Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Sunday Salon: Spinning

Indeed, our heads have been spinning this week, what with the news that The Husband has been named to a new job in Pittsburgh (five hours away from us) and our decision to put our house up for sale and relocate there.  To a person, everyone I've talked to has said great things about the Pittsburgh area and how wonderful it is, but I'll admit my head is spinning with all the details and the prospect of being a single parent during the week until the house is sold and we can move.  We've been in this exact position before (four years ago when we moved here) so even though this is familiar ground in some respects, it's still nervewracking and exciting at the same time.  

I spent this week reading Colum McCann's Let the Great World Spin, which also left my head spinning in a wonderful way.  I'll have more to say in my review, but this one was simply phenomenal. I loved everything about it - the interconnectedness of the characters' lives, the gorgeous prose, everything.  It has become one of my absolute favorite, take-it-to-a-desert-island books.  I rarely re-read books, but I think this is one that I could read over and over again and still discover something new.  I also rarely select a Book of the Year, but if I wind up doing so for 2011, I can't imagine anything captivating me more than Let the Great World Spin. 

If you're interested in this and have an e-reader, this one is only $6.17 right now on Amazon.  I don't make any commission or anything off of this plug, but wanted to mention it.  I borrowed this from the library but I love this so much that I just bought it for my Kindle in order to have to read again whenever I want.  The Husband thinks I'm crazy for buying a book I just finished ... but I don't think I have to explain myself to you guys, do I now? :)

In other news, last year I didn't do as good of a job with my monthly recaps of books read.  I want to try and do better this year, so since this is the second-to-last-day of January, here's where 2011 currently stands in regard to all things books (links take you to my reviews):

Books Read:

1. Picnic, Lightning, Poems by Billy Collins

3. Poems of Emily Dickinson, Three Series, Complete (Kindle version)

8. Let the Great World Spin, by Colum McCann 

9. Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime, by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin (audiobook) 

Books Abandoned:

1. A Visit from the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan

Reading Challenge Update: 

Fearless Poetry Challenge - COMPLETED 

2nds Challenge - 2/6
The Unnamed

50 States/Where Are You Reading?
New York

Audiobook Challenge - 1/3
Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime

E-book Challenge - 1/6
Poems by Emily Dickinson

Memorable Memoir - 1/5
Not My Boy!

New Authors - 2/15
Jerome Charyn
Colum McCann

What's in a Name? 2/5
Life Stage - The Unnamed
Travel or Movement - Let the Great World Spin

I'm pretty pleased with this start to the year.  How about you ... how was your reading in January?

copyright 2011, Melissa, 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, January 29, 2011

Like I Need Another Challenge (Um, Make That Two)

Now this is my kind of reading challenge - one that will actually assist me with packing our house to move while allowing me to read books! 

Allow me to explain. 

I have six "chunky" books on my bookshelves (The Hour I First Believed and I Know This Much is True, by Wally Lamb; Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo; The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen; Streisand: Her Life, by James Spada; All's Fair: Love, War, and Running for President by James Carville and Mary Matalin) that I'm interested in reading.

But I'm even more interested in not packing one more damn box more than I have to paying to move these chunksters to the new house. (While I want to read these, I'm pretty sure these are tomes I won't want to keep - which does make me think that if that is the case, maybe I shouldn't bother reading them in the first place - but that's another post, I guess.) 

So Wendy's annual Chunkster Challenge is coming at exactly the right time for me. It begins on February 1 and continues until January 31, 2012.  I've never joined this one before, but it's pretty popular.  I'm going for The Chubby Chunkster level, which means reading four books that are 450 pages long or more. 

I'm giving myself a twist on this one, too.  My Chunkster books need to should really, really come from my own TBR shelves.  (This is NOT a requirement of the challenge, just my own personal insanity restriction.) 

I've also decided to sign up for Sheila's Where Are You Reading? Challenge simply because I thought making the Google Map of where all my books took place sounded like my kind of nerdy book dork fun (and it is).

I'm not quite sure how to link to my map without giving access to my gmail account, but you're not missing much.  My map is kind of boring at the moment as the only places I've been while reading have been Amherst, MA; Los Angeles, CA, and New York, NY (twice).  Not like any of those places are boring (far from it!) but with only three pins on my map, it doesn't look all that exciting right now. 

I'm pretty sure this is it for the Reading Challenges for me this year. 

We'll see. 

copyright 2011, Melissa, 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, January 28, 2011

'We Will Never Forget Them, Nor the Last Time We Saw Them'

The crew of the Space Shuttle Challenger, from their official November 15, 1985 photograph. In the back row from left to right: Ellison S. Onizuka, Sharon Christa McAuliffe, Greg Jarvis, and Judy Resnik. In the front row from left to right: Michael J. Smith, Dick Scobee, and Ron McNair.

"We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and 'slipped the surly bonds of Earth' to 'touch the face of God.'"

President Ronald Reagan

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Home Can Be the Pennsylvania Turnpike

"Home can be the Pennsylvania Turnpike ..."  
"You're My Home,"  Billy Joel

You may have noticed a few vague posts around here lately.  Posts alluding to change, posts that don't take too much reading between the lines for anyone to figure out that Something Is Up. 

For the past week, I've been like Oprah (without the money and without the half-sister) with a Big Announcement of my own. 

I'm really bad at keeping secrets. For various reasons, and for more than a week now, I've had to keep quiet about the fact that ...


The Husband has accepted a new position in Pittsburgh, which is 5 hours away from where we live now. 

"Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end."
"Closing Time" ~ Semisonic

We just moved here less than 4 years ago, so for someone who for most of their lives have always called one single metropolitan area (Philadelphia) home, this feels like we just got here.  I know there are people who move frequently for jobs or being in the military, so maybe four years seems like a long time to be in a place.  Not so for us.   

The Husband starts his new job on February 28 (so soon!) and I'll be a single parent here with the kids until whenever we sell our house. We've only just started getting it   ready to be put on the market, a process I'm not looking forward to, to be honest.   (My Decluttering 2011 Project will come in handy for this.)  While I'm holding down the fort here, The Husband will be living in corporate housing or something. He'll fly home on weekends or drive, and some weekends the kids and I will go up there.

My plan - as much as anyone can have a plan in such instances - is for the kids to finish 3rd grade here and then we'll join The Husband permanently in the summer. The kids, while initially upset, have gotten excited about the move. They're kind of enjoying looking at the various Pittsburgh websites and checking out the things to do there.

So home will indeed be the Pennsylvania Turnpike for awhile - and even afterwards, because as you know, we're from Philadelphia.  Most of our family members still live there. 

"Get back, get back, get back to where you once belonged."
"Get Back" ~ The Beatles

If this all sounds familiar, it is. We were in exactly this same situation exactly 4 years ago when we moved down here. His start date here in Delaware was the last Monday in February, EXACTLY four years ago. It's weird that everything is happening at the exact same time of the year.

Our mixed feelings come from having to leave our current house, which we love, and which really was a dream house for us. And there's a huge part of each of us that doesn't want to leave Delaware. We love it here. The kids love it here. We've made some great friends here, and there's so much about this area that we have come to love.

We thought we would be here longer, quite honestly. We really wanted to be.

But those of you who know me know that I believe, wholeheartedly, that things always happen for a reason. That opportunities are given to us for the taking. That we might not understand right away, but to have faith to know that things do, eventually, work themselves out for reasons and in ways we don't expect and can never plan for.

So we're hoping the move back to Pennsylvania means a new beginning. We're hoping that Pennsylvania is, in fact, still as we remember it to be in regards to autism services for Boo. We're looking forward to discovering and exploring a new city. Up until a few weeks ago, my image of Pittsburgh was of a gray and dingy steel town. It actually seems to be more vibrant and exciting than I imagined it to be.

And hey, it was just voted America's 5th Most Literate City, so I'm bound to feel right at home in no time!

Are any of you from Pittsburgh?  I'd love to hear what you know about the area, the various school districts (particularly in the North Hills area), and services for people with autism. 

copyright 2011, Melissa, 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, January 26, 2011

The Story of Beautiful Girl: In Seattle

As a follow up to my Sunday post about Rachel Simon's upcoming book, The Story of Beautiful Girl, I'm passing Rachel's current Facebook status along for the benefit of any of my readers in the Seattle area:

> If you're in Seattle or know someone who is, I'll be doing a short discussion of my upcoming book, The Story of Beautiful Girl, at the Arc of King County tomorrow (January 27), 9:30 AM to 11:00 AM. They are at 233 Sixth Ave. North in Seattle. Please come if you can!

I'm betting you won't be disappointed. 

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Money with a Charm: How to Be Rich (A Story by Boo)

On the "homework table" in our kitchen is a big basket where worksheets from school pile up several feet high are neatly organized until I get around to sorting them.

Found this original short story (or one scripted via a version of an episode of SpongeBob or something, who the hell knows) by Boo today while doing exactly that.  Since tonight's the State of the Union, thought you would enjoy this tale of Clintonomics, set in a restaurant in John Kennedy State.  (Massachusetts, perhaps?)

The cover page, seen below, apparently represents a larger-than-life President Clinton turning on the charm and presenting a big dollar bill (note the ABE in the middle of the currency) to a citizen. 

The Medievil Mayhem was the biggest restraunt in John Kennedy State.  It had lots off food on the menu and it cost $24.55 per visit. But soon the money was the big deal. The owner who invented it 70 years ago was Perry Potter, the nicest man in JFK State.  When he died and gone to heaven the 4 of June 1980, the new manager was Terry Tyler.  He was a man of money. Coins and checks. Soon he got richer and richer until his wallet was full.

On Sat on the 16 of February 1989, a coustomer was abord. "Golly Garrila Skin, only $39.50!" he yelled.  The last thing his rival, The Cookie Come-in! could do was take the money.

The Cookie Come-in didn't care about money. But soon a year later, President Clinton invented the Huge Dollar. "Maybe I'll steal the money, give it to the #1 coustomer and Terry can thank me for taking it."

On Sunday, the rival checked the sign.  "Order is $49.60 per food!  What a ripoff!"

He ordered a steak piled high on a spicy chicken rib and Sammy's Sause.  "That'll be $105.69 please," said George Glenn the cashier.

"I thought it was $20.90," said Bob Blaze.

In fact, all Terry cared about was money, so he was ruining Medevil Mayhem.

By 1992, Terry's money flipped.  President Clinton gathered the senators to give out the HUGE dollar.

"I hadn't had a costomer in years," sobbed Terry Tyler. 

"It's the price on the menu," said George Glenn. 

"Baby's Burger only $152.65. Fine to the Mr. Backtalkpants," said Terry.

3 minutes later, Robin Rival took the huge dollar from Bill Clinton and he said, "My beautiful $1000.1000 bill is gone.  I was may be going to see it again."

"Did somebody say infinatly," said Terry.  He ran to the dollar and caught ... THE COPS!

The cops looked ferious and grrr! 

Clinton yelled, "Arest him for guiltyness!"

In 1994, Clinton spoke to Juddge Johannes James.  "I see that the criminal has to speak a word," said J.J. Robin said.  "For my dutys, I determine Mr. Terry Tyler is guilty for stealing Clinton's HUGE dollar."

"I disagree," said Terry.  "I can give over 200 reasons why I say Robin Rival stole it and Clinton should pay."

The parents yelled.  "GASP!"

Clinton said more bad words.

"Why would I give my huge $10000000 bill to a no-good criminal like him??" yelled Clinton.

(This is apparently the end.) 

copyright 2011, Melissa, 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: We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson

We Have Always Lived in the Castle
by Shirley Jackson
214 pages

Shirley Jackson is such a master at nuance, at setting a mood - which makes her stories (and this novel) all the more disturbing. 

I mean that in a good way. 

We Have Always Lived in the Castle has been on my want-to-read list for quite some time, and my interest only intensified after seeing it on many a blogger's list for Carl's annual R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril Challenge.  Like many others, I loved Shirley Jackson's haunting short story "The Lottery," which I read in the 5th grade.  It has taken me three decades to read anything else by this extraordinarily talented writer. 

Now, it must be said that I was a little scared to read this because I had heard how disturbing and scary this one was, and I don't do disturbing or scary (unless we're talking about some of my former boyfriends).  I am not a fan of being creeped out voluntarily. Never have been, probably never will be. 

But Shirley Jackson?  I couldn't resist.  Because I'm almost 42 and I still remember how wonderfully written "The Lottery" was when I read it more than three decades ago. 

We Have Always Lived in the Castle did not disappoint.  Like "The Lottery," it is a commentary on society enveloped in a story about two sisters, Constance and Mary Katherine (who is called "Merricat") Blackwood, who live in their family's home with their ailing Uncle Julian.  The Blackwoods are reclusive, with Mary Katherine going into the nearby village once or twice a week for food and library books.  (I love that library books are necessities.)

As for the rest of the family, well ... they all met an unfortunate end in which (for various reasons) only Constance, Mary Katherine, and Julian survived.  The tragedy affects each of them differently, with Constance assuming the role of the family leader and protector, Mary Katherine becoming even more unhinged by burying household items and heirlooms in the gardens and talking about living on the moon, and addled Uncle Julian forever reliving that fateful day by clinging to the shards of his deteriorating memory by meticulously (and painstakingly) chronicling the details in his own version of a novel. 

They all go on living their solitary lives together until a cousin, Charles, shows up at the door.  Immediately, he and Mary Katherine take a strong dislike to one another ... and his very presence seems to serve as a precursor to expose their quirky life and bring their carefully constructed existence crashing down. 

"Above us the stairs were black and led into blackness or burned rooms with, incredibly, tiny spots of sky showing through. Until now, the roof had always hidden us from the sky, but I did not think that there was any way we could be vulnerable from above, and closed my mind against the thought of silent winged creatures coming out of the trees to perch on the broken burnt rafters of our house, peering down. .... I could feel a breath of air on my cheek; it came from the sky I could see, but it smelled of smoke and ruin. Our house was a castle, turretted and open to the sky." (pg. 176-177)

It all seems like a simple story, but this is a Shirley Jackson story and there's nothing simple about a Shirley Jackson story. As I said earlier, it was the behavior of the townspeople that really struck me.  Whenever Merricat goes into the village, she is always met by taunts and teasing, contempt, and derision. (This is from kids as well as adults - who you would think would know better, but clearly don't.)

Feeling so small and like you don't matter is kind of a tough way to live for years on end, so the alternative of becoming a recluse seems pretty appealing.  And when overtures are made to regain the sisters' trust, they're admittedly fearful of the consequences that they believe might prevail.  I'm probably venturing a little too much into spoiler territory here, but the utter cruelty towards this family was unsettling - and brilliant writing on Jackson's part because she takes a climatic episode and infuses it with such details and emotion for pages on end that you almost forget to breathe while reading.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle was written in 1962, but in my opinion, was so ahead of its time because we see this type of behavior so often - the chiding of the perceived outcasts among us, the willingness to go along with the pack.  And ultimately, it is this behavior - and this knowledge that it is still so prevalent today - that left me a bit sad but even more in awe of Shirley Jackson's immeasurable talent of capturing a mood and placing her reader right in the maelstrom of its delicious suspense. 

What Other Bloggers Thought:

OK, there are no less than a bazillion brilliant reviews of this by other bloggers. For reals. I started listing and linking them and after the first dozen or so and realizing I will truly get nothing else done today, I've decided to just direct you to the Book Blogger Search Engine here on the sidebar of my blog.  Just type in "We Have Always Lived in the Castle" and follow the links (warning: there are some with spoilers) till your heart is content. 

copyright 2011, Melissa, 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, January 23, 2011

The Sunday Salon - You Can't Judge a Book By the Lack of a Cover

I'm getting this week's Salon in under the wire.  That's because earlier today I was so eager to tell you about Rachel Simon's upcoming book, The Story of Beautiful Girl and the (wait for it!) eight-city pre-sale tour that she's currently on, courtesy of her publisher.  

Anyway, it's been a stressful week full of distractions, but also one with some pretty good books that have done their job in taking me away from real life. I'm only about 40 pages into Colum McCann's Let the Great World Spin, which I'm really enjoying so far.  This one has been on my TBR list for awhile, thanks to all the buzz that it has received from book bloggers.  I know it has received mixed reviews among some of us, but so far I am really enjoying this one and loving McCann's style of writing.

I started the week with The Unnamed, Joshua Ferris's second novel which I reviewed here and really enjoyed.  This is a novel that is about how we as humans have this innate desire to know the reasons why we are the way we are, why our personal circumstances are the way they are, and finding the purpose for one's life.  It's about how those we love are affected by the uncertainty of the words in sickness and in health and all the power those words hold.

After The Unnamed, it was on to We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson.  I'll have more to say about this one in my review soon (suffice it to say that I really liked this and it will be staying with me for awhile), but take a look at the library copy of this one that I was reading.

No jacket. A frayed spine.  This was published in 1962, and the condition of this copy made me think this was one of the first books that ever graced our library system.  Most of the pages inside were faded and stained, as if someone was reading this with a cup of coffee or tea and got so enraptured with the prose that they spilled it all over the book. 

If you've read We Have Always Lived in the Castle, you know that tea is practically a character in the novel, so this just kind of adds to the creep factor.

(The print was darker and more in focus than my camera conveys; I've been having some technical difficulties with my camera lately.) 

But still, it kind of made me feel a bit connected to everyone who came before me and held this tattered volume in their hands.  I forgot to take a picture before it was due back, but there was one of the old-fashioned due date card pockets in the back of the book.  The first due date was March 12, 1975 (I was five years old!) and the last was sometime in 1987.  I hope that We Have Always Lived in the Castle has been in circulation since then.  (I'm guessing so, because otherwise I would have imagined it would have been weeded by now.)

It made me think about how many others have read this and I wondered about their reactions.  Did they wish they had a community, such as that of our book blogging family, to talk about the book and how it made them feel?  (What would readers in 1975 have thought about such a thing?) How many people browsing the stacks passed this one by, simply on the basis of looks alone?

And how many awesome books have I passed by, simply on the basis of looks alone?

copyright 2011, Melissa, 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 Story of a Beautiful Writer

I've written before about how Rachel Simon is probably the best author you've never read. 

Something tells me I'm not going to be able to say that much longer. 

And the prospect of that thrills me to no end. 

Rachel is a writer from Philadelphia (now living in Wilmington, Delaware) whose work I once admired from afar. Somewhere, I know I still have clips of her op-ed columns from The Philadelphia Inquirer, published in the early '90s.  I was in the audience when she spoke to a writer's conference in 1990 or 1991 about her first book, a collection of short stories called Little Nightmares, Little Dreams.  And when Rachel started a free series of writing workshops at a local Barnes and Noble (where she coordinated author events) I was there once again, pen in hand, ready to learn. 

During one of those sessions, she complimented me on a phrase I wrote to describe my Dad - something about the smell of Old Spice and a train - and I have never, ever forgotten how her words of praise made me feel.  And when I mentioned that I couldn't find a copy of her second book, The Magic Touch, published in 1994, Rachel went into her basement, found one in a box, and brought it to me - signed - at the next workshop. 

When I worked at our local library, I was putting some new books out on display when I picked up Riding the Bus with My Sister, Rachel's memoir about rebuilding her relationship with her sister Beth that would eventually be made into a Hallmark television movie starring Andie McDowell and Rosie O'Donnell.  No way was this going on the New Books shelf ... what, and give someone else the chance to read this before me?!  I promptly checked the book out, put it in my purse, and spent the rest of the night at home reading it until the wee small hours of the morning.

(If you haven't read it and you know of someone - anyone, a loved one, a neighbor, a coworker - with a developmental disability, you absolutely must.  It has made such an impact on the disability community, in no small part to Rachel's non-stop schedule of speaking engagements to advocacy and disability groups in every corner of the country - including, most recently, a visit to Alaska this past December.) 

I tell you all this because I have long, long believed that Rachel Simon is a writer worth watching and especially, one worth reading. A writer who truly deserves a wider audience.  And now, with her publisher sending her on an eight-city pre-sale tour to promote her newest book, The Story of Beautiful Girl, there's a good chance she (and her writing) will get a much-deserved day in the sun, along with the very important issues that her latest novel raises. 

Yeah. Read the beginning of that sentence again. 

Her publisher sending her on an eight-city pre-sale tour. 

Those of us who know a little something about how the world of books and publishing works these days know that such a thing doesn't always happen, to say the least.  For someone who once sold books by dressing up in costumes for readings, and by digging one lone copy out of a box buried in a basement for a fangirl, this is the big time. 

Or, as Rachel herself said in her blog post about the tour, there is no big time. 

"There is only one hand-shake and conversation and hug after another, in rooms large and small, over meals grand and simple, with people who have, if this first night has been any indication, truly and wonderfully big hearts."

The Story of Beautiful Girl is the story of two people, Lynnie and Homan, whose hearts are bigger than their disabilities.  Bigger than the School for the Incurable and Feebleminded where they have been left to languish.  Bigger than the racial differences between them, so evident in 1968 when The Story of Beautiful Girl takes place.  Bigger than the compassion shown by Martha, who hides the couple.  Bigger than the love for a baby girl named Julia.

This may not be the big time (although I respectfully disagree with Rachel on that), but this is an author whose time has definitely come. 

To learn more about Rachel, her books (including The Story of Beautiful Girl, now available for pre-order) and to follow along with her on the book tour, visit her website at

copyright 2011, Melissa, 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, January 22, 2011

Bloggiesta Update 1

So who had the brilliant idea for me to create a Book Review Page here on the blog?

Oh, right ... that would be me. 

This particular project is taking up the majority of my Bloggiesta time, what little Bloggiesta time I have, and starting to make my hand hurt.  Thus far, I have 88 reviews (fiction, nonfiction, children's/middle grade/YA, and poetry) linked up on the page.  For the past few weeks I've been adding them haphazardly, but for Bloggiesta I'm going back through all my book reviews and seeing which ones haven't made it onto the list yet.  I'm only halfway through my posts from 2009!

Between yesterday and today, I would say that I have probably spent 8 hours doing Bloggiesta.  (I also wrote a review and worked on getting my Google Reader under 1000+ posts, which is an ongoing project.)

Betty had her first rehearsal for a children's production of "Jack and the Beanstalk," and while she was there, I went grocery shopping, dropped off the groceries at home, went back to pick her up, and then we went to the library.  So all that occupied most of my morning and part of the afternoon. 

Oh, and I chipped a tooth.  One of my front ones, naturally.  I'm hoping it doesn't chip any more before I can get to the dentist.  At least it doesn't hurt. 

(No tortilla chips for me during this Bloggiesta.  A margarita, however, will be just fine.)

copyright 2011, Melissa, 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, January 21, 2011

Bloggiesta Fiesta!

Let the weekend begin ... it's time to Bloggiesta!  For those not in the know, Bloggiesta is a weekend-long blogging marathon (hosted by the wonderful Natasha of Maw Books Blog) where we write backlogged posts, tweak this and that on the blog, and do any other blog upkeep and beautification that is necessary.  This is the 4th year and, I believe, my 4th year participating and it is always a fun and productive time.

I'll admit, it kind of snuck up on me this year, so I'm winging it with my Bloggiesta to-do list. 

1. I already did one thing this morning, which was to finish up a review of The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris. Really enjoyed this one. 

2. Speaking of reviews, my main goal is to get all the links to my Book Reviews onto my Book Review Index page. I've been adding them here and there, but I'm curious to see how many I actually have written and I like the idea of having them all in one place.  If I only accomplish this, I will consider Bloggiesta '11 a success.

3. I just finished We Have Always Lived in the Castle at lunchtime.  I'm planning to write that review and then all my 2011 books that I want to review will be up-to-date. 

4. Write some posts in advance, particularly for my Memorable Memoir Challenge.  (It's not too late to sign up!)

5. I want to learn how to make a button, goshdarnit!  I'd like one for my Decluttering 2011 Project that I have going on.  Plus I had another idea for a reading challenge and I can't lean on Florinda's shoulder right now to have her make another button for me. 

6. I need to organize my blog photos, particularly buttons and books. 

7. I want to set up some pages for the Challenges I'm doing this year

8. Back up the blog.

I'm sure I will think of some more to-do's over the weekend, which is a busy one with a few things happening on the homefront, but I can't resist a Bloggiesta. 


copyright 2011, Melissa, 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 Unnamed, by Joshua Ferris

The Unnamed
by Joshua Ferris
A Reagan Arthur Book
Little, Brown and Co., Hachette Book Group 
310 pages

Challenges: Reagan Arthur, 2nds, What's in a Name (life stage)

If this ever gets made into a movie (and I can definitely see it as such), there's only one song that is apropos as the track playing over the credits. 

"I was totin' my pack along the long dusty Winnemucca road,
When along came a semi with a high an' canvas-covered load.
"If you're goin' to Winnemucca, Mack, with me you can ride."
And so I climbed into the cab and then I settled down inside.
He asked me if I'd seen a road with so much dust and sand.
And I said, "Listen, I've traveled every road in this here land!"

I've been everywhere, man.
I've been everywhere, man.
Crossed the desert's bare, man.
I've breathed the mountain air, man.
Of travel I've had my share, man.
I've been everywhere."

Like the guy Johnny Cash sings of in "I've Been Everywhere," Tim Farnsworth has also been everywhere - and not exactly by choice.  He has a condition for which there is no name (hence the title of the novel) where his body is compelled to walk ... and walk ... then walk some more.  He's been to doctors, specialists, holistic practitioners, sleep clinics.  He's taken pills and vitamins, had multiple MRIs and body cleansings, worn helmets that promised to continually monitor his brain waves, and been handcuffed to a bed for months.  Always, there is the promise that there is the One Guy that holds the answers Tim desperately - and constantly - seeks.

And just like the guy in Johnny Cash's song, Tim also has a pack.  It's always at the ready, prepared by his long-suffering wife Jane (more on her in a bit) with all the essentials needed for a nightly stroll (usually in sub-freezing temperatures, it seems) that will likely end hours later and miles away, in the next town or perhaps the next state. Tim takes the pack to work, for his condition means that it's entirely possible that he'll be seized with the compulsion to walk out of the law firm where he is a workaholic, high-achieving partner.

(Although I would never want to have Tim's unnamed condition, I admit it could come in handy to have no control over the need to walk out of a boring-as-all-hell meeting.)

I've been to:
Reno, Chicago, Fargo, Minnesota,
Buffalo, Toronto, Winslow, Sarasota,
Wichita, Tulsa, Ottawa, Oklahoma,
Tampa, Panama, Mattawa, La Paloma,
Bangor, Baltimore, Salvador, Amarillo,
Tocapillo, Baranquilla, and Perdilla, I'm a killer.
I've been everywhere, man ....

Ah yes, a killer.  Tim is the lead attorney on a high-profile case involving the firm's most lucrative client, and his unable to stop walking condition puts him into the path of someone who knows some information.  The question becomes one of whether Tim's compulsion to walk is because of searching for closure with this case, or something more?

Going with the first theory for a bit, I think that Ferris draws parallels between the case that is preoccupying Tim and the mysterious man who surfaces with the answers to the case.  Tim's client is accused of killing his wife, but maintains that he is an innocent man, falsely accused.  Tim can relate; because of circumstances he has no control over, he too is slowly killing his own wife and daughter.  The mystery man represents the answers he seeks, for if he figures out that solution to that particular puzzle, perhaps he can put the pieces of his life back together again.  But just like everything else in Tim's life, this is elusive - the answers, and the man itself.  You begin to wonder if he even exists. 

I've been to:
Boston, Charleston, Dayton, Louisiana,
Washington, Houston, Kingston, Texarkana,
Monterey, Faraday, Santa Fe, Tallapoosa,
Glen Rock, Black Rock, Little Rock, Oskaloosa,
Tennessee, Hennessey, Chicopee, Spirit Lake,
Grand Lake, Devils Lake, Crater Lake, for Pete's sake.

Ultimately, the novel does become something more. Like the layers of clothing that Tim wears to protect against frostbite and other elements of nature, there are so many layers to The Unnamed.  You could make a case that this is a novel about searching for answers, that we as humans have this innate desire to know the reasons why we are the way we are, why our personal circumstances are the way they are, and finding the purpose for one's life.  You could make the case that this is about relationships, how others we're close to are affected by the uncertainty of the words in sickness and in health and all the power those words hold. 

"The long matrimonial haul was accomplished in cycles. One cycle of bad breath, one cycle of renewed desire, a third cycle of breakdown and small avoidances, still another of plays and dinners that spurred a conversation between them late at night that reminded her of their like minds and the pleasure they took in each other's talk.  And then back to hating him for not taking out the garbage on Wednesday. That was the struggle. Sickness and death, caretaking, the martyrdom of matrimony - that was fluff stuff.  When the vows kick in, you don't even blink.  You just do." (pg. 20)

You could make the case that this is ultimately about making peace with oneself and one's loved ones, of accepting the way we are and those in our lives. 

And you'd be right, for The Unnamed is about all of these things, and author Joshua Ferris pulls this off incredibly well.  I loved his first novel Then We Came to the End (it was one of my favorite fiction books that I read in 2010) and this one is a pretty strong candidate to make it onto my favorite books read in 2011 list.  (The jury's still out on this.) 

I've been to:
Louisville, Nashville, Knoxville, Ombabika,
Schefferville, Jacksonville, Waterville, Costa Rica,
Pittsfield, Springfield, Bakersfield, Shreveport,
Hackensack, Cadillac, Fond du Lac, Davenport,
Idaho, Jellico, Argentina, Diamantina,
Pasadena, Catalina, see what I mean-a.

I've been to:
Pittsburgh, Parkersburg, Gravelbourg, Colorado,
Ellensburg, Rexburg, Vicksburg, Eldorado,
Larimore, Admore, Haverstraw, Chatanika,
Chaska, Nebraska, Alaska, Opelika,
Baraboo, Waterloo, Kalamazoo, Kansas City,
Sioux City, Cedar City, Dodge City, what a pity.

What Other Bloggers Thought:

Asylum (this review in particular is why I love book bloggers; I had no idea that the titles of each of the sections of the book were lines from an Emily Dickinson poem, which is included in the Asylum review.  Reading that makes complete sense.  Thank you!)

The Book Lady's Blog
Books I Done Read
Books in the City (audio)
Buried in Print
Capricious Reader
Chew and Digest Books
Fizzy Thoughts
Follow the Thread
Life with Books
The Literary Stew
Maw Books
Presenting Lenore
Reading Matters
Redlady's Reading Room (audio)
S. Krishna's Books
Sasha and the Silverfish
She Is Too Fond of Books (audio)

Who did I miss?

copyright 2011, Melissa, 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, January 20, 2011

Inauguration Day

It's been seven years today.

Seven years since we pulled out of the driveway, my mother and Betty waving to us from the living room window.

Seven years since we buckled Boo into his car seat and headed to the hospital.

Seven years since we sat in a too small room with no toys, carrying a diaper bag without enough distractions and snacks for three hours. 

Seven years since an intern peppered us with questions for most of those three excruciating hours, as our boy played with a toy car, as the specialist swooped in for the last five minutes of those 3 hours and frowned at him. 

Seven years since we heard the words "your son has clinical features of autism spectrum disorder" and "I knew that would be the case just looking at your questionnaire."  (Never mind looking at the child.)

Seven years since we felt our hearts break, in the same hospital where my infant cousin died following heart surgery. 

All the king's horses and all the king's specialists couldn't put any of us back together again. 

To me, January 20 will always be diagnosis day.  But more often than not, it often carries with it an inauguration, of a Governor or a President.  

I've always thought the anniversary of Boo's autism diagnosis day and inaugurations is a little bit ironic. The Husband is a presidential scholar, has an advanced degree in the study of the American Presidency.  It was once a calling academically (although not politically, albeit briefly on the local level, despite what some may have thought.) 

Like father like son, one of Boo's first intense interests was, indeed, the American Presidents.  The Husband had bought a deck of Presidential flash cards from the National Constitution Center and showed them to Boo, never expecting that at 2 years old he would recite them, in order, along with their Vice Presidents and their political party.  History repeated itself at family gatherings, as Boo would be asked to recite facts about Millard Fillmore just as his father did at the same age. 

Inauguration Day is one with much promise, of abundant hope, just as it was 50 years ago today when the country welcomed President John F. Kennedy on January 20, 1961, with promises of New Frontiers and Camelot.

And hope prevailed again, on January 20, 1993, when we braved the bitter cold to be among the throng of people in Washington D.C. for President Bill Clinton's inauguration.  And never moreso was hope in the air than it was two years ago, on January 20, 2009, when President Obama was inaugurated.

Yet hope was nowhere to be found in a cramped examination room on January 20, 2004, as our questions went unanswered, as we took a badly-photocopied article about the signs of autism, as we collapsed in tears and blinked in disbelief when asked to decide (not at this moment, you have time, but not much) on a therapeutic course of action before the proverbial guillotined window of time would slam shut on our 2 year old's blond head.

And yet, while the memory and heartbreak of this day never quite disappears, and I find myself replaying the moments of the day this is when we left this is when she told us this is when we came back home, I try to look at our January 20 as more of an Inauguration Day. 

Some years, that's much easier to do than others.

Today I find myself trying even moreso to grasp that gold ring of possibility that Inauguration Day brings. I find myself reflecting more than usual on all of Boo's accomplishments (and indeed, he has accomplished so much more than we ever imagined during our breakdown and the Black Hole era of seven years ago). 

I watched him this morning, on the computer laughing at a Saturday Night Live skit on YouTube (and reminding him and his still-present echolalia not to repeat a phrase at school). He'll go off to before care this morning, board a school bus, disembark and head toward his mainstreamed third grade classroom, make it through the day, play with E. and D. and J. at recess, board the bus again. On the days when I drop him off at school, it never gets old watching him hoist his backpack, cross the street with the crossing guard's assistance, and walk into his elementary school. 

I hold all these things close, every Inauguration Day and every other day.  And at the same time, I often feel caught betwixt and between, as is the case this year.

Inauguration Day 2011 comes at a time when we are caught betwixt and between so many things.  We're betwixt and between therapies, having made the decision to stop the social skills group therapy that is bankrupting us, barely reimbursed by insurance, and - we have finally admitted - giving us more satisfaction that we were doing something for him as opposed to change we can see (much less believe in).  We don't know what's next, therapy-wise.  We are headed into the unknown, in more ways than one. 

And so there is even more reason than ever to embrace (through the pain and the sadness, through the fear and the unknown) January 20 for what it is, now and always, no more and no less.

The inauguration of new beginnings, of pioneering our New Frontier, of the possibility and promise of putting a man on the moon or discovering life on Mars.

Of the possibilities and promise and potential of another year ahead.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

These Are Days

Walking path in the back of my mom's house, Easter Day 2010.

Our lives.  They change every day, imperceptibly.  

And then there are days when the shifting, the changing of a life, is so palpable you can feel it pivoting with every step and every breath taken. 

This, here.  Today is such a day.

copyright 2011, Melissa, 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, January 18, 2011

Book Review: The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson, by Jerome Charyn

The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson
by Jerome Charyn
W.W. Norton and Company
347 pages

"And both of us luxuriate in the village yard with words that have a lover's lightning - lightning that can shake the world, invert what is for what ought to be."  (pg. 161)

Words that have a lover's lightning.  How can any reader not love that phrase?  And words like that, my friends, are part and parcel of the treat you're in for with Jerome Charyn's superb novel, The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson.

This is a novel reminiscent a bit of The Hours by Michael Cunningham, which is one of my all-time favorite books. I love the concept and the innovation of the author as author, and The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson provides the reader with that same delight.

I honestly do not know if I can do this book justice with this review, but I will try.  Quite simply, this is a spectacular novel.  As I said in my Sunday Salon post, "Jerome Charyn makes Emily Dickinson so intriguing, capturing her voice and her feisty spirit in such a way that you can't help but want to keep reading and learning more."

Emily Dickinson was a bit of a mystery to me before I read this novel.  I confess I didn't know much about her life and I hadn't read much more than her best-known poems.  (I'm thinking I might not be the only one. As the book jacket states: "Channeling the devilish rhythms and ghosts of a seemingly buried literary past, Charyn has removed the mysterious veils that have long enshrouded Dickinson, revealing her passions, inner turmoil, and powerful sexuality.")  

You forget that you are reading when you are reading this book because Charyn's words first transport you back to 1848 when a teenage Emily Dickinson is a student at Mount Holyoke.  She's a bit rebellious ... and in love with the school's handyman, Tom. She's not there very long before she becomes ill with the croup (lovesick, too) and returns home to Amherst, where her father Edward is the treasurer of Amherst College and a prominent leader in the town. 

Tom is only the first of Emily's several love interests who make appearances in the book.  There's the articulate minister Rev. Wadsworth, whose church Emily attends while visiting a cousin in Philadelphia (the Arch Street Church!). There's Samuel Bowles, editor of The Republican. There's a later-in-life fling with her father's close friend. There's a cardsharp that she nicknames Domingo after a brand of rum they shared in a secret hideaway "rum resort."  (Emily is fond of nicknames. Everyone's got one.) Who needs Twilight or The Bachelor or any of these other stupid "reality" shows when you've got all this?

"He's wearing a summer coat with frayed sleeves and a cravat with crooked strings.  His shoes want a little polishing, but I'd take him to the shoemaker and buy him another pair with Pa-pa's money if he'd promise to marry me, and even if he don't.  He intoxicates me in a way that Mr. Bowles never could.  I wouldn't mind being part of his seraglio, the biggest part. But I still can't get much of a proposal out of him. Instead he drills Shakespeare into my eardrum, pretends we're Antony and Cleopatra escaping from the battle of Actium. But he must be a confidence man, or how else would he know how to seize the words of Cleopatra for himself and let me have the role of that love-sick general, Marc Antony, who gives up half the world and all his wealth for that conniving queen?

'Forgive my fearful sails!' my Domingo says. 'I little thought you would have follow'd.' 

'Egypt, thou knew'st too well,' I whisper.  'My heart was to thy rudder tied by strings ....' 

And both of us luxuriate in the village yard with words that have a lover's lightning - lightning that can shake the world, invert what is for what ought to be."  (pg. 161)

And there was one more love of Emily's life - perhaps the greatest.  Her beloved dog, a Newfoundland named Carlo.  She adores this dog, takes him almost everywhere she goes.  Anyone who has ever loved a pet can see themselves reflected in Emily's feelings about her Pup. 

"Lord, I've been truer to Carlo than to any man, including that other rascal, Tom the Pickpocket. The Pup has seen me cry, throw jealous fits, plot against Pa-pa, thunder around like Zeus himself, and he's like a peace officer who can calm his mistress and make her laugh. I cannot recall being lonely in his presence. I talk to Carlo, and he don't have to talk back. His big brown eyes tell the most prescient tale.  He's met most of my suitors, long before I turned into an irascible old maid, and he hasn't been jealous of one.  He's never asked me to play with him. Carlo doesn't consider himself a dog, I'd imagine, and wouldn't tolerate anyone else calling him Pup. He's been my Confederate these sixteen years, and a much better roommate than any I ever had.

(Folks dealing with the recent New England snows will appreciate the passage that comes next.)

And one night, a few months after I returned from Cambridgeport, there was a howling storm and snowflakes big as diamonds beat against the windows.  Pa-pa's fields had a brutal white glare. The totality of it, the immense blanket of snow that moved in waves, frightened me and I was tempted to lie down with Carlo in his bassinet. But I fell into a deep slumber and found myself riding on Carlo's regal back. I didn't need to have any reins or stirrups. I held onto his collar, but I could hardly straddle the enormous black bundle of him. Still, my Pup wouldn't let me fall. I wore my nightgown into the wind. I wasn't cold. It was like sitting on top of a furry furnace. 

We rode above Main Street, he and I, and the houses had a sudden regularity, even in the snowstorm, as if Amherst had become a perfect winter map, with half-buried roads and a line of chimneys as mysterious as musical notes on a page.

I clung to Carlo. Riding him was like going away to live with a man and sitting on my own trousseau - the Pup, instead of spoons and pillowcases. Whoever I was marrying couldn't break into my dream."  (pg. 244-245).

The reader is taken on a wonderful literary ride through Emily's life (Charyn writes in the beginning which elements of the book are fictional, which is very helpful because that is one of my personal stumbling blocks with historical fiction). We meet her beaus, mentioned above, and her Holyoke friends, her headmistresses, and her family.  We see her as a budding poet and as a recluse, forever in mourning of the deaths that affected her and would become a force in her poetry. 

Hopefully these passages - and I could quote the whole book if I could - give you a taste of the exquisite language and vocabulary infused in every sentence of The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson.  It's just such a decadent book, one to savor.  Charyn brings Emily to life in a vivid and fascinating way (making the poet so real you can Friend her on Facebook) * and the reader is richly rewarded.

We're less than a month into the new year, but I already know this: The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson will be among the very best books I will read in 2011.

And it should be one of yours too.

* The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson has a very fun Facebook page celebrating the novel and all things Emily. 

Author Jerome Charyn's website is here.

What Other Bloggers Thought:

Books Love Me
Mindy Withrow

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, January 17, 2011

More Decluttering 2011

When last we left Project Decluttering 2011, the number of items tossed, recycled, or donated stood at 33 with another 1,978 to go.

Here are some more things added to the list:

34. A slew of receipts, coupons, grocery lists, etc.
35. An old can of dried out Play-Doh (I can't remember the last time my kids played with Play-Doh)
36. Owner's Manual for the Dora the Explorer Sing-Along CD Player
37. A stack of business cards from one of my former jobs
38. Another 2008 calendar
39. A Christmas card from 2008 (maybe earlier)
40. Tickets to an event that was cancelled and refunded ... yet I still have the tickets.
41-46. Five Magic Markers that don't work.
47. Hospital bracelet from Boo's ear tubes/adenoid surgery in 2008
48. Brochure from Longwood Gardens (I can find out the information online if I need it)
49-50. Two order forms for kids to pre-order their school supplies for the following year (was due in May)
51-61. Ten more worksheets from school.

To Be Donated
62-68. Five children's books.
69. A mini Etch-a-Sketch type of toy. 

All of this crap was on my bedroom bureau, staring at me every morning when I woke up and again when I went to bed.  (Except for the mini Etch-a-Sketch.  That's been on the stairs.)

I'm off from work today, and one of my to-do's is to go through some of the piles of magazines and work on the den (the most clutter-filled room in the house.)

One of these days I will get brave enough to post photos.  Maybe.  I'm not quite there yet. Baby steps, folks.  Baby steps.

And might I add ... I am loving the comments and support on my original post about this endeavor of mine, and the fact that some of you are playing along with your own Decluttering 2011 Projects.  Now if I only had a button (which I am inept at doing ... hint, hint), we'd have ourselves an Official Challenge sort of thing happening.

copyright 2011, by Melissa. 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, January 16, 2011

Guest Post from Betty (a.k.a. OrcaGirl): J Pod in a Book!

As many of you know, my girl is on a mission to save every orca on the planet and has adopted an orca, Princess Angeline, from The Whale Museum.  She's started a blog about her passion for orcas as well as the books she's reading. 

Here's her latest post, J Pod in a Book (and Other Books I'm Reading) which you can also find on her blog, Orcas and Stuff.  Feel free to leave her a comment here or there and let her know what you think ... she'd love it.  :)  In regard to the Girl Scout cookies, we'll ship them anywhere in the continental US  if you order multiple boxes. 

Today I was reading a book on killer whales and on page 59 it mentioned J pod! The pod that my killer whale Princess Angeline is! It was a miracle! I showed my parents and they thought it was so cool. I just came back from my Girl Scouts troop. We are working on selling cookies somewhere. So if you are interested, you can buy some from me if you want. I think it's so cool to see J pod in a book! I might call my cousin tomorrow or something. I can't believe it! I hope one day I'll be able to see my killer whale in person.

I've been reading a whole lot of super cool books lately. My mom and I went to the library on Saturday and I found this super cool book on dolphins. It shows a picture of a dolphins' face on it. I also got a book on the history of candy. And let me tell you, that book is really sweet! Get it? I also got a book on Secretariat, the greatest racehorse of all time. ( at least that's what I think!) I've only read a little of it though. I'm also reading a book called Ramona Quimby, Age 8. I really like that series. And finally, I'm working on reading a book about the horse Barbaro. He's a cool horse too. Did you know he had an accident during one of his races? I feel super bad for him. Oh well. I'm also reading a lot of other books too. Oh yeah, about the library. my mom and I were looking at the movies there and my mom found a movie i was longing to see: Free Willy 4! I couldn't believe it! I quickly said yes to get it. It was one of the greatest library trips ever. I can't think of anything els to write about now. So I guess thats it!

copyright 2011, Melissa, 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: Today's Salon is Brought to You By the Letter ...

It is truly the little things in life that tend to amuse me.  While thinking about my Salon post for today, I noticed that every book I've read (or tried to read) this week has something in common. 

They were all written by an author whose first name begins with J. 

Take a look:

At the beginning of this week, I was finishing up The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson by Jerome Charyn. I absolutely loved this and it will likely be one of my reviews coming up this week (as well as one of my best books read for 2011).  I can't wait to tell you more about it. 

Then there was Jane. Talk about switching gears!  Innocence started off fine for me in the beginning, but then ... not so much.  (You can find my review here.)  If you're a fan of the vampire and paranormal world of YA literature, you might like this a little more than I did.  

And then I found myself very much in the book blogger minority, unable to finish Jennifer's book. 

A Visit from the Goon Squad has shown up on many a book blogger's "best of the year" lists, and I've long been curious to find out what all the buzz was about. I love the format of interconnected stories and narratives, and I really appreciate the experimental and literary risk-taking that author Jennifer Egan took with the writing in this one, but it wasn't for me. I just couldn't connect with the characters. I just didn't care about these people and didn't want to hang out with them. I know I'm in the minority with this though, because people are raving about this one.  So, I'm sorry to say, this one became my first did-not-finish (DNF) for 2011. 

Between Innocence and A Visit from the Goon Squad, I thought I was headed for a mid-winter's book slump.  But then came Joshua to the rescue. 

I've seen some mixed reviews around the blogosphere for Joshua Ferris's second novel, but I am really enjoying The Unnamed.  I loved Then We Came to the End (which I named as one of my best fiction reads of 2010) and so far The Unnamed has a good chance of making it onto the 2011 list too. 

Even my audiobook fits into the author-with-a-first-name-beginning-with-J trend that seems to be going on with me. 

Having read The Audacity to Win by David Plouffe, as well as Notes from the Cracked Ceiling by Anne Kornblut, there are a lot of stories in John Heilemann and Mark Halperin's Game Change that I (we) already knew about the 2008 Presidential campaign - not to mention the tidbits from Game Change that were publicized at the time of publication.  But this definitely has some new, eye-opening material that I hadn't heard before ... which is making this an enjoyable listen. 

How about you?  Any trends or patterns in your reading this 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.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Weekend Cooking: Broccoli Cheese Soup, Panera Style

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.

There are many, many things I love about working from home ... but I admit, there are a few things (just a few!) that I miss about going into an office every day.  There are days I miss talking with colleagues about things in the news or running an idea by someone else. I miss the oh-my-God-you-won't-believe-what-the-hell-she-did-now! dramatics. 

And, I miss lunch. 

I miss going out for lunch and I miss the "hey, I'm chained to my desk today ... would you mind bringing me back some lunch?"  Lunch is usually leftovers at my kitchen table with a book (I'm not complaining about that) but some days, especially on cold winter days like the ones we've been experiencing, I wouldn't mind someone bringing me back some soup from, say, Panera.

Ah, the soups from Panera.  We don't have a Panera in close proximity enough for me to go there even occasionally for lunch.

Sigh.  So, the other night I was making fish sandwiches for dinner and I wanted a soup to accompany it.  I had two small heads of broccoli that were getting close to their prime, and since The Husband didn't care for my most recent broccoli-related soup (that would be Slow Cooked Broccoli Soup with Garlic and Olive Oil, as found in Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook by Beth Hensperger), I needed something else.

All of a sudden I was craving Broccoli Cheese Soup.  And as I was persuing some blogs in my reader, one of my favorite foodie blogs, Lynn's Kitchen Adventures, just so happened to have a post about recreating Panera Bread's tomato soup ... and a link to one of Lynn's other Panera recreations, their broccoli cheese soup!  (You should really check Lynn's blog out.  After you make this soup.)

I made this for dinner and it was an instant hit (except with Betty, who does not like soup).   The Husband, myself, and Boo loved this.  I made it exactly as Lynn instructed, without the bacon.  I used vegetarian chicken broth and 2% milk.

My version of Panera Bread Broccoli Cheddar Soup (from Lynn's Kitchen Adventures)

5 cups broccoli florets (if you have a little more or a little less that is fine)
6 cups chicken broth
1 1/2 cups milk or 1/2 & 1/2 (1/2 & 1/2 does taste better but I usually use milk)
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour
2 – 3 cups grated cheddar cheese
bacon, cooked and chopped (optional)

Steam broccoli until tender, about six minutes. Chop finely. I do mine in the food processor because we like it really chopped up and it is quicker. Set aside. In a large saucepan combine broth and milk. Slowly whisk in flour. Cook over med to med high heat stirring. Cook until it starts to thicken but not too thick. I usually do it until it just starts to boil. Add chopped broccoli. Reduce heat to med low. Continue to cook about 5 minutes. Add cheese stir until cheese melts. Serve. If using bacon sprinkle each bowl with a little.

This is a great way to use up broccoli that is not at it’s peak but you do not want to throw it out.

I'm telling you, this was beyond awesome.  Dare I say, I think this is even better than Panera's soup, if you can imagine such.  As Lynn writes, it is certainly cheaper.  It was exactly the perfect soup for a cold winter's night.

And yes, I did have the leftovers for lunch the next day while reading a book at my kitchen table.  *

* If you refrigerate this for the next day, be forewarned that this will thicken considerably ... and it is already a very thick soup.  This was not appealing to The Husband, who took a container for lunch and promptly threw it out.  For me, I just added a little water (about 2 tbsps or so) before stirring and microwaving for a minute or so, and it was just as delicious as it was the night before.  The kids had a snow day, and even Boo ate some for lunch too.