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 ( 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.

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 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 ( 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 (  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


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...
(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.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Writer in training - part 2

Just what makes me think I can be, or even should be, a writer? 

I have no grand ambition to write some great treatise that changes the world.  I am not compelled to write by some almighty drive. No, I have a small but rather persistent urging.  It's been there, off and on, for maybe some ten years, and of late this urging has become more insistent, that is to say it more frequently holds front and centre in my thought landscape. 

As I was pondering this new prominence, it occurred to me that perhaps some longstanding need to be heard was fueling this urge to write.  It would seem that I have something to say.  Now there's a insight that has the ring of truth about it!   It effects a deep resonance within me - not a disturbing sensation, but a gentle comforting affirmation that seems to have the soft rhythm of a heartbeat.  There is life here! 

I don't know where this life is leading, but I'm going to listen to her, befriend the writer within and give her voice.

Wish me luck!

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Dear Mom

Dear Mom, 
It's been quite a year since you headed off on the next great adventure.  We've transited the year of 'the firsts' since you've been gone with grace and decorum and some times of celebration too. I'm guessing you know all about our happenings?

I felt you standing beside me when the ship docked in Mumbai.  Together we watched Dad marching on the pier while the band played the Colonel Bogey March.  I know I saw you in Madrid at the Elizabeth Arden counter in that upscale department store.  Did you get the red lipstick you wanted?  And the fragrance too? 

At Geoff and Kath's wedding you were standing in the middle of the circle for 'your song', Sinatra's New York, New York.  What a great celebration that was! Auntie Elaine remarked how much she saw of Daddy in Geoff.  I don't know as I had noticed that before, but I see it now.  Geoff and Kath make such a lovely couple!

It must have been you who gave Kristen her fashion and makeup sense.  She surely didn't get it from me!! I wouldn't be surprised if you've been at every one of her photo shoots, including the ones in Japan.  She is her Grandmother's girl. Gorgeous, smart and lover of books!

I know that you are as happy as I am with the new kitchen. I've heard you singing along with me while doing the dishes, or sweeping the floor, or making a meal.  Have you seen YOUR bookshelf?  It has your Fannie Farmer Cookbook (aka the Boston Cooking School), the Casserole Cookery book, one of your coffee/tea cups, the old juice strainer, the screw down nut cracker we used for hazelnuts and walnuts, and that old fish scale.  I tucked in 2 little bookie from 1958: The German & Viennese Cook Book and the  New England Cook Book.  I can look up at your picture whenever I'm sitting at the desk.

Kristen and I are making a celebration supper in your honour today - "Macaroni & Fisherman Sauce a la Cudbird".  I've had to make a few changes to it - I do hope you approve!  I'm replacing the oysters with scallops.  I recall oysters were more Dad's thing than yours, and that if you were given a choice between the two, scallops would win hands down.  Also I could not find a can of  Manhattan Clam Chowder, so I going to use tomato broth and add more clams!  Oh, and I have some left over grilled tuna steak which I will use instead of a can of solid tuna.  You wouldn't believe the variety of fresh and frozen fish I can get at almost any supermarket now!  And pasta in all shapes and sizes too.  Back in the day, it was just spaghetti and elbow macaroni, then lasagna appeared.  Remember the excitement when 'wagon wheels' came on the market?  I recall pleading with you to buy them and eventually you did, even though I suspect they were a tad expensive.  <Sigh>  Anyway, I've stayed true to your recipe and elbow macaroni it is!

For dessert, I've made Ebinger's Crumb Cake (Kristen's idea).  I think she just wants the crumbs.  Remember the fights we girls had over the crumbs when we were at the beach?  Those were the days.  I think we'll have some pistachio ice cream on the side.  What do you think?  Never mind, I can hear you smacking your lips already!

Time for me to get back to work on this celebration.  If you're in the neighbourhood, I'd love to have you drop by for supper, or even just to share a spoonful of pistachio ice cream and a bit of crumb cake.  There isn't a day go by that I don't think of you.  I miss you, but I'm so happy you are free.
Heaps of love.

p.s. There's a lovely bottle of 2009 Pinot Gris (Coyote's Run) chilling in the fridge. 
Here's to you, Mom!

photo: June 1961 - one of my fav's.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Writer in training

I've been told that writing is a discipline and that aspiring authors need to write something, however small and inconsequential it may be, every day.  So here I am, writing. My current dilemma is what to write.  I have a kaleidoscope of things I could talk about.  In fact one of the amazing (to me) things that has happened since I opened the blog is the sudden onslaught of ideas, phrases, paragraphs that have deluged my thoughts.  It's like a dam has burst somewhere.  I now carry a spiral bound bookie with me and it's got all kinds of notes in it, and there are scraps of paper with tidbits written on them piled haphazardly by my laptop.  I think it's time to get this writing business organized.

I've been reading "Writing to Change the World" by Mary Pipher (Riverhead Books, New York, 2006), and while I have no lofty expectations that anything I write will or even could change the world, I have found the book helpful.  The section on 'Organizing Paper' is catching my eye today.  "With writers, an idea misfiled is an idea lost." (p. 117)  Yup!  Add the inconsistencies of a vintage brain into the mix and many an idea gets lost in a sea of disconnected half sentences.  Lesson: when I have an idea, write it down, immediately; at the end of the day, file the notes.  I can do this!

Okay, I'm off to print file labels.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Quaffer's Notes

I am no wine expert but I've come a long way from Mateus Rose (does anybody still drink that?), Kyffhauser (consumed in quantity at the German Club in Toronto) and Black Tower!  I am thrilled when I can identify at least one of the elements in a wine's tasting notes and I positively glow with pride on those very rare occasions when I can really truly taste three of the elements.  I absolutely enjoy and am commited to continuing education when it comes to my wine palate!  Salut!

So last night's wine was a 2005 (I wrote 2004 in yesterday's post) Hernder Merlot. The three best things about this wine: 1. I actually did taste the cherry notes BEFORE I read the tasting notes
                           2. the price of the wine - $10.95 (bought at the winery a year ago)
                           3. there are no more bottles of this wine in our cellar.

Here are my actual notes: soft tannins with gentle cherry notes; not outstanding, unremarkable even,  but at $10.95 what could I expect?  Previous bottles of this same wine, the last consumed 6 months ago, had been more pleasing.  So I am led to conclude that this 05 merlot had exceeded it's best before date. Good thing there no more in the cellar!

I have read that if a wine is on the low end of the price scale, it usually does not have the holding power of it's more expensive siblings and this merlot would prove that.  Now I know firsthand.


Remembering Grandma

Today is my Grandmother's 126th birthday - if she were still here that is.  Gram died in her 100th year (1984), a quiet, wise woman whose sausage rolls were to die for!  To me she is famous for bright shiny 'coppers', butterfly kisses and wonderful baskets of comfort food brought to me whenever I was sick, which was a lot.  The basket always had in it at least one can of Campbell's scotch broth soup. I loved it. 

Whenever she & Gramps would visit, one of the first things she would do upon sitting down was to open up her purse, reach in and take out a small black, soft change purse twist open the clasp.  "Let me see if I have any bright shiny coppers (pennies)", she would say with a twinkle in her bright blue eyes.  I hung on the arm of chair, waiting, trying to peek into that tiny purse and see for myself, but she would always conceal the contents from me.  There were always 2 or 3 coppers and sometimes there were FIVE!!  What a treasure!  Then came the butterfly kisses - just 2, one on each cheek - her lips would hardly touch my cheek and I really had to pay attention to feel it. 

To this day, I hear Gram everytime shiny coppers come my way and feel the faintest of butterfly kisses.  Thanks, Gram.

I've got a hankering for sausage rolls...

Photo from Palm Sunday 1968: My Dad, Gram, Mom and Gramps.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Opening gambit...

I've thought about a writing blog for a long time, and today (fanfare!!) thought produced action.  After what seemed like a long time, I think I have the setup that is good enough for the time being.

So, what's occupying space in my mind today?  A jumble of things - the riots in England, a friend with stage IV colon cancer, regaining control of my house (aka getting rid of the junk) and when am I going to sit down and do the writing I keep saying I'm going to do. 

Well there really isn't much I can do about the riots except rant about the 'rewards' of bringing up kids without boundaries, without restrictions, without consequences.  Reap what we sow...blah, blah, blah, and British PM Cameron said about as much today in parliament.  I have often thought that there does come a time when so called human rights are pushed to their extreme and suddenly become human wrongs. I have no great wisdom to offer on this matter, no elegant solution, just a thought or two and not a little grief.

My friend with colon cancer?  Cancer is so unfair.  She is 46 and I helped rescue her from a highly abusive marriage 7 years ago. She lost everything, including her 3 sons as their dad was able to buy them off with playstations and the like. She moved in with her Dad and put herself through college and paid all her lawyer costs. The surgery was Saturday morning. They did the bowel resection but also had to do a gastric resection as the cancer had invaded the duodenum. There are tumours on her adrenal glands and 6 tumours in/on her liver. So not fair, hardly ever is. And not much I can do but accompany. Well there is one thing I can do and it is to send out this plea:  When the md's tell you that because of pre-existing conditions or history, you should have a colonscopy every 2 years, DO IT! 

Regaining control of my house? For the moment,  I'll take the Scarlett O'Hara pledge: "Tomorrow is another day."

And sitting down and writing?  I think I've just done that! 

p.s. Tonight's wine is a 2004 Hernder Estates Merlot.  I'll let you know what I think of it.