The Lighthouse

the lighthouse

31 December 2009

Comfort and joy

Happy New Year, dear reader. I hope for many dreams fulfilled for you in 2010. Life is full of challenges -- may it also be sprinkled with comfort and joy in good measure.

Thanks for keeping me company here at the Lighthouse. God bless you and yours,

Sincerely,
Tess

30 December 2009

Love letter

My dearest Pop,

I love you, and I miss you. I've tried to write this so many times today: to tell you about the memories floating through my mind; how suddenly I feel the aching emptiness again, like at the beginning; how I wish you were still here, while at the same time I'm grateful for the good that has happened this year, and am so glad you no longer have to endure suffering.

I know that you are praying for us. I feel you nudging me, telling me to get on with it and I'm trying to make you proud. We are doing ok, even if we're still a little shaky at times. This year has brought me to a place of peace and freedom in a way I never could have imagined before - I think you would approve, Pop.

We talk about you often, especially with the Peanuts. We tell them your stories, and we see you in them in so many ways. They keep you with us, and keep us going, as only kids can. Thank goodness for them, or we'd really be lost. Please pray for them, Pop; Malcolm especially could probably use your Guardian Angels.

And don't forget about us. You're still my dad, and I still need you, so don't forget. With God's grace I will see you again some day.

I love you,

T.

29 December 2009

Pass the Dutchy

I am Dutch. I'm a Dutch girl. Some people are Irish, but when they say they're Irish, they mean they've got the whole of the British Empire swimming in their gene pool, but they like to drink green bear on March 17. Both sides of my family tree are very tidily Dutch, which is lovely, because the Dutch are a tidy people.

I'm proud of it, my tree. I think the country is beautiful, I love the traditions, and the people are an intriguing blend of practical, adventurous, staid and open minded. I have a Dutch name, and when I try hard, I can spit in the distinctive way the Dutch have when speaking (think Schhhhhiphol airport). However, I'm short, my once blonde hair has long since turned brown, it's been years since I've been on a bike, and I'm really not very fond of fish - pickled, fried, dried or otherwise. This little nut has not grown up to be like the rest of its tree.

Every now and then, I have to do what I did today: visit a Dutch store, stock up on salty Dutch candy, browse the endless variety of cookies stuffed with almond paste, listen to the music, scan the magazines, drool over the cheese, get misty-eyed over the wooden shoes, and reconnect with memories and traditions from childhood.

I feel a kinship with the people who work there, and recognize a certain something in the guy scooping big helpings of double salt black licorice out of the bin, or the woman having a hard time choosing between mild Edam, or smoked Gouda to go with her crusty rolls.

Every Dutch store sells Delft tiles, and to me they are not only beautiful, but familiar, and right. They are as much 'home' to me as a post card of the CN Tower is to Torontonians. Tulip fields, windmills, pastures of cows, tidy canals - they signal comfort and contentment to me.

You might not know it to look at me, but I've got Holland running through my veins. It felt good today, to acknowledge that part of me that remembers where I come from.

27 December 2009

Eat, pray, love



I am reading this fabulous book, Eat, pray, love by Elizabeth Gilbert. It was highly recommended to me by someone who's literary taste I trust completely - my sister. She read it and got a lot from it, and so, finding myself between reads, I borrowed it from the library. I'm on page 72 of 331 so far, and I agree with her completely: it's a fabulous book. Way back on page 14 I knew I wanted to have a copy of my own so I would be able to really savour it, linger over it, and read it again and again. The very best books are the ones you can dip into, at any part, read only a page or two, and experience the same fulfillment you had at reading the whole thing, cover to cover for the first time.

This is the true accounting of a year Liz spent 'finding herself'. I was worried at first that it was going to be very self-conscious, condescending, and new age emptiness. It is none of those things. She writes with honesty, kindness and wit. She is obviously a woman who loves words and has worked at perfecting her craft of writing.

I am definitely going to be telling you more about this book, but I can't stop reading it yet to talk about it.

26 December 2009

CTKS - Christmas version

At Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, as the carolling came to an end the lights came up in preparation for the liturgy. Number Four Peanut became very excited, and called out "Hooray!"


At the end of Mass, Four again, became very excited, this time calling out "We did it!" To which Three replied with "Yeah! Now we can go home and open presents!"


Sitting at supper on Boxing Day, Two said he wished that Santa Claus would come back. Thinking I knew the answer ('cause Santa would bring more presents), I asked him why. He said it was so that he could say thank you for the underwear.


Five got a lot of cars for Christmas. A lot. Cars in his stocking, cars from Mommy and Daddy, a car from Oma. He now wanders around the house, clutching five or six of them - depending on how many he can hold - in both hands and holding them to his belly with his arms. If one drops, he gets very upset, because he hasn't figured out how to pick it up without losing the rest of them. He gets very insistent that you help him. If he is called away from car holding for any reason - say for a meal or a diaper change - he very carefully puts them down one by one, meticulously lined up in a row.

We've had a snowfall here in Sohoe. Two, who is a SnowPeanut if ever there was one, said he hoped there would be two 'grownup feet' of it in the morning.

Leg of lamb for supper. Two picked at a piece on his plate, saying it looked a little gross. Maybe it was an eye socket or something. Anatomy is not yet his strong suit.

Why the hair industry sucks

This topic was suggested by my sister (who is known for the purposes of this blog by turns as JB, my sister, Mama Nut, Big Nut and whatever else strikes me in the moment). Fifteen minutes ago she flew out of the house, hopped in the car, and hied off to Schmoppers Drug Mart. Five minutes ago, she peeked in my room to share with me her latest hair woe: she had purchased a new contraption - a hair band - with super grippers on it (like those on the socks of wee children to prevent them from slipping on the floor) which are meant to keep the band from sliding over the hair and off the head.

(Background: her hair is growing out, and needs managing. The go-to solution of many women is a simple ponytail. But when JB works out, a lump on the back of her head can be uncomfortable. Hence the mad dash for an alternate)

She stood in my room, holding her herself delicately still, as if she was balancing volatile nitro glycerin on her head. We could both see the grip-equipped hair band begin to travel from its original location, before finally morphing into a ponytail holder at the back of her head, which, as she already has a stash of elastics, makes this new purchase redundant. Unless of course, it had actually performed as it was supposed to: staying wrapped from just back of the forehead to the nape of the neck, keeping her hair out of her face.

Why is it that toothpaste comes in 47 formulations, cough medicine is practically individually prepared to meet your specific symptoms, and ketchup is available in 14 different dispenser options, but when it comes to women's hair accessories, the selection is woefully limited? My sister and I come from a long line of thick-and-stubborn-haired people. Thick-and-stubborn hair has greatly different needs than thin-and-fine hair, or curly-and-wild hair, or perfect-and-annoying hair. One clip or elastic or bobby pin or hair band is not going to be the Fabulous Product each of those hair types is looking for.

The hair industry needs to get on board this issue, and offer accessories for all women. I just might start a movement - we'll march, and petition, and run impassioned fund-raisers on public television. I'll design a ribbon for our cause: a very large and sturdy hair band.

24 December 2009

Christmas Eve

We are balanced on the delicate edge of excitement and losing our minds here, in the House of Nuts. With five boys under the age of 10 having endured four weeks of building up to this moment - Christmas Eve - there is a simmering awareness that the least thing could ignite the powder keg, causing them to spontaneously combust, taking us Big Nuts with them in a haze of giddy insanity.

It's a difficult task, curbing their enthusiasm without extinguishing their wonder and joy, but a necessary one, because they can't maintain the high level of excitement without burning out. And frankly, we can't endure it any more than they can.

How wise the Church is to guide us throughout the year, giving us periods of fasting, preparation, celebrating, and ordinariness. We need all of them, in balance, in their proper time. We have had four weeks of Advent - a time of waiting and preparation - and now, at last, Christmas is upon us!

I've felt a great deal of trepidition about this one. It's The First One without Pop, and if you had asked me four weeks ago, I would have preferred to not do it at all, thank you very much. However, the intervening time has brought some peace. Most of all I've come to accept that I don't miss him any less because we're still celebrating Christmas. It's ok that I'm not miserable without him. It's taken a year to come to this point - a very long Advent.

Christmas is about hope and promises fulfilled. My Christmas wish for you, dear reader, is that you will experience the truth of that over the next 12 days.

A most blessed Christmas season to you and yours from the Lighthouse.

23 December 2009

Of ice and skates, eh?

It is a stereotype of Canadians that we were all born on the ice, knowing how to skate. Fortunately for our mothers, we aren't actually born with skates on our feet, but we are all expected to know how to swoosh around a rink with competence.


Tonight I swooshed on a rink overlooking the Falls, which was pretty spectacular in itself, but I was excited to just be on the ice. It was like I was taking my place in a Canadian brotherhood - the Brotherhood of the Ice.

By no means am I a champion skater, but I love the sound of my blades biting into the ice, and how my body feels when it remembers how to stay fluid through the knees. I love going fast enough that I can feel wind through my hair. I love leaning into the corners, balanced on the outside edge of one blade. It's a solitary activity I can do in the company of other people - perfect for a reclusive introvert who needs prompting to interact with others. I enjoy the challenge of having to look out for where other people are, anticipating their movements and maneuvering my way around them. Successfuly evading log jams, pile ups and groups of giggly girls on the ice gives me a zippy high; it satisfies my competitive self without anyone else knowing the game we're playing.


Now, the morning after, I still have a happy glow. It's like I've renewed my membership dues: I went skating, and I. AM. CANADIAN!

CTKS

I am going to be wrapping Christmas presents today! (Mama Nut, making an announcement)

Oh! Can I help? (Number Two Nephew, very eagerly)

No you can't help! (Mama Nut, surprisingly declining his offer)

But I promise I won't look! Or I'll only look at the back of them! (Two, trying very hard to change mommy's mind)



Number Five Nephew, after having a clean diaper put on, stood up to put his pants back on. Both of his legs somehow ended up in the same pants leg. He looked like a little mermaid ...er ...merboy? He leaned against me, resting his head on my shoulder, and said "Oh no" in a very sweet little voice, and waited patiently for me to help him fix it. He had to wait a while, because I couldn't stop laughing.


Oma Nut arrived a week ago, and the Peanuts were very concerned that when she came into the house, she didn't bring any presents with her. She told them that she had forgotten the gifts at home, to which they replied "Don't worry, Oma. They have toy stores here, too!"

22 December 2009

How toilet paper brought a tear to my eye

I had a car-less period which lasted for about 3 years, a few years ago. That was in The Place before The Last Place I lived. I managed to get around quite well, with the bus service and the intervention of some good friends. Those friends were greatly appreciated because I was very self conscious about transporting toilet paper on the bus, so whenever the opportunity presented itself, I would buy a large package (36 double rolls) in order to spare myself the mortification of having other people know that I, too, used paper. Silly, I know. I like to think of it as an endearing quirk.

Today, while waiting outside the store mentioned in the post below, I spied a family of a mom and three kids come out, each of them carrying a large package of toilet paper! I got misty-eyed at the memories of those days I would get home, satisfied that I was well stocked in the tp department.

It's the simple things, folks.

Of products - not projects

Inspiration for this post came from my Friend From The Tree. Today, I am going to discuss products. Hooray!

One of my favourite places to get products, is the pharmaceutical supplier known as... Schmopper's Drug Mart. I can spend hours wandering the aisles of this schmopper's mecca - and not for their selection of drugs which are actually quite limited, considering the word is right there in the name. If you don't already know, this is the place to schmop...er...shop for the latest best selling novel, gift wrap, scented candles, phone cards, photo developing, processed cheese slices, bathroom paper, and my favourite - cleaning supplies!

That's right - I get excited about cleaning supplies and I don't care who knows it. There is a brand from this store that I really like, called Method (as I have nothing but good to say about it, I won't bother disguising the name). Everything about it is good, from the packaging to the product. They have laundry detergent, hand soap, all purpose cleaner, wood care and -- this is what I recently got giddy over -- a floor cleaner that doesn't have to be diluted in a big bucket and mucked about the floor with a stinky old mop. It can be sprayed from a specially designed spray nozzle right on to the floor (guaranteed to not puddle, but rather land in a perfectly dispersed mist) and then swished around with your implement of choice. Hoorah! I like clean floors, but I don't like having to dispose of the yucky water after the fact. I haven't had the chance to try it yet, but I'm presenting this as my first Fabulous Product.

Right away, I have a second Fabulous Product selection: household wipes. Doesn't matter the brand - I haven't come across one yet that doesn't do the job, though there may be one or two that are a little better than the others. I think it's a wonderful concept: a cloth that already has the cleaning solution on it, and can then be thrown away. No need to keep the old germs and gunk hanging around the house. They are perfect for quickly wiping down the bathroom, for sanitizing door knobs and faucets, scrubbing countertops or whatever else needs doing. I even use them to quickly go over the bathroom and kitchen floors. Convenient! Clean! Two of my favourite qualities.

Something that will not make it onto my Fabulous Products list is blister packaging. A thing more frustrating is hard to conceive. Have you ever found yourself struggling with increasingly larger pairs of scissors until you have a machete in your hands, trying to get at the Batman action figure, or the toothbrush say, only to end up with tiny cuts on your hands and fingers? Whose idea was that, and how did they think it was a good one? Not fabulous at all.

21 December 2009

Supreme

I often go to oneword.com to loosen up the writing muscles. That's a good idea, actually - I only now realized it. Writing is an activity that requires endurance and focus and practice, much like running does (well, except it isn't aerobic or cardio or anything like that) so it only makes sense to limber up first, instead of jumping in cold.

Oneword.com is a website that provides a word every day, with a little box in which to write, and a 60 second countdown. Once you click 'write', the word is revealed, and you have 60 seconds in which to write something inspired by the word of the day. Then you can choose to have your blurb posted on the website, or not, as you like.

Today, the word is 'supreme', and I wrote about pizza. Deep, huh? Deep in profundity, that is. I didn't mean deep-dish Boston-type pies. Though I could have written about those, to be sure. I would have said that they aren't to my taste at all; that regular crust is the way to go, and the more sauce and cheese there is, the better it is.

Other posts on the website talked about God, and the supreme court. I felt very... intelligent with my pizza contribution. What would you have written about, if you had 60 seconds to write about 'supreme'?

19 December 2009

Mysterious ways

I've had cause to reflect on the mysterious ways of God, lately. It has led me to think about people who struggle with the idea of God, and those who do not believe at all - atheists. I'm one of those Catholics who is in it all the way: Papal infallibility, Immaculate Conception, virgin birth, sin, redemption, sanctity of life from conception to natural death (including the whole business covered by Love and responsibility/Theology of the body), miracles and eternal life - all of it.



Even freely believing in God and accepting the teachings of my faith, having had a little instruction, there are many things I do not understand. One of the big ones is how God moves in our lives. He is real and present in our individual lives. That can be relatively easy to accept - it speaks of love and tenderness, and let's face it, once you've accepted the concept of a 'supreme being' who has created the universe and so on, it's not a big leap to also accept He would be aware of you, right?

The trouble comes with the dichotomy of the Omnipotent who is not also a puppet-master. As ominous as it sounds, our God is all-seeing, all-knowing, all-powerful, but it's important to know that He does not do everything...He does not live our lives for us, manipulating our every thought and action. He is the source of all things, He is the initiator, the creator, the artist. Do you see the distinction? He is not the action or the work itself, but rather the spark of imagination, or the impulse to serve.

This has been made clear to me in my own life over the past year. For example: my dad died last December, and death brings with it many challenges, from the practical details of arrangements and finances to the intimate reality of grief and mourning. If God were a puppet master, I would expect Him to remove the difficulties altogether, Instead, He worked through other people to provide our family with the love, support and skilled help we have needed over the past year.

As another example, I have been unable to find steady work since moving a year ago. So many people in many beautiful ways have reached out to me, providing me with shelter, contract work, the opportunity to pursue a dream by taking some classes, and now literally everything (from food to kleenex) comes from the generosity of people who love me. Such heroic generosity is possible because they are open to the Divine Impulse - they allow God to work through them.

God's economy blesses every party involved: my generous benefactors grow in holiness and experience joy; I - a chronic worry-wort, needing to be self-reliant and independent - have been given the gift of knowing Matthew 6:25 is true:

"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet
your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?

God provides. But the truly beautiful thing is that He makes it personal: through your generosity to me, I have seen the Face of God. Thank you.

17 December 2009

Finish line

Well, dear reader, the job is done. At around 4.30 this morning, I was able to add those wonderful words "The End" to my short story. (I didn't actually write those words, but I sure said them to myself. Out loud. I may have woken somebody up, but I'm not sorry for it.)

It feels so good to have it done at last. As it is right now I don't think it's very good, but I do think it has good potential. I plan to keep working on it for myself, because the areas that need tweaking bother me, and I don't want to leave it in this incomplete state. The important thing is, the deadline was met. Hoorah! My eyelids have felt like they had gravel in them all day long, but that is a small price to pay.

I'm already looking forward to the next class, but am so very glad there is a bit of a break. The last day I remember this week was Monday. I'm pretty sure today is Thursday, but I have no idea how we got to this point. I think Tuesday and Wednesday were good days, but I couldn't swear to it.

For now, I can write just for fun! How exciting! I feel like I've been set free to play with all the toys, and I'm a little giddy at the thought.

16 December 2009

Perseverance

I can now count by hours how much time I have left to finish the last writing assignment. Tick tock. I think I heard clocks ticking in my dreams last night. Even the digital ones went tick tock. I've avoided, procrastinated, excused and moaned. Some of you have been recipients of one or all of the above, and I humbly beg your forgiveness for it.

This behaviour baffles me, because while I am stellar at avoiding mundane details of life, I'm not typically one to put off school work. Something about this assignment has gotten under my skin; it makes me uncomfortable. It has provided insight to myself...and that is hardly ever completely pleasant. The difficulty I've been having with this last unit - the one I deliberately saved for last - took me by surprise. Of all the kinds of writing we've covered, I was sure that straightforward fiction would be the easiest. To quote Depeche Mode: Wrong! I've been wiggling like a worm on a hook, unable to find a decent plot idea, develop believable characters...even deciding whether it would be humorous or not has been difficult.

Two nights ago, around 9.30, I got a flash of an idea, and right away knew: This is good! It came from one line of Scripture (I don't remember what it was...I had the Bible with me, hoping for inspiration or at least a Divine kick in the posterior. God has nudged me to action in the past.) And so I began to write. For hours. Until 4.30 in the morning. 2,362 words later, I went to bed, knowing where the story was going, and realizing that the beginning was no good, but workable. Reading it again the next morning, I realized what I had bled into the keyboard the night before was clumsy and full of unnecessary filler. So I started over again, reworking the opening altogether, but still content with the general concept. I also did something I'd never done before - not even for essays and reports in school - I mocked up an outline, working out the progression of the plot, and working out precisely how it would end. All day yesterday, I managed to complete one and a half paragraphs...and today I am unhappy with them, because I have boxed myself into the scene. I have to scrap another day's work.

This morning, I have had another idea about how to handle point of view and arc. But I have only today to do the whole thing: first draft, editing, rewriting, editing, rewriting. It's going to take a miracle of inspiration, discipline, focus, industry... and perseverance.

I came across this quote today:
Though perseverance does not come from our power, yet it comes from within our power
~ St. Francis deSales

A subtle nuance in the words of dear old St. F deS. Perseverance is not ours (it comes from God) but it is up to us to apply it. Like all grace, actually. Charity (love), forgiveness, endurance, fidelity, holiness etc. are all attributes which require our effort. We must practice them - just like the piano - in order to become good at them.

I've leaned that writing is work. Boy, is it work. It is hard! Laborious. I've felt betrayed by that realization, because until now, writing has been something I do only because I enjoy it, and I have a certain facility for it. I've never had to persevere with writing when not flushed with inspiration. It's been rather humbling to face the fact that even I (!) have to slog through the effort of production when there is no inspiration to pave the way.

I have to guard against distraction (like the men working outside our window doing who knows what with the telephone cables, the cute-as-buttons-Peanuts, and the ever seductive internet), and discipline myself to persevere through the dry periods.

There are only hours left to complete this mamouth task. My dad was very disciplined (in certain areas of his life. Even he struggled with it in other ways), so I'm asking for his intercession today. I need help, Pop. I've got to get this done, and I want to do it well. Be beside me today, and guide me through this difficulty. But I know the effort is mine to make.

Whatever there may be in your life that offers a challenge of perseverance, I pray that you will be able to meet it and overcome it.

14 December 2009

Monday of joy

Hello, dear reader. It is the Monday after Gaudete Sunday, sometimes called Joy Sunday, or Pink Sunday. It's the third week of Advent, during which we light the pink candle...get it? The anticipation for Christmas is building, and the light is growing brighter as we get closer to the coming of the Christ Child.

Here in the House of Nuts we had a really lovely pink candle day. The tree was strung with lights, and baubles full of memories were hung in its boughs; Peanuts were bursting with exuberance; the sun shone (well, actually it rained, but for the purposes of the theme I've got going, let's pretend the sun shone brightly); yummy aromas of baking permeated the house (that part is true).





In the picture, is Five, waiting patiently after lunch, while we were busy cleaning in the kitchen, for someone to come and get him out of his chair. He would occasionally call out "all done!", and wait some more.





Do you remember the story of the cookie sheets? The ones that I'd originally bought didn't fit in our wee oven, so I gave them to Oma who has an oven of adequate size. However, here in SOHOE, we have an actual grown-up stove with full-sized oven, so Oma graciously gave the cookie sheets back. Yesterday, I put them to good use, baking up a batch of delicious pumpkin cookies. The cookie sheets are aMAZing! I feel as proud of them as if they were my own invention. (I was so struck by the beauty and size of the trays, I had to take a picture before the cookies were even baked. Note the wings on the sides for easy handling with oven mitts; the smooth edge closest to us, so delicate creations can be gently scootched off, rather than manhandled over the rim...genius! And the size! 25 large cookies on one sheet!)

After the Peanuts were in bed, we put on the special extended version of Lord of the Rings. The story seems perfectly in keeping with this time of year. Tolkien didn't set out deliberately to write a Christian allegory, but as a devout Catholic, his imagination, creativity and craft were undeniably informed by his faith. LOTR is a story about struggle, journey, enduring, hope, and ultimately, victory of good over evil. Sound familiar? We only made it to the end of the Council of Elrond...a mere 1/6 of the way through the whole saga. We are sadly out of movie marathoning practice!


And, to top it off, there was wonderful football news. While my beloved United lost their game on Saturday (a great upset, as all the stats pointed to a sure win... goes to show, numbers lie threfore math is pointless) my bestest player of all, Ryan Giggs - he of the Welsh national team, and 20 years of devoted Unitedness - has won the BBC sports personality of the year award. With all the awards and accolades he's received over the years, this is nowhere near the top in terms of prestige, but reading headlines about it today, nearly all mention something about "Humble Giggs" or "Modest Ryan". They also go on to mention something about declining years, swan songs or other such blather. He's 36 years and one week old, which may be 85 in footballer years, but he's showing no signs of needing to hang up his boots. I think he's got a lot of beautiful football left in him. Congratulations, Mr. Giggs.




I wish you all a week of joy.

11 December 2009

Squirrels

Squirrels are random thoughts that run across your mind, distracting you from what you were just thinking, saying or doing.

I have a few such random thoughts to offer today:

Why do film sound editors not realize that scenes with music or action should only be as loud as scenes with dialogue? When characters are talking, we have to crank the volume up. When music enters in, we have to dial it way down. Annoying.

Today I saw a car with two sets of fake antlers attached to the windows, much like people display hockey flags during the interminable playoff season. One on each side of the car. It looked odd, to be sure, but it made me smile.

There is a large Creche set up outside one of the public buildings in our nearest city. Baby Jesus is already in His crib - a few days early - but they're all there, nearly large as life, and right out there in plain sight. Hooray! I must remember to let someone know I approve and appreciate it.

I had to call a government agency today, and while I waited for a while for my call to be picked up from the "priority seqquence", the person who ended up taking my call was very friendly, very capable, competent and kind. Not only was she able to answer my question, but was able to do much of what needed doing for me right on the phone. Wowza! (An experience of good customer service!)

We have bananas that need doing with. I'm thinking banana bread.

I have an ear worm (a song that goes around and around in your head; you can't get rid of it for love nor money). It's a rather annoying one that goes something like: ra ra ra - la la - la la la ga ga ga...I want your love. I don't know what it means, and that makes me feel old.

The Peanuts are watching Where's Nemo. Oops, that's Waldo. I mean Finding Nemo. It's the part where Ellen Degeneres speaks in whale - one of the funniest bits ever.

Over and out.

08 December 2009

Pie, deuxieme partie

You may (or may not) remember the Grape Pie Incident. (Go here to read about it)
You also may or may not know that I have been 'home alone' for the past 4 days. Well, all the Peanuts are coming home today, and yes, I am going to attempt to feed them upon their arrival. I have been able to muster a decent spaghetti a time or two, but really, who can't open a can of sauce? And, I've always had Mama Nut (my sister) around to be backup, should I forget something dire, like how to chop an onion. (Actually, to be brutally honest, I've never mastered the proper onion chopping technique - that oh so elegent way of 'slice slice let go' to make beautiful little cubes of onion fall apart onto your cutting board. I tend to just go at it with a sharp knife until it's in bitty pieces)

I am, dear reader, going to attempt another pie, but this time, I am going to make the crust myself. HA! I have found something called "The Best Ever Pie Crust Recipe" on epicurious.com, which sounds rather convincingly good. Not precisely easy, but my sister JB, assures me that most people take far too precious an attitude toward crust. So I shall rely on TBEPCR for quantities, and then just go for it. No freezing of ingredients or utensils. No chilling. No Novenas to St. Zita, the patron of kitchens. I shall just march into the kitchen with confidence. I am master of my flour and fat and...salt (had to double check the recipe on that) and the result will be two bee-yew-tee-ful meat pies, ready for my beloved family to feast on.

Speaking of feasts, it is, today, a superlative feast day, as you will see in the post below. So, I have also baked a chocolate cake. This was a cheater though, as it came from a mix. Hmph. Still, I shall devise something yummy to accompany it with frozen blueberries, which I know are snuggled in the basement freezer, waiting to be useful.

If I am able, I shall post pictures, but really, don't hold your breath.

* ~ *

Update:

Whose idea was this? Stoopid pie thing.
The lump of dough and I have retreated to neutral corners; we're not quite seeing eye to eye.
I'm comforting myself with the knowledge that the meat filling tastes sublime.

* ~ *

Further update:

After residing in the fridge for an hour (or so), and then sat upon the counter to 'rest' (because sitting in the fridge is exhausting, no?), the dough balls were attacked. That's right: I attacked them. First with a sharp knife to divide them, then with a rolling pin to flatten them, stretch them, and generally beat them into submission. But only after they reduced me to tears. Nearly. I tried to roll them out, just like in the helpful videos I watched online. I tried flipping the dough, and giving it a quarter turn after each pass of the pin. It cracked at the edges, stuck to the counter, broke into pieces...argh! I eventually put it together like a puzzle in the pie plate, scooped the yummy meat filling in, and managed to cover the top with another blanket of dough. It turned out, in the end. Hoorah!

Mater Dei, Ora pro nobis

Today is the great Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. Many people (too many Catholics among them) think that the 'Immaculate Conception' has to do with Mary's virginity. I can see how the misunderstanding happens, because it sounds about right. However, it has to do with the fact that at her own conception, in the womb of her mother, Mary herself was made immaculate - free from the stain of original sin. God prepared Mary with the grace required, should she choose to accept the call to bear the Son of God. He made it possible for her to say yes, but the yes was hers to give.

That is an extraordinary gift, freedom from original sin -- and while we have not been given that grace, God does give us the gifts we need, individually, to answer His call, whatever it may be. Our part is to choose how we will answer.

Mary, Mother of God, you who were conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to you.

07 December 2009

My snow globe




Research

Dear reader, I am conducting an informal pole:

Do you feel a fundamental obligation to answer the phone when it rings?
Do you have to answer the door when someone knocks?
Are you unable to not reply to an email?

If a person answered no to all of the above, does that make them mysteriously reclusive or merely a dysfunctional antisocial?

Cue Christmas

Today I feel like I should start to get ready for Christmas. There's been some talk around the house about Christmas plans, and I know that some little things have been tucked away in secret corners for the Day. We've got the Advent candles on the dining table, and we've been praying the Advent prayers before meals. Advent calendars have been raided each morning for their chocolate treasures, and daily readings have been replete with messages to prepare the way, make straight the path and so on.

With all of that, I still haven't been feeling remotely Christmas-minded. Part of me is tucked away in a quiet place, because I don't want to do this without my dad. But today something happened which poked at and awakened the Christmas spirit: it snowed. Is snowing, actually. I have to squinch up my eyes to see the snowflakes, and they're far too few and fragile to even make it to the ground, but nonetheless, snowflakes they are. Outside my window.

Now I'm longing for boughs redolent with the aroma of winter woods. I want clusters of red berries to display in clear glass vases. I'd like to hang twinkly lights in front of the windows, and dangle victorian icicles in the tree outside. It's time to ponder Christmas baking. More importantly, I need to really devote some time to examining my spiritual state in order to be able to really enter into Christmas fully prepared to receive the Christ Child.

All of this led me to think about people who live in the Outback, or Monte Carlo or...wherever else the weather doesn't really change from season to season. Falling snow is a cue to deck the halls for us in the Land of the Big White; how do they switch over emotionally from ordinary time to 'Prepare ye the way of the Lord'? Is it the incoming flocks of Canadian geese? The blossoming of an indiginous winter-only flower? I'd like to know.

05 December 2009

Puttering

I love to putter. Puttering makes me very happy; it satisfies something fundamental in my being. I have done floors and windows, laundry and dishes, even baked a little something. I've watched Band of Brothers, read from Julia Child's account of her life in Paris, and watched a beautiful game of football in which my beloved boys won by a respectable margin of 4-0. It's so good to be productive, and see the results of your efforts.

The key to puttering is to enjoy what you're doing. Do not think about the next job, or rush through what you're doing. It's ok to indulge in a cup of coffee or a glass of something nice. Put on some lovely music to set the mood. There's no need for urgency or stress -- two nasty qualities which take all the joy out of life. They are joy suckers.

It is good to work. It is good to work hard. However, I think we've gone wrong in our understanding of hard work. You don't need deadlines, multitasking, rushing about, unreasonable expectations or an unpleasant boss in order to work. Work shouldn't have money as it's driving principle. Too many people work for money, while their souls wither into prunes without their noticing.

Puttering isn't about being lazy, or selfish. It's about recognizing the value of each day, and desiring to live each moment with my whole being. When I putter, the work I do is accomplished with joy and peace and a willing heart.

I have to go and change the laundry around. Then I'll read the paper over a cup of tea, I think. Happy puttering!

02 December 2009

Dibble dop

That's how a picture book described the sound of rain: dibble dop, dibble dibble dop. It is dibble dopping rather ongoingly here, today. Rain has a way of making a house feel cozy and warm, safe and comfortable. I love the sound of it tapping against the window. Tonight it sounds as though the raindrops are wearing ballet shoes - it's a rather soft, subdued, graceful sort of rain. It makes me a little homesick for the camping we used to do in our trailer. On evenings when it rained, we'd pull out Yahtze and listen to the rain hitting the roof, very thankful to not be in a tent. Rain like this calls for a good book, a cup of something warm and welcoming, and flickering light to read by. If at all possible, do so from inside a trailer just once. That'll be a dibble dop to remember.

CTKS

When discussing a young boy the Peanuts know, Two wanted to clarify who he was talking about, he said, "You know, Tommy Smith, who lives in my backyard?"

Five is developing a rudimentary vocabulary. Well, sounds that are starting to resemble words. Among them are:
'kay (when you ask him to do something, he says "'kay")
wa you doon? (He goes up to you, and asks what you're up to)
lello (yellow, obviously)
night night; bye bye; hi; low
eye; mou; bow (for eyebrow)
guy
up
help! Oh! help!
Most of the time, it still sounds like "mng gnk gnk" but he says it with all the love in his heart.

Silence

The house is silent. The phone isn't ringing, elephants aren't rampaging through the rooms, light sabres aren't 'vwooing' at top volume. Occasionally a car goes by, but more often than not, it's a dog walking it's pooper scooper past the big front window, but it's like watching a movie on mute. It makes the empty space in my head echo endlessly. That must be why I tend to put music on so often - it fills up the emptiness, and deadens the echo so I can hear my thoughts. The ocean would serve the same purpose. I'd dearly love to be in my lighthouse right now.

30 November 2009

Grateful

Years ago, a young girl won the first in a long series of an American singing contest reality tv show. Her first album came out, entitled Thankful. I remember reading the liner notes, and really liking a line she wrote at the end of a long list of people she thanked for getting her to that point. She said that if there was anyone she had overlooked, to charge it to her head, not her heart.



This came to mind because the daily readings of late have had a theme of gratitude. It seems to me that gratitude is particularly important when times are tough. It's good to remember that everything we have is a gift.

It's when times seem very hard, that I realize gratitude requires trust. I am grateful for everything, even the challenges, but I can only be grateful because I believe that God has not abandoned me, has not forgotten me, nor is He trying to break me. I trust that He's got the bigger picture, and that He is, fundamentally, love. Not hallmark love (soft and mushy), pizza love (in the way we love everything ie. "I love Clive Owen" "I love apple pie" "I love crocheting") or even the love we feel for each other.

I know some of you readers very well, and I love you. But if you were to hurt me in some way, or we lost touch over time, that love would fade...at the very least be bruised. God's love endures, and it is personal. It isn't always gentle or kind, but it endures, and it is specific to each of us. He loves Anita because He knows her. He loves Carly because He created her. He loves Sharon because He really sees her. He loves Olga because He's part of her. He created us, as individuals and that is a very personal, intimate, aware act. He doesn't just love humanity in an impartial "gee, I did a good job there" kind of way an inventor would feel about his gadget coming off an assembly line. His hand is on each of us, when life is boring or hard, or absolutely perfect.

Every aspect of our life is touched by God. He is present in every day, every moment. His love is alive in a baby resting under its mother's heart in the womb; He looks at us through the eyes of the broken man begging for change on the Church steps.

I've had to remind myself of this many times. There is a longing in my heart to have a clear mission of purpose in life. I want to be used for something important. Instead, my life is small, and getting smaller all the time. To look at me, from the surface, you would think I am being diminished. However, I know that is not the truth of it, and I am reminded again and again to give thanks, to be grateful.


There is a litany in the book of Daniel, which illustrates how even the simplest of God's creation gives Him glory by praising Him according to its nature:

Bless the Lord, all you works of the Lord

Praise and exalt Him above all forever;

Bless the Lord, you heavens

Praise and exalt Him above all forever;

Bless the Lord, sun and moon...

Bless the Lord, rain and dew; fire and heat; nights and days; mountains and hills; whales...birds...beasts...seas and rivers...

Bless the Lord, you sons of men... you servants of the Lord... spirits and souls of the righteous... you who are holy and humble of heart...

Give thanks to the Lord for He is good, for His mercy endures forever.

Bless Him, all who worship the Lord, the God of gods,

Sing praise to Him, and give thanks to Him,

For His mercy endures forever.

So, I suppose that is my purpose, my mission: I bless Him, worship Him, sing praise to Him, give thanks to Him.
Amen.

28 November 2009

She may not be Oprah, but if Ellen says so...

In this neck of the woods there is a regional magazine that promotes what I would call ... umm ... an exclusive lifestyle. They do not run advertisements for dinner at Denny's, let's put it that way.

For example, in their helpful list of Christmas gift ideas, they suggest:

Whether sauntering around the spa, cruise ship or home, Okab flip flops made from recycled material massage your feet as you walk and provide arch support. Also, daytime talk show host Ellen endorses them and that's the next best thing to Oprah. $44.95 a pair.

Now, I don't know about you, but the next time I schlep around the decks of a cruise ship, I want to be schlepping in some overpriced made-from-thrown-away-other-people's-junk flip flops.

Our media maven friend over at Harpo inc, on the other hand, has her own magazine, the holiday issue of which (ironically has Ellen on the cover) features nifty gift suggestions of $120 clutch purses to give to your very best friend. Or $80 bath soap for your mail delivery person. Great! Good to know there are such bargains to be found in these days of economic down turn.

My holiday recommendation? Spend time with family and friends. Have a really nice meal. Think about how you can help someone in your community. Be sure to wish people a happy Christmas - we can all use reminding just what holiday it is we're celebrating. Christmas is about giving, but the thing given doesn't have to cost a cent. Or support your arches.


PS. Another suggestion (not endorsed by a talk show host) is a $10 jar of peanut butter. With banana mixed in. Sorry...it's jungle banana. Which probably makes it worthwhile, right? Elvis, as we all know, loved his pb+b sandwiches, but our lives are so busy now, to-ing and fro-ing, that you probably never have time to slice the banana yourself, and have to make do with plain old peanut butter. This is your lucky day! Now the banana (ever noticed how mushy banana gets? And how quickly it goes brown?) is right there in the jar. Just scoop it up with all that peanutty goodness.

26 November 2009

Sodding greer

I watched an interesting piece from Australian 60 minutes, about women who have taken what the feminists fought for, and said: thank you very much, I'll take my power to choose, and I choose family over career, because you've shown me the notion of having it all is bullocks.

http://sixtyminutes.ninemsn.com.au/stories/824791/housewife-superstars

I have more to say on the subject, but will have to come back to it later.

25 November 2009

CTKS

Thank goodness for the Peanuts, or I wouldn't have much to write about these days! My creative energies are tied up in knots over an assignment that should be a piece of cake, but instead is going nowhere. So, little people to the rescue! This story was told to me over supper last night - I wasn't there to see it for myself, but I will do my best to tell it well.

The setting: Local YMCA pool, where Mama and Papa Nut bring Four and Five for swim lessons once a week.

The scene: Normally, Four is a water baby, and Five freaks out. Prior to the instructor entering the pool, the tadpoles-in-training have the opportunity to play, which Four was giving his whole-hearted best: splashing, kicking, blowing bubbles and the like. However, once Ms. Tadpole Trainer got in the water, he became stubborn, not wanting to put his face in the water, or kick his legs like that. Five, however, was the star pupil with goggles in place, following directions very well. So a Parent Nut said to him, "That's it Five! Good job! You show Four how to do it."

The punchline: And calm as can be, Four reached over - without looking - dunked big brother's head into the water!

22 November 2009

Feasting


I don't have much time left to get this in before the clock ticks over a new day:


Happy Feast of Christ the King!


This is the last Sunday of the Church calendar. Next Sunday will be the first Sunday of Advent, which means that Christmas is approaching. Time to prepare! While you begin to think of cleaning and cooking and shopping...don't neglect your heart, your mind, and your soul.


Huh. And wow.

Every once in a while, I come face to face with "the world out there". My reaction is usually either "huh" as in 'what do you know' or 'I didn't know that' or 'um...interesting'; or "wow" as in 'weird, man' or ... 'wow'.



Tonight, for instance, the Big Nuts and I decided to take in the annual spectacle that is The! American! Music! AWARDS! Back in the day - our day - we would have settled in for an evening of presentations, awkward speaches, and a few performances by Sting, the rock group du jour, the obligatory diva or pop princess, but it would have been fairly straightforward. Music was at the heart of it, and the genre lines were pretty clear cut - everyone knew which Billboard chart they were on.



This isn't our day anymore, (though I do know Green Day [ how sad is it that Green Day were the old timers on the show? ]) and that fact came clearly home to me, watching this show. I recognized most of the names, had heard some of the songs, but I watched most of the performances through my fingers, fairly scandalized at the proliferation of autotune and lip synching - not to mention the costumes, dance routines and general hoopla.



There was one performer - poor girl - that we had quite a giggle over. Let's call her Rihanna - anna - anna. Her number began with a video showing robot arms either removing bits of her clothing or embedding jewels on her chest (not sure just what was going on), then we transitioned to Live! On Stage! Rihanna - anna - anna spreadeagled on a windmill! Still managing to sing her trademark "hey, ey, ey". This is a talented young lady, let me tell you. I missed how, but she managed to get off the windmill, to reveal her costume of a white ribbon wrapped around her body, which seemed to become her boots. She clutched in her hand what was neither a mic stand or a walking/candy cane, but appeared to be a cross between the two. JB dubbed it the 'mic cane'. Toward the end of her number - and this was the highlight - laser beams came out of her shoulder pads! The Peanuts would have loved it! Luffed. It. Even better, Miss Rihanna-anna-anna once had a big hit with a song about her Umbrella ("under my um-brella, ella, ella" she sings). We figure we could overlay the music and lyrics about the umbrella over the video of tonight's performance, and they would faint in fits of happiness, for if there's one thing they want more than lasers coming out of their shoulders, it's an umbrella of their very own.

Huh. And wow.

A picture is worth a thousand words











The most exciting day of the week: garbage day! So much so, that the Potty gets dragged to the window to provide a front row seat.









The original Peanut - Five















From the top: A cake I just whipped up for our Feast Day feasting today; the bunny from our backyard neighbours in our leaf pile; the promise of big things to come in the hand of Four; Three, utterly giddy; One, Four, Three and Two, hamming it up.

20 November 2009

W

There are signs that w...w...wi...winter is approaching. That's right - even here in Slice of Heaven on Earth (SoHoE) there will be winter.

This morning the sky was on the far side of pewter; almost all the leaves are down, and there are fewer and fewer leaf bags left at curbside; colours are subdued in gardens, reduced almost only to berries of various shades, and a few fiery-hued bushes holding tenaciously to their last leaves; dog walkers are now in sweaters or light jackets, and sometimes even accessorized with hats and gloves.

Christmas trimmings (or should I say Holiday decorations?) are making their way into our neighbourhoods, but not too many homes are lit yet with strings of coloured lights. Wood smoke is a common aroma now, when out even in the late afternoon. I'm sure sales of cocoa and marshmallows have increased in the past week or so - inevitable at this time of year.

I love the crisp air at this time of year. I love crunching over leaves as I walk through the woods. I like the scurry of squirrels as they gather and hide their winter stores. I like having to wear a jacket when I'm out early or late, and delight in the warm afternoons. I look forward to skating - the bite of my blades cutting through the ice. I enjoy walking in the brisk air, then coming back to a steaming mug of something welcome-homeish.

I think w...w...wi..... will be fun here. I can't wait to see Five tumbling through the snow in his drunken sailor way. I want to build forts and snowmen with the Peanuts, and see the local landmarks dressed in their season's finest. It will be dazzling, I'm sure!

CTKS

Number Two quizzing my knowledge of animated movies:
Do you know Sid the Sloth?
No.
Well, his name is Sid, and he's a sloth.


Number Three, who at the supper table one evening, was teased by his daddy, about being five years old:
Dude! (sounding more like Dewwwd) Can't you see into my brain? Don't you know I'm six?

17 November 2009

Tushies

A topic I enjoy ranting about is weird/boring/confusing/annoying/bad advertising concepts. For instance, I am annoyed at the room freshener candle people for "sexing up" their product by showing a man exhibiting amorous designs because his wife lit a scented candle. He smelled Fruits of the Forest and just couldn't help himself. How many housewives made the air freshener purchase based on their desire to give their Mister a nudge?

Another product that suffers in my esteem for the overly sensual approach is a pasta sauce company, who show a woman stirring the pot of tomato product, and a man comes up behind her, exhibiting amorous designs. She heats tomatoes and he can't help himself. Nice.

There are vague commercials that leave you wondering: "huh? I thought it was about toothpaste" when in fact they were desperate to sell home insurance.

My sister is right this minute sitting beside me reading a magazine as I work very hard at ignoring my next assignment. She's been pointing out funny articles, a really good deal on "bubble jackets" from Schmall Mart and a very scary advertisement for a wrinkle erasing treatment which was followed by a page and a half of small print disclaimers. Yikes!

A few pages later she came across an ad for skin cream, showing an attractive woman holding a nekked baby, and exclaimed: "Whatever they're selling, I'll take it!"

And that, right there, is all advertisers need to know: nothing induces sales as much as bare baby bottoms. Forget your high-priced celebrity endorsements - use baby bums, whether you're trying to sell yoghurt, golf tees or acne treatments. A little tushy is all it takes.

16 November 2009

Best plans laid low

You know how it is...we've all been there. There is an occasion, an event, an appointment, a scheduled task, a desired activity in your future, and in your mind you plot out a timetable, a route, a wardrobe. You decide that you will get a good night's sleep beforehand; you will get up early; go for a brisk walk to shake out the cobwebs, bring a sparkle to the eye and a sharpness to the mind; you will break your fast with a nutritious, perfectly balanced meal; you will bathe and coif your hair, and paint on an elegant face; you will reach into your closet and withdraw the perfectly appropriate outfit; you will leave with plenty of time to stop at the library to run off a few necessary photocopies before driving in a relaxed, confident manner to your destination; the occasion/event/appointment/task/activity will go off without a hitch, at which point you return home feeling very satisfied with yourself and your ability to manage your life and its incumbent responsibilities.



Only when does it ever happen the way we planned it? All the positive imaging techniques used by top athletes could not foresee what inevitably happens: Peanut Number Five, who has been more of a Pickle than a Peanut lately while he struggles with a cold, decides to cry most of the night away, causing everyone to oversleep the next morning - even through the early morning routine of the neighbour warming up his truck. Through a decided lack of oomph and energy, the walk is dismissed in preference for hiding under the covers for another hour, before emerging to read a novel over breakfast of cold pizza eaten out of the tupperware container - which is more of an accompaniment to the large cup of coffee being consumed in an attempt to jump start the brain. With a startled look at the kitchen clock, a quick shower is applied to shampoo the hair and shave the extremities, after which clothes are desperately dragged out of the closet, jewelry is dropped on the floor, and makeup is slap-dashed over the face. A quick look at an online mapping service shows that there is just enough time to reach the location provided there are no other cars on the road, so the idea of helpful, I-am-prepared-for-anything photocopies is abandoned in favour of actually showing up on time.

With hastely scribbled directions in sweaty hand, attired in an outfit not nearly emanating the confidence and ability desired, an entirely unfamiliar section of the city was braved. As the numbers of the car clock ticked closer and closer to deadline, the directions seemed more and more incomprehensible, the end point further and further away. The feeling of being in control (the small, ragged fragments that remained) fell away entirely, leaving a calm, empty feeling of abandonment. Whatever would be, would be. Nothing could be done to change it.

As it turned out, I arrived 10 minutes early - just long enough to recover from the drive without too much time to fret. The address wasn't too difficult to find, and the people I met were absolutely lovely. Even the drive home went well, though I took a different route and didn't follow a map.

Just goes to show, things work out ok, when I'm not in charge, and my own plans are usurped for Someone else's!

14 November 2009

Peanuts

I have five Peanuts. I used to call my nephews after the Chinese fashion of Number One Nephew and so on through the numbers to Five. Sometimes I just refer to them by number, but lately I've taken to calling them Peanut. Peanuts - the allergenic kind - are cute, nestled in their waffle-textured shells, wrapped in brittle brown papers. Peanuts - the Schultz kind - are also cute, and those are the Peanuts that inspired my Peanut appellations.

I love all the Peanuts (and the big nuts who hatched them). I've thoroughly enjoyed getting to know them as individual little people over the past year I've been living with them. The original Peanut, though, is Five. At first he was Piglet, but it didn't really stick for too long. I thought he looked like a peanut when he was swaddled into a tight little bundle for the night, but now he resembles Charlie Brown, the bald-headed kid who could never kick the football. (Which should never reflect badly on him, poor boy: it was all Lucy's fault)

Five has the physique of a Peanuts character: short little legs, slightly longer body, and a head so big and so round it's a wonder he stands upright. He can't touch the top of his head, which fact I've used against him sometimes, when I tease him by putting his hair in a ponytail, or putting a building block on his head. He is so blond --not just Dutch-boy-blond, but so blond that when I took him for a walk last week, I was blinded by his head glowing in the sun. Though his tufts of hair are long enough I can pull them back into a stubby tail, they are so fair that he often appears to be bald.

So, all the brothers became Peanuts as well, though they have sadly outgrown the Charlie Brown look themselves. Before we know it they will be full grown nuts. I hope it doesn't happen too quickly.

11 November 2009

We remember

Today is Remebrance Day. Veteran's Day. Armistace Day. Whatever you call it, however you refer to it, I hope you make a point today of thinking about it. This is a day for poppies, for bugels and bagpipes, for uniforms and medals, for wreaths and speaches. This is a day for old but brave soldiers, for young but broken warriors, for sad but proud families. This is a day for countries and nations, for peace and freedom, for promises and resolutions. This is a day to talk to your children about what happened before you were even born, the price that was paid by many brave someones many years ago, many miles away.
War is hard for Canadians to understand, because since 1970, there has not been anything resembling a battle on our soil. We have become accustomed to thinking of ourselves as a peace-loving nation, and we tell ourselves that we are globally respected internationally for being keepers of the peace.
What we all too easily forget, is that the reason we have peace within our borders, the reason we live with abundant freedom, the reason we have a proud military heritage, is because 95 years ago young Canadian men (and women) undertook the horrific and frightening task of restoring peace to Europe with no guarantee of victory or even of returning home again, to this country seemingly so far removed from 'the action'. It would have been too easy to pretend that what was happening to people an ocean away had nothing to do with us in the New World. Canada was barely a country yet -- they could have been forgiven for staying home to plant their crops or fill newspapers with their opinions on how Europe should deal with the situation.
Instead, we as a country are able to tell stories of Ypres and Passchendaele, The Somme and Vimy Ridge.
It is all too easy to glorify war. It is not romantic. It is brutal and inhumane and frightening, decimating families and communities and even entire cities. To this day, the scars of World War I and II are visible throughout Europe, and if you will listen, there are still men and women who want to tell you their story.
It is too important to be forgotten. Today we remember.

09 November 2009

Gamel (Revised)

An unfinished version of this story was posted a few days ago. I've taken that post down. Here in its place is the current draft. It's been revised, and hopefully improved.

Gamel

Behind our house, a group of trees stood together in a wood. It was a magical place of oak and chestnut, pine and elm. It had a high, arched roof where the branches meet and linger overhead, while moss and grass softened the floor below. My brother and I spent most of our time there, when we were not being good students at school. There were trails and paths that wandered through every corner of our forest; we knew them all so well we could walk through blindfolded with our hands tied behind our back, always knowing exactly where we were.

We didn’t get along all that well, Robin and I, until I was six years old. That’s when Donny Edmonds and Rebecca Tucci tried to bully my lunch money out of me for a week straight. Robin found me in the pantry after school one day, inhaling a second sleeve of soda crackers – evidence of the first scattered on the counter and down the front of my sweater. When I told him about Donny and Becky, he got really quiet and still, which told me he was seriously angry. He’s pretty territorial, you see and while at the time he didn’t harbour great personal fondness for me, it was not ok with him that someone else treated me badly. Even at the age of eight, Robin was a force to be reckoned with; to this day I’m not sure just what he did to the gruesome twosome, but they sure never bothered anyone else for their lunch money.

Two years after the lunch money episode, we moved from town to the country house because Mother believed it was better for us kids to grow up where we could smell cows in the field, not garbage rotting on street corners. At first it was hard to leave our friends behind, not to mention cable tv, and convenience stores well-stocked with candy; but being so far away from everything and everyone meant Robin and I had to depend on each other for company, and we discovered we really did like each other.

There is nothing more wonderful to a child than the chance to explore and discover. Our new house had cupboards, pantries, hallways and stairs enough to provide us with endless afternoons of hide-and-seek and treasure hunts. We quickly learned which doors would creak when we tried to sneak outside instead of do our homework, and that if we were really quiet in the attic trunk room, Mom would forget to call us to help her weed the garden.

It was in that attic room we set up our clubhouse. Over time we brought in pillows and blankets, a reading lamp with a supply of books, and a tin of cookies – as well as a few apples to keep us healthy. We plotted our grand adventures there, recording them afterward in our log book, which was kept carefully hidden in the back of a secret drawer of an old dresser. Well, we called it a secret drawer, but it was really just a drawer with the handle broken off, so we used a knitting needle to open it. Robin found a wobbly old globe of the world which he added to his collection of treasures. He loved to spin it, randomly land his finger on a country, then read about it in the one volume encyclopaedia we took from Dad’s study. He would make up stories for me about each new place, involving secret agents, deep sea divers, chocolate merchants, or orphaned princesses. It was an excellent way to learn geography.

When the weather allowed, we spent all of our time outside, under the trees of our wood. We discovered a little stream that cut through the middle of it, which was always a good place to find frogs and tadpoles. We found the place where a family of rabbits had their warren-home, and we learned that in early spring, deer were less timid and would come quite close to us, if we were very quiet. Red squirrels and chipmunks were always chasing each other up and down the tree trunks, fighting over nuts and bulbs as if there wouldn’t be plenty to go around. Robin thought it was a matter of team pride: Chipmunks Versus Squirrels in nature’s contest to gather the biggest harvest.

My brother and I usually did everything together because an adventure, no matter how exciting was never as much fun when experienced alone. He had the wonderful ability for turning hunting for frogs into an African big game safari, and going for a hike into a polar expedition. Our clubhouse walls were decorated with pictures of lions we had captured, and rich pirate ships we had plundered. He could turn even boring chores like washing dishes into a mission – should we choose to accept it – to save the world in 15 minutes or less.

One autumn, a few years after moving to our country house I came down with a double dose of the mumps and was kept home from school. Robin faithfully brought my homework each evening, and told me stories of what had happened on the yard at recess time. But after completing the four times tables and then reading Super Fudge for the third time, I started to think I was the unluckiest girl in the world for having to stay home. Eventually, after I had complained once too often that I was bored, Mother decided it would do me good to get some fresh air and use up excess energy; and so for the first time, I went into the woods without him. Wouldn’t you know it? That’s when the for-real adventure happened.

It was a day like any other, unless you knew what to look for: the sun shone especially bright, even though summer was well behind us; I saw a crow and a frog sitting on our swinging tire; and Mother let me have two peanut butter cookies before I ate my lunch. I should have realized that something special was going to happen, but you never really do, at the time.

There was a tree I was particularly fond of, because the earth formed a soft bowl at the feet of it, cushioned with soft moss. This little spot was exactly the right size and shape for me to curl up with a good book in the afternoon, when the sun shone over my shoulder perfectly so I could read, without having to squinch up my eyes. I could spend hours there, when I got lost in a story, looking up occasionally when I heard scurrying in the grass beside me, or the wind was being especially bossy in the leaves. It wasn’t far from the stream, so on the hottest days, we’d keep our drinks chilling in the water. Cool orange fizzy pop on a hot afternoon was as good as the ice cream cones we used to get from the bicycle carts in the city.

That particular day, I’d settled in with my soft-at-the-corners copy of Ballet Shoes, imagining myself as Posy, arriving at my adopted home in a basket of ballerina’s slippers. Gradually, the corners of my mind became aware of a soft scratching sound that repeated itself over and over again. Looking up from my book, though I was still vaguely in England 70 years ago, I somehow wasn’t surprised to find a very short but very stout little man standing beside me. He was only so tall that the leaves on the ground came all the way to his knees, and while I was sitting, the very tip of his hat didn’t even reach my shoulder.

I should have been startled, or afraid, or at least confused, shouldn’t I? But my brother had such a way of making the most remarkable stories seem real, that in my imagination we had already encountered and become friends with many strange creatures. This little man was just one more, along with the fauns and unicorns, white bears and flightless birds Robin told me about.

To look at, he was very like any man you might see buying tobacco for his pipe: he was round through the middle, with plump little red cheeks beside his smiling mouth. He was dressed in what I was sure must be tweed, with sturdy little brown leather shoes on his feet, glistening with a gold buckle on each one. He stood with his hands clasped behind his back, and he rocked back and forth from heel to toe, looking up at me with his head tilted so far back, I thought his hat would fall off with the next rock.

He kept smiling at me, so I knew he meant to be friends. Then I realized he was talking to me as well, though it sounded like he was chirping in Gerbil-talk, at first. I shook my head at him, lifting my shoulders in a shrug to let him know I didn’t understand him.

“I’m sorry,” I said, slowly and very clearly in a way that would have made Mrs. Evans, my English teacher very proud, “but I only speak English. Ing-gul-ish.” I frowned a little, to let him know I too, was friendly, and that I was trying to comprehend. As I listened very hard to the sounds he was making, they gradually became words I recognized -- chatter about spectacles and butter, which didn’t make a great deal of sense at first, but gradually it became clear he was talking about having lost his eye glasses somewhere in the grass and leaves; had I seen them? And that he wanted to invite me in for tea with bread and butter, only he was fresh out of butter that morning.

Looking for wee little glasses when the ground is covered with fallen leaves is quite a challenge; but, fortunately, even wee little glasses sparkle in the sun, and eventually we found them tucked under a mushroom cap. With his glasses safe once more, my new friend settled in for a good chat. I sat with my back propped against the reading tree, and took great delight in just looking at him. As a girl used to her brother’s wild stories about dragons, magic fountain pens and a secret world behind the bedroom mirror, it seemed perfectly natural to be deep in the woods talking to a...dwarf? And yet, how exciting to discover that sometimes imagination had its root in truth, and it was sitting across from me, with its legs crossed, swinging its foot back and forth as it talked to me.

This imaginary truth introduced himself as Gamel. He told me that he lived next door to the reading tree, and that he had often seen Robin and I, as we explored or whiled away the hours with a book or sketchpad. He told me that there were others like him living in various trees throughout the woods, and that he would introduce us in due time but not yet, as they were rather shy of big people. Gamel explained that he had lived in our forest for a very long time, and had known other boys and girls before we moved here. Not all boys and girls were capable of seeing the little people, because, as he said, they had ‘old souls’. Likewise, some grownups were remarkably young at heart, and could see Gamel and his friends their whole life long.

He invited me into his home to have some tea, but the doorway was too small for me to wiggle through, so I just peered in through the opening to see that he had a simple wooden table with two chairs in front of a little stove. Two shelves hanging on the wall held his collection of cups and plates and tins and things, and I saw a few pictures hanging up as well, though they were too small for me to see what they were pictures of. I noticed a lantern on the table, and imagined how cosy the room would be when the world was dark after the sun went down. There was a doorway that led into another room, and perhaps even more beyond that. How I wished I could sit at the table with Gamel, and even more I wished that Robin was with me to see it all for himself!

Gamel brought out two mugs, with curling wisps of steam drifting away in the slight breeze of the afternoon. We sat down again, not saying very much, merely enjoying each other’s company as we sipped the warm tea. It only took a few sips before my mug was empty, but I didn’t want to leave him yet, so I sat quietly until he was also done. Then he set down his mug with a satisfied swipe of the back of his hand across his mouth, and took up talking again – this time about his friends. Oh! The stories he had! There was his best friend and closest neighbour Dagen, who in their younger years, had set off with Gamel from their home forest, to discover the world before they settled in our backyard. Dagen was a daring sort, often getting the two friends into scrapes and near-disasters, relying on Gamel’s ingenuity to rescue them. Hedwig was a motherly sort who had taken on the job of making sure everyone in her neighbourhood was fed and warm, and cared for. Cullen and Ailith were a brother and sister who had never been anywhere but our Homewood, and were looked upon as clan elders. Cullen was sought out whenever there was conflict in the community, and Ailith was known for being able to fix absolutely anything. Needless to say, their home was constantly full of visitors. Gamel himself was known for being a fine artist with the sewing needle, and when he proudly showed me the waistcoat he had on that day, I had to assure him it looked very professional to me.

Though I was reluctant to return home, the afternoon couldn’t last forever. I knew Mother would be watching for me; probably beginning to fret a little about me being gone for so long while still mumpish. So I had to say goodbye to Gamel, promising him that I would return again as soon as I could, and that I would bring Robin with me. I looked back at the last possible moment – I think I wanted to prove to myself that it had really happened -- the little man was blowing smoke rings from his pipe, rocking back and forth on his feet like the first time I’d seen him.

07 November 2009

Walkies

We went for walkies today. I realize walkies is what you do with dogs, and I'm walking Peanuts, not doggies, but...well, when you walk with little ones, it seems appropriate. The Boston Marathon, it was not.

Usually, it's just Peanut Four and I, but today Three decided he would come as well. He's sadly out of condition though, because not 5 minutes from home, he was asking if we were going to go back to the house soon. And this is the 'nut I've been told again and again walked and walked and WALKED all week long through Disney.

Just a few doors down on our way out, the gentleman of the house was out collecting leaves. (This is a big pass time in these here parts). He said "hello" in the friendly way of folks 'round here, and the two boys said "hello" in return, 'cause their mama brought them up right. But when I was about to walk on, Four tugged at my hand to hold me in place, so he could tell the man that there were lots of woods around here. He had to say it a few times, cause Mr. Leaf Collector didn't realize we were embarking on a conversation, and then I had to translate for him, 'cause while Four really likes to talk to people, it still takes some practice to understand just what it is he's trying to say. Once the man acknowledged his comment, we were free to carry on.

Walkies with Peanuts: a beautiful way to spend a sunny afternoon.

04 November 2009

CTKS

Eating a supper of pork, Peanuts Two and Three were discussing the difficulty of gristle.

Two was being encouraged to just leave it at the side of his plate without a lot of fuss and bother.

Three said he just didn't chew the bad stuff. He chewed the rest and then swallowed it all. "I have a big throat", he said, "so it's no problem for me"


Number One Peanut has recently taken up the habit of air quotes. Everyone has a different air quote style, of which his is an almost curt and masculine curling of the first two fingers of each hand in front of his shoulders. The first time I noticed it, he was telling us about a shape map he had to do in language arts, though he didn't know why it was called a *air quote* shape *air quote* map.

I *air quote* luff *air quote* it!

03 November 2009

Captain Christopher?

I'm working on an assignment for a course I'm taking. I am to write a story for children, between 500-3,000 words long. I've got two little pieces begun, and with both have boxed myself into a corner, and am unsure where to go with them now. So today, I sat down and wrote something else. I am posting the result below. One note: I'm calling the boy Christian right now, but he has been Christopher and Sebastian as well. Maybe he's a Timothy? What do you think?

I'd love to get some feedback. Can it be improved? Does it end ok? I want to submit the assignment in the next couple of days, so drop me a line if you have any thoughts. Thank you!

Christian and the cars

The sun woke up just minutes before Christian opened his eyes. He took a minute to stretch his arms up high over his head, and wiggle all of his toes as a way of saying “Hello!” to the new day. He yawned so hard, he couldn’t see the bunk bed above him, and little black stars swirled in front of his eyes.

With a little shiver of happiness, he remembered that today was a very special day. It was his birthday, and he’d been promised a very special treat – he was going to the big park; the one with the water wheel and the pirate ship, and the extra long slide that turned around two times before you landed with a bump in the sand.

He tucked his hand under the pillow, searching for his favourite car – the black and white police truck, with a yellow number 5 painted on the sides. The doors opened up, and if you dragged it backwards on the floor then let go, it would zoom away very fast all by itself.

Birthday breakfast meant waffles with blueberries – his very favourite – and chocolate milk. And right there, beside his plate, was a box covered with yellow paper and an orange bow. It had a card on top that said “To Christian: happy birthday, love Mummy and Daddy” but he couldn’t open it until he’d finished all of the blueberries on his plate.

And when he did...wow! It was a beautiful green dump truck, with big black wheels; and when he pushed the button, the back of the truck lifted up, so all the blocks or sand or rocks would tumble out, just like at a real construction site.

Being patient was very hard for a boy who had only just turned three, but eventually he was at the park, standing behind the wheel of the pirate ship: Captain Christian of the brave ship Ahoy, with its cargo of treasure and chocolate. Captain Christian had to be wily and cunning to outmanoeuvre the navy boats chasing him. He had to call his crew to battle stations, man the canons, and let the royal navy have it. Because he was a wily and cunning captain, Christian got his boat and his crew to safety, where they had a big party, eating almost all of the chocolate they had on board.

Happy that once again he had brought his ship and crew back home, Christian took a fast ride down the twisty slide, where he turned twice very fast before landing with a bump in the sand. He decided this might be the day he would be able to climb all the way to the top of the slide without sliding back down on his feet. Holding on to the sides as tight as he could, he tried walking up the ramp, curling his toes hard inside his shoes, pulling a little with his hands. But his shoes were too slippery, and his arms were not yet long enough for his hands to hold on strong, so he slipped back to the bottom after taking only five steps.

Because he was a big boy now, of three years old, he didn’t get upset at all. He thought maybe it was time to bring his shiny new dump truck into the sand box, where some other boys were playing with their cars. The way they looked at his toy, he knew they thought it was special, and that they would like the chance to play with it, too. But they didn’t know, like Christian did, that this truck was real.

As soon as Christian’s little fingers sat in the seat behind the steering wheel as if they were going to drive, the truck started to rumble with a deep engine sound, shaking the loose gravel of the sand box. The lights on the dashboard began to glow red and blue, telling Christian everything was working just right. With a loud ‘Honk’ of the horn, and a ‘Beep! Beep! Beep!’ of the backup warning system, he moved the truck into place to receive its load from the digger to deliver to the construction site.

Load after load he drove wherever it needed to go. Little sticks became giant logs when they were dropped into his truck. Pebbles turned into boulders when dropped from his fingers shaped like the bucket of a crane, landing with a big ‘thunk’ and shaking the truck. One of the other boys crashed his motorcycle just before their big race, so Christian lifted it on as cargo and delivered it safely to the garage for repairs. Everyone cheered, because now the race could go on.

Long before he was finished all the work he had to do, Mummy said it was time to go back home. The new truck had to stay outside because it was very dusty and dirty – just like Christian was, too. After bath time and supper, it was time for bed. Tucked in and cozy beneath his favourite fuzzy blanket, with the police truck under his pillow, Christian said goodnight to the sun, wiggled his toes, and closed his eyes, already dreaming about the adventures he would have tomorrow.

01 November 2009

The short of it

Here's my confession: I'm a short Dutch girl. Yes that's right: an SDG. Along with the fact that I'm not over the moon about eating fish-type food stuffs, being short makes me a genetic anomoly. The Dutch, you see, as well as being tall, are known for growing tulips, sailing the seas, and being eaters of fish. Some have been fine painters, too.

The area I now live (SOHOE, if you remember) has quite a Dutch population, and also a lot of Italians. (interesting picture, no? Tall, blonde, round-cheeked people, and short, dark, prominantly-nosed people). Being there is so much water around here, it's no surprise the Dutch came to this region. There are many tidy farms around about to attest to their presence. As for the Italian, well, I think the potential for wine explains it all, doesn't it?

This morning, I went to Church, dressed for the occasion in cute Mary Jane type shoes that have about an inch of heel on them. Maybe 1.5 at a stretch. Through the opening prayers, I had a funny niggeling feeling that something odd was going on, and it took me a while to figure out just what it was. And then it hit me: I was tall! In this congregation of mostly Italians, I was tall! With the shoes I was barely over 5'5'', and stood eye to eye with most of the men, and certainly towered over the petite mamas around me. I felt like Gulliver in Lilliput!

It all depends on your perspective, doesn't it?

31 October 2009

Windy Saturday

North Americans from coast to coast are putting finishing touches on ghostly tableaux in their front gardens and tweaking their fright-fest costumes. I used to love this time of year as a kid. When we lived in PMQs in Germany, Hallowe'en was something that brought the Canadian community together, and caused the natives to consider us as rather odd creatures. We lived in groups of apartment buildings, so gathering loot was dead easy: we'd go from front door to front door and practically back-hoe candy into our pillow cases. Remember Rockets and those chewy Bat suckers? Yummm. The basements of the apartment buildings were connected by tunnels, and building-dwellers would work cooperatively to turn the tunnels and rooms into haunted houses. We learned which were the really good ones, and year after year we'd wait in line for the privelege of having the s....not scared out of us. People would play scary music from their balconies, and us kids would travel around in groups, totally secure and safe within our little community. Those were the days.

Years later, my focus on this day has turned in the direction of my faith. Today is All Hallows Eve, the eve of the Feast of All Saints, which is followed by All Souls. In the Church, we remember our beloved departed throughout the month of November, but most particularly on these special days. This morning I went to Mass, and discovered that the parish had a Holy Hour prior to the liturgy - so beautiful. I love the bells and smells of being a Catholic; I find them as comforting as they are inspiring. Then I had the opportunity to go to Confession, which was also very beautiful. I mention this because since moving here, I've been trying to find a good parish that feels like home, and I think this might be it.

Spiritual health taken care of, I stopped in to say hello to the Hockey Player Who Makes Coffee, for a cup of liquid gold (being steeped tea), which caused me to reflect on the sheer perfection of the brew. Unfortunately I was given one of those rare cups whose lid malfunctioned. Does it ever happen to you, that the little flappy opening doesn't lock into place properly? It leaves you in the position of having to prop it open with your nose while you drink, causing droplets of beverage to cling to its tip. Or you may choose to hold it open with your finger, in which case you are holding the cup in one hand, with a finger of the other pressed between your face and that cup. Of course, the other option is to remove the lid altogether, but that results in rapid cooling of the liquid, which is not necessarily desirable. What tribulation!

Such are the profound thoughts on my mind today. It is a day in which the region I live has been issued a Wind Warning, which I find very exciting. I enjoy extreme weather, and look forward to seeing entire trees being uprooted. Not likely to happen, but it would be fun. *

*under no circumstances do I relish the idea of people being at risk. "I am not a monster!"

28 October 2009

Question mark

What do you do with question mark days? I've had a few of them lately. A question mark week, in fact. You know the kind of thing I mean: why am I here? What am I doing? Have I made the right choices? Do flats make me look short? I'm very good at talking myself around in circles during times like this, which results in extreme dizziness - both physically and psychologically.

I am taking refuge in books and Julia Roberts. There is a Julia Roberts movie to suit every mood: want a sweet Cinderella story? Pretty woman, of course. Looking for nail-biting suspense? Sleeping with the enemy. A tear jerker? Stepmom, Steel magnolias or Dying young. Feel like solving a mystery? Pelican brief. A nearly unhappy ending story about a floppy-haired travel book shop owner and a movie star? (and these are hard to find, believe me!) Notting Hill. Real life dramas? Charlie Wilson's war, Erin Brockovich. Girl band? Satisfaction. Adultery and deception? Closer. International intrigue in bad shoes? Duplicity.

I call it Escape Therapy. While I watch her romp her way through three abandoned weddings before realizing she truly madly deeply loves Richard Gere (again) my own little question marks are perculating below the surface. The answers will tap me on the shoulder when they're ready, if I don't startle them with sudden movement or a loud voice.

In the meantime - the hot dog has stopped dancing.... shhhhh

27 October 2009

CTKS

I was up early on Sunday, getting ready for Mass. I heard the boys being boys across the hallway - an outcry about a bug in their room. As I stepped into the hallway, dressed in my Sunday best, Number Three was there waiting for me, and told me rather frantically, "There's a stinkbug in our room! You HAVE to come and get it! We're dying!"
To which I replied, "If it's too stinky for you, a boy, then for sure it's going to be too stinky for me, a girl"
Which was irrefutable logic he couldn't dispute, and got me off the hook.
I like being a girl.

26 October 2009

The streets

Do you like to walk through the neighbourhood at night? It's a wonderful chance to spy on people ... er...admire their decor, I mean.


Technology, oddly enough, has not helped in this pastime. The advance to blinds from sheers and drapes means that very little of the goings-on of a home leaks out into the street. Upscaling from radio to tv means that people sit in the dark, gently bathed in the flickering blue light of the tube, and all I can observe is the preference for reality tv or medical drama. With the tv, came the move to the basement 'family room' - a room in which not much family activity takes place. It is the room where television reigns, leaving the others in darkness, unoccupied.

Of the homes not shuttered behind blinds or permanently fused to the brain drain, a sad number are followers of David Suzuki, making those new curly bulbs their lighting of choice. Not terribly cosy and inviting, those light bulbs.

At this time of year, those who can, light fires, and those of us who take to the streets have the opportunity to enjoy the homey aroma of woodsmoke. That surely is one of my favourite of all smells; it signals warmth and cosiness, security, family, and good books.

There is something about familiar places in the dark. They become flattened when drained of the colour of daylight, but gain atmosphere and the potential character inherent in your own imagination. I see the whole, rather than the details in the dark, and I'm intruiged.