Tag Archives: Michael Smerconish

Book Review: Read My Pins (along with a look at some of mine)

 Read My Pins: Stories from a Diplomat’s Jewel Box
by Madeleine Albright
Harper Collins
2009
176 pages

Like Madeleine Albright, I love wearing pins.  I’m not always very good at the schmoozing and small talk that I often need to do for my job, so in business settings I’ll sometimes wear a pin as a conversation starter.  I’m guessing Madeleine Albright doesn’t have that problem. What she might have difficulty with is deciding which pin to wear, because according to this book, her choices are limitless as she has hundreds to choose from.

My Betty is a bit of a girly-girl, to say the least, and I borrowed this book from the library in an attempt to use the pictures of the jewelry as a way to introduce her to one of the world’s most accomplished women.  I wound up being more enthralled with the book than she was.

Read My Pins is a coffee-table type of book that is both filled with glorious photos of beautiful pins but also stories about the pins’ history and their place front and center of world events.  As Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright often chose which pin to wear each day with great care and deliberation, often with subtle significance to a negotiation or a meeting with a world leader or some situation happening on a global scale.  Her choices were thoughtful as well as sometimes whimsical.  (After reading this, I’ve noticed I’ve become more deliberate about my choices of pins now.)

In this book, Albright gives her reader a peek inside her jewelry box with photos of more than 200 of her pins that she has collected over the years, from purchases in small boutiques and villages to extravagant gifts.  I don’t have anywhere near the number of pins as Madeleine Albright has, but as part of this review, I thought I would share some of my pins, including my newest pin which has special significance for this weekend.

And my newest pin, which I actually purchased last year (not actual size):

I’m not sure how many people outside of Philadelphia know about these pins, but it is a brilliant example (in my mind) of a successful fundraiser and frankly, a great cause-marketing campaign. Some consider him controversial (among other things) but every morning I listen to Michael Smerconish, a nationally syndicated radio talk show host based in Philadelphia. (I’ve been listening to Michael, of whom I am a very big fan, for probably seven years now.On his radio program and in his newspaper columns, Michael writes and talks extensively about 9/11 and how our world truly changed on that fateful day nine years ago.

Last year, Michael partnered with Philadelphia jeweler Steven Singer (a marketing and branding genius in his own right), who created the pin above as a way to raise money for the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, PA, estimated to cost $58 million.  For $10, you receive the pin and the proceeds are donated to the memorial.  You don’t have to be in the Philadelphia area to purchase a pin; they are available online here

As of this writing, sales of the pins are over $100,000.  Yes, there are some definite promotional benefits for Messrs. Singer and Smerconish, and some might argue that donors shouldn’t need a promotional incentive to contribute to the memorial fund.  But I’ve been in the fundraising business a long, long time and in this economy, it would be incredibly difficult to raise that kind of cash one $10 donation at a time.  I highly doubt it would have happened in a matter of weeks, as this year’s effort was.  It is an admirable effort, one that remembers and honors an even greater admirable and heroic effort that took place nine years ago as of tomorrow as well as those who lost their lives on that September day.

As I said, I often wear pins because they are a natural conversation starter.  This one is no exception.

Because in my mind, we can never talk enough about the event for which there are no words. 

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo’s Mommy, 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: The Reading Mother


One of my favorite poems is “The Reading Mother” by Strickland Gillilan (1869-1954). You know, the one that ends with the lines “You may have tangible wealth untold /Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold /Richer than I you can never be / I had a Mother who read to me.”

Growing up, ours was not a house filled to the rafters with books – unless they were in my bedroom. My parents weren’t avid readers and to this day, my mother is probably good for reading two – maybe three – books a year. I don’t remember my Dad reading anything other than two newspapers a day or the latest issue of Popular Mechanics. So I’m not quite sure, exactly, where my love of reading came from. Make no mistake, though … my brother and I were definitely encouraged to read.

We were taken to the library often, and I distinctly remember my mom co-signing for my first library card and encouraging me to write a fan letter to author Carolyn Haywood (pictured at left).

I also remember one library book that apparently made an impression on my mom, because she was glued to every word.  As if it was yesterday, I remember sitting on the sofa with my mom in our Northeast Philadelphia twin rancher home, asking non-stop if I could read her book. I’ve never been able to find it since. It was about a boy named Gideon – I’m pretty sure his name was Gideon, or maybe something close – who may or may not have had some learning challenges. A beige cover is in my mind. Ring any bells, anyone?  This would have occurred in the mid 1970s.

Anyway, with this being the Mother’s Day edition of The Sunday Salon, I wanted to give a special Mother’s Day thank you to my mom for teaching me how to read at age 3, taking me to the library, and still – as a reader of this blog – always encouraging my love of reading and writing.

As for other reading updates this week, I finished Cathy Marie Buchanan’s debut novel, The Day the Falls Stood Still.  What a captivating read! It’s a historical fiction novel, usually not my genre of choice, but this one had so many great reviews from other book bloggers that I had to get it at the library. I’ll have a full review up this week or so.
For last night’s dinner, I made a fried rice recipe based on one from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything, so it seemed appropriate that his book, Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating was the one I selected as my current read.  Our diet is basically a flexitarian one, with the kids and I eating chicken a few times a week and The Husband staying to a vegetarian diet. We could do better, though, and the staggering statistics presented in Food Matters (and the recipes!) will be a good motivator.
Also on tap for this week are two other library books that are due back this week (with no more renewals), Morning Drive: Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started Talking by Michael Smerconish (who I am a big fan of) and True Believer by Virginia Euwer Wolff, which is the second in the young adult Make Lemonade trilogy.(See my review of Make Lemonade here – which also holds the distinction for being the most searched on topic on this blog.)  It’s also a good Mother’s Day themed book, because it deals with how it truly takes a villiage to raise a child and the choices we make as mothers and those who care for kids.
Hope your reading week is a good one, and if you’re celebrating Mother’s Day, I wish you a wonderful day!
I had a mother who read to me
Sagas of pirates who scoured the sea.
Cutlasses clenched in their yellow teeth;
“Blackbirds” stowed in the hold beneath.
I had a Mother who read me lays
Of ancient and gallant and golden days;
Stories of Marmion and Ivanhoe,
Which every boy has a right to know.
I had a Mother who read me tales
Of Gelert the hound of the hills of Wales,
True to his trust till his tragic death,
Faithfulness lent with his final breath.
I had a Mother who read me the things
That wholesome life to the boy heart brings-
Stories that stir with an upward touch.
Oh, that each mother of boys were such!
You may have tangible wealth untold;
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than I you can never be —
I had a Mother who read to me.
 ~Strickland Gillilan

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Book Review: Little Earthquakes, by Jennifer Weiner

Little Earthquakes, by Jennifer Weiner

You know how we all know that person living the exact life that you’ve always imagined and dreamed about for yourself?

And you know how you kind of don’t want to like that person … but then you meet them and talk to them? And then you like them more than you thought you would? And then you find yourself thinking, wow, this person is really kind of cool and I could totally see myself being friends with her?

That would be what Jennifer Weiner is to me.

And to what the characters in her novel, Little Earthquakes, are to each other.

For starters, Jennifer and I are both Philly girls. I’ve followed Ms. Weiner’s career since she was a Philadelphia Inquirer reporter. Read her columns religiously. Even clipped a few of them, back in the day when people did such things. Looked on more than a little wistfully (and OK, I admit it, a tinge of jealousy) when she published her first book, then another and another and another, and had movie deals come her way. That, I thought, was the life I’d always wanted.

But because I’m not a fan of chick-lit, I never read any of her books. Not when I bought them from book sales and thrift shops. Not even after I met Ms. Weiner herself at a luncheon several years ago, where we chatted and laughed briefly as she graciously signed all her books I never read.

(How cool is that? That makes me grin every time I see that.)

So I saw the audio of Little Earthquakes on the library shelf and thought this would make a nice, light listen for my commute to work after vacation.

And wouldn’t you know it, I wound up liking this a little more than I expected. For the most part. So, given that we are at the end of summer (boo, hoo, hoo) this Labor Day weekend, and if you’re looking for a light read and enjoy such fare, consider Little Earthquakes.

Little Earthquakes is the story of three women, all new moms, living in Philadelphia and its suburbs: Ayinde, the former reporter and current wife of a famous, wealthy Philadelphia Sixers basketball player (think Allen Iverson); Kelly, an events planner and wife to Steve; and Becky, restauranteur and wife to physician Andrew. And Lia, a Philly native turned Hollywood actress, struggling to make sense of a seismic, off-the-Richter-scale, earth-shattering loss of her own.

First thing that captured my attention was this: Jennifer Weiner knows Philadelphia, and it shows.

It felt like the red Kia I’d rented was driving itself – out I-95, past the Franklin Mills Mall, its parking lot packed as usual, past the sprawl of chain restaurants and cheap apartment complexes with RENT ME NOW banners flapping limply about the trash-littered ditches. Left onto Byberry, across the Boulevard, left and right and left again, the rented car’s wheels turning over streets that felt smaller and dimmer than they had when I’d lived here. The aluminum siding on the small ranch houses and even the asphalt on my street had faded and the houses themselves seemed to have shrunk in the shadows of the trees, which had gotten taller.”

Weiner knows the pockets of neighborhoods comprising Philadelphia and its environs, and details such as how if one lives in Somerton, you attend George Washington High School. I loved this about Little Earthquakes.

Conversely, I was a little perplexed at Weiner’s treatment of Ocean City, New Jersey. One character, Kelly, hails from what is portrayed in Little Earthquakes as a dumpy seaside town. Having spent a number of summers in Ocean City and knowing the town as well as any born-and-bred Philly tourist/shoobie, I thought Weiner did OCNJ somewhat of a disservice. (It’s also kind of ironic; in August 2005, Weiner did an interview promoting Little Earthquakes on Ocean City’s famed Music Pier. For the uninitiated, OCNJ is a great family town with an awesome boardwalk and yeah, it probably has its pockets of problems like anyplace else, but I really thought the town’s fault lines were hammered home too much in Little Earthquakes for no apparent reason.)

More substantially, I really liked how Little Earthquakes showed how the influences and actions of one’s own mother carries over into relationships with one’s children, especially in the thrall of new motherhood. Each of the characters in the story has issues – boy, do they have issues! – with their own mothers and mothers-in-law. Watching how their interactions with their children mirror those of their own experience was an interesting dimension to this book that I wasn’t expecting.

I also thought Jennifer Weiner captured the jolting reality of new motherhood extremely well. As expectant parents, we expect carefree days of running through meadows a la laundry detergent and deodorant commercials, delighting in our children’s discoveries of butterflies and grasshoppers. To be sure, there are a few of those moments in motherhood, but they are eclipsed by the not-so-carefree moments, especially when the need to work is thrown into the mix or a child has health problems or a marriage is on the rocks – all of which are plotlines in Little Earthquakes.

At the same time, however, in doing so there were several plotlines that felt too long, too predictable or neatly-done, and laden with too much whining. In particular, the character of Kelly was beyond annoying and that storyline dragged in parts. I could appreciate that she had a tough childhood, but I found myself wanting to tell her to get some therapy already. Spend a few bucks on a couple sessions with a good psychologist instead of decorating the nursery to match the pages of a magazine. I do think that was intentional, that this may have been the reaction Weiner seeks from readers.

That realistic aspect of the first year of motherhood is what I enjoyed most about this story. As a mom nearly 8 years removed from these dark days, I liked that Weiner didn’t sugar-coat the realities of this time. I also think this would be a good book for new moms to read – if they have time to read – because there is much to commiserate about in this. It has the element of talking and listening to a good friend, someone who has indeed been-there-and-done-that, and in most cases, is right there and doing that with you.

Little Earthquakes illustrates to me the conundrum that we book bloggers sometimes face in assigning ratings to books we review, because this is a hard one for me to rate. I didn’t dislike this book nor was it the most incredible read ever. I’m not a chick-lit kind of girl; I’m probably good for one chick-litty story a year, if that. So based on that, I’d be giving this a 3 (which might make you dismiss this as not worthy … but maybe it is something you’d like) but I’m not the target audience, so is that really fair? And then there’s the fact that in this case, I was Weiner’s intended reader, one looking specifically for a breezy, light read, one that really didn’t use up all the precious few maternal brain cells I have left – and Little Earthquakes fits the bill beautifully, so I could justify a higher rating based on that criteria, as well as for the accuracy and details of the setting.

What to do, what to do? Just because I liked parts of it or didn’t like parts of it doesn’t mean you will or won’t. In this case – like in motherhood itself, take a deep breath, quit agonizing, forego the comparisons and how we stack up against others and enjoy Little Earthquakes for what it is; like motherhood (and life) itself, a trip through the good, the not-so-good, the parts we love and the parts we wish away, the delight along with the drool. The lessons and understandings that come along with an occasional pothole-laden (OK, in Philly, more than an occasional pothole) jolt along the Roosevelt Boulevard of our lives.

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Best of the week – January 25-February 1

For whatever reason, I didn’t have many links in this post this week. It’s not for lack of reading or items of interest. I’m not sure of the reason. But, here are a few tidbits to check out.

I personally like my politicians to have a little bit of a sense of humor, in a good way, which is how I took this joke by Joe Biden. We are seriously way too muzzled in this P.C. on crack society of ours if something like this becomes a big deal. Folks need to lighten the hell up.

Jenna and Barbara Bush offer some light-hearted (and not so light-hearted) advice in their letter to Malia and Sasha Obama about growing up in the White House and having a first-hand look at history.

World War I seems to be the stuff of history books, but not to Frank Buckles. Today’s Philadelphia Inquirer has a great story about Frank, who turns 108 today and is the last known veteran (“our last living link”) of World War I. He also has his own website.

Moving on from politics … as it turns out, even the Sex and the City set isn’t immune from the economic woes. I honestly don’t know what I would do with myself if The Dean cut my Bergdorf allowance in half and if I had to give up bottle service. Oh, the horror! (What the hell is bottle service anyway? Somehow I don’t think it’s what I know to be bottle service – meaning, every weekend I take our bottles to the Recycling Center.)

That’s all until next time. Have a good one!

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Ye Shall Receive and Read

We received a sleighload of books under our tree this Christmas. Here are just a few of the great reads awaiting us.

For me: I’m very privileged to call author Beth Kephart a blogging friend, so I was thrilled to find House of Dance, Undercover, and Seeing Past Z: Nurturing the Imagination in a Fast-Forward World underneath the tree. They were presents from Betty and Boo, chosen with assistance from The Dean (after providing him with a list of suggested gift items). I think I am going to read them in the order pictured here, as House of Dance is the newest release. Before reading Seeing Past Z, I think I’ll read Beth’s memoir A Slant of Sun.

On occasion, I have to take a reading and blogging break to actually make something edible for my family, so these cookbooks below were ones that were on my wish list. Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Cookbook was also a present from Betty and Boo (not that they will actually eat anything that I make from this) via The Dean. I’d had this out from the library and only had a chance to make one recipe (Hot German Potato Salad). Tonight I will be making Lucky Chili for a get-together with friends tomorrow.

Mediterreanean Fresh was also a library book and because I am trying to adhere to a Mediterranean diet lately, I thought many of the recipes sounded good.

And finally, I don’t need to covet my mother’s Christmas gift any longer because, faithful blog reader of mine that she is, she bought me my own copy of the New England Soup Factory Cookbook, as well as all the spices that I’ve indicated that I didn’t have in previous posts!

For The Dean: He mostly reads biographies or autobigraphies, and mostly of presidents. For awhile, he would dip into a Stephen King novel, but that’s faded. He doesn’t read fiction or much other nonfiction. Jon Meacham’s American Lion is getting some nice buzz, so hopefully he will enjoy this. He received this from my mom and C., at my suggestion after hearing the author interviewed on my favorite morning talk radio show.

For Boo: Like his father, Boo is also very interested in the presidents and knows more about them than most grown-ups. He received these books for Christmas.

For Betty: She’s just getting into the American Girl series of books, which I am very pleased about. And, I am thrilled that she got Free to Be … You and Me, which I’d gotten when I was 6 and which I continue to love to this day. All the original songs (“Free to Be …”, “Glad to Have a Friend Like You,” “It’s All Right to Cry” etc. are included, as are the stories “Boy Meets Girl” – which Boo adores – “The Pain and The Great One,” “Ladies First,” etc.) The lyrics and melodies came back to me instantaneously as I browsed through this on Christmas, and the kids and I are having a great time reading this at snack time. I’m loving how much they’re loving this. Both kids also received Barnes & Noble gift cards, too. Since they can’t drive yet, that means a trip to B&N for me, too.

All in all, some great books to read during the holidays and to start the New Year off with!

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