Greetings, Earthlings

21 Jan

Welcome to 2016! Clearly I’ve been floating far away from this corner of the galaxy for a while–getting buffeted by strong winds on all sides.

First, I accepted a new day job. The interview process, which stretched across the entire holiday season, was the most arduous and exacting of my life so far–to say nothing of the avalanche of work that subsequently descended upon me at my current position. But at the end of the day, I’m going to be writing for a living! So that’s a huge coup for my personal and professional life. Even if the trauma of resigning (what can I say, I hate disappointing people) basically caused me to gain two pounds in half a day due to stress cortisol.

Then the downside of the rollercoaster: not two days after all this came to a head, an intruder broke into my home while T and I were asleep. P had left for work and the thief must have thought the house was empty. As soon as he saw us he walked out the front door without disturbing us–but not before he grabbed my large work handbag with my entire life in it. So this past week has been a flurry of phone calls (on a landline because I have no cell phone, GAH) to banks, credit card companies, identity theft professionals, the DMV, insurance agencies, the police, and basically everyone I’ve ever been in contact with.

On top of that, we’re looking at the prospect of moving–and by extension elementary school selection (charter school choice for most districts starts around now). And of course, just because a bunch of my money got stolen, and it’s my birthday in two weeks, my car decided it needs $2000 worth of repairs in order to pass emissions.

It’s enough to drive a girl to drink–but dammit, I don’t have any ID.*

*Kind souls, when they hear my story, keep asking what they can do to help. Answer: please bring me a bottle of Ketel One and/or Buffalo Trace. 

Anyway. All this to say that I haven’t found time to post lately. I’m sure you’re utterly bereft. So I’ve compiled a few things to keep you busy until I get my feet under me and start writing again.

The Genius Notations of Hamilton

From the June 2015 Vogue

If you’re a theatre person, you’ve already heard of the musical Hamilton, the hip hopera biographic of that dude on the ten dollar bill that got killed in a duel. And if you’re not a theatre person, you’ve probably heard of it too. But have you read the annotated lyrics on Genius?, the site where users and artists can footnote the lyrics of pop music, has done an utterly epic job of breaking down the musical line by line. Even before this particular cultural phenomenon hit the scene last year, Alexander Hamilton the person was enjoying a slight resurgence in admiration after years of being eclipsed by the other founding fathers who were his ideological rivals (and incidentally, didn’t die in duels). In the musical, all those old white dudes are played by young black and brown people. Even the women get a decent word in, which is saying a lot for both then and now. So now, A. Ham is basically a cult hero and everyone and their mother is interested in American history, which is nothing but awesome. (But I’d like to take a moment to remind you all that – ahem- I was into this time period before it was cool).

Anyhoo. Go check it out pronto. It will keep you busy for a while.

Just Mercy. Just Read It

My current place of employment is having a one time campus-wide book club (how cute is that?). I don’t get to participate, due to leaving the job and all. But I read the book anyway, and was really moved. In the broadest strokes, it’s about the inequities of the legal system in America. The heart of the story centers on one representative example of a man who spent years on death row and was almost executed for a crime that mounds of evidence made clear he did not commit. There are a lot of people who won’t even give the book a chance based on those two sentences alone. Don’t be one of those people. Read it now–instant paradigm shift.


Before it was stolen, I got to use part of a gift card my dad gave me for Christmas to buy a schmancy new beverage vessel. Everyone is into S’well but I went with a Bkr. The bottle is cool enough, but go check out their website. You’ll kill an hour or two reading the wacko names and descriptions on all of the dozens of color choices, and laugh at the pretentious styling and captions of their promo shots. A sample: I only use Bkr on two occasions: when I am in love and when I am not. (Who are these copywriters and how do I get some of what they’re on?).

Stars who may or may not be in love.

Rearrange Furniture

Virtually, that is. The Icovia MakeRoom Planner allows you to choose a room design (or enter your own custom dimensions), enter all sorts of furniture pieces, and then move them around willy nilly. Endless entertainment and no scratches on the hardwood.

Check out my headshots

I guess this isn’t really something to do, but lookee! I got new headshots!

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, but if I did, they would be something along the lines of investing more in my acting career. I’m choreographing right now, taking an acting class, getting ready to start voice lessons, and have a big audition on Saturday (as if I didn’t have enough on my plate). Also I plan to do Unifieds this year. New headshots were definitely in order.

It goes against my instincts as a feminist and a trained actor to complain about this, but I felt seriously old after these were taken. My previous headshots were only taken about four years ago–not a very long time–but I look very different. Not since infancy has my body undergone such

New Headshots

JANIE_YOUNG Headshot 2016

I’m sort of getting used to them now…but not to the point where I’m going to show you guys the un-retouched versions.

I had all this in the works before this new job fell from the sky and hit my Chicken Little head. Previously I would have put it on hold due to my ineptness at juggling too many large undertakings at one time, but I’m grabbing the bull by the balls, to put it elegantly. What with these wrankly-ass headshots, plus David Bowie and Alan Rickman gone in the space of a week, life is starting to feel short (it’s getting dark…*cough*).

Or maybe I’ve just been listening to too much Hamilton.

Take Me to Your Holiday Potluck

10 Dec

No, not me me.




We’re headed into prime party weekend, and I’m sure you’ve been politely requested/subtly pressured/outright guilted into bringing a dish.

Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered.

Hey, there’s nothing wrong with bringing pre-prepped food to a potluck. I know some folks who’ve made it their thing to bring Taco Bell to every party they go to. But every so often you feel like making an effort, or at least looking like you did, right?

Enter Corn and Black Bean Confetti. This yummy and healthy-ish dip comes to your courtesy of my good buddy E, who has been making this for years and who I only just now got the recipe from. DOH! It’s easy enough even those of us who Don’t Cook because here’s the thing: YOU DON’T COOK IT.

It will even suit at the party attended by twelve people with annoying special diets. It’s vegetarian, gluten-free, and leave out the cheese and it’s vegan.


1 Bunch green onions

2 cans of shoepeg corn (the little white kernals)

2 cans of black beans

1/2 cup sugar

3/4 cup vegetable oil

3/4 cup apple cider vinegar

1 8-oz tub feta cheese

Step 1

Chop the onions.

Seriously, don’t you hate how recipes are always like, “all you do is mix stuff together!” and then come to find out you have to crush, dice, or melt half the ingredients before you can even start? Well no more. Chop the dang onions, count on it.

These are green onions, for those of you who have only encountered them on your fully loaded potato.

These are whole green onions, for those of you who have only encountered them on your fully loaded potato.

It doesn’t take too long though. I don’t lurv onions so I didn’t use the whole bunch. I also didn’t chop that finely–if you do a better chopping job your onions will go further.

I ended up doing slightly more than what you see here, but not much.

I ended up doing slightly more than what you see here, but not much.

Step 2

Open your cans. Drain at least some of the liquid off, but you don’t need to rinse or anything. You’ll drain again in a minute.


I got Le Sueur ‘cuz I’m fancy like that.

OK I can’t even keep a straight face while writing that. It was on sale.

Even though it seemed like the corn cans were so much smaller than the black bean cans, when emptied they appeared about even.


Step 3

Add everything else, except the feta.

I went a tiny bit shallow on the sugar scoop because I didn’t want it too sweet.


I had to use a 1/4 measure three times for the oil and vinegar, that’s how woefully underequipped my kitchen is. I’m telling you, recipes made in the Young household can be made by literally, anyone.


A word

A word about the vinegar. I used “the mother” of all ACVs (GA) and it the taste turned out a tiny bit strong for my liking. Still really good, but I might go a little lighter on this next time, or maybe just use good old Heinz.



Don’t forget them OWNIONS

Step 4

Combine. It will be pretty wet.


Step 5

Go watch Netflix and drink a beer. Seriously, you want to let this sit and absorb the flavors. I left mine about an hour but you can do it any amount of time–overnight if you like.

Step 6

Drain through a colander. I don’t have a picture for this step because I refuse to allow the internets to see my sink.

Step 7

Put it in a pretty serving dish. Bring your feta with you and add it when you arrive wherever you’re going.


Don’t be a girl*, use full fat.

*Girls who eat lowfat cheese can still do anything you can do.

Serve with scoopable tortilla chips–because you’re going to want something spoonlike to eat this, trust.





Party hardy everyone!

Review: A Little Princess at Theatrical Outfit

4 Dec

It must first be noted that I attended this production in previews, which is essentially like judging a book by an unproofed advance copy. That’s an important caveat to express, as there were major issues with the sound throughout the show–something to do with the balance of tracks and microphones. At one point in the second act the audience’s ears were nearly blown out for a good 10 seconds of transition music. Other times, particularly when the singers dropped into a low register, it was completely inaudible. Only a trained techie could say for sure. One thing that is certain though, is that virtually no one could be heard and understood.

This review attempts to look beneath these technical issues, which one hopes will be ironed out by opening tonight, to the meat below.

The problem is, there’s just not a whole lot of meat on this bone. A Little Princess is a much-beloved and much-adapted tale, despite its premise being somewhat obsolete (girl abandoned at finishing school, goes from riches to rags and back again with help of mysterious benefactor). Though the details of the plot wear many faces, the story’s essential charm is irresistible.

Theatrical Outfit’s production certainly strives to capture and capitalize on that magic, and in some places succeeds. It’s rare that anyone remembers the lighting design but you will in this instance. It’s like a shower of cinnamon sugar, and completely controls the mood, especially in conjunction with a sprawling backdrop painting of an amorphous London/African sky.  The set design and decoration manages to achieve that perfect blend of functional and atmospheric, and the transitions, facilitated by the cast, were smooth as silk.

Two partial winners were the two Cs: choreography and costumes. Designer Elizabeth Rasmusson’s renderings were on display in the upstairs lobby for comparison to the final product. The rags were the highlight here. Most of the “fancier” dresses, including those worn by the school mistresses, were almost overwhelming in the space, historically accurate though they may be. And the little girls’ uniforms and pinafores–although likely also quite accurate in a historical sense–were vastly unfortunate in the stage sense, hanging like bags on all of them and nearly swallowing the tiniest ones alive like possessed pillowcases. The African costumes; I can’t vouch for historical accuracy, but their brilliance in contrast to the drabber Western garb functioned as a much needed delineation between London and Africa.

Ricardo Aponte’s choreography, while perhaps slightly ambitious for the space, was really interesting and beautiful, particularly the larger African pieces like the opening number and “Timbuktu.” The ensemble had some really strong dancers and I was quite stirred by the duet in Act II, even though it felt somewhat gratuitous. Also gratuitous were the random ballet sequences in “Almost Christmas” and elsewhere. It’s hard to make dancing out of place in a musical, but somehow it was. Perhaps it was due to the stark drop in technical artistry between the ensemble and the principles. Of course, many of them were children and can hardly be expected to have attained a level of mastery. But some of it was just plain awkward.

Also awkward were several, several moments of staging, with odd choices ranging from walking away during moments of high emotion when you desperately wanted to see the characters connect, and tons of back-to-audience blocking better suited to a theatre in the round, which Theatrical Outfit truly isn’t.

It’s hard to comment on the singing due the sound problems–I suspect, judging from the program bios, that these folks can carry a tune–but I was blown away by absolutely no one, including the lead. Which is a pity since it wouldn’t be too far off to call the entire production a star vehicle for Emerson Steele. Laughton Royce Berry brought it home in a major way with “Captain Crewe,” but I couldn’t tell you what the song was about if my life depended on it. Christy Baggett can act the hell out of a vocal piece, but almost sounded like she was singing out of her range. Bryant Smith as Captain Crewe was a real disappointment on both acting and signing fronts, considering his lofty credentials (including Jean Valjean at Aurora). I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt due to the sound, and also the lack of juice in that particular role.

By far the best all-around performance was Brenna McConnell as Becky. Not only did she pretty much nail the difficult working class accent, but she was literally the only person on stage that managed to make the audience LOL. She positively exuded energy and magnetism, even in the opening scene where she was charged with simply sitting on a bed and silently watching a good 7-minute number. She drew my eye almost as much as the action. Especially impressive considering the girl is in sixth grade, when most of us are as interesting as a bag of cement. Plus, she thanked her three best friends by name in her bio. #stayclassy

None of the other girls held a candle to McConnell’s flame. Olivia Windley as the awkward Ermengard sounded as if she’d just had her braces tightened and was completely unintelligible, which one hopes wasn’t a directorial choice. Kelly Lamor Wilson had a compelling stage presence but her Lavinia was pure bully with no layers. Molly Coyne as the good cop school teacher likewise lacked nuance in striving for loveable stupidity, although her voice was lovely. Jeanette Illidge was mesmerizing, with an absolutely regal bearing and (I’m pretty sure, at least) a powerhouse voice, but unfortunately her character Aljana wasn’t fully realized–definitely a fault of the book, not of the actress.

Steele as the title character was certainly watchable, and made strong choices, even though I didn’t agree with all of them–most particularly her coldness to Lottie when she was made a servant. It completely undermines the idea of Sarah as a princess under even the most dire and dark circumstances, which is the crux of the story’s power. Sarah spent very little stage time as a pauper in fact, which, especially if you’re familiar the Hodgson-Burnett novel, is akin to taking a dangerous number of bricks out the Jenga tower. Again, this adaptation by Crawley and Lippa is likely to blame. But Steele’s hunched over, somewhat plaintive physicality was a real detriment to anyone affecting to be a princess, even a make-believe one. Fifteen is a perfectly suitable age to play 13 on stage, even though she is rather tall–but the impression she gave was that of trying to play even younger by somehow shrinking herself. Steele was compelling in the school scenes, but the bond between Sarah and her father, which is crucial to the emotional heart of the story–was shaky at best. They acted like actors in their scenes together, which is really the most accurate and devastating thing that can be said. Certainly a more riveting performance than could be coaxed out of most 15-year olds, but not quite the bar level I was expecting for someone with multiple Broadway credits and a solo show.

Overall, I would recommend this production to young audiences and the people who love them, and perhaps devotees of the story who are interested in any and all takes on it. Do wait a few performances to give them time to iron out the technical difficulties, see if you can score discount tickets, and enjoy this holiday confection. The rest of us–wait till it comes to video.

A Little Princess runs December 3 – 27, 2015 at the Balzar Theatre. Tickets at Theatrical Outfit

Familyopoly: A New Game for People with Relatives

25 Nov

Happy Turkey Day!

This is rather a fraught period of time in the history of the world, if social media is any indicator. And for those of us suffering from Crazy Family Syndrome, it’s also a fraught period of time in the calendar year. I think we could all use a few laughs at other people’s expense, don’t you?

Some of Cushion’s long time readers may recall the first game I published to assist with this anxiety ridden joyful time of year. Imagine your day/evening/week together as a giant Candy Land-style board, choose your player piece, and proceed with caution. There are lots of pitfalls and traps out there.

(Disclaimer: the incidents described in this game are completely imaginary. Any resemblance to any family member of mine or yours, living or dead, is purely coincidence. I swear.)


Feel free to turn this into a drinking game.


The living room and bathroom are clean and the bedrooms are locked. Move ahead one space.

Your mom was supposed to bring the turkey over in the morning, but she’s not here yet. Go back to start.

She shows up with a bottle of Wild Turkey instead. Move ahead one space.

You both start drinking it before the parade is over. Go back two spaces.

Ugh, Ronald McD needs to retire.

Ugh, go home Ronald McD.

You go to the 24-hour Kroger for an emergency ham. It’s on sale. Move ahead one space.

One of the men stops watching football long enough to peel potatoes. Move ahead three spaces.

Nobody can agree on what kind of dressing to have, so you end up with four different kinds. Lose two turns.

Your sister-in-law brings a delicious appetizer, as promised. Move ahead two spaces.

She announces that the appetizer has to be assembled and put in the oven for 25 minutes on a different temperature setting than the turkey and then leaves the room.  Lose a turn. 

Your dad puts together the appetizer and serves it cold, and opens the wine. Move ahead three spaces.

Your Uncle Chaz makes a racist/sexist/bigoted joke. Go back one space.

You laugh at it. Lose a turn.

The butter ran out. Back to the store. Go back two spaces.

Grandma slips you a twenty on your way out the door. Move ahead three spaces.

Your baby sister tells your older sister she looks like she’s lost weight. Take an extra turn. 

Your baby sister offers to take her shopping for less dowdy clothes now that she’s smaller. Go back one space.

One of the big kids tells the little kids Santa isn’t real. Tears ensue. Go back five spaces.

Your aunt puts the big kid on green bean shelling duty and gives the little ones dums-dums leftover from Halloween. Move ahead two spaces.

The in-laws are sitting next to each other on the couch. Peacefully. Take an extra turn.

A running child knocks your wine glass on to the carpet. Lose a turn.

Mooom! Penelope won’t let me have a turn at the turkey rodeo! (source)

The wine opener is missing. Go back two spaces. 

The quietest husband in the group opens it with some kind of multitool that is always on his person. Move ahead three spaces.

The lone 16 year old hasn’t looked up from his phone for the last 49 minutes. Go back one space.

Your best friend calls from overseas. Move ahead two spaces.

Your dad starts fiddling with the thermostat. Suddenly you feel the air conditioning kick on. Go back two spaces.

Your uncle’s new girlfriend sneaks the 16-year old a sip of wine. He puts the phone down. Move ahead three spaces.

Your cousin is whining because the rolls aren’t gluten free. Go back one space.

Your brother cites a study from memory that offers evidence gluten intolerance isn’t even real. Move ahead one space.

Your cousin is now not speaking to your brother. Lose a turn.

The quiet husband leaves without a word and returns with gluten free rolls. Take an extra turn.

Grandad is actually wearing his hearing aids. Move ahead two spaces.

Right as you’re about to mention your upcoming promotion, your sister announces she’s pregnant again. Go back one space.

Your aunt wonders aloud why nobody calls her. Go back one space. 

Someone quotes a recently deceased relative and everyone suddenly gets choked up. Stay where you are. 

Your other aunt somehow convinces everyone to play Pictionary after dinner. Move ahead one space.

If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. source

Your team wins. Move ahead three spaces.

Your favorite pie got eaten before you got a piece. You settle for pumpkin. Go back one space.

You go to help with the dishes and somebody’s already done them. Take an extra turn.

You look around, and everyone is laughing all at once. Move ahead one space.


Congrats, Gerald, you’re the last man standing! (source)

Athleisure. Please Stop.

18 Nov

We live in a casual age. Long gone are the days when men wore business suits to college classes and women wore pumps to the grocery store (except people that shop at Publix in Florida apparently–my cousin once told me it was the best place to find a date). That’s nothing to cry over–ugh, I can’t even imagine taking an exam in a blazer. When it comes to attire it’s hard to find that ever-shifting line of appropriate and not-appropriate, and I’m the first to admit it’s even more fun to push on it and see how far it will stretch.

But you guys. You guys.

Workout clothes are not clothes.

Is anybody with me on this? It’s an epidemic that’s sweeping across every demographic–millennial to boomer, women and men, black and white (although evidently not so much South Koreans, who have a reputation in the fashion world).

Please tell me you’ve seen this stupidly hilarious vid, which perfectly sums up how I feel about this trend.

I get it, you like to work out. And why should you have to change out of your sweaty, grody garments to get a coffee afterwards (snort)?

I actually have no problem with wearing cute yoga pants and sneaks to Starbucks…provided you actually are coming from yoga (or just rolled up on a Schwinn). But let’s be real, what percent of people walking around in Lulu are actually coming from or going to the gym? I’m laying money on NAH.

Hey, I am not immune to the siren song of compression wear. I’m guilty of wearing leggings as pants. But I usually wear them under a dress or a long top, and with jewelry and real shoes. And even then sometimes I have to pull that ish up all day like the worst pair of hose you ever bought from CVS.

I submit that dresses are actually the most comfortable thing in the world, but some of us have issues with sitting like this.

A couple months ago I was at the zoo and spotted this perfect specimen of a group. Every one of them gorgeous people, and every one of them dressed like they just finished a 10k. They had the cropped leggings, the high performance jackets, the neon cross-trainers with low profile socks. They also had perfect blowouts and a full face of makeup. I mean, what?

The dudes were in similar attire, only not as form fitting (ha). I didn’t sneak a photo because my  paparazzi skills are lacking, but I’m pretty sure baseball caps were involved.

It just seems like when you’re young and fit and hot is prime time not to wear clothing with elastic waistbands?

Not that it does anyone of any age or type any great favors. Not long ago I was at a boutique popup thing geared toward “normal” women (whatever that means, but ya know). The organizer was wearing your standard black yoga leggings and a kind of drapey tee. It was long, but not long enough–when she bent over I could totally see her undies through her pants (yellow with tiny flowers).

Maybe somebody can explain the attraction to me. Comfortable, got it. But what else? Do people just want to advertise the fact that they exercise (although many Athleisure enthusiasts don’t–it’s by definition “athletic apparel that can be worn in non-athletic settings”). Do we think it makes us look skinny? Is it sexy…are the dudes falling all over themselves to get someadis?

Gents, feel free to chime in here. Is this what you like to see on the ladies these days?

Speaking of guys: you are not exempt either–you’ve long been the poster children of overly cazh. But for whatever reason–perhaps because guys’ jeans are more comfortable, or maybe just because they stink more when they work out–dudes don’t tend to wear gym clothes to Target. Actually I sense there’s been a sweep of the pendulum in the opposite direction with menswear lately. I see a lot more guys interpreting casual as this

as opposed to this.

Thank God.

I know I probably sound fusty and #getoffmylawn. And yes, some might call hypocrisy as I used to wear sweatpants with PINK on the ass out in public. But it was usually to rehearsal or dance class (or possibly an 8 AM exam), not a date at the zoo. It’s just getting kinda ridic when designers are making serious bank on gym clothes and denim brands being pushed out of their market share by companies who make things that absorb sweat.

Not that I want to return to the days of Umbros and Champion Sweatpants. I’m all about looking adorable while working out. Look, I was the girl in 8th grade getting made fun of in PE for her coordinating chartreuse sweatshorts and spandex top. I just think we’re really missing out on the charm, creativity, and personality of a well-assembled outfit. Not to mention blurring the lines of unspoken social dress code almost beyond recognition.

At the office?!

Fashion is constantly evolving, and thinking about it and analyzing it is something I enjoy (which according to cultural mythology makes me a vapid snot–but that’s a whole other post). There’s probably a lot to be said sociologically and anthropologically about Athleisure. I’m just not sure I’m on board with what it’s saying. So I implore you: next time you’re headed to the movies, try putting on a pair of jeans. Just for kicks (HA).

All I know is, the day I see someone walking down the street in this is the day I know it’s all over.


Click on photos for source.

*There’s a lot of horror and darkness in the news this week. This lighthearted post is a tribute to the beautiful nation of France, which has more style and glamour in her little pinky than the rest of the world combined. J’taime, Paris. 

Why I Quit Coffee Part III: Wrap Up

6 Nov


Hard to believe, but it has now been two months since I had any significant amount of caffeine.

Considering what a packed few weeks it’s been, with rehearsals and work projects and holidays and social obligations–two months without caffeine is not insignificant.


So how am I doing?

Short answer: better.

As I write this, I’m nodding off over my keyboard. But that’s because we’re coming to the end of tech week, b.k.a. hell week, for Guys & Dolls (get your tickets now, Atlanta folks!).  Before this week, I felt like the pall of fatigue that had hung over my head like my own personal Eeyore-style rain cloud was finally lifting.

The overwhelming hunger I experienced at first has abated as well. I’ve even managed to trim down a bit for the show. Which is amazing, considering I haven’t exercised much beyond dance at rehearsals.

GI Janie

So that’s the symptoms of withdrawal taken care of. What about the GI symptoms for which I embarked on this epic journey in the first place?

I am happy to report that the nausea and stomach pain is completely gone. That’s probably the most significant development. The heartburn is practically gone too. I haven’t taken a Rolaid or a Pepcid in weeks. The bloating is considerably improved (although to be fair, I’ve also dropped white carbs in the interest of aforementioned “trimming down”). The wet burping, the fluttering in my chest, the lump in my throat–all have shown marked improvement, if not abated entirely. I do still occasionally get a dry cough, but it’s hard to point at that as a gastrointestinal indicator when there’s ragweed saturating the air.

Sing Out, Louise

I’m sure you’re all on the edge of your seats wondering whether I’ve recovered my beautiful singing voice HA. The answer there is not quite as brief.

Suspecting that the caffeine issue couldn’t entirely explain it, I made an appointment with the specialists at the Emory Clinic Voice Center. We are fortunate to have here in Atlanta an enormously vast medical network. Got some obscure problem? There’s a app doc for that.


I was lucky that they were able to squeeze me in quicker than anticipated–my initial appointment was during that first week of tapering off. I wondered if this would hide or highlight any damage to ye olde singing parts.

A thorough examination of my vocal chords revealed…

That they were perfect.

This should have been good news, but I was bummed. It meant that I couldn’t blame the many issues I was having with my voice on physical (outside) factors. In other words, I was singing wrong.

A follow up appointment with vocal therapist Marina Gilman  revealed that I wasn’t just a shit singer. Even though I had no visible acid damage (further proof that I never had GERD in the first place), past acute “acid incidents” (her words) had led to my compensating in a damaging way. Kind of like when you say, pull a muscle and then strain the surrounding muscles favoring it. And like a muscle injury, what I needed was a course of rehab.

Over a series of sessions Marina gave me some vocal and breath exercises to help relax the wrong muscles and work the right ones. She also affirmed that, according to the clinical assessment of my voice structure, I really should be singing soprano and not alto. It was all stuff I already knew from previous training, but the reminder was key–and, unlike voice lessons–billable to insurance.

Since then I’ve seen vast improvement in the pain and strain while speaking, and to some extent while singing as well. I still have quite a ways to go in this regard though, and I’m trying not to be too frustrated with my progress (apparently you can’t undo six years of muscle damage in four sessions). I think I will have to spring for voice lessons on top of the coaching eventually, if I ever want to achieve solo status again.

I’ve Learned to Live Without You, Darling

I still take exceeding comfort in a hot drink or five, especially with the dreary weather we’ve been experiencing. So I’ve been drinking lots of Teeccino, a little hot cocoa, and even hot tea. I’m really loving Teeccino. Unlike coffee, the different flavors taste nice, not just smell good. Unlike coffee, it tastes good cold or reheated (meaning that that half pot not drunk first thing in the AM doesn’t go to waste). But unfortunately, unlike coffee, it is somewhat caloric (about 20 calories in a 10 oz cup brewed–I usually drink a classic 12-oz) and when you add as much cream as I like (about four tablespoons at 25-35 calories per tbsp ), you’re looking at a heavy appetizer’s worth of energy. So I can’t really pound it like I am sometimes tempted to on a long, chilled day.

A better replacement choice is hot tea, but I had a problem with it at first. My fellow coffee fiends will know what I’m talking about when I say the taste, feel, smell, richness—it’s just not the same. In the way that avid tea drinkers don’t enjoy coffee as much, tea is simply not my daily jam.

Plus, until recently, I really only liked the taste of black tea–which of course, has caffeine. So does green. I don’t like chamomile, peppermint, lemon, or any kind of fruit flavor in herbal tea. That basically wipes out 95% of teas on your average grocery shelf. Then I discovered Rooibos. A red “tea” that grows in South Africa, it’s a bit more pricey than the average, but doubtless I spend way less on it than I once did on coffee. Plus Yogi makes a nice Chai variety, which has a complex and full-bodied taste and the benefit of the healthy spices used in chai flavoring while being naturally caffeine free.

What about decaf, you say? At first I shunned coffee entirely, trying to lose the taste hankering I had for it. Eventually I did begin to treat myself to a cup of decaf when out to breakfast, or occasionally at the daily coffee hours at work. Decaf is not great in and of itself, first of all because coffee is still acidic which contributes to many of my problems, secondly because decaf labeling is highly unregulated in the US and can vary widely, and thirdly because the process used to decaffeinate most drinks uses chemicals (although nontoxic apparently, and with better taste results than the more “natural” but much more expensive and rare method of water decaffeination). Not to mention many decaf coffees, including the kind they serve at work, taste gross. But the fact is, I can never give up treating myself to the occasional happy Starbucks raspberry mocha. So decaf will continue to be drunk by this lady.

So….does all this mean it’s true: I’m allergic to caffeine?

I really don’t think so. If I had a true allergy, or even a sensitivity, I don’t think I could have been drinking as much coffee as I have for as long as I did with any level of comfort. The fact that it took 7 years to pinpoint the issue is proof alone. Who knows? I might even resume coffee drinking one day. But you can be damn sure it’s going to be a lot less. I think the lesson we can take away from this is that anything you use as a crutch to function–running the gamut from heavy drugs and alcohol to gossiping to chewing gum to running marathons to spicy food to binge watching Netflix–has the potential to be damaging both physiologically and psychologically.

In the wise and oft-repeated words of my Granny: Everything in Moderation.

So. What’s your addiction?

The Rattly Old Skeleton

29 Oct

In the last post about my very own Schrödinger’s cat experience, I referenced a story called “The Rattly Old Skeleton,” which I’d told T a few days before. It’s one of the only scary stories I know by heart, so even though it’s a children’s story I continue to tell it anytime a likely occasion arises. I even used to tell it to my college roommates, lying on our XL twins, the dorm dark and hushed.

This story originally came from an audio tape of spooky stories we got from the public library when I was a kid (yes, a tape. It’s called history.). I wanted to link to the story in my post, but after scouring the interwebs I determined that it is absolutely nowhere in print.

This cannot stand. As a graduate of the Theatre & Performance Studies program, I am acutely aware of the paramount importance of oral history, stories being passed from one generation to the next. This is one that, no matter how slightly silly and strange, I really don’t think should die. So in honor of Halloween, light up a fire (or at least turn up the sound effects; I love A Soft Murmur) and gather round for the only (as far as I know) publication of the story of:

The Rattly Old Skeleton

Once upon a time, there lived a Little Old Man and a Little Old Woman, deep in a dark forest. That winter, the cold was so harsh and the snow so deep that all the game animals moved on. So they had very little to eat. The Little Old Man and the Little Old Woman watched their food and firewood slowly dwindle until one day, they had no food left at all and only enough kindling for one more fire.

The Little Old Man said to the Little Old Woman, “Little Old Woman, I must go hunting or we will surely starve. I know it is cold in the cabin, but you must not light a fire. We have only enough kindling for one more and we’ll need it to cook the food I shall bring back.” Then he shouldered his rifle and left.

The Little Old Woman sat as long as she could in the cold, dark, house. But soon she was so freezing that her hands and feet were going numb and turning blue. And she was so very hungry. Finally, with the last of her strength, she used the last bit of kindling to light a big, roaring fire.

It was so warm. She stretched her frozen hands out closer to the fire to thaw. Closer, and closer she put reached, vainly trying to warm her chilled bones until — OUCH! — the fire burned her finger. She quickly drew it to her mouth to quell the pain. And found…hm.

It tasted good.

Tentatively she took a little nibble. A queen’s meal could not have tasted finer. But she was still so very hungry. So she took her whole hand and put it in the fire, and ate it. Then she put her whole arm in the fire and ate that too. Little by little, she put her whole body in the fire and ate herself down until she was nothing but a




But. She was still hungry.

By this time the fire had died down to embers. The Rattly Old Skeleton heard the sound of The Little Old Man shuffling back through the snow dragging something heavy. Quickly she positioned herself behind the door and made to hide. As she moved, her bones made a terrible rattling sound: CLAtAW, CLAtAW, CLAtAW.

The Little Old Man slowly opened the door. Creeeeeeaak.

The cabin was empty. But he saw the embers of the dying fire and cried out, “Little Old Woman! You’ve lit the last fire! How we will cook this deer I caught?”

A shadow fell on the room as the door slowly swung shut behind him. Creeeeeeeak. The man slowly turned around, and there she was…

The Rattly Old Skeleton. And she was still hungry.

She made to grab for the Little Old Man with her long bony arms, but he managed to slip from her grasp and run back out of the door.

Through the snow he ran, getting slapped by branches and pelted by falling ice, and all the time he could hear the CLAtAW, CLAtAW, CLAtAW of the Rattly Old Skeleton following close behind.

The Little Old Man ran and ran and ran until he came to a huge, gaping gorge. It was so deep there was no way to climb down, and there was no bridge–no way across. And he knew the Rattly Old Skeleton would be upon him in moments.

Looking around in despair, he suddenly noticed a tiny cottage half hidden by trees at the edge of the gorge. Heart pounding, he raced to the door and knocked upon it, THUMP THUMP THUMP.

The cottage was the home of an ancient enchantress. She opened the door and saw the Little Old Man upon the step. “How may I help you?” she asked.

“Please,” the Little Old Man wheezed, “there’s a Rattly Old Skeleton chasing me, she wants to eat me up. I must get across this gorge so I can get away.”

“I will help you,” the enchantress said. “IF, you pick me some berries, and chop me some wood.”

Seeing this as a small price to pay for his life, he readily agreed. When he had picked a bushel of berries and chopped a log into firewood, he brought them back to the enchantress and begged again for her help.

Smiling, the enchantress walked to the edge of the gorge. She reached her hands up and before the Old Man’s very eyes, she began to grow. She stretched taller, and taller, and taller, until at last she was as long as the gorge was wide. She fell down across the gorge in one big flop, creating a bridge out of her body.

Without hesitation, the old man scurried across, over the hills and away to safety.

The enchantress pushed herself back up and shrunk down to her normal size. Then she went into her cottage and shut the door.

Not two minutes later who should come along but the Rattly Old Skeleton: CLAtAW, CLAtAW, CLAtAW.

Seeing the impassable gorge, and the Little Old Man escaping into the distance, she rattled up to the cottage and scraped upon the door with her long bony fingers. SCREEECH SCRECH SCRRECH SCREEEEEEECH.

The enchantress opened the door and said, “how may I help you?”

“I must get across this gorge!” the Rattly Old Skeleton snarled. “I am HUNGRY. That’s my dinner over there and he’s getting away!”

“I will help you,” said the enchantress. “IF, you pick me some berries, and chop me some wood.”

“I don’t have time to pick your berries and chop your wood!” rasped the skeleton. “Get me across this gorge right now or I’ll eat YOU!”

So calmly, as before, the enchantress stepped to the edge of the cliff. She reached her arms up to the sky and began to grow taller, and taller, and taller until at last she was able to stretch across the gorge and make of her body a bridge.

Without hesitation, the Rattly Old Skeleton started across.

But no sooner had she reached the middle of the bridge, she began to feel the Enchantress’s body sway under her bony feet. Faster and faster, and wider and wider went the arc of the swing, until the Rattly Old Skeleton lost her balance and


into the gorge below, cracking at the bottom into a thousand bony pieces.

So the Little Old Man got away. But to this day, if you go to the edge of the gorge, and put your ear down to listen, you’ll hear a strange sound:


It’s the sound of the Rattly Old Skeleton, trying to pull herself back together.

And she’s still hungry.

*I am sorry I cannot attribute the original author or source. Oral history is one big game of Telephone and I’m sure this version has changed somewhat in the telling. If you know the source, or have heard this story before, please tell me about it at cushioncutblog at gmail dot com.