Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Today's the Day

It's March 31.

Today's the day to Spread the Word to End the Word.

There are rallies and take-the-pledge events going on throughout the country, according to the Special Olympics site. I'm particularly pleased to see that every high school in Delaware is participating in this campaign, and that colleges and universities throughout the country (and even American University in Beirut) are also hosting events.

If there isn't an event or rally near you, no matter. Ending the practice of saying the r-word and educating others about how hurtful this is to people with disabilities doesn't require a public display of support, although that certainly helps with raising awareness.

The change comes from within ourselves, and spreads from there.

Spread the Word to End the Word. Let's just do it.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Resale Recap

Hey kids, it's time to play "guess-how-much-I-spent-at-the-resale?" Here's a picture of the clothes I bought on Saturday for Betty.

And here's an itemized list ...

8 shirts (1 Gap, 1 Gymboree)
1 t-shirt (Old Navy)
1 light turtleneck (Children's Place)
1 Disney tank top
1 sweatshirt
1 pair capris
6 pair pants (1 is Gymboree, 1 Carters)
2 pair skorts (Healthtex, Arizona Jean Co.)
1 pair shorts
4 dresses (1 Healthtex and 1 Lilly Pulitzer, in absolute pristine condition... which I discovered selling for $78 - and as much as $118 - online)

1 skirt
1 pair flip flops
1 pair sneakers
1 pair white dress shoes
1 baseball cap

Any guesses?

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Showers of Happiness

So I went to a baby shower yesterday for a childhood friend, and I am here to report that I have now seen everything. Among the gifts that my friend received in preparation for the arrival of her baby boy was this little contraption (sans the cherubic baby).

It's the Sozo Oops Weeblock. Never heard of this little thing? (Don't feel bad, neither had I.) Here's the product description from babiesrus.com: "A must-have for the parents of baby boys, the Weeblock® Oops from Sozo® is a wee-wee-absorbing sponge for use when changing diapers. Weeblock was invented by the parents of two boys who have developed a useful and fun solution to the inevitable fountains of youth. Just cover the baby during changing with the Weeblock® and stay dry! Weeblock® is a machine washable sponge covered in soft cotton jersey."

This thing retails for $9.99 and was invented by a dad. There are other styles, as shown here beginning with the Whiz Kid version.

... or this one, for your lil' superhero Pee-Wee Man ...

or Captain Blast Off ...

and a version for the stylish baby who's ready to be Puttin' on the Spritz ...

or just your everyday Lil' Squirt ...

This received many laughs, as you can imagine. In my opinion, as far as baby gifts go, the Weeblock truly takes the proverbial cake.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Book Review: The Sugar Queen, by Sarah Addison Allen

Synopsis from bn.com:

In this irresistible novel, Sarah Addison Allen, author of the New York Times bestselling debut, Garden Spells, tells the tale of a young woman whose family secrets—and secret passions—are about to change her life forever.

Josey Cirrini is sure of three things: winter is her favorite season, she’s a sorry excuse for a Southern belle, and sweets are best eaten in the privacy of her closet. For while Josey has settled into an uneventful life in her mother’s house, her one consolation is the stockpile of sugary treats and paperback romances she escapes to each night…. Until she finds her closet harboring Della Lee Baker, a local waitress who is one part nemesis—and two parts fairy godmother. With Della Lee’s tough love, Josey’s narrow existence quickly expands. She even bonds with Chloe Finley, a young woman who is hounded by books that inexplicably appear when she needs them—and who has a close connection to Josey’s longtime crush. Soon Josey is living in a world where the color red has startling powers, and passion can make eggs fry in their cartons. And that’s just for starters.

Brimming with warmth, wit, and a sprinkling of magic, here is a spellbinding tale of friendship, love—and the enchanting possibilities of every new day.

For the record, I just finished this book on Wednesday evening and I don't remember anything about eggs frying in their cartons. But, no matter ... with all the magical mystery that is The Sugar Queen, it's certainly quite possible.

Folks who enjoyed Sarah Addison Allen's debut novel Garden Spells (which I review briefly here) will find The Sugar Queen to be similar. Both are set in a small North Carolina town, quirky characters abound, food is prevalent, and there's an element of magical realism and fairy-tale woven throughout the story. In the beginning of the novel, these similarities kind of bothered me; I felt as if I was re-reading Garden Spells.

Josey's story (and that of the other supporting characters) took over and made those distractions less so. Every character in The Sugar Queen has a secret, and all kinds of secrets (infidelity, unrequited love, shame) are being hidden in the figurative closets of Bald Slope, NC. Addison Allen's characters are well-developed and ones that the reader cares about. The writing is well-done, and the plot moves along nicely - particularly towards the ending, when the book truly becomes a page turner. Others reviews that I've read mention that they predicted the ending; I had an idea about part of it, but as I read, it wasn't enough of an overbearing thought to spoil the ending for me - which I also liked. It would have been easy for the ending to be trite and contrived, but it didn't seem so to me.

I found myself enjoying this novel, both the audio and the print version. (I'm guessing I listened to approximately 3/4 of the book, then read the rest.) Karen White's narration on the audio is excellent. This is a fast read and an enjoyable one for fans of Southern fiction with a dash of magical realism.

What Other Bloggers Thought:

Books and Movies

Thursday, March 26, 2009

All You Zombies

"All you zombies show your faces (I know you're out there) ...." The Hooters

Zombies appeared in my life twice this week. Twice!

The first was on Sunday, when I read Beth Kephart's blog (as I do religiously) and found her vlog accepting the Zombie Chicken Award from Presenting Lenore.

Never heard of the Zombie Chicken Award? Really? Well, allow me to enlighten you on the criteria for receiving such. You see, I know about this because Beth Kephart gave a shout-out in her blog vlog and bestowed the Zombie Chicken Award on moi. I am still stunned. (Hence the four days of stunned-ness that explains my not acknowledging it until now.)

The blogger who receives this award believes in the Tao of the zombie chicken - excellence, grace and persistence in all situations, even in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. These amazing bloggers regularly produce content so remarkable that their readers would brave a raving pack of zombie chickens just to be able to read their words. As a recipient of this world-renowned award, you now have the task of passing it on to at least 5 other worthy bloggers. Do not risk the wrath of the zombie chickens by choosing unwisely or not choosing at all...

It is an honor to even be mentioned by Beth as a blogger worth reading. Truly. I don't remember when I first heard of her, but I know it was in connection to her book, A Slant of Sun. Whether I first learned of the book when it was published in 1999 or when Boo was diagnosed with PDD-NOS in 2002, I'm not sure ... but I've followed Beth's work for awhile and then discovered her blog, and discovered her more recent work that I didn't know about, and then had the privilege of meeting her this February. The fact that an author I admire is even reading what I write is simply astounding to me and I am most grateful.

I need to pass this along to at least 5 other worthy bloggers. I've thought about this all week (seriously, I have) and I can't decide. Hence, I propose this: you may have noticed that a few of the blogs I read are listed on my blogroll ... yep, right there on the right side of this post. They're all different, and they're all worthy of a few more readers. So, I award this to all of the bloggers on my blogroll (which includes several who were recipients of the Zombie Chicken Award) with the instructions to my readers to visit one or two or five of them and leave them a comment (a nice one, please). It will make their day and I'm betting it will keep the Zombie Chickens at bay, too.

Oh, and as for the second occurance of zombies this week? This news story, which was all over the Philly media on Monday (mere hours after I was named a recipient of the Zombie Chicken Award!) about the message on this roadside sign on Rt. 212 in Quakertown, Pa.

Some hackers apparently broke the locks, got into the controls, and changed the message. Instructions on how to do this are apparently all over cyberspace. It seems comical at first, until one realizes that the sign had been placed to inform motorists about bridge construction, and that the ease in which such signs can be changed poses a public safety issue.

They'd better be careful, those pranksters. Methinks their post might make them candidates for incurring the wrath of the Zombie Chicken for choosing unwisely.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Mom Meme

I'm stealing this meme from MOM-NOS, one of the first bloggers I ever stumbled upon and who continues to dazzle me with her writing several years later. The object of the game here is to ask your kids questions. Betty and Boo's responses are in italics. This was a very good way to keep them engaged while I made dinner.

1. What is something mom always says to you?
Clean your room. - Boo
I love you. - Betty

2. What makes mom happy?
When we don't make noises. - Boo
When we don't fight. - Betty

3. What makes mom sad?
When we fight. - Boo
When we're not happy. - Betty

4. How does your mom make you laugh?
When she says funny things. - Boo
When she tickles you. - Betty

5. What was your mom like as a child?
A girl.
A girl.

6. How old is your mom?
('tis true ... for a couple more days, anyway....)

7. How tall is your mom?
10 inches. - Betty
A younger height than Daddy. 49 inches. - Boo

8. What is her favorite thing to do?
Play with her children. - Boo
Go shopping. - Betty

9. What does your mom do when you're not around?
Goes to sleep. - Boo
Go to work. - Betty

10. If your mom becomes famous, what will it be for?
Singing. - Boo
Typing. - Betty

11. What is your mom really good at?
Not really anything. - Betty
Typing. - Boo

12. What is your mom not very good at?
Sports and cartwheels. - Betty
Cooking bad foods. - Boo

13. What does your mom do for her job?
She makes sure kids have lights on properly, have enough food to eat, and have a safe home. - Betty
Making money. - Boo.
(my note: they are actually both pretty close!)

14. What is your mom's favorite food?

Salad. - Boo

Salad with feta cheese. - Betty

15. What makes you proud of your mom?
She looks pretty. - Betty
She smells pretty. - Boo

16. If your mom were a character in a book, who would she be?
The Ice Cream Lady. - Boo
The little red hen. - Betty

(my note: when asked to cite the book where "the ice cream lady" is a character, Boo admitted that he plans to write that particular book. But when he does, I have a part in it as the ice cream lady. I'm certainly not complaining.)

17. What do you and your mom do together?

Shopping. - Betty

Read. - Boo

18. How are you and your mom the same?
We're both girls. - Betty
We're both young. We are. I'm 7 and you're 39. - Boo.

19. How are you and your mom different?
We don't have the same hair. - Boo
We have different color hair. - Betty (not exactly true ... we have the same color hair.)

20. How do you know your mom loves you?
'Cause she always smiles ... sometimes. - Betty
'Cause she's our mom. - Boo

21. Where is your mom's favorite place to go?
To the store. - Boo
To the library. - Betty

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Press Conference Commentary from Betty and Boo

I wish I could take a picture of this ... Betty and Boo are sitting next to me, glued to President Obama's press conference. I mean, these kids are hanging on every word. I have never seen these kids so quiet in my entire life.

Betty, on listening to the CNN anchors tell us what Obama will say:
"What does "push-back" mean?"

Betty, on watching Obama walk on the red carpet:
"Whoa, that's a long walk."

Boo, on the press room set-up:
"That's like a theater."

Betty, on the press room set-up:
"Oh, that's where he does his announcements?"

Betty, on our landline phone ringing in the middle of this:
"Uh, huh-looooooo, we're trying to watch something here!"

Betty, on the financial recovery:
"So he doesn't know whether it will happen or not?"

Stay tuned ....

Monday, March 23, 2009

Quote from Betty

A quote from Betty this evening:
"Mommy, it would be such a sad thing if the world had no libraries."

Book Review: Promises to Keep, by Joe Biden

Promises to Keep: by Joe Biden

For many pivotal moments that occurred in the last three decades in our nation's history, Joe Biden has had a front-row seat. He's been at the table, on the ground, and face-to-face with world leaders from every part of the globe, often at the invitation of Presidents who have sought his counsel and expertise in foreign affairs.

At times, I think we as a country take Biden's breadth of experience for granted, focusing on his gaffes and his longevity as the Senator from Delaware, the second-smallest state in the country. Delawareans, who were once accustomed to running into "our Joe" at Home Depot or the Charcoal Pit, either revere the man or roll their eyes at our perceived version of Dynasty, given Joe's longtime hold on the Senate seat and his son Beau's post as Delaware's Attorney General.

Put all that aside. Promises to Keep is a very interesting - and at times, fascinating - read. I expected to breeze through the beginning of this book, having heard much of Biden's personal story from the presidential campaign. I loved reading how much Neilia, Joe's first wife who died alongside their infant daughter in a Christmastime car accident in 1972, was involved in his first Senate campaign as well as Joe's sister Valerie - something that Valerie herself referenced in her conversation with The Husband when they met last May.

Some additional points of interest in Promises to Keep:

- It was striking to observe how much Biden's first Senatorial campaign in 1972 mirrored the Obama campaign in 2008 - minus the technology and the flush coffers - with the volunteers, the organization, the grass-roots mobilization. At one point, the Biden campaign didn't have enough funds to produce and mail a brochure to the voters of Delaware, so they hand-delivered the information to as many people as possible. The Biden for Senate campaign wound up reaching 85% of the homes in Delaware. In that campaign, Biden's opponent was someone who had been in the Senate for 25 years. Biden was routinely criticized about his age, not favored to win the election at all, very much considered to be an underdog. And as we know, the underdog won a Senate seat that he would hold for the next 36 years.

- Biden's explanation of the infamous plagiarism incident. Prior to reading the book, I had been under the impression that this particular "scandal" was akin to a heinous crime. Biden's side of the story is that he had been referencing Neil Kinnock in several speeches and, in one speech given at the 1987 Iowa State Fair, neglected to give attribution when he had done so on every other occasion. At the time, he was preoccupied with the confirmation hearings for Robert Bork, another process that was very interesting to read about. The result was a media firestorm and the undoing of Biden's bid for the Presidency.

- His account of suffering an aneurysm in 1988. Quite simply, Biden is lucky to be alive today.

- The fact that he was one of the lone voices calling for action in the Balkans as our country stood by as their people were shuffled off to concentration and rape camps, children killed in front of their parents, and other horrifying atrocities. And at the same time, his work on the homefront for many years on the Violence Against Women Act that gives protection and a voice to battered women and funding to domestic-violence shelters.

- Finally, and perhaps importantly, I dare anyone to read these words from Biden's speech to the National Press Club in Washington, DC and not feel your hair stand on end. This speech was given when President George W. Bush was pushing for funding for missiles, for a continuation of Reagan's Star Wars technology. Biden's point was that there were more serious factors at play within our nation's borders:
"So before we start raising the starting gun that will begin a new arms race in the world ... let's look at the real threats we face at home and abroad .... Even the Joint Chiefs of Staff say that a strategic nuclear attack is less likely than a regional conflict, a major theater of war, terrorist attacks at home or abroad, or any other number of real issues. We have diverted all that money to address the least likely threat, while the real threat comes to this country in the hold of a ship, the belly of a plane, or smuggled into a city in the middle of the night in a vial in a backpack."
Biden delivered that speech to the National Press Club the evening of September 10, 2001.

Written in 2007, Promises to Keep has the tone of a memoir penned to coincide with the launch of a presidential campaign; of course, Biden did exactly that in 2008. (The book concludes at the beginning of his 2008 Presidential bid.) At times, Biden toots his own horn a little too much - but you know what? At this point in his career, the man is more than entitled.

And we are more than entitled to have him as our Vice President. Forget the recession for a minute, if we can. There are still significant foreign relations/terrorism issues going on as I type. Whether you voted for Obama or not, we are fortunate as a nation that he chose Joe Biden as his VP. After reading Promises to Keep, having Joe Biden a heartbeat away from the Presidency makes me sleep a little bit better at night, in times that cause many a restless slumber.

Rating: 4, because of the campaign-stump-speech nature of the book in some places. It's not that overbearing, but it's noticeable. A recommended read.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

O Spirit of Life and Renewal

O Spirit of Life and Renewal
Rev. Jane Rzepka

We have wintered enough,
mourned enough,
oppressed ourselves enough.

Our souls are too long cold and buried,
our dreams all but forgotten,
our hopes unheard.

We are waiting to rise from the dead.
In this, the season of steady rebirth,
we awaken to the power so abundant, so holy,
that returns each year through earth and sky.
We will find our hearts again, and our good spirits.
We will love, and believe, and give and wonder,
and feel again the eternal powers.

The flow of life moves ever onward
through one faithful spring,
and another,
and now another.

May we be forever grateful.


This meditation is one of my favorites. I heard it one spring Sunday at church 8 years ago and it really spoke to me. I asked our minister for a copy, which she gladly provided, and to me it is just the perfect verse for springtime ... don't you think?

The photos are mine, taken during yesterday's visit to the zoo. Purple crocuses lined the path and flowers were tentatively starting to emerge. The river, too, was alive with the spirit of spring. As were we.

Don't Let the Door Hit You ...

To the presumably perfect RAnn, who just made the hateful comment about children with disabilities here on this blog in response to my Obama: Bowling for Dummies post.

You're apparently new here. And while I welcome dialogue (as regular readers know), your particular brand of discourse is not welcome.

You're the reason why this blog was not a public one before this week. And you're the reason why it may revert to that status.

In the meantime, take your venom and your vitriol and your blatant hatred of children with disabilities elsewhere. Please. There are plenty of other sites on the Internet where you'll be welcomed with open arms.

You're the reason why Special Olympics needs to launch an awareness campaign about the word retard.

Go. Now. And don't let the door hit you in the ass.

Best of the Week: March 15-21

"I will never do that when I'm a mom."

We all know what our standards were pre-kids and what we were and were not going to allow. (As a personal example, kids were verboten from our bed. Well ... as I type, Betty is asleep in the bed located in the master bedroom, so obviously that worked out just as well as my other pre-conceived notions of parenthood.)

Jess has a great post ("listening for the angels") about her lovely bedtime ritual with her daughter.

Speaking of beds, the Queen Elizabeth Fairmont Hotel in Montreal is celebrating the 40th anniversary of John and Yoko's bed-in. The Dean and I have been discussing possible ideas for an anniversary trip of our own, and there is definitely something amusing about the thought of staying overnight in the infamous bed-in suite. (I highly doubt it will happen unless we win the lottery.)

Our friend Mike has a great post on his blog about one of his kids' initials and how they're connected to the AIG financial crisis. Proving again that our best parenting intentions usually wind up coming back to bite us.

Eggheadmom has a funny post (well, maybe it wasn't so funny at the time, but the resulting post is) about one such moment. Hope you take some solace in the fact that the millions of moms (I mean, the count-'em-on-one-and-a-half-hands number of moms) who read this blog faithfully are nodding their heads with you in been-there-done-that type of solidarity.

A great post from Kristen of We Are THAT Family (don't you just love that title?) on when bloggers stop blogging.

I love stories like this one about 12 year old Neha Gupta about kids and philanthropy.

Life Begins at 40, writes litlove on her blog Tales from the Reading Room, and I quite agree.

And then there's this group of Ohio women who are examples of life beginning at 90. Each one of these women is in her 90s and each one is studying for her bat mitzvah. (Wouldn't you just love to be invited to one of their parties?)

It is unconscionable that members of that crazy-ass church in Kansas (you know, the one that protests at military funerals) intends to protest at Natasha Richardson's funeral. Now, I am guessing that these nutjobs didn't even know who Natasha Richardson was before this week. No matter. They've apparently determined that her service as a board member of AmFAR (American Foundation for AIDS Research), as well as her involvement in the theater itself (there are homosexuals in the theater world, you know, say the church members) are grounds enough for them to make the trip from Kansas to protest the funeral.

Speaking of theater, let's end on a happy note, shall we? I'm on the e-news mailing list for a local theater, which just emailed me this promotion for an upcoming show:

Loved MAMMA MIA? You'll love the sing-along fun of XANADU! Follow the journey of a magical and beautiful Greek muse who descends from the heavens of Mt. Olympus to Venice Beach, California. Kira is on a quest to inspire struggling artist Sonny to achieve the greatest creation of all time - the first ROLLER DISCO. Hey, it's 1980! This hilarious, roller-skating musical adventure about following your dreams despite the limitations others set for you, rolls along to the original hit score composed by pop-rock legends Jeff Lynne and John Farrar and includes, "Magic," "All Over the World," "Suddenly," "I'm Alive," "Evil Woman," "Have You Never Been Mellow" and "Xanadu."

There might be a few more tidbits later on, as I am still catching up with some blogs ... but for now, enjoy your Sunday and the rest of your week!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Celebrating Boo

Boo's a whirling dervish this morning - dancing, singing slightly off-key with improvised lyrics, leaping from sofa to sofa. Occasionally he pauses to produce a drawing of a long deceased family member (Bubby Rose, his great-great grandmother) and those in his life now (grandparents, The Dean, and Ms. Marilyn the Bus Driver).

He's smiling the largest of smiles as he celebrates being Boo. He's joyful, exuberant, complimenting his sister (??!!!) and offering an impromptu heartfelt "I love you" to me while in the same breath he confesses he wishes I didn't smell like coffee.

I'm wishing I could somehow capture this moment of sky-high self-esteem, of self-acceptance, of self-love, because I know how very much it will be needed - for all of us - in the moments to come (because this all has the potential to go "poof!" and evaporate with a sibling squabble or hurled "You're a stupid brother!"). I know how much this moment will be needed in the days and years to come from classmates and teachers who won't understand or see his gifts, who will refer to him with derogatory words beginning with r, and ---

(It is over as I type this sentence, but still I refuse to hit delete on this post, trying so hard to stay within his moments with him.)

He is calso chronicling this moment, capturing it by authoring a book "All About Me" (he's up to chapter 5 so far this morning, at 9:06 a.m.).

Chapter 1
Who am I? My name is Boo. I am a Boy. I am 7 years old. I was born on _____ .
This is who I look like.
My favrote food is macaroni and cheese.
My favrote show is Hannah Montana.
My favrote sport is basketball.
My favrote color is blue.
Here is a picher of my favrote color.
This is what I love about me:
My mom. My dad. My sister. My grandparents. My great-grandmom. My great-great-grandmom. Here is a picher of my dad.

Chapter 2
What is my foods?
My favrote food is macaroni and cheese. I love it because it's creamy and it's just good.
Whenever I meet my Mom-Mom, she calls it mac and cheese.
The best part of macoroni and cheese is the macoroni.
It looks great to have the macoroni in the macoroni and cheese.
You should buy macoroni and cheese at Wal-Mart.
Eat it.
It's gonna be really good for you.

I can't wait to read the next chapters.

Friday, March 20, 2009

As I Was Saying ...

In my previous post ("Obama: Bowling for Dummies"), I wrote these words:

Can you just hear Sarah Palin now? I'm sure she's ready for her close-up, just dying to sink her manicured claws into this one.

And, right on cue, four hours later at 6:14 p.m., CNN posted this on their Political Ticker from you-know-who:

WASHINGTON (CNN) - Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin said she was "shocked" to hear President Obama's offhand comment referring to the Special Olympics in an appearance on the Tonight Show on Thursday night.

"This was a degrading remark about our world's most precious and unique people, coming from the most powerful position in the world," Palin said in a statement released Friday. "These athletes overcome more challenges, discrimination and adversity than most of us ever will. By the way, these athletes can outperform many of us and we should be proud of them. I hope President Obama's comments do not reflect how he truly feels about the special needs community."

Well, dare I say that I actually agree with something Sarah says. You heard it here first.

Obama: Bowling for Dummies

President Obama might as well have told Jay Leno that he bowled like a insert the insulting word beginning with R that refers to a person with developmental disabilities.

But, to his credit he didn't. Give him a point for that much. Instead, he referenced his bowling inepitude by telling Leno, "It's like the Special Olympics or something." (You can read the whole account of the incident here.)

Make no mistake, there is no mistaking what the President meant by that sorry attempt at humor. He meant that he bowled like someone with physical challenges, like someone who was not in control of his or her body.

Which clearly Obama was not, when denigrating the Special Olympics and the athletes who work so hard and achieve so much.

One only needed to listen to callers on the morning drive talk-show program that I listen to religiously who called up this morning to justify and defend Obama's remark. It was harmless, they said, an unmalicious comment. Cut him some slack already.

Which I am usually one to do. (Full disclosure time: I voted for the guy, I support the guy, I like most of what he's done thus far).

But here's why this is a problem - because when people are unaware of why this is a problem, that means it's a problem.

When the President of the United States needs to do a mea culpa for offending people with disabilities, that's a problem. I don't give a shit how tired he is, how pre-occupied he is, how much the weight of the economic mess is on his mind. If those factors are present, then don't go on "The Tonight Show." We've had our fill of Presidents as Entertainers-in-Chief, thank you very much. But more than that, it is deeply troubling to me that a comment so offensive can slip so easily out of our Commander-in-Chief's mouth.

(Can you just hear Sarah Palin now? I'm sure she's ready for her close-up, just dying to sink her manicured claws into this one. This isn't change we can believe in, she'll say. This isn't what Ameeer-rica needs at this time. John McCain and I would have been true friends to people with disabilities in the White House. You betcha!)

As I was listening to the account, my mind went into PR/crisis communication mode (as, apparently, did Obama's press secretary, who from Air Force One quickly got Tim Shriver, the head of Special Olympics, on the horn to give him a heads-up on the faux-pas. Keeping in mind, of course, that the Shrivers and Kennedys were beaucoup backers of Barack's back in the campaigning day.) Just you watch, I said to myself and all the other northbound drivers on the expressway. By the end of the morning, Obama will have invited some of the Special Olympians to The White House for bowling.

And indeed, it seems that exactly such a photo opportunity is in the works.

To his credit, Shriver accepted Obama's "very moving" apology by saying, “These words in some respect, can be seen as humiliating or a put-down to people with special needs,” Shriver said. “This language needs to be a teachable moment, I think, for our country.”

Indeed. Obama has a better opportunity here than a chance to improve his dismal bowling score or to host a photo op with the Special Olympians. He's center-stage with a generation of Americans who, aside from being awake enough to watch The Tonight Show, commonly and routinely use the r-word in daily conversation. I know this to be true as I see it on a regular basis from my own under-30-something co-workers (and sadly, even some who are in their 40s) who hurl the r-word while in my direct presence and who also know damn well that my son has autism.

Obama can seize this teachable moment to say that what he said was wrong and symptomatic of a culture that accepts insulting language being directed towards people with disabilities. Doing so won't change everyone's verbal diarrhea tendencies on this issue, but if it gets through to even one person, then maybe - maybe - we can begin to topple the mentality that this is OK.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Mediterranean Minestrone Casserole

Among my Library Loot this week was the cookbook, Betty Crocker Easy Everyday Vegetarian. Usually I'll just browse through library-owned cookbooks, rather than actually trying the recipes; while glancing at this one, however, I noticed that Chapter 5 contained recipes for the slow cooker!

I made one of the recipes, Mediterranean Minestrone Casserole, in the crockpot over the weekend. The Dean, Boo, and I liked it. After much protest, Betty ate some of the pasta and given her food finickiness, I'll take trying - and eating - a few bites as a compliment. So, I offer some up for you to try. If you like minestrone soup, you'll probably enjoy this. It's not quite casserole consistency, by my definition, nor is it soup. I'd suppose it's what Rachael Ray considers "stoup." Regardless of what you want to call it, it's pretty tasty. And frugal, in these trying economic times of ours.

Mediterranean Minestrone Casserole

prep time: 20 minutes
start to finish: 6 hours, 40 minutes
servings: 5 (each serving of this casserole provides 17 grams of protein)

(Yes, you're really seeing two crockpots in that photo. The smaller one is a 2 qt. and the larger is a 6 qt. Plus, the elbow macaroni inadvertently got left out of the photo op.)
3 medium carrots, sliced (1.5 cups)
1 medium onion, chopped (1/2 cup)
1 cup water
2 tsps. sugar
1 tsp. Italian seasoning
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 can (28 oz.) diced tomatoes, undrained
1 can (15-16 ozs.) garbanzo beans, drained, rinsed
1 can (6 oz) tomato paste
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1.5 cups frozen cut green beans (from 1 lb. bag), thawed (I omitted this and the consensus at our table was that they weren't missed)
1 cup uncooked macaroni (3.5 ozs)
1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese

In a 3-4 quart slow cooker, mix all ingredients except green beans, macaroni and cheese. Cover, cook on Low heat setting for 6-8 hours. Stir in green beans and macaroni. Increase setting to High. Cover; cook about 20 minutes or until beans and macaroni are tender. Sprinkle with cheese.

To make this more appealing to my kids, I served this over mashed potatoes (which The Dean and I actually enjoyed, too.) It kind of had a Shepherd's Pie type of consistency. I cooked this in the crockpot for about 6.5 or 7 hours. In addition, 20 minutes was a sufficient amount of time to cook the macaroni. Doing so made this thicken up nicely. Definitely a keeper, and one that might make me consider Betty Crocker Easy Everyday Vegetarian as a keeper, too.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Caught in the Twilight

caught in the twilight,
he is betwixt and between
this world and the next

his crusty veteran's spirit holding
still fighting, grasped tightly

we have given permission

we are long-distance calling,
summoning all angels

carry him home.

It's Not Easy Being Green

(photo courtesy of Photobucket.com)

It's not easy being green ...
It seems you blend in with so many other ordinary things
And people tend to pass you over 'cause you're
Not standing out like flashy sparkles in the water
Or stars in the sky
But green's the color of Spring ...

There are still a few decent people in this world. Check out
this heartwarming story from philly.com about Lisa Levinson, who has successfully gotten the Philadelphia Streets Department to close several streets and detour traffic in the city's Roxborough section ... for the annual toad migration.

The wha ...? Yes, the annual toad migration. Lest it be confused with some Manayunk (another nearby neighborhood) pub crawl or festival, the toad migration is, a
ccording to Philadelphia Daily News reporter Gloria Campisi, "a mating ritual during which the toads leave the woods around the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education and head for the Roxborough Reservoir to find a toad of the opposite sex. Rainy weather and a series of warm days are their siren song to burrow out from the loose soil where they have spent the winter in dormancy and kick up their heels."

The roads closed for the toads are frequently used by drivers when avoiding traffic lights on nearby busy Ridge Avenue. They're the same roads that the toads use to get to the reservoir. Being all hopped-up with the excitement of mating season (and really, can we blame the toads after this dreary, long winter?) they don't always look both ways when crossing the street ... plus, the migration occurs at night. Nor do drivers slow down.

So last year Lisa Levinson decided to do something about the fate of the toads that were routinely being run over.

According to the article, Levinson noticed the toad migration several years ago. She says, "A couple hundred toads trying to cross the road. The next year I started trying to help the toads cross," standing in the roadway asking drivers to slow down."The police were called - about me. So they came out to see if there was something wrong with me."When she tried to get the authorities involved last year, she said, "they told me to call 9-1-1. So I did."They brought two [police] cars and they just closed down [a] portion of the road for a couple of hours. They were very, very understanding."

In anticipation of this year's toad migration (expected sometime around the first week or two of April), Lisa and a team of "volunteer toad-spotters" have begun scouting out the roads at twilight for signs of the toads. Whenever the migration begins, they'll spring into action by activating a phone tree and sending text messsages and e-mail. Additional volunteers will put up temporary road-detour signs that have been issued by the Philadelphia Streets Department. All to help the toads find true love.

With all the depressing crap in the news these days, how can anyone not toad-ally love this story?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

These Boots Were Made for Walkin'

I was feelin' brave over the weekend. Brave enough to defy the weather gods, to stare them down, to dare them - to triple dare them - to send us one more flake, one more raindrop, one more ounce of slush.

Because come hell or high water these boots were walkin' right into the hall closet.

Winter, be gone.

Or, as the kids would say, "Uh buh bye!"

Monday, March 16, 2009

Boo, The Official Beatles Biographer

Going through Boo's homework folder tonight, I came across a worksheet that he did in class. The bold responses are Boo's answers.

Choose a book you like. Answer the question.

Book Title: The Life of John Lennon (this is an actual children's book, for kids ages 9-12.)

What happens in the book? Write or draw details for each part.

Beginning: John Lennon was born in 1940. (Next to this he drew a stick figure labeled Julia and next to Julia, a stick figure labeled Alfred holding baby John.)

Middle: John Lennon met's Paul McCartney. (Drawing is of a bespectacled, somewhat grim-faced John arm in arm with a open-mouthed singing Paul.)

End: John Lennon dies in age 40 on December 8, 1980. (Drawing is of an angry-looking Mark David Chapman shooting John Lennon, who is pictured sans eyes, nose or mouth.)

I'm guessing that Boo is the only 7 year old in our school's history who has referenced Julia and Alf Lennon (much less Mark David Chapman) in his homework.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Library Loot: March 15

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Robin from A Striped Armchair and Alessandra from Out of the Blue that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. Feel free to play along on your blog, too.

I'm getting confused on when the Library Loot week begins and ends, so I decided that I'm going to participate in LL whenever I go to the library. After all, the more loot the better, right?

I was more restrained this visit than most of my recent forays to the library have been. Maybe it's symptomatic of this long, gray winter, but I have really gotten myself in a rut regarding cooking. Making dinner for our little family of four is a major challenge. The Dean and I are vegetarian, however I am straying a bit into the flexitarian category as I eat fish and occasionally, some chicken. The Dean would prefer to eat Italian-type of foods all the time; pizza, ravioli, manicotti, ziti, lasagna ... bring it on. I try to eat more healthier, often having a salad with dinner or some generous helping of vegetables. Boo has his preferences, but he's usually game to try almost anything - and he generally likes most of what is offered. Betty ... well, Betty is very, very, very picky. She eats hummus, tortilla chips, macaroni and cheese, hot dogs (on occasion), plain pasta with parmesan cheese, peas, chicken (only white meat and no brown spots - i.e., grill marks - whatsoever) baked goods, and sweets in any form. That's basically it.

So, with these caveats and this feeling of being in a funk related to cooking (and a lot of other things, actually), I found myself browsing through the cookbooks at the library and came home with these goodies.

I'm hoping to have a recipe from Betty Crocker Easy Everyday Vegetarian as a post sometime in the next few days, as there are quite a few of them that look great. Deborah Madison is one of my favorite cookbook authors (her Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone is one that I turn to often) and even though we're hopefully moving past soup weather, there are some soups that are apropos for the cool days of spring. And since we're big pasta fans (who isn't?), I thought that Giada DeLaurentis' Everyday Pasta might have some new variations for us.

I also came across Jennifer Graf Groneberg's book Road Map to Holland, and am looking forward to reading it because of having recently discovered her blog.

What goodies did you get from the library this week?

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Best of the Week: March 8-14

I wrote about Charlie Balasavage earlier this week (and I'm also pleased to say that my same post published on BlogHer attracted over 60 views, which is a lot for little ol' me). The Philadelphia Inquirer follows up today with this article reporting that the state Supreme Court appointed a special judge to review more than 2,500 cases heard by Judge Mark Ciavarella, the same individual who sentenced 16-year old Charlie Balasavage to three years - and counting, 'cause he's still there - in a secure juvenile detention center for unintentionally purchasing a stolen scooter for $60. It's not certain whether Charlie's case is among those under review; if it is, it could result in a new trial (what a waste of taxpayer dollars), an overturned conviction or expungement.

I think Leonard Pitts, Jr. of The Miami Herald is one of the best newspaper columnists ever. I love his writing and have clipped many of his columns over the years. This one, A Letter to Rihanna: Time to Save Yourself is great. (It's the comments by some of the readers at the end that are incredibly sad.)

Girl with Pen has a lovely tribute to her cat, Amelia Bedelia, who recently passed away.

I still can't get the hang of embedding videos, but this is so well worth the trip over to The Family Room to view this video of a high school speech. It's nearly 10 minutes long, but time worth spent. As Susan says on her post, check this out and then show it to anyone who still thinks the word "retard" is funny. This kid's bravery is incredible.

Thanks to a bankruptcy judge in Delaware, a 9-year old girl in Texas is reunited with a beloved doll. The doll needed a visit to the doll hospital, a prospect that frightened Renee Hearne because her own father had recently passed away from cancer. Understandably so, Renee was reluctant to send her doll away to the doll hospital. Her mother reassured her that all would be fine ... until, the hospital became the victim of the economy, filed for bankruptcy, and Renee's doll became part of the legal mess.

Speaking of dolls, Jess at diary of a mom has this wonderful post about how compassionate one waitress was at the American Girl bistro upon learning of her daughter's sensory challenges.

That's all for this week ... have a good one!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Friday Fill-In's

I just lost a filling (as I was flossing, of all things!) and as a result, my tooth also broke. So given the filling, it seems apropos to do my first Friday Fill-In meme as my daily post.

1. When I look to the left, I see the back of the sofa.

2. Boo's bedroom is the room that has the best view in my home.

3. Let it work itself out.

4. Dirty deeds done dirt cheap!

5. Giving back is a responsibility that all qualified citizens must share.

6. If you have any comments feel free to post them.

7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to going to bed, tomorrow my plans include way too much driving and Sunday, I want to get serious about meal-planning!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

When Life Imitates a Children's Book ... or Vice Versa

Every night I read a book to Betty and Boo while they eat their evening snack. Recently, they've been learning in school about the difference between fiction and nonfiction - which will prompt Boo to ask me which category the book I've selected for that evening's read falls into.

The "is-it-fiction-or-is-it-nonfiction" question was an easy one on the night we read this absolutely delightful, and enjoyable book, The House Takes a Vacation by Jacqueline Davies.

It's about a house whose owners head off to the beach. The house then decides that it, too, might like a vacation ... but the various parts of the home can't quite agree on where to go. The windows want to visit another dwelling down the street but the roof protests. "Dudes," said the roof. "there's no way I'm spending my vacation with the stuccoed-up houses in this neighborhood." The chimney is content to stay put, claiming that "travel is a pain in the bricks." The basement agrees, and the roof chastises the basement for being a "stick in the mud." Eventually, the house makes it to the beach (note the destination of choice for its residents) and has a few adventures along the way, arriving home fairly intact but in need of some TLC.

So, fiction or nonfiction? This one is fiction, you tell Boo. Absolutely.

You sure about that? Because that's what I thought, too ... until I read this article from the New York Times and saw this AP picture from Newsday.

The house was recently sold (for $1.00!) to a couple who is paying at least $100,000 to move the Robert Venturi-designed 1,500 house by barge from Barnagat Light, NJ to Glen Cove, NY, where they will use it as a guest house on their existing property. (Not too shabby for a guest house, hmm?) It's en route as I type and is expected to arrive in New York sometime tomorrow morning.

So, back to The House Takes a Vacation, which is a very fun book and a new favorite of Betty and Boo's. Fiction or nonfiction?

Kind of a stumper, isn't it?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

And the TBR Pile Grows and Grows ...

My to-do list at work today included a stop at the resale shop that my workplace runs and once again, the damnedest thing happened. There's some sort of magnetic pull between me and the used books shelf in the corner. I can't possibly imagine why or how this phenomenon happens.

Here's what caught my eye and a few dollars from my paycheck this afternoon (each synopsis is from bn.com)

The Time Traveler's Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger
This bestselling and innovative debut novel from Audrey Niffenegger explores the perfect marriage, one that is tested by challenges the couple can neither control nor predict. An imaginative extension of everyday life, the story asks: What if two people who loved each other deeply, married, and faced a life in which one person remained constant while the other slipped fluidly in and out of time? A modern love story with a twist that invites us to linger over questions of how life and love change over time.

I'm the last person to read this, right? I'm sure of it.

The Miracles of Santo Fico, by D.L. Smith

The magic of Chocolat meets the charm of Il Postino in this love story set in a forgotten Tuscan village, brimming with unforgettable characters, an enchanting setting, and more than one happy ending. When Leo Pizzola returns from America to Santo Fico—a tiny, forgotten village in Tuscany—he discovers more than the now neglected vineyard of his childhood. There's Marta, Leo's first and only true love, who will barely speak to him now; Topo, his once trusting, but now leery, best friend; and Father Elio, the village's pillar of faith who is experiencing a spiritual crisis all his own. When Leo and Topo are forced to orchestrate a series of manmade miracles—each more botched than the last—the end results are truly. . . miraculous. The Miracles Of Santo Fico pours forth with the stories of a village that is rediscovering the beauty of life itself and the nature and meaning of miracles.

Never heard of this novel, or D.L. Smith (this is his debut novel) but doesn't this look interesting? How could I resist it for $1.00?

Shut Up & Sing: How Elites from Hollywood, Politics, and the UN Are Subverting America, by Laura Ingraham

Tired of the Hollywood Left-and the vast network of liberals in elite positions-who always bad mouth America? Well, so is feisty radio sensation Laura Ingraham-and she has the answers in this pugnacious, funny, and devastating critique of the liberals who hate America.

I've never listened to Laura Ingraham nor do I know much about her, but I do like the premise of her book.

And I also picked up two books for The Dean ...

October 1964, by David Halberstam

In 1989 David Halberstam published Summer of '49, which became a #1 New York Times bestseller. It was a compelling portrait of baseball in an America as yet unchanged by affluence, technology, and social progress. The players, almost all white, had been raised in harsh circumstances, the games were played in the afternoon on grass and were broadcast on radio, the teams traveled by train, and the owners had dictatorial power over the players. Here also was the story of the Yankees winning the first of their pennants under Casey Stengel before going on to become baseball's greatest dynasty. October 1964 is Halberstam's exciting new book about baseball -- this time about the last season of that Yankee dynasty. Like the previous book, it is both sports and history, and it is a fascinating account of an electrifying baseball championship against the background of profound social change. The Yankees, like most American League teams, reflected the status quo and, in contrast to the National League teams, had been slow to sign the new great black players (indeed, for a time, their best scouts were ordered not to sign them). Though the Yankees boasted such great names as Mantle, Maris, and Ford, theirs was an aging team: Mantle, hobbled by injuries, was facing his last hurrah in post-season play. By contrast, the St. Louis Cardinals were a young tough team on the ascent, featuring talented black players -- Bob Gibson, Curt Flood, Lou Brock, and Bill White -- who were changing the very nature of the game with their unprecedented speed and power. Halberstam has once again given us an absorbing tale of an exciting season and a great Word Series that reflected a changing era in both baseball and the rest of society as well: The fabric that insulated baseball from the turmoil in the rest of the country was beginning to tear. We get intimate vignettes not only of the players but also of the scouts who signed them including the black scouts who had been denied the chance.

The Great Upheaval: America and the Birth of the Modern World 1788-1800, by Jay Winik
It is an era that redefined history. As the 1790s began, a fragile America teetered on the brink of oblivion, Russia towered as a vast imperial power, and France plunged into monumental revolution. But none of these remarkable events occurred in isolation. In The Great Upheaval, acclaimed historian Jay Winik masterfully illuminates how their fates combined in one extraordinary moment to change the course of civilization.
Winik brings his vast, meticulous research and narrative genius to the cold, dark battlefields and deadly clashes of ideologies that defined this age. Here is a savage world war, the toppling of a great dynasty, and an America struggling to survive at home and abroad. Here, too, is the first modern Holy War between Islam and a resurgent Christian empire. And here is the richest cast of characters ever to walk upon the world stage: Washington and Jefferson, Louis XVI and Robespierre, Catherine the Great, Adams, Napoleon, and Selim III. Exquisitely written and utterly compelling, The Great Upheaval vividly depicts an arc of revolutionary fervor stretching from Philadelphia and Paris to St. Petersburg and Cairo—with fateful results. A landmark in historical literature, Winik's gripping, epic portrait of this tumultuous decade will forever transform the way we see America's beginnings and our world.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


Charlie Balasavage has been on my mind since Sunday.

I'd intended to keep this story for my weekly roundup (it doesn't qualify as a "best of the week" - rather, it is one of the saddest stories I've heard.) The front page of Sunday's Philadelphia Inquirer had this article about at least two corrupt judges who sentenced kids to hard time in exchange for cash . The article tells the story of 16-year old Charlie Balasavage of Luzerne County, PA who was sentenced three years ago to do time in a secure juvenile detention facility. His crime? He bought a scooter from a relative; unbeknownst to him, the scooter had been stolen.

Yeah. For his $60 purchase of a scooter (we're not talking drugs, we're not talking murder, we're talking a scooter) Charlie gets shackled in front of his mother and sent packing to a juvenile detention center. Did I mention that was three years ago? Charlie is still there! And, what's even worse is that his parents are being asked to foot the bill of $220 per month to keep him in juvenile hall. They're in arrears; they owe $1,200. Meanwhile, we've got cop killers running rampant throughout the streets of Philadelphia and they all seem to be individuals who were once locked up, and then, somehow, released. Again and again and again.

Something is obviously clearly wrong with this situation, and one only needs to look no further than the judge's bench to Mark Ciavarella, the judge in Charlie's case. But, let's put His Honor aside for a moment. (We'll come back to him in a second.) Like Charlie, we all have ne'er do wells in the branches of our family trees who have taken money from us or otherwise done us wrong. But that doesn't mean that we deserve to be sent away for three years, particularly when - as in Charlie's case -one doesn't have a prior record. The right thing should have been for the relative to step up to the plate and explain things to the judge somehow, but that didn't happen in this case - nor does it seem that Judge Mark Ciavarella would have allowed the relative to speak. From The Philadelphia Inquirer:

In what authorities are calling one of the worst judicial scandals in Pennsylvania history, Ciavarella and another Luzerne County judge, Michael T. Conahan, pleaded guilty last month to sentencing youths - Charlie among them - to secure detention facilities from which they received $2.6 million in kickbacks. After their guilty pleas, the Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia filed a civil lawsuit on behalf of 70 families, including the Balasavages, alleging that Ciavarella and Conahan violated the rights of young offenders in ways that went beyond the kickback scheme. In "a wave of unprecedented lawlessness," the suit says, the judges failed to advise Charlie and other youths of their right to counsel, accepted their guilty pleas without explaining what they had been charged with, and garnisheed the wages of their parents to pay the costs of detention.

No, Judge Ciavarella doesn't seem to go for such frivolities like testimony in his courtroom. According to the Inquirer story, he dispensed quickly with the legalities that the situation required (he probably needed to catch a flight to check on his Florida condominum - and no doubt, meet Bernie Madoff for dinner). And he wasn't done. Judge Ciavarella continued to sentence Charlie over and over and over again. At last count, Charlie had been sentenced to time in seven separate detention centers.

When I read this story, I expected there to be much hue and cry over this. But a Google search of Charlie Balasavage's name comes up with the Inquirer article cited here and a blog posting from Main Street Liberal. That's it. If there's an opinion piece or something else out there, I haven't found it. So, I'm sorry Charlie, I guess you're stuck with me.

Here's what needs to happen in this case, in case anyone is listening. Charlie needs to be released. Today. Now. His record needs to be cleared, completely. His parents need to be paid back every freakin' dime - interest would also be nice - that they have paid to the state or whomever for their 16 year old son's incarceration. Whatever school Charlie wishes to enroll in needs to accept his credits from the educational program that he participated in while he was in the juvenile center. And Judge Ciavarella needs to enjoy the comforts of prison life for a good long time.

Oh, and one more thing. Charlie needs to lose a few pounds, get contacts, and transform himself into Brad Pitt. Because that's one of the saddest reasons, I believe, that this case isn't getting any attention. You know as well as I do that if Charlie was blond and blue eyed and on the football team that he would be a free boy right now. But he's not, and I firmly believe that his looks are one of the reasons why people are turning a blind eye to his fate.

It's not too late - yet. You see the glimmer of hope, of salvation in Charlie's words in the article. "I can't waste time being angry," he says. "I've lost too much already."

All this for what? A scooter and $60. It's not like Charlie shot and killed someone. But Judge Ciavarella might as well have done exactly that. For by accepting the kickbacks from the detention centers and showing such blatant, callous disregard for a young boy's life, Judge Ciavarella committed attempted murder on Charlie Balasavage's soul.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Leaving a Bad Taste in My Mouth

Maybe it's just me, but negative advertising is a real turn-off. (On second thought, maybe it's not just me. One only needs to look at the tail-end of the most recent presidential election campaign as an example of exactly how many of us were turned off by negativity.) And really, if there's anything we need a little less of during these Depression-era days of free-falling Dows and skyrocketing unemployment rates, it's negativity.

The advertising campaign of which I speak is of Dunkin' Donuts, which is my breakfast provider of choice. As regular readers of The B&B Chronicles know, I have a hell of a commute to work. (1.5 hours each way, on a good day.) I also have a pesky thyroid, which means that upon waking and taking my lovely thyroid meds, I need to wait an hour before eating. So, I get in the car sometime between 6:30 and 7:00 a.m., and by the time I'm within five minutes of my office, 90 minutes has passed and I'm driving by a Dunkin' Donuts ... where I stop, every morning, for a Combo #6. That would be a Veggie Egg White Flatbread (for my cholesterol levels), a large French Vanilla coffee with skim and Splenda, and hash browns (because I'm ravenous at that point and need to eat something, anything.)

The drive-thru cashier and I are on a first-name basis - she greeting me every morning with "Hey, Lady!" She's a very pleasant person, very quick, always accurate with my order and even slips in some innocuous chit chat about the weather, a necklace I'm wearing, whatever.

During the last few days, my Drive-Thru Lady has been MIA. At the same time, I noticed that the other workers have sported brown, pink and orange shirts emblazoned with DunkinBeatStarbucks.com on the back. I'd heard of the blind taste test where more people chose DD over SB, so I didn't think much of it. Till this morning.

I pull up to the drive through and place my order. A minute goes by. Three. Then five more. Then 10. I finally pull up to the window and the cashier - not Drive Thru Lady - slides open the window, hand extended for my cash. Another two or three minutes goes by before my food arrives. They apologize. I say it's fine. (I've learned, in my old age, that it is pointless to go nuts over this stuff. Life's too short.)

And then, I notice that the substitute drive-thru lady's shirt has Friends Don't Let Friends Drink Starbucks on the front of it. Now, I happen to patronize Starbucks, too. (Betty and Boo's Mommy needs her coffee.) Whatever, I thought, just grateful to have my breakfast before I started gnawing on my steering wheel.

I bite into my hash browns - they're lukewarm. I take a sip of my coffee and something - the French Vanilla or the Splenda - was amiss. And then, I'm at my desk and I unwrap my Veggie Egg White and it is cold, unheated, not the toasty flatbread as pictured. I promptly threw it away and grabbed a handful of M&Ms.

And then I thought back to the DunkinBeatStarbucks.com and the Friends Don't Let Friends Drink Starbucks marketing campaign, and I realized why that campaign was resonating flatter than a piece of flatbread with me. I think it really does have something to do with the negative climate in general lately. I mean, we're talking coffee ... I don't know about you, but I'm usually reaching for my Dunkin' Donuts coffee when I've got maximum stress going on. I've travelled through two states, I'm late for work, I need my second tank of gas in a week (and it's Tuesday). I don't need nor do I want any additional negative vibes when I'm trying to de-compress with my coffee (yes, I know, I'm one of those weird wolves that caffeine can either hype up or calm down, depending on the need. And you wonder why I'm addicted.)

So here's what I, Little Miss Public Relations, say about negative advertising. If you're going to go negative, Dunkin', then you better make damn sure that you can live up to the mirage of superiority. Because if you're going to make the claim that Friends Don't Let Friends Drink Starbucks, then there's no room for you to screw up my coffee. There's no room for error; it needs to be right 110% of the time. (As Boo said tonight, "Nothing can be right 110% of the time." My point.)

Because even though I may be Friends with my Dunkin' Donuts pals, I would have loved for them to have given me a Starbucks today.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

A Fan of Flannery

Look what I got from my in-laws as an early birthday present! Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor, the new biography by Brad Gooch about one of my favorite writers.

It was all I could do not to start reading even before the wrapping paper was crumpled and thrown away. I'm really looking forward to reading this one, and might have to consider bumping a few of my library books off to get to this sooner rather than later.

Also, my sister-and-brother-in-law and their kids gave me a gift certificate to Barnes & Noble, which you know I will make good use of. Thank you so much! (My in-laws are regular readers of this blog.)

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Random Acts of Kindness and Senseless Acts of Beauty

At the end of a week that contained 9" of snow and today, temperatures in the high 60s, Betty and I decided to spend part of our Saturday at "Bella Italia", this year's Philadelphia Flower Show. For the uninitiated, this is the largest indoor flower show in the world with over 10 acres of exhibits and an average of 250,000 people visiting the show each year. (I'd bet a large amount of cash -if I had a large amount of cash - that 250,000 people were there today alone. It was packed. Wall to wall people.)

I doubted my sanity as I (and quite a few others) drove in circles in the parking garage for a half an hour as I burned through gas and patience. I was less than pleased about the parking situation and let one of the parking attendants know exactly what I thought about them continuing to admit cars into the garage when they knew damn well it was full. (This exchange made an impression on Betty, who commented, "Mommy! That's the first time I heard you yell at a grown-up." Oh, baby doll, there's way more where that came from ...

We made our way up to the Convention Center and to the ticket booth. We got in line and at that instant, a woman came up to us. "Excuse me," she said. "Would you like a ticket? My friend couldn't come today."

I exhaled the fire (and fumes) I'd been breathing from the parking garage and looked at the woman. "Uh ... really? You sure?" An adult ticket was $26 and a child's $17, so this wasn't a
cheap giveaway that she was offering.

"Yes," she said, handing me the ticket. I looked down at it, checking the date to see if it was, in fact, this year and still valid. I looked up to thank her and she was gone, disappeared into the crowd, the ticket in my hand. I looked down at Betty.

"Do you realize what that woman just did, Betty?"

"Yes. She gave us her ticket because her friend couldn't come."

"I want you to remember this," I said. "That was a very nice thing to do. I wish I knew that lady's name."

And so it was that our first trip to the Flower Show began. (In all my years as a Philadelphian, I'd never been to this event before.) The flowers were beautiful, as I'd expected.

The shopping was plentiful - we bought Betty a pink gardening hat, a flower necklace and bracelet, seeds for our garden, and something called a Forget-Me-Not garden in a box that we'll plant as a reminder for Betty of our cat, Pepper.

And as a reminder for us perform more random acts of kindnesses and senseless acts of beauty.