The Lighthouse

the lighthouse

31 August 2011

The best one yet

Another rejection letter arrived today.  Again, it's a special feeling to have such uplifting news be delivered to you in an envelope you addressed yourself, with a stamp you paid for.

This was the best letter so far - short, to the point.

Dear Writer,
Thank you for letting us review your sample work.
We are not able to offer you an assignment.
The Editors

It was thoughtful of them to not foster a false friendship with the use of names.
It's not personal, it's business.

Now that's ironic

Earlier this week I wrote eleven letters. As I wrote my name and address eleven times, I thought how handy it would be if I had mailing labels to slap on the envelopes.

Guess what came in the mail today?

One hundred and five beautiful labels with my name and address on.
Thank you, CNIB.

29 August 2011


We have to fix the bottom sleeves.  That's what we do. Five, demonstrating how he pulls the legs of his pyjamas down.

Four and Five were playing upstairs. Five tried to entice his big brother to do something they had been cautioned by Mama Nut not to do. No, Five; we're not allowed, Four admonished him. Five then went to close the door. Now we're invisible, and she'll never know, he said, completely confident in the knowledge that if he can't see mummy, she doesn't know what he's doing.  Four, with the confidence of experience in this area quickly replied, Oh yes she will!

Four and Five have a unique system of naming things.  I'll provide a few examples; I'm sure you'll catch on quickly.
~ Ground hogger (a groundhog)
~ Axer (an axe-brandishing knight)
~ A ping ponger (a person who plays ping pong)

This habit has led to raised eyebrows from the uninitiated, especially when the boys talk about the kiddie ride at an amusement park called The Ladybug.  Or when Four tells one of the grandmas at the bus stop about his toy tow truck.  A tow truck, as you know, has a hook to lift with.  "We left the hooker at home," he sadly tells her.

25 August 2011

Of the end of the bat

When we last left the bat, it had attached itself to the screen of the bathroom window.  Bil had cleverly (and with quick stealth) shut the window closed on it, ensuring it would not be swooping unfettered through the house. We lived through two quite unreal days of family members updating each other on which corner of the window the bat was recently hanging from, and whether any movement had been spotted.  It seemed unreal, for through the bubbled privacy glass, the batesque shape seemed to merely reference a bat, rather than to actually be a bat. Until it tapped on the glass that is. In those moments, his limbs would come into sharper focus as they got closer to the window and there was no longer any doubt that it was, in fact, a real bat.

I began to know its habits - how it would turns right side round to perform certain functions, then hang upside down again. We speculated it was eating bugs that came too near the screen, and remarked how fortunate it was that we were having cooler weather so the poor thing wouldn't bake in the sun.  But then we remembered the poor creature in question was likely harbouring nasty pestilence and would as soon scratch or bite us as eat a peach out of our hand - something Two would very much have liked to try.  Oma informed us that bats can live up to 30 years.  "Great," said my sister.  "It will outlive me."

Clearly something needed to be done.  It was becoming depressing, yet none of us were willing to try any of the methods of trapping it helpful friends had suggested.  We kept thinking about a couple we know who abandoned their bedroom to bats who have been trapped, released benignly into the wild, then returned 'home' again.  They now sleep in what used to be the dining room.  We're packed to the gills already; we haven't any room to donate to wildlife!  The bat simply had to go.

Then the earthquake happened.  Earlier that morning, we noticed the usual bat-hanging-upside-down-from-the-screen shape had morphed into a bat-hiding-in-the-window-well shape. We thought afterwards the bat must have sensed the coming tremors (animals are known to, aren't they?) and worked itself under a tiny cover that sits over the runner, getting itself stuck in the tiny space. We didn't have to try to cover it with a box, or trap it in a bag, or gas it out, or risk life and limb on a tall ladder, nor yet surrender our home to it.  Bil covered himself in all the protective gear he owns, and used the longest-handled grabbing tool he has to remove the departed bat.  It has left our house and will not be coming back.

The end.

23 August 2011

Borrowed words

Excerpts from "La's orchestra saves the day" by Alexander McCall Smith.   Food for thought.

In a way,all our human systems, our culture, music, literature, painting - all of that - was effectively an attempt to make life more bearable, to enable us to get by.

Music was her refuge. There was madness abroad, and insanity of killing and cruelty that defied understanding -- unless one took the view that this violence had always been there and had merely been masked by a veneer of civilization. La thought that music disproved this. Reason, beauty, harmony: these were ultimately more real and powerful than any of the demons unleashed by dictators. [...] She wanted to talk to somebody about books, about music, about the things that nobody seemed to talk about here.

She saw the buttons on the sleeve of his jacket, with their crown motif. The King's reach was  a wide one - down to this officer's buttons. Having the symbol of another on one's buttons meant that the other owned you. A free man - a really free man - could not carry the symbol of another on his clothing.

...there should always be room for God, even in wartime.  [...] We can't afford to be without God. Even if he doesn't exist, we have to hold onto him. Because if we don't, then how are we to convince ourselves that we have to go on with this fight? If you take God out of it, then right and justice become small, human things. And weak things too.

20 August 2011

Of bats and... bats

The scene:
Half past eight in the evening.  The day has begun to darken into night.  Number One Nephew and Mama Nut are on the sofa, Daddy Nut is on the chair, Three and I are sharing the love seat.  Two perches right on the edge of the sofa beside big brother One.  Three lamps cast their warm glow into the room.

The family (save for the little boys, who are upstairs 'sleeping' [ie. singing and giggling but contained in their room]) are gathered in the living room for night prayers.  Daddy Nut leads us in a decade of the rosary and the five of us rather sleepily offer the responses. Until.

Until Two called out, with utter glee, "There's a bat in the house!"  A sentence I honestly never imagined hearing within the walls of a house I live in. My first instinct was to scoff, "Oh, Two!  It's not a bat... you're imagining things."  Except.

Except he was right. It was a bat. In our house.  It swooped from the hallway into the living room, turned around and swooped back again.  Back and forth it went, again and again.  Six of us crouched deep down into our respective seats, most of us whimpering, holding blanket, pillow, book, hat - whatever was close to hand - over our heads.  It flew so close I could feel the whap whap whap of air from its wings as it skimmed over my head.

"I'm going to tell every body at my school!" an elated Two sang.  He begged and pleaded for us to keep it.  He, alone of all of us tried to get closer to it, sure that what it wanted most in all the world was to be the pet of a nine year old boy.

My brave brother-in-law, in a low crouching walk went to open the front door in the hope our batty visitor would take the hint of its unwelcome and depart into the night.  No such luck. It perched itself on the bricks of our chimney, taunting us with its presence.  I crept into the kitchen, thinking that our long-handled strainer might be just the ticket for trapping it against the wall. We could slide some slim but sturdy cardboard between it and the wall and then usher the bat outside.  Only once I brought the strainer into the living room I realized my imagination had made it much much larger than its actual size. So I sat back down beside Three and held the tiny, useless gadget over my head.

Bil had gone looking for something with which to shoo the (insect? bird?) animal out.  He came back with a broom and a tennis racket. He couldn't bring himself to get close enough to it to use the tennis racket, so he tried to wrangle it with the broom.  That only encouraged it to swoop about more erratically and with even more speed.  Except for Two, we were all squealing like school girls by this point.

Realizing that the situation could become dangerous (it was an unknown bat, after all. We didn't know where this bat had come from or what kind of parents it had.) the boys were sent to their beds - much to the supreme disappointment of Two who despaired that he never got to have any fun.

Bil was by now on the stairs by the front door and the bat decided to alter its usual course.  Instead of flappng back and forth through the living room, it buzzed Bil at top speed on its way up the stairs, causing him to drop to the ground with a little scream reminiscent of Billy Boyd in Lord of the Rings when Merry and Pippin set off Gandalf's firecrackers.

Some time ago, my parents had a bat in their house in the country. The story of tracking then trapping the thing has entered family lore.  After Pop's death, Mom had another bat visitor, and in a panic she called us.  Long distance.  I don't know that she really expected us to do anything for her from four hours away, but now, having a bat in our house, I understand her reaction.  I never would have thought an opportunity to reciprocate would ever present itself.  So while Bil was upstairs searching - carefully - for the thing, I called my mother.

As I write this, the bat is trapped in the bathroom between the (closed) window and the screen.  We're not really sure what to do about it now, but at least we know where it is. Any suggestions?

Bats are cute in National Geographic photos; not so cute *this* close to your head.  Just ask Bil.

19 August 2011

Borrowed words

These are excerpts from 'The Lost Garden' by Helen Humphreys

Living things know what they need. I have always thought this. Why crowd something from the start, when it has had no chance yet to even become itself?

The author is at one end of the experience of writing and the reader is at the other, and the book is the contract between you. [...] When a writer writes, it's as if she holds the sides of her chest apart, exposes her beating heart. And even though everything wants to heal, to close over and protect the heart, the writer must keep it bare, exposed. And in doing this, all of life is kept back, all the petty demands of the day-to-day. The heart is a river. The act of writing is the moving water that holds the banks apart, keeps the muscle of words flexing so that the reader can be carried along by this movement. To be given space and the chance to leave one's earthly world. Is there any greater freedom than this?

Every story is a story about death. But perhaps, if we are lucky, our story about death is also a story about love.

18 August 2011

Of signals and detours

I am not a nervous driver.  I've driven at top speed down the 401 in a three-hamster-powered sardine can between a wavering transport truck and a concrete wall. I've driven in that same plastic car in rain so fierce Noah would have felt right at home.  I drove through the Great Ice Storm of 1998, taking snow banks and ice-rinked hills that had defeated manly SUVs.

(Oh, how I loved that car!  Happy memories of Robbie huddled in the hatch as I drove 6 people to the bowling ally; Warren crammed in the back with his guitar and all our luggage  as we headed to a joyful summer of camp counseloring; poor Wendy subjected to Depeche Mode at top volume to and from youth group once a week; my first long solo road trip; getting lost with my sister in Montreal and finding ourselves staring at signs for the US - where did Ottawa go? Wasn't it just back here....?)

I don't have as many adventures by car these days, but still and all, I do enjoy getting behind the wheel and letting the road unfold beneath my four wheels.  I must own, though, that I really don't like driving in the rain at night - I can't see the road, which is something of an essential when operating a motor vehicle.  That has to do with the peculiarity of how my eyes work rather than the mechanics of driving or traffic conditions.

There is something that does make me nervous on the road though, and I avoid whenever at all possible: car carriers. Seeing cars, pick-up trucks, vans, SUVs... what have you, bouncing and swaying in a double tier at 120 km/h down Canada's busiest highway makes me nervous. There is no discernible means of securing the vehicles to the truck.  How are they kept in place?  How do I know that come the next little uneven patch in the road that large blue van taunting me from the back isn't going to just slide right off the rails and come crashing through my windshield? The back end of those carriers seem to drift from one side of their lane to the other much more than other transport trucks do.  That makes me nervous when I'm trying to pass them, which I will always do when I come up behind one. My general mode of operation is to grip my steering wheel firmly, press the gas pedal with determination, stiffen my spine with resolve, grit my teeth, and if necessary close my eyes until I am safely out in front of that precarious disaster-waiting-to-happen.

I did recently take a little trip to visit a town I used to live in.  It involved six different highways, one of which has gotten much busier since I last frequented it. This time there was a very bad accident, which necessitated the use of emergency flares and detouring traffic off and around.  I knew I had to use a detour because there was a helpful detour sign where I was required to exit the highway... but that was the only sign.  As I left-turned my way through horse country, I hoped that the black car off in the distance was also trying to find its way back to the highway, because I was following it.  If not, no problem...I have a blanket in the trunk in case of emergencies.

Thinking to avoid the Canadian Curse of summer-time road work, I took a different route home... only to find yet another detour, this time due to bridge repair. I went back the way I came.

I would just like to say to the gentleman in the champagne-coloured Toyota headed south on the QEW on Wednesday evening: drifting lazily from one lane to another is not the equivalent to using your signal lights.

14 August 2011

Of books and beaches

When people find out you are a librarian, one or both of two comments will follow: you must read a lot, and, aren't libraries/books obsolete now?

Libraries have always been concerned with being relevant for their patrons. With every innovation in printing, publishing, recording, information storage/delivery, with every new trend in public interest, libraries carefully consider how best to meet the needs of the public in a timely and fiscally responsible manner.

Despite Google, eReaders, smart phones, televisions in every room of the house, and entertainment systems in family vans, libraries have a vital, diverse role to play in our communities.  Library staff have to be imaginative and flexible in adapting their skills.  The concept of library must continually evolve as must every public service in these times of accelerated technological advances.

It's a delight, then, to come across stories like this, of a small library in Holland which instead of waiting for people to find the library building has gone to where the people are: the beach. What could be better than to be sitting by the sea with a ready supply of reading material?

Here we go!

The time has come, dear reader, for the start of another season of Association Football... footie... the Beautiful Game... soccer.  In just an hour's time, The Best Team Ever engages in their first official match of the 2011/12 English Premier League.  I will be glued to my seat as everything in me strains for a Manchester United win over West Brom Albion.  Four of six games yesterday ended in tie results. United, of course, will leave the field with a decisive victory.

Glory, glory Man United!!

11 August 2011


How long can you stare at a blank page before your brain turns into a permanent blank?  I should have started a timer so I'd be able to tell you.

Even now.... nothing.

10 August 2011

The Return

Rather unexpectedly, the Nuts have returned home - 2 days in advance of the original ETA.  It would seem that rain trumps plans, especially when it is nearly biblical rain.  They awoke this morning to a camp site shin-deep in water and mud, a tent collapsed under the weight of all the rain, all earthly possessions they had with them in a sodden state, and five very soggy children.  They conceded defeat (for now) and packed as well they could and pointed for home.

Meanwhile, I had been somewhat less than tidy at home, planning to do a thorough clean tomorrow before they came home the following day.  I planned to cook a mess of chilli as it can be reheated any time and really sticks to the ribs after five days of hot dogs and hamburgers over the camp fire. I fielded phone calls from various of Number One Nephew's friends who needed reminding - again - that One would not be back until the end of the week (and was asked by one of them if I was the housekeeper... he'd had trouble with a housekeeper in the past.  Brat.)  and by Grandpa who wanted to talk over the upcoming football season.  Today was going to be about picking blueberries and turning them into lovely jars of home-made jam. Rain changed "picking" to "purchasing" but jam was still on the agenda.  What fun to greet the family with a tidy row of goodness!

It was while I was elbow deep in mashed fruit, red-faced from the steam, that I got the call from my sister alerting me to their imminent arrival.  "We've just crossed the border," she said.  "We'll be home in 30 minutes."

Gak!  Images flashed through my mind of floors that could use a re acquaintance with the vacuum, the upstairs bath somewhat in disarray, the empty fridge with only a wedge of pie to feed them, and a kitchen in chaos. Oh well.  I had to shrug and carry on.  This is what life looks like, right? It never works when I try to pose as June Cleaver anyway, if you recall the incident of the grape pie from my stellar domestic career.

Just as the last jar was being sealed and all eight were dunked for boiling, seven very damp, dirty, and tired people came through the front door.  With an arm full of very squishable three-year old boy, I heard stories of triathlons, roller coasters, worm races, face-dives into the mud, marshmallow roasts, and being wet... very, very wet.

What is a clean kitchen compared to that?

07 August 2011

Inside circle of the knitter's club

I have been on the outside of the knitter's club for a long long time.  My whole life, in fact.  It's not that I haven't knocked on the door... I have.  I've even entered the foyer... twice.  But both times I found myself back on the outside, my nose pressed against the window, looking in at all those who have figured out the wily, secretive ways of needle and yarn.

When a wee person of about 8 years of age, my Oma tried to teach me how to knit.  She laughed at how I clutched the needles under my arms, pressed against my body to keep them from falling. I mastered The Square, and made a very very long scarf in green wool with a little hint of a white stripe.  Then on my own I made a much smaller one to wrap around Snoopy's neck to keep him warm. (Snoopy, the Peanuts character and my special stuffed animal friend)  The scarf was roughly triangular in shape as it either gained or lost stitches somewhere along the way.

Years later at my first job (in a library, surprise, surprise), one of the women spent her lunch break knitting one beautiful dainty after another, needles clacking at an impossibly quick tempo. She convinced me it was be easy as anything to learn how, and she would show me how.  She helped me select a pattern for a sweater (!) and then to choose the right yarn.  I was going to knit a gorgeous sweater for my sister.  I learned how to knit a rib stitch, how to read the pattern, how to switch colours, move on to a new ball of wool.  She did the fixing of dropped stitches for me, promising that we'd get to that eventually.She, too, laughed at how I held the needles tucked tight against my body to keep them from falling. I worked my way up the piece which was to be the back of the sweater just to the point where the recipe...err, directions... called for decreasing for the arm hole.

That's when we moved.  Good bye helpful knitting friend.  Good bye dreams of beautiful knitted things. That was a long time ago.  My sister of maybe 13 or 14 at the time, now has a son of 11. We still laugh about the unfinished sweater waiting patiently in my trunk with all those balls of yarn.  I laugh about it, but in the back of my mind has been the thought that I really want to get the hang of this knitting business some day.  I want to know how to read a pattern and create something from the work of my hands out of yarn I have chosen myself from bins and bins of wool in gorgeous colours and textures. I want to learn how on earth the pros managed to find and repair those pesky - and hidden - dropped stitches. More than anything, I want to learn how to hold the needles properly!

The local library here is offering a four part beginner's knitting class.  I'm going to give it another try, curious to know if it is possible to unlearn or relearn a skill well enough to eventually become comfortable with it.  Will I ever reach the state where I am able to repair my own mistakes?  Will I one day be sitting in a comfy chair, before a pleasantly crackling fire, while between nimble and competent fingers really long squares of exquisite work appear?

 I might even eventually move on to other shapes.  Stay tuned: the first class is tomorrow.

Mumford again

It happened again.  I was beetling down the highway this time, when I found myself caught up in Mumford and Sons. I don't know what it is about the music, but at one point I realized my cheeks were wet - I'd been crying.  I don't even know precisely what I'd been thinking about while the song played, but somehow it went straight to my heart.

05 August 2011

Lost in Mumford

Have you heard of Mumford and Sons?  You must have done; they're the flavour of the month and may be heard everywhere.

I was listening to the CD on my way home from some important shopping this afternoon, and found myself drifting along with complete disregard for steep curves or which side of the narrow country lane I was on - so lost was I in the music.

I woke from my reverie after that last song, realizing I was nearly home. I had been in a tranquil place, where thoughts are so deep they have no words.

I was lost in Mumford.

02 August 2011

Blow dry

I blow dried my hair.

A friend is coming to visit, and I blow dried my hair to mark the occasion.

I haven't blow dried my hair in months. Know why? Because it's been too stinking hot!  It is hot today, which means I had to find the perfect balance between applying enough heat to my hair to dry it, but not sufficient heat to me to produce enough steam to hyper-volumize my hair -- which I was blow drying to prevent in the first place.

It's not easy being a girl.

Of romance without tonsils

Oh, how Hollywood gets it wrong! Romance has nothing to do with tonsils and beds, people!

Romance is the brushing of fingertips, lingering glances, heroic gestures despite being unrequited in your love. It is the meeting of two people by chance in a train station who have been separated for chapters and chapters because of misunderstandings, and other people's secrets, and interfering mothers. Those two people spy each other across the platform, having finally learned The Truth of the other person, as well as the violence of their affections for each other. As they sit side by side on a bench, he gently places his gloved hand over her gloved hand, and she in turn clasps his hand with both of hers, and tenderly kisses it.

Then, of course, they both get on the same train to enter a long and happy life together in the dark and dirty industrial north of pre-Victorian England

And that, my dear Hollywood, is how it's done.

01 August 2011

They don't make 'em like they used to

Three of my last spiral bound notebooks have fallen apart.  One has the top half of half the pages off the spirals. Another has become stuck half open, half closed.  Notes for this post were jotted in one to which the front cover just came off in my hands.

How is genius supposed to flourish under these conditions?