The Lighthouse

the lighthouse

28 April 2010

Triage

I think I would be hopeless at triage, whether as a nurse in an emergency room, out on the field of battle, or selecting survivors from a sinking ship when there are not enough lifeboats.

I know this because I am in agonies over which of my books get to come out of their box in the basement, and which have to stay behind in that dark and musty room. I imagine that those I bring upstairs and arrange carefully on the bookshelf gleefully lean against each other, congratulating themselves that they made the cut, after anxiously calling for their friends to see who else has been rescued.

Some are easy: Austen, Forster, Wilde, Waugh, Heyer, Sayers, Tolkien and MacInnes ought to be close to hand, because I frequently dip into them. Poetry and some reference works, too. The most recent additions are here - Major Pettigrew, The Zookeeper's wife, and the Potato Peel Pie Society - I couldn't bring myself to toss them into a dark box with a bunch of other books they don't yet know. I'm not that cruel.

But as for the others, what of them? How do I choose one over an other? Do I unpack Robert Ludlum but leave Frederick Forsyth? Do I leave both The Little Prince and The Little Princess, or is it ok to leave only one? Which one? I have the book on Vermeer but decided against Monet. I feel entirely heartless that I left Jamie and Claire sealed up in a box, and am a little concerned for one or two others that I haven't yet come across. I hope they're alright.

26 April 2010

Andiamo - The New Tenors

Recently on tv was to be seen a shocking thing: three youngish men attempting to carry on the Three Tenors tradition. If you've ever heard the original of Pavarotti, Domingo and Carreras, you'd know that it would take something very special to come close to being in the same league.

Try, they did: The Three Tenors, New and Improved. Or perhaps they're going for Next Generation. 3T/G2? They were three tanned, gleaming-toothed, flowing-haired, grinning Italian men. Buff and square-jawed, and golden-throated. Well, gold-plated anyway.

They perched on a tiny stage in the middle of what resembled - to the eyes and to the ears - a mariachi band. The stage was decked out like a Bollywood extravaganza: hot pink, orange, gold, purple and green.

Meanwhile, the three grinning singers launched into Italian classics - O sole mio to start with - while disconcertingly scanning the audience from top to bottom, left to right. No doubt they were looking for Mama, cause they'd never hear the end of it if they didn't at least wink in her direction.

They gave it their all, those long-locked lads, but it was rather too cringe-making and absolutely begged for negative comparison to the tenors who had gone before.

The Postmistress - book review


The Postmistress, by Sarah Blake

First line: It began, as it often does, with a woman putting her ducks in a row.

With a beginning like that, I was hooked right away! I like order, and ducks should certainly be in a row. The woman in question is Iris James, Postmaster of Franklin, Massachusetts. It is the early years of the Second World War - London is enduring the Blitz and America is still mostly ignorant of what exactly is happening in Europe. Iris believes very strongly in order, and has utter faith in the ability of established institutions and government bodies to make the right decisions. She is falling in love with a man who has a slightly different outlook. Harry is certain he will one day spot German U-Boats off the coast and is sceptical of the government's ability (or willingness) to defend him.

The good citizens of Franklin listen to the reports of Frankie Bard on the radio. Frankie is a young journalist working with Edward R. Murrow in London; she tells the stories of people she meets on the street, in the shops, down in the shelters during the air raids, attempting to convey to Americans how serious the war has become and how important it is for America to become involved.

To illustrate how incomprehensible the situations was to most Americans, Blake writes: "And bombs were falling on Coventry, London and Kent. Sleek metal pellets shaped like the blunt-tipped ends of pencils aimed down upon hedgerow thatch. What was a hedgerow? Where was Coventry? In History and Geography, Hitler's army marched upon the school maps of Europe, while next door in English, the voices recited from sing song memory - I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree, And a small cabin build there; of clay and wattles made. - Bombers flew above the wattles, over and England filled with the songs of linnets and thrush. There were things being broken we had to American names for.

The Postmistress tells the stories of three sets of people who become connected through Frankie's news reports, an undelivered letter, and loss. Just when the reader might begin to wonder why such sad things happen needlessly, Iris recounts the legend of Theseus who goes off to war, promising his father he'd return under white sails if he was alive. For years his father watched, until one day, his ship comes back - under black sails. Theseus was triumphant, but had forgotten his promise. The king walked off the cliff to his death on the rocks below. That story wouldn't be told, she says, if one of his crew had alerted Theseus to his mistake. The story tells what it knows... it couldn't change Theseus' actions, or reassure his father that his son was still alive.

The Postmistress has its share of seemingly needless tragedy and sorrow (it is a tale set during WWII, after all). It is a compelling, well-written, evocative of the era, and explores the usual war-time themes in a fresh light. This was a book that lingered when I had finished it (which I managed in a day, thanks to having dedicated reading time and being totally engrossed) though I thought it unravelled somewhat toward the end.

However, the last line is a perfect as the first and I can enthusiastically recommend the book: That's what the story knew.

23 April 2010

Pen & Ink

With the hope of simplifying things, and as an alternative for those not interested in my daily chatter, I've begun another blog. There, I will post only creative writing. You can go here, to Pen & Ink.


Blogs abound, so one of the biggest challenges was to think of a name for the address. I settled on scribo ego sum, which is Latin for I write, therefore I am... or something to that effect, I hope!

I will continue to post the results of my scribbling here as well.

The beginning - a story

From a writing assignment came this beginning to either a full-length or short work of fiction:

Oh for heaven’s sake! What now?” Rachel stomped to the side door as emphatically as she could in her knitted slippers, leaving pasta on the point of boiling over and tomato sauce conducting a Jackson Pollock experiment on the stove. Flinging the door open so hard the hanging stained glass “Peace reigns within” picture rattled against the window, she took a moment to see who it was before growling, “Typical. I’m too busy right now, David.” Flapping her hand at him in the hopes the man would vanish, she slapped at the door to shut him out and hurried back to the stove to rescue what was sure to be another disappointing meal.

“God in His heaven, woman, what are you doing?” Rachel jumped at the voice which came not from the stoop beyond the kitchen door, but from right behind her. She spun to glare at the man, dripping yet more crimson splotches over the stove and floor as she went.

“Don’t you say a word, David Wilkes. You haven’t spoken more than two words to a soul, so far as I can tell; it’s a wonder your voice hasn’t rusted clean out of your throat”

“I need to ask a favour.” David’s voice really did sound rusty, Rachel thought, startled to hear him speak. “From your dad, actually. Is Russell home?”

“It’s Wednesday night. If you did more than growl at people when you left your house, you’d realize Wednesday is card night at the Lion’s Hall, and my father doesn’t miss that unless the Queen is in town.” Got to work on that sarcasm, she admonished herself. Just as soon as she got a handle on the laundry. “Tell me what you need, and I’ll pass the message to daddy when he gets home.”

“Rachel, listen to me.” Tapping the back of her hand to get her attention, he continued “Timmy Mulligan is dead. His unit came under attack while on a recce, and he was killed by an IED yesterday. He was one of mine, and I want to be there when they bring him home on Friday. I need to borrow your dad’s car so I can get to Trenton for the repatriation.”

Having said it all at once, he waited silently for her reaction. Timmy was a local boy – Willoughby born and bred. This news was going to hit the whole town hard. “We’ll take my car, David. I’m going with you.”

“”Abby didn’t know him, Rache. Tim’s never been home since she was born.”

Struggling to process the news and her thoughts, she looked up at her old friend with grief-shadowed eyes. “You’re right. She never knew her uncle, but he was all she had left. After the accident, I promised myself I’d do everything I could to make sure she would know about her parents, that I would always tell her their stories. I wanted Timmy to be a reminder of her dad.” She angrily swiped at the tears on her cheeks.

“I get that. I do. Look, I know it’s been hard for you, Debbie dying and all that’s happened. But you don’t have to do this out of guilt. I should have been there with him so I owe him this, but he would understand that you can’t get away.” He held his hand up to stall her protest and continued, “It’s a long drive, Rachel. It’ll take at least 15 hours and that’s too much for a little kid. It’s going to be very sad, and hard to watch, and then it’s 15 hours in the car again to come back home.” He looked at her, and could see the newly etched lines on her face; this new responsibility was weighing heavily on her. He really should have pulled his head out of the sand and seen that she needed help. “Do you really want to come?”

Rachel nodded. “I feel like I have to do this for her. Even if she doesn’t remember, I have to be able to tell her we were there, that he was important to her, ‘cause he was family.”

He scrubbed his hand over his face, and sighed in defeat. “Ok then. Can you be ready to leave by six? I’ll pay for the gas if you can look after some food for us. Tell Russell we’ll be back late Saturday night.

She nodded once more, and getting up she briefly lay her hand on his shoulder, and began clearing the table.

Honest things

My friend Carly invited me to participate in a blogging meme - it is officially called 'an award' - the purpose of which is to share some truths about yourself. Thank you Carly from the Tree!

I am to come up with 10 things. Let's see how it goes:

1. I am fascinated by personality tests, quizzes, indicators and assessments. Discovering I'm an INFJ explained me to myself. I'm also a Leo and a Rooster, both of which tell the truth about me: I roar and I crow; I have tender feet and loose my head.

2. I love barnyard smells: cow, horse, sheep, pig, and even manure. Love it! Love the sounds, too.

3. I'm a wanderer looking for a home. Seven months ago I undertook move number 22. I don't know if home is a 'who' or a 'where', but I hope to find it soon.

4. I get easily and severely motion sick. That little lurch of the elevator as it settles at its floor? Ugh. And yet I love roller coasters! Go figure.

5. I've been called The Kitchen Nazi. I try to not let that define who I am. I just happen to like order. And cleanliness.

6. I don't get along with numbers. And yet I count things. I love words, yet I'm a pitiful speller. C'est la vie.

7. Though I love words and ideas, I'm not much of a talker. I can spend an hour in some one's company and not say a thing.

8. My penmanship is a constant source of personal mortification. I enjoy writing letters etc. - fine pen, lovely paper, considered content - but it ends up looking like a left-footed chicken scratched its way across the page. (I'm not even a lefty!)

9. This new-fangled stuff kids listen to today is not music. I like the Oldies: old Def Leppard, old U2, old Tragically Hip, even. You know... stuff you can dance to.

10. I love lime flavoured anything. If I could work out how to add lime to apple pie with cheese crust, that would be my ultimate food.

11. I never tell the absolute truth if I can exaggerate for dramatic effect.

That last is a freebie - like a baker's dozen.

I now pass the torch on to J over at Forever in Blue Jeans. Let's hope it brings her out of hiding! (as if 5 boys is an adequate excuse for not idling away the hours online!)

22 April 2010

I've loved you so long - movie review

Il y a longtemps que je t’aime (I’ve loved you so long)
Starring: Kristin Scott Thomas, Elsa Zylberstein, Serge Hazanavicius, Laurent Grevil
Writer/Director: Philippe Claudel
117 min.

Il y a longtemps que je t’aime tells of emotional and physical prisons and reconciliation; it is a story of two sisters who meet again after 15 years of separation and have to learn who the other is all over again. It is also a story of acceptance and love and how both can bring freedom.

Better known to her English speaking audience for her work in films such as The English Patient, Kristin Scott Thomas has made -- and received international awards for -- several films in French as well. While her roles in English are often icy and controlled – Gosford Park and The Horse Whisperer being perfect examples – speaking in French seems to set her free to show emotion closer to the surface.

Here she plays Juliette, the older sister of Lea (Elsa Zylberstein, of Van Gogh and Beau fixe). Juliette is a grey, weary woman with ominous mystery clinging to her like smoke from the cigarettes she inhales endlessly. When we first meet her, she is sitting in the arrival lounge of a small airport, silent and unseeing, quiet, and perhaps defeated. Lea bustles into the airport, eager to collect her sister, but this is not a happy reunion between long-parted siblings. They are both uncertain in the awkward moment and the viewer only gradually comes to understand why. All siblings have complex relationships, but Juliette’s past has further complicated matters. As neither sister is eager to rush into frank discussion, they take time to rediscover each other and forge a new bond.

Lea brings her sister home to Luc (Serge Hazanavicius) her husband, their two daughters and her father-in-law. It’s evident Luc does not want her there; a protective father, he is very uncomfortable with her presence in the house and doesn’t trust her with his daughters. His reaction to her alerts us to the fact that Juliette has something horrible in her past. Learning she was in prison for 15 years, we have to speculate at just what crime she committed and it is during a job interview that she reveals she killed her son. At this news we recoil along with her prospective new boss. Get out, he tells her; that’s too terrible; we have no place for you here.

Prison (as loss of freedom) is a recurring theme: Papa-in-law is unable to speak; Juliette refuses to talk about her criminal past now, and didn’t speak during her trial – both are in a prison of silence. In one scene, people racing past in wheelchairs contrast with Juliette’s lack of ability to fully participate in life, either through fear or reluctance. She has to make a decision: join life once again, or remain in a prison of her own making by keeping herself isolated. Other characters, too, are in prisons of various types. Her mother, for example, is trapped by her failing mind, locked in the past.

Scott Thomas delivers a finely nuanced performance as a woman making the journey from damaged self-preservation to healing and restoration. She never downplays the egregiousness of her crime and yet sympathize with her. Zylberstein is convincing as the younger sister who wants to be reconciled with Juliette, but also fears knowing precisely what happened in the past. One of their most poignant scenes together comes when Lea confides to Juliette that she and Luc decided to adopt children though both are capable of having kids. Juliette realizes they made that decision because of what she did. Scott Thomas and Zylberstein are well matched as sisters. Both are honest and believable in their roles, never resorting to overwrought melodrama or clich├ęs when the scenes become highly charged.

The supporting actors are well cast, particularly Laurent Grevill as Michel, who teaches with Lea at the university. He of all the characters understands something of Juliette’s experience. He was a volunteer teacher in prisons and there learned two things: that no matter how long you spend inside, when you come out, you are changed; and that there was little difference between him and the convicts. Because he accepts her without judgement, he provides a necessary touchstone for Juliette beyond her family. Grevill plays sympathetic without being maudlin, and hints at Michel’s own shadowy corners.

This is a subdued, quiet telling of a difficult and powerful story. Philippe Claudel safeguards the gentle pace by fading to black between scenes, and music is used sparingly to perfectly enhance the emotional arc of the characters. He allows the existence of Juliette’s crime to overshadow the film, and when it is finally and fully revealed he offers no judgement or political position on the issue but allows it to remain a personal story.

21 April 2010

The Return

After a week of serenity and quiet at Oma's place in The County, I have returned to my own hearth and home. It is good to be back to the dear and familiar, though the saying goodbye is never easy.

I made the return journey with Bil (my brother-in-law) and his father, It is always an interesting thing to be in their company. They are men, so that tells you a lot right there, but it also inexorably entwined in their genetic makeup to quantify and evaluate everything. Especially if doing so can prove the other wrong. Or at least not right.

Conversations between them go something like this:
"What a nice day, eh dad?"
"Yep. It calls to mind May 13, 1984. Now that was a truly nice day."
"I remember that, dad. May 13, 1984 was a good day for sure. But I think the sky today is a tad more aquamarine than it was then. And I'm pretty sure the wind is a little more south-easterly."
"Well now... you might be right, son. Though I think maybe you're confusing it with May 14. Definitely on May 14 the wind was south-easterly."
"Yeah. I think today is the third nicest day I can think of."

They could tell you that on this plateau, there are more white cedar than red and that because it's one degree warmer - on average - than down on the plain, the trees are maybe a day and a half ahead. When pressed, they could tell you which brand of ketchup is best, and will react with astonishment when they discover how you butter your bread.

It used to drive me mad, but I've come to realise it is how they relate to the world and know where they belong within it. I've also learned to snort at them and roll my eyes. Almost anything is bearable if you can roll your eyes at it. Ask Mr. Darcy... it's how he tolerated Mrs. Bennet through all of Pride and prejudice.

They are also generous, chivalrous men who performed feats of service for both Oma and I, so I extend my deepest thanks to Daddy and Grampa Nut. Thank you!

The drive home was quick and smooth, and as a back seat passenger I had the opportunity to gaze blankly out of the window for hours. The blank gazing was occasionally interrupted by some interesting sights, such as:

Canadian flags waving in fields along the 401 - the stretch known as The Highway of Heroes. This is the portion traveled between Trenton and Toronto when fallen soldiers are repatriated home from overseas. It would sometimes be a large single flag waving at the edge of a farmer's field, and sometimes a cluster of smaller ones just at the edge of the brush lining the highway. I've had the honour to be on the road during one of those processions, and it was very moving to see the cortege of police and military vehicles, and the vast number of people who stand on the overpasses with flags, or just standing in silence to honour the dead. I was pleased to see those red maple leaves today, as a more permanent tribute to those who have given their lives in service to us, their fellow Canadians.

Big, beautiful, black horses, almost like Clydesdale's but a little slighter. They were prancing in a small pasture, causing the white feathery hair of their lower legs to plume out like costumes. What a sight!

A crazy car. Seriously. It was yellow on the bottom, had a patch of zebra stripes somewhere toward the front, and a red paramecium sprawled across the back. Huh?

A house placed right on the edge of a bay. A wonderfully picturesque setting. They had denuded five very large trees of all their branches. The trees were not cut down to stumps - they still stood as tall as the house. They were merely reduced to very tall, branch-less trunks. Very sad. Bad Saruman.

An organic farm near Oma's makes use of solar and wind power. Today neither of their two wind turbines was turning. Does that mean we're running out of air? Perhaps more likely, if there's no wind to turn the turbines, our MPs must be on a break, no?

One of those self storage places, called "Self Stor". I'm sorry, but if you can't afford to pay for all the letters, you probably can't spring for security or maintenance either. I'm not going to 'stor' my stuff with you!

A Smart Car on the highway. Presumably the driver chose this car for environmental reasons... so why did she toss her cigarette out the window?

A stand of cedars whose trunks and branches were all leaning to the east, as if bowing.

Nearly home, and off the highway at last, an apple orchard perched on a rolling hill and it was just beginning to bloom. A truly breathtaking sight.

I didn't write a thing while I was gone, but I read three books. I can't wait to tell you about them!

13 April 2010

Charging

I'll be away for a week or so,posting only intermittently. As well as helping Oma with some chores around her house, my plan is to recharge and refresh a little. Writing is feeling stale and uninteresting lately, and I hope to get some of the old spark back.

Take care of yourself - I'll be back soon!

12 April 2010

Adventures with Oma - Saturday

We did it again - we crossed the 49th.This time we went with the whole Peanut tribe: 5 little, 2 parents, 1 Tante and 1 Oma. Finding our way through the chaotic mass of vehicles inching their way toward the U.S., we chose a lane and stuck to it. So of course, it turned out to be the lane which had a man and woman who seemed to be rather new to the country, perhaps from India. Their car was examined closely, they were questioned thoroughly, and eventually they were led away while uniformed and official-looking individuals drove the car away. It was very exciting, but it did delay things somewhat.

BoB (our Beast of Burden - the van) arouses a great deal of interest with the border guard, as does any vehicle with children, I'm sure. The kids are questioned as to whether they are in the car willingly, and are they in the company of their parents, or random strangers who force them to work in the salt mines. I wondered if Two would take this chance at a break for freedom, and tell the burly man in uniform with a gun on his hip that actually, these were not his parents, and could he please live on his own? However, Oma and I behind them in our own car, saw BoB eventually waved through and then it was our turn to face the inquisitor.

What country are you from, he asked. How long will you be gone? Where are you going? To which we answered: Canada, until tonight, we don't know, we're following them (pointing to the van disappearing around the corner) He seemed baffled that we didn't know our destination, but truly, we only knew we wanted to find some hills and a lake. A lake? he asked, somewhat disbelieving. The Great Lakes surround us on two sides, but we're sitting at a border crossing and will drive for hours to look at another one? Yop, we're like that. He was also surprised we didn't have any food with us: not even a snack? he asked. Nope. we said. We're like that. Oma worried later, when she learned that I'd packed some scones and apples that we should have told him. We joked that perhaps he was hinting he was hungry and would be willing to accept a token of international goodwill in the form of some food.

We drove through some very depressed neighbourhoods. It was very clear that the economic downturn has really hit parts of the U.S. very hard. Being a rather industrialized part of the country, it wasn't terribly pretty, either, but we gradually found ourselves in hill country, not far from Pennsylvania. Our destination was Chautauqua Lake, which was just lovely. We'd like to go back again soon, but head further in this time.

Here are some of the interesting things we saw along the way:
- drive through pharmacies. I wonder, will they show you a selection of shampoos to choose from, or must you know ahead of time what you want?

- farm fresh fruits and vegetables. Where else do they come from, really?

- beef and ice cream parlour. Good thing about the ice cream. Can't imagine a beef parlour would draw a crowd.

- retirement homes and rehabilitation centres that advertised "skilled nursing". Good to know they don't hire the incompetent nurses. "All our nurses know what they're doing!". Well, phew!

- Coca~cola has gone metric in the States. I saw ads featuring the "new 2L size bottles!"

- must warn you about some of that upstate wine: it tastes like Welsh's but with a kick. Danger!

Where were all you Americans last Saturday? We drove around upstate for hours... through several towns, even, and saw hardly anyone. Are you all that into golf you were all inside watching whatever tournament was causing a stir?

At one point, J (my sister) and I laughed while the two smallest Peanuts were playing on the slide at a park we stopped at: it's so like us to drive three hours in one direction, into a foreign country, for the kids to play at a park. All kidding aside, it was a lovely day, and a beautiful drive, with hopefully many more ahead of us, down that way. But for now, it's very good to be home again.

Adventures with Oma - Thursday

We made a break for it, Oma, my sister J, and I. Dear old brother-in-law made it possible for us to escape for the day sans little people, and without a second thought or a look over our shoulders we did it - a day out, just the girls.

Off we hied to Nottle - an historic town with connections to the theatre that has beautiful architecture with, as we discovered, a wonderful little stretch of fun shops to poke around in. Before this day, with a 2 and a 3 year-old Peanut in tow, narrow aisles of expensive china or reachable-from-a-buggy shelves of chocolate have not been high on our list of possibilities, so we would ooh and aah at what was within, our noses pressed to the windows.


We walked and browsed for hours, delighting in cheeses and teas, French linen and classic movies, bakeries and Irish woolen clothing, souvenirs and shoes. It rained, but we were each equipped with brollies, undaunted by being slightly damp, enjoying the fact that the weather kept other people under cover of their own homes.

The highlight of the day was tea. Classic high tea with cucumber sandwiches, little cakes, and scones with clotted cream. Heavenly! We sat on red velvet chairs at a window overlooking the street. The table was set with hotel silver and a beautiful white rose floated in a crystal bowl. We each ordered our own tea, so there we were, three big tea pots and two silver towers of delectable nibblies.

It was delicious, not only to the palate but to the eyes as well. We were nearly giddy with the experience of fine linen, beautiful china, lovely food, gentle music, old silver, discrete service - things that a woman's heart delights in. We laughed often at the idea of the boys being faced with the offerings - they would surely be disgusted at how small the food was, and it's guaranteed something would end up broken. Not to mention the fact that it took nearly two hours to drink tea! But drink it, we did. Three entire pots of tea. Heavenly!

We toasted the Duchess of Bedford who grew hungry between lunch and dinner and began to ask for bread and cakes with tea in the afternoon, instituting the practice of Afternoon Tea. And what a good thing it is! I know I tend to be very romantic about The Days of Yore, but isn't the idea of Afternoon Tea appealing? We could of course just meet for a hot beverage in a cardboard cup from the Hockey Player's coffee shop with our choice of baked-from-frozen doughtnut but I say let's bring Afternoon Tea back; let's pause in the afternoon for sustenance and conversation. Let's set the table with our good china and best silver, brew a perfect pot of tea, and enjoy some lovely food together.

11 April 2010

Adventures with Oma - Wednesday

On Wednesday it rained. I think it's supposed to rain on Wednesdays, for the old rhyme says "Wednesday's child is full of woe" which is suggestive of rain. There couldn't be much woe on a sunny day, could there? Perhaps this explains the hint of tragedy I often suspect is lurking on the edges of my life: I was born on a Wednesday. It could all be in our minds, us Wednesday folk, but it might also be true. (I also happen to be a Leo, and very proud of it, and a Rooster, and crow about it. I put great stock in those sorts of things, love to find out what my favourite colour says about me, and have read extensively about my Myers-Briggs type. But I do not put any stock in daily horoscopes. Nonsense.)

Anyway, back to the rain. It came down in buckets - literally hollywoodesque torrents of dramatic rain came from the heavens. But Oma and I had decided to explore Sohoe, and so explore we did. (Oma is a proud daughter of the Netherlands, for whom battles with water from sea or sky is a way of life) There are two main streets to Sohoe which bisect to form a rough, loopy kind of 'T' shape. I had poor Oms (as Three calls her) driving up and down both branches of that T so many times I may almost have ended up on the side of the road, holding a broken umbrella over my head.

We investigated a shop dedicated to the humble peanut (rather a weakness of Oma's), an organic market and restaurant (whose interpretation of 'market' turned out to mean 'shelf of expensive organic-type stuff'), a garden centre, at which I bought our first potted plants of the season - a lovely mossy thing, and something called 'Pearl Bells'. So pretty! Oma got a Dutch Hoe, for which she had long been searching, and a really beautiful hand-blown glass hummingbird feeder. Then on we went to a tea room for lunch, only it was closed until Mother's Day (apparently tea is out of season until then), an interesting yarn shoppe (thankfully not Old-e Yarn-e which is likely to be mold-e), the library to refresh our storytime selection for the smallest Peanuts, and finally to lunch at a cafe/restaurant on the high street. The food there was quite good - the menu was simple and featured local ingredients, a big plus for me since reading the 100 mile book. But their chairs were oddly low. Sort of half way between a regular chair and a Japanese mat. Why? Did they come cheaper than regulation-height chairs because they used less wood for the legs? I'm still baffled.

Rather wet, and having exhausted most of what Sohoe has by way of high street shopping, we returned to the warm and cozy House of Peanuts. Oma deserves a medal for enduring the numerous trips up and down the same roads in the driving rain. Well done, old-e bean-e!

06 April 2010

Big things

Big things are at stake on April 7, 2010. The Best Team Ever (yes, that's official football terminology... or soccer for you Yanks) will embark on their chance to advance to the semi finals of the Champions League against either Lyons or Bordeaux. It's a matter of national pride, here, for the British super-team. England always has trouble with Germany when it comes to football (or soccer... ) and the bonus here is they could go on to beat a French team - another matter of national pride,what with Napoleon and that hundred-years episode. (And frankly, England, The Three Lions, The Union Jack, whatever, haven't a chance against Germany in this summer's World Cup, 64 days from now) (and the French roosters may as well stay home. Just sayin'. Not like they have a chance against Germany!)

Manchester United lost last week 2-1 against Bayern Munchen. They lost 2-1 against Chelsea in an EPL fixture on Saturday. Now, math is not my forte, but I sense a worrying pattern emerging! On Wednesday (tomorrow as of this writing) they will be at home - Old Trafford in Manchester, England, to play the second game against Bayern of Munich, Germany. At the end of that game, whichever team has the highest combined score goes on to the semis. The team with the fewest goals of both matches goes home as the not-winner.

64 days remaining until the World Cup begins! Deutschland uber alles!



*pic is of Chris Cornell, signing 'Glory, glory, Man United!'
Actually, it's not. It's just him singing some song at a concert, but a girl can dream.

The 100-mile diet

The 100-mile diet: a year of local eating, by Alisa Smith & J.B. MacKinnon.

This is a book I highly recommend. By now, you've probably heard about, and may even be practicing the 100 mile diet -- a 'locavore'.

James and Alisa tell about a dinner they prepared with friends up at their wilderness cabin. There wasn't enough food on hand to feed everyone, so they headed outdoors, and gathered whatevers, prepared it on the spot, and had the best meal ever. That led them to contemplate what goes into a typical North American meal - the transportation, herbicides, pesticides, processing, packaging, preserving, storing. Would it be possible for them to live for a year on ingredients that were grown within a hundred miles of home? They lived in a small Vancouver apartment, so they wouldn't be able to grow their own produce, they would have to find farmers, fishermen, millers, orchard tenders, bee keepers and so on, locally.

Their book progresses chronologically through the year, alternating with Alisa writing one month, James the next. Each month tackles a new challenge such as storing potatoes, pickling cabbage, or finding a nut farm. But rather than being a straightforward diary, they include Canadian agricultural history, environmental facts, horticultural tidbits and so on. For instance, they tell us that Lord Somebody who was the overseer of colonial farmers in BC mandated what was grown and how. From the early days of settlement, the Europeans in BC brought their own seeds and cuttings, continuing their accustomed diet, not incorporating what the Native Americans were eating.

And so began the editing of footstuffs grown or made available to the people. Knowing that Salt Spring Island alone, today, grows over 300 varieties of apples, that there are hundreds of kinds of tomatoes and so on... doesn't it make you a little upset that the super markets provide four sorts of each, and that none actually taste like they could?

Being environmentally responsible is a really big deal these days. I'm not a Green Nut by any stretch, though I am reasonably conscious of water consumption, garbage waste (I deplore over-packaging) and running errands efficiently. Before reading this book, I didn't consciously have a food plan relating to environmentalism. Now I am inspired for several reasons to embrace this concept of 100 miles: great-tasting food, nutrition, knowing precisely what is in my food and maybe even who produced it, and for the Peanuts to have greater awareness of where their food comes from and what it is, in its natural state.

Have you read the book, or heard of the locavore movement?

Books! O books!

You may remember that I gave up reading fiction for Lent. Forty novel-less, light-fiction-free days. No sagas, no historical fiction, no adventures, no suspense/thriller/mystery escapist fluff. It was at times a challenge, but I've been reading many interesting books all the same: 'The Hermitage within' for my spiritual growth (very challenging but very fruitful); humorous collections by Nora Ephron and Dave Barry (entertaining, yet educational, craft-wise); several books on gardening; and, the shooting scripts of some of my favourite movies like Sense and sensibility, Good Will Hunting, Erin Brockovitch, Thank you for smoking, Gosford Park.

Now, however, the forty days are over, and I am free once more to browse the stacks and stacks of fiction 'out there'. Where to begin? What to choose first? Not only are there millions of new-to-me 'modern' books to tackle, there are the classics I have shamefully not yet become acquainted with (I don't want to admit to them just yet) and there are several on my own shelves (or in boxes) at home that I have either not gotten round to, or really really want to read for perhaps the 27th time.

So, I have come up with a plan, one which in some ways combines all the above. There is a very fine writer by the name of Michael D. O'Brien who has written a wonderful series of books as well as several stand-alone novels. Some I have read, some I haven't. They are contemporary (written in our time) but they are already classics, and five of the six are sitting on my bookshelf waiting for me so I can begin the project immediately with what I have on hand.

I am very excited at the prospect. I anticipate gleaning a great deal from them, from the enjoyment of good stories, to observing a master craftsman's fine work, and hopefully receiving some inspiration for my own writing. When I consciously decided to give writing a try more than a year ago now (not just scribbling and jotting as I have been for a lifetime) I thought I was a fiction writer. In the attempt however, it has turned out to be a very great challenge, and it doesn't come naturally to me. I've had better luck with articles and even poetry. So, perhaps I shall treat my fiction reading as an apprenticeship - I want to learn from the best.

If there is a fiction writer, or a novel you really enjoy, please drop me a line - I'd love to hear about it.

O happy day

Happy Easter! What glorious days we've had - quite unlike the usual Easter weather, for us. The sun has shone brilliantly, the sky has blued, the birds have been mad with chirping... glorious!

Easter Sunday was a gentle day of lounging in the sun, drinking yummy drinks and consuming chocolate while the Peanuts tackled baseball, bikes and bocce. Easter Monday we drove through the beautiful countryside, and walked and walked (and walked for roughly 5 hours) soaking up more sunshine and contentment.

Today, with blisters on our feet and rain outside our windows we may settle down with pots of tea to of piles of lovely magazines (carefully selected and imported from Oma's own private collection) admiring the perfect homes and gardens therein. Bliss!

Remember that Easter Day is celebrated for 8 days, so pace yourself! And the Easter season continues for 50 days until Pentecost - that's a lot of celebrating!

03 April 2010

Holy Saturday

We are deep in the Triduum now. The earth is still as we await the rolling away of the stone to reveal the empty grave.

Number Two Nephew, my godson, is receiving his first communion tomorrow. He was one of the twelve to have his feet washed on Thursday, at the Mass of the Lord's Supper. He's been shriven, and is ready to go. He's growing up, my little Two.

Oma is coming today! The Arrival of Oma is greatly anticipated. She doesn't want balloons, so we shall remain balloon-free. The house has been spit-polished, however. The boys asked their mom yesterday (thankfully it was a gloriously warm and sunny day, as they were all five of them admonished to Stay Out of the House!) if we were cleaning so much because Oma was coming. My sister laughed, then set them straight: no dear. We're cleaning because Easter is coming! I'm trying very hard to not bark at people for spilling things on the floor, or leaving a cup on the counter. Argh! It's so lovely, though, to have it all spic and span. (yes, I was one of those librarians who regretted, just a little bit, that people had to come and mess up my tidy shelves with their books marching in perfect order)

We were able to walk to the Good Friday service yesterday afternoon. Unheard of! First of all, weather on Good Friday usual includes rain or cold. Secondly, we rarely live within walking distance of a Catholic church. It took about 40 minutes one way, but what a joy to be in the sunshine, listening to the birds chirping madly and seeing tender green buds beginning to break out on their little twigs.

Tonight is the Vigil of Easter. It's a long Mass... I've been to some that were more than three hours long. But also to one that was not even an hour and a half. Papa Nut and Three were given tickets to the Leaf's game tonight, so it will be Oma and I vigiling for the family. (It's too long for the babies (who are now 2 and 3 years old... hardly babies anymore but I can't bring myself to call them Boys) so Mama Nut will probably stay home.

First on the agenda today, however, is an important fixture in English football: Manchester United at home to Chelsea. United lost mid-week in their Champions League game against Bayern Munchen, but they must put that behind them. Chelsea are nipping their heals, only one point behind. There are only a handful of games remaining in the season, and today will probably decide which of these two teams will take the title. United have won it for the past three years (11 of the past 17 seasons). We're just beginning the second half, and United have not been playing well. Chelsea have one goal, so they can just sit back and defend now, if they like. United have to come out strong and take back the game.

I wish all of you a very blessed and happy Easter. See you on the other side,

Tess.