Thursday, May 9, 2019

an ode to ShopKo.

When I was a kid, my favorite place on earth to shop was ShopKo.

(ShopKo in Watertown, to be specific.)

ShopKo was just the greatest. I remember Mom picking me up on my last day of fifth grade with the promise of going to ShopKo to celebrate. I had $5 to spend, and I came away with a pair of grown-up shoes: these slide-on mules with a block heel. I LOVED those shoes. 
This is during my incredibly graceful preteen years.

Remember those little console things with different CD covers that you could press to hear a sample? ShopKo had the BEST ONES. My friend Allison and I would stand around and play The Best of Barry Manilow on repeat, the soulful strains of “Mandy” filling the store over and over and over again.

When I got a job with an actual paycheck, I could have just signed most of those checks over to ShopKo. It was about this time I started getting into fun socks, and ShopKo hands-down had the best collection. I would buy one or two pairs of fun socks per ShopKo visit – a few of the very earliest pairs were covered with grapes, pineapples and flamingos. I eyed the cool Nikes in the athletic shoe section, and I even once bought a teal Nike shirt on sale there. I bought DVDs and CDs from their electronics section. I bought my favorite sandals.
This is an honest-to-God senior picture.

I was ALWAYS in ShopKo.

After high school, ShopKo dropped off my radar. I moved to Morris for college, which suffered under the fate of having a Pamida. I then moved to Denver, New Orleans, and Minneapolis – all places without ShopKos.

I didn’t reunite with ShopKo until I moved to Luverne in 2013. Luverne doesn’t have a lot of shopping options, but they did have a ShopKo. As it turned out, the ShopKo was once a Pamida. ShopKo purchased all Pamida stores and morphed them into ShopKo Hometown stores.

James and I have spent a lot of time and money in our ShopKo. We come in for one thing we need and end up spending an hour and a hundred million dollars there. It seemed like everything was always on sale, and there was always something we couldn’t live without. One of my recent “thing that I don’t need but will invariably improve my quality of life” purchases was the bluest, softest, fluffiest quilted blankets I’ve ever owned. That blanket made this hellish winter more bearable, thanks to ShopKo.

When we got the news the ShopKo pharmacy was closing earlier this year, it sounded like the beginning of the end. Sure enough, the announcement came that all ShopKo stores are closing. James and I went immediately and bought all sorts of thing we’d been meaning to buy, like a new kayak seat and an inflatable loungey chair for summer.

I think I can speak for the town of Luverne when I say we are a little bit devastated. We do have a Dollar General, but after ShopKo closes, we’ll have a very big gap when it comes to all-in-one type stores like ShopKo. Where are we going to get cool prizes for the library summer reading program? Where am I going to get my super soft fuzzy blankets? Most importantly, where am I going to get my super-discounted Halloween decorations on November 1??

I know it’s going to be alright, but the loss of ShopKo means a lot in small towns like mine. It means more of us will travel to Sioux Falls for Target, and less of our money will stay in the community. I know ShopKo didn’t close in order to doom small towns (Luverne avoided the first round of store closures because the store was doing so well), but it does indeed feel a little like doom. We need another store like it to take over, but who?

We have until June before ShopKo closes, so I’m sure there are still many hours and many hundreds of dollars at ShopKo in my future. After June, I will have to rely on my collection of ShopKo socks and my memories.

Goodbye, ShopKo. You’ve been a delight.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

top ten songs: the Rolling Stones.

Most days at work, I listen to Pandora. It’s nice to have a little background music as I plan my programs and shop for books and what have you. I switch stations from time to time, and I’m currently listening to The Clash radio. And I have to tell you, this is my favorite station so far. It gives me the absolute best of 70s rock, which a touch of weird 80s.

But as I’ve been listening to this station, I realized something.

I like the Rolling Stones.

Never in my life have I considered myself a Rolling Stones fan, and even though I am about to list ten of their songs for you, I still would not call myself a fan. The thing about the Rolling Stones is that their catalog is so incredibly deep that it’s almost impossible not to find ten songs you like.

However, it took Pandora for me to realize this.

I have a love/hate relationship with the Rolling Stones. There are a few Rolling Stones songs that I just hate, which is not the case for any of the other bands I’ve covered in my “top ten songs” series. When I was in middle school into early high school, I only listened to oldies stations. This was pretty great, as I exposed myself to some of my absolute favorite songs and bands that endure to this very day. However, the oldies stations had some kind of unnatural obsession with “Satisfaction.” It seemed as though every single time I had the radio on, “Satisfaction” would play. EVERY TIME, no matter how short the drive. There was one time “Satisfaction” came on, and I immediately changed the station… only to find “Satisfaction” was playing on that station, too. I couldn’t get away from it, and I can’t stand the song to this day.

I also think “Jumpin Jack Flash” is TERRIBLE.

All that aside, I do have ten Rolling Stones songs I actually truly love. And here they are.

Paint It Black
 This was the first Rolling Stones song I actually knew and loved. Weirdly enough, the first time I heard it wasn’t on the radio. It was in that kind of terrible 90s movie Devil’s Advocate. It’s got Keanu Reeves and Al Pacino in it, and Al Pacino ends up being Satan. Obviously. “Paint it Black” plays over the end credits, and I LOVED it. I especially loved it as an angsty teenager: “I look inside myself and see my heart is black,” “no colors any more, I want them to turn black,” etc. I bet you’re glad you didn’t know me as an angsty teenager. And if you did? I’m not that angry any more.

She’s So Cold
 “She’s So Cold” was one of my later discoveries. I hadn’t heard it until I was listening to the Current as a young twenty-something living in Minneapolis. I just love Mick Jagger’s shouting. This song found a place in my heart forever when I started working in state government and was constantly hit on by old drunk men at 10am. I never acknowledged it, choosing instead to remain cold. Every time that happened, “She’s So Cold” would run through my head.

Ruby Tuesday
 “Ruby Tuesday” was possibly the second Rolling Stones song I ever heard – and I heard it without having a clue it was the Rolling Stones. I loved it because of its gentle and mournful tune. When I found out it was the Rolling Stones, I couldn’t believe the same band responsible for “Satisfaction” could create this lovely song. I wonder how the Rolling Stones feel about the restaurant chain of the same name. (Fun fact: the only reason I ever wanted to eat at Ruby Tuesday was because of this song.)

You Can’t Always Get What You Want
There are two camps when it comes to children singing in rock songs: either it’s amazing, or it’s creepy as hell. I am firmly in the latter camp. This song starts with a creepy children’s choir, which almost eliminated it from the running. However, the song itself is just too great. Like “She’s So Cold,” it always runs through my head when I don’t get what I want – or if I am unable to give someone what they want. But the song is so upbeat that it’s ok that you can’t always get what you want.

She’s a Rainbow
As it turns out, there are a lot of Rolling Stones songs I associate with my every day life. I think of “She’s a Rainbow” every time I dress in bright clothing. I also truly love the piano part in this song – it’s so lovely and sounds to me like frolicking through a field of bright wildflowers.

Beast of Burden
You can’t hear “Beast of Burden” without at least swaying a little to the music. It’s got such a great tune, and I love the halting way Mick Jagger sings the verses. I also love the way they sing “pretty pretty pretty pretty pretty pretty girls”: they sing “pretty” with a clear pause in between the syllables, like “pri-TEE”. Whenver I say “pretty,” I unconsciously do the same thing.

“Dandelion” is very clearly an early Rolling Stones song (1967), and I think it’s absolutely adorable. It sounds a little like a nursery rhyme, and it’s so sweet and innocent. The music lends itself to the psychedelic pop sound of the late 60s. It’s adorable.

As Tears Go By
“As Tears Go By” is another early Rolling Stones song (1964), and it’s definitely a bummer. It’s the string background I love so much. It’s also very sweet and a really interesting comparison to later Rolling Stones and how much they changed.

Let’s Spend the Night Together
This song just kind of makes you want to dance. The lyrics aren’t anything special, but the music is pretty delightful. I read on Wikipedia that the Rolling Stones were denied permission to play this song on the Ed Sullivan show in the 60s because the lyrics were too racy. I’m about to sound super old, but times have sure changed!

Dancing in the Street 
I’m cheating a little bit here because this is not an official Rolling Stones song. However, it’s got Mick Jagger, so it’s close enough for my purposes. The song itself is pretty ok; it’s one I have known for as long as I can remember. This song makes the list mostly because of the completely ridiculous music video. It features a very 80s-looking Mick Jagger and a VERY 80s-looking David Bowie, and they are dancing (TERRIBLY) in the street. You HAVE to watch it.


As with all of my “top ten” lists, there are a few great songs that didn’t quite make the cut. “Start Me Up” is an old favorite, but I have a hard time separating it from the Windows 95 campaign. However, I tend to think of it when starting my car in the winter. “Angie” is also a good one, partially because of all the rumors surrounding it (is it about David Bowie’s wife? when Jagger and Bowie were rumored to be sleeping together? WHO KNOWS). AND - a few days after I had this post all written, I remembered "Shattered." Which is AWESOME, mostly because of the use of the word "shadoobie."

At the end of this list, I am still reluctant to call myself a Rolling Stones fan. But there are ten songs that I love. So take it as you will. 

(If you'd like to read about my other favorite bands and my ten favorite songs of theirs, here you go:)

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

learning to love South Dakota.

My home state and I have had our fair share of struggles over the years. Like pretty much everyone I knew, I had lived in the same state - and even in the same town - all my life. And, like every small town girl with big dreams (picture: the scene in Beauty and the Beast where Belle is singing dramatically about her provincial life), I imagined the day that I would get the hell out of South Dakota and live the exotic life that I always hoped.

And when the time really did come for me to leave South Dakota, where did I go?


My four-year stint in Morris for college was followed by brief tenures in Denver and New Orleans before returning to Minneapolis for almost two years... only to move to Sioux Falls and eventually "settle down" in southwestern Minnesota. My little corner of the state is less than 15 miles from the South Dakota state line, and I work in Sioux Falls. So much for leaving South Dakota behind.

And even if I had moved across the country and renounced my home state, I could never leave it completely. It is, after all, where I was born and raised. My parents and grandparents live here; my oldest friends live here. It's in my blood.

My problems with South Dakota didn't really start until I got to college. Sure, I thought that this was not the place for me - South Dakota was too small for the BIG THINGS I was sure to achieve, typical sheltered small-town kid delusions - but I didn't know who I really was yet.

Up until college, I was under the delusion that I was a Republican. Why? Not because I took the time to get to know the candidates and their policies - oh no. Because pretty much everyone around me was Republican (save for just a few dear friends... oh, how I should've listened). So I wore my John Thune shirt with pride and happily voted for Bush/Cheney in our 2004 school mock election. I was a sheep, and I am ashamed. (Luckily, I didn't turn 18 until 2005, so my ignorance never translated to an actual vote. That helps me sleep at night.) Not that being a Republican is a bad thing: truly, I want you to know that is not my opinion. What IS a bad thing is simply choosing your candidates based on the beliefs of those around you without doing any research or giving it any real thought: and that was me in high school.

Attending UMM opened my eyes. It is a small liberal arts school on the plains, and I was suddenly surrounded with people who were actually different than me. I grew up in white conservative Christian America, and I'd never had the chance to meet people of different backgrounds. It was amazing, and it was there that I found that my values did not (and do not) align at all with the Republican Party. And it dawned on me that my values also did not align with the lawmakers of my home state.

South Dakota and I were on the outs for some time. From their abortion laws to their views on same-sex marriage, South Dakota and I could not see eye to eye. And once again, as South Dakota voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump in the 2016 election (62%, I believe), South Dakota voters and I disagree. Especially with Kristi Noem.

This is not to say that every South Dakotan feels that way: of course not. Many of my dearest South Dakotan friends and family are saddened and dismayed right along with me. This is also not to say that I will write off anyone with a differing opinion. If and when my South Dakota friends and family do not agree with me politically, I love them. I know that they love me. South Dakotans are good people.

The older I grow, the more I have a deep desire to love my state again. I want to be proud of my roots, and for the most part, I am. I am proud to have grown up in a hard-working and loving family that instilled lifelong values in me: work hard, never take anything or anyone for granted, and be kind. BE KIND. If I have learned nothing else in my life, at least I have learned that.

I am so proud of who I come from, but where... that's a work in progress.

The longer I live in the Sioux Falls area, the more optimistic I become. Sioux Falls is filling with passionate people working tirelessly to make this city a beautiful place to live and visit. In the five years that I've been back in the area, I can't tell you how much has changed. Downtown has become a vibrant neighborhood with small shops and restaurants, an uptown area and a riverwalk has developed, and something new and exciting is always coming. Sioux Falls is on its way.

There is a lot I love about my home state. I love the city of Brookings more than I thought possible. I love the state parks and the lakes (go ahead and laugh, Minnesotans, but South Dakota's lakes are something). I love the Black Hills, now more than ever. Contrary to the beliefs of my younger self, I find myself loving the fields and the tractors. I love downtown Sioux Falls. I love my job. Most of all, I love my friends and family. I love the people.

South Dakotans are - honest to God - some of the nicest people you will ever meet. They will always pull over to help you change a tire, and they won't hesitate to invite you in for coffee. They will be the first to smile at you, and they will share whatever they have. And the TRUST. James and I booked a night in a cabin in a South Dakota state park a few years ago, and the check-in process was this: they left the key in the door for us, and we showed up whenever. The check-out process was just the same: we left when we wanted (they asked before noon, but how were they to know?), and we returned the key to its place in the lock. Trust.

Yes, I love South Dakotans. I don't love South Dakota politics, but let's be honest, there's not much to love about politics anywhere right now. But South Dakotans are good people. And that's what I love.

Monday, April 22, 2019

why is everyone super into Pizza Ranch?

When I was growing up, we frequented two (and only two) pizza restaurants: Pizza Hut and Pizza King. Pizza Hut was an obvious choice because we all had free personal pan pizza Book-It coupons to spend; plus their lunchtime buffet was a favorite. Pizza King is an independent pizza place in Brookings, and once we aged out of Book-It, we started going to Pizza King and we’ve never looked back.

Brookings did have other pizza places, but those were our two main spots. Sure, we’d pick up Papa Murphy’s pizza to take and bake from time to time, but it was never a standard.

You know where we NEVER went?

Pizza Ranch.

“Never” is not quite true, but I bet you appreciated the dramatic emphasis. I can think of only two occasions when I went to Pizza Ranch in high school: once because my high school band was having a fundraiser there for our new uniforms, and another time after my advanced biology class had just come from our field trip to the cadaver lab at SDSU.
This is that same trip - before the Pizza Ranch, but after the cadavers.
(That last visit is most memorable because the Pizza Ranch chicken was the exact same color of mottled grey as the cadavers we had just seen.)

Likewise, I almost never went to Pizza Ranch during my college years. I remember going there once during summer for a staff bonding dinner (luckily, I had just had my wisdom teeth out and couldn’t eat anyway) and once more in Morris (my college town) for someone’s birthday. Every time, the pizza was cold, the cheese coagulated, the meat questionable and grey. Even the cheesy bread left a thick coat of grease on the roof of your mouth. Nothing good ever came from Pizza Ranch.

After those few early college visits, I thankfully forgot about Pizza Ranch.

Until I moved to Luverne in 2013.

Luverne is in the southwest corner of Minnesota, just a few miles from both the South Dakota and Iowa borders. James works in Ellsworth, MN, which is just a few feet from Iowa. He invited me to a staff dinner at the very end of summer, and I said yes… before I knew it was at Pizza Ranch.

“PIZZA RANCH?!” I said. “NO.”

But it was too late. To Pizza Ranch I went, and not a single thing had changed since the last time I ate it. The pizza was still terrible – but this time, as I was now in my late 20s, it gave me a stomachache. So much for the iron stomach of my early 20s. All I had for dinner that night was a glass of Coke.

I walked out of Pizza Ranch, hoping I could continue to avoid it (and making a note to not say yes to dinner invitations anymore until I knew where we were going).

But alas, I cannot avoid Pizza Ranch.

James would recount endless stories about Pizza Ranch being served for staff inservices, similar fundraising events to my high school band uniform experience, buying his students Pizza Ranch as a reward… because people in my little part of the world are super into Pizza Ranch. This is completely outside of my understanding.

When I commuted to Sioux Falls, I did not need to have anything to do with Pizza Ranch. I could just drive or walk past it in scorn, trying not to let that tell-tale greasy chicken smell permeate my lungs. However, when I accepted my position in Luverne, little did I know I was dooming myself to more Pizza Ranch exposure than I ever cared to have.

I travel to Slayton once a month to meet with other directors in my system, and the place they choose for lunch is always Pizza Ranch. Not one of the three or four independently owned cafes in town, but Pizza Ranch. I ate with them there once, holding my breath so as not to actually taste Pizza Ranch’s offerings. Every time since, I have left immediately following the meetings, picking up a sandwich at a coffee shop instead. I feel guilty for not socializing, but truly, I just cannot handle Pizza Ranch. (And my coat smelled ALL DAY.)

I attended an all-manager training in Marshall several months ago, with the promise of lunch being provided. Guess what lunch was? You got it: Pizza Ranch. Once again, I had a can of Coke for lunch.

The Pizza Ranch in Luverne is always packed. I hear people in passing at the grocery store talking about eating at Pizza Ranch. I hear my coworkers telling about family dinners at Pizza Ranch. I needed to do some research to see what exactly drew people to Pizza Ranch, because it CANNOT be the food.

As I soon learned, Pizza Ranch is based in Iowa – their headquarters are actually in Orange City, which is practically our neighbor. That explains the loyalty aspect. I learned they are a Christian-based company, their vision being “to glorify God by positively impacting the world.” I live in a very religious area, which also explains why the community might flock to it. Christian-based companies, though, are not my cup of tea. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I do not agree with any company forcing their religious beliefs on those around them. And honestly? Christian-based companies don’t tend to do the right thing, even with their so-called “values” (I’m looking at you, Hobby Lobby and Chick-fil-A). Wikipedia also tells me that conservative presidential candidates like to stop at Pizza Ranches during the Iowa caucuses because of said “values.” Pizza Ranch, I’m out.

You can continue to eat at Pizza Ranch; I am certainly not making a call for a Pizza Ranch boycott (outside of my own home, that is). I just honestly want to know: why does everyone love Pizza Ranch so much? Is it the “local business” aspect? Is it the God stuff? Or is it… somehow… the food? It’s an honest-to-God question; I truly am curious. Any insight from you, my dear Midwestern friends, would be appreciated.

In the meantime, I’m going to Pizza King.