The Lighthouse

the lighthouse

26 November 2013


I just yelled through my front window at a couple of Lake Town's fine firefighters. They were here to follow up on a smoke detector with Mr. and Mrs. van Landlord (they are Dutch), but Mr. and Mrs. v L are down south enjoying warmer climes for several weeks.  Lake Town's finest kept knocking on the door, and as my window is right next to their door, I cranked it open and yelled at them. 

By yelling I mean nicely, of course. Merely to raise my voice and impart the important information. We had a brief but awkward conversation as I leaned over my desk, very conscious that my hair was askew and there I was in my oldest hoodie. All of which hardly mattered as it was pitch dark out and I couldn't see them anyway, so they might actually have been a figment of my imagination, called forth out of desperation as I sit and struggle to find something worth writing about.

I used to have interesting neighbours. There was the Crazy Car Couple who kept moving their car from curb to driveway to garage to just in front of the front door, to just a little further back, in between going into the house, coming back out and moving the car all over again.  There was the Hootin' and Hollerin' guy next door when I lived in New Town and his dog Harley.  Now I have very nice, very normal neighbours, which makes for a very nice, very normal life, don't provide much by way of writing fodder.

I used to live with the Peanuts - the five cutest and funniest and most dramatic boys you ever did see. They fill page after page of this blog (CTKS is the tag - check them out) but as I don't see them as often, I miss out on the daily insights and developments and drama. I visited ever so briefly last week, and Number Five Nephew said something funny, which I then promptly forgot by the time I got home again. So my life is calmer, quieter and a great deal neater than it used to be, but again, sadly lacking in writing fodder.

Just as the firemen were pulling out of the driveway, I decided to light a candle. (Was that subliminal?)  As I blew out the match, I watched an ember float effortlessly, gracefully down to the plush carpet. It started to burn.

In my mind, I could see the whole scene... the carpet smoulders, and soon enough, flames grow bigger, licking along the floor to the wall, where the curtains catch light. As the truck begins to drive away, they see in their rear-view mirror a crimson glow as now the walls are limned in fire. What plays better? Should I be bravely battling the flames myself when they break down the door, or curled helpless and frightened with arms wrapped around my head as they come to my rescue?

Germanic practicality set in. It would be so inefficient to have to replace the carpet. As I stepped on the ember, I could see all the ink of my imagined story disappearing off the page, leaving me with a blank white space once again.

18 November 2013

Of buildings and Ben

Buildings. Houses. Public places. Civic spaces.
Structures, the designing of, and construction of, are fascinating.
It's fun to read Dwell and Domus and der architekt.
Conversions, reproductions, restorations, cutting-edge new builds, all are scope for imagination and dreams and daring.
The home I live in is charming. It's warm and mostly weather-tight (one outside wall tends to be cold in winter, and my toes freeze in the bathroom.)
It isn't terribly imaginative or innovative, however. It's very typical of detached houses of its time, which means solid and stolid construction, not terribly sensitive to the landscape or in cooperation with the environment.
One of my guilty pleasures is watching design and real estate programs. "Constructing the world's tallest office tower - in a desert", "Building a new life in the country", "Redesign a room in your neighbour's house", those sorts of things. It's nice to dream along with the poor sods who are undergoing the stress and pressure of a thousand and one daily decisions while watching the plot of land they just paid a fortune for slide away unexpectedly down the hillside.
There is a common bit of folly I've noticed, and that is the trend to super-upsize and uber glamorize the dwelling. It could be an empty nest couple, on the brink of retirement, and there they are, moving from a 3 bedroom semi-detached to a five bedroom, six bath behemoth in the countryside. Or on a steep slope for which they'll need to buy a herd of goats to tend the grass.  Or on soft clay that requires dozens of truck loads of gravel to stabilize.  The houses always have multiple 'reception rooms' and a formal dining room and an eat-in kitchen. So they can entertain. And have visitors stay.
Unless they have a very wide social circle and have staying guests frequently enough to qualify as a B-n-B, to me that seems like a lot of space to heat, and light, and furnish. And clean.  Who wants to clean six loos? Not to mention the stores of toilet paper and towels needed.
Our families have gotten smaller, so there are fewer people in the house. I think it's natural, too, for people to gravitate to a favourite spot or two, and generally prefer a place that feels cozy and welcoming... which is why most of today's living happens in the rec room, underground. Perhaps if the living room were finished as warm and friendly-like, I'd be seeing more lights in front windows as I walked the neighbourhood at night!
I just watched two episodes back to back of Grand Design from England, a show that follows people through their (mostly) unusual building projects. In one, a family was undertaking to build from scratch a Georgian rectory (to modern eyes it looked like a mansion. If Mr. Collins lived there, he wouldn't be doing too badly!) Not ten weeks into the project they were more than a hundred thousand pounds over budget. You read that right. These were not millionaires indulging themselves with a little architectural conceit; it was a woman who'd 'always dreamed of living in a Georgian manor'. They had to stop work before the house was finished in order to raise another hundred thousand pounds to complete the painting and decorating.
In contrast was Ben, a woodsman, who'd after ten years of living in tents and caravans in the forest was granted permission to build 'a house that stands lightly on the land'. He tends the forest, builds bespoke furniture, makes shingles, poles, timbers, charcoal... all completely from his land. And from his land he constructed a remarkable, beautiful, simple home. By himself. He uses solar and wind power to run the few electrics he has, uses harvested wood for heat and cooking, grows his own food, etc. You're picturing a hippy, aren't you?  But he's not. He has  real eye for design and the craftsmanship to bring it to life. The house was built for something like thirty thousand pounds.
Guess which house I wanted to live in?
After building his home, Ben met a lovely woman. They got married, and Ben's simple, beautiful construction is now home to two children.
I just loved Ben's approach to life which is evident in his home: choose only what is necessary. Let that be well made and beautiful. Simple, simple, simple. Harmony with and appreciation for the environment and land.  Ben was a big hit all over England, apparently, because Grand Design went back to visit him twice more over six years. He now teaches workshops and has open days where he tours people over his land and through his house.  Which, by the way, is now thoroughly lived in, with evidence of young and busy life all over - bookshelves chock full of books, toys on the floor, and so on.  Simplicity looks slightly different for him now, but it's still there at the heart of his family's life.
Why would you choose a mammoth construction and a massive bank loan instead of that?

17 November 2013


Bear with me... this is about more than it seems.

What's a girl to do when she suffers from the stress of tight budgets, deadlines, job hunting, relationship fracture, and friends in crisis?

She changes her hair, of course.  And because of stress contributor number one, she visits a hair cutter rather than a hair stylist.

Which results in five inches less hair in length and roughly five pounds less in hair volume.

I don't know where my hair went, but it's no longer at the back of my head. I feel bald in behind from ear to ear.  I can only be thankful it is now hat season, and that perhaps with no hair, my head may finally be small enough to fit a hat.

Of course hair grows back, and in comparison to starvation in the Sudan and testicular cancer not to mention everything being endured in the world the state of my hair is an unmentionably infinitesimal, paltry concern. So I'm not really complaining about it. I'm merely sharing my shock. I went from searching for some way to shake up my life while simultaneously wresting back some control to feeling scalped and vulnerable.

Again, not that my situation bears any resemblance, but in the bible study I'm following, the people have been led out of Egypt and slavery and Pharaoh and are figuring out how to follow God and trust Him. He tells them He will provide, He will be with them, and that He will be talking face to face with Moses.  They're quite keen to go along with that, and say, yes, Lord, whatever You ask of us, so shall we do.  Well, Moses is away from them for a few days, and they go bonkers, thinking God has left them, and they take matters into their own hands. That's where the golden calf business got them into trouble. They forgot to trust God, and things got pretty sticky there for a while.

I haven't been rescued from Egypt or slavery or Pharaoh, but I am having to put into practice... I have to live day to day my faith, my trust in God. He brought me here, back to Sohoe, to Lake Town, which I love so much. I have had this wonderful job that I have enjoyed thoroughly - honestly, there has not been one day that I have dreaded going to work. This year has been blessing upon blessing, and now I must believe that what comes next will be just as fine, that I will still be provided for.

I would so love to be able to carry on with the same job, in the same home, but I have to let that go. I can't turn what I have into a golden calf.  I do my part, of course: searching and applying. But the biggest part is to trust.

So I'll do my best to be stripped of anxiety rather than be shorn of more than hair.

09 November 2013

It's a Marathon - NaNoWriMo style

Having given up the word count approach - a sure way to despair and despondency if ever there was one, I have decided to dedicate large chunks of time to writing and in that time get huge chunks of the novel down on paper.

And so was born The Marathon.  I can't go to San Fran to participate in the official one, but a friend (hi Sarah!) and I are writing our own marathon, roughly 700 kms apart, connected by technology and sheer will to write and write and write until we just can't write any more.

This is Hour One for me, rather later than I intended to begin, but begin I shall.  As soon as I post this, I am picking up the pen and writing my story forward.  I've left her (Caroline) in an awkward situation, and I've felt sorry for that for two days now.  Must go and rescue her.

Marathon supplies
Write on!

05 November 2013

The head exam

My dad used to say things like: "Someone needs their head examined."

He would usually be talking about a politician or an engineer - he had the same amount of respect for both classes of people.

In this scenario, however, the person needed a head exam would be me.  What was I thinking, signing up for (and paying $50 for!) a 24-week bible study that comes with roughly 2 hours of homework each week, and then taking on a nearly 2,000 word a day writing challenge?  Was I thinking?  Evidently not, because I have conveniently forgotten the fact that I must also begin a job hunt. Now. Which means scouring newspapers and bulletins boards, and, ugh, revamping my resume yet again.

Oh, and I just realized that I'll be away for three weekends this month.

I'm not regretting any of it. I am actually enjoying it all. There just isn't sufficient time for it all - oh, and The Great Reading Project!  How could I forget that little detail?  And the Christmas crafts I'm hoping to get to.

The only thing to do in these situations is to take my father's advice.
I shall go to bed at once.

03 November 2013

The Fourth

Ah... 1,667 words feels pretty good, once you've got them down on paper.  They look, good, too, all neatly marching in their lines across the white pages.  Thing is, it's taken me two days to get one day's quota.
I have an excuse though, please hear me out:
I was on the road yesterday.  I'm spending four days with my mom so writing time is going to be scarce, though not nonexistent. There will probably be plenty of imagination fodder, so I'm sure it will all equal out somewhere around the middle.
Not entirely sure what I have written so far fits into the idea I had for it, but I'm barely 1/30 of the way there so I'll keep at it.

Something interesting: I am writing by hand in a little notebook. My penmanship is actually getting neater as I go along - something I'd have liked to know about when I wrote about writing vs typing. Who'd a thunk it, K R Smith!

Another interesting fact: I was able to listen to a ManUnited game on AM radio as I drove here yesterday. However, pressing on the gas caused interference with the reception. I've never had such inducement to ease off the lead foot!

Happy NaNoWriMo Day Four to all.

01 November 2013


300 words.  1367 to go.  Not a bad beginning.
I have found my way into the story. I know who my main character is. I can hear her voice. I know what will happen to her.
Well, some of what will happen to her.
We're going to be spending a lot of time together these next 30 days, she and I. I think it will be fine.

I've come out of my self-imposed 45 minute writing bubble* to find large pieces of tree on the front lawn. There is a fearsome wind blowing through Sohoe.  Most of Ontario, it seems.  Stay safe, dear Reader.

*my shaky math skills calculate that at 300 words per 45 minutes, it will take me 4 hours a day to get 1,667 words down.


31 October 2013

And so it begins: National Novel Writing Month

The goal:  1,667 words each day; 50,000 words by month's end.
This is my first NaNoWriMo. I am very excited to see what comes of the effort and am anxious to get started.
There is a vague plot roughed out in my mind - working title is 'Stained Glass'.  The idea came to me a few nights ago and it's been hard to hold back, not get started right away. 
Stay tuned for updates!


30 October 2013

Things I've learned in the kitchen

When butchering a duck, it is important to have a very sharp knife.

Using a pot-holder to remove a hot dish from the oven is wise; forgetting heat lingers once the dish is out of the oven will result in scorched hands and blistered forearms.

Cranberries bounce. They bounce far.

Margarine containers shatter when dropped on the floor.

An error of 100 degrees makes a difference to the end result.

There is not enough time to clean the bathroom while also sautéing carrots before they scorch.

It is best to turn off the immersion blender before lifting it out of the smoothie.

You will not remember the next morning that you placed one bowl over another on the drying rack the night before, until one crashes to the floor as you're putting them away.

Singing - the louder the better - makes any kitchen task more fun.

** Late addition:  always, always, ALWAYS label what is in the baggies you stash in the freezer. What seems obviously chicken soup, or grape tomatoes, or strawberries when they go in the icebox, becomes indistinguishable a few weeks later. Chicken soup makes for a very unappetising smoothie.

23 October 2013

Of conundrums and squirrels

This is why  my list of books I'd like to read 'some day' is so long: I may have perfectly good and reasonable intentions of reading one particular book, but another one catches my eye, like a bright and shiny squirrel, too tempting to resist. All the while I'm telling myself, "this will just take a day or two, then I promise you, Cardinal Newman, or Dante, that I will get right back to you, because I really do want to read your book."

You know what happens next, don't you, Reader?

That's right: another bright and shiny squirrel entices me further away from the book of my intention.
Woe to me.

Sometimes, though, the bright and shiny squirrel actually turns out to be a treasure, and such is the case with Conundrums for the Long Week-End: England, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Lord Peter Wimsey by Robert Kuhn McGregor, with Ethan Lewis. Regular visitors to the Lighthouse will know that I have a particular fondness for the detective stories of Dorothy L. Sayers, and that Peter Wimsey is my literary hero of choice. He is, in fact, very near my ideal man.

A book about Lord Peter, then, is nigh impossible to resist. What makes this book so delightful is that it combines a history of England between the World Wars with a biography of Sayers, a literary criticism of the Wimsey novels, and a chart of the development of Wimsey from first to last novel. Fascinating. It was good fun to survey the eleven Wimsey novels in context with history, to have the development of style and intent explained, and to see the chronology of author and character together.

I would always wish for more, that the Wimsey story continued. As McGregor and Lewis point out, however, he was thoroughly a man of his time, and his time came to an end with the Second World War. To take Lord Peter into the modern era would be to turn him into an anachronism. Dorothy L. Sayers respected the integrity of her man (and her art) enough to let him go.

20 October 2013

Write like the beagle


Lift your hands up, put your head down, and just write.

It brings to mind this quote from Hemingway, who, arguably, knew a thing or two about the how of writing:

There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.

When all else fails, follow the example of the beagle: start with the obvious and don't stop there. Keep on bleeding.

18 October 2013

The month of November - NaNoWriMo

Well this is awkward, isn't it? Rather like not speaking to a friend for nearly a month and then trying to pick up where you left off.

It used to be easier to write often when I lived with the Peanuts (see the 'CTKS' label) because young boys are an unending source of entertainment and amusing stories. My own life is interesting to me, but hardly has broad appeal to anyone else.

Any writing I've been doing in the last few weeks has been for a commitment I have elsewhere. I've been scurrying in spare moments to stock pile enough material to see me through a month and a half because...


I'm going to do the NaNoWriMo challenge in November, which is, essentially, to write a novel in a month.

A novel.

Daunting, no?

No.  I've decided it ain't no big thing.  I'm not going to worry so much about plot or structure or character development, or 'show, don't tell' or anything technical or word-crafty. I'm just going to write every day. I'm going to write in my notebook with a freshly sharpened pencil. I'm going to banish the hesitation and fear that has been lurking in my brain, keeping me from tackling something of this scope, tying my imagination in knots, and holding my stories hostage.

I'm going to write for a month.  And I'm saying so right here at The Lighthouse so I can't pretend I never meant to do it.

Would you consider holding me accountable? Check in now and then, badger me, be a pest, ask impertinent questions?

Writing is such a solitary endeavor, which I quite like, but sometimes it's nice to have a companion on the journey.

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo?  If so, I'd love to hear about it.  I'm registered as evertess - let's be writing buddies!

30 September 2013

Let us talk of books

Let us talk of books; let us speak of words and ideas and stories; let us discourse on the great questions of the age; let us revel in the thoughts of great men long gone. Let us talk of books.

Extreme makeover: women transformed by Christ, not conformed to the culture, by Teresa Tomeo.
In this book, Teresa Tomeo reviews the role media has played in leading women away from the truth of their dignity and worth, the distortion wrought by radical feminism, the harm done by abortion, and contraception. She writes about finding and valuing our real beauty as opposed to the ideals presented by our present culture, and about Jesus and women, and the Church and women. (This was of particular interest given Pope Francis' recent comments about a necessary theology of women in the Church.)
Thankfully, saving the book from a doom-and-gloomy tune of all the ways women have been done wrong, the author includes helpful advice on how to recognize and eliminate the bombardment of misinformation and error that comes at us through the media. There is a chapter sharing signs of hope that there is change in our culture, and the book concludes with personal testimonies of women who found healing and home in the teachings of the Catholic Church.
This book was helpful as it put some pieces of the puzzle together for me, such as the history of abortion in the US. Teresa also provides excellent information about media studies on the effects of media - that section got me a little riled up. I've been doing a fair amount of reading on women and the Church (I'm tempted to call it Catholic feminism, but I don't want that to be misconstrued as being aligned with those agitators for female ordination who call God 'Our Mother who art in heaven') and this book fits nicely into that section of my bookshelves. It is wise to gather as much information as possible, isn't it?  So thank you, Teresa Tomeo for this book.

By one of my literary heroes, Dorothy L Sayers,  'Are women human? : astute and witty essays on the role of women in society'. This very slender and quick-reading volume contains two essays by the great Sayers: Are women human? and, The human-not-quite-human.
As mentioned above, I have a particular interest in matters relating to Catholic femininity (if you're interested in reading more, I contribute to The Feminine Gift) and my focus tends to be on the inherent, by-design differences between men and women. Sayers managed to take my views and readjust the lens somewhat so I saw some issues differently. Have you ever had that eye test done in which the doctor flips different lenses in front of your eyes asking, "Is this one better, or this one? The first one... or the second one?... flip flip... flip flip." And you're not entirely certain you can tell which one is more clear, or even if there is a difference! That's how I feel after reading 'Are women human'.
Because she did not reiterate what affronted traditionalists were saying about women returning to the home, and being content to be wives and mothers, she was assumed to be aligned with the feminists. That, she was not, and these two articles are an explanation of why she was not. It is important to know that Sayers wrote them in the 1930s, after the suffragette movement won for women the right to vote, and well before second wave feminism told women to burn their bras in the 1960s.
Sayers proposes that it is ridiculous to say that a woman is as good as a man, because a woman is not a man, but both are human beings. Likewise, she dislikes the notion of 'women's work' or jobs that only men can do, believing that the person who can best do the job, should, in fact, be allowed to do the job. Sayers also reminds the reader that if we were to send women back to the Middle Ages, a lot of the work now done by industry would return to the home, the woman's domain, as women used to be the weavers, the bakers, preservers, chandlers, seamstresses... etc. Men, in essence, usurped those jobs and eventually declared women unfit to do them.
There are several good passages where Dorothy admonishes women for 'aping' men - in other words copying them for the sake of being like a man, rather than because one naturally wanted to do something, "...if it is done "because men do it," it is worse than silly, because it is not spontaneous and not even amusing."
She also has a humorous take on the question of women wearing trousers that would be of interest to my friends who often visit the question of what is truly modest, and whether women 'should' wear trousers: "We are asked: "Why do you want to go about in trousers? They are extremely unbecoming to most of you. You do it only to copy the men." To this we may very properly reply: "It is true that they are unbecoming. Even on men they are remarkably unattractive. But, as you men have discovered for yourselves, they are comfortable, they do not get in the way of one's activities like skirts and they protect the wearer from draughts about the ankles. As a human being, I like comfort and dislike draughts. If the trousers do not attract you, so much the worse; for the moment I do not want to attract you. I want to enjoy myself as a human being, and why not? As for copying you, certainly you thought of trousers first and to that extent we must copy you."
About innate characteristics of men and women in terms of work, she says this: "Few people would go so far as to say that all women are well fitted for all men's jobs. When people do say this, it is particularly exasperating. [...] What we ask is to be human individuals, however peculiar and unexpected. It is no good saying: "You are a little girl and therefore you ought to like dolls"; if the answer is, "But I don't," there is no more to be said. Few women happen to be natural born mechanics; but if there is one, it is useless to try and argue her into being something different. What we must not do is argue that the occasional appearance of a female mechanical genius proves that all women would be mechanical geniuses if they were educated. They would not."
These two articles so obviously come from the convictions of the author, for I recognize the voice and the principles from reading her novels. These are ideas that Peter and Harriet would have been familiar with, and in fact espoused.
This was one book from my recent haul of Dorothy Sayers finds. I'm looking forward to diving into the biography of her, next. 

The Pioneer Woman: black heels to tractor wheels, a love story, by Ree Drummond. I've not been an avid reader of The Pioneer Woman blog, only visiting from time to time when recipe searches would lead me there. This book crossed my desk at work a few months ago for cataloguing and the premise intrigued me, so I put it on my list of books to read 'someday'. I needed a respite from more serious things recently, so snapped this up when it was returned in our drop box.
First of all, the story of a city slicker throwing the bright lights over for a ranching life and nights of star gazing is a sure winner. The 'love story' bit of the title should have prepared me for the focus of the tale, as Ree gave a lot of ink to the embraces and kisses of her Marlboro Man. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for the mushy love stuff, but reading about his strong arms on what felt like every page got a little wearing. I appreciate her discretion in not over-sharing intimate details, but still feel I would be uncomfortable meeting Mr. and Mrs. Marlboro in real life, having read the story of how they met and married. And kissed and embraced. The attention to those details is at the cost of portraying in greater depth her brother Mike, for example. Ree comes across as impatient with him (he is developmentally delayed), and self-centred when she runs over the family dog, or learns of her parent's deteriorating marriage. While I admire an author for revealing themselves honestly, warts and all, I thought in this case it was unfortunate because I have a feeling they really aren't accurate portrayals.
Overall, 'Black heels to tractor wheels' was a very enjoyable, light read. It also reminded me that the qualities to admire in a man  have more to do with his integrity and honour... his character, than anything else.

On the go: I have begun Dorothy Sayers' translation of Dante's Inferno. I'm well into the introduction... what an accomplishment! I'll have you know, though, that it stretches for over 70 pages. I will eventually reach the first canto, and begin the adventure in earnest.

Interestingly, I recently saw an interview with Roberto Benigni, who performed a staged version of The Divine Comedy. It ran in Italy, where roughly 40% of the population saw it, and brought it to England where not as many people saw it.
I also saw an interview with Joseph Pearce discussing his commentaries on Shakespeare. He was asked why people should bother with old Will these days, when the language is so unfamiliar to us, even difficult to grasp. He talked about the importance of reading good writing as it forms our thoughts, influences our vocabulary, feeds our imagination. And while it may be difficult, up a level or two from what we may be comfortable with, what we gain from it are so worthwhile. Good literature lingers, has an impact, can be transformative, whereas much of the 'dumbed-down' books students are assigned in current day classrooms are empty filler; they don't last or contribute much of substance.
Hear hear!

29 September 2013


Today is the Feast of the Archangels.

Statue of Michael, Castel Sant'Angelo, Rome
Right from my earliest days as a Catholic, I was fascinated by Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael... though to be honest, it was Michael who had most of my attention. Angels are fodder for any young person's imagination and I thought it was very cool that every person has an angel of their very own, a guardian angel. If I was going to have an angel to guide and protect me, though, I wanted nothing to do with those cute cherubs on chocolate boxes and Christmas ornaments.  I wanted big, strong, tough and mighty Michael, the prince of angels, the one who battled Satan and cast him out of heaven. He is always depicted with sword drawn, standing on the bad guy's head. Talk about super hero! Growing up in a military environment, literally seeing my dad go off to work in an armoured tank, I understood the importance of being battle-prepared, being equipped. I knew that if I was going to be engaged in spiritual battle, I wanted Michael to defend me. If one guardian angel is good, surely two is better?

Interestingly, The Archangel Michael is venerated in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. We all recognize the need for spiritual guidance and protection.

St. Michael, the Archangel,
Defend us in this day of battle.
Be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil
And do thou, oh Prince of the heavenly hosts
By the Divine power,
Cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits
Who wander now throughout the world
Seeking the ruin of souls
Rublev's St. Michael

28 September 2013

Cookies and cocoa and the noise within

How did it come to be nearly two weeks since my last post?  I should be banished from Blogger Land. Or at least have to pay a penalty.

Whilst awaiting the transmogrification of batter into cookies in the oven (350 for 7-10 min = peanut butter goodness) I thought I'd sit down at ye olde faithful lappe toppe and tap out a few lines. If I could just think over the irritatingly happy noise of Daft Punk's Lucky. (Do not even think of the song as it is sure to get stuck in your head. Unless Daft Punk can't get lodged in your brain because you already happen to be thinking of What does the fox say, to which all I can say is... hatee hatee hatee ho)

That, actually, is a good segue to something I've been thinking about a lot since life exploded - in a minor way - this week. I need to be more protective of quiet and peace in my home. I can't really control the events in my life or what goes on at work (though, yes, I can control how I cope with them, react to them) I often retreat into hours of movie watching, endless Youtube clips, or loud music - hard rock being something of a weakness. I reward myself after a day of work or console myself after a difficult week by retreating, hiding from myself. And I can tell I've been doing it because I'm not writing. I'm so completely detached from what is going on within, that I have no tangible ideas, no concrete thoughts, no coherent words to share. There are no stories germinating in my imagination because I'm drifting passively in someone else's.

Here's an example: it was a very difficult week but with my new resolution I had determined to treat this weekend as a retreat. I envisioned myself, notebook in hand, finally fleshing out the handful of ideas I have scribbled in lists into fully fleshed articles, with even a story or two thrown in. I was going to make this an internet-free weekend, strictly me, paper and pen, and the pile of books I'm aching to sink my teeth into.

But you know what happened? I logged in before I was even out of bed this morning. The whole day since, I've been chasing my tail around the internet, from email, to chat, to Facebook, to YouTube and on and on. Oh, there have been breaks of sanity. I watered the plants. I noticed the sun was shining. I washed dishes. But those breaks from the screen have been to the tune of Papa Roach, Arctic Monkeys, and The Black Keys. (Disclaimer approaching) Not that there is anything wrong with that music. It has its time and place. However I know this about myself: my surroundings deeply affect my interior life. While I am disappointed in myself for not having followed through with my plan for the day, I now feel restless, jangly, disconnected, unsettled from a day spent with the bombardment of visual and sonic stimulation.

Well... the cookies are done. Time to turn the music off. I'm going to retreat to the living room with the last pages of a book and a cup of cocoa.

16 September 2013

The hunt, the prey, the haul.

Have I got adventures to tell you about, which involve ducks and books and... well, that's it, really.  The duck is figuring pretty large because it involved butchery and touching the carcass and discovering there are roughly 50 different conflicting theories about how to cook the bird.

Today's story is somewhat more tame, though it involves prey and capture.

The hunting ground was a used bookshop. After an hour stalking several fine specimens, I managed to bag a trio of books and am now admiring them like trophies.
The titles:

Maryland's Way: the Hammond-Harwood House cook book with a collection of recipes from 1770 to 1963. It comprises illustrations and photographs, recipes and notes (including a brief excerpt from Washington's diary) and menus such as Gentleman's Supper Parties, and, Dinner for the President. I don't know how practical it will be as a cookbook, but it will surely make for interesting reading!

Discussions of John Donne (Published 1962)  This is a collection of comments, thoughts, essays, observations, on the works of Donne, and his influence and place in English poetry from the likes of Ben Johnson (yes, the Ben Jonson of the 17th Century), Samuel Johnson, Thomas De Quincey, Yeats, and Eliot. How fantastic!  I went looking for a good translation of Dante's Divine Comedy (mine is not a good one, it turns out) but it wasn't to be found in the imposingly overstacked shelves. This unlooked for treasure more than makes up for my as yet Dante-less state. I feel a dosing of Donne coming on.

Dorothy L. Sayers: a literary biography by Ralph E. Hone. (Published 1979) which traverses through her life and works, including (oh, the  coincidence of it all) her translation of Dante. Long-time readers of The Lighthouse know my love for Peter Wimsey, Sayers' famous sleuth. He is my literary superhero, my ideal man - yes, even ahead of Fitzwilliam Darcy. I first came to know of Sayers from her essay on education, The Lost tools of education, about the classical approach to learning. The text is available online, and is an interesting, thought-provoking read.  I'm really looking forward to reading this book.  There goes the Great Reading Project off the rails once again. Ah well... c'est la vie when there are so many books to be read!

All in all, a fine and worthy haul.

14 September 2013

Bits and pieces.

The forgotten verses
Do you ever wonder about the verses that get left out of the readings? I do, and will sometimes look them up and read them anyway, just so they will feel included. I wonder about why they got left out. Was it that poor old David got it right for verses 1-3, 5-9, 11-17 but missed the boat with four and ten?
Sometimes you find a gem in the forgotten verses, like this one from yesterday:
Because you will not abandon my soul to the nether world, nor will  you suffer your faithful one to undergo corruption. (Psalm 16;10)
I've been praying a lot lately for the grace to want to want God, and reflecting on whether my priorities are right. Am I living a life pleasing to God? How will I be judged at the end of it? I was worrying about being lukewarm, apathetic, and destined for unpleasantness. And not out of scrupulosity... it was a fair assessment of where I was at. Suffice it to say that forgotten verse 10 has given me substance to ponder and a dose of reassurance.

Yom Kippur
Yesterday ended the great Jewish feast of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. It is a day of forgiveness, of being made right with God, and has to do with vows which bind us and keep us from Him. One of the most moving pieces of music, religious or worldly, is the Kol Nidrei. Turns out this is actually a legal document... and never has the law sounded so beautiful.


*If you are unable to play the video but would like to, this came from Youtube and is titled:
Kol Nidrey, Moscow Male Jewish Capella, Cantor J Malovany.

Heatwave to windchill
Our weather this week: Hot. Heatwave. Heatwave. Heatwave. Windchill. Nice. We went from it being 32 degrees, feeling like 42 with humidex, to being 14 and feeling like 11 with windchill. Today should be perfect, with it being 17, and feeling like 17.  Leave it to numbers to mess even with the weather.

Hamster balls. Introverts, personal space, and the lady who may as well have sat in my lap.
Some time ago I wrote about being an introvert and how a friend had shared that being an introvert was like being in a hamster ball. Introverts need personal space - physical, mental, emotional room. You know you're in the presence of an introvert when you lean over the desk toward her and she pulls back. Maybe even takes a step away. An introvert will 'accidentally' click out of a chat room when someone barrages her with personal questions, like a nosey, intrusive fusillade.
(Have you noticed how much is being written about introverts and introversion lately? Every week there is a new something or other on Facebook about 'introverts aren't gonna take it anymore'. I think the reason is that the built-in buffer of the internet has provided us a safe environment to reveal ourselves, speak for ourselves, whereas the in-person nature of yore kept us more tightly tucked in to ourselves.)
Last Sunday at Mass, I sat in my pew. This was at a fairly large church. There are two rows of pews off the central aisle, and each row is divided by a small 'arm rest' half way along - a helpful demarcation of 'my space' and ''your space'.
You know where I'm going with this, don't you?
With three empty pews around me in every direction, a lady chose to sit in my row.  But not just in my row. She sat right beside me. In fact, I had to pull my purse out from under her.
I moved.

Call the midwife, Christmas special.
Are you at loose ends while ever so patiently awaiting the next series of Downton Abbey? (Not, as some of our library patrons call it, Downtown Abbey. That would be a story of a different sort, yo.)
If you are, it's time to Call the midwife. This is a lovely series based on a real life story of nuns and nurses who serve some of London's poorest women as midwives. It takes place in the 1950s, and while that period isn't all that far behind us, the story feels like looking in on history.
I just watched the Christmas Special, included in the series two set. Charity, love, kindness, compassion, service... all acted out in entertainment. It was moving, beautiful, inspiring, edifying.
There is a scene between Sister Julienne and an old lady outside the clinic that jolts you wide awake, because you recognize you are seeing the Gospel portrayed right there on the screen.

You see, Hollywood? It is possible to entertain, to appeal to the masses, and still tell a good story. You can build people  up rather than numb them with banality or corrode them with slime!

I hope the sun is shining where you are, dear Reader.  I'm off hunting for inspiration at a local art and craft show.
A blessing on your head, mazel tov, mazel tov.

09 September 2013

Five sentence fiction: beauty


Photo Credit
I tried to be cool. The marvels of Pisa, the history of Siena, the glamour of Florence had all inspired and impressed me. It happened here, in this meadow not found on any map nor listed in any guide book, that it happened to me: I became a cliché. I could feel the moment overtaking me, yet was helpless to prevent it - it was inevitable. With arms out-flung, head thrown back, I let loose the full-throated cry: Beauty!

Five Sentence Fiction, hosted by Lillie McFerrin Writes

03 September 2013

In defense of food

Did you know that food needs a defender?

It does.

And we need our food to be defended.

I've read many books about food lately, from Anthony Bourdain's food travelogues, to books about untrained foodies learning to cook, to manifestos of slow food, local food, and bee keeping.

After reading so much about what we're eating and how - mostly in praise of food in one way or another - I was very surprised by how startling, appalling, and even enraging, Michael Pollan's In defense of food turned out to be.  I've watched Food Inc. more than once... I didn't think I could be more appalled or enraged when it comes to modern western food.  Well, Mr. Pollan refers to western food, western food culture, and western diet, but I wonder if he really means North American. Surely much of Europe keeps to its traditional food culture? I'll forgive him that rather American myopia, and accept that 'western' food is in dire need.

It is in need of being left alone by food scientists, nutritionists, lobbyists, and massive companies. It is in need of changes to industrial farming practices, monocultures, artificial intervention of fertilizers and pesticides. It is need of returning to being actual food.

To me, this book is common sense expounded over the course of some 200 pages: eat real food; eat food your grandmother would recognize; food, what we get from it and what we need from it, is much more complex than we fully understand, much as we tend to believe in the supremacy of science and believe in our grasp of that science.

Messing with food by extracting bits and then adding other bits is causing all kinds of problems we don't even realize are problems stemming from our interventions.

When I first started reading about the 100 mile diet, I sank into a funk. I live in Canada. Think of all you know about Canada, and then ask yourself: what would Canadians eat if tomorrow all international transport ground to a halt? We have such a short growing season with long stretches of frozen earth. People used to eat only what they could grow themselves, or trade with neighbours. (Thinking back on my only attempt at potatoes so far, I wonder if I could have traded short stories for spuds back in the day?) It didn't seem fair to me that we wouldn't have access to pomegranates or avocados or many other 'super foods' we're supposedly supposed to eat for optimum health.

'In defense of food' reminded me that food cultures all around the world are limited because no one area grows - or raises - everything edible. Each region, faithful to their food culture and traditions, thrives, whether they seem to use pounds of butter in their cooking, or consume only blood and milk, or eat mostly blubber. Each region, over the many centuries, has figured out how to best combine and prepare foods local to them, such as adding olive oil to tomatoes, or eating beans with corn and rice. We have gone wrong by over processing our food and over complicating our relationship with food. We now have to eat more of a thing in order to get the same nutrition from it compared to our grandparents' generation. We spend less money for, and less time preparing, our food than Italy, Spain, and France (I'd argue we also enjoy it far less, and have less healthy attitudes toward eating than they do.) but consume more and suffer more food-related health issues. We spend more time thinking about food - snacks, advertisements, shopping, calorie counting, diet-obsessing - but less time actually eating meals than other countries.

Oops. Got sidetracked there. I was going to say, way back at the top of the last paragraph, that the book reminded me that though we rely so much on our knowledge of science to be the answer to all things*, God is a master craftsman, and no detail has been overlooked. If the human body needed the Mediterranean diet for optimum health, we'd all be blessed with the Mediterranean climate and soil. God designed the body to work the way it works. He knows about the omega fats and antioxidants and the vitamin spectrum and how it all works together for our good. He provides it all... it just looks different, comes to us in different ways, from one place to another. And His way of providing nourishment for us doesn't upset the balance of delicate things we do not yet understand, the way that lobbyists, mega corporations, nutritionists, and food scientists have done.

Faith and reason, boys and girls, they do go hand in hand. In other words, do not let blind faith in science blind you to the understanding found in faith.

Eat real food.

*the answer to life, the universe, and everything just might be 42.

02 September 2013

Five sentence fiction: Thunder


Photo credit: Tess's Own
Black as pitch.
Flash of white tears the sky in jagged two.
Vicious claps attack in waves.

FSF is hosted at Lillie McFerrin Writes; I came by way of  K R Smith.

31 August 2013

The Great Reading project: Gift from the sea

What a gem this book is - a gift indeed.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh, in 1955, took a vacation on the Florida Gulf Coast, during which she wrote this collection of reflections inspired by various found treasures on the beach. And treasures on the beach, as we all know, are shells.  Each shell - the Channelled Whelk, the Moon Shell, the Double-Sunrise, the oyster bed, Argonauta -  provides her food for thought about the interior life, relationships, and daily life.

Gift from the sea, though a slender volume and written in a thoroughly approachable fashion, imparts wisdom, inspiration, and, insight enough for months of meditation and reflection. Though men as well as women would glean much from this book, the author writes very personally from her own experience and knowledge as a woman. She touches particularly on a woman's need for quiet, creativity, purposeful giving of herself, and knowledge of herself in order to know and connect with others in meaningful ways. I heard echoes of Alice von Hildebrand and Edith Stein in some of what she writes, and in fact she quotes from several Catholic saints.

If I could copy out the whole of the chapter titled 'Moon Shell' for you to read here, I would do so. In it, Anne writes particularly about the importance of feeding the soul, and feeding the soul requires silence and solitude in some measure every day, every month, every year.

My one complaint of the book isn't really a complaint so much as a moment of sadness and came while reading the epilogue of the 50th anniversary edition I have. The epilogue was written in 1975 and the influence of the feminist movement is evident. In this little book is evidence that one of the results of radical feminism is stripping beauty out of the feminine, leaving ugliness in its place. I hasten to reassure you that Anne does not spout feminist diatribes, but it is clear that the movement in full swing by 1975 has coloured her writing.

And so concludes another book from The Great Reading Project. I have begun on Dante's Inferno, the book that sparked this initiative. It's the one I've really really been wanting to read, so here goes!

Small Island  - Andrea Levy

Inferno – Dante

Heart of the matter – Graham Greene

The Snakepit – Sigrid Undset

Sound and the fury – William Faulkner

Man and woman – Alice Von Hildebrand

The Cloistered Heart – Nancy Shuman

Invisible man – Ralph Ellison

Masterful Monk (series) – Owen Francis Dudley

Shepherd’s castle – George MacDonald

Last light – Terri Blackstock

84 Charing Cross Road – Helene Hanff

Gift from the sea – Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Unlocked – Karen Kingsbury


25 August 2013

Five sentence fiction: travel

Five sentence fiction: travel

I felt trapped in the mass of bodies on the train; limbs hung out of windows and pressed against the doors. The landscape rolled passed in dry and dusty counterpoint to the vibrant clothing of my fellow passengers - a riot of colours lending exuberance to this unfamiliar place. They spoke excitedly - and loudly - to one another in languages I could not comprehend, sharing food I could not name but which tantalized my senses. How different India was from my adventures last night in comfortingly familiar England!
With happy anticipation of what tomorrow would bring, I closed the book and turned out the light.

Books can take you anywhere

24 August 2013

Happening now at a library near you: Local food mysteries

This was too good to not share with you, dear Reader.
Cataloguing new books today, I came across this delightful treasure:

A Tine to Live, a tine to die: a local foods mystery by Edith Maxwell.

The cast of characters includes an 'enthusiastic Brazilian volunteer' and local handyman Mike Montgomery who is fired because 'he won't follow organic growing practices'.  Mike, of course, becomes the corpse in this cozy set in... you guessed it, a small New England town (where all cozies seem to take place). This New England town is 'full of eccentric locavores'... they were bound to have a murderer in their midst eventually.

The concept tickled me, because cozies - mysteries without sex or gore set in a small community with an amateur sleuth, generally have a gimmick or schtick to set them apart from all the others. This one is about a lady who bakes cupcakes, that one is about a mystery bookshop owner, the other one is about a weaving enthusiast.  It was only a matter of time before someone recognized the growing popularity of the locavore movement and mined it for murder mystery potential.
And at last, here it is.

20 August 2013

Of clouds of witnesses and bubbles

I am often struck by the beauty of language in really fine writing. Words can have an intoxicating effect, whether the author is Lucy Maud Montgomery or Nigella Lawson. What matters is a deft hand, respectful intent, and a willingness to play. By that last I mean not taking oneself too seriously or using one's medium to berate others. (I've been reading Nigella, and so have temporarily adopted the British 'one' in place of the American 'you'.)
From a strictly literary perspective, a good translation of Scripture gives me the same pleasure as reading the poetry of Donne: I don't necessarily perfectly understand what is being said, but I so enjoy how it is said. I savour the sounds, hold the consonants and vowels on my tongue, allow their shape and meaning to permeate through my mind. I carry the words with me during the day and hear them echo in my thoughts at random moments. They leave an impression in my imaginations like fossils, sometimes only suggesting at the whole of what they once were. 
"Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us." Hebrews 12:1

"Though lovers be lost, love shall not, and death shall have no dominion." Dylan Thomas

"Paris (and our apartment) is so dark and quiet this morning that I feel as if I'm entirely alone. The sky is the color of gray flannel, the darkness broken only by the dormer window of another early riser. The woman who lives in that attic painted her walls yellow, and reflected light bounces out like a spring crocus. If light were sound, her window would be playing a concerto." Eloisa James

"And since I think best with a pencil in my hand, I started naturally to write." Anne Morrow Lindbergh

"People disappear all the time." Diana Gabaldon

"I lead a small life. Well, valuable, but small - and sometimes I wonder, do I do it because I like it, or because I haven't been brave? So much of what I see reminds me of something I read in a book, when shouldn't it be the other way around? I don't really want an answer. I just want to send this cosmic question out into the void. So goodnight, dear void." Nora Ephron

Sip them slowly, and let the words bubble up.


15 August 2013

Five sentence fiction

Five sentence fiction.

Prompt word: Learning

For the third day in a row, Sally handed over her peanut butter and jelly sandwich; for the third day in a row, Roberta promised she'd pay her back tomorrow. For as many days poor Sally went through gym class (murderball, again), art, French (Mademoiselle Parfait was particularly peppy this week), and language arts (parts of speech: yawn is a verb) on a handful of raisins and a mini yoghurt. Sally was pretty sure she'd never see a sandwich from Roberta, ever, nor would the pb&j purloiner let Sally in on the four square game like she'd promised, either.

Sally slumped into the kitchen after school, feeling a wisp of her former self, barely lifting her head from her hand when her mother asked what she'd learned in school that day.

Never give away your peanut butter sandwich,” she replied, “no matter how much you want to play four square.”

14 August 2013

Of cheating and reading

I  a cheater.

I'm a cheater cheater pumpkin eater.

Hi. My name is Tess, and I cheat.

I'm cheating on The Great Reading Project.

That's right: I'm reading around.  I'm reading behind Anne Morrow Lindbergh's back.  And not because I prefer another book, or no longer love her. I caved under the pressure. There are so many beautiful books out there!  But that isn't even a good excuse because I haven't been reading around with other beautiful books, I've been reading books that mean nothing to me while Anne's 'Gift from the sea' remains on my bedside table unopened.

I think I figured out why, this morning. Not only was I going to read this book, and extract every drop of fine meaning from it, I was going to turn the experience into a multi-part article I was going to write for my weekly deadline elsewhere. I wanted to share everything I was feeling about the book, all the wisdom I was gaining, my delight in the words, my joy in the message. Too much! It was too much! I am but one woman, a poor writer with serious discipline issues. I was unable to live up to my own expectations.

Having an outer-body experience this morning, observing myself throwing books around the living room in search of the notebook I was writing notes in - with no success, as if the notes had never existed, though if I went back to Starbucks I could probably find witnesses who would attest to witnessing me writing frantically in a little blue notebook. That's when it dawned on me: just read the book. Don't try to hold on to every drop of meaning, don't scribble extracts, or copy quotes. Just read it.  Enjoy it. It's a book! A beautiful, delightful book.  Allow it to seep into my mind and imagination. Let it spark some current of creativity. Let it whisper to me in its own still, small voice.

Just read. And just then the sun came through the clouds. For real.

And so read, I shall.

Won't you join me?

11 August 2013

A breath and a pause

Big relief.

Manchester United have won the Community Shield, the first big competition of the season. First major win with the new manager (moment of silence for the old gaffer, Sir Alex.                         )
Well done David Moyes.  Well done boys.

Now we can take a breath and start the Prem season with our heads on straight.
Let's make 2013/14 number 21!

Photo: Fox Soccer

09 August 2013

Of twirling and soundtracks

I just had a twirling moment.

My friend Bella Martini would know what that is all about. We used to twirl when we both taught in a tiny little school way back in the day.  Back when we were kids and twirling came naturally to us.  Do you remember that scene in You've Got Mail, when Joe Fox (F-O-X) asks Kathleen Kelly in the Shop Around the Corner about the picture on the wall of her and her mother?  They were twirling.

Twirling is what you do when you are so full of good feeling you just might float away. The only way to stay grounded is to twirl... circling in giddy, tight circles, hands joyously up in the air, or holding the hands of a friend overhead as you take turns ducking under the clasped hands.  Twirling is our version of bubbles dancing to the surface in a glass of champagne.

The only thing lacking in my moment of twirling was the stirring music that always accompanies such scenes in the movies.  Movie characters are so lucky to have an ongoing soundtrack. Soundtracks are useful as they are often a cue for how we should be feeling, or alert us of impending danger, or reassure us of happily ever after.  Movie soundtracks are often a great deal of fun to listen to on long road trips.

In my moment of happiness, I would have wanted Higher Ground - Red Hot Chili Pepper's cover version.  Or something soaring and instrumental. 

I'd twirl to either one.

07 August 2013

Feeling reflective

I miss the seven day blogging challenge. It surely was a challenge to write something every single day - something for public consumption, that is - but it was also a great deal of fun. I played with a few different writing prompts, and allowed myself to put something up even if it wasn't the shining beacon of perfection I had hoped for. If I want to do something 'real' with my writing, I'd best get back to that mindset.

The trick is to just do it, right? That would seem to be a theme in my life just now, and I feel just as if I am standing on the very edge of the high diving tower. Taking that final step is pretty scary. But as the very wise Fran says in Strictly Ballroom, "A life lived in fear is a life half lived." She says it in Portuguese though, which sounds much more emphatic.

Someone close to me is going through the same thing. Not with writing, but with something that will have very serious ramifications, good or bad. I admire him for taking that brave step off the board into the unknown. Is it bravery, or is it wisdom that leads him forward? Perhaps it is faith with elements of both.

Today (actually yesterday) is my birthday, and that always seems to invite reflection and introspection. It's a good time to look over my life and adjust my course. People I've met and talked with and observed, things I've learned over the past year, finer clarity of ideas all serve as navigational markers along the way and help me figure out where I'm headed.

The early days of a new year always feel propitious. For sure this is going to be a good year, a great year, a big year! Wonderful and exciting things are going to happen this year. Maybe I'll be published; maybe I'll meet my Mr. Darcy; maybe I'll get the perfect job. Maybe I'll finally kick discipline in the butt and actually finish The Great Reading Project.   Whatever happens, it is going to be a wonderful and exciting year. 

It always is.

06 August 2013


Happy Feast of the Transfiguration

This is my favourite feast in the whole of the liturgical calendar.
It is so because here the Old and New Testaments come together in the meeting of Moses, Elijah, and Jesus. (Elijah is beloved to Carmelites) It is the moment when man meets God, and is transformed in glory.

My prayer is that we will all one day see God face to face, and be transfigured. I look forward to seeing my loved ones revealed in all their glory... the new man that was hidden in the old... when their appearance will reflect their inner self.

O God, who on the holy mount revealed to chosen witnesses your well-beloved Son, wonderfully transfigured, in raiment white and glistening: Mercifully grant that we, being delivered from the disquietude of this world, may by faith behold the King in his beauty; who with you, O Father, and you, O Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

02 August 2013

Trending in a library near you: hugging trees

The Orchard house
The Lemon orchard
The Orchardist
The Apple orchard
The Courage tree
In the orchard, the swallows
Rubies in the orchard
Kilmeny of the orchard (ok, this is a bit of a cheat as it is from LM Montgomery and is very old, but I'm including it anyway. The creator of Anne with an e doesn't have to follow the rules.)

I find myself longing for a softly warm day, gentle breezes blowing just enough to whisper in the branches of the trees as I lay on a checked blanket, pretending to read but instead watching the clouds drift through the lace of leaves.

My book would be called 'The Lighthouse Tree'  It would be about An old lighthouse keeper at one of the last manned lights. Over the course of his long life he has had adventures, and encounters with memorable characters. The book recounts his story and the tree marks the passage of time.

What would your book be?

31 July 2013

Of hamster balls and grocery stores

What a co-ink-i-dink. From two different people through two different sources I came across helpful - and entertaining - information about introverts.

Also co-ink-i-dentally, I disregarded my inner voice of reason and went shopping.  The kind that involved large, sprawling, crowded stores - more than one.  I should have known better. For an introvert, the task of selecting the very best broccoli in a superstore amid a large and seething crowd is not only not fun, it is draining.  Exhausting. I bought a bath mat in one over-sized store, and groceries in another, and felt at the end of it just as if I'd been on the presidential campaign trail for a month. Too much visual information, too much stimulation, too much noise, too many people. Too much! I should have gone to my local and modest grocer, but I was tempted with the thought of exotic cooking oils, and housewares.

It's not that I don't like people, it's just that y'all wear me out! One of the helpful and entertaining articles about introverts I read described us as being in a human-sized hamster ball. That is our personal space boundary, and to us it is sacrosanct. We might invite you inside it, but if you poke at it without invitation, we will get cranky. (I become abrupt and take an actual step back.)

Poking might look like the lady I work with who peppers me with personal questions in a loud voice, and the large male patrons who loom over the desk, hands braced on the counter, fingers tapping, voice booming. In both scenarios, I become a figurative porcupine, curling up around my vulnerable underbelly, protecting myself against all comers with my spiney quills. Once in defensive mode, it takes a while to uncurl again.

Few people are welcome inside my hamster ball, but the ones that are tend to appear in it without me noticing. They've somehow got the knack of breaching the walls without laying a siege. I don't know how they do it... they must suck their own personal space up nice and tight when they approach me.

I don't want to give the impression that I'm totally antisocial because I'm not. I've had wicked good times at barn dances, amusement parks, Church basement socials, and Depeche Mode concerts - but then I stay at home and crochet for a few days, needing that time to process what happened and replenish the inner reserves.

Blogging is a hamster ball friendly venue. We can get to know each other at a very safe distance, and the rules are pretty much up to me. It's ideal, really, as long as I don't rely on it to the exclusion of real life with its contingent space-invading human beings.  It's good to be challenged, to be prodded out of my hamster ball.  And to get groceries from time to time.

28 July 2013

Of writing, and letters, and writing letters

Do you ever get personal mail anymore? A card or letter addressed to you without that little window telling you someone wants to slip their fingers into your wallet?

When you do – if you do – doesn't it make you smile?

Though separated by distance, writing a letter is like spending time with the recipient. They fill our thoughts as we write. They know that we have set aside time just for them in order to write the letter. I know that she will be able to read my thoughts, my stories when she has time, maybe over a cup of tea in the evening. She will be able to return to it again and again... so I'd better make it worth the reading of it!

I have one friend in particular I write long letters to. We were nearly half a country apart for many years with little opportunity to be in the same room together, and while a phone conversation would bring her immediately into my presence and was satisfying in its own way, writing a letter allowed me to set the scene, describe a humorous event, share snippets of something I'd recently read that I knew she would enjoy. I could picture her in the comfy chair she had in her kitchen window, cat in her lap, tea and cookies beside her. I knew she would laugh out loud, prompting her husband to ask to hear it, and she would share the letter with him.

Not only does she have the freedom to take her time with the reading of it, doing so as time and inclination allow, but I also have the luxury of time with the writing of it. I can put down the pen in order to look up that funny bit in the book I wanted to share with her; I can answer the phone when call display reveals my mother's number; I can go for a walk when I've been sitting too long and come back to it reinvigorated and freshly inspired.

A letter is a connection. I will hold the same paper you did. I can tell something of your mood by the state of your penmanship. I admire the paper you chose.

“What's so often missing in our lives today is the richness of shared humanity, those moments when we feel really connected to other human beings. The act of writing personal notes not only feeds our own soul, but also lets us share ourselves with other – offering hope, affirming life, connecting.

But let's clarify. Although we have the great advantage of advanced technology and electronic gadgets that keep us instantly and constantly in touch, we often feel a deep void that can only be filled when we take a moment to reflect, experience, and reach out for another. Ironically, the can come from something as old-fashioned and simple as writing a personal note.” (Personal notes / Sandra E Lamb)

Writing a letter is 'slow communication' and like other slow movements, it's an indicator of the desire for a more intentional life. It is a creative act, an expression of self. Women, being relational creatures, do poorly in isolation. We need to connect with others; the sending and receiving of letters is a beautiful way to establish that connection.


Admitting to a fondness for the handwritten note results in a spectrum of reactions from appalled disbelief, to rosey-lensed nostalgia, to enthusiastic glee. Many people think composing by hand is outdated and a waste of time – why not use a computer with spell check? (I edited an article recently in which concur was used when conquer was meant. Good job, spell check!)

Tired of defending my position with the good-old-days argument, I began to research the merits of handwriting (some of which research involved long, ranting conversations with my sister. We solve many of the world's problems in this manner.) but it turns out there are benefits to pen and paper, and even benefits to cursive over printing. Here are a few:

In school, notes taken by hand are remembered more clearly than notes tapped into a computer.

The physical act of holding and moving a pen (or pencil, naturally) engages the brain in ways typing does not. It involves areas of the brain used for thinking, language, and memory – not so with typing which entails one action to form a letter. Cursive actually uses both hemispheres of the brain.

The ability to spell well increases with handwriting over typing – its about muscle memory as well as time and attention.

Children taught to print are quicker to learn letter recognition and to develop certain learning centres of the brain. In fact, MRI studies have shown that children who have letter instruction have neural activity similar to an adult's.

It also helps develop fine motor skills.

Writing by hand is more beneficial for formulating ideas and expression.

Test takers who answer by hand typically score higher, with more complete answers.

The handwritten requires focus. Focus is good, especially for the distractable among us. We are more focused when we write because the reticular activating system is stimulated. Its job is to give more importance to what you are actively focused on at that moment.

When composing by hand, we tend to think first, write second. The order is often reversed when a keyboard enters the picture.

As for cursive over printing, the learning of it is much easier, and there are advocates for teaching children penmanship before printing. Think of a preliterate child giving you a story they've written. It is a page filled with loops, formed from bottom to top then back down, from left to right (mostly). The motion is natural and fluid with the pen not leaving the page until the end of the word. That is another benefit, as then spacing rules are clear – a novice printer leaves awkward spacing between letters and words clouding comprehension. Because the strokes are consistent, learning letter formation is much easier than when printing which has multiple starting points.


When it comes to every day life, there are undisputed benefits of technology. Email and texting have their place. But for the personal, the meaningful, the intimate, nothing surpasses a handwritten communication.

27 July 2013

Five sentence fiction: Limitless


I ache from the sweat-soaked hair tucked under my hat to the bruised and tender toes in my boots. I push the straining, quivering muscles of my legs to move me one step higher up the path, one step nearer my destination. My feet are becoming uncertain under me, slipping on loose rocks, tangling in fallen branches, sliding into deep depressions in the dirt. It is only my will that propels me forward, in the end, to the summit. And at last I know:

 I am limitless.

26 July 2013

St. Anne and Matthew vs Massimo

Have you ever watched The Wedding Planner? I saw it recently and got to thinking that as nice as the fairy tale is, the other story also needs to be told, the story of Mary's parents who met on their wedding day, grew to appreciate, then respect, then like, then love each other.

Don't get me wrong - I'm all for romance and the grand gesture. What girl isn't? But doesn't it seem like we put too much emphasis on the romance and the gesture, and not enough on the respect and the like?

Couples with successful marriages - meaning those that last - will tell you it takes work, that love doesn't sustain itself, that it doesn't always feel good and isn't always easy. Despite the dreamy dates of courtship and the creative expressions of love, marriage ends up being about who does the dishes and how to squeeze the toothpaste. Not exactly fodder for a Hollywood romcom.

The wonderful thing is that despite the work and the negotiations and the daily life of it all, those successful couples will also tell you that it gets better with time, that love does endure though it is not the same as it was (it shouldn't) and that (as one wife has told me) she still loves the smell of his shirts when she does his laundry. That is a story worth telling.

This all supposes making the right choice in the first place, the right mate, the right spouse, the right partner.  In The Wedding Planner, Jennifer Lopez (Mary) meets Matthew McConaughey and he is pretty and successful, but belongs to someone else, and frankly, is a little spineless. Her father introduces her to Massimo who promises to keep a good roof over her head and love her more than anyone else will. Mary is attracted to Matthew - he seems the ideal, and fears she would be settling with Massimo though they share a common background, and family connections (more important than we give them credit for) and he fits in with her friends. She chooses Matthew.

If Mary and Matthew were a real life couple, I believe that not long after the beautiful wedding, the reality of day to day living with the actual person rather than the idealized version would reveal the shaky foundation of their relationship.  On the other hand, perhaps Mary and Massimo, though more prosaic in their approach would end up being one of those successful couples forty years down the road talking about how it just keeps getting better and better with time. They wouldn't have had unattainable expectations, they would have entered into marriage knowing they had to work at it, and they would have given the other an opportunity to prove themselves. There would have been room for growth and willingness to grow together.

Am I reading too much into a simple movie? No doubt. Am I blowing sunshine up your shorts (I just watched Top Gun, as well) writing about marriage as a single person? You bet. It is, however, the Feast of St. Anne. I've prayed her novena these last nine days, and have been reflecting on men and marriage. I don't have any deep insights or surprising revelations. I do know that friendship is a key ingredient in a successful marriage, and I'm pretty sure Massimo makes for a better friend than Matthew.

25 July 2013

A Porch, two ways

Stretch, screech, slam

The day is measured by the thud and twang

Open and close

Of the old screen door.

Run, leap, sneak

The years pass by with the press of feet

Up and down

The wooden porch stairs.

***   ***

I would buy a house for it's deep front porch and an old, wood-framed screen door.

The porch would be L-shaped, and access both the kitchen off the short leg, and the front hall at the centre of the long leg. There would be thick, curvy corner posts and a substantial balustrade running the lengths, all in glossy white, with here and there dried nodules of paint where the previous owners hadn't caught the drips when they last touched up the faded bits. The main steps from sidewalk to front door are wide, and creak slightly, especially the third from the bottom which sags a little in the middle. The sound of enthusiastic feet thumping up and down those stairs echoes in the empty cavern under the porch, the sound of long summer days when school is out and freedom means adventures, and lemonade under the big oak.

The creaky screen door to the kitchen has a handle just big enough to fit your finger under, and you have to pull hard from outside to open the door. The coiled spring protests rustily and quickly snaps the door shut as soon as you let go. The screen mesh warps from true with the years of hands and elbows and knees pressing against it. The thud and shudder of the door closing can be heard all through the house, and mark the comings and goings of everyone under the roof.

The porch is home to soft summer evenings of iced tea in the swinging chair hanging from the ceiling. It is comic books read laying on your tummy, legs bent and swinging idly behind. It is pumpkins decorating the stairs in the Fall, and twinkle lights cheering the bleak winter nights. This porch welcomes friends and family to come in for fresh ginger cookies with a cup of coffee and a cozy chat. It is cousins playing Go Fish and grown ups sipping beer. It is where dad grills the steaks while mom hulls the strawberries and a cat follows the sun in hour-long naps. It is where we sit to listen to rain from the rockers and wave to our neighbours as they stroll by.

The porch is home.

24 July 2013

Dessert mentality

The title caught my eye and my imagination. And then I realized it actually said "Desert mentality". What a difference an ess makes!

But hang on a second. Maybe it should actually be "Dessert mentality". Instead of focusing on dry and dusty bleakness, why not reach for a little joy and sweetness right here and now? 

Because I'm having some difficulty with prayer, the misreading of dessert mentality inspired me to try to think of the devout life as something to anticipate and savour as I would a brownie. With chocolate sauce. And fresh raspberries.

The things that bring me closer to God shouldn't be the broccoli on my plate - good for me but hard to chew and kept for last. Prayer, contemplation, adoration, confession, Mass, study, fasting, are not onerous ordeals to be endured; they are opportunities and possibilities of joy and sweetness.

23 July 2013

You have only to keep still

Fear not! Stand your ground, and you will see the victory the Lord will win for you today... The Lord Himself will fight for you; you have only to keep still. (Gen. 14: 13,14)

How familiar, how comforting are those words: fear not! We come across them often in Scripture. Our Holy Fathers have been reminding us of them. It is good to remember them, to live by them.

That passage is from yesterday's first reading. The fear not bit was greatly appreciated, but what leapt off the page for me yesterday was what came next: the Lord Himself will fight for you.   The Lord Himself will fight for you!  You have only to keep still.

In other words, stop fretting. Stop with the faffing about, the second guessing, the worrying, the trying to force it.

Keep still.

There is so much doing going on around us; so much making, producing, achieving, striving, reaching, wanting.

Stop.  Stand your ground.  Keep still.  The Lord Himself will fight for you.

22 July 2013

Of faffing and writing: the challenge

Right. I was spending nearly every waking moment of the day at my computer - and most of that online doing very unnecessary things - pretending to write (do comments on blogs count as writing?) And then my internet connection failed and then my computer died. Coincidence or Divine intervention? Whichever it was, I got out of the habit of internet idleness and found myself actually writing On paper. And reading! Real books!

But now I'm back online, and I see it happening already, only two weeks into plugged in again. I'm faffing about and wasting time, not to mention brain cells. Argh! So I am resolved to spend less time online. Not sure exactly how I will manage to limit myself, but it must be done.

And what is one of the first things I'm going to do?  Take up Jennifer Fulwiler's challenge over at Conversion Diary to write seven posts in seven days. Barmy? Yes. I'm looking for writing prompts and challenges and this is a good one. I also think it will help direct my time online, give me something legitimate to do while logged on. Let's see if it works!

So, first topic of the blog-a-day challenge:
Office supplies!

I love them. Honest and for true, deep down love. I can spend hours - and have done - browsing the aisles of a big name office supply store. When I left New Town, my work colleagues gave me a gift certificate for that store, knowing it would be put to good use. I bring my own pens and post-its to work, and have ensured everyone knows my policy: paws off. When I go to The Giant Book Store, I head to the journals and note paper, sometimes before even looking at a proper book.
So imagine my delight yesterday, when after sipping on a lovely-but-overpriced beverage from Herman Melville's coffee shop I wandered into the bookstore to discover this:

and this:

The company is called Poppin. Their tag line is "Work happy" and honestly, who could resist being happy with such fun, vibrant, well made, well designed tools to play...err work with? The products, according the box my new - and most excellent - 'Heavy Weight' pen came in, are: Dreamt up in New York - Very well made in China for Poppin. I'm a fan.