Wednesday, December 26, 2012

a New Year's Eve story.

2012 is rapidly drawing to a close, and I’m sure everyone has a certain question weighing on their minds. Not “how did 2012 go by so fast?” or “what will I do to make 2013 the best year EVER?” or even “what resolutions should I make that I’ll actually keep?” No: the question everyone wants the answer to is this: “What should I do for New Year’s Eve?”

Shortly before last New Year’s Eve, I told you about how I’ve spent more New Year’s Eves with James’s brother Jesse and our friend Nate than I have with James – my then boyfriend, now fiancée – himself. This was thanks to James’s membership in a band called Funky Gumbo. They catered to the drunk middle-aged woman subset, but for the rest of us, there was a lot to be desired. Not to say that they weren’t good – they were – but I felt distinctly out of place at Funky Gumbo gigs, where I was younger than the rest of the audience by at least one generation.

New Year’s Eve 2011/2012 was my first New Year’s Eve in Sioux Falls. James – having played his last New Year’s Eve Funky Gumbo gig at the advent of 2010 – was available for New Year’s festivities for the second year running, so he called Jesse and Nate: a recipe for adventure.
It's always exciting when Jesse and Nate are around.
We spent the first part of the evening at the liquor store and the second part of the evening playing cribbage. 
However, when you are young and childless, it seems it is unacceptable for you to spend New Year’s Eve anywhere but at a bar. So off to the bar we went. We went to a place called the 18th Amendment: it’s kind of a bro bar, but it’s a good go-to. We arrived in the parking lot around 10pm and, to our surprise and dismay, found ourselves at the back of a line to get into the bar. Friends, this is Sioux Falls: there are never lines to get in anywhere. James and Jesse thought we should find ourselves a different bar, while Nate and I reasoned that if there was a line here, there would be lines everywhere else. As long as we were here, we might as well stay. Turns out that we made the right choice: within five minutes, we were in.
How could they resist this attractive group of people?
Just because we were in didn’t mean that we had a place to sit. We stood around the pool table for a solid hour before scoring a group of seats by the window. Nate proceeded to try and gather phone numbers from girls, and Jesse acted as his wingman (“haaaaaaave you met Nate?”). As it turns out, Jesse is an unintentionally terrible wingman: the drunk girls gave HIM their phone numbers, even though he was pitching for Nate.

Before we knew it, 2011 was gone and 2012 had begun. We celebrated well past midnight, and Jesse even fell off his chair. We were having a great time, and it was about to go down in history as our first normal New Year’s Eve. We should’ve known better.
But we were having such fun!
South Dakota bars close at 2am, but the 18th Amendment turned the lights on at 1.15am. Like all the other revelers, we dawdled as the bouncers tried to herd us outside – we had to finish our drinks, after all. James had the fastest smartphone, so he was in charge of finding us a cab for the ride home. Easy peasy, right? It was early morning on New Year’s day in the respectably-sized faux-city of Sioux Falls: cabs must be a dime a dozen.

By the time the bouncers threw all of us out into the parking lot at 1.45, James hadn’t had any luck finding us a cab. The few companies he was able to get ahold of told us they could be there in two hours. Two hours?! It was JANUARY! We weren’t going to stand in the parking lot for two hours and wait for a cab. An executive decision was made: to keep from freezing to death, we would start walking back to my apartment while continuing to call cabs.

Now might be a good time to point out that the walk from the 18th Amendment to my apartment is roughly three and a half miles. If it had been a warm spring day, a walk like that would’ve been quite pleasant. However, this was 2am on January 1st, when walking anywhere – let alone three and a half miles – is less than pleasant. Jesse didn’t even have a coat. I guess if we had to walk that far at that time of year, we picked the right time of year to do it. It had been a spectacularly mild winter, and it was probably about 20 degrees: a downright heat wave compared to what we Midwesterners are used to around New Year’s.

As we began the long walk home, my blood began to boil. What kind of city was I living in? They don’t want you to drive drunk, but they don’t have enough cabs to get you home. I realize that it was partially our fault for not making arrangements beforehand, but come on! I stomped furiously home, trying (unsuccessfully) to avoid the ice on the road and managing (unintentionally) to leave my companions trailing behind.

I did eventually slow down, and I’m glad I did: I would’ve hated to miss the entertainment. Jesse, still coatless, was somehow happy as a clam. Nate, on the other hand, had turned the melodrama on high. There were patches of ice spotting the roads and sidewalks, and Nate inevitably slipped on one and fell face-first onto the pavement. He cut his thumb in the process, and as he assessed the damage, he determined that he would probably need it amputated. After we convinced Nate that his thumb was not in danger of falling off, he started lagging behind and eventually strayed down a side street. Eventually, someone looked back and said, “Where’s Nate?” Jesse, still unnaturally cheery, volunteered to locate him. Jesse managed to bring Nate back, and he proceeded to slip and fall on another ice patch. This time, he landed on someone’s lawn and began crawling on his hands and knees. “Go on without me!” he yelled pitifully. “SAVE YOURSELVES!” Nate was totally convinced that we were going to meet our deaths on Grange Avenue. “Nate,” we said. “We’re not going to die.”

“YES WE ARE!” he gasped. “Calla’s apartment is TWENTY MILES AWAY!”

“No, Nate,” we said. “We have less than three miles to go.”

“YOU GUYS! We have FIFTY MILES TO GO!” Every time we tried to tell Nate how far the apartment actually was, his perceived miles increased. I think we were up to eighty miles by the time we gave up.

We trudged on: past Nate’s place of employment (where we had to chase after him and convince him that it was a bad idea to drop in and say hi), past countless dark houses. After what seemed like hours, we stumbled into a BP: the first sign of life. By this time, we were cold enough so that we couldn’t tell we were cold. It was probably a mistake to stop at the BP: we basked in the warmth long enough for our extremities to thaw and start to really hurt. After James bought a hat that made him look distinctly like a homeless person, back out into the cold we went. The BP was a mere mile away from our destination, but this was by far the longest part of the journey. After having experienced glorious heat, the January air was especially prickly.

Contrary to Nate’s predictions of certain death, we all made it home in once piece. By the time we walked in the door, it was very nearly 4 am. According to Google maps (which is always totally reliable), this walk would’ve taken just over an hour for anyone else. However, when you throw in 1.) the early hours of January, 2.) alcohol, and 3.) general confusion, and 4.) a bunch of idiots like us, you get an extra hour tacked on to your walk.

It took us until the next morning for the sheer disbelief to set it: did that REALLY happen? Did we REALLY walk three and a half miles at 2am in January? Yes, we really did. Sure, I was super crabby while it was happening, but it only took about six hours of being in my warm apartment for the whole situation to become really funny. Not that I’d ever want to do it again.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

top ten Tuesday: Christmas favorites.

I don’t know about you, but I am astounded at how quickly Christmas sneaks up on me every year. You’d think I would stop being caught by surprise: Christmas decorations have been in stores since Labor Day, after all. But sure enough, every year, I look at the calendar and swear it was just the other day that I was cultivating a healthy tan on the shores of Lake Poinsett.

Even though Christmas tends to blindside me, I still find enough time to muster up some Christmas spirit – as long as it’s after Thanksgiving. There are two kinds of Christmas-celebrators out there: the ones who won’t decorate until after Thanksgiving and subsequently take down said decorations promptly after New Years, and those who don’t. Even though I’m not terribly fond of Thanksgiving (only because of the turkey – when we eat something other than turkey, Thanksgiving is fine by me), it tends to get totally overlooked in the hubbub surrounding Christmas.

So now that it’s safely after Thanksgiving and Christmas is mere days away, let me present to you my Best of Christmas list: five categories, ten items. My Christmases involve each and every one of the items on my list, and I don’t think I could fully enjoy Christmas without them. Ready for some Christmas spirit? Here we go!

best Christmas songs
“White Christmas” – Bing Crosby
Like most Midwesterners, I don’t necessarily dream of a white Christmas. A brown Christmas isn’t nearly as romantic, but nobody minds the absence of icy roads and snow up to your eyeballs. However, this song almost makes you forget all of that and wish for a white Christmas of your own. Almost.

“The Christmas Song” – Alvin and the Chipmunks
Yes, the Chipmunks are terribly irritating, but I just can’t resist this song. It doesn’t have any sort of deep message of goodwill and peace among men: it’s just a bunch of kids/chipmunks who want to hurry up and open their presents. Be honest, though: when you were a kid, that’s what you were most interested in, too. Bonus points for the catchy tune.

best Christmas carols
“O Holy Night”
Every year, my family goes to the candlelit Christmas Eve church service. (If you remember last year’s blog post, you’ll recall that we also play instruments and either get wax all over ourselves or set our music on fire.) The church is usually packed, and the service begins when all the lights are turned out and a soloist sings “O Holy Night.” And every year, it gives me chills.

“Little Drummer Boy”
I don’t think I have ever sung this song in church at Christmas – Lutherans must not be too big on it. We usually stick with the staples: think “Joy to the World” and “Silent Night.” So if I never actually sing it in church, why do I like it so much? This is why:

best food
Grandma Sheila’s sugar cookies
Grandma Sheila makes her Christmas sugar cookies but once a year, so we all eat as many as we possibly can to try and hold ourselves over until the next year. These cookies are absolute perfection: they’re thin and crispy, shaped like Christmasy things, and sprinkled with colored sugar. They’re delicious in that way that only cookies made by your grandma can be. (Does that make sense? It does to me, anyway.)

Dad’s scalloped potatoes
Potatoes in action.
This dish is the definition of comfort food: it’s rich, warm, and you’re always happier after eating it. Dad’s special scalloped potatoes have become a team effort over the years: Mom and Mitch peel the zillion pounds of potatoes while Dad and I cube the giant bone-in ham. (Bone-in is very important. All other ham is inferior.) There is no real measurement system for these potatoes: we need enough cubed ham to fill up the yellow Tupperware bowl of indeterminate size and enough potatoes to fill up the enormous blue clay bowl. Add heavy whipping cream and several hours in the oven, and you’ve got scalloped potatoes. Best of all: Dad’s scalloped potatoes are only made in massive batches, so leftovers are a guarantee.

best Christmas movies
A Christmas Story
No matter how old you are, you can relate to A Christmas Story. Every kid has wanted something for Christmas so badly you can almost taste it – be it a Red Ryder BB gun (“you’ll shoot your eye out!”) or a Kitty Kitty Kitten. (Remember my story about the Kitty Kitty Kitten and the how I found out about Santa Claus?) On the flip side, everybody has gotten their fair share of dud Christmas gifts, though I’m not sure what could possible compare with Ralphie’s bunny suit (“He looks like a pink nightmare”). Add in that glorious leg lamp (“FRA-GEE-LAY!”) and endless quotable lines (obviously), and you’ve got one fantastic Christmas movie.

Home Alone
I have long been convinced that John Hughes is responsible for all good things in life, and Home Alone is yet another testament to that. I remember the first time I saw Home Alone: Dad had gone somewhere for a truck sale in the very early 90s, and he brought back a copy of Home Alone on VHS – he claimed it was for us kids, but I’m pretty sure he wanted to see it and we were a convenient excuse. Either way, we practically wore that tape out. Even now, rare is the holiday season that goes by without Kevin McCallister, Harry, and Marv. And of course, Buzz’s ugly girlfriend.
best Christmas specials
Mickey’s Christmas Carol
For as long as I can remember, I’ve had an inexplicable fondness for Scrooge McDuck. He’s kind of an asshole, but I loved him just the same. So of course, I loved the Disney-fied version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Everyone knows the story: grouchy miser (Scrooge) mistreats his kindly but dirt poor clerk (Mickey Mouse) and says “Bah! Humbug!” while counting his money. Scrooge is visited by the ghosts of his business partner (Goofy) and the ghosts of Christmas Past (Jiminy Cricket), Present (that goofy giant from Mickey and the Beanstalk), and Future (Pete, who is really creepy this time around), who show him the error of his ways. Everyone lives happily ever after. The Muppets hold their own in The Muppet Christmas Carol, but Mickey’s version will always be my favorite.

Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town
I have one very important hyphenate for you: Rankin-Bass. You may not recognize the name, but I’m sure you’ll recognize their product. They’re responsible for a creepy/awesome Easter special called Here Comes Peter Cottontail and, most famously, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Rankin-Bass did a handful of other Christmas-y specials, but my very favorite is Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town. This story covers the origins of Santa Claus: he started off as a skinny red-haired kid who delivers toys to a city where the evil Burgermeister Meisterburger (what a great name for a villain) has outlawed them. Santa Claus defeats all sorts of bizarre adversaries and emerges triumphant. Warm fuzzies all around!


Let me tell you, it was hard to narrow this list town to just ten. However, none of my Best of Christmas list would be any good if I couldn’t share everything on it with my family and friends. So I hope your Christmas is as good as mine always is: filled with great food, great people, and (this is very important) plenty of wine. In the immortal words of Bing Crosby: may your days be merry and bright, and may all your Christmases be white!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

childhood obsessions: Barbies.

When I was small, I was equal parts tomboy and girlie-girl. I loved playing in the woods, but I insisted upon wearing dresses. I was always dragging turtles and salamanders back to the house, but the sight of a spider would send me running. I hated playing house (which should come as no surprise), but I doted upon my collection of the quintessential girl toy: Barbie.

I wish I could remember which lucky Barbie was my first, but memory fails me. 
It may have been Ice Capades
Barbie, but who knows.
I couldn’t even tell you how many Barbies I had amassed at the end of my Barbie collecting days. I’d venture that the number was fairly impressive.
Don't even get me started on the Happy Meal Barbies.
There was a cowgirl Barbie from an aunt and uncle that I didn’t know I was allowed to play with because it came in a collector’s box. There was the princess Barbie that came with a floofy pink dress and a tiara. 
Pink Princess Barbie and Wedding Dress
Barbie seem to have been good friends.
I even had a Skipper doll, complete with crimped hair and a sparkly bikini. Towards the end of my Barbie days, my tastes changed: instead of fancy Barbies with giant gowns, I asked for career-minded Barbies – Veterinarian Barbie being a staple of my collection.
Complete with pink combat boots.
Most of my Barbies were Christmas or birthday gifts, but there was one Barbie in particular that I earned. When I was very young – I would guess four or five – my mom took my sister and me to get a round of shots at the doctor’s office. Mom struck a bargain with me: if I took my shots like a man, I would get to pick out a Barbie at WalMart. I hastily agreed: I didn’t cry, therefore providing a good example for my two-year-old sister and earning myself a new Barbie. The Barbie I picked had flowing black hair, gold earrings, and a shiny purple bikini – since Aladdin was huge at the time, I’m pretty sure I named her Jasmine.

Many of the Barbies I put on my Christmas list were products of whatever Disney movie happened to be out at the time. I had a Little Mermaid non-Barbie in the early 90s, but it wasn’t until Pocahontas that I got my first bonafide Disney Barbie. I was thrilled: Pocahontas came with a plastic blue necklace and dress that developed a colorful leaf pattern when you left it in the sun. 
Thanks to the internet, I could even find a
glamour shot of the Pocahontas Barbie for you.
Of course, Pocahontas also had a whole mess of hair. One summer day, sick of brushing all that damn hair, I asked my mom if I could give Pocahontas a haircut. She gave me the go-ahead, and I gave it my best shot. I had only intended to give her a respectable shoulder-length trim, but in my attempts to make her ends even, Pocahontas ended up with more of a chin-length bob. That, my friends, is probably why I never wanted to become a hair stylist.

My other Disney Barbie arrived the following Christmas. I didn’t particularly like The Hunchback of Notre Dame, but I thought Esmeralda was SO COOL. There were two Esmeralda Barbies available that year: normal Esmeralda and Gypsy Dancing Esmeralda. I wanted normal Esmeralda, but ended up with Gypsy Dancing Esmeralda instead, which ended up being great because Gypsy Dancing Esmeralda had a way better outfit.
Plus a singing tambourine!
Speaking of outfits, my Barbies had truly enviable wardrobes. I inherited some of my mom’s Barbie clothes, as she had quite the collection in the 1960s. 
I even got to use her Barbie case!
The rest of my Barbie clothes came from my incredibly talented great grandma Shorty. (Grandma Shorty’s husband was short, hence the nickname. Even though she was not short, Grandma Shorty kept the nickname when it was passed on to her.) Grandma Shorty could sew absolutely anything. She made my grandma Sheila’s wedding dress, and she was known to recreate dresses just by looking at them. Grandma Shorty was a wizard.

Grandma Shorty’s Barbie clothes were exquisite. They were always much nicer than any of the Barbie clothes you could buy. She made me countless outfits: gold harem pants (plus a matching bikini top), a sequined mermaid tail (also with a matching bikini top), and more evening gowns and wedding dresses than I could count. Grandma Shorty would even make matching purses and coats.  My Barbies were always dressed to the nines.
This Barbie is sporting one of Grandma Shorty's
creations: all dressed up with nowhere to go.
Each and every one of my Barbies had a name. Their names would change, but usually they were preceded by “Princess.” There is a home video from approximately 1993 that involves me swanning around with these Barbies, badgering the videographer (my mom) into telling my Barbies how lovely they looked. I would emerge from behind my mountain of Barbie clothes and present the Barbie of the moment. I introduced each one and immediately transformed into the voice of said Barbie. “Hello, I’m Princess Brunhilda,” I would say in falsetto. “Do you like my dress/shoes/earrings/hair?” My mom would tolerantly reply, “Oh, yes, just beautiful.” After about the fifth Barbie, Mom’s patience ran out and her responses became more sarcastic: “Oh, Princess Brunhilda, your hair does look very pretty. Would you tell your friend Calla that she needs to brush HER hair?”

Inevitably, my interest in Barbie dolls waned. The last Barbie I received was the dancing Esmeralda Barbie: Christmas 1996. I would turn ten the following spring, and by that time, Barbie and I had gone our separate ways. It seemed to me that once your age hit the double digits, it was time to cultivate some more sophisticated interests, like feather pens and Hanson. 
VERY sophisticated.
My Barbies have been safely stored in the attic ever since.

Even though I haven’t played with my Barbies for close to sixteen years, I just can’t seem to get rid of them. After all, they’re responsible for a fair amount of dorky childhood memories (see above). In my book, that’s guaranteed immunity from the Goodwill pile.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

top ten Tuesday: songs with names in their titles.

(you'll have to excuse this weird white highlighting. I can't quite figure out how to get rid of it.)

I don’t have to tell you that there are bazillions of songs out there. Among those bazillions, there are the name songs. I’m not talking about the songs that casually name drop (“We Didn’t Start the Fire”): I’m referring to the songs with a person’s name in the title. These people may or may not be real (in most of these cases, I’d hope for not real), but they certainly do have names. This week’s Top Ten Tuesday holds my ten favorite songs with a name in the title! Who knows… maybe you’ll find your name on the list!

The Buoys: “Timothy”
My dad’s name is Timothy, so this was a song I love for a number of reasons. It’s about three guys who get trapped in a mineshaft. They begin to think that they’re going to starve to death, so naturally, they eat Timothy. As luck would have it, they are found the very next day: “My stomach was full as it could be/and nobody ever got around to finding Timothy.” Not a very pleasant ending for poor Timothy, but the song is so spunky! Only in the 1970s can you record a song about cannibalism and make it fun.

Toto: “Roseanna”
The first time I heard this song was when I was working at the arts and crafts store in New Orleans. “Rosanna,” along with such gems as “Copacabana” and “Maggie May,” was lucky enough to make it onto the store soundtrack. The soundtrack was about two hours long, and many of my holiday shifts were eight hours long. You do the math. Since I’d had no prior exposure to “Roseanna,” it took me a lot longer to get sick of it. When I hear it now, I just smile and think of my time at the craft store… and thank my lucky stars I have a different job.

The Clash: “Rudie Can’t Fail”
“Rudie Can’t Fail” is one of many outstanding songs on the Clash’s undeniably awesome album London Calling. Like pretty much everything the Clash sings about, “Rudie Can’t Fail” is a little depressing, but Joe Strummer sings it so happily that it’s easy to forget. According to Wikipedia (so you know it's true), "Rudie" refers to a rude boy. For years and years - until about two minutes ago, actually - I thought they were referring to some guy named Rudy. For the purpose of this article, I'm going to continue thinking that way. 

Sweeney Todd: “Johanna”
This song, like much of Sweeney Todd, is creepy. It’s about a young man who sees a beautiful girl through a window. Upon finding out that her name is Johanna, he sings this creepy song about how he’d like to be “sweetly buried in [her] yellow hair.” If you ignore most of the lyrics, though, it is a rather nice song with a killer orchestra backing. My college roommate Sara bought this movie during finals season, 2008. We would distract ourselves by begging our roommate Nate, a tenor, to sing us this song. He would usually oblige, providing a much-needed break from microbiology and art of the Renaissance.

The Everly Brothers: “Wake Up, Little Susie”
Ahh, the innocence of the good old days. “Wake Up, Little Susie” is about a couple out on a date. They go to a drive-in movie and promptly fall asleep. They wake up at 4 am and stress out about how their reputations are ruined. If you remember from an earlier blog post, I had a little blue coupe named Susie. On particularly cold mornings, I would ask Susie very politely to wake up. She always did.

Simon and Garfunkel: “Cecilia”
Of all the music I’ve heard in my life, none has ever hit me as hard as that of Simon and Garfunkel. The very first song of theirs I heard was “The Boxer,” and I was immediately hooked. I bought their greatest hits CD and discovered a great bunch of other songs, including “Cecilia.” How on earth could you not love that song? It’s impossibly catchy, and it’s about a poor sap who catches his girlfriend Cecilia in bed with another guy. The really funny part is the quick turnaround: “Makin love in the afternoon with Cecilia/up in my bedroom/I got to wash my face/when I come back to bed, someone’s taken my place.” My mom told me that she sang this song in high school choir: did her choir director realize that it was not simply about a girl named Cecilia, but a really slutty girl named Cecilia? Who knows.

Rick Springfield: “Jessie’s Girl”
Few songs have such a recognizable opening guitar riff as this one. It’s basically required listening at any Midwestern prom, wedding, or street dance. My friends and I used to cruise around Arlington, playing this song through our tape adapters. In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past thirty years and have never heard this song, allow me to explain: Rick Springfield has a crush on his friend Jessie’s girlfriend. He endlessly wishes he had Jessie’s girl. It’s never really explained why Jessie’s girl is so great, but she must be something else if Rick Springfield can create a super-hit about how much he wants her.

The Hollies: “Dear Eloise”
Who doesn’t love the Hollies? They have the goofiest songs, and this one is one of my very favorites. I love it so much because the song structure takes you buy surprise. It starts off all slow and sweet: a guy is writing a letter to Eloise to tell her that he heard she got dumped. Then, the song turns upbeat as the guy tells Eloise what an idiot she was: “you rushed in blindly/he treated you kindly/until he found out what he could get from you.” The real purpose of the letter is to tell Eloise that he’s in love with her, but he has to stay “I told you so” first.  

Paul Simon: “You Can Call Me Al”
This song is titled after an actual experience: Paul Simon was at a party with his then-wife Peggy, and someone mistakenly introduced them as Al and Betty. Following a certain trend here, “You Can Call Me Al” is yet another upbeat song about a less-than-pleasant subject (this time, it’s a midlife crisis). The music is great, though: pennywhistles, a great bass solo, and a killer brass section? I dare you to listen to this song without dancing at least a little bit. Part of this song’s greatness lies in its music video: you’ve got lip-syncing and dancing Chevy Chase and Paul Simon. You cannot go wrong with that combination.

Vic Damone: “Calla Calla”
(disclaimer: I couldn't find the Vic Damone version on YouTube, but I did find this one buy a group called the Kaye Sisters. Unlike Vic Damone, they pronounce my name correctly. However, since I've only ever heard the Vic Damone version before right now - as I was searching for an example on YouTube - so I'm going to talk about it as if it were the Vic Damone version. Bear with me.)
Believe it or not, there is actually a song that contains my name. The pronunciation is a little different: my name is pronounced “Cal-uh” (like the Cal in California), whereas this song sings of “Call-uh” (like a telephone call). It’s the dorkiest song imaginable, but I’m more or less required to love it. My friend Allison was the one who brought this song to my attention. It’s about a girl named Calla’s wedding day, and the chorus goes: “It’s the day of mating/time for celebrating,” which is about the least appealing way to describe a wedding. For years, Allison has threatened to play this song at my wedding, and for years, I had hoped she’d just forget. Allison makes sure to remind me every now and again, so I’ve given up hope that her memory will fail. I realize I’m not doing myself any favors by putting her threat in print, but what do you do. Chances are everyone will get a kick out of it, and not everyone is lucky enough to have his or her name immortalized in a song about mating.


There you have it: my top ten songs with names in their titles. I had to skip over quite a few good ones because I’d already written about them in my love song list: “Lola,” “Dammit, Janet,” and “Mandy” would easily make the list, but you don’t want to read about these songs twice. I’m so considerate. There are tons of name songs to pick from, though, and I chose these ten. Hopefully you know at least one person with a name on this list: make sure and serenade them next time you get together.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

let's talk about school choir.

Ask my parents: I used to sing ALL the time. I sang the classics, like “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” but I was quick to incorporate songs from whatever Disney movie I had seen most recently. My singing didn’t end with mainstream music: I would also make up my own songs and warble them horribly off-key. Dad loves to tell me that “there wasn’t a bucket big enough” for me to carry a tune.

I’m not sure when or why, but one day, I stopped singing. There were no more concerts from the back seat of the family car (and I’m sure my parents weren’t disappointed), and I stopped composing my own lyrics to serenade whomever would listen. When my solo career stopped, it stopped for good.

In elementary school, choir was a required class. I didn’t mind; all we had to do was sing simple songs in a group so our parents could ooh and ahh over how cute we were. As the years went on, we got less cute, but we still sang the cute songs for the elementary school concerts. We never learned anything too out of the ordinary, and nobody was complaining. Choir was a cakewalk of a class, and we all wanted to keep it that way. Sadly, all good things must end.

At the beginning of sixth grade, things took a turn for the worse: we got a new choir teacher. He was a plump, angry man with fingers like sausages, and (due to lack of imagination) I shall refer to him as Mr Chubs. Mr Chubs had a whole closet full of Cosby sweaters and a glare that was slightly distorted through his Coke-bottle wire-rimmed glasses. It didn’t take long before the whole class developed a profound disliking for him, and I’m sure the feeling was mutual.

Mr Chubs would begin each and every class by scowling at us as we filed into the choir room. He would never say hello to us: to signal that he was ready for class to begin, he would clap a series of a rhythms. We would then clap the rhythms back to him, and he’d bark that we’d better start behaving or we’d be sorry.

It’s not that we were poorly behaved; at least, not any worse than your average energy-filled preteens. Unfortunately, Mr Chubs was not blessed with a single ounce of patience. By bellowing at us as soon as we set foot in his room, he figured that he was being proactive.

In fifth and sixth grade, our classrooms had adopted a rudimentary capitalist system. Each student had a job in the classroom, and jobs that entailed more work paid more. Yes: paid. We got little laminated pieces of fake money that we could spend at the “store,” which stocked erasers and pop and the like. Every member of the class got a set amount of fake money every week (sort of like passing Go on a Monopoly board), but a job was a way to supplement your income. The jobs ranged from animal caretaker (of the class hamsters) to janitor (which nobody wanted) to accountant (who distributed the fake money). To get a job, you had to apply, which was simply writing down why you’d be good at said job. Every so often, the jobs would switch, so everyone would get a chance at every job.

The most sought-after job was the job of the police officer, only because it paid the most. The police officer was in charge of keeping track of the fines. Yes, our capitalist system included fines: you could be fined for bad behavior or for not turning your work in on time.

So that was a rather lengthy explanation for a rather small part of my story: whenever Mr Chubs felt that we were getting a bit too rowdy, he would jab his chubby finger at us and yell, “FINE!” Not “fine” as in, “fine, now you’ve done it,” but “fine” as in “I am threatening to hand out fines if you don’t shut up.” Nope, he’d just roar “FINE!” and hope that the threat of losing some of our hard-earned fake money would be enough to get us to behave. Normally, it would’ve been, but Mr Chubs’ specialty was the empty threat: I don’t remember him handing out a single fine.

As we migrated into junior high, the fake money and fines were left behind in elementary school. Instead, little pieces of paper called referrals became the new disciplinary measure. Referrals were given out for the same reasons as fines: tardiness, missing assignments, and bad behavior. If you were given a referral, your punishment was to write some smarmy garbage to appease the principal: you had to write about what you did wrong, WHY it was wrong, and what you will do better next time. The more referrals you got, the more questions they added on. Too many referrals in a set period of time meant Saturday school, which was a fate worse than death (unless you were a member of the Breakfast Club, but we weren’t so lucky in small town SD).

Mr Chubs had a tough time remembering which form of punishment he was supposed to dole out. He started off the school year shouting “FINE!” as he always had, but it eventually hit him that we no longer received fines. Mr Chubs would then try and play it off as a “fine, now you’ve done it” fine and add on “referrals FOR!” like he was about to list off the names of people who would suffer the wrath of the referral. He would huff and puff and jab his finger like usual, and he’d holler “FINE! Referrals FOR!” as his face turned red and his crazy eyes darted around the room. Once again, I don’t think anyone ever actually got a referral (except for maybe my friend Sarah, who loved nothing more than to push Mr Chubs’ buttons).

Though he was slow to hand out school-approved punishment, there was a time with Mr Chubs enacted a penalty more terrible than any of us had anticipated. We were singing a corny song called “I Love Ragtime”: I can still remember most of the song thanks to this traumatic experience. 
(this is some other choir, but now you can get an idea
of this painfully dorky song. you're welcome.)

Just like every other day, the class was ignoring Mr Chubs’ threats. Finally, he snapped. He spluttered that every student must come up to the piano and sing their part… INDIVIDUALLY. My face went white. I stopped singing alone in front of an audience before I entered kindergarten. Even now, I have nightmares about being forced to sing solos. I would rather drink sour milk and pet tarantulas than sing by myself.

Most of the class shared my feelings about Mr Chubs’ sadistic singing, and we showed our displeasure by giving him a collective stink-eye for the remainder of class. He called us up in alphabetical order, so I was one of the first to be put on the chopping block. I snaked my way out of it by claiming I had a sore throat, but many of my compatriots weren’t so lucky. Some sang in a dull monotone, while others whispered or mumbled with their heads lowered. One poor kid even cried. Mr Chubs loved every minute of it.

Choir was still a mandatory class in junior high; otherwise, we all would’ve dropped it right then and there. We slogged through the rest of the year and rejoiced when we found out that Mr Chubs would not be returning for the next school year.

During the three years I suffered through choir with Mr Chubs, I don’t recall learning a single thing. Thanks to the previous choir teacher, I knew very well how to read music (I even won the contest we had to make as many words as possible using only note names: ABCDEF), and I knew the order of sharps and flats like the back of my hand (Fat Cows Graze Daily And Eat Bales!). If I hadn’t been in band at the same time, I could’ve very well forgotten such basic elements of music: we NEVER went over notes or rhythms, besides Mr Chubs’ clapping at the beginning of class. I would bet that this man had no idea how to teach a class: this was the teacher who set aside an entire week of class so we could do the Macarena.
Every self-respecting pre-teen circa 1995 already knew the Macarena.
We got a new teacher in eighth grade. Choir was still a required class, so we were all stuck. The new choir director was a bit of a whack job, but she was nothing compared to Mr Chubs. As soon as high school rolled around, choir became an elective, and we dropped like flies. Between being rid of choir and FINALLY not having to take PE any more, I was loving high school already.

Was this the end of my choral career? As a matter of fact, it wasn’t. Whack Job teacher only lasted a year or two, and yet another choir director entered our midst. My still-in-choir friends ranted and raved about her, so I rejoined choir during my senior year of high school. I sat with all my friends (the altos), and we had a great time. This director asked for our input on concert music, which was unprecedented. She taught us vocal exercises and a bit of solfege, and she managed to make choir fun.

My last foray into the choral world was in my sophomore year of college. I’d decided that I wanted to pursue a music minor, and that involved taking two semesters of music theory. Once I learned the magical circle of fifths, music theory was all peaches and cream… except for the sight-singing tests. We had little books of folk songs, and we were supposed to study so many of them for two or three sight-singing tests per semester. We tested in groups of two or three, and I was usually lucky enough to get put in a group with loud singers. I mumbled my do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-dos, and it was good enough.

Nowadays, I refrain from singing when possible. The only exceptions are a.) in church when nobody can hear me, b.) in the car when I’m alone, and c.) when there is alcohol involved. Trust me: it’s better this way. My fiancée James, the music/band/choir director, enjoys singing and is really quite good at it, so he just doesn’t quite understand. Thankfully, he has me around to provide a voice of reason when it comes to all this choral: during his first year, James was planning a class and casually mentioned that he was thinking of having each choir student come to the front of class and sing their part. “NOOOOOO!!!!” I shouted. “DON’T! They’ll hate you for it!” My story about “I Love Ragtime” and the ensuing humiliation was enough to convince him. Hear that, James’s students? You can thank me later.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

top ten Tuesday: childhood clothing flashback.

Not too long ago, James and I were enjoying a pleasant Saturday afternoon in Sioux Falls. We’d been to a parade in the morning, and we had just finished a leisurely lunch. Our day was going well… until we made a grave mistake: we went to the mall.

The Sioux Empire mall on a Saturday is a death trap. It’s bursting with hyperactive teenagers and aggressive stroller-pushing moms who will not hesitate to run you over. Despite having to stay on our toes to avoid injury, James and I did manage to do a little window-shopping. Between our stop at the mall and our subsequent visit to Target, I noticed a pattern: the new clothing in stores looks an awful like my closet, circa 1994. I realize that the clothing industry has been experiencing a flashback for a while now, but never have I seen so many 90s clothes concentrated in one place.

This clothing flashback is certainly not limited to the 90s. Many of the resurrected trends are straight from the 80s, and in some cases, even the 70s. If you look around your average cheap/trendy store, you would find it very difficult not to cross paths with jumpsuits, crop tops, and those goofy plastic sunglasses with the stripes. Mercifully, I was either a.) nonexistent, or b.) too young, so I was spared those particular fads. However, the 90s and early 2000s were not as kind. I did my best to find pictures of myself wearing each of these items when I was a kid, but alas, photographic evidence doesn’t exist for each and every one. You’ll have to take what you can get.

So here I am, wandering through stores and recognizing their offerings as items I wore when I still played with Barbies. For this Top Ten Tuesday, I’d like to present the top ten clothing items I wore as a kid that are experiencing a comeback in stores. Let’s go through the list, shall we?

puffy neon coats
A puffy coat is a Midwestern necessity. Our winters tend to be long and brutal, and the least you can do is have something warm and marshmallow-like to shield you from the bitter wind. There were a great many puffy coats on the market, but if you were an elementary-aged girl in the mid-90s, it had to be neon. If it wasn’t, you were tragically uncool and inevitably subject to ridicule. I avoided such mockery with my hot pink puffy coat: a faithful winter companion for many years. Before long, though, neon coats had joined the ranks of the lame. The must-have coat that followed was the Arlington Cardinals coat with your name embroidered on it. 
Like so.
After that, you had to have a Columbia coat. In any case, it’s been many years since neon coats were in style. Apparently, now is their time to (re)shine.
You can buy this coat RIGHT NOW.
If it doesn't scream 1990s,
I don't know what does.
floral dresses
I got lots of hand-me-downs as a kid. “But Calla,” the attentive reader might say, “aren’t you the oldest?” Why yes, I am the oldest; hence, my hand-me-downs didn’t come from an older sister. My mom had many coworkers with older daughters, so she’d lug boxes of clothes home for me to try. The clothing in these boxes fell into two clear categories: the things I liked, and the things my mother liked. 
Above: a dress my mother liked.
The flowery dresses contained in these boxes almost always fell into the latter group. These were the frilly, lacy, poofy, tent-like dresses in which I suffered through many a church service. 
I shudder at the memory.
Happy was the day when I got to donate these dresses to Goodwill. Lo and behold, fifteen years later, similar dresses are appearing in stores. These dresses are more grown up (read: slutty), but I still wouldn’t be caught dead in them.
No thanks.
lace-up boots
Thankfully, denim dresses have yet
to make a comeback...
Wearing my lace-up boots drove me nuts. They were impossible to get on, and they took forever to tie. Plus, I thought they looked super dorky. (My mom insisted otherwise, but looking back, I was totally right.) During winter, I was coerced into wearing these boots with tights and dresses. Besides my floral dresses, this combination was my mom’s go-to church uniform for me. The lace-up boots of today are certainly more stylish than the pair I loathed fifteen years ago, but they still bring back plenty of dorky memories.
At least these have zippers.
colorful and/or patterned pants
Suddenly, colorful pants are EVERYWHERE! As a dorky pre-teen, I was a colorful denim connoisseur. I had a pair of red jeans and a pair of maroon jeans that I wore to death, as well as my lime green denim overalls. 
So much maroon.
When I was a little younger, I tended more towards patterned denim: stripes were my favorite. 

I did own a pair of black denim overalls (what’s with the overalls?) patterned with bright white flowers, so I’d occasionally stray into different patterns. While overalls are not terribly prevalent in store fashion today, you won’t have any trouble finding colorful or patterned pants.
Target, NOOOOOO!
I will admit, this is one flashback fashion that I have tried: Target lured me into buying a pair of red pants and a pair of purple pants.
However, I promise you, I’m staying away from the patterned pants.
Once was enough.
 maxi skirts
I just HAD to add
the denim vest.
The maxi skirts of today are really not too bad, if you know how to wear them. Today’s maxi skirts give off more of a bohemian vibe, whereas the maxi skirts of my day made you look like you belonged in a religious cult. By the time I started wearing these long skirts, I’m ashamed to admit that I was picking out my own clothes: I can no longer blame my mother. I’m sure I thought I looked fantastic, but my sense of fashion clearly wasn’t fully developed.
Nothing says
fashionable like
a flowery maxi skirt
and a sparkly
sweater, right?
Nowadays, I have been guilty of wearing a maxi dress or two, but as long as I don’t look like a sister wife, I think I’ll keep it up.
I don't think sister wives are allowed
to wear shoes like that, anyway.
Whenever I think of corduroy, I think of a joke our college jazz director used to tell before concerts: “did you hear about the new corduroy pillows? They’re making headlines!” Har har! I couldn’t dig up any photos of me wearing corduroy, but you’d better believe it was a wardrobe staple. I had a pair of black corduroy overalls (again with the overalls!) that I wore long after they had become too short. I had some tan corduroy pants from a rummage sale that served me well as part of my go-to oral interp outfit. I may have owned a corduroy jacket at some point, but my memory is a tad hazy. But now, from the hipster jackets at H&M to the skinny pants at Target, corduroy is back. Thanks, but no thanks.
Double whammy: colorful AND corduroy!
Remember my second grade obsession with The Lion King? It should come as no surprise that said obsession extended to my footwear. I owned not one, but two pairs of Lion King shoes. Both pairs were white, and one pair may have been Velcro. The possibly-Velcro pair had a little picture of a nuzzling Nala and Simba on the sides, and I wore them to death. The second pair also had a picture on the sides, but this time it was Simba. These, my friends, were a pair of hi-tops. 
This is not the pair I had, but these are awesome.
For that reason alone, they didn’t get near as much wear as the Velcro shoes. Hi-tops were way too much work for my eight-year-old self: you had to loosen the shoelaces, for crying out loud! Even though the loosening and subsequent tightening of the shoelaces added, at most, sixty extra seconds to me getting ready in the morning, every second counted. I never got out of bed with time to spare, so a whole added minute to get my shoes on would probably be enough to make me late for the bus. Hi-tops (with the exception of Converse All-Stars) fell out of favor in the mid-90s, but they never totally went away. Recently, though, I’ve been seeing a lot more of them in stores and out and about on people’s feet. Will I be reliving my past with a pair of hi-tops? Not if that means I have to get out of bed any earlier.
Not even for hot pink.
The resurgence of flannel has been going on for a few years now, and I have allowed select pieces to infiltrate my closet. The flannel of today, thankfully, is nothing like the flannel I wore in my early teen years. Flannel never completely went away, but the flannel that has made its way back into stores is far superior to the manly flannel I wore back when I still had braces. My flannel of yesteryear made me look more like a lumberjack than anything, but the new flannel is fitted and much less lumberjacky. I am more than happy to embrace this trend the second time around.
I don't think lumberjacks embrace graffiti and
drink Caribou coffee, anyway.
I'm the one in the middle: the purple Keds should give me away.
(When I say “Keds,” I mean all shoes in the style that Keds made famous.) Keds are seeing a comeback, thanks mostly to their popularity among hipsters. You can get them in every color and pattern under the sun. I loved my childhood Keds, and I know for certain that I had at least three different colors (black, purple, and lime green, of course). Though I am no hipster, I find myself sorely tempted by the new Keds/shoes that look like Keds but actually aren’t. It probably won’t be long before you’ll be able to find a pair in my closet.
Like these Target brand faux-Keds!
big old headbands
Do you spend much time in the hair accessories department of your local shopping center? If you do, you may have noticed the abundance of headbands with something decorative (and usually sparkly) attached to them. It could be a flower, a bow, or some unidentified sequined shape. I distinctly remember wearing headbands a lot like these when I was a youngster. One in particular comes to mind: it was a white headband with a giant bow made out of red, white, and blue shoelaces. Nowadays, headbands aren’t as delightfully tacky, but they still remind me of the days of the shoelace bow. As a kid, I had more headbands than I care to admit: skinny headbands, fabric headbands, butterfly headbands, and headbands with little teeth that were supposed to make them stick to your head. I gave up on headbands sometime in my preteen years when I realized that they just didn’t look good on me/I was too dumb to figure out how to make them look good. Several years later, I seemed to have forgotten, as I purchased a headband with one of those unidentified sequined shapes attached to it. Turns out that I STILL can’t make a headband look good. Some things never change.
Even crazy art museum backlighting couldn't help me.

Are your eyes bleeding from all these dorky childhood pictures? Man, what were my parents thinking? Unfortunately, I can’t always blame my parents: I’m a little ashamed to admit I’ve fallen prey to the second coming of more than one of these trends. Let’s just hope they don’t come back to bite me. Again.