Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Bialashu the International Traveler

Bialashu traveled with us to Japan two years ago, so it was only natural that she came with us to Iceland.

She was a good sport about sitting on the glacier.

And had no complaints about being wind-swept on the black sand beach.

We think she is a little partial to the colors white and black.

Inspired by "Stan," my friend Martha's traveling companion, Bialashu now has her own passport. "Stan" receives a postage stamp from each country he has visited (currently well over 70). So far Bialashu just has the one stamp from Iceland, though we have plans to retroactively add a stamp from Japan, and we can add a Canadian stamp this summer. Bialashu did not accompany Ashley last summer, so no need to add those stamps in after the fact.

I think Bialashu wants to add to her collection.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

2016 March Madness Extended

As I sit here on Passover weekend I realize this is perhaps the only week I have not seen a play since mid-January. March is always a busy month for seeing school plays because most area schools put their plays on that month. This year was extra chaotic because Easter (and Spring Break) fell in March, too. It is such a busy month for us we've called it our version of March Madness. (2015 is HERE) (2014 did not get written) (2013 is HERE

I thought it would be fun to list the shows we have seen already. By "starring," I mean the friend we were supporting at the show, not that they necessarily had the lead role.

January 8: "The Piano Lesson" at McCarter for Don's birthday
January 15: "The Univited Guest" at Somerset Valley Players starring Roberta
January 29: "Leading Ladies" at Actors Net starring Andrew
February 20: "Manuel and the Statue of Liberty" at Princeton University starring Noemi
February 26: "Hair" at Pennington
February 27: "Underneath the Lintel" at Actors Net
March 4: "Anything Goes" at Notre Dame starring Reilly
March 12: "Hairspray" at Lawrence High School
March 13: "Peter Pan" at St. Ann School starring Ashley and Don
March 16: "Shrek Jr." at Lawrence Intermediate School starring Hayden
March 18: "Peter Pan" at St. Ann School starring Bridget
March 19: "Peter Pan" at St. Ann School starring Ashley
March 23: "A Chorus Line" at Merriam Theatre starring Chris
April 6: "Lion King" on Broadway with class trip
April 9: "Hamilton" on Broadway with lottery
April 16: Chris's senior cabaret

Later this week we are planning on seeing "Young Frankenstein" starring Julia and Jonathon.

Some people watch TV and go to the movies, others see plays.


Last weekend we had the honor and privilege of seeing our friend's son, Chris, in his senior cabaret as he prepares to graduate from college and enter the big scary world.

Chris focused his cabaret in the style of this is my life told through stories and songs. The night before we went, his show was filled with his college friends. This performance had a fraction of that crowd, and recognizing most of the audience knew him when he was in diapers, was family-friendly. I am publicly applauding Chris for recognizing not all audiences are the same, and tailoring this performance to those of us who love him no matter what, but prefer a fully dressed performance.

While listening to him tell stories and sing songs about his life, and laughing along with those tales, I was struck by how this was just a different format for a memoir. I've thought of memoirs as solely being the written word presented in a book or booklet. This gives me a potential new twist on my memoir business. I could ask people to list the songs that tell the story of their lives. First, though, I need some clients (shameless plug -- help!!).

At one point Chris asked us our "trigger songs," the ones that trigger a memory or emotion. I know I have them. We all have them. But at that moment, I was drawing a blank to every song I have ever heard in my life.

Upon reflection, two came to mind: Piano Man by Billy Joel and Guantanamera. Hearing just the opening notes of those songs instantly transport me to another time and place.

Piano Man reminds me of my 18-year old self living in Belgium, away from home for the first time and meeting people from all over the world (thanks to Facebook, I am back in touch with some of them). That year I developed a major itch to see more of the world, which propelled me to live in France for a semester, and makes sure my passport is always up to date.

Guantanamera doesn't take me back as far in my life, only to last November and the Cafe Parisien in Havana, Cuba. This was my first international trip in a couple of years, and also my first solo trip without my family. It reminded me I love to travel and experience new places. It showed me while that part of me has been hidden for a while, it was time for it to come out again, that there are many places left for me to explore. Every time the song pops up on Pandora I smile and dream about new adventures.

I've been mulling it over for the past week and no other song has popped into my head as a trigger song. I've also been listening to Hamilton a lot, which brings up a two-week old memory, but I wouldn't consider that a trigger song just yet. On the flight home from Iceland I watched When Harry Met Sally, in some ways that is a trigger movie for me as it reminded me of my 20-something year old self dating Don.

These triggers into the past are fun, but triggers can also be launching points into our futures. A couple of weeks ago while walking in the woods I had a thought that someday I'd like to go on a mission trip. I know my limits, I won't build a structure for someone and expect it to survive a storm, but I would love to talk to people and learn about their culture and share my love. The very next day someone asked me if I would like to go on a mission trip someday. Is this is a sign of God working in me? Is God planting seeds for my future so when the opportunity arises again I do it instead of second-guessing it? I want to be the person who sees an opportunity and grabs it rather than staying home and playing it safe.

I continue to pray about my future, and seek your prayers, too. I feel called to record people's histories. On the one hand I admit I don't know how to turn it into a business, on the other hand I know all things are possible through God and if He wants it to happen, it will, but only in His time. Help me to hear his nudging in my life.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Hamilton on Broadway (via Hamilton Lottery)

The week was already on quite a high from meeting the actors in "Hamilton" during the class trip when Don decided to try for the famous Hamilton lottery and try to win tickets to see the show life. 

The "Hamilton" Lottery is:

For every performance (at their discretion) they raffle off 21 tickets. Ashley said at one performance 50,000 people tried for the 21 tickets and the system crashed. In other words, we didn't stand a chance, on the other hand we had no plans that day (quite rare) so we had nothing to lose. We have no idea how many people tried the day we did, only that he won and I lost. Winners pay $10 for their front row seats (in other words, they pay a "Hamilton").

Don followed the instructions to a T. Enter between 9 AM and 11 AM. Announcement made at 11 AM either way via email. He entered my name, then on a lark he entered his name. A similar lottery happens for evening performances from noon to 4 PM. Front row tickets are also be available during #Ham4Ham -- usually performed before the Wednesday and Sunday matinees. So maybe on those days the online lottery isn't available? 
#Ham4Ham is always different. Always entertaining. When we were there on Wednesday, Mayor Bill DeBlassio was involved with the pre-show. Unfortunately we had group lunch plans and missed the performance, but we did see the Mayor. Another post about opening week for #Ham4Ham -- between 200 and 700 people turn out for these live shows. I really don't know how these live
lotteries mesh with the online lottery. With the live lottery, though, they are still entertained for free (except when they just do the drawing, and don't do the pre-show). Next time we'll have to time a trip to see the #Ham4Ham pre-show (seriously, follow the above link to feel part of the fandom). The show definitely has a cult following -- especially among teenage girls. The tradition of cheaper tickets available day of dates back to Rent in 1997 when ticket prices topped off at *gasp* $67.50. Makes me wish I saw more shows in those days.
Back to Saturday. We went on with our day. I went to visit an Ecuadorian pizza shop owner whose accent made it too hard to hear him on the phone (plus it is harder to ignore me in person). I gave Don the phone number of the pizza place and (as usual) left my cell phone at home. He called me. I asked if I won. He said no, but HE won. Yippee!!

The deal was we had to be there no sooner than 1:30 to pick up our tickets from Will Call. I still had to finish my interview (which was already not going well), drive 15 minutes home (behind every slow person in Mercer County), change and dash out the door. I really should have accepted a slice of pizza, but keeping with my carb count, I skipped lunch.

We slogged up Route 1 watching the gas needle drop, but passed the long lines of cars getting gas. On the Turnpike we read the signs saying XX amount of minutes to the Lincoln Tunnel (some said to NYC, which is it to the start of the tunnel or to the exit?). Fortunately those numbers were going down in our favor.

Quickly parked the car at Port Authority and made the mad dash to the theater. We didn't know if Don would be able to pass the ticket to me (he had little interest in seeing it), so we each brought something to keep entertained for three hours. Ashley knew she was seeing it.

Tickets in hand (Row CC, 112 and 113) we made our way to the front row. Squee!! Even I got excited. I've never seen a show that up close. When we took Ashley to see Wicked for her birthday we were nearly in the last row.

We learned this performance would be very understudy heavy. After recently reading a story similar to THIS one about understudies who became famous, we put a positive spin on it. It was Jason Groff's last day as King George (he had one more performance that night). On Wednesday Ashley had been bummed even if we did see "Hamilton" someday, it wouldn't be with him. That made the win that much more sweet.

The theater is gorgeous, especially compared with the newness of the Minskoff Theater where we saw "The Lion King" a few days earlier during her class trip. It didn't seem like a big theater, either. (1,597 seats vs. 1,319 seats)

The stage looked simple on the surface. Ashley and l loved the rotating stage, which made lampposts move closer to people as they were walking in place. The ensemble effortlessly moved the various pieces of furniture on and off the stage. 

We were close enough to feel the stage vibrate during the big dance scenes, to watch the spit come out of their mouths (fortunately none landing on us), to see them sweat, and to study the earrings on the Schuyler sisters. Close enough to see Eliza cry when her son died (yes, a real tear). Close enough I didn't dare take my eyes off of them to peek at a timepiece or follow along in the program. We were too close to see their feet. I know, tough life. All for only $10.

Ashley could write a much better review of the show. She has been listening to the music, and singing it at home and with her friends. I want to read more about Alexander the Hamilton (or A dot Ham as he refers to himself in a song) the man, and the musical.

I first heard about this show while at a show at Somerset Valley Players. Someone told me she had to study it for class. I think she had a copy of a video of it, but was having troubles getting through the rap songs. I'm not a fan of rap. I dismissed the musical based on hearing it has rap in it. Then I started hearing Ashley sing the songs and watch her get excited about the show. The lyrics reminded us of "Into the Woods" by Stephen Sondheim -- very quick, with lots of hidden meanings in the puns. Ashley owns it on her iPod, but I'll be picking up a real CD because I'm old-school that way.

At the end of the show, as part of Broadway Cares, the Schuyler sisters sang a wrap about donating money to the orphanage Eliza Hamilton started many years ago in honor of her husband, Alexander Hamilton.

After the show we stood in the rain to catch the stars leaving for dinner. Most stayed inside. The woman who plays Eliza (Philippa) came out and signed a drawing Ashley made of her. A couple of the guys came out and signed autographs, but most stayed inside. We saw someone go in with a cake for "King George," plus they had another show at 8 PM.

We admit we had total beginner's luck on this one. Don entered both of our names. Fortunately one of us won. Now you can say you know someone who won the Hamilton Lottery.

A very happy 13-year old

UPDATE: In June we saw a #Ham4Ham show, but did not try the lottery.

Best Class Trip Ever

With the end of Spring Break, the lasts of Ashley's k-8 school experience are coming faster and faster. This week was the annual 8th grade trip to see a Broadway show. There was some talk at the beginning of the year about doing something different, but still exciting, but in the end they held with tradition.

My daughter is at a small Catholic school. There are 29 in her class, but class I mean both her homeroom and her entire grade. Many of been in the same school since before she started in third grade, and others started this year (due to the closing of their Catholic School) or someplace in-between. Next year they will all disperse to a wide variety of other schools -- from public schools to the local big Catholic high school (like Ashley) to private schools to (possibly) a performing arts high school out of state. They have less than two months together. 

About half of the parents wanted to be on this field trip, which gave us a nice ratio of two kids per adult. In our group, it was three adults to four students. Not just any students -- but best friends. Not just best friends -- but theater loving friends (more on that later in this post).

The New York City field trip included a stop first at St. Patrick's Cathedral.

The girls were awesome about letting us parents capture their smiles.

The class is used to us taking group photos and quickly complied to let us take this one.

Group lunch at Planet Hollywood. They really know how to handle large groups, and even have a fixed menu with a bit of everything on it from burgers to a salad to pasta. The waiter's first question was "does anyone have an allergy?" Followed up by how they can accommodate the one person's gluten allergy. The chocolate chip cookies at the end were divine, but a glass of cold milk with them would have made them perfect.

We had about an hour between lunch and seeing "The Lion King." Three out of four of our group wanted to see the stage door for the hit Broadway musical "Hamilton." As it was only a block away, that was easy. Much of the rest of the group went shopping in Times Square. A sign of the times -- we walked by The Disney Store with only me looking wistfully at it.

By this point it was 12:45. The next performance was at 2. We were due at "The Lion King" by 1:30. The girls had fun posing by the door. Meanwhile, they were trying to line up people who had tickets to that performance and we were in the way. Just at that moment, the stage door opened and the stage manager was setting up the rope so the actors could come back stage. He announced only Lin was there as he had done Ham on Ham at 11:30 that day with Mayor Bill De Blasio. We saw the Mayor pop in and out a few times as someone was discreetly filming him and telling him how to do it better. We also saw two little girls wearing dresses from the play (or so Ashley told me). Later their picture was on "Hamilton's" Instagram page.

The crowd was filled with giggling and screaming teenage girls. It reminded me of how I have heard people describe when the Beatles were out in public. It was a very small crowd (after all it was a Wednesday afternoon). As each lead arrived much screaming took place. They were kind and signed autographs (good mom that I am, I found a scrap of paper in my purse and a pen. Or is that mom that I am who never cleans out her purse I found paper and a pen? The paper was the list of our instructions for the day, so it was fresh.)

Eventually it was time to walk through Avenue 6 1/2 and head one block over to "The Lion King." Turns out, it was just a cut-through by the Marriott between 7th and 8th, but I liked thinking it was Avenue 6 1/2, still it was a quick hop on over to the Minskoff Theater, which was parallel to the Richard Rogers.

I'll be the first to admit I groaned when I heard the choice was "The Lion King." It has been on Broadway forever (since the 1990s) and just about anyone who wanted to see it has seen it already. Or so I thought.

The kids were seated together, and the parents were on the ends. I was seated next to a boy who is a phenomenal force on stage, but had never been to a Broadway show. He turned to me after the opening number and said "I have chills." He also had an enormous grin and his eyes did not blink during the entire performance. I'll admit to a tear running down my eyes at the end of the show as Rafiki lifts Nala and Simba's baby high into the air, thus fulfilling the "Circle of Life."

Broadway Cares -- raising money for people with HIV/AIDS
"The Lion King" opened on Broadway at the New Amsterdam Theater on October 15, 1997. In 2006 it moved to the Minskoff Theater (where it is now) to make room for "Mary Poppins. In 2014 recently became the top earning title in box office history surpassing "Phantom of the Opera." We took Ashley to see it when she was six (in 2008, or early 2009). The best part was being serenaded after the show by Young Simba and Young Nala, and talking to their parents. That was truly a magical moment.

When I saw it this past week it seemed different to me, but I chalked that up to my memory. Turns out in July 2010 they trimmed nine minutes from the show, eliminating Zazu's "Morning Report" song (which is the one the kids acted out for us) and doing a bunch of other tweaking. Though I am not finding anything about it in print, I recall during "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" there were couples dangling from various heights hugging each other. The choreography this time was completely different. The earlier choreography left me feeling uncomfortable at what is a children's show.

The bus ride back was quick. Ashley and her friends sang songs from Hamilton. She had a spark back that has been missing for much too long. I've heard (and remember) teenagers have mood swings and that she'll return to my loving, charming daughter by the time she is 25. In the meantime, I really treasure it when those smiles come out and are directed at me.

This "Best Day Ever," as declared by Ashley on Wednesday was topped on Saturday by seeing "Hamilton" courtesy of the #Ham4Ham lottery. What a week!

Monday, April 4, 2016

Cuba vs. Iceland

Much of the time we were in Iceland, I kept thinking about my previous international vacation to Cuba.

They are both islands, making the license plate game a challenge.

They are about the same size (Cuba=109,000 sq. km. vs. Iceland=103,000 sq. km.)

Cuba has many more people (11,400,000 vs. 327,000).

Their capitol cities are both on the ocean.

Cuba works totally on cash, two kinds in fact. You could survive a trip in Iceland with only your Visa card (we did take money out of an ATM to see what it looked like).

They are both undergoing major construction to prepare for tourists.



Neither one has a McDonald's or a Starbucks, but Iceland does have other American food chains (such as Dominos and Subway).

Cuba has very old cars. Iceland has new ones.

Both have a lot of graffiti


Both have a lot of bicycles, but I suspect for different reasons. In Cuba it is because people cannot afford cars, not because they enjoy cycling.

Both I would highly recommend seeing.

It is funny how we draw upon our past when we visit new people and places and make comparisons. I met a woman I liked instantly, even before I realized she reminds me of a friend. The city of Reykjavik reminded me of Portland, Oregon with the mountains in the background, the outdoors culture, and the quirkiness of the locals. Despite living in a place that hardly ever sees the sun, everyone we met was friendly and outgoing.

I had other thoughts while in Iceland. As I think of them, I'll add them to this post.

Iceland - Reykjavik in photos

It finally happened -- I learned how to spell the name of the capitol of Iceland.

Here are some random pictures from Reykjavik. My big regret is not taking a picture of the red library.

Many pictures of bicycles on this trip.

Meet other tourists by matching your glove to theirs.
People take their gloves home with them at the end of their trip,
meanwhile they leave contact information for when they are in town.

No idea what is behind this, but I liked it.

Famous landmark. Statue of Leif Erickson in front of it.
Evidently there are great views of Reykjavik from the top,
but we didn't attempt to go. With this many clouds, what was the point?

From inside the church.

Americana in Iceland.

Lots of walking and biking options.

On our first day.

A glove for holding a cold drink.

Formerly a prison, now the Prime Minister's office.
The only official building that looks like a fortress is the American Embassy.

For John, we found the place but it was "dead."

The Harp Center that appeared in the Rhode Island tourism
information the week we were in Reykjavik. It was trending on FB.

That church at night.

On our last morning before heading to the airport.

Just because I like this picture.

A random church having a funeral.

Cleaning the streets. No wonder the place looks so nice.

A shop window.

Family picture. See we removed our hats -- it wasn't THAT cold.

Thought of dad when I saw this - no tractors on the road during rush hour.
Umm...but okay the other hours.

In front of the Harp Center (of music). Fitting.

Where we bought a stamp to start Ashley's panda's passport collection. Thought of Martha.

Some of the beers Don brought home.

Thought of our friend, Santa.
Of course we always buy swimwear and Arctic attire at the same time.