The Lighthouse

the lighthouse

30 December 2012

Books of the past year

Thanks to working in a public library, I've had access to books - oh so many books - this past year. Some were read and quickly forgotten, but some have lingered and will be remembered. Many have been stories about fascinating people, folks who undertake unusual tasks, or have lived unusual lives.

Here are some of my companions from the year two thousand and twelve:

Charley Boorman is a motorcycle nut. He's circumnavigated the globe with his friend Ewan Macgregor, competed in the Dakar motorcycle rally, and challenged himself to travel the world by any means available. His latest adventure was to tackle Canada on his bike. He's funny, anxious, sweet, game for anything and it all comes through in the writing. Part of the fun of this book was to find out how my own country compared to his experiences in Outer Mongolia or Africa. I think we hold up ok.

Another book about crazy motorcyclists, The man who would stop at nothing by Melissa Holbrook, is about extremists - long distance travellers. Really, really long distance. This book is about her entry into the Iron Butt Association, in which people think driving from coast to coast on the seat of a motorcycle without stopping is not only a good idea, but heaps of fun.  Fascinating in the way of observing unusual species at the zoo.

Not about motorcycles, but on the same theme of extreme endeavours  I read Wild: from lost to found on the Pacific Coast Trail. Here, Cheryl Strayed recounts her months of hiking the PCT, the physical and mental challenges, the triumphs, the emotional journey and healing, the people - and animals - she meets along the way. This book is an example of being able to appreciate the story, and admire the undertaking without really liking the person. Strayed didn't go out of her way to make herself a sympathetic character, which perhaps is admirable in itself.

Some people have difficult lives and never seem to overcome the unhappy childhood, while others may turn out rather well, though perhaps a tad quirky.  One of the most interesting books I read this year came from the Bloggess, Jenny Lawson, titled Let's pretend this never happened (a mostly true memoir). I couldn't do this book justice because her childhood was so far beyond my own experience, and the events she recounts seem stranger than fiction, and yet she writes with deft humour, inviting the reader to marvel along with her at the sheer unlikelihood of it all. There isn't a moment of self-indulgent pity because she is too matter of fact. Definitely worth putting on your wish list.

Gabrielle Hamilton, of Blood, bones, & butter: the inadvertent education of a reluctant chef is another example of an extreme and unhappy childhood. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to connect with her story, though overall it is interesting considering her beginnings and what she accomplished. I think it is the structure of the storytelling that gets in the way of having any impact on the reader (or at least me). There are gaps in details, and jumps back and forth in chronology that left me confused and wondering what I was missing.

Bill Burford I really did like, and I enjoyed his book a great deal. In fact, I'm eagerly trying to track down another he's written, but that's a whole other story.  This one is called Heat: an amateur's adventures as kitchen slave, line cook, pasta-maker, and apprentice to a Dante-quoting butcher in Tuscany. With a title like that, there's really no need for me to say more about it, except that it is such a good read, being interesting, informative, funny, thoughtful, and well written.

Paris in love: a memoir, by Eloisa James is a recounting of the year she lived in Paris with her husband and two children. More vignettes than straight chronology, James paints pictures of Paris that had me yearning to be there myself. She brought the people, the aromas, the food, the seasons, the architecture to life.

Does this church make me look fat by Rhoda Janzen I just wrote about so I won't say more about it here. I did just also read her first book, Mennonite in a little black dress: a memoir of going home, which I didn't like as much and I wouldn't recommend.  Oh well, one out of two ain't bad, eh?

Under an Afghan sky: a memoir of captivity by Melissa Fung.  Melissa is a Canadian journalist who was captured while working in Afghanistan and kept in a hole in the ground for more than a month. It's a horrifying scenario, and certainly not an easy book to read, yet it is a compelling story. Fung is Catholic and writes frankly about praying the rosary to help her through the odd pairing of fear and tedium.

In all honesty, I didn't read all of, or even most of The Complete journals of L.M. Montgomery: the PEI years but that certainly wasn't because I didn't enjoy it, or it was poorly written. If you loved Anne (with an E) of Green Gables or any other book written by this very gifted lady, you would enjoy reading her thoughts and learning about her life in her own words. I didn't read it all because I am, at times, gluttonous when I bring books home. Sometimes I end up with more than I could hope to read if I had twice the time and four times the attention span. Sadly, this one had to be returned before I could do more than dip into it, sampling here and there.  It is definitely on my list to borrow again in future.

And lastly, most recently is The Beekeeper's lament: how one man and half a billion honey bees help feed America by Hannah Nordhaus. Did you know there are virtually no wild honey bees left in America? They are largely domesticated, tended in back gardens by amateurs, or by migrant beekeepers with many thousands of hives they move by truck across the country according to pollination seasons. Fascinating. And a little frightening too, because it turns out we rely on the honey bee to pollinate our crops, and the bee is susceptible to mites and fungus and moths and toads of all things. If you have eaten well today, thank a beekeeper.

Family and Four

Today is the Feast of the Holy Family. This Advent and throughout these days of Christmas, I've been reflecting on what the little family of Joseph and Mary and Jesus was like. It must have been quiet and simple and humble, don't you think? I speculate that they had a large and supportive community, because I think that's what everyone had in that time and place. Today's Gospel reading supports that idea - a caravan of people travelling together so large that family members could lose track of each other.

I do the Holy Family a disservice by discounting their humanity, their ordinariness. It's very easy to assume that their heroic virtue, their saintly holiness, exempted them from ordinary, daily life. I forget that they had to care for each other in relationship just as any family must do. They looked after neighbours, chatted at market stalls, debated whether they could afford new shoes, looked forward to news of loved ones far away.

Were they quiet and unremarkable, or was theirs the home people went to for a meal, for advice, for solace? Did they debate the issues of the day over the evening meal? Were they quick to laugh, or were they sober and serious?

I like to think there was a lot of joy, a lot of laughter, a lot of affection. A home like that would have drawn many other people to it, spreading the joy and laughter out into their community – the first instance of bringing Christ into our homes and place of work, no?

We are also not to be foolish and empty-headed (I’m sure none of us here are) but still, I prize joy and laughter.

My own family was small and quiet and very ordinary. We had our trials, as all families do, and went through less than stellar periods together.  But today, on this feast day, and the fourth anniversary of my dad’s death, what I remember and treasure the most is the laughter and the joy.  My dad’s gift was seeing and appreciating the humour in ordinary things, and his greatest happiness came from simple things – a good book, a crossword, a glass of scotch. Along with his eyebrows, those are qualities I inherited from him, and I consider myself greatly blessed.

I give thanks for the blessings of the past year – those easy to accept as well as the difficult – and face the new year coming with joy and laughter.

28 December 2012

Rambling there and back again

Have you seen it yet?  Have you watched The Hobbit?  Are you keen? Indifferent? Beside yourself with anticipation?

I did see it. I have watched it. I was keen, not indifferent, but not really beside myself with anticipation because much as I loved the LOTR trilogy of films, I thought each successive one was progressively less Tolkienesque and more Hollywoodish. I'm not sure what to say about it as I find it difficult to be impartial.  In part I loved it, and yet I also was disappointed.  How can I make any sense out of such jumbled judgements?

I'm quite confident in saying that Mr. Tolkien would not approve of this adaptation. And yet, it affords us the opportunity to revisit Middle Earth, and that in itself is worth the ticket price. A second viewing is in order, so I shall pack my pocket handkerchiefs next Saturday to leave the Shire once more.


It has snowed. I'm working on gathering some enthusiasm about that.

For those of you down south, our kind of cold involves frozen nose hairs. You know it's cold when your nostrils freeze together when you step outside.


Do you buy books?  If so, from where?  If you purchase them online, what store do you use?  Sadly, New Town has one tiny, ill-stocked chain bookstore in the mall (I take pride in not having yet stepped foot in the mall) and one tiny, ill-stocked used paperback book store. I am parched for book browsing!  With no other recourse, I'm turning to the world wide web for my fix, but am still having difficulty tracking down some titles I'm looking for, such as 'Restoration of Christian Culture' by John Senior, and '84 Charing Cross Road' by Helen Hanff.  Any ideas?


My contract here at New Town Public Library is winding to a close.  I am back on the job market, which may also mean packing and moving yet again. It would be my 25th address change.  I'm hoping the next move will be to my forever home.

Do you live by the ocean, and wouldn't you like to take me in?  I'm tidy and I like to bake.

Also, do you need a friendly (ok, slightly cranky) librarian?  References available on request.


I have to mention football.  Yes, I do so have to.  Notice how I left it to the end so you can just ignore it and click away?  I would be neglecting my duty as a member of The Beautiful Game Rules The World club if I didn't update you on the standings. We are 19 games into the season and Manchester United are in the lead by 7 points.  There is a massive rivalry between United (in red) and Manchester City (in baby blue) so those 7 points are very important, as is our goal difference advantage of 2.  We've lost the title in seasons past because of goal difference.  Christmas is a busy time in the English Premier League, when many matches are held, meaning many many points are up for grabs. This could be our chance to break away from the rest of the table, or at least establish a very comfortable lead.
Glory Glory Man United!!


The end.

It's still a happy Christmas!

Happy Christmas to you, dear Reader.

We are in the Octave of Christmas, so don't stop the party just yet.  There are still many days of egg nog ahead of us, so pace yourself and enjoy the tree.

I have noticed a growing plague among my fellow mortals: Christmas Fatigue.  This is a condition caused by preparation overkill, shopping list stress, and unachievable expectations which result in outbreaks of rash at the sound of carols and uncontrollable twitching at the sight of holly and/or ivy.

The solution to this is to forget all the la di da (not to mention the fa la la la la) and focus on Christmas.  Let's look at Christams stripped of jolly bearded men and red-nosed Rudolphs, shall we?  It is the day we remember that God keeps His promises, the day our Saviour was born.  A pretty momentous occasion, wouldn't you agree?  And yet what happened on the actual day?  A humble family in inauspicious surroundings had a baby and were visited by shepherds. Not a lot of hooplah in Bethlehem (aside from the angel choirs and the visiting kings).

Shouldn't we take our cue from the original Christmas?  Whatever it is you're doing that stresses you out and turns you off the occasion all together ... stop doing it!  Have a nice meal with loved ones.  Gifts are ok, and even enjoyable, but they needn't be extravagently bank-breaking. Essentially, lower  your expectations!  We've put Christmas on steroids and there is nothing beautiful about that.

24 December 2012

Happy Christmas

It's here!  Merry Christmas, one and all.  I pray for peace and joy for you and yours.

15 December 2012


There are serious and sorrowful things happening in the world.  I can't bring myself to write about them, because while words are powerful, they are too small to comfort, too weak to undo, too feeble to mend.

These are sad times. There are important issues to be discussed, but today is not the day for it. Sometimes silence is more powerful than words.

12 December 2012

Post hoc, ergo propter hoc

I'm rewatching episodes of the West Wing.  If you have been around The Lighthouse for a while, you know I'm a fan of the show and can be counted on to drag out a season or two worth of discs to lose myself in the witty dialogue and fine acting.  If you are a certain friend I've told I'm trying to cut down on how much time I spend online, this doesn't count: it's on disc, not online.  I know my way around a justificational argument. I can also invent words when I need them.

Anyway.  This last episode ends with President Bartlet walking from the Oval to the residence, and as he progresses along the arcade the secret service agents lift their right arm to talk into their cuff. Granted, at the time this show was filmed, shows were still filmed and not videod, and cell phones were the size of a brick of ice cream, but surely even then the technology was available for agents to communicate more discretely? They dress in suits so as to 'blend' with the common man, but the rankest amateur could pick an agent out of a crowd by the curly wire behind their ear and the talking into their cuff move.

I also like the show because while being entertained, I learn things like "Post hoc, ergo propter hoc" means "After it, therefore because of it."  Useful knowledge at parties, during awkward silences in elevators, and trivia pub nights.

This librarian is not objective

I have been confronted with myself today, as I weed the juvenile graphic novel collection:  I am a biased librarian. I have very little objectivity on the job.
(Explanatory note: weeding is a part of collection maintenance. It entails examining each book in a given section of the library and determining if, whether because of condition, content, or statistics a book should be pulled/withdrawn/discarded, repaired, promoted, or replaced.)

I have noticed it in myself in the past, but today I actually said the words in plain English, "I don't like this book so it's going."  And I don't feel one little bit bad about it. I've put The Tale of Despereaux in the 'Keepsies' pile, while Little vampire, and Little vampire does kung fu! went straight on the 'Toss it' pile. Not because I'm particularly fond of the little mouse and his adventures, but because he's not a vampire. Or a vapid-eyed robot. Or cheeky know-it-all child.

It's one of the perks of the job really, to mold the reading preferences of the young people of New Town. I really should have a superhero costume.

10 December 2012

Favourite Christmas-like movies

Christmas-like movies being those that put you in the mood, or are set during the season etc.

Here are a few of my favourites:

While you were sleeping
Sandra Bullock, Bill Pullman, Peter Gallagher
Lucy believes herself to be in love with Peter whom she sees every day on the train. Circumstances put Peter into a coma which leads to Lucy meeting the rest of his family - including his brother Jack. It's Christmas, and love is in the air.

You've got mail
Meg Ryan, Tom Hanks
Can an independent book store owner allow herself to love the owner of Fox Books, the big, bad discount book store? Though the movie takes place over several months, several key scenes take place during Christmas.

Marley and Me
Jennifer Aniston, OwenWilson
Hankies are needed for this movie about the life and growth of a family from marriage, taking on a dog,to  the arrival of children.

New in town
Renee Zelwegger, Harry Connick Jr.
What happens when a big city sophisticate moves to small town Minnesota? There is a lovely scene of townsfolk gathering around a big Christmas tree singing O Come all ye faithful.

Lord of the Rings
This isn't a Christmas story by any means, but possibly because the movies were released just before Christmas each year, I've come to watch them again each year right around this time.

The Holiday
Kate Winslet, Cameron Diaz, Jack Black, Jude Law
A shout out to Miss Sarah for mentioning this one, in which a Brit and an American swap homes at Christmas in order to escape their own lives for a while.  Love and hijinx ensue.

Julia Roberts, Susan Sarandon, Ed Harris
Another tearjerker involving a man, an exwife, the new wife, two children, and how unexpected events can change your perspective, culminating in a bittersweet Christmas.

07 December 2012

Query: do you Goodreads?

Hello Dear Reader,

I'm conducting an informal inquiry:  do you make use of Goodreads?  And if so, how do you use it?

A friend suggested I join nearly a year ago, but since establishing my account, I haven't been back.  I hear it referred to a lot at work, so it would seem this is a site I should become familiar with.  Is it something I'm going to find useful?  Or, like Pinterest, is it going to be a huge temptation to spend hours online? Is it work-intensive, requiring meticulous record keeping?

I'm eager to hear from you!

05 December 2012

Book review: Does this church make me look fat?

This book has the best combination of ingredients for a biography: humour and insight. Even better: that humour and insight relates her transformation from sceptical academic to fully surrendered Christian. The period of time Rhoda Janzen recounts in this book includes a sudden and dramatic diagnosis of breast cancer. Lest you foresee a gloomy 253 page treatise on the necessity of grim acceptance of the crosses God gives to us, let me assure you the author is genetically indisposed to grimness.

Throughout the book, whether describing how she came to understand and appreciate the principle of tithing, or accepting the fact that she, a passionate runner, would no longer be able to run because of the cancer treatments, Janzen maintains such a positive and humorous outlook it is infectious and inspiring. While 'Does this church make me look fat' is a journey of faith, the primary lesson I take away from this book is that we decide our attitude; we choose how we cope with the stuff of life; we determine whether we will be long suffering or joyful.

A professor of English and creative writing, the author, Rhoda Janzen,  is clearly in her element wrangling words into story. As in all cases of a gifted writer, her craftsmanship is such that the reader is unaware of the mechanics and structure of her work and focuses instead on the message. (With less adept writers, their wordsmithing gets in the way of what it is they want to say.)

Janzen speaks often of her "church of origin" which was Mennonite.  Her new-found adult faith culminates in the Pentecostal church, so I, as a Catholic didn't read this book for theological instruction.  There are principles we all hold in common as Christians, however, and they make this a worthwhile book for all to read, regardless of religious affiliation. To read a book in which the author addresses honouring our elders, the goodness of tithing, the final understanding of the relationship between abstinence and true intimacy is edifying as well as entertaining.

Here aree a few passages from the book I wrote into my journal:

Overinvestment in the life of the mind had brought me neither peace nor joy. I was ready to try something else. I decided to sit very still and see what God would do with this new circumstance. - this passage describes her transition from sceptical academic to surrendered believer.

Now that I knew Bernie wasn't developmentally delayed, I liked him even more. Imagine the chops it takes to live from a place of simplicity when the mind longs for complexity! - this from a section in which she describes the transformation of her attitude toward tithing.  She went on to say that Bernie, even with a low paying crossing guard job tithed with joy.

We each had our different priorities. If you held them lightly and used a plastic spoon, they were nothing to get stuck on. - Concludes a chapter showing it isn't necessarily what we have in common with our spouse that makes our relationship strong.

When something is taken away, you begin to focus on what remains. We have only two choices when an important thing disappears from our lives: either we resent what is missing or we accept the loss. [...] The choice is ours. [...] It wasn't until I tried abstinence that I arrived at a useful conclusion. Sex should enhance intimacy, not replace it. This is because sex is a pretty pale substitute for intimacy  even when you're crazy hot for your lover. Abstinent  Mitch and I were forced not only to build real relational intimacy, but to understand how very much we had underestimated the potential and richness of sex.

Does this church make me look fat? : a Mennonite finds faith, meets Mr. Right, and solves her lady problems. By Rhoda Janzen. Grand Central Publishing, 2012.

04 December 2012

Another day in the library

Patron: "I'd like to scan these pages to a USB stick."

Tess:  "I'm sorry, we don't have a scanner."

Patron: "I want to scan this paper." (Shows me the paper for clarification)

Tess: "I'm sorry, but we can't do that for you."

Patron: "I want to scan.  Scan.  You understand scan?"

Tess: "Yes, you would like to scan your document and transfer it to a USB stick.  I'm sorry, we don't have the ability to do that here."

Patron: "You don't have a scanner?"

Tess: "That's right, we don't have a scanner."

Patron: "Oh.  You don't have a scanner."

Tess: "No, we don't.  I'm very sorry."

Patron: "So I can't scan."

Tess: "I'm very sorry."

Patron stands in the middle of the room looking around for the scanner we're surely hiding from him.  He spies a likely looking gadget, and eyes it hungrily.  A second patron notices this, and helpfully informs the first patron that it is not a scanner, but a braile reader for the blind.  A conversation between the two men ensues, closely resembling the conversation transcribed above.  "It's not a scanner?"  "No, it's not a scanner."  "Oh.  It's not a scanner."  "No, it's not."

While I am, admitedly, a bit of a pest in real life, and enjoy teasing friends and family, it is not something I feel free to do at work.  Pretending we don't have a scanner when we really do is just not professional!