The Lighthouse

the lighthouse

30 July 2011


And the livin' is easy
Fish are jumpin'
And the cotton is high

People are fishing, that's for sure, but whether the fish are actually jumping, I don't know.  We don't have cotton growing around here, either, but Gershwin knew that fields of corn aren't as evocative as cotton standing tall under the scorching southern sun.

It is well and truly summer time in Canada, the Great White North.  Say 'Canada', and most people will call up visions of igloos, dogsleds, friendly people in toques drinking beer from a bottle saying 'eh'. Mukluks not flip flops come to mind. We're born with skates on our feet, we all speak French, and how wonderful to see the Rockies, the Great Lakes, and the Bay of Fundy any old time you want to. (We have had family come over from The Olde Countrye thinking it was possible to See It All during their holiday.  "Yes," they say. "We know it's big. But we've got a car, and a whole week!")

I have seen American tourists driving along the scenic route in their RVs, skis strapped to the top. This was in July. They brought skis in July! They didn't do a lot of fact checking while planning their holiday.

Here are some facts:  it is currently 30 degrees Celsius (86F), and this is a nice reprieve after days and days days of intolerable heat. You've heard the expression "So hot you could fry an egg on the sidewalk"? Well, it's so humid you could... steam broccoli - if only you could stand outside long enough to do it.

Winter withdrew from the land more than 3 months ago, and the only skiing happening now is on water. With its retreat, Canadians perk up. Neighbours long holed up in air-tight, climate controlled homes poke their noses out of doors, sniff the air for assurance of Spring, and reintroduce themselves to one another. Gradually the thermometer climbs; life manages to gain intensity and grow torpid all at the same time as we battle the heat in our appreciation of increased sunlight.

For two trying weeks at the pinnacle of the season, Canadians withdraw once more into air-tight, climate controlled homes. Many of us are now stretched 50 degrees (or more)  from winter extremes and feeling the demands of coping with both the highs and the lows (wardrobe alone is a major headache, but let's not get into that again) We bide our time, waiting to resume an interrupted life with the patience that comes with accepting nature always wins.

Meanwhile, summer's alter ego is in full flutter:  Road Work Season.  Municipalities are in a mad frenzy to upgrade and regrade street surfaces, dig up and replant sewer lines, or simply divert traffic while road crews stand around looking at big holes. Detours have detours. Pot holes have nesting colonies of Canadian Geese. Multi-lane highways are reduced to single lane dirt tracks suitable for adventure-type reality tv.

Did the American tourist with skis hopefully strapped to the RV expect to find any of this?  What he doesn't know is that no matter how much we grumble about our weather, Canadians love the changing seasons, and are proud of our hardiness.  We exult in the first hint of warmth in early spring, and embrace the first crisp mornings of autumn. Surely we can be forgiven for a little  mild summer crankiness?

Roll out those lazy hazy crazy days of summer
Those days of soda and pretzels and beer
Roll out those lazy hazy crazy days of summer
Dust off the sun and moon and sing a song of cheer

27 July 2011

It was a day at the beach

I feel like a cruller that has been dusted with fine cinnamon sugar - sand lightly coats my arms and legs and face and... yep, there too - my scalp.  I know when I brush this mop, the half of the beach that hasn't fallen out of Four and Five's swim trunks will be coaxed out of my hair.

I should mention that the part of the cruller that is my back feels like it sat too long in the hot part of the oven; it's just a tad crispy.

Life's like a day at the beach, isn't it?  Sometimes you get sand in your hair. Sometimes you get burned. But in exchange you get sun and sand and surf. Not a bad deal.

25 July 2011


We are now past the two and a half year mark of Pop's death.  What people said would happen, has happened: the grief has eased. It hasn't gone, it isn't really diminished though it has receded. It doesn't strike as sharply as it once did, but it still has a sneaky habit of popping out of nowhere, unexpectedly, in unguarded moments. It occasionally still brings companions: disbelief, and anger.

In the early hours of the morning, I was talking to Four (who is approaching his fifth birthday) about his recent visit to Oma's house.  He was telling me about the 'garner snake' they saw in the big field. He recounted the story about Opa not liking snakes, but that one time he killed one in the garden with the shovel.

Somehow in his young mind the snake became the reason for Opa's death. I tried to explain that the snake had nothing to do with it, that Opa's body just stopped working.  This little guy is usually like a faucet when he's upset. Tears pour over the rim of his eyes, landing on any surface nearby. He cries with the same gusto he does everything else in life. This morning he was trying so hard to not cry that my heart broke for him. 

"I wish God would give him back to us." he said. 
"I know." I agreed. "That would be a good thing. But being with God is the best thing."
"I wish I could be a super hero, so I could be strong and go up to heaven.  I could put Opa's body back together. I could glue all the pieces back and he would never have to die again."

If only we had that kind of glue.

24 July 2011

To friend or not to friend

Isn't Google useful?  Ask it anything, and Google has an answer for you.  Not always an accurate answer, or one relevant to your question, but it is reassuringly consistent with offering answers.  For example, searching for information on the condor, the first 12 results (of "about 55,700,000 results") offers tidbits about Condor Airlines, Condor Hotlines, Condor Petroleum, the condor project - having something to do with HTC - a flight simulation game, Condor Ferries, a post production network (now with offices in South Africa and the Ukraine!), and, yes, a Wikipedia entry for the vulture itself.

Search results used to be called 'hits'.  I think hit is an apt term because sometimes you feel like you've been hit over the head by the sheer volume of information someone over at Google thought would be useful to you.

This post isn't about Google, however.  I brought it up because I want to bend your ear about that social networking megalith, Facebook. I was curious about how many people use the thing, and found numbers in the hundreds of millions. Yikes!

I'm not a Facebook hater.  Well, not entirely.  It has its conveniences and benefits, and can even be fun. (It used to be a whole lot funner before all the 'improvements', but that's not the purpose of this post either.) I like that fact that it brought an old friend from school back into my life. I appreciate  the way it allows multiple friends and family members to take part in the same conversation. Maybe I didn't need to know that one person bought an aquarium online at three in the morning, but the silver lining of that information overload is the next time I see that person, I'll know to ask about the new fish endeavour. 

I recently had an interesting exchange with someone I don't know on the wall of a mutual friend.  Something he said caught my attention and I was curious about his background, so I clicked over to his page to see if he shared any info. I just about lost my eyeballs with the force of my disbelief at seeing how many 'friends' he had. 

Hold onto your eyeballs, cause this might shock you: he was a mere handful away from seventeen hundred.  How does your brain not leak out of your head every single day with the effort required to remember that many names? I know many people have a different Facebook philosophy from my own. They like to be friends with everyone, including anyone who may have posted a comment one time on another friend's wall. I feel guilty when I see names of people in my friends list I haven't 'talked' to in a while. I cannot imagine the amount of antacid I would need to handle not talking to 170 people, let alone 1,700! I used to be friends with a United supporter in Wales I met on the Red Devils fan page, but when I saw that little message that tells you who has a birthday coming up and it took me a very long time to remember who he was, I jettisoned him. Unfriendly of me, wasn't it? A friend of a friend sent a friend request, and when I took some time to think about it, he told me it wasn't a big deal, it was only Facebook friendship. Exactly, I thought.  It's only Facebook friendship, so why bother?

There are six requests sitting in my notifications right now, waiting for me to decide to friend or not to friend.  If these were people I actually felt friendly about I wouldn't have hesitated.  Likewise, if they were people I didn't know at all I wouldn't hesitate to press 'ignore'. These are people I have a tenuous link with: work colleague from years ago, family relation I haven't seen in donkey's years, someone I used to know through the church I used to attend.  

What's the protocol?  Am I obliged to accept their Facebook friendship? If I ignore their request, do I send them a note as well? (Saying what? Thanks, honoured and all that.... but, no thanks?)  What's your approach to the great question: to friend or not to friend?  Do you friend everyone? Do you communicate regularly with everyone on your friend list?  Are there people on your list you would unfriend if you could find a charitable way to do it?

Maybe Google has the answers.

22 July 2011

The Fretted Fritters

A friend and I are going to start a rock band.  We're calling it The Fretted Fritters.

Don't ask... it seemed perfectly rational at the time.

We will embark on our Near and Narrow tour in an old chip truck. We will probably toss fritters into the crowd (fries, too if things go well financially).  Don't worry, we've thought of the law suits.  We'll post signs at our venues that say:
Caution, items thrown from the stage may be hot.  
The Fretted Fritters assume no responsibility for dry cleaning costs; wear white at your own risk.

We've found a hole in the recording market (where fried food hits the road with women who tend to worry too much).  This is an untapped niche.  We'll make millions! (of heart burn victims) Musical ability is not relevant. We may not even bring instruments. But we expect David Letterman to call any time now.

Thanks for the laugh, Miss Sarah.  We're definitely on to something!

Of steamer trunks and peanuts

I've just been there and back again.  Again.

I get in my car, and four and a half hours later I'm there.  That is actually one of the best part about it: it takes four and a half hours. The time is proportionate to the distance which allows psychology to catch up to geography. There is time  for thinking (or even better, not thinking). There is opportunity to shift gears and switch internal maps.  By the time you get there, you're prepared to be there.

Oh, yes, I know.  A flight to Mongolia takes much much longer than four and a half hours, but consider the adjustment required. The mind knows that Mongolia is half way around the world, so it flounders in confusion when the body arrives there in the same calendar day. "This morning I had cow's milk in my cereal, now they're putting yak's milk in my tea!" It's a shock to the system.

A few years back, I flew from my new city to the old city, roughly 600 kms away. Despite the hoopla of taking off and the landing pattern, I was driving away from the airport a mere hour later.  That's not enough time to turn off the seat belt sign or hand out peanuts!

I remember feeling confused (fairly normal) and disoriented (no comment), thinking to myself, "I didn't know we had a Hunt Club Road!" and, "Wait, what's the theatre doing there?" "How odd, that university looks just like the one in...hang on!" It takes a while for this poor brain to catch on, you see.

If it weren't for the fact that it requires being on water, I think ocean liner is the way to travel. None of this mad rushing ahead, arriving before you have actually left. (Time zones are so tricky.) Think steamer trunks and shuffle board... think rolling waves and sea sickness.  Never mind the ocean liner; let's take to the rails instead. None of that pesky heaving about on the sea, and if you don't mind a few stares you can still use the steamer trunk.  Best of all, by the time you get there, you're ready to be there.

21 July 2011

Looking good, United!  Looking good!

Nemanja Vidic doing his job

Manchester United played a friendly against the Seattle Sounders (MLS).  United, of course, obliterated trounced,  annihilated tore apart, beat Seattle 7-0.  That's right: Seven - Nothing.

Here's hoping this is portentous of the season to come.

16 July 2011


I'm at Oma's for a few days, during the height of The Season (meaning tourist season). For ten months of the year, The County is a quiet place where proprietors operate on a come-by-chance policy, and locals are able to pretend the Big City is far, far away.

All that changes for months eleven and twelve. Suddenly there is traffic on the roads, restaurant tables are hard to score, and every other little house hangs out a sign offering everything from preserves, to duck decoys, to refurbished bicycles - not to mention arts and crafts of all sorts.

Oma's house sits on the outskirts of 'the downtown shops' of a very small village. 'Down town shops' is how a real estate agent tried to sell a village property to recreation-home seekers from the above mentioned Big City. The shops include a gas station/convenience store, post office,and tiny library.

Just beyond her front garden is a three-way stop, which the locals interpret as an invitation to yield. It is where three loops of varying distance converge, and it is essentially possible to get anywhere at this end of The County from either of those loops, if you're prepared to drive long enough,and pay attention to the helpful directional signs posted along each route.

At off-season times, almost all traffic passing by is local - folks who know exactly where they're headed, and how to get there.  During tourist season, however, much entertainment can be derived from the many many vehicles that drive by, then show up at the stop sign a little while later from a different direction. Then reappear once more coming the other way.  Then sit for a few moments while the two people in the front seats gesticulate wildly at each other.  At which point the car goes into reverse and tries a previous tack once more... just in case.

Each car/van/trailer/motorcycle team offers infinite scope for speculation and story-spinning. Who are they?  Where have they come from?  Where are they going and what do they hope to find there? Did they actually check a map before hitting the road? Do they realize the sand dunes belong to a lake, and not our village pond? How close is Mrs. Tourist to getting out of the car and walking because Mr. Tourist will not listen to her suggestions?  How often have Timmy and Jane Tourist pointed out the ice cream sign at the gas station?

Opa used to plot ways to have some fun with them: everything from printing up maps to offer at a very 'reasonable' price, to egging them on in their looping travels.  I think a paint gun would be great fun.  I would daub each one, then count the dots each time they went by.

As Mr. Bennet would say: what are our neighbours for after all, but to provide us with a little sport?

15 July 2011

To trust like a little child

Something sad but wonderful is happening in our house: Five is 'figuring out' the difficult transition from diaper-wearing dependence to big-boy underwear independence. Gone is the wide-legged trot of toddlerhood; while just last winter he insisted on holding my finger on our walks, he now struts ahead of me, so tall,and straight... and confident.

It takes confidence to not get lost in a pack of four older brothers, and Five is definitely not lost. He enters the room, or joins the game, or bellows orders from the bathroom, trusting he will be loved, accepted, obeyed.  It's breathtaking.

Not many nights ago we read a story before bed. He tucked himself into my side, wrapped my arm around him, and held my hand in place. It was utterly natural to him to bestow himself as a gift. He didn't question his welcome; it didn't cross his mind that I wouldn't want him close to me. He knew to his core that he was loved. He accepted - and expected - to be loved.

It was breathtaking.

Years ago, I heard a priest propose the theory that John was the beloved disciple not because Jesus loved him more than the others, but because John allowed Jesus to love him. Perhaps he had a greater capacity; or maybe he simply expected to be loved, and when it was offered he received it without condition.

To trust like a little child is challenging for adults, but John the Beloved shows us it is possible.

12 July 2011

Moving pictures

Have you seen any good movies lately?

Summer used to be the season for tent-pole movies, block buster movies, who-cares-about-plot-let's-just-blow-stuff-up movies. There used to be something for everyone at the local multiplex: rom-coms for the ladies, testosterone-driven extravaganzas for the lads, chirpy animated fun for the wee folk, and the occasional thoughtful 'film' of foreign extraction for those who don't mind reading while at the show. If you were in the mood for cinematic entertainment, you were practically assured of getting it.

Not so, these days.  I hear that Hollywood is struggling with its own financial crisis.  I'd suggest this has little to do with Fannie and Freddie and rather more to do with a flawed green light policy. (Green light means a script has been approved for development)

Have you seen the ads for this summer's box office?  It's men behaving badly in Bangkok, women behaving badly somewhere else, men and women behaving badly together, with a little murder and psychological terror thrown in for good measure.

So often a story line seems to have promise.  There is potential for 90 minutes of air conditioned entertainment - throw in some over-priced popcorn and you're well prepared for some fun. But when it's over, you're left wondering what all the fuss was about, and maybe you should have stayed home to sort your socks after all.

I know that it's very difficult to get someone to look at your script.  Then, if you have the good fortune to get an agent, it's a challenge to be picked up by a studio.  And after getting that far, a script can linger for years before it is put into production. It takes such a lot of money to make a film.  It requires people of talent to do the work on the set, costumes, make up, special effects, stunts, craft services, camera work, film development, editing, promotion and much, much more. And it takes somebody to read the script and say "I believe this will make a good picture." or at the very least, "This will make me stinking rich." and find backers who are willing to risk their money on the project, and artists to stake their reputations on it.

It's head-shakingly baffling then, after realizing all of that (and more) goes into making a film, to scan the listings and see the movies on offer. Really? Someone decided to approve that storyline? Somebody wrote that script and had the nerve to pitch the idea? And someone else thought it was a sure winner?

I'd love to hear about your favourite summertime movies, especially if it's from this year's crop.

10 July 2011

It's all in the timing

As a family, we're usually roll-with-it, go-with-the-flow people.

Water heater gives out?  We'll boil water on the stove and pretend we're pioneers.

Large family drops in for the weekend with dog and random Korean?  Pitch a tent in the backyard.

Front door won't lock and landlord has taken entire door handle mechanism out in the dead of winter? Stuff a little boy's underwear in the opening to prevent family from freezing. (Underwear was on top of the clean laundry pile which was the closest thing to the door at the time... why Papa Nut didn't keep digging for, say, socks, I don't know...but we didn't freeze, for which I am grateful.)

On the longest stretch of highway with no rest stops and a van full of boys who need to use one?  That's what empty water bottles are for.

In the same van, still full of boys, and the van either breaks down just off the highway, or in the parking lot of the local Wallies? We either A) walk home, or, B) have a picnic and figure it out later.

I share these examples with you to show I wasn't just talkin' when I said we can go with the flow.  Here's the thing though.  The washing machine will only parboil our clothes no matter what setting its on. The freezer wont freeze our food (not great news for the large turkey and the party-sized bag of shrimp we had in there), while the fridge will only freeze our food.  The oven element went on strike, and the dishwasher is showing signs of working to rule.  Oh yes, and the upstairs bathroom faucet snapped off just the other day in the hand of a visiting friend from Ohio.

All these can be dealt with - we're rolling with it.  Except for Grandma and Grandpa Nut's 50th Wedding Anniversary.Which we are hosting here. This week. Aunts and uncles, cousins, friends, and distant relations are about to descend on this house, requiring feeding and bathing at regular intervals for five days. What's a Nut to do? Going crazy was seriously considered as a viable option for a time but 'roll with it' rose to the surface. Mama Nut put her foot down, saying she was not happy.  And you know what they say... "When Mama's not happy, ain't nobody happy."

Thankfully in this age of technology, everything can be got with a little help from Google. A new (to us) fridge and stove have found their way into our home in the last 24 hours.  They show great promise of being functional and cooperative.  Halleluyer.

08 July 2011

Of cats and boundaries

It's well known that cats have an innate ability to find the one person in the room with a dander allergy or a feline aversion.  I think their whiskers are specially designed antennae for the purpose. Sure as chocolate melts in the sun, if you are silently chanting "Don't jump on my lap... Don't jump on my lap... Don't jump on my lap." yours is the lap into which he will leap; yours will be the ankles around which little Puss will twine his lissome body; yours will be the sock on which he leaves his hairball gift.

In much the same way, my family attracts boundary-immune people. Our personal space is roughly the size of the Millennium Falcon and we do what we can to preserve it without holing up in a fortress on an island in an unnamed sea. I will sit on this couch... you can sit on that couch... and if there's anything I need to tell you, I will leave a note in your shoe. (Unless you're a squishable nephew, in which case you must be in arm's reach at all times, so I can squish you.)

We park at the far end of the parking lot, only to find on returning that four cars have parked so close we cannot open our doors.

We choose an isolated booth at a restaurant, and the next diner will take the booth next to us, while the rest of the tables remain empty.

We pick a removed, isolated, out-of-the-way road home, and a large pickup truck will keep his bumper in our rear view mirror the whole way.

Riding the train for six hours, the car we sit in will be filled with well-behaved, mannerly people who mind their own business, reading magazines (and turning the pages very quietly). Except for the person beside us, who for five and a half of those hours, talks loudly in her cell phone about the problems she's having with her husband.

Going to the lake at the tail end of the day, the beach is very nearly deserted. The horizon stretches as far as the eye can see, and the feeling of space is so vast that even we can let our guard down, assured of intact personal space.  Until a chatty family of four comes to stand so close beside us I could have held hands with them. And there is no feeling more odd than being in the middle of a large empty space with a perfect stranger standing so close to you you can tell what he had for supper.

Boundaries, people!  Boundaries!

05 July 2011

Birthday Boy

Number Three Nephew

There is a birthday in the House of Nuts which means that fun and frivolity will ensue. Number Three, smack dab in the middle of all the Peanuts both in birth order and in years in impossible to overlook.  No middle child syndrome for him.  Please allow me to introduce you:

He is happiest with a ball at his feet, or with a puck and a stick in his hand. He is able to spend hours practising his shots, perfecting his dribbling, honing his passing skills. When he is asked, "How was school today?" The answer invariably includes a recital of how many goals he scored at recess. In the photo above, he is no doubt imagining himself as Lionel Messi, and Barcelona is about to win the Cup.

With an ability for comedic timing beyond his years, paired with a pitch-perfect ear for mimicry, Three often has us in stitches.  His brothers scramble to keep up with them in the joke department, but they're often laughing too hard to catch their breath. He is particularly adept at Stan Laurel impressions.

Three has a very generous heart.  If he is given a treat, either of special time with his parents, or something tasty, he always asks to be able to share it with his brothers.

He has a great deal of discipline.  If work needs to be done, he knuckles down to do it, and then gets on with play with just as much determination. He saves himself a lot of parental shouting with this particular knack.

Three walks through the world with a confident swagger, as if he were already the captain of an NHL team, but he's quick to express concern for Oma's well-being, or children who don't have water, or the little boy in the movie who lost his dog. The assured jock has a tender heart of gold.

Happy birthday, Three!

04 July 2011



Lucy in the sky with all those diamonds - Five's version of the Beatles classic.

Peanuts One through Four were sharing their favourite moments from a Rock Band marathon the day before.  Five finally piped up with, “Hey guys, listen to this.  This is my song.”
And then he was quiet, looking at us expectantly.
Naturally we all chimed in with helpful questions, suggestions, snatches of songs, ponderings of what he could mean; none of which actually helped him share his song with us.
“Guys, this is my song.” he said again. Then looked at us.  “You have to talk to me.” And waited.
Fortunately, her mother’s instinct kicked in, and Mama Nut was able to supply what he was looking for, and she burst into that classic of one-hit-wonders, The Final Countdown.

I’ll bet you’re na na na’ing the guitar bits, aren’t you?

03 July 2011

This is not that day

When The House of Nuts packed up its belongings, and carried them down the street and around the corner to The New House - literally: arm loads of  kitchen essentials, random bits and pieces including the Christmas Tree, were walked from one house to the other - snow lay thick on the ground and winter had barely begun its sojourn  in Sohoe.

Visible from the kitchen of the New House, there stood in the backyard a Play Structure. It was a great wooden and yellow plastic sign of hope that winter would not endure forever and that little boys would one day be able to live out their adventures in the wide open spaces more conducive to grown up sanity.  And truly it did happen.  Snow melted, skies warmed and blued, sun shone, and all was well, for little boys adventured for hours on the swings and slides and climbing bars of The Play Structure.  It became the centre of their boyish games, the refuge of their dreamings, the focus of all their fun.

And then Mike came along.  Mike* used to live in this house and he promised his little girl that one day he would take The Play Structure... the source of our every happiness... to their New House. When he came to collect his mail all through the winter, he would tell us, "I'll come by sometime to take that down."  When he was here to repair the hall tile in the spring, he reminded us that any day now he would find the time to dismantle and move it.  In the warming summer weather, he would stop by to see how things are going, and talk in his usual way about getting around to doing something about it. We did our usual smile-and-nod response, but confidently assured each other that he would never find the time, realize that his beautiful new house in the country didn't need it, or that is was more trouble than it was worth, and that Peanuts One through Five were going to be enjoying The Play Structure for a long time to come.

It was not to be.  On Friday, July 1, 2011 (Canada Day, official start of Summer, Day Two of Summer Holidays) Mike drove his truck into our backyard and three men began to take our Centre of Boyish Games, Refuge of Dreamings, Focus of Fun -  apart, piece by piece.  And drove it away, leaving in it's place a great big empty.

He knew he would get around to it one day.  But surely this was not that day?

*We call him Mike because.... because... that is his name.