Wordless Wed: Charleston, SC

In March, I helped chaperone a high school service trip to Charleston, SC. All photos taken by me, and may be used with link back to this site only please.

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Blue bicycle books

paper chinese parasols umbrellas

Remember to look up

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If/Then at the Straz Center in Tampa

I was offered two free tickets to see the Broadway touring production of “If / Then” at the Straz Center in Tampa, Florida so I could tell you about it. All opinions are my own. And I’ll begin with a poem from my childhood…

Whatif

by Shel Silverstein

Last night, while I lay thinking here,
Some Whatifs crawled inside my ear
And pranced and partied all night long
And sang their same old Whatif song:
Whatif I’m dumb in school?
Whatif they’ve closed the swimming pol?
Whatif I get beat up?
Whatif there’s poison in my cup?
Whatif I start to cry?
Whatif I get sick and die?
Whatif I flunk that test?
Whatif green hair grows on my chest?
Whatif nobody likes me?
Whatif a bolt of lightning strikes me?
Whatif I don’t grow talle?
Whatif my head starts getting smaller?
Whatif the fish won’t bite?
Whatif the wind tears up my kite?
Whatif they start a war?
Whatif my parents get divorced?
Whatif the bus is late?
Whatif my teeth don’t grow in straight?
Whatif I tear my pants?
Whatif I never learn to dance?
Everything seems swell, and then
The nighttime Whatifs strike again!

I always thought the poem above was relatable but exaggerated, until I had a daughter with high anxiety. Whatifs drove her crazy. I think a combination of high intelligence and a vivid imagination allows her to think of many possible outcomes every time she is faced with a decision. She immediately conjures up worst case scenarios. This can help with being prepared for many situations, but imagine applying to college when your brain works overtime trying to sabotage you?! And so we tried talk therapy to help my daughter learn to calm the whatifs. She need to sleep soundly each night. She needed to not have rigid shoulders up to her ears in stress. And early in high school after she met with Dr. Deb for the first time, she left saying, “I wish I had started therapy in fourth grade.”

May is Mental Health Month, with a mission to spread the word that mental health is something everyone should care about, not be scared to talk about. Although I know what it feels like to have my mind racing or feelings of high anticipation, I also know it is not the same thing as true anxiety. Over 21% of adults (42.5 million) are affected by debilitating anxiety each year! Cognitive-behavioral therapy is the tactic I have read up on the most to help my children understand their thinking patterns so they can react differently to the situations that cause them anxiety. It gives them a great toolbox to turn to in times of stress.

For my day-to-day whatifs, what works best is a quiet yoga class and meditative breathing exercises. Although I sometimes wonder whatif, I can use these tools to dispel the mind racing that might have once kept me awake at night. Instead, a like to think of my whatifs as a little healthy daydreaming. What if I had a Master’s Degree? What if one of my daughters loved ballet class instead of sports? And the biggest question of my life – what if I hadn’t contracted colitis during sophomore year of college and come home sick and met that cute guy named Brian – my husband of nearly 20 years?

If/Then is a contemporary Broadway musical about the whatifs that come along with living in New York as an adult today. When you are on your own and making adult decisions that have a domino affect on your future and those around you, it gives you pause to wonder and consider the many possible outcomes.

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When I first heard about “If/Then”, it was often compared to the Broadway musical “Rent”. I don’t like the comparison – mainly because If/Then is much less edgy and deals with a slightly older crowd, maybe 10-15 years after the lives of those in Rent. But LUCKILY Anthony Rapp of the original Rent cast AND the Rent movie cast is touring with If/Then right NOW and you can see/hear him at the Straz Center if you get your tickets this week!

The top three reasons to see If/Then in Tampa this week are Jackie Burns (played Elphaba in Wicked on Broadway), Anthony Rapp (from RENT as mentioned above) and Tamyra Gray (from the first season of American Idol.)

Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt, the writer and composer team of If/Then, literally composed songs for Idina Menzel (Wicked, Frozen). Idina’s first Broadway job was in — Rent! Also in the original cast of Rent was — Anthony Rapp. And now Jackie Burns has followed in Idina’s footsteps twice, playing both Elphaba in Wicked and Elizabeth in If/Then – touting similar dark locks and a belting voice that won’t quit. Notice the serendipity? The interconnectivity? The stuff that makes you wonder if it’s a coincidence or fate? THAT is what If/Then is all about!! Like the line “We somehow find each other in each other’s eyes” from the If/Then song “Ain’t No Man Manhattan.”

There’s minimal dancing in this show. It highlights characters, lives, stories, and voices. It shows how we’re braver with great friends by our sides (or capes on our backs) and that the amazing joys life brings usually make the crap tolerable. It also deals with the delicate balance many women face of pursuing a career head-on or focusing on family, and how both routes bring joy but both force women to learn to live without some desires.

The show started kind of cheesy for me, but the voices kept my attention and the ending roped me in and made me a fan! If/Then is playing May 19th-22nd (mostly evening with 2pm matinees Saturday and Sunday) at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, Carol Morsani Hall, Tampa. $40-$95. (813) 229-7827 or strazcenter.org. Upcoming Broadway shows include “Jersey Boys”, “Into the Woods”, “An American in Paris”, “Cabaret”, “Wicked” and much more!

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Top Local Chef Tampa Bay

I was asked to attend and review the Top Local Chef event in April in exchange for 2 general admission tickets. If you are a big foodie, you’ll want to keep an eye out for this event next year.

Just like Top Chef, restauranteurs and chefs from the area were given a secret ingredient, and then had to bring finished, unique dishes made with that ingredient to the event with enough small plates to feed the crowd. This year’s secret ingredient was valencia orange. If you are a chef in Florida and you don’t know how to infuse orange flavor into a tasty dish, you have some explaining to do!

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IMG_7650The event was held at the Gulfport Casino Ballroom. You can see the judges tables on a stage to the left, then VIP seating (the chefs were behind them) and then the General seating on the right. This often forgotten venue has great water views, hard floors for dancing, a bar, and is surrounded by fun, local hangouts. I had not been here for a few years, and thought it was an ideal location for a date night with my husband. I figured if the tasting portions weren’t large enough and he left hungry, we could pop into a neighborhood beachfront restaurant afterwards.

There were 4 savory dishes to try and 4 dessert dishes to try. I had 4 tasting tickets, so I tried 2 savory and 2 dessert. Because I was with my husband, we did some mixing and matching and I was able to try a little more than that.

Smokin’ J’s Real Texas BBQ  with Chef John Riesebeck impressed most of my friends with his smoked pork tenderloin with jalapeño wrapped in bacon and topped with a Valencia orange glaze. Even my friend who thought the pork was overcooked still thought the glaze was unbelievable.

IMG_7659I also really enjoyed the yellowfin tuna tartare creation by Chef Sean Ford of Tryst (shown). With Florida orange Grand Marnier and sweet soy sauce in a crispy wonton, I actually asked for a second helping!

Brian had a crab popper from Pipos Cuban Cafe on Bay Pines but didn’t want to try the accompanying ceviche. I munched on it, with little veggies and baby shrimp – yum!

I had Beach’s 5 spice big eye tuna with valencia orange nage over orange fennel salad. I should have skipped that one. I don’t really care for 5 spice or fennel, but they said their tuna had been flown in from Hawaii the day before, so that roped me in. I wish I had instead tried Stella’s tuna dish – because it was a winner – but by then I was tuna’ed out.

IMG_7667The best presentation of the evening, if that had been an award, should have gone to Tastes of Tampa Bay/Street Surfer Food Truck. They had a dessert trio including Clearwater Beach pie – and orange twist on Key Lime pie, Siesta Key Sunset Colada bite, and the super fun Key West Dreamin’ Pop. This push-pop complete with plastic holder placed in an orange had layers of bright citrus curd and creamy mascarpone mousse. This was an attention-getting item, especially from the younger crowd in the room, but was hard to serve at an event like this because it should have stayed well chilled until served.

withcheesecakeEveryone I sat with was most blown away by the brownie cheesecake in a jar from Le’ Anns Cheesecakes ‘N More. Although they use a an old family recipe, they wanted to reimagine cheesecake for the heat of Florida, to make sure your slice doesn’t melt before you can eat it! Thats why they use a glass jar to insulate the cheesecake and keep it fresh. And of course those cute, little mason jars are so in style right now, that doesn’t hurt their brand either! LeAnn was friendly and chatty, explaining her layered orange-infused brownie-under-cheesecake topped with orange coulis and more brownie crumbles. Here’s what it looks like inside a jar of cheesecake goodness:

insidecheesecake

 

Congratulations to this year’s winners… 

  • Best People’s Choice Sweet: Le’ Anns Cheesecakes ‘N More
  • Best Judge’s Choice Sweet: Oob A La Mode (they had a series of mini desserts including a orange scented chocolate tart that I didn’t try)
  • Best Judge’s Savory Dish: Stella’s of Gulfport – the one I wished I had tried… Florida Citrus Cured White Tuna with Guava-Orange-Tamarind Glaze Garnished With Wasabi Leaves & Spring Watermelon Radish-Microgreen Salsa
  • Best People’s Savory: Smokin J’s BBQ
  • Best Overall: Le’ Anns Cheesecakes ‘N More

Top Local Chef is a production of LocalShops1, a Tampa Bay advocate for local businesses. The 2016 nonprofit partner was CASA, which offers shelter and support for survivors of domestic violence.

To get on the list and receive a reminder about next year’s tasty challenge, fill out this online form: http://www.toplocalchef.com/contact-us.html

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Beautiful – The Carole King Musical in Tampa

Hurry, guys! “Beautiful – The Carole King Musical” is only in Tampa through May 1. This Broadway-touring jukebox musical uses songs written by Carole King through the ’60s and early ’70s as its musical score.

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This might be the Carole King sound you are familiar with, and it’s certainly the sound I grew up with (Thanks, Mom!):

Then, when I was in college I was reintroduced to Carole King as the mind behind the music of “Really Rosie”. A series of books by Maurice Sendak (also author of “Where the Wild Things Are”) were pooled together as song lyrics, and Carole wrote the music. Although this happened when I was a little kid, it was at Barnard College that I auditioned to be in the show. A fellow student was directing, and we were to perform the show in public school auditoriums around Manhattan. I landed the role of Pierre:

When I learned the musical “Beautiful” was coming through Tampa at the Straz Center, I was excited to see it! Before tickets even went on sale, PBS hosted a biographical show about Carole King and re-aired Carole King and James Taylor Live at the Troubadour. It was from these shows that I learned Carole actually started her career as a songwriter in her teens (as did Taylor Swift), and after marrying Gerry Goffin, he primarily wrote the lyrics while she wrote the music. Even their beautiful, feminine ballad “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” had lyrics written by a man!

She is a four-time Grammy Award-winner, a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, a 2015 Kennedy Center Honoree and the first woman to be awarded The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. To date, more than 400 of her compositions have been recorded by more than 1,000 artists, resulting in 100 hit singles – even songs for Aretha Franklin and The Beatles. Needless to say, I was honored to be selected as a Tampa Bay Blogger to receive 2 complimentary tickets to the show at the Straz Center in Tampa, Florida, in exchange for my honest review.

“I always had confidence in the fact that when I played music it touched people in some way,” Ms. King says in the PBS special. Similarly, in the musical, a teenage Carole tells her mom that a good song makes her feel “like I have a friend in the room.” And when she paired up with lyricist Goffin, “his words expressed what so many people were feeling but didn’t know how to say.”

And that music with its simple but intelligent lyrics is one great big reason to see this show. There’s a live orchestra, and the cast is singing love – none of that paying for a concert but getting a lip sync show that is huge right now in pop culture!

From the first few bars of the overture opening, I was hooked. I recognized that bit of “I Feel the Earth Move” and got roped in. It’s a song I run to on the treadmill, although admittedly I think I first heard it from Martika. Little by little the audience found themselves bopping along to song after song they probably didn’t even realize was a Carole King masterpiece.

The sets are not flashy, and incredibly they focus on pianos! What a refreshing treat to have a piano in almost every scene, spinning from one end of the stage to another to represent someone else’s home or office.

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But the real reason to see this show are the amazing voices. From the stars to the bit-parts, everyone’s voice will wow you! I saw Abby Mueller as Carole, and you can tell she’s holding in that belting voice throughout the show – but when it comes out full and strong towards the end, you’ll know it – you’ll feel it! I was dancing throughout the bows and encore, and I’m still singing in my head a day later.

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For a bit more Carole King music at home, catch “Carole King: The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize In Performance at the White House”, a PBS music special. President and Mrs. Obama hosted the event in honor of singer-songwriter Carole King’s receipt of the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. The evening included performances by King, as well as by Gloria Estefan, Billy Joel, Jesse McCartney, Emeli Sandé, James Taylor and Trisha Yearwood.

But to see this fabulous show retelling the story behind some of America’s most beloved early pop songs, get to the Straz Center in Tampa through May 1, 2016, in Carol Morsani Hall. It’s a great date night, girls night, Mother’s Day gift, or just for the love of music! The format is like “Jersey Boys” and the songs are pretty much the ’60s wrapped up with a bow and handed to you on a baby grand piano at Carnegie Hall.

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Cobb Luxury Theatre opens in St Pete

When I first moved to St. Petersburg about 18 years ago, there were 2 movie theaters in the vicinity of Tyrone Mall – one in the mall and one across the street from the mall. They both closed at some point, and people on the west side of St. Petersburg were unhappy. They either had to drive south east to downtown and go to movies at Sundial, or east to Pinellas Park to the Park Place cinema.

Cobb movie theatre opens in st pete

Cobb Ribbon Cutting – Hi Mayor Kriseman!

The other day, I was driving with Brian from Tyrone Mall to Total Wine, and we saw a sign for Cobb Theatre. I got a little excited, but I had heard rumors of a Cobb Theatre in that area for over 2 years. This time, however, there was actual construction going on – right in the big empty parking lot on the edge of Tyrone Mall. The same big, empty parking lot where I took both of my girls to drive for the first time right after receiving their driver’s permits!

Now instead of a bunch of parking spaces there is a Buffalo Wild Wings and a Cobb Tyrone Luxury 10. The Tampa Bay Bloggers were invited to a sneak preview of the new theatre, and I attended the ribbon cutting 2 days before it opened. In exchange for a fun night out and 2 goodie bags, I agreed to inform all you guys about the new theatre.

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When you walk in, you’ll see first that there is a kitchen area, bar, and bistro. That’s because there is a full menu, full bar, traditional movie goodies and a party room to eat at while enjoying your time in the theatre. If you want to eat a full meal while watching your movie, they’ll give you a tray that fits in the cupholder of your seat – quite well I might add.

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On the night of the ribbon cutting, I tried beef burritos, fresh made cheese pizza, a Habanero Lime chicken wing, sautéed shrimp soft taco, Acqua Panna bottled water, soft serve make-your-own sundae and a few sips of the refreshing Italian sparkler Lunetta Prosecco.

I didn’t get to try the dynamite shrimp, but I hear they are awesome! I also need to try the flatbread with figs, Caramelized Onions and Brie Cheese!

Me with my sweet potato yummy goodness on my special tray

Me with my sweet potato yummy goodness on my special tray

And just when I thought I tried it all, more desserts came out – Housemade Bread Pudding with White Chocolate Chips & Bailey’s-Cognac Caramel Sauce. These little bites were mushy and sweet! But the best of the best were the sweet potato hushpuppies with Marshmallow Dipping Sauce! They tasted like french toast sticks – with a crisp to the outside and mush in the middle. These are what carried with me into the theatre to eat during the movie. And some may have been dipped in my ice cream. Now, don’t go thinking this was all just for the ribbon cutting. You can enjoy these goodies with your next movie too – plus lots more! Burgers, beer, coffee, raisinets, icees… The full menu is online here.

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IMG_7415When you step into the theatre, the red pleather seats are all reserved, reclining seating. There’s a button to push that leans your seat back and pops out your footrest, and another to bring the seat back to normal. And if you press the button but let go after just a second or two, you can recline it to just your perfect level – it’s not an all-or-nothing recline. Love that! So if you need to adjust mid-movie, you can and your back won’t start to hurt!

I saw “Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice”, mostly because I wanted to see Israeli actress Gal Gadot portray Wonder Woman. I’ve been asking for a live action Wonder Woman film for years, and someone finally agreed with me! Here’s a timeline from Entertainment Weekly with rough dates of when to expect the next 10 DC movies. Fellow Tampa Bay Blogger Caitlyn stayed and enjoyed the film and cushy seats with me.

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When my kids were little, we used to take advantage of free summer movies for kids. Cobb has a program like this, and their summer schedule is already online here.

Regular Ticket Pricing:
Adult $11.00
Matinee (4 pm and earlier) $8.00
Child (ages 3-12) $7.75
Seniors (60 & older) $8.00
Student/Military (With Valid ID.) $10.00
3D: Add $3.00

I plan to go online with my daughters and reserve seats for the movie Mother’s Day on Mother’s Day.

This place is going to be a great date night location for me and Brian too! Learn more about the Tyrone Cobb location here, or follow them on Facebook here. NOW OPEN!

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