Thursday, 19 April 2018

A to Z Challenge - Q is for the Queen of the Mall

Mom and I, January 2002

Today I again offer an excerpt from the memoir, a work in progress, about walking with my late mother through the tangles of dementia. In today's piece, it is February 2002. Mom is nearly 81 years old and she is recovering from a stable impacted hip fracture. It's early days and we are just beginning to discover that a hip fracture is the least of our problems.


Following her hip fracture, my sister Cathy and I took Mom to the mall every Friday, for some shopping, lunch and a visit to the hair salon. We discovered that she was quite the celebrity at the mall. Cheerful waves and greetings, “Hello Irene!” announced her wheelchair parade through the wide concourse. It felt a bit like accompanying royalty and so we dubbed her, ‘The Queen of the Mall’. If a pumpkin can become an elegant carriage, then surely a wheelchair can become the royal landau!  Mom loved it.

While she was being primped and coifed, Cathy and I made our own stroll through the concourse. Nobody greeted us with waves and smiles, but a few had stories to tell. Mom’s beloved pharmacist  was more than eager to help the Queen, and told us that on several occasions in the past six months or so, he had convinced Mom to let him sort through her BIG RED shoulder bag, loaded with all kinds of pills – blue ones, red ones, white ones; pink and yellow and green ones; some prescribed, most not. Each time he threw out the junk and counseled her at length about which drugs to take when. On a few occasions, he told us that he drove Mom home because she seemed so very confused and flustered.

The cosmetician at the pharmacy was also happy to meet us. We learned from her that several times over the past months, the Queen had come into the store looking somewhat disheveled – buttons done up wrong, sweater twisted, pant leg caught up in hosiery and the like – and that she had taken time to redress her. She also tried to discourage Mom from making purchases of the same items bought the week before, but every week, Mom insisted that she had to have the Vichy cream and the red lipstick and the blue eyeshadow. As always on our visits, she asked us how Mom was and then in a more serious tone inquired, “Now, how are you doing?”

I must have looked a little ragged, though I thought that I was doing great. I worked a full schedule, never missed a beat, and I devoted every Friday, my day off, to Mom. Though the number of troubling revelations was increasing, it was happening at a manageable pace with plenty of time for each new piece of information to be digested, categorized, rationalized and strategized. But at night when the day was far spent, the busy world was hushed, and the clock struck 0-dark-30, I lay wide awake, sometimes for hours, tormented by the dementia demon hissing in my ear...
“She’s got it, you know...
She’s gonna shit her pants and wet herself...
She’s gonna become a drooling, smelly, gorked out old soul sprawled in a gerichair.
Soon she won’t have a clue who you are.”
Back in the Mall, Cathy and I crammed ourselves along with the Queen in her wheelchair into a public washroom. She balked at using the handicapped stall. “I don’t need that!” she barked. Then she refused to take her bulky winter coat off, but instead impulsively stood up, stepped forward and stumbled over the footplates. She sagged back into the wheelchair. “Oh, I’m going to wet my panties if you two don’t do something!” She began to cry.

I crouched down to move the footplates out of the way, then looking up at her, I took her hand and gently pleaded, “Mommy, please let’s get your coat off so you can move more easily.”

She snatched her hand out of mine and snapped, “Oh all right, but hurry up.”

We got Mom into the cubicle and she latched the door. With a sigh of relief flecked with sorrow, I slumped my back against the door. It was only then that I saw the woman at the sink washing her hands. Our eyes met in the mirror, her face, lined with wisdom was brimming with compassion.

Her gentle words, little more than a whisper traveled the space between us, “All you can do is love her.”

Mom at 18 years old

©2018 April Hoeller

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

A to Z Challenge - P is for Pen and Paper

image courtesy of Laywine's

Almost all of my writing begins with pen on paper, as opposed to fingers on keyboard. There is a highly favoured writing instrument for this activity - a fountain pen. Not just one, but three lovelies await my write hand.  The oldest is Montblanc No. 22 that my husband bought for me some 50 years ago. It's quite light in the hand and was one a line of 'economy' pens that Montblanc made in the 1960's. It has stood up well, but as it is no longer my 'go to' pen, it rests quietly on my desk, an emblem of fine writing.

Montblanc No. 22

Fifteen years ago, a Parker Sonnet, made in France, was added. The perfect weight of this pen in my hand, the fine balance; the perfect tapered thickness of barrel between my fingers, the lush coolness; the satin smooth flow of specially blended ink accompanied by ever so soft scratching sounds as letters become words at the tip of a golden nib; all work together to make writing the most natural, most soothing, most pleasurable thing in the world.

Parker Sonnet

Two years ago, I set off in search of a third pen to join the lineup. I discovered Laywine's  - Purveyors of fine pens, papers, and writing accessories in Toronto.

OMG if you love writing by hand, if you long for the feel and flow of a good pen, then this is the store for you, (but perhaps not for your credit card). Not only is there a magnificent array of fine writing instruments, there are also journals and stationery, many specifically crafted for the fountain pen of your dreams. Add to this, an eye-popping selection of inks from around the world and you know that you have arrived in handwriting heaven.

After having been asked a host of questions about my writing habits, the salesperson presented me with several pens to test drive. Weight, balance, ink flow, nib size were all tried before I settled on Lamy 2000, a piece of impeccable engineering.

Lamy 2000

Enough already with the drooling over a pen!  What about paper? The fountain pen comes with a history and character that only some papers can bear. The paper must be smooth enough to allow the pen to move unimpeded across the page, thick enough to resist bleed-through and plentiful enough to encourage whole truths. The store had just right paper too, of course, and even a number of paper-perfect journal books.

And now to write -

Balanced perfectly in my write hand, my fingers cradling the smooth slim body, I gently press the tip to the page. Words are delivered to paper with just the right amount of ink and the page receives them with grace, spelling mistakes and all!

©2018 April Hoeller

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

A to Z Challenge - O is for Owl & Others

Barred Owl
...and Other birds that grace the land outside my door.

Some, like the owl, are large...

Cooper's Hawk
Pileated Woodpecker
Wild Turkey
Juvenile Cooper's Hawk
Ring-necked Pheasant

Others are small but more frequent visitors...

White-breasted Nuthatch
Black-capped Chickadee

Indigo Bunting

Slate-coloured Junco

Northern Cardinal - Female
Northern Cardinal, Male
Hairy Woodpecker
Baltimore Orioles
Rose-breasted Grosbeak (male)

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

And the omnipresent, rain or shine, snow or sleet - Fred and Ethel the mourning doves:
Mourning Doves

"And what matters most is not whether we hide or fly or even where our journey takes us -- but what guides us home and where we come to land."
(closing monologue from Call the Midwife Season 7, Episode 5)

©2018 April Hoeller

Monday, 16 April 2018

A to Z Challenge - N is for NOT NICE

Not snow, but ice pellets!

The weather in these parts is NOT NICE! Spring has been pretty much a Non-starter this year, reluctant would be a generous description. My current 'forecast' is that this season of promise will amount to the two or three days between the furnace going off and the air conditioner coming on. You heard it here first!

This past weekend, ice pellets, freezing rain, and erratic winds whipped up a mess of weather, obliterating any plans that required going outside. The constant chattering of the ice pellets on my windows sounded like so much static on a radio, so much so that I had to seek refuge away from my usually comfy kitchen. The sound was so very irritating to me.

And when I did go outside, (the pup needs walkies), the wind-driven ice pellets delivered a biting exfoliation to exposed skin. It felt like I was being sandblasted!

The view from my sun (???) room. Ice art on glass...

...I also have to confess to being a weather geek. I love a good storm. And so in the midst of all the miserable cold and precipitation, I was tracking the storm, watching the temperature gradient and the wind data. It's in my genes.

My late father, Bev Cudbird, was a weatherman, a meteorologist with Environment Canada until retirement and then the staff meteorologist for radio station CFRB from the late seventies to the early 1980's. I like to think he pioneered that media role. Of course, radio has some definite advantages over TV; presenters don't have to worry about what they're wearing, and as in my Dad's case, one doesn't even have to be in the studio. Most of Dad's broadcasts came from the upstairs den in my parents' condo in Etobicoke. If you listened carefully to some of those broadcasts you could hear the chattering of the two teletype machines that spewed out the latest observations and forecasts on reams of newsprint paper.

For Dad, there was no room for moaning and groaning about the weather, though there was plenty of room to chastise forecasters for spending so much time peering at the radar and studying forecast models, that they forgot to look out the window. I can see him now, tearing off a sheet from the teletype, looking at the latest official forecast, ripping it in two and yelling, "Look out the goddam window!"

He would take a weekend like we just had with its icy mess and tell us how good this is for soil moisture and lake levels, how good this is for food crops - bright green peas, long orange carrots and later in the season, bright red tomatoes, warm from the garden. So that's how I'm going to look at these days - a luscious tomato in the making!

I feel better already!
Thanks Dad!

Bev Cudbird, The Weatherman
1914 - 1984

©2018 April Hoeller

Saturday, 14 April 2018

A to Z Challenge - M is for Mom

Today I offer an excerpt from a memoir, a work in progress, about walking with my mother through the tangles of dementia.  The year is 2003. My 82-year old mom has been in long-term care for just over a year.

You May Go to the Ball

“A wedding, Mom! Your grandson is getting married. Woo hoo!” I pumped my arms in celebration.

“This calls for a shopping trip!” my sister Cathy chimed in. “We need dresses and shoes.”

Mom was unmoved, pale blue eyes seemed fixed on some faraway landscape.

“Any ideas about what the grandmother of the groom would like to wear?” Still nothing. I grew impatient and with more edginess than I meant, barked, “Mom?”

“Yes dear, what?”

“Andrew is getting married!” I pointed to a picture on her bookshelf, “this guy."
“Oh yes,” she smiled. “I need more peanut butter. And where is my bright pinky mauve lip gloss? The nurses here steal everything!”

Cathy and I rolled eyes at each other and shrugged. “Tell you what Mom,” Cathy bubbled, “I’ll bring in some bridal fashion magazines next time. We can get some ideas from them and have fun looking at all the brides.”

Over the next few weeks, visits with mom were spent thumbing through umpteen bridal magazines. Lots of bright colours on the pages caught Mom’s attention along with bare arms and overly exposed cleavages.“That’s disgraceful! No bride can walk into a church looking like that!” Then with a snap, Mom turned the page to view the next candidate. “Red?! Those bridesmaids look like hookers!”

And so it went. Occasionally something I thought suitable – elegant yet understated – would appear on the page. Mom was not once impressed with my suggestions, but after much page-flipping announced that she knew exactly what she wanted – a full-length gold dress and stiletto heels.

 Having scouted out a route through the mall beforehand to avoid encounters with low height shiny jewelry, candy and pastries that in the past had proven to be too big a lure for the fashionista in a wheelchair, Cathy and I steered Mom into the plus sizes women’s store. While Cathy kept Mom occupied checking out the’ New Arrivals’ section, I sought out a saleswoman.

Please God, spare me from a chatty twenty-something-year-old with zero sense and less tact. And God delivered – a fifty-ish woman with a kind face stood at the sales desk. I nodded in greeting then presented the white business card:
“Our loved one has Alzheimer’s
and may say or do strange things.
Thank you for your understanding.”
Having read the card, the woman looked up at me with eyes liquid with compassion. Gentle words filled the space between us, “How can I help you?”

“Well Mom’s grandson is getting married,” I said with a raised voice so Mom would hear, “and she would like a gold formal dress.” I then lowered my voice to add, “Size 18 to 20 petite. Do you have anything close?”

“I have just the thing.” Then she disappeared into the stock room. Minutes later she emerged with not one but three gold, full-length dresses. She walked directly over to Mom and presented each gown to her, telling her about the fabric, the cut, and the maker.

Mom listened intently while her hands explored each fabric. On the third dress, her fingers found a price tag. She studied it for a moment then flicked it away. Curling lips snarled, “Well that’s far too big for me! I’ve never been more than a twelve all my life.”

I  sucked back my breath and braced for a tantrum. My mind raced to work out a way to get out of there with some decorum and mother too. But the saleswoman took the tag in her hand, stared at it for a moment, then chuckled and shook her head. “Tsk! Someone has put the wrong tag on here.” Looking directly at Mom she continued, “I’m so very sorry. You just can’t get good staff anymore!”

Mom bought it, the whole nine yards. Cathy and I had to turn away to suppress our giggles and gratitude. Composure regained we mouthed thanks to our sales angel. In the fitting room, we struggled to get dresses on and off Mom. We were clumsy at best but careful to keep all price tags out of Mom’s sight. In the end, it was the “wrong sized” dress that Mom fell in love with.

I watched her stand before the mirrors, straight and tall, and give her head that familiar tilt. A nod and a smile of approval flooded her face, then she turned to face her daughters. The shrouds of dementia evaporated. Wide-eyed, I beheld my mother, the sophisticated New Yorker. I think my heart stopped. I know it was a few minutes before I could speak.

Back out at the sales desk, my hand shook as I offered the credit card. I blew out a sigh a relief then a raspy “Thank you so very much.” to the woman who made my mother whole again, if but for a moment.

On to the shoe store! I knew full well that the chances of finding stiletto heels in a store my children called "the old folks' shoe store" were nil or worse, but my sister and I were on a roll. After presenting our business card to a bleached blonde, gum chewing forty-something saleswoman – a flicker of fear rippled across her face as she read but she controlled it – Cathy showed her the dress and the shoe parade began.

A scene reminiscent of Cinderella followed. Every pair offered to Mom, every full leather, flatish dress shoe presented to her small bunion-distorted feet was greeted with a screwed up face, tightly curled up toes and fully arched soles. “Oh no, I can’t even get my foot into these... Owww, they’re way too tight! ...I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing them!”

Mom got fed up with our sense of style and sensibility. She pushed herself out of the wheelchair and hobbled over to the display. With a squeal of delight, she picked up a gold, higher-heeled shoe adorned with what I considered to be a confusing array of thin straps. But did it fit? Well of course it did! Or so the grand dame announced with glee. And with that, she rose again from the wheelchair to glide her feet across the floor, tall, proud and elegant.

I, on the other hand, followed behind Mom doing what must have looked like some kind of scarecrow imitation, arms flailing from side to side ready to catch any faltering step or loss of balance.
Mine was a wasted effort. Mother’s stroll around the store was the smoothest, surest walk I’d seen her take in over a year. Priceless!

At the cash, my sister and I acknowledged each other with self-congratulatory nods and smiles. We had done it: full-length gold dress and not quite stiletto heels to match. Mother had done it, shaken off the shackles of dementia twice in two hours.

"Mom, you may go to the ball!”

©2018 April Hoeller

Friday, 13 April 2018

A to Z Challenge - L is for Labyrinth

Writing in the 4th century, Augustine penned, “all problems can be solved by a walk.”  While he may have been a tad overly optimistic, I know that in my experience, a walk settles me, gives me time for perspective, a cooler head to prevail and often opens to me a solution to what ails me.
Neither the location nor the pace seems to matter.

A stroll along the beach, a hike in the forest,

...or a power walk along the street where I live, all afford me benefits beyond just steps on my pedometer.

A dozen or so years ago, a colleague introduced me to the path of a labyrinth.

Medieval Labyrinth in Chartres Cathedral, dates from the 11th century
I was skeptical - how could walking around in circles be of any value? It took some months, more than a few walks around the winding paths before I discovered that a labyrinth walk can soothe, comfort, and for me, deepen sacred relationships. It proved to be a walking meditation that traced the journey of my life: circuitous, complex, and anything but a straight line.

In 2006 my colleague and I scribed over half a mile of pathway into the ground in the backyard of the church where we worked. It took the two of us about five full days of bone-jarring, muscle-vibrating work with a weed-whacker to etch an 11 circuit Chartres Labyrinth into the ground.

Some years later we fashioned a wall hanging for a local dance company to use in a dramatic portrayal of human spirituality. The four corner colours, represent, clockwise from the bottom left, earth, wind, fire, and water.

Also a Chartres (medieval) pattern, this wall hanging adorns the space above the fireplace in my living room. I look across to it from my kitchen and if I linger there a bit, I am able to recall the comfort and serenity that I was gifted with on so many labyrinth walks.

When I'm traveling, if I discover a labyrinth nearby, I will drop by and if the spirit moves me, take a stroll along the path.

Five Oaks Retreat Centre, Brant Ontario

Bath, England

Sometimes I can let my fingers do the walking...

San Martino Cathedral, Lucca Italy;
labyrinth dates from the 12th to 13th century

Labyrinths are good for me when I am tired of words.

Loretto Maryholme Retreat Centre, Roches Point Ontario

©2018 April Hoeller

Thursday, 12 April 2018

A to Z Challenge - K is for Kitchen

Photo taken just after reno. Believe me, my kitchen has not looked this uncluttered since.

I love my kitchen.

I cook, plan, write, and connect here.

I day dream here.

My desktop computer is here allowing me to recollect people, places and adventures I had through my digital images. I blog here.
My most prized cookbooks are here.

My late mother is here too. Not just watching over me from her photo on the shelf, but on the pages of her cookbooks where she left comments.

I live in my kitchen.

It is a place of tears and laughter; heart to heart conversations and silly banter; sometimes a burnt offering and many more taste sensations; evocative aromas and sweets.

Roasting garam masala spices 

Indian Feast: Paneer biryani on the plates, chicken tikka masala, aloo gobi, pappadums & naan with raita and mango chutney

Mexican Feast: shrimp ceviche, guacamole, black beans with rice and corn, potato and chorizo tacos, and tinga de pollo

Hot Cross Buns for Lent

Raspberry Jam

Cassis - black currant cordial
commiserations and celebrations,
expletives and finely written words,

bread and wine, and coffee

©2018 April Hoeller