Embrace your Aha Moment

Have you had an “Aha” moment? Oprah talks about them all the time. A moment in time – or an experience – when insight or realization hits. It might be about a career or a relationship, but if you are really lucky it’s a moment of self-realization.

Learning something about yourself that changes your path may take strength of character. Often these moments of clarity lead to change – and people fear change. I have friends who have had aha moments about religion, sexual identity, gender identity, adoption – even keeping a vegan lifestyle. And a true AHA moment will give you the courage to maintain that sense of self even in the face of adversity.

I enjoy stories and shows with coming-of-age aha moments, when youngsters or tweenagers realize what they stand for and why. There’s a show at the “Straz Center” in Tampa, Florida, this week that I have been waiting to see called “Fun Home.” It the first Broadway musical with a lesbian protagonist – Alison Bechdel.

fun home straz tampa florida

Alison Bechdel is a real person. She is a cartoonist who had popular graphic novels and comics in the mid-80s and early 90s. In 2006, she published a graphic memoir of her life called “Fun Home”, which was subsequently adapted as a musical and won a Tony Award for Best Musical (among others) in 2015.

I first learned of Alison Bechdel when some college friends were talking about the Bechdel-Wallace Test. This tongue-in-cheek “test” analyzes portrayal of females in film and other popular media. A movie passes the Bechdel test if it has at least two female characters in it who both have names and who carry on a conversation about something other than a man.

I have been following the musical about her life, “Fun Home,” since its inception and I am thrilled that since its Broadway run has ended it will now be right next door to me in Tampa. I know too much already about the show and music, and I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, but it deals with a lot of sensitive family situations – some of which will make me cry a lot from my seat in the audience – and which have also been a part of my family’s recent narrative.

I’m curious to see how the show will be readapted for the Straz Center’s gorgeous stage, because it was performed in the round in NYC. I’m also excited to see the 3 Alisons – three different actresses portray Alison Bechdel at different ages during the show.

If you want a bit of a spoiler, here is an Alison Aha Moment; Small Alison performing Ring of Keys at the 2015 Tony Awards.

For you teenage thespian geeks, check out the “Teens Take Broadway” feature on Thurs., Nov. 30 and receive a deeply discounted ticket plus a free pre-show event with live entertainment, games, raffles, refreshments and a free post-show talk-back with the cast.

Fun Home runs at the Straz Nov 28 – Dec 3, 2017Regular seats start at $31. I hope you go and your sense of self grows, or your sense of the world grows. I hope it helps you sift through your own clutter and find clarity. And I hope tomorrow night when I see it, I do the same.

I was asked to post about Fun Home in exchange for 2 free tickets due to my relationship with the Tampa Bay Bloggers.

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Packing for Hurricane Irma

hurricane irma floridaWhen Hurricane Irma took a turn towards Tampa Bay on September 9, 2017, she was tracking right over my house. Eventually the area I live in was under a mandatory evacuation, meaning if we were in trouble emergency responders would not come help. Brian was worried about storm surge (high waters flooding into the house) and I was worried about wind damage, so we left. Here’s what I brought with me:

  • Food – A rolling cooler and 2 zip-up coolers filled with food and water from my fridge and freezer. I dumped ice in the cooler and turned off my ice maker. I also bought non-perishables that were not complete junk food (except for two dark chocolate bars), like canned chicken, boxed coconut milk, granola, nuts, raisins, peanut butter and cans of soup.
  • Clothes – I took a large, rolling duffle bag and dumped most of my socks and underwear into it. Then I added a bunch of casual clothes, one cuter outfit, warm PJs, barely there PJs, an old pair of sneakers in case I came home to a mess, a pair of flip flops, and a swim suit because I am a weirdo. I brought one long sleeve tech shirt in case it was steaming hot (it was) and bugs were biting (they weren’t.) Then I took a second suitcase and put a bunch of work clothes in it and put it up high in closet in case water went everywhere in my house. I also took my shoes off the floor of my closet and threw them in a shopping bag and put them up high in a closet.
  • Toiletries from my bathroom in full sizes in case we were gone a long time. Shampoo, hair product, face wash, deodorant, a razor, perfume, sunscreen, bug repellent, eyeliner and lipstick. Then stuff to do my nails because I knew we’d be sitting around bored at some point.
  • Eye care: Glasses, sunglasses, contacts, eye drops.
  • First aid kit + extra ibuprofen
  • A foam roller and yoga mat
  • Keys to everything around my house
  • Laptops, chargers, iPad, phone, little backup battery packs
  • Medical paperwork my kids need to have on hand, passports, birth certificates
  • Journal and pen
  • 2 books
  • Headlamps
  • Rubber gloves for post-storm cleanup
  • Alaska: along with cat food, litter, litter box, treats, toys, leash, cat carrier & id tag
  • Zip drive of family photos and DVDs of my kids when they were little and my wedding. I took 2 actual photos – one my kids when they were little and one from my honeymoon.I also put our photo albums in a large Rubbermaid tub but I left that in our safe room at home. (The guest room has no window.)
  • A special heart necklace Brian gave me years ago that I didn’t remove for days so I knew for sure it was not lost. I also packed some of my good jewelry and threw that in my suitcase
  • My alarm clock that has a sound machine on it
  • A battery powered radio
  • Our pillows to sleep better
  • Some sentimental stuff my kids asked me to grab, like baby blankies and favorite stuffed animals
  • Raincoat and umbrella
  • Homeowners insurance policy
  • Sports bottles full of cold water for the road
  • $500 cash

I put bikes in the shed, tarped a sofa by an old window that I was worried about, and sandbagged our outside doors. I took some favorite paintings off the wall and some breakable lamps and put them all in the safe room on the bed. I did not store anything in my washing machine or dishwasher. I left a cup of ice with a penny on top in both freezers (that way if I came home and the penny had sunk I would know at some point the freezer defrosted. That turned out to be fruitless because my power was off for a few days anyway.) I filled both car tanks with gas.

All of this, along with Brian’s gear didn’t fill my minivan, and we were safe with friends for about 48 hours. We came home to find our house and roof in one piece, our fence in three pieces (oops), and no electricity for about 60 hours. All in all, we were blessed and lucky! #Floridastrong

raffi in a headlamp

Wearing a headlamp to finish reading “The Nightingale”

friends during hurricane irma

Hiding in a closet under the stairs during a tornado that Irma brought

Disney joke

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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!

curious

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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