The Lighthouse

the lighthouse

30 September 2009

CTKS part deux of the day

Playing cards with Number Two Nephew. We began with Go Fish, and segued to War.

Two explained to me that when he first heard of War (the game) his first thought was of lions and zebras in the wild; and to this day, that's still in his mind. Lions and zebras at war.

~~* ~~*

Four is toilet training. Actually, to be quite accurate, he is potty training. Which means that we are all potty-obsessed, while he does everything he can to avoid it. All the same, the lure of gummy worms as rewards for a successful deposit does occasionally work to get him where he needs to be... on his potty... in the middle of the living room.

Whenever he makes certain noises, or strikes a certain posture, or gestures in a certain way to his diaper-covered regions, someone scrambles for his potty, chattering away to him, "do you have to go potty? Wait for the potty, ok? The potty's coming! Don't go in your diaper! Pee in the potty and you get a gummy!" Which sometimes works, and sometimes meets with outright refusal. Then he sits on his little blue potty, but he certainly is not chained in place: he scoots around the living room as if he were in an office chair - over to the windows to watch the cars go by; back to the table to see what his brother is playing with; to the couch to pick up his book, all with the blue potty attached to his hind end. He sits there so long that when he gets up, he has a red ring around his bottom, like a bullseye target. Too cute. (He'll so love me sharing these stories when he's 16!)

This past weekend, his family went on a road trip to Oma's, and the potty went with him. Now, when you're potty training, you have to be consistent, so when Four said he had to go pee, everything came to a halt, so that the potty could be employed. There he sat, in the middle of the parking lot of a tourist attraction dedicated to a very large autumnal fruit, in the van, on his potty with the doors wide open. An elderly foreign lady walked by, and in his three-year old broken English started to boss her about. I'd have loved to see that... Four in his glory: his throne on wheels.

29 September 2009


Was playing with Number Four Nephew with plastic animals of various sizes, playing the usual game of "what sound does this make". I found Noah from the Little People Noah's Arc set, and asked Four who it was. And just like that, Noah became HoHo. "It's HoHo. His name's called Hoho" I figured out that because of the white hair and beard, Noah looked rather like Santa Claus. So I asked to confirm, "Does he look like Santa Claus?" to which Four replied, "Yes, he's St. Christmas"

28 September 2009

The Grape Pie incident

Shortly after I moved here, one of the local papers featured grapes. Not surprising, considering this is wine region, meaning grapes abound in plenty. The article included a couple of recipes, one of which was for a grape pie. Being a fan of pie, I thought it was a good idea: love grapes; love pie -- perfect combination! Only things have been busy, so that from day's end to day's end, I hadn't yet got around to making an attempt at the perfect grape pie.

Til this weekend. I had promised to make dinner for when my family returned home late this afternoon and after dithering over the menu I settled on pancakes and (turkey) bacon with fruit melange and whipcream. This seemed suitably Yom Kippurish, for which we are meant to eat something sweet, and taste new fruit (Pomegranate, in our case). And I thought for dessert I'd make the famous grape pie.

I am a competent baker of simple, straightforward, non-fussy recipes. I make a mean sticky oatmeal coffee cake (not a bundt), and a yummy mince pound cake (in a bundt), as well as assorted cookies and scones (nary a bundt among them) (Sorry...I got bundt on the brain after the first mention of 'cake'... kekk... cack...) but I have never mastered the art of crust. My sister, JB is so good at crust, she's blase about it. Most people have a secret crust weapon: frozen butter; marble slab; cold utensils; brand-specific lard... whatever. JB? Meh - toss around some fat, flour and liquid, and presto! Perfectly beautiful crust, everytime. She would have shrugged at the notion of grape pie. Me? It was like a neon light flashing over my shoulder all weekend long, as if I were in a film noir: "Pie!" "Pie!" "Pie!"

I shopped for the required grapes, and this might be where it all began to go wrong. The recipe used the Coronation variety - lovely, bright and green-skinned. We've been eating Concord grapes which we've loved, so that's what I bought. They look like bunched blueberries, so round They are of a sort of grape which have a 'slip skin', meaning the juice resides between the skin and the flesh. You can pop them, and the skins slip off. Get it? (This I learned from the informative article which got me into this situation in the first place)

Bear in mind that I am about to attempt this pie while also cooking up enough pancakes and bacon to feed an army. And just for fun I'm baking applesauce cookies as well. Oh, and seeding a pomegranate.

The first step in the Great Pie Undertaking was to wash, then mash the grapes. Basically, I had to separate the flesh from the skins - which were to be reserved for later. Three cups worth of grapes did I have to pop, one by one, into a saucepan for boiling. Not nearly efficient enough for me! I grabbed handfulls of the fruit, squeezing grapes in my fist which caused the solid little centres to shoot out in all directions, all over the kitchen. Even now, I know there is one grape carcass at least, hiding behind the fruit bowl on the counter. Nevermind! On to the boiling! This was a cinch, only it made the house smell like it had been washed in Welsh's grape juice. Adding the gelatin...this too was easy. It should have all been good actually, except the pie maker and the unflavoured gelatin provider don't speak the same language. The recipe just said "add gelatin and stir until dissolved" but the gelatin people (who should know of what they speak, no?) laid out this routine of boiling water, adding gelatin, stirring, adding more water, stirring again...then adding it all "to the recipe as directed". I did all the stirring and adding and stirring, bringing both concoctions together, and placed it tenderly in the fridge for it to set, in preparation for folding in some whipping cream. Yum!

Did I mention that I bought a frozen pie crust? It seemed reasonable, what with the pancakes and all. And I went for the cheap, store-label one, too. Which just might be a wee bit smaller than your average store-bought pie shell. This will be an important point very shortly.

First of all, the grapes themselves were very very juicy. Lots of liquid. Then, with the gelatin stir-and-add fiasco, I added maybe another cup of fluid to the mix. Over an hour in the fridge found the goop - which was bright purple, by the way, not the tender green of the pie in the picture - still runny. I thought it might be a good idea to add more gelatin, only this time I used maybe half of the boiling water suggested. Still.... more volume.

Happily, the purple sludge seemed to be setting a bit, so I undertook to whip up the cream for folding. This, I have done many times before. I am a whipping cream literate...I know my way around the heavy cream, let me assure you. I used a hand mixer, and the nifty tall measuring container that came with it...which I thought was meant for mixing things in. This worked rather well, until I lost my grip on the measuring thing, and it starting spinning around like a top, and cream went everywhere. Not easily deterred, I scooped up what I could, and started again, only to have the same thing happen. Again. By this time, my white t-shirt was covered in purple dots from the grape-squeezing episode, I had whipping cream in my eyelashes, not to mention covering the wicker bread basket and the little frog lamp. (Note: cream cooks rather quickly on a 40 watt bulb)

And this is when my family came home. I had imagined myself like Betty Crocker: calm, composed, in control, dinner piping hot and ready to be served, while wonderful smells greeted them at the door, with me in my single strand of pearls. Nevermind. Again I scooped up the mess, and made a third attempt, which this time - thankfully - was sucessful. In that whipping cream was produced. And so I folded. And then... I poured. And a lava-like slide of pale purple ooze overflowed all over the counter, for the pie crust was far too small to contain it all. During this time, whipping cream and now grape goop was being dripped over the bacon which was patiently waiting on a cookie sheet to go in the oven to be kept warm... yummy!

Rather than the smooth, sophisticated pie, elegantly decorated with grapes, I will have to present my family with a lumpy, purple and white frothed horror, onto which I threw a handful of purple grapes in a fit of pique.

After all of that, I am left with a kitchen that has purple blobs on the cupboard doors, whipping cream decorating the underside of the cabinets, grape corpses hiding in nooks and cranies, and pomegranate jewels popping underfoot as we walk around.... and a family too full of pancakes to eat pie!

27 September 2009

Smogasbord on a Sunday night

I'm sitting in the livingroom, laptop on the coffee table, as I sit on the floor, doing research for a school assignment. What I've learned so far is that most daily news publications use wire-fed stories for European football stories...and that Ty Penington has the best job in the world.

I've got Extreme Home Makeover on in the background; I'm paying attention only enough to be aware that another generous community is helping another worthy family - but not enough to cry my way through the program as I usually do when I'm fully focused. Also, I'm aware that this week, Patricia Heaton (actress, (Everybody loves Raymond) and Christian) is helping Ty and his crew. For the past hour of the two-hour special I've been thinking to myself, "Self, isn't it cool that a Hollywood actress is helping to build this family a home?" to which self replied, "Hmmm...wonder what's the catch?" and in the last commercial break I may have found the catch - she's got a new show premiering this week. Nonetheless, I think it's awesome she got involved.

Ever since I started watching EHMO*, I've thought the people who work on the show have the very best job in the world. Every week of the show's run, they get to know another remarkable family. These families invariably are suffering hardship, whether death of a family member, illness, financial difficulty, and the family home is inadequate for their needs. As well, the family usually has given to its community in an extraordinary way. Along comes Ty, his design crew, and a local builder with an army of volunteers. Each time, it is evident that the volunteers and the builders are affected by the experience. Imagine being able to step lightly into someone's life - someone who does good, but struggles - get to know them, their dreams, their interests, their story, and provide them a beautiful new home, a fresh start. Maybe a new car, college funds for the kids, utility payments for life, top-of-the-line wheelchair, fundraise for the family's foodbank initiative...and on and on it goes. The possibilities are limited to their imagination. I'd love to be able to spend someone else's money to help people in such a creative way.

~~* ~~*

The house has been very quiet this weekend - the big nuts and all the little peanuts are at Oma's. The house and I have taken this opportunity to get to know one another a little better. I have learned that I can sleep really well in the afternoon with the curtains closed. Love it! I've learned the kitchen fits really well, and that I enjoy baking in it - so much so I've had to declare the oven off limits for a while, 'cause we can't keep up with everything I'm producing. The dishwasher is smaller than what we're used to, and it's rather louder than the old one, but it actually gets everything clean and dry, in about half the time of the old one. Major appliances have to be juggled, as one of the outlets in the basement and one of the outlets in the kitchen are on the same fuse, but as our life is simpler and slower we really are not frantically doing 6 things at the same time anyway, and we don't notice. One vital piece of information we always bear in mind is that hot water goes to one place at a time, meaning if someone is showering, we ought not to flush the toilet or run the kitchen tap, for fear of parboiling a loved one. It's an adaptable house, for it's felt as much like home while I've been alone as it does when we're all nutting around inside it together.

~~* ~~*

The Ontario government is pledging hundreds of millions of dollars toward all-day kindergarten, to be phased-in with the next school year. That means 3-year olds could spend 7 hours, 8 hours in school. Think about that! Our nine-year old peanut comes home from school tired, and he's well beyond the napping phase. I try to imagine Number Four Nephew in someone else's care for most of the day, in the company of 18 other tired children, being processed from activity to activity according to a set schedule, only to come home, eat supper, and go to bed, having little time with mom and dad, no time to play with his brothers, and certainly no time for doing nothing at all. It makes my heart squinch up in protest. It's not right!

~~* ~~*

It was an exciting weekend across the pond in the EPL. 33 goals in total were scored, which is rather unusually high. Many people claim to not watch the game because it is a low-scoring sport. True enough, most of the time, but check out these results: 6-1; 5-2; 5-0; 3-1. That last was Chelsea - big-walleted, top-tallented, number-one-spot-contender, losing by 2 goals to tiny little Wigan. My own beloved Manchester United (TBTE) scored only twice, against Stoke City which doesn't sound all that exciting, but to the Manc insider it was a good game, because both goals came about when Ryan Giggs came off the bench and were a direct result of his input. Neither goal came from the feet (or head) of Wayne Rooney who is being touted as the up and coming star of English football. That's bullocks, frankly, and I think is just the ManUtd camp's way of saying "Ronaldo who?" Granted, he shows flashes of near-brilliance, but nowhere near the inspired natural ease of the Portoguese Prima donna.

~~* ~~*

Tonight, sundown, is the start of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. The days of repentence began with Rosh Hashanah - 10 days ago - and concludes with feasting tomorrow evening after sundown. Fasting and repentence is important throughout the Jewish calendar, but particular focus is given during these 'Days of awe', when all feuds and disputes are to be forgiven, and the people seek atonement from God for their sins. Rosh Hashanah (New Year) is when God writes the books of life; our actions of repentence, prayer and good deeds at Yom Kippur can alter His decree.

Some people may only know of Yom Kippur with reference to the 18-day war in October of 1973 when Egypt and Syria attacked Israel on Yom Kippur, the Holiest of Jewish Holy days. Middle East history is frought with many points of view, and complicated by centuries of grievances. It is better to remember this day as it was meant to be: a day of healing, restoration of peace, and reforging our relationship with God.

Next year in Jerusalem!

*that's Extreme Home Makeover, Mom!

25 September 2009

The bullet

I've had the bullet in my back pocket for about a week, and today I finally bit it.

The bullet in question is a writing course. I began this blog just over a year ago as a test of whether I would be able to write on a regular basis, even when I didn't have anything in particular to say. The next step is to learn something of the business side of the desk, and to find out if I have the talent, mettle, or desire to write for money.

My first assignment is to come up with ideas for a non-fiction article, to think about areas of expertise or interest, and to research the market for publications that might be interested in my piece...then to construct a proposal, and write the article.

We are not required to actually submit the proposal to a real live editor, but I gotta tell ya, reader dear, my mouth is a little dry right now at the "realness" of the assignment. There's a pretty big divide between a life-long daydream and the real deal.

Dry mouth aside, trying to narrow my ideas down to just one is a bit like asking a child at the icecream counter to choose only one flavour. Will it be 101 tips for a stress-free move? Or getting the customer service you deserve? Or a look at parenting from the outside in?

This bullet requires a little chewing. Feel free to drop me a line if you have any ideas!

23 September 2009

Of Swedish wallets and service rants

I'm sorry to do this again, but it cannot be avoided: a customer service rant is about to be delivered. Brace yourself, dear reader, for I went shopping at a box store today, where the motto seems to be: Put in the time, but don't work too hard.

So, let me set this up for you. I am in the market for a cd wallet - one of those big ones that will hold 100 or so discs. My sister recently got a really cute, affordably priced one at the Swedish store, but the day we were there, I had been thinking of a different storage solution for my music collection. Today, we were at We-sell-everything-real-cheap Mart, but their selection ran to a very ugly though utilitarian binder that could hold every recording ever released by K-Tel. Not what I had in mind. So I popped next door to the store I will discretely refer to as Schmest Buy. I started in the music department, thinking that would be a logical place to look for a cd wallet. Not seeing anything, I asked a store employee if they had such things, and she thought they might be over "you know where the laptops are? They would be in the second aisle over there." Well, I didn't happen to know where they keep the laptops, but being a capable adult, I read the wall signs, and duly found them. After wandering aisles and islands and display counters, trying to interpret if the "second aisle over there" meant the second counting the wall display, second from left to right...or what. After a reasonable amount of time, I asked a person dressed in the nifty blue shirt if he happened to know if his employer stocked cd wallets. He stood bemused in the middle of the aisle for a couple of minutes, wondering if maybe they'd be over in the music section.... I told him I'd begun my search there, then was sent to the laptops, and would he be able to find out? He said he was busy with something else, to which I replied ok, I'll look for someone else to help me. I sought out the helpful greeter person at the front door, who also hemmed and hawed a bit. I explained where I'd been in the store, and asked if she knew if anyone in the store would be able to help. To which she hemmed and hawed a bit more. To put us both out of our misery, I told her I would take my search to another store. And all she had to say to that was "ok, dear."

Can you believe it? It was completely ok with her that I take my business elsewhere! Without even a modest effort to find out if the store she worked in, was employed by, received a paycheque from for delivering service, had the product I was looking for!

Understand: I am not upset because Schmest Buy doesn't stock cd wallets. What really angers me is the fact that three employees had no idea what their store sold, where in the store it might reasonably be, or who among their fellow staff might know; or had the initiative to find the information, or physically check themselves if the product was available.

I hereby solemly promise that I will not purchase anything from Schmest Buy from now on. I've reached the limit I'm prepared to accept of shoddy service from them. I will gladly drive the 40 minutes to the Swedish store, where the employees are happy, and are always prepared to offer good, well-informed service.

And they have really cute cd wallets.

21 September 2009

Zoo keeper's wife

I just finished reading The Zookeper's wife, by Diane Ackerman. I bought it when looking for a good book to read. Having recently read The Guernsey literary and potato peel pie society, I wanted something that continued the story of life in all its smallness triumphing over despair and evil. The title of this book intrigued me, and I was taken by the graphic on the front cover: what will I find through these gates?

The Zookeeper's wife takes place in Nazi occupied Poland - the Warsaw zoo, specifically. Before I began reading, I expected it to be a novelization of true events, but in fact, this is non-fiction. At first, I found this off-putting, but it gradually drew me in. I came to love Poland - the vibrant culture of the people, their great generosity, hospitality, resilience and intelligence; the beautiful countryside and unique zoology.

Giving an account of the horribly inventive cruelty visited on the people of Poland - particularly the Jews - cannot be easy for a writer, but doing so through the experiences of Antonina Zabinski tempers the sadness and disbelief at just how pervasive the evil became.

It was Jan, Antonina's husband, who worked for the underground, commiting acts of bravery and heroism, but it was Antonina who looked after more than 300 Jews as they hid in the zoo, one of the places of refuge along the underground route to safety. "Guests" passed through their home or stayed in the animal habitats for varying lengths of time, some of them hiding in closets, some of them out in the open pretending to be friends or family.

The careful details, the layers of accuracy, and the ingenuity required to bring someone out of the ghetto is astounding. Even the scouts (boy and girl) were mobilized in the resistence, acting as messengers and so on. The Polish people maintained underground schools, universities, seminaries, government, and military. I wonder how effective we would be, if we found ourselves in such a situation of privation and oppression?

As with any biography or account of real events, I found myself wishing for details not given in this book, and wanting to know more about what happened after the last page leaves the Zabinskis. I think stories like this need to be told - not so we won't forget the horror, but so we remember the heroic good people are capable of doing in the bleakest of circumstances.

Even with the grim details of the Nazi occupation, I found myself dwelling longest on the fact that after struggling to surivive those handfull of bitter wartime years, the people of Poland were about to face a handfull of decades behind the iron curtain. Even that story though, ends in victory.

20 September 2009

Happy Birthday

Happy Birthday to my dad. This is the 69th celebration of his birth.

I have promised myself to make this post a real celebration of him, and not a maudlin wallow in sad remembrances. These are some of the things I loved best about him:

The expression on his face when, while reading the paper or a book, he would look at us over the top of it, if something struck him as silly or ridiculous. If it was something really silly or ridiculous, the look would be accompanied by a "whaaaat?" and the "I'm laughing despite myself" laugh.

When he had something to share with us, something that had really tickled his aren't-people-amusing bone, he would tap his finger on the table top. "Did you know..." tap tap tap... "Have you heard what they're up to now..." tap tap tap...

No matter what madness was going on in the house, he could sit in his chair, engrossed in a book or a crossword.

He was always reading something. He read with discipline, one book at a time, from cover to cover. He read serious histories, especially dealing with WWII, and he remembered all the details. He also enjoyed mysteries, having no time for an author who left loopholes or had a weak plot.

Watching a thriller or a mystery with him was like sitting a final exam. Guaranteed he would ask you after the closing credits, "So, what was wrong with that?" or, "Why couldn't it have happened that way?" He always grumped if we watched a romantic comedy, complaining that the only kissing allowed was at the end of westerns, between the cowboy and his horse.

He loved John Wayne movies. He would watch them over and over again, taking great delight in quoting from Rooster Cockburn, "who don't you go paint your nails, or crochet, or whatever it is you females do?" (John Wayne to Katharine Hepburn)

Planes held an endless fascination for him. He read aviation magazines, and played flight simulation games. He knew the aeronautical specs of just about any plane out there, and would grill us when one flew overhead, "what kind of plane is that?" Invariably my answer would be: a big one.

He had one wallet for most of his life, used the same comb for as long as I can remember, and wore his slippers through to the floor. He didn't often spend money on himself, but he had very good taste ($$) and really enjoyed nice things: a fine wine, a good meal, a well-cut suit...and spam. I know. It always amused us, too!

He really enjoyed music, from The Rolling Stones to Opera, Blue Grass to Big Band. He liked to sing along too: Santa Lucia, I smell your feet-a. The man couldn't carry a tune in a bucket, but he sang with gusto anyway. I loved to hear him croon.

He liked to cuddle. I would get right up beside him, and tuck myself in under his armpit. That was the safest place in the world.

He took great delight in doing things mom would freak about if she knew... when she wasn't home... whether it was chopping wood with a machete or adding hot sauce to the pasta.

Communists and engineers were at the top of his go-to list whenever something went wrong. "You communist!" or, "Must have been an engineer that came up with this one!" were often heard around the house. Recently, China was added to the list and we were strictly admonished to never buy something made in China.

Samples. Food samples, that is. He loved them, and would graze, until we had to remind him that two was a sample, three was lunch.
Boats. He dreamed of being on a boat, having a buying him a boat. "Tehhhh-esss" he'd say, "when are you going to buy me a boat?" Somedays it was a car, but most of the time he wanted me to buy him a boat.
He always shared his lottery winnings with us. Even long after I was grown and out of the house, he's save the loonie or whatever my portion would be for me.
I've always loved to write, and as a young girl, I had a fascination with typewriters. One day, when I was about 10 years old, he came home from work with an old Remington sort of typewriter, and left it for me on my desk. I was the happiest girl in the world that day! He loved to do that sort of thing.

It's been 265 days, Pop, and it still doesn't seem real; I miss you so much.

Happy birthday. I love you


I am watching over the Peanuts for a brief while this evening. All have been put to bed for some time, except Number One Nephew who is at Mass with his daddy. I just noticed a light under their door, and even though it is silent as a church, I thought it best to see what was what. I opened the door to see their little bodies sprawled out - each one of them asleep with their arms spread wide open, with their heads to the side, and mouths slightly open. They're so little still, their beds and pillows look ridiculously big in comparison, making me feel very protective of these Peanut Nephews of mine. All I could hear was their little-boy-asleep breathing, so I left the light on, and ever so carefully edged backwards out of the room again.

8.30 and all is well.

Of friends and road signs

Have I mentioned that I moved recently? I didn't just switch houses, I upped-sticks and resettled in a brand new part of the country. Well, that sounds rather adventurous...I'm still in the same province, just a bit of it I'd never lived in before. What I mean to convey is that this is undiscovered country. Unexplored territory. A whole new kettle of fish. And all of that is wonderful: I enjoy discovering, exploring and even getting to know new kettles of fish. It's all fine as long as it's recreational. It can get a bit stressful when something definite must be accomplished, requiring a sure and reliable path of travel to the end point.

I spent time this weekend with old friends from the town before the town before this town, which is just a hop, skip, and a long jump from here. I could have taken the highway, but when God's country beckons, who would chisel out with 4-series highways? Not I!! I used my friendly search engine mapping feature to find an alternate, picturesque route. The information I received was that the cost of a view would be an additional half hour of which I scoffed. I am a seasoned, veteran, hard core road tripper! 30 minutes? Bah! I laugh in the face of those minutes!

Things went really well, to begin with. I sauntered on four wheels. (This is significant, because I used to be the punch line of jokes involving lead feet) I had a rough idea of where I was at all times -- which is a comfort -- and the signs I was following didn't confuse me (well done M.O.T!) until I hit a snag about 45 minutes from where I was supposed to end up. The road I was on seemed to end, with no mention of the fairly major highway I was looking for. My two options - heading either left or right - were not mentioned on my search-engine-provided map, so I went straight through, which turned out ok. I found the highway, only once there, I headed west (because the friends I was visiting live west of me) only to realize as soon as my rear tires drove past the off ramp for the east-bound lanes, that I have to drive east in order to go west. Fortunately my westerly decision got me where I was headed, but with rather more than the 30 extra minutes I was warned about.

None of which is the heart of what this weekend was about. A dear friend - Serge - is celebrating another year of life. The usual suspects gathered (huddled, really) on the patio (the cold, cold patio) to do what we do best when we're together: laugh. And laugh we did, for not only did we have reason to rejoice with Serge's birthday, but her family recently moved into a beautiful new home; and to top it off, Bella brought a "+ guest" for us to meet. Blessings abound, and life is sweet. The goodness continued for me today when, in the parking lot of a grocery store, I happened to see Avery (Murphy Brown's mom), another very dear friend from my days in the town before the town before this one.

This weekend is Rosh Hashanah: Jewish New Year. As much as New Year is meant to reflect on the year gone by, we also look ahead to the promise of the future. I am not Jewish in practice, but the roots of my faith certainly are. At this time of year I always feel the need to give thanks for all I have, and to prepare myself for the time to come. There is a great deal of possibility ahead of me, and I have determined to head out and see what they are. Fortunately God has more reliable road signs than the M.O.T!

17 September 2009

The loon king

I promised a friend some time ago to edit a paper he has to present at a conference. I made the promise some time ago, but moving, boxes, peaches, and vineyards have rather distracted me from getting the job done. So, today I went in search of a quiet place where I wouldn't be diverted by squirrels. I found a branch of a public library nearby, and set up camp in a protected corner. The trouble is, I only had enough quarters to pay for just over an hour of parking, which got me half-way down page four. It takes almost as long to edit someone else's words as it does to write my own!

So, after an hour of concentrated, dedicated hard work, I got back into my little car, and tried to find my way back home. Thing is, while I wanted to take a scenic route, I don't know any routes yet, scenic or otherwise. Bil or JB have done the driving whenever I've gone anywhere, leaving me to glory in the view. Before I knew it, I found myself quite clear of town, driving along the lake. Not much longer after that, I happened to be in a lovely historic town, known for it's upper crust society and patronage of the arts. It's main street is lined with charming (ie. expensive) boutiques making it an enjoyable place for window shopping. And when the window happens to be of a bakery, sometimes you have to go in to sample the wares, right?

On the sidewalk, outside one of the very chic shops, stood a man in a white jumpsuit. It was Elvis. Or at least, a very good Elvis impersonator. He had the hair, the curled lip, the tilted hip and everything. He would have been absolutely perfect, if he had only kept his mouth closed, for when he spoke, he sounded like an extra on the set of Fargo.

Aren't people interesting?

(Fargo is in Minnesota, the state bird of which is the common loon)

16 September 2009


Something wonderful happened today: a bushel of peaches (or was it a peck of peaches?) became ten beautiful jars of peach jam...sweet and golden, dotted with amber pieces of real, orchard-fresh fruit.

We didn't do a great deal of research; rather we jumped right into the process, going to our national purveyor of automotive parts... and home decor, pet supplies -- and now also groceries, can you believe it? -- and bought some supplies: a great big canner, stock pot, lids and so on. Then home we came to peel and chop 16 cups of fruit, combine it with pectin, butter and -- wait for it -- 20 cups of sugar! That's 5 kilos of sweetness! After several rounds of bringing things to the boil, then bringing them to the boil again we have arrived at the stage of admiring our display of domestic prowess as the filled and cooling jars sit in rows on the counter.

We are jam-makers! We are preservers of summer harvest! Ok, so it's not our harvest, but we are preserving it nonetheless. My feminine heart feels a great deal of satisfaction from this day's work. Such a simple thing, to give such pleasure. Strawberries, here I come!

14 September 2009

Of Swedes and diamonds

Today I was at a certain Scandinavian country's most popular export (aside from the pop group, of course) -- the store with practical, well-designed, reasonably priced furnishings and home accessories. This store is always great fun to browse through, as they display their wares in tantalizing tableaux, inviting you to imagine "you too, could have a home as design-forward (do you like that phrase? I copped it from Canada's leading home decor magazine), and continentally chic as this fake home pretends to be!" That may sound snarky, but I mean it -- I too, imagine my livingroom, or bedroom, or bathroom could look as cute and coordinated as that, and long for a kitchen as well kitted out. I love to pretend I have my own Food Network show as I stand by the sink with no drain, and my favourite thing to do is open and close the cupboards and drawers. They're so smooth!

Anyway. Today's mission was to find closet storage solutions. We had browsed the offerings of various other stores, discovering that they are rather expensive - even the line offered by The Storage Bin People...and definitely the products designed by the lady with her own show who is really good at faux paint effects were beyond our budget. It's not as if my socks demand much of their surroundings. Happily we found just the thing we needed, for a grand total of $25.00! Start the car! Start the car, indeed! We had enough money left over that we could splurge on the $2 hot dog and drink deal for lunch. Yummy!

I must share with you an incident which gave me much, much delight...and oh how I wished for a camera! Waiting for Four and his mom to finish with a child's toy station, I spied over the dressers a floppy Audrey Hepburn type hat - black with a broad, elegantly swooped brim. It seemed to have feather embelleshments, but as it approached, I realized the hat was more of a visor, and it was the wearer's silvery-grey hair poking jauntily out of the crown. As the hat came around the dressers, I gasped at the rest of the package: an ankle length, slim-fit, slit-to-the-knees, long sleeved black velveteen dress, accessorized by a diamond cuff around the wrist, large black sunglasses over the eyes and sparkly somethings in the ears. What a vision she made, clutching her cheap ivory tapers and white paper napkins as she drifted through bedrooms and storage. I lost sight of her, but I will forever remember The Diamond Ikea Lady. I like to imagine her leaving the store, agog at the low prices, and lifting her hand to her driver (who had been illegally parked in the Hybrid parking space) calling out "Start the car! Start the car!"

13 September 2009

By the light of the fire

We had a fire in the backyard last night. (Rest assured, this is not a tragic tale: we meant to have the fire; we have a little outdoor fire pit contraption and the fire was contained in it) The nice thing was that the mosquitoes seem to be done for the season, so we could sit huddled around the flames fighting off the chill, rather than the droning, blood-sucking, itch-inducing pests.

There is something about a fire which instills a meditative state. You find yourself contemplating the vastness of the cosmos, wondering at the beauty of the stars, realizing the insignificance of your place in the universe while at the same time feeling privileged to be part of it all.

Seduced by the crackles and pops of the dancing flames, you begin to feel very wise and deeply insightful. Conversation takes a serious turn, as you ponder the significant differences between blue and yellow flames, and is it the presence of carbon which creates blue fire?.....??

Soon enough, we tried to answer a very serious question: does Matthew McConaughey take his shirt off in every movie? He didn't in A Time to kill, in which his shirt stayed on, though it hung open and it was soaking wet...but then he was just starting out, and his potential was as yet unknown. If he was in this new thriller coming out which takes place in the Antarctic, how long would it take before his shirt came off? At some point, Kate Beckinsale would probably get hypothermia, prompting our gallant hero to...take his shirt off, of course! I see the potential for an Oscar-type movie montage:
MM in Gone with the wind "Frankly Scarlett (rips shirt off) I don't give a damn!"
MM in Silence of the lambs "Some fava beans (rips shirt off) and a nice chianti"
MM in You've got mail "Oh, she's beautiful (rips shirt off) but she's a pill!"
MM in A few good men "You can't handle the truth" (shirt was off during whole movie)

I mean no unkindness to Matthew. I'm sure he's dear and sweet (if a little too concerned with his hair products) It's a running joke in Hollywood that the man cannot keep his shirt on! Check out this video of Matt Damon doing an impression of Matthew: click here

11 September 2009

More about Peanuts

The peanuts are divided into 3 "big" and 2 "little" ones. The littlest of the little peanuts has been quite beside himself with back molars coming in. (are there front molars I wonder? I always hear about the back ones)

Five always gets quite sick when teething, very drooly, and, it must be said, epically cranky as well. Not just cranky - you must understand this - epic-worthy cranky. He throws his head back in manic Bette Davis fashion and really works at pushing out the wails. If he doesn't feel the head toss will have the desired effect, he turns circles while shaking his head. Sometimes it is the dual handwave of denial: "No! No! No! I do not want a bottle...or digestive cookie...or hug..." accompanied by backing into the wall.

Even with his eyes looking bruised from the marathon crying, and his face red and blotchy from the teething he's cute as tuppence. Good thing too, or he'd be on the curb come Monday morning waiting for pickup!

The other day, his daddy asked him if he needed a cuddle. He of course, waved "No! No!" while emphatically wagging his head back and forth, but Four came thumping up the stairs from the basement crying: "Yes! I want cuddles, daddy! I want cuddles!"

I love Peanuts.

07 September 2009

The singer

Somewhere out back, there is a young singer. I think I know which house is his, but my view is impeded by a large evergreen. Every night round about 8 o'clock, he pumps away on his squeaky swing set, singing away to his heart's content. I can never tell what it is he is singing, but his delight is evident from the gusto of his delivery. He has a developmental challenge, perhaps Down Syndrome. He may not know he's singing off key, but it is very clear that he enjoys his nightly swing-and-sing sessions. Our first night here, I was somewhat annoyed by the protesting screech of the swing, and the warbling of the child; but now we all wait for it each night, and feel comforted by the tuneless lullaby.

Encore, little singer!

The same but different

The old house had Crazy Car Lady. This neighbourhood has many friendly neighbours who like to walk, so we frequently see someone going past our front window (and it's so nice to be able to see out of a front window, not having the view obstructed by a protruding garage)

I think amusement will come from one set of neighbours who drive two big trucks - a gleaming white one, and a shiny black one, much to the delight of Four, who is mad for anything with a cumbustion engine and wheels. These neighbours (still awaiting Lighthouse names) come and go many several times a day; sometimes I don't think they actually get out of the vehicle. Perhaps they're checking to see if their house was burgled, then assured of the safety of their property carry on with the day's obligations out in the world.

As we were unloading our worldly goods from the rented moving truck a month ago, various people came along to welcome us to the neighbourhood, and give us some helpful information about other of our neighbours: that house are lax parents; such and such a house are very strict; long-haired man doesn't like kids on his driveway; so and so is a little cranky. We are Switzerland, and will defend our neutrality with all the ingenuity and diplomacy in our arsenal: name, rank and serial number - no other information will be given.

Dog walkers abound. One couple in particular is quite fun to watch. Their idea of walking their dog is to take it across the street where know. Then they take it all the way across the street and back home again. Once, Mr. Dog Walker was seen attempting to actually walk Pooch, but the little thing was so used to it's routine it refused to go anywhere other than across and back.

Tomorrow, school begins, and the tempo and tenor of the streets will change. Life will be the same but different.

Of trees and hats

I have written before about being able to see trees from my windows. The same is true of this new home. The livingroom has a big picture window, in front of which is an ornamental tree, and a street lined with tall, full, leafy green trees. Over my other shoulder, the diningroom window is guarded by stately evergreens and towering leafy trees. (nts - learn names of trees) I sit here, serenaded by crickets madly rubbing their legs together in their end-of-summer symphony, feeling soothed and inspired by the bounty of beauty around me...while beside me sit five little peanuts and two absolutely exhausted Big People being entertained by the hilarious animated heroes of Ice Age III.

Let me tell you about a wonderful feature of Sohoe: cold granite stone ice cream. Here's what happens: fresh, small batch ice cream in assorted flavours await your selection. Then, laid out on cold granite, expert blenders add in your ingredient of choice - anything from standard sprinkles and candies, to seasonal fruit, to fresh-baked temptations, and using ice cream blending tools, they smoosh everything together, then put the fabulous result in a waffle cone. I've never tasted ice cream so flavourful, so custom-perfect for my palate...simply to-die-for. If you like ice cream.

You may not like ice cream, but prefer fruits of the forest or other offerings of the earth. They abound in Sohoe as well. Plucked fresh from tree, bush, or garden plot, and sold road-side in Thanksgiving Cornucopia quantities by Buddy himself. No steroids, no presevatives, in their natural shape and colour with all the flavour God intended them to have.

If entertainment is what you're looking for, may I suggest a 106 year-old carousel on the beach which you can ride for 5 cents? Or wine tasting at one of the many vineyards? Or risking life and limb at a local water park? Or jeopardizing your sanity on the main tourist drag of Sohoe's Natural Wonder of the World?

I have noticed in the different cities I've lived, that each region has it's own ubiquitous service/business. In one it was Canada's national supplier of legal addictive stimulants. In an other it was banks and tattoo parlours. Sohoe seems to specialize in nail salons and fudge. (very handy as I am in dire need of a good pedi!)

There also seem to be a fair number of churches, Christian academies, and Christian radio/tv stations. This, combined with the warm weather, farms resembling plantations, and beautiful tall trees makes me feel a bit like I live 'down South'. So you'll have to excuse me, y'all, if I start talking with a Southern drawl and drinking mint julips. It's a shame my head is far too large, 'cause I'd dearly like to wander the country lanes in a floppy hat.


Four days ago (can it really only be four?) I moved to what appears to be a little slice of heaven on earth (so I will call it Sohoe).

The four days have been absolutely packed with exploring, country rambles, visiting friends, sightseeing, and best of all being in the company of family once again. Today, all the little peanuts and their parents are off for a day of fun and frolic, leaving me behind to revel a little in the silence.

Before they left for the zoo, Number Three said "One of the interesting things about me is that I've never been to the zoo. One of the dangerous things about me is that I'm curious, so I might put my hand like this (reaching out with cupped hand) and the animals might get me. The thing about Two is that he might get lost." I am certain they're going to have an exciting time of it!