Sunday, February 28, 2010

I'm Going to BlogHer '10!

I've been going back and forth on this one for months, almost to the point of obsession. Should I stay or should I go now?

I almost signed up right after last year's BlogHer conference (which I did not attend), but when one person's post (in this case, Florinda's from The 3Rs Blog) convinces you this is where one should be a full year from now, that tells you something about the power of the blog.

And then the first-ever Book Blogger Convention was announced for New York City in May, coinciding with Book Expo America (BEA), and I knew I wanted to be part of the Convention. BEA is free for us bloggers (and especially now with the affiliation with Book Blogger Con), so that was a matter of Amtrak and hotel.

Which begged the question of BlogHer '10 - should I stay or should I go?

Yes, the money is significant. In a matter of six weeks, I've dropped a total of $300 on registration for blogging conferences - and that's before accommodations and transportation. But I am justifying this by thinking that these three events will likely not converge on NYC in the same year, and since I am the epitome of a white-knuckled flier, the likelihood of my flying cross-country to one of these soirees is next to nill. Amtrak is doable from where I sit, so ...

What the hell. I'm going. To all three. I feel like I am out of my mind.

But, I'm looking at this as an investment in my writing, in my blog, in myself. Maybe there comes a time when we have to push ourselves a bit, to do what feels a little scary and exciting at the same time, to believe in ourselves that the money will come back someday in the form of a new opportunity, a new contact, a new experience.

We'll never know unless we try, will we?

Early bird registration for BlogHer ends today. Registration for the Book Blogger Convention is still open.

Will I see you at either of them?

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

The Sunday Salon: All Reading is Political

It's kind of funny, isn't it, when one book we're reading dovetails and segues so nicely into the next?

I love when that happens, especially when it isn't intentional. And it's been happening to me over the past week with the book I just finished, and the one I just started.

I'm a bit of a political junkie, althought, admittedly, an odd one. I don't always know who is who, (as evidenced in a recent job interview when I was grilled point-blank - and blanked - on the names of my elected officials) and I'm not always as articulate as I'd like to be on the issues.

But I love watching the players play the game, the drama and the scandals, the analysis and the punditry. And I like reading about political goings-on too, especially current events.
I spent most of the past week or so reading Anne Kornblut's absolutely fascinating, insightful, and incredibly well-researched Notes from the Cracked Ceiling: Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, and What It Will Take for a Woman to Win. If you (like me) are participating in the Women Unbound reading challenge, this is very worthy of your consideration. Trust me on this.

Even if you're not participating in Women Unbound, it's a must-read for anyone who cares about women's issues, politics, and where our country is headed in terms of the prospect of a woman President. (After reading Notes, I'm not sure I will see this in my lifetime - although I certainly hope I am wrong about that.)

Of course, as these things go, just as I was ready to start Notes the library notified me that David Plouffe's book, The Audacity to Win was available. I have been dying to read this and wasn't expecting my number to come up so quickly. (I think I was 30-something.) I rushed over to get it before the third blizzard this month, and it has been on my coffee table for about two weeks now. (I needed to read Notes first because now it can't be renewed, since someone else is waiting. Arrgh!)

Since both books deal with the 2008 Presidential election, obviously there's going to be some overlap. And that is a good thing, I think. While reading Notes, I've been making a few of my own while wondering about how the same incident or strategy will be viewed by Plouffe in Audacity. I also have Game Change on hold, so my reading will be a political threesome.

I think this is kind of cool when one book sort of plays off one another. It's my idea of fun and relaxation. Sounds strange to non-bookish types, but I'm betting some of you get it.

So, what books have you read lately that have had this kind of symbiosis with one another, either intentionally or not intentionally?

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Free Library Festival (Philadelphia Book Festival) - April 17 and 18, 2010

The Free Library of Philadelphia has announced many of the details and line up for its Free Library Festival, which apparently has undergone a name-change. (I'm not the only one, I'm sure, who thinks of this as the Philadelphia Book Festival.)

This year's event is planned for April 17 & 18. Every year, without fail, the Festival falls on a major work weekend for me, and this year is no exception (my work event is on the 17th and will occupy me for the entire day and night).

However, since the Free Library Festival is a two-day event, I can go to the festivities on the 18th! Squeeeeee! That will more than make up for the fact that I have to work the entire day prior. Plus, it is FREE!

In case this is something that interests you, here's the official description:

Now in its fourth year, the Free Library Festival is the Library's annual burst of ideas and inspiration! Well on its way to becoming a Philadelphia tradition, the Festival weekend is packed with free programming for all ages, including talks by bestselling authors, poetry readings, musical performances, tours of the Library's special collections, and programs and activities just for children. A fun, free way to spend the day, the Free Library Festival connects book lovers from throughout the mid-Atlantic region.

You will want to take a look at the Authors attending, the list of Exhibitors, and the program schedule. One event that does not seem to be listed yet is the YA Panel that Beth Kephart will be appearing on, and which she wrote about on her blog.
Any book bloggers interested in going? If so, maybe there is the possibility of some of us getting together? Leave me a message in the comments if that would be of interest and maybe we can arrange something.

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Weekend Cooking: My Oh My, Quesadilla Pie!

Way back in August, I starred a blog post from Half-Assed Kitchen (truly one of my favorite blog titles - yeah, I see you smiling too) that highlighted this Quesadilla Pie recipe from Simply Recipes.

A week or so ago, searching through my tagged Google Reader posts for something different for dinner (and by different I mean not pasta) - I found this recipe for Quesadilla Pie.

My oh my.

This is a very easy dinner, possibly one that could be prepped or assembled ahead of time and just popped into the oven. It's extremely flexible, meaning that there are many possibilities for fillings. You probably have most of them in your pantry, and it is a perfect recipe for those times when you need to use some produce up. (And, being that my kitchen is truly a half-assed one at times, that is commonplace 'round here.)

For the filling ingredients in my Quesadilla Pie, I used black beans, onions, mushrooms, and canned diced tomatoes. I had to use the onions and mushrooms up.

Quesadilla Pie Recipe (my notes are in italics)

Basic ingredients:
4 large flour tortillas (9-10 inches diameter)
1/2 pound grated cheese, either mild or sharp cheddar, or Monterey Jack
Potential filling ingredients:
Beans, cooked (black beans, pinto beans)
Tomatoes, chopped
Summer squash, chopped
Onions (green onions, red onions, onion greens)
Mushrooms (if using a lot, sauté first, to remove moisture)
Cooked shredded chicken, pork, or beef
Chiles, either from cooked green chiles, chopped pickled jalapenos, or salsa
Cumin and/or chili powder for extra heat

Chopped avocado
Chopped cilantro
Thinly sliced iceberg lettuce dressed with vinegar and salt
Sour cream
(I didn't use any of the garnishes, with the exception of having salsa available at the table.)

1 Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter the bottoms and sides of a pie dish, approximately the same size as your tortillas (I used 10" tortillas.)

2 Place one tortilla on the bottom of the pie dish. Sprinkle some shredded cheese over the tortilla. At this point, you will begin to add your chosen filling ingredients, and layering the tortillas. Just make sure each layer has a generous sprinkling of cheese.

This is what my layers looked like (I added the tomatoes and more cheese after this photo was taken, as I firmly believe "generous sprinkling of cheese" is a command to be taken extremely seriously.)

3. Top off your layers with one last flour tortilla. Spread a little butter over the surface of this tortilla.

4. Cover the dish with aluminum foil. Put in oven for 30 minutes on 350°F. Then remove the foil and increase the heat to 400°F. Cook for another 15-20 minutes, until the top is lightly browned and cheese is bubbly. Remove from oven. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving. Cut into quarters.
(The crack in the tortilla was on purpose. That was my last tortilla, it was cracked, and I figured it was only going to get cut anyway and that the generous sprinkling of cheese would hold it together. Plus, given that I abide by half-assed kitchen type mentality, I had nobody to impress, so what the hell.)

Serve with chopped avocados, shredded lettuce, cilantro, salsa, and/or sour cream. Serves 4.

Our verdict? The Husband and I loved this. Boo commented that it "looked terrible, but was really delicious." Betty is a rather particular eater, and I'm sorry to report that she screamed and threw a tantrum when served this, opting to dine on a salami and cheese sandwich instead.

Elise from Simply Recipes has much prettier photos than I could ever take, so you should really take a look at her beautiful site (which has also quickly become one of my favorites).

Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. For more information, see the welcome post.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Book Review: Brooklyn, by Colm Toibin

Brooklyn, by Colm Toibin

In almost every review I've read of Brooklyn, the same adjectives seem to surface:

Quiet. Gentle. Simple.

Indeed, Brooklyn is all of these, and it is these qualities that make people either love this novel or feel lukewarm towards it.

I'm in the latter camp.

I really wanted to like this book more than I did. Set in the 1950s, it's the story of Eilis Lacey, a young woman (probably around 18 or 19) living in Enniscorthy, Ireland with her widowed mother and older sister. Her life is a simple one - until a priest from America visits and encourages Eilis to come to America for work, a prospect that Eilis realizes has been pre-arranged by her sister and mother. Father Flood's parish is one that is home to Irish immigrants and he offers his support to Eilis as she begins to get settled into her new life in Brooklyn.

Which she does - by renting a room in a boardinghouse, working in a department store by day and taking college classes at night, and dating a young man named Tony who falls in love with her (not quite sure if the same is entirely true on Eilis' part). It's all very simple, told in a very straightforward, matter-of-fact way.

I found this to be a little slow going until the second half of the novel. I found myself wanting to read more about the Brooklyn of that time and admiring Eilis' ambition in continuing her college classes. I liked the social issues that Toibin includes in the story - a too friendly coworker, the interactions between Italian and Irish immigrants in the city, the progressive stance of the department store's management as they welcome "coloreds" as customers. But there were unanswered questions that I had - particularly in regards to the character of Tony and some of his behaviors - and there was a plot twist near the end that I didn't see coming and thought could have been interesting if explored in more depth (but maybe that would have meant a whole different story).

The novel picked up its pace at the midpoint, and although I remained interested in the story, I was left feeling distant in regards to Eilis and the conflict that she was presented with didn't make me connect with her any more than I had on page 1. After 260 pages, I felt like I hardly got to know her, that she remained reserved and on guard.

Others have praised Brooklyn for exactly the reasons why it didn't quite work for me. Just like every immigrant's story is a different one, so seems is every reader's perception of Brooklyn.

Like these:
Shelf Love
A Guy’s Moleskine Notebook,
Farm Lane Books
Compulsive Overreader
Bibliophile by the Sea
Caribou's Mom

Thursday, February 25, 2010

One of Us, Now Gone

Almost five years ago, I had a meeting in Chester County, Pa. After we were finished with business, I asked how close were we to the Chester County Book & Music Company. Less then 15 minutes, I was told.

"You're going to love it there," breathed the person I was meeting with.

I'd heard about this book nirvana and needed to see it for myself. Hopefully I wasn't too hasty in saying goodbye as I high-tailed it over to the next town.

And see it I did. Immediately, there is a comfortable-ness about it. You get the sense you're among friends, which you are, and that they don't care how long you linger and that their sole purpose is to help you find that perfect book or that perfect song.

It is hard to put into words how incredible this place is. Maybe a photo will help?

These don't do the store justice. Just as its name suggests, it is 38,000 square feet of books and music and stationary and magazines and oh, yes ... a restaurant! I was so impressed with the place that I insisted that The Husband and I make the more than hour long drive and go that following weekend. We did, and enjoyed a few Betty and Boo-free hours eating, talking, and browsing.

I bring this all up because on the Chester County Book & Music Company's Facebook page today was a post, just saying "Please read." Michael P. Rellehan, news editor of The Daily Local News, had written a wonderful tribute to Bob Simoneaux, the founder and owner of CCBMC, who died several weeks ago.

It doesn't matter if you've never been to the store or if - like me - you never met Bob. (I don't claim to have known him, although I am pretty sure I talked with him on an occasion or two when I visited the bookstore.) I never knew Bob, but for some reason, his death saddens me very much.

Because, for all of us lovers of books, he was one of us.

Here's Michael P. Rellehan's article, in its entirety:

Bob Simoneaux was one of the reasons I love living in West Chester. He is gone now, dying at the age of 64 on Jan. 11, but it is no stretch to say that you and I have the ability — some might go as far as to say the responsibility — to insure that the contribution he made to our community lives on for years to come.

Bob was, along with his wife, Kathy, the founder of the Chester County Book & Music Co. He was a native of New Orleans, La., and worked there as a police officer, but wound up in New York City at some point and found himself in the book business. He and Kathy opened their bookstore in 1982 in the Parkway Shopping Center, where I discovered it shortly after moving here and starting my career at the Daily Local News. Walking in there the first time, I knew that it was a special place and would help me adjust to my new surroundings.

Bob and Kathy were friendly people, and made you feel at home walking through the stacks and stacks of books they put on display. Because they took the trouble to know their customers by name as much as possible, the feel of their bookstore was comfortable and welcoming at a time when the trend in bookstores was to be more corporate and indifferent. They made sure that a sense of discovery hung about the place, as you could find some written work you had never heard of before; had heard of but never found; or had simply stumbled across as you made your way through the piles of novels and biographies and travel books that seemed to grow volume by volume from the carpeted floor itself like a beautiful house plant.

I loved the old place on South High Street for its intimacy, but grew to adore the new larger location Bob and Kathy opened later on Paoli Pike. They added a restaurant that served some Louisiana specialties that reminded Bob of home, and gave my friends Patrick, Greg, Marian, and Meg and I a table to sit at on weekend mornings to read the papers and gossip our time away before wading into the stacks looking for a new book to read. I do believe that Meg, who lives in Washington, D.C., would agree that a trip to see the West Chester branch of her family would not be complete without a trip to the bookstore.

I would venture to say that I have not gone more than six weeks without spending some time at the bookstore, and my shelves at home are filled with wonderful results of the money I spent there. Going to the bookstore always gave me the anticipation of bringing joy between two covers home. My friends and family have all received gifts that I found for them at Bob and Kathy's bookstore, and I hope that their lives are better for it.

Bob was a constant presence at the bookstore, and I remember him sitting at one of the restaurant tables and drinking a cup of coffee and smoking a cigarette. He always had a dry comment to make about something of interest in the local news, and spoke kindly with Marian and I whenever we would see him. He kept tabs on what was going on behind the scenes in West Chester, and dropped tips on stories off at my table on occasion.

He and I never spoke about the weighty issues that his battle to keep the bookstore open must have presented. In an age of chain stores and Amazon, independent booksellers like the Simoneauxs are fewer and farther between. They are incredibly important, however, because they do not dictate to the reader what is necessary for them to digest, nor do they trade familiarity for savings. The book by the local author about his or her memories of growing up in West Chester is as available for the reader as the new bestseller; the loyal staff who populate the service desks are there to wind the customer through the shelves to find exactly what it is they are looking for, not simply what the cheapest flavor of the month is.

A few weeks ago I stopped in looking for "River of Doubt," a tale of Teddy Roosevelt's trip down the Amazon River in the years after he'd left the White House. I'd never known the book existed, or that the trip had occurred, until a few days before I went looking for it, but it was there waiting for me on a shelf at the bookstore as if I had always known I would want it at some point. I did not see Bob, had heard he'd been sick, and feared for the worst.

Robert Ross Simoneaux may not have lasted in life as long he should have, but we, his neighbors, have the chance to keep a bit of him alive simply by stopping by the bookstore he opened 28 years ago and buying a book. Or two.

I plan to do just that. Sooner rather than later.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A Few Links

I need to figure out a better system for this. I read a lot of blogs (a lot being defined as subscribing to 639 blogs, not like I read every single word), and there's a lot of good stuff out there that I like to make available to my readers here. Problem is, it tends to accumulate ... and then when I hit publish, it doesn't seem topical or trendy or relevant anymore. But it's still good stuff. I've tried doing these on certain days, but I'll put it off or want to write about something else, and then the links linger.

I've also been doing more writing than reading lately, which is a good thing. So, whatever my reason and excuses are, here are some links that I found interesting over the course of my blog reading in recent weeks. Hope you do, too.

If you read only one link, make it this post from Niksmom about why an advance directive is the most meaningful Valentine's Day gift you can give. (Yeah, I know Valentine's Day was last week. Doesn't matter. Read the post anyway.)

It seems that the news has been all about the snow and the continuing efforts in response to the Haiti earthquake (this series of articles ("Heartache in Haiti: Delaware Answers Call") about this medical team and their work in Jacmel has been among the best), but there has been and continues to be other news.

I'll try to highlight some of it here, starting with this post from Politics Daily about the International Violence Against Women Act receiving bi-partisan support earlier this month.

And the fact that there is another major disaster affecting the people of South Dakota right now.

A coworker of mine was very close friends with Tracy Hottenstein, who died mysteriously one year ago, on February 15, 2009, following the Polar Bear Plunge event in Sea Isle City, New Jersey. It's been an agonizing year for Tracy's friends and family. Watch this video about her friends' efforts to keep the case alive and if you are or know someone who was in the area then, forward them the link.

I wasn't aware that January was Thyroid Awareness Month until I read Catherine Morgan'spost ("Could You Be One of the 20 Million Americans with Thyroid Disease?") on BlogHer at the end of the month. It presents the symptoms of hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism, along with links to other posts on the topic. Given that I have hypothyroidism, I know a little something about this - but others may not. Even though January and Thyroid Awareness Month is over, it is important to know about the symptoms of thyroid disease, which are extremely easy to miss or dismiss.

This year has kind of gotten off to a difficult start, hasn't it? Over on Hopeful Parents, Jennifer writes that it is the Chinese New Year and hence, The Year of the Tiger and as good a reason to start 2010 over.

You'll get no argument here.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Answer

Nobody would ever mistake me for a sports fan. Despite some sports game being on in our house nearly every night for the husband's entertainment, usually as backdrop while I'm writing a blog post, I could really care less.

So nobody is more surprised than me to see that today I'm writing about Philadelphia 76ers basketball player Allen Iverson.

His nickname is The Answer, and lately, he could use a few. His 4 year old daughter Messiah is very sick, with a mysterious condition that doctors in Atlanta cannot diagnose. Some reports have said that the child has an infection in her heart, but as of tonight, that doesn't seem to have been confirmed.

Understandably so, all this is weighing heavily on Iverson's mind, and he has missed a number of games in order to be with his daughter. Without question, this is the right thing to do. The Sixers have released him "indefinitely" from the team, and of course with this being Philadelphia, the death knell is being sounded for Iverson's basketball career.

That's not right. Now's not the time nor the place to be analyzing Iverson's performance since he returned to the Sixers or to speculate on his future. He hasn't been a perfect player now or in the past (his stubbornness about not showing up for practice is legendary in this town) - but none of us are perfect. We all have our issues and growing pains that we all go through as professionals.

We tend to either love or hate our sports figures here in Philadelphia - sometimes at the same time. We wear our impassioned emotions on our sleeves, and aren't shy about saying what we think. Allen Iverson is no exception.

Whether he realizes it or not, Allen Iverson is showing us that there's more to being an athlete than what we see on the field, the court, or the gridiron. He's also showing young people who need to hear his message that sports isn't always the answer. I've worked with kids whose sole goal was to be the next Allen Iverson. In their lives, sometimes the concept of family is elusive, an unfamiliar, intangible word.

So as distressing as this situation is for the Iverson family right now (and maybe the fact that I can truly empathize with the emotions surrounding being concerned about a child's well-being from afar is why I am absolutely glued to this story), I think Iverson has a golden opportunity once Messiah is well, all things considered and God willing. Basketball aside, he can be a positive role model for kids of the importance of family over sports, how being a parent is 24/7, how it means sacrificing the things that mean the most to you.

Maybe he could become an advocate for parental leave - because, let's face it, Allen Iverson has the financial means to abandon his superstar basketball career, a luxury that we regular folk don't have. In our world, it's not a question of voluntarily leaving one's job to care for a sick child; in many of our worlds, that decision is summarily made for us.

That's all for another day, though. For today, there's a sick little girl to worry about, and when your child is sick, it is all you can do to get through the day, the hour, the minute. There are answers that are needed, even for The Answer.

And then, possibly, a transformation as a community looks to The Answer for some of their own.

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Cold as Ice

Did I miss something here?

Is it National Make an Offensive Comment About People with Disabilities Month?

No? Well, damn, you fooled me.

Maybe it's me, but it sure seems as if the climate has gotten pretty chilly of late, and I don't mean in regards to the Artic temperatures and six feet of snow outside my door. I'm talking about the icy comments spewing from people's mouths about people with special needs.

I mean, seriously, I need an Excel spreadsheet or a scorecard to keep up. No sooner do I compose a blog post in my head about one of these politicians celebrities talking heads holier than thou assholes saying something stupid about people with disabilities, or casually tossing off the "r" word, or what have you, than the next one comes along, with an even more egregious comment or scenario.

In a matter of weeks, we've had the Rahm "fucking r-----ed" Emanuel fiasco, followed by Rush's whole schtick, the Family Guy episode, Sarah Palin getting her two cents in (and, I know this will come as a shocker, but I actually found myself agreeing with the woman on that one), and that wacky-minded professor espousing some sort of academic bullshit about why the r-word should not be banned.

Add to this State Delegate Bob Marshall of Manassas, Virginia who appears to have quite the extensive knowledge about reproduction, Mother Nature, and theology. That's quite the trifecta there, big shot bobby-boy. According to The News Leader, a paper serving Virginia's Central Shenandoah Valley, here's what this rocket scientist (maybe he's that, too) had to say last Thursday:

"The number of children who are born subsequent to a first abortion with handicaps has increased dramatically. Why? Because when you abort the first born of any, nature takes its vengeance on the subsequent children," said Marshall, a Republican (my note: wow there's a shocker) "In the Old Testament, the first born of every being, animal and man, was dedicated to the Lord. There's a special punishment Christians would suggest."

And what would that special punishment be, Theologian Bob? Because I'm willing to go out on a limb and venture a guess here and say that you, sir, don't know the first goddamn thing about the mental punishment one inflicts on oneself when your kid has a disability. You question EVERY. THING. You dissect every morsel of food you ever ate in your life and every sip of alcohol that ever passed your lips. You re-create with the precision of a forensic scientist every step you ever took and you second guess every dirty look. You get punished by yourself, by the friends who quietly disappear when getting together with you gets too depressing or sensory intensified, by your own kid who hits you.

You get punished day after day after fucking day from the likes of holier than thou know-it-alls like you. And we don't need you to punish us even more, State Delegate Marshall, because most days? We're doing just fine in that department all by ourselves, thanks.

I don't even want to comment on the abortion issue with this, because that's just ludicrous to insinuate that a previous abortion had any bearing whatever on a subsequent child being born with "handicaps." It defies logic to even speculate that an abortion could be the cause of a disability. Care to share where you got your medical degree from, Dr. Marshall?

Bottom line is I'm tired of the rhetoric surrounding all this, I really am. I'm tired of making the same points, of people asking me what I think about this one saying this and that one saying that. I'm tired of the trite apologies. I'm tired of fighting this battle on top of all the other battles I have to fight every day.

But there's a little boy at stake, who is being punished by people who don't even know him but are regarding him and so many others like him as second class citizens. He's my son, and he has autism, and he doesn't deserve for his life to be this hard nor - because of the likes of you - it to be any harder than it already is.

None of our kids deserve this.

So for their sake, can't we just all get along? Can't people who don't know what the hell they're talking about just agree to just shut the fuck up when you have nothing better to say than to espouse some insult about people with disabilities?

Can't we agree to end this Cold War against people with disabilities and tear down this wall of hatred for once and for all?

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

The New York Challenge

Don't you just love that button?

I do, and I love the new Reading Challenge that it belongs to. Of course, I'm talking about The New York Challenge, hosted by Jill from Fizzy Thoughts. It's all in the spirit of giddy anticipation that more than a few of us (ahem) have for a certain couple of bookish-type of events (those would be BEA and the Book Blogger Convention) being held in The Big Apple this May.

It's such an easy challenge. (If you can make it with this challenge, you can make it with any of them ... ba dum bump!) All that's required is to read one book - any genre - with New York as the setting. A guidebook, a nonfiction or fiction book, whatever.

My book for this is going to be (most likely) Jay McInerney's How It Ended: New and Collected Stories. I've had this out from the library twice now, and sad to say it has always gone back unread. I love me some Jay McInerney and the high of living vicariously through his characters, the drama of which I have never even remotely experienced. When I think stories set in New York, his is the stuff is what comes to mind. Pure, unadulterated literary crack.

(Although now that I think about it, I'm not sure if all of these stories are actually set in New York ... well, if not, I'm sure I'll have no problem finding something else.)

Jill (a.k.a. Softdrink) is also the queen of the mini-challenges and the kickin' prizes, and knowing her, she has some fun ones in store with this Challenge, her first hosted one. (For real, Jill? I would have lost that bet, if someone had asked me if you'd hosted a challenge previously.) There's a fun, albeit optional, mini-challenge with The New York Challenge.

Expect a post later this week with my answers to that. (Oh, I am such a tease, aren't I?)

Till then, head over to Fizzy Thoughts now and join us for The New York Challenge!

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Sunday Salon: Dreaming About Books and Book Blogger Con

You know you're a book blogger when you find yourself, as I did last night, dreaming about this little preoccupation of ours. It's actually not the first time this has happened to me. (The first such dream, many months ago, was very similar to what I'd imagine Book Blogger Con will be like. Beth Kephart was passing around handwritten pages of a book-in-progress, clusters of us were fawning over such, gathered here and there in a hotel room, our laughter and chatter rising, and all was right with the world.) Sigh.

And then in last night's dream, a book blogger (a conglomeration of several people, really) picked me up at my childhood home in my Dad's '73 Pontiac LeMans and we drove to New York City for Book Blogger Con.

It doesn't take an exhumation of Freud to figure out that yesterday's post inspired that one, and that all of this bookish and blogging stuff is seared into my subconscious. I'm officially registered for BEA and Book Blogger Con (and you should be too ... I mean, seriously, have you seen the Book Blogger Con attendee list lately?!)

My former college communications professor (and current Facebook Friend) invited me to be on a social media panel during my college's annual Alumni Weekend (the weekend after all the aforementioned festivities). I'll be talking about my blog and why I blog. I have no idea what I will possibly say, but I'm really looking forward to this and am beyond honored to have been asked.

What I do need for this - and this is where I need your help, my regular faithful readers, you - is a one-sentence description (or "tagline") about what The Betty and Boo Chronicles is all about. My description in the About Me column is a bit wordy. (Heh.) As a little nod to one of my favorite singers, Carly Simon, I've come up with "it's the stuff that life is made of."

If you can do better (and I hope you can), leave your suggestion in the comment field by midnight EST 2/27. (You can even be entered if you comment on my suggestion.) I'll draw a random entry - which doesn't guarantee I will use your selection, but no matter because just for participating I'll give you your choice of a pre-selected book from my personal TBR library. Or something equally amazing. (And if you're in the Philadelphia suburbs - specifically the Main Line locale - and want to hear my words of blogging wisdom, I could probably getcha into my talk. I know people.)

In other bookish stuff, I think I've broken through my restless reading issues. I finished three books thus far in February and enjoyed all of them. They were To the Lighthouse, by Virginia Woolf, Anne Frank: The Book, the Life, the Afterlife by Francine Prose (which I reviewed here), and last night I finished Prairie Tale: A Memoir, by Melissa Gilbert. Today, I'm looking forward to starting Notes from the Cracked Ceiling: Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, and What It Will Take for a Woman to Win by Anne E. Kornblut. (It's already overdue to the library, but when you're racking up overdues in the two digit figures, what does it matter?)

Speaking of memoirs, several folks have already completed the Memorable Memoir Reading Challenge that I'm hosting. Kudos to Christa from Mental Foodie (love that blog title!) and Amy from Steele on Entertainment, and Sandy from You've GOTTA Read This! Not only did they reach their four memoir minimum for the Challenge requirements, but happily for the rest of us, they seem to still be going strong. There are probably others who have finished the Challenge but these are only the ones I know about.

If you're participating, feel free to link any of your memoir-related reviews that you read for the Challenge to the review page. And if you'd like to get in on the fun or see what it is all about, you can join anytime by going to the Memorable Memoir Reading Challenge page . I'm trying to read all the participants' blogs and reviews, but am woefully behind.

Well, that's about a month's worth of Salon chatter, isn't it? That's what happens when you miss a week. (I didn't intend to take last week off - my post on meeting Dabney Montgomery, a former Tuskegee Airman and bodyguard to Martin Luther King Jr. just begged to be written instead.)

Remember, leave me a comment with your suggestion on a potential tagline describing my blog.

'Till then, I'll be seeing you in my dreams ....

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

In the Living Years

"I wasn't there that morning when my father passed away
I didn't get to tell him all the things I had to say
I think I caught his spirit later that same year
I'm sure I heard his echo in my baby's newborn tears
I just wish I could have told him in the living years ...."
"Living Years" ~ Mike and the Mechanics

Without fail, February 20 shows up every year. Some years, it just sneaks up on me, unexpected.

This wasn't one of those years.

Maybe it is because the blizzards of the centuries have had me literally and figuratively under the weather this week. Maybe because like every single goddamn February since 1985, the month has contained news of loved ones being hospitalized, of the Grim Reaper sitting in the waiting room, snatching people away one by one.

It has been 25 years today since my Dad died, and to be honest, it's a little hard wrapping my head around this one.

Twenty five years. A quarter century, for goodness sakes. It seems like somewhat of a morbid milestone. Like we should be doing something to commemorate this. We're not, and that is more than OK. It's a typical Saturday with Boo on the Wii, Betty downstairs playing with her dollhouse, me on the blog, The Dean at work. We had our typical Saturday lunch (leftover pizza from last night) and in a couple of hours, Betty and I will be hawking selling Girl Scout Cookies outside of Lowes. This is OK, this is the circle of life, this is the way it should be and the way my Dad would want it to be.

In these 25 living years, someone gone a quarter century is a loss that just is, accepted and assimilated long ago into the stuff of the everyday. It's not always acknowledged, and those of us now-adults who have lost a parent as a young child are in a funky kind of club, one where phrases like, "So where do your parents live?" or "What does your father do?" or the mention of a surprise birthday party for a father's 50th birthday (or retirement party, or a golden anniversary) still have the power decades later to render one temporarily mute.

And yet.

And yet it happens sometimes, especially in hazy weeks brushed in Kodachrome like this, when a moment grabs you and takes you hostage. It happened on Thursday night, as I closed down my computer but not before seeing a link to a newspaper story about Philadelphia area survivors of heart transplants. And that was all I needed for the tears that had been held at bay all week, because that was our story 25 years ago (albeit, of course, with a different ending) when in less than a week, my Dad went from a healthy, nonsmoking, active 44-year old father of two to number 4 on the university hospital's heart transplant recipient list.

Betty asked why I was crying, and I told her that something reminded me of my dad, her grandfather, and made me sad.

"I wish I could see him," she said, reducing me to mush.

"I know what you mean, baby girl," I said. "I know what you mean."

Me and my Dad. (Not the best photo, thanks to no photo scanner, but maybe the blurriness fits after all.) This is Christmas 1970, and I am not quite 2 years old. I'll be an only child for just a couple months more, with only 14 more Christmases with my Dad.

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Book Review (Kids): If Anything Ever Goes Wrong at the Zoo ... by Mary Jean Hendrick

If Anything Ever Goes Wrong at the Zoo
written by Mary Jean Hendrick and illustrated by Jane Dyer

My 8 year old daughter Betty wants to be a zookeeper. Or a veterinarian. She's very compassionate towards animals and seems to have an intuitive sense about them. She's always asking to go to the zoo and visit her favorite animal, a tiger named Ashley, and she talks about Ashley and Kira (the tiger at the Philadelphia Zoo) as if they were our pets.

So that's what makes If Anything Ever Goes Wrong at the Zoo one of her favorite picture books.

In this book, Leslie and her mom visit the zoo every Saturday, and on each visit, Leslie chats up a different animal handler. She inquires about the zebras, the monkeys, the elephants. And to each person, Leslie makes a benevolent offer.

"If anything ever goes wrong at the zoo," she offers. "You can send the zebras to my house."

Along with the monkeys, the elephants, and every other species.

Not surprisingly, the animals stay put, the handlers having things at zoo under control. Until one day a rainstorm floods the zoo and they turn to Leslie for help. First the zebras arrive, then the monkeys and elephants.

"All night long the animals came. There was a lion in the closet. An alligator splashed in the tub."

If Anything Ever Goes Wrong at the Zoo ... is a cute picture book that plays to kids' imaginations about having a menagerie of their very own. It's probably best suited for preschoolers (my kids were probably slightly too old for this one, but we had to check it out of the library because of "zoo" being in the title.)

Still, an enjoyable story that could prompt fun "what-if" questions ("What if an orangutan came to our house? Where would she sleep?"), guaranteed to produce giggles and silliness galore.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Living History (or, Spending Valentine's Day in the Presence of Greatness)

Dabney Montgomery and Henry L. Smith,
two former Tuskegee Airmen who I met on Valentine's Day morning

"And I stood in the corner and thought, how can I change this situation peacefully? And that thought stayed in the back of my mind for many a month and year."

~ Dabney Montgomery, Tuskegee Airman and bodyguard of Martin Luther King Jr., 2/14/2010

Walking into church on Sunday morning, Valentine's Day, was like taking a walk back in time.

A walk alongside Martin Luther King Jr., en route from Selma to Montgomery.

A walk along the tarmac with the Tuskegee Airmen.

I knew that this particular service, commemorating Black History Month, was on the schedule, but I had forgotten that it was planned for Valentine's Day. All I knew was that I was in need of a pick me up from the weather and from writing my previous blog post about the killing of Jennifer Daugherty.
And so it was that I found myself in the presence of greatness.

Dabney Montgomery, a Tuskegee Airman and former bodyguard of Martin Luther King Jr.'s, was the guest speaker on Sunday at our Unitarian Universalist congregation. Of the 5,000 Tuskegee Airmen, there are only 280 still alive.

"And you have two of them with you today," he said, nodding to Henry L. Smith, seated in the audience.

We listened, a rapt audience of nearly 200, as Dabney Montgomery told us about a time where people believed African Americans were incapable of flying a plane, that because the arteries in their brains were shorter than others, they could not be taught such skills.

We walked with him down the tarmac, as he recalled Mrs. Roosevelt ("you remember Mrs. Roosevelt, don't you?") demanding to be flown by an African American pilot.

He received an honorable discharge from the Army in 1945, and upon returning home to his hometown of Selma, Alabama, he only had one thing on his mind.

Registering to vote.

We walked with Dabney Montgomery as he went to register to vote, and was told to go around back and enter through the back entrance, as he was handed three separate applications to vote. The applications needed to be filled out by three separate white men who could vouch for his character.

Not only was I black, Mr. Montgomery said by way of explanation, but I "didn't have enough money in the bank [to vote], didn't have a house."

"And I stood in the corner and thought, 'how I can change this situation peacefully?' And that thought stayed in the back of my mind for many a month and a year," he said.

Dabney Montgomery volunteered to be one of Martin Luther King's bodyguards on the historic Selma to Montgomery March in 1965. We felt the spit from onlookers as the marchers walked by.

"After the march, I took the soles off the shoes I wore," Dabney Montgomery explained. "You can see them for yourself in the back, there."

Several months after that march, The Voter Rights Act of 1965 was signed.

We walked back into the room with Dabney Montgomery as he registered to vote.

"And this time, there was a black woman behind the desk," he laughed.

And then he turned serious again.

Whatever the situation is, "it can be changed through nonviolence, but you must stand and never give in. Don't compromise. [We need] nonviolence not only in the schools, but in the home," he said, referencing recent bullying attacks and the shooting by a professor in Alabama.

"Nonviolence is a must if we are to survive," Dabney Montgomery concluded.

"We'll walk hand in hand someday ..." we sang, as the closing hymn, and as we joined hands and I reached for the African-American man's hand next to me, I couldn't hold back the tears any longer. (I hate crying in public, but in this case, I wasn't alone.)

Afterward, I was chatting with people I hadn't seen in months as Betty rushed through the door.

"Look, Mommy, they have cake!" she exclaimed, pointing to the refreshments.

"We can have cake," I said, "But first, there's somebody who I want you to meet."

I told Betty that I wanted her to shake this man's hand and thank him for his service to our country. That she would understand why when she was older.

We approached the throng of people surrounding Dabney Montgomery, taking photos with him as if he was a movie star. He welcomed all of this, even basked in the attention.

What does one say to such a hero? I thought.

"Your words were so inspiring," I said. "Thank you for your service to our country. It is a real pleasure and honor to meet you."

"Thank you," Mr. Montgomery replied. A former ballet student, he bent down and shook Betty's outstretched hand. And then, we all ate cake.

I went to church on Sunday seeking a spiritual boost.

But what I got was so much more.

"Hey, so many things I never thought I'd see
Happening right in front of me
I had a friend in school
Running back on a football team
They burned a cross in his front yard
For asking out the home coming queen
I thought about him today
And everybody who's seen what he's seen
From a woman on a bus
To a man with a dream
Hey, wake up Martin Luther
Welcome to the future
Hey, glory, glory, hallelujah
Welcome to the future ..."
"Welcome to the Future" ~ Brad Paisley
photos and text (except for Brad Paisley lyrics) copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Explaining Anne Frank

These are the types of conversations that my kids are fond of bringing up, usually about five minutes before bedtime.

"That girl on your book looks like you," Boo commented, referring to Anne Frank: The Book, the Life, the Afterlife, which has several black and white photos of Anne on the cover.

"You think so?"
"Yes. Who is she?"
"Her name is Anne Frank."
"Did she die?"
"Yes, honey, she did die."


"When did she die?"
"A long time ago, in 1944."
"How old was she?"
"How did she die?"

Age-appropriate answers, I reminded myself.

"Well," I began. "You know that Grandpop-pop was in the War, right?"
"He died." (Not in the war. Last year.)
"Yes, but at a different time. He was in the war, and during that war, there was a bad man. A very bad man."
"Did Grandpop-pop know the bad man? Did Grandpop-pop kill him?"
"No, he didn't know him and he didn't kill him. When Grandpop-pop was a soldier in the war, his job was to make sure the planes kept running."

Betty interjects.
"Was Grandpop-pop in the middle of a sentence when he died?"
"I really don't know, honey, I wasn't there."
"I think his eyes closed and he went like this - " (goes real still)
"Well, yeah, that's probably possible."

Back to Boo:
"Did Grandpop-pop know Anne Frank?"
"No, he didn't."
"Did he see her die?"
"How did she die?"
"The bad man didn't like certain people, and he wanted them to die. So, someone came to Anne Frank's house and told them this, but she and her family went and hid in an attic. For two years. And while she was hiding, she wrote a diary."

"And then she died?"
"Well, they were found, and then after that, she died."

"I know who was the saddest at Grandpop-pop's funeral."
"Mom Mom. Because that was her father."
"Well, yes, I think she was very sad."

Boo again:
"Was Anne Frank old?
"No, honey, she was just a little girl."
"I don't want to die."
"I know, honey. I don't want you to die either. Most people don't die when they are little, so you shouldn't worry about that."
"But Anne Frank wasn't old."
"No she wasn't."
"And she died."
"Why did she die again?"
"Because the bad man didn't like certain people and he wanted them to die."
"That's not really fair."
"No, it certainly is not."
"I think ...."
"What, honey?"


"I think that everyone should be allowed to live like they want to live, and not worry about having to die."

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Love Lost: Remembering Jennifer Daugherty

Generally, I shy away from stories like this.

I don't have the stomach to read about people with disabilities being physically and emotionally manipulated, abused, tortured, killed.

I definitely don't read them over breakfast, and because I don't, I don't write about them on my blog. Call me irresponsible for not doing so, especially given that I'm a parent to a child with special needs. I know that such abuses happen but generally, it's too painful to think about.

This Valentine's Day morning I'm forgetting all that.

This Valentine's Day morning, I read the story of the torturing and killing of 30 year old Jennifer Daugherty over my bowl of Cheerios and while sipping coffee. According to the article, Jennifer had made some new friends. Her family didn't think much of this, didn't ask for details. On Thursday, she told her family about her plans to stay overnight with one of the new friends.

Who killed her. But not before, according to an affidavit mentioned in the article, "[s]he was beaten with a towel rack, vacuum cleaner hose and a crutch, and her body was bound with Christmas decorations .... Police said she was fed vegetable oil, medications and spices in addition to soap and urine."

There are no words (except for one: why?) to even remotely begin to understand such depravity.

What makes this even more chilling is that Jennifer was mentally challenged. At 30, she reportedly had the mental abilities of a 12-14 year old.

And so, knowing that, I braced myself, reading the article, for the comment section. (Which on our local paper's website is usually a verbal food fight of juvenile humor, misinformation, insults, and sarcasm. This kind of free speech might not have been what the Founding Fathers had in mind.)

I'm waiting for the insults, for the finger-pointing at the family members for not watching over Jennifer like a toddler. As if any of us, who are parents or extended family of "normal, typical" 30 year olds, know every single detail of our children's lives, their minute-by-minute plans, their friend's names and criminal histories. If you're that kind of hyper-crazed helicopter parent of a child in their 30s (and we have friends who are, believe you me), more power to you. Maybe.

Maybe Jennifer's story resonates with me, the parent of a child with autism, because Jennifer's life up until Thursday is what we strive for as parents of kids with special needs, don't we? We want them to live independently, to make their own decisions. We want them to be able to navigate public transit, to make their own appointments.

To make their own friends.

Jennifer was doing all that. She was living a life that we all hope for our children, special needs or not. She had a support system in place through a counselor, her family, a community center that she was part of.

And yet.

And yet we're reminded, on this Valentine's Day morning, that the world is not always a loving place for those with disabilities. That, as parents and professionals who love people with disabilities, we can try to do the right thing, put the right systems in place, and it will never be enough when confronted by a gang with criminal histories.

By evil disguised as a friend.

Photo taken by me 1/23/2010 of a rain wall in the Children's Garden at Longwood Gardens. Copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Book Review: Anne Frank: The Book, the Life, the Afterlife, by Francine Prose

Anne Frank: The Book, the Life, the Afterlife
by Francine Prose
published 2009
281 pages

Read for: Women Unbound; Support Your Local Library; Memorable Memoir Reading Challenge

"In Amsterdam, on the sunny and otherwise quiet morning of Friday, August 4, 1944, a car pulled up in front of the Opekta warehouse at 263 Prinsengracht.

That is all one needs to write, and already the reader know who was hiding in the attic and the fate about to befall them. We know it more than sixty years later, at a historical moment when it is often noted how little history we remember. We know the reason why we know, but it bears repeating lest we take it for granted that we know because a little girl kept a diary." (pg. 63)

I thought I knew the story of Anne Frank's diary.

Like many teenagers, I read The Diary of a Young Girl in middle school and was immediately captivated and inspired by young Anne's writing. Through her diary, Anne became, for my generation and others, a symbol of the Holocaust and the atrocities committed upon millions of people during that time.

But in Anne Frank: The Book, the Life, the Afterlife, bestselling author Francine Prose provides an illuminating view of Anne Frank and her diary. There are so many aspects of the diary that Prose discusses with fascinating detail, and in doing so, the reader learns so much about a book - and more importantly, a girl - that we thought we knew.

For starters, it's not necessary (as I originally thought) to re-read The Diary of a Young Girl before reading Prose's book. Prose includes so much of the diary's passages that you instantly remember the phrases, the others hiding in the attic with their idiosyncrasies unveiled, and how Anne seemed to speak to us through her diary, which she names Kitty, a brilliant literary device that endears her to her reader.

"Reading Anne's diary, we become the friend, the most intelligent, comprehending companion that anyone could hope to find. Chatty, humorous, familiar, Anne is writing to us, speaking from the heart to the ideal confidante, and we rise to the challenge and become that confidante. She turns us into the consummate listener, picking up the signals she hopes she
is transmitting into the fresh air beyond the prison of the attic. If her diary is a message in a bottle, we are the ones who find it, glittering on the beach." (pg. 91)

Anne Frank: The Book
Prose makes a compelling case for the fact that the diary was, in Anne's view, a deliberate work of art. I didn't know (or maybe I had forgotten) that the diary went through several versions and revisions. There was the first version (A), and then in March 1944, Anne began the process of revising her work (version B). After her death, the diary was retrieved and given to Anne's father, Otto Frank, who began the process of editing his daughter's work (version C), believing as she did that it should be published - which incidentally, did not happen overnight. Far from it.

"The manuscript was rejected by every editor who read it, none of whom could imagine that readers would buy the intimate diary of a young girl, dead in the war. (pg. 77)

Same in the United States, where "Anne Frank's diary was initially rejected by nearly every major publishing house. " It was considered to be "too narrowly focused, too domestic, too Jewish, too boring, and above all, too likely to remind readers of what they wished to
forget." (pg. 81) Others were more harsh, calling it "'very dull,' a 'dreary record of typical family bickering, petty annoyances and adolescent emotions.'" (pg. 81)

An editor found it in the reject pile.

But that's all history, obviously. There's still the matter of the writing itself. In Anne Frank: The Book, the Life, the Afterlife, Prose presents side-by-side comparisons of Anne's original passages and the same words following Anne's self-editing and revisions. In the process, Anne's writing strengthens and matures. At 15, she becomes a master of all aspects of writing - the ability to develop characters and detail, create suspense (even though you know what is going to happen), voice and tone, and multiple themes.

"One striking aspect of the diary is how much life it packs into its pages. Sex is part of it, as is death, love, family, age, youth, hope, God, the spiritual and the domestic, the mystery of innocence and the mystery of evil." (pg. 126)

As a writer, it is both fascinating to watch this literary process unfold ... and heartbreaking because you can't help but wonder what could have been.

Anne Frank: The Life
Through her writing, Anne also gives a reader a strong sense of the history and happenings of that time, which is incredible given the fact the Franks were in hiding. Prose writes that this becomes even more critical as decades pass and memories fade.

"In a few more years, no one alive will have witnessed the scene of a Nazi arresting a Jew. There have been, and will be, other arrests and executions for the crime of having been born into a particular race or religion or tribe. But the scene of Nazis hunting down Jews is unlikely to happen again, though history teaches us never to say never. This will be the arrest that future generations can visualize, like a scene in a book. They will have to remind themselves that it happened to real people, though these people have survived, and will live on, as characters in a book." (pg. 64)

There is a section of Anne Frank: The Book, the Life, the Afterlife where Prose writes about the arrest of the Franks, details of which I again thought I knew but didn't. The arresting officer Karl Josef Silberbauer

"was disturbed by the detail of Otto Frank's military trunk, labeled as the property of Lieutenant Otto Frank, which meant he would have been Sergeant Silberbauer's superior when both fought in the German army during World War I." (pg. 65)

Simon Wiesenthal later successfully tracked down this Silberbauer, whose wartime activities were investigated and later dropped for "lack of evidence." (Is it possible to arrest someone for being an asshole? Because if so, Silberbauer would have been pretty high on my list for his whining. See if you agree.)

"The suddenly notorious [after his whereabouts and wartime history became known] Silberbauer complained to a Dutch reporter that his temporary suspension from the [Vienna] police force [after his whereabouts and wartime history became known] was making it hard to pay for the new furniture he'd bought on the installment plan, and that he could no longer use the pass that let him ride the streetcar for free. Asked if he had read Anne Frank's
diary, Silberbauer replied that he had bought it to see if he was in it." (pg. 66)

I commend Prose for taking a more restrained response to this than I would have, because really ... worrying about his furniture payments and losing his privileges of riding the streetcar for free? Call me callous, but those hardships don't seem to be on par with dying of typhus at age 15 in a concentration camp.

"Why did he think he might be? He knew what happened to Anne after he flushed her out of the attic. Did he imagine that, ill and starving, she could have kept up her diary in Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen, pausing from her labors to record her impressions of Silberbauer?" (pg. 66-67)

All of this would have been sufficient material for Prose to examine in less than 300 pages. But, she gives us more - so much more.

I hadn't intended to read this for the Women Unbound challenge, but I think it fits. Seeing the emergence of Anne as the feminist she could have been is fascinating.

"Anne is appalled by the thought of growing up with the limited horizons, ambitions, and expectations of the women around her .... Anne writes that she hopes to spend a year in Paris or London, studying languages and art history - an ambition she compares, with barely veiled contempt, to Margot's desire to go to Palestine and become a midwife.

"In an essay entitled "Reading Anne Frank as a Woman," a feminist interpretation of Anne as 'a woman who was censored by male editors," Berteke Waaldijk, a professor of Women's Studies at the University of Utrecht, points out a long and almost entirely overlooked passage that Otto Frank excised from the final section of the diary. Perhaps Otto assumed that a lengthy disquisition on women's rights might distract the reader heading into the final pages in which Anne is unknowingly hurtling toward her doom. At a point during which Anne was
simultaneously writng new material and rapidly revising, she devoted a remarkable amount of space to the question of why women are treated as inferior to men:

[Anne's words]
'Presumably man, thanks to his greater physical strength, achieved dominence over women from the very start; man, who earns the money, who begets children, who may do what he wants ... It is stupid enough of women to have borne it all in silence for such a long time, since the more centuries this arrangement lasts, the more deeply rooted it becomes. Luckily schooling, work and progress have opened women's eyes. In many countries ... modern women demand the right of complete independence!"

It really makes you wonder, doesn't it, about what kind of woman Anne Frank would have become, seeing the blossoming right before our eyes, the issues that she would have been speaking out on, the differences that she would have made in addition to the ones she did make as a 15 year old.

Anne Frank: The Afterlife
By afterlife, Prose is not referring to reincarnation or a ghostly presence or anything like that. She's referring to the life that The Diary of a Young Girl has had in the years since Anne's death and the producton of the play, and the movie. (I never saw either, so the machinations involved surrounding both were not as compelling to me as other parts of Anne Frank: The Book, the Life, the Afterlife. After reading the behind-the-scenes drama and the final result that is the play and movie, I'm not interested in seeing either.)

Prose addresses the claims that some consider the diary to be fake, the emergence of Holocaust deniers, and the reasons why The Diary of a Young Girl ranks among the most-challenged and banned book in schools. (After one such case, one school board was ordered to pay families $50,000 in damages because of their children's exposure to Anne Frank's diary.)

All of the above is disturbing at best, horrifying at worst, but Prose counters this with real-life examples of how Anne's diary is being taught in schools - and why it must be. It goes back to the passage of how in a few years, there won't be anyone left alive who has witnessed - much less lived - during a time when Nazis hunted down Jews. But it is more than that: in 2008, a survey found that a quarter of American teenagers had no idea who Hitler was.

If you're a teacher or otherwise responsible for kids' education, I'd imagine that this section of Prose's book would be of great interest.

Anne Frank wrote that she believed that people were basically good at heart. She also hoped that there would be a way to live on after her death.

With extensive research and detail showing us an Anne Frank who was a gifted writer and feminist and change agent for the world, Francine Prose has proven to us by paying homage to Anne that both are, absolutely, very much possible.

FTC disclaimer: I owe a small fortune on this, as this was due back January 29 to my local library.

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Weekend Cooking: Cream of Tomato Soup

As much as I j'adore my crockpot, there are times when one needs to cook a pot of soup on the stove, to stir, to sprinkle and swirl in spices.

And there are times, during weeks like these, when a snow day (or two, or three) pile up like drifts, necessitating the need for that quintessential snowbound lunch.

Which would be, of course, none other than a bowl of tomato soup and grilled cheese. I hadn't planned ahead and made anything in the crockpot, so I turned to one of my favorite recipes in one of my favorite cookbooks.

Seriously, no kitchen (vegetarian or otherwise) should be without Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. I have been a fan of her cooking for awhile and this cookbook (oh, my word, just discovered Deborah has a website with a blog ... swoon ...) is a treasure trove of easy, simple, but oh-so-delicious vegetarian recipes. It's a great resource for those looking for easy to prepare veggie meals, but also as a primer for those who have a vegetarian friend or relative dining at your table.

Ah, yes, there it was ... Deborah's recipe for Cream of Tomato Soup. (As you can see, I write notes in my cookbooks with the date I made the dish, any modifications or tweaks, and of course, what we thought.)

Got out the ingredients, most of which are probably already staples in your pantry (or if not, they certainly should be): (Yes, on this Valentine's Day weekend, the Christmas snowman cookie jar is still on my countertop.)

2.5 tbsps of butter
1 small onion, chopped
1 celery rib, chopped
1.5 tsps dried basil, crumbled
pinch ground cloves
2 tbsps flour
2 15 oz. cans diced tomatoes in puree
pinch baking soda
2.5 cups Basic Vegetable Stock or water
1.5 cups milk, as needed
salt and freshly milled pepper
tomato paste, if needed

My modifications were to omit the celery (hate celery), to use a 32 oz. can of crushed tomatoes in puree, and to use vegetable broth. I needed all the milk (2%) and didn't need the tomato paste.

Melt the butter in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, basil and cloves; cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is limp, about 5 minutes.

Stir in the flour, then add the tomatoes, baking soda, and stock; bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, partially covered, for 20 minutes.

(I had to take a peek ...)

Let cool briefly, then puree in a blender until smooth. (Because I used crushed tomatoes with puree, this step wasn't necessary. But when I've made this with diced tomatoes, it is.)

Return the soup to the pot, add the milk, and season with salt. If the soup is too thick, thin it with additional milk or stock. If the tomato flavor isn't as rich as you'd like (if the tomatoes were packed in water instead of puree), deepen it by stirring in a little tomato paste. Reheat and serve piping hot with pepper ground into each bowl.

Deborah's notes from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone: An American classic that's made with canned tomatoes. Use one of the good organic brands such as Muir Glen. This quick soup makes a fine pairing with a grilled cheese sandwich or crisp romaine salad.

I served this with grilled mozzerella and provolone cheese sandwiches.

Serves 4. (I would imagine this could be easily doubled. Also, I have a small one-serving size container of this in my freezer, as it freezes well.)

Weeking Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page. For more information, see the welcome post.

photos copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles).

Friday, February 12, 2010

States of Emergency, Shakers of Salt, and Samaritans in the Snow

We were still under our blizzard-of-the-century induced State of Emergency when I decided to attempt my daily 70 mile drive to work this morning. The SOE seemed to be somewhat a precautionary courtesy, as the driving bans had been lifted overnight. My thought was to see how the roads were and if they were still treacherous, I'd turn around and take yet another vacation day.

So I was pleasantly surprised to find the highways and byways of my adopted state practically pristine. And, not hearing much out of the ordinary on the traffic reports, I actually started to relax. I might have even allowed a daydream to flitter into the morning, as the first song I heard on the radio caused me to sing along.

"Wastin' away again in Margaritaville, lookin' for my lost shaker of salt ..."

Yes, indeed, what I wouldn't do to be wastin' away in Margaritaville, I thought, driving onward.

An hour and about 68 miles later, I exited off the final highway of the morning, merging onto the four-lane major road that leads into the urban suburban city where my office is located. There, it seemed as if I entered a world time forgot - or, more accurately, a world where snowplows and salt trucks forgot.

Seems that Jimmy Buffett ain't the only one who has lost his shaker of salt, I thought. This freakin' town seems like it has lost theirs, too.

Because trust you me when I say this road looked like it was plowed by someone who had one too many margaritas. Two days post blizzard, there still wasn't a single speck of asphalt to be seen. Still, the roads were somewhat passable and I wasn't too concerned. My workhorse Chevy HHR was navigating the skating rink just fine.

Until I turned onto the street that leads to my office's parking lot.

Which is where I promptly encountered this:

(Yes, because my car got stuck in this tundra of insanity, I did what any reasonable blogger person would do, which was to whip out my BlackBerry to snap a picture. My only thought was that there was no way my car nor I were making it out of this in one piece, so my insurance claim might be bolstered by having documentation. OK, I might have thought about the blog, too.)

It only looks like that's the road, but no ... that's several inches of snow and a thick veneer of solid ice. We're talking a version of Bumper Cars From Hell, a fishtailing-sliding-slipping-out-of-fucking-control-of-the-wheel free-for-all. You've got two rows of cars and buses making their way down a snow covered road built in Colonial times (one that has no business being a two-car width road on the best of days) with cars parked (or, more likely, abandoned).

Oh, and did I mention this is a hill? So imagine the scene of cars skidding up as well as down a hill. And getting stuck.

Which, of course, promptly happened to me. And to the taxi driver (not pictured) to my left. Which is why the guy in the photo above has his door open. Because the bus driver and the taxi driver had started to get into an altercation.

Taxi driver, rolling down his window at me: "What do you think I should do?"

Mind you, my car is just as stuck as his.

Me: "I don't know."

Bus driver, who has gotten off his bus (probably to the consternation of his passengers, who likely wanted to throw him under it) remarked helpfully:

"You need a shovel."

Taxi driver: "I don't have one."

Bus driver: "You need a shovel."

Taxi driver: "I don't have one."

This goes on for about a minute, with Taxi Driver asking me, intermittently, what he should do. Which is when Dude Opening the Car Door in the Photo enters the scene, holding a dustpan. A dustpan! To dig a spinning car out of the remnants of two feet of snow!

Meanwhile, there was some guy standing on his steps, just watching the scenario unfold. After about a few minutes, he had the brilliant idea that if he pushed my car out of the drift I was in, traffic on his street could move again. He did, and somehow, my car became unstuck with one push. I gunned it, and headed toward the intersection at the end of the hill, which was somewhat passable.

At that point, mere yards from my office door, I'd had enough. Shaken, I pulled over and called The Dean. I was coming home. Then I called my boss to explain the road situation around our office. We were both in the vicinity of the same coffee shop. We sat there for two hours, caught up on projects, strategized, and called it a day.

And then I drove back home, deciding that I needed to listen to music instead of my audio book. Calmer and caffeinated, there was still a part of me that was a little unnerved (because there is no feeling like having no control over one's car on a slippery street with a bus coming toward you). Stunned that I somehow made it down the hill with car and driver unscathed, I turned on the radio again.

"Before she knew it she was spinning on a thin black sheet of glass ...." sang Carrie Underwood.

"She saw both their lives flash before her eyes

She didn't even have time to cry, she was so scared

She threw her hands up in the air

Jesus, take the wheel, take it from my hands

'Cause I can't do this on my own ...."

No, none of us can, can we? Jesus at the wheel, that frozen concoction (at home) that helps me hang on, a push, a dustpan ... whatever it takes. Bring it on, 'cause I need it all.

Because you guessed it ... there's another 6-8" of snow in the forecast for Monday.

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Thursday, February 11, 2010


copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Mother Nature, Tear Down This Wall

"The good news is this," said The Dean, first thing on this second consecutive day of being in a State of Emergency. "Our driveway is partially cleared."

"Did Tony come by last night?" I asked.

Not quite. Mother Nature once again showed what she's capable of.

Which would be this: overnight winds of such force and intensity that they practically cleared a section of our driveway ... creating a wall of snow approximately 4' high in the middle of the driveway.

I love the Blizzard Pac-Man shadow on the left, don't you?

Another shot of the wall of snow below (this is what one sees standing in our garage):

And just for good measure, a few icicles on the roof of the garage.

Mother Nature, I cry Uncle.

Enough of this winter.

Get my drift?

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.