Sunday afternoon

Home from Garden Walk — I’ll be posting photos from the walk over the next few days. Have hidden in my shed because I can’t bear the world right now. Only gardens. Kevin has taken the kids to the pool because he is a prince.

Will probably try to write a little bit, enjoy the breeze and the new fan (which I love, it’s perfect, on a hot day I want to marry it). This evening, record a podcast, maybe. I’m tentatively trying to do them on Sunday evenings. The mic lives out here now because thankfully the acoustics of the shed are decent.

Or I may just stare at greenery, try to figure out which perennials to plant (once there’s a bit more room in the budget, which may not be ’til next year) to camouflage the daffodil and tulip leaves around the seating area.

I think I’d like white, silver, blue and purple in that space for summer, to echo the furniture there. Roughly knee-high, shrubby / mounding perennials. Calaminta, artemisia, blue-eyed grass, nepeta? Something like that.

Summer Reading on Chicago Tonight (TV!)

I was on TV tonight!  If you missed it, no worries; they have the clip online here.

I need to thank my former student for thinking of me for the show. Such a pleasure!

I need to thank women everywhere for understanding when I, after waffling about it for three solid days, finally dyed my hair mostly black again before the show, despite having written and published an essay seven years ago about finally stopping coloring my hair. I’m at least half-grey in real life at this point, but this was potentially a notable professional thing, and our society is the way it is, and well, I caved. Apologies, sisterhood. You understand. It’s temporary, and will wash out by the end of the summer, at which point I get to decide if I want to color it again before the semester starts. Sigh.

I need to thank Kevin for letting me lock myself in our bathroom / bedroom for a couple hours to do hair and nails and such. I never do that kind of thing, because mostly I fail at femme, but well, it’s tv, so I had to try. Also for putting up with much crabbiness earlier today, as apparently I was more nervous than I realized about being on tv. Also for feeding the kids and himself dinner, and asking if I was going to eat anything. (So nervous I’d forgotten to eat, and didn’t really feel like it heading out the door, but I had two bites of his rice and chicken curry, which undoubtedly helped sustain me.) Also for making sure the kids got to watch their mommy on tv; they were indignant that the poor host didn’t get my name quite right the second time, but assured me that I’d done a good job.

I need to thank WTTW’s make-up artist for fixing my make-up before I went on-air. I did not terrible for everyday (see pic), but she gave me more eyebrows and eyelashes and more lip color and smoothed out my skin and ‘brightened me up’ a little for the cameras.

I need to thank everyone at the studio today for being sweet and making it not too stressful a thing. My fellow guests didn’t talk over me (thanks, guys!), my host was delightful, they were all a pleasure and interesting to talk to, and the tech guys made a point of telling me afterwards that I’d done a good job, which I really, really appreciated. (Locals, Michael Barsa will be reading from his first novel, _The Garden of Blue Roses_, at Centuries & Sleuths this Saturday @ 2. If you’re free, check it out! I’m going to try to make it.)

I need to thank SF conventions for the past two decades, for giving me so much practice at being on panels that I was actually reasonably comfortable once we got started, although if I’d realized the time constraints we’d be under, I would’ve practiced a one sentence elevator pitch for each book beforehand. I rambled a bit, but not too badly, I think.

And hey, thanks to all of you, for reading through all this. I was on TV! Whee! It was fun, and I would totally do it again. I’m just saying, universe. Call me.

Cancer log 203: LiveStrong

This is a paean to lackadaisical but regular exercise. So, this March, a year post-cancer treatment, I signed up for a free program at the local YMCA (funded by the Lance Armstrong foundation). I agreed to show up Mon / Wed from 6 – 7:30 for 3 months, let them run me through a mix of aerobic and weight training, and I’d get a free membership to the Y for completing the program. (This is sadly not available at all Y’s — if you’re a cancer survivor, check with your local Y if interested.)

The reason I’m posting is because I was a totally mediocre participant. I missed at least a quarter of the classes due to scheduling conflicts or winter colds. When I went, I never did more than the minimum expected, and the minimum was pretty minimal, because the class was geared towards people recovering from illness, and so it was all ‘go at your own pace,’ and ‘lift only as much as you feel like.’ It was a busy semester, I was harried and tired and cranky about going.

And nonetheless, the numbers don’t lie. My cardio capacity generally is not great, but if you look at my resting heart rate at the end of a 6-minute walking function test, it dropped from 132 to 111.

The amount I could lift with both arms and legs also increased (75 / 275 to 85 / 305).

(Sidebar: yes, my legs are freakishly strong. I attribute it to my work-study job freshman year which had me trotting up and down stairs for two hours every weekday, leaving me with calves-of-steel.)

The changes are minor, but considering that I wasn’t tracking or making any real effort to lift more than was easy to do, I’m still pretty impressed. What’s more, everyone in the class showed similar improvement, including people who were much older, much more out-of-shape, and much more recently ill than I was.

Show up, as regularly as you can manage. It matters, in exercise and elsewhere.

Honeyed Marshmallows with Rosewater and Saffron

These marshmallows taste like they’ve magically materialized straight out of the Arabian Nights. Meltingly soft, gorgeously fragrant.
3 packages unflavored gelatin
1/2 c. water
1 T lime juice
1 T rosewater
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup light corn syrup
2 pinches saffron threads
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup water
powdered (confectioner’s) sugar
butter (for greasing the pan)
1/4 c. dried rose petals (food grade), optional
1. Empty gelatin packets into bowl of stand mixer (whisk attachment), with water, lime juice, and rosewater. Stir briefly to combine.
2. In a small saucepan (a bigger one will be heavy and hard to hold steadily at a later stage) combine water, granulated sugar, honey, corn syrup, saffron, and salt. Cover and cook over medium high heat for 4 minutes. Uncover and cook until the mixture reaches soft ball stage (240 degrees if you have a candy thermometer), approximately 8 minutes. Once the mixture reaches this temperature, immediately remove from heat; if it continues, it will swiftly turn into hard candy.
3. Turn mixer on low speed and, while running, slowly pour the sugar syrup down the side of the bowl into the gelatin mixture. (Be very careful with the sugar syrup, as it is scaldingly hot and will burn you badly if it gets on your skin.) Once you’ve added all of the syrup, increase the speed to high.
4. Continue to whip until the mixture becomes very thick and is lukewarm, approximately 12 minutes.
5. While it’s whipping, butter a large 9 x 12 pan. Prepare an oiled spatula.
6. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan, spreading it evenly (and swiftly) with the oiled spatula. Scatter dried rose petals on top if desired.
7. Dust the top with enough of the remaining powdered sugar to lightly cover. Reserve the rest for later. Allow the marshmallows to sit uncovered for at least 4 hours and up to overnight.
8. Turn onto a board, cut into squares and dust all sides of each marshmallow with the remaining powdered sugar, using additional if necessary. May be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks, or frozen.

Father’s Day

This father’s day, I’m thinking about division of parenting labor. You folks see the posts of me making cookies with my kids, or other crafty activities, and it’s true that in our household, that role is mostly me. I’m also the one who tends to keep track of when they’re growing out of clothes, and the one who shuttles them around to playdates and summer camp and singing lessons.

But more and more over the last few years, Kevin has taken on a lot of the mental labor of parenting — the scheduling of classes and summer camps, the signing up for doctor’s appointments, the filling out of permission slips, the calendaring of school meetings and deciding which ones are actually worth going to.

When they were little, a lot of that defaulted to me, as the female person in our parenting dyad, but at some point a few years ago, frayed and exhausted with my twenty kazillion jobs, I asked him to take on more of it, and he has. (If it’s work he can do without talking to strangers, even better. The computer has been a godsend in this regard.)

In addition to all that, Kev’s always borne more of the mental load in terms of worrying. He’s the car-seat and booster-seat researcher, the one who goes upstairs to check on the kids in the midst of party chaos, the ones who imagines all the terrible ways things could go wrong and then does what he can to prevent them (and reminds me to do the same). He’s the one keeping the babies alive, when I would be off in my own world, buried in the basement on my computer for twelve hours straight, blithely assuming they’ll be fine. I can go out of town for conferences, disappear for five days, and I don’t even need to call home to check — he’s got them.

Kevin’s also more patient than I am, and when Anand is having a hard day with people (people are hard, people!), Kev is the one who can talk him down, giving Anand as much time as he needs to process. Whatever I’ve learned about being patient with people’s emotional challenges and stumbling blocks, I’ve learned from watching Kev. (I’m still learning; it’s not my strongest skill.)

Happy Father’s Day, Kevin. You surpass your cultural conditioning, which is one of the hardest things, and voluntarily give up privilege. Also, you make me a better parent. I forgot to help the kids make you presents for today, and you’re not getting a new grill either, but we will cover you with kisses instead, and I know you will be just fine with that.

Steamy Shed

It’s unclear how useful the writing shed will be in summer. We turned on the AC in the house yesterday — the forecast now says high of 94, feels like 100. I am normally an avid proponent of keeping the windows and doors open (hooray for screens) and the fans going to provide a cross-breeze, but there comes a point where the whole family wilts and we concede defeat and turn on the AC. None of us can sleep when it’s too hot, so that’s the real breaking point.

Temperature regulation is a little complicated for me, as I’m hypothyroid, so my body doesn’t adapt all that well to temperature extremes. But I keep thinking of when we went to Sri Lanka in 1995, and I was miserable in the heat, and demanding to know how my mother survived it. And she just looked sort of bewildered and said, “It’s not so bad. Your body gets used to it. Drink some tea.” She and the aunties drank lots of hot tea; there was some sort of theory that it heated you up and then you sweat more and that cooled you down? Like your own personal swamp cooler.

There’s no AC in the shed — so far, we’ve only put in electricity. I could get a tiny swamp cooler for around $40, which was effective in my Salt Lake City apartment, where it was dry, but I’m not sure those work as well in the humidity of Chicago.

For right now, I have a fan, and I came out this morning (currently 85, feels like 95), leaving the cool of the house, a little shocked by the transition. But I’m sitting in the shed typing right now, and the fan may actually be enough. I’ve turned my chair to get out of the sun, and the fan is blasting right on me. (I actually stole this fan from another room in the house, and it will go back, but I have ordered a pretty fan for the shed, will be here soon.) And I’m drinking my tea (yes, Amma), though I’m not sweating yet. So far, so good.

Time to turn off Facebook and write a little.


Cancer log 202: Perennial Launch

Huge thanks to Garland Flowers for hosting my little garden romance launch party yesterday, for Perennial! Since the story opens in an Oak Park flower shop, it was really perfect to have our launch party there, and the owner and staff went out of their way to make it a lovely event. I commend them to you for your local floral needs!

Thanks as well to everyone who came out last night. This is a very personal little book, and the kind support of friends, family, and complete strangers — through cancer treatment, all the way up to now — means everything.


Well, this is lovely — I’ve been invited to be an honored guest at the Chicago Public Library’s 18th annual Carl Sandburg Literary Awards Dinner, on October 9th. I’ll be one of 85 authors and creatives with ties to Chicago — each of us is seated at a table with a dozen attendees, so they get a little ‘taste’ of Chicago’s literary scene.

“This year’s Carl Sandburg Literary Award will be presented to beloved author Judy Blume and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. Author and poet Erika L. Sanchez will receive the 21st Century Award, presented for recent achievements by a Chicago writer. The evening is produced by Library Foundation board member Donna LaPietra and emceed by Bill Kurtis, and will feature a conversation with Blume and Tyson moderated by National Public Radio host Scott Simon.”

It’s the major fundraising event for the library, with ticket sales beginning at $1250. Eep. It raises almost $2 million for library learning initiatives. Ticket sales open in August.

The real question — anniversary party formal dress, or fancy sari? They apparently introduce each of us on stage. I think I have to go with fancy sari — but which one? (I will probably poll you all closer to the date. )