Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Run Life Your Way

I run for hope, I run to feel
I run for the truth
For all that is real
I run for your mother, your sister, your wife
I run for you and me, my friend
I run for life ... ("I Run for Life" by Melissa Etheridge)

At 21, Kristin Mitchell had her entire life ahead of her.

She had a brand new college degree from Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia. A family bursting with pride, with love. A wonderful job lined up with General Mills.

And she had a boyfriend who killed her - three weeks after this photo was taken.

Three weeks.

Her entire life.

Kristin was in the process of ending the relationship when her boyfriend came to her Conshohocken, Pa. apartment. He had some possessive tendencies, judging from a text message of Kristin's, a text that her father later retrieved from her cell phone.

you are being ridiculous
why cant i do anything with my friends

Kristin didn't know trying to leave him would leave him so violent, so enraged that he would stab her more than 50 times in her kitchen. She didn't know what domestic violence experts know, that statistics show that the leaving is the most dangerous time in a relationship.

She didn't know that she was, at 21, a victim of domestic abuse.

It is because of the efforts of her friends and family, who established The Kristin Mitchell Foundation in her memory, that many more people now know what Kristin and her friends tragically did not. That dating violence is real. That it is prevalent. That there are warning signs.

That it can and does happen on idyllic college campuses to 21 year old students whose whole lives are ahead of them.
And it is on the idyllic campus of Saint Joseph's University where we will be bright and early this Sunday morning, October 4, for the 3rd Annual Kristin's Krusade. It's a 5K Run/Walk that raises funds and, more importantly, awareness. If you're in the area or feel compelled to support the event and Kristin's foundation, you can find more information here.

The Kristin Mitchell Foundation supports educational efforts that raise awareness among college students about the potential dangers of unhealthy dating relationships. In 2009, KMF provided funding for four workshops on dating violence at two Philadelphia-area universities, as well as a 12-hour Women's Anti-Violence Education Training at Saint Joseph’s University, Kristin's alma mater.

Since Kristin's death, her parents Bill and Michele have worked successfully to pass Maryland House Bill 845, allowing for tween and teen dating violence education curriculums in Maryland schools for grades 7-12.

Kristin didn't know what lurked on the other side of her apartment door on June 3, 2005, three weeks after she stepped off Saint Joseph's campus as a new college graduate, a happy day that would be the very last one that her family would ever see her alive.

All Kristin Mitchell wanted was to walk through the door to her new life that was waiting for her. To run life her way.

Because of her, others now can.

And someday if they tell you about it
If the darkness knocks on your door
Remember her, remember me
We will be running as we have before
Running for answers
Running for more.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Halloween Deja-Vu (or, Return of the Corn on the Cob Costume Snatcher)

When it comes to my son and Halloween, I swear the kid just loves to torture me.

My longtime readers may recall last Halloween, when Boo proudly announced that he wanted to be a corn on the cob.

Right. No superheroes or monsters or the like for him.

A freakin' corn on the cob. Like you can find them in abundance at Target.

You can read my previous posts on the matter to find out how it all resolved itself. Meanwhile, it's the most wonderful time of year once again in The Betty and Boo Household.

"I want to be a bowling pin for Halloween," Boo announced.

A bowling pin. Something tells me that I'll be getting a strike when it comes to my creative efforts for this one, and not a strike in a good way.

Meanwhile, I am drawing some comfort in that I might not be the only person who is similarly befuddled by a child's Halloween desires.

Tonight, one of the search terms that brought someone here to The Betty and Boo Chronicles was - you guessed it - "corn on the cob costume child."

Oh, you blog searcher, I think you may be my new BFF. You must come over sometime. I'll make coffee. Methinks we might have much to talk about.

The Sunday Salon: On Banned Books I've Known, Loved, and (gasp!) Read to My Kids

Funny, I never thought my high school teachers in my suburban town were the daring type.

Or the English professors who taught me at my Catholic college.

But apparently, they were all pretty dangerous people.

I know this because September 26-October 3 is Banned Books Week, and in looking at the lists of books that have been challenged or outright banned, I've determined that my mind is officially corrupted. I'm also a pretty lousy parent, because I've been known to read with my kids each night and ... (hangs head in shame) according to this list of challenged children's books, I've read them a banned book or two.

Or three.

I've read my kids poems from Shel Silverstein's Where the Sidewalk Ends and A Light in the Attic.

Oh, and I've also read them In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak. (And blogged about it, too. I guess that means The Betty and Boo Chronicles should be on the banned reading list. I'm OK with that.)

I say all this with my usual heaping spoonful of sarcasm and snark, of course, but Banned Books Week is really a serious topic. I happened to be watching that adorable Muppets video floating around the blogosphere and Betty and Boo immediately came over to see what was going on. I explained that they were tossing out books that they didn't like, for one reason or another, which would mean that nobody would be able to read them.

They were genuinely appalled. And I was proud.

It made me think of that recent piece that has gotten so much play among us bloggers, the one I read in the August 30 New York Times about how one Georgia schoolteacher allows her 7th and 8th grade students to choose their own books rather than be subject to a required list.

So many of the books that I read for high school and college assignments are ones that have been challenged or outright banned.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

(incidentally, To Kill a Mockingbird is mentioned in the NYT piece as one of the books that Ms. McNeill, the Georgia schoolteacher, is not teaching this year because ("when I do ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,” I know that I have some kids that just don’t get into it.”)

The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Beloved by Toni Morrison
The Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Charlotte's Web by E. B. White

(Yes, Charlotte's Web, for God sakes. It's in good company, though, with A.A. Milne's classic Winnie-the-Pooh, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, and The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame.)

Their Eyes are Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
A Good Man Is Hard to Find by Flannery O'Connor
A Separate Peace by John Knowles
Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis

I wonder how many of these I would have picked up on my own, had my teachers and professors not assigned them or made me write papers about them.

A few, maybe, but definitely not every book on this list.

So as we celebrate Banned Books Week, I'm feeling very grateful to those who forced me to read books that made me think. Books that changed me. Books that make me want to read them with my kids and to have on our family's bookshelves for when they are older.

And for instilling whatever quality that is that makes me look at the books I haven't read on the banned books list and making me want to read them, too.

(Watch the Muppet video about banned books here. Then show it to a kid you love.)

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Book Review: Building a Home with My Husband: A Journey Through the Renovation of Love, by Rachel Simon

Building a Home with My Husband: A Journey Through the Renovation of Love, by Rachel Simon

Let's just get these disclaimers out of the way right now: when it comes to Rachel Simon, I'm a bit of a fangirl.

Whenever people ask me who my favorite writers are, Rachel Simon's name is always among them, and she has been there since I clipped her op-eds from The Philadelphia Inquirer, since I heard her speak at a writing conference in 1991, and since I had the thrill of being her student in a writing salon series at a bookstore several years ago. We had been in touch for awhile, then suddenly - not at all.

I tell people (truly, I do) that Rachel Simon is the best writer you've probably never read.

Her 2003 bestselling memoir, Riding the Bus with My Sister was made into a Hallmark television movie starring Andie McDowell and Rosie O'Donnell. Her previous two books, a short-story collection called Little Nightmares, Little Dreams (1990) and a magical realism novel titled The Magic Touch (1994) are well worth tracking down, although they may be out of print (when I was her student, I lamented my inability to find The Magic Touch; the following week, she brought an autographed copy to class for me, having personally retrieved it from boxes in her basement. How freakin' cool is that??!!) Rachel is also the author of a nonfiction book, The Writer's Survival Guide.

So since it has been six years since a new book from her, I was thrilled to see Building a Home with My Husband: A Journey Through the Renovation of Love on the New Releases shelf of the library. In many ways, it picks up where Riding the Bus .... drops you off. (It could be helpful to read Riding the Bus ... before Building a Home, but it's not necessary to do so.)

It opens with a burglary-in-progress of Rachel's and her husband Hal's home in Wilmington, Delaware. Understandably, the shock of the robbery intensifies Rachel's doubts about staying in the neighborhood coupled with her realization that there is much to love about it. Their historic home is within blocks of a beautiful park along the river, a small zoo (which happens to be one of my Betty's personal favorites) and includes friendly, collegial neighbors on a street dubbed Teacher's Lane.

A sagging real-estate market makes moving unpractical, so Rachel and Hal decide to invest in renovating their home.

Anyone who has lived through any type of home renovation knows that such a project (or projects, as the case may be) is not easy. Hal's professional experience as an architect comes in handy, but his expertise isn't enough to ward off a disaster, prompted by a mistake by one of the workers, right as the renovation project is nearing completion.

In Rachel and Hal's case, their entire house becomes a construction zone amid escalating emotions and expenses. At the same time, it becomes to symbolize something more.

"It is ours because it reflects our personalities. It is also not ours, because it exists before and it will exist after, and we are just passing through, as all of us do through time itself." (pg. 230)

"If only this house could tell us all that it's seen. If only we could learn the ways of love and commitment that those before us worked out through their own lives then we might not stumble so hard, and so long, and so many times. I know the stories are right here, all around us. If only we were able to listen." (pg. 232)

Yes, this is a book about the renovating of a house, but it is also about the many stages and designs that our relationships go through - the relationships with our partners, parents, siblings, friends and ultimately, ourselves. We've all experienced the giddiness of new love when the paint is bright and the fixtures gleam; when we design the blueprints and draw up plans to meet that cute guy that says hello every morning; when the every day, almost mundane scenarios of our lives explode with a cancer scare, a break-up or a break-in, a fight unable to be mended.

Building a Home with My Husband is a story told in present day as well as in flashbacks to different stages of the author's life. I loved the honesty that Rachel brings to the story, her heartfelt writing of wrestling with difficult emotions and decisions, and the humor of being stymied when needing to "let go" of a lifetime of possessions that are connected with people and places that were with us as we poured the foundations of our souls. (Right there with you, girlfriend.)

I love so much of Rachel Simon's work, including this memoir. I think anyone who has lived through a renovation (even of just one room) and who is intrigued by the premise of how such a process is closely aligned with the core of one's life would also enjoy Building a Home with My Husband.

Here's what some other bloggers had to say ...

Book by Book

Charlotte's Web of Books

Compulsive Overreader

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Poor Little Rich American Homeless Girl

Back when I was of doll-playing age, the scenarios usually included agendas like playing house or school.

Social issues like homelessness? Not exactly in our scripts.

But now, American Girl has a new doll bringing homelessness to a child's bedroom near you.

As with every American Girl, this one - Gwen - comes with an autobiography. Gwen has had some difficulties in her young life. Her father walked out on them. As a result, her mother lost her job, rendering her and Gwen homeless. (Gwen is part of the American Girl crowd because she happens to be BFFs with Chrissa, who holds the distinction of being American Girl's Girl of the Year for 2009.)

Gwen also comes with a $95 price tag.

That's a chunk o' change. (You do get a paperback book about Gwen with that. No hairbrush, though. That will set you back an additional $7.00).

I know, I didn't believe it either. I was pretty sure this was a hoax, especially when a check of the American Girl website doesn't appear to have a mention of Gwen's homeless status. But it seems that more established media outlets than The Betty and Boo Chronicles have confirmed such, including NBC New York in this clip:

View more news videos at: http://www.nbcnewyork.com/video.

Um ... where to even begin with this one? Let me count the ways.

1. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, at least 1.35 million real children are homeless throughout the year, with 200,000 homeless on any given day. Families with children are the fastest growing segment of the homeless population.

2. I get that the intention behind the launch of Gwen is probably something along the lines of introducing real-life stories to girls, or to "increase awareness" of homelessness. And that's all fine and well and good, but what I am not getting is how exactly the purchase of a $95 doll actually increases awareness of homelessness.

Am I missing something here?

Wouldn't it be better to give that $95 to a homeless organization or to someone on the street?

2. That last question? Isn't all that likely to happen. What would help boost awareness - and be a damn better marketing campaign, quite honestly - would be if American Girl did something bold like matching each $95 purchase of Gwen with a donation (preferably a $95 one) to a homeless organization. Someplace like Project H.O.M.E. in Philadelphia, for example.

It's not like the Mattel executives couldn't afford such a match. Such a cause-marketing campaign could be connected with appropriate opportunities of how families can help make a difference with the issue of homelessness. American Girl has engaged in substantial charitable endeavors with other issues, which is certainly to be applauded. But in these unprecedented economic times where families are experiencing foreclosures and record unemployment, issues like homelessness deserve and need more than lip service - they deserve and need cold hard cash.

My Betty is an American Girl fan, as am I - and despite this "who-the-hell-possibly-thought-this-was-a-good-idea?" scenario with Gwen the Poor Little $95 Richer Homeless American Girl, I will still encourage Betty's interest in all things American Girl. I love the tie-in with the girls and historical references, how they aren't dressed like Bratz, and how issues like safety on the Internet and standing up to bullies, etc. are part and parcel of the whole American Girl marketing and merchandising machine.

And I commend American Girl for trying to raise attention about the plight of homelessness. I just hope there is some type of concrete, substantial action behind doing so.

Because otherwise, if homelessness is just being used as a convenient feel-good cause to jack up $95 sales two months before Christmas, then it becomes what Betty said when I told her that the new American Girl doll doesn't not have a home.

"That's just so sad."

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

10,000 hits!

In the words of the classic Archie Bunker, "Aw, jeez, will you look at 'dis?"

If you glance down at the HTML Hit Counter on this here blog, you'll notice that the odometer just changed to a significant number.

There have been 10,086 hits on this blog.

I know that's peanuts compared to some of the big time bloggers out there, some who get that number of comments on one giveaway post.

But that's huge for little ol' me.

Thank you. So very much.

Summer School by the Pool

It was the teacher.

Well, certainly not entirely the teacher's fault, because as we are all taught, there are indeed several sides to a story. But in the never-ending story about the Valley Swim Club in suburban Philadelphia, which found itself in the midst of a national news firestorm earlier this summer after a nearby day camp alleged racial discrimination, we've now learned a key fact missing in the heated days of July when the story broke.

I wrote about this case on two occasions: here and here. And as I wrote previously, I know this Club and I know it well.

To recap: the saga began on June 29 when kids from Creative Steps Day Camp (the number of kids was originally 65, now it is down to 56) arrived at the suburban Valley Swim Club. It was to be their first of several weekly excursions to the club for 90 minutes of swimming and recreation. The Club was certainly expecting them, having contracted with the camp and (presumingly) cashed their nearly $2,000 check.

But what happened when the campers arrived depends on who you talk to. Or, who you believe. What is consistent, however, is that someone heard someone say something to the effect of "What are all these black kids doing here?"

And then campers were told not to return, public relations bungling and mis-steps abounded, and the psychologically scarred campers involved enjoyed a summer of extravagant outings, including a fully-paid trip to Disney World courtesy of some publicity-starved artist musician whose name I don't even remember and don't want to bother looking up.

Today we learn that the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission determined that the Club acted with racial bias regarding this incident, and, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer, is "ordered ... to pay a $50,000 civil penalty for discrimination against one child, whose parents filed the complaint. The child, whose name was withheld ... reported hearing racial comments after the group arrived at the club June 29....The report also orders Valley Club to pay other damages, including reimbursing the parent who filed the complaint for all related expenses."

Now, make no mistake about it. A remark like "what are all these black kids doing here?" is hurtful, disrespectful and unconscionable anywhere in America, in 2009, on the cusp of us having elected our first African American President of the United States. Nobody disputes this.

And nobody came forth to admit to saying this.

Until today.

And here, boys and girls, we learn one of our many lessons of this case.

One of the people reportedly making the remark is a teacher who recognized one of the campers from her school. Again, from a separate story in today's The Philadelphia Inquirer:

Almost immediately, campers reported that they heard white members make disparaging racial remarks about them.

"What are all these black kids doing here?" asked one of the members, who was identified in the affidavit as Michelle Flynn, a teacher at Laura H. Carnell Elementary School on Devereaux Avenue in Philadelphia.

A camper had also identified Flynn as one of his teachers during the school year and told a camp counselor.
It gets better, and the proof is in the email. (Another lesson, boys and girls: never put anything in an email that you wouldn't want on the front page of the newspaper.)

Flynn, complained that they weren't given prior notice about the campers' arrival and that their presence posed a risk.

" . . . [S]ince I personally know some of these kids because I teach at their school and I have seen first hand what at least one of these children is capable of I don't feel comfortable with my children even going to the bathroom during this time," she wrote in an e-mail to Duesler [the Valley Club's president] the same day.
Um ... excuse me?! You don't want your child going to the bathroom while the African American kids are in the vicinity?! Flynn might as well demanded to see a sign indicating COLORED on the bathroom the next time she visited the pool.

I mean, someone nominate this woman for Teacher of the Year already.

The very fact that this statement was uttered at all (and I had my doubts initially that it was, but now it seems as if at least one person likely did say such things) is sad enough. But to me, the fact that this is being attributed to a teacher is even more appalling. We'd like to think, I'd like to think, that the people who are teaching your kids, my kids, are more grown up than that, are a little more educated. If this the mindset teaching our kids, in the beleaguered Philadelphia public school system no less, than we are screwed. There is no hope, really.

I'll take this a step further and pose this: I am willing to bet (say, a random amount of $50,000) that there is some prior history, some bad blood, between Ms. Flynn and the kid who allegedly, reportedly heard someone say, "What are all these black kids doing here?" It's too coincidental for me that a kid from the school and the teacher (who is involved with recruiting members for the Valley Club) were both there when this all went down.

In the meantime, it's a new school year, a new fall. But the poolside summer school lessons linger, teaching us new lessons each day.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Fall Into Reading

It's the first day of fall ... and the first day of the Fall Into Reading 2009 Challenge, hosted by Katrina over at her blog Callapidder Days. (You can find all the details here. There are over 100 of us participating in this, last I looked, and you can join in anytime.)

Now, y'all know I'm not big on the reading challenges, but this one seems do-able (and really, isn't that button just too cute?)

You see, I kind of have this big ol' TBR pile of library books that I wrote about during BBAW last week (OK, OK, here's the photo again so I can embarrass myself a second time.)

Mind you, the total number of books on my night table is more than I have read so far this year. So, really, the reality is that I will likely have to do some selective reading from this pile.

And here's a little secret, just between us: I'm 10 books away from a total of 50 books read this year, which would be a personal all-time record for me (well, since I was an adult, anyway. I'm sure my mom would be willing to bet that I read way more than 50 books a year back in the day.)

Here, then, are the books I plan to read for the Fall Into Reading Challenge. (One question: do audiobooks count? I'm including them anyway, but if they don't, no big deal.)

Audio Books

1. A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini (audio) - Because I am the only person who has never read this or The Kite Runner. I started this on audio in the middle of last week but had to start over today because I went several days without my usual commute and lost track of the storyline. (finished 9/30/09!)

2. Secrets of a Fire King - by Kim Edwards - I loved The Memory Keepers Daughter, and am interested to see if this previous novel is just as good. (OK, it's a short story collection. Did not know this. And yes, it should be moved down to the Short Stories, but that will mess up my list ... so it's staying here.)

3. Linda McCartney: A Portrait - by Danny Fields - Because I've always thought Linda was a class act. (Just like her husband.)


4. The Confessions of Max Tivoli - by Andrew Sean Greer - Because I loved The Story of a Marriage. Loved. It.
(finished 10/9/09)

5. Falling Man - by Don DeLillo - Because it's been on my TBR list for awhile.

6. A Mad Desire to Dance - by Elie Weisel - Because it's Elie Weisel.

7. A Mercy - Toni Morrison - Because it's Toni Morrison.

8. Paper Towns - John Green - I recently read Looking for Alaska and really liked it. People have been raving about this one, so it made the list. (I also have An Abundance of Katherines in that library pile, too.)

9. I See You Everywhere - by Julia Glass - Because it looks good.

10. The School of Essential Ingredients - by Erica Bauermeister - Because it has been getting great reviews and it's been on my TBR list for awhile.

11. Making It All Work - by David Allen - David Allen's "Getting Things Done" approach to dealing with all the "stuff" that makes up the to-do lists of our lives is the only productivity "system" that has ever worked for me. I've been off the wagon with GTD more than I care to admit, and I am currently on the ground while the wagon is ready to run me over. (OK, maybe that's a little melodramatic.) This made the Fall Into Reading Challenge because I'm hoping it will help me get back into the swing of things.

12. Dreams from My Father - by Barack Obama - Because the man is my President and I feel obligated to read his book.

13. The Soloist - by Steve Lopez - Because Steve is a Philly guy who wrote great columns when he was a journalist for The Philadelphia Inquirer and I won't see the movie before reading the book. (One of my life rules.)

14. Bloggers on the Bus: How the Internet Changed Politics and the Press - by Eric Boehlert - Because you seriously expect me to resist a book with the word "blogger" in the title? One that is also about politics? And the media? Resistence is futile.

Short Story Collections

15. The PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories 2009 -
I just started this collection and am up to the 3rd story. I love short story collections, and this is usually one of my favorites each year. (finished 10/2/09!)

16. Wonderful Town: New York Stories from The New Yorker - Every time I go into a bookstore, I look at this book. (Why I haven't purchased it, I don't know.) So when I saw it on the library shelf, I knew it was coming home with me.

17. Dear Husband - Joyce Carol Oates - Because I've never read any Joyce Carol Oates, if you can believe that.

Looking at this list, this seems ridiculous, doesn't it? Especially when you consider that I've signed myself up for NaNoWriMo in November (the busiest month of the year in the Betty and Boo household) and that I am also hoping to have all of my reviews that are still outstanding done before NaNoWriMo begins.

But, it is all in good fun. (Remind me of that, please, when I start crying that I didn't get to as many as I planned way back on September 22.) And if you'd like to join in, remember to stop over at Callipidder Days and sign up!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Book Review: Last Night in Montreal, by Emily St. John Mandel

Last Night in Montreal, by Emily St. John Mandel

I owe a bunch of people a bunch of thanks for introducing me to this book. I'm not sure exactly who, because this has been on blogs everywhere, but ... oh wow. This is, quite simply, a spectacular debut novel by 30 year old Emily St. John Mandel.

Last Night in Montreal is the story of Lilia, whose father has been a fleeting presence in her life - until she is 7. It is then that he abducts her and the once distant father and daughter become, by necessity, inseparable. For years, the two remain on the run - eating in diners, sleeping in motels, changing names and stories as quickly as they change lanes on the country's highways.
Lilia (love that name!) doesn't know exactly why she was abducted, just that it had something to do with her mother and an incident on the evening of Lilia's disappearance. What Lilia does know is that she doesn't want to be found ... and that she doesn't know what it means to stay in one place.

This becomes painfully clear when Lilia leaves her boyfriend Eli. Heartbroken, he pursues her from New York (where the couple were living for several months) to Montreal.

Last Night in Montreal is told from various point of views - Eli's, Lilia's, and that of Christopher Grayson, a private investigator literally on the trail of Lilia and her father. A former circus performer with a failed marriage who gradually neglects his daughter Michaela (who is the same age as Lilia), Christopher becomes obsessed with Lilia's case, spending years keeping them just within his grasp. Meanwhile, Michaela - with her father's circus genes in her blood - perfects the art of tightrope walking, both literally (she has a penchant and skill for walking an actual tightrope across alleyways) and figuratively, mentally unbalanced and walking precariously on the edge of life.

Emily St. John Mandel weaves a smooth, original plot that has the reader following her characters' every move across the pages. How and why these two families' lives intersect is absolutely fascinating, and flawlessly presented with finesse that surpasses the abilities of many an author dominating bestseller lists.

Last Night in Montreal is also layered with many compelling themes, particularly the issue of the father-daughter relationship. In one case (Lilia's), there is the once distant father that becomes his daughter's only ally in life; in Christopher and Michaela's, there's the once close father who disappears for years while trying (supposedly) to solve a disappearance.

Although some might find the multiple points of view and the switch in time confusing, I didn't (and believe me, I would be the first to say so as that usually drives me nuts. Not so this time.) The chapters are short ones, sometimes only a few paragraphs, which works very well; it keeps the reader engaged and turning the pages. (It's pretty easy to justify staying up late to read "just a few more chapters" when they are only a couple pages long - not to mention the superb sense of accomplishment of plowing through multiple chapters in one setting.)

The storylines are different (but similar in some respects), but that didn't stop Last Night in Montreal from reminding me of one of my favorite movies, the 1988 film "Running on Empty" starring Judd Hirsch, Christine Lahti, and the late River Phoenix.

It's been 20 years since I saw "Running on Empty" for the first time, but to this day I cannot hear the first line of James Taylor's "Fire and Rain" without thinking of the last scene of this movie. (Sing it with me, won't you? Just yesterday morning, they let me know you were gone. Suzanne, the plans they made put an end to you ... ) If Last Night in Montreal ever becomes a movie (which could actually work) that should be on the soundtrack.

In the meantime, Last Night in Montreal stands as a truly impressive debut by an author well worth watching in the future.

Author Emily St. John Mandel's website is here. Also, check out what some other bloggers had to say. (If I missed your review, let me know!)

Bookfoolery and Babble
Caribou's Mom
Cindy's Love of Books
Fizzy Thoughts
I'm Booking It
Musings of a Bookish Kitty
Peeking Between the Pages
She Is Too Fond of Books

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Sunday Salon: September 20, 2009

Like everyone, I'm experiencing a little bit of a book blog hangover this weekend, having indulged in all (well, most) that Book Blogger Appreciation Week had to offer. I did most of the daily writing topics, except for Wednesday's, and tried to visit as many blogs as possible (and I know there are countless more that I still want to get to!)

If this week did anything else, it deepened my appreciation for all of you and the folks who made BBAW possible. Thank you so much for making my first BBAW such a fun one!
As for actual reading, I finished Rachel Simon's memoir Building a Home with My Husband: A Journey Through the Renovation of Love. It's the story of a home renovation, yes, but also the story of the structure, demolition, and renovation of relationships with family, husbands, and friends. If Rachel's name sounds familiar, it might be because she's the bestselling author of Riding the Bus with My Sister, which was a bestseller and made into a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie starring Rosie O'Donnell and Andie McDowell.

I'm a huge fan of Rachel's work and have been for years (full disclaimer: I took a writing class with her several years ago), and am hoping to have my review completed soon (this would also qualify for the Literary Road Trip since she lives in my very own new state! Squeeeeeeee!)

(I'm also trying to see if there is interest in my hosting Rachel for brunch or an author dinner here in my home, whereby everyone would bring the book (already read) for dinner and conversation with Rachel. I'd need 12 people in person to pull this off.If interested, and if you're someplace in the Philly/DE/eastern shore MD area, let me know in the comments and we can chat.)

Today I'm finishing the exquisite Last Night in Montreal by Emily St. John Mandel, which is a book I would not have discovered without the praise of book bloggers. This is a book where everything works - the characters, the plot, the pacing. I can't wait to see how it ends, yet I know I will be sad to put it down. This is a debut novel, and it is a phenomenal one.

I'm not sure what print book is next, but my audio book this week is A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. I am one of the only two remaining people on earth who hasn't read The Kite Runner. Both have been on my bookshelves forever, and the audio gives me a chance to "read" something I own.

Finally, I was inspired by my BBAW interview partner's many challenges, so I've decided to sign up for the Fall Into Reading Challenge being hosted over at Callapidder Days. As evidenced by my Show Us the TBR post from BBAW, I clearly need to make a dent in my library TBR pile (and I'm embarrassed to say that I have 4 more from today's library stop to add to the stack), so this seemed like a fun Challenge to do. It starts on Tuesday (the first day of fall, can you believe it?!) so there is still time to sign up.

Hope everyone has had a great Sunday and a great week ahead!

Hell on Wheels (or, Reliving One's Roller-Skating Glory Days at Age 40)

photo taken by me, of my 40-year old feet and those of The Dean's, all laced up in roller-skates for the first time since our glory days of 1982.

Roller-skating at age 40, when one hasn't been under a rink's strobe-lights since the Reagan administration, can be somewhat of a humbling experience.

Not to mention a painful one, what with the assault on muscles unused for decades and also of the mental ache of simultaneously listening to squealing youngsters and The Jonas Brothers.

Allow me to explain. Betty and Boo were invited to a birthday party yesterday at a local roller-skating rink. (And not just any party, mind you. This was a party for an adorable 6-year old girl - let's call her Hannah - who happens to have a little crush on Boo, her summer love from this year's camp program.)

"Where's Boo?" Hannah asked, as soon as we arrived at the rink. I explained that he had acting lessons this morning, but not to worry, he would be arriving soon.

This news was greeted by a swoon normally reserved for the likes of, well, one of The Jonas Brothers.

"Boo is in a play!" Hannah gushed to her friends. (Indeed, this is quite true. My Boo has landed the role of Gaston in a children's production of Beauty and the Beast.)

Boo arrived shortly thereafter, accompanied by his Manager of the day (a.k.a. The Dean). After the requisite pizza and princess-decorated cake was eaten, and the princess presents opened, it was time to skate.

"Doesn't this make you want to relive your roller-skating days?" I asked The Dean. And when we realized that parental skate rental was only $2, thanks to being part of a party, we gamely laced up along with the other parents.

Around the rink we went, albeit a much slower speed than we experienced back in our glory days. We sang along to Michael Jackson tunes that, amazingly, still blared from the speakers, followed by the Mileys and Selenas and the Taylors of this new day. We reminisced about a martini-imbibing boss we once shared, a tough-as-nails taskmaster who, in the throes of her own mid-life crisis, abandoned us to pursue a new career as a roller-blader. (Or in-line skating professional. Or something vastly different from the public relations pro that she was.)

Then, the lights dimmed and the strobes shimmied across the hard floor for Couples Skate, as The Dean escorted his best girl out to the floor. (Birthday girl Hannah tried the same moves on Boo, who remained cooly aloof, so she settled on Boo's mom, perhaps as a way to endear herself to her future mother-in-law, much as I did with Mrs. Calhoun, mother to my true and only love of my 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade life.)

The Dean and Betty taking a spin around the rink.

And then the skating became a little like riding a bike. It all came back, the push off with the left foot, the gliding of the right, the memory of sneaker skates and the days at the Pike, my home-away-from-home for most of my tween years, before we knew they were called the tween years.

And then the inevitable happened. (How did you ever guess?)

In the midst of my 80s reverie that had me cruising at speeds approaching 5 mph., I wiped out, nearly crashing into the cement wall. Landed flat on my back, arm slammed into the hard floor.

Not wanting to remain a spectacle to the teenyboppers cruising past me, probably laughing at the middle-aged loser flat on her rear, I dusted myself off and determined that medical attention was not be needed (however, this morning, my own version of The Day After, I am very grateful for the leftover prescription Motrin courtesy of last month's root canal ... who says that falling apart doesn't have its perks?)

Yes, this morning I am paying the price for my folly with heating pads, ThermaCare patches and piles of pillows here on the sofa. But for all my bitching this morning, it's a good, growing kind of pain, in a way.

One born from having real-honest-to-goodness fun, something scarce in a 40-something life, watching one's kids zooming 'round and 'round the rinks of their lives.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Verse Reviewers

Um ... hi? Is this the Verse Reviewers, the virtual poetry circle? This seat taken? Great, thank you. Yes, I found it OK ... directions were great. I'm happy to be here too.

Serena over at Savvy Verse and Wit has invited me (and you too, and anyone else) to join her Verse Reviewers, where each week we review and comment on a poem. Since I am trying to read more poetry, I thought this might be fun and a challenge at the same time.

Today's poem by Emily Dickinson, writes Serena, is one of her favorites. Mine too, and since it is one I've read (many) times before, it's a good one for me to start with.

Because I Could Not Stop for Death (712)

Because I could not stop for Death –
He kindly stopped for me –
The Carriage held but just Ourselves – And Immortality.
We slowly drove – He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility –
We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess – in the Ring –
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain –
We passed the Setting Sun –
Or rather – He passed us –
The Dews drew quivering and chill –
For only Gossamer, my Gown –
My Tippet – only Tulle –
We paused before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground –
The Roof was scarcely visible –
The Cornice – in the Ground –
Since then – 'tis Centuries – and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses' Heads
Were toward Eternity –

On its surface, this poem is (obviously) about death but especially about that sense one has when death comes unexpectedly. We've all experienced the shock of seeing someone's obituary, perhaps someone young, someone who we knew in school or as a colleague in the next office several jobs ago, or someone who used to live in your neighborhood.

We tell ourselves the usual platitudes meant to comfort our psyches ... life is short, make every day count, treasure the time you have here with your loved ones, it's the little things that matter.

And I think the line and title "Because I Could Not Stop for Death, He Kindly Stopped for Me" speaks to the modus operandi of our society, of always being on the go and always doing something. Death is going to come for us someday and it might be in the midst of planning the PTA fundraiser, ("We passed the School, where Children strove At Recess – in the Ring"), of sealing that big deal and moving up the corporate ladder ("We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain –"), accumulating designer clothes and bigger homes that are, in actually, not as important as we make them out to be. ("For only Gossamer, my Gown –My Tippet – only Tulle – We paused before a House that seemed A Swelling of the Ground –The Roof was scarcely visible – The Cornice – in the Ground –") And these things will go on without us.

This may be a more modern take on this. Another interpretation could be that these verses are metaphors for one's life - going to school and playing at recess, then to work and having a home and family.

It's as if Death has put a DVD on in his Carriage. "Take a good look ... these are the things that have made up your life."

Look closely and carefully.

Our exit will be coming up sooner than you think.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Show Us the TBR Pile! Link

I noticed a few people wondering where to find the link to the Show Us the TBR Pile! that a few of us did this week. (Including, um .... me.)

You can find it right here.

I also understand that these will remain posted for a little while, so there you have it ... no excuse not to show us your TBR!

A Convergence at the Conference

I’m a different person this morning than I was yesterday.

And it’s all Suze Orman’s fault. In a good way.

A really good way.

Yesterday, 4,000 women converged on the Pennsylvania Convention Center for the 6th annual Pennsylvania Governor’s Conference for Women held here in Philadelphia. It was billed as a day to rethink, resolve and renew.

It was all that, and more.

I made some connections for the nonprofit that I work for (a supporting organization of the conference), always a good thing. I thanked sponsors of our events and hopefully, spread a little awareness about what we do and our cause.

And then there was what the conference did for me on a personal level.

Regular readers of this blog know that I have a hell of a commute. I’m sure you’re as tired of my bitching about my nearly 2 hour (each way) trek up I-95 as I am of doing it. I do it because I love what I do, the cause and the people I work for, and yes – there’s the small matter of a paycheck. Those of you who know me in real life know that, while I’ve been interviewing for possibilities in our new state, it’s been an interesting two years on that front.

Wow, you've got a lot of experience. I'm afraid you’re overqualified.

We’d love to hire you, but we really want someone who knows this teeny tiny state and you’re not from here.

Those salary requirements are a little more than we were expecting. The economy, you know ...

Or nothing at all, which frankly, in my opinion, is among the worst possible PR for a nonprofit. There have been more than a few nonprofits with whom I’ve interviewed, once, twice – never to be heard from again. Not the courtesy of a rejection, just ... stone cold silence.

Well, you see, I’m not just a potential employee of that organization, I’m a potential donor, and don't think that's how that organization is branded in my mind the next time a solicitation comes my way.

But I'm starting to rethink all this. I’m starting to realize that these frustrating two years in a traffic jam have actually been a gift, a blessing – and although this shift was in place long before yesterday, the messages I heard from keynote speaker extraordinaire Suze Orman, brilliantly savvy entrepreneur (and fellow mom of twins!) Jen Groover, and tough-as-freakin’-nails-but-with-a-big-heart Judge Glenda Hackett all converged in my mind.

I bonded over books and lunch with Peg, an entrepreneur with a coaching business, who gave me a peek at her Kindle and seemed interested in my blog. (Hope you like it here, Peg!)

I met Kim Allen, President of Tailor Made Travel, and dreamed with her of England and Italy and lands unknown as she and I sat in a session together. (Kim offers personalized travel "for the trip that fits you." I needed her this spring when The Dean and I were dreaming of a 40th birthday trip to England that would combine our love of Beatles and literature.)

And Sonia Dozier from Uniquely You was my resume critique expert and although we only talked for 20 minutes or so, I love her already for the lovely shot of self-esteem she gave me in our session. I treated myself to new bracelets and a necklace from BeadforLife and bought four books (you know I couldn't resist the conference bookstore!) plus got one free just for attending! Although I didn't have a chance to get the books signed, I'm going to approach the authors for an interview here on the blog once I'm done reading them. (First on my list? Keynote speaker Tory Johnson's Will Work from Home.)

But it was Suze, Suze, Suze (who I love and who was the main attraction for me to raise my hand to volunteer as our organization's representative at the conference) who rocked the house and then rocked it some more, telling me and 3,999 others in her trademarked style that we had to Save Ourselves. Now.

(This first photo is from my table at lunch. The real Suze is to the left, and the Suze via jumbotron is to the right. We had excellent seats!)

Suze had us in the palm of her hand and we loved every moment of it.

She reminded us to remember that when you're going one way, God allows U-turns. (Maybe even encourages them, I thought.)

And then I got back on the train, and then took a more-abbreviated trip than usual down I-95. And I thought of how it would be nice to shorten my 20 hour a week commute to ... well, something slightly less. I thought of the entrepreneurs I met and the inspiring words I heard, and I realized that I am so lucky to have a job I love, in a field and for a cause I love. And that maybe these two years of trying to find something a little closer to home weren't for naught, that maybe the lesson learned is to put yourself out there, yes - but in a way that doesn't result in feeling rejected, neglected, overqualified, a stranger in a tiny land. In a way that saves myself.

U-turns are allowed. Even on I-95. There's no need to ride on autopilot for the next decade, or two, or three, or four.

So, something is brewing. I've tasted the coffee over at Jen Groover's Launcher's Cafe. My caffeinated soul is perculating.

I love the blogging and social media and philanthropic work that I do. I love the public relations angle of things. I love to write (and if this post doesn't prove that, nothing does.) I love making connections and being connected, sharing information, being a persuader and being in the know.

I want to do all of this while embracing and engaging in the causes I care about - women and girls' issues, children, literacy, education, AIDS, and so many more, more, more.

I love reading and would love to interview more authors (my superheroes) here on this blog. I'm planning to go to BlogHer next year in New York, and possibly Book Expo America.

I want to write a novel, and I've signed up for NaNoWriMo this November.

I want to try and make all of these things converge.

Maybe they already have.

About these photos, taken by me yesterday as I left the conference. It's of the Grand Hall of the Pennsylvania Convention Center, and was formerly the headhouse of Reading Terminal, a major train station and complex in Philadelphia. For years, my father commuted to and from work through Reading Terminal, and I always think about him whenever I am here in this Grand Hall, walking where he once walked but in an entirely new space.

Apparently, the very taking of this photo was a criminal offense. I'm not sure why, but a security guard reprimanded me for doing so, and since I had a train to catch, I didn't ask.

I was, however, secretly pleased about breaking the rules.

Suze would probably say that sometimes, we need to do exactly that.

BBAW: Setting Goals, in 50 Words or Less

I need some more coffee before I can attempt today's Book Blogger Appreciation Week (BBAW) prompt.

We're to write (in 50 words or less, mind you!) what we like best about our blog right now and where we would like our blog to be a year from now.

Coincidentally, I've been doing a lot of reflection lately on goals, both of the personal and professional kind. And yesterday, part of which I spent in the same room as ... wait for it ... Suze Orman (yes, that Suze Orman!), put my mind in overdrive.

So, right now, I only have one word for today's post.


And: more to come ...

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Philadelphia Libraries to Remain Open!

It's a good day in Philadelphia.

I wrote earlier this week about the impending closures of Philadelphia's entire library system, and word comes tonight that thankfully, it seems that they will be remaining open.

According to The Philadelphia Inquirer's story, "state lawmakers granted final approval today to a temporary Philadelphia sales tax hike and a two-year reprieve on city pension payments, a pair of critically needed measures that plug the final $700 million hole in a multi-year deficit that once stood at $2.4 billion."

This means that the drastic measures of closing libraries, recreation centers, and laying off more than 3,000 people (including police and firefighters) can now be avoided.

Pennsylvania, however, is still without a state budget, so it's not all sunny skies here. Partly cloudy is more like it.

Hey, we'll take it.

BBAW: Book Discoveries

Today's Book Blogger Appreciation Week topic encourages us to, and I quote, "blog about a book you read only because you discovered it on another book blog. Preferably, this will be a book you loved! You might also write a bit about the blog you discovered it on!"

People often ask me how I work full time, have the hellish commute that I do (1.5 hrs. each way), write a blog, and read 38 (and counting) books in a year.

I don't really know. I just know that, for whatever reason, book blogs and book blogging somehow make me want to read more. The 38 books that I read so far this year? That is the most I have ever read in 12 months as an adult. Definitely since Betty and Boo appeared eight years ago.

Ten books this year (11, if you count the one I am reading now) are ones that caused me to inwardly shriek with delight when seeing them on the library shelves, because they were ones that I had read reviews of or seen mention of on other blogs. It's almost as if you, trusty book blogger friend that you are, were standing right there with me, whispering "Read this ... you might like it. It's really good."

I wish I could remember the specific blog that I first these books on, but I can't. There are, however, two exceptions. I found out about The Alchemy of Loss, by Abigail Carter, from Abby's blog of the same name . Some have compared this to Joan Didion's A Year of Magical Thinking (which, for some reason, I really did not like and could hardly finish). I don't know. I thought Alchemy was such an exquisite book and a lovely tribute.

There was also Louise Erdrich's short-story collection, The Red Convertible, which I have the lovely Beth Kephart to thank for not only introducing me to a great collection of stories, but an author who is becoming one of my favorites.

And here are the others. If you wrote a review of any of these in the past year, please consider yourself hugged and thanked!

1. The 19th Wife - by David Ebershoff
2. Matrimony - by Joshua Henkin
3. The Little Giant of Aberdeen County - by Tiffany Baker
4. The Story of a Marriage - by Andrew Sean Greer
5. The Red Leather Diary: Reclaiming a Life Through the Pages of a Lost Journal - by Lily Koppel
6. This Lovely Life - by Vicki Forman
7. Looking for Alaska - by John Green
8. Tomato Girl - by Jayne Pupek

and 9. (reading now) Last Night in Montreal, by Emily St. John Mandel.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

BBAW: Ode to the TBR Pile

This would be the BBAW post where I humilate and embarrass myself.

The latest blogging assignment from the BBAW folks is to take a photo of your TBR pile.

Let me say upfront that I'm only doing this because I love all of you. (And I want to see yours. Hey, it's only fair. :)

This here is my TBR on my night table. (Is it nighttable or night table?) Mind you, it's just my library books. (With the exception of two of them.) This doesn't take into consideration the 225 books that are on the bookshelves in the library. Or the several books in my car. Or the one in my purse. Or my audiobooks.

While I am humiliating myself, I might as well go all out and show you each of the four piles, in the order that they were taken out/are due back and hence, are intended to be read. And in the spirit of the fun that is BBAW, I'll try and do this in verse. Ahem. (A poet I am not.)

Now I lay me down to sleep
But, oh, look at all these books I keep
Checking out of the library every week
Yes, this TBR pile ain't for the meek.

There's something for everyone, I've got it all here
Julia Glass' I See You Everywhere
If I want short stories, I'm all set
(And oh, there's The Woman Who Can't Forget!)
Short stories, yes, they do abound
Pen/O. Henry Awards and the New Yorker's Wonderful Town
And Oates' Dear Husband (look, mine's starting to frown)

Maybe I should be listening to When Ghosts Speak
And Dreams from My Father
By Barack Obama, who I'd love to meet.
Do I really need a book to tell me that Heaven is Real?
Here's another TBR pile ... keep your eyes peeled!

Now here's where I went on a YA binge
(Though An Egg on Three Sticks kinda makes me cringe)
Do You Hear Me, Mr. Lincoln? Remember This
If I wind up Making It All Work, 'twould be quite bliss
Or I could Make Lemonade, remember The Summer Guest
Reading An Abundance of Katherines
Is it time for a rest?

Is this The Life You Longed For
Or the Time of My Life
(A Mercy says the husband
These books are consuming my wife! )
Pretty soon I'll catch up with Falling Man
And I'd imagine The Confessions of Max Tivoli will be quite grand.

Oh, wait, I've got more! Here's pile three!
A Mad Desire to Dance

with The Laws of Harmony!

There's The Sweet In-Between
and The Song Is You
Forces for Good
(did I bite off more than I can chew?)
I couldn't resist Paper Towns
or A Gate at the Stairs
Will I get to all of these books
Will someone bet me or dare?

And these are the books
I got on Saturday
Do Not Deny Me
Is that what my books say?
Or is this Anything But Typical
When the Labels Don't Fit
I'm a book lover, it's true
This I'll freely admit

There's just a few more now
We're winding down the pile
We've been here a thousand years
Yes, these books might take me awhile
Willow, it's the Street Gang:
The History of Sesame Street
The Soloist and oh, this one
It sounds especially neat

Because I Am Furniture
Look, it's written in verse
Gee, my TBR pile is embarrassing
Please tell me ... does yours look worse?

Yo, Philly! Ben Franklin Here, Talkin' to Youse From the Grave

Yo, Philadelphians! Benjamin Franklin here, talkin' to you from the grave. I know it's been awhile and some of you might even need a refresher course on exactly who I am, but listen up.

Seems I've been hearing rumors from a few of the Founding Fathers that as of October 2, the entire Philadelphia library system is going to be shut down. And to that I ask you people one question:


I mean, seriously. I leave you people alone for 219 years, and after all I've done for you brats - electricity, that kite thing, the post office, etc. - this is how you repay me? By threating to close the libraries?

Oh, no need to take my word for it. I only founded your damn library for you, back in the day of 1731. If it wasn't for me, you selfish pricks wouldn't even know what a library is. But, here it is, read it and weep, right here on the Free Library of Philadelphia's website:

We deeply regret to inform you that without the necessary budgetary legislation by the State Legislature in Harrisburg, the City of Philadelphia will not have the funds to operate our neighborhood branch libraries, regional libraries, or the Parkway Central Library after October 2, 2009.

Specifically, the following will take effect after the close of business, October 2, 2009:
  • All branch and regional library programs, including programs for children and teens, after school programs, computer classes, and programs for adults, will be cancelled
  • All Parkway Central Library programs, including children programs, programs to support small businesses and job seekers, computer classes and after school programs, will be cancelled. We are exploring the possibility of relocating the Philadelphia Author Series programs to other non-library facilities.
  • All library visits to schools, day care centers, senior centers and other community centers will cease.
  • All community meetings at our branch and regional libraries, and the Parkway Central Library, will be cancelled.
  • All GED, ABE and ESL programs held at Free Library branches will be discontinued, students should contact their teacher to see if other arrangements are being made.

Yeah, you could say I'm pissed. You, Pennsylvania, are the only state in the country - the country! - without a frickin' budget. Which, I might remind you, should have been done back in July, latest. I mean, are you kiddin' me? What am I, a clown? The mess you've left is nothing short of a disaster. You've got nonprofits without funding, cutting critical services, people losing their jobs left and right, the longest recession in God knows how long. You're talking about Doomsday Budgets and cutting 3,000 police officers and firemen in the City of Brotherly Love.

You really don't know how good you have it. Back in my day (I'm talking the 1730s, pal) books were rare and expensive. There were no libraries. Only the very wealthy and the clergy had access to large numbers of books. Even men of moderate means could not readily afford books. So, I rounded up a few folks and for 40 shillings or something, we started a library. Simple.

Youse could take a lesson from that. What I think you people need to do is lock yourselves up in some room, kind of like what happened that hot as hell summer when we were writing your goddamn Declaration of Independence in Independence Hall, nary an air conditioner in sight. You wanna see some finger-pointing and bickering? I'll show you some finger-pointing and bickering.

But the point is, we got the job done, didn't we? Not like you schmucks, going on your third month without a state budget. You ... you're an embarrassment. Rome was built sooner than this shit.

Yeah, I know that the closure of your libraries would be a temporary sort of thing, until you get your rears in gear with your budget. And I've heard some people say that you're cryin' wolf, that you're using the libraries as pawns in a political game. That it's your mayor's fault, your governor's fault, or that kid Barack Obama's fault. Well, you know what I think? I don't give a rusty rat's behind whose fault this is. Just fix it already! Get the job done.

All I know is that people depend on Philadelphia's libraries. Look at all those people who would be affected by this. Come October 2, they'll have diddly-squat, thanks to you. In the immortal words of the great John Lennon, I ask you this: how do you sleep? How do you sleep at night?

Before your libraries close their doors, there's one book that you might want to check out while you still have the opportunity. It was pretty popular back in my day. Called Common Sense, by Thomas Paine. Take it from me: youse need a little bit of it.

Now, I've said my piece. It's up to you to figure this shit out. If you need me, you know where to find me.

Right here. Spinnin' in my grave.

BBAW: Meet Gina from Book Dragon's Lair

Today's BBAW post is an interview with another blogger. I'm so thrilled to introduce you to Gina from Book Dragon's Lair! If you're into Reading Challenges (or, like me, interested in finding a Challenge or two to join), Gina is definitely the go-to blogger on Challenges!

I almost didn't have an interview partner because of a snafu, and the last thing I wanted to do was make more work for Amy or anyone else assisting with behind the scenes. So, I'm very grateful to whomever fit me in at the last minute ... and very pleased to have had the chance to chat with Gina, whose blog is a new one to my Google Reader.

Me: I noticed that you're doing a bunch of challenges! Which ones are your favorites?

Gina: What an Animal II. It has been fun picking out the books for it and I discovered a new author.

There are a couple of romance challenges that were fun and the Christmas in July Challenge but that one I hosted so I don’t know if it counts, same with the Cat Sleuth Challenge, then there's the Confuzzled Faerie Challenge, and the New to You Authors challenge …

Me: Which challenges would you recommend to someone (like me) who wants to do more challenges?

Gina: It really depends on what you like to read. I would suggest that you personally check out J.Kaye's "Support Your Local Library". No limit on type of book, just that they are borrowed and you pick your own goal.

For someone who doesn't read a whole lot or finds they're reading the same author(s) over and over there is the "20 books in 2009" and "New to You Author" challenges. The first thing to do is think about what reading goals you may have over the next year or so then go to http://novelchallenges.blogspot.com/. Anyone hosting a challenge or event can ask to have it blogged about here. It's a great resource.

Me: Thanks, Gina! I'll definitely check them out, and thanks for reminding me about J.Kaye's. Most of my books come from the library, so that would be doable for a Challenge wannabe like me. Now tell us, what makes a good challenge, in your opinion?

Gina: Well, it's always nice for the host if the links work. I love when the host visits my post to say welcome and some of the links of challenges I’m hosting didn’t work. I like an interesting challenge or one that may push my comfort level a bit.

The "Non-fiction Five" was great because I don’t usually read non-fiction and a couple had us read very specific books like an author that starts with "G" or "building" in the title.

They also need to be attainable. I like when we visit back and forth, even though I'm really bad at it. Prizes are always good - even if it's just a really cool button for your blog. Ahem, I guess that means I better go made a really cool button for the challenges I'm hosting!

Me: How long have you been blogging? Why did you start?

Gina: September 2004 but I only started book blogging in January...... It all started when I decided to clear out an email account. I belong to too many yahoo groups and was deciding if maybe I should drop some. One of them was On the Porch Swing. I'm not active but I did go that day and found a post about challenges and that lead me to a blog. The blog had more then one challenge so when one of the links had a "Mr. Linky" I knew I needed a dedicated blog just for books. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Me: Where did the name of your blog, Book Dragon, come from?

Gina: Well, there was this book…. Actually, that’s true, I read A Book Dragon by Donn Kushner. The dragon becomes smaller and smaller when he stops eating and ends up protecting a Book of Hours through the ages. When he ends up in modern day America he protects his friends and their stores (one is a bookstore) from an evil developer. Hence, “a book dragon, because books are a treasure worth protecting.” Maybe not to the extreme the little dragon went to but still.

Me: Absolutely, books (and bookstores) are definitely treasures worth protecting. Your avatar photo ... tell us about that.

Gina: That's Scorch, isn't he cute? [Me: nodding head in agreement]. He’s a Ty Beanie Babies, I have a couple of other ones too. I needed a dragon and most of the ones I found were scary or Chinese. I found this one and knew I had a winner. I picked a couple of interesting books and there you have it.

Me: Do you have other blogs? (It looked like from your site that you do ... )

Gina: My profile does show several blogs. One is my book blog and one is my craft blog. Some challenges have a dedicated blog that all the participants can post on, that’s what the rest of them are. I'll be adding a "Library" blog eventually where I'll have all my books posted. That's a long-term goal.

Me: You have a wide range of reading tastes, which is great! Of all the genres that you read, can you give us a favorite book (or author) in each? (or just some :)

Gina: LOL, you're kidding right? Let me see.... My favorite western is Death Rides a Chestnut Mare. I picked it up because I have a fantasy book titled Death Rides a Pale Horse. I loved it so much I’ve purchased several more by the same author.

I do have some authors that I purchase right away. Dick Francis, Lilian Jackson Braun, Anne/Todd McCaffrey, Jayne Ann Krentz (Amanda Quick), Elizabeth Lowell, Stephanie Laurens, Piers Anthony, Monica Ferris, Maggie Sefton. I’ll buy all of Caroline Burnes Familiar series. Most of Tamora Pierce. Vince Flynn, Julia Quinn, Lisa Gardner, Debbie Macomber, Susan Mallery, Jo Bverley, … looks like I’m heavy on the romance side.

Me: I love your book goals for 2010.

Gina: Goals? brb…. Oh! Thanks. I wanted something simple and doable. I thought of another one so I've updated the list and reposted. I’ve joined several challenges that overlap into 2010 so I need to think of some challenge goals so I complete them without waiting until the last minute! I have 42 books to read before the end of the year. Which doesn't sound like a lot but it includes 2 non-fiction by 9-30 and NINE James Bond books. Plus my review books and they don't all match a challenge.

Me: On average, how many books do you read per month?

Gina: [snicker ....lol …roflmao ....wipes eyes, catches breath... ] Ahem. I went over some old posts and, based on pages read, if a book averages 300 pages, I average 23 books a month. Yeah, that sounds right. Of course, my daughter got married this summer so that messed with my reading.

[Me: 23 books a month?! My 36 books this year looks pitiful compared to that!]

Me: You mentioned your daughter Sam. Ages? How old?

Gina: I have five “kids” but three of them are furry and my husband will only claim two of them. Sam is 23 and newly married. Scott is 20. We also have a rabbit (great story), and two cats. Come to think of it, it’s a great story how we got the cats too.

Me: What was the very first book you remember reading?

Gina: While it would be cool to say something like "The Cat in the Hat" I don't really remember anything until high school. I know that’s when I started reading Dick Francis and Anne McCaffrey. I know I read Nancy Drew and I’m almost certain that was sooner than high school. I read My Friend Flicka and other horsey books at a much earlier age. My parents were very patient when the Scholastic order form came home ;-) I still own some of them.

Me: Anything else you want to share?

Gina: I'm a 40+ SAHM who would rather read than do most anything else. I think that covers it but people can always ask if there’s something I missed.

Me: Thanks so much, Gina! It's been a pleasure being your BBAW interview partner! Everyone, check out Book Dragon's Lair here!

Happy BBAW!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Welcome, BBAW Friends!

Happy Book Blogger Appreciation Week, everyone! If you're visiting The Betty and Boo Chronicles for the first time this week, welcome! Thanks so much for stopping by!

For new readers, here's a bit of background on The Betty and Boo Chronicles, which was started in August 2008 to keep in-laws and friends updated on the goings on of our family. (Hence, the title, which reflects the nicknames of my almost 8-year old twins.) I quickly discovered the world of book blogging and fell in love with the idea of a community where I could talk books with others.

And then the presidential election happened and I found myself writing about politics and current events, and then the trials and triumphs of raising a child on the autism spectrum, and then I started posting some recipes and photos. I like mixing up the book stuff with the personal, the parenting, the politics, and the occasional Philly pretzel twist on things. Writing has been a passion since I was 6, and I love having this outlet to share a microcosm of my life. (Feel free to check out the labels on my sidebar "What I Tend to Write About" ... and of course, let me know what you think, even on the older posts. I try to reply to comments as much as I can.

Oh, and the photo? It was taken by me this summer as The Dean (my husband) and I walked along the back bay of the shore town where my family has a house. To me, it speaks volumes ... and sums up so nicely what I try to do here at The Betty and Boo Chronicles.

So, thank you so much for visiting, and I hope you'll come by again soon. Have a great Book Blogger Appreciation Week, everyone!

~ Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy)

BBAW: 101 of My Favorite Book Blogs

I subscribe to 445 blogs.

No typo there, folks. Four hundred and forty five blogs. (And I wonder why my Google Reader never budges from 1000+.)

There are all kinds of blogs in my reader - mommy and parenting blogs, autism blogs, blogs by people I know in real life, blogs about social media, political punditry blogs, writers' and writing blogs, decluttering-your-life blogs, and oh yeah ... a book blog or two.

Make that a book blog or 102.

I know the purpose of this post was for us to highlight some of our favorite book blogs that didn't make the BBAW awards shortlist, but I can't choose just some of them. I started to do that, and then I felt bad leaving someone off the list. And what if that person mentioned me, and I didn't? I would be mortified.

So I decided this had to be an all or nothing sort of post. Which is why on this first day of Book Blogger Appreciation Week, I'm giving a shout-out to every single book blog that I subscribe to.

Admittedly, I don't read every single post from every one of those 101 blogs. Some are among my must-reads of the day, others I skim, and others are brand new to me. But make no mistake about it, I think each one of these bloggers brings something of value and interest to the book blogosphere, and I certainly appreciate each and every one of them. I also subscribe to most of the blogs on the BBAW short-lists, in addition to these 101.

So, without further ado, I gladly present the book blogs in my Google Reader (with apologies for the crappy formatting and my alphabetical mistakes ... my eyes are glazing over here, and my family has suggested that they might like dinner at some point).

1. A Comfy Chair and a Good Book

2. A Garden Carried in the Pocket

3. A Girl Walks Into a Bookstore

4. A High and Hidden Place

5. a lovely shore breeze

6. Alexia's Books and Such

7. Allegro

8. Amy Reads Good Books

9. At Home with Books

10. Bags, Books & Bon Jovi (admit it, doesn't that name just make you smile?)

11. Bailey's and Books

12. Bending Bookshelf

13. Bloggin' Bout Books (should get an award for best subject lines! I love Susan's creative subject lines ... and the rest of her wonderful blog.)

14. Blue Archipelago

15. Bold. Blue. Adventure

16. Book Aunt

17. Book a Week with Jen (Jen)

18. Book Chatter and Other Stuff

19. Book Crumbs

20. Book Dragon - a brand new blog to me, and that's because Book Dragon is my BBAW interview partner! I can't wait to introduce you to my new friend in tomorrow's post.

21. Book Gazing

22. Book Nut

23. Bookfoolery and Babble

24. Bookgirl's Nightstand - Iliana's blog was among the first blogs I discovered, and she has been among my favorites ever since. In addition to the book talk found there, I love her descriptions of her book journals and the process of making them.

25. Bookish Ruth (Ruth - PA)

26. Booklights

27. Bookmama's World

28. Books and Cooks

29. Books for Breakfast - Book Reviews With a Twist

30. Books for Kids Blog

31. Books 'N Border Collies

32. Books on the Brain

33. Bookstack - also among one of the very first book blogs I started reading

34. Breaking the Spine

35. Chronicle of an Infant Bibliophile

36. Cindy's Love Of Books (Cindy) I met Cindy through the BEA TwittyParty, and her blog has been one that I've read regularly ever since.

37. Desperado Penguin

38. Devourer of Books

39. Diary of an Eccentric

40. Dog Ear Diary

41. everything distils into reading (Gautami)

42. Farm Lane Books Blog

43. Finding Wonderland: The Writing YA Weblog

44. Fyrefly's Book Blog

45. GottaBook

46. Great Penformances

47. HipWriterMama

48. Hope's Bookshelf

49. I'm Booking It

50. In Bed with Books

51. In the Shadow of Mt. TBR

52. John Green's Weblog

53. Joyfully Retired

54. Lakeside Musing (JoAnn) JoAnn and I share similar literary tastes, are mothers of twins (although hers are driving and mine are often driving me crazy) and have some geography in common. Even without all of that, Lakeside Musing would still be one of my favorite blogs. I could stare at that photo of the lake forever. Stop over and visit JoAnn on the lake and tell me if I'm not right.

55. Lattes and Life

56. Letters on Pages

57. Librarian-ism-ish

58. Lily Koppel's Blog

59. Linus's Blanket

60. Lost in Books (Rebecca)

61. Medieval Bookworm

62. Melanie's Musings

63. Melissa's Bookshelf (Melissa)

64. Melissa Wiley (In the Bonny Glen)

65. Melody's Reading Corner

66. Mrs. F-B's Book Blog

67. Must Read Faster

68. My Own Little Corner of the World

69. nothing of importance (my everyday blog)

70. On My Bookshelf

71. One Person's Journey Through Books - Sheila is the founder of Word Verification Balderdash, which occurs on Thursdays and is so much fun.

72. Page After Page

73. Paper Cuts (NY Times)

74. Poetry Blog of 32 Poems Magazine

75. Read Street (Baltimore Sun)

76. Readergirlz

77. Reading Rumpus

78. Reading Through The Night

79. Redlady's Reading Room

80. Shelf Space

81. SmallWorld Reads

82. SMS Book Reviews

83. Stacy's Bookblog

84. Stella Matutina

85. Table Talk

86. Teaching Authors

87. Teaching Will: The Shakespeare Club

88. That's a Novel Idea
I "met" Ali a few months ago during My Friend Amy's live chat with Beth Kephart, and have loved her blog since. She's brand new to the book blogging world, having only been blogging since June.

89. The 3 R's: Reading, 'Riting, and Randomness - Florinda's was one of the first blogs I discovered and one of the first commenters on mine, and for that (and more) I will be forever grateful. Florinda was also among those who did so much behind-the-scenes work on BBAW, so she has my appreciation for that, too. Plus, she is the person who clued me in to what a #hashtag on Twitter means.

90. The Biblio Blogzine

91. The Bluestocking Society

92. The Book Lady's Blog

93. The Compulsive Reader

94. The Literate Housewife Review

95. The Queen's New Throne

96. The Well-Read Child

97. This Girl's Ever Expanding Library

98. Virtual Wordsmith

99. Whimpulsive

100. worducopia

aaaaaaaaannnnnnnnnnnddddddddddddddddd ....

101. Word Lily !

I celebrate all of you!

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to discover Number 102 ....