Living with Our Differences

blocksLast Friday I was part of a cool learning experiment. The school I work for brought in an expert who specializing in active block programs in schools. That means “playing blocks.” Did you play with blocks when you were a child? Maybe bright wooden ones that came in a large tub that doubled as a drum, or plastic LEGO-like blocks that could keep an imagination active for hours and a toe sore for days. We also had ABC blocks and Tinkertoys.

The session last week was about implementing a program that allows children to learn from their block play with the right amount of hands-on and hands-off guidance. We talked about what is at eye level in the room with the blocks, and photos of architecture to allow budding minds to expand when building. FIRST we played with blocks. For about 45 minutes our group broke into smaller groups of 2-4 and played with blocks. Most of the attendees taught kindergarten or first grade, and most were female over age 45. (I’m neither a teacher, but I was invited to attend so as to later make a video for parents explaining how blocks are used at the school.)

So there I was paired up with a woman older than me who taught DD2 first grade and a woman younger than me who had at one time been her soccer coach, and is also a kindergarten teacher. Coach wanted to make the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. We were happy to let her idea give us a place to start. First grade teacher started collecting some of the shapes she thought we might need that would run out quickly, and Coach wanted to use Google to find a picture of the Skyway as a reference. Then we got to building.

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I learned a few things in those 45 minutes. I learned the first grade teacher is very competitive. She overhead another group say they were building the Skyway as well, and watching their progress distracted her. I saw Coach emerge as the team lead architect – even though she didn’t care either way, she just wanted to make a bridge. I learned that I say “please” and “excuse me” a lot more than most six year olds playing with blocks do. I also learned it wasn’t PLAY at all. It was strategy and math and efficiency and architecture and physics. There was teamwork and collaboration and imagination and creativity. We were serious about our work, and as it ebbed and flowed we would get close and intense, and later step back and examine. And when we were done, we wanted to take a picture of it. I certainly couldn’t do that when I was six years old!

After 45 minutes we explored the room silently to see what everyone else had built. Then discussion started. People realized how different thought processes and personalities came into play. Who was a good leader and why? Who needed to draw plans before they started, and who just wanted to build and think later… We were mature enough to work well with these different personalities, but that’s a lot harder to do when you are a kindergartener.

My social media has been BLARING with different personalities lately as well – because of the Presidential Election. Those who seek reason, those who mouth off, those who ask for unity and those who repost news stories that were never fact-checked. My Facebook friends have not been mature enough to work well with other personalities.

This leads me to an opportunity for you to get insides someone else’s head.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is playing this week at the Straz Center in Tampa, Florida. It is a Tony Award®-winning new play adapted from Mark Haddon’s best-selling novel and directed by Tony winner Marianne Elliott. The lead character is a teenage boy on the autistic spectrum. He is exceptionally intelligent but ill-equipped to interpret everyday life. He does not understand feelings, comedy, metaphors, noise and pretty much anything else that doesn’t follow a logical pattern. He does understand time, math, detective work, and can name every prime number up to 7,057. His parents are trying to seek their own happiness while living with his quirks up close.

Talk about different personalities!

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I have mom-friends who are living like this boy’s mother, unable to hug their child for fear of a tantrum, or ready for the next time chaos ensues due to overstimulation. A close friend of mine who is a single mother to an autistic son once told me, “Nothing about parenting a child with autism will be anything like what you expected.”

And deep down I know parenting any child will not be like what you expected, but caring for my neurotypical daughters was a lot closer to the experience I had babysitting for my neurotypical neighbors, or being a camp counselor each summer to neurotypical 3-6 year olds. My daughters surprise me – coming out of the closet, getting tattoos, getting excited about Calculus 3, joining a kickball team, haircuts, boyfriends, girlfriends, emergency surgery, tantrums at Walt Disney World — but we are mature and loving enough to work well with each other’s personalities.

This play takes you inside the mind of a boy who is not neurotypical. From its very abrupt start, to its grid-like, minimalist set, you’ll be opened up to a new way of thinking — if you allow yourself to be. And I think we all grow and learn from that type of experience.

I recommend seeing this show. I recommend sitting near the stage. I also recommend bringing tissues – because you may laugh and cry your makeup off. Reality and truth aren’t always pretty, but they can smack you in the butt and remind you of what’s really important in life.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is playing this week through Nov 13th 2016 at the Straz Center in Tampa, Florida. I was given 2 free tickets to see the show, and as always all opinions are my own.

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The Wizard of Oz is at the Straz Center

National Touring Production of the Wizard of Oz.You might find something new about the beloved classic finishing its tour in Florida this month. No, I don’t mean Dorothy’s dungarees – although I loved that addition, because who works on a farm in a dress and petticoat??! I meant the show’s name. It’s now Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “The Wizard of Oz”. The new stage adaptation includes new songs by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber. The tour I saw starred Sarah Lasko as Dorothy, and she was adorable with a showstopping voice. She truly sounded like an effortless Broadway talent through the whole show. The only part of the show better than Sarah was the powerful orchestra. Sometimes I hear the start of an overture in my theatre seat and get carried off into the show, but when I heard the first notes at “The Wizard of Oz”, I took stock and noticed how full and rich the sound was. It held throughout the show with emotion and power, and also cute added sound affects.

Back to Dorothy’s pants… not only are they practical for a girl on a farm, they’re kind of taupe. In fact, much of the first few scenes has the color notes of a dusty Kansas plain. This echoes the opening and closing credits as well as the Kansas sequences from the film. Just like the color parts of the movie astounded viewers when it first aired on television, audiences will love when colors and flowers and rainbows brighten the stage production.

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ozOne of the new lyrics of the show is “mainly magic, slightly science,” and that’s what this hopeful, wondrous musical is made of. It has love and laughter, a little touch of evil, fairy dust, magic wishes – with a message and musical score great for all ages to enjoy. There were many little girls of kindergarten age around me in sparkly, red shoes enjoying the show and the special affects. They were so proud of themselves when they knew the set was moving or that the lighting was coming from above and behind them. They seemed more afraid of the storm than the witch – I think Glinda was the alpha-witch in this version.

Basically, the only people I think who won’t enjoy this show are those who really hate the movie. And I’m not sure those people exist. Most people sat like me, riveted, singing along in their heads (I could tell by the head bopping), and knowing exactly what was going to come next. It was slightly more modern, more obviously gay friendly, had people laughing out loud, and caught even diehard fans by surprise at times. Although the stage show does not follow the movie exactly, the only part I really missed and wished I had heard was this little tune. (And I was surprised the flying monkeys weren’t carried away on a wire.)

Before you take your littles, you can prep them with coloring pages from the Oz tour website, and watch clips from the show here:

Don’t ease on down for tickets – get a move on! “The Wizard of Oz” is ending its North American tour for 2016 in Tampa – and it’s at the Straz just through July 17.

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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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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.

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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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