Friday, July 27, 2012

an anniversary story.

Anyone who knows me can tell you: I’m not big on love stories. I avoid chick flicks like the plague, love songs tend to make me a little green around the gills, and love poems cause dangerous amounts of eye-rolling. Knowing this, you would expect me to be single, wouldn’t you? Au contraire: I’m going to marry a cheerful redhead named James.
This July 27th marks a whopping five years that James and I have been a couple. We are opposite as opposite can be: James is a romantic through and through. James is much nicer than I am, and he’s way less sarcastic. He is a brass player and I a woodwind, which – as any instrumentalist knows – can be a recipe for disaster. Despite the glaring differences, we agree on the really important things… and if I can think of any examples, I’ll have to get back to you.

James and I met on the very first day of college orientation: it was the tail end of August 2005. My family (Dad, Mom, brother, sister) and I loaded up the car and made the drive to Morris that morning. After unloading all of my stuff and meeting a few people in my dorm, we made our way over to the fine arts building. Why? To sign up for a concert band audition, of course!

My family explored the building a bit while I located the sign-up sheet within the labyrinth of music faculty offices. When I emerged, audition time established, I found my family talking to some red-haired guy in a baseball hat. I wandered over, and he introduced himself as James: he, too, was a freshman, and he had just finished signing up for his very own audition time. “And he plays trumpet!” said my dad, a trumpet player himself. I rolled my eyes: the last thing I needed was another trumpet player!

Well, this red-haired trumpet player named James was actually a pretty nice guy, and we became fast friends. 
Our first picture together! We look so very young.
James lived in the same dorm as me (I was on first floor, he on fourth), so he would stop by on evenings when one (or both) of us needed a break from homework. I distinctly remember giving James my phone number within the first few weeks of school: I told him to be sure and use it, because the only people who called me were my parents. If memory serves me correctly, he called me that very night.

It wasn’t long before I learned that James gave the best hugs out of anyone I’d ever hugged: even a non-hugger like me knew when to appreciate a good thing. It wasn’t long before I would summon James if I’d had an especially long day: I would simply need to call him and say, “I need a hug!” and he would appear at my door, ready to give me a reassuring hug. When I had the flu that spring, James came to make sure I was still alive. James even taught me how to swing dance: we danced for the Morris community Christmas variety show, and he would always save me a dance or two at the thrice-yearly jazz dances.
If you're not impressed, you totally should be.
Believe it or not, all of this was strictly platonic. James loved to wink at me and make me blush, but that’s as far as it got. As the school year wore on, James became my go-to for girl talk. Yes: girl talk. I had my fair share of boy trouble during my freshman year, and James was always there to comfort and/or mercilessly mock me. At one time during that spring, I was resisting the advances of a particularly loathsome character, who was a friend of my female floormates. This guy had not started out so bad: he was friendly, and I had been on a mediocre date with him. But I just wasn’t interested, which was something that he chose to ignore. He sent me scores of Facebook messages, and he left notes on my door. One evening, two of my floormates and I planned on watching a movie in my dorm room. Much to my dismay, there is a knock on the door: it’s the guy I’d been dodging for the past week. I was out of excuses, and there was nowhere to hide. He sat down next to me on the bed, and I inched away. As soon as this guy went to the bathroom, I quickly tapped out an SOS text message to James, asking him to please come save me. Not five minutes later, there was a knock on the door. It was James: my hero! I crept out of the room and quietly explained why I’d asked for him to rescue me. James could hardly contain his laughter, but he was more than glad to be of help.

Freshman year drew to a close, and the dorms cleared out. As a band member, I was required to play for graduation, which was a day after most of my friends had gone home. James, a fellow band member, knew that I was alone on my dormitory floor, so he invited me to go bowling. I’m a terrible bowler, but I went along all the same. I was touched that James would want to make sure that I didn’t have to spend my last night in Morris alone.

I don’t remember if James and I stayed in touch over the summer, but when sophomore year began, he was one of the first people I sought out. I had just joined jazz band, and I needed all the help I could get.
At the very least, I needed someone
to be in pictures with me!
I claimed James as a swing dance partner, and we had a standing date for Swing Club every Thursday night. I began music theory classes that semester, and James – who had a whole year of theory under his belt already – was on call to help me should I need it. For that whole year, my music theory class (I in the fall, II in the spring) was right after James’s jazz band rehearsal finished. Every Monday/Wednesday/Friday, we’d cross paths in the hall. Every time, James would give me a big hug, lift me up and spin me around, and set me down in the right direction.

My sophomore year was the particularly taxing year of the Hipster Boyfriend, and I needed to call upon James’s Magical Reassuring Hugs more than ever before. When Hipster Boyfriend completely destroyed my 20th birthday (which is a story for another time), I sent James a text message bemoaning my situation. Little did I know that James had gone over to my on-campus apartment to see me that evening. He even sat through an entire chick flick with my roommates in case I would come home. When I finally did return, I found a 12-pack of Mountain Dew waiting for me, along with a series of pink heart-shaped sticky notes (courtesy of a roommate) from James telling me happy birthday. Now, I’ve never been much of a softie, but this birthday gesture from James warmed even my non-romantic heart.

That summer, two important things happened: I rented a junky house in Morris with a handful of friends, and James joined a band called Funky Gumbo. While seemingly unimportant, without both of these things occurring, the summer of 2007 may have turned out a lot differently.

During the summer of 2007, I had a job in Brookings, so I lived at home with my parents. However, I was already paying rent on a room in this Morris house. That made it a whole lot easier for my friends and I to meet for a weekend in Morris. Most of James’s summer gigs were within a 40-mile radius of Morris, so he would stay at his very own college house. I called James every time I was going to be in Morris, and every time I was in Morris, he was too. (Little did I know that James would sometimes make a special trip to Morris if his gigs didn’t coincide with my visits.)

Things with Hipster Boyfriend were in a downward spiral. Hipster Boyfriend had completely drained me over the past year, and I was pretty sure a relationship shouldn’t make you feel like you’re slowly suffocating. Also, I had a lightbulb moment in early summer when my close friendship with James morphed into a devastating crush. After seeing James, I would think, “If only Hipster Boyfriend was more like James. James treats me so well, and he seems like a lot less work than Hipster Boyfriend. If only I could just date James.” (This is where the lightbulb turns on.)

Good friend that he was, I think I spoke on the phone with James almost every day that summer. I confided in James about Hipster Boyfriend: I knew I had to break up with him, but I didn’t have the guts. James gently encouraged me, and he was pretty easy on me when I chickened out the first time. I did succeed the second time – over the phone, shame on me – and James was right there to help me celebrate my new single life. My new single life didn’t last long: James and I began dating on July 27 of that year.
James's debut as my boyfriend. See how excited I am?
Fast forward almost five years. It’s June of 2012, and James and I had planned a long weekend in the Black Hills. It was going to be fantastic: our plans involved nothing but tourist traps, and that’s the way we like it. We arrived in Rapid City on the evening of Saturday the 23rd, and we spent the better part of the night strolling around downtown Rapid City. Shortly before the sun went down, I decided that we should book it to Dinosaur Park. If you are unfamiliar, Dinosaur Park is a group of huge cement dinosaurs atop a hill overlooking Rapid City. It’s been around since the 1930s, and it was my must-see of the trip. James happily obliged, and we made our way to the top of Dinosaur Hill just as the sun was beginning to set.
Turns out Dinosaur Park is a popular destination, no matter what time of day it is. The place was all but overrun with small children. For once, I didn’t mind. I was in such a good mood from 1.) the beginning of a long-overdue vacation, 2.) the fact that we had found the almost all of the state license plates in the Wall Drug parking lot, and 3.) WE WERE AT DINOSAUR PARK. I know what this says about my maturity level, but I love dinosaurs. Earlier that day, James bought me a little stuffed stegosaurus at Wall Drug. I told him, “James, the way to my heart is through dinosaurs.” He already knew.

We lingered at Dinosaur Park for quite a while: the hill overlooked Rapid City, so we sat and watched the city light up. I took about a zillion pictures of the dinosaurs, and James gladly took pictures of me with said dinosaurs. 
Look how cute the stegosaurus is!
Off the beaten path, there was a small rock formation that extended out and gave you an even more spectacular view of the city. James really wanted to go out there, but he didn’t want to share the space with the guy who had been standing there for the last half an hour. The guy had a high-strung wife and three unruly kids waiting for him down below, so I certainly couldn’t blame him for wanting some time to himself. James, however, wasn’t having it. “I just wish that guy would leave!” said James, glaring uncharacteristically. “You know, there’s room enough for us up there, too,” I said, wondering what the big deal was. “Why don’t we just go up there?” At that moment, the Defeated Dad responded to his wife’s shrill calls and trudged back down to his family. James wasted no time in getting up the overlook and claiming the best seats/rocks for optimal city viewing.
Worth the wait.
We hadn’t been there two minutes when James said, “Well, Calla,” and stood up. I looked at him a little weird: after all that waiting to get this very spot, he wanted to leave already? When James said, “We’ve been together for almost five years,” that lightbulb in my head flickered… and suddenly turned on. Was this a proposal? THIS WAS A PROPOSAL. I’m sure James said some very nice things after that, but for the life of me, I can’t remember them. James dropped down to one knee and asked me to marry him. I may be stating the obvious, but I accepted.
This probably goes without saying, but James is one hell of a guy to put up with the likes of me. I'm sarcastic and snarky, and James is hard-pressed to say a mean word. But here's what really takes the cake: James knows me better than I thought was ever possible. He knows exactly what to put on my sandwiches, and he knows what goofy greeting cards will make my day. Best of all, he knew that I'm not the kind of girl who would swoon over a candlelit dinner proposal. James knew that the place to do it was Dinosaur Park. My friends, it's tough to find a guy who knows you that well.

You know what else? We’re getting married on July 27th, 2013: six years to the day after we first began dating. It’s bordering on romance overload, but honestly, it’s too perfect to pass up. Even my romantically-challenged self can’t deny that.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

summer camp stories, part II: band camp.

Remember how I went to Norwegian camp and a couple of church camps and they were really weird? Even after those bizarre experiences, I went to camp not once, but two more times: and it was awesome. Why? BECAUSE I WENT TO BAND CAMP.

I have mentioned a time or two that I grew up in a family of musical dorks, but the fact that my parents sent me to band camp (and the fact that it was my idea) should really drive my point home. I went to South Dakota State University’s band camp in 2001 and 2002: right around the time the phrase “this one time at band camp” was in its heyday.

I went to band camp with my dear friend and childhood neighbor Sarah, who had gone the year before and successfully convinced me that it was worth a week of my summer vacation. I agreed, and Sarah and I traveled off to band camp.

At band camp, you stay in the college dorms. My mom works at SDSU, so she had no problem figuring out where we were supposed to go. (Having my mom close by ended up being a real asset: one night, she brought us Pizza Hut for supper.) We were issued keys, meal cards, and lanyards: we felt like real college students (minus the “allowed to go off campus unsupervised” part). We even had to bring rubber flip-flops for the shower: if that doesn’t say college, I don’t know what does.

Sarah and I were roommates for both years, and we had a blast. I brought the oscillating fan, and Sarah brought her CD player. We spent the entirety of band camp 2002 with “Oklahoma” by Billy Gilman on repeat. Lights-out was relatively early as far as teenage summer standards go, so Sarah and I devised an unnecessarily elaborate system in order to stay up later and prevent the counselors from discovering us. If the counselors had, in fact, found us up after lights-out, the very worst they could’ve done was tell us to go to sleep, but Sarah and I still didn’t want to get caught. We stuffed a towel under the door and a sock in the peep-hole to block light, and we wrote up code phrases to notify each other if we heard incoming counselors. (I’m almost positive that our phrases were “the goose flies at midnight” and “the duck dies at dawn.” Don’t ask me why.) We thought we were really sneaky, and I guess we may have been: we never got caught staying up past lights out.

The first official band camp thing you had to do was audition for your chair placement. Sarah and I were always the last chair clarinets in concert band. It was more for lack of dedication than lack of talent: Sarah and I certainly didn’t spend a lot of time preparing our audition piece. It was summer, for crying out loud! We had better things to do! Both years, Sarah and I auditioned with the exact same piece: “Beauty and Joy.” 
Yes, I still have a copy.
We always auditioned one after the other, which was likely a mistake. The clarinet professor was named Corliss Johnson, and he was one of the most patient people I’ve ever met. I don’t know how he stood hours of teenagers on various woodwinds (he was responsible for oboes, bassoons, and bass clarinets as well), squawking through scales and ill-prepared solo pieces.

Sarah and I never really worried about the auditions. We just wanted to get them over with; we really didn’t care about our placement in the band. We just wanted something to play and, with luck, to be able to sit by each other. And that’s exactly what we got. The second year, though, I almost blew it. Sarah and I were lined up in the hallway with a bunch of other clarinetists, waiting for our auditions. I can’t for the life of me remember how it happened, but I somehow managed to break my mouthpiece. A huge chunk snapped out of the mouthpiece, rendering my clarinet unplayable. I was stunned: band camp hadn’t even started yet, and I was out of commission. What the hell was I supposed to do?! Lucky for me, a fellow clarinetist just happened to have an extra mouthpiece that she was willing to loan out for the week. Thank God for that girl.

Each year, the bands were directed by a number of people. Jim McKinney did a lot of it, and he was good at it. 
What a guy!
Mr McKinney would gently tell us what we were doing wrong, and he would never hesitate to praise us when we got something right. Unfortunately, Mr McKinney didn’t do it all. Each year, there was some kind of special guest conductor. We had the same guy both years: Robert Sheldon. 
He even looks like he sucks.
We were going to play a couple of pieces that he had written, and he was going to direct them. Sounds kind of cool, right? Well, it would’ve been… if Robert Sheldon wasn’t such a total ass. He was absolutely brutal. The first day we sight-read one of his pieces (which were really boring, I might add), Robert Sheldon just laid into us. He told us that we were sorry excuses for musicians and that he ought to walk out right now. I don’t believe that anyone would’ve been disappointed if he did. Robert Sheldon had a tendency to rub his face and neck while he spoke to us. It’s hard to describe how weird it was: he would use both hands and rub his face all over. His hands would occasionally stray to his chest, which made the band really uncomfortable. While he was doing it, Robert Sheldon wouldn’t miss a beat and would continue to call us totally useless and talentless wastes-of-space. This kind of talk continued throughout the rehearsal week, and we quickly learned to ignore it.

However, Robert Sheldon did manage to make a young saxophone player cry. She raised her hand to be excused: her reed had broken, and she wanted to run back to her case and get a new one. Sounds legitimate, right? Robert Sheldon didn’t think so. He ripped her a new one: she should ALWAYS be prepared and bring another reed with her; she’s WASTING his time and ours; she had DAMN WELL better make sure that never happened again. The poor little saxophone player slunk out, tears running down her cheeks. Sure enough, no one ever asked to be excused to get a reed again. Whether that was because people brought extras or just didn’t say anything if one broke, I’ll never know.

At band camp, you had to fill your schedule with rehearsals, sectionals, and classes. The first year, Sarah took choir and I didn’t, meaning that I had to fill up my empty days with music-related classes. I signed up for at least one “practice time” per day, which just meant you were supposed to go find a practice room and work on your music. I took some sort of music arranging class, where I learned the very basics of music theory and using Finale. Sarah had one time slot in which to take a class, so we took Beginning Band together. As you might’ve guessed, Beginning Band is where you spend the week learning another instrument. We were encouraged to try something out of our instrument “family,” so Sarah and I chose to learn the French Horn. We were horrendous, but so was everyone else. The Beginning Band class even put on a little concert, which is pretty impressive considering we’d had approximately six hours over five days learning these instruments.

The following year, I decided that I didn’t want to spend my time in music theory classes, so I joined Sarah in choir. I had to audition, and I was petrified: the last time I sang acapella was when I was five. I choked my way through a scale and was promptly deemed an alto. Good enough for me. Since band and choir rehearsals took up a sizable chunk of our day, Sarah and I only had to find one class to take. We chose Music Appreciation: a class led by a spacey trumpet-playing counselor and his equally spacey girlfriend. They would play music and gaze dopily into each other’s’ eyes. There was never a whole lot of discussion: they would say, “Listen to this Beethoven piece. Isn’t it great? Listen to this Handel piece. Isn’t it great?” and go back to swooning over each other. At the end of the week, they had us go around the room and tell them what our favorite piece of music was. Most of us could only remember a select few pieces, as we had spent most of the class playing hangman with whoever was close by.

The Spacey Counselors were just two of the bizarre menagerie manning the SDSU music camp. There was Michael, the pale piano prodigy who had hands that bent at crazy angles. Sid was a trumpet player, and he was the camp stud. All the teenage girls had crushes on him… except for Sarah. “I think my mom has that shirt,” she said one day when Sid was sporting a lovely peach plaid button-down. Rick Crawley was the saxophone guy, and he was cooler than any of us could ever hope to be. The head of this whole operation was SDSU’s own director of bands, Jim McKinney. Sarah and I just loved him. He was a goofy Texan who was totally serious about his job, but he knew how to make it fun for a gaggle of high-schoolers.

The band camp attendees were a peculiar bunch, as well. I don’t remember many of the people I met during my time at band camp… just some vague memories of a dorky kid who wore a fedora and played trombone, and a girl who looked like a young Princess Diana. However, two people have managed to stick fairly well in my memory, and both of them were scrawny teenage boys. Kent was the same age as me, but I was a head taller and outweighed him by a good thirty pounds. I don’t remember a whole lot about him, except that he was a percussionist and used to dry his hair under the bathroom hand-dryers every morning. The other kid I remember was a couple years younger than everyone else, but he was a sort of wunderkind. Sarah and I didn’t figure out what his real name was until camp was nearly over (it was Evan), so due to his gangly limbs and extreme youth, we called him Billy Elliot. (Fun fact: three years later, Sarah ended up on an SDSU-sponsored high school music trip to Europe with this very same kid.) One of Sarah’s and my classmates, Clint, was at band camp as well. While we were walking to dinner one night, Clint was showing off his new bendable glasses. In the commercials, the glasses would bend almost completely in half and not break. Clint wanted to demonstrate: he took his glasses off and said, “Can your glasses do this?” Of course, they snapped clean in half. Everyone with glasses assured him, through uncontrollable laughter, that our glasses could indeed do that!

When we weren’t being verbally abused by Robert Sheldon or falling asleep in Music Appreciation class, SDSU made sure there was never an idle moment. SDSU arranged a number of field trips for us in our downtime. We would always go to one of the summer plays put on by the college (I know we saw South Pacific one year, and it may have been Peter Pan the other). We went to the campus art museum and the campus agricultural museum, and we got to watch a talent night put on by the campers and staff (one camper played a recorder with his nose.) Best of all, we went (multiple times) to the SDSU Dairy Bar. SDSU students would make cheese, butter, and ice cream, and it would all be sold at the Dairy Bar. The ice cream was (and is) amazing. The flavors change all the time, and the portions are more than generous. Over the course of band camp, we got tons of coupons for free ice cream at the Dairy Bar – and you’d better believe that we used them post haste.

Band camp culminated, as you might expect, with a concert. We all dressed up and performed the pieces we’d been working on all week. The concert was always really long: in addition to concert band, there were two jazz bands, an orchestra, and a choir. When all that was over, we loaded up our stuff and went out for a victory meal. So would end the week of band camp.

Despite all the goofy counselors and crazy Robert Sheldon, I had a great time at band camp. It was way less self-righteous than church camp, and the food was way better than Norwegian camp. Plus, as much as I hate to admit it, I really did enjoy playing my clarinet. So if (God forbid) I ever have children, I’ll gladly ship them off to band camp… but I’ll make sure Robert Sheldon is nowhere to be found.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

adventures in Brookings: the Summer Arts Festival edition.

There are a number of things I look forward to come summertime: days at the lake, finally getting some color on my pasty Scandinavian skin, and an excuse to eat nothing but hot dogs and potato chips for several months straight. However, there is one thing that I look forward to more than anything else, even s’mores over a campfire. What on earth could be better than campfire s’mores? The Brookings Summer Arts Festival.
During the second weekend of July, the city of Brookings is transformed into a mecca for all things crafty.  The festival takes up an entire park and then some: it spills across the street onto the sidewalks and any available space. You park wherever you can find a spot, be it the five dollar lot run by the Boy Scouts or the ditch along the highway.

There are a number of things you need to have a successful run at the Summer Arts Festival: an empty stomach, plenty of cash, comfortable shoes, and sunscreen. An empty stomach for the various food booths you’ll want to visit, cash for said food plus any other things you find that you can’t live without, comfortable shoes for the miles you’ll be putting on, and sunscreen because it’s always blazing hot.

The Summer Arts Festival is only two days long: Saturday and Sunday. Saturday is the big day: you arrive, anxious to eat all the food that you haven’t had since last Summer Arts Festival. I have been going to the Arts Festival for as long as I can remember, so my family and I have – through trial and error – determined the best possible way to go about your day of eating. We pack a cooler to leave in the car, arrive right and lunchtime, and share everything we get to have the maximum food experience.
Sara and Nate are maxed out on food.
Personally, I always begin with cheese curds. I usually pair them with frozen hot chocolate – which is nothing short of perfect on a million degree July day. The rest of the afternoon usually involves donut holes and a strawberry smoothie (made with real strawberries, of course). Those are the staples: each year, there’s something new and different at the Arts Festival. They had alligator last year, but I passed that up in favor of more cheese curds.
By the time I’m done eating, I’m usually broke. On the off chance that I didn’t spend all my cash on fried food, I might buy a trinket or two from the art booths. Even if I’m not buying, it’s always fun to look. The Arts Festival has everything from oil paintings to metal lawn sculptures to purses made out of record covers. The handmade jewelry is always stunning, and there’s always a giant photograph that I would love to hang on my wall. You can buy South Dakota honey, and you can take home some stunning hand-carved furniture. Seriously: the Arts Festival has everything.
Even super crazy mirrors.
If eating and shopping just isn’t enough for you, never fear: the Arts Festival even has entertainment! Throughout both of the festival days, they’ve got activities at multiple locations. There’s a special kids’ booth where librarians read children’s books or a camp counselor teaches them how to do crafts. The college theatre group puts on scenes from their upcoming summer plays, and there are always medieval-ly dressed people jousting. They always have some goofy magicians, and there’s always some kind of local music.

For me, the Arts Festival has always been a two-day affair. Saturday is to get your initial fill of the food and scout out any art or craft that you may or may not be able to live without. By the end of Saturday, you’re exhausted from a day of eating, walking, and sweltering in the sun, so the best thing to do is to retreat to Lake Poinsett. Then, you go back on Sunday for a much shorter duration. Sunday is the day to get seconds of the really great food and make a final decision on that really awesome clock that you didn’t buy yesterday.
Pictured: day 2.
The Summer Arts Festival is THE gathering place for South Dakotans, even those who have moved away. When I lived in Minneapolis, I cruised back for the Arts Festival. My mom’s high school classmates from across the country to their best to make it back over Arts Festival weekend. 
Julie, Judy, and my mom Brenda at the Summer Arts
Festival. High school classmates!
You never know who you’ll run into while you’re gnawing on an Arts Festival turkey leg (note: I don’t actually eat the turkey legs, but it’s a great visual, don’t you think?).
James eat turkey legs!
Running into people you know is fun, of course, but the people you DON’T know are even better. The Brookings Summer Arts Festival is a people-watching paradise, second only (in my experience) to the Minnesota State Fair. Every year, I play the Ugly Tattoo Game with whoever has accompanied me to the Arts Festival. The rules are quite simple: whoever spots the ugliest tattoo wins. The losers then have to buy the winner Arts Festival food of his or her choice. There are SO many to choose from: I won in 2009 with a replica of the Green Bay Packers stadium on some guy’s arm. I don’t remember who claimed the title last year, but I do remember that the winning tattoo was two paw prints in a rather large woman’s cleavage. However, my brother Mitch is the all-time Ugly Tattoo champion with his 2010 beauty of a tattoo: a unicorn head superimposed over a rainbow… on a hairy 300 pound man.

Let’s review: greasy food + neat crafty stuff + live entertainment + people watching = the Summer Arts Festival = truly something for everyone. I’ve been to a number of arts festivals in my day, but nobody does it like Brookings. So if you’re in the area this summer (more specifically, July 14 and 15), I strongly encourage you to check it out. I’d even share my cheese curds with you.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

let's talk about Lake Poinsett.

Now that the Fourth of July is upon us, families across the country will be buying fireworks, firing up the grill, and stocking up on beer. Nothing says “America!” like explosives and alcohol, that’s for sure. Don’t get me wrong: I’ll be doing the exact same thing. I, however, will be at Lake Poinsett.
Can you blame me?
I’ve mentioned before how Lake Poinsett has been our go-to summer spot ever since I was a kid. Don’t underestimate how important the lake is to my family: my dad almost never gave the go-ahead for family vacations in the summer because that would cut into his lake time. Only under great duress would my dad be parted from Lake Poinsett in the summertime, which, unfortunately for him, is chock-full of obligatory events. We’d duck out of a number of family reunions and wedding receptions because my dad would say, “Can you hear the boat calling? ‘Take me out, Tim. Pleeeeease.’” You didn’t have to ask us twice.
Even the dog loves the lake!
When I was a young kid, though, there was no boat. There was a camper instead. I absolutely loved camping. I got to explore the hiking trails and ride my hot pink and turquoise bike down the HUGE hill (which is not nearly as huge as I thought it was when I was six). I spent a great deal of time at the swimming beach, splashing around and chasing after runaway Fun Noodles. There was even a screen where they would show a movie on Saturday nights. The only movie I remember seeing was the old cartoon version of The Hobbit, which was fairly traumatizing to a seven-year-old… sans parents… in the dark. I had taken my sister, who was three at the time, to see this movie. At the end, Darrah assured me that she could get back to our camper by herself, so I took her at her word. When I showed up at the camper without my sister, my parents were less than pleased with me. Darrah, very proud of herself, arrived just a few minutes behind me. See? I KNEW she could get home alright.
There was always something to keep us busy at the campground, whether it was hunting for mud puppies or participating in fishing derbies (where I won a Styrofoam bait holder, but have no recollection of catching anything larger than a minnow). However, our days with the camper were not meant to last. Mom – generally the household voice of reason – wondered why we were camping when she could just about see our house from the camper. This was no exaggeration: our house sat a mere three miles from the campground. Mom had three small-ish kids (my brother was no more than a year old), and what a pain to haul them and all their supplies to the campground after a long week of work. Dad conceded: shortly afterwards, we bid farewell to the camper and said hello to our new boat.
Let me tell you, that was the best idea anyone in my family has ever had. We spent way more time on the lake with the boat than we did with the camper. It was much easier to take the boat to the lake for a summer afternoon than it was to drag the camper around, so our lake time increased exponentially. Dad bought skis and tried to teach us how to master them: everyone succeeded but me. (Poor balance. What do you do.) We also got a pair of tubes, and my siblings and I quickly evolved into master tubers. 
We're especially good in the giant three-person tube.
My father loves nothing more than to send someone flying off the tube into the lake. He’ll aim for waves and toss you outside the wake; he’ll ram the two tubes into each other in hopes of flipping one (or both) of you.
After many painful trial-and-error sessions with my friends and siblings, we came up with the best way to win in the battle of Tim v. Kids. You sit down in the tube and dig your heels into the front, and always make sure to lean away from where Dad’s turning. Most importantly, grab the handle of your friend’s tube, and they will grab your handle: that means you’ll travel together, and Dad can’t ram you into each other quite as easily. Then you hang on for dear life. Of course, sometimes, he’ll still manage to do so: one time when Dad threw me off the tube, he also managed to give me a bloody nose. Worth it? Absolutely.
This is the only way Mom will
ride in a tube when Dad's in charge.
However, when Dad takes a break from driving and is in the tube next to you, all bets are off. It’s every man for himself. One of Dad’s favorite things to do – especially when tubing with someone significantly smaller than him, is to drag the neighboring tube on top of his tube so they’re stacked two high. He’ll ride like this for a bit, and I have to admit: the view from the top tube is pretty nice. As you might expect, it doesn’t last. When Dad’s had enough, he will unceremoniously throw the top tube off, sending its rider careening into the water. Meanwhile, he will cackle. Whether you’re his neighbor or his own child, no one is safe from the Wrath of Tim.
My brother is not a kind driver, either.
I am ashamed to say that there were a number of years when I didn’t take full advantage of the lake. I don’t remember exactly when it started and when it ended, but it was certainly too long of a time period. All I know is that one summer, I decided that I would not be wearing shorts. This was in the middle of my ugly duckling phase, and I was a stubborn and grumpy teenager. I was going to wear jeans all summer long, no matter what the temperature. I wore jeans in sweltering July heat, and no matter how miserable I got, I was NOT going to wear shorts. I stopped wearing shorts because I didn’t like my legs. I have always bruised easily: to this day, I’ll find all sorts of unexplained scrapes on my shins. At that time, though, I really cared. I didn’t want my bright white scuffed-up legs to be seen by anyone but me. My refusal to let my legs see the light of day led to all sorts of mockery and head-shakes from my parents and their friends, but I held fast… until I realized that I was an idiot. Nowadays, I’ll wear shorts, dresses, skirts: bruises and pasty legs be damned.

Once I began wearing shorts and swimming suits again, I really began to appreciate the lake and what I’d been missing. It was like a long-lost friend: after too many lost years, I had a lot of time to make up. 
Starting with lots of tubing.
There was one thing that I didn’t miss about the lake, though: the shrimpies. The Lake Poinsett shrimpies (that sounds like the name of a terrible basketball team) are just what they sound like: teeny tiny little shrimp. They’re about the size of a pencil eraser, and they’re incredibly irritating. The shrimpies appear towards the end of the summer, and they really like dark swimming suits. Luckily, they don’t come around every summer, but when they do, they come in droves. As far as we know, the shrimpies don’t bite; they just get uncomfortably stuck in your swimming suit.

Several years ago, our friends Don and Carol bought a cabin on Lake Poinsett. This was probably the best thing that has ever happened. Ever. My parents installed a boat lift, and now the boat remains at the cabin all summer long. It takes about five minutes to drive from our house to the cabin, and we’ve spent many a summer day there, drinking beer on the beach. My friends, that truly is the life.
At the cabin, no subject is off limits. You would not believe some of the things we talk about there. I would tell you, but I’m bound by sacred cabin law: what happens at the cabin stays at the cabin.

No person is off-limits at the cabin, either. If you come to the cabin, expect for someone to make fun of you. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve been asked if I had a real job yet or how it feels to be 25 and OLD. It’s all in good fun: as a cabin visitor, you’re expected to dish it out as well as take it. A day at the cabin serves as a sort of initiation for significant others: if they can survive a day at the cabin, they can stay. Let me tell you: for the person unfamiliar with my parents and Don and Carol (mostly Don), this is no easy feat. James, who is a much nicer person than I, was a little taken aback at first, but he’s gotten used to it. I’m still trying to teach him say mean things back, though.

Last year, much to our dismay, there almost was no cabin. There had been a great deal of snow that year, so Lake Poinsett’s water levels were extremely high. 
Where are you, sand?
They had been high the year before, too, so this extra snow wasn’t helping anything. When the ice melted, chunks of it rammed into cabins, totally destroying some. Don and Carol’s porch was completely ripped off. When the ice had melted, the surviving cabins had to deal with high waters and flooding. The highway near Lake Poinsett even flooded. Luckily, Don and Carol’s cabin weathered the storm: minus the porch and all their beach, but survival nonetheless. We even managed to get the boat lift in on the Fourth of July.
Fireworks are best when viewed from
the middle of the lake.
This summer has been much more promising. With the easy winter, water levels are down – Don and Carol even have a beach again! I took my first boat ride of the season in mid-June, and even that was too long to wait. As soon as Memorial Day hits, I’m itching for a boat ride. To me, that’s what summer is all about: friends, family, and boat rides.

Every year on the Fourth of July, we stake our claim out on the middle of the lake. As soon as the sun sets, the neighboring cabins begin to light off fireworks. Let me tell you: no view is better than the view from the middle of the lake. I don’t know about you, but that’s how I’ll be spending my Fourth of July. I hope yours is just as good!