Wednesday, January 21, 2015

ode to SmartWool.

My entire family is obsessed with SmartWool.

SmartWool socks.

As you know, I love a good sock – I don’t think I’ve owned a plain pair of socks for almost twenty years – but SmartWool socks are not just socks.

They’re magic.

And they’ve ruined me for all other socks.

SmartWool has been around for a long time, but it didn’t cross my family’s radar until 2012. My cousin is a Marine, and he was stationed in Afghanistan at the time. Dad would sent my cousin care packages from time to time, and he would ask for a list of things my cousin wanted or needed. My cousin requested a particular brand of socks: SmartWool. He said they were the best socks you could ever hope to have.

So off Dad went to find these mythical socks. He found them at Fergen’s: a clothing store in Brookings. Dad bought out the stock… only to find out that he’d gotten the wrong kind of SmartWool. SmartWool, as it turns out, comes in a zillion varieties depending on your activity: running, hunting, snowboarding, skiing. Dad had gotten the “lifestyle” variety, and my cousin was looking for the hiking socks.

Dad ordered a bunch of SmartWool hiking socks online, and on a whim, ordered a pair for himself. After all, he wanted to see what was so great about these socks. As soon as he put his SmartWool socks on, Dad was hooked. My brother Mitch got a pair, my mom got a pair, and James was given some of the original lifestyle variety. They all preached the gospel of SmartWool.

As a non-SmartWool owner, I was out of the loop. I was not sure what the big deal was – they seemed like any other sock, only ten times as expensive. What did SmartWool socks do that other socks couldn’t?

In Christmas 2013, I finally found out. I got a pair of SmartWool socks in my Christmas stocking: beautiful colorful stripes, the lifestyle variety. I put these socks on, and I was in heaven. The glory of SmartWool is hard to describe, but once I was wearing these socks, it felt like my feet had been missing out all these years. The socks are wool, but they’re not itchy. They’re sturdy, but comfortable. They’re lean, but warm. In short, they’re magic.

I joined my family in their passion for SmartWool. I made detours in sporting goods stores to explore the sock section. I visited North Face stores just for their SmartWool section: they had the best end-of-season clearance. (And since I am one of the few who wears size small in SmartWool, there are always leftover size smalls for me.) I looked on the internet for past-season deals on SmartWool.

Now, in addition to being categorized by activity, SmartWool socks also come in varying levels of cushion. (The lifestyle socks tend to be light cushion so that they can fit into any shoe.) You can get anywhere between ultra light cushion for running and ultra thick cushion for mountaineering. (I once spent a good five minutes in the sock department at Scheels just squeezing the ultra thick cushioned SmartWool socks. They are truly amazing.)

It was through my clearance SmartWool adventures that I entered the world of medium cushion PhD SmartWool. They advertise their PhD socks as being extra amazing, and I must say, they ARE. I found two pairs of medium cushion PhD running socks (size small) on super-clearance at the North Face store in Minneapolis – one pair in February, one pair in April. And let me tell you: wearing those socks is like walking on pillows. They are incredible. That’s my SmartWool sweet spot.

SmartWool has become a new Christmas tradition. Everyone gets SmartWool in their Christmas stockings, and everyone winds up wearing their new SmartWool the next day. Finding SmartWool in the Christmas stocking results in happy cries of “SmartWool!” No one is ever disappointed.

SmartWool socks run in the neighborhood of $20, and it’s hard to believe that a cheapskate like me would pay that much for a single pair of socks. First of all, I don’t: clearance, my friends. But even clearance SmartWool isn’t what you’d call cheap: I found a pair of SmartWool (medium cushion!) for $13.77 at Scheels the other day, and that is a GREAT deal in SmartWool terms. Secondly, I justify it this way. If I found a lovely sweater for $13.77, that would be an outstanding deal, right? And I’d buy it, right? But how often would I wear that sweater? Once or twice a month? My SmartWool socks are on a steady rotation, and I most definitely get my $13.77 worth. Plus, wearing a pair of SmartWool socks has made me happier than wearing any sweater I’ve ever bought.

Who would’ve thought that socks could bring us so much joy?

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

top ten Tuesday: outfits under $35, part III.

Guess what? It’s another cheap outfit blog!

I can’t tell you how much fun I’ve had putting these together. I really enjoy the challenge of finding an outfit that not only looks good, but is easy on the old wallet.

(While I love putting together and writing about the outfits, taking the pictures is the WORST. I always think I look like a complete dork, and I don't have any poses - obviously, because I always end up with my hand on my hip and a big dopey grin. James, my ever-suffering photographer, gets tired of me saying "what should I do with my hands? what does ANYONE do with their hands??!" Plus, there are only so many places to pose in and around our house.)

This is my third blog post where the outfits are $35 or less. You can find the other two here and here. I’ve also done blog posts where the outfits were $30 or less (here) and $40 or less (here).

$35 is where I’ll stay. I’ve told you this before, but here’s why: outfits under $40 were too easy, and I enjoy a good challenge. Outfits under $30 were doable, but it was tough to add fun things, like accessories. The $35 limit allows me to make a complete outfit (accessories and all) while still requiring me to think creatively about my items and their accompanying prices.

As always, I’d better go over my rules: I won’t post an outfit on this blog that I wouldn’t wear as an actual outfit. These outfits are not something I just threw together for the sake of it being cheap – I think they look good, and anything you see here is something that I would gladly wear out in public. I will not reuse any clothing item from past blog posts: the exception being shoes. (Since you’ve seen most of these shoes before, I’ll also try to refrain from telling you about them. If they’re new to the blog, then all bets are off.) The only gifts (aka, free) items I will include will be jewelry – so not something that could make or break the outfit. No foundation garments – tank tops, socks, etc – as part of my total. Prices are almost always exact, but some are from memory – and those are probably within fifty cents. Finally, I included outfits from as many different places as I could. After all, variety is the spice of life.

With all that out of the way, please enjoy the fifth (!!!) installment of my top ten cheap outfits!!

zipper cardigan – Plato’s Closet – $12
jeans – Plato’s Closet – FREE! (org $14, used credit)
t-shirt – Old Navy – $3.97 (clearance)
octopus necklace – Hobby Lobby – $5 for supplies
flats – JCPenney – $13
TOTAL: $33.97

Plato’s Closet and I have a complicated relationship. I like that they give you cash for your clothes, but I don’t like that it’s something like 20% of what they’ll sell it for – a pittance. I like that they have lots of options, but I don’t like how crowded the place is. Also, their employees tend to be on the snotty side. So Plato’s Closet is not one of my favorites, but every once in a while, I’ll decide that I want to go there. And shopping at Plato’s Closet most definitely requires the right do-or-die attitude. Both this cardigan and these jeans came from Plato’s Closet – I had sold a few things, so I used that money to get the jeans. So I’m calling them free. I have a thing for decorative zippers right now, so clearly, this cardigan had to come home with me. Old Navy is my go-to place for plain v-necks, and let me tell you, you can build endless outfits around them. Finally, my necklace. It is an octopus that I put together using supplies from Hobby Lobby. Awesome? Awesome.

dress – Forever 21 – $27.80
flower necklace – gift
flats – Y’s Buys – $3
TOTAL: $30.80

I’ve told you before that I am too old for Forever 21: except for accessories. (And even then, it’s touch and go.) However, I bought this dress BEFORE I was too old for Forever 21 and BEFORE the store itself started selling nothing but crop tops and harem pants. I bought this dress in early 2011: I still lived in Minneapolis and the Mall of America was just a hop, skip, and a jump away. Maxi dresses were a fresh trend, and I wanted to try it out – but I didn’t want to look a.) pregnant or b.) like a sister wife. If you’re looking to try out a new trend on the cheap, Forever 21 is your place. I tried this dress on, liked it, and that was that. It opened the door for many other maxi dresses – which are as comfy as pajamas, and you feel like you’re getting away with something.

dress – Mikarose – $29.99 
sandals – JCPenney – $3 
necklace – gift (Botanical Garden)
TOTAL: $32.99

Hey, look! Another decorative zipper! This dress came from an online store called Mikarose, which is totally run by Mormons. They specialize in “modest” dresses – not like FLDS modest, but dresses that aren’t too low cut or too short. Maybe I’m a Mormon at heart, but that’s exactly how I like my dresses. Plus, the dress has pockets. You know how much I love dresses with pockets. The necklace was a gift from my sister Darrah – the first time we visited her in Arizona was May 2010, and we went to the Desert Botanical Gardens and died of heat. The necklace came from their gift shop – authentic Arizona turquoise!

shirt – Storyville – $12 (flash sale)
shorts – Younkers – $14.99
sandals – Gap Outlet – $7-ish
TOTAL = $33.99

Last summer, Younkers was having this gigantic online sale where you could get shorts and summer clothes for almost nothing. Younkers is not my favorite place to shop – while they have nice shoes and purses, their clothes are either too old or way too young for me. I’m in Younkers no man’s land. However, during the online sale, I did find this one pair of Levi shorts – and I’ve been wearing them like crazy ever since. The NOLA tank top comes from Storyville – a t-shirt shop with locations only in New Orleans and Baton Rouge. However, they do have an online store, and every so often, they have a flash sale. They’ll pick a handful of shirts and sell them for $12 for a few days. I live for Storyville flash sales.

shirt – Goodwill St Paul – $2 (half off day)
skirt – hand-me-down from Grandma
necklace – Mikarose – $9.99
wedges – Target – $19.99
TOTAL: $31.98

This skirt belonged to my grandma in the 1950s. How cool is that? It’s perfectly classy, and it even has fun little pleats. It is made of wool, so it is not an all-season skirt, but that means I’m all the more excited to wear it when fall rolls around. The necklace is from the Mormon store – turns out that they not only have modest dresses, but fancy necklaces! The shoes came from Target – they’re a tad bit impractical, but since when has that stopped me? When I worked at the interpreting agency in Minneapolis (which is a story for another time), they would give you a $20 Target gift card on your birthday. Awesome. I bought these shoes for $29.99 using that gift card, so it was only $10 out of my own pocket. Wouldn’t you know it, they go on sale for $19.99 the very next week. Luckily, I hadn’t worn the shoes yet, so I brought them back and asked for a price adjustment. Target said no, so I returned them… and rebought them at the lower price the same day. Don’t mess with ME, Target. Now, this outfit marks something rather unusual in all my cheap outfit blog posts: it is the ONLY ONE with a yet-unseen item from Goodwill. (Another post has Goodwill shoes, but you've seen those before.) It’s been a while since I’ve had a Goodwill haul, so I’m running low on items to show you. But I do have a lovely striped shirt, so I guess we’ll take quality over quantity this time.

Levis – Amazon – $17.99
sweater – Target – $8.38
shoes – Plato’s Closet – FREE! (originally $6; used credit)
TOTAL: $26.37

These jeans are the most comfortable jeans I have ever owned. They’re soft and flexible like pajamas, but they’re still definitely jeans. I had never bought jeans on Amazon before, but the price was right, so I gave it a shot. Definite success. This sweater was an end-of-fall clearance find last year, and it’s just as comfy as these jeans. I rarely buy secondhand shoes, but these (along with the black Ys Buys shoes) are a new exception. They were at Plato’s Closet, and I can’t resist a good wedge. I found them while I was waiting for Plato’s Closet to go through a pile of my clothes to buy, and when I went to pay, it turned out that I had more than enough credit to cover the shoes. So I’m calling them free. 

shirt – Old Navy – $5.99
skirt – Forever21 – $10.80
belt – Forever21 – FREE! (came with skirt)
wedges – Goodwill St Paul – $4.99
TOTAL = $21.78

This, friends, is an exceptionally cheap outfit. Yes, my shirt has little cats on it. No, I am not a crazy cat lady: I got this shirt WAY before I got Mona. I know I told you earlier that I’m too old for Forever 21 clothing, and here we are with a second piece of clothing from said store. This skirt falls into the same category as the maxi dress: it’s something I bought almost four years ago, back when a.) I wasn’t too old, and b.) Forever 21 clothes were less ridiculous. It came with the belt, so hooray for that.

maxi dress – Modcloth – $26.99
flats – Target – $7-ish
earrings – Lewis Drug – $.99
TOTAL: $34.98

Hey, another maxi dress! Modcloth has big clearance sales every so often, and that’s when I strike. Their stuff is a tad overpriced at the outset, so I just bide my time until the price drops. Around Christmas, they’re pretty generous with their discounts, so you just have to know when to be watching. Much like the maxi dress from earlier, this dress is like wearing pajamas. You will not hear me complain. And yes, I got my earrings (that are hidden by my hair) at a drug store. Nothing wrong with that.

shirt – Country Peddler – $0 (used $6 credit)
Silver jeans – Maurices – $22.24 (75%off)
sandals – GoJane – $11.84 (20% coupon)
pearl earrings – Etsy – free with wedding bracelet
fleur de lis charm – Hobby Lobby – $.50 (pack of three @ $1.50)
TOTAL = $34.58

Maurices goes a little clearance crazy sometimes, and that’s when I do my best. These jeans were 75% off their clearance price, and it’s almost a miracle that they had my size. When you sell brand-name jeans at a price that low, you’re usually only left with the ridiculous sizes, like 000 extra-long. But luckily for me, they had normal-person sizes, too! The shirt is a lovely Country Peddler find, where I used my store credit to come home with something new. The sandals came from a website called GoJane, where you can almost always find an online coupon. The pearl earrings were tossed in as a freebie when I bought a pearl bracelet for my wedding. Etsy was where I got all sorts of wedding wear – my bracelet, my antique pearl hair comb, and my red slip (to go with my red petticoat). Whoever made the bracelet saw it fit to throw in a pair of earrings for free, and I wear them all the time. Lastly, the fleur de lis charm came from Hobby Lobby as part of a three-pack for $1.50: hence, fifty cents for the individual piece. I had my own chain, so twenty seconds and one pair of needle-nosed pliers later, I had myself a necklace.

dress – Country Peddler – $0 ($32 but used credit)
flats – 6pm – $16.99
belt – Forever21 – $5.80
ampersand earrings – Modcloth – $9.99
TOTAL: $32.78

This dress was a truly great Country Peddler find. It was brand spanking new – it still had the tags attached, and the original price was – get this – $148. It was marked for $32 at Country Peddler, but as always, I used my store credit. I am of the increasingly popular persuasion that something is more desirable if you put a bird on it, and this dress has birds EVERYWHERE. You can’t see my earrings too well in this picture, but you’re going to have to trust me when I tell you that they’re ampersands. I also have quotation mark earrings – what can I say? I have a thing for punctuation.


Well, another cheap outfit post has come to an end. This time, I showed you items from 24 different places: six online clothing/shoe stores, five mall-ish stores, four consignment/thrift stores, two craft stores, one ginormous online retailer, one all-purpose store, one online crafty flea markety store, one outlet store, one drug store, one botanical garden gift shop, my Grandma’s closet, as well as three gifts of indeterminate origin.

That about does it for this latest foray into bargain shopping. I’ve got plenty of other thrifty outfits to show you, so keep your eyes open for the next installment of the cheap outfit blog!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

adventures in Brookings: the Brookings Book Company.

As you know, I fell in love with libraries at a young age. What could be better than free books?

Well, getting to keep the books.

In my young life, I managed to accumulate a pretty respectable library of my own. Between gifts, rummage sales, book fairs, and book orders, my bookshelf was never empty. However, the more you read, the more books you’ll find that you love. The Brookings Public Library and the Arlington school library opened up worlds of books for me, and those were the places where I discovered books I loved enough to want to add to my collection – books that I could read again and again.

Now, as I was rather young, my means of obtaining the books were limited. I had an allowance of three dollars a week, and that won’t get you much at Barnes and Noble. And when you’re ten, it’s not like you can just drive yourself to Sioux Falls for a trip to the bookstore. And Amazon? Not a thing.

Enter: the Brookings Book Company.
I first got to know the Brookings Book Company thanks to my great uncle Burt. Burt was an avid reader, and he was always trading in his old books for new ones. One day, he presented me with a certificate for store credit to a place called the Brookings Book Company. Burt had taken his old books there and was given store credit in return, which he then bestowed upon me. That certificate was like gold. I persuaded someone (probably either my mom or my grandmother) to take me to this mystical place where one could trade old books in for new (or new to me) books. I wish I could remember what I bought that first day, but I do remember how completely delighted I was do have discovered this new and wonderful place.

As I grew older, I went to the Brookings Book Company more and more. (Having a driver’s license really helped.) It was the perfect place to build my book collection or to pick up something new to read. I would come in with lists of books, carefully browsing the shelves for the elusive volume. Burt, who had more than enough books of his own, would always give me his certificates for store credit, which I would happily spend.

Eventually, I started earning store credit of my own. I cleaned house: boxing up old books and hauling them to be sorted at the Brookings Book Company. They did not issue cash for books: only store credit. I would come away with nearly as many books as I’d come in with – thanks to the Brookings Book Company, I acquired everything from classics to Calvin and Hobbes. For a time, they even sold old records – when I got a record player for Christmas, my first post-Christmas stop was the record room at the Brookings Book Company.

Believe it or not, I didn’t go to the Brookings Book Company for books alone. The Brookings Book Company was (and still is!) home to a friendly three-legged cat named Spencer. I would crouch on the floor, browsing the lowest shelves of the nonfiction, and Spencer would curl up beside me. Any book store that has a store cat is aces in my book.

When I went to college, my visits to the Brookings Book Company became few and far between. And I don’t know what college was like for you, but as an English major, I had too much required reading to even let the thought of reading for pleasure cross my mind. I figured that was something to do when I graduated.

Sure enough, after all my papers were written and my degree was in hand, I was loosed from the chains of required reading. However, since I spent the first nine months post-graduation as a nomadic unpaid intern, I didn’t have the money for books – not even used books. (And none of the libraries would give me a card without a permanent address. Sigh.)

Thankfully, with all that behind me, I can afford to buy books again. Since I work in a library and have access to many thousands of books, I only buy books that I truly love. Recently, I’ve been searching for the books I used to read as a kid – and what better place to pick those up than at used book stores?

One day, I brought James – who is NOT a reader – to the Brookings Book Company. He befriended Spencer while I perused the shelves, picking up a few choice books as I went. James was not particularly enamored with the store (after all, it was full of books)… until he stumbled across a box overflowing with trumpet music. Practically leaping with excitement, he asked the owner how much it would be for the whole box – and he happily paid the $20 asking price.

And now James, too, likes to stop at the Brookings Book Company. I’ve made a believer out of him.

So if you’re ever in Brookings and you’re looking for a cozy used book store, allow me to recommend the Brookings Book Company. The shelves are stuffed with books, and you’ll certainly find something to your liking. Say hi to Spencer for me.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New Year's Eve in New Orleans.

For better or for worse, my New Year’s Eves almost never go the way I expect. Honestly, I would probably be thrown if one DID someday go according to plan.

There was the New Year’s when James wanted his brother Jesse, our friend Nate, and me to come hear his band (Funky Gumbo – they’re a blog story all their own) play at the Glenwood Ballroom near Morris. James promised it would be fun, but when the three of us arrived, we found that we were the youngest people there by at least four decades. Since none of us were 21 at the time, we instead went to Perkins in Alexandria and made it back to Glenwood in time to ring in 2009.

The following year was the same setup – James was playing with Funky Gumbo, and Nate, Jesse, and I were on our own. That time, we skipped Funky Gumbo altogether and spent New Year’s Eve in Morris, hanging out at the Met and arguing over who had the broadest shoulders.

My favorite New Year’s Eve story comes from Sioux Falls. We were celebrating the end of 2011 – it was James, Jesse, Nate, and me, who somehow end up together on many New Year’s Eves. At the end of the night, we were unable to track down a taxi ride home, so we had to walk the three-plus miles home. In January. At 2am.

The New Year’s after that was much less exciting, as we didn’t end up walking anywhere at 2am. However, James did run a stop sign and get pulled over, and I did end up soaked in booze thanks to varying clumsy bar patrons, and James’s brother Jay was bitten by a drunk girl. Finally, we missed the clock striking twelve because James and Nate were stuck by a crowded bar trying to order us drinks and Jay, Jesse, and I were crammed against a wall, trying to secure a place for the five of us to stand. “Oh hey, it’s 12:02. Happy New Year!” So that was how we began 2013.

Last New Year’s Eve, however, was fantastic. It was nothing like all the other New Year’s, and I loved it. Why?

Because James and I got to ring in 2014 in New Orleans.

We got married in July 2013 and took a mini-honeymoon road trip to Winnipeg, which was totally awesome. We saved our real New Orleans honeymoon until the end of December – what a perfect time of year to escape Minnesota and go south. And how cool would it be to spend New Year’s in the French Quarter? TOTALLY COOL.

James and I are not the best planners, and it turned out that we were in New Orleans at the same time as the (something) Bowl. The streets were flooded with fans from Alabama and Oklahoma, and getting anywhere via streetcar took three times as long as we had expected. That meant we had to put a lot of careful thought into where we would go that day – we didn’t want to be caught in a streetcar when midnight hit.

We spent New Year’s Eve day running around like chickens with our heads cut off. James and I had so many places to see and so many things to eat, and we had goals for each day in New Orleans. New Year’s Eve was no different, except that we had to plan carefully to be back in the French Quarter well before midnight. We had heard rumor of midnight fireworks over the Mississippi, and there was no way we were missing that.

Our biggest decision for New Year’s Eve was one we made with much deliberation and care: where to eat dinner? We had to make sure it was accessible via street car, it wouldn’t have too much of a wait, and that we ate early enough to not worry about timing, but late enough so that we wouldn’t be starving come midnight. James and I dined at VooDoo BBQ on St Charles – far enough away from the French Quarter that we could get in with no problem, but close enough to the street car line that we only had a few blocks of walking to do.

And you know what? It worked perfectly. Our dinner was absolutely delicious (barbecue shrimp, be still my heart), and we even had time to stop at Copeland’s for bread pudding.

James and I hopped back on the streetcar and pointed ourselves back toward the French Quarter. We had been doing so well with our timing that we figured we had nothing to worry about. However, when it came time to switch street car lines from the St Charles Line to the Canal Street line, we hit a snag. The cars on the Canal Street line were stuffed to the gills with drunken college football revelers, with even more waiting on the street. The line stretched before us, and the clock was nearing 11 – too close for comfort.

Our feet ached from three days of non-stop walking, but James and I saw no other choice. If we wanted to get to the fireworks on the Mississippi, we were going to have to hoof it. We scrambled through the droves of football fans, snaking our way through the sea of red and white jerseys. We power-walked like our lives depended on it.

And then, there it was – Jackson Square. We had made it. SWEET, SWEET VICTORY! We weren’t going to miss the first moments of the New Year like we had in 2013. Jackson Square was packed, but we didn’t mind.

James and I had trucked over to Jackson Square so quickly that we had time to a.) get ourselves some Hurricanes at Paddy O’Brien’s, and b.) buy Mardi Gras masks at a gift shop. We put on our masks and huddled together by the river bank. We were filled with electric excitement: not only was 2013 – the most hectic/stressful/wonderful year ever – almost over, but we were going to spend the first moments of 2014 standing together in New Orleans: my favorite place earth.

And it was even better than I imagined it. Standing on the edge of the Mississippi River, wearing Mardi Gras masks, huddling against the drizzle, and surrounded by the happiest group of drunks I’d ever met, 2014 arrived.
There were indeed fireworks over the Mississippi River – but they were lit off a barge floating on the river. It was a truly spectacular sight – one of those blazing, beautiful sights that reminds you just why you’re so lucky to be alive.

James and I spent the early hours of 2014 in blissful wonder, roaming the streets and absorbing the New Orleans celebration. (Yes, we caught beads thrown from balconies. No, we didn't have to earn them.) Like most of my New Year’s Eves, this one also did not go according to plan: the plan being that we’d have a nice dinner somewhere and settle in nicely for an evening of fireworks. Instead, we ran around like chickens with our heads cut off, scarfing down shrimp and bread pudding and doing our best to beat the ticking New Year’s Eve clock. What was unplanned turned out to be so much better than what was planned, as is often the case.

While James and I aren’t lucky enough to be spending this New Year’s Eve in New Orleans, we are indeed lucky enough to NOT have to spend it with Funky Gumbo. There’s always a silver lining. So here’s to 2015 – may it be as full of surprises and delight as 2014!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

the Trojan Christmas.

Gather round, dear readers, for a heartwarming Christmas tale. It is a story that has gone down in Bjorklund family history – one that we retell with joy each Christmas. This, my friends, is the story of the Trojan Christmas.

The story of the Trojan Christmas begins not at Christmas, but in the summer of 2005. If you recall, I had just graduated high school and was hard at work making a movie with my friend Bob. Well, attempting to make a horror movie. We had a location (an old abandoned house), a script (though it was terrible), and actors (our rag-tag band of friends). What we didn’t have was time. Or any idea what we were doing.

However, we did have props. I spent all of my church camp/Dairy Mart wages that summer on supplies for the movie, and we were at WalMart or Goodwill at least every other day with a whole laundry list of things we needed. From tiny tea lights to gigantic black sheets to tacky wall hangings, we were well-stocked with props.

One of those props was a box of Trojan Her Pleasure condoms. Why? Because our movie had a sex scene. Well, as close to a sex scene as a bunch of modest goody two-shoes like us were willing to get. In the scene, Bob’s character and Bob’s character’s girlfriend sneak off somewhere to take advantage of the privacy in the creepy abandoned house. In our master camerawork plan, we were planning on showing an open box of Trojans to not-so-subtly hint as to what went on in there.

Buying the Trojans was, as you can imagine, a bit hilarious. I was 18 and Bob was 17, and we had a whisper-battle in line at WalMart: “You buy them!” “No, YOU buy them!” “I’m not buying them!” (Alas, these were the days before self check-outs.) I don’t remember who ended up buying them, but I do remember giggling uncontrollably after we got to the parking lot.

Sadly, our masterpiece never came to fruition. Summer ended, and many of our actors (myself included) went off to college. With that, the momentum was gone. Bob and I packed up all our movie stuff in a paper box and placed it in my parents’ basement. Even though we both knew we’d never finish our movie, we just couldn’t bring ourselves to throw away all our props and our months of hard work.

Fast forward to fall 2010. My brother Mitch was 17 and was digging around in the basement for God knows what. He came across and old paper box with “movie supplies” written on it in permanent marker. When he opened up the box, under the pages of costume designs and script rewrites, Mitch unearthed an open box of Trojan Her Pleasure condoms.

The lower level of our house is Dad’s domain. Naturally, Mitch approached Dad and said, “Dad, do we need to have a talk?” Dad laughed and said that, yes, actually, those were his! He had purchased condoms to include in a card for a friend’s 40th birthday.

Fast forward again to Christmas Eve 2010. I came downstairs to fill my mom’s stocking only to find Dad with Mitch’s stocking in hand. He said, “Just watch Mitch’s face tomorrow. Just watch.” I had no idea what was transpiring, and I did indeed keep a close eye on Mitch as he emptied out the contents of his Christmas stocking. Smushed at the bottom, way in the toe, was the crumpled box of Trojans. Between peals of laughter, Dad told the story of how Mitch found them in the basement and confronted him. Realizing that they’d come from the movie prop box, I cried, “Dad, those weren’t yours – they’re mine! Wait, they’re BOB’S!!!”

Cue endless hyena laughter.

The Trojan Christmas is so much a favorite story of ours that a certain phrase has made its way into our family vocabulary. When we want Mitch or Dad to give us their very best smiles for a picture, all we have to do is say “Trojan smile!” Works every time.
The original Trojan smile.
That, dear friends, is the story of the Trojan Christmas. You may be wondering if I’ve ever had a normal Christmas. Between the Christmas Hangovers and the “I’m not saying you ARE fat – you just LOOK fat” and letters from Santa in my mom’s handwriting and Trojans, the answer is most definitely no. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Monday, December 22, 2014

for your reading pleasure: a Christmas poem I wrote when I was 19.

It’s cold outside; the air is nippy.
Finals week is here.
When they are done - yippee! -
Christmas comes so near!

My second year in college,
Halfway done, indeed.
We will soon see how much knowledge
I have, and how much I need.

This year, something new:
No more psychology.
English now is what I’ll do,
Books and grammar for me.

Since I’m majoring in English now,
I still enjoy my reading.
I read whenever time will allow…
I have less time than I am needing.

 The three English classes I took
This year kept me very busy.
I bonded with my grammar book
So much it made me dizzy.

Because of all this English time,
I decided that, this year
I’d pen out a little rhyme
For your Christmastime cheer!

The words are simple, sure,
But, really, I’ve hardly begun.
My skills will gradually mature,
For college is not halfway done!

Until then, with this December
Comes a poem; I hope not a bore.
I beg you to please remember
That I am but a mere sophomore!

I hope this poem provided laughter,
And I hope your holidays consist of
Wonderful days ending happily ever after.
So Merry Christmas to you, with love!

(editor's note: you're welcome.)

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

top ten Tuesday: smells + memories.

They say that smells are one of the most powerful links to memories. While I’m not sure who “they” are, I agree completely with them. A slight whiff of a certain fragrance can transport me to a different time and place – for better or worse. I have a list of ten smells that, in my mind/nose, are inexorably linked to a specific time or place.

In this case, all of these smells happen to be scented health and beauty products – primarily perfume. I have ordered them from earliest to latest, and I really wish that I could provide smell samples through the computer for you. (That sounds weird.) Alas, you’ll just have to smell these for yourselves if you’re so inclined.

Herbal Essences rose hips shampoo – Sarah’s house
I’ve talked about my friend Sarah quite a bit on this blog, and for good reason. She was the first friend I ever had, and we’re friends to this day. We’re closing in on thirty years of friendship, and that’s bound to make an impression. Sarah and I were friends all through our formative years, and we spent plenty of time at each other’s houses. Herbal Essences was just becoming trendy in the 90s, and Sarah had persuaded her mom to buy her the Herbal Essences rose hips shampoo. It smelled amazing – especially with the corresponding conditioner. It was the kind of intense flowery smell that would stick in your hair all day, and I wanted that. Until that point, I’d only ever used tear-free kid’s shampoo and whatever mismatched White Rain happened to be in the shower. It wasn’t long before I begged for an allowance and used the first of that allowance to buy my own rose hips shampoo. And let me tell you: my hair smelled fantastic. (Side note: this shampoo recently made a comeback and is now once again available for purchase. I have not bought any yet, but let me tell you, the temptation is strong.)

Purell – fourth grade
God only knows why certain things become trendy. Fourth grade was trend central: wearing keychains on your belt loops, the color lime green, calling things “groovy,” feather pens… need I go on? Another bizarre fourth grade trend was hand sanitizer. Suddenly, you HAD to have hand sanitizer with you at all times. After all, germs were everywhere. Purell was THE brand, and I can’t tell you how many bottles I went through in 1997. The hand sanitizer trend lasted well into junior high, when we all kept bottles on the top shelves of our lockers. Inevitably, the trend came to an end (hey, a poem!), and I was left with a handful of half-used bottles of hand sanitizer. Such is life.

Herbal Essences mousse – my perm
(I couldn't find a picture of the original mousse. You'll have to forgive me. It was white with a green top and had 90s looking leaves all over it.)

Herbal Essences again. What can I say? It’s powerful stuff. When I was twelve, I decided that it would be a good idea to get a perm. (It wasn’t.) My hair is thick and a tad wavy, but I wanted curls. However, when it came to hair, I had no skill and no patience (which is still true), so I wasn’t about to spend time with a curling iron. I wanted hair that was curly and required little to no effort from me. Hence: a perm. Turns out that perms aren’t the same as naturally curly hair. My perm was unruly and looked very much like a perm. The only way to tame it was to use generous amounts of mousse, and Herbal Essences was my go-to. It took FOREVER to grow my perm out, and I used cans and cans of mousse in the meantime. On the upside, I sure learned my lesson: a perm is never a good idea.

Glow by JLo – band camp
We’ve talked about how I went to band camp at SDSU for two junior high summers. Band camp was completely ridiculous, but it brought me some of the greatest memories of my young life. (link to the story) Junior high also the time when we started discovering perfume. I could not afford perfume, so I stuck with Kmart body spray. However, Sarah (who went to band camp with me for both summers) had Glow by JLo, which was hugely popular amongst the junior high set. She – along with a gaggle of other junior high band camp girls – would liberally apply Glow by JLo at every opportunity. Sarah was my roommate at band camp for both summers, and our dorm always smelled like Glow by JLo. But then again, so did every inch of band camp thanks to the gaggle of Glow-addicted junior high girls.

Lucky – junior high/early high school
The other go-to perfume of the early 2000s was the Lucky brand perfume. It wasn’t called anything other than Lucky, and the girls’ version came in a tiny pink bottle. (The cologne was green.) For a naïve small-town Midwesterner like me, Lucky Brand was as mysterious and elusive as Chanel. Lucky jeans were the most coveted brand – even more than the Silver Jeans and the American Eagle jeans that dominated junior high. (And God help you if you wore Arizona brand jeans like yours truly.) There were an elite few that owned Lucky Brand jeans in junior high, and they inevitably doused themselves in Lucky Brand perfume as well. All of junior high and well into my freshman year, the halls were hazy with Lucky perfume. The jeans were way out of my price range, and even the perfume was out of my financial reach… until I got a job. I bought my very own bottle of Lucky perfume when I was a junior in high school… three solid years after the trend had reached its peak. I wore it a few times, realized that I’d smelled enough of it in junior high, and promptly tossed it in a drawer.

Hollister August – the summer between high school and college
Lucky was the first actual perfume I ever owned, and many others followed in its wake. Among others, I tried such clichés as Adidas for Women (remember that?) and the fake Clinique Happy that you could buy in little spray cans at Walmart. The latter half of my senior year in high school marked something of a transformation for me: until that point, I cared very little about makeup or clothing. But then, something changed. I started wearing makeup and going shopping. From that point until my second semester of college, every item of clothing I owned had to come from Hollister, Abercrombie and Fitch, or American Eagle. I was THAT girl. If it didn’t have that little seagull, moose, or eagle on it, then I would pass, thankyouverymuch. It was during this odd time in my life that I purchased perfume at Hollister. It was called August, and I wore it nonstop during the summer right before I went off to college. It was a very teenager-y scent, and it embodied the end of my carefree summers: the last summer before college, research papers, career goals, and student loans.

Burberry Brit – my freshman year
It took one semester of college for me to realize that I wasn’t a high schooler anymore. At UMM, nobody cared if your shirt had a moose logo on it or if you wore Hollister’s perfume. Among the sophisticated college students (many of whom hailed from exotic Minneapolis), I felt like a small-town kid with my teenager perfume and my teenager logoed shirts. I steered away from those obviously branded shirts and began cultivating a more subtle wardrobe. I also ditched the Hollister perfume and scrimped and saved my work study money to buy the most sophisticated perfume I could think of: Burberry Brit. The plaid on the glass bottle exuded class, and I finally smelled less like a dumb teenager and more like an urbane liberal arts student – but the kind who showers.

Calvin Klein One – my sophomore year
It must be a requirement that, when you take a picture of a perfume bottle,
you absolutely must take a picture of the box next to it. 
My sophomore year was what I like to think of as my “lost year” of college. If you ask around, I bet a lot of people have one. My sophomore year was a total 180 from my freshman year. I spent my freshman year doing dumb freshman things, but I was filled with the joy and wonder of college and being on my own. (Or, more on my own than I ever had been.) I met Hipster Boyfriend at the tail end of my freshman year and thought he was a cool art student who could introduce me to good music and take me to gallery openings. We started dating in the summer, and I dated him all through my sophomore year. In September of my sophomore year, things with Hipster Boyfriend were already falling apart. He’d have bouts of tearful depression during which I would skip whatever obligation I had to stay with him in his dark room and tell him how great he was. This happened over. And over. And OVER. Hipster Boyfriend was sucking the very life out of me. When I wanted to hang out with my friends, I’d get a big sigh and a “well… I GUESS,” followed by text messages all through the night asking when I’d come back. So yeah – my sophomore year was significantly less fun than my freshman year, and significantly less fun than my junior year (when I moved off campus with a bunch of friends and started dating James). Calvin Klein One reminds me of that horrible year because Hipster Boyfriend’s mom had given him a bottle for Christmas the previous year. He wore it for a while and deemed it too girly, so he gave it to me and would become mortally offended if I didn’t wear it. Needless to say, that bottle of Calvin Klein One went in the trash long ago.

Caress Evenly Gorgeous – my first week in New Orleans
I graduated college with a degree in English, a degree in Art History, and no clear idea of what I wanted to do next. I kind of wanted to go to grad school for art history, but I was also hesitant to encumber more student loan debt. I knew that internships would look good on any future grad school application, so off to unpaid internships I went. I spent the summer after graduation at an unpaid internship in Denver, and I spent the fall after graduation at an unpaid internship in New Orleans. It’s hard to describe how much I love New Orleans – I first went there on a week-long jazz trip in college, and as soon as I set foot in Louisiana, it felt like I belonged there. (I had the same feeling the first time I visited the U of M Morris campus.) It was love at first sight. I was dead-set on going back, hence the internship. Having established a place to live via Craigslist while I was in Denver, I drove to New Orleans by myself and arrived to claim my rented room. Turns out the landlord was super creepy – he had claimed to live in the house next door but in fact lived in the same house, had no door on his room, and tended to sneak around the house. The straw that broke the camel’s back was when one of my roommates (who I never saw) stuck a note under my door urging me to “get out while [I] still can.” So I did. Despite the rocky living situation, I was also filled with joy at finally being back in New Orleans and having the grand opportunity to live there for four months. I explored the city, reveling in the sights and sounds. Before I left for New Orleans, I bought a brand new bottle of body wash called Caress Evenly Gorgeous. It claims to be made from burnt brown sugar and karite butter (whatever that is), and the smell of that body wash reminds me of that first tumultuous week in New Orleans.

American Eagle Bohemian – being super poor in Minneapolis
Minneapolis was the final stop in my unpaid internship tour: I moved there from New Orleans to intern at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, where my unpaid internship required a minimum of twenty hours a week. James, who was student teaching in Buffalo, moved to Plymouth with me, and we shared a studio apartment that had once been a garage. We were scrimping to make ends meet, and at one time, I had four part-time jobs. (Well, three, if you don’t count the unpaid internship.) One of those jobs was at American Eagle – the mall clothing store. I had originally gotten a job there while living in Denver, and I had been able to transfer to a store in New Orleans and finally to a store in Maple Grove. And let me tell you – my American Eagle job was a lifesaver. While it was a minimum wage retail job, it did allow me to eat – not much more than eggs and Spaghetti-Os, but eating is eating. (James’s and my big Valentine’s Day dinner that year was a frozen bag of Bertolli’s pasta. What can I say: we splurged.) While I was working at the Maple Grove American Eagle, the company released a new perfume called Bohemian. While I could never afford a bottle of my own, they encouraged us to spritz on a little from the sample bottles so that customers would smell the fragrance and hopefully decide to buy some for themselves. So when I arrived at the store, I’d squirt on some  Bohemian perfume and go about my day. I don’t know if anyone actually bought any perfume because of that – I know that nobody ever asked me just what that enchanting scent was. I did finally acquire a full-time job and was able to quit all my part-time jobs. One of the first mistakes I made was buying a small bottle of Bohemian perfume. Months of wearing it around the store had fooled me into thinking that I liked it enough to wear it outside of work. One sniff of that, and I was reminded of how poor I was. That bottle is still floating around in a purse somewhere, but to me, it smells like minimum wage jobs and skipping meals and never filling my gas tank up all the way.  Not the greatest smell.


There we are: ten smells, ten associations/experiences. Now that you know the stories behind my ten scents, feel free to think of me when you smell any of these memory-laden fragrances. (That sounds weird, too. I can’t figure out how to say not-weird stuff in this blog.)