The Lighthouse

the lighthouse

30 November 2015

Anne with an e

Today is Lucy Maud's birthday. The Lucy Maud in question is, of course, L.M Montgomery, she who wrote Anne of Green Gables.

I didn't read Anne on my own as a young girl. My fist experience of her was when I was in grade six or so, during a sleep over at a friend's house. Her mom read us a few chapters that night - an unusual occurrence that had never happened before, and was never repeated. My friend wasn't too impressed with the story, but I was entranced. Anne wedged herself into my imagination as vividly as though she had been my dearest friend in life. I lived on those few chapters until I was able to buy my own copy.

Shortly after, my family moved again, which for us typically meant a summer spent camping our way from old house to new. I read my way through Anne's life that summer, from orphaned waif to marriage and motherhood. The first book in the series, Green Gables, still brings with it the smell of late night camp fires, damp sleeping bags, and propane lanterns. No matter what fun was to be had on any given day, all it took was for me to open the book and I'd fall headlong back into the story of Anne, Green Gables, and Prince Edward Island.

I wanted so much to be as dreamy and imaginative as Anne. I wanted to find a Lover's Lane of my own, and drift down a river like the Lady of Shallot. I wanted a devoted friendship like that of Anne and Diana, and to be as fierce when a boy tormented me as she was when Gilbert pulled her hair.

There have been many, many wonderful books in my life, and many of those have been captivating. A good book lingers, leaving traces of itself behind so that you can point to it, and say, "That. That part of me came from that book."  Anne was one of the first for me, and certainly one of the greatest.

Heartfelt thanks to you, Lucy Maud.  Happy birthday.

27 November 2015

On being not tall and the chair

I am not a tall person, by which I mean to say that I am almost short. I may have already mentioned it here at The Lighthouse in which case I do most sincerely apologize for taking up your blog reading time with redundancies.

Being not tall is a deeply sensitive issue with me, because My People are Dutch. According to it-was-posted-on-line-so-it-must-be-true statistics, the Dutch are the tallest people. I'm not sure if that is a world record or a European record. When the Dutch Family visited for Christmas last year, their twelve-year old daughter was taller than me, with her mom and dad being so tall I had to stand on tip toe for my head to reach their shoulders.

There are many instances during the day when being almost short is an inconvenience. There are tall shelves everywhere, requiring the use of a step stool (or chair, but shhh... don't tell Health and Safety about that). There are awkwardly spaced stairs, unreachable hooks, and lost books on tippy-top shelves all over the library. Chairs are often uncomfortable, with too-deep seat pans and too-tall chair legs so that my own legs swing awkwardly, feet rarely flat on the ground.

Which brings me to the inspiration for this post: the Ridiculous Chair.  This is the chair at the circulation counter, which is high, so the chair must needs also be high. There is no handy step-stool, nor even a convenient bar upon which to hop and so launch oneself upward and into the seat. It has taken me three weeks to perfect my method: I stand with my back to the chair, hitch my left hip up, perch with corresponding cheek and proceed to wiggle from side to side while also pulling myself up, ungainly and awkward, by the arms of the chair. This maneuver works wonders on my professional image, I assure you.

Oddly, when I first arrived in this library, the spot under the desk where this chair lives had a shelf across it, so one would have to sit as though side-saddle, with legs and torso facing opposite directions, feet dangling uncomfortably many inches from the ground. I removed the shelf so I can sit straight-on, stacked several very large books atop one another so my feet have a resting place, and do my very best to have everything I need with me at the desk so I needn't slide down and climb up again too often.

When perched in the Ridiculous Chair I feel like the stern overseer character in a Dickensian novel. Rows and rows of clerks hunch over their desks while I glower at them over my half-glasses, and I remind them to be grateful for the crusts of bread they get for lunch. (In real life I am a slightly cranky librarian, negotiating world peace one teenager at a time.)

Such is the power of a chair for one who is not tall.

26 November 2015

Of socks - oh, the socks!

Reading socks!
Who knew there was such a thing as reading socks?  I certainly did not, but the moment I opened the email from Canada's Monster Book-n-Bath Store and saw the promotional ad showing super cute socks branded as "Reading Socks" I realized the world has been in very serious need of them.

Ok, perhaps that is an overstatement. I have been in very serious need of them. I like reading. I like socks. Especially soft and cozy socks to wear instead of slippers around the house.  To have socks just for reading, well, that's a brilliant notion. There are already specially designed socks for other activities: running, hiking, and those really short ones to wear with heels.

These, from the BnB Store have cute designs and are lined with faux sheerling. Doesn't that sound amazingly soft and cozy?

Just as I was about to impulsively click the "purchase this item you don't really need for far too much money even though it's on sale" button, I opened the product information box to discover these are high maintenance reading accessories. They must be hand washed in cold water and laid flat to dry! Can you imagine hand washing your socks? I hope you're laughing at the idea.

I haven't given up on the dream of reading socks, however. I plan to hit the dollar store for a pair of their $2.00 fuzzy socks, and keep them solely (ha ha) for the very special occasion of  a lazy afternoon with a good book and a pot of tea.

23 November 2015

Further adventures in the kitchen with Tess, in which mom always knows best.

I've reached my maximum stress threshold at work. One of the reasons is that I currently begin the workday at O'Dawn:thirty. Of course schedule math is never that simple because you have to keep borrowing backwards in order to eventually get to where you need to be. (If that made any kind of sense to you, you're just the sort of person I like.) What that means is I leave the house 35 minutes before that, set the alarm an hour before that, which  means I'm doing as much as I can the night before so that I can hit the snooze button at least once before absolutely having to tear around the house like a mad thing in order to leave on time.

One of the tasks I've been attempting to do ahead is preparing a big batch of something or other that I can quickly reheat and eat each day during the week. I try to do this on the weekend because I'm absolutely comatose when I get home Monday to Friday. You know the sort of thing: big pot of soup, huge batch of chili, a chunk of roasted something or other, and so on.  (In fact, if you have any suggestions, please do let me know, as I've reached the end of my big-batch-repertoire and would dearly love to not have to eat chili again.)

Yesterday was Cooking Day. My plan was to cook a vast number of sausages in the oven, and roast a big tray of vegetables at the same time. (I was going to do a big bowl of rice as well, but forgot to buy rice, so it will have to be quinoa or pasta.) (Don't you find this all so very interesting? Bear with me... we're getting - ever so creakingly slowly - to the point.) As a treat I also cooked up a package of bacon for the week's breakfasts.

Let your nostrils help you imagine what my kitchen smelled like at around 1:30 on Sunday afternoon.  Sausage and bacon cooking away, along with cauliflower, and onions, and other aromatic bits and pieces.  Nice, huh?  Tempting when you're at a brunch buffet, but not exactly House & Home worthy. My mom used to put on a pot of vinegar water to steam. It's meant to cut the odors, and it also turns out to be beneficial, health-wise.

I, however, had a brilliant idea. Why replace sausage-fog with vinegar-vapour? Why not go for what smells lovely in the first place?  So, in a pan with a little water I dropped a few cinnamon sticks, a few pods of star anise, and a handful of cloves, setting them to gently steam on the stove top. It smelled so good!

Then I walked away.

I spent an hour or so in the living room, reading a really good book about a shepherd from the Lake District in England. It's a fascinating read.

But then I noticed an acrid smell. Like something burning.  And burning thoroughly.

That's right, dear Reader. If you noticed I wrote, "in a pan with a little water..." and realized that 'little' was going to be an important detail, you were on to something.  I had allowed the pot to steam dry, causing the lovely, aromatic cinnamon, anise, and cloves to burn themselves right to the bottom of the pot.

Do you know the best way to remove burnt-on goop from the bottom of a pan?  A little baking soda and, you've got it.... vinegar.  Let it sit a bit, then add water, and gently heat.  I found myself steaming the house with vinegar and water after all.

Mom always knows best.


The reading challenge

I've just learned about 48hbc. It happens at MotherReaders' Blog. 

It's a wonderful thing, about reading as much as is possible within a 48 hour period (48hbc stands for Forty-eight Hour Book Challenge). According to the rules, the 48 hours must be in succession. Not, say, four weekend days of 12 hours each. Also, in order to qualify as a ‘winner’ (or having adequately participated) a minimum of six hours of reading are required. I would find that a challenge, many days, and I'm already the sort who would do nothing but read if I could! 

The idea, I believe, is to set yourself a goal, blog about it, and share the stats of what you read including summaries and reviews if desired. It’s almost a reading partner to NaNoWriMo, though over a more condensed time frame.

It would be fun to try it sometime, though when set a challenge, I either become more focused on 'winning' than enjoying the process, or becoming stubborn and refusing to do it altogether. Remember my Great Reading Project? I got stuck about halfway through, because whenever I perused the list for the next book to read, I'd pout and say, "But I don't want to read any of these books!" then happily devour any other book within reach. ('Tess' must be Latin for 'contrary'.)

In order to read for - at least - six hours over two days, what would you have to give up? Would there be no knitting, no eating, no sleeping? Or would you instead not be bingeing on House of Cards, or watching the weekend footie? Perhaps you'd have to not clean the bathroom or putter in the garage and the garden would have to fend for itself, not to mention the poor dog.  Reading is serious business, folks, calling for great sacrifice and unstinting dedication. 48hbc is not for the dabbler or the faint of heart.

21 November 2015

Christ the King

This Sunday is the Feast of Christ the King!
We have reached the end of the liturgical year, the last Sunday before Advent.

The world is shaken by the actions of men too cruel and cowardly to fathom. Words are not sufficient to express the sorrow, the disbelief, the regret, that we have come to such a time and place. There is no easy explanation or remedy. All I can think to do is turn to God so that I don't succumb to fear or hatred.

Lord, I place you at the centre of my heart, my life. You are Christ the King, my King, my Redeemer. Transform my heart that I may be wholly Yours. Amen.

20 November 2015

The pens, oh the pens!

Lest you think, dear Reader, that I exaggerated the story I told about vast number of pens I find in the library every day (my family seems to think I embellish when I tell stories), I have photographic evidence.

This is a shoe-sized box filled to full with mostly pens (a few stray pencils) that sits on my desk in the back office. It is overflow only, the daily takings are kept out at the circulation desk.

Here's something funny: a student just came to the desk to ask about her pencil. A very ordinary plastic mechanical pencil you buy in packs of 10. I pulled a handful out of the drawer, and she was able to pick hers out of the bunch.  I sense in her a kindred spirit.

The corner with the animals

There is a back road to home that I love as it reminds me of the country lanes of Germany. It is narrow and winding, with gentle dips and rises. At one point it goes through a hollow, over a creek, into a wee forest and out into the orchards before rising back up a hill until, at the little tree with tea cups hanging in it, I turn onto the road my own house is on.

In the hollow, between the creek and the winding road, sits a simple farmhouse. It isn't a large property, but it has sheep grazing. I see them just as I cross over the bridge and they make me happy each time I see them. The simple farmhouse also has a collection of chickens, roosters, ducks, and gooses that huddle and peck where they please, whether grass or gravel. Caution is required when passing the driveway of this simple farmhouse as there are certain to be fowl rambling about close to the road.

Just yesterday, still smiling from seeing the sheep, I had to come to a complete stop, for there in front of me I saw 5 ducks and a goose crossing the road in this order: duck, duck, goose; duck, duck, duck. And if you don't know what happens next, you've left childhood too far behind.

19 November 2015

Of things left behind

As a title, I think “Left behind” is fabulous.  As a theology it makes me giggle just a little bit because when I was younger and foolisher I used to say that I should have a hard hat with me at all times, ‘cause what if I happened to be under a bridge when the rapture happened? Of course, with that sort of attitude, I’d be more likely to be left behind myself than taken up into heaven, so the point is moo, as Joey Tribbiani would say.

Anyway.  I am currently at work in a high school library. I have, for many more years than I care to admit to, been an elementary librarian.  Leaving aside my less than supportive opinion of contemporary education, elementary schools are a fun place to work. Lots of work and plenty of challenges of course, but being able to read to enraptured (haha!  See what I did there?)  little people is my idea of a terrific job. The days are filled with visiting classes, helping teachers figure out where to find the Robert Munsch books (hint: try “M” for “Munsch”), gathering books about recycling or the War of 1812 or monster trucks.

The high school library is an entirely different kettle of fish.  In fact, I would say it is so vastly different from elementary that we’re talking zebras instead of fish. Children do not come here with stars in their eyes to hear a wonderful story read by their favourite librarian in the world, ever. They come to hang out with their friends, talk loudly with their loud voices, watch Youtube, or eat while “studying”. They come in droves and herds. When I remind them they’re not to eat or shout, or lay prone on the sofa, they typically begin a defence with, “But I’m just…” There is very little reading or studying on their behalf, and very little librarianing on mine. For the first two weeks I found this quite daunting. What is a librarian to do if there is nothing to MARC code, no barcodes to apply, no readers to advise? Instead of Tess the Librarian, I am Tess the Library Cop.

Teenagers are interesting specimens of humanity. They are wonderfully passionate about the things they are passionate about. They are busy exploring who they are as people, and each has a different approach to becoming that person.  They are far too busy doing all of that to remember anything else, such as to not eat in the library, or to take their personal effects with them when they leave.

Which brings us to “Things Left Behind”.  Our school day is divided into four class periods and two lunch periods. At the end of each one, I do a round of the library to tuck in chairs, pick up wrappers from the “But I’m just gonna leave it in my bag, I won’t eat it” food, and gather together the items that have been forgotten, and put them in what I call The Left Behind Box.

Here is a sample of what I have found: lip gloss, lunch bags both depleted and stocked, water bottles, text books, binders, musical instruments. I kid you not… even now there sits, in the Left Behind Box, a flute. My question is this: how does a student who has math class each and every day not clue into the fact that he is lacking his math binder? Or the person who left behind her history text not think to check the library – the very last place she probably opened the book – when she realizes it’s been a week and she still doesn’t have it with her?

Teenagers seem to shed pens and pencils like so much dandelion fluff. I have a box set aside solely for writing implements I collect after each class. Somehow, by the end of the day the box is empty again, because I just as quickly give them out to other students who have forgotten to bring a pen or pencil with them.

I must have been the same as a teen myself, though I find it difficult to believe, being just German enough that efficiency and organization are creeds I hold most fervently to. Also, my love of stationery forbids me to use any old pen (not that I’m a snob about it. A pen need not be expensive, merely be of  good heft, the right colour, and not blot.)

My mind is another matter, however. That, I frequently leave behind.

18 November 2015

The wind. Oh, the wind!

Do you know of the Mistral? It is a strong, high wind in the south of France that blows as winter melts into spring. I learned years and years ago that the Mistral was a legitimate defense in French courts. "The Mistral made me do it, your honour!" Considering the winds can travel as much as 90 kms an hour, it is not surprising that the rule of law would recognize a person might go temporarily insane because of it. How very Gallic to shrug one's shoulders and say "Eet was ze weend."

Extreme weather is exciting. I'm not eager to see people be hurt, of course, nor for there to be extensive property damage. And yet, copious amounts of rain, apocalyptic snow falls, blustering winds -- they all get the blood going. Weather in general is a powerful setter of moods. A blue-sky, sunny day sends the spirits lifting to heaven; gentle rain encourages nesting; the first snowfall brings on nostalgia. Ramp up the weather of the day, and the mood intensifies in equal measure.

My little nook of Sohoe tends to be windy, and is windy year-round. I'm nestled on the shores of a Great Lake and in the crook of The Ridge. A person better versed in such things could explain in scientific terms why it  is this combination results in frequent and enthusiastic winds... I can only tell you it happens. Most days I welcome it, in all its moods, whether gently stirring the Sycamore branches and lazily toying with the layers of cloud overhead, or sweeping with gusto across the open water, fields and orchards.

Last week, however, we had three days of le Mistral-caliber wind and I felt sympathy for the first time for people who must live in the south of France. At first the fearsome wind is giddy-making and exciting. Then it gradually eases, without your noticing, into a hysteria-making madness. Too much!  It was too much! At one point the gusts were so strong, so insistent I barely was able to open my car door. I envisioned being trapped inside the car for days, and wished I was one of those forward-thinking people who equip their vehicles with protein-dense snacks and bottles of water. And blankets. Thank goodness I always have a book to hand, or they would have found me curled up in the back seat, expired from the lack of literature.  Fortunately, dear reader, lest you fear the worst happened (and I am writing from beyond this mortal coil) I managed to time my push against the door with a brief decline in wind velocity, and I quickly scurried to safety in the house.

The Mistral has passed us by. Sanity resumes. I am now quite content with gentle breezes.

10 November 2015

Of absence and excuses

How can it possibly be months since I last wrote a single word?
How can it be possible that I haven't written a word, and yet I continue to draw breath?

The Lighthouse has been sadly neglected.
Dear Reader, there are dust bunnies galloping under the furniture, and webby bits dangling from ceiling corners. Any view the windows may once have framed is now hazy from month's worth of dirt thrown at them by storms. I have been absent and neglectful.

There were good intentions aplenty to pick up The Great Unfinished Novel and plunge headlong into writerly depths with it once more. There were health distractions, and work distractions, all of which served to make me admire all those authors who mange to produce wonderful books and all the while life keeps them on their toes. That takes gumption, and I am sadly gump-less.

Is it that the days are darkening and the nights are lengthening that draws me to sit under the glow of the desk lamp at night? Or is it that soft fruits don't contain as much of the creative-impulse producing nutrients that root vegetables do, so that now when meals are soups and stews instead of berries and salads, the desire to write and crochet and colour has returned?

Whatever the cause, I am drawn back to the Lighthouse, and look forward to playing with words once more.