Avocado-Mint

It was a very, very long week. Almost everything in it was good, but there was just too much of it. Today, I had just two meetings (both good), and planned to spend the rest of the day puttering. Then Kev reminded me that we needed to go look at cars, ugh, so we went. I know some people love shopping for cars, but that is not me — I just want a car that reliably works, that can safely haul all my stuff, and that I don’t have to think about.

It needed to be done, so I went, and then thankfully came home to watch dumb yet delightful holiday movies (currently The Princess Switch, which has no surprises in it whatsoever) and putter in the kitchen. Making soaps and sweets is all I want to do right now. I also have to do some e-mail, I’m afraid, but mostly, this weekend I am immersing myself in making little lovely things to sell at Pem Hessing‘s Colorful Holiday event coming up in a few weeks.

Pictured below, avocado-mint garden scrub. Coming soon, fairies trapped in sparkling crystal. Oh no! Who will release them? Kids, you better take your baths tonight…


Art and garden and writing, oh my

Plan for today — stop watching GBBO (Netflix, now was not the ideal time to drop season 6, I have things to do). Finish grading papers. Finish grading mid-terms. (I’m so close to done — why is the last hour always the hardest???)
 
At 11, go take a look at some possible spaces (some in Scoville Square, probably out of our price range, one just south of the highway on Oak Park Ave). Feel drowned in choices and possibilities, but hopefully in a good way.
 
12 – 2, monthly Garden Club meeting; I’ll probably be late, but I do want to stop by, at least. Today’s talk — “A Rose By Any Other Name” — Jack Shouba, on “The importance of scientific names.” I don’t actually know anything about this topic! Would like to learn.
 
Then prep for evening monthly writing workshop, more grading, work on condensing my scattered maker space notes into something coherent that I can hand to people, instead of the 20+ page monstrosity I have now.
 
Maybe write a little? Last night, I started work on the Domestic Resistance book, cutting and pasting my running for office posts into one file. That’ll form the core thread of the book, I think, balancing that with the political trauma of the last two years, and the domestic makings (cooking, gardening, time with family and friends) that keep me sane.
 
I’m having more novel thoughts too, off and on, esp. as I keep reading Jemisin’s work. She’s so good with the world building and really thinking through rich cultural elements — I’ve skimped on that on this first draft, and rather than just plowing forward with the plot, I kind of think I want to stop, go back, and really layer that through. The book will get more dense, but I think that’s a good thing. I also hope to find room for more dialogue and scenes of everyday life. If I write a novel that’s mostly people sitting around and talking to each other, you guys are okay with that, right?

Curried Tamarind Pork with Sweet Potatoes and Apples

I wasn’t sure if this would work, and I have to say, it’s a little nerve-wracking taking a great big pot of delicious pork curry and adding something to it that might ruin it….but I do love pork and apples and pork and sweet potatoes, so I thought maybe, just maybe, adding sweet potatoes and apples to my traditional Sri Lankan curried pork would work nicely. And it does!

Minor modifications — used apple cider vinegar instead of regular vinegar, added an extra cup of water when I added the sweet potatoes (just as the pork was becoming tender), because the sauce was getting a bit thick and I wanted to be sure there’d be enough liquid to cook the sweet potatoes, added the apples about 15 minutes after the sweet potatoes and cooked 15 minutes more — which was a little too much; they started to dissolve, but I just used the somewhat soft apples I had on hand. But with firm cooking apples, I think 15 minutes would be about right.

(1 1/2 hours, serves 6-8)

3 medium onions, chopped fine
1 TBL ginger, chopped fine
4 garlic cloves, sliced
3 TBL vegetable oil
1 tsp black mustard seed
1 tsp cumin seed
1 TBL red chili powder
1 TBL Sri Lankan curry powder
1/3 cup ketchup
1 T tamarind paste
1 heaping tsp salt
3 pieces cinnamon stick
3 cloves
3 cardamom pods
1 dozen curry leaves
3 lbs pork shoulder, cubed, about 1 inch pieces
1/2 c. apple cider vinegar
1 c. red wine
2 medium sweet potatoes, cut into large chunks
2 apples, cut into large chunks

1. In a large pot, sauté onions, ginger, and garlic in oil on medium-high with mustard seed and cumin seeds until onions are golden/translucent (not brown), stirring as needed. Add chili powder and cook 1 minute, stirring. Immediately stir in curry powder, ketchup, tamarind, salt, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and curry leaves.

2. Add pork and stir on high for a minute or two, browning the meat. Add vinegar & wine and stir well, scraping to deglaze pan. Cover, turn down to medium, and let cook one hour, stirring occasionally.

 

3. Add sweet potatoes, stir well, and cover again (adding water if needed). After fifteen minutes, stir in apples, cover again. Cook until sweet potatoes are cooked through, adding water if needed to maintain a nice thick sauce (and to keep food from burning), stirring occasionally. Serve hot with rice or bread.

Weekend Cooking

If I make them every week, eventually I will be able to make them perfectly every time, right? Sometimes my batter is too thin, or too thick, or not fermented enough. Out of a dozen hoppers this morning, this was the only one I liked the look of enough to photograph.

They were all excellent to eat, though. Jed had his with leftover saag and the last of this week’s batch seeni sambol. Kevin and I had ours with leftover lamb vindaloo. The kids tried them with maple syrup — Kavi didn’t like it, but she doesn’t like anything she eats this weekend, so we’ll try again. Anand only liked the lacy crispy bit, not the spongy sourdough part. If I make them every weekend, though, they are going to learn to love them, right? Well, we’ll see.

#weekendsareforhoppers

Make

There was a moment in grad school. Kevin and I had split up and I was desperately broken-hearted. I’d been getting up at 4 a.m. every morning to an alarm because it was the best time for me to concentrate, when the world was dark and still, writing by the light of a candle. I’d gotten about halfway through drafting Bodies in Motion at that point; I had been working so hard, for so long. I loved the book, but I was otherwise very tired and very sad. I cried all the time.

There came a day when I just couldn’t stare at the computer screen any longer. I found myself — and I honestly don’t even remember making the decision to go — at the art store, ringing up $200 of supplies (money I didn’t really have, but I just didn’t care). I came home and I made things — candles and collages mostly. They weren’t very good but I needed to do something that wasn’t just brain work, that didn’t require so much deliberate thought. I needed to use my hands. It helped. (My mother still has the candle I made her that year. She thinks it is too pretty to light it.)

• Welcome to Memoir
• Designing in Inkscape for Cricut
• Survival Cooking

I was talking to Jed a few nights ago, trying to explain why I haven’t been able to let go of the idea of the maker space, even though it takes lots of time that would perhaps be otherwise spent on writing (I am still writing, but inevitably slower than I would normally be).

• Fix Your Own Garbage Disposal!
• Checklist for a Renovation
• Visible (Beautiful) Mending

I did try to set the makerspace aside, over and over, for the last few years. I told myself, “This would be a nice retirement project, but first, write the damn novel.” Then I’d find myself scouting out spaces, or making workshop lists again, or thinking about whom I knew that had skills they could teach. (Lots of people, it turns out. Lots and lots.)

• Stop-Motion Animation with Legos
• Intro to Weaving on the Rigid Heddle Loom
• Botanical Soaps and Candles

Workshops I wanted to teach, workshops I wanted to take. And many of these don’t fit neatly into some conceptions of a ‘makerspace,’ but to me, these are all making. Making with hands and mind and generous creative hearts.

• Getting Started with Arduino Controllers
• Firespinning!
• Drawing Comics

A friend just offered to pass along some shoes for Kavi, and she didn’t want money for them. I am going to leave her some handmade soap and caramels and a book. Gift economy, and how much more satisfying that is.

• 3D Print a Custom Drop Spindle
• Planting a Wildlife-Friendly Garden
• Jewelry Making with Resin

I am not quite old enough to be focused on my legacy yet, but the thought does pop up now and again. I’ve done some good things in politics, and hope to do more. I’ve done some good things for science fiction and fantasy too, and ditto. But if I can leave behind a thriving Oak Park makerspace, one that might even (a girl can dream) spin-off into Austin and Berwyn locations too, encouraging collaboration, artistic expression, and entrepreneurship throughout our community, bridging silos and ending isolation — that would be a legacy to be really proud of.

• Worm Composting
• Knitting with LEDs
• 3D Printing for Cosplay

I can just see it, humming with life, in my mind. A makerspace, an artist shop, a free art supply exchange, cafe and lounge, co-working space, an artist residency program, low-income artist housing, and more. I hope we can make it happen.

• Stained Glass using the Copper Foil Technique
• Songwriting
• Welcome to Podcasting

(Pictured, dried marigold petals harvested from my garden for marigold-turmeric soap, made with a coconut milk base, unscented. I’ll be selling them at Pem Hessing’s Colorful Holiday fair, featuring the work of makers of color in our community, Saturday 12/15, 10 – 3:30. I’ll also be donating some to the Garden Club holiday sale, where they’ll be incorporated into hostess gift baskets to be raffled off at the December meeting, to support club activities. We’re hoping to host a fundraiser for the makerspace in December as well — details soon.)

• Art Journaling
• Resume Writing
• Crowdfunding for Beginners

Tandoori Chicken & Pasta in a Béchamel Sauce

Kavi: Can I learn to make something today?

Me: Sure? Like what?

Kavi: Maybe cooking?

Me: How about I teach you how to make a white sauce? We have some leftover pasta and tandoori chicken to use up.

Kavi: Okay!

Me: You know, this is going to make your college roommates very happy with you.

[continuing with snooty accent]

They’ll be all, “Oh, all we have is some plain pasta and last night’s dried takeout chicken. Sad!” And you’ll be all, “No problem! I’ll just toss together a béchamel!” And they’ll say, “What’s a béchamel?” And you’ll say, “Oh, it’s just one of the French mother sauces, you know. If you can make those, you can make anything!”

Kavi, barely restraining her pre-teen eye-roll: I’m sure everyone in college talks like that all the time.

Basic béchamel recipes are all over the internet, but essentially, warm milk in pan or in microwave. Then in separate pan, melt butter on medium heat, stirring (careful not to brown). Next, make the roux — add an equal amount of flour (about 6 T butter to 3.5 T flour is standard, with 2 c. milk, though I admit, I mostly eyeball it), stir until it’s a bit clumpy. Whisk in a little of the warm milk to smooth it out, then add the rest of the milk and whisk whisk whisk, stirring, until it thickens. Stir in your cooked pasta, shredded leftover chicken, maybe some frozen peas, and you’re good to go. 10-minute easy delicious & nutritious meal to feed a hungry college student and her roommates.

Shed report

Walked to the writing shed in the snow for the first time (having remotely turned on the heater first, thanks, Alexa). It’s a very light snow, just flurries, didn’t even bother putting my coat on to cross the backyard, but still, nice to know that I’m actually willing to come out here in snow. 🙂 I was a little worried that this would only be a three-season writing shed, but I think not.

I wouldn’t say it’s toasty in here, but it’s warm enough that my fingers don’t feel cold, which is key for safe typing. I do think I need to plastic-seal the windows for the winter, and maybe hang drapes over the French doors. It feels a little drafty.

But still, I’m here, I’m writing, is good. I had promised that when I got to a certain level on my personal Patreon that I’d write another scene in my silly little poly space catering company story, and I’ve been so hectic that I haven’t done it yet, though it’s been at least a month — I actually forgot for a while, must work on project management and calendaring everything! But I’m here now, and hopefully the muse will cooperate, as I have an hour to spare before it’s time to go pick up Kavi from her ADD assessment.

At 1 p.m., I’m meeting with someone who has kindly volunteered to help me build an actual budget for the makerspace. After that, I may take it easy for the rest of the day? Well, I have e-mail to deal with, so probably not. But there’s nothing else absolutely required on the schedule, which is kind of bliss after a very scheduled week. Jed arrives this evening for a weekend visit, which will be lovely. Maybe I will make him help me hang drapes.

I’m still fighting a cold, but if it’s not seeming too bad, I will try to go out this evening to support the community event happening around racist graffiti and other incidents at our local high school. Very upsetting. This kind of thing is on the rise around the country. This presidency, gah. I have nothing more coherent to offer on that.

Makerspace update

We had a meeting last night about the makerspace, etc. project, and mostly determined that we should focus our Big Idea grant proposal on the makerspace piece. If that happens in isolation, great — if we can raise enough funds to do a bigger space with co-working, cafe + shop, artist studios, residency program, low-income artist housing, etc., also great. I need to put together a list of places we’ll be applying to for grants (could use help with that!) Good progress.

Most of the last few weeks has been heavily scheduled with meetings as I try to get feedback, collaborative vision, buy-in from lots of local folk — people in government, housing, arts, business, etc. There’s going to be lots more of that! Pretty much everyone I’ve talked to has been supportive of the idea, and most have been genuinely excited by it! It’s the sort of thing where you look at it and say, “I can’t believe we don’t have this already!”

Two of our people have now taken the proposal to try to turn my wordiness into two tight opening paragraphs. I am terrible at boiling things down to sound-bites, elevator pitches, and even concise paragraphs. I just want to put in more words. Brutal concision is not my strength, and I’m grateful that they’re taking a stab at it.

They’ll give it back in a week, and then I’ll try to draft answers to the rest of the proposal questions, and then we’ll meet again to review that draft and fine-tune it. I need to start collecting supplemental materials too — a list of other makerspaces, photos of great makerspaces we can compare to, for example.

I’m spending time in upcoming weeks touring possible rental spaces, hoping to find someone willing to donate space or at least let us use it at significantly below-market rates for a while. We could do a month-to-month lease to get the project off the ground. (If this is maybe you, get in touch, please!)

Ideally, our main space down the line would be big, near transit, and near both Austin / Berwyn (so Arts District or near Oak Park and Harrison would be ideal). But a big space may be years off, and in the meantime, we could put a makerspace in something as small as 300 sq. ft. — though definitely having more like 900-1200 would be better, letting us fit in lounge and classroom / meeting space as well, plus a coffee station!

I’m having a budget meeting today with a finance person who will help me start drafting a spreadsheet (volunteering his time, so kind). Space rental, tool purchase, furniture and supplies, insurance, permits and fees, and if we have some money left over for staffing, that’d be good, but initially, I suspect we’ll be relying on volunteers (working in the space) to keep the doors open.

We’re going to aim for being financially self-reliant through class tuition, memberships, and space rental in off hours, with fundraising to help us lower costs as much as possible — making everything sliding-scale, and offering free scholarships. We’re also going to have one day / week open for walk-in free making — the Chicago Public library does Wednesday 1-8, which sounds like a good possibility, though Saturday might also be good.

If you’re in the Oak Park area, an artist or educator or just someone who thinks we should have a place where we can introduce people to all kinds of making in a fun, low-cost environment, and want to be involved in the project in some way (planning, volunteering, donating, teaching), please do get in touch! We will need lots of help getting this off the ground.

Things are progressing. It’s exciting to see this taking shape!!!

(I borrowed the graphic from the NUSD Makerspace task force — isn’t it charming? We may need to make our own version.)

Diwali

This is how I feel this morning — blurry, but overall hopeful. It’s Diwali, and a friend dropped off some sparklers yesterday (thanks, Swati!), so I lit one up this morning. Diwali celebrates the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, and good over evil.

There are a host of results from last night that make me feel that we’ve finally, finally, started moving America onto a brighter path. I’m particularly encouraged by the huge increase in millennial turnout. It’s going to be a long road, but no one said defeating evil would be easy, right?

It would be tempting to spend the entire day reading political analysis, but instead, I’m going to turn off Facebook and focus on work for the morning. I have to straighten up — a fellow artist is stopping by soon to talk about how her project and mine can work together. After that, going into campus for the faculty union’s rep assembly, then a visit to the Chicago Public Library makerspace, to see how they do it.

There are arts projects to build and papers to grade and books to write. I’ll take a breath before coming back in January to focus on local politics for a few months — our next election’s in April, and we still need more good people running for all our local boards; petitions will be due pretty soon, so if you’re still thinking of running, best hustle!

And soon we’ll be coming out swinging for 2020, pounding the pavement and all hands on deck. There’s a brighter world to build.

Happy Diwali, everyone!

Voting Day

Two years ago, I dressed in suffragette white and took my daughter with me to proudly vote for America’s first woman president. I have a photo of us, standing in front of her school’s flag. This morning felt very different, and I almost wanted to dress in black — I am so full of grief and anxiety about tonight’s results.
 
But in the end, I put on my patriotic colors, and even some sparkling star earrings. After Clinton lost, I joined the wave of women running for office; I was elected and serve on the local library board now, and hope to continue to serve as best I can going forward. I think I have done at least a little good in office in those two years, and have modeled for my daughter what possibilities still exist for her.
 
Dr. King said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” America is our country still, despite all the pain and terror that this administration has enabled, and if we want Dr. King’s words to be true, then we must be the ones to bend the arc. It doesn’t happen on its own, and in fact, there will always be those who are very comfortable with their power and privilege, who will fight tooth and nail to preserve every inch of it.
 
I teach college, and I took fifteen minutes out of class to talk to my students today about voting, about running for office, about how their decisions do actually matter. They can shape their local communities, their state and federal government. Many of them don’t believe that yet, and so they don’t vote; it’s barely on their radar. If I could go back in time, one thing I would change? I’d start in college and find a local campaign to support, someone whose passion and vision for a better future was worth working for. I’d try to convince all my friends that they could make a difference too.
 
However this election turns out, I’m activated now, working to help build that deep bench of committed progressive candidates, with plenty of women and LGBT and POC among them. I know many of you poured time and energy into this campaign season, and that many of you had never worked on anything explicitly political before. However the day goes — that’s not nothing. That’s everything.
 
We’ll see that woman president in America yet. We will bend the arc to a brighter future.