Acting On Faith

Photo courtesy of Nabisco.com

“I am such a doormat,” I muttered as I patted a second layer of concealer under my eyes.  I tossed my hair in a ponytail and wiggled into a pair of faded jeans, determined not to expend any extra energy primping.

I’d agreed to meet my friend, Sandy, at a local bar for one drink and was already regretting my decision.

I couldn’t say no to Sandy, or to anyone. After a tense week at work and a series of unpromising acting auditions across town, I wanted nothing more than a long-anticipated date with my VCR and couch. Yet, when Sandy pleaded for me to comfort her after a run-in with her ex boyfriend, I once again said “sure, why not?” instead of an honest “not a chance in hell.”

Why had I even answered the phone? I wanted to stay home and make love to a family-sized bag of Oreos, not grudgingly show up and listen to my friend’s boyfriend troubles.

Oreos? People? Why did the Oreos always sound like a better option?

A Friday night bar outing with Sandy was never an inexpensive proposition. With $23 in my checkbook, I’d worried all week about the money I was wasting pursuing my acting dreams. Acting lessons, head shots, time off for auditions – I’d spent nearly $1500 over the past few months, $1485 of which I didn’t have to spare.

“Why am I doing this?” I moaned as I checked the mirror for panty lines on my ass and cast a longing gaze at the Oreos on my counter. “Because, I’m an f**king doormat.”

The crowd at the bar spilled over on to the street, people jostling each other for a glimpse of the film crew staking out a corner of the bar.  Intrigued by this development, I wished I’d worn better shoes.

I spotted Sandy immediately. Tall, sleek and gorgeous, Sandy held court wherever she appeared.

She looks pretty damn happy to me, I thought, feeling shame for my lack of a comparably fashionable outfit.

“Mary, you’ll never believe it!” Sandy yelled as she waved me over to a small table. “I was picked to be in a Bud Light commercial filming here tonight!”

Perfect. My months of schlepping to auditions around town hadn’t yielded me a damn thing and all Sandy had to do was walk into a bar and a television commercial threw itself at her feet.

“Wow! That’s so cool,” I offered as I slid onto the bar stool next to hers.

The ad agency crew bustled around Sandy and the handful of people selected for the commercial. I steeped in my own envy and planned my exit.

An ad agency representative approached our table, “Ladies, here’s your $1 payment and some forms to fill out. We’ll film you both in the next 15 minutes.”

Wait! This had to be a mistake! I can’t be in a commercial. I’m wearing sneakers!

“Have fun with it, Mary!” Sandy encouraged. “We get to be in a commercial!”

Her enthusiasm bolstered mine, and I decided to enjoy this evening, bad hair and all. And enjoy I did – shouting “I love Chicago!” and mugging for the camera through several takes and many more free Bud Lights. I headed home tired but exhilarated. My Oreo affair could wait another day; tonight, I was a star!

Several weeks later, while opening mail and wondering how I was going to pay for another session of acting classes, I nearly choked on my Ramen noodles. I’d received three checks from the Bud Light advertising agency totaling more than $1400. Apparently my ponytail and big mouth made me some money that night …

“Sandy, can you believe it?” I gushed. “I didn’t know we’d get paid for that Bud Light commercial. My check just came!”

“What are you talking about?” she asked. “I didn’t get a check!”

Apparently, “actors” with speaking parts earn residuals whenever a commercial airs on television while everyone else is paid $1 to keep his or her mouth shut. To this day, nearly 20 years later, I haven’t seen the commercial. It must have aired while I was out having fun (or more likely during one of my Oreo-induced food comas).

I’m linking up with the wonderfully supportive people at Yeah Write. Check out all the great writers on the grid and join in with your own story!

I’m not the only family member to be “discovered” on Chicago’s streets. Check out my daughter’s experience on the Food Network, Blink & You’ll Miss Her!

Blink & You’ll Miss Her

Earlier this summer, I was walking with the girls to the local dry cleaners when we passed a film crew shooting an episode of a new show for the Food Network.

When we stopped to watch, the director’s assistant approached and asked my 9 yo daughter, Ava, to participate.

Ava was excited and beamed as the crew filmed her walking down the street eating a big cup of Mario’s Italian Lemonade and mugging for the camera. The footage was for a new show called $24 in 24, where the host, Jeff Mauro, tries to feed himself breakfast, lunch, dinner and a snack for $24.

The first episode, filmed in Chicago, premiered last night on the Food Network.

Although Ava has been anxiously awaiting the show’s debut, she was blissfully asleep by the time the show aired.

As the show began, my husband, the remote control and I cuddled together, full of expectations.

I couldn’t wait to see my little girl on national cable television! What would be next? Her own show?! Move over Honey Boo Boo!

Mike and I watched as Jeff Mauro ate cinnamon buns at Ann Sather’s (yum), rib tips with extra sauce at Honey 1 Barbecue (food porn at its finest), and visited Mario’s Italian Lemonade on Taylor Street. Here we go!

“There’s Ava!” I cried. “Where did she go?”

After rewinding/re-watching at least 22 times, I turned to Mike and said, “Well, that sucks! She was on for all of .01 seconds. She’ll be disappointed.”

“Who’s disappointed?” he wisely inquired. I hate when that man is right.

“Fine. You’re right. I’m disappointed. I was hoping she’d get at least 5 seconds of air time. That was nothing! Now, I’ll have to manage Ava’s expectations.”

“Ava might think it’s totally cool that she’s on the show at all. That’s possible, right?” Mike asked. “When we show her the clip, let’s focus on how great it is, rather than how short it is.”

Hmmm. I have to admit, occasionally, my husband is a genius.

He agrees. “If it weren’t for my parenting coaching, where would you be?” he joked.

In this case, he’s right. I typically focus on the negative of any given situation, a strategy that rarely yields positive results. And I’d prefer to manage everyone’s expectations and emotions in advance. It’s a sweet little habit we call – CONTROL!!

Any chance you can relate?

I’m willing to try Mike’s suggestion. We’ll see how well his strategy works when Ava comes home from school today and watches the show. In the meantime, I’ll practice on you:

Hey, everyone! Guess what? My daughter was on the Food Network last night! It’s sooo cool! Wait til you see her!

Just try not to blink … 

My Little TV Star!!
(And yes, that’s A Teachable Mom in the background!)

Will Wonders Never Cease?

By http://www.flickr.com/photos/e_phots/ (http://www.flickr.com/photos/e_phots/199886140/) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Since I started writing this blog (six months ago!), I’ve put numerous household tasks on hold to give myself more time to write and tramp around on social media.

As I’ve written about before, I’m a certifiable freak when it comes to keeping our house picked up and checking things off my “to do” list. This past week, stymied by a nasty virus and zero energy or interest in accomplishing anything, I’ve lolled around on the couch waiting to feel better.

I’ve had time to read = good. And think = dangerous.

While rest is good for my body, long stretches of time to obsess over the many household tasks piling up (not to mention all the blog posts I should have written) usually do nothing but increase my anxiety level (and my appetite).

Then, yesterday, a miracle occurred.

For the first time, my obsessing and worrying actually accomplished something! Several household appliances in need of repair for months miraculously fixed themselves!

We either have some lovely elves who visit in the night and fix things around our house – or – my obsessing is finally paying off! While I believe in elves, the ones I know usually only make cute, if slightly clunky, shoes, so I’m taking all the credit on this one!

What? You scoff? Perhaps you need additional evidence …

Exhibit A:  Garbage Disposal

The wall switch that operates our garbage disposal has been sticking for at least three months. It requires simultaneous jiggling and swearing to turn on. I’ve not gotten around to calling anyone to fix it, preferring instead to curse and complain whenever the mass of rotting orange peels, uneaten quesadilla crusts and gelatinous cheesy peas threaten to overflow the sink.

Yesterday, that switch moved around as willingly and easily as my kids do when I bribe them with ice cream ask them lovingly to pick up their toys.

Exhibit B:  Ceiling Fan

The ceiling fan in our master bedroom has been broken for months. We had a repair person out to fix it twice over the summer, replacing the switch and doing other fix-y things I didn’t take time to understand.  That fan wouldn’t move to save its life (or to save us a few dollars on our outrageous air conditioning bills).

Yesterday, I flipped the wall switch by mistake and voila, a wave of pure, fresh re-circulated air hit my face. While the experience was slightly marred by the thousands of dust bunnies choking my air supply, I believe all of us can agree we have a certifiable miracle here.

Afraid it’s a one-day fluke, we’ll be keeping the fan on until next summer.

Exhibit C:  Clothes Dryer

We have two clothes dryers in our home (a long story) and both of them died at the same time earlier this summer. The repair person fixed the upstairs dryer by removing the birds’ nest renting space in the exhaust hose (who knew?). He couldn’t find anything wrong with the downstairs dryer, which worked surprisingly well up until the moment the repairman left.

The downstairs dryer hasn’t turned on in weeks. Yesterday, by mistake, I put some wet clothes in it and … you know it … it turned on! Granted, the clothes didn’t dry, but they did tumble around for a while and really, isn’t that all you can ask from a dryer?

Freaky, right?

Exhibit D:  My Husband’s Bicycle

Several weeks ago Mike had a minor spill off his bicycle on the way to work. Other than a few scratches, thankfully, he wasn’t hurt. According to my husband, who has never believed in the power of my worry and obsession, the slightly banged-up bicycle now rides more smoothly than it did pre-wipeout. He’s now a convert.

Coincidences? I dare say not!

We’ll be launching a full investigation into these occurrences right after we go play the lottery. In the meantime, if you have something you’d like me to worry about for you (for a small fee), please let me know in the comments!

Choosing Hope: Bringing in Finn

I haven’t written a book review since my school days, but between last week’s writer’s block and a leveling cold this week, I’ve been fortunate enough to read several novels recently.

Like many others, I quickly devoured Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, and was swept up in The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D.  by Nichole Bernier. While I recommend both – engaging writing, absorbing plots – I can’t let another moment go by without recommending Bringing in Finn by Sara Connell.

I watched Sara and her mom, Kristine Casey, being interviewed by Barbara Walters on The View last week and was blown away by their poise and humility. Eager to read Sara’s account of their unusual childbirth journey, I picked up the book at full price (not my normal tendency) and dug in to Sara Connell’s sumptuous writing and breathtaking testament to tenacity and familial love.

Sara’s is a story of miracles, determination and faith unlike anything I’ve read before. I’ve read many memoirs over the years but few have touched me as deeply as Bringing in Finn. This is the story of a young couple, devastated by the loss of their twins in utero, who triumph over continuous setbacks and despair in trying to have a child.

After years of infertility and fertility treatments, Sara and her husband, Bill, continue to choose hope in the face of tremendous loss and pain. Their final hope comes in the form of Sara’s mom, Kris, a healthy, sound-minded 60-year-old woman, ten years past menopause, who volunteers to carry their baby.

As someone who typically prefers to give up the moment something becomes too difficult, Sara and Bill’s enduring perseverance to have a child, despite horrible odds, is a tale of beauty. The tender photos of their son, Finnean Connell, will bring a smile to anyone’s heart.

I was especially touched by the scenes in the book between mother and daughter and how their surrogacy journey healed old wounds and brought them closer. I want that level of closeness with my daughters, and while I’ll likely be senile and infirm by the time they’re of baby-making age, I hope to have, in whatever way possible, the willingness and generosity of spirit Kris offers her daughter.

Sara’s bravery in experiencing and documenting her journey inspired me and filled me with hope. Her writing is strong, powerful, descriptive and brave. I enjoyed getting to know this amazing family, three generations strong.

I recommend this book for anyone in need of hope, a surge of spirit or reconciliation with self or with a loved one. If you need a good cry, give this book a go – the prologue will start you off. If you need a shot of inspiration to persevere through your own struggles, Sara’s first-hand account of trauma, tragedy and triumph will both comfort and guide you.

I’m happy to pass on my copy to anyone ready for a truly fine read. I hope you’ll check out Bringing in Finn. Enjoy!

Short & Sassy

Me, In My Dreams

“When I grow up, I want to be an Olympic figure skater,” I declared, not a drop of doubt or self-consciousness clouding my voice.

While I prefer to leave much of my childhood in the past, I would love to recapture the self-confidence and singularity of purpose I had as a young girl in 1976 when the Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria brought me my first clear vision of the future and my first girl crush.

Dorothy Hamill was everything to me that year; my hero in every sense of the word. If Al Gore had already invented the internet, I would have qualified as a celebrity stalker. As it was, I scoured magazines and newspapers for photos, articles and tidbits about Dorothy, on every aspect of her life, neatly pressing each into a cloth-covered scrapbook.

I wanted to be Dorothy Hamill; to embody everything about her – her talent, grace, stamina and determination. Her sassy haircut.

I daydreamed and strategized, envisioning myself gliding confidently across the ice, hair glistening, spinning and jumping with perfected ease, soaking in the adoration of a cheering crowd.

Success was never a question in my mind. I would succeed. Self-doubt crept in to my psyche at some point in my life because I have it in spades as an adult, but in 1976, I would describe my goal and my self-designed, well-researched plan for success to anyone who’d listen.

Step One:  The Lessons

My mom humored my infatuation throughout 1976 and drove me twice weekly, 30 minutes each way, to the nearest ice rink for figure skating lessons. I soared when I skated, at least in my mind, dancing, frolicking, willing my body to jump and glide on the ice. To me, I embodied the ideal blend of athleticism from countless gymnastics classes and grace from ongoing ballet lessons.  The fact that I could barely skate backward without cracking my head on the ice did little to deter me. The Olympics were calling my name, and I was eager to answer.

Step Two:  The Haircut

After weeks of begging my mom for a trip to her hair stylist, I arrived at the salon (“beauty shop” in 1976 vernacular) with my scrapbook of Dorothy photos and my long dark brown curls, neatly pulled back in a ponytail reaching halfway down my back. I left said salon with a short, frizzy do reminiscent of a battered Q-tip. I dreamed of swingy, glossy locks and mourned my signature curls, heartbroken yet convinced of the soundness of my plan.

Ms. Hamill’s Signature “Do”

Step Three:  The Shampoo

Certain the only thing keeping me from Dorothy Hamill’s golden existence was the right hair product, I persuaded my mom to buy out the Short & Sassy shampoo and conditioner section of our local drugstore. Though neither made a difference on my fuzzy head, I felt closer to Dorothy knowing we both used the same shampoo.

Step Four:   The Diet

In my research of all things Dorothy, I discovered she maintained a rigorous diet of healthy foods, fruits and vegetables and generous servings of chocolate ice cream. I demanded the same. Dorothy had a sweet tooth; I had a sweet tooth – Kismet!

Step Five:  The Discipline

I’d read that Dorothy rose at 5:00 am daily to practice on a nearby outdoor ice rink. Inspired by her discipline and bolstered by serendipity – we lived down the block from an outdoor pond covered in ice! – I committed myself to daily practice, skating my little heart out. Though in reality I likely made this sacrifice all of twice, in my head I was a dedicated skater.

The Reality

While my five-step plan did not deliver the promised results, I feel enduring fondness for myself as a little girl and for the heady time I spent in Dorothy Hamill’s shadow.

With both of my children in school and questions about the next phase of my career foremost in my mind, I long for a taste of the self-confidence and determination I had in abundance as a little girl. Perhaps it’s time for another girl crush …

How to Give a Maid/Matron of Honor Toast

How to Give a Maid-Matron of Honor ToastI had the privilege of being the Matron of Honor (MOH) at my dear friends’ picture-perfect wedding recently. One of the duties of a Matron of Honor is to toast the happy couple (without making a fool of herself or alienating the bride and groom).

Because I survived the experience am now a seasoned toast-making pro, I’m sharing my wisdom, advice and a foolproof checklist to help you deliver a winning MOH wedding toast.

Goal

  • Deliver a charming, engaging, hilarious, memorable, heart-felt toast (Read:  make the wedding toast all about you.)

Strategy

  • Prepare, prepare, prepare (Read:  pressure yourself mercilessly to deliver a toast that will trump any other in the history of wedding toasts.)

Two Weeks Before Wedding

  • Research role of Matron of Honor (Read:  Google definition and origin of word matron; consider getting divorced upon viewing photo accompanying definition of word – “a married woman or widow.”)
http://www.thefreedictionary.com/matron

Photo courtesy of FreeDictionary.com

  • Reflect on your relationship with Bride (Read:  actively avoid thinking about toast; obsess instead on why no one asked you to be a Maid of Honor when you still had the figure to rock a bridesmaid dress.)
  • Assure Bride that you are honored to give a toast at her wedding  (Read:  drop hints to Bride that toasts are off trend and tacky and no one is doing toasts anymore.)

One Week Before Wedding:

  • Watch Michelle Obama’s speech from the 2012 Democratic National Convention; envision delivering your toast with similar eloquence and grace (Read:  kick yourself for not doing a single push-up all summer; Google emergency triceps exercises)
  • Ask your friends for suggestions of what to say in your toast. (Read:  Wonder how you ended up with such uninspired friends; “just be yourself.” Really people?)

Two Days Before Wedding:

  • Research Maid/Matron of Honor Toasts (Read:  obsessively search You Tube and Google for suggestions; glean the following advice):

“Everything is at stake in a wedding toast.  Remember that you are a representative of these two people – if you nail the toast, the couple seems more intelligent, better looking, more popular.”  THNKR-Change Your Mind

“If you f**k it up, the couple will remember this moment for the next 40 years.” A Teachable Mom

  • Keep it simple (Read:  consider plagiarizing one of the hundreds of wedding toast videos on You Tube)
  • Affirm to yourself that your toast will be wonderful as long as it is heartfelt (Read:  kick yourself for not having more time to write an original, American Idol-worthy ballad or rap song to serenade the happy couple.)

One Day Before Wedding

  • Seek out a loving family member for help and encouragement (Read:  ask your husband to write your toast while he’s engrossed in watching his favorite sport on TV; feel hurt and resentful at his lack of concern for your needs.)
  • Write out your toast (Read:  jot down a few ideas, realize doing the dishes is a much more urgent task. Repeat with the laundry you’ve neglected for the past six weeks.)
  • Discuss plan for making toasts with the Best Man (Read:  grill him on what he’s planning to say to gauge if your toast will be better; steal his best lines.)
  • Be inspired by any toasts made during the rehearsal dinner (Read:  Depending on quality of toasts, begin faking sore throat or stomach flu to justify backing out. )

Day of Wedding

  • Rehearse toast in front of loving, supportive family members (Read:  Amid your children’s “I’m bored” refrain, remind yourself the majority of wedding guests will be polite during your toast. At least to your face.)
  • Look your best (Read:  Worry that self-adhesive strapless bra will slide down to knees and on to floor during toast; wonder how many hits a video of this would get on You Tube.)
  • Breathe deeply (Read:  remember the words of a wise man who suggested focusing on your love for the bride and the groom;  remind yourself that given how much you pay this man for his therapeutic help, he should have written the damn toast for you.)
  • Enjoy & have fun! (Read:  You’re in luck – no videographer!)

Have you ever given a wedding toast? Is the happy couple still speaking to you? Any tips to add?

Black + White Equals Blue

[CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)],

By Johnny Edward (Metal Mickey) via Wikimedia Commons

I have wasted two whole days already. Both of our daughters are back in school full time as of Wednesday, and I am paralyzed.

I’ve been looking forward all summer to having long stretches of time to myself and now I’m struggling to enjoy them.

I envisioned writing for hours at a time every day, something that would bring me joy and a feeling of accomplishment. I envisioned blogging daily and tackling some of the many writing projects I’ve put on hold for that magical day when my youngest daughter would be in preschool and I’d have time. Time to accomplish.

I anticipated jumping in and accomplishing immediately. I’m a doer, a go getter. Except when I’m not. And then the whips come out. I know how to pressure myself to get things done – push, push, push. I know how to avoid – no, no, no. The in between, go-with-the-flow gray place eludes me.

I have time now and I don’t know how to begin. I’ve avoided my computer all week in favor of finishing two novels and taking naps. Not sure what I’m so exhausted from, but something is up for me and I’m having trouble accepting myself as is.

If I’m not accomplishing, who am I? What value do I have? Doing and accomplishing justify my existence.

I could get busy. I certainly have plenty of tasks to do, everyday living type things. (I could even tackle the 15 loads of laundry I folded while watching The View but can’t bring myself to put away.)

I’ve often preferred myself as human doing rather than a human being. I don’t like being human. I don’t enjoy having human emotions and human blocks and human failings. I’d rather be a robot:  punch in the required tasks, push go and move into action.

Except I love myself enough today to want more for me than just getting busy to avoid these feelings. I want pleasure and joy and lightness of spirit. I want to pursue my interests that bring me joy and feelings of passion. I want to believe I deserve those things.

Apparently, the only way to the lighter feelings is through these uncomfortable ones.

I don’t want to turn writing, blogging into a burden or a measure of my value in the world. If I write x number of posts a week, I’m good, I count, I matter, I’m on the right path. If I don’t, I’m done, worthless and washed up.

Happy you’re reading such an emotionally stable woman’s blog right now, aren’t you?

I recently signed up to receive daily affirmations from some guy called “Tut, The Universe.”  The messages are quirky and fun and sometimes poignant. Today’s message pushed me to write this post instead of avoiding the computer for another day:

Mary, when you move, I move. When you reach, I reach. And when you go the extra mile, I clear the way. But not a moment sooner.

Which is why before you move, reach, and go, things sometimes look so scary. 

Just like that,

    The Universe

I’m aware that mine are luxury problems. And I’ve avoided sharing these feelings with you through this blog this week out of shame that I’m just a pampered, spoiled woman “boo hoo-ing” through a minor depressive episode. Perhaps that is true.

What’s also true is that even us spoiled, pampered whiners deserve to let go of fear and shame and enjoy loving support and guidance from “the universe” and some incredibly loving friends.

Please send hugs (and cookies).