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.

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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.)

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

new favorite thing: river tubing.

I am so excited for summer.

Yes, everyone is excited for summer. Even though it hasn’t been a particularly brutal winter (…yet…), we still have the grey days and the brownness of everything and the static electricity and the getting dark at 5 o’clock, and it’s all getting to me.

But I’m excited for this summer for different reasons than usual. Normally, I can’t wait for the bike rides, the summer shandy, the lake days, and the summer arts festival. I am still beyond thrilled for that stuff, but I have two more big reasons to be excited: river tubing and water skiing.

Indeed, my two new reasons are water-related. Last summer was the first time I’d done either of those things. Summer 2014 was full of new experiences: I went river tubing for the first time in my life, I went tent camping for the first time in my life, and I successfully waterskied for the first time in my life. I felt very accomplished.

(You’ll notice that I didn’t add “camping” to the list of things that I’m looking forward to this summer. If you remember that story, you’ll recall that it was a huge disaster. Even so, I’m tired enough of winter that tent camping in the rain almost sounds pleasant.)

I will regale you with my tales of waterskiing another time, but today, we’re talking about river tubing. River tubing is exactly what you think it is: floating down a river in a rubber inner tube.

And it is the best thing ever.

I admit, it’s a bit on the white-trashy side: you float around in black inner tubes with a cooler of beer suspended between you, and it is THE MOST IMPORTANT THING to not let that cooler get away. But honestly, I’m from South Dakota: I’m going to have to embrace my white trash roots at one time or another.

Unfortunately for me, it took me 27 years to try out river tubing. It was something that always sounded like great fun, but I never found myself with the opportunity.

The opportunity did present itself when Mom, my brother Mitch, and I went to visit our sister Darrah in Phoenix. We were going in May: when the weather is still a bit brisk for Arizonans, but hot as blazes for winter-skinned Midwesterners. I had been looking up recommended activities, and Salt River tubing was at the very top of my list. My husband James, who lived in the Phoenix area until he was six, confirmed that it was just as awesome as it sounded. I presented the idea to my fellow travelers, and happily, everyone was on board.

Before we embarked on our Arizona river adventure, we made sure that we were well-acquainted with the rules. We could rent a special tube to hold a cooler, but none of the cooler contents could be glass. No problem. We had also heard that aqua socks were very highly recommended, so we all picked up a pair at the local Walmart.

We arrived at the river in the afternoon, and it was the absolute perfect day for river tubing. It was around 90 degrees, and there was not a cloud in the sky. We rented our tubes, rigged up our cooler, and boarded a rickety old school bus that took us to our starting point.

There, you carefully launched yourself and your tube into the water, trying not to lose your friends and your cooler. As we tubed down the river, my family and I rigged up a complicated system of hands and feet to ensure that we were not separated from each other… or the cooler. You were attached to someone (or the cooler) at all times, and sure enough, we didn’t lose anybody while navigating the river. (Take that, Oregon Trail.)

Our trip down the Salt River took a little more than two hours, and it was alternately relaxing and thrilling. Since it was only May, much of the snow in the mountains had yet to melt. Therefore, the river was not as full and fast as it could be. We had our fair share of rapids, but we also got a lot of lazy river riding in, too. The rapids were awfully fun, but since the river wasn’t that full, you had to make sure you lifted your butt way up lest you be scraped by large pointy rocks. We all found this out the hard way.

Butt-scraping aside, river tubing was just fantastic. We floated along, cold beers in hand, enjoying the Arizona sun and the Arizona scenery. (I lamented the absence of my camera, as the river valley really was lovely. However, dropping my camera in the river was not high on my priority list.) The water temperature could not have been more perfect, and the company was a riot. Life was so good.
River champions.
The only downside was the other river folk. Like I said, it’s a white-trash pastime, so you’ll have to expect that in your fellow tubers. And sure enough, the Salt River was full of them that day. They were so loud and so drunk, and they came in groups of upwards of twenty. Our little non-loud, non-drunk group did our best to steer clear of these, but the groups of tubes could be as wide as the river itself. Whenever we managed to maneuver around one group, another group would be right behind. We found the silver lining, though, by turning our experience into an ugly tattoo game. (For where there are shirtless drunk bros and their drunk girlfriends in bikinis, there WILL be ugly tattoos.)

At the end of the ride, you hauled your tube and your drowned-rat self out of the river and boarded a bus back to your car. We piled on the bus, feeling rather dirty and sunburned, but very pleased about our latest adventure. But it wasn’t over yet: on the bus ride, there was a bikini-clad girl and a shirtless bro (it was a breeding ground for shirtless bros) sitting across from each other. They had never met, but the shirtless bro cracked a beer and asked the bikini girl if she wanted to do a waterfall. To our surprise, Bikini Girl said yes. I had no idea what a waterfall was, but I had a feeling that I was about to be thoroughly grossed out. I watched with great curiosity (and a healthy dose of apprehension) as Shirtless Bro stood up and poured the beer down his stomach while Bikini Girl held her mouth by his belly button and licked it up. It was quite possibly the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen.

When I got home from my Arizona vacation, I raved to James about how tubing on the Salt River was my favorite thing and we had to spend our entire summer tubing on the Minnesota rivers. James was on board, so the first step was finding a time and a place to river tube.

James claimed that camping in Lanesboro, Minnesota was the best thing ever: no bugs, beautiful scenery, bike trails… and river tubing on the Root River. I was in as soon as I heard river tubing, but I questioned my decision when James informed me that camping in a tent was a requirement. I was so excited about river tubing that I was willing to overcome that (significant) obstacle.

The weekend of our camping trip arrived – however, it had been preceded by weeks of heavy rain. Concerned about our ability to tube, James called the campsite and inquired. “Oh yeah,” they said. “No problem.” So we loaded up the car and made the three-plus hour drive to Lanesboro.

We had driven through some rain, but it tapered off by the time we reached our destination. Our first stop was the campground: to get checked in and get on the river ASAP. But when we asked where we could rent the tubes, we were told that there hadn’t been tubing on the river for weeks. WEEKS. It had been raining too much, and the river was too high and dangerous.

To say I was crushed might be an understatement. I know I should be more resilient, but I had been looking forward to river tubing ever since I’d gotten back from Arizona. And now my hopes were dashed.

The rest of our camping weekend went on to be an unmitigated disaster (read about it!). I had a tough time finding the silver lining in this black cloud of a weekend, but as it was happening, I just told myself that it would make a great story later on. And it did.
Camping is the worst.
I was bound and determined that I would go river tubing in Minnesota before the summer was out. July flew by, and our next opportunity arose in August. James and I were going to St Cloud to visit his brother Jesse, and wouldn’t you know it, you could tube on the Platte River – a little offshoot from the Mighty Mississippi. I was delighted to find this out and immediately informed James and Jesse that we were doing this. It was not optional.

James, Jesse, Jesse’s roommate Trevor, and I piled in the car and headed for the river. However, our first stop was – of course – the liquor store. I had looked up the Platte River rules beforehand, and like the Salt River, the Platte River doesn’t want you to have any glass bottles. No problem. We filled up our cooler with a twelve-pack of Grain Belt. (For our trip down the Salt River, my beverage of choice had been Coors Shandy – a delicious radler in a can. When searching for it in Minnesota, we were informed that you can’t buy it in Minnesota. Who knew?)

The Platte River setup was very similar to the Salt River: you came, you rented your tubes, and you boarded a bus that dropped you off at the river. We started out at a campground, and we did rent a special tube for our cooler. Unlike the Salt River, the Platte River’s cooler tubes were just smaller inner tubes: the Salt River had specially designed compartments that your cooler fit into. That meant we had to be especially careful that our cooler didn’t get away.

When my family and I had gone tubing on the Salt River, we saw that many of our fellow tubers had the foresight to pack snacks. Sadly, we hadn’t, so that left us drinking our Coors Shandys and eyeing their Cheetos jealously. This time, I brought my own Cheetos. I’m no dummy.

After we’d rented our tubes, the four of us hauled them (along with the cooler) to a waiting bus. The bus driver was a 90-pound leathery toothless man with the smokiest smoker’s voice you’ve ever heard, and he stopped us before we got on the bus. “Open up your cooler,” he said. We did as we were told, and he peered at the beers nestled in the ice. “What have you got in here?” he growled. “Just some beer,” we said politely. “How many beers? There’s a two-beer-per-person limit,” the bus driver rasped. We were not aware of the two-beer limit, but we answered that there were twelve beers in our cooler. “Twelve beers… four people…” our driver mumbled. “Ok, you’re good.” We looked at each other, shrugged, and hauled our cooler on the bus.

River math.

The four of us splashed down into the river, hanging onto each other and our cooler. Now, the Platte River was a lot less lazy than the Salt River… but it was also not nearly as deep. We went over several sets of shallow rapids in which we actually had to stand up and walk our tubes through lest we slice open our posteriors on the rocks. James and I were wearing aqua socks, which Jesse and Trevor totally made fun of, but both of us were 100% glad to have them.

Speaking of things we were 100% glad to have, let’s talk about the Cheetos. I had brought two bags, which we totally demolished. We offered our Cheetos to river passers-by: everyone worked up an appetite trying not to impale themselves on gigantic rocks and tree branches.

Our ride down the Platte River was a blast, and it ended by us floating back to the campground. We de-tubed in a picturesque little grove and hauled our tubes back to the tube shed. Just like the Salt River, we were all wet, dirty, and gross – but thoroughly satisfied with our day on the river.

As it tends to do, summer came to an end sooner than I wanted it to. My river tubing for the season came to a close that August… though I did manage to sneak in waterskiing on Lake Poinsett in 50 degree weather. (More on that another time.)


That, my friends, is one of the (many) reasons I’m looking forward to next summer. I had not known of the glory of river tubing until just this past May, and I need to make up for lost time. If you have never been river tubing, allow me to highly recommend it. Just don’t forget your aqua socks and your cooler.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

before it was cool: the tragus piercing.

I’m not exactly what you’d call an early adopter. I was one of the last people in junior high to ditch my tapered jeans for flares, and I got my first smartphone around the time grandmas were signing up for them.

However, every once in a great while, I’ve been known to be one step ahead. Not often, but it happens. One such occasion?

The tragus piercing.

When I was eighteen, I got a shitty tattoo. When I was nineteen, I got another one. After the second tattoo, I made the wise decision (read: was threatened by my parents) to lay off the tattoos. So I set my sights on piercings.

I should tell you right up front: we’re talking ear piercings only. I have never had any desire to pierce anything but my ears, and chances are I never will.

I first saw a tragus piercing in Minneapolis. It wasn’t anything I’d ever seen before, and it seemed very classy and big city. I was nineteen-ish, and the big piercing trend around then was the Monroe: you pierce your lip so it looks kind of like a mole. You know.

But among the sea of Monroes, I saw a tragus piercing and LOVED it. It was edgy, but delicate. Unusual, but discreet. I had to have one.

Unlike my tattoos (which were basically impulse purchases), I gave myself some time to think over the tragus piercing. I had almost passed out during my last tattoo, so I wasn’t chomping at the bit to stroll into a tattoo shop for more needle poking.

I thought about that piercing for a large part of my sophomore year of college, but I didn’t get it done until summer break. I was working at the Brookings county courthouse for the summer, and I just up and decided that was the day I’d get my piercing. On my lunch break, I drove over to the same grimy Brookings tattoo parlor where I’d gotten my discount tattoos done, and I got my first non-Claire’s piercing.

First of all, I felt like a total badass. They came at me with a gigantic needle – not the piercing guns of my Claire’s days – and I barely flinched. I had been imagining excruciating pain for so long that the real deal was barely more than a pinch.  

I loved it. My friends loved it. My brand-new boyfriend James loved it. Life with a tragus piercing was grand…

…until I started seeing them EVERYWHERE.

I enjoyed a good couple of years with my tragus piercing. Total strangers would come up to me, tell me that they loved it, and ask me if it hurt. “Nope,” I would tell them. “Didn’t hurt a bit.”

Slowly, more tragus piercings were appearing. I started to see them not just in Minneapolis, but in Morris, Sioux Falls, Brookings… and even my teeny weeny hometown. There had been a tragus explosion.

Now, everyone and their mom has a tragus piercing. It is far from special, and though mine has brought me great joy over the years, I feel like a little bit of a dumbass for having mine. And there’s really no way to let the innocent bystander know that I had my tragus piercing before they were cool.

So if I feel like such a tool, why don’t I just take my tragus piercing out and be done with it? Alas, it’s no longer that simple. I’ve had that piercing for more than seven years now, and it’s not just going to grow back. If I take the earring out, then I have a weird-looking hole in my ear, and that’s almost worse. (Surprise! Grimy tattoo parlor doesn’t do a very good job with piercings, either.)

For now, I’m stuck with a trendy piercing. I do my best to make it less obvious – the earrings I wear are very small, and if my hair is down, you’d never know it was there. It has most certainly lost the edgy appeal it once had, but I’m not quite ready to abandon it all together.

So I will just have to embrace my tragus piercing hipster-dom. I did it before it was mainstream, and according to hipster logic, that makes me superior.

Or something.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

adventures in public transit.

When I graduated college in spring 2009, I had two humanities degrees and a plan. Or, what my idealistic 22-year-old self thought was a plan. My plan was to do a series of internships in art museums and then head to grad school. I thought that I wanted to work in a museum someday, and that dream almost certainly could not be accomplished without a master’s degree – and admission to grad school almost certainly could not be accomplished without some internships on the old resume.

In the great scheme of things, I was already behind. Like many young undergrads, I had switched majors a number of times. I started off as the ultimate cliché: a psychology major. One psychology class later and I found that it wasn’t as interesting as I thought it would be. I switched to English, briefly to English education, and then back to English with an art history minor. In the second semester of my junior year, I realized that if I worked my tail off, I could promote my art history minor to a major.

If I’d had my act together and had realized earlier on that I wanted to major in art history, I could’ve been doing summer internships all along. But as it was, I didn’t figure it out until it was too late to get an internship during the summer after my junior year. Therefore, I had to do these internships in the months following my graduation: the Denver Art Museum in the summer, the New Orleans Museum of Art in the fall, and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts in the spring.

First stop: Denver.

Going in, I knew that these internships would be unpaid. “No problem!” I thought. I was staying with my aunt and uncle in Denver, so I wouldn’t have to worry about rent. As long as I could find money for food, gas, and bus fare, I’d be set. I’d just get a part-time job, which would be easy as pie. After all, I’d never had any trouble finding a job before.

I was completely wrong. The economy had taken a nose-dive, and it took me almost a month (not to mention many blows to my ego) to get a job.

Job or no job, I still had to get to my unpaid 20-hour-a-week internship at the Denver Art Museum. My aunt and uncle lived a good thirty minutes away from the museum, so I wouldn’t be able to walk or bike there. The museum was in downtown Denver, and parking there was out of the question. The museum didn’t offer any kind of parking area for interns, so if I was going to drive myself there every day, I’d have to pay something like eight dollars a day to park in a ramp. When your income is zero dollars a day, eight dollars a day just to park is an absolute travesty.

That left the bus.

I was no stranger to buses. I had ridden the school bus during my entire elementary and high school tenure. I had taken a bus trip to Chicago with the high school band. I had gone to Minneapolis with the UMM concert band on a Greyhound. Buses didn’t scare me.

However, public transportation was a whole new beast. My first stop was the local grocery store – that’s where you could buy a book of bus passes. Though I was technically no longer a student, my UMM student ID was still fresh – after all, I had graduated less than a month ago. So I went ahead and bought the student bus passes: $18 for thirty bus passes. $18 for fifteen trips into Denver – one ticket there, one ticket back. It was certainly cheaper than paying for gas and parking, but in my state of under-employment, $18 sure seemed like a lot.

There was a park-and-ride just a few minutes away from my aunt and uncle’s house, so I’d drive my Mercury Sable over the Walmart parking lot every morning to meet the bus. I was supposed to be at the museum by 9, so I’d catch the 8:15 bus, ride it downtown, take the 16th street mall streetcar, and scurry over a few blocks to the museum offices. No problem.

I rode that bus from the very beginning of June until I left Denver at the end of August. And let me tell you: the people watching was fantastic. As you might expect, I became familiar with many of the bus regulars. I got to know the morning bus driver, who was the happiest guy I think I’ve ever met. There were these two mustachioed sisters who rode right up at the front, and the warmer the weather was, the worse they smelled. My favorite bus regular was Stuck in the 90s Girl: she got on the bus shortly after I did every morning, and she looked as though she’d stepped right out of 1995. Every day, she had on a different 90s outfit: Mudd jeans, crop tops, platform sneakers, chokers, you name it. I always looked forward to seeing what 90s flashback outfit she’d be sporting.

As a regular myself, I tried to be as inconspicuous as possible. I never boarded the bus without my trusty iPod – that summer was the summer Michael Jackson died, so I spent a great deal of my bus time listening to Michael Jackson. (I’m not kidding when I say that “Man in the Mirror” was the soundtrack to my summer.)

That iPod was a lifesaver. Those little white earbuds are the international signal for “don’t talk to me,” and that’s exactly the message I wanted to send on the public bus. And 99% of the time, it worked like a charm. However, not all methods are foolproof. I was huddled in my seat one morning, listening to “The Hounds of Spring” (you mean you don’t listen to classical music on the bus?), when a middle-aged balding man plopped down next to me. I did my darndest to ignore him, but he began talking to me – conveniently disregarding my earbuds and my less-than-friendly glances. I finally caved and removed the earbuds, only to be treated to a long story about how this particular gentleman – though born in the United States – had lived in the Soviet Union for most of his life, and if I ever needed anything translated into Russian, please give him a call. I think I still have his business card.

Riding the bus was never scary: just weird. When I rode the bus home late at night after staying in the city to see RENT, I was surrounded by angry drunk people. That was the same night I found a chunk of hair at my feet.
Of course I took a picture.
I rode the bus all summer with few incidents. There was one time with the afternoon bus driver was not the regular guy, and when I handed him my student bus pass, he exploded at me. “This is a STUDENT pass! WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING???!” he screamed. Turns out that Denver student bus passes are meant for HIGH SCHOOL students. Oops.

The other bus disaster came on my very first day of work at a fireworks stand. At the end of June, I had finally gotten hired to work at a fireworks shop through the Fourth of July. I had to work at the museum that morning, so I took the bus home as per usual. I would make it back to my car in the Walmart parking lot with plenty of time to drive over to the fireworks stand. However, the bus picked that very day to break down. The driver lowered the wheelchair ramp to let somebody off the bus… but the wheelchair ramp would not go back up. I sat and watched the minutes tick by with increasing panic. I absolutely COULD NOT be late to my first day of work. I broke into a nervous sweat after fifteen minutes of no progress, and I thought I might cry when the bus driver announced that a substitute bus would be there to pick us up… in an hour.

Needless to say, I was super late for my first day, and I groveled at the feet of my new boss. Thankfully, she was all too familiar with public transit, so she cut me a considerable amount of slack.

Moving away from Denver marked the end of my public transit days. I wasn’t too sad to see them go – there were a lot of things I wouldn’t miss about it, the ripe public transit smell being the first thing that comes to mind. However, I do find myself missing the people watching as well as that nice hour or so to sit and read or listen to music.


But I don’t miss it enough to hop back on the bus.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

top ten Tuesday: clothes from Modcloth.

You may laugh when I tell you this, but I have a hard time finding clothes.

Allow me to explain.

I am pretty picky about what I wear – I spent years not giving a shit, and now I’m at the opposite end of the spectrum.

For me, shopping for clothing is an art form. I’m looking for something that’s just so: and most of the things I find in stores are not just so. A stop at my local Target will yield some basics (tank tops, cardigans, what have you), but basics do not make an interesting outfit.

That’s why most of my clothing shopping is done at thrift/consignment stores and online. Thrift and consignment stores hold all sorts of hidden treasures – but if you have something against wearing someone else’s cast-off clothing (which I clearly don’t), then this option is not for you. Online shopping can be risky – no trying on before you buy – but the options are endless. And that’s where Modcloth comes in.

Modcloth is far and above my favorite place to shop. It’s an online-only store, but their clothing is exactly what I’m looking for: vintagey shoes, whimsical prints, 50s housewife-chic skirts… they’re calling my name.

Upon initial investigation, Modcloth’s prices will seem a bit high. That’s because they ARE a bit high. Never fear, my friend. I am not one to pay full price for clothing, so all it takes is a little patience. Modcloth has flash sales every now and again, and occasionally, they’ll mark clothing down 30%... then 50%... and rarely, 70%. (Word of warning: when they mark it 70% off, it’s usually final sale. Proceed with caution.) That’s when things start to get affordable. Modcloth does a lot of 50% off sales around Christmas, and once in a while, they’ll offer a $10 off coupon. So don’t let the prices scare you: they can change in a hurry.

The first item I ever bought from Modcloth was this:

It was super-clearanced, so I took a chance and ordered it. It ended up being just what I was hoping for: a nice flowery print, a rich blue, and a cut that was a little out-of-the-ordinary.

Modcloth and I have been friends ever since.

Which brings me to the list: my top ten pieces from Modcloth. Almost all of these items were purchased on some kind of ridiculous markdown: at least 50% off, or 30% plus some sort of coupon. So here you are: welcome to my little Modcloth fashion show!

wedding dress
When I started planning my wedding, one of the first things I considered – like most brides – was my wedding dress. Between trips to David’s Bridal and Jean’s Bridal in Wilmont, SD, I tried on a great many dresses. However, the dress I ultimately ended up with belonged to my grandma Lorraine. She’d saved up her clothing rations to have it made in 1944, when she married my grandpa Harvey. In 1981, my mom wore this same dress to marry my dad. It needed a bit of work (the shoulder pads had to go), but it was a classic dress with a great story. As the dress was nearly 70 years old, as you can imagine, it was a bit on the fragile side. I wasn’t going to risk wearing it on the dance floor: just imagine the potential for disaster! So I needed a second dress for dancing. There were a few things I knew I’d look for: I wanted a dress that was knee-length to show off my custom wedding Converses, I wanted to stick with the vintage look, and I didn’t want to spend an arm and a leg. Modcloth to the rescue. I saw this dress on their website and knew it was the one for me. Twirly skirt (with pockets!), 50s-ish – done. But it wasn’t quite that easy. The dress was SOLD OUT in my size. I put myself on a waiting list, checking my email every day with the hope that I’d get that notification telling me that my size was back in. I waited. And waited. And WAITED. Until one day – the email was there! I ordered the dress immediately – and a few months later, I danced the night away in that same dress. And boy, did it twirl.

red heeled sandals
I really became a fan of Modcloth while looking for wedding stuff. I was going to wear red heels with my wedding dress, and nothing else would do. I searched for the perfect pair, and I thought this pair was it. I bought them and tried them on with my wedding dress, but they weren’t quite right. (Fun fact: the shoes I ended up wearing came from the super-clearance section of JCPenney.) While they were not right for my wedding dress, they WERE right for practically everything else in my closet. So they stayed, and they’ve become a summer work wardrobe staple.

typewriter shirt
When I buy clothes, I try not to buy too many things that I can’t wear to work. While I can’ t wear this shirt during the week – as it’s too casual for business casual – I can wear it if I work a Saturday or a Sunday. You can’t go wrong with a literary t-shirt. Modcloth has the best graphic t-shirts: besides the typewriter, another Modcloth graphic t-shirt favorite of mine is my narwhal shirt. Yes, I have a narwhal shirt. 

red damask maxi dress
I know I’ve told you in my cheap outfit blogs that I was a little slow on the uptake when it came to the maxi dress trend. But now that I’ve fully embraced it, you can’t find better maxi dresses than Modcloth. This is the first of two maxi dresses you’ll find on this list, and both of them are by a brand called Gilli. Their dresses are so soft and wonderful that you’ll wonder why you bother wearing anything else. This particular dress is one of my all-time favorites. It got TERRIBLE reviews on Modcloth, so I was a little wary – but at the time, they had free returns, so what the hell. It arrived. I loved it. End of story.

black and white damask shirt
One of my greatest clothing struggles is (and has been for a while) finding long-sleeved shirts for work. I’m not talking about solid basic long-sleeved shirts or cardigans or sweaters, but long-sleeved shirts: something that’s lighter than a sweater, but has some kind of design or interest point so that it can be worn as a stand-alone. The reason I am on the lookout for these shirts is because my office – like many others – is never the perfect temperature. It’s too hot in one place, but too cold in another. And I get so sick of layering with cardigans. Lighter-weight long-sleeved shirts are perfect, but a good one is hard to find. This is an example of a good one.

bright flowery skirt
Like long-sleeved work shirts, interesting skirts had evaded me until I found Modcloth. Skirts in stores were either too bland or too short, and the classic a-line was nowhere to be found. Modcloth is full to the brim with a-line skirts that are not only longer lengths, but often have neat designs and pockets (!!!). This one even happened to be on sale.

bike dress
Much like my wedding reception dress, acquiring this bike dress required a great deal of patience. It had been sold out for months, and I’d been on the waiting list for AGES. I’m a sucker for anything with bike print, and this dress was made out of that fantastic slippery material that manages not only to hide flaws, but never wrinkles and is super comfortable. Thrown in a cute bike pattern, and I had to have it. When the dress never seemed to be coming back to Modcloth, I expanded my search to the rest of the internet. The only other website I could find that was selling this dress was in Lithuania. But lo and behold, the bike dress did finally come back in stock, and I snagged my own. Good things come to those who wait! And wait.

chevron maxi dress
This is another maxi dress by Gilli, and like so many of my favorite Modcloth pieces, I had been on a waiting list for this dress to come back. I don’t own a lot of brown, but I love the browns and pinks in this skirt. And I’ve said this before, but it’s worth repeating: maxi dresses are the most comfortable things EVER. This one gets bonus points because of all the fun colors.

bird skirt
I’ve worn this skirt to work a few times, and I get more compliments on this skirt than anything else I wear. Once again, it’s got a great pattern and pockets (and was on sale!), so it’s everything I wanted in a skirt. Since the skirt has so many colors, it’s remarkable easy to find a shirt to match it. That, my friends, is very important in my skirt world.

coral flats
I don’t know about you, but I am so happy that coral is trendy. I have always loved this color, but until recently, you couldn’t find much in this particular shade. Now it’s everywhere, and I’m so glad. I got these shoes to add to my work shoe infantry. While I do love wearing heels, there are days when I spend a whole lot of time on my feet – and that’s where the flats come in.

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There we have it: my top ten pieces of Modcloth clothing. So if you’ve ever wondered where I get my vintagey clothes (and I’m sure that’s a question that’s kept you up at night), the answer is most likely Modcloth. Or, you know, Goodwill.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Feed Yourself Sunday.

When I was a kid, there were two things that we knew we could expect on Sundays: we would always go to church in the morning, and we would always be on our own for supper on Sunday night.


I don’t remember when Feed Yourself Sunday became a thing, but I remember being really excited. I wasn’t always thrilled with what I found at the dinner table (vegetables? come on!), so this was the one night I was completely in charge of my own dinner. I could decide not just want I wanted to eat for dinner, but WHEN I wanted to eat it! Plus, I wasn’t allowed to read at the dinner table during family dinners, but on Feed Yourself Sunday, I could read all I wanted.


I started off small: cereal for dinner, which was actually pretty awesome. I loved cereal, and it definitely appealed to my inner lazy person. I was a fairly picky eater back then, and Mom always said that her kids never would’ve survived without cereal.


It wasn’t long before I was ready to expand my culinary talents beyond the borders of cereal. Luckily for me, I had very simple tastes. The first thing I learned how to do was boil a hot dog – I even learned how to cut strips in the hot dog so when it boils, it looks like an octopus. (Octopus dogs are THE BEST.)


When I had mastered hot dogs and the art of boiling water, I transitioned to making elbow macaroni. It was a bit more complicated than the hot dogs, what with the draining and deciding just how al dente was too al dente. At first, I ate my elbow macaroni with just plain margarine (which sounds gross, but was fairly amazing). But I figured that if I could cook plain old macaroni, why not try boxed macaroni and cheese?


Sure enough, boxed Kraft was easy – and WAY more tasty than elbows and margarine. I developed my own little macaroni and cheese system and even learned a thing or two. (Pro tip? After you drain the pot, put the margarine in first, let it melt for a moment, and then put the drained pasta right back on it. The margarine melts awfully quickly that way.) I even began to tweak the recipe (which I still do to this day): instead of ¼ cup of milk like it calls for, I add 1/3. The sauce is so creamy and delicious. The downside to cooking macaroni and cheese for just myself was that I was much more likely to eat the whole box. (More on the Fat Calla Years some other time.)


Eventually, I switched my cooking vessel of choice from a pot to a frying pan. I moved on to something slightly more challenging than hot dogs and pasta: grilled cheese sandwiches. It took some practice to get my sandwich to the perfect shade of toasty brown, but I did it.


Eggs were my next step. I learned to fry them first, and after I’d mastered that, I went one step beyond and began to separate my eggs. I had never cared for the yolk (still don’t), so I would use the shells to drain the whites into the pan and throw the yolk away. I quickly learned how to not just fry, but scramble eggs – you must be SO IMPRESSED.


Obviously, everything I tried to make was pretty basic. I stayed away from food with actual ingredients… until I decided that I wanted to make omelettes. My dad made us omelettes all the time, so I asked him to teach me. I had a few train-wreck omelettes, but I eventually learned the fine art of the omelette. They were not fancy omelettes – bacon bits (from the bag, not that I’d cooked myself) or deli ham and cheese – but they were sure fancy for my standards.


You’re going to find this terribly sad, but that is about as far as my cooking skills progressed. Sure, I’d brown some hamburger meat once in a while, and I can make all sorts of delicious things that come from boxed mixes (muffins, cupcakes, waffles), but that’s where it ends.


So my cooking skills have gone virtually nowhere in the last fifteen years. (I’m pretty sure that was the last time I learned how to cook something new.) If anything, they’ve regressed: I don’t remember the last time I made an omelette. It’s not so much that I lack cooking skills; it’s that I lack the necessary interest and ambition to learn.


Besides, I totally lucked out when I married James. He loves to cook: so much that if I wander into the kitchen while he’s preparing dinner, he’ll say, “Get out of my kitchen.” Which I do. Gladly.


When James is gone, I revert back to the early days of Feed Yourself Sunday and have cereal for dinner. Sure, I could go back to making some of my old standards, but when James makes everything better than I do (which includes grilled cheese and eggs), then it’s awfully disappointing when I have to eat my own food.


But there is one thing that I can cook better than James, and that is boxed macaroni and cheese – all because of Feed Yourself Sundays. I must be so talented.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

work days with Mom.

When I was a kid, there were a few things that made me absolutely giddy with excitement: The Lion King, visits from cousins, trips to Colorado… and going to work with Mom.

Yeah, I know. How exciting could that be?

Believe me when I tell you that it was one of the most exciting things that could happen to me when I was young. Going to Mom’s office was a rare treat, and I was (hopefully) on my best behavior for fear of ever losing the privilege.

During the summer, I spent a lot of time in Brookings. I took swimming lessons there, and Mom would typically drop me off at Grandpa Harvey and Grandma Lorraine’s house before work. Grandma and Grandpa would take me to swimming lessons, and we’d spend the rest of the day doing whatever it is that my six-year-old heart desired: eating at McDonald’s, playing on the swings at Hillcrest Park, perusing the public library, and inevitably ending up at the SDSU Dairy Bar for ice cream. Summer days with Grandma and Grandpa were awesome.

However, Grandma and Grandpa did have lives. Occasionally, they would be busy and unable to watch me for the day.  Those were the days when I got to go to work with Mom.

Mom worked (and still does work) at the college in Brookings, and I felt very important when I got to stroll through the doors with her in the morning. Even in the summer, the dewy mornings had a chill to them, but I loved that fresh morning air. Mom’s coworkers were always very gracious, and no one seemed to mind when I chatted them up about the latest exciting development in my life, like the recent loss of a tooth or a new pet caterpillar.

The primary reason I loved going to work with Mom was that she gave me unrestricted access to the office supply closet. That’s right: all the highlighters I could ever want. Mom would set me up either in an empty classroom/office or in a corner of her office, and I would take my handful of highlighters and be content for hours.
A few of my early works...


Oh, those highlighters. I’ve worked in several places with office supply closets, but never have I seen a more extensive selection than that of SDSU. They had pink and green and orange and yellow and blue, and if I was really lucky, I’d find a purple one. There were fat highlighters and thin highlighters and even one that was shaped like a triangle and had a highlighter at each corner. This was highlighter heaven.

Armed with my highlighters and a roll of dot matrix paper, I would sit and draw. I primarily drew cats and flowers, but I eventually progressed to more complicated subjects, such as Disney princesses.
And many pictures of our dog Spot.
As I grew older, I was also allowed to use the permanent markers, which was great news for my color palate. Now, I not only had my highlighter pastels, but the saturated Sharpie colors as well. Life was good.

Mom, bless her heart, hung all of these drawings up in her office. One in particular that I remember features a picture of Mom wearing a superhero cape – shortly before, she had saved a fabric rose of mine from the burn pit, and for that, she was my hero. (I later found out that she was the one who put the flower there in the first place, but that was long after the superhero rendering.) 
I even drew her a state fair ribbon.
My other favorite thing to do at Mom’s office was play with the electric typewriter. As a child, I was not only a prolific artist, but an author as well. I sat on Mom’s typewriter and wove tales of mermaids and little girls and their cats. (I had a thing for cats.) I even remember attempting to make my own word finds.

Lunch time with Mom was also very thrilling for me. More often than not, we’d head to the nearby gas station and pick up individual Hot Stuff pizzas to eat in the break room. The break room was nothing out of the ordinary, but I felt like a member of the SDSU elite when I ate there with Mom.


However, all good things must end: I eventually aged out of going to work with Mom. It’s probably just as well – right as I became too old to go to work with Mom, I began my long surly phase. I’m glad Mom’s coworkers didn’t have to witness that unfortunate part of my life – luckily, they think of me as an enthusiastic young girl with a penchant for highlighter artistry. And isn’t that how we all want to be remembered?