I Don’t Give a Damn for the Same Old Played Out Scenes

I’m sitting in our apartment on a rainy, cool Saturday afternoon in Rapid City, listening to records and enjoying a Fernson tart ale. Our friend Heidi commented that it’s funny we had to move to South Dakota in order to experience rain. No kidding! It’s been a very wet month here, with over 6.00″ of rain in June, about triple the monthly average. Hell, that’s an impressive total even by Portland standards in the middle of winter. No wonder it’s so ridiculously green!

The cool weather is a relief after a couple of hot days, though. We were also working our asses off, which didn’t help matters. After four nonstop days of physical activity, we were more than ready for a break, so we declared Friday a day to play.

Our first stop was Harriet & Oak, the coffee shop in downtown Rapid City that we first visited on our trip last October. We grabbed a table and ordered delicious coffee drinks and breakfast burritos. I am planning to spend a lot of time at Harriet & Oak, starting on Monday; they’ve got wi-fi and a nice little upstairs lounge with comfy couches and cozy tables, so I intend to take advantage and work from there at least once a week, as I do not yet have a desk or home office set up. It’ll be the perfect distraction-free “office” space for me!

Stop #2 was Prairie Berry Winery, about a 30-minute drive away in Hill City. We fell in love with their South Dakota fruit wines in October and have been ordering their wine by the case and having it shipped to us for the past eight months. It’s great to be able to go straight to the source now and buy whatever we want without worrying about paying for shipping. We even signed up for their wine club! We get four bottles hand selected by the vintner every quarter, and in return, a 20 percent discount on all purchases and access to members-only events. My parents will be proud! I feel like such an adult now.

We were most excited to visit the Badlands, and that was our next stop. Tara had never been and while I have gone too many times to count, it’s just about my favorite place on earth. Originally we were planning on staying until sunset so we didn’t head out until noon. It’s about an hour’s drive east down Interstate 90, thanks in large part to the 80-mph speed limit. We decided to stop in at the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site first; this didn’t exist when I lived here last because, well, we were actually at the height of the Cold War, and some 1,000 nuclear warheads were hidden in underground silos beneath the Great Plains. We really enjoyed the visitor’s center and learned that they offer tours of an actual silo, but you have to make reservations in advance. Next time for sure!

The next four hours were spent exploring the Badlands. Words cannot describe the beauty and splendor of this majestic place, but pictures always help!

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It’s safe to say that Tara was impressed! (And don’t worry, Tracy – she wasn’t as close to the edge as it appears in this last photo.)

Despite the heat – it was about 85 degrees in the park – we did a lot of walking and hiking amongst the dramatic castle-like rock formations jutting up out of the prairie. Instead of hanging around until sunset as planned, we decided to head back around 5:00, because it had been a long enough day and the weather back home was turning ominous. But not to worry; I shelled out $40 for an annual pass, and have no doubt there will be many more trips to the Badlands in our future.

As we merged onto the freeway, the sky to the west was looking very ominous. We got a weather bulletin that there had been three tornados spotted in the Black Hills and there were reports of softball-sized hail, so we drove on with a mixture of trepidation and, I’ll admit, excitement. I have long been a weather geek and wannabe storm chaser, so I was both apprehensive and thrilled about the approaching storm.

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A few minutes into our drive we pulled over to the side of the road to take a few pics, stepped out of the vehicle…

…and HOLY SHIT. Those prairie winds were blowing so hard (we learned later they were gusting to 70 mph), they tore my baseball cap off and nearly knocked me off my feet. I went chasing after my hat and, luckily, was able to retrieve it before it blew all the way to Nebraska. We wisely decided at that point it was best just to get back into the car and drive home.

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The sky continued to darken, and streaks of lightning split the horizon.

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A few minutes later, the storm was upon us, and it was as though hell unleashed all its fury. Heavy rain started falling and, worse, quarter-size hail began pelting the Mazda. It sounded so loud I was certain it would punch a hole through the windshield at any moment, so we tried to take cover beneath an overpass but found half a dozen other cars already parked there. Fortunately the hail did not last long and we were able to continue on our way. There was rain and lightning the rest of the way to Rapid City, but that was nothing compared to what we had just been through.

The front page of this morning’s Rapid City Journal is devoted to the storm, and shows the damage these severe thunderstorms caused a few vehicles. One couple’s windshield was smashed in, so my fears were not completely unfounded! Man alive, if there was any lingering doubt that the weather here is more dramatic than in the Pacific Northwest, it’s all been erased after yesterday’s storm.

Today, by contrast, was much more relaxing. We hit some garage sales and ran a few errands. Picked up a cheap TV stand and a nice solid wood end table, and made a quick grocery store run to stock up on these fantastic Wisconsin cheese curds we discovered the other day. Tara was worried we wouldn’t be able to find Tillamook cheese in South Dakota, but I figured here in the heartland we’d have access to even better cheese. Sure enough, this stuff is the creamiest, tangiest cheese we’ve ever had. Our Safeway actually does carry Tillamook, but screw that. This stuff is so much better.

We’ve been here almost a week now and are settling in nicely. Rapid City is such a charming and friendly community, I think it’s safe to say we are enamored. Neither of us has any regrets about this move. As physically and mentally demanding as it has been, it was worth the hassle. It feels like we’ve arrived home.

And maybe in a few more days we’ll actually have everything in boxes put away.

 

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Forced Creativity

I apologize for not updating sooner. I’d planned to, but there was a snafu with the cable company – totally my fault, as I scheduled the appointment for Pacific time instead of Mountain time – so when they showed up to install our cable/internet, Tara and I were actually kicking back at Buffalo Wild Wings enjoying a nice lunch and beverages. Oops. Not that I would have had time to sit down and bang out a blog post, though…

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Moving: it’s not for the faint of heart.

We’ve now spent three full days unpacking, and approximately 80 percent of that stuff has been put away – either in cupboards, drawers, or our storage unit. The apartment is pretty nice, but definitely lacks storage space. We didn’t realize until moving in that we don’t even have a kitchen pantry; this has forced us to both downscale, boxing up much of our stuff that we figure we can live without for a while, and get creative with storing other items. Our wine and liquor collection, for instance, resides on the bottom shelf of our bookcase, and we have canned goods in an old DVD cabinet. You do what you must. Plus, this is temporary; we’re only here for 13 months, and then we should be ready to buy a house. It’s a small sacrifice to make.

Here are some photos of the apartment.

We have already developed a nice routine of sitting out on the patio in the morning, drinking coffee. It faces west, so it’s very pleasant early. The afternoon is another story, but our A/C is very efficient! And we’ve had some clouds to take the edge off from time to time.

Yesterday, I made a purchase that got me really excited: a brand new barbecue grill. grillYou might recall that our apartment complex in Vancouver did not allow grills, so we haven’t been able to grill out for four long years. Considering we cooked out on average once or twice a week prior to that, it felt like an eternity. So I broke down and bought this nice drum-style grill. It’s charcoal, even – something else I wanted to try my hand at. We wasted no time either, grilling up ribeye steaks and corn on the cob last night. It took a little while to figure out the intricacies of getting the coals just right, but after a bit of trial and error we figured it out and ended up enjoying a delicious meal on the patio, complete with wine and beer. Sitting there as the sun dipped low and a few lazy clouds drifted by, I felt utterly at peace for the first time in weeks. The whole moving process sapped all our strength, and taxed us both physically and mentally. It was good to finally be able to relax.

I know it’s only been a few days, but so far we are both quite enamored of Rapid City. We are finding this community very charming and friendly. Seriously; everybody is so damn nice here! Must be that Midwestern hospitality. And it’s the perfect size and speed for our pace of life. No regrets whatsoever.

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It’s been a very wet spring around here, and Rapid City is looking quite green.

Today was hot – not gonna lie. Well into the 90s, and humid. Fortunately, the day we were making multiple trips back and forth to the U-Haul was overcast and pleasant. Thank you, weather gods, for that. Every day convective cumulus clouds have been building up over the Black Hills and there have been occasional thunderstorms in parts of the region, but I am still waiting to experience one myself. My inner weather geek absolutely cannot wait. This weekend looks promising.

After being on the go nonstop for over a week and with cooler weather on tap, we have decided to take a break tomorrow and drive out to the Badlands, which Tara has never seen. We plan to hang around until sunset, weather permitting. I’m going to pick up an annual pass while we’re there, because there will be plenty of visits in our future.

I’ll update again this weekend.

 

1,250 Miles in the Slow Lane – Pt. 3: Rapid City, SD

Honey…I’m home!

Funny concept, home. Most people have a hometown, or at the very least a place they associate with growing up. Being an Air Force brat, I never had that. Home truly was wherever I hung my hat. Honolulu was home three different times. Dayton was home. Vancouver, WA was home for what I assumed would be forever, until it lost its luster. Rapid City was home once, and now it’s home again. It’s very interesting, this nomadic type of existence. But I’ll tell you what: it makes a big, bold move at a time in your life when most people have long since settled down a whole lot easier to pull off. I’ve had a lot of people comment on how brave I am to do this, and tell me how envious they are. My go-to reply is hey, nothing’s stopping you from doing it, too!, but I guess if you haven’t grown up like I have (and Tara, too) that’s a lot easier said than done.

So, after three days, countless hours behind the wheel, and 1,250 miles – the majority of that devoted to the freakin’ big-ass state of Montana – we finally arrived in Rapid City at 4:00 this afternoon. Today’s leg was not without adventure. We were in no hurry to leave Billings, choosing instead to take advantage of the free continental breakfast at the Super 8 and catch the local news. They were talking about the U.S. Farm Report. The PNW already feels like a distant memory!

I took a stroll around the building before we hit the road, and noticed a bunch of squirrels scurrying through the grass beside the motel. Only upon closer inspection, it turns out they weren’t squirrels – they were prairie dogs!

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Not a squirrel.

We weren’t anticipating a very long drive today and figured it would go smoothly, but that’s the problem with road trips: they never quite go as planned. Our first mishap? Two minutes outside of Billings, Tara misread the signs and somehow turned onto I-94 instead of I-90. Suddenly, she was headed for Bismarck, ND while I was going in the opposite direction. I grabbed my walkie talkie to warn her – “wrong Dakota, babe!” – but by then it was too late. She ended up going five miles down the wrong interstate before she could find an exit and turn around, while I pulled over to the side of the road in the middle of nowhere, Montana. That little mistake cost us a solid twenty minutes.

Mishap #2: remember how wonderful Sydney has been this whole trip? Well. Not so much today. For some reason she was not happy being in her carrier, and immediately let me know that. Here’s the deal: I was feeling so confident in her behavior, I didn’t bother applying the Feliway cat pheromone stuff. I guess that really was doing the trick, because without it she was pretty stressed. I finally pulled over at a rest stop and applied some, but it took a little while to kick in and she still wasn’t happy. About 45 minutes into our drive down Highway 212, a two-lane road through the middle of Native American reservation lands, she started clawing at the zipper on her carrier. At one point I glanced in the rearview mirror and was shocked to see her perched on the back seat behind – not INSIDE – her carrier, looking like she owned the place. Then she jumped into the front seat and was trying to get to the floor near the gas pedal, and I knew I had to pull over. So I flashed my lights at Tara, but she didn’t see me and kept on chugging along while I found a place to pull off the freeway. I grabbed Sydney, admonished her for being a brat, and secured her in her carrier. Meanwhile, Tara realized I was no longer behind her and tried calling me, but that went to voicemail because we were in a dead zone. It was a pretty stressful ten minutes, but we eventually found each other again. Sydney settled down shortly after and was fine the rest of the way. Poor thing; she was definitely “over” being cooped up in a vehicle by that point. We all were!

As we drew closer to the South Dakota border, the skies darkened and began looking pretty ominous. This is what I love about the Great Plains!

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Look at that ominous sky!

We crossed the state line around 3:00, and pulled over next to the sign to take pics. A few miles later, the skies opened up and it began pouring rain. That continued on and off for the rest of the way through the Black Hills. Man alive, they were gorgeous, though! Just like in Montana, everything here is really green and lush.

An hour later we reached Rapid City. As we crested that final hill on I-90 and the view opened up to the small city and the vast prairie beyond, I had goosebumps on my arms. It really did feel like a homecoming.

We got checked into our room and immediately headed over to Chili’s. When we visited in October, Tara let out a little shriek of delight when she saw the Chili’s sign. I know they’re a chain restaurant and we generally abhor those, but there are no Chili’s in the Portland area and we’ve both always liked their food, so we were eager to grab dinner there. And a couple of Presidente margaritas. After such a long trip, we’d earned the splurge.

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After dinner we drove over to our new apartment complex to check it out in person. It’s in a very nice neighborhood and, while the apartment itself looks small from the outside, the wilderness park across the street is awesome. It’s quiet and peaceful, with lots of lush vegetation and a gentle babbling brook. There are hiking trails crisscrossing the hill that towers over the park, and it looks like a fairly easy scramble to the top. I bet the views up there are killer. Tomorrow I shall find out.

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Wilderness Park across the street from our new apartment.

Or maybe Tuesday, because tomorrow’s going to be super busy. We have to sign the lease, pick up the keys to our storage unit, and unload the U-Haul. We’re going to spend the night in the motel because the apartment is sure to be a wreck tomorrow. We’ll deal with putting everything away and unpacking the following day.

Thanks for following along on this journey! I’ll be back in a couple of days to keep you updated on our progress.

1,250 Miles in the Slow Lane – Pt. 2: Billings, MT

I am writing from the air-conditioned comfort of a Super 8 in Billings, Montana. It’s roughly 1,000,000x better than the crappy Rodeway Inn we stayed at in Spokane last night. Funny story about this place: when I arrived in town exactly seven years ago, I walked into the Day’s Inn to make a reservation and when they quoted me a price, I told them there was no way in hell I wanted to pay that, so I walked across the street to this very Super 8. And they quoted me an even higher price, as did two other places I tried. So I ended up crawling back to the Day’s Inn with my tail tucked between my legs, humbled by the whole experience.

At least it makes for a humorous story.

Today was very long. We covered 540 miles over the course of 11 hours, including gas and rest stops. The first 75% of the drive was cold and rainy; it wasn’t until we hit Livingston that the clouds broke up a little and the sun shone through. This whole area has had an extremely wet spring – Rapid City included – and so everything is lush and green. It’s quite beautiful.

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We are both operating on very little sleep the past couple of nights and sore muscles from packing and loading the truck, so the drive these past two days has been rough. But we only have 316 miles to cover tomorrow, which should translate to about 6-7 hours max, so we don’t have to rush out the door in the morning. Hopefully we can sleep in a little.

One disappointment: the Pickle Barrel, the local sandwich shop we discovered on our road trip last October and had had our hearts set on for dinner, closed five minutes before we arrived. Total bummer. We ordered Chinese food instead; at least they’ll deliver that directly to our room. I can’t imagine sliding behind the wheel again after such a long day, at least not without a gun pointed at my head. Even then I might just tell ’em to go ahead and shoot me.

The walkie-talkies, by the way, have come in handy. We’ve used them frequently and they are working out great! No issues whatsoever. I’d share our “handles” but they’re too risque, knowing my mom is reading this.

Once again, Sydney handled the trip without any problems. The vet gave us a small supply of pheromone-scented wipes and instructed us to rub down the inside of her carrier; they’re supposed to calm cats down during long trips. I’m not sure if that’s what is doing the trick, but she is certainly behaving far better than any previous car trips we’ve taken her on.

Oh, one observation about all this driving in the slow lane: I actually like it. Call me crazy, but it’s a lot less stressful sticking to a steady 60 mph in the slow lane. You don’t have to worry about passing slow cars, moving over for fast ones, and there’s no dealing with annoying semi trucks. Also, no chance whatsoever of getting a speeding ticket. True, it takes you a little longer to reach your destination, but I almost think the lack of stress makes up for that.

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One other thing to point out, since I’ve had more than one comment about this on Facebook: yes, Tara is driving the U-Haul. I’m surprised that surprises anybody! She is, after all, a mini stock car track champion (2007) and has long driven big trucks, while I’ve got a Mazda 3. She wanted to drive the truck, and trust me, we are all better off for that. She knows how to handle it much better than I ever could.

So, here we are: heading for the home stretch tomorrow. We should reach Rapid City by mid-afternoon. I am so excited!

1,250 Miles in the Slow Lane – Pt. 1: Spokane, WA

Greetings from Spokane, WA! It’s official: the Biggest Adventure of My Life® has commenced.

We were up bright and early this morning, out the door of my parents’ house at 6 a.m. We would have loved to linger, but there was still lots of work to be done – loading the vehicles, cleaning the apartment, and getting rid of more junk in the garage. We took a break at 9:00 and met Audrey for breakfast at Linda’s Homeplate, then I had to run to Comcast (always a joy) to return our cable equipment and deactivate our account. Once that business was taken care of, it was back to the apartment, where the three of us – Audrey included – were scrambling like crazy to get everything done before our final walk-through. That was originally scheduled for 11:00, but I managed to push it back to noon. We were still hauling things out of there four minutes before 12:00. It’s certainly been a stressful few days!

After that we had to pick up the U-Haul from my parents’ house, say goodbye to them and Audrey (ouch…yeah, there were a few tears shed), and then drive to the U-Haul rental center to hook up the trailer and load my car.

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There was a brief stop at McDonald’s for a bite to eat, and then we finally, finally hit the road. And promptly ran into bumper-to-bumper traffic once we crossed the bridge into Portland. And again a little while later in the Columbia Gorge; we actually came to a dead stop and sat there, not moving, for ten minutes. I have no idea why; there weren’t any accidents or road construction taking place. Suffice it to say, those delays cost us quite a bit of time, so we got into Spokane a couple of hours later than anticipated and had to scrap our plans to visit the cider tasting room Tara wanted to check out. Which explains why I am blogging at 11:40 after a very long day as we await a pizza delivery.

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But our trip is underway now, and the excitement is building. Tomorrow’s going to be a solid 10 hours, at least, as we drive through Idaho and Montana. Destination: Billings.

By the way, Sydney did remarkably well in the car. She didn’t let out a single peep the whole time, which makes me wonder if somebody swapped her for a lookalike when my back was turned.

Anyway. It’s late, and I should wrap this up. Long day ahead tomorrow. Mountain time zone, baby!

Desperation Purge

It’s been a crazy, emotional, and tiring past couple of days. And we haven’t even left yet. They do say moving is one of the most stressful events in life, and they were not kidding. It’s brutal, guys.

Yesterday was my last day at work. I’ve been with the company for five and a half years and love my job, so leaving it willingly is bittersweet. I’ll still be working for them, but on a contract basis, so I’m no longer an official employee. This has led to a few panicky moments over the past few weeks, but Tara has been supportive, reminding me that we are doing this in order to have a better, happier life. I have no doubt things will work out for us in the long run. At least I have the comfort of a guaranteed income that will help ease our transition to a brand new life in the Midwest.

They threw me a farewell party yesterday, and because my boss knows me well, he planned a Bloody Mary bar. One of the owners of the company gave a very heartfelt speech about how much my contributions have been appreciated, and really, it was perfect. I had an opportunity to say goodbye to the coworkers I have known for so many years, many of whom I consider friends now. I swear, I miss them already.

Leaving would be so much easier if you never had to say goodbye.

We picked up the U-Haul after work, and started loading it early this morning. Tara hired two helpers for two hours, and that proved to be a godsend; they hauled most of our stuff down three flights of stairs and loaded it into the truck for us. Smartest $140 we’ve ever spent! Unfortunately, we had a garage full of stuff to load ourselves, and we quickly discovered we didn’t have enough room in the U-Haul. I knew we should have gone for the 26′ truck! This led to a desperation purge in which we were forced to part ways with a lot of things we’d been holding onto forever. Thankfully the dumpster next to our garage was empty, because I ended up filling that sucker to overflowing. And we’ll still have to make a run to the dump tomorrow before we leave, most likely.

By mid-afternoon things were feeling hopeless; the garage was still pretty full and we were rapidly running out of room in the U-Haul. “This is impossible,” I said to Tara, and it certainly felt that way at the time. I reached a low point then, feeling more dejected than ever, and wished that we’d been able to afford the $7,000 the professional movers had quoted us. Things would have been so much easier that way. Tara felt it too, and actually suggested we delay our move by a day, rent a trailer and hitch for her pickup, and load the extra items in there. I was not down for that at all – we have a schedule to keep, after all; there are motel reservations and appointments next week – so I dug deeply, searching for whatever inner reserves of strength I could find, and somehow we powered through. Determined to make everything fit come hell or high water, I channeled my inner Taurus and, through a combination of sweat, perseverance, and stubbornness, we did it! Finally finished loading the truck shortly after 5:00. Whew! It felt like we were playing a real-life game of Tetris for eight hours.

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Like playing Tetris. We filled every square inch of this truck!

I am currently parked on a comfy chair in my parents’ living room. We are staying here overnight, and then tomorrow morning we’ve got cleaning to do, breakfast with Audrey, our final walk-through in the apartment, and then we have a couple of errands to run. We have to return our cable equipment, pick up the trailer for the U-Haul, and hook up the Mazda.

And then we get to drive seven hours to Spokane. With a cat who is 100% back to normal. Don’t get me wrong – I’m thrilled that Sydney is her old self again – but now I have to worry about her freaking out in the backseat.

Hey, in case you haven’t heard: moving is hard AF. And next Monday we get to do this all over again, only in reverse. Ugh. We’d better be happy in Rapid City, because I don’t want to move again anytime soon. Like, ever.

Because I want to chronicle every moment of this journey, I plan to blog from the road. So I’ll check in tomorrow from Spokane.

This is it! The culmination of a solid year’s worth of planning. We are both ready to go!!

Countdown: 1 Day!

10 Things I Love About You

I woke up Sunday morning and asked Tara, “Hey, wanna move to South Dakota this week?”

Fortunately, she was down.

So: here we are. Moving week. Four more days! It still feels surreal, even though Tara’s last day at work was Friday and mine is Wednesday. This is the final push! She’ll be busy packing and cleaning this week while I somehow try to keep my focus on work. I expect only limited amounts of success there. Sorry, boss. There’s a great adventure awaiting us and I don’t know how I’ll be able to not think about it. But I’ll try.

We pick up the U-Haul on Wednesday after work. Thursday we’ll load it, and Friday we hit the road. It’ll probably be around noon. BTW, Sydney is back to her normal self (whew!) so we’ll have a cat to entertain for 1,250 miles. But after last week’s scare, that’s a good problem to have.

I will, of course, blog from the road. I want to chronicle every moment of this move. It’s not often you do something like this in your life; I’ve often wished the internet existed in 1994 when I left California for the PNW. It would be fun to read about that journey now and look back on everything I was feeling. Memories can be fickle.


We took a whirlwind trip to Tacoma Friday night/Saturday for one last visit with Tara’s family before we move. She and her mom wanted to get matching tattoos, so while they were getting inked up my friend/coworker Candace, a Tacoma native who happened to be in town, showed me around her old stomping grounds. The attraction I wanted to see most was Stadium High School, which famously served as the backdrop for Heath Ledger, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Julia Stiles, and Larisa Oleynik’s high school characters in the 1999 comedy 10 Things I Hate About You. It’s a great movie, one of my favorites, and both the school and its setting on Point Ruston in the southern Puget Sound are gorgeous. I have no idea how the students there focus on schoolwork.

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My high schools looked nothing like this.

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You’re just too good to be true/can’t take my eyes off of you…

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We got home late Saturday night after visiting with Tracy, David, Anne, and Anthony. Sunday was a full day; we drove down to the Columbia River and walked to Shanahan’s for brunch. Detoured through the farmer’s market on the way back, then drove to IKEA, where we bought a couple of bookshelves to hold our burgeoning record collection. It might seem silly to buy furniture right before a big move, but the closest IKEA will be six hours away in Denver, so it made sense to purchase them now. Did a little packing when we got home, then headed to my parents’ house for a Father’s Day Hawaiian dinner with my folks, aunt and uncle, cousin, and Audrey. On the way over we saw ominous looking clouds the color of granite piling up to the east, and even though the forecast called for sunshine, a line of thunderstorms rolled through and for two hours we were treated to lightning, thunder, heavy downpours, and gusty winds. It was quite the storm. This type of weather is pretty rare in the PNW, but served as a great primer for the crazy Great Plains storms we are sure to encounter on a regular basis.

With approximately 100 hours to go before we drive away, I wanted to play off the theme of this post a little and look at a few positives. Yes, I am super excited for our move, and looking forward to a brand new life in the Midwest. But that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate many things about this remarkable area I have been fortunate to call home for so many years. So without further ado, here are 10 Things I Love About You, PNW.

  1. Beautiful scenery. Between the evergreen trees, snow-capped mountain peaks, and cascading waterfalls, this place is like a little slice of heaven on earth, gorgeous year-round.
  2. The Pacific Ocean. The coast is often my salvation, and I’ve gotten spoiled knowing the ocean is a mere 90 minutes away.
  3. Great food. Between the delicious fresh seafood, the most amazing berries on the planet, and the wide variety of great restaurants – not to mention the food carts – it’s amazing I don’t weigh 400 lbs.
  4. Progressive politics. Yeah, I’m a bleeding heart liberal. Yeah, I know South Dakota is a red state. Somehow we’ll find a compromise, I am sure.
  5. A mild climate. I prefer more dramatic weather and am looking forward to lots of snow and thunderstorms, but there’s something to be said for the fact that it’s rarely too hot or too cold here. Sure, it rains a lot, but it’s usually more of a steady, light mist and northwesterners never let that get in the way of having fun.
  6. An excellent music scene. If you enjoy concerts, you will never run out of options here. No wonder we’ve seen so many shows, ranging from intimate performances in small venues like the Doug Fir Lounge to outdoor shows on grassy amphitheater lawns and national headlining tours in 19,000-seat arenas.
  7. Hiking and camping. We’re big fans of the Great Outdoors, and the sheer number of hiking trails and campgrounds is mind-boggling. Thankfully we are moving to a place where these things are also abundant.
  8. Farmer’s markets. I don’t want to lump this in with “food” because the markets – some of them, like PSU, open year-round – carry so much more than fresh produce. The farm-to-table movement is huge out here, and when that produce is in season, there’s nothing better than filling your bag with fresh fruit and veggies.
  9. Portland. It may have lost its luster over the last few years, but Portland is still a great city with a lot to offer. I will miss so much about PDX: Powell’s Books, Voodoo Doughnut, Music Millennium, the Saturday Market, and the best airport in the U.S.
  10. Seattle. The Emerald City has long been a favorite weekend getaway. Touristy or not, Pike Place Market alone is worth the trip. Let’s not forget Beecher’s Cheese, the Mystery Coke Machine, and the view from Kerry Park.

I didn’t put “family” because they would top the list regardless of where they lived. Places don’t define people; people define places.

Fortunately, because they do live here, we’ll have many visits to look forward to in the future.

Countdown: 4 Days

 

 

The Moment When Everything Changed

One year ago, at this exact moment – June 16, 2017, 8:07 a.m. – everything changed. My entire future was altered with the push of a button. At the moment, I never imagined such far-reaching consequences would result from sending a simple email. Here it is, in its entirety:

“You know, if you wanted to expand our search area, there’s always this beauty. And lots others like it!”

And the beauty in question…

RC House

This was the Friday morning after what had turned into a frustrating week full of highs and lows. We’d finally gotten serious about buying a house, and were pre-approved for a loan. So we started shopping around, and found the perfect home just a couple of miles from where we currently live, in Vancouver, Washington. Experienced a bit of sticker shock over the asking price, but the housing market is red hot here and we figured we could probably make it work. We might have to contend with eating nothing but ramen for a few years, but that seemed like a high sodium sacrifice we’d be willing to make. So we drove over to take a look at it, and the first thing we saw was several other carloads of people who had the same idea. The house wasn’t even officially listed yet.

“Uh-oh,” Tara said.

Prescient words, because a bidding war ensued – something that is all too common in the Portland area these days. We never even bothered throwing our hat in the ring, because the listing price was already more than we were comfortable spending. The loan amount we were pre-approved for would require a hefty down payment in order for us to afford anything decent around here and would leave us so strapped with mortgage payments, there’d be no discretionary income left over, so our initial giddiness quickly gave way to despair.

So one year ago, I turned the tables on Tara and her Zillow addiction, and sent her the above listing. I can’t stress enough that this was just for fun. I’d long had a secret love affair with Rapid City, but figured ours would be an unrequited romance. Even in my wildest dreams, I never imagined Tara would be the least bit interested in moving to the Midwest. Desperate and frustrated, I typed “Rapid City” into the Zillow search bar, just to torture myself, I suppose? And was blown away by the cheap housing there.

Shockingly, so was Tara. It still seemed like “a pretty farfetched idea” when I blogged about it two days later, and would remain an unlikely dream for about six weeks, when I finally began to believe it might actually happen. But that one email opened a dialogue and unleashed a chain of events that have led us here: in a mere six days, we are leaving the PNW for a new life in Rapid City.

The house that started this all, by the way? It never did sell. The listing was removed two months later. Who knows why these things happen, but they do. How funny would it be if it hit the market again…and we ended up buying it? The odds are ridiculously long, of course. Everything would have to fall into place perfectly.

But that’s exactly what we said about moving to Rapid City in the first place.

Countdown: 6 Days

Mystery Solved

Remember the mystery animal cracker that appeared out of nowhere on my parents’ front porch, leaving me and Tara befuddled and a little bit creeped out? We have an explanation, and sadly it involves neither ghosts nor aliens. My brother had texted me and said, “Hey, I think dad eats animal crackers all the time! Check with him.” So I did, and he does. Much to my chagrin. It didn’t take much sleuthing to figure out that he’d been eating them in his recliner, dropped one that fell between the cushions, and when we dragged the chair to the curb that afternoon because a stranger was on his way to pick it up, the cracker must have dislodged itself and fallen onto the welcome mat, which perfectly explains why it had not been there before. As proud as I am of our Sherlock Holmes deductive reasoning, I’m bummed that we debunked any possible paranormal activity. I always want the world to be weirder than it is.

Oh, well. The incident inspired me to write about synchronicity, a pretty interesting (and illogical) topic in its own right, so all was not for naught.

Speaking of synchronicity, I’m kind of amazed at the way dates are lining up for me. Not dates with other women – Tara might not approve – but rather, calendar dates. Our move is coinciding remarkably well with my 2011 road trip, and it’s completely unintentional. Consider the following:

  • I set out on the afternoon of June 22 and spent the first night in Spokane. We are setting out on the afternoon of June 22 and spending the first night in Spokane.
  • I drove from Spokane to Billings, MT on June 23 and spent the night there. We are driving from Spokane to Billings, MT on June 23 and spending the night there.
  • I arrived in Rapid City early in the afternoon on June 24 and checked into the Super 8 on Rushmore Road. We arrive in Rapid City early in the afternoon on June 24 and are checking into the Super 8 on Rushmore Road.

There were crazy thunderstorms a few hours after I arrived, so if this pattern continues, I guess we can expect to be greeted by some interesting weather. We shall see.


Still no change with Sydney: she just absolutely refuses to eat or drink. We are basically forcing her to swallow water through a syringe. Trust me, this is not nearly as fun as it sounds.

And yes, I know. It doesn’t sound fun at all.

The vet is still convinced it’s all stress related to the move. We told her we cannot afford to run any more tests, and she says doing so would be useless anyway, because they have all come back normal.

She still curls up on our laps, and purrs when we pet her. Other than giving us the stink eye after trying to force feed her – and the fact that she refuses all food and water in the first place – she seems okay.

So, we just don’t know. The vet is going to check in with us again on Friday.


When we decided to move to South Dakota and I began researching hiking opportunities, I was excited (and relieved) to learn there are no bears in the Black Hills. I have long been afraid of encountering a bear while hiking through the forests of the PNW, so I figured this was one less thing to worry about.

And then, a couple of days ago, some poor sap was golfing in Spearfish, SD, when he was bit by a rattlesnake and died.

Umm, what?!

prairie-rattlesnake-adult

Great. A new source of nightmares.

Turns out the prairie rattlesnake is common throughout South Dakota, including the Black Hills. Hmm…that was news to this former resident. Hikers are urged to exercise caution when out and about, especially this time of year.

I guess I’m trading in one phobia for another.

Countdown: 9 Days

Pomp & Circumstances

Things never really go as planned, do they?

We’d scheduled a farewell event at our favorite local pub on Sunday. It was to be a casual, low-key affair, an opportunity for friends to drop by at their convenience and see us before we leave. Despite months of planning, it never happened; instead, we spent a good part of the day at an emergency veterinarian clinic. Which, trust me, was about a thousand times less fun than hanging out at Shanahan’s and eating fried pickles would have been.

The issue? Sydney had been vomiting for a few days. Add in a lack of appetite, lethargy, and anti-social behavior (normal in most cats but not her), and we knew something was wrong. So we took her in and after waiting many hours, they were able to see her and run some tests. Which came back inconclusive; her vitals were normal and there wasn’t anything obviously wrong. They suggested admitting her to the hospital and running an ultrasound, or giving us some anti-nausea meds and hoping for improvement in 24-48 hours. We chose Option B because yesterday alone set us back $800 – money that we were counting on for our move. I don’t know that we can swing anything more. Which makes the whole thing a bit stressful, with our move happening at the end of next week. Poor Sydney. It’s breaking our hearts to see her this way. And she just got a clean bill of health less than two weeks ago, so the whole thing really came out of the blue.

By the time we finally got home it was late in the afternoon, so we just hung around the apartment with Tara’s friend Betsy, who is visiting from Las Vegas. We listened to records and I made a pot of Italian wedding soup, the perfect antidote for a surprisingly cold and wet June weekend. After two extremely dry and warm months, it just figures that the one weekend we had a lot going on, the weather gods refused to cooperate. Looking ahead to late next week, they are predicting very hot weather the day we load the U-Haul, so that’s going to be fun.

At least Saturday worked out a little better. Audrey’s graduation went off without a hitch, crazy weather notwithstanding. There were torrential downpours during the ceremony, and even a little hail and thunder. But that didn’t stop her from beaming with pride when she accepted her diploma.

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Because Audrey was senior class treasurer, her name was the fourth one called. This was great – no waiting through an endless parade of names to reach hers (letter P). To be honest, we left right afterwards. But the place was so crowded we were in the very back at the top of the bleachers, standing. Fortunately, it was covered by a roof, but still. Why stick around after seeing what we came for? Instead, we went to Gustav’s and enjoyed a cocktail and some fondue. My parents, Audrey and her girlfriend, and Rusty joined us for dinner and a photo session afterwards. I think Tara did a great job, especially this one!

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And just like that, I have no kids in school anymore.

Back in 2006, when I got divorced, I knew I’d be bound to Vancouver, Washington, for the next 12 years, unable to move because of our shared custody arrangement. At the time I imagined that move would entail crossing the river to Portland, not uprooting my life for the Midwest. Ahh, life. It’s like I wrote in my opening paragraph.

In any case, it’s very hard to believe a dozen years have passed. And with that passage of time, I am now a father to two grown adults. I don’t know how to feel about that. There are moments of nostalgia, of course. Occasional despair over the idea of growing older. But also excitement. The future has never felt so wide open.

Countdown: 11 Days