The Wizard of Oz at the Straz: Bring the Kids

The Cowardly Lion, the Tin Man, the Scarecrow, Toto and Dorothy bring the familiar, beloved story to life at the Straz Center in Tampa.

The Cowardly Lion, the Tin Man, the Scarecrow, Toto and Dorothy bring the familiar, beloved story of the Wizard of Oz to life at the Straz Center in Tampa. Sunday’s evening performance at the Straz marks the end of the 23-city national tour.

I hummed the songs all the way home Tuesday night after the Tampa premier of the Wizard of Oz at the Straz Center.

Who doesn’t love “Follow the Yellow Brick Road” and “If I Only Had (a Brain) (a Heart) (the Nerve)”? Who doesn’t get that warm, fuzzy feeling when Dorothy breaks out into a soaring rendition of “Over the Rainbow”?

So, yes, our theater-loving party of four adults thoroughly enjoyed the last Opening Night of the national tour of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s stage version of the Wizard of Oz. My only regret was that our two sons weren’t with us – they know the movie well and would very much have gotten into the special effects and the antics of the adorable rescue dog, Nigel, who plays Toto.

In fact, this production is a wonderful way to introduce your kids to musical theater. The story itself is familiar and beloved, and the songs are (as mentioned) hummable. I’ve found that it’s incredibly helpful for children if we ground an unfamiliar experience in familiar, related territory.

In short: Your kids will love it, too. Here are a few reviews from past runs in Charlotte, Washington and San Diego. The critics liked this show.

But you might not want to wait too long to see it.

Tampa is the final scheduled stop on the 23-city tour, which began in December. Sunday’s 6:30 p.m. show at the Straz is the final chance to see this show with this cast, led by Sarah Lasko as Dorothy and Mark A. Harmon as the Wizard/Professor Marvel.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts about shows at the remarkable Straz Center, I’m no theater expert. I can carry a tune, and I’ve seen Phantom and Les Mis multiple times, but that’s the limit of my expertise.

That said, I love a good story. And that’s what theater productions at the Straz Center give me – a chance to watch epic tales unfold on stage, tales interpreted by talented artists with world-class singing, dancing and acting abilities.

I also appreciate when classic stories like author L. Frank Baum’s children’s tale, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz”, are tweaked to reflect modern sensibilities. So, I LOVED it when one of my all-time pet peeves from the famous 1939 Judy Garland film got the West End treatment.

I won’t spoil it, because it was one of several meta moments sprinkled throughout the show, and this one gave me an actual belly laugh. I’ll simply say that it always bothered me that Dorothy Gale’s Oz farewell speech seemed to randomly favor the Scarecrow when she tells him, “I think I’ll miss you most of all.”

I was always like, “Wait, what? But … what about the Tin Man and the Lion? I mean … why? That’s not right, man.”

This show takes care of that in a most satisfying way.

One more thing. We saw Wicked on Broadway in May 2014. That show, which turned the traditional Wizard of Oz story on its head, was never far from my mind as I watched this more-traditional version Tuesday.

Honestly, as delightfully mean and nasty as Shani Hadjian’s Wicked Witch of the West was in this one, I couldn’t help but think of her as Elphaba, the “good guy” green witch from Wicked. There was something about the sardonic exchanges between this Wicked Witch and Rachel Womble’s Glinda that hinted at the kind of love-hate back story that drove the plot of Wicked.

This story holds up on its merits, though, and several added musical numbers provide a new and interesting twist to the familiar sound track. The dog was real cute, too.

The Wizard of Oz runs July 12-17 at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, with matinee and evening performances on Saturday and Sunday. For tickets and information, visit the Straz Center website. Members of the Tampa Bay Bloggers were provided tickets to Tuesday’s performance for review purposes.

Put Mosquitoes in Their Place with DynaTrap

#GuardYourYardI have partnered with Life of Dad and DynaTrap for this promotion.


We live in Florida. We have mosquitoes. A lot of mosquitoes.

We also have alligators.

(Come to think of it, does DynaTrap make a gator trap? Because we would totally buy that.)

As common as alligators are down here, our kids are still far more likely to get bitten by a mosquito — or many, many mosquitoes — while they play outdoors than to be accosted by a scaly, gray relic of the Cretaceous Period.

About four weeks ago, just as the calendar was changing from early summer (what you might call “spring”) to rainy season (what you might call “summer”), a large box arrived on our doorstep. It was a DynaTrap XL insect trap.

This pond is right across the street from our house. Think we have a few mosquitoes? Yes. Yes, we do.

This pond is right across the street from our house. Think we have a few mosquitoes? Yes. Yes, we do.

I parked it on the front porch, plugged it in, marveled at the blue light and soft whir of the fan — and waited.

It wasn’t long before the bottom pan began to fill with trapped bugs. Mosquitoes, mostly, but also moths, beetles, wasps and other pests that typically swarm to our porch light at dusk.

The trap did its job. It was quiet, safe (no chemicals) and efficient.

How did I know it was working (besides peering through the wire mesh and seeing the buggy evidence)? Well, our front door seems to be stuck on a permanent “open-close-open-close” cycle when the kids are home for the summer.

We put the DynaTrap XL on our front porch six weeks ago and haven't seen a single mosquito inside all summer.

We parked the DynaTrap XL on our front porch four weeks ago and haven’t seen a single mosquito inside all summer.

Ordinarily, each of the “opens” lets in a minimum of three mosquitoes, who are locked in by the “closes” and buzz our ears and bite us mercilessly that night while we try to binge watch the West Wing or Clone Wars or whatever we’re streaming this week on Netflix.

For the past four weeks, despite the usual open-close-open-close of it all — no mosquitoes in our house. Not one.

And? While our kids haven’t avoided mosquito bites entirely, it’s pretty clear the bites have happened in other people’s yards or while they were fishing in the pond across the street.

Our yard is no longer a haven for mosquitoes.

Which is a good thing, because mosquitoes have become more than a pest for folks in Florida this summer. Down here, we have the Aedes aegypti, which carries the Zika virus, chikungunya, and dengue.

This nasty dude proliferates in Florida.

This nasty dude proliferates in Florida.

While no cases of mosquito-borne Zika have been reported in the U.S., there have been more than a few travel-related cases reported in Florida — 199 as of June 21.

It’s not something we worry about every day. But then, my wife is not pregnant. Zika’s primary threat is the development of severe birth defects in fetuses when expectant mothers are infected. If this had happened eight years ago or 11 years ago, when we were expecting, you’d better believe we’d be even more diligent about mosquito control than we already are.

As it is, Zika causes only mild symptoms (fever, rash, joint pain, red eyes). However, it is believed to increase the potential for the development of Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a rare sickness of the nervous system that causes paralysis and other devastating symptoms.

All of this is to say that the timing of our introduction to the DynaTrap insect trap was ideal. We have a lot more peace of mind this summer playing outdoors with DynaTrap guarding our yard.

Now, about that gator trap idea, DynaTrap …

Share Your Best Mushroom Recipes for a Chance to Win during #ShroomTember

Mushroom Council

September is National Mushroom Month, and the Mushroom Council and Life of Dad want you to share your greatest mushroom recipes for the chance to win a $500 Visa gift card.

My wife and I fell in love over a plate of mushroom salad at a local fondue restaurant. No fooling. We did.

Nothing says romance like a delicate pile of raw, thin-sliced and lightly seasoned mushrooms in a delicious salad, followed by cubes of French bread dipped in melted cheese on New Year’s Eve. We shared our first kiss that night. Pretty soon, we were married. Not long after that, our first son came along.

And we owe it all to mushrooms.

OK, maybe we don’t owe it all to mushrooms. But we do love them, and they have been a staple item on our weekly shopping list for years. I do most of the grocery shopping, and grabbing a carton of sliced baby bella mushrooms for sautéing and salads is down to muscle memory at this point.

The ultimate comfort food combo: brie cheese and baby bella mushrooms.

The ultimate comfort food combo: brie cheese and baby bella mushrooms.

Our family’s love of the hearty taste and meaty texture of mushrooms made me a natural for the Life of Dad ShroomTember celebration. September is National Mushroom Month, and the Mushroom Council has teamed with Life of Dad writers and “expert” chefs (like me!) to help stimulate your culinary imagination for creating easy-to-make, nutritious and delicious mushroom meals.

Plus, share your best ShroomTember recipes this month for a chance to win a $500 Visa gift card. There are three ways to enter, and the details are at the Life of Dad ShroomTember contest page. Here are the generalities:

Create an original mushroom-inspired recipe. It can highlight the simplicity of the mushroom (Week 1), the blendability of the mushroom (Week 2) or the deliciousness of one of America’s tailgate favorites, the mushroom burger (Week 3). Share a photo of your meal on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter using #ShroomTember and email it to

The winners will be chosen by the Mushroom Council based on creativity of the recipe, quality of the photo and how hungry it makes us!

Oh, and be sure to join me and Life of Dad on Sept. 23 for our ShroomTember Twitter party at 1 p.m. eastern time to learn about recipes and for a chance to win great prizes. Don’t forget to use the National Mushroom Month hashtag, #ShroomTember.

Meanwhile, here’s a little something mushroom-related that I dreamed up. It’s an example of the Simple Dinner category, which is live during Week 1 of the contest and runs through Sunday, Sept. 14.

I know it’s not winter quite yet, but cold weather weekends are right around the corner in many regions around the country. This easy meal will warm you and your family on chilly Saturday afternoons. I guarantee you’ll want to whip this up more than once during the winter months. It’s an example of how mushrooms are a great way to bring flavor and nutrition to the plate or bowl. For our family, mushrooms really are the ultimate comfort food. Enjoy!

photo (14)
Mushroom brie bisque a la Florida with baby bella and smoked Gouda grilled cheese on ciabatta bread

Mushroom brie bisque a la Florida

12-16 oz. mushrooms (baby bella, shiitake, pearl oyster), finely chopped

½ white onion, finely chopped

1 bay leaf

1 tbsp. ground black pepper

1 tbsp. sea salt

1 pinch oregano

1 pinch basil

1 pinch nutmeg

½ stick butter

5 cups chicken or vegetable stock

4 cups heavy cream

½-pound brie, hulled and cubed

2 tbsps. corn starch or all-purpose flour

2 tbsps. water to mix with corn starch or flour

Directions: In a large soup pot, melt butter over medium heat. Mix finely chopped mushrooms, onions and spices, then add to melted butter. Add bay leaf to melted butter/mushroom blend. Sauté butter/mushroom mixture for five minutes, or until moisture begins to evaporate from mushrooms. Mix in chicken or vegetable stock and heat on medium-low for 10 minutes. Stir in heavy cream and brie cubes. Whisk gently until cheese melts. Add corn starch or flour mixed with water. Remove bay leaf. Simmer for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Avoid full boil. Season to taste. Serves 6-8 people.

Baby bella and smoked Gouda grilled cheese on ciabatta bread

Four slices bakery fresh ciabatta bread

Six-eight thin slices of baby bella mushrooms

One round slice of smoked Gouda cheese

Butter or margarine

1 pinch garlic salt

Directions: In a large non-stick skillet, lightly sauté baby bella mushroom slices with a tbsp. of butter and the garlic salt. Brush a light layer of butter on the outside of two slices of ciabatta bread. Cut the round Gouda slice into equal halves. Place one of the Gouda halves on an unbuttered side of one slice of bread. Place three-four sautéed mushroom slices on top of Gouda, and cover the mushrooms and Gouda with the other slice of ciabatta bread, buttered side out. Over medium heat in the skillet, grill the sandwich on both sides until the cheese begins to melt and the buttered side of the bread is golden brown. Repeat with the other two slices of bread, the second half of the Gouda slice and the rest of the sautéed mushrooms. Serves one-two.

Disclosure: I have partnered with Life of Dad, LLC for the #ShroomTember promotion. Sponsored by The Mushroom Council, the #ShroomTember promotion gives anybody the chance to win a $500 Visa gift card.

Life of Dad

Swing, Fail, Swing Again


Stay focused. Stay relaxed. See the ball, hit the ball. Failure is inevitable. How you respond is up to you, and it can make all the difference.

We played ball out back on a makeshift miniature diamond I mowed into the high, early summer St. Augustine grass. The 8-year-old stepped to the foam-rubber home plate, batting lefty, knees bent just so, arms high but relaxed, head cocked toward the pitcher — me.

I wound up and tossed the ball softly in his direction.

It occurs to me that I was 17 when I became a sportswriter. Nine years older than this boy at the plate. I stepped into that life before my life had really begun, and had no real reason to regret it for two decades. But at the end, when it was over, it could only be classified as a failure.

The boy swung and missed. The swing was handsy, too much upper body, but there was purpose to it and his head and eyes were where they were supposed to be. That’s more than half the battle when you’re learning to hit a baseball. Watch the ball hit the bat. See it, hit it. He retrieved the ball and tossed it back.

How could a career as rewarding as mine be considered a failure? Because it didn’t end on my terms. Where did the fault lie? With me alone? With a newspaper industry in its dying throes? A combination? No matter. When I began that career, I intended for it to end many years from now, many games later, when I was too old to carry my computer bag into the press box. Didn’t happen that way. I failed.

I reminded him to focus on the ball, to keep his arms relaxed, to step toward me, pivot and turn his hips, throw his hands at the ball and explode into the swing. I pitched, he swung — and missed again.

Failure of that sort — mammoth, life-altering, frightening — can derail a man. You think you’re moving along toward a certain destination, surely, confidently. And then … it stops. Even if you sensed it coming, knew failure was inevitable, it stung. Worse, for the first time in your life, you didn’t know what came next.

The ball sailed over the shrub and the external AC unit as he swung and missed a second time. It was a bad pitch, a ball in any league, but at age 8 he still swings at anything and everything. He has not yet developed a discerning eye, a well-defined hitting zone. Every pitch is a promise. Every swing and miss is that promise broken. He dropped the bat and hustled after the ball again.

You didn’t know what came next, but you understood for the first time in your life that nothing was promised. Really understood that fact, not merely the theory. That there were dead ends. 

He found the ball in the high grass and tossed it back. Insects disturbed by the lawn mower began to crowd around us. He swatted at a bug in front of his face and stepped in for one last pitch from dad.

There are dead ends. Failure is inevitable. How you respond to that inevitability determines whether dead ends crack and split and branch off in promising new directions or stay dead ends. You choose your response. You choose to move forward. You choose. That’s what failure does for you, if you let it. If you let it.

This one came in under-handed, an acquiescence to physics and undeveloped, 8-year-old muscles. His eyes grew large as it arced toward the plate.

He stepped. He pivoted. He swung.

Let’s Talk About God

“Every mythology, every religion, is true in this sense: It is true as metaphorical of the human and cosmic mystery.” – Joseph Campbell, the Power of Myth


Detail of Michelangelo’s ceiling fresco at the Sistine Chapel, Vatican City. Source: Photo illustration by DadScribe.

Our first summer in Florida, I was 13 years old and wheelchair-bound after corrective surgery on both feet. My parents sent my brother and me to vacation Bible school at the Presbyterian church up the road from our Palm Beach Gardens apartment complex. There, in the Sunday school classroom, as I sat in my wheelchair with my feet in their twin casts sticking straight out in front of me, a young man with shaggy brown hair, bad acne and huge glasses asked me if I would accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and savior.

If so, he added, my soul would be saved and I would be guaranteed a place for all eternity in the Kingdom of the Lord.

That sounded OK to me. So I said, “Yes. Yes, I do.”

And he said, “Praise Jesus. You are saved today.”

So, I’ve got that going for me. Which is nice.


Sundays at our house have always been reserved for rest. If not rest, Disney World. If not Disney, Busch Gardens. Or laundry. Or yard work. Or the community pool. Or grocery shopping. Or anything except church.

Put simply, we don’t go. We are among the 20 percent of Americans who a Pew Research Center poll identified as having no religious affiliation. That’s not to say we are not religious. Beth certainly is. She prays regularly, and she believes in the traditional, organized-religion definition of the Christian God.

I don’t share her beliefs. I suppose I would have to be lumped in with the 33 million Americans who identify themselves as atheistic or agnostic. I don’t know what that means, though. What I do know is that I don’t know what happens when we die.

I also know this: Neither does anyone else know. But you know what else? That doesn’t matter.

Religion isn’t about that. Or it shouldn’t be.

Joseph Campbell, a scholar of comparative mythology whose work influenced George Lucas as he created the Star Wars universe, makes as much sense to me as anyone I’ve read or listened to when it comes to the purpose of religion. He said it exists not to reveal the meaning of life, but to help us find a way to live life with grace, to discover within ourselves an accord between what we experience and the questions and concepts that transcend our experience.

Campbell said God was, in fact, a metaphor for the things that transcend thought. I think what he meant was that because we exist in the field of time — we’re born, we live, we die — it is incredibly difficult, maybe even impossible, to grasp the concept of eternity.

And that’s about as deep as I want to go with that. As I say, I don’t know. I want to know, but I also am not arrogant enough to believe that I have the answers. That said, nor will I at this point in my life acknowledge that anyone else truly knows, either. That’s what I believe.

Which brings us to our sons.


Beth wants them to go to church. We have found one that might serve, at least for now.

I have qualms.

On one hand, I want our sons to learn about organized religion, about spirituality, about humanity’s attempts to make sense of it all.

On the other hand, I believe that much of humanity’s strife — today and throughout history — has been caused by organized religion. As Campbell said, practitioners of the individual religions get stuck in their own interpretations of their chosen metaphors. That is, they fail to read the sacred texts or hear the sacred stories as poetry. Instead, they read it and hear it as prose. It is, Campbell said, a purely literary problem.

I see people in the public eye espouse views in the name of their religion about topics such as homosexuality, and it is clearly a bigoted way of thinking. Here’s the problem, though: They don’t think of themselves as bigoted, because they simply are adhering to the things they learned from their religious leaders. They are wrong to think that. Hiding behind specious lessons does not excuse the ignorant. While I might not know the answers, I do know this: Any religious teaching that is used to objectify and dehumanize other people is deplorable. I hope our sons never think that way.

Some of my favorite people in the world are deeply religious, and so sure in their convictions that it sometimes makes me wish that I could give myself over to the rapture and let the joy wash over me like a baptismal font.

It’s tough, but our sons need a frame of reference. They need to be exposed to these ideas — and at 7, our older son is probably as impressionable as he’ll ever be when it comes to ideas about spirituality.

It’s tricky. I bought our older son a book the other day called The Kids Book of World Religions, and he sort of freaked out about the drawing of Jesus on the cross. He needs to know what that means, that the resurrection is emblematic of the “death” and “rebirth” we all must experience as we transition from one stage of life to another (I am aware there are those whose interpretation of the crucifixion differs from this one). I Googled [talking to children about religion] and found an entire blog dedicated to the subject, along with this Washington Post story about the author of that blog. This is not a problem unique to us.

It’s necessary. We want our sons to make informed decisions about how they choose to think about spirituality in the future. We’re going to expose them to different ways of thinking, to different paths. We’re going to let them make their own decisions when they’re ready. You’ve got to start somewhere. So … we’ll start by giving up our Sunday rest or recreation to explore the spiritual.

And we’re going to hope that when (if) they choose their paths, they find grace and peace and love. Above all else, we hope that.


Michelangelo’s Pieta, Vatican City. Source: Photo illustration by DadScribe.