Saturday, January 31, 2009

Library Loot: January 28-Feb 3, 2009



Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Alessandra and Eva that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post any time during the week-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky on their sites. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries!

Since this is my first week participating in Library Loot, I thought I would start with the books already on my night table:






Those were what I had in the queue before this week, one that consisted of two trips to two separate libraries in two days. On Friday, I needed to pick Betty up early from school; our appointment was finished earlier than anticipated, so we went to "the little library." This is a very small library, books crammed in everywhere, and just the quaintest little place. Stepping in the door is like stepping back in time ... except that this little library has a wonderful 14-Day Loan shelf of brand new releases. There, I found this:




I've heard so many great things about this from other book bloggers that I just had to get it. Then today, The Dean was working so Betty and I took Boo to his weekly social skills group. While there, we stopped by the zoo (that's another post) and - yes, a library, where I picked up these:


I have no idea how I am going to read all of these (I might need to go MIA in regards to Facebook) but it'll sure be fun trying!

Friday, January 30, 2009

Broken Wings

I don't offend easily. Honestly, I don't.

(As with everything though, I have my exceptions. For a clue, scroll down to the Ban the 'R' Word button on this page. You know what word I mean, and I know you aren't referring to my son, and I know you really don't mean it. But I don't really care, and besides, that's a whole 'nother blog post.)

OK, so we've established that I don't offend easily. Regular readers of this blog know - or should have surmised by now - that I'm a native Philadelphian, proud of my origins in the City of Brotherly Love that booed Santa Claus and burned down an entire city block.

One day a year, I get offended and more than a little embarrassed for the denizens of my city. The occasion? Wing Bowl.

Unfamiliar with this exercise in gluttony and debauchery? Then simply mosey on over to http://www.philly.com/, where Wing Bowl 17 (yes, this would be the 17th annual incarnation of this ... this ... there isn't a word for it, really) has been the top story all day, and prepare for an edd-joo-mah-kay-shun. Or go to the esteemed Wikipedia and plunk in Wing Bowl. I'd provide you with the links myself, but this is a family-friendly blog.

For the blessedly uninitiated, Wing Bowl began in Philadelphia in 1993 as a chicken-wing eating contest sponsored by the host of a local sports-talk radio station. Held on the Friday before the Super Bowl, it was kind of like Philly's consolation prize for not making it to the big game. It had it's share of criticism, mainly from people boo-hooing that a) such an event had no business being held in Philly, once voted the fattest city in America and b) that it promotes obesity. (Most of the contestants are already well on their way down that path.) Still, prominent politicians (like Pennsylvania's current governor) attended this soiree, sponsors forked over big bucks, and every news station sent reporters to Wing Bowl.

Now, 17 years later, the event (and make no bones about it, Wing Bowl is most definitely an event) has quite the following. It's held in a stadium. One filled with 20,000 people. At 6:30 in the morning. It's covered by every local media outlet and beyond.

As I do every morning, today I logged onto philly.com to access The Philadelphia Inquirer. I need to read the obituaries every morning, first thing. I need to know if anyone I am even remotely acquainted with has departed this earth. (Yes, I've discussed these issues with a therapist. More than one, as a matter of fact.)

Greeting me on the home page this morning was a photo of a Wingette sans clothes. And underwear. Stark naked. Full frontal nudity right there in my morning paper. (Oh, you're wondering what a Wingette is? 'Tis a scantily-clan pretty young thing, usually employed by one of the dozen of strip clubs supporting Wing Bowl, or just some attention-starved nubile 20-something. There's no shortage of Wingettes at Wing Bowl.) I should have been warned because philly.com did provide me with this helpful piece of advice. Advisory: Content on the Wing Bowl page may be considered graphic by some readers.

As I've said, I'm hard to offend. But, this was nothing less than offensive on so many levels. Thankfully, the kids had already left for school, or else there would have been a good chance one of them would have been hovering over the computer. And what then would I have told my 7-year old daughter? How would one have explained why that girl wasn't wearing any clothes, and why there was a picture of an obese guy looking quite ill, hot sauce dribbling down his chin, and a bevy of babes whose cleavage was emblazoned with "PADDY WHACKER"?

Because it's a little more complicated than saying that Miss Wingette made a bad choice. It's a commentary on why, why, why do women allow themselves to be degraded in this manner (for the attention? the money? both?) and why, in a nation that has lost 76,000 jobs this month (this week?) alone and when nonprofits are stretching dollars and seeing more and more people in need, why are people and corporations and media outlets sinking hundreds upon thousands of dollars into this?

It's because we're paying attention, because this is what sells, because there will be millions of drunken eyeballs foisted on the more than 250 Wing Bowl photos posted at philly.com, because 20,000 people can't be wrong. But that doesn't make it right.

Because I am passionate about issues concerning women and girls, what saddens me most about Wing Bowl is the Wingettes. That each one of them was once someone's baby. Someone's little girl. Someone's daughter.

I finally clicked onto the tab that took me to the obituaries, leaving the debauchery of Wing Bowl behind. Or so I thought, because leading the death notices was this:

Adolph "Ade" Autenreith, 86, a tool-and-die-maker and a spirited Wing Bowl devotee, who after being run over by a pig-shape float at Wing Bowl 12 did not let a bandaged head injury keep him from the debauchery, died of heart failure Sunday at Sunrise Assisted Living in Mount Laurel, where he had lived for three years. Mr. Autenrieth, who had hoped to live long enough to enjoy today's Wing Bowl 17 at the Wachovia Center, had been a longtime resident of the Mayfair section of the Northeast.

An 86-year old man who lived for Wing Bowl. And then I read further, down to the listing of Mr. Autenreith's next-of-kin, and realized why he enjoyed Wing Bowl so much, and why there will be Wing Bowl 18 and 19 and into perpetuity.

His daughter is married to none other than the radio host responsible for creating Wing Bowl.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Sky's Not the Limit Anymore

During most of high school (and some of college), I worked as a "page" at our local library. That's library-ese for the very underpaid person at the circulation desk checking out your books and shelving them when you bring them back. I loved mostly every minute of that job, but as with every profession, there were some pet peeves.

At that job, it drove me nuts when some mom would dump a sky-high pile of children's books on the Plexiglassed desktop and proceed to wait not very patiently with cherubs in tow for yours truly to open the back cover of each book, take out the yellow index card pocketed on the last page, stamp it through the date machine, deposit it into a slot, and insert a blue card into the void previously filled pocket. Repeat 49 times.

Well, 35 years later, I've become that same patron that once I abhored. Betty and I typically visit the library once a week (I do take Boo, but not as often as I really should) and we are the library patrons that you don't want to get stuck behind. We're the ones with not one but two or three recyclable tote bags from Giant and Target, loading each up with piles of books about princesses, fairies, tigers, Junie B. Jones, American Girls, and anything else that strikes Betty's fancy - and, to be fair, mine. We're the ones who routinely push the 99-items allowed out at a time limit.

So tonight I was more than dismayed to read in the newspaper that our local county-wide library system has enacted a new policy, effective this July. When applying for a library card, one will essentially be on probation for the first six months and considered as a "new borrower." This I have no problem with. But during this time, you're only allowed 12 items out at a time.

This would have been a problem in our house. A big one. With four people in our family, that's three items per person. Which might be sufficient for some, but not us. I'm very grateful and appreciative that my kids enjoy reading. As such, my bookworm kids can breeze through six children's books faster than you can say ... anything, really. And what if a parent might like to borrow a book or two? Or perhaps a DVD?

When you're into books as a kid, there's something insatiable about bringing home an overstuffed, heavier-than-you are bag of library books. It makes you want to read them all, right now. You can't wait to see what adventures you'll be taken on next. But with your bag or two of books, you're covered until your next trip to the library.

Now imagine if you're a child who loves to read and who just visited the library for the first time. Maybe your family doesn't have much money - and what money your family has isn't being spent on books, but food and housing and heat. Your parent has selected two books, as well as a DVD. You have a younger brother at home, so your parent picked out four picture books for him. That leaves five picture books for you. You're not sure if you'll get a chance to come back next week because your mom is working overtime on Saturday and thanks to budgetary cutbacks, the library is closed on Sundays now.

Get the picture? The rationale, according to the newspaper article I read, is that there's an epidemic with new borrowers taking items out and not returning them - hence, items become lost and need to be replaced with funds the library doesn't have. The solution, then, is to impose the 12-item limit on new borrowers for six months.

I'm no expert, but this doesn't strike me as the solution. It's problematic to society in general because in my opinion, such a policy could have the opposite of its intended affect. It has the potential to discourage reading, particularly with children. Once you've dusted off your five picture books, maybe you're re-reading them and re-reading them. But most likely you're not. In the absence of books, you're playing video games or watching banal reality TV.

Maybe I'm being melodramatic. Maybe there is a reason for what appears to be, in my mind, a penny-wise and pound-foolish measure. In a time of recession, libraries should not continue to be the scapegoat. Instead, they need to be viewed as havens in the storm, a place to seek refuge in a pile of sky-high books when the sky is falling.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Scenes from a Snow Day

In the midst of winter, I finally learned
that there was in me an invincible summer.

~ Albert Camus









A Guest Post by Boo: Music I Like

Boo has asked to write a guest post with the music he likes. Here, for your enjoyment, are his thoughts on music:

hello everyone it is me, Boo. i would like to tell all of you guys the ``music i like"
  1. Elton John
  2. Billy Joel
  3. The Beatles
  4. Linda McCartney
  5. Yoko Ono
  6. Me
  7. Miley Cyrus
  8. The Fireman (Paul McCartney & Youth)
  9. Roy Orbison
  10. Tracy Ullman
  11. Jim Croce
  12. Jimmy Buffet
  13. Al Stuwart
  14. Hannah Montana (Miley Cyrus Plays Hannah Montana)
  15. Billy Ray Cyrus
  16. Bruse Springsteen
  17. Rick Springfield
  18. Dusty Springsteen
  19. The Eagles

The Notfavrote Singers;

  1. Michael Bolton
  2. Celline Dion
  3. Josh Groban
  4. Hoobastank
  5. Kenny G

Monday, January 26, 2009

When You Don't Quite Like a Book That You Wanted to Love

It's somewhat of a unsettling and guilty feeling, isn't it, when you don't quite like a book you really wanted to love?

I really wanted to fall head over heels in love with Studs Terkel's memoir Touch and Go. This experience is not unlike dating, at least in my recollection of how dating was done back in the day. You know a little something about the person, you may have spent some time hanging out on various occasions, you're thinking hmmm, this one just might have some potential. But then, after a date or two or three, you realize that even though he or she is a great person, you're just not connecting. Maybe you've got other things on your mind, maybe the timing is off ... whatever the reason, it's just not happening.

Such is the case of my all-too-brief fling with Touch and Go, an affair that should have lingered in the air longer because I love Studs Terkel and I thought the premise of his memoir sounded great. From the Editorial Review as found on Shelfari.com:

Terkel begins by taking us back to his early childhood with his father, mother, and two older brothers, describing the hectic life of a family trying to earn a living in Chicago. He then goes on to recall his own experiences—as a poll watcher charged with stealing votes for the Democratic machine, as a young theatergoer, and eventually as an actor himself in both radio and on the stage—giving us a brilliant and often hilarious portrait of the Chicago of the 1920s and '30s. He tells of his beginnings as a disc jockey after World War II and as an interviewer and oral historian—a craft he would come to perfect and indeed personify. Finally, he discusses his involvement with progressive politics, leading inevitably to his travails during the McCarthy period when he was blacklisted and thrown out of work despite having become by then one of the country's most popular TV hosts.

I've been listening to Touch and Go on audio (more on that later) for the past week. Although Terkel has certainly lived a colorful life amid the most colorful of characters, I'm not connecting to the rambling nature of the discourse. I read a review of Touch and Go that described Terkel's memoir as akin to sitting on a porch listening to a beloved uncle tell old stories that you've heard before.

And that's what happened to me on the way home this evening. As I listened to the audio, I realized I'd heard this particular anecdote before - one day last week. Unbeknownst to me, I'd just replayed most of an entire CD without realizing that I'd already heard it. Now, either I'm that much on autopilot during my daily commute or I'm not connecting with this book. For the sake of my fellow interstate drivers (and my insurance agent), I'd like to believe its the latter.

Maybe it's just that audio isn't the right medium for Terkel's tales, which is not to disparage the talents of narrator Norman Dietz. Ironically, the narration provided by Dietz makes this one of the best quality audiobooks in that regard.

It's not you, Studs and Norman. It's me. For whatever reason, the audiobook format for this isn't working for me, but I'll give this another try in print at some point.

After all, you're too nice of a guy to give up on that easily.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Szechuan Stir-Fry

I've been trying very hard to do a better job at meal-planning, and I think I have a concept (not an original one) that might help. I made this stir-fry dish on Saturday evening and we liked it so much (except for Betty, of course) that I think it has earned a place on our regular menu. And then it occurred to me: I could simplify the meal-planning by designating dinners as a certain cuisine. For example: Sunday night could be a soup/crockpot dish; Monday night could be Asian; Tuesday, Italian; Wednesday, Mexican; Thurs, fish, Fri., pizza and Sat., smorgasboard or crockpot.

Here's the ingredients for the Szechuan Stir-Fry that I made last night. This recipe is from the back of the package of the frozen stir-fry vegetable mix.
2 tbsps. soy sauce
1 tbsp. rice vinegar (I didn't have this, so I took my chances and left it out. Didn't miss it.)
1 tsp. cornstarch
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1 pinch cayenne pepper (to taste) (I did not want to taste even a little bit, so I didn't include this.)
1 tsp. sesame oil
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 frozen package of broccoli-stir fry mix

Make sauce by combining the first six ingredients. Set aside. Heat oil in wok or large skillet on medium-high heat. Lightly brown garlic.


Add frozen broccoli stir fry mix and cook for 7-10 minutes. Add sauce and cook for 2-3 minutes more.

I served this with vegetable egg rolls, which I had gotten at Wal-Mart. They were pretty tasty!




Enjoy!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Best of the Week - Special Inauguration Edition

Well, clearly, the best part of this week was the Inauguration of Barack Obama as our 44th President. I've heard it said that this was an event best told in photos as opposed to words, so that's how we begin this edition of Best of the Week.

Watching the coverage of the Inauguration with my coworkers, we found ourselves saying the same thing: "I wonder what he's thinking?" These behind-the-scenes photos from Time.com give a glimpse into a few unseen moments. It's true ... a picture does say a thousand words. I especially like the one with Obama talking to the server during coffee at the White House. One can only imagine the thoughts of that lucky guy.

A poignant photo of a couple at the grave of Martin Luther King Jr.

ManagerMo has a hilarious post on her blog Asper ... what? where she imagines What the Obamas Must Be Doing at 7:30 a.m. on Inauguration Day at the Obama house. Looking at the girls on the inaugural stage, I wondered if they have mornings akin to those we experience here in the Betty and Boo House. I'm glad I'm not the only one who thinks this way.

From Girl With Pen, this post ("Eleanor, Meet Michelle") has some quotes from Eleanor Roosevelt that could have very well been said this week.

Also in the realm of politics, I've been following this story about Caroline Kennedy withdrawing as a potential candidate (assuming she ever was one) for the New York Senate seat formerly held by Hillary Clinton, and I'm very glad to hear that Kirsten Gillibrand has been named to the post. I hadn't heard of her until a few weeks ago, but as this commentary by Paul Begala infers, I think we'll be seeing more of Kirsten on the national stage. And sooner rather than later. (If you doubt me, talk to The Dean about my track record for political predictions. "That guy is going to be President someday," I stated to The Dean back in 2004, as we watched a young Senator with the funny name of Barack Obama speak at the Democratic National Convention. The Dean wasn't as convinced as I.)

I am convinced (as I told a Facebook distaining colleague this week) that Facebook is here to stay. I find the whole concept fascinating on so many levels. This Time.com article, "Does Facebook Replace Face Time?" poses an interesting question. By constantly updating our Facebook status, how does that replace - or enhance - the facetime we have with those in our lives?

Finally, we've had a cold spell over the past week that really has made me feel as if I've had my fill of winter. I'm not a cold-weather girl. I much prefer the summer, and some of the best summer times that we have as a family are at my aunt and uncle's beach house. This blog has some photos of the snowfall this week on our beach. Love these photos, which really makes me want summer. NOW.

Have a great week!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Book Review: The 19th Wife



From the publisher:

Sweeping and lyrical, spellbinding and unforgettable, David Ebershoff’s The 19th Wife combines epic historical fiction with a modern murder mystery to create a brilliant novel of literary suspense. It is 1875, and Ann Eliza Young has recently separated from her powerful husband, Brigham Young, prophet and leader of the Mormon Church. Expelled and an outcast, Ann Eliza embarks on a crusade to end polygamy in the United States. A rich account of a family’s polygamous history is revealed, including how a young woman became a plural wife.

Soon after Ann Eliza’s story begins, a second exquisite narrative unfolds–a tale of murder involving a polygamist family in present-day Utah. Jordan Scott, a young man who was thrown out of his fundamentalist sect years earlier, must reenter the world that cast him aside in order to discover the truth behind his father’s death.And as Ann Eliza’s narrative intertwines with that of Jordan’s search, readers are pulled deeper into the mysteries of love and faith.

I've lost count of the number of people I've talked to about this book. The 19th Wife is the sort of story you want to discuss with other readers - yet doing so would require putting the novel down, something that I had a very difficult time doing.

David Ebershoff has written an absolutely captivating and original novel. I started listening to The 19th Wife on audio, and actually found myself so engrossed in the story that at times I wished my nearly 2 hour commute was longer. (Yes, the book is that good.) So I borrowed it from the library and soon I was spending nearly 3 hours a day with Ann Eliza Young, Jordan Scott, and a whole cast of characters - and loving every minute of reading the more than 500 pages. I honestly could not read this fast enough, yet it was disappointing when it ended.

Ebershoff's style of writing in this novel (I haven't read any of his other work) is truly unique. For starters, he more than brilliantly pulls off the difficult task of intermingling two stories, and constructing those stories amid a series of other materials such as Wikipedia entries, research papers, websites, court documents, etc. Each of these supporting materials seem authentic, but in actuality are fictitious, written by Ebershoff himself. The fact that they appear real is a testament to Ebershoff's finesse as a writer, for he masters a variety of voices and styles with this technique.

In my view, The 19th Wife gets 5 stars. Highly recommended.



Some additional links that may be of interest:

David Ebershoff's Website
"The 19th Wife" by David Ebershoff (from She Reads and Reads)
Review and Guest Post by David Ebershoff (from Diary of an Eccentric)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

One Can Dream

Betty, this morning: "I had the best dream last night!"

Me: "Really? What was it about?"

Betty: "Wellllllll ... me, Malia and Sasha were at a concert with Miley Cyrus and The Jonas Brothers!!!!!!!!"

(You will undoubtedly recall that Malia and Sasha Obama are Betty's newest BFFs.)

Me (while grimacing at the mention of the very untalented and indistinguishable Jonas Brothers): "Oh, wow. That must have been very cool."

Betty: "Yeah! And then me, Malia, and Sasha got on stage ... and then we TURNED INTO THE CHEETAH GIRLS!!!!!!!"

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Mac and Cheese Lorraine

Once again, I made a dinner that everyone in the Betty and Boo household enjoyed. And once again, it's another macaroni and cheese dish. (Is it against the law to feed your kids macaroni and cheese every night? Because I am convinced that doing so would be the secret to dinnertime harmony in our house.) I've also been trying to keep our grocery bill to a reasonable amount, and that means more homemade mac and cheese instead of Stouffers.

This recipe comes to us from Rachael Ray's cookbook, Just In Time! On the side of the page is written "the kids will eat it." Always skeptical, I had my doubts (plus, Rach doesn't have kids so in my mind, that automatically disqualifies anyone from talking to me about what kids will and won't eat). Still, this was a success even with the significant variations that I made to it.

Mac and Cheese Lorraine

The Ingredients:

Salt
1 lb. gemelli pasta or other short-cut pasta (I used gemelli.)
1 lb. bacon, chopped (I used 6 Morningstar Vegetarian Bacon Strips. A few more would have been better.)
1 tbsp. EVOO (extra virgin olive oil), once around the pan
2 onions, quartered and sliced (I used my ever-present bag of frozen chopped onions because I don't do onions.)
1/2 c. dry white wine (nope, didn't have)
2 tbsps. butter
2 tbsps. all-purpose flour
1 c. chicken stock (I used vegetable stock)
1 c. whole milk (I used 2%)
black pepper
2 cups shredded Gruyere (I used a mix of cheddar, monteray jack, queso fresco and one other kind of cheese)
A little freshly grated nutmeg, to taste
1 rounded tbsp. Dijon mustard

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Salt the water liberally, add the past, and cook al dente. Drain. Cook the bacon in the EVOO in a deep skillet over medium-high heat. When crisp, 5-6 minutes, remove to a paper-towel-lined plate with a slotted spoon and drain off all but 2-3 tbsps of the fat. (By using the veggie bacon, which is microwavable, this step is eliminated.) Add the onions and cook for 10 minutes, or until they are beginning to carmelize. Add the wine and cook for another minute.

While the onions cook, melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour. Cook for 1 minute, then whisk in the stock and milk and bring to a bubble. Cook for a few minutes to thicken, then season with salt and pepper. Stir in the cheese, then add the nutmeg, mustard, and salt and pepper.

Toss the pasta with the onions, then stir in the cheese sauce. Top each serving with some of the crispy bacon.

I served this with fish sticks and everyone ate it, pronouncing it "delicious!"

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

To My Children: Remember This

Dear Betty and Boo,

Today, on this special day, I have a wish for both of you.

Remember this.

Since you're only 7, I don't know how much you actually will remember (although my bet is on being allowed to stay up late to watch Miley Cyrus and The Jonas Brothers perform at the Kids Inaugural Ball). Maybe you'll remember coloring a packet about Barack Obama in school, or writing a letter to the President.

If it's not possible for you to remember this day because of being too young, then let me offer another wish to you.

I hope you experience a day in your lifetime like we experienced today ... a feeling of seeing history made before your eyes, of being part of something greater than yourself, of unity, of promise, of hope.

I'll remember dancing around the family room with both of you - yes, to the tunes of Miley Cyrus during the Kids Inaugural - and feeling happy. I'll remember the look that you gave me this morning, Betty, when I explained to you that today was special because it is the first time someone with "brown skin" was the President. You looked at me slightly amazed and perplexed, as someone who thinks nothing of having friends with "brown skin."

I'll remember driving into work, noticing the snow sparkling like diamonds on the trees, giving this day even more of a majestic quality. I'll remember watching my co-workers during the prayers offered during the inaugural and realizing that collectively, we represented a melting pot of religions and how incredible that was. And I'll remember listening to the Goo Goo Dolls (of all bands) on the way home from work and finding symbolism in the words of "Better Days."

And it's someplace simple where we could live
And something only you can give
And that's faith and trust and peace while we're alive
And the one poor child that saved this world
And there's 10 million more who probably could
If we all just stopped and said a prayer for them

So take these words
And sing out loud
'Cause everyone is forgiven now
'Cause tonight's the night the world begins again

I wish everyone was loved tonight
And somehow stop this endless fight
Just a chance that maybe we'll find better days

A chance that maybe we'll find better days.

Yes, we can.

Love, Mommy

Monday, January 19, 2009

Book Review by Boo: Diary of a Worm


``Dairy of a Worm" is my favorite book by Doreen Cronin.
i have some things i have to tell you. it's like a list:

The book is like a dairy.

Doreen Cronin writes the dates like ``MAY 15 & MAY 16".

it's funny.

i love it.

`Dairy of a worm" is fun. i LOVE it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Couched in Laziness

I've worn a spot in the couch this long holiday weekend as a result of my laziness. And you know what? I'm rather proud of this worn spot, thankyouverymuch.

Aside from going to the library and Wal-Mart on Saturday, I've barely moved. I've been in the same position with either my laptop or my book in hand. I made dinner for the family both evenings and snacks for the kids. I've gone upstairs to bed. But not much else has transpired.

And it's been pretty nice, because this usually doesn't happen. I'm usually running around doing errands or chores around the house, but this long weekend I've just been chilling out. Maybe it's the chilly weather that has kept me housebound and by the fire reading, blog jogging, writing an article for Root & Sprout that they are actually paying me for, updating my Facebook status more often than I care to admit, watching "Big Love" last night and every episode of "Hannah Montana" in existence.

Lest you think that our children were neglected by what passes for a weekend of midlife debauchery in this house, they weren't. My mother-in-law visited this weekend and spent almost every waking hour with her grandchildren, playing games, listening to their stories, concertizing on the synthesizer and taking Betty to Girl Scouts.

I'm rather liking this hibernation state, this curling up within myself, this time of reflection. Sometimes, we do indeed get what we need.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Book Reviews: Three Children's Books



We've read three wonderful children's books recently, two by author Eve Bunting. I tried to get Betty and Boo to write the reviews, but they weren't interested. Hence, you get my thoughts.

Our Library by Eve Bunting is a delightful story about - you guessed it - a library beloved by several animals who become dismayed when their librarian tells them that it will be closing forever. Dismay turns to determination as the animals use the books in the library to learn how to fix the aging building, fundraise for the monies needed to keep the library operational, and re-establish the building in a new location. From the book jacket: "As Gopher says, 'there's nothing you can't learn to do when you have books.' This cheery, inspiring tale shows how important libraries are to every community, and proves that with knowledge, hard work and cooperation, anything is possible."


"In my room against the wall, I have a nature table fulled with the wonders of the earth and sky and sea ..."

Also by children's author Eve Bunting, Anna's Table is a story of a girl who creates a special nature table in her room. Anna displays treasures such as a shark's tooth, dried pomegranates, an old bird's nest. We enjoyed this book as a reminder that beauty can be found in unexpected, everyday things as opposed to material objects. From the book jacket,

"a subtle celebration of the cycle of life, this story is about the incredible bond of children to nature, the miracle of family, and a belief in the beauty of all things."


That Book Woman by Heather Henson was my favorite of these three, and ranks among the best children's books I've ever read (and I've read a lot). Set in the Appalachian mountains, this story of a proud but poor family is told from the perspective and in the dialect of oldest son Cal, who is "not the first one nor the least one neither." Unlike his sister Lark, Cal isn't much of a reader and distains the very idea of the books that The Book Woman brings to the impoverished community on horseback, braving rough terrain and beyond inclement weather.
"Now what that lady brings it's sure no treasure, not to me, but books! Would you believe? A passel of books she's packed clear up the mountainside! A hard day's ride and all for naught, I reckon." But Cal's parents, seeing the passion that their daughter Lark has for books and reading, welcomes The Book Woman and gradually, in time, so does Cal.

According to author Heather Henson, who writes at the end of the book, That Book Woman was "inspired by the true and courageous work of the Pack Horse Librarians, who were known as "Book Women" in the Appalachian mountains of Kentucky. The Pack Horses Library Project was founded in the 1930s as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration in order to bring books to remote regions where there were few schools and no libraries. .... A Book Woman would travel, by horse or by mule, the same arduous route every two weeks, carrying a load of books - in good weather and bad. To show their gratitude for what came "free as air", a family might make a gift from what little they had: garden vegetables, wildflowers, berries, or cherished recipes passed down through generations. While there were a few men among the Pack Horse Librarians, the jobs were mainly filled by women .... They were paid very little, but they were proud of what they did: bringing the outside world to the people of Appalachia and sometimes making readers out of those who had never seen much use for 'chicken scratch.'"


I found this book and the concept of the Pack Horse Librarians absolutely fascinating, and am embarrassed to admit I'd never heard of this before reading this children's book. This book is a must-read for children of all ages and provides an appreciation for the gift of reading and those who have helped provide that gift for so many.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Best of the Week - January 11-17

Mandajuice's mom sent her this article ("15 Reasons Mr. Rogers was Best Neighbor Ever"), which was posted on CNN back in July.

My friend Robin had a link on her blog today to this article by Raymond Leon Roker which was published on HuffPo ("The Crash of Flight 1549: Maybe the Best Metaphor for 2009 We Could Hope For.") You may not agree with the premise, but it does make you think.

Simply amazing doesn't even begin to describe the captain of the US Airways plane that landed safely in the Hudson River on Thursday. As it turns out, there was a heroine too - and she is Brittany Catanzaro, all of 20 years old and captain of a ferry-boat ... and heroine to 24 people onboard that plane.

It was impossible - at least for me - to listen to the news of Thursday's incident and not think of 9/11. Driving home from work, I immediately thought terrorism. I'm not sure how many other people thought that, because I believe that the majority of Americans have forgotten 9/11 and what it was like waking up to this new world on September 12, 2001. We certainly have forgotten about the leadership that President Bush showed our country and the world on that day, as The Dean reminds us in this blog post.

Weather-wise, it's been a frigid week here. Author Beth Kephart has a beautiful poem ("Overwintered") on her blog. I have certainly been feeling overwintered. Still, there is beauty and magic and wonder to this season, as Robin so exquisitely shows us on simple.green.organic.happy with these amazing photographs of snowflakes.

Still, I needed a shot of summer this week, and I found it in this post about the very teeny-tiny town where we vacation each year. My aunt and uncle have had a beach house in this town for over 20 years, and in the last few years, we've been taking the kids down and enjoying the beach with them. Said town is getting its own library, thanks to a benefactor's will that provided the necessary start-up funds for this project. I've been following the library's progress through the winter and was thrilled to see this article. In the midst of this winter, the thought of reading on the porch of the beach house makes me feel just a little bit warmer.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Only Human

One of the more pleasant surprises about our move to this area (just over a year ago now) has been our school district. We knew we were moving into a booming area, pre-housing bubble collapse, and into a school district with a good reputation and fast growth.

Still, we were concerned about Boo. He has more than benefitted from the early intervention services he received; in fact, it is fair to say he would not be the kid he is today without the years of therapy and special ed preschool and floortime programs that our tax dollars paid for. The gold standard of services, however, appeared to end at kindergarten.

What Boo's educational future would look like post early intervention became a bone of contention between us and the Powers That Be in our former school district, an uber-competitive, cut-throat environment where disabilities were still considered to be taboo. Their recommendation was to lock Boo in the equivalent of an educational straitjacket; we wanted him to have a chance with his peers, to be part of an integrated classroom. Anticipating lawyers and lots of money (neither of which we had), a job change for The Dean came up, moving us elsewhere and placing Boo in just such an integrated classroom. The result was him doing so well that The New Powers-That-Be deemed him not autistic enough for services.

Still, we're lucky - lucky enough to be able to pay for the therapies he is getting out of pocket, lucky that he's had wonderful teachers who "get" him, lucky that this school seems to be working. Still, there's always that lingering doubt, that what if next year is different, what if he regresses, what if he needs a different school environment for his needs? Then what? A diagnosis here certainly gets you a placement all right - it just so happens to be on a mandatory THIS PERSON HAS A DISABILITY state registry akin to those for sex offenders. (I'm not kidding.)

Today, in our local paper, there was an article saying that four charter schools had been invited to be considered to move forward. Among the four was a special education school. According to the story

[T]he school would have offered individualized instruction and innovative
programs to children and adults with learning disabilities. [T]eachers
would have used experiential learning and the arts to teach children with
learning disabilities and attention deficit disorder.

Sounds promising, right? Well, there's always next year because for school year 2009-10, this special education school doesn't have a chance. Why? The application was "incomplete," with 3 pages of a 24-page budget accidentally forgotten. Two years of work down the drain.

I know a little something about writing and preparing grant applications. It's a labor-intensive process and the guidelines are often ridiculous (there have been proposals I've submitted that required 12 separate copies of a 50 page application). Yes, the school representatives should have checked their work and double-checked and triple-checked to make sure they had dotted their i's and crossed their t's. You could argue that if those responsible for collating a proposal can't manage that, they have no business educating kids with disabilities.

And that's where you and I would part company. Because as a parent of a child who could potentially need such a charter school, I would have been comforted knowing such an option existed in a state where it's possible to become less autistic simply by crossing the state line. In a state with a reputation for less-than-stellar public education.

In a state that could have had the chance to provide children with disabilities with what might have been their only special education option, rather than penalizing them - and their teachers - for only being human.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Homeward Bound

And every stranger's face I see
Reminds me that I long to be homeward bound
I wish I was homeward bound
Home, where my thought's escaping,
Home, where my music's playing,
Home, where my love lies waiting silently for me.

"Homeward Bound", Simon & Garfunkel

And there I sat, the driver of an undriveable car, on the side of a major highway with hundreds of other drivers whizzing by. I knew something was wrong with the minivan by the grinding and nails-on-a-blackboard skreeeeech! skreeeeeeech! skreeeech! sounds I heard coming from underneath the hood.

It's just the cold wind or something, I rationalized. I'd just gotten a full tank of gas and vaguely remembered something about the cold and new gas, or maybe I was inventing this plausible reason for what looked like a potential problem looming. Yes, in hindsight, I should have turned around and gone back to my office or to a nearby mechanic. Instead, I thought my fervent prayers of "just let me make it home, just let me make it home" would miraculously fix the skreeeeeech!ing. It sounds like I was slamming on the brakes, only I was going 60 miles an hour while strategically placing my hand on the steering wheel in a position where I couldn't see the engine light a-glow.

And then I didn't need to see the engine light a-glow, because everything flickered and the only thing glowing was the sun as it slowly set into the 10 degree evening. And there I sat, frantically trying to find the AAA card (not in my wallet) and then calling The Dean, who arranged for AAA to send a tow truck. I moved over to the passenger side, the vibrations from the other cars going by at 70, 80 and 85 mphs doing a great job of unnerving my already shot nerves.

The tow truck would be about a half hour, and almost precisely at that mark, orange flashing lights appeared behind me. Sputtering, my engine attempted a feeble sign of life with a flick of the windshield wipers. I got out of the car, trudged through the gravel on the shoulder, and stared into the headlights of a Department of Transportation truck.

"You have a tow truck on the way?" asked the driver. I replied that yes, I did, but it might be a little while.

"I'll wait with you here until it comes," he replied, explaining that he had been finishing up his shift but decided to take another run down the highway in case anyone needed help, beings that it was such a cold night. I told him I was most appreciative. Perhaps noticing the Autism Awareness magnet on the back of my car, he asked if I had any kids in the car at the moment.

No, I didn't - and thought back to saying goodbye this morning to Betty who returned the sentiment by yelling that she absolutely did not need a hug and could I please leave her alone right now? I restrained the urge to tell her to give me a freaking hug, dammit, because how would she feel if I wound up in a ditch and she didn't see her mother again? Instead, I calmly - in Beyond Time-Out language, told her that I needed a hug and when she refused, told her to have a nice day and that I loved her.

No, I said to the Department of Transportation driver, my kids aren't in the car tonight.

And then the tow truck arrived with chains strong enough to drag my pathetic, unwashed minivan up, up, up onto the bed of the truck. I hopped in the front seat and as we discussed logistics, noticed a glow of a cell phone behind me. Another passenger - or as she later identified herself on the phone, "Hey, it's Lexi, Bobby's girl."

Lexi ... the name of my cousin who died as a baby, who had she survived her open-heart surgery and whatever other medical trials would undoubtedly come her way would have just turned 29. Which was probably close to the age of Bobby's Girl accompanying him and me and my mommy van rattling behind us.

An impromptu trio, we traversed half the state en route to my mechanic of choice where we "dropped" the minivan, in tow-truck-ease, Bobby and his Girl on their cell phones the whole time, texting, calling each other's phones when they were within a hair's breath of each other in the cab of the tow truck, making plans with 23 of their closest friends to go bowling tomorrow night to celebrate Bobby's birthday. Two kids, they seemed to be. I wondered about them, how long he had been Lexi's Boy and she Bobby's Girl, if they'd always lived in this state that I now called home (yes, they were natives), how many more birthdays they'd celebrate together, if they had plans for the future together. I listened to the affection in his voice as we stopped for diesel fuel, him wondering if she was taking too long in the convenience store because she was striking up a conversation with someone.

And then finally, finally, my key turning in the lock, the warmth of a fireplace aglow, the running of Betty to the door.

"Where were you?" she said, wrapping her arms around me and giving me a big hug.

I'm right here now, I answered.

Home.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Nonagenarian, Plus One

I'm thinking of my dear grandfather today and wishing him a Happy 91st Birthday.

I've been incredibly fortunate to have all four of my grandparents for much longer than many people do. Two of them are no longer with us but I still have my paternal grandmother, who turns 96 later this month, and my maternal grandfather, who celebrates Birthday #91 today.

I have a longer post in the works about this occasion, but for now, I'll just say happy birthday.

And I love you.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Guest Post from Karen Harrington, Author of Janeology

I'm delighted to welcome author Karen Harrington to the esteemed pages of The Betty & Boo Chronicles for a guest post! Karen is the author of the new book, Janeology, which I confess I have not read but certainly plan to. I met Karen via her blog, Scobberlotch. (And no, I'm not going to tell you what scobberlotch, my new favorite word, means. You'll have to visit her blog for the definition.)

When I received Karen's guest post, I had to laugh because we're both relative newbies to the social networking communities of MySpace and Facebook. (I'm not on MySpace, but I will admit to a growing addiction to Facebook.) I justfied my joining Facebook as being for professional reasons, rationalizing that it would behoove me to understand how these sorts of communities operated.

This is also true for those of us who are writers, says Karen, who offers these thoughts to fellow scribes on using MySpace:

10 Thoughts On MySpace

Months before my debut novel, Janeology, came out, my publisher urged me to become part of the “social networking community.” What’s that, I asked? Places like Facebook and MySpace, he replied.

I have to admit, I wasn’t part of these networks before I got on the publishing track. I wasn’t fifteen and I wasn’t running for office. And I don’t have huge cleavage – which I think is the most common misinterpretation of “my space.”

So, why join the masses there? Now, I know. In the past year, I’ve made a lot of writerly friends, editors and independent bookstore owners who’ve become an important part of the solitary writer’s support network. It’s hard to imagine how novelists fifty years ago could have reached as many people as I have without this network.

Here’s a few things I’ve observed about MySpace:

1. Writers at all levels – new to New York Times Best-Seller – are open and friendly.

2. Writers profile photos are predominantly nice looking in that pensive, put your hand to your chin pose.

3. The majority of "urban erotic fiction" (yes, that's what it's labeled) seem to be written by beautiful, highly education, African-American women. (I'd like to talk to one of those authors and find out why this is so.)

4. Paranormal romances abound. (Note to self: check to see what a paranormal romance actually is and if I’ve ever had one.)

5. Men seem to lead in the horror-sci-fi category. (Glad I am no longer dating.)

6. Author pages have a wide and surprising variety of musical tastes.

7. 25-35 year-old women seem to have the market cornered on Chick-Lit. (How about a guy jumping in here? Here's a soup-starter – If Mr. Darcy ever met Madame Bovary, he would have said…..)

8. If a writer is promoting his/her work, someone should actually be able to READ the words on his/her MySpace site. The backgrounds on some sites make this impossible.

9. Bulletins are funny and friendly, if not often riddled with typos. We are writers and we should command the spell-check option. If I have had, or have a tpyo, I am exempt from this mention.

10. I found two ex-boyfriends on MySpace and I hope they wonder, "Gee, I hope she doesn’t write about that time when ……" Note to ex-boyfriends – Hey, you knew I was a writer, so, yes, I will, except that the part of you will either be portrayed by a Cyborg rebel or a houseplant. (The one who buys my book first gets to choose.)
--
Karen Harrington is the author of the psychological suspense, Janeology. Visit her website – www.karenharringtonbooks.com to read an excerpt. Or visit her daily blog – www.scobberlotch.blogspot.com – Oh, and you can visit her on MySpace, too – www.myspace.com/karenharringtonauthor

Thanks so much, Karen, for stopping by! It has been a pleasure, and I hope you'll come back again for an author interview once I'm finished your book.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to friend my new friend Karen on Facebook.

Book Review: Beyond Time-Out: From Chaos to Calm


I usually eschew most how-to-parent books, or at least take them with a grain of salt. I believe that, while all parents have their parental challenges, ours tend to be different than most quote-unquote typical, normal families, thanks to having a child with Asperger Syndrome and a sibling dealing with the fallout. But there was something about Beyond Time-Out: From Chaos to Calm that spoke to me from the New Releases shelf at the library, saying, "read me ...read me now ...." The cover of the book also proclaims "Tame Tantrums, Calm Fears, Instill Good Sleep Habits, End Food Battles, Overcome Potty Problems."

OK, sign me up. We could use assistance in three of those areas. Still skeptical, I decided to give the book a try.

And I'm glad I did. Author and child psychologist Beth A. Grosshans identifies four parental types: Pleasers, Pushovers, Forcers, and Outliers. I saw aspects of myself in all four categories, but Grosshans says that you are primarily one single type. She identifies communication styles of these parents, and how your words are heard by the cherubs in charge (and make no mistake about it, they are indeed in charge. Like that scene between Tony and Carmela Soprano in Episode 16 when, exasperated at daughter Meadow, Tony says, "Let's not overplay our hand -- if she figures out we're powerless, we're fucked." The Dean and I love that line.)

Indeed, the concept of an imbalance of family power (IFP) is what frames Beyond Time-Out: From Chaos to Calm. Most families are suffering from IFP, born about because of the current parenting culture. By changing how we parents communicate to our kids, it's possible to reverse this - which is imperative, according to Grosshans, because IFP festers and creates bigger issues down the road.

So let's take yours truly as an example. I believe I'm a Pushover parent. When confronted with "You're a mean Mommy!" or "You're being so unfair!", I tend to take these remarks personally. "Pushover parents, when confronted by resistance and protest in any form from their children, characteristically end up giving in with an air of resignation. They shrug their shoulders, shake their heads, or throw up their hands as if to say, there's nothing more I can do .... Pushovers grope for power. Not feeling they have any of their own, they resort to the power and authority of others to gain cooperation. They warn of what will happen if their child doesn't behave. "Santa won't bring you any toys." ... They try to add weight to their parental directives by invoking authorities the child does respect: "You know the doctor said you have to eat your vegetables to be healthy." .... Pushovers also tell their children a litany of things that could go wrong and a host of dangers and bad things that could befall them if they don't listen to their parents" "Wash your hands before you eat. Remember, germs can make you very sick."

Children are very skilled in listening to what isn't being said when a parent says, "I just don't know what to do with you," or "Your teacher said you need to read for 15 minutes ..." They're hearing that you, as parent, have outsourced your power. You have none. They know this and they are more than ready to seize it. The problem with sharing potential consequences of what could happen ("Stop jumping on your bed! You're going to crack your head open.") is that what parents' proclaim could happen rarely does - adding fuel to the child to continue his or her misbehavior.

Grosshans gives her reader concrete examples of what to say instead, and the tone in which they should be said. I've been trying this for the past few weeks, and I think that there's been a subtle change for the better. She also advocates and outlines a disciplinary approach called The Ladder, which is where most of the criticism of Beyond Time-Out falls, because it does, in fact, involve placing the child in time-out. In one sense, it seems hypocritical to promote a book based on the premise that parents really do have something in their arsensal besides the oft-used and noneffective method of time-out, and I think those criticisms are valid. But it is the methodology of what comes before the time-out, and what happens during, and after, that is the most value to parents.

Another of the more controversial points of Beyond Time-Out comes when implementing rung 5 of Grosshans' Ladder approach. Grosshans advocates a technique called the "parental hold." This is the part of the book that nearly made me stop reading. Having worked in a residential facility for people with disabilities and having to deal with several PR inquiries from national media about our practices for restraining clients based on tragedies occurring at other facilities, it's an issue that I am somewhat aware of. I think that parents need to make a judgment call as to whether implementing a Parental Hold is right for them. Some kids are physically stronger than their parents, so this might not be practical. Here's what I did recently (not saying this is the correct means, but it's what worked in this instance).

Friday night, Betty and I were heading out to a Girl Scout function. The outfit she wore to school would have been fine, but she wanted to change into a dress. That required the need for stockings, given that the temperature was in the 30s, if that. There were no clean stockings in Betty's armoire, sans a pair with a hole in a spot that would not be seen. Wearing such damaged goods was horrifying to Betty, and she made that known. Attempting to use Beyond Time-Out language, I gave Betty a choice: she could wear those stockings with a dress, or she could find an alternative outfit. She screamed, threw a fit, and I put her in time-out. After about 10 minutes, I came upstairs to find her still upset, and gave her a tight hug (my version of the Parent Hold.)

"I'm sorry, Mommy," she whispered. "I just don't know what to do. I'm sorry."

I presented the options. Betty calmly returned to her closet, and together we picked out a shirt and pants. We resumed dinner, went to the Girl Scout event, and had an enjoyable (albeit rather chaotic, thanks to inadequate special event-planning on the part of the organizers) evening. This incident could have led our evening in a whole 'nother direction.

Bottom line: I'm giving Beyond Time-Out 4 stars for its practicality and for providing concrete examples of how to handle certain situations. I liked the descriptions of the different parental styles, and I would recommend this for parents struggling with power-and-control issues with their children. This rating, though, is given with strong criticism of Grosshans' somewhat dismissive attitude of issues such as autism spectrum disorders as well as sensory integration disorder. Clearly, these issues are not Grosshans' realm of expertise and I would hope that, when presented in her practice with families coping with such issues that Grosshans would refer them elsewhere. Beyond Time-Out doesn't promise easy solutions, or that her approach is the right one for your family, but it does provide other techniques to try when you're feeling powerless as a parent.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Why Parents Have Only Half a Brain

Boo and I chat for a few minutes every evening before he drifts off to sleep. He selects a topic for brief discussion, usually something along the lines of, "Who's your favorite Beatle?" or "What's your favorite Beatles song?" Tonight was different.

"How did you and Daddy create me?"

"How did we create you?" I said, stalling for time and remembering the mantra "age-appropriate answers, age-appropriate answers."

"Yeah."

"Well ....we took part of Daddy and part of me and then we got you."

(I know, not all that accurate and not too detailed, but The Dean was not available for this conversation which I certainly didn't want him to miss out on. Lest people judge me for being derelict in my parental duties by not explaining the birds and the bees in more accurate high-definition color, Betty and Boo have brought up this topic before and are as familiar as 7 year olds need to be with such matters.)

Boo: "You mean ... you took half your brain, and Daddy took half his brain, and then you got me?"

"Something like that."

Boo: "So you both only have half your brains?"

Damn, the kid figured us out. Next comes the realization that he has a twin sister - who must have gotten the other portion of our cerebellums - followed by the revelation that Mommy and Daddy are truly as clueless about this parenting gig as they seem.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Best of the Week

Today's a nice, low key day for the kids and me (The Dean has to work). One of those rare days with no place to go and no plans except making something in the crockpot, watching the Eagles hopefully defeat the Giants, and spending some quality time with The 19th Wife. I'm engrossed in this book and need to curtail some of my blog jogging in hopes of getting this back to the library by Wednesday. (I snagged it off the Walk-In Collection shelf, which allows one to have certain books for a week only, albeit with no renewals and fines of $1.00 a day.)

From today's Philadelphia Inquirer, this commentary in the Opinion section provides reasons to read. The quote from the author's 77-year old mother about why she reads is simply poetic and eloquent and oh-so-true.

Speaking of poetry and eloquence, Bono's column in Friday's New York Times pays homage to Frank Sinatra, a master of poetry and eloquence himself. A brilliant piece. Damn, that guy can write.

For the true definition of being young at heart, check out this documentary "Young @ Heart" that my friend Beth Kephart blogged about this week. http://beth-kephart.blogspot.com/2009/01/young-at-heart.html I've Netflixed this and cannot wait to see it. Thanks, Beth, for yet another great recommendation. (For those members of my family who knew my Uncle Doug, doesn't this seem like something he would have been involved in?)

Thanks to the fun that is Facebook, I'm back in touch with one of my oldest friends in the world, Meghan Strange. She was my best friend in kindergarten and some of my favorite memories involve Meghan and Girl Scout Troop 110. Now, she's an actress. The L.A. Times reviewed her latest children's show, "Heidi 4 Paws," in which my childhood friend provides the voice of Heidi. I'm loving reading about her success and wishing more of it for her.

And also from today's Philadelphia Inquirer, I suspect this guy might be on a fast-track to hell. I'm no theological expert, but I think burglarizing a convent of sleeping nuns seals one's fate in that regard. Having worked for a nun, I know firsthand that you don't screw around with them.

In this day and age, there are some Cabinet picks that you just don't want to screw up. However, I agree with Evil B.'s post that Obama's pick of Leon Panetta to head the CIA is ... well, take your pick of adjectives. "Scary" is at the top of my list.

At least the Consumer Products Safety Commission is starting to come to their senses, having ruled that thrift stores are exempt from that cockamamie federal law banning the sale of kids' products with unacceptable levels of lead or phthalates after Feb. 10.

There's other worthy content that I'm unintentionally overlooking, no doubt about it, but The 19th Wife is calling to me ....

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Happy Birthday, Cheryl

So today I am thinking about cousin Cheryl and wishing her a happy 26th birthday. As I said in my Facebook status update, oh to be 26 again ....

Cousin Cheryl isn't my cousin by blood; she belongs to The Dean's side of the family, so I inherited her when I came into the fold 18 years ago. And we'll all agree, I'm sure, that it wasn't always smooth-sailing and that our relationship wasn't always tranquil. Or civil. There was a painful three-plus years of unspoken-ness and my admittedly stubborn refusal to even attend any family functions where Cheryl could possibly be present. I wasn't very nice to cousin Cheryl when I was around 26. Those weren't my best years, and because of our own respective personal crap, Cheryl and I clashed.

That changed five years ago, and thankfully so. For some unexplicable reason, we struck up a conversation while celebrating my mother-in-law's college graduation, an amazing accomplishment for someone who truly was dedicated to achieving her degree. (It took her a decade and a half to achieve what many of today's college students assume is a birthright, a decade that included working full-time, being the primary breadwinner in the family, and caring for two young children.)

There was a turning of the tide in that conversation between me and Cheryl, which was innocuous and civil enough. I saw the look of surprise and shock on relatives' faces, especially Cheryl's father, who seemed almost moved to tears at this exchange, and The Dean.

That week happened to be the same week of Boo's autism diagnosis. That first night was, to put it mildly, a sleepless and tear-filled one. I remember saying to The Dean, for reasons I won't get into here but for reasons we all know, "We're really going to need Cheryl."

And we have. And this post is my way of telling her how important a role she plays - and will play - in Betty's life. How we don't know what lies ahead for any of us, but that I know I speak for The Dean when I say how lucky, how grateful, how appreciative and how hopeful I am that Cheryl will be there for Betty in the future. How the very fact that knowing we have Cheryl gives us a sense of "everything-might-turn-out-to-be-OK."

Because Cheryl has turned out to be more than OK. With the gift that is time, she's turned out to be a friend, and someone who I love as my own cousin.

Which she is.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Palin and the Plumber

I think I can safely say who is going to run on the Republican ticket for President in 2012.

Sarah Palin and Joe the Plumber.

Remember, you read it here at The Betty & Boo Chronicles first. (Maybe not here first. I'm sure other bloggers have had similar thoughts. Still, anything with Sarah provides one with much-needed fun in these depressing times, so indulge me, will you?)

If they weren't planning a run for President, why else would these two be spending so much time spinning their wheels trying to do anything and everything to stay in the limelight? First you have Joe, post-questioning of Obama, announcing that he's contemplating a run for Congress. And then just this week, we have him jetting off to the Middle East to play journalist. I predict that after his visit to Gaza, (should he come back alive, that is) he'll be announcing that he's heard there's a vacancy at the Centers for Disease Control and is being considered.

Not to be outdone, we have Presidential Candidate in 2012 Sarah Palin taking every opportunity to do anything but run the state of Alaska. (And maybe, in her defense, there's just not that much goin' on up there, beings that one of the top stories on abcnews.com is this one, "Alaskans Shiver As Unusually Frigid Temperatures Settle in." (Here's a newsflash for you. It's January 9! You live in the tundra! Expect it to be cold!)

In just the last week alone, we've heard America's Hockey Mom tell us that daughter Bristol and future son-in-law Levi are "working their butts off." (Hmm, this article in the Anchorage Daily News this past Monday appears to tell a different story.) Then, Sarah criticized Tina Fey and Katie Couric. (And I quote, from abcnews.com: "Palin grouped both Couric and Fey in with "a lot of people that are capitalizing, perhaps exploiting" her." I suppose one could safely add yours truly into that mix, as I am certainly capitalizing and perhaps exploiting Ms. Palin for the purpose of keeping my New Year's Resolution of writing a blog post per day.)

And now today, she's taking on the speculation from folks wondering whether Trig is indeed her child.

It must be very hard work trying to stay relevant for four years, but doggone-it, Sarah is giving it a mighty good try. God knows I'm no Sarah fan, but here's a thought: freakin' do something! Quit yer bitching and complaining (I know, I'm one to talk) and making everything about me-me-me and I-I-I and come up with some innovative policy for special needs families or ... I don't know. Something. Something substantial.

The likelihood of that happening is probably very slim. Sarah wouldn't know substance if it picked up the phone and told her it was Nicolas Sarkozy of France.

But the likelihood of Sarah Palin and Joe the Plumber on the Presidential ticket after four years of inane crap from the two of them?

You betcha!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Take a Bow, Kristina Chew

It's hard to believe that Kristina Chew has only been at the helm of the blog Autism Vox since February 2006. If I had to guess, I would have said she had been its author for much, much longer ... because it just seems as if I've been reading her since Boo's diagnosis five years ago this month.

In those three years, Kristina has provided an unparalleled service to families who have a loved one with autism. We're all told at the moment of diagnosis that you have to be your child's best advocate, that you're the voice for your child. But how can you be that child's advocate when you're drowning in an alphabet soup of acronyms like ABA, ASD, IEP, IDEA, FBA, DIR, PDD-NOS ....

As a parent, you not only want to read all the latest research, you have this burning fire of desire to find out everything you can about this damned diagnosis that has, in your mind, damned you and your family. You want to know this stuff, but you have no time to comb through studies and to keep up with all the news from the autism and special needs community.

Enter Kristina Chew, Ph.D. For the past three years, Kristina has done all this and more. Her blog, Autism Vox, has become a highly reputable and highly frequent source of information and commentary about all things related to autism. Kristina posted often, sometimes 5 or 6 posts per day and then some. But Autism Vox wasn't just a collection of links to news items. It was also a chronicle of her life, her trials and tribulations as Charlie's mother, her now-11 year old son who has autism, her job as a classics professor at a New Jersey college. Her readers got to know her, Kristina's husband Jim, and Charlie. And along the way, we got to know ourselves, too.

Because, you see, Autism Vox made you think. Kristina had definite views, and in the beginning, they didn't mirror mine. I'm thinking about the mega-controversial vaccine issue. At one time, I was hell-bent in my belief that vaccines and vaccines alone were the cause of Boo's autism - and all autism. Now ... well, now I subscribe to the thinking that autism has genetic components and that it's emergence is triggered by something environmental, or cells that misfire at a wacky time. And there are days when I think that we're all on the autism spectrum, to some degree or another.

At times, Autism Vox was hard to read. I couldn't read many of the stories about the mistreatment of kids with autism - the bullying, the special-needs kids being left unattended on a school bus overnight, the story of Alex Barton whose kindergarten teacher had the class vote him out of the classroom, Survivor-style. Those stories hit way too close for home, putting on my monitor in black and white type what was a submerged nightmare. But she put those incidents on our radar, and made us even more proactive as parents by doing so.

Much of what I know and what I think about my son's condition is a direct result of something I read that Kristina Chew wrote. And although Kristina will now be blogging about autism over at change.org, Autism Vox will be taken over by someone else.

So thank you, Kristina, for the gift that you have given parents with kids on the autism spectrum. Because of Autism Vox, we have heard your voice and ours, and our children's. And all of our voices are all the stronger because of yours.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

New Year, New Challenges!

Someone take my laptop away from me, please, before I sign myself up for any more Reading Challenges in 2009. I mean, with only 29 books read in 2008, I seriously have no business joining any of these.

I resisted the idea of Challenges for awhile now, because I don't want to plan what I will read. Nor do I like the idea of deadlines imposed on something that I do for fun. I have enough of those in my professional life.

The first one I signed up for was Dewey's Books Challenge. I didn't know Dewey as well as others did, but her influence on the book blogging community was significant. Since she reviewed many books that are on my TBR list, I thought this would be a good way to remember Dewey and visit more of her blog at the same time. Unfortunately it seems to have been taken down.

The books I plan to read for Dewey's Books Challenge are:

1. The Middle Place
2. The Kite Runner
3. Packaging Girlhood (I actually started this a few years ago, and it was due back to the library before I could finish it. I've been meaning to get back to it and it's more relevant to me now because Betty is in the prime years for being influenced by the proliferation of princesses and whatnot.)

I hadn't finished selecting my picks for numbers 4 and 5 before Dewey's blog disappeared, so I'm at a little bit of a loss from here on out. I'm thinking that maybe I would just keep an eye on what other participants are blogging about in this regard, and I'm sure I will find something of interest.

I'm also doing the Just for the Love of It Challenge. I plan to read these (although not necessarily in this order):

1. House of Dance, by Beth Kephart (I am reading this now.)
2. Undercover, by Beth Kephart
3. A Slant of Sun, by Beth Kephart
4. Matrimony, by Josh Henkin
5. The Sugar Queen, by Sarah Addison Allen

I started The 19th Wife on audio before joining the challenge, and that book is definitely worth a spot on anyone's Just for the Love of It list. It's not easy to reel me into an audio book, but my God, the narrators on this one have done so. I cannot get enough of this story and need to get a print copy of it. Soon.

For now, though, I'm off to continue reading House of Dance. Tonight the weather gods in the region are giving us a wintry mixed bag of crap as weather (although it seemed more like cold, freezing rain last I checked) so I decided it would behoove me to stay overnight at my mom's instead of trekking the 2-hours home after work. It's a mini-vacation of sorts (with some guilt because The Dean is flying solo 70 miles south) with dinners made for me when I walk in the door, catching up with my mom, showing her the latest photos on my laptop, and having the chance to read uninterrupted.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Easy Cheesy Ravioli Casserole (in the Crockpot!)

Alert the media! The dinner that I served my family on Sunday evening was a winner, and then some. I'm talking about a dinner that every member of the family ate and pronounced as delicious.

This does not happen in The Betty & Boo House.

And! You can make it in the crockpot!

My gift to you, dear reader of The Betty & Boo Chronicles, is this recipe:
Easy Cheese Ravioli Casserole,
From the book: This is ...great when you will be serving a meal over a long period of time, say at a buffet, or when family members are arriving home at different times after a busy day. Do take care when selecting both the sauce and the ravioli. The sauce should be a brand and type you really enjoy, but on the plain side. We have found that some of the sauces with large flecks of herbs or lots of garlic or onion powder do not hold up well in the slow cooker. The ravioli should be medium-sized; the super-large ones tend to fall apart upon serving. If you purchase refrigerated ravioli, freeze them yourself before using them in this recipe.

Serves 8-10. (My note: I halved this recipe, but kept the same cooking time, and it was great.) Cooker: Large Round
Cook Time: HIGH for 2.5 - 3.5 hours or LOW for 5 to 6 hours.

Ingredients:


1 tbsp. olive oil
1 medium sized onion, chopped (I used a handful or so of frozen chopped onions)
2 cloves garlic, minced
Two 26-28 ozs. jars tomato-based pasta sauce of your choice
3/4 c. dry red wine (I didn't have ... wish I did)
One 8 oz. can tomato sauce (you'll notice it is pictured above. I decided at the last minute to just dump in some extra Prego.)
1-2 tsps. dried basil or Italian herb blend, or 1-2 tbsps. chopped fresh basil, optional (I used dried italian seasoning)
Two 25 oz. packages frozen ravioli of your choice (do not defrost)
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup freshly grated or shredded Parmesan cheese
1. Coat the slow cooker with nonstick cooking spray. (I used one of those Slow Cooker Liners - love those! - and I was mighty glad I did.)

2. In a large, deep skillet or Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring a few times, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more; don't allow it to burn.


Add the pasta sauce, wine, and tomato sauce. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook, stirring occasionally for 3-5 minutes more. Taste the sauce. If desired, add the basil.


3. Pour 2 cups of the tomato sauce into the cooker. (My note: it is really tempting to just dump the ingredients up to this point directly in the crockpot, bypassing the seemingly unnecessary step of making the sauce. Don't. Take a few extra minutes and make. the. sauce. You'll thank me. Plus, it really is essential to the recipe.)

Add one package of the frozen ravioli, then sprinkle with half of the mozzarella and 2 tablespoons of the Parmesan.

Add 2 more cups of the sauce, the last package of ravioli, the remaining mozzarella, and 2 tablespoons of the Parmesan. Cover with the remaining tomato sauce.

4. Cover and cook on HIGH for 2.5 - 3.5 hours or LOW for 5-6 hours. The casserole is done when a ravioli from the center of the casserole is hot throughout. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup of Parmesan, cover, and let cook 10 minutes more.

Have I mentioned how much we loved this? I needed a dinner that didn't take much effort on Sunday evening. We'd just come home from church and eaten lunch. Betty and I needed to be out the door for Girl Scouts at 4:30 p.m. The Dean and Boo would be watching football, and would be hungry by halftime. Yet, Betty and I would need to eat when we returned home from Girl Scouts.

When I walked in the door, Boo hollered, "That was AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" The Dean heartily agreed. I helped myself to some, and then almost fell over when Betty said she would try a "very small bite" of this. You have to understand: Betty is the Queen of Picky Eaters. She hates sauce of all kinds. To my knowledge, she may never have tried tomato sauce before Sunday evening. So, her willingness to take what amounts to several bites - and then to say she liked it - was HUGE.

Enjoy!