Tag Archives: Giveaway

Finding That Perfect Gift: Picket Fence Baby Store Pittsburgh (Giveaway – Now Closed)

Can you believe that the first day of spring is one month away?

I’m practically counting down the seconds because I am definitely not a winter person.  Bring on the warm weather and sunshine — the sooner the better!

Spring is the season of showers … and weddings and graduations and other events. For special occasions like these, I like to give unique, one-of-a-kind gifts. And I also like to support local small businesses, especially those that are women-owned.

The Picket Fence Baby Store Pittsburgh meets all of my criteria. And, while this adorable boutique is conveniently located in Shadyside (which is one of my favorite Pittsburgh neighborhoods for shopping and dining!)  online ordering via The Picket Fence’s website makes shopping even easier.

That means that even if you’re not in the “Burgh — or if you are like me and busy with work, family, volunteering, freelancing, etc. — you can still enjoy a delightful shopping experience at The Picket Fence, which is known for its baby and children’s collections, including hard-to-find distinctive toys, clothing in current and classic styles from U.S. and European designers, and special keepsakes.  The boutique also offers gifts for the home, women, and jewelry.

In addition to its curated inventory of items from all over the world, The Picket Fence also keeps things close to home by featuring a selection of Pittsburgh gifts for yinzers of all ages.

You probably have a few special occasions coming up where you would like to give a one-of-a-kind gift.  Is someone in your life getting married or welcoming a new baby or moving into a new home?  Perhaps a new piece of jewelry or clothing would be the perfect gift … for yourself.

If so, then you’re in luck.  The Picket Fence is offering one of my readers a $50 gift card toward a purchase from their shop!   And because they provide online shopping, you don’t even need to be in Pittsburgh to take advantage of this giveaway opportunity.

Simply comment on this blog post by telling me about the most perfect gift you ever received — or the most perfect gift you gave someone — and you’ll be entered for a chance to win a $50 gift card from The Picket Fence. I’ll keep the giveaway open until March 7, 2017 and will draw a winner at random. Good luck!

UPDATE:  Congratulations to Ava who was chosen by random.org as the winner of this giveaway!

The Picket Fence
5425 Walnut Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15232
phone: 412-246-0350 or 800-250-6002

email: info@picketfenceshadyside.com
web: https://picketfenceshadyside.com/
Instagram: @picketfencepgh #FenceFaves
Twitter: @thepicketfence 

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a halloween treat (download my e-book on amazon free til november 1)

Extractions Amazon

No tricks here, my friends. In celebration of Halloween and the mischief these characters concoct, I’m giving you a treat. My very short story “Extractions” is currently a FREE download on Amazon today through November 1, 2013.

Apparently, people like free stuff because after just one day of this promotion, THIS happened:

Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #6,299 Free in Kindle Store
#7 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Literature & Fiction > Short Stories > Women’s Fiction
#24 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Literature & Fiction > Contemporary Fiction > Short Stories

Which is the e-book kind of the equivalent of ringing one’s doorbell and running away as the homeowner is left wondering what the hell was that?! Seriously. Crazytimes.

This is meant to be a fun, somewhat mind-bending little story with a autumnal twist. It was written as part of a flash fiction Halloween event that my local writer’s group does each year. I wanted to turn it into a story quick enough to be read while waiting for your kid at soccer practice or during your lunch hour.

I’m very appreciative to all of you for your support of my writing and it means more than I can possibly say.

An excerpt:

Now, her vision wobbly because of the migraine, Kari grabbed her glasses and her Android on the nightstand. She pressed the ubiquitous blue and white icon. Not even six in the morning and there were twelve new notifications. She held her breath. Would Seth really respond that quickly? That wasn’t like him – he was always mysterious, unpredictable, keeping her guessing. Then again, what did she really know what he was like now after 22 years?  

But in this small state where everybody knows everyone, Kari didn’t even know herself anymore. That much was obvious. 

Enjoy. And Happy Halloween (and reading).

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Book Review: The Returned, by Jason Mott

The ReturnedThe Returned, by Jason Mott
Harlequin Mira
343 pages

Remember the 1999 M. Night Shyamalan movie “The Sixth Sense” with Haley Joel Osment’s infamous line, “I see dead people”?

Well, in Jason Mott’s debut novel The Returned, lots of people are seeing dead people. That’s because, as per the publisher’s description, “all over the world, people’s loved ones are returning from beyond. No one knows how or why, whether it’s a miracle or a sign of the end.”

Among those returning to life is eight year old Jacob Hargrave, who died in 1966. Needless to say, this comes as somewhat of a shock to Harold and Lucille, his now elderly parents. (When greeting him at the door, Harold struggled to recall his only son’s name.) Fifty years have passed since Jacob’s drowning on the day of his eighth birthday party. But there Jacob is, still eight years old, back from the dead.

And Jacob’s bringing a lot of company from the Great Beyond.

In this blockbuster of a fall publishing season, The Returned by debut novelist Jason Mott is getting a lot of buzz. Part of the reason is because Mr. Mott’s novel has already been adapted for television by ABC Studios, Brad Pitt’s Plan B Entertainment and Brillstein Entertainment Partners for a forthcoming drama series called Resurrection.

It’s easy to see why. The Returned has an intriguing premise, one with questions that we’ve all asked ourselves – and some we probably never have. For example, it may be a no-brainer to assume Harold and Lucille would gladly welcome their eight-year old son back into their lives after accepting his death and moving on after fifty years, right?

Maybe. And …maybe not.

With the return of the …well, the Returned, as they are called, comes the arrival of many moral, ethical, and religious questions that the people of Arcadia (the Southern town in which the novel is set) wrestle with. They’re not alone; the Returned are resurfacing all over the globe, often far from the places where they originally lived and died. (We get very brief – as in, a page or two at the most – snippets of other formerly deceased people who are now Returned.)  It throws society and government into a conflict as to how, exactly, to deal with all these people.

Conflicted is a good description for my feelings about The Returned, which is based on a dream that Mr. Mott had involving his own deceased mother. Despite not being much of a dystopian fiction reader, I liked the plot and concept of this novel. I felt Mr. Mott did a good job keeping the story realistic, evidenced by phrases showing that this could potentially happen in the very near future:

“‘Things just seem to be getting worse all over,’ the newscaster said. It was a Spanish man with dark features and a light-colored suit. Lucille had a brief impression that he was talking about something to do with finances or the global economy or gas prices or any of the other things that seemed to be getting perpetually worse year on year on year.” (pg. 148)

But in the very same passage, we see how Mr. Mott’s prose tends to be repetitive and wordy (“year on year on year.”) It is heavy on the similes and needed tightening in parts (Instead of “It was a Spanish man,” perhaps simply “A Spanish man wearing a light-colored suit…”) For that reason, the story felt distracting to me at times and the stumblings with the prose often “took me out of” the novel.

Other novelists may not have been skilled enough to return his reader to the plot and core issues. Fortunately, Mr. Mott did. Which is good, because as The Returned demonstrates, there are a lot of multi-layered questions here and Mr. Mott is exceptionally talented at getting his reader to think about them.

“‘Something has happened,’ he belted out, startling the church. ‘Something – the cause of which we have not yet been made privy – has happened.’ He spread his arms. ‘And what are we to do? How are we to react? Should we be afraid? These are uncertain times, and it’s only natural to be frightened of uncertain things. But what do we do with that fear?’” (pg. 53)


“They were all gripped with a feeling that something about the world was betraying them, right at this very moment, and perhaps it had been betraying them for years.

They felt that the world had been lying to them for all their lives.” (pg. 160)

Here, The Returned becomes a commentary on our current society and state of affairs within our country, which speaks to the reason why I think The Returned is having such widespread appeal. Two universal feelings are at play here: the feeling of wanting to control the uncontrollable, and the desire to play the “what-if” game. What we wouldn’t do sometimes for that one last conversation with that person long gone, that one moment of clarity, that one insight of understanding to realize that even if fate had intervened and if circumstances had been altered, the truth wouldn’t change and would in fact still be the same. Passages like these are where Mr. Mott’s poetry background (he has an M.F.A. in poetry from the University of North Carolina Wilmington) shines. 

“It was enough to make him see the truth: that no matter how much he had loved her, no matter how much he had wanted her, their romance would not have worked. And in spite of how it turned out for her, even if he had stayed with her all those years ago, if he’d gone off with her and, perhaps, been able to keep her from dying, it wouldn’t have changed anything. The thing that he loved about her would have died the longer she stayed with him until, eventually , she would be gone. Maybe not physically, but all that he loved about her would be gone.” (pg. 268)  

I’m curious to see how The Returned will do as a TV series. I’m thrilled for Jason Mott’s success with it and with the novel, and I suspect the show will do well. Despite having some issues with the novel, author Jason Mott has demonstrated that he is a writer worth watching. 

If you’d like to read The Returned, you’re in luck! The publisher, Harlequin MIRA, has provided me with a copy of The Returned for one of my blog readers! To enter, simply leave a comment on this post telling me who you would like to see return (it can be a relative, friend, pet, or celebrity). Contest closes September 30, 2013, 11:59 EST. Contest open only to US or Canadian residents only (as per publisher’s rules). 

TLC Tour HostAs always, thank you very much to TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour. I was provided with a copy of The Returned in exchange for my honest review. I did not receive any additional compensation for this post.

Read more about The Returned and what other bloggers thought. 


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Armchair BEA 2013: Show Us Your Swag

Armchair BEA 2013

Logo design by Sarah of Puss Reboots

Hands down, the best part about going to the actual BEA (Book Expo America) is getting to spend time with so many authors, bloggers, publishers, editors, and PR folks all under one big roof.

A close second is all the swag (i.e. books) that is foisted upon you.

It’s actually very overwhelming. I went to the Book Bloggers Convention that was part of BEA in 2010 and 2011, and I still haven’t read or reviewed all the books that I lugged home. (And the official BEA was over by that time!)

In that same spirit of things, our friends at Armchair BEA have made sure that those of us at home this year aren’t left out of the abundance of book goodness. Many a blogger and publisher alike are hosting special Armchair BEA Giveaways today … including me.

I couldn’t keep my giveaway to just one item. Not today. My husband (who had thyroid cancer last fall) got some fantastic news health-wise this morning, so I am in a very appreciative and generous mood. This means that I am giving away TWO fantastic prizes.

1. The first is a sample edit, by me, of up to 10 pages of your manuscript. If you’re working on a novel or memoir, this is a chance to get some professional feedback. I normally charge $1.50 per page for sample edits, so this giveaway has a value of $15.00.

2. I am also giving away a very gently used hardback copy of THE SMART ONE, the new novel by Jennifer Close.

The Smart One

You can enter for a chance at both prizes, but the same person will not be selected to win both.

I’m really new to using Rafflecopter, so I don’t know how to make it all fancy and drop-downy. I believe clicking this link will take you where you need to be.

Enter here : a Rafflecopter giveaway.

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Book Review: Carry On, Warrior:Thoughts on Life Unarmed, by Glennon Doyle Melton

Carry On, Warrior: Thoughts on Life Unarmed
by Glennon Doyle Melton 
268 pages 
ARC copy 

In the parenting sandbox that has become the Internet, one can usually find two types of people.

There are those who, through their websites and blogs, paint a picture of a life so saccharine perfect that you need to leave the room for some air.

(None of you or your blogs fall into this category, of course.)

And then there are people who are all raw emotion – and then some. Through their words, we come to know these individuals better than we know our own friends and relatives-  and sometimes that’s a good thing. Their bravery allows them to bare their souls as they tell the unvarnished truth about their lives.

In her new book, Carry On, Warrior: Thoughts on Life Unarmed, Glennon Doyle Melton falls into the latter camp – for the most part. (More on that in a bit.)  As the cover proclaims, she’s the founder of Momastery.com, an immensely popular blog, website, and Facebook page (she has over 73,000 likes!) that I am obviously the last person in the world to find out about.

As she writes in this collection of essays from her blog (as well as new material), Glennon is the type of person who sits down next to another sippy-cup clutching mom in the park and immediately reveals that she’s a recovering alcoholic and drug addict, among other things.

Glennon’s philosophy is that when women remove all the pretense and the barriers, when we strip away the illusion that we have our shit together in our perfect lives, when we take away the layers of protection that we women are so good at creating in real life (and online), that’s when life gets really good and interesting.

Well, that it does.

We know Glennon pretty well by the end of Carry On, Warrior, as there isn’t too much she leaves hidden – including that of the lives of several of her family members. But she’s also funny as hell and tells much of this motherhood gig like it is. As an example, one of her gone-viral essays, Don’t Carpe Diem, was sent to me as a sample of those in the book when I was considering this for review. (I was sold immediately.)

I can’t quote from this (or another favorite essay, “Out to Lunch,” about visiting her husband Craig’s office with their toddler son) because my copy of Carry On, Warrior is an advanced reader’s copy (ARC) and changes may have been made to the final text.

Glennon is at her best in these and other “keepin’ it real” examples. At other times, I felt that she strayed a bit from this premise. It’s clear from the essays selected within the book that, because of her past experience, faith is a very important component to her present life. (Fans of Anne Lamott‘s will find common ground here, and Glennon seems very aware of the comparison.) Glennon is very open about her relationship with God and her beliefs as a Christian. I can certainly understand and respect that, but for readers who don’t share the same faith, several of the essays that have this strong focus could seem slightly off-putting and perhaps even contradictory, seeming to support the notion of perfectionism that is denounced in earlier pages.

Overall, Carry On, Warrior succeeds as an outreach avenue in Glennon Doyle Melton’s ministry that she practices on her blog, complementing her mantra to “practice living bigger, bolder and truer on this earth, where we remember what we already know: we can do hard things, love wins, and we belong to each other.” This collection of essays will endear her even more to her legion of fans and surely lead her to new ones.

If Carry On, Warrior:Thoughts on Life Unarmed sounds like a book you’re interested in reading, you’re in luck! The publisher has graciously allowed me to give away one copy to a lucky reader. Just leave me a comment here or on The Betty and Boo Chronicles Facebook page. (You probably have to follow the Facebook page first, if you haven’t already.) 

I’ll pick a winner next Monday, April 15. (Something to look forward to besides taxes here in the United States.) 

Still need convincing? See what other bloggers on the TLC Book Tour had to say about Carry On, Warrior

Thank you, as always, to TLC Book Tours for including me on this book tour. I was provided with a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review and was not otherwise compensated.

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Discovering Pittsburgh: Verve 360 Pilates Pittsburgh

What Saturday mornings are typically like here in the Betty and Boo household:

  • Occasionally sleeping past 6 a.m., if Betty and Boo don’t greet the day by fighting amongst each other.
  • Couch potato-ing about on our respective laptops and electronic devices.
  • Reheating Friday night’s pizza for lunch
  • Schlepping out to the grocery store in mid-afternoon.

What Saturday mornings are NOT typically like here in the Betty and Boo household:

  • Rummaging through still-unpacked (from our move 4 months ago) boxes for something that a) passes for a workout outfit and b) passes for a workout outfit that fits.
  • Driving into Downtown Pittsburgh to meet up with people I’ve never met (but who I know online via our blogs)
  • Taking a Pilates class at Verve Wellness with said people I’ve never met.
  • Lunching with the ladies at the Fairmont Hotel. 

The latter was my day on Saturday August 11, when I met up with a group of Pittsburgh bloggers for what turned out to be a great morning at Verve Wellness and a fabulous lunch at Habitat. (I’ll have a review of that in a separate post.)

Claire (Live and Love to Eat) had organized what she called a ‘Burgh Blogger Bash. Being a reader of her blog and interested in meeting some local bloggers, I emailed Claire.

Which is how I discovered that our day was to start at  Verve Wellness … where the studio was generously providing us bloggers with a free, one hour beginners Pilates class. (You can have an opportunity to partake in this too. More on this in a bit.)

I immediately became nervous. I’d never taken a Pilates class. I am woefully out of shape. (I have the cholesterol numbers and triglyceride counts to prove it, baby!) Did this mean I’d have to start TRAINING for a blogging event? (And by training, that would be walking around the block. Maybe even TWICE.) Maybe this wasn’t the best idea after all. Maybe I could change my mind and maybe just go to lunch.

Right up until the morning of the event, I was still unsure about everything except the certainty that I was going to make a complete fool of myself. It was a voice of reason that gave me the confidence I needed.

“Maybe someone will help you,” my 10 year old son Boo offered.

For new readers to the blog, my son has a form of autism called Asperger’s Syndrome. I write about him and autism here often. So this awareness, this very IDEA from him that someone would be able to help, that I could ASK for help, was beyond huge and the confidence booster that I needed.

At Verve itself, we were greeted warmly by the front desk personnel. The first floor of Verve is a salon and spa area, offering hair care, cut and style, manicure, pedicure, and massage services. Probably a lot more. We were shown to the comfortable changing area on the second floor, which is where the spacious workout studio is also located.

We met our enthusiastic instructor, Linda, who took a few moments to ask each of us about our exercise history, especially with Pilates, and any pre-existing conditions. (As the oldest person in the group, I was, of course the only one with an ailment. My creaky left shoulder that I “did something to, maybe slept on funny” got me out of an exercise or two.)

As she led us through the mat exercises (are they exercises? moves? positions? I don’t remember), Linda interspersed her cues to us with bits of history of Pilates and the differences between this and yoga, as well as other workouts. Several participants in the class, for example, were swimmers.

One of the things that I was most surprised about was that I wasn’t a sopping wet dishrag at the end of the class – meaning that, I expected this to be like my 8 a.m. college aerobics class that left me damn near unconscious for the rest of the morning. (Of course, I was in a lot better shape 22 years ago, but that’s besides the point.)  I expected to be gulping water nonstop, not to mention the oxygen tank that I assumed the paramedics would be bringing. Don’t get me wrong: as a newbie, this was hard (I felt it the next day, believe you me) but there were parts of the Pilates class that were … dare I say it? Relaxing.

So. Let’s just cut to the chase. Did I like the class? Well, yes and … maybe not so much. I liked how it made me feel afterwards, and I suppose that is the most important thing, right? I liked that Linda was incredibly patient with me when I was a bit (OK, maybe a lot) uncoordinated and I’m grateful that my blogging friends were patient with me, too. Is Pilates for me? I don’t know.

What I do know, though, is that I am glad that I gave it a try and I am appreciative to Verve 360 Pilates Pittsburgh for giving me the opportunity to do so.  Now it’s YOUR TURN. Verve 360 Pilates Pittsburgh is offering one of my blog readers the chance to win a free Pilates class at their studio, which is a $40 value. This is a great opportunity to try Pilates if you’re a beginner, like me. Verve is conveniently in Downtown Pittsburgh. To be eligible to win, you must leave a comment on this blog post. I’ll draw a winner on Friday, August 31, 2012. Thanks again to Verve 360 Pilates Pittsburgh for offering the class and the prize!

Me and my new friends post-Pilates class: From top left to right: Claire (Live and Love to Eat)Angela (Health’s Angel), Alex (Brain Body Because), Nikki (Life After Swimming). Seated: me and Katie (K.E.P.T. You Fit).

Discovering Pittsburgh is my occasional blog feature on The Betty and Boo Chronicles about the places and things that we’re, well, discovering and doing here in our new city. 

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.

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Finding My Spark and Hustle – Part 1

At first glance, you wouldn’t think that Tory Johnson and I would have much in common.

Yeah, that Tory Johnson, the one pictured with me here. That Tory Johnson, she of the bestselling author fame (more on that at the end of this post) and of the Good Morning America contributor, and founder and CEO of Women for Hire, and Spark and Hustle and more.

But as I listened to her story yesterday here in Pittsburgh during her last stop on her national, 20-city Spark and Hustle tour, I quickly realized we had much more in common than I thought – right down to being mothers of twins.

Regular blog readers and Facebook friends know it has been an … interesting summer, one that I’ve spent reflecting, questioning, writing – and yes, job-hunting again as a result of The Layoff back in June. That layoff initially made the answering of the “so, what do you do?” questions yesterday at Spark and Hustle a bit awkward, but I quickly realized that a good many of us currently were (or once were) in similar situations as mine.

Even someone as successful and as accomplished as Tory Johnson.

“Sometimes you don’t voluntarily give up the paycheck,” Tory said in her opening remarks, referencing being fired 20 years ago as a publicist from NBC News. “Sometimes the paycheck gives up you.”

Even after subsequently getting another job, there was always a sense of “a nagging panic” which was “the pain of a pink slip.” The thing that Tory couldn’t shake was that she would always be working for someone who had the power to say that she wasn’t needed or wasn’t good enough.

She knew that she had to make a change, which led to her founding her company Women for Hire and then Spark and Hustle.

Yesterday, in her fast-paced, no-nonsense style, Tory dispelled many of the common myths about starting a business:

you don’t need to have an MBA (Tory didn’t finish college);
you don’t need to have a fat Rolodex (Tory didn’t know many people)
you don’t need to be tech-savvy and have a fancy office (she had an AOL dial-up account and baby twins crawling afoot)
you don’t need a lot of money (“we’ve all seen people with a lot of money not be a success.”).

What you do need is a spark, an ember of an idea, something that awakes your passion – and the hustle.

It is “all about the hustle – the decisions you make each day,” Tory said.

That led into Dr. Vonda Wright as the perfect first speaker. In a separate post, I’ll talk about her and the other speakers (which included one of Pittsburgh’s most inspiring and well-regarded business leaders, Rebecca Harris of Chatham University’s Center for Women’s Entrepreneurship; the awesome Rachel Blaufeld from Back’nGrooveMom who was instrumental in bringing Spark and Hustle to Pittsburgh, and Stacy and Dawn, two absolutely hilarious ladies who made accounting systems seem downright fun). Intermingled between the speakers were remarks by Tory – it was a jam-packed day – and I’ll cover it all in my next few Spark and Hustle posts. But one more thing!

One of the things we learned was that we have to take risks and to ask for things we want. So … I told Tory Johnson that I write a book blog that has over 200 readers and would she consider providing an autographed copy of her book for me to give away to one of my blog readers? She gladly agreed, and I am incredibly grateful.

You will want to read this if you are a small business owner or considering becoming one. Simply leave a comment on this post to be eligible to win an autographed copy of Tory Johnson’s latest book, SPARK AND HUSTLE: LAUNCH AND GROW YOUR SMALL BUSINESS NOW.

More to come.

UPDATE: BOOK GIVEAWAY NOW CLOSED. Congratulations to Beth of Crafty Designs by Beth (you can find her on Facebook as Crafty Designs by Beth) for being the winner of the signed book! 

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.

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