Archive for December, 2010

By Shannon Penrod

The week between Christmas and New Year’s is my favorite time of year.  It’s a week when you really can’t get anything done.  You can try to clean house but no matter how hard you try there is still a pile of christmas presents here a wad of tinsel there, here an ornament, there a re-gift, everywhere a bon- bon.  So instead of attempting the impossible I like to take the week and reflect on what it means to have another year pass…and I make New Year’s resolutions.  I LOVE to make New Year’s Resolutions, I’m not as good at keeping them, but I gather that just makes me human.

As I think back over the years and all the resolutions, kept and unkept, a pattern emerges.  The resolutions I made because “I felt I should” didn’t get anywhere close to accomplished.  The resolutions I made because I wanted to…those resolutions ended up adding real value to my life.  So here are this year’s resolutions…anyone one to take bets on which ones I actually keep?

1. Write more.  Writing is one of my greatest joys in life.  I enjoy it, but I often feel guilty about taking the time to do it.  Let’s face it, it’s a time suck.  Last year I decided to make it my guilty pleasure and just allow myself the time as a gift.  This year I plan to re-gift the time to myself again and forget about the guilt.

2. Exercise more.  Yep, this is one of those resolutions that traditionally doesn’t make it past February.  The truth is I don’t want to exercise more, but I feel like I have to.  This year might be different though.  I’ve started working with a personal trainer (more on this later) who made me do an equation to roughly determine the number of days I have left on this planet.  Yipes!  It turns out that statistically I have less than 10,000 days left to live, laugh and love.  And that’s assuming that I stay in good health!  Well, it’s lit a little fire under my butt – which was the whole point – and I need more energy, more health, more strength and less pain if I’m going to accomplish what I have planned for those 10,000 days!  So exercise here I come!

3. Be present more. I’m someone who likes to “check out” mentally.  There are times when it is necessary for the creative process, but sometimes I get a little too addicted to that part of my left brain that is completely unaware of the passage of time, and I miss things.  In giving myself the time to write I also need to remind myself that when I’m done writing I need to be fully in the present. So this year as a gift to myself, and my child, and my husband I am going to make a conscious effort to be more mentally present.  Joy never happens in the past, or the future, only in the present and I am courting joy.

4. Set boundaries and respect them, regardless of what others think or do.  Ugh!  Even writing the sentence was painful.  This is one of those resolutions that I really fear for.  I am not good at boundaries.  Over the years I’ve gotten better at saying, “No.”  but I still need to work on respecting my own, “No.”  I suffer from that pesky disease known as people pleasing.  This year I’m going to attempt (gulp) to let go of that infernal need to please total strangers and worry more about pleasing myself and my immediate family.  I’m shaking in my shoes over it, but it has to be done.

5. Design the life I want.  Sometimes things happen that you cannot change and so you accept them.  You re- prioritize everything, you make allowances and you suck it up.  When Autism came to live at our house there was a massive shift in priorities, and for the last five years my husband and I have triumphantly sucked it up.  I wouldn’t change that for anything, but this year my son will graduate from his intensive ABA program at The Center for Autism and Related Disorders and all bets are off.  This year we will begin to create a life that doesn’t revolve around Autism, Clinics and Therapy sessions.  Take that Autism!

6. Celebrate more.  Someone sent me something that Erma Bombeck wrote after she found out she had cancer. She wrote about all of the things she wished she’d done; like having more dinner parties instead of worrying about the stains on her carpet.  I don’t know whether it’s the economy or just getting older but I have gotten into a habit of postponing celebrations.  My husband and I weren’t able to celebrate our anniversary on the day this year – It was July 15th and we were flying across the country that day – so we agreed to postpone.  You guessed it – it still hasn’t happened.  This year I vow to celebrate more, and stop postponing joy.  Parties, picnics, playdates, game nights and dates with my husband, it’s all officially a priority.

7. Make a difference.  I learned a lot this year about how little effort it takes to make a difference.  This year I want to expand on that concept and see how big of a difference can be made with a larger effort. 

So there it is, my resolutions for 2011.  I might actually be able to keep these.  If  I do I will be a happy, healthy, well adjusted adult making a contribution,  If I don’t I’ll be an out of shape, wheezing, sniveling people pleaser with no time to do anything that matters and takes solace in playing computer games and watching too much TV.  Okay!  I’m motivated!

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By Shannon Penrod

There are some people in your life that are so special, so monumentally important, that to think of a time when they are not there anymore is simply unthinkable.  Ron Medici is one of those people in my life.  If you don’t know Ron, ugh, I feel so sorry for you!  But the truth is if you know me, you probably know Ron or at least of him.  You’ve heard me quote him, or I’ve passed on something he taught me.  He’s taught me a lot over the years.

I first met Ron when I was 17 years old.  It was the spring of 1980 and my father brought me to the SUNY Oswego campus to see if I might like to go to college there.  I saw the lake and met Ron Medici and that was enough for me, I’d chosen where I was going to go to college.  Ron was new at Oswego, he had just directed Godspell.  He intimidated the crap out of me, but I wanted to work with him.  He knew Bob Fosse, to me that was like knowing God.

By the time I was a sophomore I was no longer intimidated by Ron, but I was still in awe of him, that has never changed.  Ron was my teacher, my mentor and he still is my friend.  There was one semester that I took two classes back to back with Ron.  The first was an acting class the second was a directing class.  A group of us decided to take the two classes together.  The funny thing is I learned more about directing in the acting class than I ever have in any class and in the directing class I learned more about acting that I have anywhere at anytime.  But it was even more than that.  In that directing class I learned who I was as an artist and as a person.  I learned what true grief was, and for the first time in my life I learned that I would not die from having an emotion.  Yes, that all came from Ron.  And the group of people who were in that class with me, they are still some of the most important people in my life.  That class was a game changer.  Knowing Ron has been a huge game changer.

As a teacher Ron was honest with me.  It pissed me off at times but I knew he was telling me the truth.  What I didn’t know was how much it cost to tell a student the truth.  Later when I became a teacher I came to know that secret, I realized how much easier it is to give some one a thumbs up than to be honest.  I saved hard truths for the students that I really cared about.  And I appreciated Ron’s honesty all the more.

Eventually I had the opportunity to go back to my alma mater and teach along side Ron Medici.  Oh, the joy of that!  There are so many memories.  The Senior teas that were held at Ron’s house, where we graciously entertained our graduating classes and their families; the long weekends of final directing scenes and watching Ron rub his eyes, shake his forehead and then laugh at what the students had created, the stolen Wednesday afternoons in Room 102 when Ron would decide to teach everyone in the building how to waltz, or jitterbug, or some crazy country line dance, there are a life time of good memories.

But by far the most wonderful thing about Ron is that he is always unapologetically, completely and totally himself and in doing so he gives all of us around him permission to do the same for ourselves.  This is the greatest gift a teacher can give a student and a friend can give to a friend.  I can not count the number of people that Ron has given this gift to but I know that I am a recipient and I know that it has made my life richer, happier and more fulfilled.

Over the years I have told Ron how much I love him, in many ways and on many occasions.  I know he knows how much I adore him.  But there is still so much unsaid. How on earth do you thank someone for helping you to become who you are?  How do you tell someone that you carry the wisdom they have given you everyday.  I don’t know.

This summer I sat on a picnic table at the edge of Lake Ontario with my good friend Ron Medici and listened as he told me that he thought he had pancreatic cancer.  Time and tests have proven what we hoped was not true.  True to form Ron continues to teach me what it means to live with dignity.  He is hopeful, honest, optimistic and staring reality in the face.  Selfishly, I am not ready for this.  But I fear the unsaid.  So…


Thank you for being a light in my life that will never dim.  Thank you for loving me for who I am, for seeing the best of me, for pushing me to be my best and for forgiving me when I was less than my best.  Thank you for trying to introduce me to opera.  Thank you for giving me the gift of unending tears on stage, and for the knowledge that they will eventually stop off stage.  Thank you for being the only man I have ever been able to follow on the dance floor, and for making me feel like Ginger Rodgers. Thank you for being my friend. 

I want you to know that I will love you all the days of my life and that everything you’ve ever taught me, including how to do cartwheels when you are hung over, lives on in my memory and my teachings. 

You are a beautiful person and your life has touched so many people.  You have given all of us joy, hope and the permission to be who we are.  You are a hero in my eyes.  Knowing you has been one of the great joys of my life. I love you so.



To everyone else I say that now is not the time for grief, now is the time to say what you need to say.  No regrets, nothing left unsaid.  Tell the people in your life how you feel about them and please include my friend Ron in you prayers.

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by Shannon Penrod

It occurred to me the other day that this will be my 49th Christmas.  That seems shocking to me.  The number seems high but at the same time it doesn’t seem like all that many Christmases.  I’ve really only done this 48 times?  It seems more familiar than that, like putting on a comfortable pair of shoes.  But actually it is a rare treat.

There have been some truly amazing Christmases in my life, like the one when I was 8.  We had such a blizzard that the snow piled high over our heads.  We spent the week after Christmas digging tunnels in the front yard that led to snow forts.  We built a snow palace that my mother said was worthy of Dr. Zhivago.  Best of all it meant that both my Grandmother and Great-Grandmother were forced to stay longer instead of returning to the California sunshine. Four generations of women under one roof, cocooned by a monumental snowfall, I don’t know how my father survived it.  We played games, heard stories, baked and learned how to knit.  It was a magical Christmas. 

There have been hard Christmases, like the one when we all got the flu. Our neighbor Mr. Mohan died from that flu, reminding us all that there are no Christmases to take for granted.  One of the toughest holidays was the first Christmas we attempted to celebrate after my father died, we tried to drown our sorrows in pecan pie and oyster dressing but there wasn’t enough food or holiday cheer to fill the void that he left behind.

There have been lean Christmases.  I don’t ever remember a Christmas as a kid that my mother didn’t tell us to lower our expectations, “It’s going to be a thin Christmas this year.” she would always say, and yet somehow the magic always happened.  There have been abundant Christmases where everyone got their heart’s desire and the toy that was scarce of unavailable was somehow miraculously located and found its way under the tree.

There are some Christmases that live in infamy.  The year that my parents threw a party for the neighbors on Christmas Eve and the eggnog poured a little too freely.  My sister and I laid in bed and listened as the noise level crescendo while the drunken crowd played with the Skittle Bowl game that Santa was scheduled to bring.  Or the Christmas that my niece asked for a doll house and my sister purchased the KIT on Christmas Eve.  She and I sat up all night hot gluing it together like crazed and tired elves.  When the kids came downstairs to see what Santa had brought it was only half together and leaning suspiciously to the left, my hands were covered in burns and I was barely speaking to my sister, but we all survived it.

There were two Christmases when I brought my then boy friend, now husband, home to meet my family.  Both times we drove from Los Angeles to Iowa.  I had a very old dog that I didn’t want to fly and I believed that one of the best ways to know if you should spend your life with someone is to spend 3 days driving through insane cold with them.  On the first trip we broke up as we drove into Albuquerque.  So much for the theory.  On the second trip we got engaged in the desert of California on the way back.  That was a good Christmas.

I have to say that one of my favorite Christmas memories is just a few years ago.  The economy had already tanked in our home, timed beautifully to coincide with our son’s diagnosis of Autism.  It was Christmas time and there was no money.  I looked at the balance in our check book and knew that we had a choice between buying our child medicine, toys or food.  It was devastating.  The grief of it took my breath away. 

Just when I really faced the reality of it a good friend called.  She told me not to be afraid, to buy the medicine and everything would be okay.  Neither of us knew how, my friend was struggling to make her mortgage payment at the time, but we both agreed it would all be okay in the end.  I hung up the phone and it immediately rang.  It was the friend of an older relative who told me that she typically gave my relative the yearly holiday gift of making a donation in his name to his favorite charity.  This year she wanted to buy some medicine for my child instead.  She couldn’t have known.  Seven seconds had not passed since I had gotten off the phone with my friend.  I started to cry.  I thanked her and I got off the phone. 

I don’t think I have ever felt the spirit of Christmas more acutely than I did in that moment.  I was completely reminded of the fact that Christmas is a time of miracles.  Prayers are answered, sometimes in ways that defy logic.  We are each given the opportunity every Christmas to make a difference in the lives of people around us.  If we are willing, we can see the miracles and sometimes even be a part of them.  That’s what I hope to focus on for this my 49th celebration of Christmas.

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By Shannon Penrod

A couple of years ago a small group of friends and I made a friendly little bet.  We all wanted to lose weight and or get in better shape but we couldn’t quite get it together on our own.  We knew the strength in being accountable and the power of the carrot and the stick so we devised – THE BET. 

THE BET was simply this: A five week committment to working out a minimum of five hours weekly.  The ante?  $100 in cold, hard cash.  Everyone who wanted to participate had to put up $100.  If you kept your work out commitment you got to keep your $100.  If you failed to keep your committment you had to pay your $100 to the remaining participants who were keeping their committment.

The result was amazing.  Most of us kept the committment.  Sure, stuff got in the way, life intervened and made it REALLY difficult, but we still managed.  I remember getting out of bed at 11:15 one Sunday night because I realized I was a half hour short on my weekly total. There I was in the livingroom working out to a Kathy Smith video, bitching the entire time, but I was moving.  At the end of the five weeks I was in the best shape of my life and wearing a pant size I hadn’t worn since I was in 6th grade.  I’d love to say that I had a huge epiphany about the value of excercise and kept it up but that would be a lie on an epic level.  No, I got pregnant and gained weight that I am still whittling away at.

And the sad truth is I am not motivated by the rewards of working out.  Knowing that I will feel better and look better just doesn’t get me off the office chair to shake the junk in my trunk.  But knowing that I was going to have to pay close friends $100 because I was a lazy failure had me high kicking with Jane Fonda.

One of the friends who participated in “The BET” called me today and told me that the post Thanksgiving haze was threatening to suck her under.  I realized that in five weeks we will be in the new year.  I don’t want to wait until then to start thinking about an exercise plan.  In five weeks I can either be in better shape, in the same shape, or in worse shape.  Those are the only three options. I’d like to start the new year with a bang and be in better shape.  So we are starting the bet again, this time the Holiday Version.  Yipes!  I have no idea how I am going to squeeze five hours of work out into a crazy holiday week, but I’m not parting with my $100!  I’ll keep you posted on the holiday insanity and the exercise sanity.  Wish me luck.

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