Wednesday, February 21, 2018

February 21, 2018

My heart broke last Wednesday afternoon and I have been grieving for the families and the people in Parkland, Florida. Fourteen babies—for surely they were their parents’ and grandparents’ babies—slaughtered for no apparent reason. Three brave teachers/coaches who gave their lives in defense of their students. Seventeen lives stolen that day, carelessly wasted, and holes mercilessly ripped into the hearts of families and friends.

Anyone who’s lost a child knows that these are holes that will never, ever be filled. These are losses that will never, can never, be made right. Hearts may, in time, mend sufficiently for bodies to carry on, but those hearts will never be whole again.

I understand the second amendment to the United States Constitution. I even agree with it. However, I do not understand why anyone of sound mind would want to purchase a gun of war. I do not understand how anyone of sound mind could claim their second amendment rights would be violated if they could not purchase a semi-automatic rifle. Apparently, the Supreme Court doesn’t understand that either, as they’ve ruled that the ability to purchase one of these specific guns is not a constitutional right.

Oh, what’s that you say? You want to go hunting? You want to use that semi-automatic long gun you have there, that AR-15, to hunt deer and wild pigs? How many rounds per minute you say? On a deer or a pig? Can’t imagine there would be much left of the critters to eat after you emptied that magazine into them.

Did you know the US military was equipped with M-16s in Vietnam? And did you know that there was a push to replace those with AR-15s, because those guns were more lethal and more reliable than what the military was using? Still think it’s just a “hunting rifle”?

As I was watching the news coverage in the aftermath of this latest school massacre, I heard Washington lawmakers claim they needed to focus on mental illness, not any kind of “gun controls”. I heard them say that those who suffer from mental illness should not be able to purchase guns. My question is this: If they really feel that way, then why did they, in early 2017, repeal the very law that was already in place for that express purpose?

There is no other country on earth that has the kind of constant, almost routine mass shooting incidents, as does the United States. Oh, there are other places where mass violence and mass death happen. Namely, in Afghanistan, and in the middle East, and in Iraq and Syria. But those are war zones. The United States of America is supposed to be, as Ronald Reagan called it, “a shining city on a hill”. It’s not supposed to be a war zone. But with on average 33,000 people dying each year from gun violence? With this being the 30th mass shooting incident of 2018? Friends? February 14th was day 45 of 2018. That gives you an average of a mass shooting every day and a half! More Americans die in two years from gun violence than all the American lives lost in the Vietnam War.

By comparison, there have been 10 mass shooting incidents in Canada—since the year 2000.

When the slaughter of the six and seven-year-olds happened in 2012 at Sandy Hook, I was sure that finally something had happened that would cause saner minds to prevail. I was certain changes would finally be made. But nothing changed, and I’m sorry, I just don’t understand it.

Is enough ever going to be enough?

95 per cent of Americans support tougher background checks before guns can be purchased. 65 per cent of Americans support banning assault weapons. Yet nothing changes. And why is that?

Please don’t tell me that this is an issue of American patriotism, because frankly, it’s not. We’re talking about guns powerful enough to cut down the wall of a house—being in the hands of the mentally disturbed. Friends, the refusal to institute tough background checks, enact legislation to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill, and legislation to ban assault weapons has nothing to do with protecting the second amendment rights of the people of the United States.

It only has to do with protecting weapons sales and the weapons manufacturers’ profit margins. It is, quite frankly, flagrant greed at the cost of your babies’ lives.

Love,
Morgan
http://www.morganashbury.com
http://www.bookstrand.com/morgan-ashbury

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

February 14, 2018

Happy Valentine’s Day! As with many of our modern traditions, the celebration of this day goes back to very early Christian times, and a 3rd century AD martyr, St. Valentine of Rome. I’ve researched a little, and generally the consensus is that not much is known about this historical figure.

In the middle ages, people began associating this saint’s day with the tradition of courtly love. As time progressed, this association continued. Early tributes were in the form of written poems, and likely ditties that could be performed to the accompaniment of lyre or harp.

In Victorian times, the tradition of sending Valentine’s messages was set, and special paper for the occasion was marketed. In the 1840s postal rates were reasonable, and the concept of cards that could be sent through the mail gained popularity.

I believe Valentine’s Day is the first solid example of mass marketing, and in my own opinion gave birth to the modern day greeting card industry. And because this is so—the mass marketing connection—we have candy and flowers, and hey, how about a night out? Expensive dinner served amid candlelight and soft music. Or, why not make it an entire weekend? Our hotel has a stunning Valentine’s Day package! Or, hey, go big or go home, how about a cruise?

I’m not a cynic. I prefer to think of myself as a realist. The reality, in the past, wasn’t all hearts and flowers. Those of my generation had to endure that great cruel crucible of childhood, when Valentine’s Day was the day we all found out what others truly thought about us. Yes, in the olden days, no one dictated that if you were bringing Valentine’s cards, you must give one to everyone in the class. That rule was unheard of, which meant that some people received a lot of cards, and some had very few indeed.

I can’t even recall what the standards were, back then, for judging whether a classmate was deserving of a card. I know girls had crushes, and that was certainly a factor. Some girls were popular with other girls in a way that even to this day I can’t explain. It’s interesting, isn’t it, how something can have such a lasting impact on one’s psyche, without the details being etched in the memory?

A small digression here. I recall going to my High School’s 25th reunion, in 1985. At the time I was married, had children, and adulting to the best of my ability. We’d been married thirteen years. The one incident that stood out for me on this occasion was when one of the most popular girls in my school, at the time of my attendance, came up to me and told me how much she’d respected me and looked up to me, back in the day. I recall being gracious, but thinking, dayum, girl, where the hell were you when I needed you? I had perhaps four girls at the time I considered friends. I’m pleased to say that today, I am in regular contact with three of them.

As an adult, I always felt gifts on Valentines Day were nice, but not necessary. A card, on the other hand, was a simply bar to set. And I let it be known to my husband and kids that hand-made cards were the best.

Through the years I’ve received beautiful flowers, and they’re always a wonderful surprise that not only perk up my day but are lovely to look on for several days afterward. And then there was the year when my first books came out under my second penname, Cara Covington. Because my husband had to work, he asked my daughter to arrange with the local flower shop for three bouquets to be delivered—one for Morgan, one for Cara, and one for my real name.

I’m not sure if my daughter explained the situation to the florist, or not. She’s got enough of me in her that she might not have done.

For those of you who do celebrate this day—and I know some folks who observe today as a wedding anniversary—I wish you all continued love, laughter, and a very good life.

Love,
Morgan
http://www.morganashbury.com
http://www.bookstrand.com/morgan-ashbury

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

February 7, 2018

I’m certain y’all have heard by now the results from last Friday. Two groundhogs proclaimed six more weeks of winter. Only Staten Island Chuck predicted we’d get an early spring. I think, over all, he has the highest percentage rate for accuracy. The really concerned should google it. I did a couple of years ago, but that rate could have changed.

Meanwhile in the Ashbury household, we’re chugging along just fine. Yes, we’ve got a lot of snow, again. That’s not a problem for us the same way it used to be in one particular area: we don’t have to go out in it. Since no one who lives here has to go out of the house to work, we can choose to hunker down, if that’s what we want to do. It was snowing this past Sunday, and we had planned to get groceries and pick up David’s new laptop. We just looked at the weather, then at each other, said “Monday”, and carried on with our individual pursuits. That was the easiest decision made and executed, ever.

I’m smiling more these days, because over the last month, during which my husband has been working on his novel, he’s made a few interesting discoveries about writing, the creative process, and an author’s life in general.

My friends, Karma is a wonderful thing.

You may recall that I asked David to relocate his computer and “office” area a couple of years ago. It now takes up a corner of our living room. I made this request of him after a long Christmas “shutdown” during which he was home for about three weeks. All through this time, he was in my office a lot, where his computer was also located. When he wasn’t surfing the web, distracting me because his monitor screen was in my periphery, he was sitting there, his chair turned toward me, and he was reading.

I explained as gently as I could that it was very difficult for me to get into “the zone” with him just sitting there. He protested that he was being quiet, and he just “wanted to be with me”. I felt a little guilty even as I told him I appreciated that, and we could have together time later in the day. Although I knew he didn’t really understand, he acquiesced to my request, and relocated his “office”.

One day last week, I’d finished writing for the moment. It was coming up on two in the afternoon, and I needed to get my legs up. I’ve found my arthritis is marginally better if I do this each day. I walked into the living room and told him I wanted to watch a bit of television, but not to worry, I would use the headphones. I would be so quiet, he wouldn’t even know I was there. He wouldn’t be distracted by the screen, because he sits with his back to it.

My husband said, okay, he’d take a break too. He definitely sounded disappointed. I told him he didn’t have to, I was fine wearing the headphones and watching television on my own.

He turned, looked at me, and the expression on his face…I can only call it sheepish. He told me he can’t seem to focus very well on what he’s writing when I was sitting there, in the room, with him. Friends, a bigger person than I would have simply made sounds of understanding and left it at that. 

Me? I put on a puppy-dog face, batted my eyes at him and said, in a Betty Boop kind of voice, “But I’m being very quiet. I just want to be with you!”

We both laughed, and it was a good moment, really. He’s now beginning to understand a little of what I’ve been saying and hinting at for some time. I know that in the last couple of years especially, he was thinking I was living a live of luxurious ease, while he had to work hard, and in a way, I was.

 But how nice it is for him to finally see my lifestyle through his own eyes, to understand the way the writing process can grab you by the throat, enslave you, enthrall you, and frustrate you beyond measure—all in the same breath.

The best part of all is one that was completely unexpected. Not only do I feel I have more writing time, and less pressure to do other things. This change in our routines has definitely brought us closer together.

Love,
Morgan
http://www.morganashbury.com
http://www.bookstrand.com/morgan-ashbury

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

January 31, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love,
Morgan
http://www.morganashbury.com
http://www.bookstrand.com/morgan-ashbury

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

January 24, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who wouldn’t love a job like that?

Love,
Morgan
http://www.morganashbury.com
http://www.bookstrand.com/morgan-ashbury

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

January 17, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I also told him: save, save, save.

Love,
Morgan
http://www.morganashbury.com
http://www.bookstrand.com/morgan-ashbury

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

January 10, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love,
Morgan
http://www.morganashbury.com
http://www.bookstrand.com/morgan-ashbury