The Lighthouse

the lighthouse

30 December 2011


It doesn't seem possible, and yet here it is: the third anniversary of my dad's death.

What a stark word that is... third.  The first year was bemusing and focused on carrying on.  The second year knocked the stuffing out of us and really was about coping and figuring out who we were without him.  This third year has been cruel in its undeniable reality... and yet consoling in showing us our life does continue, and it is good.  Life is good. It has been altered in a way I never would have chosen, and yet I can't overlook the fact that it is good.

I miss him every day, but I'm not sad every day.  I am crying right now because I was writing a card for my mom, who will shortly be returning home from her Christmas visit here in Sohoe. That's when the realization hit: three; third; real. I'm going to allow myself to feel sad today, but then it's time to get on with it again.  I want to have wonderful things to tell him when I see him again.

I know there are others who have lost loved ones recently.  It's not easy, especially at this time of year.  My heart goes out to you.

A previous post about grief

28 December 2011


Christmas was green and I am content. It is a source of great satisfaction for those of us who have transplanted ourselves from more typically cold and blustery Canadian climes, to reach the end of December with only the meekest displays of winter.

Having reached the important milestone of a green grass Christmas day, I can now happily indulge in one of my favourite winter pass times: laying in bed in the small hours of the day, and watch lazy snowflakes drift past my window. At this point it is merely decorative, barely dusting the ground, instilling the feeling of warmth and well-being that comes from reading before an open fire, cozy sweaters, and hot cocoa.  Snow brings with it an intimacy in our homes as the outside world is slowed and hushed.

Peace on Earth, and good will to all men.

Read it

A friend introduced me to an interesting website called .  They offer the wonderful service of gathering Catholic stories, news, and articles from across the internet twice a day.  They are "A digest of the best Catholic punditry in the Catholic blogosphere." There, you will find pieces pulled from the Catholic Register, Crisis Magazine, The Washington Post, The Globe and Mail, First Things, Time Magazine, and my own friend The Ordinary Catholic at Peter's Barque.

Be sure to add it to your bookmarks!

27 December 2011

In Bethlehem a Child was born

In Bethlehem a Child was born and changed the world.  The birth of a child often does; any new parent will tell you so.  This particular birth though, has impacted history – severing it into two portions: that which came before, and everything that followed His arrival. He is the central point from which we measure our years and centuries.

He not only divided time, He broke through the fabric of matter by uniting Divinity and humanity. He ruptured the boundaries of life and death. He confounded logic by teaching truth in paradoxes: the last shall be first; to gain life you must lose it; blessed are the poor.

 “Let the little children come to me ... for the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matt. 19:14) 

Is it possible that we can be such a child as He was? In Christ, we are born to new life and through Him we may approach the Father as His children. Even in that simple, childish state, God can work through us. If we trust Him, and abandon ourselves to Him like a child, He will use our hands to feed the hungry, clothe the poor, bind up the lame; our words to console the broken hearted. The innocence and vulnerability of a child can bring the strength and power of God into the world.

At this time of year it may be easier to feel capable of reaching out, being generous; easier, too, to have loving and cheerful attitudes. If only we could preserve the benevolence and forbearance that abounds during these days of glad tidings for when we’re feeling stretched beyond our limit during the ordinary, tedious days of February or July. We could dip into our store of comfort and joy to find the wherewithal to be patient with the children, forgiving of our spouse, tolerant toward our colleagues, helpful to our neighbours. We could have peace on earth and goodwill to all men. I didn’t find any of that advertised in the holiday fliers. Where I do see it is in depictions of the Nativity. In Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and angels giving praise to God for the fulfillment of a prophecy:

For a child will be born to us... and his name will be Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

25 December 2011


Now, as the world is still silently slumbering, I wish for you all a deep and abiding joy this Christmas season. May you be blessed with contentment in your family, your work, your friends, and given the grace of generosity.  Share the love you have with others you meet today... what you share will be multiplied and given back to you a hundredfold.

Contemplate the wonder of a new born child. Let Him, in His innocence and vulnerability enter into your heart.

God bless you!  And happy Christmas.

Nativity ~ Bloch

Unto us a child is born, a son is given; and His name shall be Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.~ Isaiah 9:6

15 December 2011

Preparation - reboot

Here is a previous post about preparing for Christmas

Claiming Christmas

14 December 2011

Remembering joy

Michael Coren’s column in this Catholic Register reminded me that I can be a cranky, cantankerous Catholic.  He actually wrote about holier-than-thou Catholics, but they do tend to be cranky and cantankerous, don’t they?

I have found myself – and maybe you have too – chatting with other Catholics about the state of the Church and how it needs to improve, whether by enforcing reverence at Mass, imposing a dress code (skirts for women, ties for men), policing the Bishops, or outlawing guitar music.  You know how it goes:  it begins with giggling about Fr. Distracted’s tendency to wander off topic during the homily, and the next thing I know, 
I’ve condemned every person in the pews for not being as pious as me.

It may be there are serious errors in my parish, and to be sure the Church must be vigilant against false teaching and laxity. To judge words or actions is not wrong. However, we cannot compromise fundamentals of the faith, and charity demands that when we spot error we should speak up, with love, and out of concern for the soul of the person in error.  Where I go wrong is when I judge the state of a person’s soul, and in fact it has dreadful repercussions because I am essentially inviting God to judge me in the same way.

Reading Coren’s column reminded me that I tend to pickle-up - become cranky and cantankerous - when I think that only I have it all figured out.  I turn into a miserable person, and that is no way to effect positive change within my parish community. Nobody was ever inspired by a sour-faced saint!

Joy is key to living a full Catholic life.  As Catholics, we believe in the death and resurrection of Christ.  Because of Him, we have the hope of eternal salvation – a life of unending glory in the presence of God. Through the great love and mercy of God, we have freedom from sin.  We have purpose in this life, and know it continues into the next.  We have the promise of being united with all our loved ones and the great host of saints in heaven.

When I grumble about ‘the state of things’, most of the time it comes from my devotion to the Church, and my sincere desire for everyone to know God’s love. It’s good to be reminded that more hearts will be won for Christ if I hold on to that joy, rather than the conviction that I am right about Fr. Distracted, the Bishops, and the guitars.

And he brought forth his people with joy, and his chosen with gladness ~ Ps. 104:43

12 December 2011

Of question marks and the reflex

This story is about a crazy ear-flap winter hat.

It takes place in Canada – the Great White North where winter is an
intimate reality. It gets up your nose and freezes the fine hair.  It
enters the ears and turns the little grey cells to braincicles. It
goes down the back of the neck or up the sleeves of the coat or,
somehow, through the toes of the boot and chills every pore in its
path. Clearly, in these conditions, a hat is an essential piece of
survival equipment.  In fact, the government should fund the purchase
of them. Except their hats would certainly be hideous, utilitarian,
and drab green.

The type of hat in question is one with the optional ear flaps.  The
flaps can either be tied up, or left down for extra warmth.  The sides
of the hat wrap along the cheeks and are secured under the chin. This
particular hat is fuzzy and furry, matched with fuzzy and furry mitts.
 As fuzzy and furry as you are thinking they are, imagine them even
fuzzier and furrier.

These bear-like accessories are the recent happy purchase of my
sister, who has reached that point in her life, finally, when it
doesn’t matter anymore what people think of what she’s wearing or how
she looks.  There had been too many brain frozen-hypothermic-amputated
toe winters. The fuzzier and furrier the hat, the better. She was
going to be warm, darn it, everyone else could do their worst.

She went to the bus stop one afternoon, to collect the Peanuts after
school. She noticed the other parents eyeing her hat, but it wasn’t
until the boys spilled off the bus and kept looking at her head
quizzically that she started to wonder if she had made the right
sartorial choice.

Then Number One helpfully pointed out, “Mom, you still have the hanger
tag on the top.”

She hadn’t removed the plastic hook the hat hangs from in the store.

“It looks like you have a question mark on your head!”

She was the answer with the question mark.

She was… the reflex.

11 December 2011

Gaudete - redux

Another rerun of a previous post.  Rejoice!


10 December 2011

And also within your spirit, you

I am a creature of habit. Here’s how I know:

For a year – a full year – I have been looking forward to change.  Not just any old change you understand, but specifically change to the language used in the (English) Catholic Mass.

For a year I have been in anticipation, reading about it, talking it over with friends.

Within a certain group of friends (you know who you are) we would giggle like school girls in delight for what was to come. This group would use words like Lo, and Anon with each other.  Of particular note, when pretending great piety, we were known to intone “And with your spirit” – words from the past being brought out of mothballs to replace the clunky post Vatican II “And also with you”.

As I said, I was excited.  I read a lot about what was coming. I was interested in the theological explanations for the changes – or rather, corrections – being made, and applauded them. I had seen pamphlets and graphs and timelines.  I’ve had conversations with priests and deacons and liturgy geeks in order to prepare myself. I bought a copy of the text myself (the St. Joseph Missal) so I could read along at Mass.  We have been well coached for weeks so we would know what to say and when.  In the pews are helpful cue cards with the new bits typed nice and bold.

I was ready!

I was proud to show how with it all I was.

And still, three weeks in, when the time comes, I can be counted on to say:

“And also with ... in your spirit”


09 December 2011


I haven't forgotten the lighthouse! There area few things on the go, but they need a little tweaking. T-w-e-a-k-ing.

Here is one of my favourite posts from way back at the beginning.  I hope you enjoy it the second time around.

Cookie Sheets

01 December 2011

Be golden tongued


When not tapping stories and articles out of my keyboard, I can often be found moderating a Catholic social networking site. It provides me an opportunity to serve, but in true (??) fashion, I get back 100 fold from what I give.  Besides meeting many interesting people, I have been challenged in my faith – to know it and be able to answer for it, as well as to live it out every day.

We often have visitors who want to know more about Catholicism or think they can educate us out of the Church. Both situations usually garner enthusiastic response from our regulars, and from them I have learned a lot about evangelization/teaching/reaching out on matters of faith.  Here are five of the best tips I’ve picked up:

Focus on love and hope, not doom and gloom. Be joyful!  Show the curious and contentious an example of a life fulfilled in faith.

Speak simply. Leave erudite theological concepts for fun dinner parties at home.  Don’t err on the other side though, and assume no knowledge at all.  Speak plainly.  Say what you mean without leaning on pat phrases which are our short hand cues when speaking with other knowledgeable Catholics.

Remember you are talking to a human being with their own story and circumstances. You may not see eye to eye, but they are also a Child of God whose dignity is worthy of respect.  Take time to get to know them. Show an interest in the person. You are addressing the human need in them to know and love God, not to win a victory over them.

Pray. You have been given an opportunity by God to share His love. Seek the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, then get out of the way. Pray also for protection against attack, against pride. 

Be responsible for your faith. Do you continue to grow in wisdom and knowledge? Do you know how to answer common questions about Catholicism? You don’t have to know a lot to share the faith – in fact it’s best to not be a know-it-all, but it’s important to know enough. Invest in good resource materials, and find sound websites for your own use and to share with newcomers to Catholicism.

Don’t be shy.  Remember, Moses didn’t think he was equipped to speak, but God used him anyway.  We all have a stutter to overcome, perhaps in the guise of shyness.  If we are willing to offer our tongue to the Lord, He will provide the words.  Love multiplies our efforts, and with time we will come to trust that God is always with us when we seek to serve Him.

30 November 2011

Of bats and books

I work as an on call girl.  No, not a call girl, an on call girl.  I'm like Batman without the cape: when someone in a library is in need, they send out the call and I ride to the rescue. Not in the Batmobile, sadly (that is one seriously cool car) but in my little red four door with a slow leak in the rear tire.

There is no beacon in the sky. Rather,my cell phone rings, and it does so unpredictably. The call might come the evening before, allowing for adequate preparation, mental and physical. Most often, the phone will vibrate its way across the bookshelf at 6AM on the morning of. The dissonant burring jump starts my adrenal system, jolting me awake, ready for emergency action. I stumble through a complicated automated menu with one eye half open (Batman never had to deal with telemessaging menus). I usually have an hour to find consciousness, ready myself, and find my way to the location. In case the math evades you, all this happens before seven o'clock.

It used to be if I didn't get an SOS by 6.30, I knew I was free for the day, secure in the knowledge that all was well in the world of libraries. Lately, however, the Library Girl To The Rescue Phone (LGRP) rings at any time. I might have planned for a day of laundry, meaning I am attired in an old dress I keep on hand for such occasions because it makes me feel like a hausfrau which helps me work more efficiently - and justifies the cake with a mid morning coffee.  Every piece of clothing I've touched since the last laundry day is tangled together in baskets. When the call comes I must scramble to find something suitable to wear (again, no cape). Official superheroes have it so easy: step into a phone booth or descend to the cave where the required - if not stylish - outfit awaits. There is also an important decision to be made: to shampoo or not to shampoo. It may be there is no time, as my assistance is needed onsite immediately, so I am reduced to one of my sleight-of-hand hairdos.  Ladies, you know what I'm talking about. We all have a go-to ponytail or messy bun we use to camouflage the state of our hair.

Once there, I do what every librarian the world over does: impart a love of reading to all who enter, and help them find information about manatees. On really good days I have the opportunity to explain to someone the difference between the fiction books in the fiction section and the literature found in the 800s of the Dewey Decimal System.

I might be in the parking lot of Schmapters, or tramping through the woods far from home, but no matter where I am, when there is a call, Library Girl will answer. So you can rest easy: the books are safe.

27 November 2011

Of tiny tissues

I had a bad cold this summer. I treat myself to really good tissues when I have a cold.  I go the whole nine yards: 3 ply, aloe-infused, cushioned, 500 in the box.

It’s not possible to test drive the tissue in store however, so one commits to a box in good faith.  Once I got it home I realized that if these were indeed 3 ply, the stuff-the-tissue-in-the-box assembly line had stuffed each ply in individually and there were no instruction for multi-plying the tissues oneself. Besides which, they are smaller than the usual tissue, barely covering my hand – and I have small hands – which leads to interesting target practice when putting said tissue to use. They were so disappointing that I've avoided using them and the box still lingers on my dressing table.

With winter nearly upon us, and cough and cold season ready to explode at any moment, I'm wondering what to do.  I have a tissue dilemma: do I splurge on a whole new box and pretend this one never was? Or embrace my poverty and sneeze delicately into the tiny tissue?

20 November 2011

Some randomness

Seven random things:

1.  More people are majoring in public relations than in journalism. It's become more important these days to spin the news than report it.

2.  Dun-Rite Window Coverings.  The name inspires confidence, doesn't it?

3.  I miss Number Five Nephew. While he's still (mostly) sweet and squishable, he's disappeared into a temperamental contrariness.  I await the day when he is restored to us.

4.  Sometimes - especially when roadtripping through the GTA, I listen to Rush Limbaugh. A little for the right-wing radical factor, and a little for the comedy factor.  I don't think I can listen to him anymore though, because I heard him speak against The Beautiful Game.  Whether it was a joke or not, he said kids should not play, soccer should not be broadcasted, and we should ban companies that sponsor the game. Strike him off my list.

5.  We had the first snow of the season last night. By 'snow' I mean a few tiny, lazy, flakes drifted from the sky and disappeared before they touched ground. This lasted for all of three minutes. All snow should be like that: beautiful, atmospheric, and fleeting.

6.  I had to be at work for 7.30 last week. What an uncivilized hour! There is precious little time for a gentle start or an energizing hot brew. It's eyes open, feet to floor, grab clothes, hit the road - then pretend to be a kind and capable person before consciousness even hits.

7.  Is it inevitable that time becomes confusing as we get older? I find it difficult to remember dates - either today's or the one when I graduated from college, for example. At the same time, time has sped up a shocking degree. I can't believe it's Sunday night again, or that those college days were so long ago already. The vagaries of time keeping, I suppose.

17 November 2011

Finishing touches

I recently read a novel about etiquette. Doesn't that sound great?

It was actually very entertaining and quite funny - sort of a more put-together, less ribald Bridget Jones. The book, "The finishing touches" is about Betsy Phillimore who was left on the back step of a London finishing school in a marmalade crate, a diamond bumble bee pinned to her blanket, with a note saying this was the best place to leave a girl to be brought up right.

And indeed she was; Betsy learned social etiquette and graces at the feet of a master - Lady Phillimore, Betsy's adopted mother. The novel is about Betsy's return to the school as an adult with the intention of revamping the curriculum to make it relevant for young women of today.  For example, knowing how to identify and use a shrimp fork is rather quaint, but being confident when eating sushi in public is valuable. Being able to balance books on your head is rather silly, but posing well for paparazzi (or passport photos) is more likely to be useful in this day and age. While our mothers and grandmothers had to know how to plan the seating arrangements for regular husband's-job-type dinner parties, women of today benefit more from knowing where the bathroom shut-off valve is, and how to find a good mechanic.

While manners and social graces are important for smoothing awkward situations or soothing ruffled feathers we are no longer formally taught how to behave.

What do you think?  Are finishing schools hopelessly outdated, or should we bring back etiquette lessons?  What do you wish you had been taught before you faced the world on your own?

11 November 2011

Lest we forget - we ought not cave in

There is an Ottawa high school – Notre Dame – which this year is not allowed to continue its tradition of Remembrance Day visits by veterans or offer displays of Canadian weaponry, uniforms, etc.

Because some students come from war-torn countries, for some of them their military is a source of fear, oppression, death, etc.

This is an error because Remembrance Day does not glorify war or violence, or oppression. The purpose is to honour citizens who fought to preserve freedom and end atrocity elsewhere.

Those students have left their troubled homeland, and now abide in Canada. In this country, soldiers in uniform are peacekeepers. They bring help in natural disasters home and abroad. Yes, they represent military might, but we are privileged to have no reason to fear them.

Remembrance Day is an opportunity to teach an important lesson in Canadian civics to new students. Here is a perfect teaching moment for them to learn Canadian history and customs.

Though, perhaps, the Ottawa School Board has a different lesson on Canadian history and customs in mind when they caved to a few dissenting voices.  After all, hasn’t that become the Canadian way?

09 November 2011


The Duggars are expecting another child.

For most families, that is exciting news, welcome news, joyous news.  But beyond close friends and family, that news draws a mild response at most - hopefully of the "Oh, good." variety.  The Duggars are not most families though.  Jim Bob and Michelle have nineteen children, so decent math skills will tell you that this little one is the twentieth branch on their family tree.

The reaction this revelation elicits from some quarters is very negative: outrage, repugnance, mockery. There are comments about Michelle spontaneously popping out a baby every time she sneezes, or Jim Bob not knowing how babies are made. People are snide and cruel - not to mention insulting and invasive with their comments and questions.

If you know anything at all about the Duggar family, if you've seen them on Good Morning America, or caught an episode of their TLC program, you know they are good people.  They are responsible and civic-minded.  Their children are well-spoken, courteous, curious, and competent - that answers the often aired supposition that having so many children must mean the kids run wild, lack personal attention, are ill-adjusted, and will place too great a burden on the community.  In fact, the family is debt free - a house, utility payments, groceries, clothing, a collection of vehicles (including several vans/SUVs, a full-sized touring coach, a smaller bus, and sundry pieces of maintenance equipment) - all free and clear.  Far from being a drain on society, they give back in service. The children have been taught practical skills, enabling them to fend for themselves, help others, and, in the case of the oldest boys, provide for themselves financially.

Their beliefs (funadmentalist conservative Christian) may not jive with your own, and their lifestyle of frugality and modesty may not appeal to you, but seeing them in action would dispel any ideas you had that they were simple-minded hicks. There is no doubt of their sincerity and their desire to love God, serve Him, and do good. They love their children without measure, counting each of them a blessing.  At the start of their marriage, they were using a birth control pill which resulted in a lost baby; from then on they determined to accept as many children as they were given, and are sad to think that their fertile years are coming to an end.  They do not preach having as many children as possible, knowing each family is unique. They do however, encourage couples to be open to the gift, and are grateful that their circumstances make their family possible.

Not only are Michelle and Jim Bob delighted with each new pregnancy, but the children themselves are excited at the prospect of a new brother or sister. Mom and Dad teach them to respect and love their siblings - an aspect of parenting that some typical families overlook, thinking it natural for brothers and sisters to resent each other. The older siblings help to look after a younger buddy, and each one has an assigned chore, which not only helps with the upkeep of the home, but teaches them skills, responsibility, and discipline.  And when they're not working together, they're playing together as typical, active children.

Some of you readers have experienced shock and awe from people when they see your large families of four or five children.  You can just imagine what the Duggars endure when all 21 of them are out and about (24 when oldest son Josh and his wife and two children join them). They always respond with patience and grace, turning derision into praises to God for the many blessings they've received - that's the Duggar way..

We could all stand to be a little Duggared.

05 November 2011


I've never been a fossil in the wall  - A three-year old mondigreen (a misheard lyric) from the Veggie Tales song 'We are the pirates who don't do anything'. The real line is "I've never been to Boston in the fall.

Compost Superman features prominently in our household.  He's half Batman, half Superman.  His name is really Composite Superman, but Four went for the word he already knew: compost, as in the green bin under the kitchen sink.

Octover, says Four. "BER," Mama Nut corrects.  Right, Four, it's BerOctover. Five helpfully chimes in.

Randomly, Four asks, "How was your day, Dad?" Hearts melted.

"I don't do that down on the floor stuff."  Three, during a family dance party when asked if he'd like his turn demonstrating some breakdancing moves.

"You can both do one for me."  Four, magnanimously handing a candy to both Mama Nut and I to open for him.  He didn't want either of us to feel left out.

It's best to be with a family, with a mummy and a daddy, and a Tante Tess, and brothers. - Five, on the way home from a walk.

04 November 2011

Indulgence: Higher love

I surrender heart and soul
Sacrifice to a higher goal
Lift me higher
By a higher love

We all need a little Depeche Mode now and then.

Of plans and white flags

All the signs are pointing toward surrender and submission.  It's time for me to stop planning, to quit plotting, to desist in dreaming of things not yet come to pass.  Some days are like that.  You can either beat your head against the immovable wall and take ibuprofen afterwards, or you can claim some wisdom upfront, and concede without the headache.

I haven't shied away from sharing my defeats with you so far, so I will tell you that the Good Hair Interview did not result in a job offer.  I'm sure they're still talking about the hair though, so all is not wasted.
Jocularity aside, while I can't help but feel a little disappointed that I wasn't picked (overtones of junior high gym class) I remain hopeful that The Perfect Job is out there... or at least The Right Job For Right Now.  In the meantime, I will take advantage of what I've got now: time to enjoy my scrumptious Peanutty nephews, and time to write for pleasure.

It is my habit to go to Adoration once a week, typically on Friday.  I planned to go around lunchtime today, then come home to pick up the two smallest Nuts and take them to the library for new books. (We're junkies and need a steady supply)  There was a funeral at the church, however, so I couldn't stay.  Then, after a minor skirmish back at the house, I got the boys as far as the library parking lot before we discovered it was closed for an all-day staff meeting - something I knew about but had forgotten.

Plans disappointed three times in one day.  What is the message behind that, I wonder?

03 November 2011

Forgotten bookmarks

I came across this site yesterday  It belongs to Michael Popek, a bookseller, who started the website to share what people leave behind in the books they want to sell, from inscriptions, to clippings, business cards, letters, and drawings. 

This is such a simple idea that it seems almost pointless, and yet it works.  It is surprisingly powerful to see these small artefacts of a stranger's life - a postcard sent to a sweetheart left in a collection of French stories; an inscription to her father from a young girl warning him he will probably cry when he reads the book, inside the cover of The Little Prince; a recipe for cookies in an old biography. 

The remnants are found in classic literary works, obscure manuals, cheap paperbacks, textbooks... the whole gamut you come across in second hand bookshops.  Isn't it fascinating to think that every book tells a story - and not just between its covers.  Every book was owned by a person who was studying for finals, travelling to Atlanta, writing their last will and testament, going to a dinner party, or breaking up - like the one who wrote this on a postcard found in a copy of Catch 22: 
Dear Lover,
It's over
- you know who.

Aren't you itching to know the rest of the story?  Would it intrigue you more to know that it was written in Milan in 1961?

Mr. Popek has gathered the best of his finds into a book, just published, by Perigee, titled 'Forgotten Bookmarks: a bookseller's collection of odd things lost between the pages'.

A sure cure for writer's block, I'd say.

02 November 2011

Writing prompt: Obsessions

Writing prompt – Taken from The Fiction Class, by Susan Breen

Make a list of your five obsessions.
Now write a few paragraphs about one of them.

1.       The State of the world.
2.       Clean hands.  Actually, cleanliness in general.  And tidiness, too.
3.       Being on time.
4.       Apple pie.
5.       Football.  Footie.  Soccer!  (Especially Manchester United, and the German Men’s National Team.)

I enjoy a good rant, don’t you?  One of my favourites is The State of the World.  It’s a handy sort of rant, because a discussion of nearly any topic can segue to All the Things That Are Wrong in the World Today.

You, too, can participate in ranting about the decline of the western civilization as we know it. Here’s how: as often as possible, drop into the conversation – say, about cell phones in the Sudan – certain key phrases like monopolies, government control, and reality tv. Reality tv is one of those all-rounder phrases – it takes the blame for any societal ailment, in any situation.

Whenever possible, bring up declining literacy, delayed adulthood, rights verses responsibilities, and government spending.  From there you can branch into test score-based education, the crisis in masculinity, violence in entertainment, or how the liberals are to blame for everything (unless you are a liberal, in which case, clearly, you’d mention how clueless conservatives are.)

Then, for good measure, if you’re Catholic like me, your next rantish step is to delve into post Vatican II Catholicism and the horror of guitar music at the Saturday five o’clock.

Most importantly, do not let opposing viewpoints slow you down or distract you. Don’t apologize for repeating your favourite grievances. Good ranters gather steam and keep on going until no one else is talking.  That’s how you know who won.

I’d love to hear back from any of you readers who may be so inclined to share: what are your obsessions?  Can you tell me something about them?

I immediately went to obsession number five, because I really do love football... but it was too easy.  Plus, I’ve written heaps about The Beautiful Game here at The Lighthouse and it didn’t seem fair to subject you all to yet another dissertation.  However, I had already written the bit that follows before my conscience kicked in, so I am including it anyway.

Football, how do I love thee?  Let me count the ways.  I love you river deep, and mountain high.  My love for you is like oxygen.  You lift me up where I.... well, let’s just leave it at: I really like football, and for several complicated reasons.

One of the things I enjoy most about the game is the drama, both on and off the pitch.  I just love how vitally important a match can be, for pride, for gloating rights, for war and peace on a national scale (for real!  The Ivory Coast National Men’s team appealed to warring factions to put down their guns so fans could watch one of their matches and sure enough, fighting stopped for the duration.)

I love how invested the fans are in their club, singing songs for their favourite players, bequeathing season’s tickets from father to son, and rabidly following every detail about clubs and players (my brother-in-law has entire seasons of Liverpool games saved on disc).  The history is fantastic with some teams going back to the late 1800s -- and some rivalries are just as old.

A long-running and hotly contested debate is whether association football should go high-tech by allowing referees access to instant replay footage.  Granted, one bad call can alter the course of a game.  There are historical matches that still spark dissension in pubs and cafes around the world: the ball was in!  It was a hand ball!  There’s no way that was offside!  Yelling at the officials and muttering about questionable calls is one of the great pleasures of the game for me, so I’m happy with things the way they are.

A loss for the club you love above all others (I was going to say “above all other things” but that might be taking my affection too far) can be devastating, gut-wrenching, heart-breaking, depression-inducing.  Likewise, a win, particularly over a bitter rival (Man City, say, or Italy) can set you up for a week of vacuuming without a grimace, because you’re floating on air.  Yes, it passes, but there’s always the next fixture to look forward to, and that’s what keeps us interested in The Beautiful Game:  It’s never really over.

01 November 2011

Of ducks and ginger ale

Do you ever crack yourself up?  I do, on a regular basis.  I'm sitting at my desk right now, 'working' - which means that I'm spending more time than I should checking on facebook updates, gazing blankly into space, or drinking endless cups of whatever takes me away from said desk (Don't judge me!) - while turning a phrase for the current writing project over and over in my mind like the sea with a rock, ever so slowly wearing it into shape. (Don't laugh at me!)

While that artistic endeavor - which feels like mental torture at times - goes on, I've been engaged in a very silly cyber conversation (cybersation?) about a plasticine duck, of all things. It doesn't even matter what I said (you can be sure it was very witty); the important thing, the reason I bring it up, is because I am now like ginger ale, with happy-bubbles fizzing through me.

We all need moments like that in our day, don't we? Moments of silly-induced happiness.

The duck that did it

30 October 2011

The Fiction class : a book review

Arabella Hicks is named for the heroine of a Georgette Heyer novel, her mother’s favourite book. She has been working on a novel for the last seven years but so far has never published any of her work, so she proofreads annual reports to make ends meet... and teaches a weekly fiction class.

I enjoyed – and took comfort from – the insight into a writer’s life.  I thought I was undisciplined and terribly lax in my daily writing routine until I read this passage, which reassured me that I'm right on track:
“On Thursday morning, Arabella wakes up and goes directly to her computer. This is her regular routine: Sit down at the computer, stare at her bookshelves, look at the computer screen, play three rounds of Spider Solitaire, stare out the window at the Hudson River, open up the document she is working on, read the last chapter she wrote, and change some of the punctuation. Pick one of the books on her bookshelf, look at the ending of it, and try to figure out why that ending works. Look at the framed picture of her mother that she keeps on her desk, and eight-by-ten glossy from an old church directory. Play Spider Solitaire. Delete the changes she just made to the punctuation. Stare bleakly at the last chapter of her novel.”
The story begins with the very first class of a new session, allowing the reader to get to know the students as Arabella does.  We also get to participate in her classes along with the students, learning about character, description, point of view, voice, theme, dialogue, and so on. Each chapter about the class ends with a writing assignment. Many favourite books and authors make an appearance, which brings great delight to this old librarian's heart.

I would have read the book for these mini writing tutorials alone, but Susan Breen has crafted a story compelling – though simple – enough to drive the reader forward between each Wednesday night in the classroom.  Over the 10 weeks of the course we get to know Arabella’s diverse students, among them: the suave older gentleman who doesn’t do his homework, a hopeful but as yet undiscovered great American novelist, the pretty collegiate with a secret, the letch with a one-track mind, and a struggling housewife.

After each class, Arabella visits her mother in a nursing home and there the plot, it thickens.  Mothers and daughters seldom have straightforward relationships, and these two are no exception. Their family history is complex, with circumstances very different from my own experience, which gave me a lot to think about.

Though the story itself is simple, its pace and authenticity made for a brisk read. I borrowed this book from the wonderful Sohoe Public Library, but I hope to find my own copy because I know I’ll want to reread it often.  I’m looking forward to more stories like this from Susan Breen.

~ The Fiction Class by Susan Breen.  New York: Plume, 2008

PS - if you haven't given Georgette Heyer a try, do yourself a favour and track down one of her books right away.  'Arabella' is a good one to begin with.  Though Heyer wrote (mostly) romances, she was from an era before romances were all about heaving bosoms and olympic bed-play.  Her novels take place in Edwardian and Georgian England, and because they are full of well-researched period detail they're like history class, only fun.  She had a great talent for sparkling dialogue and wonderful humour.  What could possibly be better than that?

29 October 2011

Done and dusted

Well dear Reader, the deed has been done.  The Big Interview was conducted Friday morning, after a week of hair raising events (ha ha... hair raising!)  (For that to be funny, you have to read an earlier post about how I prepared for the interview) There seemed to be no end of distractions, from sick Peanuts, injured Peanuts, uncooperative household appliances, vehicles at near breakdown status, one of us lost in the maze of country roads, and electrical meltdown, to the utter failure of our wireless network, which resulted in a mad but hopeful dash to the helpful office supply store to have the notes for my 40 minute presentation printed in quadruplicate and in colour. Every day seemed to being a new foible of fate for us to grapple with, causing us to cast our eyes skyward and say to You Know Who, "There must be someone who can use this" - with me hoping that some of it would be put toward the Interview Which Loomed Large.  I was really struggling with what to do for the assigned presentation, and generally not looking forward to the interview process itself.  Does anybody really enjoy being grilled about themselves by perfect strangers who use the enticement of possible employment to get you to lay all your stuff bare?  Gak!

I think God did generously share some of the merit of that crazy week with me, because I felt not one twinge of the usual nervousness. I was able to be detached, and actually (unbelievably) enjoy the process. That's clear evidence redemptive suffering, or 'offering it up' really does work.  My thank to you out there who prayed for me on Friday.  May the blessing return to you a hundred fold!

PS.  I wore my hair straight (translation: application of a blow drier for half an hour, after judicious amounts of mousse; flat iron the morning of with hairspray.  Two small sections of the front were pulled back in bobby pins).  No sensible - or even trendy - librarian's updo.  I had visions of dropping pins all throughout the interview, hair falling in straggly bits, and them chasing me down the hallway after to give handfulls of pins back to me.  No thank you!

26 October 2011

Stronger : a musical review

A good album has one or all of the following qualities:

  1. A talented vocalist (perfect technique is not what we're going for here; we're talkin' soul-stirring singing from the toes... or at least from some connection to the song)
  2. Good writing - melodically and lyrically
  3. Enough energy to power a person through cleaning bathrooms, mopping floors, sorting socks, attaching Batman's cape yet again
  4. Can't-help-but-belt-it-out-ness (being in  key doesn't matter, it's volume and enthusiasm that counts)
  5. A haunting/emotional/intriguing/addictive something or other that entices you to turn out the lights, put on the headphones, lay on the floor, and listen to it over and over again.

There have been entire albums throughout my musical career (as dedicated listener, not, sadly, as brilliant and successful performer) that met each of those five criteria: Def Leppard's Hysteria was played on average four times a day for an entire year (though more commercial than the albums that came before, this was the first of theirs I owned, and it rocked my world at the time.  I've since come to think that Pyromania is by far the better album); nearly every Depeche Mode release from Construction Time Again to Sounds of the Universe has become a soundtrack to my life; Sarah McLachlan's Fumbling Towards Ecstasy was belted out from behind the wheel of my car on many a long road trip; Blue Rodeo’s What is this love, and Dire Strait’s Brothers in arms were played endlessly while I absorbed every detail of melody and harmony through a very large pair of headphones... there are heaps more, of course, but you get the idea.  

Yesterday I came home with Kelly Clarkson’s Stronger, her fifth album since winning the first season of American Idol.  It almost isn’t fair to bring up the Idol business, because this girl can really sing (not all of the participants  - or even the winners can. Does anyone remember Lee DeWyze?  Not exactly memorable, poor fellow) Miss Kelly, however, has got the chops, the drive, and an interest in a variety music; she’s a natural talent.  Check out her AI ‘Stuff like that there’ and ‘I surrender all’ clips on Youtube; her performances are stunning considering how young and untutored she was at the time.

Stronger may or may not have staying power - I don’t know yet if I will be listening to it every day in a month’s time. Most of the songs are thoroughly pop flavoured, while some have overtones of country, including the duet with Jason Aldean, Don’t you wanna stay, which is a definite belter (I sound exactly like Kelly when I sing it... alone, in a confined space).  There are a few songs that stand out, including one about the mathematics of love (Einstein), another about loving the good and bad about a person even if it isn’t picture perfect (Dark side), a haunting plea for truth (Honestly) – this one might turn out to be my favourite of the 17 songs.

I’ve heard her cover Guns~n~Roses, Cheap Trick, and Aerosmith; she’s performed country songs with Reba; she’s tackled old style country spirituals (treat yourself to Up to the Mountain with Beck on Idol gives back); and she sang Ave Maria for the Pope. I hope that this broad range of musical styles will make it on to her albums in the future.

Kelly's Stronger is a fun album.  It definitely has “enough energy to power a person through cleaning bathrooms, mopping floors, sorting socks, attaching Batman's cape yet again,”  and if you’ve ever imagined yourself to be a superstar, wailing along with the divas, this disc is good for that too.

24 October 2011

Of preparation and buns

Friday morning, I will be in a conference room, being interviewed for a potential library job.  I have been given an assignment: to prepare a 40 minute presentation, and a 10 minute summary of the presentation with visual aids.

There is a lot of work ahead of me this week, but don't worry, dear reader.  I have begun with the most important thing, which is, of course,  figuring out how to wear my hair on the day. I have been test-driving variations of the librarian's do: the bun. If I apply myself diligently, I should have the matter settled and have the presentation ready by Friday.

What do you think: chignon or twist?

22 October 2011

How to have an awesome day

1.  Begin the day in a easygoing fashion.  Have a lie-in; be mellow.  When you think you should get up, fluff your pillows a little, adjust the covers, and snuggle in for five more minutes.

2. Have your favourite thing for breakfast, especially if it's cold pizza.  Never mind the omega-3 enriched anti-oxidant packed, fibre heavy bricks of dried grass in a bowl you so conscientiously consume Monday to Friday.  Bon appetit!

3.  Bake peanut butter cookies with two Peanuts aged three and five.

4.  Repot geraniums and basil to bring indoors over the winter months.  Ticking something practical off your to do list brings an enormous sense of well being.

5.  Take pictures of the Great Leaf Pile Games taking place in the back yard.

6.  Enjoy steps three through five to the accompanying soundtrack of Michael Buble.

7.  Read an engrossing mystery novel while simultaneously basking in the warmth of a wood fire.

8.  Have a family dance party with the music of Guns ~n~ Roses, Def Leppard, Michael Jackson, and Andy Gibb.

9. Realize there are still leaves in the trees and no snow on the ground.

10. Give thanks for 8 happy and healthy souls surviving another day.

17 October 2011

Au naturel

You know those women who have it all together?  They have the perfect handbag for every occasion, and wear actual outfits pulled from well-organized closets, instead of random separates that may or may not have mustard stains on them scrounged from the laundry basket full of clothes that you somehow never manage to put away. The put-together woman never wears yoga pants unless at an actual yoga class (which she conscientiously schedules in her planner for every Tuesday and Thursday morning at seven). Don’t you love her?

I used to have an acetate blouse.  Imagine: clothing made out of acetate.  Acetate is used to project things onto a wall or a screen by laying it over a very bright light.  The idea of being projected onto a screen is horrifying, and yet I wore a blouse made of acetate. Put-together women, I have found, wear natural fibres.  Hippy types do too, of course, but they tend to look like they last shopped in the mid-sixties, while our PTW shopped the Prada sale on the weekend.

Not long ago I found myself at a function which called for care being taken with wardrobe selection. I had left home several days before, knowing there was a chance I would be at that function, but as there were other activities on my agenda, there was little space in my luggage for a ‘what if’  so I tossed in my go-to outfit of black slacks and top with an assortment of bling to ramp up the impact.

I was feeling pretty good about myself, sitting there in my seat (no matter what I’m actually wearing, I always picture myself in an impeccable Chanel suit with an elegant strand of pearls.... and maybe a pillbox hat depending on the occasion)  when a friend joined me.  She was one of those – a PTW. Ladies, I’m sure you all have a friend like that, don’t you?  She looks like a grown up in her wool suit and shiny high heeled boots. Her clothes have names like Donna, Calvin, Christian, Valentino. Mine have names like Joe. I felt like I was playing dress-up with clothes rifled from the tickle-trunk, but my closet was six hours away so there was no time to run home and change.  I had to brave it out.

Not realizing (though, really, I should have expected it) my top was stuck to the back of the wooden seat, I leaned forward to greet her.  Doing so caused the fabric to pull away from the seat with a very loud rrriiipppp rather like the sound of a large sheet of paper being slowly torn in two.  It echoed in the vast space and I could feel every eye on me – the men in confusion and the women in knowing sympathy.  I had given myself away, the cat was out of the bag. That horrible noise proclaimed for all to hear I was wearing synthetic. 

I should have gone au naturel – fabric-wise that is. 

13 October 2011

Of legs and border guards

After 25 hours of driving over the past few days, it sure feels good to be home again and stationary - though the stationary thing might be a figment of my imagination since my body feels like it is still in motion. 

The last seven and a half hour stretch was particularly rough as it took place at night in the rain.  Something in the way my eyes work turns wet road surface into fun house mirror - moody, indistinct, and misleading. My body was tense with the effort to hold the steering wheel tight, braced to brake or swerve at any moment. I didn't realize how tense I was until I finally reached my exit and tried to take my foot off the gas in order to slow for the curve.  I barely persuaded my leg to respond.  I had brief visions of having to continue on and on and on along the highway until I finally reached a barrier - likely the border crossing where burly US officials would blow out my tires, circle my car with guns drawn and yelling into walkie talkies for backup.

Imagine the headlines the next day:  Canadian female held at US border crossing for failure to stop.  Sources say driver blames road construction as surface was too dark in the rain. Doctor consulted for this article denies colour of road material has any impact on ability of drivers to use legs in order to brake. Meanwhile, in true Canadian fashion, the driver in question is demanding the government take action. We have consulted a government official who claims a committee will be struck to discuss conducting a study.

01 October 2011

Prayer buddy reveal

The summer edition of the great prayer buddy project has come to an end.  It is a great privilege to carry one person and their intentions in prayer over a period of time. I have been spending time at  getting to know a little about C.C.  and her life.

I will continue to pray for you, and your family, C.C.  It was a pleasure to spend time with you over these summer months.

My thanks to JoAnna at  who took me on as her prayer project. It's a pleasure to have you here at the Lighthouse, JoAnna.

Isn't it good to be part of one big family?

29 September 2011

Of suffrage and lawn signs

I just read a book which takes place during the time of the women's suffrage movement in England. It's actually a story about coffee, so I would like the chance to talk to the author about how one theme led him to another.

Sadly, I don't know very much about the history of the cause. I say sadly because as a woman of the 21st century I reap the fruit of what those women sowed, and I should know what it took to change a long standing social custom - so that I never take it for granted. I had always imagined it was a peaceful process of reasoned debate, petitions to government, and good intentions. This book painted a very different picture of oppressed women, ridicule, violence, and hunger strikes.

The privilege of voting is on my mind just at the moment because of an upcoming provincial election. Voting is an important ingredient in the democratic process, but Canadians tend to be rather apathetic about exercising their privilege. Statistics indicate that only 60% of registered voters cast a ballot in our federal elections, while a mere 56% do so in the Ontario provincials.

In the run-up to election day it can be quite interesting to walk through the neighbourhood, observing rival lawn signs and imagining the respective home owners gruffly nodding at each other as they leave for work in the morning. Do they have a hard time being civil, remembering that only a month ago they shared BBQ ribs and cold beer, now they are confronted with evidence of each other's political obtuseness?  How does a supporter of The Natural Law Party (they believe in yogic flying) end up on the same street as someone who will vote for the Family Coalition Party of Ontario?  That's the interesting thing, isn't it?  Especially in this day and age where discussing one's political views is taboo in public circles - it's not until the lawn signs go up that you really know who your neighbours are.

28 September 2011

Heavenly stacks

Reader, I am in heaven.

My job takes me to libraries from one end of SOHOE to another, and let me tell you, there are some interesting interpretations of 'library' out there.  I've been to one that arranged the books from right to left on the shelves and right to left along the banks of shelves.  I've seen one that arranged the books on shelves the full length of the library wall before dropping down to the next row.  I know of one or two that specialize the groupings of books so finely that if you want a blue picture book you browse in this particular cubby, and if you are looking for a teal picture book they are kept in that cubby over there.

These little complaints of mine may leave you shrugging your shoulders and wondering to yourself, "Umm... Tess, what's the big deal?  Nobody notices these things but librarians, and they're just oddly anal about such things anyway."  Well, these things matter because they settle like a tick beneath the skin of us anal library folk. A library ought to run like a well-oiled machine my friend, and if it does, nobody will notice the work that goes into keeping it that way.

Today's assignment brought me to such a well-oiled machine, and it made me happy as soon as I walked through its door.  It was spacious with well-stocked - but not overly crowded - shelves. Every item was precisely where it logically belonged with easy to follow signage.  The procedures were clearly written and the staff and students were very well trained. There is a day book where everything is documented. Every work surface was clean and clear of clutter, drawers and cupboards were well organized, and - oh joy - there was a sink and kettle! And get this, dear reader: each book cover is wiped with a sani-wipe before it is reshelved.  Isn't that one of the ick factors about borrowing library books - other people's germs?  Not a problem here.

Even better than the happiness of having been in library heaven today, is being there again tomorrow.  My librarian's heart is going pitter-pat in a joyful rhythm.

23 September 2011

To everything, turn turn turn

The winds of change are blowing once again.  The time has come for me to strike out on my own once more, after three years of fun and fury with the Peanuts. How I've loved being up close and personal to see them grow!  We never expected, when I first arrived on their doorstep, depositing my worldly goods in their basement, that I would be a fixture in their lives for this length of time.  The months turned into years so quickly that it feels as though the calendar is lying when it reveals itself to be three years further on.

And so I have begun The Great Job Search. The challenge in this time for me, is to trust that God knows what is needed.  He knows what I am capable of, what my requirements are, and what I need in order to flourish.  He can sort it out much better than I can, so I must do my part - looking and applying - and leaving the details to Him.  No amount of fretting or worrying is going to bring about the perfect solution.  After three years of feeling incapable of looking after myself, I find that I am really looking forward to having a little home of my own, and exploring as yet unknown possibilities.  It's exciting!

If you are a praying sort of person, please offer one or two for me - job and home.  Thank you, and bless you!

22 September 2011

More words

The book of too many words (North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell) has come to a long and winding, drawn-out end. The conclusion, while over-due and slow in arriving, was ultimately satisfactory - the lady and the gentleman declared their true affection for each other and the reader is free to imagine their unending happiness.

I compared this book rather unfavourably to the practically perfect work of Jane Austen.  Poor Mrs Gaskell, she cannot respond in her own defence but must be mute against my harsh judgement. I enjoyed the story despite the endurance factor in the reading of it, and would like to sample another of her novels.

Are you a regular patron of your library? How do you approach selecting your reading material? Do you go in with a preselected list of book you want to read, or do you troll the shelves, trusting that chance will provide intriguing material?

Chance recently led me to the books of Laurie Viera Rigler: Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict; and, The Rude Awakening of a Jane Austen Addict.  How could I resist?  Would you be able to pass them up?  In the first, a 21st century woman from LA wakes one morning in Regency England - Jane Austen's time period. The second title deals with the reverse: a Regency woman in modern Los Angeles.  LVR clearly is a Jane Austen aficiando and strikes an authentic tone - the language is nearly pitch perfect.  If the reader is able to swallow the 'how' of people exchanging places with each other 200 years apart, the stories are fun frolics that toy with Austen themes, borrow Austen dialogue, and quite overtly admit to Austen fandom.

One negative I would mention is that the author here addresses certain details that we tend to speculate about when we consider life in another time - such as hygiene.  Some things are best left to speculation. Another negative is that the two stories are nearly mirror images of each other.  Having read one, we know what to expect from the other, and there are no surprises.

If you are an admirer of Austen and have dabbled in fan-fiction, give at least one of these a go.  They're perfect for a lazy afternoon of reading with a pot of tea... and will hopefully inspire you to pull the real thing off your bookshelf.

16 September 2011

It's the hair, Al

How do you decide whether you will watch a movie, or give it a miss?  Is it a movie you will make every effort to see in the theatre, are you content to wait till it hits Netflix, or will you one day have it on as background noise while you iron your tea towels to get an idea of what all the fuss was about?

Aside from boy-humour and horror, my movie watching parameters are pretty broad.  There are a few factors, however, which if present, almost guarantee a bad experience.  If either Al Pacino or William Hurt are in it, don't watch it.  Al has very bad hair, and just can not act. In fact, in certain circles, he is known as Hairpacino, and is used as a marker for how bad a movie was, as in: it was a Hairpacino kind of movie. William (I don't imagine anyone calls him Billy) breathes very loudly.  He can't help it, poor fellow, but it's very distracting.  

If the film is touted as being "this year's...."  give it a miss.  It wont just be a bad movie, it will be a bad knock-off movie that leaves you making endless comparisons about how last year's version was better.

Through experience, I have learned that references to Hitchcock do not bode well.  Any film described as being Hitchcockian - whether French Hitchcockian or Hitchcock for the post 9/11 audience - is bound to be a bad movie with an icy blonde actress.

I'm glad to share this hard-earned knowledge with you, with the hope that it will save you from making bad movie-watching choices.   The rest is up to you.

15 September 2011

Too many words

There is a brilliant line in the movie 'Amadeus' which has the king telling Wolfie (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart) that the piece of music he composed has "too many notes".  Naturally, being king qualifies him to know about such things, and of course there is a mathematical formula for how many notes a musical composition should have.

The book I am reading has too many words. I'm not a king - err Queen.  I'm not even a minor, non-royal duke (make that Duchess) but as I have experience with reading, I feel qualified to offer  critique from a reader's point of view.

There are writers who indulge in four pages of very small type to describe the lace edge of a handkerchief (don't try to hide, Edith Wharton)  There is a nation of authors who delight in taking an entire novel to enumerate the endless sufferings and bad judgements of their characters (da, Russians, you do) Even Charles Dickens does go on a bit, but I suppose he was providing an important service for his time as there was no reality tv and people needed something to while away the evening hours - serialized fiction printed in the newspaper was just the ticket.  Dickens would not have done well with Twitter.

My word heroine is Jane Austen. She demonstrates the Italian philosophy of quanto basta which means 'just enough' or 'as much as you want - no more, no less' which is exactly what you want from a book, right? For example, from a novel about deep-sea fishing quanto basta would be roughly 2.5 pages. On the other hand, a wonderful story about time travel spanning two hundred years, three countries, and two revolutions, would need eight books to provide quanto basta.  Austen isn't stingy with her words, but she isn't self-indulgent with them, either. It's so good to be left satisfied, yet feeling as though you could have handled just a little bit more.

This current book has surpassed 'just enough' and landed in quanto too-mucho.  The plot has promise, the characters are intriguing, but I can see what's coming from 400 pages away and the author is using too many words to get there.  She repeats, and says again, and reiterates to the point that I'm skimming paragraphs and skipping pages - I gave chapter 32 a complete miss. While the deja-read it is frustratingly unnecessary (I do remember that Margaret has dark hair, I don't need to be reminded every time she speaks) at times the excessive wordsomeness of the authors style comes across as stodgy, which is too bad as it weighs down a story with potential - at least for this modern reader's palate.

Mozart may have used a lot of notes, but he had a deft touch and a true ear - in the hands of a master, too many notes is quanto basta.

The book is North and South, by Elizabeth Gaskell

13 September 2011

Quiet and tranquil

First of all, I ask that supplications, prayers,
petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone,
for kings and for all in authority,
that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life
in all devotion and dignity. 
This is good and pleasing to God our saviour,
who wills everyone to be saved
and to come to knowledge of the truth.
1 Tim 2: 1-8

That we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity.  St. Paul probably wasn’t thinking ahead to his  21st Century readers when he put pen to paper in this letter to Timothy, but these words ring out clear and true to this particular modern girl.

We’ve all heard the litany of the ills of our time, and probably each have a version of our own we can riff on with the smallest provocation.  Your litany would likely include some of these themes: stress, over-commitment, broken families, Godlessness, hopelessness, degraded culture, lowered standards, the noise, the expectations, the evening news.... Doesn’t it make you want to cry uncle?

It is no mistake that St. Paul links quiet and tranquility to devotion and dignity: the first two qualities are necessary for the latter to flourish.  Being prayerful, recollected people is difficult if we do not provide the conditions. St. Paul acknowledges this fact by directing us to supplicate, to pray, and petition that we be able to lead such lives no matter our role.

Perhaps because I am one of those people who frequently recites the litany of the ills of our time and prays for a radical change in how we live, I understand the last verse to mean what we read before is a requirement for this bit: to be saved and come to knowledge of the truth, we must lead a quiet and tranquil life in devotion and dignity. There is no other way. Paul is practically admonishing us to slow down, to chill out, to focus on First Things, and in doing so we will please God.