Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Infestation: Part I

On a normal workday, the first voices that I hear in the morning (other than the ones in my head) are the morning radio hosts on my favorite station, The Current. One of the things I enjoy about my favorite station is that there are no advertisements and the announcers do not talk for long periods of time about nonsense.
Although they tend to feature more music than other stations, they do have brief news-oriented segments that are usually quite interesting. Today, they discussed the increase in the infestation of bedbugs in the United States. I had heard this all before; in fact, it has been several years since I heard that they were having a local resurgence, especially in hotels.
While I’m fairly certain that my own bed is pest-free, it did cause me to ponder the other types of infestation I have encountered in my six years as a homeowner. I could try and cram all the details into one long entry, but since I do now have some school related reading to complete in my evenings, I figured I would make it a little bit easier on myself and break it out into a trilogy.
To ease you into this theme (which some people might find a little frightening), I will start with what I consider to be the most innocuous pest infestation: ants.
As a general fact, ants in a house do not really scare me. In fact, I believe that most people at some point or another will have to deal with their presence. As a child, I remember my mother putting out little pieces of cardboard with Terro on it around our house during the summer. When I asked why they didn’t die immediately upon eating the poison, she told me that they have to live long enough to bring it back to their colony so that they can kill off the rest of the ants at their base.
When you really think about it, the idea is a little bit sad. I mean, the ant thinks that it has hit the jackpot in the super awesome tasting Terro and simply wants to take it home to share and eat with its family. Too bad it doesn’t work out better for them.
This childhood ant-pity stayed with me for quite a while. At least until I found my first ant in my own home. After completely pulling apart all my living room furniture and vacuuming over every square inch of my first floor, I laid out the new version of the Terro trap. Instead of the old-fashioned cardboard with poison deal, they now make enclosed plastic containers that are theoretically less messy.
Even though I have no doubt of the poison’s effectiveness, I like to take a little extra precaution. If anyone knows me well, they know that I am not a fan of spiders. It’s not that I hate them, because I really don’t think it’s sane to get emotional towards something that is definitely not emotional towards me. Instead, I live by my own “personal space” philosophy.
For me, “personal space” with respect to spiders comes down to indoors versus outdoors. If the spider is indoors and is in my personal living space, I will not feel guilty about squishing it. If it is outdoors, unless it is attempting to actually crawl ON me, I will live and let live.
However, when it comes to addressing the ant or other small bug infestation issue, especially in my entryway, I am a bit more lenient. In fact, if you were to look around the vicinity of my front door at this moment, I wouldn’t be surprised if you were to find two or three well-hidden spiders. I am more than content to let them live. I consider them my henchmen, or the “muscle” of my war on pests.
If at any point the spiders themselves become an infestation, I may have to use my vacuum cleaner to thin the herd. As I have learned from working in an office that has spider overpopulation, it can quickly escalate into a scary and dangerous situation.
Hopefully I have not scared anyone too much with this entry. I know that creepy crawly things can be major hot-button issues for many people. To give you some incentive to return for my next two infestation installments, I should tell you that both entries contain far more specific and humorous components. As a teaser, let me just say that the next one involves the use of big-gun pesticides, not just wimpy Terro.
On a side note, I apologize for slacking. I may not be able to sustain my original tempo once school starts next week and I have to start reading and writing for grades. I promise that I will not ignore this entirely and hope to find ways to keep my friend Rox laughing out loud at work for a long time. J

Thursday, August 26, 2010


OK, so I know that I have several entries ready and near completion that I have “banked” and could use one of them today, but I really just have no brain power to edit and make sure they are totally ready.

I could also drone on about my current problem of not sleeping soundly through the night and my theories as to why this is happening, but who really cares about that? It certainly isn’t entertaining to me, although it is the largest contributor to my current stupor.

So instead, please enjoy this drawing of me as I sit contemplating the dregs of coffee in my “Dayman” mug. Remember, tomorrow is another day and that day is FRIDAY.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Smoking in the Guest Room

Now that I am 30 years old, there is no avoiding the fact that I must call myself an adult. While this label may be permanent, my behavior does not always match up with the requirements of the title.

Part of being an adult for many people is having your own home. As regards this benchmark, I can safely say that I have accomplished it. For six years, I have owned my townhouse. I still think it is a wonderful place, although I’ve grown weary of living in an outer suburb when it comes to driving.

I have many stories of the challenges and rewards of home ownership, and I shall perhaps share more in the future, but I was reminded this weekend of an episode from approximately one year ago that definitely merits a blog entry.

In my opinion, one of the requirements of being a responsible homeowner is a basic understanding of fire safety. In elementary school I was taught the time honored tradition of “Stop, Drop and Roll” as well as the usefulness of touching door handles before opening them and knowing your escape routes. One of the other facets of my training was in the language of smoke alarms and smoke detectors. In my opinion, these two names are interchangeable, so please do not get all picky on me if I mix them up throughout this entry.

One of the key pieces of information relayed to me in fire safety was to always check the batteries on your smoke detectors. When my house was built, the smoke detectors were hard-wired into the electrical of the house with battery back-up. Over the course of six years, I have had to replace a couple of the batteries. The common procedure for these devices is to produce a short but loud “CHIRP” whenever the battery is getting low. Unfortunately, something in the programming makes sure that this starts around 3 or 4 a.m. each and every time.

If you would have asked me a year ago how many smoke alarm/detectors I had in my home, I would have confidently answered “THREE.” One in my kitchen, one in my bedroom and one in the upstairs hallway.

In mid-August of 2009, I was awoken at 4 a.m. (on a work night) to the loud and unavoidable sound of the low-battery chirp. From past experience, I knew that it could be temporarily disabled by removing the battery and pushing the big button.

The only barrier to this solution is typically figuring out which of the devices is actually in need of attention. You would think this is an easy task, but it is not. Typically, the only device that can immediately be eliminated from the choices is the one in my bedroom as it is the closest in proximity. As for the other two, the openness of my hallway/loft/stairway creates an odd echo that makes the decision a bit more challenging.

At 4 a.m., my mind is not operating on all cylinders. On this morning, I decided that the chirping was coming from the upstairs hallway unit. I performed my usual treatment for the symptom and returned to bed, vowing to remember to pick up new batteries at the store later in the day.

Strangely, the chirping did not cease after I addressed the problem, but I dealt with it my turning up the velocity on my fan to drown out the noise and went back to sleep.

When I returned home from work that evening with a new battery in hand, I figured that my problems were over. There was no chirping as I entered the house, so I went up to the device in question, replaced the battery, and figured I was done.

Imagine my surprise when once again around 4 a.m. the chirping commenced. I groggily muttered some obscenities to myself and concluded that I must have misheard the noise before and that it was the kitchen device instead that needed replacement. Luckily, I had the foresight to purchase a two-pack of batteries, so I simply replaced that one immediately.

My frustration was not to be relieved by this act. Even after replacing the battery in the kitchen, the chirping continued. Again I cursed that I must have purchased faulty batteries and decided to purchase new ones later that day.

The next 24 hours should be somewhat predictable by now. I came home with new batteries and again replaced them in both detectors to no avail. I then turned to the Internet for assistance. Some in-depth Google searching and manufacturer inquiries later, I concluded that perhaps the units themselves were worn out and needed to be replaced. I consulted my Facebook friend resource as well, only to hear confirmations of this notion.

Perhaps a normal person would have immediately gone out and purchased new smoke detectors. For some reason, I did not do this, at least not right away. Instead, I went to Target and purchased a larger and noisier fan.

Now I shall try and explain my logic for this choice. I considered the fact that it could indeed be the actual smoke detectors that were wearing out, but I was afraid that the real solution would be far worse. It is possible that the constant ringing in my ears was affecting my sanity, but I feared that something had gone haywire in the actual wiring of my house. If this was true, it would require the expertise of an electrician. I had no idea what that would cost, but I was definitely not up to spending serious cash on the problem… yet.

So instead, I opted to simply drown out the noise, much in the same way that my father avoids strange sounds coming from his car by turning up the volume on his radio.

While this proved a decent solution for sleeping, it did not help much for general living time. I had just started grad school last fall, and concentrating on homework assignments was proving difficult.

Again, instead of addressing the problem, I elected to spend more time during the week at my parents’ house.

After about a month or so of avoiding the issue, I decided to be an adult and take action. I ventured forth to my local home improvement store and purchased two detectors from the same manufacturer as my originals. Before I did this, I also verified with my association manager to make sure that I definitely had to have my devices hard-wired into the house. She said yes, so I purchased the proper type and came home to contemplate my next move.

I knew that installation would probably be a bit tricky and I didn’t want to take any chances. All of the instructions stressed the importance of making sure that the power to the wires was completely shut off. To do this, I had to perform a process of elimination procedure using my circuit break box and a flashlight. Once I knew how to cut off the power, I cautiously set to work on the installation. It was a bit of a messy and nerve-wracking job, but after making a total mess of myself, I turned everything back on, and the indicator lights lit up.

At this point, I sincerely believed that my problems were over. I had acted like an adult and tackled my own problems all by myself. Honestly, I thought I deserved an award.

Unfortunately, the universe did not agree with my sentiments because almost immediately after this whole bag of shenanigans was complete, the chirping resumed. I swear, my head nearly started spinning. I sat down on the floor, nearly in tears. I was defeated.

In my despair, I decided again to wait a while before calling in the professionals. I retreated back into my fan-noise blasting room and vowed to never leave except for bathroom emergencies. Actually, I just spent a lot more time out of my house for the next month.

About two or three months after this whole hullabaloo started, I was looking for some Christmas decorations that I knew were in my guest room closet. Once I located the item I needed, I packed up my boxes again and made for the door of the bedroom when I happened to glance up. If you haven’t already guessed where this is going, here is the big climax: there was another smoke detector on the ceiling. Chirping.

In case you cannot follow this turn of events, here it is in a nutshell: I am an idiot. Contrary to my original belief, I have FOUR smoke detectors instead of three. From the beginning, it was always my guest room device going off. I needlessly replaced two other smoke detectors and purchased way too many batteries. And a large room fan.

I suppose that I could look on the bright side and say that I learned some new things and now know that I can do basic wiring, but it still feels like small consolation. Essentially, I created this problem through my own faulty assumption. And we all know what happens when you assume things, right? (I’ll let you answer that question on your own.)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Footwear Musings

So here is an interesting story. This past weekend, I braved the Mall of America, a.k.a. the Hellmouth, to meet up with some of my lovely friends for lunch and light shopping. This location was chosen mainly based on the fact that it is air conditioned and the outdoor temperature and humidity were beyond our tolerability index.

After a very good lunch at our “usual” restaurant (we’ve been going to it since high school), we decided to brave the crowds and tour some shops. One of our first stops was a shoe store. I know, it is cliché, girls like shoes, whatever. While I do enjoy shoe shopping, I generally only engage in the activity when I have a specific purpose in mind. For example, when I was asked to be in my best friend’s wedding last year I initiated a search for a pair of dressy yet comfortable heels. Mission accomplished.

At present, my shoe needs are pretty minimal. I have sturdy and reliable enough summer shoes to get me through the last couple of warm months left, and I still have my basic black and brown mules and clogs to get me through the winter. I may perhaps need to invest in a new pair of winter boots, but I prefer not to think about that right now.

With this in mind, I entered the shoe store. I was not looking for anything, and more importantly I did not NEED anything. This might seem like the ideal situation for not spending money, but sadly, it is often the opposite. I mindlessly wandered through the aisles, glancing here and there at everything from the conservative to the risqué fashions of feminine footwear.

I was just about ready to seek out my friends and move on, when I spotted an interesting specimen. For the record, I am not typically a stiletto/ultra high-heel kind of gal. Sure, I like to wear shoes with some height, but I also need to hold my balance. In my overall experience, high heels can only be worn on special occasions that do not require me to be on my feet for more than five minutes at a time. I realize that high heels are fun, sexy and can be a real attention-getter, but it’s really not worth having my feet go completely numb.

However, every once in a while my logic brain misfires. My eye is captivated by some novelty piece of apparel, and I simply must have it. It does not help when my friends catch me trying on said piece of apparel and offer highly positive feedback. Happily, I do not share the footwear propensity of Carrie Bradshaw, so my options are far lower in price than her $400-500 range.

My temporary insanity combined with my friends’ encouragement along with the excellent price point pushed me past the point of no return. I bought the shoes. Oddly, I experienced no buyer’s remorse over my purchase. I have never owned a pair of zebra-print shoes before, and I likely never will again. When I arrived at my parents’ house with my purchase, my mother was anxious to see what I found. Like my friends, my mother was suitably impressed with not only the print but the height of the heels.

I have now owned the shoes for two days, and I decided this morning that today I would try them out in the workplace. As I dashed out of the house, I paused to grab a pair of flip flop sandals just in case driving proved perilous in my new heels. It turns out that this was a wise decision, not only for driving, but for some of the running around I have to do in the morning at work as we prepare for the day.

Only time will tell if this was indeed a wise or frivolous purchase. Actually, I can already predict that it will be a little bit of both. It is wise because I really need to improve my wardrobe and make my look a bit more noticeable. It is frivolous because the shoes are purely for aesthetic enjoyment and offer no arch support whatsoever. I guess it is just a sacrifice for the sake of fashion.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Head, Heart, Hands and Health

If you from the great state of Minnesota, as I am, you are most likely aware that the most wonderful time of the year is soon upon us. I am referring, of course, to the Minnesota State Fair. Essentially, the Fair represents the culmination of all that is good and awesome about summer in the state of MN. We have food, rides, barns, food, exhibits, booths, food, political candidates, concerts and did I mention food?

Personally, my #1 favorite State Fair food treat is the Pronto Pup. It resembles a corn dog but is exponentially better. Some other top contenders: cheese curds, French fries, chocolate shakes, cookies, roasted corn and mini donuts. There is definitely a “fried” theme taking place, which is why I have to pace myself and choose carefully.

After the food, my favorite thing to see is the 4-H Building. I never ceased to be amazed at the talent of teenagers. My amazement is often expressed vocally, much to the annoyance of my fellow fair attendees I am sure, but seriously, they do things with sewing machines that I never dreamt were possible.

Perhaps you are assuming that my love of 4-H projects comes from being a former 4-H kid myself. I am not quite sure how to address this assumption. Let me explain.

Sometime in the past (probably around 1990), my dad asked me if I would have interest in joining something called 4-H. Never having been known as much of a “joiner,” I was skeptical at first. Apparently, it was a club that was outside of school where you could do “projects” that could be judged for prizes. There was a whole book full of ideas and categories for the “projects.”

Given my limited knowledge and interest in the notion, I believe I gave the book a cursory glance before alighting on something that looked exotic. There were a lot of animal-based projects that were obviously out of the question for me as we were not (at that time) a family with many pets, nor did we live on or near a farm where I could store any pigs/cows/horses/chickens/etc.

There were also a number of options in the food preparation category. I sensed that this would also not be much to my liking as my culinary expertise at the time was limited to the operation of a microwave and toaster. This led me to the great wide world of needlecrafts. Actually, I had a little bit of a leg up in this category as I had been shown how to cross-stitch already and had a rudimentary idea of how a sewing machine worked, thanks to my mother and grandmother.

Logic would have dictated that I choose the needlecraft of cross-stitch as it would have required the least amount of additional instruction. Unfortunately, I was enticed away by the sexy lure of crochet. Specifically, I had always noticed the doilies strewn about my grandparents’ houses and thought that they were wonderfully dainty and beautiful. I guess that was the girly-girl in me shining through in my love of delicate and lacy objects.

When I relayed my choice to my parents, I expected them to be happy and impressed. Strangely, they did not seem enthusiastic and even tried to dissuade me from this option. They tried to tell me that it would be really hard work, and that it would take me a long time to actually learn the technique before I could actually produce anything worth entering into competition.

It should hardly be surprising that none of their arguments had any effect on me. I am a very stubborn person when it comes to holding onto my ridiculous and insanely stupid ideas. So it came to be that my 4-H project was crochet. In my own head, the outcome played out like this:

Apparently, my father was not the only person to make an attempt to interest their child in 4-H that year. My good friend Craig and his father were going to join in on the fun. Craig was lucky in that he lived out in a farm-like setting and actually owned horses and dogs. I’m not completely sure, but I believe his stated intention was to create a project that utilized one of these two types of creatures.

One fine evening, we all hopped in the car and drove to rural Kandiyohi, MN to a meeting of the “Kandi Countrysiders” 4-H club. I don’t know what I imagined this sort of gathering to resemble, but it turned out to be beyond what I could have even imagined. We all sat in rows of chairs and listened to our first official-type meeting, complete with calls to order, motions, seconds, carries, minutes, gavels, and heaven knows what else. I was completely lost in the business-like manner of the meeting and was starting to have severe doubts over my participation.

When it was all over, we all stood up feeling slightly dazed. My dad led me over to some veteran member and I attempted to articulate my choice and idea for a project. It likely made no sense whatsoever, but the person was nice and attempted to be encouraging.

We left the meeting feeling slightly deflated. It was becoming clear to me that this whole 4-H thing was going to be a lot of extra work in addition to school and my buzzing social life. Also, I didn’t actually know anyone who could teach me to crochet, so it was going to be a bit difficult to even start. The whole thing was starting to look less appealing by the minute.

If I remember correctly, we perhaps attended one more meeting before both Craig and I came to the common conclusion that we were simply not cut out for this type of lifestyle. The kids who did it had to be some type of superhuman or even possibly cyborgs. We quit before we even started.

I’m not sure if my dad was disappointed in my choice, or secretly relieved that he wouldn’t have to drive me to all the meetings way out in Kandiyohi. I do know for a fact that neither of my brothers ever attended a meeting nor were they ever encouraged to join. Perhaps my dad felt that he owed it to his own 4-H roots to make one initial attempt to bring one of his children into the fold. Maybe he had visions of 4-H glory for me as well, full of blue ribbons and trips to the State Fair. In the end, I think we all have agreed that it is far easier to attend the Fair as a spectator and admirer of 4-H work than to actually work all year to produce championship doilies.

So if you’re from MN and are attending the State Fair in the next couple weeks, make sure to stop in and admire the hard work of the 4-H kids (including the barn animals). It is no small feat to have an entry in the State Fair. Take it from me, the big quitter, not just anyone can do this stuff.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Underage Consumption: Epic Fail

If you’ve been reading my entries thus far, you may recall my story of teenage hottie overload in my early high school years. You should also know of my brush with the law from my bike cop arrest story. It’s very strange, but as I think back on my life to the craziest and strangest stories, this era remains the richest resource of all. So I have decided to mine the crap out of this resource and put the resulting pieces of nostalgic comic gold here in this blog. For free. You’re welcome.

In case you didn’t know, I was a pretty well-behaved kid. For clarification, by “well-behaved” I mean that I was law abiding (except for bike laws) insofar as the big things were concerned. As I am the oldest child in my family and the only girl, my parents were perhaps a bit more cautious and strict than was necessary, but I rarely rebelled. Had I known what my brothers were to get away with in the coming years, I might have pushed a little harder on the rules. But knowing my personality, I can’t say for sure that I would have.

By no means do I wish to claim that I was a perfect angel to deal with in my teenage years (or any years for that matter). My parents and brothers could certainly tell stories of my bratty angst-riddled outbursts and occasional lack of logic or compassion. However, aside from my hormone-driven home dramas, I appeared to society to be a “good girl.”

Lucky for me, most of my close friends were just like me. We were all good students, participated in extra-curricular activities, followed curfew and returned library books on time. We were, of course, completely oblivious to any illegal activities going on around us, such as drinking, smoking, kissing and drugs. It actually was not until years out of high school when I learned just HOW oblivious we were. But that’s not the point here.

Let’s just say that had we showed up at any of the underground underage drinking parties, our classmates would have gone into shock. Even though we were not a part of the party scene for most of high school, we all knew that it was there. I think we even were mildly fascinated by it and a little curious about it.

The city of Willmar is not large, and in many ways was a very traditional American place. Parents in the community were aware of the teenage party “issue” and came up with what they considered to be “creative” ways to combat this problem. One way was to provide school sponsored parties as an alternative.

In Minnesota, particularly in more rural areas such as Willmar, peak party season is at the end of the school year and branches into summer. It’s likely due to the coinciding factors of impending freedom from summer break and the warmer weather that opens up a greater number of hidden party venues unavailable when the land is covered by several feet of snow and ice. Plus, the last week of school is always a slack time.

Obviously, the last day of school combined with graduation is cause for celebration. I believe it was common for high school students, especially graduating seniors to have big blow-out parties around this time, usually with alcohol. I can’t say for sure, because I never attended one of these gatherings, but I’ve heard plenty of stories over the years. Actually, I’m pretty sure I didn’t miss much since they seem to devolve into fights, name-calling and bad memories, but whatever.

At the end of my freshman year of high school, the school announced that they would be hosting a party at the football field to celebrate the end of the year. There would be refreshments and it would be a chance to mingle with people before you said your summer good-byes. For us, it would be our last chance to see our favorite hot seniors in one place forever.

As I recall, we were all super psyched about this party. It was being held in town at the football field, and my friend Jill’s house was the closest location to hang out before the action started. For some reason, Jill’s parents were not home during our pre-party gathering. Obviously, given the fact that we were 15 years old and were well-established rule abiders, I’m sure they weren’t too worried.

We sat around in Jill’s kitchen just chatting. I’m not sure what we were discussing, but I’m sure it had something to do with boys. Now, I’m not entirely positive about how our conversation turned to the subject of alcohol, nor do I know how it was brought up that Jill’s parents had wine coolers in the basement, but somehow this all happened. It’s possible that there was a dare somewhere in here, but I’m not sure if I could say this for a fact.

All I do know is that Jill went and brought up one of the wine coolers from the basement. My friend Liza and I were apparently the bravest and most rebellious members of our group (later to be proven true by our bike offense incarceration), because we each took one sip from the bottle.

I wish I could describe the sense of excitement, fear and adrenaline that was in the air as this happened, but I cannot. It was crazy. After our two sips, we started to freak out a little bit. After all, we had just participated in underage drinking! As we had no intention of consuming the entire bottle and none of our friends wanted to try it, we were faced with the dilemma of hiding the evidence. We could have just dumped out the rest of the wine cooler and threw away/hid the bottle. But then her parents might notice that they only had five left instead of six.

Our brilliant solution was to add a little water to the bottle and attempt to re-attach the lid. We put the bottle back and took off for the party. I remember sitting in the grass with my friends, feeling that I was pretty freaking awesome and that Liza and I had just been established as the most bad-ass members of our group. (Of course, I wouldn’t have used the phrase “bad-ass” back then because it is a swear word.)

I think I even went so far as to say that I thought I felt “a little woozy.” Of course, I also said this phrase to my mother after having my thimble of first communion wine in 5th grade, so I obviously knew what I was talking about.

For about a week, I kept expecting my parents to get a call from Jill’s mom or dad telling them that I was a delinquent, but nothing happened. In fact, nothing EVER happened. It has simply become a story that occasionally comes up between me and my friends as an example of how completely and ridiculously naïve we were about everything.

The whole story is even more stupid because it involved a wine cooler. I realize that to someone who is unaccustomed to the taste of alcoholic beverages that a wine cooler holds great appeal, as does Boone’s Farm “wine.” However, now that I am completely of legal drinking age and can afford to be more discerning about my beverage choices, I NEVER have picked up a pack of strawberry flavored wine coolers. Despite the fact that my friends are still fans of fruity “foo-foo” drinks themselves, they shockingly do not purchase them either.

After this brief venture into underage consumption, I can safely say that I never drank again in high school. Am I proud of this fact? Sure. Did I have to fight off a lot of temptation? Not really. So I guess I didn’t overcome any great odds or withstand a ton of peer pressure to abstain, and I therefore do not know if I deserve any congratulations for this accomplishment. Perhaps it will lose me my nomination for “Biggest Square” of the Class of ’98, but it certainly will not qualify me for the title of “Most Bad-Ass” either. I guess you can’t have everything.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

I Love a Parade

Good day, everyone! I hope you are all having a splendid week thus far. How am I doing, you say? Well, I have some big news for you! It appears that I have now become a popular artist (on Facebook)! Does this mean I am famous? Maybe. Does this mean I am going to be rich? Only if I sell out.

The only downside to my new found fame is that I am now feeling a little pressure to keep up with demand. My past reactions to this sort of thing have not been favorable. My main example would be my somewhat defunct cookie baking blog. Last winter, while on break from school, I decided that I would take the old school Betty Crocker Cooky Book and bake my way through.

This idea was good in theory, although not original. I was able to keep up through about five or six entries before classes resumed. Unfortunately, I soon found that I was not able to find time for baking in the middle of all my homework assignments and working full time. My original plan was to take a hiatus from baking until summer break, but then I decided to take a summer course.

I am presently on a one month break before fall semester, but I find that extremely hot and humid weather makes me hesitant to use my oven for more than half an hour per day. Therefore, I have started this blog as it is a bit easier to maintain entries and it doesn’t require me to do dishes afterward.

As part of my new blog format, I sometimes find that illustration is required to emphasize certain features of my stories. In some circumstances, photographic evidence is available to attach to my narrative, but in most cases, no such documentation exists. I am therefore called upon to put my artistic abilities to the test and produce renderings from my own memory.

For these drawings, I have had to renew my familiarity with MS Paint and Apple’s Paintbrush. Way back in my earlier years, I learned to draw on the computer using Apple’s MacPaint application, which is sadly no longer in production. The newer versions function largely in the same manner, but they do require some patience.

So far, I have utilized these drawing programs in two arenas: my blog and Facebook. My blog drawings are done for the purpose of illustrating a specific story. My Facebook drawings are usually in response to everyday (often workplace related) happenings and are done for the benefit and amusement of my friends and coworkers.

Originally, I had no intention of sharing these drawings on Facebook as I believed them to have limited appeal. However, once one of my coworkers decided to share some of the pictures on her page, I found the effect to be quite amusing (and positive).

Now that I have a mini-following for my artwork, I feel like I need to come up with new and creative subjects to illustrate. As I sat pondering this dilemma last night, I found myself thinking about my clarinet. At present, my clarinet sits in a case within my guest bedroom closet and has not been put together and played since my high school commencement. I have high hopes of one day getting it cleaned, re-corked and serviced so that it may yet again find use. That day has not yet arrived.

In my band-geek musings, I was ultimately drawn to the spectacle that comprises the least pleasant requirement of my clarinet days: marching band. To give you a brief background, during my tenure at WHS, marching band was not a top priority of the director. In earlier decades, previous directors had taken much greater interest in marching band, and I even remember watching field marching during football games in the fall.

By the time I reached high school, a new director had arrived, and his primary interests were concert band and his own rock band that was best known for playing the high school prom each spring. As a side note, you should know that my band teacher greatly resembled the actor Gary Sinise. I’m not sure if this could be considered a compliment or not, but it was a fact. My friend Kellee noticed it first, and it gave way to the clarinet section referring to our director as “Gary” behind his back.

Even though Gary did not enjoy marching band as part of his directing duties, he was under some pressure to make the minimum effort to show that the WHS Marching Cardinals maintained a presence. This equated to approximately one month of extra band time into June every summer. Early morning marching practices and a few scattered indoor music practices were all that was required in addition to the three or four actual parades we marched in.

This requirement was not totally horrible, except that they occasionally required us to be awake before noon, and no teenager would willingly choose to do this on their summer break. Unfortunately, it somehow played into our grade for band, so we were without recourse. Additionally, we were forced to memorize our marching song. This usually proved to be the most difficult and frustrating piece of the puzzle for our director. Faced with unmotivated teens along with rising temperatures, he often experienced several emotional breakdowns in the month of practicing.

All of this hoopla ultimately led up to the big performances at the end of June. The performances themselves were not so bad, and we often got some interesting bus rides out of them when traveling out of town. Honestly, we couldn’t have cared less about the fact that our performances were being judged for prizes in most parades.

In the end, the most memorable part of our marching was not the music, Gary’s emotional break-downs or our bus ride games. It was the marching band uniform. These relics of earlier decades were truly a sight to behold. When most people picture marching bands, they envision clean, sharp uniforms with shiny buttons and flashy embellishments. In order to get an idea of what we were given, you will need to erase this picture from your mind.

Our uniforms were made of polyester. Hardly surprising given its durability, but it has never been known to be a very “breathable” fabric. Our shirts (or jackets) were dark red with high collars and full length sleeves. Our pants were black with red stripes down the side. Over all of this we wore white cummerbunds and white sashes. No shiny buttons, no sequins or capes. Our only other pieces of school issued clothing were our hats.

To describe these hats accurately it somewhat difficult. They were black and had a brim similar to a cowboy hat, along with a string to tighten under our chins. On one side of the hat, the brim was pushed up and attached to the top of the hat in what I can only liken to something the Three Musketeers once wore. Within the fold created by the brim, we were given a red “plume” to jam into place before each performance. The trick with the plume was to make sure that it curved the right way to avoid putting out the eye of the person marching next to you.

Here is my artistic vision of the uniform as apparently I would not allow my parents to photograph the real thing:

All in all, I’m sure we were a sight to behold. Essentially, the end result was that we found ourselves dressed in outfits that allowed for no ventilation whatsoever for any part of our bodies. The tight fitting hats had leather-like bands around the inside to keep them in place. These bands also served as sweet sweat generators that left us with wet hair within seconds of putting them on.

Why am I sharing this story with you? Probably selfish reasons, I suppose. On the radio this morning I heard that this weekend we are supposed to have weather akin to the squishy hot ridiculousness of last week. From my previous entries, I think I’ve been clear about my feelings about hot weather, but it’s sometimes nice to have a little perspective on the subject. I will therefore endeavor to use my Jedi mind control to think of my sufferings from the band uniform when I feel that the heat is unbearable. It could always be worse. I could be wearing polyester.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Silent But Deadly

Guess what everyone? Sometimes I snort when I laugh. Occasionally I will even snort-laugh in public. Today I even did it in front of two co-workers. Did I deny the snort after it happened? Did I try to pass it off as nothing? No! When Brian asked if I had just snorted, he expected me to do these things, and instead, I owned up! I mean, for crying out loud, it’s just a sound! Everyone can make it!

This brings me to my general beef with natural human noises. Rather, my beef with people who find natural human noises to be UN-natural. For my specific example, I shall refer to a boy that I dated several years ago. I could use a code name for him, but his real name is so ridiculous, I might as well use it: Niles.

In the opinion of Niles, girls were not supposed to be human. Well, they were to be human in that they were nice to look at and fun to canoodle with, but as far as natural bodily functions beyond eating and breathing, they were robots. I am not kidding.

Fairly soon into our short-lived relationship, he informed me that he never wanted me to allude to my “time of the month,” which I guess could be a reasonable request. It’s not something I generally discuss with men, so I agreed. When he stepped it up to include urination and defecation, I again didn’t see much of a problem, but I was a bit confused as to whether or not I could ever use a restroom while we were out together.

However, when he took it to the level of gaseous emissions, I started to have real concerns. Now, not burping or farting in front of someone really is just a manner of good manners in most cases. Plus there is the smell factor. I understand this concept. However, Niles’s logic went a step beyond proper etiquette when he added that he wished to believe that GIRLS simply didn’t do any of those things.

At this point, I had to say something. In his weak defense, he grew up in a household with no sisters, which likely left him ill prepared to deal with the biological truths of the feminine mystique. That said, I was certainly not going to allow his ridiculous notion to persist in my tenure as girlfriend. This is not to say that I started burping in his face, but I had to challenge his double standard.

You see, not only did he wish for me to hold in all manner of gases in his presence and refrain from discussing said gases, but he wanted me to accept and allow that HE could engage in the acts freely and at any time. I’m certainly not a radical feminist, but I know bullsh*t when I hear it.

Yes, I could have just let it all slide and humor his stupidity. However, I have a low tolerance for moronic ideas, and I will certainly not stand for someone I date to spew forth such ludicrous nonsense. In retrospect, this should have been thing that tipped me off that we weren’t going to go the distance, but I think I felt it was my mission to educate him for future girlfriends. Actually, he is now married (I believe), so perhaps I did play a role in his overall enlightenment. Or he is married to a Fem-Bot.

The moral of the story is this: We are all human beings, and human beings have to release things from their systems. Sometimes these things are gas, sometimes they are liquid, and sometimes they are solid. On rare occasions, they can even be a combination. It may not be polite to discuss the details of these things in all types of company, but if you try to deny that they happen to you, you’re inevitably going to end up deeply embarrassed at some point in your life and feel that you’ve somehow failed miserably at life. It’s best to own up to your biological truths and accept them as they happen.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

My Case for the Chills

I would like to preface this entry with a little shout-out to one of the most important things in my life right now: air conditioning.

Dearest AC,
Thank you for being yourself and doing your job so well. Every time I need you, you are there for me. Whether you are in my house, my car, the office or Starbucks, you are the most awesome invention to ever come into being. I am so thankful to live in this century where our existences can coincide.

Aside from paying the hefty electric bills for your increased usage, if there’s ever anything I can do for you, let me know. I am very good at baking cookies and knitting scarves. Please continue to be your awesome self. I would likely die without you. Or be forced into a murderous rage that would lead to the event that would later be known as the “Overheated Swamp Rat August Massacre.”

Hugs and Kisses,

I have no idea why this kind of weather has been allowed to persist for over a week, but I am ready to be done. I do not live in the tropics for a good reason. This is MINNESOTA. People think we live in igloos and ride around on Zambonis year round. Although I kindof wish this were true. I would also need an igloo garage for my Zamboni, because I sure as anything am not going to spend half an hour shoveling and scraping that thing after it snows. My Corolla is enough work, thankyouverymuch.

Here is an interesting revelation. In my minute of considering igloos and scraping ice from vehicles, I have managed to make myself wish for winter. Insane. Actually, here is a little secret. Maybe it’s not really a secret as I believe many people know this about me already, but I infinitely prefer to be a little chilled to being a little warm.

My reasoning is entirely logical. It is far easier to put on more clothes to warm myself than to take off clothes to cool myself. Basically, once you reach the point of near nakedness, there is just nothing else to do. Generally, I am not in a place that near nakedness is allowed (work, school, Panera, etc.) so I cannot even get that far.

Here is another logical point: it is far easier to sleep if the house is a little on the cold side than if it’s just a few degrees above comfort level. This is why I generally turn my AC off for good around October and sometimes don’t turn the heat on until January. Just kidding, I usually wait for mid-December.

I love coffee beverages – lattes, mochas, espresso, coffee, etc. While I do enjoy the iced varieties, I prefer the hot version. Unfortunately, there is no way that I can possibly partake of the hot drinks during weeks such as this because I would likely melt into a sweaty beige puddle. In cold temperatures, these drinks are ideal. They make me feel cozy, happy and at peace with the world. Extra bonus: I am much less likely to swear at people in traffic if I am not sweating my eyeballs out.

Hopefully, this weekend the heat and humidity will break as predicted and I can pursue some new blog topics that don’t reference my temperature issues. Until then, I will think cool thoughts of ice bergs, liquid nitrogen and spearmint gum.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Into the Wild

In the midst of the dog days of August (truly) I find myself thinking about what I was doing one year ago today. Normally I cannot recall this sort of thing, but in this case, I was on vacation in Alaska.

I could go into detail about how I came to be in Alaska for my vacation, but I’ve decided that this entry is going to take a different direction. Long story short, I have a very good college friend who is now a doctor in Alaska. He grew up there as well and his parents own and used to run a fly-in hunting fishing lodge in a National Park Preserve. I’ve always had a standing invitation, but the vacation stars didn’t completely align until last year when we both had some time off during summer season.

Even though I knew I was going to visit my friend, I really had no idea as to the details of what we would be doing on this trip. In my mind, I pictured us hanging out around Anchorage and maybe driving out to hike some trails or photograph some moose. Upon arrival, I was surprised to learn that he had arranged for us to be flown out to his parents’ lodge for most of the week.

This change in events was welcome to me as I had always been curious about the place he called home. It was always described as so different from everyone else’s hometown, and I can honestly say that even his sweeping descriptions did not do it justice. It is very close to heaven on earth, I can honestly say.

I could go on about the pristine beauty of this place, but that wouldn’t really be my style at all. Instead, I am going to share with you the story of the closest I came to nature and also death in the whole trip. If you’re thinking that it was while flying in the four-seater float plane, think again. That was awesome. If you think it might be the wilderness raft trip with an 8 year old rowing, you’d be wrong.

It started out simple enough. My friend asked if I’d like to take the boat out on the lake and find a place to hike up to a waterfall that he knew about. Since he knew the area and had led hikes with his parents’ paying guests, I assumed that he would take me somewhere safe. In hindsight, I should have known better.

We boarded the large motorized watercraft known as the “Dusty Rose” and departed from his parents dock in the early afternoon. It was a relaxing and lovely ride out into the lake. As a side note, this lake is very large – several miles long, in fact.

After boating for 15 minutes or so, we started to slow down and eventually landed on a wooded and rocky shore. Once the boat was secured to a boulder, we turned to face the woods. My guide began to walk along the shore, apparently looking for a trail. In the process, he acquired a large stick which he used to whack at the long bushes and grass that grew up under the trees.

Our boat, safely secured on the beach:

I was a bit confused at this point. I had been under the impression that we would be using a well established trail that had been used several times before. From the looks of his weed-whacking, this was not necessarily the case. In the course of his searches, he came across an interesting discovery. Bear scat. Fresh bear scat.

On one hand, this was interesting. I had never encountered bear droppings in the wild. On the other hand, this was terrifying. Obviously, whatever bear had left this waste had been near the shoreline recently. My guide assured me that most bears were not coming down to the lake – it was too early for that. Coming from the same guide who had led me to believe that there would be a trail, this was little comfort.

Eventually, my guide made up his mind as to an entry point and handed me the walking stick. He informed me that I would need it for the climb, especially to test the ground as there would be some areas where I would not be able to see it through the brush. Apparently there were lots of holes as well.

According to my guide, we were in luck. The pooping bear had left a trail of trampled brush to lead us on our way. Super. We were going to follow the footsteps of a bear of unknown size. I felt a moment of extreme fear, especially as we were not armed with any defensive weapons. There were two choices in front of me. I could cry like a baby and look like a wimp in front of my mountain man friend, or I could suck it up and pretend that I did things like this everyday. In my sleep. Backwards.

I chose to climb. Lucky for me, I chose to wear long pants, although my guide had not offered me any wardrobe suggestions when leaving for the excursion. Not only were the bugs ravenous, but there were some very sharp prickly plants all over the place. My guide did his best to push them out of the way for me, but they were unavoidable.

At first, things weren’t too bad. My guide was an experienced trail-maker, and was very patient with my lack of climbing or even general coordination skills. Also, he was wise to suggest the use of the stick. I would likely not be alive today without that stick.

The higher we climbed, the less brush we encountered. It wasn’t too steep, but there were branches and trees everywhere to work around. Before long, we came to a small stream. When I say small, it was actually just shallow. It was about 3-5 feet in width at most places, and it quickly became obvious that we would have to cross it. Numerous times.

I am not afraid of water. I am not afraid of cold water. I simply do not like to have cold and soggy feet, especially when wearing shoes. My guide had noticed my footwear and assumed that it was waterproof. Again, no guidance had been offered ahead of time, and it would have been helpful. Turns out that my awesome hiking shoes are largely mesh on top, although they appear to be solid. Instead of offering at least a little water protection, they acted largely as a sieve to keep out large stones while allowing all matter of fluid to run straight to my socks.

Again, I could have raised a fuss and insisted that we turn back or that he build me some sort of bridge to cross the stream with dry feet, but instead I took a deep breath and allowed my feet to be cold, wet and clammy for the sake of wimpy girls everywhere.

We continued on this route for what felt like hours. Occasionally we had to stop and bang two sticks together and yell “HEY BEAR!!!” This was to warn any bears in our vicinity that we were coming. It sort of reminded me of the camping scene from “The Parent Trap.” I remembered that the twin characters told someone to bang sticks together to keep away mountain lions. I also remembered that it was a trick that didn’t really work, it just made the person look stupid.

After hiking onward and upward and crossing the stream at least a dozen times (I swear he did it somewhat needlessly on purpose to make me suffer), we arrived at a view of the waterfall. We were very close to the top, and I thought that we were close enough. My guide disagreed.

In front of us was a very steep hill composed solely of loose medium-sized rocks. Essentially, a rock slide. My guide insisted that we climb this slide to get a closer and better view of the falls. This, dear reader, is where I drew the line. I had no doubt that I may be able to ascend the mountain of rocks. I also had no doubt that I would absolutely not be able to descend the mountain without facing certain death.

My guide tried in vain to convince me otherwise, but I remained firm. After a few moments consideration, he decided to find an “alternate” route that did not involve the rock slide. This is where it really gets insane.

I don’t remember much detail of the climb up from here because I was so certain that I was going to die. In fact, I told my guide at one point, that he had better make sure that I was buried with my walking stick because I wanted it with me in the afterlife to use for my retaliatory attack on him someday. He wisely kept a safe distance ahead of me for this portion of the climb.

Eventually, we reached the top where were rested and took many pictures. My guide decided to show off and walk up to the waterfall. It was not a large or dangerous falls, but any time there is running water over rocks, caution is always necessary. While I know he was careful, he did manage to take a pretty decent fall and cut his hand. I nearly had a meltdown worrying that he would cut his head open as well and I would be forced to find my way down the mountain alone to find help.

Actual pictures:

The waterfall

Looking back down the mountain from the falls

Me and my walking stick. Notice the photographer is standing out of reach of said walking stick.

Luckily, he was OK enough to lead the hike back down to the boat. As a good trail maker, he had the foresight to leave markers along our path of broken branches and trampled brush. Unfortunately, he was not so adept at finding and following his markers. We most definitely did not follow the same path downwards as we did upwards, but this did not create a problem until we reached the bottom and found ourselves looking down at the beach from the top of a 10-15 foot cliff drop.

My guide jokingly (I assume) suggested that we jump off to the beach. I was not in a laughing mood, as I pictured a bear waiting in a cave beneath the cliff waiting for idiot hikers to attempt the jump and break their legs, rendering them helpless from attack. No, this would not work. See illustration:

Once again, my guide was resourceful and found an “alternate” route. When we finally made it back to the beach, I felt like I had defeated a dragon or climbed Mount Everest. We sat for a while on the beach, or at least until my “fearless” guide got too freaked out by the tiny spiders that live all over in the beach rocks. We attempted a rock-skipping contest, but by then, my physical strength was gone.

Finally, we boarded the boat and returned to the lodge. I know I slept very well that night in my private cabin. The next day, we made another waterfall hike, but before I agreed, I made my friend promise on my burial walking stick that it was on an actual path and that I would not need waterproof shoes.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Pluto Can't Hang With the Street

Today is a day for interesting and awesome news. I shall begin with the interesting.

On the radio this morning, the hosts were discussing music news. I listen to this exchange every morning, but I rarely remember it for later reference. Today, however, I was caught by the mention of Dr. Dre. Now, I listen to a Minnesota Public Radio Station that features a somewhat eclectic mix of music that trends towards alternative or non-mainstream. Occasionally there is rap, but usually it is from local artists such as Atmosphere or POS.

Anyone who knows me could tell you that I’m not exactly an aficionado of rap, but I have been known to listen to (and enjoy) it when I’m in the right mood. If I had to name my favorite well-known rappers, I would probably say that Dr. Dre is in my top three. I’m not an expert on his entire repertoire, but I can proudly say that I know all the words (including the naughty ones) to “B*tches Ain’t Sh#t.” I should probably add, however, that this is thanks largely to Ben Fold’s more contemplative version of the song. It seriously disturbs my mother to hear me or my brother play it on the piano, which is really all part of the fun.

Now that you know my feelings on the general subject, here is the interesting news part of my story. Apparently, Dr. Dre is planning to make and release an INSTRUMENTAL album of songs that are inspired by or based on the planets of the solar system. Try and wrap your head around that idea! According to the radio host (who got her information from theenemy.com), he has been studying the planets for a couple of years during his spare time. No joke. AND it will need to be made for surround sound – because of Saturn. You know, with the rings?

Seriously, I am extremely intrigued by this idea and I really hope that he completes it. He has not released an album since the late 90’s although he has been working on one for a couple of years that has yet to be released. I would be willing to pay a good amount of money to own the Dr. Dre instrumental planetary album.

Now for my AWESOME news. This story will have far less universal appeal to people outside the Twin Cities, but it has made me unreasonably happy, so I must share. Here’s a little background for you non-locals. My favorite restaurant in the world is called Heidi’s. It was a little restaurant located in a one-level older commercial building in a residential neighborhood of south Minneapolis. Last winter, the building that housed Heidi’s (along with several other shops) started on fire and burned down.

It has been a long and sad time without access to my favorite eatery, but today I received an email from my best friend that simply contained a link to a news story on a local website. Heidi’s is going to re-open in a new location in February 2011!!! Yes, this does seem like a long time from now, but the fact remains that I will have access to its awesome and ever changing menu once again!!! I will be able to order the Chefzilla Surprise!!!

I am sorry that this entry does not contain any strange or possibly humorous stories of my past, but believe me when I tell you that I have been working on several and they will be coming out shortly. I’m not sure why I am even bothering to say this as I don’t know that anyone besides my mother and my friend Mary reads this, but just in case I ever do become famous and someone reads my entire archived backlog of entries, I’m covered.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

My brain

Well, I'm sorry. I'm only 9 entries in and already I am having a bad brain day. I have written a few entries, but I'm not quite ready to post them. They require some additions or edits. Also, my brain seems to be stuck in cupcake mode. I am convinced that were I to be given a chocolate cupcake with cream chesse frosting and sprinkles, all of my stars (or planets or whatever that astrological baloney calls for) would be in alignment.

Maybe if I had more blog readers (or any blog readers) someone could hear my plight and answer my call. As it is, this picture will just have to do for now:

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Rough Riders of Kandiyohi County

As the days of high heat and humidity continue here in MN, I find myself again grateful for a job that allows me to remain in air conditioned comfort. Gazing out the window and what deceivingly appears to be a lovely sunny day, I am again drawn to thinking of my days in the sun in the time before I was eligible for gainful employment.

Prepare yourself, this entry bears the possibility of being epic. OK, maybe that’s reaching a little high, but it will certainly give you a privileged view into my adolescence that will likely shed some light onto my psychological character of today.

Please come back in time with me to the summer of 1995. Times were simple, yet big changes were in the works. I was on the cusp of young-adulthood; my 16th birthday was looming on the horizon with all the freedom it promised. Freedom to go wherever I wanted (within a 10 mile radius of Willmar), freedom to have a job (and make money) and freedom to arrive at my destinations in style.

When one is only on the cusp of freedom, the reality remains that it really hasn’t arrived yet. Therefore, one must accept their limitations and make the best of what has been given. In this case, what I was given was a red Schwinn mountain bike and an 8:00 p.m. curfew. Lucky for me, I had the added bonus of living two houses away from one of my best friends, “Liza*”. I could probably spend an entire entry telling stories of the two of us, but maybe later. This entry will be limited to our biking adventures during the summer of 1995.

Before the story begins, I should perhaps offer a bit by way of a preface. By this point in time, we (Liza and I) had completed our freshman year of high school. Willmar built a brand new Senior High in the summer of 1994, and we were the first freshman class to enter its shiny new hallways. As if this was not overwhelming enough, we were again gifted with an abundance of extremely attractive upperclassmen males.

If you have any memory of what it was like to be 14 or 15 years old and the hormones that are involved, you can perhaps imagine our reaction. We honestly felt that we had no need for posters of movie stars or hunky teen sensations to plaster all over our lockers and walls. We had bona fide straight up swoon-worthy men in the same building as us five days a week, at least during the school year.

Now, imagine the sense of withdrawal one would feel if suddenly it is summer break and you cannot get your hottie-fix. That is where we found ourselves in June 1995. Always resourceful, we soon concocted our solution: bike-stalking. OK, so that’s not what we called it, but that is really what it was.

In a small town, pre-Google, it was still possible to locate the domiciles of any and all members of the community. So, we assembled our informal list of our favorite high school hotties and found there houses using our handy phone books. Using these locations, we mapped a bike route to take us past as many of these houses as possible.

I should now stop and make some clarifications. First, our intentions for this plan were purely innocent. We had no desire to actually stop in and visit any of these boys. In fact, I’m not even sure we wanted to see and/or make real contact with them in any way. I believe that our initial hope was that perhaps we could catch a glimpse of them mowing the lawn or walking out the door. We certainly did not want to be noticed. Unless, of course, they noticed us and then asked us out. I take that back, I am completely positive that if they had asked us out we would have been so scared we may have spontaneously combusted on the spot.

Basically, we established a route and we followed it throughout the summer. We didn’t go every single day as we did occasionally have events or constructive activities to attend. However, our trips were frequent enough to the point that I really couldn’t say exactly how many there were. At some point, it became more of a habit, and for the number of miles we put in, it was probably excellent exercise. Sometimes we would stop off for refreshments, but not that often as we did not yet have jobs and income to purchase treats.

Other than the landmarks that determined our route, there was not much special to see in Willmar. It’s not a large town, but it took several hours to circumnavigate the city limits. Our treks usually started in the early afternoon and concluded by dinnertime. This was before the time of cell phones, so we could not call our parents to get us if we were too tired or hot. Amazingly, we never had any accidents or flat tires, so this was not an issue.

In many ways, this was an ideal way to spend the summer, and it was. Until the day it was nearly destroyed by the long arm of the law.

The city of Willmar can boast of many things. It has four water towers, a community college, a Jennie-O Turkey plant, two Dairy Queens and a giant gold statue of Chief Kandiyohi. It also has one other thing going for it: bike cops. In order to combat the rampant bicycle violations that threaten the very fabric of society, the City of Willmar (via the police department) employs high school and college age citizens to patrol the mean streets of town. They are not given guns, tasers or even mace, but don’t be deceived, they do have some authority (please note that I am saying “authority” a la Eric Cartman). Through some loophole in the justice system, they are allowed to issue “bike tickets.”

Now that I am a licensed driver, I have a greater understanding of how police issue tickets, but at that time, I was not well informed. Real cops can give you tickets for a lot of things: speeding, parking, running a stoplight or running over a pedestrian. OK, so maybe you wouldn’t get a ticket for hitting a pedestrian, but maybe if you ALMOST hit them. Bike cops are a bit more limited. Essentially, they are governed by basic bike safety “laws” and rules.

For instance, in case you were not aware, bike riders are required to obey all traffic signs and signals, just like cars. This includes, but is not limited to: stop signs, traffic lights, railroad crossings, yield signs and road closed signs. In addition to this, bikers are supposed to signal their intention through the use of hand signs. This pertains mostly to stopping and right/left turns. Also, bike riders should wear helmets.

Theoretically, I can understand why these things are important. It is important to let the people in the big vehicles know what you are doing so that they don’t run you over. Easy, right?

Anyway, back to 1995. Liza and I biked around almost all summer long on our regular route without incident. Until we encountered the bike cop on a vendetta. OK, so maybe vendetta is a strong word. We encountered a bike cop who had recently been instructed by her supervisor to start handing out more tickets and less warnings. She was also a super stealth biker. Apparently, she followed us for several minutes without our knowledge and was about to give up and allow that we were good bikers, when our major violation occurred. We ran a stop sign.

Let me explain. There is an intersection in Willmar on a small residential street that has a two-way stop sign. It is actually near my friend Jill’s old house, and if anyone is familiar with the city of Willmar, I could certainly tell you where it is in exact detail. I actually revisit the spot in my car whenever I happen to be back in town. Even now, I am still unclear as to why there are stop signs at all at this intersection. There are certainly many uncontrolled intersections in Willmar, and this one could certainly qualify for that status.

On this particular day, Liza and I were biking along without a care in the world when we unknowingly breezed through this spot. I believe we did actually pause and look both ways, because believe me, we were not total idiots. However, there was no doubt that a complete stop did not occur.

Here is a fun fact: bike cops ride bikes, not cars, and they do not have sirens. They must therefore rely on their speed and the authority of their voice to induce offenders to stop for them. Our “officer” was a recently graduated senior female that we were very loosely acquainted with. (Translation: we knew who she was but she did not know us.) After informing us of our offense, she proceeded to apologetically tell us of her bosses “more ticket” mandate, and that this meant that we were indeed going to receive a ticket.

Here is some more fun information for you: regular bike tickets do not have monetary penalties. (Although I would imagine repeat offenders may have to face some fees.) No, there are two options for punishment. If you are under a certain age (let’s say 12), you must attend the Bike Safety Rodeo. If you are over a certain age (again 12), you must attend Bike Safety School. We were 15 years old at the time, so you do the math.

My friend Liza is an extremely smart person. In fact, she may be one of the smartest people I know, even today. In addition to being generally intelligent, she also possesses the covetable ability to think quickly in tight situations. Case in point: while our apprehending officer was doing something with her walky-talky, Liza took me aside and instructed me to give a false name for the ticket. After all, we were not carrying ID as biking doesn’t require a license, and she didn’t really know who we were. Actually, if I recall correctly (and I know I do), Liza wanted to give the names of two of our friends. I expressed my doubts of this plan mainly because I was certain it wouldn’t work, but also because if it did work, our friends would likely not find it funny.

In the end, truth and stupidity won the day and we gave our real information. For this honesty we were rewarded with Bike Safety School to be completed by a certain date to be held at the police station. We briefly toyed with the idea of simply not attending because we weren’t all that sure that they had any real recourse against us. However, in the end, our fear of the law and desire to clear our records to get into college made us go.

I wish I could say that the experience was enriching or at least entertaining. Sadly, I cannot. We were ushered into a basement room along with several punk-ish 12 and 13 year-olds who were in for “reckless driving” and forced to watch a homemade safety video featuring two of Willmar’s finest (bike cops). After the video, we took a quiz. Then we were free to go, having paid our debt to society.

In retrospect, I have to wonder if our bike arrest was karmic retribution for our stalker-ish motives. On the other hand, I can hardly believe that any of the boys we idolized at the time had any idea that we were biking through their neighborhoods on a regular basis. As the older sister of two formerly teenage brothers, I think I can safely say that they were likely completely oblivious. If they weren’t out working summer jobs, they were likely sleeping until some unreasonable hour of the afternoon, or they were perhaps playing video games. None of these activities would have brought them to look out at the streets in front of their houses to see us.

Of course, now that I have told the story on the internet, the secret is out.

* “Liza” is an alias. As I know that stories from the past cause different levels of embarrassment for different people, I felt I should respect her privacy. However, for those of you who knew me back then, you’re probably all perfectly aware of her identity. None of this should be news to you, so I think we’re OK.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Jag heter Karin. Vad heter du?

After watching the weather forecast for this week showing daily temperatures near 90 degrees, I said a tiny prayer of thanks for the invention of air conditioning. I really don’t know at what point in my life I decided that I hate extremely hot weather, but it certainly wasn’t in my adolescence. I am therefore dedicating the next few entries to memories of simpler times that took place under the blazing MN summer sun.

When I think back to the summers of my childhood, I am continually drawn to the images of summer camp. I don’t like to brag, but I was a bit of a camp aficionado in my day. Not only did I attend several church/religions camps, but I also participated in foreign language camp of three varieties, youth group national gatherings and even computer camp.

Although all of these gatherings bore the name “camp,” I cannot honestly say that they all involved the same degree of “roughing it.” While church and language camps were located by a lake in the woods with cabins and sleeping bags, computer camp and youth group gatherings took place on dormant college campuses where I slept in dormitories (with air conditioning).

I do not intend to go into detail as to my adventures at all locations at this time, but it may be that someday in the future I will share more of the specifics. My first experience at camp was at age nine, after my first year in a new town and school. I spent that year making new friends and adjusting, which was shockingly quite easy for me at that age. So when my parents informed me that I was going away for a week that summer for Swedish Camp, I really didn’t think too much of it.

Essentially, here is how it went down. I knew I was going somewhere away from home and that my mom had some sort of checklist of items to send with me. My idea of summer camp was centered around sleeping bags, flashlights, bug spray and a lake. Beyond that, I had no idea what to expect. My arrival and check-in for my very first camp remains a bit of a blur, but I do remember choosing my Swedish name for the week (Karin) and getting my cabin assignment.

My parents may have been a little emotional, but I can’t remember. I certainly was not. I am not nor have I ever been a clingy child. As an adult I sometimes experience trepidation when faced with meeting new people entirely on my own, but for some reason, at age nine, I was unfazed. I had been given money (in my camp bank account) to spend on my own and I would have no parental supervision for five whole days. Honestly, my parents could have left me there for the entire summer and I would have probably been pleased as punch.

One of my favorite aspects of being away at camp was the fact that I could send out extensive correspondence to any and all of my family and friends. My mother bought me a pad of stationary just for the experience, and I certainly made good use of it. I was so excited about it, in fact, that I took pictures of the completed letters with my brand new teal Kodak Instamatic camera. The picture quality was not exceptional, or I would include it here, but let the idea stand as evidence of one of the highlights of my week.

Another important thing that I learned in this first camp experience was the notion of homesickness. Not for me, in case you were wondering. It just so happened that I was given a bunk mate who was pretty much the opposite of me in every respect. I don’t remember her real name, but her Swedish camp name was “Sylvia.” I only remember this because of the random fact that it was also the name of the Queen of Sweden (and still is, I think). From day one, Sylvia spent most of her time on her bunk sobbing about how she missed her parents and wanted to go home. I believe my reaction to this behavior was utter confusion, so I imagine I was not very sympathetic. Despite my lack of empathy, Sylvia and I became short-term friends.

To be honest, a lot of the details of the week are lost to me now. I have a few poorly centered photographs and some memento trinkets stashed away somewhere that could perhaps jar my memory, but there is one event that stands out quite clearly.

First, let me preface this story with the fact that I have always had a strong aversion to cafeteria style food. Even now, if I am in the vicinity of a cafeteria kitchen (at least close enough to smell) I have to suppress my gag reflex. Up until my first camp experience, my closest contact with mass prepared cafeteria food was in school, but this was only for lunch and could easily be avoided by applying a guilt-trip to my mother for a “cold lunch” from home. Apparently, the camp regimen of all cafeteria food 24 hours overloaded my circuitry because I neglected not only eating at meals, but drinking as well.

The eating problem could be reasonably supplemented by visits to the treat shop during free time. Unfortunately, this did not carry over into my fluid intake. I’m not really sure why I didn’t drink anything. Perhaps it was just part of the whole cafeteria fear, or perhaps it was from my dislike for using public toilets and a belief that if I didn’t eat or drink, I wouldn’t have to use them. Whatever the reason, before the week was done, one of my observant counselors discovered that I was suffering from severe dehydration.

I don’t remember who or how this was diagnosed, but I was brought to the nurse’s office and forced to stay there overnight for at least one of my final nights at camp. They left a pitcher of water next to my bed and I had to drink a sufficient amount of it in order to be released to normal activities. Now that I think about it, this may be the reason I cannot remember much about the week.

When my parents arrived at the end of the week to get me, I was in good shape. I participated in all of the final activities and eagerly showed them around to all of my favorite places. All the way home, I impressed them with my new language skills and camp songs.

I am not certain whether or not the camp nurse had to call my parents about my medical dilemma. Either way, they must not have been overly concerned because the very next summer they sent me away again, this time to Norwegian camp, for two weeks instead of one. I can safely say that I never had to spend another night in a nurse’s office for the rest of my camp experiences. I occasionally still have trouble remembering to drink enough fluids, so I maybe did not entirely learn my lesson.