Author Archives: lydias

A Photo Essay of Toronto in May

A tree filled with beautiful pink blossoms. This is the fourth instalment of this series.

Each month I share photos from one of the parks in Toronto to show my readers what our landscape looks like throughout the year. Click on February, March, and April to read the earlier posts.

May is by far the most beautiful time of the year in Toronto in my opinion. It was a balmy 17 degrees Celsius (63 Fahrenheit) according to my weather app when I visited this month. The sky was bright blue and there was a warm, gentle breeze in the air.

The restrictions on park usage are slowly beginning to be lifted here. We are now allowed to use picnic tables, basketball courts, tennis courts, and soccer fields so long as everyone you use them with belongs to the same household and you maintain at least six feet of distance from other folks. Going to the park to walk, jog, or sit on a bench is still permitted as well.

It was quite busy there during my visit this month, so you’ll see some strangers in the distance in a few photos. Keeping all of them out of my shots simply wasn’t possible.

Landscape shot of an urban park. There is a monument surrounded by green trees.

This is the time of year when you don’t have to look closely for signs of spring. They’re everywhere. While not every tree is obviously green yet, I’ll get into that later on in this post.

Close-up shot of a moment. There are green trees in the background and green bushes in the foreground next to the steps on the monument.

Look! The bushes in front of the monument are turning green now. There are also plenty of wild plants like dandelions growing between them.

Photo of a dirt jogging trail at a park. It is flanked by vibrant, green trees that have recently awoken from their winter dormancy.

The jogging trail is firm and dry once again. (It tends to become muddy after spring and summer thunderstorms, although generally not at much as it is in late winter and early spring). This summer it will be a dusty place to exercise if we go through long dry spells, but the trees lining it will provide some relief from the hot sun for determined joggers.

This trail was once again in heavy use due to the gorgeous weather and the fact that the majority of our stores and other destinations are still closed to help contain the spread of Covid-19. I’m glad I was able to get a clear shot of this area of the park for all of you.

 

A tree whose leaves are still in the budding stage. There are partially and fully green trees in the foreground of this park shot.

As I hinted at earlier, about ten percent of the trees don’t have leaves yet. This isn’t due to sickness or injury. If you look closely at them you’ll see the buds of their future flowers and leaves.

I’ve often wondered if these are the same trees that hold onto their leaves in November when most other trees are bare. Let’s see if that’s true in six months!

A canopy shot of white, red, and green tree leaves against a bright blue sky.

Every winter I yearn for moments like this. There’s nothing like standing underneath a thick canopy of leaves from multiple tree species and hearing them rustle in the breeze.

A skyward shot of large, healthy tree branches filled with leaves against a bright blue sky.

I’ll indulge all of us with a similar shot. If there’s anything more peaceful than moments like these, I couldn’t tell you what they are.

One thing I haven’t covered yet in this series is the size of the trees we’re talking about. Some of them are saplings that have roughly the same circumference I do as a slim, petite adult woman.

Woman leaning up against a massive elm tree, smiling, and pointing at it.
Yours truly for scale.

But we also have trees that are much larger than that. It’s amazing to feel the difference in the air temperature immediately below the biggest trees in the park when compared to standing in direct sunlight on a warm day. I’d bet it makes the temperature feel ten degrees cooler on warm days…and more than that on the hottest ones!

There were two marvellous surprises at the park this month. Do you remember those two trees I blogged earlier about that were severely damaged in a winter storm? They’re somehow still alive. A tree that has lost half of it's trunk but somehow managed to grow green leaves again this spring.

This is the tree I photographed over the last few months. About half of its branches were ripped off in that storm, and its trunk was badly damaged as well.

The half of a tree that was ripped off in a storm. It's sitting on the park ground next to the remnant of the tree that has begun to grow leaves again.

Here’s another shot of it so you can see just how serious that damage was. I have no idea what its longterm chances of survival might be, but I was thrilled to see it growing leaves again. May it live to see many more springs.

There was another, much larger tree that suffered a similar injury in that storm as well. I’d estimate that it lost about a third of its branches.

A massive tree with four huge branches, one of which has been shorn off in a storm.

It’s looking quite healthy…

A branch larger than half a dozen full-grown humans that has been shorn off a massive tree in a storm.

…especially when you consider just how badly it was damaged. This photo captures most, but not all, of the dead branches from it. If any arborists read this, I’d love to get your opinions on the chances of these trees healing from their injuries.

And, yes, it’s odd for gigantic branches like these to remain in the park months after a violent storm. As I mentioned back in February, branches this large and potentially dangerous for folks who may climb on them would typically be cleared away within days in non-pandemic conditions.

 

A sun dappled sidewalk in a park

I’ll end this post with a lovely shot of a sun-dappled sidewalk. A month or so from now we’ll all be quite grateful for the shade these trees provide on hot, humid summer days!

Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge: Books Set in Ontario

Hosted by Long and Short Reviews.

Click here to read everyone else’s replies to this week’s question and here to see the full list of topics for the year.

Most people immediately think of Toronto when they hear the word Ontario. I love my city, but today I wanted to highlight the province as a whole. There are great books set in every part of it, so I have a lot to say this week!

Wenjack by Joseph Boyden and Kent Monkman book cover. Images on cover are of common Ontario wildlife like rabbits and otters.

Wenjack by Joseph Boyden and Kent Monkman

Where It’s Set: A fictionalized version of Kenora. (If you’re not familiar with our geography, think a remote corner of Northern Ontario near Woodland Caribou Provincial Park).

What It’s About: The story of Chani Wenjack, an Ojibwe boy who ran away from a  North Ontario residential school in an attempt to go home to his family. Chani was a real child, but some parts of the plot were fictionalized.

The Short-Wave Mystery (Hardy Boys, #24) by Franklin W. Dixon book cover. Image on cover is of one boy looking into a log cabin through its window while another boy crouches on the snow behind him.

The Short-Wave Mystery (Hardy Boys, #24) by Franklin W. Dixon

Where It’s Set: A fictional body of water called White Bear River near Hudson’s Bay, a real place in Northern Ontario.

What It’s About: The Hardy Boys figuring out who stole a collection of stuffed animals from an estate sale.

The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery book cover. Image on cover is of two lovers walking in a rose garden.

The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery

Where It’s Set: The fictional town of Deerwood, located in the Muskoka region in Central Ontario. Deerwood is based on the real city of Bala.

What It’s About: A young, single woman who was diagnosed with a fatal heart condition. Knowing that she only had about a year to live, she decided to escape her controlling family and find happiness wherever she can with the time she had left. This is my all-time favourite Montgomery novel, and it is much more cheerful than it might seem.

Whatever Happened to Mary Janeway?- A Home Child Story by Mary Pettit book cover. Image on cover is of a Victorian girl's photograph superimposed onto a black and white photo of London, Ontario

Whatever Happened to Mary Janeway?: A Home Child Story by Mary Pettit

Where It’s Set: Hamilton (southwest of Toronto).

What It’s About: This is a fictional story of a teenage girl who was sent to London, Ontario (which also southwest of Toronto) as part of the Home Child Program. She was so dissatisfied with her placement that she ran away from it!

If you’re not familiar with this bit of Canadian history, The Home Child program was a precursor to modern foster care and adoption in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Children in English orphanages were sent to Canada (and Australia) to be looked after by families there and taught the life skills and trades they’d need to know to be self-sufficient as adults. Some children were adopted into loving homes through it, but others were treated as free labour…or worse.

Cat's Eye  by Margaret Atwood book cover. Image on cover is of a hooded figure holding a glowing blue orb levitating above a bridge while snow falls on bare tree branches.

Cat’s Eye  by Margaret Atwood

Where It’s Set: Toronto

What It’s About: A controversial painter who returns home to confront her past and understand how those experiences shaped her art.

After the Bloom by Leslie Shimotakahara book cover. Image on cover is of a hand holding a branch filled with cherry blossoms.

After the Bloom by Leslie Shimotakahara

Where It’s Set: Toronto

What It’s About: An elderly woman suffering from dementia who goes missing one day, her adult daughter’s frantic search for her, and the family secrets that are revealed along the way.

Top Ten Tuesday: Unique Opening Lines

Hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl

Books in assorted colours with blank spines. I could have easily made this list twice as long. What a great topic!  Please note that the final opening line references the death of a child.

1.“I am sixteen when my mother steps out of her skin one frozen January afternoon- pure self, atoms twinkling like microscopic diamond chips around her, perhaps the chiming of a clock, or a few bright flute notes in the distance- and disappears. No one sees her leave, but she is gone.”

Laura Kasischke, White Bird in a Blizzard

2. “Like most forms of corruption, it began with men in suits.”

Mick Herron, Real Tigers

 

3. “Everyone in Shaker Heights was talking about it that summer: how Isabelle, the last of the Richardson children, had finally gone around the bend and burned the house down.”

Celeste Ng, Little Fires Everywhere

Dark, ominious storm clouds swirling around in a sky4. “It was a dark, blustery afternoon in spring, and the city of London was chasing a small mining town across the dried-out bed of the old North Sea.”

Philip Reeve, Mortal Engines

5. “It was during Latin that the Austro-Hungarians arrived with their dogs and zombies to kill everyone at the Eden College for Young Ladies.”

David Wake, The Derring-Do Club and the Empire of the Dead

6. “Late one evening towards the end of March, a teenager picked up a double-barrelled shotgun, walked into the forest, put the gun to someone else’s forehead and pulled the trigger.

This is the story of how we got there.”

Fredrik Backman, Beartown

7. “Maybe punching her enemy right in the nose wasn’t the smartest way to get out of class, but it was definitely a much more entertaining way.”

Ophelia T. Starks, Nightfall Academy

8. “During the 1980s, in California, a large number of Cambodian women went to their doctors with the same complaint: they could not see.”

Sigrid Nunez, The Friend

A hot summer sun drying out a large patch of soil.9. “The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning. The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autumn, but the first week of August is motionless, and hot. It is curiously silent, too, with blank white dawns and glaring noons, and sunsets smeared with too much color.”

Natalie Babbitt, Tuck Everlasting

10. “The Lord gave, and the Lord took away, her grandmother said to her at the edge of the grave. But that wasn’t right, because the Lord had taken away much more than had been there to start with, and everything her child might have become was now lying there at the bottom of the pit, waiting to be covered up.”

Jenny Erpenbeck, Aller Tage Abend

 

How to Clear Your Thoughts Before Writing

The idea for today’s post came from a comment from Elda:

First off I would like to say excellent blog! I had a quick question which I’d like to ask if you don’t mind. I was curious to know how you center yourself and clear your thoughts before writing. I have had a difficult time clearing my thoughts in getting my thoughts out. I truly do enjoy writing however it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes are generally wasted just trying to figure out how to begin. Any recommendations or hints? Thanks!|

 

An opened laptop sitting on a wooden desk. There is a blank notebook and pen sitting on the desk beside it.Thank you for asking this question, Elda! I always enjoy hearing from my readers.

Yes, it can be tricky to settle down into a writing session when you first begin one. I’ve had that trouble at times, too.

Here are some things to try in order to make better use of those first 10 to 15 minutes of writing time.

My first several tips will be for short term relief. The last few are focused on how to improve this issue in the longterm.

Short Term Strategies

Clear Out Distractions

I work best in a quiet, calm environment, so for me this means turning off music, closing the blinds, muting my cellphone, and reducing or eliminating any other distractions I notice as well.

Your mileage may vary there depending on how your mind reacts to music, birds chattering outside of your window, relatives or pets interrupting you, etc., but do try to create the ideal writing environment for your personal preferences.

Two overlapping speech bubbles that have orange outlines Talk to Your Characters

This can be accomplished by writing down your conversation or speaking to them out loud and imagining how they’d respond to your questions.

It might sound silly, but I’ve had all sorts of breakthroughs with my own stories when I take a few minutes at the beginning to chat with my characters and see how they’re feeling.

Write the Most Exciting Scene First

Endings are my favourite parts of stories whether I’m writing, reading, or watching them. Often I’ll write that section first and then backtrack to previous scenes that foreshadow or refer to it in some way.

What strikes me as the most exciting scene does vary from one session or project to the next, but this is a pattern I repeat until the entire tale is written.

Go Off on a Tangent 

One of my favourite techniques for those days when I’m having trouble getting into the the rhythm of writing is to work on a different project for a little bit. It could be a blog post, an idea for another story, a poem, or something else entirely.

There’s something about the act of getting into the flow of writing on one topic that can bleed over into other writing projects if you allow it to.

Asian woman holding up a drawing of a lightbulb while sitting next to a white wall filled with sketches of various ideas.Describe the Setting or Backstory in Vivid Detail

That is to say, write about things related to your story that you don’t actually intend to include in the final project.

You could describe every nook and cranny of the room the scene is currently taking place in, talk about your character’s first childhood memory even if it’s not at all related to their current conflict, or discuss what happened in that time and place five or fifty years ago.

While these adjacent writing projects sometimes do lead to the inclusion of details in my actual work-in-progress, I don’t consider it a waste of time if I write something that’s ultimately left out of the final draft.

The better you know your characters and their worlds, the better your audience will know them, too.

Longterm Strategies

A black and white drawing of a black fist holding a pencil Take Notes After Each Writing Session

You can take note of all sorts of things:

– An idea for a future scene

– A plot hole that still needs to be addressed

– Thoughts on how your session went. Does your environment need to be adjusted? Do you want to schedule more or less time for your next session?

If it’s something you’d be sorry to forget about, jot it down.

Plan Ahead

While I do tend to fly by the seat of my pants when I’m writing, there is something to be said for having a general outline of where you want to end up in case you get stuck if you’re not already the sort of writer who plots everything out ahead of time.

The note-taking and planning processes don’t have to be extensive. My outlines and notes are usually pretty basic, but they do leave room for me to know where to begin or what to alter in my writing space during my next session.

The more preparation you do ahead of time, the easier it will be to jump back into the rhythm of writing whenever you return to it.

Meditate

Black woman closing her eyes meditatively while standing in a forest. What does meditation have to do with writing?

This is a topic I should cover in full in a future post sometime soon, but for now I’ll say that how you respond to stray thoughts during the rest of your day strongly influences how you respond to them when you’re writing.

Meditation is sort of like strength training for your mind. The process of sitting down to write and struggling to clear your thoughts could be made a lot easier if you practice that skill regularly just like carrying a few bags of heavy things home from the store is easier if you’re already accustomed to lifting weights.

 

Respond

Readers, what other techniques would you recommend to Elda? What are your tried-and-true ways to centre yourselves and clear your minds before you start writing?

Hopeful Science Fiction: A Sun Will Always Sing

Click on the tag “hope” at this bottom of this post to read about all of my suggestions for hopeful science fiction. If you have recommendations for future instalments of this series, I’d sure like to hear them. Leave a comment below or send me message about it on Twitter.

Earlier this year I discovered the Better Worlds series, a science fiction anthology of short stories and films about hope that was published at The Verge in 2018. This is the seventh story from this anthology I’ve covered here, and I will eventually blog about all of them.

A Sun Will Always Sing

You might be able to guess what the cargo is already. It wasn’t something that was intended to be a twist ending, although I’ll still refrain from saying specifically what it was in this review.

I liked the fact that nobody dwelled on the environmental damage done to Earth. It was something only briefly hinted at, but everyone had already had ample time to accept the fact that climate change was real and that humans were responsible for it. The two major reactions people had to it were things I think all of you should discover for yourselves. Yes, they were both hopeful, so no worries there.

With that being said, I found the terminology in this tale to be confusing at times. Some words were references to real things in our world, while others were created entirely for this universe to explain how society had evolved. It wasn’t always easy to tell those two apart which made figuring out what was going on tricky when the narrator didn’t explain themselves fully.

Keep a search engine handy when you read this and look up any word you can’t figure out from context clues. The spoilers for future plot twists are minimal to non-existent in most cases, and they’ll make it all easier to understand if you get stuck.

I still enjoyed the storytelling quite a bit, however. The narrator wasn’t human, so their understanding of our species could be humorous at times. I would have loved to hear what else they had to say about us and our idiosyncrasies in a longer version of this tale, although we really did get everything we needed from what the author wrote.

The ending was immensely satisfying. It reminded me of how hopefully Star Trek episodes would end during The Original Series or The Next Generation to give a fair comparison that won’t share any hints about what actually happened in the final scene.

This is feel-good science fiction at its best. I had no idea a pandemic was coming when I first began the Hopeful Science Fiction series, but it’s such a positive thing to focus on at the moment. May you all find as much peace in this and every instalment of it as I do.

Oh, and this story was also made into a short film. It contains spoilers, but it’s a good option for anyone who found the terminology a bit confusing like I did or who prefers visual storytelling. 

Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge: How I’d Fare in a Zombie Apocalypse

Hosted by Long and Short Reviews. Click here to read everyone else’s replies to this week’s question and here to see the full list of topics for the year. This is one of those topics I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about. On the helpful side, I’m young, intelligent, healthy, and physically fit. There… Read More

Let’s Talk About Vivid Quarantine Dreams

  As COVID-19 continues to dominate news coverage and social media feeds, it’s no surprise that the pandemic has also started affecting people’s sleep routines. Many people are reporting vivid, sometimes stressful dreams… From Why You’re Having So Many Weird Dreams During Quarantine, According to Sleep Experts When I first read that article last month, I… Read More

Happily Ever After: A Review of A Tale of Two Princes

Title: A Tale of Two Princes Author: Victoria Pearson Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: January 1, 2014 Genres: Fantasy, Romance, Contemporary Length: 36 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 3.5 Stars Blurb: Sleeping Beauty meets The Frog Prince in this short but perfectly formed modern fairytale re-telling. Doctor Prinze is happy… Read More

Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge: A Villain That I Wish Could Be Redeemed and Why

Hosted by Long and Short Reviews. Click here to read everyone else’s replies to this week’s question and here to see the full list of topics for the year. This week’s topic was tricky for me because I’m not a huge fan of redemption arcs in most cases. Too often they’re used to brush terrible… Read More