Monday, November 30, 2009

Leftover Links

I started a link roundup post right before the holiday weekend and just like the Thanksgiving leftovers, they've been sitting in the cyber-fridge for a couple of days. I was busy with the Thankfully Reading Weekend, cooking a feast (just for the four of us, but a feast nonetheless), work, catching up on some blog posts and bloghopping, and shopping on Saturday with Betty,

These leftover links are nothing but stale. Still as tasty as ever.

Nosh away.

Because it is a national holiday weekend and all, let's start this week's round up with a good Thanksgiving post from Another Delco Guy in South Jersey (who happens to be a friend of mine in real-life).

Another post ("Are We Ruining Our Kids?") from Are We There Yet? looks at some of the same points I tried to make this week in my Material Girls ... and Boys, and Moms, and Dads post.

If you're inclined to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Elian Gonzalez saga (you're a few days late if you are), you might be interested in stopping by Casa Elian, the museum dedicated to the boy that his uncle runs. (A shout-out to my new favorite blogger, Chez from Deus Ex Malcontent, for making sure that this anniversary did not fall off our radar, what with it being on the same day as Thanksgiving and all.)

And Chez's post Must The Show Go On? about those idiots who crashed the White House dinner is definitely along the same lines as the one that The Dean and I wrote ("Reality Check").

I had a Reality Check of my own this week, when I admitted that I wouldn't be finishing NaNoWriMo. While I felt bad about not finishing, there was something about NaNoWriMo that wasn't quite working for me. This brilliant Dear John letter to NaNoWriMo by author Maggie Stiefvater (Shiver) is exactly what I was thinking.

Spare Candy (another of my favorite, must-read-everyday blogs) has a thought-provoking (and sobering) post about the newest form of sexual assault.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Macy's "Believe" Campaign and Make-A-Wish Foundation

'Tis the season for making wishes come true. My friend Heather, who is an active volunteer with the Make-A-Wish Foundation of New Jersey, told me tonight via Facebook about their campaign this holiday season with Macy's stores throughout the country.

Kids can bring a letter to Santa to any Macy's store to drop into a special mailbox, and for each letter, Macy's will donate $1 (up to $1 million dollars) to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. If you don't have a stamp, no worries ... your letter will still make it to the Man with the Toys, because Macy's will take care of the postage.

My friend Heather personally picks up the letters from her local Macy's store and mails them to the North Pole. When you envision someone who fits the description of "dedicated volunteer," this woman is it. A heart of gold, this girl has.

Other than my connection with Heather (which goes back more than 20 years to our college days ... egads!) I have no connection with Macy's or this campaign. I just think since so many kids (mine included!) are writing to Santa, this is a great, easy, and simple way to make all the other 364 days through the year much brighter for so many.

Memorable Memoir Reading Challenge?

Like many of us, I'm putting together my list of reading challenges for 2010. And something is missing.

Does anyone know of a Reading Challenge for memoirs? I love memoirs, and I was thinking how cool it would be to be part of a such a challenge. Diaries and letters could be included, too.

I'm thinking something like the Memorable Memoir Reading Challenge.

Does anything like this exist?

Or did I just create (and become the host) of this? Which if there is interest ....

The Sunday Salon: Thankfully Reading Weekend

I'm participating in the informal Thankfully Reading Weekend, and since I'm feeling behind in reading and blogging, I love this idea. What better way to get caught up on some of our reading and challenges - and to remember how much of a blessing it is be able to read in the first place?

I had to work on Friday (thankfully in a quiet office and not in retail - I don't know how salespeople keep their sanity this time of year, I really don't). Thus, I started my Thankfully Reading Weekend on Thanksgiving night by continuing Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street by Michael Davis.
I mentioned in last week's Salon that the beginning was a little tough going; the first 100 or so pages deals with Captain Kangaroo, the personalities that worked on that show, and the quest for funding for what would become Sesame Street.

At the halfway mark, now we seem to be cooking with gas. I'm especially enjoying reading about the background and selection of the cast members, which of course includes the birth of the Muppet characters.

"Grover's personality sprang to life fully formed in that rehearsal room. 'I recall Frank Oz holding the puppet that was to become Grover in front of the mirror,' [Jon] Stone said. 'The high, raspy voice fit immediately. The carefully precise diction fell into place. Then we played games with the names. I asked, 'What do you think your name is?' Grover would study himself in the mirror and try a few out. 'Armand? Hector? Perhaps my name is Grover.'" (pg. 167)
Can't you just hear Grover inquiring to his reflection about what his name is? I can, and Davis' book is bringing the characters and the scenes from the Street to life.

I'll have more to say in my official review, but I did discovered that author Michael Davis lives in the Philadelphia suburbs, in the same town as our very good friends. There are several readings and signings scheduled soon in the Philadelphia area, so if you're interested, you might want to check out Michael's website for details.)

In other bookish updates, during Friday's commute I started listening to Bait and Switch by Barbara Ehrenreich. Even though this was published in 2005, it still resonates today despite being slightly dated in parts. I'm only halfway through the second CD, but since it is only 6 hours long, I think I'll be finished sometime this week.

Whether you're participating in the Thankfully Reading Weekend or coming home from a thankful weekend (or some combination thereof), I hope you've had a great holiday (or simply a great weekend, for those who don't celebrate Thanksgiving.)

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Reality Check (a Guest Post by The Dean with Commentary from Me)

After being together for nearly two decades now, The Dean and I have become that couple who knows what the other is thinking before the other espouses their opinion. Now, unbeknownst to one another, we're writing the same blog posts. En route to work yesterday (Friday), I was mentally composing a post about Tareq and Michaele Salahi, those Yahoos of the Week who breached security and crashed the White House dinner.

I was planning to use my soapbox here to propose that some legislator introduce, in post and in haste, a new law or amendment known as The YAAHoo! Law. The You're An AssHole Law would apply to people who demonstrate such behavior for the purposes of getting a reality show or promoting a reality show.

As I said, that was Friday. Later that night, I discovered that post had been written ... by none other than my husband, The Dean, who has allowed me to reprint excerpts here. Consider them his words and mine. Two for the price of one. (Just like in the immortal words - and how true they were - of Bill Clinton.) Enjoy.

When this reality TV bullshit started about 10 years ago, I knew that it would lead to the end of popular culture as we knew it. I didn't realize, however, that it would also lead to possible death of rescue personnel or a major breach of security at the White House. Even now, ten years later, I still cannot for the life of me discern what is entertaining about watching people - who you wouldn't let into your home if they were on your doorstep - enter your abode through the Idiot Box. Granted, they can't use the bathroom if you're must watching them on TV. But otherwise, I have never, ever, ever gotten the fascination with reality TV.

Recently, we went from the death of popular culture to the possible death of rescue personnel. That nearly happened when the asshole reality TV-wannabees Richard Heene and Mayumi Iizuka put the lives of countless rescue people in jeopardy as they tried to get their kid out of a giant instant popcorn tin that had floated away. Fortunately, no one was injured trying to save the phantom kid. Unfortunately, our society is not yet at a place where Richard and Mayumi would be taken out and shot immediately as their punishment for such foolishness.

Now, we have the assholes like Tareq and Michaele Salahi crashing the White House. First of all, why can't she spell her name like a normal person? It's Michelle you dumb bitch, not Michaele.

All of this is happening because now everyone wants to be on TV. I think it is time that Congress do something worthwhile for a change. There should be legislation passed immediately that says that if you do anything stupid in the name of trying to get on television, you, your accomplices and anyone who has 'friended' you on Facebook will be put to death with no trial. Period.

A bit harsh? I don't give a fuck. We have got to put an end to this scourge of reality TV and get back to the golden age when people who were celebrities had really done something worth celebrating.

This latest horror involved a couple of wanna-be reality TV assholes from Northern Virginia who crashed the White House's state dinner Tuesday night, penetrating layers of security with no invitation to mingle with the likes of Vice President Biden and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.

These Salahis are self-described "polo-playing socialites" whose claims to fame prior to Tuesday were a bitter family feud over a D.C.-area winery. These two idiots were slated to "star" in a forthcoming piece of celluloid bullshit called "The Real Housewives of Washington". They arrived at the White House and quickly posted on Facebook photos of themselves with VIPs at the elite gathering. "Honored to be at the White House for the state dinner in honor of India with President Obama and our First Lady!" one of them wrote on their joint Facebook page at 9:08 p.m.

There appears to be some discrepancy as to whether or not these two were or were not interlopers. A White House official initially said the couple was not invited to the dinner, not included on the official guest list and never seated at a table in the South Lawn tent. This was met by someone describing herself as a publicist for the Salahis who denied that they were trespassing. Pressed for details, this bimbo sent a statement saying simply: "The Salahis were honored to be a part of such a prestigious event. . . . They both had a wonderful time."

While the White House offered no official explanation, it appears to be the first time in modern history that anyone has crashed a White House state dinner. The uninvited guests were in the same room as President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

"Everyone who enters the White House grounds goes through magnetometers and several other levels of screenings," said Ed Donovan - a spokesman for the Secret Service - unconvincingly. "That was the case with the state dinner Tuesday night. No one was under any risk or threat." How in the fuck would the Secret Service know? If they can't give me the blood types and Social Security numbers of every human who enters the White House, we have a problem, folks.

Donovan said a preliminary internal investigation has identified "a Secret Service checkpoint which did not follow proper procedure to ensure these two individuals were on the invited guest list." He declined to give further details. An administration official said the White House will conduct its own review. Gee, I hope so, as it's obvious the Secret Service can't be trusted to do it.

The Salahis, both claiming to be in their 40s, showed up about halfway through the guest arrivals. A Marine announced their names, and the couple -- he in a tux, she in a red and gold lehenga [which is apparently traditional Indian formal wear] -- swept past reporters and photographers, stopping several times to pose for pictures. They then walked into the White House lower hallway, where they mingled with guests on the red carpet before heading up to the cocktail reception in the East Room.

How could it happen? You could ask that question both about how these two pricks got into the White House as well as how American popular culture as sunk to such depths. A former White House senior staffer -- who more than a decade ago encountered a crasher at one of the executive mansion's less-fancy parties -- offered this theory: a savvy pair of crashers, dressed to the nines, might arrive on foot at the visitors' entrance, announce their names -- then express shock and concern when the security detail at the gate failed to find them on the guest list. On a rainy night like Tuesday, with a crowd of 300-plus arriving, security might have lost track of or granted a modicum of sympathy to a pair who certainly looked as though they belonged there. If their IDs didn't send up any red flags in the screening process, they would be sent through the magnetometers and into the White House.

Yes, you read that last part right. And yet, the former staffer noted, someone from the White House social office should have been posted at the guest entrance with the guards.

The Salahis seem to think they were destined for national fame via reality TV. Michaele, a razor-thin blond who used to be a Redskins cheerleader [meaning she not only can't pick a winner in husbands but lacks the skill to choose one in football teams], has apparently been in contention as one of the "Real Housewives" in the forthcoming D.C. edition of a Bravo cable series. Although Bravo has not officially finalized its cast - and I can imagine how painstaking a process that must be - its cameras have followed the couple at numerous parties.

Hours before the White House denied that the Salahis were legitimate guests, the Washington Post asked the couple - via Facebook - how they happened to attend the dinner. Tareq responded: "India is the challenger in the America's Polo Cup World Championships June 11/12 2010, and they are very excited in this first ever cultural connection being hosted on the DC National Mall since Polo is one of the primary sports in India." When pressed about why they did not appear on the official list, he added, "it was last-minute attending."

If I have my way, doing something like that again will be the last "last-minute" thing assholes like these two will ever do.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Time is NaNo More on My Side

Well, sad to say, it's time to face the NaNoWriMo music. Cue up the Rolling Stones. Tiiii-iiii-iiii-ime is not on my side.

Not even close.

Let's do the math, shall we?

I'm only at 18,180 words. In order to be a winner of NaNoWriMo, one must have 50,000 words. By midnight on Monday, November 30.

That translates into 10,666.67 words that I would need to write per day for the next three days. (The 666 part of that is kind of a sign that I'm doomed, don't you think?) Or, put it another way, I'd need to write 420 words an hour for the next 77 hours. With no break whatsoever.

Some diehards might say this is perfectly doable, but since I happen to enjoy the finer things in life like sleeping, eating, and going to the bathroom so this is not going to be happening this year.

And, you know what? I'm OK with that.
(um ... sorta).

With not finishing NaNoWriMo, that is. Not - let's be very clear - not the novel itself. There's too much invested on a personal level with that, so that will still go on. Just not via NaNoWriMo.

I kind of knew this would be the outcome, and I'll admit, in some ways this makes me sad. It's the perfectionist in me, the inner child who would never dare be seen with something as horrid as a Band-Aid on a boo-boo. That would, you see, be proof positive to the show the world that I screwed up, and that wasn't acceptable.

Now, as an adult who is psychologically mummified in Band-Aids from life's scrapes and bruises, this isn't as much of an issue as when I was a kid.

Nonetheless, it's still a little deflating.

Y'all know I've been kind of struggling with this project, and for a variety of reasons, this has been some of the hardest writing I've ever done. I'll admit, this is not how I write and it's not how I like to write. I write page by page, sentence by sentence, word by word. Maybe that's not "correct."

(If you ask Boo's second grade teacher, it's absolutely not. She forbids them to erase. They're 8, and they are not allowed to fucking erase. Believe you me, I asked her about this point-blank during parent-teacher conferences, and the answer was, "I just want them to get their thoughts down. There's no time for erasing and making things look nice and perfect." With that, I swore I heard my father, a mechanical engineer who I absolutely inherited my perfectionistic tendencies from, rolling in his grave.)

So NaNo has been tough for me because it has been really hard to just write without editing. Case in point: I'm the most pleased with the three excerpts I've shared, and those have been subject to a wee bit of editing and tweaking on my part, which is a big no-no in NaNo. Still, I'm glad I tried and I'm pretty pleased with having cranked out 57 pages. That's 57 pages and 18,180 words more than I had on Halloween.

To all those who finished (or who will most likely do so), I extend my most sincere congratulations. It's a tremendous accomplishment and you should be proud.

And to the ones like me who won't be finishing by the stroke of midnight, you've got company. Time may not be on your side ... but for what it's worth, I'm right there with you.

(photo taken by me in June 2009 at a Chuck E Cheese birthday party)

©Melissa of The Betty and Boo Chronicles 2008-2009. All rights reserved. If you're reading this on a site other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via its feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Material Girls ... and Boys, and Moms, and Dads

"You know that we are living in a material world and I am a material girl ...."

Material Girl ~ Madonna

Driving to work this morning, Lady Madonna was singing to me about raising interest (and not the variety from Citibank), boys and credit. As the Material Girl herself sang, I found myself thinking how dated this 1984 song sounds in these recessionary times.

Because (and maybe it's just the sorts of folks I associate with) but we've kind of moved beyond this sort of mentality, whether it has been by choice or by circumstance.

Or ... have we?

I kind of have to ask because after a day that included sorting food donations given to the organization I work for, I came home and -

Wait. I gotta interrupt and say something about the food donation situation. Just in case you happen to have a hankering to donate food to some worthy organization this holiday season, here's a little bit of a tip to keep in mind. It's generally appreciated by the organization - and the person receiving it - that the food donation not be something you bought to stock up for the apocalypse that wasn't Y2K. Seriously, we had to throw out grody-to-the-max cans that expired when we were all still partyin' like it was 1999. One of the folks sorting with us told a story about how a few years back at another organization, they received a food donation that included World War II rations. Just 'cause someone is a little down on his or her luck doesn't mean that they'd like to meet their maker as a result of botulism.

OK, sorry. As I was saying. So I came home after sorting the food and was reading the newspaper, when I saw this story about this family that is planning to dip into their retirement savings to afford Christmas gifts for their kids.

Who happen to be all of 10, 17 ... and 20 years old.

My first thought was something along the lines of what the hell, you have got to be frickin' kidding me. There are still people who think this way?

Apparently so. From the article:
This year, the Carrcroft couple plans to spend about half the $250 they normally spend on each of their three children, ages 20, 17 and 10.
But even that will be a stretch, Kelly said.
"We're going to charge everything. I'm going to hit my retirement fund," she said. "We'll worry after. We'll cry after Christmas."

This article - and this mentality - has me infuriated on so many levels. For starters, with the exception of the 10 year old, these are grown children who should be well past the age of expecting Santa Baby to slide down the chimney with a gold-plated AmEx card. What kind of lesson is this family setting for their kids? That Mommy and Daddy will always be there for them? Well, in that respect, they will be ... because they'll be destitute in their retirement and needing the kids to take care of them. And furthermore, haven't we learned from this recession (one that has seen the work hours cut of the mother in the article) that things don't matter?

This family isn't alone. Far from it. I know someone personally who just had a baby last Friday - and by yesterday (yesterday ... that was Tuesday!) took the baby for her first shopping spree at Neiman Marcus.

We're never going to move past this recession if this is the mentality people have. But I have to believe - because I have seen it firsthand with the organization I work for - that more people have a more restrained view of the holidays and of gifts in general. They're looking for opportunities to make a difference, to give back. The good thing is, there are countless of organizations this holiday season where you can "adopt-a-family" and give them needed items like clothes or food, or make a donation instead of gifts. There are events such as "alternative gift markets" where you can "shop" for gifts like supporting a village library in Indonesia, or to teach a child from the next block how to read.

If there's one thing we've learned from this recession, it's that life is not about who dies with the most toys.

It's that the toys themselves are going to be the death of us.

(photo taken by me at a very, very expensive boutique during a work event to raise money)

Monday, November 23, 2009

Book Review (YA): An Egg on Three Sticks, by Jackie Moyer Fischer

An Egg on Three Sticks, by Jackie Moyer Fischer

Abby Goodman knows things, has seen things, that no teenager should ever know or see.

Things like her mother swimming naked in the neighbor's swimming pool in the middle of the night.

Or her mother's rages that cause her to destroy presents and people in her path, her suicidal tendencies, or her mother's zombie-like existence that causes her to sleep for days on end.

Mom is like this sheet walking around. Her skin is all white and her face is flat and she sort of floats from room to room.
I'm afraid to lift up the sheet.
Afraid there's nothing under there.
There's something else walking around our house, too.

The thing nobody talks about.
Which is that we are all afraid that Mom is going to try it again.
I think about it all the time.
I come home from school every day and I don't want to open the front door and walk inside.
Some days I make Poppy come home with me, just in case.
So far, Mom has only been lying down.
On her bed.


Abby and her family (including her father and younger sister Lisa) are the victims of her mother's mental illness, in a time when being bipolar and clinically depressed were treated through denial and whispers among neighbors. Eventually, Abby's mother winds up in a psychiatric hospital for a lengthy stay. (An Egg on Three Sticks' setting of the 1970s is clear here; in 2009, such a long stay would never be covered by insurance. It's also telling in terms of the evolution over the past three decades of the pharmacology used to treat mental illness.)

An Egg on Three Sticks deals with much of the same subject matter as Tomato Girl, and with similar writing. Those who liked the latter would probably enjoy reading An Egg on Three Sticks, as I did.

Author Jackie Moyer Fischer captures this era of Vietnam and shag carpeting as a backdrop against Abby's experience of needing to grow up too quickly. In many ways, Abby's very much of the 7th grade narrator at the book's beginning, a tween that frequently peppers her vocabulary with phrases like "weirdamundo," the verbiage found in the coolamundo language she and her best friend Poppy bond over.

By the book's end, Abby is 15 and feeling like she is 40. And the reader closes the book wondering about the effect her childhood will have on her life once Abby does reach her 40s. Does she inherit characteristics of her mother's mental illness? Is she still close with her sister Lisa? What happens to her father, their neighbor's son who is "getting shot - I mean, shot at" over in Vietnam?

Those are the qualities of a good novel, one where the characters capture your heart as you read and after you're finished reading, keep it there for awhile longer.

I couldn't find any other reviews of this, but if I missed yours, let me know in the comments.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Sunday Salon: In Which My Quest to Read 50 Books Continues for Another Week ....

Maybe it is because I have never, as an adult, read 50 books in one year, but isn't there something oh-so-cool about being able to say "I read 50 books this year"?

I happen to think so. And I thought this would be the week when my reading tallies would equal that magical number, but that was not to be. It remains elusive and out of reach for one week longer (or more).

This was kind of a mixed bag in terms of reading weeks. On the positive end of the spectrum, I finished The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, which I found myself enjoying and thinking about much more than I ever thought I would.

Then it was onto John Green's Paper Towns, another one that has received raves among book bloggers. Sad to say, I couldn't finish this one. I know, something must be wrong with me for not being able to get into this but I just felt I was reading Looking for Alaska again. Seriously, could Margo and Alaska be any more similar? I like John Green's style a lot - the man is a very talented writer - and much of the first part of this book had me LOLing - but I abandoned this at page 73.

John Green isn't alone, because I also abandoned Jeffrey Zaslow's The Girls from Ames: The Story of Women and a 40-Year Friendship. Again, I really wanted to like this book but it fell flat for me. I thought it was because I was listening to this on audio (and the narrator's tone was sort of ... I don't know the word ... maybe patronizing? haughty?) but then I read some of it and it still wasn't working for me. It's the story of 11 girls from Ames, Iowa who became friends in the late 60s and the strong bond that they still have today.

Listening to this is like being at a party where everyone is regaling each other by reminiscing of days gone by - and you're the odd chick out because you're not getting their jokes because you aren't part of their memories. As much as they try to explain, the nostalgia falls flat for that very reason. Similarly, there are life-changing incidents that happen to the girls - a date rape, the death of one of the girls, one of the girls being shot by a stray BB gun - that are somewhat glossed over, and those were the scenarios that were more of interest to me, as opposed to narratives about the girls' summer jobs scooping ice cream. (Not like there's anything wrong with that. I am a big fan of ice cream. :)

It was, however, a much better week for "Sesame Street," which turned 40. (It is pretty depressing to realize that I am older than "Sesame Street," albeit only by a few months. I've had the nonfiction book Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street. So far, I'm enjoying this, although I'm only up to page 56. Thus far, we have had a bit longer discussion of Captain Kangaroo than I would prefer (I never got into that show), but since they are all intertwined, its forgiveable ... for now.

So, don't forget to come back next week, boys and girls, when perhaps our friends from "Sesame Street" will help us count all the way to 50.

Friday, November 20, 2009

NaNoWriMo Excerpt #3, Day 19

Here's another excerpt from my NaNoWriMo novel in progress. (In case you were wondering, I'm closing in on 18,000 words. I know ... this does not exactly bode well for reaching 50,000 by month's end, does it? However, I'm trying to look at this in a "glass half full" kind of way. This is 18,000 more words - or 53 pages - than I had before.)

Because even for all of her pseudo praying, Maggie had a sense that this was truly it. This was how it would end, and a part of her was angry that it was different than the ending she’d imagined. For she’d imagined something a little more dramatic – as if nearly crashing through a guardrail wasn’t dramatic enough – but given his personality and the life he led, she’d envisioned his final exit as more theatrical, not common and commingled with the thousands of others who would fade to black during this day or the night to come.

copyright MelissaF 2009

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Book Review (Kids): The Truth About Cousin Ernie's Head, by Matthew McElligott

The Truth About Cousin Ernie's Head, written and illustrated by Matthew McElligott.

With the holiday season coming up, kids are likely to be regaled by another round of leftover and lukewarm family stories. Such is the reason that the young narrator (unnamed throughout McElligott's tale) is dreading spending Thanksgiving with his dysfunctional, quirky family.

(Think you've hit the jackpot in regards to dysfunctional kin? Think again. This crew has Aunt Helen and Uncle Max, who arrive at Thanksgiving via bicycle from Alaska, and Uncle Klaus who flew in for the feast from Bangladesh.)

Soon enough, the familiar arguments ensue.

"I ate an airplane, tires and all," said Aunt Edith.

"There's nothing like a good airplane," Uncle Max agreed. "Remember the time that airplane landed on Cousin Ernie's head?"

"Max, you know very well it wasn't an airplane," said Aunt Helen. "It
was a buzzard."

"Pardon me," said Uncle Ogden, softly. "but it wasn't an airplane or a
buzzard. I remember quite clearly. It was Mrs. Halusa from next door. She was bringing us a casserole."

Soon everyone was arguing about Cousin Ernie's head.

Our young narrator escapes to his grandmother's attic, where he finds old family movies that prove, once and for all, what actually happened.

"Hidden within those scenes were the answers to all the silly arguments my family had been having for years!" (like whether or not Aunt Helen was at the liver and onions barbeque, or the secret of what Aunt Edith kept in her car trunk for emergencies (toads)

Indeed, the family movie should solve everything, but instead, it makes things worse. Our young narrator and his grandmother create a plan to get the family back together again - back to the way they once were.

I liked this book, which I found at the library (it was published in 1996) and so did Betty and Boo. (They requested several readings of it during the time we had it out, so that's usually a good sign of their interest.) Adults will enjoy this because it shows how goofy one's relatives can be and kids will like this because they can relate to another kid who has a crazy family. With the holidays approaching, 'tis the season for family get-togethers and kids of all ages (the age range for this is from 5-8) will find something to like about this.

I couldn't find any reviews about this one, but perhaps you might enjoy Matthew McElligott's website.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

(Not Your Typical) Book Review: The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins

I finally get it.

Now, I finally understand what all the buzz in the book blogging community has been over Suzanne Collins' novel, The Hunger Games.

I resisted this one for awhile. It was not, I'd decided, a book I was even remotely interested in reading. Too futuristic for my refined taste, I scoffed. The cover didn't seem all that appealing, and even if I did try this, I probably wouldn't last 50 pages.

But then I saw it at the library, on display, just propped up on a shelf. And I thought, all right ... enough. Resistence is futile. Especially when it is staring you in the face, practically begging you to read.

Having finished it last night - and reading an article in this morning's paper about the USDA's latest report showing that there are 17 million children in the United States who are hungry - I stand corrected and apologetic on my previous misconceptions.

I'm left with the same sense post Hunger Games that I had after reading Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, the sense that although the book is set in a far-off time and place, it is disturbingly plausible. (Especially so this morning with the new controversial - and foreboding, if you ask me - "recommendations" on mammography from the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force.)

The Hunger Games has been reviewed by everybody, so you don't need me to recap the plot. But suffice it to say that the very notion of a time and a place where children are randomly selected to compete (a la "Survivor") and kill one another (a la Lord of the Flies) for the opportunity to eat, is disturbingly realistic. In addition, the element of these games playing themselves out for a national television audience is also a little too close to home (and brilliant on author Suzanne Collins' part).

Because there are elements already in place in today's real-life society in the United States for such a scenario, the reader can easily envision such a time when The Hunger Games could become one hell of a Must-See TV.

With 17 million children going hungry in the United States, we're damn close to being there. But with Americans' appetite for all things frivolous, and our gluttonous feasting on a junk-food tabloid fodder of celebrity "news" when 17 million hungry kids are in our midst, make no mistake.

We are tuned in to the wrong reality show.

One final question: would you give this book as a holiday present to a 5th grader? He's a mature kid, only reads series, so I am thinking about this and Catching Fire. Thoughts?

Here's what just a handful of other bloggers had to say:

Reviews by Lola
Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin’?
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Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Sunday Salon: On Good Friends and Good Books

Boo is in a children's theater production of "Beauty and the Beast" this weekend and next. For those familiar with the story, he plays Gaston, which is kind of comical because he is one of the smallest kids in the show. (Each cast member is under age 10.) He did two back-to-back shows yesterday and was wonderful (I may be slightly biased ... but trust me, he really was good!). It's just incredible to see how this group of kids has bonded together and how much they help each other when one of them forgets a line or if a scene goes somewhat differently than planned.

Because of the play, we have several visits with friends and family who are coming to see Boo in the play. Last night we had our closest friends who travelled two hours (each way!) for the play and then dinner back at our house. We don't see them nearly enough and when we do, it's always fun. I'm so grateful that they took so much time to come down to see Boo's play.

Meanwhile, I knew the second half of November would do a number on my NaNoWriMo word count, and indeed, I'm now 10,000 words behind where I should be. Not good. We'll see where this winds up. As my friend Stephanie said, I'm not sure why NaNoWriMo takes place during November. I can't be the only person whose life revs into high gear this time of year.

In the meantime, I'm still reading The Hunger Games. I've been exhausted at night, so as much as I want to, I can't stay awake for more than a few pages. I'm still enjoying this, very much so, and I think I'll be finished within the next day or two.

My audio book this week has been The Girls from Ames: A Story of Women and a Forty Year Friendship by Jeffrey Zaslow (co-author of The Last Lecture with Randy Pausch.) It's the story of a group of 11 girls who grew up together in Ames, Iowa and who remained close friends for 40 years. Each chapter focuses in on one of the girls, her family, and her connections with the others. This is a good audio, as this doesn't require much heavy thought. Instead, it serves to rekindle memories of one's one childhood friends and the good times with them.

Hope you're having some good times this weekend, with good friends, good books ... or, like me, with both.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Book Review: Tomato Girl, by Jayne Pupek

Tomato Girl, by Jayne Pupek

Awhile back, I was seeing this book everywhere throughout the book blogosphere, and was thrilled when I saw it as an audio book at the library. I promptly put it in my CD player and within a half hour, pressed "stop."

Because this was a story I had to read, not listen to.

Tomato Girl is the story of 11-year old Ellie Sanders as she struggles singlehandedly to hold her family together through the dark roller-coaster ride of dysfunction that is life with her parents.

Let's start with them, shall we? Her mother Julia is mentally ill. (The exact diagnosis isn't stated, and I'm certainly not an expert on such matters, but she appears to be perhaps bipolar or schizophrenic.) A fall down the steps (an incident Ellie blames on herself) spirals Julia into a chasm of erratic and disturbing behavior. Because of her illness, and her grief over losing a baby, she places Ellie in situations no child (or adult, for that matter) should ever have to be in. Just when she needs her mother the most, Ellie embarks on the cusp of adolescence walking a tightrope between loving her mother, wanting to make her better, and being frightened (understandably) of her actions.

"My eyes stung, but hard blinks kept me from crying. Yes, I knew what it was like to be scared. I felt scared all the time. My whole life I'd been afraid of Mama's dark places taking her for good, scared that those same places might live inside me. Now I feared that Tess would take away my father, and my mother might grow so sad I wouldn't know how to make her smile again. But I didn't owe Tess an answer. She'd taken too much. I wouldn't give her anything else. Sometimes you have to hold onto what you have, even if the only thing left is fear."
Ellie's father's response to his wife's deterioriating mental state is resignation. At his emotional limits, Rupert turns to Tess, the teenage "tomato girl" who supplies his general store with fresh produce. Tess is the epitome of young and fresh; she sells Avon and allows Ellie to try on lipstick and teaches her about kissing. Tess moves into the Sanders' home, under the auspices of helping out as Julia recuperates, but brings her own quagmire of issues and complicating the household even more.

For most of its 298 pages, Tomato Girl is a difficult read. It's incomprehensible to imagine an 11 year old being subject to the situations that Ellie must endure because of her parents' actions. But, as dark as the subject matter is, Tomato Girl is an important novel.

Although Tomato Girl is set in the late 1960s, the issues of parental neglect, infidelity, abuse, etc. are still incredibly prevalent today. And because of that, it is important for kids to know that there are people in their world (as in Ellie's) who do care about them - and they might even be the type of people (also as in Ellie's life), who are considered to be "different" or "strange" because of their sexual orientation or the color of their skin.

Tomato Girl has been aptly compared to Kaye Gibbons' novel Ellen Foster (which I also loved), and even though this is a work of fiction, I found myself comparing this in parts to The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls' memoir.

Author Jayne Pupek has a social work background, and while reading this, I was wondering if any real-life instances provided inspiration for the characters and the plot of the novel (and if that is the case, it becomes even more of a sadder book.)

I know that a 40-year old suburban mom of two like myself is not necessarily the target audience, but regardless, I thought this was incredibly well-written, with memorable characters and solid pacing throughout. I highly recommend this book, for young adults and up, and I'm looking forward to reading more by Jayne Pupek in the future ...

... perhaps, say, maybe a Tomato Girl sequel?

Jayne Pupek's website is here and her blog here.

Read what some other bloggers thought ....

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

NaNoWriMo Work in Progress - Excerpt #2 (Day 11)

Come hell or high water, I will hit at least 15,000 words in the NaNoWriMo novel before I go to bed. (Actually, high water is pretty likely, as it has been raining all day with much more to come.)

I've had a few rough days of NaNo-ing, I'll be honest with you, which is my excuse for my lagging wordcount. We should be closer to 18,500 words instead of the 15,000 I'm closing in on, but I still have hope that the gap can be made up. I was starting to doubt this story and in my non-caffeinated enough moments, was having delusions of grandeur by envisioning myself as some sort of Salmon Rushdie figure because of some of the controversial points in this novel. (I've also been procrastinating a tad by working on some Christmas presents that I'm making.)

But hopefully, I've turned a little corner here, if only for today. I think I'm having a decent writing night, but I'll let you be the judge of that with this excerpt:

She knew who was going to be on the other end of the phone even before she picked it up.

“Hello, how can I help you?”

“Is this Maggie?”

“Are you in a safe place?” she said automatically, grabbing her clipboard and pen.

“I am. Maggie, is that you?”


“It’s Jorie.”

Jorie, one of her regulars. She had been calling the hotline for months now, talking only to Maggie. In Jorie’s mind, she considered herself one of the lucky ones because her husband had never hit her. (“That would be the last straw,” she once said. “So help him God, if he lays a hand on me or my kids, I’m gone.")

But Maggie knew Jorie would stay, despite the insults veiled in concern and caring that could fly faster than his fists, despite his verbal assault-rifle barrage leaving her with even more emotional collateral damage.

C’mon, honey, do you really need that ice cream? You would look so hot if you'd just manage to lose a couple pounds, you know? Tell you what, when you do, I’ll buy you the most gorgeous dress at any store you like. And then I’ll take you out for an expensive dinner downtown. And then I’ll dress you up in a little something from Victoria’s Secret just for me.

Maggie heard it all, through Jorie’s sobs in her calls after her kids were in bed, when she was alone and her husband was working late again. So he said.

“I know he’s sleeping around, I just know it, because he tells me all the time that I’m not good enough for him,” she said. “That I’m lucky to have him. Meanwhile, he’s probably fucking some intern whore from his office, as if I’m stupid and I don’t know he hasn’t done that before. I mean, what if he comes home with a disease, with AIDS or something?”

Maggie drew in her breath, went silent.

“Maggie? You there?”

“I’m here,” Maggie replied, clearing her throat. Dammit, keep it together, she thought. Who’s the professional here?

Maggie continued, her composure regained. “Well, there are resources, you know … places that do free and confidential testing, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

“I just don’t think I can do this anymore. It’s just been too long … too much for too long, you know?”

I know what you mean, Maggie wanted to say. I do know. And I don’t think I can do this anymore either.

copyright 2009 MelissaF (pay attention to that, content thieves ... you scum of the earth, you.)

SHE WRITES Day of Action

I'm interrupting my NaNoWriMo writing to bring you this post, inspired by our friends over at She Writes. (Then again, after reading the blog post that this blog post is based on, I might as well hit the Delete key on NaNoWriMo altogether and do something more productive with my late nights, like ... um ... sleep.)

Seems that Publishers Weekly just released their Top Ten Best Books of 2009 list and, unbelievably, there is not a single book by a woman on that list and an almost total absence of people of color.

That's unconscionable.

Now, I realize that Publishers Weekly can create any list it wants, and they are well within their rights to do so. But according to this blog post ("I Guess Women Aren't That Good at Writing After All") by She Writes founder Kamy Wicoff, this is no faux paus. Publishers Weekly is fully aware that there aren't any women who, in their opinion, wrote a word this year that is worthy enough to make their list.

As Kamy wrote in her post, "[a]ccording to the novelist and journalist Louisa Ermelino, the editors at PW bent over backwards to be objective as they chose the Best Books of the year. "We ignored gender and genre and who had the buzz. We gave fair chance to the 'big' books of the year, but made them stand on their own two feet. It disturbed us when we were done that our list was all male."

Um ... excuse me??!

Hence, Kamy has proposed and launched the first ever SHE WRITES DAY OF ACTION, which I am pleased to be even a small part of. (As a quick aside, if you haven't checked out She Writes yet, make a point to do so. There are more than 5,000 of us over there. I've been part of this group - membership is free - since its second week and cannot say enough great things about it.)

Back to the SHE WRITES DAY OF ACTION. By Friday, Kamy asks participants to do three simple but enormously powerful, things:

1) Post a blog on She Writes responding to the exclusion of women on PW's list. Make your own list, as many of you have done already, or take this opportunity to reflect more broadly the ramifications of its women-cook-the-food-but-only-men-get-Michelin-stars message, and share your thoughts with us all. (More ideas on this to come.)

My notes: I can't come up with a coherent list (of anything) in this after midnight hour, so that will require more thought. But I will do so.

2) Buy a book published by a woman in 2009. Take a photo of yourself holding it. Post its cover on your page. Tell us what book you bought, and why.

My reply: Two books come to mind. First, Vicki Forman's incredible memoir, This Lovely Life. I bought it because I was familiar with Vicki's story and her exquisite writing, and this book ... well, let's just say I read it in one sitting while on the beach. It's a powerful story and it damn well deserves to be among the Top Ten Books of 2009 simply because Vicki's story could be all of our stories and in so many ways, it is.

Secondly, I purchased Lorrie Moore's A Gate at the Stairs, and the reason I purchased it is, quite simply, because she is one of my all-time favorite writers. I own all her books and had to own this one. She is an inspiration to me and my own writing.

3) Invite five women writers you know to read your words and join us on She Writes.

My reply: I can't pick just five women writers. If you're reading this and you consider yourself to be a woman writer, then head over to She Writes to participate in this and bring attention to the many amazing and talented women writers in the world, if you're so inclined.

Kamy's email to She Writes members continues by saying: once you have posted your blog, send me the link at We will send these links to our entire community (5000+) on Saturday. We will send out a press release then too. If you are a well-known writer, you know how greatly we need your response, your leadership, and your help in spreading the word. If you aren't, we greatly need your response and your leadership too. Use this platform as a platform of your own. What else is She Writes for? Let's make a statement that no one can ignore. Please join us, BY FRIDAY, in our first-ever day of action, and we will do the rest. I'd like to see hundreds, if not thousands, of posts, and hundreds, if not thousands, of purchases. Vote with your voice and with your wallet. Push back. Make it good. Make it right.

Now, I'm headed back to NaNoWriMo. Because apparently, we need more writing by women in this world, don't we?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Book Review: Parallel Play: Growing Up with Undiagnosed Asperger's, by Tim Page

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

I'm writing this while doing my own form of parallel play. Boo and I are side-by-side, each on our respective laptops, each engaged with our own interests. (For Boo, a bowling game. For me, blogging about books.)

Boo, as most readers of this blog know, is my almost 8 year old son who has Asperger's Syndrome. For parents like me, the book we most want to read does not exist. It's the book that tells us that all the hours of floortime and the ABA, all the gluten-free and casein-free and whatever else free diets, all the social stories, all of that stuff that comprises and in many cases defines the life of a family with a child (or children) on the autism spectrum, has worked. That the child, now an adult, is happy, fullfilled, productive.

That he or she is OK. That they made it, whatever and wherever the elusive it may be.

Tim Page's wonderful memoir, Parallel Play: Growing Up with Undiagnosed Asperger's, is not a blueprint for success with the happy ending that such parents like myself seek, but that doesn't matter. This is a book that everyone should read.

It grabbed me before the Prologue, with this quote: "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle." (Anonymous, but often attributed to Philo of Alexandria)

And then, in the Prologue, it was as if I was reading Boo's autobiography. Tim Page opens his story in the second grade, when he received a stern "SEE ME!" scrawled across his essay about a class field trip to Boston.

"Well, we went to Boston, Massachusetts through the town of Warrenville, Connecticut on Route 44A. It was very pretty and there was a church that reminded me of pictures of Russia from our book that is published by Time-Life. We arrived in Boston at 9:17. At 11 we went on a big tour of Boston on Gray Line 43, made by the Superior Bus Company like School Bus Six, which goes down Hunting Lodge Road where Maria lives and then on to Separatist Road and then to South Eagleville before it comes to our school. We saw lots of good things like the Boston Massacre site. The tour ended at 1:05. Before I knew it we were going home. We went through Warrenville again but it was too dark to see much. A few days later it was Easter. We got a cuckoo clock."

If you've read any of Boo's guest posts here on this blog, you know that this could have just as easily been written by him. Indeed, there are a lot of similiarities between my son and Tim at age 8 - but one stark difference: Tim did not receive his Asperger's diagnosis until he was 45.

As a result, his childhood and young adult years were spent mostly alone, with his books and writings and drawings of maps. His parents were loving and did their best to understand their boy (Page describes his mother as "infinitely openhearted and unwavering in her conviction that any setbacks her children faced could be overcome.")

Early in life, Tim developed a passion for and an encyclopedia knowledge of music that later in life would carry him into a career as a music critic, most recently for The Washington Post. (Another similarity with my Boo, who knows more about music of the 40s than people who lived through that decade.)

In 1963, when Parallel Play opens, Asperger's wasn't recognized the way autism spectrum disorders are today. Kids like Tim were considered quirky, maybe "a bit off" or "a bit touched," simple, strange. How different things are today - and how different, the reader is left to wonder, might Tim's life have been if he knew that Asperger's was the reason behind so much playing on the stage of his life.

We may not know Tim Page himself, but as Parallel Play makes abundantly clear, we all know someone like him - or can identify aspects of his personality within ourselves. (I'm very much like Tim, for example, in my desire to hold onto every person that has entered my life, just as Tim does. I have a very hard time letting go of those I've cared about, and can absolutely relate and understand when Tim writes of still remembering and observing in his own way the birthdays and anniversaries of the deaths of classmates who died dozens of years ago.)

There are times when Parallel Play is not an easy book to read (there's a lengthy part about Tim's descent into the world of drugs) and at times, it is heartwarming and affirming. It is both ends of the spectrum in one book.

And above all, this: a reminder to be kind, for everyone is fighting a great battle ... even if they don't know what it is called.

What Other Bloggers Thought:

Yogi's Den

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Sunday Salon: On Being on the Other Side of the Page

So here's what I've learned after a week of NaNoWriMo-ing. (I'm at 11,133 words as of this morning and earlier this week I posted an excerpt, which you can read here, if so inclined.)

Being on the other side of the page is harder than it looks. Now, I didn't expect this to be a cakewalk, but because this story has been with me for several years, I thought the going would be a little smoother.

Um ... not so much. I'm kind of stuck right now, and need a shot of inspiration (maybe in the form of a Starbucks Eggnog Latte?) if I'm to reach the 15k wordcount that we're supposed to have as of end of the day tomorrow.

Since this is the Sunday Salon, I will say something about what I'm currently reading which is none other than the much-talked about, much praised The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I saw it at the library last weekend, just sitting on top of the shelf on display, and I grabbed it.

(I know what you're saying. What idiot starts The Hunger Games while in the middle of NaNoWriMo? That would be yours truly, right here.)

But it is worth because now, now I get it. I finally understand what you've all been talking about! And let me tell you, I was an adamant hold out that this was not going to be the book for me. This is so far removed from what I typically read - and yet, there are many elements that make it very much in keeping with what I typically read.

(Note to my friends, the Kasagrams: has The Boy read this series yet? If not, I am thinking about this for him as a Christmas present, as well as the second book, Catching Fire. Let me know.)

So maybe that's really what I've been learning in this week of NaNoWriMo. That it's OK to push yourself, to explore, to break out of your comfort zone and discover something new ... especially when you've had a preconceived notion of what that was all along.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Best of the Week

I've been collecting a bunch of interesting links over the past couple weeks that I just haven't shared. I think most of them are still timely. They are, in my humble opinion, all interesting.

Now we know the story about what Betty Draper was reading on that episode of Mad Men a few weeks back. (This is an old entry for Best Of, but given I'm all about all things Mad Men, it stays.)

I don't have a book club, but if I did, I would love to be part of this initiative with the book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women ItalicWorldwide, as described on Britt Bravo's blog, Have Fun Do Good.

In another post on her wonderful blog, Britt writes about how the United States is one of two countries that has yet to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Um ... maybe we need more time? Because it's only been 20 years (as of November 20) since this Convention. Twenty years! I'm as much of a procrastinator as anyone, but this is ridiculous. It's embarrassing that we haven't ratified this (and c'mon, the other country that hasn't done so is Somalia!)

The Daily Beast has an eye-opening blog post about how women in Afghanistan have started successful entrepreneurial ventures in the face of the troubles in that country. What should be a positive force is in danger of being lost by so many women because of threats and crimes against their families, their businesses, and their employees.

I have a love-hate relationship with Wal-Mart. The place is always jam-packed and I always say that going there is going to be the death of me. Well, if that occurs, The Dean can pick up a Wal-Mart casket for me along with groceries and underwear.

Regular readers know I have a horrendously long commute. Well, my woes are nuthin' compared to what some Philadelphia area commuters who depend on public transportation have had to contend with this week. For those not in the area, the union workers responsible for keeping a massive public transit fleet on the go decided to walk off the job and strike ... at 3 a.m. on Tuesday morning, stranding hundreds of thousands of people who would probably be thrilled to accept the offer of a guaranteed 11.5% pay increase spread out over the next 60 months. Columnist Ronnie Polaneczky's piece for the Philadelphia Daily News ("To SEPTA strikers: How dare you") nails the outrage that people are feeling over this.

With NaNoWriMo underway, this is a great post from Between Fact and Fiction (a new blog to me, thanks to Nathan Bransford's blog) with tips for writing a first draft.

And The Case Foundation has a mention of NaNo in this interesting post, What Happens When We All Become Writers?

Finally, if you're doing NaNoWriMo, you need to be reading Doyce Testerman. My newest favorite blog. Absolutely hilarious and brilliant.

And speaking of NaNoWriMo, I'm headed back to the world of the novel in progress ....

Thursday, November 5, 2009

NaNoWriMo: Day 5, A Very Rough Excerpt

So ... um, if you're interested, here are the first 230 words of my NaNoWriMo novel. Right now I'm at 7,556 8,015 words, which is 25 pages. More on the process in another post. For now, I'm curious to hear your thoughts on what you think is happening in the story, if this piques your interest to read more, if you think this is artificial, unpasteurized crap ... whatever you feel compelled to say. Just try to be kind. I feel like I'm teetering on the NaNoWriMo edge as it is.

Working title is Love Spells Risk. Enjoy ... I hope.

“Anyone die today?”

No hello, no how ya doin’, how-was-the-drive up from Philly. Great, Maggie thought. It’s going to be that kind of weekend. Again.

“Damned if I know,” she replied, dropping her stuffed duffel bag inside the door.

Kissing her uncle on the cheek, Maggie softened. “I left at 8, so I didn’t get a chance to read the obits this morning. But the paper’s in the car. With a butter cake from Geiger’s.”

“I’ll get it,” he offered.

“No, no, no …stay,” she said, raising her hand as if commanding a puppy. “You need to save your energy.”

“At least let me put on another pot of coffee. I can still make a mean cup of coffee, you know.”

Watching him turn toward the kitchen, her smile morphed into a furrowed brow as she scrutinized his steps. Had his gait slowed since her last visit, or was she just imagining things? How many weeks had it been, anyway? Maggie did the mental math, ticking off the months on her fingers. April was her 26th birthday, May was that weekend at the shore – she didn’t want to think about that right now - and now June. Eight weeks.

It seemed longer than that since she’d been here, but it wasn’t. Maybe it was because when you’re in the world of the dying, eight weeks can seem like a lifetime.

copyright November 2009 MelissaF

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

For This Party, It's B.Y.O.B. *

I never get invited to the cool parties.

Apparently, the social event of the year is a concept called the Swine Flu Party. (H1N1 Flu Party doesn't seem to have the same cache, does it?)

There was a discussion thread this morning on a local mom's site that I occasionally frequent about this notion where parents are deliberating exposing their healthy kids to sickos with the H1N1 virus. Because nobody seems to know of anyone who has hosted or attended such a soiree, this all may very well be a hoax (and I truly hope it is, because the whole idea of this is nauseating). It seems that it is based on the quaint idea of Chicken Pox Parties, where you would expose kids to those with chicken pox.

Hoax or not, for the purposes of a blog post, play along with me and pretend that this is for real, OK?

If I have this straight, you get a bunch of snot-nosed, sniffling, wiping noses into sleeves, sneezing, coughing, feverish young'uns together. Add in your own perfectly healthy children. Pray that your healthy kid walks out of the party with a 103 fever (or, at the very least, comes down with such a day or so later.) Then, your child gets H1N1 and you get the inconvenience of having a sick kid over with. Who knows, maybe you'll even get a goody bag of swine flu too!

I can't make this stuff up, people. This is disconcerting on so many levels. For starters, everyone is sick so there are plenty of places that one can go and pick up the flu without having to suffer through yet another social function. The weather (at least in this part of the world) tends to be wacky during the fall months and people always get sick when that happens. So, the likelihood that you or your kids are going to get sick this winter? Pretty damn good.

But back to the Swine Flu Party. To me, this speaks to a more troubling mindset, one that we're seeing all too frequently in today's society. I am sure that there are people among us who would actually considering doing this, whether it is going to a Swine Flu Party or hosting one themselves. (C'mon, you know someone with this mentality. You know you do.) It's the same mentality that thinks it's OK to concoct a hoax that your 6 year old is floating up, up, and away in a Mylar balloon.

Exposing your kid to any illness deliberately and purposefully in hopes that they get sick and for the purposes of your own needs is abusive, plain and simple.

And there's nothing festive about that.

* B.Y.O.B. (bring your own boogers)

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Book Review (Kids): How Sweet It Is (and Was): The History of Candy, by Ruth Freeman Swain

How Sweet It Is (and Was): The History of Candy, by Ruth Freeman Swain and illustrated by John O' Brien

My Betty's two favorite things in the world are:

1. Candy and
2. Books.

So, when we spotted a book about candy at the library, we gobbled it up. (Bah-dum-bump!)

This is a fun nonfiction book for kids about all things candy, from the origin of the word itself ("from the Arabic word qandi, which came all the way from the Indian Sanskrit word khanda, meaning a piece of sugar"), to the first sweet concoctions, to various delicacies throughout the world.

Betty was genuinely appalled to learn that at one time, only rich people could afford sugar, and that chocolate was kept a secret in Spain for almost a hundred years. ("I would not have wanted to live when that happened!" she declared.)

Boo was intrigued reading about Queen Elizabeth's passion for keeping "kissing comfits" (small perfumed candies for sweetening people's breath) and consuming so many comfits that her teeth turned black. We were all amused to discover that fudge ("a slang word for mistake") was likely the result of a batch of caramels being "fudged, or ruined."

There is a section of the book that does clarify that we don't really need sugary foods and that fruits are just as sweet (not to mention better for us), and that if you do eat sweets, it's important to take care of your teeth. ("So they don't turn black like Queen Elizabeth's," Boo volunteered, helpfully.)

I found it interesting (and slightly horrifying) to note that in the year 2000, Americans ate 7.1 billion pounds of candy, with an average of 25 pounds consumed per person. Chocolate is the biggest offender; Americans eat an average of 12 pounds of chocolate per person every year. These are eight year old statistics, and since the world has gotten a tad more stressful since 2000, my money would be on the notion that those pounds have been piling on in the years since.

Perhaps not surprisingly, more candy is bought for Halloween than any other holiday - two billion dollars worth in 2000. (How Sweet It Is (and Was) was published in 2003.)

(And speaking of Halloween, it was my intent to have this post up in time for All Hallow's Eve itself, but ... well, I forgot. Assuming that there's still some Halloween candy left, this might still be appropriate. Then again, candy is appropriate anytime.)

On a personal note, I got a kick out of the dedication. Ruth Freeman Swain dedicates her book to "my good friends, of all ages, at Central Nursery School, Wayne, Pennsylvania." I know Wayne well and have fond memories of my first apartment in that Main Line town, so that was a fun little snippet of the book for me.

Betty and Boo seemed to like this nonfiction childrens book, and even though How Sweet It Is (and Was) does sing the praises of candy, it didn't seem to influence my kids to want more.

As if that is even possible.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

NaNoWriMo: Day 1

We leave the novel at the close of Day One with 5,009 words on the page. (Or, more accurately, on the hard drive.)

My goal was 5,000 words for today. (I've always been an overachiever.)

Not all days will be like this one, which is why I pushed myself. For starters, days with 25 hours in them come around once a year, so I wanted to take advantage of that.

In this NaNo month, there will come holidays and play performances, several days of migraines, and the heavy workload that belongs to the season. But today, today was a good writing day.

The story is still so very much in the embryonic stages. Since it's based on a real-life experience (write what you know!), most of the 16 pages I have thus far are snippets and snatches of conversation that I'm remembering from more than a decade gone by. But it's fun to watch the fictionalized part take shape - should I make him a restaurant reviewer or a chef? - while the hyper editor in me is cringing at scenes where the same character is referred to by two or three different names.

5,000 words down, only 45,000 to go.

(photo taken by me in June, 2009 at Chuck E Cheese, where Betty was attending a birthday party)

The Sunday Salon: And So It Begins ...

We start today with a dream.

By we, I mean the 100,000 of us (yours truly included) who are doing NaNoWriMo, known as National Novel Writing Month. By the time the last of the Thanksgiving turkey is eaten, there could be 100,000 new novels in the world. Imagine the possibilities of that! (Most likely, there will be closer to 20,000, given the percentage of people who actually finish.)

I've never done anything like this before, at least not as an adult. When I was 15, I entered a novel writing contest for teenagers. I can still remember working at my mom's office, typing away on one of her co-worker's electric typewriters. Most likely she typed more than one page for me, too.

There were two lessons that I carry with me from that contest (which I didn't win ... obviously). One was the power of someone (my mom) believing in me ... and my Dad too, because I am pretty sure he was still alive when I wrote that book. The second was that I have the capability to do this.

I don't know if I will cross the finish line and reach 50,000 words (the equivalent of 175 pages). I don't know if this story is remotely interesting. There are a million reasons that I could give to talk myself out of this. November's one of the busiest months of the year for our family, for starters, as well as at work. My life is a little different now at 40 than it was at 15.

I look for inspiration everywhere, and there is some inspiration to be had in others. I love that bestselling author Sara Gruen's novels (including Water for Elephants, which I absolutely loved) were both NaNo novels. I love that my blogging friend, author Karen Harrington, shared that both of her novels also had their beginnings as NaNo novels.

For years, I have always included "write a novel" on my list of things I really wanted to accomplish someday.

Someday is here.