Monday, May 20, 2013

The most special book in the world.....

When I was a teenager my parents and I disagreed on nearly everything probably for just the point of being right.  Other than my stubbornness though I was an all around good kid who didn't get into too much trouble (other than being a smart-aleck) and for those who know me well- clearly I have lost that character trait long ago....... 

During one of the weeks where my mom and I could not see eye-to-eye I came across a small article in one of her Woman's Day magazines.  A woman named Melissa from Seattle had sent in a letter suggesting a mother daughter ritual of exchanging a small book with positive words and little letters to each other every now and then when communications were rough or when one of us needed some encouragement.

I was so inspired by this idea I looked around desperately for a little memo book to share between my my mom and I to tell her how much I loved her.  The best thing I could find at the time was one of those old autograph books with all blank pages... so I cut out the article, pasted it on the first page and started my notes to her. 

My mom and I also never spoke about the book - no one else in my family knew about it at all.  It was a beautiful secret that we shared back and forth some times a couple times a week and sometimes months went by until one of us thought of it and reached for it.  We almost always placed it underneath the other's pillow and I cannot begin to describe to you the joy you feel when crawling into bed after a long day only to feel the texture of that little softcover book waiting to be read- no matter how tired you were you immediately turned the light on and had to read those special new words.  A few times the book made its way into luggage when my mom was going on a trip or into my ready-to-go-all-folded-neatly (Thanks Mom!) laundry basket when I was heading back to college after a weekend at home. 

For seven sweet years my mom and I shared this special book.  From the time I was eighteen and a senior in high school and dreading the world.... to my freshman year in college and all of the joys and sorrows that come with that.... through meeting my future husband and describing how happy I was... to my mom having a rough day teaching at school or how she had enjoyed helping me plan for my wedding........ to learning my mom had breast cancer, not once, not twice but even ultimately the third time when it came back and we lost her.  The smile on her face when I brought it to her at the hospital during that last stay was enough for me.  That book was on my mom's bedside table at the hospital when we started discussing hospice and I quietly slipped it into my purse before my brothers arrived to say their goodbyes.  My last entry to my mom was the day before she passed and I will never know for sure if she had the strength on her last night to read it but I believe in my heart that she did. 

I pick up this treasured book every month or so and flip through the memories, rubbing my fingers on her handwriting and her I love yous.  This stranger in Seattle would never know what gift she had given me and how incredible of a idea it was...... until .........

Years after my mother passed I was inspired (by my mother's spirit no doubt).  In 2008 I decided to utilize the wonderful gifts that social media allows us which were nonexistent back in the 90s and google searched for Melissa.  It was very easy to find her knowing the city they had lived in and her daughters name.  Lo and behold- I located an email address and sent her a thank you letter detailing the impact of her idea and hoping it was truly her...and it was.

  • Dear Cathy, Yes, I am the same Melissa Knapp and when I got your email, it brought tears to my eyes to know that my words, sent to Women’s Day magazine so long ago, actually made a difference to someone. How very kind of you to take the time and effort to write to me to let me know what the article meant to you. (How did you ever find my name? Google?) 
    I am so glad that you and your mother were able to write to each other. So often our days speed by and we forget to have the meaningful conversations with those we love. I am thankful that I could have a small part in giving you that gift between you and your mother....
    You will never know what a lift your email has given me.

Wow!  And it gets even better.....

A few months later I decided to write in to Woman's Day magazine 16 years after the original article....  and this is what they said

Hi Cathy,
Thanks so much for writing to let us know how much the suggestion we ran in the magazine all those years ago impacted your life. It's truly a wonderful story and we'd like to share it with our readers. Would you be willing?

And so, ultimately they published this:


I thought I would share a couple of uplifting posts between my mom and I.  Most of the posts are very private and I owe her to keep them that way.  I did share this whole idea on facebook a few yeas ago when the second article came out and several of my friends with daughters or their own decided to start a book to communicate better.... and even some of my friends started one with their own aging mothers.

(That special movie we had gone to see was Beaches of all things..... LOVE!!!)

This book means more to me than a photo album or even some of those well worn recipes passed down.... it means love, forgiveness, trust, and a forever bond.  I hope you will consider starting a special book like this with your son or daughter, or your parent or even your spouse.  These encouraging words are truly something to live by.  I love you mom!

THE DINNER - at Victoria & Albert's Restautant at Disney's Grand Floridian

We are very blessed to live and work in Florida and one of the great perks is how easy it is to get to the Disney World area.  Last month one of the company's that we do consulting for invited us to attend a meeting at the Grand Floridian at Disney for a couple of days.  This just so happened to be the same hotel that dear friends of ours were married at recently as well and it is absolutely gorgeous.  At the same time of this meeting we were celebrating our fifth year as a successful company and decided to celebrate at the consistently top rated restaurant in all of Florida located right at our hotel - Victoria & Albert's (V&A's). 

You don't have to take my word for it.... there are some amazing reviews and critiques of them and they are easily known in the culinary world for their food & service - check out their website here.

The ambience was lovely- with only one seating per night and 3 intimate dining rooms it was easy to see why this would be a once in a lifetime type of meal.   We were met with a man gently strumming a harp in our room and decided quickly upon the wine pairing that complimented the many courses we were going to try to finish.

When  you dine at V&A's you are having an experience- not just a meal- your wish truly is their command.

Our Amuse Bouche was delightful and was paired with a Piper Heidsieck Cuvee.  I so wish I had taken notes on a few of the surprises they served us that were not on our personalized menus.  By the way, they call you a few days in advance of your reservation to find out not only about any allergies but what your likes and dislikes to accommodate.
Next was a Tsukemono Salad with buckwheat noodles and edamame puree paired with a Poet's Leap Reislng. 
A poulet rouge (chicken) with hedgehog mushrooms and gnocchi and a lovely vegetable ravioli -so soft and sweet.
Braised oxtail and cherry ravioli with roasted red peppers paired with a glass of
Highflyer Centerline from Napa and my husband had a melt in your mouth scallop

Our main entrees were an Austrailian Kobe-style beef tenderloin with smoked garlic potato puree paired with a silver oak cabernet and an Onion ash crusted niman ranch lamb with sauce soubise and ramps paired with a lovely gigondas domaine du grapillon d'Or from the Rhone Valley.

 A lovely white chocolate gelato with tableside shavings paired with a Bosio Moscato D'Asti
 A cheese course of sottocener al tartufo, parmegiano reggiano. colston bassett stilton and gouda reypenaer XO paired with a quinta do crasto late bottled vintage port

 And if we had not quite had enough..... A Tanzanian chocolate timbale with orange scented milk chocolate gelato.....
And a caramelized banana gateau - artistic wonders!!!
The unique coffee service (even for us non-addicts) was truly the best coffee I have ever enjoyed.  IT was a double decanter or sorts- very neat to watch brew at your table.

A nice little extra of dessert goodness to take back to our room....
An Extremely happy and WELL fed couple....
And very magical dreams.....

Sunday, May 19, 2013

My American Idol Experience

I'd like to tell you about how I won a Dream Ticket on American Idol and how YOU or someone you know can win it from me.......

I have loved to sing pretty much my whole life.  I never took any serious singing lessons nor did I major in voice or theater in college.  I simply learned from harmonizing with my mom during church and belting out the entire LP record of Annie much to my older brother's dismay (on a daily basis, over and over and over). :0

First, a little background.... I sang in some high school shows, the highlight of which was playing my lifelong dream role (well I was only 17) of playing Sandy in Grease my senior year.  Want to see some clips ?  Check this out....

 There are 4 songs in this short clip.  Note- it's not me singing in the first song that plays but I am standing there behind Rizzo and it links to the whole scene and my next solo- plus Sharyn has a great voice too! ) The songs here are:  "There are worse things I could do" sung by Sharyn Peoples as Rizzo, "Sandra Dee" sung by me (at 2:45), You're the One that I want sung my myself and Shane Walker who played Danny (at 5:40) , and the finale We Go Together (at 9:30) sung by the cast.  That was quite a blast.  (You will have to forgive that992 video cameras were not quite as advanced as the ones today, and my dad was pretty focused on me mostly of course :)

I also sang in an extremely fun show called Candide at Rollins College my freshman year before transferring down to south Florida to get my degree and be closer to family.  The cast was absolutely incredible and inspiring- all of whom were musical theater majors except for me so I was very lucky to get be included.  Our lead (Chris Fitzgerald) went on to become a tony nominated broadway star- and was the original Boq in Wicked and Igor in Mel Brooks Young Frankenstein among many other roles.  Many of my fellow actors are very successful and still in the field today- it was an honor to work with them.  I met some wonderful people at Rollins and am happy to still call them my friends (shout out to Paul "Kid" Castiglione who is also an amazing actor and singer!)

And finally I did some community theater again with an incredible cast whom I became dear friends with.  We did Jekyl and Hyde and I played Nellie and had incredible fun!  (Obligatory shout out to everyone who was in the show with us- far too many friends to list here, but since the first one I met at karaoke even before we auditioned and since he played my "pimp" Spider  I want to give a shout out to award winning author and amazing singer and friend Benn Perry!)  We even received a very rare community theater visit and critique from the renowned late theater critic Jack Zink who had some great things to say about our production here

But I digress.....

This past spring my husband and I celebrated our 15 year wedding anniversary at Disney World.  He really wanted to spend a couple hours at the old MGM/Hollywood Studios park (something about the renovated star tours ride) and I reluctantly agreed to leave the magic kingdom and we headed over.

As we were walking around we passed a sign that said American Idol auditions today!  I asked some guy with a clipboard what it was all about and he said it only takes 5 minutes and if you audition well you may be asked to compete in a show later that afternoon and win a cool prize, so I thought -why not!  They ushered us inside and I auditioned 3 times in front of different producers as they gave me some feedback and picked several different songs for me to try out.   By the time I met with the final producer they told me I had definitely won one of the 2 slots for a semi-final show for later that afternoon! 

We proceeded to spend a couple of hours with them doing photo shoots, video shorts and fun interviews thoughout areas of the park with lots of bystanders wondering who the heck I was.  Here are some pics... my hubby was such a trooper.  I think he was having more fun than I was.... Then they sent me in for makeup and hair and a little time with a vocal coach (whose gave some good advice - he told me to stop closing my eyes when I sing.... to share the passion in my eyes with the audience and not shut them out.... I never realized how much I used to do that when I sing.

 So, the way the experience works is they do 3-4 semi-final shows a day with 2-3 performers in front of a live studio audience on a stage setup exactly like AI.  You sing one song and 3 "local celebrity" judges (I have no clue who they were by the way, sorry.... ) and the audience votes at these little devices at their seats and they announce a winner.  Each of the 4 winners has to agree to come back that night for the Final Show of the day to announce the grand prize winner, who win a "dream Ticket".  The finale shows at 8pm and is played on large jumbotron screens throughout the park too in addition to the live audience inside.... smart way for them to encourage people to try out the next day for another round. 

One dream ticket that gets awarded basically guarantees the holder to a front of the line pass to any of the cross country regional auditions for the TV show American Idol.  You are guaranteed an audition in front of the shows producers and you MIGHT get called back to sing in front of the celebrity judges and be on tv.  There are NO guarantees that you will be "sent to Hollywood" so it is all talent based. 

So, the only issue with this is I am 38 years old and to be on the show you have to be 15-28 years old (although you can audition even if you are 90, they will only cast a young potential star - which is pretty understandable).  Honestly, I don't think I would have the nerve to have gone through with auditioning myself it anyways - I truly do not like singing in front of a crowd unless it is karaoke and I have a beer nearby... too many butterflies and it shows in my voice).  Although at the AI experience I was surprisingly not nervous at all.....  It was nice of Disney to allow anyone to audition for the AI experience though and also fortunately for those of you who want my dream ticket now :) ! 

Here are some pics of my semi-finals competition - the girl I sang against was there on a school band trip and this was her second time in a year coming back to Disney to audition for this.  I felt really bad for her thinking of the long bus ride home back to Pennsylvania she had that night after not winning....she literally had 80 of her fellow musicians in the audience cheering for her and assumably voting for her so I really thought I had zero chance.  She was a sweertheart and I am sure she will be back to try again.

And then the finals...... when the confetti rained down on me I was in shock!  The other 4 singers were amazing!!!!!   I still cannot believe I won - the producers picked "Colors of the Wind" originally sung by Vanessa Williams for the movie Pocahontas.... I had sung that several times at karaoke so I knew it well.  The judges said it took a lot of nerve to sing a Disney song right at Disney World and emphatically said that I did it awesome justice :)  The others sang country, pop, etc.  We were not allowed to videotape the event so my hubby took lots of pictures and a Disney photographer gave me 2 cards (photo passes) full of great shots!

FINALLY, here is the good news for how YOU or someone you know that loves to sing and is between 15-28 years old can win my dream ticket......

I tried to give it away to a charity as I truly love philanthropy and I volunteer a great deal.  I contacted Disney and they said I can only transfer it one single time to a person (not to entity like a charity) and I cannot auction it off for charity either :(  I have to submit the persons information directly to Disney for the ticket to be officially signed over and for the audition appointment to be made. 

SO, I decided to hold a contest for family and friends of friends on facebook.  You have until June 1st to submit a 2 minute video (anything longer is ok but I will stop reviewing at 2 min.).  It can be a link to  a youtube video, from a karaoke contest or even your school musical... just something where myself and 2 friends who are helping me judge can hear your voice.   (The judges are high school musical theater teachers are extremely knowledgeable about great voices.)  Here is the link to my contest page  - let me know what you think.... I am hoping the entries start rolling in with 2 weeks to deadline.   And if only one person enters and can carry a tune-then they win!  So pull out those old video clips or head over to  a karaoke show and have some upload a camera video of you singing away - who knows, YOU could be the Next American Idol!