Why Did it Have to be Snakes?

It’s finally feeling like spring out here. We were a cat’s whisker away from hitting 60º last week, and as a result most of our snow has melted. I’m pretty surprised at how quickly it disappeared, considering we’ve had snow on the ground nonstop since December 1. I guess that’s the circle of life. (The circle of life also means lots of mud and creeks that are running pretty high.)

One day last week, there was a knock at the door shortly after I got home. It was Ed, our neighbor from two doors down, armed with a couple of steaks. He had brought us over a ribeye and t-bone – thanks, he said, for the Christmas cookies we gave him in December. This was very timely, as literally one day earlier Tara was suggesting we grill steaks soon since the weather has warmed up. I thanked Ed profusely and offered up the usual you-didn’t-have-to-do-thats, but he insisted. He’s a nice guy whom we chat with on occasion. With a high of 68º expected on Tuesday, I’ll be busting out the grill and putting those steaks to good use. Funny, nobody ever came to our door bearing meat in Washington (though we did get a note telling us our recycling bins were an eyesore and to remove our plants from the front entryway). Rude!

IMG_20190322_203250.jpgFriday night, we redeemed the vouchers we won during last month’s library scavenger hunt for Rush hockey tickets. The season is winding down and there were only a few home games left, so we figured we’d better get on the ball. Or on the puck, as it were. I assumed we’d be stuck in the nosebleed section, but they actually gave me my choice of seats from all that were available. We ended up in the second row near one of the goals (and eventually the first row, since those seats were empty). Had a great time as usual despite a 3-1 loss. It’s kind of bittersweet that we’ll have to wait six months before we can see another game.

Yesterday, we played tourist in our own backyard. When my family lived here in the 80s, we never once went to Reptile Gardens, a wild animal park and premier attraction in the Black Hills since 1937. Or Bear Country USA either, for that matter. I’m not sure why; we weren’t averse to hitting tourist attractions given the fact that we visited Mount Rushmore roughly once a month for three years. I guess it wasn’t something my parents were interested in? We would have loved it as teenagers though, because I loved it yesterday! How can you go wrong with 18′ crocodiles, some of the most venomous snakes in the world, and giant tortoises?

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Spoiler alert: you can’t! Reptile Gardens has been certified by Guinness World Records as the world’s largest reptile zoo and I am not surprised: we spent a couple of hours there and could have easily stayed longer but we were getting hungry. The great thing about it is, locals get a pass for free admission for one year with the purchase of a ticket, so we most certainly will be back. Hey, mom and dad – wanna check out some snakes?!

By the time we left it was after 2:00 and we hadn’t eaten lunch, so we drove a few miles up the road to Rockerville, a tiny ghost town best known for its rustic saloon, The Gaslight. We had heard excellent things about the place but hadn’t been before. I’m glad we got to check it out, because everything was great! I had an excellent Bloody Mary, we found fried pickle spears to rival those from Shanahan’s in Vancouver, and the chislic was the best I have had out here so far.

I need to write about chislic in a future post.

Not much else to report. Busy gearing up for another work week. Tara has a solo trip to Ely scheduled for the end of the week – she plans to leave Friday and return next Tuesday, but as with everything around here, it is weather-dependent. This time of year is especially topsy-turvy. It’s supposed to snow a little tonight and then hit close to 70º on Tuesday, followed by another chance of snow Thursday night/Friday. She won’t bother going if the weather is iffy, so we shall see.

Sunshine & Blizzards

It sounds like there’s a serious movement afoot to end Daylight Saving Time once and for all. Actually, the proposed legislation – known as the Sunshine Protection Act – would keep DST and do away with Standard time. Which makes sense, because our clocks are set to daylight time almost eight months out of the year, making Standard time the exception. And an oxymoron.

Honestly, I’d be more in favor of doing it the other way – making Standard time permanent – because if this legislation is enacted, we’ll have 9:00 a.m. sunrises during the winter months. It’s hard enough to roll out of bed and head to work when it’s snowing and zero degrees outside; doing so when it’s snowing and zero degrees outside AND pitch dark sounds like a Herculean task. But you know what? I’ll support anything that puts an end to the pointless ritual of changing the clocks twice a year. If that means more evening light as opposed to more morning light, so be it. At least our sunsets in June aren’t as crazy-late as those in the PNW!

Speaking of sunshine, we’re getting quite a bit of it this afternoon. It is well-deserved after the raging blizzard we just experienced, however! When the warnings popped up two days ago they were forecasting crazy amounts of snow, maybe as much as 2′. Well, the storm didn’t really get going until around noon on Wednesday – about six hours behind schedule – so our totals weren’t nearly as bad. But the winds were (and still are); they gusted to 63 mph overnight and are still blowing in excess of 50 mph now. Needless to say, neither Tara nor I have been to work the past two days. Her employer closed the office and she gets paid for doing nothing, while I actually have to work from home if I want to be paid for time out of the office. The nerve of it all! Obviously I have nothing against working from home; that was my life for six months after moving here (and still is every weekend). But doing so while my wife is wrapped up in a blanket watching “My Cousin Vinny” is a little harder to stomach.

Not going to work was a good call, though. Felt a little weird yesterday morning when we hadn’t spotted so much as a single flake of snow before noon, but once the storm got started, it made up for its late arrival with heavy snow and those strong winds. All night long I listened to them howling and shrieking, rattling the windowpanes as they sang a plaintive tune. I found it oddly comforting, actually. I don’t mind wind from the comfort of home! All that blowing and drifting snow led to the closure of I-90 from the Wyoming border to Chamberlain, not to mention the Rapid City Regional Airport and the majority of businesses in town. I took a walk at lunchtime today to survey the scene, and it’s quite impressive. There are waist-deep snowdrifts in places and the roads were not fit for safe travel. Getting to work in a snowstorm is one thing, but a blizzard is something else entirely. This one was a doozy, though pretty short-lived. And it never got terribly cold – the temperature overnight didn’t drop much below 30º.

Tomorrow, we’re both planning on returning to work. The winds are expected to die down overnight and it’ll warm into the upper 30s, so travel should be significantly better.

Someday I’ll talk about something other than snow, I promise! Provided it ever stops snowing, of course.

Come to think of it, you may be reading posts like this until June…

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It seemed like everybody in the neighborhood was out with their snowblowers this morning.

Check out some of these snowdrifts!

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I love how these ice crystals formed on our window during the height of the blizzard yesterday afternoon.

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This is why driving was not advisable today.

Mayomust-Have

This is a rare Friday where I haven’t carpooled to work with Tara. My criteria for driving in solo has evolved quite a bit this winter. Initially, if there were even a few icy spots on the road, I’d grab a ride with her in the truck. But after six weeks where the temperature has only cracked 32° a couple of times, there’s pretty much always snow and ice on the road. That’s kind of forced my hand, so now I’m game to take the Mazda as long as a ton of snow hasn’t fallen overnight and isn’t forecast to begin falling before 5:00. I have to say, I’ve gotten a lot better at navigating my car through snow and ice and can’t help but feel a sense of pride over this accomplishment, even though it’s probably pretty basic for a lot of you. Hey, living in climates where snow is a rarity for three decades dulls your driving senses, so I think I’m entitled to feel good about this newfound skill!

It’s supposed to snow again overnight, but the 3-5″ and blizzard conditions they were predicting yesterday has been downgraded to a couple of inches, so it looks like we’re dodging a bullet. I have to admit, like so many other locals (and probably the entire Midwest), I’m actually looking forward to spring. I won’t say I’ve had my fill of snow and cold – that’ll never happen! – but it will be nice to venture outside without fear of frostbite. Plus, we’ve had 50 inches of snow since October (normal for the entire season is 42″ and we ain’t done yet) so, you know, I can’t complain about a lack of the fluffy white stuff.

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Kinda looks like Mount Hood, but it’s the sidewalk in downtown Rapid City.

I will say, living here has given me a newfound appreciation for spring and summer – seasons that I never much cared for living in the PNW. Probably because I was always  a bit underwhelmed by winter out there and always wanted more. It was never cold enough or snowy enough for my liking, so by the time March rolled around and our chances of seeing any exciting weather for the next eight months were pretty much dead, I grieved with the same passion I might experience laying a loved one to rest. That is so not the case in South Dakota! If we didn’t see another snowflake until November I would still be completely satisfied with this winter. So yeah, I’m actually looking forward to spring and summer for maybe the first time in my life, and all the possibilities that accompany warm weather: hiking and camping and grilling outside and Summer Nights concerts downtown and, of course, those spectacular (and ominous) thunderstorms that roll across the Great Plains unleashing their fury. And I’m sure, six months from now, I’ll be eagerly awaiting the first snowfall again. It’s great living in a place where you can appreciate all the seasons instead of just a couple of ’em!


You know what else I’m looking forward to? This magnificent product they were discussing on the local news a few days ago.

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Isn’t it beautiful?! Heinz is coming out with this mustard-mayonnaise hybrid (and a mayonnaise-BBQ sauce mashup called, naturally, Mayocue) on the heels of its successful Mayochup (mayonnaise/ketchup) product launch last year.

Scoff if you will, but I’m excited for this product! Back in 2012, Tara and I went to a street festival in Portland and grabbed a couple of reindeer meat hot dogs (because this was a street festival in Portland). The vendor had squeeze bottles of condiments in which to top your Rudolph dog (for lack of a better term) and one of them was a delicious concoction that he was super cagey about. He wouldn’t admit that it was a mustard-mayo combo, even when pressed, but obviously it was a mustard-mayo combo. I thought that was a genius idea then, so I am thrilled that Heinz is rolling out this product nationally next month.

I mean, I suppose you could always make your own rather than shelling out $3.49 for a bottle, but in this fast-paced and hectic world, who’s got time for that?! I, for one, am all about convenience. Plus, I’m sure the scientists in the Heinz food laboratory spent countless hours perfecting the ratio to get the formula exactly right. I trust their expertise a whole lot more than my sure-to-be-foolhardy attempt at mixing just the right amounts of mayonnaise and mustard together to achieve the perfect flavor profile.

This all might sound a little tongue-in-cheek, but I’m not kidding. I’m already clearing a prominent spot on my refrigerator shelf in which to showcase Mayomust!

Banana Belt, My Ass!

Woke up this morning to a temperature of -13º (yes, that’s a negative symbol in front of the number), which is about a million degrees below average. OK, maybe it’s only 40 degrees colder than normal. “Only” being a relative term!

Another relative term? “Banana belt.” In case you have never heard of a banana belt before, it is not this:

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The official definition of a banana belt is any segment of a larger geographic region that enjoys warmer weather conditions than the region as a whole, especially in the wintertime. Rapid City is considered the banana belt of South Dakota – even Wikipedia mentions us as an example of famous banana belts around the world (others include Whitehorse in the Yukon; Ireland and the U.K.; and Brookings, on the southern Oregon coast).

For the record: you cannot actually grow bananas in Rapid City or anywhere else in the Upper Midwest, in case you were wondering. But you can find temperatures 20 degrees warmer than in other parts of the state.

Usually, anyway. This winter has been the exception. It’s been relentlessly cold all over, for the last month+ and counting. Not surprisingly, February set records for third-coldest and sixth-snowiest in the city’s history.

All the locals are over it. Personally, the cold weather has really interfered with my ability to go for walks – a favorite pastime. So much so that I have taken to doing laps around the conference room table at work. I’ve been trying to do so surreptitiously because pacing in circles around a darkened room tends to give others the wrong impression about your mental state. Or maybe it’s the right impression? Whatevs! I have to do something to break up the monotony of sitting at a desk all day, and if I can’t go outside, I’m a-gonna walk indoors! Despite my attempts at secrecy, our bookkeeper caught me walking in circles on Thursday, which was mildly embarrassing. Luckily, she thought it was a good idea and asked if I’d be interested in walking up and down the basement stairs while I was at it. I had never even seen the basement before; I knew the building had one because we rent the space out to a recording studio after hours, but had no idea where the entrance was. So Anna gave me a grand tour. It’s a really cool space, sort of creepy  (though aren’t all basements?) with a labyrinth of rooms containing drum kits, microphones, and an iguana named Josie. How’s that for odd?

In any case, it’s nice to know I have cardio workout options within the building, given that March has come in like a lion and we show few signs of warming up anytime soon (though it is supposed to hit 35 by the end of the week – that’s progress).

Another embarrassing thing happened at work last week. Tuesday was our CFO’s birthday, so we had a little get-together in the morning with cake and balloons. One of those balloons ended up on the conference room floor, and every time I walked by (doing all those laps, you know!) I had this irresistible urge to jump on it. Eventually the temptation became too much to bear, so I did it – and the resulting pop was so damn loud, it sounded like a bomb went off. I guess because of the building’s acoustics? People came rushing out of their offices – even those in the adjoining chiropractor’s office – with terrified looks on their faces.

Shit.

In this day and age, I don’t blame them for assuming the worst. I had to apologize for instigating borderline panic and explain that it was just me acting like I was 12 years old.

Why do these things always happen to me?!

When I’m not embarrassing myself at work, I’m actually getting things done. I knocked out another proposal last week. The work, while not glamorous, isn’t nearly as hard as I’d thought – or maybe I’m just getting the hang of it?

My big accomplishment, though, was taking charge of my personal finances. When I left Fuel last June, I just kept my money in the company’s 401(k) plan even though I wasn’t making any contributions. I figured I’d eventually find a job here and just roll it over. Well, I’m not actually eligible for my company’s retirement plan for quite some time, and I was tired of seeing the value of my portfolio drop without making any contributions, so I rolled the whole thing over to a personal IRA I’ve had since 2011. I’d meant to close it out back then and had withdrawn what I thought was everything, but because of market fluctuations there was still something like $13 left in there. I decided to just let it be, and in the ensuing years that amount had grown to $70. I guess that’s small-scale proof of the benefit of these types of plans! Anyway, I transferred my money there last week, and am in a position to make the maximum allowable contributions now. It’s high time I let my money work for me rather than the other way around.

We (err, Tara) got our taxes done yesterday and while I owed quite a bit for my freelance income, I’d been socking money aside and was fully prepared for this. The amount was much less than I’d anticipated, so we are in good shape to begin our house hunting this spring.

I have to say, this is the first time in my adult life that I haven’t stressed over finances. Too many years I lived paycheck to paycheck, and then – when I was unemployed for 20 months – I damn near lost everything. Actually having money is a novelty. I have been focusing hard on completely eliminating my debt, and will probably make that happen within the next few months. Life is good, and moving here was the catalyst to really turning things around.

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Other than taxes and freelance writing and a quick trip to the grocery store during the tail end of a snowstorm, we haven’t done much this weekend. Kind of hard to get outside when the windchills are pushing -40º. We did walk over to Paddy O’Neill’s, an Irish pub in the lobby of the Alex Johnson Hotel, on Friday evening after work. Killed a few hours there with cocktails and some really good food. Then last night, we finally got around to watching Hitchcock’s classic “North by Northwest” on Netflix. We had never seen it before, but figured it was appropriate given the climactic scene atop Mount Rushmore. I have to say, we really enjoyed it! There was action, suspense, and humor. I get the appeal of Cary Grant now.

We’re going to make an effort to watch more older movies now. Queued up next: “Rebecca,” “To Catch a Thief,” “The Goodbye Girl,” and “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” to name a few. Some of those were suggested by you, my dear readers!