Thursday, 30 October 2014

Thursday, or Thereabouts - October 30, 2014

Trick or Treat - the 2014 Edition

Halloween 1987

In Canada, Halloween costumes have to be both fashionable and endurable. They have to fit over snow suits and galoshes. They have to maintain their integrity in some of the wildest winds and torrential rains. Last year it was rain and wind. What will it be this year? Snow suits according to the latest weather forecast. Tomorrow will be the coldest of the season so far with what I call "snain" - that snow-rain mix that splats faces and pumpkins. There's nothing quite like a Halloween in Canada!

In school way back when, there were no costume parades or parties but still there was no shortage of Halloween themed activities, from art and music to reading, writing and yes even arithmetic. A whole week of decorations, singing, stories and math problems featuring ghosts, goblins, witches and jack-o-lanterns. It was fun and a great run up for the big night.

Honestly, I would have been horrified if I had to wear my costume IN THE DAYLIGHT, IN SCHOOL! That would have been enough to bring on a sore tummy on the morning before school for sure. My preferred characters for Trick or Treating were pirates, gypsies and tramps (no thieves - lol), and the outfits were hobbled together from stuff in the house an hour or so before heading out. The one exception was the very special year my parents bought me a pirate costume. Dad made the eye patch. My Mom was not a seamstress, but she did know a thing or two about makeup. There was an awful lot she could do with a burnt cork, baby powder and red lipstick. She also had that big jar of cold cream for getting all the stuff off afterwards.

My mother's speciality at Halloween, at any time actually, was conjured up in the kitchen. Beyond the orange and black wrapped candies, apples, peanuts in the shell and packages of sunflower seeds, many of the treats were homemade and every kid knew which house in the neighbourhood had the best ones. For years, our house was #1. Mom made popcorn balls, rounds of white popcorn held together by molasses syrup boiled to the hard crack stage. With buttered hands so the hot syrup didn't stick, Mom quickly assembled the hardball sized treats. The hot syrup always burned her hands no matter how fast she worked.

Gone now are such delectables, even the apples and peanuts are absent from the treat bag; there will be zombies and vampires out tomorrow night and probably lots of Princesses of Arendelle, but very few pirates and tramps. And it's been a very long time since I've heard anyone utter my childhood chant, "Shell out! Shell out! The witches are out!"

The 1990 Carving Fest

I've still got to carve the pumpkin and buy the treats but the resident canine is all set and ready to go.
(please note: I am neither the instigator nor the designer of canine couture. Our daughter is.)

Sophie the Snake Charmer, Halloween 2014

Happy Halloween! Be careful out there.

©2014 April Hoeller

Monday, 27 October 2014

Monday Moanings - October 27, 2014

Homeward Bound

So here's the plan for today, head on down to San Francisco from Sacramento to spend a leisurely afternoon strolling the waterfront. This is not our first time in the Bay area, so the 'must see' tourist stops are not on the list, just some old favourites - the Exploratorium, Fisherman's Wharf including a good feed of dungeness crab and maybe even some clam chowder in a sourdough bowl, and perhaps a cable car ride. Then on to the airport for the red-eye home.

It's been a fabulous week of sunshine and warm temperatures, sites and celebrations, family reunions and love, the chart topper being my cousin's wedding.

It was a grand celebration and it was so much fun! Carol and Dick - we wish you every blessing and much happiness.

Of course there were also Napa Valley wineries to savour,

great food and drink to nosh and quaff,

and laid back old Sacramento to stroll.

Time and again though I found my heart drawn back home where the events of the week were far less pleasing. Much has been written about the attacks on our armed forces personnel and our parliament in Ottawa, and I have no desire to add even more words to the ocean of commentary. However, I am a soldier's mother and my heart aches for the families who have lost so much this week. I am proud and privileged to call Canada my home and native land, glorious and free.

Keep Calm and Carry On!

©2014 April Hoeller

Monday, 20 October 2014

Monday Moanings - October 20, 2014

Turning Leaves

No shoulda, woulda, coulda's sit on the window ledge blocking my view of the world outside my door. There's not a moan in sight. The weekend writing retreat at Fern Resort was everything I had hoped it would be and though I did not do much writing, I did accomplish my goal. The goal seemed simple enough: to re-engage with the manuscript that has languished for nearly a year in the bottom desk drawer. Did the story still have energy? Was the story still worth telling? Did the writing still excite me? 

I'd been to the writing retreats offered by Writescape's Gwynn Scheltema and Ruth Walker and knew the fine talent and support that this weekend would have on offer. The companion workbook for the retreat announced the theme of Turning Leaves 2014, "Bridge to Your Words" 

I was dumbfounded when I saw that -- I had no idea that the entire program had been designed for ME. I'm sure Ruth and Gwynn didn't know that either! But there it was in my hands, and the rest, as they say is history; well perhaps not quite so dramatic nor of any great import on the world stage but still, for me, a really big deal! 

I crossed the bridge into the pages of the memoir. It was like entering the old family homestead, full of smells, tastes, sights, sounds, and touches. I took the time to reintroduce myself gently, politely, allowing the tale to reintroduce itself to me. And I fell in love with the manuscript again. I fell in love with the words and the story.

I am profoundly grateful not only to Gwynn & Ruth for their expertise and generousity, but also to Barbara Kyle, the guest author at the retreat. Her enthusiasm and insights on the craft of writing as well as her interest in each one the participants, was pure gift. The opportunity to explore, learn and write in community with other writers of all genres, all experience levels, for a weekend was also a gift. Thank you all!

Now, I gotta get to work. Catch up with you later.

©2014 April Hoeller

Monday, 13 October 2014

Monday Moanings - October 13, 2014

Thanksgiving Day

"...a day of General Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed."

So reads the decree enacted by Parliament in 1879. Though the date has moved around a little - at first it was November 6, then it was the 3rd Monday in October, but on January 31, 1957 the government proclaimed that National Thanksgiving be celebrated on the 2nd Monday of October - the feast remains a celebration of plenty.

Back when I was growing up, there was never any thought of celebrating on any other day than the officially decreed Monday. It mattered not a whit that folks had to be rough and ready for work the next morning, or that kids had to be up and out to school. Thanksgiving back then was a single day, a great day of family and food mind you complete with all the good china and silverware, and of course we ate in the dining room.

Saturday was spent grocery shopping and silver polishing, If we did a really good job on the silver for Thanksgiving, only a few touch ups would be needed for the Christmas feast! Sunday was for church, and maybe even a trip to the Royal Ontario Museum afterwards. In the afternoon, Mom made the pies.

On Thanksgiving Day, "the bird" - always at least a 22 pounder! - had to be stuffed and in the oven by 10am. My mother was in the kitchen by 8 in the morning and didn't leave it until supper was served at 6 and then she was back in there cleaning up until late. Honestly I don't know how she did it all. No microwave ovens, no automatic dishwasher, no convection oven, and one small fridge, with a 1 cubic foot freezer section. Yet it was always a feast of plenty including leftovers for turkey sandwiches, turkey stew, or pot pie during the week. And she loved every minute of it (well maybe not so much the clearing up, for which my Dad was conspicuous by his absence).

In my household, today is a day to kick back, relax, enjoy and Clean Up - our family celebration was yesterday. As always, it too was a feast of plenty, perhaps even a feast of  "too much". I worked too much, I made too much, and we all ate too much. Yet it was also a cornucopia of good conversation, great laughs, and the best company.

And I loved every minute of it - but maybe not so much the clearing up. Even though my love, along with the rest of the family are very present and helpful there remains one thing conspicuous by its absence today - enthusiasm. I'm beat.

But I am also humbly thankful on this day for my family, my friends, our health and prosperity. I am truly grateful "for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed."

Happy Thanksgiving!

©2014 April Hoeller

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Thursday, or Thereabouts - October 9, 2014

An Embarrassment of Riches...

Thanksgiving Weekend stands on the doorstep bidding me come, enjoy, celebrate, and give thanks for the harvest.


For both the early pioneers and the indigenous tribes, this time of year in North America was one both deepest gratitude and fervent hope. Come wind, come weather the land had yielded her best and barns were full. But would the bounty be enough to sustain life through a winter of unknowns?

I have not known such a tenuous life, none of my family have. Sure we've had our struggles, our lean times, but we've always been able to gather together at Thanksgiving amid an abundance of food, laughter and love - an embarrassment of riches.

I am as humbled as I am grateful for this bounty. I've companioned others whose lives been flipped upside down by a sudden reversal of fortune and I'm now of great enough age to be keenly aware that good living does not grant any immunity from calamity down the road. A winter of unknowns may give warning but never asks permission to visit, let alone stay a while.

Yet today the sun is shining, the world just outside my door is decked out in Autumn splendour, and the cup of my life is overflowing with good things. So I accept the invitation to enjoy, celebrate and give thanks for the harvest. 
My heart is full of "Thanks Giving."

©2014 April Hoeller

A Prayer of Gratitude
"We are grateful for eyes that see and ponder, for taste buds that know the sensuous pleasures of eating and drinking, for hands that hold and touch and feel, for ears that can delight in music and the voice of a friend, for a nose that can smell the aroma of newly mown grass or delicious food, and can also breathe the air that gives us life. 
We are grateful for the treasure of loved ones whose hearts of openness and acceptance have encouraged us to be who we are. We are  grateful for their faithfulness, for standing by us when our weaknesses stood out glaringly, for being there when we were most in need and for delighting with us in our good days and our joyful seasons.  
We are grateful for the eyes of faith, for believing in the presence of God, giving us hope in our darkest days, encouraging us to listen to our spirit’s hunger, and reminding us to trust in the blessings of God’s presence in our most empty days. 
We are grateful for the ongoing process of becoming who we are, for the seasons within, for the great adventure of life that challenges and comforts us at one and the same time. 
We are grateful for the messengers of God - people, events, written or spoke words - that came to us at just the right time and helped us to grow.  
We are grateful for God calling us to work with our gifts, grateful that we can be of service and use our talents in a responsible and just way. 
We are grateful that we have the basic necessities of life, that we have the means and the ability to hear the cries of the poor and to respond with our abundance."
©1992 Joyce Rupp: May I have this Dance?  p. 151

Monday, 6 October 2014

Monday Moanings - October 6, 2014

My Monday is jam packed with things to do and places to be, so I'll leave you this day with an old chestnut from Autumn 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...

©Matka Wariatka -

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 -

©2014 April Hoeller

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Thursday, or Thereabouts - October 2, 2014

The Yellow Line Rant

I am so ticked off! And every time I look out the front windows the flames roar back to life, ramping up the annoyance level each time. I have lived on this street for 36 years. It is a lovely country road just in off the highway, and most delightful when all dressed up in Autumn splendour.

Thanksgiving 2013

Yesterday morning I awoke at the usual 7:30 and sauntered to the bathroom. A glance out the window there, revealed a misty cool Autumn day, one which despite the low light, was dripping with colour. I grabbed my camera from the desk and clicked off these images:

Dressed and ready for the day, I headed off to the kitchen curious as to what the world outside my front door might look like in the muted light. I opened the blinds, camera at the ready and gasped. Indeed there was colour - a fresh bright yellow - a big fat yellow line down the centre of the street.

I went to bed in a house on a country road. I woke up in one on a city street. The Secret Squirrel Line Painters had struck! (if you watch the BBC program, MI -5, you'll appreciate that last comment)

Okay, okay its only a bit of paint I know, but what were they thinking? It was that question that I put to our town councillor in an email. I was pleasantly surprised by his quick response, though not so much with the content of that response.

Apparently there have been complaints about excessive speed and the lack of clear lane separation on Cherry Street. What a centre line has to do with speed reduction I'll never know, but I have to agree with one thing he said about improved visibility during dark, wet and snowy conditions. In fact day or night now in any weather, one can't miss seeing that centre line.

I also agree that appropriate safety measures trump aesthetics.

Still, I can't help thinking that some country charm been lost and with that perhaps also some safety for bicyclists and pedestrians. It seemed to me today as I watched the cars go by, that now that drivers have a centre line to go by, they can speed right along confident of the lane separation, yet this road is hardly wide enough for two lanes and there are no shoulders. It may be safer for drivers now, but on fine weekends any time of year this is a street full of pedestrians - parents with children, dogs and strollers, seniors taking the air, neighbours out for a ramble, and bicyclists of all skill levels. Will a big fat yellow line keep us safe too?

Time will tell...

©2014 April Hoeller