Monday, August 31, 2009

I've Been Searching .... (Search Terms)

It's been awhile since I re-capped some of the search terms that have brought people here, and let's just say ... there's no need for Wikipedia when you've got yours truly and The Betty and Boo Chronicles.

Yowza. I will never cease to be amazed at how people find this blog.

I mean, some of the search terms that surfaced make perfect sense. You're primarily searching for authors and books, so yeah ... that's logical that you would land somewhere in this quagmire of posts. (Quagmire must be my favorite word this week, as I think I've used it about three times in the last 24 hours.)

Two of you were searching for "Daniel Rubin," the Inquirer reporter who wrote a column I mentioned in my Best of the Week post about how colleges' commencement speaker selections is not about the students.

You have also been looking for "T. Ryder Smith," "Andrew Sean Greer," "Billy Collins," and "sky magic Stawarski," (I have a theory that in the latter, you might be the author. Am I right? If so, hope you liked the review!)

You also get specific with your literary quests, landing here while looking for "book review of the book HALLOWEEN TREATS by Carolyn Haywood," (which I've never done, although I have written about the children's author Carolyn Haywood and her influence on me), "mickey in the night kitchen," and "chad taylor novelist twitter."

You're also a hungry bunch. You've been looking for "portobello mushroom burgers," "crock pot black eyed pea soup," "shepards pie," and "hash browns." (If you're whipping up one of these concoctions, can you make a little extra so I don't have to make dinner tonight?)

It's kind of a no-brainer that searching for this blog's title will bring you here (at least, I hope so) but what's funny is the variations that show up. A sampling: "Chronicles of Betty and Boo," "bettyboochronicles," "Betty and Boo's mom blog," and "Betty and Boo Chronicles."

Some others: you've arrived here after searching for "best holiday in December," "boos picher," "class president poems," and "Valley Swim Club in Huntingdon Valley lawsuit."

And finally, these last two have me in hysterics.

"define+Martha+Stewart+of+matrimony"

and

"eating fb, breathing fb ... living just like fb." (Hmmm ... should I take that one as a subtle hint that I'm on Facebook a little too often?)

Regardless of how you arrived here, I'm grateful that you did. Enjoy your stay!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Sunday Salon: Saved from a Reading Slump

So in last week's Salon, I lamented that I was in a little bit of a reading slump. I finished - but wasn't crazy about - The History of Love by Nicole Krauss, then started and quickly abandoned Love Falls by Esther Freud, and repeated the same with Flies on the Butter by Denise Hildreth.

I hate being in a reading slump, don't you?

I needn't have worried, as I currently have no less than 22 library books on my night table (it's almost embarrassing to participate in Library Loot these days! :) and surely something was in that stash that could rescue me from the reading malaise.

Sure enough, the answer came in the form of Jayne Pupek's debut novel, Tomato Girl, which I am enjoying very much. Just when you think that things could not descend more into madness for 11 year old Ellie Sanders and her family, Pupek shocks and stuns her reader with a never-ending roller-coaster fright ride of dysfunction that makes for a powerful story. Last night's thunderstorm forced me off the computer earlier than planned and into the bedroom with this wonderful novel, and the storm was a fitting backdrop for the darkness that rocks Tomato Girl. I'm hoping to finish this one today. (Well, there is some major straightening up that is needed around this house ... but somehow, the 100 pages that I have left of Tomato Girl are much more appealing .... )

My audio book this week has been The Painted Drum by Louise Erdrich, which I am also enjoying. I have one pet peeve with audios, though, and that is this: it irks me when female narrators assume a male voice by dropping their tone a few octaves. Note to the producers of audios who do this: hire a male narrator already! It drives me nuts, especially in the case of The Painted Drum which is a compelling, engrossing story but one that is now distracting me because of the male narration in the second half. So, The Painted Drum is now among my 22 library books, and I'll be finishing it via the print version instead of on audio. No matter ... I have a few other audios lined up, and I'm thinking that To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf might be this week's listen.

I'm glad to be out of my reading slump. Those are never fun.

Have you gotten stuck in a quagmire of a reading slump lately? And if so, what book pulled you out of it?

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Guest Post from The Dean: Point of Impact

My husband (known to readers of this blog as The Dean) wrote this post on his blog earlier this week about the release of Abdel Basset Ali Megrahi, the terrorist responsible for the bombing of Pam Am Flight 103 on December 21, 1988 over Lockerbie, Scotland.

It's chilling to think of how these innocent people died. Truly, there could not be a more horrific way to go. One can only hope that Megrahi meets a similar fate.

Point of Impact

Stacie Franklin is 41 years old with a husband and two children. She has lived in her hometown of San Diego for most of her life. Today, she is shopping with her 16-year old daughter in preparation for the upcoming Junior Prom - much to Stacie's horror, mind you.

Rachel Asrelsky, also 41, is busily working in her offices at Columbia University, where she has been a tenured professor since 1995. As she prepares for the annual start-of-term faculty workshops that she dreads like a migraine, she laughs to herself as she remembers what her 4-year old daughter said to her as she was walking out of the door of the day care center this morning: "Don't forget Mommy: Today is Joe Jonas' birthday and I want to make him a card!"

Tom and Bridget Concannon - 71 and 74 respectively - are visiting their 37-year old son, Sean in Hoboken, NJ. The Concannons are Irish - although their son was born when Tom was working in England. Not a few times has Sean made it a point - normally loud enough for his father to hear and thus drive him nuts yet again - that while 'Mum and Dad are Irish; I'm British.' This joking aside, the Concannons remain relatively close, even though Sean moved to the States in 1995. Today, Tom and Bridget are relishing precious time with Sean's three children - their only grandchildren - as a summer sun sets over the New York City skyline behind them.

What I just wrote is fantasy. It is fiction. It never happened. It never happened because of Abdel Basset Ali Megrahi. Although Megrahi never met Stacie Franklin, Rachel Asrelsky, Tom Concannon, Bridget Concannon or Sean Concannon, he saw fit to end their lives on December 21, 1988 by blowing the airplane in which they were flying out of the sky over Lockerbie, Scotland. Among the 270 killed that day were 20-year old flight attendant Stacie Franklin, 21-year old student Rachel Asrelsky, as well as 51-year old Tom Concannon, his 53-year old wife Bridget and their 16-year old son Sean.

Without getting into the reams and reams of documents that detail the Lockerbie terrorist attack perpetrated by Meghrahi - a Libyan intelligence agent - and his network, suffice it to say that the deaths of his victims were horrific. When the bomb planted by Meghrahi's agents - inside a Sony Walkman - detonated, it separated the cockpit from the rest of the plane. In the immediate aftermath of that separation, tornado-force winds tore through the fuselage, tearing clothes off passengers and turning insecurely-fixed items like food and drink trolleys into lethal objects. Because of the sudden change in air pressure, the gases inside the passengers' bodies expanded to four times their normal volume, causing their lungs to swell and then collapse. People and objects not fixed down were been blown out of the aircraft into the minus-50 degree outside air, their 31,000-foot fall lasting about two minutes. That's right, two minutes. Not seconds. Minutes. Free falling in the air. Until the point of impact.

Some passengers remained attached to the fuselage by their seat belts, crashing in Lockerbie strapped to their seats. Although the passengers would have lost consciousness through lack of oxygen, forensic examiners believe some of them regained consciousness as they fell toward oxygen-rich lower altitudes. Forensic pathologist Dr. William G. Eckert, director of the Milton Helpern International Center of Forensic Sciences at Wichita State University, who examined the autopsy evidence, told Scottish police he believed the flight crew, some of the flight attendants - including Stacie Franklin - and 147 other passengers survived the bomb blast and depressurization of the aircraft, and were alive on impact.

Repeat: alive on the point of impact.

Eckert came to this conclusion because none of these passengers showed signs of injury from the explosion itself, or from the decompression and disintegration of the aircraft. Eckert told Scottish police that distinctive marks on 55-year old American Captain James MacQuarrie's thumb suggested he had been hanging onto the yoke of the plane as it descended, and was alive when the plane crashed. The captain, first officer, flight engineer, a flight attendant - Stacie Franklin - and a number of first-class passengers were found still strapped to their seats inside the nose section when it crashed in a field by a farm in the village of Tundergarth.

Franklin, incredibly, was alive when found by the farmer's wife. She died before her rescuer could summon help.

Remember all of this as you read how the only man ever convicted of the attack left Scotland this week - on a Libyan jet - flying safely through the same skies he bombed his victims out of 21 years ago and arrived in Tripoli to a hero's welcome. A hero's welcome.

That man, Megrahi, was not even arrested until 1999. That is, he lived in freedom for 11 years after ending those 270 lives. Once caught, it took two more years to convict Megrahi. Unfortunately, it was the British who caught him. Had it been the Americans, he would have been eligible for the death penalty. Because the British have been pussified into believing that somehow capital punishment is 'cruel and unusual', the most they could give Megrahi was a life sentence, which was handed down in 2001 by a Scottish court.

How did 'life' translate into 10 years in prison? Well, in announcing Megrahi's release, Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill intoned that "when such an appalling crime is committed, it is appropriate that a severe sentence be imposed." Yes, you read that right: this asshole Scottish politician seemed to be saying that the 10-year sentence was enough. Another way of looking at it, of course, is to say that MacAskill [or, as I like to call him Mac Ass Kill] was saying that a severe sentence of life should be imposed, but not necessarily carried out.

As pissed as I am about the 12 days in prison Vince Fumo will serve for each of his felony convictions, the mind reels when you realize that Megrahi served a little less than 14 days for each of the victims he killed. About two weeks. And you thought your life was worth more, I'll bet.

Megrahi's release is being justified on compassionate grounds: he is thankfully terminally ill with an aggressive form of prostate cancer - which one hopes is incredibly painful. In some patients, surgeons have to castrate patients with advanced prostate cancer in a drastic effort to stop the spread of the disease. I'm going to prefer to believe that this is what's happened to Megrahi. And that they performed the procedure with a plastic spoon and no anesthesia. Megrahi is said to have as little as three months to live. The Earth's fiery core awaits him.

While that is wonderful, this 'compassion' being afforded a man who - to this day - has refused to admit his guilt is abhorrent. Mac Ass added further insult to injury with a cryptic remark that Megrahi faces "a sentence imposed by a higher power." Apparently, then, the existence of God has been confirmed by the British courts. Since I'm not really convinced of that, however, I must point out that a life sentence should mean that a man ends his days in prison - in this case, a foreign prison [in Scotland for the Libyan Megrahi]. He should not end his days in the bosom of his family and country to a hero's welcome.

The real injustice - and one President Obama must vigorously protest in person to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown the next time they have tea - is that Scotland's decision to release this motherfucker is a result of a recent prisoner transfer agreement between Libya and the U.K. The agreement calls for Britain to release prisoners in return for Libya granting lucrative arms and energy contracts to British companies. The U.S. had no say in the matter, despite the fact that the vast majority of victims of the disaster were American. Put another way, Megrahi's release was a tacit quid pro quo for lucrative energy and arms deals for U.K. firms.

This cold-blooded killer's release is a reminder of what happens when terrorism is treated as a problem for the criminal justice system. Scottish pol Mac Ass had the balls to sit there and congratulate Scotland (and himself) on the superior virtue his decision supposedly evinces. Of course, terrorists will surely draw a different lesson about the will of the West to confront and punish them. And the compassion that is still owed those made bereft by the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 has now been tainted by a second Lockerbie outrage.

No matter how vigorously the British justice system protests that this is not so, the fact is that the entire judicial system of Her Majesty is now irrevocably tainted by this corrupt bargain.

And, every time a British company lands a deal in Libya from here on out, the families of the 270 victims will be reminded that their loved ones paid for it with their lives nearly 21 years ago over Scotland.

While still alive. Until the point of impact.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Comfortably Numb

"You're a good person to ask about this," said my dentist, as he held the arm's-length needle of Novacaine in mid-air.

"Uh ... " I replied, eyeing the needle.

"No, you really are," he insisted.

Seems that Dr. B. met with someone selling dental supplies recently, and apparently, there is a shot that a patient could receive that would pretty much reduce the duration of Novacaine, post-dental procedure. So you'd still have your Novacaine fix during your root canal (as was the case for yours truly this morning), but you would have the option to have another shot that would eliminate the Novacaine aftermath. No more puffy cheek feeling, no more drooling and slurring one's words, no more mistakenly chomping down on one's tongue or lips. Avoiding this would cost $20.

"Sign me up," I answered.

And then I thought about it a little more. (Believe you me, I had ample time to do so, given the fact that a tooth of mine was in the very capable hands of Dr. B. for a total of two hours this morning.)

This probably makes me sound like a junkie, but Novacaine and I are pretty good buds. And that's because Dr. B. whips up a special concoction for me, a dosage known as "The 3%," which wears off in half the time as your normal, garden-variety elixir of numb. I'm usually back to normal in an hour or so, as opposed to the four hours it takes me with the regular dosage.

I get The 3% because I can't stand the sensation of the prolonged after-effects. I want it over, done with. I want to resume my life, go out in public, without appearing like someone who just had dental work.

(Today, however, was a different story. For the first time in the 15 years I've been his patient, I asked Dr. B. for the maximum amount of Novacaine that he could legally give me. Agony doesn't quite describe the pain I was in.)

As drills whirred and shrilled, and as I continued to enjoy being comfortably numb, I thought about what if there was an after-Novacaine shot to shorten life's jagged edges. If there was something legal that could shorten the duration of, say, the crap one has to go through in life.

Your spouse files for divorce - wham! Novacaine shot that fast-forwards you to a day when you can be civil to one another.

Your kid gets an autism diagnosis? One Novacaine shot coming up, catapulting you right through the multitude of therapies, the sleepless nights of self-doubt, the anger and rage, passing GO right onto the imagined nirvana of Acceptance.

Loved one dies? Got yer Novacaine shot right here, rocketing you through the five stages of grief to the day when you can live again.

How many of us would take the shot in these cases? I'm betting a lot of us, probably myself included. We don't want to go through this shit. Save the lessons learned that sometimes come from such trials and travails. Or how many of us would choose to keep the $20, to forego the shot, to accept whatever comes our way, crap and all?

(Such deep thoughts while under the spell of Novacaine for two hours, huh? You know you're a blogger when you're mentally composing that day's blog post mid-root canal.)

We'd miss out on a lot by choosing to numb the heartache, I think. It might be tempting to do so, but maybe there's something to be said for not taking the easy way out. To meet head-on what comes our way. To let the process unfold in the way that it is meant to, and to allow it to have the effect on us that is intended.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Word Verification Balderdash - August 27

Time for another fun week of Word Verification Balderdash! This fun meme is hosted by Bookjourney over at One Persons Journey Through Books. Basically, the idea is to take all those words we all get in Word Verification while commenting on blogs, and come up with definitions for them.

I had a harder time this week than last, but it is still great fun. (Not to mention it is a creative challenge. I just love me a creative challenge!) Here's what I came up with for definitions.

galitat - (pronounced "GAL-lee-tat") - the forced pleasantries of the conversation that you have at the office holiday party with that despised (but powerful) coworker that makes your spouse/partner miserable.

"The Winter Faculty Soiree was lovely, although I could have done without having to make a half hour of galitat with Dr. Thomas. Seeing him once a year is more than enough."

pronstal - (pronounced "pron-stall") - the phenomenon that occurs when you plan so precisely to get out of the house at a certain time, you're right on schedule (and maybe even on time for once) ... and your child/ren throw a temper tantrum, need to change clothes for the upteenth time, or decide they must take a toy with them that hasn't been seen for six months.

"We would have been here a half hour ago, but Betty's pronstal made us late ... as per usual."

obsoc (rhymes with "lob-sock") - what you call the lone remaining sock in the dryer after the other one has disappeared into Laundry Purgatory.

"For once in my life, I'd like to know what it is like to do laundry without dealing with an obsoc."

If you'd like to play along, stop over at One Persons Journey Through Books!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Living Vicariously through the FB PDAs

(photo of the fountain at the Philadelphia Zoo, taken by me)

They are 17 and they are - make no doubt about it - absolutely, unequivocally in love.

Love taking hold is a wonderously frightening thing to behold.

They are 17, and I am watching their young romance blossom through their Facebook status updates. I find myself smiling at each of their updates, their exchanges of "ILY!" multiple times a day.

I'm learning the modern day lingo of the lovestruck while expressing myself like the unhip 40 year old second-cousin-by-marriage that I am.

"You are both so cute," I comment. "I love living vicariously and nostalgically through you. Seriously."

And I am, living vicariously and nostalgically. (I don't care if it's not really a word.) Remembering those breezy days of living and breathing another.

The irony is not lost on me; her parents are the very reason why The Dean and I are sharing a wireless connection tonight. Her Facebook postings about this young love return me to a time gone by, a time where I remember her parents (now divorced) celebrating their first year of dating with a midnight kiss and cake, a room full of friends drunkenly trying to remember what comes after should old acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind in "Auld Lang Syne." Remembering her father calling us - on the landline phone! - to say she had been born. (Fancy such a thing, such quaint exchange of news back in the days pre-Facebook.)

And I want to believe her beau when he replies to my comment that it is the truth, that he is wishing and hoping that they'll stay together forever. That no distance can separate them. They can get through anything.

They are 17 and they are in love.

With a whole life of love to live.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Book Review: Looking for Alaska, by John Green

Looking for Alaska, by John Green

Since I've been reading book blogs, I've been hearing about the greatness of young adult fiction - and similarly, about the books authored by John Green.

While browsing in the library's teen section recently, I came across Looking for Alaska, John Green's debut novel, and decided to see what all the buzz was about. I hadn't read any of John Green's work, and aside from Beth Kephart's books, I haven't read much young adult fiction since I was a young adult (a million years ago).

And after reading this, I realized that the buzz is well-deserved.

Reading this shortly after the death of John Hughes made me compare Looking for Alaska to some aspects of The Breakfast Club. Both have some similarities, I think. This coming-of-age novel is a glimpse into the lives of a group of gifted, quirky, slightly adrift students at Culver Creek, a boarding school in Alabama.

There's Miles (nicknamed Pudge), fascinated by the last words of famous (and not-so-famous) people and quoting them on demand and as the situation warrants. There's Chip (nicknamed The Colonel), Pudge's roommate who enjoys memorizing alphabetical lists. There's a few other assorted hangers-on, Takumi and Lara among them.

And then there's Alaska, whose unconventional parents allowed her to choose her own name at age 7 and who doesn't have a nickname. She's brilliant, beautiful, mysterious, and extremely well-read. If she was real, Alaska Young would undoubtedly have a Book Blogger Appreciation Week award winning blog.

Life is not completely idyllic at Culver Creek along the wooded paths of finding oneself amid schoolwork, practical jokes and pranks, imbibing in too many bottles of wine, and the tangle of relationships. As the reader accompanies the characters along their journey of discovery, we accompany them with a growing, gnawing and knowing sense of foreshadowing and foreboding, thanks to chapter headings titled simply "one hundred nine days before" and "forty seven days before" and "twenty-nine days after."

Looking for Alaska is recommended for ages 12 and up. I think this has a powerful message (without being preachy) for young teens as well as those approaching their college years. (Especially the latter, the more I think of it.) While reading, I was reminded - oh so very much - of my own group of college friends and of two particular incidents that occurred during our collegiate years. Reading Looking for Alaska brought me right back to an emotional evening in the dormitory lounge, seven of us talking with the residential life director about one of our friends, about what we knew and when we knew it. About how I still think back on that night and that experience every time I still hear her name, more than 20 years later.

As I said earlier, I haven't read much young adult fiction since my teenage days, but I've been adding more to my repertoire after reading such great reviews on samples of the genre from other book bloggers. If you're like me and wish to push your literary horizons into the realm of young adult fiction, Looking for Alaska is a very good place to start.

My rating: 4.5. Solid, well-paced plot and very memorable characters. Occasionally, the language and cursing can be a little heavy. Hence the reason for the 4.5 instead of a full 5.

Other reviews:
Bart's Bookshelf
Becky’s Book Reviews
The Bluestocking Society
Book Gazing
Melody's Reading Corner
Not Enough Bookshelves
nothing of importance (my everyday blog)
Stella Matutina
Stuff as Dreams are Made On
Things Mean a Lot
Tiny Little Reading Room
Out of the Blue
Em's Bookshelf
Books.Lists.Life
Sassymonkey Reads
Books & Other Thoughts
Book Addiction
Care's Online Bookclub
where troubles melt like lemon drops
Valentina's Room
Flight Into Fantasy
In Spring it is the Dawn
The 3Rs Blog
and last but certainly not least, John Green's blog

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Best of the Week - August 16-23, 2009

I'm spending some time getting acquainted with Mrs. Douglas and acclimating her to our home today (as well as getting ready for the kids' first day of school tomorrow!). While I'm otherwise engaged, here are some links of great stuff from around the blogosphere this week.


Reading Rumpus has a great list of books to help elementary school kids get back into the school spirit as well as a list of books for preschoolers embarking on their very first First Day of School. (These were actually posted back on the 14th, but I am forever trying to get caught up with Google Reader - plus, it's still timely.)

How popular was this Grand Opening of the newly-renovated Kirkwood branch of the New Castle Co. (Del.) library system? So popular that 3,000 people stopped by on its new first day (300 of them in the first 15 minutes!) The design of the new building has been controversial (mainly because of the aesthetics not appealing to everyone) but the popularity of the library proves that you really can't judge a book by its cover.


Amplify Our Voices writes an open letter to Miley Cyrus in response to the outcry following her recent performance on the Teen Choice Awards. I admit I am one of those parents who wants the performers my daughter looks up to and tries to emulate to be the squeakiest of squeaky clean. This open letter is thought-provoking.


Speaking of letters, I just love (and celebrate) the fact that these two women, Sue Parr and Sheila Rollins, have been pen-pals for 60 years. It's a great story of a friendship spanning decades and the distance of an ocean.


My friend Robin, who writes the exquisite blog, simple.green.organic.happy, had a lovely post this week about how children like kites and how much they are like kites. The photo of her daughter is worth the visit over to one of my favorite blogs, which I am so glad is back from its hiatus. Expect more Best Of posts from this one in the future.

A glimpse into the Bob Novak as he was off the screen, as told by wowOwow (Women on the Web) writer Julia Reed, who met the journalist when she was eight years old and remained friends until his death, this past Monday. (Regardless of your politics and views on Novak, this is a great read.)

I'm not sure if this concept would work for everyone, but the thought of developing your next job (as opposed to hunting for it) as posted on idealist.org is an interesting one.

Today's edition of The New York Times Magazine focuses on Empowering, Funding, and Educating Women. (I haven't read this yet, but I plan to.) Britt Bravo's blog, Have Fun, Do Good, is aa new addition to my Google Reader, and I'm grateful to her for mentioning this issue of the NYT Magazine.

Enjoy your week, everyone!

The Sunday Salon 8-23-09: Summer Reading, Went By So Fast ....

A new school year begins in less than 24 hours for us! Truly hard to believe. I'm parenting solo today (The Dean is working), taking the kids up to the Humane Association to finalize our family's adoption of Mrs. Douglas, getting ready for school, and finishing up the Summer Reading Book logs.

Ah, yes ... the Summer Reading Logs. Back in June, Betty and Boo came home with the suggested summer reading lists for their age group and their project instructions.

And as always, this caused me a bit of consternation.

Don't get me wrong - I love, love, love the concept of summer reading, suggested books, book-related projects, and the whole gamut. In my world, the entire summer from start to finish should be spent reading.

However, I must say I think our school district sets the expectations a bit low for this. My kids are going into 2nd grade, and the requirements this summer were that the kids needed to read (or be read to) for a minimum of one hour a week.

Read that again. One hour a WEEK! What's that, less than 10 minutes a day? Is that me, or does that seem kind of puny? (Oh, and they were allowed to take a week off. From reading. Presumably, not the Wii or anything else. Reading.)

Now, I know each kid has different reading abilities and maybe, for some resistant readers, less than 10 minutes of reading per day is all that's going to happen. But, clearly, I expect more. So my summer reading project was to encourage my kids to do more than what's expected without turning them into the likes of the kids I went to school with. (I mean, I went to middle school with kids who spent their summers whizzing through the next grade level's math textbooks, only to start the next school year a grade or two higher than the rest of their peers. Needless to say, such super-achievers made average students like me, the valedictorian of the bottom half of our class, look and feel inadequate, at best. No, I'm not still bitter nearly three decades later ... why you ask?)

Back to the present day's reading reality show. I think we did pretty well, if I do say so myself. At the beginning of the summer, Betty and Boo each set a goal for how many books they planned to read.

Betty said 100. As of this morning, she's at 98.

For Boo, 60 books was the magic number. He's at 75. And they'll each come in around 75 or so hours of summer reading time.

I'm so proud of them, mainly because they did this on their own, with hardly any pushing from me (honestly!). They were the ones who asked if we could read together every night. And we have, usually tucked in together in the guest room for close to an hour every night, just reading silently to ourselves.

Not paying attention to the time ticking away.
* * * *
As for my own reading, this was a "meh" week in regards to books. I finished The History of Love by Nicole Krauss.

I'll have a review up at some point but I gotta say ... I know people rave about this book and it has gotten wide acclaim, but it didn't do it for me. I spent a good part of the book confused, getting so frustrated at one point that I considered abandoning it with less than 70 pages to go. Great premise, good characters (albeit too many of them, I think) but the structure was really tough for me to follow.

I also started (and abandoned) Love Falls, by Esther Freud. Yep, you're right, the author would indeed be Sigmund's great-granddaughter.

I admit that was the attraction for me to this book, but I abandoned it last night after 65 pages when nothing happened except several swims in an Italian pool, some skeevish behavior by the father, and a stuffy party with stereotypical, flat characters.

And now, that brings us to today, The Sunday Salon, and a new cat. I'm hoping to have some reading time today with Flies On the Butter, by Denise Hildreth, which I chose for the name and also because it represents (to me) something familiar and different at the same time.


It's Southern fiction, which I love, but it is also categorized as Christian fiction, which I've never read (that I know of). I owe a nod to My Friend Amy for inspiring me to try this, knowing of how many terrific-sounding books she has reviewed on her lovely blog that just so happen to be Christian fiction. (Actually, Amy deserves more than a nod this week, as she's doing an incredibly amazing job heading up Book Blogger Appreciation Week, which has resulted in my being nominated for two completed unexpected and much-appreciated awards.)

Hope your week is filled with new starts, new beginnings (and of course, new books!)

UPDATE: It's Sunday evening and I thought I'd catch up on a little reading before "Mad Men." (Love, love, love that show!) I'm here to announce that I am officially in a Reading Funk. First, the lackluster History of Love. Then, the abandonment of Love Falls. Tonight, Flies on the Butter was the latest book to be cast aside. (A shame, as I liked the title and cover.) In 35 pages, I wasn't sufficiently hooked by the details of the main character's Lexus, her Blackberry, or her speeding ticket to continue much further.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Meeting Mrs. Douglas

It's been almost 11 months.

It is time.

On October 1, we said goodbye to our gray cat Pepper, a constant presence in our lives since 1997. We'd had her for 11 years, her entire life, after getting her from our vet as a balm after the death of our previous (and first) cat, Clinton Gore.

Betty became the most attached to Pepper and has not taken her loss very well. It contributed to some issues throughout the entire school year. When drawing, she still includes a gray cat in her pictures. Just last week during a pottery class at camp, Betty made - you guessed it - a small gray cat with a pink heart. It sits, gazing at her during the night ("keeping me safe") on her night table. She's talking to a professional about all this.

And while the three of us were reading together the other night, Boo asked for the definition of heartbroken. I described it as the feeling you get when you think your heart might break or is broken. I said, "Like how we felt when Pepper died. We were heartbroken."

Betty immediately burst into tears. "I'm still heartbroken," she sobbed. "My heart will always be broken."

I'd been resistent to a new cat - until that very moment. My heart will always be broken. Holy crap. I'd have to have an ironclad, unbreakable heart to continue saying no to a cat after that.

It's been 11 months. It is time.

So Betty and I started spending some time each evening looking at picture after picture of cats and kittens on Petfinder.com, on the website of our local Humane Association, at rescue organizations within a 50 mile drive of our house. And then we came across this:

I'm a cute little black kitty with a white spot on my chest. I have beautiful eyes! I was thought to be a boy by the family that found me. They called me Douglas, but I fooled them because I'm a little GIRL! Hence DHA added the Mrs. to my name. I'm small but full grown. I'm active, friendly, playful and affectionate. I don't claw the furniture, I don't bite, and I don't climb the drapes. I'm telling you, I'M GREAT! I really enjoy playing with stuffed animals. I like children and have lived with other cats. I am just in need of affection and I REALLY want to be part of a family. Perhaps you can come and check me out and see how nice I am. Just ask to see MRS. Douglas! I'll probably be rubbing up against your legs...so look down when you come in!

We clicked on photo after photo of other cats, but kept coming back to Mrs. Douglas. Maybe it was the enthusiastic copy, but there was something about her. Had to be the name, the same as my beloved uncle, who died 13 years ago and who I will forever miss. And Mrs. Douglas' birthday is thought to be the day after my grandfather's, who recently passed away. Plus, we kind of have a history of adopting female cats with male-sounding names (witness Clinton Gore, who was a female cat but who came to our door as we were volunteering for the ' 92 Clinton-Gore campaign.)

Today, we took a trip to the Humane Association, visited with the kittens and cats, and inquired about Mrs. Douglas. The person helping us looked puzzled. "Mrs. Douglas? I don't know that one ... I guess she went to a new home."

Slightly dejected, we pulled out the list of other potential cats we'd researched. Another person came along, and she pulled the files on Rainbow, SUV, and the Momma Mia kitties.

And Mrs. Douglas, the first name on my list.

"She's still here?" we said hopefully. And off we went, again, back into the cat room, our helpful humane association friend scanning the microchips in the cats, and there on a windowsill, almost as if she was waiting for someone, we found Mrs. Douglas.

Betty jumped up and down. "It's Douglas!" she squealed.

We filled out the paperwork and made an appointment to come back tomorrow at 2. I caught a glance at Mrs. Douglas' file. As a 1.5 year old cat, she'd been at the shelter quite awhile ... almost exactly the length of time that we'd been without a pet.

It's been 11 months.

It is time.

Book Review (Kids): Tough Chicks, by Cece Meng

Tough Chicks, by Cece Meng, illustrated by Melissa Suber

Perhaps you, like me, are a parent who is just a wee bit tired of the plethora of princesses and teenybopper pop stars taking hold of your young daughter's mind (not to mention your TV, your satellite radio, and everything else).

Can I have a Miley or a Wizard of Waverly Place, anyone? Or maybe that's just in the Betty and Boo house.

As Betty becomes more and more enamored with these oh-so-realistic worlds, I'm becoming more and more conscious of the messages being communicated. I try to strike that balance between allowing her to enjoy her interests, but also stimulating her mind with strong examples of girls who are strong in spirit, in determination, and independence.

Enter the Tough Chicks, created by children's author Cece Meng and illustrator Melissa Suber. From the book jacket:

"From the moment Penny, Polly, and Molly hatch from their eggs, the whole farm knows they are truly tough chicks. They wrestle worms, rope roosters, and are often found under the hood of the tractor. All the other animals and even the farmer himself tell Mama Hen to make her chicks good. "They are good!" Mama Hen replies."

Mama Hen is aware that her three chicks don't conform to the society's expectations of what chicks should be and do.

"Mama Hen looked at the other chicks. Some were preening their first feathers under the morning sun.

Others were quickly pecking grain from the henhouse floor.

Two were hiding under their mama's wing, afraid to come out.

"My chicks are different, all right," thought Mama Hen. "But they're tough and they're smart and they're different in a good way."

Farmer Fred doesn't always see the chicks' positive qualities, and thinks they should develop some different ones.

"When Farmer Fred found the chicks looking under the hood of his tractor again, it was the last straw. He leaned forward and fixed the chicks with a stern eye.

'You are little fuzzy-headed chicks. Be cute. Be quiet. Be good. And stay away from my tractor. I have hay to move before the rain comes."

But all the time the chicks have spent peering under the hood of the tractor, curious as to its workings, pays off. When Farmer Fred's tractor needs repairs and he's gotta move the hay, there's only three chicks to turn to in order to help get the tractor running again.

To quote the book jacket, this is a "delightfully different farmyard romp that's also a resounding endorsement for letting girls be girls (even if they're loud and tough and like to play with tractors.)"

Here, here!

I absolutely loved this book, which is recommended by Publishers Weekly for ages 4-8. Highly recommended as a great story to help show girls that it is OK to be different and to not conform to others' expectations of what a "good chick" should do.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Happiness, Doubled by Wonder

I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought;
and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.

Being new to Book Blogger Appreciation Week, I wasn't quite sure what to expect with the nomination process for awards. Like hundreds of others, I registered my blog, submitted my nominations, and watched to see what would unfold.

The other evening I opened my email to find one from My Friend Amy, sharing the news that I was nominated for Best New Blog.

I woke up The Dean (who responded by mumbling something incoherent about winning the lottery and early retirement) and got to work culling through 419 posts to find five that would fit the category of Best New Blog.

And then I wasn't quite sure what to do next. (Well, OK, I did update my Facebook status. As the clock strikes midnight, usually the only people who want to hear from you at that hour are on Facebook or Twitter.)

Was it considered proper to announce that one had received a nomination? Or in bad taste? Was this like the Academy Awards (personally, it is a bigger deal to me) whereby the nominees are announced weeks in advance? Are there BBAW parties on awards night? If someone was also nominated in the same category and was a reader of said blog, how would that blogger feel? And vice versa?

I decided to follow other bloggers' leads and in doing so, I've been noticing over the past few days that people have been announcing their nominations. (And they're all great blogs, and all so well-deserved.) So, I'm following suit.

I've been nominated in two categories - the aforementioned Best New Blog and Best Writing. It sounds like a cliche, but I am speechless and truly honored to be even considered. Thank you to those who thought of me for these awards. I work hard on my blog, and am very appreciative to you for reading and for commenting.

As I wrote in my blogiversary post last week, I knew I would like this blogging thing of ours. I just had no idea how much I'd fall in love with it. How much it would sustain me.

So thank you, so very much. Regardless of what happens from here, I am filled with happiness, doubled by wonder.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Word Verification Balderdash

There's a new meme in town, folks, and it's being hosted by Bookjourney over at One Persons Journey Through Books. Basically, the idea is to take all those words we all get in Word Verification while commenting on blogs, and come up with definitions for them.

I just love this.

So for the past week, I've been keeping track of my Word Verifications. Here's what I came up with for definitions.

comotogr - (pronounced "como-tog-ger", like photographer)
that annoying parent (uh ... ahem, guilty as charged here) incessantly snapping photos of their precious cherub in the school play, soccer game, etc., almost as if they (the parent) are in a trance or a coma.

"That crazy bee-otch mom needs to stop being such a comotgr and sit the hell down so the rest of us can actually see some of this play."

ravac - (pronounced "rave-vack") - someone who feels compelled to vacuum incessantly

deigents - (pronounced "DAY-gents") - people employed as agents, but only for priests.

spridork (pronounced "SPREE-dork") - that person in high school who was always so dorky, but who has turned into a really cool person as an adult.

"I couldn't believe that guy at the reunion was really Dwayne! He's turned into quite the spridork!"

prest - the nanosecond of time in which you finally sit down, only to have one of your children yell that they need MOMMMMMMMYYYYYY!!!!!! RIIIIIIIIGHT!!!!!! NOWWWWWWW!!!!!

kaugl - (pronounced "call-gull") the exercise one does by mistake when attempting to do a Kegel; the half-assed version of a Kegel exercise.

atillis - sibling of Atilla the Hun, or a person having the qualities of such.

pingerai - a group of people sitting together in a common area (like a cafeteria) in silence, but texting each other on their cell phones, Blackberries, etc.

pabinabl - (pronounced "pay-been-able") - someone who is incredibly wealthy, but never seems to have any money when it comes time to pay for lunch, coffee, or the parking meter.

"Once again, Blaine didn't have any money this week when we went to Starbucks, but yet he just bought a new Porsche. What a freakin' pabinabl!"

Could this possibly be more fun? Yes, it could - if you play along too. Remember to visit Bookjourney and leave the link to your post over there.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Book Review: Nothing But Ghosts, by Beth Kephart

“Maybe love, I think, is the biggest thing there is. Maybe love also contains the most amount of ruin …. Maybe loving once means some part of you is stuck loving forever – loving and chasing and living with whatever you’re lucky enough to remember.” ~ from Nothing But Ghosts

Katie D’Amore knows a little something about love, about ruin, and about that part of each one of our souls that is stuck loving forever and struggling to discover how to live with what we’re lucky to remember.

Nothing But Ghosts is considered a young-adult novel, which is somewhat unfortunate because some readers might pass it by on that alone. They would be doing themselves a disservice, however, because Nothing But Ghosts is really a story for anyone who has ever loved anyone – which, let’s face it, is most of us.

It’s the story of Katie, whose 16-year old heart is cracked down the middle as a result of the loss of her mother just a few months earlier. It’s the story of her equally brokenhearted father, who Katie is close with and who, by preparing elaborate dinners and setting the table for three, instead of two, is mourning the loss of the love of his life.

It’s the story of Katie’s summer job at the nearby estate of Miss Martine, a recluse for more than 50 years, and what she finds – literally and figuratively – while digging through the ruins of the estate to build a gazebo, the ultimate symbol of romance and love.

It's the story of Katie's dad's job as a restorer of paintings, discoverer of the secrets just buried just under the surface waiting patiently for years, decades to be found.

The crack in Katie’s heart will heal somewhat, but those of us who have experienced the loss of someone so beloved and precious know that there will always be a fine line there. Especially when the loss is that of a parent, in the years when you’re just beginning to know them – and they you.

Nothing But Ghosts is everything – a mystery from time gone by, a romance in bloom, a travelogue, a poem within a novel. Only a writer as talented and gifted with words as Beth Kephart can manage to successfully weave all these elements together in a way that results in a beautiful story for the ages and for all ages.

Yes, Katie knows about love, about ruin, about being stuck loving forever and being lucky to remember.

And thankfully, so does Beth Kephart.

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars. I read this in one sitting and have already recommended it as a birthday present for a 16 year old avid reader. And in the interest of full disclosure that some bloggers are doing, I bought this book myself, from Amazon.com. It was purchased as part of the book drive hosted by My Friend Amy, but I would have bought this regardless, being that I adore Beth and her writing.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

You're My Home

(Not my home, nor one that I've ever lived in, but this photo that I took of a house in my mom's neighborhood earlier this spring is very reminiscent of the house I write about in today's post. From what I can tell, they are gutting and reconstructing the left side of the house while keeping the other part intact. Or something like that.)

Certain dates are Post-It'ed on my brain. I may not always remember the third thing we needed to get at the grocery store, but why should that matter when I can tell you when I met my high school boyfriend (February 9, 1986), the date of my first plane ride (July 12, 1985), or Marie Osmond's birthday (October 13, 1959). OK, I admit ... I needed to look up the year on that last one, but hey, gimme props for knowing the date.

And whenever August 18 rolls around, I'm kind of beset by a little twinge of nostalgia.

It was 30 years ago today my family moved into the house that I consider to be my childhood home. We only lived there for 10 formative years, but to me, it was the place where I thought I would be returning during breaks from college and where my best friend planned my wedding in the back yard. You'll be behind the oak tree there, I can still hear her say, neither of us giving any thought to the fact that me and my wedding gown in the middle of a pachysandra patch would have given my grandmother her fifth heart attack on the spot.

The omens weren't good for that house, it seemed. Mere days before we moved in, a hurricane blew down the above-ground pool in the backyard. My parents were secretly delighted; I was likely belligerent, insisting on it being replaced pronto, counting on a pool to win me friends and admirers afar.

A tree toppled on the house a few weeks (days?) after my father died, barely missing my brother's room.

And we won't even go into the battles with the batty neighbor next door, the details of which (right down to the hour and minute of the occurance) have been meticulously preserved in an extensive document that my father titled, in his simplistic style, "The Log." (You want a best-seller? That, my friends, is some great material, laugh-out-laugh-till-you-pee-your-pants moments there.)

We moved away from that house a decade later. Another decade later, The Dean and I moved around the corner. And when a posterboard was stapled to the telephone pole of our town's busiest street with GARAGE SALE and the address of my beloved home, I was determined to go. And I did.

I wasn't going to tell them who I was, but I'm kind of cursed with cultured pearls of DNA that compell one to tell total strangers all kinds of details about one's life. I come by this trait honestly, from my grandmother. So, who was I kidding when I say that I had no intention of telling these people I used to live in their house?

The next thing I knew, I was being hugged like a millionaire relative and offered a tour of the house. No thanks, I demurred. I knew what it looked like. They insisted, they wanted me to see some changes they'd made. I agreed, feeling a little like Alice falling down the rabbit hole.

Their transformations twisted my heart. They'd torn down walls and put them up where there weren't supposed to be any. There were additions and new features, soaring skylights. Entire rooms of my life, now dust in the wind, knocked down like the above-ground pool. The backyard, no longer the scene of Weddings R' Us.

I left, politely, but feeling nauseous and stupid and inferior amid their interior largesse. They invited me back with my mom, my brother, my husband and kids. Sure, I replied weakly. We'll do that.

What made them think that I would want to see this house of horrors? I thought, driving off.

I've driven by a few times since, but I'll never again step inside. I don't need to.

I have August 18.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Book Review: Loving Frank, by Nancy Hoban

Loving Frank, by Nancy Hoban
(library book, chosen by me)

It's kind of ironic that I'm watching a house being built right outside my window as I'm thinking about this book detailing the love affair between famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Borthwick Cheney.

The street outside my dining room window has had cement mixers churning, cranes straining their necks high into the sky, and construction workers laying the foundation for a new home.

This whole scene seems kind of poignant when thinking about Loving Frank. The homes he built. The homes ruined because of his illicit, scandalous affair with Mamah Borthwick Cheney.


I knew very little about Frank Lloyd Wright before reading this book, other than his accomplishments as an architect. I'd also never heard of Mamah Borthwick Cheney (pronounced MAY-mah) nor of their relationship, the subject of Loving Frank.

From the book jacket (as found on Amazon.com):

I have been standing on the side of life, watching it float by. I want to swim in the river. I want to feel the current.

So writes Mamah Borthwick Cheney in her diary as she struggles to justify her clandestine love affair with Frank Lloyd Wright. Four years earlier, in 1903, Mamah and her husband, Edwin, had commissioned the renowned architect to design a new home for them. During the construction of the house, a powerful attraction developed between Mamah and Frank, and in time the lovers, each married with children, embarked on a course that would shock Chicago society and forever change their lives.

During the reading of this book (or listening, as I did on audio), it's important to keep in mind that this takes place in the early 1900s. In those times, it was taboo for a mother to abandon her children for a lover. (Not to say that such actions are condoned nowadays ... just that it was a different time).

But abandoning John and Martha, her very young children, is exactly what Mamah does. She breaks the news to them while the three are enjoying a Colorado vacation together, a trip purposefully taken without Mamah's husband Edwin, the children's father.

"Mamah spoke slowly. 'Now, listen carefully. I'm going to leave tomorrow to go on a trip to Europe. You will stay here with the Browns until Papa arrives in a couple of days. I'm going on a small vacation.'

"John burst into tears. 'I thought we were on one.'

"Mamah's heart sank. 'One just for me,' she said, struggling to stay calm. . . .

Mamah lay down on the bed and pulled their small curled bodies toward her, listening as John's weeping gave way to a soft snore."

Indeed, Mamah leaves her children, her husband fetching them within a few days, and sails overseas to begin a new life with Frank Lloyd Wright.

She is gone for more than a year (maybe longer, I can't quite recall.)

I had some difficulty with this part of the book, complicated by the knowledge that this really happened while truly understanding Mamah's sense of confinement, of wanting more out of life than the times she lived in could offer her, of needing to pursue her intellectual curiosities and to love the greatest love of her life. And I'm glad that she had the opportunity to do so, especially given that she died young. (Coincidentally, this past weekend marked the 95th anniversary of Mamah's death, on August 15, 1914. That's all I'm going to say about that.)

While overseas with Frank, Mamah pursues all of these ambitions and strikes up a friendship with the Swedish feminist writer Ellen Key. According to Wikipedia, Key wrote "on many subjects in the fields of family life, ethics and education .... [S]he was an early advocate of a child-centered approach, and a suffragist. Key maintained that motherhood is so crucial to society that the government, rather than their husbands, should support mothers and their children. These ideas regarding state child support influenced social legislation in several countries."

(Here's a review of an Ellen Key book from the July 13, 1913 edition of the New York Times, during the very same time period that Loving Frank captures! Pretty cool, huh?)

Mamah was so taken by Ellen and her ideas that she became her American translator, and thus was the person responsible for making Ellen's work available in the United States. By all accounts, it seems as if Mamah - in love with Frank and pursuing her intellectual interests - has the rich life she desired.

Frank came across in the book to me as an entirely unlikeable character, incredibly emotionally abusive, unfair to his employees, and just downright unpleasant to be around. (You kind of want to shake Mamah, girlfriend-to-girlfriend, and ask her what the hell she sees in him, beyond his world-famous reputation.)

Still, I keep coming back to the fact of Mamah leaving her children and I was wishing she'd lived in a time that would have allowed her to fulfill her interests as well as be there for her kids. The kids are mentioned throughout the book, so the reader doesn't have the opportunity to forget them, but towards the end, Mamah's "woe-is-me" attitude about not seeing her kids and missing them struck me as self-indulgent, disingenuous, and undeserving of sympathy.

Loving Frank is categorized as a novel, but make no mistake: author Nancy Horan has done impeccable (in my opinion) research, and done it incredibly well. Again from the book jacket:

In this ambitious debut novel, fact and fiction blend together brilliantly. While scholars have largely relegated Mamah to a footnote in the life of America’s greatest architect, author Nancy Horan gives full weight to their dramatic love story and illuminates Cheney’s profound influence on Wright. Drawing on years of research, Horan weaves little-known facts into a compelling narrative, vividly portraying the conflicts and struggles of a woman forced to choose between the roles of mother, wife, lover, and intellectual.

I agree completely with the last sentence and as sad as parts of this book are, I did find it compelling and at times I was transfixed. I listened to it on audio and would highly recommend this version, as Joyce Bean's narration was excellent.

One last thing. The conclusion of the book is truly stunning. Do not read anything (like on Wikipedia) about the lives of Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Cheney, because you'll likely learn the spoiler that gave away the entire ending for me.

I'm giving this 4 out of 5 stars. Nancy Horan has penned a very well-written story, with many historical details, of two compelling yet in so many ways tragic characters. The research is extensive and she captures the time and the feel of the turn of the century incredibly well.

What Other Bloggers Say:
A Novel Menagerie

Books on the Brain

The Boston Bibliophile (who also wisely cautions not to read the Wikipedia entries about Frank and Mamah unless you like spoilers.)

The Literate Housewife

I know there must be others I've missed, so if you'd like to be added to the link, let me know in the comments.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Sunday Salon 8-16-09

How can it be possible that Sunday is here already?

It has been a pretty good week reading-wise, and surprisingly, the two books I finished stray from my typical, preferred genres. I haven't read many young adult novels since ... well, since I was a young adult (and that was more than two decades ago). Similarly, I usually steer clear of chick-lit, maybe picking up one such novel once a year.

But for whatever reason, this week's reading contained - you guessed it - a young adult novel and a chick-lit book.

This week I read John Green's Looking for Alaska, his first novel, which is also the first one of his I've read. It won't be the last. (I have An Abundance of Katherines in my Library Loot pile but probably won't get to it for awhile.) I'd heard so much about John Green from other bloggers, so when I came across Looking for Alaska at the library, I thought I'd see what all the hype is about. I'm glad I did, and I think this is a great coming-of-age novel. It will likely get a 4 from me. I think my young adult self would have put this as a 4.5.

Today I finished Little Earthquakes by Jennifer Weiner. I've been listening to it on audio for two weeks now, and quite honestly, I started getting a little restless and impatient towards the end of last week. At 12 CDs, this was a longer than usual audiobook for me, but there were elements of the plot that I thought went on a bit longer than necessary. I happened to see the print version at the library so today I read the last 80 pages. I'm thinking it will be getting 3.5 stars (out of 5) from me, and as such, my chick-lit fix is probably satiated for another year or so.

(To my longtime friend in real life and new blog reader who wrote me a lovely letter this week after discovering my blog ... since you mentioned you like chick-lit, you might like Little Earthquakes.)

Not sure how much reading I have left in me for today's Salon. I have a headache and am hoping it goes away before tonight's Season 3 Premiere of Mad Men! (Any other Mad Men fans out there?)

Coming up this week, I'm planning on listening to The History of Love by Nicole Krauss and reading Tomato Girl by Jayne Pupek.

What are you reading today?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Best of the Week - August 8-15, 2009

Welcome to another edition of Best of the Week! Shall we get started?

As Betty begins to get more and more into tween music (her current favorites are Hannah/Miley, The Jonas Brothers, and Taylor Swift), I've been paying closer-than-usual attention to the lyrics and the messages portrayed within. Seems I'm not alone, as Laura from Adventures of a Young Feminist writes in her post, Reconciling Taylor Swift.

I had no idea that the writing team of "Mad Men" is made up of mostly women. This article from The Wall Street Journal gives an insight into their writing process. (TOMORROW IS THE NIGHT, BABY! Whoo hoo, the Season 3 Premiere! No, I'm not addicted to that show. What makes you ask?)

And speaking of writing, I'm probably the last blogger in the world to mention this post by blogger Alison Byrne Fields, Sincerely, John Hughes from her blog We'll Know When We Get There. Ms. Fields corresponded with John Hughes from 1985-87 and for several years thereafter and shares some of his letters.

The New York Times Magazine from Sunday 8/9 poses the question "What's a Big City Without a Newspaper?" which covers the future of journalism in Philadelphia.

This goes in the "why-didn't-I-think-of-that??!" category of life. Sheila from One Person's Journey Through Books has come up with an awesome meme for those of us who love words. It's Word Verification Balderdash. Oh, the fun that awaits ...!

(I was introduced to the Word Verification Balderdash by my new blogging friend Alipet813 from over at That's a Novel Idea. (Can you believe this gal has only been blogging since June??!! Do check her blog out.)

Once again, Anna Lefler cracks me up. The woman did it again with this post, "The Cold 100" from her hilarious blog, Life Just Keeps Getting Weirder. (Ain't that the damn truth?) With the new school year upon us, you can be sure I will be using the phrase "booger ranch" early and often. Probably while doing an SB.

Enjoy your week!

Friday, August 14, 2009

You Say It's Your Blog Birthday (It's My Blog Birthday Too, Yeah!)

(With apologies to the Fab Four for slightly re-writing their fab song.)

Yes, indeedy, today is the first birthday for The Betty and Boo Chronicles. What a fun ride around the sun this has been! I thought I would like this blogging gig, but honestly ... I had no idea how much I would love this.

I'd been reading blogs for awhile. Around this time last year, I thought, I can do this. Maybe I'll just be talking to myself, the husband, and our mothers. No matter. Like many people, this started as a way to keep far-flung family and friends updated on our exciting lives.

(Here's that very first post, in case you're interested.)

And then shortly after that, something called the 2008 Presidential Election happened, and I found myself living in a shotgun shack, and you may find yourself in another part of the world, and you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile, and you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife, and you may ask yourself, well...how did I get here?
(Sorry, couldn't resist. You know I've got that whole child of the '80s and early '90s vibe going on.)

What was my old talking head saying? Right. I found myself living in the backyard of the Vice President-elect, and then Sarah "You Betcha" Palin and Joe the Plumber came on the scene. Posts begging to be written. Soapboxes waiting to be climbed up on.

In the middle of all this, I stumbled on a book blog, an autism/Aspergers/special needs blog, some mommy blogs, some simplicity and productivity blogs. I became enamored with your blogrolls, clicking on one link, then another, then another ... and I wonder why I have 362 blog subscriptions (and counting!) in my Google Reader.

People who aren't bloggers often express amazement about how I can blog almost every day when I have a 2-hour (each way!) commute to a full-time job (by car, not by train, unfortunately), and kids to raise. It's really simple.

I have to.

Aside from writing being part of my soul and therefore needing to write, I watch very, very, very little TV. Mad Men, Rescue Me, In Treatment. That's it.

I look for - and find - inspiration everywhere.

I don't sleep. (If you check the times of my posts, they're usually between 9-11:30 p.m. I'll usually go to bed close to midnight, then wake up by 6 a.m. for my road warrior existence.)

I think of my blog posts during my commutes, often composing sentences or tossing an angle around in my head while I drive. In addition to being a long commute, it's quite a boring one scenery-wise.

Blogging has brought me back to writing and made me fall in love with writing more than I ever have before. You've saved me from hours of therapy and you've made me a better writer.

Still, after a year of blogging, I have a lot to learn. (For example, I cannot figure out how the hell to upload a video. Like something from YouTube ... I have no idea how to get that to appear on the blog. Or how to do a vlog.) But there are some things I have learned in this past year - like to try and keep my posts on the shorter side of life (like I happen to be). So, I will save that for another post though, maybe tomorrow, as another trip around the sun revs up.

Oh, one more thing.

Thank you. For being here, for reading, for commenting.

For coming along for the ride.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Paying It Forward in the Drive-Thru

She is my lady, my girlfriend, the woman who I talk to through the intercom and in the drive-thru window. She takes my $5.80 every morning and in return, she gives me a Combo Number 6 (which, in case you're wondering, is a Dunkin' Donuts egg white flatbread sandwich, veggie, with a medium French Vanilla coffee, cream and sugar) with an order of hash browns.

She knows my order before I say hello, anticipating when my car glides into the Drive-Thru Only lane.

"How many orders do you have memorized?" I asked earlier this week, during a rare lull in the morning rush, mine being the only car at the window.

"A lot," she said grinning, understandably and deservedly proud of this. "I know a lot of 'em."

"I bet you do," I laughed.

She leaned closer. "I'm putting in an application today at the mall," she whispered, crossing her fingers. "Need more hours, you know? I got seven people living in my house and they're not giving me enough hours here."

Seven people.

"Good luck," I said, reaching for my brown bag. And I drove off, wondering if there was something I could do. Someone I could call.

I sat down at my desk in my large office, munching my breakfast, and started writing some letters. Writing letters is a big part of my job.

And then it hit me. A reference letter.

So this morning, I drove up to the Dunkin' Donuts drive-thru as per usual. I handed my friend my debit card, and an envelope containing this:

August 12, 2009

To Whom This May Concern:

I am pleased to write this letter of recommendation to you on behalf of T ___. This isn’t the typical reference letter, however, because I haven’t worked with her in a professional capacity, nor do I even know T___'s last name.

For the past two years, however, I have been a daily customer of the Dunkin’ Donuts located on _____. And for those two years, T____ has been the person greeting me every single day at the drive-thru window.

As someone who has spent her career working in public relations, I’ve gotten to be incredibly conscious of good customer service, which is an essential part of any position. As T___’s customer, I can tell you that she delivers this – every single day.

I have seen her as the superb multi-tasker, often doing many jobs at once, and she always gets the job right. She knows my order even before I greet her with hello. She remains calm – always - when dealing with irritable, non-caffeinated commuters and if she is frustrated, we never know. She is personable and engaging, making small talk about the weather, the holiday weekend coming up.

She makes her customers feel special. That, among the other qualities I’ve listed, are rare and valued in an employee and are ones that cannot be taught. They would be assets to any business.

Indeed, this may be an unconventional letter of recommendation, and it is one that comes completely unsolicited from T___. She didn’t request this, nor would she expect such. Still, I hope that you will give T___’s candidacy and application serious consideration, as I am certain that she will be a benefit to your organization.

If you would like to contact me to verify this letter, please feel free to do so. My business card is also enclosed.

Many thanks for your consideration.

Sincerely,


Melissa

Some may say I shouldn't have gotten involved, but honestly, it never occured to me not to do so. I've been lucky in my life. There have been several people who helped me on a professional basis. A former boss/mentor/friend/all around wonderful guy that my husband worked for -gone too young from cancer, his oft-told amusing stories of his glory days silenced forever - played a major role in his career. He's responsible (along with hard work on the husband's part) for the lifestyle we enjoy now. We owe him a great deal.

I don't know what will happen with my lady's letter. Maybe it will help her get the job she wants and the financial stability she needs for her family. Maybe it won't make a bit of difference.

I share this, not for my own glorification, but as a reminder (which I needed, this week especially, wallowing in my own professional frustrations) that even in the smallest everyday transactions, like handing over my debit card every morning, we are actually paying on our debts, continually paying it forward.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Present at the Beginning

(Sunrise from outside our window last Saturday morning, August 8)

It is a special thing when someone trusts you with their words.

A blogging friend, someone living within mere miles of my home but who I only know through cyberspace, asked if I would read the beginnings of a memoir she is writing.

We have only been friends (I can say this, I think, because I consider her a friend, I do) for several weeks now. But she is the type of person who I feel like I have known forever.

I was restless tonight, bubbling over with the frustration of things out of my control, of double-standards to the nth degree, and not being able to do anything about it. Anything I blogged tonight would be charbroiled by those frustrated flames. Instead, I settled in here on the couch with the prologue to a manuscript. And read. And cried. (The story I was reading and my frustration both played a role, I think. Moreso the story.)

My friend doesn't know this, but I have always wanted to read a book in progress, and so I have.

I believe in this story, in my friend's ability to tell this story.

Of the promise that comes with the dawn of something new.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

In Praise of Eunice Kennedy Shriver (and Basketball)


“You are the stars and the world is watching you. By your presence you send a message to every village, every city, every nation. A message of hope. A message of victory."

Eunice Kennedy Shriver, at the 1987 Special Olympics World Games in South Bend, Indiana.

It's not like I knew her or anything, but the death today of Eunice Kennedy Shriver fills me with a sadness. Appreciation, yes, most definitely, but an appreciation edged out by a smidge more sadness.

Maybe it has something to do with basketball.

While we were spending a relaxing Friday afternoon with friends, Boo joined our friends' son in their driveway, where they were playing basketball. Boo has been talking a lot about basketball this summer - perhaps from playing it at camp, I guess. He's been asking for a basketball net, so after I woke up from a nap on Saturday, I was greeted with a note saying that they had gone out to the store for ... yes, a basketball net.

Now, I admit, I was less than pleased about this. Those damn 7' nets are unsightly and with the plethora of storms and heavy winds we tend to get around these parts, I have visions of the damn thing smashing through the dining room windows. But since the purchase was underway - and since I had just been granted a much-needed 3-hour nap - my protests would be for naught.
But still, it's not like my kids (particularly Boo) are giants. They take after my side of the family and are smaller than their peers, often mistaken for a few years younger than they really are. So, acquiring a basketball net seemed a little foolish. What good could come of this? I thought. Exercise, yes, but an exercise steeped in futility and frustration seemed more likely.

Putting this thing together was arduous, but after close to 5 hours, we had a net. I went outside with the camera, admittedly, not expecting much.

I took shots as I watched Boo take shots. Shots like this one ...


... which resulted in this ...



(I know the photos are blurry. That's on purpose. I have my reasons.)

I'm thrilled that I have the photo of Boo's first slam dunk (and he is too), but the real photo was the look on his face - a look that I missed because I was, obviously, behind my superstar. The husband has described it as priceless, that there are no words.

Our family doesn't have first-hand experience with Special Olympics (Boo never played in Special Olympics, but he did spend a season on a Challenger Baseball team.) That experience was everything that you hope for when you sign your kid up for such an activity. Sure, there was lots of screaming and hollering by the parents ... when any of the players made a hit or scored a run. It didn't matter if your kid was on the blue team or the red team; we cheered for them all.

Eunice Kennedy Shriver founded what grew into Special Olympics in 1962, after a mother called her in desperation because she could not find a summer camp for her child.

According to today's New York Times which recounts an interview Mrs. Shriver did with NPR, she said: " “You don’t have to talk about it anymore. You come here a month from today. I’ll start my own camp. No charge to go into the camp, but you have to get your kid here, and you have to come and pick your kid up.’ ” With that, the conversation ended. For years, Camp Shriver provided physical activity for developmentally challenged children.

The New York Times says "[t]his was an extraordinary idea at the time. The prevailing thought had been that mentally retarded children should be excluded from physical activity for fear that they might injure themselves. As a result, many were overweight or obese."

This was in a time when people with disabilities were not encouraged to play sports. Hidden away, out of sight.

Kind of like what I wanted to do on Saturday with my son and his interest in basketball.

On Saturday, I was no better than those in 1962 when the basketball net arrived at our house. I didn't think this was going to amount to anything. That it was more trouble than it was worth.

I'm certainly not proud of myself for not believing he could do this, that he would enjoy this, or be good at it. As parents of kids with special needs, I believe we are all guilty on occasion of falling into this swamp of doubt - and then, suddenly, you see a slam dunk into a 7 foot high basketball net by a kid who is a head shorter than your average 7 year old.

And that, I think, is what is at the crux of my feeling sad today at the loss of Eunice Kennedy Shriver. Because I believe that the mentality I had on Saturday is sometimes the more prevalent one in society. That we still have a ways to go, so many more strides to make and barriers to knock down, because for every person who believes in kids with disabilities, there's a dozen more who never will. Who mock and denigrate them by cavalierly using the word retard, who tease, who bully, who take advantage, who deny services, who are of little faith.

Eunice's view is what we still need to aspire and strive for - myself included. To have a sense of total acceptance, to see beyond the disability and the limitations.

For many of her 88 years, she did that. And today I wonder, who will take up the torch, the flame of the Special Olympics legacy that Eunice Kennedy Shriver passed to us today in her passing?

"She set out to change the world and to change us, and she did that and more. She founded the movement that became Special Olympics, the largest movement for acceptance and inclusion for people with intellectual disabilities in the history of the world. Her work transformed the lives of hundreds of millions of people across the globe, and they in turn are her living legacy." (from the Shriver family statement)

Book Review: The Red Leather Diary: Reclaiming a Life Through the Pages of a Lost Journal - by Lily Koppel

The Red Leather Diary: Reclaiming a Life Through the Pages of a Lost Journal, by Lily Koppel

This is one of those books that, had it not been for so much positive buzz from book bloggers, I might not have known to look for. Sure, it might have caught my attention on the New Books shelf at the library, but I wouldn't have snagged it as fast as I did. And that would have been my loss.

Because of the book blogger buzz, I had high expectations for this book - and let me tell you, I was not disappointed. This is the story of Florence Wolfson, who receives a red leather diary from a family friend on August 11, 1929, her 14th birthday.

Florence's diary is a "Milestones Five Year Diary, allowing for five years of entries to be chronicled side-by-side on a single page. The diary's 365 pages, one for every day of the year, were marked at the top with the month and date. Passage through time could be measured at a glance. Each fleeting day would be logged on just four pale blue lines." (pg. 24)

Florence chronicles every single day between 1929 and 1934. She writes of the pursuit of creative artistic passions - drawing, literature, writing, theater, music - as well as the physical and emotional pursuit of young men and yes, several of her girlfriends who she became intimate with. As a teenager, Florence captures all the details of her young loves - male and female - all taking place in the spotlight of 1930s New York City. Lily Koppel's lyrical description of New York's heyday sparkles more than the city itself, making the reader feel as if one is right there walking the streets of gold.

"Florence's city had a heartbeat. She was there, at the center of things. The sexy, steely city operated like a well-oiled machine before her eyes. The thundering El tracks created a filmstrip of sun and shadows on Third, Sixth, and Ninth Avenues. Boxy automobiles with names like Pierce-Arrow, Stutz, Packard, and Studebacker drove down the streets. One young man taking her for a ride in his new roadster dared to rev up to forty!

The streets were crowded. Men wore fedoras and women wore gray, brown, and occasionally maroon suits, with calf-length skirts cut on the bias and razor-sharp pleats, all clicking along on high heels. They seemed to be walking too fast, like actors in a jumpy olf black-and-white reel. Not a strand of hair protruded from under the hard line around the faces. The world was spinning faster and faster. No one wanted to be left behind."

Ironically, soon after she writes her last entry in August 1934, Florence's diary is indeed left behind. Months morph into years, years become decades, decades give way to Y2K. Meanwhile, the diary lingers forgotten in a trunk, frozen in time until 2003. That's when it is found by New York Times reporter Lily Koppel. It would be another three years before the diary was reunited with the former girl within the pages.

I loved everything about this story. It was fascinating to me that Florence was still alive (especially after learning that so many of her contemporaries died young) and that Lily, through the efforts of a private investigator, was able to track her down. I loved reading then 92-year old Florence's words as prologue to the book, and Lily's impressions of meeting Florence. I especially loved Florence's passion for literature, as shown in her creation of a literary salon. I wrote about this concept of literary salons then and now for my Sunday Salon post on July 26, and am still thrilled with the knowledge that Lily Koppel somehow found it and mentioned it here on her blog. (If you haven't checked out Lily Koppel's blog, you really should.)

And finally, yes, it is very much on purpose that I am posting this blog entry on August 11, Florence's birthday. It has been exactly 80 years since Florence Wolfson received that red leather diary. I doubt you're reading this, Florence, but if so, you are wished a very happy 94th dance around the sun.

Here's what other bloggers had to say about The Red Leather Diary:

Julie, from BookingMama

Caribousmom

Dar, from Peeking Between the Pages

Dawn, from She is Too Fond of Books

If I missed yours, please let me know ... I'd love to read your thoughts on this, too.