Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Perspective

Yesterday the sun was shining and it was unseasonably warm for December 12 - a perfect day to get those outdoor Christmas decorations up.  I know, I know -- it's late but you see the 'Martha Stewart' of our household is overseas and does not return until Dec. 23rd.  She has left very clear directives that all is to be merry and bright in and about the house when she gets home. 

How difficult can this be I wondered?  Years ago this was my job.  I know how to do this.  First task was to get the large tub of outdoor decorations down from it's home in the rafters of the garage.  I was thrilled to discover that the man of house had already done this!  All I had to do was get this behemoth out of the garage.  It seemed much heavier to me than was expecting, but I got up over the car and out onto the driveway without incident.  Untangling the mass of greenery, ribbons, pine cones and lights was a little tedious but did not damage my Christmas cheer and soon I had all three 12 foot garlands stretched out in the sun. 

I stuffed the wire ties and wire cutters in my pocket, gabbed the step ladder and one garland and strode toward the front steps -- woman on a mission!  I had to stop half way because I had trouble juggling the load.  I left the ladder behind and hefted the garland up the slushy and snow packed stairs, my good cheer taking a few hits from the uncertain footing.  Back down the slippery stairs I went to retrieve the ladder -- then up the six tenuous steps to the landing then the five more to the door.  Phew!  "I really should clear those steps," I thought, "but I've got to get these decorations up." 

Ladder in place I surveyed the task before me.  Piece of cake!  I headed up the first step of the ladder, heavy garland draped over me and dragging out behind me, and my vintage internal plumbing system signalled me warmly that it was feeling stressed.  SIGH!!  Back down the ladder I went, back down the stairs which were now slick from the combination of my traffic and sunlight.  I really must clear those steps...

Ten minutes later I was back on the ladder again.  The first step was not high enough to reach the top hook over the centre of the door, so I rose up one more step.  I stood there for a moment -- was this ladder always so wobbly? My feet were all of 18 inches off the deck, but of course it looked like six and half feet to me, and I needed to go up even one more step.  My balloon of Christmas cheer was deflating rapidly, but I pressed on.  Nothing like a few well placed expletives to raise the spirits!

My less than nimble fingers stretched out to hook the garland on the target nail.  Success was in my grasp, if but only for a moment.  The garland fell before I could attach it to the second nail.  Back down the ladder, back up the ladder.  My fingers struggled with the wire ties, aching and losing their grip at critical moments of this mission, but with the able assistance of more expletives the garland did finally get hung.  One down, two to go.

I trudged back down the stairs with the step ladder, my hips protesting the whole way and working in concert with my fear of falling so well that I can now say that I have mastered the 'old lady walk'.  My tear ducts spasmed ever so briefly, sending out that prickling sensation to all corners.  Now at the ground level walkout, I assessed the task anew.  This would be much easier -- just two attachment points and the wire ties were already on the garland.  All I had to do was slip these over the hooks in the brickwork. 

Back on the ladder again, I hoisted the garland and clumsily but effectively slipped the wire loop over the hook.  The hook immediately let go of the brick.  More foul language spat out of my mouth.  I re-set the hook and tried again.  Same result.  I slowly descended the ladder.  I felt old and so utterly useless.  My tear ducts unleashed a mighty torrent, washing away every last piece of Christmas cheer.  A few minutes later and more composed I sauntered into the house to enlist help from the man of the house.  Together we got the blessed garland up.  I was exhausted and desolate.  I moped through the afternoon.  The third garland would have to wait for another day.

In the early evening I received an email from a friend living with stage IV colon cancer.  It seems the chemo she has endured these past three months has had no impact.  The tumours have almost doubled in size and now there are more of them.  Suddenly my day looked pretty good, embarrassingly abundant in fact.  It is all a matter of perspective.

My Christmas cheer is back though somewhat muted.  Not all is merry and bright in my creche.  Perhaps that is the way it's always been in creches everywhere.   The creche will always be the gathering place of the hopes and the fears of all the years. 

Hang in there Virginia!  You are not alone.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Busy Baking

Chocolate Spritz
I know, it's been a while, quite awhile, since I last wrote something here.  Did I lose interest?  Have I given up?  Have I left the planet?  Nope.  None of these things.  I just fell victim to busy-ness.  It's the scourge of the season, although it usually doesn't afflict me this early on -- I mean, c'mon, it's not even December yet!  It's been a good kind of busy I must say.  I got the Christmas cakes baked and packed away.  This is a bit of a production number, taking some three days to complete.  Then I spent a fab day with my daughter-in-law and sister in Erin, making a start on the Christmas cookie baking.  We had a blast!!  And I've been busy writing, but not posting.  The last piece I wrote for my memoir course has been recommended for entry into a writing contest.  No too shabby for a newbie, eh?  I still have to finish polishing it up before I submit it on Tuesday.  Then I wait -- results won't be announced until March.

For those of you who don't know it yet, the other thing I'm working on is another blog just for Advent (those 4 weeks before Christmas).  You can check it out at www.christmasmagician.blogspot.com
There are two introductory posts there now and the rest will arrive daily beginning tomorrow morning (Nov. 27) until Dec. 25.

See you around and about!
Cheers!

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Bookmobile Day


      
Etobicoke Public Library Bookmobile, circa 1954
     Friday was Bookmobile Day.  Mom and I would walk hand-in-hand down to the end of our short street where the big two-toned green bus parked for an hour every Friday morning from 10:30 to 11:30.  Sometimes we would get to watch this behemoth lumber and creak into place, but most of the time it would be there already, with the stairs pulled out waiting for us.   In good weather the driver would be lounging on the grass smoking a cigarette, but when he would see us coming, he would jump to his feet and with a big smile lift me up into the library on wheels.  Those steps were too big for four year old legs.  Mom always thanked him, and the librarian who greeted us always smiled.
            Inside, both walls were lined with books floor to ceiling and the narrow hallway between them was paved with beige linoleum.  The long thin bank of fluorescent lights that ran down the centre of the bus emitted a comfortable hum.   In the summer, it was hot and airless, so we never stayed very long, but in winter the bookmobile was a cozy refuge from bitter winds, due in no small part to the engine running for the full hour.
            About half way down on the driver’s side was a two foot square window.  This was where the children’s books could be found.  A small kid-sized wooden table with two chairs sat under the window and nestled between two low vertical shelves that displayed the entire children’s collection, perhaps some twenty books in all.  Most of the time I had this special space all to myself -- it seemed not many children got taken to the bookmobile by their mom.
            My favourite books were Lois Lanski’s stories about Mr. Small – Cowboy Small, Policeman Small, Papa Small, The Little Sailboat, and The Little Train,  to name a few.  One day, Mom handed me Ludwig Bemelmans’ “Madeline”, even though I really didn’t think a story about pretty little girls in Paris, France was anything I would like.  As the story goes, Madeline is taken ill and has to go to hospital.  I had just had such an experience, so Madeline and I had something in common.  My mom was very clever!  My all time favourite book was “Curious George”.  George and I had something in common too.  We were both very curious and that occasionally got us into trouble.

            I often had time to just watch Mommy find her books.  She would scan the shelves carefully, often with her right forefinger tracing the bookshelf until she found something of interest, at which point she would pull out the book and read the inside flap.  Then one of two things would happen – she would either put the book back or go on to read the first page.  If then a smile crept across her face, I’d hear the book close with a satisfactory snap and see it triumphantly added to her book bag. 
            Mom was a voracious reader right up until her death at 89 years.  If a book was on the New York Times Best Seller list, chances were Mom had read it, particularly if it was fiction:  “Desirée”, “Auntie Mame”, “Hawaii”, “The Thorn Tree”, “Exodus” as well as anything by Daphne du Maurier or Mazo de la Roche.  I suspect these stories fuelled her inner life and kept her dreams alive.
            Finally we would present our finds to the smiling librarian who would dutifully stamp the cards and then it was out the door we went -- with a little help from the driver – and back up the street, hand-in-hand.  Bookmobile days were special times not so much for the books as for the time spent with Mom – those hand-in-hand walks followed by afternoons curled up beside her while she read to me were precious.
  



           

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

All Quiet on the Blog

Seems awfully quiet round these parts lately...
Is there nothing to write?
Is there nothing happening out there of even a little interest?
Has the well gone dry?
Has the interest rate collapsed?
Has vintage forgetfulness claimed yet another nouvelle idée?
Have the lights gone out?
Is this a general power failure, or just a rolling brown out?
Is there a point to all these questions?

Don't just sit there. Write SOMETHING!

Oh all right! 
Well I am still here after all.  If you must know, I am languishing in a still pond of apathy -- no energy nor enthusiasm.  BUT -- a pond has limited boundaries, and therefore so does this float in the doldrums.
Back at cha soon!



Thursday, 20 October 2011

Sincerely Irene

The Beginning:
 
On April 5, 2001 we celebrated Mom’s eightieth birthday in grand style.  Family friends and neighbours gathered round to fete this vivacious petite woman who could often be found at the centre of three or more conversations at once.  Exactly one year later on her eighty-first birthday we gathered sadly and reluctantly in a small conference room in Southlake Regional Health Centre, and signed papers placing her to long term care. 
            Hindsight is indeed a marvellous thing and today as I look at the photos of Mom taken at the grand birthday fete, I wonder how we could have missed it.  I wonder how I could have missed the thin fingers of dementia worming their way into my mother’s life, because the signs seem so obvious to me now.  A very thin yet smiling woman looks out at me from the photos.  I trace my thumb over the image noting the way she is holding herself, that odd angle of the left hand, and the subtle vagueness in her eyes.  “Oh Mom,” I say to the photo, “I wish I had noticed earlier, then maybe the journey might not have been so hard.”


The First Revelation – a little tumble

            At Christmas 2001, eight months after the birthday fete, I remember noticing that Mom was even thinner, almost painfully so, and I did ask her about whether she was eating properly and what her doctor thought about her weight.  Predictably she reported that all was well and that in fact she’d just been to the doctor and “he was very pleased.”  Mom was a diabetic and as such there were frequent and regular visits to the doctor, so I accepted what she reported.  At times she seemed a little overwhelmed by all the noise and confusion of grandchildren in full Christmas spirit, but hey I thought, she’d just been to the doc, so all must be okay, right?  A mere seventeen days later all that would change.  It would be like some gigantic, invisible inter-galactic wormhole suddenly opened up and sucked us all far away from the place we called ‘home’.  And it all began with a phone call on a sunny Thursday afternoon in January.

            “Hey, have you been talking to Mom this week?” my sister Cathy asked.
            “Yeah, I spoke to her a couple of days ago.  Did she tell you about the tumble she took New Year’s Day?” I asked and then continued on, “She told me her hip was a bit sore and that she was going to the doc on Friday, that’s tomorrow, to get it checked out.”
            “Well, are you sitting down?” Cath’s words and tone put me on alert.  “She told me this morning that she has to take a cab!”
            “Shit!” I said.
            “Exactly!  This means she can’t manage the bus.”  After Dad died, Mom never took a taxi anywhere.  Through rain, sleet, snow or wind, she took the blessed TTC buses and subway everywhere, day or night.  Cath continued, “I, um, think I’m going to offer to drive her to the doc tomorrow.  Wanna come along?” 
            Without a nanosecond’s hesitation, I answered, “Yup, you bet.”

            I did not sleep that night.  Fear, uncertainty and dread absconded with the known facts, and set up an anxious game of ping pong in my head that reverberated around in my heart. 

Ping: What if the hip is broken?  Surgery is going to be very dangerous.  She’s got very poor circulation and has been told by a vascular surgeon that she’d never survive a general anaesthetic.  I must tell the doctors that. 

Pong: The hip’s not broken – she’s been walking on it for ten days.  No one I’ve known with a hip fracture could move without excruciating pain, let alone get up and walk. 

Ping: She’s a very poor surgical risk.  She could die! 

Pong: She’s fine! 

Ping: Even if she survived the surgery, so many elders never fully recover from hip surgery and are dead within a year. 

Pong: Mom’s fine – she has to be. 

Ping: And this kind of surgery often hastens the development of dementia.  It addles the brain! 

Pong: She is fine.  Please -- Mom’s got to be okay. 

Ping: But...

            And so it went, on through the night.  I stumbled into the morning, slurped down a double espresso and wrote out supper instructions for my husband and teens just in case I did not make it home that night,  then I drove the 45 minutes to Mom’s condo in Etobicoke.   I parked beside Cathy’s car, happy to see that she was already there.  I really didn’t want to be first this time.  I’d been first through the door when Dad was dying eighteen years ago and I wasn’t interested in a repeat performance.   “Shush!” I murmured as I stepped out of the car, “this is not the same at all.”  I marched up the walkway, into the lobby and right into the open door of an elevator.  I punched the floor button and then waited for something to happen.  Finally the doors oozed shut and the car inched upwards at a snail’s pace, or so it seemed to me.  At the third floor, I pushed through the doors before they were fully open and strode briskly out into the hallway, impressed with my confidence and resolve.  I paused at the door of suite 301 at the end of the hall and looked at my watch – it was 10:30.  I took a deep breath and exhaled heavily, “Well, here goes nothing.  Que sera, sera.”  I knocked on the door with my usual three ‘ba-dup-bump’ knock. 
            Cathy answered and Mom was right behind her, cheerful and chatty as ever – both of them!  This was looking good.  As I hugged Mom I asked her, “Is the pain bad, Mom?”
            “I haven’t got any pain”, she answered quickly, almost shrilly but then more quizzically said, “I’ve just got this dumb limp.”  I looked at Cath who shrugged in a way that communicated the relief we both felt.   What had we been worried about?  It’s her sciatica, the bane of her existence for more than forty years.  And I instantly regretted that I had wasted a whole night’s sleep over a vivid imagination.   We made plans to have a great lunch after the doctor’s appointment then headed out.  There was no doubt that Mom was limping and not just a little, but she managed without complaint, in fact she said very little as we made our way to the car and drove to the medical centre.  But Cath and I more than made up for her silence by keeping up a non-stop blathering, all our nervous energy spewing out in silly chater.

Mom and Me, January 13, 2002

A Well Honed Skill


York Regional Forest 2008
©April Hoeller
I've been spending a lot of time lately practising a great skill of mine -- Procrastination!
Of course such a well honed talent really doesn't require any further practice, perhaps a quick touch up here and there would suffice, but that doesn't seem to matter.  In my life, these practice sessions arrive as an intensive study program of at least a week's length.  Furthermore this package deal is never booked in advance but rather shows up unannounced. 
"Never do today, what can be put off until tomorrow." is the ultimate procrastinator's mantra, but this really does not describe what happens to me.  My procrastination never seems deliberate at all -- it just sort of happens.  Take the writing of this blog today for example...
It's been well over a week since I posted anything, so I was getting a tad antsy about writing something, anything really just to let folks know I'm still alive and writing.  So at 12:20pm I sat down in the living room with my pencil, paper and tea (Earl Grey - such a lovely soothing comfort tea, that feels like a warm cozy blanket on a grey, damp Autumn day.  Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.........
Oh!  Then I wrote the first sentence.  Then I had to pee which was followed by a pass through the kitchen during which my computer announced the arrival of email.  Of course I had to look at it!  Useless piece of info but while there, I dashed off two emails (hopefully not useless), then checked Facebook (well I'm there aren't I??), read the new entries and followed this up with two games of sudoku.  I yanked myself out of cyberspace at 1:30pm, only to be told by my gut that was time for lunch.  I set about that task.  Oh but wait! -- Can I have that slice of swiss cheese?  Back to the computer I hastened to consult my food diary.  NO, I can't have the cheese and YES I did put it back in the fridge.  I enjoyed my well balanced repast and returned to the living room with another mug of tea. 
The time now was 2:20pm. 
It is indeed an admirable thing that I have returned to writing this blog, but what I really ought to be doing is writing the 500 word piece for my writing course.  It's due tomorrow evening.  Oh, but that's tomorrow...yabbut I'm in Erin most of tomorrow...hmmmmmm...Now I have to pee again, the consequences of 6 ounces of tea in a vintage bladder.  So look folks, I gotta go -- I mean really I gotta go!  Wonder what things I'll discover need doing on my way back this time?
Cheers!

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Thelma & Louise Do Alzheimers - Reprise

The writing class assignment due ten days from now is 1000 words, on a topic of the writer's choice.  An open canvas on which to paint whatever wordscape comes to mind...

In class Sunday night I wrote a piece of dialogue from 'Mom's Story' and I'm thinking I'd like to expand on that for the assignment.  To that end, I've been reading and re-reading the text of a presentation my sister Cathy and I created some eight years ago, chronicling our journey with Mom through those early months of Alzheimer's disease.  We called our presentation, "Sincerely Irene -- Thelma and Louise do Alzheimer's".  I think we presented our work maybe ten times between 2003 and 2005, always to rave reviews! 
Reading through the text now stirs up a soft sadness along with flood of memories rich with poignancy and love.  What a long, sad and challenging journey it was, yet Cath and I managed to laugh -- A LOT! -- and find the gems amongst the rubble of it all.  I suppose that was the key to my survival -- the laughter.  Cath has always been able to make me laugh and prevent me from taking myself and life too seriously.  It's what I cherish most about her.  Oh make no mistake,  we've cried and cursed and cringed in fear together too, but it's the laughter, that fall on the floor, pee my pants kind of laughter, that has been the life saver. 
Like the time just after Mom had broken her hip, and of cousrse just as we were just beginning to get caught up in the tangles of dementia.  It was in that first week and we were very tired and somewhat shell shocked by the week's revelations.  Mom was supposed to be non-weight bearing, but we hadn't acquired a wheelchair yet, so we were assisting her walk to my car, both of us focussing very intently on Mom.  We were so worried she would slip and fall.  There was a little skiff of snow on the ground so we were verbally cueing her every step, "Now, careful Mom, there's a bit of snow here. That's it. You're doing fine."  Then it happened!  No, Mom did not stumble. Cathy did!  She tripped over the curb.  There was maybe a two second silent pause before we caught sight of each other, then we both let go of Mom and fell to the ground, all the pent up tension of the week pouring out of us in laughter.  I managed not to pee myself, but only just! I remember looking up at Mom and glimpsing one of those moments of clarity that I would soon learn to cherish and celebrate.  Mom was standing there, looking at us with a profound look of exasperation, yet a twinkle in her eyes. "I thought I was the one who needed help.  You girls are impossible!"  She laughed with us (or was that at us?) and then said, "Come on now you two, we can't stay here all day."
And indeed we couldn't, though I truly wanted to stay there in bright winter sunshine, ignoring the gathering clouds warning of the storms to come.  We were entering the strange and troubling world of Alzheimer's disease and eldercare.  Nothing and nobody could stop this from happening. 
Fasten your seatbelts -- it's going to be bumpy ride.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Conkers!


I love finding horse chestnuts in the Fall.  It’s a real thrill to pry open the thick spiny green shell -- a bit like opening a gift wrapped present. There is such an anticipation of delight.  My recent finds are no exception.  The outer shell gives way to reveal a gorgeous nugget of deep red brown roundness with a creamy top.  It reminds me of a perfect espresso with a crema top.  The delicate swirls of pattern invite my thumb to trace the contours over smooth shiny curves.   Fifty years melt away...
 

I look up from my English notebook to make sure nobody is watching me.  The teacher is writing in her daybook, and the other kids all have heads down, pencils scratching out a story.  My story isn’t going very well.  It’s stupid.  I can never come up with anything good.  But recess is just minutes away, so I reach into my desk, past the packet of Dad’s oatmeal cookies to find the tangle of shoelaces.  I tease through the tangle to grasp the two round chestnuts, ready for action.  Just yesterday I found these under the big tree in the neighbour’s yard.  I raced home and headed right downstairs to my Dad’s workbench to get the hammer and a big nail.  It was a little tricky -- the chestnuts were a bit slippery and didn’t want to stay still on the floor -- but I got a good hole through two of them.  A third one split.  Oh well, good thing I picked up three!  Then I had to go find shoelaces.  The big thick ones are the best, like the ones I found in my sister’s skates.  Perfect!  I put a good knot in the end of the laces and strung a chestnut on each one.  Two beauties ready for action.
© Lensman300 - Fotolia.com

            Ring!  The recess bell made me jump, but in no time I was in line and ready to head out the door.  Danny, the boy with the ‘five year bully’ (meaning he had beaten five others with this conker) had a bunch of boys already gathered around him, ready to try their luck.  I join the group.  They tease me as usual, being the only girl and all, but I don’t like skipping or hopscotch.  I like conkers!  One by one chestnuts smash against each other and one by one the boys ahead of me leave behind their broken bits.  Now it’s my turn to get demolished – well that’s what the boys say!  I crouch down on my knees and take out the really big conker and lay it in the pit.  I close my eyes and Danny takes his best shot with his now eight year bully.  SMACK!  “It’s your turn now.” somebody says.  

“What?” I stammer, “My conker is still in one piece?”  I dry my hands on my pants, then grab the end of the shoelace and hold it tightly with my right hand.  I wrap my left thumb and forefinger around my conker and draw the shoelace up tight.  SNAP!  I see bits of chestnut flying in the air.  But they’re not mine.  WOW!   I just smashed an eight year bully to smithereens!  “I did it!  I did it!”
 

Ring!  Recess is over.  I quickly stuff my best ever conker into my pocket and skip back into school.  Now I have something good to write about and a one year bully in my pocket.   Cool!
© macroart - Fotolia.com

Old Chestnuts


          I can hardly believe it – here I am in shorts and t-shirt sitting out on the deck basking in brilliant sunshine and warm temperatures with my Earl Grey tea,  serenaded by the chirping of birds and insects, the rustling of squirrels and chipmunks, the occasional barking dog and a car going by every now and then.  Oh, if I could just bottle this day for re-release on some bleak November weekend raw with rain and wind!  The hummingbirds have left for the south, but the chickadees and blue jays are enjoying the re-stocked feeders as are the two mourning doves, (aka Schultz and Dooley).  And there are those damn stink bugs!  Even Sophie, our dog, runs away from those beasties.  Still it is a fabulous treat to be out here today – and WRITING!  Profusely writing.

          I’ve recently been re-introduced to the irksome phenomenon of writer’s block.  It came as quite a shock to my system when suddenly words did not flow wonderfully out the end of my pen to be gratefully absorbed onto crisp white paper.  This writing thing had been going so well of late.  Words floated effortlessly onto the page, cohesive thoughts upwelling wondrously through my fingers at that first writer’s class.  Such words and thoughts just as wondrously dried up at my next class, leaving little more than an upwelling of frustration and guilt.  Here’s how it went down.

BLANK!  Something as a child I wanted to understand, eh? Hmmm.  I can’t find anything. <pause> I got nothing.  Instead I’m getting rather upset that I can’t remember anything specific....  Okay, now I’m worrying about memory loss!  You know, I’m really not impressed with all these hazards of aging.  In fact some days they really frighten me. ... Wait a minute!  I’m supposed to be writing about a childhood memory, in a child’s voice.

<more dead air>  Still nothing.  I’m not really a writer.  I mean, how can I be?  Damn it!  I’m going to flunk this class!  No, that’s irrational -- get a grip!  I can’t fail the class – there are no marks.  Phew! I’m glad I remembered that at least.  I am getting more and more pissed off which makes it less and less likely that I’ll come up with anything inspired. 

This is stupid!  I could just rebel you know, and get in touch with the inner child, the disobedient one. Ohhhh, I like that idea.  I’ll just write about the three chestnuts I found in wine country the other day, one of which is still in my pocket. 


© matka_Wariatka - Fotolia.com
I love finding horse chestnuts in the Fall.  It’s a real thrill to pry open the thick spiny green shell -- a bit like opening a gift wrapped present. There is such an anticipation of delight.  My recent finds are no exception.  The outer shell gives way to reveal a gorgeous nugget of deep red brown roundness with a creamy top.  It reminds me of a perfect espresso with a crema top.  The delicate swirls of pattern invite my thumb to trace the contours over smooth shiny curves.   Fifty years melt away...

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Sunshine

Sitting in my kitchen, fragrant cappuccino to my right, beloved dog snoring on the floor at my feet, sunshine pouring in...

It's Sunday morning -- always a time for quiet reflection and review of the week.  It's been a delightful week, most of it spent in the other worldliness of Niagara-On-The-Lake. We've been coming here for some thirty plus years to enjoy the plays of the Shaw Festival, stroll along the flower-lined streets, and sip the wines.  It's become a kind of pilgrimage for us, one I look forward to beginning early in the year when the brochure for the upcoming Shaw Festival season arrives.  Many hours are spent considering the plays we want to see and how best to fit them into four days.  Closer to the time, many hours again are spent reviewing wineries and wines, selecting the ones we will visit and the specific wines we want to taste at each winery.  This past week we saw four plays -- My Fair Lady (4stars), Candida (3stars), The Admirable Chricton (4stars) and On the Rocks (1star) -- while also sipping in ten wineries and acquiring seventy-four bottles to add to the cellar.  Last year we brought home eighty-six bottles, so we are doing our bit and cutting back! 




Back in my kitchen the boxes are all lined up to my left along the wall, bottles standing tall patiently waiting to be catalogued and then laid down in the cellar to rest. I'd best get at it. It's a tough job, but somebody has got to do it.
Cheers!



all photos taken this past week in and around Niagara-On-The-Lake,
© April Hoeller




Thursday, 15 September 2011

A Homecoming



 I am standing in the doorway of my chapel – that sacred space of my own creation.  I have to admit that I am somewhat surprised and bemused to find myself here right now.  It has been a few years since I darkened this doorway and I am curious as to how I ended up here.  The writing instructor suggested the opening line, “I am standing in the doorway...”, and somehow I was swept up and carried down the hallway and plunked into this open and very familiar doorway.



I first constructed this chapel almost twenty years ago as a refuge that I could slip away to on my own whenever I chose.  At first it was a very ornate space, rivalling Bernini’s work in St. Peter’s Basilica, or so I thought.  Every possible embellishment was included from stunning stained glass windows to beautifully carved wood and rich gold gleaming everywhere.  Over the years I removed the excesses.  First to go were the fancy (and fanciful!) carvings, then the highly polished metalwork, the kneelers, the pews, the fine linens, tapestries and stained glass.  Finally about seven years ago I took out the altar, leaving just dirt floor, bare walls and ceiling, and a single side entrance from a narrow hallway, the doorway in which I now find myself.  This was the place where Godde[1] and I check in with each other. We have laughed here, cried and screamed, dreamed and wrestled with difficult truths here. This was the sanctuary of my soul.



 Not much seems to have changed since I was last here.  In fact, I feel like I’ve slipped into an old pair of shoes and a favourite sweater.  The high raftered ceiling stretches out its long dark arms above me, embracing so many chapters of my story.  Oh the prayers, the pleas, the questions, the praises, the thanksgivings and the joys that have arisen to these beams!  The walls that hold my sacred space open are the same rough hewn barn boards I recall, with tiny shafts of light streaming in through the many cracks and crevices.  These old grey boards have been weathered by many a storm both inside and out.  And then there is that stunning beam of sunlight passing through a knot hole high up, near the top left corner of the chapel – always a marvellous sight.  Even more incredible than the beam with its sparkling scatter of dust particles is the almost perfect metre-wide circle it makes on the floor, an open invitation to come and sit.  



There is no hesitation in my step as I return to my familiar place in the circle of light.  I sit comfortably, just enjoying each breath I take.  I have no burning question to ask of Godde right now, no issue crying out for resolution, no fear that needs quieting.  This day, this time I have the luxury of just sitting without expectation...



In the deep serenity of silence I hear The Divine sigh, “Welcome Home.”

Rainbow Arch, Lindesfarne, Northumberland
©April Hoeller



[1] the feminine form of God; gaining in usage I’m happy to say!

Sunday, 11 September 2011

9/11 - The Tenth Anniversary


I insisted to myself repeatedly this week that I would not write anything about 9/11, and yet here I am.  So much of my thought-scape this day has been taken up by this monumental anniversary and its fallout, that my resolve not to comment has been pretty much bulldozed away, much like my side yard.


Questions keep popping up, the biggest one being, "What have we learned?"  I struggle to find an answer, any answer.  The best I've come up with so far is that we have learned to be afraid.  I don't find that very helpful nor encouraging.  How are we a better people than we were ten years ago?  I don't believe for a moment that we are any safer and I can find little evidence that we are truly any wiser.   The world is as vulnerable as it has always been.  We are as human as we've always been -- generous yet also stingy, compassionate and also indifferent, forgiving but also vengeful, loving when we're not hating, capable of great good but just as great (and even greater?) evil.


personal devotions, Mumbai 2011
© April Hoeller
I believe our greatest freedom is that of choice.  I can choose the better part of whatever a day brings, or not.  By a fortunate accident of birth, I got to be brought up and live in a good land and I am privileged to live well here.  Earlier this year my husband and I travelled to India.  I was surprised and utterly amazed by the joyful energy I saw in the faces of Mumbai's poor.  The people I saw in the streets, living under the bridges worked hard to make the best of their day and their space in it.  We were told by our guide that the day always begins with an act of gratitude, whether it be a flower or garland brought to the temple, a spice offering at the neighbourhood shrine or a prayer and incense in one's own sacred space. 
Perhaps the best thing that I can do on this 9/11 anniversary is to re-dedicate myself to beginning each and every day with gratitude and then consciously choosing the better part whenever I can.  Perhaps this is what I have re-learned from 9/11 -- Life is precious. Handle with care.

Flower offering, Mumbai 2011
© April Hoeller

Monday, 5 September 2011

Labour Day Labours

It's a grey and cool day this Labour Day 2011.  I've been struggling with a piece of writing for this blog for quite some time and it's still not quite coming together as I would like.  It has to be perfect you know!!  So we will all have to wait a bit for that one to appear here, but that's what labour is about isn't it?  Waiting -- waiting for something or someone to emerge?

While I'm waiting, there is stuff I have to do.  Our side yard has to be cleared of the hammock, the bird feeder, the pile of yet to be stacked firewood along with any other detritus that might in the way of the back hoe which must come in and repair the septic tile bed.  Oh the joys of living in the country!  Well it functioned perfectly for thirty-three years, but developed an unfortunate limp, (you don't really need the details I'm sure but I will reassure you that the mobility impediment never limped into the house), in the last two months.  The experts have inspected and given their counsel.  Of course after thirty-three  years, the construction codes have changed a wee bit and there is still the matter of a health permit to be secured.  It seems the health department began their long weekend early because nobody returned our call of Friday morning.  Still after, thirty-three years, I suppose there  is no cause for complaint.  It's been a good marriage of form and function.  The grass is always greener over the septic tile bed (thanks Erma Bombeck)!

Speaking of marriages...mine is thirty-six years old tomorrow!  Gosh, a lot of water under the bridge since 1975! By my tally out of the people who were guests at our wedding, we've witnessed twelve passings over these years (1 set of grandparents, 1 great aunt, both sets of parents, two uncles, 1 aunt and 2 cousins) and there have been ten births. We can claim two of those births and boast of our two great kids born and raised, along with a brand new daughter-in-law this year.  Also not to be forgotten as they are cherished family members, we lay claim to two dogs dearly loved, both german shepherds, and Sophie our third beloved dog (shepherd, husky mix) lying at my feet as I write.  We're healthy and comfortable.
This is as good as it gets.  The labour has been worth it.
Cheers!


Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Chores, Nightmares and Books: The Writer does not Read

It feels like ages since I last wrote anything!  In fact it's only been five days.  What?  FIVE days?!  Okay, so on second thought it appears my internal judge, who is always on the look out for violations, has pounced on me.  Five days without writing IS a long time.  In my defence I can report that I have not be idle all this time, but in fact rather busy.  The kids were down from Petawawa this past weekend and it was fabulous to see them looking so well and happy -- just as newlyweds should.  I've knocked a ton of chores off the list and I've been to the gym four times (I worked out too!).  I've even registered for a writing course this Fall (big accomplishment for me).  Oh and I've been reading.

What? Reading? You?  Well yes, I do admit it is a little out of the ordinary.  Okay, it's hugely out of the ordinary.  You see, I am not a reader.  There, I've admitted it.  It's a worrisome fact as I embark on a writer's path.  You know, all the serious writers read tons and are in fact well read people.   Well, I don't read much.  I never have.  So where does this leave me?  Discouraged, disheartened, embarrassed -- this is the stuff of nightmares...

There I am at the first writing class, a fresh faced newbie, and I'm being asked, 'What are you reading now?'  Alarm bells clang in my head, the room spins, all the saliva in my mouth instantly evaporates and there is that unmistakable prickling sensation on the back of my neck.  With my eyes firmly fixed on the floor I mumble, 'Nothing', then quickly add, 'at the moment.'  I am panic-stricken. Whatever made me think I could be a writer?  Perhaps I should just apologise and back out of the room. I really want the floor to open up and swallow me, but of course it doesn't.  Instead another question breaks the awkward silence, 'What do you normally read?'  It's asked kindly enough, as though my inquisitor is certain there must be something more to my reading than nothing.   But alas there is not and I am forced to admit it to all -- NORMALLY, I DON'T READ.

Of course I can and do read.  I've read countless textbooks, reference works, philosophies, and the like, all because I had to.  But I have very little experience in reading for pleasure.  It certainly cannot be found among my hobbies.  Somewhere along the line I never developed a love of reading and I didn't inherit anything of if from my mother.  She was a voracious reader.  Every two weeks she'd walk to the library, return the books she'd read and bring home five or six more.  She read in two weeks what I read in a good year.  My father read occasionally.  I suppose I'm more like him. 

Reading has always been somewhat of a chore for me and because I am a very slow reader (my own assessment), it is something that requires time and attention. I cannot read while the TV is on. I cannot read on the bus or the train. I cannot read if other things are going on around me.  But... now I'm retired.  I have time and far fewer distractions and I do enjoy a good story.  Perhaps now is the time to explore reading for pleasure. 

In fact, I've already started!  The gal in Blue Heron Books (www.blueheronbooks.com) nearly overwhelmed me with six possibilities with which to begin this love affair.  I bought three of them and I've read (and enjoyed!) one: The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein.  Next up is Baking Cakes in Kilgali by Gaile Parkin.  This is going to be a bit more of a challenge to read as the writing is more dense,  but still I think I'm up for it.  So far, so good.

Normally, I just might be a reader.
Cheers!

Friday, 26 August 2011

Waiting out the Storm

I have been watching with increasing interest (perhaps approaching the status of addiction), the development and progress of Hurricane Irene.  I check for updates on winds, position, forward movement and storm track several times a day (okay, okay, umpteen times a day).  Some of my best friends on Facebook these days are Intellicast.com and ECHO Storm Team.

I have always been a follower of the weather, storms and hurricanes in particular.  I like to think that I come by this interest in the weather genetically.  My father was a meteorologist and although forecasting was not where the bulk of his career was spent, it was where it began and ended.  Dad loved watching the sky, noting the cloud formations and how they were moving.  He loved storm watching.  At every opportunity he would cajole his three daughters (we were not always the most willing) out onto the enclosed front porch to watch the lightning and count off the seconds until we heard the thunder.  I confess that these were not always happy and carefree occasions.  Sometimes the wind and the rain along with the natural pyrotechnics were just a bit scary.  Particularly that one time when lightning struck the hydro pole not fifty feet from us.  Suddenly there were four white-faced people, one adult and three children, all trying to get back through the door into the house.  It's comical now, but at the time anything but funny.  So I do have a healthy respect for the forces of nature, but a storm chaser's heart.

Now back to hurricanes and Irene in particular.  My late mother,  Irene, had family who had a cottage on the southern tip of Long Island -- Breezy Point, New York.  From the time I was five years old until 1976, with only two exceptions, we spent at least two weeks every August 'at the beach'.  Stories about hurricanes past were the stuff of legend, or at least I thought so as I sat in awe listening to the tales of howling winds and rising waters.  It was all so very exciting and fascinating to my young ears.

above photo: Dad in the right corner, cottage centre; the Mardi Gras parade
(always at the end of August at Breezy Point)

Most hurricanes and tropical storms head up the eastern seaboard in early September (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_New_York_hurricanes#1950.E2.80.9374) by which time we had packed up and back home across the border.  But in 1971, on August 28, Tropical Storm Doria caught up with us (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tropical_Storm_Doria_(1971).  She struck at night and I remember the howling wind and the driving rain.  Sleep was impossible so we gathered round the dining table watching the chandelier sway and playing Pokeno.  Then the tea and cinnamon toast came out. It the was the best!  I don't think Dad sat down for more than five minutes.  He was in his element: tapping the barometer, taking observations from the back deck and listening to the National Weather Service radio.  When there was a momentary lull in the wind and rain, we listened to the "plink plonk symphony" orchestrated by 5 saucepans and multiple drops from the leaking roof.

The centre of Doria passed just after midnight as I recall and around 1:30am Dad announced that the pressure was rising, the winds were abating and it was time to go to bed.  In the morning which dawned clear and bright, we were drawn down the boardwalk to the ocean by the roar of the surf.  The sea was still boiling and the pounding had created deep cuts in the sand. As we made our way back up Fulton Walk,  the neighbours called out to Dad and said, "When we saw the lights go out at your cottage, we knew all was well and the worst was over."

Hurricane Irene brings with her that great memory and one more -- the marriage of the weatherman and Irene, my Dad and my Mom.  Mom died last August (see my 'Dear Mom' post) and Dad's been gone since 1984.  I had a sense when tropical storm Irene became Hurricane Irene that she'd be headed straight up the eastern seaboard to Breezy Point.  I'd like to think that Mom and Dad are at the helm of this one and will steer her clear of causing major destruction while maintaining the thrill of it all. 

Forty years ago to the day I will be here, waiting out the storm.  If I get out the Pokeno set, how be you get the tea and cinnamon toast?  Together we can wait and watch and pray that all will be well.
Be careful out there and if you are one who is told to leave, do so! 
Take care.

The Weatherman and his Irene,
September 1971






(all photos © April Hoeller)










Monday, 22 August 2011

Sunday's Soup

Soup is a time honoured tradition is this household, accompanied by something warm from the oven be it muffins, popovers, biscuits, or on more indulgent days, fresh bread.  Soup -- a fragrant often colourful combination of whatever is on hand, odds and ends of food, leftovers and fresh bits, seasoned stock and time.  Time is a soup's most critical ingredient. Without it there is only a hodgepodge of flavours and textures immersed in salty water.  Very blah -- kind of like this Sunday.

If one was up very early, a clear sky and warm temperature promised a beautiful summer's day ahead.  By 10 am that promise lay smothered under a damp blanket.  A heavy sky and air thick with humidity drained me of my earlier enthusiasm for the day.  It just slipped away along with the promise of beauty.  Not even a second cup of coffee could provide the jolt I needed to tackle the To Do List.

There is only one remedy for such situations.  Gather up the odds and ends of chores, the unfinished bits and the things that truly need doing and one by one knock them off the list.  So I hauled myself through the hodgepodge:
  1. Decide what to have for supper.  This was a difficult task not only because it was the first but also because I couldn't make a decision.  It took an hour and ended in failure.
  2. Clean and refill the bird feeders.  This was another tough one.  My legs whined every time I encountered the stairs, which was very frequently as there was an indecisive and forgetful brain attached to my legs and five feeders to tend.
  3. Do something about that cabbage ageing in the fridge, also the tomatoes and somewhat sad looking celery.  How about soup for supper? Oh well, all right.
  4. Check in with the kids.  This is always good for a boost.  Well that is IF I actually get to talk to them.  Today Suzy Phone Mail was the only one who answered and I know her story by heart.
The hours crept by and now it was raining steadily with the occasional rumble of distant thunder rolling through.  It was the kind of rain my Dad called a "watchin' rain" so I brewed myself a lovely  chai latte and sat down in the living room to read.  I made it all the way to the top of the third page before succumbing to the heaviness of the day.

When I regained consciousness, it was still softly raining.  A wonderful aroma wafted in from the kitchen -- Soup! Time to make some muffins.  As I set the pan in the oven, the sun came out.  I sat happily in the kitchen watching the birds return to the cleaned and re-stocked feeders.  The gold finches and chickadees were first, then came that lovely cardinal couple and last by by no means least, Hermione the humming bird whizzed in for a few quick draughts of fresh nectar.

It was a beautiful day!
It just needed a little time. 
(And the soup was pretty good too!)

Friday, 19 August 2011

TGIF

It's been almost four years since I had a full time job outside of our home, yet I still look forward to Fridays.  In testimony to the enduring quality of tradition, Friday suppers remain carefully planned events even though much of my life has radically changed since 2007.   Good food and wine are central to this weekly celebration and so recipe books are consulted and wine pairings considered. 
One change of note -- the wine gets opened much earlier now, sometime between 4 and 5pm!


Tonight's TGIF menu features grilled rainbow trout atop wild rice and quinoa pilaf, surrounded by stir-fried carrots and broccoli.  The wine is a 2007 Pinot Noir from Cattail Creek Family Estate Winery, Niagara-on-the-Lake.  For dessert there is a fruit compote of organic musk melon and wild blueberries drizzled with Grand Marnier. 

A piece of fine dark chocolate (70%) closes off the repast.

I know it's cruel of me to give you the menu but not an invitation.  I can hear a collective sigh...
An integral part of TGIF ritual is family, however many of us may be present.
Claim, renew, celebrate your own TGIF ritual. 
Bon appetit!
And it's almost time to open the wine...
Cheers!
 
(photo credits: ©April Hoeller)

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

A Writer? Me?

A writer?  Me?  Well yes, and why not?  I've been writing for twenty years - essays, a thesis, then sermons and homilies, seminars, workshops, retreats and reflections.  So writing is not entirely new to me and I'm not a total novice after all.  And yet, I am a novice.

All my writing in the past was driven by an imposed task, an external requirement that needed to be fulfilled within a specific time frame.  There were deadlines, and lots of them.  My thesis had to be done by the end of a semester.   Sermons were always due on Sunday morning.  Funeral homilies along with the entire order of service had to be churned out in forty-eight hours or less.  Workshops and the like had firm, very firm dates attached to them.   Today there is no deadline.  There is no requirement that needs to be fulfilled.  There is just me sitting here with pen and paper needing to write, wanting to write.

About what?  A number of possibilities suddenly pop into view.  It's like looking out at classroom of enthusiastic eight year olds, most of them sure they have the right answer and hoping the teacher will call on them - there are hands up all over!  Oh all right, I'll call a few of them forward.  I've toyed with writing about the journey with my Mother into Alzheimer's disease and beyond.  I even have some chapter headings for that one.  I could compile a collection of stories taken from my years as a chaplain in hospital and long term care centres.  I could write about my experiences as a woman in professional ministry - the joys, the sorrows and sacrifices.  Beyond these memoirs, there are some specialized resources that I could write: a worship resource for use in long term care centres; a guide for palliative care professionals that addresses spiritual care needs at the end of life; and  a collection of sermons for those really stuck at 11pm Saturday night. 

Conspicuous by its absence is the novel.  I really don't see myself writing fiction, but I'll not shut the door just yet.  It's much too early in my writing career to say 'no' to anything.  I am still only a novice.  And it's a good place to be!

Thanks for reading this.