Let’s celebrate books!

April 23 has long been an important date in world literature. It’s the traditional death date of contemporaries William Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes, as well as poets William Wordsworth, Rupert Brooke, and even P. L. Travers, the creator of Mary Poppins. It’s also the birth date of notables such as Nobel Laureate Halldór Laxness and one of my favourite mystery novelists, Ngaio Marsh. It’s no wonder, then, that UNESCO chose this date for World Book and Copyright Day, aka the International Day of the Book. (It’s held earlier in the year in the UK and Ireland because of Easter school holidays)

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Sun, sun, sun, here it comes

When speaking about the genesis of his song “Here Comes the Sun”, George Harrison said, “It seems as if winter in England goes on forever, by the time spring comes you really deserve it.” The same can be said for Ottawa, especially this year. We had our first snowfall in November, and it just kept coming in record numbers. We’d clean up from one storm and another would come along. Add in frigid temperatures, and it was no wonder so many Ottawans wanted to hibernate. We cheered when Wiarton Willie, the famous Ontario prognosticator, predicted an early spring, but it seemed like a distant dream.

Even in the past few weeks, as the Sun has gotten warmer, and stronger, the cold temperatures have continued. It’s the time of year when you bundle up, and then overheat when you get indoors because the heat’s still cranked up. Or, you’re fooled by the warm sunlight and take your gloves off, and then the cold breeze comes along and forces you to put them back on.

Although I haven’t been posting much this winter, I haven’t been a sluggard with my writing. I finished my first novella in January, and while it didn’t get picked up in the call for submissions, I’m still proud of myself that I actually saw it through to the end. I’m currently working on a more sscience-fiction-type book that I’d started a number of years ago. It’s all very rough, but I’m having fun working my way through the story.

Since the start of Lent earlier this month, I’ve been journaling my day. Someone had mentioned the “roses and thorns” method, so I’ve adapted that a bit. I make a note of the weather and the big news story of the day. Then I outline my “roses” (good things that happened), “thorns” (bad or at least not-so-great things), and “buds” (things in progress). I haven’t missed a day yet, and I hope it’ll help me keep track of things. I just hope I haven’t jinxed myself!

I’ve also been participating in POPSUGAR’s 2019 Reading Challenge as a way to expand my bedtime reading. Every time I finish a book, I post a photo of the book and a description to both my Instagram account and my Facebook page, so check them out. You may find something you’ll want to read for yourself!

And at last, today is the vernal equinox in the northern hemisphere, which means that (astronomical) spring is finally here. 12 hours of day, 12 hours of night. The Sun is back, baby.

Ol’ Helios has his work cut out for him. It will take a lot of work to melt the snow and ice covering our lawns and fields. And then everything will be as bedraggled as a dog straight out of the bathtub. Lord knows when we’ll start to see the first flowers or leaves.

But the cardinals are singing in the morning, marking their territory. The starlings and the herring gulls are back. You know it’s been a long cold lonely winter when you’re glad to see the pests back! People seem to be a bit more light-hearted, almost as if we’ve has ice in our hearts that is now slowly melting too.

It may snow tomorrow. It may snow the next day. (I’m not being a Cassandra, it’s in the forecast) But it’s all right.

Here we come a-carolling

When we were young, my brother and I took drama lessons for several years in downtown Hamilton. The studio was located in an old, rickety building whose original construction predated Confederation. It had gone through  at least a couple of renovations since then, but that all happened long before I came along. To me, the building with its glacier-slow elevator and funny smells seemed, to borrow a phrase, “as old as the hills and twice as dusty.”

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The Great Christmas Bake-Off Part 2

In following to my previous post about holiday baking, I figured I’d post an update on the Swedish cakes recipe. It’s one I inherited from my late mother-in-law, one she collected from an old friend. The recipe card notes that it’s GOOD. And she was right. The recipe turned out very well, though it’s low yield: I had enough to make 2 dozen, which is a smaller quantity than I’m used to for a cookie recipe. The recipe is called thimble cookies or thumbprint cookies because you make a dent in the cookie dough to hold jam or jelly. I used seedless raspberry jam. And you can roll them in sugar or walnuts. I tried each kind, but didn’t do as many in walnuts because not everyone in the family is a fan.

The result does look like eyeballs from Aardman Animation if you put them in pairs. So they’d be good for Hallowe’en parties. A note, though, they also don’t travel exceptionally well, particularly if they get turned on their side….you may end up with jam all over.

But in the end, it was a relaxing project, and not too much work  which was exactly what I wanted. Mission accomplished!


The Great Christmas Bake-off

There’s a new article in the Atlantic about whether baking can reduce stress and anxiety. Now, I’ve been baking since I was a child, and I can vouch that it entirely depends on the complexity and your comfort with the recipe. A batch of cookies and a cheesecake do not compare. Guess which I’ve made more often?

I’m a huge fan of baking shows like the Great British Bake-off (and its Canadian spinoff). I find them very soothing. One, because the contestants and hosts are all genuinely nice to each other. Two, because it’s amazing to see the contestants attempt to make the most complicated recipes I’ve ever seen. And three, it shows how long things actually take to bake. None of this soufflé in 20 minutes nonsense.

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We will remember them

Remembrance Day is an important day for my family. My husband’s currently serving in the military and has had colleagues who died while on duty.  We both have family members who served, most notably our maternal grandfathers. As a result, Remembrance services are highly emotional events for us, something I’ve tried to capture in the following poem.

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Sunday in Paris with George

My purpose is to portray the impression of an American visitor in Paris, as he strolls about the city and listens to various street noises and absorbs the French atmosphere. 

This quote from George Gershwin comes from an interview in Musical America that was published in August 1928. He was speaking, of course, of his masterpiece “An American in Paris”, which was still a work in progress. But the end goal for this particular piece was in sight. Two weeks from today marks 90 years since he completed the orchestration of his tribute to the City of Light. It premiered at Carnegie Hall on December 13, 1928, conducted by Walter Damrosch, who had commissioned the work. You can read more about the history of the piece here. And, if you’ve never heard the full piece, take a listen here to this performance by the Moscow City Symphony-Russian Philharmonic. It’s about 20 minutes long.

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Stepping up and speaking out

Today is World Mental Health Day, so I thought I’d share something I wrote for Let’s Talk, a day in January when Canadians are publically encouraged to break down the stigma and talk about mental health. I wasn’t ready to share it then, but I am now.

While I haven’t received an official diagnosis of social anxiety, two years ago, I participated in a study for people displaying symptoms, and that has helped me a lot. This is just another bend in that road.

*deep breath*

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Copyright Jessica Allyson 2018