Mother Christmas: Coming in 2022!

In the spirit of the season, I would like to announce that I have a new book coming out this year!

Image of a woman with wild, flowing hair in a winter landscape. She is carrying a bag filled with toys and has what look like glowing horns on her head. Her warm, winter cloak is a brilliant blue and covered with stars and she holds a drum in her hand that is adorned with an image of the sun.

This project is what I’ve been putting much of my time and energy into for the past year, but the story has been living in my head and heart for much longer, beginning in 2004 with a trip to Turkey to do research. Almost 18 years later, I finally get to share the characters and their story with you!

A little background:

For those who follow the Julian calendar, today (January 7th) is Christmas. I’ve written about the Ukrainian celebration of the holiday and its traditions in previous blog posts about Sviat Vechir and the twelve symbolic dishes.

Sviat Vechir/Christmas Eve is one of my favorite holy days, centered around family and ritual and food. In my home today, we celebrate several different winter holidays. Growing up, it was “American” Christmas on December 25th and “Ukrainian” Christmas on January 7th. As an adult, my blended family also celebrates the Winter Solstice, as well as Hanukkah.

I love all of it: preparing the twelve traditional dishes, honoring the ancestors with their place setting at the table. Our white tree adorned with its collection of ornaments, the living room transformed by multi-colored lights in the window. Household altars dressed for the season. Eight nights of candles until the menorah is fully illuminated. What a blessing to have several days to celebrate this time of yearthe magic of light in the peace of winter’s darkness.

My love of the holiday and this magical time of year are the inspiration for Mother Christmas. I am so excited to be creating this graphic novel for Rosarium Publishing along with the brilliant Brazilian artist, Victória Terra. What’s it about?

MOTHER CHRISTMAS, VOL. 1: THE MUSE
By Valya Dudycz Lupescu and Victória Terra

It’s the one story of magic and wonder everyone thinks they know—yet the most epic part of the tale remains shrouded in mystery. What actually happened 1,700 years ago to transform a starry-eyed young priest named Nicholas into a winter wizard who circles the globe on a sleigh of hope? Now, the secret is revealed: SHE happened. She is Amara, an immortal Muse with a rebellious streak, trying hard to inspire dreamers in a world full of broken humans, invisible guardians, and ravenous Kobaloi, creatures who feed on fear and chaos. In Nicholas, Amara thinks she has finally found a partner to help light the earth through times of darkness. But binding her fate and her magic to Saint Nick will mean breaking the laws of the Muses themselves—and risking their eternal wrath…

Mother Christmas recasts the myth of Santa Claus as the epic fantasy saga it has always deserved to be. In the first volume of this exciting new graphic novel series that spans centuries, author Valya Dudycz Lupescu (of The Silence of Trees and Geek Parenting) weaves a tapestry of mythic fantasy through the actual historical truth of Saint Nicholas, creating a lush world of supernatural adventure that’s brought to life by the stunning comic debut of Brazilian artist Victória Terra.

This will be the first of three volumes whose story spans two millennia. Volume 1: The Muse will be released at the end of 2022.

We watched a movie at home last month, The Man Who Invented Christmas, a fictionalized account of Charles Dickens writing A Christmas Carol. What I enjoyed about the movie was the way they portrayed Dickens’s process, because it’s pretty close to what it feels like for me when I writethe characters inhabit my imagination and my life in a very real way. I’ve been living with Nicholas, Flavia, Amara, Brother Theo, the Muses and Guardians all this time; and to see them appear on the page by Victória’s skilled hand is such a thrill.

We can’t wait to share Mother Christmas with you. I’ll be providing more information and teasers as we get closer to publication. Until then, I wish you warmth and safety, health and peace. 

Remembering Eleanor (1944-2021)

Eleanor Lupescu was one of the few people I knew who had proper recipes, the kind that were written down and repeated and shared.  My mother cooked delicious meals, but most of it is in her head from decades of practice and improvisation. The same for my grandmothers—except for the cases when someone captured the ingredients and instructions for them (which a few of my aunts thankfully did).

Now, more than twenty years later, when I meet others who painstakingly print their signature dishes or scribble their measurements and notes, I understand that food is one of their love languages. Food was one of Eleanor’s love languages. 

When we had a family dinner at the Lupescu house, I often saw Eleanor’s careful shopping list beside her handwritten menu of what would be served. Don was her partner in hosting and meals, and he would greet guests, make sure everyone had a beverage and was comfortably seated, and he stood by to help Eleanor with serving and clean-up. (Mark absolutely learned from his parents how to be a good cook and host.) When Eleanor’s Parkinson’s began to rob her of her dexterity, Don became her hands in so many ways. They worked together with Eleanor overseeing. He was her partner and best friend, their love was real and multifaceted and true. 

When I was a young mom visiting their home, I watched with awe as Eleanor always seemed so calm and collected as she sifted any lumps from her gravy and put the finishing touches on her dishes. Dressed beautifully, her hair carefully curled, I can see her so clearly in the kitchen of their house in Darien, eyes bright, an easy smile for her guests, and the kind of bubbly laughter that’s infectious. Eleanor was beautiful inside and out.

For my bridal shower, Eleanor gave me a recipe book with a few of her favorite handwritten recipes, among them: Strawberry Ice Cream Jello Mold, Kolachke, Skewered Steak and Mushrooms, M&M cookies. If you knew Eleanor, you have very likely enjoyed at least one of these. Written in her pretty, leaning handwriting, those recipe cards are such a treasure,

I have slowly added cards of my own to it over the years, and those cards from Eleanor are always a touchstone among the others. It makes me happy to see them when I leaf through looking for something. They are a reminder of her love and care. They will always be a reminder. There is an intimacy to a handwritten recipe card that I really appreciate. It tells you a lot about the type of person Eleanor was. Thoughtful and generous, Eleanor treasured her family and friends. She and Don were at the heart of so many parties and gatherings and reunions, bringing the people they loved together. 

There’s much that can be said about the life Eleanor lived and the things she loved. She was well-respected and well-loved. Eleanor was strong and protective, elegant and creative, curious and kind. A supportive mother and aunt, a devoted sister, an enthusiastic grandmother, a trusted friend, Eleanor was one of the most beautiful women I have known, and every moment shared with her—all the beautiful memories with her family and her grandchildren—are such a blessing.

Eleanor loved the choir at church, often choosing the Mass time according to which one had the choir. She also loved Don’s singing. I remember one day when we were all in the kitchen, and I had only known them a short while. Eleanor turned to me and said, “Don has such a nice voice, I love listening to him sing.” Then she turned to Don and asked him to sing something, and he did! His voice was indeed beautiful, but what struck me was the way she looked at him then, with so much love in her eyes. There was always such a bright, burning love in her eyes.

Eleanor passed away on Friday, July 23, 2021. There are no words to describe the loss in our lives, the hole she leaves behind in our hearts, but it is a comfort to think of Don and Eleanor together again. I like to think Eleanor heard a choir of angels when she crossed over. I like to think of Don singing to her in his beautiful voice, Eleanor laughing that joyful, infectious laugh of hers. Vichnaya Pamyat. What is remembered, lives.

https://www.conboywestchesterfh.com/obituary/eleanor-lupescu

Visitation
Sunday, August 01, 2021
2:00 PM – 6:00 PM

Conboy-Westchester Funeral Home
10501 W. Cermak
Westchester, Illinois 60154

Funeral Mass
Monday, August 02, 2021
10:00 AM

Divine Providence Church
2550 S. Mayfair Avenue
Westchester, IL 60154

Reflections

Sometime last month, as the weather started warming up and the days began to get longer, I realized that I was breathing deeper, feeling hopeful, and closer to “normal” than I had in a long while. It made me aware of just how tense I had been this past year: shoulders tight, jaw tight, brow furrowed. All the time.

Like many of you, I have spent much of the last year tight with fear and anxiety, worrying about how to keep my loved ones safe, how to help the kids get through this, how to create positive memories in the midst of it all, how to practice gratitude, how to try and support those who need help and those who are working to make things better, how to be a friend without the luxury of shared time and space, how to prioritize, self-care, and keep connections.

My friend Nancy Hightower is a college professor and writer living in New York City. She spent much of the last year of quarantine alone in a city that is well-known for bringing people together.

Nancy, like many people, moved to NYC to be with people. What happens when all those New Yorkers, who usually breathe life into the public spaces that are the nervous systems of that vibrant city, are forced to disengage and isolate themselves?

Nancy would mask up and go on walks every day in her neighborhood, and she started taking photographs of what she encountered.

Nancy reflected in a mirror with trash on the streets of NYC.
Nancy reflected, from her Patreon post, “The Shadow Pandemic.”

What Nancy photographed over the last year is the subject of her Patreon (and for those who don’t know what that is, Patreon is a crowdfunding platform that enables supporters/patrons to pay and support artists for their work). She shared a lot of her photos with me over the changing seasons, and they were rich food for my imagination. I think it’s a similar reason that so many people took refuge in Animal Crossing, Instagram, and TikTok. We needed windows into worlds outside our own.

Nancy’s photos capture relics of this moment; they are tiny portals into people’s lives left on doorsteps and balanced on mailboxes, draped over fences and hung from lamp posts. It was as if New Yorkers, forced into their apartments and unable to inhabit their museums, cafes, restaurants, galleries, bars, and parks, started leaking bits of their lives and themselves onto the streets. Here was a cookie jar beside a pair of vintage cowboy boots filled with plastic flowers, there was a lamp and a typewriter and a bag of rice. Sometimes it felt like poetry, other times like an art installation, or a Rorschach test for the state of mind of a city mourning and struggling.

Nancy has started sharing those photos with accompanying essays on her Patreon. The most recent one about how we have been changed by the pandemic struck a chord with me, and I wanted to share it. She’s made it public, so you can follow the link to see all the photos. You can join her Patreon if you’d like to read/see more.

Nancy writes: “This Spring you might find yourself being simultaneously hopeful and exhausted. You might not know who you are anymore–alone, or with other people. I’ve had sporadic dinners with pod friends over the past year, but nothing close to real, sustainable community, no touch longer than quick hug. I wonder what I’ll look like by the time I can be in a group, maskless and yet changed, a time traveler finally trapped by time.”

We have all been changed by the events of the past year, for better and for worse—as a nation, as cities, as neighborhoods, families, and individuals. We won’t be able to see just how far those changes go for a a while, but I think they will go deep.

Pandemic self-portrait post-vaccination.

We are still in a pandemic. The numbers are rising even as more people are getting vaccinated. There is hope, but there is also a need to remain disciplined. I feel like when I look into the mirror, I’m more than a year older. I think about my grandparents and their parents before them, who lived through war and famine and so much death and sacrifice. They were changed by those events too. Some of them shared their stories, and I am grateful.

It’s going to be important to remember, to document this time, to share our stories, to listen to one another when we finally come together, to really see ourselves and our neighbors  as we emerge from this—inevitably changed.