Eyes on the Prize

Exciting times ahead for Team MarTar. Tara and I now have a realtor and have officially been approved for a mortgage loan. That dream of a white picket fence is actually going to come true!

(Only, I’d take a groovy wood-paneled basement over the fence any day.)

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We haven’t seen our credit scores yet, but based on the low interest rates and a cap of about $310,000 – much higher than we need (or want), especially around here – I’m guessing they’re good.

That’s a small miracle in itself and one that I would like to dwell on for just a moment. Because, five years ago, the idea of ever being able to buy a house again seemed like an impossibility. Tara’s credit was always solid, but mine, not so much.

Long-time readers will recall that I was forced to do a short sale on my townhouse. It’s not like somebody held a gun to my head and threatened me, but like so many others, I was a victim of the 2008 housing crisis and hopelessly upside down in my mortgage. On top of that, I was still recovering from a 20-month unemployment stint and pretty deeply in debt. Extricating myself from the crappy mortgage and digging myself out of that credit hole felt like a Herculean task when we moved in 2014. I will forever be grateful to Tara for giving me the courage to take such a big step and, more than that, for believing in me. For believing in us. After being a homeowner for 18 years, downsizing to an apartment was tough. But always, I had my eyes on the prize.

Now, it’s almost a reality! One that still seems hard to believe. Moving to Rapid City was a crucial step in turning my literal fortunes around; I simply can’t stress that enough! The low cost of living + the freelance contract with Fuel + full-time employment have put me in a better financial position than I would have dreamed possible even a year ago. Next Friday, I will pay off my very last credit card, leaving me virtually debt-free, with only an easily manageable car payment. It’s an amazing feeling and I can’t help but be proud of myself for turning such a dire situation around.

We’ve been looking at houses around here for nearly two years, but suddenly, we’re looking for real. The right one could come along at any moment, and instead of dreaming of a far-off “someday,” we are ready to pounce. This knowledge makes me view every Zillow listing with new eyes.

Pinch me, I’m dreaming! (But don’t, because if I am, I’d rather not wake up). I am looking forward to documenting this exciting journey here.


We had a blizzard last week. It already seems hard to believe, because even though we ended up with 12″ of snow and missed two days of work, it has all completely melted. Doesn’t take along in the spring, when the temperature can rebound into the 60s in a day or two.

I would guess we’re done with snow for the season, but I certainly wouldn’t put money on that!


Tonight, we have tickets to see John Mellencamp. I’ve been a fan for decades but have never seen him live; we had an opportunity a few years ago in Portland and passed for some stupid reason. I immediately regretted that, so when he announced a tour date in Rapid City of all places, we jumped on it. He’s playing at the civic center downtown and I’m pretty excited. We plan on dinner out first. Possibly Italian, but maybe Mexican. It’ll be a quasi-celebration of sorts for this new journey upon which we are about to embark.

 

Sunshine & Blizzards

It sounds like there’s a serious movement afoot to end Daylight Saving Time once and for all. Actually, the proposed legislation – known as the Sunshine Protection Act – would keep DST and do away with Standard time. Which makes sense, because our clocks are set to daylight time almost eight months out of the year, making Standard time the exception. And an oxymoron.

Honestly, I’d be more in favor of doing it the other way – making Standard time permanent – because if this legislation is enacted, we’ll have 9:00 a.m. sunrises during the winter months. It’s hard enough to roll out of bed and head to work when it’s snowing and zero degrees outside; doing so when it’s snowing and zero degrees outside AND pitch dark sounds like a Herculean task. But you know what? I’ll support anything that puts an end to the pointless ritual of changing the clocks twice a year. If that means more evening light as opposed to more morning light, so be it. At least our sunsets in June aren’t as crazy-late as those in the PNW!

Speaking of sunshine, we’re getting quite a bit of it this afternoon. It is well-deserved after the raging blizzard we just experienced, however! When the warnings popped up two days ago they were forecasting crazy amounts of snow, maybe as much as 2′. Well, the storm didn’t really get going until around noon on Wednesday – about six hours behind schedule – so our totals weren’t nearly as bad. But the winds were (and still are); they gusted to 63 mph overnight and are still blowing in excess of 50 mph now. Needless to say, neither Tara nor I have been to work the past two days. Her employer closed the office and she gets paid for doing nothing, while I actually have to work from home if I want to be paid for time out of the office. The nerve of it all! Obviously I have nothing against working from home; that was my life for six months after moving here (and still is every weekend). But doing so while my wife is wrapped up in a blanket watching “My Cousin Vinny” is a little harder to stomach.

Not going to work was a good call, though. Felt a little weird yesterday morning when we hadn’t spotted so much as a single flake of snow before noon, but once the storm got started, it made up for its late arrival with heavy snow and those strong winds. All night long I listened to them howling and shrieking, rattling the windowpanes as they sang a plaintive tune. I found it oddly comforting, actually. I don’t mind wind from the comfort of home! All that blowing and drifting snow led to the closure of I-90 from the Wyoming border to Chamberlain, not to mention the Rapid City Regional Airport and the majority of businesses in town. I took a walk at lunchtime today to survey the scene, and it’s quite impressive. There are waist-deep snowdrifts in places and the roads were not fit for safe travel. Getting to work in a snowstorm is one thing, but a blizzard is something else entirely. This one was a doozy, though pretty short-lived. And it never got terribly cold – the temperature overnight didn’t drop much below 30º.

Tomorrow, we’re both planning on returning to work. The winds are expected to die down overnight and it’ll warm into the upper 30s, so travel should be significantly better.

Someday I’ll talk about something other than snow, I promise! Provided it ever stops snowing, of course.

Come to think of it, you may be reading posts like this until June…

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It seemed like everybody in the neighborhood was out with their snowblowers this morning.

Check out some of these snowdrifts!

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I love how these ice crystals formed on our window during the height of the blizzard yesterday afternoon.

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This is why driving was not advisable today.

Adios, 2018

The year is ending with a little excitement here in Rapid City. If you consider a blizzard exciting.

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Never a dull moment around here, folks. Tara has to work today, but the bank is opening two hours late due to the weather. I don’t have to be anywhere (my first day on the new job is Wednesday) and I certainly don’t intend to venture out – not when the temperature is going to drop to zero by mid-afternoon. Fortunately, we were planning a low-key New Year’s Eve celebration at home, anyway. Picking up Chinese food (as is our tradition), listening to music, and maybe playing a little Nintendo.

I can’t help but reflect on all the changes 2018 brought to our lives. It has been a year like few others. 1994 sort of compares, when I left the Bay Area for the Pacific Northwest, but back then I kept my job and my time zone, and the distance wasn’t as great. When the clock struck midnight one year ago, Tara and I looked at one another, a mixture of excitement and fear in our eyes. All the work ahead of us seemed overwhelming back then – packing up our worldly possessions, quitting jobs, bidding family and friends goodbye, and moving 1,250 miles away. There were moments where we wondered how we’d ever get it all done. And yet here we are, South Dakota residents for six months now, and it all feels natural. Yes, it was a lot of work, but we came through unscathed and it feels like we are both reaping the benefits of a simpler life in a small(ish) Midwest town already, just as we’d hoped. I am excited to see what 2019 brings!


Seems a little anticlimactic to talk about Christmas now that our tree and decorations are all packed up and back in storage. We had a great holiday, even though we missed our loved ones; we made an apricot-glazed spiral-sliced ham in the new pressure cooker Tara got me and went for a cold hike along the Skyline Trail, where it started snowing lightly. We were hoping for a white Christmas but missed out by just a few hours; the following morning we awoke to 2″ on the ground and some pretty slick roads that made me wish once more for 4WD. My new employer’s Christmas party was that evening, and it was a pretty fun little gathering; Tara got to meet my new boss and coworkers, there was free beer, catered food from Qdoba, and a white elephant gift exchange in which I actually ended up with a decent present for once – a mini desktop fridge that will keep a few cans cold. Perfect for my new office! PSI’s party was quite a bit tamer than the wild Fuel parties with casino games and live music, but nobody threw up in the bar this time so perhaps these low-key affairs are better, after all.

On Saturday, we drove out to the Badlands to admire them with a fresh coat of snow. All I can say is, wow.

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It’s hard to say what the highlight was. I’m torn between these bighorn sheep…

And this spectacular sunset.

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Stay safe tonight! Hope you all have a very happy 2019. Let’s go make some great memories, okay?

Lava Junkie

How ’bout that Hawaiian volcano?!

I think it’s safe to say I’m obsessed with the Kilauea eruption. I have spent more time than I care to admit devouring news stories and scrolling through Instagram photos and video of the lava. Hashtag Leilani Estates is an easy way to kill an hour.

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Anybody who knows me shouldn’t be too terribly surprised by this revelation. I have long been fascinated with natural disasters. Not that I hope for them, of course; but when they do occur, I find it impossible to look away. If this were a jukebox, I’d have Mother Nature’s Greatest Hits on heavy rotation.

Not long ago, I wrote about my experience living in Hawaii. How I mostly hated it, except for the Big Island. I have fond memories of  black sand beaches and jungles and, best of all, hiking the Devastation Trail and Halema’uma’u Crater in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. I might have pocketed a few lava rocks, too; it’s a good thing I’m not (too) superstitious as Hawaiian legend claims that doing so angers the Goddess Pele, and she will retaliate by cursing the thief with misfortune. In fact, many a tourist has sent back a pilfered rock after encountering bad luck upon their return to the mainland. If this all sounds like a wacky sitcom plot, it was; remember that episode of The Brady Bunch where Bobby found an ancient tiki in Hawaii and bad luck started to befall the family? That bad juju was based on the legend of Pele. tiki

Fortunately, I never encountered any bad luck myself. Unless you count barely missing out on seeing an eruption firsthand. In 1983 we were vacationing on the Big Island; the day after we returned to Oahu, Kilauea erupted. My dad was always bummed about this, so I guess my fascination is hereditary.

That wasn’t my only close call with nature’s fury. I’m sort of like the Forrest Gump of natural disasters, having secured a front row seat to many an event. As evidence, I submit the following:

  1. Run like the wind, Toto! During my final summer in Dayton, Ohio, my brother and I spent a week at summer camp. One night, long after lights out, we were awakened by a counselor and ushered from our bunks. We were then marched across a field, through a howling wind, as turbulent clouds raced by overhead. Our destination? A concrete bunker beneath the swimming pool. It turns out a tornado warning had been issued, and funnel clouds were spotted in the vicinity. Luckily, none touched down. I vividly recall huddling nervously in the dead of night, surrounded by bags of chlorine stacked in haphazard piles. Pretty scary night for an 11 year-old!
  2. I spy the eye – no lie! In November 1982, Hurricane Iwa raced across the Pacific and took aim at Hawaii – the first hurricane to strike the islands in 23 years. Guess who had a front row seat to the whole thing? We stayed inside our house on base as winds gusted up to 120 mph and rain pelted Oahu. The worst of the storm occurred in the evening and overnight. I don’t remember ever feeling scared; I was simply in awe. The next morning we emerged to bright sunshine and a lot of damage, mainly downed trees. It was the first and only time living there that school was cancelled due to weather.
  3. Happy birthday – I got you snow! April 27, 1984, was my 15th birthday. Typically I associate my bday with pleasant spring weather, but in South Dakota (ha!) one can never assume. That year, I spent my birthday indoors as heavy snow fell and gusty winds blew. I don’t remember how much snow we ended up with by the time the storm wound down, but it’s safe to say “a lot.” This wasn’t the only blizzard I’ve experienced in my life, but because of the date, it’s the one that stands out the most in my mind.
  4. A whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on! October 17, 1989, was just a normal Tuesday – until the ground started shaking with a vengeance. I was living in the Bay Area, just digging into a plate of spaghetti with my girlfriend at the time, when everything started rocking and rolling. I’d lived in CA for three years by that point and had experienced quite a few quakes, but nothing of that magnitude. And when the TV stations switched from the World Series game to images of citywide devastation – the worst being a collapsed freeway – we knew it was serious. The next week was a surreal blur. My college classes were cancelled and aftershocks kept coming. A few months later I traveled to the epicenter and somewhere, there is a photo of me standing in a fissure in the ground that comes up to my thigh.

Tornadoes, hurricanes, blizzards, and earthquakes – oh, my. I’m just thankful to have thus far avoided tsunamis, avalanches, wildfires and alien abduction.

Well, the last one is a maybe. But that’s a story for another day.

Countdown: 42 Days

Lipstick on a Pig

As far as Friday the 13ths go, this one is anything but unlucky. The Moondoggies’ new album, “A Love Sleeps Deep,” came out today. It’s been five years since their last record; that’s basically an eternity in the rock ‘n roll biz.

If you are unfamiliar with our history with the band, let’s just say much like sleeping love, it also runs deep. They are basically the soundtrack to our relationship, and against all odds, I’ve developed a friendship with their lead singer, Kevin. I am not name-dropping, by the way; hardly anybody knows who The Moondoggies are! If I were going to do that, I’d talk about the time I shook Bruce Springsteen’s hand, lol.

Seriously, though. The new record was on heavy rotation for me today. And it’s awesome. Harder and heavier than their last album, and more topical. These are good things. Kevin embodies all that I appreciate: he is an anti-Trump, feminist, socially conscious rocker who plays in a band because he loves music. He doesn’t care that his band isn’t very well known. (Having said that, you should check out the album. He might not care about fame, but I’d love it if more people “discovered” them!)moondoggies-alovesleepsdeep

We’re going to see The Moondoggies play a show at Mississippi Studios next week. It’s bittersweet; it’ll be our eighth (and final, at least in the immediate future) time seeing them live. We’re not quite stalkers, but close. Unless they happen to play in Rapid City on some future tour, of course. Doubtful, but I do plan to run that by Kevin after the show on Wednesday.

I can also see us planning a trip back here timed around a show of theirs someday. This isn’t a permanent goodbye, guys.


Leave it to me to be a medical anomaly once again.

On Monday, I had an appointment to get my eyes checked. As far as I can recall, this was the first time I’d ever had a vision exam. There was no overriding reason for me to have one this week – I’m sort of the black sheep of my family, the only one who does not wear glasses – other than the fact that I’m covered under Tara’s plan and figured I might as well take advantage of what amounts to a free exam before we move.

I walked in there wearing sunglasses and proceeded to stumble around, bumping into walls and such, while making a general commotion. The front office staff laughed and Tara, who had arrived before me and had no idea I was going to make a grand entrance by faking blindness, said, “See what I have to live with?”

I considered that a compliment.

Because I’d never had an eye exam before, I was caught off guard when they puffed air into my eyes. For the record, they did not warn me in advance. After I jumped a little, I told the assistant to assume I knew nothin’ about what was coming next. Because, well, I knew nothing about what was coming next. The assistant apologized and told me she should have told me what to expect.

No shit.

Anyway. She asked me next if I wanted dilation (no charge) or hi-res photos of my eyes instead ($20). I asked her to tell me more about this dilation thingy, and she rattled off a laundry list of not-pleasant-sounding side effects that included sensitivity to light, dizziness, and nausea, but promised these symptoms would “only last 4–6 hours.” That was a no-brainer for me. I told them I would happily fork over twenty bucks to avoid that nonsense.

So they took some crazy up-close pics of my eyes, which the doctor put up on his monitor. He pointed out my retina, optic nerve, etc. Trippy. Everything looked good, though.

This was followed by the good ol’ fashioned eye chart. At least I knew what was expected of me at that point. Afterwards, he broke the news to me.

“You’re an unusual case,” he said.

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard that…

Turns out I am nearsighted in my left eye and farsighted in my right. Together, my eyes compensate for each other. I personally like to think of myself as having self-correcting vision, but the doc didn’t see it that way.

“You probably haven’t noticed any problems with your vision,” he said. A true statement. But then he had me cover one eye, followed by the other, and read more lines from the chart while trying out various prescription strengths on me. I couldn’t help but admit it: they made a difference.

So, the bottom line is this: he wrote me a prescription, but I don’t need glasses. At least not for regular, everyday use. He suggested a few different options: distance glasses for driving, especially at night; reading glasses; or progressive lenses to help with both. Now, I wasn’t falling for this sugarcoated “progressive lenses” crap and called him out on it.

“You mean bifocals?!” I shouted asked.

“We don’t usually refer to them in those terms,” he replied, stealing a page right out of the you-can-put-lipstick-on-a-pig-but-it’s-still-a-pig book.

Fine. WHATEVER.

Really though, I’m okay with this. I have nothing against glasses, per se. The doc said it’s unusual for somebody to have reached this advanced stage of life without needing any sort of corrective lenses, so I should just count my lucky stars that I’ve gone this far and been able to see fine.

Oh, also, the eye doc really needs to work on his bedside manner.

So Tara and I will take a trip to Costco at some point and I’ll go ahead and order up a pair. They will probably spend most of their time gathering dust in their case, but I’m willing to try them out in certain situations.


Work has been pretty busy, which means the days are chugging along quickly. We only have a little over two months before our move now!

Hardly a day goes by where a coworker doesn’t comment about this. One young lady happens to have grown up on a farm in a small South Dakota town nobody has ever heard of, and her family is still there. She came in yesterday and asked, “Did you see the weather forecast?!”

She was referring to the blizzard in Rapid City today. 🙂

I just smiled and said yes, I had. I check the weather there on a daily basis. Surprisingly, I still want to move there.

Even though a blizzard in mid-April is hard to fathom. It hasn’t exactly been summer-like out here – cool and wet – but that’s typical. Winter feels like it ended long ago. Meanwhile, in my soon-to-be hometown, the snow is piling up and the winds are howling. Good thing I like the white stuff, huh?

Countdown: 71 Days