Saturday, April 19, 2014

on turning 27.

Today is my 27th birthday.

I know everybody says this as they’re getting older, but I don’t feel like I’m 27. I feel like a twenty-seven-year-old should be eating salads for lunch and attending poetry readings and growing herbs in their backyard and going running every morning and drinking green tea.

Guess who is doing none of those things?

Twenty-seven seems like one of those milestone birthdays where I should start feeling/acting like an adult – when I should stop having cereal for dinner and watching cat videos on the internet. But what if I don’t want to?

On my birthday, I tend to regress and be overcome with childlike excitement. The sun shines brighter on my birthday, and I always wear a special outfit. I have to spend the day reminding myself that I’m a grown-ass woman and can’t go all five-year-old and tell everyone that it’s my birthday.

So much for adulthood.

I rarely feel older/more mature on my birthdays, save for the ones that have some kind of privilege attached to them: 14 and getting my learner’s permit, 16 and getting my regular license, 18 and registering to vote (I was way more excited about this than being able to buy cigarettes and lottery tickets), 21 and buying booze (this one was important), 25 renting a car (which I have yet to do).

To be fair, I have quite a few more milestones under my belt on this birthday than I did on my last one. Since my last birthday, I have gotten married, been on honeymoons to Canada and New Orleans, bought a house, been promoted, and adopted a cat. Twenty-six was a busy year.

But what comes at 27? I blew through milestones in the last year, and so the only ones left are get a dog (yes please!) and have kids (no please!). I can see only one of those things happening in the next year – bet you can guess which one.

I think I’m ready for 27. When I was a kid, seven – for some reason – was my favorite number, and they say it’s a lucky number. Maybe that’s why James and I started dating on 7/27/2007 and – six years later – got married on 7/27. So my 27th year can be nothing but good, right?

After all, my 27th birthday landed on a beautiful spring Saturday – it’s already off to the best possible start!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

the Easter Dog.

Remember my parents’ black lab, Shadow?

He was the sweetest, happiest dog that I’ve ever met. All he wanted was to be where you were, and he’d love you forever if you scratched his belly.

Shadow died this past November. The first time I came to my parents’ house after Shadow was gone was strange. It was the first time in more than six years that I hadn’t been greeted by a drooly black lab with a thumping tail.

This Easter promises to be just as strange as the first time I came home and there was no dog waiting at my car door. Why’s that? Because of the Easter Dog.
It was Easter 2010, and for some reason, we got the hare-brained (HA!) idea to put a set of rabbit ears on the dog. My sister was stationed in Arizona with the Air Force, and it was her first Easter away from home. We thought that taking a goofy picture with Shadow (whose forte was goofy pictures) would lift Darrah’s spirits.

So we dug an old headband out of the closet, fashioned some rabbit ears out of construction paper and glue, and taped them to the headband. We had a hard time keeping them on the dog – not because they bothered him, but because he was JUST SO EXCITED that we were there that he couldn’t hold still. Story of his life. Mom manned the camera and got a bazillion pictures of our struggles with Shadow and his ears, and sure enough, they made Darrah laugh.
The following Easter rolled around, and we’d had so much fun with Easter Dog 2010 that we decided to do it again. That year, we tried to get Shadow to hold an Easter basket, which proved to be damn near impossible. He loved to sit up on his butt and beg, but he was much more interested in slobbering on the plastic Easter eggs than posing with them.
Easter 2012 found us repurposing the old black headband – this time, with flowers. I dug around in my old room to find silk flowers, which I proceeded to glue all over the headband. This was the most labor-intensive Easter Dog headgear, but it looked appropriately ridiculous.
(November 2012 saw the first Turkey Dog, but we’re talking about Easter here. Moving along.)
For Easter 2013, we stuck with the flowers and made Shadow into a sunflower. It was a FREEZING cold Easter day – 2013 was the year of the April ice storm, and it sucked – but we braved the frigid wind (and Shadow braved another year of our antics) to get our annual picture.
Now, Easter 2014 is upon us, and Shadow is no longer around to let us put silly Easter things on him. It will be really strange – it turned into a great Easter tradition (and Shadow, like a true black lab, loved the attention), but it’s a tradition that will have to be put on hold for now.

If our cat wasn’t such a bitey jerk, Easter Cat could be a new tradition, but nobody wants stitches for Easter.
Thanks, but no thanks.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

let's talk about cupcakes.

I’ve got cupcakes on my mind.

Yeah, I’m thinking about cupcakes – not just because they sound delicious right now (I AM SO HUNGRY FOR CUPCAKES), but because cupcakes are GENIUS.
There were cupcakes at not one...
...but TWO of my bridal showers last year!
Fancy cupcakes have been a thing for a while now, but seriously: why weren’t they a thing all along? Think about it: they’re small, portable, and way less messy to frost/serve/eat than a full-size cake. You don’t need a fork and a plate for cupcakes, whereas cake demands it. Plus, it’s easier to experiment with weird flavors. You can bake just one weird-flavored cupcake, and if it sucks, you’re only out one cupcake versus an entire cake.

Oh, and wedding cupcakes? BRILLIANT. Instead of having wedding cake for all our guests, we (like many other couples) opted to get a whole ton of cupcakes instead. This was better in SO many ways. It eliminated the need for all those extra plates, and we didn’t have to persuade any of our relatives to serve cake. Best of all, cupcakes = more flavors! Instead of being limited to one flavor that our guests may or may not like (or marble cake! blech!), we got to serve them three flavors of cupcakes. I heard no complaints.
When I was a kid, I was torn between birthday cupcakes and a full-on birthday cake. A birthday cake was better for blowing out candles, but it was much easier to eat the cupcakes – I could stuff a whole cupcake in my mouth, but alas, not a piece of cake. Cupcakes were the better choice if you were planning on bringing treats to school. (Which was every year. Do you have any idea how angry elementary schoolers get if the birthday person doesn’t bring treats?)

I don’t remember exactly when cupcakes became so trendy, but I do remember a specific cupcakes-on-television experience that made me aware of just how popular cupcakes had become. I had come from Minneapolis to visit my parents, and Mom and I were enjoying a lazy day watching TV. On came DC Cupcakes. It wasn’t until that point that I realized cupcakes were a serious business. They make sculptures out of cupcakes, for crying out loud.

I didn’t seek out cupcakeries until I moved to Sioux Falls in 2011. Actually, “seek out” might be the wrong phrasing. I worked close to downtown, and I stumbled across a little bakery called Oh My Cupcakes. 
Oh my.
And they were AMAZING. Their cupcakes are dense and delicious, and they even make cupcakes that are part (if not all) cheesecake. I made sure to bring James there, and he was smitten. (And they must’ve liked us, too: we went there once near closing time, and they sent us home with half a dozen of free cupcakes because they were a day old and didn’t want to throw them out.) 
The face of utter joy.
Oh My Cupcakes has since moved from downtown, but I still make my way there when I need a cupcake.
Or two.
Ever since then, I’ve really been digging the fancy cupcakes. James and I take a lot of roadtrips, and we do our best to sample cupcakes wherever we go. We’ve had cupcakes in Brookings, Sioux Falls, Omaha, Minneapolis, and New Orleans. 
Omaha cupcakes.
New Orleans cupcake.
Minneapolis cupcake.
Sioux Falls is also home to the Queen City Bakery. Their cupcakes are a different breed than those at Oh My Cupcakes - while Oh My Cupcakes makes fancy flavors and bakes very dense cupcakes, Queen City Bakery sticks with the standards (chocolate, red velvet) and excels. Queen City Bakery cupcakes are moist and fluffy, and their frosting is perfection. 
Perfection, I tell you.
Though many have come close, we haven’t managed to find cupcakes quite as good as those right here in Sioux Falls. But that doesn’t mean we won’t keep trying.
James makes some mean cupcakes from scratch.
Best husband ever.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

let's talk about our Heath Ledger party.

Once upon a time in college, I lived in a junky house on Third Street in Morris, Minnesota. There were five of us living in that mold-infested house, and all five of us were in band. (Three of us were in concert band, and all five of us were in jazz band. NERDS.)

This was my junior year: 2007 – 2008. In the fall semester, we’d hosted a fair amount of parties: that’s what college houses are for, right? Since all five of us were in jazz band, we became the default Jazz House. That meant it was our job to host the after parties for each jazz concert/dance, and we accepted our responsibility with pride.

However, there were only three jazz concerts and three jazz dances throughout the school year, and what kind of sorry excuse for a college house would we have been if we only hosted six parties from August to May?

So we filled in the weekends with theme parties. I’m not talking your simple costume party (though we did host some excellent Halloween parties). Our themes were always a bit bizarre, but we never had any complaints. We had an “I Heart New York” party, which was just an excuse for us to wear the “I Heart New York” shirts that our roommate Sara had brought us.
We had a wine and cheese party, where we ate fancy Danish cheese and drank cheap wine. We had a candy party, where we bought tons of questionable (read: cheap) candy and served it up to our guests.
Chocolate cherry flavored Hershey's kisses, perhaps?
We had a Dinosaur Fantasy party, to which there was no real point – but three of us had dinosaur t-shirts, so that was that.
Here's my dino shirt: courtesy of WalMart.
There is one theme party, though, that trumped all the theme parties we’d had or would have. That, my friends, was our Heath Ledger party.

It was January 2008. We had just returned to school after winter break, and the first weekend of the spring semester called for a party. (Obviously.) However, Sara and I (the usual theme-choosers) were at a loss as to what our party’s theme should be. We were still debating when we heard the news: Heath Ledger had died. Maybe we’re bad people, but our initial reaction was “THERE’S OUR THEME!” followed by “Aww, Heath Ledger!”

But we had a slight problem. The concert band had scheduled a retreat during that first weekend. (WTF?) The concert band always had a “band bonding weekend” in late September where everybody went to a retreat and played games and a whole lot of music and had inappropriate conversations, but this was the first time they’d done one in January. I had quit concert band in spring 2007, but I rejoined in time for spring semester 2008 – but since I had joined a little last-minute, I used that as an excuse to snake out of the band retreat. (Also, did I want to pay $75 to go to a lodge and play my clarinet for two days? NO.)

However, many of our concert band friends still had to go. Our solution? We’d toast them at the party and have a good time all the same.

The next step in our Heath Ledger party planning was to gather supplies. Sara and I bought out the grocery store’s supply of Heath bars, and we rented a copy of Brokeback Mountain. We hauled out our colorful Sharpies and decorated Heath Ledger t-shirts.

I still have mine, and it's as awesome
today as it was in 2008.
Our party was AMAZING. We handed out our Heath bars and kept Brokeback Mountain on a loop. We made a Heath Ledger poster that all the party-goers signed, and we drank many toasts to Heath Ledger and our poor unfortunate friends at band camp. 
And you know what? It was the best theme party ever.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

let's talk about laugh tracks.

On the whole, I like my blog to be a happy place full of weird and amusing stories. However, every once and a while, I just have to tell you about something that drives me a little bit nuts.

So you want to know what drives me nuts?

Laugh tracks.

Yep, laugh tracks on TV shows get on my nerves. For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a weird thing about laugh tracks. I don’t dislike them enough to NOT watch shows with laugh tracks, but I’d really prefer it if no shows had them.

Laugh tracks were pretty much the standard for YEARS. Why anyone ever decided that a laugh track was a good idea is a total mystery to me. Every sitcom I watched as a kid had a laugh track, and I remember wondering where the laughter was coming from and why the mysterious laughing people thought the lame jokes were so hysterically funny. (The sitcoms I watched as a kid were Step By Step and Sabrina the Teenage Witch and the like, so the jokes were indeed lame.)
Sorry, Sabrina. Your jokes were terrible.
As I grew older, I became more resentful of laugh tracks. Who do these people think they are? Are they suggesting that I’m too dumb to realize that someone just made a lukewarm? Do they think that I can’t figure out what’s funny on my own? PLEASE.

Even though the laugh tracks grated on my nerves, they weren’t enough to stop me from watching sitcoms. I knew that I could escape the laugh tracks if I started watching more serious shows, but CSI really wasn’t up my alley.

It wasn’t until one glorious fall television season that I discovered there was a sitcom life beyond laugh tracks. I started watching Scrubs – a sitcom about a bunch of young doctors trying not to fail miserably in their chosen field and in their lives – when it first started airing in 2001, I was immediately hooked. 
This sitcom went beyond any other television comedy I’d ever seen: while it was a comedy, it had its fair share of serious situations and drama. (In the spirit of honesty, I must tell you that Scrubs has actually brought me to tears. More than once.) I was used to your basic sitcoms where a problem was presented and solved in one neat 22-minute block. Scrubs had continuing plot lines! Imagine that!

Best of all? Scrubs had no laugh track. I may have been thinking a little too far into this, but to me, it meant that Scrubs respected me enough to allow me to decide on my own when to laugh. Also, not having to pause for the laugh track allowed Scrubs to deliver more jokes in less time. You got more bang for your buck, and on top of that, the jokes came and went so quickly that I’d argue that you need to be smarter than the average bear to catch a lot of them.

As the years went by and my television favorites expanded, I have found that my favorite shows NEVER HAVE LAUGH TRACKS. Honest to goodness, I think it’s because the shows without laugh tracks are naturally smarter. Arrested Development and New Girl are two of my favorite sitcoms of all time EVER, and neither employs a laugh track. Both shows avoid topical humor (for the most part), and both shows (Arrested Development in particular) have a certain fan base – they’re not for everyone, but those who like them LOVE them.
And I LOVE Arrested Development.

Same goes for yet another one of my all-time favorite shows: Buffy the Vampire Slayer. While it’s not categorized as a sitcom (it's more on the drama side, as Buffy spends quite a bit of her time slaying vampires, as the title suggests), Buffy has a remarkable amount of humor. And guess what? No laugh track.

Modern Family is also laugh track free, and I am IN LOVE with that show. I binge-watched the entire series this winter, and it brought a smile to my face during our long and miserable Polar Vortex. Like the other shows without laugh tracks, Modern Family's humor is fast and furious, and they rely instead on the actors' spot-on deadpanning. It's glorious.
All of this is not to say that I will write a show off just because it has a laugh track. Even though it has a laugh track, I still watch The Big Bang Theory. Strangely enough, while The Big Bang Theory is a smart show, its jokes just aren’t. They still go after the cheap laughs: Ha ha! Penny is dumb! Sheldon is awkward! Ha ha! It’s the curse of the laugh track. And yes, I said I still watch The Big Bang Theory regardless of its use of a laugh track, know this: I almost never laugh at the same things as the laugh track.

So that’s how I feel about laugh tracks. 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

the scooter.

We’ve all had those days where one thing after another goes wrong and you can’t catch a break. Like dominoes, one bad thing leads to another, before you know it, your day is in shambles. Then, there’s that last crappy event – be it large or small, that just pushes you over the edge. There is nothing left for you to do but freak the hell out. This is the story of one of those days.

It was the beginning of August 2007, and my junior year of college was about to begin. It had been a rather unusual summer – I’d had a miserable few months with Hipster Boyfriend, during which time I’d tried to break up with him, felt really bad and told him it was a huge mistake, endured much shame from family and friends for not being able to man up and just do it, and finally took the easy way out by doing it over the phone. Things with Hipster Boyfriend had gotten progressively worse during the school year, but things really deteriorated that summer… thanks mostly in part to me spending a lot of time with my friend James, whom I had a big fat crush on. Whenever I spent time with James, I couldn’t help but think about how much better life would be if HE was my boyfriend. James was happy-go-lucky, and he’d never cry in a car on my birthday and guilt me into buying my own birthday dinner. (But that’s a story for another time.)

Obviously, things worked out – James my college crush is now James my husband – but breaking up with someone SUCKS, especially when you’re gutless weenie like me.

Life was looking up as August 2007 began: I had started dating James the week before, and I had spent the summer working at the county courthouse – a job that would prove to look fantastic on my resume and open the door for future employment.

But even though I had a great summer job and I’d rid myself of hyper-emotional Hipster Boyfriend, I hadn’t done it in the best way, so I was feeling kind of slimy. What would be a great way to get me out of my funk? A trip to Minneapolis, of course. (Side note: to this day, a road trip is a sure way to rid me of said funk.)

Months ago, I had been looking at schedules for plays in Minneapolis, and – joy of joys – Spamalot would be in town at the beginning of August. For those of you who are unfamiliar, Spamalot is the musical version of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I had wanted to see it ever since I heard of its existence, and THIS WAS MY CHANCE. It’s no fun to go to these things by yourself, so I recruited a friend of mine to go with me. (Said friend was thrilled.) I shelled out $200 for two tickets, which was (and now that I think about it, still is… to me, anyway) a gut-wrenching amount of money for play tickets. But this was my chance to see Spamalot, and the $200 (well, $100, for my friend was sure to pay me back… right?) would be a small price to pay for a great experience.

The play was scheduled for Saturday, August 4. My friend and I would drive up that day, see the play, stay with a college friend of mine, and come back Sunday night. Short and sweet.

A few days beforehand, something awful happened: the 35W bridge collapsed. It was tragic and horrible, and even though I hadn’t lived in Minneapolis by that point, it already felt like a second home – and it hit too close.

So what were we to do? The bridge collapsed on Wednesday – do we still go to our play on Saturday? I am terrible with directions, but I was aware of Minneapolis’ layout enough to know that we didn’t need to go anywhere near the 35W bridge in order to get where we were going. However, my friend no longer wanted to go, and on short notice on a Saturday in the summer, I could find no one else to go out of town with me. I was stuck with $200 in useless Spamalot tickets.

(You’ll be happy to know that these tickets actually did NOT go to waste! At the time, I had cousins living in Minneapolis, and they loved theatre. One quick fax – yes, fax – and my tickets were now their tickets, and they had a great time.)

Suddenly, my weekend schedule was wide open. I called a few of my friends, but they were a.) busy, or b.) were free, but flaked out on me that morning. I was feeling more than a little abandoned.

My parents, along with their good friends Don and Carol, had gone to the summertime outdoor concert at the Redlin Art Center in Watertown. While they were en route, they called me to see what my plans were – when to expect me home and all that. I moodily explained to them that my social calendar had taken a turn for the sucky. They said, “Well, come to the concert! It’s a beautiful night. Just grab one of the fold-up chairs from the basement so you’ll have a place to sit.”

Though I was awfully crabby, this was my best chance to save the evening. To the concert I would go. The fold-up chairs my parents were referring to were the fabric ones that fold up into a long skinny bag, and I grabbed the first skinny chair bag that I saw.

Once I got to the Redlin Center, I was dismayed to find that the nearest parking was – no kidding – A MILE AWAY. I parked in the middle of a field, slung my chair bag over my shoulder, and hoofed it to the Redlin Center lawn. (Thinking that my walk would not have been so long, I had worn less-than-sensible shoes.)

I found my parents, siblings, and Don and Carol in the middle of the lawn. By the time I finally arrived, I was tired and dirty, and my legs were scraped up from the weeds I’d tramped through on my way across the field. My audience listened with sympathy as I told them about my crappy day, and as I wove my tale of woe, I unzipped my chair bag… only to find a folded up scooter inside.


That was the straw that broke the shitty day camel’s back, and I snapped. I was defeated. I slammed the scooter on the ground and wailed, “I WANT TO GO HOME!”

Mom, Dad, Darrah, Mitch, Don, and Carol broke into uncontrollable laughter. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that they had tears running down their faces.

It has been six and a half years since the Scooter Incident, and Don and Carol still talk about it. – especially when we’re at the lake and there are fold-up cloth chairs about. (They even gave me a fold-up chair of my very own.) And to this day, I still feel a twinge of rage whenever I see one of those scooters.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

the time I was Satan.

Once upon a time, I was Satan.

(I’ll let that sink in for a moment.)

Allow me to explain. The year was 2003, and Lent was upon us. I was a sophomore in high school, and (this is important) I was dork and didn’t care. I was knee-deep in activities like band, oral interp, and school plays, and I also taught Sunday School and was occasionally recruited to act out some skits (yes, skits) during church. I am not (and have never been) all that religious, but I’m a Lutheran – so when your pastor asks you be in a skit at church, you do it.

So it was March-ish, and I was in an art class with my friend Bob. Bob, a fellow Lutheran, was heavily involved in theatre, and he was involved in these church skits right along with me. At the time, Bob and I weren’t close – we had fun in class together, but we didn’t hang out. Oddly enough, this next series of events is what turned our acquaintance into a friendship that made us nearly inseparable for the rest of high school and has been going strong ever since.

(Side note: I wouldn’t have been able to tell this story without the oddly detailed emails that I sent my friend Sue in Connecticut – and managed to compile into a Word document more than ten years ago. Thank you, fifteen-year-old-self, for hoarding all these emails, and thank you, Sue, for being patient enough to read them.)

Anyway, one day in art class, Bob said, “The pastor asked me to be Jesus for Lent.” After a quizzical look, he explained that our pastor had a script with a skit for each Wednesday in Lent. Each skit featured Jesus and Satan, and the subject for each skit was a temptation of Jesus. Bob said that while the part of Jesus was filled, the pastor was still on the hunt for Satan.

When I came home after school that day, I had a message from the pastor – he wanted me to be Satan. (It’s not every day that a pastor calls you up and asks you if you’d like to be Satan.) I called him back accepted the part, choosing not to ask him why I was his first choice for Satan. (Don’t ask if you don’t want to know.)

I hung up the phone and yelled, “I’m Satan!” Dad, not missing a beat, said, “How fitting.”

That was only the first of many such comments.

The skits were lengthy, so no memorization was required. Bob and I each had little binders that we’d read from – as we were seasoned oral interp veterans, this would be a piece of cake. We’d perform one skit at each Wednesday night Lenten service, and one final skit on Easter Sunday.

The Lenten services were held in the chapel of our church – it was a much smaller space, and since so few people actually came to the Wednesday night services, it would’ve looked simply pathetic to put them in the large sanctuary. Bob and I stood at the front of the church for each skit, and – for reasons that escape me – we stood on chairs each time.

The chairs proved to be dangerous, especially for someone like me who has no balance and can have trouble staying upright while standing on both feet on the ground. There was more than one occasion when I was not paying as much attention as I should have, and I almost walked right off the edge of the chair. Smooth, Satan. Smooth.

The scripts were magnificently cheesy (actual line: “this is only the beginning… the second round is about to begin”), but Bob and I really got into it. I started wearing red devil horns and dressing in black, and Bob in turn dressed in white. Even though Wednesday night crowd was sparse at best, they were still our adoring public. We were always met with a slew of positive comments – one of my favorites being from a man who told me I take after my mother. (Mom didn’t love the Satan comparison, but the rest of us did.) Dad, of course, always did a good job of telling me that I was truly meant for the part.

Our grand finale was on Easter Sunday. Our church has a sunrise service at 7am and a regular service at 930, and we were slated to perform for both of them. The Easter skit consisted of me/Satan ranting and raving while Bob/Jesus stood by the church’s giant Easter cross looking sad. Now, I’m no actor, but my vague recollection of those performances is that they went well. I believe the pastor even said, “May you never play Satan that well!”

When I got home from church that day, there was devil’s food cake waiting.
Could it be... SATAN?!