My House is Alive with the Sound of Musicals

I’m a musicals geek from way back. My artist father was an ardent admirer of talent and beauty, and introduced me to many of the great movie musicals when I was a little girl. As a result, in my youth I had dreams of becoming a Broadway star. Those dreams were squashed forever when I auditioned for West Side Story in a Cleveland community theater production in my early twenties. I failed miserably at the dance-at-the-gym number. (To dance, you need rhythm and the ability to step-ball-change. I have neither.)

My lack of rhythm doesn’t prevent me from loving musicals, however, it makes me appreciate them all the more. I especially love the old movie musicals from Hollywood’s heyday in the ‘30s-‘50s—like Top Hat, On the Town, Yankee Doodle Dandy, Meet Me in St. Louis, Singin’ in the Rain, Oklahoma, and The King and I. Unfortunately, many of those musicals and their stars are becoming forgotten.

So, I’m going to do my part to keep them alive by periodically writing about them and introducing you to some of the greats (which you may not know if you’re under 40.) Like the fabulous Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Judy Garland and Gene Kelly, Kathryn Grayson and Howard Keel, Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds, Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney. (The latter you should know well from watching White Christmas every year—“The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing” number with the inimitable Danny Kaye and Vera Ellen is one of the greatest dance duets committed to film.

Then there’s that great musical quartet who produced two of the most enduring movie musicals in the ‘50s: Rodgers and Hammerstein and Gordon MacRae and Shirley Jones.

Carousel was one of Dad’s favorite musicals, due in large part to Gordon MacRae’s stirring and tender rendition of “Soliloquy.” I can’t hear “My boy Bill…” without thinking of Dad. The beautiful duet “If I Loved You” between Billy Bigelow and Julie Jordan gave us both goosebumps, and left me with a longtime crush on Gordon MacRae (sealed for life when he sang “Oh What a Beautiful Morning” and “People Will Say We’re in Love,” in Oklahoma.) But it was the heartbreaking “You’ll Never Walk Alone” when Billy Bigelow died that moved us to tears when I was a child.

Less than a decade later that song was sung at my Dad’s funeral.

Dad appreciated great singing and dancing, and passed that appreciation on to his offspring. He revered Mario Lanza and introduced me to the great operatic tenor in “The Toast of New Orleans” with Kathryn Grayson. I still remember and love their gorgeous duet of “Be My Love,” a song that became a bestselling hit for Lanza in the ‘50s.

Another amazing musical performer from the ‘40s and ‘50s my dad introduced me to was Ann Miller, the leggy brunette famous for her machine-gun tap dancing. Many considered her the best and fastest female tap dancer in Hollywood—it was said she could do 500 taps a minute!

She usually played the sassy sidekick and was in a lot of not-too-good movies. Although the movies were forgettable, her dancing never was. To see her in her best films, check out Easter Parade, On the Town, and Kiss Me, Kate.

I’ll leave you with a little more Miller dancing to brighten your weekend.

 

 

Not High Maintenance; Highly Sensitive

Sunroom
Sunroom sanctuary

I’ve never thought of myself as a highly sensitive person. Somewhat sensitive? Yes. But highly sensitive? Not so much. However, after reading this eye-opening article by Jenn Granneman discussing “The Highly Sensitive Person”, a book by Dr. Elaine N. Aron, I realized I’m a lot more sensitive than I thought.

I thought I was just high maintenance. Or old. Here’s a few things this highly sensitive person (HSP) needs:

  • Time to decompress – According to the article, “noisy, busy environments can wreak havoc on a sensitive person’s highly reactive nervous system.” Yes! Crowded restaurants with blaring music, shrieking kids, and 17 TVs playing sports make me want scream, “Shut the hell up!” Instead, I just get the hell out of there. (This is also why I don’t frequent heavy metal concerts, clubs, or jam-packed stadiums.) I’d rather curl up with a good book and a “cuppa” in my quiet little cottage.
  • Plenty of sleep – Everyone gets irritable when they don’t get enough sleep, but the article says, “lack of sleep for the sensitive person can make life almost unbearable.” Preach. Eight hours of sleep a night is my ideal, but I can manage on seven. Any less than that and it’s not pretty. Trust me. Ask my husband.
  • Healthy meals spaced regularly throughout the day – Thanks to this article I learned a great new word: “hangry.” That’s me when I don’t eat regularly. The author says this is because “extreme hunger can mess up a sensitive person’s mood or concentration.” Got that right. Michael knows to leave a clear path to the kitchen when I announce, “I need to eat something RIGHT NOW!”
  • Time to get things done – “Sensitive people hate busy schedules and rushing from one thing to the next.” Can I get an Amen? Packed weekends without any downtime especially stress me out. I can’t be going, going from one activity to another all weekend long, no matter how fun it is. That’s why I never schedule things on Sunday nights (and preferably after Sunday lunch). I need my Sunday nap. Naps are delicious. Almost better than chocolate.
  • A space of my own – HSP’s need “a quiet place to retreat to” when they need to get away from noise and people. My home is my retreat. And luckily I have several retreat rooms to choose from: sunroom, den, living room, bedroom. My favorite newest retreat spot is our patio where I’ll stretch out in my gravity chair next to the new fountain Michael got with his last work bonus. Running water, a meditative margarita and sweet Mellie-girl sprawled across my chest. It doesn’t get much better than that.
  • Beauty – When the author wrote, “I’m deeply affected by my surroundings, especially the way they look. Cluttered, chaotic, or just plain ugly environments bother me,” I did an inner fist pump and breathed out, “Yes!”
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    (Excuse the catty-wampus chair. Other than that, all that’s missing from this bucolic outdoor scene is me, Mellie, and a margarita.)

    I can’t stand chaotic, messy environments. Cluttered dining room tables–aka the drop zone–are a pet peeve. Bills, groceries, junk mail, glasses, magazines, pens, snacks, piles of paper, errant tools and all manner of things get dropped on the table. Makes me twitchy. And that other word that sounds like that. The only thing the dining room table should hold is that week’s tablecloth, Pimpernel place mats, candles, and a jug of fresh flowers. Although I do allow food and dishes at mealtime.

  • I also like a clutter-free living room. (Stop laughing, Lana. And Shane.) There’s a difference between warm and cozy and full of things that matter to us and cluttered with stuff that doesn’t belong. I’m a big believer in beauty and everything in its place. Before I go to bed (in addition to making sure the front door is locked) I’ll put Mellie’s toys in her basket, pick up books, shoes, jackets, and any empty cups or glasses and return them to their rightful place. Then I’ll straighten coasters, adjust crooked area rugs, tuck in slipcovers, plump pillows, and angle pictures. It only takes five minutes—seven at the most—and in the morning I wake up to a pretty, tidy living room. And all is right in my world.
  • I wish I could say the rest of my house is always as neat and tidy, but I’m not Wonder Woman. During the work week, clothes get dumped on bedroom chairs at night, shoes multiply in front of the closet, and Mellie’s random dust bunnies polka-dot the hardwood floors. By the end of the week though, the piles of clothes and shoes really agitate my aesthetic sensibilities so I spend an hour Saturday mornings doing a quick power clean so I can relax and enjoy the rest of my weekend. Thankfully, after 25 years of marriage, my sentimental pack-rat-man knows the importance of keeping the common areas clean and clutter-free. Sure, when unexpected guests drop by we may have to do a quick scoop and dump into the back room (his bursting-at-the-seams office/studio) but that’s what doors are for.

Any other Highly Sensitive Person’s out there who can relate to this? Don’t be shy; I know I’m not the only one who needs my Sunday naps and drop-free-zone dining room table. What pushes your HSP buttons?

 

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Boomerangle

IMG_0209I didn’t have a miserable childhood with crazy, alcoholic parents. I didn’t escape a third-world country after being sold off as a child-bride at 12. I wasn’t raised in the projects by a drug-addicted mother who turned tricks to make ends meet. I’ve never made a sex tape. (You’re welcome.) I’m not fleeing an abusive relationship with my tattooed and pierced lesbian lover. I’m not a woman trapped in a man’s body longing to develop an Adam’s apple, facial hair, and wanting to change my name to Bruce. I’m not psychotic, schizophrenic, anorexic, dyslexic, or eccentric.

Just occasionally neurotic. Although my friends and family might disagree on the occasional part.

I’m a happily married (most of the time), soon to turn 60, lower middle-class suburban white woman packing some extra pounds who has a steady 8-5 job, drives a 20-year-old Honda Civic, and sings in the church choir.

In short, boring with a capital B.

At least to young people and New York publishers. All 15 of them (or was it 25? I’ve lost count) who rejected my funny, sometimes spiritual, sometimes heartbreaking, good-girl-gone-bad-gone-good-again memoir. The best (she says humbly) book I’ve ever written. Of the dozen or more—17—I’ve had published. The most transparent. The book of my heart and soul.

But I’m not bitter. Just “unknown” and not very exciting, apparently.

photo - author in airforceI sure was in my younger days. Not many (any) girls in my high-school graduating class of 1974 ran off to join the Air Force, fly a typewriter through Europe, and date fighter pilots. Or toss back schnapps and eat wild boar in Germany, tilt at windmills and tiptoe through the tulip fields in Holland, and visit 13 countries before they were 23.

Not to brag (too much) but I also skied in the Alps (okay, snowplowed into cars in the parking lot, but let’s not quibble. I was on skis in the frickin’ ALPS! Were you?) enjoyed a gondola ride in Venice, went au naturel on a topless beach in Sardinia, and tried not to gasp in good-girl, Midwestern shock when I saw the women in the windows in Amsterdam’s red light district. I did gasp at Winged Victory in the Louvre, swim in the Mediterranean, watch Yul Brynner polka across a West End stage in The King and I, eat snails in Paris, frog legs in Luxembourg, and drink ouzo in Greece. (That ouzo left me winding through tables in a taverna doing a Zorba-like snake dance with the waiters and other drunken patrons, smashing plates and yelling “Opa!”)

I also flew a glider over the English countryside, belted out “Don’t Rain on my Parade” on the 3 a.m. ferry from Dover to Calais, and kissed Gordon MacRae. (My childhood musical crush Curly in the movie-musical Oklahoma. Shortly after that kiss, he died from mouth cancer. Just sayin’.)

At first glance, my life now—the year I’m turning 60—may not seem as exciting and adventurous as it was in my 20’s, but who needs all that excitement anyway? These days I’m excited about Sunday afternoon naps.

IMG_0237I’m glad I experienced the wild and crazy things I did (most of them) in my younger days, but I’m happier and more content now than I ever was back then. You couldn’t pay me to go back to my 20’s. Or 30’s. Forties? Maybe. Those were good years. (My first book published at 40.) But I prefer to look forward, rather than back. This year, in addition to turning 60—a number that seems surreal when I say it aloud since I still feel about 43—I’ll also be celebrating my 25th anniversary with the love of my life. And I find that pretty exciting. We’ve only just begun. Cue The Carpenters.

What about you? Are you more content now?