Sunday, March 19, 2017

the cousin trip.

One year ago, I was in Boston with my cousins.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

I am fortunate to have some truly great cousins. I have great cousins on both sides, but this story is about the great cousins on my dad’s side: Monica, Melissa, and Taylor.

The cousins in question are all approximately the same age as me, so even though our families lived quite a ways apart, we more or less grew up together. When any/all of them would come to visit, I would be filled with a joy tantamount to Christmas. Nothing was better than cousin visits.

Of course, as we all grew older, the visits became more scarce. We went to college/joined the military/got jobs/traveled/moved away/did all the other things one does as one grows up.

But whenever we did get the chance to get together, it was just as wonderful as it always was: the only difference being that all had driver’s licenses and could legally buy beer.

All six of us (the three cousins, my brother and sister, and me) were together for my wedding in summer 2013, but with it being my wedding and all, there was precious little time to hang out. We all got to spend some quality time together at the big Bjorklund reunion of June 2015, in which our grandma Sheila rented a resort for us for a four-day weekend.

I’m not sure how that all came to pass, but however it happened, it was genius. This place was enormous: it had tons of rooms (a few smaller rooms for the parents and younger cousins, plus one enormous room for the older cousins), as well as an industrial kitchen, a huge common area, and easy access to Lake Poinsett. It was perfect.

For most of the weekend, this reunion was just Grandma Sheila, her five kids and their spouses, and their kids. There was one afternoon in which the extended family filled the common room (cousins of our grandpa’s, etc), but that was just a few hours. The bulk of the weekend was just my aunts, uncles, and cousins hanging out. It was awesome.

During this Bjorklund-palooza weekend, my cousin Taylor put forth a truly brilliant suggestion: why don’t we have an adult cousin reunion? It was great to see everyone, indeed, but the six adult cousins had so much fun – why not do something together?

(Let us reflect for just a moment on how awesome it is that there are six of us that enjoy each other’s company enough to hang out outside of grandma-organized family reunions.)

YES! We all agreed: a cousin reunion would be THE BEST.

Fast forward a few months: it was late 2015, winter to be sure, and my brother Mitch sent out a group Facebook message: wouldn’t it be great to have our first cousin reunion in Boston over St Patrick’s Day?

We responded: yes, it would! We should totally do that!

And for a while, that was that.


Our cousin Taylor said, “I bought my ticket!”


It took a few months of mad Facebook messaging, Airbnb searching, and some minor (ok, major) scheduling miracles, but somehow, all six of us were in Boston on March 17, 2016.

Everything worked out pretty much the best that we possibly could’ve hoped for. Our Airbnb was awesome – we had an entire apartment (two stories!) in Charlestown. This was my first ever experience with Airbnb, and I am ashamed to admit that I dragged my feet a little. Taylor, an experienced Airbnb-er all over the world (literally), assured me that it was the best. He was SO right.

(This trip was also my first experience with Uber, which is also the best. I learned so much about the sharing economy in just a few short days.)

St Patrick’s Day in Boston was rowdy, as one might expect – we went into a couple of downtown bars, smushed shoulder-to-shoulder, had the requisite Guinness, and confirmed that we were all too old (in between shouting “WHAT?!” at each other). Thanks to the miracle that is the smartphone, Taylor and I did some quick Googling and found that there was a bar in Charlestown – not too far from our Airbnb. We Uber-ed our way there to find a teensy bar called Old Sully’s. Taylor recognized it immediately from a movie called The Town. We were in the presence of greatness.

Old Sully’s, believe it or not, ended up being the highlight of the trip. We crossed paths with a handful of locals there, and they were the friendliest people you could ever hope to meet. Their accents were TEXTBOOK, and they absolutely loved that we were cousins all traveling together. They were the sweetest, most foul-mouthed people I’ve ever met in my life, and they all invited us to stay with them next time we came to Boston. We stayed at Old Sully’s for a couple of hours, dying of laughter and enjoying the company of our new Boston friends.

The rest of trip was chock-full of Boston sights and sounds. We walked the Freedom Trail, climbed the Bunker Hill monument, had pastries at Mike’s Pastry (it’s a thing), did a Sam Adams brewery tour, checked out the Boston Public Library (guess whose idea that was), explored Faneuil Hall, ate in Little Italy, toured the USS Constitution, and took a ferry ride around Boston Harbor. The only time our interests diverged was when Taylor, Mitch, and Melissa went to a hockey game, and Monica, Darrah, and I finished the Freedom Trail, were nearly kidnapped by an Uber driver, and ate dinner at the oldest bar in Massachusetts (the Warren Tavern). On our last night, we had drinks on a balcony overlooking the bay and later dined on seafood fresh out of the same bay.

And we did all of this in only two-and-a-half days.

I can only speak for myself, but I cannot wait for the next cousin trip. Having that time together in Boston was better than we could've ever imagined. Not only did we have a great time exploring a new city, but we had a great time together. We had never had the opportunity for so much uninterrupted cousin time before, and it was truly a smashing success.

Seriously: how lucky am I that some of my favorite people on this earth are my family?

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

ten ABBA songs.

I came to a realization a few days ago.

I like ABBA.

I mean, I REALLY like ABBA.

How could I have made it through almost thirty years of my life without knowing that I liked ABBA?

ABBA never really entered into my consciousness until March 2008. Up until that point, the only ABBA songs I’d ever encountered were “Dancing Queen” (because if you know one ABBA song, it’s that one) and, for some reason, “Fernando.”

In March 2008, I was but a wee 20-year-old, and I was in Las Vegas with my parents for spring break. Mom, her friend Mary-Ann, my sister, and I went to a performance of Mamma Mia at Mandalay Bay. The only thing I knew about Mamma Mia is that it was a musical comprised of solely ABBA songs – and as you’ll recall, I only actually knew two ABBA songs. Off we went to what would be my first Las Vegas show (I say that like I have a long history of Las Vegas shows… in fact, it was my first of two total Las Vegas shows).

And you know what?

It was spectacular.

As a young Midwesterner, I had never seen that kind of production before. I’d been to plenty of community theatre performances, even more SDSU theatre/Prairie Repertory summer shows, and a handful of professional theatre at the Washington Pavilion. But nothing compared to what I saw in Las Vegas that day – and why would they, because this is Las Vegas we’re talking about. The costumes were elaborate, the singing was spot-on, and the choreography! I will never forget the feeling of pure awe I felt when the dancers can-canned in wearing flippers and singing “Lay All Your Love on Me.”

And the songs! I finally learned just what I had been missing, and I was smitten with ABBA. I spent the following weeks listening to ABBA on repeat on my trusty iPod video. (remember those? with the scrolly wheel?)

And then?

The movie came out.

Mamma Mia (the movie) was released in summer 2008, mere months after I had seen the show in Las Vegas. Mom and I, still riding the high from the Las Vegas performance, went to see the movie. Our expectations were probably unfairly high, with the memory of the Vegas show still fresh in our minds – but I think we can all agree that the movie was pretty terrible. And let’s be honest, the plot of Mamma Mia is pretty weak to begin with: after all, it was written around ABBA’s catalog. If you’re not familiar with the plot, it goes thusly: a young woman is getting married, and she doesn’t know who her father is. She sends wedding invitations to the three men she think could be her father. Chaos ensues. Happy endings are received.

But we all forgive the tenuous story because of the songs. The songs are outstanding – except when they’re sung by Pierce Brosnan, because YIKES.

After Mamma Mia (the movie), my nonstop ABBA listening kick continued for a few months, and then tapered off. But last week, Mom, her friend Carol, and I saw Mamma Mia at the Washington Pavilion. It was delightful! We sat in the second row, and the costumes, singing, and dancing brought me right back to Las Vegas. (This show even had the can-canning flipper guys.)

And my love affair with ABBA has resumed.

But this time, it’s different. When I saw Mamma Mia for the first time, all I knew was that I liked the songs. I didn’t need to know any more than that. This time, now that I’m older and wiser, I’ve given it more thought… and I realized that my love for ABBA is an anomaly.

There are precious few musicians that I love enough to write a whole blog post about, let alone choose ten of their songs to present. There are plenty of musicians that I love, yes, but very few of them pass the ten-song test. For example: I love Prince, but are there ten of his songs that I love enough to expound upon them in this blog? No. So far, the only musicians/bands that have made the cut are Simon and Garfunkel, David Bowie, and the Clash.


One of these things is not like the other.

As a rule, I tend not to like bands who only sing about love. While I most certainly appreciate a good love song, I prefer my songs to have some substance. Simon and Garfunkel, David Bowie, and the Clash have substance for days.

ABBA? Not so much.

I’ve been listening to ABBA a lot in the past few days, and I have to say: the lyrics are terrible. TERRIBLE. Most of the lyrics are there just for the sake of rhyming, and almost all of the songs are about nothing but love. And normally, this drives me crazy. But there’s something about ABBA that makes it ok.

ABBA’s songs are some of the catchiest damn things to come out of the radio. Seriously: I dare you to listen to any one of them and not have it stuck in your head for days. These are the songs that you can’t help but dance to, even if it’s just you in your car on the way to work. (Guilty.) They make you sing at the top of your lungs, and they make you feel like a Swedish rock star. ABBA makes you feel amazing.

And that is why they are one of my favorite bands. I used to be ashamed, but no more. Here it is, for the world to see: I love ABBA.

As promised, I have ten of my favorite ABBA songs for you today. However, as they are all pretty much nothing but super catchy pop-tactular fluff, I don’t have a whole lot to say about each individual song. (But I will be giving you some fun facts courtesy of Wikipedia!) Either way, you’d better have your ABBA greatest hits CD nearby at the end, because I promise you that you’re going to want to listen to it on repeat.

“Chiquitita” is a Spanish term of endearment meaning “little one.” This song was featured at a UNICEF concert in 1979 – and 50% of the proceeds of the song STILL go to UNICEF.

Does Your Mother Know
This song is about an older man responding to a flirtatious younger woman – but in Mamma Mia, it becomes an older woman singing to a younger man. If you ask me, it’s much better/less creepy that way.

Knowing Me, Knowing You
“Knowing Me, Knowing You” is one of those songs that you almost have to shout-sing while making wild hand-gestures. You know what I mean.

Lay All Your Love on Me
Like I said earlier, this is the song that gave Mamma Mia a place in my heart forever, thanks to the flipper can-canning. I can’t listen to this song without picturing that, and it makes me smile every time.

Mamma Mia
“Mamma Mia,” as you probably know, is an interjection in Italian. (Look at all the culture you’re getting from ABBA!) I mostly love this song because it’s got a marimba. I can’t resist the marimba.

One of Us
This is ABBA’s last major hit, and it’s not nearly as light and fluffy as the rest of the songs on this list. (Spoiler alert: it’s because they were ALL GETTING DIVORCED FROM EACH OTHER. Awkward.)

I just learned (thanks to Wikipedia!) that this song opens in D-minor, which (as everyone knows, courtesy of This Is Spinal Tap) is the saddest of all keys. I also learned (Wikipedia!) that basically everyone loves this song, including John Lennon, Pete Townshend (of the Who), and Ray Davies (of the Kinks). Last fun Wikipedia fact: this is the only top 100 single in which the title of the song (SOS), the name of the band (ABBA), and the genre (pop) are palindromes.

Super Trouper
I’m pretty positive that this song gets stuck in my head more often and for a longer period of time than any other ABBA song. You’re welcome.

Take a Chance on Me
If I had to choose a favorite ABBA song, it would be this one. And trust me: it's hard to choose.

I really have to try and ignore the lyrics to “Waterloo” – it’s about a woman surrendering to a man’s demands (like Napoleon surrendered at Waterloo). ICK. But DAMMIT it’s so catchy. Shitty lyrics aside, it’s one of the best-selling singles of all time.


Now go and listen to ABBA and sing with all your heart. Because you are the dancing queen.

Friday, February 24, 2017

ode to the Black Hills.

I am in love with the Black Hills.

Join the club, right?

Like many a South Dakotan child, I looked forward to a trip to the Black Hills nearly every summer. The Black Hills was the ultimate family destination spot. I grew up approximately six hours from the Rapid City area, which is for sure a long way for my parents to haul three children in a Chevy Lumina (and later, a Ford Windstar).

We went to the Black Hills for a number of reasons: first and foremost, because it’s awesome. The Black Hills are FULL of activities for families. 
Three generations of Black Hills adventurers! Look at how young we are!
Just off the top of my head, I can remember going to Storybook Island, Rushmore Cave, Mount Rushmore (obviously), Reptile Gardens, and Dinosaur Park – not to mention the endless hiking, exploring, swimming, and picnicking. 
Fun fact: the first time we went to Mount Rushmore, it rained so hard that we couldn't see the faces.
My sister and I had no idea what the big deal about Mount Rushmore was.
And let's not forget all the goofy souvenir stores in Keystone, the abundance of ice cream shops, and the Old West-iness that was at once totally kitschy yet absolutely charming.

And that's just the Black Hills of my childhood! Now that I am an adult, my Black Hills activity roster has expanded. Dinosaur Park is a must for every visit, but I now aim more for the wineries and the scenery. It's MAGICAL.

The other main reason my family made a nearly-annual summer pilgrimage to the Black Hills because it was a perfect place to meet our family from Colorado. It's just over a five-hour drive from my hometown of Arlington to Rapid City, and our family from Denver and Colorado Springs could make the journey in six or seven hours. Not exactly halfway, but pretty close: and let's be honest, there's really nowhere else to meet and hang out in between Arlington and Denver.
Hanging out with said cousins in Deadwood circa the late 90s.

When I was a kid, I didn't appreciate the majesty of the Black Hills. All I really knew was that going to the Black Hills meant I'd get to hang out with my uncle, aunt, and various cousins, so that meant that I liked it there. I thought the drive was SO LONG, though surely not as long as my parents thought it was.

Every time we'd go to the Black Hills, we'd stop at Wall Drug. Wall Drug meant you were almost there, but you HAD to stop for free ice water and to see the animatronic dinosaur. 
Wall Drug is nothing more than a giant set of souvenir shops lining the streets of one tiny town, but somehow, it's the major tourist attraction that we all know. I spent many a hard-earned allowance dollar at Wall Drug: most notably on a wooden duck on wheels at the end of a long wooden stick when I was twelve. You push the duck around, and its rubber flippers flap, and our cat is terrified of it.

Even with all the majesty of Wall Drug, it took until adulthood to truly appreciate the Black Hills and all it had to offer. Specifically: a trip there with my then-boyfriend James in summer 2012. James, a Minnesotan, had never really spent time in the great South Dakotan west: he had been near Mount Rushmore for some kind of jazz band function in college, and he and I had driven quickly through on our way home from Denver in summer 2009. James had never TRULY experienced the majesty of the Black Hills, and I – swelling with South Dakota pride – made it my mission to show him just what he’d been missing all these years.

At that point, we’d been dating for almost five years, and this was to be our first real adult vacation together. Sure, we’d gone to New Orleans together in college, and we’d had countless weekends in Minneapolis… and the time we spent about twelve hours in Colorado before we drove back from my unpaid Denver internship summer was kind of a vacation, but not really. This time would be different. This time, we were driving out together, staying in a hotel, and planning activities: LIKE REAL ADULTS.

And guess what happened on that trip? James proposed to me in Dinosaur Park.

The rest of the trip was mostly a blur, but I do remember getting to pet a teeny alligator at Reptile Gardens and have some truly fabulous ice cream at a tiny place near our downtown hotel. Successful vacation for sure.

James and I went back to the Black Hills for our first anniversary – after all, Dinosaur Park will forever be a special spot. 
That vacation was AMAZING – we had taken more adult vacations in the two years since, and we had figured out our vacation style. On our 2014 trip, we were fortunate enough to have my parents’ Mustang (!!!), which was a vacation in itself. James and I found our current favorite bagel shop, we explored Badlands National Park (in 105 degree heat), we hung out at the teeniest cutest Norwegian church, we cruised around the Keystone area and went swimming at a lake that we stumbled across, we had wine at Prairie Berry, we went on a zipline… and that’s how we vacation.

James’s and my last voyage to the Black Hills area was in summer 2015. We drove through on our way to and from Colorado, and every visit to the Black Hills warrants a stop at Dinosaur Park. (Obviously.) 
We had precious little time in Rapid City, so all we really got to do was kayak on Canyon Lake. But that was beautiful, and that was enough.

In October 2016, Mom and I went to the Black Hills to do the Crazy Horse Volksmarch: a six-mile roundtrip hike up and down Crazy Horse. The Volksmarch was in early October, and we had the most beautiful weather. That weekend with Mom was a blast – I did so many Black Hills things that I hadn’t done before, and I love the Black Hills all the more for it. That October trip with Mom was truly a transformative visit for me: we stayed in Deadwood, and I played slot machines for the first time in my life! (It didn’t go well.) We had coffee and bagels at a converted gas station/garage. We had weird ice cream in Spearfish. We drove through Spearfish Canyon to see the colors, and we rode with the top down on the Mustang. We took scenic route after scenic route, and my jaw was dropped from start to finish.

And the Volksmarch! It was a tough hike (up a mountain, after all), and the temperature flirted with 80 degrees. But the view from the top?

Ever since that trip, I can’t stop thinking about the Black Hills. Much like my newfound love for northern Minnesota, my love for the Black Hills is strong and won’t let me be. The Black Hills has so much to offer – though vastly different from northern Minnesota, they both have the rugged wild beauty that I love so much. There is nothing quite like the Badlands, and I could go there every day for the rest of my life and not get tired of the view. I love the history, and I love the stories. I love that it’s still part of my home state, but it feels like a whole world away.

Dear Black Hills: I’ll see you again soon.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

on this day in 2005: excerpts from a journal, February edition - volume II

(yes, volume II. we have made it through a whole year of journal excerpts. and... we're going through again! there's just too much delightfully ridiculous stuff left to share.)

21 February 2005

Happy President's Day - I love a day off.

Anyway, we had to usher in church yesterday. It was snowing, and Bob walked in wearing flip-flops; of course, my parents mocked him. 

Bob was so excited about taking my band senior pictures. He came at 345, and he brought two little boxes of popcorn and some sugar cookies ("I ate two on the way here, but these are for your family"). For pictures, I wore my blue button-down pink-striped shirt, and Bob took a couple of pictures upstairs and a couple in the office. One of them was a close-up, and Bob said, "This could be a magazine photo... you look like Madonna!"
(editor's note: Madonna? really?)

Bob decided he wanted some different outfits for me. He looked through my closet and put together my pink hooded shirt with my pink fuzzy hooded sweater, and my green AE shirt with my green Hollister shirt. (editor's note: remember Hollister? ugh.) He found my old prom dresses and thought I should put one on, but I declined. 

Bob came to my house wearing shorts, sandals, a t-shirt, a sweatshirt, and a bandanna. And he wanted to take pictures outside! Our first stop was the tree near the deck. My parents saw us taking pictures, and they opened the door and said, "Most people don't document their stupidity!"

While we were taking pictures, Tiff and Teresa drove up. They just laughed at us and went inside. Bob showed them all of the pictures, and everyone liked the Madonna picture best. 

Then, we decided it was time to watch This Is Spinal Tap. We made two bags of popcorn and started up the movie. Everyone really enjoyed the movie (especially the cucumber part), and Dad baked the pizza for us. 

Before we ate, we looked at the pictures on my parents' wall, and Bob told me that I look exactly like my mother when I wear my glasses.

As we ate our pizza, Meagan came. We sat at the dining room table, and Tiff asked me where my normal seat was. Bob rattled them all off: "Calla is in Brenda's seat, Meagan's in Mitch's seat, I'm in Tim's seat, Teresa's in Calla's seat, and Tiff's in Darrah's seat. And this is my seat," he said, pointing at the foot of the table.

When we were done eating, we settled in the basement to watch Mean Girls. Sarah and Dez came shortly afterward, and everyone enjoyed the movie.

We all went upstairs for ice cream, and Sarah and Dez left. After our ice cream, we decided to play Blurt. I won Blurt, but it was hard work. The game was a lot of fun, though. At one time, the clue was "a hard, round, rubber disc," and someone said "dildo."

Today has been a relaxing, lazy day. I went into town at 630 to stuff envelopes for the NHS. I had my glasses on, and Bob, Tiff, and Meagan told me that I looked like my mom. 

Current music: "Separate Ways" by Journey

Thursday, January 26, 2017

on this day in 2005: excerpts from a journal, January edition.

26 January 2005

On Saturday the 22nd, I got my blood donor card: B+. Awesome. And the Red Cross makes you feel like the best person on the world. Also, Bob called to say that he'd hit a mailbox on he way back from working at the concession stand.

In advanced biology on Monday, Mr Stoller had us each find a partner and look for the tear ducts in each others' eyes. Bob and I couldn't find them (even though Bob kept poking my eyes). Then, Mr Stoller started talking about bumps on bones, and Bob said, "Like that mountain on Calla's nose!" Bob asked me to come a bit earlier before the play (editor's note: this is a one-act musical about high school that Bob, Allison, and I wrote... WE TOTALLY WROTE HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL BEFORE HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL) because he wanted to cut my bangs.

When I got home, I got a letter of acceptance from Gustavus: go me. My official UMM letter came, too, along with a scholarship. I love UMM.

I arrived at the school just a couple of minutes late. Bob came at 445, saying that he had forgotten all of his costume. After we hauled chairs, we went in the dressing room so Bob could cut my hair. His scissors didn't work very well, and he kept making the worst faces. When we came out of the dressing room, Mrs Parry said, "Did you let him cut your bangs?!"

The play itself went well, and when I got home, my parents told me how much they loved the play ("I could've sat through another performance immediately!" said Dad). And - they gave me a cell phone! I'm so pumped! It's so small and cute and I love it very much!

I found out that Dad is licensed to drive race cars in California. Mom, at one time, said, "I'm so underappreciated," and Dad responded with, "Ahh, who cares." My family is fun.

Today was the one-act play competition in Madison. We watched Howard and Chester and then put on our costumes and makeup. We were back in time to watch Tri-Valley, and their play was hilarious. It was a play within a play within a play, etc. Then it was our turn. The play itself went fine; unfortunately, we couldn't pull the curtain for transitions, so that was rough. Otherwise, we were ok. In the critique room, the first thing the judges asked was, "Where's Calla?" I was the only listed author, so I said that Bob, Allison, and I wrote it together. The judges congratulated us on such a project. They liked Bob's voice, and the last judge asked about "the girl who was excited about the dissections." 

Lunchtime: I went to SubWay, and it was pandemonium. I got my sub, and in all the confusion, I forgot to pay! I just walked to the table and set my food down. The cashier came and said, "Ma'am, you have to pay for that." I'm such an idiot.

Back at the school, we missed the Salem play, but got back in time for Madison's. Madison and Tri-Valley went to state, with Howard as the alternate. We were all pretty disappointed.

Current music: I have my cell phone ring ("Backtalk") stuck in my head

Monday, January 2, 2017

Bjorklundosophy, volume III.

My family is a wordy bunch.

But of course you knew that.

It has become an annual Christmas tradition for me to compile my family's oft-said phrases into a book, dubbed Bjorklundosophy

We are up to the third volume of Bjorklundosophy, which made its debut at Christmas 2016. If you feel like brushing up on your Bjorklundosophy, read volume I and volume II!

And here it is, in all its Bjorklund-y glory. Prepare to be educated!


Don’t ask if you don’t want to know.
On the whole, the Bjorklunds are an honest people – if you ask them a question, you will most likely get a candid response. After you receive said candid response, you may not appreciate such honesty. Should this be the case, a Bjorklund will simply state, “Don’t ask if you don’t want to know.” You may recall from earlier editions of Bjorklundosophy that another such phrase exists in their lexicon: “do you really want to know?” The difference between the two is slight but of utmost importance. “Do you really want to know” is a question you ask before you deliver an answer, and “don’t ask if you don’t want to know” reminds you that you asked and therefore must deal with the truthful reply.

Bjorklunds are a punny folk, and they want you to know when they’ve been clever. (Or, what they perceive as clever.) If a Bjorklund interjects a pun into an everyday conversation, they will pause, say – “Ha!” – and continue. The “ha” is a signal to you that they are witty, and they are going to make sure you know it.

I’m self-employed, not unemployed.
The self-employed Bjorklund in question is none other than Tim, the faaaaather. As Tim has been a farmer for all of his adult life, self-employment is nothing new to him. However, it still hasn’t quite sunk in with some of his family members. Tim tends to be the go-to guy for such errands as helping people move and giving rides to the airport. Not that Tim minds, but the general attitude tends to be, “Call Tim! He’s not doing anything!” Tim then feels as though he must remind said relatives that he is self-employed, not unemployed. To them, it’s the same thing.

Don’t tell your grandma.
This Bjorklundism originated years ago when an antique love seat of Grandma Lorraine’s was being transported from her place to the Bjorklund homestead. It was strapped in the back of the pickup when, somehow, it flew out and went skidding across the highway. Unlike most people, whose first words would be “OH SHIT,” the sentence that came immediately from Brenda were, “Don’t tell your grandma.” The three Bjorklund kids, knowing when Brenda was life-or-death serious, sure didn’t tell their grandma. Brenda did eventually tell Lorraine what had happened, long after the scrapes and dings on the love seat had been repaired. The best part? Lorraine was unable to find the damage on her own, but when Brenda pointed it out, she clucked in disapproval. And THAT is why you don’t tell your grandma.

Shame on me.
Midwesterners are, on the whole, a kind folk. However, they have their moments. Whenever a Midwesterner talks shit about someone, they tend to either precede or conclude their shit-talking with the statement, “Bless her/his heart.” In a Midwesterner’s eyes, this gets them off the hook for whatever mean thing they said because a blessing was invoked upon the gossipeeBjorklunds are not in the business of blessing hearts, but they do have an equivalent statement: shame on me. “Shame on me” is more honest than “bless her/his heart,” as Bjorklunds are up front about saying something unkind. “Shame on me” typically follows the less-than-flattering statement. Example: “I hope that idiot (insert name of person) gets hit by a truck. Shame on me.” (It is important to note that, while the Bjorklunds say these words, they don’t actually feel shame. I bet you already knew that.)

It could be worse/there’s your silver lining.
Like all families, the Bjorklunds are an interesting mix of optimists and pessimists, with a few realists thrown in for good measure. Tim is one of the optimists, and his years in farming combined with his years knee-deep in the politics of small-town living have somehow left his optimism mostly intact. Tim strove to teach his children (who try to be optimists, but have a strong genetic disposition to pessimism) to keep things in perspective. Not a purveyor of greeting-card optimism (you won’t catch Bjorklunds telling you that the glass is half full), Tim taught his children to remember simply this: it could be worse. Example: “My car was stolen and my house is on fire, but it could be worse… I could NOT be a Bjorklund.” The other optimistic phrase that Bjorklunds keep in their back pockets is “there’s your silver lining.” Bjorklunds don’t waste their breath on empty sentiments, so you won’t hear them saying “every cloud has a silver lining” in a time of crisis. Instead, they will find the silver lining immediately. Example: “I broke my leg going corn-jumping yesterday, but at least I don’t have to go to work today. There’s your silver lining.”

It’s later than you think.
These words of wisdom were passed onto Tim by his grandmother when he was just a young whippersnapper. His grandmother reminded him that, though the young think they’re going to live forever, you don’t have as much time left as you may think you do: Bjorklundese for carpe diem. As all the Bjorklunds age, this sentiment becomes more and more accurate. None of the Bjorklunds feel their age, and it’s quite easy to forget that they aren’t getting any younger. But then they are reminded by a birthday or (gulp) an obituary that they’re not as young as they think they are… hence, it’s later than you think. No pressure or anything.

Ho hum.
There are two kinds of people in this world: quiet yawners and loud yawners. Tim and Brenda fall in the latter category. And the funny thing is? They both loud-yawn using the same noise… and that noise is “ho hum.” The basic execution of the Tim/Brenda “ho hum” is the same: the “ho” is said right after the inhale, and the “hum” is part of the grand exhale. However, the fine points of the “ho hum” vary slightly between Tim and Brenda. Tim will say “ho,” make a few short exhale hissing noises, and end with a mighty “hum.” Brenda, on the other hand, will drag out her “ho” into two beats and go right into the exhaled “hum.” None of their children have yet displayed any signs of the “ho hum” gene, but there’s no telling when it might manifest. This is why genetic counseling is important, folks.

Like herding cats.
Brenda uses this phrase almost exclusively in reference to Tim. As anyone who has tried to herd cats knows (and really, who hasn’t?), trying to wrangle one or more cats in the same direction is damn near impossible. Trying to wrangle Tim when he’s not quite ready to go is also damn near impossible. This situation typically occurs when the Bjorklunds are in any kind of social situation (church, the grocery store, etc), and Brenda is ready to go before Tim (see: every time). Brenda will try to herd Tim out the door, but Tim will invariably find someone else he needs to chat up. Brenda will then be left waiting patiently (HA!), and she will seize her earliest opportunity to once again attempt an exit. Odds are never in Brenda’s favor, though, because there’s always someone else Tim wants to talk to. After three or four false starts, Brenda does eventually succeed in getting Tim to the car – but chances are there’s someone else at their car at that precise moment, and Tim will have something (he thinks is) amusing to say to them. The battle is not won until the car is actually on the highway. (Notice I didn’t say moving: a Bjorklund car driving through town has been known to stop, roll down the window, and talk to someone on the street or in another car.) From start to finish, the departure process likely was closing in on an hour. Like herding cats.

I’m no rookie.
As of December 2016, the five Bjorklunds have a collective 196 years of life experience. That means, believe it or not, they’ve learned a few things over the years. Whenever a Bjorklund reveals one of their many tricks of the trade, they respond to any accolades with “I’m no rookie.” A prime example of Bjorklund non-rookie-ism is the SDSU Hobo Days parade. After years of trial and error, the Bjorklunds have finally found the perfect place to view the parade: right in front of Nick’s Hamburgers in downtown Brookings. Why? So they can get a Nick’s burger to eat while they watch the parade, and so they can be at the front of the line to get another Nick’s burger after the parade. No rookies.


And there you have it: ten more Bjorklund-isms. When will we ever run out of things to say?!

Friday, December 23, 2016

2016: the year in review.

If you ask most anyone, 2016 has been a rough year.

From Orlando to Zika to Brexit to the deaths of so many icons (David Bowie, Prince, Gene Wilder, Alan Rickman, Leonard Cohen... need I go on?), 2016 has been a rough one.

And, oh yeah, the election.


So 2016 hasn't been the greatest for us as a whole.

But personally?

2016 was kind of awesome.

Before I tell you why my 2016 was pretty great, I first must explain my definition of success. To me, success doesn't mean more money or a nicer house or a fancier car. If that's how I saw success, then 2016 would be a flop, as none of those things happened for me. But you know what? That's fine. James and I have jobs we love. We have everything we need, and we even have many things we want. Sure, there were a few times this year that we surely did wish for more money (like when both of our cars needed four new tires within months of each other... that was kind of shitty). But if that's our biggest problem, then we should consider ourselves so very fortunate.

To be honest, it's taken some time for me to feel this way. I see people all around me with nice houses (double garage! more than one bathroom! porches and decks and patios!) and fancy cars (heated seats! Bluetooth!), huge diamond rings and designer handbags, and I surely am not beyond longing for those things. But I finally stopped to think about it: James and I COULD have those things. We surely could, but here's what we would have to give up:

Our adventures.

That's what we choose to spend our money on, instead of a bigger house or nicer cars. And I wouldn't trade our adventures for anything.

And that is how I have come to view success not in terms of money, but in terms of experiences. If I can sit back at the end of the year and say that I've had twelve months full of great experiences and adventures, then it's been a successful year.

Let's start at the beginning, shall we?

2016 was off to an amazing start, as we rang in the new year in Montego Bay, Jamaica. 
It was absolutely amazing: we sat outside in our tank tops and shorts, feeling the warm sea breeze and anticipating the coming year. Jamaica was a positively glorious vacation, and I can still feel the sand between my toes.

February can be brutal in the Midwest. It's still deathly cold and dark, and even though you know spring is coming, it's still just out of reach. It's also still snowy, so travel is usually out of the question. James and I did make it to the cities for Valentine's Day, and we celebrated with my parents and cousins at Gasthof's.

March was the first occurrence of what we are hoping to make a regular event: the cousin trip. 
Last year, my grandma Sheila got all her kids and almost all her grandkids together for a big reunion, and we twenty-something cousins had a really great time. The cousins discussed having a cousin reunion, and though it sounded amazing, it seemed like it might be one of those "YEAH let's do this but due to scheduling impossibilities it will likely never happen" kind of things. But it HAPPENED. All six of us met in Boston for St Patrick's Day, and we had a blast. We hung out in this ridiculous bar in Charlestown, we walked the Freedom Trail, we rode the Harbor Ferry, and we got to spend some real quality time together. It was too wonderful to adequately describe. March was also the month that two of my photographs were published in a book - so that was pretty cool. :)

April was a great month. My birthday is in April, and since I am a child, I take the day off from work each year – because who wants to work on their birthday? James and I traveled to Omaha to see Mumford and Sons in concert, which was just as fantastic as one would think. 
Also in April, I was invited to speak at UMM, my alma mater – a huge honor. I talked to current and graduation art history majors about my experiences after college: from interning to an actual paying job. 
At the end of April, James and I went with Mom and Dad to Kansas City to see the Twins play the Royals. This has turned into a new tradition, which I am SO into. I love Kansas City, and that first baseball game of the season is a harbinger of summer and good things to come.

To me, May has always been a month of hope. The snow is DONE (though there have been a few years when we’ve had snow in May, but I’m going to pretend that didn’t happen), and things are warming up. It’s safe to ditch your winter coat, and it’s time to start digging out your sandals. May is when we truly break out of our winter cocoons and embrace the changing seasons. James gets out of school in May, and that means summer James is on the way: summer James is so happy and delightful, and he’s truly a pleasure. (Not that school year James isn’t those things, but summer James is THE BEST.) May holds the Tulip Festival in Orange City, which is another newly minted tradition. James’s band marches there every year, and Mom and I have been able to go together for the past few years. We look at the tulips and watch the parade and eat poffertjes

June marks the start of cabin season on Lake Poinsett, which is my absolute favorite. I love Lake Poinsett more than anywhere else on earth, and I wish I could spend every waking moment there. This Lake Poinsett season brought a huge revelation: sea glass. 
Or, more accurately, beach glass. Mom and I were roaming the beach in June, and she came across some beach glass (which is pieces of glass that have been tumbled around by the water – the edges have been smoothed, and the glass is typically opaque). I mentioned that I’d never found beach glass on Lake Poinsett – and that was just the beginning. From that point until the end of beach season, we combed for beach glass. I thought that I could try my hand at making some of the glass into necklaces: revelation #2. From that very first batch until now, I’ve made at least thirty necklaces from Lake Poinsett beach glass. I wear mine all the time, and it’s like having a little piece of Lake Poinsett close to my heart at all times. June was also the one and only time James and I managed to go river tubing, which a favorite summer pastime. We went to the Apple River in Wisconsin, floated on the river, and drank beer. Seriously: perfect summer activity.

People joke that James and I don’t ever stay at home in the summer, and that is the honest truth. Any spare moment we have, we’re out and going. Summer is precious to us, and we’re going to make every minute worthwhile. After all, we have all winter to sit at home. July found us spending the Fourth of July weekend in northern Minnesota. We camped in Duluth, went white water rafting on the St Louis River, and drove a ways up the North Shore to see Gooseberry Falls and Split Rock Lighthouse – my first time seeing either of those Minnesota landmarks. 
It was at this moment when I truly fell in love with the North Shore. In mid-July, we went to a Twins game in Minneapolis with our friends Mike and Ashley. James is not as into baseball as I am, and while I am no super-fan, I feel like going to a Twins game at Target Field is an integral part of the Minnesotan summer experience. 
Mid-July also holds Luverne’s annual Hot Dog Night (area businesses give away free hot dogs), which – for the fourth year running – has brought my family to Luverne. After YEARS of meaning to, James and I were finally able to visit my cousins Ethan and Sheri in Fergus Falls. They are two of the most delightful human beings you will ever meet, and we laughed until we thought we might die. July 27th was our three-year wedding anniversary, and since it was a weeknight, we celebrated by eating at La Azteca in Worthington (the best Mexican restaurant EVER – I know you don’t believe me because it’s in Minnesota,  but honestly, give it a try – you won’t be sorry) and kayaking on Lake Okabena.

August was the busiest and best month of all 2016. James and I decided early on that we’re going to celebrate our anniversary each summer by traveling to a different state/states. In 2014, we went to the Black Hills. 2015 took us to Colorado. 2016 was our most ambitious trip yet: Niagara Falls. We were gone for eight days, and we traveled through Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ontario, and New York. We spent time in Chicago, the American and Canadian sides Niagara Falls, Buffalo, Toronto, the Upper Peninsula of Michican, Mackinac Island, and Door County, Wisconsin. We stopped at all five Great Lakes. We camped in a tent every night but one (when we stayed with our friend Lisa near Toronto – we met her in Jamaica!). We ziplined alongside Niagara Falls. We rode the Maid of the Mist. We had Tim Horton’s almost every day. We hiked and explored and enjoyed nature and life. We put thousands of miles on our car and ourselves. We have never felt happier and freer. 
August was also my grandma Sheila’s 85th birthday party, which involved a shrimp boil, the Nick’s hamburger wagon, and time with some of my favorite cousins. 
August was also when we discovered the most delicious taco truck in Pipestone, so that was a big deal. At the end of August, James and I went with our friends Nate and Taylor to northern Minnesota. 
And I mean NORTHERN: we stayed at a cabin on Gunflint Lake, and the other side of the lake was Canada. I fell even more in love with northern Minnesota on this trip: we hiked Blueberry Hill and thought we were going to get eaten by bears, we actually SAW a bear (from the car), and we hiked the most gorgeous bluffs and saw the most gorgeous lakes. We saw SO many waterfalls, and we explored the most beautiful places - Tettegouche State Park, Palisade Head, Grand Marais, Sugarloaf Cove. Once again, nature astounds.

September saw James heading back to school, and that meant the start of my third year volunteering in the Ellsworth Elementary School library. 
Let me tell you: that's the best job. I get to come in twice a month and read to the kids, and they are the greatest. James turned 30 on September 20th, and thanks to the overwhelming response from family and friends, I put together a photo garland full of birthday greetings for him. James claims that being 30 is awesome. At the end of September, I got to attend my first ever library conference, and it was pretty amazing. It was in Watertown, so I stayed with my parents that evening and spent part of the beautiful September night (finally) learning how to skip rocks.

October was yet another outstanding month, thanks mostly to my love of all things Halloween. At the beginning of the month, Mom and I traveled to the Black Hills to participate in the Crazy Horse Volksmarch - a six-mile hike up to Crazy Horse and back. 
It was about 80 degrees that day, and it was a hell of a hike, but what a view at the top. We spent the rest of the weekend exploring, and I got to see Spearfish Canyon in the fall. AMAZING. James and I went to the cities for the Zombie Pub Crawl in the middle of the month, and we spent the whole next day among the beautiful fall leaves in Minneapolis. 
Then there was Hobo Days - the weather was so perfect that we were actually HOT. From there, James and I went north and visited Sica Hollow and spent the night in a camper cabin at Pickerel Lake State Park. 
Let me tell you: camper cabins are a hidden gem. They’re heated and adorable, and we had our own little spot on a hill overlooking Pickerel Lake. Lastly, Halloween: James and I dressed as zombie Prince and David Bowie (respectively) for the Sioux Falls Zombie Walk. 
On Halloween itself, James dressed as a penguin and I as Scarlett O’Hara, and we spent the evening with our friends Joe and Allison in all our costumed glory. 
James installed my very own Little Free Library in October: a long-time dream of mine. 
October also was the five-year anniversary of this blog. WHOA.

November can bite me.
(Ok, fine, November wasn’t all bad: beautiful weather, combine rides, a kickass Thanksgiving dinner, and voting for the first ever female presidential candidate were the redeeming factors. The REST of November can bite me.)

And now it’s December. The first weekend of December was the fourth annual Norwegian Christmas dinner, which is the best food I (or any of us) will have all year. Then, my entire family went to Arizona to see my sister Darrah graduate from ASU. 
It was a much-needed reprieve from the terrible winter wasteland of the Midwest, and all five of us hadn’t been together since Jamaica. Along with seeing Darrah graduate, we got to hang out with the super fun Arizona Jarvies, hike around Papago Park at sunset, and take a helicopter ride over Sedona. SO AWESOME.


So… that’s what we’ve been up to in 2016. This reads much more like a Christmas letter than I had intended, but what do you do.

You’ll notice that nearly all of my notable 2016 events involve travel. James and I love to travel. My family loves to travel. Travel is our favorite thing. However, we had plenty of good times relatively close to home, as well. We spent tons of time on the beach and Lake Poinsett, which meant tons of time laughing with our family and friends. We kayaked, went on bike rides, hiked, took a billion pictures of our cat, and went to concerts and drive-in movies. James and I had good years at work (not to brag or anything, but I was just awarded “funniest Christmas sweater” at the library, so feel free to reevaluate your career goals), and we had a good year together.

And now we're almost to a brand new year. Politically, 2017 is going to be a rough one. We know that, and we're bracing ourselves. But if my personal life in 2017 can be anything like my life in 2016, then I see some good things ahead.

Thanks for sticking with me through all of this. You guys are the best. Merry Christmas, happy Hanukkah, or whatever you celebrate - and the best possible 2017 to you.