Week One Done

My first “week” at the new job is now in the can and I am loving every minute of it! I put week in parentheses because it was actually three days, but starting on a Wednesday had its perks. Namely the preceding long weekend.

More on the job in a second.

I wanted to take advantage of the extra days off, so on Monday I hiked Black Elk Peak. Second time I’ve done so since we moved here, and I couldn’t help but marvel over how much things have changed since my trek to the peak last July. That first hike coincided with our one-month anniversary in South Dakota, Tara was about to start a new job, I was still freelancing full-time, and we had exactly one year left on our apartment lease. This time around, I reflected on how much we have thrived since moving here. These first 11 months (yes, it’s been that long already!) have been very good to us. Tara has a job she enjoys so much she actually looks forward to going to work; we are in the process of buying a house; I am debt-free and just started my own dream job. We hoped moving to Rapid City would be a good decision. In retrospect, it has actually exceeded our own wildest expectations.

Tuesday wasn’t nearly as exciting – unless you are the type of person who enjoys hanging out and watching a plumber do a sewer scope on your new property. At least I got to spend some more time in our new house. The irises in our backyard are in full bloom now and look beautiful!

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Not so beautiful? The video of the sewer scope. I’m grateful for the YouTube link (I guess?), but if I never see a hose snaking 80′ through a sewer pipe again, I won’t complain. There is one potential future issue thanks to a rogue lilac in the front yard, but nothing we need to address immediately. Everything is on schedule with the purchase; we got the appraisal back on Wednesday and not only are we on track to close on time, but the sellers are actually wondering if we’d consider an early closing. We can’t do anything until I get my first paycheck from EGMRC on the 31st, but we’re down for closing after that if we can. It just gives us more time to start tearing down wallpaper and painting. We expect to have flooring estimates back sometime next week.

Knock on wood and everything, but do home purchases ever go this smoothly?!

Wednesday was my first day at EGMRC, and I will admit, I was a bundle of nerves. I think that’s pretty much par for the course anytime you start a new job. Fear of the unknown and all that. But within minutes of walking through the front door, I felt right at home. They had my workstation all set up and were configuring my computer. I got a tour of the office, filled out paperwork, and was set loose. I ended up proofing/editing the upcoming summer issue of our parenting magazine and knocked out an article, too. That’s the nice thing about being a writer: there isn’t a steep learning curve. I was happy to start contributing immediately.

About those workstations: they’re just about the coolest things ever. I liken them to cubicles on wheels; they’re partially enclosed for privacy, and because all the electrical outlets are ceiling-mounted, you can roll them around anywhere you’d like.

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Other cool things about the office: the exposed brick, the wall of glass windows, the conference room made out of a shipping container, and the popcorn machine. Yeah…I’m totally digging this place.

The first half of the week was pretty warm. Our high on Wednesday was 85º! After work, a brief but rather intense line of thunderstorms rolled through. The clouds looked wicked and otherworldly.

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Then yesterday, a really strong thunderstorm moved through downtown right around lunchtime. It was right on top of us at one point because a bright flash of lightning was followed immediately by a resulting thunderclap so loud the building shook and the lights flickered. Wild stuff. One other thing about EGMRC: they are a very dog-friendly office. The owner and several employees bring their dogs in every day (on Thursday, there were six of them – and there are only nine employees). Those poor dogs were freaked out by the thunder yesterday.

After work we stopped by Paddy O’Neill’s for drinks and a bite to eat. The rest of the weekend will be pretty low-key by design. This will likely be our last non-busy weekend for the rest of the summer. Tara is working for a few hours this morning, but then we are going to watch movies and hang out at home. The weather has, once again, taken a dramatic turn; it is rainy and only in the low 40s today. There is even more snow in the forecast, though it shouldn’t amount to anything. Some spots in the Black Hills might see a few inches.

That’s all the happenings for now!

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An Ode to Doris

I have become obsessed with learning all I can about the woman whose house we are buying. Fortunately, in this day and age, info is pretty easy to come by. Googling her name brought up her obituary and a whole lot of info. Here’s what we know: Doris was 79 when she passed away on February 10. She was a lifelong Rapid City resident, a teacher, and a respected artist renowned for her pottery. She also apparently baked a mean gingerbread cookie. Guests left comments on her online obit, including this gem:

Doris was our neighbor for 39 years. She will be missed. We watched our children grow up together with the band of other neighborhood children, and took joy in seeing grandchildren perched on the “giant rocks” in Doris’ backyard as their parents had before them. We know that Doris has found the peace that she shared with us every day as we looked upon the beauty and tranquility of her garden.

I feel like we have big shoes to fill. More than one person mentioned the backyard and those rocks. They are a prominent feature; I even asked the inspector about them last week. He said they most likely were dug up out of the ground when the basement was being built. Considering she lived there for four decades, I’m sure the house has all kinds of her energy in there. I will admit, I was trying to find out if she died on the property. I found no evidence either way, but if I’m really curious I can always check the county clerk’s office for her death certificate, which lists where a person expires. I do know that she is buried in the cemetery adjacent to the neighborhood. We’ll have to pay our respects one day. Also, if I can ever get my hands on a piece of her pottery, I would love to have that in the house as an ode to Doris.

Meanwhile, we continue to experience odd events around the apartment. Friday night, for instance, the TV downstairs turned on by itself in the middle of the night. I only know this because I woke up at 1:30 and heard voices in the living room. Freaked me out pretty good. Tara suspects Sydney might have accidentally stepped on the remote control and powered the television on. This is a perfectly plausible scenario.

Or would be, if she weren’t sleeping in our bed with us that night.

So, we are joking that it’s Doris. We don’t really believe the deceased owner of the house we are buying is hanging around us all of a sudden, but it’s interesting that these events  (the TV and lamp coming on by themselves, loud banging noises in the empty kitchen) started happening as soon as we made an offer on the place.


After venturing out of town the past two weekends we were hoping for a quieter, more relaxing one this time around, but we needed to get flooring and carpeting picked out because our estimated closing date of June 7 will be here in no time. So we ended up visiting several home improvement and flooring stores and finally found things we liked at Lowe’s.

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We ended up choosing bamboo flooring for the living room, kitchen, and hallway; vinyl sheeting for the bathrooms; and new carpeting for the bedrooms. (We aren’t changing a thing in the basement!) We definitely wanted hardwood, and not only was bamboo the most reasonably priced, but my research shows it’s very durable and is an especially good choice for pets. So, bamboo it is! Lowe’s will be setting up an appointment to take measurements before giving us an estimate. We have a rough idea of what it will cost but are curious to see the final numbers. It sounds like the timing will work out well; they said it’ll take around 4-6 weeks for the contractors to do the installation, which would give us time to strip the wallpaper and paint first.

After all that running around, we dropped in to Murphy’s Pub & Grill for a celebratory dinner. We toasted to my new job, our new house, and Doris in the same place where we made that fateful (and very smart) decision 19 months ago to roll the dice and move to Rapid City. It seemed both appropriate and full-circle.

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The buffalo meatloaf was featured on the Travel Channel and is pretty legendary.

Today, I decided to explore the hiking trails in the hills above our neighborhood. The trailhead is a five-minute jaunt from our front door, and it connects to the entire network of Skyline Wilderness trails that offer great views of the Black Hills to the west, downtown to the east, and the vast prairie. We can even walk to Dinosaur Park from our house. This hiking nerd could not be happier.

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View from the trail in our neighborhood. Our house is somewhere in the center of this photo.

Speaking of, I plan to hike Black Elk Peak – the highest point east of the Rockies – tomorrow. I want to take advantage of my two extra days of freedom before starting my new job. Tara warned me not to fall off a cliff, and I assured her I would be careful. (This particular trail doesn’t traverse any particularly steep precipices, so I’ll be fine.) I told her yeah, that would really suck for you. She replied, it would suck for you even more.

Touché.

 

All Shish, No Kebab

One year ago, when we were just beginning the onerous task of preparing for our big move and South Dakota was this great, exciting unknown, I learned about chislic and other regional food favorites of the Midwest. Chislic is simply deep fried cubes of meat, liberally seasoned with garlic salt and other spices. It is traditionally served on toothpicks and accompanied by Saltine crackers. Think of it as a shish kebab that is all shish, no kebab. While its origins are open to debate, most believe GermanRussian emigrants in southeastern South Dakota – some pinpoint Freeman, and have christened a 30-mile radius around the town “Chislic Circle” – are to thank for the dish, which has become an icon of South Dakota. Lamb, beef, and venison are the meat of choice. “Shashlyk” is a popular dish of cubed meat originating in the Crimea region of Russia, so it seems reasonable that this is what evolved into the beloved regional delicacy few people outside of South Dakota have even heard of.

The South Dakota State Legislature passed Senate Bill 96 in 2018, making chislic the official state nosh.

I’m all about trying regional cuisines, and was eager to sample chislic when we moved here. It didn’t take me long to find it, either. Despite claims that chislic is confined to East River – local slang for the area east of the Missouri River, i.e., eastern South Dakota – it’s pretty readily available in the western part of the state. I’ve had the pleasure of trying about half a dozen versions since moving, and I’ve gotta say, I’m a fan. It’s hard to go wrong with fried cubes of meat!

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You might notice in this photo that the meat is not skewered. Only once have I had it served with toothpicks (and it has never been accompanied by crackers, Saltines or otherwise). Out in West River, restaurants usually serve chislic with a side of dipping sauce – often a sweet and tangy barbecue sauce. And the meat has always been beef. Sometimes it’s breaded, other times it’s naked. The only thing consistent across the board? It’s always delicious. The photo above was, hands down, my favorite. The meat was so tender it practically melted in your mouth and was perfectly seasoned. This plate didn’t come with any sort of dipping sauce and it didn’t need it. Hats off to The Gaslight Saloon in Rockerville for dishing up my favorite chislic (so far, anyway). Thirsty’s in Rapid City is a close second, and Jake’s Good Time Place in Pierre (technically East River) was both tasty and skewered, so bonus points for them. Regardless, I haven’t had a bad dish of chislic yet. My next goal is to make a homemade version.


We’ve enjoyed a fine stretch of spring weather the past few days. It’s been in the 70s, comfortable enough to stroll around without long sleeves. After the winter we just had, that’s a novelty. We took advantage on Saturday by hiking to the top of Buzzard’s Roost. It’s a great spot with breathtaking views of the Black Hills, located just five miles west of town.

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By late afternoon dark storm clouds were piling up to the west and we were treated to our first thunder and lightning of the year. Nothing major, and most of it stayed to the north, but it marks the beginning of storm-chasing season. One of my favorites!

Oh, and speaking of storms…

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Yeah. Winter isn’t quite finished with us yet.

Periwinkle is a Moose

Tara was looking at houses on Realtor.com last night (her favorite pastime) and showed me one that caught her fancy. The following conversation ensued.

“I love the periwinkle walls!” she said.
“WTF is periwinkle?” I asked.
“It’s a shade of blue.”
“Why not call it blue then?”
“Because it’s not quite blue. It’s sort of violet, too.”
“I’m okay with calling it blue-violet. Periwinkle sounds like a cartoon moose.”

At this point she just rolled her eyes at me. Another favorite pastime, come to think of it.

It’s going to be fun when we start looking at paint samples. She’ll be on the hunt for juniper and lemongrass, and I’ll be like, “Got anything in green?”

Are we painting walls or gathering ingredients to brew a cup of tea?


It’s another snowy, blustery, hovering-near-zero day. A year ago, when I was imagining what it would be like to experience winter in South Dakota, this is exactly the type of day I pictured. I’m not complaining – instead of doing something crazy like going outside in this weather, I just closed my office door and read my Kindle over lunch. However, I wish there had been more days like this when I was working from home. The snow is beautiful and peaceful, but venturing out is a bitch when it’s this frigid. First, you’ve got to brush snow and/or scrape ice from your windshield. Then, you turn the heater on full blast, but it doesn’t warm up your car until right about the time you’re pulling into the parking lot at work. That’s the drawback to a 12-minute commute, I suppose. At least Tara and I can carpool on days like this.

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The view from my office today.

Hard to believe it’s only going to get colder the next couple of days. -12° tonight with a wind chill pushing 40 below zero. Day-um.

It’s also hard to believe our high temperature on Saturday was 63°. What did we do to take advantage of the rare, springlike warmth, you might ask? We, umm, went hiking in the Black Hills. Where it was twenty degrees colder and windy.

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This is why we willingly left behind 60°+ temps on Saturday.

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Frozen Pactola Reservoir.

But, you know, we’ll have warm weather again. May is practically right around the corner!


Last week the Rapid City Public Library held a scavenger hunt. They hid 10 vouchers for free Rapid City Rush hockey tickets throughout the library, and posted clues on their Facebook page. I love a good scavenger hunt and we have had fun at the Rush games we’ve attended, so I studied the hints very carefully and got there right when they opened on Friday morning. I am fortunate to work a block away.

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Sure enough, I found the voucher I was looking for easily enough. I ended up being the first winner of the day! And then Tara was #7, thanks to some additional sleuthing on my part. I knew the location of a third ticket as well, but I didn’t want to monopolize the whole thing! Plus, you were limited to one per person, anyway. So, we can now redeem our vouchers for two free tickets to a Rush game of our choosing. They’re about a $30 value each. Not bad for a few minutes’ work, huh?

Thanks for Nothing!

Holy crap. I haven’t written a blog post since LAST YEAR! I apologize for being so remiss in my duties.

I’m happy to report I survived my first week back in the trenches of Corporate America unscathed. Unlike back in August, I didn’t go bolting for the door in a mad panic this time, wondering what I’d gotten myself into. I have the government shutdown to thank for that; with all the federal agencies we contract with shuttered at the moment, there are no projects to bid on. Which, honestly, is a relief to me. I need time to build templates and work on revising/rewriting a lot of material before the shit hits the fan. Which it will, I am told, once the Feds are open for business again. My boss says we can expect a flood of proposals about three weeks after the government is back in session, so I am enjoying the peace and quiet while I can.

No regrets on choosing this job, either. I like my 8-5 schedule and having a private office and carpooling with Tara and exploring downtown on my lunch hours. Last week I spent one break reading in the library, a mere two blocks from the office; another day I walked along the path that follows Rapid Creek from Memorial Park to Founders’ Park and back, about a three-mile jaunt; and on Friday, I wandered around the biggest and most impressive vintage/antiques shop I have ever set foot in. I ended up buying some metal signs and old South Dakota license plates, which I hung on my office walls in lieu of fancy artwork. It’s a very manly display, if I do say so myself! Never mind that my knowledge of cars is limited to topping off the windshield washer fluid when it gets low. Oh, and I can pump gas like a pro! So there is that.

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In any case, there is plenty to do between 12-1:00. When I was there in August I drove home for lunch most days, but why spend almost half your lunch hour in the car when there is so much to do downtown? I think back to the job I turned down, and how I’d have been cooped up in the office for nine or ten hours straight every day and always on call, and there is no doubt in my mind I made the right decision.

Yesterday we drove up to Sylvan Lake with every intention of hiking the closed-to-vehicles Needles Highway, but eight steps across the parking lot, Tara slipped and took a hard fall on the ice. She’s fine – her ego (and knee) are a little bruised, but she’ll live. Suffice it to say, we called off the hike. I was ready to call it a day at that point, but she insisted I at least walk around the lake so the drive up there wasn’t a complete waste. I’m glad I did, because the scenery was beautiful and the lake was frozen solid, covered in snow that was almost knee-deep in places. I ended up walking nearly to the middle, just to say I could.

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On the way home, we stopped into a bar and grill in Hill City for a bite to eat. We’d been there a couple of times before and always received excellent service, plus the food is really good, but for some reason the entire staff completely ignored us, never even acknowledging our presence. I was beginning to wonder if we might have inadvertently discovered invisibility, especially when one of the bartenders walked right by us (we hadn’t even been given menus yet) and struck up a lengthy conversation with a regular in the stool next to mine. We’d finally had enough of that nonsense and got up to leave. On the way to the door, one of the servers called out cheerfully, “Thanks for stopping by!” Was she joking?! Tara turned to her and replied, much less cheerfully, “Thanks for nothing!” Which was a little mortifying but also pretty funny. I’ll give them another chance because they make the best Bloody Mary in the Black Hills, but they’d better be on their game next time.

We stopped instead at Prairie Berry Winery. Their cafe serves excellent sandwiches, and we ordered cocktails. Well, to be technical, one of us had a craft beer on tap and the other got a cranberry cinnamon wine spritzer.

Please don’t make me tell you who ordered what…

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Every 8:45

Winter continues to hold us tightly in her icy grip, but that’s okay, guys. It’s what I wanted after 23 years in the climatologically-monotonous PNW where winters are one-note (wet) and summers are dry. All this snow and cold is simply making up for lost time.

When last I wrote, Tara and I were tentatively planning a weekend getaway to the state capital but keeping an eye on the weather. When the NWS issued a Winter Storm Watch the day before we were to leave, we decided to cancel our reservation. This proved to be a wise decision for two reasons:

  1. The watch was upgraded to a warning, and
  2. Tara got sick.

It ended up snowing all day that Saturday, and when all was said and done, we ended up with just over 6″ on the ground. A week later, we still have…almost 6″ on the ground. It hasn’t warmed much above freezing since. But it sure is beautiful out there – so much so, that on Sunday, we ended up going for a drive around Custer State Park. Approximately every 8 minutes and 45 seconds I gushed over the stunning scenery, which I’m sure drove Tara a little mad. But to her credit, she didn’t complain.

I secretly think she was enjoying it, too.

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We had to take one of the side roads off the main Wildlife Loop to find the buffalo herd, but there they were, in all their glory!

 

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No matter how many times we see bison, it never gets old.

After a busy week of work, I was ready for a break today, so I decided to head back to Sylvan Lake for a hike. I was questioning the wisdom of this decision a little when the temperature sensor on my car read 8 degrees as I passed through Hill City, but thanks to an inversion it was warmer the higher up I drove.  24 degrees in the parking lot. In a past life I might have found that frigid, but it almost felt balmy today.

The Needles Highway is closed every winter, but only to cars. So I strapped on my boots and hit the road by foot. It was 2.25 miles to Cathedral Spires, 4.5 miles round trip. Totally worth every step.

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Looking forward to a fun weekend! Sunday is our REO Speedwagon concert in Deadwood. Since our Broncos are actually playing pretty well these days and fun to watch, we’re going to head into town early so we can catch the game (2:00) before the show (8:00). I’m sure we can find plenty of other ways to kill time while we’re there.

We’re going to try again for Pierre next weekend. Barring, of course, more snow.

Meat and Catch-Up

I haven’t written a proper post in what seems like ages – photos of fall foliage and snow do not count – so this is an opportunity for a little catch-up! Forgive me if I jump around from topic to topic. I feel like I have a little bit to say about a lot of things.

Lessons I Learned from Our Early Season Snowfalls

Two big takeaways from our recent bout with winter-like weather:

  1. When it’s snowy, icy, or below freezing, you have to calculate extra time when making plans. Because you’ve got to scrape ice and/or sweep snow from your windshield and set the defroster to high if you want to be able to see while driving. I don’t know about you, but I find this helps prevent accidents. Speaking of scraping ice…
  2. The windshield isn’t the only thing that requires attention. We were headed out to a comedy show in Rapid City Saturday night and it took me several blocks to figure out why my headlights were barely penetrating the snowy darkness: they were coated in snow and ice. So, I had to pull over to the side of the road and take care of that.

It’s little things like these that never even crossed my mind living in the temperate PNW. On the rare occasions when it snowed in Vancouver, I certainly didn’t venture out in it. I won’t have that luxury living here, which is why I volunteered to drive us into town during our unexpected snowstorm Saturday night. I figured I’m going to have to get used to it anyway, so I might as well jump right in. Luckily, my Mazda handled the weather just fine. I could pretend I didn’t white-knuckle it the whole way, but why lie?

Also: I really want a Jeep Cherokee. But that’s another post. One that I can ignore for a while since today was sunny and 71 degrees.

Crazy Horse Progress is Measured in Inches

My favorite joke during the Saturday night comedy show went  something like this: They say the sun is going to explode in five billion years, which means they’re going to have to finish carving Crazy Horse in the dark.

The Crazy Horse Memorial, if you aren’t familiar with it, is a mountain carving honoring an Oglala Lakota warrior, Crazy Horse. The monument has been in progress since 1948 and is proceeding at a glacial pace, probably because it’s a non-profit undertaking and the Ziolkowski family refuses to take any federal or state funds. They rely solely on entrance fees, gift shop purchases, and private contributions. Hats off to them, but this thing won’t be finished in my lifetime. Or my kids’.

These photos show what Crazy Horse looked like when I visited in 2011, and again, last week.

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Hard to see any real progress. Some of the trees are a little taller, though.

This is what it’s going to look like when it’s finished:

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Crazy Horse Memorial, circa 2238

Discovering Chislic

Months before moving here, I wrote about chislic, a regional dish of cubed red meat (traditionally lamb, though beef or venison may be substituted) and South Dakota’s official state food. It is often served with toothpicks and accompanied by Saltine crackers and hot sauce.IMAG6950.jpg

Sounds weird, huh? Here’s the thing: it’s really good. Which shouldn’t be a surprise. I mean, it’s fried meat. Unless you’re a vegetarian, which I am most certainly not, what”s not to love?!

I’ve had it a couple of times now, and have yet to see either Saltines or toothpicks. Mine have always come with French fries, which makes the purist in me unhappy because it feels like my experience is a little less authentic. I haven’t had hot sauce either, come to think of it, but one place in Hill City served it with barbecue sauce and that was a pretty damn good substitute.

Though it’s more common in east river, chislic is pretty readily available around these parts, too. I intend to research the matter carefully and find the best in the west, so to speak.

I also want to make it myself and will probably try this recipe.

A Random Photo I Haven’t Posted Anywhere

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Deerfield Reservoir

The Freelance Lifestyle

I’m really diggin’ the freelance lifestyle for a couple of reasons, the biggest being the freedom to work anywhere at any time. I’m fortunate to have a steady supply of work from my former employer, and because I know the industry and topics inside and out, I usually bang it out in two days. That leaves me a lot of free time to go exploring. I try to work from a coffee shop one day a week, just to get me out of the apartment. I find that I like having a little structure, and it feels more like a real job if I have to actually get dressed and drive somewhere.

Having said that, a full-time job would be ideal because as nice as it is being an independent contractor, the benefits leave much to be desired. Probably because they’re non-existent. A couple of months ago I was offered a job as a technical writer for a local Rapid City company, and after a four-day trial period…turned it down. Umm, what?! I didn’t feel like it was a good fit at the time, but soon after had major regrets.

Now, that same company has procured my services (as a contractor) to assist in several projects that should last through the holidays. They’ve even given me an office and computer to use and only ask me to come in for a few hours a couple of times a week. It’s kind of the best of both worlds, actually. A steady paycheck (on top of another steady paycheck) without the ol’ 9 to 5 drudgery. Having said that, if this happens to lead to something permanent, I’ll be thrilled. But if not, it’s great experience and gives me more to add to my resume and portfolio.

Tara, by the way, is happy with her job. She didn’t particularly want to remain in the mortgage industry, but this position is far less demanding, which means far less stressful. She doesn’t dread going to work in the morning, which is something we should all aspire to, you know?

And, because happy wife = happy life, all is good in this hood.

One More Random (and Really Wide) Pic Before I Go

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Why I love it here, Part 37.

A Taste of Fall

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Saturday morning, we decided to go for a hike in the Black Hills. With snow in the forecast today, we wanted to take advantage of the nice weather. Our destination was Cathedral Spires, a short out-and-back that was less than 2.5 miles total. What it lacked in distance it made up for in scenery! Plus, it was cold AF, so that was long enough.

I know not everybody is enjoying fall-like weather and colorful foliage, but leaves are at their peak around here. They probably won’t be around much longer, so I’m glad we got out when we did. Here’s a taste of fall for those still enduring summer-like weather. I may have winter pics in a few days at this rate!

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Noble Inheritance

The most miraculous canyon in the West…a South Dakota treasure of noble inheritance. Had Spearfish Canyon been on the throughway to western migration, the canyon would be as significant in public appreciation as the Grand Canyon is today.

~ Frank Lloyd Wright, 1935

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I’m certainly not going to dispute ol’ Frankie’s words. Spearfish Canyon is one of the most magical places in the Black Hills. We drove through here last October, on the way home from our whirlwind trip to Rapid City. There had been a fresh snowfall the night before – the first of the season – and the colors were vibrant. Today was so similar it felt like deja vu; there’d been a fresh snowfall overnight – the first of the season – and the colors were vibrant. Everything really does come full circle.

About that snow. It’s been really cold here – like, 20 degrees below average. Gray and rainy, too. Last night, forecasters were calling for 1-5″ of snow in the Black Hills. It was a cool 38 degrees in Rapid City this morning, and just ten minutes outside of town, the rain turned to snow.

Made for a beautiful drive.

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When fall and winter collide, Part 1.

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35 degrees meant the roads were wet but not slick.

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Rapid City didn’t get any snow, but we came close. Literally.

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Caution: wild turkey crossing.

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This campground is closed for the season. Good thing.

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When fall and winter collide, Part 2.

I had so much fun today! And to think it’s only September. We’re going to be flirting with snow for the next six months.

Bring it on.

I’m excited for tomorrow. Tara and I are planning our day around The Great Downtown Pumpkin Festival in Rapid City. It’s supposedly the biggest downtown festival of the year and includes pumpkin catapulting, a giant pumpkin weigh-off, and a pub crawl. What’s not to love?! There are even pony rides, but dammit, I’m probably too old for those.

It’s definitely feeling like fall here, and this weekend is sure to add to the spirit!

Red Squirrels & 90-Day Lessons

Today marks our three-month anniversary in South Dakota. Time flies, huh?! Feels like we were just loading up Bertha and preparing for our 1,250-mile adventure. Now we’ve experienced one full season and are preparing for the next.

There are plenty of signs of fall already. Cooler temperatures and an explosion of autumn colors.

And the forecast is trending in that direction, too.

Now that we’ve lived here for 90 days, I think it’s time to take stock of our initial impressions and talk about some of the things we have learned about South Dakota since arriving that Sunday afternoon exactly three months ago. In fact, I’m going to make it a Top 10 list, because those are always fun!

  1. The weather here is like Steve Martin: wild and crazy. We’ve experienced everything from perfectly cloudless skies and warm sunshine to violent thunderstorms with heavy rain, gusty winds, and damaging hail the size of ping-pong balls – all within the span of an hour. It can change on a dime around here. And we haven’t even experienced winter yet!
  2. The people are friendly as heck. All of them, everywhere. Convenience store clerks, restaurant servers, Instagram locals, people passing by on the street. Strangers strike up conversations and within minutes you feel like you’re old friends.
  3. There’s a surprisingly robust food scene. We’ve discovered some really good restaurants around town. Botticelli has amazing Italian food; Dakotah Steakhouse knows their way around beef (and bison); Independent Ale House only serves pizza if you’re hungry, but they have perfected that; and Kol does just about everything right. I’ve found excellent sushi and pho, too.
  4. Craft distillers, wineries, and coffeeshops are popular, too. The microbrew scene is like a mini version of Portland, with Firehouse Brewing, Miner Brewing, Dakota Point Brewery, Lost Cabin Beer Co., and Haycamp Brewing all churning out locally-made suds. Black Hills Contraband excels at flavored liqueurs and vodka, and Prairie Berry is just one of about a half dozen local wineries. There are plenty of good coffeeshops, too – maybe not one on every corner like in the PNW, but between Harriet & Oak, Revel, Dunn Brothers, Alternative Fuel, Pure Bean, Dixon, and Black Hills Blend, getting your caffeine fix around town is not hard to do.
  5. Forget about finding decent cider, though. In this area, South Dakota (so far) falls short. I’m sorry, but Angry Orchard does not count as good cider. We found a decent one at Firehouse Brewing on our last visit, so there is hope. I predict in another five years the craft cider scene will be huge here. But right now it is not. And that’s because…
  6. Rapid City sometimes feels like the land that time forgot. I mean, there’s a video rental store down the street, and it does brisk business. And the radio stations are playing the same songs they were playing when I went to high school here. It’s like an alternate universe where Duran Duran is still the biggest band on the planet. And yet…
  7. The entertainment scene isn’t the empty void I’d feared it would be. Thursday nights during the summer we had competing options downtown with plenty of live music, food, and drinks. Kid Rock, Eric Church, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Foreigner, Eddie Money, Gin Blossoms, Luke Bryan, and Jeff Foxworthy all played or will be playing shows around here. We just bought tickets for REO Speedwagon. And Jerry Seinfeld is coming to the Civic Center in November. OK, none of those acts are up-and-coming, but see #6.
  8. The squirrels here are red. This one really tripped me out. I had only ever seen grey squirrels before moving here. Honestly, I had no idea they were even available in different colors. These red guys are smaller and skinnier than the greys I’m used to and seem to be a little more fleet-footed.
  9. “Hail sales” are a thing. Because the weather here is wild and crazy (see #1), the auto dealerships in town are always advertising hail sales, reducing their prices on hail-damaged vehicles. And you can’t turn on the radio without hearing an ad for a hail repair shop at least once every ten minutes.
  10. This place is freakin’ beautiful. The Black Hills are, in a word, incredible. From sheer granite cliffs and stands of towering ponderosa to pristine alpine lakes and wildflower-laden meadows, I really haven’t missed the rugged beauty of the PNW like I’d expected to. Let’s not forget the Badlands! Even the prairie is beautiful in its own way. I’ve done more hiking in the three months I’ve been here than I did all of last year.

There are little locals-only tidbits we’ve learned, too. Like the fact that this side of the state is referred to as “West River” while Pierre and beyond – anything east of the Missouri River – is called “East River.” And “The Gap” is where Rapid Creek cuts through the Hogback Ridge that splits the town in half, so you’ll hear newscasters talking about “gusty winds west of The Gap,” for instance. Good to know.

I’ll write about our favorite food and beverage discoveries in my next post. In the meantime, here’s a photo of a red squirrel we saw while hiking on Saturday.

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