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.

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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.

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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.)

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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!

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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.
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World Fantasy, day 1

Got in to World Fantasy around 9:30 last night, held at a waterfront hotel in Baltimore. I actually managed to make it to the tail end of the panel I’d been scheduled on (and then taken off, because I didn’t think I’d make it in time), so that’s 15 minutes of hopefully usefulness to the community? I don’t know.

Amusingly, someone in the audience actually brought up Earthsea, so I got to talk about the Tor.com piece I published yesterday, which I actually like more now than I did when I wrote it. I think you could even get something out of it if you’d never read Earthsea, or even Le Guin. It ended up as hopefully something of an antidote to these trying times. Or maybe a prescription.

I also had a very interesting conversation with a publisher — I think I know where I’m sending the revision of Flight now, which is exciting. It’s going to end up around 50K, I think, which is an awkward length, and I wasn’t sure where to place it, but now I think I have a possible home — they’d consider it a novel and bring it out as a book, which I think is right for it. I’d actually love to have it at this house; fingers crossed, and toes too.

I’m hoping I can talk a few friends into reading it first, because while it’s pretty solid at this point, I really want it to be the best it can be before it goes out. I also think I need to work through, emotionally, the fact that I’m probably never going to come out with a ‘debut novel’ that makes a big splash. It’s a writer’s dream, but I’m not sure it’s going to be my path.

Bodies in Motion was linked stories, and so was The Stars Change, and maybe I’m just not built for writing big, fat Great American novels. Or maybe Flight will actually be that great debut novel, despite being slim, and more of an intimate family story than anything world-changing. Well, we’ll see. It is what it is, and when I tried to force it to have a bigger scope, that didn’t work at all.

Other than that, last night was just chatting with old friends and meeting new people for a few hours in the bar / lounge. It’s on the 5th floor at this hotel, which is taking me a little while to get used to. I can see why they did it this way, because it means you get beautiful views of the harbor from the restaurant.

This is a very pleasant place to grab a morning cup of coffee with an old friend, C.c. Finlay, editor of The Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy — it’s a magazine I have yet to crack, but I’m coming for you, Charlie! I’m going to write you a story that you *have* to publish, because it’s just that good.

Now I’ve retired to my own table, to consume one of my crabby eggs benedict (so much food — will have to find someone to feed the other one to — maybe I can talk my roommate, Angeli, into it), and then settle down to two hours powering through e-mail.

Ah, the excitement of the writer’s life. It’s pretty exciting, actually. Or at least satisfying, pleasurable, interesting — I feel lucky.

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Hoppers and Squirrels

Slow start, but I’ve finally made it out to the shed for the morning. It’s cool and blustery out, but I’ve figured out how to drape the blanket in my shed safely over my legs resting on the ottoman, with the little shed heater underneath (carefully not touching anything), and make a toasty little cave. (Inspired by Japanese table heaters, kotatsu.)
It actually gets too warm pretty quickly, and the heater gets moved back out from under the blanket, but is v. nice for settling into autumn shed work. Instant warmth! For winter work, I may need to seal the windows with plastic wrap and maybe even hang some thick curtains, but for now, I’m enjoying all the light flooding in. I’ve brought some tea lights and incense out here too, and all of that helps settle me into writing mode.
Plan for today: spend an hour working on the Le Guin essay, then get dressed and head into the city to Open Books for a panel on SF diversity with Michi Trota and Alec Nevala-Lee, also celebrating the release of Alec’s new book, _Astounding_! I’m enjoying it, and plan to read more of it on the train. Fascinating getting a glimpse into the secret lives of Asimov and the rest of that crew.
After that, just come home and more writing, I think, with possibly a stop at an event sponsored by our local 19th century club, Jackets and Jewelry; they’re selling gently-used blazers and the like, and while I have enough jewelry, I think I need to up my professional dress game a bit, for both speaking engagements and politics. You know, before last year, I don’t think I owned a blazer at all? And now, I find I want one. Maybe a few. I’m building up my collection of solid color sheath dresses too. I’d like to get some nice desi-style jewelry to wear with it — Seena was wearing a great piece yesterday, and I was jealous.
If there’s time today, I’d like to do a bit more gardening — I dug up the last of the dahlias yesterday, and prepped some for trading with a neighbor — the rest need to be packaged up for winter storage in the basement. But before that, there are some divided irises that need to get into the ground, and more tulips to plant.
I made the mistake of leaving some on the porch, and the squirrels dug into two of the bags, so I’m short a few tulips. Oh well.
Yesterday, I taught a little hopper-making class. Slightly frustrating because the batter hadn’t fermented quite enough and wasn’t giving that characteristic lacy pattern, oh well — more practice needed, clearly.
It was a lot of fun, though also funny because two of the guests were radio journalists (Niala Boodhoo and Monica Eng), and Monica has actually written a children’s book with magician) and another was a foodie and furniture building artisan (Randall Kramer) interested in teaching at our makerspace, and another runs Bookwallah, a non-profit that sends picture books to orphanages in India, (Seena Jacob). Whew!
Between all that, there were gazillion things to talk about and also gazillion questions, so I couldn’t really run it like I would normally run a class. At one point, someone jokingly suggested that maybe they should raise their hands so I could get a word in edgewise, “Oh teacher? Teacher??” and they were joking but it actually might have helped! (I’m teasing — they were lovely.)
Afterwards, showed the guests my little writing shed. One of them saw a squirrel sitting on the gate and she stopped short and said, “It’s like walking into an English children’s book.” Yes, pretty much. 🙂
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Diversity in Libraries

One of the issues I’ve focused on as a library board trustee is looking at how our library approaches diversity. As a queer brown woman, I have to think that part of why I was elected was because my constituents wanted me to be paying attention to that issue.

Last night as part of the board packet, there was a detailed report on diversity initiatives from various of our librarians, addressing different aspects of the issue. Generally, I think our librarians are doing a pretty stellar job of working on this problem, and could serve as a model for other institutions.

But I’m mostly writing here because I wanted to take a moment to point out just how difficult a problem it is, and how, despite years of effort on our librarians’ part, our collection of books, in particular, still skews very white. That is entirely because American publishing still skews very white — the vast majority of books published, including children’s books, still feature white protagonists.

Our librarians try to balance the general audience’s desire for popular books (which is influenced / limited by what major publishers actually put out, what readers see on the bookstore shelves, or at their friends’ houses, or reviewed in major news sources), with the librarians’ own attempts at increasing diverse representation.

(A tremendous tool for librarians in the latter efforts, by the way, are the various blogs and booklists maintained by various communities and reviewers of color, so keep that up, people, please! It’s made it much easier for our librarians to find brilliant, fabulous #ownvoices titles, often from small presses that would otherwise fly under the radar.)

But we’re still quite far from even reflecting the community around us in Oak Park (which is currently around 68% white). Our librarians are going to keep working the problem, and they’re making improvements every week. To really fix it, though, we need big changes in publishing.

Publishers, editors — get on that, please. I know I’m preaching to the choir a bit here, for the publishing folks I’m friends with, who are likely to see this, but maybe this will add a note of urgency to your efforts.

We can’t read the books that show our diverse world in its complex truth if those books aren’t even being published. Our kids can’t read them either.

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We passed our library board budget last night, the second budget since I’ve been a trustee. I have to say, there’s a steep learning curve on this job. I’ve managed organizational budgets before, for DesiLit and the SLF, but this is an 8 to 9 million budget, managing three different libraries, and it’s another thing altogether.

The first time we passed one, about five months after I took office, there was a lot of the document that I only partially understood; I had to rely on the more experienced board members for guidance and explanation. A LOT of explanation. “Can we go over that bit again, please?” Passing that budget was slow, with three new members on the board; I, at least, needed a lot of handholding.

This time around, in my second year as trustee, it was much more efficient; we all understood what we were voting for, and how the things we’d requested as a board (in terms of equity and access as budgeting priorities) had been effectively implemented by staff, and what the cost implications were per household across the village.

I particularly want to shout out to Jim Madigan, our deputy director, who has been infinitely patient with me — I was just in his office for an extra half hour yesterday before the board meeting, asking him to go over a fine financial detail. For the SF fans in the room: around him, I feel a lot like Ekaterin with Miles’s finance guy — I swear, they could be the same person. Dry, funny, incredibly conscientious, and a light in his eyes when someone actually takes an interest in the arcane details of his profession.

Jim is retiring in a few months, and while I’m sure the library will find an excellent person to take over the position, Jim is very much going to be missed. If I’ve done a good job discharging my fiduciary responsibilities on the library board, and I hope I have, a large portion of the credit goes to him.

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