Review: Be Frank with Me

Be Frank with meBe Frank with Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson is a breath of fresh air. Imagine being a nanny and caretaker for a young boy who is a little bit like Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory (or perhaps a young Don Tillman from The Rosie Project) while his mother is a recluse, you fall sort-of-kind-of for the handyman and you are desperately missing NYC. Wrap all of that into one charming, delightful and different story and you have Be Frank with Me.

I was hooked after the first chapter, always rooting for Alice: would she figure out the rules on how to care for Frank? Would Mimi ever be nice to her? What is the deal with Xander? I was surprised by the ending, in more ways than one (nope, won’t spoil it, don’t worry) and I still enjoyed the book. In fact, it’s probably my most favorite book I’ve read so far in 2016 and since I’m seven books in, that’s saying something.

Enjoy the Banning house for all its quirks, enjoy Frank for all of his old school movie references and interesting style choices, enjoy Xander for his mystery and allure, enjoy Alice for caring so deeply for Frank and enjoy Mimi for being unabashedly herself. Johnson has written a refreshing book where nothing is quite as you expect it to be full of wry humor and poignant moments.

About the novel:

Reclusive literary legend M. M. “Mimi” Banning has been holed up in her Bel Air mansion for years. But after falling prey to a Bernie Madoff-style ponzi scheme, she’s flat broke. Now Mimi must write a new book for the first time in decades, and to ensure the timely delivery of her manuscript, her New York publisher sends an assistant to monitor her progress. The prickly Mimi reluctantly complies—with a few stipulations: No Ivy-Leaguers or English majors. Must drive, cook, tidy. Computer whiz. Good with kids. Quiet, discreet, sane.

When Alice Whitley arrives at the Banning mansion, she’s put to work right away—as a full-time companion to Frank, the writer’s eccentric nine-year-old, a boy with the wit of Noel Coward, the wardrobe of a 1930s movie star, and very little in common with his fellow fourth-graders.

As she slowly gets to know Frank, Alice becomes consumed with finding out who Frank’s father is, how his gorgeous “piano teacher and itinerant male role model” Xander fits into the Banning family equation—and whether Mimi will ever finish that book.

Full of heart and countless “only-in-Hollywood” moments, Be Frank with Me is a captivating and unconventional story of an unusual mother and son, and the intrepid young woman who finds herself irresistibly pulled into their unforgettable world.

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Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book for the purposes of my review. All opinions and thoughts are my own!

Good Things Friday

TGIFI’ve officially been on the healthy lifestyle kick for six months as of today. Over 200 workouts, countless grams of protein (well, I could count it but that’s boring), 7-9 pounds lost depending on the day, and nearly 30 inches overall lost. It has truly been a lifestyle change for me and I’m loving it, though I really wish chocolate and cheese fries were full of protein and not fat/calories.

Today is a short-ish day for me; I’m volunteering & representing my company at a local youth technology event. It is wonderful to get out and about in the community, connect with other like-minded business individuals and, ok, to not be in the office on a Friday!

As of right now, our weathermen and women are awesome. They are saying it’s going to be 60 degrees tomorrow. SIXTY. Very unusual for the Lou this time of year, but I’ll take it. I’m already dreaming of doing a track workout and maybe finding a patio to sit on, even if there is no patio furniture set out because, sixty degrees!

I watched Learning to Drive on Monday night while the hubs was out with the Rotary group and you guys, what a charming and perfectly lovely movie. I highly recommend it; coming in at just 90 minutes with two talented actors/actresses, a great setting (NYC) and an ending that will leave you with a happy sigh, make time for it. You’ll be glad you did.

I’m thankful for  knowing when to keep my mouth shut. There have been some tough situations around me lately (ahem, second wife life can be really hard) but I remember that a) there are far more important things to deal with in the world b) this too shall pass and c) that opening my mouth won’t matter or help the situation at all. Not tooting my own here but rather writing it down as a reminder to myself that it’s ok to keep the mouth shut… even when you’re Italian nature tells you do otherwise.

What are the good things on your list today? 

 

Entertainment: Theater

I remember the first time I went to the theater: it was just me and my mom, all dressed up to see My Fair Lady. I was maybe seven or eight and thought it was the coolest thing: I loved the play, the music, the costumes, the theater-goers in their finest clothes, the time spent with my mom.

Not too long after that my parents purchased a subscription to a local children’s theater that did everything from very cool puppet plays to something creepy with masks (that’s all I remember, the masks) to Aesop’s Fables and much more.

In middle school I was a stage manager for our three yearly productions, carried around giant binders full of prop notes and lighting cues, costume lists and all sorts of other things. I loved every minute of it. I attended a few summer camps in high school for drama/acting and wound up with parts like “assistant nurse,” or “talking tree,” which made it quite clear to me that acting was not my forte. It was fun anyway.

When I was in college I went to live performances every chance I could get, anything from The Vagina Monologues to the more dramatic Shakespeare renditions the drama groups put on.

Knight, sadly, is not a fan of the theater; he will go, but he admits he doesn’t love it. Thankfully my dad is. He and my mom had a subscription to one of the theater companies here in the Lou which he thankfully has kept. Every four to six weeks we have a dad/daughter date night to see whatever the new play is. Sometimes I’ve heard of them, other times not. It’s such a lovely and unique way to be exposed to new plays, ideas, ways of thinking. I love getting dressed up, the moment just after the lights go out and just before the actors and actresses come on stage. Such courage it takes to stand in front of people you don’t know and pour your heart into a character. My dad and I talk about the play during intermission and on the way home- the themes, how it made us feel, what we (well, I, mostly) thought of the costumes. It’s such a treat to have a night out like that with my popz; I treasure the time.

I’m looking forward to my trip to visit Lisa in March where we will take in a play we are both very interested in seeing, If/Then!

Over the years I’ve seen Guys & Dolls, A Christmas Carol, Fiddler on the Roof, Grease, Phantom of the Opera (best viewed at the Queen’s Theatre in London if you can), How to Succeed in Business, Anything Goes, The Music Man, The Lorax, Elf the musical, a variety of kids plays (I take the girls each summer to a local theater house for a one-hour play), Angel Street, Noises Off, Peter and the Starcatcher (go see it if you can, worth the price of admission) and so much more. I would love to see Newsies but alas couldn’t find anyone who would go with me; probably should have gone by myself!

Do you enjoy live theater, musicals and plays? Do you have an all-time favorite? My favorites are Guys & Dolls and more recently, Peter and the Starcatcher. 

No Spend February

In just five days the hubs and I will be embarking on a no-spend February.save-money

Why? One of my good friends from college is doing it this month and after seeing her posts on FB about how challenging it has been but also how lovely it was to put over half of her husband’s paycheck into savings I thought, well, let’s give it a go!

What I’m hoping to accomplish: 

  1. Save money, obviously. No brainer.
  2. Eat out less. I’m really good at cooking Sunday-Thursday evenings but on the weekends (Friday and Saturday night) I like a break from the kitchen. My handsome husband is awesome with the grill but not awesome with the stove/oven which means that we tend to eat out at least one, if not both of these evenings. I’d love to cut this habit, or at least make it once a week once the challenge is over
  3. Be more creative with the meals I make/use what we have on hand. I’m tough on myself, always thinking that I have to make a protein with at least one veggie and one side but that’s not always the case. If I eat cereal and Knight has grilled cheese one night? So be it. I don’t want to be running to the grocery store in between big trips because I don’t have this or that for a recipe. If we eat tacos every week who cares? I love tacos, anyway.
  4. Realize that we have enough stuff. I know this already. Knight knows this already and yet new things make their way into our house. Things for the girls for their time with us in the summer. A new tech gadget. Something for the kitchen. Yes, some of it is practical and gets used but also some of it we just don’t need. I have been ditching at least one large trash bag a month, donating two trash bags every few months and selling things on swap sites/Craigslist but it seems like we have so far to go. I’m taking a page from Lisa’s book and I’m committed to ditching at least one thing each day. I’m going to try very hard to follow her plan (1 thing on the 1st day, 2 things on the second, etc.) but will cut myself some slack if I can’t. Considering I looked around last night and found three things in one drawer that I don’t use, I think it will be ok. Like Lisa, I plan to share a list/pics of what I’m tossing/donating/selling!
  5. Take a look at the silly purchases we make. There’s not really anything wrong with going to the grocery store during the week but there IS something unnecessary about buying two new books for the kiddos because they were on sale, or buying something at a party I was invited to, or deciding that yes, the 3 for $10 sale on ice cream IS a good idea (I mean, let’s agree- it is a good idea, but also, it isn’t). I want to be more aware of what we buy that we NEED vs what we WANT vs what we feel OBLIGATED to purchase.

The rules: We can only take care of the essentials: bills; groceries (two big trips during the month of February, I am an every other week shopper generally); dog food; gas for the cars. That’s it! IF we get the urge to go out, spend money, etc., we are going to write down what we wanted to buy, how much we think it would have cost, and this way we’ll have a visual list of what we would have spent our money on and how much it would have cost. I’ll share back the list in early March.

Only exceptions? If we have a gift card we may use it, but only to the dollar value that is on the card. No spending extra at those places. We also have one trip planned to see my bonus daughter so obviously we will have to spend a little extra on gas and a meal during that trip, as well as a trivia night at the end of the month for charity.

What I’m most nervous about? The cooking, oh the cooking. I will be warning Knight that some nights will be really random meals, or breakfast for dinner, or a frozen pizza. I also know it will be hard for Knight to not pick up a craft beer here or there for him to enjoy on the weekends. Good thing we have a stocked wine fridge!

What I’m most looking forward to? It’s winter so it’s tough to get out and about for the most part, but I’m hoping to embark on a few fun and free dates with the hubs during this time. Extra money to put into savings or towards our “shower tax.” Knowing that we don’t have to spend money, can make do with what we have (we are thankful to be able to have what we need) and challenging ourselves in new ways. I’m hoping it goes well enough that we do this twice a year: once at the beginning of the year and once after the girls leave!

Any no-spend challenge tips for me? I’ve already been told to avoid Target, online parties and online shopping. Anything else I should take under advisement?

Things (v3)

Things I’m new to…

Struggling with my high protein diet right now. It’s the first time in almost six months where I just want to be done with it. I know I’m seeing results, I know I feel better when I do it but also? I miss cheese fries, not tracking my food all the time, etc.

January blahs. The weather has been cold, gray, ick. I’m over the wash/rinse/repeat aspect to my week right now and am currently brainstorming ways to change that up.

Things I don’t understand… 

Donald Trump; does he seriously think he can run the government and America?

I probably sound like a broken record with this one, but cancer. I don’t get it. I don’t understand it, why there is no cure, why it’s so prevalent. It makes me sick.

Things that make me giggle…

This video of some A-list actors auditioning/reading lines from the 1990s film Clueless cracked me up.

Also, married people trying Tinder for the first time. I hear such horrific stories from friends about dating apps and dating stories… I remember how ridiculous my stories were from 2004-2010 so I can’t fathom being back in the field again. At any rate, this article/video gave me a good laugh. Marriage is tough but it does also f*n rock!

Things that make me happy… 

Chip and Joanna Gaines announced they are releasing a book this fall. It will definitely be on my birthday wishlist. (Seriously, I want them to come and redo my house!)

Listening to Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation album on Spotify. I can recite/sing almost every single lyric thanks to my mom; we had this album on repeat, via cassette (remember those?) when I was little.

Coloring books. Endless amounts of coloring books and coloring supplies please and thank you.

Lunches with friends during the work week.

What’s making you giggle and happy lately?

Winter Hermit-ing

(Thank you for your lovely sentiments on yesterday’s post.)

I know for most of my readers winter is upon us. The lovely time of year when the sky is clear and bright but the air is crisp and frigid, there’s never enough lotion to put on the hands, face, and legs, and the only sensible thing to do is cuddle under the covers with your dog/cat/spouse/significant other, watch a movie or read a book, and stay warm.

Movies:

Ant-Man. I give this move an A. Knight and I were pleasantly surprised at the sturdiness of the plot, the mix of comedy and action, and the caliber of the actors/actresses. I love Paul Rudd (I have since I first saw him in Clueless) and he was just as adorable and awesome in this movie. Highly recommend for a date night movie!

Get Hard. Oh, this movie is totally ridiculous. The premise is absurd: Ferrell’s character needs to get ready for prison and hires Hart, who he believes to have been in jail. That said, there’s lots of jokes both of the witty and raunchy variety, lots of curse words, and a fairly predictable, but no less enjoyable, ending.

Hot Pursuit. A cop movie featuring chicks, reminding me a bit of Miss Congeniality meets Mission Impossible, but with more cleavage and jokes. Overall, we liked this movie and while I can’t understand Sofia Vergara approximately 50% of the time, I adore her, her accent, and imagine she would be a lot of fun to be friends with in real life.

Spy. Knight wanted to watch this because he will watch anything that has Jason Statham and I watched because Melissa McCarthy has been my favorite since Gilmore Girls. Obviously we are into cop/undercover/Mission Impossible type movies. If you want to laugh, this movie is worth it.

TV Shows:

Our latest obsession is HGTV’s Fixer Upper and Lakefront Bargain Hunt. I would love to be friends with Chip and Joanna Gaines, have a house in Texas that they could redecorate for me and then hang out with them on a regular basis. If I had an infinite supply of money, I would buy everything in their shop (Magnolia) and transform my home into a combination of farm/Texas/shabby chic here in the Lou.  Knight and I have discussed the possibility of (someday) having a vacation home that we can use on weekends, rent out when we aren’t there, and I think that’s why Lakefront Bargain Hunt appeals to us. Lots of locations to consider if we ever go down this path!

When Knight has his bowling league once a week, rather than watch and catch up on my chick flicks and independent movies, I’ve been watching Friends for the millionth time, working my way through Once Upon a Time, and coloring. One of these days I’ll get back to my personal DVD queue.

What movies have you seen lately? Any TV show obsessions?

Grief, Two Years in

I have a hard time talking about grief. I don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable by talking about how I miss my mom, even though I’m 32, even though she’s been in the stars for two years (on Saturday), even though I think I should be more healed. Sometimes I don’t know how to express myself. I still get angry. I fucking hate cancer.

I can’t go into a hospital, even if it’s for a happy reason, without first giving myself a pep talk and no matter what, I wind up tears when I leave.

I can’t linger on pictures of my mom without tears flowing. Reading her notes, inscriptions in my books, or cards that I saved? As my Italian family would say, Fuggedaboutit. I mean, I can, but I wind up looking like Alice Cooper with mascara streaming down my face. I keep these things because I know someday I will need her words, to see her handwriting, to share them with my bonus daughters.

Little things still set me off: commercials about cancer treatments; any TV show/movie that deals with death or one that was a tradition for us (You’ve Got Mail; Love Actually; The Holiday). I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to watch those movies without sobbing, but maybe I’ll try one day.

I can, thankfully, verbally share memories, laugh over her silly sayings, stop myself when I hear myself sounding just like her. I don’t cry as much as I once did, thankfully, but when I do, it’s a monsoon and then I’m in a funk for a few days. Random memories will come to me throughout the day and when they do, they feel like she’s hugging me. She gave good hugs. I really miss her, more than I thought possible.

Believe it or not, I set out to write this post and share some of my favorite blog posts, articles and sayings that have helped me through the last two years, have made me feel less alone. If you’re out there, struggling, missing your parent or someone else close to you, I hope that you find momentary comfort in these links I’m sharing.

Why I Still Need My Mom. Favorite passage: “And for the moms who are watching from Heaven, we search for your guidance in our hearts and your absence is felt daily. Even though we wish we could hear your voice just one more time, we know that you are making our favorite cake in preparation for our glorious reunion and rocking our babies before you send them down to us.” survive

My Marriage Didn’t end When I Became A Widow. (Warning: you will cry when reading this. I sure did.) Why it resonated: I was appalled by the idea of leaving my mom alone once she passed. It took me awhile to realize she’s not her body, but even so, I still fret about it. Everything I did leading up to her memorial service and even now, is to keep her from being alone or to honor her, fulfill her wishes. (Thanks to Kathleen for sharing this on her blog last week. I’m so glad she did.)

On Grief. Several friends sent this to me when it first came out, and I read it, cried and then re-read it and cried some more. I keep it close and bookmarked as a reminder that it’s ok to be sad. That I grieve because my mom, her life, our friendship are worth grieving. Favorite passage is when she quotes Anne Lamott, coincidentally one of my mom’s favorite writers: “We Christians like to think death is a major change of address, but in any case, the person will live fully again in your heart, at some point, and make you smile at the MOST inappropriate times. But their absence will also be a lifelong nightmare of homesickness for you”

I had a hard birth. While no, I haven’t had experience in childbearing, there’s a commonality to grief that I believe a lot of people fail to recognize, or expect of those grieving. For us to be grateful. For being here, standing, for the baby who is ok now, that the car wreck wasn’t as bad as it could have been, etc. etc. My favorite line from this post, pointed out to me by my dear friend Becky “Grief doesn’t negate gratitude.” Also this, “And a really great thing happens when I start telling the truth.” I tend to not answer truthfully when people ask how I’m doing, but maybe, just maybe I’ll start being more honest.

The Grievers Holiday Bill of Rights. I’m fortunate to go to a fabulous Church that recognizes that people struggle for a million different reasons during the holidays. They offer a Blue Christmas service each year and I finally summoned up the courage to go this year. As I sat there a total and complete blubbering mess as I lit a candle for my mom, wrote messages to be prayed over and listened to the words, I felt… relieved. There were others in that room wiping away tears, staring blankly at the pulpit and just being. We were one that evening. Our Pastor shared with us the Grievers Holiday Bill of Rights and I have to say, it was freeing to read them. So often when you’re struggling with things you try do what you believe you should do, or what’s expected of you… I learned it’s ok to do what I need to do. No apologies, no explanations. There’s something freeing in that.

I don’t have a way to wrap this post up into a neat and tidy bow because grief doesn’t work like that. Two years later I’m still sad. I still wish I had just one more minute with my mom. I still ask myself “what if” and “why her?”. I can’t do certain things, shop at certain stores, listen to certain songs, or eat certain foods without her. To all of you have been by me for the last few years, near and far, texts and cards, phone calls and packages, visits and chat sessions, from the bottom of my heart, thank you. I truly don’t know where I’d be without my support system.

 

 

Around Here

Around here, I’m acclimating to the “real,” world after a glorious two weeks out of the office. Note that I don’t say off because I did work a few hours a day while I was out of the office, but still a good mental health break. I read four (five?) books, went to bed after 11pm and didn’t get up until 8am most days, watched movies, spent time with friends and family and basically loved every second of it.

The weather in the Lou went from insane (I’m sure you  heard about the floods in the area, thankfully we were spared any flooding issues) to ridiculously winter cold with highs in the 20s and lows in the teens. In other words, I’m wearing all the layers, scarves, boots and sweaters while I can, fireplace and blankets on at night.

Our Christmas vacation was lovely. Warm weather. A beachfront villa. A charming little shopping area not more than two miles from our villa. A reading nook that was to die for (seriously). We went on a ghost tour, lots of beachfront bike rides, shopping excursions, tried (and loved) low-country cuisine, fell in love with pimento cheese (me) and decided that saying y’all, at least in the context of the South, is rather adorable.

I’m still struggling to believe it is 2016, with weekend plans well into the end of February. Struggling to believe that soon it will be two years since we lost mom. Struggling to believe the holidays have once again come and gone with not as much brightness and fanfare as once before.

I’m planning on reading 68 books this year, a tall order but I’m nearly three books in so perhaps I can do. I have more intentions for the year than last year, but I broke them up into professional; fitness/health; family & friends; reading; spiritual. There are a bit more attainable than previous intentions and I’m excited to tackle them as best I can. And if they don’t all pan out? At least I tried.

What’s going on around and with you, lately?

Good Things on Christmas Eve Eve

Happy Christmas Eve Eve everyone! This will be my last post for 2015, I think; between vacation with my boys and from work, apart from Instagram (I can’t quit it, I just can’t), I’ll be reading, working out, reading some more, coloring, and spending time with my handsome husband. So, good things on Christmas Eve Eve:

The ocean: hearing it, smelling it, walking alongside it. Nothing beats the sleep I get when I’m on a coast.

Surviving a 13-hour road trip with two dudes. Don’t get my wrong, my dad and hubs are awesome but it’s a lot of testosterone, football and work talk, etc. (At the risk of making this a sad things post: I always miss my mom but moments like that? I really miss her. Damn.)

A lovely reading/library room at the villa that my dad rented for this Christmas trip. It’s gorgeous. If I could bottle it up and take it home with me, I certainly would. Hopefully my retirement home will include a reading/library room.

Seeing the play, Peter and the Starcatcher with my dad this past weekend. If you have the opportunity to see this play, DO. It was amazing. I laughed. I cried. I didn’t want it to end and I’m considering going to see it again.

Riding a bike for the first time in oh, twenty years. Yes, it’s been that long… I had a series of bike accidents that left me too afraid to get back on, but yesterday I decided it was time. I was shaky and I’m sure it was hilarious to watch, but I’m determined to go for a ride everyday while on vacation.

Independent bookstores with charm and personality. I didn’t need a new book but I sure as heck bought one!

Merry Christmas Eve Eve to my friends who celebrate. Wishing you all the love, happiness and good memories the next few days. I’ll “see” you in 2016! 

 

 

Review: I Love my Pet Elephant

I Love My Pet ElephantBetween my bonus daughters and the many kids that my friends have, I’m always on the lookout for new kid books that I can use for birthday and holiday gifts. My oldest bonus daughter loves elephants and while I knew this one would be too young for her (she’s in fourth grade) I decided it had to be read and added to our family bookshelf; she can read this book to our friends’ kids next summer!

I Love my Pet Elephant is positively adorable, with simple rhyming language that would suit new(er) readers, delight parents who read this book to their children, and would be a great choice for any child who dreams about having a non-conventional pet.

The illustrations are colorful and well done, complementing the writing, and adding a bit of whimsy and fun to the story. The story had me laugh out loud more than once (the elephant wants to sleep in the bed with his human friend!), and when he attempts to hide in the pond.

If you are looking for a fun, funny and sweet children’s book to gift, pick this book up by Lauren Micchelli!

Enter to win 1 of 5 print copies or 3 ebook copies (Apple) of I Love My Pet Elephant  & 2 X $15 Amazon gift cards (10 prizes total) (USA & Canada) here, via a Rafflecopter giveaway.

Book Description for I Love My Elephant: A colorful tale of friendship and fun between a little girl and her best friend – her pet elephant! I Love My Pet Elephant is a delightful medley of reality and fantasy, with shenanigans and adventures brought to life through vibrant illustration and simple rhyming text.

Buy I Love My Pet Elephant here:  Amazon   Barnes & Noble   Chapters/Indigo

Other Books by Lauren Micchelli:

A Day of What Ifs: A unique book filled with quirky scenarios and colorful pictures. A twist on the ordinary, this story touches the imagination with an entertaining assortment of “what if” possibilities! (ages 3-6)

The Snootzytime Adventures of Maddie & Murphy: A Christmas Journey to the North Pole: The first book of the Maddie and Murphy series. Maddie’s dreams take her on different nighttime adventures. Accompanied by her dog, Murphy, Maddie finds herself where no child has gone before – the North Pole!  (ages 4-8)

The Snootzytime Adventures of Maddie & Murphy: To the Moon and Back: Maddie gazes out her window at the night sky. As bedtime nears, Mom tells Maddie a secret- that a wish on a star could really come true!  An excited Maddie makes her wish – to go to the moon! What unfolds is so much more! (ages 4-8)

Buy Lauren Micchelli’s books on Amazon

Author’s Bio: Lauren Micchelli is a newly published author, having penned her first book in 2014. She has since continued the Snootzytime Adventures of Maddie and Murphy series, and went on to publish A Day Of What Ifs and I Love My Pet Elephant.

Impressively, she was the recipient of New Book Award 2015 for I Love My Pet Elephant.

​Lauren Micchelli grew up in West Caldwell, New Jersey and currently resides in northern New Jersey.

Connect with the author:  Website   Twitter

What’s your favorite go-to kid book to gift for holidays and birthdays?

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Thanks to iRead Book Tours for providing me with a complimentary copy of this book for the purposes of my review. All opinions are my own.