The Lighthouse

the lighthouse

31 July 2009


I wish I had more time. I wish I used the time I had more wisely. I cannot believe it is the last night in this house...that the time has finally and actually come to leave! Tomorrow morning, the last things (quite alot of last things) will be jigsaw-puzzled onto the truck, and then we pull out of the driveway for the very last time, and head off into the sunset and our new life elsewhere.

Here I am at the end of the day, knowing I should get some rest. Instead, I find myself tapping away at the keyboard or reading by the light of the monitor (lamps are packed), reluctant to let this last day go. Tomorrow brings new and unknown things; tomorrow is the first step on an undiscovered road; tomorrow leaves the comfortable and familiar behind.

JB and I stayed up later than usual, wandering a tangled conversational path. I think we were both prolonging our last evening of chatting in this house. Somehow - as is common, I believe - talk of politics led to talk of fashion (how clothing in the 1950s was universally flattering to women) and then of course to foundational garments. I'll spare you some of that, but along the way, we touched on the current trend of highwaisted trousers and the fashion for broad belts. Not regular belts serving the purpose of holding up your slacks, but very wide, decorative belts, worn over tops and blouses. Both JB and I are short waisted...hips to bossom with nothing in between is what I mean. It is very difficult to clothe us nicely, let alone fashionably, and we short waisted types cringe whenever these ridiculous fashions become pervasive. We laughed at the image of ourselves in one those belts, and JB illustrated the scene for me: "Look at this new belt I got!" (excitedly to friend) "It's got a great buckle, see?" (hoists up the bossom to show friend nifty new belt and its wonderful buckle)
Doesn't work, does it?

Right. I'll take my short-waisted self to bed now, acknowleding the demise of the era. Good night room. Good night house.

29 July 2009


A big change is in my near future: this weekend, my family is moving. They are moving out of town and hours away, while I shuffle over to a different 'burb for a short while. We're busy putting our lives into boxes...brown cardboard boxes, blue plastic bins, black garbage get the idea.
It's an interesting experience, handling the bits and pieces that compass, define, and make possible your life as you know it. It is purgative, stressful, freeing, humourous and time consuming -- and that's just the canvas tote collection I had tucked under my bed! Apparently I thought I needed 10. I was ruthless and whittled the count down to four. How liberating!
I'm fairly certain that I have packed my brain into a box as well. It hasn't been seen for a few days now, but I don't remember which box it's in. I hope I marked it clearly, so I can find it quickly when it comes to unpacking at the other end.
In the meantime, there may not be many posts until things settle down a little. All I've got to talk about is boxes anyway, and while I could spin that into deep metaphorical insights into life, perceptions, gender differences and so on, I am currently lacking my brain.

26 July 2009


I am home again. And I have been home this weekend. I spent a day in a place that has evidence of the Hand of God everywhere: the landscape is beautiful, the people are kind and sincere, their faith is earnest. The topography is somewhat rugged - it's easy to believe the Voyageurs were there just yesterday, as man has had very little impact on the terrain in that area. For example, across the lake there was a cabin in a tiny clearing hacked out of the dense woods. If the owners left it for just a year or two, wilderness would reclaim the land once more, leaving little evidence of human occupation.

The church I went to for Mass is right beside a lake, perched up high as if to blanket the town under its mantle. Its setting prepares you already for the experience inside of simple beauty in both architecture and liturgy. I felt at home, as if I truly belonged there. I've had that experience before, in different parishes. It must be that my soul recognizes Home among people who sincerely seek Him.

24 July 2009


One of my favourite blogs to read is Conversion Diary. Each Friday features a series called 7 Quick Takes. (Click here for this week's installment) Here are my seven quick takes:

1. In the hallways of work, I saw a little group of women. A group of little women, actually. Not actual little women, just short women. All five of them were just over 5'1'' or so. I started to spin stories of how they came to know one another, such as: they each noticed someone else was also keeping their lunch dishes in the cabinets below the counter in the kitchen, tired from having to drag over a stool to be able to reach the higher shelves. Over time they crossed paths, and looks of commiseration and humour grew into friendship and support. Ten years on, they're Godparenting each other's children.

2. Number Five Nephew just had a run-in with an immovable force: Daddy. Five didn't take too kindly to it, but realizing that daddy wasn't about to give in, he turned on his wobbly heel, and took his wail to where mommy sat on the sofa. He made quite a picture, naked in his diaper, his soft and plump 16 month-old body producing such volume, as he just stood there, looking at her, mouth open, displeasure emanating from deep within. When mommy got up to get him a bottle, he continued wailing, but followed her from room to room, trotting on his ankle-less heart should be wrenched, I know, but I laugh every time. I love this little guy so much...especially the baby dinosaur grunt he makes these days, with a big smile on his face as he pushes a Matchbox car across the table. The picture is Five on the beach. Everyone else was squealing in the surf, having a gay-old time -- he was having noneofit.

3. I've posted already about the book I'm reading: the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. I'm so close to the conclusion now, I ration myself with paragraphs at a time. I'm enjoying the story so much I don't want it to end. The story has become so much more than I expected, which doubles the delight I feel in having found the book in the first place. Read it; do please, I'm sure you'll enjoy it too.
4. I am moving in a week's time, and then again in a month's time. This pleases my restless nature, but frustrates my longing for a forever home, a place of my own where I truly belong and can just be at last. Heaven will fulfill that need, I know, but surely there's a place here on Earth that will fit like home? My home? I hope to find it soon, and hope it is the place waiting for me at summer's end.
5. Before I move, I am taking a weekend to retreat. This is not going to be an official spiritual retreat of silence and contemplation, but it is going to be a time of quiet and reflection. God is calling me away this weekend, and I'm eager to hear what He has to say. I used to make a regular habit of going on retreat. In the frenetic and frantic world so many of us live in, we really do need to deliberately cultivate silence and stillness.

6. Speaking of silence and stillness, there is a wonderful film called Into great silence which I recommend as a beautiful work of cinematic art, but also as an aid to coming to quiet within yourself. It is a documentary of the Carthusian monks of the Grande Chartreuse in the French Alps.
7. It rained today. Again. Not just drops of water falling from the sky, but RAIN. If you were to imagine an ordinary day of rain as being like the gentlest setting on your showerhead, what we experienced today could be likened to the massage feature. I feel damp from the inside out, which strikes me as a very good reason to make some cocoa.

23 July 2009

Time for a little football

The 2009/10 season is nearly underway: preseason games are winding down, managers are starting to swagger for the press, transfers are flying from team to team and league to league. The first games take place August 15...but the day we all await? Sunday, August 16 -- United at home to Birmingham.

It's been mentioned a time or two that Manchester United is The Best Team Ever (TBTE) and here's why: their many trophies, awards, and acolades* aside, it's the United mentality that I like, and that comes down to manager Sir Alex Ferguson. In this age of constantly shifting managers, Fergie's been with United for 24 years. Twenty-four! A loyal bloke himself, his philosophy is to find players who not only are gifted with good feet, but who are passionate about the game and want to play for the club... not the divos most interested in money. For example, taking a look at his squad, my favourite player is Ryan Giggs, a United player since 1990; Neville and Scholes who came along in '91; Ole Gunnar Solskjaer who played with United for 11 years and now looks after the reserve team...and so on. Yes, Ferguson has money to spend, and spend it he does - when he sees fit. He's also willing to let players go, when other money comes calling, believing that feet follow the heart, and a player not committed to his club isn't worth the money anyway. A few big transfers this summer are proof of that.

While I love to talk about TBTE, it's the mad transfers and the obscene amounts of money that I want to talk about. I know this ugliness is infesting other sports as well - such as the NHL and a certain Sens player, but I'm sticking to football (soccer, if I must use the word!).

The biggest news has been Real Madrid, Spanish winners of more awards than I care to count, affectionately known as Los Galacticos (the superstars). They pull in more than 300 million British Pounds a year, so they certainly have money to spend, and spend they certainly do, to the tune of 263 million pounds this summer so far. 65 were for Kaka, 94 for Ronaldo...only 35 for Benzema...and poor old Granero? A paltry 4 mil. Poor guy... to know you were worth less than 1/20th as much as that other guy.

On the English side, Manchester City has been courting some big names, using money as their inducement. Perhaps, having placed10th last season, they believe money is all they have, to tempt players over their side? Having spent well over 50 million on just three players and an additional undisclosed sum for the high-maintenace Adebayor, they recently lost a friendly 2-0 to the Orlando Pirates. All I have to say is: good luck to them... and I hope '09/10 shows that money doesn't win trophies.
Chelsea has also been known for splashing out on big name players, having piles of Russian oil money behind them. They've been importing and discarding managers in the hunt for silverware. Unlike City, they've been consistently at the top of the table, and have won twice in the past five years. Despite the money, I have the sense that there is club pride among the players. Captain John Terry, for example, is being courted by City with an offer of one million a month, but he seems firm in his commitment to Chelsea, the club he's been with since the age of 14. I hope I don't hear that he made the switch. I like the guy, think he's a natural team captain, and is a gifted midfielder. I always see him talking to, or patting the heads of, the kids that lead the team onto the pitch before a match. The money behind City, however, are determined to get him, 'whatever the cost'.

The thing about money in sport, is that it overlooks the heart factor. A team of players who are proud of the crest on their jerseys, dedicated to their manager, proud of their club's history will be able to win a game in injury time from being 2-0 down. A team with players who are there for the paycheque will find themselves kid-gloving primadonnas, and having to use the enticement of bonuses and bigger salaries. Where's the honour in that? The sportsmanship? What happened to the love of the game? Playing for the fun of it?
For sure, it's a bloody decent way to make a living, and a bloody decent living at that. There's heaps of money to be had in the gate receipts, the sponsorships, and the media contracts. But at the heart of it, it is 22 men kicking around a ball because as wee little boys they loved the game and spent every daylight hour practicing their drills. The players who haven't forgotten that fact, are the ones I like to watch. Here's to Ryan Giggs and John Terry!
*For example: 11 Premiership titles...and the Premiership was founded 17 years ago. Only 3 other teams have ever won even one Prem.

21 July 2009

All in the line of work

While I can't talk about my job directly, I can tell you that I went to a water park today (you may remember I also did this and's a tough job to be sure, but you know what they say...) Before you get all green with envy, I will also tell you that I was outnumbered by teenagers 13-1, which means the hour-long bus ride was f.u.n. fun.
However, there I was, water-side, with a really good book, good company, gorgeous weather, and settled in to people watch for the day. There were bodies in all shapes and sizes - a shocking number with multiple tattoos, there were several piercings, hairy backs, the white guy with white white hair tanned to the colour of a coconut shell, cute-as-buttons little people, including a month old newbie who slept beside me for a couple of hours. But not one..not one single...speedo. I was disappointed! It used to be guaranteed that anytime you were in spitting distance of water, there'd be some European guy swaggering along in his speedo and gold chains. The closest there was to that today was a gentleman in a 007 suit. You know the one I mean. Casino Royale? Daniel Craig in the water? I thought of posting a picture, but that could be construed as lascivious. Or licentious. Not sure which, but neither are appropriate for the tone of this PG blog.
While he was a nice looking man, I was still sorry to not have seen a speedo. It's a sign of changing times, and I'm not altogether sure it's a good sign.

What I did see though, on the way home, was one of these which finished off the day very nicely. We used to see these Citroens all over France, and longed to own one for ourselves. We called them Duck Ducks...though I couldn't tell you why.

20 July 2009

Reading! At last!

On the advice of Heather*, I bought a book this weekend with a fascinating title: The Guernsey, Literary, and Potato Peel Pie Society, a novel. It is written by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. Mary Ann was an editor and a librarian and also worked in bookstores. She died in 2008, and I believe her niece Annie completed the book.
The story takes place in Britain immediately following WWII. It unfolds through an exchange of letters between Juliet (an author), her publisher, friends, and others. Aside from Heather's recommendation, it was the quote just inside the front cover that kept me from putting the book back down on the table: I wonder how the book got to Guernsey? Perhaps there is some secret sort of homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers. Isn't that a good quote? To a reader, it rings true, makes perfect sense, and reassures with the fact that the right book will always find us.

I'm only on page 24, but I'm hooked. I'm in, I'm believing it, I'm intrigued, I like these characters, and am entranced by the story as it is revealed, letter by letter. I've just come to the part where Juliet explains a broken engagement: the man packed away all her books. Can you believe it? The nerve! To a person who loves words, and to whom books are companions in life, consigning those companions to boxes... just cause for dismissal without question.

I must get back to it now...I have to find out what happened next.

*Heather puts stickers with her name on books. Presumably this increases sales.

18 July 2009

Neighourly update

CCL (CrazyCarLady) has been rather quiet of late, so there hasn't been much to report. What I have noticed though, is that Mr. CCL has had several different vehicles in the past month: the silver SUV which prompted this post, a sort of champagne-coloured sedan which merely came and went at random intervals but didn't seem to inspire much odd car-based behaviour, and now a shiny red SUV. There have been no shinanigans yet with Red, but my fingers are crossed daily for automotive oddities to share with you.


Another interesting read:

A youngish man who is working at a research station in Antarctica for six months, and blogs about his thoughts and experiences.

A tree house in the rain

I feel like I'm sitting in a tree house in the rain. Here I am, cross-legged on my bed, with the laptop in front of me, angled so my wrists are propped over the keyboard. There is a window ahead of me, and another to my right. Out of both, I can see a tree and very little else. The one out front, in particular, is just big enough, and perfectly placed so that I feel as if I were actually in the tree, rather than just enjoying it from afar.

It is raining. It seems to be a proper sort of rainy day and I'm able to settle in and embrace the subdued calm that comes from a good rainy day. Or maybe because we've actually had some really nice summery days all in a row, today doesn't strike depression or malice into my soul! Whichever, I woke up this morning and feeling quite content as I listened to the drip of the drops, and admired the altered appearance of the leaves and limbs.

Thinking back over my adult years, most of the places I have lived have featured trees, and often to the point that I could imagine I lived in a tree house. One place was on the seventh floor, but the trees were so tall, we were on level with the canopy, as if we could step off the balcony right onto their branches. It gave the apartment such a feeling of was lovely.

By summer's end, I will be in yet another new home. I don't know what the view out of my window will be, but I hope there will be a tree or two. For now, I'm going to take advantage of what I have here; I'm moving over to the chair tucked between both windows to watch the rain come down and let the peace soak into me. I hope wherever you are, you have a view that eases your heart.

15 July 2009


Kids say cute things all the time. Adults forget cute things kids say all the time. I really should get a digital recorder, so I have a record of the hilarity I come across daily.

This particular cute thing came about after the wee ones were "in bed". The living room began to get dark, so we got up to turn on some lights, when suddenly, there was a little person (4*), standing right there in the middle of the room, scaring the...dickens out of us. Looking up at his mom ever so trustingly, though groggily, he held up his tiny finger, and with one word, tried to get himself out of trouble for being out of bed so late: Owie.

Last night, I was helping the above mentioned wee person with his supper. After every few forkfuls, he would hold up his hand in the universal sign of 'stop', telling me "Just a minute". He would then reach down, pick up his blankie, and take a few comforting sniffs, put the blankie back down, and say so very nicely "ok. Some more, please."

Several nights ago, when the whole gang was eating around the small kitchen table, one of us must have pretended we were going to sneak something from his plate. He placed his arms in a protective shield around his plate, and told us "back off, guys. This is my plate!"

* Four in birth order, not age.

The Story of a lass and a Glenn

This was inspired by and for a dear friend who had one of those random encounters that keep the heart of a single girl in working order. It's intentionally over the top, not at all factual, and hopefully somewhat humorous. Enjoy...

He walked with the confidence of a man in uniform, one who knew he could keep 900,000 pounds of machinery, metal and human flesh aloft over mountain ranges and vast sweeps of ocean expanse; through storm and cloud and shattering sunlight. He was a pilot; a ginger-haired pilot with the clear, icy blue eyes of an Alaskan Husky. Even in the warm and contented fog of a week well-lived in New York City, Colleen recognised the masculine command emanating from the very presence of this man, and nearly swooned on the spot. At least, never having properly swooned before, she thought the limp spaghetti state of her knees was a precursor to an out-and-out swoon, and she clutched at the back of one of the moulded plastic seats riveted to the floor of the departures lounge in long rows, like prisoners in a chain gang. He heard her luggage tumble to the floor, turned to see if assistance was required (he could fly a plane - a lady in distress was nothing to this man) and that’s when it happened: their eyes met across the crowded room. His piercing blue gaze drew her own like a magnet draws iron shavings; it felt as if her very soul was yearning toward him.

Glenn…his name was Glenn. (He wore a helpful name badge on the breast pocket of his uniform) The name had a Scottish ring to it. Maybe he was Scottish, and had a lovely, lilting brogue in his speech, was able to sing like an angel, and could tickle trout out of creeks when hill walking through the heather. The beautiful man started to walk toward her, and it seemed there was a glow about him, like Maddy Hayes on Moonlighting (it was the Vaselined lens they used for her on the show). When he stood next to her, he reached out and touched her, holding her hand and helping her to steady herself. His nearness though, intensified the wobble in her knees, and she had to rely on his support in order to remain standing. He was warm and strong, and he smelled so good she couldn’t help leaning in to absorb him a little more. He smiled at her - a lift at one corner of his mouth and a flash of dimple in his cheek -- then without a word he patted her hand, and walked with confident, man-in-uniform strides to his gate, and disappeared from her sight.

What had she done? How could she have allowed this man to just walk out of her life like that? There had been a connection between them, she knew it; and in the brief contact of their hands, she had felt a lifetime of belonging. She would have to trust the Fates on this one, for she knew the door closing behind him as he went to his plane was not the door of possibility closing on their future happiness.

14 July 2009

Of bees in bonnets

Customer service -- of both the good and the bad varieties -- has become such a bee in my bonnet, people look puzzled when I walk by, trying to figure out where all the buzzing is coming from. And like most bees in bonnets, once you become aware of their existence, you can't stop being aware of their existence. You hear them buzzing all of the time, you see them coming at you, you feel them pinging off you as they fail to avoid you.

A few days ago, I bought a cheap-but-delicious hotdog from one of those fast food places. This one specializes in hamburgers dressed any old way you want, but I really enjoy their hotdogs and have pickles on the side. I always ask for more than they first give me. I really like pickles. It had been a day of errands and lots of rain. I was tired of the constant in and out of the car routine, so made use of the drive through. Or is it drivethru? Anyway...have you ever noticed that when you actually enter the store, you wait a long time for service, while about 17 people are busy handing coffee or burgers out the window to people sitting warm and dry in their car? This is why I chose the drivethru (or is it drive-through?) on that day. But I had to wait to place my order, and once I got to the delivery window, not once did the girl acknowledge me, or even say a thing beyond "four twenty-five". She used up all her words talking to her friend working beside her.

I've got nothing on Dave Carroll though, and his crazy experience. Check this out: link is to his website and his telling of how United Airlines damaged his costly guitar (he's a musician, so aside from sentimental value, his guitar is also his livelihood) and then proceeded to give him the runaround from Halifax to Chicago, New York, India and Omaha in an attempt to pass the buck of responsibility. Being a man of good humour, he determined to use his songwriting talents for fun as well as work and kept his promise to United that he would write of his experience with them and post it on Youtube. That link is here: The video (and the song) is simple but clever, honest and humorous. Dave has written a part two, with one more installment to follow after that. From what I gather, there has been no official apology from United, but they have approached Mr. Carroll for permission to use the video in customer service training. Isn't that hilarious?

Which reminds me: I was with a couple of friends on the weekend, and the conversation drifted to the topic of customer service. I don't know how that happened, because lovely beverages of fruits of the forest mixed with a sugar cane by-product was accompanying our very high-brow cinematic experience. Regardless, the gist of this conversation was that both friends were interested in starting up a 'customer service training' business. Teach individuals how to deliver good service, or teach businesses how to train their employees in the principles of good customer relations. I think it's a grand idea. They could have saved United a great deal of embarrassment.

(A note to people who rely on Spellcheck to catch their typos: for every occurance of drivethru/through/-through, Spellcheck suggested diptheria)

13 July 2009

Words, wit, and wisdom

I've lamented...moaned even...about the dearth of reading on my bedside table, about how it seems too challenging to concentrate on a book these days. I've realized that I do most of my reading online - nice bite-sized blogs. Bite-sized blogs are like two-bite brownies: not enough to be too much, and just enough to make you think you really could handle just a little bit more.

Today I stumbled across two new blogs, and while I've just begun to explore them, the initial sampling struck me as being worth sharing. This first one because it made me laugh. It is so very British, so very 'bloke'ish, wonderfully could be Dave Barry with a British accent. I've often joked that I'd love to be Dave Barry... I think having the ability to universally make people laugh (that sounds rather bullying and manipulative. Should I say 'inspire people to laugh'?) is the most wonderful gift. As well as very difficult.

The second one I've included because for years now, since first learning about Act One, I've been wanting to learn more about Christians (specifically Catholics) in Hollywood. While I can be rather scathing of "the emptiness of Hollywood", the power of film to tell a story, evoke emotions, share experiences, ensure the remembrance of history, and to simply entertain, is not to be maligned or overlooked.

I have aspirations to write, and think I'd like to try my hand at screenplays. I didn't believe it would be possible to write good, broad-appeal scripts without also having to compromise the thing which is most fundamental to who I am: Catholicism. Until I learned about the group at Act One, that is. And today I somehow found my way to Barbara Nicolosi's blog, and I feel inspired to take this idea of writing more seriously.

Think about movies that you've seen. Think about the ones that have really left an impression, have almost become a part of you. The best stories always do. What do they have in common? I'm sure that for the most part, those lingering movies tell the Truth, even if only in a small way. The characters may be flawed, there may be struggle and sadness - maybe not even a happy ending. There is probably an element of heroism, redemption, forgiveness, and they often include the concept of blessing, from parent to child. The secular world does not understand these themes as being necessarily Christian, but a Christian certainly recognizes them as Truth.

The trick, I think, for contemporary storytellers who choose film as their medium, is to share Truth in such a way so as to not alienate their audience. There is a place for evangelism, and those who are called to (and gifted for) overt prophecy - telling the Word straight out. But there is also a place for those who speak the language of 'the world' and bring light into its darkness in a less overt fashion. Perhaps like a mom who sneaks spinach into the scrambled eggs, or vitamins into the orange juice. Harmless but effective. I see it as reclaiming popular culture: it is taking back the storytelling art form, and restoring substance to its content. The challenge is to spin a tale with mass appeal, and deliver an important message without hitting the audience over the head with it.

11 July 2009

Customer service II, or, I'm twelve, don't know a thing about our product and really can't be bothered to help you.

Sounds harsh and yet so true in yet another customer service experience. It wasn't a difficult thing we were trying to do, which was buying previously viewed videos from the people who also offer you cable, internet and telephone "service", for forty percent off. (the videos were discounted, not their service. Well, they provide bargain basement service for the full price, but it was the videos we were after)

First of all, I was asked by three different people as I came in the store if there was something they could help me find. I told each one what I was looking for - a rom com by one of America's leading sweethearts - and each one had to go to the computer to look it up. We could plainly see for ourselves the store didn't have it, because their entire selection of comedies was exactly one row long, and in the row most of the videos were sitting flat, cover out, instead of lined up like books, spine out. I only mention this to make the point that their selection was very very limited. What they had, frankly, were a bunch of movies I'd never heard of, or was afraid to touch -- certain that if I did, I'd get slimed. But did they have the one we were looking for, with an A-list cast and box office clout? Stop laughing! Why do you laugh at that question? The answer, obviously, is 'no'. They didn't have it, and yes, maybe we were naive to expect they would have it. Consider the lesson learned: video chain stores are not really in the movie business. They do not hire knowledgeable film buffs, or train their staff in the products and services of the company. It's like going to Fox Books, where they think of books like giant cans of olive oil.

Not deterred, we decided to check out the P-V section, and noticed they had a 'special offer' - buy four and get them for forty percent off. Hoorah! We love movies, are not snobbish in our requirements, so surely we'd find four titles, piece of cake. Once we got over the shock of discovering they were selling movies better suited to one of those adult-only establishments that keep their windows covered, we found several we were interested in. Being experienced sale shoppers, we took note of the small print: selected videos. We hied ourselves off to the service desk, and asked them which movies were the selected ones. The answer included several "I think"s, and "it must be" and "I guess". Overwhelmed at the knowledge and confidence of the young service representative, we asked if he would mind checking if our choices met the criteria. One of them was not even supposed to be for sale, he said, though it clearly had the big red round sale sticker on it. The others were fine, but one marked 7.99 was supposed to be 9.99 which he told us. We commented that by law a store must sell the product for the price advertised. His buddy at the till next to him was smirking and sort of chuckling under his breath, maybe amused we were talking about 2 bucks. The one 'serving' us didn't make eye contact, and actually made no comment at all, just processed our purchase. Checking the receipt after, we discovered he charged the higher price.

Being on a crusade against poor service -- or no service -- we both wanted to march back in the store and get satisfaction. But satisfaction would not have been had: the manager on duty was sure to be 17 years old, with no real service training. The guy who dealt with us was not capable of even saying hello and looking at us the whole time we were in front of him, let alone resolve an issue we had. I've been in that store before, only to hear employees gossip about other employees, or talk about the party they were at on the weekend, all while I'm waiting at the cash. I'm not likely to ever go back, but even that is not enough any more: I'm making phone calls and writing letters to places that have poorly trained, irresponsible and unprofessional staff.

If store owners are content to hire minimum wage teenagers to do the work, well and good, but they have to take responsibility. As a consumer, I am not obliged to accept poor service. It may be inconvenient, but I am going to seek out businesses that offer good service, and are knowledgeable in their field. I have less to spend these days, but my expectations are higher: I want to enjoy the experience too, rather than allow some video clerk to treat me like a nuisance or a joke.

09 July 2009


Number 3 Nephew was counting his money with Oma, and was thrilled to discover he had two whole dollars in his jar. Oma asked what he was going to buy for her - maybe a powder-blue convertible? No, he said, he had to buy kid stuff. Like what, Oma asked.
"Oh, you know" he replied, "something that costs two dollars!"

Customer service? Is that from the Greek for "not now, can't you see I'm sorting fliers"?

I posted about my technological woes. I've been mulling over an encounter I had in the course of attempting to sort out my hardware issues. It was with the store manager of the place I bought the thing from...I'll call it Paperclips. It's a large office supply know the one I mean. Well, I knew that I have a one year warranty, and also that they advertise themselves as offering quick, friendly and easy "computer solutions", including computer repair. It made sense to me to go and see them as a starting point at least.

I explained in my limited layman's terms what happened to my computer, and made it very clear that the thing wasn't working. Mr. Manager kept asking in various ways if I'd checked online, either for technical help, the number of the company who manufactured my brain-in-a-box, or for the owner's manual. Several times, I had to remind him that I could no longer go online, because my computer was down and that was the reason I was in the store. Otherwise I wouldn't have bothered him while he was doing the very important job of sorting fliers. He said he had to ask those questions, and I wondered why. Why did he have to ask those questions instead of think for himself?

Turns out they don't do the work there themselves anyway, and there certainly wasn't anyone in the store who could help me by even opening the thing and taking a peek at it. Mr. Manager finally looked up a couple of numbers and wrote them down for me, but I left feeling very disatisfied with the experience. Why do stores feel they must be all things to all people, meaning that essentially they can offer no expertise to anyone, or real customer service when it comes to that. I wasn't even born then, but I sure do miss the days of attentive store clerks, home delivery, store personnel knowing their customers, reliable products, pride in a job well done.... sigh. It's rather humbling to be less important than a pile of fliers.

Laugh or cry

I've told the story of the never ending rain while we were camping last week. That was fun. Here's another crazy work story:

The facility out of which we are offering our program is currently under construction. Or rather, we are currently under the construction to the facility out of which get the idea. The roof is being replaced, or repaired or reworked or re-whatevered involving hot smelly tar, lots of noise and the removal of interior ceilings. Not really a problem except it is occasionally smelly and noisy, but in the crowd we work with, neither state is ever terribly unusual. (love them to bits though, I do)

We were supposed to be in the pool today, swimming and having a grand ol' time, except at the last minute we got the call: the pool is closed with filtration issues. Poor pool. I just hate filtration issues myself...very uncomfortable. Not deterred, we managed to salvage the day, and as it was blessedly summery out, out we went, spending the better part of the day under the sun. I have the sunburn to prove it, which will look just fab tomorrow in my swimsuit if the filtration situation has been repaired. Picture a very white sort of person...I'd say even eerily pale...with burnt arms from the mid-upper arm, and burnt v-shaped upper chest, and burnt-in-strappy-pattern feet coming out of the dressing room tomorrow morning. Children will either laugh or cry when they see me. I look forward to that.

Bits and bytes and silicon

Do you ever consider how dependent your life is on technology? Or how prevalent technology is in your life? Alarm clocks, radios, and coffee makers on a timer in the morning; firing up the computer to check the weather and latest sports trades; GPSing your way around town; emailing friends and family, webcaming a business meeting; shopping, banking, researching online; microwaving leftovers for lunch...on and on it goes.

I'm something of a Luddite -- technology-free, or so I thought. I have an old fashioned alarm clock, reheat food on the stove, and when I email someone, I spell the words out, and use punctuation. Hopeless! I was quite proud of my archaic approach to life, until my laptop failed me one night. I noticed a low-grade anxiety set in; I started to get twitchy because I couldn't check my mail, or google a movie when I couldn't remember an actor's name. I realised that a very great deal of my life is contained in this silicon and plastic box, and that most of my brain is deposited in these bits and bytes...and not in my head. Addresses? Account information? Schedule? Writing in progress? Friends? All online or on the hard drive. Gulp.

I realised that in many areas of my life, I no longer know how to function without a computer...and preferably my computer. It knows more about me than most people do, and it certainly knows more about my life and its myriad details than I do. Honestly, I'm not a gadgety sort of person: I've never played a video game in my life (well, Pac Man once or twice back in the day), and I use my cell phone strictly for the phone feature though I think it's capable of triggering launch codes and who knows what else. The relief I felt when after 24 hours I tried the power button again and the thing whirred to life was ridiculous...I can't even describe it.

If I experienced panic at not being able to check the weather online, imagine how Blackberry addicts would react if the network went down? It would surely be a state of emergency... we'd need hotlines, drop in centres, 12 step programs, free coffee dispensing stations... it'll be chaos.

It's supposed to be a lovely day. I'm going to immerse myself in plain and simple goodness, leaving my brain-in-a-box behind, pretending that the peace I feel right now has nothing to do with the fact that it'll be waiting for me when I get back.

05 July 2009

Fan fiction

Austen is a favourite companion of mine. I feel quite sure that I belong in the pages of her books (Pride and prejudice, if I could take my pick). I've read her stories so often, it is very like revisiting an old friend each time I slip between the pages. A rainy day indoors? A cup of tea and Austen of course! Feeling blue and lonesome? Try some Sense and sensibility! Not quite sure what to do with yourself and need some distraction? Go for Emma. Feel the need for a satisfactorily happy ending? Persuasion, of course!

Jane Austen has a place in the canon of classic English literature, though she is overlooked by many because her style is simple and straightforward (compared to, say, Tolstoy) Her stories deal primarily with family, life, and love. I think her genius lies in the simplicity, familiarity, relatability and humour of her style, and she has such a light, deft touch with description and dialogue that it is easy to overlook the craftsmanship required to carry off that very lightness. People also belittle ABBA for their seeming simplicity - but try to sing their songs well, and you'll discover how complex the structure is, and how gifted a singer you really have to be. Austen is only easy to read; she is not easy to imitate.

A genre of writing has developed called 'fan fiction' in which 'fans' (supposedly capable authors in their own right) rework a plot, or carry on the story of an object of their affection (a book by Austen - usually P+P). It quickly becomes clear that devotion to their muse does not imbue these writers with the ability to imitate her. Admittedly, it takes a great deal of gumption to place your writing in direct comparison to someone like Austen by continuing the story of Elizabeth and Darcy for example. I'm currently reading one of these homages to Jane Austen's 'Pride and prejudice' (or I was, until this happened!) I've read a few over the years; some are successful and enjoyable, but many, I'm sad to say, are neither - being rather plodding and self-consciously period-y (sorry, but sometimes a made-up word is the best word under the circumstances!)

Among the successful is a series of three books by Pamela Aidan, which tell the story entirely from Mr. Darcy's perspective: An Assembly such as this; Duty and desire; These three remain. This author captures Austen's voice closely enough that the tone isn't an obstacle to enjoying the story, and she is true enough to the Darcy revealed by Austen that even the bits she invents are convincing.

I've been tempted to try some fanfiction of my own, or to adapt a book into a screenplay, but after reading so many dismal attempts from other people...maybe the best thing to do is just read the original again. Imitation may be the highest form of flattery, but I think sometimes it's best to not mess with perfection.

04 July 2009

Of caves, smoke, rain, and 'coons

Life and limb intact, I am writing this post from the warmth and safety of my bed. What a delightfully dry and stable place bed is! I'd never before contemplated its lack of damp, but today that is the characteristic I am most grateful for.

This story begins at least a month ago. For my job I was required to take a group of young teens camping for a night. My two colleagues (I'll call them Cristiano and Joe) and I wanted to find someplace that would offer a real camping experience - surviving by our wits, cooking over an open flame, battling the mosquitos and horseflies and all. We found a place that offered the added bonus of cave exploration as well and reserved a spot right away. As I began to do some research into this place, I also began to panic a little. I thought these would be know...Batman. Large. Sure, dark and all, but large. As I saw pictures, and read stories, it became clear that these caves were not going to be what I expected. These caves were going to be stoop-over-watch-your-head-duck-under-water kind of caves. Not terribly appealing to a clausterphobe!
Because I am truly dedicated to my job (my boss reads this and I'm looking for brownie points here) I decided to attempt the hike to and through the caves on my own. It made sense that one of us knew what we were doing before we brought the young people along. (The real reason was that I needed to find out if I would end up making a fool of myself in there by freaking out). It was a very hot and very humid day, and it threatened to rain the whole time. It never did rain, but it sure was a long walk through that steam bath, through the clouds of mosquitos and clydesdaleflies (one step up from horseflies). What I'd read online was that it was an easy walk. On that day though, the hills seemed near vertical ascents, the slopes should have had handrails, and the hour seemed to stretch on for days. The last kilometer was nearly entirely uphill, with rough stairs cut into the hillside. The cave wasn't terribly well marked...I was looking for a big entrance you could just walk through, but it turned out you had to scamper down a rocky incline like a mountain goat, stoop under a rocky overhang, wade through water and so on, just to come out about 50 feet away, soaked to the waist, and having to clamber up another mountain side, only to have to tackle the hour-long trek back to the starting point. I endured it all...except I wasn't able to get myself down into the cave.

I went back to the office two days later, and told the boys (Cristiano and Joe) what I had discovered. (I'd spent the entire previous day in a hot bath, trying to encourage my body to become mobile again) I was imagining bodies lying twisted at the bottom of a ravine, or a corpse washing up at the other end of the cave tunnel. They didn't seem to think much of my imagined drama, so we stuck to our plans for fun and frolic up in the hills of Quebec. But then Joe was sorely injured during a hockey game, and I thought: Aha! This surely will save me from having to undergo that wretched experience again! (a little later on I was able to think of his suffering, but my first consideration for myself. I feel I must be completely frank with you...I am not a nice person)

As the day approached, supplies were purchased, equipment was gathered, and plans were finalized. It seemed inevitable. But then Environment Canada came to my rescue...or so I thought. Rain and thunderstorms were forecast. That seemed to put the caves to rest, for Cristiano also said it would be ridiculous to undertake such a thing in a thunderstorm. Phew!

The day before the expedition, I found myself driving for 18 hours on quite another mission altogether. I knew I was going to be very tired, and more than a little stiff, but I was imagining myself tucked up snugly somewhere in the hills, being quite unmoving while the kids did their thing. However, on the day everyone was very keen to go for it, and the sky was clear (darn that weather man, anyway!) So off we went. And you know what? The hills were about half as steep, half as frequent and half as long. The rock wall wasn't anywhere as difficult as I remembered it being, and I didn't even notice the mosquitos. Our group was fabulous: determined to have fun no matter what. Once at the caves, I did try to go in, but in my anxiety I broke my sunglasses. I decided to stay up in the sunshine and open air. Someone had to guard the stuff anyway.
It began to rain just as we decided to head back to base and set up camp. It kept on raining as we set up the tents. It rained while the kids ran through their activities. It rained while we sat huddled in the wooden shelter, trying to play cards by the light of one tiny candle and a flickering flashlight. It rained some more while we tried to cook spaghetti and sauce over a smokey, smoldering fire with damp wood and no kindeling. I set up my big, cheerful beach umbrella over the hibatchi so helpfully provided by the campground in an attempt to protect the fire. What it did was funnel the smoke down and around those of us trying to cook; two days and a good shampoo later, I still smell of woodsmoke. The sky really opened up and the rain came straight down fast and furious, accompanied by thunder from right over head when we played a game of spoons. Little rivers gathered into lakes, but fortunately the tents seemed to be on the one patch of high ground on the whole site. Let me cut this short: it kept on raining. Sure, it let up enough that we could go out and inspect the tents, to discover that the girls' was leaking. So they were going to sleep in the shelter. A raccoon unzipped the boys' tent to get at their snacks, and kept going back for more, so they slept in the shelter. Cristiano and Joe saw the 'coon go into their tent, so they too, slept in the shelter. Mine was taken down by a raccoon, so I slept in my car, but all my things were absolutely drenched. Including a library book which I must now return in its soggy condition. My sweater was wet enough to water the Sahara with. Taking the tents down the next day - in the rain - was a treat. Everything was not only wet but also covered in bits of twig and mud which stuck to our hands and clothes.

But you know what? Not one person complained once, not about anything. They had a great time, even the girl who had never been camping before and didn't know what to expect. They roasted marshmallows, made banana boats, talked, played games, sang songs...what a good group of kids. The three of us, Cristiano, Joe and I were exhausted and almost at our limit, but those kids made it all worthwhile. All the same, this bed of mine is the best place I can think of to be right now - at least until the sun comes out. When it does...anyone want to go camping?


I took Four to the park the other day. I thought we were going for a walk, but it was all a ploy on his part to get to the little parklet near home. It sits in the intersection of three walking paths, ringed by trees and beautiful climbing rocks (the kind that are just right for little boy feet to tackle) with a big sand pit and a climbing structure. The climbing structure has two slides (junior and big), and a little house type thing with a table and benches inside for girls to have tea parties, and a roof for boys to jump off of. But the appeal of this park for Four is the fact that in the structure is a steering wheel. If he can't sit behind the wheel of a real vehicle, he'll gladly accept the one at the park...or the little lego one, just barely big enough for his small finger to fit behind.

It was a good day for people watching. As I sat on a bench, enjoying the sun and listening to Four call his friend Michael by the name of Quincy (?) it seemed the world passed by my vantage point and I saw some interesting things. Here are a few:

A small barefooted boy - about three years old - came running up one of the paths approaching the park, down the slight hill through the trees and away down past our house. He looked utterly confident as if he had done this many times before and he had a fixed destination in mind. The sight of him trotting along without even stopping to look at the park or glancing at the boys playing made me think that I might have imagined the episode...he looked a little cartoon-like. But after he had faded from view, a jogging man came past my bench, and as he went by he asked if I'd seen a little barefoot boy pass this way. Apparently the little guy is an experienced escape artist. Not long after, barefooted boy and breathless dad came through the park again on their way home - the one looking smug and the other...exhausted.

I saw a man dressed in jeans, t-shirt, and flip flops jogging. I know he was jogging because he had all the markings of a jogger except for the clothes he wore: checking his pulse, listening to an iPod, water bottle. Does it seem odd to you that a jogger would be wearing street clothes? That's why I mention it.

From the files of "Don't judge a book by its cover": A mom and dad pushing a pram back home from shopping. I saw the cutest little baby tucked up inside with a fuzzy pink receiving blanket decorated with dancing bunnies. Mom had three facial piercings and tattoos all up one arm and her chest. Dad wore the typical goth uniform. Keep in mind this is not downtown...I don't think you can get more whitebread or suburban than where this park is at. The couple looked proud as punch of their bundle of joy and the pretty pink blankie, and were polite as can be, saying hello, lovely sunshine isn't it, and then carying on their way. The cover to that book is really misleading, isn't it?
A pack of wild dogs also went by. By that I mean a group of young teenage boys, of course. They didn't cause any trouble at all, but one of them, I noticed, wore his shoes at least two sizes too large. Before my nephew experiences, I would have thought this was maybe the latest crazy teen trend, but I know better now: his mom is just tired of buying him new shoes every two seconds because he's growing every day. She was preemptive, planned for tomorrow, and went for the largest size they had in stock. He was able to keep up with his buddies, so no harm done. I say: good for mom! You've got to dig your trench somewhere.

03 July 2009

Music and meaning

A fascinating story from the folks at Nova, about music and the brain. How do we experience music? Is everyone capable of appreciating it, though we may not have the gift of producing it ourselves? Does it have the power to heal, physically and psychologically?
One of the segments tells of a young man with Tourette's Syndrome who suffers with very bad twitching. In his childhood, he would become violent, though he was generally a very gentle, loving boy. He discovered an affinity for the drums and also that playing the drums gave him respite from those twitches. He's taken his experience of the power of music, and is using his talent to help others discover the same thing.
Another man, an accomplished surgeon well into his career, initially liked rock and roll from the 60s and 70s. One day he was struck by lightening, and almost over night he developed a love for classical music - particularly piano music. He didn't know how to play a note himself, but the music became almost a compulsion for him. He bought sheet music, and taught himself how to play, by practicing for hours a day. He went on to compose his own piece (whether a piano symphony or sonata I don't remember) His life was transformed.
It has been documented that people with brain injuries or brain-affective disorders who cannot talk will sometimes be able to sing, and those who cannot walk will sometimes be able to dance. Isn't that remarkable? Wouldn't you rather listen to a beautiful tune than pop a pill, or undergo surgery?
Music is so powerful; it is very personal and intimate as well. The doctor on whom the story "Awakenings" is based, a man who is passionate about classical music, underwent a brain scan to show just what happens in the brain when you listen to music. It was fascinating to see how many areas of the brain are engaged - memory, the senses...neurons are firing all over the place. But it is not the same for everyone, and it is not even the same for one person for every piece of music, no matter how similar they may be. This doctor listened first to Bach - a mournful requiem, I think it was. His brain scan lit up all over the place. Then a very similar piece by Beethoven - quite alike in pitch, tempo, mood etc. and yet there was much less activity.
Personally, I know that music is powerful. So much of what is produced is absolutely inane, and yet.... along comes something really really good. Not just technically good, but good in how it grabs hold of you somewhere deep in the heart of you...deep down where you are you. There is some contemporary music that has that ability for me, and some classical as well. I think what they have in common is sincerity, and probably also the fact that they are sad. For example, I really like an Adagio by Albinoni, which was once offically voted the saddest piece of music ever. I also like Everything by Lighthouse, and while it may be about the desire to give everything to a lover, it is mournful, yearning, heartwrenching. Plus, I love Depeche Mode, and if Martin Gore ever wrote a song not in a minor key, I haven't heard it! They are not a group known for peppy, perky, upbeat, happy happy happy songs.
Is it easier to connect to sorrow? If so, why? And despite the imagery of the brain scans showing where the brain fires up on hearing music, just what is it about music that bypasses logic and reason to go right to the heart of us?
One sad note from this program: there are people who cannot hear music. They are not just tone deaf - they literally cannot hear the difference in pitch, tone, tempo or mood from one piece of music to another. Can you imagine a world for yourself without music?

(The title of this post is a literary quote. Did you catch it?)