Delightful to Frightful

Anybody searching for proof that South Dakota’s weather is bipolar need look no further than Saturday morning’s forecast.

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We didn’t quite hit 70º yesterday, but came damn close. 68.7º, to be exact. It was so warm that Tara and I took a walk around Canyon Lake wearing nothing but t-shirts! Well, okay…we had pants on, too. It was weird because the lake is half iced over, yet it felt mild enough to have a picnic and toss around a frisbee if you were so inclined. Then we came home and I washed my car. After that, I gassed up the snowblower. Because, record high notwithstanding, the weather’s about to go from delightful to frightful. They’ve issued a Winter Weather Advisory and we’re expecting anywhere from 2-5″ of snow.

Not that I mind. I love the cold and snow. Plus, it’s been a lot milder this past month than it was a year ago. We really haven’t had much weather of note since our blizzard two months ago.

If you’re wondering how I know the exact high temperature within a tenth of a degree, it’s because I bought myself a weather station and set it up last weekend. I have always had a fascination with weather and climatology and decided at the age of 8 I wanted to become a meteorologist. Ten years and one Introduction to Meteorology college course later, I realized that a whole lot of math was required. I just wanted to look at clouds and stuff, so that was a hard pass.

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I have to admit, the weather station is pretty nifty. I can see all the stats right on my phone. When I attended high school in South Dakota lo these many years ago, I filled up spiral notebooks with weather information culled from the mercury-filled, wired thermometer on my bedroom wall. Now it’s all transmitted wirelessly, with colorful charts and graphics and historical information down to the hour. Highs and lows, rainfall, wind speed and direction, barometric pressure, solar radiation, UV index, sunrise/sunset times, moon phases, etc. About the only thing it doesn’t do is brew coffee (I’m hoping for a future software update to resolve that). I have my data going out to Weather Underground, a nationwide network of personal weather stations. Teenage me would have been amazed! I’ll never be more than a backyard hobbyist, but it’s pretty fun anyway.


Thank you for all the feedback on text justification, both here and on Facebook. There was an overwhelming consensus for left-aligned text, so I’m trying that out. I’m always willing to change things up, whether that means packing up all my worldly possessions, quitting my job and moving 1,200 miles away, or redoing my blog layout.


Super Bowl Sunday, eh? Wish I were more excited over the teams, but the Chiefs are division rivals and I spent too many years ostracized by 49ers faithful as a Broncos fan in the Bay Area to ever get excited about them. Don’t get me wrong: we’ll watch the game and have all the usual snacks that go along with it. Any excuse for guacamole and Bloody Marys, right? I just have no vested interest in the outcome.

The past two weeks at work I’ve hardly been in the office because of interviews with about a dozen different people, from Custer to Hill City to Deadwood. Finally, this week I don’t have any scheduled…

…but I’ve been called for jury duty.

I wish I were excited about this. Democracy in action, civic duty and all, yadda yadda. It’s just not something that thrills me, especially with deadlines looming. My supervisor is totally supportive, at least. I have to call a number tomorrow to confirm that the trial is still a go, and if so, report for duty Tuesday morning. There’s not even any guarantee that I’ll be selected. Twice in the past I’ve been called, but never landed on a jury; the first time, in San Jose, they whittled down a large pool of potential jurors to seven before they were all set, and never got around to questioning me. The other time, in Vancouver, the parties reached a settlement before they ever called any jurors and we were dismissed. I’m hoping for similar luck this time around, but fully expecting I’ll be called. If so, the trial is estimated to last for three days, so I suppose that isn’t too bad.

Maybe I’ll just walk in there and tell ‘em how excited I am to serve on a jury because I want to see the bastard fry. Even if it’s a jaywalking case.

[Name of Business]

The Pitfalls of Copy-and-Paste

I fell victim to my own copy-and-paste transgressions this week. I’m not really surprised that it happened, but rather, that it took so long to happen.

I’m working on a feature story about locally-owned bakeries for the upcoming spring/summer issue of our visitor magazine and have been reaching out primarily through Facebook and website contact forms to set up interviews. Yesterday, I sent out the following:

I’m the Senior Content Writer/Editor for BHV magazine. We are planning on doing a feature story on local bakeries in our upcoming Spring/Summer issue and would like to include name of business. Would you have time to meet with me for a few brief questions about your business? If so, let me know if there is a day and time that would be convenient for you.

I spotted my error two seconds after hitting SEND. Sadly, you can’t unsend something on Messenger. Remember when Harry tried to retract his assertion that men and women can’t be friends in When Harry Met Sally and Sally said “you can’t take it back” because “it’s already out there”? Same concept here. Once words have been typed and sent out into the webisphere, you can’t take them back. They’re already out there.

Armed with the irrefutable knowledge that I couldn’t take them back, I did the next best thing: tried to deflect attention from the fact that they had ever appeared by immediately following up with another message. I told them that I’m a big fan of [actual name of business] and no story about Black Hills bakeries would ever be complete without a mention of [actual name of business]. In other words, I pulled out all the stops and kissed ass like crazy.

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I was sincere in what I said. These guys have been in business longer than any other bakery in town. We used to buy donuts and cakes from them when my dad was stationed at Ellsworth AFB, and that was…

Well. A long time ago, rest assured.

Fortunately, if they noticed my gaffe, they were too polite to point it out. They got back to me and we have an interview scheduled for Thursday morning.

I just really need to be very careful before hitting SEND!

Am I Justified?

I’ve been having an internal conflict over text alignment lately. I’m pretty sure this is something only a writer or designer would think about.

I’m either very visually/spatially oriented or simply neurotic. (For the record, I hope it’s the former. Therapy is expensive.) In any case, for years I have been using justified text on my blog. In case you’re unfamiliar with the term, justified text is aligned with both left and right margins and white space is added between words in order to make all lines equal. I like it because it looks cleaner and neater, though some people find the extra spacing distracting. This paragraph is justified.

By contrast, left-aligned text—as the name implies—is aligned with the left side of the page, leaving a ragged right edge. The ragged edge adds an element of white space. Left-aligned text is considered more informal and friendlier than justified text, and some people consider it easier to read. This paragraph is left-aligned.

Right-aligned text is another option. In this layout, text is aligned with the right side of the page, leaving a ragged left edge. Unless you’re wrapping text around a photo positioned on the left side of the page, I find no earthly reason to ever use right-aligned text. It makes me want to gouge my eyes out, actually. This paragraph is right-aligned.

You can even center-align text, but unless you’re writing a headline, I don’t see the point. This paragraph is center-aligned.

Arguments can be made for either of the first two options, I suppose. Typically, blogs are left-aligned. Informal and friendlier, right? I’ve always been a very organized, detail-oriented person, which is why I’m drawn to justified text. But I am curious to learn what you, as readers, prefer. Does justified text make you cringe, or is it something you’ve never even paid attention to before? If you guys prefer left-aligned text, I am open to change.

Feel free to weigh in with your thoughts. While you’re at it, I’d love to know if you have ever sent an email you wish you could take back.

 

I’m Putting My Faith in Technology

Remember how I hinted that I wanted a snowblower for Christmas last month? My parents did, because they generously got us one. We picked it up on an appropriately snowy Saturday a few weeks ago.

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Naturally, it hasn’t snowed since.

What it has done, in fact, has been warm. It was 56º on Tuesday. Fifty-six! In January!! In South Dakota!!! And then yesterday, it actually rained a little. Rain! In January!! In South Dakota!!!

I’d keep going, but I don’t want to wear out the ! key.

Meanwhile, in Florida, frozen iguanas are falling out of trees. What a topsy-turvy world in which we live.

Our rain wasn’t anything to write home about. More like a light drizzle that was barely enough to make a decent puddle. The highlight of the day occurred about 4:45 p.m. There I was, focused on work, when I happened to glance out the window…and spotted an amazing sky. The setting sun was lighting up some rather ominous-looking mammatus clouds. So I did what anybody would do in that situation; quit writing mid-sentence, leapt from my chair, and raced outdoors. I didn’t even bother grabbing a coat; I just wanted to get a picture, and when the sky is on fire like that, it only lasts a few minutes.

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Mission accomplished.

And can I just state for the record, once again, that the sunsets in South Dakota are unlike any I’ve seen elsewhere. They take my breath away, again and again.

Our weather forecast looks pretty uneventful over the next 10 days, so for now, the snowblower is sitting in the garage. But considering we had snow up until mid-May last year, I’m sure at some point we’ll have a chance to use it.

I’ve got a busy day today with interviews in Deadwood and Rapid City. Speaking of, I’ve finally gotten smart and started recording them on my phone. It only took eight months! I am paranoid about technology failing me or the sound quality being poor or operator error (accidentally hitting DELETE instead of PLAY and losing everything) so it took me awhile to come around. Up until this week I’d been lugging my laptop everywhere, but I found that to be impersonal. I’d ask questions and furiously type away while also trying to maintain eye contact so as not to be rude. Inevitably, I’d miss things and end up piecing together quotes. Well, the voice recorder app on my phone solves all those problems. All I have to do is go back and transcribe everything afterward. This is great because it allows me to catch everything and I can take my time writing. I tried this for the first time while interviewing a family in Hill City on Monday and it went off without a hitch. It’s a great interviewing hack!

My aunt, however, shared a scary story about her days as a reporter. She said this in a Facebook comment:

Worst experience ever in journalism. Was sent to the Tampa airport in 1983 in the middle of the night to interview medical students returning from Grenada after the US invasion. I used a tape recorder. I started to listen to it in the car on the way back to the office (photographer was driving) and there was nothing on it. I madly scribbled down what I could remember and managed to write a story.

I can only imagine the sense of dread she felt when she hit PLAY and nothing happened.  I don’t even know what I would do in that situation. Curse, cry, both. Just in case, I am bringing along a notebook, but I also feel that defeats the purpose of recording in the first place.

Guess I’ll just put my faith in technology and my ability to distinguish between the different keys on my phone.

Burn, Beetle, Burn!

What an interesting getaway we had this weekend.

Tara and I decided to check out the annual Burning Beetle festival in Custer. Back in the 1980s and 90s, there was a mountain pine beetle infestation in the Black Hills that wiped out a lot of ponderosa pines. These epidemics occur about every 20 years and pose a serious threat to our forests. The city of Custer decided to turn adversity into something positive and created a community-wide celebration focusing on the human connection with the environment in the Black Hills. The goal was to raise awareness and support the arts, so they cooked up (no pun intended) this festival idea in 2013 that includes a variety show, torch parade, and burning of a giant wooden beetle, followed by a pub crawl.

Cool, right? Think Burning Man but a thousand times smaller and 70 degrees colder.

Because we are responsible adults and wanted to take advantage of the pub crawl, we booked a room at the Super 8 in town. Custer’s pretty small; the motel is about a 90-second drive from the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it downtown. But it’s quaint and charming; I could actually see myself living there someday. We arrived early in the afternoon and settled into the Buglin’ Bull (a very typical restaurant name in South Dakota) for some cocktails and appetizers. We killed a couple of hours that way before checking into our room, then it was off to the festival.

We got there about 4:30 and man, was it cold. The actual temperature wasn’t bad—mid-20s or so—but the winds were whipping up something fierce, turning any exposed flesh raw and numb. There aren’t any naked people at Burning Beetle, that’s for sure! Despite the cold, this turned out to be a totally unique experience unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed. The beetle effigy is mounted atop a pile of discarded Christmas trees, so Custer gets bonus points for their recycling efforts.

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We gathered around the beetle, bundled up to ward off the chill, and waited. We heard the approaching mob before we saw them, drumbeats echoing in the distance as they crested a hill before descending upon the field crowded with spectators. There were maybe 100 torch-carrying marchers, led by the aforementioned drummers. Tara and I had debated participating in the march—you could buy a torch for $10—but it was simply too cold.

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The self-proclaimed “Torch Mob” formed a circle around the sacrificial bug and the crowd started chanting “Burn, beetle, burn!” Over and over again, the chorus growing progressively louder as the excitement built. Then, on cue, the Christmas trees were lit and the whole thing was quickly engulfed in flames as fireworks exploded overhead and the crowd continued their frenzied chant. Before long, flames were shooting 50 feet into the air and the heat was so intense we forgot we were even cold.

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The whole thing was really cool and kind of crazy. It reminded me of what it must have been like during the Salem witch trials, when angry mobs embraced ritualized murder. It’s so easy to get caught up in the excitement; I found myself chanting “Burn, beetle, burn!” just as loudly as the rest of the crowd, and relished with glee when that sucker lit up the night sky. Mob mentality is real, yo.

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It took about 20 minutes to burn away to embers (and by the way, what looked to be the entire Custer fire department was there in case anything went awry). Afterward, we made our way downtown for the pub crawl, affectionately called a “bug crawl.” Custer was hoppin’, at least by Custer standards. We managed to snag the last table available at the Gold Pan Saloon (a very typical bar name in South Dakota) and ordered drinks while a classic rock cover band played some good music. One of Tara’s coworkers and her posse were in town for the celebration and joined us. We grabbed a pizza to go from another place and headed back to our motel with a six-pack of Mike’s Hard Lemonade so we could take advantage of the pool and hot tub. Both were great, although on the way to the hot tub I slipped on the concrete and fell. What am I, 80?? Banged up the ankle joint on my left foot and I’ve got a pretty nice bruise as a souvenir. I have no idea how this happened. I swear I wasn’t drunk.

After a restless night thanks to my bruised foot and the noisy guests who apparently decided to run laps around their room at 5 a.m., we grabbed the free so-so motel breakfast and hit the road. We were home by 10:30 after stopping at Safeway for groceries.

I wish I had MLK Jr. Day off tomorrow like Tara does, especially since she’s having a bunch of coworkers over for brunch, but alas some of us have to work. Gah. I’ll try not to think about how they’re going to be drinking Bloody Marys while I’m toiling for the man, and if you’re thinking I’m bitter about this, I don’t know what you’re talking about.

It’s okay though; this is going to be a busy week at work. I’ve got about a million interviews scheduled and stories to write as we are deep into preparing our spring parenting magazine. I told my supervisor not to expect me around the office much as I’ll be traveling to Hill City and Deadwood and Custer this week.

At least the weather should cooperate. Knock on wood and all that jazz.

Leisure

Apparently, there is a trend in which people choose a word of the year, one that  is meant to represent how they envision their year unfolding. Everybody’s word is unique; it should serve as a compass to guide you toward a personal goal. And apparently, this is nothing new; people have been choosing words of the year for quite some time now.

Weird that I’d never heard of this before, given that I’m a writer. Words are my bread and butter. You’d think I’d be all over this scheme. But nope! Much as with “The Sopranos,” which Tara and I just started watching (tonight we’re gonna party like it’s 1999…literally), I’m late to the game.

In fact, when my supervisor Slacked the team a few weeks ago and asked us if we had a word of the year, I replied like a real smart-ass. “I’ve got two,” I told her. “Widows and orphans.

What can I say? I’ve always been a master of the callback.

Word-of-the-Year-2020

Once I realized this was a real thing, however, I decided to jump on the bandwagon myself. Better late than never! I mean, Tony Soprano is still a compelling character 20 years after his debut, right?

Without further ado then, my word of the year is…drumroll, please…

Leisure.

It’s not that I plan on being a lazy slug in 2020, but I am going to focus on slowing down. I plan on taking more time to stop and smell the roses. To just “be.” If that sounds all hippy-dippy, sorry-not-sorry. The past couple of years have been rollercoaster rides. To wit:

  • In 2018 I quit my job, packed up all my worldly possessions, and moved halfway across the country.
  • In 2019 I started a job, quit a job, started another job, bought a house, and moved again, all while working on 25-ish freelance blogs a week, every week, for the entire year.

I’m exhausted.

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Maybe my word of the year should be “bada-bing!”

My goal for 2020 is to embrace leisure in all its wonderful, carefree forms. I’m already off to a flying start; instead of dashing out a freelance blog every weekday morning before breakfast, I sip coffee and skim through the newspaper. I even changed my alarm to allow me a few extra minutes of sleep every day. There is no painting of walls or unpacking of boxes, but rather, books on Kindle and Tony Soprano. I even hooked up the old PlayStation 2 in the basement and fired up Ratchet & Clank. I haven’t played video games in years.

I mean, it won’t be all fun and games, but there will be a hell of a lot more fun and games than there were last year. Or the year before. We’re heading to Custer for an overnighter this weekend to burn a wooden beetle in effigy and then do a pub crawl, for instance. We also booked a room in Lead for a March weekend, will be traveling to eastern South Dakota in July for a chislic festival, and have a couple of camping trips planned. Best of all, in September, we’re having a family reunion right here in Rapid. I’ve taken the planning reins on that one, but it’s okay: I’ve got time now. This “leisure” thing and I are going to get along just fine.

What’s your personal word of the year?

Being Taurus

Today’s life lesson: do not take a sip of wine after eating a blue cheese-stuffed olive.

This was a glass of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc if you’re curious, but I’m pretty sure the variety of wine doesn’t matter. White, red, sparkling…fuggedaboutit. Pace yourself. Wait 10 minutes. ‘Cause life is short and that is one sip you’ll never get back.

At least it was a $7.99 bottle from Target. I really know how to class up the joint.

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I do not recommend this combination.

For the record, the wine is tasting pretty good now. I am sitting on the couch, sipping that while enjoying an electric foot massage. Tara is cooking a pot of green chile chicken enchilada soup, the perfect remedy for a very cold day. It was 6º and spitting light snow on my drive home. I could not be happier that I have a mere 10-minute commute to work—it’s one of the biggest advantages of living in Rapid City—but the downside is, when it’s this cold, by the time my car is finally beginning to warm up, I’m pulling into the driveway. I don’t know why I even bother turning on the heat, to be honest. I think it’s psychological.

At least I’ve gotten smart and started turning on the heat on my thermostat from the Nest app on my phone before I leave work on my lunch hour. I shivered through far more lunches than I’d care to admit before deciding I should just turn on the freakin’ heat already. I’m a little stubborn when it comes to things like that, but when I finally cave in, it’s like a revelation. Tara gives me crap for this all the time, but I just chalk it up to being Taurus.

Today was so cold, in fact, that I wore my heavy Marmot winter coat at my desk the last half-hour…and was still freezing. Our office is big and cavernous, and my work station is right next to the windows. This makes it pretty drafty, although today was the first time since I started working there that I actually felt cold inside. I could bring in a space heater…there’s an outlet right there…or I suppose I could work from home. I had a catch-up meeting with my supervisor to discuss goals for 2020 today and she reiterated that I am welcome to work remotely any time I like, I have proven myself and she trusts me. I told her I don’t want to abuse the privilege, but honestly, I rarely do so and should probably take advantage of the opportunity more than I do. I always seem to get more work done at home anyway.

Last week’s life lesson: don’t feed a dog beef jerky. I shared a few pieces with Marley, one of the office dogs, two weeks ago and she hasn’t left me alone since. She has been hanging out around me ever since, hoping for another handout, even going so far as shoving her face in my lap on occasion. Marley’s a great dog so I don’t mind the attention, but it’s hard to get work done when she’s staring at me with those big, pleading eyes. I have so far resisted the urger to give her more food, but I have my limits, yo.

And I’m not even a dog person. Or am I? I only ask because, during our recent trip to Nevada, every time we went to somebody’s house with a dog, they invariably congregated around me, begging for attention.

The dogs, not the humans. Though they seemed to thrive on attention, too.

My coworkers today suggested this means I should get a dog. I don’t know about that, but Sydney does get along well with dogs. Other cats, not so much.

Never say never, I suppose.

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!