Sole Survivor

During our recent trek across Nevada, we were fortunate to stumble upon an elusive Nevada Shoe tree (genus: Pinus Adidas). This rare species is characterized by clusters of hanging fruit measuring roughly one foot long. Their rubbery texture makes them inedible (some say the flavor is reminiscent of sole), but the fibrous laces are often extracted and used as cordage and the tongue is considered a delicacy in some cultures.

I’m all about kitsch, so stopping by the shoe tree just outside of Middlegate, Nevada was a no-brainer. The original shoe tree was cut down by vandals in 2011, so this is a new shoe tree.

You might call it a sole survivor.

You know how Clark Griswold is all excited to check out the second largest ball of twine on the face of the earth (“only four short hours away”) during his cross-country trip to Walley World in National Lampoon’s Vacation? That’s me.

This wasn’t even my first shoe tree. In 2017, Tara and I made a weekend getaway to the Painted Hills of Oregon and stumbled across this bad boy in the middle of nowhere.

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Shoe trees, by the way, are always in the middle of nowhere.

Other fun, kitschy places I have made it a point to visit during my lifetime include the Spam Museum in Austin, Minnesota;

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the world’s largest Holstein cow, in New Salem, North Dakota;

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a replica of Stonehenge in Maryhill, Washington;

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and—even better (read: kitschier)—a replica of Stonehenge made out of automobiles in Alliance, Nebraska.

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The odder, the better. That’s my motto.

What strange attractions have you seen (and, more importantly, are they within easy driving distance of Rapid City, South Dakota?). Maps and directions optional but greatly appreciated.

#TeamPineapple

I’ve always felt that pineapple is criminally underrated.

Maybe this is because I was born in Hawaii. Pineapple is practically in my blood! Coconut, too. I’m like a living, breathing Pina Colada. So, it bothers me when pineapple gets a bad rap.

This usually occurs in connection with pizza. People have very strong opinions about putting pineapple on pizza, and they’re mostly negative. A recent YouGov poll found that pineapple is one of the least-popular pizza toppings (only anchovies and eggplant were more despised). On one Twitter thread, people who like pineapple on pizza are compared to Hitler. Gordon Ramsay, never one to shy away from an expletive, once said, “You don’t put fucking pineapple on pizza.”

The vitriol doesn’t stop there. Iceland’s president wants to ban pineapple on pizza. You know what I’d like to ban, Guðni Th. Jóhannesson? Impossible-to-decipher symbols over letters. Locating them on a keyboard is a real pain in the ass! I also don’t have much use for the Northern Lights, come to think of it. The moon works just fine for me, so you can take your Aurora and shove it up your Borealis.

I may be just a tad bitter.

A University of Arizona student ordered a barbecue chicken pizza with pineapple, but when it arrived, she was handed a box with a $5 bill taped to it and a handwritten note that read, Couldn’t bring myself to put pineapple on it. That’s gross. Sorry. True story. Well, I think large roof-mounted signs atop cars are an abomination, but I’m not going to give anybody a hard time about them. Pizza delivery drivers playing god is one trend I can do without.

To me, it’s not a question of should we put pineapple on pizza, but rather, how much pineapple should we pile on top of pizza? (The answer: a lot.)

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I don’t understand the revulsion, and the blatant elitism bugs me. Pineapple on pizza is delicious and provides a delightfully sweet/sour/juicy contrast to the tangy tomato sauce and savory meat. It goes especially well with ham but is a great topping on any pizza IMHO. My go-to order is Marco’s Hawaiian Chicken, a decadent combination of ham, grilled chicken, bacon, pineapple, tomato sauce and blend of three cheeses. Tara and I split one last week and it was freakin’ amazing. ‘Nuff said.

People who despise pineapple on pizza are probably the same snobs who decry avocado toast (another fave) and kale. Look, everybody is entitled to their opinion, but petty self-righteousness is downright silly. Save your moral indignation for real concerns, like people who run red lights, or cheat on their taxes, or commit murder-by-drone because of their oversized egos. I happen to hate watermelon, but I don’t give those who enjoy it a hard time.

Live and let olive, that’s my motto. Give peas a chance.

The real irony? Hawaiian pizza was invented by a Greek immigrant in Canada. Yet another reason why I am so enamored with our neighbor to the north. Even Justin Trudeau is #TeamPineapple.


Post-Thanksgiving blizzard aside, our weather has been fairly uneventful this winter. But that’s about to change.

You know it’s going to be cold when there’s an igloo in the 10-day forecast.

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Tara isn’t happy about this, but I don’t mind. I know I’m in the minority here (much like people who love pineapple on pizza), but I enjoy cold weather. It’s the perfect excuse to bury yourself beneath blankets, build a fire in the hearth, and eat soup. Sure, going out in it sucks, but it’s like a 15-step walk from the parking lot at my work to the office. By the time you even notice it’s cold, you’re inside. I just don’t see the big deal.

I knew what I was getting into when I moved to South Dakota. Go ahead, bring it on!

Like an Eagle or Superman

Flying last week reminded me how much I hate flying.

There’s something about defying the laws of gravity that feels…I don’t know, cocky, for lack of a better word. I’m no engineer, but I do understand the mechanics of flight. Lift and weight and thrust and drag. Pitch, roll, and yaw. Rudders and elevators and ailerons, oh my! These factors aside, I just don’t get how it’s possible to slip the surly bonds of earth and cheat gravity.

Is it clear that I’m a nervous flyer? Not for the whole flight, of course! Just the part between taking off and landing. The only way I would enjoy flying would be to take to the skies myself, like an eagle. Or Superman. Definitely not Icarus, though. Remember him?

According to Greek mythology, Daedalus, a craftsman who was imprisoned on the island of Crete with his son, Icarus, for aiding and abetting the enemy of King Minos, decided that he’d had enough of the joint and hatched a brilliant escape plan. He built two pairs of wings from wax and feathers and, before taking to the skies, said, “Boy, make sure your seatbelt is securely fastened and your seat back and tray table are in their full upright positions.” icarus.png

Icarus was understandably confused. When pressed for clarification, daddy said, “Never mind. Just don’t fly too close to the sun.”

Once airborne, Icarus was so thrilled to be flying, he got a little carried away. “Look at me, look at meeeee!!” he exclaimed gleefully, soaring ever higher and higher. Ignoring his father’s warning, he flew too close to the sun, melting the wax from his wings and sending him plunging to his death in the Icarian Sea far below. This is okay if you’re gung-ho over having an ocean named after you, but otherwise pretty much sucks.

Legend has it Daedalus grumbled, “You had one job to do” while watching his boy plummet to earth.

Gravity: 1. Man: 0.

These are the things I think about when I’m strapped into my seat and we’re sitting on the tarmac before taking off. Inherent danger aside, the whole airline travel experience just bites. For starters, when Tara booked our flights, she didn’t realize we weren’t even seated together. Apparently you have to pay extra for the privilege of sitting next to your significant other. When did that become standard?! I guess some couples might enjoy a break from one another, but I happen to like my wife. Having a hand to hold onto when turbulence hits is nice, and oddly enough, reaching for a stranger’s hand is frowned upon.

I hate the way the airlines nickel-and-dime you. Fuel surcharges, extra baggage fees, yadda yadda. I was looking forward to an in-flight Bloody Mary to calm my nerves, but at $9 a pop for a mini bottle of vodka, I passed. Sure, the mix itself is free, but that’s just glorified tomato juice.

And security checkpoints are ridiculous. I get sending your carry-on bag (that you have probably paid a fortune to bring aboard) through the x-ray machine, and okay, removing your shoes has been a requirement for years. But I was asked to take off my belt, too. Under different circumstances this might be exciting, but not when the order comes from a burly TSA agent with three days’ worth of stubble and hands the size of a catcher’s mitt. And I don’t understand why they make you empty everything from your pockets—”even a scrap of paper,” we were warned. At least I wasn’t subjected to a pat-down like the poor guy in Reno on our way back. He looked extremely pissed (and violated). I don’t blame him.

I’ll take driving over flying any day! We’d talked about doing that this trip, but I only had a couple of PTO days and booking a couple of months in advance, we had no idea what the weather would be like. Traversing the Rocky Mountains in winter can be dicey. So we departed Rapid City Monday evening and arrived in Reno at midnight, after a two-hour layover in Denver. I can’t believe how big that airport is. It took us 20 minutes to walk from one gate to our next. At least we were able to grab a couple of drinks at a bar while waiting for our connecting flight. By the time we got checked into our motel across from the airport, it was after 1:00 a.m.

We were up super early Tuesday morning for the five-hour drive to Ely. It’s a good thing, too; half an hour into our drive, Tara got a text from Cynthia asking if we would be there by 2:00 for the wedding ceremony. Now, we’d been under the assumption that Tara’s dad and Cynthia had already gotten married, so this was a surprise! But we made it there with an hour to spare and were able to catch the 10-minute ceremony in a local church. Afterward, my father-in-law treated us to dinner at a Mexican restaurant. We spent the remainder of the evening at his house, but I was exhausted by this point, so Tara ended up driving me to our motel. The clock struck midnight while we were in the car, which was weird because there was no big countdown and New Year’s kiss or toast. We didn’t even realize it was 2020 until we got to the parking lot at 12:02 a.m. Talk about an inauspicious and anti-climactic beginning to a new decade!

New Year’s Day was spent at Tara’s uncle’s ranch house in town. There were 40-50 people there celebrating Randy and Cynthia’s nuptials, and all kinds of good food. A veritable feast that included turkey, ham, shrimp, chili verde, various meats and cheeses and veggies and dips, deviled eggs, macaroni and cheese, black-eyed peas for good luck, and a lot more. Quite the delicious spread and nobody went home hungry.

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Downtown Ely was looking pretty desolate on New Year’s morning.

Thursday was a long-ass day. After meeting a couple of Tara’s friends for breakfast, we bid adieu to her family and hit the road for the drive back to Reno, followed by a flight to Denver that was SUPER bumpy, and another to Rapid City. Once again, we arrived around midnight, and had to turn around and go to work the next day.

All in all, it was a good trip, and I’m glad we went. But I’m not going to lie: I am very happy to be home. And Sydney was thrilled to see us. She’s been our shadow ever since, following us everywhere, curling up on our laps, sleeping between us.

I told Tara I like my cats how I like my women, extra clingy, so it’s all good.

Highlights, No Lights

It’s been a productive weekend considering we haven’t even left the house except for a quick jaunt to the grocery store. Not that we’d want to go anywhere; we’ve had a little snow and a lot of wind the past two days. We’ve been on the western fringes of a major storm impacting the central Dakotas and points east. Maybe an inch here, but 50+-mph wind gusts and lots of blowing snow. We still have drifts on the ground from our blizzard a month ago.

Christmas was nice, but yesterday we packed it all up. Actually went through all the bins and organized them, which will make setting up next year a breeze. This project was long overdue; everything was packed away in scattershot fashion, e.g., lights and ornaments in multiple bins. We have so many lights it’s ridiculous (and ironic, because we didn’t hang a single strand this year). Next year we’ll be better prepared for everything. The holiday was low-key; we stopped by Tara’s boss’s house for a casual dinner Christmas Eve, then drove around town looking at lights. Tried to follow the Tour de Lights on Google Maps, but it was easier just to wing it. I told Tara my goal is to get our house added to the map next year.

Christmas Day was all about the food and the drink. We (and by “we” I mean Tara) made an excellent beef rib roast, mashed sweet potatoes, homemade potato rolls, and apricot-glazed apple galette. This latter item, by the way, is not pronounced like the razor company. It kinda looks like somebody baked a pie and sat on it. I’m pretty sure “galette” is just a fancy word for “tart.” In any case, it was all delicious, even if we ate much later than planned. Tara had this method for cooking the roast she swore would be great: you cook it at 500º for 30 minutes then shut off the oven and leave it in there for two hours. I was skeptical.

“Have you ever cooked a roast this way?” I asked.
“No,” she admitted. “But a coworker did once and said it turned out great!”

When we opened the oven door two point five hours later, my worst fears were confirmed: the roast was nowhere near finished. No biggie; we simply turned it back on and drank wine and watched “Home Alone.” Eventually it cooked all the way through, and eventually we ate it. Lesson learned; next time we’ll go the traditional route. By the way, I contributed green beans, so it’s not like I did nothin’.

Just almost nothin’.

All in all, it was a nice first Christmas in our home, even if we didn’t fully embrace the holiday this year. The sewer repair and blizzard made those things impossible. We wanted to get everything packed up because tomorrow, we’re headed to Nevada. It’s going to be a whirlwind trip; we leave Monday evening after work and return home 72 hours later. In between, we’ve got four different airline flights and ten hours’ worth of driving to do. It’s quite challenging getting into and out of Rapid City, especially when your destination is a tiny town in the middle of nowhere. I’m exhausted just thinking about how exhausted I’ll be, and we both have to work Friday, so there will be no time to recuperate. I’m looking forward to seeing Tara’s family but will be glad to be back home.

This will be my last post of the year. Traditionally I reflect on all that has happened over the year, and if 2018 was crazy (leaving behind a job and family for a new home in the Midwest), 2019 was no less so (starting a new job, leaving the new job for a newer job, buying a house). Lots of highs and few lows. I could not be happier working in the publishing industry, and I still pinch myself every time I venture into our groovy wood-paneled basement.

The past two years have been nothing short of amazing. And also, very hectic. Tara and I are both looking forward to a year in which we don’t have to load up a truck and haul our possessions to a new home. I handed over 90 percent of my freelance work to somebody else last week, so I’m thrilled to have actual free time and two-day weekends again. I worked myself to the bone in 2019 in addition to everything else we had going on, and while the financial rewards were incredible—I paid off all my debt and built up a huge savings account—it took a toll on my sanity. I ate, slept, and breathed freelance blogs and burned out faster than a 1970s rock star on acid. If you think writing an article about hearing loss is hard, try writing 20 articles a week, for 52 weeks, and always trying to find a new angle. This was my life in 2019. And for the six preceding years, come to think of it.

No regrets, but I’m glad that’s over.

2020 promises to be a lot more relaxed. It’ll be the first year in which we’ll actually be able to slow down and enjoy ourselves without tackling a million and one projects. We’re planning a family reunion in Rapid City in September and hope to make a trip to the PNW at some point, but the thing I’m looking forward to most is relaxing summer evenings on the back patio, glass of wine in hand, listening to music and watching lightning flickering in the distance while grilling dinner.

Sounds like heaven.

Happy new year, and as always, thank you for following along on my adventures!

Jolly Up That Line

It’s December 24, which means—like it or not—you’ve probably been bombarded with Christmas music for at least the past month. I fall firmly in the “like it” category, even though a lot of the songs are bleak and depressing. 

But wait, you might be thinking. Christmas songs are happy and uplifting! Santa and ho-ho-ho and angels we have heard on high, right?!

I hate to break it to you, but some of the most time-honored classics are filled with tales of woe. The lyrics are enough to make Scrooge’s “Bah, humbug!” refrain sound downright cheery. Don’t believe me? I submit the following articles for your consideration.

EXHIBIT A: “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”

First performed by Judy Garland in the 1944 film Meet Me in St. Louis, this beloved holiday ditty is the third most-performed Christmas song according to ASCAP. It takes first place for the most depressing, according to me! The original lyrics were such a downer, they had to be rewritten: 

Have yourself a merry little Christmas
It may be your last
Next year we all may be living in the past

Yikes. The revised version isn’t much better; even when it aims for the upbeat—“next year we might be together, if the Fates allow”—it falls short: “Until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow.”

Sheesh.  Makes you think the person singing the song is secretly wishing for a Remington shotgun wrapped up in a bright, shiny bow, and a carton of ammo in his stocking.

When Frank Sinatra recorded this song in 1957, he asked cowriter Hugh Martin to get rid of that muddling through nonsense. “The name of my album is A Jolly Christmas,” he told Martin. “Do you think you could jolly up that line for me?” Nobody turns down Ol’ Blue Eyes, which is why Frank’s version substitutes the line, “Hang a shining star upon the highest bough.”

EXHIBIT B: “Please Come Home for Christmas”

It’s only appropriate that this tune was penned in 1960 by a blues singer, because it’ll send you into fits of depression. No other song smacks of desperation like this one! Right off the bat, you know you’re in for a melancholy ride; the lyrics open with, “Bells will be ringing this sad, sad news/Oh, what a Christmas to have the blues.” It gets even worse:

My baby’s gone
I have no friends
To wish me greetings once again

Christmas songs shouldn’t revolve around sorrow, grief, and pain, but this one does. Makes you hope the protagonist’s stocking is filled with Prozac and the phone number for the national suicide hotline.

EXHIBIT C: “Blue Christmas”

This song was first recorded in 1948, but I think we can all agree the definitive version is performed by Elvis Presley (if not, I’m sorry, but we can no longer be friends). Long live the King, but this song is so full of morose and longing, it makes you think maybe his untimely death at the age of 42 was a blessing in disguise that spared him from future heartache.

I’ll have a blue Christmas without you
I’ll be so blue just thinking about you
You’ll be doing alright with your Christmas of white
But I’ll have a blue, blue blue blue Christmas

Emphasis on “blue.” Got it.

Look, heartbreak sucks, but for god’s sake, pull yourself up by your bootstraps and get over her (or him) already. These are the holidays. Have another glass of eggnog. Move on. There are plenty of fish in the sea.

EXHIBIT D: “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote a poem called “Christmas Bells” in 1863 in response to all the death and destruction surrounding the Civil War, and somebody thought, “This would make a great Christmas song!” Okaayyy….

And in despair I bowed my head
There is no peace on earth I said
For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, goodwill to men

Cynical much? (And rightfully so, I might add. Longfellow’s poem is a masterpiece that perfectly captured the sentiment of the time. But just because it contains the words “peace on earth” does not mean it belongs up there with “Frosty the Snowman.”)

Oh, and speaking of: I hate to break it to you, but…

EXHIBIT E: “Frosty the Snowman”

If you’re wondering how a song about a jolly happy soul with a corncob pipe, a button nose, and two eyes made out of coal can possibly make this list, let’s boil it down to the basics (no pun intended): Frosty is going to die.

Frosty the Snowman
Knew the sun was hot that day
So he said let’s run
And we’ll have some fun
Now before I melt away

Can you imagine how traumatized those poor kids are going to be when Frosty goes thumpety thump-thump before turning into a puddle right before their eyes?! Sure, he tells them not to cry because he’ll be back again some day, but with climate change and global warming pretty much a foregone conclusion for most of us, that’s an awfully optimistic stance.

Between Rudolph experiencing bullying and discrimination, George Michael giving his heart but then having it given away the very next day, grandma getting trampled in the street by a rogue reindeer, and—gulp!—that poor kid who wants to buy his dying mother shoes for Christmas, the holidays are enough to send you over the edge of despair.

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All I can say is, thank god for Burl Ives, who wants us all to have a holly, jolly Christmas, because—in case you didn’t hear—it’s the best time of the year.

Now that’s a sentiment I can get behind.

Hope y’all have the merriest of Christmases, and remember: if the Eagles start lamenting about the loneliness of the holidays, you can always turn off the radio.

Snake Oil Salesmen

Our TV started acting up last week, and for the life of me I could not figure out the problem. It wasn’t responding very well to any of the remotes we use, e.g., I couldn’t change the volume or switch between inputs or even turn it off. Sometimes it would work, but there would be a major delay. I’d push the volume button and it would take about 10 seconds to respond. I felt it was extremely unlikely that the batteries in two remotes would die at the same time, but tried replacing them anyway.

No luck.

I unplugged the TV from the outlet, waited a couple of minutes, and plugged it back in.

No luck.

Finally, in desperation, I said, “I guess I’m buying us a new TV this weekend!” and headed to bed.

The next morning, Tara said, “Good news! I fixed the TV.” I asked her what she’d done, and she said it was very complicated to explain, so she’d have to show me instead. OK, fine. At which point she got up from the couch, walked to the TV stand, and moved the holiday candle that was blocking the remote sensor.

@*&#%

As stupid as I felt, I’m glad I didn’t have to buy us a new TV!


In case you didn’t know, Tara and I are very much into vintage items, primarily from the 1960s and 1970s. If our new beanbag chair wasn’t a dead giveaway, there’s our lava lamp and record collections and beaded curtain in the wood-paneled basement.

Yesterday, I headed to St. Joe Antiques Mall downtown to see if I could find anything new to add. This place is the biggest antique store in South Dakota, with 21,000-square feet of vintage-y goodness from 45 dealers spread over two floors. It’s paradise if you’re into this kind of stuff. I was thrilled to pick up these 1975-era canisters…

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But then I found some items that really intrigued me: old medicine bottles and bathroom products, many of which still had their original contents. Mange medicine, liniment, quinol. I thought they’d make a perfect conversation piece on a cabinet in our bathroom basement (or at least raise the eyebrows of future visitors).

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I was especially intrigued by the Foley & Co. Honey and Tar Compound, which advertises 7% alcohol but “no opiates or other harmful drugs.” Intriguingly, the bottle is nearly full—and according to my best estimate (along with the help of Google), about 100 years old. I thought the price ($1.20) was exorbitantly high for a century ago, but according to the National Association of Retail Druggists (NARD) journal from 1918, the medicine sold for $1.20 for a dozen bottles that year. It was made with alcohol, honey, and pine tar (yum!) and purported to “cure coughs and colds and prevent pneumonia and consumption.”

John and Harry Foley formed the company in Chicago in the 1880s and came under fire for selling patent medicines, a category of products that contained secret ingredients (many of which had narcotics, hence Foley & Co.’s non-opiates disclaimer) with little or no proven medical benefit. Some people were inadvertently poisoned after taking them, which prompted consumer protection laws like the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, which  didn’t ban these ingredients but required them to be listed on packaging (they weren’t actually outlawed until 1936).

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I find all of this fascinating. I wonder what 100-year-old honey and tar compound tastes like? (Don’t worry, even if I’m hacking up a lung I’m not going to actually try it!)

I haven’t even delved into that bottle of liniment, a precursor to products like Bengay, Icy Hot and Tiger Balm. Early liniments supposedly contained snake oil and gave rise to the term “snake oil salesman” for deceptive advertising. Fascinating.

I kinda want to start collecting these old medicine products now and researching their history.

I Know What an Onion Looks Like

Today we had a potluck at work and I signed up to make a turkey pumpkin chili. You know what I hate about recipes on the internet? You have to scroll for hours through a bunch of unnecessary gibberish before you get to the actual recipe. I don’t need a backstory about your dish and could not care less that your preschool-aged daughter, who is a picky eater, can’t get enough of it. This isn’t a novel (though the sheer number of words can make it seem like one), so you can skip the character development! I also don’t care that your aunt Ida insists you make this dish for every family gathering or that your coworkers always ask for the recipe. Maybe she’s suffering from dementia and they’re just kissing your ass. Your story means nothing without context. While you’re at it, you can also dispense with the humorous anecdotes, and for god’s sake, you don’t have to post pictures of the ingredients. I know what an onion looks like. Just give me two things: the list of ingredients and step-by-step directions.

I also hate when these recipes suggest substituting ingredients. This immediately makes me suspicious. If the dish calls for couscous but you suggest farro as an alternative, you come across as a little wishy-washy and have suddenly given me two recipes when I only asked for one. Pick an ingredient and own it, okay?

This is why I miss cookbooks. No muss, no fuss. You want a recipe for Chicken Kiev, it’s right there on page 79. No wading through endless drivel; one quick glance will tell you to grab unsalted butter, flour, eggs, parsley, chicken breasts, panko, etc. How I long for those simpler times.

In any case, the potluck was a big, tasty hit. I wasn’t sure if my workplace ever had them, given that this was the first one in my seven months there, but everybody really came through with some good stuff. In my experience with office potlucks, somebody always brings a veggie tray and another person will show up with a bag of chips. This feels like taking the easy way out, but I get it: not everybody has the time or skill to cook something. At least it’s food. Worse than that is the one guy who doesn’t bring anything in but still loads up his plate like it’s his god-given right. He’s probably the guy who takes home pens from the supply closet. I am happy to report that my coworkers all made an effort to impress. In addition to my chili, there were chicken wings, posole, artichoke spinach dip, spicy corn dip, baked lasagna, and brownies. All homemade. And yes, there was a veggie tray, but it was a nice balance with everything else.

Color me impressed.

My favorite part of the day was our team activity. This involved creating a “gingerbread house,” though the interpretation was very loose since we were given graham crackers instead of gingerbread. Figuring this gave us carte blanche freedom to think outside of the box, my team chose to forgo the house in favor of a train.

Which still kinda counts. Hobos, right? (Do hobos even still exist?)

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I was proud of our effort and creativity.

Afterward, we had a skating party at the Main Street Square ice rink. Because I can’t maintain balance on icy surfaces to save my life, I chose to watch from the sidelines. I didn’t feel any overwhelming remorse over not being out there, because at least I was warm.

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Best seat in the house.

Rapid City sure knows how to dress up for the holidays, huh?

The Floor is Lava

After searching high and low for weeks, I finally bought a beanbag chair. Yes, I realize it’s 2019. But when you’ve got a wood-paneled 1970s-era basement filled with lava lamps, records, and a beaded curtain, what else are you going to put down there? A rocker-recliner?!

Perish the thought.

I suppose a waterbed would have been apropos as well, but if we don’t have room for a pool table, we certainly can’t fit a waterbed down there. (Actually, we could fit either one of those things, but we’d have to climb over them to cross the room, which would be like a game of The Floor is Lava for adults. Come to think of it, that would be fun!)

“Every office needs a hippie,” one of my coworkers said in a meeting last week, and shockingly, she wasn’t talking about me. Clearly, she has not seen my basement.

Anyway. Beanbag chairs, it turns out, are damn near impossible to find. I’m all about supporting local businesses, but was forced to turn to Amazon when my quest proved fruitless. Or beanless, as the case may be. This somewhat surprised me. I thought the classics never went out of style! It was a long, discouraging, empty-handed walk back to my Edsel.

Not to fear; Amazon came to the rescue once again. I am now the proud owner of a super-comfy beanbag chair that perfectly molds itself around my body. In fact, I’m writing this very blog post from said chair. Seriously, I don’t know why every home doesn’t have a beanbag chair. These things are cozy, versatile, and portable. And you’ll never drop loose change or car keys or a cellphone between the cushions because there are no cushions. It’s all one big cushion!

Genius, I tell ya.

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Saturday was one of those days where the fog persisted and the temperature never climbed above 21º. This resulted in hoarfrost (a name that always makes me snicker), which occurs when water droplets freeze on contact with objects, creating featherlike crystals. It looks especially compelling when it coats tree branches.

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That’s actually a night shot. Tara scored us free tickets to the Rapid City Rush hockey game last night; it began snowing just as we left the house, and fortunately, the snow ended before the game let out. We got about 1″, so nothing major, but enough to convince us to stop by Halley Park on the way home to take pictures of the Christmas lights and aforementioned (ahoarmentioned?) frost.

Wandering around this beautiful setting at 10:30 p.m. was enough to ease the sting of a loss by our hometown hockey team. Didn’t matter; we had fun anyway, and the Rush gave it a good effort.

This morning, I couldn’t resist taking a walk around Storybook Island and taking photos of our winter wonderland. Once the sun came out, those trees were really sparkling! They remind me of the fake plastic ones you put up with a Christmas village.

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They’re saying our highs might reach the 60s (!) next weekend, so I’m a-gonna enjoy this scenery as much as I can while it sticks around.

This being South Dakota, I’m sure we’ll be back in the twenties a few days later anyway. And because we are flying to Nevada for New Year’s, how much do you want to bet there will be a blizzard threatening our plans?

Knock on wood.

Skiff-Scoff

Perspective is a funny thing.

I was talking to my brother recently, and he complained about how cold it was. “I was freezing today!” he said. “Our high temperature was only 63º!”

My reaction to that?

Worlds-Tiniest-Violin-nvj3bur6zi1i98u85ejom8m0vdka6bm1h1uhllr1c8I had to stifle a laugh, because I glanced at the thermometer next to my chair during our call and it was 23º. I’m pretty sure if it were in the low 60s here, I’d be wearing shorts outside.

Perspective.

When I lived in Washington and got all worked up over treacherous roads after a 1” snowfall, people in other parts of the country scoffed. When I talked about stocking up on groceries and working from home because of these “storms,” they scoffed harder. I endured quite a bit of scoffing over the years! Tara even introduced a new word to my vocabulary in describing the paltry amount of snow I used to blog about, describing it as a “skiff.” Her skiff was a scoff! But again, she lived in places where snow was often measured in feet instead of inches.

Perspective.

(For what it’s worth, I scoff at old posts where I’m giddy over snowfall that doesn’t even reach the top of each blade of grass. Call it retroactive self-scoffing.)

Another great example occurred yesterday afternoon at work. We were gathered in the conference room, brainstorming over how best to “sell” Rapid City’s quality of life to outsiders. My boss asked me what factors motivated me to move here, and without hesitation, I replied, “Cheap housing!” One of my coworkers responded, “But housing in Rapid City is expensive.” Maybe compared to Aberdeen or Sioux Falls, but it’s dirt cheap by Portland standards.

Perspective.

I’ll leave you with my favorite all-time example:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W2V3ZbVnoq8


When we bought our house in June, I had visions of extravagant, over-the-top holiday decorations ala Clark Griswold. I bought reams of fancy, multicolored, remote-controlled outdoor Christmas lights in anticipation, plus an extension ladder so I could reach the tallest eaves and hang them. But my plan was foiled by two acts of god (or rather, one act of mother nature and one act of bad plumbing): our sewer line repair, followed quickly by our blizzard. I should have hung those lights in mid-November, when the ground was bare and our toilets flushed without incident. There was even a sunny, mild weekend that would have been perfect, but I felt it was too early at the time. “I’ll do it the Saturday after Thanksgiving,” I said.

This is what the Saturday after Thanksgiving looked like:

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Suffice it to say, that was a no-go.

Last Saturday, I finally got to hauling the ladder and lights outside, but the ground was still snow-covered and icy, and climbing a ladder in those conditions didn’t seem like the wisest idea. I reluctantly concluded that Casa Griswold would have to wait until next year and put everything back in the garage. As much as I’d love to spread Christmas cheer through the neighborhood, I love being alive and having unbroken limbs better.

Next year, guys. I promise.

Go Ugly or Go Home

Monday, we were instructed to wear ugly holiday sweaters to work for a company Christmas card photo. I didn’t even own one, but a quick trip to Kohl’s over the weekend solved that dilemma. I picked out the most garish sweater I could find. I mean, that’s the point, right? Go ugly or go home. I was probably more excited to wear that sweater to the office than I’d care to admit.

Even though I just did. In public.
Whatever.

Only, when I got to the office on Monday, I was the only one wearing an ugly holiday sweater. At first I feared I’d been the victim of a prank…and a pretty good one, at that. Ha-ha, let’s send out a company-wide Slack telling everybody to dress up in ugly clothing, but the joke’s gonna be on Mark…the rest of us will dress in normal workplace attire! Something along those lines. I was slightly embarrassed and contemplated storming my boss’s office (or at least creeping over there and gently knocking on the door so as not to disturb any important business-at-hand) and inquiring, “Why do you enjoy tormenting me?” Before I got too riled up, I figured out that the rest of my coworkers had brought along ugly sweaters of their own, but were only changing into them for the photo shoot.00100sPORTRAIT_00100_BURST20191210171941580_COVER~2-1.jpg

Well. OK, then. That’s how we’re going to play this game, huh?

Actually, that was fine. I’d planned to go home on my lunch and change out of mine anyway…even though, I’ve gotta admit, it was damn comfy. Honestly, if everybody else had kept theirs on, I would’ve done the same. I might still wear it around the house (even though it might scare the cat).

And if I had been the victim of an office prank? Well, I’ve doled out my fair share of those over the years, so it would have been a case of just desserts. My favorite practical joke ever? I once called a new hire in our San Jose office and told her I was with such-and-such laboratory service in charge of the company-mandated drug testing and her urine sample had been misplaced, so could she please go into the bathroom, pee into a cup, and await further instruction?

She did. I swear. To this day, I can’t believe I got away with it. I may end up in hell for that practical joke, but that’d be a small price to pay for the hilarity that ensued.


We had a really good weekend, by the way. I’d booked us tickets for the 1880 Train “Spiked” Holiday Express on Saturday. The Black Hills Central Railroad operates heritage train rides between Hill City and Keystone, and their holiday run includes hot cocoa, a sugar cookie, and a visit from Santa. The adults-only “spiked” version adds booze to your hot chocolate. Paying a few extra dollars for this privilege was really a no-brainer. Earlier in the day we’d hiked part of the Mickelson Trail, and the weather was perfect; sunny and mid-50s. But it still felt Christmasy with all the snow on the ground.

We boarded the train at 4:15 and were soon chugging along the tracks, through a snowy Black Hills landscape, with Christmas music playing and that spiked cocoa keeping us warm. We had a choice of peppermint or butterscotch Schnapps; Tara chose the former and I picked the latter, and holy cow, it was so good I had what could almost be described as a religious experience. DeKuyper Buttershots, where have you been all my life?

Anyway. We had a great time and might make this an annual tradition. We need a few new ones, living in a new state and all.

Sunday was less spiked but equally exciting, because the Broncos actually looked good as they demolished the Texans. Could we finally have a franchise quarterback in Drew Lock? Time will tell.

15 days until Christmas, guys!