I Could Have Danced All Night

Last Saturday night, while my husband was out of town, I danced with another man.

In fact, I danced with four or five other men.

Don’t be shocked.

I went out salsa dancing with two girl friends and we had a blast. Sure, I organize Moms’ Nights Out from time to time but this was most definitely a Girls Night Out. We got all sparkly and glammed up. We put our high heels on (well, they did.)

In truth, we had no clue what we were walking into, having picked out the Havana Salsa Club from a basic Google search. It could have been a total sleazefest filled with Lotharios on the hunt for some action. Instead, it was a room filled with perfectly normal people, some new to salsa dancing, some experts and everyone focused on having a grand old time on the dance floor. Once you get over the awkward fact that you have to hold a stranger’s hand, and have their hand on your hip, essentially forcing proximity usually outside the boundaries of personal space, then it’s all good. It’s so easy to forget all that and just get into the rhythm. As long as no-one steps on your toes or flings you headlong into the sweaty masses. We three survived without sustaining any injuries other than tired feet and aching legs.

If you’ve read my Twitter bio, you’d know that I describe myself as “happiest when dancing.” I’ve even blogged about my desperate search for a dance partner. Because I need to dance. And Saturday night reminded me – as I merengued with Bertrand and salsa’d with other nameless men – that dancing feeds my soul. It fills my tank. Makes me feel womanly, I guess. It’s also a crazy good workout.

What’s interesting is that we three girls all went out dancing without our husbands but with their consent. In between dancing – as we were sipping on sangria, wiping the sweat from our brows and wondering which of us would get asked to dance next – we imagined how our men would fit into this setting. It went a little something like this:

  • My husband would probably prefer to be somewhere else but would come if I really begged him to because he knows how much I love to dance
  • Husband #2 would likely feel threatened by his wife dancing with other men
  • Husband #3 would totally act like he knew what he was doing, whether he did or not.

Ha! Still, we agreed that we had to come back and do it again – soon. With or without our husbands. With flat shoes to change into at the end of the night. With water bottles. And with confidence, flair and a whole lot of fun!

Join us?


In Defense of Silliness & Spontaneous Dance Parties

This morning during breakfast, as Bruce Springsteen was playing on the iPod, I jumped up, grabbed my daughter’s electric guitar and rocked out to “Born To Run.” I couldn’t help myself! My six year-old looked at me, wide-eyed, with wonder and glee. After calling me weird, she jumped up and joined in, followed by my husband and son and a spontaneous dance party exploded culminating in us all grooving and giggling to Pharrell Williams’ “Happy.”

Every morning should start off with silliness and a spontaneous dance party. It’s good for the soul, not to mention the cardiovascular system.

Admittedly, it’s a distraction from the “business” of the morning. Making lunches, brushing teeth, playing Minecraft on the iPad, packing backpacks. Yes, we were rushed as the minutes ticked by on the clock ….. but it was so worth it!

Every kid needs to see their parents being silly, every now and then. If we are always instructing, nagging, shuffling them from A to B, focusing on chores and homework, well, it’s all quite dull. The occasional goofiness provides healthy perspective. It tells them that we don’t always take everything so seriously, that we can be light-hearted and laugh at ourselves. Seriously folks, it’s even the secret to my happy marriage!

Silliness defies age. In fact, it keeps you young at heart. Being silly keeps you present and in the moment. If fosters togetherness. And, later in the day, you can reminisce about your antics and giggle a little to yourself.

Silliness has its time and place, for sure. Not every morning is suited to spontaneous dance parties. but, if the music moves you, I say go for it, let it rip. Your kids will start the day smiling and what’s better than that?

Embed from Getty Images

Fortifying The Mommy Shield

One evening last week, within less than an hour of us all coming home from work and after-school activities, I managed to make both kids cry.

Without boring you with the mindless details, in each case, I snapped. In the first scenario, I expressed my disappointment with a situation which caused my five-year old to break into tears, lamenting her sorrow that I had hurt her feelings. In the second, I yelled loudly right into the face of my eight-year old who was tuning me out in favor of messing around like a clown when he should have been getting ready for his bath and I had already asked him more than three times. The shock on his face was blatant, followed by a fierce onslaught of hot tears and accusations.

I hate myself when I lose it with the kids.

I’m supposed to be the one that lifts them up, the one who makes everything silly, who keeps everything marching forward smoothly. Not the one that bears down on them with outbursts of negativity.

The good news is that this really does not happen that often because I try to work hard to fortify my Mommy Shield. It’s the Mommy Shield that stops you from driving off the road when the kids are squabbling at high-frequency in the back seat of the car. It’s the Mommy Shield that makes you take a deep breath and calmly reach for the paper towels when your kids spills his or her milk for the gazillionth time. It’s the Mommy Shield that helps you sit quietly on the couch while the kids run around and around and around with increasing velocity and volume and you know that, any moment now, someone could get hurt but they are having so much fun. It’s the Mommy Shield that lets you know—most of the time—which battle to pick.

But there are days when my Mommy Shield is frail and easily penetrable  Days when I pick the wrong battles. Days when I can’t take a deep breath. Days when yelling at them actually feels really, really good (at first.)

After the tears are dried, hugs squeezed, apologies offered and everyone is happy again, I try to figure out what I could have done differently. Often, it’s not about the heat of the moment but the events leading up to it. When I feel that, at any moment now, the Mommy Shield is going to blow, I try to deploy one few of these tactics to change the energy and hopefully reduce the odds of my snapping:

  • Playing loud music to drown out their shrieks or whining or squabbling.
  • Taking a bath. They can duke it out to their heart’s content without me in the room.
  • Wine. Takes the edge off.
  • Sending them outside.
  • Sending myself outside.
  • Using Facebook/Twitter to vent/distract.
  • Breaking into a silly dance.
  • Look at photos of them when they were babies.

How do you fortify your Mommy Shield?

I Want To Dance With Somebody

(…. to quote the late, great Whitney Houston.)

If you’ve read my Twitter bio (@samanthamcgarry), you’ll see that it says “happiest when dancing,” And it’s true. When I am dancing to music that moves me, I’m at my most blithe. I can close my eyes and be carried away by rhythm, beat, movement and feeling. It’s thrilling.

Sadly, these days, I very rarely get the chance to dance, other than the odd silly and spontaneous dance-off when a track comes on the radio that pushes my buttons. I danced all through my childhood and teenage years, be it formal ballet, modern or tap classes or at disco birthday parties. As a young adult, dancing was either clubbing or performing in musical theatre. Once I was lucky enough to dance in the arms of a professional ballroom dancer who spun me around the room: for a brief few minutes, he was Fred and I was Ginger and it was heaven. Heaven.

During my years living in France, I was always impressed by and envious of the people there who just knew how to jive dance with a partner, as if it was part of their cultural DNA. When I moved to the US, one of the first things I did was register for swing dance classes. And I was hooked! In addition to taking classes where I learned first the basics and then advanced moves and choreography, I would take myself solo to swing dance parties where I’d be invited to dance and, even though still technically a newbie, I’d be spun around the room, light on my feet, jiving to the beat and high on life.

Now that I’m married, I’ve tried to persuade my husband to swing dance with me and he’s always been a great sport. He’s taken classes with me and taken me to a few dances but it’s just not his thing. He gives it his best effort, for which I am very grateful, but truthfully I think he’d rather be sticking pins in his eyes.

But I still want to dance. I need to dance. For my mental health, for my waist line. For my joie de vivre.

And so this is my plea for a dance partner, someone willing to either take classes with me or go out dancing every now and then. No funny business, mind you! Just someone who loves to dance and is a good partner. Ideally for swing dancing but I’ll happily do ballroom or Latin which I’d love to learn.

So, who’s game?

I Dreamed a Dream (Les Miserables: My Review)

In December 1985, I fell in love.

No, this wasn’t when I met my husband-to-be or gave birth. It was when I saw Les Miserables on the stage for the first time, the very week it opened in London’s West End. Row D in the stalls.

I’ve always enjoyed musical theatre. I’d been fortunate enough to see most of the major shows from Annie to Evita to Phantom to Chicago and many, many others. But as I sat there, experiencing Les Miserables for the first time, it was a watershed moment for me.

I was struck by how I could understand every single word of every single song. I was awed by the incredible talent of every single member of the large cast; any one of them was talented enough to take the lead roles. The staging was remarkable, innovative.

I was thunderstruck by talent of Colm Wilkinson who played Jean Valjean. I fell head over heels in love with Michael Ball, who played Marius. I wanted to be Eponine, played beautifully by Frances Rufelle.

Never before had I been so moved by a show. It was at once rousing, glorious, heartbreaking and breath-taking. Who didn’t weep when Fantine was on her deathbed, calling to her daughter; when Eponine breathed her last breath in Marius’ arms; when Jean Valjean pleaded with the lord to “Bring Him Home”; when Marius sat alone in the ravaged bar, singing “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables?”

At its core, the genius of the score delivered a tapestry of harmonies that effortlessly weaved together making an imprint on your mind and heart, one that would stay with you for days and weeks and years.

Fast forward almost 28 years (how is it possible that I am that much older?) and the release of the movie version of Les Miserables. The anticipation was thrilling. But when I took my seat in the cinema, I have to admit to being nervous, so scared of being let down and disappointed. After all, the memory of the stage show had made such a significant mark on me. How could this possibly compare or exceed?

Two and a half hours later, I emerged, high once again on Les Miserables. The movie was a masterful adaptation from the stage to the silver screen, glorious in its production, stark in its cinematography, with powerful, in-your-face performances that were raw, moving and penetrating. I wept: fat, hot tears rolling down my cheeks, over and over. I applauded at the end. All that night, phrases from songs wove their way into my dreams and I woke up humming. They are still with me, their melodies and lyrics skimming the edge of my consciousness.

Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway’s performances were stunning, Oscar-worthy. Known first and foremost as actors, their vocal deliveries surprised with unanticipated talent. It’s been well-documented how their performances were filmed live, in one take, on-set—and the net result was remarkable, setting a whole new benchmark.

The only disappointment was Russell Crowe. Sure, the man can act. Yes, he can kind of sing. But unlike Jackman and Hathaway, he couldn’t do both at the same time! And Eddie Redmayne was no match for Michael Ball’s Marius—not even close—but his “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” was perhaps more visceral.

What was even more righteous was that Colm Wilkinson and Frances Ruffelle—protagonists of the original stage show—had parts in the movie: the bishop and Whore #1, respectively.

Yesterday my husband surprised me with the CD soundtrack from the movie. I eagerly listened, seeking to recapture the marvel. But I quickly realized that decoupling the vocal performances from the on-screen performances was a mistake. The flaws in the actors voices were heightened. Without the imagery, they lacked impact. By contrast, when I listened again to the soundtrack from the original stage cast, I was struck by how pure the performances sounded, how ‘staged’ and lacking in drama.

But no matter. I have fallen in love, all over again with Les Miserables. Whether the movie is your first encounter with it, or you experienced the stage version, there’s no denying that Victor Hugo, Claud-Michel Schonberg, Alain Boublil, Cameron Mackintosh and Tom Hooper are creative geniuses to whom I am forever indebted.

I may gush. But I dreamed a dream. And it was worth it.

A Month of Gratitude: Part 1

November is here and with it, Thanksgiving, my very favorite US holiday. And not just because of the ample pumpkin pie to be enjoyed, but because it shines a spotlight on gratitude, a sentiment we rarely get the opportunity to dwell on, during the crazy pace of the every day. Last year, someone I know posted a daily gratitude post on her Facebook wall and she has inspired me to stop and spend some time every day during the month of November to consider how very fortunate I am and to catalog all for which I am grateful.

So here we go:

Thursday November 1: Today marks my second anniversary working with InkHouse. When I took the position, I knew I was going to be in a for a wild ride of deadlines, creativity, challenges and successes. Naturally, there are days that are better than others but overall, I am intensely grateful for 1) having a job, 2) being able to practice my passion – communicating, 3) having a job that pays well, 4) working with a group of talented, entertaining, creative and warm people.

Friday November 2: Grateful today for a job that allows me to work from home on Fridays. Grateful that, unlike the poor souls in New York and New Jersey suffering from the impact of Hurricane Sandy, I have a roof over my head, heat and power, food and gas. This could have been a very different story.

Saturday November 3: I’m grateful today for music and dancing. On Saturdays, I try and get to a Zumba class and, once I drag myself there, I emerge energized and invigorated. Today I’m also in awe of, and thankful for, the amazing people and organizations that have come together to help Sandy’s victims. Everyone talks, these people actually do. I should do more.

Sunday November 4: Today, I’m grateful for a day to spend with my family. A walk in the park where the colors are still breathtaking, watching my kids skip and play, my dog delirious with the thrill of running free. My husband at my side. I’m also grateful for great screenwriting, random I know, but have been enjoying watching Homeland and tonight, concluded season 1, complete with nail-biting and racing adrenalin.

Monday November 5: For almost 13 years, I’ve been living in the US but have not yet taken the steps to become a citizen so that I can vote. Today I realized that’s it’s time. I’m grateful that I live in a country where democracy  is the norm and aware that, compared to the  many frightful situations in so many other parts of the world, this is not something I should take for granted. Also, I’m grateful for leftover Halloween candy. And pumpkin cheesecake. Both of which I have consumed today! I’m also grateful for hot water because I am cold at night now and sleep better clutching my hot water bottle. Yes I am an old lady already.

Tuesday November 6: My day started with my almost 8-year old climbing into bed for a snuggle. I cherish every single  snuggle and hug with my kids, the chance to both physically and emotional connect, if only for a few minutes. Today I’m also thankful for Twitter. Strange though it make seem, Twitter augments my world, connecting with me valuable new resources and some of the cleverest, nicest people.

Wednesday November 7: So grateful to be waking up to the news that Obama remains President for another four years. For many, many reasons but, mostly, to quote his acceptance speech:  “… if you’re willing to work hard, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from or what you look like or where you love. It doesn’t matter whether you’re black or white or Hispanic or Asian or Native American or young or old or rich or poor, able, disabled, gay or straight, you can make it here in America if you’re willing to try.”

Check back next week for another week of gratitude.

The Ultimate Guide to Finding Your Mojo

My mojo seems to have left town (along with my abs, but that’s another topic.) If you’ve been following along the last few weeks of our staycation and then my poor hubby’s sickness, this present state of affairs won’t be much of a surprise. I’ve been dragging my lazy ass around for a few days now. I sat at my office desk for 2.5 days last week and achieved nothing and contributed nothing. I’ve been feeling tired and bla every day, going to bed early and waking up exhausted.

I understand this is a temporary lull; usually my mojo is quite active and pumped up, ready for silliness, primed for a giggle. So I need to get it back – stat. I started the quest to unearth my mojo from wherever it is hiding yesterday. It felt good but we’re definitely not there yet.

So I asked some friends to let me know what they do to re-find their mojo. I’ve meshed their suggestions with several of my own re-mojo-activating tactics to create what could possibly be The Ultimate Guide to Finding Your Mojo. Here’s hoping that by Monday morning, I’ll spring out of bed, rested, with my mojo fully restored, ready for action.

The Ultimate Guide to Finding Your Mojo

  • Lie on the couch and watch re-runs of Friends, Ally McBeal or whatever show or movie takes you to your happy place. Do not watch any weepies.
  • Play music that makes you happy. Or in my case, music that makes you groove. In fact, I think I’m going to create a Mojo Playlist. Today, I’ve been shaking my booty to some newly discovered tracks including Calvin Harris “The Rain,” and Fun “We Are Young.” My other mood-and-groove-enhancing favourites include Abba “Dancing Queen,” Bee Gees “Night Fever,” Stevie Wonder “Living for the City,” Katy Perry “Firework,” Jackson 5 “I Want You Back” and The Pretenders “Brass in Pocket.”
  • Read (I often return to Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist to set me back on the right track. Or anything by Bill Bryson for his laugh-out-loud travel experiences and wry observances of human nature.)
  • A good chat with a good friend; try picking up the phone and calling someone you’ve not spoken with in a while (Annemarie, you’ve been warned.)
  • Work up a good sweat (pick your poison: dancing, exercise, sex, weeding, pillow fight ….)
  • Get a mani/pedi – or some other indulgent spa treatment. (I am sporting some freshly polished, vibrant purple toe and finger nails!)
  • Write (a letter, a blog, a to-do list, some goals – by the way, this would be a good time to plug my pal Matty P’s great new book Goals Gone Wild.)
  • Clean/organize something you’ve been putting off – might sound weird but it feels really good to finally get to it.)
  • Sit on the deck and listen to the soundtrack of nature.
  • Imbibe – whether it’s coffee to give your system a jolt, or a large glass of wine or sangria ( my latest addiction)
  • Shoe shopping.
  • Do something nice for someone else. It feels good to be both the giver and the receiver, believe me.

So there it is, the formula I’ve already started using to hunt down and rekindle my joie de vivre. What do you do to find you’re mojo when it’s left town? What would be on your Mojo Playlist?

(P.S. If you happen to find my abs, could you kindly return them – much appreciated.)

(P.P.S Here are some links to some other good mojo-finding blogs and resources:

Have You Lost Your Mojo?

How to Give Your Mojo a Boost

Finding My Mojo

10 Ways to Get Your Groove Back )

Two Things I Can Learn From My Daughter

I love my daughter in countless ways. She’s quirky, she’s her own person, often in her own world. She’s as cute as a button and can burp as loud as any beer-swelling trucker.

While I’ll never be able to belch with as much force as she can, there are two other lessons I know I can learn from my daughter and apply to my life:

  • She wakes up every day singing and full of awesome.
  • She is oblivious to whether her top and pants coordinate. Or her socks, for that matter. These things are not priorities in her universe.

So the next time you see me, chances are I’ll be happy, musical and wearing clashing clothes. But I shan’t give a hoot, because life is good!

(Image courtesy of Pigtail Pals, the original “full of awesome”)

Three Reasons Why I Really Don’t Like Country Music

I consider myself a tolerant person, open-minded, moderate, appreciative and welcoming of all points of view, opinions and tastes.

Except, that is, when it comes to country music.

With apologies to the hoards of avid fans of country music across the US – and to my colleague and friend Steve who posted about why he loves country music –  these are three reasons why country music makes every fiber in my body scream “nnnooooooo!!”

  1. It has no soul. I find country music so one-dimensional. Me, I need music that literally moves me. Rhythm. Depth. I want to shake my groove thang and get down. Foot thumping or thigh slapping ain’t going to cut it. Never mind the two-step; I want to bump and grind.
  2. It’s too twangy. To my uneducated, British ears, I hear the same strummed notes in every, single country track making it difficult to distinguish one singer or song from another. And each twang grates a little more than the one before it.
  3. It’s all one big sob story. And why does it have to be so literal? “Get your tongue out of my mouth cause I’m kissing you goodbye.” “I spent a lifetime lookin’ for you. Single bars and good time lovers were never true. Playing a fools game, hopin’ to win. Tellin’ those sweet lies and losin’ again.” “Sometimes its hard to be a woman. Giving all your love to just one man.” And so on.

Admittedly, it’s not all bad. I actually enjoy listening to some Lady Antebellum, Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood. And I love my cowboy boots. But please, for the sake of my sanity – and yes my productivity when at work – don’t inflict hours of country music on me!

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