Like Don Draper, We’re All Making Person-to-Person Calls

Don Draper

SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t yet seen the series finale of Mad Men, WATCH IT BEFORE READING ANY FURTHER.

Spoiler Alert #2: I’m not kidding. Spoilers?  This post haz ‘em. Get out while you can.

Spoiler Alert #3: All right, last chance. You’ve been warned.  And, here we go …

We are all making person-to-person calls.

We’re calling the people we love.  Our kids.  Our spouses.

Whether they accept our call is, ultimately, beyond our control.  In the end, what matters most in life are the connections we have with other people and making those connections in the first place. But it starts within, and if we don’t have that connection with ourselves – inner peace, harmony – then we have nothing.

That’s my takeaway, at least, from the series finale of “Mad Men,” which was perfectly titled “Person to Person.”

During the entire series, we’ve watched as Don has tried – and failed – to connect with nearly every single person in his life. His kids. His wives. His numerous women. His real identity as Dick Whitman. For the most part, he failed at this – except at work, where his inability to make personal connections provides a nice irony because Don is so damn good at his job. Advertising is all about connecting products with people, of that instantaneous recognition when we hear a brand name, of getting that connection (making the pitch) in the first place.

The finale reinforced the idea of connection through the characters’ disconnect to each other in a myriad of ways. We had Pete’s comment to Peggy that he has a 5-year-old, and the unspoken connection of the child they share. The lingering camera shot on the “Truth Well Told” sign in the McCann conference room during the meeting. The disconnect between Joan and Richard and that phone ringing, ringing, ringing while she is talking with him about their future.  Little Kevin being engrossed in the TV and the lack of connection with Roger, his father. Don lighting a cigarette as Sally tells him about Betty dying of lung cancer.

And of course, Don making his way back to California and reconnecting with Stephanie and his past during a hippie retreat by the sea.  I anticipated that we would see her or the ghost of Anna or that there would be some tangible reference to them during this episode because they are the connection to where the story of Don Draper started.  His whole life has been about struggling to connect Don Draper and Dick Whitman. (“I took another man’s name and made nothing of it,” Don says, in his person-to-person call to Peggy.)

As Don also said in the series finale, people just come and go and never say goodbye.

Yes, that they do, Don.

That they do.

Weekend Cooking: The China Study All-Star Collection: Whole Food, Plant-Based Recipes from Your Favorite Vegan Chefs

The China Study All-Star Collection

The China Study All-Star Collection: Whole Food, Plant-Based Recipes from Your Favorite Vegan Chefs
by Leanne Campbell, PhD.
BenBella Books 
304 pages 

When T. Colin Campbell and his son Thomas M. Campbell published The China Study ten years ago, the possibility that the food we eat (particularly animal products) might be affecting our health was seen as somewhat radical.  A decade later, being vegan is practically in vogue.

While some may choose to dismiss The China Study either because of the controversies surrounding its research methods or skepticism or personal dietary preference, there’s no question that more people are more cognizant of what they are eating.

I’m one of them.

As regular blog readers know, I’ve been a vegetarian (well, pescetarian, if we’re getting technical) for almost 19 years. During the past year and a half, I’ve been adapting to a gluten-free diet to help with stomach woes and migraines, both of which have greatly diminished. I follow a lot of gluten-free, vegetarian, and vegan blogs and of course I can’t resist checking out any cookbook from the library that might offer a few new recipes fitting those categories.

The China Study All-Star Collection was a cookbook that recently caught my eye because two of my favorite vegan chefs, Dreena Burton of Plant Powered Kitchen and Lindsay Nixon of Happy Herbivore fame, have recipes in this book. The author, Leanne Campbell is the daughter of T. Colin Campbell, who advocates eating “whole, plant-based foods, with little or no added oil, salt, or refined carbohydrates like sugar or white flour” (from Whole, pg. 209).

Not all the recipes are gluten-free, but many offer suggestions for modification – or, if not, could probably be made GF with some minor adjustments. The photography is well-done throughout the book and nearly every recipe includes a photo.

What I Made: Haven’t had the chance to try any of these yet.

What Looks Good (all of the recipes I listed below seem to be naturally gluten-free or easily modified):

Apple-Swirl Loaf, by Dreena Burton (pg. 15)

Caesar Salad, Jazzy-Style, by Laura Theodore (pg. 80 and 82) ~ with a tofu-based Caesar Salad Dressing recipe also provided; this one is GF except for the croutons, which could be easily substituted

Fresh Corn Salad, by Leanne Campbell (pg. 86)

Black Bean Soup with Sweet Potatoes, by Dreena Burton (pg. 106) ~ this looks perfect for the fall!

Everything Minestrone, by Lindsay Nixon (pg. 114)

Mellow Lentil “Sniffle” Soup, by Dreena Burton (pg. 117)

Sweet Potato and Yellow Split Pea Soup, by Chef AJ (pg. 121) ~ another one that I want to try this fall

Sneaky Chickpea Burgers, by Dreena Burton (pg. 127) ~ the oats in these would need to be GF

Barbeque Portobello Sandwiches, by John and Mary McDougall (pg. 128) ~ obviously, the buns would need to be GF

Blue Corn Chickpea Tacos, by Lindsay Nixon (pg. 134)

Savory Mushroom Stroganoff, by Laura Theodore (pg. 162)

Most of the recipes are accompanied by bright, well-done photography and none of the directions seemed particularly cumbersome.

Weekend Cooking - NewWeekend 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, 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.

The Sum of My Parts

Mothers Day 2015 - Be Brave

We live – yes, we do – in a reality show culture. One that demands, seduces, cajoles us into telling our secrets for the world’s consumption and criticism.

There’s a vulnerability in doing this, absolutely. Sometimes the entire story is not ours to tell; sometimes people are still alive or too young to understand; sometimes the words of those we once loved haunt us (sometimes you tell people too much, Melissa; you need to learn sometimes you don’t need to share everything with the world); sometimes dusty contracts and unspoken agreements make us hesitant.

We know all this, we live with all this, and so it is often too easy to stay silent, to not hit publish, to go quietly about our lives, albeit with a reminder here and there: a medical professional who asks a common question, the colleague who is just making conversation about do you have kids, that gaggle of moms in the playgroup who relish in rehashing pregnancy details you know nothing about. Even those instances don’t bother you anymore because you’ve learned how to smile and adopt a version of the truth. It’s not that we forget, but rather it’s more of a feeling that we’ve put that away. We’ve dealt with that; we’ve gotten the therapy; we’ve moved emotionally to a much brighter place which – hell, look at that – might even feel like something called …


Until you read the words from someone who sounds like you, way back then, in May 1985 and in the days, months, years, decades after. Someone probably much younger than you and most likely a teen who is just finding out, who is questioning, struggling, hurting like hell. You’ve lived what she is living because you, like her, are also 1 in 5,000 women with this (MRKH, an abbreviation for Mayer-Rokitansky-Kuster-Hauser Syndrome) and without that (a uterus). You have something to offer, a perspective to share, a glimpse of a life that – I promise you, girlfriend, I pinky-swear to you – is not defined by one missing part.

Because we are not the sum of our parts.

This thing that looks like acceptance has not come to me easily or overnight, because as we all know, acceptance rarely shows up gift-wrapped at the door. For most of us, it is the sum of many things.




It is true that I am not a numbers person except for dates.  I remember so many of them, and those tend to be the ones I respect and honor and measure the distance between here and there. They are mile markers, rest stops on this journey of life which leads me to reflections and blog posts like this one that beg the question of what I’m called to do with this, what it all means, where it will lead.

Sharing this through the writing – a memoir that says what you need to say and also protects others, perhaps? – is something that feels possible (there’s even a working title) yet there’s a holding back perhaps for reasons I don’t know or understand. It is scary as hell and it is easy to tell yourself to wait for the right publication, the perfect time, to listen to the ghosts – sometimes you tell people too much, Melissa; you need to learn sometimes you don’t need to share everything with the world – to live in the what-if’s and the maybes instead of the hell, yes. There’s a sense of not wanting to give it all away at once and certainly not for free; yet at the same time, I believe we are given what we have to help others and to connect amidst the risks that will always be there and the internal chorus of what will they think. This business of life is too damn short, and the timing will never, ever seem right. We would not be here, would not have what we have – these kids, this strength, each other – if others did not take a risk and do exactly that.

I believe in having no regrets, in living out loud, and celebrating our truth. Some days that is easier than others, but it is in the doing that gives us our power, adding up piece by piece to reveal our greatest strengths.

Photo above is of a Bravelet, my Mother’s Day 2015 gift to myself and which benefits the amazing work of the Beautiful You MRKH Foundation.

sunday salon: a laid-back, do-it-yourself kind of mother’s day


Mothers Day 2015

Today is a low-key, very laid back kind of Mother’s Day. Hardly recognizable from any other Sunday, actually, which is fine with me.  Both of our mothers have been called, the requisite Facebook sentiments have been posted, and …that’s about it. I’m perfectly fine with Mother’s Day being an ordinary Sunday as it wasn’t that long ago (and yet, a lifetime ago) when this was a much more bittersweet holiday. Compared to that, I’ll take average and ordinary any day.

Still, I did take advantage of the occasion to purchase some gifts for myself.

Mothers Day 2015


(Why yes, you observant thang, there is a missing bottle of wine in the Barefoot Merlot four-pack. That’s because it was purchased and consumed on Friday night.)

And this arrived in Friday’s mail:

Mothers Day 2015 - Be BraveI wanted a Bravelet for various reasons, namely as a motivator and inspiration for writing about some things that I feel compelled to write more about, but at times struggle with. It’s also a reminder of times I’ve needed to be brave, because sometimes we tend to forget the hard stuff we’ve been through when the here and now shows up.  Finally, and most importantly, it’s a way for me to support the phenomenal work of the Beautiful You MRKH Foundation, an organization that is very personal to me.  ($10 from each Bravelet goes to a cause of your choosing, such as BYMRKH.)

Along with 1,600 other hopefuls, I applied to be a Book Riot contributor. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be, but I’m okay with that. (Here’s the funny thing about starting to send more stuff out into the world: in some ways, the rejection gets a little bit easier. There’s no shortage of places to submit to. If you’re not right for one gig or the piece isn’t right for one publication, there will be another coming along.)

This week, one of those places was The Philadelphia Review of Books. Poetry editor John Ebersole put out a call for political poems and stated he would publish them on the spot.  I had been thinking about hearing Desmond Tutu speak five years ago in Baltimore and the recent riots. The result was “Baltimore, April 2010″ which appeared on The Philadelphia Review of Books’ blog along with more than 100 other poetry submissions. Go read them, as these folks are some fantastic company.


Salt Sugar FatIn the car, I’m still listening to Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Moss. It’s fascinating and sobering to learn the marketing and product development strategies behind some of the best-known brands. Scott Brick narrates the audio of this, and I just love him.


In the Unlikely Event

Last night I started the soon-to-be-released (June 2) Judy Blume novel, In the Unlikely Event, which I’m reviewing for the Post-Gazette. Here’s what I can say about this, as of page 31: this is definitely going to appeal to those of us of a certain age who grew up reading Judy’s books. We’ll see if that continues to hold true throughout, but trust me when I say that the nostalgia factor is strong with this one.

For those who celebrate this day and embrace all that it is, for those who look at this Sunday as just another day, and for those who, understandably, find Mother’s Day difficult for any myriad of reasons, know this: today and every day, you are and always will forever be mom enough, no matter what. Happy Mother’s Day.


baltimore, april 2010 …and other political poems in the philadelphia review of books

I don’t know John Ebersole very well, but he strikes me as an intelligent, highly-creative, intense kind of guy. On Tuesday, he posted on Facebook that he wanted original “political poems of the now.” You see, John’s the poetry editor of The Philadelphia Review of Books and for most of this week, he’s been accepting political poems on the spot and publishing them immediately on Philly Books and Culture, PRB’s blog. In three days, more than 100 people have submitted poems about the Baltimore riots, school shootings, race relations, gay rights, economic inequity, Nepal, and so much more.

Such times we live in. Such talent.  These poems are so worth a few minutes of your time to read. I’m truly honored to have my words – about hearing Archbishop Desmond Tutu speak in Baltimore about justice during another april that seems a lifetime ago – among more than 100 passionate voices.

Here’s “Baltimore, April 2010″ on the Philadelphia Review of Books blog, and also below. My thanks, John, for the opportunity and for providing this forum.

baltimore, april 2010

you have a noble profession

you have a calling, you have a vocation

archbishop tutu is saying these words to


and three thousand fundraisers

in baltimore

on this april night

we must inspire others to change the world and

we must be inspired to be the change in the world and

we are silent in our seats and

we are awestruck and rapt and

we feel the presence of god and

now he is paraphasing king

we must learn to live together as

brothers and sisters

or perish together forever.

Desmond Tutu - AFP

Desmond Tutu - AFP (2)

Archbishop Desmond Tutu speaking at the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) conference in Baltimore, MD. April 2010.

What I Want to Tell You About Everything I Never Told You

Everything I Never Told You

Everything I Never Told You
by Celeste Ng 
Penguin Press 
297 pages 

Winner of the ALA/YALSA Alex Award 2015, given to one of ten books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults, ages 12 through 18. The winning titles are selected from the previous year’s publishing. 

In Everything I Never Told You, so much is  left unspoken. Not to you, the reader; you’re smart enough to understand the price that will be paid for the silence surrounding all five members of the Lee family.

Living in suburban Ohio in the 1970s, this is a family full of secrets, of regrets, of unfulfilled dreams and hijacked ambitions. Of letters never sent nor received, of tchkotches stolen, of misunderstandings big and small, of innermost feelings repressed and silent pacts.

Part of this is  possible because of the time period in which Celeste Ng sets this, her debut novel. (And may I interject and say that this is one hell of a debut novel.)  This is one of those stories where the setting and time period is almost as much of a character as the characters themselves. Ng  flawlessly captures every detail of life in the groovy 70s: sunbathing while coated in baby oil, the National Anthem coming on TV when the late-night station goes off the air, dialing a rotary phone and listening in on another person’s conversation.

Back then, in many ways society’s norms almost demanded us to capitulate to others’ needs, to project one’s unfulfilled ambitions onto one’s children.  The idea that women could pursue a career in the sciences – or have any life beyond the kitchen – was still revolutionary.

“You loved so hard and hoped so much and then you ended up with nothing. Children who no longer needed you. A husband who no longer wanted you. Nothing left but you, alone, and empty space.” (pg. 246)

The central event in Everything I Never Told You happens in the very first sentence.  “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet. 1977, May 3, six thirty in the morning, no one knows anything but this innocuous fact: Lydia is late for breakfast.” Lydia is the 16-year-old daughter of James and Marilyn Lee, who we learn within the first few pages has been found dead in a nearby lake. From there, Ng expertly unravels for her reader how James and Marilyn met (professor falls in love with student), married and became parents to Lydia, Nathan and – oh, surprise! – Hannah.

Everything I Never Told You was incredibly well-written and suspenseful enough to hold my attention. (And may I say that I typically shy away from a) books that have gotten a lot of buzz and are on everyone’s favorite list and b) novels with dead or dying children. I chose this because Celeste Ng grew up in Pittsburgh and I have tickets for her appearance here on June 1.)

My only issues with this (and the reason this is a 4 star rating for me instead of 5), were with the character of Hannah and a plot development that comes toward the very end of the novel.  On the latter, I’m not mentioning this for spoiler reasons, and while I think I understand why it was there – another example of the cultural and societal norms of things unspoken – it felt gratuitous and somewhat unnecessary because the rest of the novel was so strong. And while I also understand why the character of Hannah was included in the story, at times she seemed extraneous and – true to her character – in the way. I’m not convinced that she was necessary for the reader to understand the theme of the novel.

Which can be summed up in a few lines found toward the novel’s conclusion, when the events leading up to May 3 (yes, once again I find myself reading a novel at the exact time of year it takes place) unfold for the reader’s full understanding.

“Instead, they will dissect this last evening for years to come. What had they missed that they should have seen? What small gesture, forgotten, might have changed everything? They will pick it down to the bones, wondering how this had gone so wrong, and they will never be sure.” (pg. 271)

Sometimes – oftentimes – our lives turn out differently than we planned. Terrible things happen. But by listening to what the people we love are and aren’t saying, admitting to our deepest wishes and exposing our most fragile insecurities, our lives and those around us have a chance to change for the better.

4 stars out of 5

the sunday salon: april reading, judy in june

The Sunday Salon

Currently // My usual Sunday morning-into-early afternoon perch on the sofa, perusing the Pittsburgh and Philly newspapers along with Facebook and blog posts. On tap for today is grocery shopping and some household chores I need to get to (cleaning the showers … ugh).

What I’d Rather Be Doing // Sitting on the deck reading. It’s a gorgeous day. Finally, spring in the ‘Burgh. About goddamned time.

Reading, April recap // Thanks to the Read-a-thon and several very short books, I read seven books in April. A record month in a year that’s shaping up to be slow going, reading wise, but fantastic in quality. There are just too many damn good books out there.

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, by Therese Anne Fowler (audio)
Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood, by Alexandra Fuller
Leaving Before the Rains Come, by Alexandra Fuller
Deep Lane: Poems, by Mark Doty
We Should All Be Feminists, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
My Sunshine Away, by M.O. Walsh (audio)
Acorn, by Yoko Ono

Of these, My Sunshine Away will be making an appearance on my favorites list for 2015 (loved that one!) and there’s a good chance Leaving Before the Rains Come, Deep Lane, and Z will also show up there.

Reading, currently // I just finished Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. Expect a full review here later today or (most likely) tomorrow, since the pivotal event in the novel occurs on May 3.

Next up will probably be the new Judy Blume novel, due June 2.

Yes. You read that correctly.


Here it is.

In the Unlikely Event

I’m reviewing this one for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and yes, I fangirled my heart out when this was assigned to me. Although, can we talk about that cover? I mean, It looks kind of … amateurish and cheesy, don’t you think? This is a new book by Judy freakin’ Blume we’re talking about here. She’s a goddamn icon. Surely someone can do better than that for a cover, hmm?

Listening // Still listening to Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Moss and vowing not to eat another thing ever again.

Writing // The Girl took part in a teen program at the library yesterday, leaving me with a chunk of uninterrupted, quiet time to write. I brought my laptop up to the main reference room area and … total writer’s block. I suppose that’s to be expected; I was stunned to see that November was the last time I’d touched The Novel in Progress. It had also been over a week since I wrote anything besides work-related stuff – so it was like dusting off the mental cobwebs.


Wishing // My wonderful sister-in-law a very happy 40th birthday!

Feeling: Ancient and lazy. I swear, if I see one more Facebook picture of a high school friend’s kid going to their senior prom or graduating college or doing the stuff it seems like I was just doing five goddamn minutes ago, I may lose my mind.

Not to mention, every one of my friends has become an Olympian all of a sudden. For real, you’re either running Boston or the Pittsburgh Marathon or the Broad Street Run. Meanwhile, my lower back and ass are killing me today because I carried my laptop, bookbag and 510 lb. purse up one floor of the library’s steps. (Hey, I could have taken the damn elevator.)

Speaking of Facebook pictures, I’m more and more convinced the Duchess of Windsor is not real, you guys. Did you see her, 10 hours after having that baby, looking as fanfuckingtastic as ever? Jesus H. Christ. Of course, you know if she walked out of the hospital in sweats and what have you that would be what everyone would be yammering about. But, still.  I can’t. I just can’t.

Hoping // That The Boy will go back to school tomorrow. He’s been sick with pneumonia for more than a week (today is Day 10). The coughing has gotten much better, but he’s still not himself, especially in the mornings. He’s sick of being sick and we’re getting frustrated with the slow progression of things.

Happy Sunday, kids. Hope you all have a great week ahead.