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. 
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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).

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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.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

three decades of me.

Today is my 30th birthday.

That's weird.

I'm not going to spend much time wailing about this milestone birthday and how I feel old, etcetera etcetera. You've heard it before from others, I'm sure.

What I AM going to do is talk about how weird it is to think that I have existed for three entire decades. That sounds a lot weightier than "I'm thirty."

I am just beginning my FOURTH decade on this earth.

WHOA.

Here's a highlight reel of my first three decades as a person.

THE FIRST DECADE
1987 – 1997
learned to walk and talk
gained a sister and a brother
got a dog
learned to ride a bike

THE SECOND DECADE
1997 – 2007
learned how to drive a car (officially, not just farm trucks and tractors)
got my first job
graduated high school
started college at U of M Morris
moved away from home for the first time ever
met the guy I would later marry

THE THIRD DECADE
2007 – 2017
graduated college
lived in New Orleans, Denver, Minneapolis, Sioux Falls
began my career at the library
got married
bought a house
got a cat
started a jewelry business

Of course, there was lots of other stuff sprinkled amongst the milestones: like making lifelong friends, traveling, and learning important life lessons (like don’t leave your parking brake on as you drive the fifteen miles home). But those stories deserve their own blog posts.

While today is the actual day of my 30th birthday, I have jumped the gun and done a fair amount of celebrating already. Mom, Dad, and I went to San Francisco at the end of March to celebrate their 60th birthdays (in March and January, respectively) and my 30th

James took me on a long weekend trip to the Black Hills.

So even if nothing really happens on this, the day that I really and truly turn 30, I’ve had a great 30th birthday already.

While I have few memories of my 10th birthday, one can only assume it was awesome – because 1997 was a GREAT year for pop music. And back when I was turning 10, the only thing my fourth grade friends and I ever did was listen to music.

Let’s review:
“Barely Breathing” by Duncan Sheik
“I Want You” by Savage Garden
“MMMBop” by Hanson
“Quit Playin Games with My Heart” by the Backstreet Boys
“Semi-Charmed Life” by Third Eye Blind
“Tubthumping” by Chumbawamba
“Wannabe” by the Spice Girls

Remember those?!

I am reasonably positive that my 10th birthday was spent roller-skating around the Volga auditorium to said songs, and I believe there were glow-sticks involved. I also believe that I received a lime-green feather pen as a gift: the ultimate 1997 gift. Turning 10 was a major success.
Plus, I had those sweet glasses.
My 20th birthday, in contrast, was a TOTAL bust. I was dating the art major boyfriend, and we took the afternoon off from class to celebrate my birthday in St Cloud. I have (thankfully) blocked out what led to this, but he spent a good portion of the afternoon crying in his car. It should also be noted that I had to pay for our dinners at the Olive Garden – not that I believe that it’s the man’s job to pay for the woman’s meal, because I don’t believe that at all. But I do believe that NO ONE should EVER have to pay for THEIR OWN BIRTHDAY DINNER.

I did meet St Cloud Superman, so there’s that.


Upon arriving back to my on-campus apartment, I found out from my roommates that my then-friend James had been at the apartment waiting for me with a birthday twelve-pack of Mountain Dew. He was there long enough to watch the entirety 13 Going on 30 with them as he waited for me. James did leave before I got back, but not before covering the Mountain Dew in little pink heart-shaped sticky notes (provided by my roommate) with a birthday message on them.

I definitely wondered why I wasn’t dating him instead.

Total romantic comedy moment.

Ten years later, I’m celebrating 30 years on earth. Since it’s on a Wednesday and I’m an adult, I can’t just take off in the middle of the day.

Oh wait. I took half the day off from work.

So not really an adult yet.

Maybe I’ll turn into a real adult in my fourth decade.

No promises, though.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Lake Poinsett sea glass.

Midwesterners have a thing for lakes.

We all appreciate lakes in general, but we all have a favorite. Be it the lake they grew up with or a lake they adopted, most Midwesterners have THEIR lake. (It is important to note that Midwesterners are fiercely loyal to “their” lake, so don’t you dare say anything bad about it. Insulting a Midwesterner’s lake is a worse offense than insulting their mother.)

Lake Poinsett is my lake.



Every summer of my life has involved the beaches of Lake Poinsett – even those unfortunate teenage summers during which I refused to wear shorts and preferred the clammy air conditioning to the summer breeze. Summers as an adult are sprinkled with Lake Poinsett visits whenever I can manage. I live in Minnesota and am much closer to scores of other lakes than I am to Lake Poinsett, but none of them are my lake. They just don’t measure up.

Most of the appeal of Lake Poinsett is the people who frequent it. Lake Poinsett wouldn’t be the same without my family and our friends the Clellands. We log hours and hours each summer at the Clelland cabin, always laughing until our sides hurt. (But I can’t tell you why, because it’s long been a rule that what happens at the cabin stays at the cabin.)

One of my mom’s and my favorite past-times is to roam the beach near the cabin. We stroll along, not looking for anything in particular – just enjoying the weather and the company.

But last summer, that changed.

As Mom and I were basking in the glory of an early June day, something on the ground caught my eye. I stooped to pick it up and retrieved a cloudy piece of light green glass. It was my first ever piece of Lake Poinsett sea glass.

Sea glass, for the unfamiliar, is glass that has been physically weathered by tumbling around in the sand and the waves. The glass is typically cloudy with rounded edges – those are the pieces you’re looking for. Sea glass begins its life as litter and turns into beautiful mementos recycled by the water.

(Ok, so technically the glass we find at Lake Poinsett is beach glass. Sea glass comes from the sea/ocean, and beach glass comes from other bodies of water. In this story, though, I’m calling it sea glass.)

I showed my piece of glass to Mom and said, “My first ever piece of sea glass!” “WHAT?!” she said. Mom could not believe that I’d never found sea glass before. Thus began an intensive hunt that resulted in handfuls of sea glass being located and brought back to the Clellands’ deck.


Thus began my Summer of Sea Glass. Mom and I combed the beaches for sea glass, adopting a hunched eyes-on-the-ground pose. We collected handfuls, and then pocketfuls, and then jarfuls. We found clear sea glass, brown sea glass, green sea glass, blue sea glass, and purple sea glass. We found pieces with letters on them. We found huge pieces, and we found tiny fragments. No trip to Lake Poinsett was complete without sea glass.

But what to do with all this sea glass? The first thing that came to my mind was necklaces. I consider myself a relatively creative person, and I thought that I could try my hand at Lake Poinsett sea glass jewelry. What did I have to lose?

I had some miscellaneous jewelry supplies leftover from an ill-fated Etsy shop endeavor in late 2013. I decided that, since I didn’t want to risk breaking the sea glass by drilling holes in it, my sea glass would have to be wrapped up in wire.

One trip to Michael’s later, and I had my wire. I took my first piece of sea glass and spent a profanity-laden evening trying to get it right. I poked holes in my thumbs, I broke the wire more than once, and I can’t even count the number of times I just had to start over.

But finally: I had it. One small piece of Lake Poinsett sea glass, wrapped in wire, and suspended from a chain.

That necklace was only the beginning.

Feeling more confidant, I made a necklace for my mom. That necklace turned into six to give as gifts for the Clellands. I set up a little “choose your own ingredient” necklace bar and made necklaces on demand for relatives over my grandma’s birthday weekend. I made sea glass necklaces for birthday and Christmas gifts. My sea glass necklace production numbered well into the 30s at the end of December 2016.

2017 arrived, and with it came the annual resolve to become a better person, do something worthwhile, blah blah blah. I, too, fell victim to those old clich├ęs, and my thoughts turned to those necklaces. Family and friends who had received them as gifts had encouraged me to sell them – but were they just being nice, or did they think that people would actually want to buy my jewelry?

I told myself the same thing as when I started making necklaces in the first place: what did I have to lose?

Besides, I needed something to occupy my time during the long Minnesota winter. The days are so cold, and nighttime comes so early – why not channel my indoor hours into something more productive than mindlessly reading Buzzfeed articles and shopping for shirts with dinosaurs on them?

After a few days of jewelry-making, picture-taking, and description-writing, I opened up my Etsy shop: Midwest Charm by Calla.

The name came from a desire to connect my jewelry back to the Midwest. I make it all in Minnesota, but many of the elements (ie, sea glass) are from South Dakota – and calling it “Midwest” ties all that together. Besides, I love to buy stuff that’s made in the Midwest. Midwesterners like to support each other – we’re friendly like that.

My little Etsy store has been a lifesaver this winter. Like a lot of us here in the north, I fall into a sort of funk in the winter. I would bundle up on the couch and feel pretty useless, all while dreaming about the warm days of summer. During the winter, it seems like an insurmountable challenge just to stick my arms out of the blanket to pet the cat. Winters in Minnesota are rough.

But this winter was different. My Etsy store gave me something REAL to do instead of languishing on the sofa. The store gave me a goal, and with it came a ton of things that needed to be done in order to reach that goal. Ever since I opened my store on January 16, 2017, I have not had one free moment at home. Any time I have is spent bending wire and threading beads, or taking photos and measurements, or writing descriptions and posting listings, or designing business cards and necklace tags, or endlessly perusing Etsy for just the right jewelry supply,  or constantly figuring out what to post on my store’s Facebook and Instagram pages, or painstakingly designing my store’s logo, or planning my first open house, or picking scores of teeny jump rings out of the carpet after I accidentally knocked my jewelry supply box off the table (fml).

Bottom line: I haven’t had TIME to think about how sad Minnesota winters make me. So guess what? This winter didn’t make me sad at all. Turns out Etsy is good for my mental health.

Opening that little online store has not only been one of the most labor-intensive things I’ve ever done – it’s also been one of the most exciting. That may sound ridiculous, but it’s true. It has been such a delight to design and create pieces of jewelry that I love and put them out in the world for others to see. My creative brain has finally woken up after a few years of complacency, and I am constantly dreaming of new jewelry designs. (I actually have to carry a sketchpad with me now. I’ve always wanted to be one of those people who had to carry a sketchpad.)

And the feeling I get when someone buys something? That someone wants to own something that I made?

Nothing short of amazing.

Nowadays, I make more than just Lake Poinsett sea glass necklaces. My Etsy shop is stocked with crystal necklaces, druzy necklaces, cameo necklaces, beaded necklaces, and even a couple of bracelets.

But the Lake Poinsett necklaces are always my favorite, and they are always the necklaces I love making most.

Lake Poinsett has a loyal following, and many local shops carry shirts emblazoned with its name. We Lake Poinsett loyalists all want to make it known that we love Lake Poinsett, and we all want to carry it with us when we’re not there. I have found that the sea glass helps me do that – even though I sit more than one hundred miles from Lake Poinsett as I write this, the Lake Poinsett sea glass necklace I’m wearing allows me to keep Lake Poinsett with me. My necklace reminds me that Lake Poinsett, and the people there that I love, are never really that far away.


my personal collection of Lake Poinsett sea glass necklaces. :)
And here we are, at the cusp of another sea glass hunting season. I have big plans to expand my sea glass search to additional lakes. Those of us who love Lake Poinsett can wear its sea glass and keep a piece of it close to our hearts, and I would love to do the same for other lakes. Like I said, every Midwesterner has a favorite lake.

But Lake Poinsett will always be mine.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

the cousin trip.

One year ago, I was in Boston with my cousins.


But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

I am fortunate to have some truly great cousins. I have great cousins on both sides, but this story is about the great cousins on my dad’s side: Monica, Melissa, and Taylor.




The cousins in question are all approximately the same age as me, so even though our families lived quite a ways apart, we more or less grew up together. When any/all of them would come to visit, I would be filled with a joy tantamount to Christmas. Nothing was better than cousin visits.




Of course, as we all grew older, the visits became more scarce. We went to college/joined the military/got jobs/traveled/moved away/did all the other things one does as one grows up.

But whenever we did get the chance to get together, it was just as wonderful as it always was: the only difference being that all had driver’s licenses and could legally buy beer.

All six of us (the three cousins, my brother and sister, and me) were together for my wedding in summer 2013, but with it being my wedding and all, there was precious little time to hang out. We all got to spend some quality time together at the big Bjorklund reunion of June 2015, in which our grandma Sheila rented a resort for us for a four-day weekend.

I’m not sure how that all came to pass, but however it happened, it was genius. This place was enormous: it had tons of rooms (a few smaller rooms for the parents and younger cousins, plus one enormous room for the older cousins), as well as an industrial kitchen, a huge common area, and easy access to Lake Poinsett. It was perfect.



For most of the weekend, this reunion was just Grandma Sheila, her five kids and their spouses, and their kids. There was one afternoon in which the extended family filled the common room (cousins of our grandpa’s, etc), but that was just a few hours. The bulk of the weekend was just my aunts, uncles, and cousins hanging out. It was awesome.

During this Bjorklund-palooza weekend, my cousin Taylor put forth a truly brilliant suggestion: why don’t we have an adult cousin reunion? It was great to see everyone, indeed, but the six adult cousins had so much fun – why not do something together?

(Let us reflect for just a moment on how awesome it is that there are six of us that enjoy each other’s company enough to hang out outside of grandma-organized family reunions.)

YES! We all agreed: a cousin reunion would be THE BEST.

Fast forward a few months: it was late 2015, winter to be sure, and my brother Mitch sent out a group Facebook message: wouldn’t it be great to have our first cousin reunion in Boston over St Patrick’s Day?

We responded: yes, it would! We should totally do that!

And for a while, that was that.

Until…

Our cousin Taylor said, “I bought my ticket!”

THIS WAS HAPPENING.

It took a few months of mad Facebook messaging, Airbnb searching, and some minor (ok, major) scheduling miracles, but somehow, all six of us were in Boston on March 17, 2016.

Everything worked out pretty much the best that we possibly could’ve hoped for. Our Airbnb was awesome – we had an entire apartment (two stories!) in Charlestown. This was my first ever experience with Airbnb, and I am ashamed to admit that I dragged my feet a little. Taylor, an experienced Airbnb-er all over the world (literally), assured me that it was the best. He was SO right.


(This trip was also my first experience with Uber, which is also the best. I learned so much about the sharing economy in just a few short days.)

St Patrick’s Day in Boston was rowdy, as one might expect – we went into a couple of downtown bars, smushed shoulder-to-shoulder, had the requisite Guinness, and confirmed that we were all too old (in between shouting “WHAT?!” at each other). Thanks to the miracle that is the smartphone, Taylor and I did some quick Googling and found that there was a bar in Charlestown – not too far from our Airbnb. We Uber-ed our way there to find a teensy bar called Old Sully’s. Taylor recognized it immediately from a movie called The Town. We were in the presence of greatness.




Old Sully’s, believe it or not, ended up being the highlight of the trip. We crossed paths with a handful of locals there, and they were the friendliest people you could ever hope to meet. Their accents were TEXTBOOK, and they absolutely loved that we were cousins all traveling together. They were the sweetest, most foul-mouthed people I’ve ever met in my life, and they all invited us to stay with them next time we came to Boston. We stayed at Old Sully’s for a couple of hours, dying of laughter and enjoying the company of our new Boston friends.

The rest of trip was chock-full of Boston sights and sounds. We walked the Freedom Trail, climbed the Bunker Hill monument, had pastries at Mike’s Pastry (it’s a thing), did a Sam Adams brewery tour, checked out the Boston Public Library (guess whose idea that was), explored Faneuil Hall, ate in Little Italy, toured the USS Constitution, and took a ferry ride around Boston Harbor. The only time our interests diverged was when Taylor, Mitch, and Melissa went to a hockey game, and Monica, Darrah, and I finished the Freedom Trail, were nearly kidnapped by an Uber driver, and ate dinner at the oldest bar in Massachusetts (the Warren Tavern). On our last night, we had drinks on a balcony overlooking the bay and later dined on seafood fresh out of the same bay.



And we did all of this in only two-and-a-half days.

I can only speak for myself, but I cannot wait for the next cousin trip. Having that time together in Boston was better than we could've ever imagined. Not only did we have a great time exploring a new city, but we had a great time together. We had never had the opportunity for so much uninterrupted cousin time before, and it was truly a smashing success.

Seriously: how lucky am I that some of my favorite people on this earth are my family?

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

ten ABBA songs.

I came to a realization a few days ago.

I like ABBA.

I mean, I REALLY like ABBA.

How could I have made it through almost thirty years of my life without knowing that I liked ABBA?

ABBA never really entered into my consciousness until March 2008. Up until that point, the only ABBA songs I’d ever encountered were “Dancing Queen” (because if you know one ABBA song, it’s that one) and, for some reason, “Fernando.”

In March 2008, I was but a wee 20-year-old, and I was in Las Vegas with my parents for spring break. Mom, her friend Mary-Ann, my sister, and I went to a performance of Mamma Mia at Mandalay Bay. The only thing I knew about Mamma Mia is that it was a musical comprised of solely ABBA songs – and as you’ll recall, I only actually knew two ABBA songs. Off we went to what would be my first Las Vegas show (I say that like I have a long history of Las Vegas shows… in fact, it was my first of two total Las Vegas shows).

And you know what?

It was spectacular.

As a young Midwesterner, I had never seen that kind of production before. I’d been to plenty of community theatre performances, even more SDSU theatre/Prairie Repertory summer shows, and a handful of professional theatre at the Washington Pavilion. But nothing compared to what I saw in Las Vegas that day – and why would they, because this is Las Vegas we’re talking about. The costumes were elaborate, the singing was spot-on, and the choreography! I will never forget the feeling of pure awe I felt when the dancers can-canned in wearing flippers and singing “Lay All Your Love on Me.”

And the songs! I finally learned just what I had been missing, and I was smitten with ABBA. I spent the following weeks listening to ABBA on repeat on my trusty iPod video. (remember those? with the scrolly wheel?)

And then?

The movie came out.

Mamma Mia (the movie) was released in summer 2008, mere months after I had seen the show in Las Vegas. Mom and I, still riding the high from the Las Vegas performance, went to see the movie. Our expectations were probably unfairly high, with the memory of the Vegas show still fresh in our minds – but I think we can all agree that the movie was pretty terrible. And let’s be honest, the plot of Mamma Mia is pretty weak to begin with: after all, it was written around ABBA’s catalog. If you’re not familiar with the plot, it goes thusly: a young woman is getting married, and she doesn’t know who her father is. She sends wedding invitations to the three men she think could be her father. Chaos ensues. Happy endings are received.

But we all forgive the tenuous story because of the songs. The songs are outstanding – except when they’re sung by Pierce Brosnan, because YIKES.

After Mamma Mia (the movie), my nonstop ABBA listening kick continued for a few months, and then tapered off. But last week, Mom, her friend Carol, and I saw Mamma Mia at the Washington Pavilion. It was delightful! We sat in the second row, and the costumes, singing, and dancing brought me right back to Las Vegas. (This show even had the can-canning flipper guys.)

And my love affair with ABBA has resumed.

But this time, it’s different. When I saw Mamma Mia for the first time, all I knew was that I liked the songs. I didn’t need to know any more than that. This time, now that I’m older and wiser, I’ve given it more thought… and I realized that my love for ABBA is an anomaly.

There are precious few musicians that I love enough to write a whole blog post about, let alone choose ten of their songs to present. There are plenty of musicians that I love, yes, but very few of them pass the ten-song test. For example: I love Prince, but are there ten of his songs that I love enough to expound upon them in this blog? No. So far, the only musicians/bands that have made the cut are Simon and Garfunkel, David Bowie, and the Clash.

And ABBA.

One of these things is not like the other.

As a rule, I tend not to like bands who only sing about love. While I most certainly appreciate a good love song, I prefer my songs to have some substance. Simon and Garfunkel, David Bowie, and the Clash have substance for days.

ABBA? Not so much.

I’ve been listening to ABBA a lot in the past few days, and I have to say: the lyrics are terrible. TERRIBLE. Most of the lyrics are there just for the sake of rhyming, and almost all of the songs are about nothing but love. And normally, this drives me crazy. But there’s something about ABBA that makes it ok.

ABBA’s songs are some of the catchiest damn things to come out of the radio. Seriously: I dare you to listen to any one of them and not have it stuck in your head for days. These are the songs that you can’t help but dance to, even if it’s just you in your car on the way to work. (Guilty.) They make you sing at the top of your lungs, and they make you feel like a Swedish rock star. ABBA makes you feel amazing.

And that is why they are one of my favorite bands. I used to be ashamed, but no more. Here it is, for the world to see: I love ABBA.

As promised, I have ten of my favorite ABBA songs for you today. However, as they are all pretty much nothing but super catchy pop-tactular fluff, I don’t have a whole lot to say about each individual song. (But I will be giving you some fun facts courtesy of Wikipedia!) Either way, you’d better have your ABBA greatest hits CD nearby at the end, because I promise you that you’re going to want to listen to it on repeat.

Chiquitita
“Chiquitita” is a Spanish term of endearment meaning “little one.” This song was featured at a UNICEF concert in 1979 – and 50% of the proceeds of the song STILL go to UNICEF.

Does Your Mother Know
This song is about an older man responding to a flirtatious younger woman – but in Mamma Mia, it becomes an older woman singing to a younger man. If you ask me, it’s much better/less creepy that way.

Knowing Me, Knowing You
“Knowing Me, Knowing You” is one of those songs that you almost have to shout-sing while making wild hand-gestures. You know what I mean.

Lay All Your Love on Me
Like I said earlier, this is the song that gave Mamma Mia a place in my heart forever, thanks to the flipper can-canning. I can’t listen to this song without picturing that, and it makes me smile every time.

Mamma Mia
“Mamma Mia,” as you probably know, is an interjection in Italian. (Look at all the culture you’re getting from ABBA!) I mostly love this song because it’s got a marimba. I can’t resist the marimba.

One of Us
This is ABBA’s last major hit, and it’s not nearly as light and fluffy as the rest of the songs on this list. (Spoiler alert: it’s because they were ALL GETTING DIVORCED FROM EACH OTHER. Awkward.)

SOS
I just learned (thanks to Wikipedia!) that this song opens in D-minor, which (as everyone knows, courtesy of This Is Spinal Tap) is the saddest of all keys. I also learned (Wikipedia!) that basically everyone loves this song, including John Lennon, Pete Townshend (of the Who), and Ray Davies (of the Kinks). Last fun Wikipedia fact: this is the only top 100 single in which the title of the song (SOS), the name of the band (ABBA), and the genre (pop) are palindromes.

Super Trouper
I’m pretty positive that this song gets stuck in my head more often and for a longer period of time than any other ABBA song. You’re welcome.

Take a Chance on Me
If I had to choose a favorite ABBA song, it would be this one. And trust me: it's hard to choose.

Waterloo
I really have to try and ignore the lyrics to “Waterloo” – it’s about a woman surrendering to a man’s demands (like Napoleon surrendered at Waterloo). ICK. But DAMMIT it’s so catchy. Shitty lyrics aside, it’s one of the best-selling singles of all time.

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Now go and listen to ABBA and sing with all your heart. Because you are the dancing queen.