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.

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.

 

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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.

 

 

 

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.

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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!

Hold the Sprouts

Today marks the 8-month anniversary of our arrival in South Dakota. Feels like we’ve been below zero for seven of those months!

Ha. Slight exaggeration. I remember well the heat and humidity that greeted us our first week here. But this extended cold snap is something else. I was chatting with a local business owner downtown one day last week on my lunch hour and she said that the cold and snow are not unusual – but typically, temperatures warm up within a few days and most of the snow melts away. Instead, we are locked in a deep freeze that shows no signs of abating. It’s supposed to drop below zero tonight, and tomorrow’s high is going to be 1º. At least we aren’t the only ones dealing with the cold. Snow in Las Vegas last week made national headlines, and Portland is struggling through their coldest winter in 30 years. It’s just more pronounced here. Also, we’ve received four times the normal monthly snow for February – and there’s more in the forecast this week. Spring feels very far away still.

But, they are already advertising the Sturgis Rally (still 5+ months away), so eventually it’s going to warm up!


We decided to take a quick trip to the Badlands yesterday. It was the first time Tara had been in my car in months; she has been doing the majority of driving given the dicey road conditions and frequent need for 4WD, but Saturday was decent and I wanted to chauffeur her around for a change. Also, she was in no mood to drive; let’s just say we celebrated National Margarita Day on Friday in grand ol’ fashion!IMG_20190222_192508_781.jpg

We grabbed a couple of excellent subs from Pauly’s Pizzeria & Sub Co. on the way home. The place came recommended by a coworker of Tara’s, and these sandwiches were some of the best we ever had. In fact, we both ordered the West Coast Club, a combination of turkey, guacamole,  bacon, provolone cheese, mayo, cucumber, tomato, and sprouts. Only mine was on wheat and I told them to hold the sprouts. There aren’t many foods I don’t like – I’m probably the least picky eater on the planet, in direct contrast to my dear wife – but I cannot stand sprouts. They were all the rage when we moved to California in the 80s and I still associate them with the Golden State. It had been decades since I’d tried them and Tara was raving about how good they were on her sandwich, so I took a bite, thinking my taste buds might have evolved enough over the years to provide me with a newfound enjoyment of sprouts.

Nope.

I hated them then, and I hate them just as much now. I guess I just don’t understand the appeal of chewing on grass, because that’s what they tasted like. This is one of those very rare cases where Tara likes something and I don’t! Watermelon being the only other one I can think of.

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Never again.

We spent the rest of the evening watching “A Star is Born” from Netflix. I was very impressed with the movie; both Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga were phenomenal in their roles. I’m not even that much of a Gaga fan…I mean, I don’t dislike her the way I do sprouts!…but I don’t really listen to her music. I may take a deep dive into her catalog though, because all the songs were stellar. That makes two great rock ‘n roll-themed movies we have seen recently (“Bohemian Rhapsody” being the other). I recommend them both if you haven’t gotten around to watching ’em!

Here are a few photos of the Badlands from yesterday.

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So, I’m curious to know three things:

  1. Are you dreaming of warm summer temperatures?
  2. Is there a food you absolutely detest?
  3. Any good movies you’ve seen lately worth recommending?

Dodging Snowflakes & Bullets

Holy crap. Has it really been almost two weeks since I updated my blog?!

I blame the government. With the shutdown now ancient history, business is booming – just as predicted. I kinda wish Trump had stood his ground a little bit longer! (Ha, not really. I do wish he’d walk off the side of a cliff or something, though.)

Work has been so busy, in fact, I stepped back in time and bought myself a planner. As in, an actual paper organizing system and calendar. I’ve got a smartphone app, of course, but experience has taught me that I just can’t/won’t/don’t use it to keep myself organized and on track. Maybe that’s because every time I pick up my phone I’m either scrolling through Instagram or playing Words With Friends. Regardless of the reason, the ol’ calendar app just wasn’t cutting the mustard. Instead, I found myself lugging a notebook around and digging through piles of paperwork on my desk. Who knew I was so endearingly old-fashioned?

The solution, then, was to research planners. I looked at everything from no-frills At A Glance calendars to fancy Day Timers with all the bells and whistles. I hated the idea of shelling out $25 for a disposable calendar I’d have to replace in January and was equally uncomfortable paying upwards of $90 for a leather-encased, refillable organizer. I settled instead on a Tul discbound planner. I’d never heard of such a system before, but it turns out they are quite popular – and rather ingenious! They utilize expansion discs that allow you to add, remove, and rearrange pages to your heart’s content. Kind of like a mashup between a three-ring binder and spiral notebook, but without any rings to open – the pages just slide into place magically. Best of all, the whole thing comes incased in a nice leather cover and calendar inserts are only $9.99. I think this will be perfect for my needs, even if it does make me feel a bit like it’s 1993 again.

Which, come to think of it, isn’t such a bad thing.


Today was President’s Day, and it’s one of the few times in my adult life I haven’t had to work. I’d like to say I took advantage by doing something fun, but the high temperature was only 8º so that’s a big, fat NOPE. But I wasn’t slogging my way through RFP hell, so I still consider it a win.

We made up for our do-nothingness today on Saturday, anyway. Despite 6″ of fresh (and still falling) snow, we did a bit of exploring in the Black Hills, driving through the always-impressive Spearfish Canyon and checking out a little town smack dab in the middle of nowhere called Silver City. The drive home was a bit rough, as we encountered near-whiteout conditions on the interstate with lots of blowing snow, but fortunately the road was dry.

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By the way, we are way above average in terms of snow this winter. As of this morning Rapid City has had 40.1″; the normal season-to-date is 20.6″ so we are just about double where we should be. Sure feels like it, too – especially this month. 14.5″ through yesterday (we should only have 3.0″ by Feb. 17). I’m not complaining, though. This is exactly what I wanted.

Further evidence that moving to Rapid City was the smartest thing we could have done? Tara found out last week that her former employer in Vancouver, WA is looking for a buyer for their mortgage division and portfolio. They are getting out of the home-selling business, which means if we had stayed in the PNW and somehow figured out a way to buy a house, we’d be screwed. Tara would be facing unemployment and who knows where she would have ended up or whether we’d be able to make ends meet. It was already a struggle, and she was earning big bucks. I can’t imagine the fear and uncertainty we would be facing.

I’ll take a little (okay, a lot) of snow and cold and a concealed weapons-loving governor over the stress and anxiety of trying to pay the bills back there any ol’ day.

Periwinkle is a Moose

Tara was looking at houses on Realtor.com last night (her favorite pastime) and showed me one that caught her fancy. The following conversation ensued.

“I love the periwinkle walls!” she said.
“WTF is periwinkle?” I asked.
“It’s a shade of blue.”
“Why not call it blue then?”
“Because it’s not quite blue. It’s sort of violet, too.”
“I’m okay with calling it blue-violet. Periwinkle sounds like a cartoon moose.”

At this point she just rolled her eyes at me. Another favorite pastime, come to think of it.

It’s going to be fun when we start looking at paint samples. She’ll be on the hunt for juniper and lemongrass, and I’ll be like, “Got anything in green?”

Are we painting walls or gathering ingredients to brew a cup of tea?


It’s another snowy, blustery, hovering-near-zero day. A year ago, when I was imagining what it would be like to experience winter in South Dakota, this is exactly the type of day I pictured. I’m not complaining – instead of doing something crazy like going outside in this weather, I just closed my office door and read my Kindle over lunch. However, I wish there had been more days like this when I was working from home. The snow is beautiful and peaceful, but venturing out is a bitch when it’s this frigid. First, you’ve got to brush snow and/or scrape ice from your windshield. Then, you turn the heater on full blast, but it doesn’t warm up your car until right about the time you’re pulling into the parking lot at work. That’s the drawback to a 12-minute commute, I suppose. At least Tara and I can carpool on days like this.

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The view from my office today.

Hard to believe it’s only going to get colder the next couple of days. -12° tonight with a wind chill pushing 40 below zero. Day-um.

It’s also hard to believe our high temperature on Saturday was 63°. What did we do to take advantage of the rare, springlike warmth, you might ask? We, umm, went hiking in the Black Hills. Where it was twenty degrees colder and windy.

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This is why we willingly left behind 60°+ temps on Saturday.

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Frozen Pactola Reservoir.

But, you know, we’ll have warm weather again. May is practically right around the corner!


Last week the Rapid City Public Library held a scavenger hunt. They hid 10 vouchers for free Rapid City Rush hockey tickets throughout the library, and posted clues on their Facebook page. I love a good scavenger hunt and we have had fun at the Rush games we’ve attended, so I studied the hints very carefully and got there right when they opened on Friday morning. I am fortunate to work a block away.

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Sure enough, I found the voucher I was looking for easily enough. I ended up being the first winner of the day! And then Tara was #7, thanks to some additional sleuthing on my part. I knew the location of a third ticket as well, but I didn’t want to monopolize the whole thing! Plus, you were limited to one per person, anyway. So, we can now redeem our vouchers for two free tickets to a Rush game of our choosing. They’re about a $30 value each. Not bad for a few minutes’ work, huh?