What really matters to authors

No one prepares authors for what can happen after they publish their first book. Of course they tell us lots of things in preparation for “magical” book launch day: Come up with a marketing plan (huh?); Pick out a favorite pen for signings (Oooo, how I adore my blue-ink fountain pen); Look presentable (learned how to use a curling iron at 35 years old – huzzah!). The advice is mostly the same whether you’re self published or going through a traditional publisher. None of this prepared me for what actually mattered to me as a first-time author. You see, I stopped checking sales early on after Life from Scratch came out. I couldn’t bring myself to care about statistics, weekly trends and blah, blah, blah.  Instead, I found myself running to my email and opening messages like this: I am in the middle of your book right now and I’m loving it!!! When I’m not reading it, I’m thinking about your story and your words all the time. We just started fostering little ones last August and …

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Food Scrapbooking 101: Create a travelog of your cooking adventures

Cooking the world was the greatest gift I could give my family – full of delicious memories and learning opportunities. But what to do with all the pictures we took? As food tourists we armed ourselves with cameras and, just like real tourists trekking across the globe, we snapped pictures of every culinary landmark in our kitchens and around our dining tables. Hundreds of them! We uploaded our pictures here and on Instagram, feeling pleased with our work as parents. But children don’t live on Instagram. I had an uncomfortable realization the other day. My daughter, Ava, is just six years old. She ate a meal from the world’s 195+ countries by the time she was 4 1/2 years old. It is a scientific fact that, though her taste buds will always remember our adventure (making her much less picky than she otherwise might be), she might not. The only time Ava sees photos from our Global Table Adventure is when I explicitly sit down with her at the computer. Our lives are incredibly busy. As you can …

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Make the world a better place by living with “Vision”

What would you do today if you knew you’d be gone tomorrow? News of David Bowie’s death has stunned the world. He managed to keep his 18-month battle with cancer secret and, though he left us suddenly, he has not left us alone. He spent his last 18 months feverishly at work on his latest album and it was released just two days before his battle with cancer ended. Meanwhile, next week is Martin Luther King Day, a celebration of the man’s life and achievements. Though nearly fifty years has passed since his death, no one can say “I have a dream” without invoking King’s legacy as a leader of the African American civil rights movement. He spent his life working towards equality for all. On the surface, Bowie and King couldn’t seem more different. The first was a British glam rock artist. He wore face paint and embraced multiple characters over his long singing career. “Weird” is used as a term of endearment for the man and his work. The latter was a buttoned up Baptist …

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The greatest of gifts

The greatest of gifts don’t come in wrapping paper.  Sharing a loaf of just-baked bread with a friend, butter slipping into each steaming crevice. Washing the day down with a daring new drink – just enough to take the chill out of the air. And, above all, filling our hearts with gratitude for simple moments. These are the best gifts of all. Especially that last item – gratitude. With gratitude every moment is a gift. Gratitude fills up the giver and the receiver. Gratitude isn’t about whether the glass if half full or half empty. Gratitude is being glad there’s a drink there in the first place. I’ve had some half full and half empty moments over the last few years. I became best friends with my mom. She was a huge support throughout my twenties and when I began this blog. And then I wrote a book and … I don’t know. Everything changed. We spoke every day while I was writing – laughing and sorting out dates – but now she’s gone into …

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We are the sum of our hearts

Sometimes I feel like I don’t love enough, that I don’t have enough fingers to stay on the pulse of the world – there are so many tragedies, so much hurt that needs tending. Today I have some sort of flu that seems to be attacking my lungs in particular; I’m laying in bed with a low grade fever, feeling each labored breath, reading the news. As I grieve for the city I lived in as a child, I also read about how many other tragedies I missed in different parts of the world. I begin to feel shame, embarrassment. And in the midst of growing shame, I find that I can’t help but to continue to mourn for my old home. Why? Because that’s personal to me. We are most affected by what is personal. And we are most effective at bringing about change when our cause is personal. I often refer to this as “Turning your anguish into your answer.” Personal heartbreak can be fuel for your greatest good. Here’s the thing – we all feel passionate …

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How schools can use Thanksgiving to celebrate diversity

Your school can honor Thanksgiving in a thoughtful way. Modern Thanksgiving celebrations typically mean an overload of turkey and one too many slices of pumpkin pie. Schools often add their own Thanksgiving feasts to the mix, giving our children a double whammy. Unless you love, love, love turkey, you’re likely to have a bit of Thanksgiving fatigue before the weekend is over. We’re doing things differently at my daughter’s school. A little background: Our country is made up Native Americans and immigrants from every corner of the world. Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate how we’ve come together as a nation, but it’s also the perfect opportunity to honor where each of us comes from. As our country becomes more blended, it is important to recognize how our unique cultures add to the spirit of the whole. The Challenge As a way to celebrate your multicultural community, invite parents to contribute a dish to a school Thanksgiving potluck from their ancestors’ country (or countries) of origin. Here’s a sample letter that can be sent home in children’s folders or via email, accompanied by …

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10 Essential tools & ingredients for cooking the world

Curious what it would be like to eat a meal from every country? You’re not alone. More people than ever before are bringing the world into their kitchens. These 10 essentials will help you make eating internationally an easy part of your weekly routine, although only the first two are absolute requirements.  1. A good attitude First things first: All the cookware in the world won’t help a bad outlook. The first requirement for trying international food is to be open minded. No saying “ugh” or “gross” at the dinner table. Think: How would you feel if someone spoke that way about your mom’s cooking? Plus, if an entire country loves the food, is it really a question of preference or is liking a certain dish more about what we’re used to? My rule of thumb? If you can’t think of anything nice to say, hold your tongue. 2. Time with your loved ones Can you cook alone? Yes. Can you eat 195 countries alone? Sure. But I spend enough time alone, in front of a laptop …

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On being happy, even when life is cruddy

Is there something inherently different about people who maintain a positive attitude, even in the most trying circumstances? Happy souls can be found on every continent, in every culture – but when times get tough they become the minority. What keeps a person from constantly looking backwards, becoming a pillar of salt after everything they’ve ever known is destroyed? Today we explore thoughts on happiness from around the world. These philosophers and authors provide joyful medicine for suffering souls. 1. Start with the truth. No matter how insular a life we live, suffering finds us. The question is what will we do when the bully crashes into our heart? The first, inevitable step? Sit with it a while. Understand it. We must face reality before we can ever hope to heal. 2. Change your perspective. Even though grief sits in our hearts, it cannot be our only companion. Healing begins when we look around and begin to see the roses on the thorn bush. Those people who find happiness during cruddy times manage to also see the good around them …

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Build a bigger table, not a higher fence

Are you ready to stumble into the heartbeat of the world? A little while back I shared this meme on Facebook: If you have more than you need build a bigger table – not a higher fence.  I went to bed and didn’t think much of it. Just a few days later and more than 1.75 million people had viewed it (and counting). It was clear that I’d stumbled onto the pulse of something enormous. What was happening? Why did so many people see, share and like this simple statement? I have a few theories. We’re tired of living in a boxed-in world. Our fence is as tall as the rest of them. Presumably tall fences exist so that we can water our plants in our jammies. I’ll admit: There’s something freeing about lounging in my robe while sipping a cup of tea – secure in the knowledge that no one has to shield their children from my fuzzy slippers or towel turban. But this comfort comes at a cost. Tall fences interrupt casual encounters with our neighbors. Those fifteen-minute chats that …

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How to organize your book collection

Whether you have a crazy cookbook collection or an overflowing child’s bookcase, a few simple tricks can help you get organized. I know because last month I organized my daughter’s bookshelves. She has 300+ books from all over the world spread over 2 bookcases. There are floppy soft covers and tiny collectibles. There are boxed sets who’ve long since lost their boxes. After 6 years of use the bookshelves were so disorganized they were barely functional. Heavy books shoved smaller editions to the back of the shelf where they’d be lost for weeks at a time. Random art projects were strewn in with the toppled volumes, making finding a favorite book near impossible. Organizing the bookshelves was my daughter’s idea. Even though I was annoyed with the state of the bookshelves, I had mostly accepted the weekly grind of reshuffling things. And even though I’m becoming more and more of a minimalist, I draw the line at downsizing my daughter’s book collection – books build creativity and knowledge. We’ll always have well-stocked bookshelves. It was my six-year …

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Trade fantasies & overcome hate by cooking together

In my early 20’s I had a few friends who liked to play Grand Theft Auto. They’d lay on the floor for hours, only emerging to pay the pizza delivery boy and refill their coozies. Curious (and eager for a slice), I grabbed a controller and joined them a few times. Here’s what I discovered: “GTA” is a really violent game based on the premise of becoming the most powerful criminal possible. Stomping characters until they… perish… (something many young players do while laughing) is not uncommon. It’s completely gross. And this isn’t just about violence – its about choosing to be the bad guy.  If I really step back and look at the “fantasy” this game provides, I am embarrassed. I am embarrassed for the game developers and I am embarrassed for ever picking up a controller. The fantasies we engage might never affect our lives, but they definitely reflect our realities. Lots of people would tell me to lighten up – they might say “it’s just a game” or  “a video game does not make killers.” And perhaps they’re right. I haven’t done a …

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To the person who thinks eating international food is an act of white supremacy.

When you say that eating food from other countries helps perpetuate white supremacy – that the very act of eating another group’s food oversimplifies and subjugates the “other” as perpetually foreign – you are conveniently ignoring a few simple truths. If one cannot travel, eating a meal to experience another culture is one of the few visceral ways available to learn about people around the world. Stovetop travel brings book knowledge to life. Consider the poor. The poor do not have the luxury to travel to other countries. Getting a bus ride to work can be a challenge, making the financial burden of crossing the ocean laughable. I grew up poor. My brother and I slept in the living room. My clothes were kept in a dresser in the kitchen. We couldn’t go to other countries for family vacations. We snuck onto empty campsites instead, sleeping in our beat up car whenever we were caught. Many families were and are far worse off than us. But get this. My mother used food as a way to help …

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