I Survived the Polar Vortex (But Didn’t Even Get a Lousy T-Shirt)

Well, that was fun.

My first Polar Vortex was actually a bit underwhelming. Sure, it was cold. But Rapid City never even dropped below zero. We came close: it was 1° Wednesday morning. When I woke up and looked at the thermometer, I was actually disappointed. Hey, if it’s going to get cold, it might as well get really cold, right?!

I am probably a little nuts.

We were on the western fringes of the Polar Vortex. The farther east you went, the worse it was: Sioux Falls dropped to -25, but that was downright toasty compared to places in Minnesota and Wisconsin. It’s safe to say we dodged a bullet here in western South Dakota! That didn’t stop concerned friends and family from checking in on us, which was certainly appreciated. I almost felt like I was letting them down by telling them Rapid City hadn’t even touched zero.

One thing we did not miss out on: frozen bubbles! Tara and I had seen pics of this phenomenon and were determined to create our own. A little Google sleuthing (Googleuthing?) told us that temperatures needed to be “well below freezing” and ideally “in the single digits or below zero F” for bubbles to freeze before they pop. Armed with this knowledge, we bundled up as though preparing for the Iditarod and stepped onto the front porch in the frigid dawn cold yesterday, cameras in hand, fingers exposed and numb, with vials of store-bought and homemade bubble solution. It was worth the near-frostbite, though!

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Things are back to normal today. In fact, our high temperature will be pushing 60° by Friday. And back down to 20° by Monday, but we’re getting used to these wild swings by now. If Polar Vortex II does show up next week, I want to emulate another popular video I’ve seen circulating by throwing boiling water into the air and watching it vaporize into instant snow.

Who says cold weather is no fun?!


I am thinking about a new mode of transportation to compensate for the wintry driving conditions here, but I’m not sure how seriously I’m actually considering it. When the weather is dry and warm, as it’s forecast to be the next few days, it doesn’t seem like a big deal. But when it turns snowy and icy again – and it always turns snowy and icy again – I start to think, yeah…this hatchback ain’t cuttin’ it as my tires struggle for traction and I start fishtailing.

As much as I’d love to buy a Jeep Wrangler, I’d have to sell a kidney in order to afford one and I’d rather hold onto all my major organs, thankyouverymuch. I’m thinking about a Mazda CX3 instead; it’s got AWD, has excellent gas mileage for an SUV, and I could take advantage of all kinds of customer loyalty rewards and trade-in points for my Mazda 3. If I’m going to pull the trigger, now’s the time to do so, when I’m essentially bringing home two paychecks at a time. But…I don’t know. When the weather’s bad, we carpool in Tara’s 4WD pickup. And ironically, the more money I have, the less eager I am to spend it – especially when there are credit cards bills to pay a house to save up for. I  can relate a little now to those cheap bastards you hear about who have worn thrift-store clothing, driven clunky old beaters, and recycled Saran Wrap all their lives, whose relatives have been shocked to discover, when they die, millions of dollars in their bank accounts they have been squirreling away all their lives. Not that I’d ever go to such extremes myself, because hey – you can’t take it with you! Also: I’m a solid $996,000 away from having that problem.

In all likelihood, it’s going to take a dramatic incident to spur me into action, like sliding into a ditch or something.

KNOCK ON WOOD.

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A Spoonful of Sugar

It’s crazy windy today and, because my office is situated directly across from a brick building that is separated by a narrow walkway, that breeze is howling through the eaves. Sounds like a congregation of tortured souls screaming for mercy.

Yikes. Too much Ted Bundy for me.

I’m referring to the Netflix series, Conversations With a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes, that began live-streaming on the 30th anniversary of his execution last week. I have long been fascinated with the notorious serial killer and remember watching the television miniseries about Bundy, The Deliberate Stranger starring Mark Harmon, back in 1986. I think it’s the idea that somebody so intelligent, witty, articulate, and unassuming can commit such depravity. Then again, I also closely followed the Green River Killer case and Gary Ridgway is the complete opposite of Ted Bundy, so maybe it’s just an overall lurid interest in true crime. I am a self-admitted Dateline NBC addict, after all.

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In any case, I devoured the four-part special over the weekend and paid for it in my dreams last night. Not a nightmare per se, but a strange narrative in which a nameless and faceless “they” were trying to strap me to equipment and kill me and I kept trying to escape, eventually finding freedom by simply walking out the front door. Pretty easy to match up that symbolism with the Netflix doc I’d just watched (the electric chair/Bundy’s escape out a window). The psyche is a powerful thing.

All I know is, I need to watch Mary Poppins or something equally wholesome tonight.

Aside from watching documentaries about psychotic bipolar killers, our weekend was fairly low-key. Spent most of Saturday at the Journey Museum and Learning Center, the perfect way to while away a 37-degree day that was spitting snow. Regular admission is $12 but they were selling movie tickets for $10 that included free museum admission. We could have bought the movie tix, skipped the film, and still come out ahead, but we decided to check it out – and were glad we did! “Neither Wolf Nor Dog” is a drama adopted from an acclaimed novel and is about…

A white author who is summoned by a Lakota Elder who asks him to write a book about his perspective. After a blundering false start, he is all but kidnapped and sucked into a road trip through the heart of the contemporary Native American landscape.

Cutting and pasting was easier than explaining in my own words. It’s not like I’m a writer or anything! Oh, wait…

In any case, we enjoyed the film quite a bit. It’s poignant, emotional, and humorous. And very much a South Dakota movie, filmed on location at the Pine Ridge reservation. The book has 4.3 stars on Goodreads and is the first in a series, so I may need to pick it up sometime.

Afterwards, we grabbed an early dinner at Sickie’s Garage, a small regional chain that boasts over 50 burgers. After much deliberation, we chose the following:

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Both were excellent.

Sunday was super warm; the temperature approached 60 before gusty winds kicked in. A few hours later, it was snowing. So typical of this area! It will be 13 degrees on Tuesday and 48 on Friday.

At least there’s plenty of variety as the temperature swings between kinda cold, cold, and cold AF.

 

Untangled and Frozen

This popped up on my Facebook memories feed yesterday, and I had to share with an update.

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I have never worked for a company that celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day, so when I learned that PSI follows all Federal holidays, to say I was thrilled is an understatement. I’m used to a long, nearly five-month stretch between New Year’s Day and Memorial Day without a break. Now, I’ve got Monday off, and we’ll be closed for President’s Day, too. This is much appreciated considering I won’t be eligible for any paid vacation time until 2020.

Granted, the weather won’t be conducive to doing anything fun and exciting. But I consider not working fun and exciting, so bring on the holiday!

Last week was pretty productive. I completed my first proposal; this one is for a road improvement project on tribal land in South Dakota. Bids are due Wednesday at noon, and they expect to have a decision within the hour. Fingers crossed that we land the contract, because this government shutdown is putting a serious damper on business.


Remember my unabashed love for Dot’s Pretzels? Well, my blog post caught the attention of somebody who works in their corporate office, leading to the following email exchange:

Dot’s Employee: I just got done reading your take on Dots Pretzels. I will say I have never ever heard of Dots pretzels described as you have described them. And I must say I agree with you 100% on that. Not just because I work for Dots pretzels in the KS location, but because it’s TRUE. Just thought I would share my 2 cents and say thank you for the great word of mouth.
Mark: Thank you. They really are that good and deserve heaps of praise! I’m happy to spread the word. How lucky you are to work there.
Dot’s Employee: I printed a copy of your review and its hanging in the break room. Thank you again for the awesome review. The Dots family really appreciates it. 
Mark: Oh, wow – thank you so much! Does the Dot’s family appreciate it enough to send me free pretzels for life??

There was more; he gave me the inside scoop on a new product that will be hitting the market soon, but I’d better not say any more. I’m just happy that Dot’s is the type of company to reach out to the consumer.


Saturday morning I was half-asleep when Tara poked me on the shoulder. “Do you feel like taking a ride up Skyline Drive to catch the sunrise?” she asked. Despite the fact that it was 10 degrees out, I agreed to untangle myself from our warm and cozy bed. 20 minutes later we were standing atop a hill overlooking a frosty, snowy Rapid City. Were we freezing our asses off? Yep. Was it worth it? Totally.

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It was an interesting week weather-wise. We had freezing fog for two days, which coated our trees in a thick blanket of rime ice and hoarfrost. That was followed by a little light snow on Friday. The scenery around town was spectacular.

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Today we are going to grab brunch and then kick it in the bar to watch playoff football. With the Broncos never even in conjunction this season, it’s tough to get excited. KC is a division rival, I’m not a Los Angeles fan, and Tom Brady’s had enough success. So…let’s go, Saints! I guess.

MegaKota? Mega NO, duh.

Have you heard about the online petition to merge North Dakota and South Dakota into a single state and call it MegaKota? Some guy in Fargo must have been really bored, because he started thinking about how badly he wants Puerto Rico to become a U.S. state, but hates the idea of changing the flag, because having 50 stars is neat-o. His solution? Combine the Dakotas and give them a really stupid name. Because that’s far less disruptive than hiring a seamstress to sew a 51st star onto the flag.

It’d be pretty cool to have a state called MegaKota so yeah.

The guy does have a way with words. I can see why his petition went viral. So yeah.

I think the whole idea is MegaStupid. Then again, I’ve got a more vested interest than most of the population. You think I want to go through the hassle of changing my address in a million different places, getting a new driver’s license, new license plates, etc.? I just went through all that six months ago! Besides, we aren’t the only states that could merge. How about MegaLina? Or MegaGinia? Or, for that matter, why not ColoRaska or IdaTana or New JersAware? Literally any two states that touch could be combined into one larger state in order to prevent the despoiling of our precious flag.

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As usual, the comments on this article are even more entertaining than the story itself. One rocket-scientist-in-training writes, “How can it be called the United States if some of our states are divided in half?” By that logic, Einstein, how can it be called the United States if some of our states are divided by a freakin’ ocean!? Much like, ahem: Puerto Rico.

It’s all starting to feel like a vicious circle. A MegaCircle, if you will.

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Mind you, I don’t think any of this will ever actually happen. These petitions to split up and/or combine states gain a little traction and then inevitably peter out. Like the idea to turn California into three separate states (shot down by the state Supreme Court last July) and the desire to create Jefferson out of southern Oregon and northern California. There’s even an independence movement afoot to create a whole new country called Cascadia out of the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia, but good luck ever seeing that come to fruition.

But at least we live in a country where people can dream big, right? They won’t get arrested or have their citizenship rescinded or anything.

They’ll just be ridiculed in blogs.

Connecting the Dot’s

The moment we arrived in South Dakota last summer, we were inundated with pretzels.  They popped up everywhere we went, ubiquitous bags with a bold red logo. We had never heard of Dot’s Homestyle Pretzels before, but it quickly became apparent they were a “Pride of Dakota.”

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I am not exaggerating: they were everywhere. Gas stations. Hardware stores.  Gift shops. Meat markets (and by that I mean butcher shops, not pick-up joints). Meat markets (and this time I do mean pick-up joints). At first, we didn’t bite. Literally. A pretzel is a pretzel is a pretzel, right? They’re crunchy and salty and, if I’m being honest, kinda boring. Not nearly as satisfying as a potato chip or a Triscuit or a Cheez-It. Hell, they even play second fiddle to Pepperidge Farms’ Flavor Blasted Xplosive Pizza flavored Goldfish crackers, and stickler for spelling that I am, that’s saying a lot.

Then one afternoon we were out shopping. I can’t remember what I was standing in line to buy – probably a miter saw or case of spark plugs or somethin’ – and there was a bowl of Dot’s next to the cash register with a sign that said, EAT ME.

After smirking a little, because I’ll always be a 12 y/o at heart, I decided to give ’em a try. See what all the fuss was about.

ONE BITE AND I WAS HOOKED.

These pretzels, guys. They are indescribable. A flavor xplosion much more intense than anything Pepperidge Farms ever bagged up. The secret to Dot’s? SPICES. There’s more than just salt flavoring these amazing little corkscrew-shaped nuggets from heaven. The exact mixture of spices is a secret – Dot won’t divulge that info (yes, she’s a real person, from a small town in North Dakota you’ve probably never heard of, who decided that regular pretzels were boring (see above) and figured she could come up with something better, so she puttered around her kitchen, experimenting with different seasoning combinations until she got it just right (and isn’t that the most North Dakota thing ever!?)) – but there’s definitely a hint of ranch dressing in there (hello, buttermilk!), and garlic and onion, and a touch of cayenne to give them a slight burn. It’s a complex flavor profile that will have you wondering why nobody else thought to MacGyver up pretzels before!

With all those secret herbs and spices, Dot is like the Colonel Sanders of the snack world, minus the all-white wardrobe.

I’m not saying these things are particularly good for you. Anything that contains carboxymethyicellulose can’t be! But one bite in and you won’t care, because you have just found Utopia, my friend. A land of unicorns and rainbows and the most delicious pretzels in the world. Forget the 72 afterlife virgins you’ve been promised if you’re Muslim; you’d trade them all in for one bag of Dot’s Homestyle Pretzels if you could. These are true Paradise.

Suffice it to say, we count ourselves among Dot’s biggest fans now. There is always a bag (or five) in our cupboards. And, we’ve been spreading the Dot’s love! Sending them to family and friends far and farther. Just today, I had four bags delivered to my former Fuel coworkers back in Camas, Washington. Apparently the moment Hana opened the UPS box, 20 colleagues descended upon her en masse, demanding their share of pretzels, too. And now there are 20 more Dot’s fans in the world, only they’re kinda out of luck, because the snack is a lot harder to find in the Pacific Northwest. If you walk into a hardware store in Portland looking for pretzels, you’re going to be stuck with nails and electrical tape and stuff. How boring! One more reason I am #teammidwest now.

If you’ve never tried Dot’s, I feel sorry for you. But fortunately, there’s this marvelous invention called the internet. Dot’s has a website (which I linked to above). Dot’s accepts all major credit cards. (And no, Dot’s did not pay me to endorse their product – though I wouldn’t turn down a few free bags of pretzels for all this publicity.

D’ya hear me, Dot?

Thanks for Nothing!

Holy crap. I haven’t written a blog post since LAST YEAR! I apologize for being so remiss in my duties.

I’m happy to report I survived my first week back in the trenches of Corporate America unscathed. Unlike back in August, I didn’t go bolting for the door in a mad panic this time, wondering what I’d gotten myself into. I have the government shutdown to thank for that; with all the federal agencies we contract with shuttered at the moment, there are no projects to bid on. Which, honestly, is a relief to me. I need time to build templates and work on revising/rewriting a lot of material before the shit hits the fan. Which it will, I am told, once the Feds are open for business again. My boss says we can expect a flood of proposals about three weeks after the government is back in session, so I am enjoying the peace and quiet while I can.

No regrets on choosing this job, either. I like my 8-5 schedule and having a private office and carpooling with Tara and exploring downtown on my lunch hours. Last week I spent one break reading in the library, a mere two blocks from the office; another day I walked along the path that follows Rapid Creek from Memorial Park to Founders’ Park and back, about a three-mile jaunt; and on Friday, I wandered around the biggest and most impressive vintage/antiques shop I have ever set foot in. I ended up buying some metal signs and old South Dakota license plates, which I hung on my office walls in lieu of fancy artwork. It’s a very manly display, if I do say so myself! Never mind that my knowledge of cars is limited to topping off the windshield washer fluid when it gets low. Oh, and I can pump gas like a pro! So there is that.

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In any case, there is plenty to do between 12-1:00. When I was there in August I drove home for lunch most days, but why spend almost half your lunch hour in the car when there is so much to do downtown? I think back to the job I turned down, and how I’d have been cooped up in the office for nine or ten hours straight every day and always on call, and there is no doubt in my mind I made the right decision.

Yesterday we drove up to Sylvan Lake with every intention of hiking the closed-to-vehicles Needles Highway, but eight steps across the parking lot, Tara slipped and took a hard fall on the ice. She’s fine – her ego (and knee) are a little bruised, but she’ll live. Suffice it to say, we called off the hike. I was ready to call it a day at that point, but she insisted I at least walk around the lake so the drive up there wasn’t a complete waste. I’m glad I did, because the scenery was beautiful and the lake was frozen solid, covered in snow that was almost knee-deep in places. I ended up walking nearly to the middle, just to say I could.

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On the way home, we stopped into a bar and grill in Hill City for a bite to eat. We’d been there a couple of times before and always received excellent service, plus the food is really good, but for some reason the entire staff completely ignored us, never even acknowledging our presence. I was beginning to wonder if we might have inadvertently discovered invisibility, especially when one of the bartenders walked right by us (we hadn’t even been given menus yet) and struck up a lengthy conversation with a regular in the stool next to mine. We’d finally had enough of that nonsense and got up to leave. On the way to the door, one of the servers called out cheerfully, “Thanks for stopping by!” Was she joking?! Tara turned to her and replied, much less cheerfully, “Thanks for nothing!” Which was a little mortifying but also pretty funny. I’ll give them another chance because they make the best Bloody Mary in the Black Hills, but they’d better be on their game next time.

We stopped instead at Prairie Berry Winery. Their cafe serves excellent sandwiches, and we ordered cocktails. Well, to be technical, one of us had a craft beer on tap and the other got a cranberry cinnamon wine spritzer.

Please don’t make me tell you who ordered what…

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