Sunday, March 19, 2017

the cousin trip.

One year ago, I was in Boston with my cousins.


But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

I am fortunate to have some truly great cousins. I have great cousins on both sides, but this story is about the great cousins on my dad’s side: Monica, Melissa, and Taylor.




The cousins in question are all approximately the same age as me, so even though our families lived quite a ways apart, we more or less grew up together. When any/all of them would come to visit, I would be filled with a joy tantamount to Christmas. Nothing was better than cousin visits.




Of course, as we all grew older, the visits became more scarce. We went to college/joined the military/got jobs/traveled/moved away/did all the other things one does as one grows up.

But whenever we did get the chance to get together, it was just as wonderful as it always was: the only difference being that all had driver’s licenses and could legally buy beer.

All six of us (the three cousins, my brother and sister, and me) were together for my wedding in summer 2013, but with it being my wedding and all, there was precious little time to hang out. We all got to spend some quality time together at the big Bjorklund reunion of June 2015, in which our grandma Sheila rented a resort for us for a four-day weekend.

I’m not sure how that all came to pass, but however it happened, it was genius. This place was enormous: it had tons of rooms (a few smaller rooms for the parents and younger cousins, plus one enormous room for the older cousins), as well as an industrial kitchen, a huge common area, and easy access to Lake Poinsett. It was perfect.



For most of the weekend, this reunion was just Grandma Sheila, her five kids and their spouses, and their kids. There was one afternoon in which the extended family filled the common room (cousins of our grandpa’s, etc), but that was just a few hours. The bulk of the weekend was just my aunts, uncles, and cousins hanging out. It was awesome.

During this Bjorklund-palooza weekend, my cousin Taylor put forth a truly brilliant suggestion: why don’t we have an adult cousin reunion? It was great to see everyone, indeed, but the six adult cousins had so much fun – why not do something together?

(Let us reflect for just a moment on how awesome it is that there are six of us that enjoy each other’s company enough to hang out outside of grandma-organized family reunions.)

YES! We all agreed: a cousin reunion would be THE BEST.

Fast forward a few months: it was late 2015, winter to be sure, and my brother Mitch sent out a group Facebook message: wouldn’t it be great to have our first cousin reunion in Boston over St Patrick’s Day?

We responded: yes, it would! We should totally do that!

And for a while, that was that.

Until…

Our cousin Taylor said, “I bought my ticket!”

THIS WAS HAPPENING.

It took a few months of mad Facebook messaging, Airbnb searching, and some minor (ok, major) scheduling miracles, but somehow, all six of us were in Boston on March 17, 2016.

Everything worked out pretty much the best that we possibly could’ve hoped for. Our Airbnb was awesome – we had an entire apartment (two stories!) in Charlestown. This was my first ever experience with Airbnb, and I am ashamed to admit that I dragged my feet a little. Taylor, an experienced Airbnb-er all over the world (literally), assured me that it was the best. He was SO right.


(This trip was also my first experience with Uber, which is also the best. I learned so much about the sharing economy in just a few short days.)

St Patrick’s Day in Boston was rowdy, as one might expect – we went into a couple of downtown bars, smushed shoulder-to-shoulder, had the requisite Guinness, and confirmed that we were all too old (in between shouting “WHAT?!” at each other). Thanks to the miracle that is the smartphone, Taylor and I did some quick Googling and found that there was a bar in Charlestown – not too far from our Airbnb. We Uber-ed our way there to find a teensy bar called Old Sully’s. Taylor recognized it immediately from a movie called The Town. We were in the presence of greatness.




Old Sully’s, believe it or not, ended up being the highlight of the trip. We crossed paths with a handful of locals there, and they were the friendliest people you could ever hope to meet. Their accents were TEXTBOOK, and they absolutely loved that we were cousins all traveling together. They were the sweetest, most foul-mouthed people I’ve ever met in my life, and they all invited us to stay with them next time we came to Boston. We stayed at Old Sully’s for a couple of hours, dying of laughter and enjoying the company of our new Boston friends.

The rest of trip was chock-full of Boston sights and sounds. We walked the Freedom Trail, climbed the Bunker Hill monument, had pastries at Mike’s Pastry (it’s a thing), did a Sam Adams brewery tour, checked out the Boston Public Library (guess whose idea that was), explored Faneuil Hall, ate in Little Italy, toured the USS Constitution, and took a ferry ride around Boston Harbor. The only time our interests diverged was when Taylor, Mitch, and Melissa went to a hockey game, and Monica, Darrah, and I finished the Freedom Trail, were nearly kidnapped by an Uber driver, and ate dinner at the oldest bar in Massachusetts (the Warren Tavern). On our last night, we had drinks on a balcony overlooking the bay and later dined on seafood fresh out of the same bay.



And we did all of this in only two-and-a-half days.

I can only speak for myself, but I cannot wait for the next cousin trip. Having that time together in Boston was better than we could've ever imagined. Not only did we have a great time exploring a new city, but we had a great time together. We had never had the opportunity for so much uninterrupted cousin time before, and it was truly a smashing success.

Seriously: how lucky am I that some of my favorite people on this earth are my family?

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

ten ABBA songs.

I came to a realization a few days ago.

I like ABBA.

I mean, I REALLY like ABBA.

How could I have made it through almost thirty years of my life without knowing that I liked ABBA?

ABBA never really entered into my consciousness until March 2008. Up until that point, the only ABBA songs I’d ever encountered were “Dancing Queen” (because if you know one ABBA song, it’s that one) and, for some reason, “Fernando.”

In March 2008, I was but a wee 20-year-old, and I was in Las Vegas with my parents for spring break. Mom, her friend Mary-Ann, my sister, and I went to a performance of Mamma Mia at Mandalay Bay. The only thing I knew about Mamma Mia is that it was a musical comprised of solely ABBA songs – and as you’ll recall, I only actually knew two ABBA songs. Off we went to what would be my first Las Vegas show (I say that like I have a long history of Las Vegas shows… in fact, it was my first of two total Las Vegas shows).

And you know what?

It was spectacular.

As a young Midwesterner, I had never seen that kind of production before. I’d been to plenty of community theatre performances, even more SDSU theatre/Prairie Repertory summer shows, and a handful of professional theatre at the Washington Pavilion. But nothing compared to what I saw in Las Vegas that day – and why would they, because this is Las Vegas we’re talking about. The costumes were elaborate, the singing was spot-on, and the choreography! I will never forget the feeling of pure awe I felt when the dancers can-canned in wearing flippers and singing “Lay All Your Love on Me.”

And the songs! I finally learned just what I had been missing, and I was smitten with ABBA. I spent the following weeks listening to ABBA on repeat on my trusty iPod video. (remember those? with the scrolly wheel?)

And then?

The movie came out.

Mamma Mia (the movie) was released in summer 2008, mere months after I had seen the show in Las Vegas. Mom and I, still riding the high from the Las Vegas performance, went to see the movie. Our expectations were probably unfairly high, with the memory of the Vegas show still fresh in our minds – but I think we can all agree that the movie was pretty terrible. And let’s be honest, the plot of Mamma Mia is pretty weak to begin with: after all, it was written around ABBA’s catalog. If you’re not familiar with the plot, it goes thusly: a young woman is getting married, and she doesn’t know who her father is. She sends wedding invitations to the three men she think could be her father. Chaos ensues. Happy endings are received.

But we all forgive the tenuous story because of the songs. The songs are outstanding – except when they’re sung by Pierce Brosnan, because YIKES.

After Mamma Mia (the movie), my nonstop ABBA listening kick continued for a few months, and then tapered off. But last week, Mom, her friend Carol, and I saw Mamma Mia at the Washington Pavilion. It was delightful! We sat in the second row, and the costumes, singing, and dancing brought me right back to Las Vegas. (This show even had the can-canning flipper guys.)

And my love affair with ABBA has resumed.

But this time, it’s different. When I saw Mamma Mia for the first time, all I knew was that I liked the songs. I didn’t need to know any more than that. This time, now that I’m older and wiser, I’ve given it more thought… and I realized that my love for ABBA is an anomaly.

There are precious few musicians that I love enough to write a whole blog post about, let alone choose ten of their songs to present. There are plenty of musicians that I love, yes, but very few of them pass the ten-song test. For example: I love Prince, but are there ten of his songs that I love enough to expound upon them in this blog? No. So far, the only musicians/bands that have made the cut are Simon and Garfunkel, David Bowie, and the Clash.

And ABBA.

One of these things is not like the other.

As a rule, I tend not to like bands who only sing about love. While I most certainly appreciate a good love song, I prefer my songs to have some substance. Simon and Garfunkel, David Bowie, and the Clash have substance for days.

ABBA? Not so much.

I’ve been listening to ABBA a lot in the past few days, and I have to say: the lyrics are terrible. TERRIBLE. Most of the lyrics are there just for the sake of rhyming, and almost all of the songs are about nothing but love. And normally, this drives me crazy. But there’s something about ABBA that makes it ok.

ABBA’s songs are some of the catchiest damn things to come out of the radio. Seriously: I dare you to listen to any one of them and not have it stuck in your head for days. These are the songs that you can’t help but dance to, even if it’s just you in your car on the way to work. (Guilty.) They make you sing at the top of your lungs, and they make you feel like a Swedish rock star. ABBA makes you feel amazing.

And that is why they are one of my favorite bands. I used to be ashamed, but no more. Here it is, for the world to see: I love ABBA.

As promised, I have ten of my favorite ABBA songs for you today. However, as they are all pretty much nothing but super catchy pop-tactular fluff, I don’t have a whole lot to say about each individual song. (But I will be giving you some fun facts courtesy of Wikipedia!) Either way, you’d better have your ABBA greatest hits CD nearby at the end, because I promise you that you’re going to want to listen to it on repeat.

Chiquitita
“Chiquitita” is a Spanish term of endearment meaning “little one.” This song was featured at a UNICEF concert in 1979 – and 50% of the proceeds of the song STILL go to UNICEF.

Does Your Mother Know
This song is about an older man responding to a flirtatious younger woman – but in Mamma Mia, it becomes an older woman singing to a younger man. If you ask me, it’s much better/less creepy that way.

Knowing Me, Knowing You
“Knowing Me, Knowing You” is one of those songs that you almost have to shout-sing while making wild hand-gestures. You know what I mean.

Lay All Your Love on Me
Like I said earlier, this is the song that gave Mamma Mia a place in my heart forever, thanks to the flipper can-canning. I can’t listen to this song without picturing that, and it makes me smile every time.

Mamma Mia
“Mamma Mia,” as you probably know, is an interjection in Italian. (Look at all the culture you’re getting from ABBA!) I mostly love this song because it’s got a marimba. I can’t resist the marimba.

One of Us
This is ABBA’s last major hit, and it’s not nearly as light and fluffy as the rest of the songs on this list. (Spoiler alert: it’s because they were ALL GETTING DIVORCED FROM EACH OTHER. Awkward.)

SOS
I just learned (thanks to Wikipedia!) that this song opens in D-minor, which (as everyone knows, courtesy of This Is Spinal Tap) is the saddest of all keys. I also learned (Wikipedia!) that basically everyone loves this song, including John Lennon, Pete Townshend (of the Who), and Ray Davies (of the Kinks). Last fun Wikipedia fact: this is the only top 100 single in which the title of the song (SOS), the name of the band (ABBA), and the genre (pop) are palindromes.

Super Trouper
I’m pretty positive that this song gets stuck in my head more often and for a longer period of time than any other ABBA song. You’re welcome.

Take a Chance on Me
If I had to choose a favorite ABBA song, it would be this one. And trust me: it's hard to choose.

Waterloo
I really have to try and ignore the lyrics to “Waterloo” – it’s about a woman surrendering to a man’s demands (like Napoleon surrendered at Waterloo). ICK. But DAMMIT it’s so catchy. Shitty lyrics aside, it’s one of the best-selling singles of all time.

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Now go and listen to ABBA and sing with all your heart. Because you are the dancing queen.