Monday, July 30, 2012

Dear Editor: You Read the News Today, Oh Boy

sign at the Carnegie Science Center
photo taken by me, November 2011

Dear Editor,

Sometimes the biggest kindnesses come from the smallest gestures. And you've probably already forgotten, but I need to thank you for giving my son one of the biggest kindnesses of all.

You see, my boy always seems to have an idea, a story (or two or three) spinning 'round in his head.

It wasn't always that way. It's all too easy to remember when our son, now 10, struggled mightily to hold a pencil. While other parents spent Saturday mornings watching their kid on the baseball field, we spent ours watching a therapist, coaching us and our boy's imagination into being.

As a child with autism, our boy's imagination and communication was locked away inside of him. What he had instead were his own rigid  "play schemes," (a phrase I would soon come to hate) based on his own scripts borrowed from favorite television shows. This, as is often the case for kids on the autism spectrum, proved to be a bit of a challenge socially. Eight years later, it still is.

But somewhere and somehow along the way, the two - an ability to hold a pencil (thank you, occupational therapy) and a fruitful imagination (thank you, floortime) - connected inside our boy's brain and a little writer was born. The prolific results burst all over our house in the form of stories and drawings. Pretty soon, our little guy got it into his mind that he could write his friends into his comics. Making people laugh soon became his way of connecting with his confusing world.

He arrived home from summer camp one day last week, brimming with an idea. I'm starting a camp newspaper, my little publishing mogul declared. Before I knew it, I was kicked off my laptop and the first issue was being written with the speed of a copyboy on deadline. I heard the whirr of my printer downstairs, seven copies of the first issue streaming off the press in full color.

This has been going on for the past week. He's been writing about the various games the campers play; their field trips to the movies and to miniature golf, combined with opinion pieces on whether the campers should be allowed to purchase snacks during such outings. There was an article about a friend's last day and a review of the accompanying celebratory cake ("it was scrumptious!"). There's an investigative piece of journalism about a cereal spiller on the loose in the camp.

He's been distributing this ("selling it", in his words) to the parents at camp. Every day. For the past week, I've drawn in my breath upon picking up the kids, for there are few parent-to-parent phrases that make one tense up faster than "Can I talk to you about [insert your child's name here]?".  In the case of parents with special needs kids, we're all too familiar with the questions, the raised eyebrows, the not-so-pleasant encounters in parking lots with other parents who didn't/couldn't/wouldn't get your quirky kid. It's a visceral, automatic gut reaction and you assume you know what's coming.

At least I did when the other mom motioned to me when we both arrived to pick up our kids from camp.

"About the newspaper ...." the other mother began.

"Yes?" I said, feeling my entire body go into protective Mama Bear mode, the hard drive of my mind searching the most recent issue for anything controversial.

"I absolutely love it," she said.

"Oh," I exhaled, relieved. "Really?"

"I even showed it to my boss," she continued. "I work for The Eagle. My boss is the editor."

I stopped.  Looked over at my boy, and then I saw it. His smile.

His smile. 

She had already told him, I realized. Told him that the editor of the paper read his words, and the pride on his face was unmistakable. My boy knows what an editor does, that such a person crafts the words, is in charge of the paper.

This is one of those moments, I realized. One of those moments when you realize that this is what all the Saturday therapy sessions and all the IEP meetings and all the dead-end appointments with one specialist after another are for. This is why we do all of that. It leads to this ... and why, and how?

Because of a small gesture leading to a big kindness. Because the other mom brought the newspaper into work, showed it to you, and you took two minutes out of a day filled with all the pressures of running a newspaper in this god-awful economy to read the funny and somewhat nonsensical words of a funny 10 year old boy with autism. Maybe you sensed there was something different or something quirky about him, I don't know. But whatever it was, you made a difference in the day - no, in the very life - of this kid and neither he (nor his mom) will soon forget it. We could all use a little more of that kind of kindness in our world, I think.

You read the news today.

And on behalf of my boy, I thank you so very much.

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, July 29, 2012

The Sunday Salon: Reading As an Olympic Sport

One of the benefits of The Summer of My Unemployment is having extra time to read more books than usual. (That's not to say that I'm not doing things like applying for jobs and going on interviews and whatnot. I am. I'm just not ... you know...getting the damn jobs.)

But, I am getting to read (and write my novel) so ... there is that. In these dog days of my unemployed summer, I'm tearing through at least one - usually two - books a week. (This week I read Small Damages by Beth Kephart - reviewed here - and The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, and reviewed here. Loved them both.) This sort of reading pace hasn't happened on a regular basis since I was a teenager and I spent many a carefree summer day with my best friends hanging out at the swim club, reading the likes of Judy Blume and Lois Duncan and everything else our little town's library had in stock. 

It's like I'm in my own personal Olympics competition, going for the gold to see how many points in books read I can score. I have visions of knocking down my entire TBR pile one by one, reading at least a book or more a day, watching my Goodreads "to read" number drop below 1,025. These delusions are as close to the Olympics as I - a certified non-athlete - will ever come. In addition to the books I own, my night table is piled high with library books, thanks to my going there one extra night per week now while Betty is (ironically) at gymnastics class. (I can't help that the class is an hour long and the library rather close by, can I?) 

On the other hand, the gift of this time is also allowing me the time to delve into some books I've always "meant to" get around to. One of them is the book I'm currently reading, Randy Shilts's 602 page And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic. This feeds into my novel writing and is serving as research; as regular readers of the blog may recall, this is a key element of what I'm writing about and the era in which the story is set.

It's one thing to have lived through this time (as a carefree teenager in the early '80s lounging by the pool), to have loved people who have been impacted by this disease ... and another thing to read Shilts's incredibly well-written and researched book. It's like reading a mystery where you're the only one who knows the answer and can see the clues. It's like going Back to the Future (because, by God, all you want to do is reach through the pages and stop time). It's sobering and heartbreaking and maddening as hell.

Anyway, since it's a pretty sure bet that I'll be going into August with this one (even despite my current  reading pace), here's my July reading stats. (Links take you to my reviews.) Surprisingly, for all this reading, I read just 6 books in July. That's a tie for May and June.

No Such Thing as the Real World:
Stories About Growing Up and Getting a Life
by An Na, M.T. Anderson, K.L. Going, Beth Kephart,
Chris Lynch and Jacqueline Woodson 

America's Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines, by Gail Collins

By some miracle, if I do manage to finish And the Band Played On in the next two days, that will make July the month with the most books read so far this year.

Did I mention I'm on page 168 of 602?

Game on.

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, July 27, 2012

Book Review: The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green

The Fault in Our Stars 
by John Green 
Dutton Books, an imprint of Penguin Group, Inc. 
318 pages

"Sometimes you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book." (pg. 33)

You (as in, all you bloggers) have said that this is such a book.

"A million book bloggers cannot be wrong. I'm in the midst of THE FAULT IN OUR STARS which is freaking fantastic. Two things:
1. I am going to marry Augustus Waters.
2. Nobody - and I mean NOBODY - better die.
I'm on page 92 and I can't take it." ~ me on Facebook, July 25, 2012
"I am not reading another book again. Ever. THE FAULT IN OUR STARS is destroying me, people (in a good way). I am a sad mess and I somehow have to get through another 50 pages." ~ me on Facebook, July 26, 2012 
You don't need one more review of this, because I am the last person on Earth to read John Green's The Fault in Our Stars. You already know how good it is because either a) you've read it and you're nodding your head, or b) you've bought into the evangelical zeal that everyone has for this book and it's on your TBR pile. 

This blog post, then, is for everyone else. People who fit these categories.
1. People who read my blog who don't READ (hard to believe, but there are some). I love you just the same. You know I do.
2. People who think YA (young adult) books are for ... well, young adults.
3. People who have never heard of this book. (I learned last night that I have at least one Facebook friend for whom this is the case.)

Here's what you need to know about The Fault in Our Stars: It's the story of Hazel Lancaster and Augustus Waters, teenagers who meet in a most unlikely place - a cancer support group. Hazel has accepted that she is likely to die; Augustus is in remission. The bond between the two ... well, it sounds cliche to say that they are star-crossed lovers, a cancer-filled Romeo and Juliet, but it makes sense in the meaning and context of this novel. 

And that's all I'm going to say. Because, as sad and as heartbreaking as the premise may sound, this is an absolute must-read. For teens, for adults, for EVERYONE. It's a tearjerker, yes. You will cry. But you know what? You've cried over more trivial crap, like those who've been kicked off America's Dancing with Survivors and Top Models Who Have No Talent.  Am I right?

The Fault in Our Stars is a story about love and risk and the unfairness of life and it is simply brilliant in every way.

It earns and is more than worthy of your tears.

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.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Book Review: Small Damages, by Beth Kephart

Small Damages
by Beth Kephart
293 pages

One of the most indulgent things about reading a Beth Kephart novel is getting the sense of being fully transported into another time and place. For example, in The Heart is Not a Size, she immersed her reader in the heartbreak that is Juarez, Mexico. With Dangerous Neighbors, one is swept back into 1876, at the height of the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia.

This literary levitation is one of the reasons why Kephart's books lend themselves so well to being read in one sitting.

That's certainly not a requirement in order to experience the extraordinary sense of place and time that make up a Beth Kephart book, but that is precisely how I tend to read her books, including Small Damages, her fourteenth.

Like the reader of her coming-of-age story, Kenzie Spitzer has also been suddenly whisked away - to southern Spain, banished by her detached mother who is more concerned about what people might think about 18 year old Kenzie's unplanned pregnancy than what Kenzie herself might want or need.

And what Kenzie needs, we learn, are several people she once had but who have now been made distant by the separation of two oceans or two worlds. Her once-best-friend-turned-boyfriend Kevin (and the father of the baby) is enjoying a carefree summer with her friends on the Jersey shore. Her father is dead, gone in an instant from a heart attack. Replacing them all are strangers in the old cortijo in Spain where Kenzie, abandoned by her own mother (a parallel for her own connection to her unborn child) is sent to live, until she has her baby and until it is given up for adoption - no questions asked, no input from Kenzie.

In Spain, Kenzie stays in a villa with Estela, a cook who is an acquaintance of a sorority friend of her mother's. There's Miguel, Luis, sensitive Esteban, a band of musical Gypsies, and the couple who plans to adopt the baby.  Each of them has something to teach Kenzie about love, about secrets and regret, about loss, about healing, about distance and time.
"Distance isn't the end of love." She touches her heart and closes her eyes. "You write to him, Kenzie. If you love him."
"Maybe he doesn't love me anymore. Maybe that's how it is."
"Know your own heart first. Be careful."
(pg. 77) 
"Nothing goes away, Esteban says, after a long time passes. Not the things you remember, and not the things you still want." (pg. 152)
When you read a Beth Kephart novel, you expect an immersion in color, in poetry and language, a sensory experience, an exploration into the heart. Small Damages is no exception. Here, we feel the heat of the Spanish sun; we hear the sizzle and pop of the onions in the pan while Estella prepares paella; we see the brilliant colors of the oranges and smell their fragrance. We feel Kenzie's hurt and heartbreak; it is palpable on the page. (Since she has lost her dad, she might do well to become acquainted with Katie D'Amore, who lost her mom and who we met in Beth's novel Nothing But Ghosts, which I reviewed here. They do reside in pretty close proximity on Philadelphia's Main Line, after all.) 

Through it all, we go to Spain and back again within the folds of a story that is laden with symbolism and meaning - For it is impossible to miss the religious symbolism and life and death undertones in Small Damages. (Yeah, I'm going to go there.) 

It's more prevalent here than in any other of Beth's books I've read, yet is handled beautifully and with such grace. From the presence of the nuns "blackbirding by" to the visits to Necropolis to Kenzie's mother's declarations of what to do about the baby ("I'm calling Dr. Sam. We're going to fix this." "Fix it?" I said), to Miguel's bulls that will soon be taken away, to Kenzie's tender interactions of addressing the baby directly, to the birds (including actual STORKS!), to the storyline about adoption, to Estela's exclamations of Santa Maria, madre de Dios. All this, sometimes even within several paragraphs. 

"He points to the sky, and I hear what he hears - a church bell song and also a flamenco song - and suddenly I'm wondering what would have happened if I had had a plan this morning, had not woken up and cold showered and started walking on my way to who knows where. Think ahead, Kevin always said, but I don't know how to think anymore, or what to think about, and now, from around the bend come a bride and groom and a party, and suddenly I am thinking about you - how I wish you could see this, wish I could someday tell you how, at the end of the procession, there was a pig and after that pig there were four boys chasing it straight through the streets.
Your eyes are on the sides of your head, and then they move forward. They are black seeds, and then they blink. I can't remember if it's happened already. You're not some tiny half inch anymore. You're a baby, my baby, but you won't be. You aren't. You are Javier and Adair's, and I know nothing - they're telling me nothing - about them. 
'I have something for to show you,' Miguel says, when the crowd is gone and the pig is lost and we can still hear the holler of boys. He takes me around to the other side of town. 'The Necropolis,' he says. It's a low hill relaxed beneath the shade of cypress trees. We walk between slabs of stone walls and down into a world carved out of sand, a world of Roman ruins. 
'Two hundred tombs,' Miguel says, and he says, 'Go and see,' He stays where he is. I walk alone through walls that seem carved out of earth toward rooms that definitely are, and everything is timeless, everything is smooth, everything is like it must have always been. Gone is gone; it lasts forever." (pg. 87) 
In this life, none of us escapes unscathed. We're all left with damages, small and large. Through Kenzie's eyes, we see those and those of the people in her midst. We see the sting of regret, but we also see the power of choices. Small Damages reminds the reader that even when we think they aren't, our choices are still there, always ours for the making.

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.

You May Now Begin to Address Me as "Monet."

I am truly a cheap date. Really, it's the little things in life that amuse me. Consider this. 

Someone apparently stumbled upon this blog by searching for an image of "Impressionist Ocean Scenes With Seagulls."

And found this:

which is a photo I took of (what I thought looked like) a pissed off-looking seagull at the Jersey shore just over two years ago, on July 14, 2010 and which I then posted here on the blog.

I've been called a lot of things in my life, but an Impressionist ... now that's a first.

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, July 25, 2012

They're Taking Back the Movies (and You Can Too)

photo taken by me in Delaware, looking west
March 8, 2010
My friend Rachel - singer, songwriter, mother extraordinaire - is one of those people who radiates light from within. You know the type. There's just something about their spirit that makes you want to be in their presence as much as possible, because doing so somehow inspires you to be a better person.  Her husband is much the same way; they are made for each other.

I've known her since our teenage days together as library workers, as my bathroom confidante during a memorably bittersweet senior prom. (A theme song of Billy Joel's "I've Loved These Days" would prove to be prescient for my generation.) Now, we see each other rarely, if ever;  we are time zones apart.

She and her family live in the Denver, Colorado area. They are an entertainment family, and her kids old enough to be at a midnight premiere of one of the year's most anticipated movies.

So on July 20, the unthinkable wasn't impossible, and she (and her husband and kids) were among the first people I thought of upon hearing of the tragedy in Aurora.

Thankfully, they are OK, but as we all know now, their beloved community isn't.

Which is why she emailed me the link to an initiative her husband created called TAKE BACK THE MOVIESAs is their spirit, they want to do more than simply donate money in response to this tragedy. On August 4, they want to spread some light in the darkness. To replace a random act of violence with a random act of kindness.

In their words:

We're Spreading Some Light in the Dark!
On July 20, one man crept into a movie theater in Aurora, CO, and attacked hundreds of people who just wanted to see a movie.  He did what he could to spread darkness over the Greater Denver area and the country as a whole.  We're doing what we can to spread a little light in response.

On August 4, we're taking Denver to the movies. We're going to go to as many theaters as we can and pay for everyone's movie tickets.  Our message is simple: "Tonight, the movie's on us. Go, enjoy. This isn't a fundraiser, it's not a memorial service. Some jerk tried to steal a night of fun from all of us. Tonight, we're giving it back." 
Want to join them? Here's how to be a light in Colorado's darkness. 

UPDATED 7/27 TO ADD: They've raised $8,000 so far. You can read about my friends in PARADE Magazine here

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, July 24, 2012

I Was Amelia Earhart, by Jane Mendelsohn

I Was Amelia Earhart
by Jane Mendelsohn
Knopf Doubleday 
1997 (reprinted edition) 
160 pages

This is more of a reflection - an appreciation, really - rather than a review of Jane Mendelsohn's first novel I Was Amelia Earhart. I say this because I read this in one sitting more than a year ago, during a fickle weather summer day at my aunt and uncle's beach house. Even though I wrote down the quotes I loved from the novel and I remember loving the entire book itself, it has been too long now to adequately conjure up the stuff that makes for a proper review.

That being said, I think one of the hallmarks of a great book is the hold it has on the reader long after it is finished - and I've often thought of I Was Amelia Earhart in the year since. 

Google, that informer of all things necessary to know, tells me through its doodle that today marks Amelia Earhart's 115th birthday, so what better time to share this wonderful book with you?

For starters, this is a really different kind of book. Mendelsohn weaves fact and fiction of Amelia Earhart's life, that with her wealthy New York publisher husband G.P. Putnam and her drunken navigator Frederick Noonan. She imagines what may have happened during their ill-fated flight and the aftermath, which, in I Was Amelia Earhart, is longer than we may have thought. It is rendered beautifully and vividly between the first and third person (not an easy feat!).

And the writing. I can't say enough about the writing (every writer should read this, honestly) so I am just going to let the quotes stand alone with this one. (This was one of those novels where I could have highlighted every passage. It was just that gorgeous. I was enraptured by the fourth sentence, I swear.) I couldn't pick just one or two to share with you. Here are nine of them. 

"More and more now, I remember things. Images, my life, the sky. Sometimes I remember the life I used to live, and it feels impossibly far away. It's always there, a part of me, in the back of my mind, but it doesn't seem real. Whether life is more real than death, I don't know. What I know is that the life I've live since I died feels more real to me than the one I lived before." (pg. 1)

"Only much later did I realize what I had done by marrying him.  I didn't blame myself, but I realized that I had surrendered to the whims of men - even I who had been so bold and independent, even I who had taken on the humilating task of sitting in the back of an airplane like cargo when I knew perfectly well that I could fly it myself better than the so-called pilot in the cockpit - I realized that I had surrendered so easily because I had been, despite my most vigilant efforts, infatuated with the men who made the rukes. Sitting in my future husband's office, listening to the drone of his comfortable voice, I felt an infinite rush of sympathy for him. O knew he was hidden, even from himself, and I wanted to be the only person who really knew him. Later, this realization made me suspect that I had loved my husband. Selfishly, but at least I had loved him." (pg. 18)

"By 1937, at the tender age of thirty-nine, she was the loneliest of heroines.  She was more expressive around the eyes, and no movie star seemed as mysterious as she or wore leather and silk with such glamorous nonchalance.  But she felt as though she had already lived her entire life, having crossed the Atlantic solo and set several world records, and she had no one to share her sadness with, least of all her husband. Her husband, G.P., her business manager. He's the husband who made her famous, who devoted himself to her, even when she hated him, even when he hated her back. She needs him so that she can fly, so that she can escape from him, so that she can escape from the very people who worship her." (pg. 19)

"Radio interview:"Miss Earhart, would you like to tell our radio listeners anything else about your trip?
I'm very much looking forward to it.
What I think the public would most like to know, Miss Earhart, is why, why do such a daredevil kind of thing?
Because I want to.  And because I think women should do for themselves the things that men have done, and have not done."
(pg. 24-25)

"Much later, when I looked back on the flight, it seemed to me that we had been two lost souls in an immense netherworld, traveling toward an arbitrary goal, wondering which of us was more forsaken: the navigator who didn't care where we were going, or the pilot who didn't care if we ever got there.We must have both known that we shared something, a secret craving for oblivion. But there is no such thing as oblivion.  Oblivion is a lie." (pg. 40-41)

"We became voyeurs of the intimate relationship between wind and sand.  We watched the air draw fine lines on the surface of the desert and make wrinkles in the face of the wasteland. We saw a dust storm whip the ground into the air until the world disappeared from sight. Later, in the aftermath of the apocalypse, ominious black eagles appeared out of nowhere, winging around us, like carpetbaggers hoping to benefit from the devastation of a war." (pg. 46)

"They were both dying ridiculous deaths, she thought, brought about by hubris and liquor. They might as well have been lovers, she thought. They had made all the blunders of a typical couple: he had woken up from the dream too late, and she was too angry to forgive him for his absence. It was tragic, but life was tragic, especially the mysterious entanglements of men and women." (pg. 59)

"When she thinks of her father now, she sees him at the end of the day.  That's his time of day, twilight, or just before. The late afternoon, when the sun is setting, when it feels sad and beautiful, like the last day. When the sadness is too unbearable to think about, and this makes you strangely cheerful." (pg. 95)  (I absolutely love, love, LOVE this quote. I've used this several times in posts on this blog and if there's a way I can ever get the OK to use it in my own novel, I want it to be so.) 

"There is a time known as the between. The between voyager travels through uncharted territory, navigating dangers, attempting passage into the next life. There are times in life, after a death of some kind, when we are open to the slightest shifts, when our powers are acute, when we can change the future. The between voyager temporarily possesses an immensely heightened intelligence, extraordinary powers of concentration, special abilities of clairvoyance and teleportation, flexibility to becomes whatever can be imagined, and the openness to be radically transformed by a thought or a vision or an instruction." (pg. 138-139)  Bold lines are from Robert A.F. Thurman's commentary in his translation of The Tibetian Book of the Dead.
I Was Amelia Earhart is Jane Mendelsohn's debut novel. She has since gone on to write Innocence (which I wasn't so much a fan of) and American Music (which I absolutely loved). Suffice it to say, she is one of my  favorite authors (and I hope is working on something new.)

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Sunday Salon: What I Didn't Sign Up For

This Sunday Salon is going to be a bit of a rant. It has been a long week and my brain is fried, thanks to a diet of Disney and Nick shows featuring annoyingly untalented tweenage divas which Boo has been watching nonstop since he has been home sick from camp for two days. (Thankfully, he seems to have made a complete recovery. My brain cells, alas, have not.) 

But running a sick ward is all part and parcel of this parenting gig, and I can deal with that. It comes with the territory and it's what I signed myself up for more than a decade ago, right?

Right. Even when you're woken up at 4:20 a.m. with a child getting sick all over your bedroom. 

So what does any of this have to do with my reading week? 

Well, there was this particular book that I simply couldn't finish this week. It happens to be a book that was out in the winter of 2011 and which was hyped to the heavens by many a blogger, who loved it. It's a little out of my preferred genres of choice, but I thought I'd give it a try nonetheless.

I lasted until chapter 3 before giving up. The book just wasn't holding my interest.

I started writing a Sunday Salon post about it. And then I started thinking about the latest brew-haha in the book blogging world, where we have book bloggers being harassed and their personal  information being dug up and posted online just because they had the nerve to give their opinions ON A FREAKING BOOK. 

Now, I don't know about you, but I have more than enough problems without the possibility of adding that kind of nonsense to the list.

From my understanding of the situation, the bloggers are being targeted because of the style and the manner in which they are reviewing the book/s. I don't think I fall into that category, as I try to be respectful even if I am giving a negative review. But if we're at a point where people are being threatened because of how they're reviewing a book, then I think we're on a slippery slope that could very well lead to the possibility of people being targeted because they merely didn't like a beloved book. 

You know what I'm saying? As we too sadly saw on Friday with the tragedy in Colorado, people are unstable in this world and capable of the most atrocious, unfathomable things. There's no telling what some people will do. 

Maybe I'm being dramatic. Maybe I'm not understanding this whole thing correctly. But no book nor my opinions on it is worth the safety of my family. So for the time being (and maybe indefinitely) you're not going to hear me say too much (if anything at all, really) about books I don't like. 

I'll still tell you about the books I love, like America's Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines by Gail Collins that I stayed up way too late last night to finally finish. I'll even tell you about the books I LIKE but not quite love. But at least for the time being, until this craziness in the blogging world calms down (if it does), you won't be hearing much about the books I didn't finish or couldn't stand. (Chances are, they're the same book.) Somehow, I think the world will live without why I couldn't finish a book everyone else seems to love but me. If you really want to know the book, hit me up on Facebook or whatever. 

Some may say this isn't the right stance, that we shouldn't be silenced, that this is caving, that our opinions and reviews are a matter of free speech, that there is a need for a true and genuine dialogue about books. All true, yes. But when I decided almost four years ago to include my thoughts about books in my blog, I didn't envision a situation where people would be fearful for their families' safety because of what they wrote about what they were READING.

There are things we willingly sign up for and things we don't. And I didn't sign up for that crap.

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, July 18, 2012

Book Review: I Remember Nothing: And Other Reflections, by Nora Ephron (audiobook)

I Remember Nothing: And Other Reflections
by Nora Ephron 
Random House Audio
3 hours, 8 minutes

I Remember Nothing is narrated by Nora Ephron herself - so given her recent passing, hearing her distinctive voice is kind of bittersweet at first. 

Jarring, even.

But the humor more than makes up for it, of course, and listening to this three CD recording is like listening to an old friend (or a new one who feels like an old friend). In this audiobook, Ephron peppers her personal essays with phrases such as "I have to tell you," and "I am not proud of this."

I Remember Nothing almost has the feeling of being two books in one. The first part is Nora recounting all the everyday as well as significant and historical happenings in her life that she can't remember or may only remember trivial details of.

And we're talking MAJOR events. Things like meeting Eleanor Roosevelt, being outside the White House on the evening Nixon resigned, and covering the Beatles as they performed on The Ed Sullivan Show.

"On some level, my life has been wasted on me. After all, if I can't remember it, who can?" she says.

These recollections (or, what Ephron can recall about them) are among the best part of I Remember Nothing. The rest is more along the lines of reflections and musings on various topics such as divorce, email (a section that feels a little dated), thinning hair, and other vestiges of growing older. The essay about having a meatloaf named after her in a restaurant is especially well-done, and there's a poignant story about her plans for a potential inheritance from an uncle that will resonate with every writer. (Ephron was struggling with a screenplay at the time and the windfall from the uncle would have made that go away. We would have also not have had one of our most classic movies.)

There is a passage about her being on her deathbed, which is just downright eerie now. And the ending of I Remember Nothing, two lists of "What I Won't Miss" and "What I Will Miss" (after she has gone) are bittersweet and prompt a bit of reflection on what one will miss (and not miss) of one's own life.

Still, at the risk of seeming to speaking ill of the dead, I Remember Nothing feels a little ... disjointed. If you're familiar with Ephron's movies and her writing, you won't find much new ground here. What you will find is Ephron's trademark snark and sardonic wit, some good entertainment and laughs if you're in a bit of a funk and need a quick hit of humor to relieve you ... and an ironic, bittersweet reminder that despite her feeling of growing old, Ephron really wasn't as old as she thought she was.

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, July 17, 2012

Wrong Kind of Rain

photo taken by me
June 12, 2012
There are times when it feels like I am typing the same things on my friends' Facebook statuses. 

Will be keeping you in my thoughts and prayers.

My deepest condolences to you and your family.


Thinking of you.

I've been writing a lot of these kinds of sentiments. To a childhood friend, who just jetted from one coast to another to say a final goodbye to her father. To another, remembering a sad anniversary and to another, wishing to turn back the clock as she said goodbye to her mother. To a blogging friend, who goes in for a 6 month cancer scan tomorrow. To another, asking if his father was all right in reply to a vague posting.

And that's not to mention others, the ones with the job losses and precarious family situations and issues concerning children and loved ones.  I can't keep up; I fear forgetting someone.

In this summer of record drought, it seems at times to be too much of the wrong kind of rain for too many.

"Laugh, when your eyes are burning
Smile, when your heart is filled with pain
Sigh, as you brush away your sorrow
Make a vow, that's it's not going to happen again
It's not right, in one life
Too much rain
You, know the wheels keep turning
Why, do the tears run down your face
We, use to hide away our feelings
But for now, tell yourself it won't happen again
It's not right, in one life
Too much rain
It's too much for anyone, Too hard for anyone
Who wants a happy and peaceful life
You've gotta learn to laugh
Smile, when your spinning round and round
Sigh, as you think about tomorrow
Make a vow, that your gonna be happy again
It's all right, in your life
No more rain ...."

"Too Much Rain" ~ Paul McCartney

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, July 15, 2012

The Sunday Salon: Halfway

Yesterday's mail included (along with the assortment of ads and bills) a surprise of sorts: a letter from the kids' school announcing their teachers and their classrooms.

Boo was initially curious and then immediately declared the S word was verboten for the remainder of the summer. Betty was rather excited. Since we've only been here a year, we don't know anything about these teachers one way or another. Regardless, it was a reminder that here at the midpoint of July, summer is indeed halfway over and in 6 weeks the kids will be headed back to school.

My book of choice this week (America's Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines by Gail Collins) is making me feel like I'm back in the classroom. This is a good thing, because I'm really enjoying this one. 

As the title promises, Collins truly does pack 400 years of American women's history into what is a chunkster of a book (450 pages, not including the notes and indexes). Make no mistake, though: this is no dry textbook. Collins presents a comprehensive and thorough view of American women's history in a way that is informative, engaging, shocking, and entertaining. What I'm finding especially interesting are the stories of the women who've gone unmentioned in the history books - the women we've never heard of. (At least, I haven't.)

Tuesday night was my writers' group meeting and faced with a combination of an hour's drive (each way) and feeling stressed, I dashed into the library en route. I'd realized earlier in the day that I didn't have an audiobook for the drive, which was not acceptable. With only 10 minutes to spare, I needed to find something FAST that met the criteria of being relatively short (because my driving time is short anyway these days, thanks to being unemployed and not having a commute) and funny (because I was in a depressed mood).

As soon as I spotted this on the shelf, I knew I had just the ticket to lift me out of my funk. Now, I Remember Nothing is narrated by Nora Ephron herself, so it is kind of bittersweet at first. Jarring, even.

But the humor more than makes up for it, of course, and listening to this 3-CD recording is like listening to an old friend (or a new one who feels like an old friend). This is almost like two books in one. The first part is Nora recounting all the everyday as well as significant and historical happenings in her life that she can't remember or may only remember trivial details of (meeting Eleanor Roosevelt! being outside the White House on the evening Nixon resigned!). The second part is more along the lines of reflections and musings on various topics. A little mismatched, yes, but good entertainment nonetheless.

And with that, Sunday is already halfway over. (Truth be told, there was a break in this post to take the kids out for breakfast and then to go grocery shopping.) There's something strange falling from the sky today; I think they call it rain. Hence, it's a lazy day here ... perfect for some reading, catching up on blogs, perhaps some scrapbooking or even a nap.

Hope you have a great Sunday!

What is the Sunday Salon? Imagine some university library's vast reading room. It's filled with people--students and faculty and strangers who've wandered in. They're seated at great oaken desks, books piled all around them, and they're all feverishly reading and jotting notes in their leather-bound journals as they go. Later they'll mill around the open dictionaries and compare their thoughts on the afternoon's literary intake.... 

That's what happens at the Sunday Salon, except it's all virtual. Every Sunday the bloggers participating in that week's Salon get together--at their separate desks, in their own particular time zones--and read. And blog about their reading. And comment on one another's blogs. Think of it as an informal, weekly, mini read-a-thon, an excuse to put aside one's earthly responsibilities and fall into a good 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.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

In Which I Get the Verve to Sign Up for The 'Burgh Blogger Bash

You remember when I said that I hadn't met any bloggers here in the 'Burgh yet?

That's about to change.

I've gone and signed myself up for something new called the 'Burgh Blogger Bash, which I saw mentioned over on Live and Love to Eat, which Claire writes. (I don't know Claire personally, but I read her blog.) Since I'd kind of like to broaden my social network here and meet some blogging types here in the 'Burgh, I emailed Claire and promptly made a complete idiot of myself by not realizing August 11 was a Saturday. (Helps sometimes to actually look at a calendar.) Long story short, I'm signed up and hopefully I'll come across as more together in person.

Probably not, though, because undoubtedly I will be making even more of a fool out of myself during the event. You see, part of this involves a free Pilates class at the very chic looking Verve Wellness studio Downtown and many of my other blogger participants are ... well, let's just say from reading their blogs, they are no strangers to the wellness scene. When it comes to All The Things Fitness and Healthy and Beautiful and Awesome in Pittsburgh, let me tell you. They are your go to girls. They are like the FITNESS NINJAS n'at.

And then there's me, who thinks I'm taking numbers and kicking some butt when I park several spaces further away in the Giant Eagle parking lot in order to, you know, WALK an extra yard or two during my day. I mean, I might have to start TRAINING for a blogger event.

Assuming I survive the Pilates class, we're planning to go out to lunch afterward at Habitat, which looks amazing - not to mention a little bit more my speed. Plus, Chef Andrew is a blogger, too!

All kidding aside, I'm really looking forward to this.

And how about YOU? Are you a Pittsburgh area blogger who would like to join me and the bloggers listed below? If so, then get in touch with Claire who is coordinating what is shaping up (ha! get it? a funny!) to be a fabulous day. Here's who is planning to attend:

  • Michelle, Blogitness:
  • Katie, KEPT You Fit:
  • Julie, Swim, Bike, Running On Empty:
  • Nikki, Life After Swimming:
  • Gabrielle, Primped in Pittsburgh:
  • Melissa, Betty and Boo Chronicles:
  • Katie, Healthy Diva Eats:
  • Allie, Allie's Life:
  • Jill, The Strawberry Blonde Life:
  • Rachel, Pittsburgh Plate:
  • Jess, Stylish, Stealthy, and Healthy:
  • Claire, Live and Love to Eat:

  • 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, July 13, 2012

    Lucky Black Cat

    Our very lucky (and very well-read) black cat. 

    text and photo 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, July 11, 2012

    (Not So) Wordless Wednesday: At the Flight 93 National Memorial: All That They Left Behind

    With family in town for several days, we took a little road trip out to the rural-most parts of Pennsylvania on Sunday afternoon, to pay our respects at the Flight 93 National Memorial. 

    It was my second time visiting, but the first for the rest of the family. Two things struck me this time: the hot wind blowing over the hills from whence the plane came on its fated path, and the particular mementos that were left tucked in the overhead compartment-like shelf overlooking the final crash sight.

    Wristbands. Flowers. Coins (for In God We Trust?) 

    And these, stories left behind with them all.

    The most poignant one, to me:

    "And I know it aches

    And your heart, it breaks
    You can only take so much
    Walk on
    Leave it behind
    You've got to leave it behind
    All that you fashion, all that you make
    All that you build, all that you break
    All that you measure, all that you feel
    All this you can leave behind
    All that you reason, all that you care
    (It's only time and I'll never fill up all my mind)
    All that you sense, all that you scheme
    All you dress up, and all that you see
    All you create, all that you wreck
    All that you hate." 
    "Walk On" ~ U2

    For more Wordless Wednesday photos, click here.

    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.

    Monday, July 9, 2012

    Book Review: Arcadia, by Lauren Groff

    by Lauren Groff
    289 pages

    "He understands, with a feeling inside him like a wind whipping through a room, that when we lose the stories we have believed about ourselves, we are losing more than stories, we are losing ourselves." (pg. 208)

    If you fancy an introspective, deeply layered and nuanced character-driven story told from the perspective of a young boy named Bit who lives with his parents (and a host of other creatively named characters) on an upstate New York commune during the early 70s, then you're in luck.

    Arcadia's a different kind of book, extraordinary from the likes of some that passes for contemporary fiction. For those of us who count ourselves among fans of author Lauren Groff (and I am among them, for she's 3 for 3 with me after this one), Arcadia delivers the same rich cadences, description, and quirky characters that we came to love in Groff's short story collection Delicate Edible Birds (see my review here) and The Monsters of Templeton. This one does not disappoint.

    Groff's prose is absolutely poetic and draws her reader closer in an enchanting way, almost parallel to the book of Grimm's Fairy Tales that Bit finds as a child in the dilapidated mansion on the Arcadia grounds. Indeed, there are fairy tale elements throughout Arcadia - witches in the woods who transform into benevolent grandma types, bad guys set to do evil, a king (Handy, the cult-like leader of Arcadia) that lives a life of luxury (i.e. traveling around doing concerts and consorting with various women) while his minions work their asses off.

    Indeed, once again the characters are Groff's strength in this novel, just as they were in The Monsters of Templeton. She has a true gift for bringing her characters to life, and they are vividly rendered in Arcadia. Their descriptive names indicative of their commune lifestyle help: in addition to Bit, we have among us the likes of Tarzan, Helle, Helios, Sweetie, Coltrane, Dylan, Saucy Sally as well as Adam and Eve and even a Kaptain Amerika. (There are a few of your everyday Scotts, Lisas, and Eriks meandering about the commune, and many, many others.)

    The Arcadians live in a world of vegan food and fresh bread, of swimming and farming naked, of celebrating their own traditions, of music and marijuana, of prodigal sons and daughters. As Utopian as Arcadia is, we know it can't last because where there is good, there is evil. In this case, there's a dark underside even in the presence of what manifests itself as innocence, peace, and love. Quiet and keenly observant, Bit (which is short for Little Bit of a Hippie) knows this, even as he tries to make peace with this reality versus with what he has seen of the potential the world and its people have in them to be.
    "It leaves him breathless at times, how much faith people put in one another. So fragile, the social contract: we will all stand by the rules, move with care and gentleness, invest in the infrastructure, agree with the penalties of failure. That this man driving his truck down the street won't, on a whim, angle into the plate glass and end things. That the president won't let his hand hover over the red button and, in a moment of rage or weakness, explode the world. The invisible tissue of civilization: so thin, so easily rendable. It's a miracle that it exists at all.
    He imagines snapping his fingers , making all the people in the diner stand, at once, and become their better selves. The woman with the cragged oak-bark face throws off her hood and shakes her hair and her age drops off of her like bandages. The man with a monk's tonsure, muttering to himself, leaps onto a table and strikes music from the air. Out of the bowels of the kitchen the weary cooks, small brown people, cartwheel and break-dance, spinning like upended beetles on the ground and their faces crack into glee and they are suddenly lovely to look at, and the dozen customers start up all at once into loud song, voices broken and beautiful. The song rises and infiltrates the city and wakes the inhabitants, one by one, from their own dark dreams, and all across the island, people sit up in bed and listen to it lap around them, an ocean of kindness, filling them, making them forget all the evil leaching out of the world for a very long moment, making them forget everything but the song." (pg. 203)
    Bit knows the goodness. the purity that exists in people. As he ages, he holds steadfast onto the true spirit of Arcadia. 
    "He is ... wondering where his dreams went. They were not so very large, they were not too heavy to carry. One legacy of Arcadia is that his push for happiness was out of sync with the world's, his ambition was for safety, security, a life of enough food and shelter and money, books and love, the luxury of pursuing the truth by art. The luxury of looking deeply, of finding a direct path to empathy. It didn't seem unattainable." (pg. 183)
    It's hard to say more about Arcadia without giving too much more away about what happens - and believe me, even though you would think life is simple and plain on a commune, THINGS HAPPEN. I absolutely loved this novel, just as I did both of Lauren Groff's previous works. Couldn't put it down and this one earns a spot on my Best of 2012 list. Highly recommended. 5 stars out of 5. 

    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, July 8, 2012

    The Sunday Salon: Post 4th of July Edition

    As I type this, a mere three days after the Fourth, there are bombs bursting in our neighborhood's air in the form of fireworks being set off nearby.

    I repeat: July 4 was three days ago.

    My guess is that it is the same individual that has been celebrating the nation's birthday for the last fortnight. (Also known as the past two weeks, for those who don't have a historian husband handy to ask such questions of.)

    Yes, this is Pittsburgh, and if there's anything I have learned in our year of living here, it is that we 'Burghers have a THING for fireworks. As in, we love 'em and cannot get enough of them. Apparently, it is not unheard of for several towns to continue their fireworks extravaganzas well into a week past the Fourth and then some.

    All this is a preamble to say that the rockets' red glare of this week inspired me to finally pick up Gail Collins's 2003 book America's Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates and Heroines. This one has been on my want-to-read list (and my personal shelves) for awhile now, and what better time to start than the 4th of July?

    Good intentions, they were. However, on the actual 4th, I was still deeply immersed in Lauren Groff's latest novel, Arcadia (WHICH I LOVED) and despite a lazy day of us not doing much of anything, I didn't start America's Women until Friday. It doesn't seem to matter, though, because with these nightly fireworks going on, it's a fitting backdrop indeed.

    I'm only about 20 pages into this right now and am already finding it fascinating reading. Who knew there were so many extraordinary colonial women - and I'm not talking the everyday names we all know. Collins brings to life the unsung heroines on these pages, even if the details of their lives and accomplishments are scant.

    In other news, my in-laws are visiting us for several days. You wouldn't think this would afford one much reading time, but yesterday it did as they took the kids to breakfast and then to see "Brave." (They all liked it.) That gave me a chance to read No Such Thing as the Real World: Stories About Growing Up and Getting a Life, which consists of six short stories by notable young adult authors An Na, M.T. Anderson, K.L. Going, Beth Kephart, Chris Lynch, and Jacqueline Woodson. I admit, I picked this up at the library anticipating the Beth Kephart story ("The Longest Distance") which was wonderful and reminiscent of Nothing But Ghosts in a way, and found myself really enjoying Chris Lynch's "Arrangements" and An Na's "Complications." The others were good, too, but those three were exceptional.

    Our planned itinerary today with the in-laws and kids takes us to a patriotic place of heroes and heroines, a place where our real world stopped turning on a September day. If the weather holds out, we're taking a little road trip to the Flight 93 National Memorial. I had the opportunity to visit for the first time last fall (it is truly a moving experience, if you ever have the chance to go) but this will be the first for The Husband, his parents, and the kids.

    The fireworks might have a different sound to them tonight. Let freedom ring, indeed.

    At the Flight 93 National Memorial
    Taken by me October 26, 2011

    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, July 6, 2012

    King Jalapeno: A Story by Boo

    As regular readers know, my son Boo is a prolific writer and illustrator. It's impossible to keep up with everything he produces, but every once in awhile (such as today, when I was cleaning the house in preparation for my in-laws' five day visit), I find a gem.

    Thankfully, Boo has allowed me to share it with you here. (We're at the age where I can't freely blog my kids' charming ways; I need to ask permission.) He says that the Dos Equis' "Most Interesting Man in the World" ads were, obviously, his inspiration for this, but King Jalapeno comes straight from his imagination.

    He wrote this at the library on Monday, when his summer camp group visited the children's department. (He had no interest in reading.)


    King Jalapeno's: Episode 1 

    Episode 1: They're spicy. 

    He  isn't a fan of basketball. The basketball is a fan of him. 

    His fortunes never come true because of his faith.
    Your wish will come true. 

    Or is it?

    His statue is bigger than Einstein at the library. 

    He is King Jalapeno. 

    I don't always eat peppers.
    But when I do, I perfer King Jalapeno's Chili Peppers. 

    Stay hungry my friends. The End. 

    I may not like jalapeno peppers but my God, I love that kid.

    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.