“When you are pursuing a dream, you will find the time.”

I’ve started reading this book, and while some of it isn’t so relevant to me (geared towards professional food photographers or those who would like to become them, so talking about apertures and the like), some of it is. I’d like to take better photos for you all.

And the intro was actually just rather lovely, esp. the last paragraph, and applicable to writing and many other arts / career passions:

“I tell you this not to boast about my own success, but because I am aware that many of you are looking to reinvent yourselves, and understanding that it’s possible matters. I know there never seems to be enough time in the day, but when you are pursuing a dream, you will find the time. It will not feel like work.”

#serendibkitchen

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A Feast of Serendib print run copies have arrived!

Here’s a little Feast milestone — we’ve sent out all the Kickstarter edition copies we’d ordered. Eep! In theory, I could still buy more from IngramSpark as POD, but I’m hoping to never do that again, as they cost $20 each to print, which means I don’t even really break even on those, once you take into account all the original development costs, much less bookstore discounts (generally 40%), etc.

Instead, the overseas print run has finally come in (more like $10 each to print), and I’ve had about a hundred shipped to my house, with 1900 more safe in a warehouse in Kentucky or somewhere like that. So we may actually start seeing profits? If people buy them? If not, um, well I suppose I’ll have 2000 copies at $10 each to use to keep me warm at night. I’ll build myself a book igloo, perhaps…

It was very exciting and also nerve-wracking opening them. What if the printing had gotten messed up??? But at least this first copy looks fine; I think the paper is slightly brighter than the IngramSpark paper, which is just fine. They look almost identical, though. Hopefully people will love, love, love this book.

#serendibkitchen

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Finding the right help

It’s been an evolution, figuring out how to do at least three different jobs (professor, indie publisher, nonprofit arts director) as one person. Part of that was realizing I needed help, and then it turned out that it took me quite a while to find the right *kind* of help. I think I’m making good progress on that, though, with six (!) part-time people. Some put in 1-2 hrs / week, some put in more like 10, depending on the job. Somehow, it’s all working. (It’s not quite paying for itself yet, but it’s getting there, I think. An investment in the future.)

Heather Rainwater Campbell is remotely working for me from Michigan, doing my social media work, and also some of the Feast production & PR work that can be done remotely. Irene Victoria is doing PR work as well, from New York, primarily for the SLF, but a bit for me as well.

Last night, I took out three of my local team for what was supposed to be an end-of-year thank you — wish I could’ve flown out the remote people too! — which had slipped over into a start of the new year thing, because we’re all just that busy, and our schedules are complicated. All three of the locals are moms, and y’know, holidays can get a little hectic for moms. Just a touch.

Our fourth local, Kirsten Jackson, couldn’t make it, but we’ll get her next time. She’s our hardy financial person, and has relieved so much financial anxiety for me, I can’t even tell you. She makes sure everyone gets paid on time, and the taxes too. 

But Cee Gee (who does development work for the SLF, working on grants and our fund drive) managed to make it, along with Karen Murphy (our managing director at the SLF, helping to keep the schedules and files and volunteers organized), and Stephanie Bailey (who basically organizes me).

We went to Flourish Oak Park, which I haven’t tried before, and it’s really a fun concept for co-working space + cocktail bar (they have a cool mechanism that allows you to sample lots of different beers and such, which is very appealing for a taster like me). And we were lucky enough to be there when pig & fire were doing a Filipino pop-up event, so in addition to the cheese platter and sweets from Flourish, we got to sample more of their yummy Filipino food. Lumpia, YUM. (Their next pop-up will be at Kinslahger 1/25, 5:30 – 8:30! Details on their FB page…)

Thank you all, peeps, for keeping me mostly sane last fall. Looking forward to much brilliant work and fun times in the new year.

(And Kel Bachus, thanks again for telling me at WisCon last year that I needed a tribe to work with me and take care of me. You were absolutely right.)

#serendibkitchen
#serendibwriting

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Food photos using robots, by Nathan Myhvold

I walked by this gallery and had to go in — Nathan Myhrvold takes food photos using robots (among many other things he does — he seems like something of a polymath). The photos are striking and also often fun.

I did actually pick up a ‘how to photograph food’ book at the Book Larder: A Community Cookbook Store yesterday, but I will not be using robots, just so you know. 

#serendibkitchen

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Tentatively planning a Toronto visit with SJ Sindu

[Note: Toronto visit question following at the end of this.] A highlight of the con was getting to spend a little more time with SJ Sindu, brilliant young Sri Lankan novelist, now a professor at University of Toronto, and they are lucky to have her. I loved her _Marriage of a Thousand Lies_, and you will too — just look at all the accolades it’s gotten!

• Publishing Triangle Award Winner
• Golden Crown Literary Society Award Winner
• American Library Association Stonewall Honor Book
• Lambda Literary Award Finalist
• Independent Publisher Award Silver Medal
• VCU First Novelist Award Finalist
• Longlist for DSC South Asian Literature Prize

I mean wow! And she’s so young too!  V. impressive, thangachi! Exciting to hear that University of Toronto is starting a Tamil Studies program too; looking forward to learning more about that. (Navaratnasingam, you may be interested!)

I’m really hoping we can get together in Toronto sometime in the next year — I was planning to go there at some point for book tour (esp. since I have fabulous cousins in Canada, Loudes Tania and Michele Jayakumar and Rozanne Arulanandam), so it’s mostly a matter of picking dates.

One complicating factor — I’d planned to go out this year, since the book launches in March 2020. But MLA is actually going to be in Toronto next year, so there’s an argument to be made for trying to do something in conjunction with MLA, which wouldn’t be until January 2021?

It’s tempting to say ‘do both!’ of course, but Kevin and I just had the first of a series of serious conversations of how we’re going to manage all our work travel and still be present for each other and for the kids this coming year, so just flitting off constantly on international trips, even if we can find the funds, probably isn’t the wisest move.

So here’s the question — when should I go to Toronto? Which is mostly about what other South Asian / Sri Lankan / science fiction events are happening there in the next year?

It’ll generally work much better if I can pair it with that kind of thing, so I can do joint events with other writers, helping to draw bigger crowds for all of us, and also making it more interesting and fun overall. I don’t just want to be talking about me and the cookbook all the time! 

Also, are there literary venues I should be reaching out to, who might want me to do a reading there? Professors teaching classes who might want me to come as a guest? Etc. and so on. And if any of these opportunities come with a little funding help, even better, though that’s not necessarily a requirement.

Help me brainstorm, Toronto peoples? (Or those knowledgeable in the ways of literary Toronto…)

#serendibkitchen
#serendibwriting
#serendibtravel

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Tracking family time, vacation time, and book launch travel

I’ve just ordered a big 12-month wall calendar, because it was starting to feel overwhelming trying to keep track of everything with GCal alone. The shared family GCal is working well for us in most respects, but it makes it hard to see things over the course of the year.

I’m hoping having this up on the wall where the kids can see it too will help with planning Sunday dinners (and giving them something to look forward to), letting them know when Mommy or Daddy is going out of town for work (and when we’re coming back), and helping us all make sure that there’s enough family time and vacation time in the calendar too, something that we lost track of a bit last year, to our sorrow.

Kev and I also spent a while talking about just how much book launch travel I want to do this year. It’s not easy to figure out, honestly — even aside from budget questions, there’s time, esp. working around my teaching schedule.

But I do hope we can make a Seattle trip possible — Nora Gause was a huge help in figuring out where I might want to come back and do events, and I’m hoping we can do something at Capitol Cider, where she and I met for a fun evening of drinks (so many cider options!). We’re talking about devising a little Sri Lankan menu for the chefs there, so we can offer an event with food and drink.

Not positive what kind of event, exactly — I don’t know a ton of Sri Lankan writers in the area or anything. But will brainstorm. Maybe something with sci fi folks? It’s not the most natural pairing, but I do know a lot of SF people in the area. Hmm… A sci-fi event, but one that ends up featuring me, The Stars Change, and the Sri Lankan cookbook? Is that too weird?

#serendibtravel
#serendibkitchen

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Happier and healthier relationship to food

content note: weight / exercise

As a side note to the long healthy travel post a little ways back, I must admit that I do still fret about appearance and weight too. I almost don’t want to talk about it, because I’ve spent enough time reading through work from the fat acceptance community to know just how much damage these ideas can cause.

And yet, here we are, and one essential component of my job as a writer is, I think, to be as honest as I can. Even if sometimes what I’m saying is problematic, and may even reveal poor thinking.

I’m sitting on a plane right now, and I find it deeply irritating that my momma belly is protruding notably over the seatbelt and onto the bottom of my laptop. I try to love my body, and am glad I was able to use it to help create my two munchkins, but I would be happier without quite so much of this physical residue.

When I packed for the trip, I prioritized comfort and layers most of all (with my thyroid condition, I get hot and cold easily, so layers are key), but I’ve watched enough What Not to Wear to have learned from the fabulous Stacy London that tailored layers that skim the body are the most figure-flattering — by which they mean ‘makes you look as thin and tall as possible’. At 5’0″, tall is not so feasible, and every additional pound is very visible on my frame.

I really don’t stress about it most of the time, even though I’m two sizes bigger than I’d like to be. I try to have fun with my clothes, pick them primarily for style and color and general aesthetics, not for which ones make me look the thinnest. But packing for a trip and choosing a set of clothes brings the frustration and anxieties out.

I’m supposed to make a bunch of cooking videos, promised for the Kickstarter, and I had to really make myself do them.

In the end, I did have some fun with it (it helped SO MUCH having Kavi and Jed and other friends being willing to do the videos with me), but I fretted about my clothes and how thin I looked in them a lot for the first one. And now I have to edit them, and I’m having a hard time making myself look at the raw footage. I may have to pay someone to edit them in the end, just so I don’t have to push through my self-consciousness first, which feels like a ridiculous waste of money, but I have only so much fortitude, people.

And I know, no one really cares but me. Heck — people probably like to buy cookbooks from plump cooks. I look like I love food, right? I do love food. But if I’m going to be writing about food a lot, I think I’m going to have to spend a little time working through how I talk about it, and about my relationship with it.

If I try to cook ‘healthier,’ which is such a fraught and coded word, I need to think about what ‘healthier’ means to me. I’m not a nutritionist, after all. And I’m not immune to the fads and bad food science that sweep through the cultural consciousness, powered by the diet industry.

I’m going to try to mostly keep ‘diet’ talk out of my food writing, I think, in the calorie restriction sense. But I probably will be talking a fair bit in the next year about things like eating whole foods, including protein in meals, adding in more plant-based ingredients. Reducing carbs, perhaps. But also maybe increasing fat? Additional satiety sometimes means you desire to eat less.

I’m very interested in the question of why diets almost never work. What are the contributing factors that lead to that, particularly in terms of social supports for those who are trying to make diet / exercise / lifestyle changes? (Or rather, the pervasive lack of such supports.)

I want to think through how we can, as a culture, learn to have a happier and yes, healthier, relationship with our bodies and our food.

No real conclusions here, just questions and embarrassed admissions. I did go back for seconds at lunch the other day, but picked the salmon and sweet potatoes, instead of the shortcake, because I was trying to make the healthier choice. It was delicious, filling, and kept me going happily through a long afternoon of work.

#serendibkitchen

Pictured: Me taking a selfie in the mercury glass of the hotel elevator, trying to look thin. Sigh.

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Eating well, and healthy food choices

content note: exercise / healthy food choices
also: request for advice / suggestions

So, I’m planning on traveling a lot in 2020, with constructing the book tour for Feast, along with SF convention work for the SLF. Prioritizing health is surprisingly difficult to manage with this much travel. It’s become clear that at 48, my body isn’t as resilient as it used to be. I get sick much more easily, I gain weight more quickly — just maintaining my base health levels become challenging when I add travel.

That said, I also both need to travel for work, and I love traveling. Seeing new places, visiting far-flung friends and making new ones, eating local food — those are great joys in my life.

I’d honestly love to travel more; if I can figure out a way to become more of a travel & food writer, combining that with everything else I do, I’ll be thrilled. I’m also often startlingly productive with my writing while traveling — I’m writing this on the plane right now, and my agent told me that Diana Gabaldon famously writes constantly in taxis while traveling. I *think* this can all go together, and as the kids get older, I’m hoping I can start taking them along on occasion, and Kevin and Jed too.

So I NEED to find a way to travel in a healthy manner. I submit to you a photo of the available options when I arrived at baggage claim. I was feeling snack-ish, and would have been delighted to eat some of the gorgeous persimmon salad pictured on the cover of the Eating Well magazine I was reading at the time, but none of that on offer for me — chips, chips, and more chips. Chips are tasty, of course, but I can’t argue that they’re healthy options.

Once in a while, I’ll see a Farmer’s Fresh in an airport, but their business model depends on high enough traffic that the salad greens and such can turnover quickly; we looked into getting one for our library, but we don’t have enough volume for them. If I want healthy food in transit, I basically have to plan ahead and bring it with me.

Not easy with fresh greens, but not impossible, with a little strategizing. I’m going to be trying to think a lot about this. I can’t remember who it was told me about an author they knew on book tour who would pack and bring coolers of poached chicken breast with her. I’m not quite that committed, I think, but something to think about.

Some of this is money, of course. If I’m willing and able to spend a little more, I can usually find healthier food choices. Sometimes that means going to a sit-down restaurant instead of grabbing snacks from a vending machine. I’m going to try to prioritize budgeting for that whenever possible, because if you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything. My dad the doctor used to say that to me, and more and more, it’s clear that’s more true than I’d like it to be.

I had a lot of conversations at this conventions with other writers about health. Cancer really did give me a kick in the pants, you know. That was when I told Kevin that we needed to prioritize budgeting for health going forward. Physical health, mental health.

I can’t remember exactly when it was that Kev and I had our summer of weight lifting (I think before cancer, actually), where we both somehow ended up committing to it fairly seriously, and would go and workout pretty much every day, passing each other on the way to the basement to trade off time on the weights.

A friend complimented my arm muscles earlier today (thanks, Sugi ), and another told me that I was looking great. I told both of them that it’s all pretty much due to that one summer; it had lasting effects on my body. I didn’t lose pounds, but my body reshaped itself. I dropped two dress sizes, and have basically stayed at that size since, despite not really dieting or exercising steadily.

This is, of course, what all the weight-lifting books and advocates and fitness trainers will tell you — muscle burns more calories, so if you build more muscle, then you can eat more without gaining weight. And once you build it, it tends to stick around, in my experience, unless something like a serious illness lays you out.

I must have done the weight lifting before cancer, maybe the year before? Because I remember, during chemo and its attendant exhaustion, the months laying on the couch, being so frustrated, fretting that all my muscles, all that hard work, would wither away. Thankfully, they didn’t go that fast. And my doctors told me that part of why I handled chemo and surgery and radiation so well was that I was in decent physical shape to begin with.

I’m trying to get back to exercising daily. As I realized recently, I basically stopped exercising last August, when the semester started and I got intensely busy with that and Kickstarter fulfillment. I also, not coincidentally, got sick a lot more last fall than I have in a while — I kept catching colds, one after another, which slowed me down.

It’s hard to make the time to exercise, but if I don’t, I lose at least that much time to sickness, which is even less fun than lifting weights. I actually kind of like lifting weights — it’s just getting myself started again that’s hard. (It’s key that I originally started with a class, and working with a trainer; that gave me the confidence to be able to walk into a weight room and use it without feeling self-conscious, and without worrying that I’d hurt myself. Highly recommended if you’re thinking about starting lifting.)

I have a few sessions left with a personal trainer from last summer; I’m going to schedule them again now, to help myself get started again. If I had the budget, I’d meet with her three times a week; instead, I’m going to rely on tracking again, maybe a workout group or girlfriends or making a deal with Kevin — something to help keep me accountable.

I have a FB group for fitness, actually, Olympians, but it’s been a little quiet lately. Maybe time to start it up again more actively, for myself at least. Make a plan for the semester, a pledge.

Weights at least twice / week, tracking and progressing (I love watching the little numbers climb. “Today I can do 10 deadlifts of 45 pounds. Next week, it’ll be 12. The week after, I’ll bump it to 50 pounds, and drop down to 8 deadlifts, or even 6. And slowly, but steadily, progress.”

Daily cardio of some kind, too, if at all possible. I’m not sure I’m going to manage the cardio today, given travel complexities, but I did go to the hotel gym every day I was here, even when I was feeling tired and a little sick, and I walked around town whenever possible, so I did pretty well overall. And I ALWAYS felt better after exercising. I have to try to remember that.

Maybe I can go to the pool and do some laps tonight, after I get home and see the kids and eat dinner with them. I think the lap lanes are open 9-10 or so. I should check. Hmm… Learning how to swim properly has been a huge boon and a great investment in my long-term health. It took me until age 45 or so, and I still am not quite as confident as I’d like to be, but I’m so much better than I was a few years ago, and swimming is both great exercise and something I can do for the rest of my life.

And then there’s food. A salad daily, if at all possible. Salads rarely excite me as a concept, especially when I’m feeling cold, but I actually usually like them when I’m eating them; I have to try to remember that. I had Asian gingered ground chicken in lettuce wraps at the airport restaurant today, and it was a great choice, tasty and filling, giving me a good boost of energy to carry me through working on the plane back to Chicago (though twice the price of the fried egg roll option, of course).

Beyond that, I’m going to have to just try to be more conscious, and to strategize while traveling. If there’s nothing appealing in the hotel restaurant (and the prices are usually exorbitant anyway), how about walking a few blocks away to get something healthier? What delivery options are there?

That’ll often be less convenient, and if I’m really tightly scheduled with back-to-back panels, it may not be possible, so I need to plan for that too. Kind bars and granola and bison bars? Apples and clementines. Sometimes I’m craving salt — I should have a ‘go bag’ for travel already packed with salted pistachios.

I need to sit down and make a travel packing list anyway, so I don’t forget the swimsuit and sneakers and sports bra and the little cards with the body weight exercises if the hotel doesn’t have a decent gym. And yes, take all of that, even if I’m not sure I’m going to use them, even though they take up room in the suitcase and it means I have to check a bag. It’s worth it. Prioritize the hotel with a pool, even if it’s $10 / night more expensive.

My trainer suggested protein shakes that just need water added. Is there a similar thing with chicken broth? Instant oatmeal and dried fruit and nuts, since the hotel rooms usually have a way of making boiling water? What do athletes do for food on the road? I need to be much more intentional about all of this in advance, because I get anxious if I don’t have sufficient food near me me, and sometimes that leads me to making poor choices.

And of course, as a food writer and a general lover of food, I do eat out a lot, and sometimes that means I’m ordering the fries. Exercising regularly (not excessively) means I can do that on occasion with fewer qualms.

I was troubled by how often when this came up in conversation at the convention this week, people said they didn’t exercise while traveling. Maybe it’s not a big deal — maybe their health is generally good enough that their constitutions can take a few days of sedentary convention sitting at tables without much impact? But my body clearly can’t handle that these days; I start feeling terrible very quickly.

So here’s the thread where I encourage you to take care of yourselves on the road, whatever that looks like for you and your one singular beautiful body.

It’s also the thread where I invite you to give me your exercise / healthy eating while traveling / avoiding getting sick on the road suggestions.

What do you do to take care of yourselves on planes, trains, and automobiles? I’d love to make myself a list!

#serendibtravel
#serendibkitchen
#serendibwriting

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The opening to one of my poems

Funny moment at SALA — someone stopped me in the hall and said she liked the problem with going deep is that you can fall in. And I had this moment of bewilderment, because that sounded familiar, but I couldn’t remember why. And then she explained a little more, and I realized oh, right, that’s the opening to one of my poems that’s in Feast, and I had put a copy out on a table for browsing.

Maybe I should write less, so I remember it better.

*****

Homesick

The problem with going deep
is that you can fall in.
You find yourself reheating
frozen food, a pale imitation
of the real thing. Making
other dishes over and over
trying to remember
decades-old cinnamon
in the nose, lime on the tongue,
chili heat lingering on your lips —
a pain that you seek out repeatedly.

Sometimes you think your heart
can’t take it; it would be easier
to order pizza instead. Who
doesn’t love melted cheese?

Yet here you are, microwaving
frozen hoppers that you keep
stashed in the basement
deep freeze. Hoarded for
those days when you need
them, even if it hurts.

*****

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