Nostalgia Bomb – Kumbia Kings, “Azucar”

Several weeks ago, I attended a beautiful wedding (congratulations, James and Leslie!) I like South Texas weddings.  There are always constants you can look forward to, no matter how many you attend.  For instance, there’s going to be wedding floor dancing to a mix of pop, country, and Tejano.  You can look forward to munching on some Mexican Wedding cookies.  A mariachi band is sure to make an appearance at some point after the wedding.  And fajitas WILL be on the menu, whether it’s at the rehearsal dinner or the actual wedding.

This wedding I attended was lovely on all accounts and did not disappoint with the South Texas traditions.  As I was leaving the dance floor to take a break, I heard a Tejano song that sounded very, very familiar that instantly took me back to high school.

Kumbia Kings, “Azucar”

Now, I’m gonna be honest.  I don’t listen to Tejano.  But hearing it instantly brings me back home to my backyard growing up.  Our next door neighbor Nas (who painted his house purple) blasted Tejano every weekend, drinking Tecate and barbequing.  I started growing fond of the songs and became familiar with them, like “Azucar.”

You guys may not know who the Kumbia Kings were, but if you grew up in South Texas, you did, even if you were a total white girl like me.  Selena’s brother was in the Kumbia Kings, so that fact right there sealed their popularity.  Selena was a BIG DEAL where I grew up. (Fun fact – it’s almost like a rite of passage in my town to visit her grave. I’m just saying. We’ve all done it).

And since we’re heading down memory lane, STORY TIME!  I was almost in a Kumbia Kings video, right around the time this song came out.  It was going to be filmed at our high school gym during Christmas break. I was so excited but my mother, in a fit of protectiveness, decided that I couldn’t because she didn’t think there would be any adult supervision. I was bitter about that for quite awhile, because for some reason unknown to mankind, I was certain my big break would be from that video (cut me a break, I was sixteen).

I later saw the video on TV; my high school principal and several of the administrators were in the closing scene.  But the extras’ parts involved sitting in a stand for a crowd scene, so chances of my being seen would have been nil anyway.  IT’S OKAY, MOM, I’M NOT MAD ABOUT IT ANYMORE.

All these memories – sitting out in my backyard and smelling barbeque, thinking that Hollywood would care about my being an extra in a crowded gym for a Tejano music video – came flooding back to me when I heard “Azucar” playing on the dance floor.

And that is why I love South Texas weddings.

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Wednesday Afternoon

We are putting new carpets in at work, so I’m packing up my cubicle today. It’s a pain, but it allows me to get rid of papers that have accumulated over the past four and a half years.  Going through the papers and recycling them is making me a little nostalgic.  There are a lot of files associated with the waterline project.  I remember when it seemed like I’d be on that project forever, and now it’s been over for nearly a year.  I miss it.

I preface this paragraph by stating that I do not want to be one of those people who always talks about her dog.  I remember when my friend Tap adopted a cat, he would not stop talking about what Bert did today.  I remember thinking, “COOL STORY BUT I DON’T CARE ABOUT YOUR CAT.”  But now, I totally understand. I’m sorry, Tap.  My conversations with loved ones have consisted mainly of what Apollo Did Today or Apollo’s Progress or Apollo Still Isn’t House-Broken What Am I Doing Wrong?  I’m surprised they still answer my texts and phone calls.

So I will try my best to refrain from talking too much about my puppy but I have to say several things: 1.  He slept all night last night, which was awesome and 2. he is learning how to fetch.

I better get back to packing up my cube. Is it Friday yet?

edit: I found the iPod that’s been missing since March on my bottom shelf. How the heck did it get there?! At least this repacking has been useful.

Files of a Clumsy Child – Kicking a Hole in the Wall (While Pretending to be a Figure Skater)

Do you know when I started liking figure skating?  During the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan scandal, of course.  Didn’t everyone? I was nine-years-old and highly intrigued by all the gossip.  My mother and I discussed it a great deal, and I would even do an imitation of Nancy Kerrigan screaming, “WHYY?” after getting hit in the knee with a iron club (I was a terrible, terrible, terrible child).

Intrigued by the gossip, Mom and I started watching the 1994 Winter Olympics, and were hooked.  My father and brother would groan whenever my mother and I would find a skating competition and sit in front of the television for several hours watching it.  I loved the costumes, the music, the grace with which the skaters moved.  (As you can tell from this blog, grace is a quality that I sorely lack.)

My obsession probably peaked during the 1998 Winter Olympics.  It was such a showdown – Tara Lipinski versus Michelle Kwan!  I was fascinated by the jumps – triple axels, triple loops.  While watching the Olympics, I saw one of the contestants prep for her jumps off-ice and watched her execute a perfect loop without her skates on.

“That looks easy!” My thirteen-year-old self did not have any concept of the immense training these athletes had to undergo since they could basically walk to pull off a maneuver like that.  Since it looked so simple, I was determined to learn.  I decided that I could practice my jumps myself.  After school, I would go into the backyard, run around backwards, and try to perfect my jumps.

God, this is so embarrassing.

I became obsessed with practicing my jumps, especially since my concept of self-awareness was still developing and I had no idea how stupid I must have looked.  I practiced my jumps everywhere – outside, in my room, in the hallway (when no one was around).  One night, I decided to try a jump.  I paused, pulled my leg behind me as I had seen the skaters do on television, and jumped.

BAM.

“Jennifer Nicole, what the hell was that?” my dad called from the kitchen.  Note that this house was very small, so there was no hiding the noise I had made.  “Uhhhh,” I stalled, and looked down.  To my horror, there was now a hole where my heel had punched the wall.

There was no escape now.

My dad walked into the hall, bent down, looked at the hole, and then looked at me incredulously.  “How did that happen?” he asked.

Okay, so about me – I was the perennial good girl. I never lied, especially to my father.  And now I was very nervous.  I couldn’t come up with a plausible story to fool my father.  So I told the truth.

“I was pretending to be a figure skater and was jumping around.”

He looked at me and then started laughing.

My misadventure spread through the household very quickly, which was unfortunate, since it gave my then nine-year-old brother perfect ammunition to make fun of me.

The hole remained in our house for the remaining eight years we lived in it.  Eventually, the teasing about my being a figure-skater wannabe stopped, and everyone else seemed to have forgotten about it.  But not me – until we moved, that hole was an embarrassing reminder about my brief foray into the world of fake figure-skating.

Files of a Clumsy Child – The Dangers of Stuffed Animal Tags

Today I took a First Aid course at work. I always enjoy them because learning about different lifesaving techniques is fun, even though I certainly hope I never have to use them.  It’s an opportunity to be silly with coworkers as you mime lying motionless on the ground as they assess why you aren’t “breathing” (though I failed at that completely, as I was laughing too hard).  The lame acting on the videos is always a treat too.

As I’m sure you have gathered by now, I’m a fairly clumsy person, so taking a first aid course is beneficial just so I know what to do in the very likely event that I injure myself.  For instance, as I was watching the lesson about burns, I remarked, “That guy is dumb” because the actor was juggling two cups of coffee in one hand when they spilled and burned him. This is coming from the same person who, just several months before, burned herself because she grabbed a hot pan that she had just taken out the oven moments before.

Watching the various first aid emergencies depicted in the video reminded me of the fun I put my parents through as a clumsy child.  I have an entire list of them in my misadventures tab, with the promise that I eventually will blog an entry for each one. You know what? It’s time to start.

I’ll start with…the time I was trying to lose my index finger from lack of blood supply.

I distinctly remember that it was nighttime and that my mother was pregnant, so this had to have been 1987. I was three-years-old and playing in my room with my stuffed animals.  My dad was watching TV downstairs, and my mother was relaxing in their bedroom, about ready to go to sleep.

For some reason, I decided that twisting the tag on my stuffed teddy bear around my finger would be a great idea.  So I ran around my room, twisting the tag around my index finger.

I then noticed that the tag was wrapped around my finger pretty tightly.  I tried removing it but had no luck.  Since I was three and thus stupid, I had no idea that this was a bad thing.

At some point, my dad must have noticed that I was quiet, because he came by my room.  “What are you doing, Jennifer?” he said.  “Look Daddy!” I said and thrust my index finger in front of me with the teddy bear attached to it.

My dad took a look at my finger.  I can only imagine what must have been running through his mind – Are all toddlers this stupid?  Maybe the second one will be smarter.  Maybe she’ll grow up to be pretty, at least.

“Come here,” he said, and I followed him to his bedroom.  My mom was reading a book, her pregnant tummy making a round shape in the covers.  “What’s going on?” she asked.  My dad showed my mom my finger.  I don’t remember her reaction, but my dad must have calmed her down, because I don’t remember her participating in any first aid.

Luckily for me, my dad was either training for first aid at that time or was about to train to be an EMT.  Either way, I was in good hands and he knew what to do.  He took a small pair of scissors and gingerly cut the tag off my finger.  It was starting to turn a different color.  Maybe blue? My memory is only so good…I want to say it turned blue, but then I think my dad would have been more freaked out about it if it had.

My dad applied first aid and then had me stay up with him so he could monitor my finger.  I remember snuggling up next to him, watching TV and feeling special because I was allowed to stay up so late.  My finger was fine.  Crisis averted.

The next day, my mother went in my room and cut off the tags on every single one of my stuffed animals.

Next time, I’ll share how I tried to kill myself at age two by sticking a key into an electrical outlet.

 

A Gateway to the World

Your wall art should define who you are as an individual. When I first moved out into my own apartment, I was very choosy with my wall art and chose pieces (on sale, of course) that made me look like a Real Adult.  “Wow, I feel like I’m in an adult’s apartment,” a friend said once when visiting. And that’s dandy, until you realize that the art on your wall doesn’t really represent who you are, but the image of yourself you want to project to your visitors. While I had pretty pictures hanging on my wall, I can’t say my personality was really reflected in any of them.  It felt artificial and forced.

I still have that same wall art, but I’ve added a lot more pieces now that define me more as a person.  Instead of disconnected images, the pictures have taken on some sort of random cohesiveness.  My love of music is reflected via a painting of a cello, a poster of Dave Grohl, a concert poster of Nirvana, and a Dave Grohl license plate.  My Italian heritage is also honored via wall art – I have several pictures and posters that either depict Italian life or have ltalian words inscribed on them, as well as a beautiful painting that my Zia made hanging on my wall.  And my love of NYC is quite obvious, since I have at least four or five different pictures of the landscape or skyline, as well of a map of Manhattan.

In winter time, as the sunshine fades and the clouds shine dully with its inherent gloominess, I always find myself feeling so nostalgic for things not quite in my grasp – being in New York City again with my cousin, exploring the streets and giggling over how angry everyone looks.

And I miss Italy, especially when I see pictures of my Italian grandmother and see myself in her – the same eyes, the same smile.  She wants me to visit. I have not seen her since I was a child.  But the memories I have of Italy are still so vivid – the beautiful blue of the Mediterranean Sea, seeing the peak of Mt. Vesuvius jutting through the clouds.

When I find myself missing my family, I take comfort in the images in my home.  The posters of my idol allow me to be inspired creatively and musically.  The pictures I have of NYC allow me to dream. And my Italian pictures connect me to the country and family that reside in my heart.

A Road Map of Musical Memories

Do you ever think about the first time you heard a song?  What you were doing or feeling?  When I listen to music, I really enjoy the memories that a song evokes.   I can remember where I was the first time I heard it, or the first time it really registered emotionally; I can remember when it was playing during an argument, at a party as I was talking to a cute guy, a car accident, or when I was put on hold.

While stuck in traffic this morning, I entertained myself by thinking of songs that I can remember hearing for the first time, and what feelings those songs evoked then and now.

For instance – when I first heard Band of Horses’ “Laredo,” it was on a sunny, fall day. I had recently met someone, and just as the song came on the radio, our mutual friend sent me a text with some proof that this guy liked me.  I remember feeling so happy and full of hope as I listened to that song; that entire fall, hearing that song resurrected those same hopeful feelings I’d experienced during my first listen.  When I heard the song again after things between us soured, I couldn’t believe that I had once thought the song was happy – it seemed so wistful and melancholy.

Here are a handful of distinct memories that I associate with songs from my childhood; I’ll stick with songs that were actually released during my lifetime.

1.  Billy Ocean, “Caribbean Queen”

Don’t ask me why or how I remember this, but the first time I can remember hearing this song is as a toddler, rocking out in my crib (or playpen.  My memory is too vague to discern which).  I couldn’t have been more than two or three, but I remember wriggling to the music as I gripped the rails.  Like a chubby little toddler dancing, this song evokes silliness and fun when I hear it now.

2.  Johnny Hates Jazz, “Shattered Dreams”

My memories of the 80s get more vague as I get older.  But I still remember the first time I heard this song – I was probably three or four, and we were walking in a mall at night.  I remember passing by some freaky headless mannequins; when I hear this song now, I don’t feel the creepiness I did as toddler, but it’s definitely a moody song I save for a cloudy day.

3.  Wilson Phillips, “Hold On”

Summer of 1990 – this song came on the radio as we were driving back from Florida. My parents had given me the option of attending my kindergarten graduation or going to Disney World – guess what a five-year-old is going to pick? Even now, hearing this song makes me think of a comfortable sunny day – that no matter what is going on in your life, you can be happy as long as you have your family and some sunshine.

4.  The Moody Blues, “Your Wildest Dreams”

Early 1994 – My dad spent his evenings back then going to college.  We were driving to the library so he could work on a team project.  I had a bag filled with my favorite American Girl novels and fruit snacks to keep me entertained.  My dad had just received The Best of the Moody Blues albums in the mail from one of those CD clubs he belonged to, so he popped it in the CD player.  Life was about to change for us – Dad had just found out that he was going to be stationed in Texas.  Hearing that song now still reminds me of that exciting time when we moved from Virginia, when you are filled with hope at the unknown places your life is about to take you.

5.  Counting Crows, “Mr. Jones”

Summer 1994 – we had just moved to Texas, and were staying with relatives temporarily.  Everything about this state was so new and exciting, and this song was the soundtrack to our adventures.  Fourteen years later, I moved to that very city that had briefly been my home during those first weeks in Texas.  This song kept on popping up on the radio after my move, and every time it filled me with mixed emotions – I wanted so badly to make this city my own, to feel alive, to feel the sense of adventure that this song had evoked as a child, but I felt so lost and alone.  It took a couple of years, but I am finally at the place I so longed to be.

The Last Lone Star Showdown

I hope you all have had a wonderful Thanksgiving!  I know I did.

One Thanksgiving tradition in Texas is the “Lone Star Showdown.”  The Texas A&M and University of Texas football teams face off either on Thanksgiving or the day afterward.  It’s a huge rivalry and tradition.  Today’s game is their 118th, and unfortunately, last meeting.

Due to the conference changes, money, and, according to the commentators, “arrogance and stubbornness,” today is the last Lone Star Showdown, at least for the foreseeable future. (And seriously? Tom Cruise, I don’t care if you have a movie coming out, why were you making the game introduction? WHAT DO YOU KNOW ABOUT TEXAS FOOTBALL?)

In the full spirit of disclosure, I went to Texas A&M (please y’all, no Aggie jokes. I have heard them all.).  To sum up my college experience succinctly, I would say that I loved the campus, enjoyed the classes I went to, and met some good people there; however, I was a different person back then and the small town atmosphere made me rather miserable.  I was more than ready to move to a larger city once I graduated.  The last time I visited was two years ago; College Station is expanding and it looks like there is more to do.  Bryan still appears to be a cesspool of despair.

Texas A&M is heavily based in traditions, and one of its most-loved traditions is its rivalry against UT.  UT has always been a little indifferent against us, focusing its hatred for OU.  But Texas A&M embraced the rivalry in full force.  Our fight songs focus completely on UT.  Aggies call UT “Texas University” or “tu” (I don’t, because I think it’s stupid).  Our fight song starts off with, “Goodbye to Texas University, so long to the Orange and the White.”

I’ve never been a football fan, and I never embraced the rivalry in full-force.  UT is a great school, so I don’t make a big deal over the rivalry like some people do (though I have to say, burnt orange is not a color you would catch me wearing.  Just because it’s not the most flattering color and all).  But I’ve always enjoyed the spirit of these Lone Star Showdown games, especially with a “house divided.”

This is Patrick and me, right before the 2006 Lone Star Showdown game.  I hesitated even posting this because I look so idiotic.  Actually, both of us were supposed to be flashing gang signs as a joke, but then my mom told my brother that he looked too gangster (shows you how much of a gangster I am).  Anyway, don’t judge me because this was five years ago, and I was in my early 20s, and it was a VERY CONFUSING TIME, OKAY?

ANYWAY, I DIGRESS. I feel sad that future generations won’t be able to witness the Lone Star Showdown.  Watching the game brings back a lot of memories – waving my towel at Kyle Field, the excitement of being able to shout out my wildcats at the end of each yell (the best was the sophomore wildcat because it was so obnoxious), and how charged campus would get on game day.  I remember feeling stifled by the conformity at times, but I’m grateful that I was able to have that college experience.

I hope that one day, the Lone Star Showdown will be resurrected.  Sure, the rivalry gets dumb at times.  But it also brings us together – families, friends, coworkers, and strangers bond over the excitement of a favorite college team winning a game.

And the biggest question is – what is A&M going to do without its biggest rival?  Will we have to write a new fight song?

So for the last Lone Star Showdown game, I bring out the Aggie-ness that I have long stifled.   “Rough! Tough! Real Stuff! Texas A&M.”  WHOOP!