The Lighthouse

the lighthouse

27 May 2009


Heaven is weeping with me today, and with thousands of Mancunians in the Eternal City, as we mourn the dashed hopes of a second straight Champions League title.
I love the Beautiful Game, and I love my brave boys of Manchester United. Love has a price though, when disappointment is part of the package. If it were just me, I could cope with the big losses like this, but my sorrow in this case is multiplied by the 11 men on the pitch.
It is heartbreaking to witness their struggle over 90 minutes, and have it result in failure. A year's effort brought them so close to having their name engraved on that beautiful trophy with the ribbons flying so carefree from its handles. Today they had to accept consolation with the runner's up medal, and watch their opponents rejoice as they proudly hefted the trophy aloft, to the delight of their fans. Meanwhile, the supporters of Manchester United were stuck abroad in a strange city, in a foreign country, in that massive stadium, unable to escape the jubilant songs of victory and the fireworks.
In 90 short minutes - 90 minutes which flew by so quickly, the result still seems unreal - a whole year's worth of dreams has died. This is when I ask myself: why do this to yourself? Why invest so much emotion, so much hope, so much time into this game which has the potential to proffer so much grief? The answer is because it is the Beautiful Game. Through this game, I am connected to many thousands of United fans, hundreds of thousands of Deutschland supporters,and millions of followers of Football. It offers constant drama. It is the honourable battle of 22 men for territory, possession, supremacy and respect. It is the exhibition of gifts and talents. It is fidelity to a confraternity, a place in history. It is tears and dejection for sure, but as is being experienced in Barcelona tonight, it is also joy, exaltation, triumph, euphoria and pride.
Today I am defeated. Tomorrow I will pick myself back up again, and set my sights on the next battle. I am United!

24 May 2009

Newcastle and Pontiac

There are things in life that you take for granted, without even being aware of the fact that they are fixtures around which you navigate and build your frame of reference. Two of mine have been yanked from my universe by forces cruel and beyond my control: Newcastle United, and the Pontiac division of General Motors. The first happened because of hard luck, the latter because of hard times.

Newcastle -- for the first time in twenty years -- have been relegated. You will not find them in the tv schedule next season, as the brave boys of Northern England, the Geordies, will be playing Championship level (sounds good, doesn't it? But top flight is the Premiership. Premier beats Champion). For as long as I've been following football, Newcastle have been a sure thing, a respected name even if they didn't rack up the trophies. They are the only Premiership level team in Newcastle and parts surrounding, meaning they have fierce and loyal supporters who are now consoling each other with pints at the local pub. I saw grown men crying in the stands after the game, when the reality of their predicament sank in. I feel a great deal of sadness for the people of Newcastle and hope that they will be able to regroup and return after a year away from the Big Show.
As for Pontiac -- come on GM! Really? Looking at the bleak landscape of their financial reports they decide to discontinue the Pontiac line. I don't know the sums, and I wasn't in on the meeting at which they discussed their options for corporate survival. I do know that the first car I have real memories of was a big red Pontiac Grand LeMans sport coup. Many miles were logged in that car, on two continents, cross country, up Alps and Rockies. My own first car was somewhat smaller - a beautiful red Pontiac Firefly. Gosh, driving that car was fuh-uhn. Three cyclinders of fun. I packed a lot of stuff and people into it. It took me every day to my first real job. It drove me to a new home half a province away, took me camping, got me lost in a foreign country. Took more than the strictly legal number of people bowling late at night, followed by nachos at the pub even later at night. It brought me to school every day, and helped me escape from class (not quite every day). When I moved into my first apartment, my red rocket ensured the steady supply of healthy, nutritious food (interpret that as you will) and generally was the lynchpin of my active young adult life. How can it be, that today there is Pontiac, and tomorrow there will not be Pontiac? I haven't come to grips with that fact yet.


Ever had that feeling, on finding a really really good book - the kind you can't put down, the kind you get lost in? When you're maybe ten pages from the end...that feeling. Know what I mean? You're caught on the very edge of needing to read the next word, the next page, but wanting to linger over each word, each page in order to make it last, because you see the end approaching. Today is a day like that, in English football. Today is the very last day in the fixtures, so while I'm anxious as always to know the scores etc., I am equally wanting to stretch it out, make it last a little bit longer. With no Euro and no World Cup this summer, I'm facing a long long draught of a football-free summer. Thank goodness for gardening!
Every team is playing today at the same time. What an exciting weekend to be in England! It's a nightmare though, in terms of remote control management. I'm juggling three channels as well as following other games online; it's like Wonderland for people with ADD. Hoorah!
TBTE is quite safe, having already been given the trophy last weekend. For nearly everyone else though, today really matters. Not just how they play, but they will feel the effect of how everyone else plays as well. Down at the bottom of the table, five teams are clawing at the cliff of relegation. I'm rooting for Newcastle today. They've been struggling for a few years, going through managers like Paris Hilton goes through BFF's -- but they are traditinally a good, solid team, and you expect them to be part of the Premiership landscape. Now they find themselves in danger of being sent down to the next level. It's shocking, really, and I'm really really hoping they do well today, and Sunderland does poorly (against Chelsea...gulp)
Goals are starting to roll in...must sign off now and give full attention to what's going on over the pond.

23 May 2009


As a 'word person' it's rather disconcerting to be without words. I don't mean speachless, as in being so full of emotion that words cannot compass the fullness of feeling. I mean the opposite actually.
I usually have a dialogue or scenario in progress running through my mind like the crawl on CNN - topics to go, as it were. Of late I've been empty: uninspired for content and unimpressed with what I have produced. There are things to write about, such as the American Idol phenomenon - this singing competition that had nearly 100 million voters on its final night. Where were those votes last November? Or the challenge of being a Catholic who desires to find the trick of being in the world, but not of the world, without a religious vocation. Or the sadness my summer job brings me, for it emphasizes the broken nature of our society, the reality of which I am usually able to reduce to abstraction for my own comfort. Or the fact that for the past week or more I have been deliberately pushing feelings about my dad away. Perhaps that is the source of all the emptiness?
When I first began blogging, it felt self-indulgent to me. Who on earth would be interesting in my rambles? Who am I to think I have anything of interest to say? The fact is, I am a writer by nature. Writing is both how I create and how I communicate, so it is essential to my wellbeing that I do it well. Being at peace is good. Being empty of words is a sign that something is off kilter.
Many artists - actors, painters, singers, writers - are introspective and introverted people. To be such a person and have the product of your soul's anguish on display is rather like standing naked in the window of Macy's. I don't particularly enjoy that position, but if what I'm writing is real, then there is always a piece of me in it, regardless the topic. I can write about American Idol and still reveal some truth about myself to a reader, without even mentioning me. Likewise, I can write a well crafted piece about Catholics in the workplace, or the joys of five boys under one roof, and and not say one thing that really matters, because the words came from this place of emptiness.
Uncomfortably, I'm realizing that I don't want to be the latter. I'm happy writing about banality like Hollywood blockbusters and vapid television as long as it is honest in its intention (and would be thrilled to write something of real meaning, believe me) What this means is that I have to guard against the emptiness - no easy task. I've written before about really embracing life, about not merely existing but being fully alive. That takes effort! But it will be worth it. I think that no matter what it is that you do in life, it becomes more than it is if you are not empty.

20 May 2009

Death (to the tomato plant)

Oh woe is me. A deeply saddened gardener writes to you today with news of the demise of a tomato plant. Poor little Window Box Roma is heading to the great marinara sauce in the sky by way of the compost heap.
It was found two days ago drooping limply over the side of its container, not a sign of life to be found beyond its wan, green colour. It will be missed, but soon replaced. You know the saying: get right back in the saddle again. Or in this case: waste not the short Canadian growing season; replant immediately!

18 May 2009

sounds of the universe (review, updated)

Has it really been 29 years? When I think of Depeche Mode, I imagine they are the same age as me, and I'm only 22 at the very most.
29 years have given us 12 albums as well as countless remixes and compilations. The boys from Basildon are masters at revisiting their old songs, shaking them up and repackaging them, yet remaining relevent. Sounds from the universe takes revisiting to a new arena.

Known for their synth-driven sound and labelled as a synth-pop band, belittled by many as the fluffballs who came out with People are people back in 80something, they've always been innovative, technologically intrepid, contemplative and wellcrafted. What I like about them is that they manage to sound like themselves with each album, which is a comfortable, welcome-home sort of feeling for their fans, and yet they explore new territory with each new record, have something new to say. They've managed to remain an underground phenomenon after nearly three decades and over 75 million albums.

Sounds of the universe offers a combination of the two: the old and the new. They went back to the old analog equipment, revisited some of the old sounds (not overall 'sound' but actual, physical sounds...the plinks and woogs of old techno music), incorporating them into their matured songwriting sensibility.

By far, the best thing about DM is the combination of Martin Gore's introspective, somewhat freaky, questioning songwriting and David Gahan's icy vocals. Dave's voice is so clear -- for all it is centre-of-the-earth deep -- it's almost impossible to sing along with him. Martin frequently provides harmonies, and while Martin's voice is trembly and and often resembles a lounge singer, the two blend so perfectly it's hard to pick out melody from harmony lines.

I vividly remember the day I first heard Songs of faith and devotion (1993) -- on cassette no less, in my car, driving down Carling Avenue -- my heart gave a great jolt in my chest at the driving percussive rhythm and Dave's raw delivery of the lyrics. My jaw dropped, and adrenaline flooded through at the ramped-up delivery...something very unexpected from a Depeche Mode album, but it was incredibly exciting. My initial response to this latest album was almost the same as that day in my little red Firefly, but for the opposite reason: it sounded familiar and much beloved. Several times now, I've wandered into the room to hear a song on this album, think it's something from their back catalogue, and remark how good it is to go back and listen to the old stuff sometimes, though Universe very definitely is an album of today.
Sounds of the universe begins with In chains, written by Martin Gore. The melody references Black Celebration, but lyrically it reminds me of Songs of faith and devotion. The opening notes set the stage for cosmic exploration: it begins with overblown tweets and quarks of intergalactic communication, fades gently into a whirring, and we hold our breath for That Voice, which will tell us right off if this is going to be an album worth listening to or not. And indeed it is.
The first of Dave's tunesmith offerings is Hole to feed. There has been talk in music press that this album is 'spritual', and this song is one that fed such speculation. Thing is, Mode's music has always had those overtones, they've always asked the big questions of meaning and purpose, so it should come as no surprise that Gahan too, has questions of his own to answer.
The third track, Wrong, is such fun to listen to, very catchy with lyrics that trip along the tongue. Vocals are convicted, while the music chirps merrily in the background. Then Martin kicks in his harmonies, taking the song up a notch, yet somehow reminiscent of A broken frames' See you. Love it!
In sympathy could come from Violator, though it's not as dark as Sweetest perfection, or World in my eyes. The lyrics are classic Martin Gore: "You're bright, you're strong, you know your right from least to some degree" Never really cut and dried, you never really know where he's heading. Matched by The Voice, this song is as compelling as chocolate...more than one serving, please! (making the Just can't get enough bit a perfect way to end the song)
There is occasionally a song or two on each album I will tend to skip over. On this album, it will probably be Jezebel, with Martin on lead vocals (sorry Martin, but it does often turn out to be your turn on mic that gets the axe from me) and Spacewalker, the instrumental interlude. More David, if you please.
Perfect is pretty nearly perfect. Another lovely blend of Dave on lead and Martin on harmony. Again, Martin's lyrics seem sweet and tender on the surface, but there's more than even melancholy underlying the sentiment which people often assume is the defining tone of Depeche Mode. Does he, the character in this song, really long for 'Perfect'? Hmmm....
Finally, there is Corrupt. This song would never work, could never be taken seriously if it were sung by anyone other than Dave Gahan. This fits perfectly in the Martin Gore canon of playing with the themes of innocence lost and the illusion of power. It's slightly campy but oh so fun. I hear references to Violator in the guitars (Personal Jesus) and an overtone of Songs of faith and devotion in the big sound.
A satisfying finale to a satisfying album. Well done, boys. Can't wait to see you on tour!

Stripped. Black celebration, 1986. One of my favourites, and an excellent example of that icy quality in Dave's voice, as well as Mode's innovative use of industrial sounds in melody.

Halo. Violator, 1990. Another favourite. This video illustrates their artistic colaboration with Anton Corbijn, (Dutch) photographer who has worked with them for years now, as well as U2, REM, Nirvana and others. Everytime I'm able to really listen to this song, the lyrics speak powerfully to me. Dave's vocals here exemplify how he can sound like ice and warm butter all at once.

Wrong. Sounds of the universe, 2009. Obvious analog soundscape with contemporary songwriting. Depeche Mode are still going strong!

In sympathy. Sounds of the universe, 2009. Everything lines up for me on this one, making it my current fav of the album: lyrics, structure, musical references, vocals...Depeche Mode, ladies and gentlemen!

Oh frabjous day!

Frabjous: a superlative meaning wonderful, fabulous. Originally from Lewis Carroll's Jabberwocky, but also quoted by my hero, Lord Peter Wimsey. Days like today need a word like frabjous. It denotes an extra little sprinkle of chocolate on the light foam topping of a perfect's just that little bit more you were secretly wanting before it became too much, and therefore no longer perfect.

I don't have terribly exacting standards, so lest you begin to imagine I've won the $49 million, or been swept away by Sean Bean, let me tell you the ingredients of this frabjous day: sunshine, my car, Depeche Mode, an open body of water, a garden centre, family. (As well as a slight yet lingering victory hangover of TBTE winning the Prem -- a small but significant element of this frabjousness)

As I was driving through beautiful farmland on my way back home, I was very aware of my happy state, and I was so grateful to not need fabulous things for frabjous happiness. I'm not sure how I'd handle $49 million, or a monster diamond ring...or even a spa weekend. I don't think I'm cut from that cloth (though I can certainly appreciate fine things!) (and really do like sparkly diamonds!)

My wish for you all, on this Victoria Day weekend, is that the summer ahead will be full of frabjous days and sparkly moments...contentment by the bucketfulls. May your cup runneth over, and most especially may you have moments of utter awareness of just how frabjous your life is.

Social networking

You know what I'm talking about when I discreetly allude to a widely used social networking site. Some have called it "Crack Book" for the reason it can be very addictive. Going there can be like stepping into a black hole. Black holes are notoriously difficult to back away from, and when you emerge from them, you never know what time it is.

Black holes also have their own rules of etiquette which can seem like veritable minefields to the uninitiated. For instance: what to do about the person who wants to be your friend, but you can't quite remember how you know them (you suspect they are really just trying to pad their numbers); is there an acceptable way to dump someone off your list of friends (it has become awkward reading their updates since you haven't actually been in the same hemisphere as each other for twenty years and you now feel you know more about them than you should, considering you wouldn't recognize them on the street)...just to name two mildly pickley scenarios.

I have more than one 'friend' of whom I know more about through social networking than I do from actual life. For instance, there's the guy from Wales who loves rugby more than football, and has developed a fondness for online poker. His friend Davey likes curry and Dido, but we weren't supposed to know that, only Wales guy posted it on the wall. Oops. Wales guy is no longer on my list. There's the guy I've known forever, but the Crack Book version of him is not someone I ever knew. I'd normally delete him, but sentiment, nostalgia... maybe even guilt? are keeping me from clicking on that 'x'. I figure the side he's shown me all along is also him, and that's the friend I'm holding on to.

This topic came to mind last night while I was chatting with yet another friend online. We share an interest in music and movies, and we both had similar vagabond upbringings, but that's pretty much the extent of our connection. The conversation was engrossing - I enjoy talking over someone's taste in music, and discovering what they thought about the latest something or other movie (catch that quote?) but at the same time, it was a little surreal to suddenly be in the middle of a conversation with someone a province away.

I remind myself that not every contact I have in real life is full of deep significance either, but I don't cut those people out of my life, so perhaps I ought to cut my Crack Book 'friends' some slack too. Perhaps the forced superficiality of some of those relationships keeps me from taking myself too seriously? That can't be a bad thing, and maybe that's the great benefit of social networking: it's not connection so much as correction.

17 May 2009

Felicity and the cats (intro)

Felicity was afraid of cats. And yet here she was, once again, in a room dominated by three bossy Siamese and one cranky old tabby tom. The cats belonged to Aunt Ruthie, but Aunt Ruthie was off on one of her adventures: trekking the Outback or mapping the ocean floor or similar. Ruth got to have fun in the sun, while Felicity got finicky felines, allergies, and dreams about suffocation and glowing eyes in the dark.

Every two years or so, Felicity would be recruited to watch over the abhorrent shedders for a month. They weren’t particularly needy or tedious in their daily regimen: water and food daily really. Mrs. Culpepper came twice a week to clean, and she took care of the kitty facilities along with the usual housekeeping chores of dust elimination and pillow fluffing. Pillow duty wouldn’t normally be an arduous task, but Ruth Alexander was not a normal sort of woman, nor did she keep a normal sort of house.

For a woman with such free-spirited and adrenaline-based inclinations in holidays, Aunt Ruthie lived in a surprisingly traditional, almost fussy home. This living room, for instance, bore the evidence of an explosion of chintz and florals in bold patterns on the overstuffed sofa and wallpaper. The windows were veiled in lace sheers and swathed in paisley poufs, admitting a controlled amount of sunlight while deflecting the curious eyes of passers-by. At night, Ruthie would pull across the matching chintz drapes, completing the illusion of being submerged in a surrealist’s interpretation of an English garden while on hallucinogenic drugs. Lace doilies were in evidence on some surfaces, a dog in china painted blue and white sat proudly and domineeringly on the mantel; a treasured Doulton Old Country Roses tea service could be seen in the breakfront – but never on the table for Ruth used a more prosaic set of ironstone mugs for her morning tea.

Mad chintz and scary cats aside, Felicity always enjoyed the time she spent at Ruthie’s, whether alone or with her beloved Aunt. The two were a comfortable pair – opinions about cats notwithstanding – believing in the need for sparkle in a woman’s life, whether in jewellery, ocean views, or fully-lived moments and no regrets. While the elder Alexander chose to physically explore her place in the universe, the younger had always chosen a more cerebral approach to discovery, preferring to read the accounts of other people coming into contact with exotic bugs and strange dietary customs from the comfort of her own home. When Ruth returned from exotic places afar to her chintz and her cats, she had tea with the ladies of the local historical society and cross stitched samplers for church bazaars, while Felicity would partake in an afternoon of geo caching, rock climbing, or off-road cycling.

16 May 2009

Good day

Today is a good day. The sky is heavy and overcast, there has been thunder, we've had Mancunian rain, and the nephews are wound tighter than springs...but it's been a good day. Take a look at these faces:
Those would be the brave and victorious boys in red, The Best Team Ever, Manchester United, lifting the Premier League Trophy for the third year in a row (the second time they've won three years in a row) and for a record 11th time (since the top flight has been called the EPL).
This is a great picture as it shows my three favourite players. Holding the trophy is Ryan Giggs. He is the leaven of this team, showing the young whippersnappers how to conduct themselves on and off the pitch as gentlemen. On our left is Nemanja Vidic: fearless and totally dedicated Serbian international who doesn't seem to think he's doing his job unless he's got cuts and bruises or a concussion or two. On the right is Rio Ferdinand, a composed, steady presence on the team, and sometime captain. Ferdinand alongside Vidic in defence is almost impenetrable. Giggs makes a good pairing with Cristiano Ronaldo, and my hope is that Ronaldo will model himself on the older man; he can't go wrong if he chooses that path.
There is still one game left in the season, but the way the math worked out, United only needed one tie from their last two games in order to take the trophy. And such they did today at Old Trafford against Arsenal. I guess the EPL was prepared for that outcome, as the presentation took place today immediately following the game. That means everyone can relax and enjoy the very last game of the 2008-09 season before crying in their beer that it's all over for another year.
Today's game wasn't exactly brilliant. It was fast-paced -- neither side was going to concede points to the other. The atmosphere was fantastic with over 75,000 people in the stands. I understand why people sometimes say this is a boring game: if today you hadn't been emotionally invested in either team or the outcome, it wouldn't have been all that interesting as the scoreboard remained the same from beginning to end. It was an exciting game nonetheless because neither team was willing to give up, give in, or give over. It may not have been glorious or particularly beautiful football, but it was the game that engraved the name of Manchester United on the Premiership trophy.
United will defend their Champions League title against Barcelona in Rome on May 27. I have this cough developing...I think it's going to be something very serious in just over a week's time which may cause me having to stay home from work...what with swine flu and all. If I happen to be home that day, I just might check in on the game once or twice. For moral support, you understand.

14 May 2009

Movie magic

Remember the days of VHS? It was a bore to have to rewind the tape, and if you wanted a bit somewhere in the middle...forget it. DVDs have been a wonderful advancement in so many ways - chapter selections being one of them. I also enjoy the 'making of' featurettes, and sometimes the movie with commentary can be very insightful. If you have any interest in learning how movie magic happens, a good commentary is the place to begin.

Watching a movie with the commentary can present as many questions as it answers, however. For instance, I recently watched Catch and release that way, with the Director and DP's commentary. More than once throughout they pointed out scenes where a double was used in place of Jennifer Garner. Not unusual, you're thinking to yourself; what is Tess going on about now? You are right, dear reader. We know that doubles are often used, for body parts (Julia Roberts in Pretty woman) or for dangerous or difficult sequences (Bruce Willis in Live free or die hard). Natural and understandable. Studios pay their star talent a great deal of money. I know many stars are forbidden to ride motorcycles or go hang gliding etc. when under contract for a movie. The bank accounts of many people rely on them being in one piece and able to complete their role.

What struck me as being a little bit absurd though, is that three of those instances of a double being used for Jennifer were walking scenes. Walking! When she walked away from the camera, they tended to use a double. Did test audiences object to the way her behind moved? Could she not handle the danger of walking down an ordinary paved street? Keep in mind that Garner is trained in martial arts as well as dance, and rose to fame as Agent Sydney Bristow on Alias - known for its action sequences. Apparently a competent kickboxer cannot safely collapse into bed from a standing position either, cause they used a double for that scene, too.


Darned furballs

Those pesky chipmunks have been digging again. This time the planter (the one with the mini tree, and the daisies all around) has the Chunnel dug almost all the way through from one side of the tree to the other. Yet another bucket full of soil gone into setting it to rights.

I know people are going to be upset with me, cause it's just God's cute little creature -- Chip and Dale afterall -- doing what it's supposed to be doing. I have no problem with the stupid thing getting on with it's genetically necessary work, however, there is a big wide world out there, it certainly need not dig up my poor plants and make a mess of the front porch each and every day! So there!

However, I have discovered the names of the growing things we bought yesterday: Gloria mix (Celosia); Chocolate chip carpet bugle (Ajuga reptans 'Valfredda'); Red dragon's blood stonecrop (Sedum spurium red form); Biokovo dwarf cranesbill (Geranium X cantabrigiense 'Biokovo')

There is good news: the bush/shrub (shrush) is getting wee little flower buds on it, and I'm sure that where we pruned yesterday already has new growth on it. This is very exciting!

13 May 2009

I am gardener, hear me roar

However it happened, I am now enthusiastic about growing things. We went to a garden centre this afternoon, and I cannot begin to convey how happy I was. It wasn't a giddy, excited sort of feeling, but one of content well-being. We browsed in the best window-shopping fashion, admiring and praising how pretty everything was.

Four little plants came home with us, perched very precariously in the bottom of the stroller as we walked back, talking about where to plant them. (Please note the significance of that phrase: plant them. This was meant to be a container gardening experiment to determine how capable and committed we were going to be to the endeavor. Now we're putting things in the ground, discussing shade levels and watering requirements. Uh oh.)

Enthusiastic I might now be, ignorant I still remain. I should have gone back out before I wrote this to note the names of what we got, but I didn't and am now in my jammies so it's too late. I'll do the best I can. One of them is a Red Dragon's Blood something or other, bought for the boys. They think the name is pretty cool. The leaves have the look of a succulent about them. I can't wait for it to fill out and flower. I picked out a Chocolate Chip something. Who could resist that? It's a low, spreading plant which will get pretty little blue flowers on it. The ones I really love are the Glory. Eight little flowers came as a set, red, orange, yellow, and a creamy white. The colours are very saturated, and the flowers are fuzzy-looking. Very pretty! I hope they take ok and will grow well. We also bought another creeper...a something or other I don't remember.

It's amazing: today a shrub (or is it a bush? I'm not sure I know the difference) was pruned, and it looks great. A flower bed was dug around the base of a tree, and a lovely pink rock was placed just so, to offset the Glories. The unknown creeper is in that bed as well.

I'm sure none of that is of particular interest to anyone out there, but this is very exciting to me. I never in a million years would have thought I'd enjoy spending time in a garden centre, and actually want to attempt growing things. Huh. Here's the beef: squirrels are cheeky buggers, and pesty creatures! They are digging holes in the containers we have outside and are hiding their peanuts among our plants! Some mad woman in the neighbourhood walks the paths with a pouch of nuts and tosses them around to feed the bushy-tailed nuisances. How annoying! Drop all the peanuts you want in your own yard, lady! Some people are trying to garden around here!

12 May 2009


Crazy Car Lady. Her name might be Roberta or Sonia. I call her Crazy Car Lady. CCL...Cecilia? Nah...Crazy Car Lady she is. She lives across the street and one house over. Not being directly facing her means we can spy on her more overtly. Ahem...what I mean to say is: when we happen to look out the window in her general direction, it does not appear to be intentional.

She showed up in the neighbourhood a little while ago. It was when the snow was clearing so that ground showed and people took to the out of doors that we began to notice her. And her car. It is not a remarkable car. A nice Bugatti or Lamborghini would explain her behaviour somewhat, but her little Japanese sedan makes her actions blog-worthy.

The first couple of times we thought she was scoping out the street as a potential homeowner. Throughout the course of the day we'd notice her car parked on the road in various places. Sometimes with her in it. Just sitting in it. Sometimes we'd spot her walking around the car. Then get back in it. Then we'd loose track of her. The car would frequently move. Then we realized she belonged to that house because we'd see her drive her car up and down her short suburban driveway then enter the house. She comes out of her house, looks at her car, then goes back inside. Sometimes she sits in the car or moves it from the driveway to the street.

Today, the other car belonging to that house was parked in the drive. We saw Mr. Crazy Car Lady come out of the house, and move his car onto the street. He went back inside. About 20 minutes later, she came home, drove right to the top of the driveway - practically bumping the garage. She sat for a minute or two, then moved the car back about 1/3 the length of the drive. As she sat there, he came out of the house, locked the front door, got in his vehicle and reversed it to the opposite side of their driveway and sat. She got out of her car, walked around it, unlocked her front door and went in. He drove away.

I have no idea what is going on but it is vastly amusing. Many neighbours are uninteresting and predictable. Our neighbours are anything but.

10 May 2009

The Mom Heart

I have a good mother. I am grateful for my good mother. My mom (PW), like all mom's, learned on the job. It is interesting to me, as I observe my friends having children, and observing PW as Oma, that motherhood has a very broad job description, and a very broad allowance of how to go about being a mom. Some women are quiet and gentle; some are dynamic and voluble; some are naturally maternal and nurturing; others are more laidback or liberal. None of these types or approaches defines motherhood, but they do allow for every woman to participate in motherhood.

What I mean is that every woman, regardless her demeanor or personality traits has the capacity for mothering. Today is Mother's Day. I wish all of you Moms a very happy Mother's Day. Some of you are mothers to other people, but you've had a hand in mothering me. Realising that, has made me realise that I can offer mothering to other people as well.

The single life has a great many opportunities, possibilities and blessings not available to married women, or those with religious vocations. One of the disadvantages is its inherent amorphous nature. There is no job description, no real absolute purpose, and it's also rather open-ended. Very few of us are called to permanent, committed singleton-ness. And for women, there is another little twinge: where to expend our need to care for and nurture others in an acceptable, appropriate and satisfying way?

Each of us finds our own way to an answer for that question. I am not anyone's mom, but I am fortunate to have people to love in that distinctly 'feminine genius' way that JPII spoke about, in acknowldegement of the role of women.

Being able to do so has deepened my awareness of the cost of being a mother, of taking on the unfathomable task of forming -- moulding -- a person. I have witnessed the dying to self that motherhood requires, and recognize the unending vigilence and effort that goes into parenting. I see too, that the rewards are unsurpassable in the smiles, accomplishments, and love of your children.

In the two together, the cost and the rewards, God is present. He understands and experiences the unique sorrow of a mother, as well as the unique connection, pride, and love of a mother. For that reason, He has special blessings and consolations for moms. As surely as the grey hairs appear, worry lines develop, sleep is lost and never regained, so shall joy in your children flourish.

Happy Mother's Day


Happiness in two photos:
Ronaldo does what he does best: SCORE!!

Ryan Giggs. Elder statesman, gentleman sportsman, doing what he does best: play beautiful football.

The Best Team Ever (Manchester United) played their arch rivals today: Manchester City. That's right, they come from the same town. There is no love lost between the two. You can tell which are the City players: they're the ones in Baby Blue. Isn't it a sweet colour? Not a real manly colour, but you know...sweet. TBTE won, naturally. It's my sister's birthday today, and she is a devoted United fan, so it's only right that her team should win on this of all days. I'm just an innocent beneficiary of the results. Poor me.

United have three games remaining and then the season is over. They are three points up on the second place team...those Scousers who never walk alone (sounds awfully insecure to me...a United fan or player would be able to do something as simple as walking all on their ownsome) and have one more game to play than the other title contenders. Because United have also qualified for the Champions League Final, they have been playing more football than the other teams, and have more football to play still than the other teams, which is something of a disadvantage. They are, however, The Best Team Ever, and are quite up to the challenge.

Glory Glory Man United!


It is May 10. By all rights and according to the calendar it should be Spring. Printemps. Primavera. Fruejahr. That would entail warm afternoons bracketed by cooler mornings and evenings (a feature I love about both Spring and Autumn), clear blue skies, bright cheery sun, and bursting young life everywhere.

There is a little tree in the front yard that I can just see as I sit in my window. It is all abloom with white flowers, signalling the arrival of the growing season. The fierce wind, however, has ripped many of the blossoms off the tree, tossing them to the ground, which is now covered in white...resembling snow. The sky is heavy and grey. The sun hasn't been seen in a few days. The temperature is unreasonably (and unseasonably) low. The lovely plants we bought are too young and tender to withstand these harsh conditions. I am not amused!

Part of my miff is wrapped in the knowledge that in just a few weeks time I am going to be complaining just as fitfully about the heat and humidity. I'm Canadian afterall I suppose, and weather is integral to my state of mind.

09 May 2009

Remember your lessons

I learned a valuable lesson today. Or rather, relearned an old lesson. I am not a city girl. And I hate shopping at the weekend!

A chocolate cake took me across town early this morning to the local Bulk Barn (such a great store...whoever came up with that idea is brilliant, and probably lots of fun, too). The trip is literally two right turns and a left, and ten minutes later, you're there! Not on Saturday mornings, though. Ugh. Just negotiating that particular strip-mall parking lot was stress inducing. I think people adopt a nine-to-five mentality: once they clock out, their brain goes on vacation as well. So, when they're out and about -- totally at large -- they are attempting to function in public places, operating heavy machinery, in a "this is your brain on weekends" state of mind. Makes errands veeerrry interesting for the rest of us, to say the least.

Shopping at Bulk Barn is always fun, but sadly they do not stock things like eggs. Chocolate cake uses eggs, so off I had to go to Blah-blah's to round out my purchases. (Along the way I bought movie tickets for an evening showing of the big sci fi prequel blockbuster opening this weekend. Another story, but I can tell you now it was a great deal of fun) Getting back across town this time took nearly three times as long, and there were traffic jams at every intersection. It's becoming ridiculous! This is not a large city that I live in, however, it's getting to the point that my new philosophy of life must include "I shall not leave the house and attempt to go anywhere by car between the hours of 8am Saturday - 9pm Sunday, or enter a store of any sort during those same hours". Doing so, you see, proves that I am not essentially a forbearing, kind, tolerant or mild sort of person. Which also proves that you really ought to remember your lessons, or you will be forced to learn them all over again.

08 May 2009


Not light and fluffy escapist entertainment, but Defiance is a movie worth seeing. Based on the true story of four brothers hiding from the Nazis with 1200 other Jews in the Belarussian woods, it pays homage to hope, faith, and the strength of the human spirit. It also shows human nature at its very best, and its absolute worst.

The group of Jews who find each other over time build a community. Every person is assigned work, and everyone gets the same rations. People fall in love, people grumble about being hungry and having to work, people become sick and die. The Germans manage to find them, and so they must once again leave everything they have and run to a new spot to begin all over again. (Imagine doing that with 1200 people!) Food must be taken from local farmers, but they are careful to not visit one farmer more than others, or to take from people who cannot spare what they have. They build simple log huts, and trade labour with Russian partisans for food and medicine. Despite all they had endured before having to hide in the forest, they manage to maintain hope and rebuild again and again and establish a semblance of 'normal' life.

It is not an idyllic or romantic life, however. When times are especially challenging, many begin to wish they were back in the ghetto, and at one point they pray for God to remove His favour from them, to find another nation to bless. One person asks why it is so hard to be friends with a Jew; the answer he gets is: try being one.

We learn at the end of the film that the children and grandchildren of the survivors now number in the hundreds of thousands. What a legacy those four brothers have.

The earth

I'm so excited, for this last...I am attempting something that has intimidated me all my days: gardening. I have been responsible for the demise of many house plants. Even several arrangements of hardy cacti did not survive my care. Those experiences have left me feeling vulnerable and rather reluctant to take on large-scale, in-the-earth plant planning and planting.

So this year, my sister and I have banded together in our desire to take on the great outdoors, tame it, beautify it, fill it with pretty blooming things. After weeks of talking about how nice it would be, this afternoon we took ourselves off to the local garden centre (three totally uninterested little boys and one experienced and helpful Oma in tow) to explore the world of horticulture.

What an overwhelming world horticulture is, to the uninitiated. We decided our plan of attack in this, our inaugural year, was container gardening. The variety of containers and boxes is vast and daunting. Is this a decision to be made based soley on the pocket book? Does climate or contents impact the choice? Baffling. I thought that simply deciding to plant stuff in a container was half the battle. Nevermind! Not to mention the fact that you can't just get a few pots of 'stuff', you must make a selection from among hundreds of varieties, heights, flowering seasons, colours etc. Yikes! Daunting indeed.

Living in Germany for a number of years has given me a fondness for geraniums. I'd love to have a long windowbox of red geraniums, under an actual window. Nothing else in it...just geraniums. I was very surprised at myself, once at the garden centre, to discover how many of the flowers I was wanting to take with me. What colours! What shapes! So many possibilities.

We brought home two planters, one of which has a little shrub waiting to be planted in it; the other will very soon be brimming with assorted herbs. Oma bought a few lovely flowers to go along the front path (they look like a daisy with a purple centre - so lovely). I bought a pretty flowering maple in a planter with two little ivy plants in it. The flowers on the maple have a tissue paper texture, and are a cheery orange colour.

I am accomplished gardener in manner of Martha Stewart. (get the quote?) Hoorah!

06 May 2009

Of dogs, tears, and truth

It's been mentioned before: I really enjoy watching movies. I like highbrow films, reading subtitles doesn't deter me, and artsy movies can be enjoyable too. At the same time, Pretty woman is one of my favourites along with Black Hawk down, and Die hard. I draw the line however, at Natcho libre, potty-humour, and senseless gore.

Of all the movies I've seen recently, the one I'd like to inaugurate 'Movie Reviews by Tess' with is the sweet and simple story about the family of the the world's worst dog. Marley and me really took me by surprise; I was expecting pure escape and thought this would fit the bill nicely: escape wrapped in feel good fluff. Instead what it delivers is Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson realistically portraying a convincing young couple from the beginning of their marriage through the early years of raising their children.

John Grogan (Wilson) follows the advice of his determinedly single friend to buy his wife Jenny (Aniston) a dog to sublimate her desire for children. Enter Marley -- you guessed it -- The World's Worst Dog. This is a dog that would challenge the most devoted of canine devotees. This dog eats floors, tears down walls in a thunder storm, inconveniences innocent poodles, and shuts down the only dog beach in three counties and fails obedience school. Children do enter the picture despite the demanding dog, and so the beauty of this movie develops.

A young couple get married, drive a rust heap of a car, struggle in their early careers, have children, take on insanity packaged as a dog...and are tired. Sound familiar? This is an honest portrayal of life without being scary, despondent, depressing, or lesson-preaching. It manages to be funny and tender at the same time and is ultimately very satisfying.

Marley and me is a keeper.

05 May 2009


Happiness in a headline:

Ruthless Man Utd cruise into final

And so it is that the Best Team Ever is heading toward a possible back to back Champions League win. Yay!!


So, I've been away for a few days, meaning my poor overworked computer has had a break as much as I have. I came back ready to get to it once more, but the power cord - an essential component of modern technology - decided to stay on vacation. Since so much of my raison d'etre is wrapped up in these bits and bytes I had to replace it quickly or my lifeblood would seep away.

After attending to necessities this morning I visited the usual places you would visit were you in need of computer accessories. Let me tell you now: do not bother. The usual places (The Day After Tomorrow Store; Supreme Purchase; Metal Paper Fasteners) do not stock computer accessories, do not know anything about computer accessories, and can't be bothered to tell customers anything about computer accessories. What a to-do! The whole endeavor quite wrung me out. Besides which, it turns out power cords are very expensive! Sheesh!

I am longing for the good old days of manual typewriters. The worst that could happen with them was the keys getting tangled if you typed too quickly. You would have to change the ribbon from time to time, but back in the day the usual places to buy typewriter supplies probably actually stocked supplies, knew about their stock, and provided excellent customer service.

I was so not impressed with the experience that I drowned my sorrows in a midweek movie. I watched an Aussie, a Brit, and a Canadian uncover a dastardly plot by American war profiteers. All is right in my world once again.


I love a road trip, don't you? I enjoy driving, and a road trip is the perfect combination between doing nothing and yet accomplishing something. I find it very meditative to drive for long distances, plus it's a perfect opportunity to wail along to loud music without disturbing the neighbours.
A week ago, I stocked up on good tunes (a forthcoming post will include my first attempt at album reviews. Stay tuned!), snacks (chocolate covered almonds) and yummy bevvies. I attempted to buy a toasted bagel with cream cheese from the world's most famous purveyor of legal addictive stimulants (get the quote?)because it was next door to both my bank and the gas station. However, as I pulled away I discovered that this bagel I asked for - to go - was indeed toasted, but the cream cheese was in packages on the side. How does one lather a bagel whilst tooling down the 401 I ask you? Thank goodness for those almonds - nature's perfect food.
Supplies in place, I hit the road. The sky was blue, the sun was shining, traffic stayed out of my way, and good friends were at the other end waiting for me. I don't have a large posse, but the friends I have -- the ones that have stuck over the years -- are my treasure. Martina and Serge, you always make me laugh and I feel special when I'm with you. Thank you. Lil and Shankar, you made work seem like play and reminded me that life is bigger than four walls. Thank you. Rose, you inspire me to seek the truth and never settle for less. Thank you.