The Lighthouse

the lighthouse

31 May 2011

Of manners and etiquette

Depending on where you get your news, you may have heard about Pres. Obama's dinner at Buckingham Palace, at which he toasted the Queen.  Depending on where you get your news, either it was a gauche debacle, an international gaffe, or the British were too high on their pomp and circumstance horse, rudely cutting off the leader of the free world mid-oration.

This is a perfect example of the benefit of manners, social etiquette, a standard of protocol.  Yes, it may be restrictive. It may be more formal than we're accustomed to. However,  manners not only provide us a blue print of how to behave in a given situation, they provide a safety net when in an unfamiliar situation, or when things go wrong in a social setting.

Granted, British Monarchy has its own protocol, but they helpfully publish a guide, and staff an entire office of specialists to guide visitors meeting a member of the royal family through the details.  The visitor is then responsible for learning the etiquette - and not presume themselves to be an exception to the rule.

It seems the age of the gentleman statesman is over.  The politicians of North America at any rate, are eager to seem ordinary and common. They appear on talk shows in their shirt sleeves, and drape their arm over the shoulders of monarchs.  In my opinion that doesn't make them the same as me; it shows a want of good old fashioned courtesy.

If this is the example we're being shown, it's no wonder people go to Church in shorts and flip flops; it's no surprise that shop keepers feel no compunction in using colourful language with their customers; it makes sense that young people have no idea how to introduce themselves or have a civil conversation with a stranger; it's a natural progression for men and women to be familiar and crude with each other in the workplace.

It used to be that manners were taught at home, and presumably they still are, but our lowest common denominator is so low now that an ant could straddle it. Boys and girls were taught etiquette in school, at the various service clubs they belonged to, and at dance class where they learned to relate to each other.  The idea in doing away with such old-fashioned fustiness as manners and etiquette may have been to level the playing field, or to allow life to be more spontaneous, I don't know, but it seems to me there's room for a little more civility and good behaviour in public life.

30 May 2011

Of time and change... and time to change

Do you ever notice that certain people or situations prompt a specific reaction in you, one which you are hard pressed to explain or understand? Someone inexplicably rubs you the wrong way perhaps, and it's not until years later after much inner healing and talk therapy (with your best friend over chocolate ice cream) that you realize that person reminds you of Uncle Herb who embarrassed you at your eighth birthday party. It could also be that specific conditions combine to turn you - normally even-keeled, placid, happy-go-lucky you - into an irrational harridan. That too, after many pints of frozen dairy goodness, you come to see has roots in the past.

There is this tendency in me to behave in a certain way in specific situations which is working my last nerve.  I've had enough of it, and am determined to change my ways.  I know I am able to respond in those situations like a fully-formed, healthy adult and once I figure out what that is, I'll give it a shot... I just have to let myself do so. 

If only it were as easy as saying "I'm going to change"!  But don't 'they' say that when the time is right, you just do it? It feels like that time is now, and if I step out in faith all will be well (and all will be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.)  Not easy, mind you, but well.

I realize this is cryptic and probably makes no sense to anyone but me (and then only if I pay very close attention)  but I think I had to make it very official with an announcement, sending it out there into the void. So good night dear void; I'm going to follow my father's advice and go to bed at once.

There are four quotations in the last two paragraphs.  Catch them?

26 May 2011


I'm no housekeeping maven, but I do pride myself on a certain level of tidiness. Around the house I'm known as The Kitchen Nazi (not in general, you understand, but when the occasion calls for it) because I'm pretty good at whisking that spoon out of your hand and depositing it in the dishwasher.  And then getting you a new one when I realize you weren't quite done with it yet.

There are clearly areas that I'm not quite so proficient (let's not discuss vacuuming), though I did still consider myself competent. In these areas my sister shows me up for the slattern I now know myself to be. For example: I like a clean shower, so I hose it down each time I use it, and include it in the weekly elbow-grease session.

I recently discovered, however, that there is a whole new level of shower cleanliness I wasn't familiar with. My sister bought a nifty product that seems to be battery operated, with an on/off switch which delivers cleaner like an automatic rifle: steady, sustained bursts, evenly distributed, and highly effective for the job at hand. Imagine!  No more pumping a nozzle with your finger! No more excess in one area while another is under-sprayed!

This is the best thing since the disposable toilet-bowl brush.

25 May 2011


Holidays are wonderful, but there's no place like home, and the people there.

Five (standing) and Four (with all the muscles)

From left to right: Five, Four, Two, Three. I thought I had them all,
but One is behind the tree.

24 May 2011

Manchester United vs Math

It would make things so much easier if the whole world were on the same time.  Hear me out now, because this could work.  Instead of clocks being different at each time zone, people would just hold to different schedules.  For example, I am GMT -5  so I would work from 4am to 12 pm which translates to a 9-5 day.  The sun would come up around 1am, and I would go to bed at 5 pm.  It's simply a matter of becoming accustomed to the numbers meaning something different.

This is a brilliant idea because Manchester United plays an exhibition match today, in honour of Gary Neville who is hanging up his boots. (Imagine retiring at the age of  36 )  He's been with United since 1992 and is part of an illustrious group that includes his brother Phil, Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, Nicky Butt, and Paul Scholes who came through the United youth academy in the 90s.

The match starts at 8.30 Manchester time, and though my heart is Mancunian, my time is Eastern. I can never remember if England has daylight savings, and if so does it cancel out ours, or does the time difference increase?  Decrease? Is Manchester on the same time as the rest of the UK, or is it like Newfoundland with an extra half hour tacked on?  And if i comes before e except after c, then clearly science breaks the rules.

I think I've worked out the math correctly, but I wouldn't count on my figuring skills. How sad to miss out on this event because numbers make me feel like my head is on backwards.  Unless those numbers look like Manchester 4, Juventus 1.

*edit:  First half 1-1 United. goal Wazza, assist Giggsy.   Giggs has been subbed off.  Juve  goal  Pepe
*end game update: United 1 - 2 Juventus

23 May 2011

All is right with the world

Becks will be wearing the Red and Black again on Tuesday in an exhibition game honouring Gary Neville who is retiring from United.
Life is sweet.

Of little feet

I've been staying at Oma's house in the country.  It's being here that I realize I'm not as much a country girl as I like to think, and that's all thanks to little feet.

All God's creatures are precious, but some of them I prefer to love from afar.  I like to invoke the blessing from Fiddler on the roof:  May God bless and keep the Czar..... far away from us!  (Only I take artistic liberties, ad-libbing said creature in place of the Czar)

I've mentioned the birds a time or two, and posted a picture of the chipmunk.  There are also hummingbirds, any number of squirrels, a bunny, a fox, and a couple of helpful kitties that wander the area but these guys are not only cute, they are outside. It's the critters that invite themselves inside that I have issues with.

There are ants in one corner of the kitchen counter.  It happens only at this time of year, and then they're never seen again, but I've been doing all I can to kill them coax them to leave: Raid poison drops seem to be an ant hallucinogenic. I put drops down, and little tripped-out ants zig zag and circle around, looking like they're at a party rather than being at death's door. I've tried salt because I remember reading something about how the grains hurt their feet but I could be confusing that with deer in the garden, I'm not sure.  I heard that vinegar is effective, so I tried wiping the counter down with a vinegar-dampened cloth and when that didn't seem to make a difference I doused the counter with a lake of vinegar and they took to it like ducks to water. Instead of withering they were doing laps. I have now put out an ant trap, which is providing sustenance for all the swimming and partying going on. Not impressed but at least they're relatively contained.

The spiders are not so contained - they can be found in unexpected nooks and crannies, thinking the shower stall is dual occupancy or that they'd like to spin a little web on the wall beside my pillow.  No go, sorry.

At night, I hear a little scurrying something or other on the roof outside my bedroom window.  He's welcome to the shingles and even the eves trough, but I keep thinking about the flimsiness of the screen between me and him. I picture his little paws prying the corner free of the window frame so he could come in and ask for a bedtime story. I roll over, hug my pillow tight, and pretend I don't hear a thing. If I don't acknowledge it, it's not real, right?

There was a bat in the house once, and a mouse or two as well - thankfully not on my watch. If I were to come across a mouse outside, I'd be a total girl, squealing about how cute he was, offering to bring it food, hoping he had shelter from life's raging storms.  But the mouse inside my house is an interloper, getting the backside of my broom.

You can move a girl to the country, but you can't make her cohabitate with little feet.

Cute things other kids say

I got to spend some time with the Tree's Little Man last weekend.  He's such a delight with a lovely blend of practical "I know how to do it right" with a whimsical "I'm baking cupcakes for Brother and Sister Bear's birthday" sense of play.

Mama Tree asked him how his day at school was.  "Good," he tells her.
Did he do any seat work?  "Yes, " he affirms. "We cut and pasted and coloured." 
Oh yeah? asks mom, interested, what did you make?  "A duck and ostriches."
Umm, a duck?  And ostriches?  "Yep," he affirms.  "A duck.  And we had to give the duck some ostriches."
Mama Tree and I questioned him, and helpfully suggested other barnyard animals he may be confusing with a giant bird of the African continent.
"Ostriches," he insisted. "You know... these things."  And he pointed up into his nose.

He gave his duck some nostrils.

Of the slippery nature of pedestals

An idol recently landed on my head as it fell off its pedestal.  It didn't just wobble from uncertain balance, it was given a mighty push and was ejected off its perch.  I wish I'd remembered there are safer places to put people than on unsteady plinths.

It doesn't matter who this particular idol was, nor does that fact that it was a group of people and not one individual.  I'll cope with and eventually recover from the feeling of betrayal that comes of seeing the god of my making on the ground; but I really hope that this time I've learned to allow people to be less than perfect, to not paint them with gold leaf because I admire them.

The conversation I had with friends which instigated the falling of the idol brought home to me the role that pride plays in idolatry.  At first I was placing the blame entirely on the perch-dwellers, for pride was clearly one of their biggest failings. (I am in awe sometimes at my remarkable perspicacity) (I hope you have your boots on, or you'll get a soaker from that large puddle of sarcasm on the floor).  But a conversation I had with a different group of people last night helped me to see that our own pride is also a factor. Elevating someone, or a whole group to the level of an idol is a way of elevating ourselves. We hope some of their glory will rub off on us, that we'll be special by association. 

Up on that pedestal we survey the landscape and pity those we see below us. If only they could figure out how to be like us! There's nothing quite like perfection, and it's really too bad the people over there are so tarnished with shortcomings and failings.

You know what happens, right?  With all the jostling for space up there, none of us last very long. We're not made for such elevation, and we get a horrible kink in the neck when we keep looking up at others. There is room for healthy and well-placed admiration. We look to others to show us the way, to guide and mentor us, but hopefully we see them as they really are, chips and scuffs and wobbles and all.

22 May 2011

Travels with Tess

I spent the weekend back in the last place we lived in, also known as the Nation's Capital.  It was a spur of the moment decision, a whim, an act of  Providence. I had such a lovely time with oldie-but-goodie friends, and as icing on the cake the weather was absolutely glorious and it happened to be the last weekend of the Tulip Festival.  Because I'm playing with a new camera, here's a brief photo essay of the trip:

The 'big city' near Oma's

Mocha - Mama of my Diggory

Doesn't do justice to the vibrant, sari-like blend
of purple, orange, pink and red.

I think God must have had the best time imagining
the endless variety we see in nature.  The tulip is near the pinnacle, I think.

This must have been an American tourist looking for snow.

Filling up on the St. Lawrence.

Apple blossom arabesques

Home is just beyond the ferry landing.


Oh happy day!! Manchester United, my beloved boys in black and red, lifted the league trophy for a record 19th time today. Three goals in 18 minutes of the last half hour saw them win 4-2 over Blackpool.  Sir Alex won manager of the year, and Nemanja Vidic the player of the year.
There is sad news in that several players will not be returning next year, but those are thoughts for another day; let today be for rejoicing!

And how happy are we that the world didn't end yesterday, leaving us tied with 'pool at 18 titles each?

The best player in the world, with the best manager in the world:

Photo by John Peters/Man Utd for Getty Images

19 May 2011

On the hunt

I went hunting today.  The prey in question was books; and oh! giddy with victory,  I tell you that I found books.

What do you do with new finds once you bring them home?  Do they go directly on the shelf, all smooth-spined and unmarked, their potential treasure undiscovered until one day while browsing your shelves you remember this day when you were so excited to have found it? Perhaps you drop into an easy chair, not to be seen from again for days while you devour the words and ideas between the covers of a book?

Sometimes I wish I could inhale a book - complete, entire, whole, in one go - rather than having to take it in a word at a time. It takes so long, and life gets in the way.  At the same time, is there anything better than lingering over a really good read?

I have big hopes that each of these three will be the kind to linger over:

In the footprints of loneliness / by Catherine Doherty
The greatest pain of the world today is loneliness. Loneliness is apart of the journey of faith. When loneliness comes upon you, you want to go and hide in some corner - self-pity carries you like a big,huge wave on a beach all full of stones. You see that beach in your mind and you think you are going to be broken up on the rocks. But in the depths of every heart there is a garden enclosed.  The garden is Gethsemane, and the enclosure is a meeting place of the Beloved, God. If you enter into this garden, you will hear the incredible sounds that Jesus heard, the heartbeats of God. God put loneliness in your heart so that you would hunger for Him, and learn that unity with Him brings unity with all.

John Henry Newman : his inner life / Dr. Zeno, Capuchin
This book is a culmination of Father Zeno's life work. With the cooperation of the Oratorian Fathers, he was given full access to all of Newman's letters, diaries, and complete published and unpublished sermons. From all this he has drawn together the interior struggles Newman faced from childhood until his death. Zeno allows Newman to speak through his work and writings, an exceedingly rich source. This is a landmark work considered one of the best spiritual biographies of John Henry Newman ever written. It covers Newman's young life as an Anglican, the doubts he faced in light of his historical studies, his conversion to Catholicism, the trials he faced as a result of his conversion, and his remarkable growth in holiness and the interior life.
(I must mention that Father Zeno is Dutch, and this book was first published in Dutch.  Hup, Holland, Hup!)

The Reed of God / Caryll Houselander
Through beautiful prose and inspiring meditations, Caryll Houselander depicts the intimately human side of Mary, Mother of God, as an empty reed waiting for God's music to be played through her. Lovingly bringing Our Lady down off her time-honoured,ancient pedestal, Houselander shares her insightful and beautiful vision of Mary on earth, Mary among us, Mary as a confused but trusting teenager whose holiness flowered with her eternal 'yes'. With profound theological teachings and appealing imagery, The Reed of God is a spiritual classic written in the mystical tradition of Julian of Norwich.

Happy hunting!


I thought for sure I'd have a doozy of a story for you today, but what promised to be a traumatic/hilarious/head-shaking event turned out to be therapeutic/straightforward/ordinary.

On the agenda was a trip to the salon. It was time to get a hair cut.  Yes, I see you rolling your eyes; you've read this, and this, and this.  Nothing ludicrous or frustrating happened.  It was smooth sailing, and here I sit, three inches shorter than this morning, ready for summer.  Delightful, really, but as I didn't come out looking like the Cookie Monster, there's no story for you today.


I don't usually cross-post, but this is someting I started for the Lighthouse, and it became something else, finding its way over to The Feminine Gift.  It's about purpose and gifts and eggless cupcakes.

18 May 2011

Cute things kids say

As reported by my sister:

Having bought two hanging baskets filled with various unidentified but oh-so-lovely flowers, she, Mama Nut, my sister, proceeded to the next step: the hanging up of the hanging baskets.  This entailed several tools, assorted bits and pieces, and a dash of patience.

Perched high on a stool, attempting to coax bits of metal into the wood of the outside wall, it became apparent that the unidentified but lovely flowers came packaged with cheap hardware. Every twist of the screw caused threads to strip and frustration to mount.  Mutterings under the breath turned into slightly louder grumbles which became rather vocal sons of sea biscuits.

Meanwhile, Four and Five were blithely and cheerfully playing, singing, chattering - as three and four year-olds are wont to do.

"Oh, stop it!"  Mama growled.  "Can you just stop playing and being so happy for a minute?"

A while later, gathering her smallest small people to collect the big boys from school, she came across some resistance.

"Mummy, you're not going to be mean and nasty again, are you?" asked Four.
"No!  I wasn't being nasty!  I was frustrated because the thing wasn't working properly"
His eyebrow clearly said Four didn't believe her.  He decided to humour his mother anyway,  "Ok, then I'll go with you."

All creatures great and small

Here are some of the beasties I saw while out and about today:

I love cows.  They always make me happy.

No, not rain; not snow; not birds.  This is a cloud of bugs.  Eww.

That's me in the middle.

Ermengard and Cecil.

The downstairs tenant.

The destination.

17 May 2011


Flames shimmered and popped in the grate, the only lumination, and that not strong enough to overpower dark shadows in the corners of the room.

In the meager light and warmth of the fire sat a woman, shawl draped over her shoulders, fretting with the fringe on her lap.  Fingers and frown betrayed the restlessness of her thoughts,and surely had rain not been throwing itself at the windows, she would have allowed her body release from its own restlessness on the fields beyond the front door. But darkness and cold kept her here, in front of the fire; alone the house, alone in all the world.

16 May 2011

One word

Today's One Word challenge was curious.

Looking out of the window, she wondered what the chipmunk was up to.  It looked like it was sunbathing in her all-natural Adirondack chair.  "Curious," she thought, "I've only ever seen the cat do that before."

Come walk with me

Though it was chilly and windy, I had to say hello to the water, and I brought my camera along to show you one of my favourite places.  Usually, Lake Ontario is a wild child, throwing itself at the beach in a full-out display of power.  Today, despite the wind, the surface was calm and the waves lapped ever so gently at the sand. All the same, the sculptural trees clinging to the dunes are spectacular, and the vast expanse of the water settles peace deep inside.

Lake Ontario, unusually placid

Gnarly tree

Tenacious trees

Lake Ontario, as far as the eye can see.  No hint of Toronto today

Wonder who that could be

Lunch in the dunes

Wild turkey, anyone?  They were running across the road as I approached.
By the time I stopped the car, they were well across the field.  They sure can scoot!

A truly Anne of Green Gables road at the entrance to the park

15 May 2011

Soul from the toes

Here are two songs that chase each other through my mind these days.  I like passion over perfection; prefer messy to meticulous when it comes to music. I love singers who open their mouth and sing from their toes - to me that is soul.

These singers couldn't be any more different from each other, but both are clearly emotionally connected to their music.

I don't know anything about Adele, but I hear this song everywhere I go these days, and I like her style. She really and truly just lets it go.  (Oh, if I could but wear false lashes like that!)

Chris... ah Chris,  I've loved you long (pizza love, but sincere for all that) Soundgarden? I'm in.  Audioslave? Yes. Temple of the dog? You've got it.  Solo?  Absolutely. He's one of the best rock vocalists out there, but the boy's got soul, as we can hear in "When I'm down".  I love the unexpected lyric: I only love you... when I'm down.  But one thing for you to keep in mind: I'm down all the time.
There's a comment under this clip on Youtube saying he sounds better the longer his hair is.  After watching Ticket to ride from this same concert, I'd have to agree.  It really is time to bring back the rock vocalist, isn't it? Enough with the autotuned 'hey hey, oh oh'!


It's challenge time again, dear reader.  Please send in (via comment box or email) a writing prompt or two.  Fiction, non fiction; a scene, overheard dialogue, a single word; a colour, smell, sound... anything at all. 

My pencil's sharpened. Let's go!

The Birds

We've come to an agreement, the birds and I.  They sing and chirp and coo at the crack of dawn while I hide under the covers, taking their name in vain.

For the past 3 days, I've been up, had some good prayer time, enjoyed breakfast and puttered around the house, all before 8.00.  A key fact is that I'm supposed to be on holiday, free from the nagging of clocks and schedules. Nice.

Today I actually had a reason to get up early (two words: blow dry) and counted on the birds to follow their standard routine of predawn cacophony... and guess what?  They were silent. Absent. Decidedly uncacophonous.  I didn't crack an eye open to peer at the clock until nearly 9, which meant a drive-through type bathe, the merest hint of hot air directed at my mop, and a grab-it-and-go approach to wardrobe selection.

Tomorrow can be as indolent as it wants to be, so you can bet that the whole avian chorus will be full-throated by sun rise.  A pox on the birds!

14 May 2011

The Wanting

We are in the era of The Big Want.  I think this was begun, and has been sustained by, advertisers which have fueled consumerism. They have become very clever at creating an emptiness in us, and then promising they can fill it with their products, their lifestyle, their plans.

Before the invention of moveable type, the poor crofter's wife cleaned with plain old lye.  She didn't know about New and Improved Lye, and because the Old and Ordinary Lye worked just fine, thank you, she simply got on with the business of cleaning. She also didn't flip through magazines yearning for this season's belt which is thin, while all her belts were so obviously last season, being so wide and all.  How did Lady Llwoddellyn of Wales know what was au courant in Milan in the Spring season of 976? She wore the same thing she wore two years ago, unless she was summoned to court, in which case she ordered up a new dress of the exact same pattern as all her others, except without the moth hole in the elbow, and the repaired hem where Lord Llowddellyn kept stepping on it.

Whenever I go online, I'm followed around by ads for secrets to having a slimmer stomach.  If they (advertisers) knew me, they'd offer me sure-fire ways to wake up three inches taller; and if I could only find the perfect lip gloss, life would be pretty fine indeed.

What is it we really want?  Because for sure we want something; I'm just not sure we know what it is, and we'll never be satisfied until we can figure it out.  In the meantime, we think we want things we really don't, so that when we get them, we're still unsatisfied, so we go back to wanting more.

This realization hit me a few days ago as I was puttering around my room. I was in the process of deciding what to bring on my trip, and the thought of 'what do I want' was prominent in my mind. In the time honoured tradition of aha moments, I understood all at once that I have been asking for a particular something for such a long time now, but at the same time have been running away from actually getting it. I persist in asking, needling God and whining, pouting through prayer times, racking up the novenas and spending a great deal of time speculating about this thing. I've been so busy asking that I haven't taken the time to receive it.

I don't really know how that revelation ties into New and Improved Lye or toned tummies, but I know that my constant wanting has kept me empty for a long time. I think I need to take some time to reflect carefully on what it is I really want, and then in complete trust (and with a great deal of bravery, which is needed in order to accept a great gift) ask for it. No advertisement needed.

Life's a beach

How can I say this without sounding obnoxious?

I.... no, that won't work.

For the...  no, still not right.

Here goes:
I spent the day at the beach.  I'm house-sitting for two weeks, and the house being sat happens to be near one of the most beautiful sand beaches.

I know, right?  You worked all day, or the sky was grey, or the children kept you up all night, and there I was, indolently splashing through the surf.  I'm sorry, and I promise I didn't enjoy it very much at all.

Well, I did actually, until I got bitten by something on the tip of my nose.  I can see the bite now, out of the corner of my eye as I look at the monitor while I'm typing. It's become almost a life form of its own, and I may have to register it for its own postal code before long.  I'm sure the two men behind the butcher counter in the grocery store were chuckling up their sleeves after handing me three country sausages for $2. I know the lady in the canned fruit aisle kept looking at me, while the cashier did her very best not to. I get to the point where I've convinced myself it's like Cindy Crawford's mole only on my nose, until I look in the mirror to see Rudolf's red blinker that nobody is about to pay me $10,000 to get out of bed for a picture of.  The man came today to mow the lawn, and I'm sure he thought I was a nut when I popped outside to wave at him, holding the other hand over my face.

I've heard that you can get away with wearing anything, so long as you wear it confidently - and my red nose is very, very confident.

13 May 2011

A book has pages!

I had to get that off my chest.

These new electronic book gizmos, will they seriously become the reading experience of the new generation?  Will my nephews grow up reading Tolkien, Dickens, Hugo - good grief even Charles Schultz - on a screen?

I know I'm a pill about books.  It's an occupational hazard: I hope to publish one someday, and currently I'm responsible for keeping the shelves in order at school libraries the length and breadth of Sohoe.  But I know I can bring you over to my way of thinking, if only because I'm not going to let up about it.

First of all, I acknowledge the positives of electronic readers: volume.  Imagine having the entire Austen opus at your fingertips when you've got a craving for dashing heroes, or Bridget Jone's Diary and the sequel when you're stuck in traffic.

The positives are experiential as well as practical: just think about the feel of a book in your hand; the way well-loved volumes open naturally to the best bits; the unique texture of one cover to another; how a brand new book resists being breached. You come to recognize publishers by the paper they use, how well their bindings hold up, the fonts they prefer.  For a while I read fantasy novels of several different authors based on one cover artist whose work I really liked. I'm not a big fan of the paperback novel, especially if the story is long - the book tends to be hard to keep open once past the middle, and they fall apart quickly; but I do like the trade paperback format, even though it's more expensive. It's ssatisfyingly floppy.

I love the look of books, whether neat and tidy on their shelves, or piled on the floor beside the bed. How a book looks is important, never mind that business about books and covers.  Each book sets the stage for what you can expect inside by the cover art, the publisher's blurb, the size, the binding and the edging, and no two books are the same. I know that on my shelves, the Jane Jacobs book about the importance of neighbourhoods is a small, greyish Everyman edition. The two volumes on water colour have bright covers that make me feel like I could be a painter too, every time I look at them. The best of the Winnie the Pooh is the hardcover, while the paperback is good in a pinch. The beautiful Lord of the Rings trilogy has pride of place, but for actual use I have old, beat up copies that can be thumbed through and carried in one bag or another without causing me palpatations.

Books add ambiance to a room, to a home, and not only that, they tell the story of a person more truly than a resume: how many, where they're kept, how they're organized, what titles/subjects/authors. Are they anonymously wrapped in velum covers?  Shelved backwards? Arranged in the colour spectrum? Is the complete Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire suspiciously pristine?

When I read the brilliant Peter Wimsey mysteries, I like to have Donne open beside me, so I can read along with the poetical sleuth. In looking up the reference in the Catechism that I always forget but always refer to, I know it's the page with the orange high school year book bookmark. I know that the scene where Darcy first proposes to Lizzy has been dog-eared, and the scene where she finally accepts him is too close to the end. Scanning the pages of a dictionary, atlas, thesaurus, almanac often leads somewhere unexpected because another entry enticed me off my original path.

Try to convert all of that to an electronic reader, and you realize that the technology has stripped personality and sensuality out of the experience of reading.  A book or magazine or newspaper becomes cold, colourless, indistinguishable. Bland, boring, blah.  Three things books should never be.

09 May 2011

The wearing of the white

Oma has been visiting for a few days, and while I was hard at work on Friday, she took her other daughter and two smallest grandsons (Four and Five) to a place I used to call Schmapters, but now just call Chapters. The great Canadian bookstore chain comes paired with Starbucks (which I used to call... oh never mind), a place of infinite coffee variety and little round tables at which you may not read any unpurchased reading material.

Four and Five have the routine down pat: sit at a little round table at Starbucks where they each drink a kid-sized hot chocolate, move their chair as often as possible, bumping into as many other tables as possible, also talking to as many strangers about Bat Man pyjamas as possible.  By the time they're done, they've licked off the icing of their pumpkin scone, scattered crumbs everywhere, and caused the accompanying adult's coiffure to come undone with the added bonus of causing said adult to not be able to really enjoy their grande half-fat no-whip, decaf steamed caramel macchiato.

On this particular occasion, Five was sitting across the table from his mom, Mama Nut.  Mama was wearing Daddy Nut's white shirt, and yes, that's an important detail.

All seemed to be going well, until out of the blue Five was stricken with a coughing attack.  His mouth happened to be full of hot chocolate at the time.  The flying beverage did not land anywhere on the table, thank goodness.  Where it did land, however, was all over Mama's borrowed white sweater, which in three seconds looked as if she'd been sniped by the brown paint ball team.

Some days you just shouldn't wear white.

07 May 2011

A theory about memory

Right off the top I'll own up to the fact that this isn't going to be ground-breaking or earth-shaking. It wont be written up in JAMA or any of the other medical acronyms, and you've probably thought it yourself a few hundred times, especially if you've reached at least your third decade and even more so if there are little people running around your house.

My theory is this:  the brain has only so much accessible space for memory. Not only that, but the bits of memory are actually categorized and sorted: multiplication tables, useless school stuff, names (subcategories: people, things), to-do (subcategories: short-term, long-term, don't bother), song lyrics from the 80s... and so on.  You get the idea.

One of those categories is geography, which encompasses directions, place and street names, and Tim Hortons locations.  Most people will probably never reach the maximum space set aside for geography, so they will always be able to retrieve the name of the street that Cousin Sue lives on, how to get to the dry cleaners, and the capital of Mozambique.

I've exceeded my allotted quota for geographical memory.  It's not because I read the atlas from cover to cover, or watched every season of the Amazing Race.  It's because I've lived in over 20 places and my brain is overflowing with street names, postal codes, travel routes, images of the houses I called home... argh! To further complicate matters, I've lived in one place twice, and another place three times, so chronology is becoming an issue as well.  Can Alzheimer's be triggered by things like this, do you suppose?  I try to do crosswords regularly to stave it off, but I worry.

This was prompted by my drive home this afternoon.  I was on the highway (being pressed for time) and drove past an exit which drew a complete blank.  I stared at the name of the road, and could not for all the tea in China place where that street was.  At all.  I scanned through three of the last places I've lived trying to imagine where that road lead, what was at the end of it, and which house was I going home to? I kept thinking the name was familiar, but I couldn't even think of the road I was to get off at.

That happened in a flash - by the time I could see that road sign in the rear view mirror I was properly situated on the right page of my mental map and got home in one piece.  So far I'm not a threat to anyone on the streets, so you can all breath easy.

Is it possible to get a thumb drive for the brain?

05 May 2011

Where the world stops for a goose

Where, in all the world, would you go, if the wishing it could make it so?

It's getting harder to choose a place, what with the political overthrows, civil unrest, and protests and uprisings... not to mention freakish weather like tsunamis, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods.  Sounds inviting, doesn't it? Would you like a little unseasonal heat with your Arab Awakening? Some flooding alongside your strike pickets?  Open your atlas and we'll find the spot for you.

Not for the first time I'm glad to have my own little life, in my own little home.  I've called this place we live Sohoe, which stands for Slice of Heaven on Earth.  It's a simple place. Some might say too simple.  But I like that on my way home from work, a traffic jam is three people waiting at the traffic light. I like that as I near home, there's a road where human activity comes to a halt while geese honk and waddle their leisurely way across from pond to creek.

01 May 2011

The Dress

On Thursday evening, I went to bed fully dressed in yoga pants, a t-shirt, and fuzzy socks.  I asked my mobile phone to vibrate it's way across my night table at two and hoped that four hours of sleep would be sufficient for the arduous day ahead.  The plan, you see, was to watch every second of royal wedding coverage available to me. And if you think I was a little crazy about it, let me tell you this: my sister slept in front of the tv that night. She wasn't taking any chances.

It's surprising how easy it is to get out of bed at a ridiculously early hour if the reason has nothing to do with work. I didn't use the snooze function a single time, managed to make it down the stairs in the dark without damage to the house or myself, and before I even realized my eyes were open. It didn't take so much as a whisper before my sister was wide awake -  I think she detected moving air currents from me entering the room. There we both were, huddled under our blankies on our respective couches, giddy as school girls at the prospect of fairytale princes, beautiful princesses, and let's not forget: the dress.

Fortunately Canada still has fairly strong if ceremonial ties to Merrie Olde England, so that our national television broadcaster was providing juicy tidbits of information long before the other networks thought of abandoning their infomercials.  Who is going to buy a juicer when you can  learn about royal bacon sandwiches, see an interview with the butcher of Buckleberry, and speculate on what Becks will look like in his morning coat? (Who buys a juicer before the sun comes up, anyway?)

As interesting as all the preliminary speculation was, things got really exciting once the guests began arriving - dignitaries, heads of state, foreign monarchs, select celebrities (I see you, Becks!), and then, hilariously stepping out of mini-buses, the minor royals.  (Don't feel sorry for them, though... the mini-buses were very nice, and they were very well dressed.) Weren't you fascinated by the fascinators? Didn't you just love the infinite variety of hats and head-toppers? Aren't you resolved to buy yourself a fabulous hat and set a new trend among your friends, and insist the men of your acquaintance become familiar with cut-away coats and tails?

Finally... finally the groom and best man (also known as the two princes) were on their way to the church - in this case a rather spectacular church known as Westminster Abbey. Then the families arrived - among them another prince, a duke/prince, and a queen.  It was almost too much excitement to bear! How happy Prince Charles looked, more grey and worn-in than I think of him, but quite the father of the groom.  There was grandmama the Queen shining brightly in the canary yellow version of her party frock, hand bag slung over her arm.  (Just what does a queen carry in her purse?) The little children attendants were so cute and well behaved in dresses and dress uniforms; I wonder if it was carrots or sticks that induced such model deportment?

Could it get any better?  Yes, it could, when the bride was spotted at last, and finally we saw that dress. How elegant, poised, and beautiful she was. The dress was stunning in its simplicity and tastefulness.  As was the ceremony itself.  Sure, they decorated the church with 20 foot trees, but wasn't it beautiful and perfectly perfect?  There was no voluminous wrapping of the trunks, no illumination by fairy lights of the branches, no dangling ornaments.  The only sparkle came from that lovely tiara and those beautiful earrings. There may have been 1,900 invited guests but it felt like a family wedding that we had the good fortune to witness. It was tasteful, befitting their rank and circumstance, with many thoughtful touches showing the young couple had given consideration to 'their people'. And their people responded with delight and joy, rallying around the couple with well wishes and applause.

What's the point of all this pomp and circumstance?  It may be symbolic, but if it chooses, majesty may do a great deal of good, both directly and indirectly.  It can inspire hope in troubled times; it can encourage service by example; it can lead the way in nobility of habits - good manners, etiquette, civility, kindness. We all know that the heads that wear the crowns are human heads, and capable of the same evils and debauchery any of us are, but on a day like this, let's see the bright side of life.  Weddings are a spring time in our life story... a time of new beginning, a season of hope and promise.

I saw a lot of hope and promise in that wedding: refined beauty, understated elegance, regal poise. And all of that in a dress!


We went on to watch recaps and specials throughout that day and evening, wanting to really fill up on royal wedding goodness.  Yes, it was pomp and circumstance, ceremony and pageantry, but I think we need that from time to time.  Even with the fairytale aspect of the occasion, what has remained with me in the days since is the enjoyment to be had when people behave well, mind their manners, know what is expected of them, and dress appropriately.