Thursday, April 28, 2011

Sky Blue and Black

This photo was taken during last summer's vacation of cool changes, from the porch of my aunt and uncle's beach house.  I was sitting here, as I often do doing these visits, and noticed the sky blue and black.  (To quote one of my very favorite songs ever. Love me Jackson Browne.)

This is a six-block long and two-block wide town with a name even people who live within a few miles away don't know.  And on that July day, half of this tiny slip of an island was under fierce and threatening storm clouds; the other half was bathed in sunlight and blue skies.  I sat on the porch, stared, reflected, snapped photos. 

And so it is here this morning - here, at home, anchored on the mainland.  Last night brought howling and rattling winds, weather and circumstances that tossed me to and fro all night long with worry, with anxiety, with dread. 

Today's a new one, one that started with gloomy clouds during this morning's drop off, but one that has transformed into a morning of sunlight streaming through the family room windows.   (And back to gloomy clouds again. These are the types of days that bring rainbows, yes?)

There are possibilities perculating, ones that could hold promise in terms of new work.  This transition might provide me with some time to write more (no excuse now not to finish my novel, right?)

And there is a tiny glimmer of hope in regards to my friends and their horrific adoption case.  The judge has the opportunity to overturn the jury's verdict during the next hearing in Wisconsin, on May 25.  He says he won't be inclined to do so, but my friend's sister has asked us to use the power of our voices and our words, in the form of letters to the judge. I'll be writing my letter today.  (Instructions on how you can do the same are at the end of this post, following the "Sky Blue and Black" lyrics.)
I'm black and blue this morning, in many different ways.  I'm still worried, still anxious, still angry and sad as hell.

But also optimistic. 

And driven like the driving rain to do whatever I can.

And the heavens were rolling
Like a wheel on a track
And our sky was unfolding
And it'll never fold back
Sky blue and black
And I'd have fought the world for you
If I thought that you wanted me to
Or put aside what was true or untrue
If I'd known that's what you needed
What you needed me to do
But the moment has passed by me now
To have put away my pride
And just come through for you somehow
If you ever need holding
Call my name, I'll be there
If you ever need holding
And no holding back, I'll see you through
You're the color of the sky
Reflected in each store-front window pane
You're the whispering and the sighing
Of my tires in the rain
You're the hidden cost and the thing that's lost
In everything I do
Yeah and I'll never stop looking for you
In the sunlight and the shadows
And the faces on the avenue
That's the way love is
That's the way love is
That's the way love is
Sky blue and black

"Sky Blue and Black" ~ Jackson Browne

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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

That Sound You Heard? Was the Other Shoe Dropping.

Today was a tough one, you guys.

And I was informed I'll be losing my job.

I can't and don't want to say too much publicly about the job situation,
except that it is a casualty of our decision to move. 

The job thing hurts and I'm very upset over this (I loved this job)
but I know there are - and will be - other opportunities.

When one door closes and things happen for a reason and all that shit.

But my friends and their baby girl?

I can't say the same about that. 




Not tonight.

I'm beyond devastated.

As I wrote to them tonight, there have been only a handful of times in my life
when I thought I could literally feel a piece of my heart breaking off. 

Tonight, thinking of them and that little baby girl?

Is one of those times. 

photo taken by me of "old woman who lived in a shoe" garden decor in my mother's yard, april 2009.

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, April 26, 2011



I have written before in this space (here and again here) about my friends D. and S.

The ones who, after waiting 15 years, got the call that a birthmother selected them.

The ones who have been parents for the past five months to a beautiful baby girl, who we'll call Baby G.

The ones who got a call that the birthfather is contesting the adoption from his jail cell where he is serving five years.

The ones who are waiting during a trial (courtesy of the Wisconsin's taxpayers dollars) which will determine whether the convicted felon ever established a "parental relationship." 

(Which would mean that Baby G. goes to him.  In jail, I guess. I don't know how these things work and I don't want to.)

The ones who tonight, wait for the jury's verdict.

We have been awaiting word for the past 6 hours.

UPDATE: The verdict was not good.  They lost. 

photo taken by me, Longwood Gardens, May 2010.

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, April 24, 2011

The Sunday Salon: April 24

Happy Easter to all who are celebrating today!  We're having a nice, relaxing day here.  Kids have been remarkably restrained in regards to their Easter baskets, much to my surprise. (I woke up a little before 6 a.m. to the sounds of them calmly discussing - for a half hour! - the merits of the various assortment of chocolate they were anticipating.) 

We don't have much planned for today, which is fine with me.  I worked on cleaning and decluttering the house magically transformed the house into a model home yesterday while The Husband took the kids to his parents' house to celebrate Easter a day early ... and we're back in the throes of packing and whatnot today. The good news is that the house is looking pretty good and I think we're finally to the point where we can officially put it on the market this week. 

I'm hoping that I'll not only have a chance to read some of Fragile Beasts today, but perhaps finish it too.   Given that I have nearly 150 pages left (not to mention more to do around the house), I know that's incredibly optimistic.  I was really engrossed in this during the first half of this novel, and now it's kind of starting to lag a bit.  Author Tawni O'Dell has done an incredible job of creating strong characters who I definitely care about and am sympathetic (for the most part) to, but it's approaching that point where something needs to happen or secrets need to be revealed ... or something. 

How is your Sunday?

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.

Meditation: O Spirit of Life and Renewal

Sunset coming through the transom of our front door, Feb 2009.
One of my favorite photos that I've ever taken.

O Spirit of Life and Renewal
Rev. Jane Rzepka

We have wintered enough,
mourned enough,
oppressed ourselves enough.

Our souls are too long cold and buried,
our dreams all but forgotten,
our hopes unheard.

We are waiting to rise from the dead.
In this, the season of steady rebirth,
we awaken to the power so abundant, so holy,
that returns each year through earth and sky.

We will find our hearts again, and our good spirits.
We will love, and believe, and give and wonder,
and feel again the eternal powers.

The flow of life moves ever onward
through one faithful spring,
and another,
and now another.

May we be forever grateful.

This meditation, by Unitarian Universalist minister Rev. Jane Rzepka, is one of my very favorites.  Our UU minister used this in an Easter service 10 years ago, and it found a home in my heart then for so many reasons.
It still does.
It always will.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Not Quite My Three Cups of Tea

I've had several people (OK, just one, but y'know that's all it takes to spark blog fodder 'round here) ask my opinion on the controversy surrounding author/humanitarian/philanthropist Greg Mortenson and his bestselling book, Three Cups of Tea. 

If you know not of which I speak, Three Cups of Tea is a hugely, mega-successful memoir about Mortenson's efforts to build schools for girls in remote villages in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  It's a best-seller that has dramatically increased Mortenson's visability as head of Central Asia Institute (the nonprofit he founded to fund the construction of the schools) as well as CAI's bank account.  Mortenson's follow up book, Stones Into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan, offers up more of the same. 

And depending on your interpretation, Three Cups of Tea is either an outright lie or an embellishment of the facts (which, in my opinion, makes Stones Into Schools suspect as well) or literary license run amuk ... or some combination of the above.

CBS News' 60 Minutes has been investigating Mortenson, and the transcript of the story that ran on Sunday evening (April 17) is well worth the read.   Among other things, 60 Minutes' reporting claims that Central Asia Institute's funds are being mismanaged (one audit in 14 years, more money spent on promoting Greg Mortenson and his books than the schools of which he writes, etc.) and that many of the stories of the schools themselves are exaggerated and perhaps not even true at all.  His publisher is reportedly investigating the allegations (also supported by novelist Jon Krakauer, who donated $75,000 to Central Asia Institute) too. 

I haven't read Three Cups of Tea (and I don't plan to, especially now) but I did listen to Stones Into Schools on audio. (I commented to several people that I hadn't read Three Cups, and they said that the two books were very similiar.)

Some commentators have said that the embellishment of the stories (if such is the case) isn't that big of a deal. We've certainly seen cases before (most notably with James Frey's memoir, A Million Little Pieces) and all the hand-wringing and "what does this mean for the future of publishing?" agita that results.

But the Three Cups of Tea brew-ha-ha is different.  The issue here, as I see it, is more than whether or not Mortenson's accounts in his book are true.  It's that the stories in Three Cups of Tea (which may or may not be true) are ones that are the very basis for his multi-million dollar charitable organization.

Ironically, that was one of the problems I had with Stones Into Schools.  There simply weren't enough stories about the students in the schools he'd raised millions upon millions of dollars to build.   I wrote in my review that "[t]he stories of the actual students in schools were my favorite parts of the book, although there weren't as many of those as I'd expected ....  I wanted more stories about the girls themselves, what they were learning (we never really got much of an insight into this until briefly at the very end), how their lives were transformed because of having the school and what they wound up doing."

At the time I was reading Stones, Pakistan was dealing with torrential floods.  So I looked on Central Asia Institute's website, expecting to find sorrowful stories of students unable to go to school because of the floods, or entire schools wiped out ... or something.  An appeal for donations or a special campaign to assist the victims ... anything.   Hell, I probably would have written Greg a check if there had been. 
No stories about the students and how they were doing in the midst of a major catastrophe struck me as odd because stories are the big buzzword now in the nonprofit world, and to some extent, they always have been.  People who do what I do for a living are constantly being told we have to "tell our story" and to "share our story."  Why?  So people (i.e., potential and current donors) will identify with the people we serve and will support - and continue to support - the worthy causes of our organizations.  A story gives someone a tangible example of a problem or a cause, rather than just facts and numbers and statistics.  We want to feel invested in people's lives, to know that we (and our dollars) are making a difference. 

There's nothing wrong with telling stories.  It's the very basis of philanthropy.  And in some cases - particularly in situations where confidentiality is an issue - then sometimes names or identifying details need to be changed.  I've had many of those scenarios in many of the development communications I've written. In those cases, it's a best practice to state such right from the get-go.  But donors expect - no, they often demand - to know what is happening with their money and the lack of stories with Central Asia Institute gave me significant pause. 

So now I'm wondering ... was that because there weren't many (or any) stories to tell? 

If the stories were embellished or fictionalized in Three Cups of Tea (and/or Stones Into Schools) in order to attract donations for Central Asia Institute, that's a major problem - and one that the philanthropic world needs to take note of. 

It's just as great of a problem - or greater, I think - than if the funds raised weren't used as the donors intended them to be used (to support the building of schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the education of the girls in those regions).

There doesn't seem to be much dispute that there were schools built in Afghanistan and Pakistan through Greg Mortenson's work and leadership with Central Asia Institute.  And nobody is disputing whether the cause of girls' education in remote and impoverished areas is a worthy one - it certainly is.  The questions revolve about how many actual schools, and what the money was spent on, and what percentage actually went to the programs itself.  All of these are questions that nonprofit managers get every day, with every grant proposal and from every funder we talk to.  Transparency is the name of the game, and those who have questions of whether Central Asia Institute's donors were misled (and if that was on purpose) are justified in asking them and receiving timely, solid answers.

Central Asia Institute certainly isn't the first nonprofit to be caught in a show-me-the-money type of scandal and unfortunately, it won't be the last.

But until this is sorted out - and the fact that people feel deceived - makes this a very bitter cup of tea to swallow.

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.

Yes. What She Said.

One of my favorite blogs is Girl with Pen (as anyone within earshot of my BlogHer fangirl moment with GWP founder Deborah Siegel in New York back in August can attest) and one of my favorite contributors (besides Deborah) to GWP is my blog-friend (to use her words), Alison Piepmeier. 

(If Alison's name sounds familiar to you and it's not because you - like me - are a reader of her blog, Baxter Sez or Girl with Pen, then perhaps it is because of this review I did of Alison's book.)

(Sheesh, could this be any more of a link-filled post?!) 

Anyway.  Seems that my post the other day about the PBS NewsHour series "Autism Now" prompted this thoughtful and well-said post from Alison over at Girl with Pen.  I always like what Alison has to say and am always interested in her perspective on any given situation, and she certainly has a point about  (to use her words again) "how easily (even unintentionally) autism and other cognitive disabilities can be framed as tragedies to be mourned, and/or conditions that are unacceptable and need to be fixed."

I think that's definitely true.  I haven't had a chance to watch much of the "Autism Now" series (ironically, because there's too much autism now in the Betty and Boo household, hence the incoherent nature of this post) but I'm hoping it does what my friends like Alison do so well, which is to (again, her words) emphasize "neurodiversity, on changing our society so that we can accommodate and support as many different types of people as possible."

Yes.  What she said. 

Check out Alison's full post here

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, April 19, 2011

Many Years Ago

This would be the mug that I, bleary-eyed, just happened to grab for my first cup of coffee this morning. 

Notice that date.  That woke me up faster than the caffeine ever could have. 

(What? You mean you don't have 25 year old souvenirs from your junior prom sitting in your cabinet? Doesn't everyone?)

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.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Autism Now: PBS NewsHour Presents a Six-Part Series on Autism, Starting April 18

Starting this evening, April 18, PBS NewsHour is airing a six-part series called "Autism Now."  Robert MacNeil, founder and former anchor of NewsHour, presents his family's story of his grandson Nick's autism diagnosis and how it has impacted his family, along with a comprehensive view of the issue. 

I usually avoid these sorts of "special reports" and rarely watch them.  I'm making an exception for "Autism Now" because it appears to be (at least from what I have read about and seen of the series thus far) more balanced and fair than other such shows.  I also liked that MacNeil addresses that this is a "national emergency," as children with autism will continue to need lifelong supports and that we're not prepared, as a nation, for this. 

Watch the full episode. See more PBS NewsHour.

A Viewers Guide to the series is here, along with several resources on the PBS site. 

Sunrise, This Morning

As seen through our family room windows, around 6:30 a.m. 

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, April 17, 2011

The Sunday Salon

My reading life has been undergoing a transformation these days - and quite frankly, I hate it.  I know it's a temporary change as our family deals with this transition that involves The Husband being six hours away during the week and back home only for 48 hours on the weekends.  Fortunately, it seems that we're coming into the home stretch of finally having the house ready to be put on the market.  We're doing a big push this weekend and hopefully it will be able to be listed this week. 

Compared to other real problems in the world and in people's lives, this doesn't even merit a gripe session, I know. I sound like a whiner and an ungrateful bitch, but it doesn't change that I can't stand having even a fraction of my books packed away and limiting the number of library books I allow myself to check out.  I'm a visual person; I like seeing all my books on full display and I like knowing that they are accessible - neither of which is the case now.
So far, for all of the 17 days that has been the month of April, I've read exactly one book.  ONE!  And we're not talking a chunkster either.   It's Peter Lovenheim's memoir, In the Neighborhood: The Search for Community on an American Street, One Sleepover at a Time. Ironically, it does tie into the idea of moving and transitions as it explores the idea of community in our neighborhoods and how we as a society changed from one where we knew the people living next door to one where we don't know our neighbors' names. 

In the aftermath of a murder-suicide on his quiet, suburban Rochester street and the breakup of his marriage, Lovenheim realizes that he and his neighbors are "living as strangers."  The book, then, chronicles his attempts to truly get to know his neighbors - really know them as individuals.

(The sleepover part of the title refers to how he did this, which was by asking them - after an initial conversation or two - if he could sleep over their houses for a night.  Which, if you know me and The Husband, you know there's no way in hell that we are the sort of people who would agree to have a neighbor we barely know sleep over at our house, just for the sake of becoming better acquainted.)  I go into a bit of discussion in this with my review - which I'm thinking might be up sometime this week - and also take a stroll down Memory Lane of my own neighborhood growing up, which was the type of neighborhood where everybody knew your name.

Yesterday I took a break from the packing and decluttering to see if I liked Tawni O'Dell's Fragile Beasts enough to keep it checked out from the library.  Not only do I like this one, but I'm finding myself engrossed in the story. From the book jacket:  "When their hard-drinking, but loving father dies in a car accident, teenage brothers Kyle and Klint Hayes face a bleak prospect: leaving their Pennsylvania hometown for an uncertain life in Arizona with the mother who ran out on them years ago. But in a strange twist of fate, their town's matriarch, and eccentric, wealthy old woman whose family once owned the county coal mines, hears the boys' story.  Candace Jack doesn't have an ounce of maternal instinct, yet for reasons she does not even understand herself, she is compelled to offer them a home."

Again, it relates to the idea of home and family and moving. (And it's set in "the muted, bruised hills of Pennsylvania's coal country - the very area where our family is moving to, no less!  That Pittsburgh-area connection was one of the things that sold me on this book even before I opened the first page.) 

One final announcement (a happy one in this somewhat downer of a post):  this week I decided that in the midst of this moving craziness, I'm treating myself to THIS:

Plus one day (which I know is not enough, but it is all I can do this year) at BEA (Book Expo America)! (This will be my first time at BEA!) I absolutely loved being at the Book Blogger Convention last year and honestly wasn't sure if it would happen this year for me, which was starting to make me a little bummed.  I'll have more to say about this in the coming weeks.

Are you planning to be at BEA or the Book Blogger Convention? 

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, April 16, 2011

In Remembrance of Them

Remembering Virginia Tech.

Weekend Cooking/Book Review: American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half Its Food (and what we can do about it), by Jonathan Bloom

American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half Its Food (and what we can do about it)
by Jonathan Bloom 
Da Capo Press
360 pages

You wouldn't expect a book about food waste to be all that interesting, much less utterly fascinating, would you?  Completely understandable.  And you would be wrong.  Let me tell you this: Jonathan Bloom has written one hell of an eye-opening and life-changing book.  American Wasteland will be one of my favorite non-fiction reads of the year. 

The jacket cover promises this: "After reading American Wasteland, you will never look at your grocery list, dinner plate or refrigerator the same way again." 

That is the God's absolute truth. I finished this almost a month ago, and I am still thinking about much of what Bloom shares in this book.

Like this, his first sentence: "Every day, America wastes enough food to fill the Rose Bowl. Yes, THAT Rose Bowl - the 90,000 seat football stadium in Pasadena, California."

That's a visual that gets your attention, and like taking candy from a baby, Bloom snatches your attention and runs with it through this entire book. He gives more statistics and backs up his meticulous research with an engaging and oftentimes very funny narrative, making this a really interesting (and sobering) read. 

Bloom didn't just research the facts that he presents here.  He went into lettuce fields, where he saw countless heads of lettuce being tossed for minor blemishes and imperfections.  He writes about the long shipping distances for produce, and how any fruits or vegetables even slightly marred will be discarded because there's no chance that they will survive the journey from field to truck to distribution to store to fridge to plate. 

He enlightens his readers on what happens in buffet-style all-you-can-eat restaurants and the amount of perfectly good food that is just thrown out, night after night.  He worked entry-level jobs at a supermarket, where part of his job responsibilities were to cull produce and toss it in the Dumpster.  He worked at McDonalds and reports on the waste inherent in the fast food industry.  He's been in college cafeterias that have gone "trayless" and examines how much less food is wasted as a result.

He sheds some light on the confusion of "sell by," "enjoy by" "best by" and "use by" dates on products and makes a compelling case for why what we are conditioned to accept as expiration dates for all of these items are really just a guideline.  In fact, these nebulous dates are causing more food to be thrown away than is necessary.

When it comes to food waste, Jonathan Bloom clearly knows his stuff.  He is absolutely passionate about this subject (evidenced by his blog, Wasted Food) and his passion makes you think differently about the amount of food wasted in our own kitchens.  I know that since finishing American Wasteland, I have been more conscious of using up our leftovers and trying to reduce our food waste.

There are solutions to the issue, and Bloom articulately suggests some recommendations - many of them simple, many of them very doable. Some are already in place right now. Bloom accompanies "gleaners" and food recovery volunteers as they travel to supermarkets to collect donations for food banks and shelters - and the amount of food that these teams of food are able to rescue and redistribute is absolutely staggering. He calls for the renewal of a commitment from the highest level - The White House - which was once in place but has since been discontinued. It's a complex and multi-faceted issue, but Bloom has the ability to boil it down to its essence.

"Collectively, Americans have an unhealthy - some might even call it dysfunctional - relationship with food.  We produce nearly twice the amount of calories we need, yet millions of Americans don't get enough to eat. We waste nearly half of what we produce, and we're dangerously overweight.  Our excessive waste is both an indicator and a symptom of this unhealthy relationship. There's an uneven distribution of food, and it's due in part to our affinity for abundance. 

If we, as a culture, valued our food more, it would yield less unused food, reducing our excess, and by extension, our hunger.  And it would go a long way toward reforming our problematic approach to food.  While making lasting changes is harder than doing nothing, what's the alternative? The status quo isn't quite cutting it.  We have an embarrassing level of hunger for such a wealthy nation, an obesity crisis that threatens to drain our capital and human resources, and a habit of squandering food that is severe enough to harm our already fragile environment.  

As our population grows, food will become scarcer.  With the United Nations projecting that the world population will exceed 9 billion by 2050, economists, agricultural planners, and politicians are busy arguing about how we'll feed ourselves. Making better use of the food we already produce has to be part of the solution.  Yet, I seldom hear this mentioned in the dialogue.  If we as a species - all 9 billion of us - plan to survive, we'll have to be more prudent with our food.  Fortunately, there's evidence that this cultural shift has begun."  (pg. 57-58) 

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.

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, April 14, 2011

On Hope and Legacies, and No Slacktivism in Sight

Most of the time, I try not to blend my professional life into what I write about here. But sometimes, something happens that is so inspiring, so hopeful, and just so full of good that I can't help but share. 

Such was last night.  As part of my job, I spent the evening with a group of teenagers from several local high schools.  These juniors and seniors comprise a youth philanthropy board for a local foundation, and last night was the culmination of six months of hard work for them.  Years ago, a local philanthropist endowed a fund with the foundation, instructing them to provide the students with a certain sum of money on an annual basis to award to local nonprofits. 

The students, however, couldn't award the grants willy-nilly or just to favorite causes; as a group, they had to determine guidelines and focus, issue RFPs (requests for proposals), review proposals, arrange for site visits to the organizations, formulate questions for the nonprofit leaders, and then come back together and discuss and advocate as a group for how the money should be spent, announce the awards, and finally - as was last night, organize an awards ceremony for the recipients where they presented the grants. 

It's a lot of work for students who are in the throes of rigorous academics, SAT taking, college decisions, and other extra-curricular activities.  Being on this board is a volunteer gig - and while some may be in it for the brownie points that might garner favor with college admissions officials, I didn't get that sense from any of the students I met last night, nor the students who visited the organization where I work.  They all appeared genuine, passionate about their community and giving back in some small way. And that they did, in a big way, in the form of a check with four digits for six nonprofits (including my employer).

The questions they asked during the grant process were more focused, more targeted, more insightful and more in depth than some I've been peppered with from corporate honchos or foundation leaders with much bigger pursestrings.  Without sounding cliche-like, they did their homework.

In the nonprofit world in which I work, slacktivism is a big buzzword; some of my compatriots are concerned for this generation (and others) who might be inclined to show their philanthropic support by changing Facebook pictures or adding twibbons to profiles or reposting status updates for any bazillion number of causes.  Whether this brand of activism is slacktivism or a new means of raising awareness, I don't know.  In some ways, my professional opinion is that it is a little bit of both.  Changing one's avatar doesn't change lives, but given that it takes an average of 7 times for a message to "stick", then it is actually aiding the cause, right? 

Regardless, what I saw last night on full display was pride and inspiration.  In a world where we hear so much bad news about today's teenagers and in a world where we parents worry about our teens, last night was brimming with good, abundant with optimism for the future, and fueled by the power of a legacy from a donor who believed in all that and made that hope possible. 

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, April 13, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: P**k This

Our cat (Mrs. Douglas) and I share the same sentiments on this whole packing boxes/moving crap. 

Wordless Wednesday is hosted here

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, April 12, 2011

Book Review: The Quickening Maze, by Adam Foulds

The Quickening Maze
by Adam Foulds
Penguin Books
259 pages

Finalist for the Man Booker Prize

I admit that having a child with special needs impacted my enjoyment of this book. 

Maybe that's not fair, but regardless, it is what it is.  There's no other way to explain why I emotionally cringed every time a character was referred to as "Simon the idiot" or as a "lunatic" or "madman."  And this isn't once or twice in the book - it's fairly frequent throughout the 259 pages.

Now, keep in mind, this is appropriate for the time period in which the book is set - and I had fair warning of this.  The synopsis clearly tells the reader that The Quickening Maze is set in 1837 at High Beach Private Asylum, a mental institution near London.  So, yeah ... you kind of expect the mental health treatment of the day to be a bit archaic (just a tad) than what we know today.  

So I'm trying to put my own personal baggage aside for a moment and focus instead on the other elements of the novel.  I came to this one intrigued.  (A story about poets and insane asylums that's based on true events? Sign me up!)  And sure enough, Adam Foulds grabbed my attention from the beginning, as he introduced Dr. Matthew Allen (the head of the asylum), his family, and the various other patients at High Beach.  Among those patients are John Clare, the nature poet, and Septimus Tennyson, brother of the still-little-unknown-at-the-time of the story poet Alfred Tennyson.  (Alfred "takes a house" nearby, in order to be close to his brother during his stay at High Beach.)

(I didn't know much about either the Tennyson family or John Clare before reading this, which leads to one of my struggles with historical fiction.  I never know what is true and what's false.  That's my own deficiency, I suppose, and one that shouldn't be held against the novel.  In the middle of the novel, I was tempted to pursue the interwebs to see what I could learn about Mr. Clare and Mr. Tennyson, but I didn't want any discoveries to ruin the ending for me - which is what happened with Loving Frank.)

Anyway, so the premise of The Quickening Maze was intriguing.  Once inside its pages, however, I found there not to be much of a plot nor strong enough characters. Most of the novel is about the various patients at High Beach, their interactions with the Allen family, and their own conditions ("he's a melancholic") for being in the institution in the first place.  Not surprisingly, they don't seem to want to be there and they (especially John Clare) tend to wander off the grounds to hang out with a band of Gypsies.  One of the Allen daughters has a teenage crush on Alfred Tennyson.  Dr. Allen himself becomes obsessed with developing a wood-carving machine and falls into a bit of Ponzi scheme of sorts. His wife seems pissed that she needs to do more to help keep the asylum running, when at times it seems that the inmates are indeed the ones running the asylum.  One character is Margaret, but then becomes Mary, who is the deceased childhood love of John Clare's life .... it is all a bit, ironically, labyrinthian (if that's a word.)  Maze-like. The narration is presented almost in vignette form, and I found myself stopping on several occasions to try and figure out where exactly we were and with whom.

The prose is both gorgeous and lyrical ... and at the same time, clunky and cumbersome in parts.  Beth Kephart says it best in her reflections of The Quickening Maze:  "With the important exception of the prologue, which is gorgeous, I was also far too aware, all the way through, that I was reading, by which I mean: I kept studying the composition of the sentences, rather than losing myself to their sense or meaning." I completely agree (with this and with Beth's other reflections).  There is a substantial difference between losing oneself to beautiful writing and knowing that you are reading such words. Other reviewers have said that they thought this would be a quick read because of the short length, but it wasn't because you had to force yourself to slow down and focus on the words.  

Maybe it's me (although I don't think so, because others have had similar issues as mine), but as much as I liked the premise of this one, I just couldn't quite connect and find my way with The Quickening Maze.
What Other Bloggers Thought:

Shelf Love

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, April 7, 2011

It's a 24 Hour Read-a-Thon Weekend!

It's that time again, folks ... the spring edition of Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-Thon is this weekend! 

(For those not in the know, this is a twice-a-year event that has become a beloved tradition in the book blogging community. Named in honor of its founder, a book blogger who went by the name of Dewey and who has since passed away (and is still missed), Dewey's 24-Hour Read-a-Thon is exactly what it sounds like: 24 hours of reading.  You can find all the details and up-to-date information here.)

Alas, I'm not going to be around much for this Read-a-Thon and I'm somewhat bummed about that.  The spring one always seems to present a conflict for me.  In previous years, it was always on the weekend of our biggest fundraiser for the nonprofit I worked for.  This year, most of the time I would have been reading will be in the car - with Betty and Boo. 

Speaking of the kids, I've involved my kids in this for the past couple years.  Betty in particular has taken to this and loves participating with me.  She seems to like keeping track of how many hours we've read and how many books we've read, and getting the chance to write a guest post on Mommy's blog is always a big hit.  (Clearly, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.)  Some people even make it a philanthropic endeavor, by pledging to donate a specific amount to a favorite charity for each page read or hour participated.

I did check out two audiobooks from the library yesterday (Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle and Happy Birthday, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle) for our road trip (6 hours each way), so there's the chance that I will be able to participate that way.  And of course, my Kindle will be coming along with me and I'm hoping to get at least a little reading in myself.

So, I'm what you would perhaps call an unofficial participant this time around.  Still, I wanted to mention the 24 Hour Read-a-Thon in case you'd like to participate.  I know I have at least one blog reader who expressed interest last fall, when we last did this craziness. (I'm lookin' at you, Yogi of Yogi's Den.)  You certainly don't have to be a book blogger - or even have a blog, really - to participate in the fun ... and trust me, if you're passionate about reading, the 24 Hour Read-a-Thon is really a lot of fun. 

So, what are you waiting for?  It's not too late to sign up ... and you can do so right here.

Either way, I hope you have a great weekend!

Sign from the Book Blogger Convention in New York, NY ~ May 2010
 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, April 6, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Oreos By Candlelight

My birthday cake, taken on Sunday evening
and with slightly less than the required number of candles.

(Chocolate cake with vanilla frosting and topped with crushed Oreos.)

Wordless Wednesday is hosted here.

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: Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty: Poems, by Tony Hoagland

Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty: Poems
by Tony Hoagland
Graywolf Press
90 pages

I owe my thanks to - who else? - Serena from Savvy Verse and Wit for introducing me to the work of contemporary poet Tony Hoagland.  Back in July, Serena featured his poem "Description" in her Virtual Poetry Circle. (Even though I don't comment as much as I'd like to, I love the Virtual Poetry Circle and read every poem she posts for it.) A few weeks later, Serena reviewed this collection, which further intrigued me.

And then there it was, not even a week or so later, when I noticed Unincorporated Persons in the Honda Dynasty on my library's New Books shelf.  (I absolutely love that feeling of seeing a book "out in the world" that you've read about on a book blog.)

Tony Hoagland, a contemporary poet, now joins Billy Collins and Edward Hirsch as one of my favorites.  Like the others, Hoagland has the ability to take the everyday minutia of life and turn it into a commentary on society ("Plastic") and our culture ("At the Galleria").  Pop culture in particular gets special treatment from Hoagland ("Poor Britney Spears")  as does a cement truck barrelling down the road ("Cement Truck"), events in the news ("Summer"),  a weed on the side of a building ("Complicit with Everything"), a crowded food court at lunchtime ("Food Court") and individuals passing by in the hallway of a hotel ("Expensive Hotel").

These poems make you grin broadly, cringe slightly (there's a few graphic phrases in a few of these), and laugh out loud. All of them make you think about the stuff, the moments, and the people that make up this crazy life of ours.

For his work, Hoagland has been honored with the Jackson Poetry Prize, among other accolades. It's a prize (with a $50,000 award) that honors an American poet of exceptional talent who has published at least one book of recognized literary merit but has not yet received major national acclaim. Here's how the prize judges described his work:

"It's hard to imagine any aspect of contemporary American life that couldn't make its way into the writing of Tony Hoagland or a word in common or formal usage he would shy away from. He is a poet of risk: he risks wild laughter in poems that are totally heartfelt, poems you want to read out loud to anyone who needs to know the score and even more so to those who think they know the score. The framework of his writing is immense, almost as large as the tarnished nation he wandered into under the star of poetry."

Back to Serena's blog. In her Virtual Poetry Circle, Serena highlighted one of the best poems of this collection ("Description"). ("A bird with a cry like a cell phone says something to a bird with a cry like a manual typewriter.")  I'll direct you over to her blog to read the rest, while leaving you with two other of my favorites, "Big Grab" and "Nature."

I love "Big Grab" for its dead-on commentary about the changing use of language in our culture and the misleading way words are twisted to serve whatever purpose we need them to be. And even though I wasn't a playing-in-the-woods kind of kid as a child, "Nature" takes me right back to my old neighborhood, before the McMansions gobbled up our woods and spit them out as a cul-de-sac of dreams. 

"Big Grab"

The corn-chip engineer gets a bright idea,
and talks to the corn-chip executive
and six months later at the factory they begin subtracting
a few chips from every bag,

but they still call it on the outside wrapper,
The Big Grab
so the concept of Big is quietly modified
to mean More or Less Large, or Only Slightly
                                                           Less Big Than Before.

Confucius said this would happen -
that language would be hijacked and twisted
by a couple of tricksters from the Business Department

and from then on words would get crookeder and crookeder
until no one would know how to build a staircase,
or to size up a horse by its teeth
or when it is best to shut up.

We live in that time that he predicted.
Nothing means what it says,
and it says it all the time.
Out on route 28, the lights blaze all night
on a billboard of a beautiful girl
covered with melted cheese -

See how she beckons to the river of late-night cars!
See how the tipsy drivers swerve,
under the breathalyzer moon!

In a story whose beginning I must have missed,
without a name for the thing
I can barely comprehend I desire,

I speak these words that do not know
where they're going.

No wonder I want something more or less large
and salty for lunch.
No wonder I stare into space while eating it.

And this one:

I miss the friendship with the pine tree and the birds
that I had when I was ten.
And it has been forever since I pushed my head
under the wild silk skirt of the waterfall.

What I had with them was tender and private ,
The lake was practically my girlfriend.
I carried her picture in my front shirt pocket.
Even in my sleep, I heard the sound of water. 

The big rock on the shore was the skull of a dead king
whose name we could almost remember.
Under the rooty bank you could dimly see
the bunk beds of the turtles. 

Maybe twice had I said a girl's name to myself.
I had not yet had my first weird dream of money. 

Nobody I know mentions these things anymore.
It's as if their memories have been seized, erased, and relocated
among flowcharts and complex dinner-party calendars.

Now I want to turn and run back the other way,
barefoot into the underbrush, 
getting raked by thorns, being slapped in the face by branches.

Down to the muddy bed of the little stream
where my cupped hands make a house, and 

I tilt up the roof 
to look at the face of the frog.

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, April 5, 2011

Monday Morning, April 4

Going through Boo's homework and worksheets last night, I noticed some additional commentary next to his name and the day's date at the top of his papers.

April 4, a day that is terrible in history!!

Given his interest in history and prominent (and not so prominent) figures in the world - and his propensity for remembering dates - this didn't come as much of a surprise to me.  Still, I was proud of him for remembering Martin Luther King, Jr. *(and a little annoyed at his teacher, frankly, that she didn't recognize it with a comment ... but that's another matter). 

I turned to Boo, paper in hand.  "This is really cool, buddy, that you wrote this." 

He stared.  "Oh, I know.  I didn't want to go back to school and it was the worst really, really, terrible, awful morning."

One for the history books, apparently. 

* upon asking further, he did say that he knew it was the anniversary of MLK's assassination and was simply comparing the two awful days.   

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.

Monday, April 4, 2011

All We Have

And here, another sighting of Beth in my stacks of Real Simple magazines

In this article (from November 2004, about going back to see her childhood home) comes the gift of her words: 

"Memory is a tease and an illusion, a seducer and a liar
- and mostly all we have of who we were back then."

So poetic and so very Beth. 

So serendipitious for me to see right now.

And so very, very true. 

(Photo taken of a house in my mother's former neighborhood.  They were adding this newly constructed house to the old one.)

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, April 3, 2011

The Sunday Salon: 42nd Street

Could there be a better start to a bibliophile's birthday than deciding which books to buy?  I think not. That's one of the ways I'm spending this morning (my 42nd birthday) - and the generous Kindle gift card that my mom gave me for my birthday today.

Is it just me, or do book choices seem to be more of a decision when you have a gift card?  I mean, I can be as impulsive as all get-out when buying books any other day, but put a gift card in my hands (oh, if you insist) and it becomes this weighty matter to consider for half the day.  I'm the same way with in-person gift cards, so it isn't just a Kindle thing here. 

A visit to the library yesterday had me glancing through Philadelphia Noir, a collection of stories set in the various neighborhoods that comprise my beloved and fine City of Brotherly Love and which is edited by Carlin Romano of The Philadelphia Inquirer. I hadn't heard of this collection before yesterday, but you know my passion for short stories ... and when you combine that with my city, then my resistence is shot to hell. Which is how I found myself downloading it to my Kindle right there in the library. An early birthday present. 

As for the other birthday books I'm considering?  Well, one is my current read, The Monsters of Templeton, a novel by Lauren Groff.  It was due back to the library last Tuesday, and I'm only on page 62 (of 364).  It has taken me a week to read a mere 62 pages, which is not due to any flaws in the book.  Quite the contrary: it's my lack of reading time that is the culprit. And at this point, the overdues will exceed the cost of the Kindle edition, so there's a good chance it will be downloaded shortly.

There was a meme (Top Ten Tuesday?) this week that asked for ten authors that deserve more recognition. Had I participated, I would have included Lauren Groff on my list.  I really liked her short story collection, Delicate Edible Birds and Other Stories (see my review here) and The Monsters of Templeton could definitely be a contender for one of my favorite books of this year.  For those who enjoy character-rich stories, this one is excellent.  Groff skillfully weaves back and forth between present day and the not-so-distant past, while interspersing figures of Templeton's (a stand-in for Cooperstown, NY) past.  It's a love story, a bit of a mystery and magical realism sort of story, and it's all tied together and ... oh, you should just read it already. 

And still another potential Kindle download that is calling my name is Just Kids by Patti Smith. (Although, I am having a tough time with the fact that the Kindle edition is $9.99 and the paperback is $7.11. That kind of drives me batshit.) I'd been resisting this one because, quite frankly, I have such little familiarity with Smith and I wasn't sure how much I'd enjoy this.  Beth Kephart's review convinced me otherwise. I downloaded the sample and was hooked from the first sentence in the Prologue ("I was asleep when he died.") and the last three ("At that moment, Tosca began the great aria "Vissi d'arte." I have lived for love, I have lived for Art. I closed my eyes and folded my hands. Providence determined how I would say goodbye.")

Providence, I think, sometimes has a role in the books (and the souls) that fall into our lives when they do.  This is a memoir that I think I need to read at this point for various reasons. 

Hope you also find a reason to indulge in a good book today.  (As if there needs to be a reason to do so, right?)

P.S. Happy Birthday wishes also go out to Adam of Roof Beam Reader! Love that I share my birthday with another book blogger ... and one of my favorites, at that.   

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, April 2, 2011

Shiny Happy Mommy (and Boo)

I've been like the wallflower at the Autism Awareness party this week - partly by choice, partly by other distractions like work and moving.  I mean, I have friends who are commemorating this month by lighting our world up blue on a national stage by writing to President Obama.  Another has taken on Home Depot (and, in her spare time, our local elected officials) and been embraced in the process.  And there have been posts, wonderful posts, so many I can barely keep up. 

And me?  Well, it's April 2, World Autism Awareness Day, and I still don't know what I want to do to commemorate this month (April is National Autism Awareness Month). 

I say commemorate, not celebrate, because for so many of these 7 years that we've been on this autism journey, it hasn't always felt like a celebration.  Funeral-esque is more like how I prefer to think of the first years ("The Black Hole Years," as I call them).  My preference is usually to mark this month by hiding under the covers, proclaiming that I'm damn well aware of autism the rest of the 11 months of the year, thank you very much.

Still, sharing the struggles and joys with Boo and our journey and growth as a family was a big part of why I wanted to start a blog in the first place, two and a half years ago. I thought that by giving our friends and family a little glimpse into our everyday world, the good and the bad, the happy and the sad, then maybe they too would understand a little more about autism, about Asperger's, and what makes us and our family - especially our son - tick.  And in doing so, I found this amazing group of people who are doing the same through their words and their children's stories. 

So I think the way I will commemorate celebrate Autism Awareness Month is by sharing some of my posts from the past, because there have been new readers in that time. And maybe there's a post that might resonate with someone who hadn't seen it before, or with someone who is dealing with their own Black Hole Days of diagnosis.  And I'll give you a new post or two, as they happen in real time. 

Which is a long-winded way of leading me to this post and the subject thereof.  I've been on an R.E.M. kick for the past week or so, having discovered the band's "The Best of R.E.M. In Time: 1988-2003" CD on the racks at the library. I've been playing the likes of  "At My Most Beautiful" (probably my favorite R.E.M. song, if I had to choose), "Night Swimming," and "Everybody Hurts" in the car, which is what I was doing last night driving north for an hour on I-95, headed to the airport to pick up The Husband, two sleepyheads in the back seat listening to their respective iPods. 

And then it dawned on me.

I was listening to R.E.M. 

In Boo's presence. 

You see, as much as R.E.M. is a remnant from my late high school and college days (an era that has been steeped in nostalgia for me a bit this week), it plays a significant role in the Early Black Hole Days of Boo's autism diagnosis. 

As a mom of toddlers, I wanted to introduce my kids to the wonder that was - and is - "Sesame Street."  And for the most part, they liked the show and its characters. (We had all the various incarnations of Elmos - Tickle Me Elmo, Chicken Dance Elmo, Drive Parents Batshit Crazy Elmo.)  As a stay-at-home mom, I appreciated the in-jokes for the grown up and musical acts, like R.E.M. who came on to perform "Shiny Happy Monsters."

Which my boy absolutely hated.

No, scratch that. Hate is probably too strong of a word.  It was a song that absolutely freaked him the fuck out.  We're talking more than tears, more than screams, more than your typical meltdown (even autism-style). 

We're talking gnawing on the hinges of the entertainment unit in utter terror, complete fright. 

Needless to say, every time the "Shiny Happy Monsters" segment appeared on "Sesame Street," we went into lockdown crisis, high alert mode in our living room. It was like the highest echelon on the color-coded terrorism threat scale.  More often than not, I wasn't successful in keeping the terror at bay and the day would be - at least for a couple hours - unsalvagable.  The R.E.M. CDs in our house disappeared from sight, lest even the mere viewing of them induce such angst in my boy.

It was, in retrospect, one the first signs that something was amiss.  I had little experience with other kids, but even in my shakiness as a new mom, I was pretty sure that other kids weren't eating the hinges of the entertainment unit and pounding on the television, wide-eyed in fear, as a reaction to a song catering to the preschool set. 

Fast forward to last night, driving in the dark on I-95, with the unmistakable sounds of R.E.M. coming through the speakers.  "Shiny Happy People" isn't on that particular CD that we were listening to, but the silence from the backseat suddenly struck me and spoke volumes. 

This is what autism looks like on the other side of the Black Hole Years, I thought.  It's such a small thing, but a big reminder of where we once were, in a time of being scared and feeling alone, the monsters coming out to play, today and everyday.

"Hey, Boo?" I said, tenatively, knowing that the Ghosts of Autism Past were capable of popping out anytime.  "Do you recognize this music?"

"Huh?" he said, looking up from his DS.

"Do you know this group?"


I explained that when he was a baby (he's in a stage when he loves hearing about himself as a baby), this very group had a song that he couldn't listen to.  I told him about the tears, the meltdowns. 

"You would be so upset that you would even try to eat the hinges of the entertainment unit.  You know, the one that's downstairs." 

And he laughed.

And I found a way to make him smile.   

Everyone around love them, love them
Put it in your hands
Take it take it
There's no time to cry
Happy happy
Put it in your heart
Where tomorrow shines
Gold and silver shine
Shiny happy people holding hands
Shiny happy people laughing.

"Shiny Happy People" ~ R.E.M.

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.