Monday, August 21, 2017

five songs I'm listening to now, volume III.

I am one of those people that can get into a musical rut. I will listen to the same handful of songs over and over again until I can recite the lyrics in my sleep. I’ve shared my top five songs on rotation a couple of times before, but I’ve since moved on. I present, for your listening pleasure, another list of my five current favorite songs for you!

Hope For Something

I am really not that great at finding new music. You would think my ten-ish hours of commute time each week would be the perfect time to discover new music, but to the contrary. While I’m making that same old drive on I-90, day in and day out, I need something that will keep my interest. I either listen to podcasts or music that I KNOW. Trying to wade through new and unfamiliar musical territory tends to make me zone out, which is not great when you’re driving. I have tried Pandora, but Pandora has an uncanny ability to make every single song sound exactly the same to me. So what do I do for new music? I ask James. As a music teacher and a DJ, it’s his job to stay on top of what’s new, and he’s got a good ear for what I like. James introduced me to this song, and though I had a bad attitude about it at first (he’s on an EDM kick, and I want no part of it – and this song didn’t sound promising), it didn’t take me long to change my mind. Now it’s on repeat in my car.

Fool For Love

Lord Huron
This entire list could be made up of Lord Huron songs, but I’m trying to contain myself. I had heard Lord Huron years ago, but I had promptly forgotten about them until I heard this song at the end of a Girls episode and LOVED IT. I heard another of their songs in a 13 Reasons Why episode and loved that one, too. I like Lord Huron because they’ve got kind of a late 50s/early 60s Buddy Holly sound, but without the trite lyrics. I bought their album Strange Trails on vinyl and have dance parties with my cat. Don’t tell anyone.

You and Me (But Mostly Me)

The Book of Mormon
The Book of Mormon changed my life. Not the actual book (NO!), but the musical. James and I saw it in May, and I have been listening to the soundtrack basically nonstop ever since. My favorite Book of Mormon song is an evolving creature (they’re ALL my favorite), but right now, it’s this one. For the uninitiated, The Book of Mormon is about two young Mormons who get sent on their mission… to Uganda. One is a super-Mormon, and the other is basically inept. This song is a duet between the two about how they’re going to change the world – but mostly the super-Mormon. If you love clever music, want to learn about Mormons, and are ok with a heavy (I mean HEAVY) dose of sacrilege, see The Book of Mormon. Seriously. See it.

Comes and Goes
Greg Laswell
This song is another recommendation, courtesy of James. He is a firm believer in Pandora, and he found this one while listening to a station called Indie Folk Revival (or something). I don’t have the patience for that, but I’m sure glad James does – he just picks out the good songs and plays them for me later. Thanks, James!

Stay Alive
Jose Gonzalez
Once upon a time, I watched The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. The movie itself wasn’t very memorable, but the soundtrack sure was. This song was featured, along with another favorite (“Lake Michigan” by Rogue Wave – it’s hard to go wrong with Rogue Wave). It took a while for this song to really click with me, though – I just happened to hear it again a few weeks ago, and I haven’t been able to stop listening to it.


That wraps up my latest list of top five songs! Perhaps you found something new to listen to – and if you have any recommendations for me, let me know! I’m always looking for new music, but as you know, I’m much too lazy to go out and find it myself. :)

Sunday, August 13, 2017

ten outfits under $35, volume VIII.



When I did my very first cheap outfit post a billion years ago, I never even gave a thought to it being a recurring thing. I thought, “Hey! I’m poor and resourceful, so why not show off my cheap fashion skillz?” Though I am (thankfully) less poor than I was then, I think I am actually MORE resourceful – I find better stuff from better stores, and I still keep my costs so very very low.

I’m not going to wax too nostalgic about the series quite yet, as I’m planning a sort of retrospective of the best outfits of each post. So let’s get right to business with this tenth post.

This is my eighth blog post in which the outfits are $35 or less. You can find the other seven by following the links: part I, part II, part III, part IVpart V, part VI, and part VII.Before I settled on $35 as my perfect dollar amount, I also wrote posts about outfits that were $30 or less and $40 or less.

Here, also, are the shortened rules. If you’ve read this series before, you know my rules, and I am therefore sparing you from all that cumbersome text. If you are unfamiliar, feel free to read the full rules: the most recent full-text edition can be found in volume VII.

1.) Any outfit on this blog will be one that I am proud of and would wear in public – it is not here just for the sake of adding up to $35.

2.) All of the clothing items you see here are new to the blog, with two exceptions: shoes and belts.

3.) I will use the same pair of shoes as often as I damn well please.

4.) I will include gifts, but under only two circumstances: jewelry with no price or clothing with a price. Jewelry gifts are not added to the total cost of the outfit, but items of clothing are.

5.) Foundation garments (socks, tights, tank tops) will not be used as part of the outfit total.

6.) The prices on each item are exact, thankyouverymuch.

7.) I will only elaborate upon clothing items that have a story, or that I find particularly interesting/exciting. Less filler text = better for everyone.

8.) I try to include clothing from a smorgasbord of places, but I definitely have my usual stores. This series wouldn’t be possible without them.

And there you have it. Please enjoy the tenth (!!!) edition of ten cheap outfits!

shirt – Country Peddler – FREE! ($10, used credit)
pants – Target – $17.49 (25% off plus $5 gift card from food)
shoes – Modcloth – $16.79 (additional 40% off clearance)
TOTAL: $34.28

Another Country Peddler find for the books. I love the swiss dots and the neckline on this shirt – now, if I could only find a navy blue tank top to match. I tell you, matching navies is TOUGH. These pants are now staples of my closet. This fall, Target had a whole ton of fun utility pants, and I stocked up. They’re thick (which means I can wear them to work and they won’t rip as easily as most pants), comfortable (also a work essential), and have great detailing. These grey pants are merely the first of many.

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

I am a HUGE fan of these big blankety cardigans, especially as the Artic Midwestern weather keeps trying to kill us. I got this sweater way back in August 2016, and I had to wait patiently to wear it until the sub-zero temperatures hit. (Because any real Midwesterner will keep on wearing shorts and sandals until they can’t stand it anymore, as they know they’ll be stuck in sweaters and wool socks for at least five months.) American Eagle jeans have been SO GREAT lately – they have more or less done away with the low-rise style that was the bane of anyone larger than a size zero. These are also jeggings, which sound ridiculous, but it mostly means they just have more Spandex. Nothing wrong with that.

short – Maurices – $8.20 (20% off + $15 in coupons)
shorts – AE – $13.98 (clearance + 30% off)
sandals – Target – $11.50 (buy one get one 50% off)
necklace – made by James
TOTAL: $33.68

SO MANY of my clothes come from Maurices – not just because I like their designs (because I do), but because there are always deals to be had. I don’t think I have ever, in all my years of shopping at Maurices, paid full price for an item of clothing. (I did pay full price for a feather pen there once, but that’s a story for another time.) My necklace is one that James made for me out of antique watch parts. Is that not AMAZING? He is one hell of a talented guy.

dress – Filly Flair – $33
shoes – Modcloth – FREE! (came with weird heel, couldn’t exchange, full credit)
belt – Country Peddler – FREE! (was $5, used credit)
hair clip – Michaels – FREE! (buy one, get one free)
TOTAL: $33.00

This dress? Like wearing pajamas. It is so soft and comfy, and the length is just right. (If you’ve been paying attention over the last nine cheap clothing blogs, you know how challenging it is for me to find a dress long enough and at a reasonable price.) The only thing it’s missing are pockets, but I guess I can’t have everything. The gold hair clip came from Michael’s – they were having  a buy one get one free hair accessory sale, so of course, I had to jump on that. This was the free one as it was cheaper – the one I had to pay for is a gold leaf headband, which I’m sure will pop up later on. Very Grecian-chic. Because that’s a thing.

shirt – Country Peddler – FREE! (was $10, used credit)
pants – Target – $17.49 (25% off plus $5 gift card from food)
shoes – Target – $12.50 (buy one get one 50% off)
necklace – Michaels/rock store in Spearfish – about $4 for supplies
TOTAL: $33.99

As promised, here is another pair of Target pants. I have worn these the most out of all of them, as this olive/army green is my favorite neutral. The necklace is one I made – it’s amazing what you can make if you’re willing to spend every spare minute/dime at Michael’s and hunting down jewelry supplies on Etsy. I wasn’t always very big on gold jewelry, but I have definitely changed my tune. I am obsessed with rosary chains and geodes, and I have to say, I’m pretty thrilled with how this necklace turned out. Full disclosure: it is pretty difficult to estimate how much it actually cost to make this item, as the chain came from a huge spool, and the rosary chain came from a 30-inch length. So forgive me if I’m not exact, but what do you do?

dress – Mason Jar Boutique – $29
belt - Modcloth - FREE! (came with dress)
shoes - DSW - FREE! ($29.99, $20.15 and $10 off)
necklace – Etsy – about $6 for supplies, and souvenir rock
TOTAL: $35

The Mason Jar Boutique is this teeny store in downtown Dell Rapids, and I’ve only actually been there once. I ordered this dress online, and it’s risky, as their return policy is store credit only. But this is a long-sleeved dress with POCKETS, so, you know. I made this necklace out of pyrite rosary chain that I ordered from Etsy and a super old hunk of pyrite that I bought a thousand years ago at a souvenir store in the Black Hills. (And by “a thousand years ago,” I mean about twenty.) I really like how it turned out, even though I had to coat the back of it in hot glue to keep the wire wrapped around the (somewhat heavy) pyrite. As long as you don’t look at the back, then, all is well.

shirt - Forever21 - $10.99
jeans – AE – $22.46 ($15 coupon)
shoes – Modcloth – FREE! (came with weird heel, couldn’t exchange, full credit)
earrings – Helzberg – FREE!
TOTAL: $33.45

I typically don’t use the word “blouse,” but I would say that this is a blouse. It’s made of chiffon-y material and is work appropriate… that is, if you work somewhere where you’re not in constant danger of snagging your clothing on library books and other miscellany. It’s got a decorative zipper, which, as you know, is one of my favorite things. The pearl earrings were a freebie from Helzberg, and I wear them all the time. You can’t ever go wrong with pearls.

shirt – ShopKo – $3.99 (gift from Mom)
shorts – Country Peddler – FREE! (was $15, used credit)
sandals - Target - $19.99
necklace – Spearfish rock shop/Etsy/Michaels – about $6 for supplies
TOTAL: $29.98

My shirt was a gift from my mom: a world-class bargain shopper if there ever was one. She found this for $3.99 – BRAND NEW. My shorts came from Country Peddler way before it was shorts season, but when you find a pair of shorts with sea creatures all over them, YOU BUY THEM. My necklace is one that I made out of a geode that I bought in a Spearfish rock shop when we were there over my birthday. I had every intent of putting it on sale in my Etsy shop… but I liked it so much that I ended up keeping it. It happens.

cardigan – Amazon – $13.77 (5% discount)
skirt – Modcloth – $20.99 (clearance and 30% off)
shoes - DSW - FREE! ($29.99, $20.15 and $10 off)
TOTAL: $34.76

These cardigans were all over in local boutiques last fall. I loved them (look at the buttons!), but I did NOT love the price tag. They tended to be in the neighborhood of $30, which is more than I want to pay for a basic cardigan. Enter: Amazon. I found the exact same cardigan for waaaaaay cheaper, AND I got a 5% discount for using my Prime card. The skirt came from one of Modcloth’s rare but amazing super clearance sales, in which you can get all the super expensive stuff you’ve been eyeing for a fraction of the price.

shirt – Maurices – $4.50 (25% off + $15 in coupons)
pants – Target – $22.49 (25% off)
shoes - DSW - FREE! ($29.99, $20.15 and $10 off)
necklace – Michaels – about $3 for supplies used
TOTAL: $29.99

This is the third and final pair of Target pants featured in this blog. These pants have just been SUPER for work, and I hope Target makes a zillion more. The necklace is one more made by me – I’ve found that in these turbulent political times (and during cold dark winter days), making jewelry is a great stress-reliever. This is another piece of Lake Poinsett sea glass, which is my favorite material. Keeping Lake Poinsett close is essential during winter – it reminds me of good summer things to come.

Well. We have reached the end of the tenth – TENTH – cheap outfit post. That means that I have put together ONE HUNDRED cheap outfits since I started this series way back i2013. Thanks for sticking with me through four years, one hundred outfits, and all sorts of crazy stories in between.

Stick around for the next one hundred.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

let's talk about street dances.

Summer is in full swing, and here in the Midwest, that means SO many things:

Long days.
Weekend festivals.
Drinks on patios.
Hard-earned sunburns.
Road trips.
As much time in/near water as you can manage.

And street dances.

For the uninitiated, a street dance is exactly what you think it is. (I’m inclined to believe that the street dance is a Midwestern small-town phenomenon, but perhaps it is more widespread than I give it credit for.) An average small-town street dance will take place on the Saturday night of said small town’s annual summer celebration. Every small Midwestern town has an annual summer celebration, always titled with a noun followed by “Days.” Honey Days. Buffalo Days. Family Fun Days. And for the less creative among us (I’m looking at you, home town), just the name of the town followed by “Days:” Arlington Days.

A portion of the main street of the town is shut down for the evening, and revelers are corralled into a small enclosure (typically created with wooden barricades and that neon plastic fencing stuff) in which a famous-in-the-surrounding-area local band is playing. Sometimes there’s a cover charge, sometimes there’s not. The only thing available to drink is overpriced light beer, and there is always a fistfight or two. And someone will inevitably spill their beer on you.

I may not strike you as a street dance kind of gal, and you would be correct. I gave street dances an honest shot when I was in high school, mostly because what else is a high school teenager going to do on a Saturday night in the middle of nowhere? Plus, that’s inevitably where my friends would be. Street dances are just what you did as soon as you (or one of your friends) had a driver’s license.

An introvert by nature, attending street dances always made me a little uneasy. You must understand that a small town street dance is not attended only by the citizens of that town, oh no. Any given street dance will attract revelers from all the surrounding small towns, as they all must coordinate their calendars to ensure that their town celebrations fall on different weekends. Therefore, when you stepped into a street dance, you would be confronted with dozens of people you didn’t know, many of whom were drunk and thus thought themselves to be top-notch conversationalists who must speak with absolutely everyone on the premises.

It wasn’t just the strangers that provided me with many uncomfortable moments. As a typical high school nerd, partygoers  who never spoke to me at school greeted me with drunken surprise: “Calla? At a STREET DANCE?” Street dances were hotbeds of underage alcohol consumption, and upon realizing that I (too terrified of the unknown consequences of underage drinking to risk it), was sober, lost interest in my presence.

Stone cold sober, as always, at the Lake Preston street dance, circa 2005.
My prime street dancing days were the summers of 2004 – 2006: the summers after my junior and senior years of high school, and the summer after my freshman year of college. Too young to legally drink, but old enough to drive and to have part-time jobs to pay the cover charge. I attended street dances sporadically until approximately the summer of 2010, which is the last documented evidence of me at a street dance:
It is a fact that I went to the 2010 Arlington street dance with my parents, and it is also a fact that I
went home earlier than they did. By HOURS.
We may have spent more time getting ready for said street dances than actually at the street dance itself. This was the mid-2000s, and we had our street dance uniform DOWN. The perfect small town teenage girl street dance attire consisted of…

a sequined and/or shiny tank top (likely purchased at Vanity or Maurices)
the most expensive jeans you had (preferably pre-ripped, and light wash – obviously)
sparkly flip flops (bonus points if they had a kitten heel)
silver eyeshadow
clear lip gloss

Also acceptable were super short denim skirts (I was only brave enough for this one time, and it was a skirt that my friend Bob made for me) and polo shirts with the teeny embroidered animal of your choice (an Abercrombie and Fitch moose was the most desirable, followed by the Hollister seagull). When it came to polos, brands ruled the day.
This picture was meant to show Rachel's and my denim skirts, but you'll
mostly have to pretend you can see them. Instead, check out her sequined and
my shiny tank tops. Two thumbs up for street dance attire 2006!
You could never wear the same street dance outfit to two street dances in one summer, as you saw the same people at every single one. It was imperative for you to save your absolute best street dance apparel for the street dance in your home town: that’s when you brought your a-game. My friend Meagan and I would usually go shopping for a totally new outfit in preparation for the Arlington street dance, and we would spend hours perfecting our hair and makeup. Meagan was the queen of the street dance, and she taught me everything I knew.
Meagan and me at the Arlington street dance, 2005. our ensembles were en pointe.
I attended so many South Dakota street dances those three summers. Street dance season ran from mid-July to early-August, and I am reasonably certain we went to one nearly every weekend. Bryant, Lake Preston, Castlewood, Bruce… you name the small town, and we were probably there.
Badger street dance, 2007.
I hadn’t thought of street dances in years: that is, until I found myself at a street dance (masquerading as a block party) in Luverne just this past weekend. This event didn’t have the tell-tale signs of a small-town street dance, so I didn’t immediately peg it as such. No shiny tank-tops. No silver eyeshadow. We were drinking craft beer from the local brewery, and craft beer is NEVER a thing at street dances. The band was even semi-famous (the Suburbs). And… it was on a Friday. No street dance strays from its Saturday station – not ever. I was having fun: block parties are the grown-up version of street dances, and I am a full-fledged block party supporter. However, as the night wore on, my precious block party devolved into a street dance. It didn’t occur to me that this had happened until I was drunkenly mistaken by a woman with a shrill laugh and a bright red tongue for one of her high school best friends. As I stood there, stammering that I didn’t remember the occasion upon which she was elaborating (how “we” were drunk one night and something unintelligible about a dog), my loving husband James was just letting it happen because he “thought it was hilarious.” And just like that, I was an awkward teenager out of my element once again.

Don’t get me wrong: I did have fun at the street dances of yore. I loved getting dressed up and hanging out on beautiful summer nights with my friends. What I didn’t love were the clumsy drunks and the wandering hands of entitled out-of-town teenage boys and the deafening roar of a small town celebrating with beer and bands. Basically, I was a crotchety old lady at sixteen.

At thirty, I am still a crotchety old lady. The only difference now is that I don’t go to street dances (unless I get tricked into them when I stay too long at a block party). But I do remember my street dance days (mostly) fondly: those were some of the last carefree summers of my life, and I got to spend my time doing basically whatever I wanted. No bills, no career, no nothing. The only things on my plate were my jobs at the church camp and the Dairy Mart, and the rest of my calendar revolved around what I was doing with my friends. Those days are long gone, but I will never forget that freedom and those priceless South Dakota summers.

Arlington street dance, 2006.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

on this day in 2004: excerpts from a journal, July edition - volume II

12 July 2004

Ok, so I guess I won't get to sleep in. Dad woke me up at 9 (editor's note: remember the days when we thought getting up at 9 was early?!) so we could take Susie (editor's note: Susie was the name of my car) to Watertown to get her scratch fixed. We got to have breakfast at McDonald's, which was awesome. They gave us free hashbrowns. Score! 

Deb called and asked me to come in to work at 1 instead of 3. Bummer. (editor's note: this was my summer job working in the kitchen of the church camp at Lake Poinsett.)

I Love the 90s premieres tonight on VH1. I am so excited. I absolutely cannot wait.

At work today, Deb thanked me three times for coming in early. I worked with Millie and Marlene, and Deb made me HEAD FREAKING COOK. My coworkers had never made pizza before, so I was in charge. I was freaking out because I wasn't sure if the pizza would get done in time, when to put the breadsticks in, etc. I ended up spilling silverware bucket water all over my leg. Not cool. At the end of the evening, I couldn't get the golf cart to go anywhere, so I ended up making three (walking) trips to the dumpster. On the first one, the garbage bag ripped, and I got pizza sauce all over my pants. 

I had another hour-long conversations with Bob this evening, and we decided to go to The Notebook and pretend to cry. 

I'm watching I Love the 90s, and it rules so very much. This show is so wonderful, especially because I remember a lot of this stuff. 

Bjorklund out!

Current music: not music, but the VH1 panelists are currently discussing The Silence of the Lambs

Thursday, June 29, 2017

confessions: Mountain Dew.

I have something shameful to admit to you.


I used to love Mountain Dew.

I know, I know. Judge away.

If we're being honest here, I do not remember how my love affair with Mountain Dew came to be. My parents are Dr Pepper and Coca Cola drinkers, and even then, my soda consumption was confined to holidays, birthdays, and lake days... or days when I was home alone and snuck cans of pop in secret (sorry, Mom and Dad).

But Mountain Dew just wasn't something we had.

Until I somehow discovered it, decided I had to have it, and started writing it on the grocery list that hung on our refrigerator.

I cringe to think how much Mountain Dew I drank. I'm guessing that I started sometime in my early teen years, and by then, my parents had (wrongly) assumed that I was a responsible human being and could regulate my own sugary drink intake.

This is the earliest photographic evidence I could find of me with a Mountain Dew. The year was 2001. I was 14 years old.
Back then (the early-to-mid-2000s), Mountain Dew was COOL. At least, the teenage population of Arlington, South Dakota thought it was cool. Drinking Mountain Dew meant that you were clearly awesome and not at all lame. Because lame people didn't drink Mountain Dew. Obviously.

My affinity for Mountain Dew was well known among my family and friends. I received many a Mountain Dew-themed gift for Christmases and birthdays, including (but not limited to) a Mountain Dew shirt, a whole plastic baggie full of those bottle lids that you could cash in for free Mountain Dew (remember those?!), and (obviously) actual Mountain Dew.

During my photo archive research for this story, I discovered a weirdly
large number of photos in which I am posing with Mountain Dew.
Mountain Dew was not only my beverage of choice, but it very well could’ve brought my husband and me together.

Ok, I’m pretty sure that James and I would’ve ended up together with or without Mountain Dew, but it’s one of the first things we had in common. That and concert band. Nerds.

Very quickly after James and I met on that first day of new student orientation in August 2005, we bonded over our love of that neon yellow drink. I always had Mountain Dew in my dorm mini-fridge, and so did he – or, if memory serves me correctly, James didn’t have a mini-fridge, so he had warm Mountain Dew on hand at all times. I recall him consistently offering to trade me one of his warm Mountain Dews for one of my cold ones, and I always said yes.

It’s just dawning on me that James totally just used little freshman me for my access to a mini-fridge and my cold Mountain Dew. I ran this by James, and he claims that it was just an excuse to come and see me. "What a perfect excuse!" he says.

James went to a school called Dassel-Cokato, as did four other members of the concert and jazz bands. And you know what? They ALL drank Mountain Dew – and a couple of them were rumored to consume a twelve-pack a day. (James later told me that, in his hometown, they call Mountain Dew “Finn water” because it’s all the Finnish kids drink.) James’s brothers all drank Mountain Dew. As much as Mountain Dew was a thing in Arlington, it was something else entirely in Dassel-Cokato. It was a way of life.

"That's ALL I ever drank," said James. "I didn't even drink water."

Personally, I maxed out at two Mountain Dews a day, and even that was rare. Mountain Dew was meant to be enjoyed, not abused. And besides, I don’t know how anyone could AFFORD a serious Mountain Dew habit – soda was expensive, and even more so in Morris. I did indeed always have Mountain Dew around, but it was precious and not to be frittered away.
Here is a freshman me, drinking out of a PITCHER of Mountain Dew at Pizza Hut. SHAME.
My relationship with Mountain Dew began its steady decline during that freshman year of college. Maybe it was my horror at seeing the dozes of empty Mountain Dew boxes in their houses and rooms, only to be informed that it was only a few weeks’ worth. Or the Mountain Dew can pyramids. Or the horrible concoction we drank called UV Dew (UV Blue mixed with Mountain Dew… I know, try and control your gag reflex).

All that aside, I still had some strong attachments to Mountain Dew. Nothing tasted quite as good as a cold Mountain Dew with a grilled cheese sandwich from Don's CafĂ© in Morris. Or with a breakfast pizza from Casey's. Or with a ham and cheese sandwich over my lunch breaks when I worked at the Brookings County Courthouse over two summers in college. NOTHING tasted better. 

 My entire college experience tastes like Mountain Dew.

(That's a gross statement, but it's true.)
Halloween Mountain Dew.

A friend's dad knew I was coming to visit, so he prepared accordingly. My reputation preceded me.
It would take me a great many years to give up Mountain Dew completely. I remember the moment: I was standing at my refrigerator in my junky Sioux Falls apartment, sometime in late 2012 or early 2013. I was staring a the near-empty Mountain Dew box on the shelf, and I thought to myself, "When this last Mountain Dew is gone, I'm quitting."

I didn't have any great revolution or any life-changing event - it just seemed like it was time. I was an adult job now with an adult job, and I felt like kind of an idiot in the break room when I brought in my Mountain Dew for lunch and everyone else was drinking water. (Full disclaimer: I didn't give up soda altogether - just Mountain Dew. Don't bet on me giving up soda any time soon.) Mountain Dew was a staple of my teenage years and early twenties, but my relationship with Mountain Dew felt like it was reaching its expiration date. A natural end to a years-long partnership. Plus, I had endured endless years of mocking from my father, who loved to remind me of the old Mountain Dew commercial where a cartoon hillbilly claimed that the beverage "tickled your innards," and how could that possibly be good for you? It was time.

Since I finished that last Mountain Dew, I haven't looked back. I haven't had so much as a sip of Mountain Dew in the intervening years - I haven't even been tempted. I can imagine what it tastes like, but the thought alone is enough to make my teeth hurt.

This is a weird thing to say about a sugary, chemically beverage, but Mountain Dew will always have a special place in my heart. Remember how I told you that Mountain Dew probably brought James and me together?

On my 20th birthday, I was in St. Cloud having a truly awful day with my then-boyfriend. James, my wonderful friend, stopped by my on-campus apartment to deliver my birthday gift: two twelve-packs of Mountain Dew. I wasn't there, so he elected instead to watch a chick flick with my roommates in hopes that I would return. I wasn't back by the time the movie was over, so James covered the Mountain Dew boxes in little pink heart sticky notes (they were my roommate's, so James claimed) stating birthday wishes and that he was sorry to have missed me.

You know that moment when you realize you may have found the person you should spend your life with?

I think that was it.

Thanks, Mountain Dew.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

ten books from Ellsworth story time, part II.

As you might know, I have the good fortune and honor of being the Ellsworth Elementary School’s volunteer librarian/story teller. 
Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, sitting and standing
I’ve had this gig since 2014, and let me tell you, I love it more every year. I have just wrapped up year three of bi-weekly story times, and believe me when I tell you that Ellsworth story time is a total delight. Sometimes, I can’t believe that I just get to show up at a school and do something this fun: kids tell me what they’re reading, I read to them, and I tell them that books are awesome. How great is that?!

I absolutely LOVE getting to read to the Ellsworth kids – not only because they are fantastic and always make me feel super loved (one kindergartener gave me not one, but TWO Lisa Frank stickers in honor of my last day), but because it is just the best thing ever that I get to bring all these fun new books to them.

Over the three years I’ve been doing story time, I have read through literally hundreds of picture books, searching for just the right one for each and every story time. For a book to make the cut for my story time, it must, above all things, be clever. I learned pretty fast that funny books keep the kids’ attention best, and since I only have them for twenty minutes every other week, I want to read them something that they’ll like. And, to be honest, I want to read something that I like, too. Kids can tell if you’re not totally sold on the book you’re reading, and if you’re not, they won’t be either.

During my tenure as a story timer, I have discovered some truly great picture books: books that I, a grown-ass woman, find completely hilarious and brilliant. Last year, I gave you my list of my ten favorite picture books thus far.

My favorites last year were:

The Day the Crayons Quit – Drew Daywalt
Gaston – Kelly DiPucchio
Grumblebunny – Bob Hartman
I Don’t Like Koala – Sean Ferrell
Interrupting Chicken – David Ezra Stein
Meet the Dullards – Sara Pennypacker
The Princess and the Pony – Kate Beaton
Sparky! – Jenny Offill
The Story of Ferdinand – Munro Leaf
Zombie in Love – Kelly DiPucchio

If you care to read the whole run-down, click here.

And now, I wish to present ten more favorites from one more year of story time. 

Dragons Love Tacos – Adam Rubin
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This book has been pretty popular amongst the grade-school set ever since it came out in 2012. After all, who doesn’t love dragons? And the thought of dragons eating tacos is so bizarre that you HAVE to read it and find out what the deal is with dragons and tacos. The book gives you instructions on how to best host a dragon/taco party, with the caveat that, whatever you do, do NOT give the dragons spicy salsa. 
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I bet you can guess what happens next.

The Happiest Book Ever – Bob Shea
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Anything by Bob Shea is a guaranteed winner. This is one of those books that is overflowing with tiny detailed illustrations and little one-off jokes that you’ll miss if you don’t examine each and every one carefully. I love books like this for story time, because the kids all huddle right around the book and squint at the pictures and loudly announce what they find and laugh their heads off. The Happiest Book Ever begins with the happy narrator encouraging everyone in the book to make it the happiest book ever, but a frowny frog foils their plans. 
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The narrator totally loses his shit, and it’s brilliant.

How Droofus the Dragon Lost His Head – Bill Peet
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Remember how everyone loves dragons? Welcome to the second dragon entry on this list. Bill Peet, like Bob Shea, is an author with whom you cannot go wrong. His books tend to be a little on the lengthy side, so I have to save them for a week when the kids are a bit less rowdy (ie, not right before or right after a school break). This book is about a gigantic dragon named Droofus who is peaceful and kind, but the king sees how large (and seemingly dangerous) he is and wants his head. 
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Here he is, sleeping with bunnies and lambs!
Bill Peet’s stories always have gorgeous illustrations and gentle lessons: in this case, don’t judge based on preconceived notions. It’s a good lesson for kids, to be sure, but one that we as adults could do well to remember as well.

I Yam a Donkey – Cece Bell
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As an English major and a stickler for grammar, I thought this book was hilarious. It’s about a donkey who meets a yam, and all sorts of confusion ensues. The yam is a grammarian, and the donkey drives him crazy. The yam says that he is a yam, and the donkey responds with, “I yam a donkey!” and so on. 
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I think I thought this book was funnier than the kids did (because GRAMMAR JOKES), but so it goes. They really liked the goofy illustrations and the grumpy yam.

King Baby – Kate Beaton
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I love Kate Beaton’s illustration style, and her The Princess and the Pony was a favorite from last year. This is only her second children’s book, and I hope she keeps it up, as they are amazing. King Baby is about a baby (duh), and he is the only child: everyone fawns over him and does his bidding… until his sister comes along. 
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The Ellsworth kids with younger siblings or younger cousins or younger anything all found this book to be particularly truthful.

The Scrambled States of America – Laurie Keller
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Like The Happiest Book Ever, The Scrambled States of America is filled with illustrations and little jokes – it requires careful inspection to catch everything. It’s about how Kansas gets bored of his location in the country, and he and the other states decide to switch places and try out a new spot. 
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As you can imagine, it doesn’t go too well: the kids’ favorite part is when Minnesota switches places with Florida and gets sunburned. There’s an marvelous spread at the back of the book where different attributes of each state go and visit others: Mount Rushmore goes to see the Statue of Liberty, and so on. You can spend ages looking at this book.

Snappsy the Alligator Did NOT Ask to Be in This Book – Julie Falatko
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Snappsy the Alligator is an unusual book in that the story is driven by the relationship between the narrator and Snappsy. The narrator is saying all these things about Snappsy, and Snappsy is reacting and rebutting. 
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Things happen because the narrator says they should, and Snappsy does his best to stop them, but to no avail. Poor Snappsy.

Super Happy Magic Forest – Matty Long
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Super Happy Magic Forest is the third and final book in which the best part of the story lies in the teeny details. The book is bright and full of adventure and every page is bursting with illustrations. 
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It is set in – you guessed it – a Super Happy Magic Forest where the Mystical Crystals of Life keep everything utopic. But – horror of horrors – they go MISSING! Five unlikely heroes (including a mushroom named Trevor) are chosen to retrieve them and restore happiness to the land. Can they do it?? Read this book (seriously, read it) and find out!

Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great – Bob Shea
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Much like dragons, unicorns are sure-bets in the picture book world. That is, as long as they’re funny unicorns. This book is about a goat who is jealous of Unicorn – Goat thinks Unicorn is full of himself because of his horn and cupcakes and rainbows, but it turns out that being a unicorn is more complicated than one might think... and being a goat has some unexpected benefits.
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Goat gives Unicorn a chance, and an unlikely friendship is born. Another good lesson, plus lots of fun Bob Shea illustrations.

XO Ox – Adam Rex
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I read this book for Valentine’s Day, and a few of the kids noticed right away that the title is a palindrome. AWESOME. It’s about an ox who falls in love with a celebrity gazelle and starts writing her love letters. She, of course, dismisses him – even sending him the same form letter twice in a row. 
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The ox doesn’t see this, and he believes that her letters mean that she loves him, too. It’s actually kind of sad until the tables start to turn. I especially love this book because Scott Campbell is the artist – he illustrated my all-time favorite Ellsworth story time book, Zombie in Love (which I read every year for Halloween, and it has yet to get old).


There you have it: ten more favorite books from Ellsworth story time. I’ve got the whole summer ahead of me to read up on picture books for next year, so stay tuned for the greatest hits of the 2017-18 school year. I can’t wait to get started.