A complicated relationship with magazines

I have this weird love-hate relationship with magazines. I’ve bought a lot of them in my time — I went through a big Martha Stewart Living phase, for example. Cook’s Illustrated is a perennial favorite. All the shelter magazines were in heavy rotation when we were renovating our house, and these days, I’m reading (well, skimming) tons of food magazines, as I think about pitching and writing essays for them, mostly to help promote the cookbook. I even fantasize about an occasional Serendib Home magazine.

This time of year, the magazines are chock-full of resolutions and ways to improve your life. There’s something so seductive about the way magazine articles promise not just to entertain, but to inform, to make your life better. And you don’t need to read a big thick book first, no! Who has time for that? Here’s a helpful tip, a life hack. Something you can read in a few minutes (illustrated with gorgeous, sexy pictures) and implement immediately.

I’m not saying it’s a big lie, exactly. But if you read several issues of say, Real Simple, in a row, you realize that they’re basically telling you the same things over and over, such as advising you to get rid of your stuff! But what if you need your stuff, and can’t afford to just buy it again when you need it?

And all while they try to sell you more stuff (explicitly in marked ads, and implicitly in hidden advertorial content), slightly more expensive than your old stuff, but just that little bit prettier or more efficient. Presumably selling you those because the real money that supports the magazine comes from ad sales.

After being introduced at Clarion by our instructor Nicola Griffith to the parts of the publisher’s promo budget that go for things like magazine ‘advertorials’, I became deeply suspicious of the magazines themselves. (Honestly, I was a little shocked when I learned that which books go face front on the shelves, or on end caps, or on the front table, are paid for by the publishers. I was very naive.) That’s a lot of why I wanted my magazines (Clean Sheets, Strange Horizons, Jaggery) to be community-supported from the beginning. Though of course, the internet ad money mostly drying up within a few years contributed to that decision too…

I do still enjoy magazines. When I read an issue of The English Garden, I often do come away with at least 2-3 ideas that I make notes on, to try to implement in my own garden. Wouldn’t these rose vines look better with clematises climbing on them, so that you have active blooms in that spot for more of the year? If my home and garden are beautiful, it’s in large part due to all the magazines I’ve consumed. Also the books and the TV shows on design, of course, which mostly aren’t selling products to you quite as intensely, but the books usually have a larger up-front cost (hooray for libraries), and TV you’re paying for in other ways.

I’m just feeling a little conflicted about writing for magazines. I want to be careful to try to write things that are worth your time to read, even if the editors decide to pair my recipe for Instapot chicken curry with a feature spread on ‘the three best Instapots, ranked!’ A feature that was probably paid for by those particular Instapot manufacturers.

I can’t be too precious about that structure; it’d be hypocritical. That ad money is what lets the magazine exist, and what lets them pay me for my essay. And of course, I’m mostly writing my essay in the hopes that people like it enough that they read my bio at the end, notice that I have a cookbook for sale, and think “Oh, I want to buy that!” Capitalism, hmph. I wish I could just GIVE everyone copies of the cookbook. In the post-capitalist utopia to come, perhaps.

Just — I hope people are aware that so much of what these magazines are selling (peace, calm, an organized home, world cuisine recipes your children will adore), often require more money to achieve easily.

Quick tip! Buying a host of beautiful squared off, stackable glass jars will make your kitchen spices look much more organized, clean, and aesthetically pleasing, like something in a magazine! But those gorgeous square jars (oh, Container Store, I can’t quit you…) will also cost a lot more than recycling the spaghetti sauce jars and bouillon cube jars, the kind my mother uses to hold her spices.

Plus, if you display those spice jars on open shelves near the stove, you’d better be able to afford the time to clean them of accumulated kitchen grease and dust at least quarterly — monthly would be better. You need to afford the time yourself, or be able to afford to pay something else to do it.

Well. I don’t mean to be too dreary and fun-spoiling. And I’m not undoing capitalism today. But I can at least try to think about what aspects of the things I do can be replicated without spending a lot of money or time. And I can think about what makes for good design, which doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be expensive.

Mostly I can try to keep talking about this issue, every once in a while at least, because the last thing I want is for someone to see a beautiful photo of my food, or my kitchen, or my garden, and beat themselves up because they struggle to achieve the same. It’s not you — it’s the system, and in particular, the way the economic divide has widened in the last decades.

Maybe a magazine piece can offer a tiny bit of help, though, if done well. A new practice that clicks, and turns into a rewarding habit?

A little easing of the road, a new perspective, a spot of beauty. That’s something to strive for.


Please follow and like us:

Sripati, and garden, in snow

Sripati in snow. You know my cats are Puerto Rican immigrants, yes? This reminds me of my story, “Minal in Winter,” about a young woman who comes from Sri Lanka to attend college at the University of Chicago. Sripati seems happier in the snow than she was, though. 

A little winter reading for you!


A little snow makes plant structures really pop!

(Yes, I put on a coat and went outside just to take photos in snow. Yes, my fingers are very cold right now!)

A little messy, but that’s the winter garden, isn’t it?

Well, honestly, that’s my garden all the time. 



Please follow and like us:

Thanks to Jed for the lovely flowers. :-)

Thanks to Jed for the lovely flowers. 


• white hellebore (which can be planted out in the garden in the spring, and may return there as an early perennial if you’re lucky)

• lavender mini rose (finicky, but maybe this time I’ll be able to keep it alive for a while)

• dark pink cyclamen (note: this variety, persicum (aka ‘florist’s cyclamen), is for indoors-only; it won’t survive if you try to plant it out in the garden — for the garden, try cyclamen hederifolium (fall-blooming) or cyclamen coum (early spring-blooming))

• tall pink orchid (which should, in theory, return year after year if treated properly), and

• a tiny white kalanchoe (which will likely grow and grow and grow over time….)

I expect these to be in bloom for two solid months.

Please follow and like us:

Toying with the idea of Serendib Home as a shelter magazine

The rest of the house is actually clean again; the kitchen has a bit more to go. But I wanted to be sure to take a photo of this garland as it’s my favorite bit of party decor this year — I love the wild drapiness of the top. It makes me want to belt out “Good King Wenceslas” (I like taking the part of the king, of course, even if I’m singing with Jed and his deep voice), and hunt up that gorgeous scene Susan Cooper wrote in _The Dark is Rising_, when Will goes back in time.

I suppose it would be a fire hazard to leave cedar boughs hanging for months on end, and I imagine they’ll get dried out and less lovely eventually. But it is tempting to hang them everywhere — more for next year’s party! I want to live in a forest, clearly. 

Someone who attended very kindly said last night that she loved my sense of color and design aesthetic, and she wished that I had a Serendib line in Target that she could buy. From her mouth to Target’s ears! That would be such fun. I still don’t know how to describe my design style, though. Modern-desi-industrial-medieval? Something like that.

I admit, I’ve toyed with the idea of Serendib Home turning into some kind of shelter magazine down the line. That’d be a big production as an ongoing thing, but it might be a fun project to do a one-off issue, once in a while. Annually?

Serendib Home 2020, with food and garden and decor and memoir-ish essays and poetry. Maybe that would be a better form for the domesticity memoir I’ve been working on off and on than a standard book, though I think bookstores would have no idea what to do with it.

Please follow and like us:

Autumn cheer

Autumn cheer, a mix of colorful faux and dried plants. Most of the faux plants here I cut into segments from what was originally one bigger plant, and were end-of-summer clearance. I know tomatoes aren’t exactly autumn harvest, but the colors were appropriate!

The bright green dried artichokes I just picked up when I was getting groceries at Trader Joe’s — I’m in love with them.
Usually, I haven’t had a lot of luck with dried plants outdoors — even the ones that are tough enough to stay whole through rain and snow will fade over a few months. But I’m hoping on a sheltered porch, the dried bits will last okay; we’ll see!

Please follow and like us:

Mostly unscheduled, but feeling overwhelmed

Oof. Mostly unscheduled day (aside from a swim + lunch with Roshani), but I am not feeling relaxed; I am feeling overwhelmed with ALL the e-mail backlog PLUS the bulbs that desperately need to go into the ground AND ALSO the couple of teaching things I need to do BUT MOSTLY the Wild Cards story I still haven’t finished.

ALSO, I bought a lamp for the front room, and it was a pain to unpack and dropped styrofoam everywhere, and it totally won’t work there, what was I thinking? So now I have to repack it and return it and I don’t want to deal. I feel dumb that I didn’t realize it wouldn’t work a) before I bought it, or b) after I bought it, when I could still cancel it, or c) before I opened the package. I was hesitant about this one, and I should’ve trusted my instincts. Sigh. This is a very very minor problem, but still annoying. The last thing I need right now is to make more work for myself!

On the plus side, my tropicals are starting to recover from the transition back indoors for the winter, and it amuses me that this hibiscus is blooming right under my peacock lamp. It’s emphatically not the same as a fabulous trip back to sunny Sri Lanka for the winter, but it does make me laugh.

Okay — I think I need a to-do list to ease my stress:

– send students revised final paper assignment — DONE
– post little book contest — DONE
– pack another three dozen book orders — DONE
– walk & lunch with Roshani — DONE
– get groceries for making soup & pasta for tomorrow’s potluck / board games — DONE
– dig up gladioli and remaining dahlias — DONE
– plant remaining bulbs

– post George interview video (and send to reporter who requested it)
– post reminder about SLF fund drive

– post about the cool Pig + Fire Filipino Kamayan dinner I had last night at Lantern Loft
– trim and store dahlia and gladioli
– deposit checks at bank
– grade revised papers
– finish putting away my laundry
– finish cleaning out mudroom
– book gutter cleaning / window washing
– book yard work help
– schedule MRI? (probably nothing, but long delayed, should get it done; on the plus side, happy to note that the pelvic biopsy came back benign (attn: NavaratnasingamJed)
– talk to my dad about lawyer stuff
– clear all voicemails

What I really want to do is try making lip balm and body butter, since my supplies have arrived, but I am going to resist that until I check off at least a few things from this list!

Please follow and like us:

I’m not over my cold, and I want to garden

I keep thinking I’m over this cold and I start doing stuff and nope, not over it yet, hello another evening of exhausted couch-sitting. Just driving home from teaching made me want to fall down when I walked in the door. Bah, humbug.

I’ve just given up on any hopes that I’ll be able to do 2-3 hours of heavy yard work with the break in the weather, and grudgingly signed up to try Task Rabbit. I will grumpily watch someone else clear up my garden, while I sit my butt in a comfy chair and try to write the last two scenes of my Wild Cards story. Pfui. Want to garden!


Please follow and like us:

Mixing faux plants into living arrangements

I used to be reluctant to have faux plants; the gardener in me thought they weren’t nearly as good as living plants. Also, the ones I liked usually cost more than I wanted to pay. But then I figured out that if I picked carefully (thin stems are key), I could cut some faux plants up, and they’d go further.

I’ve been mixing them with live plants lately; Kavi and Kevin totally thought my bougainvillea was blooming, but no.  The leaves are alive, but the flowers are not. Surprise!

Also, I really like the little spiky pops of gold tucked in with my live ferns. Fun textural and color mix, and it lends a little autumn to the pots, and ties into the gold throw on the recliner (and the gold rug that you can’t see in that picture).


Please follow and like us:

Hanging ferns

Fun home decor project from Friday — that spot seemed to want something, and I had this planter stand from the front porch. Brought it in, but a) the plants were pretty close to dead, given the Chicago winter fast approaching, and b) those coconut husk and metal baskets just looked wrong.

I swapped them out (sending them to the basement until next spring) for 4 white baskets from Home Depot (no drainage, so no dripping on the wood floor), with white macramé hangers like my mom used to make. I resisted the urge to learn how to make them myself, and picked some up online ($15.99 for a set of 4 on Amazon).

Filled with four different ferns, which will hopefully be happy in the medium-to-low light conditions of that room, and they should also be happy without needing a lot of drainage; ferns like it moist. Fingers crossed — we’ll see how they do.

But for now, cute as heck! The white and green really brighten up a dark spot, a bit of cheer that’s much needed in a gloomy Chicago winter. Kind of a 70s meets the Victorian fernery vibe, the latter of which is a funny riff on my 1885 Victorian house. Home design should make you laugh, right? 🙂

Please follow and like us: