Blog Archives

BBC: ‘The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street’.

I know I usually post these things on Friday, but since I’m working from literally NO content calendar at this point – and am just blogging whenever I feel like it, I’m just going with it! I finished reading this book yesterday, so I thought I’d go ahead and talk about it 🙂

So, the latest read for Blanche’s Book Club is “The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street” by Karina Yan Glaser. I saw this book on Instagram – I follow several book lovers and I use Instagram as a way to keep up with new books coming out, along with books I want to add to my reading list. When I saw this one, the description said something along the lines of, “You’ll fall in love with this family”… I did no other research and simply added it to my reading list.

I have a bad habit of doing this, don’t I?

I placed this book on my library reserves list and picked it up on my way to the airport a week ago. I was in a hurry so I shoved it into my carry-on and didn’t look at it until I was aboard the plane and ready to read. When I opened the book, it was obvious this book was not… for adults. Ha!

Upon further inspection, the library sticker said “Junior Fiction”…which I’d never heard of. It was not so easy or too easy, and there were chapters, and as I read it, there was a semi-complex plot, and it held my interest. Since I don’t have kids, and am really never around children, I don’t really know what age group this would be best for. Here is the official description from Amazon:

One of The New York Times’  Notable Children’s Books of 2017: “In this delightful and heartwarming throwback to the big-family novels of yesteryear, a large biracial family might lose their beloved brownstone home, but win it back with an all-out charm offensive.”

The Vanderbeekers have always lived in the brownstone on 141st Street. It’s practically another member of the family. So when their reclusive, curmudgeonly landlord decides not to renew their lease, the five siblings have eleven days to do whatever it takes to stay in their beloved home and convince the dreaded Beiderman just how wonderful they are. And all is fair in love and war when it comes to keeping their home. 

Some of the customer reviews said it was good for middle grade readers. Nonetheless, I enjoyed it! There was a B-plot not mentioned in the above description, and it had a slightly darker tone, which made me read the last half of the book very quickly.

This is book 1 in a series – book 2 is slated to be published in September of this year, and it’s called “The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden”.

I definitely enjoyed reading this book, and if you do have children in that “middle grade” range, I’d be interested to see what they thought of it!

The next book Blanche’s Book Club will be reading is “Are You Sleeping” by Kathleen Barber.

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‘So Cosmo’: Woman Up.

Diandra at “Fun Fearless Money”.

Hey, hey! It has been a bit of a doozy of a week – so bad I almost had to go out and buy myself a bottle of wine, but I didn’t, because 1. I’m too lazy, and 2. I’m really serious about not messing up my “sleep study” (please read Tuesday’s post for clarity). Either way, I’m happy we’re on the downside of the week, and coasting right on into the weekend.

Which means one thing: A new episode of “So Cosmo” was on last night! The episode starts with Diandra and Evan on a D-A-T-E – she gets a helicopter to take them over the city. Seriously? THIS is the type of shit I need to be doing? Where have all the cowboys gone?

It was super romantic until Evan was all, “Is there a Mile High Club for helicopters?”

Meanwhile, Tiffany has a girlfriend over for a little champagne and she just casually has the “Cosmo Karma Sutra” book on her coffee table, because it’s “pretty”. So the ladies are flipping through the book and they get to talking about guys they’ve dated and it comes up that Tiffany actually went through a recent breakup with a guy she thought was “the one”.

In work news, Adam got a great opportunity to shoot the “Tips and Sips” shoot – remember, it’s the spread about manicures inspired by cocktails? Basically he is flipping the fuck out over it, and trying to get help from other coworkers and they are having none of it.

Later, there’s a Facebook Live event where Evan has his shirt off and is holding a puppy (I mean, dear God). The readers are allowed to ask questions and of course, they want to know if he is single. He says Diandra wants to keep things secret, so yeah, he’s single! And heeereeee we gooooo.

The day of the “Tips and Sips” shoot, and Adam is really nervous to show his skillz in front of Leah. And right off the bat, the first look he chose is just too much (think: red sequined jumpsuit with Sangria-inspired nails).

But as the shoot continues, his style picks are right on-point. Leah tells him he did a great job, and he’s really, really relieved. Yay!!

At Diandra’s apartment, her friend is over, and she also invites Evan over, and her girlfriend is like freaking OOOUT over how how Evan is. He does seem flattered that Diandra has at least told one of her friends about them.

At a work event, Diandra gets a text from Evan – a pic of him with his shirt off and damn it looks FWINE – and Tiffany happens to be looking over her shoulder and sees the picture. Naturally, she freaks out and starts asking a ton of questions about what happened in Miami. Diandra plays coy and is now afraid she’s going to be labeled as “The office slore”. Well, yeah. Probably so.

Another night at the office, I’m not sure how, but Diandra and Tiffany are having glasses of wine at their desks, and Tiffany tells Diandra this story about how she ran into her ex- the ex – the night before. I guess he left Tiffany and got married right away, then divorced soon after and already had another girlfriend – who he was with when he ran into Tiffany. Yikes.

Later, a second coworker tells Diandra that she knows about Evan and Diandra needs to “watch out” if she’s thinking of dating someone at work. Diandra says she loves her job, but she also doesn’t want to sacrifice a relationship, but she stands Evan up for their next date, and man does he look sad. Like, real sad.

She eventually tells him they need to cool it because she can’t handle people at work talking about it. And he is sad! Like it seems really sad – I didn’t even know guys cared, at all. So… this has kind of got me hooked because obviously the episode was over after that. Next week, y’all! It goes down!

I want to live in ‘Summer House’.

The cast of Bravo's "Summer House".

The cast of Bravo’s “Summer House”.

It’s true… I am obsessed with the show “Summer House”, and I just want to BE them. It’s very “Hills’-like to me, and I cannot get enough. Here’s the description of the show from Bravo.com:

Affluent New Yorkers have been fleeing to the Hamptons for generations to get the ultimate luxurious experience, but Montauk, a breezy beach town on the easternmost point of Long Island, has become the summer playground for young professionals who want to escape the hustle and bustle of city life. “Summer House” brings together a group of nine friends who work hard making their money and building their résumés during the week, but on the weekends between Memorial Day and Labor Day, they share a summer house to let loose in a big way that speaks to their exclusive, high-end lifestyle. 

For years, this group of friends has summered in Montauk with a variety of people, but this year they’ve put together the perfect group to share a rental for an epic summer filled with drama, boozy brunches, beachfront thrills, rosé parties, charity galas, bonfires, and jaw-dropping hookups. This close-knit group includes Kyle Cooke, the life of the party who must decide whether it’s time to grow up or to remain the quintessential bachelor; Ashley and Lauren Wirkus, fun-loving identical twins who have reached a crossroads in life; group newcomer Carl Radke, a flirtatious ex-model who has caught Lauren’s eye; longtime friends Everett Weston, an ex-Army Iraq war veteran, and Lindsay Hubbard, the ultimate alpha female, who throw everyone for a loop with their newfound love; Cristina Gibson, Lindsay’s roommate, a freelance reporter who grapples with her friendships; Stephen McGee, the wild card of the bunch who isn’t afraid to speak his mind; and Jaclyn Shuman, a flirty, newly single girl-next-door type who is looking to be distracted from a broken heart.

The show focuses on these incredible weekends in Montauk – the house is huge, beautiful, and has all of the amenities for a great party: pool, beach access, hot tub, bar, and lots of room to crash. This group of friends (and probably most New Yorkers) live for the weekends, leaving early on Friday to get to the house and sometimes not leaving until Monday morning to head back to the city.

Of course I’m super jealous of anyone who has a summer house, a weekend house, a winter cabin – whatever – that is the life. Secondly, of course everyone that lives in this house is pretty hot and successful. This leads to hookups (and drama) within the house, but I’m still jealous!

On the one hand, I feel so grateful that my single life has lead to a life of very little drama and no heartbreak. But seeing all the fun at “Summer House”… makes me want to jump right into the pool with Karl and say oh well, I’ll deal with the consequences later, amirite??!

There probably aren’t many episodes of “Summer House” left, but I hope this show gets a second season; because between this and “Below Deck” – I’ve pretty much got my bucket list set.

Izzy’s HHHEERRREEE!!

Isabella, "Izzy", a finalist on "Project Runwau Junior", season 2.

Isabella, “Izzy”, a finalist on “Project Runwau Junior”, season 2.

Eeeekkk! I’m so excited to share my interview with Izzy, a finalist on “Project Runway Junior”, season 2, on the blog today! As you may recall, this is my first time watching a season of “Project Runway Junior”, although I have watched “Project Runway” since season one (you can read the full story here).

The appeal for the “junior” track is 1. contestants are 16, and already talented AF, and 2. they aren’t tainted by the fashion world, or frankly, any world quite yet – they’re innocent and their designs reflect 100% originality. It’s fantastic!

Izzy, as she’s called on the show, is nothing short of that – she even blew up a Japanese trend by wearing a sprout on her head during the season premier (you can buy your own here). She’s fun, incredibly creative, and now she’s going into the season finale (part one airs tomorrow night on Lifetime). Here’s my interview with Izzy!

Are you still in school and/or living in Mount Pleasant, Michigan?

Yes, I’m a junior in high school.

When did you start designing and sewing? 

I learned how to sew when I was 10, and then I started designing when I was 12.

How did you start?

So there’s this thing in my town called Dream Key Design Academy, which is an after-school sewing place, I took after-school lessons there, and they were like ‘Oh wow, she has potential’, so they really took me under their wing and I started taking private classes there. I took classes there for four years and that’s where I learned how to sew and pretty much learned everything for designing.

It seems like the contestants on ‘Project Runway Junior’ have an innocence about them. Do you all notice that in yourselves? 

Yeah, we definitely notice it. It feels really good to be alive as a ‘Project Runway Junior’ contestant. I don’t know what to say but people always tell us that. This one time in the studio, we were filming, and whenever we film, either our mom or our dad is there, and Zac Posen was there that day, and he talked to our parents. He went up to our parents and was like, ‘I’m just so proud of your guys’ kids, they’re doing such great jobs, coming up with their own design styles, don’t let them look at fashion magazines or anything so they can really develop their own styles and change the fashion industry.’ That was really sweet to hear.

The look that sent Izzy to the finale of "Project Runway Junior". Follow Izzy on Instagram @Izzyshanghai

The look that sent Izzy to the finale of “Project Runway Junior”. Follow Izzy on Instagram @Izzyshanghai

How did you find out about ‘Project Runway Junior”?

I was at my aunt’s house over winter break and we were just chillin’, watching ‘Project Runway’ ’cause that’s what we love to do and it was ‘Project Runway Junior’ and I was just like ‘Omigosh, I can do this, I’m so much better than them!’ And we watched episode two, and I was like, ‘Okay, what the heck, these guys are really good!’ So then I looked up the application online, it was a super-sketchy website, so I filled out the application, and then I had to send in a 3-minute video, so we did that and then I got a call back. They wanted to do an interview over the phone and that was like the best day of my life, honestly. And then a few weeks later, they emailed me and said ‘Congrats you’re a semi-finalist’, and we flew out to New York for the semi-final audition, and about a month later I found out I made it onto the show.

What was the most difficult part of being on the show?

Definitely coming up with new designs, because, something that people don’t realize is you will 100% sure get designer’s block. It happens to everyone because it’s just the same repetition of doing your work in the work room, and you don’t really get time outside of the studio – as kids we got a lot more time than the adults because we had to follow child labor laws, we can only work for 9 hours a day – but just feeling uninspired, and losing your sense of design, but it will come back to you and it really forces you to push yourself out of your box. That was a really hard part but also the part that I’m really thankful for.

How has being on the show changed you as a designer?

It changed me so much. I want to push myself more, be more innovative. It’s taught me to always have fun with your designs and be true to who you are and to never be afraid to try something new or push the boundaries. Just because something has been done this way for the past 20 years doesn’t mean a 15-year-old designer can’t change it. You can always push the boundaries.

In the season premier, it seemed like everyone was so excited to see Tim Gunn. Was he everything you hoped for?

Absolutely! Tim Gunn is honestly the most amazing person, I know I almost cried, because that’s when I realized this was real. He’s the nicest person you’ve ever worked with on TV, he is so sweet, and he just cares about everyone so much. People say that he always remembers everyone’s names; the way he is in front of camera is the way he is all the time. He was trying to help everyone as much as he possibly can. It’s really cool because a school in my town has a fashion design program and they have their end-of-the-year fashion show and Tim Gunn is actually coming to guest judge, so it’s really cool that I’ll get to see him again.

What inspires you?

Current events… honestly everything. ‘Project Runway’ taught me you can get inspiration from every single thing.

What are you working on right now?

I have a website – IzzySprout.com – and I’m trying to whip out some really cool designs for that at the moment. It’s really sad because I haven’t gotten a lot of time to sew since the show because I have a job as a lifeguard at a water park. I just made a bunch of really cool bomber jackets, because my mom had all of this fabric she was never going to use, so I’m trying to incorporate those textiles (Chinese embroidery) into different pieces of clothing. I’m making an Ursula costume for my school’s musical.

Is it weird being back at school?

My friends are really into the show. I go to a really small school, it’s a private catholic school, so there’s only 35 people in my whole grade, so we’re all super close. They all kind of make fun of me about it, but they don’t treat me any different than they did before. People in my town are being awesome and super supportive. I’m just ready to be in college, because I had such a taste of freedom and being independent on ‘Runway’, because I was in charge of my fate. Now I’m back at school and everyone is in charge of me, so I’m ready to be a free bird again.

Where are you looking to go to college?

I’m looking to go to Parsons or FIT, and they’re both design schools in New York City.

So, what about the water park?

The water park is so funny. I don’t really even need to work there because I don’t do anything or buy anything, so I don’t need money. I’m also super busy, so I don’t even know why I work there. I was about to quit after about a month and a half because it made me sick; chlorine will poison you if you’re in there too long. But my best friend and another friend just got a job there, so I’m staying. It’s really fun and quirky. This is going to sound strange but you know how teenagers have that job where they’re like ‘Oh, that was so horrible’, or they have antics from it? That’s my current job right now. Also, I’m never going to go to a water park again because I’ve seen people throw up in the river and they don’t shut it down. It’s disgusting.

I saw on your blog that you went to a women’s march last month. I know you want to make fearless, feminine pieces; where does fashion meet politics?

I’m so #Feminism! That’s so interesting, and so sweet of you to ask that question. I have so much responsibility as a young 16-year-old to answer that question, and no one has ever asked me. I definitely think the fashion industry is taking a fantastic stance on it. The CFDA – Council of Fashion Designers of America – did this whole ‘stand with Planned Parenthood’ campaign and I was so incredibly proud of them for making such a strong move. Obviously, we’re all fashion designers, we’re liberal, and we want equality for all. Do you, express yourself, unity for all! It’s such a fantastic community to be a part of and to be a member of such a diverse, creative, and accepting community – I am very proud of that.

I think fashion is so cool because – sometimes there’s that controversy about showing more skin – what should a strong, independent woman do? Is she conservative or should she put herself out there? Once you delve into the fashion stuff, it’s about whatever you want, because that’s what is right. Don’t let someone else influence your decision. If you feel that way, you are right.

Watch Part One of the “Project Runway Junior” finale on Lifetime, tomorrow at 8pm EST/7pm CST. 

These chefs are on fire!

When is it not an okay time to think (and write) about hot chefs? I can’t quite recall what spurred the need for this post – perhaps that one of my favorite chefs was on this season of Top Chef, and was sadly one of the first to go (there’s always “Last Chance Kitchen”, though, no spoilers!).

I used to have this crush (okay, if I saw him today it would still be real, let’s be honest) on a chef that worked near where I lived in Baton Rouge. He made delicious, impressive, modern food that I loved, and he had fantastic, distinguishing tattoos – a mark of the culinary world I secretly love.

Chefs – they cook, they eat, sometimes have tattoos, and are sometimes sexy. Let’s go!

Chef Roble Ali

Known to many as simply “Chef Roble”, I first became aware of him on his Bravo TV series, “Chef Roble & Co”, which debuted in 2011. The show was mainly about his catering company, which often catered huge events surrounding celebrities.

The show also touched on the fact that Roble is super attractive, and during the show’s taping, he had a long-distance girlfriend, but could basically have anyone he wanted.

In the culinary world, he’s known for his Brooklyn street food, and for being young, talented, and charismatic. He lives, and apparently skateboards, in Brooklyn.

Chef Michael Voltaggio.

Chef Michael Voltaggio.

Michael Voltaggio 

You may recognize this chef as the winner from season 6 of “Top Chef”, where he beat his brother, Brian. While they were very competitive on the show, the pair wrote a pretty serious cookbook together called “VOLT Ink“.

Although he never went to culinary school (!), he’s earned himself a Michelin star, after years of learning the ropes by working alongside top chefs for years.

He owns two restaurants in Los Angeles: ink. and ink.sack – where ink. is New American, ink.sack. is known for its well-priced sandwiches.

Sam Talbot

Sam is the chef that I was SO excited to see on this season on “Top Chef”, after he’d been on two previous seasons. He’s tall, dark, handsome, and lives in Brooklyn. Hells yes.

Although Sam is known for his cooking, he’s also known for the fact that he has diabetes, and he works to help others who have it, too. He started a non-profit called Beyond Type 1, which helps to raise awareness around diabetes and help erases the stigma.

He also has a cookbook, “The Sweet Life: Diabetes Without Boundaries“.

He has served as executive chef at many impressive restaurants in New York City, but owns Pig + Poet in Camden, ME, along with The Surf Lodge in Montauk (which he supposedly left), and has a new restaurant, Pretty Southern, in Brooklyn.

Michael Chernow

I’ll be honest here, at first glance, I wasn’t sold on Mr. Chernow. But… he’s known for his fantastic meatballs. No, seriously. He owns The Meatball Shop, which started in New York City, but now has six locations spread across New York.

I’ve never eaten one of Chernow’s meatballs, but I do know him from the show “Food Porn” on the Cooking Channel. The show goes inside restaurants that are popular on social media to see what the hype is about, and gets the scoop on their most popular recipes and dishes. It’s how I found out about Hopdoddy and Frank’s, right here in Austin!

If you can’t get to New York any time soon, you can make your own delish meatballs with Chernow’s cookbook from The Meatball Shop.

…There you have it, my roundup of hot chefs. Got any you’re admiring? Or maybe doctors are your thing? Police officers?

The only downfall about a chef is… technically they work in the service industry, and it’s really difficult to date someone in that industry without also working in it. The hours, the stress, the workload… it’s a lot. But, a girl can dream!

Holiday Movie Guide!

Settling in for a long Christmas movie season.

Settling in for a long Christmas movie season.

Okay, I waited until AFTER Thanksgiving to mention Christmas… but it’s exactly a month away from today, so let’s get this party started! I often have trouble getting into the holiday spirit, but I feel like this year – we’re all reaching for any drop of joy we can get, as soon as possible.

I’ll be putting up my Christmas tree this weekend, dragging out my homemade wreath for my front door, and of course, watching holiday movies – I admit I’ve already started watching them (as early as two weeks ago #SorryNotSorry).

So, I’ve put together a list of Christmas movies we can all watch, because they’re on TV! Some of them are the classics we all know and love, others are holiday specials, and some are made for TV (a true guilty pleasure of mine). Pick the ones you like, set your DVR, and re-watch them all season long!

The Classics

Christmas With the Kranks (Lifetime) – Starring Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis, this Christmas comedy is the story of The Kranks, who decide to skip Christmas while their daughter is away… until she decides to come home, causing a party-planning ruckus. Airs Sunday, November 27 @ 8pm CST.

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (ABC Family) – It’s not officially Christmas without the crazy adventures of the Griswold family! Join Clark and the gang as they attempt to survive Christmas between the stress of decorating, extended family woes, shopping, and waiting for the much-anticipated Christmas bonus. You’ll probably want to buy the official glass moose mug to drink your egg nog from while you watch. Airs Thursday, December 1 @ 6:05pm CST.

WORSE? How could things get any worse? Take a look around here, Ellen. We’re at the threshold of hell. – Clark Griswold

Disney’s A Christmas Carol (ABC Family) – I know there are so many versions of this classic, but the story of Mr. Scrooge and the three ghosts remains the same, and always gets me in the holiday spirit. Airs Friday, December 2 @ 4:10pm CST.

Dr. Suess’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas (NBC) – We all know a “Grinch” or two, and frankly, I really just want to be a Who in Whoville so I can hang with Cindy Lou! Airs tonight @ 7pm CST.

A Charlie Brown Christmas (ABC) – For the kid in all of us, Charlie Brown has got to be one of the best little holiday flicks of all time, if only for the great music, and for the tip on not eating December snowflakes. Airs Thursday, December 1 @ 7pm CST.

The Santa Clause (ABC Family) – Tim Allen stars in another holiday favorite with this one, when he TURNS into Santa himself. Gotta love it, and hey, I totally have a crush on one of the elves. Airs Thursday, December 1 @ 8:15pm CST.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (CBS) – A story for our favorite outcast, Rudolph with his bright red nose, and his visit to the Land of Misfit Toys. Produced in 1964, this is a timeless classic. Airs Tuesday, November 29 @ 7pm CST.

Christmas Specials

The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree.

The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree.

Christmas in Rockefeller Center (NBC) – This is a special I have watched each year since I can remember. I love seeing all of the singers in their sparkly outfits, all leading up to the finale of the big, fat tree lighting. This year, expect to see Tony Bennett, Neil Diamond, Josh Groban, Tori Kelly,  Dolly Parton, Jordan Smith, Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood, among others. Airs Wednesday, November 30 @ 7pm CST.

Saturday Night Live Christmas Special (NBC) – Because who doesn’t need laughs around the holidays? And we’re sure to see the Martha Stewart sketch! Airs Saturday, December 3 at 9pm EST. 

amazonMade-For-TV

A Christmas Melody (Hallmark) – Starring Mariah Carey and Lacey Chabert, this is the story of two women that meet each other again many years after high school, and a rocky competition over a Christmas pageant creates some small town drama. Airs Tuesday, November 29 @ 3pm CST.

One Starry Christmas (Hallmark) – This is one of my favorite Hallmark Channel Christmas movies! It’s the big shot corporate guy vs. the hot cowboy in a holiday love story, as they win the heart of the same woman. Complete with a starry country song. Airs Monday, November 28 @ 1pm CST.

Dolly Parton’s Christmas of Many Colors (NBC) – A movie based around Miss Dolly’s childhood, complete with many songs. Airs Wednesday, November 30 @ 9pm EST. 

Of course, there are so many additional holiday movies on this year. What are some of your favorites?

BBC: ‘The Nest’.

Happy Thanksgiving! I am up early this morning, as I’m about to prep my turkey, and really, I just couldn’t wait to get this day started. Is it just me or is there something glorious about still waking up early when you don’t have to work or tend to other, serious obligations?

My only goals for the day are: 1. get the turkey and pie cooked and baked, respectively, and 2. don’t miss the parade (thanks, DVR). And that’s it!

I’m definitely going to be doing a lot of reading on this long, chilly weekend, so I’m excited to share with you the latest read from Blanche’s Book Club: “The Nest” by Cynthia Sweeney. Here’s the description from Amazon:

Every family has its problems. But even among the most troubled, the Plumb family stands out as spectacularly dysfunctional. Years of simmering tensions finally reach a breaking point on an unseasonably cold afternoon in New York City as Melody, Beatrice, and Jack Plumb gather to confront their charismatic and reckless older brother, Leo, freshly released from rehab. Months earlier, an inebriated Leo got behind the wheel of a car with a nineteen-year-old waitress as his passenger. The ensuing accident has endangered the Plumbs’ joint trust fund, “The Nest,” which they are months away from finally receiving. Meant by their deceased father to be a modest mid-life supplement, the Plumb siblings have watched The Nest’s value soar along with the stock market and have been counting on the money to solve a number of self-inflicted problems.

Melody, a wife and mother in an upscale suburb, has an unwieldy mortgage and looming college tuition for her twin teenage daughters. Jack, an antiques dealer, has secretly borrowed against the beach cottage he shares with his husband, Walker, to keep his store open. And Bea, a once-promising short-story writer, just can’t seem to finish her overdue novel. Can Leo rescue his siblings and, by extension, the people they love? Or will everyone need to reimagine the futures they’ve envisioned? Brought together as never before, Leo, Melody, Jack, and Beatrice must grapple with old resentments, present-day truths, and the significant emotional and financial toll of the accident, as well as finally acknowledge the choices they have made in their own lives.

This is a story about the power of family, the possibilities of friendship, the ways we depend upon one another and the ways we let one another down. In this tender, entertaining, and deftly written debut, Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney brings a remarkable cast of characters to life to illuminate what money does to relationships, what happens to our ambitions over the course of time, and the fraught yet unbreakable ties we share with those we love.

…So, yeah. I put this book on my reserve list after it was suggested to me from Amazon. It sounded interesting. I’ll say this is a thick book, but it’s very descriptive in a good way – I could really picture all of the scenes, which I enjoyed.

Also, I feel like this is a subject that’s not visited much – at least the “inheritance” part, and how it would affect a family and their relationships with each other. This was Sweeney’s debut novel, so I’ll be keeping my eye out for her next release.

I know we’re also not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but let’s face it, we all do it, and this book is gorgeous! It’s got an embossed cover, and the paper its printed on is really thick and textured. It felt regal just reading it.

The next book Blanche’s Book Club will be reading is “99:Stories of the Game” by Wayne Gretsky. Whoop! I’ve been waiting for this one. Read it with us by commenting on the blog, or finding me on social media @OrangeJulius7.

Speaking of which, I’m sure I’ll be cooking a ton on my SnapChat today, so maybe I’ll see you there! Happy Thanksgiving!

‘Hamilton’ & the magic of inspiration.

Siiingin' in the raaain.

Siiingin’ in the raaain.

No, I did not see “Hamilton”, and no, I do not have tickets. But what I DO have is loads of inspiration after watching “Hamilton’s America” on PBS (which you can stream thru 11/18) last weekend.

I’ll preface the rest of this by saying that I was not immediately sold on “Hamilton”. I thought it was hype, and I didn’t get it. Buuut, then I started seeing lots of people I knew who saw it and they said how great it was, and then he hosted SNL:

…And I was all… ok Lin-Manuel, I SEE you! So when I heard PBS was showing a documentary about the most-successful Broadway musical, I was in. I recorded it, and watched it immediately, as I shoveled takeout noodles into my dropped jaw.

Why? Because what I’d heard previously was true: Lin-Manuel Miranda picked up Ron Chernow’s book, “Alexander Hamilton” in an airport on his way to the beach for vacation, and was inspired to write a hit musical.

Uhmazing.

 The documentary explores the creation of “Hamilton” before most of it was even written – and it took several years to write, given there are 55 songs squeezed into a show that’s less than three hours.

What did I find so cool about this story about a man who wrote a musical on one of our founding fathers? Well, lots of things.

For starters, the fact that Miranda was so inspired by history in this small instant – his vacation – and also that he put a huge twist on it (hip-hop). And then there’s the fact that most people don’t make money on  Broadway. Creating a musical based on history was completely a passion project that turned out to be H-U-G-E.

I’m also dazed by the amount of work and research that went into the musical, as Miranda really wanted it to be historically accurate. No wonder it took nearly seven years to make.

I stumbled across an article in Fortune magazine which featured an interview with Miranda and he talks about what he learned from creating “Hamilton”:

You can have good ideas when you take a break from what you’re normally doing and don’t just go 100 miles an hour. Two: Really trusting my gut. I won a Tony with In the Heights. I got offered movie adaptations of musicals. I got offered a lot of Latin-theme stuff. But I had faith that the idea I was chasing with Hamilton would be worthwhile.

It takes years to make a musical. So I’ve got to choose projects knowing that even if they open and close in a day, I will not regret the time I spent on them. And so you can’t choose on what you think is going to be a financial success. You’ve got to pick the idea that excites you and inspires you to write.

I don’t want to give too much away, because you really should just watch the PBS documentary. Here’s the teaser:

So, now I’ve got Ron Chernow’s book on reserve at the library (I think I’m #10 in line), because I want to read the same thing Miranda read and see what’s on the pages. Will I see what he saw? Highly doubtful, because I know basically nothing about Broadway, and not much about musicals other than I wish I lived inside one.

In general, I live for these bits of inspiration. There are things that are likely to inspire us all – stories of rags to riches, those who’ve made something out of nothing. But perhaps there are things that oddly inspire you, which may not inspire the person beside you. Why?

Of course, we are all driven by different things. As a writer, great writing inspires me whether it’s in the form of a great song, an awesome TV show, a good movie, or the perfect book. Sometimes, just the thought of the light at the end of the tunnel inspires me: picturing a lazy Sunday morning when I’m knee-deep in work on a Tuesday helps me realize that the end is coming and I’m working toward those quiet moments.

Sometimes, I’m simply inspired by nature: the changing leaves of fall, every single sunset, a rare sunrise when I’ve dragged myself from the covers in time, flowers, mountains, or even green fields.

I’d love to know what inspires you – and what you do to keep that inspirational juice flowing in order to get things done. I know I’m always looking for more inspiration, and I’d love to know where we can all find it. And with that, I’m just going to leave you with this…

BBC: ‘Sweetbitter’.

Whew! Another crazy week is in the books, y’all – and I’m exhausted! I’ve got a semi-busy weekend ahead at the Austin Film Festival, but am looking forward to some quality time on the couch and perhaps a movie. I have a decent stack of books I’ve been wanting to read, so maybe I can make a dent there.

But first, the Book Club’s latest read! It’s “Sweetbitter” by Stephanie Danler, which I heard about on a podcast. It sounded like the book about restaurant life I’ve always wanted – the gritty truth about that lifestyle, while featuring the beautiful side of it: learning about the finer foods and wine. Here is the book’s description from Amazon.com:

Twenty-two, and knowing no one, Tess leaves home to begin her adult life in New York City. Thus begins a year that is both enchanting and punishing, in a low-level job at “the best restaurant in New York City.” Grueling hours and a steep culinary learning curve awaken her to the beauty of oysters, the finest Champagnes, the appellations of Burgundy. At the same time, she opens herself to friendships—and love—set against the backdrop of dive bars and late nights.  As her appetites sharpen—for food and wine, but also for knowledge, experience, and belonging—Tess is drawn into a darkly alluring love triangle that will prove to be her most exhilarating and painful lesson of all. 
 
Stephanie Danler deftly conjures the nonstop and purely adrenalized world of the restaurant—conversations interrupted, phrases overheard, and suggestions below the surface. Evoking the infinite possibility of being young in New York with heart-stopping accuracy, Sweetbitter is ultimately about the power of what remains after disillusionment, and the wisdom that comes from experience, sweet and bitter.

So… as you can see from the description, this book was not what I’d originally planned. It was more about her relationships and sexcapades than it was about food, wine, and life as a waitress in New York City.

I’ll be honest here, this book hit a little too close to home. And because of that, it was difficult for me to get through. I’ve worked as a waitress, and in different forms of food service, and I’ve also worked as a bartender.

This book brought me right back to that world, which can be very dark at times. It’s an industry all its own, and there’s the people you work with who are right in that same world, and there’s the people you meet at the bar/restaurant.

There’s often drugs, heavy drinking, late nights, and early afternoons; there’s shift drinks, and meals from the chef and tip share and shift work. I had some great times in the industry, but I can’t say I would ever go back. So, I’m proud of myself for finishing this one.

It was well-written, there’s no doubt about that, it just wasn’t surrounded with food like I’d hoped – I was looking for another round of “No Reservations”-style writing. But, if the restaurant world, and the relationships that come with it interest you – this is your book!

The next book Blanche’s Book Club will be reading is “All The Bright Places” by Jennifer Niven. Want to read it with us? Simply message me via social media @OrangeJulius7, comment here on the blog, or shoot me an email at Holly@thebitterlemon.com and let’s chat it up! I love talking books.

In other news, is anyone watching the latest season of “Real World”? I know, I’m like, way too old for this, but I couldn’t help myself. It started Wednesday night and… it. is. so. good. Juicy! I’m telling you, DVR it, save it for the winter months, and when you’re snowed in, turn that shit on. Good stuff.

Okay – have a fantastic weekend everyone! I’ve got another batch of fun stuff lined up for next week, so I’ll see you right back here on Monday!

Fiction Friday: ‘Black & Blue’, part IV.

Welcome to 'The Square'

Welcome to ‘The Square’

The following is an original short story, written by Holly A. Phillips in 2007, inspired by her favorite NHL player, Sean Avery. Read part one, two, and three, if you’re interested…

“Bro, damn, where you going?” 12 asked.

“Out there…you know,” I said.

“Haven’t seen you head that way in… Well, ever,” he said.

“Uh huh.”

When I raced through the door, my eyes scanned the mob of women. No Kate. I kept walking just to make sure. Someone pulled my sweatshirt from behind. I turned around. It was the sign-holding blonde from a few games before.

“Hey Black,” she said. She was grinning. Her lipstick was smeared and her eyes looked droopy. She was drunk.

“Hi. Do I know you?”

“Well maybe not yet,” she said. She swayed back and forth.

“Oh right,” I said. I looked past her face and behind her, still looking for Kate. “Do you know my first name?”

She put a finger to her lips and furrowed her brow. I kept looking while she mumbled different names aloud.

“Derrick…no…Jason…hmm…Chris?”

“No,” I said. “Keep guessing.”

Someone tapped my shoulder. I spun around to see a brunette wearing a jersey.

“Wade?” she asked.

“Yes, hi,” I said.

“Wade!” the blonde shrieked. “See, I knew it.”

“Um, yeah. I’m Amanda,” the brunette said. “I came to the game with Kate.”

Amanda pointed a finger behind her. Kate was standing there, cradling a styrofoam cup.

“Cool. It’s nice to meet you,” I said. “How did you like the game?”

“I loved it. I’m a big fan,” she said. She was eyeing the blonde.

“Good,” I said. “Really glad you guys came out. Is Kate alright?” I wondered why I was talking to Amanda and no Kate.

The blonde interjected. “Wade gave you tickets?” she asked.

Amanda nodded. Great.

The p-fuck tugged on my shirt. “I want tickets.”

“You already have tickets,” I said. “You come to all the games.”

“So you have seen me!” she said.

“Well, it was really nice meeting you,” Amanda said. “And thanks again for the tickets.”

“Hey…wait…er…you’re welcome. Maybe I’ll see you later.”

Shit.

“Look, it’s time for me to go,” I told the blonde. “Have a nice night.”

I turned my back and walked out of the Square and into the cold night. I really fucked it up. I shouldn’t have even talked to the blonde. But I did and Kate saw and she probably thought I was an abusive asshole. I didn’t know how I was going to get myself out of that one. I didn’t know Kate that well. Maybe she didn’t care; maybe she didn’t like me more than just a neighbor so she wouldn’t be upset. No chance in hell. I’d heard the guys in the locker room talk about their wives to know women get pissed over everything. When I got upstairs, I didn’t look at Kate’s door.

The next day, I got a call from The New York Times. The sports section wanted to do an interview with me in light of the Kings’ game that weekend. I was less than thrilled. They wrote a short piece about me when I got signed to the Rangers. The writer made me look like a dick. It was the same story every journalist wanted to cover: “Black Really is the Bad Guy.” Everything I said was going to be taken out of context. But I couldn’t say no. I agreed to meet the writer in the coffee shop downstairs.

The reporter, Ed, was waiting with a mug of coffee and a yellow Steno pad shortly after we’d spoken on the phone. I’d guessed he was running under a tight deadline. Mostly, we talked about the upcoming game. I told him it wasn’t a rival like everyone made it out to be. Hockey was my job and it just happened to be competitive. This, of course, brought up the anger issue and the number of fights I’d been in, which was now in the hundreds. I tried to keep it short, knowing he was going to blow it out of proportion. He asked me about money and politics. He asked me about women, blushing a little when he brought up the girls that danced on the zambony during halftime.

After the interview, I was done for the day. Ed told me to expect the story Friday — the day I would kill the Kings. I went upstairs and threw something frozen into a pot for dinner. While it simmered, I thought of ways to approach Kate again. I was going to have to go back over there and apologize. Shit. I ate and went next door. Kate answered the door, but didn’t say much. She gestured me in, but I didn’t feel like she really wanted me there. She followed me in the house but went to work on a stack of clothes. She was putting shirts with pants and then taking pictures of them.

…Stay tuned for part X of “Black & Blue” right here, next Friday, October 23! In the meantime, follow me on SnapChat, Twitter, and Instagram @OrangeJulius7. 

Fiction Friday: Black & Blue, part I.

New York Rangers

New York Rangers

The following is an original fiction piece, written by Holly A. Phillips in 2007, with great inspiration form her favorite hockey player, Sean Avery. 

I had 30 seconds left in the penalty box. From my bench, I could see the rows of puck fucks in the lower sections. “Once we go Black…” one sign read; a blonde was waving it above her head. I squinted my eyes. She didn’t know shit about going Black. The clock timed out and I jumped back onto the ice. Only two minutes left in the game; the game we were going to win.

“Number 27, Wade Black, back in the game.”

I flew past 65, hoping to get another snarl in before the end of the period. He was easy to piss off.

“Look who’s back for more,” he said. “It’s box boy. You want another penalty, fucker?”

I laughed and spit in his direction. My teammate, 45, was already ahead of the blue line with the puck, about to spin it toward me for one more goal, one more slap in the face for the Flyers. I tapped my stick on the ice, waiting.

The puck skidded my way and I slapped it into the goal, fast, yelling as it coasted into the net. The goalie feel to his knees, trying to block it, but had failed. Sweet victory. The sirens roared and so did the fans. I held my stick in the air and scanned the other team for more possible takers — fucking Flyers. Nice try, boys.

Winning was glorious in Madison Square Garden. Fireworks popped and the crowd was loud; decked out in jerseys to match us. The reporters hobbled onto the ice in heels, only to get rejected.

“Black. Just a few questions from WCBS News.”

“Outside the locker room,” I held my hand up in her direction.

I took of my mask, skated off the ice and onto the rubber tiles near the locker room. I was sweaty and my shoulders burned. I walked to my locker, loosening my pads as I neared the benches.

“Hey fuckers, we’re all my clean towels?” I asked.

“Chill out, dick lick,” 23 said. “Check the shelves.”

I glanced in the other direction. Clean towels.

“Hey Black. Saw some ladies out there screamin’ at ya tonight,” 12 said.

“Did ya? Who?” I asked.

“‘Once we go Black…'” he said, laughing. “That was a hot bitch, bro.”

“Well, you can have her,” I said.

“Oh really? She didn’t do it for you?”

“Who the fuck knows. Never seen her. You know I’m over that shit.”

“I swear you’re gay, man, I know it.”

Outside the locker room, the reporter was waiting. She had taken a seat on the wooden benches amongst the 6-year-old boys, their fathers, and the puck fucks.

“Black. Questions?” she asked.

I nodded.

“What’d you say to 65 to start the fight?”

“Oh, I keep that to myself.”

“Okay… What’d you think about tonight’s win?”

“It was expected. Even though we’re full of new players this season, we still come in to win and that’s what we did tonight.”

“What will you do when you face your old team?”

“The Kings are any other team. This is my job, my business.”

“That’s all I need. Thank you.”

“Yep.”

I walked past the blonde and saw a boy wearing a tiny Black jersey.”

“Hey buddy,” I knelt down. “You have fun tonight?”

He was silent.

“He’s a little shy,” said an older man with him.

“That’s alright,” I said. I patted him on the head and moved to the driveway, hoping to catch the team driver before the night was over. It was too cold to walk back to my apartment in Chelsea.

By the time I got home, it was past midnight. I made it to my floor, empty as usual. There were only two other doors on the floor; one belonged to an older man, a writer who never emerged. The other to Kate; she styled clothes for a teen magazine. I walked past her door, 9, and tried to see if there was any light coming from under the door. No luck.

My apartment was dark and quiet. It still smelled like paint. I flipped on the TV and sat on the couch. Sports Center.

“Rangers score second win over the Flyers this season. Black gets into his 98th brawl. We’ve got highlights here on Sports Center tonight.”

“Who keeps track of this shit?” I asked the TV.

I coasted through the channels, drifting in and out of sleep. I tried to coax myself into the bedroom. I had practice in the morning. I rolled off the couch and moved to my bedroom. There was no beautiful woman by my bed that night. I slid between the coolsheets and tucked a pillow under my neck; it smelled of Icy/Hot. Back in L.A., when I first signed for the Kings, I never went home alone. My L.A, sheets didn’t smell like me, they were scented with Dior and Armani. Their perfumes lasted, but those women were states away, probably still at the Kings’ games. I drifted off to sleep and tried to remember the name of the last girl I slept with; it was after the Kings played Colorado…

*    *   *

Wanna know what happens to Black? Check out part II next Friday, October 2! 

In the meantime, I’m heading to Baton Rouge this weekend to say a final goodbye to my apartment, and well, I suppose I’ll drink to the Tigers kicking some ass! Check it out on SnapChat @OrangeJulius7

Happy Friday, y’all!