The Lighthouse

the lighthouse

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?

08 March 2016

Of living on the edge and Bruce Willis

I used to live in the middle. It was a geographic oddity: 20 minutes from everywhere.  Now I live on the edge which is 20 minutes from ... more edge. I didn't think it made much of a difference, but I recently discovered how a person experiences this region I call a Slice of Heaven on Earth very much depends on whether you are a middle-dweller, or an edge-liver.

One of the differences has to do with Sohoe being part of the St. Lawrence Seaway. The canal has 8 locks for shipping traffic and 8 lift bridges for road traffic. When going about your day in the middle, you become accustomed to seeing very large vessels travelling next to you, and you learn pretty quickly to either check bridge status (is it up? Do I have to find a way around? Where is the way around? Rats, I should have brought snacks.) It's cool to see this tangible evidence of how our small and relatively out-of-the-way neck of the woods is connected to the rest of the country. Not only that, but is a vital link in the well-being of the rest of the country.

Living on the edge, however, I may see the big boats out on the lake but other than lending picturesque interest to the scenery, they have no impact on how I go about my day.

Then last week I decided to visit Historic Town and chose a meandering route (we pronounce it 'root', not 'rout') that took me into the interior. What a shock to discover the waterway was dry! And being dry, I could see that the canal is actually quite shallow. It was almost disappointing: here I'd been imagining the ships (boats? lakers?) with massive hulls reaching deep, deep, deep into the water. Instead it looked almost like a tall person with a scuba mask would be able to walk across the canal bed and still be able to breathe. (Perhaps a leetle beet of dramatic license here)

I got to imagining all sorts of calamities that could lead to an emergency emptying of the canal - and as I drove further it turned out to include each of the locks as well. How had I missed hearing of this massive drought? No, surely not... a water leak, maybe? Collision!  There'd been a collision which resulted in catastrophic spillage of something environmentally frightening!  But how could I not have known this devastating thing happened? Ought we to call Bruce Willis to save us?

As I paid more attention I began to notice construction crews decked in day-glow safety outfits swarming over the structures. If there had been a noxious spill of some sort, surely hazmat suits would be the uniform of the day?  A niggling thought began to grow that this wasn't a dramatic event at all. And sure enough once I got home and did an internet search it turned out what I witnessed was regularly scheduled maintenance work coinciding with the annual winter shutdown of the canal.

Rats. We don't need Bruce Willis for that.

07 March 2016

Of bullets and journals. And office supplies!

When you read the words 'bullet journal' do your eyes light up and do you have a reflexive impulse to reach for your washi tape? Or do you mentally go through the 12 steps of an addiction recovery program, giving thanks for having got out of the BuJo craze with sanity intact?

For those of you who's first thought was along the lines of "huh?", a bullet journal - or bullet journaling - is a life style devoted to...

I'm kidding.  Sure, if you do a web search of 'bullet journals' the results will give you page after page of blogs devoted to them, and YouTube is overflowing with people eager to show you just how they bullet journal. (Yes, it is both a noun and a verb.) You wouldn't think there could be that much to say about it, but there you go... I'm sure there are many dozens of channels devoted to this very thing and their videos are long.

What exactly is this bullet journal business? Well, let's being by talking office supplies. More specifically those office supplies designed to help organize, schedule, and track all the nitty gritty facets of life: agendas, notebooks, actual journals, blocks of sticky notes, calendars and such like. Do you ever find yourself standing in the store flipping through all the many varieties of agendas and notebooks monologuing about how you don't need a list of international calling codes, nor even, fun as it may be, a world map of time zones, but could really use more blank pages for all the lists you tend to write (the lists that include tasks already completed so you can cross something off. Ta da! I am efficient and productive in manner of terribly organized person.) Or perhaps you like the daily layout of this agenda but that one has a better monthly format? And what about the other one that is very nearly perfect but it's slightly too big and has a soft cover in the most vile shade of purple ever seen? And after careful selection you find yourself still writing lists in multiple notebooks and stuffing the agenda with sticky notes.

Bullet journaling is ... hmm.  Well, it's a system, I suppose. (I was going to say way of life) It is an endlessly customizable tool, to your precise specifications because you're the one who designs the layout, what goes into it, and how you run with it once you've made the choice of what notebook to use.  There is no special (ie. high-priced) 'official' journal you must use. I've seen tutorials and blog posts from people who use expensive German notebooks but also regular issue find-it-at-the dollar-store notebooks.

The idea is to set up what ever yearly, monthly, weekly, daily calendar pages you need, as well as keep lists, jot reminders, record special events, track goals, document expenses or any ol' thing that might be important to you.  There are certain elements that are common to bullet journals that make bullet journaling a 'thing' and distinguish it from a typical store-bought organizer. One is having an index, another is having a standard set of symbols to quickly inform you if a notation is a note, a task or what have you. While that may not sound like the bee's knees, once I thought it through I cottoned on to how brilliant it is.  Of course, the cottoning happened days after I first saw how some people were bullet journaling and near passed out from the anxiety attack.

You know how some people put their photos in an album but some people get all scrapbooky about it with the stickers and 3D embellishments and the perfect calligraphy? Well, there is a large contingent of bullet journalers who have bedazzled journaling to a whole 'nother level. They doodle like they have a PhD in doodle arts. They calligraphy as though taught by a medieval monk. Did you know there is such a thing as decorative tape? There is! Pretty sticky tape in gorgeous colours with designs in the Country Chic, or Barnyard Cute, or Modern Minimalist styles meant to make putting borders around your pages a breeze.  There is even an industry now that supplies notebook add-ons like ribbon bookmarks and pen loops. It seems there is no end to the possible embellishments possible, though I do believe there are people who are working diligently and hard to find that end.

And then these extreme bulleters give viewers or readers a tour through their most recent month of journaling. This is an actual thing people do!

I'm all for being organized. The Lord knows I have a thing for pretty office supplies. I look at some of those pictures and videos and think, "Gah!!" I mean, they sure are talented people and the results of their labour are gorgeous, but it stresses me out! I don't have Copperplate penmanship, I cannot doodle, and know beyond the shadow of a doubt that if I have to decorate a title page for every month (remember having to do title pages in elementary school?  Again, "Gah!") as well as make every single page pretty in colour-coordinated inks, I'd get no further than the middle of the first month - and that's being generous with myself.

The saving grace of all this is that I found a blog post today in which the author encourages moderation and keeping it simple. I love keeping it simple!  I realized after reading it that I am already using some of these principles in my current agenda, but now have ideas for how I might eliminate the proliferation of notebooks and sticky notes... as well as have some fun with whatever creative impulse happens to strike. I sure am tempted to buy a brand new book to give this a whirl, but in the spirit of keeping it simple I'll stick with what I've got.

Do you BuJo?  If so, are you extreme?  If not, are you the tiniest big tempted to find out what it's all about?

29 February 2016

Of nuts and tea in China

The Lighthouse was begun as a way of documenting life with the Nuts - my wonderful nephews as well as their Mama and Papa Nut. At the time, the five boys ranged in age from 9 down to 1. There were high-jinks, much laughter, lots of fun, and the occasional tearful episode. Leap ahead to today, and Number One Nephew is on the cusp of 16 while the 'littlest' boy will soon be eight years old. I'm glad to have all the stories to look back on, for it truly was a most wonderful time and I know I am fortunate beyond measure to have had a share in their daily life for those four years. (My brother-in-law is a patient and generous man!)

A year ago the Family of Nuts welcomed a bundle of pink joy into their number. Five big brothers fell in love with a sweet baby girl with absolute delight and wonder. This weekend we celebrated Little Nutlie's first birthday and I tell you, that delight and wonder shows no sign of waning in the slightest.

Time passes and life changes... and I wouldn't trade today for yesterday for all the tea in China (though I'd come close to it to have them in my lap for snuggle time with books again)