About Mark Petruska

I'm a writer/editor and self-published author who left the PNW for a fresh start in Rapid City, South Dakota in 2018. I've always been a Midwesterner at heart.

A Dynamite Day

OK, now I’ve officially had a first full week of work, and my impression of the new job has only gotten better. There is so much fun and variety there! I went out into the community one day to interview the director of a local United Way reading program for an upcoming story. My supervisor also put me in touch with a 2nd Lieutenant from Ellsworth AFB for an article on the challenges military kids face growing up. I can’t think of a person more qualified to write that story than me! Then, on Friday, I got to meet the producer of “Napoleon Dynamite” and my boss took us on a team outing, treating us to  ice cream from Armadillo’s. It was pretty much the perfect day.

About the “Napoleon Dynamite” connection. Sean Covel is a South Dakota native who also happens to be a close friend of my boss. He lives in Deadwood currently and is looking for a new project. My boss says I should give him a copy of my book. Umm, dare to dream! He stopped by the office to drop off an autographed ND movie poster. I shook his hand and petted his dog. I’ve been around more canines these past two weeks than ever before, I swear. They are mostly well-behaved but there are occasional accidents (good thing we have concrete floors) and if you walk in with food, good luck trying to sneak it past the pups.

Once again, we had another interesting week weather-wise. It rained nonstop for about 48 hours Tuesday-Wednesday, and when it wasn’t raining, it snowed. We ended up with over 3″ of rain and a couple inches of wet snow. The ground is super saturated and area creeks and streams are running very high. Parts of the Black Hills got feet of snow and Mount Rushmore even closed down one day. That never happens. Saturday was sunny and warm, but there are showers and thunderstorms in the forecast the next couple of days and flood watches have been posted.

How’s your spring?

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Wednesday morning’s commute.

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Rapid Creek is running high.

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This is a walking/bike path.

Saturday was a busy day. A good chunk of it was spent mowing our lawn. Our closing is scheduled for June 4, but the backyard didn’t get that memo. A kind neighbor has been cutting our front yard (we owe them baked goods!), but out back, the grass was literally shin-high. Our realtor said we were free to cut the grass as we pleased, so we went to Lowe’s and bought a lawnmower yesterday.

The last time I mowed grass was waaayyy back in 2006, so it was kind of a novelty. Tara swears she enjoys it and was willing to do the whole lawn herself, but I was weirdly excited to share the chore. The grass was so thick and wet we ended up mowing the entire backyard twice, adjusting the height so we basically cut it in layers. The whole process took us a good two hours! But along the way a couple of our neighbors came over to introduce themselves – Peggy next door and Grandma Lynn across the street. They are both super nice! And, get this: we learned some more about Doris, the former owner who passed away in February.

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It’s a novelty now. Check back with me in a few months and I’ll let you know how I feel then.

The bottom line is this: Doris did, in fact, die in the house, just as we suspected. That doesn’t bother me so much, but Grandma Lynn told us one of her out-of-state children ended up finding her. I hope that doesn’t mean she was lying around, cold and lifeless, for days on end.

Maybe we don’t need any additional details.

In any case, Grandma Lynn was close with Doris. They were “walking buddies” who strolled around the neighborhood often. She told us that Doris was the original owner of the house, meaning she lived there for 46 years, and had planned on putting the house up for sale this spring anyway because she could no longer keep up with it. She’d been making arrangements to move into a retirement home but, alas, did not make it. Grandma Lynn was happy that Doris passed away in the home she loved so much.

All I know is, we’re burning lots of sage when we move in.

Today’s going to be another errand-filled day. We plan to look at furniture (but just look – we’d have nowhere to put anything we bought). Woke up to some thunder and lightning action early this morning and more is expected later, so it’s a good day to stay close to home anyway. Tomorrow is supposed to be pretty rainy and I’ve got blogs to write still.

Next weekend we have camping reservations. Fingers crossed that the weather is decent.

 

 

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Week One Done

My first “week” at the new job is now in the can and I am loving every minute of it! I put week in parentheses because it was actually three days, but starting on a Wednesday had its perks. Namely the preceding long weekend.

More on the job in a second.

I wanted to take advantage of the extra days off, so on Monday I hiked Black Elk Peak. Second time I’ve done so since we moved here, and I couldn’t help but marvel over how much things have changed since my trek to the peak last July. That first hike coincided with our one-month anniversary in South Dakota, Tara was about to start a new job, I was still freelancing full-time, and we had exactly one year left on our apartment lease. This time around, I reflected on how much we have thrived since moving here. These first 11 months (yes, it’s been that long already!) have been very good to us. Tara has a job she enjoys so much she actually looks forward to going to work; we are in the process of buying a house; I am debt-free and just started my own dream job. We hoped moving to Rapid City would be a good decision. In retrospect, it has actually exceeded our own wildest expectations.

Tuesday wasn’t nearly as exciting – unless you are the type of person who enjoys hanging out and watching a plumber do a sewer scope on your new property. At least I got to spend some more time in our new house. The irises in our backyard are in full bloom now and look beautiful!

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Not so beautiful? The video of the sewer scope. I’m grateful for the YouTube link (I guess?), but if I never see a hose snaking 80′ through a sewer pipe again, I won’t complain. There is one potential future issue thanks to a rogue lilac in the front yard, but nothing we need to address immediately. Everything is on schedule with the purchase; we got the appraisal back on Wednesday and not only are we on track to close on time, but the sellers are actually wondering if we’d consider an early closing. We can’t do anything until I get my first paycheck from EGMRC on the 31st, but we’re down for closing after that if we can. It just gives us more time to start tearing down wallpaper and painting. We expect to have flooring estimates back sometime next week.

Knock on wood and everything, but do home purchases ever go this smoothly?!

Wednesday was my first day at EGMRC, and I will admit, I was a bundle of nerves. I think that’s pretty much par for the course anytime you start a new job. Fear of the unknown and all that. But within minutes of walking through the front door, I felt right at home. They had my workstation all set up and were configuring my computer. I got a tour of the office, filled out paperwork, and was set loose. I ended up proofing/editing the upcoming summer issue of our parenting magazine and knocked out an article, too. That’s the nice thing about being a writer: there isn’t a steep learning curve. I was happy to start contributing immediately.

About those workstations: they’re just about the coolest things ever. I liken them to cubicles on wheels; they’re partially enclosed for privacy, and because all the electrical outlets are ceiling-mounted, you can roll them around anywhere you’d like.

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Other cool things about the office: the exposed brick, the wall of glass windows, the conference room made out of a shipping container, and the popcorn machine. Yeah…I’m totally digging this place.

The first half of the week was pretty warm. Our high on Wednesday was 85º! After work, a brief but rather intense line of thunderstorms rolled through. The clouds looked wicked and otherworldly.

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Then yesterday, a really strong thunderstorm moved through downtown right around lunchtime. It was right on top of us at one point because a bright flash of lightning was followed immediately by a resulting thunderclap so loud the building shook and the lights flickered. Wild stuff. One other thing about EGMRC: they are a very dog-friendly office. The owner and several employees bring their dogs in every day (on Thursday, there were six of them – and there are only nine employees). Those poor dogs were freaked out by the thunder yesterday.

After work we stopped by Paddy O’Neill’s for drinks and a bite to eat. The rest of the weekend will be pretty low-key by design. This will likely be our last non-busy weekend for the rest of the summer. Tara is working for a few hours this morning, but then we are going to watch movies and hang out at home. The weather has, once again, taken a dramatic turn; it is rainy and only in the low 40s today. There is even more snow in the forecast, though it shouldn’t amount to anything. Some spots in the Black Hills might see a few inches.

That’s all the happenings for now!

An Ode to Doris

I have become obsessed with learning all I can about the woman whose house we are buying. Fortunately, in this day and age, info is pretty easy to come by. Googling her name brought up her obituary and a whole lot of info. Here’s what we know: Doris was 79 when she passed away on February 10. She was a lifelong Rapid City resident, a teacher, and a respected artist renowned for her pottery. She also apparently baked a mean gingerbread cookie. Guests left comments on her online obit, including this gem:

Doris was our neighbor for 39 years. She will be missed. We watched our children grow up together with the band of other neighborhood children, and took joy in seeing grandchildren perched on the “giant rocks” in Doris’ backyard as their parents had before them. We know that Doris has found the peace that she shared with us every day as we looked upon the beauty and tranquility of her garden.

I feel like we have big shoes to fill. More than one person mentioned the backyard and those rocks. They are a prominent feature; I even asked the inspector about them last week. He said they most likely were dug up out of the ground when the basement was being built. Considering she lived there for four decades, I’m sure the house has all kinds of her energy in there. I will admit, I was trying to find out if she died on the property. I found no evidence either way, but if I’m really curious I can always check the county clerk’s office for her death certificate, which lists where a person expires. I do know that she is buried in the cemetery adjacent to the neighborhood. We’ll have to pay our respects one day. Also, if I can ever get my hands on a piece of her pottery, I would love to have that in the house as an ode to Doris.

Meanwhile, we continue to experience odd events around the apartment. Friday night, for instance, the TV downstairs turned on by itself in the middle of the night. I only know this because I woke up at 1:30 and heard voices in the living room. Freaked me out pretty good. Tara suspects Sydney might have accidentally stepped on the remote control and powered the television on. This is a perfectly plausible scenario.

Or would be, if she weren’t sleeping in our bed with us that night.

So, we are joking that it’s Doris. We don’t really believe the deceased owner of the house we are buying is hanging around us all of a sudden, but it’s interesting that these events  (the TV and lamp coming on by themselves, loud banging noises in the empty kitchen) started happening as soon as we made an offer on the place.


After venturing out of town the past two weekends we were hoping for a quieter, more relaxing one this time around, but we needed to get flooring and carpeting picked out because our estimated closing date of June 7 will be here in no time. So we ended up visiting several home improvement and flooring stores and finally found things we liked at Lowe’s.

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We ended up choosing bamboo flooring for the living room, kitchen, and hallway; vinyl sheeting for the bathrooms; and new carpeting for the bedrooms. (We aren’t changing a thing in the basement!) We definitely wanted hardwood, and not only was bamboo the most reasonably priced, but my research shows it’s very durable and is an especially good choice for pets. So, bamboo it is! Lowe’s will be setting up an appointment to take measurements before giving us an estimate. We have a rough idea of what it will cost but are curious to see the final numbers. It sounds like the timing will work out well; they said it’ll take around 4-6 weeks for the contractors to do the installation, which would give us time to strip the wallpaper and paint first.

After all that running around, we dropped in to Murphy’s Pub & Grill for a celebratory dinner. We toasted to my new job, our new house, and Doris in the same place where we made that fateful (and very smart) decision 19 months ago to roll the dice and move to Rapid City. It seemed both appropriate and full-circle.

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The buffalo meatloaf was featured on the Travel Channel and is pretty legendary.

Today, I decided to explore the hiking trails in the hills above our neighborhood. The trailhead is a five-minute jaunt from our front door, and it connects to the entire network of Skyline Wilderness trails that offer great views of the Black Hills to the west, downtown to the east, and the vast prairie. We can even walk to Dinosaur Park from our house. This hiking nerd could not be happier.

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View from the trail in our neighborhood. Our house is somewhere in the center of this photo.

Speaking of, I plan to hike Black Elk Peak – the highest point east of the Rockies – tomorrow. I want to take advantage of my two extra days of freedom before starting my new job. Tara warned me not to fall off a cliff, and I assured her I would be careful. (This particular trail doesn’t traverse any particularly steep precipices, so I’ll be fine.) I told her yeah, that would really suck for you. She replied, it would suck for you even more.

Touché.

 

Lenny Kravitz: Good Luck Charm

If it seems like I’m posting more often than usual these days, that’s because I’m posting more often than usual these days. What can I say? There is a lot going on in my life and I want to record it all for posterity.

Plus, I’ve had lots of requests for house pics, so there is that.

Yesterday, we had our home inspection. These things are always a little nerve-wracking; the inspector could discover something seriously wrong with the house that forces you to back out of the deal. Fortunately, that did not happen. Instead, he concluded our house is in very good shape. It has been well-maintained and obviously cared for; the foundation is solid, the roof is new, and there are no major issues to worry about. There are a few minor concerns, mostly electrical-related issues, but those are easy fixes. We’ll need to have the heating ducts cleaned, replace some outlets with GFCIs, that sort of thing. A chimney inspection is probably a wise idea, too. But all in all, everything looks great. After hearing the story behind our purchase – the out-of-state sellers handling their mom’s estate, the offer they accepted without countering, what we will end up paying –  and thoroughly examining the property, he concluded that we are getting a great deal, especially for this part of town.

What a relief!

Oh, fun fact: the day we first went to look at the house, I was listening to a Lenny Kravitz playlist I made on Spotify. We ended up putting in the offer and it was accepted the next day. So on the way over to the inspection, I figured I’d play Lenny again. And we passed with flying colors. Lenny Kravitz, it seems, is my good luck charm.

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Next step? The bank will order an appraisal. These are taking about four weeks currently, which is a lot faster than we’d figured. After that, we’ll close. Great!…

…except for the fact that our apartment lease does not expire until July 25.

Nothing much we can do about that. Everything has happened much more quickly than anticipated. We hope to take advantage of the overlap by doing the painting and remodeling before actually moving in. But how hard is it going to be to go back to a small apartment every night once we have the keys to a beautiful home? It’ll all just depend on our contractor’s schedule. Apparently a lot of them are booked pretty far in advance. Tara took measurements of all the upstairs rooms this morning so we’ll know exactly how much flooring and carpeting is needed. We plan to jump right on that and start looking at samples as soon as possible. Like, tonight. The clock is ticking!

Worst case scenario, we can “live” in the basement while they’re working on the upstairs. I mean, that’s where we’ll be spending most of our time anyway. We’d just have to keep Sydney corralled.

She is going to love moving for the second summer in a row.

Work has been slow this week. Tomorrow is my last day! Seems like I was just freaking out over giving my two-week’s notice. I’ve had a few proposals to work on and some loose ends to tie up, but otherwise, not a lot to do. I am definitely feeling a disconnect this week. The company just landed a huge contract, one that will be a real game-changer, and everybody has been meeting behind closed doors all week strategizing over the details. I am happy for them, but man, are they going to have their work cut out for them. This company is going to look dramatically different a year from now; I don’t know whether to feel relieved that I’m getting out now, or melancholy about missing out on this big opportunity. Maybe a little of both? My boss has made it a point to remind me at least once a day that “you can still stay!”, ha. I appreciate that, but I am following my heart and excited to begin my new job next Wednesday.

This weekend we might be driving to Sundance, Wyoming to buy a table and chairs Tara found online. “They’ll be perfect for game nights!” she declared. She is not wrong about that. It’s adorable to see her so excited over house stuff.

Dakota Thunder vs. Salem Sue

North Dakota is weird.

Don’t get me wrong. I like weird! I’m the guy who drove miles out of his way to check out Carhenge, after all. I’m simply making an observation.

If you’re wondering what makes North Dakota weird, let’s start with the state’s odd obsession with giant animals. During our weekend visit, we paid homage to both the world’s largest buffalo and the world’s largest Holstein cow.

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Dakota Thunder, the pride of Jamestown.

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Salem Sue. Don’t ask me to explain the veins because I have no freakin’ idea.

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You could see Sue from miles away on the interstate. We had to pull over and check her out!

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DT looms large over the landscape, too.

I haven’t bothered to verify either of those claims, but make no mistake about it, each is unequivocally pretty damn big. I’m not sure which I liked better, Dakota Thunder or Salem Sue. Both were located on ridges with sweeping views of the surrounding prairie, so that was a draw. And they both satisfied my kitsch-loving heart equally.

Overall, we had a good time. Lots of driving, but also, lots of hanging out with our blogging friend Karri and her best friend, Ryan. We hit the road Friday at 1:00 for the six-hour trek to Jamestown. The first 3/4 of the trip was over two-lane county roads with a ratio of about 100 cows to every person. The good news? I was able to drive 80 mph most of the way, which shaved about half an hour off our travel time. We didn’t hit an interstate until we got to Mandan and connected with I-94. Jamestown was about another hour from there. We finally rolled into town around 8:00, having lost an hour to the Central time zone. Karri and Ryan beat us by about 30 minutes.

After checking in and freshening up, Tara and I walked over to a taphouse (fancy name for “bar and grill”) conveniently located between their motel and ours. We timed it perfectly because they were just walking up to the place when we got there. I’d told Tara I wanted to mess around with them and asked her to play along, but my wife cannot keep a straight face to save her life. I introduced her as “Tu-Rah” in a high-pitched voice and hoped to keep up the charade for at least half an hour, but “Tear-Uh” started laughing right off the bat and outed me. The jig was up before it even got started.

I need to teach my wife how to develop a poker face. A p-p-p-poker face.

You never know what a person is going to be like in real life after only knowing their online persona, but Karri and I go back more than 15 years (!) and I was pretty confident we’d get along just fine. Sure enough, we found her to be very outgoing and bubbly. Sure, she talked funny (being Canadian and all), but she was our kind of people. She and Tara really hit it off. Ryan’s a good guy, too. It’s hard to explain their relationship to outsiders; Karri is married, but not to Ryan. She visits him in the U.S. for three weeks at a stretch twice a year (he lives in International Falls, Minnesota – the icebox of America) and he makes the trip north to hang out with her and Pat, too. It’s an unconventional friendship but completely innocent and works for them. She calls them her “mantourage,” lol. Ryan seems quiet and reserved, but man, he’s got this deadpan humor that catches you off guard when he decides to let loose. At one point he said something so goddamn funny I literally spit my beer out. Karri pointed out later that he was actually reading aloud something I had written, but he was doing it in a funny voice and I just lost it. He and I are similar in many regards – certainly from a humor standpoint.

It’s a good thing we all got along so well, because we spent an awful lot of time together. Closed down the taphouse Friday night, then met up for breakfast at Perkin’s Saturday morning and didn’t part ways until 13 hours later (minus a 30-minute break to freshen up). We drove around Jamestown, visited Dakota Thunder, went shopping at Goodwill (because what else is there to do in North Dakota?), killed a few hours in a little pub downtown, and hung out in their room for a few more hours talking and laughing. We ended up ordering Domino’s for a late dinner before finally calling it a night around 11:00. Said our goodbyes then because we were hitting the road bright and early Sunday. Long drive home and all.

We took a longer route home because we were initially planning on detouring through Theodore Roosevelt National Park, but when we got there it was overcast and cold AF and actually started snowing a little, plus Tara had forgotten her camera and Rapid City was still another four hours away. We’re planning on coming back and making a weekend of it – taking our time exploring the park as well as the Enchanted Highway and spending the night in Dickinson. Possibly this summer if time permits, but we’ve got a house to move into and lots of work to do there, so we’ll see how that pans out.

We finally got home around 3:00 and still had to do our grocery shopping, so we drove to Safeway, but not before swinging by our house first. The For Sale sign had an “Under Contract” banner on top and that was a beautiful sight to behold. The sellers cashed our earnest money check and our realtor has a signed purchase agreement, so it’s all pretty official now. We’ve scheduled a home inspection for Wednesday morning, so barring anything unforeseen (knock on wood) things will really start moving fast.

Once we were finally home for good we fired up Saturday Night Live (Adam Sandler killed it BTW), plopped down on the loveseat, and relaxed for the first time in days. And then some very weird things started happening…

First, the living room lamp turned on by itself. It’s got a three-way bulb and you actually have to turn the switch three times to get it to cycle through all the settings. The weird thing is, it turned on to the middle setting. I thought maybe the bulb was loose so I checked that, but nope – it was screwed in pretty solidly. A little while later, right in the middle of SNL, the TV switched itself to Netflix. “What the hell is going on?!” I asked, perplexed. As soon as the words left my mouth, there was a loud bang from the kitchen…but nobody was in there. We just looked at each other, perplexed. Tara joked that it’s the owner of the house we’re buying. She did just pass away, after all. I’ve had experiences of this sort in my life before, but never in that apartment. Tara swears she heard strange noises in the middle of the night, too. Hmm…

It’s my last week of work here at PSI. Everybody is in really good spirits because we just landed a huge five-year government contract worth a LOT of money. It’s the elusive big break they have been seeking for 10+ years and will completely change the face of the company. Kind of bittersweet that I won’t be around to see them reap the rewards, but at the same time they will be adding a lot more staff and you never know how things will shake out in the long run. I’m happy for them and also happy for me, for landing this great new job opportunity.

It’s a win/win for us all.

“Cue the Deer!”

Have you ever seen the movie “Funny Farm” starring Chevy Chase? It’s a 1988 comedy about a NYC sportswriter who moves to a small town in Vermont to pursue his dream of writing a novel. Andy Farmer and his wife, Elizabeth, have a difficult time fitting in with the oddball locals, and eventually decide to sell their house. In order to entice potential buyers, they pay the townsfolk to help make a good impression. Much hilarity ensues, including one scene in which Andy picks up a walkie-talkie and instructs a co-conspirator to “Cue the deer!” At that point a baby doe is released from a pen and trots across the yard, thoroughly charming the couple looking at the house. funnyfarm

It’s a great, underrated film. Check it out.

Tara and I found ourselves living a scene from “Funny Farm” Wednesday afternoon. We had gone to look at a house, a new listing she had emailed to me at 1:00. Stepping out of the car, it was love at first sight. The house was situated in a quiet neighborhood at the base of the Dakota Hogback Ridge, a mountain range that separates the east and west sides of Rapid City and is home to Dinosaur Park, with great views of the Black Hills to the west. Standing there, we heard the soft whistle of a distant train and the cooing of mourning doves. And then a super friendly neighbor across the street waved to us and gave us a great, big “Hello!” The only thing missing was the deer, come to think of it.

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In any case, I was ready to sign on the dotted line right then and there, and our realtor hadn’t even shown up yet. He finally arrived an eternity and a half later and we got to see the inside. The house is an estate; the owner passed away, and her four adult children were handling the transaction from out of state. The interior was definitely dated, but it had a lot of great features – huge kitchen, beautifully landscaped backyard, vintage vertical angled cabinet doors in the bathroom, and a basement that would truly be perfect for our ’70s-loving sensibilities, including the FAKE WOOD PANELING I covet so much and green carpet. Seriously, when we gave our realtor our wish list, we requested the following:

  • West side location
  • 3 BR, 2 BA minimum
  • Central A/C
  • Basement
  • Fireplace
  • Fake wood paneling

We didn’t actually expect to find a house with all those things, but this one was IT. Interesting history with the listing. It hit the market 16 days earlier, but they dropped the price $21,000 Wednesday because nobody liked the decor. Everybody’s feedback was so negative! What does it say about me and Tara that we love what others loathed?

Never mind. Rhetorical question.

In any case, we really liked the house, and decided to make an offer on the spot. The previous weekend, we had found a listing we liked on Sunday afternoon, but by the time we emailed our realtor Monday morning requesting a showing, it was already under contract. Lesson learned: if we liked something, we’d waste no time going after it.

Now, this house is in a very desirable neighborhood and with the drop in price was listed pretty competitively with others nearby. Plus, our realtor was impressed, saying “it has good bones.” (I imagine that’s the first thing realtors are taught to say in realtor school.) I wanted to make a full-price offer because I was afraid somebody else would swoop in with a better one and steal it away from us. There were fresh footprints in the snow out back, evidence that others had been by that day to check it out. But Tara wanted to go lower. We’ll have to tear out all the upstairs carpeting (it’s everywhere – even in the kitchen and bathrooms), remove wallpaper, and paint the walls. There is work to be done. So, we ended up making an offer for $6,000 under the reduced price.

Thursday was agony, waiting for a response. I didn’t get a whole lot of work done. And then, at 3:30, Tara called me with the good news. Our offer was accepted. They didn’t even bother countering.

GUYS, WE JUST BOUGHT A HOUSE!!

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The kitchen is huge! And…carpeted. That’ll have to go.

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How good will our lava lamps look down here?!

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Love the backyard and the view to the west. We’ll be able to catch some amazing sunsets!

It’s amazing how quickly this all happened. We barely started our search and only looked at one other property! Hell, it’s amazing this happened at all. Five years ago, fresh off a short sale, my credit in the toilet, home ownership seemed like a distant dream. It took a move to South Dakota to seal the deal. That, the dream job I just landed, and the fact that Tara’s entire department is losing their jobs in Vancouver, WA just goes to show how smart we were to move out here.

Now the fun begins. Home inspections, interior work, packing, moving. Feels like we just did those last two things! Probably because we just did those last two things less than a year ago.

All totally worth it, of course.

May Day (South Dakota-style)

Happy May Day from South Dakota!

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Yes, that photo was taken today. Its’ been quite a snowy couple of days. 5″ of heavy, wet snow on Tuesday, and several more inches today. They say that Rapid City has now recorded its 4th-snowiest winter of all time. To that I say…umm, winter ended about 40 days ago! It’s been quite the ride.

(Sorry, Ron.)

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Despite the snow these past two days, there have been plenty of signs of spring. Namely, the pasqueflowers (or Pulsatilla if you’re a genus genius). They are also called prairie crocus, Easter flower, wind flower, May Day flower, and meadow anemone. They’re the South Dakota state flower and quite beautiful, adding a nice splash of color to contrast the monochromatic prairie grass. The name is derived from pasakh, the Hebrew word for Passover, the time of year in which these flowers traditionally bloom. Bet you didn’t know I had mad botany skillz.IMG_20190422_090459_065.jpg

Or mad Googling skillz. Whatever!

We had seen pasqueflower photos, but it wasn’t until our trip to Wind Cave National Park a couple of weekends ago that we saw one in person for the first time. Tara and I whipped out our cameras and took about a dozen combined pictures of this one solitary specimen. A couple of days later I decided to take a hike along Skyline Wilderness Trail in Rapid City and stumbled upon hundreds and hundreds of them. Made me laugh over my excitement at spotting one flower. They sure are beautiful, huh?

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I’m sure we’ll see them again once the snow melts! (This shouldn’t take long since it’ll be pushing 60° by tomorrow.)

I forgot to recount an interesting experience I had while hiking the Homestake Trail last Saturday. TrailLink describes it thusly:

More than a century ago, steam locomotives lugged supplies from Deadwood to Lead and to the miners at Homestake Mine, once the largest goldmine in the Western Hemisphere. This narrow-gauge track fell out of use in the early 20th century, and with it was lost a storied history that connected the two cities. Today, the Homestake Railroad Grade Trail as its name suggests follows the same route as the old Fremont, Elkhorn and Missouri Valley railroad.

This has quickly become a favorite hike in the Black Hills because of the history and solitude. It’s lightly trafficked – we didn’t see another soul the entire four miles – and the views are amazing. There are still sections of railroad track partially buried in a few places. You are following the same route that ferried passengers to and from their homes in Deadwood to their mining jobs in Lead some 130 years ago.

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As we were walking along, I swore I could hear distant sounds from the past: the chugging of the steam locomotive as it traversed the ridge, the clatter of the rails, the laughter and cursing of men long since dead, headed home to wives or to the saloon for whiskey. I could picture them, dirty and disheveled, crowded close together, tired after a day of backbreaking work. These images were vivid in my mind. I’m sure they were nothing more than the byproduct of an overactive imagination, but for a few minutes, it felt like I was witness to a slice of pioneer life circa 1890. It wasn’t like seeing a ghost, but rather, feeling the presence of a whole locomotive full of them. I guess? Hard to explain, but pretty cool nonetheless.

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.

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.