Week 2: Shared

TGIF. I’m tired. I know many of us are so, so tired, trying to keep it all together with anxious teenagers and attention-seeking toddlers and hurting bodies and frantic brain weasels and stressed partners and nervous students and struggling friends and hurting communities and ailing parents and compromised immune systems and the list goes on and on. 

This week felt like a month, every long day rolling into the next: nudge kids about homework, do the dayjob, laundry, clean, cook, make sure kids are getting enough sleep, dayjob, feed the cats, homework, feed the rats, check in on friends, make time to talk to the kids about their feelings, clean, cook, break-up teenage bickering, check in on family, laundry, dayjob, homework, exercise, watch the news, clean, sleep, check social media, watch a movie, laundry, dayjob, cook, break-up teenage bickering, try to make time to be a good partner, read a blog, read the news, read a story, laundry, check in on friends, clean, dayjob, homework. 

Rinse, repeat.

This pandemic means new routines in our jobs, our parenting, our relationships, our support systems—an evolving “new normal,” and through it all so many thoughts and feelings, so many fears and concerns. Last week felt saturated in fear, this week was a little different. It felt like a reshuffling. Less panic and more…planning?

Fear is what we don’t know. What do we know and what can we do? Are we more grounded? Is this a calm before the bigger storm? Maybe?

I’m trying to keep hold of the positive in these moments, and it’s not easy because of work and hormones and homework and anxiety and cabin-fever and news and numbers and so many emotions.

Tread carefully, make coffee, hug often, love, listen, laugh, be present, be patient, be forgiving, be kind, be generous, be grateful for everyone who is working to keep us safe and healthy.

Rinse, repeat.

There are moments of beauty I am grateful for: conversations catching up with friends and family, time for a family movie, the gift of time with the kids when they are quite literally forced to be in the house with us.

There are joyful moments in the midst of all this, silly laughing moments or quiet happy moments or shared thoughtful moments. 

That’s the word I keep coming back to…shared. This is an something that a large number of us are sharing all around the world, this experience of having our lives turned upside down, of being confined to our homes for the greater good of our communities large and small, of facing illness and uncertainty and inevitable loss. Certainly other communities and countries are dealing with atrocities and continue to face challenges that are compounded by this virus. Still, this pandemic goes beyond borders, beyond our neighborhoods and cities, states and countries—shared.

Related to that is the ability many of us have to connect with one another within this global experience…to share online what we are sharing in life. By no means is it equal or fair or all encompassing. But if we think about the number of people who can connect even in this quarantined time—it’s extraordinary. The ability to see what’s happening in China, to be inspired by neighborhoods in Italy, to learn from scientists in France—shared. 

That word is what I’m holding onto, and all that is contained in that word: shared. Of course we want to avoid sharing the deadly contagion. But we do want to learn from and help one another, by sharing resources and information, experiences and assistance. 

What a strange, surreal time this is. Shared.

I’m going to finish my chamomile tea and go to sleep, having finally jotted down a few of the thoughts thrashing about in my brain.

I hope that you and your loved ones are safe and healthy. xxo

Touring our new cookbook — and spending time with family

Thank you to everyone who came out to Astoria Bookshop for our New York launch and to the Book Cellar for our Chicago launch! Both bookshops were wonderful and we had a terrific turnout! I meant to write sooner, but we’ve been bouncing from one thing to the next for the last month.

We brought the kids for the NYC launch, as well as batches of Dante’s Nine Layers of Torture Bars and Pythagorean Serum cocktails to share with the audience.

At The Astoria Bookshop with Dingding Hu (who makes a fabulous Janet), our illustrator for FORKING GOOD.
It was nice to be able to share our NYC party with the kids this time. It’s not often that they’re all able to travel with us.
Thank you to everyone who came out to celebrate with us!

Inspired by Dingding’s costume, Stephen and I decided to dress as a gender-swapped Michael and Janet for the Chicago party…

So thrilled to have coworker friends from NIIT show up! <3
My Soul Squad. I love these people wholeheartedly.

The Book Cellar featured a special The Good Place-inspired cocktail created by Stephen that was not in the book: French Vanilla Antimatter! And we brought more Dante’s Nine Layers of Torture Bars to share with our guests.

***

In the last month, FORKING GOOD made it to the Semifinal Round of the 2019 Goodreads Choice Awards for “Best Food & Cookbooks!” We also had some nice press, including this featured review by Foreword:

An extended inside joke that show fans will delight in adding to their shelves, Forking Good is a comfort-food laden, lightly philosophical cookbook worth indulging in.

We were included in this feature, “Pop culture cookbooks are one thing Millennials aren’t killing,” by Danielle Zimmerman for Hypable:

We’ve exhausted so many avenues of celebrating the fandoms we love that it was only natural for us to turn to food next. After all, fandom and pop culture already nourish our souls, so why not our bodies as well?

Stephen and I also did a fun interview for i8tonight, which is their own culinary spin on the Proust Questionnaire:

Where is your favorite place to eat?

Valya: Honestly, I love to eat at home—ours and other people’s. I appreciate the intimacy and personality. Outside of home dining, we really love our neighborhood Ethiopian restaurant, Ras Dashen. Also high on our list is Band of Bohemia, such wonderful food and cocktails.

Stephen: As an East Coaster relocated to Chicago, I thank the heavens for Jimmy’s Pizza Cafe, which is the place to get real New York pizza in town.

You can read the rest here.

Meanwhile, in the kid arena, there was a lockdown at my older kids’ high school. That morning, I got a text from my son telling me that their high school was on lockdown, and it was not a drill. My son and daughter, both in the high school, proceeded to relay information to us via text about what was happening as the students shared updates with one another around the school.

As it turns out, the lockdown was prompted by two pellet guns brought in by students, and the school seems to have dealt with it safely and efficiently. Still, it was terrifying to be a parent helplessly waiting for information about your children’s safety… in school, where they should be safe. I am so grateful that all the kids are ok, and I could not help but think of the hundreds of parents across this country who have sat frozen with feelings of helplessness and fear.

We talked about it at length at dinner, and the kids were mostly calm and pragmatic, discussing places where they think security could be better, praising teachers for staying calm and helping, relaying the fears and concerns of their peers.

This is their normal. This is anything but normal.

I’m still processing.

***

And speaking of parenting, there was the time last week when I was tucking in my youngest, and she said something sweet about hoping to be a mom like me when she grows up. I told her thank you, but it’s also ok if she decides to be a cool aunt instead. She certainly doesn’t have to decide now.

She looked at me with that intense Lana gaze for a minute and then said, “I see what you’re doing, Mom, trying not to push me in a direction. I know how you think. I KNOW where you get your parenting from. I READ your parenting book. The whole thing.”

Then she settled into her pillow and said (very pleased with herself), “I guess I know famous people too.” And went to sleep.

***

Thanksgiving behind us and the winter holidays ahead, I’m looking forward to some vacation days — cozy afternoons baking with the kids, coffee dates with friends, catching up with reading beside the tree, catching up with writing under quilts, and so much cuddling on the couch.

I hope that your December is also cozy and full of things that make you feel warm and happy and loved.

 

Homes and Hearths

This year for Wyrd Words, we took the retreat to Europe, to the Isle of Skye, where American-based writers connected with European friends.

I am so grateful that Wyrd Words participants always bring imaginative, thoughtful, open-hearted energy to our workshops and retreats.

Plus there is power in the settings we are lucky to work in, places with their own pulse and personality.

The Isle of Skye was an incredible backdrop for our week of creative work, a profound and majestic wilderness.

Every sunrise, dusk, and star-filled sky was a gift. Stepping outside to breathe in the wide open sky, catching a glimpse of the ocean from one of the windows, going for a walk along the craggy shore with its whispers of ancient secrets. I fell in love.

It was a delight to write and play in this incredible setting with brilliant and beautiful people.

Then there was…the Aga.

If you have never heard of an Aga (I had not until recently) then you can read about it here.

Along with our friend (and culinary goddess) Vanessa, we took turns cooking meals in this hearth-like stove that heats the home and remains on at a steady temperature for a completely different way to think about preparing food. I had to change the way I thought about cooking, but once I did, I loved it.

Plus…the Aga heats the kitchen so well (which for me is a dream, since my Raynaud’s starts to flare up this time of year).

Wyrd Words came at an interesting time this year, right after the kids began school and just before the launch of our cookbook, FORKING GOOD (out on October 22nd!)  I had ambitious goals for everything I hoped to accomplish (as always), and I didn’t get it all done, but I did make every moment count: I wrote every day, slept in, cooked and ate meals with people I love, and had moments of exploration and reflection.

We survived driving across Scotland in a large van (on the wrong side of the road and the wrong side of the car!)

Plus I got to explore Glasgow a little (I want to go back!) and I saw my dear friend Alison for a whirlwind 24 hours.

Some places grab hold of your heart. Scotland is another of those places for me.

We’ll be back.