Category Archives: Teen 1

bring to a boil

Worries go down better with soup.
~ Jewish proverb

Since the election, I’ve been attending our nearby UU church more regularly. (It’s helping.) The Girl also has been getting more involved with the teen youth group. For both of us, being among people who believe in the principles of acceptance, love, justice, equality, dignity and peace is providing some much needed sustenance during this tumultuous time.

On Sunday, The Girl and I helped out with a soup sale to raise money to support the youth group’s activities. That’s a picture of their efforts above: nearly a dozen slow cookers and stock pots simmering with Moroccan Chickpea Spinach soup, Potato Corn Chowder, a lentil soup and (our contribution) a gluten-free vegetarian Pasta e Fagioli.

The symbolism of many single ingredients commingled together to make this selection of delicious soups–ones based on ethnic flavors that are centuries old and that have been consumed by people throughout history and generations and under tyrants and dictators of their own–resonated with me on a weekend when the Celebrity President extinguished the lamp and slammed our country’s once-golden but now tarnished door on innocent people who had gone through the arduous legal process to come to America. Not to mention people living here legally and who happened to have the misfortune to be traveling home from visiting family or burying loved ones when they learned they were no longer welcome in the place they call home.

As I ate a nourishing bowl of vegetable soup and watched the teens serving the congregants steaming bowls of pasta, broth, chicken and beans, I thought of the analogy of the United States being a melting pot.  The teens are a composite of different life experiences and personal histories, of genders and of ethnic backgrounds. They themselves are a collective melting pot.

Barbara Mikulski, the former Senator from Maryland, once said that America isn’t a melting pot but a sizzling cauldron. She said those words in a speech about immigration in 1970. Almost half a century later, her words seem especially apt.

The funds the teens raised from their soup sale will support their participation in several activities–events for them to understand others’ stories and perspectives and to participate in social justice volunteer efforts to make our community stronger. Ingredients for a sizzling cauldron of a society at its boiling point and one where these kids are among our best hope and sustenance for the years ahead.



Currently …Birthdays, Burghosphere, and Books

Chocolate cake

Currently …
Sunday evening, at the end of a busier than usual weekend. The highlights: a dentist visit for an 8:45 a.m. root canal (there’s no better way to spend a Saturday, let me tell you) and a Sunday afternoon hanging out with some of Pittsburgh’s best bloggers at Best of the Burghosphere, which I’ll post more about tomorrow. Afterwards, The Girl and I stopped by Half Price Books for some birthday shopping. As much as this may surprise some of you, I’d never been there before today. It’s now The Girl’s favorite store (and one of mine, too).

Celebrating …
We’re celebrating the kids’ birthdays this weekend. Hard to believe they are 14. We kept things fairly low-key with one of their favorite dinners (a simple version of pasta with chicken in alfredo sauce) and the chocolate cake, pictured above.

Reading … 
I finished two books this week, which is practically unheard of for me — especially given the slow pace at which I’ve been reading.

M TrainAccidental Saints

M Train by Patti Smith, which I enjoyed. This has a very free-form quality to it.  If you’ve ever been part of a writing workshop and the instructor says to write for ten minutes about whatever comes to mind, that’s what this feels like.  (It’s not so easy writing about nothing is the first line and at times this feels as if you’ve stolen a glimpse at a page written in Patti Smith’s notebook.) Non-linear in structure, M Train is what I would describe as a “writer’s book” and it isn’t going to appeal to everyone. It meanders, often in an esoteric way.

Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People, by Nadia Bolz-Weber, who is the pastor of House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver.  I picked this up at the library after hearing a great interview with the author on NPR’s Fresh Air.  This was more … I don’t know … religious? theological? than I expected. (Also a bit too self-deprecating.)

Not Reading …
Another week, another DNF.  Despite my appreciation for its author, I’m finding the characters in Moral Disorder and Other Stories by Margaret Atwood to be somewhat boring.  I’ve been listening to this collection of linked stories on audio but it isn’t holding my attention. Back to the library it goes.

Anticipating …
Thanksgiving, which comes with a few additional vacation days from work for me.  Plenty of time for Thankfully Reading Weekend!

The Sunday Salon: Summer Lovin’ (of Reading, of The Fault in Our Stars, of Young Love, of Sharing Books with My Girl)

The Sunday Salon

Just stopping into the Salon for a quick post today, as I have to work this afternoon. We’re kicking off the library’s Summer Reading Program today and quite the party is planned. For now, I’m enjoying some time on the deck reading the paper and blog posts.

The Girl and I have big plans for our own summer reading.  We saw “The Fault in Our Stars” last night and we both loved it. I could have done without the screams and swoons from the other tween/teenage girls in the theater, but that’s a small price to pay for what was a great movie. I thought it was so incredibly true to John Green’s novel, which The Girl brought with her to the movie (because, why not?) and is re-reading for the second time. She’s indicated that a third reading might not be out of the question.

Some people have expressed incredulity that a) I would want to see such a movie (clearly, they don’t know me as well as they think) and b) that I would take/allow my 12 year old to read/see this because it’s so sad. It’s about kids who have cancer.  Well, yes, this is true. Hazel’s cancer also happens to be thyroid cancer, the same kind that The Husband had. (You know, “the good cancer.”) Said with all the sarcasm I can muster.

It’s sad, yes, but as I wrote in my review of The Fault in Our Stars, you’ve cried over more superficial crap, like America’s Dancing With Real Housewives Who Have No Talent, amiright? I certainly have. This book – and now I can add, this movie – earns and is worthy of your tears.

It’s also an incredible example of young love done right. Yeah, there’s a love scene, but compared to other portrayals of teens and sexuality, this one handles it appropriately and with integrity. Some with more conservative views might (and will) disagree, but that’s my .02 on sale.

I have to admit, I love sharing this love of a particular book (and author, because she is now a major fangirl of John Green) with my daughter. Her summer reading plans include reading all of John Green’s novels and finishing the Harry Potter series.

As for my own summer reading, there’s a vacation in our future, so that means my vacation reading planning is in full swing. I have specific criteria for this, as I’ve written about previously. My full list isn’t complete, but two books that will be coming along are The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt (on my Kindle) and The Signature of All Things, by Elizabeth Gilbert, both of which fit nicely with The Big Book Summer Challenge being hosted by Sue from Book by Book.  I’ll have a separate post about that, perhaps later this week.

Till then, gotta run. Enjoy your Sunday!





The Sunday Salon: A Week of Author Meetings

The Sunday Salon


Dork DiariesI’m taking my daughter and one of her BFFs to meet Dork Diaries author Rachel Renee Russell this afternoon, and their enthusiasm is absolutely palpable. They’ve been talking about this for weeks, ever since I mentioned it to my girl, who then told her entire lunch table, and her friend reportedly started “almost crying and jumping up and down.”

So, yeah, they’re a little excited.

I get it. Oh, you know I absolutely get it.

Today’s event follows on the heels of the lecture I attended Monday evening with Colum McCann, which was everything I thought it would be and then some. And then some more. I was – and still am – in complete awe. He’s just as amazing a speaker as he is a writer – and so genuine, personable, and funny as hell. I haven’t had a chance to recap the event here, but I wrote a post here that I’m rather proud of and that I think captures the event.  (“One Book One Community: Colum McCann’s Gift to Pittsburgh and the World.“)

(Oh, OK. Because I can’t resist.)

Melissa and Colum McCann

Me and Colum McCann!

(You have no idea how many times I’ve looked at this photo to make myself believe that I really did meet and talk with Colum McCann.) 

In the Body of the World

It was a good week book-wise, too. I listened to Eve Ensler’s memoir In the Body of the World on CD and … my God. First of all, it’s a miracle that Eve is alive at all to tell this story – her experience with cancer and the god-awful aftermath. Eve Ensler does not sugar-coat her cancer story in the least, and if you’re familiar with her work, nor would you expect her to. Still, this memoir is raw, searing, gritty, honest, and downright real. It can be difficult to read or listen to in parts, but at the same time, it is absolutely riveting to hear her talk about how her cancer is part of her work with the women in the Congo and her past history of abuse.

Time is short. Must run to the next author event. Such a fun week this has been.

If You Give a Yinzer Some Yarn, You Might Get a Knitted Bridge

So, here’s what happens when you give 1,820 people in Pittsburgh some yarn and a hell of an awesome idea.

Side View of Bridge

 I mean, seriously. As if it was possible for Pittsburgh to get any more creative (because this town rocks the creative department), we decided to knit the bridge.


“Knit the Bridge” was a grassroots, community-led arts project that brought the many diverse communities of Pittsburgh and Southwestern Pennsylvania together to create a large-scale, aesthetically stunning, fiberarts installation on the Andy Warhol/7th Street Bridge.


This wasn’t a permanent thing, although I imagine that to the 1,870 volunteers working on 580 handmade knitted and crocheted panels for more than 14 months, it probably felt like the big day would either never get here or that the work would never end.

But Knit the Bridge went up August 12 and immediately it became the talk of Pittsburgh.

And the entire world.


This made the news in different countries.

Which happened to be the message of the whole project.


Pittsburgh has been described as a city of neighborhoods, and that it most certainly is. It reminds me of my hometown of Philadelphia that way (even though most natives would probably cringe at the comparison) and it’s probably one of the reasons why this city has grown on me as quickly as it has. Pittsburgh is also, in very many ways, a very “provincial” town. Knit the Bridge was designed to bring all of Pittsburgh together.

Through art.


(This was one of my favorite panels on the bridge. To me, this one was so symbolic of Pittsburgh’s many communities, with the river as part of it.)

I’d been wanting to go downtown and see the bridge since the unveiling on August 12. We were lucky weather-wise; we’ve had some spectacular days here in recent weeks, which made Pittsburgh look even more vibrant than usual (if that’s even possible). The weather really could not have been timed more perfectly for this project. Even during several thunderstorms, everything held up beautifully. (Volunteers monitored the bridge 24/7 and posted updates on social media.)

Friday, September 6 was the very last day that Knit the Bridge would be up. (The blankets would then be taken down, laundered, and distributed to the homeless and charitable organizations.) Early that morning, I was at a networking event near the bridge and afterwards, I decided to drive over and see it in person.



A couple things about those photos of me, especially the second one.

1. That photo isn’t staged. Or PhotoShopped. Or retouched or edited or anything like that. I really am sitting on the side of the bridge. The sky was really that blue.

2. I didn’t stop traffic. (Me, stopping traffic. C’mon, let’s get real.) This was at 10:45 a.m. on a Friday morning in Downtown Pittsburgh. Apparently, most people had other things to do.

3. People are friendly here. Really friendly. So friendly that it’s entirely plausible to see two sisters taking selfies on the bridge and you (that would be me) ask them if they want you to take their picture. Which I did. And then they offered to take mine. Which answers my husband’s question of who, exactly, took the pictures of me obviously having a real good time on the bridge.

4. It practically begged to be used as my new blog header. I love my chair and stop sign picture (and always will) but this captures so much of what I want this new self-hosted site to be about, how I feel about Pittsburgh, and how I’d like to be viewed here.

Anyway. Let’s move on because there IS definitely more to see here. (All of the photos in this post were taken by me.) 

SAM_6686 SAM_6687 SAM_6689 SAM_6693 SAM_6696 SAM_6707 SAM_6709

Go green, Pittsburgh!

SAM_6717 SAM_6720 SAM_6721 SAM_6722 SAM_6723 SAM_6726 SAM_6730 SAM_6731

This one gives new meaning to the term “bleeding black and gold.” Go Steelers!


…and the Pittsburgh Pirates. In the background of this one is PNC Park, home of the (say it with me, boys and girls) FIRST PLACE IN BASEBALL AND WINNING TEAM FOR THE FIRST SEASON SINCE 1992 PITTSBURGH PIRATES! SAM_6703

To me, this one symbolized the rivers ….


one of which (the Allegheny River) can be seen through the railing, which is usually yellow but is covered in black yarn sleeves. (Or whatever the technical term is.)

Another one of my favorite panels. I love this. SAM_6758 SAM_6766 SAM_6773


SAM_6771And this.

I think this may be one of my very favorite photos I’ve ever taken.


Pride Bridge

Because there was just so much love there on the bridge and, during the weeks that Knit the Bridge was up, in Pittsburgh itself. You could feel it. Knit the Bridge boosted the spirits of this city. It made people happy.

OK, the Pirates are definitely helping too. And the good weather. But who can’t help but smile at 580 brilliantly colored blankets on a bridge when half the country can’t find a damn job while we’re on the verge of invading a country that most of us couldn’t have found on a map until our Facebook feed educated us on how clueless we were.

Like I mentioned, Friday was the last day for Knit the Bridge. I had been listening to U2 in my car while driving (and yes, “Beautiful Day” really did come on AS I DROVE OVER THE BRIDGE, I KID YOU NOT) and this couple made me think of the lyrics to “Walk On.”


And I know it aches
And your heart it breaks
You can only take so much
Walk on
Leave it behind
You’ve got to leave it behind
All that you fashion
All that you make
All that you build
All that you break
All that you measure
All that you feel
All this you can leave behind.

Knit the Bridge was meant to be shared and enjoyed, so I made a pitch for us to go Downtown as a family to see it on Friday night.  I only had one taker. Betty knew I was going to stop by after my event and when she got home from school, it was decided: we were going.

I knew this was something she’d probably always remember. The time when she and Mommy walked along the knitted bridge. You don’t see – or do – that everyday.

So, we did. We went. A stranger hugged me, completely out of the blue. We talked about girl stuff. And autism. (We think the stranger may have been on the spectrum.) Betty made a video of the bridge, catching a much-too happy passenger of a pleasure boat on the Allegheny in the process. (Let’s just hope twerking on the Allegheny doesn’t become a thing.) 

And then it really was time to leave it all behind.


Take a bow, Knit the Bridge volunteers.  And thank you so very much.


twilight (the book), as reviewed by my 11 year old daughter

Rotten apple from the tree in our backyard
August 2013
Photo credit: Melissa Firman

I’m pleased to introduce you to someone who you already know pretty well … my 11 year old daughter Betty. Over the summer, she asked to read the Twilight books by Stephanie Meyer and I agreed. We have a “no censorship” book policy in this house; I don’t restrict books based on age or content. And those that do fall into that realm, we discuss.

She also has a blog (mainly dedicated to all things One Direction and the goings-on in her life) and, as an avid reader, she just started including her own book reviews on her site. (Betty’s somewhat of a mini-me.) She allowed me to share her hilarious review of Twilight with you. Enjoy. (Oh, and she’d probably love a comment or two, if you’re so inclined.) 

A review of Twilight by Stephanie Meyer

If you do not like reading reviews where people rant about how awful a book is, then you should stop reading this post. I read a little bit of the first Twilight book and thought it was too confusing. Then I saw it at the library and checked it out because I thought it would be a good choice for summer reading.


Lots of people were hating on the series, and I decided to read it to see if it was really that bad. It was. And I am about to tell you all about it. So sit back and get comfy cuz it’s a doozy!

Girls LOVE the Twilight series. But just because there is a hot vampire in the movie and a werewolf who takes his shirt off every five seconds.(thank GOD the movies are over) I mean HELLO?!?!?!?!?!? It doesn’t matter what a character looks like, it’s how it ACTS!! There is this whole Team Edward and Team Jacob crap going around,( I will tell you more about Jacob in my next review of the second book) and if you ask me, I am Team Guy That Almost Killed Bella With A Car. He was probably my favorite character. Would have liked him better if he actually killed her.

Let me start of with telling you about the plot and the main characters. The book is about a girl named Bella Swan who moves from Phoenix, Arizona to Forks, I-don’t remember-the-state-that-comes-after. She falls in love with a really pale guy named Edward Cullen. Spoiler alert, he’s a vampire!

What can I say about Bella…oh yeah! BRATTIEST.CHARACTER.EVER. Edward kept telling her *mocks Edwards supposedly deep voice* “You can’t love me, I’m dangerous” But does she listen? NOOOOOO!! Instead she continues to love the guy even MORE. I mean, seriously!!

So the rest of the snoozefest goes on about how Bella is a threat to Edward’s kind and that she needs to be destroyed or whatever.

Here is the part where I explain, or rant, about how much I hated this book series.

I HATED this book. Always will. First, let’s start with the characters. Bella is a huge brat who clings to Edward wayyy too much. She loves the guy even though he tells her not to. Then there is Edward himself, the idiot who really needs a tan. I hated this guy. Possibly even more than I hated Bella. He breaks into her room each night and watches her SLEEP! Stalker much?! He should have just written I AM A VAMPIRE on his forehead. That probably would have been less obvious. And with Bella, she should have written I LOVE YOU on HER forehead with a black Sharpie. THAT would have been LESS obvious, too.

Although I hated this book more than anyone, it WAS kinda suspenseful. There were some parts of the book where I just couldn’t put it down. Hey, if you read it and loved it, fine. Don’t kill me for hating on it. Just giving my opinion. The plot was SO confusing, that is part of the reason why I hated this book. All the events were jumbled up into the wrong places. It’s probably because sometimes I zone out when I read.

And the characters? Even worse.

No offense Stephanie Meyer, but I think this was the WORST BOOK EVER. Three words: CHECK.YOUR.WORK!!!!!

One out of five stars

The Sunday Salon: Summer Reading

The Sunday Salon

One of the things that I love about our library is its Summer Reading Club. For the most part, it’s the usual set-up for the kids: read a certain number of hours, be eligible for prizes (with fun activities interspersed throughout the summer months).

Betty is like me when it comes to summer reading. Each year, she sets her goal even higher than the year before – so much so, that sometimes she needs some reeling in. 

“This summer, I’m going to read 400 books,” she announced.

Now, Betty’s the type of 11 year old who, if she read a mere 399 books when her goal was 400, this would be a travesty. The world would need to stop on its axis and disintegrate. So, while I told her that 400 books would be awesome, I also had her crunch the numbers to learn that this translates into a minimum of 36 books per week, or at least 5 books per day.

She has since revised her goal down to a total of 200 books (or: 18 books per week, 2 books per day).

On the other hand we have Boo, who is ready to take a page from the Jaden Smith playbook and file for emancipation from me if I dare to suggest once more the notion of reading during the summer. He would happily spend the next 11 weeks reading the credits of his favorite TV shows. (To be fair, he also does a fair amount of video creation and story writing. But his reading and language arts skills need a big boost and I’m feeling that we’re past the “let him read what he wants” stage. He’s not on par with his reading, I’m afraid.)

So, we’re doing Summer Reading at the library. What I love about this is that our library also offers a Summer Reading Club for adults.

Yours may also. Many do. It’s just that this is the second full summer we’ve lived here and the idea of an adult summer reading club makes me feel like I’m 5 years old and back in the Free Library of Philadelphia checking out as many books as my mother and I can pile in her yellow Volkswagen Beetle for the drive home.

This is absolutely my thing. I could care less about the prizes. (Yeah, they give prizes to the grown-ups too!) In reality, all we do is track our books on the library’s website and submit (optional) reviews, which – hello! – is kind of what I already do here, but gimme another place to track and make lists of my books and I’m in!

My only problem is that I am freakin’ inundated with books and review deadlines right now. The Summer Reading Club’s theme this year is “Dig Into Reading” which feels rather appropriate. You should see the piles beside my bed. There’s no difference between my night table and a pallet of books at Costco.  I’m in the midst of reading The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell, which is so damn good. Absolutely loving this, and it’s probably going to be among my favorites for 2013.

Big Book Summer Reading Challenge

Library summer reading programs not your thing? Then consider signing up for the 2013 Big Book Summer Challenge, hosted by Sue Jackson who writes the blog Book by Book.  This one is so easy, you guys. All you have to do is read one book of at least 400 pages this summer. One book!

Usually I’m overly ambitious (wonder where Miss “I’m Reading 400 Books This Summer” gets it from?) and I make a big ol’ list, but this year, there’s only one that I’m committing to definitively. That’s Andre Dubus III’s The Garden of Last Days. He has a new novel, Dirty Love, that comes out on September 30 which I’m reviewing for my new gig with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Before doing so, however, I want and need to catch up on his previous work. (Self-promotion alert: my first published – and paid – review was in the paper this week.)

What do you have on your summer reading list?