Wednesday, October 7, 2015

flashback: move-in day at UMM.

I’m a few months behind here, but it hit me other day:

It’s been TEN YEARS since I wandered onto the University of Minnesota Morris campus as a puny and terrified freshman.

This realization struck me as James (who arrived at UMM the very same day I did) and I strolled around the UMM campus in early October. We had made the drive for homecoming – not that we went to any of the events. It was an excuse to visit our old stomping grounds and hang out with some old UMM friends and lament about how old we are. Which we did.

After breakfast at Don’s and while roaming the campus, James and I walked by our freshman dorm… and it slowly dawned on us that we had moved into Independence Hall one decade ago. Allow me to take you back in time…

AUGUST 25, 2005
It was move-in day at UMM. I had been simultaneously overjoyed and petrified of this day ever since I signed the papers pledging my heart and soul and my firstborn child to UMM. I was so ready to leave my tiny rural Midwestern hometown of Arlington… for slightly less tiny rural Midwestern college town called Morris. But I was also quite wary of leaving my friends and family behind. Was I really ready to start from scratch at a college two-and-a-half hours from home, where I knew absolutely nobody?

On that drive to Morris, the thought flitted across my mind that I maybe should’ve gone to SDSU instead. It was closer to home, and I would be able to see my friends. And as an awkward person by nature, how was I going to make brand-new friends? What if no one liked me? The insecurities of my 18 year-old self reared their ugly heads, and I hoped against hope that the other UMM students wouldn’t think I was too weird.

You see, in high school, being weird was my thing. It took a while for me to be able to actually make it work (until senior year, in fact), but it eventually took hold. Weird quirky Calla who loves band and carries a disposable camera wherever she goes. Weird quirky Calla who hangs out with her weird quirky friends who are up to their eyeballs in inside jokes. Weird quirky Calla who most definitely doesn’t fit in, but is ok with it.

Had I known then what I know now, I would not have had a thing to worry about. I would soon find out that college is the easiest place on earth to make friends, and that being weird is almost expected. Especially at UMM.

But I didn’t know that yet, so I forged ahead to UMM, nervous and excited. Sure, I’d be starting over with friends, but isn’t starting over what college is all about? It’s a clean slate: no one at college would know of my ugly ducking history – they would only know what I wanted them to know. I could be whomever I pleased.

That shred of confidence vanished as soon as we pulled into the crowded Indy Hall parking lot. My entire family had come with me: even my brother and sister, who had started school (grades 7 and 9, respectively) earlier in the week, took the day off to help me move to college. I was so grateful to have them all there.

The place was an absolute zoo. Luckily, my dorm room was on the first floor, so we assumed moving would be nice and easy. As it turned out, moving in was even easier than we expected: UMM had a move-in crew made up of upperclassmen. We just piled my stuff on the ground and told the eager beaver neon t-shirted move-in crew where it had to go (Indy 1C). It was done in the blink of an eye, and with the help of my family, I was unpacked in almost no time. I had opted for a metal bunk bed thing for optimal living space (you put the bed on top and your desk underneath), so that was assembled. As no dorm room in the history of ever has air conditioning, I remember us all being swelteringly hot.

The activities that followed are kind of a blur to me. There was so much to do and so little time to do it, so you’ll have to forgive my lack of precise detail.

  • got a parking pass for my car
  • met my new roommate and most of my new floormates
  • got my student ID, my dorm room key, and the quintessential lanyard
  • attended a handful of “welcome to UMM” sessions – some of which were for parents only/students only
  • made sure my meal plan was in order
  • ate at the welcome picnic
  • signed me up for band

That last point is very important. I joined band on a whim: sure, I was a band kid in high school, but not so much of a band kid that I ever actually practiced my clarinet. I wasn’t planning on joining college band until I attended the freshman registration event earlier that summer. I signed up for my required classes and found myself with an empty time slot… right when band was. A little persistent voice in my brain (it’s possible that it was my dad) told me I should sign up. So I did.

And that’s why I found myself in the Humanities and Fine Arts building with my family, wandering around and looking for the sign-up sheet for band auditions. The four of them stayed out by the lockers while I crept into the depths of the music offices, finally locating the mythical sign-up sheet. Having locked down an audition, I emerged from the hallways to find my family happily chatting away with a smiley redhead. I sidled up to them and was introduced to James: he was a trumpet player, and he had also just moved into Indy Hall (2B). This guy was so totally at ease with everything around him that I could hardly believe that he was also a freshman. He bid us farewell, telling me that he’d stop by my dorm room sometime so we could hang out. And that’s how I made my first UMM friend – and also how I met my husband.

When the time came for my family to go home, part of me wanted to jump in the minivan and go right back with them. But at the same time, another part of me felt like everything was going to be just fine. My mom has said that I looked like a deer in headlights when they left my dorm room that August day, and I have no doubt about that.
It was a weird day for all of us.
It was shocking to see them go: sure, I’d been to overnight camp before, so it’s not like I’d never had the experience of being dropped off in a strange place. But this was different. My parents weren’t coming back to pick me up in a week, and I wasn’t going to be expected to sit around campfires and sing songs. I would be taking classes and writing papers and CHANGING THE WORLD. This was COLLEGE. I was an adult now. (Or what I thought was an adult.) It was sink or swim, and I hadn’t made it this far to stop swimming now.

So as my parents drove away, I took a deep breath, put on my brave smile, and strode forth to meet my future.

College at UMM was basically the highlight of my life thus far. I couldn’t have asked for a better college experience. Of course, it wasn’t perfect, but that’s part of what made it so great. For every adventure I had in college, I probably had two misadventures. I have SO MANY STORIES, and I can’t wait to tell them.

As James and I waxed nostalgic on this last trip to UMM, sighing about the good old days and longing for such freedom. We were so young, and I was a starry-eyed optimist: something that I’ve regretfully grown out of. Every day was a new magical adventure, and your responsibilities were limited to classwork and the possible ten-hour-a-week job. Your student loan debt hadn’t come calling, and you were not expected to have adult things like a sedan and a mortgage. Life was so blissfully simple.

Ah, but all good things must end. Adult life has its perks (namely, a paycheck and a house free of black mold… unlike the house I occupied in college), but it’s no college. No more do you spend each and every waking moment around your friends, and no more do you take impromptu road trips to the far-away Target. Everyone has jobs, many are married and have kids. Life goes on.

Nothing sums up my post-college feelings better than the Avenue Q song called “I Wish I Could Go Back to College.” 
Allow me to excerpt some lyrics:

I wish I could go back to college
In college you know who you are
You sit on the quad and think,
“Oh my God! I am totally gonna go far!”

The song ends with these lines:

But if I were to go back to college
Think what a loser I’d be.
I walk through the quad and think,
“Oh my GOD. These kids are so much younger than me.”

Walking through the mall (a patch of grass equivalent to a quad) at UMM, I felt exactly this way. Everyone around us was SO YOUNG, but it felt like James and I still belonged right there. College was the best, but there’s no going back.

Thanks for the memories, UMM.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

a lament for discontinued products.

You know how, just when you think you’ve found that perfect shampoo or that perfect eyeliner, it disappears from the shelf: never to be seen again. You know that anguish you feel when you realize that you’re going to have to start all over in the hunt for the perfect lotion, but it will never match up to the lotion that you had but is now gone forever?

I know that feeling all too well.

It seems like it happens to me disproportionately often. My losses are mostly cosmetic-based, but my discontinued-project tribulations have crossed the line into food as well.

Sure, there have been tons of foodstuffs that I once ate that have now gone to the big grocery store in the sky: original Surge, Dunkaroos (though an internet search informs me that you can still get them in Canada), that weird purple ketchup.

But I didn’t mind, as I was just too young to care.

As I have grown older, it seems as soon as I find a product that I love dearly, it goes kaput. Maybe it’s me. And it seems like it’s happened quite often over the last few years. 

The first time I remember being truly upset about a product’s retirement was when I was in college. My mom used to buy packets of Lipton Sour Cream and Chive noodles, and that was my all-time favorite meal. Honest to God, I can still taste them. It was one of the first things I ever learned to cook (margarine + milk + water + noodle packet = voila!). I ate them for years. Until one day… they were gone. You couldn’t find them in the Brookings HyVee, which is where you found ALL THINGS. The last place we could find them was at the grocery store in Morris called Willie’s. During my sophomore year, my parents came to visit me and ended up buying out the store’s supply. 
Those noodles were that important.

But then… they were gone.

Willie’s stopped carrying the noodles, and that marked their demise. I have not seen them since.

It wasn’t until I grew up and got a job where I could afford real groceries that I noticed my favorite products slowly disappearing off the shelves. Which totally sucks.

Kraft White Cheddar Mac and Cheese bowls
I work every Wednesday from 12-9, so my supper break is from 4-5. I am usually not all that hungry by 4, so I wanted some kind of not-too-heavy meal, but one that would also keep me sated until 9 o’clock. (Or 9:40, when I get home from work. Commuting = boo.) These macaroni and cheese bowls did just that. They were better than the little Easy Mac bowls (which were definitely not enough food), and they weren’t garlicky and smelly like the other pasta bowls in the grocery aisle. I loved them – and they were usually on sale for about $1.50. But then, they started fading away. I HyVee-hopped, trying in vain to find them. The other Kraft varieties (sharp cheddar and broccoli = gross, three cheese and bacon = gross) remained, emblazoned with red clearance stickers. But my white cheddar was gone. I am still in search of a replacement dinner for my Wednesday nights, but so far, I have failed. Why, Kraft? WHY???

Oikos honey Greek yogurt
I hopped aboard the Greek yogurt train about four years ago. I am a big fan of the mid-morning snack, and while regular yogurt is a nice healthy choice, I just wasn’t feeling it. Years of eating peach Yoplait had become dull, and all the other flavors were too Splenda-y for my liking. I ventured cautiously into the world of Greek yogurt, and Oikos honey Greek yogurt was the most delicious yogurt I had ever tasted. I tried other flavors, but Oikos honey always prevailed. And then it was gone. It disappeared from HyVees first, leaving me to make the dreaded trip to the Sioux Falls Walmarts to procure my precious yogurt. But it soon vanished from Walmart, too. There are all sorts of other honey yogurts, but none is as delicious as Oikos. Noosa honey Greek yogurt is pretty good, but the last time I was at my regular HyVee, it wasn’t there. Cue heart attack. I was able to find it at a different HyVee, but that’s always how it begins.

Ben and Jerry’s Vermonty Python

Having never had Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, I bought a pint of this on a whim at Coborn’s in Morris, circa 2006. I bought it primarily because its name is undeniably awesome, and partly because its description was mouthwateringly delicious: coffee liqueur flavored ice cream with fudge cows and a chocolate cookie crumb swirl. Sign me up. I devoured that pint post haste and wasted no time purchasing more. I ventured into other Ben and Jerry’s flavors, but none held more appeal than Vermonty Python. My time with Vermonty Python was sadly short-lived, as Ben and Jerry’s retired it in 2008. Damn you, Ben and Jerry.

In the past few years, my favorite beauty products have been disappearing like crazy. What gives?

Dove wild rose deodorant
You may think it’s weird that I’m telling you what my favorite deodorant is, but you know you have a favorite, too. That deodorant that smells just perfect and doesn’t leave white marks under your arms and lasts all day: I’ve been wearing deodorant since I was nine, and I didn’t find the Holy Grail of deodorants until the ripe (no pun intended) old age of 24. I was that weirdo who would spend a solid ten minutes in the deodorant aisle, sniffing each one and gauging its merits. I went through countless deodorant scents, never landing on one that I thought was all that great. They were either too sickly sweet or that nasty powder smell that I 100% cannot handle. But then… there was Dove. Dove made a rose scented deodorant that came in this soft pink container, and it smelled better than anything I’d ever owned – perfumes included. I happily bought it for years until I started having a hard time finding it on the shelves. Paranoid, I started buying three or four at a time when I did find them. And thank goodness, because soon I couldn’t find them at all. This deodorant was so important to me that I did an internet search to see if it was, in fact, retired. Honest to God, I did a cartoon “Nooooooooooooooooo!!!” upon reading this terrible news. I went straight to Amazon and found that you could buy a six-pack for $30. Which I did. I have a few left, but I’m seriously considering buying more, even though the price has jumped significantly. The loss of this deodorant is more devastating to me than any other product on this list, and I am THIS CLOSE to writing a “WTF, you ruined my life” email to Dove. THIS CLOSE.

Herbal Essences Shine Spray
I am one of those unfortunate souls that suffers from static electricity during the dry winter months… so basically half the year here in the Midwest. I shock everything I touch, and my hair practically crackles. It drives me insane. I have tried all sorts of hair products to try and tame the static electricity beast, but only two have ever made a difference. (In a cruel twist of fate, you’ll find the second product on this list as well.) One of them is this Herbal Essences Shine Spray. It smells absolutely delightful, and a few sprays of this every couple of hours is enough to keep the static at bay. But go figure, it’s not in stores any more. The last place I found it was at a HyVee. A grocery store. I have two bottles left, and I’ve been saving them for winter. I’m going to need them.

Thermasilk shampoo
Long, long ago, I was a Thermasilk user. I think I first came across it because – no lie – the college bookstore put little samples in each back of overpriced books I bought once semester. This was the most glorious smelling shampoo I had – and have – ever experienced. It came in a purple bottle, and it was SUPER cheap. It was slowly replaced by Sunsilk shampoo, and now you can’t find either brand.

Aveeno calming lavender lotion 
Vaseline chamomile lotion
Having lotion at work is a tricky business. I don’t want to go lotionless, as my hands get awfully dry. But you don’t want anything with an overpowering scent, as you don’t want to offend your coworkers. These were the only two lotions I could find that fit that bill: non-greasy and super moisturizing with the slightest bit of delightful scent, but not enough scent as to cause instant perfumy overload. The Aveeno lotion is pretty well gone, but I can still occasionally find a super-sized bottle of the Vaseline… but only at the Lewis Drug on 10th Street in Sioux Falls.

Ivory body wash
Ivory used to make my all-time favorite body wash, and believe me: I have tried a whole lot of body washes looking for one as good as this. It’s so clean and crisp-smelling, and it makes me feel like a fresh load of laundry. (Weird simile, but it’s true.) But then those jerks at Ivory changed the formula on me. The body wash smells similar, but it’s not quite right. 10th Street Lewis Drug came to the rescue again on this one: on the same day I found my Vaseline, I saw bottles of Ivory sitting on the shelf. Their label was the older style, and sure enough, it was the older formula. It appears that 10th Street Lewis Drug doesn’t sell a lot from the soap and lotion aisle, but it’s working out to my advantage.

all the good Bath and Body Works soaps
Like basically everybody, I buy hand soap at Bath and Body Works. They have better scents than the hand soap brands at Target, and they’re always on sale. Many of the scents fall into the “this is pretty nice, but I’m not going to get worked up about it” category, but there are a few that are more like “this is the most amazing smell ever and I just want to sniff my hands all day” class. And those are inevitably the soaps they retire. My absolute favorites are New England Autumn Bouquet, Moroccan Fig and Honey, and Lemon Daisy. I was hoping that Lemon Daisy would make a comeback this summer as it’s clearly a summer scent, but no dice. That makes me a lot less optimistic for the autumn bouquet (fall scent, duh) and Moroccan Fig and Honey for winter. Sigh.


So that’s the end of my lengthy lament about the retired products that have left plastic bottle-shaped holes in my life. First world problems.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

the childhood quadfecta.

From all the stories I’ve told you about my weird childhood self, you’ll remember that I was inclined to obsess. This started awfully early in life: I remember being about three years old and insisting that my new sandbox be painted red.

The color red was just one of many things with which I was obsessed at a very young age. I had a favorite from each of the major childhood learning categories: colors, numbers, shapes, and letters.

I call it my Childhood Quadfecta.

Besides a few ill-fated dalliances into lime green and hot pink, red has been my favorite color for my entire life. I suspect it may have started because my dad drives red tractors, and red (Case IH) versus green (John Deere) is as divisive among farm families as Coke versus Pepsi or red state versus blue state or what have you. I was (and still am) staunchly Team Red when it comes to farm equipment, and therefore everything I owned had to be red. I had a red wagon and a red tricycle and the aforementioned red sandbox. I wanted my first pair of glasses to have red frames, but I settled for a pair with red flecks. I pouted when my parents traded in their bright red car for a minivan. Years later, I still love all things red. One of my wedding colors was red: red inked invitations, red Chinese lanterns, red fingernails, red shoes (for James AND me!), red flowers, red ties, etcetera. James has a red car, and I (with my boring silver car) am envious. We have a red couch, and I desperately want a red front door. Some things never change, and my love for the color red looks to be one of them.

Whereas I can trace my affection for the color red back to my dad’s red tractors, I can’t do the same for the rest of my favorites. Why I loved the number seven, I have no idea. Perhaps it was because I was born in 1987? Who knows. But seven was my favorite. Unlike favorite colors, one tends to grown out of having favorite numbers, shapes, and letters… but I still have an appreciation for the number seven. It’s supposed to be lucky, after all. James and I started dating on July 27, 2007… and we got married on July 27, 2013. July is the seventh month after all, so maybe seven and I have a good thing going here.

Because of my fondness for salamanders and running through the woods and playing in abandoned buildings, I wouldn’t call my childhood self a girly-girl (a term that I kind of hate, but there really is no alternative descriptor). However, I did love some girly things. I loved dresses and Barbies and fancy shoes, and all things heart-shaped. On nearly every drawing I made when I was young, you can find some kind of heart. I had this glitter glue and fabric applique sweatshirt/sweatpants set (oh yeah, you read that right) that Mom made me, and it was bedecked in huge purple, pink, and red hearts. I wore that outfit to death. There was even a time when I carried around a shard of wrapping paper because it had some multi-colored paint splatter hearts on it that I loved. I was a weird kid.

You would think that, understandably, most kids’ favorite letter would be the first letter of their first name. Makes sense, right? Of course, that wasn’t me. My favorite letter – again, for reasons unknown – was the letter S. My middle name was Shelaine, but having never been terribly fond of my middle name, I’m not going to assume that I loved the letter S because of it. It’s just one of those fluky things. My parents love to tell me about this wooden alphabet puzzle that I had as a kid. Each letter was a little wooden cutout, and you had to put the letters back into their respective places. Sure, I did that, but I also carried the wooden S puzzle piece around like a good luck charm. It was light blue and fit in my tiny hand, and miraculously, I never lost it. It was, however, way dirtier than the rest of the puzzle pieces.


So that’s my Childhood Quadfecta. Yet more proof that I probably ate paint chips as a kid.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

vacations with Calla and James.

This summer has been busier than any summer in my recent memory – including the summer where I got married and bought a house within weeks of each other. I don’t know what the deal was with 2015, but shit just went crazy. But crazy in a good way. There was always something to do and somewhere to go, and every spare minute was accounted for.

Never fear, though: James and I made time for plenty of road trips.

It’s no secret that James and I love a good vacation. Most of our vacations are also road trips, and summer is prime road trip season. And since James is a teacher, summer is about the only option for trips anyway.

Traveling weather in Minnesota is a precious commodity, and I want to take full advantage of it. If I had my way, we’d be gone every single spring, summer, and fall weekend. But between me working weekends and James beseeching me to let us stay home once in a while, we don’t get to go on a road trip every weekend. Sigh.

Our little vacations also tend to be limited to long-weekend road trips because let’s face it – we’re not made of money. Road trips are cheap, and plane tickets are expensive. Though I get intensely jealous of the fancy overseas vacations I see pop up in my Facebook news feed, I must remind myself that James and I have done a fair bit of traveling ourselves. Most of it on four wheels.

James and I have been together for more than eight years, and in that time, we’ve put on a lot of miles. It’s worth noting that most of these road trips were taken in the last three years. Allow me to explain why:

2007 – 2009: both of us were in college. College = broke. We managed trips home to see our parents and the rare getaway to Minneapolis, but that was about it.
early 2010: a combination of me working a zillion part-time jobs plus unpaid internships alongside James student teaching meant no time/money for anything, let alone vacation.
late 2010 - 2011: James moved to Ellsworth and I stayed in Minneapolis. Several months later, I moved to Sioux Falls. James was still in Ellsworth, about an hour away. During that time of the dreaded long-distance relationship, most resources/energy were spent driving between each other’s apartments.
2012 – present: our circumstances finally coincided in a way that they never had before: we were living together AND had stable jobs! Hooray!

So it’s taken us a long time to get here, but we are finally checking locations off our “to visit” list. Before we begin, I must tell you how a place earns a spot on my esteemed list. Each place had to be a location we spent some real time in, not just somewhere we drove through on the way to somewhere else. Example: James and I went through Wyoming to and from Colorado, but you won’t see Wyoming on our list because we didn’t do anything there. I also allowed separate stops from one long road trip to be listed on their own. Example: we went to Winnipeg for our honeymoon, but we made actual stops in Fargo, International Falls, Duluth, and Minneapolis. You will see each of those sites on my list.

We have explored a number of towns near us, but not all of those made it onto our list. Pipestone, Sioux Falls, Brookings, Mitchell (to see the Corn Palace, obviously), Worthington… though we found great stuff to do in all of those towns (especially you, Brookings), they just didn’t have the feel of a road trip. You know what I mean.

Anyway. Each of our trips really deserves a full blog post to itself: mainly because our adventures always tend to morph into misadventures. Someday I’ll have an elaborate story for each one, but today, a little list and a little blurb will have to suffice. Here, state by state, is a breakdown of our trips (road or otherwise) over the years!

James and I took a truly fantastic road trip to Colorado in August of this year. James – having never been to Colorado save for one twelve-hour stint where he flew to Denver and then drove back to South Dakota with me the next day – loved it. And honestly, who wouldn’t? Colorado has mountains, streams and rivers, forests, breweries, and great people. We can hardly wait to go back.

James and I visited our college friend Sara in Boulder, and she took us biking in downtown Boulder, hiking, and rock-climbing. We had never been rock-climbing before and spent a few moments convinced we were going to die, but we totally didn’t. We felt like we were at the top of the world.

Colorado Springs
My cousins Royal and Lori live near Colorado Springs, so we stopped to visit them. They are Rocky Mountain National Park pros, so they gave us all sorts of insider tips for our trip there. We also wandered through Garden of the Gods, which was as fantastic as its name implies. Next time on our Colorado Springs to-do list: Pike’s Peak.

Fort Collins
I put our Colorado stops in alphabetical order, so they’re not in chronological order. Fort Collins was our first stop on the Colorado tour, and we saw my cousins Adrienne and Greta and their families. James and I camped at a KOA in Fort Collins – my first positive experience camping in a tent – and went white water rafting on the Cache le Poudre (which was easily my favorite part of the whole trip). We wandered around downtown Fort Collins that afternoon, and we both felt like we really REALLY wanted to move there.

Brian and Laurie, my uncle and aunt, live in Golden. We visited them and, of course, went on a tour of the Coors Brewery. We also went on an ill-fated whitewater kayaking attempt that involved me capsizing and very nearly losing my kayak in Clear Creek. Oops.

Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park was truly amazing. James and I had intended to spend a couple of hours there and then head on our way home, but our couple of hours turned into many hours. How could they not? We drove/hiked up to 12,000 feet. We saw a moose and alpine lakes. We got our picture taken at the Continental Divide. We saw the sun set over the mountains. Nothing can compare.

Even though we technically live closer to Iowa than we do to South Dakota, James and I both kind of forget that Iowa is even there. I go to South Dakota for work every day, so that’s what I’ll blame… but James teaches in Ellsworth, a town in which one of its borders is literally (and I don’t use the word “literally” lightly) feet from the Iowa border. We have only made a handful of trips to Iowa, and here’s hoping we’ll stop neglecting our neighbor state so much.

Le Mars
We went to Le Mars just for Blue Bunny ice cream. Honest to God.

Okoboji/Spirit Lake
It was Memorial Day weekend, and I had driven from the cities to spend my long weekend with James. He had just wrapped up his first year teaching in Ellsworth, and I was searching for a job closer to him. We spent one of our three days touring Iowa – we wanted to go to Lake Okoboji, as we’d heard it was a magical and wonderful place. But guess what? We totally failed. All we found at Lake Okoboji was a tiny little patch of beach. As it turned out, the rest of the beaches were private. We subsequently gave up and went to Spirit Lake instead, which was friendlier.

Orange City
James’s band marches in the Orange City Tulip Festival every year, and I usually can’t go. They march on a Friday, which tends to be a work day. However, this year, I worked on Saturday and therefore had Friday off. Mom and I went to Orange City to see James march, and the Tulip Festival was nothing short of fantastic. We looked at glorious tulips, saw a wooden shoe carving demonstration, had street food, watched the parade (which some of the most spectacular floats I’ve ever seen), and ate poffertjes (little Dutch pancake things). Poor James missed all the fun stuff because he was on-duty, so he and I went back the following weekend so he could see Orange City. The tulips were a little wilted by then, and most of the stores were closed for the weekend, but we still got to see Windmill Park.

Sioux City
Our Sioux City road trip stands as our ultimate failure. I had just moved to Sioux Falls, and James and I decided that we wanted to see what Sioux City was all about. Neither of us had ever been there, and it was so close. Why not? We got there and promptly found… nothing. Just nothing. We saw the Floyd Monument and the Argosy riverboat casino (which is no longer there) and could find nothing else to do. We even stopped at a gas station for recommendations on good Sioux City food, and were given suggestions such as Taco Bell and Perkins (“or there’s Olive Garden if you want to spend some big money”). We ended up crossing the border into Nebraska to eat at the Crystal CafĂ©.

Where do I even begin?

New Orleans

James and I first visited in 2008 on a college jazz trip, and I absolutely fell in love with New Orleans. I lived there for three months at the end of 2009, and James and I went back at the end of 2013 for our honeymoon. We ate so much delightful food, and we spent our days wandering the French Quarter. We rode around on street cars and met all sorts of delightful southerners. We went on a riverboat tour and rang in the new year by watching fireworks lit off a barge on the Mississippi River. New Orleans feels like home.

MANITOBA (yes, I know it’s a province, not a state)
James and I got married in July 2013 and decided to put off our “real” honeymoon until December (see: New Orleans). Instead, we took a road trip to Canada. Thanks to a couple of failed study abroad attempts, I’d had my passport since 2008, and I was thrilled to finally get to use it. Five years later. To go to Canada.

Our main Canadian destination was Winnipeg: a quick seven hour drive. We didn’t know what to expect, but I LOVED Winnipeg. It had great parks, great architecture, and the friendliest Canadians (true to the stereotype). And the food! I began a love affair with Tim Horton’s, and I still pine for their yeast donuts. We hated to leave Canada, and I’d like to think that Canada hated to see us go.

As I have spent nearly eight of the last ten years living in Minnesota, it’s naturally the place we have explored the most. Most of James’s family lives in Minnesota, and there’s also a whole ton of stuff to see and do.

James and I would go to Alexandria all the time when we were in college. It had the nearest Target, nearest WalMart, nearest anything. Alexandria didn't become a road trip until after we'd graduated and we made it part of a 2014 trip to Morris. We went to the fabled Carlos Creek Winery, which boasts a (delicious) line of wines called Minnesota Nice.




Duluth, obviously, is a favorite. James and I first went there in summer 2010. I was living in Minneapolis, and James had lived with me for the summer and was about to move to Ellsworth for his new teaching job. Ever since a family trip to Virginia when I was 15, I have loved huge ships – and I’ve loved water all my love. Duluth has both. We got to watch those monstrous ships come in, and we stuck our feet in the frigid water of Lake Superior. We have been to Duluth several times since that initial trip: in 2011 for more exploring, in 2013 on our way home from Winnipeg, and in 2015 for a friend’s wedding. One of these days, we’re going to make it up the North Shore.

International Falls 
International Falls was one of our final stops in the northern leg of our honeymoon trip. It was beautiful up there – so many trees and so much wildlife. We canoed on Rainy Lake and visited Voyageurs National Park. James also locked us out of our cabin at 5 in the morning when we got up to watch the sun rise over the lake, but you know. Minor details.

You remember our ill-fated journey to Lanesboro: James had convinced me to try tent camping, and we nearly drowned thanks to torrential rains. Lanesboro was indeed a pretty area with a lot of character, but it’s hard to appreciate it when you’re in a permanent state of cold dampness. We did explore a cave and discover a delightful winery (Four Daughters) on our way home, so there’s the bright spot. Plus, who doesn’t love a good “everything that can go wrong did go wrong” story?


Mankato wasn’t as much of a fail trip as Sioux City, but it came close. James and I planned to meet in Mankato right around Valentine's Day when I lived in Minneapolis and he lived in Ellsworth – it was pretty close to halfway for both of us. We got there and found out that there just wasn’t a lot to do in Mankato. Had we been thinking, we would’ve met in St Peter instead. Live and learn.


Oddly, James and I haven’t made many trips back to our alma mater. We returned for Jazz Fest 2012, which was a blast. We also went to Morris the week after homecoming 2014 – not to be antisocial, but because I worked during UMM homecoming weekend. I don’t know why we don’t go back to Morris more often, because it brings back so many good memories. We ate at Bello Cucina and Don’s (of course!) and got coffee at the Common Cup. We visited the wind turbine and wandered around campus and reminisced about how young we were. Ahh, the good old days.

New Ulm

New Ulm is a favorite of mine. James and I met there for Oktoberfest when he lived in Ellsworth and I lived in Minneapolis, and I really enjoyed Oktoberfest – even though that was before I drank beer. Now that I like beer, I like Oktoberfest even more. I went to Oktoberfest with Mom in 2012, and James and I went in 2014 with my brother Mitch, James’s brother Jesse, and Jesse’s girlfriend Megan. In New Ulm, we always 1.) eat German food, 2.) go on the Schell’s tour, and 3.) climb Hermann the German. It’s tradition, after all.

St Cloud


James and I don’t make a lot of trips specifically to go to St Cloud, but we did last summer to go river tubing. Ever since river tubing on the Salt River in May 2014, river tubing is my new favourite past-time. James and I went river tubing on the Platte River with Jesse and Jesse’s roommate, and it was – per usual – a blast. We also went to the Benton County Fair, which was a-ok, but you can't really compare it to river tubing. Our last trip to St Cloud was for New Year’s 2015. We brought my brother and sister and had a typical disastrous/hilarious New Year’s.

Our trip to Stillwater was short, but oh so sweet. Stillwater is pretty darn close to Wisconsin on the St Croix River, and it just adorable. I loved the little shops and the cliffs you could climb, and of course, the view of the river and the ships on said river. We also had some really excellent food there, which is a huge bonus.

Taylor's Falls
Honestly, I didn't even remember that we had taken a trip to Taylor's Falls until I started raiding my old Facebook albums for pictures for this blog post. I think we just checked out the waterfalls, crossed the border to say we'd been to Wisconsin, and went home. Who knows.

Twin Cities 
more times than I can count
I’m not sure how to even make a dent in describing all our trips to the Twin Cities. We go there ALL the time. We visit friends and family, we eat our favorite foods, we explore our favorite lakes, and we enjoy our favorite places (especially our favorite lakes). We to go Twins games and the state fair. We learned how to kayak. We discover new foods and new places. To say we love the Twin Cities is an understatement.


Kansas City
We went to Kansas City with my parents and sister for a Twins game, and it was the GREATEST. None of us had spent any time in Kansas City, and it was the neatest place. The food was amazing (barbecue, obviously), and the city itself was just charming. The Twins lost and we got puked on a little, but that’s not important. The important part is that we all fell in love with Kansas City and are anxiously anticipating a return trip. 



Omaha is a fun city, and it’s only three-ish hours from us. James and I spend so much of our time driving to Minneapolis that we forget that Omaha is there… and slightly closer. We’ve been a few times: to see the zoo, to see the Sue the T-Rex exhibit, to explore downtown, to attend a wine and beer festival. And each time, we feel like we’re missing so much. Omaha definitely deserves more of our time.


Fargo is kind of a stretch, but we stopped for a couple of hours on our way to Winnipeg. I would love to spend more time in Fargo, but in our quick stop, we found all sorts of cool shops and restaurants. Fargo: we’ll be back.


Black Hills



Who doesn’t love the Black Hills? We stopped through on our way from Denver when James flew in to drive back with me in 2009, and we did some fun touristy things like Keystone and Wall Drug. The first time James and I went there on an actual vacation, he proposed to me at Dinosaur Park. So fond memories, obviously. We went back in 2014 for our first anniversary, and we borrowed my parents’ Mustang convertible. Now THAT was a road trip. We stopped back through Rapid City on our way home from Colorado this summer, and there’s always something interesting to see or do. We’ve been zip-lining and to the Prairie Berry winery. We’ve been swimming in Horsethief Lake and kayaking on Canyon Lake. We’ve driven through the Badlands and given ourselves heatstroke. We always run out of time to do everything we want to do – are you noticing a trend?

Lake Poinsett 
more times than I can count
Lake Poinsett is always my favorite summertime destination. Nothing beats a beer on the beach, or a sunset boat ride. We have our annual shrimp boil at Lake Poinsett, and we always watch Fourth of July fireworks from the boat in the middle of the lake. I learned how to waterski last summer, and I want to make up for years of lost time and waterski ALL THE TIME. Clocking in at an hour and forty-five minutes from Luverne, Lake Poinsett is one of the closest of our top road trip choices. (Orange City, Le Mars, and Sioux City are all closer, but I’d choose Lake Poinsett any day.) On one (and only one) day on Lake Poinsett this summer, James and I skied, rode a Jet Ski, tubed, kayaked, and boated: five water sports in one day. That’s my kind of summer.


Hudson/Apple River
Remember how I love river tubing? James and I met his brothers Jay and Jesse along with Megan in Wisconsin this summer for tubing on the Apple River. It was the perfect day for riving tubing… except that we ran out of beer. Except for losing your cooler completely, this is likely the greatest tragedy that can befall you while river tubing. We had a great time, though – especially after fellow tubers took pity on our souls and shared their beer!


I know that this list is relatively short, and there are so many more places that I want to go with James. I know this is a very millennial thing to say, but I have a serious case of wanderlust. Staying home in Luverne = death.

Summer has more or less come to an end, and that means that James goes back to school – which really cuts into our available vacation/road trip time. We’ll have a few fall weekends to work with until the snow and ice set it, at which point travel for fun basically ceases to exist. We have a trip to look forward to in December, so that will get me through the less exciting November/December months. I’ll pout through January and February and start dreaming of road trips in March. Here’s to the 2016 road trip season: may it get here quickly, because I have lots of places to go!