Guess who’s back — Back again. Kaitlin’s back — On her blog.

I’ve been contemplating doing this for some time now. Yeah, I know, I totally fell off the face of the Earth before. Not completely tactful, but there was a little air of mystery, wasn’t there? Maybe I died or got abducted by aliens or something, for all you knew.

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Yeah. I'm the cow.

Unfortunately (only for the sake of an interesting story to tell – not because I would have preferred to be abducted), I was the same old Kaitlin. That’s not to say nothing exciting happened. There have been some big changes in KaitlinLand. But for now, this is what you get to know:

– I’m currently back East sucking the juice out of the last few days of my vacation, but unfortunately, I still live in North Dakota for the time being.

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That's the statue they built to me after being abducted. Actually, that's Salem Sue, the "World's Largest Holstein Cow." You can see her from the highway when driving by New Salem, ND. Another claim to fame for ND.

– As for why I decided to pick my blog back up now, I have no idea. But, I will forewarn that it’ll probably be a limited time only thing again because, starting in the fall, I’ll have no life. But I won’t bore you with the details of my life because that’s not what’s interesting … Unless, of course, these details tie into a later post. And I find that I oftentimes reveal way more about myself to complete strangers through blogging than I originally intended.

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Because. Also, I realized I just used one, but can someone explain the whole meme thing to me? I mean, is the surface really all there is to it, or is there some massive Internet inside joke I'm missing out on? And WHERE did these characters even come from? Maybe I'm just overthinking.

– Um … I guess that didn’t necessarily warrant a bulleted list, since I don’t really have anything else to say. But I figured I owed any readers that may still exist a slight explanation post before diving into new awesomeness.

And awesome it shall be.

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Look at me, I’m D.B. Cooper!

You know who’s really freaking fascinating? D. B. Cooper. There’s another wild lead about him in the news, so it made me think about him again.

Sure, he hijacked a 727 and parachuted into obscurity with $200,000 ransom money in 1971. (Woop de doo! I know that was a lot more money in 1971, but it just sounds so lame now.) If he or his lifeless body would have ever been found, only a really small niche would even remember his name at this point. But, since he completely disappeared, he kind of seems like less of a bad guy and more like a bad ass.

Besides, by today’s standards, his hijacking was “polite.” From the get-go, he announced he was hijacking the jet by handing the flight attendant a note, saying, “Miss, you’d better look at that note. I have a bomb.” None of this bursting out of your seat and waving around an Uzi stuff. The note itself was even tactful, reading, “I have a bomb in my briefcase. I will use it if necessary. I want you to sit next to me. You are being hijacked.” Calculating? Yes, he obviously planned that one. But an effort to make the situation less traumatic? I’d also go affirmative on that one.

No criticizing. I have no idea if that's an Uzi.

What kind of cold-hearted criminal has the plane land to refuel and let off all the innocent hostages? Well, one that wants his $200,000 and his parachutes, I guess. But, really, the FBI must have come a long way since 1971, because they pretty much cooperated with him. I just don’t see a crime like this going down today. It’s like Revolutionary War fighting, where they would all line up properly and take turns shooting each other.

"Hey guys! Anybody got a coin? We need to flip to see who goes first."

The case seemed bungled from early on. D.B. wasn’t even the criminal’s name or alias. The media just was “misinformed.” The hijacker identified himself as Dan Cooper, but there was another random guy from Portland on the plane named D.B. Cooper who was “quickly cleared.” Hmmm.

One article says Cooper might have taken his name from this French comic book series. Here's the article: http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-chat/2211212/posts

Authorities really should have never let him take off again after refueling. If anything involves an airplane in this day and age, authorities are all over it. The TSA treats civilians like we’re all bloodthirsty bomb-mongers. Especially if we look a little suspicious. (Racial profiling!) Chris, being Italian, looks like he could be of Middle Eastern descent when he has a beard. I always make him shave it before he boards a plane now, because when he doesn’t, he’s “randomly selected” for extra screenings, explosive residue screenings, screenings I didn’t even know they made people do, every time.

Really?

But, I digress. Aside from being an awesome classic vanishing-into-thin-air story, the fact that the world was a totally different place in the early ’70s leaves me hoping they never really do find him. When I was little, my brother and I would play this game where we’d think up ridiculous places where D.B. Cooper was probably hiding. It sounds so much lamer than it was as I write this. I promise you, it was fit for hours of entertainment. My dad told us how he and his friends would play D.B. Cooper when they were little. He’s infamous. He’s a criminal. But I couldn’t help but have a small piece of me feel a little sad if they ever did find him and lock him up.

Part of me likes to think he’s sitting on an island somewhere drinking Mai Tais handed to him by beautiful women and and snickering under his breath about how he got away with it. Part of me likes to think he’s just going about his normal life somewhere right under everyone’s noses and took on a new life. But I never really like to think he just got squashed when he jumped out, because that takes all the fun out of the story.

And, you know, this kinda does, too.

GTL: As long as the “T” stands for “Translucent”

I’m a natural blonde. I’ve never been a redhead (except the one and only time I became a brunette just out of curiosity and my hair kind of started turning auburn). You wouldn’t be able to tell by how prone I am to sunburn, though. I’ve got just enough Norwegian in me that I can’t quite enjoy the sun.

Contrary to popular belief, North Dakota does get warm for a few months. It’s an extreme climate. In fact, I had a Facebook status a few weeks ago that I think summed it up perfectly: “North Dakota: One of the only places on earth where you can experience what both 111 degrees and -50 degrees feels like.” I’m not exaggerating. We’ve been battling a heat wave that just recently let up enough for us to enjoy some time outside.

Sigh -- Apparently it's impossible to find the weather from a few days ago. I would have taken a screen shot, but it just disappeared.

But even on those rare days when it’s 75 or 80, breezy, and the mosquitoes actually aren’t gnawing at any bit of exposed flesh they can find, I can’t win. I had a coffee on the patio at Starbucks with Chris one afternoon for 25 minutes tops. I was under an umbrella in the shade. My shoulders still gleamed red afterward. So much so that mere acquaintances winced at them in empathetic pain and suggested aloe vera.

It pains me to even post this. It's so unflattering. This was the result of being fresh out of chilly ND and into Virginia summer heat. Sunburn doesn't usually show up well in pictures that aren't intentionally documenting it. Also, excuse the lack of makeup on my end.

I think it’s just North Dakota. I think being confined indoors, seeking shelter from blizzards and frostbite nine or more months out of the year, deteriorates whatever endurance you may have had for the sun.

In fact, I have evidence of this.

Chris’s background is Italian. When my grandma saw a picture of him she commented, “Oh, he’s so dark!” For North Dakota, yes. His so-brown-it’s-almost-black hair and golden skin sticks out a little against all of the blonde-haired, blue-eyed Norwegians here. And, I admit, he’s naturally several shades darker than my general hue of purple. (My translucent skin usually gives way to my blood vessels underneath. Yummy.) But set Chris out in the sun for a couple of hours, and he bronzes up like a freshly-baked calzone.

See? Notice my sunburn, once again. It's kind of turning into a tan in this picture, though. "Tan" for me is sometimes considered "darker shade of pink/purple."

Or, he used to. Now he has to worry a little about sunburn, a phenomenon he’d never experienced before spending a winter in North Dakota. Longing for warmer weather, he spent spring break in Malibu, California, his first year at UND. He came back with a peeling sunburn. Coincidence? I think not.

Unfortunately, no documentation of Chris with sunburn exists ... that I can find at least. But his nose was the worst, so here's a picture of a sunburned nose.

I’m finally taking a few days off from North Dakota living and heading east in two weeks, spending a few days in Pennsylvania, a few in Virginia, and a few days on the beach in Delaware. [I CAN’T WAIT.] I’m fully prepared to become Lobster-Kaitlin, as usual. Even when my initial burn has turned into my version of a “base tan,” I’m no match for a few days baking on the beach.

A lot of girls here, though, do achieve a bronzed-goddess glow. (Especially female athletes of winter sports — Have you ever watched a high school girls’ basketball game in North Dakota?) I’m jealous of them … and their perfect ankles. I think they achieve it from a combination of much more fortunate genes than those I was graced with and chronic fake-baking.

Even though my dad and grandma tan easily and burn little, I ended up with the crappy end of the gene pool in many areas: yucky toenails, fine hair, inability to tan, and the dreaded CANKLES. I do make a few trips to the tanning bed a year. (I know how bad it is. I only go a few times a year to acclimate my skin to ultraviolet rays in an attempt to avoid the inevitable melanoma-causing, molt-inducing sunburn that will confine me to a tub full of aloe vera lotion for a week.) Still, any tan I ever accumulate fades almost as quickly as I got it.

Ewww. Molting.

Sigh … the joys of a North Dakota summer. The only thing that’s worse is a North Dakota winter.

P.S. Just so someone else might have some entertainment out of my unpleasant situation, I’ll post a picture if I end up burned at the beach.

The Medora-cation

Remember when I said that Medora, ND, was a topic for a new post? This is that post.

"Yay! Medora post!"

Tourism isn’t exactly North Dakota’s biggest industry. I was looking up numbers on exactly how pathetic our tourism industry is in this state but, of course, the state tourism board makes all the numbers look really good, so it’s hard to tell. (I really like this guy’s take on tourism in North Dakota — hilarious.)

One thing I do know, though, that the state banks a good chunk of its annual tourism traffic on the “slews” of people who “race” to Medora, ND, every summer to see the Medora Musical. This clip from the local news station in Minot, ND, gives the best idea what the Musical is like. If you watch even just a minute and a half of it, you’ll see scenes from Theodore Roosevelt’s chilling ghost ride through the Badlands and the Musical’s war reenactment — My favorite parts.

Here’s what seems to be a digression, but  it’s worth it: My boyfriend’s grandma is a particularly interesting little lady, full of stories and energy somehow all bundled into her slight frame. She hails from Pennsylvania, but she spent as much time as she could throughout her life traveling the world with her family in their RV. (Yes. The world — in their RV.) She has trinkets from everywhere she’s been — every state in the Union and countless other countries, places I’ve never even heard of — lining every shelf and wall in her home. And she has a story to tell from exactly where each one came from. She won’t let you leave the house without at least one little token you seemed particularly interested in. As she got older, she parked the RV for good, but she continues to travel every time she gets the chance. She really should write a book or something about her adventures.

The first time I met her, one of the first things she did was bring me to her refrigerator. Every square inch of its surface was covered in souvenir magnets from different places. But she pointed out one in particular to me. Tucked at the center of the door to her refrigerator was a North Dakota magnet. I was excited to hear she’d been to my home state and asked where she visited. Lo and behold, she made a trip to Medora to see the Musical. Not just once, but twice, and she was hoping to go back again. It’s got that effect on people.

Every performance, the Burning Hills Singers invite the kids to come up and sing a song. I still have my Honorary Rough Rider ribbon from when I did it one year.

This gave us a lot to talk about, since I’ve done the whole Medora experience almost every year since birth. Since my dad’s a farmer and still works full-time, I never saw much of him during the summer. Consequently, we never took a family vacation. (Ok, except once when I was 9, we went to Rapid City, SD, to see Mount Rushmore for, like, four days over the Fourth of July. But that still doesn’t really count.) Medora, an approximate 3 hour drive from my hometown of Williston, was the closest we ever got to a regular family vacation.

One trip that particularly stands out was just a few years ago. My mom had to literally drag my dad, who hates musicals to begin with, especially ones that he’s seen several times. (The Medora Musical does change its storyline from year to year, but it always follows the same pattern.) In protest, he spent most of the day sitting in the car stewing about all the things he could be getting accomplished at the farm while we did touristy things like this killing time before the Musical:

My family being goofy in Medora in 2007

For anyone who hasn’t had the pleasure of visiting Medora, it’s a step back in time. All the shops are set up to look like they’re on Main Street in an old west town. You can watch salt water taffy being pulled on an antique machine through the window at the candy shop. You can take a relaxing horse and buggy ride through town. You can dress up in costume and have your photos taken old west style, but you have to make sure you sign up early in the morning, or else you won’t get in. (I did this once … Thank God there’s not a digital version obliging me to post it here.) You can eat a delicious steak dinner, fire-roasted “old west” style outdoors overlooking the badlands at the Pitchfork Fondue — possibly my favorite reason for going to Medora. (Call me a foodie or a fatty, whichever you prefer.) You can even take a trail ride through the Badlands but, like the photos, you need to sign up early to ensure your spot.

A saloon on the way to the Burning Hills Amphitheater in Medora, ND

Writing about all this makes me a little nostalgic. It sounds fun when you haven’t done it for a few years (or if you’ve never done it). After several years of the Medora experience, my family took on a more cynical view.

Public relations image of happy, normal family eating at the Pitchfork Fondue

Actual image of my siblings and I waiting in line for the Pitchfork Fondue -- It was raining and about 40 degrees at a generous estimate...in August.

As children, there seemed to be a plague on any time my family would go to the Musical. From about ages 4-10 for me, the simultaneous Puke and Rain Plagues cursed my family’s Medora-cations. When my younger brother was about 3, he ate an entire box of Junior Mints before the Musical started … and proceeded to throw them up everywhere a third of the way through the show. If you didn’t see the picture of the escalators going down into the amphitheater in my other post, it’s a trek. A seven-story trek, to be exact. Once you’re down there, you’re down there. And you’re in pretty close quarters with the people sitting around you. The Burning Hills Amphitheater is not very puke-friendly.

Medora's Burning Hills Amphitheater -- See? Close quarters.

That was the worst puking incident for a little while, until it was my turn. I was 8 or 9 — far to old to randomly be puking in public. I have no idea what provoked it, (it certainly wasn’t the Pitchfork Fondue because we didn’t start indulging in that until I was a teenager) but mid-Musical, I blew chunks into the giant popcorn bucket I was holding. Only a lot of it splashed onto the neck of the lady in front of me … I still feel bad.

Then there was the rain. The #1 question on the Medora Musical FAQ page is “What if it rains?” Well, if they can get through 60 minutes or more of the production, it’s considered complete and you don’t get a refund. They just skip to the “Come Home to North Dakota” song that they do every year, signalling the end of the Musical. You can hear it in the clip below. This happened to us a few times. They do their best not to have to end early but, of course, since the Rings were there, the only monsoons in North Dakota history would happen.

I poke fun at the Musical and the town but, in all honesty, visiting Medora really is a one-of-a-kind experience. It’s just difficult to see that when it’s so familiar to you. And that’s kind of how the whole state of North Dakota is. It’s easy for us to take for granted what’s in our own backyard.

Have you been to Medora? What’s your experience with it? Are you going this year — The Musical starts tonight!

Don’t mind me – I’m from ND: Travel

In my continued effort to raise awareness of North Dakotans’ existence in other parts of the country, I realized there are many things that we just don’t see around here. Especially when traveling. If you find yourself around someone looking puzzled or behind a driver struggling with any of these things, chances are they’re Midwestern, maybe even North Dakotan.

Let’s not kid ourselves, this clip applies to North Dakotan drivers, for sure. I may be a good driver in my own domain (North Dakota) — I’ve never been in an accident or been pulled over for a traffic violation (although my car has been hit several times while it’s parked.) But I wouldn’t trust myself on a road with actual traffic. I won’t even drive in the suburbs of Minneapolis. In fact, I white-knuckle it the whole time I’m driving in Fargo, ND, too.

Toll Roads — I first came across a toll road when I was 19. I had heard of these mythical highways existing, but I was honestly a little skeptical that I’d ever come across one. I thought they were extremely rare and only enforced on super fancy highways. I also thought they sounded like a rip-off. (Living in ND also makes you frugal, since you’re not used to having to pay for things like this.) But the first time I visited my boyfriend’s hometown of Damascus, MD, I realized they’re a part of a lot of people’s daily lives. Making road trips to Bethany Beach, DE, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., New York City, and Philadelphia (yeah, it was a whirlwind trip) I was introduced to not only toll roads, but the E-Z Passes people who frequently take them buy, allowing drivers to pass under the toll both and have the money zapped from the credit card associated with the little machine they keep in their car. I’m still admittedly a little fascinated by this, but I try to play it cool since I’ve been to the D.C. metro area three times now, and my amazement only further points out how sheltered I really am.

They do exist!

Paying to park— This is really similar to the toll roads, but it’s something I never encountered until coming to college at the University of North Dakota. Like toll roads, I wasn’t entirely sure parking meters really existed. I wonder how that would work as an excuse for not paying at the meter on campus at UND. Although I complain about that system of parking here, it’s nothing compared to parking in the east. (I’ve never been west, so forgive my constant comparisons to the east coast!) There, free parking seemed to come by once in a blue moon, while in North Dakota, it’s the other way around. We complain about $5 event parking to see a sporting event and try to find ways to weasel around the system.

I've learned to hate these now. The novelty has worn off.

Traffic Jams — I also saw my first traffic jam two years ago, at age 19. I even got to be in one once. I wanted to take pictures. Miles and miles of gridlocked traffic — It was a sight I’d never seen before! All that was running through my mind was, Wow! A real traffic jam! I’m in a big city!You can imagine the annoyance the native-East Coasters I was driving with felt toward my excitement.

These are still somewhat exciting to me.

Public Transportation:

Taxis – I still have never been inside a taxi … unless you count the ones in Grand Forks that UND students can ride for $3 a person. But I don’t, because they’re not yellow, or even a unified color for the whole fleet. They don’t have a ticker telling how much of a bill you’re racking up. They’re just normal cars or vans with the words “Taxi” printed on the side. I would do it just for the experience, but I feel like it needs to be done in New York City. I have at least seena yellow taxi now, though. I even have a picture:

I spent a day and a half in NYC and somehow saw almost everything you could want to see in Manhattan. It was glorious.

The Subway — I did ride the Subway often in my short time in New York City. It was everything I could have dreamed of and more. The cars were packed, so sometimes we had to stand and hold on to the rails from the ceiling like the people on TV. It was roughly 110 degrees, so everyone was all sweaty and smelly. There were even homeless peopleplaying music for money — one guy whipped out a flute! I felt so urban. I would have gotten a picture of myself on the subway, but I didn’t want to appear to touristy. However, I did get one in the subway station, featured below. (Flattering, I know. I also don’t know what justifies that as any less touristy.)

Sweaty subway station

The Metro — I’m a little more familiar with it, but that never takes the fun out of riding it. I can kind of figure out how to navigate the stops … well, the ones that sound familiar, that I’ve taken before. That’s good enough for me.

A Metro station!

Moving sidewalks/Escalators — In all of western North Dakota, I think its safe to say there is one escalator. That’s in Medora, ND, and was installed primarily to facilitate the transportation of old people who attend the Medora Musical annually into and out of the amphitheater. (If you don’t know about the Medora Musical, you’re missing out. It’s apparently “North Dakota’s #1 destination,” but I’ll save my thoughts on that for another post.) So, anyway, escalators are cool, but they’re somewhat familiar to us. We don’t see moving sidewalks often. (The first one I saw was at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport when I was 18, going to Close Up in Washington, D.C., with members of my high school senior class. That was also my first time on an airplane. I hyperventilated a little, but ended up enjoying flying.) What I’m getting at with all this is that we generally don’t know the rules about the right side being for standing and the left side being for walking. I’ll talk more about this in the next listing.

View from an escalator at the Medora Musical. They're huge. (P.S. I didn't take this.)

Passing when Driving — I honestly forgot there are rules for this until a year or so ago. We never really encounter other cars on the highway in North Dakota, so it’s easy to forget. I faintly remembered reading something about rules for passing in ND’s driver education manual when I was 14 and studying to get my permit, but I must not have retained it. (I had my license at 14 and a half.) A lot of times, I would drive on the left side of the road on the highway just so I could think to myself, Hee hee. I’m in England. Nobody really minds here. People still do it all the time. But now that I know the rules about how you’re supposed to drive, I get annoyed with the people who do. So, if there’s ever some person driving in front of you at snail speed in the left lane, or someone who regularly passes on the right, before you curse them and whip out the bird, take a moment to consider if they could be from North Dakota. Our feelings get hurt easily when honked at or flipped off on the road.

That goes for pretty much everything on this list. We’re not trying to disrupt your travel or make your lift more difficult. We’re merely unaware. In North Dakota, we don’t often rush to get places and rarely resort to honking or yelling (unless someone makes an exceptionally ridiculous mistake). We’re North Dakota nice and take it personally when yelled at. We’re not idiots or socially inept or any other colorful language you can come up with. We’re just from North Dakota, and that should be explanation enough.

Is there anything you’ve noticed, as North Dakotans, that we don’t see around here? Or anything some tourist has done to get them yelled at in a big city?

Four and a half hours and a tank of gas

I just made the absolutely dreadful drive across North Dakota from my hometown of Williston to my current residence in Grand Forks. It’s supposed to take 5 or 6 hours, but I made it in four and a half on 3/4 of a tank of gas. I know that’s not something anyone particularly cares about, but it gives you some idea of the sheer boredom this drive causes. That achievement is the biggest excitement I can get out of that many hours in a car on the same highway with only the company of my boyfriend’s dog and nothing to look at but flat prairie as far as the horizon. It’s a beast of a drive — Not for the faint of heart.

*Dun dun dun (ominous music)* I didn't take this, but I have pictures that are exactly the same.

The drive is generally one of those times in life that you wish you could fast forward through. I faintly remembered reading an article once about a writer from a big city (I think he may have been from the New York Times) who had to drive across North Dakota and considered the solitude to be almost a religious experience from the chance for pure introspection.

…Yeah. My drive usually consists of pumping myself full of as much caffeine as possible and singing terribly to my iPod to keep myself awake. (In all honesty, it was a really great article — I can’t seem to find it right now, otherwise I’d link to it.)

I usually spend the entire time thinking about what I could be doing if I wasn’t struggling to stay awake and keep the death machine between the painted lines. So, instinctively, for the first 30 miles, I started making a schedule in my head of everything I needed to do as soon as I got out of the car. But soon, I started to notice the countless fields and ditches that were flooded. I don’t delight in natural disasters, but I did find it relieving to have something new to look at on the uber familiar ride. (I can tell where I am by “landmarks” like old, abandoned tractors and the occasional hill.) Like my dad, those farmers won’t be able to put in a crop this season. (Yeah, I’m a farmer’s daughter, too. Can I fulfill anymore stereotypes?) Although it was shocking and saddening,  I realized that there are some things we can’t control — like a long, boring drive you’ve taken far too many times.

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That's suppoesed to be prairie as far as the horizon. This area four miles west of Towner, ND, was one of the most severely flooded areas visible from the road.

As I surveyed the flooded land, spanning most of the Highway 2 area in northern North Dakota, I took the time to relax for once. I thought about things I like to think about instead of worrying about things I can’t control. I listened to my iPod for more than just background music while studying. I belted out everything from Bon Iver to Backstreet Boys.

I usually hate the inherent isolation of North Dakota — As if the state isn’t isolated enough from the outside world, you have to drive hours to get to the next major city. But I think I finally learned how to use that time wisely. I’ve spent most of my time being a miserable ball of stress lately (more so than usual even), so it seems like the drive I usually dread was just what I needed.