Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New Year's Eve in New Orleans.

For better or for worse, my New Year’s Eves almost never go the way I expect. Honestly, I would probably be thrown if one DID someday go according to plan.

There was the New Year’s when James wanted his brother Jesse, our friend Nate, and me to come hear his band (Funky Gumbo – they’re a blog story all their own) play at the Glenwood Ballroom near Morris. James promised it would be fun, but when the three of us arrived, we found that we were the youngest people there by at least four decades. Since none of us were 21 at the time, we instead went to Perkins in Alexandria and made it back to Glenwood in time to ring in 2009.

The following year was the same setup – James was playing with Funky Gumbo, and Nate, Jesse, and I were on our own. That time, we skipped Funky Gumbo altogether and spent New Year’s Eve in Morris, hanging out at the Met and arguing over who had the broadest shoulders.

My favorite New Year’s Eve story comes from Sioux Falls. We were celebrating the end of 2011 – it was James, Jesse, Nate, and me, who somehow end up together on many New Year’s Eves. At the end of the night, we were unable to track down a taxi ride home, so we had to walk the three-plus miles home. In January. At 2am.

The New Year’s after that was much less exciting, as we didn’t end up walking anywhere at 2am. However, James did run a stop sign and get pulled over, and I did end up soaked in booze thanks to varying clumsy bar patrons, and James’s brother Jay was bitten by a drunk girl. Finally, we missed the clock striking twelve because James and Nate were stuck by a crowded bar trying to order us drinks and Jay, Jesse, and I were crammed against a wall, trying to secure a place for the five of us to stand. “Oh hey, it’s 12:02. Happy New Year!” So that was how we began 2013.

Last New Year’s Eve, however, was fantastic. It was nothing like all the other New Year’s, and I loved it. Why?

Because James and I got to ring in 2014 in New Orleans.

We got married in July 2013 and took a mini-honeymoon road trip to Winnipeg, which was totally awesome. We saved our real New Orleans honeymoon until the end of December – what a perfect time of year to escape Minnesota and go south. And how cool would it be to spend New Year’s in the French Quarter? TOTALLY COOL.

James and I are not the best planners, and it turned out that we were in New Orleans at the same time as the (something) Bowl. The streets were flooded with fans from Alabama and Oklahoma, and getting anywhere via streetcar took three times as long as we had expected. That meant we had to put a lot of careful thought into where we would go that day – we didn’t want to be caught in a streetcar when midnight hit.

We spent New Year’s Eve day running around like chickens with our heads cut off. James and I had so many places to see and so many things to eat, and we had goals for each day in New Orleans. New Year’s Eve was no different, except that we had to plan carefully to be back in the French Quarter well before midnight. We had heard rumor of midnight fireworks over the Mississippi, and there was no way we were missing that.

Our biggest decision for New Year’s Eve was one we made with much deliberation and care: where to eat dinner? We had to make sure it was accessible via street car, it wouldn’t have too much of a wait, and that we ate early enough to not worry about timing, but late enough so that we wouldn’t be starving come midnight. James and I dined at VooDoo BBQ on St Charles – far enough away from the French Quarter that we could get in with no problem, but close enough to the street car line that we only had a few blocks of walking to do.

And you know what? It worked perfectly. Our dinner was absolutely delicious (barbecue shrimp, be still my heart), and we even had time to stop at Copeland’s for bread pudding.

James and I hopped back on the streetcar and pointed ourselves back toward the French Quarter. We had been doing so well with our timing that we figured we had nothing to worry about. However, when it came time to switch street car lines from the St Charles Line to the Canal Street line, we hit a snag. The cars on the Canal Street line were stuffed to the gills with drunken college football revelers, with even more waiting on the street. The line stretched before us, and the clock was nearing 11 – too close for comfort.

Our feet ached from three days of non-stop walking, but James and I saw no other choice. If we wanted to get to the fireworks on the Mississippi, we were going to have to hoof it. We scrambled through the droves of football fans, snaking our way through the sea of red and white jerseys. We power-walked like our lives depended on it.

And then, there it was – Jackson Square. We had made it. SWEET, SWEET VICTORY! We weren’t going to miss the first moments of the New Year like we had in 2013. Jackson Square was packed, but we didn’t mind.

James and I had trucked over to Jackson Square so quickly that we had time to a.) get ourselves some Hurricanes at Paddy O’Brien’s, and b.) buy Mardi Gras masks at a gift shop. We put on our masks and huddled together by the river bank. We were filled with electric excitement: not only was 2013 – the most hectic/stressful/wonderful year ever – almost over, but we were going to spend the first moments of 2014 standing together in New Orleans: my favorite place earth.

And it was even better than I imagined it. Standing on the edge of the Mississippi River, wearing Mardi Gras masks, huddling against the drizzle, and surrounded by the happiest group of drunks I’d ever met, 2014 arrived.
There were indeed fireworks over the Mississippi River – but they were lit off a barge floating on the river. It was a truly spectacular sight – one of those blazing, beautiful sights that reminds you just why you’re so lucky to be alive.

James and I spent the early hours of 2014 in blissful wonder, roaming the streets and absorbing the New Orleans celebration. (Yes, we caught beads thrown from balconies. No, we didn't have to earn them.) Like most of my New Year’s Eves, this one also did not go according to plan: the plan being that we’d have a nice dinner somewhere and settle in nicely for an evening of fireworks. Instead, we ran around like chickens with our heads cut off, scarfing down shrimp and bread pudding and doing our best to beat the ticking New Year’s Eve clock. What was unplanned turned out to be so much better than what was planned, as is often the case.

While James and I aren’t lucky enough to be spending this New Year’s Eve in New Orleans, we are indeed lucky enough to NOT have to spend it with Funky Gumbo. There’s always a silver lining. So here’s to 2015 – may it be as full of surprises and delight as 2014!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

the Trojan Christmas.

Gather round, dear readers, for a heartwarming Christmas tale. It is a story that has gone down in Bjorklund family history – one that we retell with joy each Christmas. This, my friends, is the story of the Trojan Christmas.

The story of the Trojan Christmas begins not at Christmas, but in the summer of 2005. If you recall, I had just graduated high school and was hard at work making a movie with my friend Bob. Well, attempting to make a horror movie. We had a location (an old abandoned house), a script (though it was terrible), and actors (our rag-tag band of friends). What we didn’t have was time. Or any idea what we were doing.

However, we did have props. I spent all of my church camp/Dairy Mart wages that summer on supplies for the movie, and we were at WalMart or Goodwill at least every other day with a whole laundry list of things we needed. From tiny tea lights to gigantic black sheets to tacky wall hangings, we were well-stocked with props.

One of those props was a box of Trojan Her Pleasure condoms. Why? Because our movie had a sex scene. Well, as close to a sex scene as a bunch of modest goody two-shoes like us were willing to get. In the scene, Bob’s character and Bob’s character’s girlfriend sneak off somewhere to take advantage of the privacy in the creepy abandoned house. In our master camerawork plan, we were planning on showing an open box of Trojans to not-so-subtly hint as to what went on in there.

Buying the Trojans was, as you can imagine, a bit hilarious. I was 18 and Bob was 17, and we had a whisper-battle in line at WalMart: “You buy them!” “No, YOU buy them!” “I’m not buying them!” (Alas, these were the days before self check-outs.) I don’t remember who ended up buying them, but I do remember giggling uncontrollably after we got to the parking lot.

Sadly, our masterpiece never came to fruition. Summer ended, and many of our actors (myself included) went off to college. With that, the momentum was gone. Bob and I packed up all our movie stuff in a paper box and placed it in my parents’ basement. Even though we both knew we’d never finish our movie, we just couldn’t bring ourselves to throw away all our props and our months of hard work.

Fast forward to fall 2010. My brother Mitch was 17 and was digging around in the basement for God knows what. He came across and old paper box with “movie supplies” written on it in permanent marker. When he opened up the box, under the pages of costume designs and script rewrites, Mitch unearthed an open box of Trojan Her Pleasure condoms.

The lower level of our house is Dad’s domain. Naturally, Mitch approached Dad and said, “Dad, do we need to have a talk?” Dad laughed and said that, yes, actually, those were his! He had purchased condoms to include in a card for a friend’s 40th birthday.

Fast forward again to Christmas Eve 2010. I came downstairs to fill my mom’s stocking only to find Dad with Mitch’s stocking in hand. He said, “Just watch Mitch’s face tomorrow. Just watch.” I had no idea what was transpiring, and I did indeed keep a close eye on Mitch as he emptied out the contents of his Christmas stocking. Smushed at the bottom, way in the toe, was the crumpled box of Trojans. Between peals of laughter, Dad told the story of how Mitch found them in the basement and confronted him. Realizing that they’d come from the movie prop box, I cried, “Dad, those weren’t yours – they’re mine! Wait, they’re BOB’S!!!”

Cue endless hyena laughter.

The Trojan Christmas is so much a favorite story of ours that a certain phrase has made its way into our family vocabulary. When we want Mitch or Dad to give us their very best smiles for a picture, all we have to do is say “Trojan smile!” Works every time.
The original Trojan smile.
That, dear friends, is the story of the Trojan Christmas. You may be wondering if I’ve ever had a normal Christmas. Between the Christmas Hangovers and the “I’m not saying you ARE fat – you just LOOK fat” and letters from Santa in my mom’s handwriting and Trojans, the answer is most definitely no. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Monday, December 22, 2014

for your reading pleasure: a Christmas poem I wrote when I was 19.

It’s cold outside; the air is nippy.
Finals week is here.
When they are done - yippee! -
Christmas comes so near!

My second year in college,
Halfway done, indeed.
We will soon see how much knowledge
I have, and how much I need.

This year, something new:
No more psychology.
English now is what I’ll do,
Books and grammar for me.

Since I’m majoring in English now,
I still enjoy my reading.
I read whenever time will allow…
I have less time than I am needing.

 The three English classes I took
This year kept me very busy.
I bonded with my grammar book
So much it made me dizzy.

Because of all this English time,
I decided that, this year
I’d pen out a little rhyme
For your Christmastime cheer!

The words are simple, sure,
But, really, I’ve hardly begun.
My skills will gradually mature,
For college is not halfway done!

Until then, with this December
Comes a poem; I hope not a bore.
I beg you to please remember
That I am but a mere sophomore!

I hope this poem provided laughter,
And I hope your holidays consist of
Wonderful days ending happily ever after.
So Merry Christmas to you, with love!

(editor's note: you're welcome.)

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

top ten Tuesday: smells + memories.

They say that smells are one of the most powerful links to memories. While I’m not sure who “they” are, I agree completely with them. A slight whiff of a certain fragrance can transport me to a different time and place – for better or worse. I have a list of ten smells that, in my mind/nose, are inexorably linked to a specific time or place.

In this case, all of these smells happen to be scented health and beauty products – primarily perfume. I have ordered them from earliest to latest, and I really wish that I could provide smell samples through the computer for you. (That sounds weird.) Alas, you’ll just have to smell these for yourselves if you’re so inclined.

Herbal Essences rose hips shampoo – Sarah’s house
I’ve talked about my friend Sarah quite a bit on this blog, and for good reason. She was the first friend I ever had, and we’re friends to this day. We’re closing in on thirty years of friendship, and that’s bound to make an impression. Sarah and I were friends all through our formative years, and we spent plenty of time at each other’s houses. Herbal Essences was just becoming trendy in the 90s, and Sarah had persuaded her mom to buy her the Herbal Essences rose hips shampoo. It smelled amazing – especially with the corresponding conditioner. It was the kind of intense flowery smell that would stick in your hair all day, and I wanted that. Until that point, I’d only ever used tear-free kid’s shampoo and whatever mismatched White Rain happened to be in the shower. It wasn’t long before I begged for an allowance and used the first of that allowance to buy my own rose hips shampoo. And let me tell you: my hair smelled fantastic. (Side note: this shampoo recently made a comeback and is now once again available for purchase. I have not bought any yet, but let me tell you, the temptation is strong.)

Purell – fourth grade
God only knows why certain things become trendy. Fourth grade was trend central: wearing keychains on your belt loops, the color lime green, calling things “groovy,” feather pens… need I go on? Another bizarre fourth grade trend was hand sanitizer. Suddenly, you HAD to have hand sanitizer with you at all times. After all, germs were everywhere. Purell was THE brand, and I can’t tell you how many bottles I went through in 1997. The hand sanitizer trend lasted well into junior high, when we all kept bottles on the top shelves of our lockers. Inevitably, the trend came to an end (hey, a poem!), and I was left with a handful of half-used bottles of hand sanitizer. Such is life.

Herbal Essences mousse – my perm
(I couldn't find a picture of the original mousse. You'll have to forgive me. It was white with a green top and had 90s looking leaves all over it.)

Herbal Essences again. What can I say? It’s powerful stuff. When I was twelve, I decided that it would be a good idea to get a perm. (It wasn’t.) My hair is thick and a tad wavy, but I wanted curls. However, when it came to hair, I had no skill and no patience (which is still true), so I wasn’t about to spend time with a curling iron. I wanted hair that was curly and required little to no effort from me. Hence: a perm. Turns out that perms aren’t the same as naturally curly hair. My perm was unruly and looked very much like a perm. The only way to tame it was to use generous amounts of mousse, and Herbal Essences was my go-to. It took FOREVER to grow my perm out, and I used cans and cans of mousse in the meantime. On the upside, I sure learned my lesson: a perm is never a good idea.

Glow by JLo – band camp
We’ve talked about how I went to band camp at SDSU for two junior high summers. Band camp was completely ridiculous, but it brought me some of the greatest memories of my young life. (link to the story) Junior high also the time when we started discovering perfume. I could not afford perfume, so I stuck with Kmart body spray. However, Sarah (who went to band camp with me for both summers) had Glow by JLo, which was hugely popular amongst the junior high set. She – along with a gaggle of other junior high band camp girls – would liberally apply Glow by JLo at every opportunity. Sarah was my roommate at band camp for both summers, and our dorm always smelled like Glow by JLo. But then again, so did every inch of band camp thanks to the gaggle of Glow-addicted junior high girls.

Lucky – junior high/early high school
The other go-to perfume of the early 2000s was the Lucky brand perfume. It wasn’t called anything other than Lucky, and the girls’ version came in a tiny pink bottle. (The cologne was green.) For a naïve small-town Midwesterner like me, Lucky Brand was as mysterious and elusive as Chanel. Lucky jeans were the most coveted brand – even more than the Silver Jeans and the American Eagle jeans that dominated junior high. (And God help you if you wore Arizona brand jeans like yours truly.) There were an elite few that owned Lucky Brand jeans in junior high, and they inevitably doused themselves in Lucky Brand perfume as well. All of junior high and well into my freshman year, the halls were hazy with Lucky perfume. The jeans were way out of my price range, and even the perfume was out of my financial reach… until I got a job. I bought my very own bottle of Lucky perfume when I was a junior in high school… three solid years after the trend had reached its peak. I wore it a few times, realized that I’d smelled enough of it in junior high, and promptly tossed it in a drawer.

Hollister August – the summer between high school and college
Lucky was the first actual perfume I ever owned, and many others followed in its wake. Among others, I tried such clichés as Adidas for Women (remember that?) and the fake Clinique Happy that you could buy in little spray cans at Walmart. The latter half of my senior year in high school marked something of a transformation for me: until that point, I cared very little about makeup or clothing. But then, something changed. I started wearing makeup and going shopping. From that point until my second semester of college, every item of clothing I owned had to come from Hollister, Abercrombie and Fitch, or American Eagle. I was THAT girl. If it didn’t have that little seagull, moose, or eagle on it, then I would pass, thankyouverymuch. It was during this odd time in my life that I purchased perfume at Hollister. It was called August, and I wore it nonstop during the summer right before I went off to college. It was a very teenager-y scent, and it embodied the end of my carefree summers: the last summer before college, research papers, career goals, and student loans.

Burberry Brit – my freshman year
It took one semester of college for me to realize that I wasn’t a high schooler anymore. At UMM, nobody cared if your shirt had a moose logo on it or if you wore Hollister’s perfume. Among the sophisticated college students (many of whom hailed from exotic Minneapolis), I felt like a small-town kid with my teenager perfume and my teenager logoed shirts. I steered away from those obviously branded shirts and began cultivating a more subtle wardrobe. I also ditched the Hollister perfume and scrimped and saved my work study money to buy the most sophisticated perfume I could think of: Burberry Brit. The plaid on the glass bottle exuded class, and I finally smelled less like a dumb teenager and more like an urbane liberal arts student – but the kind who showers.

Calvin Klein One – my sophomore year
It must be a requirement that, when you take a picture of a perfume bottle,
you absolutely must take a picture of the box next to it. 
My sophomore year was what I like to think of as my “lost year” of college. If you ask around, I bet a lot of people have one. My sophomore year was a total 180 from my freshman year. I spent my freshman year doing dumb freshman things, but I was filled with the joy and wonder of college and being on my own. (Or, more on my own than I ever had been.) I met Hipster Boyfriend at the tail end of my freshman year and thought he was a cool art student who could introduce me to good music and take me to gallery openings. We started dating in the summer, and I dated him all through my sophomore year. In September of my sophomore year, things with Hipster Boyfriend were already falling apart. He’d have bouts of tearful depression during which I would skip whatever obligation I had to stay with him in his dark room and tell him how great he was. This happened over. And over. And OVER. Hipster Boyfriend was sucking the very life out of me. When I wanted to hang out with my friends, I’d get a big sigh and a “well… I GUESS,” followed by text messages all through the night asking when I’d come back. So yeah – my sophomore year was significantly less fun than my freshman year, and significantly less fun than my junior year (when I moved off campus with a bunch of friends and started dating James). Calvin Klein One reminds me of that horrible year because Hipster Boyfriend’s mom had given him a bottle for Christmas the previous year. He wore it for a while and deemed it too girly, so he gave it to me and would become mortally offended if I didn’t wear it. Needless to say, that bottle of Calvin Klein One went in the trash long ago.

Caress Evenly Gorgeous – my first week in New Orleans
I graduated college with a degree in English, a degree in Art History, and no clear idea of what I wanted to do next. I kind of wanted to go to grad school for art history, but I was also hesitant to encumber more student loan debt. I knew that internships would look good on any future grad school application, so off to unpaid internships I went. I spent the summer after graduation at an unpaid internship in Denver, and I spent the fall after graduation at an unpaid internship in New Orleans. It’s hard to describe how much I love New Orleans – I first went there on a week-long jazz trip in college, and as soon as I set foot in Louisiana, it felt like I belonged there. (I had the same feeling the first time I visited the U of M Morris campus.) It was love at first sight. I was dead-set on going back, hence the internship. Having established a place to live via Craigslist while I was in Denver, I drove to New Orleans by myself and arrived to claim my rented room. Turns out the landlord was super creepy – he had claimed to live in the house next door but in fact lived in the same house, had no door on his room, and tended to sneak around the house. The straw that broke the camel’s back was when one of my roommates (who I never saw) stuck a note under my door urging me to “get out while [I] still can.” So I did. Despite the rocky living situation, I was also filled with joy at finally being back in New Orleans and having the grand opportunity to live there for four months. I explored the city, reveling in the sights and sounds. Before I left for New Orleans, I bought a brand new bottle of body wash called Caress Evenly Gorgeous. It claims to be made from burnt brown sugar and karite butter (whatever that is), and the smell of that body wash reminds me of that first tumultuous week in New Orleans.

American Eagle Bohemian – being super poor in Minneapolis
Minneapolis was the final stop in my unpaid internship tour: I moved there from New Orleans to intern at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, where my unpaid internship required a minimum of twenty hours a week. James, who was student teaching in Buffalo, moved to Plymouth with me, and we shared a studio apartment that had once been a garage. We were scrimping to make ends meet, and at one time, I had four part-time jobs. (Well, three, if you don’t count the unpaid internship.) One of those jobs was at American Eagle – the mall clothing store. I had originally gotten a job there while living in Denver, and I had been able to transfer to a store in New Orleans and finally to a store in Maple Grove. And let me tell you – my American Eagle job was a lifesaver. While it was a minimum wage retail job, it did allow me to eat – not much more than eggs and Spaghetti-Os, but eating is eating. (James’s and my big Valentine’s Day dinner that year was a frozen bag of Bertolli’s pasta. What can I say: we splurged.) While I was working at the Maple Grove American Eagle, the company released a new perfume called Bohemian. While I could never afford a bottle of my own, they encouraged us to spritz on a little from the sample bottles so that customers would smell the fragrance and hopefully decide to buy some for themselves. So when I arrived at the store, I’d squirt on some  Bohemian perfume and go about my day. I don’t know if anyone actually bought any perfume because of that – I know that nobody ever asked me just what that enchanting scent was. I did finally acquire a full-time job and was able to quit all my part-time jobs. One of the first mistakes I made was buying a small bottle of Bohemian perfume. Months of wearing it around the store had fooled me into thinking that I liked it enough to wear it outside of work. One sniff of that, and I was reminded of how poor I was. That bottle is still floating around in a purse somewhere, but to me, it smells like minimum wage jobs and skipping meals and never filling my gas tank up all the way.  Not the greatest smell.


There we are: ten smells, ten associations/experiences. Now that you know the stories behind my ten scents, feel free to think of me when you smell any of these memory-laden fragrances. (That sounds weird, too. I can’t figure out how to say not-weird stuff in this blog.)

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

new favorite thing: river tubing.

I am so excited for summer.

Yes, everyone is excited for summer. Even though it hasn’t been a particularly brutal winter (…yet…), we still have the grey days and the brownness of everything and the static electricity and the getting dark at 5 o’clock, and it’s all getting to me.

But I’m excited for this summer for different reasons than usual. Normally, I can’t wait for the bike rides, the summer shandy, the lake days, and the summer arts festival. I am still beyond thrilled for that stuff, but I have two more big reasons to be excited: river tubing and water skiing.

Indeed, my two new reasons are water-related. Last summer was the first time I’d done either of those things. Summer 2014 was full of new experiences: I went river tubing for the first time in my life, I went tent camping for the first time in my life, and I successfully waterskied for the first time in my life. I felt very accomplished.

(You’ll notice that I didn’t add “camping” to the list of things that I’m looking forward to this summer. If you remember that story, you’ll recall that it was a huge disaster. Even so, I’m tired enough of winter that tent camping in the rain almost sounds pleasant.)

I will regale you with my tales of waterskiing another time, but today, we’re talking about river tubing. River tubing is exactly what you think it is: floating down a river in a rubber inner tube.

And it is the best thing ever.

I admit, it’s a bit on the white-trashy side: you float around in black inner tubes with a cooler of beer suspended between you, and it is THE MOST IMPORTANT THING to not let that cooler get away. But honestly, I’m from South Dakota: I’m going to have to embrace my white trash roots at one time or another.

Unfortunately for me, it took me 27 years to try out river tubing. It was something that always sounded like great fun, but I never found myself with the opportunity.

The opportunity did present itself when Mom, my brother Mitch, and I went to visit our sister Darrah in Phoenix. We were going in May: when the weather is still a bit brisk for Arizonans, but hot as blazes for winter-skinned Midwesterners. I had been looking up recommended activities, and Salt River tubing was at the very top of my list. My husband James, who lived in the Phoenix area until he was six, confirmed that it was just as awesome as it sounded. I presented the idea to my fellow travelers, and happily, everyone was on board.

Before we embarked on our Arizona river adventure, we made sure that we were well-acquainted with the rules. We could rent a special tube to hold a cooler, but none of the cooler contents could be glass. No problem. We had also heard that aqua socks were very highly recommended, so we all picked up a pair at the local Walmart.

We arrived at the river in the afternoon, and it was the absolute perfect day for river tubing. It was around 90 degrees, and there was not a cloud in the sky. We rented our tubes, rigged up our cooler, and boarded a rickety old school bus that took us to our starting point.

There, you carefully launched yourself and your tube into the water, trying not to lose your friends and your cooler. As we tubed down the river, my family and I rigged up a complicated system of hands and feet to ensure that we were not separated from each other… or the cooler. You were attached to someone (or the cooler) at all times, and sure enough, we didn’t lose anybody while navigating the river. (Take that, Oregon Trail.)

Our trip down the Salt River took a little more than two hours, and it was alternately relaxing and thrilling. Since it was only May, much of the snow in the mountains had yet to melt. Therefore, the river was not as full and fast as it could be. We had our fair share of rapids, but we also got a lot of lazy river riding in, too. The rapids were awfully fun, but since the river wasn’t that full, you had to make sure you lifted your butt way up lest you be scraped by large pointy rocks. We all found this out the hard way.

Butt-scraping aside, river tubing was just fantastic. We floated along, cold beers in hand, enjoying the Arizona sun and the Arizona scenery. (I lamented the absence of my camera, as the river valley really was lovely. However, dropping my camera in the river was not high on my priority list.) The water temperature could not have been more perfect, and the company was a riot. Life was so good.
River champions.
The only downside was the other river folk. Like I said, it’s a white-trash pastime, so you’ll have to expect that in your fellow tubers. And sure enough, the Salt River was full of them that day. They were so loud and so drunk, and they came in groups of upwards of twenty. Our little non-loud, non-drunk group did our best to steer clear of these, but the groups of tubes could be as wide as the river itself. Whenever we managed to maneuver around one group, another group would be right behind. We found the silver lining, though, by turning our experience into an ugly tattoo game. (For where there are shirtless drunk bros and their drunk girlfriends in bikinis, there WILL be ugly tattoos.)

At the end of the ride, you hauled your tube and your drowned-rat self out of the river and boarded a bus back to your car. We piled on the bus, feeling rather dirty and sunburned, but very pleased about our latest adventure. But it wasn’t over yet: on the bus ride, there was a bikini-clad girl and a shirtless bro (it was a breeding ground for shirtless bros) sitting across from each other. They had never met, but the shirtless bro cracked a beer and asked the bikini girl if she wanted to do a waterfall. To our surprise, Bikini Girl said yes. I had no idea what a waterfall was, but I had a feeling that I was about to be thoroughly grossed out. I watched with great curiosity (and a healthy dose of apprehension) as Shirtless Bro stood up and poured the beer down his stomach while Bikini Girl held her mouth by his belly button and licked it up. It was quite possibly the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen.

When I got home from my Arizona vacation, I raved to James about how tubing on the Salt River was my favorite thing and we had to spend our entire summer tubing on the Minnesota rivers. James was on board, so the first step was finding a time and a place to river tube.

James claimed that camping in Lanesboro, Minnesota was the best thing ever: no bugs, beautiful scenery, bike trails… and river tubing on the Root River. I was in as soon as I heard river tubing, but I questioned my decision when James informed me that camping in a tent was a requirement. I was so excited about river tubing that I was willing to overcome that (significant) obstacle.

The weekend of our camping trip arrived – however, it had been preceded by weeks of heavy rain. Concerned about our ability to tube, James called the campsite and inquired. “Oh yeah,” they said. “No problem.” So we loaded up the car and made the three-plus hour drive to Lanesboro.

We had driven through some rain, but it tapered off by the time we reached our destination. Our first stop was the campground: to get checked in and get on the river ASAP. But when we asked where we could rent the tubes, we were told that there hadn’t been tubing on the river for weeks. WEEKS. It had been raining too much, and the river was too high and dangerous.

To say I was crushed might be an understatement. I know I should be more resilient, but I had been looking forward to river tubing ever since I’d gotten back from Arizona. And now my hopes were dashed.

The rest of our camping weekend went on to be an unmitigated disaster (read about it!). I had a tough time finding the silver lining in this black cloud of a weekend, but as it was happening, I just told myself that it would make a great story later on. And it did.
Camping is the worst.
I was bound and determined that I would go river tubing in Minnesota before the summer was out. July flew by, and our next opportunity arose in August. James and I were going to St Cloud to visit his brother Jesse, and wouldn’t you know it, you could tube on the Platte River – a little offshoot from the Mighty Mississippi. I was delighted to find this out and immediately informed James and Jesse that we were doing this. It was not optional.

James, Jesse, Jesse’s roommate Trevor, and I piled in the car and headed for the river. However, our first stop was – of course – the liquor store. I had looked up the Platte River rules beforehand, and like the Salt River, the Platte River doesn’t want you to have any glass bottles. No problem. We filled up our cooler with a twelve-pack of Grain Belt. (For our trip down the Salt River, my beverage of choice had been Coors Shandy – a delicious radler in a can. When searching for it in Minnesota, we were informed that you can’t buy it in Minnesota. Who knew?)

The Platte River setup was very similar to the Salt River: you came, you rented your tubes, and you boarded a bus that dropped you off at the river. We started out at a campground, and we did rent a special tube for our cooler. Unlike the Salt River, the Platte River’s cooler tubes were just smaller inner tubes: the Salt River had specially designed compartments that your cooler fit into. That meant we had to be especially careful that our cooler didn’t get away.

When my family and I had gone tubing on the Salt River, we saw that many of our fellow tubers had the foresight to pack snacks. Sadly, we hadn’t, so that left us drinking our Coors Shandys and eyeing their Cheetos jealously. This time, I brought my own Cheetos. I’m no dummy.

After we’d rented our tubes, the four of us hauled them (along with the cooler) to a waiting bus. The bus driver was a 90-pound leathery toothless man with the smokiest smoker’s voice you’ve ever heard, and he stopped us before we got on the bus. “Open up your cooler,” he said. We did as we were told, and he peered at the beers nestled in the ice. “What have you got in here?” he growled. “Just some beer,” we said politely. “How many beers? There’s a two-beer-per-person limit,” the bus driver rasped. We were not aware of the two-beer limit, but we answered that there were twelve beers in our cooler. “Twelve beers… four people…” our driver mumbled. “Ok, you’re good.” We looked at each other, shrugged, and hauled our cooler on the bus.

River math.

The four of us splashed down into the river, hanging onto each other and our cooler. Now, the Platte River was a lot less lazy than the Salt River… but it was also not nearly as deep. We went over several sets of shallow rapids in which we actually had to stand up and walk our tubes through lest we slice open our posteriors on the rocks. James and I were wearing aqua socks, which Jesse and Trevor totally made fun of, but both of us were 100% glad to have them.

Speaking of things we were 100% glad to have, let’s talk about the Cheetos. I had brought two bags, which we totally demolished. We offered our Cheetos to river passers-by: everyone worked up an appetite trying not to impale themselves on gigantic rocks and tree branches.

Our ride down the Platte River was a blast, and it ended by us floating back to the campground. We de-tubed in a picturesque little grove and hauled our tubes back to the tube shed. Just like the Salt River, we were all wet, dirty, and gross – but thoroughly satisfied with our day on the river.

As it tends to do, summer came to an end sooner than I wanted it to. My river tubing for the season came to a close that August… though I did manage to sneak in waterskiing on Lake Poinsett in 50 degree weather. (More on that another time.)

That, my friends, is one of the (many) reasons I’m looking forward to next summer. I had not known of the glory of river tubing until just this past May, and I need to make up for lost time. If you have never been river tubing, allow me to highly recommend it. Just don’t forget your aqua socks and your cooler.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

before it was cool: the tragus piercing.

I’m not exactly what you’d call an early adopter. I was one of the last people in junior high to ditch my tapered jeans for flares, and I got my first smartphone around the time grandmas were signing up for them.

However, every once in a great while, I’ve been known to be one step ahead. Not often, but it happens. One such occasion?

The tragus piercing.

When I was eighteen, I got a shitty tattoo. When I was nineteen, I got another one. After the second tattoo, I made the wise decision (read: was threatened by my parents) to lay off the tattoos. So I set my sights on piercings.

I should tell you right up front: we’re talking ear piercings only. I have never had any desire to pierce anything but my ears, and chances are I never will.

I first saw a tragus piercing in Minneapolis. It wasn’t anything I’d ever seen before, and it seemed very classy and big city. I was nineteen-ish, and the big piercing trend around then was the Monroe: you pierce your lip so it looks kind of like a mole. You know.

But among the sea of Monroes, I saw a tragus piercing and LOVED it. It was edgy, but delicate. Unusual, but discreet. I had to have one.

Unlike my tattoos (which were basically impulse purchases), I gave myself some time to think over the tragus piercing. I had almost passed out during my last tattoo, so I wasn’t chomping at the bit to stroll into a tattoo shop for more needle poking.

I thought about that piercing for a large part of my sophomore year of college, but I didn’t get it done until summer break. I was working at the Brookings county courthouse for the summer, and I just up and decided that was the day I’d get my piercing. On my lunch break, I drove over to the same grimy Brookings tattoo parlor where I’d gotten my discount tattoos done, and I got my first non-Claire’s piercing.

First of all, I felt like a total badass. They came at me with a gigantic needle – not the piercing guns of my Claire’s days – and I barely flinched. I had been imagining excruciating pain for so long that the real deal was barely more than a pinch.  

I loved it. My friends loved it. My brand-new boyfriend James loved it. Life with a tragus piercing was grand…

…until I started seeing them EVERYWHERE.

I enjoyed a good couple of years with my tragus piercing. Total strangers would come up to me, tell me that they loved it, and ask me if it hurt. “Nope,” I would tell them. “Didn’t hurt a bit.”

Slowly, more tragus piercings were appearing. I started to see them not just in Minneapolis, but in Morris, Sioux Falls, Brookings… and even my teeny weeny hometown. There had been a tragus explosion.

Now, everyone and their mom has a tragus piercing. It is far from special, and though mine has brought me great joy over the years, I feel like a little bit of a dumbass for having mine. And there’s really no way to let the innocent bystander know that I had my tragus piercing before they were cool.

So if I feel like such a tool, why don’t I just take my tragus piercing out and be done with it? Alas, it’s no longer that simple. I’ve had that piercing for more than seven years now, and it’s not just going to grow back. If I take the earring out, then I have a weird-looking hole in my ear, and that’s almost worse. (Surprise! Grimy tattoo parlor doesn’t do a very good job with piercings, either.)

For now, I’m stuck with a trendy piercing. I do my best to make it less obvious – the earrings I wear are very small, and if my hair is down, you’d never know it was there. It has most certainly lost the edgy appeal it once had, but I’m not quite ready to abandon it all together.

So I will just have to embrace my tragus piercing hipster-dom. I did it before it was mainstream, and according to hipster logic, that makes me superior.

Or something.