Saturday, October 31, 2009

A Halloween Treat of the Literary Kind

While Boo was at his acting class this morning, Betty and I went to the library. This is our usual weekly routine. Instead of hitting the large regional branch that's a 20 mile trip (each way), we stayed local and went to a branch that we call "the little library."

Each branch of our library system is different, and each has its pros and cons. "The little library" tends to have the best selection of new children's books. It also has an ongoing children's book sale, usually consisting of an overflowing cart of books. Betty loves to look through these (almost moreso than the library books) and we've usually gotten some good finds.

"Oh look, Mommy, it's a Halloween book and today is Halloween!"

There was no way I would be able to say no to whatever she was holding, I thought.

She held it up. "It's called Halloween Treats!"

I looked at it ... and blinked.

"Oh my God, it's the missing Carolyn Haywood book!"

"She was your favorite writer when you were a little girl, right, Mommy?"


Longtime readers of this blog might remember the post I wrote back in January as a tribute to Carolyn Haywood, who was, indeed, my favorite author as a child. I wrote to her when I was 6 and received a handwritten reply. I've never forgotten that.

And her book of short stories, Halloween Treats, was long out of print, published in 1981. At 12 years old then, I'd apparently outgrown Carolyn Haywood's timeless, innocent stories about Betsy and her friends Billy and Eddie, and their life as elementary school students, because I never read this. I looked for it not long ago, and it didn't seem to exist anywhere.

For a mere 25 cents, now it does. So forget the candy (I'm on a self-imposed chocolate ban again to see if it helps my headaches) ... I've got my Halloween treat!

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Danger in Drifting

There's an old church that I pass every day as I navigate the turn on a one-way street through the urban town where I work. More days than not, I catch the red light - which is OK, because it gives me more time to see the message on the ... what is it called? Marquee sounds too Hollywood for this digified church. Oh, it's Friday, it's been a long week ... you know what I mean.

The other day, the message was simply this:

The Danger in Drifting

I thought about that in connection to the story I had in mind for my NaNoWriMo novel.

(For those unawares, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, which begins November 1 and ends November 30. The idea is to write a 50,000 word novel in that timeframe - the equivalent of 175 pages. I've signed up this year, for the first time, and am a combination of excited/nervous. While I fully really realize that any number of words that gets me closer to writing a book is an accomplishment itself, I am determined to get to word 50,000 as I usually don't play well with the notion of failure.)

But last week, the story I've been wanting to write - needing to write, really - for over a decade's time was not quite coming to fruition. I had a very vague idea, no names for my characters, just the bare skeleton of a plot ... and then, nothing.

Maybe this wasn't the best idea for a story, I thought. This is too hard, you're probably too emotionally attached. Maybe switch gears to something else.

I was drifting.

While spending time this weekend with my mother (who thinks I need a Clean-Your-House-a-Thon instead), she told me about a family friend and gave me a different idea. That could work. That was better, I thought. I began sketching out the idea for that novel in my head.

And as I did, I realized from reading the forums on the NaNoWriMo site and others' thoughts, that it is really OK to be feeling discombobulated and adrift at this stage. That the point of NaNo is simply to write - there will be time, in the winter months, for chipping away at the prose and the words, to make them bloom. It doesn't have to be perfect - far from it. It just has to be.

And so I've returned to the original story, the one that I've been carrying around since 1996 with the refrain of "someday ... maybe ..."

Someday maybe is on the calendar. November 1.

We'll see what happens with this, and I'll post updates and maybe a rough excerpt or paragraph or two. I also have a bunch of "ready to go" blog posts and book reviews, just so you don't miss me too much while I'm NaNo-ing.

(Seriously, people, I can't be the only one who feels like Mork from Ork whenever I say "NaNo," can I? I know, I'm dating myself with that reference, but I know my blog audience and I know some of you get it, even if it is scary to admit.)

It's not too late for you to participate in NaNoWriMo, you know. I'd love to have you as a writing buddy (you can click on the button on my sidebar to get to my NaNo page, if the feeling is mutual).

The Danger isn't so much in the Drifting. Rather, I think the danger comes from the fear in our minds, that we're not good enough, that what we aspire to doesn't have worth or value. That maybe the real danger is the demons lurking in ourselves, not from the trolls under the bridge.
(photo taken by me, July 2009, of the otter pond at the zoo).

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Book Review (Kids): Baseball Hour, by Carol Nevius and illustrated by Bill Thomson

Baseball Hour, by Carol Nevius and illustrated by Bill Thomson

There's a little baseball game known as the World Series happening as I type this, a game which is a very big deal around these parts because the Phillies are doing battle with the Yankees.

My loyalties are somewhat divided - as a Philly girl, rooting for the Phillies is practically in my DNA. However, three years ago, The Dean adopted the Yankees as his new team (after being disappointed one too many times by the Phils) and I must say, the New York boys have really grown on me.

There's no dilemma of who to cheer for in Baseball Hour, a beautiful picture book of a team's baseball practice (hence the title) that is a true winner for its simplistic prose. The story of a baseball team practicing their swings, hits, and throws is told in catchy rhyme.

What makes this book special are the illustrations. Gorgeous, sepia-toned drawings show a team of girls and boys of every ethnic background and races, a male coach and a female coach (or perhaps umpire). None of this is referred to in the text, but rather presented through the pictures almost as a given, as if this is what true teamwork looks like - all of us doing our part, working toward a common goal together.

Would that this was true off the diamond.

This book would certainly be a great one to read with a passionate baseball player (or an enthusiastic young fan) but its subtle lessons of teamwork and the importance of practice are ones that all would benefit from. It's listed as for ages 4-8, which seems appropriate.

Younger children can practice their reading skills (the words are simple and sentences not complex), while older children could be engaged in conversation starters like, "Wow, that's pretty cool that one of the moms is on the field. Do you think she is the coach or the umpire?" and discussion of how everyone can .... play ball!

Yes, Melissa, There Really Is a Santa Claus. (And He's A Pervert.)

Remember little Virginia O'Hanlon? The 8 year old New York girl who wrote to the New York Sun asking if Santa was real and receiving what is now the infamous editorial, "Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus" in reply?

Good thing she didn't write to my local newspaper instead. Given the headline that was used for an article recently, she might have gotten more truth in reporting than she expected.

The newspaper was on our kitchen table this weekend for several hours before I picked it up (I was doing the Read-a-Thon, remember) and was promptly aghast at this headline:

Ex-Santa Arrested on Child Porn Charges

OK, now obviously this is wrong on so many levels. Set aside for a moment (just a moment) the hideous charges. (The story - which I'm not linking to here because I don't want to encourage more risque search terms than I'm already going to attract with this post - goes into details about how he was also a child photographer and offered to make house calls - as creepo Santa! - to unsuspecting children.)

This story was on Page 1 of our Local Section - so, it wasn't the front page per se, but the front page of the local section. Which, frankly, is the only section I read of my paper. Still, if the editors are listening (and I am Friends with two of them on Facebook and seriously considering sending them this post), I have to wonder ... what the hell were they thinking??!! Clearly, someone wasn't.

Kids who believe in Santa can read. Mine do, and can, and I'd like to keep it that way for as long as possible, thank you very much. I don't have many years left of this, but I sure as hell wouldn't want it to end this way. How would you explain that? (Hopefully I'm being vague enough here - lest any innocent eyes land on this blog post.)

Sadly, this pervert Santa is only one of the many messed up Misfit Toys out there this holiday season. No doubt we're in for more reportage on Elves Gone Wild as Christmas draws closer.

So, here's a tip to all you journalists out there. Take a lesson from the folks writing the editorial response to 8 year old Virginia who read the New York Sun, and remember that maybe an 8 year old might be within eyesight of your words. Kids may not be reading the paper per se (and sad to say, I almost wouldn't want them to, given coverage like this) but for old farts like me who actually still do get a printed paper and have it on our kitchen tables next to our coffee, you might be well advised to consider that - like Old Saint Nick himself - children are watching and see everything.

In the meantime, to my local paper? Bah humbug ... and may you find a piece of coal in your stocking as your punishment for that fine headline.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A New Beth Kephart Fan In the Making

Conversation at dinner tonight. Absolute true story.

Betty (almost 8), out of the blue: "Mommy, did you finish all the books we gave you for Christmas last year?"

Me: "Um ... I read some of them."

Betty: "Did you read Undercover yet?"

Me, stunned that Betty would remember - nearly a year later - that she bought me Beth Kephart's Undercover last Christmas. (With The Dean's help, of course.)

Me: "How did you remember that?"

Betty: "I remember the cover. It was my favorite book that I bought you."

Monday, October 26, 2009

Once More, The Way It Was

I returned on Sunday to the church where I grew up in more ways than chronological, where my mother worked and where we buried my Dad, and where The Dean and I were married 16 years ago.

We were there to honor our former pastor, being (installed? named?) as Pastor Emeritus. He served as its Pastor for 42 years, and I realized, somewhat incredulously, that I was there for 30 of them.

We listened as our Pastor spoke to us once more. And in just a few short words and phrases, in a cadence slowed by the effects of a stroke but still resonating to the rafters, he gave us everything that he gave us then.

The reassurance that even though "life throws you curveballs - watch me," (he is wheelchair-bound now), it is what we make of our life and our situation that matters. That in the darkness, we can strike a new match of opportunity and move forward in its light. (His words, not mine.)

He reminded us of one of his famous sayings: "It's not your aptitude, but your attitude, that determines your ... ?" He waited.

"Altitude!" more than a few of us answered.

He made us laugh as he laughed at himself. "I tell myself that all the time, but I'm hard of hearing."

And more than a few of us (myself included), wiped away tears as he thanked us for all that we'd given to him, for the memories that he admitted were fuzzy but important nonetheless. We realized that this might be goodbye, that it could likely be the last time we would see and hear him in this place, in his church (for it will always be his church, regardless of who is in the pulpit) that he himself single-handedly founded on October 25, 1956, exactly 53 years ago yesterday.

He is the author of several inspirational books, including one titled, Me - Do I Really Matter? And there was a time when he was justified in asking that question. There are times when we all are.

So much of who I am and what I believe is because of him. As one of my contemporaries who spoke during the service said, "Aside from my parents, you had the biggest influence on my life."

Amen to that, I nodded, for the same is true of myself.

Over cake, I chatted with friends I hadn't seen in years; to a person, we found ourselves saying the same thing, as if our saying it out loud made it real. How wonderful the day was, how inspirational, how much our pastor shaped our lives.

We are the people we are because of him.

We have been blessed.

Fall Into Reading Challenge Update - Month 1

Now that the Fall Into Reading 2009 Challenge is (can you believe it?) more than a month old already, I thought I'd give an update on how I'm doing. As a reminder, it's being hosted over at Callapidder Days if you want to check it out and participate.

For the first bona-fide challenge that I've entered, I'm pretty pleased with my progress thus far. (I entered two other challenges, but wasn't very vigilant about keeping track, etc.)
So here's where we are, one month into this:

Currently Listening To:

Linda McCartney: A Portrait (audio) - by Danny Fields

Currently Reading:
Parallel Play: Growing Up with Undiagnosed Aspergers, by Tim Page
(this is a new addition to my Fall Reading Challenge list, which seems to change every few days.)

Books Completed (links take you to my reviews):
A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini (audio) - (finished 9/30/09)
The Pen/O.Henry Prize Stories - (finished 10/2/09)
The Confessions of Max Tivoli, by Andrew Sean Greer - (finished 10/9/09

Started, but Abandoned
Secrets of a Fire King (stories) (audio), by Kim Edwards
Dear Husband (stories), by Joyce Carol Oates
Falling Man, by Don DeLillo

Returned to the Library Unread (but planning to check out again soon)
Wonderful Town: New York Stories from The New Yorker

Coming Up:
A Mad Desire to Dance, by Elie Weisel
A Mercy, by Toni Morrison
Paper Towns, by John Green
I See You Everywhere, by Julia Glass
The School of Essential Ingredients - by Erica Bauermeister
Making It All Work, by David Allen
Dreams from My Father, by Barack Obama
The Soloist, by Steve Lopez
Bloggers on the Bus: How the Internet Changed Politics and the Press, by Eric Boehlert

Hope everyone is enjoying their fall and that those of you who participated in the Read-a-Thon are recovered (or recuperating)!

Pain in the rear disclaimer that's unfortunately become necessary after finding one too many of my posts on weird "blogs" and content sites: Photos and text copyright 2009 MelissaF. If you are reading this anywhere other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or a feed reader, then this content has been stolen and used without permission. Please read the original The Betty and Boo Chronicles and help stop content thieves. A pox on all their houses. (Nah, I ain't bitter. Why you ask?)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Read-a-Thon: Hour 22 (and I'm back ...)

I'm baaaaaaaccccckkkkkk!

Not necessarily by choice, I admit. Boo woke me up at 3 a.m. "I think I'm just going to read quietly until 8:00," he announced.

At 3 a.m.

"Sounds good, honey," I mumbled. "The Read-a-Thon is still going on." And I fell back to sleep.

But now it is 5:30 a.m., I've read a couple more pages in Parallel Play (a wonderful memoir, by the way) and I am stunned to see that some folks are still going strong.

I'm off to Cheerlead for these final hours, as much as I can between eating breakfast, getting myself and kids ready to be out of the house by 8:30 a.m., and the normal chaos that morning creates 'round here.

Big congrats to all who are still reading, to all who read any amount of pages/books, and all those cheering us readers on! You all rock!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Read-a-Thon Update: Hour 14

My heart is saying to push on, keep going. But my head - my migrained, pulsating head - is singing a different tune.

It's saying, "Cheerlead for a little bit, then get thee into bed for perhaps a little more reading followed by a Be Kooooool migraine patch." (Love those things. They're not a cure, but they help me fall asleep in such instances and they do relieve the pain.)

I'm almost at 300 pages and a little more than 6 hours total of reading, which translates into 50 pages an hour. Meh. Just call this "Diary of a Wimpy Read-a-Thoner."

But, the truth is, I have a pretty long and busy day tomorrow. I'm headed back (for the first time in 5 or 6 years, I think) to the church where I grew up and where The Dean and I were married. Afterwards, my mother-in-law is throwing her annual Halloween party for the grandkids. (Lest you were wondering, the two occasions aren't connected. Just on the same day.)

It's the first time I've been a reader and I'm 300 pages further into my TBR stack than I was at 8 a.m. today. Plus I enjoyed some nice tea and reading with Betty, plus my Cheerleaders have been the best and have provided me with some new blogs to check out.

So, it's all good. It's really all what you make of it, isn't it? Like during the power outage tonight. After the initial tears and fears of being suddenly plunged into darkness, the kids rebounded quickly and soon we were laughing by candlelight at the kitchen table, telling spooky stories. (Boo said a sentence or two, then Betty, then me.)

It's like the Read-a-Thon itself. When you think of it, it's really amazing how we've been able to take something so sad as Dewey's passing and all that we lost, and turned it into something so fun, so positive, and that brings people around the world together. I didn't know her as well as others, but I'm betting that she would have loved seeing this (and especially how #readathon was trending on Twitter! We book bloggers have arrived!)

And, now that we have, I'll stop my punchy rambling and simply say: goodnight! (and thank you to all - organizers, cheerleaders, everyone! - for a really fun day!)

Read-a-Thon: Hour 12

Yeah, hello, I was trying to reach Mother Nature? Oh, good, it's you. Listen, I won't keep you. I'm loving the torrential rain and winds you've brought to these parts tonight. Perfect reading weather. And the bolts of lightning in October? Pretty impressive stuff. But, really, the power outage was a little dramatic. Not to mention unnecessary.

You see, a power outage right at the precise moment the Read-a-Thon hour strikes 12 is so not cool. Not even a little bit. Electricity is pretty essential for reading and Internet connections. I know reading by candlelight was fashionable back in the day, but trust me, after Read-a-Thoning for (some of) 12 hours, that's not happening.

Our power just went out, thanks to the aforementioned storm, for 40 minutes. After what seemed like hours sans book and computer, we return you to our regularly scheduled Read-a-Thon, currently in progress:

Currently reading: Parallel Play: Growing Up with Undiagnosed Asperger's, by Tim Page

Number of books read since you started: 1.5

picture book: My Brother is Autistic

finished An Egg on Three Sticks

Pages read since last update: 62

Total pages read: 244

Amount of time spent reading since last update: 1.5 hours

Running total of time spent reading since you started: 4.5 hours

Mini challenges completed: 0

Other participants you’ve visited: 12 additional Read-a-Thoners

Snacks and Beverages Consumed Since Last Update: Chex mix; dinner (rotisserie chicken, mac and cheese, peas, water), one Starbucks Grande Pumpkin Spice Latte.

Read-a-Thon Update for Hour 9

Oh my, judging from the page totals I've seen while briefly Cheerleading, I have some serious catching up to do. I'm not even posting my page totals this go-around: it is embarrassing.

But I have a good excuse.

Betty and I went to the library and the grocery store this afternoon, as is our routine on Saturdays. In the children's section, I actually read an entire children's book (My Brother is Autistic) and the first 8 pages of Ten Things Your Child With Autism Wishes You Knew, which was on the shelf and is one of my Read-a-Thon books. So, I felt like I was still participating.

We weren't there long, though, because some toddlers were making a major ruckus with some of the toys. I have somewhat of a pet peeve with this. I don't necessarily mind toys like puppet theaters and stuff like that in libraries, but this plaything was ... well, I don't know what the hell it was, it just clearly was distracting. Betty has a low-tolerance to noise (gets that from me) and even she said something. I nearly said something to the librarian.

Of course, I brought home four more books:

Poems from the Women's Movement, edited by Honor Moore

The House on Tradd Street, by Karen White

Brooklyn, by Colm Toibin

The Girls from Ames, by Jeffrey Zaslow

And, after the grocery store where we stocked up on more snacks and dinner for this evening (Stouffers macaroni and cheese), it was off to the Starbucks drive-thru where I picked up two Pumpkin Spice Lattes. One for me, one for The Dean.

Going to try and get a 1/2 hour of reading in before dinner is ready.

Catch you later ... (oh, and thank you so much for the comments! I almost felt guilty coming home to 8 comments. You're the best cheerleaders EVER.)

Read-a-Thon Update: Going Solo

Betty, with honey vanilla chamomile tea and a good book
(The Children Who Smelled a Rat, by Allan Ahlberg)

Betty (age 7, almost 8) has announced that she's finished with the Read-a-Thon for today.

Oh, well. Like all things related to childhood, this was all-too-fleeting.

Read-a-Thon Update: Hours 3 and 4

Only 20 hours to go!

Title of book(s) read since last update: just finished An Egg on Three Sticks.

Number of books read since you started: .5 (that's point 5 ... not 5 actual books. Oh, how I wish ...)

Pages read since last update: 29

Amount of time spent reading since last update: 30 minutes

Running total of time spent reading since you started: 2.5 hours

Mini challenges completed: 0

Other participants you’ve visited:
Trish's Reading Nook
At Home with Books
Medieval Bookworm

Prize you’ve won: none that I know of

Snacks and Beverages Consumed Since Last Update:
Herbal tea. It's lunchtime here on the East Coast (USA), so I'm thinking some leftover pizza from last night will hit the spot.

Other Randomness:
My decreased reading totals for Hours 3-4 are due to needing to make Betty's lunch and writing a book review for An Egg on Three Sticks. (I've learned that I need to write my reviews ASAP, and this will be one that I have "in the can" for the next couple weeks, when I am repeating this sort of Read-a-Thon insanity by participating in NaNoWriMo.)

Headache is still lingering, but not too debilitating yet. A shower and a nap might be in my future. As is trip to the library and grocery store.

Catch you later .....

Read-a-Thon Update: Hours 1 and 2

A great morning so far! The Dean took Boo to acting class (Boo is Gaston in a children's theater production of Beauty & the Beast). Betty and I are Read-a-Thoning. She's read about 20 minutes total thus far, and keeps skipping around from book to book. So far, she's read some of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Everything Cat (a how-to on caring for your feline).

Title of book(s) read since last update: I'm still working on finishing An Egg on Three Sticks (I started it this week, thinking I'd be finished pre-Read-a-Thon, but that didn't work out.) Almost done with this ... check back in a bit.

Number of books read since you started: 0

Pages read since last update: 147*

Running total of pages read since you started: 147 *
* don't be fooled into thinking that I am some sort of Read-a-Thon rockstar. I'm so not. Jackie Moyer Fischer's style in this book is one that has only 1-3 sentences per paragraph, almost like poetry. The perfect Read-a-Thon book. Heh, heh, heh. :)

Amount of time spent reading since last update: 2.0 hours

Running total of time spent reading since you started: 2.0 hours

Mini-challenges completed: 0

Other participants you’ve visited:
Naked Without Books (who has the best beginning Read-a-Thon post title - go check it out!)
A High and Hidden Place

Prize you’ve won: none that I know of

Snacks and Beverages Consumed:
Me: bowl of cereal, coffee, and ibuprofin (woke up with a headache that is threatening to become a migraine and I don't have time for that today).

Currently drinking Tension Tamer herbal tea.

Betty: slice of pizza, Honey Vanilla Chamomile herbal tea

Thanks to my wonderful commenters! You're the best!

Catch you later, everyone ......

Ready for the Read-a-Thon!

"There's only six more minutes till the Read-a-Thon! I got to get some books!" - Betty, age 7, running up the stairs to her room.

It's here! Betty is reading The Doll People by Ann M. Martin and Laura Godwin. ("There are 256 pages in this book!")

I'm on page 130 (out of 307) of An Egg on Three Sticks by Jackie Fischer. It's a YA novel, and I thought I would be finished by today, but alas, that was not the case. As much as I like the idea of starting the Read-a-Thon with a brand new book, I will start by finishing this one.

(A side note: If you're one of my friends or family who read this blog faithfully, you're probably sick of hearing about this Read-a-Thon (or anything related to books or reading) by now. Admit it, you are. I'm not offended by your honesty. Just skip the posts this weekend and come back tomorrow.)

After seeing me arrange and rearrange, photograph and re-photograph piles of books all week long, I think The Dean has concluded I have lost my mind. Maybe I have, but I don't care.

Here, then, is my final Read-a-Thon pile. (I feel like this photo should come with one of those warnings like on side mirrors of cars. OBJECTS IN MIRROR ARE LARGER THAN THEY APPEAR.)

It's a crappy photo, I know, so here is the list of what I'll be partaking in today, after I finish An Egg on Three Sticks.

Then it will be onto Parallel Play: Growing Up with Undiagnosed Aspergers, by Tim Page (197 pages). I went to renew this online at the library's website, and wouldn't you know, someone has requested it ... and it's due back today! To quote Homer Simpson ... doh! I really want to read this, so I've bumped it up higher on the pile.

After that, it's Do You Hear Me, Mr. Lincoln? by Judith Caseley, (256 pages) and Remember This by S.T. Underdahl, (288 pages). They're both YA, too. And due back at the library today.

An Abundance of Katherines, by John Green (227 pages) is next.

Yesterday I received The Best of Philadelphia Stories, volume 2 (161 pages) for review from the publisher, so it was quickly added to the pile. invited me to submit a guest post/review of Will Work From Home: Earn the Cash - Without the Commute (245 pages). I heard Tory Johnson, the author, speak at the Pennsylvania Governor's Women's Conference last month and of course had to stop by the bookstore on the way out. I'm so excited about this (the book and the guest blogging at MomsToWork).

And rounding out the pile, I have:

A Mercy, by Toni Morrison (167 pages)
Anything But Typical, by Nora Raleigh Baskin (195 pages)
Because I Am Furniture, by Thalia Chaltas (352 pages)
Ten Things Every Child with Autism Wishes You Knew, by Ellen Notbohm (109 pages)
Laura Rider's Masterpiece, by Jane Hamilton (214 pages)
The School of Essential Ingredients, by Erica Bauermeister (240 pages)

So, if you'll excuse me, I have 2,828 pages calling my name. And we're off ...

Friday, October 23, 2009

Two Read-a-Thoners, Two Causes

Yesterday I Tweeted that Betty, one of my almost 8-year olds, is doing the Read-a-Thon with me.

How cool is that? She often refers to herself as a bookworm, so when I told her that bloggers (love that she knows what that is!) were going to be reading all day on Saturday, she said she wanted to join in ... as long as we can go to the library and "pick out lots of good books to read."

Sure, twist my arm.

I mentioned that some people are donating money for every book they read, and told Betty about one of the causes I was considering. Mrs. R. is a second grade teacher in a rural, impoverished Virginia community. She is also the twin sister of my dear blogger friend, Stephanie DiCerbo Baffone, who writes the wonderful blog Stephanie's Stories.

I first learned about Mrs. R.'s class when Steph linked to their project on Mrs. R. was seeking $480 to create a "cozy book nook" corner in her classroom. She needed pillows, cushions, carpeting, and a bookcase. Thanks to several folks who contributed the $480, Mrs. R.'s Cozy Book Nook is a reality. Still, I asked Steph if the class needed anything else, and as it turns out, they could use some new crayons, composition books, and glue sticks.

Consider it done. We will be sending them some, and for the Read-a-Thon, Betty and I will make a small donation to Mrs. R. to help purchase more when these run out, or to use for anything else her students might need.

The other charity I am reading for is NaNoWriMo. I'm participating in NaNoWriMo this year, and I love the idea of their Young Writers Program. According to their site, $25 pays for NaNoWriMo to adopt two classrooms taking part in the Young Writers Program, underwriting the costs of sending goodie-packed classroom kits that will inspire and encourage 70 budding authors. (You can read more about how to contribute to NaNoWriMo here.)

One little known fact about me is that I, um ... well, I actually wrote a novel. When I was 15. It sits in a desk drawer. It's not entirely out of the question that I'll revisit it someday. (Just not this year.) It was for a contest sponsored by Avon/Flare, and while the novel remains unpublished, I remember that feeling of dreaming and believing. If there's a small part I can play in helping others achieve the same, then I'm all for that.

I'm planning on donating .03 per page that I read, and am pledging a minimum of $25.

If you're reading for a charity, I'd love to hear about it and why you chose that cause.

The Insanity of Paying $25,000 for World Series Tickets? Priceless.

Have a spare $25,000 laying around?

If you do, and if you're interested in seeing Game 3 of the World Series in Philadelphia on Halloween, then a pair of tickets can be yours.

If your pockets aren't quite that deep, no worries. You can still see Game 3 for a mere $20,000. Problem is, you'll be standing the whole time. Those tickets are standing-room only, you see, whereas for just $5,000 more, you can get the $25,000 pair which comes with two actual seats.

What a bargain.

I can't make this stuff up, really. I guess the only good thing about this is as of this morning, nobody has actually purchased these tickets yet.

I'm hoping that it is a matter of what Peter Mucha wrote in his article in yesterday's Philadelphia Inquirer: Must be some guy who told his wife, "OK, honey, I'll try to sell my tickets," but who really wants to go.

I hope so. Because you don't need me to tell you that we're in a recession and that $25,000 could certainly be spent more wisely. The thing is, you and I know there are people who would - who probably are - seriously considering shelling out $25,000 for this.

In a world where some people think it's a good idea to stage a hoax of your kid being in a balloon to increase one's chances of getting a reality show, it really would not surprise me if we're soon reading about a Parent of the Year who is, as I type this, withdrawing $25,000 from their kid's college fund (if the kid even has a college fund anymore) to buy World Series tickets for a Halloween night game.

Pretty scary indeed.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Crockpot Recipe (especially for my Read-a-Thon Friends!): Easiest Black Bean and Brown Rice Chili

For those of us doing the 24 Hour Read-a-Thon this weekend, I thought I would share a crockpot recipe that is so easy and tasty. It would be perfect to have simmering away while you are Read-a-Thoning. Plus, the intro to the recipe says that "it is indeed easy enough for kids to make." (Even better ... put the kids to work in the kitchen while you read!)

You probably have the ingredients on hand already. Even if you're not doing the Read-a-Thon, you can still make this. :)

I made this last weekend and the only change I would make is to use one of those slow-cooker liners. (Love those!) This took awhile to scrub off, and if you're doing the Read-a-Thon, that's time much better spent reading or cheerleading.

The recipe comes from my favorite crockpot cookbook (which I own, thanks to The Dean buying it for me last Christmas), Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook by Beth Hensperger and Julie Kaufman.

Easiest Black Bean and Brown Rice Chili

Use a medium round crockpot (I used a 3 qt. and this was fine)

Two 15 oz. cans black beans, with their liquid
One 14.5 to 16 oz. can crushed or chopped tomatoes, with their liquid
1/2 cup brown rice
1 tsp. onion powder
1/8 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 - 1 whole canned chipotle chile, to your taste, cut into small pieces (I didn't use this and we didn't miss it. I'm not a fan of very spicy food.)

Plain yogurt or warm flour tortillas for serving

Pour the beans and their liquid and the tomatoes and their liquid into the slow cooker. Add the brown rice, onion powder, garlic powder, cumin, oregano, and chipotle; stir to combine. Cover and cook on LOW for 6 - 8 hours.

Serve the chili in bowls, topped with a spoonful of yogurt, or wrap some in a warm tortilla.

My notes: We liked this very much. This will thicken as it cooks, making a very nice filling for tortillas. I added a generous portion of shredded cheddar cheese to each portion upon serving. I think it would be perfect with cornbread or perhaps a green salad, or even over mashed potatoes. We had enough left over for The Dean and Boo to enjoy for lunch the next day - I think they had it with tortilla chips, like nachos.

Here are some of my other crockpot recipe posts that you might enjoy for Read-a-Thon weekend. Bon appetit! (Hmm ... this makes me think ... wouldn't a Read-a-Thon Cookbook be a great idea?! Or, at the very least, a cute button with a Mister Linky. Might have to think about that, unless someone has already done so ....)

Creamy Split Pea Soup
Mediterranean Minestrone Casserole
Easy Cheesy Ravioli Casserole (in the crockpot!)
Crockpot Black-Eyed Pea Soup
Crockpot Tomato Florentine Soup

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

I (Still) Gotta Believe

This is one of the weeks each year when I remember my Dad most. 

My Dad would have turned 69 this past Monday. This was the 24th birthday without him here.   

And as with last year, the Phillies being in the postseason and (as I write this) appearing to be headed for the World Series, I'm once again thinking of this time last year, and this time many, many years ago, in 1980.  

Betty just woke up to go potty, and we're cuddling on the sofa watching the Phillies.   Here, then, is an encore of a post that I wrote and published here on October 27, 2008.    

Ya Gotta Believe
I don't know what's more unbelievable tonight: the fact that the Phillies are thisclose to winning their first World Series since 1980, or the fact that I am voluntarily choosing to watch Game 5 of the World Series while The Dean abstains.

No one would ever mistake me for a sports fan. But the reality is that I grew up on the Phillies and some of my most memorable life moments have a red and white pinstriped background. There was Game 5 of the 1980 World Series, which was on in the background of my cousin's baptism party. It was a special occasion to begin with, but even moreso because she had multiple disabilities; in addition to being blind and deaf, she had a cleft palate and significant heart problems.

She was almost 1 that October when we celebrated her baptism with dozens of relatives crowded around the television in my aunt and uncle's Philadelphia rowhouse, cheering on the Phils. It's possible that my uncle entertained the family by playing the piano for awhile; I'm not sure. But what I remember most about that day was my little cousin propped in a special seat by the TV with the happiest expression on her little face, somehow sensing the palpable excitement that the Phillies brought to the party. (She died exactly six months later following open heart surgery.)

And then there was August 15, 1990, the night of Terry Mulholland's no-hitter and my first date with The Dean ... and winning a lottery for tickets to a 1993 playoff game ... and last year, taking the kids to their first professional baseball game. Truth be told, they were more interested in the PhunZone for kids than the game. And we can probably add tonight to that, since Betty has just ventured down here to the family room to rest on the sofa, unable to fall asleep because of a pesky cough.

My interest in tonight's game certainly has a lot to do with hometown pride. But it's more along the lines of what country star Tim McGraw did on Saturday night when he scattered some of his dad's ashes on the pitcher's mound. (Tim's dad was Tug McGraw, who struck out Willie Wilson to win the 1980 World Series for the Phils.)

Even though there are three of us watching the game (and one sleeping upstairs), in many ways our family room feels very, very full.

copyright 2009 MelissaF

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Baseball as Poetry

In honor of these postseason baseball games, I share with you my very first piece of writing (hopefully original, but I can't be sure) that I remember flowing from my #2 pencil.

I was in kindergarten when I wrote this masterpiece.

Baseball is my favorite sport
The sport I love to play
Oh, how I wish we won the game
The game we lost today.

Book Review: The Life You Longed For, by Maribeth Fischer

The Life You Longed For, by Maribeth Fischer

Nearly 6 years ago, when Boo was diagnosed with "clinical features of autism," I became Grace Connolly, the protagonist in Maribeth Fischer's incredibly heart-wrenching novel, The Life You Longed For.

With some significant, distinct differences, I should add.

Unlike Grace, I didn't commence an affair with my high school sweetheart. (Or anyone else for that matter.) And Boo's diagnosis was starkly different than mitochondrial disease, the terminal one afflicting toddler Jack, the child of Grace and her husband Stephen. And unlike Grace, I don't have a degree from Penn in epidemiology.

But, like Grace with her 3-year old Jack, I clung to anything I could possibly find that would help me even begin to understand what the future would hold for my just-turned-2 Boo. Like Grace, I read books, I wrote down questions to ask the doctors. I didn't doctor-shop, per se, but we did bid a hasty buh-bye to that first developmental pediatrician and quickly (well, not all that quickly) found another one with a more kindly, optimistic bedside manner.

And since The Life You Longed For is set in Philadelphia (in 2001, in the months pre-9/11) both hospitals mentioned in the novel are ones that we have been at. (Fischer has obviously walked the same halls of the one I did, as she describes the lobby of one "home-away-from-home" in perfect detail.)

All of these details made reading The Life You Longed For a particularly personal, poignant, hits-so-close-to-my-literal-and-figurative-home experience. But even if you're not a parent of a special needs child, it is so easy to imagine yourself in Grace Connolly's shoes as she does all of the things I've listed above ... and is falsely accused of Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy, a charge that affects the entire Connolly family with devastating, heartbreaking consequences.

To be sure, this beautifully written novel is not an easy one to read in terms of its subject matter. But - and I cannot emphasize this enough - I think it is an important one for everyone to read. Frankly, I think Maribeth Fischer and The Life You Longed For deserves far more attention. (I'm talking to you, Oprah, 'cause I know you read my blog, girlfriend :). I'd never heard of this novel until I found it on the library shelves while browsing in the stacks, the title catching my eye.

Why? Because it is so easy, so heartbreakingly and heart-stopping terrifying easy, to be falsely accused of Munchausens. Because all that we do as parents - the reading of the books, the wee small hours spent online in listservs (as I did with a group called Parenting Autism back in what I call my black hole days), the questions asked of doctors, the easy friendliness that develops with one's child's doctors and therapists - all of those things that we think are the qualities of being an advocate, your child's voice, a dedicated and loving parent, are (according to the scientific information in Fischer's novel) the very same characteristics of a mother who has Munchausens.

Another reason why The Life You Longed For is an important book, even if you're not a parent of a special needs child, is because most likely you know someone who is. And it is so easy to judge that parent, to jump to conclusions that aren't there, to make assumptions. I admit, I've done that myself, I am ashamed to say, in the days before I became a parent and long before Boo's diagnosis.

We don't know what it is like to walk in another's shoes, plain and simple. And even if we think we know, we really don't.

What we do know, all of us, is what it is like to imagine the life we could have had. I think we all do this to some extent, but I believe that feeling can intensify when dealing with a child's illness. We retrace every step of our lives, of how things woulda-coulda-shoulda been different if we didn't stop to say hi to that cute guy in our college class, if we didn't take that internship or job, if we didn't choose to stay with one person instead of another.

"Snow shimmered, luminescent beneath the full moon, the stars like ornaments in the tops of the trees. Scientists now believed that the moon had been formed when another planet sideswiped the Earth, dislodging huge chunks of its crust, which flew off into space and became the moon. She thought of Noah, of how in so many ways he was this to her, the part of her life that had broken off - the life not lived. Maybe those unused pieces of your past become their own entity. A moon. Another planet. A place without gravity or sound. A place without wind or rain or weathering or erosion, so that even the smallest surface markings, each one a kind of memory, stayed in place for years. And yet always it was there, the moon - the past - waxing and waning, exerting its force over the tides of the life you lived now." (pg. 93-94)

While reading The Life You Longed For, I kept thinking of the Barbra Streisand song, "On My Way to You," which I had selected for my soloist to sing during my wedding to The Dean.

"So often as I wait for sleep,I find myself reciting

The words I've said or should have said, like scenes that need rewriting

The smiles I never answered, doors perhaps I should have opened

Songs forgotten in the morning

I relive the roles I've played, the tears I may have squandered

The many pipers I have paid along the roads I've wandered

Yet all the time I knew it, love was somewhere out there waiting

Though I may regret a kiss or two

If I had changed a single day, what went amiss or went astray

I may have never found my way to you ..."

It's so easy to go from what is to the life longed for.

I realize that in this review, I'm making this more about the personal than a plot discussion of The Life You Longed For. And yes, there is so much more I could say about this book (which I would be giving 5 stars, if I still rated books) and the symbolism and layers within its pages. But although I don't know her, I would hope that this would be the desired reaction - or close to it - that Delaware-based author Maribeth Fischer would like her readers to take-away from this incredible novel.

To see ourselves in Grace Connolly and her family and friends.

To say to ourselves, there for but the very grace of God go I.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Book Review (Kids): Crazy Hair, by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean

Crazy Hair, by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean

All kinds of adventures happen in this dude's crazy hair. Butterflies and cockatoos make it a colorful place. It's a wild unkempt mane where hunters send in expeditions and get lost. Dancers and musicians leap across the strands. And there's no shortage of things to do.

"There are pools
And water slides
Carousels and pony rides
All the fun of any fair
Waits inside my crazy hair.

Twisting tangling
Trails and loops
Treasure chests and pirate sloops
These await the ones who dare
Navigate my crazy hair."

When a little girl named Bonnie tries to tame this crazy hair with a comb, she gets swept up in the fun.

"Bonnie has the finest time
Teaching lions how to rhyme
Riding slides and great balloons
Finding hunters, losing moons.

Hibernating with the bear
Dancing with the dancers there
Happy as a millionaire
Safe inside my crazy hair."

People rave about Neil Gaiman's work. This is the first of his books I've read, so if the others are as fun and imaginative as this one is for kids, then I can certainly see the appeal. Some people might not find it so, as a lion pulls Bonnie into the tangle of hair and she teaches parrots naughty words (none of which are specified, just referred to as "teaching parrots naughty words").

Crazy Hair is suggested for ages 4-8. Betty and Boo, who turn 8 next month, enjoyed the poetry, the varied colorful illustrations, and the words themselves that rise and dip all over the pages.

See what other readers thought:

Book Aunt (love this review!)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Sunday Salon: It Was a Dark and Stormy Reading Week ...

It's interesting how two books dealing with heavy topics can resonate in completely different ways, isn't it?

Allow me to explain.

In one corner we have Joyce Carol Oates' short story collection, Dear Husband, a collection of 14 stories that "examine the intimate lives of contemporary American families: the tangled ties between generations, the desperation - and the covert, radiant happiness - of loving more than one is loved in return." (from the jacket copy). After reading this for the past week and making it through 150 pages, I admit that I'm having a difficult time with this one.
Don't misunderstand: the stories themselves are, for the most part, very well done. I mean, we're talking Joyce Carol Oates and the woman can certainly (in my opinion) write.

In doing so, however, the result is some very dark and heavy stories. And while I expected (and welcomed) such, it's not matching my mood. For those of you who are doing the R.I.P. challenge or are in the mood for some creepy contemporary stories as Halloween draws near, this would certainly fit the bill. I loved "Special" and "The Blind Man's Sighted Daughters," for example, but "Landfill" (about a mother's reaction upon learning of her son's murder and discovery of his body found in a landfill) was too much for me to take.

I'm also having a hard time with the writing itself in some parts, specifically the several-pages long paragraphs and sentences that seem to require 10 minutes of reading before reaching the end. As a reader brand new to Oates' work, this style reminds me of Faulkner (who, sad to say, I'm not a fan of). I also think it's a byproduct of reading way too many blogs and needing my reading to be in much shorter paragraphs. I can't read large chunks of writing like that anymore - not that I ever really could, but my tolerance level is nil now.

So, my Dear Husband is being returned to the library half-finished ... for now. There's a possibility I'll pick it up again (it is certainly worthy) but it's not for me this week, for whatever reason.

Onto the next read - a novel by Maribeth Fischer, The Life You Longed For, published in 2007. I freely admit the title drew me in, and I started this on Friday night - a dreary, dark, depressing drizzling evening.

Another heavy book. Indeed, The Life You Longed For is also one dealing with weighty issues - a toddler who is dying from a rare disease (mitochondrial disease), a mother's affair with a high school first love, and her being charged with Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy. I might not be up for this after Dear Husband, I thought.

I was wrong. So far, I can't put this one down. This has sucked me in. Not just because it is set in Philadelphia and the Jersey shore, but because it is scaring the crap out of me.

It is so easy to see how someone can be falsely accused of Munchausen by Proxy. Fischer skillfully weaves the characteristics of mothers with Munchausen throughout her narrative and with each "Mother-perpetrator refuses to leave child alone in hospital," and "Mother overly focused on technical/medical aspects of child's illness Obsessive documentation of child's medical history."

Heavy topic, yes, but the writing is lighter - if that makes any sense. (Plus, I discovered last night that Maribeth Fischer is a local writer to me and the Executive Director of a local writers' conference, Writers at the Beach. Um ... did someone say writers and beach in the same title? Sign me up!)

Ah, yes, the beach. Since I'm writing this during the second nor'easter in three days, the beach is a nice thought and an oh-so-very-distant memory.

And on this dark and stormy weekend, exactly the life I am longing for.

(photo taken this summer by me, during our annual family vacation)

Saturday, October 17, 2009

This Time, Next Week ...

Oh, I hear you laughing.

I do. And it's perfectly fine to do so, because the thought of my finishing this pile of books during next week's Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-Thon is, I know, rather amusing. (Wondering what I'm talking about? Click here.)

It's amusing that I am even thinking about doing the Read-a-Thon to begin with. But I am - oh, yes, absolutely, along with 266 other bibliophiles. (You can sign up here to be #268.)

I also signed up to be a Cheerleader this time around, because I had so much fun doing so last April during my first Read-a-Thon. Although I had to work during part of it, I was glad to be part of it for a little bit. I'll have Betty and Boo responsibilities this go-around, and the possibility of working on the 25th will impact my reading, but no matter.

I wish today was the Read-a-Thon because with the second of nor'easter in three days blowing in, it's the perfect rain-soaked, gloomy day to do nothing but read. Here's what I'll be choosing from this time, next week. (Not necessarily in this order.)

Do You Hear Me, Mr. Lincoln? by Judith Caseley, (256 pages) (but it is a little book) (YA)

Remember This by S.T. Underdahl, (288 pages) (YA)

An Egg on Three Sticks, by Jackie Fischer (309 pages)

Falling Man, by Don DeLillo (246 pages)

An Abundance of Katherines, by John Green (227 pages)

A Mercy, by Toni Morrison (167 pages)

Anything But Typical, by Nora Raleigh Baskin (195 pages)

Because I Am Furniture, by Thalia Chaltas (352 pages)

Ten Things Every Child with Autism Wishes You Knew, by Ellen Notbohm (109 pages)

Laura Rider's Masterpiece, by Jane Hamilton (214 pages)

The School of Essential Ingredients, by Erica Bauermeister (240 pages)

Parallel Play: Growing Up with Undiagnosed Aspergers, by Tim Page (197 pages)

Whoa, I just did the math ... and that is exactly 2,800 pages even!

Have you read any of these? Thoughts? Any that should be substituted out? Which ones should I start with or make sure to try to get to?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Best of the (Last Two) Weeks

Some of the most interesting, intriguing, head-scratching, amusing, thoughtful or otherwise just plain cool posts that I've read recently:

From The Daily Beast, a brilliant piece by Lee Siegel on Why We Watched Balloon Boy.

(A sampling: "For it wasn’t just a helpless kid and all of our helplessness in the face of his plight. It was the fact that despite all of our miraculous technology, which seems to put us more and more in control of our lives every day, we cannot control what happens to our children. On some level, what certain people call fate, they are all in a balloon, beyond our reach. Perhaps somewhere in all our terror, as we powerlessly watched the balloon rise in the sky, there was relief that the child was not being hurt by genes, or by a virus, or by other people. Relief that there was hope so long as he could hang on until help came.")

From Mom-101, a note to the Balloon Boy family that begins Dear Balloon Boy Family, You F ------ Suck

Right after I reviewed Khaled Hosseini's A Thousand Splendid Suns, I came across this post "Henna by Meena" on the Afghan Women's Writing Project blog. Really puts the issues that Hosseini's book discusses in a much more different perspective.

Be Woodstock, Not Snoopy, says Sandy from Strangling My Muse. (This was a post I really needed to see this week ... not necessarily in regards to writing, but with work.)

As if we aren't already documenting every aspect of our lives online, now Mashable tells us there's a site that allows you to plot your lovemaking on ... um, an interactive map. (Now that's putting the social in social media!)

Great analysis and commentary from Clark Kent's Lunchbox (I just love the name of that blog) about Don Draper's Daddy Issues . (Disclaimer: do not read this if you are not caught up on every episode of Mad Men!)


UPDATED POST: Falcon's Folly: We're All Along for This Ride

Now that he's been found safe and sound, the collective holier-than-thou public mentality can begin its finger-pointing at Falcon's family.

In case you've been living in a box, Falcon Heene is the 6-year old Colorado boy who unleashed a media frenzy this afternoon after he reportedly untethered the family's weather balloon (conveniently located in the backyard) and climbed aboard. For several tense hours, the world watched and Tweeted as Falcon's whereabouts remained unknown.

Thankfully, Falcon was found unharmed, hiding in a box in the attic, behaving like a typical 6 year old boy who realized he did Something That Dad Might Not Be Real Happy About.

A typical boy. In what appears to be a somewhat untypical family.

Admit it, you made the comments while watching the balloon and listening to the news coverage.

I certainly did.

"Who the hell has a hot air balloon in their backyard?"
"Why isn't that kid in school?"
"You know that family's gotta be nuts - who names their kid Falcon?!!"

and then later on in the afternoon, when we learned that a typical family activity for the Heenes is chasing storms and looking for E.T. ("Falllllllcoooooonnnnnn .... phoooooonnnnne hoooooommmmmme.")

We as a society love our dysfunctional families. The more elements of a train wreck, the better. We're obsessed with Jon and Kate and their Eight. For some reason, Levi Johnston is still making headlines. Wasn't it just a few weeks ago that we were all a-Twitter about the Duggars having their 20th kid (give or take a few ... I've lost count) as expectant grandparents? And let's not forget everyone's favorite Octo-mom. Even The Simpsons (a cartoon family, for goodness sakes!) aren't exempt as we debate the merits of Marge appearing on the cover of Playboy.

We love to sit in judgment in our Barcoloungers and in front of our laptops. And God help them if a family with even the slightest bit of craziness puts themselves in the spotlight, as the Heenes have apparently done via their not one but two appearances on "Wife Swap," then we feel like they are especially fair game.

Is it because we know that we have more than one skeleton in our own familial closet that we love to glom onto others? Are we well aware that by pointing our fingers at the foibles and quirks of others that perhaps we might have escaped some scrutiny of our own?

Because really, isn't that what we were all doing? What kind of parent builds weathercraft in their backyard? That's weird that they're all into science so much. And what about the extraterrestrials and UFO thing? Everyone knows "those people" are wackos.

But are they really any more dysfunctional than people who sign their kids up for sporting events that involve practice several times a week and weekend games that involve travel into the next time zone? Or moms who have their daughters in dance and cheerleading before they're fully potty-trained? Or me, who allows her daughter to check out 186 books from the library, her son to write plays, the kids to watch more Jonas Brothers than is truly healthy?

Or is the problem not really us as parents, but more of a side effect of our 24/7 constantly-on media culture, a feed-the-beast byproduct? Just a few hours after millions watched him 'round the world, we're onto the next spectacle.

Yes, there are people who are really screwing up their kids and their lives. But I want to believe - I have to believe - that the majority of us are trying to do the best that we can, even if we feel like we're making it up as we go. All we know is what we know.

Now, onto the next show.

UPDATE: It's 12:22 a.m., and within seconds after I hit "Publish Post", I read Adam Ostrow's post on Mashable and watched this video below. Hmmm. Perhaps we really are onto the next show. What do you think? A hoax? A family looking to get their own reality show? Tune in below ... and stay tuned.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Word Verification Balderdash - October 15

This fun meme is hosted by Bookjourney over at One Persons Journey Through Books. (Stop over there if you'd like to play along.) Basically, the idea is to take all those words we all get in Word Verification while commenting on blogs, and come up with definitions for them.

Here are a few words that I had to verify this week ...

exomi - the name for that ex that you always wonder about, Google on occasion, and secretly wish would Friend you (so you don't have to make the first move to break the ice) on Facebook.

shemphs - that snort-like sound that someone makes when it's not quite a full laugh; someplace between a smirk, snort, and chuckle.

ingne - that groaning sound your car makes when it's trying to start but keeps sputtering, unable to turn over.

butalit - (pronounced "BUTTAH-lit", akin to Mike Myers' Saturday Night Live "Coffee Talk with Linda Richman" sketch that is always dedicated to Barbra Streisand, who has a voice "like buttah").

Butalit is a genre of literature that defies classification; it is any book that moves the reader along so smoothly ... "like buttah."

(I can thank Ali from That's a Novel Idea for giving me butalit along with the Over the Top award. A cool Balderdash word and an award! Friends don't come any better than you, Ali! :)

And for the best Word Verification of all time ... (seriously, I really did get this as a word verification on someone's blog ... which I could remember who, but maybe it's better that I can't recall. I would be mortified to no end if someone got this on mine.)


I just can't make this shi ... stuff ... up.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Moi? Over the Top? Merci, Ali!

Well, dah-lings, just take a gander at this ... my mah-vah-lous friend Alipet from over at That's a Novel Idea thinks yours truly - yes, moi! - is over the top.

You don't say!

More precisely, it is my humble little blog (oh, this old thing?) that she thinks is Over the Top! and has even bestowed an award on such. Ali says about my blog and my writing: "I absolutely love to read every single things she writes and she is not afraid to let her opinion be known even if you might not like it -I LOVE THAT."

I jest somewhat dramatically and exaggeratedly in this intro (if you couldn't tell), but really, I am very honored and flattered. Deep down I am smiling and saying, "Aw, gee ... me?"

With every award comes an acceptance speech (and a cute button, and isn't that one darling? I love the apron with the come-hither expectant kiss ,.. or, more apropos in my case, drop-dead utter exhaustion while channeling some chef to instantly materialize and cook dinner.)

Onto the formalities, and the envelope please:

Here are the rules for the Over The Top Award: USE ONLY ONE WORD! It’s not as easy as you might think. Copy and change the answers to suit yourself and pass it on. It’s really hard to use only one-word answers so try your best.

(Gosh, no pressure here, since the award was given because Ali loves everything I write. I'm borrowing a few of her answers. :)

1. Where is your cell phone? charging
2.Your hair? blah
3. Your mother? loved
4. Your father? remembered
5. Your favorite food? take-out
6. Your dream last night? forgotten
7. Your favorite drink? coffee
8. Your dream/goal? novel
9. What room are you in? family
10. Your hobby? blogging
11. Your fear? several
12. Where do you want to be in 6 years? Earth
13. Where were you last night? here
14. Something that you aren’t? neat
15. Muffins? OK!
16. Wish list item? lottery
17. Where did you grow up? Philadelphia
18. Last thing you did? blinked
19. What are you wearing? clothes
20. Your TV? off
21. Your pets? Douglas
22. Friends? loved
23. Your life? surprising
24. Your mood? migraine-induced
25. Missing someone? always
26. Vehicle? new
27. Something you’re not wearing? shoes
28. Your favorite store? bookstore
29. Your favorite color? black
30. When was the last time you laughed? tonight
31. Last time you cried? tonight
32. Your best friend? husband
33. One place that I go to over and over? sofa
34. One person who emails me regularly? Facebook
35. Favorite place to eat? out

Thanks so much, Ali! I think you're Over the Top too!

I want to pass this along to all those who have left a comment here recently, because if you leave a comment, you are definitely Over the Top! in my book. (Or blog. See, this is why I have to take the easy way out tonight and not list individual people/blogs because I am getting a bit punchy. I'll blame the large piece of blackberry pie I just ate.)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Start Me Up

Have I mentioned how much I love my Dunkin' Donuts Lady?

Yes, I believe I may have. Guess what she did this morning?

(She's still there, bright and early each dawn; I'm guessing she didn't get the job and I haven't asked.)

What I did ask for this morning was a large coffee instead of my usual medium.

"Tired today?" she inquired, sympathetically.

Hell, yeah. Staying up until 12:30 a.m. giving unsolicited employment advice to floundering new grads will wear anyone out.

Dunkin' Donuts Lady stole a surreptious look behind her, at the unsmiling male mechanically pouring coffee, and secretly handed me a small cup.

"A shot of espresso for your coffee," she explained.

I grinned. Start me up, indeed.

Dunkin' Donuts Lady? You rock.

Get a Life. Better Yet, Bartender, Make It a Double!

My head is spinning.

No, I haven't imbibed in anything alcoholic this evening - although I sure feel like I'm in a bar. The cause? This article from the October 9 edition of The New York Times about twin sisters Katie and Kristy Barry who, despite their journalism degrees from Rutgers, have yet to find a job in New York City other than bartending.

The bar and restaurant scene appears to be the twins' home away from their $2,900 per month apartment home. Judging from their comments and vapidity, the twins seem to spend considerable amount of time in places where everybody seems to know their perky names.

According to the Times, they've sent out 150 resumes and no nibbles. Oh, wait, I may be mistaken. Maybe there has been a nibble or two ... of the chocolate candy confections that the girls have been concocting and sending along with their credentials.

I don't live in post-9/11 New York, but I'll tell you what I would be thinking: if some job applicant is sending me candy, I'm thinking potential terrorism, not potential timesheet. Your chocolate isn't making it past my circular file.

Now, having personally graduated from college during a recession (that would be back in the ancient days of the early '90s), I do have a smidgen of sympathy for Katie and Kristy. Really, I do. I'm not really as much of a know-it-all smart a ... as I appear to be. (I only play one on my blog.) So, Katie and Kristy, from one recession-era college journalism grad to two others, I would like to Zapruder this pathetic-sounding NYT article and allow my words of advice to be my little post-commencement gift to you. Think of it as a PSA, if you will. (You were journalism majors. I presume you know what that stands for.)

Pssssstttt! Public ... service ... announcement.

Instead of this: “I wake up hopeful and check my e-mail and then all there is is ...a stupid Facebook thing. So-and-so sent you a puppy. Or a drink. Great!”

Consider this: Drop-kick some of those well-meaning beer and puppy dog sending Facebook Friends to the Land of the DeFriended. Now, I know that's harsh advice because I've got a few wacky hangers-on myself and I admit, they are entertaining after a long day. But, you've got a career to consider and as someone who has checked out potential interns' profiles on Facebook, I'm here to tell you that employers are looking at your online trail. And your Friends.

More from our twins in the Times:

Kristy: “I’m so tired of coming up with cover letters that I think are interesting, and then nothing.”
Katie: “You think, O.K., do I kick somebody’s door in?”

Absolutely, Katie, by all means! Kicking a door down is indeed a time-proven way to get your foot in the door. (A little homage to Mad Men, there.)

Their dream is to work together in sports reporting or have a TV show, but they are flexible. They talk of teaching piano, or inventing, say, a lipstick-case microphone. “If you’re in a bar you would hold it up and say, ‘This guy is creepy, get out of here,’ ” Kristy explained.
Very smart strategy there, giving potential employers a glimpse of your marketing genius upfront. Just so they know what to expect. (Me, I'd be dazzling them with my smarts after I get the job, but what do I, someone who has worked as a communications professional for two decades, know?)

She works as a bartender, three nights a week, at Dive 75 on West 75th Street, making about $800 a week. Katie had been working at another bar, but was fired in June after landing in Cancun to begin a vacation. Her boss said she played the music too loud.
$800 a week?! A vacation in Cancun? And yes, playing music too loud in bars is indeed a problem.

Now, jobless, days going by one at a time, Katie found herself saying things like: “It’s driving me bonkers. Like what has my existence come to?” And: “I’m going to stab myself.”
Yeah, about the stabbing oneself thing ... also not a real good strategy to get noticed in the eyes of a potential employer. I myself do not look favorably on job candidates who are prone to violence. Makes me kind of skeptical about that whole "works well under pressure" or "good interpersonal skills" lines on your resume.

They had gotten some good buys at a thrift shop: a coin belt for $3, an “Animal House” DVD for $2, an X-Men tennis racket for $3.27.
Granted, there's not much one can buy in New York City for $8.27. But I'm betting I could not find three more totally unnecessary and frivolous items if I tried.

They claimed a couch upstairs at the Aroma Espresso Bar on West 72nd Street, where they like to ingest caffeine and comb the Web: Think, think, think.

The other day, a brainstorm hit. They would devise a blog called Twin Town, write about their lives and invite guest material, somehow woo advertisers.

Ah, yes. The ol' "I think I'll start a blog and voila, early retirement here I come!" brainstorm. Been there, done that. (Obviously.)


Kristy said she could do a photo display with the gnome bank that she had lugged around Newark, snapping pictures of it at the park, at a beauty store, in a police car.
Lugging a gnome bank around Newark. A photo display. It's late, I've gotta get up for work in a few hours. Can't match the creativity in that one, sorry.

“I keep wondering how do I propel myself out of the bar world, where I look cute and pour beer, into a world where I have thoughtful conversation about the world rather than stuff like why do people clap at the end of good movies. Or, why do you think Heidi Klum married Seal? I don’t care why!”

Katie was moping a bit, saying, “I’ve eaten so many canned beans lately.”

And: “I need a life coach to come in and tell me what I’m doing wrong. I keep singing that song, ‘Something’s Got to Give.’ ”

A life coach to come in and tell me what I'm doing wrong. Well, why didn't you say something sooner? I will be glad to volunteer my services, in ernest, to both of you.

But first, pull up a chair. Order a drink, whatever you like. Bartender, this round for the twins is on me.

Better yet, make it a double. We might be here a little while.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Stop the Presses, It's a Review Copy!

Less than a mere week ago, I was confessing my soul's sorrow to you about how I've never been offered a review copy of anything.

Guess my sarcastic snivelling got the attention of someone other than the FTC. Make that three someones, because just like that, there's 1-2-3 emails in a row about review books.

Snark, and ye shall receive.

The first is one that I am very much looking forward to reading and didn't know had been published. Books two and three don't hold much appeal for me personally, so they've been declined. They'll find their audience, I'm sure.

Just like me.

Fall Festival Recipe Exchange

That Amy ... she's done it again! ('Twould be Amy from My Friend Amy who I am referring to here.) Whereas I would still be in a coma after all the work Amy did for Book Blogger Appreciation Week, Amy's come up with a fun way for all of us to celebrate all things fall. You can go to this post for the details, but the idea is for us to post a fall-themed recipe, photos, book recommendation, etc.

Did someone say recipes? Books? Well, then, count me in!

Let's set the stage with the fall table decoration that Betty and I put together with mini pumpkins, gourds, and Indian corn purchased from the farmer's market on Saturday.

Cute, huh? We added a few more white pumpkins to this since the photo was taken.

It's not necessarily a fall recipe, per se, but this Southwestern Baked Dip has been a favorite of ours since one of The Dean's co-workers gave me the recipe in 1991. "For Melissa's Recipe Collection" the co-worker had written. It's a great warm dip to indulge in while watching football or getting together with loved ones.

It's also not low-fat, but I suppose you could tweak it to be such, just as you could alter the heat of it.

Southwestern Baked Dip

1/4 cup hot or mild salsa
1/2 cup sour cream
1.5 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 pkg. 8 oz. softened cream cheese

Mix salsa, sour cream, and cream cheese with beater and fold in cheddar cheese. Pour in casserole with top or foil and bake covered for 1 hour at 350 degrees. Serve warm with white corn chips. Serves 4-6. (I've doubled and tripled this, with lovely results).

So easy. So tasty. This usually gets rave reviews from everyone who has tried it.

And speaking of reviews, here's a book review of a children's book, Pumpkin Soup by Helen Cooper that Boo and I wrote and posted back on December 8, 2008. This would be a fun children's book to read together this fall (or anytime). There's parts of it that sound slightly offensive, but it really is a fun book with a life lesson to be had. (And after all, if you have a 4-8 year old who is reading this, chances are they don't need a book to learn how to spit out food that they don't like.)

Boo's review: i thouth of pumkin soup is that the funnyist part of pumkin soup was SPITING ALL OVER THE PLACE! the very sad part was, the cat and the squirell were crying the 2 said `` it was our fault we should have let duck stir the pumkin soup."

My review: Sad to say, my son is into gross humor these days. His favorite words seem to be "underwear," "butt," and "eyeball." Anything that is remotely rude or disgusting elicts guffaws galore from Boo. There's a scene in Pumpkin Soup where the animals make the soup, but it doesn't turn out quite right ... hence, the SPITTING ALL OVER THE PLACE!

Mommy thought this was a very cute book about Cat, Squirrel, and Duck. They're hanging out, playing music on their respective instruments. The trio also enjoys cooking, particularly their specialty, Pumpkin Soup. Each member of the group has their own role in preparing the soup.

But, according to Publishers' Weekly, "one day, Duck decides to be the stirrer instead of the salt pourer, and an all-out battle ensues. Here the warm golden glow that has permeated their dwelling turns an angry orange-red with paws, wings and "@#$!"s flying. After Duck waddles off in a huff, the remaining pair heads out to hunt for him to no avail. In a charming time-lapse sequence, vignettes of Cat and Squirrel moping on the steps of their house form an arc along the side of a spread."

Dejected but determined, Cat and Squirrel resume their cooking, but the soup just isn't the same without Duck. (It's salty, necessitating it to be spit out.) Thankfully, Duck returns safe and sound. More soup is made. The result is a story about how to resolve and overcome the differences among friends when a squabble occurs. Ages 4-8.

Last but not least, check out these honest-to-goodness-real-life Monster Pumpkins!

Weather permitting, I'm thinking of taking the kids to this Monster Pumpkin Display event on Saturday afternoon. I just found out about this today, and even though I know we won't make it in time for the beginning of the Giant Pumpkin Weigh-Off, I'm hoping to get to Longwood Gardens for some of it. It's within an hour or so from our home and I've never been there. (Believe me, I will post photos.)

Finally, I wish a Happy Canadian Thanksgiving to all my Canadian readers. (There are quite a few of you, it seems!) Don't forget to visit other Fall Festivals over at My Friend Amy's blog!