Today is a momentous milestone. In exactly 100 days, we will be leaving the PNW behind and heading for South Dakota! Seeing that countdown timer drop to double digits tomorrow is going to be surreal.
We have slowly been preparing for the move, but that’s going to pick up steam very soon. Tara is talking about beginning to pack this weekend. Just items we hardly ever use, the stuff in the back of closets and in the far reaches of cabinets. But it’ll mark an important psychological start. What we have been doing for a while now is gradually stocking up on goods we won’t be able to find in Rapid City. I’ve got a box full of food and beverages tucked away.
Yes, lots of salts. And vodka. That probably speaks volumes about my personality.
Since this is a new blog, I thought I’d take a moment today to talk about how we got here. I don’t mean in the birds-and-bees sense; I trust y’all know about that. More to the point, how – and why – we decided to leave behind Portland for a fresh start in Rapid City, South Dakota, of all places. If you’ve already read this, then you have some background. But no need to click on the link; this will be a standalone post.
It all began a long time ago, back when Ronald Reagan was President and MTV still played music videos…
My dad was in the Air Force, and received a new assignment that took us from Hawaii to Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota, just as I was entering high school. In the interest of keeping this as short as possible, I’ll sum up our three years there by saying my parents tolerated it, but I loved it. The Black Hills are spectacular. When we left in the summer before my senior year, I was basically devastated and begged them to let me stay, but that didn’t happen. We moved on to California, I graduated from high school and college, landed a job, transferred to the PNW, and never gave South Dakota much of a thought again.
Until 2011, when I took a solo road trip to Dayton, Ohio, another place from my youth. I had planned on staying two days in Rapid City along the way, but enjoyed my time there so much, I changed my itinerary and tacked on an extra day. Sorry, Cleveland – I had to give you up. I was quite impressed with Rapid City, surprised by its proliferation of cool restaurants, brewpubs, and quaint shops. Ohio might have been my ultimate destination, but Rapid charmed me the most. I famously wrote,
I was quite surprised to find a little slice of Portland in Rapid City: quaint coffee shops, a used bookstore, and this cool alleyway I stumbled upon that was decorated all over with graffiti and murals. I strolled through there, taking plenty of pics. Love it! I am enraptured by this place all over again, and want to enjoy every last drop of it while I can.
I can’t help but marvel, once again, over the beauty of this area…and abundance of natural attractions. I’ve often wondered if I could ever picture myself living in Rapid City again, and the verdict is in: yes, I could. I wouldn’t rule it out if the circumstances were exactly right.
Yet, I could never imagine how those circumstances would ever come together, and never seriously thought it would happen. Instead, Tara happened. We started dating a few months after that road trip, she moved out here, and we settled into a happy little life in the PNW.
Until we started looking at houses last year. Seriously looking, anyway. And quickly found that we’d been priced out of the market. While the exorbitant housing costs were the catalyst that made me half-jokingly suggest moving to Rapid City, they were really only the tip of the iceberg. The idea took steam once we talked about our growing disenchantment with the Portland area as a whole, and what once seemed like the most unlikely of scenarios, actually returning to a place that meant so much to me in my youth, became reality when we took a quick trip out there this past October and decided, over a plate of fried pickles – how very Mark and Tara of us! – to roll the dice and make it official.
And now here we are, stocking up on salt and vodka, bringing home boxes from work, and contacting moving companies for quotes. It still feels surreal, and yet, this is as real as it gets.
Countdown: 100 Days
It’s been a fine springlike weekend here in the PNW – all sunshine, blue skies, and blooming cherry blossoms.
I posted this photo to Facebook, and a friend who used to live in Portland but relocated to Ohio years ago commented, “Such a beautiful view. Brings back fond memories.” I asked her if she ever missed it here, and she replied, “Some things yes, the cost of living NO!”
Amen to that.
Tara and I took the light rail into the city yesterday so we could take advantage of the nice weather. Normally we’d have done a hike, but after the devastating Eagle Creek fire in the Columbia Gorge last September, most of our favorite trails are closed. We focus on urban hiking now. (Such a shame, too. Those hikes are spectacular…I hate that we won’t get a chance to do a few more before we move.)
The MAX ride was interesting. At one point a group of four got on, a young couple and her parents. They struck up a conversation with the person next to them, and it turns out they are from Arizona and planning a move to Portland in a couple of months. They’d flown out for an exploratory weekend of adventure in the Rose City. Sitting across from them, overhearing the excitement in their voices as they gushed about their future, I was aware of the weird dichotomy in our lives. They can’t wait to get out here, and we can’t wait to leave.
We missed our stop – ha, how long have you lived here, Mark?! – and had to backtrack a bit on foot, but Portland is very walkable and the weather was gorgeous. Our first stop was the PSU farmer’s market. Admittedly produce is a bit sparse this time of year, but we were hoping to snag some asparagus. No such luck, so we left empty-handed. Walked to our favorite food cart pod on 10th and Alder next and grabbed lunch, then continued on to the waterfront, where we did a loop around the river and walked through the Saturday Market. Tara bought a print and I got a garlic grater, final souvenirs from a place I’ve visited dozens of times over the years. We made one more stop at Pine Street Market to pick up some corn nuts (sounds weird, but Pollo Bravo makes fresh corn nuts from scratch that are pretty effin’ fantastic) before hopping back on the MAX train.
On the way home, we stopped at a Batteries + Bulbs store so I could replace a key fob battery. When the cashier asked if I wanted to sign up for their lifetime replacement program, I made the mistake of telling him I would, sounds like a great deal, yadda yadda, but we’re moving in a few months so I guess I’ll have to pass. He then told me they have stores nationwide and asked where we are headed. I still figured I’d be off the hook, because – you know – South Dakota, but as luck would have it they just happen to have a store on West Main Street in downtown Rapid City. I was kind of stuck at that point, but free lifetime battery replacements for a one-time fee of $17.95 plus tax isn’t a terrible deal, I suppose. It’ll give me incentive to hang onto my Mazda for a while, anyway.
The real kicker is, the cashier just moved out here from Rapid City last May. Turns out he was born and raised there. What are the odds?! I asked him if it was the weather that drove him away, and he said, nope – it was boredom. Ha! But he was a young guy and you could tell he was the type itching for adventure after growing up in a smallish town in the Midwest, so again, dichotomy was at play. We chatted about the area and he did mention the excellent job market out there, so that was encouraging. Just a crazy weird coincidence to run into a former Rapid Citian out here. You don’t come across many of those.
My parents had us over for dinner last night. We hadn’t been to their house in ages – at least not when they were home, as we did borrow their grill a couple of times when they were out of town – so it was nice seeing them again. We often try to guess what they’re going to make before arriving, and I nailed it yesterday. The grilled teriyaki chicken and macaroni salad were delicious. They even had that elusive asparagus we’d been unable to find, so it was a pretty well-rounded meal.
Countdown: 104 Days
Yesterday I stopped by the clinic before work for a blood draw in anticipation of my annual checkup next week. Because they did not open until 8:00 and I had to fast, I took my time getting ready in the morning. Took a brisk walk and was treated to a spectacular sunrise. People are always asking me why I get up so damned early rather than sleeping in.
This is why, folks.
In any case, I got there promptly when they opened, and was in and out in about 10 minutes. When the nurse stuck a needle in my vein she exclaimed, “Good news – you have blood!” I laughed politely, even though I’m pretty sure this is the exact same thing, the nurse who took my blood last year said. Word for word, even though it was a completely different person. Which makes me wonder if there’s a Making Small Talk With Patients course that’s a prerequisite for graduation from nursing school. I’ll have to ask my mom, who is a retired RN.
Then the nurse mentioned the lab work includes a cholesterol check, and without missing a beat, urged me to get an Egg McMuffin after my blood draw because I had been fasting and she said it would really hit the spot. I found that sort of funny and ironic. Then again, my doctor is a big fan of diet soda – he once extolled the virtues of Diet Coke to me and seemed to pooh-pooh the idea that aspartame is bad for you, so I wonder sometimes whether this clinic is on the up-and-up.
Not that it matters. Next week’s appointment will be my last one with these guys, barring an unforeseen case of the bubonic plague or something.
Knock on wood.
When I got to work I was swept up in a conversation with the web developers, which is weird because my interactions with them are typically pretty limited. They code, and I make sure modifiers aren’t dangling. We run in different circles. What happened was, I was walking by and decided to be a smartass by pretending to crash their meeting. Only they insisted I stay and wanted my input on a question, so the joke ended up being on me. The question was an interesting one, though: they wanted to know what type of technological innovation I am resistant toward. So I thought about it for a minute and answered, streaming.
Not music streaming so much. I’m Team Spotify all the way. I refer instead to video streaming, which I tend to abhor.
I explained that I still have an old school Netflix DVD subscription, and dropping those red envelopes into the mailbox is a time-honored Monday morning tradition to this day. They regarded me with equal parts compassion and amusement. One of the guys said, “They still make those?!” I’m not sure whether he was referring to Netflix DVD subscriptions or DVDs themselves, but it’s not the first time I’ve heard that.
I don’t know what to say, other than, watching TV on a laptop (or god forbid, a phone) just feels weird to me. The screen is too small, the volume’s too low. It delegitimizes the whole experience. To be fair, I do have a Netflix streaming subscription as well, and a smart TV, and just this week I’ve been streaming a WWII documentary, so I’m not completely out of touch with the modern world. I just prefer the old ways, which makes me sound like a grandpa. Whatever.
Don’t even get me started on how much I miss Hollywood Video…
Countdown: 107 Days
With just 15 weekends left until we move, we are in full-on prioritizing mode now. We already have about 1/3 of those weekends planned out, plus at some point we’re going to have to actually start packing. Everything is happening so fast now!
Which is why we drove up to Tacoma over the weekend to visit family. A two-hour drive is a lot more doable than an 18-hour drive, so we’ve gotta take advantage while we can. On the way there, we stopped at the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, which is a real mouthful but also proved to be a great way to kill a couple of hours on Saturday morning. We have driven up and down this particular stretch of Interstate 5 pretty regularly for more than six years, but had never pulled over to check out the refuge. I’m glad we finally did, even if approximately 500 other people had the same idea. Seriously, the parking lot was so full we were lucky to snag one of the last spots. The wildlife preserve features a boardwalk that traverses an estuary, salt marshes, and mudflats located within the Nisqually River Delta.
It turned out to be a 4+-mile walk on a sunny but chilly/brisk late winter morning. Tara had read that the best time to visit was 1-2 hours after high tide and, though we missed that by a good 60 minutes, it was still a pleasant stroll. We saw lots of birds (mostly blue herons, bald eagles, and Canadian geese), plus a furtive seal. Naturally, we took lots of photos.
After exploring the wildlife refuge, we hit the road again for Tracy and David’s apartment, less than a half hour up the interstate. We had a nice visit and Tara made chicken paprikash for dinner. In case you are unfamiliar, paprikash is a traditional Hungarian dish of chicken and dumplings. It also happens to be my dad’s favorite meal, but because it is a heavy and labor-intensive meal, my mom only makes it once a year, on his birthday in January. A few years ago she handed the family recipe down to Tara, who – I am happy to say – has perfected it. She even tweaked the recipe a bit by replacing the sour cream with plain Greek yogurt, which lightens it up a bit and adds protein. I can’t even tell the difference. My great-great-great-grandparents would be proud.
To make the dumplings, she used the practically-antique dumpling maker I inherited from my grandmother. We all gathered around and watched as she was toiling away, ha. In our defense, it’s not every day you see homemade dumplings coming to life, and this was the first time Tracy, David, and Annie had tried paprikash. Anthony was being a typical 5-year old and insisted on frozen pizza instead. Hey, his loss! Everybody else raved over it, and rightfully so. It’s so good!
Sunday morning we visited for a couple of hours before driving back home. Stopped for lunch at an unassuming little family-owned burger joint just off I-5 in Toledo. We used to eat here fairly often when we were making regular trips to Seattle, but it had been a couple of years since our last visit. Mrs. Beesley’s might not have been on our official Farewell Tour list, but we definitely wanted to stop in one more time before leaving. As usual, it did not disappoint.
Countdown: 110 Days
I can’t believe the Olympics are over now. They’d been a near-constant companion for 2+ weeks, and I’ll miss them. And when I say “constant” I mean that. This has been the view from my desk at work:
I even had to move my coworker’s plant out of the way, as she rudely had it sitting atop her filing cabinet and blocking my view. The nerve of some people! Our IT department (that may be a generous description given that it’s really just one guy) was kind enough to hook up a laptop and play highlights from the previous day’s events. I was especially thankful for this after realizing I’d somehow missed the initial broadcast of the men’s snowboard cross, the one event I was most looking forward to. The games were a nice little distraction during the day, and we watched quite a bit at home, as well. Now, onto Beijing in 2022. How different my life is going to look then!
I’ve mentioned from time to time Mark & Tara’s PNW Farewell Tour, a list of things to do and places to see before we move. We settled on 26 items and have been able to cross off 11 so far. On Sunday we completed another – lunch and a movie at Kennedy School, one of the McMenamins flagship properties. We met up with our friend Chris for lunch and cocktails, then Tara and I saw “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” in the theater there. Afterwards, we grabbed a few more drinks at one of the onsite bars before calling it a day. Great way to spend a rainy Sunday.
I know we’re focused on and excited about our move, but I would like to devote some of these blog posts to our favorite places in Portland/Vancouver. I don’t want anybody to think we won’t miss things around here – that certainly is not the case. Now’s the perfect time to discuss one of those places – or in this case, a chain of those places. We are big fans of the McMenamins mini empire, a family-owned chain of pubs, breweries, hotels, theaters, spas, and music venues. Portland brothers Mike and Brian McMenamin opened their first cafe in 1974, founded a hospitality company in 1983, and acquired additional properties over the years. They focus on handcrafting their own beer, wine, cider, liquor, and coffee, and serve up terrific food – in fact, they are one of the 50 top craft brewers in the U.S. Their locations now number in the dozens, and they have been expanding into Washington state in recent years.
McMenamins is a unique place to spend a a couple of hours or even a whole weekend, if you are so inclined. It can best be summed up as an “experience.” Their larger properties, like the aforementioned Kennedy School and the Grand Lodge in Forest Grove, are a labyrinth of bars, theaters, and restaurants. Our favorite is Edgefield, a sprawling former county poor farm in Troutdale that features a winery, golf course, distillery, and amphitheater, where we have caught many a summer concert on the lawn. Bonus: the hotel is haunted. We can personally vouch for that!
All McMenamins properties are decorated in artist-commissioned hand-painted murals that can only be described as whimsical – even exposed pipes don’t escape the artist’s paintbrush – and they sell a passport book in which you collect stamps that are later redeemed for prizes. Quite frankly it’s a brilliant business concept and always a great way to spend a day. And I haven’t even mentioned their legendary Cajun tots. There isn’t anything else quite like McMenamins. It will be missed!
Countdown: 117 Days
I spent three hours this morning working on a blog post for a medical practice association. The topic: office romance. Oh, and the kicker? It was a poem.
Nobody can ever say my job is boring.
This is my third poem for these guys in the last year. How I became the office bard is a bit of a mystery. I remember a brainstorming session on blog topics in late 2016, and I suggested holiday party etiquette. I joked that it should be written as a parody of The Night Before Christmas and things kind of took off from there. For the record, I am most definitely not a poet, but I can crank out a decent rhyme, I guess. Here are a few lines of what I came up with:
Sally and Jack worked for Company A
Their friendship grew a bit stronger each day
Innocent talk about movies and weather
Soon led to them eating lunches together
After a while they started to flirt
They were both single – what could it hurt?
Their risqué behavior deserved an R rating
They justified it because they were dating
A few of their coworkers went to HR
Saying the relationship had gone too far
Further developments fueled the commotion
When Sally was handed a big, fat promotion
The other employees went on the attack
“She got this position because she’s with Jack!”
Keep in mind, this is a professional organization with dues-paying members. Because of that, I had to scrap my first draft, which contained the lines,
“This just isn’t fair!” they shouted in anger
“This wouldn’t have happened if he didn’t bang her!”
Personally, I thought that version was a much more compelling read. But tempting as it was, I just couldn’t bring myself to turn it in. I joked that I could end up being the first person in history to be fired for sexual harassment who didn’t actually sexually harass anyone.
Bonus points if you picked up on my pop culture references. I like to throw little Easter eggs into my work, just for fun. That’s kind of my trademark, as the holiday etiquette poem contained characters named Michael, Stanley, Phyllis, Oscar, Jim, Pam, Toby, Dwight, Meredith, Andy, Ryan, Kelly, and Creed. Suffice it to say, there’s a fair amount of creative leeway allowed on these blog posts.
Is it any wonder they’re among my favorite writing assignments?
Countdown: 120 Days
I had an unexpected snow day today!
Well, not exactly. I still worked. I just did so from the comfort of my recliner at home, thanks to a rare late February snowstorm. How rare? It’s been 23 years since we’ve had this much snow (3.5”) after Valentine’s Day. And they’re predicting more tonight. What a strange winter it has been. We were in the 60s a couple of weeks ago and it looked like Spring had arrived early. When Punxsatawney Phil predicted six more weeks of winter at the beginning of the month, I thought to myself, the groundhog has lost his freakin’ mind.
But the shadow never lies.
It actually snowed pretty much nonstop all day yesterday, but the temperature hovered right around 34 degrees and the ground was too warm for anything to stick. After sunset the temperature dropped and the snow picked up, so Tara and I found ourselves walking around outside right in the midst of the heaviest of it. I call that “South Dakota research.” This morning when I opened the blinds in our bedroom, I was greeted with the following sight:
Gorgeous, huh? The sun was rising next to Mount Hood, and its rays cast a warm glow on the snow-flocked branches. Even Tara seemed to enjoy the magic of last night’s snowfall (or at least pretended to). Normally I’m the one gushing over frozen precipitation while she is rather blase over it all. We may just have turned a corner.
The funny thing is, Rapid City got a bunch of snow on Monday and I was jealous. Not anymore!
We got an email from HR this morning stating that the office was technically closed and we could come in at our own discretion or make alternate arrangements with our managers. I was planning on working from home anyway, because there is absolutely no need for me to do this job in an office (hint, hint!), so that worked out nicely. I’m always more productive working from home anyway. Got an early start too, so I’ll be logging off at 3:30 and heading to WinCo for groceries. Not because another storm is bearing down upon us; Wednesday is just our designated grocery day. Hopefully the store isn’t a madhouse.
Countdown: 122 Days
I realize 1″ of snow is nothing, and that I’m going to have to get used to a lot more than this. But it sure does make for some pretty scenery.
Bloody Marys, a “Curb Your Enthusiasm” marathon (thanks to a free HBO weekend. I can finally watch the newest season – yay!) and even a little snow in the air. Translation: not a half bad Sunday. It would be even better if I had tomorrow off like a certain unnamed female in the house does. Well, technically three females in the house have Monday off if I’m counting the cat, but whatever.
It’s been a pretty nice weekend. Originally Tara’s friend Betsy and her son were supposed to come up for a visit – they live in Vegas – but she inadvertently booked the trip for the wrong weekend and it would have cost something like $700 to change her ticket, so that visit is on hold. Which is probably a good thing, as the weather isn’t great. It took a while, but winter finally decided to arrive. Friday evening we went back to Shanahan’s. Last week we actually had to walk out and come up with a Plan B because every seat in the place was taken, but this time things were back to normal. We got our regular table (I joked that they should put a plaque with our names on it to commemorate our faithful patronage over the years) and enjoyed fried pickles and other wonderful pub grub. I am going to miss the hell out of that place.
Saturday we drove into Portland to kill a few hours. We’ve been stocking up on things we won’t be able to find in Rapid City, like Wild Roots vodka and Jacobsen sea salt. With only four months to go, it’s time to take this stuff seriously. Afterwards we headed over to my parents’ house. They are still out of town and won’t be home for another six days, so we borrowed their grill again and cooked up some chicken and asparagus. Drank wine and cider while listening to Crosby, Stills Nash & Young and Paul Simon. It was a very nice evening.
Speaking of Paul Simon, I just bought us tickets to see him. His farewell tour is swinging through the Moda Center in Portland on Saturday, May 19. I was on the fence, because honestly it’s kind of a pain in the ass dealing with arena concerts, but I grew up listening to Paul Simon because my dad was a fan. The fact that it’s a weekend show, not to mention his farewell tour, sealed the deal for me. Our seats may be in the nosebleed section but this will be our last big concert before we move and, therefore, totally worth it.
Today I am making chicken noodle soup and plan to finish up Season 9 of Curb. It is otherwise a very chill, low-key day.
Countdown: 125 Days