The Lighthouse

the lighthouse

25 March 2011

Of mice and math

I worked in an older library yesterday: old wooden shelves, nearly-as-old books, cozy corners, nooks and crannies full of the dust of ages. Toward the end of the day, I began to notice a tiny squeaking noise resembling a small, far-off bird, or a baby mouselette. The librarian’s desk is tucked into an artificial corner made from bookshelves, filing cabinets and a small table, separating her work space from the computer lab quartered behind. Perhaps a wild creature of some sort was nesting under a piece of furniture… but books needed shelving and soon enough it was time to go home, so I gave it no more thought.

Later that evening, I was working at my own desk at home when I noticed that tiny squeaking noise again, just like I’d heard at work. How odd, I thought. What a strange coincidence: two chirps in one day. I could tell that the sound was coming from the direction of my book bag, but couldn’t make any sense of that. Then I put two and two together, to make five (math not being my strong suit). That book bag was sitting on the floor in the corner, within scurrying distance from that imagined critter nest under the ‘shelf wall’. I pictured a youngling mouse tumbling out of his nest, and thinking the warm interior of my bag made a good substitute. I inadvertently brought him to my nest, and now there he was, chattering for help.

I was not about to rootle through the bag with my bare hands, but even if I put gloves on and then found him, what was I going to do? Hug it, pet it, and call it George? I determined I was going to bring the bag to the front porch, and dump its contents out, letting the poor thing go back to nature. But I was already in my jammies, so there’d I’d be, in the dark and cold, wrapped in my fuzzy pink bathrobe, displaying my kookiness for one and all to see.

As I approached the bag, ever so slowly, in the way one does when one really doesn’t want to do a thing, I spotted my stainless steel, environmentally friendly travel mug. I remembered having tightened it that afternoon, and then tightened it again because I’ve had a few episodes of leakage. Gone were the horrified visions of trapped mouselings in the depths of my bag. I opened the sippy lid of the mug, releasing the built-up pressure inside. The whistling stopped at once.


20 March 2011

The foundation of prayer

My dear friend who writes from The Tree once wrote about noisy undergarments. My story is similar in that it has to do with undergarments.

Women's unmentionables are sometimes referred to as 'foundation garments' because they provide the foundation for all the garments that follow. A great deal of science has gone into their design, materials, and construction. The manufacture of these items is also vital to the global economy (for example, France relies on tourism, and overpriced lace dainties). There was even an episode of The West Wing in which Josh was stymied in a trade deal with China, because Chinese bra imports were much cheaper than domestically-produced ones, jeopardizing the Chinese imports of American cars.  (I've learned a lot about economics from watching this show, primarily that bras and cars do not make good trading partners.)

Getting back to the foundation: the first clothes a woman puts on her body sets the tone for how the rest of her day will go. Will she be pulling, tugging, hoisting, straightening, or double checking various elements of these articles? Will they cause her skirt to ride up, or her shirt to bunch? They provide a function of physics as well as esthetics, which we needn't explore further here, but it bears mentioning that a woman considers the particular demands she is placing on the garment before making her selection for the day.  Some are more... robust... than others.

All this to bring you to the moment of me, sitting in Church this morning. I was respectably dressed: trousers, cute top, fringed and slightly sparkly scarf, long beaded necklace, long cardigan (which was utilized, I digress to mention, because the trousers have a disconcerting habit of drifting from my waist... a fact I didn't know until I didn't have time to change before leaving the house. Change rooms are less than reliable testing environments for discovering an item's desirability)  Anyway. I was also wearing the usual assortment of foundation garments.  I guess I underestimated the stress I was about to place on those underwires; if I had more carefully considered, I surely would have made a different choice!

There I was, piously kneeling in the pew. I shifted, ever so slightly - not even enough to turn my head - and felt a snap from somewhere under the cardigan, cute top, and long necklace.  I tried to wiggle discretely, so as to diagnose what had just happened without distracting my fellow parishioners, but it wasn't until I got home that I discovered my suspicions were accurate: my foundation was cracked, broken, rent in two. I had worn this very item a few weeks ago while hefting and unpacking over 100 boxes of books; I routinely carry little people while in this garment; I have walked for hours dressed in this thing; but apparently prayer was its undoing.

I'll bet the designers and manufacturers don't take that into account.

18 March 2011

ctks - Tigger style

Four and Five were watching a little Winnie the Pooh, when along came bouncy, flouncy, pouncy, trouncy, fun fun fun fun Tigger.

"I'm Tigger." says Five.
"No, I'm Tigger!" Asserts Four.
"No, look at your shirt!  See? It says Superman, so you can't be Tigger.  I'm Tigger."  Infallable argument. Case closed.

14 March 2011

Of battery packs and pencils

Here's the thing: I am a grown up.  I deal with grown up things. Granted, I don't cook for myself and I need someone to find my glasses for me, but in many other ways I am a grown up.... mature, in fact.

Guaranteed, when computer technology becomes an issue, I lose my mind. Lose it!  I don't misplace it, set it aside for a time out, or simply forget I have a mind. I go all the way to "I've lost my mind".

I like my laptop. It's got a nifty majong game that keeps me company late at night when insomnia and writer's block collide.  It corrects me when I use ible when I should have used able. It allows me to quickly zoom off to cyber space and investigate the birth date of Johnny Depp, which of the Brontes wrote Jane Eyre, and what does it mean to bogart something, in manner of investigative reporter. Or someone who's procrastinating and extremely distractable. Distractible.

Computers launch human beings into space. Computers track global economies, keep a whole generation of young people informed of each other's latte consumption, and a computer named Watson recently won $77,147 over two nights of Jeopardy competition.

These facts disturb me on many levels, but most of all they leave me wondering why is it that my humble laptop cant behave itself? Why have the font sizes of everything randomly become super-sized in some places and Lilliputian in others?  Why does the touch pad no longer work, preventing me from left-clicking, meaning I can no longer highlight text or move the cursor. (Just when did left-click, right-click become verbs?) Speaking of the cursor, it now jumps all over the page if I take my eyes off it for a second, and sometimes even when I've got it pinned under all four of them.

I know there are rational explanations and solutions for these problems that make perfect sense in the world of bits and bytes. It probably has something to do with restoring, or defragging, or reindexing or what have you. 

But, and this is what drives me bonkers: technology, we were promised, was going to make life easier. Computers were going to reduce our work load, make us more efficient, and productive.  I'm sure there are numbers being crunched in a computer right now that says all those things are true.  But for me, at home, on my humble laptop trying to do my little bit for literature and good will for all men, this computer is far more complicated than the notebooks and sharp pencils I used to use. It makes me nuts that something that costs a decent chunk of money and has the aura of sophistication is more disposable than my $4.99 Gage Canadian Dictionary  - which also tells me when I should use ible, not able, I should point out, for considerably less the price.

I read a book to a group of grade four students a few days ago, about the history of cameras and Kodak film.  The Eastman company sold cameras preloaded with film.  You could take up to a hundred photos, then send your camera back to the company. They would develop your prints, and return the camera to you, reloaded with fresh film.  How easy is that?  Not to mention the customer service!  (Don't get started on that) Then we 'progressed' to dropping off the film at your friendly neighbourhood picture place, where they would mess up the 24 frames of Aunt Betsy's wedding.  Now, we spend large amounts of money for special photo printer paper, printers, ink jets, digital cameras, electronic photo frames, batteries and so on.  We spend time learning to photo shop, grow new grey hairs trying to figure out which cables belongs to which device, and finding the recharger for the back-up battery pack which somehow got mixed up with the cell phone paraphernalia.

I know all of this can be fun. It can in fact be convenient and efficient.  I just long for the simplicity of Yore when if your pencil broke, all you had to do was sharpen it.

05 March 2011

Behind the scenes

Men often complain at how long it takes women to get ready to go out. They also talk a good talk about liking 'the natural look'. But men don't really like their women to be 'natural'. They just like women to have the appearance of being 'natural'. And the natural look, I'm sure of it, is more high maintenance than all of the divas of Dallas and Dynasty combined.

First, there is the prep work. I will preserve my dignity and protect a little of the air of mystery that surrounds this stage. Let us say it involves the removal of some things, and the addition of others. This should be done in private, for the aforementioned dignity and mystery -- in fact, most if not all of these steps should be done in privacy. Call it mystique if you like but really it's because you don't want to be within firing range for what comes next.

There is a very important step which now must be taken: the selection of the right outfit.  There are many factors to take into consideration, such as the when and where of the event; who else will be there, and how are they likely to be dressed; will there be much walking involved; will I have to sit on an unusually low chair, or a very high stool; will I be able to slip my shoes off under a table; do I know where those earrings are that go with the top I wear with that skirt? Cause otherwise I have to leave my hair down which means a whole other outfit and I don't have the right shoes.

Usually what happens next is some variation on the following: hair, makeup, clothes. There may be some repeating, some revisiting and reconsidering, and depending on the seriousness of the event and where the moon is in your house, there just may be cries of despair or tears of frustration. You, being a man who wears a pair of slacks and a button down shirt (or, if you're a bit of a clothes horse you might change it up with a polo shirt or even a sweater) of which your closet is well stocked with an infinitely interchangeable selection, need exactly 2 minutes to pull one of each off their hangars, 4 minutes to put them on, and 1 minute to ask your wife which tie to wear with them.

A woman on the other hand, has spent the better part of her available mental energy since learning about the event deciding on the outfit. You think that's that, so you'll meet her at the car. But no, my dear man, no. The top doesn't feel right, so an alternative must be found. The very dressy and sophisticated burgundy blouse with understated silver-toned accessories slowly evolves, through a series of trial and error, into a crisp and classic white-blouse with one statement piece of jewelry. That means the planned hair style needs to be reworked because the necklines are completely different and since the white blouse gets tucked in, she now needs to wear the other black skirt because it has the right sized loops for that great belt with the silver buckle. But the other skirt is shorter, which means tights not nylons which means a different pair of shoes, and the contents of her purse transferred into the tiny clutch. While trying to pull her nylons off as she stands on one leg with a slip tucked up under her arms, she notices the time, and hears you start the car. So she tries to hurry into the tights and doesn't properly line up the toe seam with her toes, so the left leg of the tights gets twisted around, from knee to thigh. This will cause a problem for the rest of the night whenever she tries to walk, but she doesn't have time to fix it, because she still has to do her face.

In order to look like she's not wearing any makeup, she needs: tinted moisturizer, base/primer, foundation, concealer, undereye concealer, lid primer, bronzer, blush, setting powder, eye liner, eye shadow, highlighter, mascara, brushes, lash curler, tweezers, lip balm, lip liner, lipstick, and eyebrow gel. After applying then blending (ie. putting on then taking off in just the right amounts) a carefully considered palette of colours with a wide assortment of specifically designed instruments, she takes one last look in the mirror, adjusts a stray curl or two, wipes a smudge of badly behaved mascara and heads out to the car with the red tie she told you looked better than the brown.

03 March 2011

This house is a home

Living in a new house means that all the old belongings feel new again, too. The ancient plates and towels and  dust pans acquire a subtle hint of gentility and no longer seem quite so squidgy around the edges. The furniture which over the years began to seem not so comfortable/cute/easy-to-clean reminds you why you thought it was a good buy in the first place.

Some things, however, do not transition well from one house to another.  Window treatments would be one such thing. It would seem, based on my big box of curtains, that every builder custom designs their own window frames: short but wide; double wide and three quarters high; tall and narrow with a gap between; crank opening outward; sliding; tilt top opening; sash hung... all of which influences how you cover them. And cover them you must, or you may as well put seats on your front lawn and invite your neighbours to come and enjoy the show of little boys crying after lost Wii soccer games, or grownups cringing at American Idol auditions.

Such is the case with our front window, a lovely bay affair in the living room.  We moved in at Christmas time, and Oma had bought us a sweet little table-top Christmas tree.  It filled the window very nicely, taking care of the fishbowl feeling. When it began to list a little too much to one side, tt was replaced by an enormous red poinsettia which saved our neighbours from the sight of us behaving like fools during the Super Bowl spectacle. It, however, lost lushness as it dropped leaves and required watering (if a thing doesn't cry in this house it is just plumb out of luck) so it now sits shriveled in the garage and the empty window nicely frames our shenanigans for any and all who pass by.

Into the curtain box we dipped and found a suitable set. Very good. But there is the problem of missing curtain rods, without which curtains will sit in a puddle of fabric on the floor. So, after considering the options, a pursuit of curtain rods was undertaken. In a new and unknown town, this means a lot of toing and froing, trial and error.  Does this particular chain store outlet carry the items found on the website?  No, no they don't.  Back in the car, drive to next place, try again. Who knew that curtain rods were a rare commodity? If a store was discovered to carry curtain rods, the choices were sure to be paltry. And if an acceptable curtain rod were to be found, purchased and brought home, it was sure to be a ridiculous contraption of innumerable moving parts which took 2 people half an hour to repack so it could be returned to the store whence it came.

Day two of the great curtain rod hunt entailed the search of six stores.  That's one more than five.  Go in, wander around, search, ask for help, jolly two little people along, go back out to the car (which involves the strapping in of two reluctant and wiggly boys), drive to five more stores and do the same thing all over again. But then, success at store number six! Curtain rods were found, purchased, brought home, and after a great deal of time, several tools I don't have the name for, two people, and a step ladder, the rod is up.  The old curtains now look fabulous, just as if they were made for this very house. So not only do our old things look new again, but they help the this-close-to-caramel coloured walls feel exactly like home.

02 March 2011


I say "Cheerio!" when I leave the house.  The small boys equate that to the round tasty oat cereal they eat for breakfast.  Their reply to me is, "You're a cheerio!" which is sung out with great delight. I leave the house with a big smile on my face each and every time.

Five has a remarkable vocabulary for someone of his years, but some sounds and words don't come out quite right.  Here is his recap of yesterday:

"We had munch with Tim Portons. There was no bango... I had a nagel, and a fing wif green and white and lellow sprinkles on it.  But my milk was boring. Look at me, I have a sheaf!"

Which translates to: "We had lunch at Tim Hortons.  Thank goodness I didn't have to eat a mango... I had a bagel, and a doughnut with green, white, and yellow sprinkles on top.  I didn't want to finish drinking my milk because it took too long and I lost interest. I'm a brave and mighty knight, watch me wield this plastic sword and sheaf with skill and bravery!"