Saturday, October 30, 2010

Rocky the Raccoon

I've been thinking lately about the stories that get told and retold in my family. There are seven of us (Mom, Dad, three brothers, two sisters) and we all love to be in the spotlight and make people laugh. Even now, whenever we get together we eventually find ourselves all sitting in the same room, telling stories about our latest adventures, vying for everyone elses attention and aiming for the biggest reaction. My husband tells me this is not typical behavior.

Some of my memories from childhood are so distinct because my parents told stories to family friends within my earshot (I learned a lot about my parents' perspective by sitting at the grown-ups' table and just listening). I learned early in life that there is humor in the odd and the ordinary, and the secret to capturing the mood of any given moment is all in the re-telling. Hearing my parents' grown-up friends laugh and appreciate events that I myself had experienced made a big impression on me.

I plan to blog some of these memories, for the sake of record keeping and for your entertainment. Hope you enjoy them.

Rocky the Raccoon

My brother and I have a pair of stuffed animals we were given when we were very young. Back then, it was just the two of us, a few years before brother number two was born, when we were partners in crime.

As the older sister, most of our mischief was initiated by me. It was my idea to eat the leftover gingerbread house out of the metal garbage can in the backyard (stale candy is still sweet!). Mom wasn't too impressed when she found us burying a neighbor kid in our sandbox (was it Melody or Raymond? Or kids from the next house down, Chewey and Junior? I don't recall). I'm pretty sure I convinced my brother it was a good idea to taste-test our cat's food. We were a dynamic duo. So it struck me as very considerate when we were given matching toys.

The stuffed animals both had red striped shirts (sewn-on) and removable hooded jackets. Mine was a dog and my brother's was a raccoon.

Someone is selling the same dog on e-bay (in the original jacket, which I have long since lost) :

Gosh I love the Internet

The seller's product description is too funny:
This is a very old puppy dog plush by Interpur!
It is a tan dog with brown ears.
His tongue is sticking out.
He has on a hooded jacket with a zipper.
Under the jacket is a striped shirt.
He measures: 12in long.
It is in GOOD used condition!
There is a little bit of crust on the back of his head (looks like yogurt?).
Other than that, normal wear for a toy of this age.. 1960?
Sounds about right. But 1960 seems old...if that's true, then we were not the first kids to love these toys. I still remember how fun it was to be able to work the small zipper all by myself.

I don’t remember when we originally received the stuffed animals, but I'm pretty sure they were re-gifted. I think what happened is that we left our toys laying around the house one too many times and they were confiscated by Mom. The genius of her parenting, however, was that after good behavior, she returned our own toys to us, wrapped like gifts in butcher paper. I remember how surprised I was to receive a present when it wasn’t even a holiday! Christmas was months away and my June birthday had already come and gone.

I wish I could recall all the particulars of receiving those presents, but I was no older than 4 or 5 at the time. Did we earn back our toys by doing our chores? Was Mom guilty about keeping them from us and made their return special by wrapping them?

I don't know if I ever named my dog. But his importance in my childhood turned out to be just a supporting role to his stuffed animal companion, whom my brother named Rocky the Raccoon.

Rocky the Raccoon was discovered one day by Dad in the empty lot behind our house. Apparently we hadn't learned our lesson about putting toys away. Rocky had been torn apart by the city lawn mowers. Dad discreetly collected as many pieces as he could, never calling attention to the scene of the crime. He knew the severed limbs and stuffing spread over cut grass would be too much for us to take.

[I have a very clear image in my mind of how and where this took place, but I don't remember if I was actually there when Dad found Rocky, or if the memory was created when Dad told the story after the fact.]

Dad brought all the pieces to Mom, soggy from dew. She went to work, refilling Rocky with the collected cotton stuffing and reconnecting his top and bottom halves (poor guy was split in two). His stuffing was blue. I watched Mom sew, with instructions to not say anything yet to my brother. It was a shock to see his innards on the outside, like the startling red of blood against skin. Mom resurrected him, and washed him, and he looked good as new.

Only after Rocky was reunited with my brother (with much fanfare) did we all realize a marked difference in Rocky’s appearance. Prior to his accident, Rocky’s legs bent at a natural crease where they connected to his torso, allowing him to be propped in a seated position, grey legs outstretched in front. But after surgery, his legs only bent behind him.

Mom had accidentally sown his lower half on backwards.

Photo taken this week, from Stuffed Animal Retirement Home in my brother's garage

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Zumba update

Last night, I didn't want to go to Zumba. I was depressed because it was dark by the time I got off work, and sad that the cheerful, happy blogs I read during the day weren't about my life (this one called Loobylu just about brought me to tears because it made my life seem grey and boring).

I shuffled over to my husband's office (across the alley from my building) to tell him my new plan: go home, drink tea, light my new apple cider scented candle, and wallow. Being the disciplined, highly motivated, wise man that he is, he encouraged me to not give up and instead attend the class I paid for.

His exact words were, "You should go, wife."

I pouted. "I don't wanna. I'm sad because my life isn't bright and colorful and happy every day."

With only a hint of sarcasm, he responded, "OK, Sponge Bob. But working out will help you feel better."

Knowing he was right did not help cheer me. But persuaded by the guilt trip, I walked down the hill to the gym.

Part of my reluctance to attend Zumba this week was because my instructor invited us to wear costumes. Apparently, the Tuesday five days prior to Halloween is close enough to warrant dressing up. When she said it in class last week, I rolled my eyes. Pointing to my spandex shorts and hot pink gym shirt, I told a classmate under my breath, "this crazy get-up is a costume!"

I believe there is a time and a place for dressing up (adult parties, primarily. Which I secretly wish I would get invited to. I would honestly LOVE to go to a costume party and do it up big). But Zumba class and office work are not such times nor places. Last year, Halloween was on a weekday. My co-workers dressed up, 80's-themed. I refused to participate on the premise that if I can't take myself seriously, how can I expect my clients to take me seriously, especially when addressing personal financial matters? Bottom line: I was a total stick in the mud. I stood out even MORE by wearing a stupid work-logo-sweater over a polo shirt and dress pants. Ironically, I did look like I was from the 80's.

I distinctly remember being uncomfortable all day as my coworkers bounced past my cubicle in leg warmers, side ponytails, Jelly sandals, and plastic neon bracelets. Even with this memory of lameness as a result of not participating, I just couldn't bring myself to dress up for aerobics. So I didn't.

Our instructor dressed as a mummy. For Zumba. Imagine this, please. She had white rags tied around her head, under her jaw (Mummy with Toothache, perhaps?) and more tied around each wrist, with long strips flowing off each hand. She turned most the lights in the room off, handed out glow-in-the-dark bracelets, and turned on a few black lights. My monologue of scoffing continued. Really, people? This is how we, as adults, choose to exercise? A few other students dressed up (hats, face paint, safety-pinned tail, etc). I was embarrassed for them.

But then something happened. In the dimly lit room, dancing to songs with ever-increasing volume, I started having fun.

Having the lights low helped somehow. I was less self-conscious. I noticed my classmates moving more freely than usual, too. Who knew Zumba in the dark was a good idea?! There are still several songs I can NOT get the hang of, but I just danced and had fun. When in doubt, shake your hips. We worked our way through the regular play list: Crazy Little Thing Called Love by Queen, Chocolate (Choco Choco) by Soul Control, Zorba (Greek) by The Gypsy Kings, Slide (Calypso, Salsa, African). It was a riot. I stopped exercising to impress anybody and just enjoyed the movement.

Then, a new song started. It was a Zumba-fied version, but it was unmistakable. Thriller. I am ashamed to admit I had never listened to the whole song before (never knew Vincent Price said all that scary stuff at the end). But now I've danced it. People in the brightly lit hallway outside our classroom peered into the room through the glass door. I don't know who found it more amusing: the onlookers, finding costumed women dancing in the dark, or us, living our dreams of music video performance.

That that, 80's theme!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Vegas: Business, Pleasure, and Cultural Immersion

Emily's Very First Trip to Vegas
I had the privilege of taking a business trip to Las Vegas two weeks ago. I attended a conference all about retirement savings accounts. Ironic, right? While I took notes on tax penalties for withdrawing funds from an IRA, thousands of people within a few-mile radius were gambling. I learned a lot about policies and procedures, but the biggest lessons had to due with the city itself.

Prior to this trip, my knowledge of Las Vegas was limited to what I'd seen in movies. Allow me to elaborate.

Thanks to the 1992 Disney classic Honey I Blew Up the Kid and everybody's favorite drama-crime-comedy trilogy Ocean's Eleven, Twelve and Thirteen, I was woefully misinformed. 

Emily's Misconceptions about Las Vegas

Traffic on the strip is that of a residential neighborhood (remember when Wayne Salinsky lures his giant baby away from casinos with an ice cream truck?).

Reality: crossing the street in Vegas risky. Best to wait for the cross walk and traffic signal, then elbow your way through the crowd to get to the other side. I saw a middle age woman, clutching her husband's arm, tense with fear and scream “Ahh!” Her eyes were wide as pedestrians from both sides of the street merged in the middle of the road. It’s no place for babies, giant or otherwise.  
    See all those lanes? Scary
Las Vegas is glamorous, clean, and filled with celebrities (other than elevator shafts and AC ducts, Daniel Ocean and his Eleven cronies were always shown in ritzy settings surrounded by beautiful people).
Reality: People-watching in Vegas is the combination of a high-end mall, the county fair, and WalMart. Passing each other on the casino floors at any hour of the day are people in formal attire, swimsuits, wedding gowns, sweatpants, and any combination of the above. I thought I was going to feel out of place since I didn’t pack anything with sequins, but I needn’t have worried. It’s hard to stand out no matter what you wear.

Showgirls and man with baby occupy the same sidewalk. Weird.

The weather in Nevada poses a constant risk of heatstroke and sunburn (for someone who burns as easily as I do, SPF 30 is a must).

Reality: Every building on the strip is air-conditioned. Good thing my co-worker warned me to pack sweaters. After our classes each day, we'd drop off our teaching materials in our room, change out of long sleeves and jackets into swimsuits, and lather on the sunscreen. However, we only had one day by the pool when we were actually in the sun. Every other afternoon we had to contend with clouds, a brief rainstorm, and, duh, the huge buildings surrounding us, obstructing the sun.  

Good thing the pool towels were big.
Gambling is only one of many things to do in a casino. 

Reality: everything is geared toward keeping you in the casinos. Even in the shopping areas, there are no windows, no clocks, and plenty of opportunities to keep buying drinks. Wi-fi cost $15 a day at the casino I stayed in. There was an hourly fee for using the weight room (I packed my gym shoes and workout gear, but never wore either: no way was I going to pay to use a treadmill). Instead, I lost $25 on the penny slots. In a VERY brief period of time. And I wanted to keep playing. They had me right where they wanted me. The lights and colors and jingling noises on the casino floor were totally hypnotizing. Annoying, but hypnotizing nonetheless. I'm easily distracted by anything shiny so I was a lost cause.
For my shark-loving husband
That being said, the highlights of my trip had nothing to do with gambling:
I loved the Bellagio Fountains (and learned that Clair de Lune was just the song recorded in Ocean's Eleven...there's a new tune playing every 30 minutes in real life).
I didn't really know what to expect, but was totally delighted by Blue Man Group. If you haven't seen them, you should. Any attempts to describe them will sound lame and not do their hip, edgy sense of humor any justice. I couldn't even decide on a picture to post, so here's their link: SO GLAD I went to their show.

It was a great trip!

Me and my co-worker in Margaritaville

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

To-write List: A trip to Vegas, a Wedding, a Second Wind

Coming posts about the following:

Business trip to Las Vegas (super fun and action-packed! I felt like Pinocchio on Pleasure Island).

Editor's Note: Trip Recap is posted here

My sister's wedding (absolutely beautiful and perfect. Still glowing from all the love in one room).

My friend's newly published book.

Second Wind: One Woman's Midlife Quest to Run Seven Marathons on Seven Continents

My book Review was posted here.

It's been a busy week! Post your questions in the comments section...that will motivate me to get crackin'.