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

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Thursday, or Thereabouts - November 10, 2016

Eject! Eject! Eject!

News, views, jeers, fears, and analyses up the wazoo in wake of the US election continue to overpopulate my news feed. I have come to resent the time I've wasted even just scanning all this stuff. I resent the space it is taking up not only in my day, but in my head. Too easily, I get caught up in the broken dreams, the disbelief, and the fear mongering.

I've had enough! Yes indeedy, today is a day to activate the emergency escape system. Let the canopy pop open and blast far away from news and noise. Some retail therapy on a grand scale is order.

Come away with me to KaDeWe® (Kaufhaus des Westens) in Berlin, Germany.

image courtesy of
This is a department store like no other I've ever seen. It's Nordstrom's® on steroids. A luxurious, sumptuous, elegant, eye-popping, mouth-watering, 60,000 square metres of retail space.

At the Guerlain® fragrance counter, sculpted glass bottles drew my eyes to wander over and around the shapes and colours of scent. My breath caught in my throat - Shalimar!

My mother's favourite and the most expensive fragrance she ever owned. When I was a child I marvelled at this shapely bottle that held pride of place on her dresser:

A 1926 advertisement reads:

"From Guerlain a breath of the desert captured in the fragrance of Shalimar. The mystery and magic of perfume as portrayed by the exotic East is captured in a subtle fragrance of romantically called Shalimar. Created by Guerlain most famous of perfumers. It comes in a graceful molded bottle containing 2 1/2 oz. $22."

The salesperson noted my interest. I told her of my late mother's love of Shalimar. "We've been making this perfume since 1925. Let me offer you some." She spritzed the golden liquid onto a white card, particles of scent filling the air as well as landing on the card. Instantly I felt my mother behind me, heard her inhale deeply and her murmur of appreciation.

The experience of  my mother's presence was warm and lovely, but truth be told, the fragrance on the sample card was not one my olfactory senses enjoyed. A little too floral, complex, and overpowering for me. But Mom, she still loved it.

Now let's stroll a bit more through this high end store.

Those who know me will be quick to tell you that fashion is not my thing, not at all. Much to my mother's chagrin, I did not get that gene. But I did find these shoes impressive, and entirely unwearable at least on my sixty-three year old feet.

No, I'm more of a champagne (also craft beer and single malts) chocolate, and bread girl.

Who knew candy canes were an emblematic food of Canada?

Now this is more like it:

... but it's made in Vermont!

How about this?

... but only the Ahornsirop brand claims to be Canadian.

Oh well, let's go check out the food court...

Saturday morning in KaDeWe - lots of people - inter-generational families, kids to elders all enjoying a grand experience. And why not? My love and I (yes me the one who hates shopping in department stores), thoroughly enjoyed our visit.

If you are ever in Berlin, spend some time exploring this amazing emporium.
It's good therapy!

©2016 April Hoeller