Family trip to London

Thanks to a whole lot of travel points, we took a family trip to London in June. It’s a big year for us. The teens graduating high school, the parents turning 40… all in a span of 13 months! So we boldly went where none of us had gone before – and yet were still able to speak the language.

We left Tampa on the afternoon of my 40th birthday. I had enough time to celebrate in the morning with Wendy getting my free Denny’s birthday meal. We also split a tasty smoothie. I stopped by the office and my boss had a giant cupcake for me ūüôā She also found the perfect glittery Disney card. Last minute packing details got taken care of and we headed for TPA.

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We had a delay after our first flight, but it only added an hour of travel time. Then we were in London!

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I guess they knew it was my birthday!

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An elevator is a lift over there…

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The Marriott Regents Park where we stayed for a week.IMG_1984

The Marriott reads their tweets! They had birthday flowers and wine waiting for me!

Read about our zipline adventure in Kent over Leeds Castle here.

Read about our family dinner at Dishoom, Kings Cross here.

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Beauty and the Beast

When I was in college, I knew someone whose mom worked with Broadway costume designers. She offered us tickets to a special event. Disney was putting together Beauty and the Beast for Broadway, and there was going to be a reveal on stage of some costuming, a couple of songs, and other ideas for a V.I.P. crowd. Directors as well as cast would be on stage with a big projector screen to bring the ideas to life.

I already loved the story. When I was a senior in high school, the movie hit theatres and I saw it with my friend Cindy. I remember leaving wow‘ed by the attention to detail. During the big ballroom dance scene, you could see the reflection of the chandelier in Belle’s fingernails. Now THAT’S animation!

beauty_and_the_beastobjectsI don’t remember who I went to this Broadway preview with, but I remember seeing the jovial Lumiere with his hands in the air representing a candelabra, and an over-the-top yellow ballgown for Belle. “Disney might actually be able to pull off people playing people turning into inanimate objects,” was my parting thought.

When my daughters were little princess freaks, the movie was played on a huge IMAX screen near us, and we went as a family. I’m pretty sure we have it on VHS in the attic too. And we’ve seen the stage show at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and enjoyed Enchanted Tales¬†with Belle in the Magic Kingdom. Now you can even drink LeFou’s Brew¬†(an apple soda with a marshmallow foam topping)¬†in the¬†Beast’s¬†enchanted¬†castle!¬†

beautybeastThen my daughters became older princess freaks, and their school performed Beauty and the Beast Junior. DD2 was in 7th grade and was in the chorus. She sang, danced, and swung a metal beer stein around. She wore a dumb flowered dress. And her best friend played a whisk! With shiny, wobbly things around her head she danced to Be Our Guest along with forks and plates.

When I first heard Beauty and the Beast was coming to the Straz Center, I felt like I had enough experience with the show and I really didn’t need to go see it. But princess moments are becoming fewer and further between as my daughter age out of the house, and DD1’s good¬†friend played Belle in the school production, so I thought we’d have a fun girls night out at the show.

It ended up not being girls night out, because the show fell during AP Exam week. *shudder*¬†(Be happy you’re not in high school anymore!) We managed to get a group of 4 excited viewers together for the show.

Most importantly: The touring Broadway musical is a lot like the movie come to life. I missed Mrs. Pott’s accent and didn’t care for the alterations made to Belle’s dress in the final scene of the show, but other than that it is exactly what someone who enjoys the movie would expect. There are many of the same jokes – LeFou and Gaston had us laughing out loud a lot – and some extra songs.¬†Jillian Butterfield had me believing she was born to play the role of Belle! Her sweetness, chutzpah and smarts filled Straz Center’s¬†Carol Morsani Hall almost as well as her beautiful singing voice did. Gaston¬†had the giant¬†biceps, Chip had the adorable innocence and the Beasts yak-like horns were creepy.

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Despite my prior experience with the story, I had a new perspective last night. The beast can certainly represent a rotten brat becoming loving, but suddenly I thought of the story being all about one character. What if Belle, the Beast, the inanimate objects of the castle, Gaston and all the others were parts of the psyche of the same person!? The moral there could be that the Beast is trapped in his current state – which might be low self esteem or depression – and until he can throw off the Gaston parts of himself and embrace the Belle parts of himself, he’ll never become the Prince he longs to be. If he lets life go by without learning to love himself, he remains a Beast (in nature) forever.

This is truly a magical musical Рand a great first musical Рfor little ones who love fairy tales, ballgowns and princesses. Running time for Beauty and the Beast at the Straz Center is approximately 2 hours 30 minutes, including one 20-minute intermission. There were still plenty of little ones dressed in their yellow dresses and hugging blankies despite the late run time. Hurry Рthe show is only here through May 10!

Thank you Tampa Bay Bloggers and the Straz Center for 4 free tickets to the show. All opinions and my latest Beast epiphany are my own! #ad.

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College Tour Done Right

collegetourIf you are the parent of a high school junior or senior, you may start to receive invitations to special informational events on college campuses. Perhaps your child is vying for a scholarship, a spot in a prestigious honors program, or they just want to get to know a potential school better.

Although you can attend local seminars in high schools, in hotel conference rooms on random evenings, or at college fairs, you learn more by attending events on a campus if you can make it there.

alicenhsRecently my daughter was invited to one event that was wrapped up with such a nice scholarship offer that we decided to fly out of state to attend. We figured she could get questions answered, get a feel for the campus, understand how to travel there from home with me by her side the first time – and possibly end up with a free college education. Good ROI.

I contacted the university about 6 weeks before the event. College counselors will often tell your child to contact schools on their own, but I had something up my sleeve this time. Instead of contacting the local area rep, like my daughter would do, I contacted the Honors department of the school who was offering the prestigious scholarship. They were kind of recruiting my daughter, letting her know all the great things she could accomplish in their program. I wanted them to know all the great reasons why they wanted my daughter on their list for sure.

I called¬†the right contact, let her know we’re scheduled for the event on campus, and that it would be our first time in the area. Then I asked if we could come a day early so my daughter could spend the day before the event seeing what it would be like to be a student on their campus. I told them that she has friends in college, but when they come home they don’t chat about classes, they chat about sororities, football games and parties. My daughter makes a point of studying and getting good grades, and she wants to know that other students around her will be doing the same thing.¬†(Not everyone gets drunk every weekend at college. I know because I didn’t. I went out and had fun, I went to bars, and parties, and comedy clubs. Sometimes I even had a drink, but I never got wasted. I never threw up or passed out. And I was able to keep my place on the Dean’s List. My husband wasn’t a big partier, and neither is my daughter’s boyfriend.)

The woman at the college was VERY receptive. She sounded thrilled over the phone. She asked me to email a list of what DD1 was interested in and exactly when we would be there.

There was some passing back and forth of duties in her office, and I had to follow up a couple of times and resend an email once, but a couple days before our flight out I was emailed an itinerary and it was just what we wanted.

While at this school my daughter spent Friday:

  • seeing the Honors College office
  • learning about the special program they were inviting her to apply for
  • meeting with a professor in her intended major department
  • going on a campus tour – which I did with her
  • having lunch with a friendly Honors student (on their dime) in one of their dining halls, who invited her to a genetics class
  • seeing the digital media center because I told them my daughter was editor of the school newspaper (turns out journalism was not in the same place, but it was a cool tour and she got to see behind the scenes of where they broadcast football games)
  • taking an Honors Bio class with a teacher who DD1¬†thought was both brilliant and hysterical
  • meeting the bowling club
  • meeting an advisor in¬†her major department
  • having¬†dinner with a sorority girl to learn about Greek life on campus (friend of a friend)
  • learning¬†where the Honors college¬†would be taking her out of the country for special projects.

Everything was prearranged and they gave her a schedule with who to see when, and what their phone number was, along with a highlighted campus map.

On the 2nd day we were together the whole time for the event that about 600 other people came in town for. We learned about residence halls, financial stuff, had a mock Honors Seminar class, had lunch in a different dining hall, heard a panel of engineering professors, and she spoke with the professor who would probably run the research she’d get to be a¬†part of¬†in 10 months.

So she had a day that was completely personalized – and got to feel like a college kid behind the scenes without mom. Then she had a day with mom acting like a tourist and getting a sales pitch. After both days she was completely exhausted. Not only is she often an introvert, she felt like everyone she spoke to was kind of interviewing her, so she was trying to be her best self constantly. But if we had only had that 2nd sales pitch day, we would have just scratched the surface. The extra day really let my daughter see beneath the veneer.

That’s all I can say for now. Perhaps when she has made a final decision I can share with you how we came to that decision. It will probably be another 6 weeks before that happens. Applying to college these days has a lot more steps then when I went through the process! My daughter spent about 4 months writing essays for colleges,¬†scholarships and special programs within those colleges. Hopefully her decision will be the best one for her!

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APUSH Annie

That title is not a typo. If you have a high school junior or senior, you might be all-too-familiar with the phrase “APUSH”. It stands for Advanced Placement U.S. History,¬†a course and examination offered by¬†College Board¬†as part of the¬†Advanced Placement Program. My daughter took APUSH last year. It was a nightmare for her, because she hates history and thought her teacher was dry and boring. She ended up finding another teacher in a different state who put all of his lessons online in video format, and watched those to get a good grade in the class.

I guess it worked, because last night we went to see Annie, and she understood all of the political satire in the show.

I’ll rewind now…

Picture 4 year old me. Dark, little curls around my head, love for song and dance, Shirley Temple’s greatest hits double record album set on continuous replay. My parents made a cassette copy to play in my bedroom so they didn’t have to keep listening to the record in the living room.

SJP as Annie5 year old me… Touring Broadway production of Annie came¬†to town. My mom took me and I was riveted! (The original 1977 Broadway production ran for 2,377 performances and won 7 Tony Awards. I was 2 years old when it hit big.¬†Andrea McArdle,¬†Sarah Jessica Parker and Allison Smith starred in the title role during the original Broadway run. My record had¬†Andrea McArdle singing. Guess who else has been in Annie??? Molly Ringwald, Alyssa Milano, Jamie Lynn Seigler, Debbie Gibson, Nell Carter, Sutton Foster, Sally Struthers, and Catherine Zeta Jones!)

Now Shirley Temple got played less and less in the house, and the Annie album was on — a LOT. I got the red dress, soon I got the wig. I had little dolls with a plastic Daddy Warbucks limo. I wanted a mutt. I drank Ovaltine. I got a book of some of the original comic strips. I’m pretty sure I had a coloring book too. (I can’t believe I don’t have an addictive personality as an adult!)

anniequinnAnnie was first made into a movie in 1982. It starred Albert Finney, Carol Burnett, Bernadette Peters, Tim Curry, Ann Reinking and Aileen Quinn as Annie. At some point my mom entered me in a look-alike contest because I had the same round face, some freckles, but my curls were black. My grandmother had the movie soundtrack at her house, so now I had new Annie songs to learn and dance around the house to.

Skip ahead 20 years (past the Annie version with the girl from Growing Pains) to when I had two daughters…¬†A made-for-TV movie, produced by The Walt Disney Company, was broadcast in 1999 and starred Kathy Bates, Victor Garber, Audra McDonald, Kristen Chenoweth, Alan Cumming, and Alicia Morton as Annie. I watched it a few times with my girls. They enjoyed it, but not like I loved MY Annie.

Skip ahead a few more years – my daughter’s middle school held¬†auditions for Annie. DD2¬†was interested. She watched some clips from the 1982 movie version online and decided she likes the orphan who wants to punch everyone, Pepper. Not many girls come to an Annie audition hoping to be Pepper! She¬†got the part, and I emailed a heartfelt note to the Director about how I would love to help but don’t want to be in the way, and just call on me when necessary. I helped a LOT backstage and designing T-shirts, and loved seeing my daughter in a show that had been in my heart for years!

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(far right, green shirt РWendy as Pepper in a final rehearsal for Hard Knock Life)

Maybe I should have taken my girls to the 2000 tour and they are just too old now (they had no desire to see the 2014 movie release), but this week I was given the opportunity to see the touring version of the Broadway revival of Annie at the Straz Center with the Tampa Bay Bloggers for free. I brought an adult friend, DD1, and our French exchange student (she’s 15 with fairly good English). We were tired, it was rainy out, but we walked into the Straz and a spring popped in our step! There was a buzz all around. Lots of people came wearing red, the signature Annie color. Little girls were singing “Hard Knock Life” in the ladies room, and tip-tapping their party shoes. I hugged a bunch of members of the Tampa Bay Bloggers. We took our seats and settled in.

I have to say, this wasn’t my favorite production of Annie. Some of the orphans were awesome (Molly) while others were very nasal (Annie). Some of the adults had me cracking up (Miss Hannigan), while others seemed distant without connecting to the material or the audience (Rooster). The pacing wasn’t the same as when I had last seen it. The sets were fantastic, and the blocking made it easy to see everyone all the time. But what happened that brings me back around to APUSH Annie, was that my 17 year old daughter explained the lyrics of “A New Deal for Christmas” and FDR in a wheelchair (and polio) to our French exchange student. She could see history come to life in songs like “We’d Like to Thank You Herbert Hoover.” And as we were finding our car in the parking garage, she mentioned that she wanted to send her APUSH teacher from last year to see Annie at the Straz.

Beware: this show runs long. It’s a great story with many¬†songs for children and a live dog as Sandy – which kids usually love, but with a 7:30pm start time and¬†2 Hours, 34 Minutes run time including intermission, you better fit in a nap first!

If you are going to Annie The Musical at David A. Straz, Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, donations of primary school uniforms and other children’s clothing will be accepted. The drive benefits Metropolitan Ministries who serve families in need in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Polk counties. ‪#‎passlove‬

Watch some highlights from the show before you get your tickets here:

I received 4 complementary tickets. All run-on-sentences and opinions are my own.

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Dressember: for Femininity and Freedom

Today is Cyber Monday – which means tomorrow is #GivingTuesday. On Giving Tuesday, people show their support for a cause they love. Here are 2 that have been a topic of conversation at my house lately. My older daughter, Alice, is participating in Dressember this month. She will be wearing a dress every day the month of December.

Alice found out about Dressember from a friend who is supporting equal rights for women by helping victims of human trafficking. Human Trafficking is the illegal holding of people against their will, and selling or renting them out for involuntary sex or labor. This is a problem worldwide, but seems to have a heart right where I live. Florida accounts for the third highest call volume to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. Tampa Bay is a hotspot for traffickers. 70% of trafficking victims are female and 50% are children.

921433_10151596495550923_819795177_oOn her fundraising page, Alice explains:

“I’m participating in Dressember because I believe in everyday advocacy. I know my voice matters, and that I can help change the world that millions of abused women and girls wake up to every morning. Your voice matters, too, and our voices are louder together. Let’s yell, let’s run, let’s dress for the restoration of dignity for all women.

Help me meet my goal and create real change. Every dollar counts, and the process is fast, easy, and secure.

You can also partner with me by sharing this page on Facebook and Twitter. Or, send an e-mail to friends you think might be interested in contributing and include a link to my page!

Thank you for locking arms with me in the fight for dignity.”

I’m wearing a dress today, are you?

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