Home on the Road: Ryan McKinny

Boy, it's been a long time since I posted a Home on the Road feature, and it's not because I've got living on the road all figured out, let me tell you. I'm still struggling with the packing, and the settling in, and the phone calls, and all the rest of it. I think it's time to call in some more experts, don't you?

I'm so excited to feature bass-baritone Ryan McKinny here. Ryan and I started working in Houston at the same time, and in the time that I have known him he has gone on to sing all over the world, all while he and his fabulous wife Tonya have grown their beautiful family. They have been based in Germany for the past 2 years, but they just bought a house in Houston (in our neighborhood, no less), so they'll be coming back stateside this summer.

Ryan has been on the road for 4 years. In the last year he spent about 9 months at home, but "home" changed once during that time. He and Tonya have never been apart for more than 2 weeks in the past 5 years (take a moment and let that sink in—it's practically unheard of in our business)!

LMB: Do you have any stuff that you always bring with you when you travel to make your temporary home feel more like a real one? Or any special routines to help you acclimate quickly to a new place?

RM: Not really, but I probably should.  Finding a decent grocery store is usually the first thing we do when we get to town. Then a gym. Some of that can be checked ahead of time, but finding them in person is important.

LMB: You often travel with your whole family. I'm sure there are special challenges to traveling with children. Any tips on how to make it go smoothly?

RM: This is extremely challenging and extremely rewarding. My children have been all over the United States and to six other countries. Travel days have different rules for the kids. They can eat special treats, watch shows on the DVD player, etc. So they (really the older one, Emma) get very excited about it. However, long flights can be quite difficult. Sometimes you have to realize that they are children and occasionally scream, and if people give you dirty looks it's only because they don't have kids and don't have the slightest clue of what it's like. We try our best and our kids are generally well behaved, but everyone gets a little cranky on an airplane. As far as packing, we try not to bring too many toys because they really can play with anything. But they do get to bring a special stuffed animal and a book or two and a few small toys so that it feels like home. The thing that has become super important is finding activities and planning them ahead of time. The internet is our best friend. We are pretty digitized. If we didn't have laptops, iPad, and iPhones we would be lost.

LMB: How has life changed since you moved the family to Berlin? Are you finding it easier/more difficult to navigate your career and your life on the other side of the ocean?

RM: The biggest initial hurdle was the language. My German has gotten a lot better over the last year to the point where now I would say I “speak German” though maybe not “fluently” just yet. My five year old daughter speaks fluent German now after having spent several months in a German kindergarten, which I find completely mind-blowing. It's also culturally much different and you can feel isolated from the world. We have made lots of expat friends, though, and that has made it feel nearly like home. We love Berlin as a city and we love our apartment there. Now two years later we are moving back to Houston, but being in Germany for two years have been very rewarding. We will miss it when we leave, but such is the life.

LMB: I'm always looking for advice on how to make a relationship/marriage work despite spending time apart. How do you and Tonya make it work when you're not together?

RM: I am the luckiest man I know in this department. I have a truly amazing wife. From the beginning of our relationship we decided that we would put each other first. She is more important to me than anything (including music) and I am the most important thing to her. We communicate about everything, always, and we do it in as gentle a way as we can. We decided early on that we would travel together. That means that she is a full time mother and does not have a paying job. This has been a major sacrifice on her part, but one that she is happy with, and one that I try to honor. We have seen relationships in both our families and many of our friends fall apart, and I don't think this has anything to do with one's career choice. Relationships are hard work to sustain, and you have to learn to love that work. People continue to change their whole lives if they're lucky, and my plan is to keep getting to know the new Tonya every day.

Also, we stay faithful to each other. Seriously. In this business there are people who everyone knows are married and people who everyone knows are “married.” I'm in the first group. 

LMB: In order to have the career that you have, you have to be willing to be away from home a lot of the time. What makes it worthwhile for you?

RM: Making impactful art is worth it. It sounds extremely naïve, but I believe that people can walk away from an opera with a deeper understanding of themselves and their place in the greater scope of humanity. Now, not every gig achieves this—in fact, it's really rare. But that's the possibility that drives me forward. If through my voice (and the voices of my colleagues, the sound of the orchestra, the drama that unfolds, etc.) someone can be moved enough that they can never go back, that is worth it. 

LMB: Any other advice you wish someone had given you when you were just starting out on the road? Or advice that you did get that has been helpful to you?

RM: Some advice I gave myself early on— Don't follow too much advice! Listen to it all and take it in, but you are responsible for your own life. If you have a crazy idea that everyone thinks is ridiculous it doesn't mean it can't be wildly successful, and likewise just because everyone says it's a good idea doesn't mean it is. Weigh your options, make your choice, never look back. Good luck.

Thank you so much to Ryan! You can find out more about him at www.ryanmckinny.com. For more on his marriage to Tonya, check out this post from my Happy Marriages I Know feature.   

Seven months in (and counting)

I read a lot of books about marriage. Some are scientific, some are anecdotal, some are gimmicky, some assume if I'm reading that my marriage is already in trouble (and it's my parents' fault), some are optimistic, some are fatalistic, some prompt me to start conversations with CM, and some get tucked away in the back of my brain for the future.

Whenever I drop this into a conversation, long-married people seem to find it universally hilarious. The idea that reading about marriage might help me to preemptively protect my own prompts much eye-rolling and wry chuckling. Maybe it's evidence of my youth and naïveté—I'm fairly confident that in my parents' entire 38-year marriage (yes, 38!) neither of them has ever picked up a marriage self-help book. But then again, they've also never experienced the shockingly swift unraveling of the one relationship they thought was indestructible. I have. I know that fragile sometimes masquerades as strong, that red flags can look like good omens from close up, that "till death do us part" does not guarantee lifetime happiness. I know, and CM knows, too.

So I read. I read now, while we're solid, loving newlyweds, in the hope that I'll build habits and patterns that will carry us through someday in the future when we're shaky and hurting. I read about other marriages, and in so doing I spend time analyzing ours—what's great about us, what we could do better.

Lately I've been worried that we don't spend enough time really talking to each other. We talk on the phone multiple times a day, of course, particularly when we're apart, but those conversations mostly consist of stories from our days, work talk, to-do lists, etc. During our engagement, we worked our way through a book of 100 questions to discuss before marriage (in lieu of pre-marital counseling, which is hard to do when the bride and groom are on separate continents), which helped us get to know each other even more deeply than we had in the first three years of our relationship. Now our conversations are mostly pedestrian, and although I treasure the day-to-day I also wish for the occasional profundity.

Yesterday over breakfast CM started telling me all about a book he's reading, called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. He's finding it fascinating, and I realized as he was telling me about it that I didn't really know exactly what makes someone an introvert or an extrovert. CM has always identified himself as an introvert, but I didn't think I could even accurately define the word. This led us down an internet rabbithole which ended with both of us taking one of those personality tests online, a short version of the Myers-Briggs. I had taken one in college, I know, but I couldn't for the life of me remember the result. Well, according to the test (and the one we took after that, just to be sure), it turns out we're both introverts. In fact, we both got the same type: INTJ (that stands for introversion, intuition, thinking, judging—you can read a description of the type here).

I, for one, was shocked that we were identified as the same type. I've always thought we were similar as in compatible—we like the same stuff, we get along easily—but that we processed and reacted to things totally differently. After a thought-provoking discussion of our results, I'll admit that I seem to have gotten that wrong. We are so much more similar at our cores than I thought we were, and though it might seem silly to take an internet quiz this seriously, I am finding great joy in discovering our alikeness. This one conversation, simply illuminating something that was already true, has caused a real tilt in perspective.

So I think I'll keep reading, and analyzing, and asking questions, and demanding truth and depth. And though it may be naïve of me, I'll continue to be delighted when I discover just how much I don't know.

Interested in some light marital reading material? Might I suggest:

No Cheating, No Dying: One couple tackles a year-long marriage improvement project. Here's a teaser.

Spousonomics: All about using economic principles to make marriage better and more efficient.

Committed: An exploration of the history of marriage by the author of Eat, Pray, Love.

Happy Academy Awards weekend!

What's on tap for the weekend, friends? I get to fly to Houston tomorrow! It's only been 3 weeks since I left, but it feels like too long. Will you be watching the Oscars on Sunday? I always love them, and this year I've seen more of the movies than usual, which I think will help to enjoy the show.

While I'm having a gleeful reunion with my husband and my sweet cat, some links:

The Bossy Cat has been asking for one of these. Too bad she has such expensive taste.

A brave and beautiful post from Cup of Jo.

My new favorite thing on YouTube. Start with this one.

I just bought this for our 2nd floor powder room, which we've decided will have a mustache theme, I have no idea why.

Have you seen the brochure for next year's Met season? Should be a great year.

CM took this adorable picture of the Bossy Cat under the covers in bed. As of tomorrow I'll be able to snuggle up with them in person!

Hope your weekend is full of friends, celebrity gossip, and cocktail hour! xoxo LMB

Bossy Essentials: Health Gadgets

Aside from the last couple cookie-filled weeks, I've been taking seriously my resolution to make my health a priority. Running, yoga, eating better, walking more—I can already feel significant changes in my energy and mood (my new pants in a smaller size don't hurt my mood much, either). Of course, since I'm a gadget girl, I'm enjoying exploring a host of new technology to help along the way. I'm sharing my current faves here, and I'd love to hear yours!

First and foremost, I'm having trouble remembering how I lived with out my Fitbit Ultra. It's a tiny pedometer that tracks your steps taken, stairs climbed, and calories burned, as well as tracking your sleep! It's small enough to wear everywhere (I clip it to the middle of my bra during the day and to my waistband when I'm working out), and it syncs to the website so you can look at your habits in graphs and charts. If you're looking to lose weight, you can also log your food online and it will give you a calorie range to aim for based on how active you are that day. I cannot recommend this highly enough. CM has one, too, and we both love the accountability.

I started using the Sleep Cycle app on the recommendation of Legs McGee. It's an alarm clock on your iPhone that you put in the bed with you. You set the time that you have to wake up, and based on your movement it finds the best time to wake you up during the half-hour window leading up to your wake-up time. For all I know it might be hooey, but it does seem like it's easier to wake up feeling rested and alert when I use it. And it's only 99 cents.

I'm trying to be better at drinking more water, and the Camelback Groove water bottle has been so helpful. It has a few features that make it perfect in my book. One is a built-in filter, which makes even my NYC tap water taste delicious. Another is the straw that goes all the way to the bottom of the bottle, so you don't have to tip it back to drink from it. And finally, it's completely spill-proof (you have to bite the straw slightly to drink). I cannot tell you how many times I spilled water in my purse by not screwing on the cap of my Sigg bottle tightly enough. This is much better.

CM and I both use the Nike+ GPS app on our phones every time we go for a run. It tracks mileage, pace, and route using the GPS in your phone. It syncs with the website so you can track your progress. I love nothing more than going online and seeing all my runs next to each other in a chart(I've run 61 miles so far this year!). For whatever reason, it's really important to me to be able to track my progress in some quantifiable way. This way is the best I've found.

I swear by these Sony headphones for workouts. They go around your ear completely while still having the earbud, so they never fall off, and they don't hurt my ears like the iPod headphones always do. They're perfect for listening to my running mix.

What's keeping you healthy these days?

Getting back on the horse (or your metaphor of choice)

I seem to have fallen off the blogging wagon with a vengeance over the last couple weeks. If it's any consolation, my dear readers, you are not all that I've neglected during that time. Other things I haven't done include (but are not limited to):

  • responding to emails
  • returning phone calls
  • running
  • saying no to cupcakes
  • saying no to cookies
  • saying no to cannoli
  • having a social life

I have, however, prepped, rehearsed, and opened a show, so there's that.

Happily, now that the show is open my duties consist mostly of going to the performances, with the odd rehearsal thrown in here and there. Which means FREE TIME! for blogging and other pursuits (and perhaps most excitingly, going home to Houston and CM for a few days between shows). When the weather's bad I'll hole up in a café studying scores, or I'll catch a new exhibit, or I'll sit in a dark theater watching a movie. When the weather's good I'll run around the Central Park Reservoir, or sit on a park bench reading Henri Murger, or explore new neighborhoods on foot. Who knows, I might even start answering emails. And I will do my utmost to update this space on a more regular basis.

What do you say? Are you with me?

Happy Superbowl weekend!

What do you have going on this weekend? Will you be watching the game? No football for me. I'm leaving for New York for 6 weeks (I can't get enough Don Giovanni) on Sunday, so CM and I are cramming in some together time tomorrow. We're going to go test-drive a Fiat 500 (the perfect second car to our SUV, don't you think?), and then have a proper date night—dinner at a restaurant we've been wanting to try that serves Italian small plates, and maybe a movie! It's going to be hard to say goodbye.

While I'm gazing lovingly into my husband's eyes, I'll leave you with these links:

After reading about my dolphin love, the Airstream Diva sent me this video. GAH! I cannot imagine anything better.

We've been looking for CD storage that is not the IKEA Benno shelves for our ridiculous opera recording collection. I don't think CM will go for it, but how fun is this?

Read this. It's fantastic.

CM took a new headshot of me the other day. You can see it here. (I'm pretty sure they call that "burying the lead.")

I'm wishing for this to continue my meat-braising experiments. You can brown the meat in there, too! Sadly, I think I have to hold myself back from buying more kitchen appliances (last month I bought a juicer AND a food processor).

Look at this pretty girl (photo taken by CM):

Hope your weekend is filled with friends, celebration, and lots and lots of fried food! xoxo LMB

The one that got away

Four days ago I spent 40 minutes hanging out in a pool with a dolphin named Olympia. I petted her slick rubbery skin. I waved at her and she waved back. She kissed me on the cheek and I kissed her on the mouth—that's just how I roll.

We danced and then I grabbed her fins and she took me for a ride and I could feel her slippery smooth belly underneath me as the salt water splashed into my eyes. When we said goodbye she dove under the water and waved her tail at me.

It was exactly how awesome I thought it would be. That never happens.


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