Category Archives: Movies

The Sunday Salon: Dispatches from the Back Deck

The Sunday Salon

 

I can’t think of too many places I’d rather be writing this Sunday’s salon than my current location: my lounge chair situated on our back deck. These are the days that make the bullshit of the -13 degree temperatures with the -30 wind chills that we dealt with during this winter worth it.

There’s nothing better than that first time venturing back out onto the deck after such a winter. It’s glorious.

OK, yeah, sure … I admit that there are other more exotic places in the world, but right now on this almost 80-degree perfect weather Sunday with an occasional gust of a breeze and my daffodils in bloom and Don Draper back in my living room this evening and my kids getting along, this corner of southwestern Pennsylvania is as pretty close to heaven today as you can get.

It’s not, of course. Just several miles east of here, the Murraysville community is reeling from this week’s events at Franklin Regional High School where a 16 year old student stabbed more than 20 people. It has shaken many of us in the Pittsburgh area; we know none of us are isolated from this sort of thing and this week brought that reality and the powerless feelings ever so closer to home, once again.

My kids have been talking about the stabbings a little bit. It has come up in their classrooms and in conversations with their friends. As somewhat of a distraction from that and other things, we went to the movies earlier this morning and caught a 10:45 am. matinee of “The Muppet Movie: Most Wanted.” We’re big Muppet fans in this house and although the sequel was, as even The Muppets themselves admit, not as good as the first movie, there were enough fun moments to make it worthwhile. There’s a great very brief-don’t-blink-or-else-you’ll-miss-it cameo by Josh Groban, which I loved and the song “I’m Number One” will speak to anyone who has been in the position to someone who gets all the credit for your hard work.

Mrs. PoeIn bookish news, I’ve been feeling somewhat behind in … well, everything. I have a bunch of reviews and posts that I want to get written, and I can’t remember when I last sat down with a book for a long chunk of time. Next to me here on the deck is my current read, Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen, so I’m hoping to make some more headway with that this afternoon.

GoneSomething I did read – and finish this week was Colum McCann’s new short story “Gone,” which is now available as a Kindle Single.  I will, as you know, read anything that Colum McCann writes; he could write the Yellow Pages and I would devour it. (With this, I made the mistake of starting it at lunchtime and I didn’t have enough time to finish it; don’t be like me and do that.) When a child with special needs goes missing, McCann gets to the heart of parental guilt, anguish, and self-blame.

I’m also reading Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens with my son as part of a school project (and listening to the audio book in the car, to try and stay ahead of the game). That deserves a whole separate post, which I’m hoping to get to soon. 

Year of the SnakeAs I mentioned in my previous post, my friend Melissa Luznicky Garrett published her 7th novel yesterday. Year of the Snake is the third book of hers that I’ve had the honor of editing. On the back cover, I give this endorsement:

“In Year of the Snake, Amelia embarks on a year-long journey of self-discovery and, in the process, learns what it’s like to truly fall in love. In her seventh novel, author Melissa Luznicky Garrett proves her own growing versatility as a writer. With madcap plot twists and delightful surprises,Year of the Snake wraps the reader tightly around Amelia, Mason and Desmond and keeps one guessing about who will be Amelia’s ultimate choice. A light romantic read, it’s impossible not to look more closely at our own lives to discover what stories are inside us that are just waiting to be written.” 

Now I’m off to spend some time with Mrs. Poe and perhaps a glass of wine. Here’s to good books, and to spring finally being in bloom. (At least for today, until it becomes 45 degrees again later this week.)

Such is spring in Pittsburgh.

Daffodils in bloom 2014

 

 

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The Sunday Salon: Books I’m Reading … and Movies I’m Watching Being Filmed

The Sunday Salon

Time and Place: 8:33 p.m. (getting this one in late) // our family room

Eating and Drinking: Nothing right now; however, I just had three Glutino chocolate chip cookies as dessert. You can’t even tell they are gluten-free. I love them.

Watching: The Husband has the Dodgers vs. Padres game on TV. After this winter, it’s certainly nice to have baseball back.  Late this afternoon, The Husband and I caught up on the past three weeks of “Dallas” on TNT. We are “Dallas” fans from back in the ’80s (my family watched it every week) and we’re loving this new series.

Reading:  Mrs. Poe

I’m only 29 pages into Mrs. Poe, but I am really enjoying this one. It’s a historical fiction novel set in 1845 when Edgar Allan Poe meets Frances Osgood, a struggling poet and children’s author. There’s an attraction between the two, which is somewhat scandalous – and problematic – because Poe happens to be married and his wife is very ill with tuberculosis. She suspects an affair, and befriends Frances.

Creative Nonfiction - Issue 50

I’ve also been reading my way through the Fall 2013/Winter 2014 edition of “Creative Nonfiction,” a publication that has been around for almost 20 years. This also happens to be the literary journal’s 50th issue.  Even though “Creative Nonfiction” has been publishing for nearly two decades, I’m a fairly new reader (the library has a subscription) because I’ve been trying to read more creative nonfiction and learning more about the craft. “Creative Nonfiction” gets bonus points with me because home base for the magazine is right here in Pittsburgh and its founder, Lee Gutkind, is a local guy.

Listening To:

Difficult Men

This week I finished the audio book of Difficult Men: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution: From The Sopranos and The Wire to Mad Men and Breaking Bad, by Brett Martin. Even now, “The Sopranos” remains one of my favorite shows, which is a good thing because Difficult Men talks a lot about the character of Tony Soprano and the making of the HBO show. (If you’ve never watched “The Sopranos” or you’re not a fan, this book probably isn’t for you.)  Mr. Martin also spends a lot of time on “The Wire,” a show I’ve never seen; as a result, I skipped over those parts.

(More on “Breaking Bad” in a minute.)

The Girl Factory

Currently, I’m listening to The Girl Factory, a memoir by Karen Dietrich about growing up in Connellsville, PA, a working-class factory town located 57 miles south of Pittsburgh. Connellsville is the type of place where nothing bad happens – until the March 1985 mass shooting at the Anchor Glass factory in town and where Ms. Dietrich’s parents both work. Her mother, who seems to have undiagnosed (as of chapter 12) obsessive-compulsive disorder and anxiety, seems to become even more emotionally fragile as a result (understandably so).

Making:  The movie “Fathers and Daughters” is filming in Pittsburgh and last week they were on location near where I work. It was all rather exciting. Amanda Seyfried and Aaron Paul star in the movie, and I needed my coworkers to tell me who he was (he’s from “Breaking Bad”) … and to point him out to me when he was, y’know, just hanging out.

Aaron Paul

And here’s one of someone taking a photo of Amanda Seyfried and a fan.

Amanda Seyfried

Promoting: One of the reasons I haven’t been reading or blogging as much over the past few weeks is because I’ve been editing a novel! (Not mine.) I was delighted when Melissa Luznicky Garrett asked if I would edit her seventh book, a romance novel titled Year of the Snake. Working with Melissa is always a pleasure and I find her books to be fun reads.  This one has an anticipated publication date in mid-late April.

Let me also take this opportunity to remind my readers that freelance editing is something I enjoy and I would welcome the opportunity to work with you on your book.  If that’s of interest, you can get in touch with me here.

Hope you had a great weekend!

 

 

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Readin’at: Now Filming in the ‘Burgh: The Fault in Our Stars

Since moving to Pittsburgh in 2011, one of the things I’ve been pleasantly surprised to discover is just how much this city embraces the written word and the authors who bring them to life. We’re quite the literary town and my blog feature “Readin’at” celebrates all things bookish as relating to the ‘Burgh. 

I admit, I wasn’t too crazy when I heard they were making a movie of The Fault in Our Stars, the incredibly moving novel by John Green.To begin with, I confess I’m not much of a movie person. That’s a recent development; I never used to be this way. And I have a particular apathy for movies made of books I really, really love – likeThe Fault in Our Stars. 

Because this book is special. It just is.

But oh, now that the movie is filming here in Pittsburgh, as reported by the Post-Gazette, that’s a different story.

I’d definitely recommend reading this before seeing the movie. Here’s part of my review:

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

You (as in, all you bloggers) have said that this is such a book.
Here’s what you need to know about The Fault in Our Stars: It’s the story of Hazel Lancaster and Augustus Waters, teenagers who meet in a most unlikely place – a cancer support group. Hazel has accepted that she is likely to die; Augustus is in remission. The bond between the two … well, it sounds cliche to say that they are star-crossed lovers, a cancer-filled Romeo and Juliet, but it makes sense in the meaning and context of this novel.
And that’s all I’m going to say. Because, as sad and as heartbreaking as the premise may sound, this is an absolute must-read. For teens, for adults, for EVERYONE. It’s a tearjerker, yes. You will cry. But you know what? You’ve cried over more trivial crap, like those who’ve been kicked off America’s Dancing with Survivors and Top Models Who Have No Talent.  Am I right?

The Fault in Our Stars 
is a story about love and risk and the unfairness of life and it is simply brilliant in every way.
It earns and is more than worthy of your tears.
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the good cancer, the husband, and roger ebert

Cactus, taken by me August 2011
at the Phipps, Pittsburgh, PA 

Even the doctors called it the best kind of cancer you could get.

That’s the common perception about papillary thyroid cancer, the kind that The Husband had.

Has, as we were reminded today, with the news of the death of beloved movie critic Roger Ebert. Because it doesn’t really leave you, you know. That goddamn radiation is still within, even now, still eating away at the thyroid tissue.

We hope.

As we came to believe during the months of MRIs and biopsies and body scans and low iodine diets and radioactive isolation, the words best and cancer had no place being in the same sentence.

Sure, the treatment protocol for The Husband wasn’t the same as that of other cancers. There wasn’t any chemotherapy, no hair loss. The radiation was different. But that didn’t mean it didn’t have its own emotional toll on the patient and the family (no one should ever, ever have to tell their child that their parent has cancer) or side effects – or significant risks.

Although thyroid cancer has a 99% cure rate, even I can do enough math to figure out there was that other 1%. There was, always in the midst, the 1% chance of eventually dying from this. Very slim, of course. Extremely rare.

I spent a lot of time during The Husband’s cancer treatment thinking about the people in the 1%.

Today we learned that Roger Ebert was among them, that he lost his battle against what started as papillary thyroid cancer, the same kind that has taken up residence in our house over the past few months.

The Husband’s Facebook status tonight:

“As Roger Ebert’s case demonstrates, just because “you got the good cancer”, papillary thyroid cancer can still kill – even after treatment. Besides loving him and thinking he was brilliant and sad over his loss, his death is a firm reminder that I haven’t beaten this “good cancer” yet. RIP Roger.”

Rest in peace, Roger.

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.

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Weekend Cooking: Forks Over Knives

“Someone needs to stand up and say that the answer isn’t another pill. 
The answer is spinach.” 
– Bill Maher

Let food be thy medicine.
Hippocrates, 480 B.C. (or something like that)

I confess: I’ve let my low-cholesterol diet slip a bit.

(Okaaaaaay …a lot.)

I wouldn’t say I am completely off the wagon. It’s more like I’m hanging on by one arm while the horse is quickly gaining speed.

When I last went to the doctor in October, she brought up the issue of cholesterol medication. Again. And my high triglycerides. Again.

I don’t go to the doctor. I’m not interested in medication. My doctor wasn’t too interested in hearing about dietary changes, including the admittedly few that I had made. She seems to be the type who is a little too attached to her prescription pad.

Needless to say, I will be finding a new doctor.

He that takes medicine and neglects diet wastes the time of his doctor.
Ancient Chinese proverb

In the meantime, I’ve been talking via Facebook with one of my very best friends who has some similar issues and who, in that past two weeks with the support of her husband, decided to begin a “plant-strong” diet.

“You need to watch Forks Over Knives too,” she told me. Which I then did, on Wednesday.

Have you seen this documentary? (You probably have. I am the last person in the world to see every movie.) It’s eye-opening and, in my opinion, well-done. A lot of the information I’d already heard, but the way it is put together in the film – combined with real-life stories of people who have adopted a plant-based diet – is fascinating.

I know that there are some controversies surrounding this particular film and that there will always be people convinced that we need to continue consuming meat products and dairy. I’m not so sure. Forks Over Knives advocates a plant-based diet, meaning one that is primarily plant-based (no animal products), consists of minimally processed foods, and no oils.

I watched with my laptop, taking notes, but the statistics were coming too fast for me to type (even as I looked away during the visuals of the open heart operations; those were a little too graphic for my … um, taste). I found it especially interesting to see the historical connections.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Americans started to believe that we needed more protein in our diets. This coincided with seeing visuals of starving children throughout the world and the introduction of convenience and fast foods. Coronary artery disease became more prevalent, and in 1971, President Nixon and Congress declared a “war on cancer.”

Too many of us here in the United States are still fighting that war, especially when compared to other countries.

Awhile ago, my friend also told me how much she and her husband like the recipes in Lindsay Nixon’s Happy Herbivore books. This week, I discovered that my library had Everyday Happy Herbivore so, in an effort to recommit to eating better and because of being inspired by Forks Over Knives, I decided to try a few of the recipes and make some immediate changes.

On Wednesday, I made the Tex-Mex Shepherd’s Pie recipe from Everyday Happy Herbivore for dinner.

It’s incredibly simple. Instead of oil, I sauteed onions in the juice of canned diced tomatoes. I also added a little bit of garlic. Then, it’s a can of black beans and corn. (I had a bag of steamed corn in the freezer.) Top with mashed sweet potatoes, and that’s it.

I happened to think this was absolutely delicious. The kids thought it was okay but were fans of the aesthetics. (“It’s black and gold … Steelers colors!” Boo said, while he helped me stir. (That’s his hand in the photo above.) “This would be a great Super Bowl meal next time they win.”)  The Husband … well, he hated it. (He’s not quite on board with the idea of a plant-based diet while eschewing cholesterol medications. He’s somewhat of the mindset that, if the doctor says you need to be on a pill, you’re to run to the pharmacy that instant. I’m a bit – okay, a lot – more skeptical.

For Thursday night’s dinner, I made up my own vegan creation: a stir fry with a large portobello mushroom. He wasn’t too happy with that, either.

As my mid-morning snack on Friday, I had a large bowl of fruit that I purchased at Costco: strawberries, blueberries, bananas, and a plum. That filled me up until early-mid afternoon.

For our traditional Friday night pizza night, I still ordered pizza for the family but I added a garden salad large enough to share with everyone. Nobody accepted. I had a decent portion, plus two smallish size slices of pizza. (As opposed to the three slices I typically have.) I just did the same for lunch today.

Part of the issue is that these are foods The Husband doesn’t like. Vegetables, beans, tofu, fruits – not his thing. We’ve both been vegetarian for 14 years, but truthfully, most of the time that takes the form of being pasta-tarian. If there’s a classification called Italian-arian with a diet of pizza, ravioli, baked ziti, lasagna, macaroni and cheese … that’s us. We also eat a lot of vegetarian substitutes – veggie burgers and crumbles, faux chicken, etc., which can get pricey. For me, it’s just getting to be too much. I’m tired of having no energy; I’m tired of my migraines.

So, to each his and her own. I’ve decided that while I’m not going to force the issue – I’m not interested in being a nag or turning this into a battleground – that’s not going to stop ME from making the changes I want to make. There are bigger issues at play here; we have two kids; he just got over having cancer; and if I live past August 4 of this year, then I’ll officially be older than my dad when he died.

Food for thought, indeed.

Weekend Cooking is a feature hosted by Beth Fish Reads and is open to anyone with a food-related post to share.

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 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.

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Book Review: Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter

Mrs. Thomas’s Long Week


In honor of the 35th anniversary of Elvis’s death (depending on whether you believe such or not), I give you an encore of one of my favorite blog posts … which isn’t even mine. It’s a guest post from The Husband. The photo, however, is mine and is a centerpiece from a Fabulous Fifties themed event that I once did for work. (The event, not the centerpiece.)  Enjoy. 

Beginning 35 years ago today – early in the evening – Mrs. Thomas took to her room after crying out, quickly calling her mother and telling her to “get the hell over here” and plopping her 8-year old son in front of the television to await his grandmother’s arrival.

Mrs. Thomas didn’t come out of her room the rest of the night. Nor did she come out the next day. Nor the following day, either.

It was only on the fourth day after the sudden death of her beloved Elvis that she finally emerged. Her hair was a tangled mess. Her eyes were red with traces of days-old mascara running up and down her cheeks.

She showered, got something to eat, and returned to her room for two more days.

I know this because I was an 8-year old witness to much of it.

On the evening of August 16, 1977, I was watching television when CBS News ran one of their 30-second national news briefs. A photo of Elvis Presley was in the upper right corner of the screen as the anchor – probably Roger Mudd or maybe Morton Dean – said something to the effect of, “Reaction continues to roll in from around the globe as news of the death of Elvis Presley today at the age of 42 has brought a throng of thousands of grieving fans to his home in Memphis…”

I remember turning to my mother and saying, “Mrs. Thomas is going to be in trouble.”

I was friends with Mrs. Thomas’ son, who lived across the street from our first floor duplex apartment. It was from my friend and his mother that I first learned about Matchbox cars, NASCAR racing and Elvis Presley. Shortly after the Thomases moved in, I was invited over to play. In a tour of the apartment – which took about 7 seconds, although at the time I was too young to know that we were just barely making enough income so that we were always just a little bit behind – I saw an enormous portrait hanging over Mrs. Thomas’ bed.

“Who is that?!?” I said to my friend.

I heard a gasp from behind me, where Mrs. Thomas must’ve have overheard me. If I’d have said the same thing about the enormous portrait hanging across from Mrs. Thomas’ bed – that of Jesus Christ – she would not have been as upset with me.

“Who is THAT?!?! THAT is Elvis Presley! How have you gotten this old [seven, at the time] not knowing Elvis?!?!”

I’d put that about mid-1976. Over the next year or so, then, it was rare for me to be over the Thomas apartment and not hear Elvis on the stereo, or see Elvis on the TV – as the Thomases were the first people I ever knew with a VCR.

(Which is funny because they had no more of a pot to piss in than we did, yet there was this incredibly expensive primitive video player. Might not have been called a VCR, as I don’t remember any tapes.)

Anyway, Mrs. Thomas had every single one of Elvis’ movies – whatever format it was in – and they were always on. I remember not liking the movies terribly much – even at that age I realized it was essentially Elvis Presley playing himself in some unrealistic setting like Hawaii or a 19th century western town. The music, though. Well, the music was incredible. I can’t tell you the first song I heard, but the one that I remembered liking immediately was “Wear My Ring Around Your Neck.” Just a great tune, with every element of Presley’s talents all over it. Never liked ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ [still don’t]. But all of the others I soon knew pretty well.

It became ‘normal’ to see the large bust of Elvis that rested on Mrs. Thomas’ bureau, not to mention that painting, and just accept the fact that Elvis was that important – that of course you’d have a bust and portrait of him in your house, you idiot. It was vintage 1970s; in retrospect, I swear that damned painting was on a velour canvas. I just remember it was fuzzy to the touch [although we never let Mrs. Thomas know we touched the damned thing, believe you me].

So it was on that mid-August night 35 years ago that I saw what was going on there on the TV and told my mother that Mrs. Thomas was going to be in trouble. What I meant, of course, was that she was going to be a holy emotional fucking wreck. I just didn’t know some of those words at the time, so ‘in trouble’ was my way of saying, ‘she’s going to be majorly fucked up by this news, mother.’

And, indeed, she was. It was too late to walk across the street to check on my friend and Mrs. Thomas. At least that’s what I remember my mother telling me. I remember looking at the window across the street at the Thomas’ second-floor apartment front window. The room was black but I could see the neon-like images of what was the television screen in the living room. By that time, I figured out later, Mrs. Thomas had plopped my friend in front of the TV and retired to her room. The next day, early, I walked over and sure enough there was my friend and his none-too-happy grandmother. She, no doubt, figured her days of raising an 8-year old had long passed.

I asked my friend’s grandmother how Mrs. Thomas was doing.

“Not good,” said his grandmother. “She’s crazy. She wasn’t this upset when her father died.”

Just then, I vaguely remembered one time when I overheard Mrs. Thomas calling her father something along the lines of a ‘lazy, no-good boozing prick’. I chose not to share that with my friend’s grandmother that morning. At first, I was scared for my friend. I could hear Mrs. Thomas crying in her room over the sounds of Elvis’ music.

My friend and I went out to play [back in those days, ‘what are your kids doing this summer?’ meant that moms across the country simply opened their front doors, turned to their offspring and lovingly said, ‘Get out!’]. We came back for lunch and the soundtrack – Mrs. Thomas’ shrieking with Elvis providing back-up – were still going strong. Same thing at dinner. By this point, my friend’s grandmother looked like she wanted to strangle her daughter but was afraid to open the door to her room to begin doing so.

The next day, when it continued, I remember asking my friend what he thought of all of this. How did he feel about Elvis’ death? “He’s Elvis, man,” my friend said. “He’s Elvis and he’s dead. It’s too weird.”

That was about as introspective as we two 8-year olds got that summer. When, about a week later, Mrs. Thomas was well enough to go back to work and slowly resume what now seems, in retrospect, to have been a very sad and mundane life raising a son as a single parent, I noticed that more Elvis memorabilia had somehow been acquired. Maybe it’d always been there and I’d never noticed it. More likely, Mrs. Thomas had instructed her mother to bring the stuff with her, as her mother still lived in the house where Mrs. Thomas grew up a young girl in love with the 1950s Elvis.

Over the years, I’ve encountered others who had a similar Elvis-worship. While I thought the Elvis portrait Mrs. Thomas possessed had to be a one-of-a-kind, amazingly a few years later I saw the same damned thing over another friend’s mother’s bed – no lie. I guess that was the painting you put over your bed. While I encountered other Elvis-worshippers, Mrs. Thomas is the one I recall most vividly simply because she was the only one I witnessed suffering in the aftermath of Elvis’ actual death.

As I say, the music was something I dug right away, and always have. Throughout my life, I’ve maintained that if you don’t like Elvis, and you are American, then there is something very, very wrong with you. In your soul, I mean. I know that sounds ridiculous, but Elvis is so quintessentially American, that to not like the music [hey, I agree: the movies suck], the persona, Graceland, etc, meant that somehow you’d missed the whole point of America. At least as it existed in the second half of the 20th century. I can’t quite explain why – in words – that I feel that way. It just is.

[Note from Melissa: I’m so not an Elvis fan. Never have been. Never will be. Never liked him. I don’t get the whole mystique and appeal. Infer from that what you will. Carry on.]

So, today, on the 35th anniversary of The King’s death, I think of him and his music. I think of Mrs. Thomas, too. All of these years later – assuming she’s still alive – I wonder if this day still fills her with the kind of grief it did back then – the shock of it aside, of course. Now that I’m a year older than Elvis was when his head hit that porcelain toilet as his heart finally gave out, I still love the music, and the persona [the movies still suck, though].

I also still think that Elvis is as quintessentially American as any other icon of the 20th century. That he’d only be 77 years old also reminds me just how young he was when he died.

And, just how young I was, too.

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