Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Book Review: This Beautiful Life, by Helen Schulman

This Beautiful Life 
by Helen Schulman
Harper Perennial 
222 pgs. 

The Bergamots are a typical upper-middle class family who recently relocated to New York City from Ithaca. There's Liz, a wound-way-too-tight, former art historian turned stay-at-home, semi-helicopter parent of a mom who has nothing better to do but e-stalk an ex-boyfriend's blog and obsess over whether she loves her kids too much.

She's married to Richard, whose prestigious and high-powered job at fictitious Astor University is the reason the Bergamot family relocated to New York City in the first place. There's adorable, spirited six year old Coco, whom Liz and Richard adopted from China and who has a coterie of friends at her swanky private school.

And then ... there's 15 year old Jake, just doing his best to fit in with his friends at his new school. He's on the cusp of the awkward beginnings of independence while trying to be cool and trying unsuccessfully to get the attention of Audrey, a girl he likes but who happens to be otherwise attached.

As I said, Jake's a typical 15 year old guy, with hormones firing on all cylinders and then some. So after he and 13 year old Daisy hook up at a party after too much beer, and he (rightfully so) tells her she's too young for such shenanigans, Daisy tries wooing him back by emailing him a video of herself in a compromising position. (Read between the lines here, folks, as I'm trying to avoid the spam and Google hits from getting even crazier than usual).

What does Jake do? Well, he's a little confused and perplexed and amused by said video ... but he does what any 15 year old boy would do:  he forwards it to his best friend.

Who forwards it to his twin brother. Who forwards it to his best friend. And then, well, you can guess what happens. What poor naive Daisy (who is neither poor nor naive) thought would only be for Jake's eyes winds up going viral - and it's all Jake's fault.

This Beautiful Life focuses on the aftermath and the consequences that occur as a result of the video's explosion into cyberspace, and the destructive effect it has on the Bergamot family. Because of one mistake and one split-second decision, each person's sense of security and what is truly a "beautiful life" (this family doesn't want for anything, believe you me) is shaken. It's a compelling premise, and even though the novel is set in 2003 when all this was still uncharted territory, it resonates with parents and anyone who cares for kids because nine years later, we've seen where this Pandora's Box has led.

That being said, as much as I thought I would like this book (and wanted to), I felt that This Beautiful Life had too many issues in regard to the undeveloped characters, the writing style, and the plot.  Let's start with the characters, shall we?

They could not have possibly been more stereotypical. I'll be blunt here: I'm tired of "yummy mummies" (an adjective/noun combo special that I cannot stand) whose playdates with their adorable cherubs consist of going to tea party sleepovers at The fucking Plaza Hotel and who whine about the headmistress of the school where their husbands are "legacy" alums, and how hard their goddamn lives are because they can't manage to decide if their kid should be taking ballet or African dance lessons, and who bitch about the cost of organic frozen strawberries. I hate people like that - which means that in reading This Beautiful Life, Liz Bergamot and her so-called friends were not people I cared to spend much time with.

(I do think the setting of 2003 worked against the novel in that aspect, at least for me. In these recessionary times when so many people continue to struggle, reading about people with lifestyles like that is kind of a turnoff to me.)

Liz and Richard's reactions to Daisy's video and their behavior in the aftermath of their son receiving and forwarding it struck me as ... maddening.  I get wanting to protect your kid and being angry at the other party, and I know all too many parents carry the mantle of "my kid can do no wrong." I understand that. But there's absolutely no acceptance of personal responsibility here and no culpability on the part of the parents, no self-examination of what within themselves or within their family led to this. They don't go into counseling; they barely discuss the incident at all. They just disintegrate into themselves, which is sad and perhaps a realistic reaction, but a missed opportunity, in my view.

Not to mention, Richard's reaction as a father while watching this video of a 13 year old prancing to Beyonce was enough to give me the heebie-jeebies:
"And for all the video's dismal raunch, its tawdriness, for all its sexual immaturity and unknowingness, there is something about the way this girl has revealed herself, the way that she has offered herself, truly stripped herself bare, that is brave and powerful and potent and ridiculous and self-immolating and completely nuts. It speaks to him. Is he crazy? He feels crazier in this moment than he has ever felt in his life. He feels touched by it. And because the video is all of these things and more, because in some way it is truly the literal essence of what it means to be naked, because this Daisy makes herself completely vulnerable and open and 100 percent exposed, it also breaks Richard's heart." (pg. 118)
Stop right there and get thee to the nearest psychologist, dude. THE GIRL IS ALL OF 13 and making a suggestive video to get attention from a boy! I'm sorry, but there's nothing brave or empowering about that and the fact that this Dad is trying to convince me as a reader that there IS ... well, that's the sort of thing that makes my personal Creepmeter turn purple.

The overall writing style of was, in my opinion, somewhat bland and at times, confusing. For example, while waiting in their lawyer's office, Richard realizes that the lawyer
"holds [his] son's future in his hands. This is a little like waiting for a neurosurgeon, Richard thinks, and then stops the thought, blocks it. The analogy is too terrible and too frightening." (pg. 107). 
Huh? Why? What am I missing here? (Richard's father died when Richard was young, but of a heart attack, not of a brain tumor or something, which would make this more logical.)  There are several other head-scratching, what-the-? instances where this sort of thing occurred, so many things left unexplained, the ending rushed and seemingly tacked on as an afterthought. Even the symbolism and connection to The Great Gatsby seemed to be gratuitous, thrown in there as a tangent, when it could have been much stronger and emphasized.

Speaking of gratuitous, within the writing itself there are too many phrases and scenes that seem included for the shock value factor. This might sound a little hypocritical coming from me, as I fully admit to dropping an f-bomb or two on occasion, but Schulman's prose in this novel tends to include such off-putting phrases like "In Ithaca, where they lived pretty fucking happily the last ten years ..." (pg. 5) and nine pages later, "She reveled in the privacy. That was life in Ithaca, and it did not suck." (pg. 14). There's a description on page 175 of Liz "in yoga pants, a wife-beater." (What's wrong with saying a tank top?) Again, I'm no prude, but I found these word choices unnecessary.

Ultimately, in my opinion, I felt that there were too many instances throughout this novel where either the writing style or the characters' actions detracted from what promised to be a truly provocative story, for all the right reasons. 

The one exception was with the character of Jake. I thought that Schulman captured Jake and his peers very well. Their conversations and actions, their angst and their desire to fit in, felt authentic to me.  Even though I don't have a 15 year old, my work brings me into contact with many of them and the descriptions and the dialogue seemed real. It almost made me wonder if This Beautiful Life would have worked better - or have been more powerful - as more of a young adult focused novel. As it is, it seems to be one targeted for a parental audience, one that would strike fear into any parent's heart that this could happen to any of us.

But I think it misses the mark on that because these characters are too unrelatable personally and their 2003 lifestyle too distant from the 2012 reality that so many of us have. I can't imagine living anywhere near the kind of lifestyle that these people do. They're nothing like me. So if the theme is about the disintegration of a family after such an event and them wringing their hands over what they potentially stand to lose, then I'm not going to be able to identify with that because so many people have lost everything, you know?  I know I'm harping on that, but I truly could not get past that aspect of this novel.

We also know much more now in terms of sexting and the legal ramifications, and it's hard to place oneself back almost a decade ago. But if the message is one of a cautionary one, one directed to a teenage audience, maybe that would have been better reinforced if the story itself had been told through Jake's eyes only ... just like the video was meant to be.

I wished I liked This Beautiful Life more than I did.  Still, I'm grateful to TLC Book Tours for including me on the tour and for Harper Perennial for sending me a copy of the book in exchange for my (probably all too) honest review, for which I wasn't compensated in any way.

What Other Bloggers Thought:

Clearly, I am very much in the minority with my thoughts on this book, if my other blogger friends on the book tour are any indication.  All of the reviews on the TLC Book Tour before mine give This Beautiful Life some high praise and I encourage you to check out their words for yourself here:


Some additional reviews are here (I am absolutely, definitely in the minority with my review):

3Rs Blog
5 Minutes for Books
A Musing Reviews
A Patchwork of Books
Book Chick Di
Book'd Out
Unruly Reader
You've GOTTA Read This

copyright 2012, 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, February 26, 2012

The Sunday Salon

We had the unexpected treat this morning of going out to breakfast with The Husband's cousin and her fiance, who happened to be here in Pittsburgh for the weekend. We took them to - where else? - that icon of Pittsburgh dining establishments, the infamous Eat'n Park, which has now become my kids' favorite restaurant. (I admit, I'm becoming quite fond of it too.)

I've learned something about Eat'n Park in my seven months here. Seems that one cannot walk out of said restaurant without buying something in addition to one's meal. Marketing geniuses that they are, they make this rather easy for you to do by having all kinds of bakery items conveniently displayed right by the cash register. On Monday, when Betty and I went there for lunch, we left with a dozen mini Smiley cookies. Today, it was the Pie of the Month (Chocolate Creme) AND a four-pack of chocolate chip muffins.


Lest this week's Sunday Salon be mistaken for Weekend Cooking, I do have one bookish update to share. I'm halfway finished with This Beautiful Life by Helen Schulman, which I'll be reviewing here on the blog Tuesday for TLC Book Tours.

This is a fast read, and I'm thankful for that. Because of my work schedule and concentrating on getting my March submission ready for my writing group to critique (the Prologue and Chapter One of my novel), I confess that I didn't have a chance to sit down and start This Beautiful Life until last night. Once I did, I breezed through the first 136 pages of this novel about the all too perfect Bergamot family and the aftermath of what happens when 15 year old Jake forwards to his best friend a rather explicit video made by a 13 year old girl, which then goes viral and results in consequences for everyone involved.

Thus far, all of the reviews of This Beautiful Life on the TLC Book Tours site are raving about This Beautiful Life, as are many others. As is too often the case (at least in my view) with books others are embracing, I'm wondering if we're reading the same book. I'm very much in the minority with this one and unfortunately, am having a tough time engaging and connecting with the characters. (I'm finding them to be stereotypical and as such, I don't like any of these people.)

I've got issues with the writing style. There are a lot of gratuitous f-bombs and slang, which I'm aware is hypocritical coming from me because I'm certainly prone to letting loose more than a few myself, but it's in areas of prose where it is absolutely unnecessary. For example, this is Liz Bergamot, the mother, explaining that the family just moved to New York City from Ithaca. "In Ithaca, where they'd lived pretty fucking happily the last ten years -" (pg. 5) and then again nine pages later: "That was life in Ithaca, and it did not suck." (pg. 14).

WHAT? I'm sorry, but in my view that's not exquisite or riveting writing.

(Nor is it an example of - in my very, very strong opinion - writing that deserves to make the cover of The New York Times Book Review.  But that's another issue altogether.)

So, yeah, even though I think the premise of this one is compelling and thought-provoking, I don't think I am going to be among the adoring fans of This Beautiful Life. That's OK.  Our role as bloggers (as I see it) is to offer up our honest reviews, and that's my honest opinion, take it or leave it.

Maybe I'll just shut up now and leave you with a slice of Chocolate Creme pie.

copyright 2012, 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, February 22, 2012

Wordless Wednesday: Reflections

We are coming up on the one year anniversary of our move to Pittsburgh (well, The Husband's one year anniversary of his move to Pittsburgh; me and the kids would follow five months later).

For this Wordless Wednesday, I thought it would only be appropriate to include some photos that I snapped today (very quickly) of a spot in our new city that always takes my breath away whenever I'm downtown.

(That should probably be pronounced DAHN-TAHN.)

Outdoor skating rink at PPG Place in Pittsburgh, PA 

PPG Place buildings. 

Breathtaking.  Every. Single. Time.

(I've never skated here. Yet.  That's on my Pittsburgh Bucket List of Things to Do.)

For more Wordless Wednesday photos, click 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.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Book Review: Book of Days, by Jennifer Hill-Kaucher

Book of Days 
by Jennifer Hill-Kaucher
FootHills Publishing 
56 pages 

I have this tradition (if something done for two years in a row can be considered a tradition) of having the first book I read in the New Year be a book of poetry. To me, there's something peaceful and meditative and calming about easing into the year with verse. Last year it was Billy Collins's Picnic, Lightning; this year, my selection was Jennifer Hill-Kaucher's appropriately-titled poetry collection Book of Days. 

So, even though I read this slim volume back on January 1, I'm posting the review today because one of the poems just resonated so very much with me and is apropos for today.

I first became acquainted with Jennifer's work (although not Jennifer herself) through her husband Dan Waber, whom I met when I visited their store, Paper Kite Books in Kingston, PA (which is near Scranton). As Dan said during our conversation, "The only way to know what kind of poetry you like is to read a lot of it."

Book of Days is a collection of 41 poems, each divided into seamless sections headed by a poem titled by a day of the week. To me, these poems are about the big and small moments that make up a life - the minor tasks that make up a Sunday afternoon ("Sunday"), sneaking a few moments to write in the car on a lunch break ("Muse"), the enjoyment of a good cup of coffee ("To Coffee"), microwaving a Lean Cuisine ("Monday"), driving the carpool ("Cribsheet").

The different seasons are represented ("Wreath," "Late Summer Inquiry") and life stages ("Interview" and "Heart," which is my absolute favorite poem in this collection - and one of my favorites of all time, actually - because I can relate to it all too well.

You see, today marks 27 years since we lost my dad. I was a sophomore in high school and all these years later, the feeling of everything becoming fragile, elemental, the last slow whirls falling to zero still very much remain.


My mother bought it because I begged
at the corner store that sold waxy penny candy.
I held it in the clear plastic box, a trophy
or airtight museum artifact.

Unsure of what it did, how it worked
My father threaded the string slowly
and turned it, winding like a bobbin.
One good pull and it stood on its own

inside its immobile armature, the center
a blur of gold and red, the wheel rigged
into a fine whir of air and little squeaks
like an animal pursued in the wood.

Every day that winter I took it to school,
watched it perform a balanced dance on my desk
between the boys and the tests until one Wednesday
my mother appeared at the door crushed

with news of death and everything became fragile
elemental, the last slow whirls falling to zero.

Jennifer Hill-Kaucher is a poet who deserves a much wider readership than she currently has. (I suppose that is the case for many poets.) You can read more of Jennifer's poetry on her blog, Jenny Hill, which also gives information on how to order her books.

copyright 2012, 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, February 19, 2012

The Sunday Salon: The Balance of the Reading and the Writing

This has been a week in which my reading and writing lives have been battling for my time - and the writing one has come up the winner.

If you're among those hanging with me on Facebook, you may have noticed a few references to a writing group that I've recently joined. Since moving here in August, I've been pretty isolated.  I work from home, so my interaction with the outside world is limited. And since my big goal (a.k.a. perennially recycled New Year's Resolution) is to finally get a first draft (at least) of this novel written, I thought that finding a writer's group here in the Pittsburgh area would help me out with my social isolation and my writing ... whatever.

A couple Google searches later, I found myself in a not-too-far-away library with some other kindred spirits, and after a few meetings of getting to know them and their style, they're getting the first 10-15 pages or so of the novel in progress at our next meeting. (I'm somewhat nervous about this, but I also know this is absolutely what's needed at this stage. I need to know if this thing has potential.)

So, I've been editing and tweaking and revising and polishing this week - until the wee small hours of 2 a.m. for two nights - and the result is something that I'm feeling pretty good about. It's also something that's taking me back to 1995, so I'm spending a lot of time Googling things like popular songs from that era and also reliving a time I had kind of forgotten parts of - in more ways than one.

But I like this feeling.  I like where this is going a lot. We'll see if my new friends do.

I'll need to spend a little more time reading this week because I'm on the TLC Book Tour (my second this month, a first for me) for This Beautiful Life by Helen Schulman. Isn't that cover gorgeous? I must say, I like it so much better than the hardcover. This one is about the aftermath of what happens to a modern day, middle-class family when their 15 year old son forwards a sexually-explicit video that an eighth grade admirer sends to him, and which then goes viral. I've seen some mixed reviews, so I'm eager to find out what this one is like.

As for the reading, I only finished one book this week - and that's a misleading statement. I'd checked American Bee: The National Spelling Bee and the Culture of Word Nerds by James Maguire out of the library several weeks ago and got about 3/4 through it before it was due back, without any more renewals.  I finished up the last 120 pages this week.

I've never seen the documentary "Spellbound," which follows eight (I believe it's eight) students as they prepare for the National Spelling Bee in 1999. From what I hear and from what I've read of the reviews, this book is similar as it profiles the top five contestants as they strive to become the 2005 National Spelling Bee champion. Maguire definitely did his homework with this book, as he spent considerable time with each speller and the families, as well as the professionals responsible for putting on the annual Bee.  He provides a history of the event itself and a lesson on the English language itself.  And believe it or not, there are even people who protest the National Spelling Bee!

Because somewhat of a word nerd, I enjoyed American Bee, even if I found parts of the book to be repetitive. I also kind of wanted more of these big words like tonitruous and jamrosade to be defined, perhaps in a footnote at the bottom of the page.

You know, so I could impress my writer friends (and you) by dropping one or two of them into my novel-in-progress.

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

Friday, February 17, 2012

Book Review: Night Swim, by Jessica Keener

Night Swim
by Jessica Keener 
Fiction Studio Books
279 pages 

There are certain books that have an intangible quality that transcends the nuances and the mechanics of good writing and literature. Such books somehow have, through their language and the emotions they evoke on the page, the ability to transport the reader right back to a pivotal and critical time in one's life.

Night Swim is that kind of book for me.

Those of you who know my personal history will know why Night Swim resonated so deeply (especially in February, especially this week). This is the coming-of-age story of 16-year old Sarah Kunitz, growing up in a dysfunctional family in an affluent suburb of Boston in 1970, and grieving the sudden, tragic loss of her mother. Just substitute Philadelphia for Boston, 1985 for 1970, father for mother ... and Sarah Kunitz becomes Me, minus some of the dysfunction and a couple of details - and one significant storyline that happens to Sarah in the aftermath of her mother's death.

Jessica Keener captures so precisely the inner emotions of a teenager who has lost a parent that it is natural to assume (as I did) that this element of Night Swim is completely autobiographical. It is not (it's based on Keener's experience with a close friend) and to be able to render that so perfectly in fiction is just one of the reasons why this makes Keener such a talent and a writer worth watching.

Keener has the ability to seamlessly change the novel's tone to fit the scene, and that's a trait that sometimes even much more supposedly seasoned writers have difficulty accomplishing. For example, while reading the descriptions of Sarah's mother's funeral and shiva, my initial thoughts were that the tone felt flat ... and then I thought: of course it feels flat. It needs to feel that way because at such a time your world IS flattened. YOU ARE emotionally flattened.

What gives Night Swim its authenticity are the little, minuscule details surrounding a parent's death (or really, any significant loss) that Keener weaves into Sarah's story.The way teachers pause when saying your name while taking attendance when you come back to school the week after your parent dies. The quick, stealth-like glances that other students give you in the hallway right before their eyes avert from yours.

And if the little details contained within give Night Swim its authenticity, it is the big themes that gives Jessica Keener's debut novel the power to become one of the defining coming-of-age novels of our time and the potential to become among the classics in this genre. There is an element of Night Swim that truly feels reminiscent of the work of Judy Blume, and knowing what a revered icon in literature Ms. Blume is (to myself included), I don't say that nor draw that comparison lightly.  But it's there, and it exists, and although I am not a big young adult novel (YA) reader, of those such novels I have read I cannot recall any modern YA/coming-of-age novel that has so poignantly reminded me of what I believe to be the standard-bearer.

Because like Judy Blume, Jessica Keener tackles the big themes and the larger societal, cultural issues - the dysfunctional disconnect of a family before and after a tragic loss, anti-Semitism, racism, Vietnam, feminism, one's emerging sexuality and personal experimentation - and connects them throughout Night Swim in a way that isn't heavy-handed nor patronizing to her reader.
"Mr. Bingham told us to keep in mind what we learned about molecules and to turn to the  section on ecosystems and the evolution of swamps. He looked at me, but then he talked in his usual stern way about beavers, and trees and water interacting as one system. ' The deletion of one affects the processing of the others,' he said. 'Mr. Beaver makes his dam, the water pools up, the tree roots begin to rot.' He lifted his bearded chin, perused the row of students then looked at me again and said, 'all things connected,' in a surprisingly gentle voice." pg. 146
If there's one over-riding theme or message in Night Swim, it's that of the connections we make with those we love and what happens when that goes missing and we seek substitutes. We see this with each member of the Kunitz family, each of whom finds solace in something separate but absolutely essential to him or herself in order to cope with the family's dysfunction as they grieve and heal in the loss of their mother.

For their father, it's a relationship with a younger colleague. For Sarah's brother, Robert, it's nurturing his fish and delving into reading a series of time travel books; for Elliot, the youngest brother, it's a communion with a vast menagerie of plastic animals, lining them up in circles by patterns, delving into an imaginary world.
"It might have been easy to think that Elliot didn't notice unruly behavior precisely because it was all he had known. But I knew that wasn't so. He simply chose to ignore certain aspects of others' personalities. Robert treated Elliot poorly whenever Elliot came in to look at his fish. The fishbowl was a magnet for Elliot.  It held a transcendent light that captured a silence and an intensity that Elliot identified with. .... In this way, Elliot possessed weight, self-knowledge, and a natural understanding of the multiple ways other people responded to the same stimulus. 
So it was that Elliot also had a way of accepting Mother's death, albeit, not without a sage's wisdom and sad face. He accepted the illogicality of it. In his nine-year-old mind that had matured emotionally beyond the clumsiness of his body, he said that God was like clay and that all things on earth came in different shapes - including Mother - and that Mother had simply been remolded, but still remained a part of us. He was certain of this. 
"Mother visits me after school," he said.
I sat on the floor of his room, next to the windowsill, and watched him line up a group of dogs and cats in a circle. He alternated cat, dog, cat, dog. I didn't know what to say to this. What he said scared but comforted me. 
"She came with the wind."
"That's beautiful, Elliot." 
"You don't believe me." 
I didn't know if I did but I felt her puzzling silence, her completely muted presence, an unspoken puzzle I had not solved. 
"Yes and no. I don't know. It's confusing." 
If these vespers, these harbingers of changing weather added up to some kind of ghostlike substance, then I did believe. But I doubted. Doubt obscured me. The question mark would remain. Yet sitting next to Elliot calmed me. If he could manage so could I.
What I began to learn, though, is that the question mark - my mother - stayed with me, followed me wherever I went. She floated inside, a buoy without a boat." (pg. 168-169) 
As the mom of a child with autism, I adored Elliot's character and Keener's gentle, sensitive rendering of him - and knowing that Night Swim is set in 1970 when diagnosis criteria and services weren't what they are today, wondered how Elliot fared as an adult.

Keener gives her reader a small glimpse into that world, thankfully - albeit a small one. (I admit, I wanted more.)  Night Swim opens with an adult Sarah receiving an email from a former neighbor who has come across her music online and sampled the links. "Mickey Fineburg's email brings everything back again."  (prelude)

For Sarah, her escape and connection (one that she shares with her brother Peter) comes in the form of music, which plays a predominant role in Night Swim and is again used to bridge that connection with Sarah and her mother. (Her mother was a violinist before having children and developing arthritis.)
"By the time I reached the last lines of the first stanza, and love - will steer the stars - I had left the auditorium on a solo ride, as if I were in a hot-air balloon drifting over high branches and the chorus like leaves rustling below.  Together we sang 'This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius." I stood taller, turning my palm out, offering up my heart. It was here, in this moment of singing, that I shed my shadows and ghosts." (pg. 182) 
That concept of being able to shed shadows and ghosts, even temporarily, is what gives Night Swim its heft as a novel. While there are elements in our lives that can work wonders to help soothe our pain, it is always there - always present in the form of a reminder, in a memory, a Friend Request, in an email from a former neighbor coming across the country in the midnight hours.  Our past is part and parcel of what makes us the people we are.

All things connected.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for connecting me with Night Swim and Jessica Keener, and for sending me a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review.  I was not compensated in any other way except for a free copy of the book.

Jessica's website is www.jessicakeener.com. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.

You can also see what other bloggers on the tour thought:


And this blogger, too:

Beth Fish Reads

And this interviewer:

The Tottenville Review: A New Book Review Collaborative, Interview with Jessica Keener by Scott Cheshire

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, February 15, 2012

Boo's Homework: My 4th Grade Litigator

You may recall that last week I shared with you a sample of Boo's homework, in which he had to write a fictitious, persuasive letter to a business asking for a refund or reporting some defect in a product. 

For the purpose of granting his mother some additional blog fodder expanding his platform as a budding author, Boo has granted permission for me to share with you another one of his letters that was also part of this lesson. 

(I don't normally do this, but I've also shared with Boo that I don't agree with the 12/20 grade - I mean, what the fuck is that, a fucking D? - that he got on this assignment. Yeah, there's some typos and formatting issues, but you know what? I've seen worse in the business world from people who are much older than 10. I'm just sayin'.) 

I've included the copy below the photo (which you can click to embiggen) because it's hard to read with his teacher's chicken scratch throughout.  And, most importantly, so a real lawyer doesn't come after my ass, Boo emphasizes that all names and addresses are completely fictitious, a product of his own imagination, and not made to resemble any real persons, living or dead, or maimed by ball pits in any way, shape or form. 

Dear Mr. Timmy Rodriguez,

I remember last week on Thursday, November 13, 2008 when I brought my two kids, Wendy Wagner and Charles Wagner, a ball pit.

Well, yesterday my kids were playing in the ball pit like lions and Charlie tried diving in the ball pit but broke his right leg. He is in the Marshall hispitol with my wife Jane. Please grant me my money back and pay for Charles' hospital bill.  [My note: This is circled from the teacher with a note saying: "You can't ask for this, Boo." Um ... really? I'm no lawyer, but isn't that what they call a pre-trial settlement?]

Thanks! Meet me on Nov. 27 to discuss the date you'll pay me and The Wagner Family $2201.35.

Aren't you dying to know what the P.S. would have been? I know I am.

And doesn't $2201.35 for a hospital visit for a broken leg sound like quite the bargain?

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, February 14, 2012

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

Marriage Confidential: The Post-Romantic Age of Workhorse Wives, Royal Children, Undersexed Spouses, and Rebel Couples
by Pamela Haag
Harper Collins
327 pages

This is the type of book that The Husband would see me reading (probably in bed, no less) and his response would be to promptly roll his eyes while making some wisecrack about why a book about the state of marriage today needed to be written in the first place.

(Actually, there's no guessing about it; he really did all of the above.)

Me, I love this sort of thing. Maybe it's the former psychology minor in me, I don't know.  Doesn't matter. That's why we're still (at least in my opinion) a good match after a mere 22 years together (almost 19 of 'em in holy matrimony).

The premise of Marriage Confidential is that most of us married folk are in lackluster, ho-hum relationships. Not exactly much of a surprise there, I suppose. (When The Husband caved and asked what the book was about, and I answered with that, his response was, "No shit.") I tend to agree. Haag refers to such marriages as "low-conflict, low-stress," with the majority of us looking at our spouses at the end of our boring same-old day and wondering if this is as good as it gets. (Um ...yeah. Hate to break it to ya, but it kind of is.)  As the author's best friend says, "It's just unrealistic to think that the person you talk to about hiring a plumber is going to be your big love affair." (pg. 9).   I love that quote.  

According to the book jacket,"Marriage Confidential articulates for a generation that grew up believing they would "have it all" why they have ended up disenchanted." 

So, how did we get this way?  Haag offers several theories and ideas that make a great deal of sense.  And I admit, I expected the usual platitudes of "we're working longer hours than ever, we're spending more time on Facebook talking to people we daydreamed about in high school instead of connecting with the real-life people right next to us, raising kids is a bit stressful and it's hard to maintain a marriage while texting from the carpool lane," etc. etc.

All true. According to Haag, a few other interesting - and thought-provoking - factors are at play:
1. We're marrying clones of ourselves.  Opposites no longer attract.  We're marrying people who are, generally, from the same social class and in the same tax bracket as we are.  If we didn't meet our spouse at college (as The Husband and I did), then most likely he or she attended a comparable school (i.e., one of the Ivy League institutions, a state school, whatever).
2. Compared to couples just a few decades ago, people are waiting longer to get married.  In that time, they've completed their education, traveled, launched careers and businesses, had other significant love interests, bought homes. The notion of "building a life together" is very, very different today than it was for generations past. There's less that ties a couple together today in that aspect than there was in the past. 
3. Women are increasingly in much more high-powered careers than men, which can rock the marital dynamic.  (This is the "workhorse wives" part of the title.)  
4. Approaching parenthood as profession.  "I didn't absorb motherhood tricks by osmosis....What did come easily to me, almost naturally, were my good student, type A professional skills.  The decline in marital happiness linked to new parenthood is probably exacerbated by the metastasized professional temperament many of us bring to it." (pg. 94) 
5. Attachment parenting. If we're velcroed to our kids 24/7, that doesn't leave much space for one's spouse now, does it?  
Taken all together, that's a pretty depressing and almost insurmountable list ... so perhaps, yes, this might be as good as it gets.  And for most of us in "low-stress, low-conflict" marriages, they're not BAD marriages. They're just a bit ... boring.  Lackluster.  

So what are the options?  

You can accept it, work on what you can, but ultimately realize that this is what it is. You can get divorced, which isn't exactly cheap, especially given the economy these days, and is particularly disruptive if one has kids.  

But what if there was a new model, a different way of approaching the institution of marriage?  Haag offers some ideas from "rebel couples who are rewriting the rules" as well as her own.  

She discusses the concept of term limits for marriage.  A couple would agree to be married for, say, 7 years. If things are still working out when the warranty on one's nuptials expires, great!  Pass go, and continue to stay married.  If this isn't what you'd expected, then fine ... move on, no harm done.  Kind of like buying a new car when the old one has too many miles on the odometer, I suppose.  

Think that's radical? Keep reading into the second half of the book. That's when Haag introduces her reader to more than a few couples who are engaging in "ethical nonmonogamy." These are folks who have lost that lovin' feeling for their spouses but who, for a variety of reasons (financial, children, professional, social) don't want to get divorced, as they might have in years past. They care deeply about their spouse, but things in the bedroom have gone stale. What to do?

Fortunately, there are numerous options. We're talking alternative arrangements like open marriages, swinging (in all its permutations, and apparently, there are more than a few) and "marriage sabbaticals."  Websites abound for people interested in meeting similarly bored and like-minded folk. Happily-married Haag, using the alias of "Miranda" and with her husband's knowledge, signs up to take a walk through what is definitely a wilder side of many people's lives. Husbands and wives recruit potential "girlfriends" and "boyfriends" for spouses who aren't getting what they want from the marital relationship, just as if one went to a headhunter (um ... guess that's probably not the best term here) for a potential new job.

And these activities are part of more people's lives than one might imagine.

Marriage Confidential has been criticized by some on Goodreads as being a tad light on the research, and I tend to agree. (To reach the conclusion in #1, that we're marrying clones of ourselves from similar demographic classes, etc., Haag's primary research methodology seems to have been perusing the wedding pages of The New York Times and tabulating demographic information contained within.)  Haag also talked with therapists and other professionals, as well as her own network of friends.  She also brings her own experience as a wife and mother into the pages of the book, and even her friends' infidelities aren't off-limits for dissection here.

So, whereas I can understand how some might feel cheated (pun intended) at a book that isn't weighty enough insofar as the research, I'm not sure that's how Marriage Confidential is supposed to be viewed. I wasn't looking at this as a scholarly tome that I would have studied in my Work and Love class in college (and yes, I really did take a college class called Work and Love. One of my favorite and best classes ever.)

Rather, I looked and read Marriage Confidential as a book that is more along the lines of a casual conversation and exploration about why marriage is in the state it is.  Marriage Confidential is like sitting down for coffee with Pamela Haag, being told that a friend's cousin's brother's stepsister is a) having an affair with the spouse's permission, b) taking a marriage sabbatical, and/or c) some combination of the above and aforementioned alternatives, and then going back to one's life and bedroom and saying, "Huh.  Who knew?"

Or, maybe, the total opposite: going back to one's bedroom and saying, "Damn, there are way more people like us [regardless of how you define 'like us'] than I ever thought possible."

Happy Valentines Day, you crazy kids.

(I'm very excited to share that I have recently applied to be an Amazon Affiliate, which means that if you purchase any product (not just books) through my blog, I will receive a small commission. I'm testing out the link with this 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.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Sunday Salon

We're snowbound this weekend, which is just fine with me because this has been a long week with 4 too many deaths. By snowbound, I mean that there's 4"-5" or thereabouts of snow outside of our door and wind chills hovering around the 0 degree mark. Definitely not Snowmaggedon conditions as life in Pittsburgh goes, but enough snow to keep us comfortably indoors, ensconced on the couch with our Internet connections and whatnot. Fine with me.

And by four too many deaths this week, I refer to the losses of beloved blogger Susan Niebur, whom I wrote about here ("Remembering Susan Niebur"); author and Philadelphia native Jeffrey Zaslow, whom I was fortunate to hear give a fabulous talk in June 2008 about working with Carnegie Mellon University professor Randy Pausch while co-writing The Last Lecture; a wonderful former colleague of The Husband's, who I sadly never had the privilege to meet but who was a tremendous support to him (and one of the very FEW supports to him) during some particularly dark days; and of course, Whitney Houston, who provided some of the most memorable songs that were the soundtrack of my youth in the mid-80s through the early 90s.

I've written before of how much I really hate February and how February represents the month of the deads for me personally, and here we are at only February 12. Yee gads.

Anyway. So. That's all by way of explanation that I'm between books right now and not sure what to begin reading next. (Between library books and my overflowing TBR pile, I'm not lacking for choices.) Part of that is because I've just finished Jessica Keener's absolutely wonderful debut novel Night Swim, which I received from the fine folks at TLC Book Tours. (My full review will be posted on Friday, February 17 as part of the Night Swim blog tour.)  I really connected with this story on so many levels, particularly with the main character and narrator, Sarah, whose mother dies when she is 16.

There is an element of Night Swim that, to me, truly feels reminiscent of the work of Judy Blume (who is celebrating her 74th birthday today - yay! happy birthday, Judy!) and knowing what a revered icon in literature Ms. Blume is to many (myself very much included), I don't say that nor draw that comparison lightly. But it's there, and it exists, and although I am not a big YA reader, of those such novels I have read I cannot recall any modern YA/coming-of-age novel that has so poignantly reminded me of what I believe to be the standard-bearer.

Because like Judy Blume, Jessica Keener tackles the big themes and the larger societal, cultural issues - the dysfunctional disconnect of a family before and after a tragic loss, anti-Semitism, racism, Vietnam, feminism, one's emerging sexuality and personal experimentation - and connects them throughout Night Swim in a way that isn't heavy-handed nor patronizing to her reader.

That's just a preview of what I have to say about this one, and you'll want to come back on Friday (if not sooner) to read my full review - especially because I'll be giving away one copy of Night Swim to a lucky reader!

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, February 9, 2012

Remembering Susan Niebur

I walked out of a meeting late Monday afternoon, paused to reflect at the way the setting sun's rays were hitting the 10th Street Bridge here in Pittsburgh ... and I knew.

Maybe it was the sun's warmth on a February day, or how the rays seemed especially bright as they reached down, or the symbolism of a bridge for crossing over from one world to another, or some combination of all of the above. Whatever it was, somehow in my heart, at that moment I knew that Susan Niebur was gone.

It wasn't until I got home a half hour later and saw the Facebook status from my friend Niksmom that I learned the sad news that Susan had, indeed, passed away. The Goodbye post on Susan's blog, written by her husband, was posted not too long after I snapped this photo of the sun and the bridge and it left me heartbroken. Still does, and will for quite some time.

(It's been driving me crazy trying to remember if it was my friend Niksmom or my friend Florinda who first introduced me to Susan during the BlogHer '10 conference in New York a year and a half ago ... and when it comes  down to it, it doesn't really matter because that just illustrates what kind of community this is.  Whomever it was, I'll forever be grateful.)

We were between sessions, just talking in the hall, and then there was Susan, smiling (always smiling) that bright, warm, sunny smile of hers.  As it would happen, and as often does happen at these sorts of things, Susan was the person we kept bumping into everywhere we went over those couple days.  Again, fortuitous.

"Do you know each other?" Niksmom/Florinda said. We didn't; introductions were made. But when Niksmom/Florinda added that Susan was the blogger who wrote Toddler Planet, my eyes widened; I went into fangirl mode. Of course, I said, of course I knew Toddler Planet. I knew Susan. My God, yes.

You see, here's the thing. There are millions of blogs. Kind of like how there are millions of stars. But like stars, some exceptional and some special ones shine so brightly that you can't help but gravitate towards that light ... just like how I did on Monday with the sun (a star itself) beaming down by the bridge.

Susan was very much that kind of person, that kind of star.

This blogging world of ours can be hard to explain to those who aren't part of it.  This whole notion of posting the details of our lives - especially when it involves things like living with Inflammatory Breast Cancer for nearly 5 years and parenting two small children, both of which Susan did - for strangers on the Internet to read and comment on can be a bit foreign.  But that's the stuff that Susan wrote about so courageously and heartbreakingly and bravely, and always with such grace and wisdom. And in doing so, she brought us into her world and taught us so very, very much, and we loved her (love her, present tense) so the very much more for it.

Right from the moment of her diagnosis in 2007, she taught us about inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) - the least common and most deadly form of the disease that does not present with a lump - about lymphedema and compression sleeves, about science and the sun and the moon and the stars (Susan was an honest-to-God real-life astrophysicist), about parenting in the face of true adversity, about making every single moment count, and about how awareness of breast cancer doesn't happen via Facebook memes.

(It was that post, "In the Name of Awareness," that she read to a captive audience at BlogHer '10 in New York, and which was commemorated with an honorary piece of artwork, later auctioned to benefit cleanup efforts from the Gulf Coast oil spill.)

We followed her story via her posts, rejoiced when she survived cancer once, twice, three and four times. We worried when another recurrence of the cancer appeared in 2011. Prayed. Hoped. Cried. Repeat some more. Hoped fervently that when she told us a few weeks ago that she was having "a little trouble" that a little trouble was really all that it was.

Others knew Susan much better than I did, but she was that type of person who (as Florinda said) if you ever met her, you'll never forget her and you'll miss her.  I'd also add that you would consider her to be a friend, even if you met her ever so briefly or only knew her through her blog.

She was an extraordinary person and I feel honored to have met her and to have read her words.
“All that survives after our death are publications and people. So look carefully after the words you write, the thoughts and publications you create, and how you love others. For these are the only things that will remain.”
~ Susan Niebur
She will be always missed, always remembered, and always loved.

Many bloggers have written wonderful tributes to Susan. Here are a few of them below:

The 3 R's Blog: "Susan and Her Story: A star that will keep on shining"

Darryle Pollack: I Never Signed Up For This: "No Star Shines Brighter"

Girl w/ Pen: SCIENCE GRRL: "Thank you, Susan"

Love That Max: "This week the world lost an amazing woman. Would you help honor her memory?"

The Squashed Bologna: "A full moon for Susan"

Stimeyland: "I Already Miss You, Susan"

Susan Niebur: Stargazer, Fighter, and Friend

BlogHer page with tributes to Susan Niebur and Rachel Moro, another blogger lost to breast cancer on Monday

Mothers in Medicine: "Listen to Susan"

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, February 7, 2012

Boo's Homework: The Customer (especially one who is 10 years old) Is Always Right

Boo's 4th grade class is currently learning the nuances of persuasive writing along with the proper format of composing a letter to a business.

Hence, Boo's recent homework assignment, which was to write a hypothetical letter to a business about a defective product and asking for a refund.  (Click to embiggen.)

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, February 6, 2012

Monday Morning Quarterbacks of the 80s, Strike a Pose

Phipps Conservatory
and Botanical Gardens
Pittsburgh, PA
August 2011
Taken by me
Judging from my Facebook Newsfeed, you're either in one camp or the other this post-Super Bowl Monday morning.

You either loved Madonna's halftime performance show during last night's Patriots-Giants game, or you're among those expressing yourself that she of Like a Virgin fame would be better off endorsing Geritol than gymnastics. Personally, I kind of liked seeing Madonna last night, and her show. It was downright refreshing to actually a) know the performer and b) understand the lyrics of the songs he/she/they were singing. Can't say that has always been the case.

That being said, I did spend the majority of the halftime performance explaining to my 10 year old kids that the woman on the stage was, in fact, NOT Lady Gaga.  Betty and Boo refused to believe me, and they were even more bewildered at the notion that said woman was quite popular back in the ancient times when The Husband and I were teenagers.  (They don't believe that the woman they watched cavort with gladiators is really 53; Betty believes Madonna is "around 30," a statement which instantly aged me about 30 years.)

Still, I'm finding these Madonna-naysayers fascinating this morning.  (And, I gotta admit, the naysayers are mostly female.) Yeah, she seemed to be moving a little slower than she did back in 1985, but as I'm eating my daily heart-healthy, fiber-laden breakfast of oatmeal and yet again procrastinating on calling my doctor about the insurance snafu with my cholesterol-lowering statin medication, I'm thinking ... aren't all of us children of the '80s moving a little bit slower these days?

I mean, I'm wearing trifocals as I type this post. A friend my age (42) has already had a hip replacement. A high school friend just finished a round of chemotherapy.  The other day, I went to a breakfast meeting and took the stairs to the conference room; after three very small flights, I was so out of breath I thought I would need to be resuscitated via the defibrillator hanging on the wall.

So is this "what a drag it is getting old" agita what's really behind all the backlash against Madonna this morning?  I think it might be. Because if Madonna's the icon of a Breakfast Club generation that now finds itself ordering Egg Beaters off the menu and adding statins to one's pharmacological lineup, then doesn't it make sense that we become grumpy as hell when we see our teenage years on display and it looks a little off-kilter than the image that we have of ourselves in our minds?

The Material Girl then becomes an easy target for us Children of the '80s Now in Our 40s. Rather than us collectively saying, hot damn, how awesome is it that Madonna has kept herself up and can actually keep up that pace during a halftime show at 53 years old, and would that we all had that kind of stamina and energy at her age (hell, at this age) ... instead we're chastising her for being too slow and robotic during her performance, saying she doesn't have it anymore, that she's washed up, a has-been, has hit the wall.

Isn't that what we're all afraid of becoming?  Isn't that what we're afraid we have become?

So whether you liked Madonna's performance last night or not,  I give Madonna credit for doing last night what she has always done, for decades now. Putting herself out there. Not giving a damn what anyone thinks. Expressing herself.

And showing us apprehensive Gen Xers that while we might be getting old, if we take care of ourselves, chances are the coffin's not going to be nailed shut at 53. (Although, sadly, we know that's not always the case.)

Quite the contrary. Sometimes, at 53, you can even still make a hell of a memorable entrance.

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, February 5, 2012

The Sunday Salon: Back in the Game

Anyone else hear anything about there being some sort of football game on TV later on today?  Heh. I kid. Regular readers know we're a big football family here and on normal Sundays, we'd already be well into our viewing schedule of NFL Gameday Morning. But with our Pittsburgh Steelers not being in the Big Game this year and with our Philadelphia Eagles destined to give us a re-run of Groundhog Day each year (at least for the next year, anyway), well, there's really not much at stake today for us. 

Which is a good thing indeed, because I need to invest some serious time in reading Jessica Keener's debut novel Night Swim if I am to make my commitment of providing a review for the fine folks at TLC Book Tours this Tuesday. That's not going to be a problem, because even though I am only up to page 28 of this story of a dysfunctional, grieving 1970s family, I am ABSOLUTELY LOVING this book thus far. Mark my words: Jessica Keener is an absolute talent, a writer to watch. I feel confident in saying that she is going to be among my favorite discoveries for 2012.  (And that cover! Gorgeous, is it not?) 

February has ushered in a much welcomed change in my reading. (You were right about that, JoAnn!) Between Night Swim and Anne Enright's The Forgotten Waltz (which I finished last night and also really enjoyed), this month promises to be much better than January.  (Hopefully that's true on the home front, also; the house that I referenced in last week's Sunday Salon fell through, and while we were a bit disappointed about needing to walk away from that this week, we feel it was the right decision for us ... especially since there is another potential house on the horizon that we're interested in pursuing. I did promise The Husband that I wouldn't say anything publicly until the home inspection comes back all clear, so nixay on the house-ay, 'kay?) 

Finally, here's my dismal reading recap for January, with links to my reviews.  Quantity-wise, it wasn't the best of reading months, with only 5 books read. Quality-wise, I did like Book of Days, Joy for Beginners, and Smut, so I guess it could have been worse in that regard.  

Book of Days
Poems by Jennifer Hill-Kaucher
Read for the 2nds Challenge, A-Z Book Challenge, Fearless Poetry Exploration Challenge, Mt. TBR, and What's in a Name 5 (something you'd carry in your pocket, purse, or backpack)

by Erica Bauermeister 
Read for the 2nds Challenge, A-Z Book Challenge, Foodies Reading Challenge.

The Life All Around Me by Ellen Foster
by Kaye Gibbons (audiobook) 
Read for the 2nds Challenge, A-Z Book Challenge, Audiobook Challenge, Mt. TBR, Southern Literature.

by Alan Bennett 
Read for the A-Z Book Challenge, E-Book Challenge, New Authors, Short Story.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
by Jamie Ford 
Read for the A-Z Book Challenge, Audiobook Challenge, Mt. TBR, New Authors, What's in a Name 5 (a type of house in the title). 

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, February 4, 2012

A Package (and Spirits) Picked Up

There, by the mailboxes, on a Friday afternoon that ended a very stressful week, was a package.

The way packages are left here in the apartment is subject to the mail or UPS person's mood of the day.  Sometimes they're left by our door.  Sometimes they're by our mailboxes, raising hopes as you walk in the door after a long day that there is a present or a gift awaiting.

So with this decent-sized box by the mailbox on Friday, I took a peek at the address and saw it was for ...ME!  Then, upon looking at the return address, realized it was from the wonderful Jen of Devourer of Books. (Which meant it could be only one thing.)

And I was wrong, because it was a total of THREE things.   (Which, if you know Jen's latest news, makes sense. :)

Inside the package I discovered these, which I won a few months back from ... um, something (the Thankfully Reading Weekend, maybe?), hand-selected for me by Jen, none of which I have read, all of which are on my wish list, and all of which could not (I am so serious) have come at a better time.

(It has been a hell of a week. That new house of ours that I mentioned in my Sunday Salon post? Yeah, not so much.  Fuhgettaboutit.  Home inspection revealed too many problems for our comfort level and bank account. Buh-bye.)

Anyway.  The package. This.  THESE:

The Marriage Artist, by Andrew Winer
Maman's Homesick Pie: A Persian Heart in An American Kitchen, by Donia Bijan
The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt, by Caroline Preston 

It's so very true that books and friends have the power to lift one's spirit, just at the very moment when you need it most.

Thank you, thank you, thank you so much Jen!  You're THE BEST and I cannot wait to read all of these!

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, February 1, 2012

Wordless Wednesday: Yes, Virginia, there really is a Punxsutawney, PA

For more Wordless Wednesday photos, go 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.