Wednesday, November 10, 2010

I'm working on my Big Five for Life! Can you help me?

Dear Friends,

We have reached a critical moment in order to make some profound changes in our lives.

To my memory, this dates back to Ben's unexpected loss of employment earlier this year. Paradoxically, we had a taste of freedom during Ben's time at home for 11 weeks. Although we were uncertain of our next source of income, we were together as a family every day, and it gave us an experience of how our lives can be spent in union.

Since then, Ben has become employed in the 9-5 world, while simultaneously working passionately and diligently on web-based genealogy services to create value for others and income for our family.

Also, as most of you know, I returned to performing and assistant directing at the delightful Encore Musical Theatre this Fall.

At the Rethinking Everything Conference we attended in September, we were introduced to the concept of "Big Five for Life." One of the five most important things for me to do, see, or experience in my lifetime, is to experience life fully with my husband and children. Another is for me to be actively involved with theater and coaching.

We have decided to dramatically cut our expenses, simplify our lives, and pursue our passions. A crucial step in this process has been to make an offer on a small house in downtown Dexter. This offer has been accepted by the seller, and since the deal is contingent on the sale of our home in NE Ann Arbor, the next pivotal step is to sell our house!

Here is where you come in: Can you please help us by sharing the news of our house on the market with as many people as possible? If you've been to our home, you can also personally convey its beauty and charm to all.  Our home has just been listed today, and an open house is scheduled for this Sunday, November 14, from 2-4 p.m.

I envision a world where we all inspire each other and "real-ize" our dreams together. May I thank each of you for the many ways you have encouraged, supported and inspired me over the months and years. I hope by sharing our passions and living our dreams, our family can in turn inspire yours.

Below is my description of our home for sale, followed by the link to the realtor's site for further details. Please feel free to cut-and-paste this information! Perhaps buying this house will fulfill someone else's dream. It did mine for the past five years -- it has been my dream home. Our family has certainly filled it with love.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart!
Carrie (and my beloved Ben, Logan and Paige)

Remarkable 4 bedroom 2.5 bathroom home for your family!

Exceptionally gorgeous wooded location, with protected natural land in front and back of home!  The lot also features a big side yard. Yet within Ann Arbor city limits. The best of both worlds!

Tucked into a private lane! Only three homes, no thru traffic!

Spacious 2978 square feet--includes 920 square foot finished basement with daylight windows, and an expansive deck!

Newer carpet (2007) in finished basement. Two giant living spaces in finished basement, PLUS with newer wood floor (2007) and built-in bookshelves!

Family room boasts genuine wood fireplace featuring cultured stone wall and oak mantel. Upgraded family room includes bump-out to generously increase living space--same bump-out is in Master bedroom suite directly overhead!

Convenient, first floor laundry room!

Kitchen features island, with outlets on either end, for additional counter space, food prep, and storage!
Brand new microwave (2010) and newer dishwasher (2008).

Formal dining room includes striking bay window!

Formal living room is big enough for two armchairs and a baby grand piano--come and see! Crown molding follows from living to dining room.

First floor bath has elegant updated sink and light fixtures.

Natural blonde wood flooring is featured in entry, formal living, dining, hall and first floor bath!

Upstairs, you are treated to a spacious Master suite, with cathedral ceiling, double sinks, walk-in closet, and deep garden tub!

The three remaining bedrooms have plenty of space for beds and belongings--and no need for dressers, with convenient built-in shelves, drawers and hanger poles in every closet! Perfect for each family member to keep clothes AND toys organized!

Upstairs second bath, hallway, entryway, Master suite, kitchen all newly professionally painted (2008)!

Two car garage, central air, oh! and a brand new roof already under contract to go on this year!

Asking price: $289,900.
This is truly a glorious, yet affordable, house your family will love in, grow in, play in, entertain in and enjoy for many years and generations.

Call today to come and see this beauty, and decide that this is the home for YOU!

Contact person: Rob Ewing, Reinhart Realty (734) 769-3800 or

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Two Wonderful Cats Available for Adoption! (Can't keep due to allergies)

Dear Friends,

Please consider adopting lovely Oscar and charming Henry!

If you cannot adopt them, could you please forward this link to all of your animal-loving friends?

We love these fabulous cats, but cannot keep them due to allergies. Ben has always been allergic, but now it turns out so is Logan, and I have also developed allergies following my pregnancy with Paige.

Oscar and Henry are exceptionally lovable and affectionate sweethearts!

Read more here!

Consider opening your heart and your home to these handsome brothers!


Tuesday, August 31, 2010

When Mama Ain't Happy, Ain't Nobody Happy

Dear Friends,

Well, a remarkable occurrence has...occurred. My household, really the family in it, was entirely peaceful these past two weeks. And yes, I do mean my family (no, it wasn't a visiting or housesitting family that was peaceful here; although I dare say with all of this good energy overflowing, it could last for a very long time and have a lingering effect on all who enter this serene dwelling).

You see, I have been cast in a play. A musical, actually. And, my request to assist the director has also been granted. And heck, for icing on the cake, I get to be the rehearsal stand-in for the lead for two weeks.

To say I am excited is an understatement. I am thrilled. Enlivened. I actually feel like I am getting my life back.

Let me first set a few things straight: I LOVE being a mother. It fulfills a powerful need and desire in myself to nurture and grow and discover life with these two tender-hearted beings, Logan and Paige. I have never known such deep joy and expansive love before having children. And I love my husband wholeheartedly and more deeply than ever; the gift of our children as an outgrowth of our love is a phenomenally beautiful and indescribable bond that forms our family. I am profoundly blessed.

Okay. That said, may I attempt to describe the labor that motherhood calls for, which immediately follows--and extends for years beyond--the initial childbirthing-type of labor? I'm talking about the all-consuming, 100 percent giving of yourself, you-are-entirely-responsible-for-another-human-being (or two, or more) kind of immersive experience here. You nurse and nurture and feed and hold and comfort and love these babies, who verrrrrrrry gradually start to become surprisingly independent beings. Time stops. Five years pass.  You come up for air, look around, and you see: two young people feeding themselves! Two young people using the toilet! Two young people riding off in the van with Daddy for a trip to the park while you get ready for an audition!

Yep, I dusted off my performance resume a few weeks ago, got a shower, and had two hands free to put on make-up and curl my hair; I even painted my nails neatly with one dark color (rather than two different pastels, tenderly and adorably messily applied by two toddlers on each hand--which I secretly prefer because it's a sweet reminder of how much fun we have together!).

The draw to audition and perform (which are really the same thing--every audition is a performance opportunity, as most of you would agree), nearly defies description as well. For me, it is a yearning, a hunger, a passion that needs to be fulfilled. I have almost entirely held this passion at bay for the past five years, in order to prioritize childrearing, with a few fun exceptions: I played Charlotte, the spider; I had a principle role in an independent film; I was vocal director for Wild Swan's Christmas Carol (twice). I have also done some private coaching and teaching, but primarily my focus has been on full-time mommying. And I wouldn't change a thing in these past five years! My children are healthy, happy, connected...and now may I add exceptionally peaceful?

It turns out you can ignore Mama's needs only so long. 'Cuz when Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy. Unbeknownst to me (alright, my unconscious mind already had it figured out, I just had to tune in), I had grown increasingly irritable, agitated, impatient--well, you get the picture--over I'd say, the past year. I thought it was due to inevitable stresses of parenting two children, and dealing with natural sibling jealousy and frankly pretty minor disputes (squabbles over toys being the big recurring theme there). Just all of these challenging aspects of daily life had been building up and bugging me more and more over the last year or so. I chalked it up to "that's just the way it is" and figured I can just muscle through it.

Then, I got a call to come to a callback audition at Jewish Ensemble Theater for the role of a model. Long story short, the entire family pulled together to make it happen. I got there, did it (hey, just like riding a bike!), and afterwards felt...different. Alive. I had awakened a dormant part of me. And I discovered: I AM READY TO RETURN TO THE STAGE. I felt beautiful and capable and strong and empowered and joyful and peaceful!

When the auditions came up soon after for Damn Yankees, my first thought was, "Well, nope, too bad I can't go, but that's just the way it is right now...." And then my inner voice said, "Hey! You're going! You can do this! It's time!" Ben lovingly agreed to help make not only the audition, but also the show work, should I get cast.

Flash forward to getting the message from the theater's Associate Artistic Director inviting me to be part of the production, in the ways I mentioned at the beginning of this post. Wow. I mean, WOW! I felt instantly transformed into this cool, relaxed, Zen, in-the-zone, fully present, peaceful person. I've had lots of moments like this, days even, but soon thereafter I'd find myself grouchy and easily irritated again. What I've discovered now is I am happier not only as I prepare for the show, but also in my parenting. I'm this chill mom, and the amazing result? So are Logan and Paige.

Now, as I said, no sibling issues were ever quite awful or intense, but there were at least daily frictions and chafing and territory concerns, etc. However, in the past two weeks, there has been not a single dispute, irritable word or deed, among anyone in the entire family. I am kind of pleasantly stunned. I mean, I knew in theory that children are highly attuned to parents' (particularly the primary caregiver's, which of course in our family means Mama's) emotions. But, man, it's true!

I realize I had been attributing my annoyances and negative vibes to external sources, but it actually comes right down to me and my attitude. Breaking news, right? Of course not! But I have to share with you that to finally experience continuous peace and to feel it flow through my Self and my family is delightful, uplifting, and something I want to hold onto (or more precisely, perennially release) for a good, long time. In fact, let's stay here, in this exqusite state I'll call Zen. Because now I have the best of both worlds: family-focused Mommy and capable, passionate performer with so many gifts to share.

So look out, theater world: I'm back, and I'm staying!

Of course, I am going to need lots of encouragement and support (and childcare) from you friends to pull this off. Because I know when I look at those two angelic, peaceful, dear faces, it may be difficult to leave the house for rehearsals some days. But I need to remember the reason there is such peace and joy flowing right now through our family: I have hope, I am living out my passions, and I am, after all, the hub of this family. So naturally the flip side of "If Mama ain't happy..." is "When Mama is happy--and her needs are also being met--this is a very, very great place to be." So, come on over, and come see the show, and feel the love.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

High School Reunion: Past Meets Present

Dear Friends,

What is it about reunions that brings up so many mixed emotions?

I just found out that my high school is having a multi-class reunion (Classes of 1980-1990), to be held in merely two weeks.

For some reason, I would like to have had this news several months ago, in order to adjust to the idea. Why? What is the mental adjustment I need to make in order to feel entirely comfortable and joyous about the occasion? What would a few months buy me?

I have to admit that part of it is physical appearance. I'd love to slip into the perfect little black dress I wore to my 20-year reunion, but after bearing and nursing two children within the past five years, that just ain't gonna happen. For the record, the shoes don't fit, either. And, when was the last time I wore heels? (I actually do know the answer to this: it was for an audition two weeks ago. But before that...?) Can my usually barefooted or sandaled feet still balance in heels? Anyway, I doubt I could have successfully whipped this tired, mothering body into some svelte, pre-mommy, size 4 form in time for the reunion. Isn't "curvy" the new black?

But why does that matter anyway? High school is such a depressing breeding ground for judging people on appearances. Brands matter. Perfectly feathered hair (in the 80's) mattered. Designer jeans, tasteful rainbows (might that not be an oxymoron now?), the cool car, the unblemished skin, all of these physical, superficial things seemed to matter a great deal. In what? The high school pecking order?

Thinking of a reunion brings up all kinds of insecurities. Am I attractive enough? Am I cool enough? Am I athletic enough? Am I funny enough? Am I talented enough? And add to that now as an adult: Am I successful enough?

And the social aspect: Will people talk to me? Find me interesting? Will the cool kids still hang out together, or will boundaries have been loosened between old cliques? Will I be able to drop my former ideas of who my classmates were, and embrace you they've become? Or, is it better and more realistic to merely add information via this fresh reunion experience to what we already know about each other?

Here is the really cool thing at the bottom of it all: There is a freedom in reconnecting and nurturing those "old" high school friendships. These people know me. I mean, we were together many hours every day for years. Believe me, these friends have seen me at my worst and best. Silly, crabby, moody, funny, hurt, in love, out of love, rejected, admired, thrilled, defeated, triumphant--they've seen it all. There really is nothing to hide from these people. I couldn't possibly, because they know my roots. We know each other's roots. And through it all, we had each other's backs. And actually, we still do.

One undeniable bond was sheer survival of our institutionalized education. Now, pretty much all of us survived high school, and some of us even thrived. But there is a unique bonding that occurs when people are thrown together in such challenging circumstances.

Part of the challenge is facing who I was at 17, and who I am now. Have I fulfilled my dreams of my youth? Am I proud of where I am in my life right now? Does my adult self live up to the expectations I had over 20 years ago? Could I have pictured myself as the adult I am now, when I was only 17?

A major discovery I've made in the past several days since finding out about my reunion surprises me: I am excited to go. Despite the insecurities, the musings, the uncertainties, the anxieties, I am really looking forward to being there. I love my friends. I love myself, both the teenager and the woman I am today. I love the memory I have of the freedom I felt at 17 with my whole adult life ahead of me. I had none of the kinds worries I have today (oh, a couple of examples: Will the kids get sick again if I take them to the Hands-On Museum? How will I ever get the entire house cleaned at one shot? Will my husband and I return to weekly date-nights at some point? Will I remember to introduce myself as "Carrie," or will I slip and say, "I'm Mommy.")

Now, don't get me wrong, I certainly had plenty of worries at 17 (college, moving, grades, deadlines, performances, major life changes, graduation). But there was a feeling of optimism, invincibility and energy that I'd like to introduce back into my life now as a middle-aged adult. Reunions are a good reminder for self-reflection: particularly seeing yourself through your classmates' eyes. And as adults, I believe that is a good thing. I am filled with goodwill toward my friends, both their teenage selves and their current adult versions, whom I can't wait to see.

So, if I had more time to prepare for the reunion, it would be for emotional rather than physical reasons. Now the anticipated anxieties seem rather trifling: How do I encapsulate 20 or so years of life past high school into palatable sound bites for cocktail conversation at the reunion? Eh, I know how to cover the highlights. Those who are also parents will have common ground for relating. I'll be armed with photos of my family on my iPhone.

Speaking of photos: May I just add how helpful Facebook is at times like these? Now we can browse each other's walls, photos, and information, which really lessens potential shocks of what we all look like now vs. our 17-year-old selves, and covers a lot of ground about kids, cities, partners, business ventures, etc. Facebook provides a foundation for conversation, actually, as long as you do your homework.

With Facebook lessening the chance of those embarrassing, "I don't recognize you!" moments, it also affords an opportunity for a little pre-wiring. We can message each other, maybe lay the groundwork to skip small talk by establishing an online connection, and you can even ask your friends what they plan to wear.

I'll be proudly wearing an updated Little Black Dress, celebrating my current Mommy curves, rocking sensible heels, and having a marvelous time re-connecting with these dear old friends who know me intimately from my formative years. I trust we will have no trouble quickly and easily catching up, laughing over old times, reinforcing old bonds and forming new ones. This will of course lay the groundwork for the next reunion 10 years down the road. I should have plenty of time to get ready for that one.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Exceptional Opportunity! Two Hypo-Allergenic Siberians for Adoption!

Dear Friends,

Well, in 5 months time, the new kitties, Neko and Darwin, have not been able to settle into their new home here with Oscar and Henry. Actually, it turns out that Henry, in particular, is quite territorial, and has been waging war, not peace.

Neko and Darwin are wonderful cats, and will be an exceptional addition to the right animal-loving, sensitive, lap-offering, playful family who has no other cats or dogs. This is an especially terrific opportunity for someone who is allergic to cats, but has never been able to adopt! Neko and Darwin are PUREBRED SIBERIANS, which means they are HYPO-ALLERGENIC!

Here is a link to my posting on craigslist:

Let me know if you are interested or know someone who might be!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Clockwatching 101

Dear Friends,

The battery ran out on my kitchen wall clock last week. I'm not going to replace it. It is now perennially 7:30 in my kitchen. Take your pick of a.m. or p.m. (It's analogue.)

Is anyone else sick of watching the clock during the day? And by sick, I mean exhausted, wrung-out, burned out, just plain kind of done?

I'm talking about those loooooooong hours between, say, 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. You know, those late afternoon hours that have you swearing (in more ways than one) that an extra day got slipped in there somehow? You started out just great, lots of energy (or coffee, for those who rely on caffeine to get through the sleepy times of the day), you hit your stride around 10 a.m., so far, so good; then it's lunch, hey, that's not so bad, halfway there, get your next energy boost (or cup of coffee) after digesting for a bit, return some calls, sink into the afternoon's tasks or activities, then BAM! You think for sure it's about quittin' time--or time for your honey to call and tell you he's on his way home--and GEEZ! It's only 3 p.m. DANG! Who jammed what feels like an entire extra day onto what should be the end of this one? Because it's going to require about 8 more hours worth of energy to get through the next three.

Are you as fed up as I am with those BAM! GEEZ! DANG! days?

"I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore!"

I do not want to live my life like that! I love my life! I love my kids! In theory, I want to be with them every second of every day, to soak up and share and discover and explore and just be together.

Well, that's all well and good, but I'll tell you what: I watch that clock from 3 p.m. on many days. When will Ben be home? When will I get a shower? When do I get a break? How am I going to prepare a (wholesome) meal, while monitoring two equally exhausted toddlers, who are also on the cranky downslide to 6 p.m., awaiting the rejuvenating air Ben's evening arrival inevitably brings to our home?

And, I know from personal experience as a former cubicle worker that many of you office-dwellers feel the same way. I've watched clocks on industrial walls just as studiously and--don't bother to forgive the pun--minutely as the clock on my kitchen wall now as a stay-at-home mom.

Today, I taped a little piece of paper over each remaining (working) clock on my microwave and oven displays. I now realize I should write a little reminder to myself on those slips, some affirmation or reassurance or Carpe Diem message. I know I'll see it, because I catch myself glancing there by habit regularly.

What should the message read? Hmmm....ideas....perhaps: Live in the Moment. Peace. Be Open to Divine Inspiration.

Time is merely an arbitrary device to help us track our time here on Earth anyway, isn't it? I get that it's useful if you want to meet friends at a certain time, or arrive at a play or movie before it starts, and such....but, sigh. I know I want to stay present as often as possible in the here and now. Time to break out my Zen books.

In the meantime, let me share some moments when I have experienced that complete presence of mind, body, soul:

labor and childbirth
one on one with Ben
play-doh with Logan and Paige
watching Glee
acting...especially those shows with a long run, you don't ever have to think
oh, but also an understudy gig I went onstage for one week...all senses were completely open and present
kissing my newborn babies
directing and vocal/acting it, love it, love it
tennis: keep your eye on the ball

What do these experiences have in common for me? Presence, energy, joy, peace, intrigue, faith, connection, alertness, immersion...

Now, to enter that land as often as possible...

Do what you love, the money will follow.

Ben, Logan, Paige and I are on a journey to live our lives fully present every day, together. We are exploring. We are rethinking everything. In fact, we are attending the 14th International Rethinking Everything Conference this September in Dallas/Ft.Worth, Texas! You know, come to think of it, the kids are already living this way. So, for Ben and me, it is more of a relearning process, or perhaps a process of unlearning social convention. It's time to think outside the box and put a life together for ourselves, with inspiration from others who have travelled a similar path. Ben is putting together his own list of experiences and passions that speak to his heart and fuel him and in which he finds himself wholly present. It's fun to discover and remember and tune in! Let's see where our lists coincide and then brainstorm together ways to create value for others, in order to earn our livelihood together, including Logan and Paige.

My vision is no more long days without Ben. Our family wants and needs to be together. Will there be opportunities for solo ventures, too? Absolutely. But those will be by choice, not dictated by wage-slavery. You see, we had a taste of freedom during those 11 weeks Ben was unemployed. Even though he was working feverishly to get his web-based genealogy application launched (in case that turned out to be our only immediate source of income) he was still at home. Logan and Paige became accustomed to a daily rhythm that included Daddy. And frankly, so did I. I got to swoop in with hugs and kisses whenever I wanted to. I was able to nap most days. I showered. I had time to prepare nice meals. However, we definitely needed to work more on playing.

I have faith that we can create income for our household by doing the things we love, and become self-actualized in the process, and grow even closer together as a family, while meeting everyone's needs. Theater, creativity, art, business, music, relationships, connections, unschooling, personal growth, fulfillment, passions, dreams, presence.

I have a lot more to say about this, but I'll admit I did just sneak one little peek at the clock on my laptop, and I need to go to sleep! Paige has been asleep for four hours, and I'd better follow my advice to all mommies: sleep when the baby (or toddler) does.

Stay tuned, my friends. We are on a really cool journey, and invite you to come along with us. For me, it all starts with becoming more deeply aware of my passions and dreams and how to live them out. How to construct a life that answers the call to LIVE life to its fullest. And, I'll tell you right now, clockwatching is not part of the new vision.

Let your clock batteries run out. Don't replace them. See what happens next.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Little Shop of Joy!

Dear Friends,

After arriving home from watching and tremendously enjoying my friends in a wonderful little offbeat, crazy, heartbreaking musical: "Little Shop of Horrors" at Performance Network, downtown Ann Arbor, I have to share what an amazing experience preparing for and being at the show entailed!

This is a story of good jeans, a great husband, well-timed naps, a compelling park, and one fabulous piece of musical theater....

Before I became a Mommy, I performed in and attended many theater productions. While I have not had the opportunity in the past few years to commit to a 4-6 week rehearsal process and a 4-6 week run of a show as a performer, I figured I could rally the support of my family and head to the theater for one afternoon as an eager audience member.

Several months ago, I learned my dear friend, Jason Richards Smith, would be in town playing the lead in this dark and hilarious musical, affectionately nicknamed by theater folks as "Little Shop." At that time, I set my goal of attending an afternoon matinee performance. I knew how amazing Jason would be in it (he's been rehearsing the role since he was 7), I knew how important this show was for him, and I wanted to show my support to him and my other friends who were performing in and directing the musical.

Now, for those of you who can just whip on a nice outfit, grab your keys, and head out the front door for a solitary adventure, let me explain a few things about how it's done when you're the Center of the Universe for two adoring and adorable toddlers. (And if you are a Mommy with little ones, you can just commiserate and chuckle along knowingly...).

First, I can count on one finger the number of times I have driven away from the house in the past two years without at least one child in tow. Including this past Sunday to go see Little Shop.

In other words, it was unprecedented for me to go out by myself since Paige's birth two years ago. The previous time I went out alone was a few months before her birth. I was quite pregnant, and I attended the premiere of a movie I'd acted in.

So, if you've heard about how it takes an hour to get a whole family out the door together, let me tell you it takes a few weeks to get a Mom out the door alone.

Here's how my organizational and planning skills were put to use, augmented by a good deal of prayers and intentions that all would go off without a hitch. Wishing to feel and look publicly presentable, I made a hair appointment two weeks ago for a trim and fresh highlight. I scheduled a clothes shopping trip for the day before the show, since I didn't think my usual yoga pants or pajamas were appropriate attire (the kids were thrilled to spend an hour and a half with Papa at the toy store). I dusted off my make-up bag. My friend Jason graciously set aside a ticket for me, with an industry discount. I checked the weather forecast, to ensure Mother Nature was cooperating so the kids could go to their favorite park. I washed my most supportive bra (you nursing mothers understand). And, I actually got a fairly decent night's sleep.

And it all came together.  Ben became employed in time for me to afford the ticket. The weather was nice for the kids and Papa to go on their big outing to Timbertown, which is the only place that was going to satisfactorily occupy them without Mama for several hours. (One hazardous set-back: Ben had a migraine that morning, but fortunately recovered in time to take the kids on their outing.) Paige didn't need me to hold her for a two-hour nap at 1p.m. when I was heading out the door. I got a shower and had time to dry my hair. I remembered how to drive the Subaru, rather than the minivan. I actually found jeans that fit and are comfortable, which was nearly the most remarkable accomplishment leading up to getting to the show.

And, joyfully, it was all worth it for an impressive and profoundly entertaining theater experience!

I can't say enough great things about this performance! I've been in shows with Jason, and he is so much fun to work with! But what a treat now to see him onstage, with an amazingly developed voice--he can sing it all. Sweet, pondering, powerful--he was just perfect as Seymour. I would pay a lot of money to listen to him sing and perform all night long. I can't even pick a favorite moment, because he filled every one with such nuance, humor, longing, genuineness, zeal and relish (sounds like it could be a new sandwich at Zingerman's). He owned this role, and I think there should be a caveat with any future theater company wishing to produce the show, that they must hire Jason to play Seymour.

My friend and fellow former Jackson theater buddy, Courtney Riddle-Myers, played Audrey. She was so sweet and tender and terrific! I tearfully held my breath as she gave a personal and heartbreaking rendition of "Somewhere That's Green," envisioning a bettter life for herself and her beloved Seymour. And, she knocked it out of the park on the group number "Suddenly Seymour," but more on that stand-out piece in a moment.

The lovely and talented Naz Edwards was transformed--with the help of visionary designer Monika Essen and brilliant director Carla Milarch--into an eerie, unnerving, ghastly, provocative person-eating plant. Naz skillfully and successfully struck a balance of repulsion and enticement--a perfect and necessary element to the play, so the audience can understand Seymour's internal conflict. And Naz's voice was beautiful, strong, funny and haunting by turns.

Energetic B.J. Love was deliciously blustery as Mushnik. My favorite scene of his was "Mushnik and Sons," in which he entices Seymour to become his son--in Mushnik's own self-interest--to keep Seymour and his revenue-generating plant under his wing.

The show opened with the three-man jammin' band (R. MacKenzie Lewis, Kevin Connery, and Clint Sabon) and crystal clear three-part harmony by singers Sharon L. Brooks, Sharriese Hamilton, and Diviin Huff, letting us know right off the bat that the music and singing was going to be top-notch throughout. Kudos to musical director R. MacKenzie Lewis for all of it.

"Suddenly Seymour" was my favorite show-stoppin' tune. I was ready to stand and cry and give them an ovation right then. Soaring harmonies, soulfully sung discoveries, and tender direction from Carla illustrating the newness of touch and finally satisfied longing between Seymour and Audrey, with immeasurable boost from our three lovely lady urchins, was an exquisite blend. I could have died, satisfied, on the spot.

Hilarious, versatile Aaron T. Moore filled in all of the cracks, with numerous roles. Naturally I loved and hated the dentist; but I also simply adored the energy and posture of the guy Aaron played coming into Mushnik's shop who buys $100 worth of roses. May this be a reminder to all of us performers that no role is too small to be fully committed to and leave a lasting impression!

Exemplary director Carla Milarch put it all together superbly. She also moved all of the action along at an ideal clip. There's a lot of music in this one! Pacing, ingenuity, heartfelt emotions, complex characters and motivations, innovative staging (and clever suspension of disbelief where doors and walls are no longer necessary), wicked humor, an appropriately light touch of horror--Carla elicited the very best from her exceptionally talented cast and designers. I don't just want to pat her on the back, I want to give her a giant squeeze to thank her for this two-hour treat that made me laugh and cry and gasp and finally stand up for at the finale. I joyfully attribute to Carla this huge grin I've had on my face for the past three days.

Thank you, all, for this theatrical treat! This one is definitely going to stay with me.

If you are in the Ann Arbor area--or can get here--come and see Little Shop of Horrors at Performance Network during its extended run through May 30th. Call (734) 663-0681 now for tickets. It will be worth all of the hurdles, planning, strategizing, and prayers to get there. Or, just throw on a nice outfit, grab your keys and head out the door. You will be so glad you did!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Plight of the Stay At Home Mom

Dear Friends,

Look, I don't like to complain.

Wait, who am I kidding? I love to complain! It helps to relieve stress, it can be expressed in the form of nicely organized lists, and besides, I'm good at it.

But when it comes right down to it, I know I've got it just great here. Let me first highlight a few of the remarkable and invaluable benefits of being a Stay-At-Home-Mom (SAHM)—in a nice, neat list:

1) The children get 100 percent me. Wonderful for attachment, emotional development, constancy, security, and steady love, love, love. Oh, and it's good for the kids, too.

2) Ideal for unschooling. More on this in future posts, but let me summarize briefly: child-led learning via shared life experiences. I am fully present to share and learn and discover with the children.

3) I have always wanted a job with no commute, no set schedule, and no dress code. I used to eagerly anticipate "casual Friday" jeans, but heck, now I get to wear pajamas all the time!

4) Such a savings on buying professional clothing, paying dry cleaning bills, and spending time coordinating shoes with belts. Now I might as well sell my iron on craigslist. (Oh, hey, that's a good idea--anybody need an iron in like-new, barely-used condition?)

5) More homemade meals, more homemaking, more housekeeping...but wait, I said I wasn't going to complain....

6) More flexible hours. For instance, I am typing this at 5:45 a.m. with one hand while nursing a finally sleepy, teething toddler who has been up since 2:53 a.m. working on erupting two-year molars while watching Bob the Builder construct houses on-site. (See, my daughter may be a budding multi-tasker already, too.) On second thought, maybe I don't want to delve into the 24/7 work hours of a full-time Mommy on the "benefits" list....

Full-time. Full-time. It's not the 40-hour work week anymore. Dude, that would be a breeze, compared to the 168-hour work week I've got going now. I've never worked harder in my life than in my current position as Mommy. And for the first year, I actually tried to do both: work outside the home and be a full-time mommy. Even though financially we were able to make ends meet on just one income (ah, if only we had one of those right now! More on the subject of my husband's unemployment below...), I initially resisted stopping work outside the home. It took me almost a year to figure out why.

Prior to 2005, I had spent my entire adult life as the primary breadwinner. I felt capable, competent, and confident. I was respected, relied upon, and—gosh—paid. The transition from former full-time career woman to SAHM, who completely relies on someone else for financial security—and food, clothing (well, fresh pajamas), housing, etc.—was incredibly difficult for me. It turned out to be a huge identity adjustment. It wasn't just a matter of a change in my source of income; it was a shift in who I am.

Although I tried to keep steadily (albeit part-time) working while full-time mothering for the first year, I was overwhelmed. Fortunately, between my own introspection and a series of conversations with my insightful and concerned husband, I came to my senses. It became evident what was best for us all. As my parenting philosophy developed, I discovered that my enjoyment of work, my professional accomplishments and my self-esteem boost from career successes, were far superceded by my joy and zeal for living Life with our children.

So, great! Faith conquers fear. I was afraid to rely on someone else to take care of me financially. I had worked hard to establish myself professionally, so I was afraid of losing ground on the career-building steps I had taken, and the professional relationships and networking opportunities I had cultivated. I had difficulty trusting my trustworthy husband to be there for me 100 percent. (Without going into great detail, let me just share that my husband is the first responsible grown-up with whom I have been in a relationship as an adult. More some other time about why I used to choose partners who seemed to need a parent themselves!). I was afraid I would lose myself in dirty diapers, baby drool, and applesauce-soaked onesies.

Well, I was called upon to take a leap of faith, and that I did. I jumped off this full-time mothering cliff and realized I could soar! Although the responsibility is immense, the rewards are bigger and better than anything I could have imagined. Even future professional successes I might envision would be empty without this amazing family to share them. Right now, I love being a SAHM, and I wouldn't have it any other way. I love cooking and doing art projects and snuggling in the middle of the day and packing a picnic if it's sunny and building elaborate train tracks if it rains. I have profound freedom and flexibility in my time with the kids, and I am immeasurably grateful for that.

So how can I possibly complain? I have embraced a broadened and preferred identity. I have a family to share everything with. I am building my confidence in a new field: mothering these children. I have no set schedule, no dress code, no commute, so now what's wrong? Weeeeeeeeeellll, it's that little thing I alluded to earlier: no income. Talk about having your faith tested!

Fortunately, my husband is a reliable (and loving and generous and dear...) provider. Unfortunately, being a proficient, knowledgeable, hard-working, responsible, and loyal employee is no longer assurance that you will still have a job. Companies no longer "take care of their own." So, it's here today and gone tomorrow; be cautious walking to your desk, 'cuz one morning you may be confronted by news of an unexpected early-morning meeting added to your schedule late after business hours the evening before, entitled "Structural Re-Organizational Meeting," the guest list of which includes yourself, your immediate supervisor, and--gulp!--HR. Pack your plants and family photos, and you'll be back home by 10 a.m. with a banker's box, a sheaf of severance papers, and a bewildered expression.

So, how does a SAHM handle this news? Geez, I thought we were all set (kind of). We'd made all sorts of adjustments, transformations, acceptances, and budget cuts to embrace our one-income household. If there were ever a more appropriate time for the Serenity Prayer, I'd be surprised. My husband becoming unemployed is entirely out of my control. And, for better or worse, his regaining unemployment is pretty much out of my hands, too. Very briefly--for about five seconds--we considered my returning to work. But our kids are too small and (thankfully, blissfully, healthily) attached to Mommy. Plus, I can't earn the same money Ben can in his field.

My new job, then, is to not freak out. Keep a calm port. Provide loving moral support. Do not nag or keep tabs (ah, the hand-wringing approach does neither of us any good!). I am being called upon to dig deep in my emotional and spiritual wells to just be. And trust. And think creatively and offer ideas.

It has been nearly five weeks now (ahem, yes, I'm counting) of accepting the situation, calming myself, reassuring and encouraging my husband, keeping normalcy for the children, and further whacking our budget to live like country church mice. As a friend of mine noted, a spouse becoming unemployed when there is only one household income is the stay-at-home-mom's (or dad's) "worst nightmare." Well, yes, of course financially it is. But you know what else? This is also an unanticipated opportunity to count our blessings. We are healthy. We are safe. We are warm. We are surrounded by loving extended family and friends like you, who have reached out and given generously to us with prayers, suggestions, networking opportunities, pizzas, moral support, and love. And that can soothe any mother's and family's spirits.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Oh, Good, I'm Anemic!

Dear Friends,

Once again I'm typing with one hand, while a little toddler nurses and sleeps on me, and a big toddler stands one foot away from the tv screen fascinated by the adventures of the Rescue Heroes. Having a tv is just one of the many areas I've compromised my initial (and as it turns out, unrealistic) ideals I thought I would adhere to prior to becoming a parent. Incidentally, I've not only accepted having a tv (honestly, it's a lifesaver now that there are two children to care for), but I'm actually quite sold on its benefits for introducing parts of "the world" to, well, frankly, the entire family! But, more on the appealing aspects of television viewing some other time...

No, instead, today I'm writing to share my good news: I am anemic! After recent blood work, my doctor informed me that my hemoglobin levels are slightly low, and recommended I begin supplementing with Floradix Iron + Herbs. A trip to Whole Foods, and a commitment to drinking the ill-flavored elixir twice daily ensued.

Now, many of you know I have a penchant for irony, or at opportune times, even sarcasm. But this time, I assure you I am not being ironic. I am genuinely thrilled to learn of my diagnosis of anemia. Because, you see, it explains sooooo much.

Going back for a moment to some of my pre-parenting ideals: I had expected I could keep up with my kids 100 percent of the time. I thought I could play every game, soothe every hurt, wipe every tear, tandem nurse on cue every time, and anticipate and meet every need of my family. Now, I admit defeat. I can't do it all.

But that's okay! In fact, it's great! What a wonderful accomplishment to try so hard and to apply myself so wholly, and to ultimately discover and honor my limits. And, to model self-care to the children, now that I am starting to get the hang of that, too!

Naturally, there is co-mingled a feeling of disappointment for falling short of one's ideals in the face of reality. Okay, I can grieve that loss and move on. The trouble, however, is that I was feeling really guilty for not doing everything for everybody, not jumping up and running and playing as hard as my kids need to, not cooking every meal from scratch, etc. I thought there was something wrong with me, that I couldn't keep up because I wasn't trying hard enough. I just need to do more; I must push myself harder, I told myself.

Well, there is just too darn much to do and there are too many demands for us stay-at-home moms to attempt to do it all ourselves, even under the best of circumstances and with the most hands-on husbands. I am still learning to ask for help (just ask my similarly independent-minded mother, right Mom?). I'm not superwoman, and I get that.

So, I've eased up on my ideals. We watch tv, eat grab-and-go snacks or--gasp! sometimes even meals, and clear paths through toys and art supplies to find a seat on the couch. I've started accepting offers of assistance. I hired a mother's helper (albeit briefly, as unfortunately that was one of the first sanity-saving expenses to go when my husband became unemployed one month ago). I've been taking steps to relax, recuperate and rest from all the hub-bubbity-bub-bub of daily child-rearing and homemaking.

That's all well and good and noteworthy progress. However, I still found myself unbelievably exhausted every day. And bearing intrusive headaches every day. And intensely nauseous every day. What was going on? Was I just "regular tired" from mothering two toddlers? Was I merely not eating frequently enough, or not drinking enough water with all of the whirlwind activity of Daily Life With Toddlers?

It turns out my new acquaintance, anemia, bears responsibility for many of these recent ailments. It's not that I wasn't trying hard enough, it's that my body couldn't do more because it wasn't processing oxygen efficiently. Aha! No need to feel guilty anymore (of course, there never was a good reason for that in the first place)!

A quick review of the symptoms of anemia from ehealthMD:

A person with anemia will feel tired and weak because the body's tissues are being starved of oxygen. In fact, fatigue is the main symptom of most types of anemia. The severity of symptoms is in part related to the severity of anemia. Mild anemia can occur without symptoms and may be detected only during a medical exam that includes a blood test.

Symptoms of anemia include:

Heart palpitations (rapid or irregular beating)
Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
Difficulty sleeping
Difficulty concentrating

Common signs include:

Pale complexion
The normally red lining of the mouth and eyelids fades in color
Rapid heartbeat (tachycardia)
Abnormal menstruation (either absence of periods or increased bleeding)

What a huge relief for me to finally understand why I'd be wiped out for the day if I hurried around the kitchen tackling a big pile of dishes. I'd end up breathless, with a headache, and have to sit down for the next hour. No wonder I literally could not move from a chair after bending and swooping to clear up toys for half an hour. No wonder I couldn't play endless games of chase up and down the stairs, without my heart pounding in my ears for long afterward.

After I read the common signs and symptoms of anemia, I thought, Hallelujah! I finally get it! And, no more feeling guilty. Or pushing myself beyond my limits. And even better, now I have hope that I will continue to feel better, as anemia is entirely treatable.

Relief. Hope. Peace. Acceptance. Flow. Love.

For myself, my family, my doctor, my access to the internet, my letting go, and yes, even my anemia.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Why Can't You Behave?

Dear Friends,

Today, Ben didn't do what I wanted him to do. He misbehaved. He hit another person, so I hit him on the behind, just so he knows that hurting is unacceptable behavior. He ran into the street, so I yelled at him and grabbed his arm, just so he knows that is dangerous. He wouldn't eat the food I gave him, so I explained he could either eat that food, or none at all, because I didn't have time to be a short order cook. He wouldn't eat at the table, at the time I served dinner, so I told him that he could wait to eat, since we don't eat anywhere but at the table.

Ben was super dirty, but refused to take a shower, so I picked him up and plunked him in there anyway for a quick wash. Same with brushing his teeth, washing his hands, and changing his clothes—I mean, who wants to live with someone all dirty?

And don't get me started on bedtimes! If Ben will not go to sleep when I want him to, alone in a room down the hall, at the time I think it should be "bedtime," then there is going to be trouble. The best I can do is tell him it is "quiet time," leave him with a book—well, he can't read yet, so I guess a quiet toy—and shut the door, so I can have a little down-time.

When Ben yells at me, I take away his iPhone. When he throws something, I take away his laptop.  When he grabs something that doesn't belong to him, I snatch it out of his hand and give it back to the person. When Ben does anything I don't like, I pull him out of the room for a "time out," and sit down with him to explain all of the reasons his behavior is unacceptable.

I have read lots of magazine articles and online advice about how to control Ben and get him to behave how I think he should. I understand I must be persuasive, firm, tough if necessary; I must use discipline, time-outs, punishment, physical force as a last resort, and of course take away privileges.

Yelling, hitting, crying, grabbing, pushing, threatening, wiggling, running into the street, eating cookies in the living room, playing wildly at bedtime, refusing to bathe, being loud during naptime, forgetting to feed the dog, not helping with the dishes and housecleaning—what's a wife to do? 

No, I don't mean "mother." I mean "wife." What if my husband were not behaving in ways that I want him to? What if his actions did not fit the behaviors I expect and have in mind as "ideal"?

So here it is: If I attempted to "correct" my spouse the same way mainstream society would have me "correct" my child, we would be in a world of hurt.

If I hit, grabbed, yelled at, took treasured items away from, dragged into a time out room, forced into a bathtub, put a toothbrush in his mouth, insisted he eat at the table and only certain foods at certain times, and went to bed when I said so—to my husband? You would think I were a crazy woman. And if my husband did that to me? You would advise me to head to the nearest domestic violence shelter with the kids.

Okay. So there has to be another way. A gentler way. A loving, kind, respect-filled way to parent.

Perhaps I can start by trying to understand my children's behavior. What are they trying to express? Do they have all the skills and tools of communication they need to navigate relationships, share toys, and deal with feelings of frustration and helplessness in a world of controlling grown-ups?

I can envision a kinder, more peaceful world where, rather than trying to orchestrate my children's behaviors, I instead strive to lovingly model the behaviors that I'd like to see more of—both in my children and in myself (and maybe even in my spouse, for that matter).

Perhaps through their behavior, children are expressing an unmet need in the best way they can, given their limited life experience. Perhaps my family would be better off if I directly address what might be going on: attempt to figure out their need and then do my very best to fulfill it. Maybe I wasn't paying enough attention, and my child is communicating a mutual need to slow down and re-connect. Maybe we both need a "time-in" to snuggle up and eat cookies together on the couch. I have seen in action that when I make respectful requests of my children, they have learned to do that of me and others. What if my children had dirty hair for a week—is my relationship with them more important than a loss of dignity from being bodily forced into the bathtub? I say YES!


I'm back to finish this post. After percolating on this subject for the past 24 hours, I realize it all boils down to this: If I wouldn't treat my spouse this way—controlling, cajoling, forcing, persuading, and otherwise trying to mold him into my idea of "right" behavior—then I will not treat my child this way. My child is a fraction of my size, has not even a fraction of my power in the relationship, and is entirely vulnerable and dependent on me for their very life. I will treat this gift with care. My children are precious and inquisitive and learning each moment about every aspect of Life. They are watching my every move as to how I treat them and others. And I want to model my idea of "right" behaviors—my ideals—and pass those along in the most loving, gentle, cooperative, kind and respectful way possible.

Have I yelled at my children? Yes. Have I grabbed, nagged, pressured, threatened to take things away, and set arbitrary limits? Unfortunately, yes. Am I proud of those moments? No! Every time I have attempted to follow mainstream's guide to childrearing, I have instead experienced a profound dis-connect with my children and my internal guide of how I wish to be (call it a conscience). I am continually learning how to love my children better, how to parent better, how to be more compassionate and patient with them and especially with myself (and hey, how about my spouse here, too).

More than anything, I am learning how to become the person I hope my children will admire and ultimately wish to emulate. There can be no greater legacy than this.