The Lighthouse

the lighthouse

30 November 2011

Of bats and books

I work as an on call girl.  No, not a call girl, an on call girl.  I'm like Batman without the cape: when someone in a library is in need, they send out the call and I ride to the rescue. Not in the Batmobile, sadly (that is one seriously cool car) but in my little red four door with a slow leak in the rear tire.

There is no beacon in the sky. Rather,my cell phone rings, and it does so unpredictably. The call might come the evening before, allowing for adequate preparation, mental and physical. Most often, the phone will vibrate its way across the bookshelf at 6AM on the morning of. The dissonant burring jump starts my adrenal system, jolting me awake, ready for emergency action. I stumble through a complicated automated menu with one eye half open (Batman never had to deal with telemessaging menus). I usually have an hour to find consciousness, ready myself, and find my way to the location. In case the math evades you, all this happens before seven o'clock.

It used to be if I didn't get an SOS by 6.30, I knew I was free for the day, secure in the knowledge that all was well in the world of libraries. Lately, however, the Library Girl To The Rescue Phone (LGRP) rings at any time. I might have planned for a day of laundry, meaning I am attired in an old dress I keep on hand for such occasions because it makes me feel like a hausfrau which helps me work more efficiently - and justifies the cake with a mid morning coffee.  Every piece of clothing I've touched since the last laundry day is tangled together in baskets. When the call comes I must scramble to find something suitable to wear (again, no cape). Official superheroes have it so easy: step into a phone booth or descend to the cave where the required - if not stylish - outfit awaits. There is also an important decision to be made: to shampoo or not to shampoo. It may be there is no time, as my assistance is needed onsite immediately, so I am reduced to one of my sleight-of-hand hairdos.  Ladies, you know what I'm talking about. We all have a go-to ponytail or messy bun we use to camouflage the state of our hair.

Once there, I do what every librarian the world over does: impart a love of reading to all who enter, and help them find information about manatees. On really good days I have the opportunity to explain to someone the difference between the fiction books in the fiction section and the literature found in the 800s of the Dewey Decimal System.

I might be in the parking lot of Schmapters, or tramping through the woods far from home, but no matter where I am, when there is a call, Library Girl will answer. So you can rest easy: the books are safe.

27 November 2011

Of tiny tissues

I had a bad cold this summer. I treat myself to really good tissues when I have a cold.  I go the whole nine yards: 3 ply, aloe-infused, cushioned, 500 in the box.

It’s not possible to test drive the tissue in store however, so one commits to a box in good faith.  Once I got it home I realized that if these were indeed 3 ply, the stuff-the-tissue-in-the-box assembly line had stuffed each ply in individually and there were no instruction for multi-plying the tissues oneself. Besides which, they are smaller than the usual tissue, barely covering my hand – and I have small hands – which leads to interesting target practice when putting said tissue to use. They were so disappointing that I've avoided using them and the box still lingers on my dressing table.

With winter nearly upon us, and cough and cold season ready to explode at any moment, I'm wondering what to do.  I have a tissue dilemma: do I splurge on a whole new box and pretend this one never was? Or embrace my poverty and sneeze delicately into the tiny tissue?

20 November 2011

Some randomness

Seven random things:

1.  More people are majoring in public relations than in journalism. It's become more important these days to spin the news than report it.

2.  Dun-Rite Window Coverings.  The name inspires confidence, doesn't it?

3.  I miss Number Five Nephew. While he's still (mostly) sweet and squishable, he's disappeared into a temperamental contrariness.  I await the day when he is restored to us.

4.  Sometimes - especially when roadtripping through the GTA, I listen to Rush Limbaugh. A little for the right-wing radical factor, and a little for the comedy factor.  I don't think I can listen to him anymore though, because I heard him speak against The Beautiful Game.  Whether it was a joke or not, he said kids should not play, soccer should not be broadcasted, and we should ban companies that sponsor the game. Strike him off my list.

5.  We had the first snow of the season last night. By 'snow' I mean a few tiny, lazy, flakes drifted from the sky and disappeared before they touched ground. This lasted for all of three minutes. All snow should be like that: beautiful, atmospheric, and fleeting.

6.  I had to be at work for 7.30 last week. What an uncivilized hour! There is precious little time for a gentle start or an energizing hot brew. It's eyes open, feet to floor, grab clothes, hit the road - then pretend to be a kind and capable person before consciousness even hits.

7.  Is it inevitable that time becomes confusing as we get older? I find it difficult to remember dates - either today's or the one when I graduated from college, for example. At the same time, time has sped up a shocking degree. I can't believe it's Sunday night again, or that those college days were so long ago already. The vagaries of time keeping, I suppose.

17 November 2011

Finishing touches

I recently read a novel about etiquette. Doesn't that sound great?

It was actually very entertaining and quite funny - sort of a more put-together, less ribald Bridget Jones. The book, "The finishing touches" is about Betsy Phillimore who was left on the back step of a London finishing school in a marmalade crate, a diamond bumble bee pinned to her blanket, with a note saying this was the best place to leave a girl to be brought up right.

And indeed she was; Betsy learned social etiquette and graces at the feet of a master - Lady Phillimore, Betsy's adopted mother. The novel is about Betsy's return to the school as an adult with the intention of revamping the curriculum to make it relevant for young women of today.  For example, knowing how to identify and use a shrimp fork is rather quaint, but being confident when eating sushi in public is valuable. Being able to balance books on your head is rather silly, but posing well for paparazzi (or passport photos) is more likely to be useful in this day and age. While our mothers and grandmothers had to know how to plan the seating arrangements for regular husband's-job-type dinner parties, women of today benefit more from knowing where the bathroom shut-off valve is, and how to find a good mechanic.

While manners and social graces are important for smoothing awkward situations or soothing ruffled feathers we are no longer formally taught how to behave.

What do you think?  Are finishing schools hopelessly outdated, or should we bring back etiquette lessons?  What do you wish you had been taught before you faced the world on your own?

11 November 2011

Lest we forget - we ought not cave in

There is an Ottawa high school – Notre Dame – which this year is not allowed to continue its tradition of Remembrance Day visits by veterans or offer displays of Canadian weaponry, uniforms, etc.

Because some students come from war-torn countries, for some of them their military is a source of fear, oppression, death, etc.

This is an error because Remembrance Day does not glorify war or violence, or oppression. The purpose is to honour citizens who fought to preserve freedom and end atrocity elsewhere.

Those students have left their troubled homeland, and now abide in Canada. In this country, soldiers in uniform are peacekeepers. They bring help in natural disasters home and abroad. Yes, they represent military might, but we are privileged to have no reason to fear them.

Remembrance Day is an opportunity to teach an important lesson in Canadian civics to new students. Here is a perfect teaching moment for them to learn Canadian history and customs.

Though, perhaps, the Ottawa School Board has a different lesson on Canadian history and customs in mind when they caved to a few dissenting voices.  After all, hasn’t that become the Canadian way?

09 November 2011


The Duggars are expecting another child.

For most families, that is exciting news, welcome news, joyous news.  But beyond close friends and family, that news draws a mild response at most - hopefully of the "Oh, good." variety.  The Duggars are not most families though.  Jim Bob and Michelle have nineteen children, so decent math skills will tell you that this little one is the twentieth branch on their family tree.

The reaction this revelation elicits from some quarters is very negative: outrage, repugnance, mockery. There are comments about Michelle spontaneously popping out a baby every time she sneezes, or Jim Bob not knowing how babies are made. People are snide and cruel - not to mention insulting and invasive with their comments and questions.

If you know anything at all about the Duggar family, if you've seen them on Good Morning America, or caught an episode of their TLC program, you know they are good people.  They are responsible and civic-minded.  Their children are well-spoken, courteous, curious, and competent - that answers the often aired supposition that having so many children must mean the kids run wild, lack personal attention, are ill-adjusted, and will place too great a burden on the community.  In fact, the family is debt free - a house, utility payments, groceries, clothing, a collection of vehicles (including several vans/SUVs, a full-sized touring coach, a smaller bus, and sundry pieces of maintenance equipment) - all free and clear.  Far from being a drain on society, they give back in service. The children have been taught practical skills, enabling them to fend for themselves, help others, and, in the case of the oldest boys, provide for themselves financially.

Their beliefs (funadmentalist conservative Christian) may not jive with your own, and their lifestyle of frugality and modesty may not appeal to you, but seeing them in action would dispel any ideas you had that they were simple-minded hicks. There is no doubt of their sincerity and their desire to love God, serve Him, and do good. They love their children without measure, counting each of them a blessing.  At the start of their marriage, they were using a birth control pill which resulted in a lost baby; from then on they determined to accept as many children as they were given, and are sad to think that their fertile years are coming to an end.  They do not preach having as many children as possible, knowing each family is unique. They do however, encourage couples to be open to the gift, and are grateful that their circumstances make their family possible.

Not only are Michelle and Jim Bob delighted with each new pregnancy, but the children themselves are excited at the prospect of a new brother or sister. Mom and Dad teach them to respect and love their siblings - an aspect of parenting that some typical families overlook, thinking it natural for brothers and sisters to resent each other. The older siblings help to look after a younger buddy, and each one has an assigned chore, which not only helps with the upkeep of the home, but teaches them skills, responsibility, and discipline.  And when they're not working together, they're playing together as typical, active children.

Some of you readers have experienced shock and awe from people when they see your large families of four or five children.  You can just imagine what the Duggars endure when all 21 of them are out and about (24 when oldest son Josh and his wife and two children join them). They always respond with patience and grace, turning derision into praises to God for the many blessings they've received - that's the Duggar way..

We could all stand to be a little Duggared.

05 November 2011


I've never been a fossil in the wall  - A three-year old mondigreen (a misheard lyric) from the Veggie Tales song 'We are the pirates who don't do anything'. The real line is "I've never been to Boston in the fall.

Compost Superman features prominently in our household.  He's half Batman, half Superman.  His name is really Composite Superman, but Four went for the word he already knew: compost, as in the green bin under the kitchen sink.

Octover, says Four. "BER," Mama Nut corrects.  Right, Four, it's BerOctover. Five helpfully chimes in.

Randomly, Four asks, "How was your day, Dad?" Hearts melted.

"I don't do that down on the floor stuff."  Three, during a family dance party when asked if he'd like his turn demonstrating some breakdancing moves.

"You can both do one for me."  Four, magnanimously handing a candy to both Mama Nut and I to open for him.  He didn't want either of us to feel left out.

It's best to be with a family, with a mummy and a daddy, and a Tante Tess, and brothers. - Five, on the way home from a walk.

04 November 2011

Indulgence: Higher love

I surrender heart and soul
Sacrifice to a higher goal
Lift me higher
By a higher love

We all need a little Depeche Mode now and then.

Of plans and white flags

All the signs are pointing toward surrender and submission.  It's time for me to stop planning, to quit plotting, to desist in dreaming of things not yet come to pass.  Some days are like that.  You can either beat your head against the immovable wall and take ibuprofen afterwards, or you can claim some wisdom upfront, and concede without the headache.

I haven't shied away from sharing my defeats with you so far, so I will tell you that the Good Hair Interview did not result in a job offer.  I'm sure they're still talking about the hair though, so all is not wasted.
Jocularity aside, while I can't help but feel a little disappointed that I wasn't picked (overtones of junior high gym class) I remain hopeful that The Perfect Job is out there... or at least The Right Job For Right Now.  In the meantime, I will take advantage of what I've got now: time to enjoy my scrumptious Peanutty nephews, and time to write for pleasure.

It is my habit to go to Adoration once a week, typically on Friday.  I planned to go around lunchtime today, then come home to pick up the two smallest Nuts and take them to the library for new books. (We're junkies and need a steady supply)  There was a funeral at the church, however, so I couldn't stay.  Then, after a minor skirmish back at the house, I got the boys as far as the library parking lot before we discovered it was closed for an all-day staff meeting - something I knew about but had forgotten.

Plans disappointed three times in one day.  What is the message behind that, I wonder?

03 November 2011

Forgotten bookmarks

I came across this site yesterday  It belongs to Michael Popek, a bookseller, who started the website to share what people leave behind in the books they want to sell, from inscriptions, to clippings, business cards, letters, and drawings. 

This is such a simple idea that it seems almost pointless, and yet it works.  It is surprisingly powerful to see these small artefacts of a stranger's life - a postcard sent to a sweetheart left in a collection of French stories; an inscription to her father from a young girl warning him he will probably cry when he reads the book, inside the cover of The Little Prince; a recipe for cookies in an old biography. 

The remnants are found in classic literary works, obscure manuals, cheap paperbacks, textbooks... the whole gamut you come across in second hand bookshops.  Isn't it fascinating to think that every book tells a story - and not just between its covers.  Every book was owned by a person who was studying for finals, travelling to Atlanta, writing their last will and testament, going to a dinner party, or breaking up - like the one who wrote this on a postcard found in a copy of Catch 22: 
Dear Lover,
It's over
- you know who.

Aren't you itching to know the rest of the story?  Would it intrigue you more to know that it was written in Milan in 1961?

Mr. Popek has gathered the best of his finds into a book, just published, by Perigee, titled 'Forgotten Bookmarks: a bookseller's collection of odd things lost between the pages'.

A sure cure for writer's block, I'd say.

02 November 2011

Writing prompt: Obsessions

Writing prompt – Taken from The Fiction Class, by Susan Breen

Make a list of your five obsessions.
Now write a few paragraphs about one of them.

1.       The State of the world.
2.       Clean hands.  Actually, cleanliness in general.  And tidiness, too.
3.       Being on time.
4.       Apple pie.
5.       Football.  Footie.  Soccer!  (Especially Manchester United, and the German Men’s National Team.)

I enjoy a good rant, don’t you?  One of my favourites is The State of the World.  It’s a handy sort of rant, because a discussion of nearly any topic can segue to All the Things That Are Wrong in the World Today.

You, too, can participate in ranting about the decline of the western civilization as we know it. Here’s how: as often as possible, drop into the conversation – say, about cell phones in the Sudan – certain key phrases like monopolies, government control, and reality tv. Reality tv is one of those all-rounder phrases – it takes the blame for any societal ailment, in any situation.

Whenever possible, bring up declining literacy, delayed adulthood, rights verses responsibilities, and government spending.  From there you can branch into test score-based education, the crisis in masculinity, violence in entertainment, or how the liberals are to blame for everything (unless you are a liberal, in which case, clearly, you’d mention how clueless conservatives are.)

Then, for good measure, if you’re Catholic like me, your next rantish step is to delve into post Vatican II Catholicism and the horror of guitar music at the Saturday five o’clock.

Most importantly, do not let opposing viewpoints slow you down or distract you. Don’t apologize for repeating your favourite grievances. Good ranters gather steam and keep on going until no one else is talking.  That’s how you know who won.

I’d love to hear back from any of you readers who may be so inclined to share: what are your obsessions?  Can you tell me something about them?

I immediately went to obsession number five, because I really do love football... but it was too easy.  Plus, I’ve written heaps about The Beautiful Game here at The Lighthouse and it didn’t seem fair to subject you all to yet another dissertation.  However, I had already written the bit that follows before my conscience kicked in, so I am including it anyway.

Football, how do I love thee?  Let me count the ways.  I love you river deep, and mountain high.  My love for you is like oxygen.  You lift me up where I.... well, let’s just leave it at: I really like football, and for several complicated reasons.

One of the things I enjoy most about the game is the drama, both on and off the pitch.  I just love how vitally important a match can be, for pride, for gloating rights, for war and peace on a national scale (for real!  The Ivory Coast National Men’s team appealed to warring factions to put down their guns so fans could watch one of their matches and sure enough, fighting stopped for the duration.)

I love how invested the fans are in their club, singing songs for their favourite players, bequeathing season’s tickets from father to son, and rabidly following every detail about clubs and players (my brother-in-law has entire seasons of Liverpool games saved on disc).  The history is fantastic with some teams going back to the late 1800s -- and some rivalries are just as old.

A long-running and hotly contested debate is whether association football should go high-tech by allowing referees access to instant replay footage.  Granted, one bad call can alter the course of a game.  There are historical matches that still spark dissension in pubs and cafes around the world: the ball was in!  It was a hand ball!  There’s no way that was offside!  Yelling at the officials and muttering about questionable calls is one of the great pleasures of the game for me, so I’m happy with things the way they are.

A loss for the club you love above all others (I was going to say “above all other things” but that might be taking my affection too far) can be devastating, gut-wrenching, heart-breaking, depression-inducing.  Likewise, a win, particularly over a bitter rival (Man City, say, or Italy) can set you up for a week of vacuuming without a grimace, because you’re floating on air.  Yes, it passes, but there’s always the next fixture to look forward to, and that’s what keeps us interested in The Beautiful Game:  It’s never really over.

01 November 2011

Of ducks and ginger ale

Do you ever crack yourself up?  I do, on a regular basis.  I'm sitting at my desk right now, 'working' - which means that I'm spending more time than I should checking on facebook updates, gazing blankly into space, or drinking endless cups of whatever takes me away from said desk (Don't judge me!) - while turning a phrase for the current writing project over and over in my mind like the sea with a rock, ever so slowly wearing it into shape. (Don't laugh at me!)

While that artistic endeavor - which feels like mental torture at times - goes on, I've been engaged in a very silly cyber conversation (cybersation?) about a plasticine duck, of all things. It doesn't even matter what I said (you can be sure it was very witty); the important thing, the reason I bring it up, is because I am now like ginger ale, with happy-bubbles fizzing through me.

We all need moments like that in our day, don't we? Moments of silly-induced happiness.

The duck that did it