Wednesday, 31 December 2014

New Year's Eve 2014

The Gate of the year...

The Gate of the Year was first published in 1908 with the title God Knows. It gained greater prominence in 1939 when King George VI spoke the opening lines in his Christmas broadcast to a British Empire plunged into World War II. By either title, the words of Minnie Louise Haskins (1875-1957) still capture my heart on the threshold of a new year.

And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”

So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night.
And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.

So heart be still:
 What need our little life
 Our human life to know,
 If God hath comprehension?
 In all the dizzy strife
 Of things both high and low,
 God hideth His intention.

God knows. His will
 Is best. The stretch of years
 Which wind ahead, so dim
 To our imperfect vision,
 Are clear to God. Our fears
 Are premature; In Him,
 All time hath full provision.

Then rest: until
 God moves to lift the veil
 From our impatient eyes,
 When, as the sweeter features
 Of Life’s stern face we hail,
 Fair beyond all surmise
 God’s thought around His creatures
 Our mind shall fill.

Happy New Year
 to all my readers and friends. 
I wish you health and happiness.

Monday, 29 December 2014

Monday Moanings - December 29, 2014

Looking Back - Moving Forward

May 2014, Great Wall of China at Badaling Hills

The Old Year Runs Away from Me

the old year runs away from me.
I hang on to her sleeve
but she shakes me loose.
where does the old year go
when the new year comes?

she slips away into memories,
falls into the crevices of wishes
and ought-to-have-dones.
she waits no longer upon promises,
turns her back on the might-have-been.

the elves of the old year step in,
pack up the struggles, store the joys,
tuck them away in the bulging box
spreading out on the psyche’s floor.

it’s up to the new year now.
I bring a lot to her domain:
expectations, dreams, hopes,
and I place them all before
her strong, abundant door.

I walk into her untamed territory,
with a meek apprehension
and a vast sense of mystery,
assured by the welcome I receive,

anxious about what is waiting
behind the drawn window shade,
curious about what I will discover
in the hidden folds of her new days.

(from Out of the Ordinary ©2000 by Joyce Rupp. Used by permission of Ave Maria Press. All rights reserved)

2015 brings us places to go...

things to blossom...

And promises to celebrate.

It's going to be a great year!

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Thursday, or Thereabouts - December 11, 2014

Snow Day!

Yes folks, this is winter in Canada! It is nothing out of the ordinary. It is not 'snow-mageddon' or 'snow-pocalypse' and neither is it truly worthy of the dramatic language of the forecasts I heard last night. Weather it seems, is just not weather without an injection of sensationalism.

Remember Percy Saltzman on CBC TV? He made the science of the weather dramatic with great swaths of white chalk marking fronts and trough lines. He wielded the chalk with gusto leaving the viewer with a map of Canada marked with every weather system of the day and how it all worked together. Then he would toss his piece of chalk in the air, (and catch it again!) to end the forecast. Now that was exciting! And informative too.

Extreme weather events do happen - just ask the UK about their 'explosive cyclogenesis' or the folks
on our east and west coasts where rains in excess of 200mm have fallen and the winds are gusting over 100km/h. We do need to have the potential impact of these types of storms drummed into us with extreme language so that we sit up and take notice. But for an ordinary snow event in the month of December, please just give me the facts without an emotional impact statement.

It's winter, in Canada. We get snow. It can make roads slick and reduce visibility. It can disrupt schedules of all kinds. Break out the Nanook of the North equipment (toque, mitts, boots, parka, scarf and shovel). If you must drive somewhere, drive according to the conditions, or use public transit and pack plenty of patience. If your car does not have snow tires, please stay home! And if you are truly not comfortable driving in this weather, please stay home.

Here endeth the lesson!
Be careful out there. It's winter. Make it fun!

©2014 April Hoeller

Monday, 8 December 2014

Monday Moanings - December 8, 2014

Just a Wreath on the Door

There are few things I loathe more than putting up the outdoor Christmas lights. I have no idea what vexes me so about this chore - I quite enjoy the end result; rows of pretty lights cheering up the night. And I am often so very impressed by the design skills neighbours, friends and family - a tad envious too of their outdoor wonderlands. But isn't a wreath on the door good enough?

Despite my grumbling burgeoning apathy, guilt pushed me out the door on Saturday. The call of Christmas duty must be answered. The sun was shining and the thermometer crawled into positive territory. It was as good an outdoor decoration day gets in December. Without asking, my love heaved the shipping container of lights down from the rafters in the garage and helped untangle, wrangle and hoist the garlands into place. We shared bewilderment over how it all hung together, what went where and just how did it get there. We kept each other company on umpteen searches for the proper extension cords - heavy duty, outdoor rated, and long. And we provided harmony for each others chorus of curses.

Sharing and togetherness! Now isn't that just the essence of the Christmas Spirit?

And Sophie is so pleased to have her "Deer-est" friends gracing the front lawn, even if they do seem to a be bit on the skinny side.

(Seriously, I think the only outdoor decoration needed for Christmas is SNOW!)

©2014 April Hoeller

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Thursday, or Thereabouts - December 4, 2014

100 Years Ago Today...

Canada was a nation at war. The Great War, 'the war to end all wars' had begun just four months earlier on August 4, 1914 when Great Britain declared war on Germany.

The Prime Minister of Canada was Robert Borden; the Premier of Ontario was William Hearst and the Mayor of Toronto was Horatio C. Hocken.

One hundred years ago, 30% of households had a telephone and 20% had electricity; less that 20% had a cooking stove and less than 10% had a car. The crackle of radios, the hum of refrigerators, and the gurgle of clothes washers had yet to enter homes (source: The Atlantic).

Into this world of 1914, an immigrant couple living at 921 Carlaw Avenue, welcomed their firstborn, nudging the population of Toronto ever closer to 506,000. The new Dad hailed from England where he trained as a stationary engineer and plied the North Atlantic aboard the steamships of the Atlantic Transport Line, keeping the engines humming between London and New York City.

A gal in New York City stole his heart away and the two 26 year olds were married on November 11, 1911, ending his seafaring days. The newlyweds emigrated to Canada where the engineer took up a position with City of Toronto.

921 Carlaw Ave., on the right (Image courtesy of Google®maps)

One Hundred years ago today, December 4, 1914, Jim and Ella Cudbird of Carlaw Avenue welcomed a son into their world, my Dad.

Happy Birthday Dad!
Miss you like crazy.

©2014 April Hoeller

Monday, 1 December 2014

Monday Moanings - December 1, 2014

The view from the Bottom of Christmas Mountain

Kotor, Montenegro

It may be the top of the first week of a new month, but from my wagon the ride ahead looks steep and long, and anything but even. I'm rocking back and forth way down at the bottom of Christmas mountain. A 24 day climb lies ahead and it zigzags through all kinds of  hurdles: cookies to be baked, presents to be bought, decorations to be hauled out and put up, menu plans, food shopping and cleaning, lots and lots of cleaning.

The Christmas Magician in me is cringing just thinking about the number of feats of prestidigitation required to reach the top - pulling Yuletide out of my ordinary, everyday hat is no small thing. Good thing I have years of experience behind me to bolster my confidence. What I don't have on this Monday is the energy, but I do have a wagonload of apathy with which to begin the week.

Why bother?
December 25 is just another day, isn't it?
It's just another family feast, isn't it?
It's just another holiday hijacked by the Big Box Stores, isn't it?

In the chilly early light of today my answer is a long whiny yes. But not to worry - this seasoned Wizard of Yule knows just how to turn a frown upside down. A little rest, some fragrant soothing tea with just a smackerel of something sweet, and lots and lots of great music can always coax even the most reluctant of Christmas spirits out of my woolly and tattered hat.

Catch up with you later - I'm off to find my wand. I bet it's in the kitchen...

(If you yearn, as I do, for a moment of quiet along the mad dash to Christmas, a place away from all the hype and hurry, check out my daily Reflections for Advent 2014 blog. I post a little soothing something every day.)

©2014 April Hoeller

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Thursday, or Thereabouts - November 27, 2014

I love a parade!

Today is American Thanksgiving and that means only one thing - the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City. It's a tradition of sorts for me to tune in to this mega event and if you love parades as much as I do, then this is the one for you! It is nothing short of an extravaganza of marching bands (sadly a tradition that never really caught on in Canada), eye-popping floats and those iconic flying balloons (also largely absent in Canadian parades). This parade is a stellar performance from start to finish, including song and dance from current Broadway plays.

©Macy's Inc

Today with a temperature hovering around the zero C mark (32F) and winds high enough to get all those flags flapping and low enough to permit the flying balloons to do what they do best - lift eyes and hearts up, way up, the parade lead off with the NYPD motorcycle troop. I looked for Tom Selleck but - oh wait, that's another TV show. The first float featured two Pilgrims perched atop a mammoth Tom Turkey - well it is the Thanksgiving Day Parade and legend has it all began with the Pilgrims.

©Macy's Inc

Then Thomas the Tank Engine flew into view followed by so many other wonderful characters. And it wouldn't be the Macy's Parade with out Snoopy and Woodstock, the characters with the longest history of appearances in the Macy's parade. Yay Snoopy!

©Macy's Inc
©Macy's Inc
©Macy's Inc
©Macy's Inc

Some 8000 volunteers brought us the music, song and dance acts, and the myriad of floats that all lead up to the grand finale, the entrance of emerald and golden sleigh bearing the jolly old elf himself, along with Mrs. Claus. It's enough to make anyone shout, "I believe!"

©Macy's Inc

This is New York City at her best - colourful, fun, spirited and proud with EVERYBODY working together. Now that really is something for which to very grateful, profoundly grateful. And here's one more take-away from the parade: if you can step away from the obligations and duties of your life, especially the self-imposed ones; if you can leave behind the 'shoulds' and 'oughts' for a few hours to be amused and amazed, to be a kid again eyes wide with anticipation and bodies bubbling with joy, DO IT!

A very Happy Thanksgiving to all my American family, friends and writers. 

©2014 April Hoeller (all parade photos courtesy of Macy's Inc.)

Monday, 24 November 2014

Monday Moanings - November 24, 2014

Calling in Sick

image courtesy of Snoopy on Facebook®; ©Peanuts Worldwide LLC

It's been a while since I had a really good moan on a Monday, so I'm making up for lost time, or so it seems. I'm having trouble mustering up the energy to even enter the weak today. And YES I did use the right homonym! Did I mention that I'm a tad cranky, irritable, out of sorts? All that too describes me today.

I'm not asking for encouragement, a pep talk (please spare me) or even a hug - okay well maybe a hug would be okay - I'm just stating the facts pertaining to me, today. There are days when I'm just not up for the challenge and today is one of them. Today, I'm calling in sick.

When my children were in elementary school, if I sensed either one of them approaching overload - a gradual but certain progression into indifference with occasion tantrums - I declared a mental health day for them, having ruled out all other causes (tests, real illness).  Morning would arrive, I'd see those listless eyes, a little body going through the motions, no protest, no emotion, and I knew it was time for a mental health day. Such days were made of blanket forts in the living room, colouring books, maybe a video or two, a grilled cheese sandwich, homemade soup, and an afternoon nap. Pure luxury.

Sydney Wildlife World, March 2010

On a very few occasions I called both kids in sick to the school, but that was more about my needs than my children's. Let me call a spade a spade here, and admit that I used my kids to justify my need to take a day away from work. It sounded so much more noble to say that I couldn't come into work today because both kids were sick than to say I wasn't feeling well enough to come to work today. And besides, I know we all benefited from our joint or separate mental health days. Kids went back to school refreshed and renewed, I went back to work energised to make up for any lost time.

I can dream, can't I?

So today, I'm calling in sick. I've got some crayons if colouring strikes my fancy, a video or two to lounge through, both set in warm climates, the carcass of the roast chicken from last night's supper is simmering its way along the road to soup, and there will be an afternoon nap. Pure luxury!
There's just one problem: how do I explain the blanket fort in the living room?

from August 1993

Have a great week!

©2014 April Hoeller

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Thursday, or Thereabouts - November 20, 2014

A little something for Throwback Thursday

Steam Tractor, Erin Fall Fair 

Yesterday I was invited to participate in a Black and White photo challenge currently circulating on Facebook®; one photo a day along with one new nominee/invitee for five days.  I'd been watching for over a week as friends invited friends and the photos mounted up, longing to be invited to join the B&W band. Truth be told, I was feeling a tad miffed at being left out. It's not like I never post any photos!

Anyway, all is now well with my world. One of my writer friends, Corrie Haldane Adams, threw down the gauntlet and I spent most of Wednesday trolling through photos and playing with way too many photo editing tools. Let this be a warning to any other B&W wannabes out there - a single mouse click to convert from colour image to black and white is only the beginning; one mouse click just leads to another and a mouse's favourite food is time! Still it's interesting to see what develops, and what doesn't.

Images I thought would benefit from the conversion, images that lacked a lot of colour to begin with, were often so-so, even with time spent tinkering with editing tools. The eye-opener for me was the re-discovery of that subtle play of shadow and light, form and texture that is the hallmark of B&W photography. Amazing stuff!

Tower Bridge, Sacramento California

The other thing that has happened as a result of this challenge is that now when I set up a shot, I think about how a scene might look not only in colour but also in black and white. This is such a full colour in-your-face kind of world, it's a real treat to engage a throwback to black and white, to experience feeling and mood without blush and hue, without reds, greens and blues.

Pepper, Australian Shepherd (pup)
And This is only Day 1 (and a half) of the Facebook® challenge. What do you mean, ONLY 5 photos?? How in blazes am I going to chose just five? My image basket is twice that already.

I'm having a blast though. I may not be out until Christmas!


©2014 April Hoeller

Monday, 17 November 2014

Monday Moanings - November 17, 2014

November Light

From a luscious dreamland I begin to rouse, my toes followed by my lead legs stretch under the cozy loft of the duvet then snuggle back up into the soft warmth again. One eye squints open to take in the muted light of another grey November morning. The room crawls into view, the furniture settles into its usual places. Ah yes, this is what 8am looks like on a yet another grey November day.

Grey is something November does really well, a humble rendering of blah -- over and over again. But it is a new day and I'd best get at it. I uncurl my body and the bedside clock comes into view. 6:37 it reads. That can't be right! There's too much light in the bedroom for it to be that early! And then I hear it; it starts out low, a deep rumbling that rolls into a great shuddering, scraping, bellow. OMG, it's the snowplow!

Well it's not a huge dump of white out there, but enough for the roads department to test out the sanders, salters and plows. Even our own snow blower got a test fire - but no actual snow throwing - there's not nearly enough to merit that action; just back out of the storage shed, an engine firing and belt check then back into the shed.

Let there be no doubt though - winter has begun. Because I don't have to go anywhere today, I can kick back and watch the stewards of winter dress the world outside my door in the whitest of white.

The fire is roaring, there's a slab of beef simmering in red wine in the slow cooker, and all is well.
Be careful out there.

©2014 April Hoeller

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Thursday, or Thereabouts - November 13, 2014

Up, Up and Away?

"Oh, you've expired!"exclaimed the smiling gal across the counter.

I confess to having been somewhat taken aback by this news, however cheerfully it had been delivered.  Me? Expired?  I didn't feel expired, though I was of course in the check out queue. Further assessment seemed required.

I noted that I was apparently breathing normally -- there were coolish wafts filling my nostrils when I inhaled.  A cursory scan of my kinesthetic sensors revealed nothing out of the ordinary -- my feet felt firmly planted on hard twist charcoal carpet and I was in the vertical position.  I studied the beaming face in front of me. The gal did not look at all like God, well at least nothing like the picture in the Sistine Chapel (that's the official portrait of God right?), nor did she bear any resemblance to St. Peter or any other members of the heavenly realm in the official portrait gallery. And I was comforted to discover not  the least bit of red, not even a cape, nor any beastly appendages (horns, tail, pitch fork).

Expired?  Surely not!  But I suppose it was possible -- an utterly seamless transition from this world into the next, from a book store in Newmarket to the BIG book store in heaven.  But then why would I buy a book on the Galapagos Islands?  Why would I buy a book, period?  Does one read in eternity? Go to bookstores?  Is it possible to be tourist and go on vacations to exotic islands?

OMG - is this what happens when one plans a tour to the land of Darwin?

Pius IX Declaring Dogma of the Immaculate Conception (Francesco Podesti, 1856) in The Vatican Museum

I was getting quite worked up about all this. I took a step back to observe the surroundings again. If this was eternity, what the heck were the big retailers doing up here?  Was there a Walmart too? Well they better have a more equitable merchandising and employee policy in place. I demand fair trade at the very least.  But just exactly what am I going to do about it if that's not the case?  Go to customer service?  Perhaps I had gone to hell in a hand basket, after all.

"She looks pretty alive to me." The deep male voice from somewhere behind me snatched me back into the present moment.  Less than five seconds have passed since I learned that I had expired.  The cashier was still beaming at me, my rewards card fluttered between the fingers of her right hand.

"Oh! You mean my card has expired."

"Yes," she stammered, "would you like to renew it?"

"Yes, please. Go ahead."

"That comes to $54.67."

She pushed the card reader toward me.  I dutifully entered my PIN and then I'm sure I saw the screen flash:
'Galapagos tour book plus a rewards card renewal: $54.67
Flight of fancy to eternity and back, in under 5 seconds: Priceless!'
©2014 April Hoeller

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Remembrance Day 2014

I will remember...

I first posted these words a year ago at this time. The feelings remain - my heart aches; gratitude fills my soul for the sacrifice of so many so long ago, and not so long ago.
I will remember...


I am a soldier’s mother.

One day in 2010, I bade farewell, heart in my throat, words choked off as my first borne, flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone, my son headed off to Afghanistan.  Like so many images of some many other mother’s sons heading off to war, he was full of pride, determination and confidence. He was in fact annoyingly merry!  “Just taking care of business mumsy,” big grin plastered across his face, “I’ll be home for Christmas.” he chirped.

But would he? As proud as I was, I was also terrified by questions and images. Just how would he return to me?  Pieces in a steel box and saluted by many? Disfigured, limbs missing with his insides protruding from a bag on the outside?  A stranger, shattered in mind and spirit by invisible wounds? I was almost paralysed by such questions.  I coped by rehearsing every scenario and then developing a care plan for each one. That's how I filled the first week that he was gone.

In the weeks that followed I packed up love and protection into three care packages, following army
guidelines and suggestions of course: pre-packaged rice krispie squares and Pringles®, tuna snacks and maple leaf lollipops, wet naps and Febreeze®, hot chocolate mix and a gazillion packets of Coffeemate®, then two tins of tactical bacon – a highly prized possession among the troops.  All gently surrounded by twelve rolls of the softest toilet tissue on the market – also a highly prized possession in the desert. On the top I laid the Sears Christmas Wish Book®. I added one thing that was not on the army list. I slipped two hermetically sealed fine Cuban cigars, his favourites, down between the toilet tissue and the Pringles, then I unleashed the packaging tape machine and went to work. S. W. A. K.(sealed with a kiss)

He called when he could, from Kandahar Air Field. The army had instructions for these chats – talk about all the great stuff going on, the weather, the dog, the neighbourhood. He too had a script and though there was nothing of real substance exchanged, the important questions were answered. The voice from so very far away sounded normal.  He sounded okay. NO, better than okay, he sounded good, intact, but also changed. I heard a man’s voice, a man who had seen much.

A few times I stood on the Victoria Park bridge over the 401 clutching my flag and my heart, welcoming other mother’s children back home.  The scene was always the same – a long black cortege winding its way along the Highway of Heroes, lights flashing, flags waving, tears flowing.  Please dear God, don’t ever let it be me in that dark stretch limo following a flag draped casket in a funeral coach. Please...

In time, my grown man did come home for Christmas.  His return, all parts present and correct, I believe as much a matter of luck as excellent training and skill.  Again I was pestered by questions in my heart that I never dared ask. What was it like? What did you see? What did you do?  Tell me what happened. Tell all!

Sometimes he talked about the stench of the place – open sewers and rotting garbage.  He talked about the heat and the cold of the desert, and the dust, dust, and more dust that got into everything. There were no traditional Christmas crackers that year or other things that might go bang. There were no sudden movements and he sat with his back to a wall. Sometimes when he got up, he reached out for a rifle that was no longer there. But he said little about his tour.  As the months passed I heard occasional snippets, half sentences: “felt the breeze as a grenade went by..., daily rocket barrage behind the wire.” and in a general discussion about first aid kits, he allowed, “Oh yeah, I strapped on tourniquets to my arms and legs before going out on patrol, just so they were there if...”

I don’t need to know any more details.  I am one of the lucky ones.  I can watch my son capable and strong, happily married and safely home, fulfil his vocation.

My heart aches for all Silver Cross mothers, fathers, wives and sweethearts. William Alexander Fraser, a Canadian novelist who first proposed this medal in 1916, wrote: “The mothers are the heroines of the bitter home trenches. They suffer in silence with no reward but the sense that they have answered the call with their heart’s blood...”

At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them, all who gave so much.

©2014 April Hoeller (photo below courtesy of Veteran's Affairs Canada)