Float, Not Throat

Today was kind of a weird day at work.

For starters, I was in the office for ten hours. Went in early and worked through my lunch. Tara and I are headed to Sheridan, Wyoming on Friday; it’s a three-hour drive and we’d like to get an early start, so I’m banking time in lieu of using valuable PTO. I almost never work more than eight hours, so doing that two days this week (so far) kinda makes it feel like the longest week ever.

Then, I got hung up on by a woman I was trying to deliver good news to. Every year, my company honors five local nurses in the community who have been nominated for their outstanding achievements. It’s a fun event that includes an awards banquet and heartfelt speeches (at least in normal, i.e., non-COVID years). Most people are thrilled to be nominated, but when I called the first person on my list, all I got out of my mouth was “Hi Nurse, this is Mark with Black Hills Parent magazine…” before the line went dead. She apparently thought I was trying to sell her something! I waited five minutes before calling her back, and when she answered, I turned into the World’s Fastest Talker. This time, I was able to spit out that a patient had nominated her for this prestigious award and we wanted to honor her. I could tell she was annoyed when she answered the second time, could in fact practically sense her finger hovering over the button that would end the call, but her tone softened immediately when she learned I was not, in fact, a telemarketer trying to sell her a magazine, but rather, a Bearer of Glad Tidings. Suddenly, she was super gracious. I even pretended it was the fault of Ma Bell and chuckled about how “we accidentally got disconnected” even though I know damn well that was not the case.

But: lesson learned. On my follow-up calls, I skipped the whole Black Hills Parent preamble and led right off with “So-and-so nominated you for an award, congratulations, you’re awesome!” instead. This made all the difference in the world.

That was the fun part of the day.

Later that afternoon, our Digital Director came over to my desk and asked me to open up a new tab and do a Google search. He wanted me to look up “Deep Float Rapid City,” but I thought he said “Deep Throat Rapid City.”

Holy hell.

10/10 I do not recommend that, unless you’re comfortable pulling up a list of porn sites while a coworker, one who is pretty much your de facto IT guy, is standing over your shoulder.

Honestly, what was I thinking?! I didn’t even question it for a second. Just assumed we had landed an oral surgeon as a client, I guess.

Gotta admit though, my first thought was, This is going to make for a great blog post!

Annnd, here I am. Hi, guys! {Waves to the internet}.

After work, I walked down to kōl to meet up with Tara for dinner. They’re one of our favorite restaurants, and we just learned yesterday that they are closing for good at the end of this week…thanks to COVID, no doubt.

Major bummer, and to make matters worse, we had a $100 gift card* to the restaurant from my parents. We figured we’d better use it up, and because it was so much, I told Tara we should really splurge. “Let’s go all out!” I said excitedly. “Cocktails, apps, dinner. We’ll even order dessert!” The bill came out to $108. This was almost perfect! I gave our server the gift card and my debit card, instructed him to use the $100 on the gift card and put the remaining $8 on the debit card. Great plan, right?

Imagine my surprise when he came back a moment later and informed me there was $22 on the gift card, leaving us with an $86 balance.


We had both forgotten we’d gone to kōl months earlier for a very nice dinner.

In our defense, this was pre-pandemic. The world was a lot different then. I barely remember the last time we went out to eat.

Quite the day I had, wasn’t it?

Less Than Zero

If anybody still doubts I’m living in a COVID bubble out here, Saturday morning I worked a shift in our company booth at the Kids’ Carnival in downtown Rapid City, along with Chris and Meghan.

Just the fact that we even had a Kids’ Carnival is kind of amazing. It was an elaborate affair with bounce houses, train rides, kettle corn, a basketball toss, and live entertainment. Pandemic? What pandemic?

I’m not sure how to feel about this. The events staff provided all vendors with face masks and hand sanitizer, but very few families (or even booth personnel, for that matter) were wearing them. I did. It was hot and uncomfortable, but my shift didn’t last long, and why take an unnecessary risk? I ended up cutting out early because there were three of us running the booth, but we really didn’t have the foot traffic to justify that. Meghan actually messaged me earlier and said if I wanted to skip it she and Chris would be fine on their own, but I had plans to meet up with Tara for lunch after, and I didn’t mind repping the company and socializing with those two. They’re in my top 10 list of favorite people I work with.

Then again, I only work with 10 other people…

Our county fair is also a go for next month, with certain restrictions, but some of our corporate events have been put on hold or altered. We hold an awards ceremony to honor local nurses every year, but it sounds like that might end up being a virtual event this year. And our big recycled fashion show, held every October, is probably moving to spring. So, a weird mix of normal and different.

With the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally beginning next weekend, Tara and I decided to leave town. We booked a room in Sheridan, Wyoming, and will be checking out the Bighorn Mountains. Leaving Friday afternoon, coming home on Sunday, so just a quick getaway—but it’ll help us avoid some of the madness that is Rally every year.

Every Friday I make it a point to listen to the Release Radar playlist on Spotify, a weekly collection of new music customized to the user’s tastes. This week I was surprised to discover a new song from The Go-Go’s called “Club Zero.” It’s the first new music they’ve put out in 19 years, and I have to say, it’s pretty good. The lyrics are topical; basically the group is saying they have zero fucks to give.

I loved The Go-Go’s in the ’80s (as well as Belinda Carlisle’s solo stuff), so it’s refreshing to hear them again. I also like that so many artists are releasing songs with messages about these troubling times. If you think The Go-Go’s have zero fucks to give, check out Neil Young’s “Lookin’ for a Leader 2020.”

He’s got, like, less than zero.

One Thing Worse Than Lying

I walked into the bathroom at work this morning and it smelled like delicious breakfast food. I should add that our office shares a wall with a coffee shop/bakery that specializes in waffles and other tasty treats, so that isn’t nearly as weird as it sounds.

Also, being attached to a coffee shop is a very nice perk. Pun intended.

Often when they start gearing up for lunch, our lobby smells like onions and garlic. Some of my coworkers stew over this (I’m nailin’ these today!), but it doesn’t bother me. I find the smell of cooking food oddly comforting. Tara likes scented candles that smell like fresh linen. If such a thing existed, I’d buy candles that smelled like garlic bread or Italian sausage. In fact, I’ve contemplated bringing a crockpot to work, plugging it in at my desk, and slow-cooking a chicken cacciatore while banging out words. Who says you can only cook in the office when there’s a potluck?!

This might be my favorite-ever Ron Swanson quote.

It’s the only kind of “milk” my parents drink. Tara buys whole milk. You can imagine the battles that ensue whenever they come to visit.

Just kidding. There are no battles. Only because we stock the fridge with a carton of skim milk before they arrive. If we didn’t, it would be all-out war. My mom would be clawing at my eyes and I’d be yanking her hair in self-defense while simultaneously trying to trip my dad. And that’s not cool, man, because they birthed me and whatnot.

I find skim milk tasteless and pointless. I rarely drink milk anyway, and when I do, it’s maybe half a cup whose sole purpose is to act as a body of liquid upon which my cereal can float. What little bit there is might as well taste good!

Oh, and Oreos. Another rare treat, but come on. I wouldn’t dream of eating those without milk. I am no heathen, people!!

It didn’t rain so much as a single drop the whole seven days my parents were here. Within one hour of their departure, the heavens opened up and inundated us with thunderstorms and torrential rain. I believe it was what the old-timers call “a gully washer.”

No complaints here. We’re technically in a drought and every little bit helps.

With the sun rising a little bit later every day, it’s that time of year when my morning walks coincide perfectly with the sunrise. This morning’s was especially colorful; here it was, lighting up the clouds over the ridge in our neighborhood. Much like Trump’s mouth, there’s no filter, folks.

This is what it looked like reflected in our living room window.

As if all that weren’t spectacular enough, there was a rainbow, too. Felt like I hit the jackpot just by walking out the front door at 5:35 this morning.

Of course, this means in a few weeks, I’ll be walking in the dark again. But I’ll have cereal with real milk waiting for me when I get home, so it’s all good in this ‘hood.

Whine and Dine

I just dropped my parents off at the airport after a weeklong visit. It’s always a bittersweet feeling; on the one hand, it’s nice to have our routine back (and I’ve missed driving my car). But the house feels so quiet and empty afterward for those first 24 hours. Having that freedom you take for granted 350+ days of the year is a novelty again for a little while. I always have an overwhelming urge to tear off my clothes and dance around the house while blasting AC/DC at volume level one million, pausing briefly to juggle a few kitchen knives just because

…but in reality, I’m sure we’ll continue our “Parks & Recreation” binge marathon that has been on hold the past week before heading to bed at a decent hour because we are both responsible adults.

My folks will be back in six weeks, so there’s no need to wallow in sorrow or anything. It looks like my uncle and aunt from New Jersey will also be here. They’d long ago booked an Airbnb for the family reunion that won’t be, so we’ll be having a scaled-down mini reunion instead.

It’s safe to say my parents enjoyed their visit. They kept commenting on how different things are here in western South Dakota vs. the Pacific Northwest, and said this was the closest to normal they’ve felt in months. Like, the virus is in the news here, but it doesn’t dominate the headlines. We don’t have protesters trying to set fire to buildings every night and ravaging downtown for months on end. Restaurants are open for dine-in and Little League games are taking place. People wear masks, but not everybody, everywhere, every time. And we don’t have a shit ton of cases. It’s always felt like we live in a bubble here. We’ll see if that continues after the Sturgis Rally, which is less than two weeks away. I personally wish they’d cancelled it, but shockingly nobody asked me for my opinion.

The nerve of ’em.

The theme for this visit, if we were choosing one, would be wine. There was wine with happy hour, trips to two separate wineries, and we wined a lot about the heat. We didn’t get a chance to hit the water on the Walleye Cleaver (trying that on for size), but we drove my folks on the bumpy backroads to the ghost town of Mystic and the not-quite-a-ghost-town of Rochford (population: 8). Also visited the Center of the Nation monument and Tri-State Museum in Belle Fourche. And played tons of corn hole. I’ve gotten a lot better since last summer, when I couldn’t beat my dad worth shit. Monday was Tara’s birthday, so we surprised her with a birthday donut cake from Jerry’s—a family tradition dating back to my youth. There was plenty of good food, too—some of it on the grill, some in the oven, and one Chinese delivery. Despite the heat, we sat out on the patio every evening until twilight. There wasn’t a drop of rain the entire time (but that’s about to change, so…good timing!).

All in all, a very nice visit. One week sounds like a long time, but it flew by. Isn’t that always the case?

OK, gotta head to the office now!

72 Seasons

I was surprised to learn recently that, while most of the world divides the calendar into 12 months that consist of four seasons, the Japanese take things a step many steps farther. Their calendar splits the year into 24 major divisions (sekki), each of which are then subdivided into three additional micro-seasons (), for a total of 72, that last approximately five days apiece. The year begins in early February with Risshun (“birth of spring”) and lasts until Daikan (“greater cold”) at the end of January. The whole concept is based on old Chinese teachings that nature’s seasonal cycle changes gradually throughout the year.

It’s all very poetic, too. Not surprising for a culture that gave us haiku, which traditionally contains a seasonal reference. Here’s an example of three sekki and their corresponding .

I think this makes a lot of sense. With apologies to Frankie Valli, there are way more than four seasons. (Also, big girls do cry.) Yes, leaves change color in the fall and snow blankets the ground in the winter, but there are a lot of subtle changes that take place during that transition. We’ve witnessed this in our own backyard throughout the year. The irises are a symphony of brilliant purple during the first week of May. By the second week, they are already fading, while the peonies are starting to open up. A few days later, it’s time for the bleeding hearts to take center stage. And so it goes.

Currently, on the Japanese calendar, we are in Taisho (“greater heat”). No shit. July 23-28 is Kiri hajimete hana o musubu, the micro-season in which “Paulownia trees produce seeds.” I don’t know about you, but I’m over this constant 95º crap. I’d like to skip ahead to Sōkō (“frost falls”), and specifically, Kosame tokidoki furu (“light rains sometimes fall”), which is October 28-November 1. Obviously, the climate in Japan differs from that of western South Dakota. We could have already had a blizzard by then. If I were more enterprising or bored, I’d create a Rapid City version of this calendar, but I think the general idea suffices.

God, how I love Japanese culture. My first employer after college was a Tokyo-based company, and I learned a lot from my boss, Mr. Yokomura. I can even write my name in kanji. I’ll blog about that experience someday.

If you want to track the 72 seasons on your smartphone, there’s an app for that.

My parents arrived right on schedule Tuesday afternoon, and it’s been a nice visit. We’re spending evenings on the patio and/or playing corn hole, despite the heat. Tara and I are taking Friday off, so we’ll have a three-day weekend in which to entertain them.

Recap to follow next week.

Existential Meatloaf Crisis

I was chatting with my parents during our usual Sunday phone call yesterday and they asked what we were having for dinner.

“Grilled meatloaf,” I replied, and launched into this lengthy narrative about how you preheat the grill to 350º, leaving one burner off, and place the meatloaf on a sheet of aluminum foil over indirect heat for 90 minutes, then let it rest for another 45, after which time you slice it, turn the grill back up to 450º, oil the grates, sear the meatloaf for three minutes on each side, slather on homemade barbecue sauce, let it cook for another minute, and then serve.

After listening to these complicated instructions, my mom said, “Now, why would you go to all that trouble when you can just throw a meatloaf in the oven for an hour?”

I mumbled something about “spreading your wings and expanding your culinary horizons,” but honestly, her response sent me tumbling into a bit of an existential crisis as I wondered whether I was overcomplicating my life. This was supposed to be my year of leisure, after all. Meatloaf is just about the easiest thing in the world to make, and yet there I was, turning a simple one-step dinner into an eight-part process so tricky you practically need a flowchart or Venn diagram to dissect it.

Don’t get me wrong: the meatloaf was delicious. But awfully labor-intensive considering the primary trade-off was a few well-placed sear marks. And I didn’t even take a pic, which is pretty much the entire point of pretty-looking food. Which begs the question: if there’s no visual evidence on Instagram, did the meatloaf even exist?

Random photo from my walk this morning. I loved the dramatic clouds and the rainbow. The fact that I was walking past a cemetery just added to the allure.

This was a harbinger for what was to come later. We got quite a bit of rain today thanks to thunderstorms that rolled through in the afternoon. Thankfully, there was no hail this time.

We’re working on narrowing down choices for our still-unnamed boat. I’m not sure if we love any of them enough to officially christen her, but I’d like your input anyway. Our top contenders are listed below. Please vote for one; at least that’ll give us some idea of the reaction we’ll get from other passersby (boatersby?) the next time we’re on the water.

My parents arrive tomorrow afternoon for a weeklong visit. It’ll be the first time we’ve seen them in over nine months so we’re looking forward to it! There’s beer in the fridge for dad (Crow Peak 11th Hour IPA) and wine for mom (Cupcake Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc), so I guess we’re pretty set!

Uncle Sam’s a (Insert Expletive)

We finally got our taxes done. Three months late, but really, one day early given the extended deadline. It’s not that we were procrastinating; we were simply holding off on this dreaded task for as long as possible.

OK, fine. We were procrastinating.

And by “we” I mean Tara. As with the boat, she is in charge of tax prep and household finances. By choice, I might add, much like the housecleaning. Many times I have offered to clean the bathrooms or wipe down the kitchen counters, but without fail she shoos me away, insisting on doing it herself. I lived on my own for six years following my divorce and was quite self-sufficient; I navigated my way around TurboTax like a champ, always paid my bills (though not always on time, but the devil’s in the details, right?), and managed to avoid burning down the house, though I came close.

Three times.

I cleaned my townhouse, too. It’s just that my wife has very strict standards when it comes to that stuff. Way back when we were still a-courtin’, she scolded me for not cleaning behind the knobs on my stove. “I didn’t even know those came off!” I said. (When I shared this story with my brother, he said, “The knobs on your stove come off?!” Thank you, Scott, for the vindication.) So, we have an agreement: she lets me take out the trash and scoop the litter box, while I let her scrub the toilets and deal with Uncle Sam. It’s a win-win for us both.

Anyway, Uncle Sam was being a real dick this year. What he giveth, he taketh away. We ended up with an enormous tax bill—no surprise, given my freelance income last year, which amounted to a second full-time job’s worth (all untaxed, and I did not bother with quarterly payments), as well as some 401(k) and IRA disbursements, a calculated strategy to eliminate debt. Fortunately, I’d planned for all this and padded my savings account in anticipation, but it still felt like a punch to the gut when Tara ran our initial numbers and they came back astronomically high. She set it all aside when the tax deadline was extended and put off circling back to it until a few days ago. Managed to dig a little deeper and knock a few grand off what we owed, but it’s still a scary-high number.

Whatevs. We paid it and can look forward to a more reasonable tax burden this year, mainly because I’m only doing a fraction of the freelance work I did in 2019. That alone drops us into a lower tax bracket.

All along, my goal in working myself to the bone last year was to save up enough money for a new car. I love my Mazda3 to pieces; it’s sporty, zippy, and fun to drive. But it’s a lot less practical in South Dakota, where winters bring a lot of snow. And because we live on a fairly steep hill, just getting home sometimes has proved challenging. I need/want/would feel more comfortable with an AWD vehicle. I should have enough $ left over to swing that new car, so the very next morning I contacted the local Hyundai dealer and told them exactly what I want, right down to the color.

Before my Mazda, I owned a Hyundai Santa Fe for 13 years and never had a problem. I also looked at sticking with Mazda—the Mazda3 is now available in AWD, and I like the CX-3. But I can get more bang for my buck with the Hyundai, so that’s my focus now.

I’m not in a hurry; I just want it before it starts snowing again, usually in October. The Rapid City dealership is currently low on inventory (as in, they only have one), so it could take awhile. That’s fine with me.

By the way, I wish it would start snowing, because man alive, it’s HOT. My weather station tells me it got up to 98º today, which makes me want to rip my weather station from its post and stomp on it, because clearly technology is at fault here rather than something silly like climate change.

Or, you know. The fact that it’s summer, and therefore, supposed to be hot. We just happened to get spoiled with a cool summer last year. Thank you, 2020, for finding yet another way to screw us over.

My parents are coming out for a visit next week. I hope they pack lots of sunscreen.

Tell, Don’t Show

As a fiction writer, one of the most valuable pieces of advice I ever received came from a literary agent who had read one of my manuscripts.

Show, don’t tell,” she said. This basic yet crucial writing technique can be attributed to Russian playwright Anton Chekhov and has been championed by legendary writers like Hemingway and more contemporary novelists such as Chuck Palahniuk.

Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.

Anton Chekhov

That literary agent was right; my manuscript was written in the style of, “He threw the ball. She caught the ball.”

Instead, I should have written something along the lines of, “The ball acred through the sky, a blur of white against the dazzling midday sun, landing with a thud so resounding it rattled her teeth as she snatched it from the air. ‘Nice catch!’ he called, but she didn’t hear his compliment; the scent of rawhide baking in the heat and the fresh-cut grass tickling her toes evoked nostalgic memories of twilit evenings in the backyard, just she and her dad, tossing the ball back and forth until the mosquitoes drove them indoors.”

No, I did not write a baseball novel. That’s just an example I pulled out of thin air, but it perfectly illustrates the concept. Evoke the emotions of your reader by allowing them to experience your story for themselves. This fosters a deeper connection with your characters.

I shelved that particular manuscript and never looked at it again. It was an early attempt at fiction and I was still finding my footing; the problems ran much deeper than my boring play-by-play narrative. I also realized after it was finished that the main character was kind of pathetic, and even worse, a thinly veiled version of ME. Yikes! But that agent’s advice resulted in a lightbulb moment for me and, in the long run, turned me into a better writer.

“Show, don’t tell” may be my mantra for fiction, but there is one area in which I draw the line: instruction manuals.

Tara came back from Nevada with a headboard in the back of her pickup. Because she bought it from IKEA, it was actually just a box full of random items that might one day, with a little patience and a lot of luck, become a headboard (but could just as easily turn into a picnic table or a bookshelf): pressed wood and metal screws and wooden dowels, all awaiting assembly. I’m not a big fan of putting things together myself, but the price was right and the style was exactly what we’d been looking for. It was worth a little elbow grease!

When we opened the instruction manual, I groaned. It was one of those pamphlets that is all illustrations. I have a mental block when it comes to those things; my eyes immediately glaze over, and I find it impossible to tell Widget A apart from Doohickey B. I’m a writer—I like words, not pictures! User manuals are the exception to the above rule—the only booklet in which I prefer “Tell, don’t show.” Hell, I’d take a manual with assembly instructions in another language. At least then I could fire up Google Translate and find out that csavar is the Hungarian word for screw and my Vietnamese friends call a dowel a chốt.

Instead, we were left with hieroglyphics, which caused us at one point to attach two pieces together upside down. Only common sense saved us from disaster; we were pretty sure the top of the headboard should be level with the supporting posts instead of eight inches lower.

&#$(%, you, IKEA!

I know I’m not the only visually-challenged one to feel this way, because memes and cartoons exist.

Fortunately, we were able to power through despite the lack of clear directions and, sixty minutes and many choice curse words later, had a perfectly assembled (and level) headboard.

I’m thinking of becoming a man of the cloth, guys. Only minus the cloth.

One of my company’s publications is a Bridal Guide. It turns out there are few secular options for couples wishing to get married in non-religious ceremonies in the Black Hills. This isn’t quite the Bible Belt, but a tad closer than the Pacific Northwest, anyway.

This afternoon, my supervisor (jokingly?) suggested one of us become ordained because neither the Custer nor Meade County courthouses are performing weddings anymore. It didn’t take long for another coworker to throw my name out there, essentially saying, “That seems like a Mark thing.”

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, but honestly, I was just waiting for somebody to bring up my name. Even I can’t deny that it seems like a very “me” thing.

If nothing else, I’d do it because it would make for a hell of a blog post. Look how much mileage I’ve gotten over the mere mention of my name!

Besides, how hard can it be? “Dearly beloved, blah blah blah, you may kiss the bride.”

I practically have the whole ceremony memorized already.

By the way, keep the boat names coming. We’ve gotten some really good suggestions so far and are continuing to weigh our options.

Maiden Voyage of the S.S. Name-Me

Ahoy, landlubbers!

OK, in all fairness, 96 percent of my weekend did not involve water, so I’ll knock off the nautical talk. But for one exhilarating hour, it was all water, baby. I watched the shoreline race by in a blur of green and brown, the wind in my hair, a shout of adrenaline-fueled elation snatched from my mouth by the breeze as we skipped across the surface of Pactola Reservoir. Countless times I have driven by or walked around this massive lake. Once, in my youth, I went ice fishing here (a miserable experience I don’t recommend, but that’s another story). But I had never been out in the middle of Pactola before, and the fresh perspective did wonders for my soul.

Tara and I were up bright and early despite a late night on the patio hanging out with a couple from across the street, eager to give our new boat a spin. So eager, in fact, we were on the water by 7:30, an ungodly hour for many on a Saturday morning. We wanted to get there early in order to beat the crowds, which —given the forecast of sunshine, mid-80s, and a light breeze—were sure to be plentiful. Also, this being our first time out, Tara wanted to be sure she did everything right (i.e., not sink or drown). All along I’ve put my faith in her abilities, since she’s the one with boating experience, while I’m the guy who hears the words “bow” and “stern” and immediately thinks of customary Japanese greetings and angry facial expressions. At one point during the drive to the lake, I heard my wife muttering to herself.

“Beg your pardon?” I said.

“Sorry, I’m just going through the mental checklist of everything that needs to be done. I probably should have taken notes.”

“I probably should have taken notes” is not a phrase you want to hear when you’re putting your life in the hands of your significant other, and I will admit, that gave me a moment of unease. It didn’t help that she and her dad were unable to actually take the boat out on the water in Nevada due to high winds, a fact I did not learn until after she’d come home. But she certainly looked like she knew what she was doing when she hitched the trailer to her pickup, plugged in the lights and had me do a safety check, and then lowered the boat into the water like a pro once we arrived. Any initial trepidation I felt disappeared as soon as she throttled that bad boy up. What a rush! It took me all of five seconds to remember why I always wanted a boat.

In short order, I found three ways to embarrass myself:

  1. I rapped The Lonely Island’s SNL skit, “I’m On a Boat.” The explicit version (sorry, mom, and maybe don’t click on the link).
  2. I recreated Jack Dawson’s iconic “I’m the king of the world!” scene from Titanic.
  3. I sang “Show Me the Way to Go Home” just like Brody, Quint, and Hooper did in Jaws.

OK, fine. I’ve never been one for subtlety (and apparently find it impossible to resist milking every pop culture reference for all it’s worth). But eventually I settled down as the novelty began to wear off, and even took a turn piloting her myself for a bit. She’s very easy to control and steer. It’s safe to say I’m hooked. In fact, once we were back on land and leaving the boat launch area, I started eyeing this beautiful cabin cruiser and asked Tara when we could upgrade.

“It’s got portholes, babe!” I pointed out. Portholes mean a cozy below-deck room. Portholes undoubtedly also mean tens of thousands of dollars, so I think we’re going to be Crestliner fishing boaters for a good, long time.

Let’s just say I get the appeal of boating and can understand where my FIL was coming from.

Speaking of all the “she”s and “her”s, we need a name for our boat. And this is where you guys come in: I’m asking for your help! Please feel free to weigh in with as many suggestions as you want, and don’t worry if the names are off-color, racy, or punny—the sky’s the limit here, folks! (Knowing us, off-color, racy, or punny names will probably give you an edge.) As an added incentive, if we end up choosing your name for our boat, I’ll send you a nice little South Dakota care package.

What are you waiting for? Anchors aweigh!

Ventriloquist Cricket

Have you ever seen the Breaking Bad episode titled “Fly”? If so, you have a pretty good idea how my day went at work on Monday.

To summarize briefly, “Fly” involves Walt White’s failed attempt to catch a fly that is buzzing around the superlab. I should set the record straight and let you know my boss is not affiliated with any drug cartel or fried chicken restaurant (that I know of, anyway), and I do not work in a lab (super or even small), so the similarities are superficial at best.

In any case, there is a cricket in the office, and we tried in vain all day to find and eradicate it. Not that we have anything against crickets per se, but the constant chirping was maddening. At every turn, the sucker was one step ahead of us; we’d follow the chirping to the back room, only to have it stop abruptly…and start up again in the front of the office. There are only two possibilities to adequately explain this:

  1. Our cricket is a ventriloquist, or
  2. Our cricket is crickets. Plural.

Regardless, we never caught it, even when my boss-who-isn’t-a-drug-kingpin busted out the hand vacuum and ran it over all the corners and crevices small enough for a cricket to hide. And the chirping has begun in earnest again this morning, so I guess I’ll be wearing my noise-cancelling headphones for the foreseeable future.

If I’m forever going on about how dramatic the weather in western South Dakota is, it’s because the weather in western South Dakota is pretty damn dramatic. Thunderstorms, blizzards, winds, hail…you name it, we’ve got it. Hail is especially common here; it occurs frequently during the summer and can cause serious damage. The topography of the Black Hills is to blame: the mountains force moist air into high altitudes; these updrafts cause rain to freeze and collect layer upon layer of ice before eventually falling to the ground as hail. They say the front range of the Rocky Mountains has the highest frequency of large hail, and the Black Hills ranks #2.

/ meteorology lesson

I’m no stranger to South Dakota hail. I encountered it during my road trip in 2011, and again in 2018, just weeks after moving here. My Mazda still has the dents and dings from that storm. This time of year, you see dozens of “hail damage repair” signs for automotive repair shops all over town. I bet those guys could afford to put swimming pools in their yards based on all the hail work they get!

Last night takes the cake, though. Tara and I had just settled down to dinner and America’s Got Talent when all hell broke loose. A line of thunderstorms had been approaching, with plenty of lightning and thunder. Nothing unusual there. Sunday night, we got over 1″ of rain in an hour from a similar setup. This time, however, the rain was accompanied by hail. Hail that continued to grow larger and fall more furiously with each passing second. When it reached the size of golf balls, I started to freak out a little. The sound of giant hailstones pummeling the roof and smashing against cars, patio furniture, and boats!! is kind of terrifying. Worst of all, you’re helpless to do a damn thing about it. It was a pretty tense seven minutes, and all we could do was wait it out before surveying the damage.

Fortunately, that was minimal. Our windshields were intact and most of our plants weathered the storm okay, short a few snapped stems and beat-up leaves. Whew. On the plus side, we haven’t had to water the garden for two days.

Crazy stuff, huh? Biggest hailstones I’ve seen here…and they can, and do, get even bigger. There were a few reports of baseball-sized hail yesterday.


Today’s weather is supposed to be calmer. But you never know around here…