Thursday, January 31, 2013

How to Make a Souper Meal with Food Bank Donations

Here in the Pittsburgh area, January has ushered in a month-long gust of wintery weather, with no let-up in sight. With forecasts that include terms like "ice pellets" and days that begin with two-hour school delays, 'tis the season for soup.

Soup and other back-to-basics meals are also making a more frequent appearance at our dinner table for another reason: since losing my job last summer and launching a freelancing and consulting business, I've had to become even more of a budget-conscious shopper. When deciding whether to make a recipe, I consider how easily it can be transformed into another dinner or two and the cost of the ingredients.

Our family isn't alone. Increased food costs are affecting everyone and food banks throughout the United States are reporting record-breaking numbers of people who need help. In southwestern Pennsylvania, the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank serves more than 120,000 people. At the same time, organizations like GPCFB are finding that donations are dwindling - because the very people who used to be donors have become the ones who, because of the economic climate, are turning to the food banks for assistance.

The Husband and I haven't gotten to that point yet, but when my blogging friend Sue Kerr of the Pittsburgh Tote Bag Project asked if I would write a post highlighting this issue, I readily agreed. It hits very, very close to home these days.

Our task was to make a soup recipe from the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank Recipe Database (you need to check this resource out!) using ingredients that are often donated to food banks.

I looked in my own pantry and thought about what our family had contributed to the holiday food drive we supported at The Husband's office - because, despite our situation, my philosophy and my philanthropy is that there are always people in worse circumstances. We gave a box or two of pasta. A few cans of tomatoes, because Giant Eagle had them on sale. Some beans.

But what could someone make with that?

A few clicks through the GPCFB recipe database confirmed that those were among several ingredients for one of our favorite meals:

Minestrone Soup

  • 1 cup chopped onion (I used chopped frozen onions)
  • 1 (15 oz) can carrots, drained (I used fresh baby carrots that were on sale, 2 pkgs/$3
  • 1 (15 oz) can diced tomatoes
  • 6 cups water
  • 1 (15 oz) can pinto beans, drained and rinsed (I used baby butter beans, on sale for $1)
  • 1 (15 oz) can green beans, drained (omitted)
  • 1 cup elbow macaroni, uncooked
  • 1 1/2 tsp oregano
  • Black pepper to taste
  • 2 Tbl canola oil (or other oil)
1. Heat oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add onions, cook, stirring regularly, for 5-7 minutes or until they have softened and started to brown.

2. Add all other ingredients except macaroni into the pot. Bring to a boil, then add macaroni.

3. Let macaroni cook 12-15 minutes or until it is done to your liking. Makes 8 Servings. Freeze leftovers in plastic containers or zipper baggies and use within 6 months.

I like minestrone soup because of its flexibility. Canned vegetables can easily be substituted for fresh. Different varieties of beans can usually be exchanged for another, as can the vegetables. No elbow macaroni? Any small-ish pasta, like shells or ditalini, would work. I've made minestrone with rice - so what if it's then not technically minestrone? As for the herbs and spices, oregano and basil are kind of the same in my opinion, so those can be switched - or combined.

Like the recipe suggests, the leftovers can be made to last for additional meals. I doubled this and we had enough for everyone at our table (a family of four) to have at least one bowl and seconds, in some cases. I have two large Ziploc bags in the freezer for another meal.

I also made cornbread with our soup, which is a favorite among everyone in our family, and also made the meal more filling. Sometimes I've made cornbread muffins and we've had them for breakfast the next day (if there are any left).

In these challenging times, we all need to stretch our food dollars to make them go further. The same is true for donations to community food banks and food pantry organizations - contributions which are especially needed now that the holidays are over and so many families still continue to go hungry.

Find out more about the Pittsburgh Tote Bag Project here.

Click here to learn more about the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank and how they are helping more than 120,000 people in southwestern Pennsylvania.

copyright 2013, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles. If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Book Review: Spark and Hustle: Launch and Grow Your Small Business Now, by Tory Johnson

Spark and Hustle: Launch and Grow Your Small Business Now
by Tory Johnson 
Berkley Books
287 pages 

I have this thing about books I'm reading and the New Year.

I absolutely, positively cannot be in the middle of a book when the clock strikes midnight. A brand new year means a brand new reading year, too. Sometimes this means I'm bookless on December 31 and sometimes this means I'm reading right up until the minute the ball drops in Times Square.

And, as if that's not crazy enough (although I see most of you nodding your head in self-recognition), my first book of the year can't be just any book. Oh, no. It needs to be something inspirational and motivational. Something that will hold meaning for all the 365 days ahead.

A tall order, I know.

In the past, I've ushered in January with a volume or two of poetry, which was fine. This year, as I spent the waning days of the calendar glued to fiscal cliff news and worrying over how much further I was going to fall off my own fiscal cliff, I wanted something that would set the tone for the year.

So I picked up my signed copy of Tory Johnson's Spark and Hustle: Launch and Grow Your Small Business Now. 

I met Tory back in August when I attended her one-day conference here in Pittsburgh. I didn't do a highlight reel of 2012, but if I did, meeting Tory would be on it.

As I wrote back in August after the Spark and Hustle conference, I could relate to Tory's story of being laid off and her fear - even after getting another job - that she would find herself in the same situation again. I could understand the desire to start a new venture, which was something I admittedly had been wanting to do for quite some time.

What the Spark and Hustle conference does well (among many things) is to show real life examples of women's success as entrepreneurs in a fun but professional atmosphere where there is absolutely "no selling from the stage." Sure, I bought Tory's book - but that's because (hello! it's me!) you know I was going to buy the book regardless. If the chick sitting next to me had written a book, I would have bought hers.

My point is: there wasn't any pressure to do so. (In fact, I didn't even know they were for sale until more than 3/4 of the way through the event.)

When you leave the Spark and Hustle conference, you leave believing you have the capacity to start a business - but you're still a little wary and unsure about how, exactly, this is going to happen. Spark and Hustle: Launch and Grow Your Small Business Now highlights some of Tory's key messages from the conference (namely that your success is "all about the hustle" that you put in each day), but also gives the reader the practical tips, strategies, and ideas for putting that into a well-defined action plan that leads to success.

That's what I appreciated most about Spark and Hustle: Launch and Grow Your Small Business Now. There are more than a few people who do similar work as Tory who simply espouse platitudes like, "Your strengths will lead to your success!" and "Follow your passion every single day!" Those sentiments are all fine and well and good if that's what you want.

Sometimes you need more concrete advice.

Like, how exactly following that passion (and figuring out what the hell that is in the first place) can lead to a fuller bank account.

You need advice on how to best determine pricing strategy.

You need someone (Tory) to say that they love Suze Orman (I do too, just so we're clear on that, because Suze sometimes scares me), but that it is OK if you start a business without 12 months of savings in the bank because most people can't wait that long. Especially when we're teetering on a fiscal cliff.

You need to hear what is involved in designing and manufacturing and licensing a product, if that's what you have in mind for your business, or where you can find clients for your service-related business.

You need to know how to maximize the social media world, if you're unfamiliar with it and the potential it has for you and your business.

You need funding - but how much? And from where? And with what business plan?

You need pointers for getting over the fear of selling.

All that - and more - is what Spark and Hustle: Launch and Grow Your Small Business Now tells you, right from the very first lines.
"We both know why you're here.
You were downsized.  Your hours were cut. Your employer went bust. You need to make more money to get by. You've graduated from college without a job and your career path isn't clear. You want to use your own smarts and creativity to take charge of your working life." (pg. 1) 
Tory Johnson makes you believe that you can do exactly that.

I am an Affiliate. Making a purchase via any of the 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 2013, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Sunday Salon

In a bout of frustration, I ranted to The Husband on Friday night how tired I was of nothing working. Everything seems to be an exercise in futility lately. Doesn't matter if its my goddamn job search, or his taste buds post-radiation (he can't taste anything), or my inability to download a book from the library onto Betty's NOOK, nothing works.

And then, as if on cue, my laptop sizzled and a steady stream of smoke erupted from the side.

I swear. Smoke. FROM. THE. LAPTOP.

"The motherboard might be fried," said the Geek Squad technician.

I kind of know how it feels.

The thing about the laptop is that I was warned about this day almost exactly a year ago, the last time we visited the Geek Squad. It was starting to slow down. The signs were there, but I didn't really notice them.

Until Friday, when I noticed smoke pouring out from the side of my computer.

The whole thing about the slow decline of the laptop leads into a nice little segue into my choice of books this week, The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker. I read this in practically one sitting. I'm not usually one for dystopian novels, but this one felt different to me - maybe because it seemed so real.
Julia is a typical 11 year old living in a suburban California town with her parents. She goes to middle school, has a best friend named Hanna, and has a crush on a guy named Seth. All normal stuff. Until, one Saturday in October, life becomes anything but normal when they (and everyone else) learn that the earth's rotation has been slowing down. Soon, things change dramatically as everything is affected by the days and nights becoming longer. It's a fitting backdrop for the very real changes happening in Julia's life - to her relationship with her parents, her friends, and even Seth.
This has a young adult designation but is absolutely one of those YA books that is more than appropriate for grown-ups. I loved this because, again, it seemed so real. You could absolutely see this happening.
This week I also read - and finished - Tenth of December, the newest collection of short stories by George Saunders. I'd only read one short story of Saunders' before this, and that was the story "Home," which is included in this collection. (I may have read it in The New Yorker.) This is getting a lot of buzz and with good reason. The writing is phenomenal, the characters are flawed, the humor is dark ... I loved it. I'm a big fan of short stories, but it's rare that I like every story in a collection. Tenth of December is the exception. Each story in here is excellent.
This is a contender for one of my favorite books of 2013. (So is The Age of Miracles.) I was fortunate to get an ARC of Tenth of December from NetGalley. I haven't been very good at keeping up with my NetGalley reviews, but damn - I am so glad I read this.
One positive thing that's going to work for me this week without a laptop - I'll likely get in more reading time than usual this week. No slowdown in the reading here!

I am an Affiliate. Making a purchase via any of the 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, January 26, 2013


Taken by me, December 2011 (I think)

My laptop, it seems, may be fried.


As in, it was losing power on Friday night even while plugged in.

That's usually a sign that the power cord needs to be replaced. (Been there, done that a few times before.)

Alas, this time, I may have waited too long to do so and instead, heard a sizzling sound followed by smoke coming out of the side of the laptop.

Yeah. Good times.

Since I live on my laptop 24/7 (again, literally), this isn't good.

I'm just grateful that we were home while this happened. I can't tell you how many times I leave my laptop on while going to pick up the kids from school or going to the grocery store or whatever.

I'm afraid to even turn it back on this morning, which I haven't done. I'm worried about the photos and the writings that are stuck in there.  I have a lot backed up on an external hard drive, thankfully, but not everything. So, while I'm out laptop shopping today (it's probably time to be replaced; it's 5 years old), allow this to be a cautionary tale among many to regularly backup one's life.

In the meantime, forgive me if posting is a little sporadic here. I'm sharing this particular laptop with the kids - and it goes with The Husband to work, where he is (thankfully) back at full time now.

I am an Affiliate. Making a purchase via any of the 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, January 24, 2013

Three Bus Worthy

Today would have been my Grandmom's 100th birthday. This is her, above, with the guy who would eventually become her husband and my Pop-Pop. They're both gone now (he died in August 1990; we lost her in 2011, just a few weeks before her 99th birthday). In honor of her and her 100th birthday today, I share with you the eulogy that I delivered at her funeral and originally published here as "What My Grandmom Taught Me: Make Sure That Guy Is Three Bus Worthy" on December 16, 2011.) 

After the last few months, it resonates even more now. 

My grandfather "wasn't doing well" that summer. In those days, in the sultry summer of 1990, people had just started saying the word cancer in octaves higher than a whisper. And in those days, eyebrows were still raised when women "of a certain age" exerted some degree of independence.

My feisty, stubborn as heck, petite grandmother was living alone, at 77 years old, in the rowhouse where she and her husband had raised three children - and mourned their middle child, that being my father.  My grandfather's illness had advanced to the point where it was time for a nursing home, where my grandmother was determined to visit him every day, despite the fact that she didn't drive.

(And even if she did, their one car was an immobile turquoise and white 1957 Chevy held together literally with string and duct-tape, parked like a Franklin Mint collectible on a rough-ride of a narrow street in Philadelphia's Kensington neighborhood that had already seen many better days even by 1990.)

Determined, my grandmother took a maze of public transportation to reach the nursing home - one bus, two buses, three in all.  Maybe the elevated subway system was part of it; I don't know.  Maybe there were more; my memory of the public transportation logistics is fuzzy now. What's crystal clear is that as she navigated the City of Brotherly Love's network of tracks and wheels, she was teaching me something about love.

At the time all this was happening, I was a self-absorbed college student with a bit of a messed up triangulated (and other applied terms from my psychology classes) love life. I remembered being in awe of my grandmother's ability to even figure out the bus routes when I - a sheltered suburbanite - could count on one hand the number of times I had been on my city's public transportation  system.  I whined when I had to traverse my college campus in the rain, and here my grandmother was taking three buses a day just so she could go spoon-feed her husband his dinner and to be there to be the one to tell him good night.

That, there, I realized, was love.

So I took a good look at the guy I was dating at the time and asked myself if this was an individual who would ride three buses every single day just to give me a bottle of Ensure as I was dying.

And the answer was ... eh, yeah not so much.

As these things tend to go, there was another guy biding his time, waiting in the wings.  I asked myself the same question. Is this someone who I thought was Three-Bus Worthy?  Who thought I might be Three-Bus Worthy?

And the answer this time on both counts was ...yeah, maybe so.

(That one would wind up becoming The Husband, who I would start dating officially only mere days before my grandfather passed away.)

Now, with my grandmother's passing this week, I've been doing a lot of thinking about this over the past couple days, and I realized that her lesson of making sure someone is Three Bus Worthy is still true.  It's not one she ever verbalized or one we ever spoke about, but rather one that was silently shared. Like any long-term marriages, ours has seen times and situations where the other's Three-Bus Worthiness has been proven and put to the test. Then again, there have been other times when we've been stubborn enough that we didn't even want to take three steps - let alone three damn buses - to reach the other person's side.

We're among the lucky ones, though, because when it comes right down to it, each one of us is on a journey and a ride in life that is similar to the one involving the three buses that my grandmother took every day.  Because let's face it: this life is tough enough as it is with the everyday stuff. It's when the big guns come calling - the stuff of children dying (as both sets of my grandparents would experience) and spouses getting sick (ditto), that's when you find out just how Three-Bus Worthy someone really is.

And most likely, you already know - because that's the person who been holding your hand during the ride all along.

I am an Affiliate. Making a purchase via any of the 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 2013, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles. If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Forever an Empty Place at the Table

Her name was Ellen.

That's her, smiling in the silver picture frame above.

She was a frequent volunteer at her daughter's elementary school.

Ellen was planning to leave her husband and had planned to take her 12 year old daughter with her. She had hired a divorce attorney. She was literally hours away from beginning a new life.

On December 22, 2006, Ellen was killed while wrapping Christmas presents at their kitchen table.

The truth came out when her husband pleaded guilty. An intruder never broke into their home, located on the prestigious Main Line of Philadelphia. A botched burglary didn't become a bludgeoning.

He killed her.

With the Christmas presents still on the table.

It looks like any other table, beautifully set for dinner. 

Until you get up close. 

And read the heartwrenching stories. 

And look at the photos. 

And you realize, this is not an ordinary table. 

Not even close. 

It is a table of ghosts.

Of laughter silenced except in dreams. 

Of spirits so real that you could swear a glass just clinked.

When I worked at the domestic violence shelter, we often brought a poignant display called "The Empty Place at the Table" to events.

We approached the families we had worked especially close with to be part of this, to honor their loved one with a customized place setting at this special table. It would be a way to educate others, to put a tangible face on the often faceless statistics of abuse. We wanted the people to be from right there in the community, representing a variety of races and ages (the youngest in the exhibit was a toddler; if you look closely at the photo, you can see a sippy cup in remembrance of her).

Ellen's family courageously honored her in this way, even as domestic abuse has left their family - like so many others - with an empty place forever at their table.

This week Ellen's family was victimized once again, when they learned that Ellen's husband could possibly be released on parole.

On Monday.

After only serving five years of his 10 year sentence.

After committing a crime that the very judge who presided over the trial described as the most "brutal murder in the history of Montgomery County (PA) over the past 20 years."

Ellen's family - her brothers, her sister, and her beloved daughter - are left with an empty place at their tables every Thanksgiving, every Christmas, every birthday, every day.

Her husband - her killer - should not be allowed to resume a place at his. 

The foundation established in Ellen's name, The Every Great Reason Foundation, has information about the case and how to contact the parole board to express thoughts and concern about her husband's release from prison.  I will be sending the parole board a copy of this blog post. 

Updated 1/23/2013: I'm delighted to give this update this morning with the news that parole was, thankfully, denied. He will be reviewed again for parole in or after September 2014.

copyright 2013, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles. If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Living History Once More

Below, I give you an encore post from February 16, 2010 "Living History (or, Spending Valentine's Day in the Presence of Greatness). I hadn't met Dabney Montgomery when Barack Obama was inaugurated the first time, which I would imagine would be an unbelievable experience for someone who has lived the life that Mr. Montgomery has. I couldn't help but think of what Martin Luther King Jr.'s former bodyguard on the Selma march must have thought of this day. 

Dabney Montgomery and Henry L. Smith,
two former Tuskegee Airmen who I met on February 14, 2010.
Photo taken by me. 

"And I stood in the corner and thought, how can I change this situation peacefully? And that thought stayed in the back of my mind for many a month and year." 

~ Dabney Montgomery, Tuskegee Airman and bodyguard of Martin Luther King Jr., 2/14/2010

Walking into church on Sunday morning, Valentine's Day, was like taking a walk back in time.

A walk alongside Martin Luther King Jr., en route from Selma to Montgomery.

A walk along the tarmac with the Tuskegee Airmen.

I knew that this particular service, commemorating Black History Month, was on the schedule, but I had forgotten that it was planned for Valentine's Day. All I knew was that I was in need of a pick me up from the weather and from writing my previous blog post about the killing of Jennifer Daugherty.

And so it was that I found myself in the presence of greatness.

Dabney Montgomery, a Tuskegee Airman and former bodyguard of Martin Luther King Jr.'s, was the guest speaker on Sunday at our Unitarian Universalist congregation. Of the 5,000 Tuskegee Airmen, there are only 280 still alive.

"And you have two of them with you today," he said, nodding to Henry L. Smith, seated in the audience.

We listened, a rapt audience of nearly 200, as Dabney Montgomery told us about a time where people believed African Americans were incapable of flying a plane, that because the arteries in their brains were shorter than others, they could not be taught such skills.

We walked with him down the tarmac, as he recalled Mrs. Roosevelt ("you remember Mrs. Roosevelt, don't you?") demanding to be flown by an African American pilot.

He received an honorable discharge from the Army in 1945, and upon returning home to his hometown of Selma, Alabama, he only had one thing on his mind.

Registering to vote.

We walked with Dabney Montgomery as he went to register to vote, and was told to go around back and enter through the back entrance, as he was handed three separate applications to vote. The applications needed to be filled out by three separate white men who could vouch for his character.

Not only was I black, Mr. Montgomery said by way of explanation, but I "didn't have enough money in the bank [to vote], didn't have a house."

"And I stood in the corner and thought, 'how I can change this situation peacefully?' And that thought stayed in the back of my mind for many a month and a year," he said.

Dabney Montgomery volunteered to be one of Martin Luther King's bodyguards on the historic Selma to Montgomery March in 1965. We felt the spit from onlookers as the marchers walked by.

"After the march, I took the soles off the shoes I wore," Dabney Montgomery explained. "You can see them for yourself in the back, there." 

Several months after that march, The Voter Rights Act of 1965 was signed.

We walked back into the room with Dabney Montgomery as he registered to vote.

"And this time, there was a black woman behind the desk," he laughed.

And then he turned serious again.

Whatever the situation is, "it can be changed through nonviolence, but you must stand and never give in. Don't compromise. [We need] nonviolence not only in the schools, but in the home," he said, referencing recent bullying attacks and the shooting by a professor in Alabama.

"Nonviolence is a must if we are to survive," Dabney Montgomery concluded.

"We'll walk hand in hand someday ..." we sang, as the closing hymn, and as we joined hands and I reached for the African-American man's hand next to me, I couldn't hold back the tears any longer. (I hate crying in public, but in this case, I wasn't alone.)

Afterward, I was chatting with people I hadn't seen in months as Betty rushed through the door. 

"Look, Mommy, they have cake!" she exclaimed, pointing to the refreshments.

"We can have cake," I said, "But first, there's somebody who I want you to meet." 

I told Betty that I wanted her to shake this man's hand and thank him for his service to our country. That she would understand why when she was older.

We approached the throng of people surrounding Dabney Montgomery, taking photos with him as if he was a movie star. He welcomed all of this, even basked in the attention. 

What does one say to such a hero? I thought.

"Your words were so inspiring," I said. "Thank you for your service to our country. It is a real pleasure and honor to meet you." 

"Thank you," Mr. Montgomery replied. A former ballet student, he bent down and shook Betty's outstretched hand. And then, we all ate cake. 

I went to church on Sunday seeking a spiritual boost. 

But what I got was so much more.

"Hey, so many things I never thought I'd see
Happening right in front of me
I had a friend in school
Running back on a football team
They burned a cross in his front yard
For asking out the home coming queen
I thought about him today
And everybody who's seen what he's seen
From a woman on a bus
To a man with a dream
Hey, wake up Martin Luther
Welcome to the future
Hey, glory, glory, hallelujah
Welcome to the future ..."
"Welcome to the Future" ~ Brad Paisley

photos and text (except for Brad Paisley lyrics) copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, 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.

I am an Affiliate. Making a purchase via any of the 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, January 20, 2013

Our Inauguration Day, 2013

Fireworks display here in Pittsburgh, December 2010
Photo taken by me

Today is what I've come to refer to as Inauguration Day in our family. It has everything and nothing to do with the goings-on in Washington D.C. 

Rather, today is the 9th anniversary of Boo's autism diagnosis, the day that a cold-hearted doctor declared that our beautiful boy had "clinical features of autism spectrum disorder" and "couldn't tell us what would happen with him," thereby changing our lives forever.

For three years now, I've written a post on January 20 - my own State of the Autism Union in this house, if you will. (Inauguration Day 2012Inauguration Day, 2011 and Book Review (Kids): My Brother is Autistic 1.20.2010). 

It usually goes something like this: 

To me, January 20 will always be diagnosis day.  But more often than not, it often carries with it an inauguration, of a Governor or a President.  
I've always thought the anniversary of Boo's autism diagnosis day and inaugurations is a little bit ironic. The Husband is a presidential scholar, has an advanced degree in the study of the American Presidency.  It was once a calling academically (although not politically, albeit briefly on the local level, despite what some may have thought.)  
Like father like son, one of Boo's first intense interests was, indeed, the American Presidents.  The Husband had bought a deck of Presidential flash cards from the National Constitution Center and showed them to Boo, never expecting that at 2 years old he would recite them, in order, along with their Vice Presidents and their political party.  History repeated itself at family gatherings, as Boo would be asked to recite facts about Millard Fillmore just as his father did at the same age.   
Inauguration Day is one with much promise, of abundant hope, just as it was when the country welcomed President John F. Kennedy on January 20, 1961, with promises of New Frontiers and Camelot. And hope prevailed again, 20 years ago today on January 20, 1993, when we braved the bitter cold to be among the throng of people in Washington D.C. for President Bill Clinton's inauguration.  And never moreso was hope in the air than on January 20, 2009, when President Obama was inaugurated.
Yet hope was nowhere to be found in a cramped examination room on January 20, 2004, as our questions went unanswered, as we took a badly-photocopied article about the signs of autism, as we collapsed in tears and blinked in disbelief when asked to decide (not at this very moment, you have time, but not much, not much at all, give me a call soon) on a therapeutic course of action before the proverbial guillotined window of time would slam shut on our 2 year old's blond head.
And yet, while the memory and heartbreak of this day never quite disappears, and I find myself replaying the moments of the day (this is when we left this is when she told us this is when we came back home), I try to look at our January 20 as more of the spirit of what Inauguration Day should be: a day of looking ahead, of celebration, of coming together, of promise and of hope.  
Some years, that's easier to do than others. 

Today's one of the easier years. The Husband's cancer treatments have taken the focus off the looming anniversary, and I'm oddly grateful for that. In other years, we've been distracted by new jobs and moving and being on the cusp of  inaugurating a new life. I went to church this morning - for the first time in several years (that's another post altogether) - and it took me until the middle of the service to remember what day it was.

But, as I wrote last year, if I've learned anything during these 9 years, it is that we always need to have a spirit of forging ahead, of always inaugurating and embracing the new and what comes our way because ... well, that's what we have to do, isn't it? Otherwise, the worry and the uncertainty about the challenges ahead will win - and will squelch the surprise and delight that comes along with the remarkable accomplishments and strides. 

It's true for life in general, not just this autism thing. 

I've learned that the road is always changing and our GPS is often unreliable and unpredictable. That's certainly been the case in many ways - not just autism related - this year. Which is why this year is going to see some changes, some breaking out of our comfort zones, trying new activities, meeting more people. 

Inaugurating new things. 

("Inauguration Day" is the tentative title of a memoir I'm writing featuring personal essays - both those published here on the blog and those previously unpublished - on raising a child with autism.) 

I am an Affiliate. Making a purchase via any of the 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.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

At Lens Friends, You Call the Shots

A message popped up from my sister in law a few weeks before the holidays, confirming the dates for our annual family trip back to my hometown of Huntingdon Valley.

She was trying to finalize a gift for our mother. And with all three of my mom's grandchildren scheduled to be in the same corner of the state at once - a rarity since my husband and I (the owners of two of those children) moved six hours away to Pittsburgh - it was the perfect time to give her a portrait session with those grandchildren at Lens Friends.

I had never been to Lens Friends, the "Do It Yourself" Photography Studio located in the Valley Courtyard Shoppes in Huntingdon Valley, PA.

My sister-in-law, on the other hand, is a regular.

After our 30 minute (and then some) session, I can see why.

That's because Lens Friends isn't your everyday photo studio. There's nothing stuffy or pretentious about this place. In fact, it's the exact opposite. Lens Friends is all about having fun.

The concept is unique: at Lens Friends, you're the photographer. Forget the chain store cheesy creepy dude that scares the living bejaysus out of toddlers and their parents. You're the one calling the shots here.

That means if you don't like a backdrop? You can change it. You want some people in some photos, others in different ones? Various poses? Done. You can even use your camera if you really want to (but the ones at Lens Friends are pretty awesome).

Best of all, there's no haggling over packages; at the end of your session, you get a CD with every image from your session. No waiting for proofs or any of that nonsense.

I admit, I was a little skeptical as to how this was going to go. I shouldn't have been. Kara greeted us with a big smile (and my sister-in-law by name) as soon as we walked in the doors. Almost immediately, the kids (my niece as well as Betty and Boo) were drawn to the props that were everywhere.

Like this guy.

Boo spent most of his time attached to this bear.
He was in a silly mood this morning ... to say the least.

After a few quick adjustments to the camera settings, some switching of the backdrops (we wanted less of a holiday look), and a couple of pointers and tips on shootings, we were on our way.

Boo was having an off day. He was being goofy, sensing a new audience for his performance and putting on a show. Our new friends at Lens Friends took all this in stride and never made any disparaging comments, which tells you something about how they work with kids with special needs, like Boo.

In fact, as a parent of a child with autism, I think Lens Friends would be the perfect photography studio to work with kids on the autism spectrum. There could be a lot of stimulation with the props, sure, but that might allow a child's natural joy, curiosity, and wonder to come shining through.

Which is exactly what we want the world to see in all of our pictures, regardless, don't we?

As our session was coming to a close, I realized that I would have loved a new headshot for my new professional work-related purposes. I thought of it too late, though.

(This one of me is the best I could do. It's cropped and untouched from a family photo we took.)

You, however, are in luck.

This Friday, January 18, Lens Friends is hosting a "First Impression Headshot Networking Event" where you can get a new headshot for all your social media needs. Best of all, it's completely free!

Where: Lens Friends LLC 2531 Huntingdon Pike Huntingdon Valley, PA 19006 
When: Friday January 18, 2013 
Time: 5-8pm 
Pop in with your business cards, have a bite to eat, glass of wine and update your headshot. Be creative - what do you want your headshot to say about you and your business? Free to all Business Owners. 
Please RSVP by calling Lens Friends at 215-938-9801. 

It's a great chance to discover all that Lens Friends has to offer, which is - well, more than meets the eye. 

You can find more information about Lens Friends and prices for sessions here on their website.

Disclaimer: I was not compensated by Lens Friends in any way for this post. I'm just a happy customer, and I'm thrilled with our photos. And I know, I know ... it is odd to have a post about a visit to a photography studio without a bunch of the actual photos from the session itself, but you know my policy here on the blog about not publishing recognizable photos of my kids. I just don't do it. But trust me ... these new friends at Lens Friends are really good.

I am an Affiliate. Making a purchase via any of the 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.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Book Review: The Snow Child, by Eowyn Ivey

The Snow Child
by Eowyn Ivey
A Reagan Arthur Book
Little, Brown and Company 
388 pages

"Dear, sweet Mabel,' she said. 'We never know what is going to happen, do we? Life is always throwing us this way and that. That's where the adventure is. Not knowing where you'll end up or how you'll fare. It's all a mystery, and when we say any different, we're just lying to ourselves. Tell me, when have you felt more alive?'" (pg. 258)

I had no intentions of reading this book. NONE. As soon as I heard that it was about a childless couple grieving the loss of their stillborn child, I thought: NO. THANK. YOU. Hell to the no.

And set amidst the tundra of Alaska, in the dead of winter, to boot? Yeah, good times. I mean, I like my depressing literary shit as much as the next person, but this sounded like a bit too much even for my threshold.


But then blogger after blogger started raving about this, and then I realized it was based on a fairy tale, and you have to have a heart made out of an icicle in order to be able to resist a fairy tale.

(Although, I will say this: if you are a current infertility patient or grieving the loss of a child, this is likely to not be the book for you. I'm a decade out of that world, of which I still sometimes feel like I still have one foot in, and The Snow Child still managed to dredge up a well of emotions from our infertility days. There's no way in hell I would have been able to read this during our journey. I'm just saying.)

That disclaimer being said, The Snow Child is an absolutely amazing book. It's the story of Jack and Mabel, a childless couple who have been married for many years. In their individual ways, they are each still grieving the loss of their only child who was stillborn a number of years prior.

They decide to make a new life for themselves by moving to Alaska. This is in 1920, and could not be further from their Pennsylvania homes. Jack is from western Pennsylvania - there's a reference to the Allegheny, so perhaps he's a yinzer - and Mabel is a Philly girl, two details of the book that I happened to particularly enjoy.)

Even though they are far from home and despite their efforts to make a new life, Jack and Mabel's grief over the loss of the baby travels with them and is a constant companion through the years, along with the despair and desperation that they feel amid the barren wilderness. On the night of the first snow of the season, however, Jack and Mabel allow themselves to have a few brief moments of fun by playing in the snow. Like kids, they build a little snow person ... a snow child.  They are stunned when, the next morning, their snow creation is gone, replaced by an actual little girl who they will soon discover is named Faina.

How Faina becomes intertwined with Jack and Mabel's lives is absolutely enchanting, and Eowyn Ivey's writing is nothing short of magical. She has the ability to take what is an otherwise unbelievable tale and turn it into something that keeps you on the edge of your seat.

You know how the cold winter's air takes your breath away? That's this book.
"She could not fathom the hexagonal miracle of snowflakes formed from cloud, crystallized fern and feather that tumble down to light on a coat sleeve, white stars melting even as they strike. How did such force and beauty come to be in something so small and fleeting and unknowable? ....
You did not have to understand miracles to believe in them, and in fact Mabel had come to suspect the opposite. To believe, perhaps you had to cease looking for explanations and instead hold the little thing in your hands as long as you were able before it slipped like water between your fingers." (pg. 204)
For a book that I had no intentions of reading, this one landed on my list of Best Books I Read in 2012.

5 stars out of 5.

copyright 2013, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Weekend Cooking: Life on the LID (Low-Iodine) Diet

"Ground rice, sugar, vinegar, seco salt, macaroni too
Cook of the house,
I'm the cook of the house.
 No matter where I serve my guests, 
They seem to like the kitchen best
'Cause I'm the cook of the house, 
Cook of the house.

The salad's in the bowl,
The rice is on the stove,
Green beans in the colander,
And where the rest is heaven only knows."

"Cook of the House" - Wings (written by Linda McCartney, 1976)

With the exception of the salt, Linda McCartney could be describing life in my kitchen (and my house) since January 2.

As part of his thyroid cancer treatments, The Husband is currently on what is known as the Low-Iodine Diet. The timing with the beginning of the New Year is somewhat ironic; while most people go on diets at the start of the New Year, this one isn't exactly voluntary.

After patients with thyroid cancer have surgery (as The Husband did in November to remove his thyroid, which had two cancerous tumors), they receive radioactive iodine to destroy any potentially remaining cancer cells. But, to prepare for this, they need to deplete their body of iodine ... hence, the Low-Iodine Diet.

(I swear, in the last few weeks I have learned more about iodine and iodide and salt than I ever wanted to know. And here I thought chemistry would be totally useless after high school.)

Anyway, so basically the Low Iodine Diet consists of everything that Linda McCartney sings about - except the salt. Rice is allowed, as long as it's limited and preferably basmati. Sugar is fine, as well as jelly, jam, and honey. All vegetable oils are good. Macaroni (pasta) is okay in moderation. Fresh or frozen vegetables, fresh fruit (except rhubarb and cherries), unsalted nuts and unsalted nut butters, black pepper, fresh/dried spices and herbs are all on the approved list.

The Husband can also have grain and cereal products up to 4 servings per day (so there's your rice) provided they have no high-iodine ingredients and fresh meats up to 6 ounces a day (which is null and void for us, since we're vegetarian).

Yep, that's it.

That means one needs to AVOID:

• Iodized salt, sea salt, and any foods containing iodized salt and sea salt.
• Seafood and sea products (fish, shellfish, seaweed, seaweed tablets, carrageenan, agar-agar,
alginate, nori and other sea-based foods or ingredients).
• Dairy products of any kind (milk, cheese, yogurt, butter, ice cream).
• Egg yolks or whole eggs or foods containing whole eggs.
• Bakery products containing iodine/iodate dough conditioners or high-iodine ingredients. Low iodine homemade and commercial baked goods are fine.
• Red Dye #3. (E127 in the United Kingdom)
• Most Chocolate (due to milk content). Cocoa powder and some dark chocolates are allowed.
• Some molasses (if sulfured, such as blackstrap molasses). Unsulfured molasses, which is more
common, is okay. Sulfur is a term used on labels and does not relate to iodine.
• Soybeans and soybean products such as tofu, TVP, soy milk, soy sauce. The NIH diet says to avoid
some other beans: red kidney beans, lima beans, navy beans, pinto beans, and cowpeas.

Fun times, huh?

Thank God the Thyroid Cancer Survivors Association has a free online cookbook - otherwise this would have been overwhelming. As it is, it has had its challenges - namely that, in addition to being on the low-iodine diet, The Husband is currently sequestered in our master bedroom until Thursday because he is quite literally radioactive. (He's been there since last Thursday, when he received his radioactive iodine. We make his meals and leave them outside the bedroom door.)

This hasn't been easy, but as cancer treatments go, I'd take this over something like "regular" radiation or chemotherapy. If you have to go on this diet, the ThyCa cookbook is a godsend. I'm incredibly grateful for it.

Here are some of the recipes that I've made during the last two weeks for The Husband that he's especially enjoyed. You can find the exact recipes in the ThyCa Cookbook. (I'm not allowed to reprint them directly here.)

And yes, the kids and I have eaten these meals for dinner too. "We're going to eat this in order to support Daddy," I said to Betty and Boo. Little did they know I really wanted to try and avoid making 2-3 different meals. But um, yeah ...GO DADDY! Whoo!

This is a modified version of fried rice, sort of like a Confetti Rice. Saute some onions and garlic in olive oil, add cooked basmati rice, add cooked peas and corn. Cook through. The Husband liked this with a little pepper sprinkled on top. The other night, I added some egg whites to make this more of like an authentic fried rice. For meat eaters, you could add beef, chicken, or pork. You could also add carrot or celery.

The ThyCa Cookbook recipe said that this Minestrone Soup made a big pot, and it absolutely did. I was able to get several meals out of this. This is not much different than a regular minestrone, with chopped carrots, onions, and tomato sauce (I used Muir Glen's unsalted tomato sauce). I left out the white beans in this recipe and substituted frozen peas for green beans. I had a bag of zucchini that I'd frozen from my farmers market haul over the summer, so I added that. I left out the spinach, and I added some cooked basmati rice. (Another night, I added shell pasta and kind of made this like a pasta fagioli.)

Finally, this is a simple wrap that I made for dinner. It's wilted fresh baby spinach, sauteed in olive oil and garlic for a few minutes. I threw a handful of mushrooms into the skillet and let them brown. Then, I warmed two corn tortillas in the microwave and topped the corn tortillas with the spinach and mushrooms. The Husband opted to eat this like a warm wrap.

I was glad that I was able to make a few tasty meals on what seemed to be a challenging diet, and I was especially grateful to have the ThyCa cookbook as a resource. If you or someone you love are undergoing treatment for thyroid cancer and needs to be on the low-iodine diet, hopefully these recipes will help you, too.

Please note: I am nowhere near anything resembling a medical professional. Nothing in this post should be construed as medical advice. Like all of us, you're on your own. For the love of God, consult a physician instead of me. Besides, I have no money if you would sue me, anyway.

Weekend Cooking is a feature hosted by Beth Fish Reads and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs.

I am an Affiliate. Making a purchase via any of the 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 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.

The Sunday Salon: Into the New Year, a DNF Must Fall

Just 13 days into 2013 and I already have my first DNF (did not finish) book of the year. Yay, me.

I'm nothing if not ruthless about abandoning books that aren't holding my interest. Still, it seems a little soon in the year for this, right?  Looking back in my Salon posts, though, I realized that the same thing happened last January (although not until a bit later in the month).

What makes this DNF sad is that Tiffany Baker's The Gilly Salt Sisters was a book that I was really looking forward to reading. I absolutely LOVED The Little Giant of Aberdeen County (see my review here) - so much so that I selected it as among my favorite books of 2009.  

The Gilly Salt Sisters is a magical realism novel set in the fictional (and rather depressing-sounding) Cape Cod town of Prospect in 1980. It's the story of two sisters (Claire and Jo) and their family's salt marsh. Depending on which sister you believe, the salt has magical powers - although not enough to heal the wounds and hurts from the past.

It starts off engaging enough, but by page 100 (of 372), something more needed to start happening. There's a lot of backstory in this one. A lot. Which is fine ... but I also wasn't connecting with the characters as much as I'd hoped. So, back to the library it went.

Other than that, this was a fairly productive week in reading. I accompanied The Husband to several doctors' appointments this week - some of which had several hours of downtime between them - so I needed a quick read on my Kindle that would occupy me. Last month, Jane Freund's memoir about having thyroid cancer was a freebie on Amazon and since that is exactly what we're dealing with - and what all the appointments this week were for - I thought Eggshells and Elephants: My Cancer Journey Thus Far would be more than apropos.

That it certainly was - and I'll have a longer review up at some point - but although I finished this, it left me wanting more. Perhaps this was intentional (the author makes mention of a sequel) but I felt there were aspects of the thyroid cancer journey itself that would have benefited from more explanation or reflection. Instead, there are nearly entire chapters devoted to Freund's pets and other seemingly extraneous information that, at times, seemed to weigh the writing and the story down.

If you're my Friend on Facebook, you know that The Husband is in isolation right now for HIS thyroid cancer treatment. In order to kill any possible remaining traces of cancer (he had surgery back in November), he was given radioactive iodine on Thursday and since he's, well ... radioactive, he needs to be quarantined away from us and the cat for an entire week. (I'm envisioning this pill like a haz-mat version of Pac-Man, chomping up all the little cancer cells in its midst.) We have him sequestered in our bedroom (I'm sleeping in the guest room). This all started last Thursday and continues until the 17th. There's a rather restricted diet involved too. It's been ... interesting, to say the least.

He's also the kind of spouse who does a LOT around the house (dishes, laundry,  breakfast for the kids, etc.) so I'm definitely feeling the lingering effects of flying solo on that front. To make the housework drudgery easier, I'm listening to The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Sparks on audio.This is the first Muriel Sparks I've read/listened to ... and I'm really enjoying this classic. Miss Jean Brodie is quite the unconventional schoolteacher at the Marcia Blaine School in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1930, and the story revolves around six girls - her "set" - and their relationship to Miss Brodie. This is a novella, so I anticipate being finished with this sometime this week.

Hope you're having a great Sunday!

I am an Affiliate. Making a purchase via any of the 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, January 12, 2013

Remember Her Name: Ka'Sandra Wade

Pittsburgh's first homicide of the year was a domestic violence incident that took the life of Ka'Sandra Wade. Today, I'm participating in an effort organized by my friend Sue, who writes the blog Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents and who is an active member of the local social media community, including The Pittsburgh Women's Blogging Society.

Among the goals of today's Pittsburgh Cyber Vigil is to remember Ka'Sandra Wade's name. All too often in such incidents, it is the name of the alleged perpetrator that stays with us and perhaps the circumstances of the crime itself. Today, we're bringing attention to who Ka'Sandra was - a woman trying to escape an abusive relationship, an ambitious worker with aspirations of a better life, and a mother of an 11 year old son named Zaire.

I didn't know Ka'Sandra. I admit that I also didn't know many of the details of this case until I first learned of Sue's efforts with the Pittsburgh Cyber Vigil. (Maria from 2 Political Junkies has a great synopsis on her post, "Remembering Ka'Sandra Wade.) But what haunts me is that Ka'Sandra knew she was in a bad relationship and was trying to leave - always the most dangerous time for those in domestic violence situations. Ka'Sandra had also reached out to and had the support of coworkers at her job. Finally, she called 911 on New Year's Eve when she was in trouble.

There is an investigation into the police response to that 911 call. From the reports, this appears to be rather botched (to say the least) - with investigators showing up and taking the word of a male individual that everything was fine and never speaking to the person who made the call. As Sue writes, "[t]he situation is complicated and tragic and has generated an outcry from the community to push for better investigation of domestic violence allegations, stronger laws to protect women and more awareness on the part of the community."

We start today, by remembering Ka'Sandra Wade's name and by pledging to remember the names of all those lost.

Other Posts from Bloggers Participating:

Losing Sight of the Shore –  BECAUSE Ka’Sandra Wade can not.

2 Political Junkies (Maria) – Remembering Ka’Sandra Wade
2 Political Junkies (Maria) – One More Thing
Wonder Women Wanderings – In Honor of Kasandra Wade

Truality Radio – Host Ezra is an old friend of Ka’Sandra and saw her one week before her death. He describes that last encounter.
My name is Leslie Smith.  I’m known by most as Ezra.  I’m a spoken word artist and actor from Pittsburgh, Pa.  I’m so saddened by the lost of Ka’Sandra.  I called her “Pink”.  I met her in 2000 while attending the Pittsburgh Job Corps Center with her.  We both were in the college program.  We dated briefly, but remained friends.  I ran into her every once in a while and we would just say hello to one another and keep it going.  I saw her about a week and a half before her murder in East Liberty standing in front of a building.  We said our usual hellos and I kept walking.  But, then, something told me to stop, turn around, and chat with her for a little bit.  So, I turned around and asked her how she’s been.  I knew that Pink had gone through some rough times in her life from past discussions and I was hoping she was in a good place now.  She said she was about to start working full time at ACTION United and was about to start attending Devry University to receive her bachelor’s degree. Ka’Sandra sounded so proud of her accomplishments. There was a gentleman standing outside with her and I wasn’t sure if he was her boyfriend.  I asked if he was and he said no and they both laughed.  I told them I was just making sure I wasn’t disrespecting anybody.  I said, “Well, good for you.  Keep it up.”  She said thanks and I went on my way.  I left thinking to myself, “Well, there’s a job corps success story”, smiling to myself.  I was so happy for her.  She had overcame and accomplished a lot.  I still can’t believe she’s gone.
Please follow #RememberHerName
Other Mentions
Melissa McEwen at Shakesville included the vigil in her weekly lists of must-read posts.

Additional resources: