Wednesday, November 27, 2013

let's talk about Hardees.

Everybody has their favorite fast food restaurant. Sure, they’re not the highest quality in the world, but when you’re looking for something quick and cheap, where else do you turn? Of course, not all fast food is created equal. Sadly, I’ve done my fair share of fast food research, and in my humble opinion, the best is (drumroll?) Hardees.

Now, let me qualify “fast food.” I’m referring to places like Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Burger King, and the like. Qdoba, Noodles & Company, Panera, etc are a different breed, so just forget about them. We’re going to be talking Hardees.

In my (numerous) stories about Brookings, I’ve told you about how my siblings and I constantly badgered my poor grandparents into taking us to McDonalds for Happy Meals. While I did enjoy a good chicken nugget from time to time, it was the toys (and definitely not the food) that kept us coming back to McDonalds.

In those days, our Brookings fast food options were limited to McDonalds, Burger King, Dairy Queen, Taco John’s, Subway, and Hardees. Grandma Lorraine and Grandpa Harvey preferred Hardees out of all these options, so we’d throw them a bone once in a while and go to Hardees. The older I got and the less Happy Meal toys mattered to me, the more I appreciated Hardees. Their curly fries and hot ham and cheese sandwiches were right up my alley, and Hardees never made me feel as gross as McDonald’s did – you know the feeling.

Hardees became a regular in our fast food rotation, but not just in Brookings: one of my earliest memories of my Grandpa Darwin, weirdly enough, involves the Watertown Hardees. I was awfully young (three? four?), and I was in Watertown with Dad and Grandpa. Dad had a truck to pick up in Watertown, so Grandpa had driven us there. Dad was going to take the truck home, and Grandpa said, “Do you want to ride home with your dad, or do you want to come to Hardees and have breakfast with me?” Needless to say, Dad drove home alone.

Like we do with so many things, I completely took Hardees for granted. I assumed it would always be there, ready to serve me up a delicious hot ham and cheese sandwich. But then came the day that it wasn’t. When I was a junior in high school (circa 2003), a small restaurant chain called Z’kota (don’t ask me) bought the Hardees in Brookings, Sioux Falls, and Watertown – basically, the only three places I ever went where there was Hardees potential.
Z’Kota was mediocre at best, and I resigned myself to having to look for Hardees in weird places.

The first Hardees I came across during that dark post-Z’kota takeover era was the one in Milbank, SD. Milbank doesn’t have much going for it… except Hardees. In October 2004, Mom and I drove to Morris, MN to visit a dinky little college in the middle of nowhere (and the rest is history). Our route took us through Milbank, which had the first Hardees I had seen in almost a year. It must’ve been destiny.

Not that I was a huge traveler in high school, but I could only find Hardees in two other places: Pierre and Moorhead. Both trips to Hardees were bright spots in otherwise lackluster trips. I was in Pierre - which is a godforsaken place, and I advise against making a trip there unless you absolutely must – for state oral interp. (I was so cool in high school.) We did not get a superior rating, so we drowned our sorrows at the Pierre Hardees. As for Moorhead, Dad and I were there in February 2005 on a college tour of Concordia. At the end of the tour, Dad and I located – joy of joys! – a Hardees, and over curly fries, he asked me what I thought of Concordia. “Didn’t like it,” I said firmly. “Good,” Dad said. “I didn’t like it either, but I wanted to hear it from you first.” My bone with Concordia was that it seemed way too uptight: there was a 10 o’clock curfew, for crying out loud. I never had a curfew in high school – why would I want to have one in college?

I ended up going to college at the U of M Morris, where there were no curfews, no limits on visitors, and where floors in the dorms were co-ed. Concordia would’ve been scandalized. Of course, I would periodically make the trip from Morris to Arlington, and each and every time, I’d stop at Hardees.

When I graduated from Morris, there was absolutely no reason to go through Milbank any more. I wasn’t sure when I’d get to Hardees again, but it wasn’t on the top of my “things to be concerned about” list: I was a bit more interested in, you know, getting a job.

After college, I bounced around from Denver to New Orleans to the Minneapolis area. It wasn’t until I was moving from a Minneapolis suburb to Minneapolis itself that I accidentally stumbled across a Hardees. It was June 2010, and James and I were exhausted from a day of moving and unpacking. We were driving to St Paul for some reason when all of the sudden, I glimpsed that old familiar logo on the other side of the interstate. “JAMES!” I yelled. “HARDEES!” We wound our way back to find the Hardees – it was in one of those little weird suburbs that you don’t’ even know is a suburb smushed in between Minneapolis and St Paul. It was a pretty skeezy Hardees, so we only ate there once or twice – but it was a Hardees nonetheless.

Not too long after the miraculous discovery of the Minneapolis Hardees, I learned that Hardees had bought back all its old restaurants from Z’Kota. Hardees was returning to Brookings, Watertown, and Sioux Falls. That was all good and well, but how often was I in any of those towns? Well, wouldn’t you know, I moved to Sioux Falls in September 2011 – and my first job back in Sioux Falls was practically right across the street from a Hardees.

I’ve been living in the Land of Hardees for more than two years now, and honestly, I don’t go there as much as I thought I would. I only get one thing at Hardees – that would be the hot ham and cheese sandwich – and you can only have so many of those.

They are delicious, even though they never look half
as nice as the sandwiches in the ads.
So even though I don’t eat there all that often, it’s nice to know I have the option. When I need something quick and easy, I’m awfully glad that Hardees is around.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

let's talk about salamanders.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved amphibians and reptiles. Maybe it was because I had quite a few Kermit the Frog toys as a kid, or maybe it was because I lived in the country and the springtime frogs were a lot more fun to play with than the lazy farm cats. Maybe it was all the time I spent watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as a child. Who knows. In any case, amphibians and reptiles were right up my alley.
Turtle power!
While turtles were always contenders for the top of the list, my favorites were always salamanders. Call me crazy, but I think they are ADORABLE.
Look at that face!
Whenever it rained, we had an abundance of salamanders in the yard. Who knows what first inspired me to pick one up, but salamanders and I have been friends ever since (except for the one that tried to bite me, but “bite” is a pretty strong word… the one that tried to gum me, I guess we can say).

Salamanders loved the paved roads, too. I remember them lounging all over the road as my dad tried to drive us to our babysitter’s house. I say “tried” because he would have to creep along, urged by his children not to run over any salamanders. A couple of times, he even let us out of the pickup so we could scoop up the salamanders and deposit them safely in the ditch.

Like any child who loves a certain creature, I decided that I needed a salamander as a pet. I had a small aquarium from my days as a fish owner (remember how badly I failed at that?), so I set out to find a new resident for my little plastic aquarium.

How well did that work? The catching of the salamander was no problem. I just had to wait for it to rain, and the salamanders would come out in droves. We’d find them relaxing on the concrete, not seeming to care about the family dog (who, in turn, didn’t really care about them). All I had to do was choose my salamander (which usually ended up being the one that thrashed around the least when I picked it up). However, my pet salamanders never lasted longer than a day or two… not because I accidentally killed them, but because I ended up feeling bad for them and in turn set them free. This was mostly thanks to my mother, who would say things like “don’t you think his family misses him? I bet they’re really worried. You should let him go.” Well played, Mom.

My favorite salamander story (what, you don’t have a favorite salamander story?) took place in college. It was my senior year, and I lived in a junky house on Third Street with my friends Sara and Nate. It was early spring, and it was raining as I rode my bike home one evening. Along the way, I spotted a salamander on the sidewalk, so naturally, I picked it up and brought it home to show my roommates. When I walked in the door, I found Sara, Nate, and James all gathered in the living room. I presented my salamander: Sara said, “CUTE!” and immediately came over to hold it, while James and Nate both said, “EWW! GET IT OUT OF HERE!” and relocated to the kitchen.

While my days of trying to keep salamanders as pets are over (which can be blamed in part on James), I will still happily go outside and look for them after a rainfall. You should try it sometime! You might make a new (albeit slimy) friend!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

top ten Tuesday: songs from James's and my wedding.

As I’m sure you remember, James and I got married in July in what has been widely referred to as the BEST WEDDING EVER. (I’m not just blowing my own horn here. People have really said that!) What makes the BEST WEDDING EVER? In our case, it was a combination of three very important things: great people, a great sense of humor, and great music. And we had all three in spades.
All three of which can be found in this picture.
For this particular blog post, I’m going to focus on the final of my three great wedding components: the music. I grew up in a musical family, and I spent a solid twelve years (fifth grade through college graduation) in some kind of musical ensemble. James is a trumpet player and a music teacher. Needless to say, the music in our wedding was incredibly important to us.

You may have figured this out by now, but I’m not a terribly traditional person. I wanted James’s and my wedding to be just what we wanted it to be, especially when it came to the music. No “Here Comes the Bride” for me, thank you!

My dad has been playing in a brass quintet for years now, and luckily, they were more than happy to provide the music for our ceremony. Dad’s quintet is made up of his old band director, two friends, sometimes James, and himself, and he recruited his sister, his brother, and one of our friends from college to all play. That way, Dad could fulfill his official father-of-the-bride duties while ensuring that all the parts were covered. Plus, the more people we had to play, the more music we would have – they could tag-team so no one would get worn out! It was brilliant!

The brass would play for the prelude, processional, special music, recessional, and postlude. At the dance, we had the BEST DJ EVER. Her name was Andrea, and she knew just what to play to keep the crowd engaged. She adhered strictly to my do-not-play list – which really was only one song: “Amazed” by Lonestar – even when our bridal party members Nate and Sara begged for it. (They ended up getting their way: Nate and Sara recited it to us as part of their toast. It was AWESOME.)
"I'm amazed by... YOUUUUU"
This all boils down to the fact that our wedding music was outstanding. There are way too many fantastic songs to mention, but I’ve picked the ten songs with the best wedding-related stories (presented in the order in which they were played). With that rather long-winded introduction, I’d like to present the top ten songs from our wedding!

The Imperial March
You read that right: we played the Imperial March at our wedding. Let me give you a little background. We got married at First Lutheran Church in Brookings, and we did so for two reasons: the official reason is that this is where my parents got married, and the unofficial reason is because it’s Touchdown Jesus.
Anyway, it turned out that Touchdown Jesus had very strict rules when it came to the ceremony – especially the music. Any music had to be pre-approved by the wedding coordinator, and they were loath to approve anything secular. This wasn’t a huge problem for us because all our music was instrumental – no pesky lyrics to get us in trouble. We submitted the brass’s lineup: Beethoven’s Ninth (Ode to Joy), Nearer My God to Thee, Down by the Riverside, Just a Closer Walk. All good church songs, and we were approved with no problem. However, I’d had this great idea… not just great, but BRILLIANT. Remember how I’d mentioned that one of the most important parts of a great wedding is a sense of humor? This is the perfect example. I wanted to get the wedding off on the right foot; to show our guests that we were there to have fun, celebrate, and not take ourselves too seriously. My idea was this: the bridal party would all walk down the aisle to Canon in D: a lovely wedding standard. BUT! When it came time for Dad to walk me down the aisle, the brass would explode into the Imperial March: the very same theme that introduces Darth Vader. They would then play it off as a mistake and return to Canon in D. I pitched the idea to James (loved it) and Dad (loved it), who in turn pitched it to the brass (loved it) and our pastor (loved it). Pastor Loren agreed to be the one who would call the brass out, which would make it even funnier. As far as getting permission from the church, we all agreed that it would be better to ask forgiveness that permission. What were they going to do – unmarry us?! So we didn’t tell the church. We were almost busted when the brass played a snatch of the Imperial March at the rehearsal, but it flew right over the substitute wedding coordinator’s head. On the day itself, Dad and I stood giggling while we waited to walk down the aisle. We collapsed in a fit of laughter as we heard the brass play those infamous first notes. 
Pastor Loren called out, “Hold on, hold on! Either I’m at the wrong wedding, or we’ve got the wrong music!” He stepped over to the brass and dug around on their stands. “Canon in D, part two!” The brass resumed the canon, and Dad and I were off. Best walk down the aisle EVER.

Olympic Fanfare and Theme
When I was dreaming up this wedding, one of the very first things I set my sights on was the Olympic Fanfare and Theme as our recessional. I’ve LOVED this song ever since we played it in band when I was a junior in high school, and I couldn’t think of a better recessional. James was completely on board, so I asked Dad if the brass would be willing to do it. Of course they were, so he talked to their arranger and got the Olympic Fanfare written up for quintet. I heard the piece soon after they’d gotten it, and while it was nice, it wasn’t what I was looking for. It had none of the fancy thundering stuff that I loved so much. So what then? Dad suggested I talk to my uncle Mike. Mike is Dad’s older brother, and he can do just about anything. He’s very musical; he was in the army band for more than thirty years, and he’s going to grad school for education. Mike was more than happy to arrange the Olympic Fanfare, and he had it done in no time. The brass put it all together, and Dad was so excited to debut it (even though he was the father of the bride, he snuck back to the brass and got to play during the ceremony). When James and I walked down the aisle to the Olympic Fanfare, it was – and I don’t use this word lightly – epic. 
Best wedding recessional EVER.

Chariots of Fire
Now that we’d figured out the ceremony music, we needed to start on the reception. We had our DJ all lined up, and she was ready for whatever we threw at her. First of all, we needed a song for the wedding party’s grand entrance into the reception hall. James and I had a non-traditional wedding party: three girls and two guys on my side, five guys on his. Normally, the attendants walk in the reception hall in girl/guy pairs (as they usually do in the church, but we sent them down single-file). We knew we were going to have them do something silly, so what better way than in a larger group? We divided our attendants into groups of three, three, and four and informed them that they were going to be running in slow motion to “Chariots of Fire.” Luckily for us, all of our attendants were good sports, so they all hammed it up for us – I’ve never seen better slow-motion running in my life. 

Best wedding party grand entrance song EVER.

Ring of Fire
I’m sure it won’t surprise you to hear that I wasn’t about to go for some drippy slow dance for James’s and my first dance. We were swing dancing partners all through college, so it was only fitting that we swing dance for our first dance. I originally proposed “String of Pearls,” but it didn’t take me long to set my sights on “Ring of Fire” instead. James was a little reluctant, but I couldn’t think of a better first dance song: after all, James used to sing that song when he was in Funky Gumbo. Plus, how many people have Johnny Cash as their first dance? Answer: not enough. James relented, and we set to work practicing our moves. We were a little rusty, but it turns out that swing dancing is just like riding a bike. Sure, James dropped me on my head a time or two, but that’s why we practiced on carpet. When the big day arrived, we danced like champions. The flips were perfect, and my dress (which was a second dress, as my wedding dress was too old and long to dance in) was the best swing dancing dress I could’ve imagined.
Very twirly. Even the DJ – who has, no doubt, seen hundreds of first dances – said that we were the best she’d ever seen. So now James and I can officially say that “our” song is “Ring of Fire.” Best first dance EVER.

The Way You Look Tonight
The father/daughter dance wasn’t going to be a slow dance either – and Dad was fine with it. He likes to jitterbug, so I searched about for a good jitterbug-able father/daughter song. Turns out that’s easier said than done. So many father/daughter songs are waaaaaaay too cheesy (think all those country songs about daughters), and an awful lot of the jitterbug-type songs didn’t seem like they fit the occasion. Even though it can be found at every wedding ever, I chose “The Way You Look Tonight” by Frank Sinatra. But I suppose there’s a reason everybody has it at their wedding: it’s sweet, but not overly so, and it’s peppy enough for those of us who don’t like slow dancing. So Dad and I jitterbugged to Frank Sinatra. Best father/daughter dance EVER.

Friends in Low Places

I chose this song for the wedding party dance, and it was a no-brainer. First of all, who doesn’t love Garth Brooks? Second of all, just look at the title: “Friends in Low Places.” What better way to describe our dearest friends and family? When we told the wedding party that “Friends in Low Places” would be their song, we were met with unadulterated joy. It should definitely be noted that we didn’t choreograph any sort of dance with our wedding party; we’re just not like that. When the song started, we just let the dance happen… and it turned into an eleven-person can-can line.

We morphed into a circle, and there was skipping and arm linking, and the joy and love in the air was palpable.
Best wedding party dance EVER.

Calla Calla
A while ago, I wrote about “Calla Calla” in my blog about top ten songs with names in the title. This particular song was introduced to me by my friend Allison and her family long long ago, and it contains such lyrical gems as “it’s the day of mating/time for celebrating.” It is, after all, a wedding song. Ever since I first heard it, Allison threatened to play it at my wedding. By the time my wedding rolled around, it had been years since we’d talked of “Calla Calla.” I didn’t know if she remembered, and I wasn’t about to remind her. During the dance, the DJ made an announcement between songs that she had a very special request to play that was delivered to her via flash drive. Yep: it was “Calla Calla.” Only Allison and her family got the joke that night, but it was priceless. It’s not every day you get to polka to a song with your name in it that also includes the phrase “day of mating.” Best surprise song EVER.

Jessie’s Girl
“Jessie’s Girl” by Rick Springfield was a must-play at our wedding. Everybody knows it, it’s catchy, and it was one of my friends’ and my cruising songs in high school (you know you had high school cruising songs). Now, one of James’s brothers is named Jesse.
Here he is!
When “Jessie’s Girl” started playing, we all flocked to the dance floor and spontaneously formed a half-circle around Jesse and belted out the song. Every time we got to the chorus (“you know I wish that I had Jessie’s girl!”), we all jumped up and down and pointed at Jesse, who was as happy as a clam. We had more than one person ask us if that was planned, and I think it’s exponentially more awesome because it wasn’t. Best spontaneous serenade EVER.

Standing Outside the Fire
You know how, for each friend you have, there’s one song in particular that’s YOUR song? “Standing Outside the Fire” belongs to Bob, Sarah, and me. We listened to it practically nonstop through the last two years of high school… and whenever we saw each other during college breaks… well, whenever we saw each other period. When Bob got married, he asked his wedding party to suggest a song or two for the dance, and my pick (along with “Faith” by George Michael – another one of Bob’s, Sarah’s and my songs) was “Standing Outside the Fire.” When that song played at Bob’s wedding, Sarah and I bolted to Bob on the dance floor: we danced and air-bongoed our hearts out. 

Of course, we wanted a repeat at my wedding. Both Sarah and Bob made it very clear to our DJ how important this song was, and she promised to play it. When she did, we found out just how many of our friends love “Standing Outside the Fire.” We all pranced around like idiots and belted the words at the very tops of our lungs. It was simply beautiful. Best tried-and-true friend song EVER.

More Than a Feeling
Alas, all good things must end. James and I chose “More Than a Feeling” as our last song because it is a GREAT song and the perfect way to end your night on a high note (literally and figuratively).  It was almost midnight, but there were tons of people left – all of our college friends and all but two of the wedding party were still there (along with assorted cousins and friends), and they all came to the dance floor for our last dance. We all formed into one gigantic circle and wailed the lyrics, doing our best to hit those stratospheric notes. There’s a certain burst of energy when you know it’s the last song, and we gave it everything we had. As the song came to an end, James and I were shoved to the middle for a gigantic group hug. Best last song EVER.

This list is just a drop in the bucket. There were so many great songs with so many stories: “Hallelujah Chorus” (played right after we were pronounced married – appropriate, huh?), "In Heaven There Is No Beer" (which the brass quintet successfully snuck by the wedding coordinator), “Rainbow Connection” (the one slow song I danced to), “Little Willy” (during with Mitch initiated foot-stomping that I thought would bust through the floor), “Gangnam Style” (with a huge line of excellent dancers), “The Time Warp” (a special request by Allison that also attracted some fantastic dancers), “Thrift Shop” (the DJ announced this as ‘one of the bride’s favorite songs’), “Blurred Lines” (requested by Sarah to be played immediately after “Standing Outside the Fire, and to which the DJ said, ‘I’d never play these back-to-back… except at this wedding’), and “Beer Barrel Polka” (requested by our college friend Lacee for all our UMM friends).

Our dance was more fun than I ever could’ve imagined. We did our best to keep the songs high-energy, and the dance floor was never empty – some of our friends and family never left the dance floor! Instead of couples being paired off, many of the songs we danced to ended up being huge circles: fun and inclusive; no one needed a partner. After all that dancing, my legs ached for a week afterward. A small price to pay for the BEST WEDDING EVER. At the end of the night, our DJ said she’s never had a more fun group of people, and the bartenders said the same. If that’s not an indication of a wedding well done, I don’t know what is.

Great people? Check. Great senses of humor? Check. Great music? CHECK.


Wedding five!