Into the Mystic

I was out running errands yesterday, and twice—the first time in Target, the second in the grocery store—an employee wished me a “Happy Father’s Day!”

Nice gestures, and I thanked them both, but I’m curious why they assumed I was a father. Am I giving off some sort of “dad vibe,” and if so, how do I make it stop?

“Don’t wear cargo shorts to the grocery store,” Tara suggested un-helpfully.

I mean, I am a father, of course. And I cherish my offspring. But if I’m going to give off a vibe, why can’t it be something a little more edgy? I’m just spitballing here, but how about an experimental aircraft test pilot vibe? Conventional aircraft would be fine too, as would tank commander or submarine captain. I’d even settle for a Hollywood stuntman or lead singer in a one-hit-wonder rock ‘n roll band vibe. (We could have a string of hits, too…I’m just trying not to be greedy.) If people glanced at me and thought, now, there’s a fella who knows his way around a table saw, I’d be okay with that. I’d much rather project an uh-oh, better lock up your daughters vibe than an I‘ve got a question about QuickBooks and this guy looks like he can help me out vibe. Think Indiana Jones or Neil Armstrong or Robert Plant in his heyday.

Instead of any of these, I’m Ned Flanders. Proof that life is unfair and middle age sucks. (Or so I’ve heard. I’ll let ya know when I get there.)


Inspired by last Saturday’s off-the-main-drag adventure, we decided to partake in more of the same this weekend. Our destination? We didn’t really have one, other than a general loop on gravel roads in the Black Hills. A very un-dad-like thing to do, if you ask me.

We ended up in Mystic, an actual ghost town. The place was once a thriving mining camp and railroad town; George Armstrong Custer and his peeps first explored the valley in 1874, and two years later, gold was discovered in nearby Castle Creek, leading to the Black Hills Gold Rush. A sawmill was built in 1918, and by the 1920s, the place was a bustling tourist destination; even President Calvin Coolidge passed through. Now, about all that’s left is the chapel, built in 1930 using logs from the sawmill.

/ history lesson.

Ghost towns fascinate me. Even the ones without haunted houses, like Mystic. There are a bunch of them in the Black Hills, so I envision further exploration in the future.

After leaving Mystic, we embarked upon a circuitous route that took us through Rochford and Spearfish Canyon, eventually ending up in the town of Spearfish for a late lunch at Dough Trader Pizza. They’re what-passes-for-famous-around-these-parts for their sourdough pizza crust, and it’s really good. They were doing outdoor seating only, and…spoiler alert…we wisely snagged a table beneath the tin roof (rusted!!).

Oops, sorry…obscure pop culture references are my weakness.

Only it really was rusted, because when a thunderstorm rolled through and it started raining and hailing, said roof magically sprang a dozen leaks of varying size. We and our food didn’t completely escape getting wet. But the storm passed, the sun shone brightly, and the humidity skyrocketed. And then the cycle repeated itself, as the heavens opened up and pelted us with everything imaginable once again as we were headed in the direction of the interstate.

Fun day regardless, and a very enjoyable evening on the patio, with cribbage and rock ‘n roll and booze and a blazing fire in the chiminea that inspired us to make S’mores. I give the day a 9/10 for sure.


Today marks an auspicious occasion in the history of MarTar. On June 22, 2018, we officially left the Pacific Northwest, pulling out of Vancouver, WA around 2:00 p.m. The next two days were an adventure, as one might expect when traveling 1,250 miles for a fresh start and a brand new life in a completely different part of the country. Wow, that sounded dramatic, but I mean, it was kind of a big deal. If you’ve read me for even a brief period of time, you know that things worked out incredibly well for us and we are loving it here, but we couldn’t have known that at the time and it felt like a big gamble.

Hard to forget a date like that, huh?

Just the Wax, Ma’am

I was watching a TV show the other day, and one of the characters said, “I’ve got good news and bad news. Which would you like to hear first?” They (obviously) chose the bad news. Duh. Does anybody ever pick the good news first? I’m the kind of guy who likes to end on a high note. When I’m eating dinner (or breakfast, or lunch), I save the best bite for last. I will save the crispiest cheese skirt, the juiciest bite of meat, or the maraschino cherry for the very end. I think that’s a universally human experience, but I could be wrong. Please enlighten me: are you a good news first or bad news first person?


I’m currently reading one of the most disturbing books I have ever come across. Even more so because it’s non-fiction: Midnight in Chernobyl. There’s a popular HBO miniseries based on the book, but my understanding is that the pay-TV version mixes fact and fiction. I wanted the real skinny, so I “checked out” the book from the library (90 percent of the books I read are on my Kindle, so this involves the Libby app (far superior to Overdrive IMHO) and a Wi-Fi connection) and dove in. It’s a weighty read, chock full of nuclear physics early on, but holy shit…once you get to the actual explosion in Reactor 4, it’s un-put-downable. So terrifying, in fact, that the first night I started reading it, I had dreams about fires and radiation and nuclear fallout.

Fun stuff, lemme tell ya.

But it’s fascinating. I’m only 20 percent in—like I said, this bugger is a long read—but totally hooked. Out of curiosity, I Googled Chernobyl (spoiler alerts be damned!) and learned that there is a bustling tourism trade involving illicit trips to the exclusion zone. Tourists venture into Pripyat (now a ghost town) and other cities that were evacuated in 1986 and, no shit, post selfies on Instagram. ‘Tis true; I’ve seen them. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Part of me applauds their bravado, the way they thumb their noses at Iodine-131 and other radioactive isotopes; another part of me thinks they’re fucking nuts. It’s a fallout zone, for god’s sake. Seriously?!

Nuclear energy is scary stuff. The fact that we haven’t managed to obliterate the human species while messing around with this stuff is nothing short of a miracle.


Yesterday, I went on a “content blitz” to Keystone with two coworkers. This was a great excuse to get out of the office and spend the day visiting businesses in the tourist town closest to Mount Rushmore, all in an attempt to drum up ideas for blog posts and social media campaigns. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I’ve got the best job ever.

Our day included iced caramel macchiatos; a successful putt at the Holy Terror miniature golf course; a visit to the National Presidential Wax Museum; a delicious lunch at Ruby House; a tour of the Big Thunder Gold Mine; and a drink at BaRLees before heading home. Granted, I took a solo trip to Keystone last month, but this was even better. We had an actual agenda, and the company paid for everything. Minus the t-shirt and chainsaw sculpture I bought, but whatevs. The best part is, we’re going to be doing these content blitzes every month, visiting various communities throughout the Black Hills to gather ideas for blog posts and promote local businesses.

The wax museum was probably my favorite stop. I’d never been to one before, and quite frankly, I was blown away by the realistic sculptures. It was impressive how they created not just figurines, but entire tableaus. And they weren’t all presidential figures.

It was such a fun day!

The only downside? One day out and about is one day less to work on my assignments, and things have been super busy lately. I’m not complaining; with so many people furloughed or laid off, too much work is better than the alternative.

But I’m thankful it’s the weekend. Tara and I are going exploring. It should be fun!

Dirty Work, But…

So, the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is officially on.

I’m not sure how to feel about that. Initially, I was opposed; the last thing we need is 500,000 bikers descending upon the Black Hills, because you know they’re the last people in the world to bother with face masks and socially distancing themselves. But the issue isn’t so black-and-white. For one thing, it was made clear that regardless of whether or not there was an official Rally, the Harley-Davidson set were still planning on coming. Short of fencing off the entire town, there was no way of stopping them. Making the Rally official allows the city to budget for and enact safety precautions, at least to a certain extent. Second, the Black Hills depends on tourism for its lifeblood. If the Rally were canceled, an awful lot of businesses would be in danger of going under for good. I know, I know: the economy takes a backseat to public health and safety. But it’s a complicated issue, and like many others, I’m suffering from COVID fatigue.

We’ll just avoid it this year, which is too bad. We had a surprisingly good time when we went in 2018 (and again last year).

Unfortunately, Trump is still planning a visit to Mount Rushmore on July 3 for the fireworks ceremony, which he is taking full credit for. This tradition was halted in 2009 due to environmental concerns, but our idiot president said, “What can burn? It’s all stone.” Umm, how about the thousands of acres of ponderosa pine surrounding the national monument? In a dry year where precipitation is below normal, no less. Ugh. What a tool.

We will celebrate the holiday drinking and playing corn hole in our backyard.

I live in an area where there are no longer any COVID restrictions. Rapid City voted on Monday to officially end all mandated restrictions, leaving it up to businesses and the public. I’m in favor of this. By now, we all know what we are supposed to do: face masks, six feet apart, hand sanitizer, yadda yadda. There are no capacity restrictions in restaurants and bars and businesses are free to remove their one-way arrows if they want, but nothing had changed during my trip to Safeway this morning, so maybe the common-sense approach will actually work.

Maybe.

With our family reunion less than three months away and the world still in a state of flux, I sent out an email this afternoon. Basically told everybody since they’re the ones traveling, I would leave the decision up to them. My parents bought tickets and will definitely be here. My aunt is a lot more skittish. Everybody’s got their own comfort level, and I have to respect that. I just fear that if it doesn’t happen this year, it never will.

Stupid COVID-19.

My half-home/half-in-the-office work schedule has been nice. I’ve gotten to the point where going into work feels natural, while staying home is a bit odd. The exact opposite of what it felt like a month ago. Tomorrow, a bunch of us are headed into Keystone for an all-day blitz. We’ll be visiting Chamber of Commerce members and I am tasked with taking photos. Hmm…a day spent out of the office, with a visit to the wax museum, a coffeeshop, a bar, and a company-sponsored lunch? It’s dirty work, but somebody’s gotta do it! I won’t be home, but I also won’t be at the office, which feels even weirder.

Here’s a random picture of our backyard patio. Have I mentioned how impressed I am with Tara’s outdoor decor? She’s done a great job making our backyard cozy and inviting. So much so that, despite a 96º day on Tuesday, I still wanted nothing more than to sit outside after work with a glass of wine.

Take care, friends.

Pretty In-Tents Weekend

First off, let me state for the record that I love camping.

In theory.

Often though, the reality doesn’t match up to the picture you’ve painted in your head. I’d been looking forward to this weekend’s getaway ever since I booked the reservation on December 20. When your backyard is knee deep in snowdrifts and the temperature is hovering around 9º, an outdoor getaway sounds pretty appealing: a crackling campfire, a lush nature hike, a pristine lake, grilled meat. It’s the perfect one-two-three-four punch (five if we’re counting sipping maple-flavored whiskey whilst sitting upon a rock with our feet dangling in the cool, refreshing water).

The world sure is a different place than it was when I booked that reservation, which made me long for it even more. How I yearned to get away and relax after so much time spent cooped up at home…

…umm, relaxing.

Well, whatever. Fresh(er) air is always appealing! So Tara and I took off after work on Friday for a weekend at Horse Thief Lake, a nice, secluded* getaway just a few miles from Mount Rushmore.

*Secluded may be an overstatement given the campground’s proximity to busy Highway 244. See: “just a few miles from Mount Rushmore.”

In any case, it’s a lovely little place in the heart of the Black Hills, and when we checked in, the campground host told us, “You guys have the primo spot!” I knew this going in: I’d taken great pains to find the best spot in the campground, one that was surrounded by ponderosa pine trees for privacy and a mere stone’s throw from the lake. Site #24, if you’re ever so inclined. I’m not ashamed to admit I lorded over the fact that “I snagged us the best spot in the campground, babe!” quite a bit at first.

So we got settled in at our primo spot, pitched our tent, cracked open some cold beverages, and commenced to having a perfectly relaxing, enjoyable weekend.

However.

A bunch of things conspired against us, almost from the start. By Saturday morning we were dealing with:

  • A leaking air mattress
  • Raging winds threatening to blow everything not tied down (which was, umm, everything but the tent) into the lake
  • Swarms of mosquitoes that I only learned later have no problem biting through clothing
  • Annoyingly persistent allergies exacerbated by the wind
  • A PMSing wife

Sensing my wife’s frustration (made clear when she shoved her breakfast into the garbage without taking so much as a single bite five seconds after dishing it up because half the campsite went flying into the bushes after an especially powerful gust), I suggested we pack up and head home. Fortunately, that little hormone burst subsided and she said we should go for a drive instead. I was game, so we headed into the hills outside Hill City (I wonder how that town got its name) and explored a dirt road that paralleled a lovely little creek surrounded by rolling green countryside and lined with wild purple irises. We even stumbled upon a crumbling prospector’s cabin and boarded-up mine. It was a great way to kill a few hours and recharge our her spirits.

When we got back to camp, the wind had subsided slightly. It was warm-bordering-on-hot, so we were able to deal with it. Tara grabbed a nap in the hammock while I read a book on my Kindle with my camp chair set up on the shore of the lake. It was pretty idyllic, actually. Tara started a fire, we threw on a steak and some corn on the cob, and all appeared to have settled down. We had salvaged our weekend!

But then Tara went and said, “You know, we could go home tonight.”

Now, she’d already asked if we could break down camp first thing Sunday morning and do breakfast at home instead. After the havoc wreaked by that morning’s wind, I’d agreed to this plan. And honestly, the prospect of a hot shower and not having to deal with an air mattress that was less air and mattress than advertised proved too tempting to resist. When Tara said we could stop for ice cream on the way home, that sealed the deal. So while dinner was cooking we disassembled the tent and loaded up the truck. And after our meal, we drove home, making the promised ice cream run first. It was 10:15 by the time we arrived, but the air conditioner was pumping lovely refrigerated air through the house and pots and pans weren’t flying across the kitchen, so I can’t say I have any regrets.

Did we puss out? Maybe.
Do I care? Nope.

We have at least one (and maybe two) more camping trips planned this summer, so we’ll have an opportunity to redeem ourselves.

After buying a new air mattress, of course.

Think Pink

Sunday, a miracle happened. I actually convinced Tara that our yard would be better off with a few flamingos.

Not real ones, mind you (though, if they could survive the harsh South Dakota winters, I’d totally be down). As you might recall, I recently suggested that we add plastic pink flamingos to our landscaping, an idea that she quickly shot down.

I also learned that, blog title notwithstanding, not all flamingos are pink. Talk about a revelation.

In any case, we made a trip to At Home Sunday evening. Tara was on the lookout for garden pots. I thought I was just along for the ride, until I spotted the flamingo decor.

“Ooh!” I proclaimed excitedly. “Can I get some flamingos for the garden?”
“It’s your money,” my wife replied, which is about as close to a ringing endorsement as I could hope to get.

$27 later, I emerged from At Home with the following flamingo paraphernalia.

Lest you think my flamingo obsession is limited to the garden, guess again. A weekend trip to Kohl’s netted me the following score:

In case you can’t discern the pattern on my shirt, here’s a close-up:

In fact, I wore that shirt to work on Monday.

Guys. I don’t know exactly when and where this obsession took root, but I’m just going to run with it. Flamingos are cool. I suspect it may date all the way back to the 1980s. I was a huge fan of Miami Vice, and the opening credits feature…you guessed it…flamingos. In fact, I remember fondly watching the show in my room (nobody else in the family was into it) right here in South Dakota as a teenager. Proof that life comes full circle, I suppose.

And though I’m loathe to admit this, I thought Sonny Crockett was so cool, I bought a pair of white pants and a pastel shirt and actually wore those to school. Despite this fashion faux pas, I still managed to land a girlfriend, so I suppose the ol’ Mark charm was enough to overcome my poor clothing choices.

I wish I had a photo of me dressed in this outfit, but alas, I have never been able to find one. That’s probably a good thing, come to think of it.

And yet here I am, umpteen years later, going out in public wearing yet another questionable fashion item. They say those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it. Apparently I didn’t get the memo (or worse yet, I’m choosing to ignore it).

Or maybe I’m just at the stage in my life where I have zero fucks to give.

Have you ever made any regrettable fashion choices? Are you obsessed with fowl? Are there any TV shows from your youth you aren’t afraid to admit you loved?

Inquiring minds want to know…

Capturing Lightning

Tropical Storm Cristobal will make landfall today, and I don’t know how to feel about that.

I’m not referring to the high storm surge and possible destruction it will cause throughout the Gulf states. Of course those are bad; thanks again for yet another bitch slap, 2020. I’m on the fence about that name more than anything else.

I just think hurricanes should sound fierce. Cristobal doesn’t. It’s Spanish for “Christ-bearer.” I suppose in a roundabout way it works—e.g., “Holy Christ, we can’t bear another catastrophe this year”–though personally, wouldn’t it make sense to use the Spanish name for “storm” instead? Tormenta. That sounds pretty bad-ass, right? Cristobal reminds me of a hairdresser or a soccer player, neither of whom are particularly scary.

Unfortunately, the list of official names for the 2020 hurricane season doesn’t get much better. To wit, here are a few of ’em:

  • Dolly is up next. Great for cloned sheep and amply-endowed country music stars, but a fail for a deadly storm.
  • Edouard, Gonzalo, Marco. The people in charge of naming storms were obviously on a Latin kick this year. This trio is no bueno.
  • Isaias. Spanish and Biblical, like Cristobal. It’s as if they were going down a list and checking off boxes. This was a two-for-one.
  • Nana. Are you kidding me?! That’s my grandmother. She bakes chocolate chip cookies and knits afghans. I’m not going to board up my door when she’s on her way; I’m going to open it wide and let her in!
  • Fay, Sally, Vicky. I’m all for equality (and once upon a time, tropical storms were all given female names), but names ending in “y” sound more cute than deadly. Couldn’t they have picked something like Xena? I’d make damn sure to steer clear of a warrior princess.
  • Teddy. The same holds true for men’s names. Teddy is a cute and cuddly stuffed bear. The more direct Ted, while not ideal, would have been a better choice. I can almost give this name a pass because of Roosevelt, who did awesome things like explore the Amazon jungle and finish delivering a speech after taking a bullet to the chest. But he’s pretty much the only cool Teddy to ever live (and that was 100+ years ago).
  • Kyle. Kyle’s an accountant, not a wicked storm bringing 75-mph+ winds and making mincemeat out of houses and trees. I’ll pass.
  • Wilfred. Is this a joke? Will Fred do what? Make landfall in New Orleans? Only time will tell! I give them a little bit of credit for at least not picking the similar-sounding Wilford, a name associated with Brimley, the actor-slash-oatmeal-salesman. By the way, I just googled Wilford Brimley and was shocked to learn he’s still alive. I thought he died over a decade ago.

Really, there aren’t any names this year that push all the right buttons. Hurricane Hanna has a decent ring to it, but I wish they’d turned it into a palindrome because the name just feels open-ended otherwise. Omar (Biblical and Muslim, so now we’re branching out!) has potential; it means “flourishing, long-lived” so it could be appropriate for a storm that wreaks havoc across a wide swath. It’s probably the best of the bunch. You can check out the full list of 2020 names here and decide for yourself which is best.


Tara and I are currently sitting on the back patio, enjoying the morning sunshine and a light breeze. It may storm later; we’re just hoping not as badly as Thursday evening, which packed quite a wallop. I managed to capture some great shots, including this stunner:

I should point out that this is a single image and not a composite. There was that much lightning in one single strike! I have long been in awe of the thunderstorms in the Black Hills. This line of storms caused some serious damage in Spearfish, with baseball-sized hail and 70-mph winds taking out a lot of windows in both cars and houses. We dodged a bullet in Rapid, relatively speaking; our hail was “only” about 1″ in diameter. It did manage to ruin a couple of Tara’s newly-planted tomato starts, but could have been a lot worse.

By the way, after years of futilely trying to capture lightning, I finally figured out the secret. It’s called video. I just point my phone in the direction of the storm and hit record, and then export the best frame. So much easier than aiming a camera at the sky, which is almost always a gigantic fail because, by the time you see the lightning bolt and press the shutter, it’s already gone. I’m sure purists consider what I’m doing cheating, but even our staff photographer gave me kudos for these shots, so I’ll take it.

This wasn’t the weekend we were expecting, by the way. My parents had planned a trip out here to visit, and even got as far as the Portland airport, when my mom called me Friday afternoon.

“I’ve got good news and bad news,” she said. “Our luggage is on the way to Rapid City. Unfortunately, we are not.”

My parents fly non-rev standby, an option for current and former airline employees hoping to save money on airline travel. Tickets cost a fraction of the normal price, but unfortunately, are granted on a first-come, first-serve basis dependent upon empty seats. And because of COVID, airplanes aren’t filling their cabins due to social distancing requirements. That, plus the fact that more people are taking to the skies again, meant they didn’t make their flight and had to cancel plans. I kinda hoped they’d just buy tickets since they’re so cheap nowadays. They’ve tentatively rescheduled for late July. Hopefully that will go off without a hitch.

I kind of expect we’ll be dealing with a plague of locusts right about then…

Can It Please Be November?

The first two hours back at work yesterday felt very weird. But after that, it felt completely normal. Just took me some time to rediscover my at-work groove, but once I did, I was super productive. And my best dog buddy Marley was happy to see me, so: win/win.

My work station kinda resembled a time capsule of sorts. My wall calendar was still turned to March, which feels like a lifetime ago. So much (and so little!) has happened since then. I was bummed too, because April’s photo featured this really cool tornado touching down on the Plains, but alas, I only got to enjoy it for the two seconds it took to flip to June.

So I reconnected with the coworkers who were there, and that was great, but honestly I was thrilled to just be downtown again. I’ve been stuck inside this peaceful suburban bubble for so long, it felt good to walk the familiar city streets again. I was back home today, which felt kind of strange but also normal at the same time. Being in limbo is weird, guys—it’s like being caught between two worlds. Regardless, I was on a roll, getting shit done, when there was a sudden BANG a few minutes after 10 a.m. It was so loud I literally jumped in my seat, and that is something I’m not prone to doing. I’ll hop, and even skip on occasion, but I’m not a leaper. Whenever we watch even a mildly frightening or tense movie, Tara always succumbs to the jump scare while I sit there stoically (and if I’m being honest, chuckling a little over her easily-frightened nature). I then realized that both the power and internet were out. How appropriate was that for Blackout Tuesday?! It sounded like a transformer had blown, but the neighbor’s porch lights across the street were on. I checked the circuit breaker for a blown fuse, but nada, so I walked next door to Peggy’s house to see if her power was out. It was. Then a guy across the street told us that we’re on a completely different power grid; apparently our street is the dividing line. Who knew? In any case, it was a transformer, but the power company was quick on the scene and everything was back to normal two hours later.

In the meantime, I was unable to work on the shared file I’d been editing, so I took advantage of the down time by putting up patio lights in the backyard. I’d ordered them from Amazon and they’d just been sitting on the kitchen table because that’s a chore that takes some time and effort. Well, there was suddenly an abundance of the former, so I hauled out the ladder (do you like what I did there?), figured out how and where to mount them—a process involving trial and error and cup hooks and a quick trip to the hardware store for more cup hooks—but got the task completed.

Tara came home for lunch and asked if I’d tested the lights out before putting them up. I’m no dummy; it’s common knowledge that one should always test out lights before putting them up. We’ve all seen how not doing so worked out for Clark Griswold (in a nutshell, not well), but…ahem: I was installing them in the midst of a power outage and thereby operating on blind faith. Fortunately, when I plugged them, they all lit up just fine and I was able to exhale.

Whew.

By then the power and internet had been restored (obviously), so I was able to finish up the document I’d been working on. All in all, it was a surprisingly productive day, from both a work and a house standpoint. I even scooped the litter box and took out the garbage. I freakin’ killed it today. Where’s my gold star?

Tomorrow I’m going back to the office, but only for half a day; I’ve got phone interviews scheduled in the afternoon. Thursday I’ll be there all day, and Friday I’ll be home. I have to admit, I like the balance here. It’s the best of both worlds.

Yesterday, the Rapid City Police Deparment sent out a memo to downtown business owners encouraging them to take precautions such as bringing loose items inside, storing large amounts of cash in a safe, moving valuable items out of window fronts, and checking for loose bricks around curbs and gutters. Fuck all this craziness, huh? We’ve only had one small, peaceful march, but everybody is tense with all the crap going on in the country and erring on the side of caution. I am so over everything. I listened to Joe Biden’s speech in Philadelphia calling for unity and condemning that orange-haired monster in the Oval Office and thought, THIS is the leader we need. Biden is a calming presence who can heal our country and, with a little effort, help restore our standing in the world.

Can it please be November already?

“See You Monday!”

So. I’m going back into the office tomorrow.

Not full-time. It’ll probably just be for a couple of days a week, working from home the rest. One of my coworkers asked me how I felt about coming back, and I replied, “Pretty good, since it was my idea!” Honestly, I have mixed feelings about it. Not because I’m afraid of going out in public and worried about germs; I just really don’t want to put pants on again.

At least not ones that have a zipper.

But Ye Olde Media Company has been totally chill about the whole thing and never pressured me into coming back. Last week I started to miss the vibe though, and it’s impossible not to feel a disconnect—especially when you see social media posts about cool things happening in the office and you are not there to experience them. Plus, I miss the popcorn machine, if I’m being honest.

Oh, and the people, too.

It’s been something like 67 days since I’ve been in the office now, so the novelty has long since worn off. I’ve been in regular contact with my coworkers, either via Slack or Zoom or phone calls, but it’s not the same as seeing them in person. So I reached out to Jenna on Friday and said, Hey, I’m thinking about coming in a couple of days a week and working from home the rest; would this be okay? It took her all of two seconds to respond, Yes, of course, let me clean your workstation for you, SEE YOU MONDAY! I had to force myself to hit send because I knew I would just keep putting it off and finding excuses not to go in. Five minutes later she reported back that she had moved the junk off my desk (the fact that it had turned into a staging area for wayward office supplies contributed to the disconnect) and sanitized it, so it was too late to say “just kidding!” I’m committed now.

But that’s okay. This weird existence that began in March has never felt real to me. It’s almost been like a vacation, but one where I have been working, so not at all like a vacation. But it did motivate me to set up my home office and buy a monitor, and taught me just how productive I can be from home (occasional cooking-while-on-the-clock notwithstanding), so it’s set the stage for what I envision as a “new normal” where I’ll work in the office some days and WFH others. Tara says it will do me good to get out of the house, and while I haven’t quite devolved to the point in Mr. Mom where Michael Keaton’s character, Jack Butler, whiles away his days watching soap operas and gossiping with the neighborhood housewives, she isn’t wrong. So tomorrow I’ll dust off those dormant social skills and venture out into the real world again.

For one day, anyway.

At least I’ll look presentable. Like so many people, I’d gone months without a haircut. I was looking pretty shaggy and it was starting to bug me. Meanwhile, Tara said I should grow it out, and even had the nerve to suggest I fashion it into a ponytail. WTF, woman. That look reminds me too much of Mr. Sensitive Ponytail Man from Singles, Linda’s on-again/off-again college boyfriend who is hopelessly bland, and I just can’t. I’d want to slap myself every time I looked in the mirror.

Fortunately, I won’t have to. Our Great Clips salons have reopened, so I went and got a haircut last week. The whole experience was surreal; when I arrived, a masked woman at the door was wielding a clipboard and checking people in. All customers were required to wear masks and wait outside until their name was called. To be honest, I feel like the power was going to her head a little, almost like she was in charge of the velvet rope at Studio 54, picking and choosing who to let in based on some set of obscurely random merits, though that illusion was shattered the minute I was granted access inside. The lighting at Great Clips was fluorescent rather than disco-ball, there were zero celebrity sightings, and nobody was snorting coke or having sex in the corner. I was escorted to a chair, given hand sanitizer, and then proceeded to have a conversation while wearing a mask, which isn’t the easiest thing in the world. My only prior experience with that involves the phrase “Trick or treat!” Plus, the stylist frequently had to unhook the mask to trim around my ears. It was quite the balancing act for her. Just my luck, she was a chatty one, too. After being holed up for 67 days, I am not used to conversing with other humans. Totally worth it though just to have reasonable-length hair again.

Saturday was pretty much the perfect day. Tara and I headed out for an adventure, beginning with a very foggy drive through the Black Hills.

Our destination was Custer State Park; we needed to buy new annual passes, and also wanted an excuse to check out the baby bison and burros. Mission accomplished on both counts.

We also ended up exploring a brand new hiking trail in the park, Barnes Canyon. It’s a 9.5-mile out-and-back hike if you do the whole thing; we didn’t have time for that, but still managed to cover 3.5 miles. Pretty cool trail; it follows an old road used by miners, loggers, and homesteaders. Everything was lush and green, and because it’s located just off Wildlife Loop Road, you share the path with any animal that happens to wander over. At one point we came across a couple of bison; they were a good distance away, but it was still a little unnerving to be on their turf miles from the safety of the car. Great hike though; we will totally do it again. The whole thing someday.

Afterward, we stopped at a restaurant in Hill City for a late lunch, and it felt like the land that time forgot. There were actual paper menus and, aside from a handful of customers, no face masks. How refreshing. Also, the food was delicious, as was the wine. So much so that we brought a couple of bottles home with us.

We may be seeing my parents for a visit soon. I hope so. It would do them good to come out here, where there are wide-open spaces and fewer restrictions and adorable baby animals.

Seven Mojo-Sparkers

Wednesday was a weird day. For starters, I thought it was Tuesday up until about 4:00, and almost missed a scheduled interview with a client. But then she never responded to me, so maybe we were both confused over which day it was, ha. The perils of a shortened holiday week.

I also managed to spill salad dressing all over my clothes and feet. Umm, don’t ask.

Then I was having issues accessing the server remotely, and when I finally got on, InDesign wasn’t working for me. Which honestly at that point might have been operator error. I was pretty frazzled by then. Luckily, I discovered my mojo late in the day and finished strong. (My mojo made its appearance in a glass of Frontenac wine after quittin’ time, but hey, better late than never.)

Fun fact: Frontenac grapes were specifically bred for cold climates at the University of Minnesota and are one of the few varieties that will grow in South Dakota.

Other recent mojo-sparkers in these trying times (I can’t wait to just say in these times and be done with it!) include:

  1. Parks & Recreation. We have been watching the series from the start on Netflix because—as shocking as this is going to sound—Tara has never seen it! I KNOW, GUYS. How anybody could have gotten this far in life without any knowledge of the goings-on in fictional Pawnee, Indiana is beyond me. We are midway through Season 2 and she is really enjoying it. And the best is yet to come! We haven’t met Ben Wyatt or Chris Traeger or even Lil’ Sebastian yet.
  2. Sunsets. They have been consistently stunning as of late. Pretty much every evening, without fail, we will wander onto our patio, look to the west, and be treated to a majestic sky full of color. I have long said there’s something special about a South Dakota sunset. I mean, the sunrises ain’t bad either, but they happen so early now I’m usually still in bed when they occur.
  3. Ozark. While Parks & Rec is a lighthearted comedic romp, Ozark is darker than the night sky over Antarctica in December…but wow, is it good. Season 3 was intense, superbly acted, and wrapped up with one hell of a cliffhanger. As the final credits rolled, I turned to Tara and said, “This show has become Breaking Bad-level good.” That is very high praise and I cannot wait for Season 4.
  4. Morning walks outside. I bought a treadmill last September because of the brutal South Dakota winters and used it religiously for six months, but now that we’ve reached that point in the year where it is both light early and not freezing cold, I’ve returned to walking outside. Hot fitness trainers aside, it’s a much more stimulating experience. I knock out 3.5 miles or so most days.
  5. Sour beers. I’ve never been a beer fan, but will happily make an exception for sour ales. Probably because they taste more like a jar of pickles than actual beer, which is a good thing in my book. I am partial to South Dakota’s Fernson Curio, but recently discovered Brau Brothers Kettle Sours, based in Minnesota. Good stuff if you enjoy puckering up!
  6. Tundra. If Tara had a nickel for every time I burst out laughing before shoving a newspaper under her nose and imploring her to “check this out!” she’d be rich. Nine times out of ten, the “this” I’m referring to is Tundra, a comic strip featuring wildlife. The humor is similar to The Far Side, so if you’re a Gary Larson fan, you’ll laugh, too. The cartoonist, Chad Carpenter, is from Wasilla, Alaska. Proof that one good thing came out of Wasilla, Alaska.
  7. Spindrift Sparkling Water. Not everything I drink contains alcohol, and Spindrift is healthy proof! I discovered it a few years ago in an unassuming convenience store in a small town in Oregon, bought a couple of cans on a whim, and have been hooked ever since. Unlike most other sparkling waters and seltzers, it’s made with real fruit, and actually tastes good. I’ve tried many other brands—La Croix, Polar, Zevia, AHA— but nothing else comes close. I’ve got cases of the stuff in my basement and am especially partial to Pineapple, Lemon, Grapefruit, and Lime.

What’s inspiring you these days? Any entertainment, food and beverage, or other product/lifestyle shout-outs you’d like to share?

This Old Sardine Can

I hope you’re enjoying your three-day weekend! Unless you’re reading this in a country that doesn’t celebrate Memorial Day. In which case…happy just-Monday.

It’s been a busy few days. Knowing we were tackling a major project, I wanted to ease into the weekend, so I settled in Friday night with a movie: Das Boot. Contrary to the title, it’s got nothing to do with footwear but is, instead, an epic tale of a German submarine crew prowling the seas during World War II. It’s a great movie if you can get past the fact that it’s nearly four hours long and in German. Hey, that’s why they invented subtitles, right? Normally I’m not keen on reading movies, but this one is so entertaining it’s worth paying attention to.

It’s funny, though: submarine movies are chock-full of cliches. Doesn’t matter if you’re watching Das Boot or Crimson Tide or U-571 or The Hunt for Red October—they’re all basically the same movie. There’s always a scene early on where a newcomer (either a fresh recruit or civilian guest) asks about the Fathometer, aka the depth gauge. It’s got a series of numbers from 0-260 meters and is color-coded; safe depths are marked by green, but then the color graduates to various shades of yellow and orange and red to indicate when The Situation is Grave.™ By the way, those colors are a Hollywood invention no doubt used to ratchet up the tension; I looked at Fathometers online and they are all just simple black and white gauges. The captain will then explain that there’s no reason to worry, the sub will never drop below 90 meters because, otherwise, “the water pressure will crush us and we’ll die a horrible death.” A little less bluntly than that, because there’s always some crew member who will give in to claustrophobia and terror and snap (only to redeem himself later by performing some heroic act). Here’s the Fathometer scene in Das Boot.

A little while later the submarine will come under attack, and in an effort to avoid the depth charges—which are always close enough to knock things off shelves while the crew braces themselves—the captain will order the boat lower and lower. Beads of sweat will break out on the crew members’ faces as they watch the needle drop into the danger zone, while the captain ominously recites their current depth every ten meters, pausing for dramatic effect after each readout. “140 meters. [LONG PAUSE]. 150 meters. [LONG PAUSE]. 160 meters.” By the time the sub reaches 180 meters, twice the safety threshold, the whole thing is creaking and groaning and everybody looks like they’re about to shit their pants. But the captain insists they continue to drop. At 200 meters, bolts and screws are popping loose, whizzing through the air like bullets, inevitably injuring some poor sap. Eventually, the needle reaches the very end of the numerical scale and they continue to drop to unknown depths, off the chart.

But of course, everybody survives. “This old sardine can (an affectionate moniker that appears in all these movies) held up better than anybody expected!” the captain will exclaim as cheers erupt from the crew once they realize they aren’t going to succumb to a grisly fate after all. Part of me wishes just once the sub actually would end up crushed by the pressure once it dropped below 90 meters, but what a depressing film that would be.

Hooray for Hollywood.

Saturday the weather was pretty stormy, so I decided to hop in my car and do a little storm chasing. Weather geek that I am, I love the adrenaline rush that accompanies a good thunderstorm. The radar was lighting up like crazy to the north and east, so I drove north, and then east. I ended up going down this little two-lane country road in the middle of the prairie straight into the heart of a supercell. The sky looked more ominous with each passing mile, and before long, there were jagged streaks of lightning and constant, rumbling thunder.

My heart racing wildly, I continued east. It started raining, which was fine. But then it started hailing, which was not fine. My poor car is still pockmarked with dents and dings from the hailstorm that welcomed us to South Dakota two years ago. The hail around here is no joke, so I turned around at that point.

The interstate wasn’t much better. More hail forced me to the side of the road beneath the safety of an overpass at one point. That’s one of the tricks we learned from the locals: people are quick to take cover beneath bridges once it starts hailing.

I eventually made it home unscathed. Tara and I watched a few episodes of Ozark season three before turning in. We needed our rest for Sunday.

The big project we’d planned for this weekend involved digging up a section of the yard and transforming it into a garden so Tara could finally plant her starts. This took seven hours and a lot of work, but the promise of tequila later was a pretty good motivator. Needless to say, my muscles are sore and achey this morning…not surprising when you look at just how much sod I removed, all of it by hand. Well, hand + shovel.

In the end though, it was well worth the effort.

The fence and wooden posts are our half-assed attempt at deer-proofing the garden. We didn’t bother with cement because this first year is a test. Providing the garden delivers the goods as hoped, next year we might actually install something more permanent. But this will work for now.

Gotta mow the lawn today, and then later I’m making homemade bbq sauce and we are grilling baby back ribs and corn on the cob.

It won’t be an entirely relaxing day, but at least it won’t be as tiring as yesterday.