“See You Monday!”

So. I’m going back into the office tomorrow.

Not full-time. It’ll probably just be for a couple of days a week, working from home the rest. One of my coworkers asked me how I felt about coming back, and I replied, “Pretty good, since it was my idea!” Honestly, I have mixed feelings about it. Not because I’m afraid of going out in public and worried about germs; I just really don’t want to put pants on again.

At least not ones that have a zipper.

But Ye Olde Media Company has been totally chill about the whole thing and never pressured me into coming back. Last week I started to miss the vibe though, and it’s impossible not to feel a disconnect—especially when you see social media posts about cool things happening in the office and you are not there to experience them. Plus, I miss the popcorn machine, if I’m being honest.

Oh, and the people, too.

It’s been something like 67 days since I’ve been in the office now, so the novelty has long since worn off. I’ve been in regular contact with my coworkers, either via Slack or Zoom or phone calls, but it’s not the same as seeing them in person. So I reached out to Jenna on Friday and said, Hey, I’m thinking about coming in a couple of days a week and working from home the rest; would this be okay? It took her all of two seconds to respond, Yes, of course, let me clean your workstation for you, SEE YOU MONDAY! I had to force myself to hit send because I knew I would just keep putting it off and finding excuses not to go in. Five minutes later she reported back that she had moved the junk off my desk (the fact that it had turned into a staging area for wayward office supplies contributed to the disconnect) and sanitized it, so it was too late to say “just kidding!” I’m committed now.

But that’s okay. This weird existence that began in March has never felt real to me. It’s almost been like a vacation, but one where I have been working, so not at all like a vacation. But it did motivate me to set up my home office and buy a monitor, and taught me just how productive I can be from home (occasional cooking-while-on-the-clock notwithstanding), so it’s set the stage for what I envision as a “new normal” where I’ll work in the office some days and WFH others. Tara says it will do me good to get out of the house, and while I haven’t quite devolved to the point in Mr. Mom where Michael Keaton’s character, Jack Butler, whiles away his days watching soap operas and gossiping with the neighborhood housewives, she isn’t wrong. So tomorrow I’ll dust off those dormant social skills and venture out into the real world again.

For one day, anyway.

At least I’ll look presentable. Like so many people, I’d gone months without a haircut. I was looking pretty shaggy and it was starting to bug me. Meanwhile, Tara said I should grow it out, and even had the nerve to suggest I fashion it into a ponytail. WTF, woman. That look reminds me too much of Mr. Sensitive Ponytail Man from Singles, Linda’s on-again/off-again college boyfriend who is hopelessly bland, and I just can’t. I’d want to slap myself every time I looked in the mirror.

Fortunately, I won’t have to. Our Great Clips salons have reopened, so I went and got a haircut last week. The whole experience was surreal; when I arrived, a masked woman at the door was wielding a clipboard and checking people in. All customers were required to wear masks and wait outside until their name was called. To be honest, I feel like the power was going to her head a little, almost like she was in charge of the velvet rope at Studio 54, picking and choosing who to let in based on some set of obscurely random merits, though that illusion was shattered the minute I was granted access inside. The lighting at Great Clips was fluorescent rather than disco-ball, there were zero celebrity sightings, and nobody was snorting coke or having sex in the corner. I was escorted to a chair, given hand sanitizer, and then proceeded to have a conversation while wearing a mask, which isn’t the easiest thing in the world. My only prior experience with that involves the phrase “Trick or treat!” Plus, the stylist frequently had to unhook the mask to trim around my ears. It was quite the balancing act for her. Just my luck, she was a chatty one, too. After being holed up for 67 days, I am not used to conversing with other humans. Totally worth it though just to have reasonable-length hair again.

Saturday was pretty much the perfect day. Tara and I headed out for an adventure, beginning with a very foggy drive through the Black Hills.

Our destination was Custer State Park; we needed to buy new annual passes, and also wanted an excuse to check out the baby bison and burros. Mission accomplished on both counts.

We also ended up exploring a brand new hiking trail in the park, Barnes Canyon. It’s a 9.5-mile out-and-back hike if you do the whole thing; we didn’t have time for that, but still managed to cover 3.5 miles. Pretty cool trail; it follows an old road used by miners, loggers, and homesteaders. Everything was lush and green, and because it’s located just off Wildlife Loop Road, you share the path with any animal that happens to wander over. At one point we came across a couple of bison; they were a good distance away, but it was still a little unnerving to be on their turf miles from the safety of the car. Great hike though; we will totally do it again. The whole thing someday.

Afterward, we stopped at a restaurant in Hill City for a late lunch, and it felt like the land that time forgot. There were actual paper menus and, aside from a handful of customers, no face masks. How refreshing. Also, the food was delicious, as was the wine. So much so that we brought a couple of bottles home with us.

We may be seeing my parents for a visit soon. I hope so. It would do them good to come out here, where there are wide-open spaces and fewer restrictions and adorable baby animals.

Seven Mojo-Sparkers

Wednesday was a weird day. For starters, I thought it was Tuesday up until about 4:00, and almost missed a scheduled interview with a client. But then she never responded to me, so maybe we were both confused over which day it was, ha. The perils of a shortened holiday week.

I also managed to spill salad dressing all over my clothes and feet. Umm, don’t ask.

Then I was having issues accessing the server remotely, and when I finally got on, InDesign wasn’t working for me. Which honestly at that point might have been operator error. I was pretty frazzled by then. Luckily, I discovered my mojo late in the day and finished strong. (My mojo made its appearance in a glass of Frontenac wine after quittin’ time, but hey, better late than never.)

Fun fact: Frontenac grapes were specifically bred for cold climates at the University of Minnesota and are one of the few varieties that will grow in South Dakota.

Other recent mojo-sparkers in these trying times (I can’t wait to just say in these times and be done with it!) include:

  1. Parks & Recreation. We have been watching the series from the start on Netflix because—as shocking as this is going to sound—Tara has never seen it! I KNOW, GUYS. How anybody could have gotten this far in life without any knowledge of the goings-on in fictional Pawnee, Indiana is beyond me. We are midway through Season 2 and she is really enjoying it. And the best is yet to come! We haven’t met Ben Wyatt or Chris Traeger or even Lil’ Sebastian yet.
  2. Sunsets. They have been consistently stunning as of late. Pretty much every evening, without fail, we will wander onto our patio, look to the west, and be treated to a majestic sky full of color. I have long said there’s something special about a South Dakota sunset. I mean, the sunrises ain’t bad either, but they happen so early now I’m usually still in bed when they occur.
  3. Ozark. While Parks & Rec is a lighthearted comedic romp, Ozark is darker than the night sky over Antarctica in December…but wow, is it good. Season 3 was intense, superbly acted, and wrapped up with one hell of a cliffhanger. As the final credits rolled, I turned to Tara and said, “This show has become Breaking Bad-level good.” That is very high praise and I cannot wait for Season 4.
  4. Morning walks outside. I bought a treadmill last September because of the brutal South Dakota winters and used it religiously for six months, but now that we’ve reached that point in the year where it is both light early and not freezing cold, I’ve returned to walking outside. Hot fitness trainers aside, it’s a much more stimulating experience. I knock out 3.5 miles or so most days.
  5. Sour beers. I’ve never been a beer fan, but will happily make an exception for sour ales. Probably because they taste more like a jar of pickles than actual beer, which is a good thing in my book. I am partial to South Dakota’s Fernson Curio, but recently discovered Brau Brothers Kettle Sours, based in Minnesota. Good stuff if you enjoy puckering up!
  6. Tundra. If Tara had a nickel for every time I burst out laughing before shoving a newspaper under her nose and imploring her to “check this out!” she’d be rich. Nine times out of ten, the “this” I’m referring to is Tundra, a comic strip featuring wildlife. The humor is similar to The Far Side, so if you’re a Gary Larson fan, you’ll laugh, too. The cartoonist, Chad Carpenter, is from Wasilla, Alaska. Proof that one good thing came out of Wasilla, Alaska.
  7. Spindrift Sparkling Water. Not everything I drink contains alcohol, and Spindrift is healthy proof! I discovered it a few years ago in an unassuming convenience store in a small town in Oregon, bought a couple of cans on a whim, and have been hooked ever since. Unlike most other sparkling waters and seltzers, it’s made with real fruit, and actually tastes good. I’ve tried many other brands—La Croix, Polar, Zevia, AHA— but nothing else comes close. I’ve got cases of the stuff in my basement and am especially partial to Pineapple, Lemon, Grapefruit, and Lime.

What’s inspiring you these days? Any entertainment, food and beverage, or other product/lifestyle shout-outs you’d like to share?

This Old Sardine Can

I hope you’re enjoying your three-day weekend! Unless you’re reading this in a country that doesn’t celebrate Memorial Day. In which case…happy just-Monday.

It’s been a busy few days. Knowing we were tackling a major project, I wanted to ease into the weekend, so I settled in Friday night with a movie: Das Boot. Contrary to the title, it’s got nothing to do with footwear but is, instead, an epic tale of a German submarine crew prowling the seas during World War II. It’s a great movie if you can get past the fact that it’s nearly four hours long and in German. Hey, that’s why they invented subtitles, right? Normally I’m not keen on reading movies, but this one is so entertaining it’s worth paying attention to.

It’s funny, though: submarine movies are chock-full of cliches. Doesn’t matter if you’re watching Das Boot or Crimson Tide or U-571 or The Hunt for Red October—they’re all basically the same movie. There’s always a scene early on where a newcomer (either a fresh recruit or civilian guest) asks about the Fathometer, aka the depth gauge. It’s got a series of numbers from 0-260 meters and is color-coded; safe depths are marked by green, but then the color graduates to various shades of yellow and orange and red to indicate when The Situation is Grave.™ By the way, those colors are a Hollywood invention no doubt used to ratchet up the tension; I looked at Fathometers online and they are all just simple black and white gauges. The captain will then explain that there’s no reason to worry, the sub will never drop below 90 meters because, otherwise, “the water pressure will crush us and we’ll die a horrible death.” A little less bluntly than that, because there’s always some crew member who will give in to claustrophobia and terror and snap (only to redeem himself later by performing some heroic act). Here’s the Fathometer scene in Das Boot.

A little while later the submarine will come under attack, and in an effort to avoid the depth charges—which are always close enough to knock things off shelves while the crew braces themselves—the captain will order the boat lower and lower. Beads of sweat will break out on the crew members’ faces as they watch the needle drop into the danger zone, while the captain ominously recites their current depth every ten meters, pausing for dramatic effect after each readout. “140 meters. [LONG PAUSE]. 150 meters. [LONG PAUSE]. 160 meters.” By the time the sub reaches 180 meters, twice the safety threshold, the whole thing is creaking and groaning and everybody looks like they’re about to shit their pants. But the captain insists they continue to drop. At 200 meters, bolts and screws are popping loose, whizzing through the air like bullets, inevitably injuring some poor sap. Eventually, the needle reaches the very end of the numerical scale and they continue to drop to unknown depths, off the chart.

But of course, everybody survives. “This old sardine can (an affectionate moniker that appears in all these movies) held up better than anybody expected!” the captain will exclaim as cheers erupt from the crew once they realize they aren’t going to succumb to a grisly fate after all. Part of me wishes just once the sub actually would end up crushed by the pressure once it dropped below 90 meters, but what a depressing film that would be.

Hooray for Hollywood.

Saturday the weather was pretty stormy, so I decided to hop in my car and do a little storm chasing. Weather geek that I am, I love the adrenaline rush that accompanies a good thunderstorm. The radar was lighting up like crazy to the north and east, so I drove north, and then east. I ended up going down this little two-lane country road in the middle of the prairie straight into the heart of a supercell. The sky looked more ominous with each passing mile, and before long, there were jagged streaks of lightning and constant, rumbling thunder.

My heart racing wildly, I continued east. It started raining, which was fine. But then it started hailing, which was not fine. My poor car is still pockmarked with dents and dings from the hailstorm that welcomed us to South Dakota two years ago. The hail around here is no joke, so I turned around at that point.

The interstate wasn’t much better. More hail forced me to the side of the road beneath the safety of an overpass at one point. That’s one of the tricks we learned from the locals: people are quick to take cover beneath bridges once it starts hailing.

I eventually made it home unscathed. Tara and I watched a few episodes of Ozark season three before turning in. We needed our rest for Sunday.

The big project we’d planned for this weekend involved digging up a section of the yard and transforming it into a garden so Tara could finally plant her starts. This took seven hours and a lot of work, but the promise of tequila later was a pretty good motivator. Needless to say, my muscles are sore and achey this morning…not surprising when you look at just how much sod I removed, all of it by hand. Well, hand + shovel.

In the end though, it was well worth the effort.

The fence and wooden posts are our half-assed attempt at deer-proofing the garden. We didn’t bother with cement because this first year is a test. Providing the garden delivers the goods as hoped, next year we might actually install something more permanent. But this will work for now.

Gotta mow the lawn today, and then later I’m making homemade bbq sauce and we are grilling baby back ribs and corn on the cob.

It won’t be an entirely relaxing day, but at least it won’t be as tiring as yesterday.

Not-So-Dandy Lion

As you might recall, I recently channeled my inner landscape architect in an attempt to convert a jumbled pile of rock and dirt into something more visually appealing. This little plot next to our stoop (I was outvoted 15-0 in the online poll…thanks for nothing, “loyal” readers!) (At least my mom and aunt agreed it was a porch on Facebook, so there’s some small comfort there)) once contained a beautiful rock garden, courtesy of Doris, the previous owner.

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And then our sewer line up and quit working, to the tune of $11,000. Because it ran directly beneath that rock garden, they tore the whole thing up.

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Once the weather warmed up, we could no longer ignore the fact that something had to be done. So I went and done something. What do you think?

I was able to rescue most of the pink quartz. It’ll sparkle better once we get some rain. Right now, it’s still pretty muddy from being buried. Overall, I’m pleased with the way it turned out.

I’m also really digging all the flora Tara has been planting around the house. Her obsession with plants and pots is downright adorable.

And remember her seed starts? They are almost ready to be transplanted into the ground. We’re planning on digging up the rest of the garden this weekend.

And since I’m posting all this greenery, here are some more things blooming in our backyard. I absolutely love it out there this time of year!

What I don’t like about the backyard is all the stupid dandelions that are popping up. I blame this on our neighbor up the hill, who just lets them grow as they please. Damn hippie. I actually did a little dandelion research this morning and found out some interesting facts:

  • Dandelions probably arrived in North America on the Mayflower—not as stowaways, but brought intentionally for their medicinal benefits.
  • Dandelions have been used by humans for food and as an herb for much of recorded history.
  • Dandelions suck. (Err, sorry…that’s my interjection.)
  • The entire plant, including the leaves, stems, flowers, and roots, is edible and nutritious. The flower petals are used to make dandelion wine. Its ground, roasted roots can be used as a caffeine-free coffee alternative. Dandelion is also one of the traditional ingredients in root beer.
  • The English name, dandelion, is a corruption of the French dent de lion (“lion’s tooth”), because of the coarsely toothed leaves. 
  • Some of the other less-than-complimentary names include blowball, cankerwort, doon-head-clock, witch’s gowan, milk witch, lion’s-tooth, monks-head, priest’s-crown, puff-ball, swinesnout, and—my personal favorite—piss-a-bed. I swear I’m not making this up; it’s the English folk name for the not-so-dandy lion.

Dandelions aren’t technically a noxious weed, and to be fair, there are some benefits to letting them grow. But the ability of their seeds to spread so easily and potentially take over a yard puts me squarely in the Not a Fan camp. I wish I could be all Zen about ’em and let them do their thing like my neighbor up the hill, but I just can’t.

So, every morning—EVERY. SINGLE. MORNING.—I am going outside with my trusty weed puller and committing murder. And yet, without fail, there are a dozen new ones the next day…sometimes in the very holes from which I yanked them up 24 hours earlier, as if they are mocking me and my vain attempts at eradication. No shit, dandelions are tough. They’re like the Tony Sopranos of the plant world. No wonder they freakin’ thrive.

So our lawn now has a patchwork of holes all over. I could probably open up a golf course back there if I wanted. But, I told Tara, at least I’m aerating the lawn, even if it is an inch at a time. You know, I did make a vow that 2020 would be my year of leisure (ha! little did I know…), so maybe I should just give up and let them take over. I like wine. I wonder how many flowers it takes to make a bottle….?

I’m curious what you guys think, so here’s a new poll. And a chance to redeem yourselves!

Tomorrow I’ll be on assignment again, but this time it’s a true assignment, as in, I was assigned it. True, I begged volunteered, but let’s not be nitpicky here. The Keystone Chamber of Commerce is one of our clients, but honestly, few of us know much about Keystone, other than it’s the town people drive through on their way to Mount Rushmore, minutes away. Since we’re doing all this work for them, and I’m the guy writing about them, a field trip is in order to learn more about the town. I’ll be strolling around—nay, loitering—for a few hours tomorrow, visiting different places and taking a ton of photos. Half the office is on vacation anyway to stretch the three-day weekend into four, so it’s a good day to be on the road.

By the time I get home, I’m sure I’ll be ready to kick back with a big glass of dandelion wine…

Beware of False Perverts

My recent venture into my blog drafts folder (and subsequent discovery of a couple of diamonds in the rough) got me curious about my spam folder, something else I never look at. Classic case of “out of sight, out of mind.” Today’s email filters have gotten so good, the only time I ever think of spam is when I’m craving breakfast meat in a can. There were only four spammy comments in my WordPress folder, all of them from people wanting to sell me amoxycillin without a prescription. I don’t currently have any bacterial infections that I am aware of, so those guys were barking up the wrong tree.

Also, what a lame “black market” drug to push. Back in the day, spammers at least had the balls to try and sell things like viagra or Vicodin, or get you to visit their porn sites.  They’ve apparently all turned into a bunch of snowflakes now. I almost long for the days when I would open up my email and discover I had a huge Nigerian inheritance waiting for me; all I had to do was send them my banking information and the money would be deposited into my account within 24 hours.

At least it brought a little excitement into an otherwise humdrum day.

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The only thing worse than receiving spam was having one of your perfectly innocent outgoing emails flagged as spam. This happened to me at work a few years ago. I was alerted to the fact by one of our web guys, who informed me that an email blast I had tried sending had been flagged and wound up in the company spam folder. He sent a rather lengthy (and somewhat condescending) explanation stating that “the subject and content of your message determines your spam score” and chided me for using “sexualized content” and “spammy phrases.” I was outraged over this insinuation. I am many things, but a pervert is not one of them! Not at work, anyway.

More than anything, I was confused. I had no idea why my email promoting an upcoming member symposium in Austin could even remotely be construed as spam, even by a robot…

…until I saw the list of offending words and phrases, which included the following:

  • bigger
  • touch
  • enjoy yourself
  • video
  • watch now

And, my personal favorite, “square feet.” Jesus. Don’t judge a man by his fetish!

Actually, I couldn’t help but laugh out loud after reading the list. Because, as loathe as I am to admit it, reading that does make me seem like some sort of freak. But it’s taken out of context! Because “everything is bigger in Texas!” Including the ballroom (I’m surprised “ball room” wasn’t flagged), with a “touch” of class where you’ll be able to relax and “enjoy yourself” in 60,000 “square feet” of space. Finally, the email included a link to a “video” that I implored recipients to “watch now.”

See? It’s all easily explained. And yet, I was automatically branded as some sort of miscreant with a one-track mind.

Almost exactly one year later, I quit that job and moved 1,200 miles away. Ostensibly for a better life, but maybe I was just trying escape my wounded reputation?

When Stalking Pays Off

Friday was my one-year anniversary with Ye Olde Media Company. Weird to mark the occasion without being in the office, and weirder still that I wasn’t even in my home office. Instead, I was galavanting around the Black Hills “on assignment,” researching and photographing locations for my Mystery Monday pet project as I did a few weeks ago. That trip took me to the northern hills; this time, I wanted to head south. I’ve got 10 posts to fill and want to spread the love throughout the region.

“On assignment” is in parentheses because I assigned the project to myself, but that’s just one of the things I love most about my job: the freedom and flexibility to do my own thing. Not to mention the sheer variety of the work, the opportunity to be creative, and the overall fun factor. YOMC has always encouraged me to come up with ideas and fully supported me in those endeavors. It’s such a refreshing change of pace from anyplace else I’ve ever worked. If you’re not a long-time reader, there is a very interesting story about how I ended up working here, one that involves a little bit of stalking and a lot of persistence, ha.

Spoiler alert: nobody went to jail and no bunnies were boiled.

Ten minutes before heading out the door on May 15, 2019, I wrote a brief private post (I can count on one hand…actually, one finger…the number of for-my-eyes-only posts I’ve written) in which I discussed my first-day jitters and actually wondered whether I was doing the right thing leaving behind a comfortable-but-totally-unfulfilling job to take a chance on the unknown. I told myself it was natural to be nervous and that I would surely thrive working for the most creative and innovative company in town, which of course has proven to be the case.

The lesson is simple, kids: never settle.

In my life, I never have, and every tough decision I made has gotten me to a better place. Unfulfilling marriage? I got out. Living in a city that grew too crowded and expensive? I moved. Taco Bell ditched Mexi-Fries? I switched to Taco John’s for their Potato Olés. Sure, these things are all a great big gamble, but life is short and you only get one go-around. Unless you believe in reincarnation. I kind of do, but that’s a tale for another time.

In any case, I left home a few minutes before 9:00 in the midst of a heavy downpour. The weather didn’t get much better the whole day; I encountered everything from rain, hail, and fog to a (few brief glimpses of) sunshine. My first stop was Hot Springs, a quaint town known for its Romanesque-style sandstone architecture. At one point, there were more than two dozen sandstone quarries in and around town; when the railroad came along, it was shipped throughout the Midwest.

Yes, I am a history nerd.

My next stop was Custer; to get there, I had to drive through Wind Cave National Park. I hadn’t planned on stopping there, but when I saw a herd of bison, I couldn’t resist.

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There were literally bison in every direction.

But the critter who really stole my heart was this friendly little prairie dog who, no shit, came bounding over to me as soon as I stopped the car. Normally, they run in the opposite direction and duck into their underground tunnels at the first sight of a human. He was like a Wind Cave goodwill ambassador.

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He’s running to greet me!

Obviously, he’s used to getting handouts from people…but it was still cool. Such a personable little guy. When I started driving away, he actually chased after my car! I’m pretty sure if I’d opened the door, he would have climbed right in. Which would have been okay with me, but Sydney would object.

Or eat him. Either way: not good.

I got to Custer, found the object I was seeking (a purple dinosaur statue, in case you’re wondering…a relic from a long-closed amusement park in town).

Then, on a whim, I decided to hike up the Skywalk to Big Rock Park, a high point that overlooks the town and the surrounding Black Hills. There’s also a giant CUSTER sign perched atop the hill, but it isn’t easily accessible and I didn’t want to take a chance by scrambling up some very slippery rocks to get a closer look. At least I know my limitations! Anyway…those views.

By now it was after 1:00 and I was starving, so I stopped in at Black Hills Burger & Bun. I’d heard rave reviews about the place but had never been before. Totally lived up to the hype; the homemade buns were fresh, soft, and billowy, and the burger was one of the best I’ve ever had. I daresay they outburgered Sugar Shack, another spot that many locals claim has the best burgers in the hills. My only regret was that Tara wasn’t there to try it with me. No worries: we’ll be back.

After eating lunch in my car, I continued north, with stops in Hill City (1880 Train) and Nemo, where there’s a really cool natural rock maze.

It was 4:30 by the time I got home, so it turned out to be a long but productive day…and a much-needed respite from the monotony of being cooped up inside for days weeks months on end.

I’m considering returning to the office a couple days a week starting after Memorial Day. There’s actually been an uptick in COVID cases in our county so we’ll see how that all shakes out, but I am feeling the pull. Soon.

Finishing up breakfast and a Bloody Mary before heading outside to work on the lawn and garden. The weather is warming up (it’s actually going to be pushing 90º on Tuesday) and we’re almost ready to start planting.

My Slow Descent Into Madness

I decided to do a bit of “spring cleaning” today by going through the drafts folder on my blog. There were half a dozen odds and ends in there, half-formed ideas and such, waiting to be fleshed out (or more realistically, permanently abandoned). Some of these were deserving of publication, while others are real head-scratchers.

Take July 3, 2019, for instance. I saved an untitled draft that read, I can’t believe we’ve

That’s it. As a writer who is fond of punctuation, I cringe when I read that. And I’m left wondering two things:

  • What was so hard to believe?!
  • What distraction pulled me away from a new post mid-sentence?

I hope it was something fun. Checking the blog archives, I posted on July 4, but didn’t mention anything that was unbelievable or hard to fathom in there, so I have no clue where that train of thought was headed or why it so abruptly jumped the track.

Perhaps this was the exact moment when my slow descent into madness began?

On August 20, I saved a draft titled 7 Photos. However, when I opened it, there were zero photos (and just as many words).

Conversely, on September 2, there is an untitled draft with the following photo but no description.

I happen to recognize that flat stretch of sunflower-dotted prairie as the middle of nowhere, Wyoming, and remember pulling over to the side of the road during our drive home from a trip to Fort Collins. Tara wanted to collect some sunflower seeds (she did) to plant in our garden (she has not…yet). Ironically, I did post a blog entry talking about the trip that same day, and it had a bunch of pics…but not this one.

I don’t know, guys. I’m obviously easily distracted?

There were a couple of completely blank drafts, and two others that were basically post-worthy. The only reason they never saw the light of day was probably because I wanted to add more but ran out of things to say. Since I’m all about recycling (and…umm…have run out of things to say), I’m going to share them with you now.

Dec 15, 2019: Tiny Pours

I’ve always found it amusing when people who are drinking liquor, usually whiskey, pour a tiny splash into a big glass, especially when they down it in one gulp and immediately pour another. In the interest of efficiency, wouldn’t it be easier to just pour a bigger glass and save yourself the trouble of a refill?

I mean, I understand why people do it. Liquor has a much higher alcohol concentration than beer so you need to pace yourself, people like to add ice and club soda, yadda yadda. But it looks ridiculous when they do that. Maybe I’m just hypersensitive lately because we’ve been binge-watching “Mad Men.” Don Draper and pretty much everybody else on the show drinks constantly, at all hours of the day. At work, at home, in the car (tsk-tsk). And they’re always doing those tiny one-knuckle pours. “Man up and pour yourself a bigger glass already!” I want to yell at the screen, but talking to the TV hardly ever produces results.

By the way, I actually googled why do people pour a tiny amount of liquor into a big glass? and learned that I am hardly the first person to ponder this existential question. Turns out there’s a Reddit thread devoted to the topic.

Come to think of it, there’s a Reddit thread for pretty much every conceivable topic under the sun…

Mar 8, 2020: (Untitled)

Remember how my TV stopped responding to the remote a few months ago and I couldn’t troubleshoot it, so I was all set to run to Best Buy and spend an ungodly sum of money on a brand new one before Tara solved the problem by moving the candle that was blocking the sensor? Hardly my finest moment, but at least I figured that was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of faux pas.

Until something similar happened again.

This time, it was our oven that appeared to be on the fritz. We noticed that things were taking a lot longer to cook. We were baking cookies one day, and though the instructions said they would be done after 10 minutes, when we checked them at that point they had barely begun to set up. Another time, we had a roast in the oven. The recipe said 425º for 90 minutes, but when we took it out of the oven, it was still rare inside. Perplexed, we stuck it back in there, along with an oven thermometer. Even though we had it set to the proper temperature, the probe was only reading 360º.

“Well, shit,” I said. “Looks like we need a new oven.”

No sooner had I begun researching ovens and scouting appliance store ads when Tara, once again, swooped in to save the day (and our bank account). Turns out our turkey on Thanksgiving had been dripping out of the pan, sending spatters onto the bottom of the oven. To resolve this, she lined it with aluminum foil…which covered up the heating elements. Once she removed the foil, the oven worked like a charm again.

I suppose I should be thankful these are easy fixes, but really, they’re just embarrassing.


There you go. Two (hopefully) mildly entertaining snippets. Is it a cheap way to get a new post up without investing any mental energy into a topic or even having to find a pic to upload? Maybe. But, so what! If my blog were a DVD (remember those?), think of these as deleted scenes.

And now, my draft folder is gloriously empty! Perhaps I’ll make this spring cleaning thing an annual tradition.

Tune in next May for more scattered thoughts, random photos, and half-sentences! If I haven’t been committed by then, of course…

Hector & the Polar Vortex

This weekend felt normal(ish) for the first time in ages.

Saturday morning, we went out to breakfast. At an actual restaurant. It’s funny how something so routine that we used to take for granted felt like an absolute novelty.

It wasn’t exactly like the past. The staff wore masks; there were no condiments on the table; they offered digital menus with QR codes or disposable paper ones; and diners were seated at least six-feet apart. Definitely a “new normal,” but the food was delicious and Colonial House makes the best Bloody Marys in town, so I was one happy camper!

Side note: why are happy people often compared to campers? Does being in the Great Outdoors improve your mood so much it’s considered the pinnacle of bliss? I love camping, but have a few friends who think sleeping on the ground and dealing with the scent of wood smoke in their clothes is anything but fun. They might make happy “glampers” but would be grumpy campers. Maybe I’ll research this someday…

In any case, we really wanted to support this restaurant. They are family owned and have been a Rapid City fixture for 40 years—an eternity in the hospitality biz. The owner was a guest on a podcast I listen to a few weeks ago and got choked up over the closure because he missed that sense of community so much. These guys have gotten really creative during the pandemic (they packaged a bunch of their popular menu items into re-heatable TV dinners and turned their lobby into a mini grocery store), but the restaurant is huge and with razor-thin margins to begin with, couldn’t sustain a closure much longer. Tara and I were perfectly comfortable dining there, and hope to hit some of our other favorites in the coming weeks. Most Rapid City businesses have reopened, with similar safety guidelines and reduced hours. It’s a start.

We also stopped by a nursery. The plant kind, not the baby kind. Tara has been filling pots on the patio with plants and flowers, while I’ve been woking on transforming the plot next to our…umm…not sure what to call it, actually. We had a long discussion this morning over whether it’s a porch (my assertion) or a stoop (hers). Thoughts?

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Is this a porch or a stoop?

Tara thinks she “won” because the internet describes them thusly:

  • A porch is “a sheltered area at the entrance to a building that has a roof and sometimes walls.”
  • A stoop is “a small staircase ending in a platform and leading to the entrance of a home.”

Both these definitions could apply, if you ask me. The area is sheltered and has an overhang. It’s also located at the top of a small staircase and, granted, isn’t any bigger than a platform.

Tomato, to-mah-to.

I know. You tell me!

In any case, Doris had a beautiful rock garden next to the storch (compromise!) with pink quartz, driftwood, and coral bells (small flowering plants). Much to our dismay, when they tore up our sewer line in November, they destroyed that area. It’s been a mound of dirt and rocks ever since. Rather than trying to re-create it, we decided to look at this as an opportunity to add our own flair to the ol’ homestead. I volunteered to tackle this project because it seemed like a great way to let my inner landscaper loose.

Never knew I had an inner landscaper TBH.

But apparently I do. His name is Hector and he likes birdbaths and whimsical garden decor. Go figure.

I picked up a couple of shrubs that shouldn’t grow too large (hope Hector knows what he’s doing!) but am holding off on planting them in the ground for a few days because polar vortex. No shit; it was 28º F (-2º C for my Canadian and European readers—you’re welcome) and snowing this morning. Nothing sticking on the ground, but Tara thought the shock of transplanting new shrubs might be exacerbated by the cold. We have a couple more days of this before the weather warms up again, so I’ll get them in the ground mid-week.

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Hector’s off to a decent start.

I was able to salvage most of the pink quartz, so I’ll be spreading that on top of the dirt once everything is in place. I’m excited to see how this turns out!


With virtual happy hours all the rage, we decided to have one with a couple of PNW friends on Friday evening. Candace and I worked together at Fuel, and we started hanging out with her and her husband Devon shortly before we moved. I had never done one of these before and wasn’t sure how awkward it might be; I always find it distracting looking at myself on a screen. Turned out to be a lot of fun, though; we chatted for a solid two hours and showed off our groovy basement and liquor closet while they gave us a tour of their home. At one point, I joked that we weren’t wearing pants.

…or was it a joke?…

(Totally a joke, though I suppose pants could be optional in these situations.)

Gotta run. I owe a word to my mutha…

Gettin’ Jiggly With It

Look, I can understand closing down certain non-essential businesses, rescheduling concerts, postponing Major League baseball, limiting social contact, yadda yadda. But Portland has just taken things a step too far by canceling their annual naked bike ride. Is nothing sacred these days?!

This decision took some real balls. Sounds like a cover-up to me…

Few things are more “Portland” than the World Naked Bike Ride…with the exception of protests. Portlanders protest everything. And when they do, there are counter-protestors protesting the protests. Sure enough, the World Naked Bike Ride is officially a protest—against our nation’s dependency on oil. But it’s also touted as a way to raise awareness of the dangers cyclists face on the road and to promote body positivity. In fact, participants are encouraged to protest any cause they want, using their naked flesh as a canvas for the protest signs.

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I’m all for freedom of speech and have nothing against nudity, but I personally can’t imagine riding a bike without pants. There’s way too much potential for bodily injury to parts of the anatomy I would prefer to keep in working order. I mean, if I scraped my elbow, how would I bend my arm to write without experiencing searing pain?!

I did see a bunch of naked bike riders once. Ironically, it wasn’t even in Portland. Tara and I were on one of our many visits to Seattle; we’d stopped for lunch at a hole-in-the-wall pizza place in the Capitol Hill neighborhood when dozens of naked people on bikes went pedaling by on the street outside, seemingly without a care in the world. I did a double take and got over my shock just in time to grab my camera and snap a few pics. That’s not a sight you see every day, so you’ve gotta save it for posterity, ya know?

So: no official naked bike ride this year. But organizers are encouraging anybody who feels like it to bare it all for a bike ride on June 27th…as long as they practice social distancing, of course. There’s no parade route, no start time, no location. Anybody who wants can get jiggly with it.

Just watch out for potholes, okay?


I’m collaborating on a work project with our resident Englishman, John. Which is all well and good—he’s a pretty cool chap with that stereotypical dry British wit—but we seem to be waging an invisible language war on our shared Google doc.

Case in point: we’re doing work for a new university organization.

Pay attention to that last word. It’s key here.

I created a list of FAQs for the organization. After John looked over the content, I noticed he had changed the spelling to organisation. Those folks across the pond sure have a funny way with certain English words, don’t they? Because Rapid City is approximately 4,398 miles from London, I changed it back to organization. The next time I opened the doc, it had reverted once again to organisation.

england_vs_usa

“Bloody hell!” I exclaimed. “This is bollocks.” Fortunately, I stopped short of telling the wanker to bugger off. Instead, in the interest of preserving international relations, I quietly changed it back to organization. All is right with the world once more.

Until I open the doc back up tomorrow, I’m sure…

 

Breaking Red

I made a Safeway run yesterday, something that has become a high-stress affair. There is so much to keep track of these days, and that’s not even counting the items on your grocery list. Gotta make sure you have hand sanitizer. Mask. Hazmat suit. But for me, those one-way arrows directing the flow of traffic are the worst.

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I inevitably find myself glaring at the scofflaws who end up going in the wrong direction, but they are masters at avoiding eye contact. I swear, some of them are doing it on purpose; you can tell by their steely looks of determination, almost daring you to call them out on their faux pas.

I’m too much of a by-the-book guy to flaunt the rules myself; in fact, at one point I found myself inadvertently wandering the wrong way down the cereal aisle and quickly overcorrected by doing a very poor imitation of Michael Jackson’s moonwalk. I’d hate to be labeled a smooth criminal. arrows

The aisles are pretty straightforward, but it’s the open areas with multiple bins, like the bread/bakery and produce sections, that are most confusing. I don’t blame people for getting turned around there. The arrows diverge in multiple directions seemingly at random. Go this way for butter, that way for buns. This way for asparagus, that way for oranges. It’s like a giant maze—and much like laboratory rats, if you navigate it correctly, you are rewarded with cheese.

At one point I was pushing my cart down the produce aisle when an older gentleman smiled at me and gave me a thumb’s up. I figured he was maybe congratulating me on following the arrows so expertly, so I returned the gesture as he, too, was going in the right direction.

A few moments later, we crossed paths again. “Thank you!” he said.

Wow, I thought. This guy really takes these directional arrows seriously.

“No problem!” I replied.

“How long have you been in?” he asked.

I started to say, “Twenty minutes or so. Got a short list this week.” At that point I noticed he was looking at my ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE t-shirt, and suddenly it all made sense. He wasn’t thanking me for my flawless ability to follow directions, but rather, my service to the country.

My [nonexistent] service to the country.

My dad was in the Air Force. I was not. I did live on Ellsworth AFB for three years back in the 1980s, and we make a trip out there whenever my parents come to visit. I picked up a few shirts from the base exchange last year and wear them on occasion. It never occurred to me that somebody might think I was an actual airman.

By now, I was stuck. My only choice (short of admitting that there had been a rather embarrassing misunderstanding on my part, which of course was never really an option) was to press forward with the little white lie. I soldiered on, if you will.

Military humor.

“Two years this June,” I answered. Which, in my defense, is when we moved to South Dakota.

“I was stationed there myself for four years,” he said.

“Small world!” I replied. I wanted to add some Air Force-related phrase, one that would be bandied about by fellow airmen, an attempt at a Band-of-Brothers type camaraderie, but the pressure was on and all I could think of was Semper Fi, which belongs to the Marine Corps. The jig would have been up in a heartbeat, so instead, I said, “Oh, there are the avocados! Gotta run. Have a good day!”

Whew. Close call. Thank god he didn’t salute me.

airforce

Later on, I realized I could have said “Aim high!” or “Fly-fight-win!” and that would have won me mad respect. OR, to really convince him I was legit, I could have said, “Look at all these shoppers breaking red. There’s no discipline these days, amirite?!” This refers to walking outside the designated personnel areas (marked in red) on the flight line or not using the designated entry and exit control areas. Perfect for the situation, huh? Talk about a missed opportunity.

The penalty for breaking red, by the way, is having your face pressed to the ground with a boot on your back and an M-16 aimed at your neck.

I think the best solution is to just let Tara keep doing the shopping…