Tuesday, July 18, 2017

let's talk about street dances.

Summer is in full swing, and here in the Midwest, that means SO many things:

Long days.
Weekend festivals.
Drinks on patios.
Hard-earned sunburns.
Road trips.
As much time in/near water as you can manage.

And street dances.

For the uninitiated, a street dance is exactly what you think it is. (I’m inclined to believe that the street dance is a Midwestern small-town phenomenon, but perhaps it is more widespread than I give it credit for.) An average small-town street dance will take place on the Saturday night of said small town’s annual summer celebration. Every small Midwestern town has an annual summer celebration, always titled with a noun followed by “Days.” Honey Days. Buffalo Days. Family Fun Days. And for the less creative among us (I’m looking at you, home town), just the name of the town followed by “Days:” Arlington Days.

A portion of the main street of the town is shut down for the evening, and revelers are corralled into a small enclosure (typically created with wooden barricades and that neon plastic fencing stuff) in which a famous-in-the-surrounding-area local band is playing. Sometimes there’s a cover charge, sometimes there’s not. The only thing available to drink is overpriced light beer, and there is always a fistfight or two. And someone will inevitably spill their beer on you.

I may not strike you as a street dance kind of gal, and you would be correct. I gave street dances an honest shot when I was in high school, mostly because what else is a high school teenager going to do on a Saturday night in the middle of nowhere? Plus, that’s inevitably where my friends would be. Street dances are just what you did as soon as you (or one of your friends) had a driver’s license.

An introvert by nature, attending street dances always made me a little uneasy. You must understand that a small town street dance is not attended only by the citizens of that town, oh no. Any given street dance will attract revelers from all the surrounding small towns, as they all must coordinate their calendars to ensure that their town celebrations fall on different weekends. Therefore, when you stepped into a street dance, you would be confronted with dozens of people you didn’t know, many of whom were drunk and thus thought themselves to be top-notch conversationalists who must speak with absolutely everyone on the premises.

It wasn’t just the strangers that provided me with many uncomfortable moments. As a typical high school nerd, partygoers  who never spoke to me at school greeted me with drunken surprise: “Calla? At a STREET DANCE?” Street dances were hotbeds of underage alcohol consumption, and upon realizing that I (too terrified of the unknown consequences of underage drinking to risk it), was sober, lost interest in my presence.

Stone cold sober, as always, at the Lake Preston street dance, circa 2005.
My prime street dancing days were the summers of 2004 – 2006: the summers after my junior and senior years of high school, and the summer after my freshman year of college. Too young to legally drink, but old enough to drive and to have part-time jobs to pay the cover charge. I attended street dances sporadically until approximately the summer of 2010, which is the last documented evidence of me at a street dance:
It is a fact that I went to the 2010 Arlington street dance with my parents, and it is also a fact that I
went home earlier than they did. By HOURS.
We may have spent more time getting ready for said street dances than actually at the street dance itself. This was the mid-2000s, and we had our street dance uniform DOWN. The perfect small town teenage girl street dance attire consisted of…

a sequined and/or shiny tank top (likely purchased at Vanity or Maurices)
the most expensive jeans you had (preferably pre-ripped, and light wash – obviously)
sparkly flip flops (bonus points if they had a kitten heel)
silver eyeshadow
clear lip gloss

Also acceptable were super short denim skirts (I was only brave enough for this one time, and it was a skirt that my friend Bob made for me) and polo shirts with the teeny embroidered animal of your choice (an Abercrombie and Fitch moose was the most desirable, followed by the Hollister seagull). When it came to polos, brands ruled the day.
This picture was meant to show Rachel's and my denim skirts, but you'll
mostly have to pretend you can see them. Instead, check out her sequined and
my shiny tank tops. Two thumbs up for street dance attire 2006!
You could never wear the same street dance outfit to two street dances in one summer, as you saw the same people at every single one. It was imperative for you to save your absolute best street dance apparel for the street dance in your home town: that’s when you brought your a-game. My friend Meagan and I would usually go shopping for a totally new outfit in preparation for the Arlington street dance, and we would spend hours perfecting our hair and makeup. Meagan was the queen of the street dance, and she taught me everything I knew.
Meagan and me at the Arlington street dance, 2005. our ensembles were en pointe.
I attended so many South Dakota street dances those three summers. Street dance season ran from mid-July to early-August, and I am reasonably certain we went to one nearly every weekend. Bryant, Lake Preston, Castlewood, Bruce… you name the small town, and we were probably there.
Badger street dance, 2007.
I hadn’t thought of street dances in years: that is, until I found myself at a street dance (masquerading as a block party) in Luverne just this past weekend. This event didn’t have the tell-tale signs of a small-town street dance, so I didn’t immediately peg it as such. No shiny tank-tops. No silver eyeshadow. We were drinking craft beer from the local brewery, and craft beer is NEVER a thing at street dances. The band was even semi-famous (the Suburbs). And… it was on a Friday. No street dance strays from its Saturday station – not ever. I was having fun: block parties are the grown-up version of street dances, and I am a full-fledged block party supporter. However, as the night wore on, my precious block party devolved into a street dance. It didn’t occur to me that this had happened until I was drunkenly mistaken by a woman with a shrill laugh and a bright red tongue for one of her high school best friends. As I stood there, stammering that I didn’t remember the occasion upon which she was elaborating (how “we” were drunk one night and something unintelligible about a dog), my loving husband James was just letting it happen because he “thought it was hilarious.” And just like that, I was an awkward teenager out of my element once again.

Don’t get me wrong: I did have fun at the street dances of yore. I loved getting dressed up and hanging out on beautiful summer nights with my friends. What I didn’t love were the clumsy drunks and the wandering hands of entitled out-of-town teenage boys and the deafening roar of a small town celebrating with beer and bands. Basically, I was a crotchety old lady at sixteen.

At thirty, I am still a crotchety old lady. The only difference now is that I don’t go to street dances (unless I get tricked into them when I stay too long at a block party). But I do remember my street dance days (mostly) fondly: those were some of the last carefree summers of my life, and I got to spend my time doing basically whatever I wanted. No bills, no career, no nothing. The only things on my plate were my jobs at the church camp and the Dairy Mart, and the rest of my calendar revolved around what I was doing with my friends. Those days are long gone, but I will never forget that freedom and those priceless South Dakota summers.

Arlington street dance, 2006.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

on this day in 2004: excerpts from a journal, July edition - volume II

12 July 2004

Ok, so I guess I won't get to sleep in. Dad woke me up at 9 (editor's note: remember the days when we thought getting up at 9 was early?!) so we could take Susie (editor's note: Susie was the name of my car) to Watertown to get her scratch fixed. We got to have breakfast at McDonald's, which was awesome. They gave us free hashbrowns. Score! 

Deb called and asked me to come in to work at 1 instead of 3. Bummer. (editor's note: this was my summer job working in the kitchen of the church camp at Lake Poinsett.)

I Love the 90s premieres tonight on VH1. I am so excited. I absolutely cannot wait.

At work today, Deb thanked me three times for coming in early. I worked with Millie and Marlene, and Deb made me HEAD FREAKING COOK. My coworkers had never made pizza before, so I was in charge. I was freaking out because I wasn't sure if the pizza would get done in time, when to put the breadsticks in, etc. I ended up spilling silverware bucket water all over my leg. Not cool. At the end of the evening, I couldn't get the golf cart to go anywhere, so I ended up making three (walking) trips to the dumpster. On the first one, the garbage bag ripped, and I got pizza sauce all over my pants. 

I had another hour-long conversations with Bob this evening, and we decided to go to The Notebook and pretend to cry. 

I'm watching I Love the 90s, and it rules so very much. This show is so wonderful, especially because I remember a lot of this stuff. 

Bjorklund out!

Current music: not music, but the VH1 panelists are currently discussing The Silence of the Lambs

Thursday, June 29, 2017

confessions: Mountain Dew.

I have something shameful to admit to you.


I used to love Mountain Dew.

I know, I know. Judge away.

If we're being honest here, I do not remember how my love affair with Mountain Dew came to be. My parents are Dr Pepper and Coca Cola drinkers, and even then, my soda consumption was confined to holidays, birthdays, and lake days... or days when I was home alone and snuck cans of pop in secret (sorry, Mom and Dad).

But Mountain Dew just wasn't something we had.

Until I somehow discovered it, decided I had to have it, and started writing it on the grocery list that hung on our refrigerator.

I cringe to think how much Mountain Dew I drank. I'm guessing that I started sometime in my early teen years, and by then, my parents had (wrongly) assumed that I was a responsible human being and could regulate my own sugary drink intake.

This is the earliest photographic evidence I could find of me with a Mountain Dew. The year was 2001. I was 14 years old.
Back then (the early-to-mid-2000s), Mountain Dew was COOL. At least, the teenage population of Arlington, South Dakota thought it was cool. Drinking Mountain Dew meant that you were clearly awesome and not at all lame. Because lame people didn't drink Mountain Dew. Obviously.

My affinity for Mountain Dew was well known among my family and friends. I received many a Mountain Dew-themed gift for Christmases and birthdays, including (but not limited to) a Mountain Dew shirt, a whole plastic baggie full of those bottle lids that you could cash in for free Mountain Dew (remember those?!), and (obviously) actual Mountain Dew.

During my photo archive research for this story, I discovered a weirdly
large number of photos in which I am posing with Mountain Dew.
Mountain Dew was not only my beverage of choice, but it very well could’ve brought my husband and me together.

Ok, I’m pretty sure that James and I would’ve ended up together with or without Mountain Dew, but it’s one of the first things we had in common. That and concert band. Nerds.

Very quickly after James and I met on that first day of new student orientation in August 2005, we bonded over our love of that neon yellow drink. I always had Mountain Dew in my dorm mini-fridge, and so did he – or, if memory serves me correctly, James didn’t have a mini-fridge, so he had warm Mountain Dew on hand at all times. I recall him consistently offering to trade me one of his warm Mountain Dews for one of my cold ones, and I always said yes.

It’s just dawning on me that James totally just used little freshman me for my access to a mini-fridge and my cold Mountain Dew. I ran this by James, and he claims that it was just an excuse to come and see me. "What a perfect excuse!" he says.

James went to a school called Dassel-Cokato, as did four other members of the concert and jazz bands. And you know what? They ALL drank Mountain Dew – and a couple of them were rumored to consume a twelve-pack a day. (James later told me that, in his hometown, they call Mountain Dew “Finn water” because it’s all the Finnish kids drink.) James’s brothers all drank Mountain Dew. As much as Mountain Dew was a thing in Arlington, it was something else entirely in Dassel-Cokato. It was a way of life.

"That's ALL I ever drank," said James. "I didn't even drink water."

Personally, I maxed out at two Mountain Dews a day, and even that was rare. Mountain Dew was meant to be enjoyed, not abused. And besides, I don’t know how anyone could AFFORD a serious Mountain Dew habit – soda was expensive, and even more so in Morris. I did indeed always have Mountain Dew around, but it was precious and not to be frittered away.
Here is a freshman me, drinking out of a PITCHER of Mountain Dew at Pizza Hut. SHAME.
My relationship with Mountain Dew began its steady decline during that freshman year of college. Maybe it was my horror at seeing the dozes of empty Mountain Dew boxes in their houses and rooms, only to be informed that it was only a few weeks’ worth. Or the Mountain Dew can pyramids. Or the horrible concoction we drank called UV Dew (UV Blue mixed with Mountain Dew… I know, try and control your gag reflex).

All that aside, I still had some strong attachments to Mountain Dew. Nothing tasted quite as good as a cold Mountain Dew with a grilled cheese sandwich from Don's CafĂ© in Morris. Or with a breakfast pizza from Casey's. Or with a ham and cheese sandwich over my lunch breaks when I worked at the Brookings County Courthouse over two summers in college. NOTHING tasted better. 

 My entire college experience tastes like Mountain Dew.

(That's a gross statement, but it's true.)
Halloween Mountain Dew.

A friend's dad knew I was coming to visit, so he prepared accordingly. My reputation preceded me.
It would take me a great many years to give up Mountain Dew completely. I remember the moment: I was standing at my refrigerator in my junky Sioux Falls apartment, sometime in late 2012 or early 2013. I was staring a the near-empty Mountain Dew box on the shelf, and I thought to myself, "When this last Mountain Dew is gone, I'm quitting."

I didn't have any great revolution or any life-changing event - it just seemed like it was time. I was an adult job now with an adult job, and I felt like kind of an idiot in the break room when I brought in my Mountain Dew for lunch and everyone else was drinking water. (Full disclaimer: I didn't give up soda altogether - just Mountain Dew. Don't bet on me giving up soda any time soon.) Mountain Dew was a staple of my teenage years and early twenties, but my relationship with Mountain Dew felt like it was reaching its expiration date. A natural end to a years-long partnership. Plus, I had endured endless years of mocking from my father, who loved to remind me of the old Mountain Dew commercial where a cartoon hillbilly claimed that the beverage "tickled your innards," and how could that possibly be good for you? It was time.

Since I finished that last Mountain Dew, I haven't looked back. I haven't had so much as a sip of Mountain Dew in the intervening years - I haven't even been tempted. I can imagine what it tastes like, but the thought alone is enough to make my teeth hurt.

This is a weird thing to say about a sugary, chemically beverage, but Mountain Dew will always have a special place in my heart. Remember how I told you that Mountain Dew probably brought James and me together?

On my 20th birthday, I was in St. Cloud having a truly awful day with my then-boyfriend. James, my wonderful friend, stopped by my on-campus apartment to deliver my birthday gift: two twelve-packs of Mountain Dew. I wasn't there, so he elected instead to watch a chick flick with my roommates in hopes that I would return. I wasn't back by the time the movie was over, so James covered the Mountain Dew boxes in little pink heart sticky notes (they were my roommate's, so James claimed) stating birthday wishes and that he was sorry to have missed me.

You know that moment when you realize you may have found the person you should spend your life with?

I think that was it.

Thanks, Mountain Dew.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

ten books from Ellsworth story time, part II.

As you might know, I have the good fortune and honor of being the Ellsworth Elementary School’s volunteer librarian/story teller. 
Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, sitting and standing
I’ve had this gig since 2014, and let me tell you, I love it more every year. I have just wrapped up year three of bi-weekly story times, and believe me when I tell you that Ellsworth story time is a total delight. Sometimes, I can’t believe that I just get to show up at a school and do something this fun: kids tell me what they’re reading, I read to them, and I tell them that books are awesome. How great is that?!

I absolutely LOVE getting to read to the Ellsworth kids – not only because they are fantastic and always make me feel super loved (one kindergartener gave me not one, but TWO Lisa Frank stickers in honor of my last day), but because it is just the best thing ever that I get to bring all these fun new books to them.

Over the three years I’ve been doing story time, I have read through literally hundreds of picture books, searching for just the right one for each and every story time. For a book to make the cut for my story time, it must, above all things, be clever. I learned pretty fast that funny books keep the kids’ attention best, and since I only have them for twenty minutes every other week, I want to read them something that they’ll like. And, to be honest, I want to read something that I like, too. Kids can tell if you’re not totally sold on the book you’re reading, and if you’re not, they won’t be either.

During my tenure as a story timer, I have discovered some truly great picture books: books that I, a grown-ass woman, find completely hilarious and brilliant. Last year, I gave you my list of my ten favorite picture books thus far.

My favorites last year were:

The Day the Crayons Quit – Drew Daywalt
Gaston – Kelly DiPucchio
Grumblebunny – Bob Hartman
I Don’t Like Koala – Sean Ferrell
Interrupting Chicken – David Ezra Stein
Meet the Dullards – Sara Pennypacker
The Princess and the Pony – Kate Beaton
Sparky! – Jenny Offill
The Story of Ferdinand – Munro Leaf
Zombie in Love – Kelly DiPucchio

If you care to read the whole run-down, click here.

And now, I wish to present ten more favorites from one more year of story time. 

Dragons Love Tacos – Adam Rubin
Image result for dragons love tacos
This book has been pretty popular amongst the grade-school set ever since it came out in 2012. After all, who doesn’t love dragons? And the thought of dragons eating tacos is so bizarre that you HAVE to read it and find out what the deal is with dragons and tacos. The book gives you instructions on how to best host a dragon/taco party, with the caveat that, whatever you do, do NOT give the dragons spicy salsa. 
Image result for dragons love tacos
I bet you can guess what happens next.

The Happiest Book Ever – Bob Shea
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Anything by Bob Shea is a guaranteed winner. This is one of those books that is overflowing with tiny detailed illustrations and little one-off jokes that you’ll miss if you don’t examine each and every one carefully. I love books like this for story time, because the kids all huddle right around the book and squint at the pictures and loudly announce what they find and laugh their heads off. The Happiest Book Ever begins with the happy narrator encouraging everyone in the book to make it the happiest book ever, but a frowny frog foils their plans. 
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The narrator totally loses his shit, and it’s brilliant.

How Droofus the Dragon Lost His Head – Bill Peet
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Remember how everyone loves dragons? Welcome to the second dragon entry on this list. Bill Peet, like Bob Shea, is an author with whom you cannot go wrong. His books tend to be a little on the lengthy side, so I have to save them for a week when the kids are a bit less rowdy (ie, not right before or right after a school break). This book is about a gigantic dragon named Droofus who is peaceful and kind, but the king sees how large (and seemingly dangerous) he is and wants his head. 
Image result for how droofus the dragon lost his head
Here he is, sleeping with bunnies and lambs!
Bill Peet’s stories always have gorgeous illustrations and gentle lessons: in this case, don’t judge based on preconceived notions. It’s a good lesson for kids, to be sure, but one that we as adults could do well to remember as well.

I Yam a Donkey – Cece Bell
Image result for i yam a donkey
As an English major and a stickler for grammar, I thought this book was hilarious. It’s about a donkey who meets a yam, and all sorts of confusion ensues. The yam is a grammarian, and the donkey drives him crazy. The yam says that he is a yam, and the donkey responds with, “I yam a donkey!” and so on. 
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I think I thought this book was funnier than the kids did (because GRAMMAR JOKES), but so it goes. They really liked the goofy illustrations and the grumpy yam.

King Baby – Kate Beaton
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I love Kate Beaton’s illustration style, and her The Princess and the Pony was a favorite from last year. This is only her second children’s book, and I hope she keeps it up, as they are amazing. King Baby is about a baby (duh), and he is the only child: everyone fawns over him and does his bidding… until his sister comes along. 
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The Ellsworth kids with younger siblings or younger cousins or younger anything all found this book to be particularly truthful.

The Scrambled States of America – Laurie Keller
Image result for scrambled states of america book cover
Like The Happiest Book Ever, The Scrambled States of America is filled with illustrations and little jokes – it requires careful inspection to catch everything. It’s about how Kansas gets bored of his location in the country, and he and the other states decide to switch places and try out a new spot. 
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As you can imagine, it doesn’t go too well: the kids’ favorite part is when Minnesota switches places with Florida and gets sunburned. There’s an marvelous spread at the back of the book where different attributes of each state go and visit others: Mount Rushmore goes to see the Statue of Liberty, and so on. You can spend ages looking at this book.

Snappsy the Alligator Did NOT Ask to Be in This Book – Julie Falatko
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Snappsy the Alligator is an unusual book in that the story is driven by the relationship between the narrator and Snappsy. The narrator is saying all these things about Snappsy, and Snappsy is reacting and rebutting. 
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Things happen because the narrator says they should, and Snappsy does his best to stop them, but to no avail. Poor Snappsy.

Super Happy Magic Forest – Matty Long
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Super Happy Magic Forest is the third and final book in which the best part of the story lies in the teeny details. The book is bright and full of adventure and every page is bursting with illustrations. 
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It is set in – you guessed it – a Super Happy Magic Forest where the Mystical Crystals of Life keep everything utopic. But – horror of horrors – they go MISSING! Five unlikely heroes (including a mushroom named Trevor) are chosen to retrieve them and restore happiness to the land. Can they do it?? Read this book (seriously, read it) and find out!

Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great – Bob Shea
Image result for unicorn thinks he's pretty great
Much like dragons, unicorns are sure-bets in the picture book world. That is, as long as they’re funny unicorns. This book is about a goat who is jealous of Unicorn – Goat thinks Unicorn is full of himself because of his horn and cupcakes and rainbows, but it turns out that being a unicorn is more complicated than one might think... and being a goat has some unexpected benefits.
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Goat gives Unicorn a chance, and an unlikely friendship is born. Another good lesson, plus lots of fun Bob Shea illustrations.

XO Ox – Adam Rex
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I read this book for Valentine’s Day, and a few of the kids noticed right away that the title is a palindrome. AWESOME. It’s about an ox who falls in love with a celebrity gazelle and starts writing her love letters. She, of course, dismisses him – even sending him the same form letter twice in a row. 
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The ox doesn’t see this, and he believes that her letters mean that she loves him, too. It’s actually kind of sad until the tables start to turn. I especially love this book because Scott Campbell is the artist – he illustrated my all-time favorite Ellsworth story time book, Zombie in Love (which I read every year for Halloween, and it has yet to get old).


There you have it: ten more favorite books from Ellsworth story time. I’ve got the whole summer ahead of me to read up on picture books for next year, so stay tuned for the greatest hits of the 2017-18 school year. I can’t wait to get started.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

three decades of me.

Today is my 30th birthday.

That's weird.

I'm not going to spend much time wailing about this milestone birthday and how I feel old, etcetera etcetera. You've heard it before from others, I'm sure.

What I AM going to do is talk about how weird it is to think that I have existed for three entire decades. That sounds a lot weightier than "I'm thirty."

I am just beginning my FOURTH decade on this earth.


Here's a highlight reel of my first three decades as a person.

1987 – 1997
learned to walk and talk
gained a sister and a brother
got a dog
learned to ride a bike

1997 – 2007
learned how to drive a car (officially, not just farm trucks and tractors)
got my first job
graduated high school
started college at U of M Morris
moved away from home for the first time ever
met the guy I would later marry

2007 – 2017
graduated college
lived in New Orleans, Denver, Minneapolis, Sioux Falls
began my career at the library
got married
bought a house
got a cat
started a jewelry business

Of course, there was lots of other stuff sprinkled amongst the milestones: like making lifelong friends, traveling, and learning important life lessons (like don’t leave your parking brake on as you drive the fifteen miles home). But those stories deserve their own blog posts.

While today is the actual day of my 30th birthday, I have jumped the gun and done a fair amount of celebrating already. Mom, Dad, and I went to San Francisco at the end of March to celebrate their 60th birthdays (in March and January, respectively) and my 30th

James took me on a long weekend trip to the Black Hills.

So even if nothing really happens on this, the day that I really and truly turn 30, I’ve had a great 30th birthday already.

While I have few memories of my 10th birthday, one can only assume it was awesome – because 1997 was a GREAT year for pop music. And back when I was turning 10, the only thing my fourth grade friends and I ever did was listen to music.

Let’s review:
“Barely Breathing” by Duncan Sheik
“I Want You” by Savage Garden
“MMMBop” by Hanson
“Quit Playin Games with My Heart” by the Backstreet Boys
“Semi-Charmed Life” by Third Eye Blind
“Tubthumping” by Chumbawamba
“Wannabe” by the Spice Girls

Remember those?!

I am reasonably positive that my 10th birthday was spent roller-skating around the Volga auditorium to said songs, and I believe there were glow-sticks involved. I also believe that I received a lime-green feather pen as a gift: the ultimate 1997 gift. Turning 10 was a major success.
Plus, I had those sweet glasses.
My 20th birthday, in contrast, was a TOTAL bust. I was dating the art major boyfriend, and we took the afternoon off from class to celebrate my birthday in St Cloud. I have (thankfully) blocked out what led to this, but he spent a good portion of the afternoon crying in his car. It should also be noted that I had to pay for our dinners at the Olive Garden – not that I believe that it’s the man’s job to pay for the woman’s meal, because I don’t believe that at all. But I do believe that NO ONE should EVER have to pay for THEIR OWN BIRTHDAY DINNER.

I did meet St Cloud Superman, so there’s that.

Upon arriving back to my on-campus apartment, I found out from my roommates that my then-friend James had been at the apartment waiting for me with a birthday twelve-pack of Mountain Dew. He was there long enough to watch the entirety 13 Going on 30 with them as he waited for me. James did leave before I got back, but not before covering the Mountain Dew in little pink heart-shaped sticky notes (provided by my roommate) with a birthday message on them.

I definitely wondered why I wasn’t dating him instead.

Total romantic comedy moment.

Ten years later, I’m celebrating 30 years on earth. Since it’s on a Wednesday and I’m an adult, I can’t just take off in the middle of the day.

Oh wait. I took half the day off from work.

So not really an adult yet.

Maybe I’ll turn into a real adult in my fourth decade.

No promises, though.