Thursday, 29 August 2013

Thursday, or Thereabouts - August 29, 2013

© April Hoeller
I am off balance, out of sorts, unsettled this morning. While it's not a happy place to be, it's not entirely debilitating; just a knot in my gut accompanied by a heightened state of vigilance. And the source of this disturbance in the force? In a word, Syria. I am a soldier's mother and so there is more to this angst than a profound humanitarian concern; deep heart strings are vibrating.

I know two things as I write this. One, as a sojourner in the global community, a steward of all resources charged with handing on a better world to those who come after me, I cannot abide the use of chemical weapons; I cannot abide any organization, government or otherwise, that unleashes this horror on any community. It's a heinous, criminal act that demands a definitive response, one that not only rebukes in no uncertain terms but also severely limits, if not eliminates, the possibility of any further use.

The second thing I know today is that I'm really glad I'm not one of the world leaders who must take the counsel of the nations and make the decisions which must be made, because there is no right answer, no clear, straight path through the politics, posturing and personalities; no quick way over the borders, barriers and brokenness. I don't have the patience for this task, nor the stomach for it. Those who do must be willing to spend time in a devil's playground where fact and fiction constantly shape-shift in a soup of fear. The best they can do is strive to find that lesser of evils, the one that holds the greatest potential for the welfare of the citizens both now and in the long run. Such decisions cannot possibly be unequivocal.

© Pavel Losevsky - 
And the soldier's mother? Well this one knows that for the time being, her anxious thoughts are anticipatory, perhaps even imaginary. There will be no immediate involvement for Canadian Forces, but that could change at any time in the coming months. I know well the roller coaster of emotions that an overseas deployment to a war zone brings. No doubt it is my body's memory of that Afghanistan time that is hyping my stress level now. There are many other military moms out there who don't have the luxury of a comfortable distance from the Middle East. I stand with them, hand in hand, watching, waiting, hoping.

If you know a military mom, dad, spouse, sibling, send them a hug today, and thank them for their service.

Monday, 26 August 2013

Monday Moanings - August 26, 2013

A slow, dreary start on this last Monday in August. My sluggish body protests any movement faster than slow; hands and fingers struggle to push beyond the drag of arthritis to move across the keyboard; heart and mind easily slide into the sullen places. Days like today I turn the words of another to soothe my aches and pains.

A Rainy Day Psalm

I greet you, Pilgrim Rain, mystic, ancient traveller,
visiting me today, washing over our land,
soaking the earth and enriching it,
nourishing growth with greening gifts of life.
But you are only passing by,
briefly streaming past my door
on your pilgrimage to the sea.

You are a pilgrim who blesses all you touch;
O gentle yet powerful pilgrim,
stone-carver and sand-maker,
what hidden gift do you have for me?

"I teach you about illusions;
like brief bubbles riding tiny trickles
are your ideas that you can control your life:
flick a switch and you create light,
turn a key and power fires,
just a twist of a dial and music plays.
You live in an illusion of control.

"But I, by my downpour descending from the sky
and flowing past your door,
have altered your life today:
your outdoor plans now rearranged,
your neat agendas put on hold."
"Learn of me how little you control in your life;
yet by changing your present plans,
I offer you entrance to a timeless reality,
a chance to listen and be present
to the One who is always beyond."

Thank you, Pilgrim Rain:
it's a small but beautiful gift
to be reminded of the reality of life.
Soon the fireball of my daystar sun
will pierce with long yellow fingers
your mobile home of gray clouds,
and the wind will push them onward
to send you on your restless way again.

Thank you for your holy pilgrim's gift;
may I live like you, always on the move,
my home the endless journey, sacred-sea-bound.
May I live like you, falling and rising;
nourishing always, till I ascend, once and for all.

(Edward M. Hays, 1989: Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim, Forest of Peace Books,  p.179)

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Thursday, or Thereabouts - August 22, 2013

Music Box Memories

A grand gathering of the clan on a glorious summer afternoon this week, has transported me to a wistful place of muted resonance, soft hues, and gentleness. August brings me two companions in this peaceful Eden; two strong, beautiful women come sit beside me on the old wooden bench by the babbling river of life. One is my grandmother, the other my mother; one a beginning in August, the other an ending. My grandmother was born August 12, 1885 and lived into her 100th year; my mother died August 14, 2010 in her 90th year.

Back in May while cruising the Mediterranean, I penned this piece about my grandmother. Enjoy the cruise, while I go sit a spell with the two wise women.


Wednesday, May 15 – Ten days until we are home again. Doesn’t seem like very long, yet there is still lots more to come, and so today we take a break and stay on board the ship while almost everyone else scurries off to Pompei, Herculaneum, Vesuvius, Sorrento, or Capri. It might have been nice to go to Capri –

I have a warm memory of my grandmother talking about a trip she and Gramps made there (in the late 50’s or early 60’s??), and in particular a story about the boat trip to the famous blue grotto. I recall her talking about having to crouch down very low, down on her knees in fact, in the boat in order to enter the grotto. She clearly did not like that part. It frightened her, but the rest Capri seemed to have touched her heart.

One of my prized possessions is a souvenir Gram brought back with her. It’s a wooden cigarette box with intricate marquetry on the top. When opened, the love song “On the Isle of Capri” chimes out softly. I vividly recall sitting on the floor at Gram’s knee watching in eager anticipation as she carefully picked up the box from its place on the living room side table, and just as carefully, slowly lifted the top. Together we listened to the tune the whole way through, me savouring every note and imagining an island in Italy with its blue grotto and scary boat ride, and Gram, her head turned just a bit to one side with a gentle smile playing around her mouth, lost in a delightful far away place.

We re-visited this wonderful magical moment every time I visited Gram and Gramps as a child, and each time the box was opened just once and then gently put back in its place on the table. I don’t know who loved these side trips more. No matter how many times my grandmother’s soft fingers stretched out to gently open that wooden box, we both held our breath in anticipation of delight. And by the way, there never were any cigarettes in the box, at least not when I was around.

I doubt that Capri today could top any one of those special moments with Gram. Some 50+ years have passed since her visit, so I’m betting there have been a few changes. From what I have read, ‘quiet’ is not a word that now describes the iconic island along the storied Amalfi coast. Tourism has taken over. So I am very happy to let the magical imaginings that spilled out from the wooden cigarette box to be my ‘photos du jour’ today. I’m not ready to let the dream be shattered by the reality.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Monday Moanings - August 19, 2013

The Book and The Crumb Cake

My write hand has been busy!! I've had to refill my fountain pen three times since last Monday. Yes folks, the mouse trap worked and I've been working on my book (see last Monday's post for details) True to form, I have under-committed and over-delivered on the promise of performance, logging a full 17.5 hours of work on the book (M-F & Saturday and Sunday!). Most of it was actual pen on paper time, but about 6 hours was spent keyboarding, otherwise known as the first edit and revision. I'm impressed! I feel great too! The only problem, if one can call it that, is that I don't want to stop. My mind is writing way ahead of my hand and I'm feeling pressured to keep up. I'm thinking that's a good thing.

The Clan, circa 1900
top row left is my grandfather;
middle row left his father & mother
Today I am taking a break, despite the protestations of my inner critic. Clearly this gal does not approve of days off. Well suck it up buttercup! There's a gathering of the clan out at my sister's today, something billed as "THE Party of the season". Cousins from across the pond have arrived and we're celebrating as only the Cudbird-Vassar clan can. True to my late mother's form, there will be a table, or three?, laden with comestibles, including Mom's recipes for potato salad, New York Cheesecake and Ebinger's Crumb Cake.

Back in my childhood summers at Breezy Point, seeing a cake box from Ebinger's Baking Company in the hands of my Great Aunt Lilian as she got off the ferry from a day in the city, was always a a thrill. The distinctive box held the promise of a scrumptious dessert, and if by chance it was a crumb cake, well then, heaven came to mind. It wasn't so much the cake as it was the crumbs; those icing sugar dusted morsels of butter, sugar and flour with just a hint of cinnamon. AND I have the recipe!

In 1957 Mom wrote to Ebinger's in Brooklyn, NY to ask if she might have the recipe as her family lived in Canada and for eleven months of the year had to do without THE crumb cake (some years later Entenmann's made a crumb cake that was available here, but it just wasn't the same...). The Vice-President of the bakery replied to Mom, "I can sympathize with you since I have a summer home in the province of Quebec and face the same problem you do." He went on to outline the ingredients and instructions.

I note that he left out the dusting of icing sugar, but based on the many times I have made this gem, that's all he left out. It does indeed taste just like way back when, only better because now in addition to being a treat for taste buds and tummies, it excites happy memories of the crumb fights my two sisters and I had over the last morsels in the box. The recipe says, "...sprinkle on desired amount of crumb mixture". I asked my younger sister how much 'a desired amount' might be. She answered, "6 to 8 inches."  Good thing I made a double batch of crumbs this time, and don't worry girls, today I've got extra crumbs for both of you - but I've got the most!

Time to push off.
Wherever you are, have a great ride this week.

The Crumb Cake

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Thursday, or Thereabouts - August 15, 2013

The Liebster Award - Part Two

I have to admit I'm not entirely comfortable with the process of this 'award' (see last week's post for the background on the Liebster). I get a bit twitchy when called upon to reveal bits and pieces about myself. It's not about privacy - good heavens I write a blog which if read carefully reveals all kinds of stuff about me - as much as it is about my introvert heart whining against all the attention. "All the attention"?? Who am I kidding? I don't have that big an audience, and hence the value of the Liebster Award.

So let's get on with the show! I'm required to come up with eleven random questions for those lucky bloggers I nominate for the award. This took some time. I wanted to keep the questions somewhat superficial without straying into the silly and frivolous.
Here's what I came up with:
1. If you had to give up one of your electronic devices, which one would it be?
2. Red wine or White?
3. When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
4. Now, what do you wanna be when you grow up?
5. What's your least favourite colour? (mine is orange, just so you know)
6. What's the farthest you've ever been away from home?
7. What's the weirdest thing that you have ever eaten?
8. What's your favourite Olympic event?
9. Pie or Cake?
10. If offered a free trip to the International Space Station (and back again!) would you go?
11. And for Monty Python fans: What is the average airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?

And now the moment you've all be waiting for. Drum roll please!
My nominees for the Liebster Award are, in no particular order:
1.  Wendy and I grew up in adjacent neighbourhoods in Etobicoke and went to the same high school. Her posts are always a good read.
2.  by my good friend and fellow director of WCYR
3. insightful posts about writing from two buddies also on the WCYR board of directors.

And that's it from me! For those just itching to know ... YES! I have been working on my book as per the schedule outlined in Monday's post. I am 3 for 3 (three days x 3 writing sessions) and it feels good!!!
TA DA! That calls for a little gelato:

Monday, 12 August 2013

Monday Moanings - August 12, 2013

On the Wagon...

Sitting on my wagon rocking back and forth at the top of a new week. My fountain pen is fully loaded with fresh ink. It's time to get down to some serious writing.

I must say I'm really quite pleased with myself for keeping up with two blog posts a week. I wish I could say the same about the book; work on it has all but ground to a halt. I'm not stuck, it's not writer's cramp. There is a host of scene skeletons neatly suspended in the file folder just waiting for some flesh and connective tissue. So what's the hold up?

Well here's the truth: I spend way too much time with this question in the percolator while my write hand guides and clicks a mouse through the intricacies of Sudoku puzzles and Mahjong Titans. Such activity while apparently good for my ageing brain and the consumption of time, does little else of benefit to either me or the world.

What I need is a mouse trap, but where oh where does one find a trap for such a mouse. And how then does one set it? I know that the sheer joy of completing a scene or three is the best bait in town. The rest, I'm guessing is a matter of timing, and with that in mind I have blocked off 1:30 to 4:00 pm every day through Friday this week to step away from the mouse and put my write hand to the book. Because I am a firm believer in under-committing and over-delivering, I have left the weekend open even though I am often very productive on a Saturday and/or Sunday afternoon. For the same reason I am not going to commit to a total word count. Let's just see what I can do this week and then perhaps next week, I'll up the ante. And yes, I will give an account of myself in a week's time. The pressure is on!

But now it's time to tighten up the chin strap on the helmet, lower the goggles into position and push off...

Wherever you are, have a great ride this week.

Northumberland, England
©April Hoeller

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Thursday, or Thereabouts - August 8, 2013

The Liebster Blog Award - First Installment

Almost a month ago Laurie Gienapp left a comment on my blog to say that she had nominated my blog for something called a "Liebster Award". I was impressed, thrilled actually. I have to admit that some of the air went out of my esteem balloon when I investigated this award, however not all of the air. Although this award is hardly the Pulitzer of blogging, it is an affirmation. There are people other than friends and relations who enjoy reading my blog - Imagine that!

The Award is given to an 'up and coming' blogger with a small number, less than 100, followers. Thank you Laurie Axinn Gienapp for the nomination! Woo Hoo!!!
Here's the link to her blog:  Check it out!

Now about this 'award'.  It's there to encourage readership. Even if you are reading just one blog, the award prods you to read just one more. There are no winners so to speak, but neither are there any losers, as long as one chooses to accept the nomination. There are five steps to accepting the nomination:
a) thank the blogger who nominated them - Done!
b) list 11 random facts about themselves - Wait for it...
c) answer 11 questions posed by the blogger who nominated them - Yup, that's coming up too.
d) prepare 11 random questions for their own nominees - I'll get to that in a later post
e) nominate 3-5 more bloggers. - See 'd'

It may sound a bit hokey, a bit like a chain letter, but it does work. Since Laurie awarded me a nomination, there has been a significant (not huge mind you, but noticeable) up tick in visits to my blog. What more can I say?

Here are 11 random facts about me:
1. I love a good cup of coffee, especially espresso.
2. My drink of choice if not coffee, is wine and I'm partial to Ontario wines.
3. My favourite colour is blue.
4. I read the BBC world news on the web first thing in the morning.
5. Then I peruse the CBC news.
6. I began my writing career as a pastor (sermons, retreats, workshops, newsletters...)
7. I graduated from church 6 years ago. YAY!
8. I love dogs.
9. I raise dust bunnies, which is to say that housekeeping has a very low priority, unless company is coming!
10. Sudoku is my bad habit.
11. World travel is my good habit.

Now let's have a look see at the questions Laurie posed for her nominees to answer:
1. What's your favourite colour? Blue
2. Why do you blog? Good question! It keeps my writing juices flowing.
3. How long have you been blogging? Almost exactly 2 years.
4. Are you a cat person, or a dog person? Dog, no doubt about it.
5. What was your favourite picture book as a child? A toss up between Curious George and Lois Lenski's books about the Small family.
6. What is your favourite book as an adult? I don't have one.
7. Are you a fan of Big Bang Theory? NO, emphatically NO.
8. If you could time travel, would you? Probably not.
9. List all the computer/devices you presently use. pc, tablet, smartphone, ipod
10. What's your favourite number? 7
11. What's you favourite tea? Twinings Earl Grey.

Enough already!
Here's your reward for hanging out with me:

Homemade Chocolate Croissants - nom, nom, nom. 
My best buddy, Sophie,  ROFL at me!

©2013 April Hoeller

Monday, 5 August 2013

Monday Moanings - August 5, 2013

No moaning today - a summer holiday Monday is upon us!

Time for a little history:

John Graves Simcoe
from a painting by
George Theodore Berthon 
The August Civic Holiday, the first Monday in August, is known in these parts as Simcoe Day in tribute to the first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada (largely what is now the province of Ontario), John Graves Simcoe (1752 - 1806). A British Army officer and member of the Queen's Rangers, his tenure as lieutenant governor lasted just five years, (1791 - 1996) but in that time he racked up an admirable number of achievements. English through and through, Simcoe set about to uphold the supremacy of just about all things British, which on the whole was not a bad thing. He introduced English Common Law, trial by jury, the Court of Queen's Bench, and free hold land tenure. His adamant opposition to slavery shone through with legislation that banned the purchase and importation of slaves in 1793. By 1810 there were no slaves in Upper Canada, a full twenty-four years before slavery was officially abolished in the whole of British Empire (1834). Well done John!

Simcoe was also charged with the responsibility of establishing a capital, a seat of government and justice in the province. He stopped only briefly in Kingston, already a hub of trade and industry and headed further west to Niagara (Butlersburg) which he quickly renamed Newark and we now know as Niagara on the Lake. The first few sessions of the legislature were held there, but of course the area was way too vulnerable to attack from the Americans so Simcoe set his sights even further southwest to a location at the forks of  the La Tranche River, a river he renamed The Thames (I mentioned this guy was English, right?), near where London, Ontario is today. Unfortunately Simcoe's boss, Guy Carleton was unimpressed and strongly suggested (in the army that means 'ordered'), that Simcoe take a look at some land to the east, between two rivers (the Humber and the Don) that boasted a great harbour. There was already a small garrison there, Fort Toronto. So in August 1793, Simcoe upped sticks and moved east, renamed the garrison Fort York and the surrounding settlement, York (I told you he was English!). Forty-one years later the citizens of York successfully petitioned the government to have the name changed back to Toronto (1834). The Simcoe family seemed to have liked the place even though it claimed their daughter Katherine in the Spring of 1794. She's buried in the shadow of the King West condos, somewhere underneath Victoria Square. John, his wife Elizabeth Gwillim and son Francis built a summer home, Castle Frank, on the west side of the Don River.

In July of 1796 the family sailed out of York on the Onondaga bound for England. Simcoe left behind a tidy little community of one storey frame buildings, the beginnings of a great north-south street, Yonge Street and an east-west route, Dundas Street.

Today I celebrate the great city of my birth, the little hamlet that grew, Toronto. Thank you John Graves Simcoe for being a good soldier and following orders!

My Toronto is:

The Flat Iron Building

The Toronto Labyrinth
The Distillery District


ROM Rotunda ceiling mosaic (Murano glass)

The Royal Winter Fair
New Year's Day Espresso at Hot House Cafe, Front Street

And so much more.

Thank you to Rick McGinnis for much of the history. Toronto photos ©April Hoeller

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Thursday, or Thereabouts - August 1, 2013

Too Much Information...

The tragedy happened very early Saturday morning - a teen was shot by police on a Toronto streetcar. The young man died as a result of the shooting. A very serious happening indeed. In a very few minutes the lives of two families, the teen's and the police constable's, were forever changed. Clearly something went very wrong here - any time shots are fired on city streets, something has gone very wrong. The Special Investigations Unit (SIU) is examining the incident. That's all I need to know about this very sad event.

Day 6 and it still occupies the top slot in the news.

I don't need to see surveillance and smartphone video over and over and over again! I don't need to be a voyeur on the curbside nor in the living room of a family's aching grief. Of course they are heartbroken and I can only imagine their pain and disbelief. Is that news? I don't need to hear the opinions and speculations of  'experts', on what happened that dark night. They weren't there, and neither was I.  And I didn't need to know the name of the police officer involved, in fact I am dismayed and appalled that his name was published.

There is a point when there is just too much information, information that up until yesterday appeared presented in such a way as to undermine trust in our police forces and due process; information that was presented in such a way as to incite anger and fear, two emotions that fuel adversaries - US and THEM. This not helpful.

There will never be satisfactory answers to all the questions. Some, especially the questions beginning with 'why', will remain forever behind doors without handles. but as a community we need to try to understand what happened here. I trust the SIU to do that job. I trust the Toronto Police Services to cooperate fully with the investigation. This will take some time, time in which the best thing that I can do is go about my business, my life, believing in the best, not the worst.

A photo for today? I've struggled with that one for almost an hour now. The best I've been able to come up with is this - a jumble of door handles.

Mumbai Street Market
Text and photo ©2013 April Hoeller