Capitol-izing on Our Weekends

We recently discovered that Hulu is streaming “The Wonder Years,” so now we’ve got a new old show to add to our retro collection, a list that includes “Perfect Strangers,” “Blossom,” and “The Brady Bunch.” I was a big fan of TWY back in the day and even met Josh Saviano, the actor who played Kevin Arnold’s best friend, Paul Pfeiffer. I was working at Brookstone, selling overpriced and completely unnecessary (but still kinda cool) gadgets to the masses, when Josh came into the store one day. I wish I remember what he bought; all I can recall is that he was shopping with his grandparents and was a really nice kid. I asked for an autograph and he signed it, May all your years be wonder-ful.

Something tells me he didn’t just come up with that on the spot.

“The Wonder Years” was such a nostalgic look back at a complicated, yet simpler, time. It holds up quite well all these years later. Much like Danica McKellar. Ahh, but who didn’t have a crush on Winnie Cooper back in the day?

Not that we’ve had a lot of spare time to watch TV. Feels like we’ve been on the go for weeks. And I suppose we have. Last Sunday was our REO Speedwagon concert in Deadwood. The boys put on a good show, even if they are all pushing 70. We made a day of it, visiting Mount Moriah Cemetery and watching the Broncos lose to the 49ers (ugh) in a sports bar on Main Street. But the weather was decent, and Deadwood Gulch looked beautiful covered in snow!

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By the way, I broke down and bought a new phone last week. I hadn’t planned on it, but my HTC was giving me all kinds of trouble. I was one payment away from paying it off, naturally. I swear, smartphone manufacturers do this on purpose. Just once I’d like to have a phone last longer than two years! I smell a conspiracy here. In any case, I bought a Google Pixel 3 based on stellar reviews, and I love it so far. The camera is amazing. The photos above – and below, actually – were all taken with my phone. Pretty incredible when your Google phone outperforms your Nikon DSLR. What’s really funny is, the first time I bought a cellphone, I specifically asked for one without a camera. I couldn’t imagine ever taking pictures with my phone!

Thursday was Tara’s company Christmas party at the bank. It was a nice little gathering. PSI, the company I’ve been contracting with locally, has invited me to their party on 12/26, which I thought was a very nice gesture.

Being new to town we didn’t know where the good Christmas light displays were, so Tara asked her coworkers and they all unanimously agreed that Storybook Island was the place to be. I’d never been before, because it’s a children’s theme park and even when we lived here in the 80s I was too old to enjoy it, but every Christmas they string up thousands of lights – and that’s fun for any age. So we headed out there Friday evening, and the place did not disappoint. We enjoyed walking around even if it was freezing cold.

Yesterday morning, we drove to Pierre for our rescheduled weekend getaway. The main attraction was Christmas at the Capitol, a monthlong festival in which the South Dakota capitol building is decorated with 90 or so Christmas trees. We’d seen photos on Instagram last year and they looked stunning, so we wanted to check it out in person. I’m pretty sure this might become an annual tradition for us now, because…wow.

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We actually ended up going twice: when we first arrived Saturday, right around noon, and again this morning right when they opened at 8:00. Yesterday when we got there the place was crawling with hundreds of visitors, but sunrise on a Sunday morning was a different story. .We ended up having the entire capitol building practically to ourselves.

After checking into our motel Saturday afternoon, we took a nice stroll along the Missouri River and around La Framboise Island. The weather was unusually warm, in the lower 50s, and we had lots of sunshine.

After dark, we drove to a sports bar in Fort Pierre to watch the Broncos lose to the Browns (ugh).

I’m sensing a theme here. Maybe we’d better stop watching the games.

Despite the final football score, we had a great time in Pierre. The three-hour drive home might feature a lot of empty prairie, but there are a few cool things to see along the way. Like this dinosaur sculpture just off I-90 near Midland.

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Roadside kitsch doesn’t get any better than that!

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Every 8:45

Winter continues to hold us tightly in her icy grip, but that’s okay, guys. It’s what I wanted after 23 years in the climatologically-monotonous PNW where winters are one-note (wet) and summers are dry. All this snow and cold is simply making up for lost time.

When last I wrote, Tara and I were tentatively planning a weekend getaway to the state capital but keeping an eye on the weather. When the NWS issued a Winter Storm Watch the day before we were to leave, we decided to cancel our reservation. This proved to be a wise decision for two reasons:

  1. The watch was upgraded to a warning, and
  2. Tara got sick.

It ended up snowing all day that Saturday, and when all was said and done, we ended up with just over 6″ on the ground. A week later, we still have…almost 6″ on the ground. It hasn’t warmed much above freezing since. But it sure is beautiful out there – so much so, that on Sunday, we ended up going for a drive around Custer State Park. Approximately every 8 minutes and 45 seconds I gushed over the stunning scenery, which I’m sure drove Tara a little mad. But to her credit, she didn’t complain.

I secretly think she was enjoying it, too.

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We had to take one of the side roads off the main Wildlife Loop to find the buffalo herd, but there they were, in all their glory!

 

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No matter how many times we see bison, it never gets old.

After a busy week of work, I was ready for a break today, so I decided to head back to Sylvan Lake for a hike. I was questioning the wisdom of this decision a little when the temperature sensor on my car read 8 degrees as I passed through Hill City, but thanks to an inversion it was warmer the higher up I drove.  24 degrees in the parking lot. In a past life I might have found that frigid, but it almost felt balmy today.

The Needles Highway is closed every winter, but only to cars. So I strapped on my boots and hit the road by foot. It was 2.25 miles to Cathedral Spires, 4.5 miles round trip. Totally worth every step.

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Looking forward to a fun weekend! Sunday is our REO Speedwagon concert in Deadwood. Since our Broncos are actually playing pretty well these days and fun to watch, we’re going to head into town early so we can catch the game (2:00) before the show (8:00). I’m sure we can find plenty of other ways to kill time while we’re there.

We’re going to try again for Pierre next weekend. Barring, of course, more snow.

Perfect Script

It gets dark so early this time of year, it’s barely 3:00 and the shadows are already lengthening. Especially on overcast days like today, when there are no shadows. It’s almost time to turn the lights on! Or, better yet, plug in the Christmas tree.IMG_20181126_174901_751.jpg

Gotta love the holiday season!

And it’s definitely beginning to feel a lot like Christmas. Friday I hauled our harvest decorations to the storage unit, swapping them out for our Christmas bins; Saturday morning, we decorated the apartment. Right about the time we got the tree all decked out, it began snowing. Big, fat flakes that quickly covered the ground. The snow did not let up until after dark, which made the tree lighting ceremony and Festival of Lights Parade in downtown Rapid City especially festive. Between the ice skaters, Santa Claus, holiday lights, and falling snow, it looked like a scene straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting. We couldn’t have scripted things any better.

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It was a tad cold, especially with a brisk wind blowing, but we spent a lot of time warm and cozy inside Firehouse Brewing and, later, the Wobbly Bobby Tap Room. There’s nothing like hot artichoke dip to take off the chill. That, and a few Manhattan cocktails.

The parade was pretty impressive, I might add. There were about 90 floats, and it took a solid hour for them all to roll on by.

By the time the snow finally tapered off we had a couple of inches on the ground. Not a huge amount, but it’s stuck around for several days thanks to below-freezing daytime highs. Today is the exception; it managed to get up to 54 degrees. But the weather is turning colder again this weekend, and there’s a potent winter storm system that is going to hit somewhere on the Plains. The track is still uncertain at this point. We could potentially see a lot of snow, so we’re keeping an eye on the forecast because we are planning a weekend getaway to Pierre, the state capital, to see this. A little snow wouldn’t be too big of a deal – my only concern is a lot of snow (and wind). There are 191 miles of freeway between Rapid City and Pierre, and navigating that stretch during a blizzard would not be fun. We have until tomorrow to cancel our reservation without losing the deposit, so hopefully we’ll have a better idea of what’s going to happen by then. If not, well, I guess we’ll go – and be prepared for an adventure.

 

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In other news, we have really been getting our money’s worth out of Netflix lately. We have a very basic cable package in order to save $$$, and I was mourning the loss of a bunch of favorite shows because we don’t get AMC, Discovery Channel, A&E, Bravo, Food Network, truTV, etc. But we have offset those losses with “Ozark” and “The Haunting of Hill House” and “The Ranch” and “The Final Table.” Add in Hulu, and campy-but-good classic sitcom fare like “Perfect Strangers” and “Blossom,” and we haven’t been lacking in things to watch.

Gotta run – darkness is descending. Wish us luck this weekend!

Galileo, Galileo

We were driving home on Sunday after running an errand and I nearly swerved off the Interstate. I blame it on the sky.

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I mean, look at that! How am I supposed to concentrate on silly little things like staying between the lines when the whole freakin’ sky is lighting up like that?! Tara was kind enough to grab my phone and snap a few pics, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t gawking.

There’s just something about these South Dakota skies. They seem more impressive than elsewhere. Not that we didn’t have some great sunrises/sunsets in the Pacific Northwest, of course. I’ve taken some pretty stunning photos there, as well. But they just seem to be on an entirely different scale out here. Maybe it’s the wide open spaces and vastness of the virgin prairie stretching nearly to infinity, or the thinner atmosphere or lack of pollution or different types of clouds (hello, cumulonimbus!) that make the difference. I dunno, but something is different about our skies.

The errand we were running, by the way, involved picking up a new artificial Christmas tree. Unfortunately, our old tree was a casualty of our last-minute desperation purge in which we were trying to cram 28′ worth of stuff into a 24′ U-Haul hours before we hit the road for our big move. (Spoiler alert: it didn’t work.) At least the tree only cost Tara less than $20 and lasted many years, so I don’t feel too badly about that. This new one looks pretty nice (or at least the display model did). It’s a 7.5′ pre-lit lightly flocked spruce with 600 clear miniature lights. We’d have just gone with a real tree this year, but our complex doesn’t allow them due to the potential fire hazard. FINE. And never mind the fact that we’ll probably have around a half dozen candles burning every night for the rest of the year, but whatevs.

We ran out to Menard’s to pick up the tree during halftime of the Broncos-Chargers game. We didn’t actually expect our team to win, given Denver’s middling-at-best season and the opponent’s stellar record, but lo and behold they pulled off what can only be described as a pretty remarkable comeback victory in the waning seconds of the game as time expired from the clock. THAT is why I love football! A spectacular sunset and a thrilling victory made for a pretty decent Sunday!

The rest of the weekend was fairly low-key. That might have been due to the fact that our high on Saturday was only 19, and it had snowed overnight. We ran a few errands and went to the movies to see “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which we both really enjoyed. I found it very entertaining and Rami Malek was a dead ringer for Freddie Mercury. Clever camera angles hid the fact that he’s significantly shorter than FM was. Could the film have delved more deeply into Freddie’s personal life? Sure. But all was forgiven when we saw the labor of love that went into hitting those high “Galileo, Galileo!” notes in Queen’s classic anthem “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and especially the step-by-step recreation of their seminal Live Aid performance in 1985. Queen was a favorite growing up; I have a fond memory of “Another One Bites The Dust” blasting over the cafeteria speakers of my elementary school one lunch hour and everybody singing along. Back when rock ‘n roll was cool, huh?

Correction: rock ‘n roll will always be cool.

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The resemblance is uncanny! Give the guy on the right an Oscar already.

I currently have a pot roast cooking in the crockpot and it has just reached the point where the smell is starting to drive me a little crazy and make my stomach growl. Practice for Thanksgiving, I suppose! Speaking of, with the lone exception of 2016 – when my parents were in the midst of a cruise to New Zealand over the holiday – this is the first year we have not hosted T-Day for as long as I can remember. That’s just always been our thing! I’ve gotta admit though, the idea of not having to cook and clean up for an army of people sounds pretty appealing. We’ll miss ’em, but I think we’ll get along just fine. There will be wine to drink and football to watch and a 10-lb. turkey to eat. Not all in one sitting, of course. I’m sure there will be days’ worth of leftovers still.

Which is kind of the point.

 

Devilishly Good Day

Saturday was pretty much the perfect day. We zipped over to Wyoming (and by the way, how cool is it that we can actually zip over to Wyoming whenever the mood strikes) to check out Devils Tower. Tara had never been and it had been over 30 years since my last visit. Fun-but-annoying fact: there is no apostrophe in the name due to a clerical error when the proclamation declaring Devils Tower a National Monument was signed. Drives the grammarian in me a little nutty. I don’t know which I despise more: missing apostrophes or unnecessary one’s.

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Heading northeast the clouds thickened and it was snowing lightly by the time the monument loomed into sight, prompting fears that we might not even be able to see it. Fortunately this was not an issue as the visitor’s center is right there. Despite the cold and snow, we hiked around the base of the mountain, a short but scenic 1.3-mile stroll that afforded us great views of the Tower from every possible angle, not to mention the Wyoming countryside – prairie and hills and Ponderosa pine forests, all blanketed in an early-season layer of snow.

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Afterward we made a loop through some pretty rural towns, each of them with successively smaller populations, culminating in Aladdin, WY. Population: 15. The whole town, it turns out, is for sale. For $850,000, all this can be yours:

  • 30 acres (zoned commercial)
  • House & storage shed
  • Trailer park
  • Post office, general store, & gas station
  • Liquor license

The general store was awfully cute and charming. I was thinking somebody should make a television show, a fish-out-of-water sitcom about a big city couple who buys a quaint rural property and has wacky interactions with the colorful locals, but then I remembered this had already been done with “Newhart.” Oh, well.

Back in South Dakota, we took the scenic route through Spearfish Canyon, where the snow picked up a bit. It sure was beautiful; all the colorful autumn leaves from a month ago are gone, but we were treated to dramatic frozen waterfalls and pretty much had the entire canyon to ourselves. More kudos for the offseason! By 4:00 we were hungry and it was already growing dark, so we stopped for an early dinner at Cheyenne Crossing, a cafe and former stagecoach stop along the Cheyenne to Deadwood route in 1878. Tara got an Indian taco and Bud Light, I ordered a buffalo burger and glass of Malbec, and we watched the snow through the window as twilight deepened. It was falling pretty thickly driving through Lead and Deadwood, but petered out by the time we reached I-90. When we got home we watched “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” as an homage to Devils Tower.

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Today will be much less exciting. Unless you consider trips to Target fun, in which case, it’s going to be a blast! Tara’s making homemade clam chowder, which will be the perfect antidote for our cold weather (and possible snow this evening). It actually got down to zero on Friday! Well technically, it was half a degree. Our high was 21. This is how crazy the weather in South Dakota is: it’s going to reach 31 on Monday, 64 on Wednesday, and 42 on Friday.

At least it’s never boring.

Tara’s got tomorrow off for Veteran’s Day but alas, the work of a freelancer is never done. At least as long as the projects roll in, so I’m not complaining! I’ll either work a few hours in a coffee shop in the morning or, if the weather is bad, hole up in the office upstairs.

Last Wednesday, Tara’s company was offering employees tickets for the Rapid City Rush hockey game. Neither of us had ever seen live hockey before, so we decided to take advantage. The Rush are the closest thing Rapid City’s got to a professional sports franchise. They play in the ECHL, a minor league with teams scattered across the U.S. and Canada. They have no NHL affiliation this season and play their home games in the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center. IMG_20181107_192147_220.jpg

Despite a lack of knowledge regarding hockey rules – I’m still not sure what constitutes “icing” unless we’re referring to a cake – we had so much fun! And our seats were great: third row next to one of the goals. Those players were bouncing off the plexiglass just a few feet in front of us, which was both exhilarating and a little frightening. Before long we were stomping our feet and chanting “Let’s go, Rush!” with the cowbell-ringing crowd. We even bought Rush gear and within minutes felt pride for our home team even though we had never paid much attention to them before. We’re already looking forward to going back for more games. The season lasts until early April, so we’ll have plenty of opportunities.

In other news, we already have our turkey for Thanksgiving. Which is next week. Yikes!

Celestial Jackpot

I rarely get so sucked into a book I can’t stop reading it, but I’ve been forcing myself to turn off the lights every night and put down “Dark Matter” for fear I’ll never go to bed and it will suddenly be morning. Which wouldn’t be a terrible thing, but I do like my sleep!

The novel is described as “a story about a scientist who chooses love and family over scientific immortality and major awards—only to run headlong into versions of himself who made different choices” and is “cleverly imagined, dizzyingly plotted, thrillingly told.” YES. It is all those things, which is why I can’t put the damn thing down! I guess Blake Crouch is known for his “Wayward Pines” trilogy. I’m going to have to check that out soon.

Anyway. “Dark Matter” is heavy on quantum mechanics, exploring far-flung ideas such as the Multiverse, the “many worlds” theory, and parallel lives. Concepts that all found their way into my current novel, “Dream Sailors.” I eat this stuff up. I find the science absolutely fascinating and mind-blowing. The idea that a new universe is spawned for every choice we ever make in life hurts my head in the best way possible. It excites me and leads to frenzied discussions with my patient wife, who listened to me babble on and on Friday night over drinks and dinner at Firehouse Brewing about how there might be a parallel universe in which I’d chosen the Reuben over the buffalo burger instead of vice-versa (I was seriously torn, guys!), and how that Mark’s life would unspool very differently from this Mark’s – err, my – life.schrodingers cat

She’s lucky I didn’t bring up Schrödinger’s cat.

So, is the idea of parallel dimensions pseudo-science, wishful thinking, or something else entirely? As far-fetched as it all sounds, it’s theoretically possible, and many esteemed scientists – such as Stephen Hawking and Neil deGrasse Tyson – were/are proponents. Even now, I find myself wanting to talk about how we live in a universe with an expansion rate that’s neither too fast nor too slow, an electron that’s not too big, a proton that has the exact opposite charge but the same mass as a neutron, and a four-dimensional space in which we can live. Consider this: if the electron or proton were just 0.2 percent larger, they would be so unstable they would break apart into smaller particles, atoms could never form, and we would not exist. I mean, what are the odds?! Some would say that’s strong evidence of a divine being, but for atheists a Multiverse makes equally perfect sense. With an infinite number of universes, once in a great while you’ll find one with the exact right conditions to support life as we know it. The very fact of our existence kind of feels like we played the lottery hit the celestial jackpot. Take that, billion-dollar Mega Millions winner!

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I could go on and on with this stuff. And I’d love to, but I don’t want to bore you with any more theoretical physics talk. Feel free to chime in with your opinion, though!


Halloween happened. Or so I’m told. It never actually felt like it, as we didn’t get a single trick-or-treater. It’s actually been 13 years since I’ve opened the door to somebody in costume. I’ve drawn two conclusions from this: kids avoid apartment and condominium complexes on Halloween, and nobody has once sent me a singing telegram.

Because I never left the apartment after 2:30 p.m., I didn’t even see anybody dressed up. At least Tara drove by a couple of kids on her way home. Last year we all wore costumes to work and there was the Boo Bash in downtown Camas, so I at least got a sense of the holiday. This time around, nada. At least we made sure the few bags of candy we purchased just in case were ones we liked! But because I’m so stingy with my sugar intake, I’m limiting myself to a single “fun size” Baby Ruth or Snickers bar per day, so we’ll probably be working on them until Christmas.

By the way, is one inch really a fun size??


It’s been a pretty quiet weekend. After a stretch of mild weather, it’s turned colder, which means it’s not conducive to going hiking (though I actually did go for a hike on Friday morning). We ran a bunch of errands yesterday and will be watching the Broncos game this afternoon. I’m cooking a pork/beef stew. There’s a Netflix movie queued up for later.

Oh! Speaking of Netflix, are you watching “Making a Murderer Part 2”? It has totally changed my mind about Steven Avery. After the initial series I figured, well, there are some questionable things, but the guy probably did it. Now I AM COMPLETELY CONVINCED HE IS INNOCENT. I’ve moved way beyond reasonable doubt. His attorney, Kathleen Zellner, is a beast. Mad props to her. And Brendan Dassey has always been an unwitting pawn. His conviction should have been overturned years ago.

In a parallel universe, they’re both free men…

One Down, 49 to Go

One year ago today, we went public and shared the news that we were moving to Rapid City, South Dakota. Via social media, of course, because this is the 21st century.

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We actually made our decision weeks earlier, on the first full day of our quickie weekend road trip out here. But there were i’s to dot and t’s to cross before we told everybody. Hardest of all was our parents, who really didn’t want to see us go. But we were committed and there was no changing our minds by that point. Those eight months we had to wait between announcing we were going and actually going felt like they were going to drag, and at times they did, but here we are one year later and now it kinda seems like it flew by, ha.

It also totally feels like home.

I kind of feel like we left just in time, too. I was talking with my parents on the phone a couple of weeks ago and they mentioned the Proud Boys, an alt-right group that is clashing with members of the far-left Antifa movement on the streets of Portland, resulting in a whole lot of bloodshed. And I thought, that is not the Portland I knew and loved.

They went on to talk about the homeless criss, which was always bad but now seems to be spiraling out of control. And the escalating traffic issues and rising prices. It all just sounds so unbearably bad. I’m not bashing Portland. It’ll always have a special place in my heart, and going back to visit will be lots of fun. It just doesn’t hold the same allure for me that it once did.

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This, by contrast? It’s exactly where we were meant to be. I’m not saying South Dakota is perfect or suited to everybody. But it’s just right for us, and that’s all that matters. I keep hearing “but just wait until winter!” and all I can think is, I can’t wait until winter! I think that’s the attitude you need to have to really enjoy it out here. Plus, you’ve got to enjoy a small(ish) town and be willing to sacrifice a few things (like Trader Joe’s and Costco and farmer’s markets teeming with deliciously juicy berries and Darth Vader-costumed, bagpipe-playing unicyclists). If you’re okay without those types of creature comforts, you just might thrive out here in the Upper Midwest.


Last Wednesday, we (OK, Tara) came up with the impromptu idea of driving out to the Badlands to catch the full moon. It was rising at 6:25 p.m. and we thought that would be a perfect opportunity to set up our cameras and capture some good shots in a ruggedly scenic landscape.

It was a great idea in theory, but there were just enough clouds on the horizon to mess with the view. Plus, the moon ended up rising over the parking lot instead of the craggy cliffs we’d been hoping for. And it was super windy, which made it really cold, especially once the sun went down.

But. We had the whole place to ourselves, and that alone made it kind of magical. There’s a lot to be said for going out there in the off-season! And while the moonrise might have been a dud, the sunset was spectacular.

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It was late by the time we left, and later still when we got back to Rapid City. 8:00, and neither of us had eaten in hours. So we decided to grab a bite to eat at Sickies Garage, small regional chain of restaurants (five locations in the Dakotas and Minnesota) that advertises “50 burgers, 50 brews & More!” They’re not exaggerating, either. On any of those counts. Loved the decor, the food was great, and the prices were unbeatable. Most burgers are less than $10 and include a side. In fact, dinner for the two of us – including a couple of hard ciders – was only $38.

I’m sure we’ll be back plenty of times. After all, there are 49 more burgers to try!

All in all, it was a great Wednesday, and a nice break from the regular weekday routine. Normally we’d be watching “The Price is Right” with a purring cat sandwiched between us while balancing a plate of food on our laps.

This was better.

I highly recommend getting out and living a little. It does wonders for the soul.

You’ve Been Johnnyburgered

Many years ago, my dad’s cousin Johnny came out for a visit  when we lived in South Dakota. He and Johnny are the same age and were very close growing up on the mean streets of Trenton; theirs was a friendship that continued into adulthood. Johnny is a real character. Always wears his hair greasy and slicked back, smokes like a chimney, and is the pickiest eater I have ever met. The only type of meat Johnny ever ate was beef. This would drive my mom nuts anytime he came out to visit, as it strictly limited our menu, forcing her to either make him a separate dish or devote a week to cooking nothing but red meat.

During that South Dakota visit, my parents decided to pull a fast one on Johnny. Guessing he’d never be able to tell the difference, my mom made buffalo burgers one night and presented them as angus beef. Johnny was sitting there at the dinner table, plowing through his burger with gusto, none the wiser, when my dad cleared his throat.

“How’s that burger, Johnny?” he asked.

“Delicious!” Johnny replied, never pausing from his chewing.

My dad then let the hammer fall and told his cousin that what he thought was beef was, in fact, bison. Johnny was surprised, but to his credit, finished his burger. This trickery didn’t suddenly turn him into an equal opportunity carnivore or anything, but probably made him a little more cautious when sitting down at the dining room table in our house from that point forward.

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How’s that burger, Johnny?

Ever since, I’ve thought of these little food switcheroos as “Johnnyburgers.” In fact, I’ve turned the noun into a verb when describing this act of subterfuge. One time when my kids were young, I snuck some vegetables into their spaghetti sauce. Audrey and Rusty were Johnnyburgered!

Just last week I Johnnyburgered Tara. When it comes to coffee, she is very choosy over what she pours into her mug. It’s gotta be Costco’s Kirkland brand Medium Dark Columbian Roast. Which was all well and good when we lived within spitting distance of not one, but two, Costcos, but the nearest one now is 346 miles away. Suffice it to say, that’s a long way to go for coffee! We stocked up before our move, and still have several cans left, but we go through coffee pretty quickly. The day is sure to come when we run out of the Kirkland Medium Dark Columbian Roast. Keenly aware of this, I decided to pick up a can of Maxwell House at Safeway last week when I spotted it on sale for $4.99. The next morning, after stealthily substituting Maxwell House for Kirkland, I asked my wife, “How’s that coffee, dear?”

“It’s good!” she replied.

“Would you say it’s good to the last drop?” I asked, unable to resist their gimmicky advertising slogan.

When she replied in the affirmative, I told her – rather gleefully, I might add – “You’ve been Johnnyburgered!”

To her credit, she wasn’t upset over the deceit. I think she realizes, too, that our precious coffee resources are dwindling faster than Trump’s approval rating, and certainly isn’t opposed to finding a different brand we can procure more easily. But after a few days of drinking the Maxwell House, she decided it was “too bitter” after all. I dunno about that…I think my wife doth protest too much…but, that’s fine. Back to the drawing board it is.

There’s always Folgers!


We had a nice weekend. The weather has been very pleasant, so we took advantage and hiked 5.5 miles on Saturday morning. Saw a movie in the afternoon, “First Man.” Two thoughts: man, Buzz Aldrin was a dick. But Neil Armstrong wasn’t exactly warm and fuzzy either. I had no idea he suffered from so many inner demons. I googled him afterward and while most of the scenes in the movie were based on reality, the…

SPOILER ALERT!!

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DO NOT GO ANY FURTHER IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN “FIRST MAN”!!

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SERIOUSLY!!!

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THIS IS NOT A DRILL!!!!!

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…part where he landed on the moon (I warned you I was giving away secrets!)…

OK, kidding. You probably already knew that unless you prescribe to conspiracy theories. I’m referring to the scene where he threw his dead daughter’s bracelet into a crater on the moon while shedding a tear. Turns out that was totally made up to heighten the emotional factor  in pure Hollywood style. And that’s fine. Never go into a “true story” expecting a completely true story!

After the movie, we went to Chili’s. Casual dining chain or not, I have missed that place! All I can say is, fajitas. (Well, I can also say Presidente margarita.) Good stuff!

Sunday we drove out to Prairie Berry to stock up on wine. They were having a great sale on their Pumpkin Bog (pumpkin/cranberry wine – yes, it’s good; no, it does not taste like a Pumpkin Spice Latte from Starbuck’s): one bottle cost $17.00, two bottles cost $17.06. I mean, how could we not?!

It’s a wonder I didn’t walk out of there with a case of the stuff…

Meat and Catch-Up

I haven’t written a proper post in what seems like ages – photos of fall foliage and snow do not count – so this is an opportunity for a little catch-up! Forgive me if I jump around from topic to topic. I feel like I have a little bit to say about a lot of things.

Lessons I Learned from Our Early Season Snowfalls

Two big takeaways from our recent bout with winter-like weather:

  1. When it’s snowy, icy, or below freezing, you have to calculate extra time when making plans. Because you’ve got to scrape ice and/or sweep snow from your windshield and set the defroster to high if you want to be able to see while driving. I don’t know about you, but I find this helps prevent accidents. Speaking of scraping ice…
  2. The windshield isn’t the only thing that requires attention. We were headed out to a comedy show in Rapid City Saturday night and it took me several blocks to figure out why my headlights were barely penetrating the snowy darkness: they were coated in snow and ice. So, I had to pull over to the side of the road and take care of that.

It’s little things like these that never even crossed my mind living in the temperate PNW. On the rare occasions when it snowed in Vancouver, I certainly didn’t venture out in it. I won’t have that luxury living here, which is why I volunteered to drive us into town during our unexpected snowstorm Saturday night. I figured I’m going to have to get used to it anyway, so I might as well jump right in. Luckily, my Mazda handled the weather just fine. I could pretend I didn’t white-knuckle it the whole way, but why lie?

Also: I really want a Jeep Cherokee. But that’s another post. One that I can ignore for a while since today was sunny and 71 degrees.

Crazy Horse Progress is Measured in Inches

My favorite joke during the Saturday night comedy show went  something like this: They say the sun is going to explode in five billion years, which means they’re going to have to finish carving Crazy Horse in the dark.

The Crazy Horse Memorial, if you aren’t familiar with it, is a mountain carving honoring an Oglala Lakota warrior, Crazy Horse. The monument has been in progress since 1948 and is proceeding at a glacial pace, probably because it’s a non-profit undertaking and the Ziolkowski family refuses to take any federal or state funds. They rely solely on entrance fees, gift shop purchases, and private contributions. Hats off to them, but this thing won’t be finished in my lifetime. Or my kids’.

These photos show what Crazy Horse looked like when I visited in 2011, and again, last week.

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Hard to see any real progress. Some of the trees are a little taller, though.

This is what it’s going to look like when it’s finished:

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Crazy Horse Memorial, circa 2238

Discovering Chislic

Months before moving here, I wrote about chislic, a regional dish of cubed red meat (traditionally lamb, though beef or venison may be substituted) and South Dakota’s official state food. It is often served with toothpicks and accompanied by Saltine crackers and hot sauce.IMAG6950.jpg

Sounds weird, huh? Here’s the thing: it’s really good. Which shouldn’t be a surprise. I mean, it’s fried meat. Unless you’re a vegetarian, which I am most certainly not, what”s not to love?!

I’ve had it a couple of times now, and have yet to see either Saltines or toothpicks. Mine have always come with French fries, which makes the purist in me unhappy because it feels like my experience is a little less authentic. I haven’t had hot sauce either, come to think of it, but one place in Hill City served it with barbecue sauce and that was a pretty damn good substitute.

Though it’s more common in east river, chislic is pretty readily available around these parts, too. I intend to research the matter carefully and find the best in the west, so to speak.

I also want to make it myself and will probably try this recipe.

A Random Photo I Haven’t Posted Anywhere

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Deerfield Reservoir

The Freelance Lifestyle

I’m really diggin’ the freelance lifestyle for a couple of reasons, the biggest being the freedom to work anywhere at any time. I’m fortunate to have a steady supply of work from my former employer, and because I know the industry and topics inside and out, I usually bang it out in two days. That leaves me a lot of free time to go exploring. I try to work from a coffee shop one day a week, just to get me out of the apartment. I find that I like having a little structure, and it feels more like a real job if I have to actually get dressed and drive somewhere.

Having said that, a full-time job would be ideal because as nice as it is being an independent contractor, the benefits leave much to be desired. Probably because they’re non-existent. A couple of months ago I was offered a job as a technical writer for a local Rapid City company, and after a four-day trial period…turned it down. Umm, what?! I didn’t feel like it was a good fit at the time, but soon after had major regrets.

Now, that same company has procured my services (as a contractor) to assist in several projects that should last through the holidays. They’ve even given me an office and computer to use and only ask me to come in for a few hours a couple of times a week. It’s kind of the best of both worlds, actually. A steady paycheck (on top of another steady paycheck) without the ol’ 9 to 5 drudgery. Having said that, if this happens to lead to something permanent, I’ll be thrilled. But if not, it’s great experience and gives me more to add to my resume and portfolio.

Tara, by the way, is happy with her job. She didn’t particularly want to remain in the mortgage industry, but this position is far less demanding, which means far less stressful. She doesn’t dread going to work in the morning, which is something we should all aspire to, you know?

And, because happy wife = happy life, all is good in this hood.

One More Random (and Really Wide) Pic Before I Go

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Why I love it here, Part 37.

A Taste of Winter

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Autumn in the Black Hills sure was beautiful for the two whole weeks that it lasted.

I kid, I kid. But we definitely had a taste of winter this past week. For three straight days the temperature never climbed out of the 30s – our highs were colder than our average lows for the date! And we got 2.8″ of snow, as well. I knew it could snow in October around here. I just didn’t think it actually would!

Just when all hope of ever seeing fall again was nearly lost, today was sunny and 56. Couldn’t ask for a more beautiful day. And next week we’ll be pushing 70. Such is life on the Great Plains.

I’ll be back with a proper post next week. For now, enjoy the snow pics. Especially you, Ron!

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Downtown Rapid City

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Wilderness Park across the street from our apartment

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Canyon Lake Park

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Did global cooling kill the dinosaurs?

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So beautiful!

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We sat beneath this willow on a hot July afternoon and dipped our feet in the water

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Clashing seasons

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I should have packed a picnic lunch!