California Dreaming

The autumn is bittersweet. There are forecasts that another polar vortex will swirl our way this winter.

To prepare for any possible NYC Seasonal Affect Disorder, I’ve just booked airline tickets for a couple of weeks for the whole fam to got to Southern California over Christmas and New Year’s.

How lucky is my family – to have friends for whom we will house- and dog-sit in Pasadena. I like making new traditions in new places. Most Christmases, we have ensconced ourselves in the Big House in the Adirondacks at Christmas. And then to shake things up, we might’ve gone north from there to Montreal for a night or two – for Boxing Day shopping or a swim in a hotel pool.

the Big House
the Big House

But my husband’s family has decided to close the Big House for winter. The family is choosing to save money. (The heating bill at Christmas is usually at least $100/a day). Besides, the mansion is for sale this year. And a lot of family members are in transition.

I wrote this as I headed out to a retreat on the Long Island RailRoad. I passed pumpkin patches, vineyards, and horse farms. The leaves on the trees were just so beautiful this weekend. While I was California-dreaming about Christmas, I was also trying to remain present — live in the moment with all of the beauty right in front of my eyes this October.

took this from the L.I.R.R., heading to Shelter Island.

Finding Beauty and Health Again

The experience with Coco at the hospital was pretty intense. And I feel a bit knocked off my life’s tightrope — balancing my paid work, my creative work and my (unpaid) family duties.

H. napping at one of the colleges we visited. He is an excellent napper.
H. napping at one of the colleges we visited. He is an excellent napper.

One such responsibility is supporting H. as he applies this week for early decision to a college. He needs a reminder to focus. He’s been coping with the added stress by napping when he gets home from school.

On Saturday afternoon, when I got home from the hospital, I realized I had to still feed and care for the kids. So I hopped on my bike to purchase rice and beans for Coco at La Caridad (the best Cuban Chinese food on the Upper West Side!)

There were a dozen limos on West End Ave. I wondered what was up. And then when I turned at 77th at the Collegiate Church, there were dozens of people pouring out of the church. It was a wedding.

And the sky was blue and the air was fresh, full of autumn but summer lingering. And I felt so full of life and beauty and gratitude. My kid was fine! We were going to be fine!

And people from the wedded were dressed up so fancily — men in tuxes and ladies in silk. I was elated.

At Caridad, I told the guy at the counter, “My daughter’s just out of the hospital.”

And he, this lovely tattoo’ed dude, said, “That’s great. You have two girls, right? And a son?”

Indeed, I do. I’m so lucky. My brother says, “Don’t say you’re lucky. Say you’re blessed.” Ya, that too.

The rice and beans were delicious. And I took a long nap.

I find so much beauty in the flowers in Riverside Park. I love taking pictures with my phone.
Blue sky, nothing but blue sky, and sunflower.

Advice to the Woman on the Subway

1. You’re not a failure if you’ve learned something
2. Let go. Because you can’t control outcomes
3. Learn to ask for and accept help
4. Find your own constant

I found these guidelines on my Notes app on my phone. I think they’re from my kids’ headmaster on parents’ day, but I’m not really sure. I was looking for something to post today — another crazy busy day. Not enough time to write.

I was on the subway headed to see Laura Pruden’s show. The woman next to me — middle aged, white, long hair, flouncy conservative clothes, stockings — was crying. I could see she was reading some sheets of paper. I caught some words over her shoulder:

How can you tell if a guy likes you?

She noticed me, noticing her. I gave her a weak smile. She blew her nose. She stopped crying.

I got off on Grand Street to see Laura’s show at Dixon Place. It was awesome. It addressed these topics. And a lot more.

Laura Pruden
(Laura Pruden’s one-woman show, Growing Up Straight in the Shadow of AIDS. Photo by Nikolitsa Boutieros of Divine Light Photography — at Dixon Place.)

There’s a shared intimacy to city living. We know each other so well. We sit so close to each other. And really, we don’t know each other at all. We go deep together. And then we get off at the next stop.

Thanks, Laura, for reminding me to remember our stories of love, loss and the epidemic.

31 Days of Good Enough: On the Move

We were on the move. While talking to my pastor Laura, in the Climate March last week, I had an insight — I have to pay as much attention to and love my own children as much as I notice and love my students.

That seems obvious. But sometimes I come home from teaching brimming over with funny stories about the 6-year olds in my afterschool creative writing and reading class, and I can see (or feel) my children roll their eyes. My affection for other children does not take away my love for my own children. But I have to make sure that they know that. I have to encourage them.

Laura and I talked about this as we walked with hundreds of thousands along the Manhattan streets in the biggest climate change march ever. We were on West 59th, walking along Central Park South, discussing Eleanor Roosevelt and the recent fantastic PBS series on the Roosevelts.

And I had told Laura, “It just seemed that as Eleanor grew older, she was alone. Her life was not full of family and picnics and fun, but international travel and great causes.” Which, of course, I love. I love her internationalist impulse and her love for the world. But maybe she should’ve hung out with her family more.

When I went to college, I moved from suburban Chicago to New York City. And I just stayed. I am far-flung from my family of origin too. I want to be intentional about connecting with my mother and father and sister and brothers too.

daisies medium

So for the next 31 days, I will be writing about:

  • How my husband’s Parkinson’s impacts our family
  • My son’s college search
  • Letting go of my desire to keep up with the Joneses
  • My take-aways from teaching
  • How and where I try (and sometimes do) get published
  • Decluttering my messy apartment
  • Trying to stick to a family meal plan
    and maybe even
  • Pursuit of fitness
  • And maybe some random (good enough) essays I’m working on.

Today’s message:
I am good enough. You are good enough. You don’t have to be or do better. Just accept that where you are is where you are. There is no perfect. There is today. I’m so glad we have today.

I aim to be a loving presence in my little sphere of the world.

I love the concept of Good Enough. I am a perfectionist. I want everything to be just right. But sometimes that hinders me from finishing things, from sending stories out, or feeling that I’m good enough. Lately, I’ve also been blessed with so much wonderful work. And so many great friends. And yes, a great family too! And that is so good!

It Must Be October

On an autumn walk, these wildflowers said, "Hello. We are still beautiful."
On an autumn walk, these wildflowers said, “Hello. We are still beautiful.”

I feel old.

It must be October.

It must be the pumpkin-flavored everything.

I am no longer pumpkin-flavored.

I am nutmeg. Nutty.

I see my reflection in the subway window.

I think,

“I need Botox.”

The train travels through Cornwall on the trestle. Sunset.
The train travels through Cornwall on the trestle. Sunset.

I am becoming

invisible – like all the New York belles, wrinkled, made up,


I don’t care – and then

I start singing –

“I don’t care. I love it.”

I am silly, happy. humming to myself on the subway.

I am not yet that creeping cold November.

I am still this playful hot October.

In the beginning of the autumn month.

I am still jumping in a pile of leaves, singing songs to and of myself.

It must be October.

I don’t care.

I love it.

Mary Beth Coudal
I am in October.
United Methodist Retreat House
This is where we ( had our beautiful fall retreat.

Tomorrow’s the Big Day

I’m going to be performing in front of hundreds of people at the Listen To Your Mother show in NYC, 5 pm, Sunday, 5/12, at Symphony Space on Broadway at 95th.

listenI gotta tell you, I’m very nervous.

One part of me knows I’ll be great.

Another part of me feels like apologizing for my story in the show — it’s a small story about a small moment. It’s nothing big, nothing earth-shattering, nothing out of the ordinary. Sure, I could’ve plumbed the depths of my soul (could I?); instead, I chose a story about taking out the trash with my surly teen.

So I’m inclined to say, “Awww, P’shaw! My story? Me? We’re not that important.”

But wait! I must remember my advice to myself. When I used to do stand up, right before I went on, while nursing a diet coke at the bar, I’d psyche myself up by telling myself these three things:

  1. Be yourself
  2. Have fun
  3. It is important

These three rules seemed to make a positive difference in my performance. Also, I received precious advice from Eddie Brill who told me, way back when: “Never apologize in your stand up act!” That was great advice! It turns out that audiences don’t trust or appreciate apologists!

The truth is that I love the truth. I love hearing truths about motherhood — good, bad, and indifferent truths. Extraordinary and ordinary truths.

I love that I am someone who loves the truth. Because too much of my mothering and my life is spent putting up a good appearance and trying to keep up with the Joneses :)

So the fact that I am invited to tell my truth along with a bunch of other truth-tellers, well, it’s just icing on the cake of my life.

Lintault quilt
When I saw this quilt, I thought it was as beautiful as any Michelangelo oil painting. I saw the quilt by Joan Lintault at the Shelburne Museum in Vermont.

Do I think the other writers have bigger truths? Maybe. But it’s not a competition. It’s a collaboration. And each square of the quilt makes for a beautiful pattern. Some of fabric is flowery, some plaid, some embroidered, some plain. Each story, each piece, makes up this crazy quilt.

When we tell our stories, we make room for even more truth. And, as the saying goes, the truth will set you free.

This Listen To Your Mother show is not a  show for or about perfect mothers. It is not about pretty mothers like Stepford wives. If you’re looking for that, look in the Mother’s Day aisle for a Hallmark card. (Although I’m pretty sure Hallmarks’s marketing strategy has turned towards a more honest appraisal of motherhood as well.)

In this show we laugh and cry over our real truths. And in these truths, the writers have made art, found freedom, and even, perhaps, woven together a new kind of patchwork quilt, more beautiful together than we could ever have been on our own.

I am honored to bring my piece to the show.

I am just going to show up; have fun; be myself; and remember, it IS important.

This post was inspired by the the daily post prompt: “We each have many types of love …Is there a single idea or definition that runs through all the varieties of ‘love’?”

Thanks to director Amy Wilson, producers Varda Steinhardt and Holly Rosen Fink, and assistant director Shari Simpson for weaving me into the show.

And thanks to the rest of the cast, truth-tellers and artists all: Barbara Patrick, DeBorah “Momma D” Gray, Jaime Fernandez, Kim FordeKizz Robinson, Laura Pruden, Marinka, Nicole Goodwin, Nivea CastroRebecca Land Soodak,Sandy Rustin, Sasha Schreiner, Shari SimpsonSofia QuinteroStacy Morrison, Susan Buttenwieser,Tracy Beckerman, and Virginia Watkins.

Snuggling through Jekyll and Hyde

I took one of my favorite dates, my 16-year old son, to see Jekyll & Hyde. Whenever the show got the tiniest bit ballad-y, I felt his bony head on my shoulder. Awwww, how sweet! Where else can a mother snuggle with her teenage boy except at a Broadway show?

My son’s favorite part  was the moment when Jekyll exploded with emotion at the portrait of himself.  There are projected fireballs which I think probably reminded my son of his favorite date, his Call of Duty Xbox game.

That scene is towards the end of the musical when Jekyll faces his evil incarnation, Hyde. I love stories where psychological aspects of a character or personality are played out. But this musical is not a study in the psychology of multiple personalities, it is a study in singing.

Side note: the young woman in front of us, who we eavesdropped on, was an expert on Jekyll & Hyde productions. (According to the cast whom we met before the show at a swank brunch, these Jekyll & Hyde groupies are called Jekkies (like Trekkies! Funny, no?)) This Jekkie liked the scene better when the actor talked in two voices to himself,  à la Sybil. We liked it this way though. Explosions!

Constantine Mouralis as Dr. Jekyll (See what I mean? He's Fisher Stevens!) Photo courtesy of Jekyll and Hyde.
Constantine Mouralis as Dr. Jekyll (See what I mean? He’s Fisher Stevens!) Photo courtesy of Jekyll and Hyde.

Okay, onto the actors! I noticed early on that Constantine Maroulis reminded me of Fisher Stevens and I couldn’t shake that separated-at-birth association. Hey, lots of women found Fisher Stevens sexy, right? Michelle Pfeiffer, for one. I remember seeing Constantine on American Idol, I thought, Wow! This guy can sing! And emote! And woo you with his passion.

And you will think that too, especially when he sings, “This is the moment!” A show stopper! The dude has it, even if, in his Dr. Jekyll character, he does remind you of Fisher Stevens.

So, onto the women.

If the two aspects of a male are kindly doctor and wicked psychopath, the two aspects of a female, are — yes, you guessed it — virgin and whore.

Deborah Cox, a class act, sings "Bring on the Men." (only slightly uncomfortable to watch with your teenager!)
Deborah Cox, a class act, sings “Bring on the Men.” (only slightly uncomfortable to watch with your teenager!) Photo courtesy of Jekyll & Hyde.

However, the two women playing these two archtypes never let their acting or singing stoop to cliche. They were even better than their male counterparts in the arts of  wooing, emoting, singing! Deborah Cox as the good-hearted whore, Lucy, was OMG! She made a cartoon character complex, human, sympathetic. And  Teal Wicks was not a simpleton virgin, but a smart and sophisticated Victorian.

The supporting actors were all delicious. I could eat them up. I especially loved Jason Wooten and Blair Ross. I was sorry when their wicked, wicked ways had to come to an end. My son especially could not stop talking about how the bishop met his fate.

I think there’s something in this show for you, even if you don’t have a teenager or a crush on Fisher Stevens.

Disclaimer: Thanks to Jekyll and Hyde and the Serino/Coyne group for the tickets and the brunch. The opinions on this blog are always my own.

Related articles Jekyll and Hyde

Laird Mackintosh, Deborah Cox, and my date at Jekyll & Hyde
Broadway show
Jason Wooten and me at the pre-show brunch.

Washington Square Park

What’s not to love about springtime in the Village? Washington Square Park is looking fine.
the arch
Washington Square Park looks better than ever, much better than when I attended NYU. Tulips bloom.
Caffe Reggio
There’s cappuccino at the cafe.
This is inside Caffe Reggio, an 80-year old cafe on MacDougal Street.
This is inside Caffe Reggio, an 80-year old cafe on MacDougal Street.
chess in the park
And it’s a perfect day to hang out, read, or play chess in the park.

I Get Social Media

Do you feel like you “get” social media, or do you just use it because that’s where all your friends and family are?

I get social media. But to get it, you have to give it.

I am Facebook, Twitter, Instagram girl, but I put myself out there. I’ve seen studies that show the more engaged a social media user is, the happier she is.

Some people complain about social media, “I don’t want to know what you had for lunch.”

I admit I occasionally report what I’m cooking. When I recently updated my FB status, “Making chili, meat and vegetarian,” several cyber friends in several states were also making chili. Coincidence? I dunno. But it was interesting and fun and I felt less alone in my solo chili-making kitchen.

Sometimes I overshare. That’s me. I overshare IRL too.

As a wife of someone with Parkinson’s Disease, I feel connected to friends and family through social media. Apathy is a side effect of my husband’s disease. On social media, I can’t tell if people are apathetic towards me. I try to notice only the thumbs up, the cheers, the interactions that lead to deeper sharing. I affirm people, just like I like being affirmed.

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve connected in person with two different high school friends who were visiting New York. I wouldn’t have stayed in touch with them without Facebook. When we got together, we talked about deep stuff — how we felt different, theater, how we parent, what’s new with our siblings, how we work.

Of course, it’s scary to put yourself out there and swim in the social media community pool. It’s easier and safer, emotionally, to lurk, dangle your feet in the water.

My social media mania has one downside.

I was reminded of this jealousy factor, when I read: More kids than suitcases’ blog post about torturing yourself on spring break. Because yes, just by the look of some other people’s spring break pics, they’re having a lot of fun out there. I saw in friends’ feeds palm trees and London tea (different people obviously.) That made me wish I was somewhere fabulous.

But I was. I was somewhere fab. Making every day fabulous is one of my life goals. (Thanks to my former colleague, Klay Williams!)

Compare and despair. I try to post awesome pictures of me and the kids having a really good time out in the world. (See below!) Because a picture of one of my kids staring at the phone, laptop, or TV is boring. I post about things, people, and events that I want to remember. I don’t want to remember boredom, bickering, apathy, and negativity.

I want to remember doing cartwheels on the beach. I want to remember bike riding. I want to remember making each other smile and laugh.

This post was inspired by the Daily Prompt – Social Network.





Daily Prompt: Time Capsule

2012 is drawing to a close (3 weeks left!). What would you put in this year’s time capsule?

collage for UMCOR
collage for UMCOR

I would put:

  • My collage art to promote UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief). Am so proud! This was an early version.
  • My bike. Oh, my bike. I love my bike. Biking in NYC makes me happy.

    seen in a bike shop window in Portland
    seen in a bike shop window in Portland
  • My first (ever!) unemployment direct deposit check. Definitely mixed feelings, but overall grateful.
  • My new business cards.
  • Masks that the girls made at Art Students League. We all play roles, wear masks, make art.
  • Chris’s SAG movie pass. Going to the movies together has been a great way to connect. Due to Chris’s illness and our busy-ness, I feel we are ships passing in the night. But we’ve sat together at such amazing movies this year! Yesterday we saw Amour. Formidable! (my favorite French word!) Today we are going to see The Guilt Trip.
  • Abeach handful of sand from Siesta Key beach. The kids and I had such a restorative time hanging out at the prettiest beach in the world last spring. Great times, too, with my bro, Nicole, dad, and Marty.
  • A mosquito from the kids and my ill-fated camping trip to Fire Island.
  • Yoga mat. Because my mom still practices yoga and stands on her head.
  • Shake Shack fries. After teaching a semester of middle school creative writing, I take my kids to Shake Shack to celebrate.
  • School Swimming Pool and Van Cortlandt Park. I watch my kids play basketball, soccer, and baseball, but I spend most of my spectator time on the sidelines of the long benches of the pool or on the edges of the Van Corltandt Park track.
  • all the cousins
    all the cousins

    All of the cousins. Being with my four siblings and their kids for Thanksgiving was definitely the highlight of 2012.

  • President Barack Obama’s birth certificate. Just in case anyone, in the future, has any questions. The man is an American, all right already. Forward.

2012 was a very good year.