≡ Menu

My LTYM Travel Season, By The Numbers

Yesterday was Mother’s Day, and it also happened to be the last day of the 2015 LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER season. Each year I have driven to see some other shows, not only because I like hearing the stories live but also because I like to see how other cities do things (every city, while having to stick to certain national guidelines, creates a show that reflects their community), and it’s a way for me to support my fellow producers and meet up (on their own turf) with some of the teams I’ve coached as the LTYM National New Cities Mentor.

This year, Jim was slightly astonished when I told him that I intended for 2015 to be the year I’d break personal records. I’m exhausted, but I did it!

I thought it would be fun to summarize my LTYM travels in numbers. None of the following stats include my own Chicago show.

Number of shows I saw this year: 5, including the book launch/reading event
NYC, Detroit, Valparaiso (NWIndiana), St. Joseph (SWMichigan), Madison

Miles traveled by plane, round trip: 1622

Miles traveled by car, round trips: 1280

Readings enjoyed live: 54

Types of venues: 5
Bookstore (NYC), Rock concert hall (Detroit), Opera House (NWIndiana), High School Auditorium (SWMichigan), Former movie theater and vaudeville house (Madison)

I didn't get a picture of BookCourt in Brooklyn, to represent the book launch. Pretend it's there. Also, Memorial Opera House photo is by Tracey Becker.

I didn’t get a picture of BookCourt in Brooklyn, to represent the book launch. Pretend it’s there. Also, Memorial Opera House photo is by Tracey Becker.

Shows I saw that were produced by people I mentored in 2014: 1
Metro Detroit: The Angelas (Angela Amman and Angela Youngblood)

Shows I saw that were produced by people I mentored in 2015: 1
SWMichigan: Kim, Meagan, and Beth

Shows I saw that were produced by people who mentored ME in 2012: 1
Madison: Ann Imig
Note: was also mentored in 2012 by Deb Rox and Stephanie Precourt! Still am!

Fellow show-runners I got to hug: Lots
2 in Detroit, 1 in NWIndiana, 3 in SWMichigan, 3 in Madison, and so many in Brooklyn. There were so many show-runners at the book launch in NYC that I can’t count/mention names because I’m sure I’d leave someone out!

Top left--with Angela Amman and Angela Youngblood of Metro Detroit; Top right--with my Chicago co-producer Tracey Becker and NWIndiana's Lovelyn Palm; Bottom right--with SWMichigan's Meagan Francis, Beth Haire-Lewis, and Kim Jorgensen Gane; Bottom right--with Founder, National Director, and Madison Producer Ann Imig

Top left–with Angela Amman and Angela Youngblood of Metro Detroit; Top right–with my Chicago co-producer Tracey Becker and NWIndiana’s Lovelyn Palm; Bottom right–with SWMichigan’s Meagan Francis, Beth Haire-Lewis, and Kim Jorgensen Gane; Bottom right–with Founder, National Director, and Madison Producer Ann Imig

Cities I visited that are personally significant: 2
Detroit is Jim’s hometown; D lives and works in Madison

I love Detroit, not only because my husband was born there but also because the residents have a great "WE ARE COMING BACK" spirit.

I love Detroit, not only because my husband was born there but also because the residents have a great “WE ARE COMING BACK” spirit.

For me, Mother's Day also happened to be "Go See Where Your Kid Works Day".

For me, Mother’s Day also happened to be “Go See Where Your Kid Works Day”.

Opportunities I took to have non-LTYM fun in conjunction with my LTYM travels: 5
NYC–Extended visit with my sistuh-from-anuthuh-muthuh in Jersey; Detroit–met with The Angelas for breakfast; NWIndiana–post-show silliness with Official LTYM Chicago photographer Brandi of Balee Images; SWMichigan–finally visited Redamak’s and ate a Velveeta Cheeseburger; Madison–hung out with older son

The lesson Liz and I learned in Brooklyn: make sure you make a bathroom stop before going back to the subway.

The lesson Liz and I learned in Brooklyn: make sure you make a bathroom stop before going back to the subway.

Worst but most fun ussie ever, in front of a mural in NWIndiana

Worst but most fun ussie ever, in front of a mural in NWIndiana

I've wanted to try the Redamak's burger for years. Now I'm sad about all the time I wasted. SO GOOD.

I’ve wanted to try the Redamak’s burger for years. Now I’m sad about all the time I wasted. SO GOOD.

Nights spent in a hotel: 2
NYC and Detroit

Friends or family members who accompanied me to the shows: 10
Liz in NYC; Melissa in Detroit; Tracey, Erin, Pamela, Kathleen, and Brandi in NWIndiana; Jim in SWMichigan; Jim and D in Madison. Counted Jim twice because he’s FANTASTIC for going with me to two shows.

Times I did a near-perfect rap-along with Debbie Harry on “Rapture”: 2
In the car after the NWIndiana show

Number of additional shows I wish I could have seen this season: 33

Number of days until the first show of LTYM 2016: 347
Don’t mention this to Ann.

And that’s a wrap! Take a bow, everyone…well done!

LTYM 2015 bows


Go Big Or Go Home Didn’t Start With Me

I would be hard-pressed to find just one favorite picture of my mom, because there are so many. There’s the one that used to hang in my Grandma’s house: mom wearing her ballet shoes and posing on pointe so beautifully. There are the black and white ones: her wearing knee-high white boots with a skirt/blouse vest outfit that is so 1960’s it hurts, and just hanging out with my dad next to one of their many VW Beetles. There’s the one that was staged by her wedding photographer: mom, the young bride, pulling twenty-dollar bills out of my dad’s jacket pocket. There’s the one of mom, my sister and I on the porch at our house in Park Forest, all wearing matching dresses and shirts, made and embroidered by mom. The pictures of mom with my boys. The pictures of my mom and dad on the day they renewed their wedding vows for their fiftieth anniversary.

And then there’s this one.

Mom Panda

It makes me smile for the reasons you’re likely smiling right now, but there’s more. It truly reflects her ability to be spontaneous. We were at a special event during the release of “Kung Fu Panda 2” and a photographer was snapping pictures of children in front of the movie poster as they were creating goofy poses. Mom said, “That looks like fun…I want to do that!” and off she went, my sister snapping this gem.

Although I didn’t fully realize it until I was an adult myself, my mom has been teaching my sister and me a lot about making the most out of situations and opportunities since our earliest days. When most other kids were having simple birthday parties, ours were elaborately planned, creatively themed get-togethers. When our neighbors advertised for their garage sales with hastily scribbled signage, we attracted customers for ours with colorful, pretty signs and balloons, When others brought one dessert to a potluck dinner, we brought three.

Mom’s habit of going above and beyond in just about everything was (is!) not just a result of her wanting to do her best work. I have always looked at it as just one of the ways she showed how much she cares, for us and for others. By putting so much of herself into whatever she did (and still does), her feelings are made crystal clear. Those fantastic birthday parties she hosted for us when we were kids inspired me to do the same for my two sons. We once had a car-themed party for which I created not only handmade invitations and a beautiful cake, but also kid-sized cars out of cardboard boxes that the guests could “drive”, complete with license plates, steering wheels, and other features. When my older son needed to have a bake sale to raise money for his Boy Scout Eagle project, my sister and I baked for two days straight, making an astonishing amount of sweets available for purchase; so much, in fact, that people didn’t believe it had been just two of us doing the baking. Mom was proud.

My mom is always available to provide ideas and inspiration when I need that extra “something” to push whatever I’m doing over the edge. Though we don’t live in the same state, she’s always just a phone call away and I know she loves being a part of my efforts. I also love that we share the same opinion that in almost any situation, it’s a good idea to “go big or go home”.

Not everybody is lucky enough to have been raised by a creative, positive go-getter. I count my blessings on a regular basis that some of my mom’s best attributes have trickled down to my sister and me, and I’m happy to report that my sons have benefited as well!

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!


All Over Again.

It’s all over, again.

Every year, the experience of bringing a LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER show to the stage in Chicago seems to fly by with more speed. On Sunday, our fourth show took place at the beautiful Athenaeum Theatre and, while it was about ninety-five minutes long, it seemed more like ten. Add the three actual hours of pre-show stuff (photos, run-through, etc.) and you have…about twenty virtual minutes. Each year I find myself trying to figure out how to freeze time a little bit.

Each year I also struggle to write a recap that adequately captures everything about show day, and frankly it’s impossible to do so. Expressing in words the magic that happens when LTYM Chicago takes the stage so that people who weren’t there will “get it” is just…hard. I have started this post four times.

I discovered on Sunday morning when she posted a picture that Tracey and I bought EXACTLY the same pair of red pumps, brand and all. Um...

I discovered on Sunday morning when she posted a picture that Tracey and I bought EXACTLY the same pair of red pumps, brand and all. Um…

As I spent the majority of yesterday sitting on my couch and taking a recovery day from Sunday’s glorious insanity (and working on those false starts for this post), I reflected on this year’s cast members, who quite literally came from ALL CORNERS of Chicagoland: city, northern suburbs, northwest suburbs, western suburbs, southwest suburbs, and south suburbs. We’re proud of that. Then, setting aside their vastly different geographic locations in and around Chicago, they and their larger-than-life personalities are all so different in what they do, where they came from, and what they’ve experienced that one might think the tight bonding that often accompanies an LTYM experience wouldn’t happen. On the contrary; in the end I think that’s exactly why it DID happen, and it happened so well. We’re proud of that, too.

We had lots of laughter along the way, and Sunday was no different. Tracey and I don’t ever like to compare casts or shows (you know moms and their kids: no comparisons, no favorites!), but one thing in particular that struck me about this year’s cast is that pre-show nerves were at a minimum. I think that says a lot, not necessarily about how each one was individually coping with the idea of getting on stage because I know that some were indeed nervous and that’s completely normal, but to me the overall RELAXED vibe was truly a testament to how comfortable everyone was with each other. It was positively zen in those dressing rooms…and on the roof, too.

I mean really. Raise the roof. Also, we really got a sense of the Windy City up there. (Photo credit: Elizabeth Rago)

I mean really. Raise the roof. Also, we really got a sense of the Windy City up there. (Photo credit: Elizabeth Rago)

This next photo—even though everyone isn’t in frame—is actually a perfect representation of our time together. See what I’m saying about laughter and zen and being comfortable?

LTYM Chicago 2015: David and the girls

Not everybody is pictured but this gives you an idea as to how much we all really hope that David will come out of his shell someday. (Photo credit: Elizabeth Rago)

Somewhere in between photos and our final walk-through of the show, Erin and Samantha presented each of us with spice jars that contained something to represent our essays. (The spice jars paid homage to Erin’s infamous “Martha Stewart-like” spice jars that are mentioned in Erin and Samantha’s reading.) The thoughtfulness of these individualized gifts was above and beyond.

LTYM Chicago 2015 Spice jar collage

The cast presented Tracey and me with red Chucks in honor of The Red Pump Project, our 2015 charity partner. Everyone had signed the shoes for us ahead of time and while I promptly declared that I would never wear them because I was going to put them on display at home forever and ever, Tracey said, “I’m going to wear mine!” That just goes to show you how different we are when it comes to all shoes (except for red pumps, apparently).

LTYM Chicago 2015 Chucks


In the minutes before the show, I did a little bit of dancing backstage, channeling my friend and LTYM Detroit co-producer Angela, in hopes that I could get rid of some of my built-up adrenaline and be able to read our intro without my excess energy causing me to speak too quickly and lose my breath as it has for the past three years. It worked. (High five, Angela!)

The show was fantastic (of course!), and Tracey and I reminded each other several times to take mental snapshots that we could keep forever. I have lots of favorite, memorable show day moments; here are just a few:

Keesha and I had a quiet moment together before the show when she asked me if she could add Freddie Gray’s name to her essay, “Dear White Mom”, which she wrote just after Mike Brown was killed in Ferguson, Missouri last August. This was not the first time she had updated her essay for the show to reflect current events as young black men have been killed by police officers in various cities. We walked up to the podium together while everyone else was down in the dressing rooms, and as she wrote in the addition she said, “It’s pretty sad that I need to keep updating this.” I told her again how socially and culturally important her essay is, that we need it right now and I’m so glad that she was about to read it to our audience and that it will be on YouTube this summer (Stay tuned!). Her essay is a truth bomb that needs to be read and heard by everyone.

I finally got to tell Lyletta that her Oprah-like broadcaster voice was one that I’d like to hear at night, as in via her telling me bedtime stories. I don’t think she found that too weird because if she did, I have no doubt she would have given me “that look” and said so.

I think I will always, always remember hugging Pamela for a good, long time after she came off the stage. After meeting her at auditions and finding out how (in the challenges she has faced and is facing as a mom) she felt completely alone and without resources, we have watched her make great connections with those in the community who can help her due to their personal experience with the same type of thing as well as strong connections with these people on the cast who have had her back since the first time she opened her mouth to tell her story at rehearsal one. She has flourished through this process, and when I think of how LTYM can change lives in big ways and small ways, in this case it’s one of the biggest changes in all four years of LTYM Chicago and I can’t express how proud I am to have been a tiny part of that for her.

I was not surprised at all when David told me on his way out to do his reading that he was going to “ham it up a little”, and indeed he did. He also handled a child in the audience who found his essay INCREDIBLY funny (as we all did, but this little person was very expressive with the laughter) like a pro. He IS a pro.

Stephanie’s tribute to her terminally ill mother touched Tracey and me deeply, not only because Stephanie is a 2012 alumna and we know her, but also because she really captured the spirit of her mom in the reading. I can’t wait for her mom to see it: I know she’ll be so proud.

Each and every reading was so special (duh, that’s why we cast them) and they made, as one of them once said, “the perfect mixtape” for our 2015 show.

It didn't occur to me to ask anyone to take a picture of ME while I was reading, so this is a collage of *almost* the entire cast of LTYM Chicago 2015.

It didn’t occur to me to ask anyone to take a picture of ME while I was reading, so this is a collage of *almost* the entire cast of LTYM Chicago 2015.

After the show, we rushed out to the lobby to mix with the audience and it felt like coming home, with cast members from all three of our previous shows hugging Tracey and me as well as our newly-minted alumni. Audience members were very complimentary and it was just lovely to watch all of the interactions taking place.

As soon as the lobby began to clear, I noticed that suddenly, my not-used-to-wearing-heels feet were killing me. I had brought flip-flops in the car with me just in case, but I had a better solution: to do a one-eighty on what I said about not wearing those Chucks. I put them on for the after party (shew!), and got to “carry” our 2015 cast members with me just a little longer.

Okay, so I wore them. I HAD TO, to prevent my feet from falling off.

Okay, so I wore them. I HAD TO, to prevent my feet from falling off.

After enjoying food and drinks not only with cast members and family but also with LTYM producer-peers from other cities (the OTHER Angela from the Detroit show, Kim from the SW Michigan show, and Takeyla Benton and LTYM Founder and National Director Ann Imig from the Madison show) and people I work with at national sponsor BlogHer (including BlogHer co-founder Elisa Camahort Page), it started to pour. It was time to go home anyway and so my last favorite moment of the day was carefully taking the Chucks off so they wouldn’t get wet and then walking—barefoot and hand-in-hand with Jim—down the street to our car. It was a great day, a great season, and I was in bed by nine.

In the books

I am so thankful to have brought Patti, Lyletta, Pamela, Angie, Keesha, David, Cindy, Stephanie, Kathleen, Cyn, Erin, and Samantha into the fold (and the LTYM Chicago family) this year. I hope they had so much fun. I have a feeling they did.

Like like like

It may be all over, again, but I can’t wait to do it all over again.


I Want To Go To There Again, With Netflix #StreamTeam

Netflix Stream Team

I am a member of the Netflix Stream Team and will be happily sharing monthly tips and stories about how my family uses Netflix on a regular basis. (Okay, that’s an understatement. I should say CONSTANTLY. We use Netflix CONSTANTLY.) This post is sponsored by Netflix, of course!

Coming in just under the wire with my April Netflix Stream Team post (because that’s how I roll, especially during LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER show season), I decided to write about revisiting old favorites.

[click to continue…]


Invest In Yourself Because Life Is Too Short.

I ran into an old friend at the store a couple of weeks ago. We used to see each other all the time: her older daughter went to school—kindergarten through grade twelve!—with my older son. These days, though we still live in the same neighborhood, we don’t have that common bond anymore and at most, one of us waves at the other while walking the dog.

On the rare occasion when we see each other out in town, it’s fun to catch up. This time, she asked me what I was up to and I gave her just enough information about my activities to satisfy her curiosity without making her nearly pass out. (She’s not a social media person and I know that less is more when I’m describing my work to those who aren’t “out there” like I am.) I told her how happy I am, doing things that don’t actually seem like work (well, most of the time), and from home, even! She said that it was fun to see how excited I am about what I do.

I asked her if she was still working at the school on the other side of town, and she said yes. I asked, “Do you still love it?”

She grimaced and shook her head. “The only reason I’m still there,” she said, “is because I get summers off and I can go visit my parents for three consecutive weeks.” (Her parents live very far away and while I believe that she sees them a couple times each year, the long summer visit has been a tradition for years.)

I asked her what she’d rather be doing especially now that her youngest was graduating, and she told me. It was something very different, not even in the same industry, as what she spends her days doing right now. Her eyes lit up when she told me about it. I said, “What do you need to do in order to get on that path?”

She had no idea.

I guarantee that I could have pulled my phone out of my purse at that moment and, in less than three minutes, discovered exactly how she could get started working towards her end goal of that new career that made her eyes sparkle.

But I didn’t.

I said, “You should be able to search for that information: just Google it!”

She said, “I don’t know…I really like being able to go visit my parents for three weeks every year.”

Knowing the answer, I asked her, “Are you happy when you’re working, though?”

She shook her head.

I said, “What if you were able to do what you really want to do, and maybe you wouldn’t get three weeks with your parents every year but maybe two weeks instead. Would that work for you?”

She said, “Actually, yeah. Doing what I want to do and being happier in my day-to-day work life would be great.”

Then I climbed up on my virtual soapbox and preached a little bit about how life is too short to spend time—especially work time!—doing things that we are unhappy doing. I told her I hoped that when she went home, she would at least look into what her first steps could be, and I offered to meet her for coffee (tea in my case but details…) after she did that and help her figure out a plan.

Here’s the thing: life IS too short to be spending most of your waking hours frustrated with a job you’ve grown out of or one that has ceased to make you happy. (It’s also too short to spend with people who try to take you down rather than lift you up, but that’s another post for another day.)

Even if you have to take baby steps to get out of that situation, you’re still taking steps. Maybe you need to take classes in order to reach your goal and you don’t have the time or money. No problem. Start researching online. Educate yourself until you can manage to enroll in required classes. Are your kids still young and/or need so much care that you don’t have much time to pursue what you want to do? Baby steps. Make plans. Make lists. READ. Find out if there are “side door” ways to involve yourself with that job, that industry, anything. Find a mentor. Get yourself ready so when the time is right, you can make the leap. Be open to doing a related activity until you can go full throttle. Better yet, be open to letting your path change along the way. MAKE TIME TO MAKE PLANS. You’ll get there eventually, and you’ll be happy you put in the time and effort. Let’s face it, not too many people win the lottery. If you’re waiting for a good luck fairy to rip you out of an unhappy situation and gently plop you down into one that will make you happy, you likely have a terribly long and miserable wait.

Back in 2007, I was working at a nail salon and was generally unhappy at work. If you had told me that after I started blogging that year, the eight years that followed would lead me to my being a hopeless social media addict who works as a researcher for BlogHer and co-produces LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER Chicago and mentors new city teams on behalf of the LTYM national team (not to mention other opportunities like co-hosting ChicagonistaLIVE! like I did on Wednesday; see below picture that was taken by their staff photographer!), I would have first said, “HUH? What’s all that?” and then I would have been amazed and excited and in great disbelief, because it would have looked like a totally crooked path for me to take. Indeed, it has been, and I’ve loved every minute. Well, almost every minute.

Melisa on ChicagonistaLIVE

Co-hosting ChicagonistaLIVE with MJ Tam, Beth Rosen, Nancy Loo, and my partner-in-LTYM (Tracey Becker) was so incredibly fun. Also, I love this picture. (Photo credit: #ChicagonistaLIVE)

What got me where I am today was a combination of my willingness to try new things and to put in the work (and research! lots of research!) as well as lots of help and moral support from family and friends and mentors along the way. It’s one of the reasons why I love what I do on the LTYM national team: paying it forward is important to me and frankly, I love to see happiness on people’s faces when their plans come together.

When I said goodbye to my friend, my parting words were, “Call me! Let’s figure it out!” She said she would, but I have a strong feeling that she won’t and that makes me sad.

What about you? Are you stuck? I think it’s time to get out of that situation, don’t you? You’ll be much happier and you’ll wonder what took you so long: I promise. Now go get it!


Drury Lane’s “Billy Elliot”: Effing Amazing!

Hey you, Chicagoland.

Pay close attention to what you’re about to read:


Yes, I yelled.

And yes, I said “effing” in the title up there. I would have used the actual F word in honor of its major role in the musical, but this is a family-friendly blog.

Let me back up for a minute.

The fine folks at Drury Lane in Oakbrook asked me to come and check out the show, on their dime, and I jumped at the chance. I loved the movie, and just a few months ago my sister and I went to see (and loved) the London production of the musical, via Fathom Events and our local movie theater.

So I didn’t even hesitate before sending in my RSVP.

Not only did this production fail to disappoint me in any way, it also actually vaulted to the space in the very top of my “Best Shows Melisa Has Ever Seen Live” list, as in…”Wicked” territory. (ooh, and if you know anything about how much I love “Wicked”, you’ll know this is extremely sky-high praise.) I was completely blown away, and quite literally in a state of shock at how much I enjoyed it.

If you’re unfamiliar with the show, here’s a summary:

“Billy Elliot” follows a young boy as he trades in his boxing gloves for dancing shoes. In the story, which is set in a small mining town in the English countryside, a dance teacher finds a diamond in the rough when she discovers Billy, who has a passion for dance and ends up inspiring the entire community. Elton John composed the score (which is full of tremendously catchy songs). The original production won ten Tony Awards and ten Drama Desk Awards including Best Musical.

For this regional production, Artistic Director William Osetek and his team wondered, “Are Billy Elliots found or made?” They realized after searching for months that the latter was true. “The search required a young actor who brought incredible raw talent, but needed to be cultivated to stand up to the impossible task of performing the role of a young boy whose dance ability leaves one breathless.” The two boys selected for the Drury Lane production are Nicholas Dantes and Kyle Halford (Chicago natives, whoop whoop!) and they have worked for months, honing their skills in ballet, acrobatics, and tap, not to mention acting and vocal lessons.

BillyElliot at Drury Lane Theatre Company - Rhett Guter as "Older Billy" and Nicholas Dantes as "Billy" - Credit Brett Beiner - .jpg

That philosophy and the boys’ hard work paid off. Nicholas Dantes was last night’s Billy, and we were indeed left breathless by just about everything he did. He wasn’t the only talented youngster on stage, though. Every single kid in the cast impressed me immensely, from Zachary Uzarraga (who charmed everyone in the theater as “Small Boy”: MY GOD WAS HE ADORABLE) to Michael Harp (as Billy’s fearlessly expressive best friend Michael) to Peyton Shaffer (as snarky Debbie) to the rest of the ballet dancers (full of sass, all of them!). I wish I had as much talent in my pinky as those kids have.

BillyElliot at Drury Lane Theatre Company - Cast of Billy Elliot - Nicholas Dantes as "Billy" - Michael Harp as "Michael" - Credit Brett Beiner - .jpg

BillyElliot at Drury Lane Theatre Company - Susie McMonagle as "Mrs. Wilkinson" Credit Brett Beiner

The adults were no different. Susie McMonagle was brilliant as Mrs. Wilkinson, and Maureen Gallagher as Grandma was perfect casting. Ron E. Rains, who plays Billy’s dad, was amazing to watch in his transformation from a weary widow who couldn’t manage to support his son’s dancing dreams to a very proud papa who was in awe of his son’s Royal Ballet School audition.

BillyElliot at Drury Lane Theatre Company - Nicholas Dantes as "Billy" - Susie McMonagle as "Mrs. Wilkinson" - Credit Brett Beiner -

Though you may not believe it because it rarely happens, this production left me speechless. And I’m going back to see it again in a couple of weeks: THAT’S how much I enjoyed it. Once again I have to say that you don’t have to go to the city to see a top-notch show. Drury Lane in Oakbrook is right off the highway, parking is free, and every seat is excellent. Oh, and it’s AFFORDABLE.

You can catch “Billy Elliot” at Drury Lane through June 7. The performance schedule is as follows: Wednesdays at 1:30 p.m. ($45), Thursdays at 1:30 p.m. ($45) and 8:00 p.m. ($55), Fridays at 8:00 p.m. ($60), Saturdays at 5:00 p.m. ($60) and 8:30 p.m. ($60), and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. ($60) and 6:00 p.m. ($55). Student group and senior citizen pricing is available. For more information, visit the Drury Lane website.

So…maybe I’ll see you there?

Disclosure: I was given two tickets to the Drury Lane production of “Billy Elliot” with no obligation. I wrote about it because I wanted to, and all opinions are mine. Photos are courtesy of Drury Lane.

BillyElliot at Drury Lane Theatre Company - Cast of Billy Elliot - Credit Brett Beiner -

{ 1 comment }

Wait, What Day Is This Again?

And the month, please?

Well, I’m kidding about the month part. I know exactly what month it is (April), because I’m in the thick of LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER season.

I am seriously having trouble keeping track of the days, though. (I just looked; it’s Wednesday. In case you also wondered.) I just returned from a whirlwind trip to New York City (for the LTYM book launch) and New Jersey (to visit my other family) and I had all kinds of fun being completely relaxed and in a state of recharge, especially at this moment (Sunday afternoon) at this place (the beach in Seaside Heights) with my sistuh from anuthuh muthuh (Liz):

Not pictured: the goosebumps on my feet.

Not pictured: the goosebumps on my feet. Totally worth it.

Now that I’m back, I’m all “OMG I HAVE SO MUCH TO DO” but not just in a LTYM way. My house, my other job (BlogHer), my attempts at keeping my commitment to my fitness tracker…so I’m just going to drop these here:

1. I took some amazing photos on this trip (if I do say so myself), but this one, taken under the boardwalk in Atlantic City and not nearly as amazing as some of the others, won’t leave my brain:


What’s the story there? A breakup? Or was it “He loves me, he loves me not”? I feel like I really need to know and I won’t rest until I find out. Okay, I lied. But I’d love to know what went on there.

2. Speaking of something I’d love to know, I overheard two guys talking as we passed them in Manhattan. One of them said, “…and that’s the worst thing about tractors.” What IS the worst thing about tractors? I wish I had stopped and turned back to ask. Any ideas? I have no farming experience.

3. Remember my stress about my fitness tracker? Well, the one full day that Liz and I were in Atlantic City with two of her/our girls, we walked nearly 19,000 steps, way over goal. Yay us! That said, I think I only made my step goal for 2 of the 5 days I was there. Those weren’t the first times I missed my daily goal. The very first time was the week before my trip, and believe it or not, my whole world didn’t implode. Yay me! Now I have resigned myself to the fact that I am just in the middle of my busy season and I’m just going to do my best. My best is all I can do, you know? (That’s what we always told our boys, so I’m sticking with my own advice. And you should listen, too.)

4. Speaking of listening, that brings me to the show. Tracey and I have been enjoying the advantages of producing our fourth annual show: we are ticking things off the to do list and, with eighteen days to go we have no worries at all about everything getting completed. We have an amazingly talented cast, awesome sponsors, fantastic photographers and a videographer who we trust immensely, and a great venue with a superb management team. If you haven’t purchased your tickets yet, you can do so here. (If you don’t live in Chicago but know someone who does, be a dear and pass on this info, would you please?)

You want to go. Trust.

You want to go. Trust.

5. Wait, what day is this again? Never mind, I’ll look it up.


They Blinded Me With Science Humor

When I was researching my Chicago family travel book (Wait. You didn’t know I wrote this book? Huh.), I found all kinds of places around the Chicago area that my family had never experienced before. One of my (and my boys’!) very favorites was American Science & Surplus.

This is not a sponsored post, by the way.

The store contains what you would expect: science stuff and odds and ends. Lots of it is VERY odd, in fact.

You can get test tubes and bottles, but you can also get little motors and paper and maps and crime scene tape and marbles and lava lamps and frames and military stuff and literally thousands of other things that you didn’t even know you might need, lots of it older than dirt.

I used to take my boys to the West Chicago/Geneva location (on Roosevelt Road) when they were younger and give them a $5-10 spending limit. They LOVED shopping for their own stuff and would come out with a bag full of treasures that kept them busy for days and cost them, err me, very little.

I stopped in over the weekend because I was in the area (and I’m usually not!), and I had a blast walking through the aisles all by myself. I was there for nearly an hour and even found a few things to bring home with me. The best part was the fun I had reading the shelf tags, which are written by the hilarious employees there.

Forgive me, but I’m showing you eight of them. I took about twenty pictures so at least it’s not like I’m forcing you to look at my vacation slideshow but really, you should just go and see them for yourself, in person. Right after you finish this post.

"Catheter: Red rubber catheters...or really awesome drinking straws?"

“Catheter: Red rubber catheters…or really awesome drinking straws?”

"Shiny Happy Notebooks with pens of questionable quality"

“Shiny Happy Notebooks with pens of questionable quality”

"Rolling Ruler: I have no clue how this thing works but it does come with instructions, which is coolio!"

“Rolling Ruler: I have no clue how this thing works but it does come with instructions, which is coolio!”

"Bunsen Burners: Actually, you should let them cool before handling"

“Get ’em While They’re Hot! Bunsen Burners: Actually, you should let them cool before handling”

"Make your cheap last minute gifts look better. We both know you didn't really spend any time or thought on that gift, but we can make it look like you did!"

“Make your cheap last minute gifts look better. We both know you didn’t really spend any time or thought on that gift, but we can make it look like you did!”

"My Anaconda DON'T want none unless it's double-sided permanent glue tape, son"

“My Anaconda DON’T want none unless it’s double-sided permanent glue tape, son”

"Make your own Meat! Then sell it out of the back of your windowless van!"

“Make your own Meat! Then sell it out of the back of your windowless van!”

"Hey. Bet you can't guess what this is...it's a bottle! I know, I didn't see that one coming at all. This bottle is extra special and not at all like our other bottles."

“Hey. Bet you can’t guess what this is…it’s a bottle! I know, I didn’t see that one coming at all. This bottle is extra special and not at all like our other bottles.”

American Science & Surplus has one other Chicagoland location (on Milwaukee Avenue) and there’s a store in Milwaukee (on W. Oklahoma), too!

Grab ten bucks and head over there with your kids. Or without your kids. In fact, call me. Maybe I’ll tag along!


Next Year At The Same Place!

For the last eighteen years, we have spent various Jewish holidays with a group of five other families from our temple. We all got together when our oldest kids were in the three-year-old and four-year-old preschool classes there, and it was great to have plans with friends nearly every Hanukkah, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Passover. Everyone didn’t go to every get-together, but back in those days it was nearly always a full house.

I have pictures—somewhere—of the times when the kids were around but I’m too lazy to look for them so you’ll just have to take my word for it.

Those preschoolers and their siblings, thirteen kids in all, are grown up now. (The oldest just got married, in fact…yikes! I am old!) These days, we don’t get together for Hanukkah anymore, but a few of us do the High Holidays together.

And then there’s Passover.

One of the families has hosted the Passover Seder every single year (I think). Jim and I have only missed it (I think) once or twice. The quantity of table settings (and length of the table!) has grown and shrunk each year, and it’s always fun to see who is able to make it.

Passover 2012

Passover 2012

Way back in the day, my friend used a white paper table cloth and left crayons or markers out for the kids so they could quietly draw while we adults read through the Haggadah (prayer book) aloud, round-robin style. We also used store-bought Haggadot back then, which is how most people do it, I guess. At some point along the way, our hostess started adding new books and she’d tell us which book to grab and what page to read. Then she ended up photocopying her favorite elements of each book and created her own Haggadah.

Miller Family Passover Haggadah

These homemade books are such a huge part of our Seder every year. We all laugh every time we are directed to read from page four—“no, not that one! the page four that comes AFTER page seventeen!”—and we all groan when it’s our turn but we notice that we’ve landed on the part of the book that is the actual story of Passover because that’s SO MUCH READING and we all go “Nope!” when our hostess asks us if we want to sing anything other than “Dayenu”. Oh, and we all sigh a little bit when we get a book that has coloring in it from years ago.

Passover Haggadah

Passover Haggadah

I look forward to this evening every year. Sitting around the table with our hosts and whoever else happens to be attending is such a highlight of springtime, and just like in the Seder itself, things happen in a certain order:

1. I am complimented on my charoset, which I make every year. (Okay, it really IS delicious.)
2. Someone makes a comment about how Jim and I are “so young” (we’re the youngest couple, but not by much!)
3. I get to talk about social media both with someone who totally gets it (our hosts) and usually people who absolutely don’t.
4. We all laugh at the sump pump, which runs on a regular basis just beneath the dining room and sounds like it’s actually a Mack truck getting ready to come right through the house.
5. We talk about how weird it is that our kids are grown, when it was just yesterday that they were at the other end of the table.
6. When we get to the part of the Seder where we have to say “Next year in Jerusalem!” we all think, “Next year, right here!”

There are lots of Jewish traditions that my family has under our own roof, but this one, under my friend’s roof, means just as much to me.

Passover 2014

Passover 2014

If you celebrate Passover or Easter, I hope you enjoy making some wonderful memories with family and friends! Have a great weekend!


Whirlyball, Where Have You Been All My Life?

Actually, I guess it’s the other way around. Whirlyball has been a Chicago staple for years and years, right here in front of me, but for some reason–and I’ll be kicking myself over it for a long time to come–I had never tried it…until this week.

(Disclosure: the fine folks at Whirlyball invited me and some friends in for some complimentary play. I was not compensated for this post.)

Whirlyball, which is a combination of lacrosse, basketball, hockey, and bumper cars, is a fast-paced team game and SO MUCH FUN. Players are buckled into “WhirlyBugs” with a plastic scoop in hand. The idea is to get a whiffle ball through the net to score points. There are penalties, too, like for “slashing” (hitting an opponent’s scoop while trying to get the ball), picking up the ball with your hands, or directly hitting someone from behind.

The first thing you have to learn when you get ready to play Whirlyball is that WhirlyBugs are NOT bumper cars. They are much faster and more responsive than bumper cars. WhirlyBugs have 360-degree steering via a single drive wheel in front, and only one pedal (the accelerator); there is no brake.

The second thing you have to learn is how to scoop up that wiffle ball. It’s much harder than you’d think.

In fact, the whole game is harder than you think, but you’re so busy laughing and screaming that it doesn’t even matter. Wait though; let me back up for a minute.

I brought some super-fun friends with me for the experience: Tracey, Samantha, and Natasha. There may have been a little trash talking ahead of time, but it was all in the spirit of fun and friendship. Yeah. That’s it.

After lots of excited Facebook messages between the four of us and the creation of a hashtag for the event (#WhirlyGirlies), the day finally arrived. I put on my game face and left for the Whirlyball location in Lombard.

Melisa Pios

Typically the game is played with five people on each team, but it was two-on-two in our case (an ideal experience for first-timers!). We were debriefed by the manager and a couple of other employees before our referee, Steve, took us onto the court to explain the rules. That poor guy, trying to explain the rules of this potentially dangerous game to four extremely extroverted ladies who were over the top excited about being out for the evening together. Steve, who I’m sure went home that night wondering what he did at work to get the short end of the stick on the “dealing with those crazy women” thing at work, made it through just fine, and we all prepared to play. It was Samantha and me against Tracey and Natasha, and we jumped right in after taking a pre-game picture.

Picture courtesy of Samantha!

Picture courtesy of Samantha!

It’s no easy feat to steer with one hand and try to scoop up a ball with the other, all while trying to prepare yourself to get slammed into another WhirlyBug or worse, the wall. It IS, however, hilarious. Did I mention that you also have to try and hear the referee, who is in a box above the court with a microphone, reminding you of the rules while calling the game (and sometimes playfully ridiculing everyone below)?

Whirlyball Sam

I honestly can’t remember the last time I laughed (or screamed) so hard. We had an amazing time. I’m pretty sure Steve the referee had a great time too, and I know he appreciated how we yelled back at him, especially that one time I begged him to give me permission to slash Tracey (he wouldn’t). He DID, however, allow us to play one final five minute game with “street rules” (ahem no rules). He probably will not forget us anytime soon.

Whirlyball Tracey

Whirlyball also has locations in Chicago and Vernon Hills, by the way. They operate mostly under a reservation system (the Lombard location has two courts), but they’ll take walk-ins if there is space available. The cost is $15 per person per half hour, and court time can be reserved with a minimum of four people.

While at Whirlyball you can enjoy a full bar and a menu including what I would call “delicious upscale bar food”. We tried the wings and the pretzel bites with Goose Island 312 beer cheese, and they were amazing. The new menu also includes other great items like flatbreads, sandwiches, and truffle fries.

At the end of the evening we were exhausted, exhilarated, and maybe a little sore in the abs from all the laughing (and okay, twisting around to get that blasted whiffle ball). I honestly could have played for another two hours but the evening league guys arrived and we had to give up the court. We’re already talking about returning and bringing more friends with us, and I know that my kids would love it too.

But first, I have to get my voice back.

So much fun, you guys. If you live in the Chicago area, GO TRY IT.

{ 1 comment }