I've always loved stuffed animals. And the softer and plusher, the better. They're like family. Only, in some ways, better, but I won't go down that road. Not today, anyway. Some children outgrow their love for stuffed animals (or do they just stopping admitting it?), but not me. And although I've stopped adding to my collection over the years (ok, make that decades), there are always those favorite ones that are loved just a little bit more, squeezed a little tighter, hugged a little longer.
Well, for someone who has a theater arts degree and more than a passing knowledge of Tudor history, I'd say that one of the most useful things I've learned is … the repair of stuffed animals. Over the years, I've patched up more than my share of stuffed animals, my own and my daughters. I've even gone so far as to do what could only be called a "full fluff transplant" – turning a very large (over four feet tall), but very "stiff", frog won at the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo into the cutest, squishiest frog EVER.
But I digress. Well, maybe just a little because I promise this is going somewhere. (I can hear Black saying, "Then get there already.") Recently Black emailed me a video with a note that it made her want to buy a Vermont Teddy Bear. Knowing she's definitely not warm and fuzzy, let alone a stuffed animal person, I couldn't imagine what the video could be about to make her say that. I should've guessed there'd be a Make-A-Wish connection (remember Bernie's Inauguration Day mittens?), and I couldn't help but smile when I heard that the Vermont Teddy Bear Company was renting office space to Make-A-Wish Vermont for $1/year.
I immediately picked up the phone to tell her how I've always been impressed by the company, but before I could say how the video didn't surprise me, she starts telling me about their "Limb Loss and Difference Limb Bear" that not only offer love and comfort but supports the Amputee Coalition. Finally, I'm able to tell her that The Vermont Teddy Bear Company has always been great, especially in unexpected ways,
Decades ago, when I visited Vermont on a regular basis, I was traveling with one of my beloved stuffed animals – a soft, cuddly sheep that I had gotten in England many years prior. She had what I'd call "old-fashioned" eyes (the type they probably don't make anymore because they'd be considered a health hazard), and over the years, one of the eyes got looser and looser. And while I did everything I could, I knew that it was only a matter of time before the eye would fall off.
I was at the Vermont Teddy Bear Store and mentioned the "condition" to the in-house doctor (seriously, they have one). The next thing I knew, I was leaving my "baby" overnight at their "hospital" (which is usually reserved for their bears) to return the following morning to pick up the patient, who now had a beautifully repaired eye that to this day is perfect.
|It's funny. When the New York Islanders were in the semi-finals of the Stanley Cup, your post about how ice hockey brought back warm memories of you and Daddy, brought back a vivid memory for me, too.|
|I have never known you to be interested in ice hockey. Full stop. Or, should that be "full hockey stop"?|
|Cute. And although we both skated as kids, and Daddy tried teaching me the hockey stop, I never could do it. But my memory has nothing to do with professional ice hockey or even skating. Instead, it's how you handled a bunch of high school ice hockey players.|
|I know you cannot be talking about when I considered joining the girl's ice hockey club. Or, how although I was one of the faster skaters, I quit when I realized the girls were not as interested in playing the sport as they were in "taking out" other skaters. Especially those that showed up for practice with figure skates.|
|Of course, you did. But I didn't even know you had done that, and it seems out of character as you've never been a team sports kind of person. When Sawyer was in her figure skating years, there was a girls hockey team at the rink that seemed competitive, and while I knew that plenty of girls played ice hockey, I still would've been scared of her losing her front teeth or getting seriously injured. But that's not the memory.|
|Well, the only other thing I can think of is when we were all at some family-style restaurant, it could have been Friendly's or IHOP, and I "confronted" those big, burly, and smelly hockey players that just could not stop acting, well, like tough hockey players.|
|Exactly! Although I was only a kid at the time, I remember you coming back to the table laughing and Daddy asking, in that loving and bemused way he had when it came to you and your "antics", what you did this time.|
|I cannot remember what led to me encountering them when they walked in, but I was probably coming back from the bathroom. Anyway, I could not stop staring at them.|
|No surprise there, you were pretty boy crazy at the time.|
|Not for these boys. They were loud and obnoxious. And, I was staring because they were wearing full hockey uniforms, including skates! Granted, they had blade protectors on, but instead of looking tough, they looked silly.|
|They must have towered over you. Plus, they probably weighed at least twice what you did.|
|Including the gear, maybe more, as I probably weighed about 90 pounds. Anyway, they saw me staring, and one of them asked, with attitude, "What are you looking at?"|
|I'd bet just about anything that you gave them what I now refer to as "The Look" – that facial expression of yours that's a combination of "Are you kidding me?," eye-rolling, and "silent" sarcasm. I know as a grown woman I don't want to be the recipient of it, but can only imagine what a group of arrogant high school boys would've made of it.|
|Whether it was "The Look" or just me staring at them, they definitely did not like it. But, what did they expect walking in dressed like that?|
|There's no telling, but it's safe to say they probably didn't expect you to respond to their question like you did. But, to this day, it's one of the most memorable things you've ever said and one of my favorites. It was just perfect.|
|All I know is that it seemed the obvious reply … Puck you!|
I'm not sure where they come up with these "holidays" but today's National Creative Ice Cream Flavors Day … although I can't remember the first time I had a creative ice cream flavor. Growing up on Long Island in the 1960s, my ice cream memories are of your traditional flavors bought in non-descript half-gallon rectangle cartons (not even tubs) from the grocery store. Or, as a special treat or celebration, a coffee ice cream soda (not sure you'd consider "coffee" a "creative flavor") at Krisch's in downtown Massapequa, Long Island (it's still there!). Occasionally, I'd get an ice cream sundae at Friendly's, but I wasn't overly creative – vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce, whipped cream, and extra cherries.
I guess, in those days, the closest thing to "creative" ice cream was spumoni which was an odd combination – layers of cherry, pistachio, and either vanilla or chocolate ice cream with what, at the time, I thought were "mystery items" but only years later did I learn were dried fruit and nuts. Regardless, it was one of my favorites, although my mom rarely bought it, and I think it may have been because I was the only one in my family who liked it.
Anyway, I may not remember when truly "creative" ice cream flavors appeared in my life, but I'll never forget the first time I went to Ben & Jerry's in Burlington, Vermont. Back then, they only had that one location, but we always made sure to stop there (often more than once) on our frequent trips to Vermont. Many years later, when I visited their factory in Waterbury, Vermont, they were no longer a local secret and were known for making some of the most creative and delicious ice-cream combinations. Ever. (For the record, my favorite's the very popular and very yummy Cherry Garcia, which has a fascinating backstory.)
Regardless, I couldn't help but wonder what my sister, the self-proclaimed "selfish and shallow" size 2, who rarely eats sweets, would have to say about ice cream "creativity" …
I know very little about "creative" ice cream flavors, as on the rare occasion I eat ice cream, I prefer traditional flavors. Although, as a kid, I loved ice cream sandwiches, which I guess required creativity to invent. However, I do know that when Ben & Jerry's needed to raise cash to build a manufacturing plant, they wanted to find a way to share their success with Vermonters and discovered a little-known clause that allowed them to establish a Vermont-only public stock offering. Now that is creative ice cream (making).
I was living somewhere called Hazerswoude-Rijndijk. No, I'm not making that up. It's a small, extremely quaint village in The Netherlands about five miles from Leiden, where my oldest daughter, Natasha, was born 23 years ago. In fact, her birthday was just two days ago, which made me reminisce about so many things, including how my sister scared the living daylights out of her when she was only three weeks old.
Now, you need to know that my sister doesn't "do" travel unless it's relatively short flights (six hours or less), so traveling from Houston to Amsterdam was a big deal for her. Of course, staying at The Amstel Hotel, one of the world's greatest hotels, made the "sacrifice" a bit more bearable. At the time, we weren't close, although we were always there for each other if needed. And I never had a single doubt, ever, that she'd be the most amazing aunt when the day came.
So, only weeks after Natasha was born, there she was at the door of our idyllic farmhouse along the Rijndijk River about 40 minutes, and countless miles of tulips fields, outside of Amsterdam. And how did she get acquainted with her niece? By gently tossing her up in the air, almost non-stop, for over six hours. Natasha was my first child, and as any first-time mom will tell you, we're overly cautious with the first one. So, how did I handle this? First, with horror, then when I saw she was being extremely careful and really not "tossing" her very much at all, although it just seemed like it, with some trepidation. (The fact she told me Natasha weighed far less than the weights she lifted daily might've helped.) But mostly, with appreciation as Natasha literally wouldn't stop crying, except for when her aunt gently "threw" her up in the air.
The following day Black invited Natasha and me to spend the day with her at the Amstel. She had arranged for what turned out to be one of the best days I'd ever have with her and Natasha – a private cruise along the Amstel River in a classic wooden Dutch boat, in and out of seemingly all of Amsterdam's beautiful canals, with a gourmet lunch prepared onboard. It was magical, memorable, and something only my sister would do. And Natasha, showing her first indication that she very much liked her aunt's "lifestyle", was a picture-perfect infant for the entire day. Well, almost, as the day didn't start well,
Black had left her room unlocked, and I walked into the most beautiful hotel suite I've ever seen, something out of a 1950s Fred Astaire movie. Natasha's blissful in her carry seat having slept quietly in the car, while I'm admiring the panoramic views of the Amstel River, lost in thought of how this is a perfect moment in time. Until my sister walks in from the bathroom, having just got out of a hot bath, and picks up Natasha. Who instantly starts to scream! But a scream I had never heard before – or since. A scream you'd expect if you saw an ax murderer coming toward you. And then I … laughed, uncontrollably. Because my sister had the biggest mascara "raccoon eyes" that I've ever seen in my life and was probably the scariest thing Natasha had ever seen in her (three weeks old) life.