CB Reads Sometimes: Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter


The other day I was listening to NPR, as we nerds tend to do when we are driving pretty much anywhere, and I heard an interview with author Jess Walter on his new book Beautiful Ruins. At first I was taken in by the description of the story, which combines past and current events to tell the story of a beautiful actress on the movie Cleopatra and how a few small decisions changed the life courses of dozens of people. But as the author spoke more, he described another main character in the book, the area on the Italian coast known as Cinque Terre, and I knew it was a novel I HAD to read.

Fresh off the train

That is a photo of me, just after my arrival in Monterosso in 2004. Moterosso is one of the five small villages that make up Cinque Terre, which is seriously the most magical place I’ve ever been.

View from the Boat

The author, Jess Walter, does take some liberties when describing Cinque Terre, the most obvious being he adds another town to the five that exist in real life. But his descriptions of the villages overlooking the sea as people come in from the boats brought me back to being 21 years old. I was in love with this place. I remember making plans to come back someday and open a seaside souvenir shop. This is still on my life list.


Much of the books most touching scenes take place on the hiking trail that connects the villages to each other. The place is so remote, you can really only get there by train or boat, and once you hike through all five cities, you must take a boat to get back to where you started. I remember getting on the train, and even though I’d been on several trains in my day, we all were squealing with excitement at this old machine, straight out of Harry Potter!

The Harry Potter Train

This book was wonderful, I highly recommend it. The story of the actress and the Italian boy is unexpected and sweet, but when blended with the stories of today’s producers of reality television and a nice little mystery, the whole thing is a lovely departure. Even if you haven’t been, you heart will quickly go to Cinque Terre. If it sees mine, say hello.

Let’s Play 20 Questions

As part of the redesign and relaunch of Crazybananas, I went back and put together a new FAQ section to answer all of your burning questions. You can thank me later. This little section can always be found by clicking the FAQ button on the left sidebar, but for today, I thought I’d feature it front and center as well.

1. What the heck does Crazybananas mean? Yeah, if I would have known when I created this site at the wise age of 21 that I’d still be doing this eight years later, I probably would have put more thought in to the name. The truth is during my senior year of college, a partner in my final journalism class and I were joking around about starting a business and we decided if we did, it would be called Crazy Bananas. Because when you’re crazy, you’re bananas. Dudes, we were hilarious. Anyway, then I basically stole the name when I created this website because I couldn’t think of anything else. He forgave me and was one of my first and most loyal readers (Hi Eric!).

{Super attractive photo of me during the early days of the blog…
ahhh college…and wood paneling.}

2. What was the first thing you wrote about on this blog? When I started Crazybananas, I was living in Florence, Italy and using the site as a platform to update friends and family on my adventures. My first post was cleverly titled “My First Entry,” and it went a little something like this:

Ciao tutto! I’m in Italy and I’m finally trying to make this web blog work. I’m not very computer literate, but I’m trying at least. Things are amazing here. This city (Florence) is great and I’ve made a lot of good friends already. I’ve also been to Roma and Cinque Terre (on the Mediteranean Sea). In a few weeks I’m heading off to Venice. OK, that’s all for now. I just wanted to see if I could make this thing work:)

Don’t be jealous of my fabulousity. (All of my posts from Italy can be found here.)

Belle a Venezia

Il Duomo at Night

{Photo from a day trip to Venice and night photo of the Florence Duomo from Piazza Michelangelo…I did not have a great camera or any camera skills when I was 21}

3. Why have you continued blogging all these years? I’m a starter. I like to start things. Projects. TV series. Cooking experiements. Whatever. But, honestly, I’m not much of a finisher. I’m as surprised as anyone that this blog is still up and running, because usually I lose interest in things pretty quickly. I think the somewhat short answer is I really like writing here. When I started it was to talk to a few specific people and then it grew and expanded and changed. Even though my day job can be a bit mind numbing, this gave me a place to be creative, snarky and funny. I am able to be myself here. I also love that I unknowingly created a digital scrapbook of my life as a young mom. It makes me smile to know that someday my kids will read this and understand me a bit better.

4. If you had to pick between Justin Timberlake, Ryan Gosling and Neal Patrick Harris, who would you pick? That is an unfair and stupid question and I will not dignify it with an answer. (But if I did it would be, d. all of the above.)

5. What’s your favorite current television show? That would be a three way tie between Doctor Who, Game of Thrones and Fringe. Nerds of Earth, unite!


{Me kissing a plush Tardis on a rooftop in NYC. Nerd alert!}

6. Favorite movie? I used to say it was Shakespeare in Love because I used to be ridiculous. Now I guess I’d say Bridget Jones Diary because my love for Mark Darcy springs eternal.


7. Did you really go to Space Camp? Yes, yes I did.

Space Camp

Space Camp Babes

Space Camp

When I was growing up, my dad had a grant with NASA and had several ongoing experiments on shuttle missions and on the International Space Station. I was (am) a space nerd. I went to Space Camp for two summers, during what can only be categorized as the most awkward years of my life (space nerd + puberty = oh no) and loved every minute of it. Those nerds are my people.

All of my Space Camp posts can be found here.

8. What is your favorite color? Orange.

9. Do you think you’re a good photographer? I used to say no, but now I’d say yes. Mostly because I’ve worked really hard at it and also because with age I have grown vain and obnoixous.

10. What kind of camera do you use? I have a few: A Canon Digital Rebel XT for still photos (example), the Sony Cybershot is my little point and shoot (example), a Kodak Playsport HD Video Camera for motion (example), an old Diana F+ for film (example) and my iPhone for everything in between (example). I also use Photoshop CS5, Illustrator CS5 and InDesign CS5 to edit photos and put together layouts / image spreads. For iPhone photos I use several apps to edit images. A few favorites are Instagram, PicFrame, Best Camera, TiltShiftGen and Mill Colour. I also like the Shake It Photo app because it makes that awesome Polaroid sound when you take a picture. (For a recent roundup of my favorite camera apps, click here.)


{Smile!!! Seriously, dude. Smile.}

11. Which member of The Babysitters’ Club are you most like and why? I guess I’d say Claudia, because I desperately want to be able to pull off earrings made of beaded feathers. I used to want to be Dawn, but we all know I’d never make it as a vegan. I also had a few years of thinking I was Mary Ann, but that was mostly due to my ongoing crush on Logan Bruno.

12. If I were to meet you in person, what should I do to get your attention? HUGGGZZZ!!! Just kidding, don’t touch me. I don’t like to be touched. I guess you could just yell my name. Or, if we want to start a super secret society, you could give me the code word. I suppose I should make up a code word then, huh? Okay, the code word is “tardis.” If you don’t know what that means, please don’t bother trying to join my super secret society because we’re very exclusive and don’t want your kind of trash around.

(You’re not trash. I promise. I love you! Hugs!)

13. What’s your sign? Virgo. Not joking. Totally a virgo. Me and Cameron Diaz. We rule!

14. I’m visiting Kansas City, what should I do while I’m there? Okay, first of all, you’re gonna need to eat some BBQ inside a gas station. Other than that, check out the Kansas City section for more ideas! Thanks for visiting! You look cute in those boots!

15. How do you balance everything?! Hahahahaha. Ha. I don’t balance anything, but I try very, very hard. I think the most important thing is to try and be a present as possible. When I’m at work or putting together materials for a client, I do my best to just get it done. When I’m with my kids I do my best to enjoy every second of it. I’m a huge proponent of To Do lists and keeping journals/scratch pads around so when I get an idea, I can jot it down quickly and then get on with whatever I’m doing, instead of letting my mind wander.


{Me, generally, working moming it.}

16. If you could give a younger you some advice, what would it be? Do what makes you happy, not what you think you should do to make everyone else happy. Explore your creativity. It’s there, even if you doubt it. The friends you think are amazing, really are amazing. The ones you think are a little off? They are batshit insane and you should stay as far away from them as possible. You will be an incredible mom. Drink more water. Wear SPF 100+. Try macaroons, you’ll love them. You’re prettier than you think you are, so stop telling yourself otherwise. Don’t worry that you’re too old to watch television shows made for teens, because someday you’ll be thirty and you’ll still be doing it. It’s because you’re awesome.

17. You’re kidding about your love of Britney Spears, right? That girl is crazy. If you ever speak of B. Spears in that way I will cut you. Not kidding. My love for B. Spears is non negotiable. How’s that for crazy? (Bananas.) (Yeah, I just did that. You’re welcome.)

18. Do you plan on selling any of your artwork or photos? Yes, I do! Plans are in the works and I’ll keep you all updated as I know more.

19. Do you do sponsored posts or reviews? I do! If you’d like to sponsor Crazybananas or have me do a review of your product, please shoot me over an email at megan [at] crazybananas [dot] com. But beware, if your pitch sucks, I reserve the right to respond to your request with a photo of Wil Wheaton collating paper.

20. How can I contact you? You can email me at megan [at] crazybananas [dot] com or you can find me all over the web at my About Me page.


{Trust me, you totally do.}

Firenze e il cuore della mia

And now I’m daydreaming of Florence…la bella citta, mi mancha.

(Video via Stephmodo – Bad Italian via me, myself and I)

Professore Mario Got a New Job

Professore Mario

Professore Mario, circa 2004, Firenze

Oscar de la Renta, circa 2011

American guys could learn a thing or two from Italian men. Damn, American women could learn a few things as well.

“What’s important to a woman is the projection of her individuality, who she is, what she can bring to her society in which she lives and fulfill her life, in every extraordinary way that she can.” ~ Oscar de la Renta

Francesca and The Great Wide Open

When I lived in Italy, I had a lovely professor(a) named Francesca. She was the second Italian professor I had in college, and she was incredible. She was about five feet tall, gorgeous, arms decorated with random tatoos, long, wavy black hair. She was young, probably 27 or 28, but she had two gorgeous kids and the most incredible accent I’d ever heard. She’d been born and raised in Florence, but when she was in her late teens, she met an American boy, studying in her city. After three days together, travelling across Italy via train, he asked her to marry him. And she said yes.

Professore Mario

Her family thought she was insane, but she packed up and moved to America. Lawrence, Kansas, to be specific, where her young husband was studying at the University. She became an Italian teacher by chance, and then began teaching at KU. She was always kind, never scolded and made the language so much fun to learn. She encouraged us to immerse ourselves in it, even hosting random nights out at local college bars, where we were only allowed to speak in Italian.

Every year she would travel, with her young children, back to Florence with a group of KU students who were studying abroad. The program was based in her hometown and she was able to see her family while she was there. It was the best of both worlds, she kept her job, her trips home were paid for, and her kids got to really “be” Italian for a good amount of time each year. It broke my heart, when during a drunken night out on the town, surrounded with the intense history of the city, she confessed that her marriage was on the rocks, and she was preparing for divorce.

Professora Francesca

I remember being so sad. Such a lovely love story, over, just like that. I asked her what she was planning to do about her living situation. Would she move home, to Florence, or stay in Lawrence with her children? She answered without hesitation, she would stay in Kansas. When I asked why (Somewhat rudely, but really? Lawrence, Kansas over Florence, Italy?), she just said, “Well, I remember my first day in Kansas. I remember looking up, and thinking I had never seen skies as beautiful as that. And I knew it was my home. No matter how often I come back, I think of that sky, and I know where I belong.”


Every spring, when the grey-ness of winter fades and blue lights up the sky again, I think about Francesca. She’s right, you know. The skies here are more beautiful than anything I’ve ever seen. And no matter where my life may take me, I’ll always know where my home is.

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