Happy Holidays

Today is Winter Solstice, the turning of the year from fall to winter, our grandson’s fourth birthday (how did that happen so fast?!) and the start of our own personal Christmas holiday time. Whether you celebrate quietly or with a large group, I hope the holiday season is everything you want it to be. I also hope 2024 brings you some pleasant surprises and many reasons to smile.  I leave you with a recipe for Mary’s Pecan Crescents. She always called them Mexican Wedding Cake Cookies. In Austria, they’re known as Vanillekipferl or Vanilla Crescent Cookies. They’re delicious no matter what you call them!

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Mary’s Pecan Crescents

1 cup butter, very soft

¼ cup icing sugar

1 tablespoon lukewarm water

2 teaspoons vanilla

2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

1 cup very finely chopped pecans (I use the food processor for this step)

Icing sugar as needed to coat

Preheat your oven to 300.   Mix butter, icing sugar, water and vanilla. Gradually blend in flour and then the ground nuts to make a pastry-like dough.  Pinch off a teaspoon of dough and roll between your palms until you have a strip about 2 inches long. Place on ungreased cookie sheet and curve into crescents. *  Bake at 300 F until very lightly browned.  Gently remove from cookie sheet and dust with icing sugar while still hot.  Cool on a wire rack and dust again with icing sugar when cold to coat generously.

Makes 3 – 4 dozen cookies and they freeze well.   * Note, if you prefer, you can shape the dough into small balls rather than crescents.

There’s Something About November . . .

When I began planning my November blogs, I did a quick search, as I always do, to check literary events and birthdays for the month. I was struck by the number of literary types who were born in November.

In fact, a number of well-known authors were born today, November 8th. Bram Stoker, best known as the author of Dracula was born. So was Julian of Norwich whose Revelations of Divine Love became the first book written in English by a woman; Margaret Mitchell who wrote Gone With the Wind; and Kazo Ishiguro who wrote The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go.

Writers born on other days in November include Neil Gaiman, Robert Louis Stevenson, George Eliot, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Voltaire, C.S. Lewis, Mark Twain, Isaac Singer, Carl Sagan, Kurt Vonnegut, Lucy Maud Montgomery and Margaret Atwood. Whew, that’s quite the list.

November feels like a bookish kind of month. It has, as someone once said, a poetic soul. The days are often foggy and moody, we’re surrounded by brilliant color from the changing leaves,  the crisp air is scented with cedar and pine, and there are many book-related events and activities happening this month too (it’s Picture Book Month and National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo to name just two).

Here’s to all the writers born in the month of November, and to the longer nights that give us more time to read the wonderful books they’ve written.

Honoring Creators

                                               

Today is International Artist Day, a time to celebrate all kinds of art: paintings, sculpture, mosaics, photography, textile art and more. Launched in 2004, IAD is designed to honor the contributions all artists make to society. These days, though, one of the common themes I’m hearing from artists is ‘how can we (or even should we) create when world events are so dark?’

Artists work hard to produce their work, though when judged against something like, say, a peace treaty between nations, a painting or a sculpture inevitably comes up short. Maybe that’s why so many creative types are questioning themselves lately.

Novelist Theodore Dreiser once said that “art is the stored honey of the human soul.” I love that quote almost as much as the one by Thomas Merton: “Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.”

 So, yes, the news is grim but the arts – and artists themselves – have a place and a role to fill.

Since the beginning of time, artists have communicated ideas and even kept records of important events. Through many different mediums, they record history, the good and the bad, and they help us make sense of it. Artists show us the truth, or at least the truth as they understand it. They tell us stories, they pass on traditions, and they forge connections with others. Artists add beauty to our lives which raises us all up. Some even say that artists offer the world messages of hope, and I think a message of hope, in a world filled with bad news, is a message we can all get behind.

So today, on International Artist Day, I hope you reach out to an artist to lift them up. Maybe tell them that your world is just a little bit better with them in it.  

My October Reads

                                    

The world outside my window is misty today. The rain is falling, the wind is up, and the autumn leaves are swirling. The garden is nearly put to bed for the winter, though the hardier leeks and chard and kale are still in the ground promising us some good eating ahead. Inside, the fire kicks on more often in the mornings now, the manuscript revision calls, and there are plenty of books waiting to be read. Here’s what I’m enjoying this month:

The Starfish Sisters by Barbara O’Neal

Greenfeast: Autumn & Winter by Nigel Slater

The Little Book of Ikigai by Ken Mogi

Books read to date in 2023:  53

Giving Thanks

                                                 

Thanksgiving, which we’ll be celebrating in just a few days, is one of my favorite holidays. I love the focus on food, friends and family, and the generosity of nature. There’s a joyful simplicity around Thanksgiving. And this year, as I gratefully pick the last of our tomatoes and dahlias, I’m giving thanks for everyone who has been a teacher in my life.

It is back-to-school time after all, and every morning now I hear the laughter of children heading down the trail to the nearby elementary school. Teachers are gearing up with lesson plans and activities; some are reaching out to authors to see if they’re available for talks and workshops (I am!).

I’m taking a few workshops myself this fall – some single ‘just-for-fun’ one-off classes and another in a more professional vein that will run once a week until December. My first session of the latter was yesterday. It was quite a change to sit back and let someone else lead. As I looked through the binder of information the instructor had assembled for each of the participants, I was struck all over again about how much goes into the process of teaching, whether that’s in a structured academic environment or in a more creative studio space. It takes time, energy, and effort to instruct others well.

Last spring, I took a one-day security course at VIU ElderCollege in Parksville. It was fantastic and incredibly worthwhile. Sadly, Vancouver Island University announced this week that it will end its affiliation with ElderCollege on December 31st after 30 years. The university cited financial difficulties as the reason. The decision is a real blow to the many islanders who have benefited from ElderCollege over the last three decades.  But the 3,000-member organization isn’t closing the doors just yet. Board members are determined to continue providing ElderCollege courses. They aren’t sure how, but they’re determined not to let the organization fade away.

Let’s hope they’re successful, because learning is something we can all be thankful for.  

My September Reads

Today is the autumn equinox, that point of the year when we have 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of night time. From here, as the calendar marches us towards winter, the days get shorter and the nights get longer. Trees lose their leaves; plants go dormant or die; and animals begin to hibernate. Humans tend to draw inward at this time of year too, and since I have books to write and books to read, I’m fine with that. Here’s what I’m reading this month:  

Where the Forest Meets the Stars by Glendy Vanderah

Prom Mom by Laura Lippman

Kitchen Bliss: Musings on Food and Happiness (With Recipes) by Laura Calder

Books read to date in 2023: 47

All In Good Time

                                                  

I’ve written here before about being a turtle instead of a hare when it comes to producing art. Go here if you missed that blog post.  https://lauralangston.com/get-your-turtle-on/

The idea that we don’t always get instant results came to mind again recently. On this date in 1501, Michelangelo started carving the statue David . . . and he finished it three years later. The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, considered one of the greatest masterpieces of all time, took Michelangelo four years to paint (and speaking of churches, La Sagrada Familia Basilica in Barcelona – one of Gaudi’s most famous works – has been under construction since 1882 and it’s still not finished).

 In my small corner of the world, I’m revising a novel I’ve been fiddling with for probably three years now. Some books come together quickly, but others don’t. I’m more accepting of that than I used to be. Maybe because I’ve been at this writing gig for decades. Maybe it’s life experience. More likely it’s a combination of both.

And as always, the garden (and nature generally) reminds me on a fairly regular basis that some things take time. For instance, I’m harvesting tomatoes right now. We have a glut of them and they’re especially sweet this year, especially fresh off the vine. But they’re also wonderful in other ways too.  I turned some into confit last week . . . it took about five hours in a very slow oven. While that was cooking, I filled the dehydrator with tomato slices. The process of getting them to sweet, dried rounds took a couple of days.  

All things in good time. Or, maybe that should read: time makes all things good.

On This Day in History . . .

                                                

. . . a monster was born. Actually, that’s a bit of a stretch. The truth is, on this day in 1797, the woman who unleashed a fictitious monster into the world was born. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, the creator of Frankenstein, entered the world in London, England. Why talk about someone born so long ago? Because Mary Shelley was responsible for singlehandedly changing the trajectory of storytelling as we know it.

Frankenstein is considered the world’s first science fiction novel. Published when Shelley was only twenty-one, Frankenstein raises questions about the origins of good and evil, the existence of God, the impact of solitude, and human nature’s tendency to judge others by appearance. More than 200 years after it first appeared, the story of Frankenstein is still considered universal and timeless. In fact, Frankenstein is one of the most adapted novels of all time.

Stories abound as to Shelley’s inspiration for the tale. Some say she created it after having a nightmare. Others suggest it was inspired by terrible global events. 1816 was famously known as the ‘Year Without a Summer.’  The eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia triggered massive and sudden climate change, sending temperatures in Europe lower than they’d ever been (and the record for those low temperatures held from 1766 to 2000!). Those low temperatures, coupled with ongoing heavy rain, resulted in crop failures and the largest famine of the 19th century. It was during this gloomy time that Mary and her husband, Percy Shelley, vacationed in Switzerland with Lord Byron and a number of other friends. Forced to spend most of their time inside, Lord Byron suggested they all write ghost stories to share with one another. And that, as they say, is history.

True or not, it makes for an interesting piece of trivia about a story that has become a classic.

My August Reads

It’s the height of summer. That’s what I tell myself, though I know, technically, this is the last full month of summer and we are heading inexorably toward fall (I refuse to go there). The harvest has started – we’re picking masses of blueberries and plums and figs, tomatoes and peppers and eggplants. And beans. Lots and lots of beans. We’ve had friends come to stay and soon we’ll be having a family reunion of sorts with a beloved aunt and cousins. It’s a happy and productive time, but a busy one, and that means less time for reading. That said, I’m stealing a few minutes here and there, and I always fit in a few chapters before bed. Here’s what I’m reading this month.

The Echo of Old Books by Barbara Davis

The Paper Garden: Mrs. Delany Begins Her Life’s Work At 72 by Molly Peacock

The Family Remains by Lisa Jewell

Books read to date in 2023: 42