Breaking Red

I made a Safeway run yesterday, something that has become a high-stress affair. There is so much to keep track of these days, and that’s not even counting the items on your grocery list. Gotta make sure you have hand sanitizer. Mask. Hazmat suit. But for me, those one-way arrows directing the flow of traffic are the worst.

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I inevitably find myself glaring at the scofflaws who end up going in the wrong direction, but they are masters at avoiding eye contact. I swear, some of them are doing it on purpose; you can tell by their steely looks of determination, almost daring you to call them out on their faux pas.

I’m too much of a by-the-book guy to flaunt the rules myself; in fact, at one point I found myself inadvertently wandering the wrong way down the cereal aisle and quickly overcorrected by doing a very poor imitation of Michael Jackson’s moonwalk. I’d hate to be labeled a smooth criminal. arrows

The aisles are pretty straightforward, but it’s the open areas with multiple bins, like the bread/bakery and produce sections, that are most confusing. I don’t blame people for getting turned around there. The arrows diverge in multiple directions seemingly at random. Go this way for butter, that way for buns. This way for asparagus, that way for oranges. It’s like a giant maze—and much like laboratory rats, if you navigate it correctly, you are rewarded with cheese.

At one point I was pushing my cart down the produce aisle when an older gentleman smiled at me and gave me a thumb’s up. I figured he was maybe congratulating me on following the arrows so expertly, so I returned the gesture as he, too, was going in the right direction.

A few moments later, we crossed paths again. “Thank you!” he said.

Wow, I thought. This guy really takes these directional arrows seriously.

“No problem!” I replied.

“How long have you been in?” he asked.

I started to say, “Twenty minutes or so. Got a short list this week.” At that point I noticed he was looking at my ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE t-shirt, and suddenly it all made sense. He wasn’t thanking me for my flawless ability to follow directions, but rather, my service to the country.

My [nonexistent] service to the country.

My dad was in the Air Force. I was not. I did live on Ellsworth AFB for three years back in the 1980s, and we make a trip out there whenever my parents come to visit. I picked up a few shirts from the base exchange last year and wear them on occasion. It never occurred to me that somebody might think I was an actual airman.

By now, I was stuck. My only choice (short of admitting that there had been a rather embarrassing misunderstanding on my part, which of course was never really an option) was to press forward with the little white lie. I soldiered on, if you will.

Military humor.

“Two years this June,” I answered. Which, in my defense, is when we moved to South Dakota.

“I was stationed there myself for four years,” he said.

“Small world!” I replied. I wanted to add some Air Force-related phrase, one that would be bandied about by fellow airmen, an attempt at a Band-of-Brothers type camaraderie, but the pressure was on and all I could think of was Semper Fi, which belongs to the Marine Corps. The jig would have been up in a heartbeat, so instead, I said, “Oh, there are the avocados! Gotta run. Have a good day!”

Whew. Close call. Thank god he didn’t salute me.

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Later on, I realized I could have said “Aim high!” or “Fly-fight-win!” and that would have won me mad respect. OR, to really convince him I was legit, I could have said, “Look at all these shoppers breaking red. There’s no discipline these days, amirite?!” This refers to walking outside the designated personnel areas (marked in red) on the flight line or not using the designated entry and exit control areas. Perfect for the situation, huh? Talk about a missed opportunity.

The penalty for breaking red, by the way, is having your face pressed to the ground with a boot on your back and an M-16 aimed at your neck.

I think the best solution is to just let Tara keep doing the shopping…

 

All Flamingos are Pink

When we were working in the yard last weekend, I asked Tara if she’d be opposed to adding plastic pink flamingos to our landscaping. As soon as those words left my mouth, I realized how absurd they sounded. Not because I have anything against plastic pink flamingos; their kitsch factor appeals to me in the same way that a replica of Stonehenge made from old cars revs my engine.

I berated myself instead because I’d just committed pleonasm, a/k/a the cardinal sin of redundancy. All flamingos are pink; therefore, use of that adjective was unnecessary. Oh, the shame! What was I going to do next? Start ordering tuna fish sandwiches, pricing hot water heaters, and being thankful for free gifts?

So I corrected myself and asked Tara whether we could buy some just-plastic flamingos for the yard. Sadly, her answer was no.

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“Too tacky,” she declared. Proof that, like beauty, tacky is in the eye of the beholder. Plastic flamingos seem like a very Clark Griswold-ian thing, and if they’re good enough for Sparky, they certainly pass muster with me.

Maybe there’s a compromise here. We can start with one flamingo, try it out for size. Once Tara recognizes the joy that plastic pink bird brings her, our flock can expand.

I’m not giving up yet!


My birthday was every bit as pleasant as I’d hoped. I was out the door at 7:05 (and then out the door again at 7:10, because I’d forgotten my water bottle and hiking pole and had to turn around to retrieve those items) and on the trail an hour later. The weather was glorious, the landscape beautiful as always. It never ceases to amaze me that we actually ended up here. “How is this my life?!” I wondered out loud, as one often does when overcome with emotion while communing with nature and shit.

Good thing I turned around for that hiking pole, because the trail was still snowy and icy in a few shady spots. I probably could have navigated those sections unassisted, but the pole provided a little extra insurance. My friend Mike reminded me on Facebook just yesterday that I’m the guy who once took a nasty fall and scraped up his knee pretty badly while attempting to cross a small stream where the water was no more than an inch deep.

He fails to take into account the moss-covered rocks.

Three hours later, my soul brimming with gratitude and my mental batteries recharged, I was back at my car for the drive home. As I pulled onto our street, I noticed a rather colorful sight in our front yard.

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I assumed at first this had been Tara’s doing, but nope. Turns out I had my coworkers to thank. If I thought I was getting off easy without anybody in the office making a fuss over my birthday this year due to social distancing, I was wrong. Ha! But I really appreciated the gesture. According to my wife, some guys in uniforms and a van pulled up to the curb, put up the signs, and were on their way while I was out hiking. The next morning, the display had magically disappeared from our yard shortly after the sun came up. I can only presume the same guys responsible for the setup absconded with it. If not, we’ve got a roving band of lawn ornament marauders on the loose in Rapid City. Ones who would probably stoop so low as to whisk away plastic flamingos, too.

Good thing I haven’t set those up yet.

Once I showered, we retired to the backyard, where I enjoyed the sunshine and many adult beverages. We read a little, played some corn hole, grilled steak and shrimp.

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Funny how many people commented on that ice cube, by the way. One thing you need to understand about me: I think ice is a very big deal. Not just any ol’ type will do, either; ice should be meticulously selected as to complement your drink of choice. Regular cubes are great with a glass of water, while crushed ice + limeade = marriage made in heaven. People who love Sonic Drive-In know this! If you’re a whiskey drinker, you need giant balls of ice. I learned this one time when we were at a bar and my whiskey appeared with a giant ball of ice. I turned to Tara and exclaimed, “I need this.”

See?!

Lest you think I’ve got a screw loose, there’s a science to this…trust me. When you’re drinking an Old Fashioned, let’s say—or any bourbon-based cocktail, for that matter—you want the ice to chill your beverage but melt slowly, so as to enhance rather than dilute the drink. Which is exactly why I turned around the next day and ordered my own spherical ice molds from Amazon. I wouldn’t drink whiskey at home without them now, because what am I, some kind of pleonasm-spouting heathen?!

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It’s the little things, folks. Always.

 

 

The Final Frontier

I’ve been listening to a podcast called “13 Minutes to the Moon” these past couple of weeks. It’s a departure from the usual true crime, news, and entertainment stuff I typically gravitate toward, but with all the crap going on nowadays, that’s a welcome relief. I heard that podcast listenership is way down because nobody is commuting to work these days, but even when I do drive to the office, it takes all of eight minutes, so my podcast habits are unaffected. I listen while walking on the treadmill or outside.

Anyway, the BBC World Service podcast is a ten-part series that focuses on the Apollo 11 mission—more specifically, the 13-minute descent to the lunar surface. Well, technically it took 12 minutes and 49 seconds, but that doesn’t roll off the tongue quite so easily, does it? The podcast talks about how we landed on the moon and provides lots of information about NASA, the history of space flight, the politics of going to the moon, the astronauts and people in mission control, and the technology that got us there. It’s both fascinating and inspiring, a reminder that a determined nation can accomplish great things. It also demonstrates what a miracle landing on the moon was. The fact that we did so six times is amazing to me! Season 2 focuses on Apollo 13 and I plan to listen to that next.

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The podcast has reignited my interest in space. Like many children of the ’70s, I had dreams of becoming an astronaut, though if I’m being honest my desire was less about slipping the surly bonds of earth and more about drinking all the Tang. So, I’m planning on rewatching a lot of my favorite space-themed movies. Films like Contact, Apollo 13, Gravity, The Martian, First Man, and Armageddon (hey, don’t judge!).  You might say that “I don’t want to miss a thing” (but probably shouldn’t).

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If you didn’t tear up when Harry sacrificed himself to save the world, you must have a heart of stone.

Our season appears to have finally settled on “spring-ish” (i.e., no snow in a week), so we decided on Saturday to attack with gusto our big project of converting the side yard into a garden.

“With gusto” is probably an overstatement. It’s more like, we figured we couldn’t avoid the task much longer. Those seeds that Tara planted continue to grow like crazy and will need a permanent home in the soil in about a month. So, we broke out the standard gardening tools — shovel, tape measure, spray paint — and got to work. OK, maybe those aren’t your typical implements, but if there is one thing you should know about my wife, it’s that she is very much a planner when it comes to this stuff. She plotted out the entire garden in advance, drawing up schematics on graph paper and labeling where every single plant and flower will go. This runs contrary to my usual way of doing things (“this looks like a good enough spot to start digging!”), so we make a good team in that regard.

It took about an hour to dig that first bed. The work wasn’t too difficult; I have no doubt we’ll have everything done by the end of May, which is right around the time when we’ll be able to safely plant everything outdoors.

Our vegetable starts might be the size of Audrey from Little Shop of Horrors by then, so if I drop off the face of the blogging earth in a few weeks, you can safely assume I’ve been digested by a giant plant.

Under the circumstances, maybe don’t send flowers.


It appears that we may be easing into reopening some businesses this week. Our mayor and city council are going to vote on loosening restrictions tomorrow and allowing certain businesses to reopen. There would be strict guidelines: bars and restaurants, for instance, would be limited to one person per 140 square feet; patrons must be spaced apart a minimum of six feet; staff must wear masks and submit to health checks prior to the start of every shift; etc.

Maybe this is controversial to some, but I’m in favor. Our mayor took aggressive action early and, as a result, the virus has been virtually non-existent here. While many of our restaurants have shifted to take-out and curbside delivery, they aren’t making enough money to offset costs and can’t survive being shut down indefinitely. I feel like, with a strong commitment to safety and vigilant monitoring, it’s do-able. Lockdown can’t last forever, and people can decide for themselves whether they are comfortable taking the risk. I suspect even with less-strict guidelines, a lot of folks will continue to avoid going out for some time anyway.

I’ve had several concerned friends reach out to me to see if we’re okay after Sioux Falls, South Dakota made national headlines as one of the country’s top COVID-19 hot spots. Fortunately, they are clear on the other side of the state, about as far away from us as Fort Collins, Colorado. We are separated by 346.6 very non-populated miles. Granted, all it would take would be one infected person from there to visit here, but hopefully that won’t happen. We’ve had a total of 12 confirmed cases in Pennington County versus 1,796 cases in Minnehaha County.

STAY ON YOUR SIDE OF THE MISSOURI, EAST RIVER PEOPLE.

If things do reopen, I might need to consider working part-time in the office in the near future. That’ll be a bitter pill to swallow, as much as I’m enjoying working from home…especially now that it’s warming up (they’re forecasting 84º on Thursday!) and I can work from the backyard. I won’t make any decision on that for at least a week, and am thankful that my employer is fully understanding and not pressuring us in the least.

All I know is, tomorrow’s my birthday, and I ain’t punching into no time clock!

Journey to the Center of the Nation

Thursday, I took a field trip to the center of the nation.

Don’t worry, it wasn’t far. Only about an hour from home. That stop was the beginning of a seven-hour day that would take me on a giant loop through the northern Black Hills, from Belle Fourche to Spearfish to Lead and Deadwood before finally returning home—all in the name of work.

Last summer, I came up with an idea for a photo series involving mystery spots around the region for one of our online publications. It kinda became my baby. Every Monday I posted a cryptic photo with a subtle clue; those were shared on social media and we encouraged people to guess the spot. Then on Friday, I’d post the answer, supplying a little background/history. Here’s a sample post and reveal.

The series was a lot of fun, but honestly, I was winging it. Scrambling for places to feature, unsure where to go next. Sometimes, I wouldn’t know on Sunday what I was going to post on Monday. I relied on phone camera photos a couple of times.

After encouragement from my coworkers, I decided to do a new series this summer. I’m renaming it Mystery Monday and planning it out in advance. Not only that, but I’m going to develop content clusters around each post. These are interlinked web pages built around a singular topic and connected to several related but more narrowly focused pages, all in an effort to position yourself as a subject authority and therefore improve your SEO rankings.

Yesterday’s venture involved prep work for this project. Armed with my Nikon, I hit the road at 9:00. My first stop was the aforementioned Geographic Center of the Nation monument in Belle Fourche, which—spoiler alert!—will be one of the mystery spots. I’ll build supporting content, such as the agricultural history of Belle Fourche, how former Deadwood lawman Seth Bullock convinced the railroad to build a depot in town, and so forth and so on.

I had never visited the monument before, and it totally exceeded expectations. How cool is it that the very center of the U.S. is practically in my backyard?! Plus, it was great to get out of the house for a day. I’ve been cooped up for four weeks now with little variety.

I’m really excited about the project, and I managed to visit and photograph five separate locations all over the northern Hills. I don’t want to give them all away, but another highlight was the D.C. Booth Fish Hatchery in Spearfish.

Again, I’ve never been. Which is kind of amazing! It’s more than just a fish hatchery; it’s a collection of historic homes, museums, sculptures, a railroad car, and a boat, all spread over acres of immaculately landscaped grounds.

Tara was a little disappointed I got to see these sights without her, but I promised we would do a repeat of this exact adventure together next time. It was all work-related, I assured her.

(And yes, I do have the coolest job ever.)

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I still had places to go and sights to see, so I didn’t linger anyway. Plus, all the buildings were closed and tours suspended during this pandemic.

Stupid pandemic.

I soon forgot about the virus as I made my way through Spearfish Canyon on the way to Lead and Deadwood. Had the moonroof open, rock ‘n roll blaring, and watched some impressive storm clouds building.

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By the time I reached Lead, it was raining, hailing, and snowing. All at once. As much as I love snow, I’m always excited when thunderstorm season fires up around here. Driving home on the interstate, there was lightning flashing to the south. Right after I spotted it, Tara texted me to let me know she heard thunder.

“I know,” I told her. “I’m watching the storm move over you right now.”

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Monday’s my birthday. I almost always take a PTO day but had resigned myself to just working this year. Well, I un-resigned myself once I saw the forecast (sunshine and 70s) and Tara mentioned spending the day in the backyard. I’m planning an early hike in the Black Hills, then we’ll spend the afternoon out back day drinking, playing corn hole, and grilling steaks.

It appears we might actually hit 80º next week, too. I’m thinking we might finally be done with snow for the season. Wouldn’t bet my life on it, though.

Or even $10…

 

An Intimate Dinner of 100

Tara stopped by a local food co-op last week and found black garlic. She bought a bag, reminiscing over the amazing black garlic aioli we used to enjoy from Pacific House in Vancouver, WA.

“Let’s make our own!” I said, suggesting we use it in place of mayo on a BLT, one of the restaurant’s house specialties.

My wife was down with this idea, and found a recipe online. It seemed simple enough: black garlic, egg yolk, lemon juice, sea salt, olive oil. Combine, stir, eat. Those are three things I know how to do pretty well. So, I whipped up a batch on Monday. Eagerly took a taste…

…and just as eagerly spit it out.

It wasn’t great, and by “not great,” I mean, pretty gross. It was bland, and the olive oil was overpowering. It didn’t just linger on your palate; it hijacked it and demanded a hefty ransom. Tara tried doctoring up the aioli, adding additional yolks, more salt, extra lemon juice, but to no avail.

It was an aioli fail. A failoli, if you will.

But then. THEN. I got the bright idea to email the restaurant and request their recipe. This had worked for me in the past; I’ve learned if you heap showers of praise upon an eatery, promise to still visit often, and offer up your body, they’ll be happy to share recipes! (Learned later you can skip the whole offering your body part and still get a response.) It’s the reason I am able to make the same steamed clams we declared were “the best we ever had” after dining at Silver Salmon Grille in Astoria. If you’re ever in town, do go. Highly recommended!

(Fun (?) aside: “grill” and “grille” are homophonic heterographs—words that are pronounced the same but spelled differently. A grill is a cooking surface that uses parallel metal bars to heat food and a grille is a a metal frame with bars across it that is used to cover or protect something. The only reason restaurants sometimes use Grille is to sound fancy, because technically, it makes no sense. I’m giving Silver Salmon Grille a pass because they were kind enough to share their clam recipe with me.)

I decided to try the same approach with Pacific House. Pulled up their website, found their contact form, and emailed a politely flattering request for their aioli recipe, explaining that we now lived 1,250 miles away and missed that dish so much we often fantasized about it. In retrospect, I may have oversold things just a tad. But it worked, because I had a reply within an hour.

This is a classic good news/bad news scenario. The good news? They were more than happy to share their aioli recipe. The bad news? It’s for their restaurant quantity, which must be made in a giant vat. I figured this out pretty quickly as I scanned the ingredients: 60 egg yolks. 14 cups of salad oil. Eight lemons. And so forth and so on. Perfect for an intimate dinner of 100 people or so.

Hey, beggars can’t be choosers! We’ll just need to figure out how to scale back the recipe substantially. There are online cooking conversion calculators that can help, though they’re inexact. I entered the recipe, changed the servings from 100 to 4, and hit resize. Now we can use a far-more-reasonable two egg yolks, but 0 shallots and 0 lemons can’t be right.

I’ll play around with it for awhile to see if I can figure out the ratios. A serving size of 100 is just a shot-in-the-dark guess on my part. The recipe we tried called for a single egg yolk, so maybe the actual serving is closer to 60. This may be a case of trial and error and error and error.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been cooking a lot more this past month. Or more accurately, the things I have been making have been more labor-intensive. Chicken corn chowder. Spaghetti. Enchiladas and refried beans from scratch. Dishes normally served infrequently and pretty much confined to weekends. But when your home office is steps from the kitchen, it’s easy to multitask. Sauce can be simmering while you’re writing articles about creating DIY no-sew cloth face masks.

Yesterday was about as perfect a weather day as you’ll ever find around here: sunshine, a light breeze, 74º. So, I moved my home office into the backyard in the afternoon. That was blissful.

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One person commented on this photo, Didn’t you JUST have a dump load of snow??? We did, I told her. And it was all gone, every last trace, within four hours. In fact, on Sunday, I posted the following two photos to illustrate the easy-come-easy-go nature of April snow in western South Dakota:

The image on the left was taken at 9 a.m. The image on the right was taken at 1 p.m. Same yard, different perspective.

Proof that, in Rapid City, you can experience multiple seasons in the span of a single day!

Dying to Tell You About This Dream I Had…

A friend whom I Slack with regularly was rather disturbed on Friday after dreaming that a coworker died. I know the feeling! I had a similar dream once. It’s weird enough having dreams about people you work with even when they’re alive and well. I see these people eight hours a day (well, I used to, until this whole pandemic thing happened). As much as I enjoy their company, it feels awkward to spend the night with them! Err…so to speak. Infiltrating my subconscious after hours feels a bit too intrusive. A line should be drawn somewhere, and for me, that somewhere is when the 5:00 whistle blows.

I should point out that a whistle doesn’t actually blow to signal the end of the day, as it did for Fred Flintstone when his shift ended at the Bedrock Quarry. Nor, for that matter, do I use my feet to “pedal” my car home. Occasional trains pass through downtown, but those are the only high-pitched sounds I ever hear at work.

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I yabba-dabba-do NOT commute home this way.

For the record, the coworker whom I’d had the dream about did not, in fact, meet his maker. He showed up right on time the next morning, looking very much alive. Still, it took me a solid hour to shake the feeling that I was looking at a ghost. I debated telling him about the dream, but ultimately decided against it. Why freak the guy out? Once, a few years ago, Tara admitted she’d had a dream about me.

“Oh, yeah, baby!” I replied, my mind automatically going there because that is typically where my mind goes.

“Not that kind of dream,” she replied, bursting my bubble. “I dreamed that you died.”
“Umm,” I said. “What?!”
“Yeah, it was weird. You were shot to death by a neighbor.”

Before I could even begin to comprehend the magnitude of such disturbing imagery, the other shoe dropped. My daughter, Audrey, said, “That’s funny. I had a dream a few nights ago that you died, too!”

The only thing funny is that she thought such an admission could be classified as “funny.”

“Don’t worry,” she added quickly, clearly noting the look of distress that crossed my face. “You weren’t shot in my dream!”

My relief was short-lived, however. Because a third and final shoe dropped.

“You were stabbed to death in mine,” she confessed.

I can’t begin to tell you how unnerved I was for about a week afterward. Not only had my life been cut short (quite literally) in two dreams within the span of a few nights, but my demise in each one was horrendous. I cry when I stub my toe or get a paper cut. The idea of being murdered by actual bullets or sharp blades nearly drove me over the edge. I watched my back extra carefully for a while, eyeing strangers with suspicion and loved ones with…

…well, more suspicion. Even briefly considered whether my wife and/or daughter might have it in for me. I’ve watched Dateline enough to know that most murders are committed by people you are close to. I wondered if maybe they were eyeing my sizable estate, but then remembered that my estate was the exact opposite of sizable. After that, I was able to fall asleep without keeping one eye open.

I’m happy to say I wasn’t actually cut down in the prime(ish) of life. But this is why I didn’t tell my coworker I’d dreamt of his rendezvous with the Grim Reaper, and why I advised my friend to keep her dream to herself, too.


On a much lighter note, I finally put some significant mileage on my car yesterday. After being cooped up for years days, I decided it was high time I actually went someplace other than [insert name of room here]. Tara was more than game, and the weather was beautiful, so we drove up to Sylvan Lake bright and early. Practically had the whole place to ourselves in the beginning.

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We were somewhat surprised to see the whole thing still frozen over, but then again, much of Sylvan Lake is only ten feet deep and the elevation there is above 6,000′ so it’s not really a shock.

We ended up hiking the Needles Highway, which is still closed to traffic for the season. It was gorgeous: crystal-clear blue skies, trickling streams, chirping birds, fresh air, the scent of ponderosa pine perfuming the air, and silence so deep you could feel it. The pandemic and all its associated turmoil felt very far away for a few blissful hours.

There were fewer than 10 people we crossed paths with the entire time.

Here’s the infamous “eye of the needle.” You can probably figure out how it derived its name.

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If I look excited here, it’s because I figured out this clever way of taking a selfie by strategically positioning my phone on a rock, setting a three-second timer, and scrambling into position before it went off, then readjusting the horizontal layout because the resulting photo was pretty crooked.

Only later did it occur to me that I could have simply asked Tara to take my picture…

Give Me Tenderloin or Give Me Death

In light of the Smithfield plant closure in Sioux Falls, I decided to make a pork run yesterday. I mean, we can’t be running out of bacon now, can we?!

Actually, bacon isn’t even the issue. I was looking for pork loin and chops. What can I say? We’re big fans of The Other White Meat™. The selection was decent, so apparently mass pornic (pork panic) hasn’t set in yet. We’ll be enjoying carnitas and mesquite grilled pork chops when the rest of the world is stuck with frozen pizza and Top Ramen!

As an aside, grocery store shopping has gotten really weird lately, huh? Every time you think they can’t possibly make the whole experience any more unpleasant, they manage to make the whole experience more unpleasant. This week, Safeway and Family Fare have added arrows to control the traffic flow, essentially turning aisles into one-way streets. You would think the fact that these arrows are gigantic and bright red would prevent me from going the wrong way, but…nope.

Every. Single. Time.

Drawing the ire of shoppers who are apparently much better at paying attention to these things than I.

Can I just say how thankful I am that my parents so generously bought us a freezer for a housewarming gift last summer? It has come in handy far more than we ever would have anticipated. At the time it seemed like an appliance that would be nice to have for our twice-yearly stocking-up-from-Trader-Joe’s trips to Fort Collins, but now that baby is pretty full. Not just with pork, but lots of other things, too. When we first got the freezer, Tara filled empty containers with water and stuck them in there to keep it cooler and more energy-efficient when the shelves were bare, but I think we’re at the point now where we can get rid of those blocks of ice.

Bomb Shelter or Basement?

One of our house goals this summer is to start a garden. Because winter lasts forever here (seriously: today is the fifth day in a row it has snowed!), planting anything has to wait until mid-May at the earliest. To combat this, Tara ordered what can only be described as a “metric shit ton” of seeds and jury-rigged a rather elaborate grow lab in the utility room of our basement. We’re talking tomatoes, bell peppers, tomatillos, lemon cucumbers, lettuce, snap peas, herbs, flowers, and probably another half-dozen things I am forgetting. All legal, I might add!

The whole thing seems very haphazard and I was skeptical at first; I’ve never had luck with seeds before—my only gardening experience has involved planting vegetable starts—but, I’ll be damned if things aren’t growing like crazy. So much so that she’s going to have to transplant a lot of these starts into bigger containers soon. Like, this weekend.

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Considering that the whole contraption looks like something MacGyver would have put together on a wing and a prayer, I’m impressed.

I turn on the lights every morning when I get up and turn them off right before bedtime, so they’re getting about 16 hours of light every day. Tara is watering them and doing whatever else it is she does. I don’t really know; the utility room is mostly her domain. I only ever duck in there to fetch pork from the freezer.

Between the meat-filled freezer and the ramshackle grow lab, our basement is beginning to feel a bit like a fallout shelter.

We’ve also got our well-stocked liquor closet down there, so if push came to shove I’d be perfectly content hanging out down there until the mushroom clouds dissipate or we get a handle on this whole COVID-19 thing.

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Whichever comes first.

Half a “P”

I read that jigsaw puzzles are more popular than ever now that people are stuck at home with nothing else to do.

In my opinion, there is always something else to do. In fact, I made a list of things that I would rather do than assemble puzzles:

  1. Anything.
  2. See #1.

One time, Tara and I took a weekend getaway to the Oregon coast. We rented a beach house and our only goal was to relax. There was a collection of board games there, and for some strange reason we decided to attempt a jigsaw puzzle. Hours of monotonous tedium ensued. I realized I just wasn’t a puzzle person when I started wishing there was some paint I could watch dry instead.

I’m a guy who believes the whole is better than the sum of the parts. Why on earth would I want to expend mental energy piecing together a picture of a mountain or a waterfall when I can go to Instagram and pull up a picture of a mountain or a waterfall instead? It’s the same thing with “deconstructed” food. I’ve always thought that was a copout—the sign of a lazy cook. You can’t serve me a bowl of ground beef, lettuce, tomato, cheese, and tortilla strips and tell me it’s a “deconstructed taco.” That’s a taco salad, amigo.

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Nope. Not a taco.

I will always choose constructed things over deconstructed. Hell, I cringe whenever I buy an item, open the box, and find the dreaded “some assembly required” notice. I might buy a jigsaw puzzle if it came pre-assembled…maybe frame it and hang it on the wall or something. Just don’t make me put the damn thing together myself.

No offense to puzzle aficionados out there. If you like ’em, good for you. By all means, assemble away! Just don’t invite me over to help, or you’ll force me to trot out some lame excuse, like I have an early meeting, early haircut, or a squash game, or I have to clean my andirons…and I don’t even have a fireplace!*

*Name that movie…

(I actually do have a fireplace. A rather nice one, at that.)

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That fireplace is coming in handy, by the way, because we are in the midst of a record cold snap out here. As predicted, it started snowing Saturday afternoon, and continued throughout the night.

How much snow? Well, we have a funny way of measuring that. Last year, we stopped by an antique store and bought a blue metal “P” (for our last name) that we set out in the backyard. Whenever it snows, we glance outside and see how deep the snow has piled up in relation to the P.

“Looks like we got half a P overnight!” Tara said yesterday.

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This weekend’s snowfall? About half a P.

By my rough estimation, half a P is about six inches. It’s hard to tell for sure, with all the blowing and drifting snow we had, but that sounds about right.

During our Thanksgiving weekend blizzard, our P was buried for days. Rapid City’s official snowfall was 17″, so again, that checks out.

Half a P is kind of on the borderline for breaking out the snowblower. We could have used it today—one of our neighbors had his going—but I was so bored, I longed for something to do, even if that meant manual labor. So I shoveled instead. And then I shoveled the neighbor’s driveway and front porch. I might have gone on to shovel the whole freakin’ block if most other people hadn’t already taken care of their snow.


wp-1586729944181.jpgAnyone else catch Saturday Night Live over the weekend? They aired an unprecedented “remote from home” episode that was the epitome of adapting to challenging times. I’ve really got to hand it to SNL for braving uncharted territory in order to try something new. And it was great to see Tom Hanks again (and from the comfort of his own home, no less).

SNL is one of those hallowed institutions whose very presence makes the world seem like a better place. I once blogged that writing for SNL would be a dream job, and while that ship has probably sailed at this point, I never miss an episode.

Like meatloaf and cozy sweats, Saturday Night Live never fails to comfort.

Time Traveler Goals

I remember a shopping trip to Target about two months ago when we were stocking up on toilet paper. I grabbed one of those giant 24 packs but hesitated before putting it back on the shelf in favor of a 12-pack. I reasoned that would be plenty for the immediate future.

Some people say if they had a time machine, they’d travel back in time to kill Hitler or prevent JFK’s assassination. My goal would be far less lofty: I’d just like to tell my Past Self to go ahead and throw that 24-pack of TP in the shopping cart.


Friday was a splendid spring day, and I ventured forth from the house for the first time in 72 hours. Had some errands to run; I’d ordered a couple of records from Black Hills Vinyl, and Jennifer—the owner, whom Tara and I have befriended—opened up the store for the first time in two weeks. She was only allowing one customer in at a time and made me put on a pair of latex gloves immediately upon entering. It’s very important to me that her store survives, because I can’t imagine not having a neighborhood record shop from which we can procure vinyl to add to our collection. The second stop was a liquor store, where I found a four-pack of Fernson Peach Pie Sour ale. Score! But my third stop was my favorite.

I’m fortunate enough to live within walking distance of Skyline Wilderness Area, a sprawling hilltop network of hiking trails with incredible views of the Black Hills to the west and the prairie to the east. Last spring, I discovered the park is home to an abundance of pasqueflowers. Also known as prairie crocus, Easter flower, meadow anemone, etc. They’re the South Dakota state flower and beautifully unique.

I brought along my Nikon and really made an effort to seek out some good shots, scrambling over loose soil and rocks and lying down on my stomach to get up close and personal with these guys. I suffer for my art!

Totally worth the off-trail scrambling. Pasqueflowers are one of my favorite uniquely South Dakota things ever. They’re only in bloom for about a month, so I savor their appearance every year as a true harbinger of spring.

I only hope they are hardy enough to survive snow, because we’re about to get a lot of it.

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More than a few people have asked me whether snow so late in the year is unusual. It actually isn’t; March and April are traditionally Rapid City’s snowiest months. Granted, a foot of snow in the middle of the month is on the high side, especially after we got 9″ last week. We’re closing in on our all-time snowiest “winter” ever, and this storm could put us over the top.

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We were going to go for a drive today, and it’s not too bad currently…41º with a little light rain and mist…but heavy snow is expected to hit by late afternoon, so we’re staying put. It’s going to be a chill day, movies and cards/records/pizza later. Tomorrow, we might head out to either the Badlands or the Black Hills. Should be quite scenic.

We don’t really celebrate Easter, so we’re just planning on making a big pot of chicken corn chowder. Should be the perfect way to take off the winter April chill.

 

Sesquipedalian

My supervisor Slacked me yesterday with a rather humorous question.

Where do you learn your words?, she wondered. Or are they part of your dialogue?

I wasn’t even sure how to answer that. (Ironic: I was at a loss for words. Ha!). Turns out she had been reviewing an article I submitted earlier and had to Google one of the words. Now, I’m no sesquipedalian (person who likes to use big words) (and I suppose the use of that word constitutes more irony), so I felt bad that I was driving her to the dictionary! I try to make my writing easy to read for all, but I suppose more obscure words occasionally find their way into my articles. In this case, it was “boon,” as in, a thing that is helpful or beneficial. 

Or an American pioneer, explorer, and frontiersman.

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I told her I’m an avid reader who has been drawn to books my whole life and that I excelled in English classes, but really, a lot of my vocabulary probably came from Stephen King stories.

Ha.

To her credit, she ended her message with #alwayslearning, so it’s not like she was upset with me or anything. She was merely agog.

Err…curious.

Post-COVID Business Opportunities

I’m now midway through my third week working from home.

It’s amazing how quickly we fall into routines. Now, the idea of an actual commute, and sitting at a workstation where there are other people nearby — hell, just wearing something other than sweats — seems so foreign. Don’t even get me started on happy hours in neighborhood bars and eating dinner from an actual plate at an actual table inside an actual restaurant, instead of dishing it out from a cardboard box and scarfing it down from the comfort of a recliner while watching Better Call Saul.

With the way businesses have been adapting to the crisis, maybe once this is all over I should open a restaurant where you do just that: park yourself in front of a TV on a comfy recliner. The dress code would be super relaxed, of course. Sweats or pajamas. I’ll hang a sign on the door. No Shoes, No Shirt? No Problem.

Or maybe I should work for the Croatian Board of Tourism. A blogger and tour guide from Croatia read my last post in which I extolled the virtues of his country without ever setting foot there and asked if he could share it on his blog. Being the type of person to never turn down free publicity, I told him to go for it.

Today, he posted to his blog,

When I was in primary school, our teacher used to say that our country had a shape of a bird spreading its wings. Later on, we used to kid that our country actually has a shape of a croissant – even the first three letters of Croatia and croissant suggest there is a connection (there isn’t). But I never thought I would find this description of the shape of our country: “It kinda looks like an alligator with its jaws open, ready to swallow Bosnia and Herzegovina whole.” Now, I can’t un-think of it when I look at a map.

Ha! Sorry for giving you a whole new visual perspective of your homeland, Dejan. To be fair, I do see the bird, now that you mention it. But I will also never be able to un-see the alligator.

Rollercoaster Rides

Monday and Tuesday, I opened up all the windows in the office house. Enjoyed sunshine-filled walks in shorts and a t-shirt. The weather was glorious.

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Beautiful stroll along Rapid Creek yesterday.

Today, I had to crank up the heat. Our 74-degree weather has been replaced by blustery 40-degree conditions. And it’s going to snow again this weekend. Possibly a lot.

That’s hardly a surprise at this point, though. I’ve written about our rollercoaster weather far more often than I’ve ridden on actual rollercoasters.

Case in point: the photo on the left was taken Saturday. The one on the right was Monday.

Same backyard, less than 48 hours apart. At least the snow melts quickly this time of year.

Timing is Everything

I’ve been thinking a lot about how fortunate we are to have this great house. One year ago, we were living in a cramped apartment with paper-thin walls. My “desk” was either a TV tray or my lap. I can’t imagine being stuck WFH there for an extended period. I’d have gone stir-crazy by the end of that first week! Even when I was freelancing full-time while living there, I often made it a point to work from a coffee shop instead.

Hell, exactly one year ago, we had just begun our house search. If this had happened then, I highly doubt we’d have been able to buy a home. Real estate is kind of the last thing on people’s minds now.

Two years ago, we were getting ready for our cross-country move. How would THAT have played out in the midst of a global pandemic?!

There’s no getting around the fact that this situation flat-out sucks, and the longer it drags out, the more it’s going to suck.

However, I can’t help but think of silver linings like those mentioned above. I may complain about being stuck in the house now, but at least I’m not stuck in an apartment, or stuck in another state.

Proof that if you search hard enough, you can always find the positives.