I just now realized, this very moment, that when my friend/business associate Erik asked me at lunch the other day if I’d ever held a bitcoin in my hand after I joked about paying for the meal with the cryptocurrency, he was messing with me.
Because, digital currency. Duh.
It only took me 51 hours to get the joke.
Welcome to March. In like a lyin‘, I guess.
Have you guys heard about this Vero app that’s suddenly all the rage? If not, you’re probably living under a rock, because it’s been all over the internet. (If by chance you are living under a rock, got any room for me down there? The news is nothing but bad these days, man. Ignorance is bliss.)
I started seeing people on Instagram post about opening Vero accounts last weekend. So many were doing so that my curiosity was naturally piqued and I googled it to find out what all the fuss was about. And learned that Vero (“true social,” they call it) was being touted as “the new Instagram.”
I’m a huge fan of the old Instagram, but I’ll admit I was intrigued by the Vero premise:
OK, one of those statements is a ringer. But I’m not telling you which one. You won’t get that information out of me!
Those promises, coupled with the fact that the first million users get free subscriptions for life (they plan to charge a nominal fee in the future in order to earn revenue) convinced me to download Vero to check it out for myself. Because its sudden surge in popularity overwhelmed its servers, there have been widespread reports of issues with the app: problems signing up, logging on, and posting. Fortunately, I have encountered few issues myself.
No sooner had I downloaded Vero than the backlash began. There’s controversy over its co-founder and CEO, a Lebanese billionaire linked to a construction company that went out of business last year, leaving its workers unpaid and mistreated. (To be fair, these reports fail to mention that Ayman Hariri left the company four years earlier and no longer had any association with it when they went belly up.) But bad publicity is a killer, so maybe the app is already dead. Vero will most likely be another flash in the pan, much like Peach, Ello, and Mastodon, all of which were declared the “hot new social media apps” before quickly flaming out. Hell, by the time you read this post, Vero may already be history.
But just in case it turns into something big, I’m in. I’ve always wanted to be an early adopter, and while I was the first person on my block to own a DVD player, I have been notoriously slow in catching on to other things in life. I couldn’t be bothered to pay for a computer in the early 2000s because, hey, I had WebTV! I never got into MySpace or “Arrested Development” when they were all the rage, either. It even took me a few years to discover Instagram, my go-to app for the past couple of years. Just once I’d like to get in on the ground floor, so I’m pulling for you, Vero. Don’t let me down, buddy.
My initial thoughts are positive. The layout is clean and professional; I like the dark color scheme. It resembles a night-vision version of Instagram. I like that your posts aren’t limited to photos and video; you can also share or recommend books, music, and movies, and even post text updates. It’s sort of like a combination of Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, borrowing the best features of each and leaving out the really annoying things, like ads, fake news, and random sorting.
We’ll see if it takes off or crashes and burns.
Countdown: 114 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
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
Last night Tara was wrapping things up in the kitchen, so I told her I’d meet her in the bedroom. Halfway there I realized I’d forgotten something on the dining room table, so I turned around and retraced my steps. She was not expecting me to return, and as soon as she saw me, hid her hands behind her back.
Suspicion level: 10.
“What do you have there?!” I asked.
“Nothing,” she replied.
Suspicion level: 11.
Clearly she was hiding something from me. Upon further interrogation, she confessed to adding a handful of salt to the coffee grounds. I preprogram the coffeemaker every night so a fresh pot brews automatically when we get up the next morning, but salt is never part of the equation. She explained that Alton Brown, in her eyes the quintessential expert on all things cooking-related, swears that a little salt in your coffee grounds cuts down on the bitterness, and wanted to try it for herself. Odd as that sounded, I accepted her explanation and we went to bed.
While showering this morning, it occurred to me that this is how spouses commit murder. You turn your back for a second and your significant other furtively adds something to your beverage. Next thing you know the doctor is pronouncing you dead and Keith Morrison is devoting 60 minutes to exploring the mystery behind your final days in all his velvety smooth-voiced glory. It was a rather unnerving thought.
I mentioned my realization to Tara this morning, and she accused me of watching too much Dateline NBC. Guilty as charged, but that’s beside the point. I wasn’t accusing her of trying to kill me or anything, simply stating that the salt could have been arsenic in the hands of somebody with murder on their mind. Good thing our relationship is solid!
Or was until I almost called her a killer.
Speaking of Keith Morrison, here’s a video of him reading from the telephone book. Why? Because, that voice!
Countdown: 128 Days
I stepped outside this morning and was greeted with a blast of cold air and a brisk wind. A couple of hours later Tara called and, as we were chatting, I mentioned how chilly it was outside. But I immediately caught myself and retracted the sentence.
“It’s not really cold outside,” I said.
And it wasn’t. The temperature was hovering around 40 degrees, which – granted – ain’t exactly swimsuit weather, but it is only February. We’ve had an unusually warm couple of months, so a temperature closer to the norm felt extra cold to me.
Besides, I keep reminding myself how cold next winter is going to be. I’ve been following the weather in Rapid City religiously for months now, and there have been many days where highs were in the single digits, and nights have dipped below zero. So I’m trying very hard not to complain about fake cold like 38 degrees, because it’s all relative and a year from now that will feel probably feel warm!
My parents are currently on vacation in Florida, so we decided to take advantage of the situation by borrowing their grill. Being as how their grill is attached to the side of their house via a natural gas valve, we ended up borrowing their entire house while we were at it. (Don’t worry, mom – we brought our own wine!).
Grilling is one thing we both miss. When I was a homeowner I’d grill out at least once a week, pretty much all year long. But our apartment complex doesn’t allow grills, and even though some residents break the rules Tara and I choose to walk the straight and narrow. Which means grilling has turned into a special occasion.
We picked up ribeye steaks from Costco, invited our friend Kara over, and had ourselves a feast on Saturday night, kicking back in their sunroom (we borrowed that, too) with the aforementioned steak, accompanied by sauteed mushrooms, shrimp, apricot pepita cabbage slaw, and garlic bread. We had a great time, even if Kara was a little unnerved by the creepy oversized doll in the living room. I didn’t mention how the thing comes to life sometimes and tiptoes up the stairs in the middle of the night, magically appearing in bed with my parents.
Just kidding, Kara.
Countdown: 131 days.
Like most states, South Dakota has several different nicknames. Most are not surprising. It is called, among other things:
But one nickname stands out from the pack: South Dakota’s most unusual moniker is the Swinged Cat State. Wondering where such an odd name came from? You can thank (or blame it on) this guy:
That’s Arthur Calvin Mellette, the first Governor of South Dakota. In 1890, the state was experiencing a drought. Mellette was doing his best to persuade settlers to stick around. While in Chicago on a trip in which he was attempting to secure financial aid, Moses Handy, an associate of Arthur’s and a newspaperman, turned to his friend and asked, “Well, governor, how is South Dakota?”
Well, South Dakota is a swinged cat, better than she looks.
The term “swinged” is an old colloquialism meaning “singed” or “burned slightly.”
The next day, the Chicago Inter Ocean newspaper ran a story about Mellette, governor of “the swinged cat state.” And the rest is obscure history.
I’ve been blogging, on and off, for the better part of my adult life now. The platforms have changed, but writing is the one constant in my life. Since 2009, I’ve been posting semi-regularly on WordPress to Mark My Words. That blog has followed me through many ups and downs in my life and contains memories galore. However, 2018 promises to be a year of change like no other, and I feel it’s time for a fresh start.
Welcome to Swinged Cat. This blog will chronicle the journey of me and my wife, Tara, as we leave behind the Pacific Northwest and head 1,200 miles east, to the Great Plains of South Dakota. I lived in Rapid City many years ago and never imagined I’d ever call it home again, but if there’s one lesson I’ve learned over the years, it’s that the old axiom, never say never, holds true.
If you’ve been following me on Mark My Words, first off, thank you. Please go ahead and bookmark this site instead. That 8+ years’ worth of content isn’t going anywhere, but I will be shifting the focus of the blog to business-related articles.
Swingedcat.com (I kind of love the name!) will be my new home for personal posts and more. I have a few goals in mind here: I want to write more frequently, even if my posts are simple one-sentence asides. Or random thoughts. Inspiring quotes. Photos. Reposts of interesting articles. I want to focus more on the attractions of South Dakota, once we get there. The things we eat and drink, the places we go, the crazy weather we are sure to encounter (“Blizzard State,” remember?). But most of all, I want to document the experience of uprooting my entire life, at the not-so-tender age of…never mind…and start fresh. It’s big, and exciting, and a little scary. And I’m pretty sure it’ll be entertaining, too.
So thank you for following along. Buckle your seatbelts…it’s going to be a crazy ride!
Countdown: 132 Days