Wednesday, August 27, 2014

let's talk about ice breakers.

Who remembers their first day of kindergarten? I sure don’t, but it’s safe to say that my teacher probably had each kid stand up, announce his or her name, and say something about him or herself. (Five-year-old Calla probably would’ve told you that her favorite color is red.) It usually wasn’t much, but it was a little something to help your teacher and your new classmates get to know you.

I did similar exercises whenever I found myself in an organized group of relative strangers – mostly for summer camps. (At one church camp, we were asked to give our names and our favorite Bible verse. I was immediately branded a heathen when I said, “My name is Calla and… uh… I don’t really have a favorite Bible verse.” GASP!)

These little activities are generally known as icebreakers. Some are pretty basic (name, something about yourself) while others are much more complex. It wasn’t until I got to college that I was introduced to the true beauty of icebreakers.

Until that point, I saw them as a nuisance. Icebreakers had mostly been done in groups of people I would almost certainly never see again (honestly? most of the time, I was counting on it – have you met some of the weirdos who go to church camps??), so why did I care who their favorite Backstreet Boy was? Granted, I had a bad attitude: I never went to camp (be it church camp or Norwegian camp) by choice, and I could think of thousands of things I’d rather be doing.

Enter: the University of Minnesota, Morris. UMM has all of its incoming freshmen spend one day there during the summer – they break you up into groups, and you sit through some welcome sessions, register for classes, and get campus tours. Then, when you show up for good in the fall, they have freshman come a few days early and spend that time in “orientation groups” where you travel around as a pack and do a bunch of activities to help you get your mind off the fact that OH MY GOD MY PARENTS JUST LEFT ME AT COLLEGE AND SUDDENLY I AM TERRIFIED.

Icebreakers were a big part of both of those sessions – but they weren’t the lackluster icebreakers of my youth. These were COLLEGE icebreakers –and you could be just about as crude as you wanted to.

Not that these games were always crude. The college icebreakers were just more fun and more challenging than any icebreaker I’d played before. Even the simple icebreakers were more fun because they turned into a competition. I remember sitting in a giant circle with a bunch of total strangers, and someone would start by saying their name and something that they liked that started with the same letter of their name: my name is Calla and I like caterpillars. (Which is true.) The next person would then say their name and what they liked, plus the name and item of the person in front of them: my name is Mona and I like meth. Her name is Calla and she likes caterpillars. The next person would then have to repeat both of the names and items behind them: my name is James and I like jam. Her name is Mona and she likes meth. Her name is Calla and she likes caterpillars… and so on. The first person to screw up is out of the game, and you keep going around until the best man wins. (Or until you run out of time.)

Another game we played in our orientation groups was the celebrity couple game. (Which, as you may imagine, only works with an even number of people.) Everybody has a piece of paper stuck to their back – you don’t know what name is stuck to you. You have to wander around asking yes or no questions: you’re trying to figure out who you are, and you’re trying to find your match. So if you approach someone, the first thing you might ask is, “Am I a male?” He or she will look at the name on your back and answer accordingly. You will look at the name on their back and answer questions that they might have, but you also need to determine whether or not they’re a potential match. For example: if you stroll up to someone who has the name Bert fastened to their back, you would assume that their match is Ernie. If you know that you are a male, you’d probably want to ask if you’re a fictional character or if you have a stunning unibrow. If you know that you’re a female, it’s safe to assume that Bert is not your match, but you would want to ask a question about yourself all the same. (If you’re feeling adventuresome, you can include couples that aren’t necessarily male and female, like gin and tonic or yin and yang.) The ultimate goal is to find your other half, and while it’s not really a competition, you don’t want to be the last idiot standing. 

My other favorite icebreaker from orientation week was the most complicated of all. This game requires paper, pencils, and a table. Every person gets a piece of paper and a pencil, and each person either writes a sentence or draws a picture. (You do it so it’s every other.) Then, you pass your picture or your sentence on to the person next to you. If you get a piece of paper with a sentence, you draw a picture of what’s going on in that sentence. If you get a piece of paper with a picture, you write a sentence about what you think is going on in that picture. When you’re done, you fold the paper over so only your sentence or picture is visible. You pass it onto the next person, and the cycle goes on from there. Once the pieces of paper have made it full circle, you open them up and see just how far off the end result was from the original. It’s like telephone, but on paper, and it never fails to be completely hilarious.

Icebreakers were also a major part of college band camp. Oh yeah: college band camp. (They called it a “retreat,” but we knew better.) During one weekend each September, the UMM concert band packed up and went to a church camp. The goal was to welcome new members and get a whole lot of practicing in before the October homecoming concert.

The first night of band camp was the best night, because you didn’t do any practicing and just played the shoe game for hours. The shoe game requires a large space and a bunch of people willing to run around in their socks. Everyone takes their shoes off and arranges them in a giant circle. You remove one pair of shoes so that you’ll have one more person than you do pair of shoes. Everyone stands behind a pair of shoes except for the lucky person who is in the middle. The person in the middle of the circle tells you their name and something about themselves: “My name is Calla, and I play the clarinet.” Everyone who shares that in common with the person in the middle must leave their space and run to a different pair of shoes – and the person in the middle runs, too. There will be someone leftover because of the strategic shoe shortage, and that person then stands in the middle and does the same thing.

Unlike the other icebreakers, there really is no end to the shoe game. You just quit when you feel like it – or when you’re winded from too much running around while laughing hysterically. You learn a whole lot about each other during the shoe game – almost certainly more than you want to, but that’s absolutely the point. The shoe game is how we learned that our German director was once a techno DJ and used to drink a pint of vodka each night while in the German army.
My director can drink more vodka than your director.
Sadly, since college, there hasn’t been much of an opportunity to play these ridiculous icebreakers. Maybe I should MAKE the opportunity. I don't have to wait until I'm tossed into a group of strangers: icebreakers are even more fun in groups of people that you already know. You just never know what you're going to learn.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

ten outfits under $35, part II.

A few months ago, I put together a blog post that featured ten outfits that cost me $35 or less. Previously, I’ve done outfits totaling $40 or less and outfits totaling $30 or less.

I have come to the conclusion that $35 is my sweet spot. Outfits under $40 were too easy, and outfits under $30 were too tough. Under $30 was doable, yes; but raising my limit to $35 allows me to make a REAL outfit: jewelry, accessories, whatever. So $35 it is!

That being said, when I put together my last $35-or-less outfit post, I found myself left with a lot of really great outfits. In the meantime, I’ve added a few more bargain pieces that just begged to be added to a cheap outfit. And that’s why I have (yet another) cheap outfit blog post for you!

A quick recap of my rules: I won’t post an outfit on this blog that I wouldn’t wear as an actual outfit – so anything you see here is something that I would gladly wear out in public and not something I just threw together for the sake of it being cheap. I will not reuse any clothing item from past blog posts except for shoes. I will include gifts, but only jewelry (and I’ll try not to do it too often). No foundation garments – tank tops, socks, etc – as part of my total. Prices are almost always exact, but some are from memory – and those are probably within fifty cents. Finally, I included outfits from as many different places as I could. Who doesn’t love variety?

With all that out of the way, please enjoy the fourth (fourth?! whoa!) installment of my top ten cheap outfits!!


Silver jeans – Maurices – $25 (buy one get one free)
sandals – JCPenney – $3 (fall super sale)
shirt – Goodwill Brookings – $3.75
necklace – gift/Sears (Grandma paid $2.80)
TOTAL = $34.99

Whenever I do one of these cheap outfit blog posts, it’s almost a guarantee that you’ll see something from Maurices. Maurices has THE BEST sales – you just have to know when to look for them. I got these jeans as part of a “buy one clearance item, get one free” sale. The clearance items were already 40% off their original price – so buying one pair of jeans at $50 got me a second pair for free (you saw the other pair on the last under $35 blog post). Splitting the difference gets me $25 jeans – and Silver jeans, no less. The red shirt was a should-I-get-it-should-I-not kind of thing at Brookings Goodwill. I’d tried it on and loved it… only to spot a hole in the sleeve. Since I am domestically challenged, I figured that there’s no way I could fix it and promptly put it back on its hanger. I left Goodwill… and then turned around and bought the shirt, deciding that if I totally messed up sewing up the hole, it would only be $3.75 lost. Luckily, I did an ok job, so my $3.75 is safe! The necklace was a gift from my grandma Sheila, but I know for a fact that she paid $2.80 for it at Sears (she is as proud of good deals as I am).

dress – Modcloth – $26.99 
sandals – Target – $5-ish 
necklace – gift
TOTAL = $31.99

Modcloth is another one of my go-to websites. They have the loveliest clothes, and while they appear a little expensive on the surface, they’ll give you some good deals if you watch out. I bought this dress around Christmastime when they were giving 50% off their new arrivals. And can I say how much I love maxi dresses? It’s just like wearing pajamas all day, except classy. The sandals were a steal at Target because they’re size 5: while my usual size is 6 ½, sandal sizing is a bit different, so Target’s size 5 fit like a charm. Luckily for me, not many people have tiny freak feet that can squeeze into a size 5. The necklace was a gift from James for my 23rd birthday – it was the first item he’d ever bought from a jewelry store, and he likes to say, “This is the first GOOD present I gave you!” (We started dating when I was 20. I have stories.)

pants – Goodwill St Paul – $3 (half off for yellow tag day)
shirt – Savers – $1.99 (half off day)
cardigan – Target – $5.38
shoes – Target – $9.98
necklace – arts festival/Hobby Lobby – $7 for charm, $3 for chain supplies
TOTAL = $30.35

Only at Goodwill in St Paul can you find a pair of J Crew pants for three dollars on half-off day. Goodwill will have half-off days for certain color tags, and I happened to snag these pants when the yellow tags were fifty percent off. YES. Both Target items came from an end-of-season clearance sale, which is when they’re practically giving stuff away. And the shirt from Savers: I’ve told you time and time again about the dangers of half-off day at Savers, so I won’t bore you. I’ll just remind you that if you ever decide to brave half-off day at Savers, you’d better wear steel-toed boots and have your affairs in order. Finally, the necklace: the ferris wheel charm came from the Brookings Summer Arts Festival: my favorite place ever and home to cool stuff/great food/the best people watching of all time. I made the fancy chain myself with supplies from Hobby Lobby, where stuff is always on sale (or you can download a coupon to MAKE it on sale). Viola.

dress – Maurices – $10
shoes – Shoe Carnival – $12.50 (buy one get one ½ off)
earrings  Lewis Drug  $.99
TOTAL = $30.49

Here we go with Maurices again. This dress came from one of their big house-cleaning sales where they round up a bunch of stuff and mark it all at one flat price. Dresses happened to be $10, and this one happened to be perfect for work. Shoe Carnival always seems to have a buy one, get one half off sale, and these lovely shoes were part of it. I almost never go to Shoe Carnival, but I’m glad I did – these shoes were not only the last pair, but they were on clearance, which meant I got them for half off the clearance price. Cha-CHING! You don't usually think of Lewis Drug for your jewelry needs, but I was picking up a couple of things there and happened to wander by their jewelry display. The pearl drop earrings were priced at $4.99, which was awfully reasonable already, so I picked out two pairs. Lo and behold, they rang up as ninety-nine cents. I love Lewis. 

Converses – Converse Outlet – $15
shorts – Goodwill Brookings – $4.25
shirt – Wet Seal – $10
necklace – Forever21 – $4.80
TOTAL = $34.05

If you are a Minnesotan (or even a South Dakotan), you are probably aware that there is an outlet mall in Albertville, Minnesota. Outlet malls aren’t usually my thing, but I do like this one: if only for the Columbia store, the Fossil store, and the Converse store. It’s not too often that you can find a pair of All Stars for the paltry sum of $15, but I did just that at the Albertville Converse outlet. These shorts are the third and final pair from my Brookings Goodwill American Eagle shorts jackpot – three pairs in my size, all with the tags still attached. I have to tell you, too, that I’m fully aware that I’m too old to shop at Wet Seal, but I got this shirt when I was 23 – I may have been too old for Wet Seal even then, but I don’t think I’m too old for the shirt. That’s what counts, right?

shoes – Target – $7-ish
necklace – Claire’s – $7
dress – Goodwill Brookings – $6
bracelet – World Market – $10.95
TOTAL = $30.95

Funny story about this dress: Mom and I were in the Brookings Goodwill years and YEARS ago, and we were rifling through the overstuffed racks. I almost never have good luck with dresses at Goodwill – most of them have shoulder pads, after all. Mom dug this one out of the fray and suggested I try it on. I saw that it was a few sizes larger than I would usually wear and politely declined. Mom insisted, so I tried it on – and it is probably the most magical dress I’ve ever owned. It clings and flows in all the right places, and I hope this dress lasts forever. I bought the necklace at Claire’s… seventeen years ago. It was during the height of my Titanic craze, and Claire’s was selling fake Heart of the Ocean necklaces. I had ten dollars to my name, so I went to Claire’s, fully intending to buy one. When I got there, I found – much to my dismay – that the necklace was out of my price range. (I think it was $11.25 or something.) Instead, I bought this little necklace: after all, it looked vintagey and like something someone on the Titanic might’ve worn. And it was a good choice: I’ve gotten way more use out of this necklace than I did of my Heart of the Ocean (which I received for Christmas that same year). And let me say this about World Market: it is one of my favorite stores EVER. I do a ton of my Christmas shopping at World Market – from crazy food to fancy pillows to colorful scarves, you can find something for anyone and everyone at World Market.

skirt – Goodwill St Paul – $3.99
cardigan – Target – $7
necklace – Charlotte Russe – $10
flats – Y’s Buys – $3
ring – H&M – $5.95
TOTAL = $29.94

Like dresses, skirts are usually not too great at Goodwill. They tend to be long/frumpy/made of wool. This skirt is one of the few that I have found at Goodwill, and it’s one of my favorites. I almost never wear my gigantic cocktail ring because it’s so heavy and cumbersome, but I love it, so I keep it around for special occasions. (Like blog posts. Obviously.) And the zebra cardigan: I went through a brief animal print phase when I lived in Minneapolis, and this cardigan is one of the lone survivors. My zebra cardigan and I have been through a lot together: I wore it on my first day of work at the library, so it’s in the picture that graces my ID badge. I was wearing this cardigan the day I gave blood at the Bloodmobile and promptly passed out on the sidewalk. Ahh, memories.

sweater – Goodwill Omaha – $3.75
pants – Target – $8.48
flats – American Eagle – $6
pearl choker – Etsy – $13
alligator charm – Hancock Fabrics – $.06
TOTAL = $31.23

Omaha has about a zillion Goodwills, and James and I went to two of them during a trip last year. I didn’t find much, but I did find this sweater. The pants came from Target’s winter clearance sale, which is when I do the majority of my Target shopping. Leopard shoes? From the Minneapolis animal print phase – but I was lucky enough to score these (on clearance!) with my American Eagle employee discount. In the last post, I told you about my pearls from China – these pearls are from the same Etsy store, and I LOVE them. They’re real pearls, but I paid a pittance for them. They’re a little oblong and a little bumpy, but they’re real and go with pretty much anything. Finally, the charm (and it is indeed an alligator) came in a four-pack of New Orleans-themed charm, and the whole pack was twenty-five cents. Score one for Hancock Fabrics.

I love twirly skirts.
skirt – Effie’s Heart – $16 ($10 off)
wedges – Target – $14.98
t-shirt – Old Navy – $3.97 (clearance)
magnifying glass necklace – gift!
TOTAL = $34.95

Weird story about this skirt: I had never heard of Effie’s Heart before I ordered a shirt from Modcloth. The shirt arrived, and while it looked completely ridiculous (I returned it – thank goodness for free return shipping), I really liked the pattern. The label read “Effie’s Heart,” so out of curiosity, I headed over to their website. I found a ton of really expensive stuff… and a gem of a clearance section. By signing up for their email list, I got a $10 coupon right off the bat. Bonus: the skirt has pockets.

shirt – Country Peddler – $0 (used credit, was $2)
scarf – DSW – $11.95 ($5 off coupon)
jeans – Plato’s Closet – $12.80 (org $16 with 20% off coupon)
earrings  Spencer's  $1
sandals – Gap Outlet – $7-ish
TOTAL =$32.75

We’ve talked about Country Peddler before: the wonderful Brookings consignment store where I sell my old clothes and pick up a few new things while I’m at it. This shirt came from Country Peddler’s clearance rack, and I paid for it using my consignment credit: so I’m counting it as free. DSW is pretty generous with their coupons, and this one happened to be a $5 off coupon I got in the mail. DSW online only sells shoes and handbags, but the brick-and-mortar stores sell scarves, necklaces, and other fun stuff. This particular scarf came from the Mall of America, and it was the LAST ONE. Frankly, I don’t do a lot of shopping at Plato’s Closet any more – the Sioux Falls store is packed to the gills, and there are always tons of people. I really have to be in the right mindset. That being said, when I AM in the right mindset, I usually end up with something good. Plato’s Closet has stamp cards, and for every $10 that you buy or sell, you get a stamp. For every 20 stamps you get, you get a 20% off your purchase. I used to sell a ton of stuff there, so I’d have 20% off coupons all the time. These jeans came from one such coupon - $12.80. Not too shabby. Finally, a word about the earrings. You know what I look like and how I dress, so I obviously stick out like a sore thumb at Spencer's. I went in looking for a tragus stud and happened upon a "buy one, get one for one dollar" jewelry sale. Hence the sparrow earrings. Also hence me feeling like a huge square every time I go into Spencer's - which, in my defense, is less often than once a year. But for $1 sparrow earrings? Sure enough, I'll go to Spencer's.

-----

Once again, we have completed another tour of my cheap clothing closet. This time, my items came from 30 different places! Whoo hoo! We’ve got eight mall clothing stores, three thrift stores, two big-box stores, two outlet stores, two online only clothing stores, two shoe stores, two consignment stores, two gifts, one drug store, one arts festival, one craft store, one costume jewelry store, one online jewelry/a little bit of everything store, one fabric store, and one of whatever World Market is.

So that’s it for this time around: ten more outfits under $35. Stay tuned for next time: I’ve got plenty more bargain outfits to show you!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

let's talk about Robin Williams.

Whenever I come up with an idea for a blog post, I write it down on an ever-expanding list. When blog-writing time comes around, I’ll look at my list and pick a topic: maybe one that fits in with the time of year, or maybe a story that looks particularly fun to write.

Robin Williams has been on my list for some time now. I was looking through my movie collection one day and noticed that one actor appeared way more often than any other: Robin Williams, of course. “Huh,” I thought to myself. “I’d better write about Robin Williams someday.” So I wrote it down.

Like the rest of the world, I was shocked and disheartened when I heard of Robin Williams’ death on Monday. As a child of the 90s, I grew up with Robin Williams – and when he died, it felt as though part of my childhood went with him. Obviously, I didn’t know Robin Williams personally, but it still feels like a friend has died. I felt the same impact when Mr Rogers died in 2003 and when Michael Jackson died in 2009. When each of these men died, I felt like there was something missing – how would the world go on without them?

Of course, the world does go on – I still have to go to work, clean the house, go grocery shopping. But there are so many good memories to share – so what better time for me to write my Robin Williams blog?

This blog will be broken into movies – ordered not necessarily by when they were released, but by the time they impacted my life.

Aladdin
My first encounter with Robin Williams was as the voice of the Genie in Aladdin
Aladdin came out when I was five, and we wore that VHS out – it was one of the few movies upon which my siblings and I could agree. I loved (and still love) the songs, and I always wanted to be Princess Jasmine. (Growing up in white-bread Midwest, I couldn’t fathom a place filled with sand where you wore bikinis every day – plus, I was jealous of Jasmine’s hair.) I thought the Genie was hilarious, and I would’ve loved to have a friend like him. (See what I did there? “Friend Like Me”? Get it?) As a kid, I may or may not have teared up when Aladdin sets the Genie free. You can count on Disney for a good happy ending.

 Mrs Doubtfire
Mrs Doubtfire was the movie that triggered my love for all things drag queen. 
Though Mrs Doubtfire wasn’t your traditional glamourous drag queen, she set into motion my deep appreciation for drag queens of all shapes and sizes. (My favorite scene has always been the one where Harvey Fierstein and his boyfriend transform Robin Williams into a montage of different women.) Sure, the premise of the movie is pretty strange – a dad dresses up as an old English nanny so he can secretly spend time with his children – but you have to admit, it’s kind of sweet. The best part about Mrs Doubtfire is that it was one of my Grandpa Darwin’s favorite movies – Grandpa Darwin, the old farmer who watched almost nothing but John Wayne movies, loved it. I saw Mrs Doubtfire for the first time with Grandpa Darwin, and we’d watch it countless times together in Badger. So it always makes me think of him.

Hook
Growing up, I never really realized how lucky I was to have the dad that I did. My dad is a farmer and is therefore very busy in the fall and in the spring – but in my seventeen years of schooling, he only missed one school event. ONE. And you know why? Because it was a concert I played in college in Morris, and it was blizzarding. I didn’t put two and two together when I first watched Hook – Peter Banning NEVER made it to his kids’ events, and when he did, he was on his cell phone – but years later, movies like Hook with Peter Banning the absentee dad make me really appreciate my own dad. There’s so much to love about Hook: it’s got two of my favorite actors of all time: Robin Williams and Dustin Hoffman.
(Want to know who the other two are? Of course you do: Jack Lemmon, Gene Wilder, and Jimmy Stewart.) Dustin Hoffman as Captain Hook is just fantastic. FANTASTIC. And Rufio? 
Ru-fi-ohhhhhhhh!!!!!
The Birdcage
Like Mrs Doubtfire, The Birdcage was introduced to me by someone I never would’ve expected. My great uncle Burt lived just down the hill from us, and he had an extensive movie collection. Whenever I went to visit, he would send me home with movies that I hadn’t seen. One day, Burt sent me home with The Birdcage. This would be the second time in my life that a drag queen movie was recommended to me by a seventy-something male relative who I never would’ve pegged as someone who would appreciate a drag queen movie. (Grandpa was a farmer, and Burt had been a paratrooper in the Army and worked as an airplane mechanic after the Korean War.) Anyway, I loved it – it’s about a gay couple (Armand and Albert) who must pretend to be straight (and not Jewish) in order to impress their son’s fiancée’s conservative parents. (Nevermind that the son is a total jackass for asking them to pretend to be people they're not.) One of them finds that he cannot play a convincing straight man, so he dresses in drag and plays the part of the housewife. Of course, it all unravels in the end, but it’s an absolute delight. 
Nathan Lane plays Robin Williams’ partner Albert, and they are the perfect duo. The Birdcage was released in 1996 – years before it was common for straight actors to play gay men. So not only was The Birdcage ahead of the times, but it also provided me with the single most important fashion rule that I follow at all times: Albert is trying to dress as a straight man would, and he puts on a very somber dark suit and a tie. When he crosses his legs, we see that he has on a pair of hot pink socks. 
When Armand calls him on the socks, Albert says, “One does want a hint of color.” It’s a rule I’ve followed ever since.

Dead Poet’s Society
I have a hard time choosing my absolute favorite movies of all time, but if I had to, Dead Poet’s Society would most certainly be in the top ten. Probably even the top five. I have never been much of an appreciator of poetry, but Dead Poet’s Society cracked open that door for me. From barbaric yawps to gathering the rosebuds while ye may, Dead Poet’s Society helped me discover how awe-inspiring and soul-shaking poetry really can be. 
John Keating is exactly the kind of teacher that everyone wants to have: fiercely intelligent and passionate about their subject, but with enough of a sense of humor and down-to-earthiness to be able to relate to the students and help them develop a love of said subject. (He tells his students that they can refer to him as “O Captain, My Captain!” for crying out loud.) And the scene at the end?
O Captain, My Captain!
I’ve watched this movie more times than I can count, but it gives me chills every single time. Yes, everyone wants a teacher like that: and the longer my husband James teaches in Ellsworth, the more I can see that he is just that kind of teacher. O Captain, My Captain!

-----

In these five movies, the characters Robin Williams played were always people who were flawed, but they turned out to be pretty great guys in the end. Three dads who love their kids enough to go to great and ridiculous lengths for them: Daniel Hillard dresses up as a woman in to spend time with his kids in Mrs Doubtfire, Armand Goldman pretends to be straight for his son’s fiancée’s conservative parents in The Birdcage, and Peter Banning journeys to Neverland to rescue his kids from Captain Hook. One great teacher: John Keating shows his students how to appreciate poetry – and in the meantime, appreciate life – in Dead Poet’s Society. And one great friend: the Genie will do about anything for Aladdin, even if it means giving up his freedom (which, thankfully, he doesn’t have to).

There are other Robin Williams movies that I certainly appreciate – Good Morning Vietnam, Jumanji, Good Will Hunting. But these five films had the biggest impact on my young life. And for that, I will be forever grateful to Robin Williams.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

let's talk about back-to-school shopping.

The end of summer is bittersweet. As soon as August hits, you blink and it’s fall. While fall is a lovely time in the Midwest, you know that six months of winter are right around the corner.

Once again, August is upon us, and I am begrudgingly trying to accept that summer is coming to its end. I am unhappy about this for a number of reasons:
  • I never get enough time at Lake Poinsett, and fall means that Lake Poinsett will have to wait until next summer.
  • No more summer shandy. Sure, I can buy a bunch at the end of the season and drink it all year, but it never tastes as good as when you’re sitting outside under a tree.
  • My summer tan (or, the best I can do for a tan) is kaput. I spend a few glorious months with skin that isn’t so pale that it’s see-through, and I am loathe to give that up.
  • James starts school again, so that means his amazingly productive summer days are over. I’ll have to start cleaning and doing laundry again, and he will no longer have time to build things like this door shelf.
  • All the festivals are over. My favorite – the Brookings Summer Arts Festival – was in mid-July. If you wanted to, you could find a festival to occupy every summer weekend. There are a few to look forward to in the fall (Oktoberfest!!!), but they don’t serve cheese curds.
  • Wearing tights is one of my least favorite things in the world, and the end of summer means the end of bare legs with my skirts and dresses. I also have to put away all of my sandals and get out my boots, which I am really not ready to do.
  • Did I mention Lake Poinsett?
Ahh.
Like most people in my neck of the woods, I have never looked forward to the end of summer. (Except for the summers I had a job mowing lawns and picking up dead fish at the Methodist Camp: I counted the days until school began. But that was the only time.) In my school days, I loved the freedom that came with not having to worry about classes or homework or any of that. Even when I had part-time summer jobs, I had all sorts of free time to hang out with my friends.

In elementary school, there was one end-of-summer event that I looked forward to, even though it meant that my carefree days would soon be over.

And that was school supply shopping.

The most exciting summer for school supply shopping was, of course, the summer before I entered kindergarten. I hadn’t attended preschool, so I was building my school supply collection from the ground up. My favorite color was red, so my first pair of scissors was a pair of red-handled Fiskars (which I still have to this day). I got to take home wonderfully exciting things like a brand-new box of crayons, washable markers, Elmer’s glue (I started kindergarten in 1992, and at that time, you could get Elmer’s glue in neon pink and neon orange – which I totally talked my mother into), gym shoes, and two boxes of Kleenex. My parents had given me a personalized red pencil box in which to store my loot, and it felt like I had won the school supply jackpot.

I had discovered the magic of school supply shopping. I had so enjoyed perusing the aisle at Walmart for the perfect Pink Pearl eraser that I couldn’t wait to do it again at the beginning of each school year. I would eagerly watch the mail for the school supply list to arrive, and when it did, I would incessantly bug Mom about when we were going to go shopping.

If Mom was too busy to take me school supply shopping, Grandma Lorraine was the substitute school supply shopper. Going school supply shopping with Grandma Lorraine was the BEST – she would say yes to all sorts of things that Mom would say no to, and we were almost guaranteed to get ice cream afterwards.

Grandma Lorraine, a former teacher, would often tut-tut over all the things kids these days “needed” for elementary school. However, when I had my eye on the more expensive Lisa Frank folders versus the plain penny folders, Grandma could always be counted on to spring for Lisa Frank.


Unicorns and all.
She would also let me have the box of 24 Crayola crayons when the school supply list suggested that I only needed the box of 16.

Don’t get me wrong: I did enjoy school supply shopping with Mom. School supply shopping with Mom usually meant getting to go to exotic Watertown (which meant Target instead of Walmart!) instead of the usual trip to Brookings. However, when I would present Mom with a box of new colored pencils, she would usually say, “What’s wrong with your colored pencils from last year?” Mom didn’t seem to get that the colored pencils from last year were far inferior, as they had already been through one whole school year and were all broken and snaggly from the wall-mounted school pencil sharpeners. Grandma, on the other hand, asked no questions and tossed those colored pencils right into her shopping cart.

Inevitably, I would show up to school to find out that I had completely missed some major school supply trend. Remember those scented markers? I’d walked right by them, so I had to be content sniffing the communal classroom markers. (Same thing goes with scented crayons. Those were weird and didn’t color well, but you could make your illustrations smell like grass and sky.) There was always some cool new glue stick or must-have colorful eraser that I had blindly passed, so I’d make a mental note of it for next year… but predictably, those super cool school supplies of the previous year were now passé. You couldn’t be caught dead with scented crayons after third grade.

Though scented crayons were not one of them, there were a few things that were specifically outlawed on the school supply list. Gym shoes with black soles were banned, as they would leave black marks on the gymnasium floor. There was an explosion of gel pen popularity in the late 90s, and soon there was a notation on our supply lists that we were not to bring any pens that were not blue, black, or red. We were eventually asked to bring binders, but Trapper Keepers were forbidden. (I still have yet to figure out what exactly was so evil about Trapper Keepers.)

Back to school shopping had never really involved buying new clothing. Mom would bring me a new outfit from time to time, and my idea of really big back-to-school excitement was getting to choose a new pair of glasses. But I was never a part of the big back-to-school clothing hullaballoo that I first witnessed while working in retail. Parents would come in and spend big bucks on their growly teenage children, and that would only be one stop in their long quest for a new school wardrobe. Just a drop in the gigantic back-to-school bucket.

I did get to pick out one outfit specifically to wear back to school. It was 1997, and I was entering the fifth grade. For some reason, the color lime green had made a gigantic comeback, and it was the trendiest color a ten-year-old could wear. I was spending the day in Brookings with Grandma Lorraine, and she took me to the Brookings Mall. At that time, the Brookings Mall still had a Vanity, and I made a beeline for it. I resurfaced with a pair of lime green overalls – and they were SHORTS, no less. Grandma knew my favorite color was lime green, so she offered to buy me the overalls – and not just the overalls, but a shirt lined in lime green flowers to go with it. And it didn’t stop there. We went to the local Kmart (when Brookings still had a Kmart) and emerged with a pair of lime green fake Keds. That was my favorite outfit all year – you can even find it in my official fifth grade school portrait.

As I grew older, my school supply list grew shorter and began to evolve into less-fun supplies. I no longer needed my Crayola markers and pencil box, but I did need rubber cement and a calculator. I was too old to buy the fun folders anymore, and suddenly, Five-Star brand notebooks were a big deal. You weren’t cool unless you had the right type of pen, and you had better have a highlighter in every color of the rainbow.

When I entered junior high school, the school supply list disappeared altogether. You were expected to show up with pencils, pens, and notebooks. This was a huge let-down: I had aged out of school supply shopping. I went just the same and got a brand new notebook (college ruled, of course) every year. True to form, I could usually finagle myself a new backpack or fresh batch of Sharpies.

College school supply shopping was a whole new ball game. As far as REAL school supplies went, I only really needed pens, pencils, and notebooks – just like junior high and high school. However, as I was moving into a dorm, I also needed things like laundry detergent and sheets. College school supply shopping was much scarier than the school supply shopping I remembered. After all, I would soon be expected to buy my own cereal and shampoo, let alone my notebooks and pens and pencils.

I have been out of college for a while now (read: five years), so I have not graced the back-to-school section in quite some time. However, whenever I walk into a store during back-to-school season and see that familiar tower with school supply lists from area schools, I feel a small twinge of jealousy. The days of joyously picking out my pencils and glue for a new school year are gone. But even though I don’t have a school to go back to, I could take myself for a spin through the back-to-school aisles and relive a little bit of the old excitement: when the littlest things made you the happiest. When the possibilities were endless and you knew this was going to be the best school year EVER. And maybe I’ll even pick up a thing or two. After all, I could really use some snazzy new folders.
A Lisa Frank fortune teller pig folder, perhaps?

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

one year in Luverne.

Right on the heels of our one-year wedding anniversary comes our one-year Luverne anniversary. We closed on our house in Luverne just three days after we got married, so there was a lot going on at once. Whirlwind or not, both James and I were very happy to have a place to call home – especially a place that wasn’t a junky Sioux Falls apartment.

We chose to live in Luverne because it was the closest to halfway between our jobs – James works in Ellsworth, MN and I work in Sioux Falls, SD. Plus, you can get a lot more house for your money in Luverne than in Sioux Falls.
Helloooooo, Luverne!
Now that we’re wrapping up our first year as Luvernians (Luvernites?), I feel like I should share our impressions from the past twelve months. And you know how much I love to share my impressions.

The first thing that James and I discovered is that home ownership is equal parts awesome and suck. Allow me to explain.

AWESOME
  • Getting to paint the walls and hang up whatever we want – nail holes be damned.
  • Feeling important and grown up when there’s no longer an apartment number at the end of your address.
  • Much more space = easier to have people over. Hilarious pictures ensue.
    Hot Dog Night 2014.
Housewarming 2013.

Christmas Hangover 2013.
  • Much more space = less likely for James and I to get on each other’s’ nerves.
  • Grilling.
  • Drinking beer in the driveway while grilling.
  • Drinking beer on the lawn whenever you damn well please.
  • Planting a garden – no word yet on whether or not it will survive until next year.
  • Finally being able to have a pet, even though said pet is a cat who is kind of an asshole.
  •  We no longer share walls with our neighbors.
  • We have thirteen threes, two of which are apple trees – which means loads of apples ripe for the picking in our backyard.
  • Reaching another milestone on the long road to adulthood.
    Another milestone = hosting a holiday! Much easier with a house!
SUCK
  • We had bats last summer, and it was terrifying.
  • The water pipe to the washing machine froze last year and gushed water all over the laundry room while I was home alone, and it was terrifying.
  • I actively dislike mowing the lawn and shoveling sidewalks. Did I mention we live on a gigantic corner lot?
  • We have thirteen trees, two of which are apple trees – which means loads of apples that fall on the ground and we spend hours picking up lest they rot and become super disgusting. Oh, and lots of raking.
  • Buying a house made me feel just a tiny bit trapped. Gone are the days when the world was there for the taking and we could live wherever we want.
  • Our house only has one bathroom. What were we thinking?
  • Our house only has one garage stall. What were we thinking?
And that’s just the house. Luverne itself has a similar awesome/suck ratio.

AWESOME
  • Living in Luverne makes us officially Minnesotans. Hooray!
  • Every year in July, Luverne hosts Hot Dog Night. Businesses in town grill hot dogs, and you can eat as many free hot dogs as your heart desires. They also have wiener dog races and beauty contests, plus a Wiener Man race: you have to eat a hot dog and drink a beer at every stop. Leave it to Minnesota.
  • Luverne has a drive-in movie theatre, which is perhaps the greatest thing ever. You pay five dollars for two movies, and it’s got a kick-ass concession stand.
  • Speaking of drive-ins, the other drive-in (the kind where you get ice cream and fried food) stays open March – October. In the drive-in world, that’s a hell of a long time.
  • The Blue Stem is in Luverne, and their food is to DIE for. I dream of their wonton nachos, their spinach and artichoke dip, and their raspberry margaritas. Also? They have rib-eyes for ONE DOLLAR PER OUNCE every Tuesday night – and that includes potatoes and asparagus. Be still my heart.
  • Smokey’s Pizza is also in Luverne, and they have the second best pizza I’ve ever had (first prize going to Pizza King in Brookings). Like Pizza King, Smokey’s uses big slices of mozzarella cheese instead of shreds. They also have tons of specials, including the Tuesday special: starting at 5 o’clock, when you call and order a medium one-topping pizza, the time you call is the price. So if you call at 5:02, your pizza will be $5.02. Small towns have the BEST specials.
  • I actually see my family MORE now that I have a house – even though I live further away. Since I live in a house that looks all cozy and homey versus a cramped apartment with stanky hallways, it’s a much more pleasant destination. My parents love road trips – especially when the weather is nice and they can take their Mustang. My brother was also a frequent guest this past winter when things were slow at work. I love having them around, and I love that they don’t mind the drive. (It helps that they really like Mona the cat.)
SUCK
  • Living in Luverne makes us officially Minnesotans. Suddenly, everything costs more than it did when we were South Dakota residents.
  • While Luverne has a fairly robust population of 4900-ish people, its restaurant choices are fairly slim. Most of the eateries are closed on Sundays, and for fast food, you have but three options: McDonald’s, Taco John’s, and Subway. Yeesh.
  • Similarly, Luverne's entertainment choices leave something to be desired. When James and I lived in Minneapolis (and even Sioux Falls), we could head out and catch a movie matinee or live music pretty much whenever we wanted. It's not that easy in Luverne.
  • Luverne has killed our road trip spirit. When James and I lived in Sioux Falls, we’d zip around after work and on weekends and get all sorts of stuff done. James and I both commute to work – 20 minutes for him, 35 minutes for me – so the last thing we want to do on weekends is drive. We would also take many more road trips – even though James commuted 45 minutes when we lived in Sioux Falls, my commute was ten minutes, so I was the road-trip cheerleader. All it takes is one person with some enthusiasm, and a road trip seems much more appealing. These days, neither James nor I have the road trip spirit, so it’s a lot tougher to convince ourselves to pile in the car and drive to Minneapolis when driving is exactly what we’ve been doing all week long.
  • Did I mention that we spend a lot of money on gas?
  • We don’t know anybody here. Most of our neighbors are retired or have kids, so we don’t have a lot in common. We haven’t gone to many community events since we’re gone all the time, so it's been tough to meet anybody.
  • We don’t see our friends as often. Most of our friends live in Minneapolis (see: lack of road trip spirit) or Sioux Falls. Sioux Falls is far enough so that it’s a pretty good effort for us to get there on a weekend, especially since I drive there at least five days a week already. Don’t get me wrong: it’s not that we don’t see our friends due to complete lack of effort. It’s just that living so far away means that some planning has to be done in order to get together – and none of us are good planners. Gone are the days of the last minute “want to meet for a drink?” text message. I might still try it, but I can only wait around for so long for a response until I turn towards home – and if I’m already in Luverne by the time I get an answer, chances are I’m not turning around and driving back to Sioux Falls.
I didn’t mean to turn this blog post into a bunch of boo-hooing, but it just seems that way because I listed the awesome stuff first. Life in Luverne really is good – it’s just not perfect. And I need to learn not to expect it to be.

So here’s to another year in Luverne – tune in at this time next year for my two-year anniversary update! Or better yet, just come visit me and we can drink on the lawn!