Saturday, June 28, 2008

Two Books About Food

Since I am obsessed with food, I just finished two very different books on the subject.

Such a pretty fat : one narcissist's quest to discover if her life makes her ass look big, or why pie is not the answer by Jen Lancaster

I'll admit I read this book based entirely on the title. It is a chick lit styled memoir about a woman trying to lose weight. She had a very positive self-image and was content with her body, but her doctor convinced her that her health would be in great jeopardy if she didn't lose weight. As Lancaster noted, there would be no point to having beautiful pedicures if she lost a foot to diabetes. So she set out to get fit and lose weight. She tried Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers and rejected them both, opting instead to simply eat a sensible diet and decrease her portion sizes. Most importantly, she hired a personal trainer and pushed herself to work out regularly and become stronger and healthier.

Though it was enough that Lancaster is so hilarious, what really made this book stand out to me was her refreshingly positive view of herself - her weight loss was not a means to make her feel better about herself, or get a man, or fit into a smaller sized dress. She didn't talk numbers at all, in fact. We don't know how much she weighed or what size she wore, and indeed it was beside the point. What we did learn was how much better she felt, how strong she became, what she was able to do after getting in shape that she couldn't do before. Such a Pretty Fat is a fun book to read, but it's also inspiring and motivating.

In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto by Michael Pollan

In his follow-up to the excellent Omnivore's Dilemma, Pollan rips apart nutrition research, processed foods, and the Western diet, which he blames for the high rates of obesity, heart disease, and cancer in the US. As always, his arguments are sensible and well backed-up. I particularly liked this book because I have long been annoyed about how scientific eating has become: there is always some nutrient of the moment that is deified or vilified, many studies are touted which support contradictory claims, and there is an overwhelming feeling that we should be analyzing, graphing and charting the intake of various nutrients to make sure we are eating "correctly." Pollan urges us to go back to eating whole foods (not processed food products) as part of meals that we cook out of food ingredients (not additives or supplements) in our own kitchens and then enjoy with family and friends. Radical!

It's sad that we have to be told these things, and it's also sad that it's so difficult to do. Seriously, I challenge you to go into Stop 'n Shop and find a loaf of bread that contains whole grains, no high fructose corn syrup, and no ingredients that you can't pronounce. And these days most of us have to work for a living and don't have time to stay home and bake bread. Fortunately though, Pollan offers many helpful suggestions and guidelines that will help improve our diets. In Defense of Food is eye-opening and has certainly motivated me to make more of an effort to eat better.

Though very different on the surface, these two books have something important that they share: common sense. Lancaster knew that a packaged food plan that leaves no room for even an annual birthday cake is no way to live, and that despite what she was told by one organization, food is not "bad." She knew that she didn't have to be told what to eat for every meal, but needed to simply learn how to make more sensible choices. Similarly, Pollan argues that we do not need to read scientific studies to learn what to eat, and that we're better off eating unrefined foods - fat and all - than foods that have been stripped of all nutrition and had various things added in based on what scientists tell us we need. Hooray for sense and reason!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

When Librarians Attack

If you subscribe to Publib I'm sure you've noticed the hateful, nasty, bordering-on-violent discussions that have been clogging your inbox for the past several days. Seeming innocent questions on topics such as helping teenagers find books and how to communicate and enforce rules for internet use have resulted in name-calling, accusations, and insults. Why all the cranky? I have some ideas.

Top Ten Reasons Why Librarians Are So Cranky Right Now:

1. Older librarians can't afford to retire and younger librarians blame them for staying in their job so we can't have them.

2. Our pay is stagnant while our bills keep increasing.

3. School has let out for the summer.

4. Although we feel quite young, we are already too old to take part in ALA's Emerging Leaders Program.

5. It's the end of the fiscal year and we dread what the new budget will bring (or take away.)

6. Our coworkers have been in their jobs for way too long (see #1) and their crankiness is contagious.

7. We keep hearing that we are obsolete.

8. We really can get better answers to reference questions using Google and hate to admit it.

9. You keep asking us for things that don't exist and then get angry when we can't provide them for you right this minute.

10. You won't turn off your damn cell phone.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Honeymoon Over

No, this isn't about the Honeymoon Cami, an ill-advised project I started and abandoned long ago, though that is a great example of what I am writing about.

When I began knitting, there was literally a world of projects before me, everything was appealing, and I wanted to knit it all. Through trial and error I have learned to be more discriminating when choosing patterns to knit. Although I am now slightly less enchanted at every new issue of Knitty or IK, knowing that I won't make most of it, I have better results because I know what to choose. I used to get overwhelmed by all the new patterns, and not know where to start, but now I just enjoy looking at the pretty pictures.

Here are some things I have learned:

- Not to be a guinea pig. I wait to see others' results before embarking on any project.
- Bulky yarns may knit up quickly, but with few exceptions I probably won't wear the result.
- Wide boatnecks are impractical and pointless. This eliminates most sweater patterns designed these days, but no way am I going to walk around with my bra straps hanging out.
- If I would pass it by in a store, I probably shouldn't invest the time and money in knitting it.
- You really can have too many scarves.
- Ditto for hats.
- No matter how cute those tops are, I simply will not wear yarn in the summer.
- I dislike working with mohair.
- If I've never worn a shrug/shawl/whatever, a nice pattern is no reason to think I'll wear one now.
- If the pattern doesn't list a gauge and/or finished measurements, beware!
- Just because it looks fantastic on the model doesn't mean it will look good on me.
- Most objects really don't need cozies.
- Ditto for pets and sweaters. I'm opposed to animal cruelty.

Is your knitting honeymoon over? What have you learned about how to choose patterns?

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Hope is sometimes elusive

It's difficult to maintain enthusiasm in your profession when, on a given day, the most pressing concern of the people you serve is the whereabouts of the flyers from the Sunday paper.

I know it's not for me to judge how people use the library, and that I should be thankful that they walk through the doors at all, but when that happens I always have an overwhelming urge to tell them that if they want the flyers they should go buy their own damn papers.

Nothing else that patrons ask for annoys me nearly this much. Clearly, I have a personal issue. Or maybe it's just that they get angry about this, but not because the air conditioning is broken and the stairway smells like sewage and the walls are literally crumbling. Apparently none of that is as important as knowing what's on sale at Kmart this week.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

June: Knowledge

June's BAM Challenge is a little tricky. One could argue that every book is either about knowledge or contains knowledge, right? But perusing the list of suggested titles, I saw a number of them were on the theme of secrets and Penny Vincenzi's Sheer Abandon fits that bill perfectly.

Three young women meet at Heathrow airport as they embark on a year of backpacking. They spend a few days together in Thailand and then go their separate ways, promising to meet up again a year later when they are all back from England. One of them - we don't know who - returns to England pregnant, has her baby in a cleaning closet in Heathrow and abandons it there.

Sixteen years later, the three still haven't met up again. Jocasta is a journalist with a commitment-phobe boyfriend, Clio is a doctor, and Martha is a high-powered lawyer moving her way into politics. Kate, the abandoned baby, has grown up into a beautiful teenager hoping for a modeling career and, more importantly, wanting to find her birth mother. Their worlds all begin to approach each other, amid much drama and scandal. Their lives are all affected by the secrets they keep from each other, and there are many interesting turning points in the story that come about because of what each character decides to share, and what they keep to themselves. This novel wasn't quite as literary as many of the books I read, but it wasn't exactly Danielle Steel either (no offense to Steel - I'll readily admit to reading all of her books in high school). Sheer Abandon is a great beach read, if you care to lug it there. But don't let the 600 pages daunt you - this is perfect summer fare.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Vacation Reading

I'm way overdue on this, but better late than never! Here are short reviews on the two best books I read over my vacation:

The Dead and the Gone by Susan Beth Pfeffer

The much-awaited (by me, anyway) companion volume to Life As We Knew It takes place during the same catastrophe - the moon being knocked out of orbit, causing cataclysmic weather, deaths, and the breakdown of society - but from the perspective of a different family in another part of the country. In New York City, a teenaged boy and his two younger sisters are at home alone when it happens. Their father is in Puerto Rico at their grandmother's funeral and their mother has left for work at a hospital, neither to return, leaving the three kids to survive for themselves in a world that has become unstable and scary.

Because they're in a city and also very involved in their church, this family is much more informed of what is going on than the family in Life As We Knew It and have a bit more access to support. Like the first book, this one was filled with a mixture of desperation and hope. It is a very different story though, and did not disappoint.

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

The daughter of a bookshop owner is called upon to write the biography of an ailing writer who, in addition to her many novels, has told just as many untrue versions of her life story. What follows is a fantastic tale full of secrets, lies, betrayals, sinister twins, madwomen in the attic - everything you could hope for in a novel. Unpredictable and creepy, it's a gothic page-turner. If you haven't read it yet, I strongly suggest you do so. This is Setterfield's first novel, and I can't wait to see what's next.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Progress, I has it

It turns out that I only worked on one project during my vacation, but I got a lot done!

It looked huge until I held it up to Eric and saw how much farther I still had to go. But still, a lot accomplished! I knew that 5 hours of watching Pride & Prejudice had to be more productive than it felt like at the time. Next time I'll take some close-ups of the pattern; I realize you can't see much from this shot.

Before my vacation, I started another project. The Lace Ribbon Scarf from the Spring issue of Knitty, made with Noro Sock that I bought at Webs last month.

I don't especially enjoy knitting lace, and I don't really like knitting scarves, but somehow I ended up knitting a lace scarf. We'll see how long it lasts. I love the yarn though.

I was going to bring the camera to Maine with me, but decided at the last minute that I didn't want to carry that much stuff. Of course, it turns out that I would have had many great photo opportunities. I knew I'd see llamas at my sister's house, but also she got baby chicks the day after I arrived - 52 of them! I have hardly ever seen so much cuteness in one place. Also, I saw alpacas, sheep, and a very cute bunny rabbit that may or may not have been wild. Next time I go I'll take the camera, I promise!