I fell in love with this fantasy-themed coat

Seattle got much colder than I expected, and by the end of the first day, the light raincoat I’d brought was just not cutting it. I went out to look for a heavier sweater, at least. I didn’t plan to buy a coat, I swear! I’m trying to do something of a buy-nothing January, to recover a little from all the holiday gifting, etc.

I mean, buy groceries and other essentials, yes. (Although I’m also trying to eat down the pantry and the frozen foods, with some success. I just had some frozen curry chicken bao for lunch, that I bought three months ago, and they were delicious.) But mostly, when I feel the urge to buy a book or a game or clothes or whatever non-essential item, I put it in the shopping cart and save it for later. If I still want it in February, I’ll see if we can afford it then.

But sometimes the fates just step in. The Free People store that was literally across the street from my hotel happened to have ONE of these jackets left, in EXACTLY my size, AND it was on clearance, so still pricey, but not quite as outrageous as their normal pricing. I thought, “Well, I’ll just try it on.” Mostly, I admit, sort of thinking that Ellen Kushner would appreciate this coat, which seems sort of Tremontaine-ish, and I should at least try it on and take a photo for her.

Then I fell in love. It’s a great color for me, and I don’t actually own a dashing velvet jacket, and it was actually reasonably warm, and it had good pockets.

Plus, I do budget separately for convention / performance clothes vs. regular clothes, and think of those as part of my professional expenses, even though they’re not actually tax-deductible, which seems a shame and also sexist, given how much more pressure there is on women to spend a lot of money on work clothes / make-up / etc., often with professional consequences if they don’t.

AND, while I have a goodly number of starry dresses and the like at this point, so the SF side is well represented, I am still somewhat lacking on the fantasy side. When I host a SLF Deep Dish reading, I like to look the part, and SF has been much more represented than fantasy so far. So I kind of HAD to buy this jacket, right? (I would also like a dragon dress or several. Must work on that.)

I feel like my decision was validated by the fact that a) I was much less cold when I walked out of the store, and b) no fewer than FOUR South Asian writers in the next two days complimented me on this jacket.  No regrets!

(I did sort of fail to take a selfie that captured the full glory of the jacket, but hopefully you get the idea.)

#serendibwriting
#serendibtravel
#sala2020

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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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I have a cold now

I am feeling really dense because I offered someone a taste of my fancy drink and she warned me she had a cold and I said oh, I’m not worried, and honestly, I usually DON’T catch colds from that kind of thing, but this time, maybe I did, because I have a cold now and I am super-cranky with myself for not being more careful. GAH.

An hour ago, Kevin came down and kindly brought some DayQuil to my sickbed on the living room couch. He made the mistake of then trying to ask me about groceries for the week, and I said something not helpful, so then he asked me again and I burst into tears. Poor boy. He said he’d take care of the groceries.

The DayQuil has now kicked in sufficiently that I can think again (and in fact, I feel fine now, meds are AMAZING), so I’m going to try to get through the rest of my SALA posting, at least, and then I really do have to do either the Wild Cards revision or my syllabi, because both HAVE to be done for Monday. I have procrastinated them too long. (I kept opening the files all this past week, I swear, but just failed to make myself actually start working. Sigh.)

But I’m afraid all of that will likely have to be interspersed with resting. Sigh. Feel really dumb, since I know travel makes me so much more likely to get sick. Though it easily might not have been the shared drink, of course. Eight hrs in the airplane environment, plus all the airporting, can easily get me sick all on its own.

Maybe I should start wearing a mask if I’m going to fly more often, at least in winter…I wore one a little when I was immunosuppressed during chemo, and felt so self-conscious, but it’s much more prevalent in Japan, I know, so perhaps this is just a matter of cultural norms, and I should get over it. A mask + thin scarf for semi-camouflage? Hm. And if I do it, I help make it easier for other people who need it more to do it…

#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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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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My gosh, they do feed us well here

At the commencement welcome, one of the conference chairs of SALA made a joke about how we’re going to talk well and eat well. I’m not sure I’m talking all that well (still tired and a little out of it!), but my gosh, they do feed us well here.

Breakfast & lunch for two days are included in your registration, along with a very hearty closing reception that they said could easily be your dinner that night; coffee and tea service is also laid out throughout, which has been very handy for me, as I duck out of my room, grab some hot coffee, and duck back in to work a little more.

But just look at what they’ve served us so far! (I forgot to take photos of the avocado tartine and the fig tartine at breakfast, but they were very pretty.) One slight tweak I’d suggest for the hotel — I love that they used chicken thighs instead of breast, in terms of flavor, but personally, I wouldn’t have served it on the bone for a buffet like this. Too difficult to eat while sitting on low couches, managing drinks, etc. Nothing that requires knives!

I think my favorite, flavor-wise, was the combination of the curried salmon w/ the roasted sweet potatoes. Mmmm… I liked it so much I decided to skip dessert and go back for seconds of that instead. The roasted potatoes were also perfectly done, and delish.

#serendibwriting
#serendibkitchen

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How dedicated am I?

So here is the question — how dedicated am I? I slept poorly last night, and I attended 4 straight hours of readings this evening, from 7 – 11 (two different readings). All of which is fine, but I have a 5 a.m. call scheduled (with various international futurist folks; it’s not a great time for them either, but it’s the best we could manage).

I am having a hard time making myself set the alarm, even though I can, in theory, wake up, take the call from my bed, and go right back to sleep afterwards; I have nothing I *have* to be at in the morning. All my commitments are for afternoon & evening tomorrow.

Going to go get actually ready for bed, and see if my position clarifies after teeth-brushing. Surely that will solve everything?

#serendibwriting

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A massive pile of logistical stuff

Okay. So I had a massive pile of logistical stuff to deal with, like contacting Elliott Bay and Hugo House and Book Larder and Capitol Cider here in Seattle, to see if I can stop by tomorrow and show them Feast and talk about ordering books / events, should I come back to Seattle soon.
 
(Hm. I’m not sure WHEN I should come back to Seattle. SF / Clarion folks, if you were visiting Seattle between March and October, when would you try to come? Are there cons I should peg the potential visit to? A great Clarion party or event?)
 
Much of this was very urgent, so I had to skip the after-lunch panel sessions at SALA, which makes me grumpy. But I have just one more thing to do, and then I’ll be clear enough that I can go to a panel — I’m planning on this one, which looks fascinating, if also troubling…
 
Teaching South Asia in Precarious Times
Chair: Masood Raja, University of North Texas
 
Rahul K. Gairola, Murdoch University, “Teaching Amidst Terrorism: Hermeneutical Tensions in the Expository Writing Classroom During the ‘New War’”
 
Masood Raja, University of North Texas, “Teaching Precarity in the era of Neoliberal Globalization”
 
Asma Sayed, Kwantlen Polytechnic University, “Teaching South Asia in an Interdisciplinary Social Justice Context”
 
Upasana Dutta, University of Chicago, “The Ethics of Reading Crises: Working on Kashmir after the Abrogation of Article 370”
 
#serendibwriting
 
[1-8-20]
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Funny travel / eating moment

Funny travel / eating moment. So yesterday, I was VERY tired, and I really just wanted some spicy Asian comfort food for dinner. Luckily, there was a Vietnamese restaurant with good reviews (Long Provincial) half a block away from my hotel. So I staggered in there, made it to a table, and ordered a dish I knew I liked, Cá Kho Tộ, which is caramelized and braised catfish.

The waiter asked if I wanted rice with that, which I mean, what kind of question is that? Does anyone actually eat this intensely flavored dish — sweet and salty and spicy — without rice? Maybe white people do? Surely Vietnamese people don’t? I don’t really know, but I was startled.

Anyway, I said yes, and he went away and came back eventually (service was a little slow; I think they were understaffed). I’d offer photos of the food at the restaurant, but they seated me in an area that was so moody and dark that I could barely see my food, much less photograph it.

Luckily, the book I had brought to read was on my Kindle; otherwise, I would’ve asked to be moved to the brightly-lit section. (Re-reading Civil Campaign, because when I’m that tired, all I want is comfort reading, and Miles being an ass and everyone he knows calling him on it is about as comforting as it gets. I love Miles, I identify intensely with Miles, but Miles is also often a very cogent warning as to how I might go horribly astray…anyway. Back to our story.)

So he brings me this beautiful big clay pot full of fish and intense sauce, and this teeny tiny bowl of rice. Hm. I started eating, but usually I don’t eat very much at any given meal (I eat many many small meals), so I only finished about a third of the fish and all of the rice.

You really needed the rice! I honestly don’t know that I could’ve borne to eat the fish & sauce otherwise, because the flavors would’ve been unpleasantly intense. But balancing each bite of delicate fish and savory sauce with an appropriate amount of rice, it was just perfect.

(Not the best Cá Kho Tộ I’ve had, and $22 was rather a lot for catfish, but eh, it’s downtown Seattle, and as I said, half a block from my hotel. I’m not complaining about the price (well done gouging the tourists, Asian peeps, say I!), and the dish itself was fine. I’d eat there again! And besides, it makes three meals for me, so it all works out. Only because of the rice, though, so onwards…)

Here’s the funniest bit, at least to me. When I’d finished, I asked him for a container to pack it up, but also, if I could have some more rice. And I swear, he almost laughed when he said yes. I can’t be sure. But when he brought back the container for the fish, he also brought back rice — TWICE AS MUCH as he’d originally served me. And he didn’t charge me for it either.

So, I dunno, because I’m not an expert in Vietnamese food, and I honestly don’t know how this dish is typically eaten in Vietnam. But I wonder if the first serving of rice was geared for white tourists, and the takeaway much larger portion was because he’d realized that I knew how to eat the dish properly…? Hmm…

Regardless, I ate half of my leftovers for first breakfast, and they were delicious. 

#serendibkitchen
#serendibtravel

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