Thursday, 30 January 2014

Thursday, or Thereabouts - January 30, 2014

Write On!

I wanted a diagnosis. I wanted to know what was distoring my central vision. I've wanted to know this since October 31/13 when the greasy smear first appeared down the centre of my visual field. I wanted it to go away. Yesterday I got my answer. Yesterday my love and I made the trek down to the city, to St. Michael's Hospital to see a neuro-opthalmologist.

The information sheet warned, in caps no less, that "Due to the complexity of care for our patients, the waiting time will be 3 to 4 hours."  So it was with books and writing tools, tablets and smartphones that we settled into the waiting room. No matter how I planned for this, no matter how much stuff I brought to while away the time, to distract me from the tension and the tedium, waiting in a big city hospital to be seen by a big gun specialist was still nerve-racking, a delicate balance between fight and flight accompanied by the constant chatter of the optimist and the pessimist in my head bantering on about the best outcome and worst case scenario. I studied my surroundings - hospital green walls, salmon marbled vinyl flooring, bad artwork on the walls, umpteen notices about infection control, two identical poems about miraculous hands which I couldn't see well enough to read, and a big poster about patient's expectations of a great hospital. I wrote a little (you're reading it now) and the first hour passed.

Just after 10am, my name was called. The doc spent the next 40 minutes asking questions and doing tests. No fault found. Then the eye drops went in and I was shuttled back out into the waiting room. Of course due to the drops, my eyesight became even worse over the next 40 minutes. Those green walls became a sea of blurriness and the wall art some nondescript flotsam and jetsam. Again I was summoned back to see the doc. One look with an opthalmascope into those huge dark pools that my eyes had become, and she announced the diagnosis: an epiretinal membrane in the macular area of both eyes. You can read all about it on the Canadian Opthalmological Society website.

I have half of what I wanted and it's neither as good as my optimist nor as bad as the pessimist. But it's not going to go away. I am stuck with this distortion and though it may get worse over time, I won't lose my sight entirely. When it does get really bad there is a surgical procedure that can remove the membrane, with some risks; all surgery has risks. While I wait to see a retinal specialist who will monitor my eyes for some time to come, life goes on. There is a Chinese New Year dinner to prepare. I've got most of the ingredients and the rest I'll pick up today. Tomorrow after a luxurious massage and a haircut, I'll get cooking.

Write on, I say, Write On!

© -

©2014 April Hoeller

Monday, 27 January 2014

Monday Moanings - January 27, 2014

The easy thing to do...

The easy thing to do this moaning would be to launch into yet another sad lament about the winter weather, but honestly would it really do any good to anybody, including me, to expend any more ink and what little energy I have on one more long whine?

The easy thing to do would be to go back to bed and hide under the covers until ... until when?  Well that's not going to offer any true relief either. What this day, what this week needs is an injection of enthusiasm, an exciting, interesting project to lift me up, up and away from wind and snow and cold, and I've found just the thing: FOOD and an celebration to go with it, Chinese New Year.

© xiaoliangge -

One year when the children were little, I made a big deal out of this celebration. I made egg rolls from scratch to go with a run of the mill stir fry, topped with the ultimate kid pleaser, golden fried chow mein noodles. Of course there were fortune cookies for dessert and ice cream too. This time around I'm looking at something a little more enterprising and perhaps even a little more authentic. Here's what's under consideration for Saturday: crab Rangoon appetisers then homemade won ton soup, spring rolls, shrimp and snow peas, crispy orange beef, Chinese greens with oyster sauce and for more adventurous palates, ma po tofu. There will be jasmine rice, and maybe some coconut rice, and there will be fortune cookies. I'm really not sure about including those very unhealthy fried noodles, but they do bring a smile to my heart when I think about them.

My senses, especially my taste buds, well remember one of  my mother's special meals. When I heard that "Chinese" was on the menu for supper, I was thrilled. This was well before there was a Chinese take-out in every neighbourhood, so it all came from a can. China Lily was the brand, with their distinctive black and yellow logo. There was chop suey, chow mein, sweet and sour sauce, water chestnuts and of course soya sauce, to which Mom added her own enhancements: herbs and spices, fresh carrots and frozen peas (these added some well needed colour), and leftover chicken or beef. Some times she went all out and cooked up pork spare ribs which were then slathered in the sweet and sour sauce. Oh, it was grand and of course our plates were topped with those bright yellow-orange fried noodles fresh out of a China Lily tin can. Such 'gourmet' meals filled hearts with joy, minds with memories and tummies with pretty good things.

Now it's time for me to finalise my menu, then source the ingredients. I'll let you know how it's all going on Thursday.

Woo Hoo! Let's get at it!
© -

©2014 April Hoeller

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Thursday, or Thereabouts - January 23, 2014

Moving right along...

Old man winter responded to Monday's "Dear John" letter by unleashing yet another blast of bitterness. Yesterday morning it was -32C (-26F) outside my door, a record low in these parts for the thirty-six years we've live here. In fact Winter scored a hat trick of superlatives yesterday - super cold, super bright and super blue sky. I am however prevented from saluting or even bowing in recognition to this achievement due the restriction of movement imposed by the multiple layers of clothing I'm wearing.

Perhaps I should also warn you that the snowblower is back from the shop and is fixed and ready for action. All of which goes to say that it is winter and it is moving right along as it should. The switch to Eastern Daylight Time - Spring Forward - arrives March 9, and eight weeks from today, at precisely 12:57pm EDT on March 20 the spring equinox will give winter the boot.
The light is returning.

My writing, beyond this blog, has languished since the end of October due to an as yet undiagnosed visual impairment, but in the past two weeks frustration and a stubborn disposition have driven me to get back on track. I can manage almost a half hour in front of the laptop screen before annoyance and fatigue set in, and if I have the patience to take the time to get the lighting just right, I can sit and read a book for almost an hour. I can personally attest to the benefits of fonts with serifs to ease reading.

So moving that right along, a friend and I have partnered up to be each other's beta readers and I have already sent a few chapters of the memoir off to her. Also, I have finally downloaded "Scrivener" , something I've been meaning to do for the better part of a year. I dutifully pushed my poor eyes through the entire tutorial - that took two days - still I was impressed and excited, sure that this was just what I needed to energise me back into the work. I set up my new project and began the document import. It took less than five minutes for me to be utterly stumped and even more utterly defeated. I heeded my beta reader friend's counsel, stepped away from the program and took a deep breath. The past two days I've dared to stick my toe back into the Scrivener pond and have actually made some progress with it. There have been enough "aha" moments, flashes of understanding, to keep me motivated. Phew!

I've not written anything new in the memoir yet, but rather I am taking the time to reacquaint myself with the story: the people, the places, the events, and along with all of that of course, the emotions. I am re-discovering the reason why this story is important and that's a good thing, a really good thing.
The light is indeed returning.

© leo tomić  –

©2014 April Hoeller

Monday, 20 January 2014

Monday Moanings - January 20, 2014

A Letter to my Seasonal Amour

Dear Old Man Winter,
I have been a big fan of yours since forever. I quicken to the first touch of your fresh breath each year and my heart warms in anticipation of your star crystals and icicles. I love the melt in your mouth taste of fresh snowflakes and the squeak of wintertide footsteps on super cool ground. And that polar vortex thingy ya got going this year? Well, that's got everybody talking, even the BBC!

I remember with delight the screaming joy of hurtling down snow packed slopes on my red "flying" saucer or
sometimes even the big old wooden toboggan with my Dad or sister on board for ballast.

And honestly nothing can top one of your bright, crisp snow sparkling days set underneath a sky so blue that it is beyond words. I love the cocoon you encourage me to burrow into when the weather outside is frightful; thick fleece and hot tea by a crackling fire, so warm, so safe and oh so very content.

Indeed I have loved you all my life, BUT here's the thing dear old, yet somehow ageless friend bounding with ceaseless energy, I am not six or sixteen or even six and forty any more. Though I still revel in the gifts you bring, at least at first, you must know that snow and ice now present a great threat to life and especially limb. Age has brought me a huge fear of bone breaking tumbles, occasioned by the meeting of a slower reaction time with a slippery slope. Also my old arthritic hands can never come to terms with your new-fangled  polar vortex. So, I think it's time for you to go. I still love you. I will still eagerly await your return, same time next year. Just remember to schedule your departure for January 20th, give or take a day - I am after all, flexible.

Have a great trip back south of the equator. I'm sure they'll be thrilled with your early arrival!
Hugs and kisses,

p.s. Our snow blower is busted and in the shop. BACK OFF!
p.p.s. The solar panels can't enjoy your brilliant sunshine. BACK OFF!

©2014 April Hoeller

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Thursday, or Thereabouts - January 16, 2014

Faraway Places...

Grey January skies with too few sunny breaks, tune up my wistful heart to recall an old song. The version I recall was sung by none other than Vera Lynn with my parents joining in whenever it was played on the radio.

Have a listen...

"Faraway places
 With strange soundin' names
 Faraway over the sea
 Those faraway places
 With the strange soundin' names
 Are callin', callin' me

 Goin' to China
 Or maybe Siam
 I want to see for myself
 Those faraway places
 I've been readin' about
 In a book that I took from a shelf

 I start getting restless
 Whenever I hear
 The whistle of a train
 I pray for the day
 I can get underway
 And look for those castles in Spain

 They call me a dreamer
 Well, maybe I am
 But I know that I'm burnin' to see
 Those faraway places
 With the strange soundin' names
 Callin', callin' me..."

Our 2014 excursion to faraway places begins in some twelve weeks with a short stop in Hong Kong, then a cruise to Shanghai followed by a river cruise ending in Beijing. There is a reason, a big reason, why I love cruise travel. There are no hotels to book and no restaurants to research yet there is still plenty to explore.

Case in point: I have spent the better part of the last three days sifting through all the hotel options for Hong Kong. Tripadvisor, Fodors, Lonely Planet and more flashy websites have left my eyes swimming and brain swirling. There are no less than 553 hotels to chose from according to Tripadvisor, from the sumptuous to the seedy, from one side of the harbour to the other, from neo-modern to traditional. It's mind boggling, which I suppose befits one of the most densely populated cities in the world. I'm truly relieved that this is only city for which I have to find accommodation!

We have little more than 24 hours in this metropolis, and for all I know this will be the only time my love and I are ever here, so bring on the sumptuous! If we were staying several days, as the city truly deserves, we would have to be far more frugal, but it is only one night and Shangri-la is just such an evocative word...

Some faraway places we've been:

Sydney, Australia 2010

Oslo, Norway 2007

Muscat, Oman 2011

St. Petersburg, Russia 2012

Ushuaia, Argentina 2008
And so many more, but none in Asia - until this year! My feet are itching to get going.

©2014 April Hoeller

Monday, 13 January 2014

Monday Moanings - January 13, 3014

Sputter, Lurch and Moan. Repeat.

It's just that kind of morning when my legs feel like cement blocks and I can't find the energy for anything but a whimper. I've been feeling less than optimal for a week now, feeling like I'm not quite running on all cylinders, feeling like some god-awful bug has begun to invade my body. I've dosed myself with loads of Vitamin C, Cold FX and extra echinacea. I've drunk a ship-load of ginger tea and I've motored on through the days.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Thursday, or Thereabouts - January 9, 2014

A Return to Regularly Scheduled Programming

Trying and very trying. That about sums up my stumbling yet well intentioned attempts to pick up where I left off before the Christmas Express roared through. Gone are the flashing lights and ringing bells, and the crossing barriers have been lifted but getting back to normal has eluded me. Normal includes the gym at least three times a week, regular meals and healthy snacks, along with serious backside in chair writing time.

Monday we awoke to a foot of fresh snow topped with a delightfully thin crisp layer of ice. No problem, we have a snow blower. Ah yes but the drive belt broke less than five minutes into the job, so my love and I had to clear the driveway the old fashioned way. Three hours later we had the job done - it's a long driveway and there are also the walkways and decks. Then we hauled the snowblower into the back of the 4 x 4 and took it to the mechanic.

Tuesday the much hyped polar vortex arrived. It was -26C (-15F) with a wicked wind chill (-40 C & F). I elected to stay indoors only to be serenaded by the siren call of the cookies trapped in the Christmas tins stacked up on the buffet in the dining room. I rescued far too many of them! And Wednesday was hijacked by a migraine (perhaps caused by the weather and too many cookies?). Later in the day when I was feeling much better, my good deed was to rescue a few more of those imprisoned cookies.

Today there is just a glimmer of normal. It's sunny, the -14C I awoke to has already risen to a toasty -10, AND here I sit writing my blog for Thursday. There is hope! But later I'm having a leisurely lunch with a friend, so no gym, no lengthy writing time.

I think it's time for Katie Scarlett O'Hara to step into the breach - Tomorrow is another day!


©2014 April Hoeller

Monday, 6 January 2014

Monday Moanings - January 6, 2014

The Undoing of Christmas

The tree has been undressed and dismembered, its artificial limbs and screw together trunk systematically tucked into two Rubbermaid coffins that now lie buried in the depths of our basement. The ornaments have returned to their nests in the ageing red and white cardboard box with umpteen layers of packing tape holding its sides together. Some ornaments get special treatment - tender cocoons of paper towelling cradle these precious ones that are heavy with memory and oh so fragile. Each one got to sing its story again this Christmas, but one for the last time. Brittle with age, it fell apart in my hand, a half dozen sharp peaks of impossibly thin heirloom glass. Ah well, nothing lasts forever and the old give way to the new.

The tree lights, those tiny jewels that gave me so much peace and solace in the late evening after a long day, lie powerless yet perfectly coiled and bound into compact quarters. They will no doubt while away their time in the dark writhing themselves into a frantic tangle for me to resolve some eleven months from now. All the other decorations of the season have also been returned to their resting places - all the knick-knacks and doodads, wreathes, garlands, and precious children's crafts, even the the Christmas mugs and plates - all have been exiled to the attic or basement, away from the daily scene.

It feels a little empty, a little sad, bereft. My surroundings seem so ... blah.


The seeds of the January blahs are sown in the razzle dazzle of December, the music and the memories, the stories and the smiles. It is unsustainable, all that energy, all that hurry, and perhaps somewhat artificial, unreal. And so after a month or so, the hype and hoopla machine runs out of gas and reality comes home to roost, spawning a mixed bag of resolutions to do more, do less, be more, be less.
A New Year has begun.
“Live with intention.
 Walk to the edge.
 Listen Hard.
 Practice wellness.
 Play with abandon.
 Choose with no regret.
 Appreciate your friends.
 Continue to learn.
 Do what you love.
 Live as if this is all there is.” 
                                                             Mary Anne Radmacher

©2014 April Hoeller

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Thursday, or Thereabouts - January 2, 2014

Baby, it's cold outside!

2014's opening gambit suggests that hibernation is the best strategy for life in these parts. At high noon, it's a blistering -22C (-8F) outside my door with only the briefest of hints of sunshine. Not even our faithful canine, whose one blue eye and spitz twist tail attest to her Alaskan Malamute roots, shows any inclination to venture outside. One brief sniff of winter's cold through a narrowly opened door and she promptly turned tail and trotted back to bed. What a clever girl!

I'm going to follow her lead I think, and though I'm not going back to bed, I am going to curl up in blankies with hot tea in the living room and watch a movie or three, or maybe even some Dr. Who episodes from long ago - the Tom Baker years and the Daleks! Ooohhhh that will get the circulation going! And there is also a warm invitation from a jigsaw puzzle to re-visit Venice...

There are such wonderful Christmas gifties to support me in my hibernation: liquor filled chocolates, candies, cookies, books to explore, and when I need a break from all the activity, luxurious lotions and potions for deliciously hot baths or showers.

I may be stuck in here for a while...

©2014 April Hoeller