Saturday, 31 December 2016

New Year's Eve 2016

The Gate of the Year

First published in 1908 with the title "God Knows" this poem gained greater prominence in 1939 when King George VI spoke the opening lines in his Christmas broadcast to a British Empire plunged into World War II.

The words of Minnie Louise Haskins (1875-1957) capture my heart on the threshold of this and every new year.

 And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
     “Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied:
     “Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
       That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”

So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night.
And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.

So heart be still:
 What need our little life
 Our human life to know,
 If God hath comprehension?
 In all the dizzy strife
 Of things both high and low,
 God hideth His intention.

God knows. His will
 Is best. The stretch of years
 Which wind ahead, so dim
 To our imperfect vision,
 Are clear to God. Our fears
 Are premature; In Him,
 All time hath full provision.

Then rest: until
 God moves to lift the veil
 From our impatient eyes,
 When, as the sweeter features
 Of Life’s stern face we hail,
 Fair beyond all surmise
 God’s thought around His creatures
 Our mind shall fill.

Happy New Year
to all my readers and friends. 
I wish you health and happiness.

Monday, 12 December 2016

Monday Moanings - December 12, 2016

Good Morning Snow!

How do I know it's Monday? I woke up to this view out my front door:

Which is not so very unlike the view last Monday morning:

Back in the day when I worked in Church-land, it was frequently said, "if something happens twice it's tradition; it if happens three times it's immutable tradition."

THEREFORE it hath been decreed that on Monday mornings, 20cm of fresh snow is a tradition. 

The venerable scrutineer has attested to the occurrence.

In accordance with The Tradition, snow shovelling shall be the appropriate workout of the day.

Robed in white, the Great Puffin has pronounced his blessing.

So be it!

©2016 April Hoeller

Monday, 5 December 2016

Monday Moanings - December 5, 2016

It's beginning to look a lot like...

The view outside my kitchen this morning

I awoke to a winter wonderland outside my door this morning. I love it! Nothing lifts my spirits quite so high as December snow. I couldn't wait to get out there with my camera.


No time for sitting here. Now it was all hands to the shovel and the snow blower. The big machine struggled with the heavy wet snow, lurching, spinning tires on the unfrozen ground. Then there was the shovel work. The walkways, deck and 'trim work' where the snow blower cannot go, require the old fashioned brute force approach. That was some workout, let me tell you. I even logged it in my fitness tracker as "weight training."

So many memories are unlocked by the first good snowfall.
   - the tingle when catching a snowflake on my tongue.
    - flopping down on my back to sweep out my arms and legs to make a snow angel and then struggling to get back up again without messing up the creation.
     - trudging through snow way over my boots, while singing Good King Wenceslas.
     - making snow forts, snowballs, and snowmen complete with a carrot nose and stone eyes, and outfitted with a ragged scarf and an old hat. Yes, they were always 'snowmen' but issues of gender never occurred to me.

How about snow sundaes? Now there was a treat, except in my childhood home, it was Aunt Jemima's syrup that was poured on the snow. We couldn't afford real maple syrup.

Quebec City, March 2008

I recall my mother loved a winter wonderland but only when viewed from inside a cosy house. I never saw a snow shovel in her hands. No sledding for her either. That was Dad's department.

One year I recall he and I even built ski hill in the back yard. We piled snow upon snow, stripping much of the back yard of its white cover (mother was not amused!), until there was a hill - well really more of mound - about a metre high and just as wide. The slope stretched out for something like 4 metres. The first problem was getting on the top without destroying the slope. Dad put his old wooden skis on the 'summit' then hoisted me up.

Yup, that's me all right - uh huh, in my dreams...

I got on the skis then planted the poles and pushed off. The skis inched forward, once. I tried again. Same result. Then Dad got behind the hill and gave the back of the skis a push. Down the hill I went - lurching, squeaking, scrunching the whole way down, inches at a time. No speed records. No wind in my ten year old face. I tried a couple of more 'runs' before abandoning the slope for a cup hot chocolate with mini-marshmallows on top.

Dad may not have known how to build a good ski hill, but he sure knew how to build a great memory!

Winter in Canada - there's no life like it!

©2016 April Hoeller

Monday, 28 November 2016

Monday Moanings - November 28, 2016

And that's the way this Monday feels. Thin sticky fingers of a cold are attempting to invade my body. But worse than that, some kind of cyber virus has taken over the I-waves.

There was a time a few years ago, when the sales rant was a tad less virulent, that I happily indulged in the offers of Cyber Monday. I wrapped up Christmas gifts in just an hour or so of mouse clicks.

BUT this event has morphed into something of a global epidemic, due in no small part to its older sibling Black Friday. Together these two have crept into the days between and around the namesakes. Black Friday advertising began a week ago - and don't get me started about Black Friday's invasion of Canada! Cyber Monday adverts began on Thursday.

I don't want to see or hear another word about it. I am sick of it all. And NO, I'm not going to buy a single thing on the web today. I'm not even going to peruse the offers.

The day after all this madness has acquired the moniker of  Giving Tuesday. All the charities will be out in force trying to pick up any crumbs of coinage left after the spending frenzy. Good on them for trying to counter the retail onslaught. And YES I will be supporting my favourite charities - Medcins sans Frontieres, and my local hospitals.

Why is giving always in second place, or worse! behind getting?
I think we have it the wrong way round.
Giving Tuesday belongs BEFORE the hoopla of Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

I don't suppose the idea will gain much traction...

©2016 April Hoeller

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Thursday, or Thereabouts - November 24, 2016

I love a Parade ...

And Macy's sure knows how to make a great one. Their Thanksgiving Day Parade is nothing short of an extravaganza featuring song and dance from the latest hits on Broadway, eye-popping floats, marching bands and those iconic flying balloons.

High school marching bands never really caught on in Canada. Might it be that the winter was a huge deterrent? I noted that many if not all of the bands I saw today came from the more southerly states; the ones where snow, ice and temperatures below zero would be described as extreme events with all the apocalyptic adjectives one can muster.

For five months of the year, a marching band in these parts would have to be plumped up with layers upon layers of clothing, shod with heavy winter boots including ice-grippers, and carrying instruments bundled up in burlap winter tree wrap. And wearing tuques (there have to be tuques - we are Canadian eh?). Picture that. Yeah, well perhaps that is why high school marching bands are not a Canadian tradition. Climate warming might change all that...

And those amazing helium filled balloons? They only sporadically appear in parades here. Too many overhead wires here? Too much wind? Even a parade in late November in the big apple is a risky weather proposition. Today it was 6°C (43°F) under partly sunny skies and winds high enough to keep the flags flapping but low enough to let the high flying characters fill the air.

Here are my favourite characters and floats:

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.

This is New York City at her best - colourful, fun, spirited and proud with EVERYBODY working together.
It's enough to make anyone shout,

"I believe!"

Imagine that wide-eyed joyful anticipation bubbling through your veins. Now hold on to that moment for as much of this day as you can. Ignore the merchandising fury that has already begun to take over the airwaves and the i-waves; shun, for just an hour, the feeding frenzy that Black Friday and Cyber Monday have on offer.

Come, be a kid again, amused and amazed, curious and hopeful.

 "With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world."
 (Max Ehrmann: Desiderata 1927)

Happy Thanksgiving to all my American family, friends and readers.

©2016 April Hoeller

Monday, 21 November 2016

Monday Moanings - November 21, 2016

Life in a November wind-powered Kitchen

The view out my front door this morning

After tarrying God knows where for nearly three weeks, November has finally roared into town with winds gusting to over 60 km/h, temperatures below the freezing point, and snow flurries.
Well it's about time, say I.

Time to get out the stew pot and the baking pans,
the warm spices and aromatic herbs,
the butter and eggs.

Wake up the kitchen machine!
Bring on the heavy duty carbohydrates!

Nothing like cooking up a storm in the kitchen when winds of November come roaring. No moaning from me on that score. BUT when the cooking bug strikes, all else on the ToDo list gets elbowed out of the way. The gym today for instance has been chucked aside in favour of cooking up a beet and apple chutney.

And it's a perfect day for a good curry dinner, so there are herbs and spices to roast for my own garam masala. There is nothing quite so intoxicating as the pungent aroma of gently roasting Indian spices; gossamer swirls of exotic fragrance rising above an open skillet.

Not only the gym but unless I'm very careful, even work on my book will get run over by the kitchen machine. Yesterday I was able to cook up a great soup with chunks of pork in a broth of pureed cauliflower and Jerusalem artichokes, seasoned with cumin, coriander, fennel, cardamom and a dash of chipotle, make Pecan Sticky Buns  AND get some writing time in.

So there is hope, but only if I get at it right now...
...and hide those sticky buns!

©2016 April Hoeller

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Thursday, or Thereabouts - November 17, 2016

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A Visit with an old Family Friend on a Frosty November Morning

I awoke to temperatures of -2°C and a blanket of sparkling frost over the ground. A pretty November morning in the country. But in the town, in the land of retail, disturbing signs have emerged. The Christmas Hype has begun.  BUT...

...while the sound and light show of Yuletide 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 Fruit Cake

The loaves, dark and heavy with fruit and rum, need time to mature, in a cool dark place where rich flavours can develop sealed within the oiled paper they were baked in.

This old family friend has been hanging out in November for at least four generations. It crossed the Atlantic circa 1846 according to family records and it has been the one and only Christmas Cake in this family ever since.

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! And yes, it was probably brandy back in merry old England, but changed to rum soon after arriving in New York.

Making the Fruit Cake is the best old friend November and I could ever have. Maybe it's the rum...

I will let the fruit and rum continue to mingle and mellow until Saturday morning. I'll test the mixture often of course. Then I'll oil up the heavy brown paper to line the baking pans before mixing together eggs, butter, flour and warm spices to make just enough batter to hold all that happy fruit together.

Getting the batter into the pans is a heavy lift. This is not a batter one can pour.

Last year's batch, ready for the oven

One year I broke a ladle trying to get the job done! I now entrust the job to this beast:

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.

©2016 April Hoeller

Monday, 14 November 2016

Monday Moanings - November 14, 2016

The Write Weather

A week ago I was riding huge wave of writing energy courtesy of an amazing writing retreat. I set some goals, all of them in accordance with the SMART criteria (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound). I was pumped. I planned out a schedule with benchmarks. I made allowances for theatre and concert dates along with Christmas celebrations. Then, I set straight to work. And it was good, very good.

For three days I chipped away at the book in accordance with the schedule, ignoring as best I could the apocalyptic tone of certain current events. An impressive accomplishment I thought.

Then Friday happened.

Remembrance Day always stirs my heart, more so since my son began serving in the army. This year though there were more tears than usual. I have no idea why. Perhaps my grief was heightened by those current events noted above.

In any case as I settled down to write in the afternoon, I wallowed in a sea of self-doubt. My inner critic hurled all kinds of derogatory remarks my way and I offered no resistance. By 4pm I surrendered, closed up the book and opened the wine.
What rhymes with Friday? Wine!

Saturday afternoon found me again at my writing desk, pen at the ready. Words came, sentences too. But one sentence did not tie its tale to the next. I slogged away at it for nearly two hours before capping my pen, shoving my chair back and stomping out of the room.

The bird feeders needed filling, so out into the sunshine I went. What glorious warmth welcomed me outside! A trio of chickens (not mine but the neighbour's free roaming) danced around the bird feeders as I topped them up. These scavengers were just as happy to see me as the chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers, finches, juncos and jays. It warmed my heart to be so appreciated. My mood shifted into positive territory. My write brain began to emit ideas that had true potential.

Sunday morning dawned warm and bright, with the promise of being even warmer than Saturday. Nevertheless my pen was putting ink on the page before noon - a good sign. The sun blazed in through the windows, heating up my kitchen to sweat level. I got up to open the windows ... and in the fresh air was an invitation to come outside.

Knowing that November in these parts is usually the opening of the cocooning season - cold, wet, and windy, how could I refuse the gift of  warm sunshine?  So ended the writing of the day.

The chatter of fallen leaves being raked together, the hiss of the air compressor filling winter tires, the pulsing hum of the lawn mower and the whir of the weed-whacker,(those last two sounds don't usually belong with November!), were my joys on Sunday as the temperature rose to 15°C (60°F).
I loved every minute of it.
I even got the first of the outdoor Christmas decoration up!

...and decorated - sort of.

But that was before my yard clean-up revealed the best gift of all. Those chickens that have been eating my birdseed were thoughtful enough to leave me a thank you gift.

All eggs passed the water test for freshness - no floaters!
Bless their little seed pecking hearts.

I'm sure the cocooning days are just around the corner. I can make up for lost time when the write weather comes along. In the mean time, I'm not going to pass up an opportunity to enjoy what mother nature has on offer, be it a splendid Autumn day or an out of this world super moon.

©2016 April Hoeller