Wednesday, March 25, 2015

let's talk about online surveys.

When I graduated college and set out for my adventures in unpaid internships, I had no idea how difficult things were going to be. Goodbye easy-to-find job at the coffee shop – hello weeks of fruitless job searches. Goodbye almost-zero gas bill because I could walk or bike to campus every day – hello bus passes because I couldn’t afford downtown parking for my internship. Goodbye three square meals a day – hello eggs and hotdogs.

My first stop was Denver, which is where the harsh reality of post-college life really hit me. Up until this point, part-time jobs had been very easy to come by. I figured I would go to my twenty-hours-a-week unpaid internship and work the rest of the time. Good plan, right? Sure… if I had been able to find a part-time job. I applied all over the place and (after a month of searching) was finally given two-week-long job at a fireworks store. After that job ended, I was hired to work at American Eagle (the clothing store). Those jobs saved my ass.

Unfortunately, my minimum wage earnings from these jobs were barely enough to pay for my bus passes – let alone expenses like my credit card bill and food and toothpaste and such. I was continuing to apply for more part-time work, but no to avail. So what did I do in the meantime?

I signed up for internet surveys.

In my desperation, I turned to Google. I searched for alternative ways to make money: what to do when you are underemployed and no one else will hire you. (I know “alternative” sounds suspicious, but the suggestions were things like “sell your belongings” and “be a crafter.”)

One of the survey results suggested online surveys. According to whatever site that was, some companies would pay you to take surveys about things like advertising and new product ideas. That sounded like the miracle I needed.

I signed up for a handful of survey websites. You earned points for each survey you took, and you could cash in your points for gift cards, PayPal money, a check, or a bunch of other stuff. One of the sites I signed up for would pay you two cents each time you opened one of their special advertising emails. I thought I had a good thing going.

And for a while, I did. I took surveys during every free moment I had, and I started collecting points. As I went along, I figured out that all of these sites had a minimum points balance you had to meet before you could cash out. And getting to that minimum balance took FOREVER. Sure, you could earn 90 points if you took a 20-minute survey… but it took 1000 points to buy a $10 Amazon e-gift card. When I thought about it that way, it didn’t seem so great… but I was poor enough that I did it anyway.

Let me tell you: those surveys – while time-consuming – were lifesavers. It felt like a downright miracle to get a check in the mail when I was at my poorest. The surveys were mostly about how I felt about a certain advertisement, but every now and again, they sent me a product to test. That was THE BEST: especially when I was too poor to buy things myself. I tested toothpaste, shampoo and conditioner (lots of shampoo and conditioner), body wash, little vials of perfume (TONS of that), razors, deodorant… mostly toiletries. There was a fair amount of food: mostly snack bars, but I was sent a frozen pasta meal packed in dry ice. I even tested sticky notes once. The product tests were awesome because you not only got to keep said product, but they were worth a ton of points. Man, do I miss those product tests.

I was a survey-taker for nearly SIX YEARS: long after I stopped being poor enough to really need it. It was fun to get the odd $20 check here and there, and the surveys gave me something to do on cold winter evenings when I was living alone. I took scads of surveys when I lived alone in Minneapolis, and even more when I moved from living alone in Minneapolis to living alone in Sioux Falls. I earned enough points to cash them in for a dust buster, and that was the year that I funded all of my Christmas shopping with Amazon gift cards from survey taking. No kidding.

Like all good things, my time with the survey companies was doomed to meet its end. The beginning of the end was when the surveys started becoming more difficult to complete. When you were sent a link to a survey, they’d usually ask you some general questions (age, location, what kinds of products you buy) before deciding whether or not you were eligible for their survey. If you were, they’d send you on to the entire survey, and you’d earn your points at the end. If not, they’d kick you out right away and suggest you take more surveys. That was all well and good… until I started noticing that – with more and more frequency – I’d spend nearly twenty minutes taking a survey before I was kicked out and told my opinion wasn’t needed. After I’d given my opinion. Not cool.

It was a lot of little things driving wedges between my survey companies and me. Remember those paid emails? That website enacted a new policy: they’d only send you paid emails if you successfully completed surveys for them, also. The surveys on that website were incredibly difficult to qualify for, and I almost never took them. So much for the paid emails.

The rewards systems began to change as well. They were already a pain in the butt with their minimum balance fees and their incredibly long processing time: it could take six weeks to get a check or PayPal money. Many companies started charging a “processing fee” in order to get you your rewards. The paid email company charged you $3, which was a hell of a lot of paid emails (150, to be exact). One company would give you weird gift cards (like to a restaurant’s website) without a charge, but they’d charge you a $5 fee for the good stuff, like Amazon and PayPal. Finally, yet another website began deducting points from your balance if you didn’t spend them in time – but they still enforced the minimum points balance, so it was nearly impossible for me to earn enough points to spend them before they started expiring.

It wasn’t just the surveys that were changing: it was my life, too. Winters alone in Minneapolis and Sioux Falls are pretty bleak, and honestly, I didn’t have anything better to do than take online surveys. Things changed when I got engaged and James moved in. Suddenly, I had a person to share those bleak winter evenings. Even if James and I were just sitting on the couch together watching Netflix, it beat the hell out of sitting by myself at the kitchen table, answering questions about how a certain advertisement made me feel. Surveys were no longer a good way to spend my time.

Even after I had arrived at that decision, it took me a while to cut the cord. I kept getting survey invitations in my inbox, and I kept deleting them – telling myself I’d take surveys again some other time. When I did half-heartedly click through, I found myself getting instantly annoyed with the questions. Who gives a shit whether or not I find the narrator of this commercial irritating? Why am I doing this? I should be reading a book, or playing with the cat, or doing anything besides taking these stupid surveys.

So I quit. I had already quit all but two survey companies, and I cashed out the last of my points: for a $10 gift certificate to an online-only cookie company (which I will likely never use) and $15 in PayPal money (which I will most definitely use). I haven’t unsubscribed to those survey companies yet – if you request a reward and then unsubscribe before you actually get the reward, the company won’t send you the reward at all. So I’m biding my time until I get my hard-earned rewards. In the meantime, I am simply deleting each survey invitation as soon as it hits my inbox.

And let me tell you: it feels SO good.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

my lost sunglasses: a lament.

I almost never lose things.

I have never lost my keys, and I have never lost my cell phone. I have never lost my wallet, credit card, or driver’s license. In my twenty-plus years of checking out library books, I have never lost a library book –I didn’t even get a late fee until last year. (Which is embarrassing, because I work at a library. You’d think that would make it a whole lot easier to remember to get my books back on time.) I don’t even lose pens.

I just don’t lose things.

The few things I have lost over the years haunt me. I once lost a black-and-white striped sock of a pair my mom gave me, and I felt terrible. Needless to say, I rarely lose socks – I haven’t worn a plain old pair of white socks in nearly two decades. All of my socks have patterns and colors and pictures of tiny lobsters, which means I NOTICE when a sock goes missing. And the only missing sock that has never turned up is that striped sock. And it’s even worse because they were gift socks. I lost this sock over a decade ago, and I still feel bad about it.

When we went to New Orleans on a jazz band trip in January 2008, James bought me a fleur-de-lis bracelet. We hadn’t been dating for long, and this was the first nice gift he’d bought me. (He had given me a label maker for Christmas, but that’s a story for another time.) We went out to dinner at an Italian restaurant called Mona Lisa, and by the time we arrived back at our hotel, my bracelet was gone. It had fallen off sometime during the damp French Quarter evening, and though we retraced our steps, we failed to locate the missing bracelet. I went right back to the gift shop where James had gotten the bracelet and bought a replacement, but it wasn’t the same.

The last thing I lost was my sunglasses.

They’re just sunglasses. No big deal, right?


I have been wearing contacts for nearly twelve years, and I’ve spent most of those years in search for the perfect pair of sunglasses.

That’s a tall order for someone like me. The sunglasses couldn’t be too expensive, as they would rattle around in my car, be worn at the lake, and be taken on vacation – scratches happen. They also couldn’t be too cheap, because they’d need to endure that general sunglasses abuse.

So the hunt for the perfect pair of sunglasses began. When I still wore only glasses, I’d had a pair of ridiculous clip-ons. I knew I didn’t want anything like that.

This was 2003, so gigantic bug-eyed sunglasses were coming into their own. No one could make these sunglasses look good – expect for my friend Sarah. 
See how good she looks?
They were meant for her and her alone. Nevertheless, I gave the giant sunglasses the old college try, and I looked just as I expected: like an insect.

There was a brief period of time when I thought I’d found the perfect pair of sunglasses. My family had gone to Disneyland in March 2005, and Dad happened to sit down next to a pair of abandoned Ralph Lauren sunglasses. After a brief search for their owner (ie, asking nearby tourists if they’d lost a pair of sunglasses), Dad gave them to me. I loved them: not only were they an actual brand (versus the whatever-brands I was used to buying), but they were stylish: in that mid-2000s kind of way, but since it was 2005, they were spot-on.
I wore them until they snapped two years later.

After the demise of the Ralph Laurens, my search resumed. I went through varying shapes and sizes of sunglasses – all purchased for twelve dollars or less at the Targets and ShopKos and Lewis Drugs of southeastern South Dakota. 
Like these. FAIL.

It wasn’t until halfway through college that I finally made progress in the Great Sunglasses Project. I’d avoided aviator sunglasses all this time, never even trying a pair on. Why? I have no idea. But what’s important is that I did finally try on a pair and realized that aviators were what I’d been looking for all this time.
The very first aviators. They are failviators.
So I’m done, right? Because I found the perfect pair?


Not all aviator sunglasses are created equal. I had to find a pair that was not too wide for my face. A pair that fit behind my ears and would not fall off if I looked down. A pair that wasn't too tight behind the ears so that it pinched my brain. A pair that wasn’t mirrored –mirrored sunglasses drive me nuts. A pair without any dumb decorations on the lenses or on the arms: no leopard spots, no jewels, no glitter. A pair that I could wear all day and be content.

A pair that looked great.

And do you know how long it took me to find that pair?

Until 2011: a full eight years after I had begun my search.

Just off the top of my head, I can think of six pairs of aviators I bought before I landed on the perfect pair.
This pair is one of the six. They are also failviators.
More failviators.
At the very least, six mediocre pairs before I found THE pair. They came from JCPenney, and I knew it was meant to be. I don’t remember the brand, but these glorious glasses fit each and every one of my criteria – and not to be devoid of personality, they had purple earpieces.
This is a terrible picture, but here are my sunglasses in all their glory.
Those sunglasses and I had a great run. We traveled together: 
the Badlands.
New Orleans.
Las Vegas.
Chichen Itza.
We plowed through Midwestern winters when the sun shines off the snow and blinds you. We enjoyed Midwestern summers: 
the Brookings Summer Arts Festival.
Hot Dog Night in Luverne.
days on Lake Poinsett.

sibling summer fun.
motorcycle rides.
Nick burgers al fresco.
ice cream in small town Minnesota.
I thought my sunglasses and I were going to have a long and happy life together.

But then I lost them.

It was Saint Patrick's Day weekend 2015. I know what you’re thinking: “oh, stupid Calla had too much to drink and lost her sunglasses.”

I will tell you right now that was not the case. As I am now an old person, I do my very best to avoid drinking too much. In my old age, hangovers now last all day - and to avoid those day-long hangovers, I must pay close attention to how much I drink. I know exactly when to stop drinking, and on that ill-fated Saturday, I stopped drinking with plenty of room to spare. That evening, I had three drinks over an eight-hour time span. On a full stomach. I metabolized those drinks into oblivion.

So the problem wasn’t the drinks. The problem was the distractions.

It was a gorgeous Saturday, and I put on my trusty sunglasses and walked downtown with James and a friend to try and find our other friends in a bar. Did I mention it was a gorgeous day outside? Going into a dark and crowded bar is never high on my priority list: especially not on a 70˚March day. I dawdled and talked on the phone as we walked, and I tried to shoo people in ahead of me. But the inevitable moment came when I had to go inside said dark bar. It was packed and loud and dark (have I made that clear?), and the rest of the night involved us shouting at each other and trying frantically to find members of our group who had drunkenly wandered off – but not before informing us all that their phones were dead. In a word, it was a shitshow.

After a late night of damage control, I dug in my purse the next morning, looking for my sunglasses… and all I found was an empty case.

I freaked out.

James called the hotel where we’d stayed, and he called the bars and restaurants where we’d been. He came up empty, and I was crushed. I had spent YEARS hunting for the perfect pair of sunglasses, and now I had to start all over? The prospect was daunting.

But it was a challenge I had to accept. I am leaving for a vacation to Arizona at the end of next week, and a vacation such as this is too important for the shitty second-string sunglasses I keep in my car for emergencies. 
Like these gas station sunglasses. They're fine.
No, I must (once again) find the perfect sunglasses – and I have a week and a half in which to do it.

My sunglasses have been lost for four days, and I’m already disheartened by the new search. Since Sunday, I’ve bought and returned three different pairs of sunglasses – “well, I suppose I’d better buy these just in case I can’t find anything better” is my defeatist attitude.

So the moral of this story? I think it’s that I should avoid dark and loud and crowded bars from now on. Forever.

Also that I will never again let my sunglasses out of my sight. (See what I did there? Even in my sunglasses distress, I can’t pass up a good pun.)

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

struggles with Doctor Who.

Have you ever wanted so desperately to like something because you feel like you’re totally missing out on a huge part of pop culture, but you try and you try and you just fail?

I feel that way about Doctor Who.
I generally don't condone using "epic" as an adjective, but this photo is epic.
James loves Doctor Who. LOVES. He started watching it shortly after we got Netflix, and he hasn’t stopped. He loves space and sci fi, and this show is perfect for him.

James has also been begging me to watch Doctor Who with him for about as long as he’s been watching it himself. He says, “You’ll love it! It’s British and clever and you’ll really really like it!”


I’m more of a Buffy the Vampire Slayer kind of gal. I love that brand of pithy humor, which James claims Doctor Who shares. However, I’m not big on space: I didn’t watch the original Star Wars trilogy until I was out of college. And time travel? Back to the Future is about as far as I’ll go with time travel.

Quite a while ago, I agreed to watch two episodes with James. He was thrilled, but he warned me that season one was terrible. I requested that we just skip season one and get to the good stuff, but he insisted that season one was too important and contained too much background information.

So we watched two episodes of season one. I met Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper, and I thought that those two episodes were the most God-awful things I’d ever seen. 
Ugh. Billie Piper.
It was low-budget and completely corny: I have even managed to block out what those two episodes were about. I think there were cat people in a space hospital, and some talking skin. Just awful.

James knew how much I wanted to like Doctor Who. There are t-shirts and action figures everywhere, and everyone seems to know all about Doctor Who except for me. I wanted in, but what I’d seen of Doctor Who thus far was basically a nightmare. However, those episodes successfully put me off Doctor Who, and I resisted James’s pleas to give it another chance. He promised that it got better and that I’d get the quirky Britishness that I’d signed up for.

I wasn’t convinced.

James finally got me to agree two watch more Doctor Who when we struck a wintertime bargain. We live on a corner lot, and shoveling snow is a bitch. James agreed to do all the shoveling for the rest of the winter if I would watch two seasons of Doctor Who with him. I would’ve been an idiot not to take that deal.

So I grudgingly watched two seasons of Doctor Who. Most of the episodes of season one were indeed terrible, but every now and again, there was a gem. There’s a World War II-era two-parter in season one with creepy children in gas masks, and much to my surprise, I found myself really enjoying that episode. (It’s creepy as hell: this little kid in an old-fashioned gas mask keeps saying “Are you my mummy?” in this terrifying high-pitched British little boy voice as he goes around transforming people into gas mask creatures.) And James was right about season two: while some of the episodes surely weren’t great, they were ALL better than the garbage season one had to offer. (Excluding the gas mask “are you my mummy” episode, of course.)

I met the Daleks in season one, and I know they’re supposed to be these evil creatures with no feelings besides hate, but I think they’re adorable. Yes, that’s the completely wrong reaction, but they’re so cute! They have these funny little voices and sometimes make terrible jokes, and they have little bulbs on top of their heads that light up and look like little ears. I’m not supposed to like the Daleks because they’re evil and kill everything, but I really look forward to the Dalek episodes.
So cute!
In my two seasons of Doctor Who, there was all sorts of cast-changing. Christopher Eccleston (the Doctor, for the uninitiated) grew on me, and I was genuinely disappointed when he left at the end of season one. However, Billie Piper was a huge problem for me. 
Also, she is a horrendously ugly crier.
She has the horsiest face of anyone I’ve ever seen, and her character (Rose Tyler) is so blindingly annoying that I actually cheered when she left at the end of season two. (That is supposed to be a huge emotional moment, and James was pretty scowly when I reacted with utter joy.) Also, Rose’s mother Jackie and Rose’s sort-of-boyfriend/stalker Mickey are just as irritating. I was so glad to see the whole lot of them ride off into the sunset.

But David Tennant? I LOVE HIM. I didn’t want to love him because I had just gotten used to Christopher Eccleston, but you can’t help but love David Tennant as the Doctor. He’s so expressive and goofy, and I found myself actually becoming invested in the show with David Tennant at the helm. And that’s when the British humor finally kicked in.
Plus he wears cool glasses sometimes.
Even though Doctor Who hasn’t yet grown on me like I had hoped it would, I am very much appreciative of all the Doctor Who pop culture references I now understand. Turns out? They’re EVERYWHERE. I finally appreciate sayings like “it’s bigger on the inside” and “wibbly wobbly timey wimey.” Not only do I now totally get all the themed shirts (or, most of them – I haven’t gotten to the Matt Smith episodes that insist that bowties and fezzes are cool), but I also pick up on more subtle references. For example: on the computer game Plants vs Zombies (which is completely awesome and please don’t judge me), one of the plants is called Torchwood – an oft-referenced organization in Doctor WhoAlso: in the completely hilarious song “Horse Outside,” the singer tells us that his horse “looks like Billie Piper after half an ounce of coke.” When I first heard the song, the reference was lost on me. Now? Hilarious. And true.
I liked David Tennant enough to concede to continuing to watch the show with James. James has been kind enough to let me skip the episodes he has deemed as terrible and non-essential to the show as a whole. We are into season three, and while it still veers into corny, it’s even better than season two. James just had me watch the first Weeping Angels episode, which is his favorite episode of all time and sufficiently creepy.
Don't blink.
James says, “Wait until we get to season four!” He claims that season four is far more awesome than I could ever imagine.

We’ll see, James. We’ll see.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

let's talk about manicures.

I feel weird about manicures.

I’ve only had two manicures in my life thus far: the first was for my wedding (at age 26), and the second was for Christmas 2014 – mostly to cover up my ugly winter nails.

My first manicure (and my only pedicure) came relatively late in life for a handful of reasons. First of all, I’m cheap. A manicure costs money, and a manicure is something I could do myself – albeit poorly, but it was still something I could accomplish without paying someone else to do it. Secondly, for the majority of my life, I was under the impression that manicure = fake nails. Fake nails seemed way too high maintenance for the likes of me, and the thought of taking them off made me more than a little bit squeamish.

There have been a handful of times in my life in which I thought about doing something just because everyone else was doing it. Shame on me, I know. Fake nails at prom is a prime example. I briefly entertained the idea of fake nails for my senior prom – after all, they were as standard an accessory as cubic zirconia jewelry from Claire’s. However, my innate thriftiness stepped in just in time. After all, I reasoned, I’d already spent $80 on my prom dress (the dress was $160, and my mom offered to pay for half. However, $80 was – and still is – a staggering sum for a dress I knew I’d only wear once) and $30 more on my sparkly prom jewelry and sparkly prom shoes, so there was no way I was about to spend $40 on some silly acrylic nails.

That was the one and only time when I considered fake nails, and I’m so glad my inner penny-pincher talked me out of it.

I didn’t think about getting a manicure all the way from prom up until I got married. Even when I was planning for my wedding, I hadn’t given much thought as to what my nails would look like until Mom offered to take my bridesmaids and me for manicures and pedicures the day before the wedding.

This was something completely out of my comfort zone, but I was excited to give it a try. (By this time, I had figured out that fake nails weren’t mandatory.) I opted for bright red wedding fingernails and French-tipped toes.
I will be the first to tell you that when I am in a fish-out-of-water situation (such as getting a mani/pedi for the first time), I am super awkward. We got to the nail salon, and I had absolutely no idea what was expected of me.
Everyone else knew exactly what to do.
I needed instruction every step of the way from the nail technicians, and I don’t blame them one bit if they were making fun of me behind my back. I cringed at the pedicure (callus buffing? OUCH) and winced at the manicure (cuticle trimming? GROSS), but was ultimately pleased with the results. My nails looked WAY better than anything I could have ever done, and I was promised that this super polish would last for quite a while.

Little did I know that my manicure had been done with gel polish.

The red polish on my fingernails stayed for a long, LONG time. It looked mostly fresh for about two weeks – but as you know, fingernails do tend to grow. My fingernails were looking a little sad when I finally attempted to take the polish off… but it wouldn’t budge. And then it hit me: gel polish. You couldn’t get that stuff off with just regular fingernail polish remover. As I was in Luverne, I couldn’t just scoot somewhere to have the polish removed. Plus, I didn’t want to spend money to get the polish removed (typical), and I didn’t want to wait until I could get to Sioux Falls (aka, the next day). So I consulted the all-knowing internet, and it told me to soak cotton balls in acetone and wrap said cotton balls around my fingers with aluminum foil. I did just that, and I looked ridiculous. I had to let my fingernails soak for thirty minutes, at which time the polish should come right off.

It didn’t.

Some of it came off, but the rest stayed on in sad little red streaks. I spent the rest of the evening picking away at it until finally giving up and painting over it with regular polish.

Note to self: no more gel polish.

I stayed away from the nail salon until Christmas 2014. Now, I don’t know about you, but my wintertime fingernails look 100% terrible. I don’t know what their problem is, but each winter, they split like crazy. I wanted decent-looking fingernails for the Christmas season, so my only solution was to cover them up with nail polish. Doing so myself was indeed possible, but it required an entire evening of sitting around and waiting for my nails to dry. (Obviously, I buy the cheap nail polish.) An entire evening that I did not have.

On a whim, I moseyed into a nail salon at the mall and signed myself up for a manicure. Once again, I was super awkward. Everyone else at the salon was a seasoned manicure-getter, but I had no idea what I was doing. I’m fairly certain the nail technician thought I was a total idiot – he had to tell me where to put my things and when to soak my fingers and when to head to the UV drying light. I chose red polish (again), and I have to say, for the cheapest non-gel manicure I could get, that polish lasted for a damn long time.

Long-lasting polish or not, I’m not going to make manicures a regular item on my to-do list. While I do like the way my nails look when professionally painted, I don’t find it particularly pleasant to get them painted. Not only am I super awkward, but I felt like an elitist snob strolling in and asking someone to paint my nails for me. Plus, the nail fumes were amazingly potent. I don’t know how the nail technicians stand it.

So for now, it’s back to my cheap bottles of nail polish and my less-than-perfect home manicures. And I’m ok with that.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

top ten Tuesday: UMM jazz songs.

I’ve said it before, and I will say it again: I had the BEST time in college. I was fortunate enough to choose exactly the right college for me, which is fairly remarkable considering I toured exactly three colleges.

Honestly, I didn’t even WANT to tour the University of Minnesota, Morris. I was planning to go to Gustavus Adolphus in St Peter because 1.) what a cool name, and 2.) they had the best food court I had ever seen. Quality reasons, I know.

But I visited UMM anyway, one lovely October day in 2004. My mom (who had wanted me to give UMM a chance all along) and I made the journey to Morris, and as soon as I set foot on the campus, I knew this was the place for me. It was love at first sight.

My tenure at UMM was chock-full of good things. I discovered the joys of art history, worked at the radio station and the newspaper, met my future husband, and made life-long friends.

Those friends and that future husband? All in the UMM jazz band.
I didn’t join jazz band until my sophomore year – after all, I was a clarinet player, and our jazz band didn’t have a clarinet section. I spent my freshman year playing my clarinet in concert band and being jealous of all my friends in jazz band, and I gamely tried my best to learn tenor saxophone over the summer. When school crept around again, I was decent enough to join one of the Cougar jazz bands.

During my time in UMM jazz, the jazz bands were broken into four main groups: Jazz I (super good), Jazz II (good), and Cougar I and II. The Cougar bands were the same, talent-wise: the only difference was that one was led by the jazz director and the other was led by a student director. We affectionately called them the Cougs. The Coug bands were the noncommittal jazz bands – for those of us who weren’t necessarily that good and just wanted to play. (Without having to practice much/at all.)

Those were also the jazz bands that music majors would join if they wanted to try their hand at a different instrument: my friend Nate played trombone in Jazz I and trumpet in Coug I.

Most of my jazz band time was spent in Coug I (save for the single semester Coug I wouldn’t fit into my schedule, and I was relegated to Monday night Coug II). My friends were all in Coug I, and I loved each student director: Nolan my first year, Kevin my second, and James my last. (I wish I could say that having my then-boyfriend-now-husband as a director allowed me special privileges, but it didn’t. Maybe he didn’t appreciate me boo-ing a few of his song choices from the front row.)

Coug I was a fifty-minute class on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I sat next to my friend and fellow tenor sax Clara, who was way better than me and bravely took the solos. We moaned and groaned at our least favorite songs and accidentally stole egg shakers.
My friends Sara, Nate, and Donovan were trumpet players, they cheerfully heckled each student director from their place on the risers. Jazz band was the greatest.
We had three concerts a year (October, November, February), three jazz dances (December, February, April), and one Jazz Fest (April). My parents happily came to Morris for each concert, which – we all agreed – were much more fun than the concert band concerts.
It was great fun for me to play, but it was just as much fun for me to listen to the other bands play. Jazz I always performed last, and they were show-stoppers.

So, for this musical top ten Tuesday, I’d like to present my top ten UMM jazz band songs. Five of them I played, five of them I didn’t. I noted the date we played them to the best of my memory/researching some of the old jazz programs James still has saved. So allow me to present my ten favorite UMM jazz songs!


Blues in the Night
November 2006
We played "Blues in the Night" at my second jazz concert of all time. (Alas, I can't remember what I played at my first jazz concert of all time.) I recall being very excited that I could actually play the saxophone part - keep in mind that I had been playing saxophone for a mere five months by this point. You don't have to be impressed, but I'm still going to feel a-ok about it.

Jazz Fest 2007
My first Jazz Fest! It was always fun to go to Jazz Fest, but it was nowhere near as fun as playing in it. 
First Jazz Fest!
We all had our matching t-shirts and matching excitement, and I got to use an egg shaker for the first time. (It wasn't until my final jazz fest that I accidentally stole the egg shaker. It may or may not still be in my saxophone case to this day.)

Coconut Champagne
October 2007
"Coconut Champagne" is by far my favorite song that I played during my jazz years. It was so much fun to play, and it was catchy as hell. The saxophone part was super fun - fun enough that I even WANTED to practice. I NEVER want to practice. That, my friends, is a big deal.

Carnival del Soul
February 2008
As you've probably noticed, all of my favorite songs are super catchy. "Carnival del Soul" is not only catchy, but short and sweet: the recording I have of the UMM Jazz Band clocks in at just over two minutes. It's got a great beat and speeds right along, and you can't say that about all jazz.

jazz dances, 2008 - 2009
As I was making this list, I noticed that songs from James's days as the jazz director didn't make the cut. "Didn't you pick anything good?" I asked him. "I wanted to, but you guys had already played the good stuff!" he said. So under James's direction, we played the good stuff at the jazz dances. I loved playing "Birdland," and you have to admit that it just makes you want to dance.


The First Circle
November 2006
Jazz I was made up of the best and the brightest: the super-talented musicians who could take anything thrown at them. "The First Circle" was a song that Jazz I played one concert just to show us how just exactly how talented they were. "The First Circle" was full of crazy time signatures that changed all the time, and James says it was super complicated and he tried to explain why but he ended up getting really technical and convoluted, so let's just leave it at this: it was hard and sounded really cool. The end.

Village Dance
October 2007
While "Coconut Champagne" is my favorite song that I've played in jazz band, "Village Dance" is my favorite song from any of the jazz concerts and dances, period. I asked James (who played in all of these songs but one) what I should say about "Village Dance," and he gave me the following bullshit:

"The low brass is explosive!"
"The sound is voluptuous!"
"It's like a power ballad... but not a ballad."

When James played this song that year, he had just learned how to circular breathe: you push air through your horn with your mouth while still breathing air in through your nose. It creates the illusion that you never stop for air, and it's really cool if you execute it correctly. James tried out circular breathing during his solo in "Village Dance," and it worked like a charm. The crowd went wild.

Jalapeno Dreams
February 2008
When Jazz I played something really cool, they always played it right at the end. No surprise, "Jalapeno Dreams" was one such piece. There are a lot of songs on this list vying for the title of catchiest, but I wonder if "Jalapeno Dreams" couldn't take the title. I'm listening to it as I'm typing, and I'm involuntarily bobbing my head - and out of the corner of my eye, I see James doing the same thing. James, the resident jazz expert, wants you to know that they played it at 200 beats per minute: aka very VERY fast. He also thinks you should know that it features each section individually. You're getting quite the music lesson today.

St Thomas
jazz combo
Yet another magnificently catchy jazz standard. There have been times I've had "St Thomas" stuck in my head for days on end. And you know what? I was ok with it. At the UMM jazz concerts, the four big jazz bands played, but sprinkled among them were combos. The combos had anywhere from three to nine people, and they played one song apiece. One combo played "St Thomas," which I'd never heard before. Changed my life.

The Bunny Hop
jazz dances
At the jazz dances, Jazz I played last and got all the best dance songs like "In the Mood" and "Sing Sing Sing." And of course, "The Bunny Hop." What made it memorable was that the musicians would come out on the dance floor and play their instruments... while doing the actual Bunny Hop. (If you didn't watch the Lawrence Welk video, do it right now. That's the Bunny Hop, and it's even more fantastic when Lawrence Welk does it.) That truly takes talent.


There you have it: my top ten UMM jazz songs. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a sudden urge to go and play my saxophone.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

let's talk about Beanie Babies.

I’m a little ashamed to admit this, but I, too, was a part of the Beanie Baby craze of the mid-to-late 90s.

Don’t worry: I wasn’t in it for the money. (I was eight. No eight-year-old is in ANYTHING for the money.) I just thought they were super cute.

I wasn’t even aware that Beanie Babies were THE must-have toy until long after everyone else. (Story of my life. I’m fairly terrible at adopting trends.) My cousins from Colorado had Beanie Babies, so I was first introduced to Beanie Babies on a trip to visit said cousins. They had piles of Beanie Babies in their rooms, and I thought the Beanie Babies were cute and cuddly and oh look they come with names and birthdays and why don’t I own them ALL?

My first Beanie Baby came from my Grandma Lorraine and Grandpa Harvey. Back when the Brookings mall housed Cover to Cover, we’d go there on occasion to browse the books or to look at the fun giftware they sold. Eventually, Cover to Cover started carrying Beanie Babies. One Easter, my brother, sister, and I all got a Beanie Baby from Grandma and Grandpa. I don’t recall dropping great big hints about Beanie Babies to my grandparents, so they must’ve caught onto the trend.

My first Beanie Baby was a black and white dog named Spot.
(In my extensive research for this story – also known as Wikipedia – I found out that Spot was one of nine original Beanie Babies released in 1993.) At the time, we had a real dog named Spot (who was unspotted), so I’m sure this was the inspiration behind this particular Beanie Baby. Spot came with a little tag clipped to his ear that informed me of his name and birth date. (If my memory serves me correctly, Spot had the same birthday as my dad: January 3. It was meant to be.)

During Beanie Baby 101 at my cousins’ house in Colorado, I was informed that the absolute most important number one Beanie Baby owning rule is to make sure that those tags are NEVER removed from your Beanie Babies. That tag is how you know that you have a 100% authentic Beanie Baby, and without that tag, the value will plummet. From the day I got my first Beanie Baby, I was borderline obsessive: not one of my tags was ever removed, and I even bought those stupid heart-shaped plastic tag protectors for my favorite Beanie Babies’ tags. How ridiculous.

Spot was just the first of many Beanie Babies yet to come. My second Beanie Baby came from my Great Aunt Ruth and Great Uncle Orin: the grandparents of the cousins with all the Beanie Babies. They gave me a little white unicorn, and I spent years convinced that my unicorn was much more valuable than any other unicorns: my unicorn had a brown horn while all the other unicorns had iridescent sparkly horns. My unicorn was special.
(Note: I have never actually cared enough to look this up – if my brown-horned unicorn is somehow more special than the iridescent-horned unicorn. I still don’t care enough to look it up.)

The older I got, the more Beanie Babies I wanted. After all, new Beanie Babies were being released all the time, with each generation cuter than the last. And I was on a never-ending search for a Beanie Baby that shared my birthday. (Note: I never found one on my own, but with my aforementioned extensive research – Wikipedia – I learned that Quackers the Duck has the same birthday as me.)

Every Christmas and birthday list contained a special Beanie Baby section. I had dogs (a terrier, a pug, a dachshund), cats (a calico, a Siamese, a cougar), birds (a flamingo, a penguin, an ostrich, a cardinal, a hummingbird), various bears, a star spangled elephant (back when I thought I’d grow up to be a Republican – thankfully, I grew out of THAT), a butterfly, a walrus, a jellyfish, a rhino… it was a whole menagerie.
Did you know that there was even such a thing as a
Beanie Baby jellyfish?
On occasion, I’d save up enough allowance to buy a Beanie Baby at an arts festival. I could never afford to buy one in a store, but there was usually a bit of room for negotiating if the vendor had a booth in a flea market or something. I bought the coolest Beanie Baby dragon at Prairie Village Days in Madison – it had red crinkly wings and was this cool textured brown color. 
I’d like to say that I spent ten dollars on it, which was a fortune in 1996 Calla dollars. The other Beanie Baby I clearly remembered buying at such an event was the commemorative Princess Diana bear. 
Why I felt inclined to buy this particular Beanie Baby, I do not know. It was very pretty with its deep purple color and embroidered rose, but I was ten when Princess Diana died and don’t recall feeling any sort of special attachment to her. What I do remember is that the vendor wouldn’t take any less than twelve dollars for this Beanie Baby. Since I had spent so much on it, the Princess Diana bear merited one of my plastic tag protectors.

I sought out Beanie Babies not just in the regular size, but in the Teeny size and jumbo size, as well. I had one big Beanie Baby: it was a super-soft penguin that I bought when my Colorado cousin and I did chores for Ruth and Orin (her grandparents, my great aunt and uncle) so that we could each earn enough money to buy a stuffed animal from the Index in downtown Brookings. (Fun fact: that penguin was also twelve dollars, which made me question why I the purple Diana bear – significantly smaller and not nearly as soft – was the same price.)

The Teeny Beanies came in Happy Meals, and lucky for me, I hadn’t quite aged out of the Happy Meal bracket. If I couldn’t get the Teeny Beanie I wanted via a Happy Meal, I found that these were quite affordable at craft shows and flea markets. (The key was to look for one in its original plastic McDonalds packaging. Then you knew you had a good one.) I had a whole other zoo of Teeny Beanies: a red bull, more penguins, a lobster. But three sizes of Beanie Baby weren’t enough for me: oh no. At a craft show in Arlington, I bought teeny tiny clay renderings of the penguin Beanie Baby and the Princess Diana bear Beanie Baby – they even had teeny tiny red tags. While not official Beanie Babies (after all, they were melted-looking things that were crafted by some ambitious South Dakotan), I still considered them part of my collection.

It was inevitable that I would grow out of Beanie Babies, and sure enough, I did. I got rid of a bunch of them – not by selling them and making a fortune (ha!), but by donating them to Goodwill or the church rummage sale. I kept a few of the especially cute ones, like the dragon and the flamingo and the teeny lobster. (Who can resist a teeny lobster?) 
Not me.
And there is a leopard Beanie Baby that rides around in my car – I saw it sitting sad and alone at a Sioux Falls Goodwill and for some reason could not leave without it. James bought it for me, and it is awfully cute. This second-hand leopard never did have its red Beanie Baby tag, and as it turns out, that doesn’t matter at all. I just don’t know its name and birthday.
(Extensive research note: Wikipedia tells me that the leopard’s name is Freckles and its birthday is June 3, 1996. We can all breathe a sigh of relief now that the mystery is solved.)