Friday, March 25, 2016

Lessons from "A Chorus Line"

Our "March Madness" concluded with seeing Chris at Mike in "A Chorus Line," his final University of the Arts production. We've been seeing Chris in shows since was a little kid in "Bye, Bye Birdie." It is always a treat watching him light up on stage.

While watching the show, one I saw many years ago on Broadway, I was struck by some important lessons it imparts. In no particular order:

1) A two hour show should have an intermission.

2) Everyone is a bit insecure.

3) No one really wants to talk about their childhood. (Which won't help me with my memoir writing business.)

4) Everyone wants the job they are applying for.

5) It is hard to fake it if you don't know it.

6) It is possible to come together as a team if you work hard enough.

7) We've all tried to diagnose ourselves. In the 70s it was a medical book, today it is WebMD.

8) No one thinks they are perfect just they way they are.

9) We all need a back up plan for when life doesn't go as expected, a retirement plan is even better.

I'm glad we didn't bring our 13 year old so we didn't end up explaining "Tits and Ass" or "Gonorrhea." 

The show was fabulous, and just as relevant today as it was when it was written in 1970s.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Lasts and Firsts

A little over two years ago I noted in this blog there just are not that many firsts in your life once you accomplish the ones noted in the baby book (first steps, losing the first tooth). Through grade school you mostly hit a stage of cruise control. I note the first and last day of school each year, but the past six school years in the same school have blurred together. I remembering writing a blog post (which I cannot find now) about how the lasts are sneaking up on me.

The "lasts" are hitting me hard and fast as Ashley is an 8th grader. In just over two months she will graduate the small K-8 Catholic school and starting the large Catholic high school down the street.

This week it was the last time she will wear her winter uniform. With that last, though, comes a first -- first time wearing the sweatshirt announcing where she will be going to school for the next four years.

A few days before that was the last time she will be on that school's stage. The last spring picture day at this school. Her last science fair (she studied what makes bearded dragons change color, using Sandy Claws). Her last Catholic School's week (from 2013). Graduation will be here in a blip of an eye. Between now and then are the class trip to see Lion King on Broadway and the trip to Hershey Park. I'm sure there will be others, just as I am sure I will sniff my way through them.

You see while I am ready for the changes coming, part of me is still clinging to the past. Our little girl will be going to school with MEN. She will be the little one -- a sentiment not seen here since she started kindergarten. She will have choices in the classes she will take (her electives next year will be concert choir, acting, and French -- this is the first time she can choose). She will be changing classes alone and having a locker. She will finally get her first cell phone.

Of course the goal of a parent is to give your child the roots while also giving them wings. 
Proverbs 22:6 sums it up nicely: Start children off on the way they should go and even when they are old they will not turn away from it. 

I am looking forward to seeing where her future brings her.

Ashley's School Acting Career

One of the things that attracted us to Ashley's school was its strong drama club program. Any student in grades 2-8 who wanted to be involved with the drama club auditioned and was given a role (students in grades 5-8 could be in stage crew).

It didn't take much arm twisting for Ashley, already a veteran actress having performed the role of Zuzu in Somerset Valley Player's production of "Its a Wonderful Life" to audition for a role.

3rd grade: Townsperson Dinah in "Thankincense" and Orphan Kate in "Annie"

4th grade: Amy March in "A Christmas Carol" and "Lips" in "Bugsy Malone" (Lips was a police officer who really wanted to be a ventriloquist)

5th grade: Stage crew (because she was Lucy in "Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe") and Mrs. Gloop in "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory."

6th grade: Charwoman and Artful Dodger in "A Christmas Carol" and one of the DeWarfs (Dwarfs) in "A Rockin' Tale of Snow White"

7th Grade: Alice in "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" and Louisa Von Trappe in "Sound of Music." Alice was one of Ashley's favorite parts.

8th grade: Scrooge in "A Christmas Carol" and double cast roles of Captain Hook and Whibbles the Pirate in "Peter Pan." (They had a different Captain Hook, Wendy, and Peter Pan for each performance.)

Don has been backstage since (at least) Bugsy Malone (Ashley's 4th grade play). For his last show he had a cameo.

This is the ad we meant to place in the program. We ended up putting in an earlier draft that was not nearly as much fun.

From third grade as Dinah (a Thankincense townsperson) and Orphan Kate (in Annie) to eighth grade Ebenezer Scrooge and Captain Jane Hook we've really enjoyed watching you shine on stage and are really proud of the life skills the SAS Drama program has instilled in you like: speaking in front of an audience, ability to improvise, sing, do ventriloquism, pick pockets, and cross-dress.  You've always been a star in our eyes.   Love,
Momoiselle and The Stage Manager

We are already looking forward to seeing Ashley become involved with Notre Dame plays, or anything else she chooses to explore in her life as a high school student.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Memoir Writing is everywhere

As I struggle to start my own memoir writing business I see snippets of my dream nearly daily in my walk through life. My plan is to find some people and record their stories for future generations. With has come a boom in people wanting to know their family history. How much simpler it would be if we all just took some time to record our stories.

Life zooms by at warp speed for years. Then we reach a stage where we are no longer interested in telling our story. My goal is to find people in-between who want to tell their story and need a willing audience to listen.

One such snippet happened last month when one of my favorite pastors, Pastor Doug, preached at my favorite weekly worship service (Worship in a New Key -- WINK) about Derek Webb, a Christian singer. I was immediately drawn the the Derek Webb quote on the front of the bulletin: 
"Never oversimplify yourself by using a single word or category to describe who you are. Take the time to tell your story."
Wow! Take the time to tell your story. Better yet, take the time to hire me to record your story.

This week at bible study we discussed Christian writer/theologian Frederick Buechner who said 
"the place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet."
For me this place is in recording people's stories. 

I love listening to people talk. I often become drawn into a conversation with a stranger where I am learning all sorts of neat things about them, but there is a part of me saying "dang, why am I not recording all of this?"

Whenever I tell people about my plan almost always they say they wish they had recorded their parents/grandparents/aunts/uncles/friends telling their stories. Now is the time! 

My business model is simple. I will sit with people, record their stories, and present them in a book. Projects will include time spent interviewing, transcribing, turning it into a story, scanning photographs and other ephemera, and other tasks unique to each history.

Help me find people who would value this type of work. 

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Abraham vs. Moses

Someone asked me recently if I feel I am more like Abraham or Moses.

I needed some clarification before answering that question.

In a nutshell, Moses lived his life in the same general area. He took on different roles throughout his life, but his ZIP code didn't really change (I know, they didn't have ZIP codes in Biblical times, work with me on the analogy.)

Abraham on the other hand moved throughout his life as his life changed.

Which am I?

Without hesitation, Abraham.

I haven't been shy about my desire to move closer to where Ashley will be attending high school. A move that would only entail going across town, actually closer to where we used to live.

Over the years we have toyed with large moves (often tied to potential career moves for Don) -- out towards Harrisburg, PA or down to Delaware, or a fantasy move to Bexley, OH, a fleeting move to Malaysia, but here we stay. Before Don and I met I had lived in an apartment with my parents, then in Dumont, NJ, then in Paramus, NJ before spending a year in three different homes in Belgium, on campus, and an anticipated move to Paris for three months. I have now lived in this house longer than any of those other places. I never actually imagined living here for 16 years. He had (for the most part) lived with his parents in Ewing, before moving to a home in Trenton with the same ZIP code as his childhood home. Even this house has a match of four out of five digits on the ZIP code.

While I don't picture living in this house for the rest of my life, I also don't imagine the other extreme of living out of a backpack and traveling the world constantly, but something in-between would be nice.

Life is often about those in-betweens.

Don's US Acting Debut

Three years ago in a little village in Nikko, Japan Don had his acting debut. It was a very spur of the moment experience when he was pulled out of the audience to perform in front of a crowd that mostly consisted of our group, plus a few strangers. The lines were put on cue sheets (in Japanese, but with a familiar alphabet), which he had to try to pronounce. He was a great sport.

Fast forward a bit to 2014. Two of the dads in the school play were given a small cameo when the play called for the Evil Witch to use a potion to turn herself into a man. The parts were played by the Evil Witches' dads. Last year a couple of other dads played the priest in the wedding scene of "Sound of Music." As the dad of an 8th grader (and also the stage manager for the school plays), Don asked to be cast in a cameo.

His wish was granted when he was cast as someone from the Humane Society who went up to complain to Captain Hook, played by Ashley. We kept this a secret from everyone not involved with the show.

Their dialogue went as follows:

PARENT:  Ahoy there, I’m from the Humane Society, are you the Captain?

HOOK: Humane…I’m not familiar with the word.

PARENT:  Shocking.  I have a report of you mistreating a crocodile; this says you’ve been feeding it clocks…

HOOK:  That croc took my hand!

PARENT:  You must have antagonized the poor creature. Crocodiles are docile unless provoked.

HOOK:  Get off my ship. (threatens with sword)

PARENT:  What would your mother say if she saw you acting this way?

HOOK:  You know…you look a lot like my dad…for that you need to walk the plank!

PARENT: (walks the plank) Well, just remember, you have a mother that loves you very much.

PARENT sings "Here I am to protect the land, I'm your Natural Resource Man." (From the "Rockin' Tale of Snow White.")

All the while he was acting in his scene he tried to remember what the director tells the students: look for the mike, cheat, come on at the right time, don't bunch up, etc. etc.

Click HERE to see part of their performance. Clearly I need more practice videotaping.

They both did great. Don said he was surprised by how much fun the other kids have watching him go on stage.

Don in his usual role as Stage Manager. With Ashley in her usual role as actress.

Now Don has acted in two continents. That's more than I can say.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

"Manuel vs. The Statue of Liberty"

March Madness is in full swing in the Pillsbury household. This year it started in February. On February 21 we saw a staged reading (not sure if that is the right term) of Manuel vs. the Statue of Liberty -- a musical-comedy about illegal immigration by my friend Noemi.

This is the third time I have seen the show, the second time my mom has seen it, and the first time Don, Ashley, and my dad have seen it. Each time has been different. I don't mean the usual -- different theater, different performers, etc., but in some ways radically different. 

Noemi is working hard to fine tune the production as she moves closer to her dream of putting it on Broadway.

I saw it first in July 2014 during NYMF (New York Musical Theater Festival -- I agree with you the "t"should be there, but it is not) where it won the NYMF Developmental Reading Series Award. I returned in July 2015 where it was nominated for the Best Award for a Musical and the Special Award for Social Relevance and Impact, and the Award for Outstanding Individual Performance for Shakina Nayfack -- a transgender woman who was recently cast on "Difficult People." Most recently we saw it at Princeton University in a building I did not even know existed. They performed it twice -- at 7 PM for the general public and at 10 PM for the late night college student crowd. Both times were sold out. The early show was overflowing.

The play is loosely based on the life of Dan-El Padilla Peralta, author of the 2015 book Undocumented: a Dominican Boy's Odyssey from Homeless Shelter to the Ivy League. His book and the play highlight the struggle of one person who came to the United States with his parents when he was a young boy. His mother was pregnant at the time and delivered his sibling here, which makes his sibling automatically a US citizen (in the play he has a sister, in real life he has a brother). 

Manuel/Dan-El is brilliant. He picks up English while on the flight from the Dominican. He has an insatiable thirst for knowledge and reads anything he can get his hands on. His dream is to get his green card so he can help his mother stay in the country legally. The Dream Act was supposed to pass before he turned 21 so he would have been able to stay here legally.

The play and his book put a face on one immigrant. He is quick to point out his story is just that -- his story. Someone encouraged him to apply to (and become accepted to) a top-notch private school in NYC, which led to him applying to (and becoming accepted to) Princeton University. He graduated suma cum laude with a degree in classics. Through his connections at Princeton he had congressmen writing on his behalf, he met a former President (Clinton) during his commencement who asked his wife, then-Senator Clinton, to fight his cause. Even with those connections and doing something few can do, Dan-El will never become a US citizen. He is dating a US citizen. Even marriage will prevent him from becoming a US citizen. Trust me he is not stealing jobs from any US citizen I know.

As of the writing of the book he was living in Stanford and teaching classics. I heard as of next fall he will be returning to Princeton to teach. The book explained some of the special visas he has been able to receive in order to work in the United States and be near his family.

No one is arguing what his family (and others in similar positions) did was right in the first place. They are just trying to figure out ways to stay in this country legally and work here and pay taxes here. To Manuel/Dan-El and others, this is the only country they know. They have no other home to return to in their countries of birth. 


Well, that was a bit of a diversion. When I started this post my intention was to write about the evolution of Noemi's "baby," not write about how to right the wrong set in place by millions of parents wanting what is best for their children. That's really what happened to Dan-El, his mother planned to go back to the Dominican after she gave birth. She had a rough pregnancy and the doctors thought she would get better care in the USA. When she saw how her eldest was thriving, she stayed, which led to living in homeless shelters and barely scraping by.

Noemi is trying hard to convey the message of this one family. She is using the best means she knows how -- musical comedy theater. Is this a funny topic? No. Does she make her audience think about the issues in a new way? Definitely. 

It has been a treat for me as an audience member to see the show evolve. It has been a treat for me as a theater lover to hear the thought process behind the show's evolution. It has been a treat for me as a friend to support Noemi on her dream. 

Noemi is looking for venues for her show. If you have any leads, I'd be happy to pass them along to her.

I wish I was more observant

Today, March 10, 2016, was a beautiful 80 degree day in New Jersey. 

Let that sink in a bit. Certainly beats the years we are still shoveling snow this time of year.

EIGHTY degrees in March. The windows and doors are fully open. The air smells like spring erupting.

Too hot for a run, but not too hot for a walk. While strolling through Mercer Meadows I saw a man with a serious pair of binoculars around his neck. I casually asked if he saw any good birds on his walk. I did not notice his Cannon camera. Not only did he see some nice birds he saw a frog in the puddle around the bend and took a picture of him (which he shared with me).

What does this have to do with my being more observant?

When I asked where he saw the frog he said it was around the bend in the puddle that is always there. There is a puddle always there? I walked past this long puddle just to the left of the path when I realized that was probably the spot he was talking about. I tried to find the frog, but either he was well camouflaged, or he moved. 

The same man showed me a picture of a big bird near some crows. I found the crows (they were loud) but not the bird.

Our really brief conversation made me wonder what else I was walking by every day and not really seeing or noticing. I'm often lost in my own thoughts when I am out for a walk or a run not seeing the rest of the world around me. I should try to change that.

I recently had a conversation with a friend. We both said just how easily swayed we are by a change in hair and make-up. How we are great audience members because we fall for the magic every time. It is one thing to be fooled when it is part of the plan (such as when one actress plays two parts at Disney -- shh!), it is another thing when that person is a friend, or even a family member. I have a friend who recently went from being a classic blonde to a fiery redhead. I told her I would not recognize her in public. Sure enough, I've seen her three times since then and she has had to say hi to me first. The fourth time she might just keep on walking incognito. I hardly recognize my own daughter when she wears her Captain Hook costume.

Someone challenged me to see God's beauty in this world. With the nicer weather here (hopefully to stay for many months). I'm going to try harder to become more observant. To see God's hand in the magic that is Spring.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup 4 miler

I've had a conversation with several friends and family members lately along the lines that people around here treat the Delaware River as if it is a giant wall -- one that is impossible to pass through. There are people who won't cross this great barrier to shop or network or run races. Mind you, I live about 10 minutes from this great "barrier," and do not have such a fear of it. I could easily use one of four bridges to go to Pennsylvania, all but one of which is free.

I mention this great divide because last year when I was having troubles finding new, fun races to do on my side of the "barrier," a friend told me about RunBucks, an organization that hosts about a dozen really fun races a year, most of which are in Washington Crossing, Pennsylvania, 11 minutes from our house. (Click on the Washington Crossing link to see a reenactment of General Washington crossing this great "Barrier.") RunBucks organizes very low-key races. They have a 10 miler in May they bill as the alternative to Philadelphia's Broad Street Run -- same distance, same day, much cheaper, no lottery, about 1% of the number of participants. Other races include Run the Lights -- a 2 mile family fun race through Shady Brook Farms's annual light display, a Mother's Day women's race for WomenSpace, a Halloween 8K race, and a New Year's Eve midnight 5K.

This year they added the Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup 4-miler. You had me at tomato soup.

The biggest downside to the runBucks races is the easiest way to get to them from my house is by taking the narrowest bridge that still allows two-way traffic -- the Washington Crossing Bridge. Back when Hummers were popular, I don't know how this bridge stayed two way. Ideally when you cross it you have your passenger fold in their mirror, while the driver does the same. I wish my Corolla had a button to fold in the mirrors. Yes, it is that tight.

One of the pluses to doing their races is they are very low-key and very inexpensive. I think registration was around $20 for this race ($35 day of), which got you a running bib, a marked course (but not a private one as it was open to the general public), a finisher's mug for the first 250 finishers (they had 180 runners), and the aforementioned grilled cheese and tomato soup in the finisher's area. If you wanted a sweatshirt, they were available for an additional $17.50. If you didn't want one, you didn't buy it. Likewise with the blankets (which were also prizes for winning your age category). There was no goody bag or extra pieces of paper, literally at the registration tent you got a bib and (if you needed them) safety pins.

Super Librarian Gabrielle and I at the start of the race. Note I was going for a grilled cheese colored top and tomato soup skirt. It was a cold start to the race -- about 35 and cloudy. We waited in the car for the start of the race debating if we should run or just go home and skip it. The forecast said it would be 40 at the start, it sure didn't feel like it.

The course started with the Valley of Concentration Circle, otherwise known as the "Spiral of Death." This .75 mile extra before hitting the towpath allowed the runners to spread out to the right paces before we had to go more single-file. It meant we crossed the finish line (which looked like it could double as the start line) at the .75 mile mark. We then went up a mile and a half on the towpath, and turned around again. I felt my pace was just right -- I got to the narrow under the bridge part before the bulk of the fast runners on their way back. I was with people a little slower than me, so I felt good passing them without being passed by a lot of people. One downside to this spiral of death (which I heard refers more to when it appears at the end of the race than at the beginning) is at at the 1/2 mile mark it took us right past our car. Awfully tempting, fortunately by then I had warmed up. Don didn't seem to warm up until we were in the toasty warm car driving home.

<---Don and I at the start

There is Don:

Don coming to the end of the race. Looking good!

Finish line mugs and food:

My Nike+ watch could not find the satellite. I recorded a time of 44:41, and a distance of only 3.71 miles. It gave me a 12:00 pace instead of 11:10 pace. *groan* 

1502326Jacquelyn PillsburyFLawrence TownshipNJUS44:47.311:114646.1
1632325Don PillsburyMLawrence TownshipNJUS49:01.412:155239.7
I would be up for doing this race again.