Thursday, 29 September 2011


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 -

            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 -

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 -
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


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.

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.