Tuesday, November 29, 2011

top ten Tuesday: things from my grandmas' houses.

Grandparents are awesome. When you’re a kid, it’s a huge treat to go spend the day with your grandparents. As you get older, you learn more and more about your grandparents – sure, there can be a certain amount of “back in the good old days” stories, but my grandparents are really quite interesting. Plus: they have really neat stuff. You never know what you’ll find when you go digging around in boxes at your grandparents’ houses. Both of my grandfathers have passed away, but my two grandmothers are still alive: my mom’s mom, Lorraine, is 92. My dad’s mom, Sheila, is 80. 
Here we are at my sister's graduation. From left: Darrah,
Grandma Lorraine, me, Grandma Sheila.
They were growing up during the Great Depression, and they were young women during some of the most incredible periods in modern history. My grandmas have given me a ton of amazing things over the years, and there’s always a story. This week’s top ten list is about the top ten things that have come from my grandmas’ houses!

Bird apron – Grandma Lorraine

Grandma Lorraine is one of those grandmas who never throws anything away. She has at least one shoebox full of paper bookmarks, for crying out loud. Quite often, though, we find some really cool things in Grandma’s house. She used to wear this apron in the 1960s, when she was teaching elementary school and raising four kids. My grandma and the apron have long since retired, but now the apron is back in action. I’m not wearing it – you don’t need an apron to cook hot dogs and grilled cheese sandwiches – but you can find it hanging in my dining room!

Horn rimmed glasses – Grandma Sheila

These glasses are fantastic. I’m not sure if my grandma ever wore them, but I’ve seen pictures of my great grandma wearing them. I wore them as part of my schoolmarm costume this year, and they really pulled it all together. And honestly, they didn’t look too goofy. Maybe I’ll go ahead and get some lenses put in these babies and wear them every day.

Cribbage board – Grandma Lorraine

Cribbage is a huge deal at my house. It’s not considered a successful family gathering if you don’t spend at least a couple of hours playing cribbage. This cribbage board belonged to my Grandpa Harvey, and it’s the cribbage board that my mom learned on – my mom, in turn, taught my dad, and the rest is history. 

Pink flamingo – Grandma Sheila

For the longest time, I’ve loved flamingoes. They’re so weird looking, yet so graceful. This pink flamingo belonged to Grandma Sheila’s mom, who was also an incredible lady. We called her Grandma Shorty, though she was anything but short. Grandma Shorty could sew anything – she once sewed a dress for my aunt after seeing the dress on TV. I can only hope that I’ve got some of her creativity – for now, I’ll stick with the flamingo!

Owl napkin holder – Grandma Lorraine

I’m not sure what it is with grandmas and birds, but this is the third bird thing on this list. But they’re all cool vintage birds, not creepy Alfred Hitchcock birds, so it’s all fine. I found this funny little napkin holder at Grandma Lorraine’s not too long ago. I never thought that a napkin holder was something I’d ever actually want, but the owl has proved me wrong. It’s adorable and practical; what fun!

Chair – Grandma Sheila
The chicken wants you to sit by him.
Shortly after I got my first job, I bought my first TV. It had a VCR built-in and weighed about a million pounds, but I bought it from my parents, so the price was right. When you’ve got your own TV, you need a chair to put in front of it, right? Grandma Sheila had this old chair in her basement, and she let me have it to fix it up. With a little new foam and lot of new fabric, it’s as good as new. If you’re ever at my apartment, sit in this chair. You won’t want to get up.

Vintage rings – Grandma Lorraine

Grandma Lorraine has always had all sorts of great jewelry. A lot of it came from her visits to Norway, which makes it extra cool. A few Easters ago, Grandma let me go through her jewelry box and pick out whatever I wanted. I had a GREAT time. I wear Grandma’s rings all the time, and I always get compliments. It’s always fun to say, “Thanks; it was my grandma’s!” Not everyone has a grandma as stylin’ (yes, stylin’) as mine.

Batman keychain – Grandma Sheila
Batman protects my keys.
There are some things you just don’t expect to find at your grandma’s house. A Batman keychain from the 1970s is one of those things. I’m not sure who this originally belonged to; certainly one of my uncles. Many items came and went, but this keychain hung around all those years until someone from the next generation (me) scooped it up. And now I get to tell people that my grandma gave me a Batman keychain. Not everyone can say that.

Norwegian outfit – Grandma Lorraine
I wish I could tell you that the Norwegian
costume is the one on the right, but we all
know that's not true.
Like many people here in the Great White North, Grandma Lorraine is 100% Norwegian and proud of it. She and Grandpa Harvey (who was 100% German, but somehow ended up as the president of the local chapter of the Sons of Norway) would go Norwegian dancing all the time, and they would wear Norwegian costumes. I wore this costume once to give a speech to the Sons of Norway about my time at Norwegian camp (which is a great story for another day), and then again for Halloween 2008. This is my best Halloween costume to date, and I’m seriously considering breaking my “never wear the same costume twice” rule for next year. I loved it THAT MUCH.

The magic cookie tin – Grandma Sheila
Grandma Sheila loves to bake, and she is GREAT at it. Bread, cakes, bars… whatever treats you can imagine, Grandma Sheila will make them. All the way through high school, I had easy access to Grandma’s cookies: just stop by, and she’ll have them waiting for you. College, of course, would change this. Since my school was two and a half hours away, my visits would have to become fewer. A few days before I left for college, Grandma presented me with a tin full of chocolate chip cookies. It was my “magic cookie tin,” she said. Whenever it was empty, all I had to do was bring back to Grandma, and it would “magically” fill with cookies before it was time for me to go back to school! It’s been more than six years since I got that first cookie tin, but the magic still hasn’t worn off! Something tells me it never will.


So those are the ten most fantastic things from my grandmas’ houses. I don’t get to see my grandmas as often as I might like, so it’s been really nice to have a little part of them with me in my apartment. (That’s not as creepy as I made it sound, I promise.)

Friday, November 25, 2011

let's talk about Black Friday.

It’s that time of year again when we start thinking about all the things for which we are thankful. Thanksgiving is all about giving thanks (as you may have inferred from its very name), and Christmas is supposed to be more about giving than receiving. But you know what I’m NOT thankful for?

Black Friday.

I’ve never been a “serious” shopper. Rarely do I go shopping with a clear mission: I must find THIS specific thing at THIS price or my whole day is wasted and life sucks. Nope, that’s not me. Even when it’s starting to get to that “wow, I REALLY should do some Christmas shopping” time of year, I don’t get crazy.  Yes, I do like to find that extra special something for my loved ones, but I almost always find it on the internet. The internet has anything you could ever ever EVER want, and you can avoid the “serious” shoppers who will run you over with their carts in order to get the last super-markdown-what-a-great-deal Wii or Furby (remember those?) or whatever.

Don’t get me wrong: not everybody who goes shopping on Black Friday is a crazy person. But really, Black Friday is a magnet for the intense, angry shoppers who mean business. I know you’ve read the stories about people who actually get trampled and DIE on Black Friday. In large groups, agitated Black Friday shoppers are just like stampeding elephants.

I have been Black Friday shopping only twice. The first occasion was when I was (I think?) a sophomore in high school. My friend Meagan and her mom went Black Friday shopping every year, and this year, Meagan asked if I wanted to come with. I was hesitant at first (mostly because I really don’t like getting up early), but then I reconsidered: it’s something that I probably should try at least once, right?

Meagan and her mom picked me up at 6.30 that morning, and our destination was Watertown. Watertown is large enough for a Target, a WalMart, and a ShopKo, but not much else. They have a dinky mall as well, but in any case, the shoppers of Watertown wouldn’t be nearly as intimidating as they would be in Sioux Falls. It turns out that I severely underestimated the Watertown shoppers.

Our first stop was ShopKo. They opened at 7am, and there was a camera on Black Friday that Meagan wanted for Christmas. We got there just as the doors were opening, and I told Meagan and her mom I would find them after they got the camera. I myself almost got trampled by the flood of people into ShopKo; I was almost Black Friday roadkill. It turned out that cheap cameras were just the tip of the ShopKo iceberg, and I was just in the way. Until that point, I had not realized that Black Friday shopping was SERIOUS.

I don’t remember where else we went that day; probably Target and WalMart. The only thing I bought that day was The Rocky Horror Picture Show on VHS at Menards (it was rated R and I wasn’t yet 17, so Meagan’s mom was on hand to buy it for me if the Menard’s people decided to shut me down). We had lunch at Burger King and were on our way home shortly before noon.

I arrived home to find my mom and my siblings preparing to depart for their very own trip to Watertown. They asked me if I wanted to come along, but I declined, saying that once was enough for today. I planned to spend the rest of the afternoon being lazy and watching my new movie, but Dad foiled my plans by enlisting my help to pick rocks. Go figure.

The second (and last) time I went Black Friday shopping was when I was on Thanksgiving break from my junior year in college. Meagan extended the invitation, and I was ready to give it another go. “Great,” she said. “We’ll pick you up at 3.” I was confused: three in the afternoon? Don’t they usually like to go early in the morning? “Yep,” said Meagan. “3am.”

When I told my parents that I would be departing at 3am for Watertown, they just laughed. I decided that the best thing to do would be to do my best to stay awake instead of trying to drag myself out of bed at 2 in the morning. I watched TV, took a shower, and ran a few circles outside in the frigid air – anything to stay awake.

Sure enough, Meagan and her mom were right on time. Our first stop was WalMart, which, thankfully, was open already. WalMart had good deals on Nintendos or something that year, but they weren’t going to bring them out until 4am. People were hovering like vultures, just waiting to pounce. There were some people who had even brought sleeping bags and were camped around locked cages of flatscreen TVs.

Target was the next stop on our list. Unlike WalMart, Watertown’s Target is not open 24 hours a day. They were opening at 6, so we got in line. I don’t remember what their big promotion was, but it was important enough for a line of people to stretch across the frosty parking lot, which is a really unusual occurrence in small town South Dakota. Meagan and I did our very best to keep warm, but even when you’re doing jumping jacks and you have two sweatshirts on under your coat, the Midwest in November before the sun comes up will not allow you to get warm, or even regain feeling in your toes.
See how cheerful we are? We hadn't been in line long.
By the time I returned home after this shopping trip, it was barely 9am. The only thing I had purchased that day was breakfast from McDonald’s. I am clearly nowhere near hard-core enough to hold my own in the world of Black Friday shoppers. Meagan and her mom? They’re tough; they’re pros. I’m just a casual shopper, so Black Friday is not my cup of tea. I decided that I’d had my fill of Black Fridays, and from now on, I’d spend the rest of them as far away from shopping areas as possible.

Until I got a job in retail.

I was living in New Orleans at the time, and I had two part-time jobs and an internship at the art museum. I didn’t want to get the second part-time job, but I was tired of living on eggs and hot dogs (and I could only have hot dogs when I worked extra hours at my first job). My first job was at a clothing store, and I got a second job at an arts and crafts store. Sounds like fun, right?

I had been working at the craft store for just a couple of weeks before Black Friday. I had taken a few days off from both jobs because my mom came to visit me in New Orleans, and we had a blast. She left on Thanksgiving Day, and I worked that night at the craft store. I had been worried about what time I’d get scheduled at each job; both stores opened at some ungodly hour like 4am. I lucked out, though: I was scheduled to work 8am – 4pm at the craft store, and then 4.30pm – closing at the clothing store. No problem.

I got to the craft store to find many exhausted faces. My coworkers told me that there was a mad rush from 4am until about 6am, and they had gotten flooded with people. The store was having a sale on some fancy scrapbooking tool, and people were vicious. The sale was one of those “while supplies last” type of deals, and supplies didn’t last long. I could tell that they’d had a rough morning from the condition of the store: it actually did look like a tornado had blown through. My job was to make the store presentable again, which was quite a task.

I was out the door at 4 o’clock on the nose, and I had half an hour to change from my craft store uniform into my clothing store clothes (they had to be trendy, of course!) and choke down a can of Spaghetti-Os for my supper. At the clothing store, we weren’t allowed to refer to the day at hand as “Black Friday.” We were supposed to call it “Green Friday” to make it sound less depressing. We also had to wear green, so we all looked like we were celebrating St Patrick’s Day and not the most dangerous shopping day of the year.

The clothing store was in rough shape, as well. Unlike the craft store, the clothing store didn’t have any “until supplies last” or “only from 5am until 9am” sales: theirs lasted all day. They had a special person at the front of the store handing out scratch-off coupons that would give you up to 40% off if you were lucky. I was all over the place: for a while, I was the coupon person, and then I moved to the fitting rooms, and I spent some time at the cash register. When the store finally closed at 11 that night, it was a disaster. There were shirts all over the floor, and the neatly folded jean walls had been annihilated. In shopping mall scenes in movies, you’ll see crazy women fighting each other over sweaters and creating absolute chaos. I’m fairly sure that actually happened on that Black Friday. There were only three of us left at the end of the night to put the store back together, which was a daunting task. By the time we all left, it was almost 2am, and the store wasn’t even close to presentable.

The rest of that weekend was almost as bad. I worked at both places on Saturday and Sunday, and there was just as much, if not more, to do. A lot of time was spent restocking and cleaning up the never-ending mess from Friday. There were still plenty of customers; those who had skipped Black Friday still needed to do their Christmas shopping, so they all came out on Saturday and Sunday. It was an exhausting weekend, but I could rest easy knowing that I had worked enough just in those three days to mayyyybe be able to afford to do some Christmas shopping of my own.

So this Black Friday, I plan to spend the day relaxing and eating leftovers. I may decide to go Black Friday shopping at a less terrifying hour; definitely after the sun comes up. For those of you who are going to brave the morning shopping throngs, I wish you the best of luck. Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!

Monday, November 21, 2011

top ten Tuesday: 10 songs from 10 musicals.

This week’s top ten Tuesday is all about musicals. People tend to either love or hate musicals, and I’m clearly in the “love” category. However, I’m not just talking about my top ten musicals: I’m talking about my ten favorite songs from my ten favorite musicals. So here we are!

“The Street Where You Live” – My Fair Lady
I usually try not to pick outright favorites in my top ten lists, but to be perfectly honest, My Fair Lady is unquestionably my favorite musical. The whole film is snappy and clever, and the music is phenomenal. There are so many great songs to choose from: “Get Me to the Church on Time” is a hilarious song about impending marriage, and it’s got lyrics like “girls, come and kiss me/show how you’ll miss me/but get me to the church on time!” However, my favorite song from My Fair Lady has to be “The Street Where You Live.” It’s a sweet little song about a man who is smitten with Eliza Doolittle, though she refuses to see him. He sings about even though she is not with him, he is happy just knowing that she is near. I’m not big on love songs, but this is just adorable: “people stop and stare; they don’t bother me/for there’s nowhere else on earth that I would rather be/let the time go by; I don’t care if I/can be here on the street where you live.”

“Hot Patootie” – The Rocky Horror Picture Show
There’s so much to love about The Rocky Horror. The costumes (fishnets and stilettos, mostly) and the cast fit so perfectly, and the audience participation is hysterical! Every Halloween, I do my best to make it to the midnight showing; who can resist a movie where they actually encourage you to throw toast when a character proposes a toast? Choosing my favorite song from this movie was incredibly difficult; “Dammit Janet” is fantastic, and who doesn’t love dancing along with “The Time Warp”? But just because I have a soft spot for Meatloaf, “Hot Patootie” remains my favorite song. Plus, he plays a mean tenor sax and rides around a laboratory on his motorcycle.

“Edelweiss” – The Sound of Music
The Sound of Music was the first musical I ever saw, and I’m sure it was thanks to my Grandma Lorraine. I watched it countless times over summer days spent at my grandparents’ house in Brookings, and I was just enthralled. As I got older, my tastes in musicals expanded, but I’ve never forgotten the one that started it all. “Edelweiss” is probably not the first song you think of when you think of this movie, but it’s my favorite. It is the national anthem of Austria, and it’s poignantly sung by a proud Austrian (Captain Von Trapp) who is about to be forced to leave his beloved homeland.

“It Sucks to Be Me” – Avenue Q
“What do you do with a BA in English?” asks the first line of this song. As a holder of a BA in English, I’ve found myself asking the very same question. Avenue Q is about a recent college graduate trying to find his place in the world. As a rather recent college graduate myself, I feel his pain. “It Sucks to Be Me” addresses the abrupt switch from the optimism of college (“somehow I can’t shake/the feeling I might make/a difference to the human race”) to the cruel reality of life after graduation (“I can’t pay the bills yet/cause I have no skills yet”). Don’t worry, though: it’s got a happy ending! That means there’s hope for the rest of us, right?

“Good Morning Baltimore”Hairspray
In case it wasn’t clear from Rocky Horror, I should mention that I enjoy a good drag queen. Divine was fantastic in the original Hairspray, and John Travolta was even ok. Hairspray is about how being different is just fine, as Tracy Turnblad will gladly tell you. “Good Morning Baltimore” contains Tracy’s never-ending optimism, even when the “rats on the street/all dance around [her] feet.” I’ve never been to Baltimore, but I’d like to think that its citizens begin their days by singing this song.

“Singin’ in the Rain” – Singin’ in the Rain
Even if you’ve never seen the movie, you’ve almost certainly heard the song. The song is sung by a man who has just fallen in love, and even the pouring rain can’t dampen his spirits. The movie is from 1952, and it’s really quite funny. Singin’ in the Rain is set in the 1920s, just before the dawn of the talking movie. It focuses on a group of silent actors and the zany (yes, zany) ways they make the transition from silent movies into “talkies.”

“Defying Gravity” – Wicked
This is pretty pathetic, but the first time I heard this song was on Glee, back when Glee was still good. Last summer, I finally saw a live production of Wicked in Minneapolis with my mom, and it was outstanding. The sets were stunning, and the voices on the performers probably could shake buildings. “Defying Gravity” is, as the title might suggest, accomplishing the impossible. Wicked is the story of the Wicked Witch of the West as told from her point of view, and she’s got a lot of gravity to defy.

One Song Glory” – Rent
Honestly, I’m Rent-ed out. I (like most teenagers and young adults) was obsessed with the soundtrack, and then obsessed with the movie. I listened to the whole rock-opera soundtrack SO many times when I would drive back and forth from college, and I watched the movie SO many times. I did finally see the play two years ago in Denver, and it was great. Since then, though, I’ve been more or less Rent-free. I’m sure I overdosed; it was way too much of a good thing. “One Song Glory,” though, was always my favorite song. It’s about a more-or-less washed-up rock star who is questioning his mortality, and he desperately wants to leave behind something for people to remember him by. It’s a sad thought, but no one ever called Rent a feel-good story.

“I’ve Got a Golden Ticket” – Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
I covered this movie already in my childhood movies article, and I also mentioned how much I love this song. It’s so happy and cheerful, and Grandpa Joe can magically walk again because of a golden ticket to a chocolate factory. According to Grandpa Joe, that golden ticket doesn’t just allow them into the factory, but oh so much more: “suddenly half the world is mine/what an amazing thing!”

“Pretty Women” – Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
I had never heard of this musical until my mom took me to it when I was a young highschooler. The production was at a nearby college, and my very own cousin played the role of Antony Hope. We went to see him, of course, but I just loved the play. I had never seen a musical that dark, and I have yet to see one that quite compares. It’s about a barber who was wrongly imprisoned many years ago, and he returns to seek his revenge on the corrupt judge who ruined his life. “Pretty Women” is a duet that Sweeney Todd sings while shaving the judge’s face with a straight-edge razor – the judge does not recognize that Sweeney Todd is the man he wronged so many years ago. Sweeney Todd just plays with the judge, and “Pretty Women” just builds and builds suspense – you don’t know when Sweeney Todd is going to make his move, but you’re completely on edge while waiting for it. Also: super catchy.

So there you have it: my top ten songs from my top ten musicals. I skipped the musicals where I loved the music but didn’t love the rest of if (West Side Story, Tommy, Mamma Mia!) and the films that involve plenty of singing, but usually aren’t categorized as musicals (The Muppet Movie, This Is Spinal Tap). I was left with the best of the best, in my humble opinion. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to figure out how to get all of these songs out of my head.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

let's talk about wisdom teeth.

Like many young adults, I knew that I had to get my wisdom teeth out. Unlike many young adults, I wasn’t too worried about it. Going to the dentist was never a problem for me, even though my dentist tended to try and save your eternal soul during dental exams (which is a story for another day).

My parents and I decided that I’d get my wisdom teeth out during my first week of summer break after my freshman year of college. I was unfortunate enough to have all four of my wisdom teeth, and all four of them were impacted. (For those of you who are unfamiliar with wisdom tooth lingo, it means that my wisdom teeth were stuck underneath my gums, meaning they couldn’t just be pulled – they had to be cut out. Blech!) Not only were they impacted, but a couple of them were actually sideways. The dental x-rays were bizarre, to say the least.

As we live in the middle of the South Dakota prairie, there are no oral surgery places nearby, so an appointment was made in Sioux Falls. My dad, ever the kind, nurturing father, couldn’t resist telling me the story about when he got his own wisdom teeth out. He waited until he was 28, so they were a little more difficult to remove. In the middle of the appointment, my dad woke up from his anesthesia. As if that’s not horrible enough, the dentist had his knee on my dad’s chest, and he was yanking with all his might on one of the wisdom teeth. “Oh, but I’m sure you’ll be fine,” my dad cackled. “Heh heh heh.”

The day of my appointment rolled around, so my mom and I got up extra early and made the drive. The procedure itself was uneventful enough. I remember a giant waiting room with TVs on the ceilings, and I remember being relieved that my mom would have something to watch while I was getting my wisdom teeth out. I’m not sure how long the operation took, but it seemed like just minutes in between when I went in and sat down in the chair until I woke up in a druggy haze.

I’m pretty sure they put me in a wheelchair to take me out to the car. Until that point, I had never had surgery for anything, so I was kind of enjoying the fuss. They wrapped my face up in one of those goofy Velcro things that holds ice packs on your cheeks. Mom was instructed to feed me some ice cream so I could take my first pain pill, so to Dairy Queen we went. I got a chocolate shake, but I’ve never had to work harder at anything in my life than I had to work at eating that shake. I think my mom had a good time watching me try and wrestle that little plastic spoon into my mouth. I spent the rest of the ride home asking Mom if I was drooling.

When I arrived home, I had received instructions to rest. I had taken three days off from my two summer jobs, but I didn’t want to waste them by sitting around on the couch. Ages ago, I had made plans to go shopping that Saturday (the day after wisdom teeth removal day) with my friend Bob. Bob also held down two summer jobs, so it was more or less impossible to coordinate a day when both of us were free. We had each taken this day off from work and were planning to have a great day, and I wasn’t going to let something as slight as oral surgery ruin it.

At this point, I was 19 years old, and my parents didn’t want to tell me what to do. They gave me their best “are you SURE this is a good idea?” faces, but I insisted that I would be fine. I took a bunch of extra-strength Tylenol (I never got any of the really strong pain relievers, which may have contributed to my upcoming issues) and went to bed.

The next morning, I woke up in a cold sweat. I felt like I was dying. My face was swollen to freakish proportions and already starting to bruise. I desperately wanted to go back to bed, but darnit, I needed to prove my parents wrong. I dragged myself out of bed, somehow made myself presentable (as presentable as possible) and drove to Bob’s house. Upon arrival, I informed him that he would have to drive to Sioux Falls, as my vision was a little less than optimal thanks to my continually swelling face. Bob agreed, and that gave me the rest of the drive to relax with my ice packs.

In Sioux Falls, I was miserable. Poor Bob had to wander around with a person who was beginning to look like the Elephant Man, but he was a good sport about it. I had to walk slowly and smoothly with many breaks to sit down and try to remain conscious. I eventually gained the courage to try and eat something, only to find that I couldn’t open my mouth wide enough eat my potato ol├ęs. I don’t remember how long it took us to call it a day, but I’m sure we cut our trip a little short. And did I mention it was pouring rain and about 50 degrees?

The next day was Sunday, and not only was it church day, but Father’s Day as well. I felt better than I did the day before, but still pretty crappy. I was sure that I’d be just fine. And I was… for about half an hour. Luckily, most of the service was spent sitting down, so I just had to concentrate on making sure the pew didn’t spin too much. I survived up until the last ten minutes of church. We were standing for some prayers or a hymn or something, and I suddenly felt incredibly hot. My knees were shaky, so I steadied myself with a death grip on the edge of the pew. My mom gave me a sideways look, and just as my vision started getting a little wacky, church was over. “Uhh… are you ok?” said my parents, staring at my pale, sweaty face. I slogged outside, took a few lungfuls of fresh air, and I was pretty sure I was going to live.

Since it was Father's Day, I let Dad take this picture with me. He was having a great time.
I had to go back to work the next day, and I did just fine. However, after a few days, the bruising really started to set in. My cheeks were several unpleasant shades of yellow and greeny blue, and they were still as swollen as ever. My two summer jobs were in a church camp kitchen and an ice cream shop, so there was plenty of customer interaction. I got a few concerned looks from people, but all I had to say was “wisdom teeth” and they understood.

According to the oral surgery people, the bruising and swelling should’ve lasted a few days, tops. But in my case, “a few days” ended up being close to a month. For three weeks, I couldn’t eat anything harder than mashed potatoes, so I lived mostly on a diet of nutrition shakes and Jello. So if you’re trying to lose weight, I’d recommend the Impacted Wisdom Tooth Diet. 
This is my friend Tiff and me, two (or so) weeks after my
wisdom teeth were removed. See how fat my face still is?
This was the first time I tried to eat pizza after the surgery.
A painful mistake, indeed.
My face was not only swollen, but it HURT. My wonderful family loved to come up to me and pretend like they were about to slap my face. Nothing strikes more fear into the heart of a recent wisdom tooth victim than the sight of a hand coming at your giant, throbbing face.

Obviously, I made it through that harrowing month. Five years later, here I am, free of wisdom teeth and with normal-sized cheeks. I know those teeth had to come out, but at the time, it sure didn’t seem worth it. If you have yet to have your wisdom teeth out, I’m sure you’ll do fine. Just remember: no matter how much you want to, going shopping the next day is a terrible idea.

Monday, November 14, 2011

let's talk about fake babies.

When I was a freshman in high school, I decided that it would be a great idea to take FACS class. FACS, which stands for Family and Consumer Studies, was the more progressive name for home economics. I have no idea what possessed me to take this class, as I don’t have a domestic bone in my body. I’m assuming it’s because my only other options were welding or gym or some other class I wanted to avoid. So FACS it was.

FACS started off harmless enough. Our focus was mainly desserts: cookies, bars, cakes, you name it. Even though the recipes were fairly simple, something was always burning, or someone was forgetting to add the sugar into the muffin mix. We all had a lot of fun, though, especially when it was time to pawn off our baked goods onto other classrooms. I can’t say these lessons in baking really taught me anything: today, my cooking skills are no more advanced than they were when I was a 13 year old starting out in FACS class. It’s sad, but true.

However, there was one part of FACS that everyone dreaded: taking home the baby. Yes: one of those fake crying babies to teach us that parenthood isn’t for the weak of heart. It was called the “Baby Think It Over” program, and our school four fake babies of differing races and sexes to be adopted out. The FACS teacher, having a mean streak a mile wide, required that we take them home for at least three evenings, so we could only sign up for them over holiday weekends. Though I am a procrastinator by nature, I really wanted to get this over with. My friend Allison and I signed up to take home babies over Veterans’ Day weekend: a girl for her, and a boy for me.
This is Arnie. Can you see the
Lucky for us, these babies were fairly old models. While some of the nicer, newer babies would require you to feed and change them, our babies didn’t do anything but cry. In order to stop them from crying, you had to insert a plastic black key into a slot in their backs and hold it there until the wailing ceased. We considered just storing the babies in my farm shed until the weekend was over, but our teacher let us know that the babies had some kind of creepy internal technology that would record how long it took us to respond to their cries and any other abuse they suffered at our hands. Of course, this could make or break our grades, so keeping them in the shed all weekend was out of the question.

 On that fateful weekend, Allison and I picked up our “children” from the FACS room. I named my child Arnie because of a newfound love for What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. On that first night, we decided that we’d have a sleepover with our babies. After all, misery loves company. Since we were too young for licenses (but old enough for children?), we got Allison’s parents to take pity on our souls and drive us to Brookings. Of course, the babies had to come, too. They were remarkably well behaved, even at the grocery store. Allison and I were none too thrilled at having to bring these babies along: who, as a teenager, wants to be seen in public dragging around a plastic baby? As it turned out, it was a great conversation starter.  Fellow shoppers stopped us and told us about the horrible time they’d had when they took those robotic babies home years ago. Everyone wished us the best of luck as we headed home, snacks (and babies) in tow.

The babies’ good behavior couldn’t last forever. There was some moderate crying before we went to sleep, but I swear, those babies had internal clocks telling them when the most inconvenient time would be to cry. If Allison’s baby cried, mine started up, and vice versa. It was a miserable night of screeching infants, and by morning, we were both ready to sacrifice our good grades for plastic infanticide.

The rest of the weekend was a similar story. My parents relished seeing me drag around this screaming doll, and they encouraged me to go as many places as possible to get the “full parental experience.” I was perfectly satisfied to stay home and wait out the weekend in solitude, but my parents insisted on getting out and about. Being 13, I had no choice. We went to Watertown, where I either received apprehensive stares or more enthusiastic “I remember MY home ec baby” stories from strangers.

Sunday, of course, was church day. I begged my parents to let me stay home, but no way. “Wouldn’t it be rude for me to bring this noisy plaything to church?” I whined. “What if it cries and interrupts the WORD OF THE LORD?!” My parents countered sarcastically: “Don’t you remember the song? Jesus loves the little children; all the children of the world!” I maintained that the song referred only to non-plastic children, but my parents insisted that today, it meant my little fake child, too.

My parents have never been ones to let their kids take the easy way out, which I suppose I should appreciate. That day, though, I would’ve done anything for the aforementioned easy way out. I was going to church, and so was the fake baby. As you may have guessed, it started screaming during the sermon or a prayer or some other time when we were supposed to be quiet. I hightailed it out of the sanctuary, feeling like an idiot for bringing a computerized crying baby to church. Meanwhile, my family did their best to stifle their giggles. (And by “did their best,” I mean they didn’t try at all.)

I spent the rest of the service in the “cry room” at our church, which is normally reserved for parents with real children. The baby came to Sunday School with me, where I was given looks of pity from my classmates, who would eventually face the same FACS fate. My Sunday School class let out early that day, so I went to find my mother. She was sitting with one of her friends, who got a huge kick out of me being stuck with a fake baby. Her young daughter was there, and she asked if she could hold my baby. Sure, I figured. What could it hurt? The little girl ran off with the doll, returning a while later with the baby’s head sporting a rather large indent. By that time, I had spent too much time with that baby to care. Seventy-two hours of attending to that stupid doll’s every whimper had to cancel out a few minutes of abuse at the hands of a four-year-old, right?

Sure enough, it was fine. I returned my charge safely to the FACS room on Monday, relieved to be a parent no more. As I handed that baby over, I was SO glad that I’d bitten the bullet and gotten this project over with. I immediately felt sorry for the rest of the poor suckers in my class who had yet to suffer through the wrath of the fake baby.

And you know what happened? My classmates all waited until the last minute to sign up for babies and were really stressed out about it? Not exactly. My flake of a teacher decided that, since everybody else had in fact waited too long to sign up for their baby weekend, that she would do away with the project all together. That’s right: those three days of fake baby hell were for nothing. Not even extra credit.

In the end, though, Arnie the fake baby really did teach me an important lesson: parenthood really isn’t for the weak of heart. Clearly, I am weak. Moral of the story: I am only having children if I can name them something awesome, like Harvey or Bruce Wayne. Thank you, FACS!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

let's talk about Spam.

If you recall from my previous story, my family has had some terrible luck with airplanes. One year, we were going to take a vacation to Virginia only to find out that the price to fly all five of us there was jaw-droppingly high. Since we suddenly had a bunch of time on our hands, how were we going to spend that time? My parents decided that we could not waste that time. We were going to take a road trip.

However, there were many rules for this road trip. We were only going to spend one night in a hotel, so the town couldn’t be too far away. Whatever it was that we wanted to see in said town had to be indoors since we were taking this trip in the dead of winter. And it had to be something that we could all agree on, which is just a shade away from impossible.

Now, where could we go that was within driving distance, but was somewhere totally great that we would all enjoy? Since I was a junior in high school and had yet to go on a college visit, my parents eventually suggested (and by suggested, I mean mandated) that we use this weekend to visit one of my college choices. Plus, if I could write it off as a college visit, it meant that the day off from school wouldn’t count against me. Score.

I chose to visit Gustavus Adolphus in St Peter, Minnesota. I had heard of the university at some college fair my class had attended earlier that year. It seemed like a cool place, and I was willing to check it out. We made an appointment with them and planned out our trip. St Peter was a little more than three hours away, which was not bad. Even better, though: a mere hour and a half away sat the town of Austin, home of the Spam museum. During that rather odd time of my life, I had an unexplained interest in Spam. I had never had to suffer through Spam as a kid, so it was a strange new thing to me. Meat in a can? How extraordinary!

I had tried my first can of Spam the previous Christmas, when my brother and sister bought me a can and put it in my stocking. The whole family gathered ‘round while I fried up a few slices and tried my first bit of gelatinous meat product. I was not impressed. Meat should not melt in your mouth, nor should it taste like a salt lick. I fed the rest of my Christmas Spam to our grateful dog.

Nevertheless, I wanted to see the Spam museum. How could the town of Austin create an entire museum dedicated to canned meat? We had to find out. We did our research, finding direction, hours, and admission. Turns out the Spam museum is free, which was a HUGE bonus. 
We planned our trip carefully: we would arrive in St Peter on Friday in time for the college visit, spend the night there, and arise early the next morning to travel to Austin and have as much time at the Spam museum as possible.

That’s just what we did. The college visit was fine; the architecture was impressive and it looked like a neat place, but I wasn’t too keen on going to a college that had curfews. I had never had a curfew in high school, so why would I want to start in college? My family and I were incredibly impressed with the cafeteria, though. Had the University of Minnesota, Morris not stolen my heart, I may have gone to Gustavus just for the food. They had an expansive selection with stations such as “create your own pasta” or piles and piles of fried things. It was really for the best that I didn’t go there – I missed out on the Freshman 15 at Morris because of the terrible food, but I surely would’ve gained that (and then some) had I gone to Gustavus.

The next morning, we got up, had our continental breakfast (this was my first experience with the do-it-yourself hotel waffle makers) and headed to Austin. What we found there was more Spam than I could ever imagine. There were Spam movies, timelines of the history of Spam, and Spam in different parts of the world. We saw how the Spam can design has evolved, and we played Spam games. There were countless Spam recipe cards free for the taking (which I completely ignored).Volunteers walked around with little Spam samples for us. And of course, there was a whole room devoted to Monty Python.

While I can’t say that a trip to the Spam museum was better than a trip to Virginia would’ve been, I must say that it was pretty great for a last-minute substitute. And really, how many people can say they took a family vacation to the Spam museum? Well, maybe a few, but how many people will come right out and admit it? My family, that’s who.
To this day, I have a soft spot for Spam.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

let's talk about airplanes.

My family has had terrible luck with vacations that involve airplanes. Not because any of us are afraid of flying or get sick on planes. Our mere presence in airports seemed to make things go haywire.

The first time I traveled via airplane was when I was 13 years old. My parents decided to take us to Las Vegas to visit one of my mom’s friends there. We were going during the winter: my dad is a farmer, so no traveling happens during spring and fall. We live near a fantastic lake, so we wanted to spend as much of our summers there as possible. That left winter. Besides, no one wants to be in the Midwest for the winter.

We were to fly out of the Sioux Falls airport, which was pretty tiny in those days. (It’s still relatively tiny, but they’re adding on!) Once we got there, we waited. The announcement came: the flight was delayed for an hour and a half. If you’ve ever been to the Sioux Falls airport, you know that there is NOTHING to do there. You could get a $6 hotdog or go shopping for t-shirts with buffalo on them, but that is it. So we waited. And waited. And waited. Six hours later, they told us our flight was canceled. We rolled our eyes, rescheduled for the next morning, and drove the 80 miles back home.

The next day, we came back to the airport, ready to try again. We made it to Minneapolis, no problem. As we waited for our connecting flight, there was an announcement: they had overbooked the flight, so would anyone pretty please be willing to take a bump for a flight later that evening? They would upgrade your tickets to first class if you did! My dad gave my mom some pleading eyes, but she shook her head no. We had already lost one day of vacation, and she wasn’t willing to give up another one. It took first-class tickets, $1500 in additional airline tickets, food vouchers, and plenty of badgering from my dad for my mom to cave.

The flight attendants shoved us on a bus to the Mall of America, where we were to wile away the numerous hours before our flight. As a 13 year old country bumpkin, this was paradise. I probably had all of $30 to my name, but I had to try with all my might not to blow it all on junk. I’m sure I was only partially successful. We even had time for a few rides at Camp Snoopy before it was time to go back to the airport.

Many hours later, we got back to the airport and on our plane. We flew first class, as promised, and I sat next to a little old woman who spent most of the trip telling me stories in Chinese. We finally arrived in Las Vegas, exhausted but extremely happy to be there. Our flight home was uneventful, though we did have the opportunity to take another bump – Mom, however, said that enough was enough.

It wasn’t long before we began planning our next vacation. The $1500 in ticket vouchers expired in one year, and there was no way we were going to let those go to waste. When we travel, my family only goes to places where we know people – so who would be the lucky recipient of a visit from us? Why, my dad’s brother Mike in Virginia, of course!

We planned to go in winter again, so the weather in Virginia would be crisp and beautiful. We were looking for a change from the grey snow and biting wind of South Dakota. Mike and his family lived a little more than three hours from Washington DC, so we would fly into Washington DC and have Mike and company meet us there for two days of sight-seeing.

In theory, it was a perfect plan.  We arrived at the Sioux Falls airport, ready and raring. Lo and behold, our flight was delayed. We had two options: we could wait and see when our plane would be ready to go, or we could take seats on a flight going to Minneapolis that evening. If we took seats on the later flight, we would miss our connecting flight to DC. If we took our chances with the delayed flight, we still might be able to make it. We decided to gamble and wait for the original flight. Our plane landed in Minneapolis just in time for us to make a mad dash to our connecting flight. It was just like all those cheesy movies: we ran through the airport, almost leaving behind a kid or two. When we boarded our flight, we plopped down in our seats with huge sighs of relief. We would get to Washington DC after all!

Or so we thought. An hour and a half later, we still had not left the ground. No announcement had been made, so we had no idea what was wrong. Come to find out, three of the four airplane engines wouldn’t light. They finally passed along this information, and we were informed that we would be grounded in Minneapolis that night. So it turns out if we had taken the later flight in Sioux Falls, we would’ve boarded a different plane in Minneapolis and would’ve ended up in DC that night after all. Go figure.

They herded us off the plane and gave us vouchers for a nearby hotel/casino. We were hungry and cranky, and we soon found out that our luggage had gone on without us. Since we were planning on being indoors until we arrived in sunny Virginia, our winter coats were locked in the car and our light coats were packed away in our suitcases. We had nothing but the clothes on our backs and whatever goofy stuff we had packed on our carry-ons.

We got to the hotel/casino around 11 pm, and we needed to be back at the airport by 6 the next morning. We hadn’t eaten since who knows when, so we got there, we used our food vouchers for some dinner at the skeevy in-house restaurant. All of our toiletries were en route to DC, so we begged some toothpaste off the front desk. They were out of complimentary toothbrushes, so we had to use the old “toothpaste on your finger” trick. No one had pajamas, so we all slept in our clothes.

This whole time, our poor uncle Mike had been waiting at the airport for us. This was before any of us had cell phones, and no one had gotten the name of the hotel where Mike and family were staying. Dad called the airport, and they paged Mike – luckily, he had been standing right next to the counter the whole time. Dad informed him of our plight, and Mike agreed to be back the next day to pick us up.

We got on our plane bright and early the next morning, and we arrived in Washington DC. However, our luggage went to a different airport than we did. After we retrieved all that and finally got ourselves in order, our two days of sightseeing had turned into less than half a day. We had to do some extreme prioritizing. White House? Nope. Smithsonian? Not this time. 
This was the closest we got to the Jefferson Memorial.
We spent our six hours running around like madmen, seeing as many major monuments in as little time as possible. By the end of the day, we were exhausted, but we had barely scratched the surface.  

We spent the remainder of our vacation doing touristy things in Virginia, and it was great. We hung around on Virginia Beach, saw a cell where Jefferson Davis was imprisoned, and toured an aircraft carrier on the naval base in Norfolk. 
THIS aircraft carrier.
However, there were still so many things that we’d missed out on in Washington DC. So I was thrilled to hear that we’d give it another go. In February of my junior year of high school, my parents had promised us a vacation. We considered locations such as San Antonio and Las Vegas, but we ultimately decided to go back to Washington DC and Virginia.

Sadly, it was never to be. Right before we were to purchase the tickets, the prices skyrocketed. Flying a family of five to Virginia was about to cost my parents a small fortune, and they made the executive decision that we weren’t worth it. I was crushed, but looking back, they were right: three whiny kids TOTALLY weren’t worth it. As a compromise, they offered up a trip to Disney World the following year (which was awesome) and a short trip over the weekend we had planned to fly to Virginia. Our weekend trip ended up being a trip to the Spam museum in Austin, Minnesota, but that’s a story for another time.

Our trip to Disney World in 2005 went off without a hitch... except when we got caught in an electrical storm and almost ran out of fuel because we had to hover around the airport for hours thanks to the airplane's equipment shorting out, but whatever. Our next long-distance family trip was slated for spring break in 2008. I was a junior in college, and when my parents offered to bring me along to Las Vegas, I jumped at the chance. A trip to Las Vegas is a trip to Las Vegas, even if I was only 20 and spending the whole trip with my family.

The Sioux Falls airport doesn’t have a whole lot of direct flights. You can usually get to Minneapolis, Omaha, and a handful of other Midwestern cities. Once in a while, you can get a direct flight somewhere south if you’re willing to fly the super-no-frills airline. That’s exactly what we did. The flight there was fine, but on the way home, our flight was set to depart at 6am. The night before we flew home, we decided that we wouldn’t go to sleep. We’d just wander around Las Vegas until we needed to be at the airport, which was 4am. Las Vegas never sleeps, right?
Party animals.
As a matter of fact, it does. By about midnight, we had exhausted all of our possibilities. Everything touristy was closed, and our only options were bars and casinos. Out of five, only two of us were over 21 (those two being Mom and Dad). We were running out of steam, and with nothing to do, we went to the airport several hours early. Time dragged – I hadn’t been so bored since I took that “physics of the universe” class in college. We sprawled out on chairs, making pathetic attempts to get some sleep. My brother and sister may have camped underneath the chairs. There was not much to see at the Las Vegas airport at 3am, so talking a walk was useless. The airport seemed to be a hangout for a number of shady-looking characters, so we didn’t want to stray too far anyway. We were hungry and sleep deprived, and absolutely everything was getting on everybody’s nerves. We finally boarded the airplane shortly after 6, and I’m sure I’ve never been so glad to be sitting on a plane than I was that morning.

The next disastrous trip we planned to take as a family was scheduled for my senior year of college. My parents decided to take a trip to honor each child’s senior year of high school. My senior year was Disney World, my sister Darrah’s was to be this trip to San Antonio. My mom had found some dirt-cheap tickets out of Watertown, South Dakota, which is nowhere near as large as Sioux Falls. Somehow, it has its own airport. We were planning to go over winter break, partly because, as a senior in college, I certainly couldn’t afford to miss any classes from my final semester. The trip was a little iffy to begin with: we were leaving the day after Christmas, and Santa had given me a sinus infection (which was totally not in my Christmas list). I was drugged with all sorts of Sudafed and Benadryl. Sinus infections are bad enough, but at thousands of feet up in the air, they can only get worse. I had some Dramamine on reserve in case I decided I needed to sleep through the whole day.

We sat at the teeny Watertown airport, waiting for updates on our flight. We got an update, all right: canceled. It was too foggy. Yes: too foggy. Since the Watertown airport is so small, they can’t afford all the new-fangled equipment that helps the pilots see where they’re going. So if the skies weren’t clear, there were no flights. I’m sure we all preferred not crashing in a giant fireball because the pilot couldn’t see through the fog, but we were displeased all the same. They had no flights going out the next day, and mayyyybe we could get on one the day after. We decided it wasn’t worth cutting our vacation nearly in half, so we opted for a refund. We trudged back out to the car, heavy hearted. Everyone was looking forward to putting away their sweaters and boots for a few days.

To make up for the ill-fated San Antonio trip, my family ended up going to Florida… without me. Like I said, senior in college: can’t take days off from school without risking your degree. So they called me from the beach a few times – they assured me that they weren’t having any fun without me, but I think they were lying.

The last family trip we took was this past February. We were heading to sunny Arizona to visit my sister there. Thankfully, the flights there and back were completely normal and uneventful. However, we can’t seem to have a trip without some sort of snag in the plans: I sort of put my car in the ditch the morning of the trip. I tell you, it’s always something.