Friday, November 30, 2012

Discovering Pittsburgh: I Made It! for the Holidays is Tonight and Tomorrow!


One of my favorite Pittsburgh events is this weekend! It's the 6th Annual I Made It! Holiday Marketplace,  featuring more than 90 local artisans.

My 11 year old daughter Betty and I discovered this Pittsburgh event last year for the first time and we both loved it. (The photo above is a t-shirt I bought from garbella.) We made a day out of it - very easy to do - and I'm kinda hoping that we make this a mother-daughter tradition. It is a fabulous opportunity to support local crafters and get some one-of-a-kind gifts. Like many people's finances, our Christmas budget is a tight one this year. If I'm going to spend what little money I have, then I prefer to spend it with local entrepreneurs.

I Made It! for the Holidays starts tonight from 5-10 p.m. at Bakery Square, which is always a cool place to check out. (It makes me nostalgic for my Philly roots, as it is a former Nabisco plant!). I Made It! for the Holidays continues tomorrow from 11-6 p.m., so you have your pick of times to shop.

In addition to the 90+ artisans, here are just a few more things that Carrie and her team have planned. (I don't know how that girl does it, quite honestly. I'm in awe. I've met her. I don't think she sleeps.)

  • TAPPED is bringing a holiday version of their pop up beer gardens to a great day of crafts and fun. As always they will have Full Pint beer and Bar Marco will be bringing a warm festive cocktail with delicious food and treats from Tapped friends to add to the mix! http://www.facebook.com/events/12959897052434
  • Free gift wrapping provided by YELP!
  • Parking in the Bakery Square garage is FREE (always a plus in Pittsburgh!) and I Made It! Co-Founder and Organizer Carrie Nardini has all kinds of fabulous activities planned in collaboration with these community organizations:
Animal Rescue League : Kitties were adopted last year. ARL will be on hand Saturday with lovable furry friends looking for forever homes.
(Note to Betty: as adorable as they are, we ARE NOT coming home with a new kitten.)
Assemble : Learn more about our Event Partner Assemble in this post about their work and first year introducing kids and adults to the intersection of art & technology.
Calliope: Pittsburgh Folk Music Society : Teachers will be on site sharing their love of music with fans big and small.
Little House Big Art : Support LHBA through a fun art project! This space creates big artistic results for the aspiring artist/crafter of any age.
Pittsburgh Center for the Arts: is a Pittsburgh institution in crafting. Learn about how to grow your own crafty skill set at PCA.
Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse: Learn more about this organization that supplies some of our artists with lovely finds to repurpose into wearable works of art or decorative items for your home.
Pittsburgh Tote Bag Project: Bring all of your lightly used tote bags to benefit those in need. The PTBP will be accepting tote bags and food items that will be matched through a challenge! Learn more on their website!
For more information, visit I Made It Market here. You can Meet the Artists participating in I Made It! for the Holidays here: http://imadeitmarket.com/i-made-it-for-the-holidays-2012-2/
Discovering Pittsburgh is an occasional feature on The Betty and Boo Chronicles where I write about the new adventures and places we are discovering in our new city.


I am an Amazon.com Affiliate. Making a purchase via any of the Amazon.com links on The Betty and Boo Chronicles will result in my earning a small percentage in commission, which will be used to support the upkeep of this blog, as well as the real-life versions of Betty and Boo. Thank 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.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

25 Years Later, It Gets Better

Fancy boutique where I did a work event.
Photo taken by me ~ March 2010

My 25-year high school reunion was Friday night.

I wasn't there.

Now, 25 years ago, if you had told my 18 year old self that I would not be at this milestone event, I would have probably rolled my eyes, flipped back my hair, and said something like, "Ohmigod. There's a shocker. Like, tell me something I don't know."

And if you had told me that I would have REALLY WANTED TO BE at my 25 year high school reunion, I would have been convinced that you had me confused with somebody else.

You see, our high school was not a four year affair. Ours was a small, suburban, very affluent school district where the kids you stood with at the bus stop on your first day of kindergarten were the same kids you were crossing the graduation stage with 12 years later.

There wasn't any room for mistakes. What you did would long be remembered, would haunt you. Escape was a long way in the future.

If you moved into the district in, say, 5th grade (as my family did), you had a particularly tough time. Friendships and cliques were formed early and bonds were tight. And if you didn't live in one of the "right" neighborhoods, or wear a certain brand of designer clothes, or find a brand new car of your own in the driveway on your 16th birthday, it was very, very, very difficult to fit in.

To feel accepted.

Academically, you didn't have it much easier. This was a competitive pressure-cooker and you were expected to excel. In everything. All. The. Time. It was so easy to feel less-than, that you didn't measure up.

Some people cracked.

It's a miracle more didn't.

I deliberately only looked at colleges where not a soul from my class was considering. No matter that I didn't stand a chance in hell of getting into even one Ivy League university - much less all of them, like several of my peers did. When senior class rankings came out, I went around telling people that I - right there, ranked smack dab in the middle of our grade - was "the valedictorian of the dumb half of the class."

Because that's how I was conditioned to see myself.

I selected a college that was the complete opposite of "Cheers," where no one knew my name - at least, not at first.

And then I exhaled for the first time in years, allowed the healing to begin.

But despite that, the old black feeling still creeps in.

It's here right now, in the midnight hour as I write this, as my inner teenage self wonders about the reaction of my classmates to this very post (some of them read my blog now, for gawdsakes) while my 43 year old self knows that I'm different and that I shouldn't give a damn. About what anyone thinks.

It crept in the night of the 25th reunion, as I sat home refreshing Facebook for photos, watching the series finale of iCarly with my twins who had just turned 11 (the same 11 year old kids I was told in high school by more than one doctor that I would probably never have). I looked across the room at my husband, recovering from cancer surgery. Had I been back in Philadelphia, I wondered how I would have answered the "so, what do you do now?" question from my still-overachieving classmates. Somehow, "I've been unemployed for nearly six months and am working on getting a freelance writing and consulting business going," would not cut it with this crowd.

I might have lied.

For you can build a life, conquer demons, add a bunch of accomplishments to your resume - but throw a couple months' rough patch 'atcha and it is enough to bring that old black feeling right back.

As the weekend rolled on and as the recaps and updates from my former classmates were posted on Facebook, something started to happen.

People who once seemed to have it all (and it all together) were admitting that...they...really...didn't.

"I know, I know, I was such a loser...."

"...it was not always easy to see that [the good in people] in high school - when you are so self absorbed." 

HIM?  HER?

*
Back in the 80s, some of my classmates had a math class where they created a paper computer. Believe it or not, it was supposedly cutting edge (no pun intended) for its time.

I wasn't smart enough for that class.

Twenty five years later, I would never, ever have imagined where that paper computer would lead - that something called Facebook would make it possible to finally understand that there were others (maybe more than a few others) who felt the way I did, too. Who were insecure, who were unsure, who felt like losers, who were just trying to find their way.

I've been thinking and remembering a lot over the last several days, and I keep coming back to this:

What would it have been like, had we known? What damage could have been prevented? How different would we have been? How much fewer scars would we have had, then and now?

We're on a post-reunion high, an adrenaline surge. I'm expecting us to hold hands and sing "Kumbaya" at the 30th. The other day, one of our classmates posted a video of his band to our class's page. It's good. Really good. He wasn't one of the popular guys, but I always thought he was nice enough.

"Weren't you always quiet in high school?" one friend wrote.

"Just unheard," he answered.

And that's it, I realized. In the end, that's all we wanted back then. To be heard.  For myself, that was it. Like everyone else, I just wanted to be noticed not for what I lacked but to be applauded for what I had and could do well. What a difference that would have made.

That was my writing. It was, at times, the only thing I had to hold onto.

Sometimes, these days, it still seems like it is.

Back then, all I wanted was to be recognized for it - and I wasn't. That craving eventually backfired in a prank that wound up hurting a lot of people in a middle school bullying incident that, to this day, at age 43, I still deeply, deeply regret. I don't need to go into specifics. More than a few will know of what it is I speak. Suffice it to say that if you recognize yourself in this very long-overdue apology, know that I am truly beyond sorry and that I hope you can somehow forgive me.

We live, as we all did.

We learn, as we all did.

But now we know a few things that we didn't know then.

There are others with us along this lonely path.

Most likely, they're hurting too.

And no matter what - no matter what - it gets better.

It really, really can get so much better.


I am an Amazon.com Affiliate. Making a purchase via any of the Amazon.com links on The Betty and Boo Chronicles will result in my earning a small percentage in commission, which will be used to support the upkeep of this blog, as well as the real-life versions of Betty and Boo. Thank you!

photo and text 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, November 27, 2012

Use Giving Tuesday to Do More Than Give

It's a reality of our over-consumptive society that, while a noble idea, Giving Tuesday is never going to inspire the frenzy that fuels Black Friday and Cyber Monday. We're never going to see people camping out in tents for a week just for the privilege of giving to their favorite charity.

(If only, right?)

We're not always very public about our charitable pursuits, are we? We find out almost by accident that our colleague is on a local board. We rarely talk about the nonprofits we support and certainly not what we give to them.

It doesn't have to be that way. #GivingTuesday is an excellent start.

This whole thing of #GivingTuesday got me thinking. What would happen if we didn't need the holiday season to be prompted to give? What if there was a #GivingTuesday every week? 

Most donors (regardless if it is a large corporation or an average Joe and Jane) approach their charitable giving somewhat like this:  there's usually a personal connection with the cause, perhaps a friend or a family member asking for a donation (for a walk/bike/5K a thon, for a golf outing, for a Gala) or perhaps it is a charity that has helped you or someone you love (your alma mater, the hospice that cared for Grandma, the no-kill animal shelter where you adopted Spot).  Aside from the connection to you, the donor, generally the causes don't have much of a connection to one another.  Most of the time, you write a check or make an online donation, you get an acknowledgement of some sort (hopefully!), and you don't hear back from the organization on what your gift accomplished - until it's time for the next solicitation.

For corporations and foundations, the process is slightly different - although not really by much.  In such cases, grantees are often required to complete standard, one-size-fits-all, boring as hell reports showing how the grant "made a difference" or "had an impact."  More on that in a bit.

Those of us who are fundraisers or otherwise connected to the philanthropic world have probably heard of Forces for Good: The Six Practices of High Impact Nonprofits by Leslie Crutchfield.  It received a decent amount of buzz in our sector when it was published in 2007. Crutchfield's 2011 book Do More Than Give: The 6 Practices of Donors Who Change the World isn't a sequel, per se, it is "inspired" by its predecessor - meaning that, the same practices that turn nonprofits into high-impact organizations can also be used to transform individual, corporate, and foundation donors into high-impact (or catalytic) philanthropists.

Along with John Kania and Mark Kramer, Crutchfield et al suggests there's a different way (six of them, actually) for donors to make their gifts have more of a strategic impact.  It starts with the common-sense suggestion of focusing on one cause.  Maybe it's education or the environment.  Maybe it's a health care issue.  Maybe it's something that's affecting your community or a global crisis.  Whatever it is, don't spread your giving around; choose a problem or an issue that matters to you.  You can still give to various nonprofits focused on that particular cause, mind you, but having your efforts focused strategically on one issue will lead to the likelihood that more of an impact will be made.

As a fundraising professional, I initially bristled at such a suggestion - but quickly recovered when Crutchfield, etc. advised that foundations and corporations (and even individuals) set aside a portion of their annual giving dollars specifically for the types of requests - the personal asks, the Gala that benefits the community organization you've been supporting for years.  They're not advocating that these requests and equally worthy causes get tossed into the circular file (whew!), but that they just be aligned with others in your field of focus.

Then, after you've committed to your cause, it's time to put the first practice in action: advocating for change.  People often confuse advocacy with lobbying, and Crutchfield gives a concise, clear explanation of the difference and what types of activities are permissible. Blending profit with purpose, forging nonprofit peer networks, empowering the people (particularly those who stand to benefit from the changes the nonprofit is working toward), leading adaptively, and learning in order to change round out the other 5 practices.

Stories of corporations and foundations (big and small) that have done (and are doing) this kind of work successfully are plentiful in Do More Than Give.  Crutchfield takes her reader through the various steps that the organizations undertook in order to impact an issue in their community or halfway across the globe.  The term "catalytic philanthropy" (or "catalytic philanthropist") is used often and by the end of the book, you begin to see how different the world would be if there were more catalytic philanthropists in our midst.

Fortunately, regardless of how much money you have to give, it's easier than you think to become one.

Starting today.


I am an Amazon.com Affiliate. Making a purchase via any of the Amazon.com links on The Betty and Boo Chronicles will result in my earning a small percentage in commission, which will be used to support the upkeep of this blog, as well as the real-life versions of Betty and Boo. Thank 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.

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, November 26, 2012

Cyber Monday Deals from Amazon

Unless you've been living under a rock, you can't miss the fact that today is Cyber Monday.

Apparently, I actually do live with someone who has been under a rock for the last however many years that Cyber Monday has been in existence. While watching football last night, The Husband turned to me and - true story, swear to God - says, "What's this Cyber Monday crap I'm hearing about? Is this a thing?"

So, yeah. It's a thing. So much so that I am on overload right now with all the deals flooding my inbox and I need to unplug from the Internet. It's making me depressed because I have NO MONEY this holiday season and presents will be few.

But make no mistake, there are deals to be had. Plenty of them. You all know I recently became an Amazon Affiliate (official disclaimer below) and as such, I wanted to share some of the bookish deals Amazon has available today. It's impossible to share EVERYTHING they have on sale, but I invite you to peruse the site through the link here on The Betty and Boo Chronicles and consider doing some of your Amazon shopping through here.

In the meantime, here are some books that I wholeheartedly endorse that Amazon has at good prices today:

I bought The Third Wheel for Betty and Boo as a birthday present last week and they love it. Highly recommended. Boo finished it in three days, and you know what a reluctant reader he is.


Perfect for the mystery lover in your life.



The Husband did his masters in the American presidency and says that Team of Rivals is the go-to book for anyone interested in learning more about how Lincoln thought, the way he understood politics, and how he brought in rivals to work together. 



I'll post more as I see them. 


I am an Amazon.com Affiliate. Making a purchase via any of the Amazon.com links on The Betty and Boo Chronicles will result in my earning a small percentage in commission, which will be used to support the upkeep of this blog, as well as the real-life versions of Betty and Boo. Thank 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.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Sunday Salon: Thankful and Thankfully Reading



I'm feeling a bit nostalgic tonight. Judging from my Facebook feed, I'm not alone. Friday night was my 25th year High School Reunion, and apparently it was the place to be. People flew into Philly from all over the country (and even outside of the country, in at least one case).

I didn't attend the reunion, as The Husband is still recovering from his cancer surgery earlier this month. It was impossible for him to make the trip in and likewise, he still can't be left alone for an extended time. Still, if you'd told me back in 1987 that I wouldn't be at my 25th high school reunion, I would have probably rolled my eyes and said something sarcastic like "tell me something I don't already know."

Likewise, if you'd told me in 1987 that I would want to have been there, I'd have thought you had me confused with someone else.

Instead, this was a low-key weekend in which I participated in Thankfully Reading. (I only read 81 pages, thanks to a migraine that had ahold of me most of the weekend.) If anything, the whole reunion thing in the background made me even more thankful - and yes, extremely reflective. You see, one of my goals back in the day was to have a book (at least one) published by the time I made my way back to my old stomping grounds. And at the 25 year mark, I'm kind of close, if you can call my novel-in-progress and my piece in the Post-Gazette close. Hell, my overambitious high school self wanted a damn book published by the time I was 18. (That one's written; it's just in a desk drawer these days.)

But with some lucky exceptions, this writing life (and life in general) is a bumpy one, which is why we need the company of other writers along for the ride. I've been reading Joan Frank's book, Because You Have To: A Writing Life, which is exactly that kind of book. It's one that you read for whatever you need as sustenance for this writing life. Motivation, commiseration, encouragement - Frank has it all in abundance in this slim volume, just like a good friend with a waiting cup of coffee and a supportive ear.

Just like any good friend, always, through the years.


The Sunday Salon is akin to a "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. To join the Sunday Salon, see the Facebook group

I am an Amazon.com Affiliate. Making a purchase via any of the Amazon.com links on The Betty and Boo Chronicles will result in my earning a small percentage in commission, which will be used to support the upkeep of this blog, as well as the real-life versions of Betty and Boo. Thank 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.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Book Review: Hello Darlin', by Larry Hagman and Todd Gold (Guest Post by The Husband)

Hello, Darlin': Tall (and Absolutely True) Tales About My Life
by Larry Hagman and Todd Gold 
2001
272 pages 

Note: The Husband and I are huge fans of Larry Hagman's and especially of the show "Dallas," which we both watched faithfully while growing up and now as adults. To us, the passing of Larry Hagman feels like losing a family member. The following is a review of Hagman's autobiography, which The Husband wrote in October 2009 - well before the current incarnation of "Dallas," but after finishing the hardback version of the book. (Pictured is the paperback edition.) 


Larry Hagman is one of my all-time favorite actors. J.R. Ewing has been as much an integral part of my life as has Archie Bunker - portrayed, ironically enough, by Hagman's close friend Carroll O'Connor. Hagman's portrayal of J.R. and the phenomenon that was "Dallas" defined the late 1970s/early 1980s for many Americans.

But, if you are looking for tall tales about the "Dallas" years in Hagman's autobiography, you'll have to wait until page 181 [of a 272-page book]. The 13 years of "Dallas" zip by in Hagman's story with a few stories, opinions and recaps. Surprisingly, however, despite this you'll not be disappointed in this book. In actuality, the seemingly short-shrift given to "Dallas" is simply the way Hagman views his life: "Dallas" was but one of a string of unbelievably lucky breaks received by a man who lived an extraordinarily lucky life.

Hagman doesn't hate "Dallas" - far from it. He is fully aware and grateful for the tens of millions of dollars it has earned him. He can still remember being so low on money that he had to rent out his home to Peter Sellers for a month [while he and his wife, Maj slept on a mattress in Peter Fonda's office]. But Hagman's life was noteworthy before "Dallas" and if his post-"Dallas" career has been quieter, his successful recovery from a liver transplant brought him continued reknown.

And one of the most enjoyable things about the book is Hagman's seemingly endless encounters with other celebrities. Granted, with a mother as famous as Mary Martin was in her day, it's not unusual that Hagman met famous people long before he himself would reach the stage or screen. Still, Hagman's eclectic list of friends over the years - in addition to Fonda, Sellers and O'Connor - include: Ray Bradbury, Marlon Brando, Art Buchwald, David Crosby, Cary Grant, Joel Grey, Dennis Hopper, Margot Kidder, Richard Lewis, Steve McQueen, Peter Marshall, Lee Marvin, Burgess Meredith, Jack Nicholson, Charlotte Rae, George C. Scott, and last but certainly not least: The Who's Keith Moon.

    A quick and funny read. 


I am an Amazon.com Affiliate. Making a purchase via any of the Amazon.com links on The Betty and Boo Chronicles will result in my earning a small percentage in commission, which will be used to support the upkeep of this blog, as well as the real-life versions of Betty and Boo. Thank 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.

Thankfully Reading Update (sorta)



Despite my best intentions, I am struggling mightily with this year's Thankfully Reading, thanks to this pounding headache of mine. I'm pretty sure this is weather-related; we had fairly warm temperatures on Thursday and Friday (in the 50s or so), only to be greeted by our first snow of the season this morning. It has been snowing all day, and its my favorite kind of snow: big, steady flakes swirling around like a dervish, arriving on a day when nobody has to go anywhere, and gone by evening.

Ironically, this is the kind of snow that makes for perfect reading, but as I mentioned, that hasn't been happening as much as I'd like.

I've read a grand total of ... are you ready? A whopping 54 81 pages in my current book, Because You Have To: A Writing Life, by Joan Frank. (I should clarify that my lack of reading progress has nothing whatsoever to do with the book, which is wonderful.)

Day 1 (Thursday)
No pages read at all, due to cooking Thanksgiving dinner and it being the kids' birthdays.

Day 2 (Friday):
Number of pages read: 38

Day 3 (Saturday, as of 6:40 p.m. 11:45 p.m.)
Number of pages read: 16  43

I'm going to take a Maxalt and, if I don't fall asleep, try to read some more.


I am an Amazon.com Affiliate. Making a purchase via any of the Amazon.com links on The Betty and Boo Chronicles will result in my earning a small percentage in commission, which will be used to support the upkeep of this blog, as well as the real-life versions of Betty and Boo. Thank 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.

Friday, November 23, 2012

My Black Friday: Thankfully Reading


Right from the get-go, let me say this: I certainly appreciate saving a buck or two as much as the next person, but I also consider the madness of Black Friday (and now, Black Thursday and every other incarnation) to be Hell on Earth. I don't partake, and I have no plans to do so now.

In fact, I need to go out to the supermarket (the one that felt the need to OPEN AT 3 AM today - WHY, WHY, WHY, I ask????) for the likes of milk and eggs. I am dreading even venturing outside the door.

I'd much rather be spending as much of this day Thankfully Reading. Now that dinner has been cooked and eaten (and leftovers wrapped up), birthday presents have been opened (the real-life Betty and Boo were 11 yesterday), and football has been watched (Jets fans, as an Eagles fan, you have my utmost sympathy on that game), it's time to kick off this thing.

I look forward to this event every year. Looking back on my blog posts, I think this is the 4th Thankfully Reading Weekend and the 4th time I've participated. I'm definitely NOT a Black Friday (or Thursday or Saturday or Sunday) shopper and I can't think of anything better I'd rather be doing.

I always try to use this as a chance to finish up any remaining Reading Challenges for the year - or, at least one Challenge that I'm thisclose to completing. While some Challenges are futile at this point, the A-Z Challenge hosted by Babies, Books, and Beyond remains within my reach so that's the one I'm focusing on.  I need to read books beginning with titles starting with C, E, K, P, Q, V, and X. (I've pretty much eliminated X, as it has proven to be my nemesis) and the books I set aside for Thankfully Reading Weekend reflect that:


Thanksgiving, by Michael Dibdin
This looks reeeealllly dark. Never heard of this until I was browsing at the library and saw it on the shelves.)

Because You Have To: A Writing Life, by Joan Frank
I'm only on page 58, loving it, and am way overdue with my promised review. If I finish just one book, I hope this one is it.)

Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith, by Anne Lamott
I'm on an Anne Lamott binge right now. So, so bummed that I didn't get to see her this week in Akron, OH. I was planning to go to her appearance - it's only 1.5 hours each way and for her, I'd gladly have done that. For the A-Z Challenge (letter P)

The Council of Dads: My Daughters, My Illness, and the Men Who Could Be Me, by Bruce Feiler
I'm thinking this might hit a little close to home, but it looks really good. For the A-Z Challenge (letter C).

The English Patient, by Michael Ondaatje
I can't believe I've never read this. For the A-Z Challenge (letter E).

The Value of Rain, by Brandon Shire
I've been wanting to read this since last Christmas, when I got this as a present. For the A-Z Challenge (letter V)

I have no expectations that I will finish all of these - far from it. The kids are off from school until Tuesday, The Husband is still recuperating, and I woke up with what seems to be a bad headache in the making (thanks to perhaps too much chocolate yesterday and some weather-related pressure changes in the works for us). The good thing is that Thankfully Reading Weekend is from November 22-25, so there is plenty of time to stuff ourselves with some good reads.

How about you ... are you shopping or Thankfully Reading today?


I am an Amazon.com Affiliate. Making a purchase via any of the Amazon.com links on The Betty and Boo Chronicles will result in my earning a small percentage in commission, which will be used to support the upkeep of this blog, as well as the real-life versions of Betty and Boo. Thank you!

text 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, November 21, 2012

i read the news today, oh boy ....


So, this was published in our local paper today ....


This morning, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published one of my essays as part of its Page 2 Portfolio feature on ... well, page 2. (Yeah, I stayed up until after midnight - nothing unusual there - to see it go live. IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS IN LIFE, FOLKS.) 

It's the piece about our simple family vacations at the Jersey shore and a special memory of our last trip "downashore" (as we Philly folks say) with my dad, who passed away suddenly at the age of 44. When I wrote this, I was feeling incredibly grateful that Hurricane Sandy spared my aunt and uncle's beach home, and I couldn't help thinking if there was a connection. 


Below is the picture of the Strathmere street (before high tide) that my brother sent me in his first text message. The house is a block or so up the road. 


Wishing all of you and your loved ones a wonderful Thanksgiving, with many blessings always.



I am an Amazon.com Affiliate. Making a purchase via any of the Amazon.com links on The Betty and Boo Chronicles will result in my earning a small percentage in commission, which will be used to support the upkeep of this blog, as well as the real-life versions of Betty and Boo. Thank 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.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Book Review: The Round House, by Louise Erdrich

The Round House, by Louise Erdrich 
Harper Collins
2012 
321 pages 
National Book Award Winner 2012 

The best books, in my opinion, are those that grab your heart from the very beginning and linger in your mind long after you finish the last page. Sometimes they enlighten you, open your horizons, make you care a bit more deeply, teach you something new in the process.

I had a sense that The Round House was going to be such a book from its description:
One Sunday in the spring of 1988, a woman living on a reservation in North Dakota is attacked. The details of the crime are slow to surface as Geraldine Coutts is traumatized and reluctant to relive or reveal what happened, either to the police or to her husband, Bazil, and thirteen-year-old son, Joe. In one day, Joe's life is irrevocably transformed. He tries to heal his mother, but she will not leave her bed and slips into an abyss of solitude. Increasingly alone, Joe finds himself thrust prematurely into an adult world for which he is ill prepared.
If that doesn't intrigue you, the first lines surely will:
"Small trees had attacked my parents' house at the foundation. They were just seedlings with one or two rigid, healthy leaves, Nevertheless, the stalky shoots had managed to squeeze through knife cracks in the decorative brown shingles covering the cement blocks. They had grown into the unseen wall and it was difficult to pry them loose." (pg.1) 
Foreshadowing and symbolism much? Yes and yes, but it all works beautifully in the hands of Louise Erdrich in The Round House, which has just been named the National Book Award winner for 2012.

Your heart immediately breaks for Joe, the narrator of the story and who is only 13 when his mother is attacked and raped on an Indian reservation in 1988. Although we learn in the early pages of the story that Joe is narrating as an adult, we easily forget this as we get absorbed into the story. Erdrich makes him such a tender character. Indeed, that's one of the most incredible strengths of The Round House. 

It's one thing for a writer to make a reader feel sympathetic for a character but it is quite another to sustain that emotion at such a high intensity for 300 pages, as Erdrich expertly does. I can't overemphasize how tremendously Erdrich does this; the weight and emotion of this heinous crime and its aftermath is so heavy on the page, it is absolutely palpable. To me, this was perhaps the best quality of the book.

Early on in the plot, we realize (as does Joe) that justice will not be swift - if it is even served at all. That's when Joe, along with his three best friends Cappy, Angus, and Zack, decides to take matters into his own hands. They get in over their head, none moreso than Joe, whose father is a judge. The consequences become life-changing.

No modern day writer captures the modern Native American Indian experience as well as Erdrich, and in each one of her books, the reader learns something new about the history and culture of this people. In The Round House, it is the light that she shines on the
"tangle of laws that hinder prosecution of rape cases on many reservations." A 2009 Amnesty International report found that "1 in 3 Native women will be raped in her lifetime (and that figure is certainly higher as Native women often do not report rape); 86 percent of rapes and sexual assaults upon Native women are perpetrated by non-Native men; few are prosecuted." (Afterward, pg. 319) 
I truly had no idea.

I'm an admirer of Louise Erdrich's writing (see my reviews of The Painted Drum, The Red Convertible: Selected and New Stories, and Shadow Tag) and was thrilled to have been offered a copy of The Round House for review via the publisher from TLC Book Tours in exchange only for my honest review. The Round House recently won the National Book Award, an honor for which it is well deserved.


4 stars out of 5.

I am an Amazon.com Affiliate. Making a purchase via any of the Amazon.com links on The Betty and Boo Chronicles will result in my earning a small percentage in commission, which will be used to support the upkeep of this blog, as well as the real-life versions of Betty and Boo. Thank 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.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Sunday Salon: Winding Down the Reading Year



It has happened, folks. Usually does around this time of year.

I knew it was coming.

The first announcement for a 2013 Reading Challenge has made its appearance in my Google Reader.

(I'll end the speculation now: I will, indeed, be bringing the Memorable Memoirs Reading Challenge back again for a 4th year. Official announcement to follow at some point. But it will be happening. Perhaps, even, with its own designated blog.)

Traditionally, my reading slows down considerably in these months and this year is no exception. So far in November, I've read a total of ONE BOOK. One!  (That would be The Round House by Louise Erdrich which I'll be reviewing tomorrow.) With it comes the realization that, even though there's more than a month to go in 2012, the reading year has (at least in my mind) pretty much come to an end.

I'm making my peace with the challenges I'm going to leave uncompleted (some for a consecutive year in a row - why do I bother?) and some that I'm still going to push through to accomplish because I'm thisclose to finishing them.

Thankfully, we have Thankfully Reading Weekend coming up from November 22-25 for those of us who prefer to avoid the crowds and shopping on Black Friday. The festivities are being hosted by Jenn from Jenn's Bookshelves and Jennifer from Literate Housewife. Jenn has all of the details on her blog. 

Thankfully Reading (which is one of my favorite events of the year) is usually my last hoorah to finish up challenges and the like for the year, so I am very much looking forward to this. 

In other news, I'm in the middle of reading Because You Have To: A Writing Life, by Joan Frank. This collection of essays has been described as part memoir and part writing how-to. To me, it doesn't matter what genre this fits into; I am absolutely loving this book. I know "how to write" books are a dime a dozen, but this one is different. It has a feel of sitting down over a cup of coffee with a friend who understands this writing life and can commiserate with you about it while gently giving advice and understanding. 

(I was supposed to review this one last week, but I sent Joan Frank a note via Facebook explaining that life had gotten a little chaotic lately due to The Husband being sick. She was incredibly understanding and gracious.)

Does your reading slow down at the end of the year? And will you be Thankfully Reading this weekend with us? 




     I am an Amazon.com affiliate. Making a purchase through any of the Amazon.com links on The Betty and Boo Chronicles will result in my earning a small percentage in commission, which will be used to support the upkeep of this blog as well as the real-life versions of Betty and Boo.


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, November 16, 2012

Weekend Cooking: Yes, Virginia, You Can Cook a Tofurky in a Crockpot




Seems that recently there have been quite a few hits here on the blog from folks who are, apparently, seeking some guidance on cooking that vegetarian (and vegan) Thanksgiving staple: the Tofurky

That's completely understandable. If this is your first Thanksgiving as a vegetarian or a vegan, or if you're expecting a vegetarian or vegan for dinner, I can see where this could cause some angst. 

It doesn't need to. 

In the spirit of giving, allow me to try and be of some assistance by reprising part of a post I did last Thanksgiving. 

I've never had much of an issue with not eating meat on Thanksgiving. I'm not the Spokesperson for All Vegetarians, but its been my theory that other people experience more agita and stress over what the hell to feed us so-called strange birds than we do. Truthfully, I've always been much more into the side dishes, even as a child. (Really. My Pop-Pop's mashed potatoes were so damn good that I even mentioned them in his eulogy.) 

The Husband and I have been vegetarians for something like 16 or so Thanksgiving dinners now. Over the last few years, we've discovered the delicacy of the Tofurky, which makes The Husband very happy and nostalgic. 

Last year, I discovered that the Tofurky can be cooked IN THE CROCKPOT - which, since I am All About the Crockpot, made ME very happy. 

It's really a very simple process. And it WORKS. I didn't have the packet of "dry vegetarian onion soup mix"and I didn't want to make an emergency run to the grocery store. I decided that I would take my chances by whipping up something (anything!) as a substitute. 

I found this Substitute for 1 Envelope Onion Soup Mix recipe on Food.comand even then I had to improvise further because I only had the beef boullion granules, the onion powder, and the pepper. No matter. Toss in some frozen onions to stand in for the onion flakes and nobody is the wiser.  

Then, I put the Tofurky in the CrockPot (I used a 3 quart), basted it a little every half hour or so as per the recipe, and 3 hours on high later there was Thanksgiving dinner.


Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know it's not the most aesthetically-pleasing photo. BUT SO WHAT? This isn't Martha Stewart's blog. What this is is EASY. Simple. And so much better for you, the animals, and the planet than the traditional turkey. 

And in the end, I'll bet this is pretty close to what your Thanksgiving plate usually looks like, no? 

StoveTop cornbread stuffing, mashed potatoes with butter, biscuits, corn,
cranberry sauce, and Tofurky cooked in the CrockPot. 
Hope everyone who is celebrating has a wonderful Thanksgiving!  

(And just so we're all kosher with the folks at the FTC, Tofurky et al did NOT compensate me for any part of this post.  But, y'know, if they want to toss some cash my way in the spirit of gratitude, I'm not above saying no.) 

Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page. For more information, see the welcome post.


I am an Amazon.com Affiliate. Making a purchase via any of the Amazon.com links on The Betty and Boo Chronicles will result in my earning a small percentage in commission, which will be used to support the upkeep of this blog, as well as the real-life versions of Betty and Boo. Thank you!

photos and text 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, November 14, 2012

What Was That Line About Any Club That Would Have Me as a Member? Sign Me Up. Now.



Oh, my. The things I am finding out about my high school now - and I have Jill Kelley to thank.

(Ms. Kelley, as the world has come to learn, is one of the women reportedly involved in the General Petraeus scandal. You may have heard something about it.)

As I wrote in my previous post "Fast Times at CIA High," I happen to share a high school alma mater with Ms. Kelley. But even though 8 years separate our paths along the same hallowed halls, we apparently had very different experiences. According to the UK's Daily Mail (about as far from our high school as one can get), Kelley was a student member of "a club that introduced her to the world's most influential men."

Stop right there. I need to know right now.

WHAT HIGH SCHOOL CLUB WAS THIS??!!

You mean to tell me that 25 years later, I'm JUST FINDING OUT NOW that MY HIGH SCHOOL had a club that could have INTRODUCED ME TO THE WORLD'S MOST INFLUENTIAL MEN??!!!

You know how much teenage angst and tears and listening to bad '80s music that could have saved me?!?!

According to the Daily Mail article: "[Kelley] was a student member of the World Affairs Council and would have been given the opportunity to meet dignitaries at the highest level including presidents, prime ministers and princes."

PRESIDENTS, PRIME MINISTERS, AND PRINCES??  What, like hangin' in the cafeteria? Passing notes in class? Slow dancing to Alphaville's "Forever Young" at the prom?

You have got to be shitting me.

This is what I need to know. High school peeps who were in the World Affairs Council, names and numbers of all the world's influential men you met.

And then I need a certain DeLorean so I can go back to my future and get a mulligan for my life.



I am an Amazon.com Affiliate. Making a purchase via any of the Amazon.com links on The Betty and Boo Chronicles will result in my earning a small percentage in commission, which will be used to support the upkeep of this blog, as well as the real-life versions of Betty and Boo. Thank you!

copyright 2012, Melissa, The Betty and Boo ChroniclesIf 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.

Fast Times at CIA High


I'm kind of starting to wonder if my little suburban Philadelphia high school was actually a breeding ground for the CIA.

Yeah, that CIA.

You see, it seems that we're on our SECOND national imbroglio involving the Central Intelligence Agency and a graduate of my alma mater.

Who'da thunk?

According to my intelligence gathering efforts thus far, the traditional media has yet to pick up on this. An incredible coincidence, in my view, especially when one considers that Lower Moreland High School graduated (in the years in question) less than 200 students per class.

Thus, allow me to be your humble public servant.  Two female graduates from the same tiny high school with connections to the CIA is ... well, let me just say that it is not every day that my hometown makes national news. (Although it has been happening with more and more disconcerting regularity.)

Our first CIA connection (that I know of, anyway) was Valerie Plame Wilson, former United States CIA Operations Officer ...and 1981 graduate of Lower Moreland High School. You'll recall that unfortunate business back in 2003 when Washington Post columnist Robert Novak named Plame in his column as a CIA operative, events which led to the end of Plame's career.

Although I grew up in Lower Moreland for almost my entire life - including the years when Plame graduated from my high school - I'd never heard of Valerie Plame before she made national news.  Still, it's enough of a small town that I genuinely felt sympathetic for her as the situation unfolded. She seems bright, intelligent, the type of high-achieving person we tend to graduate in our supercharged, competitive school.

Now, remarkably, we have ANOTHER Lower Moreland alum connection to the CIA. This would seem to be the flip side. I speak, of course, about America's newest reality soap opera, As the CIA Turns. This one stars The General, The Biographer with the Snickerworthy Book Title, and The Unpaid Social Liaison (who knew that was even such a thing?) with a cameo appearance by The Shirtless FBI Agent Friend.

And you thought life would be boring after the presidential election was over.

The Unpaid Social Liaison is, as we all know by now, Jill Kelley, Lower Moreland graduate from the Class of 1993.

We owe a national debt of thanks to an unnamed ex-classmate for enlightening us on the former Jill Khawam as she was in her Lower Moreland days. Doesn't seem like much has changed, at least according to the public's perception of the woman responsible for bringing down General Petraeus et al.

Back in the day, the Social Liaison was known for hobnobbing at swanky Philadelphia restaurants and mixing with high-powered attorneys (easy to do in our town) and pining for a nose job. (There's where I feel sorry for the former Miss Khawam. That had to be horribly traumatic for her, graduating high school with the same nose she was born with.)

Of course, this is all one sided. Who knows if this unnamed ex-classmate really isn't a spurned schlub who views this as karma, as payback being a bitch for only wanting his own Private Social Liaison with Miss Khawam on the notorious hill behind our school.

Still, it makes you wonder if there really was some truth back in the day to those rumors that the CIA was accused of killing President Kennedy (speaking of someone with a history of infidelities). I mean, when the powers-that-be have enough time to amass 30,000 pages of emails from women who - c'mon already! - just need to duke it out in a good old fashioned catfight, then anything is possible.

In the meantime, since this situation is fluid and still developing, I offer a word of advice to those of you students following in our footsteps at our high school:

Make sure you give much thought as to whom you name as Most Likely to Succeed because ... well, they just might surprise you. Better yet, consider naming a Most Likely to Become a CIA Operative. Or Most Likely to Become Involved in a National Scandal with a General.

And, oh yeah. Wear a wire.

You never know. Your homeroom security just might depend on it.



I am an Amazon.com Affiliate. Making a purchase via any of the Amazon.com links on The Betty and Boo Chronicles will result in my earning a small percentage in commission, which will be used to support the upkeep of this blog, as well as the real-life versions of Betty and Boo. Thank you!

photo and text 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, November 12, 2012

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?


I've decided that this particular post of mine - which has been partially written, then revised into a Sunday Salon post, and now rewritten back into this again, all over the course of a week - should be called It's Monday! What Aren't You Reading?

Because, truth be told, I am not reading much of anything lately.

And when I do get a chance to pick up a book, I promptly fall asleep because I am so tired.

That's not the book's fault. Far from it. As regular readers know, The Husband had thyroid cancer surgery on November 1. Between coordinating relatives coming (and staying with us) from Philly, to The Husband arriving home from the hospital and taking care of him, the house, and the kids (and instructing the relatives on all of the above - which was a godsend), the last 11 days have been a whirlwind. I'm hoping to write more about that at some point.

In the immediate aftermath of The Husband's surgery, I spent some time in the hospital with him. Including the surgery day, he was in the hospital for four days. You would think (or at least I thought) that I would have been a reading machine just watching him sleep and recover.

That was true while in the surgery waiting room and later in ICU. I spent most of my time reading The Round House by Louise Erdrich and actually finished over half of this. I really enjoy Erdrich's writing (see my reviews of The Painted Drum, The Red Convertible and Other Stories, and Shadow Tag).

But as with Erdrich's other books, The Round House is the type of book that seems strange for a reader to say one enjoys (which I am, in a way) for it is a disturbing and emotional story about how a family (particularly the teenage son Joe, the narrator) and a community copes in the aftermath of a brutal attack. In this case, the attack was against Joe's mother. What I'm most impressed with is how Erdrich is able to sustain the high level of emotion throughout the novel. Your heart just breaks for Joe. Several times.

I have 90 pages left of The Round House and I'm hoping to finish this one today. (This was provided to me by TLC Book Tours, and my full review will be up next Monday.)


While in the hospital with The Husband, I forgot my book one day but fortunately had my Kindle. So, I also spent some time reading Dirt: A Story About Gardening, Mothering, and Other Messy Business, Susan Senator's first novel (although not her first book). I've had this on my Kindle since last Christmas, when I purchased it with a gift card.

Dirt is a much lighter read, which is what I needed (but didn't realize I needed) at that point. I love when that happens, don't you? In this novel, Emmy is a soon-to-be divorced, somewhat bored and often overwhelmed mom of three boys, one of whom has autism. A realtor, Emmy's true passion is gardening. Novelist Susan Senator (whom I consider a friend) expertly weaves in the theme of growing a garden into this story of raising children and the messiness of relationships.

Finally, I also need to spend some time with the essay collection Because You Have To: A Writing Life, by Joan Frank. This is also one for TLC Book Tours (my review date is Thursday). I couldn't resist this because I love reading about writing by writers. I love hearing about their lives, their approaches to their craft, and their advice for aspiring novelists like me.

After that, I have one more review book obligation for the year - and that's going to be it for review books in 2012, besides my NetGalley books. Although The Husband's surgery is behind us, there's still one more treatment to get through, which will likely be mid-December. It'll just be easier, I think, to read what I want and not worry about any challenges or obligations. Start anew and refreshed in 2013, so to speak.

But first, a nap is calling my name ....


It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by Sheila of Book Journey. Stop by her blog to participate and see what others are reading today. 

I am an Amazon.com Affiliate. Making a purchase via any of the Amazon.com links on The Betty and Boo Chronicles will result in my earning a small percentage in commission, which will be used to support the upkeep of this blog, as well as the real-life versions of Betty and Boo. Thank 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.