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)

Monday, 10 November 2014

Monday Moanings - November 10, 2014


The first syllable of the month says it all, but British humourist and poet Thomas Hood (1799 - 1945)
really nailed it.

        No sun—no moon!
        No morn—no noon—
No dawn—
        No sky—no earthly view—
        No distance looking blue—
No road—no street—no “t’other side the way”—
        No end to any Row—
        No indications where the Crescents go—
        No top to any steeple—
No recognitions of familiar people—
        No courtesies for showing ‘em—
        No knowing ‘em!
No traveling at all—no locomotion,
No inkling of the way—no notion—
        “No go”—by land or ocean—
        No mail—no post—
        No news from any foreign coast—
No park—no ring—no afternoon gentility—
        No company—no nobility—
No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
   No comfortable feel in any member—
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds,

A little too much "no" perhaps? Well maybe, but I have to admit that grey sunless skies, leafless /lifeless trees and a damp chill that goes through to my bones, do little more than summon up dismal groans.

To escape the dead weight of such melancholy I trolled the vast expanse of the internet to have a look at how others have wrapped words around this second to last month of the year. Here's some of what I found:

 "Yet one smile more, departing, distant sun!
One mellow smile through the soft vapory air,
Ere, o'er the frozen earth, the loud winds run,
Or snows are sifted o'er the meadows bare.
One smile on the brown hills and naked trees,
And the dark rocks whose summer wreaths are cast,
And the blue gentian-flower, that, in the breeze,
Nods lonely, of her beauteous race the last.
Yet a few sunny days, in which the bee
Shall murmur by the hedge that skirts the way,
The cricket chirp upon the russet lea,
And man delight to linger in thy ray.
Yet one rich smile, and we will try to bear
The piercing winter frost, and winds, and darkened air."
-   William Cullen Bryant

"The wild November come at last
 Beneath a veil of rain;
 The night winds blows its folds aside,
 Her face is full of pain.
 The latest of her race, she takes
 The Autumn's vacant throne:
 She has but one short moon to live,
 And she must live alone."
-  Richard Henry Stoddard

 "November comes
 And November goes,
 With the last red berries
 And the first white snows.
 With night coming early,
 And dawn coming late,
 And ice in the bucket
 And frost by the gate.
 The fires burn
 And the kettles sing,
 And earth sinks to rest
 Until next spring."
  - Elizabeth Coatsworth

Take heart, beneath it all, under the frost and brown, behind the damp and grey, Spring is plotting resurrection. And "No" will melt into "Yes."

 ©2014 April Hoeller (except poetry excerpts)

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Thursday, or Thereabouts - November 6, 2014

It's raining, it's pouring
and this old gal is scrolling...

... through pages of round blue-inked script. 6211 words so far. While not up to NaNoWriMo aficionado levels, I am quite satisfied. There have been more words written in the last 2+ days than in the 365 that preceded them. Ta Da!

So while I continue to lay ink on paper, let me treat you to a sunny warm afternoon in San Francisco, where we were just a short ten days ago. For those living in southern Ontario where it is a very dull, wet 7°C and where there is snow in the forecast for tomorrow morning, take a moment to linger in this warm respite.

Go ahead, sing with the sea lions!

©2014 April Hoeller