The Lighthouse

the lighthouse

26 October 2010

Grumpy and the Knight

In a voice absolutely laden with resignation, Daddy Nut said, without looking up from the supper table, to Number Three Nephew:
"Go get your costume on. It's the only Hallowe'en you're gonna get."
(Three was going to a Beavers costume party)

"Costume? What costume?" Asked Three.

"I don't know. Just get something from the box."

"Oh." Standard reply from any of the Peanuts.

Several minutes later he came back as Sir Three, Squire of the Realm, having assembled tunic, helmet, breastplate and so on, from the odds and ends of the costume box. For his troubles he came home with heaps of tasty treats. Not a bad haul for a tickle trunk knight.

24 October 2010

How England and Holland made Italy and Sweden: CTKS

The blood of Daddy Nut is steeped in Britannia. His forebears ruled the waves, ate Yorkshire pudding, and drank pots of tea.

Mama Nut comes from another seafaring nation - the Netherlands, home of wooden shoes, tulips, windmills and polder dykes.

The British and the Dutch have several things in common: they are blond and fair, are not known for great teeth, and both love football.

The English often sound like they have a mouth full of marbles when they talk, while the Dutch would seem to have hairballs.

This particular son of Brits and this specific daughter of Holland have very Canadian patterns of speech. Their conversation is peppered with "eh", and "thank you", in an ever so subtle Canadian-twang-meets-neo-Scottish-lilt.

How did it happen then, that Number Three Nephew sounds like a surfer dude? More surprisingly, Four is a little Italian boy (Somebody helpa me! Finda my car!)while Five could have come from Ikea (I see a skewel bus; a yellow skewel bus.)

Pass the pasta smorgasbord, please.

23 October 2010

Where in the world... am I?

I live in Sohoe, which is a Slice of Heaven on Earth. Let me set the scene for you:

Two of the Great Lakes are joined by an historical canal. The land is fertile, and the climate is mild, so all around is beautiful agricultural land - cherry, peach, pear and apple orchards alongside vineyards, corn fields and dairy farms. There are picturesque villages, a few small cities, and one of the natural wonders of the world. The landscape offers rolling hills as well as flat, far-reaching plains. There is a Carolinian forest and several significant historical sites. Sohoe is heavenly indeed.

What endears Sohoe to me is that is reminds me of Germany. There are narrow, winding country lanes, houses set into the hills, sheep and cows grazing in the pastures of well-kept homestead farms. The weather is reminiscent of Germany at this time of year as well: the temperatures are cool but milder than much of Canada, and the rainy days are straight out of my childhood overseas. Something in the quality of light here, is suggestive of Deutschland.

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to go wandering for a bit. I haven't yet done much driving around the area myself, as I am usually with the family, with BIL behind the wheel. I have a general idea of where places are, but have you noticed that things look different when you are driving than they do when you are a passenger?

There I was, navigating the windy roads and lanes, enjoying the scenery. I pulled over at one point to let a shiny black SUV pass me - they were in a hurry and I was poking along. (Good thing I was driving BoB, our family van. Nobody expects a van to break any speed limits so I was free to saunter as I wanted) It dawned on me that I had no idea how to get to where I wanted to go. Was I supposed to turn right at the gabled barn, or go straight through at the herb farm? Did I want to be on First, Fourth or Eleventh Louth Street? Or maybe 8th Avenue? They sound like significant streets, right? You're picturing 8th Avenue in New York City, but here, no matter how grand the name (anything called an Avenue has pretensions to grandeur, in my opinion) it is a country lane wandering through corn fields or following the historical canal. Anyway, the point is, I've been down many of the roads here at one point or another, but unless you really pay attention, one beautiful vineyard looks like another beautiful vineyard until suddenly you are trying to get yourself to Schmalmart without a copilot.

I sat at one crossroads after another, trying to remember if this horse pasture looked familiar because we pass by on our way to the grocery store, or when we go for a drive to the Wonder of the World, which is in an entirely different section of Sohoe. However, as I am a most fortunate person without schedules or deadlines (and because BoB is equipped with a very detailed map) I was able to just enjoy my wheeled migration through the beauty that surrounds our home. I did eventually find Schmalmart, but that was incidental to the day.

I live in a Slice of Heaven on Earth

18 October 2010

A report from the world of boys

I’ve learned a lot about men (also known as boys) from living with Nephews One through Five (also known as the Peanuts). Here are a few insights:

1. Boys are competitive. Everything, from putting on their shoes to eating meatballs is a contest to them. They will assess who has the fastest shoes, and who has the most meatballs, and they. Must. Win.

2. Boys need to be in constant motion. Whether putting on their shoes or eating meatballs, boys tend to flop or squirm or wiggle throughout the entire activity. The only time the Peanuts are still is when they are asleep; and then only because the grownups have finally had enough nonstop movement and we’ve flipped their off switch.

3. Boys have very little sense of personal space. When putting on their shoes or eating meatballs, boys will find the smallest possible area to do it in, and do it piled on top of each other. It appears, through observation, that two limbs must be touching at all times, or they just aren’t close enough. Number Three Nephew is an exception to this rule. He’s the one who will draw a boundary on the couch and tell you, “You can’t go over this line.” while the other four will happily all share one cushion.

4. Boys are loud. Regardless the task (it could be putting on their shoes or eating meatballs), boys like to make noise. Noise. Noise! Every activity is accompanied by a soundtrack of sound effects, music, or dialogue. They also tend to be very exuberant in their noise production, so things get very loud, and because of #5 (and perhaps #1 also) they tune out all the other noise around them – though they know it’s loud – and simply increase their own volume to ensure they are heard.

5. Boys listen selectively. Unless they think what you’re talking about has anything to do with them, to positive effect, they will not hear you tell them to stop eating those meatballs and put on their shoes. The most common response around here is, “What?”, closely followed by, “But I didn’t hear you!” In one of my first CTKS posts, I quoted Two as saying, “You yelled just the right amount that time” or words to that effect. So true.

6. Boys have complete faith that Mama Nut knows everything, from where the shoes are, to did they like meatballs when they were five. This saves them from the dreary task of having to remember such things themselves. They also don’t know where the milk is, or if there is any more toilet paper in the house.

7. Boys like to be helpful when they’re feeling warm and fuzzy. They will gladly tidy up the shoes or help you make the meatballs because they appreciate being useful. They will be especially helpful if there is an element of competition involved, or if they will win something in return. A note for moms desperate for help with the laundry: boys prefer to feel benevolent rather than obligated, so be wary of issuing ultimatums.

8. Boys are incredibly territorial. They are loathe to have anyone move their shoes or touch their meatballs. Their treasure may be just elastic bands and old batteries in the eyes of a girl (or mother... very different entities in a boy’s understanding) but the elastic or battery is his own... his precious, and therefore worthy of being prized and protected.

There is more to boys, of course – wonderful, mysterious creatures that they are. I’d love to hear your boy stories, if you care to share them.

13 October 2010

The Korean guy

I grew up in a small family: two parents, one sibling and I. We made a quiet, contained, and mobile unit. We weren’t entirely cloistered – we did, after all, venture out to collect the mail and purchase supplies when necessary – but we did tend to keep ourselves to ourselves. We had a small circle of valued friends and enjoyed entertaining them in our home. We weren’t a casual family however; friends generally didn’t drop in spontaneously but rather arranged plans well ahead of time. Most of our time at home was spent with each of us quietly reading our own book, music playing softly in the background.

Needless to say, life is very different here, in the House of Nuts. There are five very active boys, one very exuberant Daddy Nut, my sister who somehow keeps them all together (alive, fed, clothed, content) and me...maintaining a semblance of sanity in my quiet corner, but loving all the chaos nonetheless.

This is a house where people do drop in, and events occur spontaneously. Take this past weekend as an example. Family friends came to visit for Thanksgiving. They have four boys who get along with the five Peanuts very well. We had planned the sleeping arrangements, stored up sufficient provender, and prepared the house to be seen by company.

The evening before their expected arrival, we were enjoying our Friday Fast supper of rice and beans. As often happens when the menu features rice, we talked about how in many parts of the world, rice is the main component of all three meals in the day. “For example,” said Daddy Nut (my brother-in-law) “the Korean guy who’s coming here, would appreciate this rice very much.” Knowing my BIL as I do, I began to imagine scenarios of what he could mean with that statement: a Korean gentleman involved in scouting, the Knights of Columbus, or the school, was coming by the house later in the week; or, a Korean man would be arriving during the week to work on the water meter or some such thing; or, maybe it had to do with BIL’s marathon, and the Korean fellow who was coming here had been talking about the nutritional benefits of rice for athletes in training?

But no. The friends who were spending Thanksgiving with us were bringing their Korean exchange student with them. Apparently BIL had told us earlier in the week, but honestly, the first my sister and I heard about it was with those words: the Korean guy who’s coming here would appreciate this rice very much.

What fun it was, to have him with us, this man of 28 who barely spoke English and had never experienced a Thanksgiving, or even eaten turkey before. Have you noticed how people communicate with each other, when they don’t speak the same language? Speech becomes slower, and louder, loses prepositions, and gains exaggerated gestures. There are broad smiles all around when communication is successful; when understanding is not achieved, the same words are used over and over, but ever more slowly and with greater volume as if somehow the same sentence spoken more loudly will aid comprehension.

Regardless, we managed to share complex ideas such as Korean social structure, and the differences between a marathon and a triathlon. We enjoyed the beauty of Sohoe together, seeing the Falls through his eyes, and laughing at his three helpings of his first ever turkey. He narrated (in Korean-tinted English) for us a slide show of his trip to the Philippines where he met many Spanish people, and talked about how much he missed his mom.

You see how it all comes home again? You can travel half-way around the world, you can find yourself in unexpected circumstances, but at the heart of us all, is family.

11 October 2010

Of neighbourly neighbours

We have very neighbourly neighbours here in Sohoe. From the very weekend we moved in here, they have taken an interest in us – and not merely as a source of gossip. They know us as ‘the family with all the boys’ who left the big city behind. They endure with good grace the chatter of little Four who is eager to make a friend of anyone who passes the house. Even the garbage men wave as they go by, knowing how admired they are by Four and Five who think anyone who drives a big truck is the bee’s knees. One neighbour even gives daily Peanut updates to her family in another town.

Our neighbours notice when we have car trouble, and come to offer help. They realized I was home alone this summer while the Nuts were on holiday, and took me shopping or stopped by to chat in case I was lonely. I’ve been asked by strangers in the street about the boys, or some piece of family news.

This is a big change from the place we lived before, where two neighbours who happen to be outside at the same time don’t look at each other (a discrete nod of the head might be acceptable if both parties have lived there for ten years or so.) Fences are erected not to establish property lines, but to continue the illusion that no one else exists.

It’s taken some getting used to, all this friendliness and interest. The other day, a gentleman I didn’t recognize came to the front door. My instinct was to ignore him, but there he was on the other side of the glass, looking right at me. “Can you get the door?” I asked my brother in law, “there’s a man there.” feeling very un-neighbourly and a little grouchy that someone had the nerve to approach the door. And so he did, and had a good old conversation with the man at the door too. Doesn’t he turn out to live down the street a bit, and has noticed the flag we’re flying at the front of the house. He had some old books from his mother, in the language of that country, and wanted to give them to us, rather than throw them out.

That’s not the first time such a thing has happened to us living here. We’ve had various people drop off toys or clothing or books for the boys; bikes, baked goods and produce. There has been such incredible generosity of their time, their goods, and their presence. We are truly blessed by our neighbours in Sohoe, and on this feast of Thanksgiving, I’d like to take this opportunity to say thank you, and God bless you for all you have given us.

07 October 2010


Daddy, I miss your beard. Four, stroking his daddy's newly-clear-from-stubble face. We should go to the beard store, you can get a new one.

Five, while not faint of heart, is not quite as adventurous as his brothers. He's content to watch the roller coasters from the safety of firm ground, and observes new people from a distance rather than immediately embracing them as new friends. He has admonished me to be gentle with him when I push him on the swings, and in the back row of BoB he used to clutch at his car seat, white-faced, when Daddy Nut took the hills just a little too fast for his liking. Earlier this week we undertook a drive through the country, and when one of those hills was breached, he said: "It's not scary; I'm a big boy! When I'm a grown up, I'm going to be a big boy."

Must they grow up?

04 October 2010

How to dress like a Canadian

Dressing like a Canadian is an art form. It requires agility of perception as well as of closet space. Sound tricky? It is. Allow me to demonstrate.

The date is October something or other. Temperatures have calmed from summer highs in the 30s to more palatable teens. Mornings start out chilly, but the day can warm significantly by noon, before flirting once more with the frost factor come night fall. It might rain, it might be overcast, or it might be brilliantly clear and sunny.

Agility of perception is required in not being bullied by the calendar. It may tell you it is October, and as you learned in elementary school, October is an autumnal month. Catalogues and advertising campaigns dictate that in autumn months we wear sweaters and scarves with our perfect jeans, and jump joyfully through piles of leaves in our sturdy leather hiking boots. How idyllic that world is!

A Canadian, however, due to vagaries of weather and a constitutional reluctance to admit summer is over, will still wear open-toed shoes until it becomes absolutely necessary to move to the next level. Driving down the main street of any Canadian town in the fall, you will see every combination of shorts and sweaters, boots and sandals, t-shirts and jackets… all on the same day. And even on the same person.

Which leads to agility of closet space. It requires ingenuity to manage the clothing for three seasons concurrently (storing the necessary footwear alone is a great challenge). During the fall, Canadians are still holding on to sun-kissed dreams with their cotton, while acknowledging the approach of winter with wool.

To give an example, here is what I wore when I went out last Sunday evening: capris and a t-shirt (fond memories of summer), a cardigan (admission of summer’s passing), a long woollen sweater-jacket (for survival in colder temperatures), and flip flops. You see, wardrobe is just a small factor in how to dress like a Canadian; you’ve got to be tough. We have been exposing our flesh to the harsh elements for so long that we no longer feel the pain of frostbite setting in.

We are not entirely foolish, however -- we do know when to concede to the elements. We know to allow for double layers of socks when sizing new boots, and to buy the heavy winter coat in a larger size to make room for a thick sweater underneath. We even have special seasonal unmentionables that cover more surface area for added thermal insulation. In the thick of winter, it’s not unusual to see a Canadian dressed in parka and mukluks clutching a shoe bag. Underneath that parka is a cute sweater, or a business suit, or a formal evening gown. The shoe bag declares that while we acknowledge the weather in order to survive, we will not surrender our Jimmy Choos.

01 October 2010

Of preparation: hard hats and chocolate

Autumn has arrived. The signs of its approach began with the staccato fall of acorns on the shed roof, sounding very much like gunfire. Our wardrobe at this time of year should include a hardhat; acorns are tiny and cute looking, but they pack a wallop when they land on your head from a great height at high velocity. An acorn-shaped hole drilled from cranium to gullet is not the look you want this season, so wear the hardhat.

Squirrels and chipmunks are frantically at work, eager to hide away as much food as they can find for winter survival. By all accounts we are in for a long winter. This suggests to me that we too, should be finding and burying as much food as we can for the winter months ahead. Of course, what that looks like for people is buying tinned soup and jars of peanut butter for the pantry. Don’t forget the chocolate; it could very well be the difference between surviving the Long Dark, and curling into a pallid ball of defeat sometime around January 17th.

Sheep are busy filling in their winter coats, getting woollier by the day. Following their lead, this is the time of year to gradually increase the thickness of our environmental protection system (aka clothing). We begin by adding layers: from t-shirt to t-shirt and light sweater, to t-shirt and heavy sweater over thermal unmentionables with a jaunty scarf and cap topped with the latest technology on offer to fend off the deadly elements. Never mind your silhouette: better to be round but warm than lean and frozen. In fact, the more layers you wear, the warmer you will be: you will no doubt become exhausted from putting on all that gear that you will decide to stay indoors with your lovely central heating and have some hot chocolate.

Birds are very clever: they are beginning the long trek south. Most of us don’t have the luxury of pulling up stakes for half of every year in search of warmer climes, so we do what we can to cope. This may include a brief holiday on a hot sandy beach, or a package of 10 trips to the tanning salon. My preference is for borrowing travel videos from the library: South of France, Italy, AndalucĂ­a; and beautifully illustrated cookbooks: David Rocco’s Dolce Vita is a superb source of culinary inspiration and sun-drenched day dreams. We may not be able to fly south like the birds, but imagination can take us anywhere.

The Long Dark is some way off giving us time to prepare. In the meantime, we still have occasional flip flop days ahead with blue skies and sunshine. Like the wise creatures in nature, we must take advantage of those days, delighting in them when they come and packing away the memories for the quiet days of winter.