Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Thoughts on The Handmaid's Tale

My friend Florinda of The 3Rs Blog is currently hosting a read-along of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, of which I'm participating. (You can join in, too.) We'll have our reviews up on September 12, but today we're sharing our initial thoughts on the book.

I finished this one in just a couple days, so I'll try to do this post without any spoilers. This was a re-read for me, and let me tell you ... reading this at 42 years old and in today's current political climate is very, very different than reading this as a college 20something. Back when I knew it all, I remember feeling shocked and startled by the book.

What I don't remember is feeling so ... sad.

Perhaps I was more idealistic then, more hopeful (indeed, I was) but I'm sure it has to do with being able to identify so much more with Offred now. I remember feeling bad for her and her circumstances, but I don't remember this depth of sympathy. That might have been because when I first read The Handmaid's Tale 20 years ago, motherhood was nowhere on my horizon. Marriage? Yeah, probably, at some point (depending on who I happened to have been dating at the time I read this) but motherhood?

Hell to the no.

Obviously, many things have changed in the two decades since I initially read The Handmaid's Tale. 

And because of that, I think Offred's forced separation from her husband Luke and her daughter resonated with me more this time around. That's not to diminish the other significant losses that form this new society (the Republic of Gilead, in the United States) in a presumably not-too-distant future, or the lack of freedom disguised in the form of protecting women.

"There is more than one kind of freedom, said Aunt Lydia. Freedom to and freedom from. In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to. Now you are being given freedom from. Don't underrate it." (pg. 24)

As others have said, the scary thing about The Handmaid's Tale is that you can really see how this could happen - and even though that was true in 1989 when I read it, the possibility of a world like the Republic of Gilead is even more realistic now in 2011.  Back when I read this in 1989 or thereabouts, 2011 seemed like it was so far away. We already have several elements of our culture that aren't all that far off from Offred's world.

And that's pretty damn scary.

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, August 30, 2011

Book Review (Audio): I Curse the River of Time, by Per Petterson

I Curse the River of Time
by Per Petterson
Graywolf Press
2008, translated by Charlotte Barslund

Audio: 5 CD, 6 hours
Narrated by Jefferson May

I wasn't sure if I was going to write a review of this one, because ... well, it really wasn't the book for me. 

I Curse the River of Time is the story of 37 year old Arvid Jansen, who is going through a divorce and whose mother has been diagnosed with cancer.  After coming from the doctor and receiving her diagnosis, she abruptly leaves the family home in Oslo and boards a ferry for her native Denmark.  She's headed for the family's summer house on the coast and Arvid decides to follow her. 

Arvid and his mother have a bit of an estranged relationship.  He left behind his college education (which his mother had worked hard to provide for him) in order to work in a factory and to uphold the principles of Communism, of which Arvid was a supporter.  (Much of the story takes place in 1989.)

The story is told from Arvid's perspective. It's one where he is reflecting on his life and the decisions made, and in so doing, I Curse the River of Time becomes a rambling sort of story.  (I seem to be in a pattern of choosing non-linear, reflecting on one's life types of books lately, which generally is fine with me ... when they work well.)  But in this case, I just found myself bored and impatient. This came really close to being a DNF for me, but I was listening on audio and had gotten further in the story than I expected after one of my drives, so I decided to continue.  Even though I felt a little sympathy for him (we can all relate to experiencing regret and wishing back time gone by), I didn't much like Arvid and I kind of wanted him out of my car sooner rather than later.

Ultimately, this book left me sad (and freezing, because Arvil seems to be constantly cold - and complaining about such - and there are lots of descriptions of the weather in Norway and Denmark being rather chilly too).

In perusing other reviews, I noticed that several people said this is a very different book than Petterson's Out Stealing Horses.  Even though I was disappointed I Curse the River of Time, I'll probably give Petterson another chance with another one of his works.   

I read this for the New Authors and Nordic challenges.

What Other Bloggers Thought

Beth Kephart Books
Caribou's Mom
Largehearted Boy
Necromancy Never Pays (who has the best line with "I curse the time I spent getting to know him [meaning Arvid]." 
The Reading Ape

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, August 28, 2011

The Sunday Salon: First Time for Everything

Well, this has been quite an interesting week here on the East Coast, hasn't it?  First with our first-ever earthquake on Tuesday and now with Hurricane Irene who acted like a pain-in-the-ass houseguest with several equally charming hangers-on (i.e., tornadoes) who also intend to crash with y'all and keep you up all damn night.

We didn't feel the earthquake and we weren't in Irene's way, but I'm hoping those of you reading this who were/are in the path of Hurricane Irene are safe and sound. Most of our family and many, many friends live in the Philadelphia area, New Jersey, and Delaware, and seem to have fared OK, thank God. I'm also very grateful to the Delaware friends (you know who you are) who are going over and checking on our soon-to-be-sold house for us.

So it's been a pretty interesting week, to say the least. Oh, yeah, some other news. I got a new job! It's still in my field but involves learning a new (to me) industry, if that makes sense, and doing more local and regional travel (driving) than I've done before. I'm pretty excited about it. For one thing, it's a change from the type of nonprofits I've worked for in the past several years, which have been in pretty emotionally tough fields (domestic violence and child abuse).  And because of the travel, I see lots of audiobooks in my future!  I might just need to invest in an iPod and sign myself up for or something.

OK, so that's the big personal news for this week. Bookwise ... well ... once again, it was a week with another DNF.  Actually, two of them.  This is going to be a record-setting month for books I couldn't finish.  Maybe I'm getting more cranky in my old age or becoming an obnoxious book snob, but honestly, y'all? I just have zero tolerance anymore for books that aren't holding my attention or that I'm just plain not enjoying.  Life's too short to read books that you're not enjoying, you know?  (I know you know, and I don't know why I'm trying to justify this, but whatever.)

I had a few meetings this week (in regards to the new job), so I borrowed A Theory of Relativity by Jacquelyn Mitchard from the library to listen to in the car. I have This Thing where I've decided that, if I listen to the books that are currently on my TBR shelf on audio, I'll get through said books faster. Sometimes it works, sometimes ... not so much.

Right off the bat, the whole structure seemed disjointed and it seemed like whole scenes and whatnot were missing. Then I realized: this was an ABRIDGED recording!  Arrgghh!  Why are these still legal?  Can't we get them banned or something?  I just don't GET THE POINT of an abridged book.

I abandoned this somewhere near the end of disc 2, which in the printed version (now donated to the library's book sale) was page 155.  I did try and read some of the printed version, but the characters were still really getting on my nerves. Case in point: this is a novel about a family custody battle over a little girl, Keefer, whose parents have been killed in a car accident. I couldn't stand any of these people, including little Keefer. Unless you're reading The Bad Seed, it's generally not a good thing when you dislike a toddler in a fictitious work.  I didn't want any of them to adopt her, quite frankly, and especially so when Gordon decided to act like a total ass during his homestudy visit.  Nobody behaves that way.

All right, so ... moving on to a book I LOVED.  For the second time. Can we talk The Handmaid's Tale? No, actually, we can't - not quite yet, because I read this as part of the read-along that Florinda is hosting.  I very, very rarely re-read books, but I made an exception for this one because it has been around 20 years since I first did so and recent political and cultural events make this even more pertinent (and unsettling) today than it was back when I knew it all.  I'll have more to say on this later this week.

After The Handmaid's Tale, it was onto Irma Voth by Miriam Toews ... which brings me to another first. I'm scheduled to be part of the blog tour for this one, on September 23.  However, Irma Voth is my second DNF of the week (I lasted until page 54 of 255) and it is the second consecutive blog tour book that I didn't enjoy. (Maybe it really IS persnickety old me.)  This one's getting a fair amount of buzz around the Interwebs and some pretty good reviews on Goodreads, but again, I just wasn't as invested in the characters and the story with this one.  I may donate this to the library.  (What else do you do with ARCs that you don't plan on keeping?)

So now, I'm starting this week with The Winters in Bloom by Lisa Tucker, an e-galley that was sent to me from the publisher, via NetGalley.  This one intrigues me because Lisa is a new-to-me Philadelphia author, and The Winters in Bloom is set in my hometown.  It comes out on September 13.

I'm not sure what's on the agenda for us today. Maybe something in the city for all of us.  Maybe a little digital scrapbooking for me. (Creative Memories hosted a Summer Social Virtual Crop during this weekend that, while I didn't participate in it, gave me much inspiration from the layouts that were created by others.)

What does your Sunday hold in store for you?

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, August 27, 2011

Weekend Cooking: Corn Chowder

Let me preface this "saved for a rainy day" post by saying that I hope everyone in the path of Hurricane Irene stays safe this weekend.  Even though we're out of storm's way, about 99.9% of the people we know aren't, especially our friends back in Delaware and those down the shore.  So, if that's you and you're reading this, just know that we're thinking of you and hoping for the best with this one, 'kay?

If you still have power and some canned foods, here's a Corn Chowder recipe that we enjoyed on a recent evening, when cooler weather than usual for August combined with a thundershower made it a perfect late summertime night for soup.  Just one problem, though:  I didn't have many of the required ingredients for, well, any kind of soup.  What I did have (left over from the move) were two cans of creamed corn and a can of potatoes, so ... corn chowder it was!

I combined two recipes to create what turned out to be a soup that ALL FOUR OF US ENJOYED.  That usually doesn't happen around here, especially with Betty proclaiming that she hates all kinds of soup.  We've instituted a "try one bite" rule at the table, and it seems to be working pretty well.  The kids have actually eaten foods that they initially resisted.

Here's the first recipe that served as my inspiration:

Smoky Corn and Potato Chowder
(from the label of a Del Monte can of corn)

1 can (14.75 ozs)  Del Monte Cream Style Golden Sweet Corn
6 oz. (about 1 cup) cubed cooked ham or smoked sausage, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
1 can (14.5 oz) Del Monte Whole New Potatoes, drained and coarsely chopped
1 can (15.25 ozs) Del Monte Whole Kernel Golden Sweet Corn, drained
1 cup (4 ozs) shredded smoked cheddar, Swiss, or gouda cheese
green onion slivers, optional

Stir milk into cream corn in large saucepan.  Add ham or sausage, potatoes and whole kernel corn.
Heat through, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat.  Stir in cheese until melted. Garnish with onion, slivers, if desired.

Corn Chowder
This recipe came from and is the one that I followed most closely, with a few variations.  My notes are in italics.  I also apologize for the lack of photos.

1 onion, chopped
1/2 cup butter
2.5 cups of water  (I used No-Chicken broth)
2 cans creamed corn
4 potatoes, cubed (I used a can of Del Monte whole potatoes)
2 cups milk
1.5 tsp salt
3/4 tsp. salt
minced parsley

Saute onion in butter till tender. Add water (in my case, the broth), corn and potatoes, bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer 15-20 minutes.  Reduce heat to low. Stir in milk, salt, pepper.  Cook for 5-10 minutes or until heated through. Sprinkle parsley to garnish.

I decided to garnish with cheddar cheese (as per the first recipe) as well as vegetarian bacon, which was a suggestion in the comments of the version. At first I thought it was a bit too sweet for my taste, but I liked it a lot, as did everyone else.  I served this with pierogies.

Again, stay safe this weekend, everybody!

Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads and is open to anyone with a food-related post to share. Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, quotations, gadgets, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. 

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, August 24, 2011

Why We Needed (and Why It's OK to Laugh About) the Great East Coast Earthquake of 2011

Beings that I'm somewhat of a chronicler of family history, I feel compelled to document for my descendants (who will undoubtedly be reading this blog long after I am gone) where, exactly, I was when the Great East Coast Earthquake of 2011 struck on August 23, 2011.

And that would be RIGHT HERE, on I-279 South, exiting at I-579 South for the Veteran's Bridge, approaching the heart of Downtown Pittsburgh.

(Note to Mom: this photo was actually taken IN APRIL, when I was a passenger in The Husband's car. Like I would actually do something ridiculous like take a photo in an EARTHQUAKE while actually DRIVING, just for the purpose of a blog post. Really, give me some credit here.)

I was singing (loudly) along to what now seems to be a rather all-too-apropos song, "Save Me San Francisco" by Train. ("I've been high, I've been low, I've been yes and I've been oh-hell-no! I've been rock and roll and disco, won't you save me San Francisco? I've been up, I've been down, I've been so damn lost since you're not around ...")

(Actually, I was slightly lost - which is becoming pretty commonplace of late as I try to learn a new city - but I was quickly back on track, thanks to my new best friends Navigation Advisors from ONSTAR.)

At least we didn't move to San Francisco, I thought to myself.  They have earthquakes there.

I. SWEAR. TO. GOD.  I REALLY DID think to myself, they have earthquakes there. 

(Why I can't manage to have these types of random thoughts in connection with, say, winning lottery tickets, is beyond me.)  Little did I know that I was living through The Big One RIGHT THEN AND THERE. On a bridge in Pittsburgh, of all places. On which, in my Chevy HHR, I didn't feel a damn thing.  (I'm telling ya, I always miss the good shit.)

Driving into the heart of Downtown, I noticed throngs of people standing on street corners, looking skyward.  A fire? No, there weren't any fire engines and I didn't hear any.  Batman? No, filming of The Dark Knight Rises was over on Sunday. A Tom Cruise sighting?

I couldn't waste much time speculating because I was headed to a meeting. Fortunately, my meeting partner had already called, saying she was running late.  I breathed a sigh of relief, as I was too. (Thank you, interminable construction delays.) We laughed, she told me to take my time finding and getting into the hotel, and all was well.

A few minutes later, after I'd valet-parked and was safely ensconced in a spectacular hotel lobby that reminded me of Philadelphia's landmark Bellevue-Stratford, my cell phone rang again.  The person I was to meet with was asking if I'd heard there had been an earthquake.

"Here?  In PITTSBURGH?!" I exclaimed.  Well, that would explain the people milling around on the corners, cell phones pressed to their ears.

It was a 5.9, she said. Maybe we ought to get out of Downtown where buildings could topple on us in a potential aftershock and meet elsewhere. Allrightythen.

By this point, my mother and mother-in-law were clogging up the world's cell phone lines calling and texting, and I began to figure out what had happened.  And then the real fun began, with the igniting of the interwebs and social media going all a-twitter with jokes and impromptu Facebook pages and hilarious photos.

(And yes, I KNOW that some buildings - such as the National Cathedral - sustained significant damage, and that's truly unfortunate.  Still, they've got insurance, don't they?  Maybe not earthquake insurance, exactly, but at the NATIONAL CATHEDRAL, of all damn places, you could probably make a case that this was truly an ACT OF GOD, for chrissakes.)

The point is, as far we all know, NOBODY DIED or sustained any life-threatening injuries, despite even the National Cathedral damage. Which is why it is OK to joke and laugh over the Great East Coast Earthquake of 2011. In these times in which we live, it's rare that a true, authentic, "where were you when" moment comes along that doesn't involve loss of life or heartbreak or something equally tragic.  We're just days away from the 10th anniversary of the biggest such "where were you then?" moment that many of us will hopefully ever live through.

These are unsettling and rocky times in which we live, with fault lines appearing everywhere we step.  We're in perpetual OMFG THE SKY IS FALLING mode, as we watch helplessly as lives are lost to crazy weather like this spring's tornadoes. Our finances are in freefall as our retirement savings have been obliterated due to downgrades, the government is going broke, weekly food and fuel bills are into the triple-digits, and our home values are being reduced to the rubble that our McMansions were built on.

Our jobs and our families' safety nets could be pulled out from under us in a New York minute, landing us in financial quicksand.  We know that if we step on a crack we'll not only break our Mama's back, but her health insurance (if she still has any) won't cover a fraction of her injuries (and will sue ours).

We all know a perfectly healthy person who suddenly collapsed and died, who wasn't feeling well and who was found dead shortly thereafter. We all know or have heard of someone who had the bad luck to be in the very wrong place at the wrong time.  In a major American city, on a regular Friday afternoon, we just had a flash flood that caused a major road to flood over 9 feet within nanoseconds, killing a 72 year old woman on her way home from WORK (which is a disgrace in and of itself, that a 72-year old woman still needs to work) and trapping a 45 year old mom and her 8 and 12 year old daughters in their minivan, where they were later found dead from drowning.

Whose heart doesn't go out to those people in such occasions?  Who doesn't think, there for but the grace of God go I?  Who doesn't replay the many times they've driven down that same street in a storm?

There's a sense of randomness, of futility, that no matter what we do or whatever precautions we take, our best-laid plans DON'T MATTER because life is too freaky, too random.

Which is why we NEEDED yesterday's Great East Coast Earthquake. Bigtime. We needed some stress humor relief from the everyday gloom and doom, but more importantly, I think we needed something to remind us that we are all connected, online and off, that we still have reasons in this scary and uncertain life to reach out and touch someone, to ask are you OK?  

Life is full of way too many fault lines, of quagmires, of disasters at the ready. We need to know that when the earth moves unexpectedly or when the next Rapture is scheduled, someone cares and gives enough of a damn about us to appreciate that we're still standing.

And when we realize that we are still here and we are still standing, and that those we love are too, there's the secure feeling that, for this one day at least, that we'll be OK.

And that, I think, is something well worth smiling and laughing about.

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, August 23, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Books I Loved but Never Blogged About

Over at The Broke and the Bookish (isn't that a great title for a blog?) there's this weekly feature called Top Ten Tuesday.  Every week I tell myself that I'm going to start participating in this, and every week I don't.  But, seeing that I am stuck for a blog topic today and because I love today's topic, what better day to join in the fun?

This week's topic? Give a shout-out to all those books you loved but never reviewed, either because you read them before you started blogging or because you didn't get a chance to review when you read it.

OK, so in perusing my Goodreads list (Finally got around to joining! Come be my friend!) here are 10 books I loved but have never (really) blogged about, in no particular order:

1. Making Peace with Autism: One Family's Story of Struggle, Discovery and Unexpected Gifts, by Susan Senator (Trumpeter, 2005)

After Boo's diagnosis in 2004, I read quite a few autism-related books.  Susan Senator's memoir was the first one I read that was written from the perspective of a parent and how this affects the entire family. (It was also, through Susan's website, how I became acquainted with some of the most incredible people blogging about autism and special needs.) Finally, someone understood what our world was like ("We were becoming a crack little family, full of strategy and purpose, yet no matter what we did, or how well prepared for each new event, we still could not prevent or predict the little spasms of sadness that would seize us from time to time.").  Finally, another parent gave us hope. (“Because of this strange and terrible gift, we cannot be typical, we cannot be normal.  But this is certain: we are OK.  And we stand together, sometimes against the autism, sometimes against the world.  But always together as a family.”)

2. First Comes Love, by Marion Winik (Vintage, 1997)

Oh my God, I loved this memoir.  I think I read it in a day or two, if that. (This was back in 2007, a full year before I started blogging.) Marion Winik fell in love with the man who would become her husband, despite the fact that she was straight and he was gay. Nonetheless, they got married and had two sons.  As the summary says, their "impossible love turned out to be true enough ... to weather drug addiction, sexual betrayal, and the AIDS that would kill Tony at the age of 37, twelve years after they met."  Clearly, this one isn't for everyone, but it is well worth the read. 

3. Curtains: Adventures of an Undertaker-in-Training, by Tom Jokinen (Da Capo Press, 2010)

Well, look at that ... I actually do have a review halfway written of this one, so maybe it will get published here one day. But in case it doesn't, this is one hell of a drop-dead hilarious book. I have this kind of fascination with all things death-related, and Tom Jokinen seems to share my interest in this regard.  He signs up as an apprentice with a funeral home, and his memoir shines a light on the death industry. Sounds morbid, I know ... you might just die laughing. 

4.  Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, by David Allen (Penguin, 2001)

I love David Allen.  LOVE. HIM.  And when I am able to stay on the bandwagon and really do his GTD system, I am at my best, productively-speaking.  I've read many, many, many time-management/organization/get-your-shit-together-already types of books, and no system or approach works for me the way this does. I've been known to re-read this several times.

5. Not Even Wrong: Adventures in Autism, by Paul Collins (Bloomsbury USA, 2004)

Another autism memoir. (You're sensing a trend here with the memoirs, huh?  So am I.)  While Collins writes poignantly about his son Morgan's diagnosis, he also takes a historical approach, putting autism in a different context.  From the summary: "Examining forgotten geniuses and obscure medical archives, Collins's travels take him from an English churchyard to the Seattle labs of Microsoft, and from a Wisconsin prison cell block to the streets of Vienna. It is a story that reaches from a lonely clearing in the Black Forest into the London palace of King George I, from Defoe and Swift to the discovery of evolution; from the modern dawn of the computer revolution to, in the end, the author's own household."

6. The Solitude of Prime Numbers, by Paolo Giordano (Viking, 2010)

I read this earlier this year and proclaimed that it would be appearing on my Best Books Read in 2011 list.  Alas, I never wrote up a real review - and now that months have gone by, I probably never will.  But I absolutely loved this, and it is very much well worth the read. From Goodreads: "A prime number can only be divided by itself or by one-it never truly fits with another. Alice and Mattia, both "primes," are misfits who seem destined to be alone. Haunted by childhood tragedies that mark their lives, they cannot reach out to anyone else. When Alice and Mattia meet as teenagers, they recognize in each other a kindred, damaged spirit. But the mathematically gifted Mattia accepts a research position that takes him thousands of miles away, and the two are forced to separate. Then a chance occurrence reunites them and forces a lifetime of concealed emotion to the surface."

7. Birds of America: Stories by Lorrie Moore (Picador, 1999)

Lorrie Moore is just the epitome of perfection as a short story writer.  Truly, nobody writes like she does in this format.  I may not have liked her most recent novel, A Gate at the Stairs, (in fact, I really didn't like it much at all) but her short stories are another matter altogether.  They're exquisite.  "People Like That Are the Only People Here" is probably the best short story I've ever read.  Ever.

8. What Do You Think? The 100 Best Columns of Darrell Sifford (Philadelphia Newspapers, 1994)

Darrell Sifford was a columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer for many years, up until his untimely death in 1992.  (He drowned on a much-anticipated, month-long vacation to Belize.)  He was a master wordsmith and could say more in one newspaper column than most writers can say in a novel.  His topics were varied, but his focus was often on relationships and his perspective one that I haven't seen since.  It's hard to explain how you can miss someone you've never met, but Darrell would have found the perfect words.

9. Dangerous Neighbors, by Beth Kephart (Egmont, 2010)

I'm a little embarrassed that I haven't written up a proper review of this one yet, as I consider Beth a friend and Dangerous Neighbors a wonderful novel.  I read this in one day, sitting on the beach, and felt transported back in time to 1876 in Philadelphia, the year of the Centennial. Kephart, in her usual gorgeous style, brings the architecture and the history of her beloved city (and mine) to life.  There's a love story in this one. At its heart, Dangerous Neighbors is more of a love story to Philadelphia than any of Kephart's novels that I've read to date.  

10. I Was Amelia Earhart, by Jane Mendelsohn (Vintage, 1996) 

After finishing Dangerous Neighbors on vacation, I moved onto I Was Amelia Earhart which I also read in one day.  (I only had one day to read this, as I borrowed this from the small town library where we were staying.) This is the fictionalized story of Amelia Earhart, as told by Amelia Earhart (and imagined by Mendelsohn) about what really happened after her plane disappeared.  I never expected to love this as much as I did, and it is one that I kept scribbling quotes from nonstop.  Someday I'll post them, but for now, know that this is an absolute treasure.

How about you?  Do you share my love for any of these?  Are any of them new to you?

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, August 21, 2011

The Sunday Salon: Best Laid Plans

Is it wrong of me to admit that I was kind of hoping for a rainy Sunday?  All my errands were done yesterday (yay, go me!) and I wanted an excuse to be a reading-and-blogging-coffee-sipping-couch-potato for the day.

(Apparently, the Weather Gods read my blog ... because a pop-up thunderstorm has just literally rolled in. Um ... yeah, I didn't mean a freakin' biblical monsoon.)

I'm hoping to spend some time finishing up my reading of Do More Than Give: The Six Practices of Donors Who Change the World, by Leslie R. Crutchfield, John V. Kania, and Mark R. Kramer. It's about how philanthropists who truly make an impact on the world do so by focusing their giving on one problem or issue, and directing their contributions to that particular cause.  The book gives many examples of people who have done that (and who are doing that) and how they've been able to make a difference through advocacy and leveraging corporate know-how and resources.

Granted, this one isn't probably going to be of much interest to most folks outside of the philanthropic world, and that's fine. Truthfully, it's a little slow going and repetitive in parts.  When I saw this at the library, I thought it would behoove me to read something current in my field. I guess it helped because it allowed me to drop the phrase "catalytic philanthropist" during a job interview on Friday, which hopefully made me sound intelligent and articulate.

(The interview, BTW, went incredibly well.  It's a departure from what I'd envisioned and planned on doing - launching my own business as a fundraising consultant - and it is a bit of a salary hit from what I was making in my last two jobs, but I believe that opportunities come our way for a reason.  If it works out - which I'm optimistic that it might - this looks like an interesting one.  Plus, there's the small matter of the economy teetering on a second recession, and millions of people being out of work, and The Husband and I needing to feed two kids (and ourselves), and all of a sudden the best laid plans don't quite matter so much anymore, do they?)

I've had some tossing up in the air of my best laid reading plans, too. This week I've gone from being all ho-hum, whaddo I read next? to holy guacamole, I got books (and read-alongs, and e-galleys, and review committments) out the wazoo.

This is all my doing.  You see, I done went and signed myself up for NetGalley (because our library is a bit lacking in the new books department) and promptly requested something ridiculous like 10 books.  How the hell did I know I was going to get all of them except The Night Circus?  (Which I really, really wanted, BTW, but shrugs  ....) Fortunately, some of them are already published and some have October publication dates, so I'm not too concerned.  Yet.

I'm participating in the upcoming blog tour for Irma Voth by Miriam Toews, and I just signed onto Florinda's read-along of The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood.  (The latter is a re-read for me, but I haven't read it since college.)

All this isn't doing too much to reduce the number of TBR books on my shelves - which I am committed to doing because there is simply not enough space in this apartment for the books I selectively brought with me (not to mention the dozens of boxes of my books in storage) - and I really don't want to have to pay to move any more books than I have to.  (I'm hoping that Bookalicious's September is for Reading Your Own Books Month will help with this.)

I did just start listening to one of my TBRs, Jacquelyn Mitchard's A Theory of Relativity, on audio. Not sure if I'm going to continue with this one or not. (I suspect that for me, Mitchard falls into the same category of authors as Anita Shreve and Jodi Picoult, both of whom I tend to be kind of meh about.) I'll decide after Tuesday, when I'll have a chance to listen to it when I head Downtown again for a second interview for this potential job.

What are your reading plans this Sunday?  Or for this week?  (The weather seems to be wishy-washy on its plans too.  In the two hours it has taken me to write this post, it has gone from cloudy and overcast, to partly sunny, to a monsoon, to a drizzling rain, back to cloudy and overcast again, to an all-so-brief thunderstorm, to more downpours, to barely raining with sun shining.)

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, August 20, 2011

Weekend Cooking: Farm to Feast (at the Phipps)

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

On Monday, the kids and I spent part of the day at the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens  here in the 'Burgh. (You can read my previous posts here and here.) Their Summer Flower Show "Living Harmoniously with Nature" was in full bloom, and one of my favorite exhibits was this garden party, featuring an edible garden and sustainable materials.

Your eye was immediately drawn to the gorgeous table setting (above) as well as the "guests."  This was a rectangular courtyard-like room, with the actual garden party scene in the middle.  There was an edible garden in the midst and along the perimeter of the display, various vegetables were planted.

Part of the edible garden.



Red cabbage.

I was trying to photograph the scene from every angle.  
It was impossible to capture the entire room.

The edible garden. 

This was the best shot I could get of the entire exhibit, just as you would walk in.

There were other exhibits featuring fruits and vegetables, including these strawberry plants. 

This was one of the kids' favorites.  Do you know what it is? 


And where there's chocolate, there is also .... 

And here's another plant with a fun name! 

The kids were getting antsy, so we headed downstairs to the Cafe Phipps for a late lunch. All the food is made in-house, and the emphasis was very much on local, seasonal, organic, and sustainable.  All cups and flatware are compostable (which they do on-site) and water is filtered daily.  

It was Meat-Free Monday ... something that the little face on the sign looks a little bummed out about.  (Rainy days - of which it was one - and meat-free Mondays always get me down ....) 

The kids and I opted for personal pizzas. Mine was the white pizza, below. 

Betty had pepperoni (despite it being Meat-Free Monday).

And Boo had a plain pizza ....

...which quickly disappeared. 

A funny thing happened at lunch. A woman at the next table noticed me photographing our food (what, everybody doesn't do that?!) and next thing I heard, she was talking with her friend about her blog and how she often puts recipes up on her blog. I wanted to tell her I was a blogger too (as if photographing the food didn't give it away) and I was DYING to ask her the name of her blog (I've been reading some really good Pittsburgh-based foodie ones).  Normally, I have no qualms whatsoever about going up and striking up conversations with total strangers in such situations, but for whatever reason, I didn't.

(So, if you're the blogger who was having lunch at the Phipps Conservatory on Monday, August 15, leave me a comment, 'kay?)

We had a great afternoon at the Phipps (well, Boo wasn't too thrilled about spending all of less than two hours looking at "boring old nature") and you can see more pictures from our visit here and here.  It reminded me of a smaller Longwood Gardens, located in Kennett Square, PA.  The Phipps is gorgeous and well worth the visit if you're ever in the Pittsburgh area.  (You can easily spend more than two hours here. With the kids in tow, we went through the exhibits faster than I would have preferred.  Plus, it was a drizzly and overcast day so we didn't get to see much of the outdoor gardens.)

I was not compensated for this post in any way, nor do I have any connection with the Phipps other than being a happy visitor.  Admission was free on the day we visited, thanks to a generous grant that the Phipps received from the Buncher Family Foundation.  

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.