Thursday, 31 July 2014

Thursday, or Thereabouts - July 31, 2014

A Mid-Summer Gleaning

A civic holiday long weekend hovers, ready to shove a doorstop under summer's swinging screen door. The days are getting shorter by about two and a quarter minutes every day, making for a quite noticeable 15 minute loss every week. But despair not, for fresh vegetables and fruit are coming in fast and furious. Local farms are bringing in broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, beans, corn, potatoes galore, and cucumbers and zucchini hang heavy on the vine. Strawberries have been and all but gone, but raspberries, currants, apricots and some early peaches are filling up baskets at Farmers' markets. The land here is so generous, always yielding the best it can, come wind, come weather.

When we first moved up here to the rural routes from the city back in 1978 our new neighbours, soon to be treasured friends, wasted no time in acquainting us with the gifts of the farm. In the barn out back of their house were the chickens, the pigs and a big brown cow. On a small plot in the front, Dave and Vera Francis grew much of the vegetables they and two sons needed for a year. When the ripe time came, it was all hands on deck to pick and shell peas, gather in the beans, the corn and whatever else was growing. A family that eats together, harvests together. Once they had all they needed, we were invited to glean, to take our pick from their field of plenty.

Dave, Vera and the boys made use of local growers for berries and other fruit, often inviting us to come along. In those fields, with Vera's gentle instruction, I learned how and what to pick. "Make sure you pick clean," she would say, meaning that I was to slow down and pick absolutely everything that was ripe within my arms' reach before moving along to another spot. "Lift up those branches like this," she said while moving the back of one arm under the foliage to reveal luscious berries underneath. "See, there's real good fruit under there."

"If you pick it, make sure it goes into the basket," Dave offered another rule of good harvesting, "even it's not perfect." This one came with a small exception - it was acceptable to eat a few berries, "Well you gotta taste 'em to make sure they're good." It was hard to miss the rivulet of berry juice on his chin.

Picking done, it was time to preserved the harvest for the winter months. Veggies were blanched and frozen, fruits were put up in mason jars. Again Vera was my teacher taking time to explain all I needed to know about glass jars (clean with hot soapy water, rinse then put in oven at 250F), metal rings (no dents and perfectly round), Bernardin® lids (inspect for roundness), canning kettles and boiling water baths. I learned how to make jams and jellies, marmalade, preserves and pickles. I learned how to have the taste of summer in February.

I still make jams every year, still pick the berries at the same farm Dave and Vera took me to thirty-five years ago, and then hurry home to get the summer goodness packed into mason jars. 

Every Friday from June through October, I drive out to a local organic farm to pick up a bushel or so of fresh veggies for our meals during the week. I don't put by any for the winter months now and we no longer keep a vegetable garden of our own.

But come mid-summer every year I remember when we did. I remember the indescribable sweetness of fresh picked peas, crisp snap of green beans and carrots, and the squirt of juice from a sun-warmed tomato. 

And I remember Dave and Vera who were so generous with their time and friendship; who taught me so much about country living and the gifts of the land; who opened their hearts to a young couple from the city and invited them to glean in their field.

©2014 April Hoeller

Monday, 28 July 2014

Monday Moanings - July 28, 2014

Oh Happy Day...

The night featured black and white snapshot-like images of dark trees set against flashes of bright sky. Window pane rattling, foundation shuddering thunder growled deep and long in the darkness. And it rained - oh my did it ever come pouring down, at times sounding like a great waterfall from the heavens. The sound and light show drew to a close in the wee hours, but the rain, no longer torrential, splashed right on through today's sunrise before running out of water.

By mid-morning all was past and Sophie was ready to celebrate. This is the same resident canine who spent much of the night cowering in our bathroom, when she wasn't whining at the bedside, hot doggie breath in my face, one paw on my arm, "Mummy, Mummy it's the end of the world..."

But of course it wasn't or if it was, we all survived it including Sophie. Big smiles, bigger whole body tail wagging and bouts of silly walks said it all: this was a day of jubilation. And what better way to celebrate than to go for a hike in the forest. If she could sing, more than howl, surely Sophie would pumping out "Oh Happy Day."

These next two photos are not from the forest but my garden where the tomatoes are ripening... .

 and the day lilies are singing...

Oh happy day...

©2014 April Hoeller

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Thursday, or Thereabouts - July 24, 2014

Much Ado About Nothing

Well that's the kind of day I'm having. I've spent much of the morning fretting about what to write here today. Every one of my grand, and not so grand ideas, has petered out after two sentences, lost energy, disintegrated into a pile of randomly generated grey words. And I am not enjoying this.

Yee gads! What's a writer to do? I could wait a bit, until later this afternoon, to see if pen and brain want to talk to each other or perhaps even hold my write hand and dance words across a page, but my time this afternoon is booked with other things. So it's now or not today.

I am spinning my tires, going round and round and succeeding in generating only heat and smoke - no light at the end of the tunnel.

So I'll leave you today with, well frankly not much, but at least I hope a smile.

from my collection of Cocktail Napkins

Enjoy this day where ever you be.

©2014 April Hoeller

Monday, 21 July 2014

Monday Moanings - July 21, 2014

Summertime and the living is easy...

Oh yeah, you bet! From my chair in the kitchen in a house I own,on a an acre of land in a rural hamlet of Southern Ontario, Canada, summer living is indeed easy. Here the most vexing decision I have to make is whether to go to the gym, followed closely by what to make for supper, and then twice a week I wrestle with what to write here in my blog.

It's easy all right. It's easy for me to assume (now there's a minefield of a word - assume!) the role of a wise, loving and responsible parent in responding to the crises in the Middle East and the Ukraine. It's easy for me to imagine a simple corrective strategy: take away their big shiny war toys, separate the combatants and send them to their rooms where they shall remain until such time as they can play nicely and respect the dignity of every human being and the land in which they are blessed to live, making the big shiny war toys obsolete.

Easy? Well yes, but only from my place at the kitchen table. I don't live in either the Middle East nor the Ukraine, or anywhere else ravaged by conflict. I have no personal familial, political or financial investments in the regions. And though the lifeblood of their respective and varied cultures does not flow in my veins, my heart, a mother's heart aches for the children, for all the innocents caught in the crossfire of conflict. I grieve the devaluation of human life and the destruction of the land.

I glimpsed something about what it might feel like to be invaded when thieves broke into my house while we were on vacation some years ago. It's a very dark kaleidoscope of sharp jagged feelings. Vulnerability, outrage and fear come to mind now and my body stiffens at the recollection. But this violation happened only once. It was not a daily, weekly, monthly or even annual occurrence. I can't even begin to imagine that.

In a rural hamlet in Southern Ontario the only invaders I see daily are a family of rabbits, a momma and two little ones, who covet my marigolds. I spy on them as they conduct early morning and evening raids on my garden. Sometimes I've managed to capture the marauders on my camera, clicking off a shot or three.

And that's the way the world
looks from my kitchen today.

It's summertime and the living IS easy.
Thanks be to God.

©2014 April Hoeller

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Thursday, or Thereabouts - July 17, 2014

No words today...

As I sit down to write this blog, news is breaking about the tragic, horrific crash of Malaysian Airways Flight MH17 near the Ukraine-Russia border. The airwaves are alive with speculation, questions, allegations, blame and more.

Talk, talk, talk...

Too many words.

Prayers for all those who lost loved ones.
Prayers for all those who wield power.
Prayers for the world.

©2014 April Hoeller

Monday, 14 July 2014

Monday Moanings - July 14, 2014

Out of the Craft Closet and into the Whirlwind

Yesterday I had great ambitions for today, Yesterday I surfaced from a solid two weeks of immersion in arts and crafts. I'm not really a craft lady. I don't like fiddly, fancy bits and bobs. I don't tolerate the finicky stuff very well, but sometimes I do manage to rise to the occasion. The occasion was our daughter's graduation from university AND her engagement. The arts and crafts project that presented itself was to produce, finally!, her Baby Book. Our first-born has two, but when one became two, my time and energy was pretty much consumed just trying to keep one step, oh heck even half a step, ahead of them. Any craft projects involved popsicle sticks, foam shapes, googly eyes, white glue and cotton balls, but no photo book of memories and milestones. I did turn out a few rather nicely done birthday cakes back in the day; something I discovered as I trolled through the box of photos and hundreds of 35mm slide images.

By my estimate this Baby Book project took over 100 hours of scanning (all photos were from the pre-digital era), printing, cutting and pasting using all the contemporary scrapbooking techniques - rounded corners, wavy cuts, stickers and more! I have to admit that it was fun. I bubbled with satisfaction as each page was completed. I even dared to venture beyond my comfort zone to mount a few labels, just a few mind you, on the diagonal! Can you imagine?! Better yet, I got the job done on time for the celebration dinner Saturday evening.

Two weeks of total confinement in the closet of glue sticks, paper trimmers, rulers and memories ended. I was eager to return to what passes for regularly scheduled programming here - the gym, strawberry jam making, routine grocery shopping - as opposed to the 6pm panic question, "OMG what are we going to have for supper?"; and yard maintenance - it sure doesn't take long for the garden to go out of control! Yesterday I made out my To Do list for the week ahead and settled down for the night.

This morning greeted me with a notice from my 'Go To' strawberry farm. The berries were done for the season. How can that be? It's only ... omg it's the middle of July already. Of course the strawberries are gone. Aw shucks! At least there are still raspberries, currants and maybe even some Saskatoons to pick and preserve. They will have to do.

Somewhat cheered and wearing my 'Woman on a mission' face I headed into town. It seems that during my time in the craft cave, roadworks had sprung up all over my route. A drive that should only take 15 minutes, took 25. I was seeing orange - orange pylons, orange warning signs, orange vested workers. By the time I got to the gym I was ready for a heart pounding workout.

Forty-five minutes later, sweaty and triumphant, I bounded down the stairs and out to my car. Shopping centre, here I come! It's too bad that I had left the list at home - a crisp white square of paper filled with a lovely round script rendered by my own hand in an exercise designed to soothe my strawberry robbed soul. It had worked at the time, but now as I sat in my car with the taste of sweat salt on my lips, frustration and despair worked their way to supremacy.

I eased the car along Main Street, catching every single red light along the way to the grocery store. Once there, I wrestled not only with my mind to try to recall the items on my list but also with a demon possessed cart. You know the kind - the ones in which the four wheels do not spin in the same direction at the same time, or one of them does not spin at all. Brute force of will and body got me through and home again with only one thing missed from the list.

Some days are just like that. Some days I just have to push through, and though such times are part and parcel of 'normal', today it just wasn't what I had planned. Some writing, some tea and some time will ease me out of this Monday Moaning.

"After all tomorrow is another day."
(the character Katie Scarlett O'Hara, in  the movie Gone with the Wind)

©2014 April Hoeller

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Thursday, or Thereabouts - July 10, 2014

And the smallest one was Madeline...

Part of my morning routine is to peruse the BBC News site. There is always something there that catches my eye, gives me a smile or a frown. Today it was a smile, a big broad grin accompanied by the glowing warmth of childhood memories. The News Magazine section of the site features an article about the character Madeline from Ludwig Bemelmans' books: "Madeline in New York: Bemelmans' iconic schoolgirl on display as she turns 75."

I loved Madeline and this morning I clearly heard my mother's voice reading the opening lines:

"In an old house in Paris
That was covered with vines
Lived twelve little girls
in two straight lines.
They left the house at half-past-nine
In two straight lines, in rain or shine.
The smallest one was Madeline."

I curled right up into my mother's warmth and revelled in times past...

The Bookmobile ca 1953
Image courtesy of
Friday was Bookmobile Day.  Mom and I would walk hand-in-hand down to the end of our short street where the big two-toned green bus parked for an hour every Friday morning from 10:30 to 11:30.  Sometimes we would get to watch this behemoth lumber and creak into place, but most of the time it would be there already, with the stairs pulled out waiting for us.   In good weather the driver would be lounging on the grass smoking a cigarette, but when he would see us coming, he would jump to his feet and with a big smile lift me up into the library on wheels.  Those steps were too big for four year old legs.  Mom always thanked him, and the librarian who greeted us always smiled.

Inside, both walls were lined with books floor to ceiling and the narrow hallway between them was paved with beige linoleum.  The long thin bank of fluorescent lights that ran down the centre of the bus emitted a comfortable hum.   In the summer, it was hot and airless, so we never stayed very long, but in winter the bookmobile was a cosy refuge from bitter winds, due in no small part to the engine running for the full hour.
About half way down on the driver’s side was a two foot square window.  This was where the children’s books could be found.  A small kid-sized wooden table with two chairs sat under the window and nestled between two low vertical shelves that displayed the entire children’s collection, perhaps some twenty books in all.  Most of the time I had this special space all to myself -- it seemed not many children got taken to the bookmobile by their mom.

Find the book Here
My favourite books were Lois Lanski’s stories about Mr. Small – Cowboy Small, Policeman Small, Papa Small, The Little Sailboat, and The Little Train,  to name a few.  One day, Mom handed me Ludwig Bemelmans’ “Madeline”, even though I really didn’t think a story about pretty little girls in Paris, France was anything I would like.  As the story goes, Madeline is taken ill and has to go to hospital.  I had just had such an experience, so Madeline and I had something in common.  My mom was very clever!  My all time favourite book was “Curious George”.  George and I had something in common too.  We were both very curious and that occasionally got us into trouble.

I often had time to just watch Mommy find her books.  She would scan the shelves carefully, often with her right forefinger tracing the bookshelf until she found something of interest, at which point she would pull out the book and read the inside flap. Then one of two things would happen – she would either put the book back or go on to read the first page.  If then a smile crept across her face, I’d hear the book close with a satisfactory snap and see it triumphantly added to her book bag.

Finally we would present our finds to the smiling librarian who would dutifully stamp the cards and then it was out the door we went -- with a little help from the driver – and back up the street, hand-in-hand. Bookmobile days were special times not so much for the books as for the time spent with Mom – those hand-in-hand walks followed by afternoons curled up beside her while she read to me.

Happy Birthday Madeline!

text ©2014 April Hoeller

Monday, 7 July 2014

Monday Moanings - July 7, 2014

Monday Moaning Greens

It's raining, it's pouring and this old lady is snoring! Today is just one of those days that can be such a drag on mind and body. The sky drips wet and grey, smearing summer's colour into an unusually boring impressionist landscape. Very dull but also very green, and as Kermit the Frog of Sesame Street fame opined, "It's not easy being green."

It's not my favourite colour. It is absent from my wardrobe and my house (okay yes, my daughter painted her room a ghastly green but it's out of sight), and yet I left behind the concrete and asphalt jungle to live in the natural beauty of the countryside where green is everywhere outside my door.

It is the colour I so yearn to see at the end of a long winter. It is the colour of health in forests and lawns. It is also the colour of envy and greed (money), illness, horror picture ooze and some frogs. But green is also the colour of "GO". And so out my door I went this morning into the green, camera in hand.

Here's what I saw:

A bit of green I planted:

And one to remedy a green overdose:

A rich palette of green all within 10m of my front door. It may not be easy being green, but it is blessed.
Wishing you a wonderful, healthy, lively green kind of week.

©2014 April Hoeller

Friday, 4 July 2014

Thursday???, or Thereabouts... July 4, 2014

Caught up in the Rapture

So what happened to Thursday? Did it spiral down some drain hole? Did it get smashed by a Wimbledon backhand? Was it headed out of the week by a World Cup striker? Actually it just slipped right past my radar, caught up in the rapture between two great national birthdays, Canada Day and US Independence Day.

Today's post falls into the "or Thereabouts" category. And in tribute to my American family and friends I offer this post from a year ago, with some alterations:

Our big sister to the south celebrates her 238th birthday today. Happy Birthday, Sis!

Mom, January 2004

My mother was born in Massachusetts in 1921 and grew up in Connecticut. She loved her homeland all her life, treasured her US passport and never let it go - much to my father's chagrin. He wanted her to adopt Canada, and though she lived here from their wedding day in 1944 until the day she died in 2010 some 66 years later, she spent every one of those years as an American citizen.
Dementia took many things from my Mom but not her national identity and pride. In fact these became the certainties in her day. She wore the Stars & Stripes over her heart. More than a few times during her years in long term care, the precious pin went missing and then there was hell to pay. Mom would get so upset that we soon learned to have a few spare pins in reserve, ready to 'sub in' for the lost one.

"Hey Mom I found it! Here's your flag."
Eyes filled with tears, "Please pin it on me, dear." Relief flooded her face. She looked so grateful, so profoundly happy and 'at home'. The door of her room at the nursing home sported "Old Glory" too. Fortunately that flag never went missing!

Mom, August 1963

We made a big deal out of "The 4th" during the latter years; cup cakes festooned with red, white and blue,
balloons and stories, lots of stories from Mom's childhood years. The staff at the home, God bless 'em, made the day special for her too. One staff member always called Mom, "Miss America" and sometimes "Miss New York. Mom may have been raised in Connecticut, but she was a New York City kind of gal, at times laying claim to apartments in the Empire State Building and Tower #1 of World Trade Center, and an operatic debut at Carnegie Hall. It is grand to live in one's dreams.

So a very Happy Birthday to my mother's homeland. Thank you for being the land of her birth and worthy of her hopes and dreams all her life.
And yes, God Bless America!

text and personal photos ©2014 April Hoeller