Tuesday, June 30, 2009

You're Invited to the Nothing But Ghosts Book Launch Party

We'll be partying this evening (as only bloggers can do) over at My Friend Amy's place. It's all in celebration of author Beth Kephart and her latest novel, Nothing But Ghosts.

You won't want to miss this, trust me. I had the opportunity to be at a talk Beth did several months ago, and if this is anything like that evening, we are all in for a delightful night.

It all takes place at 9 pm EST/ 6 pm PST at My Friend Amy's blog. Just by being at the party gives you an entry in the drawings connected with My Friend Amy's Book Drive that is happening for Nothing But Ghosts.

Looking forward to seeing you there! (I'll be the one wearing the stylish pajamas.)

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Sunday Salon - June 28, 2009

It's been quite the week, hasn't it? I'm still reeling from the events of the past few days, including the loss of Farrah Fawcett and of course, the shocking death of Michael Jackson.

Our family also had a personal loss this week, with the death of my grandfather on Wednesday morning. I'll be with family most of today (I'm scheduling this post in advance) so there won't be much time for Salon reading time until later on Sunday ... if then.

Still, it has been a pretty good reading week. I finished Loving Frank by Nancy Hoban on audio, which I enjoyed. Unfortunately, I knew about the ending (thanks to looking up the spelling of Frank Lloyd Wright's home Taliesin on Wikipedia) so that was a bit of a spoiler. Hopefully I'll finish my review and post it this week.

I also finished Without a Backward Glance by Kate Veitch, which I gave 3 stars out of 5. (You can read my review here.) I liked the premise of the book a lot, but it seemed to fall apart for me at the halfway mark. I continued reading because I was curious about one aspect of the plot, but otherwise this was just OK.

I was in the mood for some poetry on Friday night so I read Grace Paley's Fidelity in its entirety and in one sitting. Fidelity is the last collection of poems she wrote before her death in 2007. Hopefully I'll have a review for this later on this week, too.

In other book news, I was so excited to see Beth Kephart's new book, Nothing But Ghosts arrive in my mailbox. I ordered it via Amazon as part of My Friend Amy's Book Drive, and Amazon wasted no time in getting this to me. As much as I want to read this, I'm trying to save it for a week-long vacation next month ... but it is oh-so-tempting.

We're still going strong with our summer reading. Boo has read 21 books and Betty has read 29. I'm so proud of them!

Have a great week!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Best of the Week - June 21-27, 2009

Oh, I know what you've been wondering. You've been scratching your head wondering where in the world my Best of the Week roundup went to over the past month and when (or if) it would return. (Admit it, I know you've asked yourself these burning questions at least daily over the past few weeks.)

The reality is that I've been ... um, well, a little lazy about getting the Best Ofs together, but this week (of all the crazy weeks!) I've actually done so. There's a lot more from earlier in the month, so its possible that I will need to do a Best of the Month later on.

But for now, here are some of the more interesting and thought-provoking things I've read this week.

Ted Anthony's article about the passing of Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett ("A generation mourns two icons lost") is the best piece I've read thus far about this watershed moment for Generation X. (And yes, I would be saying that even if I hadn't met Ted Anthony himself many, many moons ago. In fact, I knew the article would be one of my best-of's before I looked at the byline.)


A great tribute to and retrospective of Farrah Fawcett's life, as posted on TheMotherhood.com.


A thought provoking post on Suburb Sanity about organ donation in this country, an opt-in system, as compared to others where people have to opt-out of being an organ donor. This week, 102,075 people were waiting for a liver. (That doesn't count the folks waiting for hearts, kidneys, lungs, and other organs.)

Squidalicious provides an extended review of Mother Warriors by actress and autism mom Jenny McCarthy. Jenny's a bit of a lightning rod of controversy in the autism world (to put it mildly) and truthfully, I haven't put much stock into her brand of advocacy, and I haven't read Mother Warriors (nor do I plan on doing so.) But this post on Squidalicious is very well done and explains very succinctly why many parents are upset with Ms. McCarthy and her crusade.

I haven't watched the new TNT show "Raising the Bar," but I like this post on Genesis Moments about an upcoming episode and how it relates to posting (or not posting) photos of our kids online.

OK, let's see ... we've covered death, organ donation, autism, and the Boogeymen of the Internet all in one uplifting Best of the Week post. How 'bout we switch to some lighter material, shall we? Yes, let's. You're quite welcome.

The submissions to the blog Passive-Aggressive Notes are always good for a laugh or two. This one is no exception.

A few weeks ago I was a little bummed to have missed my former library's quarterly book sale (I wasn't in the area during the week of the sale, otherwise I would have made a point to stop by). Lost in Books mentions a cool website, Book Sale Manager, that allows one to find Friends of Library book sales throughout the country. Check it out! (Pun intended.)

At least two people still write love letters to each other - and the whole world can now read them. I speak of the love letters between South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford and his Argentine mistress. As Politico reporter Erica Lovley writes (with a last name of Lovley, do you think they gave her this story intentionally?) this is the stuff of romance novels.
My Facebook friends will remember that I recently kvetched about answering the door at 8:45 p.m., only to discover a pesky kid from down the street inquiring whether my daughter could come outside to play. Um ... that would be a no, since she was already in bed asleep and I had visions of the same for me. Perhaps I should arrange for my Neighbor Girl and the Neighbor Boy referenced in MamaNeena's post/note to meet?

Hope you all have a great week!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Book Review: Without a Backward Glance, by Kate Veitch

Without a Backward Glance - by Kate Veitch

I was drawn to this novel because of its intriguing premise. It's Christmas Eve 1967, and Rosemarie and Alex McDonald are frazzled with holiday preparations in their home in Melbourne, Australia. Their four children (two boys and two girls, ranging in age from 6 to 13) are excited for the holiday and their hyperactivity proves to be the final straw for Rosemarie, a frustrated mother homesick for her native England.

While decorating the tree, Rosemarie tells her kids that she is going to the store to get more lights ... and she never returns. What's worse is that her disappearing act is deliberate and planned (outside the home where her children are singing carols, a friend is waiting in the silent night to secretly drive her to the airport.) She flies back to England, pursues a career as a fashion designer, and finds a new love.

Meanwhile, Rosemarie's four kids and husband are back in Australia flailing in the wake of her abandonment; as each grows into adulthood, each copes with this childhood trauma while battling individual demons.

The first third of Without a Backward Glance has all the drama and emotion that such a plot requires and demands, engrossing the reader in a fast-moving story. Veitch's writing moves at an engrossing pace and the characters are well-developed as Veitch skillfully "shows not tells" the reader how Rosemarie's leaving has affected the family members during the 40 years she's been out shopping for Christmas lights.

However, the novel started to lose me when James, one of Rosemarie's sons, is visiting London and tells the story of his mother's disappearance to absolute strangers at a dinner party. Coincidentally, one of the guests listening raptly is his own mother's best friend. She arranges a mother and child reunion, and the two fawn all over each other as if four decades hadn't even happened.

I don't think I would have reacted in the way James did (in fact, I know I wouldn't have), and initially this really bothered me - as if the character James should have reacted as I wanted him to. The more I think about it, the more I think Veitch was portraying that this is how the character needed to reacted. He craved this connection, as is evident from his relationship with his significant other.

It falls to James, of course, to inform his siblings that dear old Mom is alive and well ... but, well, there never seems to be an opportune time to mention this tidbit of news. His sister Deborah has marital problems, brother Robert has a stressful job, and sister Meredith is an alcoholic.

So instead he keeps his relationship with Rosemarie secret for a year and only informs his siblings of Mom's existence when she announces she's planning to come for a visit. At Christmastime. Of course. Again, this was another development that I had some difficulty with. It seemed too neatly packaged (pun unintended).

I was also kind of bothered by the dialogue between the brothers and sisters. At times, it's a bit over the top and too "lovey-dovey." Everyone addresses each other with an affectionate "my darling" or "my dear." I'm not familiar with Australian norms and customs to know if this is typical, but for an American audience, this was excessive - as was the overuse of exclamation marks. Towards the end, almost every sentence was punctuated in such a way! It was distracting! I think that if you're noticing such things and focusing on them, then the result is a detraction from the story! Again, perhaps this is indicative of Australia ... I'm just not sure. (If I'm wrong on that point, let me know!)

I wanted to like Without a Backward Glance this a bit more than I did - and indeed, there were aspects I liked. For example, I liked the character of Olivia and I thought Deborah was also well done. Overall, my rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

What Other Bloggers Had to Say:

Lynne's Little Corner of the World

You might be interested in this interview with Kate Veitch from The Debutante Ball

Diary of an Eccentric's review

Diary of an Eccentric's interview with Kate Veitch

Jess from Barney's Book Blog interviews Kate Veitch

Farrah Fawcett's Role of (Many) Lifetimes

With the passing of Farrah Fawcett yesterday, it's easy to remember her for the 70s icon that she undoubtedly was. But it is her later work, first the play Extremities about a woman who fights back against a rapist and the 1984 groundbreaking (and controversial) movie The Burning Bed that I believe to be her most significant.

Her portrayals of women affected by violence and domestic abuse allowed others to become educated and aware of the signs of domestic violence. This was in a time when domestic violence was talked about in a whisper, if at all. The Burning Bed was a controversial movie for the heavy issues contained within.

It was a role that many other actresses might not have felt brave enough to take on, but which Farrah did. And by making a contribution to erase the stigma of rape and domestic abuse, she became a champion for women whose voices were silent. Finally, they were beginning to be heard.

They were heard on the hotlines, and The Burning Bed was reportedly the first such movie to include a toll-free domestic violence hotline at the closing credits, that of the National Domestic Violence Hotline, which continues to be available for people in crisis at 800-799-SAFE. Anyone can call them and be referred to a shelter nearby. Farrah later became a board member of NDVH, and identified with the issue of domestic abuse.

There's no way to measure how many women Farrah touched by her portrayal of a battered wife. But if she saved only one life, or inspired only one woman to seek help and find her way out, then Farrah becomes more iconic in a way that deserves our remembrance, honor and gratitude.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Remnants of a Childhood


"Have you seen my childhood?" sings Michael Jackson.

I've been seeing my childhood all day long.

It's been center stage, starting in the morning as I thumbed through boxes of photos, searching for the best ones to include in my grandfather's photo montage at Monday's funeral. It was center stage as we sat with the funeral director for two hours, and again back at my mother's house when I checked my email to see that Farrah Fawcett died.

And it was center stage as I pulled into the driveway late this afternoon and came into the house.

"Did you see this?" said The Dean, turning his laptop towards me. I caught a glimpse of the MSNBC page. MICHAEL JACKSON RUSHED TO HOSPITAL.

"Oh wow," I said, somewhat dismissively, liking this latest news to the episode where his hair caught on fire during the filming of a Pepsi commercial.

"They're saying he's dead," The Dean said.

This is one of those moments, I thought. One of those, where were you when ... ? moments. Pay attention.

We rarely watch the news with the kids present. Hell, we rarely watch the news, period. But for major news events like this, there's still the need - at least for us - to watch CNN, MSNBC. We decided to turn it on anyway, even with the kids in the room.

They will remember this, too, I thought, just as I remember being their same age and hearing about Elvis' death.

And, what, I remember, will they remember? I don't mean about Michael. I mean, who in their generation has this cache? Who will they be watching nonstop footage of in 30 years, The Jonas Brothers?

This day has been a surreal passing of an era for me, with helping my mom make arrangements for my grandfather to learning of Farrah to being glued to the television and laptop for seven hours of Michael Jackson coverage. Mentally piecing together the remnants of a childhood.

Have you seen my childhood?
I'm searching for that wonder
In my youth
Like fantastical
Stories to share
The dreams I would dare


Watch me fly ...

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

For the Good Times

My uncle called me a few days before my wedding in somewhat of a panic.

It was a long-distance call (and probably one where I gladly accepted the charges.) The typical pre-nuptial preparations had everyone in the family crazed, The Dean and I had work and grad school stress through the stratosphere, and we had both come down with bronchitis. We spent the last-minute days before our wedding reinacting some sickbed version of John and Yoko's Bed-In for Peace. And now, to top it all off, there was the matter of some worrisome test results that befell my grandfather, the subject of my uncle's call.

I don't remember if my grandfather was scheduled for some tests, or whether dire results had already become known. What I remember was the urgency in my uncle's voice.

"I think it would be a nice idea," he began slowly, "if you and Pop-Pop had a special dance."

The saccharine Daddy's Little Girl dance would not take place at my wedding, a casualty of my father passing away when I was 15. Instead, I would dance with my uncle, the one on the phone with the idea that a dance with my grandfather would be a good idea.

"He might not be here much longer, you know, and this would mean a lot to him," my uncle said. I agreed, yes, absolutely, we would dance. But to what song?

"Ask your band if they know "For the Good Times," he suggested. "It's by Al Green. Pop-Pop always sang that to you when you were little."

"He did?"

"Yes. They play weddings, right? They know the song."

And they did, and so they played it during my wedding when I danced with my grandfather. And I remembered my grandfather singing this, twirling me around the living room as a little girl.

Yeah, the lyrics aren't quite exactly what one would think of for such a dance, but it became our song as we were ablaze with flashcubes, the focus of a mini paparazzi-blitz on the dance floor. As the bandleader sings lay your head upon my pillow, the videographer captures me resting my head on my grandfather's shoulder - if only for a moment, once again the exhausted little girl in need of a lullaby - and more than a few relatives in need of tissues.

That was 16 years ago this month. And in the definition of irony, it would be my uncle who would die less than three years later.

My grandfather, on the other hand, would defy the odds. Time and time and time again. He would outlive his son, an infant granddaughter, most of his siblings, his wife of 62 years.

Until today, this morning, when he ceased being caught in the twilight and we once again walked in the garden, looking skyward.

And tonight, I'm trying to remember the good times amidst the sadness. And there were good times - so many of them flashing by in the Kodachromed memories in my mind.

Don't look so sad, I know its over
But life goes on and this world keeps on turning
Let's just be glad we have this time to spend together
There is no need to watch the bridges that were burning
Lay your head on my pillow
Hold your warm and tender body close to mine
Hear the whisper of the raindrops
Blow softly against my window pane late at night
Make believe you love me one more time
For the good times


For the good times ....

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

In Celebration of Nothing But Ghosts


When and if I ever finish writing my version of The Great American Novel, I plan on calling My Friend Amy and Presenting Lenore in as my publicists. Why, you ask? Because Amy and Lenore have launched the coolest Book Drive in support of author Beth Kephart's brand new book, Nothing But Ghosts.

I can't say it any better than Amy did in this post over at her blog, so stop on over there and see what the Book Drive is all about. Basically, all you have to do is purchase Nothing But Ghosts from Amazon, and Amy provides a special link to do exactly that. I just finished doing so. (Amy is also planning a book party next Tuesday with Beth, complete with a reading and live chat. Details here.)

Why am I so passionate about this book, you ask? Well, for starters, it's a Beth Kephart book. Beth is that type of writer whose writing is so lyrical, so beautiful and so refreshing that you feel almost privileged to have the chance to read her words. It's a gift ... and oh, she is gifted. She's an absolute master of language, having done so in many forms - fable, memoir, young adult novels, and more. As Amy wrote in her post (it's still here if you haven't checked it out yet), Beth is an author that deserves a much, much wider readership. Beth's writing reflects how she is in person - gracious, engaging, enigmatic, humble. I had the chance to meet Beth last February, and she was all of those things and more.

So, promoting her book is a small way that we bloggers who are passionate about books can celebrate an author in our midst, one who gives so much of herself to this blogging community of ours and is an example and an inspiration to all of us.

I'll leave you with this excerpt from Nothing But Ghosts that Beth posted on her blog earlier this week.

...I finally found them down where a wedding was going on, or had already happened, my mother sitting on a bench, my dad beside her, both of them watching this bride and her groom at the edge of a pond where the water was so still I could have sworn it was a mirror. I saw my mom pull a flower straight out of a tree. I saw her stand, take the flower to the bride, and bow her head. I saw her go back to the bench and sit down with my dad and ask him, "Would you marry me again, Jimmy? Would you?"

"In a heartbeat," he said, "and you know it."

"I wouldn't take any of it back," Mom said, and maybe I don't know how you put regret inside a painting, maybe I can't figure out Miss Martine, maybe I can't really save my dad from sadness, but maybe so much time goes by that you start to understand how beauty and sadness can both live in one place.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Father's Day Brunch Menu

I wanted to make a special brunch yesterday for Father's Day. We had fruit salad, vegetarian sausage, toast, and this delicious breakfast casserole that I found on Allrecipes.com. Even though Father's Day is over, I thought I'd share some of the casserole with you since everyone at our table seemed to love it and it is oh-so-easy.

Credit goes to a Beth Notaro of Kokomo, Indiana for this recipe; the photos are mine.

Amish Breakfast Casserole

Ingredients:
1 pound sliced bacon, diced (I used Morningstar Farms vegetarian bacon)
1 medium sweet onion, chopped
6 eggs, lightly beaten
4 cups frozen shredded hash brown potatoes, thawed
I used these because they were the only potatoes I had on hand.

2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese
1 1/2 cups small curd cottage cheese
1 1/4 cups shredded Swiss cheese (I didn't have any Swiss, so I added the same amount of cheddar)

In a large skillet, cook bacon and onion until bacon is crisp; drain.

In a bowl, combine the remaining ingredients.

Stir in bacon mixture.

Transfer to a greased 13-in. x 9-in. x 2-in. baking dish.

Bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees F for 35-40 minutes or until set and bubbly.

Let stand for 10 minutes before cutting.

Here's the link to the recipe (and other reviews) on Allrecipes.com.
Hope you enjoy this as much as we did and that your Father's Day was a good one, too.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Bloggiesta Recap

Oh my, wasn't that Bloggiesta a fun 48 hours? It truly was. Thanks so much to Natasha for organizing this, and everyone who hosted a challenge. You guys did an awesome job and as I said in my Bloggiesta Update #2 post, our blogs (and we) are so much better for all of your efforts.

Here's my recap:

Hours spent on the challenge: 11.5 Of course, I would have loved to have done more but family, work, and home obligations called.

What I accomplished:

- Wrote my review of The Red Convertible, as I'd planned. You can read it here.

- Wrote a review of a children's book (a poetry collection called Sky Magic) as a post to have "in the can."

- Added a couple new posts to my "Some of My Best Posts (You May Disagree)" sidebar and took some off.

- Set up posts for two books that I am currently reading, Without a Backward Glance and Loving Frank. Also jotted down some notes about both of them.

- Searched for blogs that have also reviewed Loving Frank by Nancy Hoban, in preparation for my upcoming review (hopefully later this week) and added them to my templated post.

- Searched for blogs that have also reviewed Without a Backward Glance by Kate Veitch, also in preparation for an upcoming post this week, and added them to my templated post.

- Read 210 items in Google Reader. This might sound OK, but I can't remember the last time my GR was under 1000+. Nor do I ever expect to see a three-digit number anytime soon, quite honestly. I subscribe to 249 blogs which had nearly 250 items posted just during the Bloggiesta. (And some of those 249 blogs were added as subscriptions during Bloggiesta.)

- Started to organize my Google Reader subscriptions to include the names of the blogger (when known) so I can put a name to a blog.

- Wrote my post for Saturday. ("My City of Brotherly Love")

- Wrote my Sunday Salon post.

- Deleted a couple of Draft posts that were ridiculous (only a few words or an incoherant sentence)

Mini-Challenges Participated In: Bookish Ruth's Mini-Challenge, Grade Your Website. If you haven't done this yet, you should do so. Website Grader is free and oh-so-simple. I scored a 75/100, which sounds about right to me. Certainly room for improvement, yes, but better than I expected.

I also started Chronicle of an Infant Bibliophile's mini-challenge, which provided quite a few blog directories. I didn't finish this challenge, but even though Bloggiesta is finito, I'm still planning to continue this one.

Comments Left: I'll confess that I was not very good at keeping track of these. I'd estimate maybe 15 or so? Which doesn't sound all that supportive, I know.

What I Enjoyed Most: This was incredibly helpful to me. I learned a lot, and I learned that I still have so very much to learn. But, everyone is so helpful and supportive, and I love that about this community of ours.

What I'd Like to See Included in the Next Bloggiesta: I honestly cannot think of a thing!

Again, I'd like to wrap up my Bloggiesta post by thanking Natasha for hosting such a fun party, the challenge hosts for providing such informative tips, and my loyal readers for giving me feedback and such kind words on this blog. Thank you all.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I think I'm in need of a Bloggiesta Siesta ....

For a Nice Dad - by Betty

Betty (age 7) wrote and typed this poem for Father's Day and presented it this morning.

For a nice dad

You are funny, smart, and kind
You never ever leave us behind
You will always love us
And you never make a fuss.
For the one that’s loving, kind, and true,
Happy Father`s day to you.

The Sunday Salon - June 21, 2009

I've been having kind of an interesting reading week.

In any given week, I'm usually reading at least one book and listening to a separate audiobook in the car during my afternoon commute home from work. (My morning drive is spent listening to Michael Smerconish, who people either like or don't like. I happen to be a big fan - so much so that a former coworker refers to him as my "radio husband." That's pretty accurate.)

So, as I was saying, usually my reading book and my audiobook are different from each other. But this week both of my choices (Without a Backward Glance as my reading book and Loving Frank as my audiobook) have similar themes. In each book, a mother abandons her children and husband to move overseas and try to find her true passion. Both are set in a time when women's issues are gaining prominence in society. Loving Frank takes place in 1909, during the women's suffrage movement, and the mother's departure in Without a Backward Glance takes place in 1967.

As I read and as I listen, I'm finding myself comparing the two mothers and their choices. (A foreshadowing of my reviews to come: I'm finding both women somewhat unlikeable and their choices unfathomable. I'll have more to say on that when I'm finished both of these works, which hopefully will be this week.)

When we were last together in the Sunday Salon, I mentioned that I was torn between reading The Condition or Without a Backward Glance. I started reading the former, but didn't get too far into it. There's an aspect of the plot that's hitting a little close to home right now, and I knew that would probably unfairly influence how I saw the book. Plus, it seemed as if I read this before. I haven't, but the beginning pages of the family heading to the beach house, the two sisters, the workaholic but uber-successful smart husband ... it seemed like the premise had been done before.

The kids are doing well with their Summer Reading. I'd originally thought about making that part of my Sunday Salon posts, but I decided to give this its own discussion.

Finally, I've been having a good time participating in the Bloggiesta being hosted by Natasha over at Maw Books Blog. I haven't done as much work as others have (we have my in-laws visiting this weekend) but I'll have a wrap up post on my accomplishments (or lack thereof) soon. Later this week, I'm also hoping to bring you my reviews for Loving Frank and Without a Backward Glance.

Hope you're having a wonderful Sunday and that you have a great week ahead!

Bloggiesta Update #2

Well, I'm turning into a pumpkin here as the clock is about to strike midnight (it's 11:47 p.m. on Saturday eve as I type this sentence and will be a new day by the time I hit Publish Post). We're in the final hours of Bloggiesta, and - I know this is going to come as a shocker to y'all - but I have barely made a dent in my to-do list. Nor have I done anywhere near as many of the challenges as I would have liked.

Today my in-laws arrived at 10:30 a.m., and then there was grocery shopping to be done. They also offered to babysit this evening so The Dean and I could celebrate our anniversary (16 years last week) with a grown-up dinner out. We selected a very nice, upscale restaurant and piano bar mere minutes from our house (who'da thunk?!) and had a delicious dinner and a delightful time.

Still, I managed to:

- Write my post for today ("My City of Brotherly Love")

- Write my Sunday Salon post for tomorrow.

- Search for blogs that have also reviewed Loving Frank by Nancy Hoban, in preparation for my upcoming review (hopefully later this week) and added them to my templated post.

- Search for blogs that have also reviewed Without a Backward Glance by Kate Veitch, also in preparation for an upcoming post this week, and added them to my templated post.

- Delete a couple of Draft posts that were ridiculous (only a few words or an incoherant sentence)

- Out of the 108 items that showed up in my Google Reader today, I only made a dent by reading 35. Ugh. Pitiful. (The quantity of my reading, that is ... not the quality.)

My time bloggiesta-ing today was 5.0 hours, for a total time spent of 11.5. Ah well. It is what it is. I may continue this more tomorrow (er ... today, as the clock says 12:23 a.m. now) in an unofficial capacity, depending on how much the downright biblical deluge of rain we've been experiencing lately impacts our Father's Day plans. (We were planning on going to a minor league baseball game, but I'm not sure ....)

I'd like to wrap up my Bloggiesta post by thanking Natasha for hosting such a fun party, the challenge hosts for providing such informative tips, and my loyal readers for giving me feedback and such kind words on this blog. Thank you all.

You all did a phenomenal job ... and our blogs are all the more better for it!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

My City of Brotherly Love

I'm curious to know whether this is a Philly thing, or if this happens in other cities too.

I'm a lifelong Philly girl. I've always lived within 70 miles of the hospital where I was born.

One of the things that seems kind of unique about Philadelphia is our attachment to local celebrities. I'm not talking the rare Hollywood type (M. Night Shymalan, Bill Cosby, Kevin Bacon) who hail from these parts. I'm talking about our local news reporters who we idealize just as much - maybe moreso - than Hollywood icons.

Yesterday the Philadelphia region learned of the death of Gary Papa at age 54. Gary was the sports director and reporter for Channel 6's Action News. He'd battled prostate cancer for the past five or six years and was public about his struggles. He chaired a local fundraising walk/run event held each year on Father's Day. "He was always upbeat, always had a smile," is a common sentiment being expressed. It's true.

I never met Gary, but I feel like I knew him and his death saddens me deeply. Maybe it's his age, I don't know. What I do know is that I'm not alone in feeling this way. "He was like a member of the family," has been another common sentiment expressed by thousands of Philly folks.

Within minutes of Gary's passing, my Facebook screen started filling up with comments and groups were created and updated. "Support for Gary Papa" has 14,135 members, "RIP Gary Papa" has 1,015 members and "Remembering Gary Papa" has 273 members. Of the top 10 most-viewed news stories on philly.com, eight of them are about Gary Papa.

Maybe it's because Gary was with Action News since 1981 and as such, was a presence in our living rooms and at our kitchen tables for almost 30 years. (Let me explain Action News to you. Action News is Philadelphia. Their commercials - "there goes that Action News van again!" - are the stuff of local legend. Their set has barely changed in eons - and whenever it dares to do so, people lose their minds.)

Gary isn't the first news person we've lost. People are still mourning the death this past April of Philadelphia Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas (this city will truly never be the same) and we still reminisce about news reporters and anchors who passed away in 1983. For example, we still miss Jim O'Brien, a beloved weatherman who died in September 1983 while sky-diving with a friend (Ironically, according to the website for The Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia, Gary Papa was supposed to be the friend accompanying Jim O'Brien on that ill-fated sky-diving venture. Gary needed to cancel at the last minute, and another friend took his place.) And Jessica Savitch, who was on a competing news station and who died within weeks of Jim O'Brien, is still remembered fondly by many, despite her turbulent personal life.

So, what is it? Why are we so connected to our news personalities here in Philadelphia? Does this happen elsewhere? Or is it a unique byproduct of our town, our city of brotherly love?

All I know is this: somehow, the Gary Papas and the Harry Kalases and the Jim O'Briens of Philadelphia keep us connected. They kept us connected back when families, like mine, ate dinner with the local news and the Phillies on in the background. They're keeping us connected now in a media age that has become fractured and splintered in the decades since our local treasures first commanded our airwaves. We saw this with Harry Kalas, with an outpouring of emotional displays in his memory. We saw this yesterday, with fathers and sons calling each other. Did you hear about Gary Papa? the calls began.

Their longevity in this media market keeps us connected with our city, our heritage, our roots and our families. Maybe that's why we embrace them so much more than, I suspect, other towns do their news people. And maybe that's the reason why we continue to mourn and to grieve, because we know that that connection is a fleeting one, a relic of a time gone by that is passing before us too quickly.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Bloggiesta Update #1

Hola, amigos/amigas! We're into the 14th hour of Bloggiesta and from what I've been able to tell, there's a whole lot of blog stuff going on.

Here's what I've been up to ...

Spent the morning doing some real, paying-the-bills work from home. (I love my work at home days to no end.) Then I actually spent an hour straightening up the kitchen clutter - we can see the top of the kitchen island again, who would have thunk it?! - in preparation for the in-laws visit. (I should say that I have an incredibly wonderful mother-in-law, and I'm not just saying that because she reads this blog. She would not care if the house was a mess, and it usually is. Her main focus, as a grandmother's focus should be, is on her two grandchildren who she is coming to spend two full days with. I'm very lucky not to have a mother-in-law who will be criticizing my housekeeping habits - or, er ... lack thereof.) But, nonetheless, the kitchen is on its way to looking presentable.

On the blog scene, I've accomplished the following:

- Wrote my review of The Red Convertible, as I'd planned. You can read it here.

- Wrote a review of a children's book (a poetry collection called Sky Magic) as a post to have "in the can."

- Added a couple new posts to my "Some of My Best Posts (You May Disagree)" sidebar and took some off.

- Set up posts for two books that I am currently reading, Without a Backward Glance and Loving Frank. Also jotted down some notes about both of them.

- Completed Bookish Ruth's Mini-Challenge, Grade Your Website. If you haven't done this yet, you should do so. Website Grader is free and oh-so-simple. I scored a 75/100, which sounds about right to me. Certainly room for improvement, yes, but better than I expected.

- Read 175 items today in Google Reader. This might sound OK, but I can't remember the last time my GR was under 1000+. Nor do I ever expect to see a three-digit number anytime soon, quite honestly. I subscribe to 249 blogs which have had a total of 262 items posted just today. This is actually a pretty good ratio for me. (I wasn't going to mention this, but I also unsubscribed from a blog or two. I don't think they are book-related, though.)

- I know it doesn't count, but I spent some time reading with the kids - both aloud and silently, as we snuggled in the guest room before bedtime. (Each night Betty, Boo and I spend about a half hour reading our own books while snuggled in the guest room bed. It is, hands-down, my favorite part of the day.) We also updated the kids' summer reading logs.

Total hours spent la bloggiesta-ing today = almost 6.5.

Oh! Almost forgot! I found out I won a book in Nely's giveaway over at her blog, all about {n} and the prize I won from Cindy from Cindy's Love of Books arrived in the mail! Nely, the book will be going to my mom who has been a caregiver to my 91 year old grandfather for many, many years now. She just moved him into a nursing home yesterday. And Cindy, the notecards are adorable. (The kids were extremely impressed that I got a package from Canada.) Thanks, Nely and Cindy!

All right, off to do a few more Bloggiesta things and then perhaps some reading. Have a migraine starting. I'll blame it on the housecleaning. (Certainly cannot be from the computer time due to work and Bloggiesta.)

Adios!

Book Review: The Red Convertible: Selected and New Stories 1978-2008, by Louise Erdrich

The Red Convertible: Selected and New Stories 1978-2008, by Louise Erdrich

Betty and Boo love the cover of this book, and commented on it each time they saw me reading it. Which was often, because at 494 pages and 36 stories, this was not a fast read.

It was, however, a wonderful read. The Red Convertible is a collection of stories spanning 30 years of Erdrich's work as an author. In addition to being new to Erdrich's work, I also haven't read much about Native American Indian culture so I approached this with interest and a sense of broadening my literal - and figurative - horizons. (Beth Kephart's blog post about this book helped, too.)

Maybe it's because I recently read (and reviewed) Brad Gooch's biography of Flannery O'Connor, but in The Red Convertible there seemed to also be that riveting element of surprise and dark turns, of characters and plotlines you're thinking about long after you set the book down. I was delighted with this. I love this in a book.

Several of the characters in one story also appear in another. As an example, seemingly-unrelated characters in "The World's Greatest Fisherman" and "Saint Marie," two subsequent stories, come together in the next tale, "The Plunge of the Brave." Slightly confusing? Yes. But an effective literary element and treat for the reader at the same time. This was very well-done. In the hands of a less-skilled writer, this technique could seem as if the author was reaching or out of ideas. Not so with Erdrich, who by employing this, makes the reader truly care about the characters.

In reading other book blogs, it seems (and I could be wrong) that I'm in the minority with my love of short stories and short story collections. (Maybe that's true in general; the library I worked at as a teenager rarely bought short story collections because they weren't popular among the library patrons of our suburban town.) I happen to adore short stories. That being said, if you're not a fan of the short-story form, this might not be the collection to start with. (Fans of Louise Erdrich's would, I'd imagine, enjoy this.)

I would also add that The Red Convertible is probably not a collection to read as one would a novel. There are some pretty dark (and graphic) stories, and it's a bit of a heavy read. Again, with just a few exceptions, this is a very, very good collection of stories. There were some stories, however, that I couldn't stomach or get through. (For example, some are set in a butcher shop. I'm not the type of vegetarian who is offended when someone eats a steak in front of them, but some of the descriptions of the meat industry were a little too heavy for me.)

Oh, man, I'm so not doing this book justice, I'm afraid.

Let me summarize with this: if you enjoy short stories and if you don't mind them a little on the dark (and occasionally a little graphic) side, you'll probably like The Red Convertible. I'm giving this 4.5 stars out of 5, because of the two or three stories I couldn't get through. The writing is superb, the characters memorable, and the plots original.


Finally, this is one of many books I've read that I have another blogger to thank. You can read Beth Kephart's review of The Red Convertible here at Beth Kephart Books.
And here's what others had to say:
New York Times Book Review, 1/4/2009
Guest post by Helen W. Mallon on Emerging Writers Network, as well as Mallon's review of The Red Convertible from The Philadelphia Inquirer
Bookmarks Magazine
If you've reviewed this and I missed your post, include a link in the comments and I'll be happy to add it.

Bloggiesta - Hour 1

It's Bloggiesta time! And to kick this off in the right way, I need your help.

I'd like to hear what you think about The Betty and Boo Chronicles. And what you don't like, or what you'd like to see more of.

Do I talk too much about books? My kids? Or not enough of either?

Do you like when I post recipes or do those posts get thrown down the garbage disposal?

Do you want more photos? (Photos of my kids won't be happening, sorry. I'm not comfortable posting them - especially after this week - nor reveal our names or where we exactly live - although most of you might have been able to figure that one out. I've given some consideration to blogging as my real first name, though, or maybe a shortened version of such. When I started the blog, it was intended to be a means to keep Betty and Boo's grandparents updated with their every day happenings, given that we're at a distance from them - hence, the moniker Betty and Boo's Mommy. But, it's lengthy to type out and I'd like to think that there's a tad more to me than just being a mom.)

Jeez Louise. Got off on a tangent there, sorry. My coffee must have had triple the caffeine this morning. Ole! indeed!

Back to my questions.

Do you like the list of blogs I have listed?

You'll notice on the sidebar that I have a list of what I consider my best posts. You'll also notice that it hasn't been updated since February. Surely I've written something decent since February. What posts do you think should be listed there?

If you don't want to write your thoughts in a comment, that's fine. You can email me at peanutboo2 AT gmail DOT com. (Hint: if you're a lurker, this is a great time for you to say hi and let me know you're here.)

I wish I had some cool giveaway to offer as an incentive to reply, but ... well, I got nothin'. Except my thanks, and appreciation.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Bloggiesta!

I'm going to be participating in the festive Bloggiesta this weekend! Haven't heard about Bloggiesta? It's being hosted by the wonderfully talented and gracious Natasha over at Maw Books Blog. All the details are in this post on her blog. (Which, I might add, is one of my absolute favorites. When I grow up, I want to be Natasha.) You can join the fun even if you're not a book blogger (and I hardly put myself in that category, since my reading totals are paltry compared to others.)

There is , however, the small matter of needing to do some actual pay-the-bills type of real-life work tomorrow, as well as some much-needed real housekeeping in the real house, not just housekeeping of the blog nature. My in-laws will be visiting this weekend, so some other activities may divert my attention from the Bloggiesta.

Still, I can't seem to resist jumping on the bandwagon when a cool blog party is happenin'. Here are some of the things I'm hoping to accomplish during the Bloggiesta. (Is it "the Bloggiesta" or just "Bloggiesta?" Hmm....)

- Write my review of The Red Convertible, which I promised during the Sunday Salon.

- There are several children's books that I'd like to spotlight before I take them back to the library. I like to have those as "rainy day posts." (Actually, that's not the best term to use lately, as we've had a miserable string of rainy days this spring ... it is just downright depressing.)

- A former co-worker's daughter in law (got that?) wrote an adorable children's book and gave me a copy. I promised to do a review, author interview, and giveaway. That was back in March. I'm embarrassed that this has taken me this long.

- I'd like to write a few additional posts to have "in the can" for those days when I'm not quite inspired. Ideally, I'd like to have a new post every day, which was my New Year's Resolution. I actually did this up until mid-March. Now, I'll give myself permission to take a day or two "off" but then I get antsy. I like to have fodder in the hopper waiting to go.

- I've gotta clean up and add to my blogroll. When I first started blogging, I was reading others' blogs by clicking on the links on my blogroll. Then I discovered Google Reader, and now I just hit subscribe. Many of the blogs I read have been through browsing other bloggers' blogrolls, so I like to return the favor.

- Speaking of Google Reader, are we allowed to catch up on our reading? Because I am convinced that I will never see a number below 1000+ again. I'd like to see if my GR is actually capable of displaying a three-digit number. I'm doubtful.

- I have a bunch of photos in Memory Manager (I use Creative Memories' MM for my digital photos) that are intended as blog fodder, but they need to be moved into the appropriate folders.

Hmm, who else is thinking that they could use a whole week of Bloggiesta ... ?

Book Review (Kids): Sourpuss and Sweetie Pie

Sourpuss and Sweetie Pie, by Norton Juster and illustrated by Chris Raschka

The girl in this book has two names. She's Sourpuss when she's in a bad mood and Sweetie Pie when she's ... well, being a sweetie pie. Sometimes Sourpuss turns into Sweetie Pie and other times, Sweetie Pie turns into Sourpuss in the blink of an eye. (Got that?)

Sound familiar? It does to me. The mood swings here in the Betty and Boo house can be a little on the ... um ... intense side. Obviously we've got our deck stacked with some autism spectrum issues happenin' but I have to believe that these sorts of dramatics come into play with other kids, too ... right? Right? (Just humor me and tell me I'm right, 'kay?)

Sourpuss and Sweetie Pie is the story of a little girl visiting her grandparents. As they interact in various situations, the child's mood differs from page to page. (Or even sentence to sentence.)

When I get big and you get old, Poppy, I'm going to take care of you. You can do whatever you want as long as you clean up when you're done.

I won't wear any of the things you put out for me, Nanna. I want my yellow shirt with the beads and the long flowery skirt and my flip-flops and all my bracelets or I'm not going to school. I don't care if it's winter!

You're my best friend, Nanna.

Except for Sara and Rachel and Fluffy and Alphonse and Consuela.

Betty and Boo thought this book was hilarious and asked me to read it several nights in a row, which I happily did. I think (er ... I hope) they saw themselves in certain situations and this led to conversations about our different moods and how it can be hard for people to manage their moods and to deal with others when their moods are unpredictable. Did it change their emotional DNA overnight? No. Nor did I expect it to. It's a process ... or so I keep telling myself.

Sourpuss and Sweetie Pie, a cute and incredibly colorful book, is the second collaboration between author Norton Juster and illustrator Chris Rascha. Their first book was The Hello, Goodbye Window, for which Rascha won the 2006 Caldecott Award. Juster is also the author of the children's classic The Phantom Tollbooth.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Part 2 of Continuing the Conversation

You need to have read my previous post in order to fully understand this one. (Go ahead, I'll wait ... OK, you're back? Good. Where were we?)

This evening, after dinner. I'm sitting on the sofa, pajama pants on, The Dean's upstairs doing baths. I'm reading the comments on my previous post when the doorbell rings. I decide whether or not to answer it, since we've been getting a spate of door-to-door salesmen lately, usually folks wanting to scam us for a new deck and handing us a poorly photocopied flyer with an 800 number.

I look through the side windows and see a woman with a clipboard. I open the door.

"Good evening," she says, politely. And flashes a badge.

"I'm with the United States Federal Bureau of Investigations."

Oh.
My.
Freaking.
God.

So this is what it's like in real life when the FBI is at your front door. As opposed to an episode of The Sopranos when Carmela finds Agent Harris on the stoop to haul Tony away - again.

Thankfully, I don't say something stupid to my real-life FBI agent like, "Oh, I think I know what this is about," or "I thought you might be stopping by." Believe me, it would be typical of me to say something (many things) stupid out of nervousness. Because with the FBI on the steps and given what I just wrote about (remember, I was reading the comments to that very post when the Feds knocked) this was just a tad surreal. And nerve-wracking, which is not how one wants to appear when discussing matters with the FBI.

Fortunately the reason for the FBI's appearance was not regarding the situation I wrote about earlier but something else altogether. (It doesn't really matter ... we're all fine and, last I checked, still have our freedoms intact.) Still, I asked the agent to give me her contact information - "just in case I had questions" about our very brief conversation. Or any other matters requiring the FBI's assistance.

Like getting The Sopranos' theme song out of my head, for starters.

Continuing the Conversation

Savvy readers of these here Chronicles may remember this post where I wrote about Boo's encounter with the (probably) well-meaning mom we met in the library. The one who lured and led him away, briefly, out of my sight. On the day that it was discovered that 8-year old Sandra Cantu was murdered by her Sunday School teacher.

The incident served as somewhat of a wake-up call to me to continue the stranger-danger conversations with the kids, which we did. Un-nerving? Yes. Necessary? Hell, yeah.

And so we find ourselves needing to continue the conversation again upon seeing the mug shot in our local newspaper.

The Dean recognized the guy in the photo immediately. I, on the other hand, have this odd quirk where I am unable to recognize someone out of the context in which I know and associate them. For example... say I see someone, oh I don't know, every Sunday at church. Might smile, might sit behind them in the next row. Shake their hand by way of greeting when the minister encourages us to do so. The person might smile at my kids. Ask them their names.

And when that same person is arrested and charged with 29 counts of child pornography, it doesn't register. Gee, I think that [insert curse word of choice here] kind of looks like that guy from church .... is the best I was able to do when reading the newspaper on Saturday morning. (Innocent until proven guilty kind of goes out the window in this case. He's admitted to everything and the authorities have 29 computer files to prove it.)

And now I'm more than speculating on exactly the nature and extent of his contact with my kids. If he happened to surreptiously snap a cell phone photo of them. Altered it in some way. The Dean saw him once at church, helping out in the child care room with the infants and toddlers. The authorities, according to the news reports, found photos on his computer of kids who are 3 and 4 years old.

My kids could pass for 3 or 4 years old.

It disturbs me to know that while my family sat behind this pervert in church that there was the inclination, the likelihood, the very real possibility that he was consumed with thinking about my kids in ways unimaginable.

Just as I am consumed, obsessed even, with what he might have been thinking. Or doing. Not only in regards to my kids, but the other kids in our congregation.

We don't know, of course, and we likely won't. Meanwhile, there's a congregational meeting about this on Sunday. A community conversation of sorts. As is typical of our faith, we'll talk ad nauseum about our feelings. How sad we are. How supportive we must be of the family members. How we can move on.

Well, excuse me, but fuck that shit. (Sorry, relatives of mine who read this blog.) I don't want to go. I don't mean just on Sunday. I don't want to go back ever. Because there are some conversations that we should not need to have anywhere, much less in the sanctuary of our church, with people we would have liked to have gotten to know.

I know, logically, that I can't protect my kids forever. But they are 7 years old. They need and deserve my protection and that of those who I entrust them to, even for a half hour on Sundays. And what about the 3 and 4 year olds who were downloaded onto this creepo's computer?

Obviously, I'm angry as hell over this. That this is even a matter for discussion, yes, but there's more than that. I've worked in fields and in situations where I needed a background check, and when I signed up to be a religious education teacher at our church, I was surprised at the lack of one. Lack of funds to conduct one, I was told. We're a community, a family.

And I'm angry at myself for letting down my cynical guard and believing that crap. For being derelict enough to allow my kids to innocently believe that.

And now it falls to us as parents to continue the conversation, at least in our own house, as is our duty and our obligation to our kids. How to do this, I don't know. I just know I owe it to my kids to figure this out, however way I can.

But to be asked to have this conversation with people we once trusted?

There are, quite simply, no words.

Boo's Quest to Grow Money (or, Summer Reading Club Week 2 Recap)

As I'd mentioned last week, Betty and Boo are participating in our library's Summer Reading Club program, which started on the 1st.

When we were browsing at the library this week, Boo grabbed a book off the shelf. "Mommy! I really need this," he said, resolutely. "Can I get this book?"

I looked at what he was holding out to me:

Growing Money: A Complete (and Completely Updated) Investing Guide for Kids by Gail Karlitz. (I think a newer update might be needed, since its latest copyright is 2001 and a few changes have happened in the financial world since then.)

"Uh ... well, sure," I said, mentally conjuring up Alex P. Keaton and envisioning Boo sitting at the breakfast table with The Wall Street Journal. A financial wizard in the family could come in handy.

Well, this entire week, Boo could not seem to tear himself away from Growing Money. He was utterly fascinated by all 122 pages of this. From time to time he'd ask me questions, as if I was prepping for the CPA exam. "What's a mutual fund?" "Have you ever heard of something called the stock market?" (Sadly, yes. Yes, I have.) Much to the amusement of several people, Boo even trotted the book into the car dealership last week and, ironically, read it (and quoted stats about stocks) while The Dean and I signed the requisite paperwork for my new car.

In addition to Growing Money, Boo's been reading several picture books. (He does this; he'll read a book that's somewhat advanced for him and then a picture book or two before going back to something else. As long as he's interested in reading, this doesn't bother me.)
Betty's been reading this copy of Little Women that my grandmother (a.k.a. The Real Betty) gave me when I was around 10 years old.
And during her camp physical at the doctor's office, she picked up an easy reader version of Anne of Green Gables which I actually had to tell her to put down when the nurse was talking to her.
At the library, she also checked out these really cute little books by Susan Beth Pfeffer about each of the March sisters at age 10. They're adorable and intriguing, and I may just have to read them for myself.



Finally, we read a few children's books at snacktime last week for the Summer Reading Club.
I Know an Old Teacher, by Anne Bowen and illustrated by Stephen Gammell
Read All About It! by Laura Bush and Jenna Bush

Buster Goes to Cowboy Camp, by Denise Fleming

All in all, a pretty good start to our Summer Reading!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Sunday Salon - 6-14-09


I told myself I had to finish Louise Erdrich's The Red Convertible: Selected and New Stories 1978-2008 before writing one word of my Sunday Salon post. I mean, there was no way I could justify telling y'all that I'm still reading the same book for the third week in a row. Never mind that it's 494 pages.

But as of a few moments ago, I have indeed finished what is an incredible collection of 36 short stories. (I read the last six stories today.) Louise Erdrich is a new author for me, and I hadn't heard of The Red Convertible before reading Beth Kephart's blog post with her review from the Chigago Tribune. From Beth's description, this seemed like my kind of book and it did not disappoint. I'll have a full review up soon (I like to review my books ASAP after reading) but I know I will be giving this collection 4.5 stars out of 5. The half point (I know, I sound like I'm some Olympic judge or something, right?) is because there were two or three stories that just didn't grab me, and of those I didn't finish them. Still, that's a pretty good track record when you're talking 36 stories over the span of three decades.

I know a lot of people aren't short story fans, but I happen to love them. The Red Convertible is one that you should not miss if you also enjoy short stories. I think it would also be a good collection for someone who doesn't regularly read short stories.

For my audiobook this week, I've been listening to Loving Frank on my new car's CD player. (And despite all my verklemptedness earlier this week, I'm loving my new car.) Unlike my Dodge Caravan, this car has all the bells and whistles. We're talking power windows, power locks, and a CD player! Yes, for seven years, my minivan lacked such amenities. The only luxurious aspect of my 2002 Caravan was the cassette tape feature, so my audio book choices were rather limited. Now that I've entered the last century, a whole new audio world has opened up. The new car has MP3 capabilities too - I'm not there yet, obviously.

Anyway, I've been listening to Loving Frank this week and am in the middle of Chapter 27. Am liking this much more than I expected. I didn't know much about Frank Lloyd Wright before beginning Nancy Hoban's book, but ... wow. Loving Frank tells the story of the scandalous, illicit, highly-publicized love affair between Frank and Maymah Borthwick Cheney, who are both married to others. It's scandalous because they both abandon their respective spouses and kids (Frank is the father of 6, Maymah the mother of 3) to live and travel together for several months in Europe. Oh, and did I mention that all this occurs in 1909? Hence, the scandalous nature of the tryst, because apparently such occurances weren't the norm back in the day.

Frank and Maymah come across in the book as incredibly self-absorbed people and not really very likeable, in my opinion. Particularly Frank. Still, I can't stop listening to this, which is a testament to Hoban's skill as a writer. With only five CDs left, there's a strong possibility I will finish this by week's end.

All right, time to select my next book. I have The Condition by Jennifer Haigh due back to the library on the 23rd with no more renewals left. Same for Without a Backward Glance by Kate Veitch. A dilemma, since I'll only be able to read one of them this week.

Have you read either of these? Which one do you recommend?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Flowers




These flowers were part of a centerpiece at a get-together we went to this weekend.
Aren't they gorgeous?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Book Review (Kids): Let's Go On a Mommy Date, by Karen Kingsbury

Let's Go on a Mommy Date, by Karen Kingsbury, illustrated by Dan Andreasen

If I had a dime every time a professional of some sort has advised that any and all my parenting woes would be solved with "some one-on-one quality time" with my kids, I'd be rich enough to spend the rest of my life quality-timing 24/7.

For two working-outside-the-home parents, I happen to think The Dean and I do a pretty good job in this department. We spend time with each kid individually. We take them on special outings like baseball games, the beach, and the occasional Storybook Ball. We're members of our local zoo, we go to nearby parks, we U-pick fresh fruit at local farms, we play outside, we're on a first name basis with the folks at the library.

Which is where I picked up this adorable picture book written by bestselling children's author Karen Kingsbury. Let's Go On a Mommy Date is about two kids with grandiose plans for spending the day with their mom. Like Betty and Boo seem to do each weekend, the kids in the book suggest all kinds of activities: the zoo, the park, the circus, the movies, the farm. But then they realize that sometimes the best Mommy date is one where you just ... hang out. Together.

"Hey wait, you're here beside me now, is this our Mommy Date?
Never mind the other places. Here we are. Why wait?
One day we'll go to the park, the circus, farm, and zoo,
but for today let's cuddle with this book, just me and you.
See, time will take you far from here; you're growing way too fast.
All I want is Mommy time to make the moments last.
Something we'll remember so that come some far-off day,
you'll know how much I loved you 'cause we took the time to play."

Let's Go on a Mommy Date is a delightful book that conveys to kids (and parents) that spending time together doesn't have to be elaborate or, in these economic times, cost a fortune. In fact, it's the simplest moments that have the power to be the most special.

And, perhaps, the most remembered.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Keith Urban and Boo, Counselors to Brokenhearted 7 Year Olds

"And she broke my heart, broke it right in two
And it's fixing time
But I'm feeling like I'm finally ready to
Find, find somebody new.
I wanna kiss a girl, I wanna hold her tight,
And maybe make a little magic in the moonlight .... "
"Kiss a Girl" - Keith Urban

"Daniel needs to hear this song," remarked Boo, from the back seat as Keith Urban sang from the satellite radio.

"Who's Daniel?" I asked.

"He's my friend. From my class."

"And why does he need to hear this song?"

"Because he's breaking up with his girlfriend," Boo said, shrugging nonchalantly, as if 7 year olds break up every day.

"He's what?" I said. "Breaking up with his what?"

"His girlfriend."

"Oh."

We were both quiet for a moment, me contemplating the fact that break-ups are even a topic of conversation with my 7 year old.

"So," Boo continued. "I think if Daniel listens to this song, he might not break up with her."

Well, that's a possibility. Can't hurt to try.

"Are you ready? Are you ready?
Are you ready, Are you ready?
To cross that line?"

Actually ... no, Keith. I'm not. Not in the least.

Verklempt

Forgive me if I seem a little verklempt today.

(For the non-Yiddish speakers among you, a definition: verklempt, adj. overcome with emotion; clenched; also written ferklempt.)

I just dropped the kids off for their last day of first grade. Now, I'm the sort of mom who does not typically get all weepy over such things. I mean, while the other moms were sobbing uncontrollably on the first day of preschool, I was the mom cheerfully waving goodbye while high-fiving the steering wheel and tearing out of the parking lot NASCAR-style.

I may be exaggerating, but those who know me in real life would probably nod their heads in agreement when I say I'm a bit more hardened than Hallmark. And they would be right.

Which is why it makes no sense for me to be emotional over the fact that today marks the end of two eras. The first, and most important, is that Betty and Boo are finishing first grade. In less than three hours, they'll be free for the summer (although I, hard-ass Mom that I am, have several educational activities up my sleeve for the next few months) and on their way to being second graders. This is all a very good thing.

It's also the same day that we're saying goodbye to our minivan that we bought just a week before Betty and Boo were born. (It's also the end of two years sans car payments, which believe me, has me hyperventilating.) But, it's time. It's a 2002 Caravan that has been a diehard workhorse, with thisclose to 130,000 miles on it (65,000 of those logged in the past two years). It's not the commutes from hell that I'm remembering this morning, though.

It's putting Betty and Boo in their rear-facing car seats for their first trip home as a newborns after a three-week NICU stay.

Changing a screaming-his-head off Boo's poopy diaper in the backseat while The Dean drove us down the turnpike. (No time for stopping or pulling over. The object was to get the hell home as soon as possible.)

Loading the van to the brim with Pack-and-Plays, bouncy seats, safety gates, boxes of diapers and gluten-free-casein-free foods for an overnight at Mom-Mom's.

Packing the van full to the brim (again) with two kids, a cat, and every valuable item we owned and driving around for three hours while our townhouse was being shown to prospective buyers. (Where do you possibly go with two 8-month olds and a cat?)

Driving to and from the beach solo and not caring about the sand covering the floor, because it symbolizes the first time your son with autism ventured into the ocean instead of screaming his head off at it and pacing for miles on the beach.

Taking a road that should have been less travelled on a stormy night, only to careen into a ditch and see floodwaters rising outside the van's windows.

Good times, good times.

There will be more ahead in the new car, I have no doubt. I'm picking up my new chrome wheels with all the bells and whistles minutes after I pick up the kids from their last day of first grade.

And if you see me slightly verklempt and wiping a tear away in the elementary school parking lot, don't worry. It's only because I'm sad about the prospect of car payments again. Mmmmm-hmmmm, yes. Really.

It has nothing at all to do with the fact that first grade is over, that my kids are in the driver's seat of their lives, high-fiving and waving happily. That, with a little (no, make that a lot) of luck, they will be fighting over the keys to my old 2009 Chevrolet HHR in 2016 as they continue to drive down their own roads.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Younger Than Springtime


Younger than springtime, are you ...

This photo was taken by me this weekend at a birthday party we attended. And I may be mistaken, but I think the child's name is Summerlyn.

The Sunday Salon: June 6, 2009

How is everyone doing on this Sunday? Much as I'd love to stay in my PJs, reading with a cup of coffee by my side, perhaps taking a nap, today's plans call for slightly more activity. There's the much-needed grocery shopping, even more much-needed cleaning and decluttering of the house, and an end of year BBQ for our Girl Scout troop at our leader's home. Any reading may need to wait until tonight. Sigh.

I'm still reading The Red Convertible by Louise Erdrich and still enjoying it as much as last week. It's a collection of 36 stories; this week I've read eight more, bringing my total to 19. There are several of this week's reads that I know will stay with me, namely "Fuck With Kayla and You Die" and "The Bingo Van."

I finished listening to Wally Lamb's debut novel, She's Come Undone on audio (here's my review). Gave it 5 stars out of 5 and loved everything about it.

This week the kids and I will continue with the Summer Reading Club program and I'm hoping to finish The Red Convertible. I'm not sure what's on tap for my next audiobook because I bought a new car on Saturday! (And it happens to be red, although not a convertible.) My trade-in, a 2002 Dodge Caravan, is slightly more evolved than the Flintstones' car, but lacks amenities like power locks, power windows, and a CD player. The new car has these newfangled bells and whistles (and more). One of the first places I will driving it on Monday will be to the library for some audiobooks on CD! Only being able to listen to audiobooks on cassette tends to limit one's options in that regard, so I'm looking forward to more possibilities. We're only allowed to have 10 audios out at a time, so I'll try to restrain myself.

Some of the goodies I got at the library during a rare visit (without kids) this week:

An Abundance of Katherines - by John Green
Looking for Alaska - by John Green
Delicate Edible Birds and Other Stories - by Lauren Groff
Making It All Work - by David Allen (I love David Allen)
The Life You Longed For - by Maribeth Fischer
The Summer Guest - by Justin Cronin (He was my instructor in a grad school writing class!)
The Dumbest Generation: How The Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future - by Mark Bauerlein.

Happy reading, everyone!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Summer Reading Club: Week One Recap

Our library's Summer Reading Club program started June 1. We also have a summer reading program going on for school, but that one doesn't start until June 15. Both require tracking of the books read and the amount of time read, a task which falls to me and which I've had to create Excel spreadsheets for each child.

I thought it might be fun (for oh, probably all of 2 readers of this here blog) to do a weekly recap of what we've been reading.

Much as I would love to provide you, dear Betty and Boo Chronicles reader, with reviews and links to each book, I'm guessing it will be impossible for me to do so. I'll list every book we've read, but only review or highlight those which the kids loved or which ones I thought particularly wonderful.

So without further ado, here's what was read in our house during Week One:

The Tiara Club: Princess Katie & the Silver Pony - by Vivian French
The Tiara Club: Princess Charlotte & the Birthday Ball - by Vivian French
The Princess and the Pea - by Hans Christian Anderson
Jimmy's Boa and the Bungee Jump Slam Dunk - by Trinka Hakes Noble
Becky the Borrower - by Udo Weigelt, illus. by Astrid Henn
"I Have a Little Problem…" said the Bear - by Heniz Janisch, illus. by Silke Leffler
Turtle's Penguin Day - by Valeri Gorbachev
The Remarkable Farkle McBride - by John Lithgow

We read some of Sky Magic, a collection of poetry which I loved and plan to review in a separate post, but it didn't hold the same appeal for the kids. They're not much into poetry. Yet.

Betty also decided to start reading Little Women and Anne of Green Gables.

Do you have kids who are participating in a Summer Reading Club program? What books are they reading this summer?

Friday, June 5, 2009

Book Review by Boo and Mommy: Forever Young, by Bob Dylan

Forever Young, by Bob Dylan

I confess I've never been a huge Bob Dylan fan, but you've got to have a heart like a (rolling) stone not to be moved by the lyrics of his 1974 song, "Forever Young."

(And the most poignant rendition of this ever has to be in the incredible documentary about the Young @ Heart chorus - http://www.youngatheartchorus.com/film.php. This group of singing octogenarians and nonogenarians performs a concert for prison inmates on the same day that the chorus learns of the death of one of their members. Among the selections they sing for the prisoners is Dylan's "Forever Young." If you haven't seen this documentary, you absolutely must. It is the most powerful movie that I've ever watched.)

I digress. Back to the book.

Forever Young is the lyrics of the song, but it is the illustrations that provide the poignancy to the words which are moving enough on their own. Artist Paul Rogers used the illustrations to depict significant or key events in Dylan's life. There are hidden references to musicians of the 60s - many of whom make cameos in the artwork, too. For example, on a page with the lyrics, "May you have a strong foundation when the winds of changes shift," Rogers drew an imaginary "Stop the War" peace rally with a fictitious assemblage of marchers such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Joan Baez, Hank Williams, Albert Einstein, all four Beatles, and more. A handy description explaining the references and symbolism within the illustrations is conveniently at the end of the book.

This is one of those children's books that's more for the grown-ups than the little ones (kind of like Robert Munsch's "Love You Forever.") However, Forever Young holds great appeal for one budding musician in our house.

When we visited the library three weeks ago, Boo snatched this up right off the display of New Releases in the children's room. I mean, I have never seen a child grab a book so fast. He's been reading it every night since, and I'm thinking we will need to purchase it given that it's due tomorrow and is on hold for another patron. In the meantime, he offers up his thoughts on the book:

Forever young is good. Well... ``forever young" is about a famous boy named ``Bob Dylan." and his friend named ``Paul Rogers."

Page 2 & 3 shows a pichere of Bob Dylan's grandfather singing a song to Bob Dylan.
Page 4 & 5 shows Mr. & Mrs. Dylan listening to Bob Dylan sing a song from his grandfather.
Page 6 & 7 shows everybody listening to Bob Dylan sing the song from Bob's grandfather.
Page 8 & 9 shows some people singing songs & walking on the sidewalk in the night at 7-10.
Page 10 & 11 shows Bob Dylan in his PJ's singing Quietly the song from his grandfather.
Page 12 & 13 shows Bob & Paul going on the bus.
Page 14 & 15 shows Bob & Paul in Bob Dylan's Bedroom, Bob writes a song, Paul reads a book.
Page 16 & 17 shows Bob & Paul making a sale called ``save the planet" everyone loves it.
Page 18 & 19 shows Bob & Paul making a concert Bob, guiar, Paul, Bongo's.
Page 20 & 21 shows Bob & Paul in a car. Bob, driving, Paul, 2nd seat. what a nice red car.
Page 22 & 23 shows 3'0000 people yelling ``STOP THE WAR!".
Page 24 & 25 shows Bob & Paul singing on the sidewalk.
Page 26 & 27shows people singing to a girl.
and Page 28 shows Bob giving a guitar to a girl.

You get it? if you need help reading, meet Bob Dylan. Or read forever young and go to www.foreveryoungbybobdylanandpaulrogers.com/read (Mommy's note: that's not a real website, by the way. Its one that Boo created in his head.)

the end.