Everything I touch dies.

If you haven’t caught on already, I’m a bit of a cynic. I have some serious bouts of bad luck. I’m generally somewhat pessimistic. I enjoy sarcasm. I stress and worry like it’s my job because I feel like I’m slacking if I don’t have too much on my plate. And my favorite kind of humor is the kind that thrives on these characteristics. I wouldn’t say I’m a “Debbie Downer,” although some might. I’m rarely “complaining;” instead, I just like to relay my misfortunes in a humorous way. Might as well make something good of it, right? Here’s an example of some things that have happened to me recently:

"Wah waaaaaaah"

Today, I woke up cheerful and on the “right” side of the bed (both figuratively and literally). No sarcasm there. I wouldn’t necessarily say Iwoke up in the morning feeling like P. Diddy,” which I imagine feels pretty rich and famous. That is, unless P. Diddy regularly wakes up at 8:07 A.M. to the song “Three Little Birds” by Bob Marley, which is purposely set as his alarm in an attempt to start the day off in a happy mood. I’m usually quite the morning person — obnoxiously so — and today was no exception. Until I left my apartment.

All of the above are things songwriters have recently written lyrics proclaiming that they feel like. I, for one, have never felt like any of these things. It must be a celebrity thing.

I was bouncing back from a fail-filled Tuesday. I must not have used up all my bad luck for the day and, unfortunately, that’s the one thing that life will let “roll over” into the next day … or week. Anyway, I finally decided to fill up my car yesterday, taking advantage of the Loaf  ‘N Jug glitch and getting my usual $.10 off per gallon. I felt so sneaky like I was getting a better deal than everyone else. (You know me and my bargains. <– Or, if you don’t, click that.) By the time I got off work four hours later, the price of gas had dropped $.10. That’s my luck.

But, whatever. I rolled with it and went off to the gym to complete my sad little workout in a continued attempt to get back into shape. So what if I get through it by watching Food Network while on the elliptical? Don’t judge.

After returning home, I figured I’d jump in the shower before my boyfriend, Chris, picks me up on his new moped (*swoon*) for dinner and drinks. (Sarcasm aside, it is pretty fun to ride.) But, if I shower with my contacts in, they turn into a dry, papery film over my eyes by about 9 o’clock. Comfortable and attractive. So I have my left contact lens (which I just changed for the month that morning) inches away from safety in its lens case when it decides to kamikaze dive off my finger.

I hear the faint crunch of something contact lens-sized hitting the bag in my wastebasket. I immediately dive for my glasses so I’m not the blind girl searching for a clear contact, and tear apart the contents of my garbage can — which I haven’t emptied in a couple of weeks. (Hey, I live alone — I don’t produce that much garbage. But, yeah, it was still gross.) Nothing. I thoroughly searched the inside and outside of the bag and can as well as the surrounding area. I individually inspected the contents of the garbage can. Twice. I even made Chris look for it when he came to pick me up. I still haven’t found the stupid thing, and I’ve given up hope. Thank God I had one lens left as a backup.

It was kind of like this.

And that came in handy today when sorting thousands of tiny Lego pieces into their proper kits at my job at UND’s Computer Science Department. They put on week-long summer Lego robotics camps for kids, and student employees like me get to help reorganize all the kits in preparation for the next camp. Besides the company of my friend and fellow coworker, the only thing keeping me awake was the steady dose of caffeine I was slurping from my thermos between deciding which tiny Lego piece was half a centimeter longer than the other tiny Lego piece. That is, until I spilled my precious coffee everywhere. Imagine: The table is covered with countless tiny loose Lego pieces and at least 30 or more containers holding the sorted pieces. My liquid energy reached the other end of the table and got underneath most of the scores of containers. It took, no lie, at least 40 paper towels to clean up, and the entire room still reeks of coffee.

If you didn’t see the video below like a year ago, when it was more relevant, where have you been living? If you have, watch it again just because it’s hilarious. And also a lot like my coffee spill.

Speaking of things that reek, did you know flour tortillas can get stale? I do now, the hard way. I’ll leave it at that.

I don't know what this has to do with anything, but it appeared when I Googled "sad tortilla," so you can bet it's going on here.

I also know that whoever lived in my apartment before me never cleaned, and my rental company’s cleaning crew somehow “missed” my unit before I moved in, so I spent over six hours overhauling the place on moving day. I still find bits of nasties. Like this happy little nugget — I was jamming condiments into the shelf on the inside of the door one day when all of a sudden, something flat and brown pokes up from behind the piece of plastic that keeps everything from sliding from the door into the fridge when you open it. I picked it up and realized it was a Wheat Thin — with a lot of extra gunk on it. #1: I have never purchased Wheat Thins while living in this building. #2: If I did have Wheat Thins, I would never put them in the fridge. I mean, what the heck?!

Apparently all of this must have made me make the tension/worry, frowny face a lot because, while I was at work this afternoon, I looked up at myself in the bathroom mirror to find I had a GIANT deep wrinkle right in the middle of my forehead. Not one week over 21, and I get my first wrinkle — a worry line, of course. Touche, life. Very fitting.

Yep, one of these babies. Looks like I'm in the market for some wrinkle cream. Sigh.

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REALISTIC Couponing

I love nothing more than a good deal. I’m nothing like the “extreme couponers” you see on TV, but I like to consider myself an amateur bargain-hunter. No matter how awesome it would be to buy over $2,000 worth of groceries and have the store owe me $50, (like I saw on one episode of Extreme Couponing) there’s only so much time the average person with a life and responsibilities can devote to saving money. There’s nothing better than getting an awesome deal on something and for me, on a college budget, it’s either find the deepest discount or go without. And I don’t know that I could go without.

Yes, I’ll clip coupons I take from the newspapers at work that no one wants. It saves me about $10 a trip on everyday necessities. Absolutely, I use a fuel discount card. For some reason, the one I have oftentimes gives me $.10 off per gallon instead of the $.05 it’s supposed to. I don’t know why this happens, but I love it. So, of course I’m loving the new craze of discount shopping online. College budget or not, everyone likes to save a little here and there, right? So I thought I’d share some of the places I frequent and find the best deals.

Rue La LaThis was the one that started it all for me. I got an invite from one of my friends and was hooked ever since. The brands and designers featured appear in “boutiques” that change daily at 10 a.m. central time. Once an item is sold out, it’s likely gone forever, so if you see a brand coming up that you like, you’d better be at your computer hitting refresh at 9:58 a.m. It’s the thrill of the chase. They’re target is mostly women shoppers, but they have a ton of men’s stuff daily, plus trip deals, children’s clothes, and household items. Some current and upcoming sales include Columbia, Juicy Couture, kate spade, Calvin Klein home, and Dolce & Gabbana swimwear.

Admittedly, I’ve spent some money on this site, but nothing close to what I would have spent at full price. Some of my finds there include a parka by A.B.S. by Allen Schwartz that handles the North Dakota winters well and retails for $278 for only $79, a Sir Alistair Rai silk scarf that retails at some ridiculous price near or over $100 for $19, and a pair of Sperry Top Siders (regularly $79) for just $10 because I had a $30 credit on my account. The only downside to Rue is that shipping is a flat $9.95 no matter what, with the dangerous incentive that if you order anything else the day you place your order, shipping on that item is free.

If you’re not a member yet, here’s an invite to check it out. After all, it costs nothing just to join.

The ClymbIf you’re liking the idea of limited time deals with the edge of beating out other shoppers for the best deal, but not so crazy about designer fashion and more into fitness, The Clymb may be a great place for you. This site features brands that specialize in sportswear. Whether you’re a runner, a biker, a rock climber, or a yoga enthusiast, The Clymb will feature Rue La La-like deals in an area you can get excited about. They carry everything from apparel, to tents and sleeping bags, to water bottles, to specialized extreme sport accessories. The Clymb is a relatively new kid on the block for this genre of sites, but has a solid interface and positive feedback. Some brands they’ve featured include Mountain Hardwear, Keen, Dakine, Salomon, and CamelBak. They’re shipping rates vary from $.95 to $7.95 depending on the item and every shipment is 100% carbon neutral. Unfortunately, they don’t process international orders yet, but are working to expand.

If you want to get in on the member pricing deals, here’s an invite.

6pm.comUnlike Rue La La and many similar sites that I’m a member of but rarely visit, (Gilt Groupe, ideeli, MYHABIT — Amazon’s answer to the members-only discount craze, Groupon, and LivingSocial) 6pm doesn’t require you to be a member and doesn’t have limited time deals. It’s like an (almost) “everything” outlet store with some of the best prices you’ll find on brand-name items. Shipping is regularly $6.95, although sometimes (like right now) they have specials offering $2.95 shipping. The only thing you have to watch out for on 6pm is that the prices on items can sometimes fluctuate by day or by week, for whatever reason. 6pm also doesn’t accept coupon codes because, honestly, their discounts are already pretty deep.

One of my favorite purchases from 6pm is this pair of Oakley sunglasses, which retails for $85, for only $35.

Rent the RunwayThis one isn’t offering guy options just yet. (Probably because guys have been able to rent tuxes since the dawn of time.) But it’s never been a commonplace option for a girl to rent a dress for a prom, wedding, or other black tie event. And why not? I always thought it would make sense. You buy a big expensive dress for every prom, formal, and homecoming that comes up during high school and college and then struggle with how to fit the stupid thing into your closet for the rest of eternity. That’s why I wish I would have learned about this before I stopped being able to go to proms.

With Rent the Runway, you can choose a designer dress from their massive selection online and request to rent it for a period of four days over the time you have an event. RTR always lets you choose two sizes, in case one doesn’t fit, and every rental comes shipped with a “fit kit” to make small, temporary alterations to your dress, ensuring your dress fits like a tailor altered it just for you. Dress rentals range from $30 or $40 to $200+, but the retail prices on RTR’s selection range from $200+ to $1800. When you’re event’s over, you put the dress in the prepaid envelope and send it back to RTR, where they dry clean it and prepare it for its next event.

I haven’t got to try out the full experience yet, but I’ve rented this Mark & James by Badgley Mischka dress for a wedding in August. The dress retails for $395, but the rental price is $50. I got it for even less because I had a 20% off coupon code, which RTR will periodically e-mail to members, or that you can sometimes find online.

If you want to check out Rent the Runway, you can get in quicker (I was on a waiting list for a few weeks) with this invitation.

Coupon Codes — So easy, yet so easily forgotten. Before I buy anything online, I always do a quick Google search for coupon codes for whatever site I’m on. I’ve found that RetailMeNot and Dealigg generally have the most reliable and comprehensive list of coupon codes. I always got jealous of people in line in front of me at the mall who had coupons and wondered how they got them. This way, you can score deals meant for the “beautiful people” (a.k.a. coupon holders who I am jealous of) without having to sign up for all the junk mail crap. (Although, the junk mail crap definitely pays off once in a while. So much so that it makes deleting 20 unwanted e-mails per day worth it.)

For my last bargain brag of the day, last summer I got a new pair of Nike Free Run running shoes which, as shown by the link, still retail for about $85. I found a site that had the best price on them and then found a coupon code that got me an extra $20 off and free shipping. Sometimes it takes some digging, but it’s definitely worth it.

Amazon PrimeIf you regularly buy things from the tried and true always low-priced Amazon.com, a Prime account could be a great way to save a little extra. Prime gives you free two-day shipping on qualifying merchandise, and $3.99 overnight shipping (even on Saturdays). Shipping costs can add up if you’re buying things like textbooks or groceries often.

Prime also lets you access Amazon’s collection of over 6,000 TV shows and movies for free with Amazon’s Instant Video service (think Netflix). If you’re a student and sign up for Amazon Student with your .edu e-mail address, you can get a year of Amazon Prime for free.  Childrens’ primary caregivers can also get three months of Amazon Prime for free by signing up for Amazon Mom. And if you’re neither of those, Amazon gives everyone a one-month free trial of Amazon Prime to get you hooked.

Restaurant.com —  Eating at restaurants for every meal can be a huge part of a vacation expense. So take that expense out of your summer vacation budget by checking Restaurant.com. Unfortunately, it doesn’t help us out a lot in eastern North Dakota, but if you’re heading for Minneapolis or almost anywhere out of state, check Restaurant.com for deeply discounted $25 gift cards. Fargo has deals at WF Maxells and Playmakers at The Hub (neither of which I’m familiar with, but you can find the listings at the above link.) It depends on the individual restaurant, but oftentimes you can purchase a $25 gift certificate for only $10, and sometimes as little as $3. My friend Matt used some $3 ones he found on our Spring Break trip to Panama City Beach, FL, this March. Of course, don’t forget to check for coupon codes here, too. You might just find an even bigger discount.


Did you get any awesome deals on any of these sites? I love hearing about it. Any sites you know of that I should add to my arsenal?

The Grocery Store: Part II

If you missed part one, you can catch up here.

—–

“So … how did it turn into this?” I echoed in the empty room, wondering how many times the question had been asked in that same spot.

“Two brothers bought it a few years ago and made it into a house,” said Chris over his shoulder, as he helped Alex measure the room he’d chosen.

The Grocery Store truly disappeared into an “invisible location” for the two years it sat empty after Amazing Grains moved to its new home. According to a Grand Forks County Property Report, Eugene and Olga Fetsch, the Grocery Store’s owners, lived just down the street from the building on a plot of land that spans much of north Grand Forks known as “Alexander and Ives’ Addition” [sic]. No publicly-accessible information explains who Alexander and Ive are, or where their main plot of land is, if that large chunk is merely their “addition.”

Map of the north Grand Forks area, which includes Alexander and Ives’ Addition in the area surrounding the balloon. It’s hard to tell where exactly that plot of land ends through property records.

Through property transactions, cold government documents declare the news of Eugene Fetsch’s passing in November of 2002. After Eugene’s death, his widow, Olga, put the building up for public auction. Still, the Grocery Store sat vacant until March of 2005, when property records show that two brothers, Darren and Kelly Thompson, expressed interest in the Grocery Store. On May 10, 2006, records show that Olga placed the Grocery Store into the brothers’ names. After the Thompsons completed renovations to transform the former Amazing Grains into a residential house, the Grocery Store was open for business. It’s been housing groups of renters who are drawn to the Grocery Store’s bachelor-esque style ever since.

Who else but a bunch of college guys would have a Christmas tree like this?

So, like many others, Chris and his roommates couldn’t resist the Grocery Store’s charm and moved in. The space gave them everything they’d been longing for in a home: a place to entertain, a yard for outdoor activities, and a pet-friendly environment for the future dog they planned to adopt. Even if the Grocery Store had been as dilapidated on the inside as it is on the outside, I think the novelty of living in a Grocery Store would have been too much for the guys to pass up.

But all silliness aside, the Grocery Store has a charm beyond its appearance, a function beyond the bare shelter it provides. There’s no denying the history: it affects everyone who has lived, worked, or visited.  It brings people together in a way that’s even more unexpected than the juxtaposition of its interior and exterior.

Another angle of the Grocery Store’s exterior
A shot of its gorgeous kitchen

“How many people can say they’ve lived in a grocery store?” the guys always ask the skeptics. And there are many.

But, like my dad said on his first tour of the Grocery Store, “You guys are going to remember this place forever.”

Over the past year, the Grocery Store has increasingly become the first place people look to when making their weekend plans. The house’s intimate social circle keeps growing, but somehow remains close-knit. The Grocery Store even has its own Facebook page, boasting 118 followers. Its page provides a brief history of the Grocery Store, along with its “house rules.” There, residents also keep their “fans” up to date with the latest events the Grocery Store is hosting.

When friends and relatives of the Grocery Store’s regulars come to town, they make sure a trip to the Grocery Store is on the agenda at least one night of their visit. Matt, one of the regulars, even got a Grocery Store shirt custom made. He wore it to a party one night, and at least 20 people asked him where they could get one. The guys love entertaining, and the Grocery Store is definitely a party house, but it never gets out of hand. Both the tenants and party-goers have an unspoken respect for the sense of community their home provides.

The one and only official Grocery Store T-shirt

This spring, a small group of friends was gathered around the fire pit in the backyard early one evening before a party. Unable to resist, the next-door neighbor (also named Chris) and his wife stumbled across the street, lugging two lawn chairs. a case of beer, and a bottle of wine.

Although the couple had a few years on us, their arrival came as no surprise. A burly, beard-sporting hunter with the thickest “Nort’ Dakohhhtan” accent you’ve ever heard, Neighbor Chris gets in on as many Grocery Store bonfires and barbecues as his wife lets him get away with.They dragged their chairs near the fire and plopped down, making themselves at home.  I turned toward Neighbor Chris’s wife.

“Chris and Alex were saying there’s a lady down the street who owned the Grocery Store when it was actually a grocery store – back in the 50s. Is that right?” I asked.

“Oh, yeah. Olga lives right next door to us,” explained Neighbor Chris’s wife, whom Chris didn’t introduce to me. I later learned her name is Tania. “She’s the nicest lady, but she’s at least 90, so she doesn’t get out much.”

“Nooo,” Neighbor Chris quickly objected. “She’s only like … 83 at most.”

Tania turned toward me, silently rolling her eyes and shaking her head in objection, mouthing, “She’s 90.”

“Anyway, ever since Darren and his brudder bought the house a few years back, dere’s been a group’a guys rentin’ it out,” Neighbor Chris said between swigs of his Keystone.

“So it’s always been guys living there?” I asked.

“Yah, dey’ve always been a lot like these guys, too. Loved to entertain,” Neighbor Chris said, looking into the fire. “Some groups are a little rowdier than others, though. A lotta times they ended up on the roof. There was even a bullet hole from a BB gun in one‘a tha front windows for a while there. But der’s always a really close group’a guys livin’ here.”

A logo Alex’s girlfriend made for the Grocery Store

As more people started arriving for the get-together that evening, the group around the bonfire slowly dwindled, as everyone began to head inside for the main event.

The falling-in screen door swung open. I heaved my way through the thick wood door behind it. No matter how softly I try to close it, it always makes an unmistakable thunderous slam. The hardwood floors were sharply cold on my bare feet as I slipped off my shoes to join the party.

The sickeningly sweet scent of peach shisha tobacco from the hookah lapped at my nostrils. A small group was congregated around its spot on the stove, leisurely passing the hose during a friendly competition of “who can blow the best smoke rings.” I wonder what the Fetschs would think.  The scent of the hookah wrapped itself around the thick smell of beer that hung in the air like a hefty fog. It causes an instant headache, but the positive connotations I associate with the smell keep me from disliking it.

I photographed one Grocery Store party for a school assignment in a photography class — The theme was “Party Time.”

The competing smells choke each other out at different points during the evening, but are amplified when they introduce themselves to the stale scent of bad decisions the next morning. The guys always wake up to find at least one or two friends have spent the night on one of their lived-in dusty blue couches. Sometimes an ambitious partier will even unearth the squashy denim futon in the entryway from underneath its pile of jackets, backpacks, and everything else people toss onto on it as they enter.

I make my way to the middle of the living space, where the table Chris and I have dinner dates at has been converted to a beer pong table. A perpetual game of beer pong always goes on during Grocery Store parties. I greet the players, noticing that the spills from the game have caused the wooden table to take on a wavy, warped texture.

The night is just starting, so almost everyone in the Grocery Store is wearing a jacket or sweatshirt to combat the slight draft in the building. Once a larger group arrives, though, the temperature will quickly rise in what quickly becomes a cramped space. The regulars know to dress in layers. The more distant acquaintances know not to complain.  I bet the members of Amazing Grains followed the same system.

As more friends arrive, I head toward the group that’s beginning to congregate around the portable bar in the entryway. Made of dark wood and vinyl-like burgundy faux leather, the fully-stocked bar is the first thing you see when you come in the door, much to the chagrin of some of the tenants’ parents.

“What’ll it be, little guy?” my friend Kevin asks Elliot from behind the bar.

The group around the bar laughs as Elliot, a guy of average height, struggles to see over the bar top.  It’s a difficult feat while sitting in the barstools that are about two feet too short for the purpose they’re meant to serve. Even if the stools were an acceptable height, Elliot’s view would be obstructed by bottles, glasses, junk mail, keys, and a red revolving police car-style party lamp, which all clutter the bar top. Out of the corner of my eye, I see my friend Kristina make a face after resting her hand on the bar top, which is sticky with a thin layer of spilled drinks.

 

Since the party is growing, Matt (the Grocery Store shirt guy) takes the initiative to bring out a blanket to cover the large window facing the street. The regulars know all the precautions that keep the Grocery Store a safe place to hang out, free from complaints by neighbors and police visits. The blanket darkens the already dim room, casting shadows on the heather gray walls. Playing off the house’s name, a small, reversible “Open” and “Closed” sign sits between the blinds and the glass on the windowsill, still visible from the outside. The sign almost always reads “Open.” If it ever says “Closed,” the guys are bombarded with texts asking why there won’t be a party that weekend.

As the night rages on, party guests sink into the three couches that make square living room area around the 47-inch flatscreen mounted to the wall. They’re singing along to every song that plays over the surround sound, toasting to the night and each other. With their coordination blurred from drinks and lethargy, the obstacle course of mismatched coffee tables in the center of the living room becomes increasingly difficult to maneuver.

As I sit on the middle couch cushion, between a group of close friends, I wonder what it is about the Grocery Store that has made it a haven for friendly gatherings both historically and today. The Grocery Store certainly owes a lot of its popularity to its inherent strangely homey and inviting atmosphere. I don’t know if any place Chris could find in those classifieds on Craigslist would be able to compete.

It’s incredible that this odd little building has served as a grocery store, a natural food market, a gathering place, a home, and a party hot spot. It provides a place to develop old friendships and cultivate new ones. No drama ever erupts. No one ever leaves without a safe ride. No one is ever left out.

Friends comment that the guys have effectively breathed new life into a place that seemed to have passed its prime long ago. But the atmosphere of the Grocery Store may not entirely be because of the people who make it a home. The Grocery Store has a history of housing niche groups. First it provided a haven for those who care about eating organically-grown food in a town that offers virtually no resources for them. Now it’s housing college students:  young people who are displaced, together – yet isolated, living on their own for the first time. The Grocery Store provides the sense of community and the place to call home that all of these people need. It brings them together, providing stability amid stress, support in the face of solitude, a home among friends, and a place to house it all.

Early on

What happens if the guys move out? I wonder silently despite the noise of the party and the presence of my friends around me. Will the friendships survive? Is the Grocery Store what’s keeping all of us together? Will the parties pick up and move to the new location?

I don’t know. But I’m confident that even when the party’s over, even when our group of friends has moved on and left this place, certainly the Grocery Store will endure, its charm intact, as it has for so many years – a shell waiting for its next inhabitants.

—–

Some things have changed since I wrote this about a month ago. Some tensions have surprisingly risen. I guess “nothing gold can stay.” The guys did decide to move on — and not all together. Today marks the beginning of their last full week in the Grocery Store together. Whatever happens after this, none of the people who called it home, whether their names were on the lease or not, will ever forget the place.

Who’s your Doggelganger?

The “people who look like their pets” joke has been a longstanding one  that never really seems to die off. After all, who can get enough of looking at pictures like this?

Yeah. Not me.

But a website put together by the Pedigree Adoption Drive has added an interactive degree to the idea. On the Doggelganger website (such a clever name!) you can upload a photo of yourself and have it analyzed against available dogs up for adoption. Doggelganger will then match you up with your canine doppelganger, based on similar facial features.

Yeah, just had to do one more of those. 🙂

After seeing your results, if you think that you and your Doggelganger are a match made in heaven, you can make contact with the dog’s foster home and arrange an adoption, which I think is really awesome.

I found it impossible to resist the urge to try it. I’ve wanted a corgi for years now, so I was just praying to be matched up with a corgi. Unfortunately, I do not have the characteristics of a cute and cuddly corgi. In fact, I was a little surprised by the match-ups I was getting using my Gravatar image. I’m admittedly a little squinty in the picture but, hey, it was a natural smile on a bright day. I guess my natural smile has a lot in common with the facial structure of mastiffs and pit bulls.  Not necessarily a big confidence booster, but I was willingly comparing myself to a dog, so I guess what did I expect?

I see the resemblance in the eyes, I guess. I wish I would have saved one of them for my screenshot -- Its eyes were completely closed. Ok, Pedigree, I can take a hint.

Then again, the technology may be pretty solidly grounded in your exact features in the photo. Once I switched my picture, I was consistently getting results that looked more like this:

A little closer to a corgi!

I’m not going to lie, this is a really fun site to toy around with. Plus, it’s for a great cause — If it can set up even a few homeless dogs with new, loving, forever homes, that makes it even better. And I’m sure this site pairs up more than just a few people with furry companions. Still, no matter what Doggelganger tells me, I’m still going to end up with a stubby, wiggly, little sausage dog sooner or later!

Love.

The Grocery Store

In a little over a week, my boyfriend and his roommates will be moving out of their first house. While it’s an exciting experience to move on and upgrade a little, their house was really the first house of all their close friends who frequented it, too. It almost took on a personality of its own. For my final paper in my nonfiction class last semester, I wrote a research paper about his house. To pay it its last little tribute, I thought it might be worth posting an excerpt here. It was a long paper, so more might follow, if there’s any interest.

—–

From the sidewalk, it looks like the kind of place you’d shoo your kids past while Trick or Treating. After weaving through the cars in its “parking lot” to get to the front door and noting the peeling paint from its once-white window panes, any passersby would assume it’s either been abandoned or is inhabited by a crack dealer.

No one would expect it to be a bachelor pad, let alone the site of countless locally-legendary house parties. And maybe that’s the reason they’ve never had the police called, even when nearly 75 people are crammed inside on a Friday night. That, and the fact that although the wind whistles through its poorly-insulated brick, sound never seems to escape from the confines of its walls. It appears to be the last place anyone looking for a good time would feel safe, and yet, this shabby little house has provided a sanctuary for socialization and has created countless friendships, relationships, and memories.

It’s a speakeasy of sorts: it provides a safe place to do unsafe things, and unless you know someone who lives there, you don’t hear about its weekend festivities. Even when the party’s raging, you’ll never find more than five to ten strangers. Besides, people never stay strangers long there.

Ok, it's not quite this ... grainy.

My boyfriend, Chris, and his three roommates moved to the house about a year ago. Recently, I was cuddled into the nook of the dusty blue leather couch in the living room, watching TV with Chris and his dog. I peered over his shoulder at the laptop resting on the arm of the couch to find he was scanning Craigslist’s rental property classifieds. I felt a pang of sadness. Even though it’s never a comfortable temperature and the electricity bill climbs to over $400 in the winter, this strange little place has cultivated a community of close-knit friends. What would happen if they moved?

I remember when the guys first told me about the house.

“You’ve gotta come check out the Grocery Store,” said Alex, Chris’s longtime friend and roommate. “We just signed the lease and put the deposit down.”

They were chattering so excitedly about rooming arrangements and how to furnish the house that I couldn’t raise any of my many objections.

Frustrated after getting noise complaints from even having the TV on too loud in their last apartment, the guys were looking for someplace where they could entertain. Moving into a place called the Grocery Store didn’t sound like a solution to me.

Nevertheless, I agreed to take a look.

“You’re probably going to think we’re crazy when you see the outside,” Chris warned on our drive to the Grocery Store, trying to keep me from immediately hating the place. “Give it a chance – It completely redeems itself once you go inside.”

In the residential neighborhood, the warmth of the first breath of summer brought children outside to ride their bicycles and play with the dogs that were being walked by several neighbors. Joggers’ ponytails leapt wildly down the sidewalks. I was so enamored by the homey neighborhood that, when we turned into a corner lot, I didn’t immediately realize we’d arrived at our destination. From the passenger seat of Chris’s pickup, my subtle smile faded as I stared through the windshield at the house in front of me.

The Grocery Store

“You’re kidding, right?” I pleaded, shooting Chris a glance.

He laughed, as if he was expecting this.

That made one of us. I opened the car door and looked across what appeared to be a parking lot. Despite the lot’s attempts to smother the lawn where the front yard should have been, mossy-looking foliage sprouted through the many cracks in the pavement.  Weeds choked out the grass in the sliver of lawn on the side of the house, barely visible behind Alex’s car in the snapshot. I followed the brown grass to the backyard where I found a scraggly, stunted plum tree feebly clinging to life. Circling back to the building’s front, I noticed an antiquated yard light protruding antennae-like from the roof, which you can find at the top right corner of the snapshot. Wood splinters bristled angrily from the window panes.

I found Chris holding the front door open for me at my right.

“Just come inside,” was his reaction to my unpleasantly surprised face.

As I entered, I felt myself react like the shocked homeowner on a home remodeling show taking in the surprise renovations. The majority of the one-level house’s floor plan was an open expanse. The large main room shown above would later be shaped by furnishings, providing space for a bar, living room, dining room, and kitchen. I felt like I was atop a high-rise loft apartment in a big city. Something about the house drew me in; I moved naturally through it.

The surprising interior

“Wow,” my voice echoed in the unfurnished space. “I wasn’t expecting this.”

Chris and Alex grinned at each other.

“But what’s the story behind the whole ‘Grocery Store’ thing?” I asked, inspecting the too-good-to-be-true interior for any flaws.

“It used to be a grocery store in the 1950s,” Alex started. “I want to sleep in the frozen food section!”

Actually, Grand Forks County Property Records explain that the Grocery Store was constructed in 1948. Exactly how long it served as a neighborhood grocery store is a mystery. But the building had another more well-known function before it became the guys’ home and a party destination.

“It used to be Amazing Grains, too,” Chris added.

Amazing Grains is a natural food market and co-op in Grand Forks that provides organic produce periodically to paying members. The store serves a very select group, since the organic food trend isn’t exactly widespread in the area. In 2000, the co-op had around 250 members, as the stated in an interview between then-University of North Dakota student Curtis Stofferahn and Amazing Grains’s manager, Betsy Perkins. As reported by the local newspaper, the Grand Forks Herald, Amazing Grains made the Grocery Store its home from its inception over 35 years ago, until December 31, 1999. Perkins told the Herald she decided to make the move to a high-traffic area downtown in early 2000 because, tucked into a residential neighborhood, they felt they were in an “invisible location” at the Grocery Store.

Amazing Grains's current downtown location

Even so, when the Grocery Store served as Amazing Grains, it found itself the shelter to a following eerily similar to the group of friends it houses today. Before Amazing Grains’s move downtown, unless you knew someone who knew about the store, you probably wouldn’t have known where it was or what it provided. But the close knit group of members, small staff, and volunteers gave life to the building, putting on events like their annual Co-op Cookoff, which was established in the early nineties, according to the Herald.

“So … how did it turn into this?” I echoed in the empty room, wondering how many times the question had been asked in that same spot.

That’s about half of the Grocery Store story. Part II may follow.

.com is so 2000.

Ever since the inception of the Internet, we’ve been trained to recognize web sites by their addresses, usually ending in .com, .net., .org, or .gov, although there are more than 300 Internet domain suffixes currently in existence. But today, the board controlling Internet web site names approved the ability for companies and individual users to create and register thousands of new Internet suffixes.

Some of the most buzzed about changes are Apple’s projected use of the suffix .apple, and potentially .ipad, .ipod, and .iphone. The camera company Canon has reportedly already announced its plans to apply for a .canon suffix. Others include big banks using a .bank suffix and major cities using their names for their suffixes, such as .london, .nyc, and .berlin.

A few months ago, Internet regulators approved the use of a .xxx domain suffix for pornography sites, which spurred a flurry of controversy. Although approval of the .xxx suffix was delayed many times over several years, this widespread freedom domain suffix plan has been in the works for over six years. Hmm. In any case, the sites with .xxx suffixes were expected to launch this summer, but not much has been said about them since late March.

A proponent of the .xxx domain suffix's logo

With .com domain names selling for extraordinary amounts, this change could change the market of web hosting, giving the opportunity for more domains with more unique names at potentially cheaper prices. A domain name belongs to whoever happens to register it first. And Apple wasn’t quite quick enough on the draw for iPad.com. But you can bet the owners of that domain wouldn’t give that up for a reasonable price. Maybe this change would get around situations like that. Would that be a good thing?

We probably won’t see this new system go into effect until late next year. But personally, once it’s implemented, I think it will confuse the heck out of me. I don’t recognize a string of words as a URL unless it has the familiar URL-y suffixes tagging behind it. To be honest, I just got used to the idea of not having to type in the “www.” when navigating to a website. But this web suffix change, the most radical change in the Internet’s naming system since .com was introduced over 25 years ago, leaves me feeling like it’ll take some getting used to. And I consider myself to be pretty computer savvy.

What do you think? Necessary, cool, or “a solution without a problem?”

Super Sweet 16…and Pregnant

There are few shows I find myself hopelessly addicted to, which is good because I only get like 10 channels. But, there are a few reasons I miss cable. One of them is my fascination with pregnant teenagers.  I can’t miss an episode of Teen Mom or 16 and Pregnant.

When 16 and Pregnant first came out, I thought to myself, They have enough pregnant teenagers willing to put their pregnancy on TV to make a whole series out of this? As I’ve now learned, there’s no shortage of teens who find themselves preggo and proud enough to be on MTV, and that’s a good thing:  What else would I do on a Tuesday night at 9?

The recipe for every episode of 16 and Pregnant is almost always the same:

  • Teen gets pregnant. Oops.

"Oh, crap."

  • Teen tells boyfriend, who:
    A. Runs away screaming
    B. Sticks around until the kid is born, and then runs away screaming or
    C. Asks her to marry him, at least attempting to make an honest woman out of her. (This usually ends catastrophically.)

Like this episode, which ended with this guy speeding away in a fit of rage with his twin infants in the back seat of his car, leaving his baby mama on the side of a busy road in the rain ...

  • Teen tells parents, who either:
    A. Freak out and disown her or
    B. Support her
  • Teen has kid
  • Teen realizes raising kid is harder than she thought
  • Show usually ends in tears

In this case, because Father of the Year ended their relationship via text message, calling her a "stretch-marked b****" and asking where he could "sign off" responsibility for their "mistake."

Teen Mom basically picks up where 16 & Pregnant leaves off, illustrating the way the young moms’ lives haven’t gotten any easier.

The shows are intended to be a form of birth control, providing a raw perspective into the unglamorous life of a teenaged mother. But many of the girls’ lives seem anything but unglamorous since their launch to celebrity status, featured on entertainment TV shows and in magazines. I can’t walk down an aisle in the grocery store without seeing headlines like “TEEN MOM’S PREGNANCY SHOCKER” and “SEE TEEN MOMS IN BIKINIS” (which, if I didn’t know better, might prevent me from opening the magazine).

Monsters, strange men, and felons! Oh, my!

As if we don’t get enough of drama-filled pregnancies between the tabloids and TV, each of the Teen Moms has countless Facebook fan pages, some official, and some … hardly. Hey, you go, girls. I’ll admit I’m a fan of them — I couldn’t do what they’re doing even in my early 20s. But these pages have grown to several thousands of fans who swarm every post the teen moms write with hundreds of comments, which usually turn into in virtual fan catfights. Meow.

The teen moms act annoyed with the amount of prying these fans are doing online, constantly sending them messages asking them to confirm or deny rumors they see in the tabloids. (And I hate to say it, but it kind of makes me think, Come on, you’re sorta asking for it.) In any case, the fame must not seem too bad, since others are jumping on the bandwagon.

In a recent incident, Jordan Ward, who was featured on the first episode of this season’s 16 and Pregnant, has just announced she’s pregnant with her and her husband’s second child … at 18. And her husband was just deployed with some branch of the military — or maybe he’s just gone for training. It’s hard to know for sure because she recently took down her official Facebook fan page that declared what she was doing every second of the day. (The link above is to her identical twin sister’s Facebook fan page … All of these things contributing to my point.)

Chelsea Houska, a South Dakota teen featured on 16 and Pregnant and later Teen Mom 2, battled baby daddy drama with the very public help of her friend and roommate Megan Nelson. (Who, by the way, gets the award for Friend of the Year. The 18 year-old not only lived with Chelsea and her baby, she helped out regularly, even occasionally giving up her weekends to babysit.)

Fans apparently enjoyed Megan on the show so much that they prompted her to create a Facebook fan page. Megan must have really caught baby fever living with Chelsea and her daughter because, not long after her rise to “fame,” it came out that Megan is pregnant herself. Her page now has over 23,000 fans, who clamor for every detail of her pregnancy, from the sex of the baby, to the name ideas, to details about the baby shower and where she is registered.

Megan’s dad now even has a Facebook page with over 1,000 fans, as well as other “randoms” who may or may not have appeared on the show for like 10 seconds. Some teen moms and fans have even set up fan pages for their babies.

But the really troubling thing is when average high school girls get pregnant and create fan pages for themselves. Since I first noticed this happening last fall, the teens have refrained from labeling them “fan pages,” making the fame whores a little harder to spot. (This was probably due to the blatant ridicule they endured by others on their public pages. I wish I had taken a screen shot.) A few girls placed themselves on the 16 and Pregnant Facebook page before the season started, tricking fans who thought these girls would be featured on the show into becoming fans of their personal pages.

Because that's what finding out you're pregnant when you're 16 looks like. OMG so fun!

Since then, teen mom “fan pages” have developed a semblance of a community support forum rather than a place to gain fame. Even Megan Nelson’s page now includes a disclaimer in the info section declaring that her page is NOT a fan page. (Although it used to proclaim it was in the page’s title.)

Of course, there are still countless pregnant teens who sneakily seek the kind of attention MTV’s teen moms are getting, like this couple who posts every detail about their pregnancy on their page, and frequently comments on the pages of the girls featured on MTV to gain traffic.

The fact that teen parents have a way to come together and support one another online is fabulous. And I’m not saying MTV is causing the teen birth rate to explode. (It’s actually doing the opposite.) I’m merely observing with surprise that a general air of “Meh, oh well,” has gradually increased toward the phenomenon of publicizing teen pregnancy. When I was in high school, people treated the few pregnant girls like they were diagnosed with a terminal illness — and that was only 3 years ago. But after 16 and Pregnant, girls in the situation can think, She did it. So can I. Still, I’m both loving and hating that the show has made teen pregnancy seem a little less scary. Especially since the days when this was preached:

Ahhhh!