Sunday, October 30, 2011

why I love Halloween.

Halloween has long been my favorite holiday. It’s the one day of the year where you can dress as whatever crazy thing you want to be, and people are expected to reward you with candy.

Ever since I can remember, I have taken Halloween very seriously. 
See how serious I am?
When I was little, I refused to be the same thing for Halloween twice – to this day, I have never repeated a costume for Halloween. There were even years where I had two great costume ideas, so I wore a one for school and one for trick-or-treating.

It should be noted that I have never purchased a ready-made costume. Not once. All of my costumes have been put together from odds and ends that I could find around the house or, as I got older, that I could buy at Goodwill. For the first few years of school, I wished that I could have the “authentic” Cinderella costume from WalMart or the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle (yes, I wanted to be a Ninja Turtle) outfit from Target. However, it didn’t take me too long to realize that it was way more fun to create your own costume. The year I wanted to be a princess, my mom bought me a can of glitter and an old pair of dress shoes. I got to make my own glittery princess shoes, which included glue, newspaper, and making a complete mess. To a six-year-old, that’s heaven.

While my days of making glitter shoes are gone, I have had more than one triumph with do-it-yourself costumes. My favorite one so far was the year I borrowed my grandmother’s fancy traditional Norwegian outfit and went as a Scandinavian immigrant. Another successful endeavor was when I spray-painted a wig half white and half black, wore a fur coat, and carried a little toy Dalmatian: I was Cruella de Vil. 
I've got the facial expression to match.
I’ve had a few misses, don’t get me wrong: the year I just wore pajamas and went as “late for the bus” was pretty lame.
Super lame.
We Midwesterners also had to be a little more creative with our costumes than the average trick-or-treater. By the time October 31 rolls around, we will most likely have snow on the ground. When you’re outside roaming around, you don’t want to risk frostbite, so you have to be sure your costume lends itself to layering. Did you notice the “winter clothes” trend with my costumes? Wool skirt, fur coat, plush robe: all warm. You either had to ensure that the costume itself was made up of warm items, or you had to make sure you wouldn’t look too funny wearing extra layers underneath your costume. As you might imagine, I was shot down the year I wanted to go as a belly dancer (yes, a belly dancer. No, I don’t know what my problem was).

Decorating for Halloween was always a big to-do at our house. My mom divided up the Halloween decorations into three piles: one for each kid. We each took our piles and got to decide where to place them in the house. Most of the decorations were small, like paper pumpkins and window clings. However, each child got to hang one “big” decoration, too. My choice was always Skip the Skeleton. Skip has been around for as long as I can remember. He (along with Jack the jack o’ lantern) came from my grandmother’s classroom when she taught in the 1950s and 1960s.
What a ham.
Every year, we put him in a place of honor: the front door. Today, even though none of the kids live at home any more, my mom still hangs up Skip the Skeleton every year. And even though none of us live at home, we are all glad to see Skip hanging up whenever we come home in October.

We must also address the fact that trick-or-treating in the country is incredible. For years, we would carpool with the neighbors and drive from house to house. That’s right: there was no walking around and knocking on doors, since the distance between neighbors was usually upwards of a mile. The country folk didn’t get a lot of trick-or-treaters, so they gave out the best treats. One house was famous for giving out 12-packs of pop each year. Many places just left buckets of candy out on their front steps reading “take a few handfuls.” Full-sized candy bars were everywhere. The best part about rural trick-or-treating was the reactions you would get from the people who opened the door. Like I said, not many trick-or-treaters find their way out into the country, so the people who lived way out there were just thrilled to find some costumed kiddies at their door. They’d ooh and ahh while filling our buckets with candy, toys, and coins. Our costuming efforts never went unnoticed out in the country, whereas in town, after the tenth vampire costume, they lose their charm.

Another huge benefit to trick-or-treating in the country was that people still gave out homemade treats. When you went trick-or-treating in town, you were warned against accepting homemade treats because of the risk you’d be biting into a razor blade or rat poison. (Not that the people of Arlington would do that.) However, in the country, you knew everyone. You knew exactly where the Rice Krispie bars came from, and you were glad to have them. My grandma gave out homemade popcorn balls, and they were incredible. There was one lady who made her own taffy every year, and it was delicious. She always had an extra bag for our dad: he loved her taffy, and even though he had his own bag, he’d come looking for ours if we didn’t eat it fast enough.

I didn’t realize how great I had it until the year I decided I wanted to go trick-or-treating in town. I had heard that trick-or-treating in town was wonderful and that the candy was bountiful. How could it not be great? You could go to ten houses in town in the same time it would take you to get to two in the country. What I learned was a classic lesson in quality versus quantity.

All trick-or-treating children are greedy little monsters, and I was no exception. When I knocked on the first door, I held out my pumpkin-shaped pail, expecting a payload of candy. What I got was one piece of Dubble Bubble. One. Piece. I must’ve looked confused, but I said thank you and went on my way. I was trick-or-treating with a friend who lived in town, and I asked her if that’s how it usually went. “Oh no,” she said. “Most houses give you the fun-sized candy bars, at least!”

On we went from house to house, begging for candy. At some houses we were given pennies, other houses handed out saltwater taffy. One house did give out full-size candy bars, and that was the most popular house in town. (Luckily, it was also my trick-or-treating friend’s house, so we got the leftovers.) At the end of the night, we sifted through our bags. We had earned a fairly respectable amount of candy, but compared to what I was used to out in the country, it was nothing. In town, people handed out one fun-size candy bar at a time, which only makes sense: with so many kids coming to your door, even in a town as small as Arlington, you’d run out if you didn’t ration. Meanwhile, in the country, if you didn’t give out big handfuls, you’d be stuck with too much candy at the end of the night. Plus, everyone in the country bought the good candy just in case they did end up with surplus. No one wanted to be left with piles of those little suckers or teeny Almond Joys. No, the country people always had M&Ms, Milky Ways, Kit Kats… everything that you wanted. Trick-or-treating in the country had definitely spoiled me.

Senior in high school: trick-or-treating in my band uniform.

As I grew older, I was forced to outgrow trick-or-treating. I went kicking and screaming – trick-or-treating was the last thing I wanted to give up. Sixth grade was my last year trick-or-treating in the country with the neighbors, and my parents broke the news to me gently. I was crushed, but my parents tried to reassure me by saying that I could be in charge of handing out candy from now on. What a poor consolation prize. I spent the next few Halloweens watching Hocus Pocus and helping my dad hand out candy. I bided my time until I had a driver’s license, and then, sure enough, my friends and I were out trick-or-treating again. The older we got, the better our costumes got. We only went to the houses of people we knew, and the candy was not the goal: we just liked to be able to dress up in goofy costumes and roam around for the night. My trick-or-treating years lasted into my freshman year of college. Yes, I was 18 years old and still trick-or-treating. 

I haven’t been trick-or-treating since, but I have still whole-heartedly participated in Halloween festivities. I wear a costume every year, and I hang up Halloween decorations. I attend midnight showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and wear my special dancing skeleton earrings. I have a glow-in-the-dark skeleton shirt that I wear ever year. (One year, I wore it to my art history class – we spent most of the time in the dark viewing slides, so my glowing shirt was a bit distracting.) Last year, James and I went to the Minnesota Orchestra’s production of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. The orchestra played the soundtrack while they screened the movie, and many orchestra members had costumes of their own.
Mother was there.
I truly believe that there are some things you’re never too old for, and Halloween is one of them. Whatever your plans are or whatever your costume is, I hope you have a very happy Halloween! As for me, I haven’t yet decided how I’ll spend the day… but you can be sure I’ll be wearing my dancing skeleton earrings.

Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

top ten Tuesday: childhood movies, take II.

Last week, I wrote about the ten kids' movies that I loved most as a child. This week, I'm expanding: these are the top ten movies I adored as a kid that weren't necessarily meant for children. I watched them nonetheless, and they have stuck with me (for better or worse) since. Onto the list!

Tommy Boy
Growing up, I watched Tommy Boy more than I watched Sesame Street. As you may know, it’s about the screw-up guy who has to sell half a million brake pads to save his father’s company, and in turn, save the town. Chris Farley and David Spade make a killer team, the classic “idiot/nerd” pairing. Let’s face it, this is the only movie where David Spade hasn’t just plain sucked: and it’s all thanks to pairing him with Chris Farley. David Spade is meant to be the straight-man. Tommy Boy one of those movies that just gets better with age – I watch it now, and I catch many of the jokes that I didn’t as a kid. But the jokes that I loved when I was little (fat guy in a little coat) are still just as funny today as they were 15 years ago.
"Did you ever eat paint chips as a kid?"
Looking back, I’m kind of surprised that my parents let us watch this so often – kids are notorious for repeating things, and there are quite a few lines from Tommy Boy that you wouldn’t want to risk your kids reciting in a public setting. Luckily, most of us just stuck with “holy schnikes!”

Grumpy Old Men
I love Jack Lemmon. LOVE him. And it all started here. When you pair him with Walter Matthau, you have gold. When you put them in Minnesota and pit them against each other, you have magic AND gold. The movie is about two old men who have a long-standing rivalry that only escalates when the hot widow moves into town. 
I would watch this with my cousins from Minneapolis, and we just ate it up. The best part of this movie was that it really hits home if you live in a small town in the Midwest. I knew a lot of grumpy old men, and my grandpa (who was actually not that grumpy) was the one who had his grandkids watch this movie. If you haven’t yet figured out that I have the best family ever, this should be a good indication.

Young Frankenstein
I stumbled upon this movie one night on late-night HBO. We didn’t get real channels until I was in my preteens, so this movie came along a little later in my life. This was my first contact with a Mel Brooks movie, and it remains one of my favorite movies of all time. As a 12-year-old, I watched this movie and just loved it. I thought it was hilarious – from Eye-gor to the abnormal brain to “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” it was genius. 
Abby... normal.
Young Frankenstein introduced me to a whole side of comedy film that I’d never seen before. The next day, I asked my parents if they’d ever heard of this movie. My mom informed me that when she worked at the movie theatre in her hometown, this was one of the movies she sold tickets for. I was stunned that my mom could be familiar with something so cool that I’d never heard of before the previous evening. Young Frankenstein led to Blazing Saddles which led to The Producers which led to many great years of movie viewing.

A League of Their Own
When it comes to sports movies, baseball will always be my sport of choice. Basketball movies are not worth your time: Air Bud, Space Jam. With the exception of Little Giants (which was awesome), I can’t think of any notable football movies. Even if I could, they’re mostly about head injuries. Baseball movies tend to be funny/inspiring: The Sandlot, Rookie of the Year, Angels in the Outfield, and of course, A League of Their Own. A League of Their Own is about women playing baseball during World War II and all the crap they put up with. 
"And then there's Marla Hooch... what a hitter!"
Tom Hanks makes the movie with his outbursts: “there’s no crying in baseball!” One of my all-time favorite movie moments takes place in this film: the son of one of the players is prancing around during the final game of the series, chanting, “You’re gonna loooose!” Tom Hanks takes a baseball glove, throws it at the kid’s head, and knocks him down. “Bahaaaa! Got him!” he yells. Seriously, if you’ve never seen this movie, go watch it immediately.

I know, I know. Pauly Shore. But it’s a fish-out-of-water story, and most of it is set in South Dakota! It’s about a farm girl who goes to school in California, ends up transforming into a 90’s era California girl, and brings a complete freakshow (Pauly Shore, of course) home to meet her family. He goes over about as well as you would expect, especially in small town South Dakota. 
I'd hate to see this show up at my door, too.
I used to watch this at my great aunt and uncle’s house. They lived right down the hill from us, and at ¼ of a mile away, they were our closest neighbors. Son-in-Law, though no cinematic masterpiece, will always remind me of South Dakota summers, hanging out with Burt, Garnet, and their granddaughters from California. Burt and Garnet had the greatest collection of movies – Burt (my 70-something great uncle) was the one who first told me to watch The Birdcage. Again, I must emphasize that I have the greatest family.

Mrs Doubtfire
This is another movie that we always watched at my grandparents’ house, but only when my grandma wasn’t around. Grandpa Darwin knew how to bend the rules. Honestly, though, who can resist a story about a divorced dad who dresses in drag as an elderly Englishwoman in order to spend more time with his kids? It’s Robin Williams at his weird best. Plus, let’s talk about the supporting cast: Harvey Feirstein as the make-up artist brother who brings it all together, and Pierce Brosnan as the too-good-to-be-true boyfriend moving in on Robin Williams’ family. All of this with a perfect soundtrack: “Dude Looks Like a Lady” never sounded better.
More like "Lady Looks Like a Dude."
Liar Liar
Back when Jim Carrey was still funny, there was Liar Liar. When we weren’t watching Tommy Boy, my friends and I were watching Liar Liar. Unlike Tommy Boy, this movie isn’t quite as funny as it was when I was 10, but watching it makes me remember all the inside jokes and great times we had. The movie is about a lawyer who lies all the time, especially to his family. His son has a birthday party, and the dad doesn’t show up and lies about it. The son wishes that his dad can’t lie for 24 hours. As expected, chaos ensues. Jim Carrey is great as the scumbag liar lawyer, and Cary Elwes plays the dorky potential stepfather like he was made for the part. Does anyone remember his weak attempt at the Claw? “The Claw’s coming atcha! Ooooh, you’re scared of the Claw!”

Nothing can stop the Claw.
the Lord of the Rings trilogy
When they learn that I grew up in such a small town (less than 1000 people), the first thing people would ask is, “What did you do for fun? Cow tipping?” No, not cow tipping. When we got our licenses at the ripe old age of 14, the last place any of us wanted to be was our hometown. Once we were old enough for cars and part-time jobs, my friends’ and my favorite pastime was going to movie matinees in Brookings, the nearest respectable town. We went to a matinee at least once a week, twice if we could afford it. This is how I first saw Lord of the Rings. My friend Sarah and I were looking through the paper for movie listings, and everything looked like garbage. There was one movie we’d never heard of, and it was a fellowship and a ring. So we took our chances. Sarah thought it was just ok; I was stunned. How could it be that I had never heard of this story before? I was elated to find out that there were two more movies in the series, and I happily attended each movie within its opening week. I was a full-blown nerd from 2001 – 2003.  I went twice to the second movie, three times to the third… and one of those times was by myself. Yes, I went to a Lord of the Rings movie completely alone. Going to the third movie alone was bad enough, but I may or may not have seriously considered buying a fake One Ring. 
I'm so ashamed.
By the time I was a senior in high school, I had more or less grown out of it. I packed away my poster and figurines, and I gave my do-it-yourself iron-on t-shirt (yes, that happened) to Goodwill. I kept my shameful secret until I was a junior in college, when I let it slip to my boyfriend, James. James was delighted, to say the least. As a fan of Stargate and music theory, James was thrilled to hear about my less-than-cool past. So now the internet knows my secret. But let’s be honest: if a mild obsession with Lord of the Rings is one of my most embarrassing secrets, then I’ve had it relatively easy.

The Jerk
My cousin introduced this movie to me about 12 years ago. I had never heard of it, and I was only mildly familiar with Steve Martin because of a movie-of-the-week viewing of Father of the Bride. The movie is about a guy (Steve Martin, of course) who goes from rags to riches back to rags, and it is hilarious. The situations are just ridiculous, and so are the characters. 
This picture says it all.
Example: Steve Martin’s character is over the moon when his name appears in the phonebook for the first time. His name is in print, he cries, and that’s the kind of publicity one needs: “Things are going to start happening to me now.” The very next scene shows a man with a machine gun. He closes his eyes, opens up the phonebook to a random page, and lands on Steve Martin’s character. Of  course, he then tries to kill him. This movie was the inspiration for my “quote of the day.” These were quotes from movies, TV shows, friends, or whomever that I would write in my assignment book. Thanks to The Jerk, quotes of the day were written and enjoyed amongst my friends and me for years. I believe the quote was: “I just need enough gas to fill up my lighter!”

Titanic came out in 1997, and I was ten years old. I saw it in the theatre with my parents and was head-over-heels. My first crush was on Leonardo DiCaprio. Predictable, I know. I asked for (and received) a fake “heart of the ocean” necklace for Christmas that year. I purchased it on VHS the same day it came out. My friend Sarah and I had a raging case of Titanic fever. We each owned the soundtrack, and we both had the poster hanging in our rooms. 

This poster.
We would take turns watching Titanic at each other’s’ houses. This was quite a commitment, you realize: the movie pushes three hours in length, and ten-year-olds generally do not have driver’s licenses. We had to beg our parents to drive us back and forth, and we had to plan around who had the most family home that day: my house only had one TV and one VCR, so if my siblings were home, we had to try our best to watch the movie over at Sarah’s house. She had a TV and a VCR in her room: the holy grail of pre-teen-dom. Soon, we had the entire movie memorized. But like all good things, our love of Titanic came to an end. When we started making up replacement dialogue and laughing at the over-the-top acting, we knew that Titanic had run its course. Even today, though, we can both recite some of our replacement lines, and I must say, some of them are better than the actual script.
So those are the movies that I loved when I maybe should’ve been spending more time watching Barney. Are there any movies that you adored that were not quite age-appropriate?  If you’re like me, chances are, those movies left a much bigger impact on you than anything you could find on the Disney Channel.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

let's talk about high school biology.

When I was a senior in high school, I thought it would be a good idea to take another biology class. In my school, in order to be considered a “Regents Scholar,” you had to take four years of math and four years of science in high school. I wanted that title, even though going to school out of the state (which I did) renders it useless. So it was either advanced biology or chemistry. Easy choice. Besides, most of my friends were in that class – what could be better? Turns out we all got something much different than we expected.

Our teacher was a friendly guy who would play his guitar if we were good and wore overalls on casual Friday. (There were also rumors that he walked his cat around town on a leash, but I never saw that with my own eyes.) He never worked from a textbook – every Monday, he’d hand out a list of terms for the week, and that was it. The entire class was spent studying the human body, so every now and then there would be a diagram, but that was the extent of it.

The advanced biology weekly structure was this: Monday and Tuesday were lecture days, Wednesday and Thursday were study days, and Friday was the test. The first week of school, we all thought we’d hit the jackpot. Only two days of actual class a week? Cha-CHING! As you may expect, we spent our Wednesday and Thursday study halls just goofing off, and the teacher said nothing. We all figured that a quick scan of the vocabulary terms on Thursday night would more than suffice.

We were absolutely wrong. All of us were so used to our junior high science teacher, whose exams had more pages of Far Side cartoons than actual test material. These tests were difficult. It consisted of a page of terms where we would be given the term and would be require to write the definition. This may sound like no big deal, but up until that point, any terms tests we’d had would be matching or multiple choice. And the terms were tough for a bunch of kids who weren’t used to having to study. We’d have to write out the difference between neurons and neutrons, which may again sound like a piece of cake, but we’d never had to do anything like that before. We had to write it well, too: if the definition didn’t contain a few key terms of the teacher’s choosing, we wouldn’t get full credit for the answer. The next page was usually a diagram that we’d have to label. When we labeled the diagram, there was no list of terms to choose from. You’d have to go from the terms on the first page and hope that you got everything right. For example, we’d get a picture of a brain with a bunch of blank lines pointing at different sections. Then you had to hope that you remembered all the parts of the brain and where they were located, or you’d hope that you were a good guesser. The third page was a series of essay questions, and they were impossibly general: “Explain how the brain works.” Many of us generally followed the “the more you write, the more likely at least SOME of it is going to be correct” rule. The fourth page was extra credit, which was our saving grace. The teacher usually threw in a gimme or two, but the rest would be something obscure: “What was the name of the guy in the coma I told you about on Monday?” One point for first name, two points for first and last.

Our poor brains had been on auto-pilot before, but advanced biology was about to change that. I was in this class with my friends Bob, Meagan, and Tiffany. We quickly learned that the Wednesday and Thursday classroom study halls needed to be utilized for actual studying. (Of course, since it was a free-range study hall, there was still a fair amount of slacking off as indicated from all the pictures we took during that class.) Bob and I taught Sunday school, so after school, we would head over to our Sunday school classroom and continue studying terms and anything we thought could show up on the extra credit page. Why the Sunday school classroom? Because it had bean bag chairs, of course.

We eventually got this down to a science (pun very much intended), but we still had to study our tails off to have any hope of getting a decent grade. It was all in great fun, though, and this was completely thanks to our teacher. During a break in a lesson about the reproductive system (he introduced the section by announcing, "Let's plan your sex lives!"), I found myself explaining to my friends what Conan O’Brien’s “string dance” was. Of course, we had to do a demo. Our teacher, instead of telling us to get back to work, exclaimed, “We’re learning about sex, and they’re DANCING!”
And could you blame us?
Clearly, he had a great sense of humor. The door to our classroom faced the hallway that led from the gym back to the locker rooms. Whenever gym got out, those students would knock on the door, yell, or peek in the window and make faces. One day, our teacher got tired of it. He put the classroom skeleton right in the window so it would be looking back at them. We stifled our giggles and eagerly waited for gym to get out. The first kid to look in the window shrieked like a small girl. The gym kids left us alone after that.
Her name was Jasmine.
Another favorite activity of our teacher’s was to print off old Reader’s Digest articles and have us read them and take a quiz on them for extra credit. His favorite was the series about a guy named Joe, and Joe’s organs each had a feature – but it was the organs telling the story. Hands down – our favorite was the article entitled “I am Joe’s Man Gland.” That was the honest-to-God title, and we really read that in high school advanced biology.

No truly great class is complete without a field trip. One April day, our class went on a field trip to the anatomy lab at the nearest college. That’s right: our field trip was to see cadavers. And not just plain old cadavers – cadavers being DISSECTED. The faint of heart had the option to stay out of the classroom, but to the best of my recollection, only two members of the class did. Everybody else huddled wide-eyed around the cadaver, only becoming squeamish when we were asked if we’d like to touch any of the organs.

Look how happy the cadavers made us.
Advanced biology was the strangest class I’ve ever had, and it was by far the toughest class I had in high school. The class itself was very laid-back, but you absolutely had to buckle down and know the information if you wanted to have a prayer at passing the tests. Thank goodness that class taught me how to study; college would have been an extra rude awakening if it hadn’t. All the same, it was a blast. Not only did I have an awesome class with my friends, it was interesting information being presented in a more exciting way than just “read chapter three and be ready for a test on Monday.” So if you ever have the chance to take a class from a guitar-playing, overall-wearing, mustachioed guy who goes by Woody, you won’t regret it.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

top ten Tuesday: childhood movies.

Yes, I am a list-maker. I love making lists, and lucky you, I'm going to share them. This is a list of the top ten family movies that defined most of my youth. There are many more movies that I adored as a kid that weren't geared towards children (you can blame my parents), but we'll cover those another time. I don't like to pick favorites, so these movies are in no particular order. Heeeeere we go!

A Christmas Story
This is one of those movies that I watch every year at Christmastime, and every year, it gets better and better. We got this movie one year from our cousin, and my siblings were not quite old enough to get it. I think I was about the same age as Ralphie, so everything rang true. A nine-year-old knows what it’s like to want something so badly that you will most likely die without it – be it a Red Ryder BB Gun or one of those stuffed kittens that purred when you shook it. Even now, a decade and a half later, I watch it and can’t help but feel like a little kid at Christmas time.
"It's a major award!"
The Sandlot
This movie will always remind me of my dad. No one loves this movie more than he does, and no one enjoys quoting it more than he does, either. It’s a classic kid movie – summertime, baseball, and a giant dog. The plot is great, but it’s the one-liners that make this movie one of the absolute favorites at the Bjorklund house. Example: whenever someone is taking a long time, we say, “Hurry up, my clothes are going out of style!” Answer: “They already are!” Straight from The Sandlot.
"Some lady signed it. Ruth. Baby Ruth."

Home Alone
I distinctly remember getting this movie during one of my very early winters. I was a small kid, my sister was a baby, and my brother didn’t exist. My dad used to go to truck sales and be gone for days at a time. When he came back, he always brought us a little something. This time, it was nearing Christmas, and he came home with Home Alone on VHS. We still have that VHS, but I wish I knew how many times we’ve watched it. This movie is also great for quoting – right behind “my clothes are going out of style” as far as quote-ability at the Bjorklund house is “Buzz, your girlfriend – WOOF!”

Woof indeed.

The Great Mouse Detective
One of the lesser-known Disney movies, this is, without a question, my favorite Disney movie of all time. First of all, it’s based off of the Sherlock Holmes characters – obvious, yes, but come in, they're mice! Second of all, Vincent Price voices the villain. 
Plus, he'd totally kill you if you called him a rat.
Third of all, it was made in the 60s, so there are scenes towards the end that could legitimately scar children (much like the original Fantasia, but with mice. And actually way less scary than that). Plus, it’s terribly clever, so it’s something you can watch as a kid and an adult and still appreciate either way.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
Gene Wilder plays the eccentric candymaker so well; he’s got the perfect crazy hair and the perfect crazy eyes. 
Crazy eyes.
This was another movie that aired every so often on farmer TV (which is all we had growing up – four channels, five on a good day), and I was right in front of the TV every time. The songs really make the film: my favorite was always “I’ve Got a Golden Ticket” where Grandpa Joe miraculously walks again. Now I’m going to have that song stuck in my head all day, and so will you.

Robin Hood
Yes, the Disney movie with the foxes. Robin Hood arguably has the catchiest songs, and the characters are all just perfect. Little John is the definitive sidekick, but he’s full of pithy comments of his own. Prince John is one of the funniest Disney villains – he cries for his mother and sucks his thumb when something goes wrong. 
A pox on the phony king of England!
The comedy is dead-on, but Robin Hood can find your soft spot, too – remember the scene in the jail when everybody gets locked up for not paying their taxes and no one has enough to eat? Gets me every time.

Uncle Buck
John Candy is a genius. Everybody’s got that black sheep in the family, and this is a story about the black sheep totally coming through. It’s even got pre-Home Alone Macaulay Culkin. Highlights include John Candy punching a clown and threatening teenagers with power tools. Wish he was MY uncle.
"Ever hear of a ritual killing? Heh heh."

Hocus Pocus
This movie used to air every Halloween on TV, and I would beg my parents to let me stay up and watch it. I could only watch it if my little sister was otherwise occupied, as she was afraid of everything (we couldn’t watch The Rescuers because my sister was too scared of the alligators, but that’s another story). It’s got Bette Milder, Sarah Jessica Parker, and someone forgettable as three witch sisters who are brought back to life. 
Chilling, isn't it?
They start trying to find children’s souls to drink in order to preserve their youth, and as always, it’s up to a plucky newcomer to save the day. Or in this case, night.

Sleeping Beauty
Of course, we’re talking Disney again. The story itself is a classic, but when you add in all the little extras like making the three fairies extra sassy, you’ve got yourself a great movie. Plus, Maleficent is easily the scariest Disney villain. She turns into a bloodthirsty black dragon that breathes green fire, for crying out loud.
I sure hope Sleeping Beauty was worth it.
The Lion King
We have to talk about The Lion King. When I was in second grade, I was obsessed. I had two pairs of Lion King shoes, two Lion King sweatsuits, and countless t-shirts. 
Not exaggerating.
I had Lion King coloring books and the giant picture books. I had stuffed animals and action figures. I forced my parents to take me to Burger King many MANY times so I could get the Lion King toys from the kids' meals. I made my sister play Lion King on the stairs nearly every day, where she was Scar and I was Mufasa and she let me plunge to my doom. When I turned eight, my parents took a friend and me to Pizza Hut. When the waiter brought out the plain cheese pizzas, they had little plastic Lion King figurines on top of them.  I spent many years convinced that Pizza Hut just knew that I loved the Lion King, so they had put the figurines on the pizza just for me. My mom finally had to tell me that she was the one who gave the figurines to the waiter. In any case, I lived and breathed Lion King for a solid year, so it has more than earned a place on my list.
So those are the ten movies that shaped a good portion of my childhood. Which movies did the same for you? You can probably tell a lot about a person from the movies they watched as a kid, which tells you what truly great parents I have: if The Sandlot hadn't been required viewing at my house, who knows what kind of slob I would've turned out to be.

One that doesn't know that Babe Ruth and the Sultan of Swat are the same person, that's for sure.

Monday, October 17, 2011

let's talk about why I don't play with fire.

When I was five years old, my parents sent me to Safety Town. Safety Town was a week-long class for kids just about to start kindergarten, and it taught you about general safety rules. We learned about traffic lights, stop signs, household chemicals, and fires. In theory, it was a great idea… but Safety Town very nearly ruined my childhood.

The segments on traffic were great, don’t get me wrong. We each got a little car to pedal around, and we took turns being pedestrians. We learned to stay on the right side of the road and what green, red, and yellow lights meant. Looking back, it seems a little odd that they were teaching five-year-olds about traffic signals, but it’s different in South Dakota. I was driving tractors and farm pickups by the time I was eight, so it was like pre-driver’s ed for the farm kids.

This is me, learning how not to mow down bystanders.
It seems that I have already been pulled over.
No, it wasn’t the warning tales of gruesome traffic accidents that got to me, nor was it the household chemicals. We went through every bottle that could be under the sink or in the medicine cabinet and talked about the horrible things it could do to you. We all got a sheet of stickers with a green sad face with his eyes x-ed out, and we were supposed to place this on all items that were potentially harmful to warn us all to stay away from them. (I may have tried to put one of these on my little sister, but don’t quote me on that.) Needless to say, like any little kid given explicit instructions to put stickers on Mom and Dad’s stuff, I had a heyday.

It was the section on fire safety that scared the living daylights out of me. The instructors sat us down and went over stop, drop, and roll and why we shouldn’t play with matches. No big deal. It was the video that got to me. They showed a little video about a girl who looked a lot like Lucy of Peanuts fame. Little Lucy was given the same “don’t play with matches” instructions as we were, but Lucy laughed it off. She loved to play with matches, and she loved sticking things in electrical outlets. Lucy would scare her friends, chasing after them with lit matches. Everyone told Lucy to stop, but Lucy kept on lighting things on fire. One day, Lucy was home alone (which really makes you wonder about her parents – if you had a pyromaniac grade-schooler, would you leave them at home by themselves?). She was playing with matches, like she usually does. This time, though, Lucy got a little too close to the Christmas tree. The tree went up in flames, and so did the rest of Lucy’s house. Lucy herself caught on fire, but she had the presence of mind to remember to stop, drop, and roll. The last we saw of Lucy, she was in full-body traction in a hospital bed, presumably with third-degree burns over most of her body. She cried and cried and promised never to play with matches again.

I was horrified. I had just seen a cautionary tale of a little girl being burned alive. Even though I had no interested in playing with matches, I was absolutely certain this would happen to me. I pressured my parents to make sure all the smoke detectors were in working order. I put one of those stickers with the firefighter on it in my bedroom window so they’d know where to rescue me. I was convinced that the house was in danger of spontaneously combusting at any minute, and I didn’t want to be the one stuck inside.

I became so paranoid that I nearly stopped sleeping. At that time, I shared a bedroom on the main floor with my one-year-old sister. I would lie in my bunk bed and wait for my parents to go to bed. After they had gone upstairs to their room, I would creep up and silently make myself a little nest at the foot of their bed. My logic was that if they had to trip over me to get out of our burning house, there was no way they’d forget me.

This went on for a few nights before my parents decided enough was enough. They sat me down and told me that our house was NOT going to burn down, and even if it did, they’d never leave me behind. After much persuasion, I agreed to spend the night in my own bed. Sure enough, our house never burned down. But to this day, you’ll never catch me playing with matches.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

adventures in New Orleans: the Craigslist landlord edition.

Once upon a post-college wave of optimism, I decided to move to New Orleans.

I was first introduced to New Orleans on a trip with my college jazz band in early 2008. I wasn’t terribly excited for the trip – 25 hours on a bus to go to some place down south that I’d never even considered to be a desirable place to visit? The trip sounded questionable at best. But ultimately, I decided that it would be worth it to head to New Orleans for a week in January, which is the most soul-crushing time of year in the Midwest.
I ended up loving it. The sights, the sounds – I couldn’t get enough. (The same can’t be said for the smells.) Though I was only there for five days, I knew that New Orleans was the place for me. I had to go back, and I had to do it soon.

“Soon” ended up being the fall of 2009. I graduated from college in the spring of that year, holding degrees in English and Art History, thinking that the world was my oyster. I had been applying for internships at museums, and I had accepted one in Denver. Shortly after I had accepted that internship, the New Orleans museum offered me an internship, as well. I decided to go ahead with Denver for the summer and make New Orleans my home in the fall. It’s just as well, since a Midwestern wimp like me probably couldn’t have weathered the Deep South in July.

While I was in Denver, I stayed with my aunt and uncle, so I didn’t have to worry at all about housing. New Orleans would be my first experience hunting for a place to live. “Well,” thought my 22 year old na├»ve brain, “Craigslist would be a GREAT way to do this!”

Looking for a place to live is no walk in the park, especially when you currently live 1300 miles away and are on a retail salesperson budget. I searched Craigslist high and low for my new home – more legitimate sites like were out of my pauper-level price range.

Finally, I found what I thought was the Craigslist jackpot. It was a room in a newly remodeled house, just a few miles away from the museum where I’d be interning. It was in a safe neighborhood (or, safe-looking, thanks to Google street view), it had a pool, and it was a paltry $400 per month in rent. I emailed the landlord, and he was happy to give me a room. He sent me pictures of the house, and it looked wonderful. It was a little weird that he included a picture of himself in the middle of pictures of the kitchen and the backyard, but I quickly dismissed the thought. The landlord said that he lived in the house next door, and the two other rooms in the house were occupied by other twenty-something women. Sounded harmless.
When my time was up in Denver, I drove home to South Dakota for a week before embarking on the hellish 22 hour drive to New Orleans. By myself. I arrived in New Orleans exhausted, but ecstatic. I couldn’t believe that I was finally there – and there for three months!

My long-suffering Mercury Sable and I rolled into the driveway, and I loved what I saw. The palm trees, the POOL – it looked better than the pictures. I was greeted in the doorway by the landlord, just your average 40-something Southerner. He gave me the tour, showing me where my room was to be. “And this is my room,” he said, leading me through a curtain of beads into a bedroom on the main floor. I did a double-take. “I thought you said you lived in the house next door?” I said with some alarm. “Oh, what I meant was, I’ll live there eventually,” he explained, shrugging it right off. That was my first red flag.

Despite my initial trepidation, I went ahead and unloaded the car. As soon as I was finished, the landlord came and peeked in my room. “Hey, uh,” he stuttered, shuffling his feet like an awkward 13-year-old, “Did you want me to show you around the neighborhood?”

Clearly, I need to work on saying ‘no.’ I accepted, so off we went. The first stop was Lowe’s to get me a copy of the keys. The landlord didn’t seem to want to leave Lowe’s; he dragged me through the paint section, asking my opinion on new colors for the kitchen. “Well, have you had dinner? Let me buy you dinner!” he said excitedly, steering the truck towards a little bar. It was nice gesture, sure, but after two days of non-stop driving, I was ready to just relax. He would hear none of it, so into the bar we went. I ordered my first shrimp po-boy, which the landlord thought was the funniest thing – “You’re from where? The Dakotas? Don’t they have shrimp there?” He spent quite a bit of dinner giggling to himself.

Finally, we were back at the house, and I could start unpacking. I left the door to my room open while I settled in – mistake. I turned around and suddenly, the landlord was standing in the doorway. “Just checking on you,” he said, shuffling his feet again. “Do you need any help unpacking?” Now, it’s one thing for your mom or one of your friends to offer to help you unpack. It’s another thing completely for a weird 40 year old man you just met to make the same offer. I politely turned him down, and as soon as he was down the stairs, I promptly locked the door.

The next day was the Sunday before Labor Day, and I planned to venture out to the French Quarter. I was in New Orleans, after all! I was halfway down the stairs when I heard, “Calla? Calla?” coming from behind the beaded curtains. I stopped short and considered running back up to my room, but would that be any way to spend my first full day in New Orleans? I braved up and continued down the stairs. The landlord met me at the bottom, asking about what my plans were for the day. Because I’m an idiot, I mentioned that I was going to the French Quarter. “Oh, let me show you around!” he practically begged. “I know the area so well; I can be your tour guide!” Again, since I have a problem saying no, I reluctantly agreed.

We arrived in the French Quarter in time for me to realize that it was no ordinary weekend. Labor Day weekend in the French Quarter is host to a festival called Southern Decadence, which is New Orleans’ Gay Pride. What a fantastic way to start my time in New Orleans! There were drag queens as far as the eye could see, and the Mardi Gras beads were flying. There were parades and big bands; everything I could’ve hoped for on my first day.
It was extremely crowded, as French Quarter festival days tend to be. The landlord was antsy and didn’t want to stay in one place too long, so we were always on the move. We squeezed through the hordes of people, and he kept pressing me to take his hand so we didn’t get separated. I quickly responded by assuring him that I was good at navigating crowds – I DID NOT want to take his hand.

The landlord wanted me to meet one of my roommates, who worked at a bar in the French Quarter. We found her and said hello, and I thought that’s all we came to do. However, the landlord decided he wanted a drink. The beers were 3-for-1, like they tend to be in New Orleans. He offered me one, and I declined, as I a.) did not like beer and b.) would not ever want to drink with this guy. I used option a as my excuse, and he said, “You can’t live in New Orleans without liking beer! We’re going to get you drinking beer, just you wait and see.” I did not want to wait and see.

He finally finished his three beers, and I was more than ready to leave. The humidity was approximately one thousand percent, and I was really wondering what I’d gotten myself into when I decided to rent from this guy. He tried to persuade me that I needed to stay and drink with him, but I countered, claiming I had a lot to do before my internship started on Tuesday.

I spent most of Labor Day Monday finding things to do that didn’t involve being around the house and the weird landlord. I found where the museum was, I bought groceries, I took a walk through the neighborhood. While I was out of the house (and out of earshot), I updated my parents on the last few days. I told my parents that the landlord was either “really nice or really creepy” which they were less than pleased to hear. When I got back to the house later that night, I sequestered myself in my room. The landlord ventured up the stairs shortly after he heard me come home. He knocked and knocked on the door, but I pretended that I was listening to music and couldn’t hear him. I was very much questioning my judgment, but I decided to power through it. It was only my second day, after all.

The next day was my first day as a curatorial intern at the museum. I had a great day there, and I knew I was really going to enjoy it. When I got home at the end of the day, the landlord was there. He invited me into his room to see pictures of his kids, but I bowed out, claiming that I had a lot of reading to do for my new internship. I headed upstairs, and he followed about a minute later, knocking on the door. With a hangdog look on his face, he said, “Well, we’re still going to have time to hang out, right?” If I hadn’t been so uncomfortable, I might’ve felt bad for the guy. His only “friends” seemed to be people that pay to stay in his house. I informed him that my free time would be limited since I had so much museum work to do (not 100% true). He said, “Well, since you’re so busy, do you want me to cook you dinner?” I said I wasn’t hungry (and later snuck out to KFC).

The next few days consisted mainly of me going to the museum by day and trying to figure out ways to avoid the landlord by night. When I was back at the house, I always shut and locked my door. Whenever I would leave, I would tiptoe down the stairs and pray that he wouldn’t be waiting at the foot of the stairs for me. He tried his very best to get me to come and hang out. He would knock at my door asking me if I wanted to come and play with my second roommate’s dog in HER room– and I’d never met the second roommate. I’d hear him prowling around upstairs, even though the only rooms on that floor belonged to the three young female renters.

One day when I came home from the museum, he ambushed me. “So you were on the newspaper in college?” he said as soon as I walked in the door. I stopped. “How did you know that?” I asked slowly. “Oh, I Googled you,” he said. “You were on the radio, too; that’s cool!”

The final straw came at the end of that week. This was a Thursday: I was supposed to meet my family in San Antonio the following day to see my sister graduate from basic training. I came home from the museum to find a note under my door. It read: “The landlord is a sicko pervert. Get out while you can.” My blood ran cold. I didn’t know who wrote the note; I had only met the first roommate once at the bar where she worked, and I never met the second roommate. I wrote them each a note and stuck it under their doors, asking them to call me as soon as possible. The bartender roommate called me the next morning. She said she hadn’t written the note, but she was thinking the same thing – she was in the process of moving out and recommended that I do the same.

Unfortunately, I had no time to make a game plan before it was time to leave for San Antonio. When I got there, I told my parents about the last few days, including the note. “Get out,” they said. “Get out right away. Stay in a hotel until you get a new place to live; whatever it takes.”

After I got back from my weekend in San Antonio, I Craigslisted like there was no tomorrow. My parents were convinced that I would end up tied up in a basement dungeon if I didn’t move fast, and honestly, I was pretty convinced of that too. Within two days, I had found a new place to live. Now, the trick was getting out of that house. Luckily, I had signed no lease and paid no security deposit. I quietly loaded my things back into my car, hoping that the landlord (who, it seems, had no job) wouldn’t come out of his den and ask what I was up to. Unfortunately, he caught me on my third trip, holding an armload of clothes. I gave him a flimsy excuse about how I was storing things in my car that I didn’t need, and I was going to spend the night at a friend’s house. I promptly left for the night, planning on coming back over my lunch break the next day to retrieve the rest of my things.

I came back the next afternoon, and sure enough, he was waiting for me. He gave a big sigh and said, “We need to talk. I just think that things are really weird between us, and I’d like to know what you’re feeling. I want you to know that you can come to me about anything you’re thinking, and we can work it out.” I gave him yet another flimsy excuse about how I was going to move in with a friend (not true) who lived closer the museum (also not true) with cheaper rent (again, not true). I got the last of my things and put them in the car. The landlord followed me to the car and handed me a goodbye letter. The letter said, among other things, that he was sorry it couldn’t work out between us and I was welcome to come and stay on the couch any time. I drove away, a little worse for the wear, but certainly wiser because of it.

And that’s the story of my first week and a half in New Orleans, and how I ended up living in a shed in someone’s back yard. But that’s a story for another time.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

apartment, night four: the pros and cons

It's my fourth night in my new apartment, so I feel that I know enough about the place that I can start my list of pros and cons.

- I live close enough to a Lewis Drug that a $3.50 bottle of Arbor Mist is only 60 seconds away.
- There is a Goodwill basically across the street from said Lewis Drug. I haven't been there yet, but any Goodwill at all (even a gross one) counts as a pro.
- My wood-paneled air conditioner thermostat goes up to 11.

- Both times I have gone to Lewis to get Arbor Mist (yes, I've been there twice already, but the second time was to share!), the same guy has been working. I'm going to end up as "the cheap wine girl" if I don't watch myself.
- I'm pretty sure there are bats in the walls. Or ghosts. I may have to get back to you.
- Thanks to the thin walls, I can hear what my neighbors are fighting about. This has the potential to be a pro, but they are not fighting in English, so I can't tell if it's anything worth writing home about.

So less than a week in, and the pros and cons are neck and neck. We'll see what happens as my time here goes on.