The Lighthouse

the lighthouse

11 November 2014

Envy : Five Sentence Fiction

From Lillie McFerrin WritesWhat it’s all about: Five Sentence Fiction is about packing a powerful punch in a tiny fist. Each week I will post a one word inspiration, then anyone wishing to participate will write a five sentence story based on the prompt word.
This week’s word: ENVY

Bitterness burned in her throat, searing away any pretense at grief.
"It is what Grandmother wanted," said Elizabeth.
"No, it's what you told her you wanted," retorted Emily. "You always manage to get your way."
As her sister walked away, Elizabeth whispered, "But you got Robert."

05 November 2014

Feeling the weight of the world

I'm sitting in the library. 
I was driven from my home by a limping internet connection, so here I sit, in a slightly drafty corner, looking at the world through the snow-globe windows of my workplace. I had difficulty connecting to the wifi when I first got here, so I was sitting behind the circulation counter at one of the staff desks. I found myself helping patrons at the desk and answering the phone, so back to the corner I went, and here I still am.  Of course now being without the distractions of my kitchen, or the dusting that needs doing, or the novel I'm reading, or the tv show I'm binging on Netflix I must sit here, staring at the screen, very aware of my idle fingers poised over the keyboard. Words feel so very heavy right now.
Instead of the WriMo novel (which is still in an amorphous state) I am trying to write about the abuse of women.  Talk about heavy words. Is it possible to offer useful insight on that subject? How can it be reduced to a bullet list of facts? Are there conclusions to be drawn, or suggestions for solutions?  Anything I manage to put on paper either sounds dreary or far too simplistic, and yet those heavy words are demanding to come out.
My poor country has been battered by shocking events these last few weeks. Somehow being close to home makes them more vivid, more real, than when they happen to someone else. They, too, are feeling heavy.
A construction truck has been idling outside my window for a long time now, rumbling away at a frequency that is now grating on my nerves. I'm also very aware of how hungry I am.  I suppose regardless of how weighty a matter may be, sometimes a time-out and a medicinal dose of chocolate does a world of good. Or just does the world good.

04 November 2014

In which Carmen suddenly sets a trend ta ra ta ta

Sometimes technology is absolutely the Bee's Knees. One example of BK technology is live streaming to movie theatres. Through the magical qualities of cyber space, a person who lives in Sohoe is able to experience opera and ballet from New York, theatre from London - all live - as well as participate in tours of the Vatican, the Hermitage, Victoria and Albert Museum, the Rijksmuseum... actually, the possibilities are limited only by what someone hasn't yet thought of.  For this particular resident of Sohoe, I think it's fabulous.  Fabulous, I say!

This past weekend was the fabulousness of Carmen. It's an interesting opera for many reasons, one of which being that all my life I've been calling her CARmen, but learned on Saturday that opera-types call her carrrrMEN with a very trilled 'r'.  It's a French opera, you see, but it's set in Spain so throw in as much embellishment as you can.  Here are reasons why CarrrrMEN is fabulous:

*Even if you're not a fan of the warbling long notes of opera, CarrrrrMEN's easy because nearly every duet, aria, and overture is featured on "Top Ten Pieces of Music You Always Hear But Never Knew Where They Came From" type albums. I've still got the "ba da ba DA, ba da ba da, ba da-da-da-da-da-da-da. da.da" piece running through my brain. You know the one I mean.

*Bizet, the composer, was a dude well ahead of his time. You think 50s pop blazed new trails with their do-wa-diddies and shoo-doops?  Not a bit of it, for Carmen's best known aria is full of fa la tra las. I figure we can let Bizet off the hook because there were so many notes to write in the score, he must have been exhausted, or ran out of ink, or maybe he meant to come back to that bit and fill in some rhyming words and plum forgot but by opening night it was too late to change it, and that's how we have the Fa la Tra la-ing Carmen of today. (Yes, the libretto is a different beast. I don't let facts ruin a good story.)

*Because it's in French, there are phrases like tout-a-coup. In what other opera are you going to hear that?  It means 'all of a sudden' and we used to practice it in french class by composing sentences of ludicrous scenarios, such as "Tout a coup la salle de bain a explose" which means "Suddenly the bathroom exploded."  That was made up by a boy. When CarrrrMEN sang "tout a coup something something" I had a happy moment of french class memories.

Opera has entered a period of refreshing, whereby the old standards are being re-staged in new productions with new stage design and costumes, so that the Marriage of Figaro your grandmother knew is not the Marriage of Figaro being staged today. A trend I've noticed this year is bare feet, and principal characters laying on the floor. Perhaps this is a money saving approach?  With fewer shoes to buy and less furniture to build, the Met must be saving a fortune!

One of the very fun things about the live streaming is the glimpse we are given into the backstage world of theatre or ballet or opera. It's like we get dvd bonus features with interviews of the performers, designers, conductors, and being able to watch scene changes from behind the curtain.  I love that kind of stuff!

I leave you with these words from the Choeur des gamins in act one:
Ta ra ta ta ta
Ta ra ta ta ra ta ta
Ta ra ta ta ra ta ta ta

29 October 2014

Bits n pieces

Remember remember the start of November.

I like to hijack poetry. And catchy yet ominous phrases about historic events.

November is nigh; it is very very close.  Which means it is nearly time to NaNoWriMo.  I tried it last year but lost track after about a week.  I fell right off the WriMo wagon.  I had hoped to have this year's story all plotted out, but life has been uncooperative what with needing to work and all that nonsense, so no plot.  There is an idea I really like though.  I like the characters and the general arc, but the bits in the middle are as yet unknown to me.  I'm trying to get my other writing commitments polished now so that I can devote November to writing just for me.  I'm telling you about this - making it public - for accountability's sake.  I want to, at the beginning of December, flip through the pages of this new notebook I bought specially, and see very good bones of a promising novel.  A brilliant novella even.

I was overtaken the other day by the realization that I love where I live. For an army brat like me who has more than 25 moves in her past, it is a relief to look up from the packing peanuts to realize I am finally home.

Are blogs over? They were all the rage there for a while and everyone was blogging about absolutely anything. I started out blogging about living with the Peanuts with the occasional nods to political rants, footie, and writing thrown in. I don't really know what the purpose of the Lighthouse is anymore. Sometimes I feel like Kathleen Kelly speaking into the void: there is a need to send words into the ether and am comforted with the thought that maybe somebody, somewhere, is reading them.

Another query: I must find something to read to a grade six class.  Grade six is difficult. They're too bored to be impressed by anything, too cool to express emotions, reactions, or opinions. It has to be sophisticated enough to acknowledge their maturity yet not be too complex (because, sadly, attention span and vocabulary these days... eesh).  What's a librarian to do?  Any suggestions?

I've had mouse issues recently.  I thought I had it licked with a very liberal application of oil of oregano (later followed up with a very liberal application of peppermint oil) but I was wrong.  So I bought a can of crazy foam to seal up where I think the mouse door is, which is the extractor fan hole. Only the hole is very very high, and way deep inside a dark and awkwardly placed cupboard. And I've never used a spray can like that before with the long nozzle thing that has to be aimed every so carefully and the foam that comes out is ugly and VERY sticky.  So let's just say the extractor fan hole is now very full of lumpy guck, some of which may have dripped a bit.

I keep hearing noises in the basement when there shouldn't be anything in the basement to make noises.  Should I be concerned?

Very last thing:  the footie is breaking my heart this year.  I am officially broken-hearted and it might never heal.

27 October 2014

Thank yer

It's a good day when I can insert a You've Got Mail quote into the conversation. Norah, how we miss you!

I worked at Far Public Library this past weekend. (I also work at Lake Town Public Library, which is just at the end of my road).  Far PL is a busy place at the weekend, which is what brought the phrase "Thank yer" to mind. I don't know how many patrons I served, but according to my feet, it was very many.  In the course of those very many customer encounters, I noticed that very many thank yous were exchanged on both sides.  Not just one each per conversation, but several from them and from me. I reckon the phrase must come up at least 120 times in the course of one four hour shift.  We're Canadian, you see, so it can't be helped. I think thank you is hardwired into our brains.

A typical conversation with a patron runs something like this:

Patron: Hello, how are you?
Tess: Hello, I'm ok thanks, how are you?

P: Good, thank you.
T: Glad to hear it. (... waiting for the library card) If I could just have your card please...
P: Oh, right, sorry, here you go.
T: Thank  you!
P: You're welcome.

T: Here you are; your books are due November 17.
P: Thank you!
T: You're very welcome.
P: Have a good afternoon.
T: Thank you very much; you too!
P: Thank you.

That's 6 thank yous, one apology, two you're welcomes in 13 lines of dialogue. If there's an exchange of money when fines or printing or used-book-sale purchases are involved, there are at least 3 more thank yous, and on the occasions when patrons ask for something we cannot provide right then, they still say thank you before walking away. 

I've done that last myself more times than I can count. Say I want to buy peanut butter, so I go to the peanut butter shop. I'll ask a store employee if they have any crunchy peanut butter in stock (because why bother with smooth?) and they might say "No, sorry, we don't carry crunchy peanut butter." To which I'll reply, "Oh, sorry, I thought you were a peanut butter shop, and that peanut butter was your specialty." (as I look around and notice displays of notepaper and household cleaning supplies) (this is no joke: in Canada, you can buy groceries and furniture at what used to be an automotive store, cleaning supplies and jewelry at what used to be an apothecary, and bedding and electronics in what used to be a grocery store.)(Sorry!  Back to the story) "Yeah," she says, "we're not" (because she's only, like, 12, and doesn't understand customer service.) "Ok, well, thanks anyway" and I leave the store, feeling that I really should have apologized for having made such a gaffe.

Thank yer, ladies and gentlemen!

12 October 2014

Happy Thanksgiving, eh

Happy (Canadian) Thanksgiving, one and all.
This holiday often takes me by surprise as I've spent much of my working life in schools. The weeks between Labour Day and Thanksgiving happen so very quickly that I never am properly prepared to deal with turkeys.

I'd like to share one moment with you. It took place while reading The Magician's Nephew to a grade five class.  We came across the detail that Aunt Letitia wears a bonnet. I paused to ask the kids if they knew what a bonnet is. After a few guesses were made, one boy piped up, "It's like a hoody, but without the jacket."

There is much to be thankful for this year. You may or may not know that I have been seeking work since February. Somehow the bills are paid and my belly is full. There are more miracles happening around us than we think - they just happen to deal with the prosaic, the every day things. We're looking for grand events to happen, and so miss God's touch in our lives, or the lives around us - my life being an example. God often works the extraordinary in the ordinary. I've had no lottery winnings, or mystery uncles leaving an inheritance, but there is always just enough for what I need week to week. It comes from part-time and unpredictable work, from a week's pay I forgot I was owed from last spring, from a cheque I wasn't expecting but arrived just in time.

This time of year I'm also always thankful for Autumn, my favourite season of all. I love the cool, crisp air, the turning colours, the changed light, wearing sweaters, roasting vegetables, the smell of wood smoke.

I am thankful for friends near and far, real-life and online. I carry many people in my heart, and am thankful for each of you.

02 October 2014

Hunger: Five Sentence Fiction

This week's prompt from Five Sentence Fiction is:

I am cheating again, this time not in number but rather in form. This is not a story.

The last piece of pie on the counter
A kiss under the old apple tree
A letter from a long lost someone
The sound of baby gurgles
The scent of wood smoke on the chill air
These things make me hunger.

16 September 2014

Waiting leads to Conflict

Five sentence fiction recently gave "Waiting" as a writing prompt. I immediately had a particular scene in mind, but was unable to put it to paper. A week passed and the next prompt came along, being "Conflict". The idea that came to mind was a natural follow-up to the first scene that I wanted to write them as one.  But by now so much time has flown by that I can't bring myself to post the result as an official FSF construction.  And since it isn't official, I'm bending the rules a bit by not counting the sentences exactly.  This is a short description of a scenario we're probably all familiar with.


Ugh; why is waiting so hard?  I chose the express lane (12 items or less, the sign admonishes) thinking it would move much faster than the next one over where a careful husband is handing a month’s worth of soup and cat food one tin at a time to his wife who just as carefully places them on the conveyor belt. I was wrong. I must have been standing here for at least an hour (at least an hour as I’ve wrung all possible entertainment from the gossipy magazine covers, admired the polish on my toes, and practiced counting backwards from one hundred. In German. By twos.) when I come out of the fog of boredom to pick up on an ambience of tension: people in line behind me are grumbling and throwing significant looks at one another. Is there going to be an uprising at the NoFrills?


I lift an expressively puzzled eyebrow at the lady behind me; she in turn nods to the fella taking his turn at the cash. Having sussed out the situation I look back to my informant, mouthing an exaggerated, “Wow!” She plays along with an equally exaggerated and appalled, “Twenty-three!” To which the lady behind her contributes an affronted nod to confirm her awareness of the injustice taking place right in front of us. But other than the cashier casting significant glances at the admonishing sign, we none of us do anything to prevent this blatant flouting of the rules. We are Canadian.  

12 September 2014

The Sound of Moonlight

A writing prompt: What does moonlight sound like?

Moonlight has a gentle voice, soft and hushed as befits its reflected light. It does not shine as brightly as the sun, nor does it sing with such gusto as the sun.

It speaks in whispers, sometimes crisp and clear, and at other times in muted, lamenting tones.

The sound of moonlight is like a brook moving over stones, while the light of the sun thunders over cliffs like a mighty river.

Moonlight reaches through clouds and whispers through leaves. If you listen closely, you can hear memories. 

24 August 2014

In which I have encounters with animals. And racoons.

I've been wanting to write this post for a while now, but it has taken a different turn from the original plan. Back in June while driving home from work along the country lanes I would spot cuteness and sights that compelled me to pull over and marvel. One day it was a mama beaver leading her little ones over the road; on another it was a faun leaping across a lawn. 

While at my mom's in the spring we were visited by turtle. That may not seem remarkable, but her house is two roads away from the pond and up a sloping gravel driveway. We looked out the window while washing up the supper dishes and spotted said turtle behaving strangely very nearly at the peak of the drive. It turned out to be digging a hole in such a remarkable way - scooping one clawful of dirt at a time with one hind leg and dropping it to the side, then using the other leg to do the same.  It laid its eggs, then filled the hole in again and used it's belly and hind legs to smooth the dirt and place the rocks back just so, that by the time she left we couldn't tell where it had happened. Any day now I expect to hear from mom that the eggs have hatched and baby turtles are scattered all up and down the hill. In the meantime, mom has been adopted by a neighbour's cat. The two (mom and Walter, the cat) have become so friendly that mom has bought him treats and he has free run of the house. I now get Walter Update text messages.

I'm not giving more detail on any of those stories because I want instead to tell you about the racoon.
Three years ago I moved to New Town. I lived in a beautiful century home that had been renovated into flats. Mine was on the second floor, which I entered via a charming though rickety iron fire escape. It had tall windows, beautiful moldings, hardwood floor, the tiniest bedroom closet and hot water radiators that never seemed to shut off.  It also had plaster ceilings, the living room one of which had a hole in. The landlord told me it was due to a racoon falling through. He was having a difficult time finding a master plasterer to repair it, so the hole remained while I just pretended it wasn't there.

But now and then, late at night, I'd hear sounds.  To me it sounded exactly like little clawed feet scratching across the hardwood floors, and now and then a subtle noise much like a cat makes when it licks its whiskers.  Now, as I hinted above, my coping mechanism when it comes to unpleasantness is often to pretend it doesn't exist.  This always worked when I babysat as a teen and very unwisely spent the evening watching Nightmare on Elm Street.  As long as I didn't look over my shoulder, there was no way Freddy Krueger was going to get me.  So there I lay in New Town, in the dark, hearing these noises, keeping my eyes tightly closed and my limbs firmly tucked up well within the edges of the bed, pretending there was nothing (ie. racoon) there in the room with me.

Not even I can keep the illusion going for long, however.  One night, I'd had it. I boldly turned on the light and dared whatever it was to come out from its dark corner and face me.  But I couldn't see anything (by 'boldly' I mean I hurriedly reached my arm out and peered quickly over the side of the bed).  I measured the distance to the door, wondering if I dared stop to get my jeans and slippers or if I should make a run for it.  Racoons can move fast, right?

So I did it. I flew into the hallway and slammed the door closed behind me. I found an empty bin and set it on the floor beside me and settled into a chair in the living room, waiting for whatever it was to come out and find me, at which time I would upend the bin over it to confine it.  What I meant to do with it next, I have no idea, but it felt good to have a plan. "Next" was up to the landlord who had left that darned hole in the ceiling.

It may have been hours later, or it could have been a handful of minutes when I admitted to myself I possibly might have been a little foolish. I brought the bin into the bedroom with me and actually managed to sleep a little before the alarm called me into another day.  I can't remember now how long after that I realized what was causing those scratching noises: the side of the building was covered with a beautiful creeping vine. Wind would causes dry branches to scrape along the bricks and the window screen, while the leaves would rub softly on the surfaces.  Once the landlord had pruned the branches back from my bedroom window, I didn't notice those sounds at night anymore.  No more nocturnal visits from the 'racoon'.

Here it is now a year and a half into my time here in Lake Town.  My little flat at the edge of the fields and orchards continues to delight me, and aside from occasional appearances of creepy crawlies I have no complaints (well, to be honest, the kitchen could use a wee bit more storage).  Until, that is, two nights ago.  Once again, I have from time to time been hearing sounds at night, only this time more like little clawed feet catching in the bedroom carpet.  Like before, I pretended there was nothing there, no need to be alarmed, all was fine.  That's what sleep masks are for, right?This happened only two or three times in 18+ months.  Two nights ago I decided once more to be brave and turn on the light to see what I could see. 

And see something I did.  A small something or other moving very quickly out of sight.  Without my glasses on, I could have convinced myself it was really nothing... but a few moments later the curtain jerked and suddenly there was a little brown mouse clinging to it about halfway up, looking at me.  It gave a mighty leap, and I shrieked a little, thinking it meant to leap at me.  Instead it flung itself away. I could hear it continue to scamper about the room, occasionally going at the curtains again. Need I tell you I slept not a wink that night? I couldn't think how to trap it and entreaties certainly were ineffectual.

I laid my case before my landlord and pleaded his help.  He bought some traps, showed me how to arm them, and assured me he would come and empty them should it be needful.  That was a relief, but for the rest of the day I entered each room cautiously, wondering if I would see brown furballs running around. I was out quite late that night, not returning home until nearly two, and sure enough the bedroom trap had a captive.  At that hour I wasn't about to ring up the landlord, but no way was I going to sleep in the room with a corpse!  So I girded my loins and did what every country-dwelling single girl must do: I squinched my eyes shut and quickly scooped the apparatus into a plastic bag and flung it all out the front door. I must say once the shivers of revulsion passed, I felt quite proud of myself and somewhat liberated. I now knew how to set a trap and had proved I could handle the disposal, too.

If only that were the end of the saga.  I'm sorry, dear reader, that it is not.  Today I found evidence of a mousish visit in the kitchen cabinets.  Ugh.  And ick.  So I did what anyone would do: I pretended for a while that I hadn't seen anything.  And then I took to Google, to find out how to keep mice out. (Despite my seeming hardheartedness, I truly would rather just keep them out than kill them.) As always with Google, there is a lot of conflicting advice, but what I came away with was that they don't like strong odours. The most frequent suggestions were peppermint oil, dryer sheets, and cloves.  Having neither peppermint oil nor sufficient quantities of cloves to do the job, I made use of what I had on  hand: oil of oregano.  Oil of oregano is a very potent herbal concoction for the use of easing sore throats with a tremendously strong scent - so much so that when I use it, I must rinse and soak the glass specially after, otherwise it lingers and taints whatever I have next in that glass.

While I may initially prefer to ignore unpleasantness, once I decide to do something about it, I tend to really do something about it. I washed the cupboard shelves down with a strong solution of water and vinegar, then practically covered them with dryer sheets. Next, I doused cotton balls with the oil of oregano and tossed them liberally throughout.. I may have gone overboard.  Now the kitchen smells medicinal - reminiscent of a Victorian sick room, perhaps.  I only hope that this mad scheme works, because I can't think what to do next.  I shudder at the idea of a mouse crawling over my packets of tea and tins of soup or curling up in the mixing bowls. 

That was now two hours ago.  I'm reluctant to go back into the kitchen in case there should be further signs of occupation.  If there is, I just may have to concede and move out.

19 August 2014

In which I am sine loco

There is a set formula to provide information about books - actually all materials, real or insubstantial - in libraries.  Author -- Title -- Publication information - Physical description - Notes - Subject - Additional authors, bodies of responsibility etc.  When the place, name of publisher, and date of publication are unknown, what is given in the catalogue record is [s.l. ; s.n., s.d.]  which are abbreviations for the Latin terms meaning: We haven't got a clue. Cataloguers used to be big on Latin terms. And German.  And abbreviations.  But we're in the modern age now, in which text language has reduced English to unintelligible babble unsuitable for deep thought and grand ideas - so libraries now use up the left over vowels and consonants to spell everything out. In plain old English.  So long tradition!  Farewell custom! Goodbye romance and mystery.

I do apologize! This was not meant to be a diatribe on the languishing of language or the demise of bibliographic tradition. I shall now return to the point, which is this:

Today, I found myself [s.l.].  I was sine loco - place unknown.  It is a common occurrence among those of us who suffer from itchy feet.  Itchy feet result from being a rolling stone, a person who moves house with regularity and frequency.

What often happens is this:
I'll be driving along somewhere, and be struck with the thought: "Whoa!  This looks just like the ferry landing at Upper Gagetown!" But I'm really thousands of miles away from there.

Or, "I'd like some of that nice prosciutto. I'll just pop out to Nicastro's." But Nicastro's is in Ottawa and I haven't lived there in years. Or I think about the second-run theatre somewhere else, or the campground in the other place... none of them anywhere near where I am now.

I'll try to give directions using street names of a different town I used to live in.

Sometimes I'll just plain forget where I am. I know who I am and how to get home and all of that... I just forget that I no longer live there, that I live here now.

I've shopped in chain stores with whom I have a loyalty account. When they try to find me in their records, the address and phone number are from 10 years ago. I've had six different address since then.

So today it didn't surprise me when, driving along a road I frequently travel, I saw a convoy of military vehicles. There are no bases here. I haven't seen olive drab in years, and yet seeing them go by gave me a thrill of homecoming. It seemed so right, so natural to have them zipping along the road - until the confusion set in. Wait a second!  There's no military presence around Lake Town! Hold on now, am I in Lake Town? I had to remind myself of where I live. It all happens very quickly - fractions of seconds - but it is disorienting enough to linger for a while after.

My name is Tess.  I live at the Lighthouse.  I am home.

16 August 2014

Let's get critical

I don't really mean the title; Olivia Newton-John jumped into my brain and that's what came of it.  I've come across some amusing literary critiques lately, and thought to share.  I'd like to have the pith, the wit, and the humour of these critics:

From the movie Epic.  One of the snails says to the bad guy: "Your stories are boring and torturous!"

From the movie Hitchcock. The man himself animadverts the bulk of the publishing industry, saying they produce, "Sleeping pills with dust jackets."  (I do not know if he ever said such a thing in real life, but as a quote, I like it.)

Dave Barry on Fifty shades of grey: "If Jane Austen came back to life and read this book, she would kill herself."
In describing the main character "you, the reader, find yourself wishing that you still smoked so you would have a cigarette lighter handy and thus could set fire to certain pages, especially the ones where Antastasia is telling you about her 'inner goddess'..."
Describing the plodding, cyclical nature of the plot, in which the characters act, then talk, then act, then talk "and so on for several hundred word-filled pages."
There are two more books in the series, Barry writes, "Fifty shades darker and The third fifty shades book that was required to make it a trilogy. I assume these books bring these two lovebirds back together [...] I don't know because I haven't read them, although I fully intend to do so in the future if the only alternative is crucifixion."  Then he describes it as badly written and unrealistic.  But he did so with great humour.  I'm such a big fan of his writing.

Not funny ha-ha, but funny what-a-coincidence, was this comment on the website Bookriot about a book that was recommended to the reviewer despite "some major editing issues (the funniest error was a reference to Janie's 'parental grandmother'...)"  Ha!  Bad editor strikes again.

It can be difficult to balance being kind with being honest, I know. When in doubt, go for humour.

14 August 2014

In which I attempt to mend my ways (kitchen version)

It is no secret to readers here, or people in my real life, that I am not brilliant in the area of cookery. If food preparation requires judicious application of heat and delicate additions of spices, tender nurturing of sauces and the caramelization of anything, I am probably not the girl for the job. (See this story for evidence thereof.)

I have written about my culinary woes before, I know. However I've been making an effort of late, and wish to submit a progress report. What with the lack of employment situation I find myself in, and the general malaise that has descended upon me these last two months or so (do I meant malaise? A general lack of gumption, wherewithal, give-a-darn-ness is what I've got) this little flame of a desire to attempt and even master a few kitchen standards is becoming my raison d'etre.  (Yes, I'm aware that gnocchi should never mean that much to anyone, but what's a cataloguer without a catalogue to do?)

The dream version of me would be able to confidently whip up a brilliant, shiny pavlova (don't ask me why; I've never had it and am generally not fond of meringues or even marshmallows), produce perfect pies, create stunning terrines, roll out rustic pizzas, and know just what was needed to tweak the salad dressing.

I think somewhere deep inside me lies the ability to do all these things.  Cookery is alchemy, isn't it, so hypothetically following the prescribed steps should produce adequate results at the very least.  What recipes always fail to mention, however, is that one should not decide to sort the recycling or finally write that email while the hollandaise goes through its delicate transformation on the stovetop. If one puts an egg on to poach and then walks away looking for the notebook that  contains a scribble about a book from four years ago, one's egg is likely to end up very very cooked. Whacking the rice on a high heat thinking that will speed the process bypasses the very important step of the rice softening whilst it absorbs all that water one so carefully added to the pot.

These are a few of the lessons I have learned over the years.  I hope you may learn from my mistakes.

Anyway.  What has been attempted thus far are these:
Pavlova (fail. What resulted was a flat, sugary cookie.  How odd.)
Gooseberry Pie (my first ever good pie crust. But who knew gooseberries were so sour and would need approximately 72 times more sugar than I used?)
Gnocchi (so good!)
Lamb Terrine (the cooking of was successful.  However, the layer of boiled eggs and raw leek was random, but I'm laying that at the door of the recipe writer)
Pizza (several attempts have been made, and this very night I finally achieved pizza dough success! It rose beautifully, and seemed almost a living thing in my hands. More salt required for flavour, but I'm claiming this as a victory)
Balsamic roast beef (was ok.  I still have yet to cook beef of any variety really well, and I find myself longing for a luscious steak. I am determined to cook it myself.)

Have you noticed that blogs (of the personal journal or clever commentary sort) are full of stories from people who have it all figured out?  "How I learned to organize my house in ten easy steps" or a photo montage of how they managed to turn place mats from the dollar store into a sweet little summer dress. All very inspiring, to be sure. 

I've just done the same thing just now, showing you a list of the six most impressive-sounding dishes  attempted in past weeks, bypassing altogether the details of trying to scoop baking soda out of the dry ingredients because it was meant to be baking powder, egg whites being flung all over the back splash by the blender, pots falling off the stove sending peas everywhere (don't ask) and 'dough' that should instead have been called 'concrete'. Also meals that fell flat after careful preparation because I was too timid with the salt.  Always season well, people!  Your palate will thank you.

What it comes down to is this: culinary brag-list aside, I want to be a good steward. I know I needn't produce gustatory marvels, but I want to treat the food I buy well. I'm trying to be more prudent with what I buy and how I spend when I go marketing. I have tended to buy too much, and then spoil what I do use with inattentiveness while cooking. I want to enjoy the results of my efforts, not regret the money I've spent because I've spoiled another meal or let the ingredients go off.  I'll probably never make a mean risotto, but maybe I can mend my careless ways.

10 August 2014

Watching the magic

Do you have a favourite time of day?  I like that quiet hour before the sun sets, the sigh at the end of a long day.

I sit at the kitchen table for it is here I can watch the shadows lengthen and the sky begin its slide through the colours of dusk.

Much like a British accent lending words greater veracity, thoughts composed at this point of the day seem to have more profound depth.

Sitting here in the gloaming, I feel wise and creative, as though I could out-Donne the man himself. I am certain that Middle Earth was conceived in the quiet reflection of evening, not the expectant demand of morning.

But now the light grows too dim to see my pen scrawl across the page, and this candle flickers too much for helpfulness. I am reluctant to turn on lights for they erect a barrier between me and the gentle magic passing by my window.

09 August 2014

The expressiveness of feet

Little Five has very telling feet. They are barometers of how he is feeling, how intensely he is thinking, and - if he likes his food - how much he likes his food.  Littleness is gradually fading from him. Childish ways of speaking are easing into big boy awareness, and the squishable plumpness of wee ones is disappearing into length of limb and broad straightness of shoulder. But his feet remain as wiggly and expressive as ever.

When he sits with a book (or sits on you while you read him a book) his toes take turns laying on top of each other in a slowly waving ballet, like seaweed in the current. If he eats something particularly pleasing to him, the feet move faster, often taking lower legs with them as they swing and kick and the toes flex.  It seems that his feet must be always in motion, whether taking his body at high speed all over his world, or moving in time with his thoughts as he ‘sits quietly’ in a chair.

It was a sad milestone when he grew out of little socks. Now even his shoes look like smaller versions of the ones worn by his bothers – the shapelessness of wee children’s shoes is gone. What is it about a child’s foot that makes us feel tender, even protective?  How is it that ten little toes can be so expressive? Isn’t it remarkable that a foot can evoke vulnerability and sturdiness all at the same time?
Like the purr of a cat, his feet are a comfort because they offer reassurance of his contentment. All is right with his world and his feet tell us so.
(CKTS: Foot edition:
When he is barefoot, he says, "I am in my feet" like we'd say, "I'm in my shoes".  It makes perfect sense, doesn't it?  Once he discovered the fluff between his toes is called toe jam, he took to a regular cleaning regimen and calls it "jamming my toes".  )

05 August 2014

Of bones in the garden

This fragment is the result of a writing prompt shared by a friend on social networking via Writers Write which was to tell a story about the bones you found in the garden.
Thank you, Nancy!

We were five and seven, Tommy and me. He being two years older made him the ringleader, always being the one with plans for a caper or adventure or game. Of course, more often than not it landed us in a scrape, but it was always great fun and made us popular with the other kids, so a little trouble from Pa was not enough to stop us.

The Summer of the Bones was a particularly good one. We’d decided our garden had once belonged to a recluse of the sort Hitchcock would have been familiar with. We were sure he had buried the bodies of his victims in the back garden as it had such a usefully high fence to hide the evidence of his crimes. Mother was not pleased with the holes that kept appearing amidst the zinnias and runner beans, but we told her we were hunting for Indian arrow heads which calmed her down as she believed most passionately in the pursuit of scholarship.

We found the skeletons of a squirrel and a couple of birds and a whole heap of fish heads. We talked them up as being dinosaur fossils, but we all knew our bones were much more domestic than that.

Until that day, that is, the day we dug under the old willow in the back corner. There, under the drooping tent of branches we dug deeper than we’d ever dug before and found honest to goodness, result of a crime bones.

30 July 2014

What I can hear

What I can hear right now:

It is 8.35 on a Wednesday night. I am visiting mom, and she is in the living room watching someone decide to purchase one expensive home over another. I sit in the kitchen where the refrigerator just announced the end of its cycle with a click and a thump.

The clock that has been the background rhythm keeper in the soundtrack of my life tick tocks with resonance and familiarity in the hallway. Nearer to me in a syncopated beat is the kitchen clock. The two together sound like: tick thuck tock thuck tick thuck tock thuck. Through the open windows and stretching out to the distance are crickets scratching their chirruping melody on hind legs. A little further away and perched on a roof corner somewhere is a pair of mourning doves trading their tender woo-hoo hoo's.

I can hear the indistinct sound of a man's voice but I cannot distinguish words or hear who he is talking to. His voice and steady and unchanging so he isn't sharing exciting news. The fact I cannot tell what he is saying makes him feel like company without the demands for attention.

Somewhere over there a dog barks but it is a muffled sound, so I picture him on a leash behind some trees in a backyard, far away from this house. Even further, in the most distant layer of sound is the shushing roll of far-off tires and cars that never draw closer. I wonder about the people in those cars - where they're going and what they're thinking about.

Every now and then comes the gentle brush of wind through the tall grass. I look out of the windows and see how still the trees are - the leaves are not dancing tonight.

Even on a summer's evening, life slows down and gradually withdraws from the activity of the day. It is replete. It is done.
Good night.

11 July 2014

In which I ask a question

Where are the editors?

It used to be unusual to find typos (a technical term for spelling mistakes) in a published book. It used to be that once a book reached the shelf-in-a-bookstore stage, it had been vetted and perfected in style and substance.
Not so today.  Today it could be a fun, bookish (yes, it is possible to partner those two terms) drinking game: spot the errors.  One shot of whatever's going - Lady Grey Tea if that's your thing - for every abused apostrophe, forgotten comma, plot hole, and instance of mangled grammar.
Sadly, episodes of egregious editing are not limited to an excusable one now and then, but are populating books by the handfuls, scattered like seeds between the covers of a single book.  It's sad!
(A good editor would rebuke me and reign in my runaway alliteration)
The book I am currently reading - half-heartedly - is an example: The Beekeeper's Ball by Susan Wiggs. I've not read anything by her before, but it tempted me as it sat in the new book display at the library when I returned what was a really good read, The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris. I wanted another delightfully light but satisfying book and thought this would hit the spot.  It's about a beekeeper, or so you would think. It promised to tell about a cookery school in the Napa Valley surrounded by orchards and gardens and beehives, with a dash of romance thrown in. I was up for that.
Instead, the story is skimming over those elements, focusing more on another character's backstory about being a resistance fighter in Copenhagen during WWII. There are so many secondary characters involved in the plot but who are not actually present during the events of this book that a big chunk of the story falls flat through lack of their support. The author focuses on some minute details while conflictingly overlooking others: for example, Isabel (owner of cookery school) and her beekeeper (who is pregnant) are folding laundry one morning (details about this being a new, industrially fitted-out facility are provided). Isabel talks the girl into visiting the doctor for a prenatal checkup, then they go to see an adoption counselor. When they return, Isabel's sister is in the renovated barn with her mother and grandmother (neither of whom are related to Isabel - it's a complicated family) discussing plans for the sister's wedding. After a brief conversation, Isabel goes to the kitchen to prepare supper by drizzling cheese with honey (the book is chock full of honey recipes and every mention of food involves honey). Then - and this is the bit that got me - she stirs a sauce for the roast pork!  Grand.  I have no objection to either the sauce or the pork. I'm glad to know they are there, as Isabel is meant to be a good cook, what with the immanent cookery school and all, but if you're going to account for every moment of her day, you can't have her suddenly pulling out a roast pork to follow the cheese she just drizzled with the ever present honey!
The pregnant beekeeper was hired just a few days ago, and yet talks about making changes to the hives as she'd planned a month ago.
Isabel is described as being shy and uncertain, over-protected by her grandmother, and yet she's charging ahead making bold decisions and organizing everyone's life.
The cooking school is supposed to be a risky endeavor, a last shot sort of deal to save the estate, yet she decides on a whim to have a big swimming pool installed amidst all the other renovations.
She has an unhappy romantic past involving a traumatic assault and admits to another character that she's had no significant relationships. She meets a man at the beginning of this story, and not a handful of days later she goes skinny dipping with him.  This of course is the shy and uncertain lady mentioned above. He is crude and talks constantly about how he wants to go to bed with her - totally out of keeping with the tone of the rest of the book.
The grandfather's story about his boyhood in Denmark is told in snatches as flashbacks so his and Isabel's plot interrupt each other.  Sometimes this device works, and sometimes it doesn't.  Sometimes the reader takes a shine to one character over another and then might be tempted to skip the other bits. Two interwoven stories don't always enhance each other. It didn't work for me in this case.
This is part of a series that I'm sure tells each character's stories in turn, so that as a whole we have a complete picture of the family, but as a one-off I'm finding it weak. I think the weaknesses could have been fixed by a good editor.

03 July 2014

To dazzle in five sentences

Five sentences inspired by a challenge over at Lillie McFerrin Writes. I gave myself a 30 minute time limit at which point I had to just let it be what it was.

The prompt was: dazzles.
This is the result.

Was it inevitable that hearing a thing often enough would make it true?  They'd told him so often to not have unreasonable hope, to lower his expectations, and he wondered if their own doubt was strong enough to ruin the admittedly slender chance he had. He'd lain in this hospital bed for what might have been a lifetime; his fingertips had memorized every tuck and fold of the bandages and he spent his days remembering what the light looked like that he now could only feel warming his face.

At last, fingers other than his own moved softly over the wrappings and he could feel the gauze loosening from over his ears and across his eyes; every sound in the room hushed, receding from his awareness as his eyelids flickered open for the first time in nearly a year. At first he feared they had been quite right, that the procedure to restore his sight hadn't worked; but then, exultant and grateful, he realized the dazzling striations he was seeing were not the result of diminishing vision he had become so used to, but rather bursts of sunlight shining through the lingering raindrops on the window, glittering and dancing, bringing tears to his eyes with its welcome brightness.

01 July 2014

A little July, a little CTKS

Hello dear Reader,  happy Canada Day to you.

It is officially July. I am appalled when I open my Blogger dashboard and discover it has been well over a month since the last time I wrote anything here - and it fact it has been much longer than that since I've written anything of note.

Well, you see, the World Cup is on.

"Tess," you're thinking, "the tournament has only been going for just over two weeks, so that's not a good excuse."
Scary, isn't it, that I can read your thoughts? You are quite right: it is a weak, pitiful excuse without foundation or teeth.

I have a plan which is to write every day of this month.  I have very loosely plotted a story, though it's not as developed as I'd hoped.

I have another cunning plan to start freelancing as an editor/proof reader. Do any of you do freelance work?  I'd like to talk to someone who has experience and advice.

Meanwhile, I will leave you with these Cute Things Kids Say, all with thanks to Number Five Nephew:

A video montage of his kindergarten class asked the students what they'd like to be when they grow up. Most of the answers were Police officer, Veterinarian, Ballet Dancer.  What did Five answer?  "Myself."

When the family was speculating why that particular fan movement of rising and siting in a rolling progress around a stadium is called "The Mexican Wave", Five piped in with, "Well, because they're Mexican, why do you suppose?"

Called away for some reason from snuggling with me, Five turned back in the doorway to tell me, "I'm not done sitting on you yet."

I want to eat him up.

03 June 2014

Of birds and leaves

Do you have a list of things about yourself you'd like to one day improve, overhaul, or change entirely?  Maybe we all do, and not out of a sense of failure or self-loathing, but because we're meant to grow, to learn, to improve, to move forward - even if the moving forward is in more of a circular direction.

That sounds very deep, and while there certainly are substantial things about myself I'd like to change, the improvement on my mind causing this mullitativeness (hey, if everyone else can make up words, I want in on the game) is that of nature knowledge. I'd like to be more of an outdoorsman (to me, inclusive language means that every person is included in the use of 'man' and 'men'). I like to be outdoors but know very little about it other than that I prefer creepy crawlies to be far away from me. Except the cute ones, like snails and caterpillars.

Three birds were just peering at me in that head-tilted way they have. Two were hopping in the lawn beyond my kitchen door, and one sat rather plumply in the branches of the ornamental tree outside the window in which sits the desk I write at.  One of the lawn hoppers was, I'm almost sure, a robin (it had a red breast) and the other looked to be a crow - unless it was a raven or a grackle.  I used to think I was safe on that one until my sister's father-in-law grilled me as to whether we had true crows here because ravens and grackles were often mistaken for them. As for Aves Plumptious, it had a pretty spotted vest, and moved slowly like a statesman. In fact, though he reminded me of my cat (who was also plump, but incredibly sweet and affectionate), I'm going to name it Winston. Or Chesterton, for he too was plump but not nearly as stuffy.

In any case, I'd like to know what sort of bird he is, and the name of the tree in which he sat.  I've got various pretty growing things in pots on my front steps, and I think I know only half of them - the other half came with long Latin names.  My dad, being army knew a great deal about wilderness survival. He endured being dropped into the Arctic tundra and fending for himself with nothing but a small pack to keep him alive. I don't anticipate having to forage in the tundra but it would be a comfort to know that if Sobeys ran out of produce I'd be ok.

It would also be nice to know the name of the bird glaring at me as I water the leafy green thing.

30 May 2014

To sleep, perchance to dream

I woke up hung over this morning.  It's ok though, 'cause I was hungover on sleep. Don't fret for me, dear Reader, I haven't yet reached the stage of drunken stupors.

Those first few moments of wakefulness were confused and disoriented (please note: not disorientated!) because on pushing back the sleep mask the sun was so bright for seven ay em, my reluctant-to-open eyes promptly squeezed up in defense. I was also confused about why I was still in bed. I think that when you wake up in the normal way, you travel gently through several states of wakefulness - some of them experienced after the eyes have opened. For some people, true wakefulness doesn't happen for hours, or until after the first cuppa coffee.

I think I jumped clear over those gentle stages and went from comatose to conscious between one breath and the next. So, when I reached for my phone/clock and peeled open an eyelid I was shocked to see it was not seven o'clock, but ten! Shocked, but I have to say also ecstatic.  My inner little girl was wiggling with delight and fist pumping to a refrain of, "Yes!  I slept!" It felt so good I had to share it with somebody, and at eleven o'clock on a Friday morning, you're all I've got.

I also woke up hungry - so hungry that every time I moved, my stomach would growl. It became a continuous rumble, increasing in volume when I stooped in front of the fridge, and again when I bent for a pan from the cupboard. I wonder, if I practice often enough, would I be able to work in some modulation of tone so I could perform a musical number before breakfast?

Anyway. The clock is creeping into laggard territory so I'd best get on with things. So much to do with little time to do it, you know. I hope the sun is shining where you are today.

21 May 2014

Take two

Well, here I go again.
The cataloguing job came to an abrupt end on Friday morning when I was called into my manager's office and told that as of that moment I was no longer needed.

If I wanted to, I could work up a good head of anger at how they handled proceedings right from the interview stage, but frankly, I mostly feel relief to not be there any longer. I am grateful for what I learned - including important questions to ask during the interview - particularly new cataloguing conventions. I won't miss the highway in the morning, or the continual pep talk I had to give myself (only six hours to go, you can do it!). It wasn't a good fit, they and I, so hoorah for early dismissal!  I tell you though, temp workers and casual staff really do get the short end of the stick. Though policies dealing with their employment may be legal, they aren't terribly ethical or humane.  Shame on us for treating people like that!

Anyway.  I've been brimming with ideas and enthusiasm and determination for how I'm going to fill my time until the next job comes along.  It's taken me this many days to get my head on straight, though, and for the giddiness to subside.  I'm excited to see what comes along the pike next, and have just this moment sent out the first resume.  Wait and see.

Looming large on the immediate horizon is The Arrival of Mom.  I love having my mom come to visit as we always have a delightful time. What makes her arrival 'loom' is what I put myself through in advance:  what to cook?  (gak!)  must clean! what activities to arrange?  Also - and this will probably help  you to realize I am indeed a nutter - I prepare a mental list of things to talk about.  I'm a quiet sort of person. It's not natural for me to vocalize my thoughts. I know my dad was the same way because when we were together, I just knew he'd been saving up some news or funny thoughts or observations... and then we'd be silent. I had a definite sense he thought to himself, "ok, conversation... check." and be completely fine there was nothing else to say. On the phone he would actually say it outloud, "Well, that's all for me." and we'd hang up.  My mom and sister are chatters, however.  I find it hard to keep up, so I have to be prepared before I see them, both in stamina and material.  Mom isn't just popping in for tea, though; she'll be here for days. That's a lot of chatting.

I hope you're well, dear reader.

13 May 2014


Some writers know the whole of what they're going to write before they take pen in hand (or set fingertips to keys). Some work it out like a schematic, breaking down every beat of the story - or article - and attach words to that structure.  I find these different approaches very fascinating. I'm sure that a correlation can be found between approach to writing and personality types.

Of course that might be a psychobabbling sort of excuse or justification for the fact that for the past week I've been trying to plot out a story and have got exactly nowhere with it. When I look at my Myers-Briggs personality type (INFJ) it is quite clear that story plotting is impossible. It just isn't in my toolkit. So I've decided to not get twisted up about it and instead let my brain work the way it works.

When an idea takes up residence in my mind, it isn't a linear story or even a concept. Instead what I have is an impression, a feeling, or a mood. My imagination is set off by a scene or a bit of dialogue. They often linger in the back of my mind or lie buried and forgotten in notebooks until a way forward is discovered, to build on them, or stretch them, or slot them in, to a bigger, fuller, idea.

For example:
Last week, while at work with my mind occupied at cataloguing a book, this phrase popped out of thing air,
"I make my father's gestures with my mother's hands."

I don't know what that is. Will it become a line in a story, part of  reflection, or an element of a poem?

It lingers in my mind, though, like the scent of a candle after it's been blown out.  It just might turn up here again, in some form.

Meanwhile, I'm working on the idea of Fragments - a story told in pieces rather than a whole.  Do you think that works?

08 May 2014

In which I become foolish about a snail.

I just know I'm going to feel foolish telling you this story, but tell it I will.

I met a snail today.

He was an ordinary garden variety snail.  Only the other day I saw one just like him climbing his way up the door frame of the lunchroom door at work. But my new friend was near the wilderness I like to walk to during my break. Not in the grass, though, like you'd expect, nor even in the gravelly bits at the side of the road. He was actually on the road, intrepidly inching his way to the other side (perhaps he once heard a song by the Red Hot Chili Peppers and decided to see what the other side is all about.)

When I happened upon him, he was maybe a foot from the departing edge of the road. I don't know how long he'd been at it, or where he started from. Just in that spot is a wee thicket, including what I think is going to turn out to be a glorious lilac bush, with a slight boggy quality to it.  That seems to be a happy sort of place for a snail to live, don't you think?  In the direction he was heading are warehouses and corporate offices... and a go-cart track  (come to think of it, that might be where he was headed. He might have decided to see what life is like in the fast lane) (but that is very far away... probably a solid eight month journey in snail time)

I was so struck by the adventuring spirit of this little snail.  Oh, I know I was anthropomorphizing like crazy. Is it possible for snails to be brave?  Can they deliberately set out on adventures?  The stories I read as a child were full of such tales. I loved them, but my grownup self knows those things don't happen.  Still and all, there I was on my morning break from cataloguing watching this little snail ... I was going to say 'inch' but it was more like 'millimeter' ... his way forward.  That happens to be a fairly quiet road, only travelled by people who work on that dead-end street, and eager go-carters.  But there are also big delivery trucks, and most drivers go quickly. Certainly they aren't watching for random snails in the road.

I was worried for him, my new friend, but also cheering him on. It was like England in the World Cup: you know there's no chance they'll make it, but you can't help rooting for them anyway.  When one car careened around the corner I was so tempted to step into the road with my hand up, authoritatively, to flag them down so I could explain the situation, and suggest they keep to the other lane.

Yes, that last paragraph is the one with the foolish in it.

I deliberated as to whether I should pick him up and carry him to the other side, or if, like in Star Trek, I should stick to a Prime Directive of non-interference, leaving my little be-shelled friend to his own destiny. I stood there for some time, wavering back and forth.

I know.  Über foolish.

In the end I carried on with my walk.  I was heartily glad to see he was still there on my way back, but deliberately did not go back to that spot for the rest of the day.  Even if he made it across, two large Canada Geese had taken up residence in the big field near to where he was heading, so it didn't look good for him whether he crossed the road or not.

Poor little snail.

06 May 2014

A happy dance

How're you going?

I am doing a little wiggly dance of happiness because -   ba-da-da-da  - (bright, happy, announcey trumpet sounds)  MasterChef Australia 2014 has begun.

I reckon (see, it's already rubbing off on me) that I'm drawn to cookery shows because in my secret heart I'd like to be able to do what I see them do. I'd love to look at a random assortment of ingredients and turn them, presto! into a delicious dish. I'd love to know how to fix a dish that went wrong. I'd love the opportunity to learn from accomplished and generous chefs like they have on the show.  I'm inspired every time I watch it to bring food back to basics: keep it fresh and simple.

So says the girl who had a banana and peanut butter for supper.

How do people do it?  How do you go to work for a full day's slog, then come home after to prepare a toothsome, wholesome meal?  My friend Sarah finds it relaxing and inspiring. It satisfies her creative spark, I think.  I see that spark in the contestants as they tackle these impossible seeming challenges and learn not only about food, but about themselves in the process.  It's lovely and uplifting and entertaining and even educational.  I'm so looking forward to these next weeks.

Excuse me now, won't you?  I'm going to attempt something inspired with leftover rice.

04 May 2014

Borrowed glamour

There is a game I like to play when I visit the coffee shop inspired by a book about a whale. It used to be when your complicated beverage of choice was ready, they would call out what it was, like this:

"Venti decaf double shot skinny mocha frappuccino" and you'd do the walk of shame up to the counter under the assessing gaze of the serious coffee drinkers who wouldn't touch your decaf skinniness with a 10 foot stir stick, double shots or not.

Lately, however, they have taken up the practice of asking for  your name, which they would scrawl on the side of your cup. It can't be for the merciful purposes of cutting down on the  chagrin we non-straight-up-coffee-drinkers experience, because now they call out the drink and your name. So you're left walking around with the evidence of double whip and caramel sauce around the lip of your plastic cup and your name in bold letters for all to see.  Do people whisper, "Ah... now see, there's a Tess. I just knew someone named Tess would drink something with caramel sauce."

So I like to give a fake name according to the mood of the day.  If I'm feeling poetical and Parisian as if I'm hiding a black turtle neck and beret under my ordinary fleece jacket, I'll use Justine.  On deeply serious days I could be Clare.  When I feel mysterious or glamorous, I like to be Vivienne.

The thing is, one must remember the name one has used when giving one's drink order.

 More than once I've had to apologize for staring at the barista while she's clearly waiting for me (Mabel or Jessica) to step forward and collect my order.

I paid a visit to said whale-story-inspired coffee shop this weekend. I was Vivienne.  The girl behind the counter looked at me for half a beat before she wrote the name down, and I felt my heart speed up a bit. I was sure she was going to tell me there was no way I was a Vivienne. I was sure she was going to call me on it.  And in a way she did, because when I picked up my cup, in bold letters down the side, it read Vivian.

O, the power of a misspelled name to shatter the illusion of borrowed glamour.


03 May 2014

Of leftovers and gauntlets

Shh... I'm watching the game. But I need something to distract me else I'll chew every last fingernail or scrub the enamel clean off the tub. I usually pace, but that's not doing the trick today.

Here are a few leftovers that didn't find their way onto the page this week.  Not because they aren't worthy little pieces, but because I plumb forgot them:

Did you know that areas of the rainforest in Washington State receive SIX FEET of rain a year? Awesome.

(second half just beginning. United are down 1-0. Very nervewracking.)

Librarians reverse names.  It works like this: when I write a book, it will be called
Of Something Wonderful   
Stories in Fragments 
By Tess Lighthouse.

A librarian sees that book thusly:

100 10  $aLighthouse, Tess.
245 00 $aOf something wonderful :$bstories in fragments/$cby Tess Lighthouse.

You see how that worked?  The first line which gives author information reverses first and last names, while in the title area, my name is given straight on.  Also, librarians are choosey about capitalization.

Now and then I come across a name that makes me giggle. (I make no pretensions of maturity) Some are funny because, well, they could go either way. Names like Robert Michael, or Scott Jack.  Some are funny because, well, they just are.  For example, Mr. Rupert The, who would become The Rupert.  That's worth a giggle, isn't it?  My all-time favourite library name, though, comes by way of the great cellist, Yo-Yo Ma, whose name in library catalogues becomes Ma Yo-Yo.  I can hear young children arguing - "It's ma yo yo!"  "Is not, it's ma yo yo!" That delights my inner child no end.

Also at work this week, I cried three times.  Once was listening to Someone like you, by Adele. I've heard it countless times, but that day it sunk deep into my hormones and had me sniffling into a hanky. (Hanky sounds nicer than Kleenex)  A second time was looking through a book about fathers of sick children, and the third was while roughing out a post for another blog I write for. I think it's good that readers don't see the rough drafts of finished pieces. Tear splotches and coffee stains and crossed out lines would, I fear, tarnish the fantasy that writers are able to pull complete manuscripts out of the ether of their imagination.

Cooking the Pantry update.
It took me all week to finish the Hint O'Chicken Casserole. I must try to think of something interesting to do with the Asian style frozen veggie mix I seem to keep buying, though I never like them once they're cooked as they turn out limp and damp no matter how I prepare them.  Ideas greatly appreciated.

(United lost the match.  Heart is broken for Giggs.)

Have you ever podcasted?  I'm thinking of trying my hand at a podcast.

And now for the gauntlet:
To any of you writers out there, I think it would be fun to attempt a real-time writing challenge together.  We'd select a set time to meet online, we'd be given a challenge - a word or theme or style - a deadline, and then regroup after to share the results.  What say you?

01 May 2014

What to do about the PAB

I'm suffering from Post-Alphabetic-Blues.

You know, dear Reader, if you've been around here lately, that there has been much more writing going on than there has been for nigh on a year.  I wasn't sure that I'd be able to write something every day, most especially because I had to work my way along the alphabet, which seemed impossibly restrictive and bossy at the outset.  But what a rush it turned out to be!  Particularly now that it's over.  I've so enjoyed having ideas for what to write ticking over in the back of my mind all day long, and looked forward to getting home to give solid shape to those amorphous thoughts.

What to do now?

I could keep on trying to write something every day, but I'm feeling a yen (in the craving sense, not the currency sense) (though currency would work because it represents a means to obtain a wanted or needed good or service) (in this particular case the yen is a desire, and the desire could result in productivity, a greatly wanted good) Anyway. What I'm trying to say, in this annoyingly parenthetical way, is that this month of writing every day didn't have the pressure of an end objective like the NaNoWriMo write-an-entire-by-golly-novel-in-one-holy cow-month challenge. So this bite-sized approach was good.  But I also like the idea of having a finished something at the end of it all.  I'd really like to have a finished something.  The thing is... I don't know what my kind of writing thing is.

Again with the anyway.  I'm going to figure out how to channel this yen in order to counter the post-alphabet-blues.  Thoughts, comments, encouragement deeply appreciated!

30 April 2014

A little z

Poor Little Z. He always found himself in situations of having to explain his name. People always got it wrong, whether he was signing up for soccer, or at the Doctor’s office for a checkup, they would say it wrong or spell it wrong.  He would sigh inside and use the same words every time to correct them. It made him feel like a parrot.


It was especially bad at school when there was a substitute teacher. She would call out for “Little Zee” and he would have to explain that his name wasn’t Zee.


“My name is Zed,” he’d say.

“But it looks like Zee, “she would say.

“I know,” he would sympathize, “but it really is Zed.”

“It ought to rhyme with C and D, and T and V,” she’d insist.

“The rules about rhyming must be different where I come from.” said Little Z sadly.

“Rules are different for me, too” piped in Little U.

“Nobody ever hears me when I’m up front,” a shy K said for the second time.

“People always think I’m you,” grumbled C, “they put us together all the time.”

“I don’t get to do anything.” This from poor old Q who often was without a partner for cooperative activities.

“Now class!” said teacher, clapping her hands together to remind them all where they were and who she was. “It’s time for gym. I’ll just ask Little Zee to show us the way…”


Poor Little Z just sighed inside and moved to the front of the line.

29 April 2014

You must

... do yourself a favour and visit these very talented people:

Cardboard boxoffice: a mom, a dad, a baby, and a bear recreate scenes from movies using things found around the home, and - you guessed it! - cardboard!  This is a truly creative family, with imagination, ingenuity, and a terrific sense of fun.  Plus the little guy is absolutely adorable.  Look for the bear in each picture.

The Breakfast Bub


Argh!  I cannot believe it, but I find myself resorting to the cutesy spelling cheats that drive me bonkers.  I am unable to pass a Kwik Kopy sign without losing my mind.  But x is a difficult word, so I beg for clemency. Or extenuating circumstances.

Today's story is about dabbling in green/organic/natural... err, "natural"... household products and cosmetics. (In quotes because I am from Sceptos and don't believe anything sold in stores is completely au naturel.)

For years I've been feeling guilty because I use cleaning wipes - those premoistened rolls of paper cloth that come in a tube-like container. I often debate with myself (debating with myself is one of my hobbies) as to whether it is more environmentally friendly to go with the wipes, or buy a jug of cleanser and separate paper towels. I could use a cleanser and reusable cloths, washing them between uses, but I don't feel good about my clothes being in the same water as the Mr. Clean or Pine Sol or whatever-soaked cloths. (I don't make any claims to logic.)  Seems to me there is environmental fallout either way.

I got to thinking about how my mom used to clean - as she was taught by German housewives. I seem to remember a lot of vinegar. And bleach. Sometimes baking soda, a little salt, good old soap, and a whole lot of elbow grease. Things were thoroughly scrubbed, top to bottom. So as I started spring cleaning  a week or so ago, I decided I'd take the Days of Yore approach. It all worked really well. I have no complaints at all, and in fact, was very pleased with the results. The house smelled not only clean but friendly, too, like you didn't have to run for a hazmat suit in order to enter. 
So that was a successful experiment.

Not as resoundingly successful has been the foray into green/natural/organic health products. The alternative deodorant caused red itchiness - as well as not being deodorizing; the paraben-free shampoo that promised to smell of wild meadows required a follow-up washing with regular shampoo which defeats the purpose, and by the end of the second day I was ready to tear my hair out because it felt heavy and dirty.  I'm reluctant to try the no poo method (no shampoo) because I'm afraid the baking soda will get caked up in my hair, so that is out.  At least until I'm a little braver. The earth-friendly toothpaste has a delightful anise flavour but doesn't feel like it's actually cleaning my teeth - or freshening my breath.  Because it's so runny it slides off my toothbrush, I hunch under the brush and ever so cautiously lower it into my mouth.

I haven't found any natural products yet that I'm happy with, but I have been using some household items that work wonderfully: sugar as a gentle face scrub, oats as a cleanser (and mild exfoliant with good moisturizing properties), oil as a cleanser (extra virgin olive oil, or a hazelnut oil I had in the cupboard).  And a nifty trick I found online is to do without shaving cream or soap or anything.  Shower as usual, dry off, then shave.  No burn, no dryness or itching, no bumps.  Amazing!  Each of these I am happy with.

It's early days yet. I'm sure there is lots to learn about chemical-free options. I'd love to hear from you if you know of any, especially if you use them and know they work.

28 April 2014

Wild mushrooms

The wild mushrooms made me do it.

Have you noticed that one thing often leads to another?
Well, that's what happened.  I finished one library book (The Odessa file by Frederick Forsyth) and asked the helpful staff to recommend a good next book.  What they gave me was The Mushroom hunters: on the trail of an underground America by Langdon Cook. It's about (you'll never guess) mushroom hunters. And the mushrooms you hunt are wild ones. The tame ones don't need hunting, don't you know.

Oh. I see. You thought something else about wild mushrooms.  For shame!  It's almost always about a book here - unless it's about Manchester United or Depeche Mode.

Mr. Cook has a long-standing interest in foraging (and outdoorsy things in general), and hunting for your very own mushrooms is very forage-y. He made it sound so enticing - how the flavour compared to store-bought button 'shrooms is incomparable, and the varieties are vast.  How could I resist?  I became interested in foraging too.

The art of foraging is becoming mainstream, with even top restaurants getting in on the game. I'm already keen on local and 'real' food, so this seems like a natural next step.  Except.

Except that while I enjoy the out of doors, I don't know much about them.  Setting me loose to hunt and gather for supper would probably be futile - or dangerous. So back I went to the library to ask for a book on foraging in Ontario.  It has to be borrowed from another library, so while I eagerly await it, I decided I could practice foraging in my own freezer and pantry.  There's even a name for it: cooking the pantry, or, pantry cooking.  My sister partakes of this game, but she is an accomplished cook (having to feed six men on what is often a limited budget will do that.  I, however, am not an accomplished cook, as my pie disaster and stove-on-fire stories here will prove.

My usual habit is to shop for 'staples' on Friday or Saturday, which results in me having no idea what to cook during the week. So I'll often stop for specific ingredients to make the thing I'm craving that day.  Not efficient.  Plus, because I sometimes put leftovers in the freezer, as well as never get around to using the fish fillets I bought 'for quick, healthy meals' or the cans of chick peas 'to whizz up my own humus' , my shelves are full.

Cooking the pantry involves making do with what is in the house until there really is nothing left. (Well, within reason, I hope. Surely it's ok to shop before you're down to just olive oil and sea salt) Anyway. I'm not very good at keeping tabs of just what I have got, and what I could make of it.  It's good stewardship to be a responsible cook, as well as good discipline to not give in to every whim of convenience or taste, so I'm going to give this a go for two weeks.

The first step was to inventory my stores.  I now have a list on my fridge of everything in the bins in my freezer, and the main food stuffs in the fridge (not including condiments, etc.) and the larder. I will allow myself to restock the absolute essentials such as milk, but no augmenting ingredients. The game began when I didn't do my usual marketing run this weekend, and discovered a chocolate croissant in the back of the fridge I'd meant to have for Easter breakfast but forgot about.  I had that yesterday morning at 3:00 while waiting for the Canonization Mass to begin.

Day One.
I grabbed one of the freezer bags of... something to let it thaw in the fridge today, and came home expecting to find what I was sure was roasted vegetables but turned out to be chicken bits - the remnants of a roast chicken from ages ago I probably stuck in the freezer, meaning to put it out on garbage day but forgot.  I wish I was better about labelling the freezer bags!
Nevermind.  I managed to pull a few slivers of meat off the bones, fried it up with onion with a wee bit of broth, and added sour cream and herbs.  I boiled up some elbows of macaroni and peas, stirred it all together with grated cheese, put it in a casserole to bake.  Before it went in the oven I noticed a few of those little toasts left over from Friday's work lunch on the table, so I pulverized them, lightly seasoned them then sprinkled that over top.  With more cheese.  Oh, and I had a rind of double smoked bacon in the fridge, so I chopped that up fine and added it to the main part of the dish.  It baked up nicely golden, and actually tasted pretty good.  Yay me!  That will also be tomorrow and Wednesday's lunch (phew!  I like not having to think about lunches) meaning tomorrow's supper can be a quick and easy one-off like a fried egg or a tin of soup.

You're probably looking at the list of ingredients and thinking to yourself, "Well, Tess, what else would you make with that?  That's a no brainer, and in fact what we have at least once a week."  I agree.  That one was easy - once I'd shifted gears from roasted vegetables to chicken carcass.   We'll see how things go as the obvious dwindles to the 'oh no, it's down to the chick peas', a tablespoon of couscous and a tin of cranberries.

Do you cook the pantry?  Do you know exactly what is in your freezer?  Do you cook to a plan, or do you wing it day by day?

27 April 2014


This is a Very day.

Some days are like that.  Some emotions are like that.


No further adjectives, no exclamatory punctuation, no suggestive ellipses.

Very. Full stop.

Today is Divine Mercy Sunday.  It is day eight of the Octave of Easter (the Church sees the Octave as being, essentially, one - as if we woke up eight times on Easter Sunday.)

What lifts a very nice day, a very special day to a Very day, is that today were two men dearly loved by the Church raised to the altar of Saints.  Today, Pope Francis proclaimed Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II to be Saints.  To make the Very even sweeter, our beloved Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was present among the hundreds of Cardinals, and it was beautiful to see the joy with which he was greeted by his brothers, including Francis, and the multitude present in the square.

The Church really shines in moments like this, because she understands the need of the human heart for solemnity and ceremony. It is right and just that we celebrate with dignity and reverence, and certainly it is fitting that we present our very best to give honour to God.  But another factor is that as human beings, our experience comes through our bodies - through eyes and ears and mind and heart.  To see the beautiful vestments and flowers and altar, to hear the gorgeous sacred music, the solemn words of canonization, the ancient formula of the Mass, is to remind us of the import, of the magnitude, of what is happening, and of who God is to us.  We do not process our Bishops and Cardinals in all their splendour to please ourselves or to honour them, but because we recognize the things of God are higher, bigger, deeper, more mysterious, than us.

Our imagination, when it comes to God, is like the incense we see reaching for heaven but straining into wisps before giving up altogether not even getting close. And so we have the Saints, those men and women who reveal something of God to us in their lives, their teachings. They have forged a path before us, to show us the way to His heart, and invite us to follow them in the journey.

Saint John XXIII, Saint John Paul II, pray for us!


U know what this is about

I wasn't going to do this.  I promise you I wasn't.  I know - believe me I know - how uninteresting this topic is to, well, I'm sure all of you. So I wasn't going to write about it.  To be frank, I haven't been able to write about it for the past 9 months or so because it has been far too painful.
But there has been a change, which caused a change of mood, a change of heart, a return of hope.
You know what U is for, don't you?

At the end of last season, Sir Alex Ferguson retired as manager of Manchester United. Many-time winners of the title, a massive draw to English football all across this great football-loving planet of ours, Manchester were at the top.  Whoever took over from SAF has mighty big football boots to fill. The task fell to while not a minor name, certainly not one of the giants we all speculated would get the call.  Sadly, for him, the team, and for United supporters, the season has not gone well.  This shows clear as anything that while the same group of 11 men will perform very differently under a different boss.

Naturally (I think we can all agree on that) became disgruntled. It's not like we're talking about the Toronto Maple Leafs here, who despite their glorious past are accustomed to losing game after game every season.  So they did what football fans are wont to do. They began to make up songs about the underperforming new boss.

Last week he was dismissed.  Two weeks remain in the season. Four matches. And who do you suppose stepped in?  Ryan Giggs!  My favourite player! The cool thing is, he's still a Manchester United player. He's forty years old, has been with the club for 24 years, still going strong and now interim manager.  This hit the news last week which somehow I managed to miss (my job keeps me brain dead, it seems, between Monday morning and Friday afternoon)  I happened to be scrolling around on that social networking site yesterday where Giggsy's name leapt out at me from the news section of my feed.  I kid you not, I squealed. Like a little girl who actually got the pony for Christmas, I squealed.

They won their match yesterday, by a decisive 4-0.

I can't help but think (says the girl who used to listen to Coast to Coast to go to sleep) that it may have all been the plan from the beginning. They needed someone to be the "after Ferguson guy".  And during this season Giggsy has completed his manager course (while still playing). Perhaps they're using this two week period to let him get his feet wet, inflame the fans' support, and prepare everyone for a more positive showing next season.

I love the poetry of it: a player who has always loved his team, and despite the current practise of club-hopping, has stayed with them through the whole course of his career - even into retirement as a player, to become their manager.

I think Fergie would approve.

24 April 2014

Of symbols and substance

Those are four significant Christian symbols, once recognized - and their meanings - universally understood. They were a shorthand, as all symbols are. Say the word and the subtext is filled in by the listener or reader.  “Be like salt of the earth and a light to the world.”  Salt gives seasoning to food, and was also the most common method of food preservation. Salt was a good thing, needed for survival.  The good news of our salvation is a light in the darkness. We know we are to be a light in the world, sharing our hope and joy in that salvation.  It used to be that light was treasured, because there were dangers in the dark. Once the sun went down, we hunkered down, too.  Bread was the mainstay.  Wine wasn’t for the elite talking about bouquets  and bottom notes, it was the drink. Bread and wine sustained life.
Now salt is bad for the heart. Light can be had with the flick of a switch so we need never have full dark – and the sun causes cancer. Bread is full of evil carbs and gluten, while wine leads to drunk driving and alcoholism.
I’m not suggesting there is a conspiracy to undermine our Christian symbols (maybe there is?) but I know for sure their impact has been weakened, their meaning diluted because they have to be explained as once relevant in days of yore.  How does that effect how we hear the words? Do the parables have the same depth of meaning?  How about the truths of our faith? When we're told that Christ is the Light of the world , or when we're enjoined to be like salt, how do we hear it? What does it mean to us to hear of the first public miracle when Jesus changed water to wine?
I don't have any answers or deep insights.  This is just something that has been niggling away in the back of my mind for a while.

Tid bits

... in which I offer trivial bits of nonsense.

So, I have this purple shirt. I didn't used to wear purple - or pink for that matter - but now when I look in my closet, there is an entire pink/purple section. Apparently what 'they' say is true, in that the right shade of pink warms the tone of your skin and is very flattering.  Give it a try.
But back to this purple shirt. It's a gym shirt, nothing special. It's my favourite to wear when I get home from work because it fits just right, you know? And I feel pretty in pink. Here's the thing. Not five minutes after I put it on, a stain appears on it, anything from ink to engine oil to egg yolk. On goes the stain treatment and I set it aside to soak, feeling blah in black instead.

There are any number of committees at my new (temporary) place of work. Among them is The Wellness Committee.  They send emails encouraging us to go for walks, and once provided a snack of yoghurt with nuts and berries. Today they laid on tea and cookies. The email they sent around to let us know alerted us to the many health benefits of green tea (and black tea, but that list was much, much shorter. I think they just didn't want black tea to feel left out). Lest  you imagine a spread with fine china and elegant hand crafted nibblies on tiered plates, it was instead boxes of green (and black) tea on a table in the lunch room, with cookies pre-sorted in sandwich baggies - two to a bag. As I looked over the goodies deciding which to bring back to my desk, I kept reminding myself, "Self, remember you don't like green tea.  You don't like it at all. " (I think it's the broccoli principle: a thing is supposed to be good for you, so it tastes yucky) (come to think of it, both are green.  Hmmmm...) Can you guess which kind of tea I chose?
Green tea.
I didn't like it at all.

One of the side benefits of working in libraries – or working with books – is gleaning interesting little factoids.  For example:
There are a few German terms used in cataloguing.  Festschrift, and Bildungsroman are two.
While cataloguing a book about container shipping, I learned the biggest ships hold upwards of 18,000 containers. That class of ship is Post Panamax, because they are too large to go through the Panama Canal (the canal is too shallow, but is in the process of being expanded. Many ports are dredging deeper to be able to keep up with the behemoths lugging our goods around the seas.)
Elsewhere I learned that the Netherlands has 18 million people in a space not quite twice the size of New Jersey. It is the third highest agricultural exporter.
There are professional bees. They are kept by the millions in thousands of hives and trucked across country, season by season to [pollinate?] fruit and nut orchards.
Dario Cecchini of Tuscany is the world’s best butcher.
Enthusiast clubs exist for every hobby, no doubt. One such revolves around long distance motorcycling, called The Iron Butt Association.  By long distance, they mean 1,000 miles in a 24 hour period, and the fun goes on from there, such as 10 consecutive 1,000 mile days. The thought makes me want to cry.
Evolving church architecture led to evolving church music (and sermon-giving) as sound fade and echo changed with the interiors.
The great vowel shift in the English language took place over the span of roughly 300 years, around the time of the invention of the printing press. Until mass printing was possible, English spelling was fluid. Some believe the standardization contributed to the shift, as did the broader acceptance of English as their everyday language by the upper classes (who previously preferred French), as well as population migration resulting from the plague. As the name suggests, vowels before and after the process of shifting were different, both in sound and formation – ie. where they were formed in the mouth. And because of The Great Vowel Shift, we now have words that don’t match in sound and spelling. Isn’t that right, neighbour?
An octopus has three hearts.

We only have one, and life is pretty good.