The Lighthouse

the lighthouse

24 August 2014

In which I have encounters with animals. And racoons.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

19 August 2014

In which I am sine loco

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

16 August 2014

Let's get critical

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

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

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

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

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

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

14 August 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10 August 2014

Watching the magic

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

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

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

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

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

09 August 2014

The expressiveness of feet

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

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

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

05 August 2014

Of bones in the garden

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

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

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

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

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