Tag Archives: Memorable Memoir Reading Challenge

The Sunday Salon: In Which I Say a Merry Bah Humbug to Reading Challenges

Perhaps this is just me and my own observation … and maybe I am entirely way off base here (it has been known to happen) …but I’ve noticed a shift of sorts regarding challenges.

Reading challenges, I mean. The other kind of challenges – the ones involving life and whatnot – there’s no end to them, right?

Maybe it is a byproduct of having book blogged for 4+ years now and thus suffering a bout of challenge fatigue, but I think it is something more. Usually by this time in December, I’d have gleefully signed up for at least a dozen or so reading challenges set to kick off when the clock strikes midnight on January 1.

This year? I’ve marked a few to participate in, but honestly? I’m not all that enthused about them. It seems like I’m going through the motions.

And, again, maybe it is me – but it doesn’t seem as if there are as many challenges as there used to be.

That’s certainly not to say that they aren’t worthy of participating in. They’re a lot of fun. People put a LOT of work into them. They are a great way of finding like-minded readers and forming connections with other bloggers and discovering new books and finally reading those books you meant to read.

So I’m torn. Part of me loves reading challenges … but another part just isn’t into them, at least not right now. Part of me loves scanning the library book shelves for books to fulfill challenge requirements and another part of me wants to read what I want, when I want, with total disregard and abandonment.

This shift in my thinking became palpable just the other day. I’m really close to finishing up the A-Z challenge. I only needed books beginning with C, K, P, and V … and I’m done. This past week, this looked doable. However, I just abandoned the K book I was reading on my Kindle. (Too repetitive.) Same for the V book I was reading in print. (Way too heavy for Christmas … and I’m sorry, way too many grammatical errors.) I could have slogged through these just for the challenge sake, but I don’t want to.

Plus, I don’t finish books just for the sake of finishing them. Never have. Life’s too damn short for that, as we all too sadly learned in the past 9 days. I have no qualms about abandoning books. Thus far, 16 books this year wound up on my DNF list. That’s a lot of books – and more time and room for books I did enjoy.

Take the book I’m currently reading. It’s Christmas and there’s snow outside and I’m in the mood to curl up with some Christmas Stories by Charles Dickens.

But …here’s the thing. This damn thing is 758 pages! For real. (Never mind the cheery, festive illustration on the cover – although, since we’re all about ready to go over the fiscal cliff – and some of us have already toppled over it –  it is kind of fitting.)

So, by reading this I’m pretty much saying goodbye to K, P, and V for the reading challenge. And that will be one additional challenge left unfinished and one that I was so close to completing.

Why the hell should this be one more thing that’s stressing me out?!

Maybe I’m too competitive (with myself) and too Type-A for this, because, really? THIS SHOULD NOT BE A PROBLEM. This has happened before. I do this shit to myself EVERY DAMN year, even when I begin the year by telling myself I’m just doing the challenges “for fun” or to “see where my reading falls in the challenge.” It starts off that way, but somewhere around the Fourth of July or Labor Day, it changes.

Maybe it is time to just … stop. Or, at least wean myself off gradually and only do a few challenges and keep this low-key. Simplify this reading life. I know others have done this. Yinz seem happier for it, don’t you?

This also means that I’m putting my Memorable Memoirs Reading Challenge on hiatus for this year. I apologize to those who may have been looking forward to it and for saying previously that I would definitely be bringing it back. I don’t want to hand it off to someone else completely because there’s a chance I may feel differently next year or even in a few months. Maybe that’s selfish of me, I don’t know. But, for now, I know I haven’t been able to give it as much attention as I should have – and honestly, there are other projects I want to work on. I don’t think the book blogging world will miss the Memoirs challenge too much and if someone wants to start another one, then that’s perfectly fine.

My favorite Christmas ornament,
given to me by my parents when
I was very young. Taken by me
last year, when it was on our tree
(as it is every year). 

Anyway, it’s Christmas. We have a week ahead of us that will be spent with family and friends we rarely see, and I plan to make the most of it. I refuse to spend one minute of it worrying about what I’m reading or not reading, or if I’m reading enough, or competing with myself to achieve some lofty, if not impossible goal I committed to back in January – and beating myself up when I don’t.

That’s ridiculous. Again, life is too short for that.

So, that settles it then. Only a few challenges this year for me. (Probably only Beth Fish Reads’ What’s In a Name and Mt. TBR.)

And, oh yeah … for those who are celebrating, a very Merry Christmas! (And for those coming home or going a-visiting, safe travels.) Here’s some Dickens for the road, to take us out:

“And I do come home at Christmas. We all do, or we all should. We all come home, or ought to come home, for a short holiday – the longer, the better – from the great boarding-school, where we are for ever working at our arithmetical slates, to take, and give a rest. As to going a visiting, where can we not go, if we will; where have we not been, when we would; starting our fancy from our Christmas Tree! 

Away into the winter prospect. There are many such upon the tree! On, by low-lying misty grounds, through fens and fogs, up long hills, winding dark as caverns between thick plantations, almost shutting out the sparkling stars; so, out on broad heights, until we stop at last, with sudden silence, at an avenue.”  “The Christmas Tree,” Charles Dickens, 1850

Have you noticed  fewer reading challenges this year than in previous years? Are you reducing the number of challenges you’re participating in or increasing them? I’d love to hear about it. And, if you’re a challenge addict (like me) who has scaled way back, tell me how you went cold turkey and did that, too. 

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 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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The Sunday Salon: Winding Down the Reading Year

It has happened, folks. Usually does around this time of year.

I knew it was coming.

The first announcement for a 2013 Reading Challenge has made its appearance in my Google Reader.

(I’ll end the speculation now: I will, indeed, be bringing the Memorable Memoirs Reading Challenge back again for a 4th year. Official announcement to follow at some point. But it will be happening. Perhaps, even, with its own designated blog.)

Traditionally, my reading slows down considerably in these months and this year is no exception. So far in November, I’ve read a total of ONE BOOK. One!  (That would be The Round House by Louise Erdrich which I’ll be reviewing tomorrow.) With it comes the realization that, even though there’s more than a month to go in 2012, the reading year has (at least in my mind) pretty much come to an end.

I’m making my peace with the challenges I’m going to leave uncompleted (some for a consecutive year in a row – why do I bother?) and some that I’m still going to push through to accomplish because I’m thisclose to finishing them.

Thankfully, we have Thankfully Reading Weekend coming up from November 22-25 for those of us who prefer to avoid the crowds and shopping on Black Friday. The festivities are being hosted by Jenn from Jenn’s Bookshelves and Jennifer from Literate Housewife. Jenn has all of the details on her blog. 

Thankfully Reading (which is one of my favorite events of the year) is usually my last hoorah to finish up challenges and the like for the year, so I am very much looking forward to this. 

In other news, I’m in the middle of reading Because You Have To: A Writing Life, by Joan Frank. This collection of essays has been described as part memoir and part writing how-to. To me, it doesn’t matter what genre this fits into; I am absolutely loving this book. I know “how to write” books are a dime a dozen, but this one is different. It has a feel of sitting down over a cup of coffee with a friend who understands this writing life and can commiserate with you about it while gently giving advice and understanding. 

(I was supposed to review this one last week, but I sent Joan Frank a note via Facebook explaining that life had gotten a little chaotic lately due to The Husband being sick. She was incredibly understanding and gracious.)

Does your reading slow down at the end of the year? And will you be Thankfully Reading this weekend with us? 

     I am an Amazon.com affiliate. Making a purchase through 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.

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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The Sunday Salon: Oh, Look, I Finished a Book

I hope this morning finds everyone in the path of the Midwest tornadoes and storms safe and out of harm’s way. So incredibly scary. I’m finding it a little ironic that the book I was planning to tell you about is called The Storm at the Door. 

But oh my, what a book it is.

It took me nearly 3 weeks to finish it, which makes this a huge accomplishment ’round here these days. Within the last month, reading has dropped down considerably on the priority list amidst this nonsense of finalizing the mortgage for this house and its approval process (one of the most stressful experiences of my life, I swear to God) and packing up the apartment and moving into said house. Add in a not insignificant amount of work stress and the day-to-day raising of kids (who have been GREAT through all of this, considering) and it’s easy to see why I’ve been reading the same book since March 22.

I told you a little bit about Stefan Merrill Block’s The Storm at the Door in last week’s Salon post, and now that I was able to spend some time last night finishing it (my reward after finally unpacking the last of the kitchen boxes!), I can tell you that this has absolutely earned a place on my Best Books Read of 2012 list. (If pressed, I would say this was the best book I’ve read so far this year.) The Storm at the Door marks the second book that I have given 5 stars (out of 5) to this year.  (The first one being The Snow Child, the debut novel by Eowyn Ivey.)

If you look at the Goodreads reviews, it’s clear that readers either love or hate this one. Obviously, I’m very much entrenched in the former camp. It’s not a light read, either by way of the prose nor of the subject matter. This has been described as a courageous and extraordinary book, and it is. In The Storm at the Door, Stefan Merrill Block takes on the story of his grandparents, Katharine and Frederick Merrill, and tries to fill in the gaps of what happened to his grandfather and his family when Katharine had her husband committed to a mental hospital in 1962.

The way this one is written is such that it’s Katharine’s story, it’s Frederick’s story, it’s the story of the administrators and those (including famed poet Robert Lowell) who are also patients at the Mayflower Home (a stand-in for the real-life McLean Hospital). It’s partly fiction and partly memoir (I’m counting it as part of my Memorable Memoir Reading Challenge, since my loose definition for this challenge is that if you think it is stuff of memoir, it counts.)

I also started a new audiobook this week, given that I had to be in the car for a drive for a meeting two hours away (each way) this week. Richard Russo’s That Old Cape Magic was a DNF for me, so I thought I would give him a second chance with Bridge of Sighs. This mammoth tome (it’s 544 pages and 21 CDs as an audiobook!) has been taking up space on my bookshelves for awhile, so I figured this drive would also give me a chance to decide if I wanted to keep it or otherwise allocate the space.

After starting off a bit slow, I’m going to stick with Bridge of Sighs. (I will eventually be donating the print copy to the library, however; I don’t see this as one that I must keep.) I don’t think Russo will ever become one of my favorite authors (and that’s OK) but I do think this is working well as an audiobook.  It’s keeping my interest moreso than That Old Cape Magic did. We’ll see if that continues.

Hope you are having a good Sunday – and again, hope you are safe from any storms at your door, whatever form they might be in.

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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Announcing The 2012 Memorable Memoirs Reading Challenge

The 2012 Memorable Memoirs Reading Challenge
January 1 – December 31, 2012 

It’s back again for the 3rd year! (Can you believe it?) If you love memoirs as much as I do or if you simply want to add more memoirs into your reading life, then the 2012 Memorable Memoirs Reading Challenge is for you!

What Counts as A Memoir?
I know there’s a difference between memoir and autobiography, but for this challenge, we’re going to define memoir as a record of events written by a person having intimate knowledge of them and based on personal observation. Published letters, diaries, journals, autobiographies, nonfiction books on the craft of writing memoirs … in my book, they all count as Memorable Memoirs for this challenge. (Generally, biographies don’t, but I could always be convinced.)

The Rules:
Books, e-books, audiobooks, ARCs, NetGalley books are allowed.
Overlaps with other challenges are also allowed.
Re-reads are allowed.
No need to create a list of books in advance (but if you want to, please feel free!)
You don’t need a blog to participate.
You must select a level.  You can increase your level, but you can’t go back down.

The Dates:
January 1 – December 31, 2012. You can sign up anytime between now and throughout 2012.

The Levels (new this year!)
Diarist: read 1-4 memoirs

Autobiographer: read 5-9 memoirs

Memoirist: read 10+ memoirs.

How to Sign Up:
Write a post on your blog indicating your intent to participate and at what level (Diarist, Autobiographer, or Memoirist) then come back here and leave the link here with Mister Linky:

No blog?  No problem! Simply leave a comment that you’ll be joining us and at what chosen level.

I’ll have a kick off post up in early January along with some of my favorite memoirs if you need some ideas.  I’m also planning to do monthly updates, as much as possible, and there might be more surprises in store throughout the year. The most important thing is that we have fun … and we will.

Looking forward to having you join us! Happy Memorable Memoir Reading!

copyright 2011, 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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The Sunday Salon: A Thankfully Reading Update, and the Return of the Memorable Memoir Challenge

It’s been a very low-key, relaxing Thanksgiving weekend here, which is just the way I like it.  In recent years (except for last year), we’ve been home for the holiday, watching parades and football to our hearts content. We also took the kids to see “The Muppets” yesterday, which was an absolutely wonderful, feel-good, must-see-this-no-matter-what-your-age movie.  They simply don’t make them like this anymore (which was kind of one of the themes of the movie itself).

As I have for the past three years, I’ve been participating in the annual Thankfully Reading Weekend. This is becoming a new tradition for me, and I love it. Quite frankly, this is probably my favorite read-a-thon of the year.

I had hoped I’d have more to report in the way of a Thankfully Reading Weekend Update, but I’m still in the midst of my first book, High Tide in Tucson by Barbara Kingsolver. I feel like I should have been able to read more than 195 pages this weekend, but I’ve also been using some of my reading time to catch up on your blogs. (I’m more woefully behind than ever.) Pretty sure I’ll be finishing this one sometime today – and I’ll have my review up in time to complete the 2011 Essay Reading Challenge (hosted over at Books and Movies) that ends this Wednesday.

Earlier this week I finally finished Gold Boy, Emerald Girl by Yiyun Li, which satisfied the “book with a jewelry or gem” requirement for Beth Fish Reads‘s What’s In a Name 4 Reading Challenge. (For me, this was the hardest category for this one.) I really loved this collection of short stories and one novella, and honestly, I only have one criticism:  the novella “Kindness” should have been the last offering in this collection, not the first. The first half (maybe even 3/4) of  “Kindness” was not holding my interest, to be honest, and I nearly gave up on the entire book. However, I decided not to judge the entire collection on just one selection and I wound up LOVING all of the stories.

I’m very much in Reading Challenge mode this week as I’m trying to finish several that I haven’t given up on yet, signing up for several new ones for 2012, and ….announcing that, yes indeed, my Memorable Memoirs Reading Challenge will be returning for the 3rd year!

I promise to have all the details announced shortly, but as you’re perusing the many, many challenges out there in the book blogosphere, I hope you’ll consider joining the Memorable Memoir Reading Challenge either for the first time or for another year. If you’ve participated previously, the rules will be generally the same (with maybe more structure this time around … and maybe even a prize or two!).

I’ve been a lax hostess with this one, I know, and I’m hoping you’ll give me another chance this year to get my act together. I have some thoughts on ways to make this more fun and interactive for all of us who love memoirs and sharing them with others, and I’d love to have you be among us.

In the meantime, enjoy your Sunday and (for those of us in the United States) enjoy the remainder of this Thanksgiving weekend!

copyright 2011, 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: Talking to Girls About Duran Duran: One Young Man’s Quest for True Love and a Cooler Haircut, by Rob Sheffield

Talking to Girls About Duran Duran: One Young Man’s Quest for True Love and a Cooler Haircut
by Rob Sheffield
274 pages

By the time I had finished reading the very first paragraph of Rob Sheffield’s memoir, Talking to Girls About Duran Duran, I was already laughing hysterically.

“If you ever step into the Wayback Machine and zip to the 1980s, you will have some interesting conversations, even though nobody will believe a word you say.  You can tell people the twentieth century will end without a nuclear war.  The Soviet Union will dissolve, the Berlin Wall will come down, and people will start using these things called ‘ringtones’ that make their pants randomly sing ‘Eye of the Tiger.’ America will elect a black president who spent his college days listening to the B-52s.

But there’s one claim nobody will believe: Duran Duran are still famous.”  (pg. 1)

Talking to Girls About Duran Duran gets its title from Sheffield doing exactly that.  “It’s how I’ve spent my life,” he continues.  “I count on the Fab Five to help me understand all the females in my life – all the crushes and true loves, the sisters and housemates, the friends and confidantes and allies and heroes. Girls like to talk, and if you are a boy and you want to learn how to listen to girl talk, start a conversation and keep it going, that means you have to deal with Duran Duran. You learn to talk about what the girls want to talk about.  And it is a truth universally acknowledged that the girls want to talk about Duran Duran.” (pg. 2)

This is not, however, a book solely devoted to the virtues and appeal of Duran Duran (although there’s a fun mix of that in the introduction and last chapter.  The other chapters – all titled with various ’80s songs and artists (ones that are each, in some way, meaningful and influential to Sheffield) – are vignette-like stories of Sheffield’s suburban Boston escapades in the ’80s.  Spending a summer driving an ice cream truck, rushing home from a school dance at 10 p.m. to catch the premiere of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” on MTV and then heading back to the dance to show off the moves, trying in vain to master the hand-clap sequences of various songs (“Private Eyes”, by Hall and Oates, who get an entire chapter in this book).  If you grew up in the ’80s, you will definitely see yourself in these hilarious tales and understand exactly what Sheffield means when he says, “When Michael Jackson, John Hughes, and Patrick Swayze died, these were national days of mourning.” (pg. 3) and “Any wedding I attend degenerates into a roomful of Tommy and Ginas living on a prayer.” (pg. 3)  

I promise you, I’m not going to quote the book verbatim in this review … but I could, simply because there’s so much good stuff here. For many of us who grew up in the Big Hair Generation, music was what we knew and what our lives revolved around.  It was also our very foundation of life itself.  (“Top 40 radio was a constant education in the ways of the world.” (pg. 25)

Sheffield manages to weave all kinds of  ’80s references – from music to songs to fashion – into his narrative, much of which is peppered with lyrics or ’80s “in-jokes” (just like that …the use of “air quotes” for certain words and how you won’t find people under a certain age doing that or even knowing what that is.)  There’s more coverage of new-wave music here, but there’s certainly enough to make anyone nostalgic and appreciative for this glorious decade.

I will admit, I was a little surprised and taken aback (and disappointed, truth be told) by Sheffield’s treatment of Paul McCartney, who at one point he calls “dumb,” his manner “cartoonish,” and his public actions “moronic.”  Now, as regular readers know, I am a huge Sir Paul fan.  I’ve never paid $250 to see anyone in concert until Paul played Philadelphia in September 2005 (maybe that makes me dumb) and I doubt I will ever pay that amount for a concert ticket again. I also don’t doubt that Paul has his faults (he’s a knight, not a saint) but in my world, he’d have to do something more horrendous than make his wife part of his band or release an album the likes of “No More Lonely Nights” (which I actually really like) in order to fall from my graces.

Which is why I was perplexed (and cringing, actually) at passages like these:

“Paul was the bitchiest Beatle. Everybody knows the other Beatles thought he was bossy. Even in the interviews for the 1990s Anthology documentaries, George Harrison physically bristles in his company. But he was the Beatle who worked hardest, who forced the others to finish their songs and show up in the studio.”  (pg. 154)

Even lovely Linda, God rest her soul, isn’t immune.

“He [Paul] didn’t just sing about the way love messes up your mind – he lived it out. He even let his wife, Linda, join the band. Everybody made fun of him for that; everybody knew the joke, “What do you call a dog with wings?” There’s no way Paul didn’t know the whole world was laughing at him for giving his wife so much of his attention – he just didn’t care.  Or maybe he did it to annoy people.” (pg. 156)

That may be true (that Paul just didn’t care), but the fact is that Linda is an intrical part of Wings.  He wanted to be with her, he wanted to be in a band and on the road. How is that any different than John and Yoko? Or any other husband-wife duo? 

Want more?

“It’s his virtues that seem profoundly fucked up. He was a man deranged by love, driven to madness by a happy love affair, a deeper madness than other rock stars got from their unhappy ones …. “Maybe I’m Amazed” is an infinitely freakier song than “Revolution Number 9.”  [my note: absolutely, completely disagree 100% here.  I cannot abide “Resolution Number 9” – fingernails on a chalkboard is preferable to listening to that – and I make The Husband turn it off if it is played in my presence.]  Linda seemed like nobody’s idea of an obsession-worthy muse, just some random hippie chick Paul liked. …

Um. “Maybe I’m Amazed” is an amazing song, a tribute to Linda for essentially saving Paul’s life post-Beatles breakup, while he was in the throes of a breakdown and a depression so deep that he couldn’t even get out of bed.  

“I’m not claiming to like all the music – far from it. “Let ‘Em In” is some kind of high-bongwater mark for how zonked and sedated a grown man can sound when things are going too smoothly. Songs like this terrify me. I mean, Keith Richards has some impressive vices, and I always love hearing gossip about them. But they only disturb me in theory. In real life, I’m not in any danger of turning into Keith Richards and neither are my friends.  But turning into Paul McCartney? It could happen to anyone.  Some of your friends are probably already this fucked.”  (pg. 158)

I’ll be honest here.  I really, really enjoyed this book – up to this chapter. I can’t say that these 9 pages ruined the book for me, but they managed to leave a sour taste in my mouth. (I had recommended this to The Husband before getting to this point, but there’s no way in hell he’ll pick this up now after hearing me read to him the aforementioned quotes.)  It’s just that it’s hard to quantify devotion to Hayzsi Fantayzee (an ’80s band I’ve never heard of) with this. 

Enough of that.  I’ll let it be, and I’ll leave you with the thought that Talking with Girls About Duran Duran is indeed well worth listening to what the man (Rob Sheffield) says.

What Other Bloggers Thought:

Books, Movies, and Chinese Food
Eleventh Stack (blog of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, which is very high atop my list of places to visit when we move to the ‘Burgh)
The Girl from the Ghetto
She is Too Fond of Books

copyright 2011, 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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Bloggiesta Fiesta!

Let the weekend begin … it’s time to Bloggiesta!  For those not in the know, Bloggiesta is a weekend-long blogging marathon (hosted by the wonderful Natasha of Maw Books Blog) where we write backlogged posts, tweak this and that on the blog, and do any other blog upkeep and beautification that is necessary.  This is the 4th year and, I believe, my 4th year participating and it is always a fun and productive time.

I’ll admit, it kind of snuck up on me this year, so I’m winging it with my Bloggiesta to-do list. 

1. I already did one thing this morning, which was to finish up a review of The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris. Really enjoyed this one. 

2. Speaking of reviews, my main goal is to get all the links to my Book Reviews onto my Book Review Index page. I’ve been adding them here and there, but I’m curious to see how many I actually have written and I like the idea of having them all in one place.  If I only accomplish this, I will consider Bloggiesta ’11 a success.

3. I just finished We Have Always Lived in the Castle at lunchtime.  I’m planning to write that review and then all my 2011 books that I want to review will be up-to-date. 

4. Write some posts in advance, particularly for my Memorable Memoir Challenge.  (It’s not too late to sign up!)

5. I want to learn how to make a button, goshdarnit!  I’d like one for my Decluttering 2011 Project that I have going on.  Plus I had another idea for a reading challenge and I can’t lean on Florinda‘s shoulder right now to have her make another button for me. 

6. I need to organize my blog photos, particularly buttons and books. 

7. I want to set up some pages for the Challenges I’m doing this year

8. Back up the blog.

I’m sure I will think of some more to-do’s over the weekend, which is a busy one with a few things happening on the homefront, but I can’t resist a Bloggiesta. 


copyright 2011, 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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