About Mark Petruska

I'm a writer/editor and self-published author leaving the Pacific Northwest for a fresh start in Rapid City, South Dakota in 2018.

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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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?

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.