Tuesday, July 23, 2013

top ten Tuesday: why I'm marrying James.

After more than a year of planning, stressing, whining, and craft-making, it’s about to pay off: on Saturday, James and I are getting married. It’s been a long road, and I’ve lost my shit more than once, but James has been the stabilizing force to either a.) calm me down and tell me that everything will turn out, or b.) get me a drink. We’re both pretty sure that if our relationship can survive the wedding planning process (especially with all the things that went wrong, which is a story for another time… after all, we’re not out of the woods yet!), we can survive anything.

James has been a champ to put up with my crazy stressed-out self for the past year, and, let’s face it, the past six years. I have to say, I’m pretty lucky to have someone like James. Just how lucky? Well, I’ll tell you! For this top ten Tuesday – the last blog story before I get married! – I’d like to present the top ten reasons I’m marrying James!

James doesn’t take any of my shit.
There’s a fine line between being cooperative and being whipped. If you recall, I spent about a year in college with a whipped boyfriend which was, on the whole, unrewarding… save for the time I bullied him into calling my dad and asking for my hand in marriage as an April Fools’ Day joke. That was the BEST. Other than that, though, it gets awfully dull when your significant other does your bidding and never seems to hold an opinion. James is as cooperative as I am stubborn, but he is by no means whipped – I could have offered him a million dollars, and he NEVER would’ve called my dad on April Fools’ Day! James is happy to do things for me, but he has his limits. He’s not afraid to tell me to get off my lazy ass and do it myself (except he’s more polite about it), which – let’s face it – is something we all need to hear every now and again.

James is a tried-and-true nice guy.
James is the guy who will pull over and help a stranger change a flat tire, and he’s the one you should call if your car is on the shop and you need a ride. He’ll save kittens from trees, and he’ll walk little old ladies across streets. I wish I had a dollar for every story that began with “I saw this guy on (whatever street) today, and his car was (insert various automotive malady), so I stopped.” James says he does this because he’s had enough cars quit on him over his lifetime, and it was awfully rare for someone to stop and help him. Oh, did I mention that he can fix cars? That’s a definite plus.

James doesn’t mind making fun of himself.
It took a little time for him to get to this point, but James has developed a pretty decent sense of self-deprecating humor. In my family, you have to be able to make fun of yourself (and others) in able to survive. I’ve had to remind James (more than once) that if my family makes fun of you, it means that they like you. If they’re nice to you, then you really have something to worry about. Anyway, James now has no problem laughing at himself like the rest of us do, especially since James gives us such good material. He once asked Dad about the priest’s wife, and James’s junky cars have always been a source of ridicule. It takes a good-natured guy to put up with the likes of us, and James is just that guy.

Gender roles mean nothing to James.
This is where I really scored big. James grew up as one of five boys, so they would spent their mornings outside with their dad, where he would have them chopping wood, building sheds, and mowing lawns. The afternoons were spent inside with their mom, where they cleaned bathrooms, did laundry, and sewed buttons. So James is magnificently well-rounded: he can landscape AND cook you dinner. Yes: James loves to cook. On more than one occasion, he’s said to me, “Get out of my kitchen!” That’s my kind of man! When we created our wedding registry, I turned James loose in the kitchen department and only requested that he ask for a red toaster. He was like a kid in a candy store. It was such a shame that James couldn’t come to the bridal shower because, let’s face it, most of the gifts were for him. He was practically vibrating with excitement when I told him about all of the kitchen gadgets we got. James is totally ok with the fact that I am not a stereotypical woman: not only do I dislike cooking, but I also despise romance novels and only hold babies if someone forces me to. James was even fine with the possibility of me keeping my last name when we get married (though I have since compromised into moving my maiden name to my middle name, but James didn’t mind either way). Gender roles, schmender rolls. James doesn’t care as long as everybody’s happy.

James is one thoughtful guy.
During this wedding planning hell, I definitely lost my cool a couple of times. It seemed that nothing was going the way it should and that we should just scrap the whole thing and elope in Vegas. (Side note: if you’re getting married, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, ELOPE!) On the day after my wedding planning freak-outs, James would almost always come home with flowers. During his spring, winter, and summer breaks, he happily put together origami cranes and wedding boutonnieres. (Not only can he cook, but he’s crafty, too!) But don’t think that this thoughtfulness began with the wedding planning. James has always been that way. Even when we were poor and in college, he’d scrape up some money to bring me coffee for an 8 am class, or he’d slip a note in my saxophone locker. Now that I bring my lunch to work, I’ll sometimes find a pick-me-up note in my lunch box, or I’ll find a picture of a kitten waiting in my inbox. And I don’t think a single day has gone by without James paying me some kind of compliment. Like they say, it’s the little things that count.

James’s smile and laugh are irresistible.
Some days, I’ll come home after a particularly taxing day, and I want to just sit around and be grumpy. But still, one cannot be grumpy forever. When I need cheering up, all I have to do is get James to laugh. Wait – shouldn’t James get ME to laugh? Nope. Hearing James laugh will immediately make me happier. James has the happiest laugh of anyone you have ever heard, and the best way to get him to laugh his giddy James laugh is to poke him in the belly (reason number 395 that I’m a bad person – jabbing James in the stomach makes me cheery). Also? It’s IMPOSSIBLE to be cranky when James is there smiling at you. He’s got a fantastic smile: it’s 100% genuine, and it makes his eyes crinkle. I’m pretty sure James is a young Santa Claus.

James puts up with my quirks.
Earlier I mentioned that James doesn’t put up with my shit, which is true. But he does put up with some of my quirks. Let’s face it, we’re all pretty quirky. For example, I am not a fan of making phone calls. It’s weird and dumb, I know, but that’s how it is. When I lived in Minneapolis, I had the WORST internet service. James came to visit me during the summer, and the internet promptly quit altogether. He called them right away, found out why the signal was so bad (the router was blocked by a BUILDING – thanks a lot, internet service!), and managed to get me five months of free internet. Another (less weird and dumb) example: I spend an awful lot of time taking pictures. No matter what we’re doing, I’ve usually got an eye open for a good photo opportunity. Whether we’re on a bike ride or in a car, if I yell, “STOP!”, James will dutifully pull over/turn the car around so I can get my shot. Have I mentioned that he’s patient?

James is willing to try anything once.
James and I love road trips, and we love stopping at little greasy hole-in-the-walls along the way. We love exploring cities, and we love new experiences. James is remarkably easy going and is almost always happy to do what you want to do. Every once in a while, there’s something that he’s really insistent about, but mostly, James is happy to do anything you throw at him. His laid-back-ness (is that a word?) extends into TV shows: I cajoled James into watching Arrested Development (the greatest show of all time ever) with me, even after he had convinced himself that he didn’t like it. Lo and behold, it only took a few episodes for James to begin telling me that there’s always money in the banana stand. From alpine slides to haunted cemetery tours to figuring out how to eat crab legs to climbing hills to see giant dinosaur sculptures, we’ve done a lot of goofy stuff together, and I am very happy to spend the rest of my life doing more.

James does not believe in bad moods.
Everyone gets a little moody now and again, and bad moods are – obviously – no fun for anyone. James has a pretty good tolerance for my bad moods (especially since he can evaporate them by laughing his James laugh), but almost zero tolerance for his own bad moods. He’s a water-off-a-duck kind of guy: for example, I was with him when his little Nissan was backed into and completely totaled. I would’ve cursed a blue streak and since we’re being honest, there probably would’ve been tears. But James’s reaction? A shoulder shrug and a “hey, this means I get a new car!” James has been known to come home after a frustrating day and, after a few well-earned minutes of bitching, take a deep breath and say, “Ok, I’m over it.” And he is. And that’s it. I wish I could do that.

James knows me better than anyone and still wants to marry me.
This reason is the most important of all. James and I have been a couple for nearly six years, and we were friends for two years before that. James has seen me through my highs and lows, my bitch-fests and my bouts of self-indulgent whining. Through all that, he’s stuck by my side – not always an easy feat. James understands my strange brand of humor – he not only understands it, but he even thinks I’m funny! (Sometimes.) I can always count on him for encouragement when it comes to my career, my blog, my photography, and anything else that life can throw at me. After eight years of knowing me and six years of dating me, James STILL wants to spend the rest of his life with me. It takes one hell of a guy to step up to that challenge, and James is up for it!
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Of course, there are about a zillion more reasons for me to marry James, but these ten are the most important/most awesome. Because seriously: how hard is it to find a guy who loves cooking, can fix cars, and is willing to help you out with wedding crafts? Answer: super hard. James just may be the holy grail of the male population. So that, dear, friends, is why I’m marrying James on Saturday. I’m geared up for a long and happy life with James, and I know I won’t be disappointed!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

let's talk about Michael Jackson.

You can be indifferent to a lot of things in this world, but I bet that you’re not indifferent to Michael Jackson. When you read that name, you either thought, “Michael Jackson! AWESOME!” or “Michael Jackson! CREEPY!” Or maybe both.
It's up to you to decide if this picture is
awesome or creepy.
Personally, I tend to think “AWESOME!” Yes, Michael Jackson got to be a total weirdo in his later years, but does that negate the Thriller years? I don’t think so.

It’s a little amazing that I have a high opinion of Michael Jackson, considering my very first encounter with him (besides an apparent inborn knowledge of what the Moonwalk is) was the music video at the beginning of Free Willy. He’s standing on this stage and singing “Will You Be There?” while wearing a wife beater and a white shirt that was positively flowing in the artificial breeze. 
I remembering wondering if this person was a man/woman/human at all, and just what was up with his/her face.

So yes, my first Michael Jackson experience was less than positive, and I started out thinking that he was, in fact, super creepy. Luckily, my cultured friend Sarah soon showed me the error of my ways.
This is Sarah, circa 2005, doing her
one gloved/white socked
Michael Jackson impression.
Sarah – unlike me – had not grown up listening only to country music, so she kindly informed my na├»ve self that there was much more to Michael Jackson than the Free Willy video.

This was about the same time that I made the switch from country to oldies radio, and I had already heard “ABC” a time or two. However, I never would’ve guessed that the ADORABLE lead singer of the Jackson Five and the spindly white guy singing the Free Willy song were one and the same. Sarah informed me that indeed they were, and she helped broaden my horizons to the rest of Michael Jackson’s repertoire. My eyes were OPENED. “Billie Jean” was one of the songs on the first CD I ever burned.

We have to stop for a second and talk about “We Are the World.” Let me preface this by saying that right around the time I was learning about Michael Jackson, my parents were getting the internet and DISH network. That meant that not only could I listen to Michael Jackson music on the internet, but I could look up music videos on YouTube (when the dial-up was working) or plan my day around the Pop-Up Video schedule. (Sidebar: “Black or White” was a featured video on that show, and as much as I love MJ, I have to say that video is weird as hell.)

Anyway, remember when MTV had the I Love the 80s series and everyone wasted ten hours of their life watching it? Of course you do! I was born in the late 80s, so I Love the 80s was more educational than nostalgic for me (the wild nostalgia came with I Love the 90s). I Love the 80s gave me an insight into all sorts of great music that my 80s compilation CDs and 80s radio had overlooked. Case in point: “We Are the World.” 
There was a whole segment on “We Are the World,” which (of course) showed the video with Bruce Springsteen and his Boss face and Michael Jackson in all his glittering glory. “We Are the World” became (and still remains) a favorite in my group of friends, thanks to I Love the 80s.

Unfortunately, at the time I was discovering the awesome 1980s Michael Jackson, the real-time Michael Jackson was in a whole lot of trouble. This was when his nose was practically collapsing and he was dangling babies over porch railings...
Remember that?
...and let’s not forget that whole mess with the kids and the abuse accusations. Yes, all that was strange and horrible, but again, I couldn’t disregard the musical amazingness of 1980s Michael Jackson, even if 1990s/2000s Michael Jackson was a bit of a freak show. So I did my best to separate the two and carried right on.

My Michael Jackson appreciation continued through college, where UMM hosted a zombie prom and, of course, the zombies all danced to “Thriller.” 
Sara and I didn't really look like the "Thriller" zombies,
but we did our best.
That was the first time in my life that I’d ever seen a group of people spontaneously dance to “Thriller,” but as I’m sure you know, it’s become a big thing – especially for the generation (including me!) that missed it the first time around.

You know how people say how they remember where they were when Kennedy was shot? This in no way compare to that, but I remember where I was when I heard that Michael Jackson was dead – not because of its cultural significance (we’ll get back to that in a minute), but because of the strange circumstances in which I heard about it.

It was June 2009, and I was spending the summer in Colorado doing an internship with the Denver Art Museum. Like an awful lot of internships, this one was unpaid, so I needed a part-time job. I was on my way to an interview at a mall when I got a text message from my sister. “Is Michael Jackson dead?” she asked. “Nope!” I replied, assuming that whatever she’d heard was a National Enquirer-type rumor. Michael Jackson was always being declared dead, and so far, it hadn’t been true.

I arrived at my job interview, which ended up being a group interview (where I was definitely the oldest candidate – what a loser) in the food court. Have you ever had a job interview in a food court? Let me tell you, it’s a bit distracting. Our interviewer was a mohawked manager, and the first thing out of his mouth (even before he told us his name) was, “Did you guys hear that Michael Jackson died?!” So my sister had been texting the truth. My co-interviewees seemed fairly indifferent, but then again, some of them may not have even known who Michael Jackson was. I, on the other hand, was a bit stunned, which made it harder to answer these especially goofy interview questions (“if you were a fruit, what kind would you be and why?”). Even in my Michael-Jackson-is-dead daze, I still managed to get the job. Booyah.

Michael Jackson was the first major cultural icon to die since Princess Diana, and honestly, it left me with a feeling that’s a bit hard to explain. I’d imagine it was a similar to how non-super-fans felt when Elvis died. After all, he was the King, and Michael Jackson was the King of Pop. They were both phenomenally successful before succumbing to tumultuous personal lives. Michael Jackson and Elvis were both fairly pathetic when they died, but the world still mourned for them – we’re willing to overlook the shells they had become to celebrate the incredible performers that they had been.
Case in point: not everyone can pull off a white
suit and a baby tiger, but 1980s Michael Jackon
totally could.
I listened to a whole lot of Michael Jackson that summer. I revisited “Will You Be There?” and found out that it’s a kickass song. If that soaring gospel choir towards the end doesn’t give you chills, you might be dead inside. However, “Man in the Mirror” was my anthem of summer 2009.
It was my first summer out of college, and the opening lines (“gonna make a change/for once in my life”) seemed terribly appropriate. This was the first big change I had made since I started college in 2005, and it was time to enter the adult world. Well, sort of. But still, it was the first summer I had spent away from South Dakota, and I’d left my friends, family, and boyfriend behind. Who knows if that song would’ve inspired me as much if Michael Jackson hadn’t died that summer, but he did, and it did. I have to give credit where credit is due, and Michael Jackson helped me through my first summer as a mostly unemployed college graduate trying to strike out on her own.

Love him or hate him, you can’t deny that Michael Jackson was (and still is) an American icon. I don’t know about you, but this post is really making me crave some good Michael Jackson songs. I think it's a "Blame It on the Boogie" kind of night.

Friday, July 5, 2013

adventures in Brookings: the Touchdown Jesus edition.

Whoa. It’s July. Besides fireworks and cookouts and general summer delight, do you know what that means? It means that I am getting married THIS MONTH. I repeat: whoa.

I’ve mentioned here and there how wedding planning kind of sucks and how I probably (definitely) should’ve eloped, but I’m sure that once it’s all over, I’ll be glad that I had the big Midwestern wedding. Until then, though, you’ll have to cut me some slack.

James proposed in June 2012, and we settled on a July 2013 wedding for a number of reasons: James is a teacher, which would make a fall wedding (my first choice) difficult. My dad and many of our friends and relatives are farmers, so fall is tough for them. But what really tipped the scales in favor of a July wedding was the fact that July 27 landed on a Saturday. July 27, 2007 was the day James and I started dating, so we staked a claim for a wedding date of July 27, 2013.

So after we’d hashed out a date, the next pressing decision was where to have the wedding. James is from Minnesota, and I am from South Dakota. We briefly considered a wedding in Minneapolis, but dismissed it on the grounds that we’re too cheap for that. I had been living and working in Sioux Falls for almost a year by that point – what about a Sioux Falls wedding? Well, neither of us were very attached to Sioux Falls, so that would be a little strange.

Enter the lightbulb moment. Why not get married in Brookings? It wasn’t technically my hometown (my actual hometown of Arlington didn’t have much to offer), but I spent an awful lot of time there growing up. James was also familiar with Brookings, as I had dragged him around town on more than one occasion. He thought it was a nice college down with plenty of character. So we decided that we’d get married in Brookings.

Ok, now we’d gotten the geographical location decided. But now… where exactly in Brookings should we have this wedding? There’s a beautiful garden in Brookings, as well as a number of lovely little parks, so there were definitely options for an outdoor wedding. An outdoor wedding is great idea in theory, but the execution of it was a little too daunting for a non-party planner like me. You’ve got to rent the chairs and speakers and what if it rains? Almost more worrisome than the potential rain was the much more likely scenario of extreme heat. I didn’t want to sunburn my guests and sweat off all my makeup (ick), so an outdoor wedding was never to be.

We had booked our reception hall the second we’d chosen Brookings, so there was always the option of having our ceremony there. But again, the non-party planner in me balked at the idea. That meant we’d have to set up our little ceremony area, get through said ceremony, clear everything out, and THEN set up the tables. Waaaay too much work, so as far as I was concerned, the wedding ceremony had to be at a separate venue.

Enter the lightbulb moment, part two. This one was just way too obvious: how had I forgotten Touchdown Jesus? OF COURSE! WE’D GET MARRIED AT THE TOUCHDOWN JESUS CHURCH!

Allow me to explain. Brookings, as a not-too-terribly-large town, doesn’t have much for landmarks. It’s got the Campanile and McCrory Gardens, but that’s about it… besides Touchdown Jesus. Touchdown Jesus is a huge Lutheran Church situated at the end of a block. The face of the church has a gigantic image of Jesus with his arms outspread: hence, the touchdown. Generations of young Brookings folk have called this church Touchdown Jesus, and I don’t know about them, but my friends and I TOTALLY thought we had come up with that name all by ourselves. No sir – everyone calls First Lutheran the Touchdown Jesus church. Even the church has gotten in on the fun: the church’s website (I am not making this up) is tdjesus.org.

James contacted First Lutheran, and they were happy to give us a place for our ceremony. They even allowed us to bring in our own pastor – the pastor who served in Arlington for the first nineteen years of my life is performing the ceremony. Pretty cool. And you know what else was a selling point for First Lutheran? My parents got married at that very church.

So that, my friends, is how we ended up scheduling our wedding ceremony at Touchdown Jesus church. Officially, it’s because my parents got married there, and it is a very lovely church in a very lovely town. Unofficially, it’s simply because it’s Touchdown Jesus. What could be better than that?