The Lighthouse

the lighthouse

30 August 2012

Of books and even more books

This is good:

This is better:

27 August 2012

Of hygiene and headaches

There are very serious discussions happening all around me.  I know, because I read your blogs, your articles, your websites.  I help to moderate a Catholic chat room, and we had a fairly heavy debate on Marian devotions about an hour ago.  I participated in a staff development day today at work, in which weighty matters were addressed such as our ageing population, renovations, and coping with stress.

And yet, I am taking a break from that to tell you that my new deodorant - which seemed perfectly harmless when I chose it from among many on the shelves in the drug store - is giving me a headache because it stinks.  Oh, it is effective - though it was very hot today, I haven't shed a drop in that area.  But it smells something awful,  when it is supposed to smell like ocean breezes or fruits of the forest or something.  It's a heavy, musky scent, and it's wafting from under my arms.  How embarrassing.

Dear Personal Hygiene Product Making People,
Women are not supposed to smell like cheap magazine perfume strips in the under arm area.  A nice light baby powder scent would be more than enough.
Thank you very much.


PS, can I get a refund for a used-only-once stick of deodorant?

26 August 2012

Wandering bird

This is the Gundersen Family.  How is it that I didn't know about these talented, beautiful voices until just a few days ago?

25 August 2012

Of alphabet soup and ice cream cones


Don't tell anyone I'm writing this.  I'm at work and should really be working, but I just wanted to say hello.

Some of you have come here because of a link elsewhere (I don't know how I started showing up on that website, but it's pretty cool, I think) to a picture of me.  It didn't seem right to post a picture of myself here, so I took it down.  This is my lighthouse, my refuge from the world - a place of solace and solitude.  Though I blather on about the mundane details of my life, the focus really isn't on me.  Does that make sense?

I can feel something struggling to find its way out.  Does it ever strike you that way, those of you who trade in words?  I can almost see the words, like alphabet soup on my tongue - the letters are arranging themselves into coherent thought and will all at once leap out onto paper.  If I happen to have paper on hand, that is.

In the meantime, I'm being rather indolent on this sleepy Saturday morning up on the third floor.  I can hear an ice cream cone calling my name.  Do you hear it, too?

*I am a little bit giddy because Manchester United is currently ahead 3-1 over Fulham, but it's not even half time yet, so I don't want to start celebrating just yet.

19 August 2012

Promptly Tolkien

A while a go I read The Fiction Class by Susan Breen. Sprinkled throughout the story are writing prompts the main character gives her class of writing students. I've tackled one of two since then, and here is another:

Think of a person from history who intrigues you. Napoleon? Cleopatra? Martin Luther King?
Write a two- to three-page description of that person eating a meal. What would s/he eat? How would s/he eat? What would s/he be thinking about as s/he ate? Would someone be sharing the meal with him or her? What would they talk about?
Remember: bring your character to life!

Tolkien and Lewis. It is mid to late autumn. The men are walking among Tolkien’s beloved trees nearby, their differences evident in how they walk: Lewis, taller and vital, walks quickly.  Tolkien likes to stroll, stops occasionally to look at the trees, drive home a point, or light a pipe. They debate whether the purpose of a walk is the walk itself, or getting back home again. The evening is crisp, with an edge of oncoming winter chill.  The sun is nearing the horizon, soon to leave their little bit of England in darkness.

Feet crunching through fallen leaves on their approach to a cosy house set well back from the quiet country lane, two men anticipate a good meal to fill their bellies. They stop for final pulls on well-used pipes, looking forward to the warm fire promised by the drifting curls of smoke from the chimney pots on the roof.  Knocking pipe bowls against the sturdy soles of walking shoes, the two friends enter the house, stepping into the hallway where they hang their coats, and exchange shoes for slippers. (Lewis is so frequent a visitor in his friend’s house he has a pair of slippers for his own use kept in the same basket as Tolkien’s own.)

Minutes later, we see them in front of the fireplace in deep armchairs; the fire and evening sun coming through the windows is the only source of light in the room.  There is a warm pocket of intimacy around the two friends as they sit talking in the comfortable room with a drink to fend off the chill of their walk.  It’s a cozy room: deep leather chairs; fire burning in the grate for warmth and light; books neat on shelves, piled on tables, forming towers on the floor.  It’s about 6pm, and falling dark outside.  Tolkien (Ronald) and Lewis (Jack) are sitting with amber-coloured drink in stout glasses, pipes lit, legs stretched out to the fire. A meat pie warms in the oven, left by Edith for their supper.  There is also a basket of hearty bread, and a plate of cheese on the table behind them.

The sound of the fire is soothing, familiar, homey background noise. The men talk about their students, and their writing; about Hugo Dyson who had been invited but was unable to join them. They critique and tease each other about current projects, argue the use of allegory in fiction, and debate liturgical norms - Roman verses Anglican. Their conversation has the rhythm of long familiarity, as if these topics have been gone over often and often between them. With perfect good will, they accept the shortcomings in the other’s arguments, each knowing their own to be the right.

The two men move to the table, and eat leisurely, talking all the while. The room is now lit by the fire and a lamp on the sideboard – Tolkien’s home has electricity, but he prefers leaving most of the room veiled in darkness. Between them is a lot of laughter, many drinks – true, deep friendship.

The meal draws to an end, evidenced by crumbs on the table, a decimated pie, one heel of bread. Tolkien goes to the kitchen to brew a pot of tea, returning with a tray set with sturdy mugs and the brown betty teapot. They remain at the table smoking a pipe and continue talking until Edith comes home, entering with a bluster of wind blowing open the door. At some point in the evening it has begun to rain. She has spent the evening at cards with friends, as glad for the feminine companionship as the men are to be able to smoke at the table, tongues running free without thought for feminine sensitivities.  Her arrival calls a close to the evening, but slowly, none of the three eager to have it end.

A compass would be handy, if I knew how to read one

What do you do when you don't know where you are or where you're supposed to go? How do you plot your course when you don't have the coordinates?

I recently saw very adorable - though horribly overpriced - little compasses, tucked inside a half-marble of glass, and very antique looking.  Charming.  And useful, should I ever learn to read a compass and find myself lost in the wilderness.

It's good to know your place on the earth... I am here.  The question I have, though, is where am I in life?  What comes next?  I think maybe I'm on a layover, waiting for the boarding announcement, only the voice on the PA is like the teacher in Peanuts, all "wuh wah wuh woh" and I might not understand when it's my turn to go.

Edit:  I may not know where I'm going next, but I am enjoying watching the sunset from where I am tonight.

17 August 2012

Rerunning the grape

The Coronation grapes are out!  They are tiny little jewels of juicy lushness, bursting with Welch's grape flavour goodness.

I was delighted when I saw them offered at the market today. They are forever linked in my mind to a rather disastrous pie-making attempt in my past, which I will repost for you here.

From The Lighthouse, September 2009
The Grape Pie Incident

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

16 August 2012


Good Morrow, by John Donne

I wonder, by my truth, what thou and I
Did, till we loved
And now good morrow to our waking souls,
Which watch not one another out of fear;
For love, all love of other sights controls,
And makes one little room, an everywhere.
My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears,
And true plain hearts do in the faces rest;
Where can we find two better hemispheres,
Without sharp North, without declining West?
Whatever dies, was not mixed equally;
If our two loves be one; or thou and I
Love so alike that none do slacken, none can die.

I don't know why it is.  I can't quite put my finger on it, as it is one of those things that always wiggles just beyon my reach:  I love the poetry, the words, of John Donne.

Yes, they're almost clunky, dense in imagery, old-fashioned in scheme and structure, and I don't always understand what it is he's conveying - but, like music, they bypass my mind for my heart.

I am undone by Donne.

13 August 2012

The incident of the smoking pan

It was like this, see...

I've recently become interested in cooking, by which I mean I either cook or starve. Or eat a lot of cheese sandwiches. A person can get very tired of cheese sandwiches.

To fuel my interest in cooking, I've been watching Master Chef Australia online and other cooking-type things such as Nigella Express. I've noticed a lot of people use grill pans, and I started hankering for one, envisioning beautiful meats with perfect grill marks coming from my very own stove in my very own kitchen.

I finally found one in one of those "You think this is expensive? It would cost you this much if you bought it elsewhere" stores. I was delighted with myself in manner of a hunter who bagged her long-stalked prey. I continue on to spend 2 1/2 hours admiring Jason Bourne's fellow secret agent confound the bad guys, and another hour strolling the aisles of a bookstore. But all along I was thinking about the hunting trophy in my car waiting to turn a sausage I had in the fridge back home into The Best Meal Ever.

On arriving home, I didn't wait to unpack my new books (this is not the time to discuss just how binding a resolution to not buy any more books really is) but immediately soaped and dried the treasured new grill pan and set it on the stove to heat.  It's an electric stove, the kind with coiled rings that you put little aluminium  bowls under to catch spills.

I noticed a funny white blobby sort of looking spot after I'd put the sausage in, but didn't consider it an indication of what was to come.  It may have smelled a bit, too, but I let the solitary sausage sizzle away while I tended to some dishes. My back was turned - honestly, it was a sausage in a pan, how much watching does it need? - so I didn't immediately notice the smoke. Until the smoke detector went off.  Clearly that noisemaker is too sensitive because while there may have been a haze in the kitchen, no one was in danger of being asphyxiated. Anyway. Once the pan had cooled down, I discovered it had odd white marks on the bottom, and that blobby looking spot inside as well, which was colouration rather than an actual blob of something. Nothing was actually burning... it was just a smoking pan.

I wonder if Nigella has to deal with malfunctioning cookware?

PS - the label on the pan said it could be used on a barbecue, stove top or in the oven - the simple line drawings were very clear on that. It neglected to caution against actually turning on the heat.

12 August 2012

Something is not quite right here...


The bottom of a pan meant for cooking food with the application of heat shouldn't turn white and chalky when placed on said heat should it?  Or commence to emitting such billowing clouds of smoke I had to wave my hands in front of me to find the door in order to silence to beeping smoke detector?  (As if by that point I needed a mechanical device to alert me to the fact there was smoke in the house)

No, I didn't think so.

10 August 2012

From the window

For the first time in this new place I call home, I am indulging in a favourite pastime: sitting at a window, good book at hand, looking on a rain-washed world.

It's a very different sight than I've had for years. Gone is the stillness of the countryside; I have, instead, a busy city street. But today as the wheels rush by, they do so through puddles and sound as gleeful as little feet in red rubber boots. The green leaves lacing the window are from the ivy embracing this house rather than the stately trees of Sohoe. Yet there, just to the right, is a tree I can pretend is mine. And across the street in the garden are flowers that look like pink pom-poms. Where are the people hurrying to, zooming left and right?

It's a question I don't mind not having an answer to as I sit perched in my window, good book in hand.

08 August 2012


So high I can't get over it
So low I can't get under it
So wide I can't get around it
writer's block

06 August 2012


Today is the Feast of the Transfiguration.  This is one of my favourite days in the liturgical season, as the readings remind us that we are in the process of being transfigured. I think it has to do with being made more purely, more deeply who we were created to be, rather than changed into something completely different.

Alice von Hildebrand in one of her books gives some advice to a newly married woman: when things seem difficult in her relationship with her husband, remember him as she thought of him the moment she fell in love with him - his transfiguration moment - when she saw in him all he had the promise and potential to be.

Today the concept of transfiguration was brought to me in terms of gifts.  The gifts we ask for.  I'm sure we all have things we petition God for, on our own behalf and for loved ones, even strangers who ask for our prayers.  There is a thing or two I have been praying over for some time, and I often wonder how the prayer will be answered.

Today I received an e-card from a friend for my birthday.  It was delightful - an animated vignette of a dog dreaming of another dog to play with.  On waking, he opens a birthday gift and out leap two little scamps of kittens who proceed to torment the poor dog.  They eventually leave him alone, and he settles back into his basket, feeling lonely.  This time he dreams of the kittens.  He awakes to find them curled at his side in the basket, and he nudges them with his nose, perfectly content.

Later in the day, I decided to walk along the river.  I love to be by water and really enjoy long meanders in the outdoors, especially if alongside water.  I haven't had much opportunity to explore New Town yet, but thought I had an idea of where to go based on previous studies of the map, so off I went.  I found what I thought was a promising site, parked the car, and headed off, jaunty, pleased, with a spring in my step, eager for the beauties of the river. I walked.  And walked.  The broad path narrowed to a track and went deeper and deeper into the trees. The brush began to press in closer and closer to the path, the branches began to close in overhead, and each winding curve only lead to another winding curve.  I kept thinking: Surely the river will be just around the next bend?  That must be water I hear over there?  But no...the trees only led to more trees.  Until at last they opened up and I found myself at a clearing...overlooking a road.  No river in sight.  No water to be heard.  I was vastly disappointed as I turned around to trudge back to the beginning.

On the way, I finally realized what I was doing:  I was wasting the gift I'd been given by longing for the one I didn't have.  I love trees!  Rambling along the forest floor is one of my favourite things to do, so why was I moping?  Listen to the beautiful bird song; stand still to admire the flurry of butterflies in that clearing; notice how the wind through the tree tops sounds like joyful whispers; take a moment to breathe in that heady scent of sun-warmed pine.

Peter, James, and John weren't expecting what happened on that mountain top; Transfiguration is always beyond our expectations.  I think the same holds true for answered prayers, whether big or small.

03 August 2012

More tips from Tess

When you have had several sleepless nights, you might be tempted to resort to ingested interventions.  I hear warm milk can be effective.  I like a swig of rum now and then and it usually makes me drowsy. Then there are the options found at the pharmacy - my favourite is Gravol which I always always have on hand, being that my inner ears rebel when I so much as sit on a rocking chair or take one of those elevators that give a lurch before moving floors. Don't talk to me about taking a cruise, going whale watching, or getting one of those funky 'wave in a box' doobers that is meant to be soothing but instead, even just writing about it, makes me need to put my head down, close my eyes, and think very determinedly about solid ground.

Anyway.  Back to my tip.  When you take a sleep aid, and then also use ear plugs to neutralize the possibility of hearing the potential figment of your imagination parading as a raccoon in your bedroom, be sure to take your mobile phone's sound settings off vibrate so when the alarm goes off at seven in the morning you actually hear it.

Otherwise you wont wake up until 8.23 when you have to be at work by 9.

You're welcome.

01 August 2012

Of cranks, critters, and caution

Yesterday, I was in a bad way.  You may remember in a previous post I cautioned you to be certain of what you pray for, as God will take you at your word.  My prayer for much of the past year and more has been for the grace to love.  Every day I offer that prayer, I am challenged with an opportunity to respond to someone with love. I prayed that prayer yesterday.

Yesterday I was on desk at our tiny - in fact very wee - branch library for six hours. For six hours I was at the disposal of the public with only a standard issue office desk to offer a buffer zone.  I'm an introvert (INFJ). Introverts need quiet time, need heaps and heaps of personal space, need to be able to withdraw.  Not easy to do when you're sitting in arm's reach of 27 people at any one time.

Yesterday I learned that my tolerance level for being with people dissipates at four hours. Suffice it to say the last two hours were not pretty. I blush thinking about how cranky I was toward the end of my shift.  The only thing that kept me going was thinking that I would phone in sick today and would be able to recover.  I didn't actually do it, but the thought of it was enough to get me home safely - safely meaning I didn't endanger any lives with my foul temper.

Yesterday I didn't get any sleep at all.  Not until after the alarm vibrated across the night stand at 7.00 am. Part of the problem was the stress of the day in a cocktail of the usual daily worries we all carry around.  Part of the problem was what I'm sure was a critter of some kind in my room for hours. I don't know what kind he was, nor where he came from. I never actually clapped eyes on him, though I surely did hear little feet scurry across the floor, was positive I could smell him, and even thought I could hear him licking his chops in a sound like a cat makes, wetting its paws during its daily ablutions. The light was on (see sleepless night, above) but I was afraid to look over the edge of the bed.  If I did in fact see a raccoon or some other beastie, just what was I going to do about it? I imagined it running over my bare toes as I tried to chase it, or even worse, as I lay there trying to pretend it wasn't there, that it would eventually climb up onto the bed. At long last, I gathered my nerve and examined the floor between bed and door.  I mentally rehearsed my route, picturing myself leaping across the room in one quick and unexpected move, pulling the door shut behind me, trapping it in, and protecting me as I huddled in the living room.  And that's what I did. Until I got up the nerve to go back and beard the lion in the den - or the critter in my room. I emptied a rubber maid bin of the flotsam and jetsam awaiting my final decision to keep or to toss, and decided if I did see something in my room,  I would upend the bin over it to trap it until the landlord could be summoned to deal with it. I'm sure it went to sleep under the bed because I didn't hear much more from it that night, but by then it was too late - no time for slumber and another day of being confronted with the challenge to love as I manned the desk for another shift, this time on no sleep and a slight worry about just what was going on in my room last night.

Tonight I have decided to partake of a tablet of Gravol to help ease the slide into sleepfulness. Tonight I am going to wear ear plugs so that any chance of hearing the licking of chops is slim to none. Tonight I am praying for a good sleep so that tomorrow I can accept the grace to love.

This time I'm praying with caution.