The Lighthouse

the lighthouse

14 December 2016

Of clumsy birds and line dancing pigeons.

There is a line of pigeons dancing in the square.  Line dancing birds! They step quickly, left and right, shrugging shoulders to fluff their feathers. They slalom between clumps of snow that punctuate the cobblestones before breaking formation, scattering to dance their own choreography.

The next time I see them, they are in a line once more, this time on a roof ledge looking down on us. I watch one turn in circles, tapping his beak at something that must be food. Two others strut away, heads rocking forward and back with each step. They trade places and I wonder, was it planned? Did I miss the signal? It's fun to watch them lean into a fall over the ledge, then catch a current to sail down to the ground.

Are there clumsy birds? Is there one in the flock that fumbles for the branch as he attempts a landing or misjudges the distance to a wire? (Does he get teased for being the goof of the group?) Do they ever clip the wings of another bird in flight, or misunderstand directions only to wait alone in the park by the beach while the rest of the gang is feasting in the parking lot of the Beach Street Mall?

I would feel better about myself when I manage to catch the pocket of my sweater on a door knob (for the second time this morning) if I knew there were clumsy birds.

05 November 2016

Of Madeline and the lighthouse keeper

Peter LaRoche was a cranky, crabby man. He rarely said a word to anyone, which was probably a good thing because his words would likely not have been kind. 
He manned the light on a slender spit of land where harbour met the sea, and he took that work very seriously. He was meticulous in the completion of his duties. He never squandered time or money. He was methodical and precise in all things. And he was lonely. 
People in town assumed Peter was alone by choice, and cranky by nature. They never thought to listen to his story to find out where he was from or if his heart was whole. Instead, when he entered the store to carefully select his meagre rations, the women doing their own shopping would fall silent around him. The same scene would play out in the hardware store when he’d stock up on nails and kerosene. This would happen week after week. He would row away from the solitude of his lighthouse to endure the silence of aloof townsfolk. 
Until Madeline came. She was hired to take over the public library after old Mr. Robson retired. 
Madeline Smith, librarian, was going to change Rose Passage, but no one would ever expect it from the look of her.  She seemed perfectly librarian-like: quiet, organized, mostly plain, and helpful. If you looked closely, though, you would note a mischievous dimple in her cheek and a glint of red in her hair – and most tellingly of all, she wore purple-framed glasses. 
Miss Smith and Mr LaRoche first crossed paths at Stella’s – a home-style restaurant with rooms to let overhead. Peter was sitting alone for his one-meal-out-a-month that was all he allowed himself. Madeline helped herself to the seat opposite him, and with chin in hand, she twinkled at him, and proceeded to talk his ear off. (She was quiet, yet, but knew how to tell a story.) Other diners fully expected Mr LaRoche to scowl or even stomp out, but to their surprise he merely watched her and ate his meal. He didn’t say a word to her but that didn’t stop Madeline from continuing to talk to him whenever she met him at the grocer’s, or passed him in the street. 
The news was quickly shared from neighbour to neighbour the day Mr LaRoche was seen to actually speak to Miss Madeline. They were eating ices under a tree in the square, Madeline idly kicking her legs, watching the clouds while the man talked. What anyone would have given to know what was said!
Gradually, one brave soul after another would extend the lightkeeper a greeting, or offer some remark about the weather, to which Mr LaRoche would respond with a nod and a smile. More and more people registered for library cards with the desire to discover what powers Miss Smith may have, to make the mute speak and the cranky smile. Instead of magic, they discovered Madeline’s natural friendliness and kindness. Somehow they found themselves joining garden clubs and bridge parties with people they never would have spared a thought for before Madeline set them in each other’s path.
Many librarians have a gift for matching a reader to a book, but Madeline’s particular knack was for putting people together. Rose Passage became a town of friendship where not one soul was overlooked or forgotten, for Madeline saw how the quirks and corners in each person would work with those in another.
As for Mr LaRoche? Well, Madeline showed him how his quirks and corners were perfectly suited to hers. Not three months after that day under the tree he asked for her hand in marriage. She twinkled at him, and said yes, of course.

21 June 2016

In which we meet a dragonfly named Ruth

Deep in the woods where sunlight falls in leaf-shaped puddles, there runs a stream over pebbles and rocks. It tumbles over ledges in shallow waterfalls, and lends a joyful soundtrack to life in this hidden glen. To eyes that can see such things, there are signs of activity everywhere. Cleverly arranged stones and branches in the stream hint at little feet crossing the water from one bank to the other. Tidy piles of acorns alongside clusters of mushrooms and branches of dandelions tell a story of bustling, pint-sized morning markets, while toadstools under daisy umbrellas paint a picture of friends sharing lazy cups of tea and the latest news.

Most big people are too busy to notice these signs. Truth be told, few big people even trouble to visit this little village in the woods anymore. It’s too bad, because they are missing something wonderful. Believing in the impossible keeps you young, you see, for without wonder and magic in your life you can’t help but grow old.

It is a truth in life that a sad thing can also be a happy thing; and so, while it is sad that big people are unable to see what you and I know exists on the banks of the stream, for our little village in the woods it is also a good thing, for friends are able to meet under the daisies without fear of being discovered and turned into a day-trip attraction for the bored and curious.

Every village is like a tiny galaxy, with one star around which all the rest travel. The centre star of  galaxy is seldom the brightest or the largest, and the same is true of centre people. They hardly ever look like someone who is capable of keeping everyone else on track in their own orbits, but there is something about them, some deep magnetic pull that they aren't aware they have. They are the kind of person others always come to talk to about their troubles, ask advice of, rely on to fix problems, and trust will know how to solve dilemmas. In our village in the glen, that centre star is a dragonfly named Ruth.

30 May 2016

Bite sized resolve

Ok.  Who am I kidding?  The evidence lies before us in these very pages... I am not a regular contributor to the blogosphere.

Let's make a pact between us, you and me, that as comfortable friends we can pick up where we left off each time we meet as if in the middle of a long-running conversation.

And with that, let us resume,  midstream:

My quiet little corner of the world is no longer so quiet. There are large diggers and earth movers and other big and noisy machines across the road, turning a bucolic empty field into a subdivision. When I got back from holiday a few days ago, I noticed a sign a little further down the road that another empty lot is being turned into more homes.

Part of me longs for peace and isolation. That's a futile dream, isn't it?  Where can you go these days that hasn't been disrupted or is under development?  Progress! Or so they call it.  Where oh where is my lighthouse? I'd be happy to sit at a window overlooking the ocean, and feel the sturdy stones of the structure brace against the storm blowing in.

The Lighthouse is as much a state of mind as it is a longed-for place, so while I'd like to run from the world to seek out my solitude, I'm going to work on writing every day, no matter what else is going on around me.  I've realized that I've neglected the basics (being practice, discipline, and study) hoping that desire and some ability will make it all happen.

Therefore, I hereby resolve that I am going to begin with small steps:
- words on paper, daily
- find some way, either virtually or in real life, to learn and grow as a writer.

Manageable. Bite-sized, even.

Let it begin!

16 May 2016

The chase.

A shadow of shadows slips over the shrub outside the window like a blanket dragged over an unmade bed. It is a reflection of the cloud overhead that chases the sun across the sky.

09 May 2016

A note to Araby

To the very kind person who has been leaving comments throughout The Lighthouse ... in Arabic:

Thank you. I'm so glad you're spending time here, and it's so good of you to take the time to share your thoughts. I can't help but think, though, that as you've at least seen (if not actually read) eight or so posts here, you must have realized that I don't write in Arabic, but am, in fact, English (Dutchlish at a stretch). I've run your comments through Google translate but still can't make sense of it, so I wonder if you might be better off spending your time in another way?

Again, thank you. I wish you well... and somewhere else.

05 May 2016

Oh, the books

I have been reading. And talking. There has been so very much talking.

Dutch family was visiting, so the talking was a curious mixture of Dutch and English. My words haven't quite untangled themselves yet, so they remain a curious mix of Dutch and English (Dutchlish?) When I open my mouth to speak now, I'm not sure what is going to come out so I get tongue tied. Or I speak more slowly and simply to make sure I'm understood. This has to stop soon, because I'm getting looks of sympathy from people who surely are thinking along the lines of, "Oh, the poor girl! Perhaps she has bumped her head?"

The reading has been very welcome as it signals the end of a book drought. Hoorah! A book drought is never pleasant… rather like being on a dinghy in the middle of the ocean, surrounded by salt water and unable to take a drink.  There are so many books in the world, so why is there nothing for me to read? One day I picked up a book and it was exactly the right story at that time. I was utterly drawn in, and when it was over, I found another, then another…

Reading so many stories back-to-back, I’m not always able to untangle myself from one before starting the next. I kept waiting for Esme, from The Bookstore to appear in The Writing class, then when I picked up Season of salt and honey it took me a while to remember it wasn’t the war-time England of The Summer before the war.

That’s one I'd like to tell you about: 'The Summer before the war' by Helen Simonson is a book I've been waiting for since Simonson published her first, 'Major Pettigrew's last stand' in 2010. (I wrote about it here.) Major Pettigrew is a difficult book to describe... it is endearing and charming; a story of manners particular to its time and place. I enjoyed it so much that I passed it on to everyone who would listen to me, and remains at the top of my list whenever I'm asked, "What should I read?" To find a new (or new-to-you) author is a wonderful thing, isn’t it - like stumbling upon an undiscovered country and having a whole new territory to explore. Hester Browne, Marisa de los Santos, and Helen Simonson have brought me such adventures in reading.

So, I had hoped and waited for Simonson to publish another book ever so patiently, but years passed so that I gradually stopped looking for it. (As I had with Annie Barrows after 'The Guernsey literary and potato peel pie society', then this year – at last! - she released ‘The truth according to us’.) And then suddenly, there it was, all unexpected, on the new book shelf looking dreamily enticing in its period-piece way with the girl on a bicycle, red scarf flying behind her. I was intrigued by the title and the book cover ("Don't judge" they say, but a book cover either grabs your interest or it doesn't, don’t you think?) and because I like stories of war time Britain I had high hopes for this one.

I was not disappointed, though total honesty leads me to say it isn’t the gem that Pettigrew is. Like Pettigrew, ‘The Summer before the war’ is a charming tale of manners in the English countryside, but whereas Major Pettigrew is a man uncomfortable with how modern life is changing and wants to hold on to the old ways, Beatrice Nash is well in advance of what is expected of women in 1914: she is educated, well-travelled, capable and independent-minded. She finds herself suddenly relying on the benevolence of distant family, expected to comply with their plans for her. In order to salvage independence and integrity, Beatrice obtains a job in Rye as a Latin teacher, and as we’ve learned from Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple mysteries, life in the small villages of England is far from bland or boring. There is enough intrigue, plotting, gossip, and romance to keep Beatrice busy through the war years and beyond. Also of interest, one of the characters is studying to be a trauma surgeon, and we follow him to the Front, getting some sense of what those conditions were like.

I recommend ‘The Summer before the war’ to anyone who enjoyed Major Pettigrew, was hooked on Downton Abbey, likes stories of English life, or is keen on World War fiction.

I’d like to hear if you’ve discovered a new author, have stumbled on an unexpectedly good book, or finally got your hands on a long-awaited next novel. Leave a comment! In English, please – or even Dutch! (This, to the person leaving me comments in Arabic. I think.)

11 April 2016

Funny bone moments

I'm keeping my eyes open for a job opportunity for Number One Nephew.  In the way of the internet - whose highways are circuitous and tricksy - checking out the local libraries somehow landed me on the Stats Can site, where there are applications for census jobs.

In the "Who should apply" section, they ask for people who "are interested in a job that counts"


The government made a funny.

~ * ~

Funny bones at work:

The day of a popular program, a caller asked, "Will there be tickets available when I get there?"
Hmm... using my powerful ability to know everything, I of course know when you are going to arrive.

Patron, "What time does the program begin?"
Me, "The program starts at 10."
Patron, "Oh. What time should I be there?"
Me, "Probably before 10:00."

A young lad of about 10 years old was eager to take part in a stop motion movie workshop but it was very popular and he was on the waiting list. He phoned us himself the day of the program to let us know, "If someone doesn't show up, I can come."
It was very sweet to hear this very young voice in a grown-up situation; I applaud his parents for encouraging him to handle the matter on his own. It tickled my funny bone because of the offer he made: I just wanted to let you know that if someone doesn't show up, I'm available to take their place.

~ * ~

Funny bones with boys

Number Five Nephew calls being barefoot 'in my toes'.  For example, I'll ask him if he wouldn't like to wear his shoes when kicking the ball in the backyard. "No," he'll reply, "I like being in my toes."
Likewise, going shirtless is 'being in my tummy'.
He also has a routine before bed in which he 'jams his toes'.  Toe jam, as you are aware, is the lint and fluffies that collects between your toes. The process of removing it, according to Five, is known as 'jamming' your toes.  "Time to crawl into bed, Five," you'll say. "Ok," he says, "I just have to jam my toes first."

08 April 2016

Challenge your librarian; go ahead, make her day

When people find out I'm a librarian, the response will most often be, "Oh, I'd love to work in a library, with all those books. You must read all day!"

Yes, yes I do read all day. I read lists of items to patrons who wonder what they still have out. I read information to help someone answer a reference query. I read lists of books to people who want to be told what to read next. I read review journals to stay abreast of what other people are reading. I don't actually spend the day with a cup of tea dipping indolently into book after book for my own pleasure.  Well... not while at work, that is, but that is my idea of a perfect rainy day, actually.

Another common response with glazed-over eyes, "Oh.  I'm not much of a reader, actually.  Do people still use libraries?"

They do, in fact.  And no, that question isn't off-putting. (Yes, I do resort to sarcasm when my back is up.) Libraries are busy, vibrant places, with a lot on offer. Come and knock on our door... we've been waiting for you.

Quickly, before I lose your attention, I'd like to say that I firmly believe that nearly every person is a reader. You may not fit the image you have of what a reader is: that of someone who lingers in an armchair for hours, poring over the pages of a tome on the role of Catholic universities in the Middle Ages, or giddily recites passages of Proust, bookmarks falling from pockets all the day long. (A True Reader would never fold down the corners *cough* *Mrs. Tree* *cough* and is always prepared with a bookmark.) Maybe car magazines turn your crank (haha!), or you scan the sports section of your newspaper. You might like to browse recipes, or look for directions on how to build a tree house. You might even be addicted to researching your latest interesting health symptoms.  Every one of these is reading, and you're doing it for your own self, not because a teacher is expecting a report at the end of it.  The trick is to find your thing, and that's where your friendly neighbourhood librarian comes in. We love to connect people with just the right thing to read (truly, it is my favourite thing about the job), so go make her day and challenge her!

06 April 2016

Bread; oh the bread!

Back in the early days of the year - the short, dark, oh-where-is-the-sun days of winter, I decided to tackle my fear of bread.

Please understand: I am not afraid of bread itself. I eat it often and quite happily! But I have been afraid to take on the making of it with mine own hands. Yeast seemed far too delicate a thing for me, for truly, if something is dependent on me to carefully and tenderly nurture it to fullness of life, it will instead find itself withering. Just ask the many...lo these many and more... houseplants that were taken out to the curb in kitchen bin liners. Plus there is the kneading which seemed a complicated process, and also that none of the pizza dough I'd attempted had ever turned out really well.  So, from bread I have remained at a respectful distance.

Have you noticed how many tutorials there are on YouTube? (I have more to say on these tutorials, gentle reader, but shall refrain for today) And also the books written about bread must rival the stars for their number. Here is what I have learned: there are as many theories, guaranteed methods, and thou-must-nots as there are people sharing their wisdom on the making of bread. Some of them were very mathematical (baker's ratio?) which was daunting and intimidating for my brain. (My brain used to stick its fingers in its ears and sing, "la la la la" during math class in school.) There is such conflicting advice as well: work it vigorously; no, don't touch it at all! Start with the dry ingredients; no, always the wet! Count every grain of yeast; meh... just eyeball it, bread is forgiving. No! Bread is very, very particular!

Then I found a most wonderful bread book, The River Cottage Bread Handbook by Daniel Stevens. It explains the steps very clearly, and also what is happening along the way, which is helpful when you need reassurance that all is well. Stevens begins with the dry yeast process, and then tackles sourdough (made from a starter for which you 'catch' wild yeast. Imagine!) He includes a few non-yeast recipes, ideas for how to use old bread, and even how to build a clay bread oven - a project for the summer, perhaps?

I have found his recipes to be clear and understandable. Not inconsiderably, I also find the book pleasing to use due to its size and shape and the fact that it stays open to the page I want.

I've been measuring what I hear and read from other sources about bread against what I've learned from River Cottage. I've come across books that offer one recipe for a starter/biga/poolish but none of the breads are made using that recipe. Other authors go on about how it's done in their professional bakery - which, frankly, does me no good whatsoever, being as I don't have a massive floor mixer, a wheel-in chiller, or super-high heat steam ovens.

So far, 14 loaves of bread have come to life in my kitchen. The first two were rather dense, loaves 9 and 10 were very nearly perfect, and the last two were honest to goodness sourdough.  I was quite chuffed.

Not only have they been turning out well, my little loaves, but I've gained confidence that I understand what I'm doing. I've also become fully and completely enamored of the process. The first time my dough did truly double in volume and even had gas bubbles forming on the skin, I did that laugh/cry thing that really needs a name of its own. I can feel how alive the dough is, and am fascinated by the transformation it goes through from one stage to the next.

Here's what I have learned:
~ making bread is not difficult, but it takes as long as it takes. Very little happens at your own hands: in between a little stirring, then a little folding, then some shaping, the dough does all the work on its own. Don't rush it.... rather, enjoy it.
~ moisture is a good thing. A dried skin on your dough prevents expansion, so keep it moist.  The best trick I've learned so far (from River Cottage) is to keep the dough in a plastic bag. (Dan says to use a black bin liner, so that's what I've been using, though I think any plastic bag of sufficient size would do.) This provides a humid environment and also keeps the dough out of drafts.
~ weigh ingredients rather than measure as it is more accurate.
~ for all the measuring, a good loaf of bread comes down to becoming familiar with the process and seeing the results. There are so many factors at play from temperature of your kitchen that particular day, to how long its been since it rained, that you will have to adapt the recipe according to your circumstances. The only way to be able to do that is through experience... but just think of all the bread you're going to enjoy along the way!
~ allow the oven to preheat for at least half an hour. (I go for an hour, with the baking tray heating inside as well.) You want it good and hot. Boil a kettle of water, and when you put the bread in to bake, pour boiling water in the oven to provide steam. Steam is what develops a beautifully crispy crust.
~ bread is a wondrous coming together of flour water and salt.  That's all you need. Have you looked at the ingredients list on a bag of store-bought bread? What is all that stuff? (I don't include yeast in the list because it is naturally occurring when you combine flour and water. You tend it for a few days until it becomes strong enough to leaven your dough, then away you go!) (This is what is called 'catching' wild yeast, which I just love the sound of, don't you?)

I'm hooked. I love it, all of it, from start to finish. I'm making more bread than I can eat, and my freezer can only hold so much, so I'm going to have to start giving it away.

Are you a maker of bread?  If you've never tried, I enthusiastically encourage you to give it a go... and do let me know how you get on!

29 March 2016

Of oversized beans

In the dying days of 2015 my journey to work took me along the edge and over the big bridge before heading inland toward the waterfalls. This happens to be a portion of the route connecting The Centre of the Universe to The Border. This means that vast numbers of large trucks go to and fro along this stretch of highway.

Do you find them mysterious, those large transport trucks? I do. What could they be lugging from one end of the country to the other?  Sometimes we can see their cargo of shiny new cars, or they might be carting pigs to market (let's not think of where the pigs really are going), but what of the enclosed trucks.  Are they full of bicycles? Socks? Q-tips? Limes? Mmmm... limes.

The particular trucks had open beds carrying very large...somethings... strapped down with giant-sized bungee cords. Each truck was part of a procession that included a police car with lights flashing and a pick-up truck bearing a sign: OVERSIZED LOAD. The oversized bits looked like segments of a concrete tunnel large enough to drive a car through.

Every day I would see at least one of those processions, if not on the way to work, then while heading back home. Sometimes it would be while driving home from visiting the Nuts, and that route is a straight line down the centre on a rural route. Were they following me? Was it all a figment of my imagination? (I'd been spinning stories about what the pieces were for, everything from a jail break tunnel (I don't let facts like there being no prison in the area stop a good yarn from being spun.) to a tunnel under the lake  for cyclists.

Then one day, to my surprise, I noticed a tower far off in the distance - like a cold war remnant outpost . Being a clever girl I deduced the giant concrete rings I'd seen booting along the roadways were components of the tower, but it wasn't until the next day I saw the tower was becoming a wind turbine, and that the horizon was littered with them. It's like they were planted in a wind turbine garden and the garden blossomed overnight - like Jack's magic beans.

I'm not sure whether wind energy is safe or efficient, or what the long term effects are on people or environment. I do think, though, that the turbines themselves are beautifully sculptural, especially from a distance. There is something pleasing about their steadiness, and their link to the past for they bring to mind the charming windmills of yore. I marvel that they make the invisible,visible and harness what happens naturally for our use.

I wonder what else might suddenly appear on the horizon one day?

08 March 2016

Of living on the edge and Bruce Willis

I used to live in the middle. It was a geographic oddity: 20 minutes from everywhere.  Now I live on the edge which is 20 minutes from ... more edge. I didn't think it made much of a difference, but I recently discovered how a person experiences this region I call a Slice of Heaven on Earth very much depends on whether you are a middle-dweller, or an edge-liver.

One of the differences has to do with Sohoe being part of the St. Lawrence Seaway. The canal has 8 locks for shipping traffic and 8 lift bridges for road traffic. When going about your day in the middle, you become accustomed to seeing very large vessels travelling next to you, and you learn pretty quickly to either check bridge status (is it up? Do I have to find a way around? Where is the way around? Rats, I should have brought snacks.) It's cool to see this tangible evidence of how our small and relatively out-of-the-way neck of the woods is connected to the rest of the country. Not only that, but is a vital link in the well-being of the rest of the country.

Living on the edge, however, I may see the big boats out on the lake but other than lending picturesque interest to the scenery, they have no impact on how I go about my day.

Then last week I decided to visit Historic Town and chose a meandering route (we pronounce it 'root', not 'rout') that took me into the interior. What a shock to discover the waterway was dry! And being dry, I could see that the canal is actually quite shallow. It was almost disappointing: here I'd been imagining the ships (boats? lakers?) with massive hulls reaching deep, deep, deep into the water. Instead it looked almost like a tall person with a scuba mask would be able to walk across the canal bed and still be able to breathe. (Perhaps a leetle beet of dramatic license here)

I got to imagining all sorts of calamities that could lead to an emergency emptying of the canal - and as I drove further it turned out to include each of the locks as well. How had I missed hearing of this massive drought? No, surely not... a water leak, maybe? Collision!  There'd been a collision which resulted in catastrophic spillage of something environmentally frightening!  But how could I not have known this devastating thing happened? Ought we to call Bruce Willis to save us?

As I paid more attention I began to notice construction crews decked in day-glow safety outfits swarming over the structures. If there had been a noxious spill of some sort, surely hazmat suits would be the uniform of the day?  A niggling thought began to grow that this wasn't a dramatic event at all. And sure enough once I got home and did an internet search it turned out what I witnessed was regularly scheduled maintenance work coinciding with the annual winter shutdown of the canal.

Rats. We don't need Bruce Willis for that.

07 March 2016

Of bullets and journals. And office supplies!

When you read the words 'bullet journal' do your eyes light up and do you have a reflexive impulse to reach for your washi tape? Or do you mentally go through the 12 steps of an addiction recovery program, giving thanks for having got out of the BuJo craze with sanity intact?

For those of you who's first thought was along the lines of "huh?", a bullet journal - or bullet journaling - is a life style devoted to...

I'm kidding.  Sure, if you do a web search of 'bullet journals' the results will give you page after page of blogs devoted to them, and YouTube is overflowing with people eager to show you just how they bullet journal. (Yes, it is both a noun and a verb.) You wouldn't think there could be that much to say about it, but there you go... I'm sure there are many dozens of channels devoted to this very thing and their videos are long.

What exactly is this bullet journal business? Well, let's being by talking office supplies. More specifically those office supplies designed to help organize, schedule, and track all the nitty gritty facets of life: agendas, notebooks, actual journals, blocks of sticky notes, calendars and such like. Do you ever find yourself standing in the store flipping through all the many varieties of agendas and notebooks monologuing about how you don't need a list of international calling codes, nor even, fun as it may be, a world map of time zones, but could really use more blank pages for all the lists you tend to write (the lists that include tasks already completed so you can cross something off. Ta da! I am efficient and productive in manner of terribly organized person.) Or perhaps you like the daily layout of this agenda but that one has a better monthly format? And what about the other one that is very nearly perfect but it's slightly too big and has a soft cover in the most vile shade of purple ever seen? And after careful selection you find yourself still writing lists in multiple notebooks and stuffing the agenda with sticky notes.

Bullet journaling is ... hmm.  Well, it's a system, I suppose. (I was going to say way of life) It is an endlessly customizable tool, to your precise specifications because you're the one who designs the layout, what goes into it, and how you run with it once you've made the choice of what notebook to use.  There is no special (ie. high-priced) 'official' journal you must use. I've seen tutorials and blog posts from people who use expensive German notebooks but also regular issue find-it-at-the dollar-store notebooks.

The idea is to set up what ever yearly, monthly, weekly, daily calendar pages you need, as well as keep lists, jot reminders, record special events, track goals, document expenses or any ol' thing that might be important to you.  There are certain elements that are common to bullet journals that make bullet journaling a 'thing' and distinguish it from a typical store-bought organizer. One is having an index, another is having a standard set of symbols to quickly inform you if a notation is a note, a task or what have you. While that may not sound like the bee's knees, once I thought it through I cottoned on to how brilliant it is.  Of course, the cottoning happened days after I first saw how some people were bullet journaling and near passed out from the anxiety attack.

You know how some people put their photos in an album but some people get all scrapbooky about it with the stickers and 3D embellishments and the perfect calligraphy? Well, there is a large contingent of bullet journalers who have bedazzled journaling to a whole 'nother level. They doodle like they have a PhD in doodle arts. They calligraphy as though taught by a medieval monk. Did you know there is such a thing as decorative tape? There is! Pretty sticky tape in gorgeous colours with designs in the Country Chic, or Barnyard Cute, or Modern Minimalist styles meant to make putting borders around your pages a breeze.  There is even an industry now that supplies notebook add-ons like ribbon bookmarks and pen loops. It seems there is no end to the possible embellishments possible, though I do believe there are people who are working diligently and hard to find that end.

And then these extreme bulleters give viewers or readers a tour through their most recent month of journaling. This is an actual thing people do!

I'm all for being organized. The Lord knows I have a thing for pretty office supplies. I look at some of those pictures and videos and think, "Gah!!" I mean, they sure are talented people and the results of their labour are gorgeous, but it stresses me out! I don't have Copperplate penmanship, I cannot doodle, and know beyond the shadow of a doubt that if I have to decorate a title page for every month (remember having to do title pages in elementary school?  Again, "Gah!") as well as make every single page pretty in colour-coordinated inks, I'd get no further than the middle of the first month - and that's being generous with myself.

The saving grace of all this is that I found a blog post today in which the author encourages moderation and keeping it simple. I love keeping it simple!  I realized after reading it that I am already using some of these principles in my current agenda, but now have ideas for how I might eliminate the proliferation of notebooks and sticky notes... as well as have some fun with whatever creative impulse happens to strike. I sure am tempted to buy a brand new book to give this a whirl, but in the spirit of keeping it simple I'll stick with what I've got.

Do you BuJo?  If so, are you extreme?  If not, are you the tiniest big tempted to find out what it's all about?

29 February 2016

Of nuts and tea in China

The Lighthouse was begun as a way of documenting life with the Nuts - my wonderful nephews as well as their Mama and Papa Nut. At the time, the five boys ranged in age from 9 down to 1. There were high-jinks, much laughter, lots of fun, and the occasional tearful episode. Leap ahead to today, and Number One Nephew is on the cusp of 16 while the 'littlest' boy will soon be eight years old. I'm glad to have all the stories to look back on, for it truly was a most wonderful time and I know I am fortunate beyond measure to have had a share in their daily life for those four years. (My brother-in-law is a patient and generous man!)

A year ago the Family of Nuts welcomed a bundle of pink joy into their number. Five big brothers fell in love with a sweet baby girl with absolute delight and wonder. This weekend we celebrated Little Nutlie's first birthday and I tell you, that delight and wonder shows no sign of waning in the slightest.

Time passes and life changes... and I wouldn't trade today for yesterday for all the tea in China (though I'd come close to it to have them in my lap for snuggle time with books again)

16 February 2016

Of snow berries and book lists

There's something about a snow day that feels magical. There's less hustle and bustle for one thing... less scurrying about. All sounds are hushed, packed in snowflakes like cotton batten.

Taken with my phone so colours aren't clear: the
berries are very red. Evidence of
construction in the background.
There is a little ornamental tree outside my window, its sculptural limbs bend and twist in a maze-like fashion.  Even now, the branches carry dots of red berries, startlingly jewel-like against the backdrop of white blanketing the rest of the world.  I love how snow draped on the branches lends artistic interest and even a touch of mystery to an otherwise ordinary tree.

It's a snow day.  School buses are cancelled. When the supply system called at half past dawn this morning I let the phone ring. The radio was full of reports of cars in ditches and frozen roadways in my neck of the woods so I'm hunkering in for the day. I foresee books and pots of tea.

Not so for the men finishing work on the Bathroom Project of 2016.  What's a few inches of snow when there is tile to be laid?

Though there has been no update in ages, I have continued to work away at  The Great Reading Project. I reshelved a few of the books I'd been reading this morning, and thought today would be a good time to revisit The List. The crossed out titles were read as of the previous update; parenthetical notes indicate those read since.

Small Island  - Andrea Levy
Inferno – Dante (Now complete. Interesting note: the bookmark I was using had a picture of a polar bear and penguin on it. Hell will freeze over.)
Heart of the matter – Graham Greene (Completed... but I read End of the affair instead.)
The Snakepit – Sigrid Undset
Sound and the fury – William Faulkner
Man and woman – Alice Von Hildebrand (Completed)
The Cloistered Heart – Nancy Shuman
Invisible man – Ralph Ellison
Masterful Monk (series) – Owen Francis Dudley
Shepherd’s castle – George MacDonald
Last light – Terri Blackstock (I read a different title instead.)
84 Charing Cross Road – Helene Hanff (Completed. Several times.)
Gift from the sea – Anne Morrow Lindbergh
Unlocked – Karen Kingsbury (I read a different title instead.)

15 February 2016

Hold the dog; double the rum.

So cold.

Can barely type.

Send the St. Bernard.

Actually, never mind the dog, he'll just want walking. Just send rum. Lots and lots of rum.

11 February 2016

The sun rises

I'm watching the sun rise over a construction site.

I used to watch it rise over the ridge - the Niagara Escarpment - but the empty field across the road is being developed. I'm happy for the people who will be able to live in this wonderful, sleepy little town because of it, but I am sad that day by day my view of trees climbing the hill is turning to a view of culverts, pipes, and eventually walls and rooftops.

I'm watching the sun rise because today is the day, finally and at last, that the contractor will be here to redo the bathroom.  This sounds very grand, I know, and you are no doubt picturing glossy magazine spreads of luxe spa-type principal ensuites, and Mike the bare-armed "Do it right the first time!" man.  The truth of it is that water has been sneaking behind the tiles in the shower. When I brought it to my landlord's attention we agreed it was serious enough for a contractor and that I would have to resort to baths in the meantime.

And so began a month and a half of "It's happening tomorrow!" "Oh. No, it's not." "We've figured out the problem!" "Hang on. No, we haven't." "He'll be here Wednesday!" "Rats, the new insert is too big." (they didn't measure) and so on, until late last night, I got the call, "Tomorrow, 8:00 for sure!" Which had me once again rushing around to clean the bathroom (don't you clean before it's all torn apart?) and rearrange the kitchen as it's the direct route between front door and construction site.

For added fun, for two weeks or so since the moratorium on showers, I had to boil pots of water on the stove for bathing as the mixer had gone kerplunk.  Let me tell you, one day is charmingly old fashioned but by day three you realize that no amount of Mr. Darcy and his beautiful Pemberley could make up for hot running water.

It was the cry of "Tomorrow!" that had me up before the birds this morning. While I have reached the point beyond which I am no longer interested in the conversation (a West Wing quote), I am grateful to be sitting at my desk at this early hour to watch the glorious changes in the light as the sun came up, embellishing the torn up field with hints of soft gold and tender pinks. Even the scars in the earth look beautiful in this light.

The doorbell is ringing.  Here we go!

02 February 2016

Have you learned your something new today?

In case you haven't, I'll share these things I've learned today:

Most people set their alarm clock for 6:30 AM, but also, most people are not fully awake until 9:40 AM.  Think of the safety hazards! The excesses of caffeine! The morning meetings absolutely nobody is paying attention to!  Yikes... the somnolent driver in the car beside you on the 401! Wouldn't it make more sense to just not get up until 9:40?  Or, let's pretend to be civilized and make it 8:00.

The British are still very British, even in this post-modern era.  In a discussion of rapprochement, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and all things scary in the Middle East, the interviewee described the Saudis as being 'jolly unhappy'. Once again, understatement wins the day.

In the same vein of Britishness, a news report told of Chinese airlines resolving to fine passengers for 'boorish behaviour'.  It sounds so jolly English, doesn't it? I can't imagine an American using 'boorish'. Or 'rapprochement' for that matter.

January 23 was National Handwriting Day.  Rats; I missed it.  I've entered it into my calendar for next year, and will celebrate it with a surfeit of letter writing, fountain pens and ink.

It is common for weddings in India to have 2,000-5,000 guests.  Can you imagine?  I mean... can you imagine???  They also go on for 3 - 5 days, and can cost in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. The bride's family will even pay the airfare of their guests.  I heard of one with 11,000 people costing three quarters of a million dollars.

29 January 2016

When worlds collide

I've taken to listening to BBC world news while cataloguing at work.  I've been wanting to write about it, as it touches on a few of my favourite soap boxes including language and vocabulary but I'll leave that for another day.

At 10:30 Sohoe time BBC world news has a half hour program about sport. They begin with the footie, then cover the cricket and the tennis, sometimes the auto races and whatever else may be going on in the world of sport.  Imagine: a whole half hour of in depth sports coverage with nary a mention of hockey! Or American football!  Heavenly.

Then, as if that wasn't enough to make a footie-mad cataloguer giddy with glee, at 14:30 Sohoe time is a program dedicated entirely to world football. It's such fun, with interviews, behind the scenes transfer news, FIFA shenanigans, tournament updates, national league updates and so on.

Just now, moments ago, the world football program mentioned the English Premier League club Chelsea.  Frank Lampard used to play for them (now for New York City FC). As I listened to the program, I was cataloguing a book by Frank Lampard, and it's about soccer. It's called Frankie's magic soccer ball: Frankie vs. the mummy's menace. The cover shows three kids dressed as ancient Egyptians playing football in front of the pyramids.

Footie and cataloguing.  All is right with the world.

28 January 2016

A dull and dry chuckle

Cataloguer's humour:

From the title page:
"An original retelling"

So... a complete fabrication? Nothing at all to do with the original?
Is it ever "a word-for-word retelling of the original"?

Cataloguing may seem a dull and dry task to many people, but I spend most of my day in silent dialogue with authors and publishers, quietly chuckling to myself at flowery praise and implausible plots, or muttering under my breath at the librarian who chose to purchase such a book.

Just the sort of thing I enjoy.

23 January 2016

The week that was

On Sunday: Cooking rice and yet again scorching the bottom of the pot.
A scorched pot sitting on the front step in a snowstorm takes half an hour to completely cool down
The lingering odorous effects of scorching a pot takes a good week to dissipate.

On Monday: Remade rice dish leapt out of the container at lunch and landed in nooks and crannies of the armchair at work, and playing no favourites also all over my lap. While duck walking to the garbage bin  I left a rice trail much like the bread crumbs of fairy tales. Alas, no Prince Charming or helpful forest animals to be seen. Just me on hands and knees, picking individual grains of rice off the carpet.

On Tuesday: Cataloguing is dangerous work. I notice papercuts too numerous to count (because I can't be bothered to) (facts ruin a good story) and the development of a perma-claw, the result of hours of scrolling and clicking of the mouse.

On Wednesday: Day three of The Bathroom Saga.
Due to faulty grout and really old tiles, the wall around the tub is absorbing moisture. My landlord called on Sunday to let me know the contractor would be there Monday morning to start what should be a two day job. I spent the evening packing up all the personal stuff one has laying about in one's bathroom and preparing an overnight bag in case I needed to stay with the Nuts. I got home Monday to discover he hadn't been there at all, Tuesday was the same, and by Wednesday I'd given up rearranging the kitchen and rolling up the rugs to make way. I found out on Thursday that he probably won't be here until next Wednesday. Or Thursday.  So I've decided to leave my stuff about, and if he actually shows up, he can deal with it.  A girl needs her stuff!

Thursday: Taxes.  I have a woeful ineptitude when it comes to understanding numbers. Also a paralyzing fear of phoning official people in order to make appointments, gather information, or get bad news. (It's ok... I'm in therapy)  A recent kerfuffle with last year's taxes led to a pressing need to phone a scary government agency to confess my numerical sins. Utter relief to have it dealt with, a plan in place. I have confronted the monster under the bed, and by shining a light upon it have discovered it is no more than a paltry dust bunny.

Friday: Speaking of dust bunnies: what's with the drifts of dust all over my apartment?  Maybe all those phone calls for duct cleaning weren't scams after all. Huh.

17 January 2016

Snow falls to earth

One of snow's great charms is when it drifts and swirls out of the sky, landing softly on the ground with a gently increasing icing-sugar effect. The atmospheric delight of it, how it sets the scene of picture-postcard perfection, and how it enhances the warmth and coziness of home very nearly makes enduring the reality of snow possible.  It's snowing?  How pretty!  Time for a cuddly sweater, hot cocoa, and a book in front of a roaring fire.

I sat looking out the front door as I ate my morning oats (slow-cooker oatmeal... delicious!) and thought maybe my retinas were detaching. I've heard when that happens it's like dots floating in front of your eyes.  I was seeing dots, but only barely... a suggested whisper of dots. The dots took a straight line to the ground, like they were pulled by gravitational magnetism, and in lonely singles, as though they'd been let go one at a time from above. There was no physical evidence of them on the ground, but as I approached the glass door to look more closely, I could see that the dots were in fact snowflakes. Wee ones, to be sure, but weighty enough and determined enough to not waste time on their downward journey with drifting and swirling. They must have landed with enough force that they disintegrated into nonexistence.

In the time it took to rinse my bowl, text mom about Carmelites and almonds, and open the laptop, the singles of snowflakes have multiplied. They're now falling with purpose from the sky in clans; so many of them that their shattered remains are now evident on the ground. It may takes many hours, but there will eventually be actual drifts of snow and people will leave footprints as they walk the road beyond my window.

My understanding of how snowflakes come to be may be on the fanciful side: drops of moisture typically fall to earth as rain, but colder temperatures makes the drops playful. They leap and swirl, and gambol around in the upper reaches of the sky. Their time spent twirling and dancing alters their crystal garments, making them resplendent, telling a story of their adventures.

These snowflakes of today are too purpose-driven and time-pressed to spend any time at all on their crystal garments. They're falling to earth in their every-day wear. They might have been in the midst of gardening or folding the laundry and said, "We've got a lot to do, Esther, so no dilly dallying. Let's just get there.

I want to live my life in such a way that my garment is chock full of sparkles.

12 January 2016

Of winter roads and Canadian bridges

The Lighthouse is in Canada, as you know. As you probably also know, Canada does, from time to time, get winter. Not even Sohoe, where I live, escapes entirely.

Winter landed on us with a thud overnight. I woke to a winter postcard tableau outside the front door, meaning the front steps needed clearing and the car needed scraping.  Ahhh... scraping the car... every Canadian's favourite winter hobby.

In most of the rest of the country, folks deal with winter enough - the arctic temperatures, freezing rain, mountains of snow, slick and slippery roads - resulting in sensible, practiced drivers.  In my neck of the woods, a wee bit of snow is enough to make people lose their minds, outraged at what nature hath wrought, huddled in layers, and utter menaces on the roads.  Probably because of brain freeze.

I think Those Who Decide decided to hope that noon-time sunshine would melt the snow, and so did not send plows out to clear all the roads.  Where I live the roads are swoopy and windy, through gullies, up hills and down hills. The swoopy and windy roads are also narrow, leaving no room for error. Or for skidding on ice.  Or for getting out of the way of a fish-tailing pickup hauling a trailer with his baby snowplow in it. Those Who Decide didn't count on it continuing to snow beyond the appointed melting time, making getting home as much as fun as was getting to work.

As someone who used to live in the land of Winter before making good her escape to Sohoe (where 'winter' is a charming concept we dabble with now and then), I spend the first few days of winter driving every year encouraging other drivers under my breath with "it's only snow, you can do it! It's only snow, you can do it!"

Here are some winter car facts you may not know:
~ winter requires a whole 'nother set of special tires. That's why we don't spin out all over the place when we drive on slick roads.
~winter also requires a brush/scraper contraption, supposedly designed to remove ice and snow from hood, roof, trunk, and windows of car, but always seems to cause said ice and snow to make itself at home on my coat and trousers, and inside my boots.
~salt.  Salt everywhere. Salt turning the side of the car grey and then rubbing off on the calf of your leg. Every single time.
~pushing the seat back to make room for Big Winter Coat bulk.
~remembering to factor in an extra 10 minutes to warm up the car. If you live a litter further north, you actually plug in the car overnight to keep the battery warm.  If you live even further north, you bring the battery into the house overnight, and when you get to the store you leave the car running.
~you know it's cold when you sit in the car and the seat doesn't give one little bit. It's like perching on frozen cement.  Nice, eh?

Thinking of being Up North brings to mind a story that's been in the news the last couple of days.

The story takes place in a little town called Nipigon, It isn't the sort of place that would be known of, in the general way of things, but it just happens to be the place where one half of Canada meets the other half of Canada.  Not because it's the middle point, or where some political breakthrough took place. It is literally where the eastern and western portions cross over to the other. It happens on the Trans Canada Highway, which in that part of the world, is the only highway.

Canada is a large country - the second largest, in fact. In population, though, we are quite small (a tenth, I think, of the US) and  much of our land makes for very uncomfortable living. This has resulted in the bulk of us living within a hundred miles of the 49th parallel and the rest is left to wild, wide open space. That, combined with unendingly long and unendurably harsh winters, means we are not building roads far and wide.

And so it is that there is but one road that skirts Lake Superior, and but one road joining Ontario to Manitoba and that one road passes through Nipigon.  Every Canadian who has made the trek across country knows Nipigon and the bridge over the Nipigon River. No matter where you start from in Ontario, more than half of your journey to reach that bridge is going be be through the North Country... Canada in it's wild state, unpopulated, unsettled, largely untouched still, making it easy to imagine what it was like for the first settlers as they battled nature for survival. It's a full day's driving to cross the province, 12 hours from Toronto, 13 from Ottawa, and 13 from Sohoe.

Imagine then, that you have planned your trip. You are appropriately provisioned, and you are mentally prepared, for the isolation you will experience requires hardiness of mind. You've left in the weakest morning light and arrive long after sundown because you are now so far north that the sun gives up earlier, curling up somewhere warmer before trying again the next day. Then you find out the bridge is broken.

That's right, the bridge is broken!  This happened for real.  It's a new bridge, hardly driven on and it heaved. Or buckled. Whatever it is that bridges do when they break.  It seems it was made with Japanese bolts.  Japanese bolts don't like the cold, apparently, and they, like the sun, decided to give up early.

If you consider the transporting of goods, the travel of tourists, and the daily lives of folks in Nipigon, that bridge is vital. The nearest alternative route is at least six hours away in Sault Ste Marie, and that route takes you through the States, meaning you need a passport, and a change of currency - a painful thought in this time of the below-70-cent-Loonie.  How this happened I do not know but I truly do feel for all those who found themselves stranded in Nipigon just as winter is hitting its stride.

The mayor of Nipigon was on the radio, talking about how the residents of his town were throwing open their homes, providing food, shelter, and fellowship to stranded travelers. Isn't that lovely?  It might be colder than cold up there, but the people are warm and kind.

06 January 2016

The sliding scale of time

When I was a young person (and by young I mean under 20) it never entered my mind that the world would exist into the next millennium,  or that I would still be alive after 30. I couldn't picture myself, or imagine what my life would be beyond my 20's.

Here we are now, well and truly into the 21st Century.  It is 2016; sixteen years beyond the potential end-of-all-things of Y2K.  Sixteen!  The year 2020 is just around the corner, with 2025 knocking on the door of the near future.  Doesn't the number all by itself sound unfathomably SciFi?

Think about how the world had changed between 1880 to 1925.  Electricity, telephones, long-distance travel, to name only three things, had jarring and far-reaching effects of daily life. Fashion, even, went through drastic transformations in that period of time.

If you look at your own life, what it looks like from the outside and how you experience it, do you think it has altered as much?  We (mostly) all have telephones in our back pocket and have the potential to heat food in 30 seconds flat, but beyond the superficial, I don't know that we've had the same surge and scope of change that they did in the same amount of time back in Yore.

(Pardon the tangent... I got to thinking of a book Mark Steyn wrote in which he discusses contemporary man's lack of innovation. I think he's on to something.) (Back to your regularly scheduled...)

Time keeps ticking along, and calendar pages keep flipping over.  I'm beyond the oldest age I used to be able to imagine for myself, and "the future" is here.  I don't feel terribly different from that young thing I used to be, though the me of today wouldn't sleep on the church basement floor during a youth group fundraiser if you paid me a fortune (even if prorated for the cost of living), and I  constantly find myself making comments about "kids today!" and how the doctor must be all of 12 years old.

Have you ever noticed how there is  innate beauty in youth?  Brand new people are beautiful simply because they are brand new. Its particular brand of beauty is tender and delicate and hopeful, and it's  heart-aching. It gives way to the years and becomes something deeper, sturdier, individual because how we live those years is like the sculptor's chisel, and no two strokes of the chisel are the same.

(Another tangent.  Perhaps 2016 will be a year for tangents.)

To the me of Yore, time stretched endlessly and distantly ahead of me.  On the first day of school, summer seemed to be a lifetime away.  When I was 5 I thought I'd never turn 10, and when I was 16 I couldn't turn 18 fast enough.  These days, I'm positive that with all the monkeying about with Daylight Savings, someone has taken an hour or two away from every day, and possibly an entire day or two out of every month.  For sure and certain we've skipped at least a year since 1995 because how on earth is it possible that it is already 2016?

At this rate, by the time I wake up tomorrow morning it will be February already.