Thursday, November 28, 2013

A Day of Thanksgiving: The Johnson Family Counts Its Blessings

One of the things for which I have always been grateful is old, educational film reels.  I feel so lucky to have gone through school at the tail-end of the era when teachers still wheeled the projector in from the A/V storage room and began the process of winding the beginning of the decades-old film from one reel to another.  The films were always sensationally-corny but as an avid lover of nostalgia (even at a young age) I'll never forget that combination of overwhelming thrill and terror experienced in the moments of countdown; would it be "Donald in Mathmagic Land"(good), Mr. Bungle in "Lunchroom Manners" (great), or, heaven forbid, "Our Changing Bodies" (shudder)?  In honor of America's oldest holiday tradition, I share with you a wonderfully-apropos film reel about family and gratitude, "A Day of Thanksgiving."

"A Day of Thanksgiving"

Listening to the Johnson family talk about the Thanksgiving that was "the best [they'd] ever had," I was struck by two things - one, that the children were completely unaware that the Thanksgiving Holiday was upon them until Susan read it in the newspaper (kids reading newspapers, cuh-mon..) and two, how closely the family's gratitude list reminded me of Norman Rockwell's series of paintings, "Four Freedoms."  I definitely count Norman Rockwell's artwork as a blessing in my life.  While I am no amasser of Rockwell collectible plates, I have always appreciated the warmth, humor, and humanity of his fine illustrations.

"Four Freedoms" - Norman Rockwell

I love the courage and faith and love captured in each picture.  While "Freedom from Want" tends to get the most face time at Thanksgiving, I believe that every "Freedom" is important in acknowledging the rights we enjoy in this country, the rights we often take for granted.

Freedom from Want
Did someone say, "Free public library?"  Tommy may appreciate
the well-written words of Jack London but he is especially grateful
for plenty of food, including extras like cookies & milk after school.

Freedom of Worship
Among her many blessings, like her clothes and her parents,
Susan was grateful for her ability to attend Sunday School.

Freedom of Speech
Mother, grateful for hot water, washing machines, the telephone,
a car, the safe birth of her children, dad's job, and American Democracy,
was probably most grateful for the freedom to meet friends and neighbors at
the backdoor for a good gab session on any subject, even Jane Jones' hat!

Freedom from Fear
With the very real threat of lurking fascists or gangsters,
Father is grateful that there is no fear in answering the
knock at the door (even if it is a bill collector...or more of mother's
darn friends who just can't stop talking about Jane Jones' hat). 

"A Day of Thanksgiving," and other instructional film reels of similar ilk, usually tend toward the melodramatic, the condescending, the banal.  Nevertheless, I think the simple messages of respect and gratitude are both timeless and quite-timely in a world plagued by "selfies."

In spite of Mr. Johnson's counsel that gratitude "isn't something you can write down like a grocery list," I will attempt to compile a brief inventory of those things for which I count myself thankful - keeping in mind that I've "got to feel it down deep before [I] can really be thankful for anything."

1. It may seem trite, but I am grateful for my family.  They are my best friends, my confidantes, and my reason for functioning (especially that little one, front and center).

The whole fam-damn-ily!

2. Little Tommy Tucker the Thanksgiving Squirrel

And Chi Chi the French Bulldog

3. wacky tacky!  It probably appears incredibly self-centered to be grateful for one's own blog but the support, friendship, and community that I found through blogging were an unexpected thrill.

4. wacky tacky!  No, there is not an echo in here; I am grateful for a world that is chock-a-block with whimsy, fun, energy, creativity, and inspiration.  I love adventure days and all the wild, wonderful, and weird roadside attractions that are available to the wacky tacky adventure team and to everyone!

The wacky tacky adventure team

5. A functioning body.  It might not be beautifully formed or full of grace, there may be a lot more of it than deemed fashionable, but, boy oh boy, I sure am glad that I can see, hear, type, sew, assist my friends and family, taste, and DANCE!!!

***no picture required here***

6. Feedback!  It is hackneyed amongst bloggers to express gratitude over comments but there is nothing better than to know there are "those wonderful people out there in the dark," reading (maybe even enjoying) our words.  Writing a blog is pleasurable work, but it is definitely work.  Understanding the joy that comes from receiving thoughtful comments, I will put forth a more concerted effort to spread that joy by commenting more often on the blogs that I love.  Thank you for your comments; I truly appreciate them!

There is a certain amount of delusional self-
importance required for writing this blog.
Please keep those comments coming!

7. Non-Thanksgiving dinners.  "Even the pilgrims had a feast; isn't that what Thanksgiving is for?"  Despite the Johnson kids' relish for "Turkey, and dressing, and pie, and cake, and fruit salad, and whipped cream, and cranberries," I find the Thanksgiving table to be a tad dull and overwrought.  I am, however, grateful for the relative abundance with which we live.  "No turkey for Thanksgiving?"  That's okay by me; let's have a salad bar or, better yet, Pineapple Upside-Down Loaf!

Well, it is most-assuredly abbreviated but this is my list for now.  I encourage everyone to follow the Johnson family's example and start "totin' up the common ordinary blessings that we have to be thankful for."  Just writing this short list has changed my attitude for the better and put me in the right spirit for our Thanksgiving festivities.

Americans might have the market cornered on turkey consumption but we certainly don't have it cornered on gratitude; because of this, I wish a "reel" Happy Thanksgiving to one and all!


Mr. Tiny

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Tommy Tucker the Thanksgiving Squirrel

With only a couple days left for Americans to remember that for which they are truly grateful, I decided to join the thankful throngs and entertain the same thoughts myself.  As I ponder the many things for which I am ever appreciative, I can't help but reflect on my travels.  I am not especially well-traveled but with the opportunity to explore other countries and other cultures, I am reminded that wacky tacky knows no creed, color, geographic boundary...nor species.

I was overjoyed when, in Kyoto, we stumbled upon a
staged family of Tanuki (Japanese raccoon dogs) going
about the rigors of daily life in feudal Japan.

I imagine that dressing and staging a whole tanuki family is quite the undertaking, but obviously this taxidermied bunch wasn't putting up much of a fight.  Imagine dressing a real, live squirrel!

Little Tommy Tucker, the muse and ward of  Mrs. Mark Bullis of Washington D.C., was
orphaned at birth.  With a wardrobe of thirty, couture outfits of Bullis' own design, Tommy
(and his French Bulldog) became a mild sensation in wartime America after his feature
in Life Magazine.
I'm assuming that Mrs. Bullis named Tommy after the old English nursery rhyme of the same name:

"Little Tommy Tucker 
Sings for his supper.
What shall he eat?
White bread and butter.
How shall he cut it without any knife?
How will he be married without a wife?"

Don't let a squirrel fool you; it is entirely possible to eat bread and butter without a knife (plenty can be accomplished with  dull spoon - plus, arming a squirrel is never a good idea).  On the other hand, it is probably no small task to woo a squirrel wife while sporting a tartan-plaid pinafore; you might be wondering why Tommy, a boy squirrel, is dressed in such a feminine frock.  Well, have you ever tried to get a live squirrel into a pair of Sunday britches??!!!  You also might be wondering how one distinguishes a boy squirrel from a girl squirrel, anyway?  The answer is easy; check his nuts.

Dressed in his marketing ensemble, it appears that Tommy indeed sang for his supper.
Although what supper he would be getting from the butcher shop remains a mystery.
Frankly, I would be afraid to take my pet squirrel to the sausage company
during WWII when food was rationed and meat was scarce.

After marketing, Tommy becomes a model for the latest in trans-rodent fashion
including ric rac, stripes, gingham, prints, and "a pleated, silk dress for company."
His credits include "professional model" but he looks a little squirrelly to me...

All play and no work makes Tommy a silly squirrel.
Tommy was sure to make time for entertaining hospital-bound children while wearing his Red Cross uniform.

All tucker-ed out at the end of a productive day, Tommy makes sure to
wash behind his ears and say his prayers before drifting off to dreamland.

Once we had a baby bird fall into our spa and, after rescuing it from drowning and trying our best to foster it, it quickly earned its figurative wings in glory land.  I'm not really an animal person; while I could imagine nurturing the baby bird, I certainly couldn't imagine making it a full costume collection and taking it to the grocery store - and I have a pretty darn good imagination!

Have you ever adopted a wild animal into your family?  We may or may not have a tiny, baby lizard currently occupying the spare bedroom but as we have yet to feed it or sew a single stitch, I'm not sure that counts.  Nevertheless, when I count my blessings this Thanksgiving, I will definitely include Mrs. Bullis, Tommy, and all the others who make wacky tacky a full-time job.

"Hi-Heel Sneakers" - Tommy Tucker (1964)
For the cross-dressing squirrel who has everything! 

Happy Thanksgiving!


Mr. Tiny

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A Mild Case of the Grumpies at The Happiest Place on Earth

If you are going to visit "The happiest place on Earth," it would be well-advised to make sure that you are actually happy.  We waited until our last full day in Japan to explore a version of a theme park that is no more than twenty minutes from our front door; and while we weren't exactly unhappy, we were definitely at the point in our trip when the novelties of what we initially thought were the most charming customs and unique characteristics of Japanese culture were seriously beginning to wear off.  Our mental state, aggravated by an epic forced march through the bowels of Tokyo Station, followed by a sardine-can train ride, had us feeling (for the very first time) a little wistful for America - a land where dignity and restraint, minding one's manners, and respect for others are policies almost unanimously vetoed in favor of the freedom to anyone who will listen. 

Don't misunderstand me, we truly loved Japan.  We even loved Tokyo Disneyland.  It was pretty marvelous getting the opportunity to see such a concentrated version of American culture as experienced in a foreign country.  We were just a little grumpy (and maybe sneezy, sleepy, and dopey too).

Despite our grumblings, things were looking up when we got to the ticket booth and realized that we could visit both of Tokyo's Disney parks for less than the price of a one-park ticket at home.  We began the day at Tokyo Disneyland where the recently-debuted "Happiness is Here" parade, as designed by our good pals, was taking place (an entire post will soon be dedicated to its awesomeness, stay tuned).

Main Street, U.S.A.
Although I was never around to experience Disneyland's early days, Tokyo Disneyland gave me the impression of the old park before the Fantasyland makeover, before the crumbling of Carnation Plaza, before the demise of the PeopleMover.  The walkways of Tokyo Disneyland are wide.  The lands are are spare and there are many places to rest one's eyes.  The concession carts are simple and not thematically linked to the area of the park in which they vend.  With few exceptions, the park looks very much like 1962 (don't quote me Disney fanatics) and we think that is a good thing!

Pirates of the Caribbean

Our first ride of the day left us hopeful that all the lines would be as short; we walked right on to a ride 
that, except for a few glaring differences (only one drop), is a very close comparison to the original.

The Jungle Cruise

We had no idea what our skipper was saying but we still laughed in all the right places!

Country Bear Jamboree

Even though half of the program was in Japanese, I can't tell you how comforting it was to revisit the old
gang.  I was always an ardent fan of Disneyland's musical attractions - live, animatronic, and otherwise!


We were so intent on getting to Disneyland that we did something I've heard people say was possible but I firmly believed to be an urban legend - we forgot to eat.  By the time we had gone on Pirates of the Caribbean, The Jungle Cruise, The Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse, and Country Bear Jamboree (the last two representative of Tokyo Disneyland's greatest genius - keeping these two attractions intact), it was well past lunchtime and we were starved (understanding that this is a completely-relative term).  On the hunt for a corn dog, or a hamburger, or anything really, it had never occurred to us that in this bastion of Americana, we would be at a loss for American food.  Come on, who wants to eat a fried pork cutlet served with curry before going on Space Mountain, for goodness sake?!!  Eventually, Mary found a pizza topped with teriyaki and mountain yam and I discovered a Mickey-shaped chicken sandwich and salad in a cup. If we had only found the hot dog vendor earlier, we might have known how an egg-teriyaki dog or cabbage-avocado cheese dog would have tasted...maybe next time.  And yes, those are Mike Wazowski pastries!

The Enchanted Tiki Room

The Tiki Room, my all-time favorite attraction at Disneyland was a huge bust at Tokyo Disneyland 
in spite of the beautiful buildings.  Let's put it this way, less Lilo & Stitch and more tradition, please.

The Haunted Mansion

It is only natural to compare each Disneyland ride to its Japanese counterpart.  I was hoping to experience this ride sans the Nightmare Before Christmas layering; still, with pride I say that Anaheim's Haunted Mansion is superior - at least when it comes to the facade.  A decaying Southern plantation is much more frightening than Toad Hall.  Be warned, Tokyo Disneyland doesn't tolerate any hijinks; I may or may not have shut down the ride after knocking on the next "Doom Buggy" over - old habits die hard.

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

Now this is where Tokyo has California beat; Tokyo's Big Thunder seems
faster, longer, and more fun.  Somehow the Wild West is wilder in the far east.

Splash Mountain

I hate Splash Mountain.  I've always wondered why such a huge ride would be dedicated to a movie deemed so inappropriate that Disney refuses to release it from the archives.  I also wondered why I waited through a traumatic, hour-long line only to be launched down a giant flume based on the dictates of Mary.  Can you tell from the photo that I'm not having a good time? 

Cinderella's Castle

I hate to say it, but this waking beauty kind of puts Sleeping Beauty's 
Castle to shame...I've always been more of a Cinderella fan anyway.

Mary put together an Instagram video of our Disneyland experience. 
Please don't take offense; a natural mimic, I spent our whole
 two-week vacation trying to refine my impressions and received
a host of compliments on my accent.

Having hit most of the highlights of Disneyland, it was high time (according to the Mickey Mouse clock) for us to head over to Disney Sea via the monorail.

The Monorail

The mickey clock, windows, and ring-handled straps almost made the monorail
worth the fact that we had to pay for the ride - unheard of at Disneyland, CA.

Built just on the other side of a seawall from the actual sea, Disney Sea is a water-themed park rather than a themed water park; each land is dedicated to an area of the world that has a connection (if only very loosely) with a large body of water.  Instead of a railroad that circles the park (like Disneyland California), Disney Sea takes guests on a circular tour of the park via water taxi!  Although we arrived at the the park after sundown, the incredible effort taken to create beautiful landscapes and interesting environments was quite evident. 

Sinbad's Storybook Voyage & The Arabian Coast

The motivation for going on the Sinbad ride was found in the absence of a line.  Initially, I thought that the ride was quite lame but after a few minutes, I was duly impressed by the art direction and quality of the animatronics.  Plus, the boat full of bananas really smelled like bananas!

Mediterranean Harbor

This land was probably my favorite if only for its beautiful views and realistic atmosphere;
hotel rooms of real hotel guests look down on cobblestone streets and glittering harbor.

Lost River Delta

Lost River Delta is home to Indiana Jones and the roller coaster, Raging Sprits.
Not wanting a raging headache, I let Mary ride it alone while I returned to 
The Arabian Coast for a ride that was more my speed - Jasmine's Flying Carpets

Mysterious Island

Still seeking a bit of a thrill, we went on Journey to the Center of the Earth.; Mary failed to explain that it is basically Splash Mountain revisited, only drier.  We also went on the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea ride - a submarine treat!

The American Waterfront

Perhaps, it was because we were feeling just a touch homesick that we found this area so special.
From the Queen Mary lookalike to the New England port town to the mini Atlantic City, the American Waterfront 

I will admit that it did seem odd to me to dedicate an entire day of our once-in-a-lifetime Japan adventure to a byproduct of distinctly-American culture - and maybe it was.  A trip to Disneyland is a requisite stop for those visiting Southern California but what American tourist makes it a point to go all the way to Japan only to visit Disneyland?  Actually, I can answer that.  We spotted a few couples/families who, in all their obvious Disney dorkery, apparently devote every vacation to exploring the world's Disney theme parks.  While we're not quite that dorky, we are happy to have visited Japan's "Happiest Place on Earth."

Can you believe than in the Mr. Tiny archives, there is a commemorative
medallion from Tokyo Disneyland's opening day in 1983?!?!!
The hoardings archives are a bit like Mary Poppins' famous carpet bag!

Do you think Disneyland is the happiest place on Earth?  If you went all the way to Japan, would you spend a day at Disneyland?


Mr. Tiny

Monday, November 18, 2013

Signs of the Times: El Trovatore Motel

El Trovatore Motel - Kingman, AZ

Kingman, AZ is a town filled with brilliant signage.  As we motored down its dusty byways, we took a quick snap of the El Trovatore Motel sign.  Obviously a later addition to the motor hotel (est. 1939), I couldn't help but love the vermillion surfboard and the individual letter blocks.  I love the unpretentious brickwork.  I love the glimpse of the Hilltop Motel sign in the distance.  I kind of hate the magenta/aqua "Historic Route 66" sign.  My very favorite element of this motel marker is the promise of "Clean Theme Rooms."  Taking a look at the offerings on the motel's own website, the theme rooms appear to be little more than framed posters on the walls of "Legendary Hollywood Icons" - the variations being Marilyn Monroe, Elvis, and Audrey Hepburn.  What more do you want for less than $45 per night?!!

And maybe Mr. Magoo...

Trying to dig a little deeper than Elvis and Marilyn, I was struck by the name of the hotel.  As it happens, "El Trovatore" translates to "The Troubador"...but not quite.  Il Trovatore is the famous Italian opera by Verdi; el trovador is Spanish for the troubador.  Was it simply lazy translation?  Was it Portuguese maybe?  Was it a motel owner cashing in on the pre-WWII opera craze?  Far be it from me to nitpick but I was at a loss.  So deep in my pondering of latin-based articles, all I could think of was "The Anvil Chorus," the most famous chorus from Verdi's Il Trovatore.

The Marx Brothers in A Night at the Opera
featuring Verdi's Il Trovatore

And then I started to wonder if there is a Marx Brothers room at El Trovatore.  The connection is so obvious: El Trovatore - Il Trovatore - Verdi - Opera - A Night at the Opera - The Marx Brothers - Hollywood - Hollywood Icon Theme Rooms - El Trovatore (it all comes full circle)!  The theory might be convoluted, but in all honesty, I think that is a much stronger connection than any Audrey Hepburn ever had to Route 66.  Nevertheless, we think El Trovatore is pretty keen for maintaining its Route 66 history and a great sign!  If you're ever stopping in Kingman, stay the night at El Trovatore and report back to us, please.

Are you a Route 66 buff?  Have you ever marveled at the beautiful signs of Kingman, AZ?

El Trovatore Motel
1140 E Andy Devine Ave


Mr. Tiny

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Giganticus Headicus: Why the Long Face?

My brother and I are Yugoslavian twins.  It's kind of like Irish (ravaged by civil unrest and ideologically divided) twins but born a little further apart (less than two years).  When we were young we couldn't go anywhere without people mistaking us for carbon copies of one another; yes, the word "twins" oft escaped the lips of these presumptuous people but behind their eyes I could see the same nagging thought, "obviously fraternal."

As the alpha twin, it is easy for me to recognize that there are a certain amount of similar features shared by all the children in my family - the most striking of these, perhaps, being our large heads.  My brother's head, however, was always especially giant.  Luckily, at this point in his life he has grown into it, but as a child he developed the dubious nickname, "Lemonhead."

Depending on the haircut he was sporting, my brother
could've easily been the model for the candy mascot.

A recent adventure weekend landed us quite literally face-to-face with a rare specimen that left my brother's head looking, well...average.  

"Giganticus Headicus"

Giganticus Headicus is an enormous, green, cranial statue fashioned very much in the Easter Island tradition (chicken wire, cement, and green paint) that stands sentry along old Route 66 at Antares Point in Kingman, Arizona.  Standing in this mock-Moai's presence is very humbling - especially for folks whose already-oversized heads are further swollen with the pride of winning "big head" contests.

The wacky tacky adventure team - Mary, Jesse, Emily, Cynthia,
Nick, and Mr. Tiny (the last two being possible descendants
of Giganticus Headicus).

In the forecourt of the Kozy Korner Trailer Park, Giganticus Headicus reminds us exactly why we love road trips and exactly why we love the desert.  The desert's sweeping vistas and broad expanses offer a seemingly-endless landscape in which one can not only explore but create wacky tacky!

Mary and Jesse go in for the pick as Mr. Tiny basks in both the desert sun
and the knowledge that there are heads in existence that are blissfully
bigger than his own...and old Lemonhead's.

A product of Gregg Arnold's own head (figuratively speaking, of course), Giganticus Headicus is the tiki-themed centerpiece to a greater roadside experience.  Just one part of a large installation of desert art and roadside novelties, Giganticus Headicus is the reason to stop; the rare sight of Baby Rattlers is the reason to stay!

Babies can be more dangerous than adults!

(Insert rim shot or sad trombone here) wah-wah...

If you find yourself along Route 66 in need of some kicks, be sure to stop by and compare noggins with old Giganticus Headicus - you'll feel positively puny!

Giganticus Headicus
Antares Point on Route 66
Walapai, AZ


Mr. Tiny

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Feeling Brave at Shonyudo Cave

When offered a free trip to a hill region famous for its limestone, as a foreign traveller, it is one's duty to accept the offer - no matter how disinterested one might be in geology.  One must absolutely say "yes" no matter how difficult it is to deliver - with any measurable amount of sincerity - the line, "Did you say limestone?!?!  Oh yes, limestone is my very favorite of all of the stones.  Let us away!"

After all, one never knows what is lurking beneath the monolith-littered hillsides.

Had the verdure of the hills and the impressive concentration of limestone been the highlight of this Japanese mini-adventure, as a nature lover, I would have been satisfied.  What?!  I do love nature - looking at it, reading about it, hearing other people's stories.  Yes, I love nature as long as there is a hospital and a clean restroom within twenty-five miles.

We went on a beautiful nature walk as the afternoon sun did its best to
break through the clouds and the leafy canopy of the subtropical forest.

We stopped for a breather when Nami asked us if we were interested in exploring a cave.  I honestly think she waited to reveal the surprise cave as a test of our loyalty...apparently we passed the test with our utterly-convincing portrayal of limestone enthusiasts.

Mary, Masa, and Mr. Tiny at the Shonyudo Cave marker.
I asked Nami what the rock said and her reply was, "It's too hard."
What else would a rock say?

After my intrepid exploits in The Lost World Caverns of West Virginia, I have come to fancy myself quite the spelunker.  My second cave on my second continent - I think it's time to start writing that cave-safety book!

The entrance to the cave has all of the Japanese character for which
a tourist could ask - waterfall, trickling stream, and arch bridge.

A cadre of religious icons flank the mouth of Shonyudo Cave.
I was hoping that it was more a testament to the sacredness of the
ground and less a last-ditch prayer to avoid a calamitous cave-in.

More disconcerting than the thought of being trapped in a cave was
the communal sandals which we were forced to don in order to enter.
Fortunately, the largest pair fit.

The cave was welcoming in its beauty;
It all started out so dry and so level...

We were so taken by the stalactites, rock formations, and underground gardens,
that we almost missed the cave river.  As soon as we saw it, Nami let us in on the
second surprise of the day - the rest of the cave adventure would be done in the river!  

Mary maneuvers the shallowest part of the ice-cold water and the
narrowest parts of the rocky outcroppings.  Keep in mind that I was
doing the same whilst trying to snap photos in a Texas (Canadian)
tuxedo with jeans that wouldn't roll past my cankles.

I don't look like I'm having as much fun as Mary, but really, I am.
Visiting Shonyudo Cave was a unanimous favorite of our trip to Japan.

Sometimes I exaggerate the truth for the purposes of exciting storytelling;
I exaggerate not when I tell you that we celebrated reaching the end of the
trail by sharing the contraband, strawberry KitKat that I managed to
keep in my pocket!  We sang a song and toasted with the smuggled sweets.

Then we retraced our steps and celebrated that we made it out alive - drenched to the knee but very much alive.

We had a few slips, slides, and two-broken sandals (me) along the way but never once thought about the traveler's insurance we did not get until we had made it out unscathed.

Successful spelunkers!

We even made cave friends!
Mary and Nami said they saw a bat fly inches over my head; it was a good
thing I didn't see it because the echo of my girlish screams would have
reverberated through the cave indefinitely.  And this five-inch slug, whom we
lovingly called "poop," wished us good luck and welcomed our safe return.

Feeling lucky to have made it out without incident or
accident, we added a few coins to the pile - a small
price to pay for so many great cave memories!
Have you ever been exploring in a cave?  Do you think head-to-toe denim is appropriate cave exploring attire?


Mr. Tiny