Thursday, December 29, 2016

Carrie and Debbie

Me (in white) with Debbie and fellow cast members
I was six years old when I saw the movie Star Wars, and I ended up seeing it seven times. Back then, before DVDs, internet, or VHS tapes, seeing a movie seven times in a theater was a big deal. I loved the movie. It was the first time I was wrapped up in a love story...and a story with adult good and evil. It was also the first time I understood that the characters on the screen were played by actors, and I learned the actors' names and felt connected to them. Mark Hamill, so cute. Harrison Ford, so rugged. And Carrie Fisher, so beautiful and strong.

I was also a huge old Hollywood musical fan, so it was fun to learn that Carrie Fisher was the daughter of Debbie Reynolds, the main character in my favorite musical, Singin' in the Rain

Little did I know that I would actually meet Debbie Reynolds someday. Life is interesting.

Debbie is actually the person responsible for giving me my dream job back in the 1990's. I auditioned for her show, That's Entertainment, Live!, at her hotel in Vegas and was called back for a second audition. That night, I frantically learned Judy Garland's song "Get Happy," complete with choreography. At the callback, I forgot the words, but Debbie graciously sang along with me so I would remember. 

And then I was cast in the show.  I had grown up watching old movie musicals and suddenly there I was, working for a Hollywood Legend, impersonating people from Hollywood musicals, dancing the actual choreography from shows like Singin' in the Rain, wearing some of the original costumes, and my best friend was a Fred Astaire impersonator. How more perfect could it have been? 

Even though her hotel wasn't doing well, she kept our show going as long as possible. One of my favorite moments was performing in her New Year's Eve show and being on stage with her for the countdown and "Auld Lang Syne."

There are so many stories I could tell. But I will leave it at this. I am truly honored to have known her. She was a truly talented, genuine, and kind woman who cared about people and about old Hollywood. I send my love to Todd and her family.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Things to Love About Las Vegas #5...Vegas as a Melting Pot

For over twenty years at least once a year I have flown back to my hometown in Indiana for a visit, to enjoy the trees and rain and all the things I miss, living here in the desert. And after my son came along, it really bothered me that he would miss all the things I loved about growing up there.

But I discovered when he got a bit older, my priorities changed. I'll never forget one time upon my return to Vegas, when I realized I had a completely different feeling...I was actually glad to be back here, for the first time. And the reason was because of the people.

Don't get me wrong...I love the people back home. They are friendly and helpful and have the sense of community and family that I will always miss and cherish.

But "back there," there are no African Americans, no Muslims, no colors of any kind except maybe a few Hispanics and Asians.

I remember looking out the window of my plane on that fateful return to Vegas, out over the city where I have met people from all corners of the world, where my neighbors are all colors full of other thoughts and beliefs, and I felt truly thankful. Thankful that my son will get to know other cultures within our own community. Other countries will feel closer. Other cultures will be friends. Other people won't be other...they'll just be people.

Things to love about Las Vegas #5...Vegas is a Melting Pot

To confirm my new feelings about Vegas, after the election I found myself telling people for the first time ever that I was glad to live in Nevada. Glad to live in a Blue State. I felt actual relief. No, Las Vegas isn't perfect, but it is beginning to finally feel like "home." And that is a big sentence for this Midwesterner-at-heart to write.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

How to Feel Better

Waiting for the show to begin, while 1200 students from around the city take their seats.

It has been a rough week for many people. The very morning after the election, I witnessed racist bullying in my son's school. Still in shock from the previous evening, I was deeply troubled to see that the election had so quickly shown evidence of empowering and validating the behavior of bullies.

I walked back to my car from dropping off my son at school that day, and with every step I tried to figure out how to move on. How to get past the feeling of despair that I had. How to teach my son about other cultures, other people, and the world, when every day at school he will witness people displaying exactly the opposite of what should be.

Another day passed with me still trying to wrap my head around it all.

Then, Thursday morning I volunteered for my workplace's student matinee of A Choreographer's Showcase. As the Academy Coordinator for Nevada Ballet Theatre, I often am involved in performances.

This production was the annual collaboration between the dancers of Nevada Ballet Theatre and the performers of Cirque du Soleil. Dancers from both companies choreograph and perform individual pieces for the show, and they can range in styles from contemporary, hip-hop, ballet, and more.

This morning performance was a special showing for students as part of our Department of Education and Outreach. Kids from all over Las Vegas are bused in and get to watch the show. After helping seat the 1200 kids, I sat back to watch the show.

And after two days of stress, anxiety, worry, and raw emotion, suddenly there in front of me was the answer. The Arts.

How to feel better? Immerse yourself in art. It opens your mind. The dancers in front of me joined together to put their movements to music...all different races and cultures together for the purpose of Art.

I realized I was feeling a bit better, but what about the rest of the country that was feeling afraid and hopeless? What about our children, who need to be taught? How do we teach kids whose parents' minds are closed? How do we break the cycle of passing on hate to future generations?

And before me, once again, was the bigger answer. Education.

On stage, the next number began, and an African-American man walked on stage holding a foreign-to-me instrument. He strummed it a bit and then gestured for the kids to clap a specific rhythm. They did so, and then he began to sing. To this audience of children, his singing was foreign and strange. But when he gestured for them to sing back to him, they did so. I sat listening to this group of children of all races, backgrounds, and cultures sing with this man, and realized that this is how we will do it. We can open their minds. Open their hearts. Expand their worlds, through the Arts.

How to feel better:

1. Realize that we cannot change the opinions of all people, but we CAN educate children...our future.
2. To reach these children, we must support organizations that open children's minds to cultures other than their own.
3. Support the non-profit arts organizations in your city. They have programs in the schools that can reach all kids.
4. Support children's book authors. Donate books to schools. Volunteer at schools. Find small ways to expose all children to new ideas and experiences.

There are more ways to do this, but for me, thinking about these small steps help me go forward. Thinking about changing policies or fighting in a bigger way is too overwhelming for me right now.

So for me, right now, the answer is The Arts, and Education.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

My Big Time Baseball Story

Jay and me

When I was a kid, I loved playing with my older cousin Jay. By "playing," I mean I would follow him around and bug him until he finally gave in and grudgingly played with me. I was younger, and a girl, so I know I wasn't exactly cool enough to qualify most of the time.

But one summer when we visited his house, Jay let me play baseball one afternoon with him and his friends. I couldn't believe it...there was hardly any begging or pleading from me. But there I was, in the outfield, actually playing baseball with them. I stood proudly in the tall, weedy, un-mowed, remote part of the yard, far away from the guys, without a ball glove because I didn't know how to use one anyway.

Eventually, someone hit the ball and it flew way high, coming right for me. This was my chance! It came nearer and nearer, practically in slow motion as my moment of glory approached. And I caught it!

I held it up triumphantly, ready to hear all the praises and cheers from Jay and his friends.

Instead, they yelled at me, because of course I messed up because I didn't throw the ball for a second out.


I thought of that day as I watched the World Series last night. I know a bit more about baseball now than I did that day long ago in the weeds. And I even own a ball glove. When I tried to explain to my son last night why I was jumping up and down in front of the TV, I realized it's time to teach him about baseball. And maybe we need to pay Jay a visit.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Blue-Frosted Cupcakes

Monday was my son's first day of Kindergarten and also his fifth birthday. A new school. New friends. New everything. And blue-frosted cupcakes for his class. All week I have stayed in a he's-in-a-new-school haze, as I try to learn all the procedures and expectations that the other parents already seem to know.

It's really all I can think about... I need to order more uniform shirts. I still need to install the school's app on my phone. Gotta sign up to volunteer. Kinder Parents breakfast. Early drop-off. Pack a snack. Take a water bottle. Buy more water bottles. Buy more snacks. 

Meanwhile, my house is still in a post-hurricane state from his party last week. Who has time to clean when I have Kindergarten to prepare for? 

But I don't mind this state of semi-stress. When I left him on his first day, I didn't cry. Instead, I was overwhelmingly proud of him. He hadn't shown one moment of fear or hesitation. I stayed with him a bit in the before-school care to get him acclimated, and when it was time for the kids to line up for the start of school, he confidently put on his backpack, gave me a kiss, and told me I could go. He got in line in between kids that were a foot taller, and I walked to my car, amazed by him.

All day long I wondered what he was doing and couldn't wait till it was time to go pick him up. And my list of to-do's changed to a list of did-I's.

Did I remind him to wash his hands?
Did I show him how to fasten his new uniform shorts?
Did I teach him how to make friends?
Did I tell him who to ask for help?
Did I tell him what to do if someone is mean?

Basically, have I prepared him for life? ...For the real life away from his pre-school? ...For real life with bigger kids and homework and grades and expectations? For the real world?

Suddenly, he isn't mine anymore. He is off on his own, with his own experiences and responsibilities. And I will try to help him as much as possible, with snacks, water bottles, clean uniforms, and blue-frosted cupcakes.

I wonder if I should have warned the parents that their kids' poop would be blue that night? :-)

Friday, July 8, 2016

Our First Family Camping Trip

Our first family camping trip, and it was a good one! We stayed one night at Fletcher View Campground at Mt. Charleston, with a gorgeous view of the mountains and a restroom just a short walk away. Activities included running around and squealing in our tent, playing with trucks in the dirt, painting rocks, throwing rocks into a gully, playing board games, cooking hotdogs and s'mores on the campfire, and drinking a bit of wine.

This was one of the last dates of the summer that we could reserve this campsite in advance. In mid-July when it becomes Las Vegas' "Monsoon Season" (a term that is hard to take seriously), you cannot camp there if there is rain in the forecast. Fletcher View Campground is in a flood plain, and it was a bit creepy to see the evidence of how high the water flows through there when it rains!

Jude says he would like to go camping again, and I wouldn't mind going to the same campsite. Who could resist going up to the mountain where the breeze is cool and you actually need a jacket at night, while Vegas sweats in 106 degree heat?

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Happy Independence Day!

Our 4th of July will be busy this year. It will begin with a morning of work for me, but not the normal type of work. I have coordinated Nevada Ballet Theatre's entry in the Summerlin Patriotic Parade, so I will be walking in the parade with 50 people, for a crowd of about 35,000. It will be hot but fun.

Then, we will head to our friend's house for his 4th of July party, which should be an extravaganza. He already has a pool, but he ups things a notch by renting an inflatable water slide as well.

After Jude jumps into the pool 100+ times, we will head home for fireworks in our backyard, and perhaps we'll sing Happy Birthday to America. And eat a few cupcakes.

Happy Independence Day!

Thursday, June 23, 2016

I Want to Live Where I Can Paint My Front Door Red

Aunt Brenda, Uncle Bill, and Mom outside the house they grew up in.

This morning, I found myself sitting on the couch for a few moments, petting George, and looking out at our courtyard. The courtyard is the reason we bought the house. It's smack dab in the middle of the house, meaning that the only way to access it is from inside. We put plants out there, a jasmine vine on the wall, and a Jacuzzi that fools people by looking like a fountain.

It is beautiful out there, and I do love our house. But we just got back from Easter weekend visiting family in Indiana, and as I looked at our courtyard I couldn't help but make comparisons to houses in the Midwest versus in Las Vegas. Years from now, will we drive past this house and point and feel sentimental and nostalgic? Will the future owners feel the presence of our history here?

For some reason, although we have great memories here and will have more to come, and although I love this house, it's hard to picture a future of sentiment. I sat there staring at our fountain, trying to figure out why.

It could be that despite my efforts to the contrary, it is still hard for me to embrace Las Vegas, and the desert, as home.

It could be that a house should be brimming with family, and all of mine (except my immediate family, of course!), are elsewhere.

It could be because all the houses are new, while houses elsewhere else have true history...generations of people who love and live in a house.

And now I think I've nailed's the subdivisions. The rows and rows of houses that look alike and are squeezed in together. In the Midwest, you can tell someone that you live on Sweetbriar Lane in the house with the porch and the red front door. Here, your house looks like everyone else's, and you're not allowed to paint anything red.

So I must find ways to make this house have some sentiment. More get-togethers with with friends and family and food and laughter. More play dates for Jude and his friends.

And I must find a way to change my perception of "home." That is a big undertaking.

Monday, May 2, 2016


At this time of year, Las Vegas smells of jasmine. Its syrupy sweetness is in the air everywhere I go. It is also open-window-weather, which means I love being at home with the windows open. Open windows always inspire me to do things around the house...laundry, baking, writing, reading....well, anything really. When the weather is mild, I just feel inspired in general.

This weekend I sat on our back patio and finished reading Tessa Hadley's new novel,
The Past. And it was perfect for this weather. In it, a family goes back to the house where their grandparents lived - an old quirky house in the remote English countryside surrounded by nature. My reason for liking the book was her descriptions of the nature around the house, and her detail about what it felt like to actually be there. Reading the book made me pay attention to our house and the nature around the birds sing so loudly every morning, (By the way, a hummingbird is two feet away from me as I type this, checking me out through the window!) the way the jasmine has started climbing across the top of our patio, (Oh, the mama hummingbird is back - now she's feeding her babies on the nest outside my window! They're so small I can't even see their beaks yet!) ...

Okay, I guess the mama hummingbird is forcing me to write about her. She just snuggled down on her nest after feeding the babies. Have you ever seen a hummingbird feed her babies? It's quite violent. She shoves the food down their throats with her long beak. Now that the babies have hatched, we can look forward to watching them grow...slowly their beaks will get longer and longer, sticking up from the top of their nest.

I've lost track of how many hummingbird babies have been grown in our courtyard. To me, what makes them special is that they make our house feel like a home. They choose to come live with us every summer. Our house has been honored by their choice.

Mama Hummingbird, in her nest outside our courtyard window

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Things to Love About Las Vegas #4...Nellis Air Force Base

This might seem to be an odd choice for a civilian in Las Vegas, but in my goal of finding things to love about living here, I realized that this is one of the things I find to be pretty cool.

Things to Love About Las Vegas #4...Nellis Air Force Base

Nellis Air Force Base is in the northeastern part of Las Vegas, and periodically we’re reminded of its presence when jets and military aircraft are spotted overhead. Whenever I hear their loud engines far above, I always stop and scan the sky to try to find them. And it’s not easy – their sound is slower than they are.

Looking up at them gives me a connection to something their larger mission, to the skies, to the world in general.
Last week as I drove across town, I saw the Thunderbirds practicing their formations far across town. They left circles and swoops and zigzags in the sky…quite fun entertainment during what would have otherwise been a mundane drive.
Every November, Nellis Air Force Base hosts a free air show one weekend. It is very impressive, and it ends with the Thunderbirds’ trademark display. Las Vegas is lucky to have them.


Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Oh, To Be One of Those Dedicated Artists

Yesterday and today I finally did something I have been wanting to do every day for so long. I  got motivated, set my alarm for 5:00am, and got up and worked on my writing. (I am currently trying to publish picture books for children.)
This might not seem like a big deal, but it has always been so hard to give up that extra 1 ½ hours of sleep! My four-year-old keeps me going all the time, and many times I have set the alarm early only to have him wake up early, too (oh, the frustration!), or more often, to notice the darkness and the chilly air outside the blankets and turn the alarm off.
But I want to be a writer. And the only way to be a writer is to put butt in chair, as someone once said. I’ve always admired stories of dedicated artists who get up before daylight to work on their craft. I wanted to be one of them, but for some reason I just couldn’t do it.
Until yesterday. The night before, I wrote in my diary, and at the end of my entry I held my pen above the paper and tried to decide if I was truly going to write what I thought I might write. “I am getting up early to write tomorrow!” It’s funny how hard that was for me to write, but I knew that if I wrote it, I had to do it. It wasn’t a list of goals or something on my to-do list that might or might not get done. It was a statement as fact. So I had to do it.
And I didn’t keel over in exhaustion later in the day. Instead, I started the day with a feeling of accomplishment and a connection to my creative self. I drank my hot tea and held George on my lap, and I wrote while the world woke up around me.
I am going to do this every morning. I am.

Monday, January 4, 2016

A Tearful Goodbye to Starbucks

George at Starbucks a few years ago, where he'd sit on my lap as I wrote.

My dear Starbucks,

It is with deep emotion that I have to write this letter to you… but I have to let you know that I must say goodbye. I have enjoyed visiting you, but it has been with too much guilt attached. You just cost too much. And you have too much sugar and calories. I have tried to say goodbye many times but I almost seemed addicted to your presence in my life.
First, I must thank you for all you have given me. Years ago, I used to take my dog George to the dog park and then we’d visit you, get a goodie, and sit with my laptop outside your door. I wrote my first book that way. So thank you for providing me a nice neighborhood place to go and get some work done.
And your neighborhood-feel is the second reason it is hard to say goodbye. I love that your people know my name. I love that I have made “Starbucks-friends” of the people who also visit you. I love your products and marketing that promote the environment and education and the arts. Your environment makes me feel good.
But now I have priorities that are forcing me to make this decision. My money needs to go elsewhere. I need to eat something healthier for breakfast. I’ll have to get my neighborhood-feel elsewhere.
But don’t fret…we will still see each other occasionally. My son and I will come by now and then as a special treat, or I might visit with my computer now and then. But these times will be much fewer, almost rare. Over time, your people might even forget my name. But that’s okay.
Goodbye, Starbucks. You’ve been a good friend. See you when we meet again.