The Lighthouse

the lighthouse

16 May 2016

The chase.

A shadow of shadows slips over the shrub outside the window like a blanket dragged over an unmade bed. It is a reflection of the cloud overhead that chases the sun across the sky.

09 May 2016

A note to Araby

To the very kind person who has been leaving comments throughout The Lighthouse ... in Arabic:

Thank you. I'm so glad you're spending time here, and it's so good of you to take the time to share your thoughts. I can't help but think, though, that as you've at least seen (if not actually read) eight or so posts here, you must have realized that I don't write in Arabic, but am, in fact, English (Dutchlish at a stretch). I've run your comments through Google translate but still can't make sense of it, so I wonder if you might be better off spending your time in another way?

Again, thank you. I wish you well... and somewhere else.

05 May 2016

Oh, the books

I have been reading. And talking. There has been so very much talking.

Dutch family was visiting, so the talking was a curious mixture of Dutch and English. My words haven't quite untangled themselves yet, so they remain a curious mix of Dutch and English (Dutchlish?) When I open my mouth to speak now, I'm not sure what is going to come out so I get tongue tied. Or I speak more slowly and simply to make sure I'm understood. This has to stop soon, because I'm getting looks of sympathy from people who surely are thinking along the lines of, "Oh, the poor girl! Perhaps she has bumped her head?"

The reading has been very welcome as it signals the end of a book drought. Hoorah! A book drought is never pleasant… rather like being on a dinghy in the middle of the ocean, surrounded by salt water and unable to take a drink.  There are so many books in the world, so why is there nothing for me to read? One day I picked up a book and it was exactly the right story at that time. I was utterly drawn in, and when it was over, I found another, then another…

Reading so many stories back-to-back, I’m not always able to untangle myself from one before starting the next. I kept waiting for Esme, from The Bookstore to appear in The Writing class, then when I picked up Season of salt and honey it took me a while to remember it wasn’t the war-time England of The Summer before the war.

That’s one I'd like to tell you about: 'The Summer before the war' by Helen Simonson is a book I've been waiting for since Simonson published her first, 'Major Pettigrew's last stand' in 2010. (I wrote about it here.) Major Pettigrew is a difficult book to describe... it is endearing and charming; a story of manners particular to its time and place. I enjoyed it so much that I passed it on to everyone who would listen to me, and remains at the top of my list whenever I'm asked, "What should I read?" To find a new (or new-to-you) author is a wonderful thing, isn’t it - like stumbling upon an undiscovered country and having a whole new territory to explore. Hester Browne, Marisa de los Santos, and Helen Simonson have brought me such adventures in reading.

So, I had hoped and waited for Simonson to publish another book ever so patiently, but years passed so that I gradually stopped looking for it. (As I had with Annie Barrows after 'The Guernsey literary and potato peel pie society', then this year – at last! - she released ‘The truth according to us’.) And then suddenly, there it was, all unexpected, on the new book shelf looking dreamily enticing in its period-piece way with the girl on a bicycle, red scarf flying behind her. I was intrigued by the title and the book cover ("Don't judge" they say, but a book cover either grabs your interest or it doesn't, don’t you think?) and because I like stories of war time Britain I had high hopes for this one.

I was not disappointed, though total honesty leads me to say it isn’t the gem that Pettigrew is. Like Pettigrew, ‘The Summer before the war’ is a charming tale of manners in the English countryside, but whereas Major Pettigrew is a man uncomfortable with how modern life is changing and wants to hold on to the old ways, Beatrice Nash is well in advance of what is expected of women in 1914: she is educated, well-travelled, capable and independent-minded. She finds herself suddenly relying on the benevolence of distant family, expected to comply with their plans for her. In order to salvage independence and integrity, Beatrice obtains a job in Rye as a Latin teacher, and as we’ve learned from Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple mysteries, life in the small villages of England is far from bland or boring. There is enough intrigue, plotting, gossip, and romance to keep Beatrice busy through the war years and beyond. Also of interest, one of the characters is studying to be a trauma surgeon, and we follow him to the Front, getting some sense of what those conditions were like.

I recommend ‘The Summer before the war’ to anyone who enjoyed Major Pettigrew, was hooked on Downton Abbey, likes stories of English life, or is keen on World War fiction.

I’d like to hear if you’ve discovered a new author, have stumbled on an unexpectedly good book, or finally got your hands on a long-awaited next novel. Leave a comment! In English, please – or even Dutch! (This, to the person leaving me comments in Arabic. I think.)

11 April 2016

Funny bone moments

I'm keeping my eyes open for a job opportunity for Number One Nephew.  In the way of the internet - whose highways are circuitous and tricksy - checking out the local libraries somehow landed me on the Stats Can site, where there are applications for census jobs.

In the "Who should apply" section, they ask for people who "are interested in a job that counts"


The government made a funny.

~ * ~

Funny bones at work:

The day of a popular program, a caller asked, "Will there be tickets available when I get there?"
Hmm... using my powerful ability to know everything, I of course know when you are going to arrive.

Patron, "What time does the program begin?"
Me, "The program starts at 10."
Patron, "Oh. What time should I be there?"
Me, "Probably before 10:00."

A young lad of about 10 years old was eager to take part in a stop motion movie workshop but it was very popular and he was on the waiting list. He phoned us himself the day of the program to let us know, "If someone doesn't show up, I can come."
It was very sweet to hear this very young voice in a grown-up situation; I applaud his parents for encouraging him to handle the matter on his own. It tickled my funny bone because of the offer he made: I just wanted to let you know that if someone doesn't show up, I'm available to take their place.

~ * ~

Funny bones with boys

Number Five Nephew calls being barefoot 'in my toes'.  For example, I'll ask him if he wouldn't like to wear his shoes when kicking the ball in the backyard. "No," he'll reply, "I like being in my toes."
Likewise, going shirtless is 'being in my tummy'.
He also has a routine before bed in which he 'jams his toes'.  Toe jam, as you are aware, is the lint and fluffies that collects between your toes. The process of removing it, according to Five, is known as 'jamming' your toes.  "Time to crawl into bed, Five," you'll say. "Ok," he says, "I just have to jam my toes first."

08 April 2016

Challenge your librarian; go ahead, make her day

When people find out I'm a librarian, the response will most often be, "Oh, I'd love to work in a library, with all those books. You must read all day!"

Yes, yes I do read all day. I read lists of items to patrons who wonder what they still have out. I read information to help someone answer a reference query. I read lists of books to people who want to be told what to read next. I read review journals to stay abreast of what other people are reading. I don't actually spend the day with a cup of tea dipping indolently into book after book for my own pleasure.  Well... not while at work, that is, but that is my idea of a perfect rainy day, actually.

Another common response with glazed-over eyes, "Oh.  I'm not much of a reader, actually.  Do people still use libraries?"

They do, in fact.  And no, that question isn't off-putting. (Yes, I do resort to sarcasm when my back is up.) Libraries are busy, vibrant places, with a lot on offer. Come and knock on our door... we've been waiting for you.

Quickly, before I lose your attention, I'd like to say that I firmly believe that nearly every person is a reader. You may not fit the image you have of what a reader is: that of someone who lingers in an armchair for hours, poring over the pages of a tome on the role of Catholic universities in the Middle Ages, or giddily recites passages of Proust, bookmarks falling from pockets all the day long. (A True Reader would never fold down the corners *cough* *Mrs. Tree* *cough* and is always prepared with a bookmark.) Maybe car magazines turn your crank (haha!), or you scan the sports section of your newspaper. You might like to browse recipes, or look for directions on how to build a tree house. You might even be addicted to researching your latest interesting health symptoms.  Every one of these is reading, and you're doing it for your own self, not because a teacher is expecting a report at the end of it.  The trick is to find your thing, and that's where your friendly neighbourhood librarian comes in. We love to connect people with just the right thing to read (truly, it is my favourite thing about the job), so go make her day and challenge her!

06 April 2016

Bread; oh the bread!

Back in the early days of the year - the short, dark, oh-where-is-the-sun days of winter, I decided to tackle my fear of bread.

Please understand: I am not afraid of bread itself. I eat it often and quite happily! But I have been afraid to take on the making of it with mine own hands. Yeast seemed far too delicate a thing for me, for truly, if something is dependent on me to carefully and tenderly nurture it to fullness of life, it will instead find itself withering. Just ask the many...lo these many and more... houseplants that were taken out to the curb in kitchen bin liners. Plus there is the kneading which seemed a complicated process, and also that none of the pizza dough I'd attempted had ever turned out really well.  So, from bread I have remained at a respectful distance.

Have you noticed how many tutorials there are on YouTube? (I have more to say on these tutorials, gentle reader, but shall refrain for today) And also the books written about bread must rival the stars for their number. Here is what I have learned: there are as many theories, guaranteed methods, and thou-must-nots as there are people sharing their wisdom on the making of bread. Some of them were very mathematical (baker's ratio?) which was daunting and intimidating for my brain. (My brain used to stick its fingers in its ears and sing, "la la la la" during math class in school.) There is such conflicting advice as well: work it vigorously; no, don't touch it at all! Start with the dry ingredients; no, always the wet! Count every grain of yeast; meh... just eyeball it, bread is forgiving. No! Bread is very, very particular!

Then I found a most wonderful bread book, The River Cottage Bread Handbook by Daniel Stevens. It explains the steps very clearly, and also what is happening along the way, which is helpful when you need reassurance that all is well. Stevens begins with the dry yeast process, and then tackles sourdough (made from a starter for which you 'catch' wild yeast. Imagine!) He includes a few non-yeast recipes, ideas for how to use old bread, and even how to build a clay bread oven - a project for the summer, perhaps?

I have found his recipes to be clear and understandable. Not inconsiderably, I also find the book pleasing to use due to its size and shape and the fact that it stays open to the page I want.

I've been measuring what I hear and read from other sources about bread against what I've learned from River Cottage. I've come across books that offer one recipe for a starter/biga/poolish but none of the breads are made using that recipe. Other authors go on about how it's done in their professional bakery - which, frankly, does me no good whatsoever, being as I don't have a massive floor mixer, a wheel-in chiller, or super-high heat steam ovens.

So far, 14 loaves of bread have come to life in my kitchen. The first two were rather dense, loaves 9 and 10 were very nearly perfect, and the last two were honest to goodness sourdough.  I was quite chuffed.

Not only have they been turning out well, my little loaves, but I've gained confidence that I understand what I'm doing. I've also become fully and completely enamored of the process. The first time my dough did truly double in volume and even had gas bubbles forming on the skin, I did that laugh/cry thing that really needs a name of its own. I can feel how alive the dough is, and am fascinated by the transformation it goes through from one stage to the next.

Here's what I have learned:
~ making bread is not difficult, but it takes as long as it takes. Very little happens at your own hands: in between a little stirring, then a little folding, then some shaping, the dough does all the work on its own. Don't rush it.... rather, enjoy it.
~ moisture is a good thing. A dried skin on your dough prevents expansion, so keep it moist.  The best trick I've learned so far (from River Cottage) is to keep the dough in a plastic bag. (Dan says to use a black bin liner, so that's what I've been using, though I think any plastic bag of sufficient size would do.) This provides a humid environment and also keeps the dough out of drafts.
~ weigh ingredients rather than measure as it is more accurate.
~ for all the measuring, a good loaf of bread comes down to becoming familiar with the process and seeing the results. There are so many factors at play from temperature of your kitchen that particular day, to how long its been since it rained, that you will have to adapt the recipe according to your circumstances. The only way to be able to do that is through experience... but just think of all the bread you're going to enjoy along the way!
~ allow the oven to preheat for at least half an hour. (I go for an hour, with the baking tray heating inside as well.) You want it good and hot. Boil a kettle of water, and when you put the bread in to bake, pour boiling water in the oven to provide steam. Steam is what develops a beautifully crispy crust.
~ bread is a wondrous coming together of flour water and salt.  That's all you need. Have you looked at the ingredients list on a bag of store-bought bread? What is all that stuff? (I don't include yeast in the list because it is naturally occurring when you combine flour and water. You tend it for a few days until it becomes strong enough to leaven your dough, then away you go!) (This is what is called 'catching' wild yeast, which I just love the sound of, don't you?)

I'm hooked. I love it, all of it, from start to finish. I'm making more bread than I can eat, and my freezer can only hold so much, so I'm going to have to start giving it away.

Are you a maker of bread?  If you've never tried, I enthusiastically encourage you to give it a go... and do let me know how you get on!

29 March 2016

Of oversized beans

In the dying days of 2015 my journey to work took me along the edge and over the big bridge before heading inland toward the waterfalls. This happens to be a portion of the route connecting The Centre of the Universe to The Border. This means that vast numbers of large trucks go to and fro along this stretch of highway.

Do you find them mysterious, those large transport trucks? I do. What could they be lugging from one end of the country to the other?  Sometimes we can see their cargo of shiny new cars, or they might be carting pigs to market (let's not think of where the pigs really are going), but what of the enclosed trucks.  Are they full of bicycles? Socks? Q-tips? Limes? Mmmm... limes.

The particular trucks had open beds carrying very large...somethings... strapped down with giant-sized bungee cords. Each truck was part of a procession that included a police car with lights flashing and a pick-up truck bearing a sign: OVERSIZED LOAD. The oversized bits looked like segments of a concrete tunnel large enough to drive a car through.

Every day I would see at least one of those processions, if not on the way to work, then while heading back home. Sometimes it would be while driving home from visiting the Nuts, and that route is a straight line down the centre on a rural route. Were they following me? Was it all a figment of my imagination? (I'd been spinning stories about what the pieces were for, everything from a jail break tunnel (I don't let facts like there being no prison in the area stop a good yarn from being spun.) to a tunnel under the lake  for cyclists.

Then one day, to my surprise, I noticed a tower far off in the distance - like a cold war remnant outpost . Being a clever girl I deduced the giant concrete rings I'd seen booting along the roadways were components of the tower, but it wasn't until the next day I saw the tower was becoming a wind turbine, and that the horizon was littered with them. It's like they were planted in a wind turbine garden and the garden blossomed overnight - like Jack's magic beans.

I'm not sure whether wind energy is safe or efficient, or what the long term effects are on people or environment. I do think, though, that the turbines themselves are beautifully sculptural, especially from a distance. There is something pleasing about their steadiness, and their link to the past for they bring to mind the charming windmills of yore. I marvel that they make the invisible,visible and harness what happens naturally for our use.

I wonder what else might suddenly appear on the horizon one day?