Sunday, November 19, 2017

ten of the ten: a photographic retrospective.

One of my favorite things to write is the “ten under $35” series, in which I put together complete outfits that cost under $35. I have been doing this series for more than four years, and the series is now a ten-parter. That means ONE HUNDRED OUTFITS.

What better time for a retrospective?

I picked one favorite outfit from each post to showcase… especially in the early days, while I was totally sold on my outfits at the time, I cringed a bit looking back. My style has most certainly evolved in the last few years. Most of the clothes from 2013/2014? They’ve gone to the big Goodwill in the sky.

You’ll notice that my posting frequency has slowed over the years. I did this series THREE TIMES in 2014 and 2016… with one lonely post in 2017. It is super fun and easy to put these outfits together in my brain, but it is something else completely to put them on and rope James into taking my pictures… which is best done while it’s light/warmish out… and all that means it’s tough to get the pictures taken.

Never fear, though! I will gladly forge on with my outfit photos; they just may not be as timely as we would all like them to be. In the meantime, please enjoy my top ten outfits from ten chapters of cheap outfits!

under $40: May 2013
cardigan – Goodwill – $3.75
shoes – Nordstrom Rack – $13
jeans – Plato’s Closet – $3.80 (minus $5 coupon and $5 trade-in)
scarf – Forever 21 – $10.80
TOTAL = $31.35

This was my very first cheap outfit post. I was SO poor, you guys. I was still very much figuring out my style, which was “whatever happens to be cheap and fit me and I don’t hate it” chic.

under $30: January 2014
     jeans – Forever21 – $10.80
     poncho – Goodwill St Paul – $4.49 (half off all clothes)
     shoes – Target – $9.98
     pearl bracelets – Helzberg – FREE! 
TOTAL = $25.27

My brief foray into ponchos. I really did like that sweater poncho, but working at the library means never wearing anything too thick lest you die of heatstroke while unloading bins full of books. So long, sweater poncho.

under $35, part I: April 2014
dress – Maurices – $9.95
pearls – Etsy – $6
wedges – Target – $14.98

TOTAL = $30.93

Aha! A piece of clothing I still have! I totally love this dress – it’s just something cheap from Maurices, so it’s covered in fuzzies, but I just can’t get rid of it. I’m sure there’s a way to de-fuzz it, but I’m too lazy to figure out how.

part II: August 2014
skirt – Effie’s Heart – $16 ($10 off)
wedges – Target – $14.98
t-shirt – Old Navy – $3.97 (clearance)
magnifying glass necklace – gift!
TOTAL = $34.95

Speaking of lazy, I am not much of a skirt wearer. I don’t have a ton of skirts, and almost all of them are patterned and multicolored – which means I have to think extra hard about a plain shirt of an appropriate color to wear with them. So they mostly sit in my closet because I often do not have the mental capacity/patience to do that. But I do love my twirly pocketed skirts.

part III: January 2015
dress – Mikarose – $29.99 
     sandals – JCPenney – $3  
     necklace – gift (Botanical Garden)
TOTAL: $32.99

I still call this “the Mormon dress” because it came from a Utah-based website catering to the “modest woman.” Kind of hilarious, but exactly what I’m looking for as far as work apparel, so maybe I should shop at more Mormon stores.

part IV: April 2015
shirt – Goodwill St Paul – $2.99
skirt – Forever21 – $15.80
booties – Dollhouse – $15 ($10 off + $15 Paypal survey money)
TOTAL = $33.79

I don’t have this skirt any more (maxi skirt versus desk chair… DESK CHAIR WAS VICTORIOUS), but this was a great outfit. Sigh.

part V: February 2016
dress - Country Peddler - FREE! (was $18, used credit)
necklace - Francescas - $6.50 (buy one get one 50% off)
belt – Modcloth – FREE! (came with dress)
shoes - Modcloth - FREE! (scuffed heel)
TOTAL: $24.50

This series would be nothing – NOTHING, I TELL YOU – without Country Peddler. Most of my best stuff comes from Country Peddler.

part VI: June 2016
shirt – Maurices – $5.24 (75% off clearance price)
pants – Maurices – $25.50 (25% off)
shoes – DSW – FREE! ($29.99, $20.15 and $10 off)
necklace – gift from Mark and Maria
TOTAL: $30.74

This series would also be nothing without Maurices. Seriously.

part VII: September 2016
dress – Modcloth – $28.79 (additional 40% off clearance)
sandals – Modcloth – $5.99 (additional 40% off clearance)
TOTAL: $34.78

Modcloth has been a heavy hitter in the last few chapters because of their amazing clearance sales. 70% off is no joke. And I’ll be damned if I’m missing out on a dress full of sea creatures.

part VIII: August 2017
sweater – Country Peddler – FREE! (was $12, used credit)

jeans – AE – $29.97 (40% off)
shoes - DSW - FREE! ($29.99, $20.15 and $10 off)
TOTAL: $29.97

Finally, my favorite outfit from the latest post. This sweater is the COZIEST, and American Eagle jeans are my go-to. Life is good in this outfit.


If you would like to look at all one hundred outfits, here’s how you get there:

Stay tuned for more cheap outfits in 2018!

Monday, October 30, 2017

songs for Halloween.

Halloween is my absolute favorite day of the year - I look forward to it more than any other holiday, more than my birthday, more than anything. I have loved it since I was a kid, and I anticipate loving it for years to come. 

Unlike Christmas, Halloween is not really known for its music. However, I do have a few Halloweeny selections to get you in the Halloween spirit. Quality, not quantity, right??

"This Is Halloween"
The Nightmare Before Christmas
I have been listening to this song on repeat since the beginning of October. Technically, The Nightmare Before Christmas is a Christmas movie, but it contains my absolute favourite Halloween song. Danny Elfman is a genius.

"Dead Man's Party"
Oingo Boingo
Two Danny Elfman masterpieces in a row! I honestly have no idea what musical path led me to Oingo Boingo, but I do know that I have been listening to this song for Halloween since I was 15.

"The Time Warp"
Rocky Horror Picture Show
I have no idea how Rocky Horror Picture Show found its home as a Halloween midnight showing, but I LOVE IT. The first time I ever went to a midnight showing was at UMM, and until then, I didn't even know that was a thing. My life was changed FOREVER. Audience participation is key, and everyone stands up and does "The Time Warp." It is a sight to see.

"The Monster Mash"
Bobby Pickett and the Crypt-Kickers
When you think of Halloween songs, this is probably the one that comes to mind first. It is a bonafide classic, and Halloween isn't Halloween without it.

"I Put a Spell on You"
Hocus Pocus
THIS IS THE BEST HALLOWEEN MOVIE EVER MADE. My family and I used to scour the TV Guide every October so we could be sure to be planted in front of network TV so not to miss the Hocus Pocus annual Halloween screening. For years, I thought that we were the only ones who knew the glory of this movie - but it turns out, Hocus Pocus has officially reached cult classic status. Nothing beats Bette Midler singing "I Put a Spell on You."

"Re: Your Brains"
Jonathan Coulton

Like I said, Halloween songs are scarce, so I'm considering songs about zombies and werewolves (see: Warren Zevon) Halloween songs. This song makes me laugh every time - all we wanna do is eat your brains.

"Werewolves of London"
Warren Zevon

Warren Zevon, you guys. This is the most recent addition to my list, as I didn't even know this song existed until about five years ago. I can't believe I made it so many years without "Werewolves of London."

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There you are: my favourite Halloween songs. I hope you all have a happy Halloween!!

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

a lifetime of Halloweens: revised for 2017!

(editor's note: I originally wrote this just before Halloween 2015. however, as you know, time marches on... and Halloweens keep coming. so I'm going to keep adding on! that means we, once again, get to revisit a lifetime of costumes. I can hardly wait.)

So it's October, and you know what that means.

HALLOWEEN IS COMING.

I am excited: per usual. I have had my costume picked out since last Halloween.

My costume is not just any costume. It kicks ass, and I can't wait to show it to you. However, there is a definite downside to having such an awesome costume: after this Halloween, I can NEVER WEAR IT AGAIN.

Sigh.

Because I have a policy.

I cannot be the same thing for Halloween twice.

"But wait!" you say. "What about the zombies, huh? YOU ARE LYING!"

But no! I dress up as a zombie for specific zombie-themed events: not for Halloween itself. Doesn't count. It's the zombie clause in my self-imposed Halloween contract. 

(I could also argue that since I have worn different zombie-fied clothes each time, I am never the same zombie. But let's not go there.)

I must have decided on my no-repeats Halloween rule at a pretty young age: I have pictures going back to 1988, and you won't find any duplicates. You will, however, find some darn cute pictures of me as a very excited child. 

I wish I had pictures of every Halloween, but I don't. I don't know what I was for Halloween 1987 - but I was a mere six months old and I am pretty sure that my parents dressed me up in the little skeleton costume you'll see on my sister in 1991 and my brother in 1993. 1992 is also missing, as are 1999 - 2002. While I am unsure about 1992, 1999 - 2001 was a dark time in my life... as I was deemed too old for trick-or-treating. I decided to forgo costumes those years, but I eventually realized that just because you're too old to trick-or-treat does NOT mean you're too old to dress up for Halloween. You're NEVER too old to dress up for Halloween, dammit. The only other year missing is 2009, but that was the year that I was in New Orleans. I was so excited to spend Halloween in New Orleans, but alas, it wasn't all it was cracked up to be. I didn't know anyone well enough to go out Halloweening with them, and even if I did, I didn't have enough money for a costume or drinks at the bar. I spent that Halloween curled up on my air mattress, watching Halloween episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and sad-eating Halloween candy from my landlady.

On the bright side? Pretty much every Halloween going forward is guaranteed to be better than that one.

So here we go: a pictorial history of Calla's Halloweens!

1988
Superman
I came across this picture in May when I was digging through a box of ancient photos in search of something embarrassing to post for Mother's Day. (You mean you DON'T share ridiculous photos of your mother from the 1980s on Mother's Day? Shame on you.) I was overjoyed, as 1988 had been one of my mysterious gap years. You have no idea how happy finding this twenty-eight-year old picture made me.

1989
Mickey Mouse
Is this or is this not the cutest damn Mickey Mouse you've ever seen? I was about two-and-a-half, and Halloween was already my favorite holiday. Trick-or-treating in the country always meant that you'd come away with an enormous haul. We just had to hop in the minivan and drive from house to house. As not many trick-or-treaters make it out into the sticks where we lived, any house you went to would reward you with handfuls of candy. Or multiple full-sized candy bars. Or twelve-packs of pop. Country trick-or-treating is the best.

1990
pumpkin
My pumpkin makeup is a little bit hilarious. I'm not sure which parent was responsible for this, but I would like to know why exactly I have a red mouth instead of a black one. The jack o' lantern face on my sweatshirt has a black mouth - why not me?

1991
witch
You may have noticed that all of my costumes involve long sleeves. Indeed, I live in the Midwest, so many of my Halloween costumes were planned around sweatshirts and winter coats. That's why I look so bulky: under my black sweatshirt was probably another sweatshirt. I believe 1991 was a particularly snowy Halloween, but there's no way that I wasn't going out trick-or-treating.

1993
princess
This princess dress came from a huge bin of my mom's old clothes that had been deemed "for dress-up." I played dress-up ALL the damn time, and it was a delight for me to be able to wear this out in public. To top it off, Mom made me glitter shoes: old dress shoes coated in glue and dipped in multi-colored glitter. They were the BEST.

1994
dog
I don't know where this costume came from, but I do remember that it was supposed to be a bunny suit. It more or less a white onesie and had big ears sticking straight up. One of Mom's coworkers sewed spots on it, and presto! I was a dalmatian. However, even though I was clearly wearing a dog collar, I was mistaken for a cow for all of Halloween day.

1995
cheerleader
1995 must've been a particularly warm Halloween, hence the bare legs. Though I was only eight in 1995, I feel as though my sarcasm was really starting to develop: being a cheerleader for Halloween was the scariest thing I could think of.

1996
cat
Another cold Halloween, as our costumes were comprised mainly of different-colored sweatshirts. My cat ears are a little droopy, but I felt (at the time) like the stuffed mouse really brought the costume together. Please, though, direct your attention to my brother Mitch, who (at age three) is way too delighted to be Satan.

1997
Cruella de Vil
Ah, the year I was Cruella de Vil. Mom (for reasons still unknown) had this old rabbit-fur coat in the back of her closet, and I commandeered it for Halloween that year. My cousin Ethan was a part of the theatre department at SDSU, so he was able to procure (and spray-paint) the wig for me. Another cold-weather costume, but this one was a win. 

1998
gypsy/just-rolled-out-of-bed girl
The first year of the double Halloween costume. I dug through the old dress-up box and was a gypsy for the school Halloween parade. (This was around the time Disney released The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and I totally wished I could be Esmeralda.) I came home in my gypsy outfit, all ready to trick-or-treat, and I was informed that it was too cold to wear it. I would have to find something else. I half-heartedly threw together my "person in pajamas" costume, which is 100% lame. Had I realized that it would be my last year as a trick-or-treater, I'd like to think that I would've come up with something better. We'll never know.

2002
Medieval vampire?
Ok, so I'm not 100% sure what I billed my costume as this year. I do know that it involved this dress that I bought at Goodwill, a vampire cape from KMart, and skeleton earrings. Medieval vampire, perhaps?

2003
Count von Disco Bono
Another off-year in my Halloween history. This is the cape that I bought with Allison the year before - sadly, no photographic evidence exists of our 2002 vampire costumes. The cape itself is pretty awesome - it came from Kmart in Brookings before it closed, and I still have the cape to this day. I also have the skeleton earrings in this picture, which you can see if you look very closely. Anyway, I wanted to dress up for Halloween but was fresh out of ideas, so this is what I got. I called myself Count von Disco Bono: vampire cape + Bono sunglasses + pink plaid bellbottoms. A terrible costume, but a costume nonetheless.

2004
reject Charlie's Angel/generic sock hopper/beat up band kid
Halloween of my senior year of high school was AWESOME. That was the year our high school football team made it to the state playoffs (and won). Halloween was right around said big game, so all of Halloween (which was on a Sunday, so we celebrated early at school) was one big pep rally day. There were games and snacks and absolutely no productivity whatsoever. My outfit was a red one-piece bell-bottomed monstrosity that I got at Goodwill, plus some go-go boots and a shiny scarf. I was a reject Charlie's Angel. I had to work at the Dairy Mart  that evening, and there was no way that I was doing so in a polyester jumpsuit. I changed into a dress and saddle shoes and was a generic sock-hopper. On Halloween itself, Bob and I dressed up as beat-up band kids and Meagan dressed up as our band director... and we went trick-or-treating at his house. I recall that he and his wife thought we were hilarious. Or hilariously lame. Either way.

2005
band kid
(Editor's note: this qualifies as a different costume than the previous year because a.) I was a beat up band kid in 2004 and just a regular one in 2005, and b.) the beat up band kid costume was not my main costume: an honor I'd give to my reject Charlie's Angel jumpsuit.) 
Much to my great pleasure, I found all sorts of people at college who loved to dress up at Halloween. I stole adopted my old band uniform - after all, the school had just gotten new ones and was systematically burning/donating/destroying the old uniforms, so I figured that I might as well give mine the loving home it deserved. Anyway, it was the perfect Midwestern costume - made of wool = super warm. And how about that hat? If only I'd had the red plume that goes with it. 

2006
zombie I/sailor-ish/opposite
Yes, friends: this was the year of the triple costume. My friend Sara and I attended UMM's first Zombie Prom: though we look like undead pandas, believe me when I say that we were zombies. Halloween was on a Tuesday that year, so we also needed costumes for the preceding weekend: hence my sailor outfit. It's difficult to see in this picture, but my top is an actual wool sailing uniform that I picked up at an antique store. Points for authenticity. Finally, Sara and I had costumes for Halloween itself: we went as opposites. It's the only time that I've ever dressed as a concept for Halloween, and it was a very liberal arts college thing to do. I totally loved it and still think we were a little bit brilliant.

2007
Croc
My favorite costume to date: the year of the Croc. Ever since I first saw those rubbery horrors, I have cursed their existence. Sara had a pair of pink Crocs that she so graciously let me borrow for this costume. This was the year that Halloween was on a Wednesday, and Wednesday nights were the nights that both Sara (the news editor) and I (the arts and entertainment editor) worked late at the college paper. We put in extra hours on Monday and Tuesday of that week in order to be out the door by 10pm Wednesday - instead of our usual 2am Thursday. Halloween is THAT important.


2008
Norwegian
Thanks to the leap year, Halloween landed on a Friday in 2008. Theoretically, that was great: but we poor band kids had a concert on HALLOWEEN NIGHT. And not even a fun Halloween concert... a regular concert that no one attended BECAUSE IT WAS HALLOWEEN. After the concert, we all booked it back to our houses to get into our Halloween costumes and catch up to the rest of our non-band friends. My costume is an authentic Norwegian folk costume, given to me by my authentic Norwegian grandma. And made of wool. The best Minnesotan Halloween costumes are wool-based.

2010
Lobster Telephone
I was living in Minneapolis in 2010, which is an all-around excellent place to spend Halloween. I had finished my tenure as an intern at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, but during my time there, I learned about all sorts of cool events that they sponsor. Example: they do this thing called Third Thursdays where, the third Thursday of each month, they keep the museum open late and have some kind of big event. On this particular Third Thursday, the MIA asked attendees to come dressed as their favorite MIA work of art. I chose Dali's Lobster Telephone because why on earth WOULDN'T you choose Lobster Telephone?

2011
Rocky Horror fail/old-timey teacher
By 2011, I had moved to Sioux Falls and had been there for approximately one month. I wore the costume on the left to a midnight showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, hoping that it would be as amazing as the midnight showing I had seen in Minneapolis the year before. (Note: it wasn't.) My Rocky Horror outfit was not as risque as a real Rocky Horror outfit should be, but what can I say? It was cold, and I was a chicken. The costume on the left is the one I wore to work at the Department of Labor and Regulation. I was dead-broke, so I had to pretty much phone this one in. I carried a ruler and was an old-timey teacher - the dress belonged to my grandma in the 60s, who was real-life old-timey teacher. Again, points for authenticity.

2012
Batman
By Halloween 2012, I was gainfully employed at the library and was delighted to find out that nearly everyone at the library dressed up for Halloween. The library costumes were all part of a theme, and the theme that year was superheroes. That worked out perfectly for me, as my brother Mitch had given me this spectacular pair of pajamas for Christmas the year before. And may I say that James's Pee-Wee Herman costume is simply amazing? 

2013
zombie II/Duck Dynasty/Mary Poppins

2013 was the first year that we participated in the Zombie Walk... and I didn't really even get to be in it. The parade started at 5 o'clock, but I worked until 5... I thought I could quick run over, find James and our friend Nate, and quick get my makeup done and hop in the parade. Alas, by the time I left the library and made it to the zombie area (approx. two minutes), the parade was over. So I found James and Nate at a restaurant, and they did my makeup while we were waiting for a table. For Halloween itself, the library's theme costume was Duck Dynasty, but my REAL costume was Mary Poppins - and this was the first (and so far, only) year James and I have had couples' costumes. 

2014
zombie III/Buster Bluth
Finally, we arrive at 2014. Mitch made it for the Zombie Walk, and I feel as though our makeup was much better than the year before. For Halloween, I convinced the library to go with a "TV characters" theme just because I had been dying to go as Buster Bluth. I repurposed the Duck Dynasty jacket from the year before and bought camo pants, a hook, an army hat, wire glasses, and a loose seal - complete with a yellow bow tie. It was the most I'd ever spent on a Halloween costume, and the hardest I'd ever worked on one. And you know what? Almost NO ONE got it. At the bar that evening, one guy yelled out "Motherboy," which was a spot-on Buster Bluth reference and totally made my night.

2015
zombie IV/Maleficent/Marla Hooch

2015 was a particularly strong year for me, and I'm really quite proud of my costumes. Of course, there was the zombie element: I went to both the Minneapolis Zombie Pub Crawl and the Sioux Falls Zombie Walk, so zombie squared. (I'm only including the one picture, though, since my zombie costume was the same.) For work, I dressed as Maleficent. Our work theme was heroes and villains, and I was only one of two villains. I got a lot of great compliments on my costume that day, and no less than three people asked to take a picture of/with me. But what really struck me as hilarious was that for every one person who commented on my costume, there were at least three more who pretended like absolutely nothing was out of the ordinary. On Halloween itself, I dressed as a Rockford Peach - specifically, Marla Hooch. "And then there's Marla Hooch... what a hitter!"

2016
zombie V/zombie VI/Scarlett O'Hara
Here I am at the 2016 Minneapolis Zombie Pub Crawl, in my child-size skeleton onesie. We had initially planned to go as Zombie Clue (which would've been AWESOME), but two members of our group couldn't come. Instead of looking like idiots when we dressed as just part of Zombie Clue, we went with the classic random zombie horde. I found my costume the day of at Goodwill. Typical zombie behavior. In the middle is my costume for the Sioux Falls Zombie Walk: my FAVORITE event of the year. James went as Zombie Prince, and I was Zombie David Bowie. Too soon. Finally, on actual Halloween, I dressed as Scarlett O'Hara. Hoop skirt and all. 

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And there's my lifetime of Halloweens! Rest assured I will continue adding to this list as the years go on, because you're never too old for Halloween. NEVER.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

camping, part II.

Last year, I regaled you with tales of my misadventures in camping. More importantly, I passed on some valuable knowledge I gained along the way.

Guess what?

I HAVE MORE TO TELL YOU.

Camping season 2017 is rapidly meeting its end, and James and I have fit in nine nights of tent camping in the last three-ish months. Not bad.

Here they are, in chronological order:

Frontenac State Park, Minnesota

Jay Cooke State Park, Minnesota

Gooseberry Falls State Park, Minnesota (two nights)

Lake Carlos State Park, Minnesota

Hardin KOA, Montana

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Devil's Tower KOA, Wyoming

Kansas City KOA, Kansas City

(This was truly the summer of the Minnesota state park. Minnesota has some truly spectacular state parks, and sometime-in-the-next-few-summers goal is to have visited them all. GAME ON, MINNESOTA.)

James and I have now tent camped in a grand total of nine states. NINE.

Here THEY are, in chronological order!

Minnesota (2014, 2016, 2017)
South Dakota (2015)
Colorado (2015)
Illinois (2016)
New York (2016)
Wisconsin (2016)
Montana (2017)
Wyoming (2017)
Missouri (2017)

Summers 2016 and 2017 have, by far, been the most tent-centered. It wasn't until the end of summer 2015 that we truly realized what an amazing tool our little hand-me-down tent really was. Chronically underfunded, we longed for the ability to travel, but were not about to go into debt paying for hotel rooms along the way. BUT WAIT: that's where tent camping comes in. As I mentioned in my story last year, you can get a campsite for a fraction of the cost of a hotel room. And when I say fraction, I mean FRACTION. We pay between $22 - $35 a night for our campsites, and an average hotel room would run around $90 - $150 a night. Do the math.

Thanks to that monetary epiphany, we have made the most out of our summers (and our tent). Summer 2017 was the most we've camped yet! I thought I had learned a lot last year, but you'd better believe I'm not done learning yet.

So here's what I know thanks to summer 2017:

You can freeze to death and roast alive in the same night... so be prepared.
Yes, it can happen in the same night - but for us, it was mostly one or the other. Our first tenting excursion this year was in Frontenac State Park on the Mississippi River in southeastern Minnesota. It was 95 degrees with 99% humidity at 11pm. The air was thick and miserable, and I thought I might die. We had our teeny battery-powered fan, but that only did as much as one could expect a teeny battery-operated fan to do. This was mid-June. Fast-forward to the Fourth of July weekend, when we're camping in northeastern Minnesota. Remembering the misery of our Frontenac camping, I packed the summeriest pajamas I had (shorts and a tank top), no socks, and my sleeping bag with the broken zipper. Because I'm not going to need to zip up my sleeping bag in the summer right? WRONG WRONG WRONG. Those nights up north dipped below 40 degrees, and James and I clung together like koalas to try and absorb a little heat. The next night, James was gracious enough to give me his sweatpants and a pair of wool socks, and I had a sweatshirt to sleep in. But my non-zipping sleeping bag flopped open as I turned during the night, and I still managed to freeze my butt off. We experienced a similarly chilly night in Yellowstone, but by that time, I had a new sleeping bag and had packed ALL THE LAYERS. I was cold, sure, but I didn't wake myself up with the chattering of my own teeth. That was an improvement.

The right sleeping bag will make all the difference in the world.
My new sleeping bag likely deserves all the credit for making my frigid night in Yellowstone a relative success. After the northern Minnesota tundra, it was finally time to get a new sleeping bag. My old sleeping bag was a gift from my parents circa 1996, and though it had given me more than two decades of warmth, the zipper had finally broken. When you’re trying to stay warm, a sleeping bag with a broken zipper is not the greatest. I ordered a new sleeping back from Amazon for something like $25, not expecting much... but it has made SUCH a difference. This one is neither the warmest nor the coolest thing in the world, but for $25, it is more than adequate. Its zipper works, for one thing (!!!), AND it has a one of those hood things that you can put over your head to keep warm and/or look like a giant insect. Sleeping is so much easier when you are not woken up by the chattering of your own teeth. That being said...

You'll never get a good night's sleep, so bring coffee.
No one goes tent camping to be well-rested and utterly refreshed. No matter how you look at it, you're still sleeping on the ground. If you're us, you will either be...

too hot
too cold
on the deflated sleeping pad
awake listening for bears
resentfully kept awake by your super-loud neighbors
listening to the bugs that inevitably get into your tent

...or any combination thereof.

So come prepared. Make sure there's a coffee shop within minutes of your campground, or better yet, pack your own iced coffee. Few things make you appreciate your own bed and your own silent house like a night of tent camping.

Fan = white noise = utmost importance for blocking out loud a.) late-night drunk bros, b.) early-morning fisherman, c.) screaming children,  or d.) all of the above.
Camping is noisy, for sure. One of the camping items we invested in last year was a little battery-powered fan/flashlight combo. It doesn't do a whole lot for moving around the thick air on a humid Minnesota night, but the white noise is invaluable. Without it, I could not have slept at all this summer. Eighty percent of the time, we have loud neighbors. As I am old and crotchety, nothing annoys me faster than loud neighbors. I have yet to remember to pack earplugs, but we do always have that fan... it's kind of cheap and rattly, so it provides the perfect cover for all the campground noise.
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We're now well into September, so camping season 2017, I fear, is over. I am already looking forward to summer 2018 and all its camping adventures. Though tent camping is not easy or comfortable, there really is nothing like sleeping under the stars.