Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Christmas Theme

Many years ago, sometime after the end of my own childhood and the beginning of the next generation, my family decided that we would have a theme each year for our stocking gifts. Everyone would get everyone else a present under $10 within the theme. Creativity is highly rewarded. Over the years some of our best themes have been
- Elements
- Millennial
- Conceal and Carry
- Made in China
- Black and White
- Initials
- From the Heart
One year we had to get everyone else the same thing, and it had to be something useful. Another year we had to create experiences for everyone to do together, including my then four-year-old niece.

This year the theme was numbers. My mother made an elaborate Bingo game using only prime numbers. My sister in law played up her "12 Days of Christmas" plates and mugs. There were gifts of items that had numbers printed on them, such as a card game or crayolas. I did a series of readings from the book of Numbers in the Bible, emphasizing key words in each verse that had to do with the gift. When I read a verse about a pillar of fire (Num 14:14) I gave a pillar candle. I asked each person to give their gift back to the common good, just like the Israelites wandering in the wilderness. The candle was joined by a serving plate (Num 4:27), appetizer plates (Num 4:7), a silver trumpet ornament (Num 10:4), and finally a dessert (Num 11:8). I ended with the Benediction (Num 6:24-26). Another memorable Christmas for the record books. (By the way, I used the NRSV - other translations may not have all of my key words!)

Thursday, December 24, 2009


When the last day of school approaches, there are tests to take, classrooms to tidy up, books to turn in or sell. When school ends forever, there is the great fanfare of graduation. When most jobs end, you might have less to do on your last day because you have already delegated many tasks to others or you might be training in a new person to do your job. When you move to a new home, you spend the last week or so packing and living with less of your things. All of these are signals that something is about to change. The signals allow you to slowly ease into your new reality. When a show ends, there are no signals. The day of the last show, you must get up and do the exact same show that you did on the first day. Same lines, same dances, same costumes, same sets. And then, when it is over, it's over very suddenly. We gave our last two performances of Babes in Toyland, and then packed up our costumes and sets just like we had at every venue along the way. And it was over. The little world of Toyland that we had created and brought to children from Wisconsin to New York was gone. We said brief goodbyes to one another, and headed back into our own lives. The end. And the beginning of the next big thing.

Monday, December 21, 2009

A Day of Independence

Late on Sunday night, as we traveled back to Philadelphia, we received a message from the Stage Manager: both shows on Monday were canceled. A snow day. There is a special kind of freedom on a snow day because you didn't know that you had it off. Nothing has been planned. You receive the freedom of unscheduled time.

I used my day of freedom to learn about American Freedom. What better place to do that than in Philadelphia. I have been to the historical sites twice before, but I always learn something new. The Liberty Bell is now housed in a big building and cordoned off, much different than when I saw at the Bicentennial when you could touch the crack in the bell for good luck. I learned that the crack was not an accident, but created on purpose in order to tune the bell. I went through another security area and toured Constitution Hall. The park ranger called it the most important room in America. It really is amazing to think that these men gathered to come up with a whole new concept for how to run a country. I can hardly imagine the degree to which they had to "think outside the box". I am also impressed with their courage. When 39 of them signed the Declaration of Independence, they were signing their own death warrant. If they had not won the Revolutionary War, they would be hung for not being loyal to the Crown. Yet they were that committed to the idea of freedom. As he left the hall on July 4, Ben Franklin ran into the wife of the mayor of Philadelphia. She asked him what they had accomplished. He answered, "You have a republic, ma'am, if you can keep it."

I also appreciated Congress Hall which was the seat of government for 10 ten years. After George Washington had served two terms, the country elected John Adams, someone with whom George Washington did not agree. All of Europe watched closely because they did not believe that George would give up all of that power. In Europe, power either transferred to one's offspring or was taken by force. When George Washington stepped aside and allowed John Adams to take office, the park ranger called it the first peaceful transfer of power.

After reflecting on the roots of American Independence, I continued my own day of independence. When one is on a national tour, many of your daily decisions must revolve around the rest of the people with whom you are traveling. On an unexpected day of freedom, it was exhilarating to walk around Philadelphia, shopping and exploring on my own schedule.

All in all, a good snow day.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Union League

The company that books our show is based in Philadelphia. In addition to artistic staff, there is a costumer, production designer, accountant, booking agent, marketer, and other office staff who work with the owner/producer. They were nice enough to schedule the office Christmas party on a day that our tour was coming through Philadelphia and invite us to join them. We did not know much about the venue, other than that we were told that we could not wear "dungarees." As it turned out, it was at the Union League. It is one of the top five clubs in America, according to their website. It is like stepping back in time to enter a place such as this, where a jacket is required on all the men, no exceptions.

It was not my first time in one of these members only clubs, but definitely one of the most memorable. After drinks in the front room, we moved to one of the dining rooms where they were serving prime rib. I don't even eat red meat, but it still looked good. The sides and salads were amazing. Over dinner, we heard stories from the owner/producer of her days long ago when she had her own children's television show. The theme song that we currently sing at the end of every show was something that she actually wrote for the television show. She had a cake made to celebrate 40 years of her touring children's theater company, and we all sang that theme song for her. It brought a tear to her eye, and compliments from people at other tables.

After dinner two of us went upstairs to explore. There were large paneled ballrooms filled with impressive oil paintings and beautifully decorated Christmas trees in each room. It wasn't long until we found ourselves invited to another party. It was a lunch club having their annual holiday party. The Union League has over 3000 members so they are invited into smaller lunch clubs to get to know one another. This one had 40 members and had met for lunch every Thursday for the past 20 years. It was an ecclectic group with a rich history. They had their class clown, their natural leader, and their designated patriarch of the group. They were a sort of family system within a larger system.

My night at the Union League was one of those experiences when I am so aware that I have stepped into someone else's world for a few hours. It's so interesting to start to see the world from someone else's point of view. It also helps me to appreciate my own little slice of the world when I return to it.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Number Line

When rehearsing a show, you learn where to move around the stage. Sometimes, especially when it is a dance-heavy show, a choreographer will put down a number line. This is a row of numbers taped to the stage that is near the edge of it. A tape mark at the center is zero, and 24 inches on either side of the zero is the stage left "one" and the stage right "one". The numbers continue, evenly spaced, out as far as needed. Then, during dances and complicated blocking, actors know that they must be on, say, "four" at the beginning of the dance and "six" for the next section and "two" for the final pose. This is how shows appear to be symetrical and organized to the audience. With a touring show, the number line becomes essential. We perform on a new stage almost every day, with all new variables to deal with. The set travels with us, but it must expand or contract to fit each new space. Our choreography and blocking must also expand or contract to fit each space. It could be very disorienting, but we deal with it by expanding or contracting the number line itself. The distance between each number can expand or contract to fit the theater. Actors quickly learn that in a big space, it takes much longer to get to "six" (the furthest point out on each side) so you need to either leave earlier or walk faster, but make sure you get there at the same time you always do. The number line becomes a sort of compass, something to depend on when so many other things change each day. It makes me think about other things that we use in our daily life to ground us as we encounter new situations. We carry around skills, assumptions and habits that provide the sort of map and compass to our lives that the number line provides to the show. What is your number line?

Thursday, December 10, 2009


It's not news that technology, and especially the internet, allows us to do many jobs from anywhere in the world. Not only have many technical tasks and other jobs moved entirely overseas, many companies allow people to work from home.

I have noticed that some jobs go anywhere with you, and some require you to be in a certain place at a certain time. It seems that jobs that travel with you are more cerebral, while jobs that require you to be somewhere are either tactile, such as making a product, or relational, such as teaching or medical. I seem to have melded both types together. I have cerebral jobs as a life coach and writer that I take with me on the road. I also have a career in live theater that requires me to be where the show is. I love the mix. I leverage the jobs that I can take anywhere so that I have the freedom to do the jobs that require me to be somewhere. This mix is what allows me to be an Urban Nomad.

As it turns out, other people have used that flexibility to NOT move around. I read an article in Newsweek at the beginning of October that talked about localism. ( Executives who once moved around to follow promotions through large companies are now keeping their families in one place and doing more work remotely online. Amazing how one technology allows some of us to be less tied to a geographic location while the exact same technology allows other people to be more tied to a geographic location.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

New York City Restaurant

Having lived in New York for over six years, I have close friends and favorite places that connect me to the city, but I found that without a permanent home I needed another consistent commitment to ground me. Thus, I was a weekend hostess at a restaurant for six months. This was not your average hostessing job. This was an intensely busy New York City restaurant. Most of the time when I was working, there were four hostesses on duty, and the wait time was as long as three hours. Early on, I became the exclusive hostess for large parties. I started doing it because no one else wanted to, since large parties were up a long flight of stairs and were also more unpredictable than smaller parties. Over time, four of us gravitated toward large parties: two servers, a busboy and I. We became our own little crew within the larger system of the restaurant. We saw it all. Birthday parties are a competitive sport in New York City, filled with demands from the person throwing the party. On top of that, our section hosted celebrities, some of whom were more polite than others. The extra challenges drew us together. We moved chairs, dishes and food up and down the stairs while appearing calm and accommodating for the guests. We embraced the challenges, learned to communicate despite language differences, and trusted one another to do what needed to be done. By the end of each night, around 2am, we'd take a collective sigh of relief and recount that night's highlights. With the right people committed to excellence, tough jobs become rewarding. Now that I am away on tour, I miss what one of the servers affectionately called "Team Awesome."

Thursday, December 3, 2009


While in Chicago with an evening free, our cast attended a preview performance of a new Broadway-bound musical, The Addam's Family. It boasted famous Broadway stars and a great creative team. There was also the "fun factor" of seeing the show before our friends in New York.

The show started with a great ceremony in the graveyard attended by the family and their ancestors. Gomez, the father, welcomed everyone, "living, dead, and undecided." From there, the show itself was at times living, dead, and undecided. There were places that it took no less than a major Broadway star to hold the show together and make it entertaining. Still, there were a few good songs and a few great lines. For example, the grandma was trying to make a point to Pugsley, the little boy, by referring to Medusa. The boy said, 'Grandma, I don't understand your references." The grandma replied, "Stop with the D@#& texting and pick up a book once in awhile!" Another character said that she was trying to spread something everyone needs and only a few people have. Morticia replied, "Health care?" It stopped the show. Still, songs came out of nowhere, relationships between characters weren't developed, and sight gags went on too long.

It wasn't the first pre-Broadway performance I've ever seen, but it really made me appreciate how hard it must be to write a good musical, and how much work must have gone into musicals that I love. This one has a great team of people associated with it, and I believe that they will be able to bring "The Addam's Family" to life.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Al Ringling Theater

Being from the Upper Midwest, I have long known that the Ringling Brothers Circus originated in Baraboo, Wisconsin. We took a mini vacation there as a child, including Circus World, where the clowns taught my brother to juggle. (Two blog posts in a row mentioning clowns? What are the odds?) However, I did not know that Al Ringling used $100,000 of the circus proceeds to build a theater in Baraboo. It is an amazing treasure right in the middle of an average Midwestern town, modeled after the theater at Versailles. Yes, that Versailles. Before the theater was built in 1915, vaudeville players lost a day between Chicago and Minneapolis. Baraboo was well placed along the route, four hours from Chicago and four hours from Minneapolis. It filled in a day for them so that they could perform (and be paid) during their journey between larger cities. The dressing rooms are virtually unchanged from how they were when they were used by Lionel Barrymore, Mary Pickford and the Lunts. After Vaudeville, it was used as a silent movie house, then a regular movie house, and, for one day, Babes in Toyland. What a joy to join the tradition of such an historic stage.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Thanksgiving Parade

I think that we can all agree that a necessary component of Thanksgiving is the turkey. Beyond that, many people associate Thanksgiving with a gathering at a certain place or watching football. Or both. For me, Thanksgiving is defined by The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Ever since childhood, I have always gotten up early to watch The Parade on television. Throughout the years I have been in any number of places on Thanksgiving. This year I was at the Comfort Inn in Philadelphia in the middle of rehearsals for the national tour of Babes in Toyland. Luckily, rehearsal started later on Thanksgiving so that we could see The Parade.

One year I took things to the next level by actually being in The Parade. To ensure my spot I worked at Macy's Herald Square for two months. Once I was an employee, I could not only sign up to be a Macy's Giant Balloon Handler, I could sponsor others. A friend from Minnesota and his brother joined me on the crew for Harold the Fireman, a little known Macy's character who never gets much television airtime. On Thanksgiving morning, we reported to the New Yorker Hotel at 5am. Imagine a hotel lobby with wall to wall clowns and fully costumed cartoon characters and you have the New Yorker on Thanksgiving morning. We met our very chipper balloon captain, who helped us find our jumpsuits and reviewed the hand signals that she would use to communicate with us while Harold was in the air. On the bus trip up to the parade starting point, we watched a safety video about balloon handling. Upon arrival, we a met the rest of our crew, including a man who thought it was a good idea to wear a turkey hat instead of the stocking cap that matched Harold. Marching bands were lined up in Central Park, balloons were lined up around the museum, and floats were lined up on the street. In an amazing feat of organization and timing, each component of the parade got to the starting line in the right order, just as a booming voice would say, in our case, "Harold the Fireman, please join The Parade!" From there it was miles of waving at people and managing Harold in the crosswind. The man with the turkey hat did not find it important to actually pay attention to Harold, allowing slack in his rope and all kinds of problems for the rest of us. We did our best, but every few blocks there was a side street without spectators so that we could land Harold early if he got out of control. Harold behaved, despite the man in the turkey hat, and we made it down Broadway, right up to the epicenter of The Parade, the NBC platform in front of Macy's. Two blocks before Macy's was a "quiet zone", where we couldn't make any noises that might be picked up by NBC microphones. Once we approached Matt and Meredith, we had to rush along to keep up with the script and the pace of the show. Safely past that zone, we went around the corner and landed Harold. There were only two landing stations so we had to quickly reel him in back to street level, lay into him to force the helium out, and load him into a truck, ready to be stored in New Jersey until next year's Parade.

I was a balloon handler again the next year, but then retired my balloon handling skills, although I keep it on my resume as a "Special Skill".

Monday, November 23, 2009

A Christmas Show

There were many reasons for becoming an Urban Nomad, one of which was that I was spending more time out of New York City than in it as I was performing at regional theaters. I always returned between shows, partly because that is where my friends and connections are, and partly because that is where most of the auditions are. The trick is to have a place to be in New York when you need it without it becoming a liability when you need to be away for months at a time. When I gave up my apartment in August, I had already started auditioning for Christmas shows throughout the United States, fairly certain that I would get one as I did the past two years. That meant that I would only be a nomad in New York City for a couple months before moving to a regional theater. But by mid-October it was obvious that I wouldn't get a Christmas show, at least not on the traditional time line. I reluctantly gave up on the idea of a Christmas show and started to make a plan to stay in New York until January. Just about that time, a friend needed someone to take over a room in her apartment. Her roommate had been cast in the Las Vegas company of the musical Jersey Boys and would be gone for a year. It was a beautiful room and the timing worked out perfectly, so I agreed to move in. The very day I was to move, I got a call for a Christmas show. I was offered the part of Widow Piper in a national tour of Babes in Toyland. Just when I gave up on the idea of a Christmas show and made other plans, I got a Christmas show. All I wanted for Christmas was . . . a Christmas show. That's exactly what I got.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Economics of Diet Coke

I am a fairly healthy eater, but I drink Diet Coke. Almost every day, I stop at a news stand in New York City to buy a 20 ounce bottle of Diet Coke. The owner of the news stand near my old apartment in Union Square considered me one of his best customers. When he told me the price was going up from $1.50 to $1.75 he said that I am such a good customer that I can have the special price of $1.50 for the rest of my life. This could be an amazing deal in, say, 40 years, but no doubt he figured into that pricing structure that if I drink Diet Coke heavily for the rest of my life, my life will be somewhat shorter than if I turn to healthier drinks.

So here I was, thinking $1.50 was a deal, especially since it was already $2.00 in tourist areas such as Times Square. However, over the course of ten weeks as an Urban Nomad, I bought 20 ounce bottles of Diet Coke in Chelsea, Park Slope, Washington Heights, the Upper West Side, Astoria, and Sunnyside. As it turns out, Diet Coke is even cheaper in the outer reaches of the city. Suddenly, $1.50 was not a deal. It's $1.25 in some areas! Before long, I was horrified at the thought of paying $1.50 for a Diet Coke. I was stocking up when I was in Washington Heights and carrying them with me to Midtown. All this over a quarter or two! It's a mini lesson in economics, a story of supply and demand. Sadly, I've become an expert on the cost of Diet Coke but I don't even know the value of my stocks. Better go check on that. But not until after I start on another bottle of Diet Coke.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Creative Inspiration

It has been over a month since I updated the blog. It's not like I didn't have ideas, I just didn't formulate them into a blog entry. I waited for the perfect combination of inspiration, creativity and time to craft the perfect entry. As the weeks went by, that perfect combination became more elusive. Suddenly, a month has passed.

It is time to develop a creative discipline. Twyla Tharpe, one of the greatest living choreographers, wrote an entire book called "The Creative Habit." Her premise is that "The routine is as much a part of the creative process as the lightening bolt of inspiration, maybe more." This would explain why three of my Facebook friends are participating in something called National Novel Writing Month, in which they set goals of word counts to be written each day, with the intention of having a novel written by the end of the month. At that pace, one cannot wait for the optimal set of circumstances. One must just write. Alot.

So what do I do when I don't think I have that creative spark? How do I fix it? Elizabeth Gilbert, author of "Eat, Pray, Love", asserts that perhaps it is not for us to fix. ( The ancient Greeks and Romans did not think of an individual person as creative, but rather a person was capturing the creativity of the gods, and was just a vessel to express it. It wasn't until the Renaissance that we began to believe that the individual carried around his or her creativity. Thus, if there is no creativity, it seems to be the "fault" of that person, and something that person must fix. By taking a Greek view instead of a Rennaissance view we take a bit of pressure off of the individual person. All we have to do is show up and do our best, and let the creative genius visit us.

And so I will show up, and do my best, and be creative. Thanks for joining me in that process.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Near and Far

I am intrigued by the way in which one's geographic surroundings shape one's perceptions of distance and community. Let me explain.

When I was in Western Pennsylvania, I noticed that people had a very small radius of places that they considered to be nearby and easily accessible. I asked if there was a coffee shop with Free WiFi and they said "not around here." Then I found out there was one in the next town. It was a 10 minute drive, but not considered to be "around here". As I got to know them, I found that the people and places of each town had a distinct sense of community. Traveling 10 minutes to the next town actually felt like traveling to an entirely different place. It had a different energy about it.

I noticed this small radius in West Virginia as well. If someone did not live in their "holler" (canyon between two mountains) they did not live nearby. They were separated from the next holler by a tall mountain yet it was less than a mile away as the crow flies.

In New York City, there are not tall mountains but there are tall buildings, which mean a dense population. A distance of only a few blocks brings you into a different neighborhood, where you may be surrounded by people speaking an entirely different language (and have access to a string of great restaurants reflecting their culture!). If someone lives a few miles away from Manhattan in Brooklyn or Queens or (gasp!) New Jersey, they are "far away."

My parent grew up among the mountains of Pittsburgh, so imagine their surprise when we moved to Fargo, ND and my first game as a cheerleader was three hours away in Bismarck. On the plains, everything is spread out, and people think very little of traveling great distances by car.

Geography is powerful. It affects our idea of the people with whom we live in community. When tall mountains or buildings or other structures cut us off from what is going on in the next town or holler or neighborhood, each area develops its own sense of community and develops slight nuances in culture. When we live in wide open spaces, we extend our sense of community much farther.

Just some early musings on the interaction of geography and one's sense of community. What do you think?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A 90-year Old's Secrets for a Long Life

I just spent five days in Pittsburgh, where I had the pleasure of visiting my 90-year-old step grandmother, Laddie. She has always been a kindred spirit with an interest in the arts. When she was growing up her mother would take her out of school to go see shows at Radio City Music Hall. Her parents cultivated a curiosity about the world so all five children in her family went to college. She was the youngest and entered Oberlin in 1937 followed by a career as a social worker.

When my family visited as we were growing up, she and my grandfather always had a new craft for my brother and I to try or were ready with a series of classic books for us to read. Todd and I read the entire Wizard of Oz series at their house. After retirement, she and my grandfather ice skated until she was 81. She said it felt like flying. Some of the "young" ice skaters still visit her, as do people from her church and other family members. She also reads the paper and has a lot to say about the world. She told me that the world is too interesting not to pay attention. She doesn't keep up on every new technology, but she knows how to use a cell phone so that she can feel close to family in Seattle. Before I left, we looked at her wall of loved ones, framed photos of people past and present.

Although I do not share her genetics, she has passed along other parts of her recipe for a long, healthy life. Friends, curiosity, intelligence, physical activity, purpose and a sense of connection to those she loves. She said that she hopes there is a way for her to know about my adventures even after she dies. I hope so too.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Urban Nomadic Church

I never realized it before, but I attend an Urban Nomadic church. They do not use the term, but they have five services in four locations every Sunday, none of which are in a building that the congregation owns. I walked into one of the locations that I had not attended in almost a year, unsure of whether I wanted to stay in this unfamiliar place. Immediately someone recognized me and approached me to chat. Then I saw two others that I knew and we sat together. The same musicians started to play, with their familiar sound. The same pastor preached. And I knew that I was at Redeemer, not because of the location but because of the people.

When it comes right down to it, Jesus himself was a nomad. He traveled all over to spread his message, and asked his disciples to leave everything to follow him. Perhaps I need to start telling people that I am trying to be more like Jesus by being a nomad. It wouldn't really be true because that's not why I'm doing it, but it would be a great conversation starter (as though being a nomad isn't conversation enough). Would that encourage greater acceptance of my choice or less? Its hard to say.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Cocktail Party Questions

When meeting for the first time, Americans love to ask "What do you do?" That question is often followed by "Where do you live?" It seems we want to get a basic framework for the people we meet, and these are two of the categories by which we box people in.

When I say that I am an Urban Nomad, it generally confuses people. I don't fit in a box. Admittedly, the Urban Nomadic life is not something that people generally choose. After people understand the definition (see sidebar of this blog) they often say that they could not do it. I understand that some people need to provide a stable home for their children or have other good reasons for staying in one place, but this is not generally given as the reason that people say they could not be a nomad. Usually they say that they want to be surrounded by their possessions. They can't imagine not having immediate access to their things. Are the possessions a comfort and stability, or do they define who they are at the very core? If they loose their possessions will they loose comfort or loose a core part of their identity?

These may sound like extreme questions, but I was once in band with a guy who refused to put down his electric guitar. Ever. He always had it, and even if it wasn't plugged in he still played it. We would try to have a serious discussion (as all bands have to have from time to time), and he would half participate while he was still practicing his guitar. We asked him to put it down. He wouldn't put it down. He said that the guitar was a part of who he was.

We all fall somewhere on a continuum in our connection to our possessions, ranging from completely detached to completely attached. We probably also all have different levels of how many possessions we need in order to feel like we have enough. I appreciate nice things and comfortable surroundings and take good care of the things that I have, but I aspire to reduce the number of things that I find completely necessary. I've already reduced into a small storage space. Perhaps more reductions will be in my future. Or, perhaps I will settle into another place soon. Until then, I will continue to confuse people at cocktail parties when they ask that inevitable question, "Where do you live?"

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The storage space

As the seasons have changed, I have appreciated the easy access to the contents of my storage space, courtesy of my ultra organized mother.

Mini storage is a way of life in Manhattan. My 7x10 space is well-located in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, on the tenth floor of the building, in one of the many locations operated by Manhattan Mini Storage. They know their audience, with perks such as free car service to visit the space and free moving services. It is clean, well-lit and secure.

I packed my storage space strategically. Or more specifically, I had the movers pack it strategically. I assisted them by putting a bright orange sticker on anything that I wanted near the front for easy access. All of the things that I won't need to access are in back (such as the couch, pots and pans, etc). My clothes are hung on two rolling racks that can easily be rolled out so that I can treat the space like a walk in closet. I have shelves in front, with each box of things labeled in pencil with its contents. The lists of contents are on removable index cards that are slipped into clear passport holders that are in turn taped to the box. If something is added or removed from a box, the card can easily be slipped out and updated. The boxes are each numbered, and the contents are also entered into my computer. It sounds like a lot of trouble to go to until you suddenly want your tap shoes (true story).

Before all of this began, I considered moving many of my belongings to Minnesota, where my parents live. A friend pointed out that I will feel like I live where ever the majority of my things are located. It turns out she was right. So for now, I am glad that my things are located in Manhattan, even as I traipse around to other locations. And I'm glad that I have my tap shoes while doing it.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Nothing could be Finer than to be in Carolina

This past week I spent time in Charlotte, NC and Charleston, SC.

Charlotte is the second largest financial center of the United States. It is a well manicured city with great use of public outdoor space. One must look up into the sky to see the evidence of how Charlotte has been hit by the financial downturn: idle cranes attached to half built skyscrapers. I counted five overhead cranes while walking around downtown. At least one of the buildings has been sold from a bank to an energy company and construction has continued, but others were frozen in time when the banks collapsed. The problem appears (to the untrained eye) to all be up in the air. On the ground, the city continues to have a lively schedule of festivals and other entertainment.

Charleston is built on a peninsula, so I was told that any trip around town that involves more than two bridges is just too far. It has always oriented to the water, so in Colonial times it was the third or fourth largest city in the United States due to its busy port. It boasts beautiful homes, amazing views and a proud history. Since it is right along the ocean, the tide often comes inland. More than once we came out of a restaurant in the evening to find the parking lot under water. This is a reality that Charlestonians live with in the way that the wind is a reality in Kansas or high altitude cooking directions are a reality in Denver.

I have been below the Mason Dixon line many times, but each trip is an education, filling in additional little pieces of my puzzle of understanding. Here are a few of the things that I learned on this trip:
  • Southern hospitality means that a man would not allow a woman to take out the garbage. Period.
  • Hardees sells fried bologna sandwiches. And people buy them.
  • Firefly is a popular vodka drink that tastes like sweet tea. I heard about Firefly hangovers in two states.
  • They have at least one billboard that says "Rush Limbaugh: Saving the Soul of America".
  • There are people who think that they have never met a gay person. There are also gay people.
  • The only stated rules on the Greyhound bus are "No smoking" and "No profanity." Hopefully other general laws of the land would be enforced as well, since I overheard someone say, "I am not going back to prison. That sucked."
  • There is a separate concierge on each floor of the Omni Hotel. Mine even arranged a ride to the Greyhound Station for me.
  • Those who display the confederate flag do not think of it as a symbol of slavery. They think of it as honoring their past by using the phrase: "Heritage, not Hate."
  • Rocking chairs are so important that they have them in the airport.
  • What I think of as comfortable summer weather is what happens in September. Fall is the time to get outside and have fun, after it has finally cooled off.
  • They agree that Kanye West should not have interrupted Taylor Swift.
And so it goes, my little slice of southern American pie.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Bye, Bye Birdie

I moved to New York City in 2003 to do my Master's in Organizational Psychology at NYU. During my last semester at NYU, I auditioned for musicals that fit around my class schedule. Thus, my very first show in New York City was Bye Bye Birdie at Brooklyn Family Theater (BFT) in the spring of 2005. I played Mrs. McAfee, and met a whole crew of wonderful people. I went on to do Wizard of Oz and Snoopy at the same theater, as well as two touring productions that were produced by BFT. The theater closed its doors about a year ago, but I continue to count many of the actors and staff among my friends.

This past week I revisited that chapter of my life as I house sat at what could safely be called the epicenter of BFT. The brownstone in Park Slope, Brooklyn is owned by the house manager of BFT, and the upstairs apartment was once occupied by the artistic director and the business manager / utility player. Now that they have moved on, the upstairs apartment has been taken over by a former BFT actor / playwright and her new husband. They have definitely made it their own, but the echoes of the former tenants were still there in the red walls and the Victorian accents. Being in the place reminded me of read throughs, music rehearsals, and small cast parties.

Bye Bye Birdie was on my mind this week, but also on the minds of many New Yorkers. It just so happens that Bye Bye Birdie is returning to Broadway for the first time since it's original run with Dick Van Dyke and Chita Rivera. Performances started this week. Five of us from that BFT production of Bye Bye Birdie were in the audience for the very first preview. It was a fitting end to a week of reminiscence.

Friday, September 4, 2009

New View and Viewpoints

Usually when I pack up all of my things, it isn't too long until I unpack them in a new place and partake in the fun of decorating and arranging. This time, my things are all packed up and staying in storage. Make no mistake, it's a very nice storage facility and will definitely be the subject of a future blog post, but storage does not afford one the opportunity to unpack or decorate. Yet if one packs, one should unpack. There's something yin and yang about it. To complete the second half of my equation, I went to Vernon, NJ where my friends Chris and Jamie and their two sons just moved into a new home. I pitched in to paint walls, organize toys, collapse boxes and distract the 2-year-old when other projects needed to be finished. Our favorite project was to put the crosspieces into the windows so that each larger window was divided into eight panes of glass. The dividers were a struggle to install, but each finally fell into place with a satisfying snap. Once we were done scrutinizing each window during installation, it was exciting to step back and take in the larger effect. The windows themselves had a finished touch to them, and outside those windows was a view much different than the view I'd left behind in Manhattan.

I will enjoy many different views as an Urban Nomad, sleeping in different places, but I am more excited about the different viewpoints. By staying with Chris and Jamie, I had the opportunity to peek at the world from their point of view, from the parsonage at the edge of the church property, where one can hear the choir practicing if the windows are open and where one can look out over a majestic valley of trees while grilling. I got to learn more of their personal story and hear the reasons behind some of the choices they've made for everything from paint colors to parenting styles. That is a privilege of being an Urban Nomad.

Monday, August 31, 2009

From Subletter to Nomad

It all began a few years ago when I planned to be gone for a couple weeks over Christmas. I knew others in New York City who sublet their place while they were gone, so I decided to give it a try. I found someone quickly, created a contract, locked up a few valuables, and made some money with very little effort. I was hooked. Every time I was gone for more than three nights, I lined up a subletter. Soon I had repeat customers and friends of previous subletters asking to reserve upcoming dates. Subletting allowed me to pay my rent while performing in shows out of town for weeks on end. Sometimes I sublet without even leaving New York. Last summer I cat sat for a friend while I sublet my place. It was great, until I was gone more than half the year doing shows while the economy soured and it became more difficult to find the subletters. People were not coming to New York on business, they were not taking as many vacations, and if they were, the price of hotels had come down to reasonable levels, making my sublet less competitive. I advertised for subletters on Craigslist. It was a great ad with beautiful pictures of my place. Pictures that were identifiable enough that my landlord saw it and was not pleased. Sort of busted, but six years of a good relationship softened the blow. He said he'd love to have me stay, but if it wasn't going to be me in the place then it would be better to move. I plan to travel, perform in shows, and generally be gone so I said I would move. And then he asked me for the pictures of my place that he'd seen on Craigslist so that he could post them on his realty site. The very same pictures that got me in trouble in the first place.

And so it came to pass that on August 31, 2009 I moved out of my apartment and officially became an Urban Nomad. Late in the evening as I rolled my suitcase into the hall and took one last look inside, I noticed something left on the floor. Not wanting to loose any part of my deposit, I went back in to pick up whatever I had missed. It was a penny. Heads up for good luck. I'd almost left that bit of luck in the apartment, but I slipped the penny into my pocket, shut off the lights, and headed into my new adventure.

Monday, August 24, 2009


A few years ago, a friend called and asked if I would like to meet him in London for the weekend. Fares were low from both of the cities we were living in, but there was a moment of hesitation as I considered what it would take to pack my bags and make arrangements for my home and job to be vacant for a few days. Nonetheless, we quickly made plans and spent the next four days being tourists.

Being a nomad will allow me to be more flexible and prepared for such opportunities. Now, if someone calls and says, "Shall we meet in London this weekend?" my answer will be, "why yes, my bag is already packed." I also can continue to conduct business from London through internet and phone. Almost all of my attention can turn to the opportunity ahead, planning what to do in London. It's a grand, exciting type of flexibility. However, within that I have lost a certain day-to-day flexibility. If I suddenly decide to wear my green dress and I don't have it in my bag, it requires getting it out of storage. Not impossible, just not as easy as when everything was in my closet at home. Being organized and anticipating my own needs will help reduce those moments of lost flexibility because when I trek to the storage place, I can "trade in" for things I will need in the days ahead. The more organized I am, the more flexible I am. Interesting dichotomy.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Snail Mail

When people hear about my being a nomad, they often ask me how I receive snail mail. I use a service called Earth Class Mail. They receive my mail, scan it, and email it to me. I have the option of picking it up, having it forwarded, or telling them to shred and recycle it. They also accept packages and will hold them for up to 90 days. Their office in Manhattan is conveniently located, making it easy to pick things up. What's even better than picking things up are the things I don't have to pick up. I will never receive junk mail again. I just click a button to have them recycle it. I can also download financial statements, send them electronically to my accountant, and never be bothered with the paper. Never again will I get behind on mail (or have to have it held, or find someone to pick it up) while I am out of town.

My new relationship with Earth Class Mail makes me think back to my early days of having a cell phone. It wasn't long before I had only a cell phone and no land line. At first, I just didn't want to pay for two phones. Now, after 14 years of having the same cell phone number, all of my friends, family and business contacts have the number. Although at first it seemed less "grounded" to only have a cell phone, I am actually EASIER to keep track of than if I'd had a series of land line numbers. I believe that the same thing will happen with Earth Class Mail. As I move around, I will continue to keep my address the same, providing another piece of stability in my life.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Packing Cubes

Among the annoyances of living out of a suitcase is the difficulty in finding what one needs and the general disarray of the contents after one finds said item. Most luggage has pockets, but it is never enough. I add additional organization to the large part of the suitcase by using packing cubes. After visiting four luggage stores and The Container Store, I found that Eagle Creek dominates this market. Thus, I went back to three of the four stores in order to get a variety of colors. By packing the cube by type (accessories in the purple cube, shirts in the black cube, etc.) I can quickly find what I want. Clothes are rolled and stored inside to reduce wrinkles and stay organized day to day. The cubes also make packing easier, since many of my belongings are in rectangular shaped containers that fit nicely into the suitcase.

Here's the best part: I bring the cubes to the laundry room and repack them as I take things out of the dryer. When I had a dresser, I never really liked that last step at the end of laundry when I had to put the clothes into the drawers. Now it's like I am bringing the drawers to the laundry room. Blissfully streamlined.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Traveling with electronics

Go to a hotel and ask a front desk person what item is most often left behind in hotel rooms, and they will all say the same thing: cell phone chargers. In fact, I left a cell phone charger at a hotel in Minnesota earlier this spring. That is why I was so excited to find a travel cord organizer. This one is by Ricardo Beverly Hills and sold at Bed Bath & Beyond. It has pockets for three devices/chargers and another pocket for cords, making it easy to notice if anything is missing as I pack. But here's my favorite part: it comes with a three-plug extension cord. How often have you been somewhere (the airport comes to mind) that you have to charge more things than the number of available plugs? Problem solved, in an easy, travel sized way.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Quoted in Back Stage National Edition, 30 Jul 2009

When I was in tenth grade, the high school counselor told my mother that I was interested in too many things. My mother said that she didn't think that was a problem. This article supports the idea that having a variety of passions can be a good thing. I was happy to be quoted regarding the interaction of two of my passions: life coaching and musical theater, both of which are enriched by being an Urban Nomad.


Back Stage National Edition
30 Jul 2009

How easily we forget there’s life beyond acting. It’s essential for actors to have passions outside the business, providing themselves with other creative outlets and a balance against what can be a stressful and frustrating pursuit. And to more...

Friday, July 31, 2009

Leave only Footprints

In 1992 I was staying in the home of a family in Brigham City, Utah for a week while I lead a
day camp at their church. At the end of the week, I left my shampoo and conditioner in their shower. It was nothing of great expense, but it taught me to keep my things together when I am staying somewhere, and to check more carefully before I leave.

That same summer, I lead a few hikes in the Rocky Mountains. One of the basics of high wilderness hiking is "take only pictures, leave only footprints". In other words, in order to preserve the ecosystem do not leave trash, do not wander off trails and risk killing fragile plants, and just generally treat the natural space as though you are a guest. Because you are.

I bring that idea into my nomadic lifestyle as well. Keeping my things in one area not only helps me to not forget them when I leave, but also helps to not impose on the people already in the space. I do not want to throw off the "ecosystem" of the place by leaving my things in the bathroom or strewn about another room. I practice this even when I am staying in someone's home and they are not there. The only exception is the
refrigerator, although when I stay somewhere for weeks I bring a small fridge. Having everything I need and keeping it contained seems polite, practical, and contributes to a personal sense of control in an otherwise chaotic lifestyle. From that solid base, I am able to fully invest in my new surroundings with passion and purpose.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


I find that I cannot be creative or productive if I have too many variables in a day. Since I do not choose to have the stability of one place to live, I create stability in my life by following a few practices. One of those is my combination of yoga, Pilates and general stretching that I do most mornings. I'd rather have a mat for this, but the traditional mats are so large and bulky that they must be packed diagonally in my bag, throwing off my packing in all sorts of other ways. I have seen travel yoga mats by Gaiam, but they were a version of a sticky towel, and not enough cushion for my back during Pilates.

Today, I found a much better solution, a foam mat by Savasa that folds into squares. As an unanticipated bonus, it folds in such a way that the part that touches the ground never touches the side I use, unlike a mat that you roll. This may catch on even for non-travel situations.

Sunday, July 26, 2009


Sometimes, someone asks you to volunteer for something, and its a helpful but somewhat mindless job. Other times, you wonder how you were so lucky to ride a volunteer position right into the front row of a huge event.

I heard that they needed a couple extra people for the Safety Team in the Superdome in New Orleans during the national youth gathering. I was given a yellow shirt and quick instructions, and we were off, standing between 37,000 teenagers and the intensity of the stage on the right, which over the course of five evenings featured loud rock bands, jugglers, a New Orleans jazz combo, and pyrotechnics. Lots of pyrotechnics. Quite a safety risk in a situation that was being handled by amateurs such as myself. One begins to wonder how its all possible that noone was hurt. People jumped around, rushed toward the stage, but also managed to stay "in bounds". Then I remembered that these are 37,000 teenagers that someone believed in enough to help them get to New Orleans in the first place. These are youth who raised the money, solicited donations, and cared enough to show up. That is the difference.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Wichita Connection

I saw a lot of great friends while I was in New Orleans, but one that I was particularly excited about was a pastor from Wichita. We'd met years ago, but I reconnected with he and his family when I was in Wichita for eleven weeks performing in the musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. I attended his church throughout Lent, and actually contributed to the youth group's fundraiser to come on this trip to New Orleans.

A few weeks after I left, terrorism entered their church when a man came into the narthex and shot one of the ushers point blank. The usher was Dr. George Tiller, one of only three late term abortion doctors in the United States. I was quite shocked by the news of a murder during worship in the church I had been attending. I have had the congregation on my mind alot since then. Not everyone in the church agreed with what Dr. Tiller chose as a profession but they seemed to be able to provide a faith home for he and his family. One of his favorite phrases was "Attitude is Everything". The youth group chose to put that on their shirts for their trip to New Orleans. What an amazing tribute.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


I am in New Orleans for a week, staying at the Holiday Inn French Quarter. One of the people with whom I am working here read in a guidebook that all chains in New Orleans are somewhat lower quality than their counterparts elsewhere. My roommate pointed out that there would be no reason to make the rooms nicer considering what usually goes on in them, particularly around Mardi Gras.

This is my third trip here, and the second time for the Lutheran national youth gathering. The last time the national youth gathering was in NoLa was 1997. This time, it is the biggest event that the city has hosted since Hurricane Katrina with 37,000 attendees. It is sobering to think that people lived (and died) in the convention center and dome where we are hosting activities.

I heard one post-hurricane perspective from the volunteer driver who brought me from the airport to the hotel. He'd come to New Orleans as part of the coast guard and stayed here after retirement because he and his family love the food, music, and people. He'd also worked for FEMA over the past three years, and had occasion to bring people from New Orleans to Grand Forks, ND to show them how the town had recovered after their equally devastating 1997 flood. I am somewhat more familiar with the flood recovery in North Dakota and commented on what a great example that must be as a beacon of hope. He said that North Dakota's type of recovery would never happen in New Orleans because in Grand Forks the people decided that if their town was to recover, they needed to do the work and they did. He said that in New Orleans, many people just wait for someone to come and help them and do not put in the effort themselves. This is one person's perspective, but it is not what you hear on television. Even in this day and age of communication, you still have to go to a place to really get both sides of a story. This is why I travel.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Locavore Living

I am not much of a restaurant critic, but I must mention the great meal that friends and I had at a new locavore restaurant on Grand Avenue in St. Paul, Brasa. Everything was offered either family style or in individual servings. Menu items also denoted the location of the farm where each item had been grown or raised. The pulled chicken was amazing, and I was told good things about the beef. Delicious and great for the earth!

Monday, July 13, 2009

St. Paul

Ah, Minnesota. It's where I often say I'm from (unless, of course, the conversation calls for one of the other places I have lived). It's where I reconnect with family and my urban tribe. It's where I go to shop tax free. And this time, it's where I went to get glass removed from my foot.

I stepped on glass last Thursday and got it checked at Urgent Care in Manhattan on Friday. The doctor said that "it might work itself out" even though there was already skin growing over it. I could still walk (carefully) but spent a weekend with occasional searing pain when I stepped on it the "wrong way."

Monday morning arrived and the glass was still definitely there. I planned to leave for Minnesota in the afternoon, so I called around to New York City podiatrists to get it removed before leaving. No one called me back, even from the place where the woman at the answering service said that she would page the doctor. Finally it was getting so late that I called my insurance to be sure that I was covered for such things out of state (I was) and then called a podiatrist in Lakeville, MN. A nice lady named Joanne answered. She was actually the nurse that worked with the podiatrist, not an answering service. She said that she'd ask the doctor if he could add me at the end of the day, and called right back with a yes. She said to be sure and call if my flight was delayed, because they would wait around for me. When I arrived and the doctor saw my foot, I recounted my story. He called last Friday's doctor "weak" for not taking out the glass right away. He suspects that he just didn't want to bother. It took this podiatrist only a couple minutes to remove the glass.

Another slam dunk for the Minnesota Health Care System. And for Minnesota Nice.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Homebase: Chelsea

Just moved my things to Brian's. I will be "based" there for a month. He and I both will be coming and going a lot, and only both there five nights out of the whole four weeks. I'd like to see him more, but it would be a long four weeks if we were really going to share a small space for that long.

It is extremely convenient to be able to have one homebase for such a long time. He has a great apartment in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City. I am excited to explore more of what is nearby.

Friday, July 10, 2009


I consulted at a New York City ad agency in the morning before catching the Bolt Bus to Washington DC. Highly recommended, since it has reserved seating, free wifi and plugs at every seat for only $20 each way. I was glad to be back in DC at a less crowded time, since my last trip was for the inauguration. I love the transition from New York to DC because there is a completely different dress code with a different vibe around town. New York is about money and DC is about power. I met a high school classmate for dinner and we met another classmate after dessert. One works for a United States senator and the other works for the director of national security. He couldn't tell me what he does, but I did learn that in their business they always talk about methods and sources. Or more specifically, not revealing methods and sources.

After staying over at their apartment, a second home for both of them, I met yet another high school classmate for lunch the next day. She gave me directions to meet her in a park on Pennsylvania Avenue. It turned out to be across from the White House. The White House! To her it was just the park closest to her law office, but I kept turning around and reminding myself that I am eating in a park across from the home of the leader of the free world. I don't want to lose the awe and wonder of being around world famous sights.
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