Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Book Review: Precipice, by Melissa Luznicky Garrett

by Melissa Luznicky Garrett 
Create Space
234 pages

There are two things you need to know about this book before I even get into this review.

1. If you have a Kindle, you can download Precipice FREE until tomorrow (that's February 1). I believe that offer is good until like midnight Pacific time or something.

2. I consider Melissa a friend, even though we've never met in real-life. (She is a friend of the "imaginary-friends-that-I-only-know-from-the-Internet-but-talk-to-all-the-time-and-have-so-much-in-common-with" variety.)

So, then.  You know how there are those times when your life is just a tad stressful and you can't handle too much heavy lifting in the reading department, and you really just need something light and easy and romantic to kind of take you away from all the crap you're dealing with?

Precipice is that kind of book.

The week that my grandmother died, I was in such a reading funk.  It was 10 days before Christmas, work was crazy, I hadn't bought a damn present, and here we were looking at an unexpected (but, as it turned out, completely worth it) 6 hour trip back to Philadelphia just mere days before we were intending to go home for the holidays. I needed some literary Calgon to take me away, and when I scrolled down the offerings in my Kindle to find something to distract me during the somber ride and I realized I hadn't read my friend's debut novel yet, I knew from the first few pages (or whatever the first few page equivalents are in Kindle) that I had found my escape for several hours.

Julia and Jim have only been married for several years, but right from the beginning of the novel, the reader understands that theirs isn't a happy union. He's a bit emotionally abusive, in my opinion. Secrets and things left unsaid cause distance between the couple. Clearly, these two are not a good match and they're basically just going through the motions of a couple in a dead-end relationship.

Through her best friend Kris, Julia is introduced to Wes, a new teacher at the school where she and Kris work. With Wes, she begins to see that there might be a chance for happiness after all ... if she decides to take that risk, which could mean that Julia will lose everything and everyone she loves (including Kris, because as it turns out, Kris also has a bit of a thing for Wes.)

This was a much lighter, romantic read than my usual fare - but given my mood at the time, that's what I was looking for. It kept my attention (partially due to several steamy scenes, which I wasn't expecting but which were well done!) and it was, indeed, a good distraction from the funeral and the trip back home. A few other readers have commented in their reviews that the ending is a bit too tidy (and yeah, that is somewhat of a valid point but I think it's the only ending that fits with this story) but there is a twist that I didn't see coming and that definitely adds to the suspense as to what direction Julia will go.

OK, so there you go. Your free download from Amazon awaits. (At least until midnight February 1, at which point the price goes back up to $1.99 ... which, really, honestly? Still quite the bargain and then some.)

Melissa Luznicky Garrett's blog "Someday, When I'm Famous" can be found here.  Melissa is also the author of Turning Point and is currently completing work on her third novel.  You can Friend her on Facebook (she's Melissa Luznicky Garrett, writer).

copyright 2011, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Sunday Salon: January Reading Blahs

I skipped last week's Salon because my day was consumed with looking at several houses, which was infinitely more interesting and exciting than anything I would have had to say about my reading week.

(The house stuff will have to be a separate post because I have much more to say, but the Reader's Digest version is that we wound up finding a house we liked AND putting an offer in on it AND having that offer accepted, all of which means we'll be moving exactly one month from now. This is just 5 minutes away from where we are now, which keeps us in the same town and the kids in their same school.)

Anyway, so back to the books. Is it just me or is anyone else also having themselves kind of a "blah" reading month this January?  Is it the weather, the post-holiday slump ... or what? I can't really put my finger on what's going on.

Had I written a Salon post last week, I would have told you that I had a busy travel week last week, with much time in the car affording me lots of time to listen to Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. This held my attention while on the road, but once again, this is one of those books where everyone in the world seems to rave about it and I'm the one shrugging my shoulders saying, "Eh ... it was just OK."  In fact, I kept thinking of David Guterson's Snow Falling on Cedars while listening to this.

Last week, I also read (and reviewed here) Smut by Alan Bennett, which came my way via NetGalley. This was my first time reading Alan Bennett, and I liked the two stories ("The Greening of Mrs. Donaldson" and "The Shielding of Mrs. Forbes") in this book. Both stories center on the aspects of our personalities and character that we keep hidden from others, our reasons for doing so, and how these qualities shape us.  There is a significant bit of language and eyebrow-raising scenes in these stories, but it is there to illustrate Bennett's point that sometimes the people who think they know us best are the ones who know us least of all (including ourselves).

Into this past week came my first possible DNF of the year.  I'm not too surprised, given the reading month I've been having, but I'm really surprised it was this particular book, Lottery by Patrica Wood. Again, this is a book that a lot of people have praised (and that won, I believe, the Orange Prize in 2008) and that I really should have loved.

I have no idea why that wasn't the case.

There's some rough language in here, (which again, doesn't offend me). There's also some frequent use of the r-word, which greatly DOES offend me, as a mom of a child with autism. In this case, I absolutely understand the point and the usage of it in this novel - but it was still jarring, listening to it on audio while driving.  I cringed everytime I heard it, and by Chapter 4, I couldn't take it anymore and turned this off.  I purchased a copy of this at a book sale awhile back, so perhaps I'll try it again in print form. (When I unpack it from a box that's in storage, that is.)

Finally, as dismal a reading month that January has been, I think I'm ending the month on a high note with The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright.  Now this one is intriguing.  I'm rather enjoying this story, told by somewhat unreliable narrator Gina Moynihan "girl about town" about her love affair with Sean Vallely. It's a story about the "memory of desire: a recollection of the bewildering speed of attraction, the irreparable slip into longing."

(And I just love that cover, don't you?)

OK.  My grocery shopping and box-packing awaits. Hope you're having a good 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.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Book Review: Smut, Stories by Alan Bennett

Stories by Alan Bennett
Received via NetGalley 

When I revealed on Facebook that I was reading a book called Smut (along with Ben Mezrich's Sex on the Moon, which has since gone back to the library unread), I think some of my new friends (and some that knew me back in my high school days) might have gotten the wrong impression of me.

And if you were operating under the assumption that Smut is a trashy tome, well, you would be mistaken, too.

Before getting into a discussion on Alan Bennett's book, which is all of two short stories ("The Greening of Mrs. Donaldson" and "The Shielding of Mrs. Forbes"), let us review the definition of the word itself, with some help from our friends at dictionary.com:
smut [smuht]
1. a particle of soot; sooty matter.
2. a black or dirty mark; smudge.
3. indecent language or publications; obscenity.
4. Plant Pathology .
a. a disease of plants, especially cereal grasses, characterized by the conversion of affected parts into black, powdery masses of spores, caused by fungi of the order Ustilaginales.
b. a fungus causing this disease.
verb (used with object)
5. to soil or smudge.
So, yes, there is a bit of #3 (indecent language and obscenity) and eye-brow raising scenes in Smut. Bennett's use of such isn't gratuitous; rather, it is to illustrate the point that we all have aspects of our personalities that we keep hidden from others and even (sometimes especially) ourselves. Sometimes the people who think they know us best are the ones who know us least of all.

Of the two stories, "The Greening of Mrs. Donaldson" (the first) was my favorite - simply because it seemed to be more original in its premise than the second. A recently widow, Mrs. Donaldson spends her days at the local teaching hospital, where she is employed as an actress portraying a "patient" or a family member of a sick person. She works with medical students and their instructor, and their role-playing serves as a means for  the students to gain insight and compassionate on how to care and treat those who are sick and bereaved. Mrs. Donaldson is a pretty good actress (almost too good at times) and enjoys being around the students - so much so that she takes in two of them as "lodgers" in her home.  When they're short on rent, the lodgers and Mrs. Donaldson come to an ... alternative agreement.

"The Shielding of Mrs. Forbes" was a much funnier story than "Mrs. Donaldson" (the opening dialogue between Mr. and Mrs. Forbes is hysterical).  Again, this is a story about relationships and what we chose to reveal to others and to ourselves and what we keep hidden.  Graham Forbes son is getting married, and his mother (who has placed her son on a pedestal) thinks he can do much better than Tracy. Little does she know, there's much more to Tracy than there appears - as well as with her precious, perfect Graham (and her own husband).  

Smut marks the first time I've read Alan Bennett, and when I saw this offered on NetGalley for review, I wanted to try it because he was an author I'd heard much about, mainly due to An Uncommon Reader. I also love short stories and I especially love trying new authors in the short story format, which made this appealing.  While I was confused at the beginning of "The Greening of Mrs. Donaldson" (it took me a few pages to understand that Mrs. Donaldson was an actress), Bennett did grab my attention immediately and held onto it throughout each story.  (The British humor and language also threw me for a loop, but that's due to my own quirks and issues with British humor; I don't always have a good sense of it, much to The Husband's deep dismay.)

Overall, this was an enjoyable, quick read and one that has made me curious to read more of Alan Bennett in the future.

What Other Bloggers Thought:

Savidge Reads

copyright 2011, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Weekend Cooking: Happy National Soup Swap Day!

Weekend Cooking is hosted by my friend 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, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page. For more information, see the welcome post.
Now this here is my kind of holiday ... National Soup Swap Day, which just so happens to be today. (I know. I am always the chick that shows up late to the party.)

I only just heard about this a few days ago, but I absolutely love the concept. It's a simple one and all explained on SoupSwap.com, where there's a handy map to find yourself a real-life Soup Swap happening near you.

(My Delaware peeps, take note! There's one happening in Wilmington next weekend!)

Basically, you round yourself up some soup-loving friends and set a date for your swap. (The actual Soup Swap Day is the third Saturday in January but of course, you can swap any time.) Then, you cook up six quarts of one kind of soup, dole it out into containers, and freeze them.  On the day of your Soup Swap, everyone brings their containers of soups to the designated party place and everyone goes home with soup to fill their freezer for the dreary winter months ahead.

This is truly my idea of fun.

So. In lieu of not having an actual Soup Swap to go to, nor any actual people to swap soup with in real life, let's do the next best thing.  You're all invited over to the blog, right now, for my Virtual Soup Swap. Never mind the 6" of snow we have outside. We'll just pretend that our crockpots have been crockin', our stockpots have been simmering, the wine has been chilled and opened and poured.

Great, you're all here! So glad to see all of you! Let's get started. Here are some of my favorite soups that I've cooked up for you. (Yeah, I know for the real Soup Swap you're supposed to bring just ONE soup ... but let's just make believe I have all the time in the world to make all of these soups to share with yinz.)

I don't have a picture of this one, but it definitely tastes like the real thing! 

Deborah Madison's recipe from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. 
One of my favorite tomato soups ever. (And one of my favorite cookbooks.)

from Slow Cooker Cooking by Lora Brody 
Another one of my favorite tomato soups. 

from Stephanie O'Dea's awesome blog A Year of Slow Cooking 
and cookbook Make It Fast, Cook It Slow

I make this every New Year's Day (this is also a winner from Stephanie's blog and cookbook) and I admit that I actually like it the next day or so much better. In fact, I just had it for dinner tonight. Nobody else was in the mood for soup and I was (there's 6" of snow outside; you have to eat soup!) so I just went into the freezer and took the last container of this from New Year's for myself.  (The rest of the family had pasta and vegetarian meatballs.) One caveat: this isn't all that pretty to look at. It's kind of an "earthy" soup. But dang, it is delicious. And filling. And very nutritious.

I don't know who Bill Johnson is, but his would be a recipe from Family Circle magazine that my mother has held onto since 1976, when my aunt gave it to her. (And this not-so-good photo would be from my cell phone, which is how I took this picture of the bowl of clam chowder my mom made for me when I stayed over her house one winter's night.)

From Betty Crocker Easy Everyday Vegetarian

Not the best picture, I know, but if you are a fan of split pea soup, this is a good one. 

Thanks so much for coming to my Soup Swap! I can't wait to try your soups. Let's do this again real soon, 'kay? 

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.

Inauguration Day, 2012

Holiday fireworks display at The Husband's work
Photo taken by me, December 2011

Yesterday, January 20, was what I've come to refer to as Inauguration Day in our family. It was the 8th anniversary of Boo's diagnosis, the day that a cold-hearted doctor declared that our beautiful boy had "clinical features of autism spectrum disorder" and changed our lives forever with those six words.

For the past two years, I've written a post on January 20 - my own State of the Autistic Union in this house, if you will. (Inauguration Day, 1.20.2011 and Book Review (Kids): My Brother is Autistic 1.20.2010). I didn't get this post done yesterday because this has been a busier than usual week at work and by last night, I was fried and decided to put on my oxygen mask by logging off the computer and going to bed a little earlier than usual. (I figured you would all understand.)

From last year's post, Inauguration Day, 2011:
To me, January 20 will always be diagnosis day.  But more often than not, it often carries with it an inauguration, of a Governor or a President.  
I've always thought the anniversary of Boo's autism diagnosis day and inaugurations is a little bit ironic. The Husband is a presidential scholar, has an advanced degree in the study of the American Presidency.  It was once a calling academically (although not politically, albeit briefly on the local level, despite what some may have thought.)  
Like father like son, one of Boo's first intense interests was, indeed, the American Presidents.  The Husband had bought a deck of Presidential flash cards from the National Constitution Center and showed them to Boo, never expecting that at 2 years old he would recite them, in order, along with their Vice Presidents and their political party.  History repeated itself at family gatherings, as Boo would be asked to recite facts about Millard Fillmore just as his father did at the same age.  
Inauguration Day is one with much promise, of abundant hope, just as it was when the country welcomed President John F. Kennedy on January 20, 1961, with promises of New Frontiers and Camelot. And hope prevailed again, on January 20, 1993, when we braved the bitter cold to be among the throng of people in Washington D.C. for President Bill Clinton's inauguration.  And never moreso was hope in the air than on January 20, 2009, when President Obama was inaugurated.
Yet hope was nowhere to be found in a cramped examination room on January 20, 2004, as our questions went unanswered, as we took a badly-photocopied article about the signs of autism, as we collapsed in tears and blinked in disbelief when asked to decide (not at this moment, you have time, but not much) on a therapeutic course of action before the proverbial guillotined window of time would slam shut on our 2 year old's blond head.
And yet, while the memory and heartbreak of this day never quite disappears, and I find myself replaying the moments of the day (this is when we left this is when she told us this is when we came back home), I try to look at our January 20 as more of an Inauguration Day.  
Some years, that's much easier to do than others. 
Today I find myself trying even moreso to grasp that gold ring of possibility that Inauguration Day brings. I find myself reflecting more than usual on all of Boo's accomplishments (and indeed, he has accomplished so much more than we ever imagined during our breakdown and the Black Hole era of seven years ago). 
Last year at this very time, The Husband had just accepted the job that would bring us here and we were betwixt and between so many things. We had just made the decision to stop social skills therapy, for various reasons, and we weren't sure what was ahead of us. We were very much on the cusp of inaugurating a new life.

We're more settled now, in many ways, but if I've learned anything during these 8 years, it is that we always need to have a spirit of forging ahead, of always inaugurating and embracing the new and what comes our way because ... well, that's what we have to do, isn't it? Otherwise, the worry and the uncertainty about the challenges ahead will win - and will squelch the surprise and delight that comes along with the remarkable accomplishments and strides. I've learned that the road is always changing and our autism GPS is often unreliable and unpredictable. That's certainly been the case for us this year.

This Inauguration Day finds us heading into our first IEP meeting in more than 4 years on Monday, with services just having been reinstated (see my post, "Welcome Back" from 1.7.2012 for that story) yet worried if we'll still have them in another year or so, depending on how the powers-that-be decide to define autism for kids like Boo who have Asperger Syndrome. We've been at this table before, but not for a long time; it feels like we are pioneers, starting anew all over again in this territory.  We've been here, it is familiar turf, the language sounds familiar, but we are rusty as we are inaugurating this new chapter.

There is so much up in the air. Much uncertainty, both on the local level here and on the wider scale. To paraphrase one of my friends, I think we're in for Mr. Toad's Wild Ride with this one. But for the day to day, all we can do is just keep on doing what we've been doing.

Just as we have been for the past 8 years.

copyright 2011, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

SOPA (as explained by Betty, age 10)

Game booth at the Delaware State Fair, July 2010
Photo taken by me (copyright Melissa of The Betty and Boo Chronicles)
I love this picture and have been dying to use it somehow on the blog for nearly 2 years. 
As regular readers know, my Betty has a blog and it is there that she turned, in protest, when I told her about SOPA this evening.  (She came home from school, went on Wikipedia to look something up for homework, and promptly let out a shriek.)  Here, in her words (remember, she is 10) is why SOPA is a bad thing. 
UH OH! I have some reeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaalllllllyyyyyyy bad news. You all heard of Congress right? They are like the boss men. You do NOT repeat NOT wanna mess with them. Anyway here's the bad news: CONGRESS WANTS TO TAKE DOWN THE INTERNET!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I PROTEST!!!!!!!!!

If there's no Internet, what will we do without our blogs!? Our Facebook pages!? Our YouTube accounts!?

If you protest, PLEASE COMMENT!!!!!!!!!!!

You need the Internet for reasearch and all that fancy shcmancy stuff on there! But never fear! President Obama is here! (BTW I want him to be our President forever and ever and ever.) He will try to stop all this nonsense. Congress, if you shut down the Internet, I shut down your faces! ( I mean that in the nicest possible way.)

OMG. If Congress shuts down the Internet, they shut down my BLOG! And my mom's blog! I can't let that happen! I'll DIE without my blog! Some people ( Not the Congress guys) have shut down some of the most important websites on the Internet as a way of saying ``This is what the world will be like if there is no Internet.

If you protest about any of this PRETTY PLEASE WITH SUGAR ON TOP COMMENT!!!!!!!! BLAME SOPA!!!!! (Stop Online Piracy Act)!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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, January 16, 2012

Philadelphia Freedom (Unless You Have "Mental Retardation" and Need a Transplant)

"'Cause I live and breathe that Philadelphia freedom
From the day that I was born, I've waved the flag ...."
"Philadelphia Freedom" ~ Elton John

"Oh, brother, are you going to leave me wasting away
on the streets of Philadelphia?"
"Streets of Philadelphia" ~ Bruce Springsteen

Maybe this happens to other people who move away from the city where they were born and raised and lived within 2 hours of for their entire lives. 

Maybe the miles between give you a sort of a perspective, a sense of seeing your city as other people see your city.

If that's the case, then my hometown of Philadelphia isn't looking too much like the City of Brotherly Love lately.

Because tonight, I'm thinking of the fact that my city has had 17 homicides since the start of 2012 -but I am most especially thinking of a crime in Philadelphia that occurred against a 2 year old girl named Amelia that has the disability community absolutely outraged - as well it rightfully should.

All the details are here, in this blog post ("Brick Walls"), written by Amelia's mother, Chrissy, after an emotional meeting at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), where she and Chrissy's father Joe were told that Amelia could not and would not have a life-saving kidney transplant at CHOP. 

The reason?

Amelia has a rare condition called Wolf-Hirshhorn Syndrome, which causes cognitive impairment. She also has seizures as part of her disability.

According to the transplant team, Amelia has "mental retardation" and that, you see, affects her quality of life and her ability to take the required transplant medications. All of which makes her an unsuitable candidate for a transplant. 

Read that again. (No, rather, read Chrissy's heartwrenching blog post (if you haven't already done so) and then come back here.  I'm not going anywhere.) 

I first learned of this situation on Friday night through a friend on Facebook, who forwarded me Chrissy's blog post, which I then posted to my Wall.  I was - still am - outraged. Appalled. Saddened. On so many levels.  At the use of the archaic and dated terminology.  At the horrible way this family was treated. 

I knew I wanted to write about this but it has taken me several days to even begin to be able to because this hit home for me for several reasons.

For starters, I know CHOP.  Or, at least, I thought I did.  I've been to CHOP more times than I ever imagined I would be, starting when Boo was all of five weeks old and we were told by our primary care pediatrician on the day after Christmas to get him down there as soon as we could because he had a hernia. Our developmental pediatrician who we saw for Boo's autism was there, our ENT who gave us his home phone number after both kids' operations for their tubes was there, and probably several other specialists who I am forgetting.

We have always had top-notch care. That's what you expect from CHOP.  That's what every family deserves, everywhere. 

But as many of my friends know first-hand - and what this godawful situation at CHOP shows - is that if a toddler with a cognitive disability can be denied a kidney transplant in such a callous and cold manner at one of the nation's most prestigious and most renowned children's hospitals, with the most sterling of reputations, then what's stopping this from happening at other medical centers?

In other words, if this can happen at CHOP, then what's stopping this from happening elsewhere?

Not much.

NO PARENT deserves to have a doctor sit across from him or her, playing God, making grand pronouncements about a sleeping baby in a stroller's quality of life. NO PARENT deserves to have someone say, "We've been warned about you."

What did they expect the Riveras were going to do after hearing that the team wouldn't allow them to move forward with the transplant (one that they plan to identify a family member as a potential match for) that could save their daughter's life? Simply collect their daughter and their things, say thank you, and be on their way?

As one might imagine, through Amelia's mom's blog, the Rivera's story quickly went viral. When last I checked on Friday night, CHOP's Facebook page was a maelstrom of vitriol.  A petition on change.org garnered 16,000 signatures.  Several of my friends have written posts about Amelia's situation. (See Susan Senator's "Everyone Deserves a New Kidney"; and Love That Max's post here;)

The good news is that there might be a resolution after all.  According to CBS Philadelphia, CHOP officials have contacted Chrissy Rivera and want to discuss Amelia's case further

I hope that CHOP does the right thing here and allows this transplant to proceed. (And arranges it so that this doctor can never talk to a family in this manner ever again.)

Because as much as I love my newly adopted city of Pittsburgh, my heart will always belong to Philadelphia.

And I don't want to see one more crime on its streets.

copyright 2011, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Sunday Salon: Some Books Forgotten

I'm getting this week's Sunday Salon in under the wire tonight because my day has been spent with the usual weekend errands (library and the grocery store) as well as being preoccupied with some other kinds of books.

You see, I was always a fairly avid reader but nothing like until book blogging entered my life. In the years before that took hold, my main hobby was scrapbooking.

I still scrapbook every so often, but it has definitely fallen by the wayside. There was a time when I religiously sat down at my dining room table and created 10 pages every Friday night. When we moved into this apartment and The Husband saw Rubbermaid container after container of photos and paraphenalia coming in the door, I knew I had to try and get some control over this. Anyway, so I've been spending part of the day digital scrapbooking in hopes of completing our family's Christmas album from this past year - and to take advantage of a pretty cool Creative Memories sale.  (I used to be a Consultant, so I'm still very much a loyalist to them.)

So, I did 5 scrapbook pages tonight.  Not as many as I'd hoped to, but that's 5 more than I had when I woke up this morning.

All that being said, I only finished one book this week - and the title of this post being "Some Books Forgotten" fits this particular book quite well, because it is indeed a book I'd like to forget.  It's The Life All Around Me by Ellen Foster, by Kaye Gibbons, which sounds confusing until one realizes that this is the sequel to the bestselling (and wonderful) novel Ellen Foster.  I absolutely adored Ellen Foster and had high hopes for this (which I listened to on audio) but oh my God ... what a confusing, disjointed, rambling little book.

I liked the first 8 pages.  After that, this became a long tangent that become really tough to understand and get into.  I happen to own this (yay! another one off Mount TBR!) and I'll be donating this to the library - or somewhere - at my earliest opportunity.  I feel  kind of bad inflicting this on someone else, but ... well, maybe it will find a happy home.

I'm still reading (and, for the most part, enjoying) American Bee: The National Spelling Bee and the Culture of Word Nerds by James Maguire.  Some other reviewers have said this is repetitive in parts, which I agree with.  But it is interesting to read about the origins of the National Spelling Bee, how the words are determined (to the extent that this can be revealed), the brief profiles of the winners throughout the years (and how many are currently still involved with the Bee in a professional capacity), and how changes in society (in racial relations and gender equality) have impacted on the competition.  Part of it is also just the sheer fascination with the number of words there really are in the English language - and how few of them we really know.  This is a geeky read at its best.

This one is due back to the library with no renewals (of course) on Tuesday, so I need to spend some time with this tomorrow.  (I'm only on page 142 of 363.) I'm thinking about pairing this with Myla Goldberg's Bee Season for the Truth in Fiction reading challenge.

Hope you had a great 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.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Weekend Cooking: 2011: A Look Back at a Year in Food (and a Look Ahead)

Weekend Cooking is hosted by my friend 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, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page. For more information, see the welcome post.

Since we bloggers do year-end wrap ups of books and everything else, I thought a look back at 2011 as it was in food might be a bit of a fun retrospective.

(I had intended to do this post last week, but since I had just finished Joy for Beginners the night before, I couldn't wait to tell you about that ... so that review became last weekend's Weekend Cooking post. I figured you wouldn't mind the week's delay for this.)

Three specific restaurant meals immediately come to mind as highlights of the year in food.

There was the fun dinner with several book bloggers in May at New York City's Eataly, following the Book Blogger Convention.

From left, Teresa from Shelf Love (with glasses), Colleen from Books in the City, Ash from English Major's Junk Food, Florinda from The 3Rs Blog, Kim from Sophisticated Dorkiness, and yours truly. 

In the summer, several coworkers and I reunited for the first time in many, many years and had a delicious dinner at Coyote Crossing in Conshohocken, Pa - not to mention this tower of margaritas that was the envy of the other patrons.  We nicknamed this the "Tower of Power."

Never fear. There was some food involved that night, too. I can prove it, because I am that annoying friend who photographs everyone's meal.

Starting with mine, this Coyote Veggie Burrito (pictured below) with poblano onion strips, rice, corn, and black beans. It was topped with a pumpkin flower sauce (whatever that is, but it was damn good) and avocados.

Then there was my friend D.'s Tequila Lime Salad.

The dessert that I shared with my friend T., cheesecake wrapped in a flour tortilla dusted with cinnamon and sugar, with chocolate sauce for dipping.

And lots of laughs and memories to last us another several years (although hopefully it won't be that long till we're together again.)

And then there was my visit to eden-a vegan cafe in Scranton, where I had one of their amazing Fun and Green Burgers for lunch.  There's another business trip to Scranton in my future (maybe as early as this month or next, but definitely again next fall) and I'll be eating at eden for every single one of my meals while I'm in town.

The kids and I visited the Farm to Feast exhibit at the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens here in Pittsburgh.

There was birthday cake, and the particular happiness that a piece of lemon cake brought to my friend's little boy (and me).

There was also the mundane stuff of trying to make meal plans (I succeeded somewhat, and need to work on this more in the new year) and trying to eat us out of house and home when we were moving and I didn't want to take the entire contents of our pantry with us.  I did pretty good with that.

This was also the year I pretty much gave up chocolate.

(I know.  For some of you, that sounds like giving up a limb.)

But it started becoming too much of a migraine trigger even in the smallest amounts and I - never really much one for sweets anyway - decided to give it up.  My dad, also a migraine sufferer, was always "allergic" to chocolate and as I grew older I understood why. It's made a tremendous difference.

Towards the end of 2011 came the wake-up call from my doctor ("You Could Have Wound Up in a Coma!" and Other Phrases That You Don't Want Your Doctor to Tell You") that, given my cholesterol numbers from the bloodwork she ordered, is going to affect my eating habits in 2012 and beyond. Apparently, my triglycerides are too far gone off the charts that they can't even measure my bad cholesterol - or some such nonsense. And my total cholesterol is in the moderately high range.

I've already started to make some changes since getting these results the week before Christmas.  (And can I tell you how much fun it is going on a low-cholesterol diet THE WEEK BEFORE CHRISTMAS??!!)  But, my attitude was, better to be on a low-cholesterol diet now rather than a hospital diet of food in the cardiac ward after having a heart attack or stroke.

Breakfast is now a bowl of oatmeal with a sliced banana.  I'm down to an average of one cup of coffee a day, mainly because I'm back on my thyroid medication (which prompted the coma comment from the doctor) and most days I don't feel like I need that mid-afternoon cup of caffeine.  Snacks are walnuts or some raw veggies, like carrots. Salads are present at lunch and dinner, if not my meal itself.  My nightly bowl of ice cream has been eliminated. (Well, most nights. I think I treated myself to a bowl one night this year, which isn't too bad.)

This has only been a few weeks now and while it's not easy (and admittedly, not always fun because I really love my pizza and pasta and ohmigawd, my cheese) it is what needs to be the new normal around here as far as food goes. I'll be writing more about this journey in the months to come because it is going to meet a change in our eating habits, mostly mine.

Here's to a healthy 2012!

copyright 2011, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Book Review: How It Ended: New and Collected Stories, by Jay McInerney

How It Ended: New and Collected Stories
by Jay McInerney 
Alfred A. Knopf
331 pages 

OK, so here's one of my guilty literary pleasures.  I absolutely love me some Jay McInerney. I adore the guy and his writing, and have for quite some time. But here's the thing about me and McInerney: as much as I hate to admit it, I've come to the conclusion that I can only take him in smallish doses, and How It Ended: New and Collected Stories confirms that theory. This is not a collection of stories that is meant to be read straight through, as I did over the New Years weekend. (Especially over such a weekend made for debauchery such as New Years.)

By page 110 or so of this collection of stories, I felt like I needed to check myself into the likes of the Betty Ford Clinic because I was feeling in needed of a detox. The coke! The parties! The beautiful people! The affairs! New York!  It's all here, and it's the stuff that Jay McInerney's stories are made of (and why I love him so).

Escaping into a McInerney book is like spending an evening in the company of that friend of yours who is living la vida loca - you know, the one who goes to all the great concerts and all the cool parties, the One Who Has A Life while you're in your PJs by 7 p.m. It's fun, in a way, to live vicariously through such people, which again, is why these stories are good but just not read back to back.

The characters in these stories are, for the most part, gorgeous and rich and incredibly lonely and sad. They're adulterers. They're living in the aftermath of the 80s and 9/11. Several make re-appearances from their starring roles in other McInerney novels (notably, Russell and Corrine Calloway from Brightness Falls and Alison from Story of My Life).

How It Ended is comprised of 26 stories. In my opinion, among the best are:

"The Madonna of Turkey Season" about a family struggling to celebrate the holidays each year after the passing of their mother;
"Sleeping with Pigs", a brilliant story about a woman's fetish for sleeping with a pig and how that is connected with her grieving her deceased brother;
"My Public Service," about an idealistic staffer on a political campaign who quickly becomes jaded;
"The Queen and I," about the enduring spirit of friendship over family;
"Con Doctor," about a doctor in a prison who can't come to terms with his own past;
"I Love You, Honey," about the lengths one will go for revenge and possessiveness, and
"Getting in Touch with Lonnie," where a celebrity gets a surprise when visiting his wife in a rehab clinic.

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, January 9, 2012

Best Books of 2011: 6 Best Nonfiction Books

Have you gotten weary of all the Best of 2011 book lists yet?  Hopefully not.  I know I've been loving reading these posts and adding piles of books to my "want-to-read" lists.

I still need to do my picks for Best Nonfiction and Best Memoirs (as if you're waiting with bated breath for my selections).  I'm going to drag this out into two separate posts because a few of you who are participating in my 2012 Memorable Memoir Reading Challenge have asked for some suggestions and I think that might deserve its own post.

Today, let's talk Best Nonfiction of 2011.  The memoirs will wait another day.  As usual, these are books that I read in 2011, not necessarily ones that were published in 2011.

I didn't read as much nonfiction this past year as I typically do. My stats say that I read 21 such books, with 9 of them being memoirs. It felt like significantly less and when I checked my 2010 numbers, that was true. I'd read 29 nonfiction books then, with 8 of them being memoirs.  I'm not sure what to attribute that to, but I've signed myself up to read 10 books for the Nonfiction Non-Memoir Challenge this year, so that will help.

A few nonfiction books that I wanted to highlight from this year as being exceptional (links and quotes are from my reviews):

by Jonathan Bloom

"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 (and a first sentence) 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.

Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie Girl Culture, by Peggy Orenstein

"The first Princess items, released with no marketing plan, no focus groups, no advertising, sold as if blessed by a fairy godmother. Within a year, sales had soared to $300 million. By 2009, they were at $4 billion. Four billion dollars! There are more than twenty-six thousand Disney Princess items on the market, a number which, particularly when you exclude cigarette, liquor, cars, and antidepressants, is staggering." (pg. 14)  "Of course, girls are not buying the 24/7 princess culture all on their own. So the question is not only why they like it (which is fairly obvious) but what it offers their parents." (pg. 22)

Yes, what indeed?

Orenstein's book is a must-read for any parent or relative or teacher of young girls.  She delves into the world of child beauty pageants, the pages of the original versions of fairy tales, and into the online worlds inhabited by thousands of kids starting with the games found on Nick.com and Disney and moving into the virtual and social networking worlds where 3.7 million teens are logging on each month. I found this absolutely fascinating.

Click: The Magic of Instant Connections
by Ori Brafman and Rom Brafman

Ever wonder why you "click" with some people and are just "eh" about others? There's more science than serendipity than you might think, and the Brafman brothers explain how it all happens in their book. I'm horrendous at small talk and unfortunately, I need to do a lot of it for my job.  This book was great at showing me how to figure out additional ways to make these connections happen (along with the banal small talk).

Lives Like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson and Her Family's Feuds
by Lyndall Gordon

You think you've got a dysfunctional family? Meet the Dickinsons. You've got your position of power (her father was a trustee of Amherst and the college's treasurer), your adulterers (Emily's brother and sister-in-law), and your manipulators. I admit I never heard of any of this until reading this book, which proved to be as entertaining as any novel or TV show.  (Think "Dynasty" in mid-1800s New England.).

Before we delve into the feud, however, it's necessary to learn the biographical facts of who's who and how everyone is related.  That takes up approximately the first half of the book, and is very interesting reading.

There's also discussion of why Emily was such a recluse, and Gordon believes the clues are within Emily's poems, with lines like "I felt a Cleaving in my Mind."  Epilepsy is presented as a strong possibility and it makes perfect sense.  This wasn't a breezy read, but it was one that I enjoyed.  As I mentioned earlier, I didn't know anything about this whole Dickinson family feud and that was interesting (and entertaining) to me.  Lyndall Gordon's writing made me feel as if I was transported back to that time while at the same time providing some analysis of and thoughts on  Emily Dickinson's poetry.

Marriage Confidential: The Post-Romantic Age of Workhorse Wives, Royal Children, Undersexed Spouses, and Rebel Couples Who Are Rewriting the Rules
by Pamela Haag 

What if your marriage came with a term limit, a contract of sorts?  Kind of like a pre-nup, but one that stated that after a certain number of agreed upon years, you'll evaluate the whole ball of wax and decide if you want to continue onward.  If you do, great.  If not, you go your separate ways. No harm, no foul.

That's just one of the more unconventional ideas presented in Marriage Confidential, in which Pamela Haag evaluates the whole state of matrimony as it exists today and gives several plausible theories as to why most of us are in relationships where we're more akin to roommates than anything else.

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption
by Laura Hillenbrand 

This was probably my most surprising read of 2011. A friend of mine invited me to join her book club via Goodreads and their selection for that month was Unbroken.  Having seen many bloggers raving about this, I figured I would give it a try, but I admit that I was reluctant to do so.  A World War II story is not my typical literary fare, and I nearly abandoned it early on.  (The first 50 pages are a bit slow going, but I was warned about that.)  I'm glad I stuck with this, though, because it became an incredible story, one that really is about survival, resilience and redemption.  Louis Zamperini is a true American hero and everyone should know his story.

Have you read any of these? If so, what did you think?

copyright 2011, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Sunday Salon: A Good Reading Start to the New Year

And how has your first full week of reading gone in this new year? Good? Bad? So-so?  On this end, it has indeed been a very good bookish start to 2012 and hopefully the same has been true for you, too. Two books completed, several reading challenges have titles at the beginning of their lists ... so I can't complain.

I started off the year with a book of poetry, just as I did in 2011, which I suppose now makes this a tradition.  My selection this year was the appropriately-named Book of Days by Jennifer Hill-Kaucher, which I bought last fall when I visited Jennifer's store (Paper Kite Press and Books) in Kingston, PA. (In this year of focusing on reading my own books, I wanted to start off by reading one from the To-Be-Read (TBR) pile.)

Book of Days is a collection of 41 poems, each divided seamlessly into sections headed by days of the week. To me, they're about the big and small moments that together comprise a life. I'll have a full review up at some point, but suffice it to say that I enjoyed welcoming in the new year with this one.

For yesterday's Weekend Cooking post, I reviewed Erica Bauermeister's heartwarming and thought-provoking novel Joy for Beginners. Again, another good choice for the beginning of the year, as it prompts the reader to ask what new or difficult or scary thing do you need to do within the next year to challenge yourself to grow in order to become a happier, more fulfilled and alive person?   

I switched things up to a nonfiction book for this week, and even though I just started it last night and am only on page 9, I'm already engrossed in James Maguire's fascinating American Bee: The National Spelling Bee and the Culture of Word Nerds. His style of writing is great and this reads like a novel. (Speaking of which, I'm thinking about pairing this with Myla Goldberg's Bee Season for the Truth in Fiction Challenge, which would knock another book off Mt. TBR.)

Weather-permitting, I have a day of travel on tap for this Wednesday and my audiobook of choice also happens to be one of my TBR books. I can't even remember how long ago I bought The Life All Around Me by Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons, but I do remember how much I loved Ellen Foster.  (This was one of my Best Books Read in 2008).

As for today, it's just a quiet Sunday 'round here. We're doing a drive-by of two houses we're interested in and then we'll be watching the banged-up Steelers in the playoffs. (We're Philly folks born and bred, but we have probably one more season left in us of rooting for the Birds with the way things are going for our Eagles. It's really our civic duty and for the good of the team; we have a history of defecting and then the damn city wins a championship. Happened with the Phillies, so of course it will happen again with the Eagles.)

Hope your Sunday - and your 2012 - is off to a good start!

copyright 2011, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Welcome Back

When Boo was first diagnosed with autism, 8 years ago this month, we were living in Pennsylvania. Even before the diagnosis (which we knew, long before it was official) he was in early intervention services, which led to a specialized day care/preschool placement and an IEP, and floortime services for three years, and diapers being covered by Medicare, and wraparound services.

And then we moved. Not all that far - just across the state line.  To Delaware.

But in terms of autism services for Boo, we might as well have moved to the moon.

Our biggest fear was that he would lose everything, all of his services. (Which is, of course, what happened.)

Perhaps we were naive in thinking that we would be able to pack everything up in a box, label it with a Sharpie, take it all with us. Put OT in this box. Floortime goes in this room, over here.

So we met with the folks at the new school district. Asked questions. Were reassured that everything pointed to Boo continuing to receive services. Same as it ever was. We were relieved.

It didn't last. After the new school district did their evaluation, they called us into a meeting and determined that Boo was no longer autistic enough to qualify for special education services. Their exact words:

"A child needs to be 25% delayed in Pennsylvania.  Here in Delaware, they need to be 45% delayed and Boo doesn't meet the criteria."  They might as well have quoted the infamous Soup Nazi from Seinfeld and yelled, "No services for Boo!"

Which is what happened. We were stunned.  As we often said in the four years we lived in the First State, it's not like we crossed the state line and Boo became less autistic.  But in the eyes of the powers that be, that's exactly what happened.

We could have fought back. (But how? We didn't know how.) We should have. I think there's a part of me that will always regret not doing so. But my friend Jini once told me (and I have never, ever forgotten this) that we make decisions based on the information and what we have available to us at the time. We weren't (still aren't) anywhere near rich.  We couldn't afford a lawyer. I was commuting four hours a day to work.  The Husband's job was becoming a living hell.

But somehow, in the midst of this, Boo was doing OK, and we were able to pay privately for some therapies, and some of it was even reimbursed by insurance, so it was all right.  That's what we told ourselves anyway.

But we knew that it wasn't. We knew that he was being cheated out of something he deserved, that he deserved more, that he deserved better. There were also other issues going on at the time. Emotionally, we were exhausted, wrecked. Our time in Delaware was very, very hard on a lot of levels, much more difficult than many people ever knew and that we let on.  It's only now that we're out of that situation, that we have some time and distance, that we're even able to admit to ourselves how tough it was.

And then, we knew we had little choice but to leave while we still had options, and when we looked, one of those options was coming back to Pennsylvania. All of a sudden, as if a cloud had lifted for all of us, things looked brighter. Things felt brighter.  Even though we would be on the opposite end of the state as our hometown of Philadelphia, it felt like we were coming home.

Our goal was to get services reinstated in school for Boo, to do right by our son. I spent some time on the phone during The Summer of My Unemployment talking to special education directors and doing what research I could and trying to figure out what was still what from when we originally lived here.  And when I told the new team here about the "need to be 45% delayed in Delaware and that Boo didn't meet the criteria,"  I was gratified to see that, to a person, they were appalled, that they used words like "ridiculous" and "absurd".

So the process started all over again.  Back to the proverbial Square One.  The gawdfreakinawful questionnaires about meds taken in pregnancies and family histories and developmental milestones and did I give permission to evaluate (hell to the yeah) and the plummeting grades and the mid-point progress report that superceded the parent-teacher conference and the "is it OK if we try him in the Lunch Bunch autism group?" to finally, finally, the letter that arrived this afternoon:
"The student has a disability AND is in need of specially designed instruction, and therefore IS ELIGIBLE for special education. Boo meets special education eligibility criteria as a student with Autism (Asperger Syndrome). It is recommended that he begin to receive specially designed instruction on an itinerant basis through the Autistic Support program."
Yeah, there's a part of me that wishes there was a magic wand that had been waved, where someone could have said that my boy was no longer autistic. Maybe that's part of the reason that kept us hanging on for longer than we knew. Maybe we wanted to believe what we knew wasn't true.

But that's not going to happen anyway, and this is better than that.

This is vindication.

After four years.

Take that, Delaware and your 45% delayed bullshit.

It's sure nice to be back home.

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.

Weekend Cooking: Book Review: Joy for Beginners, by Erica Bauermeister

I'll serve up the same disclaimer for Joy for Beginners as I did in my review of Erica Bauermeister's previous novel, The School of Essential Ingredients:  you know the advice that you shouldn't go grocery shopping on an empty stomach? Well, similarly, neither should you read an Erica Bauermeister book if you're hungry.

There's just something about the way Bauermeister writes about food that is so decadent and food pron-ish - and in Joy for Beginners the descriptions of the bread-baking, the dinner parties, the wine, the meals in Venice, the kitchen garden, and the aromas are all what (in my view) make this review one that's fitting for a Weekend Cooking post. It also (again, IMHO) qualifies this book as one for Margot's Foodies Read 2 Challenge.  Here's a taste:
"It was almost midnight. The tables were cluttered with napkins and used silverware, tablecloths rumpled like bedsheets. The diners reclined in their chairs, hands drifting leisurely back and forth between espresso cups and the last sips of port. Tips of fingers caressed the surface of white plates, snaring the last flakes of chocolate left from cinnamon-dusted truffles. Smells lingered in the air, sliding across bare shoulders, nestling into curls of hair - risotto and chanterelle mushrooms, sweet and rich and buttery, the bite of Parmesan, the rosemary and white wine and garlic of a slow-cooked pork roast. And bread, of course, the long loaves having been passed from hand to hand, chunks pulled off, dipped in small white dishes of green olive oil with dark, molten drops of balsamic vinegar floating in its midst. Wine bottles had long ago lost their ownership, traveling up and down the tables like porters on a train. Artists had met book dealers had met plumbers had met research scientists, people getting up between courses and changing places. Over in the corner, a couple was forming, their heads bending slowly toward each other like candles melting." (pg. 71-72)
Joy for Beginners opens on the eve of a joyous occasion indeed. Kate has gathered several of her closest friends together for a dinner party to celebrate her recovery from cancer. With the way Bauermeister writes, you almost want to pull up a chair and join these ladies for a glass of wine.
"The plates were almost empty, the light gone early from the September sky. The edges of Kate's patio were lost in the foliage beyond, its contours lit by the back porch light and the candles on the wrought iron table, around which the women sat, talking with the ease of those who have settled into one another's lives. Out on the road the occasional car drove by, the sound muffled by the laurel hedge that held the garden with its green walls. Everything felt softened, the garden more smells than sights, emitting the last scents of summer into the air." (pg. 5) 
As the dinner party winds down, the conversation turns to the white-water rafting trip down the Grand Canyon that Kate's daughter has planned in celebration, and which terrifies Kate. She strikes a bargain with her friends:  if she goes on this trip, each one of them must also, in the next year, do something that is equally new or difficult or scary for them - and since Kate didn't have any say in the white-water rafting trip, she gets to choose their challenges.

In the spirit of friendship, each woman accepts Kate's challenge, which turns out to be something that is perfect for each of them and something that each woman needs.  As the novel unfolds, we learn their personal stories and how the friends are connected to each other and to Kate. They're all in different life stages and circumstances, but their stories are familiar enough to be universal.  There's Caroline, who is going through a divorce and needs to finally shed her ex-husband's books; Daria, who needs to come to peace with her childhood and learn how to bake bread; Sara, who needs to rediscover her identity and travel alone; Hadley, who needs to open her protective world more; Marion, who needs to become more adventureous, and Ava, who needs to embrace the spirit of survivorship.

In all of their tasks, there is the sense that there has been something holding each woman back, preventing her from living more deeply.  From the very first lines of the novel:
"But life is persistent, slipping into your consciousness sideways, catching you with a fleeting moment of color, the unexpected and comforting smell of a neighbor's dinner cooking as you walk on a winter evening, the feeling of warm water running between your fingers as you wash the dishes at night. There is nothing so seductive as reality." (pg 1) 
This is a novel that I really enjoyed (and that I can definitely see being made into a movie).  It is about the power and spirit of women's friendship, about taking risks and discovering who you are, about the moments of realization and the a-ha moments of enlightment, whether that comes from the every day moments or the big life events.
"There were moments in life, Marion thought, when you reached back, baton in hand, feeling the runner behind you. Felt the clasp of their fingers resonating through the wood, the release of your hand, which then flew forward, empty, into the space ahead of you." (pg. 189) 
I chose this book deliberately as my first novel of 2012 after seeing it in the library and knowing how much I enjoyed Erica Bauermeister's The School of Essential Ingredients, and after seeing it on several bloggers' Best of 2011 lists. (Bookstack). It's too early to tell if it will make it onto my year-end best of list, but although this had some similar thematic and formulaic elements as Bauermeister's previous book, it was a perfect read for the beginning of the year.

Joy for Beginners spans an entire year and even though it begins in September, it gets the reader thinking about what changes and challenges you can accept in your own life to become a better person 12 months from now. What do you need to become happier, to grow as a person, to become more fulfilled?

I tried to answer that question, to mentally place myself as among the guests at Kate's dinner party and have her issue the same challenge to me.  Melissa, your challenge is to _______ .  I think the answer is to finish the damn novel. I've been talking about that for several years now and it just hasn't happened.  I've revised the same pages, over and over, but just haven't moved forward.  I think I know why and what's been holding me back psychologically. Maybe this is the year to let that all go ... out into the world.

So. If someone challenged you to do something new or different or scary this year, what would your challenge be?

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, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on 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, January 5, 2012

Sometimes, Autism Doesn't Always Get to Be the Excuse

The insult came seemingly out of nowhere, hurled across the room in my direction, meeting its intended target.


I looked at my 10 year old daughter, blinked, dared her to repeat her words.

"WHAT, exactly, did you just say?"

The Husband took off his headphones, seeing my "this means business" expression.  I had heard Betty loud and clear and I whispered her remark to him. His eyes widened.

"I SAID," Betty hollered. "that I wish you never gave birth to THAT. AUTISTIC. CHILD."

That autistic child, meaning her twin brother.

* * *
Ironically, this followed almost immediately on the heels of something that has become somewhat more commonplace but still rare enough to cause us to exchange who are these kids? glances - the two of them playing together, laughing, seemingly enjoying each other's company.

(That'll teach us to enjoy the moment.  Fools, us.)

Shortly thereafter, though, Betty realized she'd forgotten she still had some reading homework.  I didn't think to remind her because she had been reading in the morning. (She has trouble recognizing that if her teacher says to read 20 minutes at night and she's already banked 10 minutes in the morning, then she only needs to do another ten more minutes.  At least that's how it works according to my math.)

So, naturally, playing with her brother + forgetting her homework = her reading time being screwed up.

Which became his fault.

Because he has autism.

Which became my fault.

Bruno Bettelheim, meet my daughter.

* * *
I surprised myself (and probably The Husband) with how calm I was in the face of Betty's remark. (Meds. They do a body good.) And those of you who know me well and who know the circumstances and story surrounding the twins' birth probably can understand exactly how many buttons that 10 year old managed to push with those 10 words.

But there's a part of me that sees myself in my daughter, recognizes my own self when I hear her blaming the autism for things and circumstances that really aren't the autism's fault to begin with. Understands all too well what she is feeling when she says she wishes she could stop herself sometimes from getting too angry or saying things that she doesn't always mean.

* * *
The Husband left the room to do damage control in the bedroom where the kids had just moments before been laughing and dancing to some show on the Disney channel.  He wanted to find out what Boo had possibly overheard. ("Betty said something that got Mommy a little mad.  Not a lot mad, but a little mad. And it sounded like Betty doesn't like me.")

Meanwhile, I was left with a thrashing dervish in the living room who was cursing autism.

"I know you have a lot more to deal with than other kids," I said. "I know it's hard dealing with Boo's autism and all that goes with it. But in this case, Boo's autism didn't make you forget to do your homework."

"He was acting silly BECAUSE HE HAS THE STUPID AUTISM and that made me forget, so it's the autism's fault!"

"Sorry, that's not gonna fly with me. At some point, you need to take some responsibility. You knew you had the homework to do and you were watching TV and playing instead."

More pouting.  More tears. Finally, an apology.  "I'll never say that again, Mommy."

"Good.  Because you know, Betty, sometimes autism doesn't always get to be the excuse."

* * *
This all happened Tuesday night. And truthfully, this is just the latest incident of this sort that we've dealt with lately.  I've spent a lot of time thinking about this, about how this anger of Betty's seemed to have taken a hiatus over the holidays, about how I too in the past have resorted to blaming the autism in certain situations when I knew that the blame needed to be all mine. Still, the recognition of that is being older (by 32 years) than my girl and having a hell of lot more years of therapy on her.  (We do have Betty seeing someone, but as The Husband and I discussed, a change is probably in order.)

In other times, I would have made my own excuses. It's a phase.  It will pass. It's not as big of a deal as you're making it out to be.  You know, all siblings fight.  But this feels different because Boo's different. He understands more, about emotions, about feelings.  His confidence is growing, in leaps and bounds.  He's asking questions. Perhaps most incredibly, he's giving and asking for hugs - constantly.  This from the boy who not too long ago shunned all kinds of physical contact. He's coming into his own person, discovering who he is, forming his own sense of self.

So, in the meantime, as we try to find the right programs and the right resources for both of our kids in the midst of this new community of ours, we do what we can. (I've been trying desperately - in vain, it appears - to find some semblance of a SibShop type of group here in the Pittsburgh area. No luck.)

We muddle through.  We talk.

We re-affirm our rule that we do not call each other names.

We talk some more.

We do the work.  Or try to.

Because there's no excuse not to.

copyright 2011, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Wordless Wednesday: All Was Calm, All Was Bright

One of my favorite pictures from this Christmas season.  Betty, by the tree at my mom and stepfather's house.

See more Wordless Wednesday photos 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, January 3, 2012

From the Boo Homework Files: First Lines

First line of what Boo did for homework tonight (a creative writing story assignment, apparently):

"On a crisp afternoon, Rashio Wolff, a 16 year old kid who pranks his older brother Ryan, a 19 year old kid, was washing his car shirtless because he wants girls to know he was available."

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, January 2, 2012

Book Review: A Clockwork Christmas: A Steampunk Christmas Anthology

A Clockwork Christmas: A Steampunk Christmas Anthology
by JK Coi, PG Forte, Stacy Gail, and Jenny Schwartz
Carina Press
Received from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review

We're still within the 12 days of Christmas, aren't we? I mean, this is my last day of Christmas break (as is The Husband's and the kids) so I think I'm good in getting this review posted in the nick of time for the holiday season. Not that it really matters, because even though A Clockwork Christmas is billed as "A Steampunk Christmas Anthology," there isn't very much in the way of the yuletide in these four novellas that comprise this collection. Trust me when I say you're good to go if you want to read this in the middle of July.

A Clockwork Christmas does, however, deliver in regards to the steampunk elements - which I had to look up, being that I'm very new to the steampunk genre. I requested A Clockwork Christmas from NetGalley because I thought a Christmas-themed collection of novellas would be a good introduction to the genre as well as be a fun, entertaining book to read on my Kindle during our 6 hour drive (each way) to and from Philadelphia for the holidays. And that it absolutely was.

(For those who, like me, are unfamiliar with steampunk, here's how Wikipedia describes it: a sub-genre of science fiction, fantasy, alternate history, and speculative fiction that involves a setting where steam power is used, most often in Victorian era Britain or the Wild West era of the United States. Works of steampunk often feature anachronistic technology or futuristic innovations as Victorians might have envisioned them, based on a Victorian perspective on fashion, culture, architecture, etc.)

Now, there's an added element in A Clockwork Christmas that certain readers might want to know about beforehand and that bears mentioning. Carina Press is a publisher of romance novels - some of them on the steamy side, from some of the descriptions of ones I've seen - and the first two steampunk novellas (and even the fourth) in A Clockwork Christmas are definitely powered by that particular type of ... uh, steam. From what I understand and can gather from reading other reviews, this isn't typical of most steampunk works. (Or maybe it is. I don't know. I don't have enough experience with the genre, truthfully, but I do know that it is definitely present here. In great - sometimes, often graphic - detail.)

So, some readers may not appreciate that added romantic element. As for me? Well, that didn't bother me nor did it take away from my enjoyment of these four novellas.

Take Crime Wave in a Corset by Stacy Gail, the first novella in the anthology and my favorite of the four. This is the story of Cornelia, a beautiful professional thief who grew up knowing no other way of life and who keeps her physical and emotional scars hidden from anyone who tries to get close to her. When Roderick discovers that Cornelia has stolen a valuable (and sentimental) Faberge egg from him, he demands that she return it - or he'll make certain that she won't live to see Christmas Day. The tension between the two is delicious and makes for a fun and entertaining (and steamy!) story.

Then we have This Winter Heart, by PG Forte, which I also liked. Destitute, Ophelia has returned (from eastern Pennsylvania!) to her husband Dario's estate in the Wild West, after being away for eight years during the Civil War. (An interesting twist there: in this tale, the Civil War happens to have been won by the South.) Lia, as she is known, doesn't return alone; she arrives with her 8 year old son, whose father happens to be (you guessed it) the cad Dario.  This comes as somewhat of a surprise to Dario, who believed Lia to be barren - and, because of her father's inventor interventions - inhuman as well. He treats her callously, refusing to admit that he once had feelings for her - and perhaps, still does.  

Esme Smith is the protagonist of Wanted: One Scoundrel, Jenny Schwartz's novella about a suffragette in Australia who hires Jed Reeve ("a scoundrel") to promote her feminist agenda in the male social clubs that she's denied access to because she's a woman. I gotta say ... I loved Esme, who was my favorite of all the strong female lead characters presented here. I just adored her independence, smarts, and spunk in a time when women's voices were often silenced and that made Wanted: One Scoundrel a fun story to read. (Plus, there was a twist at the end that I didn't see coming.) And while I liked the romance between Cornelia and Roderick in Crime Wave in a Corset, I really liked the relationship with Esme and Jed.

Finally, JK Coi's Far From Broken was a heartbreaking story about a accomplished ballerina who suffers a horrible crime as revenge for her husband's work as a government spy, the lengths that one will go to save a life, and what it means to be human. There are some similar thematic elements to This Winter Heart in this one, but it is different enough to stand alone. This one had me riveted to my Kindle, as it was the novella I spent New Year's Eve with.

While I thought the Christmas aspect of A Clockwork Christmas was definitely lacking, overall this was an enjoyable, entertaining, turbo-charged romantic read with strong characters and good writing. I'm glad I gave it a try, as it was one of my most surprising reads of 2011. These four novellas were a great introduction to steampunk and while I don't think I'll be abandoning my regular preferences anytime soon, I would certainly consider reading additional works by these talented authors.

What Other Bloggers Thought (did I miss your review? Let me know in the comments!)

Reading Thru the Night

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.