Ah, Research… (and candles, and hygge)

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Sometimes it feels like everything I do, read, think about is research. Case in point, this kalenderlys, which I found on Flickr (thank you, Sakena Ali!). Dani and I are putting the finishing touches on Christmas: From Solstice to Santa and we are at the stage where we are working with the designer to finalize the last few images. You might think I came across the tradition of the Danish advent candle (each evening in December you burn your kalenderlys until you reach the next of 24 lines inscribed on the side of said candle) by googling something like candles at Christmas or something logical like that. But no, I arrived at the kalenderlys via a dating app for professionals.

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I moved to Alberta not that long ago and don’t know many people in writing and publishing, so I thought I’d give Shapr a try. The app is intended for professionals looking to make business connections and works a lot like Tinder – swipe one way for someone who looks interesting and relevant, the other for those who seem to be selling financial management products. Not to say that I couldn’t benefit from some financial management consulting, but my interests tend to run in other directions.

Anyway, one of the matches that popped up was a blogger called Angela Davis who lives in St. Albert, Alberta. Angela has a blog called Hedonism and Hygge (subtitle: Live with Pleasure). So, most of the words I knew… hedonism… pleasure – yes, fine. But hygge? Before clicking on the link in Angela’s profile I googled hygge (what can I say, hedonism and pleasure could have taken me to a very different kind of website to the delightful one that Angela authors) only to discover a whole, huge world of hygge that I had no idea existed!

Hygge, it turns out, is a Danish thing that can be loosely translated as ‘cosy togetherness’ or ‘taking pleasure in soothing things’ or ‘enjoying the company of friends by candlelight’. There’s a whole hygge movement and a stack of books available from the local library system. I know because I immediately requested several of them.

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No sooner had I opened one published by the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen than I was reading about how Danes use more candles (over six kilos of candle wax per Dane per annum!!!!!) than anyone else in Europe. They also love their kalenderlys’s! (or whatever the correct plural would be in Danish).

Who knew? I love candles, personally, but almost never burn them. The principles of hygge encourage candle-burning, especially during the long wintery nights that lie ahead. It’s probably too late to order my own kalenderlys for this year, but next year… look out! Meanwhile, with any luck, we will be able to add an image to the chapter in the book about light and celebrating Christmas around the world.

What is your favourite tradition to celebrate the days leading up to Christmas?

So. Much. Going. On.

Gads – where to even start??? How about with brownie mix?

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Do you have any idea how hard it is to photograph brownie mix and make it look delicious?
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This could be a mud pie… it isn’t, but it doesn’t exactly look appetizing. Hats off to food photographers who can make you drool just by looking at a photo…

Why brownie mix you may ask? Well, the forthcoming Christmas book includes recipes and craft activities, so we’ve been testing… Which might be a fine, fun thing to be doing if I wasn’t also trying to get organized to go away next week. At times like this, the kitchen shouldn’t really look like a bomb went off…

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This was actually after I had tidied up a bit… See the relevant manuscript pages on the counter?
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This is what the Brownie Mix in a Jar craft/recipe is supposed to look like. Note the snowmen? They are deconstructed seasonal earrings, destined to make a return appearance in the snow globe I’ll make after I run to the store to get glitter. Turns out it’s very hard to find small Christmassy items suitable for snow globe insertion when the retail cycle is currently hyping Halloween. I was sorely tempted to do a spider-themed snowglobe.

Meanwhile, over on the coast, Dani is going through thousands of family photos in search of suitable images to include in the book. We are both pretty excited about the book – another in the Orca Origins series – (what’s not to love about Christmas?), but also completely stressed as our respective planes are departing very, very soon… (according to my countdown clock, I will be taxiing down the runway in 6 days, 20 hours and 48 minutes).

So far, the recipes and crafts are working out fine – with the exception, perhaps, of the homemade tree decorations made from the strangest mix of applesauce, white glue, and cinnamon. They smell great and look like cookies (you cut the shapes out with cookie cutters) and one was very nearly eaten by a hungry family member as the gooey batch was drying on the counter! This is why we test recipes… I will be adding a warning that kids should make a sign warning people not to test the ornaments while they are drying, no matter how tasty they look!

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Getting Personal

One of the things I love about the various Orca non-fiction series I’ve been working on is the way each author must insert themselves into the manuscript by including relevant personal anecdotes. As a result, we are writing about topics that a) interest us on a personal level and b) have some real connection to our own experiences. Given how long and research-intensive the process of writing a book packed with information is, it’s incredibly helpful to be engaged with the material when it comes to finding the motivation needed to stay focussed and get the book done!

I’m currently working on two books for the Orca Origins series (both collaborations with Dani, who also co-authored Take Shelter).  Dani and I have been sifting through boxes of family photos in search of images to illustrate personal vignettes included in various sections.

As we’ve dug through stacks of old photographs, we’ve found treasures like this one:

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One of the books we are working on is about Christmas – the origins of the holiday, how it’s celebrated around the world, as well as our own memories of the festive season. This image is one being considered for the section on carols. Peter (my younger brother) and I were about 8 and 6 years old when this photo was taken. Reading from our little Golden Book of Christmas Carols, we are singing in front of a Christmas tree we cut down to help the Alberta power company keep the area under the power lines clear. This was our first or second Christmas in Canada at a house on Grizzly Street in Banff. We moved from Banff to Australia and I remember the culture shock associated with traipsing through the snow, my dad carrying an axe, in search of the perfect tree…

Looking through all these old photos has sure brought back some great memories. I wonder, though, what’s going to happen to the last several years worth of photo memories, all of which are stored digitally. It would be so easy to lose everything if something happened to my online backups… or if something happened to me. If my significant others didn’t know my passwords, would all those digital images go poof into the ethers, never to be seen again?

There is certainly something to be said for a shoebox full of actual photos, some that date back to the days of my great-grandparents.

Project: Print a few photos from each batch I take… Having hard copies of precious memories may prove to be the most durable backup of all.