Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Clothes "r" me

A new online community called Work It, Mom!, dedicated to working professionals who are also parents, has introduced me to some new-to-me bloggers that I've added to my Reader feeds.

Susan Wagner is a "mom blogger" at Friday Playdate, but she also blogs on fashion on her own Friday Style blog and at BlogHer.com, and in a new blog called "Working Closet" on Work It, Mom! Clothes are rather a hobby of mine, so I'm definitely there.

She's starting out with a series of posts about overhauling your wardrobe (read: purging) and realizing you always have something to wear...she's said she's a big fan of "shopping in your closet." This quote from the first of these posts is, unfortunately, very me:
Before we jump in and start negotiating the details of how to make your closet work for you, we need to know what’s IN your closet. I’m certain that you have a closet stocked with perfectly lovely clothes. I am also willing to bet that you find yourself, more often than you would like, standing in front of your well-stocked closet moaning that you don’t have ANYTHING to WEAR. And I would wager that , at least occasionally, you solve the problem of nothing to wear by buying something new. And, finally, I’m positive that at least some of the time, you drag home whatever it is that you bought to make it easier to get dressed only to find that you have something EXACTLY LIKE IT in the closet already. And that you still don’t have anything to wear.
Yep, been there, done that, way too many times.

I made a comment on her second post, and Susan actually acknowledged it! I'm a newbie to the commenting side of blogging, so it's exciting for me. It's part of this link.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Just Finished: "72-Hour Hold"

72-Hour Hold
Bebe Moore Campbell

I'm going to try dispensing with the clips from Amazon and writing my own summaries, starting now. But before that, from the cover:
Trina is eighteen and suffers from bi-polar disorder, making her paranoid, wild, and violent. Frightened by her own child, Keri searches for help, quickly learning that the mental health community can only offer her a seventy-two hour hold. After these three days Trina is off on her own again. Fed up with the bureaucracy and determined to save her daughter by any means necessary, Keri signs on for an illegal intervention known as The Program, launching them both on a terrifying journey.
This is the final novel from noted contemporary African-American writer Bebe Moore Campbell, who passed away earlier this year. I've read a few of her other novels (Brothers and Sisters, Your Blues Ain't Like Mine), and got an excerpt from this one through Dearreader.com Book Club a few months ago.
Single mother and businesswoman Keri Whitmore is struggling with her teenage daughter Trina's recent diagnosis with bipolar disorder, which has wreaked havoc with her plans for college and the future. Trina is struggling too - with staying on her medications, therapy, and staying away from the non-prescribed drugs that aggravate her mania and paranoia. Trina's father Clyde hasn't accepted the facts of his daughter's illness, and at some level Keri hasn't either; underlying her daily efforts to manage their lives, she seems to keep hoping that she'll find the one "magic bullet" that will give her back the daughter she used to know, and this leads her to a desperate step outside the mental-health care system.
Keri is a very human character, exasperating to the point of "girl, please!" at times, but stirring empathy at many others, and her struggle is one that can make you appreciate the things you don't have to deal with in your own life. The plot is engrossing, the writing is very direct and down-to-earth, and the characters are well-drawn.

Monday, May 21, 2007

A quick note on labels

It finally dawned on me that posts inspired by things I've read on other blogs fall into the category of "reading" too, even though I had thought that label would just be used for book reviews. I'm now using it in connection with a new "found on other blogs" label for my ramblings in response to my readings on the 'net.

Drive-by commentary

This has been a crazy week. I had thought things at work would settle down once the auditors left, but that didn't last long, now that we're unexpectedly down two staff for the duration. I forgot that the book club is meeting next Friday and I haven't started on that book yet, so I need to get my current read finished so I can at least make good headway on Accidental Happiness. Meanwhile, I've been finding items all week that I've meant to comment on, but I'm going to have to keep 'em brief.

I've just started using del.icio.us bookmarks and making brief comments on stuff over there too.

A post in On Balance included a brief summary of the basic work-related values and styles of the four generations currently in the workplace - Traditionalists, Boomers, Gen-X'ers, and Millenials (my son's group, mostly kids of Boomers) - and how they might learn to co-exist. Interesting times ahead. I just can't see myself intervening with my child's manager at work, or, as a manager, responding well to the parent of one of my employees doing it with me.

On a side note, I've just learned that I actually have a generational niche - I'm part of Generation Jones. 1953-1968 is the most generous birth-year range applied to this group, but in the US it's usually considered 1954-1965. Being born in 1964, I've always considered myself to be on the cusp between the Boomers and the Gen-X'ers, but not really part of either one - and I guess I'm not, at least in a demographic/marketing sense.

In my continuing coverage of the "mommy wars," two pages in Salon talk about "opting out" and how relatively few mothers actually have that "opt"ion - it just happens that quite a few of those that do are in the media's sights. Demographics again, and really not a new point.

As a pretty recent (second-time) bride, I got a lot of exposure to the wedding industry (and it sure is one!) last year, and have been reading some good reviews of the new book One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American Wedding by Rebecca Mead. Salon has an interview with Mead that talks about her research while writing the book - maybe not too eye-opening to anyone who managed to keep her head on straight while planning a wedding (which I think I mostly did, although there were a few Bridezilla moments), but it still sounds quite fascinating.

One of my favorite iVillage bloggers is Cathryn Michon, the "Grrl Genius." She had a post earlier this week on the question of a "good" time for a couple to get divorced and I actually posted a comment on it. Most people spoke from their own experiences and seemed to agree that there's no right answer, and if you have kids it's an even harder question. Someone's response was that how you get divorced is probably more important than when, especially when there are children involved, and I wouldn't argue with that at all.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

That good ol' Southern cooking

We'd been planning our trip to Tennessee for awhile, ever since we knew what the date of my son's college graduation would be. We had in mind several places we definitely wanted to visit - the Memphis Zoo (despite the irony of spending part of your vacation at the place you used to work), Graceland (TallGuy's choice), and Great Smoky Mountains National Park - and more nebulous plans for other days. And we definitely had plans for some good eating.

The thing I've missed the most about Memphis is undoubtedly the food. We arrived in Memphis at around 7 PM on Sunday evening, and after getting our rental car and finding the hotel, the first place I took TallGuy was Back Yard Burgers, which don't have a SoCal equal as far as I know, for either the burgers themselves or their terrific seasoned and waffle fries. My California-native, In-n-Out-loving husband (not that he's wrong for that, of course) was quickly won over.

Monday evening, before the Memphis Redbirds game, we had dinner with one of my old friends at Memphis institution Huey's, home of the best non-fast-food burgers in town, and that was also a winner, although TallGuy didn't totally love their famous onion rings, since he prefers them on the skinny side.

Tuesday's morning at Graceland whetted our appetites for a classic Southern plate lunch, so we headed for The Cupboard on Union Avenue. TallGuy had a very good grilled chicken breast - admittedly more Southern Californian than actual Southern, but then so is he - and I went for meatloaf, and each of us got three different veggies. "Veggies" tends to be the generic term for sides in the South, which has always amused me since it considers macaroni and cheese a vegetable. It was hard not to fill up on the yummy little cornbread muffins.

Tuesday evening it was time for Memphis' renowned barbecue, and my favorite has always been Corky's, where both of us went for the real thing, pulled pork shoulder - mine in a sandwich, his pulled and served with beans and coleslaw. TallGuy pronounced it the best barbecue he's ever had (well, of course!), and I was very happy to introduce him to it.

We started east across the state on Wednesday, arriving in Knoxville in plenty of time for the graduation ceremony early Thursday morning. Along with First Husband and his Wife 2.0, we took the newly-minted graduate to lunch at Tomato Head, which was a very lively place with a wide-ranging casual menu and some awesome desserts (chocolate peanut butter pie, anyone?). TallGuy and I had my son to ourselves on Thursday evening for dinner at Sunspot, where he encouraged us to sample his grits with cheese sauce (good), and fresh-made sweet-potato chips (which both TallGuy and I really enjoyed, and neither of us is a big fan of sweet potatoes).

Not every meal was a total rave, of course - in Nashville on Saturday night, TallGuy learned that not all Tennessee barbecue is created equal, although he probably would have enjoyed Jack's on Broadway just fine if he hadn't had Corky's first.

We've been back home a week now, and I'm still missing the food all over again. But I don't miss the extra 30 pounds or so I weighed back when I lived there, and I'm glad that I don't seem capable anymore of eating quite the same way I did then. I didn't mind leaving food on my plate, I watched myself with the bread, and didn't indulge too much in desserts (Tomato Head's chocolate peanut butter pie and Corky's apple cobbler were special cases and well worth it). I went to my first post-vacation Weight Watchers meeting yesterday morning, and was up two pounds from last month's Lifetime Member weigh-in recording, which took me back out of my free-meeting range - it's more than 2 pounds above my goal weight - but all things considered, wasn't a bad outcome at all. This week I'm reintroducing myself to the online Points Tracker, though, since I really prefer to get my meetings without having to pay for them.

Just finished: "Garlic and Sapphires"

Garlic and Sapphires, Ruth Reichl
from Amazon.com:

Fans of Tender at the Bone and Comfort Me with Apples know that Ruth Reichl is a wonderful memoirist--a funny, poignant, and candid storyteller whose books contain a happy mix of memories, recipes, and personal revelations.

What they might not fully appreciate is that Reichl is an absolute marvel when it comes to writing about food--she can describe a dish in such satisfying detail that it becomes unnecessary for readers to eat. In her third memoir, Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise, Reichl focuses on her life as a food critic, dishing up a feast of fabulous meals enjoyed during her tenure at The New York Times. As a critic, Reichl was determined to review the "true" nature of each restaurant she visited, so she often dined incognito--each chapter of her book highlights a new disguise, a different restaurant (including the original reviews from the Times), and a fresh culinary adventure. Garlic and Sapphires is another delicious and delightful book, sure to satisfy Reichl's foodie fans and leave admirers looking forward to her next book, hopefully about her life with Gourmet. --Daphne Durham
I really enjoy food writing - probably because I really enjoy food. (That was one of the best parts of my recent trip back to Tennessee, which needs to be another post.) I've read Ruth Reichl before and really enjoy her - despite the fact that much of the food she writes about, and the restaurants she reviewed in various guises during her years as restaurant critic for the New York Times, are pretty highbrow, she doesn't come across as that sort of person at all. She shares enough of her life with the reader that she seems like someone you'd really want to sit down and share a meal with. I also find her writing and descriptions of food itself rather inspirational - it makes me feel like getting into the kitchen and creating something, or at least heading out to find a really good place to eat. This is a fairly quick and enjoyable read, spiced with the inclusion of several actual NYT restaurant reviews and some of Reichl's own recipes (including one for spaghetti carbonara that's not too different from one I use myself).

Friday, May 18, 2007

I think I was a "slacker mom"

Of course, one of the great things about reading blogs is when they tip you off to stories and info you might have missed elsewhere, and today's On Balance blog entry pointed me toward this item on "slacker moms" from USA Today. I've heard the term, but hadn't really found out much about what it signified before, and what do you know...it's not as pejorative as it sounds on the face of things, and it seems to describe my own overall parenting style, so I think I like it. While my son did grow up with a fair amount of structure in his life - a necessity with two working parents, and living in a city without extended family nearby - there was a fair amount of flexibility within that structure. Eventually a parent has to let go anyway, and I think it may make it easier to do that if you're not so overly enmeshed with your child; to my mind, a somewhat less child-centric home is actually pretty healthy, and what most of us in my age group grew up with ourselves. So I guess being a "slacker" may not necessarily be a bad thing...

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Vacation reading

The title is a minor fib - this catch-up post includes one book I didn't get to write about before I went out of town last week (but that's a separate post).

Family History, Dani Shapiro
from Amazon.com:

In Family History, Dani Shapiro has written such a nail biter of a plot that it's easy to overlook just how good--and how literary--a novel this really is. Narrator Rachel Jensen is a housewife and art restorer married to Ned, a one-time painter. They live with their two children, 13-year-old Kate and 2-year-old Josh, in the small New England town where Ned grew up. In an elegant series of flashbacks, we learn of the emotional devastation teenage Kate has wrought. She was a perfect child growing up, but once Josh came along, her dark thoughts and tragic actions nearly destroy her family. As secret after secret is revealed, Shapiro gets perfectly Rachel's horror of daily life: how can you chat with the other moms at preschool when your world is falling apart? But what makes Family History a fine novel is its utter freedom from stereotype. Kate is bad, but she's never the bad seed; Ned's a failure, but he's not a total wash; Rachel's a narrator mired in tragedy, but she's a wry, slightly unreliable narrator mired in tragedy. Shapiro knows just how much hope to give her characters. In the end, their redemption is so slight that we actually believe in it. --Claire Dederer
This was a hard book to put down. The characters felt real, even though their situation pushed the extremes. The plot was an anxiety-provoking grabber. I had some issues with the ending, which felt like it tied things up a bit too neatly considering what the family had gone through, but at the same time made me wonder how well things would stay tied. I felt like some questions didn't really get answered - did Josh have any lasting brain damage from his accident? what was the deal with Rachel's mother anyway, and did her reaction to widowhood somehow relate to or foreshadow Kate's to her baby brother? - but it didn't detract, since life's pretty much like that. I found the perspective on parenthood from essentially having two "only" children (there were almost 14 years between Kate and Josh, and they were full siblings), neither of whom was planned, interesting...and somewhat validating of my own inclinations not to experience it or put my kid(s) through it, hence stopping at just one.

Liars and Saints, Maile Meloy
from Amazon.com:

Opening with a wedding and ending with a funeral, Maile Meloy stuffs everything imaginable in between, and manages to maintain a cool, elegant prose style throughout. Liars and Saints, Meloy's debut novel, following her story collection Half in Love, chronicles the life of the Santerre family, who sin with the gusto of true Catholics. Written in a series of short story-like vignettes, the family's saga is told in turn by every member, from Yvette the matriarch down to T.J., her great-grandson. We start out with a relatively run of the mill family secret, when in the 1950s Yvette sends daughter Margot off to a French convent for the duration of her teenage pregnancy. As the decades pass, the transgressions become wilder and more melodramatic, as if the Santerres are trying to keep up with the times by way of their naughty acts. What makes the novel work is that all the while, Meloy maintains a quiet, slightly wry tone: illicit lovemaking and bloody mary mixing are recounted with the same equanimity. She also gets just right the tone of each era. When Yvette's other daughter Clarissa marries a jolly lawyer in the early 60s, he sends a telegram to Yvette: "HITCHED. THANKS FOR BEAUTIFUL DAUGHER. PROGENY PROMISED TO POPE." Likewise, in the 1970s the characters talk just groovy enough, and the 80s have a wised-up ring to them. Most multi-generational sagas are dull forays into sentimentalism, but in the aptly titled Liars and Saints, Meloy has written a corker. --Claire Dederer
Reading this just flew by - I finished it in less than 3 days, counting an airplane flight, and I almost never read at that pace anymore - and yet this short novel felt like it included so much. While it moved between the POV of multiple characters, they all felt fully developed, and I just had to see what would happen next to each of them. I also brought the sequel, A Family Daughter, on my trip, but haven't read it yet, since I decided I wanted to stretch out my time with the Santerres and not cram it all in at once.

Rise and Shine, Anna Quindlen
from Amazon.com

From Publishers Weekly
Bridget Fitzmaurice, the narrator of Quindlen's engrossing fifth novel, works for a women's shelter in the Bronx; her older sister, Meghan, cohost of the popular morning show Rise and Shine, is the most famous woman on television. Bridget acts as a second mother to the busy Meghan's college student son, Leo; Meghan barely tolerates Bridget's significant other, a gritty veteran police detective named Irving Lefkowitz. After 9/11 (which happens off-camera) and the subsequent walking out of Meghan's beleaguered husband, Evan, Meghan calls a major politician a "fucking asshole" before her microphone gets turned off for a commercial, and Megan and Bridget's lives change forever. As Bridget struggles to mend familial fences and deal with reconfigurations in their lives wrought by Meghan's single phrase, Quindlen has her lob plenty of pungent observations about both life in class-stratified New York City and about family dynamics. The situation is ripe with comic potential, which Bridget deadpans her way through, and Quindlen goes along with Bridget's cool reserve and judgmentalism. The plot is very imbalanced: a couple of events early, then virtually nothing until a series of major revelations in the last 50 or so pages. The prose is top-notch; readers may be more interested in Quindlen's insights than in the lives of her two main characters.
This was a very New York novel, and very much a family story too. The relationship between the sisters had realistic closeness and complications, although since this was written from a first-person POV, there was understandably some imbalance toward Bridget's side of things. The observations and perspectives on social life, social work, and society were often insightful and sometimes amusing, and the writing itself was good. This was another book where it seemed like the ending tied up a little too neatly, but not in a way that seemed out of place for the story thus far.