Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Art of Fielding

After reading a couple of disappointing books, I decided I needed to read something Highly Acclaimed.  Highly Acclaimed books aren't necessarily a sure bet with me, as I can be a bit of a contrarian at times.  But it worked out well in the case of Atonement, which I'd been meaning to read for a while and enjoyed quite a bit, and The Art of Fielding, which Jim recommended for me on the DGLM blog.

One of the selling points I hear most often for The Art of Fielding is that you don't have to be a baseball fan to enjoy it.  I suppose there may not be a huge overlap between Baseball Fans and Literary Fiction Fans.  I, however, do enjoy baseball.  While I'm not a diehard fan, if I had to pick a favorite sport, baseball would be it.  So the baseball theme was a plus, for me.  And although I'm sure every reviewer out there is tempted to compare the book itself to a baseball game...I'll go ahead and jump on that bandwagon.  The Art of Fielding drags out through extra innings (it's apparently over 500 pages long, though I read it on the Kindle where a book's length is not as apparent) with short, episodic chapters, some of which don't feel entirely necessary as not much happens.  But you care about the team, and by the end of the game you're rewarded for staying on the bleachers through it all.

This scathing (and very spoilery!) review over at the Atlantic faults the book for being shallow, but I disagree.  There were some tedious bits, but I found the characters to be interesting, whole, and easy to relate to.  And yes, the fictional Westish College feels a bit...quaint.  The jocks are well-read, sensitive souls, seemingly free of prejudice.  Don't we wish!

Overall, I rooted for the Westish Harpooners through their triumphs and failures, and enjoyed some nail-biting bottom-of-the-ninth moments as well. This team has a lot of heart.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

An uphill battle

8 months after giving birth, I'm now within about 5lbs of my pre-pregnancy weight. Losing the weight (50lbs!) felt rather slow at times, especially because I was hoping breastfeeding would make the pounds "just fall off" as so many women attest...but that didn't really happen for me. I lost a good bit of it in the past two months, which I think is due to working more, which involves more physical activity.

Anyway, I'm now satisfied with the number on the scale, but not so much with what I see in the mirror. Back before I got pregnant, I had a fair amount of muscle from work and exercise, and people often guessed I weighed about 15lbs less than I actually did, probably due to that "muscle weighs more than fat" thing. Well, now I'd like some of that muscle back!

I try not to get too caught up in body image stuff, because I don't want to be vain or shallow. But there are just so many things I prefer about having a lean, strong body. One major thing I've noticed is how different everything feels when you have weak abdominal muscles. I feel that my posture suffers and my lower back hurts more. I'd also prefer not to have my thighs touch each other.

I'd like to get back into Spinning, but I must admit I'm afraid of no longer being good at it. For years, I felt like a Spinning class star. I know, it's rather silly. But I don't want to go back to the red-faced, winded person I was at my first Spinning class seven years ago!

So I've begun doing more cardio workouts on the elliptical machine, with the goal of working myself back into some semblance of shape before I attempt a Spinning class. I'm also enjoying yoga and, of course, walking outside in this all-too-brief spring weather.

At the moment, however, I'm eagerly anticipating Anton's next nap, and I plan to join him.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

On SAHMs, Ann Romney, and all this silliness

There's some good discussion going on over at Feministe about what's really going on when politicians talk about motherhood being "the most important job there is." If you're a wealthy woman, at least.

As I've mentioned here before, I thought I might take a year off from work after Anton was born, but I took a wait-and-see approach, and didn't make a definite decision because I didn't know how I'd feel in this very new situation. And I was very lucky to be in a financial position to have options. And, as it turned out, I got rather bored with the whole SAHM thing and started to ease back into work when Anton was 3 months old, by commuting to NOLA every couple of weeks to see old clients. I continue to do that, and have now added another part-time massage job closer to home.

The thing is, I love spending time with my baby. But not every second. Some of it is lots of fun. Some of it is quite tedious. And although, overall, I put a lot of work and thought into The Job of Motherhood, it's not as if I'm the only person on this planet who possesses the necessary skills to change his diapers or feed him applesauce, tiny spoonful by tiny spoonful. Sometimes it's great to get a break from all that for a few hours, and use some of the skills I've spent years refining, like my massage skills, or my writing skills.

It is patronizing when Important Men talk about the hard work involved in staying home with the kids (unless you're a poor woman, in which case...get your lazy ass off the couch and work, right?), not because it isn't hard work, but because it is also tedious work, which they are unwilling to do.

It reminds me of when I had an admin job, and one of my tasks was to take a pile of rumpled receipts and create an expense report for one of the executives. It was a frustrating task, because he never sorted anything out, so it was hard for me to tell if a particular restaurant receipt was from taking clients out for a dinner meeting, or taking his family out for dinner (and if it was the latter, I didn't really want to help him get reimbursed for it, when I was surviving on boxed mac and cheese). When I expressed my frustration, which I often did, as subservience has never come naturally to me, he would try to placate me by telling me just how good I was at making these expense reports. Because he was just so naturally disorganized, you see. He needed someone like me to sort things out for him.

Thing is, if he'd seen the state of my apartment at the time, he would have seen that I was naturally disorganized as well. I only forced myself to be organized at work because, well, it was my job, and I needed to pay rent and buy a bus pass and that aforementioned boxed mac and cheese (I wasn't vegan yet at that time, obviously).

Child care, like most jobs, is a mix of fun stuff and important stuff and hard stuff and tedious stuff. But when ambitious men claim it's the Most Important Job In The World, they're just blowing smoke up our asses. I'll believe it when they quit their less important jobs to be Stay At Home Dads.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Vegan French Quarter Fest

My mom is obsessed with French Quarter Fest (and all the other festivals that take place every 5 minutes in NOLA). Her sister, my dear Aunt Judy, is in town visiting, and they asked me if I wanted to meet them for breakfast. The catch? It had to be within walking distance of my mom's parking spot in the Quarter. There are growing options for vegan breakfast/brunch in NOLA, but I wasn't aware of any actually within the Quarter. I love 13 on Frenchmen, but Anton was with me, and it's a bar, so...no. After some Googling, I told them to meet me at Meals From The Heart in the French Market. I'd had food from Meals From The Heart a few years back, when they used to sell food at...some festival...the Creole Tomato Thing, perhaps? Anyway, it's good, healthy food, and they offer both vegan and gluten free options.

I was thrilled to be able to order vegan pancakes! They put bananas in the batter and blueberries and strawberries on top. They tasted like classic diner-style pancakes, which I haven't had in forever (I make my own at home but they are more crepe-like). I shared with Anton and we both enjoyed them. My mom got eggs and grits and my Aunt got a lovely salad. The ladies working there were super-nice, too. Fellow NOLA vegans or visitors should definitely check this place out...I hear their black bean burgers are delicious, too.

At the Festival itself, there are a couple of food options. A place in by the Mint has veg red beans. Last year there was a Jamaican place there with some great vegan stuff, but I couldn't find them this year :( Mona's has a booth in Woldenburg Park, and that's always a good bet, too.

I'm going back tomorrow (must see Debauche!) so I'll see what else I find.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Jambalaya Writer's Conference

I spent yesterday down in the lovely swamps of Houma, Louisiana at a one-day little gem of a writer's conference. I've attended parts of the Tennessee Williams and Faulkner Literary Festivals in the past, on an a la carte sort of basis - sitting in on a couple of readings and panels, but this was the first literary conference that I've attended from start to finish (well, not quite...I skipped the wine social at the end of the day because I had a long drive ahead). This conference is very reasonably priced, I think it was $35 for the entire day, meals included. It was quite the bargain!

I decided to branch out from my usual genre(s) and check out some sessions on poetry, picture books, and writing children's books in verse. These turned out to be fascinating, especially the verse books one, which was led by a woman named Caroline Starr Rose. I was mostly unaware of the re-emergence of verse novels for kids and teens, but now I'm re-imagining one of my (many) works-in-progress in this format. I'd heard of Rose's book, May B., and now it's on my must-read list. I wish I'd brought more cash or a checkbook for the book fair, so I could have purchased it there. I'm so accustomed to using my credit card that I didn't anticipate not being able to buy books with it at the conference. I only had enough cash on hand to buy one book, and I chose a book of poetry by Louisiana's poet laureate Julie Kane, who was charming in person, to give to my Aunt when she visits us later this month.

The conference took place in the breathtaking beautiful Terrebonne Parish Library. Seriously, this may have been one of the best libraries I've ever seen. I probably could have spent a day there even with no literary conference! Other highlights of the day included the hilarious keynote speaker, Rick Bragg, and "The American Idol of first pages" panel, where agents, editors, and successful authors gave helpful feedback on the first pages of attendees' manuscripts. I didn't submit a page for this event, but it was still helpful to hear their feedback on others' work. I had submitted an excerpt from my novel to the conference's fiction contest, and won Honorable Mention. So that was cool.

Fellow Louisiana writers, check this event out next year! It's got a friendly, helpful vibe and you get a lot of bang for your buck.