Maple Leaf.

The only Thanksgiving Day traditions this family has are all related to food. In my house growing up, and as a parent myself, generally speaking, we had turkey twice a year: Thanksgiving in October and Christmas in December. The other Thanksgiving staples are sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie. New Years Day supper, both in my mother’s house and in mine, more often than not was ham. I should qualify that and say that for just the two of us these days, New Years Day hasn’t generally in the last few years come with any special supper at all. Who knows what this upcoming New Year’s will be like? I’m on an every-other-day supper making plan here. We have soups (sometimes home made ones) and canned pasta or stew or frozen one-serving entrees, and of course “L.O.s” (left overs) for the day in between. Even with this new schedule, David has put himself on a diet, because he knows he needs to lose quite a bit of weight. Retirement for him has been a mostly sedentary life.

This year we had the local gang as well as two guests here for our Thanksgiving supper. It was a wonderful time, and really special because our Sonja cooked the turkey, so she was here for most of the day. I like spending time with her—I like spending one-on-one time with both of my girls. They’re interesting and funny, and even though they are both in their forties, they still need a mom every once in a while. I’ve had solid evidence of this the last couple of years, and I am grateful to be allowed to fill that role for them both. Our guests for Monday’s feast were two of Sonja’s coworkers. They appeared to enjoy themselves and that always pleases me.

And that brings me to the message I really wanted to express in this essay: gratitude.

I’ve come to believe in my later years that an attitude of gratitude is a healing balm that can cure most emotional ills and bruised hearts. I try to take time every day to express my thanks-giving. I’ve come to appreciate that those things I once considered truly awful that happened to me in my early years were in fact blessings—and for that I give thanks.

If I hadn’t been through some really horrific things, my writing—whether in these essays or in my novels—would lack depth. I have a friend who is a New York Times bestselling author. She has always maintained that while you occasionally have child prodigies in many of the arts and sciences, you don’t have one in novel writing. The reason is simple. Despite the possibility of gifted prose, unless one has some of life’s kaka on them, they can’t really write anything that touches us, or that calls to most people.

I am grateful, therefore, for the adversities I’ve endured and overcome, for they have made me relatable, which in turn allows me to help those going through similar tough times.

I am grateful for the lean years where balancing the family budget felt like trying to juggle six balls in the air while standing with one foot on a thin wire, high above the crowd—and with no safety net below. If not for those times, I wouldn’t be able to offer counsel to others when asked, nor would I be as grateful as I am for our modest bounty today.

I am grateful for my family, whom it has been my privilege to serve and love—and for the chance to love our middle child, Anthony, for the few years we were granted with him. Loss has a way of helping to build bridges with others. And so, yes, I am grateful even for that loss.

I’m grateful that there are actually thousands of people who’ve read my words in the past, and fewer now, but still thousands who continue to read them today.

And I am grateful every morning to awaken to a new day—a day that if I choose to see it thus, can be as bright and full of endless possibilities as any new day should be.

I wish you all many days that are bright and shining and full of possibilities.


Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Wednesday's Words for October 3, 2018

I often feel that I need to perform a very delicate balancing act as I pen these weekly essays. I’m a Canadian, and so I don’t feel I have the right to comment on the affairs of a country that is not my own. I can’t imagine that many of you who are my readers and are Americans would appreciate my poking my nose into your politics, and so for the most part, I don’t.

These are very turbulent times in which we find ourselves. Looking at modern society here in North America, I have to say our social behavior has not been at its best, lately. The Internet and Face Book and Twitter have, in many ways, dissolved the borders between us, but they have also dissolved the norms of manners, civility, and veracity. When we’re simply writing words on an electronic device, we can pretend to be whoever we want to be, and we can also pretend that the rules of polite society do no apply to us. After all, there’s no one in our face to tell us otherwise.

The relative anonymity of the Internet has allowed people to leave their civilized self behind and let their inner savage flow. It would seem that sitting at home, with our fingers on the keys does something to dissolve our personal filters.

The truth is that human behavior is human behavior regardless of nationality or political affiliation. Good manners are good manners and truth is truth—oh yes, it is! And it doesn’t matter on which side of the 49th parallel one lives. There are core realities that apply to everyone, everywhere.

One day last week there was an “event” unfolding on television, a real “reality Television” event. I’ve chosen to call this event “A Tale of Two Testimonies.” It was, for many of us, a difficult spectacle to watch.

 Act one was heartbreaking, because to listen was to hear pain—raw, traumatic emotional pain that despite the passage of time has not healed. It’s a pain that will never heal completely. And for many, that testimony evoked memories of a personal pain that the viewer had endured. Anyone who has been sexually assaulted, or sexually harassed, or has a loved one to whom this has happened, keenly identified with that pain. Act one as it played out was real, visceral, and credible. For those with open minds—or as Another put it in a book I’m fond of, for those who had ears to hear—act one brought them, figuratively, to their knees.

Act two—for me—was the most shocking of the two. The level of anger and hate made me step back, emotionally. All I could think was, what would this hate filled, angry and belligerent person be like, drunk? Having, through the course of my life been at the hands of an angry, belligerent drunk, the image made my blood run cold. It brought back memories I didn’t want to remember.

The vitriol unleashed during act two spread out and became a contagion, infecting others, until the entire proceedings, at that point, devolved into a name calling, accusation hurling free-for-all, with the filth being aimed by angry men in one direction, and one direction only.

Now, back to that human behavior that is common to us all. There are norms of human behavior. Norms we all recognize and for the most part abide by. You wouldn’t walk down Main Street in your home town, naked; you wouldn’t defecate on the sidewalk. You wouldn’t hold a gun on someone and demand their wallet because you were short of cash; you wouldn’t try to haul another driver out of their car to punch them because they may have cut you off in traffic.

Oh, people do these things, and we see them on the news, but they are not normal acts, and they all have legal consequences.

You don’t sexually assault a person—you don’t kiss them or put hands on them without their consent. Whether you’re a student in high school, the box boy at the grocery store, the clerk at a cosmetics counter, a member of an elected body, or a member of the clergy or the judiciary, you do not do these things.

And if you’re a witness to someone behaving with as much anger, vitriol and partisanship as I witnessed in Act Two of “A Tale of Two Testimonies”, then the question you need to ask yourself is not, “is this anger justified”. Often, anger is justified, and it can even be righteous. As a mother I was on occasion moved to real, deep anger, anger incited by one or the others of my children (believe me, they all had a turn at that). Now, if in response to my anger I decided to do things to “get back” at them over the course of time, then I wouldn’t have been considered a person with the temperament to be a parent.

No, if you’ve been a witness to behavior as shown in act two, the question you need to ponder is whether or not a person possessing the kind of temperament we saw in that hearing room is the kind of person you want imbued with the responsibilities and privileges of being an associate justice of the highest court in the land.

And that’s before we even discuss if a documented liar is suited for that position. Long story short under that heading, lying under oath is a disqualifying quality, period.


Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Wednesday's Words for September 26, 2018

This week heralds the first episodes of returning, and series premiers of new weekly television shows in prime time. David has always been more into television and movies than me, but by the end of the annual summer seasonal hiatus, even I am looking forward to a few hours each week in front of what we used to call the “boob tube”. We especially enjoy the Voice, which makes Mondays and Tuesday evenings times to anticipate.

I used to watch a lot more television than I do now. That really changed for me once I became published. I no longer felt guilty for preferring to read or write than to sit and watch. I’m not as stodgy as that statement might imply. In fact, what I do choose to spend my few weekly television hours watching is not, by any definition of the word, highbrow.

I will however admit to not being a fan of the modern sit-com. If a comedy show has a laugh track, well, I figure that’s a clue. In my opinion if the producers feel they must signal to the audience when to laugh, how funny can the “comedy” really be?

I enjoy clever humor, and a few stand-up comics. My husband feels the same way about the half-hour weekly comedic offerings with-laugh-tracks as I do.

I enjoy dramas that are thoughtful, especially if the plots are clever and the dialogue sparkles. I loved Castle the first few seasons it was on. The last year of that series however, when the network had new people take over as the “show runners”, was, again only in my opinion, dreadful. The one thing they got right the entire last season was not killing the pair off in the final episode.

Some networks don’t know when to quit, when it comes to their programs. And some quit way too soon. I was happy to hear that Designated Survivor is getting new life through Netflix; I don’t mind waiting until next year to see those new episodes. That was an hour a week I always looked forward to.

We enjoy Madam Secretary primarily because of the writing, and Survivor—a so-called ‘reality’ program—because it gives us insight into the infinite possibilities of human behavior, good and bad. All right, mostly bad. Hawaii Five-O easily became a favorite despite the sometimes improbable plot twists and often questionable writing. I was a fan of the first rendition of that series, a program I used to watch with my mother.

MacGyver is another case of having watched it because of the original. This new one isn’t as good as the one with Richard Dean Anderson—I get the feeling they can’t decide whether to be tongue-in-cheek, or not—but it has kind of grown on me.

And there you have the sum total of my viewing preferences. I’m not one to flick around the dial and fill my time with whatever happens to be on. That’s because I’ve usually got a lot to do every day. If I don’t have something specific in mind to watch, I tend to walk away from the thing. If I am sitting there, “channel surfing”, I can guarantee you it’s because I’m a little under the weather, and I’m looking for something good to doze off to.

David has far more programs he enjoys, and that’s fine. We have wireless headphones for the television, which are primarily for his use. That way, he can watch what he wants to watch, I can read what I want to read, and peace reigns supreme in the Ashbury household.

When we were younger, peace wasn’t necessarily a part of the equation for either of us. Now, in our September years, peace between us and in our home is very highly prized and much appreciated. 


Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Wednesday's Words for September 19, 2018

One thing in life that makes me a little sad is the very real fact that some people don’t know how to laugh. They don’t have a sense of humor at all. They go through their days not only not smiling, but more, not enjoying that lightness of spirit and heart that smiling and laughter bring with them as their guaranteed side-effects.

Have you ever seen someone walking down the street with a face that looks as if its owner has just sucked a dozen lemons? Faces like that are, unfortunately, plentiful these days. These are people whose “resting expressions”, the one they wear when they’re alone, is an expression called “just plain miserable”. You don’t want to talk to these people, because you just know if you do they’ll either insult you or depress you. And that is sad for us.

How much better it is to be a person who can smile or laugh. Better still, to be a person who can smile or laugh often, and especially to be a person who can laugh at oneself.

If I’m feeling low, as I sometimes do—because hey, I’m only human and humans get down—I go to YouTube and search out videos of laughing babies. Babies are amazing laughers! They don’t have any emotional or mental baggage yet, so they laugh and give it their all! Trust me when I say that nothing will put a smile on your face faster than the sound of a baby’s deep belly laugh.

One of my favorite sounds in all the world is the sound of my husband’s laughter. I hear it a lot, and I always have. He has the kind of laughter that makes you want to smile in response. His laughter usually says he’s just tickled pink by something.

I can recall when we were dating. Sometimes, we would go to see a movie. In those days there was often a cartoon shown before the feature—even if the feature wasn’t a kid’s movie. Oh my, give him a Roadrunner cartoon, and no matter where he is—at home or in a packed movie theater—he’ll laugh, loud and long.

These days, the times I most often hear his laughter is well after supper, and after we’ve watched some television together. I’ll go to my office to try and wind the day down—record the number of words I’ve written that day, record my steps, and maybe—just maybe—play a game or two.

David? He’ll go to his computer, and, if he isn’t just looking stuff up, he will head over to Netflix and search out either favored or new comedians. He loves stand-up comedy. I always know when it’s door number two, because the laughter begins. If the comedian is exceptionally good, the laughter will be rich and full and nearly to the point of tears.

I believe have mentioned a year or more ago, that when I was a fairly young teenager, I happened upon a recording my mother had, of a speech by famed psychologist Dr. Murray Banks. One point the Doctor made in this particular speech, was that it was physically impossible for the human body to produce laughter and ulcers at the same time.

I recall thinking then that if that wasn’t true, it should be. I still feel that way.

People spend a lot of money trying to “feel good”. They take spa treatments, or they pamper themselves with “retail therapy”. They drink alcohol, and some indulge in drugs—be it legal or illegal. The faster life gets, it seems the more desperate folks become for some kind of panacea, some secret remedy so that they feel good, and have full hearts.

People don’t need to go outside of themselves to find a cure for life’s perceived miseries, for the stress of living, or the heartache of the news. The magic cure is right inside their very own bodies. All they have to do—all we all have to do—is laugh. Learn to see the ridiculous, the sublime, and the just plain silly. See them, appreciate them, and then let ‘er rip!

Like most muscles of the human body, the more you use your laughing muscles, the better honed they become, and the happier you’ll be. And if you want to give a booster to that laughter, so that the good feelings last longer and feel richer? Go and do a good deed for someone, help with a community project, just plain get involved with helping someone.

I guarantee the curative properties of your actions will be more potent than any pill you can name. 


Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Wednesday's Words for September 12, 2018

My beloved has a list, and I don’t know whether I should be afraid, or not.

After many years of not being able to bring himself to work on this house of ours, since he retired, he’s come to understand that there are things—cosmetic things, mostly—that need to be done. For appearances sake, yes, but also to add whatever can be added to the value of our house, with an eye to the future.

Eventually we will probably have to leave our home and go into some form of assisted living facility. We’re both hoping that won’t happen for at least a couple of decades. But the truth is, we’re not getting any younger.

There are still things my husband is capable of doing, and so he has a list. We had an excellent builder in earlier, as you may recall, who put drop ceilings in the kitchen and the living room. We still have a few projects we’re hoping this gentleman can handle for us in the next couple of years, but in the meantime, there are a few things my husband can do for himself.

Our entrance way, just inside the front door, was never finished, from when he and our late son worked on the renovations. This project was the next one on his list after the bathroom plumbing (done) and “finishing” the steps going to the upstairs (done).

Mostly what the area needs is new drywall. He has two cordless drills which he uses alternately to install the screws in the drywall. He also had to buy another step ladder as the one he had is too short, and the extension ladder too difficult to use in the narrow space.

Getting the 4 x 8 sheets of drywall (you may know that product as gyp rock or sheet rock) was the easy part. Our local building supply store delivers. That arrived last week, and David had the driver and his assistant lean the sheets in the hall, blocking the door to my office. That was no problem. I have two doors in my office—opening into the hall and the kitchen. Being unable to use the one doorway was not a problem and moving past the other door into the living room was just a bit of a tight squeeze for me until he used up a couple of the eight sheets he’d had delivered. It was more a matter of side stepping for a few paces.

David did as much of the work as he could do each day, including replacing a small piece of drywall in our living room, a piece that had a hole in it. He was finished covering the area by Thursday, and we called our grandson to help him carry the left-over pieces upstairs. I had thought he’d ordered too much when it arrived but didn’t say anything. That very morning, he confessed he’d done just that. This isn’t a problem, because we have a few other areas that are in need repairs, and those two sheets will give him a good start on them.

He did a good job, and of course I told him as much. He had only one “oops” in the entire process, involving a part of the front door frame, but he was able to fix that. It’s one of life’s truths that as you get older you wonder if you can actually do what you need to do or what you want to do. Sometimes, you can’t. For this reason, I gave him lots of praise each day. It should be noted that he does the same for me, when I attempt a new recipe and actually succeed.

As we stood together admiring the installed drywall, we made plans to go to our local Canadian Tire store and get poly fill, so, he said, he could cover the screws, and be ready to paint. Hands on hips, he nodded, as if that nod meant, “and that’s all”. I agreed that we needed to get that, and, tape as well, for the seams between pieces of drywall. He gave me his best annoyed face. “Do you know what a pain that stuff is to work with?”

Once he understood that I wasn’t going to budge, he told me he guessed he could watch a couple of YouTube videos, and see how to do it. I told him I had faith in him. I didn’t really have to fight to get my way. There really is no sense in doing a job unless you’re going to do it right. And that sentiment is one that he’s espoused many times in our many, many years together.

He’s got one wall done now, taped and “mudded”. He gained confidence as he worked, and realized that, since he’s older now and has more patience, maybe that tape isn’t as difficult as he expected it would be.

Next week, hopefully, he paints. After having the entrance hall and living room be an interesting shade of pink/mauve for more than a decade (my choice), he’s told me I can choose any color I want for the newly prepared walls.

As long as that color is beige.


Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Wednesday's Words for September 5, 2018

I found it very gratifying to see the depth and breadth of the tributes paid to the late Senator John McCain. No matter who you are, from where you hail, what language you speak, there are core definitions connected to basic humanity that do not change. These were all honored last week.

Integrity is; compassion is; honesty is; heroism is—and Senator McCain embodied them all.

I wanted to wait a week before I gave any comments, because I didn’t want to intrude. I am a Canadian, but that has never prevented me from seeing people as they are, for respecting those who exemplify the best of what we humans can be.

I have admired several of your luminaries in the past, irrespective of their political party. I am neither a Republican nor a Democrat. I’m just a simple woman who has tried to live her life according to certain principles and standards that I have come to expect of myself and pray to see in others.

I try very hard never to lash out in anger; never to return slights, or insults, or even injuries with like actions or words. I’ve come to believe that kindness and consideration are far more powerful weapons than are hate and vitriol. This does not mean that when I meet an injustice, I become a door mat. When I see or hear of a wrong, I stand up and speak out. Couching my opinions and actions in what some might see as meekness does not diminish them. You don’t always have to scream to be heard. Sometimes the most impacting words can be conveyed in whispers.

So, I was gratified to see the respect with which many responded to the Senator’s death. That he would ask two of his fiercest political opponents to eulogize him speaks more eloquently of John McCain’s character than even the most lavish words of praise could ever do.

The speed of life is faster now than ever it was. Solitude, peace and quiet, and moments of reflection appear to have lost their value in today’s world. These three qualities are invaluable to the individual psyche. When I meet people, ones who don’t like to be alone, who don’t like to take the time to surround themselves in quiet, then I pay attention, because in my mind—and friends, I have no scientific evidence to support this, just experience—I feel these people are troubled and lacking in some way. Sometimes, it’s a case of their having very low self-esteem—and sometimes it’s the complete opposite of that.

And once in a while you encounter an individual who wraps his inner sense of worthlessness in a gaudy cloak of loud egotism. People who have to always be the center of attention, who by their actions and words are constantly shouting, “watch me, watch me!”, are people who are deeply troubled and in need of help.

My late son, Anthony, was like that. I wish I’d been mature enough, wise enough, to truly understand the danger a narcissistic personality could be. I’ll always wish I could have done more, but I understand there are limits even to what a loving mother can accomplish. I remember one counselor telling me that there was no cure for narcissism. The very best you could hope for, she said, was if you could somehow convince the narcissist that they needed to behave differently. Then, she told me, you might be able to get them to modify their behavior and their responses, but, she cautioned, beneath it all, they would still believe all they ever had about themselves. They would still be narcissists.

Whenever I hear people talking about those who clearly are narcissists, I shake my head when I hear them say, “well, maybe they’ll stop doing this, and do that instead. Maybe they will see reason and understand they need to put others first.”

No, they won’t. Because as they see the world—themselves at the center of everything—that is their reality, that is their truth. They often will not accept that there is anything wrong with them, because they know they have no problem. They’re perfect just the way they are.

After my son’s death at the age of 29 caused by substance abuse, I sought the help of a therapist. We mothers will blame ourselves when our children make those wrong choices in life. I certainly did, and it took me a long time to understand that I could not have affected changes in my son’s behavior, no matter how hard I tried. He simply wasn’t wired in a way that would allow him to see the long-term implications of his actions, or that his choices were wrong, or that his actions hurt all those who loved him.

The last two years of his life, desperate to help him if I could and also to protect myself, I set boundaries. And if you don’t think that haunted me in the aftermath of his death, you’d be wrong. That was one of the reasons I needed the help of a professional. He’s been gone now for just over twelve years, and I have since come to accept that changing him was never in my power, and never, in truth, my right.

Expecting a narcissist to behave in such a way that they begin to have the welfare of others at their center has the same probability for success as expecting the sun to rise in the west.

The best you can do is to know there is nothing you can do that will change them. Accept that truth, and then respond accordingly.


Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Wednesday's Words for August 29, 2018

It seems to me that the last few years, we’ve been gifted with a week’s preview of autumn, occurring sometime during the last two weeks of August. I know I’ve mentioned this before in past essays. The expression I use is that it seems like the sky has “turned”. In appearance, it looks as if it goes from the deep blue of summer to the slightly fainter blue of fall, almost overnight.

I’m willing to admit the possibility that this is all in my head. However, it’s happened again, just in the last few days. When we headed out last Saturday to attend a craft show, I told my husband that it felt like autumn. He agreed with me. Then it rained very hard later that day, and I wonder if that was what I was sensing, an oncoming storm.

Rainy days are both wonderful and horrible for me. They’re wonderful in that aesthetically, I love them. I love the sense of coziness I feel, the sound of rain on the roof and windows, and that “let’s just snuggle down in a comfy chair with a nice blanket, a cup of coffee, and a good book” kind of vibe. I was driving home from the craft fair in the pouring rain and felt that was what I wanted to do as soon as I got home.

I think being attuned to the weather is one of those primal senses buried within us all. In the beginning of human life on this planet, paying attention to the weather was a matter, often, of life or death. Then as we moved from being cave dwellers to becoming an agrarian people, we knew the weather and our food supply were inextricably bound together. In those days, you had to grow it yourself, because there were no other alternatives.

Today our thinking vis-à-vis the weather, for most of us, is more of a secondary matter. We look to the forecasts to see if we need an umbrella, or if it’s going to be a good day for a picnic in the park—or hanging laundry on the line. But knowing the weather, having the ability to forecast is vital to a lot of people, especially those in coastal areas, in areas dubbed “tornado alley”, and of course, for those who live in the more usual paths of hurricanes and cyclones.

The horrible part of rainy days? I apologize for thinking of myself here, but the horribleness is that a series of wet days means that I’m bound for more arthritis pain that normal—and normal is pretty darn bad to begin with. I’m almost like that proverbial character of folklore, the grizzled old woman who lives on the corner and can predict the rain because of the throbbing of her aged joints.

Getting older is not for the faint of heart.

And neither, lately, is the weather we’ve been getting in North America! There are droughts and awful fires on one coast, torrential rains and flooding on the other. I watch American network news each night, and I have one thing I’d like to say to all of my friends in the U.S.: y’all just can’t catch a break, lately, and I’m sorry for it.

We’ve been lucky where I am the last couple of years. The winter has been not too early or severe, with a few milder days here and there; rain has fallen in the other seasons on a regular basis, but not enough to flood us out. And we’ve had a few very hot days this summer—in fact, we have had more than a handful of days of high, thick humidity with stifling heat, with more coming in the next couple of weeks, apparently. But it hasn’t been endless. I don’t tend to go out too much on those days. That’s why I have central air. Now, in our September years, my husband and I feel as if we’ve earned the right to stay comfortable in our home when the mood strikes.

I am, however, concerned about the coming winter. I haven’t looked at the farmer’s almanac, nor have I read the predictions of Environment Canada. No, I’ve been watching the squirrels just outside our house. Those little buggers are running around like crazy, gathering their bits of food, and hiding it all away. In the heat of August.

I may not know much but I do know this: that early industry by nature’s little critters just can’t mean anything good.


Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Wednesday's Words for August 22, 2018

Over the last several months, I’ve slipped into the habit of getting up fairly early in the morning, for a “retired” person. There are a couple of reasons for this. The one I’ll most readily admit to is, no matter how comfortable one’s bed is, after several hours, if one has arthritis, one’s body protests being horizontal.

Yes, I turn over from laying on my left side to laying on my right, but the moment comes when arising is really the best option to ease the pain. I aim for crawling into bed between eleven and midnight each night; it’s true that an adult my age is “supposed” to get eight hours of sleep, but let’s face it. That’s not happening for me. I don’t even, except if I’m under the weather, take an afternoon nap to add to my sleep hours. I might doze off for fifteen minutes or so in the afternoon when I have my legs up, in my recliner, but that’s it. So, in bed hopefully by eleven-thirty, up between six-thirty and seven, that’s seven hours. But then you take away the couple of trips (usually) to the bathroom, and you’re looking at about six and a half hours sleep on a good night.

With arthritis, I find that just getting up and moving helps. Even with morning stiffness adding a great degree of discomfort to the moment, by the time I’ve moved around for a few minutes, it’s easing up a bit. So getting up early and taking a longer time to officially begin my day, makes things more tolerable.

But there is another reason for me to get up early.

When the kids were here, and parenting was my major focus, and I worked outside the home in a job that was Monday to Friday, I would get up a little extra early on the weekends. I’d be up at five a.m., and I had a very firm rule: no kids up and about until I’d had my second cup of coffee.

That usually took between an hour and a half to two hours. And I figured, that meant the kids could get up at seven or a little after, and I was good; I’d had those precious, precious minutes of solitude. Just me in my domain, my trusty cup of coffee in hand. If I had that time to myself each weekend morning, I knew I could handle whatever came my way during that day. Usually.

Well, as you know, my children are long grown and living lives of their own elsewhere. For several years now, it’s been just the two of us here. And until last November 24th, I got to enjoy a high degree of solitude, as David left the house around five-thirty a.m. and didn’t get home until four-thirty, or sometimes, later.

Now of course, he’s at home all the time. And that has been a good thing. However, basic principles in life rarely change. And since my husband usually stays up past one or even two a.m. and has a wake-up call in (with me) for nine a.m. every morning except Sunday when he wants up at eight…my getting up early is a necessity, not a luxury, and certainly not a foible.

If I’m lucky, I get two hours of solitude each morning to begin my day. To do my devotionals, first, then wake up my mind by playing a few games. To have my first coffee, and yes, maybe even my second coffee.

It seems somehow appropriate that my Fitbit tracks my steps-per-hour beginning at nine a.m. – and the first steps that go into that count are from my office to the bedroom to awaken the males (man and dog) of the household.

Life of course is never perfect. Every once in a while—rarely, in fact, but it does happen—I get out of bed at six-thirty, head to the bathroom—and then head right back to bed. Yes, I do once in a long while sleep in until eight!

Less rare but no less annoying vis-à-vis my daily routine? My beloved wakes up ahead of schedule—around eight—proud that he hadn’t needed his wake-up call that day.

Those are the days I recall that old truism: if one’s daily schedule is disrupted early, one’s entire day is shot, right out of the gate.


Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Wednesday's Words for August 15, 2018

I never thought I’d see the day. But I have, and now, as I reflect upon it, I can’t help but analyze the entire situation.

I’d often heard it said that couples who stay together, over time, tend to shift and change and more resemble each other than they did at the beginning of their union. They become two peas in a pod. Sometimes, they even begin to look alike!

I’m not altogether certain I ever believed that. I did know there was a quality of being married for a number of years that seemed to possess every married couple I knew who’d been together more than a dozen years. And that was an inclination toward bickering.

Not nasty fighting, not name calling or blame throwing, just nit-picking bickering. These back and forth exchanges at times resemble an existential one-act play—or a tennis match. I’d experienced it in my own marriage, of course, but I’d also witnessed it with my parents-in-law, my brother and his wife, good friends, and even our eldest son and his wife.

In fact, that last example? I can still recall the first time I heard my son and his wife begin behaving like old married folk. I laughed.

So the bickering, yeah, that’s normal. But that other thing? That becoming like two peas in a pod thing? Nah, that couldn’t be right. In fact, a part of me even thought, “say it isn’t so!”

For those of you who’ve read these essays over the years, y’all know that my beloved has been what I called a “traveling fool”. Nothing, in his mind, was worse than having a week or two of vacation time and going nowhere. He loves traveling, going and seeing and doing. He’s not a world traveler, but he’s a continental one, and even a slightly off-continental one.

Over the last dozen years we’ve been to a number of major cities in the United States, including Puerto Rico, as well as a few resorts in Cuba, The Dominican Republic, and the Bahamas, St. Thomas. We’ve even cruised to Bermuda—twice.

You may recall, as well, that at least once a year he and our daughter would head off to Cuba, for some sun, sand and sea. And, of course, reading. Our daughter is as voracious a reader as we are, and as is our oldest son.

I was worried, as the day of my husband’s retirement loomed, that I wouldn’t have much writing time in the months and years to come. I feared that he would want to be going and seeing and doing, that he would be loath to stay home all the time. After all, being the home body, preferring to be within my own domain as opposed to going and seeing and doing, was my thing. I was the hermit in training, not he.

The operative word in that last sentence: was.

The day I never thought would come has arrived, and it did so quietly, and without fanfare. We were coming back from the city next door about a week ago, having had to run a few errands, and my beloved said, “I’ll be glad when we get home. I really don’t like going anywhere anymore.” No traveling, I asked him?

“It’s just such a bother,” he said. “Maybe now and then, at some point in the future. But for now, I just want to stay home.”

When he said that, I very nearly protested aloud that he was stealing my lines! And then, I thought about it some more. And I thought about that theory, that long-married couples tended to blend. And I realized it was true, at least for us.

Time was we spent our days apart, he at work and me here, at the keyboard. Then he’d come home, and he’d relax, eat the supper I’d cooked him, then read or watch the television while I…returned to my keyboard. He was tethered to his job, and the routine that created, and I was here, being a hermit. 

And now here we are, two long married people, at our keyboards each day, loath to go out into human society. Not really wanting to travel so much as just…stay home. Weekly grocery runs are even an ordeal at times. We’re seriously considering having them delivered.

There remains but one major difference in our days: he likes to stay up later and then get up later than I do. So, he has a couple hours after 11:30 at night to have the house to himself, and my couple of hours of solitude come before nine in the morning.

His title of “traveling fool”, while well earned, needs must now be, as he is, retired. There’ll still be the odd excursion in our future, including one to San Antonio next February for a writer’s/reader’s event. But going and seeing and doing far away from home will be more a memory than a way of life.

Times, and life, change. We both believe in embracing what is, and in seizing the day, be it long or short. Happiness, in my view, is easiest realized when you cherish the moment that is and look fondly on the past as a lovely place you used to be.