Monday, 30 November 2015

Monday Moanings - November 30, 2015

At the Bottom of Christmas Mountain, Again!

It may be the top of a new week, 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.

Kristen - 1988

A 25 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.

Geoff - 1985

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 that 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 2015 blog. I post a little soothing something every day.

©2015 April Hoeller

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Thursday, or Thereabouts - November 26, 2015

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.

Today with temperatures a balmy 10 C (50F) and gentle winds just high enough to get the flags wafting, and easily 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 Pilgrims perched atop a mammoth Tom Turkey - well it is the Thanksgiving Day Parade and legend has it all began with the Pilgrims in 1621.

My favourites this year:
Scrat and his Acorn

Paddington Bear

The Big Apple

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!

Some 10,000 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!"

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.

text ©2015 April Hoeller
images courtesy of Macy's Inc.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Monday Moanings - November 23, 2015

Just for the Fun of It

Snookered by a nasty chest cold the other week and feeling very sorry for myself, I recalled that whenever I was sick, (which was quite frequent in my childhood), my Dad always bought me a colouring book. Often he splurged and included a brand new pack of Crayola® crayons!

Eight shiny, perfectly pointed red, green, blue, yellow, orange, purple, brown and black imagination sparklers and a brand new colouring book - always an invitation to have fun and when sick, a temporary escape from miserable. And all for the sum of maybe 50¢.

Plagued by cabin fever, I took myself out to the craft store. There was no shortage of colouring books, all under a banner declaring them to be "ADULT." My cold medicated brain, immediately conjured up images of ... well, you know, naked people ... A grin creased my pallid face and what began as a guffaw ended as a germ laden paroxysm of coughing.

Staff and other shoppers kept their distance as I perused the selection. Intricate cityscapes, elaborate gardens, convoluted mandalas - all made my eyes water. Most were just too complex, too demanding of time and clear-headed concentration. All cost $8 and up. But I was determined to spend and afternoon in the blanket fort, colouring. So I settled on a book of pleasing shapes.

Now I needed something to colour with. Not crayons this time, but coloured pencils would do the trick. The display boasted packs of 24 for $30 and up. Oh, I don't think so! After buying the book, I headed to the business supply store, where I found the tall slim cousins of crayons.

$4.39 for a pack of 12 pre-sharpened coloured pencils AND a sharpener - BONUS!

Back home in the fort I settled into an afternoon of simple mindless pleasure. Not art therapy, not meditation, not a creative exploration of colour and pattern but a tender escape from miserable.

The virus has left me now, but some afternoons I can be found sitting in the living room, lap desk on my knees, colouring.

Just for the fun of it.

Go have some fun this week!

©2015 April Hoeller

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Thursday, or Thereabouts - November 19, 2015

While the sound and light show of Christmas already plays at any mall, big box store and even small box store in town, let me remind you of the rules of this house.

No outside lights,
No indoor decorations,
No Christmas baking

BEFORE the First Sunday in Advent!
with one small exception...

The Friut Cake

This old family gem needs time to mature, in a cool dark place where rich flavours develop in dark loaves that lie sealed within the oiled paper they were baked in. As I write, glace fruits, raisins, pecans, almonds, molasses, and honey are making merry with a generous pour of a dark Cuban rum. (Okay so maybe it's several generous pours of rum!) 

I will let them continue to mingle and mellow until Saturday morning. Then I'll mix together eggs, butter, flour and warm spices to make just enough batter to hold all that happy fruit together. For two hours or more, three loaves will take up centre stage in a low oven. 

My kitchen will swell with the fragrant incense of Christmas yet to be. 
And that's more than enough decoration for this old soul in November.

©2015 April Hoeller

Monday, 16 November 2015

Monday Moanings - November 16, 2015

The View from Here

Foggy with a chance of ... ?

It's Monday, again.

It's Monday following a weekend of global sorrow, Again.

It's Monday following terror attacks, AGAIN.

A broken record stutters tweets, hashtags, French phrases, and Facebook® posts.

Round and round and round we go in a too well practiced response that in the end seems only to foster more terror. I have no answers. A rant from me will add nothing.

The way forward is shrouded in fear and doubt, blurred by anger and tears.  And to be honest, I'm very grateful NOT to be one of those charged with the responsibility of crafting yet another strategy to stem this tide of terror.

Instead I will follow Wendell Berry's lead and seek out The Peace of Wild Things.

I will go walk in the forest, listen for the birds, find the still waters and rest for awhile.

#PorteOuverte - my door is open, as are my arms.

©2015 April Hoeller

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Thursday, or Thereabouts - November 12, 2015

Take me Away!

I wanna get out of here. Oh I know it's been little more than two weeks since getting home from our last adventure. And I've only just recovered from 14 hours of jet lag, BUT a cesspool of naughty microbes has bubbled up inside me. Sneezing, wheezing, coughing; streaming, sputtering, choking.

Please, oh please take me away to some place warm and sunny by the sea.

It doesn't have to be for long; four or five days should do it. Idyllic days with wonderfully warm sand underfoot...

... salt water bubbling between toes

... a white sandy beach interrupted only with thatched roofed palapas strung with hammocks.

Some fruity drinks with exotic names like, Bahama Mama, Pina Colada, Mojito and one that I really could use right now, the Painkiller.

Surely such libations would do much to counter the uninvited pestilence that has invaded my respiratory system. All that vitamin C would do wonders, as would warm salt air breezes and spectacular sunsets.

It's a dreary, damp November day outside my door with high winds set to blast in a cold front.

Take me away!

©2015 April Hoeller

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Remembrance Day 2015

I will remember...

I first posted these words two years ago yet on this eve of Remembrance Day 2015, and though I am now a veteran's mother, the feelings remain. My heart aches and 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 born, flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone, my son headed off to Afghanistan.  Like so many images of so 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 mum,” 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 all but 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. But he said little about his tour.  As the months passed I heard occasional snippets, half sentences: “felt the breeze as shrapnel went by..., daily rocket barrage behind the wire.” and in a general discussion about first aid kits, he allowed, “Oh yeah, our drivers strapped on tourniquets to their arms and legs before going out on patrol, just so ...”

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.

©2015 April Hoeller

Monday, 9 November 2015

Monday Moanings - November 9, 2015

The Morning After

Runny nose,
               muscle aches,
                         watery eyes

After forty-eight hours of 
                  inspired guidance,
                                     skilled encouragement
                                    lakeside resort

I think I'm suffering from withdrawal!

I always want to stay a bit longer in that sweet spot of quiet intensity, focused learning and personal journey that a writer's retreat offers.
In fact I'd say that such reluctance to leave is the hallmark of a good retreat experience.

The team of Gwynn Scheltema and Ruth Walker at Writescape truly do know how to craft, not just a good, but a great retreat for writers.

I am indebted to both these women for their ongoing support and encouragement.

Oh, and their good sense of fun, starry eyes and switched name tags and all!

Caroline Pignat was the guest author at this retreat. Clearly an accomplished writer and teacher, she not only gifted us with her writing skills but also with an open, honest presence throughout the retreat. Thank you Caroline!

Alas, the return to home is as reluctant as it is essential. The new techniques, insights and encouragement come together in the place where I do most of my writing. And here I sit, still in my bathrobe, at the harvest table in my sunlit kitchen reflecting on yet another fabulous writing retreat.

I'm back home and writing.
Life is good.

©2015 April Hoeller