Wednesday, July 23, 2014

let's talk about Tim Hortons.

At this time last year, my life was pretty hectic. I was just about to get married, James and I had just bought a house and were packing up the old apartment, I was preparing for an interview for a promotion, and we were working out the details of our international honeymoon.

To Winnipeg.

Say what you will, but we went out of the country on our honeymoon, so that means I get to call it an international honeymoon.

Neither James nor I had been to Canada before our honeymoon, and I have to tell you that it far exceeded our expectations. Not only did the people there ACTUALLY say “eh,” but Canadians were every bit as friendly as they are stereotyped to be. (They claimed to love Americans! nobody loves Americans!) Whenever a Canadian heard that we were Americans on our honeymoon, they would congratulate us like it was the best news they’d ever heard, and then they’d give us a laundry list of things to see and do while we were there.

Most of our stay was in Winnipeg, which we found to be absolutely charming. We spent a lot of our time walking around and taking it all in. We walked by the river, saw tons of great architecture, and were greeted by friendly Canadians all along the way. Winnipeg had all sorts of neat little neighborhoods for us to explore and plenty of good food to eat. (It was in Winnipeg that I had the best gelato of my life: chocolate cheesecake gelato at Eva’s. Oh, so good.)

But do you know what my favorite part of our Canadian honeymoon was?

Tim Hortons.
Ohhhh, how I miss Tim Hortons.

Neither of us really knew what Tim Hortons was when we got to Canada, but we knew that it was a thing. On a whim, James and I decided to try it for breakfast one day. Best decision EVER.

Tim Hortons is the Starbucks of Canada: there’s one on every corner. But Tim Hortons is far superior to Starbucks. While both establishments sell coffee, Tim Hortons sells coffee for dirt cheap. Sure, the sizes are smaller (I got the most adorable teeny-tiny mocha for a DOLLAR), but then again, so are Canadians. And Canadian espresso is deee-licous.

Tim Hortons also sells a variety of breakfast sandwiches and lunch-y things, but their main draw is the doughnuts. Yeast doughnuts, my friends. You haven’t truly had a doughnut until you’ve had a yeast doughnut. They’re hard to describe, but the best I can do is “heavenly.” Yeast doughnuts smell like bread, and they’ve got a rich density to them that normal doughnuts don’t – plus, they’re way less greasy. After eating a yeast doughnut, you feel less “ugh, I’m going to die” and more “another doughnut, please!”
Or, in James's case, "another scone, please!"
We were only in Canada for three days, and we had Tim Hortons three times. The last time was when we were about to cross back into the US and knew that we wouldn’t have Tim Hortons again for a long time. That last Tim Hortons doughnut tasted like Canadian heaven.

My brother Mitch was in northern Michigan doing some work on wind turbines, and he mentioned that he was going to drive to Canada during one of his weekends off. I gave him a list of places to go, one of them being Tim Hortons. He LOVED it. During his time in the northern United States, Mitch kept an eye open for any Tim Hortons that may have crossed the border and – YAY! – he found one in Michigan! Shortly thereafter, I saw a news article saying that Tim Hortons would be coming to Fargo. Tim Hortons is slowly infiltrating the US, and I couldn’t be happier. Come to Minnesota already!

So if you ever find yourself in Canada (or northern Michigan, or eventually Fargo), do yourself a favor and stop by a Tim Hortons. Seriously, I dream of Tim Hortons. I suffer from Tim Hortons withdrawals. Winnipeg is high on my list for another road trip, and it’s mostly because of Tim Hortons.

Paradise, thy name is Tim Hortons.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

childhood obsessions: Claire's.

When I was in third grade, I asked my parents for an allowance. I was nine years old, and I understood the joys of spending money – and I wanted to somehow acquire more money so I could buy more things. (Mostly candy.)

A friend of mine received one dollar per week as her allowance, and I asked for as much during my allowance negotiations. My parents came back with a counter offer: three dollars a week, but with a catch: I would need to sign a contract stating that my chores would get done and that I would try to be nicer to my siblings. (This may have been my first experience with loopholes: I would “try” to be nicer.) I signed the contract, it was locked away in the safe, and I started earning allowance.

With said allowance came the great freedom to buy things, but many difficult decisions were ahead: do I blow it all on sticky hands from the grocery store vending machine, or do I save up for the next trip to the mall?

More often than not, I chose the mall… mainly because I was obsessed with Claire’s.
Yes, the tweeny glittery fluffy pink costume jewelry store. I LOVED every last bit of it.

I spent a great deal of time in the Brookings mall, thanks mostly to my grandparents being willing to take us there when we came to visit. The Brookings mall was not (and still isn’t) anything to write home about, but as a kid with nowhere else to go, it seemed like paradise.

At the time, the Brookings mall held such pre-adolescent favorites as Maurices, Vanity, and Claire’s, in addition to more adult-geared stores like JCPenney and Cover to Cover. It was the Brookings mall that first introduced me to the wonders of Claire’s – though I couldn’t afford anything in the store, I could always window-shop and make mental notes for my Christmas list.  

I didn’t actually start buying stuff at Claire’s until I started frequenting the Claire’s in the Watertown mall. I told you about the Watertown mall last week, so you know that while it was no Empire Mall, it had a lot more to offer than the Brookings mall.

I’ve been a bargain hunter all my life, and one of the things that first drew me to Claire’s was their fabulous clearance rack. Every so often, Claire’s would mark a ton of things down so that they were 10 for $5. That’s right: fifty cents per item. My mom – a fellow bargain shopper, and probably the reason I am the way I am – could usually be convinced to go halfsies with me, so we’d each get five items for $2.50. That was something I could totally handle – five things from Claire’s, and I’d still have enough left from my three dollar allowance to buy a can of pop. That’s my idea of power shopping.

As I grew older and my allowance increased, I no longer had to limit my Claire’s purchases to the super clearance rack. I shifted my sights to the REGULAR clearance rack – I was moving up in the world! One of the first purchases I remember buying from Claire’s was an iridescent purple zipper wallet thing that I bought in Watertown for $5. I had that thing for YEARS – until the iridescent covering peeled off and the zipper broke. Sigh.

Claire’s was my go-to place for all my ridiculous childhood purses. Yep: not only did my first wallet come from Claire’s, but so did my first purse. It was made of the same kind of material as those jelly shoes, and it couldn’t hold anything more than a handful of change and my Dr Pepper flavored LipSmackers. I bought it on a rainy day in Watertown – my parents and I had just come from my clarinet solo at the Watertown high school, and my reward for a superior rating (go ahead, be impressed) was a five dollar contribution to my Claire’s purchase. I unearthed that purse: it was made of an translucent grey-ish jelly material with sparkles and stars melted right in. It was a whopping $11, but with my parents’ $5, it only cost me two weeks’ allowance. (Plus tax.)

It wasn’t just the Claire’s stores in South Dakota where I blew my hard-earned allowance. I visited my aunt and uncle in Denver for two weeks one summer (the summer after sixth grade? maybe?), and they were kind enough to take me to one of the malls near Denver – the likes of which I’d never seen before. Of course, I made a beeline for their (much more impressively stocked) Claire’s, where I purchased a Chinese symbol for my birth year (the year of the rabbit, if you were curious). I felt awfully worldly when I came back to South Dakota with my fancy Chinese symbol necklace. I’m sure everyone was very impressed.
Aren't you impressed at how cultured I was?
My family knew full well about how much I loved Claire’s, so it was a safe bet that they could do their Christmas/birthday shopping there. I’ve told you (time and time again) about my fake Heart of the Ocean necklace – it came in my stocking after I had not-so-subtly hinted that I wanted it for Christmas. That came from Claire’s – where else? My brother and sister each gave me earrings from Claire’s when they were young – Darrah bought me a pair of heart earrings with lime green stones in the middle (Claire’s served me well during my obsession with the color lime green), and Mitch gave me some little silver flowers with pink stones. All these years later, I still have those earrings.

Speaking of earrings, it was at Claire’s where I got my ears pierced. I was in seventh grade, and it had taken me YEARS to work up the courage to do it. When I finally made my decision, Mom hauled me to Watertown, where two teenagers at Claire’s pierced my ears. Years later, when I was soon to be a college sophomore, I got second holes in my ears at the very same Claire’s. (True story: the second holes in my ears are UNEVEN because the girl had no idea what she was doing). My final Claire’s ear piercing was a cartilage piercing about a year later. My friend Meagan and I went to the Brookings Claire’s because Meagan (who had just started working there) knew of a piercer who need to practice – therefore, our cartilage piercings would be half off. (After my “buy one get one free” tattoo stories, it can’t be much of a surprise that I’d apply the same logic to ear piercing.)

Nowadays, the general consensus is that ear piercing guns (which is what they use at Claire’s) are horrible. Their sterility is questionable, and the guns tend to cause more trauma to your skin than a piercing needle. Plus, the people doing the piercings at Claire’s are usually just kids themselves – and kids without much practice, as my half-off practice piercing experience should tell you. But I had no idea at the time, so Claire’s was just where you went if you wanted your ears pierced.

Like getting your ears pierced, there was only one place you considered for your prom jewelry – and that was Claire’s. Tiaras, rhinestony bracelets, gigantic and shiny necklaces – whatever blingy tackiness you wanted for prom, Claire’s was happy to provide. I never went too overboard – Claire’s prom jewelry was rather expensive ($15 a necklace? WHAT??) for my sensibilities. After all, I was probably only going to wear this stuff once – why break the bank? (I probably don’t need to tell you this, but I was not your average teenage girl.) But come prom time, Claire’s did not fail me. I went to three proms, and I was decked out in Claire’s jewelry for each one of them.
Prom #1.
Prom #2.
Prom #3.
After my final prom, Claire’s lost its usefulness. I’ve bought a couple pairs of earrings there in the years since (T-Rex earrings, no less), but my days of anxiously awaiting my next trip to Claire’s are far behind me. Clearly, I have some fond memories of that ridiculous place – and even a few pieces of jewelry left to remind me of the good times I had at Claire’s.
I bought this in 1997 and still wear it to this day.
And then there's this. Thanks for helping
feed my Titanic obsession, Claire's.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

let's talk about my middle name.

There is a certain beauty in a middle name. Some parents give their children family middle names, and others choose a middle name simply because it sounds good with the first name they’ve chosen. Still others use the middle name to create a pun, which I find a little bit awesome. (Example: my friend Allison’s parents almost named her Allison Wonderland. How great would that have been?)

On the whole, though, middle names tend to be family affairs, which is exactly what mine was.

(I say “was” because when I got married, my maiden name became my middle name. More on that later.)

And what was my middle name?


I know what you’re thinking. I said that my middle name was a family name, and we are a bunch of fish-belly white Scandinavian/Germans. What kind of Norwegian ancestor names their child Shelaine? Answer: no Norwegian.

My two grandmothers are named Sheila and Lorraine. Smash those two names together, and you’ve got yourself a Shelaine.

I was born in 1987: well before crazy made-up names became as commonplace as they are today. My first name is also out of the ordinary, so my parents must’ve been way ahead of their time when they named their firstborn Calla Shelaine.

Growing up, I longed for a nice normal name that no one could screw up. My first name often became Kayla, along with the fairly frequent Call-a (first syllable being pronounced as “call” rather than the actual “cal”) and occasional Carla. (Nope. No ‘r’ in my first name, thank you.) Believe me when I tell you that going to restaurants where you have to give your first name is the WORST.

My last name – Bjorklund – was no better. Even in a land of Scandinavians, everyone had a tough time equating the “Bj” in my first name to be a soft j. So while my last name is pronounced as Byorklund, I usually ended up as Kayla Buhjorkland or Call-uh Borkland. And you should’ve seen how the spelling my last name got butchered on junk mail.

And then there was Shelaine. While Shelaine was not especially difficult to pronounce, it was just as odd as my first and last names. But until Calla (which is pretty easy to get used to) and Bjorklund (which is charmingly Scandinavian), Shelaine just didn’t seem to fit. I’m just too white for the name Shelaine.

(Side note: I later found out that I REALLY dodged a bullet with the name Shelaine. My parents had seriously considered making Shelaine my FIRST name – but they knew that I’d inevitably be nicknamed Shelly. Neither of them liked the name Shelly, so Shelaine was out. WHEW.)

While I thought that Shelaine was fairly ridiculous, watching people react to said ridiculous name was always fun for me. Whenever I’d tell someone my middle name, I’d get a funny look followed by a slightly incredulous “She-LAINE?” Never failed.

Even better were the mutations of Shelaine that my friends assigned me over the years. My friend Sue could not remember my middle name, so for the longest time, she thought it was Loraila. My friend Bob preferred to call me Calla Shaniqua. My friend Nate could not remember my middle name one day while yelling at me for something (a common occurrence in college; it was a sign of affection!), so he said, “Calla Shaquandra!” That one stuck.

While I eventually came to embrace my less-than-normal first and last names, I never saw eye-to-eye with Shelaine. Before I got married, I thought long and hard about what to do with my names. One thing was certain: there was no way I was getting rid of Bjorklund. I thought about not changing my name at all, but I knew James would be awfully disappointed. Hyphenating was not for me, so something had to go. Bjorklund would become my new middle name, and Shelaine would get the boot.

No one was more disappointed to hear this than James’s brother Jesse. Jesse had grown attached to Shelaine over the years and practically begged me to keep it. “Long live Shelaine!” he cried. When I showed Jesse my new driver’s license – no Shelaine to be found – it didn’t phase him. Since then, he’s taken to calling me Shelaine. And the worst part? I’ve begun to answer.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

the time I went camping.

Everybody’s had one: a vacation during which everything that could possibly go wrong does, and when you think it can’t get any worse, sure enough, it gets worse.

This is the story of one such vacation.

Now, I love the outdoors. I didn’t always – I went through a several-year span beginning with my preteens where I was loath to set foot out into the sunshine, and you wouldn’t catch me wearing shorts if my life depended on it. Thankfully, that period was only temporary.

With the exception of a.) winter, and b.) doing yardwork, I love to be outside. James recently set up a hammock in the backyard, which is my new favorite place. I love going to the lake, I love bike rides, and I love exploring things like state parks, gardens, and rivers.

It’s also important to note that while I love the outdoors, I love the indoors, too. Sometimes, you just can’t beat lazing around on the couch watching Netflix. I am not as outdoorsy as some, and even though I’d like to be, it’s just not in my DNA.

But really, I do love the outdoors. However, when it comes to sleeping, I love the indoors more.

This past May, I went on a trip to Arizona with my mom and brother. My sister lives there, so we went to visit her. It was blazing hot, and one of the things I wanted to do was tube down the Salt River. We did just that – we rented black rubber inner tubes, brought a cooler, and spent a few hours floating down the river. It was a BLAST – most of the time, it was a perfectly relaxing lazy river, but there were some rapids that really sent you flying. Those were the best part, even if I did bang my tailbone on the riverbed more than once.

After the great time we had on the Salt River, I was on the lookout for river tubing closer to home. James suggested Lanesboro, Minnesota: it’s in the southeastern part of the state, and he told me grand tales of not only tubing down the Root River, but spelunking, kayaking, and interactions with the Amish population.
I was in! I’d never been to Lanesboro, and it sounded like the perfect way to spend a summer weekend. Double bonus? James (and all the Lanesboro websites) claimed that they had no bugs. NO BUGS. In summertime in the Midwest, that’s unheard of. It’s the Holy Grail.

Lanesboro sounded great to me… until James insisted that the only way to visit Lanesboro was to camp there. Excuse me… camp?! I hadn’t been “camping” for at least twenty years – and I say “camping” because we were in a camper at Lake Poinsett. Camper camping isn’t real camping. James said it was a tent or nothing.

I won’t say that I’ll try anything once, but I was willing to give tent camping a shot. After all, how bad could it be? My parents had both a tent and an air mattress for us to use, so our equipment costs were minimal. All we had to do was buy campy food (hot dogs and s’more stuff, obviously), and we’d be good to go.

Before we left for Lanesboro, James took the tent and the air mattress on a test run. Neither of them had been used in years, but the tent stood up like a champ, and the air mattress inflated in seven minutes flat.

James booked us a tent spot in the only campground with spaces still available. We had a spot by the river, and our nearest neighbors were several hundred feet away. It sounded great.

On Saturday morning, we headed east. Lanesboro is about three and a half hours from Luverne, so we got there in the early afternoon. Minnesota had been suffering from torrential rains for the past few weeks, so James called the campground to make sure that we’d still be able to tube down the river. “Oh yeah,” they said. “No problem!” Famous last words.

We arrived in Lanesboro, and it was blazing hot: perfect tubing weather. We checked into our campsite and asked the rangers when the next tubing shuttle was leaving. “Oh, there’s no tubing,” they said. “We haven’t been sending people out at all today.” The river was too high and was flowing too fast, so nobody was allowed out that day.

I was crushed. I had been looking forward to river tubing for weeks, and it was the number one reason I’d wanted to come to Lanesboro. James, ever the optimist, did his best to cheer me up. “Well, now we have more time to explore the town!” he said. “Maybe the river will go down and we can go tubing tomorrow!”

We wandered around downtown Lanesboro for a bit before deciding to try out the bike trail. It had gotten muggy by this point, and we quickly discovered that Lanesboro’s claim of no bugs was total bullshit. We were just a few feet onto the bike trail when we promptly were eaten alive by ravenous mosquitoes.
We did pause to take a picture in between bug bites.
James and I rode about seven miles of the bike trail before giving up. By that point, we were sweaty and covered in angry red bug bites, and we had been inundated with a gang of small children who liked to swerve in front of us as we were cruising down hills. We had felt a few rain sprinkles on the trail, so we thought we’d better head back to the campsite and pitch our tent. The SECOND we pulled into the campground, the skies opened up and it POURED. The universe has great comedic timing.

Dressed for warm weather, James and I were wearing shorts and t-shirts – it was mere minutes before we were soaked to the skin. (My sneakers would remain waterlogged for the remainder of the trip.) The wind was gusting, and James held onto the tent’s rain cover for dear life. The rain was coming down so hard that it blinded me, and the ground was rapidly turning into a swamp. We struggled and cursed, but finally the tent was standing – filled with water, but standing.
The tent is standing, but see
how sad and damp we are?
The rain showed no signs of letting up, so we had to change our dinner plans. We’d bought firewood and hotdogs and had every intention of roasting them over a campfire – which was obviously not in the cards. We changed into dry clothes (thankfully, we’d had the foresight to pack extra) and went back into Lanesboro to kill some time.
During the brief breaks in the rain, the sky looked like this.
Not very promising.
We killed enough time to last us until 9:30 (among other things, we accidentally crashed a gallery opening, made a townsperson angry by taking pictures of their rustic Jeep, and had the best shaved ice EVER), by which time the rain had not stopped. However, it had slowed, so we decided we might as well brave it and work on inflating the air mattress.

That damn air mattress.

The air mattress saw it fit to inflate within seven minutes at home during its test run. However, the air mattress didn’t show us the same consideration when we really could’ve used it. The air mattress flat-out (see what I did there?) refused to inflate. It would blow up to a certain squishy point… and then start deflating. Had the air mattress somehow sprung a leak in the last twenty-four hours? Did we have air mattress demons?

Whatever the cause, we never got the air mattress to inflate all the way. After thirty minutes and much wailing and gnashing of teeth, we cried uncle. It’s important to note that the air mattress took up the entire tent, and as it was still down pouring, James and I both wanted to be inside the tent. Of course, you don’t want to put any additional weight on the air mattress while it’s inflating, so we had to contort ourselves into the few spare inches of space around the edges of the tent. Inevitably, we stumbled, impeding our inflating process even further.

As we crouched around the air mattress, we drank our sad cans of summer shandy. Summer shandy is far superior when drunk out of a glass bottle, but assuming we’d be taking these in a cooler down the river, we’d bought cans. Anyway, we were drinking our summer shandy cans while trying to inflate the air mattress, and of course, I kicked mine over. Our sleeping bags, already soaked with rainwater, absorbed a lot of the beer, while the rest sloshed around in the tent.

By some miracle, the rain broke long enough for us to start a fire. We had paid six dollars for our firewood bundle, and by God, we were going to use it. We quickly roasted s’mores and wolfed them down before the rain began again.

You’ll remember that our campsite was located right on the edge of the Root River.
Looks nice, doesn't it? Looks can be deceiving.
With this new influx of rain, it was flowing fast and furious. James started to get a little paranoid and convinced himself that the river was going to flood and we were going to get washed away. I had enough faith in the campground staff that they wouldn’t let us camp by the river if that was a legitimate danger. Nonetheless, James checked with the staff, who assured him that they were checking the river every hour and would wake us up if it started to look suspicious.

But nooooooooo! That wasn’t good enough for James! It was after midnight when we finally decided to try and get some sleep – huddled under wet sleeping bags and doing a balancing act on a deflating air mattress, I wanted to just go to sleep and try and forget that day ever happened. James, however, had other ideas. He got up at least three times that night to check the river himself. Let it be noted that in order to get out of the tent, he had to climb over me – so whenever he got up to check the river, I was also awake. And remember how the air mattress was fairly flat? Well, when James was on the air mattress with me, his body weight inflated it enough so that I was on some decently inflated mattress. However, when he got up, that body weight vanished, and I came crashing to the ground. When James would come back into the tent, he’d have to climb over me again, and he also brought plenty of rainwater back in with him.

(James claims he doesn’t remember this, but twice during the night, he woke up and yelled, “That’s IT! I’m finding us a hotel!”)

Once James finally settled down, the quiet rush of the Root River was actually quite peaceful. The rain eventually did stop, and as the sun began to emerge, the tent became blazing hot. But that wasn’t what woke us up: it was the very loud, very Minnesotan fishermen looking for trout at 5am.

Around 7, we finally gave up on sleep and climbed out of our tent. The sun was shining, and it looked to be a beautiful day. We made our way to the bathhouse to take showers. I was the only one in the women’s bathroom, so I had the place to myself. As I am not at all a fan of community showers, this was ideal. This would prove to be my first (and, God willing, my last) experience with coin-operated showers. Yes: you had to pay for your shower with quarters: four minutes for twenty-five cents. I put in my two quarters and showered quickly. The lights in the women’s bathroom are motion sensitive, but it turns out that they don’t quite reach the shower. The lights went off on me in the middle of my shower, and for a second, I thought I was going to be murdered. (Because that’s what ALWAYS happens in horror movies. And this weekend was a horror movie.) I had to grope around in the dark for my towel and then wave my arms about until the lights came back on.

And when I left the bathroom, it had begun to rain.


James and I had planned to tear down the tent ASAP and get the hell out of Dodge, but since it was raining and checkout wasn’t until noon, we headed into town for breakfast. Our hopes of tubing that day were dashed, so we wandered around the shops and spent the money I’d brought for tubing – might as well support the local economy, right? Once again, the rain did not let up, so we took down our tent in the rain. And got soaked. Again.

After twenty profanity-laden minutes, the car was loaded up and we were ready to hit the road. We never did get to roast our hotdogs, so lunch had to be purchased in Lanesboro.

Our final order of business was to visit a cave. Lanesboro and the surrounding area have some caves to explore, so we stopped at the Niagara Cave. Its main selling point was its 95-foot waterfall, and that sounded like a sight to see. We bought our tickets to the cave… only to find out that the passage to the waterfall was flooded, so we would not be seeing that. Go figure.

Waterfall or not, the Niagara Cave was something to behold. 
It was discovered more than eighty years ago when some pigs fell through a sinkhole. It has 100-foot ceilings in places, and there’s even a wedding chapel inside. We saw fossils, stalactites, and stalagmites. 
See the super long stalactite? It's
estimated to be around 500,000
years old. They call him Gramps.
HOWEVER – the cave was 48 degrees. My only pair of jeans was thoroughly soaked, so I wore shorts. There was water POURING from the ceilings of the cave, and you could only dodge so much if it. By the end of our hour-long cave tour, I was a drowned rat once again.

This was the third set of clothing that had been drenched. In hopes of tubing, I had brought my swimming suit along. In a magnificent show of irony, that was the only thing that stayed dry.

On the way home, we saw a winery and stopped on a fluke.
This ended up being the best decision of the trip. The winery is called Four Daughters, and they have the best wine I’ve ever tasted. James and I shared a white wine tasting, and of the five wines, there wasn’t a single one I didn’t like. Four Daughters is not just a winery, but a restaurant as well: they employ seven chefs who make everything from scratch, including the crackers they serve. They have fancy dinners in the vineyard, along with yoga (while you drink wine, of course). James and I bought a bottle of white wine (La Crescent - SO GOOD) and are already trying to find reasons to go back there for more.

So even though camping was a total bust, there were a few bright spots: we saw a neat cave, got to ride our bikes, tasted some delicious wine, and I bought a skirt with bikes on it in downtown Lanesboro.
Just doing my part to support
the local economy.
But you know what?

I could’ve done all of these things while staying dry in a hotel.

Camping sucks.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

top ten Tuesday: pictures of Shadow.

My friends, summer is (finally) upon us. Summer makes me think of so many good things: days at the lake, Summer Shandy, grilling… and Shadow.
Shadow was my parents’ happy-go-lucky black lab, and he died this past November. This is our first summer without Shadow, and it’s going to be really strange. Shadow was the perfect summertime companion: he’d go on evening walks with Mom and play softball with Dad.

We Midwesterners spend as much time outside in the summer as we can, as our summers are fleeting. Shadow was an outdoor dog who only wanted to be where you were. Wherever you went, he would follow. When he saw you, Shadow’s tail would wag so hard that he’d practically tip over. He’d have a smile on his face so big that you couldn’t help but smile yourself.

I’ve been missing Shadow ever since he died, but now that summer is here, I’ll miss him that much more. Who will greet me at the door, jumping with excitement and with his slobbery tongue hanging out? (I suppose I could ask Dad to do that, but somehow, I don’t think it will be the same.) Summer was Shadow’s time, and he knew it.

Shadow loved to be in pictures – if he saw you point a camera his way, he’d pose for you. Shadow was a great subject, equal parts handsome dog and ham. I’d like to show you my top ten pictures of Shadow.

We took this picture right before Labor Day 2009. I was about to drive to New Orleans to spend three months there for an internship, and I had just returned from a three-month internship in Denver. I had missed out on a whole summer of Shadow, and I was about to miss out on a whole autumn of Shadow. So Mom and I took him to Lake Poinsett - we threw his squeaky toy in the water, and he'd happily go and fetch it. This picture was taken before the squeaky-toy-throwing began, and Mom was having a hard time getting Shadow to look at the camera (instead of lick her face). It is - hands down - my favorite picture of Shadow. Just look at those smiles!

My sister Darrah bought me an awesome camera for Christmas in 2011, and Dad and I spent a wintry afternoon outside testing it out. He threw the Frisbee for Shadow, and I set the camera to sport mode and shot away. There were so many great pictures of Shadow taken that day, and we only quit because my lens was starting to freeze up. Shadow, of course, could've kept going for hours.

My dad's brother Mike has been around for the past few summers, and he and Shadow were great friends. Mike is an early riser, so he'd be the one to feed Shadow and the first one to play with him every day. Look at how happy they both are!

Shadow loved to stand up and dance with you, and I thought it would be fun to get a picture of the two of us with our elbows on the railing. Pictures with Shadow rarely worked out as planned - I ended up covered in drool and with a ton of ridiculous pictures - but I love this picture. I did get punched in the face, but I love the picture nonetheless.

I told you about Easter Dog, but here's a quick refresher: for the last four Easters, we made some kind of goofy Easter prop, put it on the dog, and made him pose. This is Easter 2012, and we had a hell of a time getting the pictures. The fake flowers were hot-glued to the headband, and they were in constant danger of falling off/being eaten by the dog. Shadow was extra-excited during this photo session, but he finally put his paw on me knee (TOTALLY NOT POSED!) and smiled for a picture.

Another favorite in the "put stuff on the dog" series. It was summer 2012, and my cousins Monica and Melissa had come to visit. Whenever Monica, Melissa, and I get together, chances are good that we'll end up taking a bunch of ridiculous pictures - this being one of them. (What you can't see is that we're all wearing sunglasses and holding guns, which was - true story - my first time ever holding a gun. Also hopefully the last.) We were outside, so of course, the dog had to be involved, too. He even kept his sunglasses on.

Darrah went to basic training in July 2009 and didn't come back to South Dakota until December. I love this picture because you can see exactly how excited Darrah is to see Shadow and exactly how excited he is to see her - his feet aren't even touching the ground.

Whenever you arrived at our place, Shadow would be there to greet you... and always with something hanging out of his mouth. Usually it was a stick, a tattered old Frisbee, a mouthful of leaves... whatever was handiest at the time. This was one of those occasions - he looks like he's smoking. I love his floppy smile.

There's a slough near our house, and Mom and Shadow would walk there on nice evenings. Shadow loved to dive in, especially if you tossed in a stick or his squeaky toy. However, you had to be quick to get out of the way when he shook, because you would get SOAKED. I set the camera to sport mode and took pictures as he shook off. I don't know about you, but I think it's hilarious.

Remember how I told you that Shadow would sit down and pose for pictures? This was the day when we found that out. I was taking pictures of Mom and Dad with their motorcycle, and Shadow plopped down with his Frisbee and waited for me to take the picture. Sure enough, he wound up in every motorcycle picture that day.


There you are: my ten favorite pictures of Shadow. While pictures won’t fill the dog-shaped hole in my heart, seeing that goofy face – even if it is just a photo – will always make me smile.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

adventures in Brookings: the Country Peddler.

I’ve done enough of my cheap outfit blog posts for you to know that I love a great deal. While those great deals can be found in the clearance racks at the mall, my favorite inexpensive clothing finds come from thrift and consignment stores. Sure, you have to work a little harder to find that perfect shirt, but it’s all that more rewarding when you finally do find it. Plus, you never know what you’re going to find in a consignment store: the clothes there are from different seasons, different brands and stores, different sizes – and they change constantly. It’s way more exciting than going to the mall one week and seeing the same stuff three weeks later.

I’ve done a lot of thrift and consignment shopping in my day: from New Orleans to Canada, I’ve thrift shopped with the best of them. Over my years of consignment shopping, one store has always shone above the others: the Country Peddler.

The Country Peddler is located in downtown Brookings, and it’s been there for more than twenty years. I remember going there a few times with Mom when I was ten or eleven. I even remember my first Country Peddler purchases: a pair of navy blue clogs (because if you were in fifth grade in 1997/1998, you were nobody unless you owned two things: a Tamagotchi and a pair of clogs) and the softest red bathrobe there ever was.

I was a late bloomer when it came to fashion – I was wearing tapered jeans long after their expiration date, and I thought my Velcro shoes from Kmart were ironically cool. (They weren’t.) That being said, I didn’t start visiting Country Peddler on a regular basis until I was 16 or so. While I was by no means fashionable at that time, I was beginning to be a little more conscious of how far behind I was in terms of clothes.

Up to that point, my wardrobe consisted mainly of faded jeans and shirts emblazoned with various Muppets – with the occasional superhero footwear. (I once owned Batman, Spider-Man, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle shoes… all at the same time.) I was under the impression that my clothes were quirky and fun, but it slowly started to dawn on me that my fashion sense may have crossed over from quirky to straight-up weird.

Of course, most of the clothing I owned fell into the “weird” category. My pink plaid bell bottom pants? They had to go. My glow-in-the-dark Batman shirt from the children’s department? No longer acceptable. (I wish I had figured out that it was not acceptable in the first place for me to buy clothing for myself from the children’s department.) My… ? Sayonara.

Replacing your wardrobe isn’t cheap, so I had to take baby steps. I couldn’t purge all of my clothes at once since I didn’t have the funds to replace that much stuff at one time. The most egregious clothing was the first to go (see: pink bell bottoms, et al). As a born and bred cheapskate, I needed an affordable way to switch out my bad wardrobe for something good.

Enter: Country Peddler. This was the first place I went to try and mix in a few quality clothing items with my abundance of crappy ones. Slowly but surely, I would get rid of a pile of old dorky clothes and bring home something decent from Country Peddler.

At the time, my brother and sister had Tae Kwon Do two nights a week in Brookings. I would drive them to Tae Kwon Do and would have an hour or so to kill before I needed to pick them up again. I would rotate through my favorite Brookings haunts: Grandma Lorraine’s house, the library, and Country Peddler. Country Peddler wasn’t as large as it is now, but it was always full of clothes for my perusal. I could easily spend my entire hour sifting through the racks, and I almost never walked away empty-handed.

While I didn’t buy my entire replacement wardrobe at Country Peddler, I would not have been able to get the job done without it. Country Peddler was my first step into the world of age-appropriate clothing, which – as it turned out – was not so bad after all.

Country Peddler became my go-to place for more than just your every-day clothing. Not one, but TWO of my prom dresses came from Country Peddler. The first was this purply ombré number that I wore to my junior prom, and the second was a deep red dress that I wore as my friend Bob’s date to his senior prom. 

Also pictured: robotic palm tree.
Both dresses I got at relatively short notice – for junior prom, I didn’t really decide that I was going to go until a few weeks beforehand, and the red dress was purchased on a quick weekend trip home from college after I was called to duty as Bob’s date. Country Peddler pulled through for me both times.

Once my wardrobe became respectable – and it took YEARS – I found myself turning to Country Peddler for something else: consignment. They would take my cast-off clothes, resell them, and I would get 50%. Just one more thing to make me love Country Peddler even more. I began bringing my clothes in by the trunkful. Even though I was going to college three hours away, I would hoard piles of consignment clothes and drag them along whenever I was home for the weekend. It was such a great feeling to stop in and find that you had some credit waiting for you on your consignment account. I’d like to say that I would take those consignment checks and put them right into savings, but you know that’s not true. I would always find a little something to take home with me, and THEN I would (maybe) put the rest of the check into savings. Or into my gas tank.

Country Peddler has undergone some changes over the years, but all for the better. They expanded several years ago, and now they have almost double the space that they did when I was in high school – and it looks great. When I was living in Minneapolis, Country Peddler got its own Facebook page. Every day, they would post pictures of some of the new clothing that was coming in their doors. It was so much fun to see the things they were getting, but also so disappointing because I knew that most of this stuff wouldn’t be there the next time I managed to get to Brookings. Even so, I’d do my best to stop in whenever I made the trip from Minneapolis – and even though most of the things I’d seen online had been sold long ago, there was always something new to catch my interest.

I took a little break from consigning when I lived in Denver, New Orleans, and Minneapolis, as it was a little tough to get clothes home from that far away. Besides, I spent a lot of my time in those three places being really poor, so if I had any clothes to get rid of, straight to Plato’s Closet they went. Plato’s Closet will give you cash on the spot for your clothes, and I was always in need of cash. The downside is that they give you a fraction of what they’ll sell the clothes for, but after all, they’re taking a bet that the clothes will sell at all, whereas with consignment, you get a higher percentage, but you have to wait for your clothing to sell. Plato’s Closet was good enough for the desperate times that I was facing, but now that I’m no longer subsisting on eggs and hot dogs for every meal, Country Peddler always gets first dibs.

And I can’t fully extol the virtues of Country Peddler without taking about the people. The owner of the store is named Shirelle, and I met her the very first day that I set foot in Country Peddler. No matter how long it had been since I’d last been in the store, whenever I came back to Country Peddler, Shirelle was always happy to see me and ready to hear about my latest adventure. She’s added more staff over the years, and anyone working is always happy that you’re there and – even better – will point you in the direction of the fun new arrivals.

Even though I now live in Luverne – about two hours away from Brookings – I save my clothes for Country Peddler. As luck would have it, the drive from Luverne to my parents’ house passes directly through Brookings, so it’s awfully convenient to stop there. I can’t even begin to count the amount of clothing I’ve taken there over the years, nor can I count the amount of clothing I’ve purchased from them. (On the upside, it’s been years since I’ve actually paid for anything – every time I find something to buy, there’s always enough in my account to cover it. It’s like free clothes.)

I’ve gotten a lot of great clothing from Country Peddler over the years, but I have to show you some of my favorites – and if you’ve read the cheap outfit blog posts, you’ve seen them before.
This shirt!
This dress!
This skirt!
This shirt!
This shirt!
This dress!

Even though I make it to Country Peddler about fairly often, I can never wait to go back. You never know what you’re going to find.

Monday, June 16, 2014

rainy songs.

I don't know what the weather is like where you are, but where I am, it's pretty crappy. We've had rain on and off for the last few weeks, complete with flooding, gigantic hail (and accompanying gigantic dents on my car), and tornado warnings. 

Today was one of those days. As I was driving home and doing my damnedest not to hydroplane right off the road, I couldn't help but notice that my iPod (set to shuffle) was playing an awful lot of songs about rain. (Be they literal or metaphorical.) It just KNEW.

So - in case you feel like listening to some rainy songs - here are my five favorite songs about rain!

Matchbox 20 - 3am
Say what you want, but I still LOVE this song, and I'm not afraid to tell you.

Billie Meyers - Kiss the Rain
This is flashback city. I have more to tell you about this song in a different blog post.

Prince - Purple Rain
Sadly, none of Prince's music is available on YouTube, so this picture of Prince on a motorcycle will have to do.

Gene Kelly - Singin' in the Rain
Great movie, great song. The ultimate song to sing in the rain. (See what I did there?) 

Elvis Presley - Cold Kentucky Rain

My friend Sarah and I used to sit out on my front porch when it rained - we ate white chocolate pudding and sang this song. Ahh, memories.


There are about a zillion songs about rain, but these are my absolute favorites. So instead of pout about the rain and bemoan the current state of my garden (state = waterlogged), I'm just going to listen to my rain songs and deal with it.

But just in case the sun does decide to come out, here's a nice weather song for good measure.