The Lighthouse

the lighthouse

30 December 2012

Books of the past year

Thanks to working in a public library, I've had access to books - oh so many books - this past year. Some were read and quickly forgotten, but some have lingered and will be remembered. Many have been stories about fascinating people, folks who undertake unusual tasks, or have lived unusual lives.

Here are some of my companions from the year two thousand and twelve:

Charley Boorman is a motorcycle nut. He's circumnavigated the globe with his friend Ewan Macgregor, competed in the Dakar motorcycle rally, and challenged himself to travel the world by any means available. His latest adventure was to tackle Canada on his bike. He's funny, anxious, sweet, game for anything and it all comes through in the writing. Part of the fun of this book was to find out how my own country compared to his experiences in Outer Mongolia or Africa. I think we hold up ok.

Another book about crazy motorcyclists, The man who would stop at nothing by Melissa Holbrook, is about extremists - long distance travellers. Really, really long distance. This book is about her entry into the Iron Butt Association, in which people think driving from coast to coast on the seat of a motorcycle without stopping is not only a good idea, but heaps of fun.  Fascinating in the way of observing unusual species at the zoo.

Not about motorcycles, but on the same theme of extreme endeavours  I read Wild: from lost to found on the Pacific Coast Trail. Here, Cheryl Strayed recounts her months of hiking the PCT, the physical and mental challenges, the triumphs, the emotional journey and healing, the people - and animals - she meets along the way. This book is an example of being able to appreciate the story, and admire the undertaking without really liking the person. Strayed didn't go out of her way to make herself a sympathetic character, which perhaps is admirable in itself.

Some people have difficult lives and never seem to overcome the unhappy childhood, while others may turn out rather well, though perhaps a tad quirky.  One of the most interesting books I read this year came from the Bloggess, Jenny Lawson, titled Let's pretend this never happened (a mostly true memoir). I couldn't do this book justice because her childhood was so far beyond my own experience, and the events she recounts seem stranger than fiction, and yet she writes with deft humour, inviting the reader to marvel along with her at the sheer unlikelihood of it all. There isn't a moment of self-indulgent pity because she is too matter of fact. Definitely worth putting on your wish list.

Gabrielle Hamilton, of Blood, bones, & butter: the inadvertent education of a reluctant chef is another example of an extreme and unhappy childhood. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to connect with her story, though overall it is interesting considering her beginnings and what she accomplished. I think it is the structure of the storytelling that gets in the way of having any impact on the reader (or at least me). There are gaps in details, and jumps back and forth in chronology that left me confused and wondering what I was missing.

Bill Burford I really did like, and I enjoyed his book a great deal. In fact, I'm eagerly trying to track down another he's written, but that's a whole other story.  This one is called Heat: an amateur's adventures as kitchen slave, line cook, pasta-maker, and apprentice to a Dante-quoting butcher in Tuscany. With a title like that, there's really no need for me to say more about it, except that it is such a good read, being interesting, informative, funny, thoughtful, and well written.

Paris in love: a memoir, by Eloisa James is a recounting of the year she lived in Paris with her husband and two children. More vignettes than straight chronology, James paints pictures of Paris that had me yearning to be there myself. She brought the people, the aromas, the food, the seasons, the architecture to life.

Does this church make me look fat by Rhoda Janzen I just wrote about so I won't say more about it here. I did just also read her first book, Mennonite in a little black dress: a memoir of going home, which I didn't like as much and I wouldn't recommend.  Oh well, one out of two ain't bad, eh?

Under an Afghan sky: a memoir of captivity by Melissa Fung.  Melissa is a Canadian journalist who was captured while working in Afghanistan and kept in a hole in the ground for more than a month. It's a horrifying scenario, and certainly not an easy book to read, yet it is a compelling story. Fung is Catholic and writes frankly about praying the rosary to help her through the odd pairing of fear and tedium.

In all honesty, I didn't read all of, or even most of The Complete journals of L.M. Montgomery: the PEI years but that certainly wasn't because I didn't enjoy it, or it was poorly written. If you loved Anne (with an E) of Green Gables or any other book written by this very gifted lady, you would enjoy reading her thoughts and learning about her life in her own words. I didn't read it all because I am, at times, gluttonous when I bring books home. Sometimes I end up with more than I could hope to read if I had twice the time and four times the attention span. Sadly, this one had to be returned before I could do more than dip into it, sampling here and there.  It is definitely on my list to borrow again in future.

And lastly, most recently is The Beekeeper's lament: how one man and half a billion honey bees help feed America by Hannah Nordhaus. Did you know there are virtually no wild honey bees left in America? They are largely domesticated, tended in back gardens by amateurs, or by migrant beekeepers with many thousands of hives they move by truck across the country according to pollination seasons. Fascinating. And a little frightening too, because it turns out we rely on the honey bee to pollinate our crops, and the bee is susceptible to mites and fungus and moths and toads of all things. If you have eaten well today, thank a beekeeper.

Family and Four

Today is the Feast of the Holy Family. This Advent and throughout these days of Christmas, I've been reflecting on what the little family of Joseph and Mary and Jesus was like. It must have been quiet and simple and humble, don't you think? I speculate that they had a large and supportive community, because I think that's what everyone had in that time and place. Today's Gospel reading supports that idea - a caravan of people travelling together so large that family members could lose track of each other.

I do the Holy Family a disservice by discounting their humanity, their ordinariness. It's very easy to assume that their heroic virtue, their saintly holiness, exempted them from ordinary, daily life. I forget that they had to care for each other in relationship just as any family must do. They looked after neighbours, chatted at market stalls, debated whether they could afford new shoes, looked forward to news of loved ones far away.

Were they quiet and unremarkable, or was theirs the home people went to for a meal, for advice, for solace? Did they debate the issues of the day over the evening meal? Were they quick to laugh, or were they sober and serious?

I like to think there was a lot of joy, a lot of laughter, a lot of affection. A home like that would have drawn many other people to it, spreading the joy and laughter out into their community – the first instance of bringing Christ into our homes and place of work, no?

We are also not to be foolish and empty-headed (I’m sure none of us here are) but still, I prize joy and laughter.

My own family was small and quiet and very ordinary. We had our trials, as all families do, and went through less than stellar periods together.  But today, on this feast day, and the fourth anniversary of my dad’s death, what I remember and treasure the most is the laughter and the joy.  My dad’s gift was seeing and appreciating the humour in ordinary things, and his greatest happiness came from simple things – a good book, a crossword, a glass of scotch. Along with his eyebrows, those are qualities I inherited from him, and I consider myself greatly blessed.

I give thanks for the blessings of the past year – those easy to accept as well as the difficult – and face the new year coming with joy and laughter.

28 December 2012

Rambling there and back again

Have you seen it yet?  Have you watched The Hobbit?  Are you keen? Indifferent? Beside yourself with anticipation?

I did see it. I have watched it. I was keen, not indifferent, but not really beside myself with anticipation because much as I loved the LOTR trilogy of films, I thought each successive one was progressively less Tolkienesque and more Hollywoodish. I'm not sure what to say about it as I find it difficult to be impartial.  In part I loved it, and yet I also was disappointed.  How can I make any sense out of such jumbled judgements?

I'm quite confident in saying that Mr. Tolkien would not approve of this adaptation. And yet, it affords us the opportunity to revisit Middle Earth, and that in itself is worth the ticket price. A second viewing is in order, so I shall pack my pocket handkerchiefs next Saturday to leave the Shire once more.


It has snowed. I'm working on gathering some enthusiasm about that.

For those of you down south, our kind of cold involves frozen nose hairs. You know it's cold when your nostrils freeze together when you step outside.


Do you buy books?  If so, from where?  If you purchase them online, what store do you use?  Sadly, New Town has one tiny, ill-stocked chain bookstore in the mall (I take pride in not having yet stepped foot in the mall) and one tiny, ill-stocked used paperback book store. I am parched for book browsing!  With no other recourse, I'm turning to the world wide web for my fix, but am still having difficulty tracking down some titles I'm looking for, such as 'Restoration of Christian Culture' by John Senior, and '84 Charing Cross Road' by Helen Hanff.  Any ideas?


My contract here at New Town Public Library is winding to a close.  I am back on the job market, which may also mean packing and moving yet again. It would be my 25th address change.  I'm hoping the next move will be to my forever home.

Do you live by the ocean, and wouldn't you like to take me in?  I'm tidy and I like to bake.

Also, do you need a friendly (ok, slightly cranky) librarian?  References available on request.


I have to mention football.  Yes, I do so have to.  Notice how I left it to the end so you can just ignore it and click away?  I would be neglecting my duty as a member of The Beautiful Game Rules The World club if I didn't update you on the standings. We are 19 games into the season and Manchester United are in the lead by 7 points.  There is a massive rivalry between United (in red) and Manchester City (in baby blue) so those 7 points are very important, as is our goal difference advantage of 2.  We've lost the title in seasons past because of goal difference.  Christmas is a busy time in the English Premier League, when many matches are held, meaning many many points are up for grabs. This could be our chance to break away from the rest of the table, or at least establish a very comfortable lead.
Glory Glory Man United!!


The end.

It's still a happy Christmas!

Happy Christmas to you, dear Reader.

We are in the Octave of Christmas, so don't stop the party just yet.  There are still many days of egg nog ahead of us, so pace yourself and enjoy the tree.

I have noticed a growing plague among my fellow mortals: Christmas Fatigue.  This is a condition caused by preparation overkill, shopping list stress, and unachievable expectations which result in outbreaks of rash at the sound of carols and uncontrollable twitching at the sight of holly and/or ivy.

The solution to this is to forget all the la di da (not to mention the fa la la la la) and focus on Christmas.  Let's look at Christams stripped of jolly bearded men and red-nosed Rudolphs, shall we?  It is the day we remember that God keeps His promises, the day our Saviour was born.  A pretty momentous occasion, wouldn't you agree?  And yet what happened on the actual day?  A humble family in inauspicious surroundings had a baby and were visited by shepherds. Not a lot of hooplah in Bethlehem (aside from the angel choirs and the visiting kings).

Shouldn't we take our cue from the original Christmas?  Whatever it is you're doing that stresses you out and turns you off the occasion all together ... stop doing it!  Have a nice meal with loved ones.  Gifts are ok, and even enjoyable, but they needn't be extravagently bank-breaking. Essentially, lower  your expectations!  We've put Christmas on steroids and there is nothing beautiful about that.

24 December 2012

Happy Christmas

It's here!  Merry Christmas, one and all.  I pray for peace and joy for you and yours.

15 December 2012


There are serious and sorrowful things happening in the world.  I can't bring myself to write about them, because while words are powerful, they are too small to comfort, too weak to undo, too feeble to mend.

These are sad times. There are important issues to be discussed, but today is not the day for it. Sometimes silence is more powerful than words.

12 December 2012

Post hoc, ergo propter hoc

I'm rewatching episodes of the West Wing.  If you have been around The Lighthouse for a while, you know I'm a fan of the show and can be counted on to drag out a season or two worth of discs to lose myself in the witty dialogue and fine acting.  If you are a certain friend I've told I'm trying to cut down on how much time I spend online, this doesn't count: it's on disc, not online.  I know my way around a justificational argument. I can also invent words when I need them.

Anyway.  This last episode ends with President Bartlet walking from the Oval to the residence, and as he progresses along the arcade the secret service agents lift their right arm to talk into their cuff. Granted, at the time this show was filmed, shows were still filmed and not videod, and cell phones were the size of a brick of ice cream, but surely even then the technology was available for agents to communicate more discretely? They dress in suits so as to 'blend' with the common man, but the rankest amateur could pick an agent out of a crowd by the curly wire behind their ear and the talking into their cuff move.

I also like the show because while being entertained, I learn things like "Post hoc, ergo propter hoc" means "After it, therefore because of it."  Useful knowledge at parties, during awkward silences in elevators, and trivia pub nights.

This librarian is not objective

I have been confronted with myself today, as I weed the juvenile graphic novel collection:  I am a biased librarian. I have very little objectivity on the job.
(Explanatory note: weeding is a part of collection maintenance. It entails examining each book in a given section of the library and determining if, whether because of condition, content, or statistics a book should be pulled/withdrawn/discarded, repaired, promoted, or replaced.)

I have noticed it in myself in the past, but today I actually said the words in plain English, "I don't like this book so it's going."  And I don't feel one little bit bad about it. I've put The Tale of Despereaux in the 'Keepsies' pile, while Little vampire, and Little vampire does kung fu! went straight on the 'Toss it' pile. Not because I'm particularly fond of the little mouse and his adventures, but because he's not a vampire. Or a vapid-eyed robot. Or cheeky know-it-all child.

It's one of the perks of the job really, to mold the reading preferences of the young people of New Town. I really should have a superhero costume.

10 December 2012

Favourite Christmas-like movies

Christmas-like movies being those that put you in the mood, or are set during the season etc.

Here are a few of my favourites:

While you were sleeping
Sandra Bullock, Bill Pullman, Peter Gallagher
Lucy believes herself to be in love with Peter whom she sees every day on the train. Circumstances put Peter into a coma which leads to Lucy meeting the rest of his family - including his brother Jack. It's Christmas, and love is in the air.

You've got mail
Meg Ryan, Tom Hanks
Can an independent book store owner allow herself to love the owner of Fox Books, the big, bad discount book store? Though the movie takes place over several months, several key scenes take place during Christmas.

Marley and Me
Jennifer Aniston, OwenWilson
Hankies are needed for this movie about the life and growth of a family from marriage, taking on a dog,to  the arrival of children.

New in town
Renee Zelwegger, Harry Connick Jr.
What happens when a big city sophisticate moves to small town Minnesota? There is a lovely scene of townsfolk gathering around a big Christmas tree singing O Come all ye faithful.

Lord of the Rings
This isn't a Christmas story by any means, but possibly because the movies were released just before Christmas each year, I've come to watch them again each year right around this time.

The Holiday
Kate Winslet, Cameron Diaz, Jack Black, Jude Law
A shout out to Miss Sarah for mentioning this one, in which a Brit and an American swap homes at Christmas in order to escape their own lives for a while.  Love and hijinx ensue.

Julia Roberts, Susan Sarandon, Ed Harris
Another tearjerker involving a man, an exwife, the new wife, two children, and how unexpected events can change your perspective, culminating in a bittersweet Christmas.

07 December 2012

Query: do you Goodreads?

Hello Dear Reader,

I'm conducting an informal inquiry:  do you make use of Goodreads?  And if so, how do you use it?

A friend suggested I join nearly a year ago, but since establishing my account, I haven't been back.  I hear it referred to a lot at work, so it would seem this is a site I should become familiar with.  Is it something I'm going to find useful?  Or, like Pinterest, is it going to be a huge temptation to spend hours online? Is it work-intensive, requiring meticulous record keeping?

I'm eager to hear from you!

05 December 2012

Book review: Does this church make me look fat?

This book has the best combination of ingredients for a biography: humour and insight. Even better: that humour and insight relates her transformation from sceptical academic to fully surrendered Christian. The period of time Rhoda Janzen recounts in this book includes a sudden and dramatic diagnosis of breast cancer. Lest you foresee a gloomy 253 page treatise on the necessity of grim acceptance of the crosses God gives to us, let me assure you the author is genetically indisposed to grimness.

Throughout the book, whether describing how she came to understand and appreciate the principle of tithing, or accepting the fact that she, a passionate runner, would no longer be able to run because of the cancer treatments, Janzen maintains such a positive and humorous outlook it is infectious and inspiring. While 'Does this church make me look fat' is a journey of faith, the primary lesson I take away from this book is that we decide our attitude; we choose how we cope with the stuff of life; we determine whether we will be long suffering or joyful.

A professor of English and creative writing, the author, Rhoda Janzen,  is clearly in her element wrangling words into story. As in all cases of a gifted writer, her craftsmanship is such that the reader is unaware of the mechanics and structure of her work and focuses instead on the message. (With less adept writers, their wordsmithing gets in the way of what it is they want to say.)

Janzen speaks often of her "church of origin" which was Mennonite.  Her new-found adult faith culminates in the Pentecostal church, so I, as a Catholic didn't read this book for theological instruction.  There are principles we all hold in common as Christians, however, and they make this a worthwhile book for all to read, regardless of religious affiliation. To read a book in which the author addresses honouring our elders, the goodness of tithing, the final understanding of the relationship between abstinence and true intimacy is edifying as well as entertaining.

Here aree a few passages from the book I wrote into my journal:

Overinvestment in the life of the mind had brought me neither peace nor joy. I was ready to try something else. I decided to sit very still and see what God would do with this new circumstance. - this passage describes her transition from sceptical academic to surrendered believer.

Now that I knew Bernie wasn't developmentally delayed, I liked him even more. Imagine the chops it takes to live from a place of simplicity when the mind longs for complexity! - this from a section in which she describes the transformation of her attitude toward tithing.  She went on to say that Bernie, even with a low paying crossing guard job tithed with joy.

We each had our different priorities. If you held them lightly and used a plastic spoon, they were nothing to get stuck on. - Concludes a chapter showing it isn't necessarily what we have in common with our spouse that makes our relationship strong.

When something is taken away, you begin to focus on what remains. We have only two choices when an important thing disappears from our lives: either we resent what is missing or we accept the loss. [...] The choice is ours. [...] It wasn't until I tried abstinence that I arrived at a useful conclusion. Sex should enhance intimacy, not replace it. This is because sex is a pretty pale substitute for intimacy  even when you're crazy hot for your lover. Abstinent  Mitch and I were forced not only to build real relational intimacy, but to understand how very much we had underestimated the potential and richness of sex.

Does this church make me look fat? : a Mennonite finds faith, meets Mr. Right, and solves her lady problems. By Rhoda Janzen. Grand Central Publishing, 2012.

04 December 2012

Another day in the library

Patron: "I'd like to scan these pages to a USB stick."

Tess:  "I'm sorry, we don't have a scanner."

Patron: "I want to scan this paper." (Shows me the paper for clarification)

Tess: "I'm sorry, but we can't do that for you."

Patron: "I want to scan.  Scan.  You understand scan?"

Tess: "Yes, you would like to scan your document and transfer it to a USB stick.  I'm sorry, we don't have the ability to do that here."

Patron: "You don't have a scanner?"

Tess: "That's right, we don't have a scanner."

Patron: "Oh.  You don't have a scanner."

Tess: "No, we don't.  I'm very sorry."

Patron: "So I can't scan."

Tess: "I'm very sorry."

Patron stands in the middle of the room looking around for the scanner we're surely hiding from him.  He spies a likely looking gadget, and eyes it hungrily.  A second patron notices this, and helpfully informs the first patron that it is not a scanner, but a braile reader for the blind.  A conversation between the two men ensues, closely resembling the conversation transcribed above.  "It's not a scanner?"  "No, it's not a scanner."  "Oh.  It's not a scanner."  "No, it's not."

While I am, admitedly, a bit of a pest in real life, and enjoy teasing friends and family, it is not something I feel free to do at work.  Pretending we don't have a scanner when we really do is just not professional!

26 November 2012


Today was the first time I really and truly understood the paradox we so often hear: in our weakness, God is strong, or the concept that God works through (or with) our weakness.

It was one of those days, right from the moment the alarm rang this morning.  You know the days I mean?  I felt like the best thing I could do - for myself and the world - was roll over and sleep the day away (with breaks for books and tea).  I felt so incredibly tired and lacklustre. There was no oomph within me, no pizzazz, no sparkle. Troublesome as Monday is Storytime Day.  On Storytime Day, Librarian Tess has to be on, dynamic, interested and interesting.  My left knee felt like it was going to bend backwards at any moment (odd, I know.  Don't ask me why.) My back was sore. I just didn't have it in me on any level and desperately wished for a day at home.

To work I went, without even the presence of mind to offer the day to God or ask for help.

God knew and He sent help anyway.  I don't know who was with me this morning (is there a patron saint of children's librarians, or plumb-tuckered-out-folks?) but I know you were there, and I thank you for it, from the bottom of my heart.  It was the best morning yet, program-wise.  I didn't even forget the tune to Sleeping Bunnies, and the group of children who came today were lovely.

The very best part: knowing none of it was me, not one moment of it, not one minuscule element.

Our God is an awesome God, isn't He?

25 November 2012


New Town has a very large Nativity set up in a public park down town   Hoorah! I must (sheepishly) admit I didn't expect it and was stunned this morning when I first spotted it. I will make a point of writing to my official representative to register my approval.

It is very nearly Advent, my very favouritest time of year.  Meanwhile, I wish you all a very happy Feast of Christ the King.  May He reign in your heart!

23 November 2012

Remember remember: the month of November

We're nearing the end of November. Advent is approaching which means that Christmas is near. I love our Catholic tradition of honouring our beloved dead for the whole month of November. I love the providential overlap of Remembrance Day falling in this month. I love that the weather is so often suitably gloomy to help us feel reflective. I love the feeling of hibernation setting in, the sense of needing to prepare for dark days ahead.

I've been thinking about my dad a lot lately - natural considering what I wrote above. Also, there is an older gentleman who comes to the library who wears a hat much like Pop did, and sounds quite a lot like him, too. He also has the same impatience my dad had when it comes to things being more complicated then he thinks they ought to be.  I had to hide behind the stacks yesterday after he left because his crotchitiness made me weepy.  I wanted to hug his cranky self as if he were standing in proxy to my dad.

A year ago my mom's mother passed away. As testament of God's grace, Oma was baptised shortly before her death and received full Catholic rites.  This week Opa died. He had a complicated relationship with faith and the Church, but once again God's merciful love is providing us great comfort in knowing Opa, too, will receive a proper Catholic burial.

There is comfort, too, in knowing that my dear family members are the recipents of the prayers of many many people - even from people they never knew. Their names are written into the book of life, which makes me realize that they belong to a family greater than our own - our beautiful rituals remind me of that. For example, at every Mass when we pray for the faithful departed, my dad, my oma and opa are included. When you pray for the poor souls in purgatory, my loved ones may very well be among them. I am ever so grateful for that; thank you, and God bless you.

21 November 2012

Bad editor strikes again

Same author, same publisher, sequel title.

"Although, she was driving carefully, not knowing what lay under the drifts, it was still a bouncy ride as she swerved to avoid the dangerous bumps, and the visibility was poor as the snow continued to fall, and the sun's light was a hazy gray at best as it tried to burn its way through the clouds."
Aside from the run-on sentence problem, that first comma confuses me.

Later, at the bottom of page 156, "Carrie fretted her lip." Four paragraphs later, on page 157: "'I never heard about this,' Carrie said, and she began to fret her lower lip with her teeth."

Oh dear.

I'm looking forward to reading book three in the series, to see what new editorial delights await me therein.

14 November 2012

I meant well

I visited an office supply store on my lunch hour today.  It's my happy place. What's not to love about a place full of nifty - and oh so cute - organizational doodads, paper of every kind, and pens in every colour?  It cures my headaches, lifts my spirits, soothes my ruffled feathers, calms my nerves.  And it's a gift that keeps on giving because every single time I use the notebook or the pen, or the file folder, I experience the same happiness all over again.

So there I was, gleefully sifting through a pile of discounted spiral-bound notebooks when another member of the public, a very nice looking lady, walked by, saying "Excuse me?"  "Yes, can I help you?" I helpfully asked with a big smile on my face.  She looked at me, very puzzled.

I realized she was calling to a store employee. Then I remembered I wasn't actually at work.  "Oh, sorry, I don't work here!" I laughed.

She walked away very quickly.

13 November 2012

Of phones, monkeys and what happened next

The phone system was down at work.  Not only were there no incoming calls, but we could not phone each other within the library, nor could we use the public address system.  This meant we had to use our outdoor voices to make the closing announcements ("May I have your attention please.  The library will be closing in half an hour... fifteen minutes...five minutes... get out now, we're closing...").  We use the PA in times of need as well, such as needing a manager or security.  The need doesn't often occur, but there is comfort in knowing help is just the press of a phone button away; there is no comfort at all in realizing it's down to my not-so-loud voice being able to summon someone - anyone - in case of emergency.

When I arrived at work on the first day the phones were down, I groaned a little to my colleagues.  I was scheduled for four hours on the Dreaded Third. It's typically a quiet floor, mostly students working on papers or folks watching their tv shows online. (With headphones, of course) I have half jokingly/half seriously suggested we don't really need a library trained person up there because we never get asked librarian type questions.  Never.  "I did, once." one of the library trained people told me.  Wow.  Once, huh?  Plus, I feel very isolated up there because staff never just happen to wander along, so being on the Dreaded Third is akin to a posting to Siberia.  "It was so quiet up there this morning." the same library trained person reassured me. "Bring your own cell phone in case you need it.  The managers' mobile numbers are printed out for you at the desk."  Well, what a relief!  I can use my own cell phone to call for back up if needed.  Should I take this opportunity to tell you I have an ancient and temperamental non-smart phone?  It takes about 35 seconds to warm up before it starts dialling a number.  Perfect for emergencies.

What do you suppose happened?  This was the day when I had to tell everyone on the computers at least once they had to be quiet (this is the only floor in the whole entire library where we ask people to be quiet) - even two old ladies who were learning to be good cooks by watching Youtube videos together.  Some of them I had to ask twice!  (Not the old ladies.  They apologized profusely and promised to behave themselves ever after.  Nothing like admonishing the elderly to feel really good about yourself.)

Then.  Oh, and then.  Dear reader, how can I help you understand what happened then?  Keep these things in mind:  it is a quiet floor, so quiet that we all hear someone shift in their seat; I was dreading something untoward happening; I was busy cutting out 100 monkeys for next week's storytime craft.  For little children.

Scissors in hand, mountain of paper monkeys in front of me, I looked up to see two young men, dressed in black motorcycle leather, tattooed and pierced everywhere they could be tattooed and pierced.  One of them opens his mouth and says, in a regular conversational tone of voice, "I'm looking for the website to find out if I'm gay."

I could feel the air being sucked out of the room as everyone in the place strained to get a look at who asked the question without obviously looking at who asked the question.  I could also feel everyone waiting attentively to hear my answer.

In a rather fumbling fashion, I attempted to conduct a reference interview to determine just what precisely they were looking for.  I suggested a Google search, to which they wanted to know what words to use. After tossing them a few ideas, they helped themselves to a public access computer and tapped away, seemingly with little success.  After a few minutes of them arguing with each other whether they should use "gay" or "homosexual", I walked over to give them a piece of paper I'd written my own search term on, hoping that would settle them down. 

Just when the room was returning to normal - everyone paying attention to their own business - one of the young men proceeded to read an article about being gay outloud.  Loudly.


I sent them a discrete text message from my computer to theirs pointing out they were on the Quiet Floor and if they needed to discuss their research they were welcome to use a computer elsewhere.

A few minutes later they left.  And now I can no longer say I've never been asked a librarian type question on the Dreaded Third.

12 November 2012

In reply

Dear Spammer,
I have been receiving letters from many of your friends of late, also named Anonymous.  Thank you for your kind comment, and beg leave to reply thusly:
I have not a single clue what you mean.


The comment is copied here, for the benefit of all.
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Here is my page [website here... which I have not pasted]

In which Tess demonstrates why she doesn't have her own cooking show

I'm blaming the stove.  The same stove that set my grill pan alight only months ago.  The same stove that smokes nearly every time I turn on the heat.

A lovely dinner of Swiss chard (sautéed with bacon and onions), marinated pork loin, and quinoa was under way on the stove top.  The quinoa was bubbling in its pot - my only pot, the pot I cook oatmeal in, boil water for tea in, reheat leftovers in - with the proper amount of water and a little splash of wine for flavour.  Yes, the heat was on high, but there was still double the amount of liquid to grain, so I left it to do what its meant to do.

Now, I do admit to not being a terribly attentive cook.  I believe in efficiency, and so like to do more than one thing at a time.  Having assembled the components of the meal while putting yesterday's dishes away, I took the opportunity of the quinoa needing to absorb all the liquid to take care of some online business.  Legitimate business, mind, not idle surfing of the internet but banking and suchlike. I could smell that distinctive smell of something becoming far too hot far too quickly, but wanted to do more...thing before returning to the kitchen.

Only I did one more thing too many, for the pot had boiled dry, the quinoa had burned quite solidly to the bottom.


I managed to salvage enough for my supper (though it tasted rather...hmm...roasted) and left the pot to soak, though it really seemed to be a hopeless case.

Two hours later, I rather badly wanted a cup of hot chocolate so I boiled up the water in my one and only frying pan.  Boiling water seemed safe enough, even for me.

Maybe I should have my own cooking show.  We can call it One Pot Cooking With Tess.

11 November 2012

In which I am frustrated by poor editing

Where are the editors?  Did they all pack up and move en masse to Johnny Depp's island in the Caribbean? Perhaps they are working to rule, protesting for pay raises and better benefits?  They are certainly absent from far too many books found on book shop and library shelves these days.  I've come across many books spoiled by poor editing.

I'm currently reading a cosy*. I don't expect a lot from my casual reading - entertaining story, loosely plausible plot, likeable characters, with enough interest to keep me turning the pages. In this particular book, I've overlooked a few sloppy mistakes: a distinctive phrase repeated several paragraphs later (I catch this in my own writing. It needs disinterested editing to catch this particular error.), grammatical errors (ex. the sun shined on her eyelids).  I could excuse them all in part because I like giggling at printed mistakes, and in part because the author sprinkled enough charm through her prose that I knew I'd be happy I saw the book through to the end.

Until this very moment when I read the passage which sent me venting to you:
"Lindsey nodded, letting Beth take the lead since it was her personal business they'd be disclosing.
Beth gave an annotated version."

Using the word annotated gives the exact opposite meaning the author intended. It suggests that Beth used explanatory notes to augment her version, meaning it would be longer and more informative.  Instead, what Beth shared was brief and sketchy, providing the barest amount of information.  The word wanted here is abbreviated.


*A cosy is a subgenre of mystery fiction in which there is no sex or violence, the main character is an amateur sleuth, and the story is usually set in a small community.

09 November 2012

The moon verses the clock

Is there a full moon tonight?  I'm pretty sure we're in a full moon.

Maybe the time change is having a delayed effect on our library patrons because there's been a whole lot of Full Moon going on today.

One hour to go.

02 November 2012

A tale of two Tess's

Librarian Tess is different from Civilian Tess.  Librarian Tess adores Pinterest for the wonderful craft ideas for her storytimes.  Civilian Tess abhors the thought of yet another account to keep accurate, up-to-the-minute, and interesting.

Civilian Tess believes that every person with a valid library card should be allowed to print.  Librarian Tess has no real problem with this in theory, but in practice wishes that people with the plague would not cough all over their money before handing it to her to pay for said printing. She's almost willing to pay for all of New Town's printing from her own paycheque so she doesn't have to handle the germ riddled cash.  Almost.

(Librarian Tess would also like a hazmat suit to wear at the end of the day when she has to log off the public use computers.  She sees what y'all do while at those keyboards, people.  It's not pretty!)

Librarian Tess applauds the new, inclusive, enlightened standards of public libraries that permit people to talk - out loud - and to eat and drink within the library environs.  Civilian Tess is a conservative, old fashioned, pickle, and would rather people enjoyed their fries at home before browsing through the expensive art history collection.

There is more to be said, but Librarian Tess has to get back to work.  She's packing hand sanitizer.

01 November 2012

Batman and the Human Torch.

Oh, how times have changed!

I just asked a little boy (about 7 years old) who is the best super hero.  I was thinking Batman (because, obviously, Batman is The Coolest super hero there is.)

I soon learned the error of my ways.  Elastic Man is the best, because he stretches.  Plus, when his arm is chopped off (you'd be surprised how often this happens) it grows right back.  Or he can change it.  And also, he can be a car or anything else.

That wasn't all.  This little boy had clearly given the question a great deal of thought before I ever asked it.  Next, is Mr. Fantastic.  And then it's The Human Torch.

The Human Torch?? I've never heard of him, nor do I really care to know what his super power is.  Or see him in action, come to that.  And yet, he's number three on the Coolest Super Hero list!

31 October 2012

Of Swiss dots and super storms

This is where I'm sitting  right in this very moment as I commune with my laptop, intending to write.  (And watch the Chelsea v Manchester United match) Instead, I get lost in contemplating the grey sky, or admiring the Swiss dot pattern of the curtain. The rain has been falling for days, and the wind has been blowing intermittently for just as long. Today is a perfect Thinking Day. Some days do seem reflective in nature, don't they?  I sit in my cozy chair, practically in my little windowsill garden thinking about the state of the world and my part in it.  There are terrible natural disasters occurring on both sides of my country.  To the south of me, a very important election is very nearly winding to a close and I'm very concerned about the results.

New Town has been on the receiving end of only the very mildest effects of Sandy - now called Super Storm Sandy in the news around here.  It's been exciting to follow updates of storm surges, wave heights, flooded subways, freakish happenings like the side of a building falling away....  But now the reality of it is setting in.  Several days have passed, and people are having to live with the consequences of that ruined building, those flooded subways, and the lack of electricity.  The enormity of what this Super Storm has wrought is so far beyond my comprehension that is just isn't real for me.  I keep you all in my thoughts and prayers, however, and hope you are all safe and sound. For any of you on the Left Coast, I pray that God keep you and yours safe from the devastating effects of the earthquakes. As for upcoming elections - both American and our own here in Ontario... o, dear Lord, help.

27 October 2012

Casting a light

Lighting in my flat is interesting.  The living room and kitchen have those overhead lights that make the room feel like an operating theatre.  As I don't have to suture anyone, and don't particularly admire the ambience of operating theatres, I use what is known to interior designers as 'task lighting'.  More about that later.

The bedroom doesn't have an overhead light. Instead, there is a lamp on one wall with a little twisty switch on the base. It looks, cunningly, like an old fashioned gaslight fitting, and like old fashioned gaslight, it flickers.  Only when it flickers off, it forgets to flicker on.  There have been times when I have been in the bowels of my closet and the room has plunged into darkness. "Thank goodness", I say to myself, "this closet is so small, or else how would I get out of here in all this dark?"

The bathroom light fixture is wired up to the exhaust fan.  The primary function of this fan is to make a great deal of noise.  I have tried to explain (sometimes through pleading) that it should also remove the moisture in the room, but it continues to do things its own way. During the height of summer, I could on occasion take my shower, eat breakfast, wait, eat lunch, then go back to find the mirror was just about clear.

The kitchen's overhead light burned out a few months ago, and as the ceilings are roughly 30 feet high (no, obviously they're not, but as I cannot jump high enough, nor do I have a chair tall enough to reach, the point is moo.)  (And yes, I totally meant moo.  Didn't you watch Friends?)

In each room I have set up table lamps. Some of them are quite nice; most of them are cute Ikea lamps. Even the bathroom has one.  The difficulty lies in the quaintsome charm of this old house.  In the living room there are only two working outlets.  Well, three, but one of them is scary... and that's another story.  This means I use a lot of extension cords etc. in order to plug in all that needs plugging in.  It also means there is a black hole in the living room.  The arm chair is placed perfectly in the one spot not covered by arcs of light from the lamps I already owned.  So I hunted for, and found, a lovely floor lamp.  I was very pleased with my purchase.  However, once I got it home and tried to find the right place for it, nothing works.  The light either comes blindingly over my shoulder, casting great shadows over what I'm trying to read, or it looms in front of me like an ominous contraption used for interrogations.

I often wonder what people can see of me through the window as they pass by on the street. Some evenings I'm up and down like a jack-in-the-box, moving the lamp this way and that, trying to find the sweet spot where I have enough light to read by, but not so much I'm willing to divulge highly sensitive state secrets.

I'm thinking of giving up on the whole lighting scheme and going with one of those miner's hats with the flashlight stuck to the front. That way I'll always be able to see where I'm at and what I'm looking at. Think of the savings on the hydro bill! And, my goodness, talk about ambience! Might be a little rough on the hairdo, but it just might be worth a try.

26 October 2012

It only took a second...

... of not paying attention, or so it seems, for the house to take on a neglected air.

I'm not a messy person, you understand. I am, however, perfectly capable of walking past the same pair of shoes for five days before putting them away, or leaving a glass on the desk for a full week before bringing it to the kitchen. (Don't get too grossed out, it was a water glass.)

It's been a busy week at work, with more busy days ahead.  I'm ever so grateful for the extra hours, but something's gotta give. Apparently what gives is the usually tidy state of my apartment.  I'm pretty sure I've been awake every day for the last week, so I should have noticed when it happened, and yet, here I am in the middle of, well, a pig stye, frankly, and I didn't see it coming.

Leaves falling off the trees have taken to blowing into the kitchen when I open the door; they now make a nice decorative statement on the floor. Laundry is drying on the rack - or more to the point is dry on the rack and needs to be put away. I've got slacks and tops hanging from hangers in the doorways. Odds and ends of dishes I haven't washed are stacked on the counter. A pile of shoes I've worn this week haven't moved from beside the door to their bin in the closet. Books are in unsorted piles on the table, my desk is covered in notebooks and paper, and cables. The bathroom is cluttered with tubes and pots and jars I haven't put back in the cupboard. The recycling is sitting out in the kitchen because when I brought the bag back inside on garbage day, I couldn't be bothered to set it back up in the pantry.

The house isn't exactly dirty. It certainly isn't unsanitary.  But it is disorganized and slightly chaotic, which makes me feel disorganized and slightly chaotic. I keep losing track of what day it is, and what I'm supposed to be doing. I think the confusion at home has something to do with it.

It only took a second.

24 October 2012


Politics.  Does the word make you weary?  Frustrated? Angry?  Indifferent?

The word and its reality cannot be avoided, these days.  If you live here in Ontario we are about to undergo a provincial election, with the prospect of yet another federal election threatening the near horizon (once the Liberal party sorts out its leadership) and to the south of us, the great battle royal in the US – the seemingly never ending presidential election.

I admit I’m tired of it all.  Not politics itself, but the posturing, the speechifying, the tattle taling/name calling scandal broth of it all. I’m frustrated beyond measure at the irresponsible way the press has of covering the news – and I mean this about both sides of the political spectrum. I’m disappointed in the way people have of talking about and writing about politicians, as if the fact that they are politicians gives us permission to shred their character.

When discussing politics and deciding how to cast our vote, it isn’t necessary to turn nasty. We may not like the candidate we aren’t voting for, but let's remember the dignity inherent in every human being, the respect each person deserves. Let’s challenge the argument, and not attack the person. The "other side" may think - and live - differently than we do, but that doesn't make them stupid. I'm tired of wild, inflammatory talk. The issues at stake are far too important to be treated so carelessly.

Have you noticed how little public discourse there actually is about the important issues?  Instead, we trade insulting quips, and slurs, and try to one-up the other side with rumours and ‘gates’ (White Watergate, Benghazigate, etc.)

This is the thing: both sides believe the other side is lying, and misguided.  In reality, both sides are.  Egos get in the way; desire for power gets in the way; the need to be right gets in the way.  The real issue gets overlooked: governance, in service of the people.  We need stewardship and leadership, not rhetoric and posturing. And along the way we have fallen into the habit of scandal mongering. It's perfectly right to disagree with a person's ideas when they differ from your own, but to malign the person for having those ideas is ineffective and can be destructive.   

Differences of ideology are important.  We’re meant to challenge and temper each other from either side of the political spectrum. Being socially or morally opposed to another’s ideas is not a bad thing. It is in fact invaluable to the system – it keeps the government moderate, which keeps life running smoothly, regardless of who happens to be in power. There has been enough evidence in recent history of what departure from moderation means for society. Having moderate government should allow the very conservative and the very liberal to coexist without infringement or compulsion.

The important distinction is the emphasis on questioning ideology or policy rather than attacking the individual. I'm challenging myself here as well: from now on, to respect the man (or woman) and discuss the ideas instead.

19 October 2012


Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add...
but when nothing else needs to be taken away.

Words to write by.

(Quotation ineptly lifted from Fr. Newfoundland's homily today)

18 October 2012

A tippy kind of post

When trying to save yourself a little time and think you are being clever... don't do it!  Invariably whatever time saving scheme you have devised will cause trouble, snafus, confusion, and inconvenience you never would have thought of, costing you more time than the original plan would have done.  New and improved isn't always better or smarter.

A little rain never hurt a soul. As it was sprinkling a little on my way to work, and I really felt like I needed a cup of heaven to help me through my evening shift (steeped tea, 2 milk, 1 sugar from Canada's favourite coffee-pouring hockey player) I decided to use the drive through (drive thru, for my American friends).  I was trying to save my delicate self from melting in the rain, you see.  That is how I found myself sitting behind one of those people who very thoughtfully let cars in the other lane go ahead of her, apparently oblivious to the wildly gesticulating woman in the car behind her. The moral of this story illustrates the handy tip posted above: looking for an easier/quicker way seldom works out the way you imagined. If I'd trusted my hair to survive a few raindrops, I would have had time to enjoy my cup of tea.

Ladies, I'm sorry to tell you this, but no matter how cute are the shoes, if you can't walk in them, don't wear them. There are few things as awkward as a woman tottering or clumping in her high heels. I may have mentioned this one before, but it bears repeating.

I was orginally schduled to work on the main floor tonight, with a colleague I really enjoy being teamed with.  However, the assignments were shuffled and I found myself slated to work a desk I don't enjoy as much. I  moaned about this (mostly inwardly) quite a lot because I'm here at this desk for four hours three days in a row.  That's a tough assignment.  Not as tough as three tours of duty in an active theatre of war, I understand  that. It was tough enough that I pitied myself, even though only for a little while.  Do you know what happened?  There is a large picture window at the far end of the room up here, overlooking a rather nice view, mostly missing the rooftops of the city between me and the far distance, but framing trees and a vast expanse of horizon. We've had rather dramatic weather today, and there was a stunning display of saturated blues and greens stretching as far as I could see.  Against this backdrop I was able to watch the sun go down.  It was a stunningly beautiful sight, filling me up with the goodness that comes from experiencing something beautiful.  The tip I offer you is this: when something isn't going the way you would like it to, be on the watch for something wonderful to result from the unexpected.

Tip number five: always have gum or breathmints in your pocket.

17 October 2012

Rusty silence

Have you missed me?
It occurs to me what a ridiculously egotistical thing it is to keep a blog like this.  If I were writing social commentary, deep political insights, or providing hard to find information about button collecting, there would be some point for me to keep writing, and you to keep reading (provided you were intrigued by social commentary, deep political insights, or button collecting).  As it is, all I give you is the ramblings of my rusty mind with the occasional bit of deeper reflection thrown in.  Thank you for being here!

Seems to have been an age since I wrote anything, and the longer silence reigns, the harder it is to break it.  I've been hampered somewhat by ongoing technical issues and a small personal tsunami that must be dealt with before I feel intact enough to resume sharing those ramblings.

In the interim, I have begun to reread The Hobbit (or There and Back Again) in preparation for the upcoming and long-awaited movie adaptation from Peter Jackson and his ever so brilliant team that brought us The Lord of the Rings at the turn of the millenium.  Are you a Tolkien fan?  Have you seen the trilogy?  Will you go to see The Hobbit?  How excited are you to see Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield, and how sad are you that there will be no Aragorn to lead them all to safety?

12 October 2012

Days and days

Tis Friday once more. Why do some days have a golden glow solely because they are what they are? Do you suppose we also have such a golden glow, simply because we are what we are?  If so, are some of us then Mondays, rather grey and gloomy and half-hearted?

May you always be a Friday.

03 October 2012

Adventures in the kitchen with Tess

You may have gleaned, dear Reader, that I am not a shining star when it comes to the culinary arts.  Try as I might, things just seem to go slightly wrong -  from overflowing, unset grape pie, to pans that catch fire.

It continues.

Several weeks ago now, I purchased four adorable little peppers - cute as buttons they were, from the local farmer's market. They looked like ordinary peppers your mother might have stuffed with an interesting ground meat mixture in your childhood.  I also bought a basket of seedless coronation grapes (table grapes or concord grapes, depending on where you live).  I was so looking forward to a week of yummy goodness fresh out of a garden nearby (this is what you always imagine with farmer's markets - that Joe has just that morning plucked the pepper right from his own fields and lovingly transported them into town just for you.  Sadly, some vendors purchase their goods from the local grocery store just as I might have done, and are reselling the produce from their booth.  Still, I prefer to keep the dream of Farmer Joe alive in my mind.)

The next day I settled in with a bowl of beautiful, freshly washed seedless grapes - tiny blue jewels of sweet juiciness. I spit the first mouthful out. The seedless grapes had seeds. Not just a few seeds, but at least 32. In each tiny grape. Multiplied by a hundred grapes, that's a lot of seeds to have to spit out.

So I decided to be clever.  I mashed the grapes by hand into a sieve so I would be able to enjoy the fabulous juice without the annoyance of seeds. It was quite a lot of fun, actually, though it took some doing.  By the time every grape was squished, I had precisely one cup - 8 oz. of grape juice. The basket of grapes had cost me $5.  A pretty expensive glass of juice, wouldn't you say? And for all my effort, my palms and fingers were faintly stinging. I learned later this was probably from the tannin in the grapes. I have a whole new sympathy for grape stompers.

That same evening I cooked up a big batch of spaghetti sauce, using most of that week's allotment of vegetables - including one of the peppers. When chopping the peppers I noticed my fingers felt a little raw and my eyes felt a little filmy, but didn't pay it any mind.  On adding the peppers to the sauce, I began to smell a slight scorched aroma, but on stirring things around didn't notice anything sticking to the bottom, so I carried on with other things.

After the sauce had bubbled away for some time, it was with great anticipation that I took out a spoon to taste my creation.  And discovered I had bought hot peppers. Dry your sinus mucous, equivalent to volcanic lava kind of hot. My taste buds ran screaming out of the house in abject refusal to have anything more to do with what was in that pot. So I tried everything I could think of - I added cheese, plain yoghurt, tomato paste, lemon, water, sugar, testing each time to see if it made an appreciable difference.  I finally got it to the point where I could eat it - tears streaming down my face - but by that point it surely did taste... interesting.

It took me a week to get through it all.

Now, I wasn't going to bring this up as some of you have been through this drama with me via a social networking site I wont name, and I do apologize most sincerely for the repetition... but Reader, it happened again!  Oh, not the peppers.  I'll never be conned by the cuteness of a tiny pepper ever again.  It was the grapes!  I bought another basket of grapes two days ago, and it very clearly said right on the basket SEEDLESS.  I even tasted one in the store (why is it you can't taste the oranges before you buy them?  How disappointing is it to bring home what you think are going to be beautiful, juicy oranges only to discover they are mealy and dry?) There was a suggestion, ever so faint, of a seed in the grape I tried and considered that worth it for the gorgeous grapey juice that comes with it. So I brought them home with me, and the next day to work for lunch.  Well, imagine my shock when I ended up with a mouthful of seeds.  Again, I'd been had by false grape advertising.

I'm off grapes now. It'll be a long time before they're able to convince me of their seedlessness.

Anyway.  It's a laugh-a-minute in Tess's kitchen.  If you'd like to stay for supper, I've got some nice sauce simmering away on the stove....

01 October 2012

Of Alfred and his cheeks

I ate lunch with a chipmunk today. He sat beside me the whole time – possibly because I fed him scraps.  Chipmunk-safe scraps, I assure you. He was full of quick, nervous movements as he filled his cheeks so full they were wider than his belly, his beautiful brown eyes watchful. I tried to call him Chippy or Chip or Dale, but he assured me his name was Alfred. We arranged to meet again on Wednesday if the weather is fine.

29 September 2012

Of emptiness and silence

Have you ever noticed going through periods of silence? One of inner quietude, rather than not speaking.

I have learned that my interior life goes through seasons: times when my thoughts are clear and vibrant; when prayer is lush and fruitful; when God is not only near but His voice is clearly discernible, whether I’m reading scripture or a novel, spending time with friends, watching a movie, or walking in the woods.

There are other times of utter emptiness, when my creativity has dried up, and spiritually I am wandering the desert. There is no sense of God’s presence, no consolation. St. John of the Cross speaks of the Dark Night, which ironically is a help to spiritual growth and a sign of God’s favour, but sometimes these periods of utter nothingness are mere aridity, possibly brought on by my own lack of cooperation with grace.

Somewhere in the middle of the two states, is one of silence. When in a period of inner quiet, even my thoughts are mute. I haven’t become an empty-headed fool -- I am functioning as normal, and I know that I am processing thoughts, but the thoughts have sunk below the surface and I cannot tap into them. I read scripture without connecting; there are no flashes of inspiration or insight from conversations or reading; prayer is not arduous but it doesn’t feel alive. Though I still know God is close, I haven’t the lovely consolation of feeling Him.

When I come out of this, I will have reached a conclusion about something I’ve been wrestling with lately, or had an insight into something I’ve been wondering about. There will be relief of knowing that something was going on in my brain afterall, gratitude for the result, and joy to have it behind me once more.

Does this sound familiar? Have you ever experienced this sort of thing yourself?

28 September 2012

Of ink stains and goofiness

You know you are a writer when your duvet cover, two sets of sheets, more than an acceptable number of tops, and a footstool have ink stains on them.  I once started a new job with ink-stained fingers because I'd been playing with a new fountain pen the night before.

Actually, this might not say so much about me as a writer as it does about me as a goof.

26 September 2012

A lighter shade of pale

The seasons have changed.  I know this because of what happened two minutes before I absolutely had to leave the house for work.  This may be frightening for some of you, so if you are faint of heart or ever so slightly squeamish, you may want to skip this one.

This is a late day, one in which I begin work at five in the afternoon.  This is nice because there is all kinds of time to get lots of chores done that haven't been getting done because I have a cold and feel sorry for myself - or just because I haven't felt like it.  This is not nice, because by five o'clock I have put in a solid day's work, and then have to go to work.  Ah, well.

One of the productive things I did was roughly 65 pounds of laundry.  This involves creeping down the fire escape in my scary I'm-gonna-plummet-to-the-ground yoga pants that are constantly trying to tangle my feet in their flappy legs with a heavy laundry basket, around the corner of my building, through the parking lot and through the heave-it-up cellar door, down a flight of stairs into the basement... as many times as I have loads to do.  This detail is important because I washed every pair of trousers I own but one; thusly, I mentally prepared myself to wear a floaty black skirt, purplish top with a dark grey shruggy, and purple suede shoes.  These details are also important.

I was so productive and felt such a glow of accomplishment, that after the chores were duly done and I had completed the necessary ablutions, I lay myself upon my bed for a wee nap, setting the alarm to wake me in time to throw on the above imagined outfit and scuttle off to serve my community by showing them where the latest James Patterson novel is shelved.

Alas.  I was all set, or so I thought, but on gathering keys and coat to leave, I passed by a floor length mirror.  What I saw there caused me to shriek:  pale, white, almost translucent legs framed between a black skirt and dark purple shoes.  Horrors!  There was no way I could inflict such a sight on the kind people of New Town.  But the clock is ticking, what do I do?  Tights?  Too terrible to think of just yet. Different skirt which would entail an entire change of outfit? Quickly as I could, I traded skirt and supporting garments for socks and slacks - the one pair I hadn't washed today.  Having them on me, I remembered me why I hadn't had to wash them: I don't wear them.  They are meant to be warn by someone three feet taller than me. I couldn't wear my sweet purple flats unless I found a pair of bicycle clips to hold up my pant legs, or pretended treading on one's trousers is really very normal... among short people.  There was nothing for it, I had to wear shoes with a heel.  That is why now I'm sitting at the desk at work, praying nobody will need me to get up and walk, as I am completely and utterly out of heel-walking practice after a summer of flip flops and sandals.

And that's how I know the seasons have changed.

23 September 2012

Tales of the neighbourhood

I live in an 'on-the-verge' neighbourhood of New Town.  In one block that way are well cared for and stately Victorian homes, very genteel and well-behaved.  One block over that way is an eclectic mix of down-at-the-heels neglected houses, snug little cottages, and charming older homes recently - or in the process of being - lovingly and carefully restored to health.  My neighbours are as diverse an assortment of humanity.  

Take the hootin' and hollerin' fella in the house next door. I live on the second floor of a century home converted into five flats.  He lives on the third floor of the house beside me.  His deck - which he enjoys with great regularity - overlooks my kitchen entrance.  On the day I first moved a few belongings in, he was propped against his deck railing having a smoke and said hello.  Friendly enough to be sure, but I have never quite got over the habit of treating neighbours as if they are invisible and expecting the same consideration from them.  Not to mention, the deck is just so... close. When I know he is out there and I am either coming home or going out, I tend to scurry up and down the stairs as unobtrusively as I can.  Let your imagination make me as ridiculous as it can. I really do wish I had invisibility super powers!

I soon discovered Mr Hootin' and hollerin' is a very generous gent.  He shares his second-hand-smoke generously (sometimes of the whacky tobacky variety), his phone conversations, and even his music. He occasionally has his friends over to help him with the sharing and because there are more of them, they tend to have more to share for much longer periods of time.

For the most part he is tolerably well-behaved.  Observing his comings and goings surreptitiously, I am puzzled by his circumstances.  My nosiness supposes he may be a single father with part-time custody of a little girl.  He does have full custody of a dog, however.

And so enters the main character of this little tale:  Harley. Harley, though well-behaved and pretty to look at, is not the brightest four legged creature I have ever come across.  I can tell this because, when Mr. H-n-H lets Harley out to take care of business, Harley has to be told each and every time, many times over, in a carrying voice to "Go pee, Harley, go pee."  There are never any other instructions, no other conversation, no other interaction to confuse the dog, just that one injunction repeated four or five times at 6 in the morning and 11.30 at night. Perhaps Harley has short term memory loss? Does that happen to dogs?  I do think there is a fortune to be made in doggie-sized mic and ear receiver technology, like the secret service uses to communicate.  That way Mr H-n-H could relay those private instructions to Harley alone.

The coast is clear... perfect time for me to sneak out. 

18 September 2012

3 randoms and a serious

Hello dear reader,

Today will bring a series of random thoughts, mostly to let you know I'm still here, though mostly unable to post, due to this very frustrating "You have logged out from another location" situation.  Oddly enough Blogger works randomly and occasionally - usually when I'm unprepared and have nothing to say.  If anyone else has experienced this, or know how to correct it, I'd appreciate hearing from you!

Random thought # 1
I got my hair cut last week.  It is a good cut and I am happy with it.  I did, however, get sucked into buying a bottle of very expensive post-shampoo product that promises miraculously smooth hair that also cuts drying time by 20%.  We'll see about that. However, even if it ends up being a bunch of hooey, the haircut itself was worth it.

Random thought # 2
Roasting anything makes it taste better.  Last night I had cauliflower for supper.  I don't like cauliflower, but I roasted the whole head (chopped into bits) with many cloves of garlic and about half an onion for about 40 min, then pureed the whole lot of it.  It was fantastically delicious.  I might be a cauliflower convert.

Random thought #3
It is very flattering that the public believe their friendly neighbourhood librarian knows all things, but I'm telling you folks, we don't.  My particular weak link is technology.  I tremble when someone asks me about their ereader, and feel inadequate when they need help with their email account. I run the other way when assistance is required in the local history room and I'm expected to set up the microfilm machine.  I wasn't always this entrenched in Ludditism, and I'm not sure when or why it began, but it seems a hopeless case now.  If this is a case of sink or swim, I'm afraid I'm going down.  Donations of floaties or lifevests would be gratefully accepted.  Please email the author for forwarding address.

And now for something serious:
Random thought #4
It must be a few weeks ago now (that's how long its been since I've been able to post here), the Gospel reading (I think from Luke) was of Jesus asking Peter to cast his net "into the deep", to which Peter assured Jesus that they had been fishing all night, with little success.  Jesus insists, and so Peter does.  We know, of course, the result: a catch so plentiful they couldn't haul the nets back into the boat.  Peter responds by pleading with Jesus to leave him, because he was a sinful man.  How does Jesus react?  Not with anger or disappointment, but by telling Peter to not be afraid.  How wonderful!!  Assurance from Our Lord Himself that we need not fear Him.
I need that reminder now and then, because I talk myself into believing I'm a wretch and God couldn't possibly love me.  And yes, it's true that I'm not perfect (I heard a gasp from the audience) and I must rely on Grace to get through each day, and God's mercy to end my days with Him, but it is just as true that God created me to be me.  He sees the depths of me - yes the wretchedness which I cannot deny - but also the wonderfulness which I often cannot bring myself to acknowledge.
The point I took from Luke's reading that day was: we need not hide our sinfulness from God.  We need not ask Him, like Peter did, to depart from us. He knows we have a tendency to question, doubt, struggle, fall...and He still loves us, and still asks more from us, like Peter, who so often got it wrong in his time with Jesus, and still was made a fisher of men.

05 September 2012

Of blogs and robots

Dear folks at Blogger,

First of all, thank you for the opportunity for me to write what I want, when I feel like it.  It makes me feel important to be able to share my inner ramblings with everyone and anyone who happens to wander by.

Secondly, nice job with the product: good updates, interesting layout options and all of that.

There have been slight hitches to the smooth running of things, but so far nothing serious enough to sever the relationship we've been building over the last four years, you and I. If you could just sort out that "logging out from another location" business, I'd say we're golden. (Honestly, a body should be able to post important thoughts and captivating insights from anywhere, not just from home, don't you agree?)

Here's the rub: the word verification process used to be fun. You provided what might actually be actual and real words... and maybe they weren't honest-to-goodness, look 'em up in the dictionary words, but I was able to read them because they were legible! What is this latest fad of woozy, intoxicated fonts with the letters all smooshed up and wobbly?  If being able to interpret those is proof of me not being a robot, I would be curious to discover just where the robots entered my family tree, because try as I might, I can't make heads or tails of them!  Have you considered it may not be roboticism, but astigmatism, and I'd really really like to be able to post my thoughtful and carefully considred comment?

With thanks for your consideration,


04 September 2012

Glitched again

It has happened again.  Google very helpfully is letting me know that I have signed out from another location; do I want to log in again or cancel - which mean the same thing: I can't get in to post or edit posts.  Argh!

I so love technology, don't you?

30 August 2012

Of books and even more books

This is good:

This is better:

27 August 2012

Of hygiene and headaches

There are very serious discussions happening all around me.  I know, because I read your blogs, your articles, your websites.  I help to moderate a Catholic chat room, and we had a fairly heavy debate on Marian devotions about an hour ago.  I participated in a staff development day today at work, in which weighty matters were addressed such as our ageing population, renovations, and coping with stress.

And yet, I am taking a break from that to tell you that my new deodorant - which seemed perfectly harmless when I chose it from among many on the shelves in the drug store - is giving me a headache because it stinks.  Oh, it is effective - though it was very hot today, I haven't shed a drop in that area.  But it smells something awful,  when it is supposed to smell like ocean breezes or fruits of the forest or something.  It's a heavy, musky scent, and it's wafting from under my arms.  How embarrassing.

Dear Personal Hygiene Product Making People,
Women are not supposed to smell like cheap magazine perfume strips in the under arm area.  A nice light baby powder scent would be more than enough.
Thank you very much.


PS, can I get a refund for a used-only-once stick of deodorant?

26 August 2012

Wandering bird

This is the Gundersen Family.  How is it that I didn't know about these talented, beautiful voices until just a few days ago?

25 August 2012

Of alphabet soup and ice cream cones


Don't tell anyone I'm writing this.  I'm at work and should really be working, but I just wanted to say hello.

Some of you have come here because of a link elsewhere (I don't know how I started showing up on that website, but it's pretty cool, I think) to a picture of me.  It didn't seem right to post a picture of myself here, so I took it down.  This is my lighthouse, my refuge from the world - a place of solace and solitude.  Though I blather on about the mundane details of my life, the focus really isn't on me.  Does that make sense?

I can feel something struggling to find its way out.  Does it ever strike you that way, those of you who trade in words?  I can almost see the words, like alphabet soup on my tongue - the letters are arranging themselves into coherent thought and will all at once leap out onto paper.  If I happen to have paper on hand, that is.

In the meantime, I'm being rather indolent on this sleepy Saturday morning up on the third floor.  I can hear an ice cream cone calling my name.  Do you hear it, too?

*I am a little bit giddy because Manchester United is currently ahead 3-1 over Fulham, but it's not even half time yet, so I don't want to start celebrating just yet.

19 August 2012

Promptly Tolkien

A while a go I read The Fiction Class by Susan Breen. Sprinkled throughout the story are writing prompts the main character gives her class of writing students. I've tackled one of two since then, and here is another:

Think of a person from history who intrigues you. Napoleon? Cleopatra? Martin Luther King?
Write a two- to three-page description of that person eating a meal. What would s/he eat? How would s/he eat? What would s/he be thinking about as s/he ate? Would someone be sharing the meal with him or her? What would they talk about?
Remember: bring your character to life!

Tolkien and Lewis. It is mid to late autumn. The men are walking among Tolkien’s beloved trees nearby, their differences evident in how they walk: Lewis, taller and vital, walks quickly.  Tolkien likes to stroll, stops occasionally to look at the trees, drive home a point, or light a pipe. They debate whether the purpose of a walk is the walk itself, or getting back home again. The evening is crisp, with an edge of oncoming winter chill.  The sun is nearing the horizon, soon to leave their little bit of England in darkness.

Feet crunching through fallen leaves on their approach to a cosy house set well back from the quiet country lane, two men anticipate a good meal to fill their bellies. They stop for final pulls on well-used pipes, looking forward to the warm fire promised by the drifting curls of smoke from the chimney pots on the roof.  Knocking pipe bowls against the sturdy soles of walking shoes, the two friends enter the house, stepping into the hallway where they hang their coats, and exchange shoes for slippers. (Lewis is so frequent a visitor in his friend’s house he has a pair of slippers for his own use kept in the same basket as Tolkien’s own.)

Minutes later, we see them in front of the fireplace in deep armchairs; the fire and evening sun coming through the windows is the only source of light in the room.  There is a warm pocket of intimacy around the two friends as they sit talking in the comfortable room with a drink to fend off the chill of their walk.  It’s a cozy room: deep leather chairs; fire burning in the grate for warmth and light; books neat on shelves, piled on tables, forming towers on the floor.  It’s about 6pm, and falling dark outside.  Tolkien (Ronald) and Lewis (Jack) are sitting with amber-coloured drink in stout glasses, pipes lit, legs stretched out to the fire. A meat pie warms in the oven, left by Edith for their supper.  There is also a basket of hearty bread, and a plate of cheese on the table behind them.

The sound of the fire is soothing, familiar, homey background noise. The men talk about their students, and their writing; about Hugo Dyson who had been invited but was unable to join them. They critique and tease each other about current projects, argue the use of allegory in fiction, and debate liturgical norms - Roman verses Anglican. Their conversation has the rhythm of long familiarity, as if these topics have been gone over often and often between them. With perfect good will, they accept the shortcomings in the other’s arguments, each knowing their own to be the right.

The two men move to the table, and eat leisurely, talking all the while. The room is now lit by the fire and a lamp on the sideboard – Tolkien’s home has electricity, but he prefers leaving most of the room veiled in darkness. Between them is a lot of laughter, many drinks – true, deep friendship.

The meal draws to an end, evidenced by crumbs on the table, a decimated pie, one heel of bread. Tolkien goes to the kitchen to brew a pot of tea, returning with a tray set with sturdy mugs and the brown betty teapot. They remain at the table smoking a pipe and continue talking until Edith comes home, entering with a bluster of wind blowing open the door. At some point in the evening it has begun to rain. She has spent the evening at cards with friends, as glad for the feminine companionship as the men are to be able to smoke at the table, tongues running free without thought for feminine sensitivities.  Her arrival calls a close to the evening, but slowly, none of the three eager to have it end.

A compass would be handy, if I knew how to read one

What do you do when you don't know where you are or where you're supposed to go? How do you plot your course when you don't have the coordinates?

I recently saw very adorable - though horribly overpriced - little compasses, tucked inside a half-marble of glass, and very antique looking.  Charming.  And useful, should I ever learn to read a compass and find myself lost in the wilderness.

It's good to know your place on the earth... I am here.  The question I have, though, is where am I in life?  What comes next?  I think maybe I'm on a layover, waiting for the boarding announcement, only the voice on the PA is like the teacher in Peanuts, all "wuh wah wuh woh" and I might not understand when it's my turn to go.

Edit:  I may not know where I'm going next, but I am enjoying watching the sunset from where I am tonight.

17 August 2012

Rerunning the grape

The Coronation grapes are out!  They are tiny little jewels of juicy lushness, bursting with Welch's grape flavour goodness.

I was delighted when I saw them offered at the market today. They are forever linked in my mind to a rather disastrous pie-making attempt in my past, which I will repost for you here.

From The Lighthouse, September 2009
The Grape Pie Incident

Shortly after I moved here, one of the local papers featured grapes. Not surprising, considering this is wine region, meaning grapes abound in plenty. The article included a couple of recipes, one of which was for a grape pie. Being a fan of pie, I thought it was a good idea: love grapes; love pie -- perfect combination! Only things have been busy, so that from day's end to day's end, I hadn't yet got around to making an attempt at the perfect grape pie.

Til this weekend. I had promised to make dinner for when my family returned home late this afternoon and after dithering over the menu I settled on pancakes and (turkey) bacon with fruit melange and whipcream. This seemed suitably Yom Kippurish, for which we are meant to eat something sweet, and taste new fruit (Pomegranate, in our case). And I thought for dessert I'd make the famous grape pie.

I am a competent baker of simple, straightforward, non-fussy recipes. I make a mean sticky oatmeal coffee cake (not a bundt), and a yummy mince pound cake (in a bundt), as well as assorted cookies and scones (nary a bundt among them) (Sorry...I got bundt on the brain after the first mention of 'cake'... kekk... cack...) but I have never mastered the art of crust. My sister, JB is so good at crust, she's blase about it. Most people have a secret crust weapon: frozen butter; marble slab; cold utensils; brand-specific lard... whatever.  JB? Meh - toss around some fat, flour and liquid, and presto! Perfectly beautiful crust, everytime. She would have shrugged at the notion of grape pie. Me? It was like a neon light flashing over my shoulder all weekend long, as if I were in a film noir: "Pie!" "Pie!" "Pie!"

I shopped for the required grapes, and this might be where it all began to go wrong. The recipe used the Coronation variety - lovely, bright and green-skinned. We've been eating Concord grapes which we've loved, so that's what I bought. They look like bunched blueberries, so round They are of a sort of grape which have a 'slip skin', meaning the juice resides between the skin and the flesh. You can pop them, and the skins slip off. Get it? (This I learned from the informative article which got me into this situation in the first place)

Bear in mind that I am about to attempt this pie while also cooking up enough pancakes and bacon to feed an army. And just for fun I'm baking applesauce cookies as well. Oh, and seeding a pomegranate.

The first step in the Great Pie Undertaking was to wash, then mash the grapes. Basically, I had to separate the flesh from the skins - which were to be reserved for later. Three cups worth of grapes did I have to pop, one by one, into a saucepan for boiling. Not nearly efficient enough for me! I grabbed handfulls of the fruit, squeezing grapes in my fist which caused the solid little centres to shoot out in all directions, all over the kitchen. Even now, I know there is one grape carcass at least, hiding behind the fruit bowl on the counter. Nevermind! On to the boiling! This was a cinch, only it made the house smell like it had been washed in Welsh's grape juice. Adding the skins...this too was easy. It should have all been good actually, except the pie maker and the unflavoured gelatin provider don't speak the same language. The recipe just said "add gelatin and stir until dissolved" but the gelatin people (who should know of what they speak, no?) laid out this routine of boiling water, adding gelatin, stirring, adding more water, stirring again...then adding it all "to the recipe as directed". I did all the stirring and adding and stirring, bringing both concoctions together, and placed it tenderly in the fridge for it to set, in preparation for folding in some whipping cream. Yum!

Did I mention that I bought a frozen pie crust? It seemed reasonable, what with the pancakes and all. And I went for the cheap, store-label one, too. Which just might be a wee bit smaller than your average store-bought pie shell. This will be an important point very shortly.

First of all, the grapes themselves were very very juicy. Lots of liquid. Then, with the gelatin stir-and-add fiasco, I added maybe another cup of fluid to the mix. Over an hour in the fridge found the goop - which was bright purple, by the way, not the tender green of the pie in the picture - still runny. I thought it might be a good idea to add more gelatin, only this time I used maybe half of the boiling water suggested. Still.... more volume.

Happily, the purple sludge seemed to be setting a bit, so I undertook to whip up the cream for folding. This, I have done many times before. I am a whipping cream literate...I know my way around the heavy cream, let me assure you. I used a hand mixer, and the nifty tall measuring container that came with it...which I thought was meant for mixing things in. This worked rather well, until I lost my grip on the measuring thing, and it starting spinning around like a top, and cream went everywhere. Not easily deterred, I scooped up what I could, and started again, only to have the same thing happen. Again. By this time, my white t-shirt was covered in purple dots from the grape-squeezing episode, I had whipping cream in my eyelashes, not to mention covering the wicker bread basket and the little frog lamp. (Note: cream cooks rather quickly on a 40 watt bulb)

And this is when my family came home. I had imagined myself like Betty Crocker: calm, composed, in control, dinner piping hot and ready to be served, while wonderful smells greeted them at the door, with me in my single strand of pearls. Nevermind. Again I scooped up the mess, and made a third attempt, which this time - thankfully - was sucessful. In that whipping cream was produced. And so I folded. And then... I poured. And a lava-like slide of pale purple ooze overflowed all over the counter, for the pie crust was far too small to contain it all. During this time, whipping cream and now grape goop was being dripped over the bacon which was patiently waiting on a cookie sheet to go in the oven to be kept warm... yummy!

Rather than the smooth, sophisticated pie, elegantly decorated with grapes, I will have to present my family with a lumpy, purple and white frothed horror, onto which I threw a handful of purple grapes in a fit of pique.

After all of that, I am left with a kitchen that has purple blobs on the cupboard doors, whipping cream decorating the underside of the cabinets, grape corpses hiding in nooks and cranies, and pomegranate jewels popping underfoot as we walk around.... and a family too full of pancakes to eat pie!