Monday, 27 March 2017

Monday Moanings - March 27, 2017

The facts of Life

Brace yourselves. I'm in a bad mood today.

It's not a great way to kick off a new week, but I didn't order up this melange of grief. It reared up on me shortly after I awoke. Rest assured, there has been no great personal tragedy in my life. No loved one has died or been diagnosed with cancer. There have been no reports of family divorces, job losses or broken bones. But there are some thorny issues.

With both my love and I clocking in at over 60 years old, those folks who have traveled the distance with us are beginning to drop off. That's a fact of life. And so it was that we attended a funeral on Friday for a long time associate of ours, one of those people who, while not a personal friend, was someone who had supported our lives for thirty some years. He helped us build the solid financial footing we now find ourselves enjoying in retirement. He helped sort out and consolidate the assets of both our parents. He set up investments for our children's education plans. His death shook my tree of life.

"After all, what are birthdays? Here today and gone tomorrow."
Eeyore from "The House at Pooh Corner" by A. A. Milne

Added to that I'm coming up on a birthday. I'm just eight days away from entering my 65th year on this earth. My love wants to know what I want to do to celebrate. I have no idea. Everything that comes to mind is quickly dismissed by the committee of whiners and critics in my head as being too far, too expensive, too ordinary, too extravagant, too, too, too. Whine, whine, whine.

There have already been tears this morning, but I've moved past that, and run headlong into Anger.

"Smarten up, April! You have food, clean water, and a roof over your head. You are a long way from where you were a year ago. You have energy to burn and a body that with a few exceptions, works pretty well for sixty+ years on the road. You sissy! Why even your own Aunt is motoring along at over 90.
Suck it up buttercup!"
A warm blanket of denial would be very nice right now.
I'm not getting older. I'm getting better! I can do anything I set my mind to. I can climb every mountain, ford every stream... I think I feel a song coming on.

I think it's working...
I'm feeling better already.

Have a great week!

©2017 April Hoeller

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Thursday, or Thereabouts - March 23, 2017

Spring Cleaning

Devoid of moisture and purpose, the residue of winter road maintenance swirled up from the roadways in clouds of briny grit. Hat pulled down and head tucked, I trudged across the parking lot cursing the windswept version of spring cleaning. Back home, the neighbour's chickens, freed from winter incarceration in their hen house, roamed my front yard intent on their spring cleaning of the space underneath the bird feeders. With due diligence, they hoovered up the songbirds' cast offs.

Spring cleaning, eh? Now there's a thought with potential to provoke some action from me. It resonates so well with the downsizing theme that ebbs and flows through my plans and on my ToDo lists: get rid of the stuff devoid of story and purpose. Perhaps in the process, I might even discover a few gems hidden amongst the rubble, like my Dad's toolbox.

Now that was a joyous find, a delight full of story and useful tools. I'll write more about the toolbox another time. For the moment, I'm savouring the possibility of more discoveries, or perhaps better put recoveries. My old train set and the tunnel Gramps made me for Christmas fifty-five years or so ago readily come to mind. Just where are those priceless pieces?

Truth be told, the writing here today is probably the closest I will get to any real spring cleaning. I am my mother's daughter after all. Mom was a great cook and dishwasher. The kitchen was her dominion and she kept it in good order. Other household chores were not on her priority list or perhaps any list of hers, with the possible exception of vacuuming.

Ah yes, the vacuum cleaner. Now there was a beast right out of a Flash Gordon scene. It looked something like this (even the cardboard box looks like the one that was in our closet!):

Electrolux® made it and judging from the images I've been able to find, the one Mom had was a model XXX dating from the late 1930's to early 50's. It was a cannister-type that had steel skids, not wheels, to aid in dragging it along behind a cumbersome hose.

Press the nickel-sized black button on the top and the motor screamed to life. And I do mean "screamed." When vacuuming fell to me to do, I turned the beast on with a fully outstretched foot, my body leaning well away from turbojet-like howl. Not only did dust bunnies flee in fear for their lives, so did my younger sister. I was assigned to keep her occupied in our room while Mom wielded the dust sucker.

Mom was undaunted by the noise. She sang at the top of her lungs, something she could never otherwise do in the house but masked by the vacuum cleaner, she could really let her trained voice loose.

Operatic arias accompanied by engine whine - priceless!

Thanks, Mom.

©2017 April Hoeller

Monday, 20 March 2017

Monday Moanings - March 20, 2017


Almost a full hour before the sun cast rays of light above the horizon, Lady Spring made her entrance. With a simple tick, or perhaps it was a tock, she sighed into her place along great wheel of the year. And just like that, her symphony began.

At first, only some erratic percussion work is heard as snow melt sends water droplets into the eaves troughs. Then a steady trickle builds along the roof line moving toward the entry of the downspouts with their distinctive gurgle and rattle. Soon this glorious water music is accompanied by an avian chorus, filling the air with tweets, chirps and trills as winged creatures great and small swoop and swirl in the warm sun.

As glorious as this overture is, my favourite part is Spring's unheard heartbeat that pulsates underneath it all -  a throbbing, that rises and falls, rolls and flows beneath the still winter wrapped ground, aching for emergence.

Mother Earth is stirring.
Just below the horizon her greening has begun.

I revel in the squishy ground underfoot and the ankle deep mud that is my springtime driveway. With measured pace I step in every puddle and giggle as water splashes over my shoes. I've got a soaker!

Tis a grand day!
Take a deep breath.
"Spring drew on... and a greenness grew over those brown beds, which, freshening daily, suggested the thought that Hope traversed them at night and left each morning brighter traces of her steps." — Charlotte Bronte

©2017 April Hoeller

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Thursday, or Thereabouts - March 9, 2017

The All-Inclusive Holiday

March Break is but a breath away. Many secondary and elementary school teachers and students are counting the minutes before the mad dash to the white - ski slopes or sandy beaches. Some are madly planning as many outings as possible to fill in the wide expanse of 'free' time ahead.  If you buy into all the hype, the March Break is all about a week of family fun. And that's a good thing. I'm all in favour of both family and fun. I'm also a big believer in downtime, no pressure, no program, no duties.

Back in the day, when I was in grade school the Spring holiday was tied to Easter. This, of course, meant that it was a movable feast, occurring anywhere between the last week of March and the last week of April; anywhere between icy snow pack and blooming daffodils. The hype, if you could even call it that, went to the tune of "Here Comes Peter Cottontail" (Gene Autry) alternating with "Easter Parade" (Judy Garland and Fred Astaire). I hopped my way along a pastel bunny trail in the short week preceding the holy days. At school, there were stories about chicks hatching, arithmetic problems about jelly beans and a basketful of crafts that all began with cotton balls many dusted with yellow paint powder.

The first four days of the school break were all about family and fun, none of it particularly religious until we all rose to go to church Easter morning (after the Easter egg hunt of course!). There we sang the great hymns, inhaled. and nearly fainted from the fragrance of umpteen dozen Easter Lilies and wished everybody a Happy Easter. Then it was home for a grand feast celebrated with family gathered around the dining room table.

Monday we all just sat around recovering from all the food and festivities. Tuesday Dad went back to work and Mom was left for four days to cope with three kids, chocolate bunnies, jelly beans and hard boiled eggs. It was down time, serious down time. We each found our own space and activity. If we were really lucky, it was a week when the Bookmobile came to the bottom of our street, and we got to tag along with Mom. That was our outing of the week. And it was grand!

In 1968 the March Break replaced the Easter week holiday in Ontario. At first, it came in the last week of March but later moved to the mid point where it now is. My Dad did not have the time off, very few parents did. I was in high school when the March Break debuted and as best as I can recall it was a week of total downtime. I slept in a lot. I watched the afternoon soap operas (The Doctors, Days of our Lives, Another World), and not much else. It was a good break from school. Was it fun? Well not wildly, but I did enjoy the open space. Family time? What's that?

Some thirty years later when I had two children of my own in grade school, sleeping in remained a primary feature of the break. Added to that there were blanket forts in the living room, really good lunches at home, outdoor play, a choice or two at the video store and the reward of a trip to the movie theatre to see the latest family offering from Disney or Hollywood. It was all about family time at home. Even though my husband did not have the week off, he was always invited to come play in the blanket fort when he got home. There was enough downtime to relax and recharge. It was a good week and it didn't break the bank.

March Break 2017 looks quite different. All the advertising suggests that though it is a family time, it is to be enjoyed anywhere but at home. There are opportunities near and far to fill every waking hour with every kind of activity. Much of it seems to assume that both parents have the time off and that money is no worry. Downtime? What's that?

I need my downtime in copious quantities. I always have. I am a true introvert married to a true introvert, with two introvert children. It's not good, it's not bad, it's who I am. Not everyone needs all the quiet that I do, but all of us at every age need some time to play by ourselves, away from the gadgets that ring and beep and flash and crash; away from bosses, parents, siblings and friends; away from oughts and shoulds; at home with who we are.

If you are one privileged to have the March Break off, I wish you and yours an all inclusive holiday - one where family time, fun and rest/downtime are in the quantities you truly need to return to the every day refreshed, renewed and happy.

Get out there!

©2017 April Hoeller

Monday, 6 March 2017

Monday Moanings - March 6, 2017

As International Women's Day approaches, I offer not moans today but some reflections.

The other day, an impromptu decision to go see a movie with my love truncated my afternoon of writing. It was a good decision not only because date afternoons (we're over 60 so date nights have time shifted), are always a welcome treat, but also because the movie we chose to see was an eye-opener and a reminder to me about how far the world has come in fifty-some years.

Hidden Figures is the story of a team of the African-American women who were the original computers employed by NASA. The movie is based on the book by Margot Lee Shetterly. Computers were people before they were machines. More than this, the people behind the scenes of the space program, crunching the numbers and getting it right, were women, black women. Unseen, unsung, and undervalued. I didn't know any of this until I saw the movie.

I was born in 1953 into a white family living in an upper middle-class neighbourhood in a suburb of Toronto. I knew nothing of racial discrimination except what I saw on TV news and even then it was a violent thing that occurred in another country.

There wasn't a single black student in any of my schools until late high school, when I recall twin girls arrived. If memory serves (and it may not!) they were treated as celebrities. Everybody wanted to know about the girls, talk to them. But now, as an adult, I wonder if perhaps I was blind and deaf to other things that may have been done or said to the twins. If so, then I can only offer a humble apology.

Being a girl, and a smart one, I did know something of the sting of discrimination in school, though I wouldn't have known to give it that label. It didn't help matters any that I was also on the chunky side; not hugely overweight, but not slim either. There were sneers and jeers, whispers and name-calling for all of those things I was. Fatso, Browner, and because being left out hurts, Crybaby (kind of explains the whole body image thing I struggle with to this day).

I was never one of the cool kids with lots of friends, never truly a groupie, often watching from the sidelines. While most girls played hopscotch, jumpsie and skipping rope at recess, I could be found with a pocketful of alleys (marbles) or a few chestnuts on strings (conkers) waiting for the boys to let me play.

I knew how to handle a hammer, screwdriver, and wrench but there weren't any school subjects that used those tools until I got to middle school. Of course, "Shop" as it called then, was not offered to girls. While the guys were making cool stuff out of wood, I was struggling with needle and thread in "Home Economics."

Best toy box ever - my Dad's tool box!

That that was the 1960's and early '70's and thankfully things have changed. Even fifteen years ago my daughter was able to take a carpentry course in high school. I confess to having been all but overcome with envy when she brought home a lovely side table that she had crafted out of pine. Oh, how I would have loved to put my hands to such work in school. Given the chance, I think I would have been a carpenter, or at least developed a huge carpentry habit.

1978 - My love and I begin building our house

The key phrase is "given the chance." There are so many more chances for women now than were available to me when I was growing up. There are opportunities to use all the abilities we bring to the table regardless of whether we conform to some gender expectation or not. But as much as life is about being given a chance, it is also about taking a chance; knocking on a closed door, pressing a toe against an unlatched door, and striding through an open one. That's the other bit of insight I gained from the movie Hidden Figures. The women took chances.

I wish I could say that we've been able to bring all our sisters along with us into new opportunities. I can't. Gender can still be an issue. Ethnic origin is a barrier for far too many, and now religion has re-emerged as a roadblock for sister and brother alike.

Give a chance. 
Take a chance.
Be Bold for Change.

©2017 April Hoeller

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Thursday, or Thereabouts - March 2, 2017

A time to sew…

This takes every morsel of my concentration and determination, every ounce of my courage and fortitude. When it comes to that branch of the domestic arts and sciences that has to do with fashion, fabric, needles and thread, I have little more than rudimentary skills and even less desire.

I was a straight A's academic smarty pants in school. Physical Education, Art and Home Economics were an entirely different story. I couldn't jump, run, skip like the other kids. I couldn't paint, draw or create pretty things out of paper. I couldn't knit, sew or serve perfectly toasted white bread with just a smattering of butter and dash of cinnamon.

My first and only knitting project, a pair of slippers meant for an adult foot, looked like they would fit an eight-year-old. A problem with the tension you think?

Auntie Elaine with my daughter on her wedding day, 2015
(probably not sewing advice)

The skirt I was required to make in grade 8, was only saved from complete disaster by my Auntie Elaine. She did her very best but my unique skills were impossible to transcend. It was a memory maker not only for me but for the teacher, Mrs. Graham who upon meeting me six years later remarked, "Oh April - that skirt!" She then struggled to contain laughter. She failed.

It may come as a surprise then, that I do have a sewing machine. It's a 25+ year-old Kenmore that was bought when money was scarce and little ones needed flannelette blankets, clothing repairs, and pants shortened, and rooms needed rod-pocket curtains. If it’s a straight line with a straight stitch I can usually accomplish it.

First, though I have to devote a minimum of 30 minutes to making friends with the machine again, figuring out how to load a bobbin and place it in the bobbin case, preparing the needle and top thread, then picking up the bobbin thread. Phew! And my palms begin to sweat just hoisting the machine out of the closet.

After putting off the task as long as possible the day comes when I must tackle the sewing job and today is the day. Actually, yesterday was the day, but the thread I pulled from my late mother-in-law’s sewing box was so old – I think it was one she brought here when she came to Canada in 1953 – that once set up in the machine it broke every few centimetres of stitching. So off I went to the shops to buy new thread.

Now I’m ready, again. The pant legs are pressed and hems pinned, the bobbin is in place and I’ve managed to thread the top needle – only swearing twice, okay maybe three times – and now the top and bottom threads stretch out behind the gleaming needle. My clammy hands flutter over the stretchy fabric while my right foot hovers over the presser foot…

Shhhhhh…April is sewing.

What? You want pictures?! Oh, I think not! Well, not about sewing anyway.
How about a few of the places I'd rather be than sitting in front of a sewing machine...

I'd rather be...

enjoying breakfast in Cordoba, Spain

slurping oysters in Dunedin, New Zealand

(no explanation needed)
buying figs in Crawford Market, Mumbai
cycling along the Appian Way in Italy
sitting at a cafe in Mykonos

And I did get the sewing job done - the hems are straight and even, but the stitching not so much... Honestly, who is going to notice??

©2017 April Hoeller