Adios, 2018

The year is ending with a little excitement here in Rapid City. If you consider a blizzard exciting.

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Never a dull moment around here, folks. Tara has to work today, but the bank is opening two hours late due to the weather. I don’t have to be anywhere (my first day on the new job is Wednesday) and I certainly don’t intend to venture out – not when the temperature is going to drop to zero by mid-afternoon. Fortunately, we were planning a low-key New Year’s Eve celebration at home, anyway. Picking up Chinese food (as is our tradition), listening to music, and maybe playing a little Nintendo.

I can’t help but reflect on all the changes 2018 brought to our lives. It has been a year like few others. 1994 sort of compares, when I left the Bay Area for the Pacific Northwest, but back then I kept my job and my time zone, and the distance wasn’t as great. When the clock struck midnight one year ago, Tara and I looked at one another, a mixture of excitement and fear in our eyes. All the work ahead of us seemed overwhelming back then – packing up our worldly possessions, quitting jobs, bidding family and friends goodbye, and moving 1,250 miles away. There were moments where we wondered how we’d ever get it all done. And yet here we are, South Dakota residents for six months now, and it all feels natural. Yes, it was a lot of work, but we came through unscathed and it feels like we are both reaping the benefits of a simpler life in a small(ish) Midwest town already, just as we’d hoped. I am excited to see what 2019 brings!


Seems a little anticlimactic to talk about Christmas now that our tree and decorations are all packed up and back in storage. We had a great holiday, even though we missed our loved ones; we made an apricot-glazed spiral-sliced ham in the new pressure cooker Tara got me and went for a cold hike along the Skyline Trail, where it started snowing lightly. We were hoping for a white Christmas but missed out by just a few hours; the following morning we awoke to 2″ on the ground and some pretty slick roads that made me wish once more for 4WD. My new employer’s Christmas party was that evening, and it was a pretty fun little gathering; Tara got to meet my new boss and coworkers, there was free beer, catered food from Qdoba, and a white elephant gift exchange in which I actually ended up with a decent present for once – a mini desktop fridge that will keep a few cans cold. Perfect for my new office! PSI’s party was quite a bit tamer than the wild Fuel parties with casino games and live music, but nobody threw up in the bar this time so perhaps these low-key affairs are better, after all.

On Saturday, we drove out to the Badlands to admire them with a fresh coat of snow. All I can say is, wow.

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It’s hard to say what the highlight was. I’m torn between these bighorn sheep…

And this spectacular sunset.

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Stay safe tonight! Hope you all have a very happy 2019. Let’s go make some great memories, okay?

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Gift Horse(s)

My muscles are aching like crazy today. Wish I could say it’s the result of some super manly act like chopping wood or changing the spark plugs on my car rebuilding the engine on my car, but no such luck. It’s an ice-skating injury.

To be fair, I had never before taken to the ice (whiskey on the rocks notwithstanding). But the skating rink on Main Street Square was too enticing to pass up, so we tried it out last night. Because I have zero coordination I stuck with one of the walkers they supply for free and have no shame about that.skating

It was a total blast, though! There was a rather steep learning curve just trying to figure out how to push off the ice and get moving, but once I mastered that, I was amazed at how my feet and hips automatically fell into a groove and knew what to do. Lap after lap, I was in the zone; the act of skating became almost mechanical in nature and addictive. As tired and winded as I was – ice-skating is hard work, yo! – I couldn’t bring myself to stop. It was almost therapeutic.

Afterwards, my legs felt like jelly walking down a flight of stairs and I had to grip onto the railing for dear life. I’m paying the price today, but it’s nothing a few Aleve won’t fix. I’ll give myself the day off from walking and should be right as rain tomorrow.

Tara was a little less enthused over the whole experience than me. Says she prefers roller-skating. Having never done that either, I can’t compare the two. But I hope to go again, I know that much.


Last week was most interesting. I am still trying to wrap my head around the events that transpired.

It all started with an interview on Tuesday. I’d applied for a position with a local news affiliate to produce digital content. It sounded like a great opportunity and one I was perfectly qualified for, so when they called me for an interview, I was thrilled. Our initial meeting went so well they asked for references immediately after and contacted them that afternoon. The next day they called me back for a second interview and offered me the job on the spot. Amazing, right?!

I told them I’d think about it.

Before you accuse me of taking leave of my senses, there’s a lot more to the story. I’ve mentioned that I’m doing a few freelance projects for a company I’ll call PSI for the past couple of months. They are the same ones who offered me a F/T position as a Technical Writer back in August after a four-day trial period. I actually turned down the job because it was a super stressful week and I wasn’t sure that proposals and government contracts were my cup of tea. Within two days, I regretted that decision. Felt like I’d looked a gift horse in the mouth. Because I’d been offered a decent-paying writing job in Rapid City. Who doesn’t grab onto an opportunity like that?! Apparently I felt so bad about my decision, I didn’t even mention it on my blog until two months later. I did eventually tell PSI a couple of weeks later I should have accepted their offer, but by then it was long off the table and I spent the rest of the summer kicking myself. So, when PSI offered me a two-month project with Special Olympics of South Dakota, I was pretty excited. It included some marketing work for them, as well. They set up an office and computer for me and asked if I would come in once a week to work from there, so they could get a better idea of my working style. And that is exactly what I have been doing since mid-October.

Honestly, I suspected this might be their way of offering me a second chance, an extended trial period in which I could digest sufficient crow and get back into their good graces. I did say in my October post, If this happens to lead to something permanent, I’ll be thrilled.

Back to Wednesday. When the news affiliate offered me the job on the spot, I asked if I could take a day to think it over. I wanted to give PSI an opportunity to respond, if they were so inclined.

They were so inclined. Said they wanted to bring me on F/T and asked what it would take to keep me. What have you got? I replied. They ended up making me a nice counteroffer and, after a few hours’ deliberation, I accepted. The news gig would have been the sexier of the two, but there were some negatives. Breaking news does not follow an 8 to 5 schedule; I would have been on-call virtually all the time. With a company-issued smartphone and laptop, this is true, but then I’d have to carry around two phones in my pocket all the time, and that would have physically weighed me down. Mentally, too; I didn’t like the idea of being out hiking, or enjoying cocktails somewhere, and having my phone go off with a message saying, You won’t believe the shit Trump just did now! Get this posted stat! Another downside: there are no holidays in the world of broadcast journalism. They are open on Christmas Day. And Memorial Day. The Fourth of July. Hell, they are even open on Arbor Day! And as low man on the totem pole with no vacation time for a year, guess who’d be marching into the newsroom on those days while everybody else was off opening gifts or barbecuing or planting seeds? Yep.

But the story isn’t quite over, because the news guys wanted to know if there was any way they could change my mind with a counteroffer of their own. Said they were very impressed with me and would hate to miss out on what I could bring to the team.

Just…wow, huh?

It’s nice to feel so wanted! Merry Christmas to me.

I’m sticking with PSI, though. It’s the better choice for many reasons. My first day will be January 2nd.

And, I’ll still be able to continue my freelance writing for Fuel. This goes a long way toward helping us meet our goal of buying a house next summer.


We’re looking forward to our first Christmas in South Dakota. Being far away from family means an end to the usual traditions, such as our Russian Christmas Eve at my aunt’s house, so we’re just going to have to come up with our own brand-new traditions. Which is why we’re having ham on Christmas day instead of prime rib.

We were hoping for a white Christmas, but it looks like we’re just barely going to miss out. They’re predicting snow beginning Christmas night around 11:00. Figures! It’ll be nice to see again. After our big storm on December 1st it’s been dry and warm. 20 degrees above average for the past two weeks. Looks like winter is finally ready to return!

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!

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.