Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Wednesday's Words, by Morgan Ashbury

Last Sunday was Mother’s Day here in North America. I specify the location, because I know that in the United Kingdom the occasion is also celebrated, but quite a bit earlier—this year, it was on March 11th.

When I was a child, I didn’t always have any money to buy my mother something for Mother’s Day. I usually made the card for her, although once in a while, I bought one. Sometimes I managed to get Mother a fancy tea cup and saucer set (they had them at our local Kresge’s store, and at a very affordable price). Those times I couldn’t buy her one of those cups, I would go out to the garden and pick her a bouquet of her own flowers. She always claimed that as long as she was “remembered”—that meant a card when I lived with her, and at least a phone call but preferably a visit once I was older and out of the house, she was happy.

One of the biggest sins a child could commit in my mother’s eyes (and here the word child refers to adult children) was forgetting either Mother’s Day, or her birthday. I’m sad to say that one birthday did go by without my calling her, or even remembering the day. All these years later, I don’t remember the circumstances, only the result. I think I was more upset about my transgression than she was.

I find, as I get older, there are some ways that I’m becoming more and more like my mother. And this stance of “you don’t have to buy me anything, just remember me” is one of those ways. Flowers and cards are lovely—I have a drawer full of cards that I’ve been given over the years as I never throw them away—but the time my kids spend with me, either on the phone or in person, is truly the best gift of all.

This past Mother’s Day, my son Christopher and daughter Jennifer both came to visit me, as did my “second daughter”, Sonja. I enjoyed visiting with my son and his wife in the morning, and the girls in the afternoon. They all brought cards and hanging baskets of flowers for the porch. My great-granddaughter, when she visited the next day with her nanny, picked me a tulip from my own garden. I considered myself very blessed just for all those visits alone.

You can be sure, I cherish that tulip, even more than those lovely hanging baskets.

The traditions we honor in our families are important. They form the legacy that we, through our observance of them, hand down to the next generation. My parents have been gone many years now, and yet some of the things they did for us and the way in which they did them, found expression in my own family as I was raising my kids. For example, all of my kids got giant oranges in their stockings for Christmas, as did their children—and as did I, when I was little.

That’s not to say the traditions we pass down mean the same now as they did then. These days, large oranges in December are not such a luxury as once they were. There were Christmas mornings when we wanted to eat those oranges first, before even the candy and the wonderful full breakfasts our mother made. Those big oranges were juicy and sweet, and we didn’t even have to share them!

I hope those of you who are mothers were blessed to spend time with your children last Sunday. And I hope the traditions you’re building in your families blossom into loving legacies.

They’re a true and beautiful way to keep those long gone from this earth, close to your heart, and a way for your children and grandchildren to remember you.

Love,
Morgan


Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Wednesday's Words, by Morgan Ashbury

Just in case you were wondering (and I am sure you were) today marks 196 days until my beloved hangs up his hard hat, parks his safety boots, and turns in his final punch-card. Only 196 days to go, and I am nowhere near ready for the change that is headed in my direction at the speed of light.

I’ve been giving the matter a great deal of thought, as you can imagine. This is going to be a huge adjustment for both of us, and completely different than the one we’d imagined it would be, just a decade ago.

Ten years ago, my husband still loved his job, and really didn’t want to think about retiring at 65. He felt certain, in fact, that all things being equal, he’d still be happy to work at 70 or even 75, that they would have to drag him away from his truck, kicking and screaming.

The fact that he no longer loves his job, and the added complications that COPD have brought to his life changed things, of course. And while his bosses have known for several months that his retirement was coming up, it has come to light that they’re a little reluctant to see him go.

He’s still the go-to man when something in the production line goes wrong and no one can figure out how to fix it. They’ll ask him to supervise the repairs which he is happy to do. He just can’t do that work himself anymore as it usually involves a lot of climbing up and down stairs, and we’re talking a few dozen feet in the air. His boss told him they didn’t know what they were going to do without him. Who was going to train the younger ones coming on staff, in the proper way to do things? Last year the company hired several new employees, and David spent some time training every one of them.

There was a time he would have been persuaded to put off retiring. As they continued to try and convince him to do just that, he told them point blank: if they wanted him to stay that badly, they could provide him transportation back and forth, to and from work.

He doesn’t have a driver’s license, and hasn’t for more than thirty-five years, a consequence of his misspent youth. The long daily treks are too hard on me, and our daughter, who has been driving him every day for the last several years, has had enough. The distance is about 25 miles one way, so for my daughter or myself to chauffeur him, that’s 100 miles a day. Personally, I don’t believe they’ll take him up on his offer and that’s really just as well.

My husband, in his career, has left his mark. He has trained several men who are now supervisors—some at his own site (the boss directly below the plant manager being one), and some at other sites throughout the province.

The main crushing plant that he built himself, beginning some thirty years ago, has mostly been replaced now, but it did the job for a couple of decades. And while all the equipment in the production line is relatively new, the principles of how to turn big limestone rocks into various gravel products remains the same. In this day and age, more than ever, you have the case of people with a lot of book knowledge but no practical experience designing systems that never seem work, straight out of the gate.

But that’s the way it’s always been, isn’t it?

So here we are, counting down the days to something that not so long ago, really, seemed way, way off in the distant future. It’s funny how that works, but I know it’s a common thing. So common, in fact, that John Lennon once included that very observation in a song.

Life really is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.

Love,
Morgan



Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Wednesday's Words, by Morgan Ashury

It’s finally May! This is my favorite month of the year, because usually, by May, the winter is past, and the flowers are blooming. Usually, by May, the aroma of freshly mown grass is mixing with the scent of those flowers in the air. Laundry can be seen flapping happily in the breeze, and the hope for new beginnings that seems to always dwell within my heart is alive and thriving with anticipation.

Yes, I’ve qualified all of the above with the word “usually” because we all know nature can and will have its own persnickety way. This must have been so when I was a child, too, because my mother adhered to what at that time was an old saw—that you didn’t plant your garden until the Victoria Day weekend, the weekend closest to the 24th of the month of May. This wasn’t just an adage, it was an acknowledged fact. I also reference the seed packets that we used to get. That caution on the back that warned not to plant until “all danger of frost was past” meant near the end of May, according to my mom.

In May, the days become noticeably longer. What May also use to represent to me was the end of the television viewing season. New seasons of returning shows and brand new shows began in the fall, and ended in May—freeing me from the addictive pull of the “idiot box”, allowing me lots of time to do yard work.

The television season seems to be constant now, but I still adhere to my own, admittedly old fashioned notions. All of the series I watch are on the same American networks from my youth—ABC, NBC and CBS. I really don’t do the cable programs, although my beloved certainly does. Being an author of romance, I probably shouldn’t admit I’ve never watched “Outlander”, but it’s true, and I have no logical explanation for that. My husband loves that show, and he’s also a huge fan of Game of Thrones. That one I can tell you without reservation I will never watch. I tend not to view anything with blood or violence.

When I’m not watching the handful of television programs I enjoy (mostly dramas or a couple that are considered reality shows. We won’t even talk about so-called comedies these days) I’m at my computer, writing, or at least pretending to be, or I’m reading a book. My beloved is happy to don his wireless headphones, so I can escape the noise of the box while I work or read. Yes, that does put us in separate rooms for a good part of each evening, with the added conversational hindrance that he’s wearing those headphones with the volume on high. Shouting from here to there gets me nowhere. But hey, that’s what cell phones and text messaging are for, right?

May is the month when I can leave the doors to my house open for a bit each day. Sadly, those doors lack screens of any kind, so as soon as the bugs begin to emerge, the doors remain closed. But at least I usually have a few days when I can air the house out from the long winter. I do have a couple of windows that still have their screens, and that helps, too.

May isn’t the month when the ants show up, usually. That’s April, and I was actually getting worried because April was nearly done and I hadn’t seen a single one. Silly, right? I was worried about not having the usual ant problem. But in these times of climate change and evolving (or maybe devolving) natural occurrences, no ants by mid April is different. If the ants can’t survive, what chance do we have? But whew, I can report seeing, and disposing of my first ant of the season on April 27th.

Curiously the little bugger was on my writing desk, not in the kitchen. Hmm, that’s still different. Maybe I should have stayed worried? Naw. Worrying is for those who don’t have any vision, who don’t have any courage…and who don’t have any hope.

I may not have a comprehensive vision, and I doubt I’m particularly brave. But hope? Yeah, I’ve got lots and lots of that commodity.

So much so, that I spend my life doing what I can, fostering that quality in others.

Love,
Morgan



Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Wednesday's Words, by Morgan Ashbury

I have a very low threshold when it comes to being content. It really doesn’t take a lot for me to consider myself to be reasonably satisfied in life. I suppose that’s a natural outcome from having lived a life where nothing much was guaranteed. You know how the so-call experts say that most families are only a couple of paychecks away from financial disaster? That was us for most of our years raising our kids. I’ll be honest with you: we got through it, but I sure as heck wouldn’t want to do it all over again.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about when it comes to my state of mind: I’ve often told family and friends that as long as I have enough coffee and bathroom supplies, I am content. Yes, that seems like fairly low expectations. But I can easily imagine how many people don’t have even that much.  I’m grateful for the path I’m on, a path that has spared me from extreme hardship. I was born into a nation that hasn’t had armed conflict within its borders for over a hundred years.  Not only that, but this is a land of relative prosperity. I never went without a meal, as a child. Maybe missed a few as a parent raising small children, but my kids never went without a meal, either. Nor did they ever suffer a “poor” Christmas or birthday, even when we were just a couple of paychecks away from financial disaster. As much as I know my life could be “better”, financially speaking, I am far more aware that my circumstances could always be much, much worse.

Gratitude and a positive attitude are so important in life, and I wish I could convey to everyone, just how crucial they really are. Those two things are vital to your mental health, I believe that with all my heart. As bad as things can get, and trust me, they get bad for everyone from time to time, if you stay grateful, if you maintain a positive attitude, the sharpest edges of the travails you’re traversing will be dulled. As long as you can keep your spirits up, then the muck you’re walking through stays on the bottom of your boots and doesn’t splash all over you and those close to you.

Now please, I don’t want to hear anyone tell me I don’t understand what it’s like; that I couldn’t possibly know what it is to experience (fill in the blank). I do understand. I’ve experienced times of great want, and times of great personal tragedy. My life has not been all sunshine, lollipops and rainbows, to paraphrase a song from my youth. But no one’s is, and if you can understand that, then that right there is a huge bonus. That’s the first step. You can tell yourself, “ah, ok, it’s not the cosmos crapping just on me. This sort of thing happens to everyone”. The second step is to understand that hard times really do not come to stay, they truly do come to pass. So wash your face, brush your hair, put on a smile as you don your jeans and tee—and get to living through the day you’ve been given.

We’re all in this together. Maybe we have differences, but that’s ok. In any given group, not all of the people agree about all of the stuff. That’s what makes life interesting. We were blessed with the great good gift of free will, and that gift absolutely guarantees diversity.

But we, all of us, are in this together. So don’t worry. When the water starts rising in your boat, know that you’re not alone grabbing that pail and bailing. Just take a look around the harbor. We’re all working right along side of you to stem the flood.

We were never intended to live our lives in isolation, but to band together in community. And just as hard times are easier to get through when shared, so, too, is joy multiplied that exact same way.

That’s truly the way we were made.

Love,
Morgan


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Wednesday's Words, by Morgan Ashbury

Do you ever “cruise” YouTube? I’m going to confess that I do—a lot. Not only that, sometimes I do it when I’m supposed to be doing something else, usually writing. It really is a giant time suck, and I think the challenge of watching just one video should sit right up there along side that decades-old challenge of eating just one potato chip. I’m sure the more serious minded and the more sober of character among us likely have no trouble at all giving YouTube a pass. I’ve never claimed to be either of those things—serious minded or sober of character. I am, after all an author. We tend to be neurotic and full of whimsy by nature.

Lately, I’m an author who should put more time BICFOK (butt in chair, fingers on keyboard) than I do. So far, I haven’t been challenged on this YouTube cruising habit of mine—truly a time wasting habit—but if I am, I have my “explanation” ready, and in this, I’m blessed. You see, I’m a writer, therefore everything I do can be considered research.

There is some truth to that, in fact. If I could ask for something “more” for myself it really would be more self-discipline. I really do need more of that elusive quality. I try not to beat myself up about things. I’m in my sixties, after all, and I’ve spent most of my life “taking care of business” as it were. I’ve worked outside the home, kept the home, and raised my kids, all at the same time. I’ve seen 51 novels published since my first book came out in 2007. That’s an average of 5 novels a year, which isn’t too bad a record at all.

And still, I do beat myself up over this time-wasting part of my character. I’m not certain I know how to curb it, either. And just when I think I do, I see something on YouTube that is not only compelling, it underscores themes which for better or worse find expression in my novels. If you think my erotic romance novels are only about sex, I would suggest you read one. They have sex in them, yes, but that’s not what they’re about. They’re about people, and relationships and life.

But I digress. I wanted to tell you about a video I watched a couple of months ago on YouTube. (Another digression here for those who aren’t so familiar with this medium. If you see something you really like on YouTube, bookmark it. Otherwise, finding it again can be an exercise in frustration and futility.) This particular video I wanted to tell you about was part of a documentary on a senior citizen’s center, highlighting the effect the programs there had on the lives of those who participated, people who might otherwise just stay home alone all the time. This one woman couldn’t say enough about what a change the center had brought to her life. Her being able to attend that program gave her something to look forward to. The program ran weekdays, and she went every single day it was available.

One of the workers at the center asked her what she did with her time the other two days of the week, Saturday and Sunday, when there was no program running. She admitted to this worker that if she didn’t have something to keep her busy, she might possibly go mad.

So, she’d found an activity she could do, right there at home. The filmmaker’s cameras recorded her industry. Apparently, there was a huge amount of “junk mail” that came to her house through the week. On the weekends, then, she’d sit on her sofa, with that pile of junk mail on one side of her, and a garbage bag on the other. And what she did to keep busy was to open each piece of mail, and then proceed to tear each page of it into small pieces, which she then deposited into the garbage bag. This wasn’t by any means a speedy process for her. This lady didn’t move very quickly and it took her time to reduce full pages of paper to small bits.

I don’t think I can adequately explain to you why this affected me so deeply. On the one hand, I was beyond sad that there didn’t seem to be any family about to visit her, and that her “living” moments appeared to be relegated only to the days and hours the senior’s center was open. On the other hand, I was in awe of her positive attitude. It didn’t matter if what she’d chosen to do with her time was to a great purpose, or not; it only mattered that what she chose to do kept her busy.

A lot of my stories touch on the resiliency of the human spirit. I tend to look at the cup as being half full instead of half empty. And while many believe that hard times only bring out the worst in people, I tend to think that there are at least as many who shine in those circumstances, as those who don’t.

That wise old counselor, Anonymous, really had it right. He said, and it is true: Life really is five percent what happens to you, and ninety-five percent how you handle it.

Love,
Morgan


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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Wednesday's Words, by Morgan Ashbury

Anger and hate. These two emotions seem to be everywhere, filling the air around us with an invisible smog, a choking, cloying miasma with the power to destroy everything good, everything righteous, and everything beautiful. Can you see it? Can you feel it?

It seems that discourse today is all about “sides”, a kind of us-versus-them mentality that has developed into a scorched earth, take no prisoners kind of battle. It’s no longer just a matter that people are on two sides of an intellectual divide, with fervent belief in their own interpretation of the facts.

It’s that there are two opposing sets of facts, period. And for all I know, even more than two. All you appear to need to “create” reality is a loud voice, dogged persistence, and internet bots.

This is all my perception, I will gladly admit this, but I know I’m not alone in my interpretation of what is happening in the world around us. It’s extremely wearing, isn’t it? The word “compromise” has not only been struck from the lexicon of daily social interaction: I greatly fear it is being expunged from our very memories.

I’ve been totally upfront in these essays, letting my readers know where I stand, faith-wise. I don’t, as a rule, proselytize. And perhaps it’s because of my faith that I feel this darkness, this hate and anger spreading throughout the land so very deeply. You see, I’ve come to realize the worst perpetrators of this sickness are those who claim to cling to the very faith that is so dear to me, and at the core of my own beliefs.

What I can see, and what I believe, is their actions and their stated beliefs are at odds with Christianity, as I know it.

I’m not going to preach religion in this essay. I’m trying only to reveal my own intellectual and spiritual struggles with the world around me. And what I see are a whole lot of people whose actions do not reflect the meaning of the words they use to justify those actions. It all comes down to one thing, for me, and that’s having the fruit on the tree. You can’t say you belong to Christ if you are exhibiting behavior that is not Christ-like. This is not judgement; this is called spiritual discernment.

There are many in every faith who hold to good, positive practices and behaviors—behaviors like kindness, generosity, caring, and love. There are those who eschew religious faith completely who are kind, generous, caring and loving individuals. People who spread love, not hate. Christians do not have a monopoly on these qualities. No one religion does.

I suppose at the core it comes down to the fact that we are sometimes confusing two separate nouns representing two separate things: religion, and faith. The first is of man, the second is of God.

I know there is a purpose to the turmoil we’re all witnessing because I know who ultimately is in control. I also know I’m not the only one getting world-weary of the nastiness. I have no great idea or grand plan to combat the plague that is consuming so many in this world today.

All I can do is to say to you, this is what I think it is, and this is how it affects me, so that those who feel the same way know they are not alone. Sometimes, realizing you’re not alone can be a tremendous boon.

There is one more thing I can do. I can re-affirm my own faith, my own values, and repeat as my own mantra that hard times really don’t come to stay.

They truly come to pass.

Love,
Morgan



Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Wednesday's Words, by Morgan Ashbury

Now that we’ve gotten through winter, lost an hour’s cherished sleep, and been April fooled, it’s time to begin to consider the serious matter of gardening. While it’s true that I can no longer get down into the dirt myself, that doesn’t in anyway detract from the joy I receive planning what blooms we’ll have this year around the house.

For myself, I’ve given up on the veggies. The proper place for them is in a nice-sized dinner garden at the very least, and there’s only one place here for us to reasonably put one. There is room at the top of our backyard, but that climb is too steep for me. David continues to experiment with growing veggies in pots. We’ve also heard of a raised “table garden” but we haven’t found one yet. My beloved is considering building one himself. We’ll have to wait and see. He’s in charge of any veggie experiments as I begin to plan for the flowers.

One of my favorite flowers to get from a nursery and plant each spring are pansies. Around here, they’re only available in the very early spring, so I’ll likely be hunting them down within the next couple of weeks. I like to buy a veritable profusion of them, and then put them in the three rectangular planters I have, that will then hang from the front porch railing. They get morning sun there, and with watering, and care, they often fill out those planters beautifully.

My favorite perennial spring blooms are narcissi (the white ones with the yellow and red lines encircling the cup) and lily-of-the-valley. I’m also a big fan of lilacs, daffodils and tulips. It was a couple of years ago, now, that I finally got my hands on a pair of lilac trees. They’re planted, one at each of the two front corners of my house, where the one gets sun until about eleven-thirty each morning, and the other through most of the day. They haven’t grown a great deal in size yet, but they have survived the winters, so far. Near the base of the lilac tree planted on the north-east corner, the one that is shaded half the day, there are several lilies-of-the-valley that my son brought for me when he thinned out his own patch a couple of years ago. I look forward, with great anticipation, to the day when both the lilacs and the lilies scent the air at the same time. I remember that combined aroma from my childhood. It’s heavenly.

We have perennials lining the short walkway, from curb to stairs, and along the front of the house from the north-east corner to the walnut tree that anchors the south-east corner of the porch. Among those are two peony bushes—another favorite. Some flowers are pretty, and some smell divine—its those that have both of those qualities I tend to like the most.

Last year, we finally planted some gladioli in the back yard, at the back of the narrow garden along the fence. We had greenery last year, but no blooms. My fingers are crossed for this year. We have one “tub” garden, as well, next to the south backyard gate. This we’ve filled each summer with petunias, and whatever other annuals we have left over from planting in our various gardens and pots. The tub is a repurposed, oversized round garbage bin made of black plastic. It stands about four feet high. The flowers in this tend to be the most productive in the yard, likely because the bin started out as a composting bin.

A few years back, we purchased a gazebo and some outdoor carpeting, and transformed our back yard into a pleasant place to sit when weather permits. This year, we need to replace the carpet and the canvas of the gazebo. I’m not confident we’ll get that one done. Much depends these days on how much energy we have, and whether or not the weather cooperates. A new outdoor grill would be nice, too, as ours is nearly done. It’s good to have a list of what you’d like to do, isn’t it? At least having goals keeps your mind, and your spirit, active.

This is one of the things I cherish most about spring, and why it’s my favorite season. It tends to be the time of year when we think about new beginnings, and fresh starts.

Love,
Morgan