Thursday, May 31, 2012

Book Review: American Bee: The National Spelling Bee and the Culture of Word Nerds, by James Maguire

American Bee: The National Spelling Bee and the Culture of Word Nerds
by James Maguire
Rodale Press
363 pages 

As a child, I never participated in a spelling bee - even though I was one of those kids who loved words (guess that makes me a word nerd, then and now) and I read the dictionary for fun. I always thought spelling bees were kind of fascinating and intriguing.

I've also never seen the documentary "Spellbound," (it's on my list) which follows several students as they prepare for the 1999 National Spelling Bee. From what I hear, American Bee is similar as it profiles the top contestants as they each strive to become the 2005 National Spelling Bee champion.

Author James 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.  (Many of those who are involved with and work for the Bee are former Bee participants, finalists, or champions themselves.) Maguire 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!

(The beef with the bee is a concern of the British, apparently.  The Simplified Spelling Society feels that "English spelling is riddled with inconsistencies - a word's spelling often does not correspond with its sound ...[which] contributes to the high level of illiteracy in the English-speaking world." (pg. 15).  Hence, the group's annual protest - with placards and all - of the National Spelling Bee. Don't say that our friends across the pond don't have our best interests in mind.)

Because somewhat of a word nerd, I enjoyed American Bee, even if I found parts of the book to be repetitive. Maguire profiles the top candidates, and in doing so, is prone to describing them by geography.  There's a lot of  "the New Jersey girl" and "the San Diego boy," which gets a bit annoying after 300-some pages.

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. (As much as I wanted to look all of these words up, it would have taken me months to read this book if I actually did so.)

That being said, I liked much more of American Bee than I didn't.  It was a tense read at times, as I couldn't help but get caught up in the excitement of these kids - some of whom are 9 years old (and this year's Bee included the youngest participant on record, 6 year old Lori Anne C. Madison) - and how much they accomplish in order to make it to Washington, D.C. for the National Spelling Bee.  As a nonfiction book, it reads almost like a novel at times, keeping you in suspense until the very end.

What Other Bloggers Thought:

Naked Without Books (this is an incredibly thorough, comprehensive - and extremely good! - review of this book!)

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, May 30, 2012

For Marina

I tend to question a great many things that happen in life, probably more than I should. It's the culmination of several experiences, some may say an eroding of faith.

Regardless of its source, so it is this morning that I am shaking my head at the senseless loss of someone I never met: Marina Keegan, age 22, who graduated from Yale University last week, who was scheduled to begin a job in June at The New Yorker (The New Yorker! at 22 years old!), and who was killed in a car accident on Cape Cod on Saturday.

These types of stories tend to surface during this season of graduations, I know. They speak to us because they remind us of the fragility of our own lives, the mantra to never take any day, any moment for granted. But this loss is particularly poignant because Marina tells us exactly this in her own words, for she is the author of a powerful essay called "The Opposite of Loneliness" that was distributed to her Yale graduating class at their commencement.

You can read the entire text of it here, on the Yale Daily News:

Or, if you don't have time, then just these few paragraphs:

But let us get one thing straight: the best years of our lives are not behind us. They’re part of us and they are set for repetition as we grow up and move to New York and away from New York and wish we did or didn’t live in New York. I plan on having parties when I’m 30. I plan on having fun when I’m old. Any notion of THE BEST years comes from clichéd “should haves...” “if I’d...” “wish I’d...”
Of course, there are things we wished we did: our readings, that boy across the hall. We’re our own hardest critics and it’s easy to let ourselves down. Sleeping too late. Procrastinating. Cutting corners. More than once I’ve looked back on my High School self and thought: how did I do that? How did I work so hard? Our private insecurities follow us and will always follow us.
But the thing is, we’re all like that. Nobody wakes up when they want to. Nobody did all of their reading (except maybe the crazy people who win the prizes…) We have these impossibly high standards and we’ll probably never live up to our perfect fantasies of our future selves. But I feel like that’s okay.
We’re so young. We’re so young. We’re twenty-two years old. We have so much time. There’s this sentiment I sometimes sense, creeping in our collective conscious as we lay alone after a party, or pack up our books when we give in and go out – that it is somehow too late. That others are somehow ahead. More accomplished, more specialized. More on the path to somehow saving the world, somehow creating or inventing or improving. That it’s too late now to BEGIN a beginning and we must settle for continuance, for commencement.
When we came to Yale, there was this sense of possibility. This immense and indefinable potential energy – and it’s easy to feel like that’s slipped away. We never had to choose and suddenly we’ve had to. Some of us have focused ourselves. Some of us know exactly what we want and are on the path to get it; already going to med school, working at the perfect NGO, doing research. To you I say both congratulations and you suck.
For most of us, however, we’re somewhat lost in this sea of liberal arts. Not quite sure what road we’re on and whether we should have taken it. If only I had majored in biology…if only I’d gotten involved in journalism as a freshman…if only I’d thought to apply for this or for that…
What we have to remember is that we can still do anything. We can change our minds. We can start over. Get a post-bac or try writing for the first time. The notion that it’s too late to do anything is comical. It’s hilarious. We’re graduating college. We’re so young. We can’t, we MUST not lose this sense of possibility because in the end, it’s all we have.

My deepest condolences to Marina Keegan's family and friends. Know that we who just met her through the gift of her words also feel your loss and the loss of what could have been.

photo taken by me at Phipps Conservatory, Pittsburgh, PA, August 2011.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Honoring Our Troops, in Twenty Seconds, on Memorial Day

Photo taken by me at the Flight 93 Memorial
in Shanksville, PA, October 2011

I could write this Memorial Day morning about what books I've read this week. I could post photos of the flowerbed project I so proudly completed yesterday. I could tell you about the elderly woman all alone eating a sundae at the next table at Eat'n Park yesterday as I enjoyed lunch with Boo and how she looked so damn sad, like she was missing someone this holiday weekend ... and how I decided to pay her $12 bill for her, just because.

I will tell you about all of those things. But they can all wait.

Because today is about something a little more important than books and gardening. (It does tie in with the whole idea of paying it forward, though.)

A bit of background. This post that follows comes from A Diary of a Mom, which is written by my friend Jess, who has a friend named Rachel.  I don't know Rachel very well, but I know her story ... mainly because Jess has written about it extensively on her blog (and I follow Rachel's blog, Welcome to Stim City.)

I also confess that I have not taken as much forceful action for this cause as I could have and, more importantly, should have. I've posted the links to my Facebook page. I've liked numerous other posts on the issue. I think I blogged about it once. I signed the petition.

I hope, after reading Jess's words and those of Rachel's as to why this is important, you will do so too.

From Diary of a Mom (because, as always, she says it better than I can):

Who kept the faith and fought the fight;
The glory theirs, the duty ours.
~Wallace Bruce

My friends,

If you’ve been around here for a while, you’ve heard me talk (ad nauseam you might say) about the absolutely egregious lack of care for our nation’s military children with autism. You’ve also undoubtedly heard me talk about my friend, Rachel, who is leading the fight to fix it.

Yesterday, Rachel sent the following letter to every single chief of staff of every single member of the Armed Services Committee. When she shared it with me, I knew I had to share it with you. Because together, we can help to right this disastrous wrong. We can step up to the plate to care for the families of our nation’s heroes just as they step up to the plate every day for us. We can, in twenty seconds or less, do the right thing.

If you’re pressed for time, please feel free to simply click HERE and then be on your merry way. If not, then read the following to find out why this matters so damned much.

Thank you and God Bless.

Happy Memorial Day Weekend, Ladies and Gentlemen of the Armed Services Committee Offices.

My name is Rachel Kenyon. I am a proud and battle-tested Army wife and mom of two beautiful babes, one with autism.

Currently, “TRICARE” military healthcare provides less than half the recommended treatments for autism, and only to children of active duty service members.

Service members who retire after more than twenty years and Wounded Warriors forced to medically retire are stripped of what little treatment TRICARE allows via the Extended Care Health Option (ECHO).

On Thursday, May 17, 2012, Congressman John Larson took to the House floor armed with embarrassingly large photos of our little family and made the case for Caring for Military Kids with Autism Act to be included as an amendment to the FY2013 NDAA. It worked, because for Mr. Larson, this had become personal. It worked because Rep. Tom Rooney had the courage to walk up to Chairman Buck McKeon and tell him it was personal. Mr. Rooney has two nephews with autism. Mr. McKeon did the right thing, because now he understood, it was personal. The amendment passed as part of the NDAA in the House.

Senator Gillibrand attempted this past week to do the same in the Senate Armed Services Committee markup session. The amendment was rejected.

I contact you today because this fight is so very personal for so many of us serving our country each day. Not only do I want my husband to feel that his more than 25 years of service warrant the medical care our daughter with autism needs, but I want my daughter to have the security of being able to access the tools that can give her a richer, more meaningful life.

It’s personal because I now hold 23,000 other children in my heart, and more than that many parents who serve our country. I love them as I love my own. I want them to feel proud of their country’s service to them in return. I want them to sleep at night, knowing that though autism may have knocked on their door, they can live their lives to the fullest with the care they need and deserve. It’s personal.

I know once you read the attached comments from your constituents, both military and civilian, you all will choose to do the right thing. To take this fight personally. To share with your fellow staffers and your Senators and Representatives that our families are proud. That our children are worthy. That if just one military child was denied the cancer treatments he or she needed, we would not be wasting time with emails and petitions. A true American who hears that 23,000 military children are being denied the medical standard of care for autism takes that personally. Well, for real American patriots, it is so very personal.

I appreciate your time and I wish you all a fun, relaxing Memorial Weekend in remembrance of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

Our little family will be spending another weekend living with autism in our house and struggling to understand why we have to fight this battle, too.


Mrs. Rachel E. Kenyon

Wife to Command Sergeant Major William W. Kenyon

Mother of two beautiful babes – one with autism.

Ed Note: As promised in the letter above, Rachel passed on scores of comments to the Armed Services Committee. You can read them all HERE. But of the comments, one stood out to me the most.

Jennifer Lockwood Stafford VA 22554 United States 5/26/12

“I am signing this because My husband has 25+ years AD Army Special Forces, and we have an 8 year-old son with Autism. My husband has deployed multiple times throughout the various wars, which our country has been involved in since the 90′s, risking his life each time. He recently returned from a yearlong combat deployment in Afghanistan and is scheduled to deploy again in August.

My son was diagnosed with Autism at 3 years old and began Applied Behavior Analysis therapy from the age of 4 years via the Extended Heath Care Option (ECHO) Program. Although the recommended amount of ABA therapy is 30 – 40 hours/week, my son only receives 10 hours/week, not near what is recommended, but better than nothing. Due in part because of these services, my son has gone from functioning as an 18 month old to functioning of a 6 year-old; And this would not have been so had these services not been available.

Although my husband has more than enough years to retire from military service, he cannot retire for fear of losing all autism therapies for our son, because retirees are not eligible for ECHO services. As stated earlier, my husband will soon be heading back to Afghanistan for another year-long deployment. What I think is important for you to know is that if my husband is injured while serving his country in Afghanistan, and forced to medically retire, my son will no longer be eligible to receive autism therapies. Additionally, if my husband is fatally wounded while serving his county in Afghanistan, my son will no longer be eligible for autism therapies.

My husband has made many sacrifices for this county and his family. I’m signing this petition because the medically necessary therapies that my son requires should not preclude him from having a father present in his life.”

From me: So, here it is again: 

Thanks.  And Happy Memorial Day.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Book Review: Fragile Beasts, by Tawni O'Dell

Fragile Beasts
by Tawni O'Dell
Shaye Areheart Books, an imprint of Crown Publishing Group
399 pages

I wasn't sure what to expect from Fragile Beasts.  I picked it up because of its Pennsylvania coal country setting and author Tawni O'Dell being a native of the state, not because of any strong draw to the storyline nor any familiarity with her other works. 

And almost immediately, I was drawn into this novel so deeply that I didn't want to put it down.  (That didn't quite last, though.)

Fragile Beasts is a character-driven novel about two brothers, Kyle and Klint, reeling in the aftermath of their father's death as a result of a drunk driving accident (his fault).  The boys' mother returns to Pennsylvania from Arizona, where she moved several years before when she left the boys and took their younger sister Krystal with her.  As quickly as the mother announces her intentions to bring the reluctant boys back to Arizona with her (a prospect nobody is thrilled with), one of the town's wealthiest and somewhat reclusive citizens (Candace Jack) agrees to her niece's idea that Kyle and Klint can move into her mansion. 

It's told from the perspective of several characters - Kyle, Candace, and Luis, who has worked for Candace for years as her personal chef and who is also intertwined with her secretive past in Spain.  You see, in the 1950s, Candace was the lover of famed bullfighter Manuel Obrador.  After Manuel's death (not a spoiler, as this comes within the first few pages of the novel), Candace closes herself off to the possibility of caring for anyone else again - while spending a sizeable portion of her family's wealth to acquire the bull that killed Manuel, a bull whose descendants live on at her Pennsylvania coal-country estate. 

When reading Fragile Beasts, it's helpful to concentrate on the characters themselves.  Tawni O'Dell does a remarkable job of putting the reader into the hearts and minds of Candace, Kyle, and Luis and through them, we learn about Manuel Obrador and his effect on those in his life.  Ultimately, this is a story about how our pasts and present can become intertwined in ways we might not expect.  As I said, it's a very character-driven novel and the sympathy that O'Dell generates for her characters is well-done.  You do care about them.

However ... the question for the reader, then, is whether the well-written characters are enough for the reader to set aside some potential skepticism about some of the thin plotlines.  In my opinion ... I'm not sure.  I think it's a matter of reader preference, actually. While I was engrossed in the story from the beginning - the first half had me absolutely riveted to every page and I didn't want to put it down - O'Dell began to lose me a bit in the second half.

Part of this might have been because there are several various storylines happening at the same time here and because of that, I didn't feel they were as well-developed as they could have been if there were less of them.  And, there is a particular storyline that just felt gratuitous.  I had a sense that we might be going in this direction, but the issue is one that deserves more focus than it was given.  Again, just my opinion, and maybe this would have been remedied if it had been introduced more towards the sluggish middle of the novel when I was still engaged with the characters but was looking for something to happen.

What Other Bloggers Thought:

The Library Diva

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, May 20, 2012

The Sunday Salon - May 20

It's a spectacularly gorgeous weekend here, and I have two days of errands and gardening to catch up on (thanks to losing most of yesterday to being in bed yesterday with a migraine). No time for idle chit chat this morning; let's get right to the books update, shall we?

Much to tell you about, as most of this week was spent in my car. It's another one of our busy seasons for work, which meant that this week was one where I drove up, down and around the state of Pennsylvania (and parts of Ohio). The good part about all that driving? Audiobooks.

This week I've been listening to The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern, which I am enjoying very much. (Part of that is due to Jim Dale's narration, which is wonderful and perfect for this story.) The Night Circus has been met with much acclaim from book bloggers. If you're not familiar with this book, allow me to take the lazy way out today and offer up the publisher's description:

The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway—a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.

True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus per­formers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.

As I said, I'm really enjoying this. I'm loving Morganstern's details of the circus and her ability to transport me to a magical world, which - HELLO! - when you're listening to this while driving for 6 freakin' hours throughout the most backwoods lands of Pennsylvania, is quite a most welcome thing indeed. I am, however, kind of confused a bit on this "challenge" between Celia and Marco, and I'm finding myself rewinding the CD at times, but after reading a few other reviews, this seems to be a common issue with others who have read The Night Circus. 

I'll probably finish this by the middle of this week.

This week, I also read A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, which was also highlighted and raved about on many a blog back in the fall - also with good reason.  Anybody who has ever lost a parent (or watched a loved one die) will absolutely relate to 13 year old Conor's heartbreak on losing his mother and having his life uprooted. He's already dealing with so much - the divorce of his parents and his father moving to America to have a new life with his new family there; bullying at school; the betrayal of his best friend Lily; the possibility of living with his strict grandmother or being shipped off to boarding school, and worst of all, the impending death of his beloved mother. No wonder the kid is having nightmares.

From the publisher's description:

The monster showed up after midnight. As they do.
But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting. He’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the nightmare he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming. . . .

This monster, though, is something different. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor.
It wants the truth.

Finally, and this is HUGE for me - I also read an entire issue (practically cover to cover!) of "The New Yorker."  I subscribe to it via my Kindle, but I rarely get a chance to read it and never in its entirely. Psychologically, it's more soothing to have the digital editions pile up in my Kindle than the paper ones around the house. I like knowing that they're there when I want them - but I don't see them (hence, no clutter) and this week, between books and waiting in line and eating alone, "The New Yorker" was exactly what I wanted.

In the May 21 issue is a short story ("The Proxy Marriage") by Maile Meloy. I am positive I've read Meloy before, but I'll be damned if I can remember what, exactly, it was. (It had to have been one of her short stories, probably in a Best Of anthology or in something like "The New Yorker" or whatever.) This sounds awful, I know. BUT, as a fan of short stories, I really liked "The Proxy Marriage" and this just made me want to read more of Ms. Meloy's work. (And tell you about it, so I don't forget.)

OK. Back to your regularly scheduled Sunday. As you were.

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.

Point of Impact (Guest Post from The Husband)

My husband (known to readers of this blog as, well, The Husband) wrote this post below on August 29, 2009 about the release of Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, the terrorist responsible for the bombing of Pam Am Flight 103 on December 21, 1988 over Lockerbie, Scotland. 

Happily, today al-Megrahi has reportedly left this Earth, as MSNBC reports this morning, dying of the terminal cancer that hastened his release from prison back in 2009 when it was believed he only had a mere three months to live. We should all be fortunate to have such luck. Alas, the people on Pan Am Flight 103 did not, thanks to Megrahi.  

It's chilling to think of how these innocent people died. Truly, there could not be a more horrific way to go. One can only hope that Megrahi is now meeting a similar fate in the depths of hell and that the families of his victims get some semblance of comfort from that possibility. 

Point of Impact, originally posted here on August 29, 2009
Stacie Franklin is 41 years old with a husband and two children. She has lived in her hometown of San Diego for most of her life. Today, she is shopping with her 16-year old daughter in preparation for the upcoming Junior Prom - much to Stacie's horror, mind you.
Rachel Asrelsky, also 41, is busily working in her offices at Columbia University, where she has been a tenured professor since 1995. As she prepares for the annual start-of-term faculty workshops that she dreads like a migraine, she laughs to herself as she remembers what her 4-year old daughter said to her as she was walking out of the door of the day care center this morning: "Don't forget Mommy: Today is Joe Jonas' birthday and I want to make him a card!"
Tom and Bridget Concannon - 71 and 74 respectively - are visiting their 37-year old son, Sean in Hoboken, NJ. The Concannons are Irish - although their son was born when Tom was working in England. Not a few times has Sean made it a point - normally loud enough for his father to hear and thus drive him nuts yet again - that while 'Mum and Dad are Irish; I'm British.' This joking aside, the Concannons remain relatively close, even though Sean moved to the States in 1995. Today, Tom and Bridget are relishing precious time with Sean's three children - their only grandchildren - as a summer sun sets over the New York City skyline behind them.
What I just wrote is fantasy. It is fiction. It never happened. It never happened because of Abdel Baset al-Megrahi. Although Megrahi never met Stacie Franklin, Rachel Asrelsky, Tom Concannon, Bridget Concannon or Sean Concannon, he saw fit to end their lives on December 21, 1988 by blowing the airplane in which they were flying out of the sky over Lockerbie, Scotland. Among the 270 killed that day were 20-year old flight attendant Stacie Franklin, 21-year old student Rachel Asrelsky, as well as 51-year old Tom Concannon, his 53-year old wife Bridget and their 16-year old son Sean.

Without getting into the reams and reams of documents that detail the Lockerbie terrorist attack perpetrated by Megrahi - a Libyan intelligence agent - and his network, suffice it to say that the deaths of his victims were horrific. When the bomb planted by Megrahi's agents - inside a Sony Walkman - detonated, it separated the cockpit from the rest of the plane. In the immediate aftermath of that separation, tornado-force winds tore through the fuselage, tearing clothes off passengers and turning insecurely-fixed items like food and drink trolleys into lethal objects. Because of the sudden change in air pressure, the gases inside the passengers' bodies expanded to four times their normal volume, causing their lungs to swell and then collapse. People and objects not fixed down were been blown out of the aircraft into the minus-50 degree outside air, their 31,000-foot fall lasting about two minutes.

That's right, two minutes. Not seconds. Minutes. Free falling in the air. Until the point of impact.

Some passengers remained attached to the fuselage by their seat belts, crashing in Lockerbie strapped to their seats. Although the passengers would have lost consciousness through lack of oxygen, forensic examiners believe some of them regained consciousness as they fell toward oxygen-rich lower altitudes. Forensic pathologist Dr. William G. Eckert, director of the Milton Helpern International Center of Forensic Sciences at Wichita State University, who examined the autopsy evidence, told Scottish police he believed the flight crew, some of the flight attendants - including Stacie Franklin - and 147 other passengers survived the bomb blast and depressurization of the aircraft, and were alive on impact.

Repeat: alive on the point of impact.

Eckert came to this conclusion because none of these passengers showed signs of injury from the explosion itself, or from the decompression and disintegration of the aircraft. Eckert told Scottish police that distinctive marks on 55-year old American Captain James MacQuarrie's thumb suggested he had been hanging onto the yoke of the plane as it descended, and was alive when the plane crashed. The captain, first officer, flight engineer, a flight attendant - Stacie Franklin - and a number of first-class passengers were found still strapped to their seats inside the nose section when it crashed in a field by a farm in the village of Tundergarth.

Franklin, incredibly, was alive when found by the farmer's wife. She died before her rescuer could summon help.

Remember all of this as you read how the only man ever convicted of the attack left Scotland this week - on a Libyan jet - flying safely through the same skies he bombed his victims out of 21 years ago and arrived in Tripoli to a hero's welcome.

A hero's welcome.

That man, Megrahi, was not even arrested until 1999. That is, he lived in freedom for 11 years after ending those 270 lives. Once caught, it took two more years to convict Megrahi. Unfortunately, it was the British who caught him. Had it been the Americans, he would have been eligible for the death penalty. Because the British have been pussified into believing that somehow capital punishment is 'cruel and unusual', the most they could give Megrahi was a life sentence, which was handed down in 2001 by a Scottish court.

How did 'life' translate into 10 years in prison? Well, in announcing Megrahi's release, Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill intoned that "when such an appalling crime is committed, it is appropriate that a severe sentence be imposed." Yes, you read that right: this asshole Scottish politician seemed to be saying that the 10-year sentence was enough. Another way of looking at it, of course, is to say that MacAskill [or, as I like to call him Mac Ass Kill] was saying that a severe sentence of life should be imposed, but not necessarily carried out.

The mind reels when you realize that Megrahi served a little less than 14 days for each of the victims he killed. About two weeks. And you thought your life was worth more, I'll bet.

Megrahi's release is being justified on compassionate grounds: he is thankfully terminally ill with an aggressive form of prostate cancer - which one hopes is incredibly painful. In some patients, surgeons have to castrate patients with advanced prostate cancer in a drastic effort to stop the spread of the disease. I'm going to prefer to believe that this is what's happened to Megrahi. And that they performed the procedure with a plastic spoon and no anesthesia. Megrahi is said to have as little as three months to live. The Earth's fiery core awaits him.

While that is wonderful, this 'compassion' being afforded a man who - to this day - has refused to admit his guilt is abhorrent. Mac Ass added further insult to injury with a cryptic remark that Megrahi faces "a sentence imposed by a higher power." Apparently, then, the existence of God has been confirmed by the British courts. Since I'm not really convinced of that, however, I must point out that a life sentence should mean that a man ends his days in prison - in this case, a foreign prison [in Scotland for the Libyan Megrahi]. He should not end his days in the bosom of his family and country to a hero's welcome.

The real injustice - and one President Obama must vigorously protest in person to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown the next time they have tea - is that Scotland's decision to release this motherfucker is a result of a recent prisoner transfer agreement between Libya and the U.K. The agreement calls for Britain to release prisoners in return for Libya granting lucrative arms and energy contracts to British companies. The U.S. had no say in the matter, despite the fact that the vast majority of victims of the disaster were American. Put another way, Megrahi's release was a tacit quid pro quo for lucrative energy and arms deals for U.K. firms.

This cold-blooded killer's release is a reminder of what happens when terrorism is treated as a problem for the criminal justice system. Scottish pol Mac Ass had the balls to sit there and congratulate Scotland (and himself) on the superior virtue his decision supposedly evinces. Of course, terrorists will surely draw a different lesson about the will of the West to confront and punish them. And the compassion that is still owed those made bereft by the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 has now been tainted by a second Lockerbie outrage.

No matter how vigorously the British justice system protests that this is not so, the fact is that the entire judicial system of Her Majesty is now irrevocably tainted by this corrupt bargain.

And, every time a British company lands a deal in Libya from here on out, the families of the 270 victims will be reminded that their loved ones paid for it with their lives nearly 21 years ago over Scotland.

While still alive. Until the point of impact.

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.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Still Remembered

Kristin Mitchell, on her
May 15, 2005 graduation day
from Saint Joseph's University.
We were in the ladies room before our afternoon presentation, making the type of small talk common to business associates that have just met.

"So. Where are you from, originally?" my counterpart asked, correctly detecting that my accent was not of Pittsburgh origins.

"Philadelphia," I answered.

My colleague nodded, affirming what she had guessed.

"Where exactly, in Philadelphia?"

I answered with my hometown and, for good measure, my college alma mater.

"Oh, wow," she said. "I went to St. Joe's."

A round of NoKiddingSmallWorld commenced. I asked when she graduated; she answered with a year so far enough removed from those of any mutual friends we would possibly have in common. She mentioned a year.  I drew in a breath. I did, as it turned out, know someone who attended St. Joe's around that time.

"Did you happen to know Kristin Mitchell?" I asked.

A pause.

"Oh ...." An intake of breath. "Yes. I did. She was two years older than me."

We went quiet.

"I know the family," I said, by way of explanation. "I never actually had the chance to meet her, but I've met her family during a few events at my previous job with a domestic violence program."

"It was her boyfriend, right? Who killed her?"

Text that Kristin Mitchell sent to her boyfriend.
She would be killed just a few hours later.
It would be her father who would retrieve the text from his daughter's phone.

As I drove home, I couldn't stop thinking about how improbable it was that I would meet someone in this tiny hamlet on a mountain who also knew Kristin and her story.

I thought about how this week had brought another anniversary to the Mitchell family, that of 7 years since her parents and brother last saw Kristin, on her graduation day from St. Joseph's University.  It would also be the first time they would meet her boyfriend, the same one who would kill their daughter just three weeks later on June 3, stabbing her more than 50 times as Kristin attempted to break up with him.

I thought about how different things could have been - should have been - for Kristin. How she should have been leading a life like that of my business colleague and myself, with a career and a family.

I thought about my 10 year old daughter I was heading home to, about how the conversations in our house are changing, about how we are talking a lot about healthy relationships and how someone should treat you in a relationship. I thought about how much I want her to know.

I thought about how much I wanted Kristin's family to know that even in this tiny, rural town, hundreds of miles from where they last saw her, that afternoon Kristin was most definitely remembered.

From "Forever 21," written on August 24, 2010 (Kristin's birthday):
At 21, Kristin Mitchell had her entire life ahead of her. 
She had a brand new college degree from Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia. A family bursting with pride, with love. A wonderful job lined up with a well-known international food company.
And a boyfriend who killed her - three weeks after this photo was taken.
Three weeks.
Her entire life.
Kristin was in the process of ending the relationship when her boyfriend came to her Conshohocken, Pa. apartment. He had some possessive tendencies.
Kristin didn't know trying to leave him would leave him so violent, so enraged that he would stab her more than 50 times in her own kitchen. She didn't know what domestic violence experts know, that statistics show that the leaving is the most dangerous time in a relationship.
She didn't know that she was, at 21, a victim of domestic abuse.
It is because of the efforts of her friends and family, who established The Kristin Mitchell Foundation in her memory, that many more people now know what Kristin and her friends tragically did not. That dating violence is real. That it is prevalent. That there are warning signs. That there is help. 
That it can and does happen on idyllic college campuses to 21 year old students whose whole lives are ahead of them.
We worry about our kids as we let go, as we send them on their way to begin their lives whether it is on an innocent playground or an idyllic college campus. We worry about  who they choose to accept into their midst. 
We worry about what they don't know.  
We worry about what we, as their parents, don't know.
And even if we're not parents, we worry about what lurks, who is plotting harm, who we know (and who we don't) that has the capability to stab us 50 times, in our kitchen or randomly on the street in broad daylight.  
Sometimes, as in the tragedy that befell the Mitchell family, our greatest fears and those we didn't know were our greatest fears actually become our own personal reality show, one with reruns nonstop on every unchangeable channel of our lives.  
And then it is back to the beginning, of trying to prevent and spread awareness and educate and inform of the dangers we know are out there.  Of keeping vigil and remaining vigilant, of keeping hold while letting go.  
Click here for more information about The Kristin Mitchell Foundation, Kristin's Krusade, as well as what to do if you suspect someone is a victim of dating violence and domestic abuse. 

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, May 13, 2012

The Sunday Salon: Mother's Day Edition

Mother's Day, which we're celebrating today, is seared with many emotions for so many people. I'm not exempt from this, certainly not this year, as I wrote in yesterday's post, "may 13 many years ago." 

I've been on both sides of the fence with this holiday, from feeling the heartbreak of not being a mom to now being blessed to have my children and being grateful for the journey. I understand what it's like to welcome the homemade breakfast in bed while remembering all too poignantly the days of wanting to just hide underneath the covers.

So, however you view this day, I hope it has been a good Sunday. We've had a quiet and low-key Mother's Day here, beginning with Betty and Boo making me breakfast (with much assistance from The Husband).

I had planned to do a little gardening today, but this morning's rain ended that idea so, I've just been catching up on some blog reading. I'm hoping to start on A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness shortly. This is a little out of my usual realm of reading material, but this looks interesting and has been getting much acclaim on the blogs.

Here's what I finished this week:

For the past several weeks, I've been listening to Richard Russo's Bridge of Sighs in the car as my audiobook ... and I've gotta admit, I let out a big sigh when this ended. Because, people, this is one long book. The print version (which I've had on my shelves for what seems like forever) is 527 pages, making the audiobook 21 CDs.

And after all that? This, which is pretty much the entire life saga of one Louis Lynch and his family and peers in one upstate New York town ... was just OK.  Bridge of Sighs has as its theme the connections that bridge us together, across the physical and emotional divides of our lives. It's about how those divisions are shaped by memory and time, and the influence that each plays in forming the person we eventually become.

As part of my continuing gardening education, I read The Beginner's Guide to Edible Herbs: 26 Herbs Everyone Should Grow & Enjoy by Charles W.G. Smith.  We will be growing sweet basil, catnip, cilantro, oregano, and parsley this year, and Smith's book gives very easy to follow instructions for each of these. In addition, he also provides helpful information on growing anise hyssop, bay laurel, bee balm, borage, calendula, caraway, chives, dill, fennel, garlic, hyssop, lavender, lemon balm, lemon verbena, marjoram, mint, rosemary, sage, savory, tarragon, and thyme.

I might be persuaded to try some chives, garlic, tarragon, and thyme in addition to those already on our agenda. (This is kind of getting a little out of hand.)

Finally, since today is Mother's Day, I would be remiss if I didn't mention Beth Kephart's memoir A Slant of Sun. I stayed up late last night finishing what was, for me, an absolutely breathtaking and powerful book. Regular readers of the blog know how much of a fan I am of Beth's work, that I consider her a friend. Still, this book is truly special. She calls this a book of yesterday, and I understand why. I do. That didn't stop A Slant of Sun from resonating so much with me this week.

This memoir is a testament to the strength and courage of one child as well as to the strength and courage in parenting a child who has been labeled by "experts" as different. Having the courage to rely on that strength, to trust in the process of discovery and to rely on love and time to allow the person within to emerge is extremely difficult, as Kephart makes so poignantly clear in A Slant of Sun. 

Next up for this week: A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness and The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern as my audiobook for a business trip to Scranton. (My backup audiobook is Okay for Now, by Gary Schmidt.)

Happy Mother's Day to all who are celebrating!

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.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

may 13, many years ago

I originally wrote and posted this - a letter to my 16 year old self - here on May 13 of last year. You see, May 13 is a pretty significant day for me. It's Mother's Day this year, yes ... but it's also something more. So you'll understand why I share this again. It's for me but also for those others who I think about every year on this day and in gratitude for those who were there in days between then and now. 

Dear Melissa,

I'm writing this to you exactly 27 years from now, on May 13, 2012.  You're still a little bit groggy, still a little bit sick from this morning.  You're in bed in your blue and white-flowered room, with the same furniture Mommy and Daddy bought you when you were all of three years old.

You're a news junkie (and at 43, you still are) and you're watching your city in ruins on the TV that your mother has brought upstairs for you.  You're watching the burning of an entire Philadelphia block, and I know what you're thinking. I know it seems like, right now, your life is crumbling like the tinderbox houses on the black and white TV.

In between sleeping off the anesthesia, you've been working the phones, crying to your best girlfriends. One is on her way over, right now, and you'll cry together.  And you'll remember that you just did this, when your dad died three months earlier. You've already come undone from that. And again today, with that one sentence that the doctor said - it's not going to happen the regular way, but when you're ready to have kids someday, there's no telling what they will be able to do in the future - that's going to change your entire life even more, as if that was even possible.

Oh, but you have no idea how this is going to change your life.  It's going to shape you, form a significant part of your identity.  For better, yes - and yes, in some ways for worse - but really, trust me - mostly for better.  You can't see this now.  You don't want to, I know.

And there will be times when this becomes your only life's focus and times when you completely forget about it - at least until an innocent comment knocks you for a loop.

That'll get easier to handle in time, too.  You'll figure out what to say, in your own words. (You're a writer, just like you wanted to be; that's what you do.) You'll meet some people along the way who will help you through this, people who you will be eternally grateful and thankful to for the way they pulled you out of this abyss.  (You'll even marry one of them, too.)  They'll see you for who you are, not as a misfit toy.  

And you'll return the favor, too.  A guy named Al Gore will invent this thing called the Internet (you will absolutely love it) and you'll start what will be known as an online listserv, sometime around 1999 or so.  (I know ... now in 1985, that seems like just a faraway year in a Prince song, doesn't it?  But, it will be here before you know it and then it will disappear in the blink of an eye.)  But listen, this listserv thing - and this whole online thing itself , for that matter -   it'll be pretty darn cool. It will be the beginning of something extraordinary. You'll start this group for women with the same condition as you - women and girls who have heard the same news from their doctors, from specialists in their fields who had to pull their dusty medical reference books off the shelf to give you a real definition, to make sure they are pronouncing this one in a million seemingly freakish thing in the proper way, with all the researchers' names in the right order.

Back to that little online group you'll start with someone just like you.  It'll start with a couple of you, then a few dozen, and by the time you step away from it a few years later you will have found 5,000 women and girls just like you, all of whom once thought they too were the only one, that there couldn't be anyone else like them out there.  But there are, and they are in every corner of the globe. You'll spend your nights talking to each other and exchanging research information, and when you're ready to create your own families or resolve this in your own ways, they'll be your support group.  They'll show you the way.  You'll think about them every May 13 and more than a few days in between.

I guess what I'm trying to say is this: it'll get better.  You will find people who will love you for who you are.  You will have twins, a boy and girl, and even though there will be challenges with them and more loops thrown, you will have mornings like this one, that you had today, exactly 27 years since you imagined something very different.  It won't be picture perfect. None of it will be.  Far from it.

But it will BE.

Happy Mother's Day.

Doctors have come from distant cities
Just to see me
Stand over my bed
Disbelieving what they're seeing
They say I must be one of the wonders
Of god's own creation
And as far as they can see they can offer
No explanation

Newspapers ask intimate questions
Want confessions
They reach into my head
To steal the glory of my story

They say I must be one of the wonders
Of god's own creation
And as far as they can see they can offer
No explanation

O, I believe
Fate smiled and destiny
Laughed as she came to my cradle
Know this child will be able
Laughed as my body she lifted
Know this child will be gifted
With love, with patience and with faith
She'll make her way ....

"Wonder" ~ Natalie Merchant

Love, Melissa

(P.S. There are several of you reading this who know what this post is about and what I'm referring to ... and that's because you were there with love, with patience, and with faith.  Maybe not on that exact day, but at some point afterwards on this journey.  You know who you are. Most importantly, I do too.  And today seems like a good day to say thank you and I love you for what you did, for being there, for all of it. If I never said it before, please know that I thought it, many a time, more than you probably can and will ever know.Thank you. Love you.)

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.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

In the Night Kitchen: A Tribute to Maurice Sendak

Sad day today in literature. Children's author Maurice Sendak has passed away at the age of 83, following complications from a stroke. Truth be told, his beloved and bestselling Where the Wild Things Are wasn't my favorite of his books ... and neither was it my kids' favorite. That honor belonged to the lesser-known, but no less controversial, In the Night Kitchen.

In tribute to Mr. Sendak, here's my review and thoughts on In the Night Kitchen, as originally published here on the blog on November 9, 2008, shortly before Betty and Boo turned 7 years old.  There's a book on hold at the library that I need want to pick up today.  I think I will stop in the children's room and see if they have a copy of this, too.

More and more frequently, the kids are selecting chapter books from the library to read independently and with each library visit I am more cognizant that our days of reading picture books are dwindling. One of my favorite parts of being Mom - and frankly, one of the reasons I commute home 2 hours each night instead of staying overnight at my mom's more often - is reading a picture book to the kids each night during snacktime.

So I've been trying to select the best of the best picture books that we haven't read, to make sure that a great, classic book doesn't pass us by. To that end, I'm very glad we didn't miss In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak.

Truth be told, I'm not a big fan of Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are. It just never held any appeal for me, nor the kids. So I was somewhat ambivalent about In the Night Kitchen, but we checked it out anyway and read it last night.

Elicting gales of laughter, In the Night Kitchen is now among Betty and Boo's favorites. It's a charming tale about a boy named Mickey who dreams that he falls through his bedroom floor to the night kitchen below where bakers are concocting the "morning cake." Mickey assists by transforming the cake batter into an airplane and, flying across the Milky Way, is able to procure some milk, enabling the bakers to make the cake. Betty and Boo were engulfed in hysterical laughter while I read this book. It is not going back to the library anytime soon.

Neglectful Mommy that I am, I only realized this afternoon that to my mock horror, I read a controversial book to my kids last night. Yes, there are apparently two bones of contention with Sendak's book. While falling through the night kitchen in his dream, Mickey's pajamas disappear and his little-boy nakedness is illustrated with full-frontal view. Apparently this has caused some consternation among folks and continues to do so (despite the book's publication date in 1996). I must say that while I noticed this detail, it wasn't one that the kids or I were obsessed about. One of them might have said, "Oh my God, he's naked!" but in my view, this is much P.C. ado about nothing. Lighten the hell up, people.

The other controversy, it seems, concerns the baking of the "morning cake." In addition to the little kid's nekkidness, there's much hue and cry about a book for children that seemingly promotes the notion of eating cake for breakfast. Well, I've got a news flash for the whack jobs that are so concerned about this book making toddlers want to eat cake for breakfast: that notion is ingrained in kids from the moment of conception. Bill Cosby knows what I'm talking about.

Call me cynical, call me jaded, but I can tell you that no book has ever been responsible for the lightbulb moment in a child's mind that tells him or her to torture their parents by whining for chocolate cake for breakfast (and lunch, and dinner). If anything, In the Night Kitchen promotes the idea to kids that cooking is fun.

We loved this book for its delightful, imaginative concept that there are bakers who whip up cake for our breakfasts while we we sleep and for Mickey's ability to magically enter that world. I'm glad I didn't know about the so-called controversy before checking this out; otherwise, it could very well have been among those books that we passed by while on our way to the chapter books shelves.

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, May 6, 2012

The Sunday Salon

Someone really needs to figure out how to add another, say, 3 or 4 days to these weekends. There just isn't enough time to do everything. I know that's an age-old lament (or maybe me feeling my old age) but really, this is getting ridiculous.

(As proof positive of what I mean, those three sentences above were written last Sunday - for last week's Salon, which never happened, because those three sentences were as far as I'd gotten.)

It's really starting to make me think and be more conscious of how I'm spending my time. It's no secret that I'm an Internet junkie, that I'm kind of addicted to this thing. (I've been having a recurring dream about losing or misplacing my laptop, which has a few additional meanings other than my spending too much time online.)

I've always been one who has no qualms about abandoning books that aren't working for me, and I've noticed that the number of DNFs (did not finish) books has been increasing.  I've made my peace with not being able to write reviews for every book I read and with not being able to keep up with or comment on as many blogs as I'd like. Recently, I found myself getting engrossed in the latest blogger drama, spending way more time than I had reading comment after comment and link after link about the matter ... and then suddenly stopping, asking myself if this matter was truly worth dedicating this amount of time. Yeah, not so much.

Anyway. Those are the thoughts swirling about in my mind on this gorgeous Sunday morning that finds me still in need of a shower, still in need of going to the grocery store, and looking ahead to an afternoon of 2.5 hours in a waiting room while Betty is at her support group for siblings of kids with disabilities.  (Hey, at least that affords me some time to read.)

And what I'm reading right now is the wonderful memoir A Slant of Sun by Beth Kephart. You know how there are books on our shelves that, in our minds, are only deemed fit to be read at precisely the exact right time, as illogical as that may sound? The ones we are saving for that perfect moment when it is most opportune to do so?

A Slant of Sun has been that kind of book for me for ... well, quite some time now. I remember hearing about Beth Kephart's memoir when it was first published 15 years ago, probably through some local press because of our Philadelphia connections. When my Boo was initially diagnosed with PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified) in 2002, A Slant of Sun often appeared on lists of suggested books and in articles I read. I always intended to do so, especially after befriending Beth herself and getting my copy of A Slant of Sun signed and discovering, through her blog, how the boy in the hat is doing. (Just fine, as it turns out, and graduating from college next week.)

This, then, makes this the perfect week to read A Slant of Sun, which is a wonderful book, as I knew it would be. It has been a week when it feels like I'm floundering at this parenting business, a feeling that is not new to me.

It has been the perfect book to read at the right time.

One of our tomato plants sprouting
May 5, 2012

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.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Man Cannot Live By Asparagus Alone (Or, There's More Going on In the Garden Than Just Asparagus)

From the way I've been going on about my abundant asparagus patch here, you would think that this is the only thing we have going on in this new garden of ours.

Oh, wait.  It kind of is.

(Yeah.  The asparagus patch really is from that far end of the garden to the diamond shaped area - which isn't really diamond-shaped; I dunno how that turned out like that.)

But the fact that April is over (howdidthathappen?!) makes me realize that the calendar is starting to gain the advantage if we want to see any other goodies from the garden.

So with that, we (meaning the kids and I) planned a Garden Clean Up and Prep Day on Sunday afternoon ... after I went to Home Depot for some mulch and some nice dirt that promised to help my flowers and vegetables grow better and oh, look, pretty flowers!

By the time I got home, there was an hour left before dinner to do the Garden Clean Up and Prep Day, but we were determined to do what we could. And we got a decent amount accomplished in that hour, too. Betty really worked hard - her motivation being that there's a Book Fair at school this week and she's asked for five books, totaling close to $30. I told her by helping out in the garden and doing a few other additional chores, she could earn the books. Which she did, just from the garden work alone. We can now get into the asparagus patch more easily, which was our goal.

Then, later that evening, we started our tomato plants from seed. For these, I'll be honest: we're completely winging it. (Hell, who am I kidding? We're completely winging EVERYTHING about this garden this first year in this house. Try something new. Get dirty. Make a mistake. Be patient. Watch what happens. Have fun. That's what this is all about.)

These are Burpee's Big Boy Hybrids. We only got six plants started. More to come.

Then this afternoon, I was working in my home office when I heard a buzzing outside. I didn't think anything of it, assuming it was just a neighbor doing some yard work. When I looked outside, I realized it was the landscaper (we have a guy who mows the lawn because I don't do that) tilling 1/4 of the garden, which I had asked him to do.  Of course after I told him to do this, I read some articles and whatnot that said tilling might not be necessary after all, but I think in this case it was.

I only had them till 1/4 of the garden because a) this is a rather expensive job and b) I tend to be all gung ho and overly ambitious when I start a project, and I wasn't going to invest the money to have this entire garden tilled if I wasn't going to plant all of it. Again, this is a Learning Curve Year ... we'll see what we decide next year.

This meant (I think) that the soil was ready to be worked. Almost. I took the Miracle-Gro Garden Soil for Flowers and Vegetables and mixed it with the tilled soil.

I've been wanting to plant some peas for several weeks now, and I've been worried that we're getting too late in the season for that, even though we've had several pretty cold days. (This has been a wacky spring; we had snow flurries on Saturday and today it was close to 80.) So, I don't know.  I have two packs of peas, so I decided to save one to plant later in the summer, as a fall crop. This evening we planted Laxton's Progress #9 Shell Pea by High Mowing Organic Seeds. 

Supposedly, these peas don't need a trellis, so that's cool. We put them near the fence though, just in case. The fall crop of peas will need a cage or something, so maybe we can use the tomato cages for those.

Then, almost just as soon as we started, the evening drew to a close.

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.