The Lighthouse

the lighthouse

28 December 2015

On the edge of a storm

Waiting on the edge of a storm
The pause between breaths
Between one heartbeat and the next
Is filled with
Tension, exhilaration, anticipation

Will it linger? Will it announce itself with anger and ferocity?
Or will it pass over, a mere whisper of its promised might?

Wind blows dry leaves
They skitter across the pavement,
Sounding nervous and eager to be elsewhere
The world is hushed, braced,
As we wait
On the edge of a storm.

18 December 2015

The happiness of office supplies

'Office supplies' is too tepid, too utilitarian a phrase to describe what I have in mind. I mean all things stationery from pencils and erasers to paperclips and file folders, and all the paper in between.

One of the fun tasks I have at the public library is receiving and preparing the magazines. Through the course of my duties, I must, of course, flip through the lovely and glossy pages on decorating, recipes, travel, style, science... even cats. It's a most difficult job, but I have stepped up and do my best.

Last night, I came across an article about a woman who owns a store in The Big City devoted entirely to... get this... pencils!  For real! She loves pencils, and so opened a pencil shop. In the course of the (all too brief) article, there was mention of brands of pens, notebooks, and such like. I took careful note of these mentions, and did some happy wandering through the internet. I was fairly giddy once done, and have resolved to one day soon make a pilgrimage to that pencil shop. I may either burst or melt from delirium, but it would be worth it.  Lest you think I am being frivolous with my life, rest assured that my mother would understand, and in fact would like to join me.  Love of stationery must be genetic through the maternal line.

Here is where it began:
CW Pencil Enterprise

Not only pencils, but sharpeners (not your run-of-the-mill plastic sharpeners, either), lovely notebooks, erasers, artist caliber coloured pencils, and so on. The collection on offer is finely curated and clearly the work of a person who loves what they do.  Happiness!

The owner of the pencil shop, Caroline Weaver, mentioned in the article a luxury item she indulged in - a Smythson agenda.  Now, I have just recently spent a couple of weeks trying to find the just-right agenda for the year ahead. I'm juggling three jobs, appointments, scheduled obligations and need room for notes and scribbles so it must needs be the right size and configuration of boxes for the days and months. It must be portable, able to absorb added bits of paper I will tuck into it, be comfortable in the hand, and almost most of all, be pleasing to the eye.  Clearly I take my agenda seriously, so I was eager to see this Smythson agenda that impressed the pencil shop lady.

Smythson (of Bond Street)

Roksanda Fashion Agenda, Smythson

It's lovely. The description is lovely. It's bound in calfskin. It has two coloured ribbons, and "pale blue Featherweight paper".  I'm impressed. I like it.  I'd be tempted to ditch my carefully selected Tiffany-blue special edition Little Prince moleskin week-to-a-page agenda (purchased at deep discount during the insanity of Black Friday). But this Roksanda, dear Reader, costs $235.  And it's good for only one year! Next year I'd have to buy a whole new Roksanda! Plus, I'd have to buy a super fancy pencil with which to write my appointments, because an ordinary everyday HB would be an insult to the Roksanda. And the fancy pencil would need a super fancy $200 sharpener to give it due honour... the costs of a super cute agenda are spiraling out of control, and I realize the happiness of such a beautiful object is greatly outweighed by the fourth job I'd need to find in order to pay for owning it. Even so, I do understand the Pencil Lady's admiration for the beautiful object, and know that for the 365 days of 2016, she is going to love it.  Happiness.

The magazine spread featuring the pencil shop had a picture of fountain pens. Modern looking and pleasing fountain pens, with the brand name of Jinhao.  Doing a Google search for Jinhao led me to a website for The Goulet Pen Company.

Oh. My. Goodness.  Not just pens, but ink!  Beautifully tinted inks in bottles and in cartridges. Nibs. Repair kits.  And the paper products!  Gorgeous paper and envelopes and notebooks.  And... sealing wax.  Sealing wax!

Sealing wax from The Goulet Pen Co.

I've been wanting to have brown ink for a long while now.  Goulet has not just brown, but Ancient Copper, Chocolate Brown, Hazelnut, Caramel.  But then there is also Oxblood. And Garnet Red. And Copperorange. However am I to decide between them?  Of such decisions dreams are made.  Happiness.

If office supplies aren't your thing, what makes you happy?

17 December 2015

Dear, sweet Jane

Dear, sweet, chocolate covered Jane. (Movie quote; do you know whence it comes?)

Yesterday, December 16, was the 240 anniversary of the birth of Jane Austen.

It must be acknowledged far and wide among those who know me, that I am a great admirer of her words.

When I read her novels I marvel at how very easy she makes it look, this business of telling a story. Because her tales are not bursting with contorted plots (insert Russian author here), strewn with minute descriptions (Edith Wharton and her paragraphs about lace), or casts of odd and quirky characters (Dickens), it is easy to assume there is no craftsmanship involved in Austen's writing. I believe the opposite is true: the appearance of simplicity demands great skill.

Any builder will tell you that embellishments are easy. Moulding and trim hide flaws, while clean, spare lines must be precise and perfectly executed. At the same time, all the extras can be trying to convince the reader, "I am a brilliant piece of writing!" like when figure skaters circle the rink six times in preparation for a big jump; the audience knows to expect a fancy trick. When Kurt Browning suddenly leaps into the air, it is all the more breathtaking because we didn't see it coming.

The embellishments, the tricks, the descriptions and crazy plots are not to be overlooked because to do it well, great skill is required. I think of it thusly: 

This is Dickens

And this is Austen

Both are beautiful. Both are well crafted. They offer two different aesthetics and each required a different approach in construction. One of them is almost bullish in its presence, and its strength is clearly visible. The other is delicate, elegant, almost weightless, its strength less obvious.

Aside from admiring the mechanics of her writing, the Austen novels are entertaining. It's fun to look into the drawing rooms of Regency England, to observe the customs and manners of the time. They are simple stories of love and family and how good character wins over pride and foolishness.

Pride and Prejudice is an obvious choice for favourite Austen of all, because Lizzy Bennet is feisty and funny and clever, while Darcy is just brooding enough to capture a female heart. Then there is the wonderfully frilly and flighty dear Mama, Mrs Bennet, and the unctuous obsequiousness of Mr Collins.

P+P is where I started my Austen journey. I must have been about eleven years old so of course subtleties and context went over my head, but I was entranced by the world I discovered on the pages of that book and loved how Austen used words. I think my love of history came from seeing domestic life through Austen's pen.

Over time, I'm drawn more frequently to the story of Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth in Persuasion. Anne is older, more subdued than other of Austen's heroines. She has experienced disappointment in love, as she was forbidden to marry Wentworth eight years previous because of his lack of wealth or position. Persuasion is about their meeting again, rectifying mistakes and misunderstandings, and discovering they now have the courage to face down opposition and choose for their own happiness. Anne is gentle yet strong; Wentworth is just brooding enough to be interesting, and as a written character has more depth and complexity than her other heroes (in my opinion).

For the words you left behind, dear, sweet Jane, I thank you.
Happy birthday!

16 December 2015

It's about survival, baby.

I was rolling along just fine. I thought I had a handle on how to run this library, and how to relate to these big children so that they and I survived the days together. I was looking forward to this last week with them, misty-eyed at the thought of a fond, gently-regretful parting.

I forgot about The Week Before Christmas.

The Week Before Christmas, as anyone who works with children big or little will tell you, is Crazy Time. Something latent in their blood wakes up, turning an ordinarily well-behaved young person into a gremlin. It's like they're already high on all the sugar they will consume over the next two weeks and the high is amplified by their giddiness at the thought of no school for Two Whole Weeks!

The game plan this week is to survive. I need to keep them alive, the library in one piece, and my sanity intact for three more days. Gone are the standards I've been working to put in place. Gone are my expectations and rules. I want to get to the end of each class with enough oomph to get through the next one. I want to not have to call Facilities staff to come and rebuild a wall. I would like to not have to pull the fire alarm, or perform CPR, or steam-clean the carpet. My goal for this week is simply this:


14 December 2015

Law of Perversity, the sequel

A breakthrough of sorts!

The typical routine on a working day is to stumble into the kitchen to break my fast, then prepare for the day with ablutions and wardrobe.  Today I did the opposite. I dressed myself in an outfit that hit all the right notes: it looked nice, was professional, and I felt really good. Then I began assembling breakfast, deciding to have apple cider as I was out of juice.

Now, that might seem an innocuous decision, that apple cider choice.  But there are two important details to know:
1) sediment settles on the bottom of the apple cider jug, so it needs to be shaken before pouring
2) apparently the lid wasn't securely screwed back on the jug the last time I poured some


Apple cider went everywhere. It doused me in a stream of appleness from shoulders to toes. It ran in rivers into the burner pans of the stove. It collected in puddles on the floor. It dripped down the side of the fridge, and collected on the top ledge of the oven drawer.

My typical reaction would have been something along the line of, "Why does this always happen to me?" with a great deal of moaning and lamenting. Today though, I manged to say, "You've got to be kidding me!" with a laugh. Then with a quick wipe down of reachable surfaces, quickly de-cidered and changed clothes. I didn't give it another thought until I got home at the end of the day when I walked right out of my socks because they stuck to the floor.

I actually laughed! And went on with my day!

That is a breakthrough indeed.

10 December 2015

The Law of perversity

The Law of Newton states that if something is dropped, it will fall on your toe.
The Law of Murphy states that if you don't leave the house until a quarter past the last minute, you will need to stop for gas.

The Law of Perversity (I haven't been able to come up with a good actual name for it. I was leaning towards Simon, but that isn't quite right. Perhaps you will think of something.) states that if there is some challenge, some difficulty in your life - a task you dread each day, or a job you can barely drag yourself out of bed for each morning - you will begin to enjoy it, even anticipate it just as it's coming to an end.

Why? And does it happen only to me? Is being stubborn and contrary hard-wired into my DNA, or is there any hope that one of these days I will finally learn to be present in the moment

I'm really striving for abandonment (accepting God's will), and trusting that, "All things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to His purpose." (Rom 8:28)  I know that Paul, in this letter to the Romans, isn't telling me that life is going to be easy just because I love God, or that only good things will come my way. He also isn't saying that anyone who doesn't love God can expect only terrible, horrible, no good, very bad things to happen to them. I'm not sure that I do understand Paul's meaning here (so many aspects of faith are mysterious) but it is along the lines of: God gives only His best in every moment. We may not see how it is 'best' or understand how it 'works to the good' - maybe not for a very long time - but if we are patient and are looking for it, we can see how all the different pieces of our life fit together and every one of them made us stronger, smarter, more patient, prepared us for something, or brought us to where we are now and we - at last - see that it is very good, indeed.

Eventually, maybe, I'll be able to approach the 'Law of Perversity' moments in Paul's way right from the start. I tend to get on board a little further along the line, but I now have the wisdom to know that I will eventually reach the acceptance-with-grace stage eventually, even while I'm moaning my way through the early mornings at a job that makes me want to stay under the covers. I would watch the clock ever so slowly inch its way toward hometime, and all I could do at that point was prepare for the next day before crawling into bed in order to do it all again. I dreaded those times during the day when students would descend on the library, and the sound of the doors slamming open and crashing closed became louder and louder in my mind.  What a sad way to go through life!

Now, of course, with only six days left at this job, the children have transformed into interesting, (mostly) endearing, appealingly challenging, not-quite-sure-who-they-are-yet, slightly-bigger-than-they-used-to-be young people. They are approaching me in a great rush to help them with last minute assignments (I love the challenge of research!), and they have become individuals instead of the rampaging horde they used to be.  Now I am looking forward to seeing them in the morning (though I will not lie: I do not quite leap out of bed with joy at the new day), and I am able to reach out to them instead of cowering in fear of them.

Of course the change is all on their part, right?

I don't know yet where my next assignment will be. I will probably be back in an elementary school, and if I'm completely honest with you, I am going to miss these big children and all their wonderful challenges.

09 December 2015

Warm wishes

No talk of sadness today, no tears of sorrow. Instead, I will leave you in a puddle of warm goo as you shed tears worthy of a Hallmark Moment.
Canada's own coffee shop, the one named for the hockey guy, recently dispensed gifts and performed good deeds around the town where I work.

Enjoy the warm wishes.

08 December 2015

The Grace of tears and the Year of Mercy

Doesn't that sound beautiful?  "The grace of tears."

The Holy Father, Pope Francis, once described tears as glasses to see Jesus. I have found it to be true in my own life that when difficulties abound or I have a particular sadness in my life, I turn to God and look for evidence of His presence in my life.

Being someone who cries easily, and someone who has cried in awkward, public situations, I tend to think of tears as an embarrassment rather than a blessing.

Recently, Pope Francis spoke about the fact that the world has chosen war, not peace. Traditionally in Christmastide, we speak of  'peace on earth and goodwill to all men'. We can't help but feel warm and benevolent toward our fellows. We spend a great deal of time and money on gifts for a wide circle of people connected to us, and we feel sorrow for those who go without the festivities and largess many of us are immersed in at this time of year. We sing songs and wear beautiful clothes, we trim and decorate, we shop and bake.

Perhaps this year is no different from any other year, but it would seem, after Paris and San Bernardino, and the tangled mess that is the Middle East, that we have turned away from peace and goodwill.  As Pope Francis has said, the world has chosen war. I see evidence of this in my own life when I observe biting comments on social media, near-hysterical outrage at one thing or another, or witness neglect, cruelty, or rudeness as I go about my day.

"It would do us good to ask for the grace of tears for this world that does not recognize the path of peace. Let us ask for the conversion of hearts" - again from Pope Francis. The holy father prayed the upcoming Year of Mercy would bring with it "the grace that the world would discover again the ability to weep for its crimes, for those who make war."

Today marks the beginning of the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, a moment of true grace for all Christians. Mercy is, "a wellspring of joy, serenity, and peace [...] mercy: the ultimate and supreme act by which God comes to meet us. Mercy: the fundamental law that dwells in the heart of every person who looks sincerely into the eyes of his brothers and sisters on the path of life." (Pope Francis. Bull of Indiction: Misericordia Vultus.)

Today I pray with Pope Francis, "Lord, grant us the grace to weep over our indifference, over the cruelty that is in the world and in ourselves."

01 December 2015

The Cruelty of The Dark

We are inching ever nearer to the time when the days will begin to lengthen. I look forward to it with even the very smallest fibre of my being.

Meanwhile, it was so dark when I left the house this morning, it was like the sun hadn't been invented yet. I checked the clock again and again, expecting it would tell me I had woken an hour too soon, and could therefore go back to bed before facing the day and the attitudinal teenagers it would bring my way.

I was wrong; the clock was right. It was merely dark with an absence of light, not a disregard of timekeeping. Even now, with the blinds in the library widows all the way up, the faint light outside seems to be coming from the clouds rather than a sun.  (How fortunate I am to have windows in the library, and these are a full two stories high and a classroom wide.) (I've worked in school and public libraries without a single beam of natural light, so this is a blessing indeed.)

On days like this, there should be free coffee on offer for all to help us through the day, much like during heatwaves there are cooling stations for those at risk of heat-prostration.  Is there such thing as dark-prostration?  I've been at work for three hours at this point, and am fighting to keep my eyelids from sliding closed. I could really use a jolt of caffeine to counter the cruelty of the dark.