Thursday, September 30, 2010

My Daughter the Philanthropist

Having a fundraiser for a mother has turned my daughter into a budding philanthropist.

On Wednesday I wrote about Betty's passion for the orcas (killer whales) and I told her that I included the photos from the dolphin show in my blog post that day.

Which prompted her to ask me to set her up with her own blog.  "Because if I have my own blog, I will be able to get more people to help me save the whales.  And the dolphins too.  Because we don't want to leave them out."

I set her up on but since I highlighted Boo's writing earlier this week, it is only in the interest of fairness that I give you Betty's pitch.  (Call me biased, but with nearly 20 years in the fundraising profession, I think this appeal letter is pretty damn good.  God knows I've seen worse.)

Orca and dolphin saving with Betty

"You see, my new blog is about saving two kinds of mammals that I love, Orcas and dolphins. But there is some bad news: Orcas are endangered! That is why I wanted my mom to make me my first blog. A few weeks ago my grandma and grandpa came to stay for two days. Mommom and I were looking at my grown-up library book Freeing Keiko. Keiko is the orca who plays Willy in the movie Free Willy. When I heard orcas were endangered I was like``I didn`t know orcas were endangered!'' So that is why it is important to care about orcas and dolphins and all kinds of se mammals. I went to my class Book Fair and got a diary that said Follow your heart on it. I`m chasing my dream to become an orca trainer and I`m following my heart to do what I want to do about orcas being endangered. When I heard about the oil spill I was just shocked. It got all over the pelicans and the sea creatures that lived in the sea. So here is what I`m going to do about it : I`m going to make a donation to save the orcas that are being caught in fishing nets and being taken away from their familys. The donations will cost money but it won`t cost much. The donations are up to 1 to 10 dollars. That is what you have to do if you want to help me save every orca in the world. Remember this is for dolphins too. But it`s not for the money, it`s for the orcas and the money. I would also like some tips on being an orca traainer, so if you have any for me you can just send it by mail or you can e-mail me about it.``

She's quite serious about selling some unwanted toys and raising money to send to a charity to help the orcas.  (We're just not quite sure which one exactly.  We're researching possibilities.)   She truly believes she can save each and every orca. 

Again, I'm biased (and maybe a bit jaded), but how can you not love the passion? It's made me think that this spirit, this enthusiasm is what my friend Kathy LeMay had in mind when writing her book, The Generosity Plan.  As a fundraiser, I am drawn to youth philanthropy and I believe that it is our duty as parents and as citizens of the world to allow our kids to develop a sense of giving back, of making a difference.  I see this in my work. I see this in my immediate and extended family.

And during a week where so much has not gone right or as planned, and in a week that has brought much doubt and stress, the orcas make me feel like we are doing one thing right. 

They make me see a little bit of hope.

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.

Banned Books Week: The Things They Carried, by Tim O'Brien

While Betty and I were at the library the other evening, I pointed out a display to her and explained that they were books that some people thought people should not be allowed to read.  She was genuinely appalled about this, and rightfully so. 

I've been a little remiss this week in not mentioning Banned Books Week, mainly because so many others have written much more eloquently about this issue.  I wanted to highlight a banned book that I recently read, but other than To Kill a Mockingbird, I didn't think I had any reviews in the queue that fit the bill.

Wrong.  For on the library's display was one of my recent reads, The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien.  I didn't realize this was a banned book, nor can I find much information about exactly why that is the case, but I agree with Rebecca from The Book Lady's Blog when she says that it might be too graphic and realistic for some people. That it definitely is. 

On the book jacket cover, it says that The Things They Carried should be required reading for every American.  During Banned Books Week, never has that statement rang more true.  Here's my review of The Things They Carried, written a few weeks ago but just being posted now.

The Things They Carried
by Tim O'Brien
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
233 pages

On the evening that President Obama announced the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom and told us that it is time to turn the page, I found myself turning the pages of a book about another war.

The Things They Carried is about the Vietnam War and the book is considered an American classic. Now I see why.  Now that I've turned the last page, I wholeheartedly agree with the book jacket that this is required reading for every American.

I should admit this: I didn't want to read this book.  I mean, if your literary diet is similar to mine, you're not going to readily pick up a "war book."  But enough people have said how remarkable this is, so when Kim from Sophisticated Dorkiness hosted a read-along, I decided to give it a try. 

I'm so glad I did.  Yes, it's a tough subject matter, one that most of us would like to avoid.  Yes, there are some tough, heartwrenching scenes and descriptions.  But Tim O'Brien's writing in this is absolutely breathtaking.  He has the ability to put you right there in the middle of Vietnam with all the characters.

"To generalize about war is like generalizing about peace. Almost everything is true.  Almost nothing is true. At its core, perhaps, war is just another name for death, and yet any soldier will tell you, if he tells the truth, that proximity to death brings with it a corresponding proximity to life. After a firefight, there is always the immense pleasure of aliveness. The trees are alive. The grass, the soil - everything. All around you things are purely living, and you among them, and the aliveness makes you tremble. You feel an intense, out-of-the-skin awareness of your living self - your truest self, the human being you want to be and then become by the force of wanting it. In the midst of evil you want to be a good man. You want decency. You want justice and courtesy and human concord, things you never knew you wanted. There is a kind of largeness to it, a kind of godliness. Though it's odd, you're never more alive than when you're almost dead.You recognize what's valuable. Freshly, as if for the first time, you love what's best in yourself and in the world, all that might be lost." (pg. 77-78)

Is that not a spectacular piece of writing?

I want to elaborate for a minute on this: "Almost everything is true. Almost nothing is true. At its core, perhaps, war is just another name for death, and yet any soldier will tell you, if he tells the truth, that proximity to death brings with it a corresponding proximity to life."  To me, those three sentences are the very core of this book. The Things They Carried has an element of mystery about it, because while it is billed as "A Work of Fiction by Tim O'Brien," it reads very much like a memoir due in large part to O'Brien including himself as a character in the book.  That leads the reader, including myself, to wonder how much of the story is true and how much isn't.

O'Brien uses this technique brilliantly and, I believe, on purpose.  I didn't experience the Vietnam War, but I do know that it was a very nebulous and confusing time.  We weren't quite sure why we were there or what to believe.  By using this literary device of purposefully not telling his reader what is true and what is not, O'Brien is making a similar statement on the times of which he writes.

Likewise, the "proximity to death bring[ing] a corresponding proximity to life" is also an intriguing line because, yes, there is so much death in this book but there is also so much life.  The soldiers of Alpha Company are very much alive, even in their deaths as their memory lives on.  And, as the ending makes clear, so are those who were left behind at home and those gone before their time. Being exposed to death so young has the effect of making one appreciate one's life and the lives of those we love.

This is an incredibly powerful book, one that should be (as I've said previously) required reading for every American.  I may not have wanted to pick up The Things They Carried, but once I did, I couldn't put it down.

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.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

(Not So) Wordless Wednesday: Dolphins and Orcas and Betty, Oh My!

My Betty is fascinated (to put it mildly) with killer whales.  She is all about the orcas and, at almost 9 years old, fully intends to become either a marine biologist or an orca trainer.  She has every book out from the library on whales (from both the children's and adult sections) and is in the middle of reading Freeing Keiko: The Journey of a Killer Whale from Free Willy to the Wild. This all stems from watching the movie "Free Willy" during a rainy day at camp this summer. 

During our recent trip to Baltimore, Betty and I visited the National Aquarium and among the sights we took in was the dolphin show.  (If she can't be an orca trainer, a dolphin trainer will be just as great.)  The first picture is her favorite from the entire trip, as she has written about in several homework assignments for the past week.

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, September 27, 2010

Book Review: After the Workshop, by John McNally

After the Workshop, by John McNally 
Counterpoint Press
303 pages

"Most people fail to recognize the moment they've touched the ceiling of their potential, that point at which they've reached the height of their intellectual prowess or the summit of their popularity. It can happen anywhere, at any point in their life - away at college during a study session the night before a final, or on a high school football field while catching the game winning touchdown. For some poor souls it happens as early as grade school, often inconspicuously: surrounded by friends on the blacktop on the first day back to school, or saying something funny in class that makes even the teacher smile.  And then, after that, it's all downhill." (pg. 9)

So begins After the Workshop, a satirical and humorous (and often sad) look at the post-grad life of an Iowa Writers Workshop writer. (No matter that Jack Hercules Sheahan graduated a mere 12 years ago.) After publishing one short story ("The Self Adhesive Postage Stamp") in The New Yorker, Jack's novel-in-progress continues to collect dust while he works as a media escort for writers (mostly of the prima donna variety) visiting Iowa on their book tours.

Jack's encounters and interactions with these writers make up most of the action in this entertaining novel. (Many of them are well known, as McNally isn't afraid of name dropping in a good way. Others are fictitious - I think - which makes one wonder who they really are.  As I said in my Sunday Salon post, After the Workshop is like the "You're So Vain" of the literary world.)

Any book that mentions BEA (Book Expo America) and blogs within the first chapter - and the former on the first page - is a book that you know is one that knows its stuff about the writing life.  And McNally, who like his character Jack is also a graduate of the prestigious Iowa Writers Workshop and also once worked as a media escort to writers on their book tours, isn't afraid to give his reader a peek into this world that he knows very well.  In doing so, he shows us that it isn't as esteemed and glamorous as we might have originally thought.
Amid the bumblings and stumblings of Jack Sheahan's somewhat depressing existance as a wannabe writer escorting less-talented types around town,  the reader begins to understand the reasons behind Jack's self-doubt. Just like the frozen landscape of Iowa's prairie, Jack too remains frozen in time. 
"We were drunks and crazies, pissers and moaners. But my longing was both deeper and darker than a yearning for barracks. It was a desire to live in a time that I couldn't possibly live in, a wish to meet people at a time in their lives that had already come and gone, a need to be part of history in a way I could no longer be. I suffered from what C.S. Lewis called sehnsucht, an inconsolable longing in my heart for I knew not what. Sometimes, the sehnsucht's grip was too strong, and it was all I could do not to curl up in bed and remain there for weeks on end." (pg. 222-223).
I mentioned in my Sunday Salon post that I was almost scared to review this one because McNally, through Jack Sheahan, appears to be familiar with book blogs. He (the character of Sheahan) refers to leaving comments on blogs early on in the book (as well as being involved in a hostile exchange of opinions on one), as well as offering commentary on who exactly (in Jack's mind) actually writes blogs. 
"The younger writers - and even some not so young - maintained lengthy blogs about their writing lives. If a writer didn't have a blog, he or she was being blogged about, often viciously, usually by wannabe writers who wielded their blogs like swords. Part of the appeal of being a writer was the anonymity, but the Internet had pretty much ruined that. Almost always when I read blogs by young fiction writers whose work I admired, I ended up feeling embarrassed for the writer.  Frequently, they revealed too much personal information, or they felt compelled to share all of their opinions. There appeared to be no filter between what popped up into their heads and what showed up on their blogs, and I wanted to beg them to reconsider being so public, but instead of dropping emails to them, I simply never read their books again."  (pg. 233-234). 
Yikes.  I'm hoping that this is exclusively the view of Jack Hercules Sheahan, and not John McNally, but it's kind of hard to tell, isn't it? 
Regardless, I don't think John McNally needs to worry about my review because after all, I'm a nobody and I liked his book. Granted, it's not the best book I've read all year, but it is entertaining and a fast and funny read, in the dark humor appeal kind of way that made me enjoy The Financial Lives of the Poets and Then We Came to the End. If anything, I thought perhaps there were too many characters in After the Workshop and that at times, the narrative wandered a bit into the campy and farsical arenas.

But you know what?  Sometimes campy and farce isn't all bad. Sometimes it is exactly what we need.

What Others Thought:

Sasha and the Silverfish

John McNally's website is here

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, September 26, 2010

The Sunday Salon: A Mixed Bag of Books This Week

How is it even possible that this is the last Sunday in September ... and that October begins this week?!  I mean, honestly. 

We were in Baltimore last weekend with a million other people for the Yankees-Orioles games, so I skipped last weekend's Salon.  The time that I would have normally been spending in this spot was being spent with Betty at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, which was fascinating.  (Don't miss the dolphin show, if you go.) I'm wishing I was back in Charm City this weekend for the Baltimore Book Festival, though, as it sounds like such a great time.  Maybe next year ....

But speaking of Baltimore and books, I made the mistake of taking Olive Kitteridge with me on our trip last weekend and starting it an hour before we had to leave for the Yankees game.  Big mistake.  If you read my review of Olive Kitteridge this week, you know how much this incredible book captivated me. I loved this. I nearly wound up taking this to the game with me (and in fact, there was a woman sitting behind us who was reading a mystery novel - I don't remember which one - during the game). 

I'm still making my way through The Early Stories of Louisa May Alcott 1852-1860, which has some wonderful gems in it ("The Rival Prima Donnas," Bertha," "A New Year's Blessing") along with a few that have left me somewhat confused ("Little Genevieve," "A Lady and a Woman.")  There's an Amazon review that suggests not starting with this collection if one is interested in reading Louisa May Alcott's short stories and at this point, I kind of agree.  Diehard Alcott fans and those wanting to read her entire body of work will enjoy this, but the casual reader? Not so much, I don't think.

My current read is John McNally's After the Workshop, a satirical and humorous look at the post-grad life of an Iowa Writers Workshop writer. (No matter that Jack Hercules Sheahan graduated a mere 12 years ago.)  After publishing one short story ("The Self Adhesive Postage Stamp") in The New Yorker,  Jack's novel-in-progress continues to collect dust while he works as a media escort for writers (mostly of the prima donna variety) visiting Iowa on their book tours.

I'm almost scared to review this one because McNally, through Jack Sheahan, appears to be familiar with book blogs.  He (the character of Sheahan) refers to leaving comments on blogs early on in the book, as well as being at Book Expo America. I love that ... and fortunately, I don't think John McNally needs to worry about my review because I am really enjoying After the Workshop so far. It's a fast and funny read, one that's keeping me entertained as I wonder who the fictious authors really are (this is kind of like the "You're So Vain" of the literary world).

Quite the opposite is true of my current audiobook. The only thing I'm wondering about with The Elegance of the Hedgehog is what the hell others have seen in this that I am clearly missing. Seriously, at page 104 and at the beginning of chapter 14, the only reason I'm still listening is because several book bloggers who I respect and have similar tastes as have raved about it (Beth Kephart Books) and warned me about the slow start (thank you Dawn of She is Too Fond of Books).  But I've gotta say I'm starting to lose my patience. Reading portions of it in addition to listening to it on audio isn't helping.  I'm hoping this one turns around soon before I take delight in the thud it will make as I throw it back into the library's book drop.

And finally, into this week a DNF book did indeed fall.  I only made it through the first 30 pages of Crossing Oceans before giving up.  I don't know what it was about this one - maybe just a matter of having the unfortunate circumstance of coming on the heels of Olive Kitteridge, but it just struck me as too much of a made-for-TV movie.  I couldn't get into this one at all, but I'm in the minority with this one.  My Friend Amy has a wonderful review of this one as does Becky's Book Reviews and Books, Movies, and Chinese Food.

So, at the end of the week, we have a very mixed bag of reading here.  What about you?

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.

Guest Post from Boo: Diary of an Elementary School Kid

In the spirit of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, Boo has started keeping a journal of his 3rd grade experiences.  He's asked to share some of his entries with the readers of The Betty and Boo Chronicles and I am, as always, powerless to resist.  (Note to the grandmothers who will likely be compelled to call regarding the bloody knee and steamed water: to our knowledge, no such incidents occurred and these appear to be included here in a fictional, dramatic embellishment context.) Enjoy.

Dear Readers,
The 5th week of 3rd Grade is here and my best friend is driving me nuts about something of his own. And pretty much i have no advice and no hiding place. So on Saturday when i came to soccer a girl gave me a bloody knee.

The good thing is after i get a bodyguard the Cheerleaders at school will be rubbing their hands on him [Boo's best friend] like i said HORRAY! But the bad  thing is if the cheerleaders rip his organs, take my one word BOO! So on Wednesday, some girls put steamed water on me. P.S. please do not drench someone on Wednesdays or Thursays OR MONDAYS. One thing i know someone has a crush on my teamate. YAY! But after some popcorn and a tough bodyguard my chest will be smooth as baby's bottom. On Saturday Afternoon at 2, i turned on Nickoloden when Michelle Obama was talking about the WORLDWIDE DAY OF PLAY time for 180 minutes. Why couldn't Victorius or Looney Tunes be on or something! Well thats all for this latest Diary of an Elementary School kid letter. Next time will be uh maybe Tuesday or someday!
P.S. don't miss my next latest letter.

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, September 25, 2010

Weekend Cooking: Marinara Sauce (in the crockpot)

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. 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.

While I'm usually a pretty good and conscientious shopper and try to keep our spending close to the same amount each week, our weekly grocery bill could benefit from some downsizing. (Who's grocery bill couldn't?)  One of the ways I've been trying to achieve this is by making several things we use regularly from scratch as often as I can. It's cheaper and healthier. It's also not feasible for me to make everything from scratch, but there are certain items I've targeted as ones to strive to make as often as I can. Macaroni and cheese, muffins, salad dressing, and tomato sauce are among them.

We like Prego's Three Cheese Sauce best, which is usually around $2.99 a jar in my supermarket. That seems a little pricey for me, given my new scrutiny of our grocery bill, so I decided to make my own sauce.  (I know ... I've rarely bothered to make tomato sauce from scratch, usually claiming that I had "no time."  But this recipe negates all that because it doesn't take much time at all.  Certainly not $2.99 worth.)

A few weeks ago, I'd purchased some tomatoes from a farmer's market and they had reached that point when they had to be used that day or be tossed the next.  So, I decided to make Marinara Sauce in the crockpot using this incredibly easy recipe from Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook by Beth Hensperger and Julie Kaufmann.  (This is one of my favorite slow cooker cookbooks.)  Use a medium round or oval slow cooker for this.  (I used a 3 quart, which was fine.)

Marinara Sauce

1/2 cup olive oil, or half olive oil and half unsalted butter (( used all olive oil)

1 medium size yellow onion, finely chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

two 28 oz. cans whole plum tomatoes, with their juice, or 3 lbs. ripe plum tomatoes, seeds squeezed out and cut into chunks

3 oz. (half of a 6 oz. can) tomato paste

pinch of sugar

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Over medium heat in a medium size skillet, heat 3 tbsps. of the oil, then cook the onion and garlic, stirring until softened, about 5 minutes.

2. Transfer to the slow cooker, add the remaining olive oil, the tomatoes, tomato paste, and sugar and stir to combine.  Cover and cook on LOW for 4-5 hours.

3. Season the sauce with salt and pepper (I added a little oregano and basil too.) If using canned tomatoes, use a handheld immersion blender to puree the sauce right in the insert; if using fresh, puree with the fine disk of a food mill to remove the tomato skins.  If not serving the sauce with hot pasta immediately, return to the cooker where it will stay warm on LOW for a few hours.  The sauce will keep, refrigerated, for up to a week or frozen for two months.

This didn't have the deep red color I was looking for - it actually seemed more tomato bisque-ish to me, but since we happen to love tomato bisque, that wasn't a problem.  We liked this sauce a lot - it made enough for our pasta for two nights, and a have a container in the freezer that would be sufficient for another two plates of pasta.  

What about you? Do you have a recipe for something made from scratch that was previously a store-bought item?  If so, stop by Weekend Cooking ... I'd love to see it (and so would my grocery bill too.)

Library Loot, Doubled

I skipped Library Loot last week due to the BBAW festivities, so this post features double the loot - last week's and this week's. 

And what a haul it was.  I want to read all of these, right now. 

First, last week's loot. 

Scroogenomics: Why You Shouldn't Buy Presents for the Holidays, by Joel Waldfogel

Truly, a book only The Grinch himself could love. But seriously, how could I not pick this up after seeing that cover? And with two kids who are talking about birthday and Christmas presents, this is a nice little book to pick up in the middle of a tantrum. "Oh, honey, I think I need to read why I shouldn't buy any presents."

I'll pick up my Bad Mommy award whenever it's finished being engraved.

The Blind Contessa's New Machine, by Carey Wallace
I hadn't heard of this before but oh, boy ... does it ever sound intriguing!  I'm thinking this is going to be a Read-a-Thon book because it seems to be one that is meant to be read in one sitting.  Plus its small size makes it conducive to doing so.

Bad Marie, by Marcy Dermansky
It's a Harper Perennial book and I've seen good reviews of this all over the blogs.

Only in New York: An Exploration of the World's Most Fascinating, Frustrating, and Irrepressible City, by Sam Roberts
A map of the Bronx Zoo fell out of this one when I picked it up. I'm keeping it in there.  I think I saw this at McNally Jackson in New York and put it down, so I was thrilled to see it at the library.

Saving Sky, by Diane Stanley
This is a middle grade novel, something I never would have read before blogging, and a genre which I don't often read unless I'm previewing something of Betty's.  This one is a little too mature for her, but it intrigued me so I picked it up. It's about a 13 year old who lives off the grid (no TV - which I could probably do without - and no Internet, which would be the death of me) in a world where terrorists strike at random and the country is at war. 

Stonewall Kitchen Breakfast: A Collection of Great Morning Meals, by Jonathan King, Jim Stott, and Kathy Gunst
There are some seriously delicious looking recipes in this cookbook.  I can't look at this on an empty stomach.

Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy: A Feast of 175 Regional Recipes by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich
As if I thought the breakfast book was mouthwatering, then I get this.  It's divided into the different regions of Italy, with recipes and photos galore.  Yum.

And now, this week's loot:

A Mango-Shaped Space, by Wendy Mass
This is at least my third re-loot of this one.  Hopefully this time I will get to it before it is due back.

Juggling Fire, by Joanne Bell
I've picked this up at the library for at least four weeks straight now.  I think that's a sign that I need to take it home with me, don't you think?

Twenty Boy Summer, by Sarah Ockler
Because I've seen it reviewed everywhere. No other reason. (Oh, this one is being challenged, right? A possible banned book? All the more reason to read it then.)

If I Stay, by Gayle Forman
Our state has an awards program each summer where several books are nominated in children's and young adult categories and put on a special display in the library.  They're only allowed to be checked out for one week, with no renewals; the idea is that you read all of nominees and then vote for the best book.  If I Stay was a contender for this, and hence, was unavailable all summer.  Hence, seeing it back on the shelf made me grab it before it disappeared again.

The Quickening Maze, by Adam Founds
The "Finalist for the Man Booker Prize" label on thie cover caught my attention for this one. 

Wench, by Dolen Perkins-Valdez
Because it looks intriguing and I've seen it on several blogs.

The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman
Because I am the only person who has never read this - nor any Neil Gaiman book, except for Crazy Hair (a children's book) - and it will be perfect the the R.I.P. challenge.

Weeping Underwater Looks a Lot Like Laughter, by Michael J. White
No doubt about it, this one had me at the title.  I mean, really ... with a title like that? How could you not pick it up?

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, by Daniel H. Pink
I like books like this.  Plus, given that I'm a fundraiser, I thought this would be of special interest.

The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters
Another one that I've seen everywhere and that sounds perfect for the R.I.P. Challenge.  (Not like I've actually signed up for it yet.  Guess I'd better do that before it is over.) 

On our way out of the library, another patron noticed my overflowing tote bag and commented on such. 

"How do you have time to read so many books?" she asked. 

Odd question, I thought, coming from someone in the library parking lot.  Then I realized that maybe there are people who go to the library and are able to just check out one book at a time (The Husband falls into that category.)

I paused and then said, "We make time."

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, September 23, 2010

Book Review: Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout

Olive Kitteridge
by Elizabeth Strout
Random House
270 pages

People, I am absolutely and unequivocally in love.

With this book.  This one, right here.  Olive Kitteridge. 

This isn't my new favorite book of the month, or the fall, or even all of 2010.  No.  This is one of my favorite books that I have read in all of my 41 years.  This is the book I am going to start recommending to people when they ask me to suggest "a good book."

This is the kind of book I dream of writing. 

A friend just asked me, in response to my raving about this on Facebook, what this book is about.  And I am absolutely at a loss of how to describe this.  It's about the residents of a small town in Maine sounds like a snore-fest.  It's about a retired schoolteacher named Olive Kitteridge and her family and the connections between them and the people in her community ....

Indeed, it is about all of these things, and it's about the big and small things that make up this thing we call life. It's about the people who share our hearts and those who we encounter by chance. Those we take for granted and those who we will always, in our own way, mourn.

I started writing this review when I was only up to page 42 of Olive Kitteridge.  At that point, it was apparent that I was in the company of something very special.  Suffice it to say that this is absolutely flawless.  I honestly cannot think of anything that bothered me about this book or that didn't work for me ... it is just, simply, a masterpiece in every sense of the word.  Author Elizabeth Strout won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Olive Kitteridge and it is richly deserved.  This book should be taught in every English class.

Everything about this novel-in-stories is pure literary gold.  The characters - each and every single one of these people, residents of coastal Crosby, Maine, all memorable and Olive Kitteridge in their lives for vastly different reasons. The prose - lyrical, mesmerizing, captivating, with descriptions that bring every single one of the pine trees in this community to such vivid life you can hear and see each one in the wind.  The dialogue - so unique to each character, so accurate. The tension, the suspense, the dark humor, the waves of emotion crashing into the reader's heart's all here, in 13 exquisitely written stories that comprise this Pulitzer Prize (and most deservedly so) novel. 

I love short stories, but even if you aren't a fan of the form, that doesn't matter with this book.  While each of these stories can stand alone (and in some cases I believe they have), Olive Kitteridge has a natural rhythm and flow to it. 

As I finished each of the stories, I found myself saying, "OK, that was the best one in this book."  And then I would repeat the same thing after the next, and then the next.  After some I felt like I was forcing myself to actually breathe because the tension was just so heightened.  (I speak of "A Different Road" which I read during last night's shaken-to-the-core thunderstorm that was just as scary as the direction I thought the plot was taking.) 

Truly, I know that I am gushing about this book and that this is probably my most incoherent book review (if you can call it that) ever.  I don't care.  All that matters is that I somehow convey to you that this is a book you must, must, must read.  No, that you must experience because if you appreciate literature and the written word, this is an absolute gift.  It is brilliant, it is mesmerizing, it is stunning in its simplicity and complexity.

It is an exquisite literary treasure.

What Other Bloggers Thought:

A Book A Week
A Guy's Moleskine Notebook
A Life in Books
A Novel Menagerie
A Reader's Journal
Beth Kephart Books
Booking Mama
Caribou's Mom
I'm Booking It
it's all about me
Lakeside Musing
Maggie Reads
Necromancy Never Pays
Never Fading Wood
Page 247
Peeking Between the Pages
Ready When You Are, C.B.
Regular Rumination
She is Too Fond of Books
SmallWorld Reads
Take Me Away

Did I miss your review? Let me know in the comments.

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.

Introducing the New Eagles Quarterback, Bob from Accountemps

Cold as ice.
Eagles football buried in snow on our front lawn, January 2009

Kevin Kolb, meet Bob from Accountemps.

You know the series of radio commercials of which I'm referring to.  Newman the accountant calls in fake-sick to his boss, Mr. Fernwell, who cheerfully reassures his employee that everything is perfectly fine ... because the super efficient and skilled wonderkind Bob from Accountemps is on the scene and handling everything so much better than average joe employee Newman possibly could.  It's a brilliant spot, marketing and branding genius.

Not stated is that it is only a matter of time, of course, before all that incompetent Newman has to add up are his unemployment checks while Bob becomes the new kid on the payroll.

This week, the Philadelphia Eagles all but named Bob from Accountemps as their starting quarterback for the rest of the season.

Now, sports punditry is not my usual schtick around here.  I leave that to the professionals.  But every once in awhile, there's a human interest related sports story that just gets me a little hot under the dog collar. (Yeah, that's a gratuitous Vick reference.)

Such is the case with this scenario.  After playing for only the first half of the Eagles' season opener, quarterback Kevin Kolb (in his first game as the Eagles quarterback) suffered a concussion.  Coming in to save the day was none other than Michael Vick, who played extremely well.  He played well the following week, too.  But, all along, Eagles' brass was saying that Kolb was still their guy.

Until Tuesday night, when abruptly, Vick was named the new quarterback for the rest of the season, leaving Philadelphians in a state of disbelief. 

Now I know that the issue of who the quarterback is should be of little consequence, and that there are much bigger issues in the world that one should be paying attention to, but this is Philadelphia and we Philadelphians live and die by our Iggles.  So, it's a big deal around these parts. 

It has taken me nearly two days to realize why this move has made me crazy enough to write a blog post about it and to rant about it on Facebook.  It's because we have all been in the same awkward, embarrassing and humiliating workplace situation as Kevin Kolb is in right this minute.  (Minus the nearly $11 million paycheck that Kolb is drawing, of course.) 

We have all had a boss who praised us, promoted us - and then, without warning and explanation, left us out in the cold.  We've all had that boss who idolizes our intern and thinks he or she is the greatest thing ever while we've been the ones toiling away on weekends.  We've all taken a job that we were excited about and worried during our shaky first days that we would be fired.  And in some cases, that has indeed happened to some of us, much sooner and swiftly than we ever saw it coming, before we've had a chance to figure out where the restroom is, much less being able to prove ourselves. 

And if any of the above hasn't happened to you, chances are something similar has. 

Yes, I know that businesses are in business to make a profit and that NFL teams exist for one reason only - to win games and bring a Super Bowl to a football championship starved town. I get that.  Coddling overpaid quarterbacks who make more money on an annual basis than the GNP of several countries combined is ridiculous.  We're all big boys and girls here and if we don't like it, we should get the hell off our respective playing fields.

But I think what the Kevin Kolb and Michael Vick scenario illustrates is what many of us have known all along but often don't admit to ourselves: there will always be someone better than you, and regardless of how despicable a person is as a person, that person will be rewarded if what he or she brings to the table is of monetary value to the company or the franchise. 

It proves that no matter how much of a nice, caring person our bosses may be, that every single one of us can fall prey to a dark side that rises, phoenix-like, in the name of profit and winning and being number one, over fairness and decency and the right thing to do.  That, ultimately, at the end of the day, it is about saving ourselves and the hell with everyone else. This mindset and coming face-to-face with it head on is not always the most pleasant tasting pill to swallow.

Kevin Kolb and his $11 million bucks will be just fine sitting on the sidelines for another season. I'm not crying too many tears for Kolb in that regard, but rather for yet another nail being driven into the coffin of integrity and human decency. 

Those of us who are angry and disappointed about Kevin Kolb's demotion are feeling that way because in many respects, we are all Kevin Kolb. We know this feeling and we know it all too well.

And we're scared to death because we know that Bob from Accountemps is in the next cubicle, just waiting for us to fumble, and then swoop in to take our place.

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.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Book Review: The Living Fire: New and Selected Poems, by Edward Hirsch

The Living Fire: New and Selected Poems
by Edward Hirsch
Alfred A. Knopf
237 pgs.

Move over, Billy Collins.  I have a new (to me) contemporary poet to stand alongside of you as one of my favorites.

He's Edward Hirsch, and while I am sure there are more well-read types who are laughing because I've just discovered him (as if to say, what took you so long?) I'm thrilled that he is a new discovery for me.

I've been trying to read more poetry, and broaden my horizons with those whose work is unfamiliar to me.  So far I think I'm doing considerably well; this is the third poetry collection I've read in 2010 and I have four more checked out from the library (including Edward Hirsch's Lay Down the Darkness).

The library is where I saw this compilation on display on the round table between the circulation desk and the New Books.  I'll admit that the cover drew me in and made me curious. 

Inside are more than 100 poems written by Hirsch, the author of seven poetry collections (all represented here with poems from 1975 to 2010) and four prose books, including How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry.  (That's one that I think I need to read because I am clueless on how to review poetry. I just know what I like, and it helps when the poem makes me feel something or experience something through stanzas that I can understand.) I like my poems fairly straightforward, without much guesswork as to what the true meaning is, and ones that make me see everyday situations and the small moments of life in a bigger or more meaningful way.

Hirsch's poems are, for the most part, exactly that.  There were some that I didn't quite "get," but those were in the very small minority.  He writes of topics many of us are familiar with:  insomnia, popular culture, influential thinkers ("Margaret Fuller"), darkness and light, life and death ("Dawn Walk"), the seasons ("Summer Surprised Us"), infertility ("Infertility"), adoption ("The Welcoming").  As Peter Campion of The New York Times writes in his review of The Living Fire, "Hirsch situates himself between the ordinary and the ecstatic. The everyday and the otherworldly temper each other in these excellent ­poems, and American poetry gains new strength as a result."

And so do people like me (and perhaps you?) who want to read more poetry and expand their literary horizons. I enjoyed The Living Fire immensely and this is one that I think I am going to eventually purchase (I had it in my pile at McNally Jackson Books in New York, but wound up putting it back.) There are so many wonderful lines in Hirsch's poems that I want to keep them and have them to share with others. 

Like this one, titled "Fall," from Hirsch's 1986 collection Wild Gratitude. It's apropos for today, I think, as we welcome autumn on its first day.

Fall, falling, fallen. That's the way the season
Changes its tense in the long-haired maples
That dot the road; the veiny hand-shaped leaves
Redden on their branches (in a fiery competition
With the final remaining cardinals) and then
Begin to sidle and float through the air, at last
Settling into colorful layers carpeting the ground.
At twilight the light, too, is layered in the trees
In a season of odd, dusky congruences‐a scarlet tanager
And the odor of burning leaves, a golden retriever
Loping down the center of a wide street and the sun
Setting behind smoke-filled trees in the distance,
A gap opening up in the treetops and a bruised cloud
Blamelessly filling the space with purples. Everything
Changes and moves in the split second between summer's
Sprawling past and winter's hard revision, one moment
Pulling out of the station according to schedule,
Another moment arriving on the next platform. It
Happens almost like clockwork: the leaves drift away
From their branches and gather slowly at our feet,
Sliding over our ankles, and the season begins moving
Around us even as its colorful weather moves us,
Even as it pulls us into its dusty, twilit pockets.
And every year there is a brief, startling moment
When we pause in the middle of a long walk home and
Suddenly feel something invisible and weightless
Touching our shoulders, sweeping down from the air:
It is the autumn wind pressing against our bodies;
It is the changing light of fall falling on us.

Along the route of Betty and Boo's elementary school Halloween parade.
October 2009

More on The Living Fire:

Geoffrey Johnson of interviews native son Edward Hirsch about The Living Fire in his "Books We Like" column.

Peter Campion's review in The New York Times.

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.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Shades of Things to Come

Pucker up, dollface. 
A fish at the National Aquarium in Baltimore
September 19, 2010
I promise you, I'm not going to be turning this blog into an "adorable and witty things my kids say" journal, but, well ... they have been coming up with some gems lately. 

And there is the small matter that the blog is called The Betty and Boo Chronicles, with a mission statement of keeping the grandparents living at a distance happy and content with all the updates their hearts can hold.

Hence, this post.

"School was terrible!" exclaimed Boo, pronouncing it "tear-able," with a slight grin on his face.

"What was so terrible about it?" I asked.

"At recess?  I had ten girls chasing me!  TEN GIRLS!  Why are they chasing me?  What, do they like me or something?  I need advice."

"That's your father's department," I said.

"I mean, they HAVE COOTIES!"

How quaint that girls (and boys, I presume) still have cooties in this day and age, I thought. 

"It's quite possible that they like you," I said.  "This probably comes as a surprise, but in the third grade, I used to chase boys around the playground too."

"Who? Daddy?"

"I didn't know Daddy then.  We liked to chase Bill Calhoun."  

"Did you like him?"

"Well, yeah."  (Now you know, Bill Calhoun.  After 33 years, my secret crush is revealed ... but you would have had to have been clueless not to have any doubt.)  

"Did he wear sunglasses?"

"Huh?  I don't remember, bud.  Maybe."

"Because the girls say that my sunglasses make me look cute.  I don't want to look cute!  I want to look cool."

Ah.  The shades.  Well, there you go.  Girls can't resist a guy in sunglasses.  And Boo, who doesn't like wearing his regular glasses out in the sun because of the sun glare, has taken to bringing his sunglasses to school and wearing them ... you guessed it, at recess.  Where his charms are apparently too much for the likes of Jewel and Hannah to resist. 

Since The Husband was working late last night, we called him to get his advice on the girl chasing.  Apparently, what he and I collectively had to offer wasn't good enough.  Tonight, Grandpop will be getting a phone call.  I suspect that the uncles (you know who you are) are next. 

This is new territory for us.  But I guess I better get used to it.  Because, as they say, the future's so bright ...

(C'mon, you knew this was coming ...)

He's gotta wear shades. 

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, September 20, 2010

More than Just a Message in a Bottle

Vendors were lined along Pratt Street on Sunday afternoon, as Betty and I walked back from our early morning visit to the National Aquarium in Baltimore. Our next stop was meeting The Husband and Boo before taking in the Yankees-Orioles game at Camden Yards.

"ICE COLD WATER HERE ONNNNNE DOLLLLLLAR!!" the vendors hollered, holding dripping bottles in each hand.   "FOUR DOLLARS INSIDE!!!"

Betty stopped, turned to me inquisitively, her brow furrowed.

"Mommy, how can they possibly get $4 inside a bottle of water?"

Quote by the entrance to one of the exhibits at the National Aquarium in Baltimore.
"If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water." ~ Loren Eiseley

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: The Best Kind of Different: Our Family's Journey with Asperger's Syndrome, by Shonda Schilling

The Best Kind of Different: Our Family's Journey with Asperger's Syndrome
by Shonda Schilling
Harper Collins
224 pages

For Philadelphians, the image of former Phillies pitcher Curt Schilling covering his head with a towel whenever Mitch "Wild Thing" Williams took the mound is embedded in our 1993 post-season minds.

In this new book, Curt and his wife Shonda don't hide from their experiences with Asperger's Syndrome as viewed through their eyes as parents to their son Grant, who was diagnosed at age seven.

I usually look at "autism memoirs" somewhat skeptically, especially when they are written by celebrities (who have very different lives - translation: more money and more help - than the people I know). I also eschew flowery sentiments like The Best Kind of Different. There are many, many words and phrases that come to mind when I think of Boo having Asperger's and our family's experiences, and  quite honestly, "the best kind of different" is usually not among them. (Surely not after this morning's meltdown of epic proportions.)

But I must say that I found this to be a very honest and down-to-earth book.  It would have been much easier for the Schillings to remain silent, to not be as forthcoming with their struggles with Grant or about their oldest son Gehrig's eating disorders or with their other children (and Curt) having ADHD. 

"Though it's one thing to make peace with your kids not being academically or athletically exceptional and realize how they are each special in their own ways, it's another thing entirely to come to terms with one of your children being significantly different. This is every parent's worst nightmare, that their child will be labeled different in some way, whether it's a physical disability, social awkwardness, or coming from the wrong side of the tracks. The child who is different stands out and faces huge social and emotional consequences.  The other kids notice who is different. Just the word different seems to be a bad thing, carrying all sorts of assumptions and stigmas. Different means hardship, different means struggle.  It may seem like a reductive way of looking at the world, but as pretty much any parent will tell you, children can be incredibly cruel, and nothing attracts that cruelty like a kid who is labeled different." (pg. 87-88)

In her book, Shonda Schilling gives example after example of Grant's behavior and issues that confused and frustrated her - as well as her other children.  (The Schillings have four kids.) She writes how his tendency to run off in parking lots and crowded spaces, as well as his unpredictable meltdowns, made it difficult to take him anywhere, especially baseball games. How he had difficulty with simple transitions from one activity to another.  How he didn't seem to listen or make eye contact and did socially inappropriate (but logical to him) things like walking into a neighbor's house and helping himself to a Pop-Tart because "they have better Pop-Tarts."  And yet at the same time, Grant was very intelligent, compassionate towards others (especially those with physical disabilities) and affectionate.

All this making Shonda, who at the time knew only the sterotypes of autism and nothing about Asperger's, utterly perplexed.

"Before I knew about Asperger's, before I knew exactly what it was that made Grant different, the thing I kept coming back to was that he seemed like one big youthful, energetic contradiction. He would do something that would make you angry, and in the same breath he would tell you he loved you. This tendency made me refer to Grant as a child who would pinch you while he was hugging you. .... For years before Grant was diagnosed, this never-ending sea of contradictions was a constant source of confusion.  The contradictions are what make you think this is a just a phase, that somehow the "bad" part or the "odd" part of the contradiction will one day just stop, leaving only the "good" part behind. Isn't it funny how willing we are to assume that bad behavior is somehow different, but good behavior is normal?" (pg. 59)

And as many of mothers with kids of special needs can relate to, Grant's behavior and her inability to "fix" it also made Shonda feel as if she wasn't a good mother and that many people saw her as the culprit. Being in the public eye and living such a high-profile life as the wife of a major league baseball player only compounded matters.

"Part of the problem was that despite my instincts that something was wrong, I felt as if people second-guessed me whenever I brought up Grant's behavior. When I would talk to friends and family about how Grant acted, there was always an excuse, something that they felt made the behavior somehow my fault. They weren't necessary trying to point the finger at me, and everyone was well-intentioned about giving advice, but all their ideas seemed to place the blame squarely at me, especially because Curt was on the road so often.

Grant didn't respect me.
I spoiled him.
I wasn't firm enough.

No matter whom I spoke to about the trends I saw in Grant, everyone seemed to dismiss it with a wave of the hand and an overly simplified generalization.  None of it felt right." (pg. 73)

It feels kind of odd to say that I enjoyed this book, but I did - in the sense that it reads so conversationally (making it somewhat of a fast read for me) that it was like sitting down and having lunch with a friend, another mom who knows what it is like to walk this road. (I think that The Best Kind of Different would be helpful reading for others who might feel alone with this, or for relatives of those with Asperger's.)

Even though children with Asperger's have some commonalities, Asperger's can be very different from one child to the next. Still, there is much about Grant's personality that is very similar to my Boo's - and many of the Schilling family's experiences are similar to our own. 

In telling her family's story, Shonda Schilling doesn't go where some other celebrities have gone - she doesn't give advice on therapies, she doesn't get on a soapbox spouting theories about autism's causes, she doesn't preach or tell others what to do.  While she gives strategies on what has worked for Grant and their family coupled with what they haven't done, it's presented in a very matter-of-fact, "here's-what-works-for-us," parent-to-parent style.

Shonda is also very honest on the impact that being Grant's parents has had on her relationship with Curt.  For many years, she was pretty much parenting solo while Curt was on the road most of the year.  She describes their tense conversations over the phone, giving him the news of Grant's diagnosis while they were on the road in a hotel room, and the decision for them to go into couple's therapy together (along with her seeking out help for herself in the form of medication for depression).

Those of us who live this life know the statistics on the increased rate of divorce among married couples who have a child with special needs and the toll that parenting them takes. "Our job as parents is to prepare our kids for what is ahead of them, to teach them the difference between right and wrong and how to choose wisely. Sometimes, especially in the case of a child with Asperger's, that's easier said than done.  It takes parenting up to a whole other level." (pg. 133)

Parents who are also parenting on this level often feel alone and misunderstood by others. (This was especially true in the book when Shonda writes about Grant's participation in sports and the nasty remarks hurled at her when Grant had difficulty playing and being part of the team.)

We all want our kids to be part of the team, and as parents, we want to be part of a winning team that has us on top of this game of life. It's a struggle for most of us, especially those who are parenting children with special needs. The Best Kind of Different doesn't present a perfect game by saying everything is wonderful in the world of autism, but instead scores a home run by simply showing that more of us are in this game than we might think. 

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, September 17, 2010

In Blogs I Trust

photo taken by me in Strathmere, NJ ~ July 2010

"I don't believe in magic, I don't believe in I-ching
I don't believe in Bible, I don't believe in Tarot
I don't believe in Hitler, I don't believe in Jesus
I don't believe in Kennedys, I don't believe in Buddha
I don't believe in Mantra, I don't believe in Gita
I don't believe in Yoga, I don't believe in Kings
I don't believe in Elvis, I don't believe in Zimmerman
I don't believe in Beatles
I just believe in me..."

John Lennon ~ "God"

According to a national survey by the Associated Press and the National Constitution Center released yesterday, John Lennon's got a lot of company these days.  More than 54% of people are distrustful of ... well, almost everything.  (And given the state of the economy and everything else under the sun, who can really blame them, right?) 

But at the top of the untrustworthy list?  Blogs, banks, and Congress.

Um ... blogs? Really?

I'm not sure what blogs these folks are reading (and I'm sure that out of the katrillion of blogs out there, some are indeed suspect), but I'm willing to say that they aren't the same blogs I read.

The majority of the 721 blogs in my Google Reader (yes, that's not a typo) are comprised heavily of and influenced by book bloggers. There are also a substantial number of blogs written by parents of children who have autism or other challenges; blogs about social justice, women and girls' issues, current events and politics, nonprofits and philanthropy, social media, food, decluttering one's house and the planet, and much more. It's no coincidence that these are all the topics I tend to write about too. (With the exception of the decluttering of one's house ... but there are, actually, some in-the-works posts about that.)

I was thinking about this national lack of confidence (especially with blogs) in terms of Book Blogger Appreciation Week, drawing to a close today and today's BBAW writing topic of Future Treasures. The prompt for today asks us to share what we enjoyed about BBAW and also what our blogging goals are for the next year.

The "what I enjoyed" part is easy.  Like others, I get a kick out of seeing how high I can pile my Google Reader before it topples over.  (I'm thrilled to report that hasn't happened yet.)  Regardless of the topic, I love blogs that make me think about issues in a different way or about issues I might not have been aware of at all.  (On the political front, PunditMom and MomsRising are two that immediately come to mind.  Are they untrustworthy? Certainly not in my opinion.  In fact, dare I say that they're more trustworthy than some "traditional" media.)

And on the book blogging front, I'm drawn to book blogs that introduce me to new ideas and concepts, conflicts and controversies, new ways of thinking and new worlds.  Hopefully I've been able to share some of those with you this week.  I know that you have certainly shared many of your favorites with me, and I (and my Google Reader) thank you immensely for that. 

As for my blog goals for the next year ... well, it looks like you're stuck with more of the same from me.  I'm still planning to talk about a mix of books, the ones on the bestseller lists and the ones on the back shelves.  I'm still going to infuse my book reviews with a personal perspective.  I'm still going to mix them up with stories that make me drag out my soapbox or issues I feel need a wider reach than my immediate community, or a perspective on a local story getting national attention that my personal experience can lend another thought to.  You'll still see recipes for the crockpot and funny things my kids say.  

That's what I do here. I'm not planning on any dramatic changes in this spot and I'm not planning on going anywhere. 

You can trust me on that.

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, September 16, 2010

BBAW: Forgotten Treasures - "Crossing the Moon"

Something about today's Book Blogger Appreciation Week topic has been nagging at me all day, which is partially the reason why I am just writing today's topic before the clock strikes 11 p.m.

Today we're asked to share a book that has been "forgotten" by book bloggers, one that everyone should read but is not getting the attention it deserves.  I tossed a few books around in my mind but always came back to thinking that I would feel terrible if someone had written about the book I selected and in the myriad of blogs, I just missed it.

(As if it is possible to read every post about every book.  Really.  Another example of how I set ridiculous standards for myself. Sigh.)

Anyway, so I thought perhaps I would take a different angle on this topic.  I've been wanting to go back to the books I read before I started blogging and highlight some of them, because there were really so many wonderful books that made an impact on me.  In my Book Blogger Swap interview with Kate, I referenced (don't laugh) an Oprah Book Club pick from February 1997, Stones from the River by Ursula Hegi.  As I said in the interview, I believe some books (like people) come into our lives for a reason and when we most need them.  Stones from the River was one of those books for me and it is still one of my favorites. 

But as I thought about this topic throughout the day (yes, quite often throughout the day ... I spent the morning in a dreadfully boring and unproductive meeting with some of the worst coffee imaginable), I kept coming back to one particular forgotten book that I still treasure, even though I'm in a different stage of life now than when I read it in 199 ... 7?  8?  I'm thinking it was 1997. 

Paulette Bates Alden's book, Crossing the Moon: A Journey Through Infertility, is simply one of the most poignant, honest, and beautifully written memoirs I have ever read.  Obviously, it will appeal most to those going through infertility or those who have done so.  But as the jacket says, it is also about "aging parents; being raised Southern and female in the fifties; the trade-offs between a life of work and one devoted to nurture; coping with grief and loss. This is a fine companion for anyone struggling with infertility and a treasure for any woman coming to terms with who she is."

At the beginning of the book, Paulette is 39 years old and doesn't have children. She takes us on an emotional journey through her ambivalence about motherhood (something I wrestled with a lot) and her and her husband's infertility treatments.  The reader is right there by Paulette's side, for reading this, you can't help but look at her as a friend who is going through an incredibly emotional time. 

Infertility is so common now that many of us know someone who has had trouble conceiving and who has been to an infertility clinic (or two).  We're more open about this today than even a decade ago when The Husband and I were going through this.  (How different our journey would have been if I was blogging, which in some ways, I kind of was ....) 

But the part that we're still not open about is that small part of us that might be ambivalent about becoming a parent in the first place.  And to that, it is easy to say that one should slam that door shut immediately - if you don't want to get into this game, then stay the hell out - but that is too crass of a comment to say because it doesn't take into account all the emotions, the emptiness, and the heartbreak - not to mention the expectations and the reasons why we're feeling this way in the first place.  That's the courage that Paulette Bates Alden brings to this book.  She lets us into a part of this world that we might not want to see, even if we're standing right there ourselves. 

Crossing the Moon is one of the very few books - maybe the only one, really - that I actually underlined in.  And boy, did I underline. I'm so glad I did because 13 years later, re-reading my selected passages tonight brought me right back to nights sitting on the porch of our townhouse reading this, pen in hand, for the first time.  There's something to be said of the power of such a book that can bring that experience right back to you so many years later. 

I wasn't going to write about this tonight because I thought, eh ... how many book bloggers will be interested in reading this if they aren't in this situation?

But books transcend book bloggers.  That's why we do this, isn't it, to broaden a book's reach to even more readers who may not have heard of it ... and who just might need to, whether they know it or not. 

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.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

BBAW: Unexpected Treasures

This week is Book Blogger Appreciation Week (a very big deal in the book blogging world) and every day there is a different topic on the theme of "A Treasure Chest of Infinite Books and Infinite Blogs" for us to write about.  I'm a little late to the party today due to that little thing called work (and frankly, I'm still so shell-shocked by my state's primary elections yesterday that I needed a little self-imposed ban from the computer, lest I lose what's left of my mind this week). 

Anyway, onto today's writing topic ....

Book bloggers can be some of the most influential people around! Today we invite you to share with us a book or genre you tried due to the influence of another blogger. What made you cave in to try something new and what was the experience like?

Book blogging has completely changed my reading habits.  While one would think I would actually be reading less (due to the blogging and reviewing), the opposite is true.  The more I blog, the more I read.  I know many others can say the same thing. 

One of the best feelings is being at the library or the bookstore and seeing a book that you recognize because of a blog you read.  It's an instant connection, and it's like a friend (for we are all friends, right?) browsing with you, saying, "Oh, that was really good!" or "I couldn't put that down!"

That's what we do here on our blogs, and it has led to my reading many more genres than I ever would have otherwise.  Today I'm highlighting two of them.

Before book blogs, I certainly appreciated poetry ... but other than reading nursery rhymes and Shel Silverstein to my kids, I didn't read any poetry.  That's changed tremendously, and I mainly have Serena from Savvy Verse and Wit  to thank for that.  For example, in July she reviewed Tony Hoagland's newest collection, Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty and featured one of his poems as part of her Virtual Poetry Circle.  When I saw this slim volume at the library a few weeks ago, I immediately remembered that one of his poems was on Serena's blog and as a result, I loved the collection and now have a new favorite poet.

I've read four poetry collections this year and have several more in my current library pile.  It's not unusual these days for me to have at least one poetry collection by my bed (they are great to read when you're so tired but you just want to read for a little bit) as well as in my purse. 

Even though I didn't finish it, I loved the Woolf in Winter read along this year.  I re-read Mrs. Dalloway, which had been (up to that point) the only Woolf I'd read. And while To the Lighthouse wasn't my favorite book, it made the idea of classics just a little less scary. Also, the celebratory events surrounding To Kill a Mockingbird in honor of the 50th anniversary of its publication made me re-read this classic for the first time since high school. 

I doubt either of them would have happened if not for the influence of book bloggers. I haven't read as many classics as I would have liked this year, but I'm hoping to remedy that in 2011.

Looking forward to reading about others' Unexpected Treasures!

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.