Wednesday, November 26, 2014

adventures in public transit.

When I graduated college in spring 2009, I had two humanities degrees and a plan. Or, what my idealistic 22-year-old self thought was a plan. My plan was to do a series of internships in art museums and then head to grad school. I thought that I wanted to work in a museum someday, and that dream almost certainly could not be accomplished without a master’s degree – and admission to grad school almost certainly could not be accomplished without some internships on the old resume.

In the great scheme of things, I was already behind. Like many young undergrads, I had switched majors a number of times. I started off as the ultimate cliché: a psychology major. One psychology class later and I found that it wasn’t as interesting as I thought it would be. I switched to English, briefly to English education, and then back to English with an art history minor. In the second semester of my junior year, I realized that if I worked my tail off, I could promote my art history minor to a major.

If I’d had my act together and had realized earlier on that I wanted to major in art history, I could’ve been doing summer internships all along. But as it was, I didn’t figure it out until it was too late to get an internship during the summer after my junior year. Therefore, I had to do these internships in the months following my graduation: the Denver Art Museum in the summer, the New Orleans Museum of Art in the fall, and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts in the spring.

First stop: Denver.

Going in, I knew that these internships would be unpaid. “No problem!” I thought. I was staying with my aunt and uncle in Denver, so I wouldn’t have to worry about rent. As long as I could find money for food, gas, and bus fare, I’d be set. I’d just get a part-time job, which would be easy as pie. After all, I’d never had any trouble finding a job before.

I was completely wrong. The economy had taken a nose-dive, and it took me almost a month (not to mention many blows to my ego) to get a job.

Job or no job, I still had to get to my unpaid 20-hour-a-week internship at the Denver Art Museum. My aunt and uncle lived a good thirty minutes away from the museum, so I wouldn’t be able to walk or bike there. The museum was in downtown Denver, and parking there was out of the question. The museum didn’t offer any kind of parking area for interns, so if I was going to drive myself there every day, I’d have to pay something like eight dollars a day to park in a ramp. When your income is zero dollars a day, eight dollars a day just to park is an absolute travesty.

That left the bus.

I was no stranger to buses. I had ridden the school bus during my entire elementary and high school tenure. I had taken a bus trip to Chicago with the high school band. I had gone to Minneapolis with the UMM concert band on a Greyhound. Buses didn’t scare me.

However, public transportation was a whole new beast. My first stop was the local grocery store – that’s where you could buy a book of bus passes. Though I was technically no longer a student, my UMM student ID was still fresh – after all, I had graduated less than a month ago. So I went ahead and bought the student bus passes: $18 for thirty bus passes. $18 for fifteen trips into Denver – one ticket there, one ticket back. It was certainly cheaper than paying for gas and parking, but in my state of under-employment, $18 sure seemed like a lot.

There was a park-and-ride just a few minutes away from my aunt and uncle’s house, so I’d drive my Mercury Sable over the Walmart parking lot every morning to meet the bus. I was supposed to be at the museum by 9, so I’d catch the 8:15 bus, ride it downtown, take the 16th street mall streetcar, and scurry over a few blocks to the museum offices. No problem.

I rode that bus from the very beginning of June until I left Denver at the end of August. And let me tell you: the people watching was fantastic. As you might expect, I became familiar with many of the bus regulars. I got to know the morning bus driver, who was the happiest guy I think I’ve ever met. There were these two mustachioed sisters who rode right up at the front, and the warmer the weather was, the worse they smelled. My favorite bus regular was Stuck in the 90s Girl: she got on the bus shortly after I did every morning, and she looked as though she’d stepped right out of 1995. Every day, she had on a different 90s outfit: Mudd jeans, crop tops, platform sneakers, chokers, you name it. I always looked forward to seeing what 90s flashback outfit she’d be sporting.

As a regular myself, I tried to be as inconspicuous as possible. I never boarded the bus without my trusty iPod – that summer was the summer Michael Jackson died, so I spent a great deal of my bus time listening to Michael Jackson. (I’m not kidding when I say that “Man in the Mirror” was the soundtrack to my summer.)

That iPod was a lifesaver. Those little white earbuds are the international signal for “don’t talk to me,” and that’s exactly the message I wanted to send on the public bus. And 99% of the time, it worked like a charm. However, not all methods are foolproof. I was huddled in my seat one morning, listening to “The Hounds of Spring” (you mean you don’t listen to classical music on the bus?), when a middle-aged balding man plopped down next to me. I did my darndest to ignore him, but he began talking to me – conveniently disregarding my earbuds and my less-than-friendly glances. I finally caved and removed the earbuds, only to be treated to a long story about how this particular gentleman – though born in the United States – had lived in the Soviet Union for most of his life, and if I ever needed anything translated into Russian, please give him a call. I think I still have his business card.

Riding the bus was never scary: just weird. When I rode the bus home late at night after staying in the city to see RENT, I was surrounded by angry drunk people. That was the same night I found a chunk of hair at my feet.
Of course I took a picture.
I rode the bus all summer with few incidents. There was one time with the afternoon bus driver was not the regular guy, and when I handed him my student bus pass, he exploded at me. “This is a STUDENT pass! WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING???!” he screamed. Turns out that Denver student bus passes are meant for HIGH SCHOOL students. Oops.

The other bus disaster came on my very first day of work at a fireworks stand. At the end of June, I had finally gotten hired to work at a fireworks shop through the Fourth of July. I had to work at the museum that morning, so I took the bus home as per usual. I would make it back to my car in the Walmart parking lot with plenty of time to drive over to the fireworks stand. However, the bus picked that very day to break down. The driver lowered the wheelchair ramp to let somebody off the bus… but the wheelchair ramp would not go back up. I sat and watched the minutes tick by with increasing panic. I absolutely COULD NOT be late to my first day of work. I broke into a nervous sweat after fifteen minutes of no progress, and I thought I might cry when the bus driver announced that a substitute bus would be there to pick us up… in an hour.

Needless to say, I was super late for my first day, and I groveled at the feet of my new boss. Thankfully, she was all too familiar with public transit, so she cut me a considerable amount of slack.

Moving away from Denver marked the end of my public transit days. I wasn’t too sad to see them go – there were a lot of things I wouldn’t miss about it, the ripe public transit smell being the first thing that comes to mind. However, I do find myself missing the people watching as well as that nice hour or so to sit and read or listen to music.

But I don’t miss it enough to hop back on the bus.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

top ten Tuesday: clothes from Modcloth.

You may laugh when I tell you this, but I have a hard time finding clothes.

Allow me to explain.

I am pretty picky about what I wear – I spent years not giving a shit, and now I’m at the opposite end of the spectrum.

For me, shopping for clothing is an art form. I’m looking for something that’s just so: and most of the things I find in stores are not just so. A stop at my local Target will yield some basics (tank tops, cardigans, what have you), but basics do not make an interesting outfit.

That’s why most of my clothing shopping is done at thrift/consignment stores and online. Thrift and consignment stores hold all sorts of hidden treasures – but if you have something against wearing someone else’s cast-off clothing (which I clearly don’t), then this option is not for you. Online shopping can be risky – no trying on before you buy – but the options are endless. And that’s where Modcloth comes in.

Modcloth is far and above my favorite place to shop. It’s an online-only store, but their clothing is exactly what I’m looking for: vintagey shoes, whimsical prints, 50s housewife-chic skirts… they’re calling my name.

Upon initial investigation, Modcloth’s prices will seem a bit high. That’s because they ARE a bit high. Never fear, my friend. I am not one to pay full price for clothing, so all it takes is a little patience. Modcloth has flash sales every now and again, and occasionally, they’ll mark clothing down 30%... then 50%... and rarely, 70%. (Word of warning: when they mark it 70% off, it’s usually final sale. Proceed with caution.) That’s when things start to get affordable. Modcloth does a lot of 50% off sales around Christmas, and once in a while, they’ll offer a $10 off coupon. So don’t let the prices scare you: they can change in a hurry.

The first item I ever bought from Modcloth was this:

It was super-clearanced, so I took a chance and ordered it. It ended up being just what I was hoping for: a nice flowery print, a rich blue, and a cut that was a little out-of-the-ordinary.

Modcloth and I have been friends ever since.

Which brings me to the list: my top ten pieces from Modcloth. Almost all of these items were purchased on some kind of ridiculous markdown: at least 50% off, or 30% plus some sort of coupon. So here you are: welcome to my little Modcloth fashion show!

wedding dress
When I started planning my wedding, one of the first things I considered – like most brides – was my wedding dress. Between trips to David’s Bridal and Jean’s Bridal in Wilmont, SD, I tried on a great many dresses. However, the dress I ultimately ended up with belonged to my grandma Lorraine. She’d saved up her clothing rations to have it made in 1944, when she married my grandpa Harvey. In 1981, my mom wore this same dress to marry my dad. It needed a bit of work (the shoulder pads had to go), but it was a classic dress with a great story. As the dress was nearly 70 years old, as you can imagine, it was a bit on the fragile side. I wasn’t going to risk wearing it on the dance floor: just imagine the potential for disaster! So I needed a second dress for dancing. There were a few things I knew I’d look for: I wanted a dress that was knee-length to show off my custom wedding Converses, I wanted to stick with the vintage look, and I didn’t want to spend an arm and a leg. Modcloth to the rescue. I saw this dress on their website and knew it was the one for me. Twirly skirt (with pockets!), 50s-ish – done. But it wasn’t quite that easy. The dress was SOLD OUT in my size. I put myself on a waiting list, checking my email every day with the hope that I’d get that notification telling me that my size was back in. I waited. And waited. And WAITED. Until one day – the email was there! I ordered the dress immediately – and a few months later, I danced the night away in that same dress. And boy, did it twirl.

red heeled sandals
I really became a fan of Modcloth while looking for wedding stuff. I was going to wear red heels with my wedding dress, and nothing else would do. I searched for the perfect pair, and I thought this pair was it. I bought them and tried them on with my wedding dress, but they weren’t quite right. (Fun fact: the shoes I ended up wearing came from the super-clearance section of JCPenney.) While they were not right for my wedding dress, they WERE right for practically everything else in my closet. So they stayed, and they’ve become a summer work wardrobe staple.

typewriter shirt
When I buy clothes, I try not to buy too many things that I can’t wear to work. While I can’ t wear this shirt during the week – as it’s too casual for business casual – I can wear it if I work a Saturday or a Sunday. You can’t go wrong with a literary t-shirt. Modcloth has the best graphic t-shirts: besides the typewriter, another Modcloth graphic t-shirt favorite of mine is my narwhal shirt. Yes, I have a narwhal shirt. 

red damask maxi dress
I know I’ve told you in my cheap outfit blogs that I was a little slow on the uptake when it came to the maxi dress trend. But now that I’ve fully embraced it, you can’t find better maxi dresses than Modcloth. This is the first of two maxi dresses you’ll find on this list, and both of them are by a brand called Gilli. Their dresses are so soft and wonderful that you’ll wonder why you bother wearing anything else. This particular dress is one of my all-time favorites. It got TERRIBLE reviews on Modcloth, so I was a little wary – but at the time, they had free returns, so what the hell. It arrived. I loved it. End of story.

black and white damask shirt
One of my greatest clothing struggles is (and has been for a while) finding long-sleeved shirts for work. I’m not talking about solid basic long-sleeved shirts or cardigans or sweaters, but long-sleeved shirts: something that’s lighter than a sweater, but has some kind of design or interest point so that it can be worn as a stand-alone. The reason I am on the lookout for these shirts is because my office – like many others – is never the perfect temperature. It’s too hot in one place, but too cold in another. And I get so sick of layering with cardigans. Lighter-weight long-sleeved shirts are perfect, but a good one is hard to find. This is an example of a good one.

bright flowery skirt
Like long-sleeved work shirts, interesting skirts had evaded me until I found Modcloth. Skirts in stores were either too bland or too short, and the classic a-line was nowhere to be found. Modcloth is full to the brim with a-line skirts that are not only longer lengths, but often have neat designs and pockets (!!!). This one even happened to be on sale.

bike dress
Much like my wedding reception dress, acquiring this bike dress required a great deal of patience. It had been sold out for months, and I’d been on the waiting list for AGES. I’m a sucker for anything with bike print, and this dress was made out of that fantastic slippery material that manages not only to hide flaws, but never wrinkles and is super comfortable. Thrown in a cute bike pattern, and I had to have it. When the dress never seemed to be coming back to Modcloth, I expanded my search to the rest of the internet. The only other website I could find that was selling this dress was in Lithuania. But lo and behold, the bike dress did finally come back in stock, and I snagged my own. Good things come to those who wait! And wait.

chevron maxi dress
This is another maxi dress by Gilli, and like so many of my favorite Modcloth pieces, I had been on a waiting list for this dress to come back. I don’t own a lot of brown, but I love the browns and pinks in this skirt. And I’ve said this before, but it’s worth repeating: maxi dresses are the most comfortable things EVER. This one gets bonus points because of all the fun colors.

bird skirt
I’ve worn this skirt to work a few times, and I get more compliments on this skirt than anything else I wear. Once again, it’s got a great pattern and pockets (and was on sale!), so it’s everything I wanted in a skirt. Since the skirt has so many colors, it’s remarkable easy to find a shirt to match it. That, my friends, is very important in my skirt world.

coral flats
I don’t know about you, but I am so happy that coral is trendy. I have always loved this color, but until recently, you couldn’t find much in this particular shade. Now it’s everywhere, and I’m so glad. I got these shoes to add to my work shoe infantry. While I do love wearing heels, there are days when I spend a whole lot of time on my feet – and that’s where the flats come in.


There we have it: my top ten pieces of Modcloth clothing. So if you’ve ever wondered where I get my vintagey clothes (and I’m sure that’s a question that’s kept you up at night), the answer is most likely Modcloth. Or, you know, Goodwill.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Feed Yourself Sunday.

When I was a kid, there were two things that we knew we could expect on Sundays: we would always go to church in the morning, and we would always be on our own for supper on Sunday night.

I don’t remember when Feed Yourself Sunday became a thing, but I remember being really excited. I wasn’t always thrilled with what I found at the dinner table (vegetables? come on!), so this was the one night I was completely in charge of my own dinner. I could decide not just want I wanted to eat for dinner, but WHEN I wanted to eat it! Plus, I wasn’t allowed to read at the dinner table during family dinners, but on Feed Yourself Sunday, I could read all I wanted.

I started off small: cereal for dinner, which was actually pretty awesome. I loved cereal, and it definitely appealed to my inner lazy person. I was a fairly picky eater back then, and Mom always said that her kids never would’ve survived without cereal.

It wasn’t long before I was ready to expand my culinary talents beyond the borders of cereal. Luckily for me, I had very simple tastes. The first thing I learned how to do was boil a hot dog – I even learned how to cut strips in the hot dog so when it boils, it looks like an octopus. (Octopus dogs are THE BEST.)

When I had mastered hot dogs and the art of boiling water, I transitioned to making elbow macaroni. It was a bit more complicated than the hot dogs, what with the draining and deciding just how al dente was too al dente. At first, I ate my elbow macaroni with just plain margarine (which sounds gross, but was fairly amazing). But I figured that if I could cook plain old macaroni, why not try boxed macaroni and cheese?

Sure enough, boxed Kraft was easy – and WAY more tasty than elbows and margarine. I developed my own little macaroni and cheese system and even learned a thing or two. (Pro tip? After you drain the pot, put the margarine in first, let it melt for a moment, and then put the drained pasta right back on it. The margarine melts awfully quickly that way.) I even began to tweak the recipe (which I still do to this day): instead of ¼ cup of milk like it calls for, I add 1/3. The sauce is so creamy and delicious. The downside to cooking macaroni and cheese for just myself was that I was much more likely to eat the whole box. (More on the Fat Calla Years some other time.)

Eventually, I switched my cooking vessel of choice from a pot to a frying pan. I moved on to something slightly more challenging than hot dogs and pasta: grilled cheese sandwiches. It took some practice to get my sandwich to the perfect shade of toasty brown, but I did it.

Eggs were my next step. I learned to fry them first, and after I’d mastered that, I went one step beyond and began to separate my eggs. I had never cared for the yolk (still don’t), so I would use the shells to drain the whites into the pan and throw the yolk away. I quickly learned how to not just fry, but scramble eggs – you must be SO IMPRESSED.

Obviously, everything I tried to make was pretty basic. I stayed away from food with actual ingredients… until I decided that I wanted to make omelettes. My dad made us omelettes all the time, so I asked him to teach me. I had a few train-wreck omelettes, but I eventually learned the fine art of the omelette. They were not fancy omelettes – bacon bits (from the bag, not that I’d cooked myself) or deli ham and cheese – but they were sure fancy for my standards.

You’re going to find this terribly sad, but that is about as far as my cooking skills progressed. Sure, I’d brown some hamburger meat once in a while, and I can make all sorts of delicious things that come from boxed mixes (muffins, cupcakes, waffles), but that’s where it ends.

So my cooking skills have gone virtually nowhere in the last fifteen years. (I’m pretty sure that was the last time I learned how to cook something new.) If anything, they’ve regressed: I don’t remember the last time I made an omelette. It’s not so much that I lack cooking skills; it’s that I lack the necessary interest and ambition to learn.

Besides, I totally lucked out when I married James. He loves to cook: so much that if I wander into the kitchen while he’s preparing dinner, he’ll say, “Get out of my kitchen.” Which I do. Gladly.

When James is gone, I revert back to the early days of Feed Yourself Sunday and have cereal for dinner. Sure, I could go back to making some of my old standards, but when James makes everything better than I do (which includes grilled cheese and eggs), then it’s awfully disappointing when I have to eat my own food.

But there is one thing that I can cook better than James, and that is boxed macaroni and cheese – all because of Feed Yourself Sundays. I must be so talented.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

work days with Mom.

When I was a kid, there were a few things that made me absolutely giddy with excitement: The Lion King, visits from cousins, trips to Colorado… and going to work with Mom.

Yeah, I know. How exciting could that be?

Believe me when I tell you that it was one of the most exciting things that could happen to me when I was young. Going to Mom’s office was a rare treat, and I was (hopefully) on my best behavior for fear of ever losing the privilege.

During the summer, I spent a lot of time in Brookings. I took swimming lessons there, and Mom would typically drop me off at Grandpa Harvey and Grandma Lorraine’s house before work. Grandma and Grandpa would take me to swimming lessons, and we’d spend the rest of the day doing whatever it is that my six-year-old heart desired: eating at McDonald’s, playing on the swings at Hillcrest Park, perusing the public library, and inevitably ending up at the SDSU Dairy Bar for ice cream. Summer days with Grandma and Grandpa were awesome.

However, Grandma and Grandpa did have lives. Occasionally, they would be busy and unable to watch me for the day.  Those were the days when I got to go to work with Mom.

Mom worked (and still does work) at the college in Brookings, and I felt very important when I got to stroll through the doors with her in the morning. Even in the summer, the dewy mornings had a chill to them, but I loved that fresh morning air. Mom’s coworkers were always very gracious, and no one seemed to mind when I chatted them up about the latest exciting development in my life, like the recent loss of a tooth or a new pet caterpillar.

The primary reason I loved going to work with Mom was that she gave me unrestricted access to the office supply closet. That’s right: all the highlighters I could ever want. Mom would set me up either in an empty classroom/office or in a corner of her office, and I would take my handful of highlighters and be content for hours.
A few of my early works...

Oh, those highlighters. I’ve worked in several places with office supply closets, but never have I seen a more extensive selection than that of SDSU. They had pink and green and orange and yellow and blue, and if I was really lucky, I’d find a purple one. There were fat highlighters and thin highlighters and even one that was shaped like a triangle and had a highlighter at each corner. This was highlighter heaven.

Armed with my highlighters and a roll of dot matrix paper, I would sit and draw. I primarily drew cats and flowers, but I eventually progressed to more complicated subjects, such as Disney princesses.
And many pictures of our dog Spot.
As I grew older, I was also allowed to use the permanent markers, which was great news for my color palate. Now, I not only had my highlighter pastels, but the saturated Sharpie colors as well. Life was good.

Mom, bless her heart, hung all of these drawings up in her office. One in particular that I remember features a picture of Mom wearing a superhero cape – shortly before, she had saved a fabric rose of mine from the burn pit, and for that, she was my hero. (I later found out that she was the one who put the flower there in the first place, but that was long after the superhero rendering.) 
I even drew her a state fair ribbon.
My other favorite thing to do at Mom’s office was play with the electric typewriter. As a child, I was not only a prolific artist, but an author as well. I sat on Mom’s typewriter and wove tales of mermaids and little girls and their cats. (I had a thing for cats.) I even remember attempting to make my own word finds.

Lunch time with Mom was also very thrilling for me. More often than not, we’d head to the nearby gas station and pick up individual Hot Stuff pizzas to eat in the break room. The break room was nothing out of the ordinary, but I felt like a member of the SDSU elite when I ate there with Mom.

However, all good things must end: I eventually aged out of going to work with Mom. It’s probably just as well – right as I became too old to go to work with Mom, I began my long surly phase. I’m glad Mom’s coworkers didn’t have to witness that unfortunate part of my life – luckily, they think of me as an enthusiastic young girl with a penchant for highlighter artistry. And isn’t that how we all want to be remembered?