Mutual Admiration

Gather ’round, folks. I’ve got a story to share.

Our tale begins on January 2, 2018. We were six months away from leaving the PNW for South Dakota, and while I’d hoped to be able to keep my job with Fuel and work remotely, management wasn’t on board with the plan. While scrolling through Instagram that day, I came across a post from a publishing and media company in Rapid City. Intrigued, I visited their website, and decided on the spot this was a place I wanted to work. They are a small group of creative professionals whose core business is print publishing; they produce a number of magazines, including Black Hills Visitor, a regional travel planning guide, and provide marketing services to locally owned businesses – everything from web development and social media management to design. Everything they do is right up my alley. The only problem? They weren’t hiring a content writer (or any other position, for that matter).

I decided to reach out to them anyway, so I drafted a cold contact letter introducing myself, letting them know I’d be moving out there that summer, and if they ever needed a copywriter I’d love to chat. I submitted it through their website and honestly expected nothing to come of it, so when they emailed me back two hours later to set up a phone interview, I was shocked.

A week later, I had a great conversation with the owner and the managing director. They asked me to send in work samples and promised they’d talk about adding a writing position to the team. I tried not to get my hopes up, but was so excited, Tara and I began discussing the possibility of me moving out here early. A few weeks later, they got back to me and said, while they were impressed with my work, they weren’t ready to add to their team yet. They asked me to keep in touch and stop by when I got to town. I was disappointed but hardly surprised; it had felt like a long-shot anyway.

Exactly six months later, on July 2, I did indeed stop by their office. It was my first day freelancing and I wandered over on my lunch break, since the coffee shop where I was working is located in the same building, immediately next door. The managing director was happy to see me and gave me a tour. Unfortunately, the owner wasn’t in, and I tried a few more times to see him over the summer but he was never available. I finally stopped trying, afraid I’d appear desperate (or they’d think I was a stalker, ha).

Oh, well. It was a nice dream, but clearly not meant to be.

Or so I thought…

Fast-forward to a few weeks ago. Suddenly, a job posting appeared. For a Senior Content Writer. For this very company. Now, I have been gainfully employed since the beginning of the year and was enjoying my job (despite the many challenges in government proposal work), so I debated even responding. But I had too much sort-of history with these guys, and besides, this was truly my Dream Job. Writing creative copy about this place I love so much?! I couldn’t let the opportunity pass me by without at least trying, so I applied online. Figured, maybe they won’t even call.

They called.

Two interviews later, they offered me the job. Let me repeat: THEY OFFERED ME THE JOB.

I accepted without hesitation. How could I not?! This is everything I wanted. And they wanted me. I guess you could call it a case of mutual admiration. Ironically enough, I have John Mellencamp to thank for this job. At least partly; my second interview was the day after the concert, and I happened to mention to the owner that we had gone. “That was a great show, wasn’t it?” he replied. Now, I’d had no idea he had gone to the same concert or was even a fan. For half the interview, we chatted about Mellencamp and rock music while the managing director and creative director looked on with bemusement. Those tickets were the best investment we ever made! (The show was awesome, by the way. I’d gush over that more, but this story is long enough as it is.)

So, last Friday afternoon, I had a difficult conversation with my employer and turned in a letter of resignation. I really hated doing that, but to their credit, they responded with grace and dignity, were totally supportive, and encouraged me to follow my passions. I gave them two weeks’ notice; my last day there will be May 10, and then I begin my Dream Job May 15.

How’s that for excitement?!


Also exciting: Tara and I are now officially house hunting. We looked at our first one last week, and while the online listing was very appealing, it was less so in person. Great location, but too many cosmetic and structural issues. It needs a new roof, for instance. Even our realtor said it was overpriced. So, we passed – but the search continues. We are in no hurry and are both confident our perfect house is out there, just waiting to be discovered.


Here are a few random pics from last weekend’s adventure. We went to Wind Cave National Park to celebrate National Park Week. Couldn’t have asked for better weather!

 


Also exciting, Part II: we just spent my birthday weekend in Deadwood. Went for a nice hike along the Homestake Trail, checked into our room at the historic Bullock Hotel, bought tickets for a ghost tour, had a fantastic dinner at FLYT Steakhouse, spent a few hours playing video blackjack, and called it a night. After a nice breakfast and another few rounds of blackjack, we checked out and came home. It was a nice little getaway. Next weekend, we’re driving to Jamestown, North Dakota, to meet a blogging friend I have known for 15+ years.

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The Bullock Hotel was built in 1896 by Deadwood’s first sheriff, Seth Bullock, after his hardware store burned down on this very spot.

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Our tour guide showed us a photo of an apparition standing beside her at the top of this staircase. Our room just happened to be at the top of this staircase, as well.

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The original foundation wall/basement of Seth Bullock’s hardware store, with burn marks from the 1894 fire still visible.

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Burned floor joists in the basement.

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Whew! Quite a few things happening in my life right now and they’re all good. 2019 is shaping up to be a pretty great year.

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Eyes on the Prize

Exciting times ahead for Team MarTar. Tara and I now have a realtor and have officially been approved for a mortgage loan. That dream of a white picket fence is actually going to come true!

(Only, I’d take a groovy wood-paneled basement over the fence any day.)

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We haven’t seen our credit scores yet, but based on the low interest rates and a cap of about $310,000 – much higher than we need (or want), especially around here – I’m guessing they’re good.

That’s a small miracle in itself and one that I would like to dwell on for just a moment. Because, five years ago, the idea of ever being able to buy a house again seemed like an impossibility. Tara’s credit was always solid, but mine, not so much.

Long-time readers will recall that I was forced to do a short sale on my townhouse. It’s not like somebody held a gun to my head and threatened me, but like so many others, I was a victim of the 2008 housing crisis and hopelessly upside down in my mortgage. On top of that, I was still recovering from a 20-month unemployment stint and pretty deeply in debt. Extricating myself from the crappy mortgage and digging myself out of that credit hole felt like a Herculean task when we moved in 2014. I will forever be grateful to Tara for giving me the courage to take such a big step and, more than that, for believing in me. For believing in us. After being a homeowner for 18 years, downsizing to an apartment was tough. But always, I had my eyes on the prize.

Now, it’s almost a reality! One that still seems hard to believe. Moving to Rapid City was a crucial step in turning my literal fortunes around; I simply can’t stress that enough! The low cost of living + the freelance contract with Fuel + full-time employment have put me in a better financial position than I would have dreamed possible even a year ago. Next Friday, I will pay off my very last credit card, leaving me virtually debt-free, with only an easily manageable car payment. It’s an amazing feeling and I can’t help but be proud of myself for turning such a dire situation around.

We’ve been looking at houses around here for nearly two years, but suddenly, we’re looking for real. The right one could come along at any moment, and instead of dreaming of a far-off “someday,” we are ready to pounce. This knowledge makes me view every Zillow listing with new eyes.

Pinch me, I’m dreaming! (But don’t, because if I am, I’d rather not wake up). I am looking forward to documenting this exciting journey here.


We had a blizzard last week. It already seems hard to believe, because even though we ended up with 12″ of snow and missed two days of work, it has all completely melted. Doesn’t take along in the spring, when the temperature can rebound into the 60s in a day or two.

I would guess we’re done with snow for the season, but I certainly wouldn’t put money on that!


Tonight, we have tickets to see John Mellencamp. I’ve been a fan for decades but have never seen him live; we had an opportunity a few years ago in Portland and passed for some stupid reason. I immediately regretted that, so when he announced a tour date in Rapid City of all places, we jumped on it. He’s playing at the civic center downtown and I’m pretty excited. We plan on dinner out first. Possibly Italian, but maybe Mexican. It’ll be a quasi-celebration of sorts for this new journey upon which we are about to embark.

 

All Shish, No Kebab

One year ago, when we were just beginning the onerous task of preparing for our big move and South Dakota was this great, exciting unknown, I learned about chislic and other regional food favorites of the Midwest. Chislic is simply deep fried cubes of meat, liberally seasoned with garlic salt and other spices. It is traditionally served on toothpicks and accompanied by Saltine crackers. Think of it as a shish kebab that is all shish, no kebab. While its origins are open to debate, most believe GermanRussian emigrants in southeastern South Dakota – some pinpoint Freeman, and have christened a 30-mile radius around the town “Chislic Circle” – are to thank for the dish, which has become an icon of South Dakota. Lamb, beef, and venison are the meat of choice. “Shashlyk” is a popular dish of cubed meat originating in the Crimea region of Russia, so it seems reasonable that this is what evolved into the beloved regional delicacy few people outside of South Dakota have even heard of.

The South Dakota State Legislature passed Senate Bill 96 in 2018, making chislic the official state nosh.

I’m all about trying regional cuisines, and was eager to sample chislic when we moved here. It didn’t take me long to find it, either. Despite claims that chislic is confined to East River – local slang for the area east of the Missouri River, i.e., eastern South Dakota – it’s pretty readily available in the western part of the state. I’ve had the pleasure of trying about half a dozen versions since moving, and I’ve gotta say, I’m a fan. It’s hard to go wrong with fried cubes of meat!

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You might notice in this photo that the meat is not skewered. Only once have I had it served with toothpicks (and it has never been accompanied by crackers, Saltines or otherwise). Out in West River, restaurants usually serve chislic with a side of dipping sauce – often a sweet and tangy barbecue sauce. And the meat has always been beef. Sometimes it’s breaded, other times it’s naked. The only thing consistent across the board? It’s always delicious. The photo above was, hands down, my favorite. The meat was so tender it practically melted in your mouth and was perfectly seasoned. This plate didn’t come with any sort of dipping sauce and it didn’t need it. Hats off to The Gaslight Saloon in Rockerville for dishing up my favorite chislic (so far, anyway). Thirsty’s in Rapid City is a close second, and Jake’s Good Time Place in Pierre (technically East River) was both tasty and skewered, so bonus points for them. Regardless, I haven’t had a bad dish of chislic yet. My next goal is to make a homemade version.


We’ve enjoyed a fine stretch of spring weather the past few days. It’s been in the 70s, comfortable enough to stroll around without long sleeves. After the winter we just had, that’s a novelty. We took advantage on Saturday by hiking to the top of Buzzard’s Roost. It’s a great spot with breathtaking views of the Black Hills, located just five miles west of town.

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By late afternoon dark storm clouds were piling up to the west and we were treated to our first thunder and lightning of the year. Nothing major, and most of it stayed to the north, but it marks the beginning of storm-chasing season. One of my favorites!

Oh, and speaking of storms…

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Yeah. Winter isn’t quite finished with us yet.

Funky F.C.

Tara was supposed to drive to Ely last Friday to take care of house-related business and visit family, but decided to cancel at the last minute when a snowstorm in Wyoming threatened to make the trip treacherous. Because she already had a suitcase packed and was itching to hit the road, she suggested we drive to Colorado instead. We’d been talking about taking a weekend trip to Fort Collins sometime, and decided, what the heck – there was no time like the present! There were two main draws to F.C.:

  • Raising Cane’s
  • Trader Joe’s

If you’re unfamiliar with the former, they are a fast-food chain that serves chicken fingers. Didn’t know chickens had fingers, did ya? I first discovered the place on my road trip in 2011, when I stopped in a Cane’s in Lincoln, Nebraska. I’d only had them a couple of times since – once in Reno and again in Las Vegas – because they haven’t expanded into any of the states where I live yet. Fort Collins would give us an opportunity to satisfy our chicken finger fix.

Trader Joe’s, I’m sure you know. Let’s just say life is hard without a TJ’s in town. It’s probably the one thing I miss most about the PNW. Err…other than family and friends, of course! And while Deb from Fuel recently sent me a care package from Trader Joe’s, it was of course limited to non-perishable items. Kinda hard to send frozen food through the mail! But we had a cooler and figured we could stock up.

I should add, those weren’t the only reasons we decided to make the 333-mile, 5.5-hour drive to Fort Collins. We went seeking adventure and fun and were anxious to visit someplace new. Cane’s and TJ’s were perks. So, Colorado it was!

We hit the road early Saturday morning. It had snowed/sleeted a little bit overnight, so the roads were a little slick – especially the farther south we went, where the snow had been heavier. It was a beautiful drive though, and we passed through small agricultural towns like Lusk and Torrington, where the pace of life is far different than anything I am used to.

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Snow-covered hills near Edgemont, SD

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Main drag in Lusk, WY

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Somewhere in the middle of nowhere, Wyoming

We crossed the Colorado border around 12:30 and made it to Fort Collins about 25 minutes later. Our first impression? Lots of people and traffic! Which is funny, because F.C.’s population is only 165,000. But that’s more than double Rapid City’s, so it felt pretty big to us.

We made the obligatory stop at Raising Cane’s and hit a couple of stores before checking into our motel.

We relaxed for a bit, enjoying a cold beer before heading into Old Town Fort Collins. Our evening plan involved bar-hopping, so we decided to be responsible adults and call an Uber. Old Town Square was about a ten-minute drive from the La Quinta where we were staying, so we had plenty of time to explore.

Fort Collins is a pretty charming town. It’s got a funky Portland vibe and is definitely geared toward hipsters. It was nice to see so many brewpubs and trendy restaurants – and there is lots of public art. Fun fact: Fort Collins was one of two towns that served as the design inspiration for Disneyland’s Main Street U.S.A.

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Downtown Fort Collins

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Old Town Square

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Fountain in Old Town Square

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Brewpubs galore!

The weather was decent but chilly, so we were more than happy to step inside for a reprieve from the cold. The Crown Pub was a great first stop. In fact, we enjoyed it so much, we ended up going back later in the evening for dinner. They made an excellent Tom Collins and our appetizer of fire-roasted shishito peppers was fantastic. Eating them is kind of like playing Russian Roulette though, because – according to Wikipedia –

Whether grilled, charred, or skewered, shishito peppers add a kick of flavor to any dish. Just watch out: While the majority of these small green peppers are mild, about one in 10 is spicy enough to make your eyes water.

I knew this going in and had warned Tara, but she was game. Sure enough, right about the point where I had been lulled into a false sense of complacency and was beginning to think maybe we would get lucky and avoid one of the really spicy ones this time, I bit into a hot one. Naturally, Tara found this amusing.

In any case, we wandered around Old Town for a while longer, stopping into a few other places, but most were so crowded we couldn’t get a seat or it was too noisy to have a decent conversation. This is why there’s a lot to be said for living in a town of 75,000. Tara summed it up best when she posted to Instagram, Kickin’ around Fort Collins (which very much has a PNW vibe) has made me realize two things: I miss this kind of inclusive environment with left leaning ideals and a shit ton of breweries and such, and I absolutely do not miss all the damn people and traffic. It’ll be a nice place to visit and just as nice to leave. 

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Which pretty much sums up F.C. for me, as well. We were back at our motel by 10:00. We grabbed brunch the next morning after checking out of our room and then hit Trader Joe’s to stock up. We filled our cooler with all our favorites – frozen steel cut oatmeal, chicken lime burgers, falafel, Speculoos Cookie Butter, etc. One thing we did not pick up was their famous Two-Buck Chuck; Colorado has weird liquor laws and they aren’t allowed to sell wine or hard alcohol in grocery stores. And yet, they are super liberal with the weed. Go figure.

We pulled out of town around 11:00 and headed for home, but decided to take the slightly longer way, through Nebraska. We were dying to check out Carhenge in Alliance. Think Stonehenge, but replace the rocks with automobiles. It doesn’t get any more kitschy than this, folks! But it was so cool to see.

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Carhenge was the brainchild of Jim Reinders, an Alliance native who developed a fascination for Stonehenge while living in England. Back home in Nebraska in the summer of 1987, he came up with an idea to create a replica of Stonehenge in physical size and placement to serve as a memorial to his father. 39 vehicles were placed to assume the same proportions as Stonehenge and the monument was dedicated on the Summer Solstice in 1987, with champagne, poetry, songs and a play written by the family.

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Reinders’ “Ford Seasons”, comprised only of Fords and inspired by Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, suggests the Nebraska landscape’s seasonal changes as wheat is planted, grows, is harvested, and then the field lies barren during a windy winter. Plus there’s a “covered wagon.” Clever!

runzaFrom Carhenge, it was about another 2.5 hours to home. We stopped at Runza in Chadron for dinner to go, wanting to sample this regional Nebraska delicacy. A runza is a bread pocket stuffed with beef, cabbage, and onions – another culinary treat we can thank German-Russian immigrants for. It was delicious!

Finally, we arrived home around 6:20. Talk about a whirlwind 36-hour trip! It was great fun though, and we were able to stock up on things we have missed out on.

This trip also gave us a newfound appreciation for the place we call home. Rapid City may not have a Raising Cane’s or a Trader Joe’s, and the politics may be a little more red than Colorado’s, but it’s also lacking the busy traffic and throngs of people that make finding a spot in a bar on a Saturday night next to impossible in more bustling metropolises.

It once again proves we are living exactly where we should be.