Tuesday, May 28, 2013

top ten Tuesday: Twin Cities restaurants.

As you are probably well aware, I lived in Minneapolis for just over a year and half. Like anywhere, it has its ups and downs: downs being mainly my job (which is a great story, and I’ll get to it eventually) and living so far away from James and my family. In this case, the downs outweighed the ups, so off to Sioux Falls I went… and here I remain.

Even though James and I are living here in soon-to-be-wedded bliss and I have a much better job, I still find myself pining for the Twin Cities… especially when it comes to food. I’ve mentioned before that Sioux Falls seems to be the capital of chain restaurants, and I’m sticking to my statement. The Twin Cities, however, is a totally different story. Whatever you want to eat, you can find it in the Twin Cities. On this top ten Tuesday, I humbly present my top ten Twin Cities restaurants.

Raising Cane’s
Ok, I know I just got done complaining about how Sioux Falls is nothing but chains, and here I am listing a chain restaurant as one of my favorites. Raising Cane’s is indeed a chain (and it won’t be the last chain restaurant on my list), but the difference is that it’s an AWESOME chain. The chains in Sioux Falls tend to be pretty white bread: the most hoppin’ place on a Friday night is the Applebee’s in the mall. Anyway, I first had Raising Cane’s in New Orleans, and they have THE BEST chicken I have ever tasted. It’s always fresh, and the sauce is this crazy orangey pinky concoction that seals the deal. And the toast? I could eat that toast every day of my life and never get tired of it. I thought Raising Cane’s was only a Southern chain, so when I left New Orleans, I thought I was leaving Raising Cane’s behind as well. Happily, I was mistaken. James and I were wandering around the U of M one day when I spotted that familiar red and yellow logo. My jaw dropped: did my eyes deceive me? Was it a mirage stemming from Raising Cane’s withdrawal? NO! It was really there! I dragged a skeptical James inside and ordered up some chicken. James was hooked. He moved to Ellsworth for a teaching job shortly thereafter, but every time he came to the cities, we had to go to Raising Cane’s. (I only went to Raising Cane’s when James was around because there was ALWAYS construction by the U of M and I could never remember how the hell to get around it and into Raising Cane’s). Now that we both live in South Dakota, we do our best to get to the cities every few months…. and we do, our first stop is always Raising Cane’s.

Pizza Luce
I have a love/hate relationship with Pizza Luce: I love their pizza, but I hate how gross it makes me feel after I eat it. It is SO GREASY, and it’s one of the few pizzas I’ve ever had that makes terrible leftovers (because the grease soaks all the way through, and it’s just a mess). But when the is pizza fresh and you’re taking that first bite, it is purely amazing. Pizza Luce has all sorts of crazy pizzas, but I stick with the sausage. And they have really cool pink boxes, which is tops in my book.

Matt’s Bar
Matt’s Bar is home of the Jucy (not “Juicy”) Lucy. In case you’ve never had the distinct pleasure of eating a Jucy Lucy, it is simply this: melted cheese encased in hamburger. Midwestern cuisine at its finest. The 5-8 Club in Minneapolis also boasts Juicy (not “Jucy,” like Matt’s) Lucys, and it’s up to you to decide which is better. James and I are Team Matt’s – even though you can choose different types of cheese for the inside of your burger at the 5-8 Club, nothing beats Matt’s. If you order a Jucy Lucy at Matt’s, be warned: the molten cheese on the inside of your burger will not hesitate to burn the bejeezus out of your mouth. Proceed with caution.

The Colossal Café
James and I first saw the Colossal Café on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. Of course, we had to try it. The Colossal Café is anything but: it is the TINIEST restaurant, and it only seats about ten people at once. Weather permitting, they have additional seating outside, so that’s the time to go. It was winter when James and I went there for the first time, but it was delicious nonetheless. I have only ever gotten one thing there: apple, walnut, and brie flappers. You read that right: brie. The flappers are made with yeast, so they’re super dense. The syrup is made with brown sugar, cinnamon, and honey (do your teeth hurt yet?), and there are chunks of apples and walnuts on top. But the brie really pulls it all together. It’s a salty/sweet thing, and it’s soooo good. Better yet? James makes this meal for me at home sometimes, thanks to our first experience at the Colossal Café.

Joe’s Garage
Joe’s Garage has good food, yes, but its main draw is location, location, location. Like the Colossal Café, Joe’s has extra seating in the warmer months. Theirs is on the roof, which may seem like no big deal… until you see that you are right next to the Basilica of St Mary. And if you’re eating at night and the dome is lit up, it really is a spectacular sight. But the food: my favorite is the mashed potato bar, where you choose how many scoops of mashed potatoes you want and what you want to go with it. My personal favorite: one scoop of mashed potatoes, grilled salmon, and green beans. Add a view of the lit Basilica, and you’ve got yourself one perfect evening.

Burger Jones
This the White Trash Burger. Proceed with caution.
Burger Jones, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. One: your burgers are to die for. The meat is seasoned to perfection, and when you say you want it cooked medium (actually, at Burger Jones, your options are “pink” or “not pink”), it actually IS cooked medium. Two: you have specials that are actually worth my while, and even when I’m not there in time for specials, you don’t leave my wallet hurting. Three: I never refer to burgers as “hilarious,” but I will make an exception for you. Your White Trash burger (cheese curds and chicken fried bacon on top of the burger) is disgusting, yet really funny. Oh, Burger Jones, how I miss you. We’ll meet again soon, I promise.

La Belle Crepe
I love crepes. I know they are the simplest things in the world to make (even I can make them, for crying out loud), but like all things, they taste better when someone else makes them for you. The first time I had La Belle Crepe was a disaster, but I’m willing to overlook that because their crepes are so tasty. It was Valentine’s Day, 2009. James had been in the cities for the Minnesota Music Educators’ Association conference, which always lands on or around Valentine’s Day. That evening, he was scheduled to play with a band until the wee hours of the morning: Funky Gumbo, the bane of my college weekends. I was/am always looking for an excuse to go to the cities, so – using the excuse that I wouldn’t get to see James at all on Valentine’s Day if I didn’t go – I took off. I spent that Friday night and Saturday morning in the cities with James, and we planned on heading back to Morris in time for him to get to his gig and in time for me to have supper with my parents: they were coming all the way to Morris to have Valentine’s dinner with me so I didn’t have to be date-less! James and I were downtown, so we decided to grab something quick to eat and head west. We ran into this little hole-in-the-wall (seriously, it took me the longest time to find it a second time, but that could just be me being oblivious) crepe shop, which sounded just delightful. We ordered our crepes – a weird savory crepe for James and berries and crème for me) and waited. And waited. And WAITED. It took ONE HOUR for us to get our crepes. What the hell could’ve taken so long, I still don’t know. They’re CREPES, for heaven’s sake. They’re not complicated. Sure, there were a few other people waiting, but the crepe restaurant is smaller than the living room in my apartment. But we eventually got our crepes, and I made it home in time for dinner with my parents. It was a good Valentine’s Day.

Paciugo Gelato
So Paciugo Gelato is located in the Mall of America, which doesn’t do much for the classy factor. However, if you want not only gelato, but gelato with crazy flavors, then you’re in the right place. James and I have sampled all sorts of flavors from the sublime (violet) to the weird (Guinness beer) to the horrific (durian). If you’re not feeling quite so adventurous, no worries: they have normal flavors, too. Paciugo Gelato doesn’t have a whole lot of seating, but that’s no big deal. I like to take my gelato and venture forth into the mall to partake in one of my favorite past-times: people watching. The Mall of America is a prime location for people watching, and it’s all the better if you have a cup of gelato.


This is the other chain restaurant on my list, but it definitely earned its place. If you recall, I spent almost a year working at the American Eagle in Maple Grove, Minnesota. If my shift was longer than four and a half hours, I was given a half-hour lunch break. The employee break room was terrifying (think one oozy mini fridge, a microwave caked in years of reheated residue, and a few rickety folding chairs), so I did my best to avoid it. Half an hour is not a ton of time to eat if you’re dining out, so my only option was the sole quickie restaurant within walking distance: Potbelly. I always got ham and swiss, and it was (and still is) the best ham and swiss I’ve ever had: flaky bread, savory mustard, melty cheese. It was the only thing that got me through those grueling days of retail. For that, I am eternally grateful.

Gasthof zur Gemütlichkeit 
Yep, we're taking shots with an unknown girl on
her 21st birthday. Welcome to Minneapolis!
According to a very reliable source (Google Translate), “Gasthof zur Gemütlichkeit” is German for… Gasthof  zur Gemütlichkeit. I’ve only eaten here once, but let me tell you, it was memorable. My parents and brother were visiting me in the cities, and we met up with cousins of ours who live there. We decided to eat at Gasthof’s: an excellent decision. We ended up ordering some German platters so we could all sample a little of everything… there was barely enough room on the table for all the food. We had wienerschnitzel, sauerbraten, jägerschnitzel, bratwurst, and a number of other unidentified meats, plus all the cabbage and spätzle you could ever wish for. There was also a wandering accordion player, plenty of beer, and German apple pie shots for dessert (you had to take them by holding the shot glass between your thumb and your pinkie: a DIY shot stein). It was a blast; those Germans know how to have a good time.

These ten restaurants are just a drop in the bucket. The Twin Cities is overflowing with wonderful places to eat; I just haven’t been there yet. As much as I miss living (and eating!) in the Twin Cities, maybe it’s better that I live in Sioux Falls. After all, if I lived in the Cities, I’d be a whole lot fatter and a whole lot poorer. Plus, absence makes the heart grow fonder… these restaurants are all the more special since I can’t have them just any time. But you can be sure that every time I go to the cities, you can find me in at least one of these restaurants!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

let's talk about NPR.

This might be the dorkiest thing you’ve heard all day, but I don’t care. I’m going to say it anyway.

I love NPR.

Yes, we’re talking National Public Radio. I wish I could say that my love affair with NPR is decades old, but sadly, that is not the case. I got my first taste of NPR in the form of MPR – Minnesota Public Radio. During my nearly two years in Minneapolis, I listened to the Current every single day.

It wasn’t until I made the fateful move from Minneapolis to Sioux Falls that I really discovered NPR and all it had to offer. I started my job in Sioux Falls about a month before I could move into my Sioux Falls apartment. Luckily, I had two temporary housing options. My grandma had just moved into assisted living, so her house in Brookings (just under an hour away from Sioux Falls) sat empty. James was teaching in Ellsworth (also just under an hour away from Sioux Falls), and he had rented a house there. Don’t get me wrong: I was definitely glad to have places to stay during my month-long homeless interim, but an hour each way? YIKES!

It’s very important for you to know that I’ve never been a morning person. I tend not to get out of bed a minute before I absolutely have to. My job – like many – required me to be there at 8, meaning I’d have to leave shortly after 7, meaning I’d have to get up shortly after 6. I shudder at the memory.

The drive from Ellsworth to Sioux Falls is boring. The drive from Brookings to Sioux Falls is also boring. How was I going to keep myself from falling asleep and driving off into the ditch during those early morning commutes? I have an iPod, but that can only do so much. I’ve never been big on books on tape, so no thanks to that. And in my past experience (a summer job that necessitated driving from Arlington to Brookings every morning for two summers), morning radio was kind of terrible: especially now that Paul Harvey had died! Woe was me.

On the very first morning of my month of commuting, I decided to give the radio a try. Within a few stations, I heard an interesting little story (I wish I could remember what it was about). Then, another story. Then weather. Then some news. And – to my delight – no commercials. I quickly found out that I was listening to NPR. Until then, I had assumed that NPR was mostly made up of radio shows about cooking and awkward interviews with academics. Boy, was I wrong.  

Every day since then, I’ve listened to NPR. I have started countless conversations off with “I was listening to NPR and I heard…” James (a fellow NPR aficionado) and I even became MPR members – a move that, honestly, was long overdue. Now we have NPR car decals and t-shirts, and I’ve never been better informed in my life. It’s a shame that it took me so long.
James has a shirt, too!
There are so many things to love about NPR; I could go on forever. I managed to narrow my long list of things I love about NPR to a manageable five.

Ari Shapiro
Ari Shapiro is an NPR White House Correspondent, and he’s got a hot-person voice. I’ve got a radio crush on him, and he’s the only reason I didn’t get sick of the 2012 election coverage as quickly as I usually would. It’s rarely a good idea to look up a picture of your favorite radio personality – the face in your imagination never matches the actual face. Against my better judgment, I took a chance and found a picture of Ari Shapiro. I am glad I took the risk. NPR has a bunch of other correspondents that I definitely appreciate – Silvia Pagiolli has this beautiful deep voice, and Paul Huttner is the happiest weatherman you’ve ever heard. But Ari Shapiro’s got a lovely face to go with his lovely voice, and I’m a tad bit shallow.

Car Talk
Car Talk had to grow on me. James was a big fan, and he coerced me into listening early in my NPR days. A show dedicated to car repair? I couldn’t think of anything more boring. It took an episode or two, but against my better judgment, I started to look forward to Car Talk. I have James to thank for that: these people will call in with questions about their shitty cars, and James will say, “I’ve had that happen!” James has owned more junky cars than anyone I know: he’s where cars go to die. Just like the Car Talk guys, it’s hard to stump James with a question about a crappy car. So Car Talk is definitely educational for me, as I know little to nothing about cars. Plus, it can be incredibly funny – you should hear some of the car situations these people get into. Even if you couldn’t care less about automotive repair (like me), you may find that Car Talk is still right up your alley.

Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me
Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me is the NPR news quiz, and it’s on right after Car Talk on Saturday afternoons. This show, hands down, is my favorite thing about NPR. I wish I was half as witty as Peter Sagal, and Carl Kasell voice? AMAZING. Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me has a panel of three quasi-celebrities, as well as listeners who call in and play the games on air. The games are “Who’s Carl This Time?” (Carl reads a quote and the listener guesses who said it or what it’s about), “Bluff the Listener” (the panel reads three crazy stories and the listener guess which one is true), “Not My Job” (a celebrity calls in and is asked multiple-choice questions about something totally unrelated to what they actually do), “Listener Limerick Challenge” (this one is my favorite: Carl reads a limerick and the listener has to fill in the last word), and “Lightning Fill-in-the-Blank” (where the panelists try to fill-in-the-blank in as many news questions as possible in sixty seconds). Never would I have thought that I would describe an NPR show as “hilarious,” but Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me fits the bill. And seriously: you wouldn’t believe some of the things they say. A while ago, they were talking about a new cereal that is supposed to increase sex drive, and they were coming up with potential names: Count Crotchula being prime a example. Yep, NPR totally went there.

Science Friday
The voice of science!
It’s not very often that I get to listen to NPR on Friday afternoons (having a job that normally requires me to be at work at that time makes it difficult), but when I do, I get to listen to Science Friday. Yep: Sci Fri. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that it’s all about science, but Ira Flatow (another of my favorite NPR hosts) makes it just as interesting as Bill Nye does/did (is that show still on?) on PBS. I’ve learned about all sorts of crazy stuff thanks to Science Friday, but my favorite was “Where's the Cuttlefish?” They had a segment about cuttlefish that camouflage themselves, and they directed listeners to their website to look at photos and try to find the cuttlefish. It’s “Where’s Waldo,” but science-y!
Where's the cuttlefish?
Marketplace  and Marketplace Morning Report
This is the best picture I could find. Sorry.
Finally, Marketplace. I love Marketplace at 630 and Marketplace Morning Report (which airs at about 751 right after the weather with Paul Huttner.) Marketplace is a half an hour show, and Marketplace Morning Report only lasts around eight minutes, but they've both got little money tidbits from all around the world. They’ve got the serious stuff, of course, like unemployment numbers and world currency, but they usually end on something goofy: for example, they had a little story about a guy who had called in sick to work to take a vacation to Australia. While he was there, he saw a shark swimming towards some kids, so he picked up the shark by the tail and flung it back into the sea. But guess who saw his heroics on the news? His boss. And guess who got fired? See, finance radio can be interesting! Their hosts are the BEST - David Brancaccio in the morning and Kai Ryssdal in the evening. They're snarky and can make even the dullest finance story seem enthralling. I also use Marketplace Morning Report to time when I’ll get to work. If I’m not almost there by the time they say “let’s do the numbers” (they report on the stock markets and play a sad song if they’re down, a happy song if they’re up, and a mid-tempo song if they’re mixed – it’s those little details, NPR, that keep me coming back), I know I’m going to have to speed up.

As much as I love it, NPR isn’t all peaches and gravy. There are certainly programs that make me go “NOOOOOOOOO!!!!” and turn the radio off right away (I’m looking at you, Prairie Home Companion), and I’m sorry, but Weekend Edition could totally disappear, and I’d never notice. But on the whole, NPR is what gets me through the morning and afternoon traffic, and NPR is what keeps me informed. What would I do without it? Hopefully, I’ll never have to find out. Once you go NPR, you never go back.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

childhood obsessions: Scrooge McDuck.

It’s time, once again, to talk about a childhood obsession. Yes, another one. If you haven’t noticed, I was obsessed with a LOT of things when I was young. I’m sure you were, too… right?

The intensity of my obsession with Scrooge McDuck (yes, you read that correctly) is rivaled only by my Lion King mania. That’s saying something. Scrooge McDuck is the very first thing I can remember being fanatical about… isn’t that cute, my first obsession! I blame it on Mickey’s Christmas Carol.
Mickey’s Christmas Carol is, as I bet you figured out already because you’re so smart – a cartoon TV special featuring Mickey and friends as the characters in Charles Dickens’ famous story. I’ve watched that Christmas cartoon every holiday season for as long as I can remember, and I took a liking to Scrooge McDuck (who, of course, plays Ebenezer Scrooge). Why? I have no idea. Maybe it was his dapper outfit, or maybe it was his crotchety personality (which I could already relate to while I was still aged in the single digits). All that said, I bet it was his Scottish accent that really hooked me.

Mom noticed a budding infatuation and bought me a stuffed Scrooge doll that she found at a rummage sale. 
He was dressed in his purple pajamas from Mickey’s Christmas Carol, so in my bizarrely wired five-year-old brain, that meant he was sick. We had a spare bedroom upstairs, but that quickly became Scrooge’s hospital room. I tucked him in under the pink covers and assured him that he’d be just fine. I would shush anyone who came upstairs, insisting that Scrooge needed his sleep. Who knows what malady afflicted poor Scrooge, but he never seemed to get better: not even when I snaked the Dimetapp from the medicine cabinet to keep by Scrooge’s bedside. (Sidenote: I used to LOVE the taste of Dimetapp – contrary to how that sounds, I never became a cough syrup addict – so I would fake-cough all the time to get my parents to give me some. As they are smarter than a dramatic kindergartner, they never fell for it.)

Scrooge wasn’t always sick; he was available for outings when I needed him. When my mom was pregnant with my brother Mitch, she invited me to go with her to a “big sister” class at the hospital. I was approaching six years old, and I had yet to develop an interest in babies. (Twenty years later, I STILL don’t care for babies. Some things just don’t come naturally to me.) I was already a big sister, but Mom must’ve thought she could get me to help out with the new baby that I was older. (She’d be wrong.) I agreed to go simply because I could bring along stuffed animals and learn to diaper them. Scrooge was one of the lucky few that I dragged along to the baby class that day, and I diapered him like a champ. Fun fact: that was probably the first and last diaper I’ve ever changed… and it was on a stuffed Scrooge McDuck.

Imagine my extreme delight when I found out that Scrooge had his own TV show. That’s right: we’re talking DuckTales. 
I made sure I was planted firmly in front of the TV every afternoon for my daily dose of DuckTales, and I can still sing you the theme song to this day. I was SO JEALOUS of Huey, Dewey, and Louie: have you SEEN Scrooge’s mansion? I would’ve killed for a place like that. (And let’s be perfectly honest: who doesn’t want to dive into a big pit of money?)
Painful, yet awesome.
A major portion of every DuckTales plot revolved around some crazy Russian witch duck named Magica and how she was trying to steal Scrooge’s lucky dime.
It should probably not surprise you to find out that I took to carrying around a lucky dime of my own: minted in my birth year, of course.

Much to my delight, my friend Sarah dabbled in DuckTales. While she was nowhere near the superfan I was, Sarah had something I didn’t: a copy of Treasure of the Lost Lamp. 
Remember that? It was that dorky movie about the DuckTales crew finding a lost treasure – including a magic lamp – and all hell breaks loose when it (gasp!) falls into the wrong hands. Every time I went over to Sarah’s house, I asked/demanded to watch Treasure of the Lost Lamp. Poor Sarah.

My sister and I each had a little memory book that was divided into sections for each school grade. Every year, you were supposed to paste in your school picture and fill out the questions. The questions mostly involved favorites: favorite color, favorite book, favorite school subject. The categories changed from school year to school year, but a few of them remained steady, one of them being “favorite TV show.” Not too long after I learned how to write legibly (kindergarten?), I decided to save my future self some time. I was absolutely positive that DuckTales would be my favorite TV show until I died, let alone until I graduated high school. So, thinking proactively, I went through the rest of the book and filled in DuckTales as my favorite television show from first grade up until my senior year. Sadly, DuckTales was overthrown the following year by Wishbone.
Sorry, DuckTales.
So my obsession with Scrooge McDuck and his associated TV show/movie was just the beginning of a long line of manias. But you have to start somewhere, right?

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

ten outfits under $40.

I’ve long prided myself on my bargain-hunting ability. I learned from my mother, who is the Queen of Clearance. Hunting for bargains isn’t just to save money: for us, it’s a game. When we find a fabulous deal, it feels FANTASTIC. It feels like we really earned that piece of clothing; that we won the game.

So I’ve done a pretty fair amount of cheapo clearance rack shopping in my day, and I’m pretty proud of my ability to stretch my dollars. Want to know the trade secrets? There are only two: 1.) shop in between seasons when the old stuff is getting cleared out, and 2.) don’t be afraid of secondhand stores. Follow these rules, and you’ll be golden.

For this top ten Tuesday, I have compiled some of my greatest bargain finds into outfits. All of these outfits totaled less than $40, and four are even under $30!

Disclaimer, part 1: I didn’t include foundation garments – tights, tank tops, etc – as part of my total. That would’ve been way too complicated. Disclaimer, part 2: Sometimes I remember exactly how much a piece of clothing cost. Sometimes I don’t. In that case, I estimated to the best of my memory, so you’ll have to give me a little leeway.

Prepare to be amazed at my bargain shopping prowess as I present ten outfits under $40!

dress – Maurices – $10
shoes – Plato’s Closet – $11.20 (20% off coupon)
necklace – Chichen Itza vendor – $10 (down from $25)
TOTAL = $31.20

Allow me to elaborate. Every few months, Maurices cleans out their store and marks all the old stuff way, WAY down. That’s when I pounce. The shoes were purchased with a 20% off coupon at Plato’s Closet (you get a stamp card, and for every $10 you buy or sell, they give you a stamp. After you’ve gotten $20 stamps, you get 20% off. I’m pretty sure 18 of my 20 stamps were for selling, not buying), and I haggled that necklace (it's a silver Mayan calendar!) down from $25 to $10. That’s the beauty of street vendors: there’s always a chance for a deal!

cardigan – Goodwill – $3.75
shoes – Nordstrom Rack – $13
jeans – Plato’s Closet – $3.80 (minus $5 coupon and $5 trade-in)
scarf – Forever 21 – $10.80
TOTAL = $31.35

Most of my remarkable Goodwill finds come from the St Paul store, but this particular sweater came from the Sioux Falls Goodwill. While the St Paul Goodwill is my all-time favorite, there’s definitely something to be said for the simplicity of the Sioux Falls Goodwill: everything has a uniform price (ie, all women’s sweaters are $3.75, where in St Paul, the prices are all over the place), so you never wonder how much something is. The jeans were acquired through a truly spectacular combination of coupons and trade-ins: I had $5 in trade-in credit and a $5 coupon, so I managed to score these jeans for less than four dollars. And I have to say something about Forever 21 (where I got the scarf): I shopped there in college, and I told myself that once I was no longer 21, I was going to stop buying things there. I am now almost 26 and have yet to quit. I’m too old for a lot of their clothes, but I can score a few good accessories every now and then.

Sorry for the blurry picture.
dress – Target – $7.48
scarf – Forever 21 – $9.80
belt – JCPenney – $2
cardigan – Target – $10
sandals – Maurices – $5
TOTAL = $34.28

This dress? PAJAMAS. Yes, I bought it from the pajama section at Target and repurposed it into a dress. That black belt originally had a weird pocket thing on it, which James so kindly removed. Sans weird pocket thing, that black belt is the workhorse of my closet (and probably the best $2 I’ve ever spent).

pants – Goodwill – $2.99
shirt – Target – $5
scarf – Forever 21 – $5.80
shoes – Shoe Carnival – $12.50 (buy one get one ½ off)
belt – Charlotte Russe – FREE! (came with a shirt a bazillion years ago)
pimp watch – an auction junk box James's dad bought for one dollar and then gave to me – FREE!
pearl earrings – Helzberg – FREE! (you can't see them, but they're there!)
TOTAL = $31.30

Though I have a thing against dress pants, I really don’t mind these. And friends, I have to tell you: never underestimate the power of a plain t-shirt. I have many more where this came from. A plain t-shirt is a.) almost always really cheap, and b.) provides a nice blank slate for accessories. In this case, my accessory of choice is the shiny scarf. A word on the shoes: these were a fortunate find for a buy-one-get-one-half-off sale at Shoe Carnival: they were the LAST PAIR in this color, and they were my size! Oh, what luck. They are the loudest shoes ever (you should hear me clomping around in the library), but it’s totally worth it. Finally, the earrings. James bought my engagement ring at Helzberg Diamonds, and they’ve treated us gloriously ever since. I’ve gotten at least four totally free pieces of jewelry from them, these earrings (real pearls!) being my favorite. So if you’re in the market for an engagement ring, might I recommend Helzberg? The freebies alone make it worth it.

dress – ModCloth – $25
sandals – Goodwill – $4.99
TOTAL = $29.99

I have to admit: $25 for a dress is kind of a lot for me. But this particular dress was hard to resist, and it was marked way down from its original triple-digit (not kidding) price. I wore this for some of James’s and my engagement photos. And the shoes? We had gone shopping at the St Paul Goodwill on the morning of our engagement photo shoot, and I found those sandals. I made an executive decision to wear those instead of the shoes I brought, and presto: a cheap outfit was born.

sweater – Gap outlet – $7
jeans – TurnStyle – $2.50 (75% off)
octopus necklace – Hobby Lobby – $3 (half off day)
sneakers – Converse Outlet – $12.50 (buy one get one)
green ring – Plato’s Closet – $2
TOTAL = $27

I bought both this sweater and these jeans during two stunningly cheap weekends in the Twin Cities. The sweater came from the Albertville outlet mall (not for the weak of heart), and the jeans (which are Express brand) came from a consignment store in Plymouth called Turnstyle. They were clearing out items that had been there a while, so these jeans were 75% off. Score. The shoes were part of a buy-one-get-one-half-off promotion at the Las Vegas outlet mall (also not for the weak of heart), so my sister and I took advantage of a good deal when we saw one. Finally, the octopus necklace. It’s just a charm from Hobby Lobby on a chain (and who knows where that came from). You can find all sorts of cool charms in the jewelry aisles of Hobby Lobby and Michael’s, and they’re usually on a 50% off promotion. If they’re not, you can ALWAYS find a “40% off one full-priced item” coupon on their websites.

dress – Maurices – $7
shoes – Payless – $7
owl necklace – Grandma’s house – $0 (gift)
TOTAL: $14

Remember what I said about Maurices cleaning out their store? This dress was another fantastic score: they were having a 50% off the lowest marked price sale, PLUS buy one clearance thing, get another clearance thing free. So I got two dresses for about $14, hence the averaged price of $7. Even though I’ve told you time and again how much I loathe tights, I have to tell you that these are my absolute favorite pair. I ripped a big hole in them the first time I wore them, but I keep on wearing them… but only with skirts long enough to cover said big hole. Finally, I must talk about the necklace: I tried not to include gifts on my list, as I don’t know how much they cost and could therefore not accurately figure them into my outfit total. I made an exception for this necklace because a.) Grandma Lorraine didn’t buy it FOR me: it was gifted to me from her own collection and therefore makes it more heirloom than anything, and b.) how cute is it? And it’s actually vintage, not just vintage-inspired! Owl necklaces are everywhere nowadays, but my grandma was wearing them sixty years ago. How’s that for a trendsetter?

Sadly, this was the best picture we could get. One of those days.
pants – Target – $12.48
sweater – Turnstyle – $2.25 (75% off)
combat boots – Target – $10.48
TOTAL = $25.21

The Target clearance racks are my favorite clearance racks of all. I was a little nervous to test out the colored jean trend, but it’s a lot easier with the pants are army green (therefore easy to work with) and reasonably priced. The bird sweater was from the same 75% off day as those Express jeans. The black boots, though listed with a price of $10.48, were actually free. I got a $20 Target gift card just for creating a bridal registry through them, so of course I bought myself some combat boots. Clearly, I am a Target badass.

sandals – TurnStyle – $10.50
dress – H&M – $14.96
bracelet – American Eagle – $3.33
necklace – Hobby Lobby – $7-ish
TOTAL = $35.79

H&M and I have a hit or miss relationship. Either I find nothing at all, or I find TONS. The last time I went to H&M, I came away with this dress. We had to strip it off the mannequin to get the right size, but dammit, that dress would be mine. H&M’s prices and I have a hit or miss relationship, as well – some of their clothes (if you ask me) are spectacularly overpriced, but some of them make you do a double-take at the price tag and wonder if it really is that cheap. Such was the case was this dress, AND I got a surprise 25% off. The bracelet was part of a “three for ten dollars” deal, so I bought two other little jewelry things, gave them away as presents, and kept the leather cuff. Everyone was happy. When I first tried on these shoes, I had to ask James if they were really ugly or really awesome. He voted “awesome,” so here they are! Lastly, James and I TOTALLY made this necklace (mostly James). Go ahead, be impressed.

cardigan – Rue 21 – $10
jeans – Maurices – $20
shoes – Y’s Buys – $3
necklace – Hobby Lobby – $.50
belt – Rue 21 – $.33
TOTAL = $33.83

You may have noticed a lack of non-skinny jeans in this article, and you’d be right. While good secondhand skinny jeans are fairly easy to find, I have a tough time locating a decent pair of secondhand bootcut jeans. Therefore, most of my bootcut jeans are (sadly) not as dirt cheap as the rest of the items in my closet. However, I manage to find a denim deal here and there without compromising too much for quality. Case in point: these Maurices jeans. I had located the last pair in my size, but there was some weird stitching. Since I had the last pair, I got a 10% weird stitching discount PLUS a coupon for 25% off PLUS another coupon for $10 off (I had finally filled up a Maurices punch card likely dating back to junior high), so the pants were way cheap. You may be wondering how on earth I managed to score a thirty-three cent belt. Allow me to explain. I bought this belt in February, which is the BEST time to go shopping. Stores are getting rid of winter stock and making room for spring, so prices are rock-bottom. This belt came as a set of three, and the whole thing cost one dollar. Sure, they’re two sizes too big, but that’s where creative belt-looping comes in.  The sweater was cleverly acquired through the use of a buy-one-get-one-half-off sale PLUS a coupon for $10 off of $20 or more (so James got a super cheap sweater that day, too). The necklace? I totally made it with my metal stamping kit. The stamping kit was a gift, so the only cost for me was the cost of the stamping blanks (the chain was "repurposed" from another necklace). Hooray for me attempting to be crafty, right?


I did my best to include cheap clothes from a variety of stores, and I think I did pretty well: 23 different places (thirteen clothing/shoe stores, four consignment/thrift stores, one giant retailer, one craft store, one jewelry store, one vendor in Mexico, one Cokato auction, and one grandma's house), and I can think of at least seven other stores whose bargain finds didn’t make it onto my outfit list (plenty of material for a part II!). So next time you want to find a whole bunch of clothes for not much money, bring me along: I’m a pro!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

let's talk about Perkins.

I shouldn’t have to tell you that I’m not a very classy person. I shop at Goodwill, I watch trashy TV (more on that some other time), and I drink Mountain Dew (embarrassing, I know). As the Mountain Dew suggests, my non-classy tendencies extend to my choices of food and restaurants. That’s probably why I love Perkins.
After I got my driver’s license, I would take my brother and sister into Brookings on Tuesdays and Thursdays for their after school Tae Kwon Do. While I was waiting for them, I would usually go to one of three places: the library, WalMart, or Grandma Lorraine’s house.

On the days I visited Grandma Lorraine, we would go out for supper. Grandma Lorraine has been hard of hearing for as long as I can remember, so we would usually go to the quietest restaurant we could think of: Perkins.

Grandma and I went to Perkins time and time again, and we almost always got the same thing: the appetizer platter. That thing had more than enough food for the two of us, and Perkins’ honey mustard is to die for. To this day, I can’t eat a mozzarella stick without thinking of those appetizer platters with Grandma Lorraine.

My visits to the Brookings Perkins were not limited to nights out with my grandma. When I was tooling around Brookings with my friends and my Buick Park Avenue circa the early to mid 2000s, Perkins was the only restaurant in Brookings that was open extra-late on the weekends. My friends and I would go to a late movie or a play, and where do you go afterwards if you’re too young to go the bar? Why, Perkins, of course!

While I always enjoyed a good appetizer platter, I feel that Perkins’ strong point is most certainly its breakfast menu. (Any restaurant that serves breakfast all day gets major points in my book.) I’ve always been a breakfast person, so I can always find something delicious when there are eggs and pancakes involved. Personally, I like the build-your-own omelette: sausage and American cheese, baby. Perkins has the BEST hash browns: they’re crispy and salty, just as good hash browns should be. The build-your-own omelette meal also comes with your choice of pancakes, toast, or a muffin, which is a HUGE meal. For years, I got toast… until I wised up. Now, I always get the muffin and take it home for breakfast the next day (or, two breakfasts, as the muffins are monstrous).
Look at those things.
My Perkins days did not end in Brookings; no sir. I went to college in Morris, Minnesota, which was not fortunate enough to have a Perkins. The nearest town boasting any kind of civilization was Alexandria: about a 45-minute drive. During my freshman year especially, it was not unusual for a bunch of us to caravan to Perkins at 2am (and believe it or not, we were totally sober).

On New Year’s Eve 2008, my then-boyfriend-now-fiancée James had conned his brother Jesse, our friend Nate, and me into coming to see his band (Funky Gumbo, which catered primarily to drunk 50-somethings) play for New Year’s. When we showed up, we found that we were the youngest people there by at least a generation. This was in Glenwood, Minnesota: a mere 15-ish minutes from Alexandria. Jesse, Nate, and I left James and his drunk cougar fan club and headed to Perkins for a pre-2009 meal. We had a thousand times more fun there than we would’ve in Glenwood.
We're only this happy because our bellies are full of Perkins.
I had a Perkins dry spell in Denver, New Orleans, and for most of my tenure in Minneapolis. After all, with so many other restaurants to try, why spend too much time at Perkins? James and I lived four-ish hours away from each other when I was in Minneapolis, which totally sucked. From time to time, we’d try and meet halfway, which was somewhere around New Ulm. I remember eating at the New Ulm Perkins after at least a year without Perkins, and I’d forgotten how good it was. I felt like an old person, getting all excited over Perkins (it didn’t help that we were eating at 5pm, thanks to James and his weird internal clock).
The coffee adds to the old man factor.
Upon moving to Sioux Falls and discovering that it holds nothing but chain restaurants, I made a triumphant return to my Perkins roots. After all, they’re cheap and reliable: as long as I don’t stray too far from the breakfast menu (I once ordered salmon at Perkins, which was a huge mistake), I’m golden. Perkins even emails me coupons now, and the best part? I get a free meal during my birthday week. Three cheers for Perkins!
Matt over there is cheering on the inside.