Sunday, November 29, 2009

Las Vegas with toddlers

We didn't really intend to take our little one to Las Vegas.  Some stars aligned to allow us to take a quick, inexpensive getaway when my husband would miss very little work, and we decided to make this adventure a family affair.

First we looked into Disneyland, but soon realized that even with our accumulation of various points and miles (the primary reason for taking this trip in the first place), we would be forced to spend more than we were comfortable with for a seriously sub-par vacation.  The alternate choices that fit our criteria were somewhat limited, thus we ended up settling on Las Vegas as the best option. We had enough points for a two-bedroom suite and were very happy to find a good friend who was able to join us with her two children as well.

There was a period of about 6 of the last 10 years during which the city of Las Vegas toiled to make its image more "family-friendly."  Casinos added roller coasters and arcades, and much of the marketing imagery tended to resemble Summer Camp more than Sin City.  People began to change their mindsets to view Vegas as a place with perfectly acceptable entertainment for the whole family.  Whatever the reasons for forming this respectable image, it seems that the entities who "run" Las Vegas have realized the futility of such an effort.

This trip was my 8th visit to Las Vegas, but my first bringing along an actual child.  I probably wouldn't have noticed the attitude shift if it weren't for the results of my pre-departure search for child-friendly activities in the vicinity.  I came across a legitimate article that reluctantly provided ideas for family fun on the Strip after a not-too-subtle announcement that Vegas is not a place for children. Okay, I suppose that is generally a true statement, and has been all along.

Other than the constant construction of new and more scintillating hotel/ casinos, not much has actually changed in the city over the past decade. By this I mean that even when Vegas was allegedly campaigning for recognition as a family-oriented place, the cabs still featured scantily-clad showgirls, smoking was still allowed everywhere, and a person could still expect to be accosted by dozens of pornographic flyers walking down the sidewalk after 4pm.  So perhaps it was an errantly perpetuated myth that Vegas ever wanted to cater to families (those arcades were for the grown-ups...yeah).  My more likely guess is that either casinos lost a lot of money having too many people visit but not gamble, or the loyal, typical Strip-crowd advocated against the unwelcome wholesomeness.

At any rate, only once were we outwardly condemned for the presence of our children. This was by a man snapping call-girl cards at people along the sidewalk, who asked (rhetorically, I'm sure) why we would bring our family to a place we didn't like. By which I assume he referred to our polite declination of his lewd advertisement. The rest of the time we were generally left alone, save the occasional raised eyebrow.

I believe we did a mighty good job of finding the perfect ways to enjoy Las Vegas with children.  Our entourage consisted of three adults, two around-3-year-olds, and one 3-month old. You probably won't be too surprised to learn that this is the ONLY picture I have of all six of us, out of around 300 pictures.

Kristen, Madelyn, Gary, Lilly, Kylah, Wiyaka
Venetian ~ Las Vegas

If anyone else is searching for activities for kids in Las Vegas, here are some ideas:

I expected more sharks, actually. A really nice aquarium, kind of expensive, but the kids got in free.

A peaceful break (except for overhead aircraft, but you can also choose an indoor ride if you prefer the sounds of shopping), and perfect for my little one who loves water and boats. There is a state-regulated four-bodies-per-boat maximum regardless of age, so consider how you can divide your group.

We kind of stumbled upon information about this little show, and it turned out to be a highlight of the trip. We worried about the attention span of preschoolers, but it was highly entertaining for all ages from start to finish.

The water show is obviously a must-see no matter your age. I've never missed it on any trip--except I'm not sure it existed when I first visited as a teenager (with my family).

But you should also venture inside the grand Bellagio hotel and check out the amazing Botanical Gardens.

The only thing we did that I wouldn't recommend for children is a visit to the Fremont Street Experience. I've visited Fremont Street a couple of times before and always been underwhelmed, but I did think that the overhead light show would entertain the wee ones. To my disappointment, they have replaced the 1.9 billion lightbulbs with an LED light system. This "upgrade" trades the intrigue of a coordinated light show for all the excitement of a really huge television screen. And to top that off, the "show" was basically a giant (literally) advertisement for Vegas: bikini girls, martinis, poker chips, etc. all glamorized and set to hip music.  Every time I leave Fremont Street I determine that I have no reason to ever return there, but this time I mean it!

But we did get to be up on the largest TV screen in the world, so that was pretty cool.

It was challenging being in such a busy place with such small children and an equal child to adult ratio. They were all young enough not to be affected by the scandalous surroundings, and could be entertained by something as simple as an escalator.  Getting around took triple the normal allotted time because we would frequently have to stop to let one child out of a stroller, then later the other one in. Pick up a dropped toy. Find a bathroom and go through that whole process. Stop and explain the importance of holding hands when crossing the street. Change a diaper. Calm a stolen-toy induced tantrum.  Ride the escalator an extra time just for fun. But everybody got a night out child-free while one parent stayed in the room with the sleeping kids.We managed to have a really good time in spite of the inherent obstacles of our situation.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Flashback Friday: Winter in July, in photos

Naturally, what comes next in the progression of personal history? I hope to explore some thoughts about our wedding in a subsequent Flashback Friday, but for today I bring you a photographic journey through my wedding day. I intentionally selected representations of details rather than people for this particular concept. 

live butterfly release

ring bearers

thank-you gifts for guests

Mount Hood Bed & Breakfast
July 15, 2005

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Seriously, it's time to fold laundry

Sometimes there simply are not enough hours in the day.

Careful when you attempt find that favorite pair of sweatpants in never know when it's all going to topple.

Just when I might have considered folding the clean clothes, the dirty hampers would begin to overflow so I'd decide to do another three loads first, and then be too busy to get back to folding the now multiplied pile. This happened three times, so what you see is approximately 11 loads of laundry, minus the items already desperately fished out.  If it doesn't seem like it could be 11 loads, let me assure you my shirts are hopelessly wrinkled from how tightly they were packed in there, and also, the desperate digging grew increasingly frequent in the final days.

Great. Now where are we going to sleep?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Flashback Friday: Devilish bride-to-be

Beginning with the previous installment, I've begun a sort of "personal history" series of Flashback Fridays.  After the surprise Las Vegas proposal, naturally the next chapter in this series is my bachelorette party. 

I think that my own is the only "real" bachelorette party that I've ever been privileged to attend. In my early twenties, many of my friends wouldn't exactly be drawn to such risque night-time activities, and those who would be weren't getting married at the time.

My friends Lana and Melinda planned quite the wild party to celebrate my upcoming nuptials (or mourn the end of my life as a swinging single, perhaps).  I was kept in the dark about all the details in advance; the only thing I knew was that we were all to wear red dresses.

Crazy Bachelorette Party in Seven Easy Steps:

Step 1: Identify.  I arrived at Lana's house to discover that--of course--the bride is the only one in red, everyone else is dressed in black. Sweet.  

Step 2: Accessorize. Everyone applied bachelorette-themed temp tattoos and shimmering body lotion. The bride was donned with a shiny bachelorette sash and "horny" bridal veil which perfectly matched the solitary red dress.

Step 3: Bestow.  What would a bachelorette party be without wacky, sexy gifts such as Sizzling Body Candy and glow-in-the-dark bedroom toys? 

There were also "Dick Tax" mints, X-rated fortune cookies, and many more hilarious items including this penis shot glass (which has since been passed along to another now-married friend). 

Step 4: Ride. All the girls piled into a stretch limo with a bottle of champagne and headed downtown. Our chauffer was very nice, if perhaps a little too excited about our general frivolity. Bordering on creepy.

Step 5: Scavenge. I received instructions to complete all the items on the following list in order to win "the hottest bachelorette party ever!" 

Yes, I completed them all.  No, I did not enter the men's restroom--I had the bouncer at Slaughter's help me out with that one. Yes, I saw some things on overhead televisions at that gay bar that I'd just as soon have not. No, I do not remember the erotic story and wouldn't retell it here anyway. Yes, Rico is an exotic dancer, and I totally snapped his thong.

Step 6: Wonder. Darcelle XV: World famous female impersonators.  It's something you must experience to fully appreciate. And in actuality, there isn't any wondering to do. It's not a subtle transformation for "ladies" like Darcelle, pictured here in all her rotund glory.

Step 7: Get crazy.  At Darcelle's, the evening starts with innocuous transgendered fun, then it gets a little racier as the evening progresses.  I'll leave it at that. 



All of the bachelorettes received a cassette tape (this was only 4.5 years ago, so what the--?) of our pre-show interviews with Darcelle outside the theatre.  I do not know that girl that I'm half-hugging. Just a fellow bride-to-be having a crazy time out with girlfriends.

Did you have a bachelorette party? What was it like?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

We're ALL winners

It was brought to my attention that I left you all on the edge of your seats about this year's Curves Franchisee of the Year Award. My sincerest apologies.

First let us remember my very first Curves International Convention in November 2003.  I had been a Curves franchisee for one whole year, managing our two wildly successful clubs.  Business was booming so much at that time that we even naively brought 3 of our employees to Las Vegas with us and rented a nice vacation home.  Don't get me wrong, we had a tremendously fun time together dressing in rented saloon girl costumes for the Costume Party and getting piercings. But we learned that Convention is really designed for owners and managers, not employees who may only work for you a few months longer.

Kristen, Josie, Wiyaka, Barbara Nov. 2003
But it was at this first Convention Awards Banquet that I witnessed the bestowal of Franchisee of the Year awards and silently vowed to earn one someday.  The following year, at the urging of some enthusiastic employees, I went ahead and submitted an application to be considered for a Franchisee of the Year.

Barbara, Kristen, Diana Nov. 2004
Back in Las Vegas in 2004, our company (which now owned 3 Curves clubs) received the Silver Franchisee of the Year Award for the Western United States Region. I believe there were 5 regions in the United States at the time, and around 8,000 Curves locations in total. This same year my sweetheart surprised me by secretly flying to Las Vegas and proposing to me on stage in front of the whole weepy crowd.  That entire experience is a highlight of my entire Curves career, as you might easily assume.  I never expected to receive another Franchisee of the Year Award, partly because I figured they don't repeat winners in the interest of fairness, but mainly because since that time, our business has faced a number of challenges.

But I decided to fill out the extensive award application, partly as an exercise for me to focus on the positive things we are doing right and to consider what we have done to overcome our business challenges.  Curves has suffered as a whole due to various far-reaching influences, not the least of which is the economic recession, so I knew that the company would be looking for owners who found ways to "weather the storm."  When my nomination was completed, I realized that no matter what, we had reason to be proud of our accomplishments.

I was notified by phone a couple of weeks prior to Convention that we had been selected as one of the top 3 franchisees in our region and would be receiving either a Gold, Silver, or Bronze award.  Intermittently during Convention, the Projection Screens featured franchisees telling their stories of conquering business challenges such as acquiring a failing club with a bad reputation, and stories of altruistic humanitarianism such as opening their doors to all members of a nearby club destroyed by Hurricane Ike. Listening to these triumphant accounts made me see that we have a long way to go to be the very best. I did not expect to win a gold trophy if being compared to women like those.

This year we were invited to attend a VIP cocktail gathering only for award-winners and corporate big-wigs prior to the banquet.  I expected to feel lost in the crowd there, but I was surprised to find the intimate gathering in a small room far away from the rest of the crowds, where we had opportunity to visit with our company leaders and fellow recognized franchisees. This was an addition to the ceremony of it all that I found rather special.  My Area Director made a comment that made me wonder if this VIP gathering was actually only for the Gold winners. After all, there were only 15-20 people there and half of them worked for Corporate. I tried not to get my hopes up though. Only the first-place winners go on stage to accept their award, and the idea of doing so was giving me butterflies in my stomach for some reason. Unusual.

After finding our reserved seats near the stage for the banquet, we met the others at our table. In addition to some Area Directors, including our own, the only other franchisees at our table was a couple nominated for the same award in our same region.  Even though receiving ANY Franchisee of the Year Award is exceptional, I found it slightly awkward to be sitting together. Actually the woman made it more awkward for me by going over the top with what was intended to be humility and flattery.

She actually said, "I feel so incredibly honored to be in your presence," among other too-gushy comments.  I mean, we were both there for the same reason.  It reminded me of a pageant contestant leaning over to her rival and whispering with a gleaming smile, "I hope you win, sweetie!" just before her own name is announced and her face looks all shocked but it almost seems like she already knew it would be her. Have you ever seen something like that? Well, it's basically what happened at our Awards Ceremony. Ironically, the more this lady (truly, she was very nice) propagated our achievement, the more I believed that she already knew they were winning the gold.

We received the Silver Award again for the Western United States Region.  This year there were only three regions in the US, and there are over 10,000 clubs in total.

An excerpt rom the Press Release:
Award winners were chosen for their adherence to the Curves methods, their success in providing quality service to members, their level of community involvement, and personal recommendations. While there were numerous candidates in each region, winners typically exhibited an extra quality; something special that set them head and shoulders above the rest.
 “Those honored here tonight are doing everything the Curves way, and it shows in the success of their franchises and in the results of their members. We recognize them for daily helping women move away from disease in an environment of support and encouragement,” said Curves CEO Gary Heavin. 

I do fully appreciate having been selected for any award, although, is it inappropriate to admit I'm glad we at least maintained our 2nd-place status? In spite of the nerves I was feeling, I think it would be fun to walk across the stage one day.  Maybe in five more years I'll have done something Gold-worthy.

We intentionally withheld the news about our award nomination from our staff, saving it for a fun surprise when we got home (except one of them reads my blog, so after my Flashback Friday posted in Nashville, she may understandably have spilled the exciting beans).  But winning an award like this is definitely a team effort, and our excellent "family" of Circuit Coaches deserves it.  We all work hard to make our Curves one of the best locally, so it feels wonderful for those efforts to be recognized by the Higher Powers at Curves.  Go team!
Kristen and Barbara (aka Mom) Nov. 2009

Sunday, November 15, 2009

41.5 hours of isolation

Oh, if only it were as good as that title sounds. In reality, I was without a cell phone for a day and a half, which feels rather isolating compared to my usual level of connectedness.

I've temporarily misplaced my phone before. Haven't we all? Usually I find it within a couple of minutes of noticing its absence by retracing my steps and of course the simple call-your-phone-and-listen-for-the-ringtone trick. Most often the phone has been left on the passenger seat of the car when I gathered up my stuff, or set unwittingly on a shelf in my closet when I removed it from my pocket to change.

Do you know what turns 'misplacing your phone' into 'losing your phone?' I'll tell you. If you don't realize that you've misplaced your cell phone until the battery has expired, and it is not in any visible location, then you have lost your cell phone.  Since my phone's battery was nearly dead before it disappeared, I was left to super-sleuth this mystery.

Here are the known facts:

  • My husband called me at 3:46pm when I was driving away from a gas station 20 miles from home. This was the last call I made or received on the missing phone.
  • From there, I drove directly to my house and parked the car in the garage.
  • I carried my sleeping daughter to her crib, brought all my stuff inside the house, made a sandwich in the kitchen, and started working in my office.
  • At 5:17pm the phone's absence was discovered.
Based on those facts it is clear that my phone had to be somewhere in my house, car, or garage. Normally, that incontrovertible evidence would be reassuring, because it would offer the relief that the phone was not stolen or left behind at one of any number of errand-running locations.  However, as my search grew longer and more intense without success, the indisputable fact that it had to be here somewhere became inconceivable.

Sometimes my cell phone slides under the seat of the car or between the seat and console. I checked there. Gary checked there. Gary checked again with a flashlight. I checked with a flashlight again from every possible angle and in every possible crevice.  I looked under the cars and in corners of the garage where the phone might have been inadvertently kicked after dropping. Nothing.

Of course I checked all of the obvious places in my house too, again and again, anywhere that the phone might possibly be.  Then I found myself looking in places that the phone could not possibly be. The shower. Cupboards I haven't opened all week that are too high for Madelyn to reach. Pockets of clothes I had not been wearing.

It was garbage collection night. I put on my flip flops and jacket, then went out to the curb in the rain with a flashlight and searched through our garbage and recycling bins.  How easily my phone could have been knocked off my desk into one of those receptacles and then gathered up unknowingly with the rest of our refuse. No amount of digging revealed my phone, and I was cold, wet, and grossed out.

It had to be somewhere, but it was nowhere.  I envisioned seemingly impossible ways that the mystery could eventually be solved:

Gary, on some future moving day: "What do you know your phone got in the bottom of this file cabinet drawer!"

Me, searching for a bag of peas: "Oh here it is, at the bottom of the freezer!"

The vet: "Here's the reason Kezia's been vomitting all day."

The plumber: "I've seen a lot of things stuck in a P-trap before, but I don't think you're going to want to use this phone again."

We have a land line, but it is set up as a fax line on which we can also make outgoing calls. So thankfully I was able to use the handset to call the people who depend on communicating with me and tell them I wouldn't be receiving calls and I didn't know for how long. I'm on my computer most of the day anyway, so I explained that they could email and ask me to call them if they needed to. But it made me nervous for my husband to be unable to call me during his work day.  And to think that others might leave an urgent message and not realize that I did not intend to ignore them.  Then Saturday morning, while Madelyn and I prepared to leave the house to run several errands in various corners of the city, I grew increasingly anxious about not having any way to contact someone were the need to arise. I even packed up my laptop and Clear mobile modem so that I could access the internet if I needed directions or information or needed to contact someone for help.  I can even send text messages right from my beloved Gmail.  Many great ideas come to me when I'm driving, or I remember people I've been meaning to call back, etc., so the thought of spending a day in the car without my phone was unnerving for a variety of reasons.

As I was buckling Madelyn into her carseat, these concerns were making me apprehensive. Like I had so many other times during the past 40 hours, I began searching in my vicinity again. I knew I had looked under these car seats half a dozen times, but I also knew that the phone could not have simply immaterialized.  So back down to the floorboards I went, and noticed this time a piece of plastic casing beside the seat that was slightly open, making me wonder if the phone could have slid off the seat into this little pocket.  I could not see it in there, but while peering intensely into the dark, I did notice a tiny corner of silver plastic hiding behind a black metal bracket. Could it be?

Yep, it was. My phone was there under the car seat as I originally guessed, only it was somehow nestled in a little cranny-nook that was nearly impossible to see--even with a flashlight--from all the vantage points we attempted. I even scratched up my hand a bit trying to jimmy it out of its hidey-hole. Now, had the battery not been dead, I could have heard that the phone was indeed in the car, and would have been able to see the light from its screen to easily locate it.

They say you don't know how much you use something until it's gone. What a bunch of bull.  I know exactly how much I use my phone, and the moment I realized it wouldn't be easily found, I was distraught.  I am truly grateful to live in a time where communication is so easy and prevalent.  Some folks wistfully yearn for the "simpler times," but to them I say, "How simple was it to call a tow-truck from the side of the freeway?" "How simple was it to ensure that you were never running behind for fear you might miss an important meeting because you couldn't call to say you'd be there in ten?" "How simple was it to stop at a gas station and use the grimy yellow pages to look up the phone number for the store you couldn't find?"  "How simple was it to gather up the kids for an urgent trip to pick up the last dinner ingredient before your husband got home, even though he drives right by the grocery store on his way?"

The mystery of the disappearing phone is solved. And what a relief.  Because I like my "complicated" days of mobile communication.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Jicama-Gooseberry, anyone?

When I was a wee lass, yogurt came in varieties such as peach, lemon, or blueberry. The release of such an exciting flavor as marionberry was pretty exciting at my house. 

As years have passed, yogurt has apparently felt the need to get a little fancier.  Peach has become Harvest Peach or Peaches n' Cream. Rather than plain ol' lemon, we now have Lemon Chiffon or Lemon Burst.  Blueberry is now Blueberry Cobbler or Mountain Bueberry.  Vanilla Bean or French Vanilla instead of vanilla.  You get the idea.  I don't fault yogurt for desiring more flair.  Appealing to the palate is powerful marketing.  But when yogurt started manipulating not only the names, but the actual flavors, it got a little weird. Have you seen White Chocolate Raspberry Mousse yogurt? Green Tea yogurt? Decadent Cherry Cheesecake yogurt? I have.  Perhaps it's all going a bit too far. 

My local grocer is currently displaying these intriguing varieties available from Lucerne: 

Apricot Mango--not too strange.  At least the other three on the top row are "Limited Edition" seasonal flavors, but still: Caramel Apple, Cranberry Orange, and Gingerbread. To me, yogurt is a fresh and fruity matter. I'm uncomfortable with cookies and caramel entering the equation.  Along the bottom we have Passion Orange Pineapple--that's a lot for one yogurt, but at least they are all fruits we've heard of.  Next comes Yumberry Grapefruit, Bartlett Pear Mangosteen, and Apple Goji.  What? I have to admit, it would be fun to be the one throwing the darts at the wall of strange fruits to create new flavors. I could totally do that: Papaya Plum Pie. Apricot Kumquat. Coconut KiwiFig.  Avocado.

So yes, I did buy some.  I tried the three on the bottom right.  I did not care for the apple flavor much, the pear one was okay (being Bartlett pear made all the difference -rolling eyes-), and grapefruit was surprisingly decent as a yogurt flavor. I still don't exactly know what a yumberry, mangosteen, or goji are however.  I guess it's one way to stand out among all the pomegranate and acai products out there.

Here's a fun yogurt flavor you should check out because it's delish and not embarrassing: Tillamook Cherry Vanilla. Yum!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Southern "hospitality"

I experienced some pretty amusing glimpses of customer service down "sath," and although there were plenty of people who classified the friendly, hospitable stereotype, I thought it would be fun to share my brushes with the people of "Nashvul" (apparently Nashville rhymes with bashful, so get it right!) who don't quite fit that mold.

Bell Service is for Wussies
After courteously checking us in at the Gaylord Opryland, the front desk staff person carefully showed us on a map of the property how to navigate to our room. This very large resort is made up of several sections that were added on at different times, with varied main levels, all connected through gorgeous indoor gardens.  The result is a very confusing labyrinth of passageways and winding staircases.  We were certainly appreciative of her detailed instructions.

We set off in the right direction, map in hand, our two suitcases apiece rolling along behind. The first time viewing these atrium with magnificent waterfalls and full foliage was awe-inspiring.  Each set of stairs we encountered was accompanied by a nearby ramp, so we were able to enjoy the scenery without complication--until we reached the escalators. The receptionist had specifically instructed us to approach two sequential sets of escalators and go up them both (the escalators in question are shown on the left in the first photo above).  My mother and I each had one large and one medium-sized rolling suitcase in addition to our backpacks, laptop bag, and another bag.  The prospect of trying to successfully board and then disembark an escalator with our cumbersome baggage made us wonder aloud three things, in this order: First, why weren't we offered bell service for our luggage, or at least told where we could ask for it? Then, why did that woman direct us toward two escalators when she could plainly see we had a significant amount of luggage to drag along? And finally, where in the nearest elevator?

The answers to our first two questions would never be realized. To the third question, we set out to find the answer, which was not as simple as you might assume. We followed a path into a lodging tower, assuming we'd find an elevator there. We did, eventually.  Into the surprisingly tiny elevator we awkwardly crammed ourselves and all our suitcases, but upon exiting at the next floor up we realized that this one only offered access to the rooms in that tower. We hadn't noticed any alternate option, but back into the elevator we went. I swear at this point we could have passed for some bumbling tourist characters in a Saturday Night Live sketch: suitcases tipping over, on and off and on the same elevators, going around in circles, tripping over ourselves, all Charlie Chaplin-style.  Oh, the hilarity, had we been set on fast-forward to a honky-tonk piano rag. But in reality--not so funny.

I actually cannot remember how we finally found our wing of the hotel with its main level 3 floors up from the ground floor, even now that I am comfortably familiar with the layout. I was probably so frustrated and then relieved that I didn't care how, because I knew every other time we came here we would use the escalators meant to bring us.

Contender for 'Most Odd Response from a Retail Employee'
A mall within walking distance of our Convention hotel + free time = dangerous.  But I had left the tags on the dress I brought for our Awards Banquet in hopes I might be able to find one I liked even better, so that was the primary purpose in going to the mall.  The first time, anyway.

My mom and friend Lana helped me search and gave advice in the dressing rooms. One possibility we found was a frilly, ivory dress with a black satin empire waist tie.  Very pretty, but strapless and quite short. My broad shoulders make some strapless dresses less flattering, so the girls set out to find coverage options, something along the lines of a shoulder shrug.  The one they brought back didn't really "go" with the style of the dress, so we asked the fitting room attendant if they had any others.  We described what we were looking for, and her uninterested response went something like this:

"Yeah, we have one that's kind of, like, lacy?...but I don't know if you'll like it or whatever."


And that was it.  Her expression implied that we could go find it if we wanted to risk the chance I might not like it, but she wasn't about to go out of her way to sell it to us.

Do you normally know if people are going to like anything in your store? Isn't that WHY we shop and then try things on? I don't know if I'll like it either, but I can't determine that until I SEE it.  We then had to ask her to tell us where we could find the mysterious article and trudge off in search. It turns out that I didn't like it.  So according to that girl's logic I shouldn't have even bothered looking.

I found this cute shrug instead, and although I didn't end up getting the ivory dress and this piece didn't coordinate with the dress I did wear, I still like it.

Sorry to Trouble You, Ma'am
We went on the greatest little dinner cruise with a group of other Curves owners--some friends from home and some new friends we now adore.  I wondered if the General Jackson Showboat would be a lame, cheesy tourist attraction, but it was actually really fun and the "Country Music USA" performance was exceptional--even with my limited appreciation of country music, I was entertained.  The musicians were highly skilled and so full of enthusiastic energy (unlike many of the Disney on Ice skaters).

Mom on the balcony overlooking the General Jackson Showboat stage

Before the show began we were served a delicious dinner.  The staff allowed us to squeeze two extra seats into our table to accommodate our group, but as the salad was passed around it was apparent that the amount had not been adjusted for our larger company.  Our server wasn't in the room at the moment, and I wanted to have the situation handled before anybody was sitting hungry with an empty plate for too long, so I wandered over to the nearest dining room personnel to inquire.

The woman appeared to be a server as well, only she was presently occupied with clearing dishes from the empty tables, where the seats had not been sold.  Before telling her we needed more salad, I simply explained that we were in need of some assistance at our table, and asked if she could help us or if we must wait for our own server.  She hesitated, then asked which table I was from. I told her, and then again she hesitated, without even hearing my request, before telling me that since she was not my server, she would not be able to help me.

I understand how foodservice works, and when gratuity is the primary motivation to serve, not necessarily to ensure a positive experience for its own merit, the altruistic desire to help can disappear.  But since this woman was not busy helping her own customers, it seems to me that she could have listened to my request to see if it was simple enough to handle herself (maybe we were missing a straw and she has an extra one in her pocket), or at least helped me locate my server so he could resolve the issue.  The "I can't help you with that, good luck" attitude in customer service is so foreign to me.

But that was the only little hiccup in the evening, and here's the best part: When we arrived in our room I noticed a little advertisement saying I could text the word "offers" and our checkout date to this number and then would receive special offers to use during our visit on my phone.  I figured I had nothing to lose, and signed up with the hope that maybe we'd get 10% off a souvenir or a free dessert.  Later, my mom and I visited the Attractions desk to inquire about the General Jackson cruise. I was disappointed to learn that the dinner tickets were more costly than we had hoped, and there would not be a lunch cruise sailing at a time we could be available. So we accepted the fact that this event wouldn't be in the cards for us. Until a few hours later, when I received my first (and only, come to think of it) "offer" from the hotel.  Not 10% off. Not a free dessert. Buy one, get one FREE tickets on the General Jackson! We were thrilled, and shared our discount code with everyone who was interested so we had a big, fun group to go with.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Flashback Friday: An unforgettable convention

Here in Nashville, Tennessee attending my seventh consecutive year at the Curves International Convention, I thought it would be appropriate to chronicle the story of one that will always be particularly special to me.

For the last two years our convention was held in Orlando, Florida but prior to that we felt quite at home at the Bally's/Paris Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, where we attended for the first four years of my career with Curves.  At the awards banquet at my first convention in 2003, I looked on with admiration at the small handful of clubs to earn the prestigious "Franchisee of the Year" awards.  I made a silent commitment to be in a position to be selected for that award one day, and at the urging of some employees the following year, I submitted the application for consideration.  Which is how in 2004, having been a Curves owner for only two years, at age 22, presently the General Manager of our three club locations, I was selected to receive a Franchisee of the Year award. Whether the award would be Gold, Silver, or Bronze remained to be announced at the Saturday night banquet, but having been chosen at all was the most esteemed honor.

My mother and sister are co-owners in our Curves company.  The three of us attended Convention together that year, and it was a fabulous Girls' Getaway.  In addition to the exciting company announcements and inspiring messages, Curves Convention is all about the ladies taking a little break to rejuvenate.  Many Curves owners bring husbands or family along, but in spite of the fact that my husband and my dad also claim an ownership stake in our company, we've never invited them to participate in Convention (and they are probably grateful). With the exception of the year Madelyn was nursing, Convention has remained one little getaway--even if it is a business trip--that I can count on each fall.

Exactly five years ago today, my mom, sister and I were sitting in the Paris Ballroom along with about 4,000 other women (and a few hundred men), winding down from a full day of informative and motivating speakers.  Just before being released to hit the closest buffet for dinner, the Co-Founder of Curves, Diane Heavin, took the stage to make some final announcements and provide a tidbit of parting wisdom.

Diane spoke about how Curves has been helping make dreams come true for women all over the world.  Then she declared, "There is always room for one more dream, right?"

And this is when the beautiful icon of our entire organization called my name. She invited me to join her on stage. I didn't have to go far, as our Area Directors had located us prior to the session and ushered us to seats near the front of the very large event center.  Along with all of the other VIP's, of course.  As I walked up the steps into the spotlight and joined Diane, I noticed from the corner of my eye that our AD's had gently restrained my mother from following.  It was becoming clear that this was not, as we had logically assumed, related to our award nomination.

When Diane guided me to turn around and face the back of the stage, I could see the giant projector screens  now bearing my image alongside hers.  We stood at the end of a long runway projecting from the main stage, and in front of the black drapery from floor to vaulted ceiling were two 20-feet tall set pieces framing the sides of the stage. One of these large pillars began to rotate in place--much like it would in a game show, revealing on the other side the most tantalizing piece in the grand prize showcase, amidst gasps of envy and applause from the studio audience.

As a matter of fact, the 180-degree turn of this pillar did reveal a very exciting surprise: my sweetheart Gary, dressed up in a suit and tie, carrying a tiny navy blue box.  The gasps from the audience were audible indeed. What they may not have even realized is that he was supposed to be at home a thousand miles away.

Gary walked purposefully to the circular front of the runway.  He very genuinely and sweetly affirmed his love and then dropped to one knee to ask me that very special question.  Among the 4,000 cheering people, many tears were shed, as I was told repeatedly the rest of the weekend.

Now, if you know Gary, this whole story might seem very surprising. He is quite introverted, and prefers not to be the center of attention. Gary's belief that this special proposal would mean a lot to me propelled him to go outside his comfort zone. This stunt required assistance from many important people, up to and including the CEO and Founders of Curves, who undoubtedly have much more important things on their mind in preparation for this huge annual event. Secret phone calls and emails were exchanged with the powers that be, and Gary's mom had the privilege of being temporary ring-keeper.

Remember, Gary doesn't attend Convention with us. He took a flight to Las Vegas Friday morning, and then was shuffled around the bowels of Paris Casino in order to be kept out of sight until the right moment.  Gary got to see areas of a casino/resort that most of us never will. Apparently there was even a timing mix-up and while he was leisurely finishing a solitary lunch while our meetings were supposedly in session, Gary looked up to see a hoard of women in Curves T-shirts approaching.  He called in his emergency troops, who swiftly whisked him away into the hidden labyrinth inside Paris Las Vegas.

After he proposed, Gary returned to our hotel room for a few minutes, but had to catch a cab back to the airport for his flight home only an hour later. In a crazy coincidence, we girls had purchased tickets earlier in the day to attend that evening's performance of Tony n' Tina's Wedding, an interactive dinner-theatre experience that I've always loved. It was the perfect conclusion to my Engagement Day, and provided an excellent backdrop against which to show off my brand new ring and recount the exhilarating events which brought it to my finger.

Gary, Me, Diane Heavin
November 5, 2004

My sister Diana, Gary Heavin, Me, My new fiancĂ©e Gary, Diane Heavin, Mom, Area Directors Tom and Valerie

Oh yeah. We won the Silver award for our region. And guess what: we've been nominated for a Franchisee of the Year award again this year too. We'll learn which color tomorrow night!


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