Find Neverland in Tampa

I was thrilled to see that the musical “Finding Neverland” opens with Tinker Bell. Not the blonde flying on a wire you may find most evenings at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, but rather the tinkling, twinkling light version of the stage musical “Peter Pan.” Most of the other “Peter Pan” references you might hope to find are present in the show as well. The familiar can be heartwarming.

“Finding Neverland” is a behind-the-scenes peek at Peter Pan’s creator and playwright J.M. Barrie. As a fan of the book (I named one of my children after one of the characters, after all), it was fun to see events in Barrie’s life inspiring the classic story. Children jumping on a bed made him think of the Darling children flying, the top of his producer’s cane is curved like a pirate’s hook… a little imagination turned the ordinary into plot points.

Based on the 2004 Miramax movie by David Magee which starred Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet, and the play “The Man Who Was Peter Pan” by Allan Knee, the focus is on Barrie’s romance – or rather possible affair – with Sylvia Llewelyn Davies, and his closeness with her four sons. A lot of the illicitness of their relationship is toned down and the emotional workout the audience may go through thinking of these adorable children being orphaned is replaced with charming moments and songs.

There were some moments of the show I could do without. Some of the digital projections and effects seemed unnecessary. Some of the songs were too pop-rock for the time period. And I really wish the song “We’re all Made of Stars” was longer because of the message it sends and the fun the boys have. Some of the songs in the show are repetitive and long, but this one is unfortunately a quick 2 minutes.

My favorite part was phenomenal child actor Ben Krieger as Peter Llewelyn Davies and the period costumes by Suttirat Anne Larlarb, especially the blue dress Mary Barrie wears for her dinner party. My husband said his favorite part was – believe it or not – the use of glittering pixie dust in Act 2.

You don’t have to travel to Kensington Gardens to get a taste of Peter Pan. Just follow the second star to the right to Finding Neverland the Straz Theatre in Tampa, Florida, now through June 4, 2017. TODAY, TICKETS START AT $31.

Disclaimer: I received 2 free tickets to the show in exchange for this honest review as a member of the Tampa Bay Bloggers

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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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Meeting Author Ashley Rhodes-Courter

booksAshley Rhodes-Courter is the author of two books on the New York Times bestseller list, “Three Little Words” and “Three More Words”. The books tell the story of her childhood in Tampa’s foster care system, her ultimate adoption, and her efforts to make peace with her past. Ashley was invited to speak at Shorecrest Preparatory School, where my DD2 is a senior, about child welfare issues and court appointed child advocates.

“No kid should have to spend ten years in foster care,” a video clip of a teenage Ashley Rhodes-Courter proclaimed to an audience in the Janet Root Theatre at Shorecrest Preparatory School on November 30, 2015.

Why would a school bring in a speaker to talk about foster care issues? Two reasons…

  1. For over 25 years, Shorecrest has sponsored a holiday gift drive for children in the foster care system. Most recently, the children have been part of the Guardian ad Litem program. This is a system of volunteers who represent children in court – in some states they are called “CASAs” Court Appointed Special Advocate. Basically, when a ruling is made on the case of a child in foster care, everyone in the room has their own agenda, but no one is hired to speak for the child. These volunteers see the child regularly, be sure their needs are being met, listen to them talk about where they are living, how school is going, etc. and then stand up for them in court. This year, Shorecrest will gather gifts for about 220 children, and for some of these kids it will be the only gifts they get all year. In addition to making wish lists before the season, these kids also send thank you notes that always bring tears to my eyes. Sometimes they ask for diapers for their baby sibling instead of toys for themselves. Some kids want a dream gift, like a new bike or video gaming system. Some want basic necessities, like gloves and socks. (The girl we’re shopping for this year wanted a baby doll and roller skates.)
  2. Another reason Ashley Rhodes-Courter came to Shorecrest has to do with their new Guardian ad Litem club started by two high schoolers. Some of the parents at school volunteer with Guardian ad Litem, and students hearing about the program during the gift drive and from the parents wanted to help the children beyond the two weeks of the gift drive. One of their first initiatives of the 2015-2016 school year was sitting down with Ashley to interview her (video here) – and later to ask her to host a discussion and book signing at school.

Her first book is linked with Reese Witherspoon in movie talks… which has been going on for a couple years. That, coupled with Ashley’s busy national speaking circuit schedule, made us a lucky group to hear her story first hand for about an hour, teamed with a question/answer session, book signing, and Guardian ad Litem reps available to answer questions or sign up new volunteers.

Many people in the audience of over 300 were somehow involved in child welfare – through work, volunteering, or their personal experiences. One of my friends who attended works as a high school guidance counselor for Pinellas County students in the foster care system. One is a Guardian ad Litem who has asked me to donate time and clothes to foster care teens in need who she knew. Many had already read Ashley’s book and had hot button questions waiting for her at the end of her talk.

ashleyrcraffiAshley was funny, down to earth, off the cuff and complemented my earrings (which I told her were just $3 on clearance at Charming Charlie). We spoke about being a mom and cat allergies. We talked about how much I love Shorecrest, and how it takes a village of caring people to raise kids the way we would hope to raise them. Now we follow each other on Instagram.

After years being shuffled from foster home to group home, Ashley was lucky enough to obtain a Guardian ad Litem (GAL). This one volunteer, Mary Miller, changed the course of Ashley’s life. “Mary Miller was the one person not paid to take care of me, yet she was the only one who believed me when I said I was being abused… and ultimately helped find me the adoptive family that transformed my life. That is the power of one person.” Mary remains a constant in Ashley’s life, and was present at her college graduation, wedding and baby shower. Ashley is both a foster and adoptive parent. Her boys are 1, 2 and 3 years old! Her husband was there too and seemed very sweet and quiet.

IMG_8462GALs do so much for children in the foster care system. They follow up on case plans, represent children in court, make sure they are safe and their needs are being met – and all because they have a little extra time and a big heart.

Guardian ad Litem Foundation’s executive director, Amy Foster, was also on hand to recruit volunteers and mentors. I’ve since poked around online and read more about her recent life. She’s a very inspiring woman! You may know her name as a City Council member in St Pete. Just last summer she adopted a girl who had recently graduated high school. This teen girl and adult woman are filling holes in each others’ lives. (If you need a heartwarming cry, check the story & video out here.) “Today there are more children in care than ever, and every one of us can make a difference in the life of a child, whether we do it with our time, talents or treasure.” Amy Foster told the group at Shorecrest. “Being a Guardian ad Litem volunteer… is really one of the most rewarding roles that I’ve ever served in.”

Find out how you can be a voice for a child here: http://www.guardianadlitem6.org/menus/become-a-guardian-ad-litem.html

or give back by strengthening families in need with the Foundation for Sustainable Families here

Watch clips from the special night at Shorecrest here:

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Run Disney’s Wine & Dine

This is a post for the “I can’t” excuse runners.

Maybe you say: I can’t run faster than a 10 minute mile, but I put in 3 miles, 3 days/wk.

Or you think: I can’t run farther than 2 miles, but I can walk all day if I have to.

Perhaps you believe: I am more motivated to run when other runners are around me, but I suck on my own.

I’ve heard all of this, plus the bad knees and old shoes excuses too.I’ve probably muttered something like it myself.

Well, now’s your chance to throw excuses to the wind!

My husband couldn’t run a mile without getting winded. Now he coaches himself, our daughter, other adults and a local track team to distances and speeds they never thought possible. With research, dedication, motivation and a smile – you can become a better runner.

And now you can join a group of others longing to complete a Half Marathon!

Whether it’s your first Half, or you’re looking to PR and beat your last Half… And the best part is – it’s the Disney Wine and Dine Half Marathon, which ends at the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival. The race begins at 10pm and ends with an after-hours, private party at Epcot just for runners (and their paid guests).

Me at the Princess 5k

Brian can coach you over the next 7 months (or 6, or 5, depending on when you sign up). And he’ll do it VIRTUALLY. No matter where you are. Talk to him about your Point A and he’ll work you up to that point D (for Disney!) You’ll get a workout schedule that will help you progress in a realistic manner with a goal in mind, helping to preclude injury or defeat. Or for a higher cost he’ll also help you with your diet along the way and give you his cell # for daily pointers or check-ins. He’s coached people who couldn’t walk a mile, and those who wanted to break a 7-minute mile.

Many people who try to train on their own have the drive to run a first Half, but don’t have the knowledge or experience to put together a plan that won’t leave them hurt, winded, or annoyed. That’s where Brian comes in!

And then, when you arrive in Orlando for the weekend of the race, you’ll have Running buddies! A whole club of people running together, cheering each other on, checking out the expo hall, grabbing lunch – and a private event just for the Digital Running Club that weekend too! A race is always more fun when you are part of a team! If you can stay in Orlando the next day, you’ll go with your new running buddies back to Epcot to enjoy a full day of the Food & Wine Festival. Brian and I have met friends there the past few years, and it’s because of our delectable times there that he put this club together. He hopes people enjoy the sights, sounds and tastes as much as he does.

… And Disney knows how to put a race together! We’ve been to the Disney Marathon, Half Marathon, Princess 5k, Cross Country Classic, Race for the Taste and more Disney races over the years and we’ve seen it all! From snow (yes, snow in Orlando) to strollers made to look like Aladdin’s Magic Carpet! The music and the characters and the Disney Park sights and the fireworks will keep the race fun and make the time fly by!

Then come the finish line perks! Disney medals are fun, you’ll have a free Taste and Sip at your private after-hours Food and Wine Festival, you’ll get a shirt and a goody bag. And probably a banana and a muffin because there are always bananas and muffins.

This is it! This is your time to lace up those running shoes and say, “Screw you, excuses! I’m running with my new friends through the happiest place on Earth! I’m going to feel healthy, fast, powerful and awesome doing it too!!”

To read all about the packages Brian has to offer including coaching, packing tips, and just letting someone with years of expertise tell you where to go at Disney so you don’t have to read through their pages of mumbo jumbo, check out the Digital Running Wine and Dine page.

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