Wednesday, December 31, 2014

December 31, 2014

I really like this time of year—the lead up to the end of the current year and the beginning of the brand new one. Generally, right after Christmas Day, the media is full of retrospective programming, looking back in music, film and news at the year that was (or should more properly be called, the year that still is for another few days yet).

Looking back on a regular basis can be not only a helpful thing; it can be a healthy one as well.

As we live our lives, day to day, we tend to get mired in the mud of the path we walk. What is happening right now at this very moment can seem so important, so vital, that we can be sidetracked away from what the important things in life truly are. It really is easy to get caught up in the minutia, or, as is commonly said, to not see the forest for the trees.

It’s good to take a step back and focus for a bit on the bigger picture.

I don’t—as you may or may not recall—make New Year’s resolutions. For me, these have proven to be traps just waiting to be fallen into. There’s nothing worse in my estimation than making a resolution on New Year’s Eve, and then ending up failing on New Year’s Day, or the day after. That kind of behavior just breeds frustration, a sense of failure, and self-loathing. I try very hard not to fall into that pit.

But while I don’t specify a list of things I am going to change about myself, or my circumstances, or anyone in my sphere (yes, I do sometimes have those kinds of thoughts and I know I’m not alone), I do like to take a few minutes and give some thought as to what I would like to accomplish in the twelve months ahead.

Most of the items I think of are rather generic, and don’t change much from year to year. I’d like to be kinder; I’d like to be a bit more patient, and a bit more generous. I’d like to, at the bottom of it all, do something that matters to someone—I want to be a blessing to another human being.

Some folks think that in order to change the world you have to do big things. This is simply not true. The way you change the world the most is by touching, in a positive way, the life of another person.

Do something big, and you may be written about in the history books. Do something small and you’ll be written upon the heart of another human being.

 If enough people do the small things that touch the hearts of others – that, my friends, is a whole lot of darn good karma—the kind of good karma that changes the world.

In the mean time, I’m back to my generalized list of things for the next twelve months. The one last thing I would like to add is that I want to be sure to remember to take time to breathe. Sometimes I get too busy, and I need to set aside some time to ponder the miracles in life, to breathe in the scent of the roses and the coffee, and to be grateful for the bounty with which I have been blessed. Some folks might look at my house, that’s more than a little ramshackle, or me—you won’t find a designer label in my closet, and rare is the day I put on makeup—and think that the bounty I give thanks for isn’t much at all.

To them I say, just look inside my heart. It’s full to over flowing with love, and that’s bounty enough for me.

Happy New Year to you all!


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

December 24, 2014

It’s been a long time since Christmas seemed like a magical day, wherein my fondest dreams might, just might come true. To a very real extent the magic ended for me with the passing of my dad when I was 7—a tragic event that occurred on January 3, 1962.

I don’t remember much from that particular Christmas, our last one as a whole family. I don’t recall the next one particularly well, either. I imagine it would have been very hard for all of us but especially my mother, who’d lost her soul mate, a loss from which she never fully recovered.

When I think back to childhood Christmases, it’s to recall a montage, as if in fact there’d only ever been one. I remember the breakfast on Christmas morning, because it was one of the few times in the year we had bacon on our breakfast table, along with both orange juice and grape juice. I could have a small glass of each! The tradition of the Christmas morning feast is one we observed with our own children and continued on with until just fairly recently. Our breakfast tomorrow morning is likely to be a very simple one.

Looking back to those very early years, I believe what made it all so special wasn’t only that gastronomical bounty itself, but the unusual circumstance of our enjoying it together, as a family. Oh, we always had supper as a family, even when my mother, an RN, was on the three to eleven shift at the hospital. My dad worked days, so he would be home when she was not. He cooked, and cleaned, and so we had family around the supper table every night.

But we never sat down as a family to have breakfast except on Christmas Day.

I also remember Christmas as being a time for visiting with family. My parents observed the tradition of dropping in on their nieces and nephews on the day after Christmas, and always visiting extended family where there were children. They’d usually have a gift of some sort for the kids—nothing extravagant, of course. But truly, in those days a small gift—either a toy, or perhaps a small basket filled with cookies and fruit or chocolate—could be had without spending a large sum. My parents saved their coins all year, and used that money at Christmas for extras such as our Boxing Day gifts.

Another cherished memory for me is going to the midnight Eucharist at our church (Anglican/Episcopalian). It was the church we attended all through my childhood, the same one my husband and I were married in, and the one we brought our children to as a young family before moving away to a different town. But at Christmas, the service that began at 11 pm on Christmas Eve was pure pageantry– complete with an old, rich sounding pipe organ, and all the trimmings of the High Anglican service—candles, robes, and a processional. The interior of the small building was old, the pews and hassocks a lustrous dark wood that the caretaker would polish to a high gloss. Years after my parents were both gone from this earth, sitting in that church brought them back to me, as I took in the sounds and scents of the place, along with the familiar, comfortable words of a liturgy which never changed.

It is also at this time of year that I feel the loss of family and friends most keenly. It seems to be unavoidable, that sense of something missing. There are always moments when I think back to having my house full, with all my chicks in attendance. The holiday season really is a double edged sword: for those who have, be it material goods or loved ones, it can be joyous indeed. For those in want, it can pinch and sting like nothing else on this earth.

Memories are made, one day at a time, and they are all made the same way, be they happy memories or sad ones.

My beloved and I wish you all the happiest of memories to be made tonight, tomorrow, and throughout the whole New Year.


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

December 17, 2014

How are you handling the pre-Christmas hype this year? Are you tired of it yet? Wishing that Christmas was in the past, already?

To me, that is the sad reality produced by the glut of advertising foisted upon us this time of year. Every business that you can think of—and even some that you never would—all seem to be having Christmas sales, and are begging for your hard earned cash.

I can only shake my head as I watch commercial after commercial, the announcers/actors feverishly pitching everything under the damn sun—and funeral plots too, so I guess you can include everything under the damn ground, as well.

Really? Yes, I kid you not. Take advantage of XYZ Cemetery’s special Christmas sale! Act now, and we’ll throw in a plot for one offspring of your choice at 50% off! Okay, it wasn’t quite that ghoulish, but you get the idea. Please, you want to scream, make it stop!!

If you’re wondering if there’s anything we can do to counter this assault on our psyches, and to get back the joy—the real true joy of Christmas, I have good news for you. The answer is yes!

The first thing you need to do is to turn down the commercials. If you have a PVR I strongly suggest recording some of the programs you watch, and then fast-forward past those annoying spots. Or, better yet, turn off the television altogether. Have a family game night, or two. Listen to music. Everything in life is a choice, isn’t it? So choose not to allow yourself to be inundated with the horrible hype of the season.

Now, you want to get some of that wonderful feel-good Christmas spirit in your heart? There’s an easy and inexpensive way to do that. Several ways, in fact, and I’m happy to list some of them for you here.

You can, as I said, turn off that television and have family time. Or, if you need to watch the tube, choose something you all can watch together. Make a night of it with snacks, and beverages, and use the commercial time to talk about what you’re watching.

The other thing you can do that I absolutely guarantee will fill you with the holiday spirit is to give something to someone else.

Every community has toy drives and food drives at this time of year. Here in Canada, there in the United States, overseas—that is one thing that is common to all of our nations. So give.

You don’t have to give a lot. Here in North America, dollar stores abound. Some toys maybe are too poorly made for you to consider as good gifts, but every dollar store has coloring books and crayons, balls, card games, dolls, barrettes and bracelets and ear buds and calculators—all for a dollar or two. They have scarves and mittens and hats, too, if you’re in a chilly part of the country.

They also have cans of soup, 3 for $1. Or you can go to your local grocery store and buy a few tins of food. Tuna is good, as are vegetables, soups, and pasta. You could purchase jams, and honey and cheese spread. Peanut butter is a good bet as well, because it is high in protein. You can get jars of baby food, boxes of pabulum, or even boxes of regular cereal.

Maybe you can only spend $5. But that $5 can go a long way, especially if everyone you can think of gave $5. Can you imagine? I’ve said it before and I will say it now, and likely again at some point in the future. If everyone who shopped at your grocery store bought 1 thing for the food bank, your local food bank would overflow!

You don’t have any money? Then do a good turn for someone. Shovel a driveway, help carry a bag, hold a door open. Life is filled with opportunities great and small for you to do good. All you have to do is take your eyes off yourself and put them on someone else.

Take your eyes off of yourself, and put them on somebody else!

If you want the Christmas spirit, and it’s missing in your life, then create it by helping someone in need. It really doesn’t take a fortune, or a wealth of time.

It really only takes a determination to make a difference, and the decision to do so.


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

December 10, 2014

Wow, it’s only two weeks until Christmas Eve, and there’re only three weeks left in 2014! My beloved has only two more work days left in the year, and he’s really looking forward to having three weeks off.

I gently pointed out to him just the other day, that three weeks off his day job did not equal three weeks of doing absolutely nothing. I have no objection whatsoever to his reading, lounging about, watching television and napping. But he can’t indulge in all leisure, all the time.

“But we tried that whole ‘house bitch’ experiment last year,” he said, “and I failed at it!”

Friends, y’all would have been proud of his delivery of that sentence, because he did indeed appear to be very sad and disappointed about that truth.

I again, gently, told him the reason he failed was because he’d gone into the experiment with the mistaken idea that being a house bitch meant he had to do only one chore a day.

“You mean,” he asked, eyes wide, “I have to do two?”

Ah, Mr. Ashbury missed his true calling! Not even the great Olivier could have delivered such an emotional, heart-felt performance as I witnessed right there in the front seat of my car as I drove him home from work that day. My husband’s pending Christmas lay-off is indeed a harbinger of a not-too-distant in the future event. Yes, we are very quickly coming to that time that I’m anticipating with equal parts pleasure and dread: in just a couple of years, Mr. Ashbury will become a retired gentleman.

Sadly, he’s looking forward to that. I say sadly because not that many years ago he loved his job. He loved what he did, and he really cared a great deal for the owner of the company, and all who worked there. He cared about the company, itself. But in 2003 the fourth-generation family owned business he’d worked at for 25 years was sold to a large, world-wide conglomerate.

It’s taken that conglomerate eleven years, but they’ve finally completely eradicated my beloved’s joy of going to work each day. He used to tease that he might never retire, and would instead “die in the saddle” as it were. Now, he can’t get out of there fast enough.

That grieves my heart more than I can say.

However, he’s more than an employee—always has been, of course. And even at the age of 62, he has dreams. Some of those dreams are of doing what he would love to do, once he retires. One thing he wants to do is to find a piece of antique farm equipment and restore it. The other thing he’d like to try might surprise you—or maybe it won’t.

He wants to write.

Don’t ask me what genre he’ll be writing, because I seriously don’t know. He has very eclectic reading tastes and he has a love of history. What he ends up penning really is anybody’s guess.

But one thing I do know is this: when that time comes, and he is no longer working at a day job for a living, he won’t need to worry about getting something part time to bring in a few dollars. He has a decent pension, and I of course, will still be writing. Good Lord willing, people will still buy the books I write, which will make our latter days more comfortable than they might otherwise have been.

But my beloved will have to shape up when it comes to working around the house. The deal I’m going to offer him is simple, and, I think, fair. On top of working on my manuscript of the moment, I’ll make the bed every day and the supper every night. But everything else that I am currently doing around the house will become his job.

And because I know him so very well, I will add this proviso to my offer: if he “accidentally” fails at the dusting, vacuuming, mopping and other cleaning chores, then I’m going to “accidentally” start burning the supper. Every. Single. Night.

It’s always good to know your spouse’s weak spot, and Mr. Ashbury’s is definitely at the supper table.


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

December 3, 2014

With December comes the “holiday season”. That’s the politically correct term for it. One tries to be politically correct, but sometimes it’s a challenge. I send out Christmas cards, but not as many as in years past. The postage can be prohibitive, so it’s not an action to be taken lightly.

I try to be sensitive if I am sending a card to someone who I know happens to hate organized religion. There’re a few of them among my family and friends. So I have Santa cards, and other cards that might just say, “Season’s Greetings”. And thinking about it now, I realize how silly that really is, in a way.

Why would I need to send a Christmas card to someone who doesn’t believe in Christmas? People will answer that and say, well, you know, Morgan, it’s the polite thing to do. And it is—of course it is. I can support that statement despite the fact that no one has ever sent me a card for a single non-Christian holiday. Maybe there aren’t any cards for Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or...whatever other non-Christian holidays that in my ignorance, I’ve never heard of.

Conversely, I don’t think I have ever personally heard anyone make a fuss if I wish them Merry Christmas and they’re not Christian. Most people I know of different religions, when I say “Merry Christmas”, respond with a “thank you”, and quite often, “and the same to you”. Likely because they know that behind the words there is only a wish for good things for them in the days to come.

I was very pleasantly surprised last night as I was watching television—there were some commercials where the advertisers actually said, “Merry Christmas”. Good. Let’s not go all silly about what we call the holiday. Let’s call it what it is, and then move on.

My favorite thing about this time of year is giving. I love to give—sometimes much to my beloved’s dismay. I was showing him the budget for Christmas that I’d worked out on Monday, breaking down what was going to be spent and where. For a little while he niggled, as he invariably does. To the tune of twenty dollars here, twenty-five dollars there. Yes, yes, I believe in being frugal and I am most of the year. For the most part.


But there comes a point where frugality ends and miserliness begins, and my beloved was standing on the far side of that line and looking like he might want to settle in for a bit.

As has been mentioned before in these words of mine, one of us is generous and one of us is not. Compromise is key to the health of any marriage—even at Christmas. We do take turns “winning” our way. So I told my beloved he was perfectly free to disagree with me about the Christmas list, as long as he realized that in the end, we were going to do things my way.

That came as no surprise to him, and he even laughed.

There are other gifts, of course, that he doesn’t argue over. There are charitable donations to be made, and there are gifts related to my career—tokens of appreciation to my professional colleagues and associates.

I am reminded that it wasn’t so long ago that my beloved’s treasured personal philosophy won the day just about every year. He used to tell everyone he shopped at the dollar store. Twenty relatives, twenty dollars, twenty gifts. When you’re trying to raise a family and there are sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles, and cousins by the dozens that is absolutely the way to go.

But we are now “dinks”. Do you remember that acronym from the eighties? It stands for “double income, no kids”. For us, in my opinion, the meaning of that term is clear.

Now that we are dinks, we don’t need to be dinks about giving gifts at Christmas.